The Year That Was

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With 2015 done and dusted, here’s a list of a few of our favorite articles by many of our favorite people.

And that doesn’t even include Bill Merritt going to see tiny houses and discovering a weed convention; Russell Hasan making the case for a working-class libertarianism (with a further nod to Ayn Rand), Margary Eastvale counting the cost of regulatory red-tape at her small business . . . or so many others!

We've got a lot more planned for the coming year, but we'd love to know: what were your own favorites? And what would you like to see more of?

All of us here at Liberty thank all of you for reading and wish you the happiest of New Years — not just for today, but for all 366 days of 2016.



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Asian Immigration and Trumpeterian Fabulism

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I have always viewed with disgust the pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment that has plagued this country for decades, and is now reaching a fever pitch. It is most on display in the Republican Party — as I, a long-time supporter of the party, am ashamed to say. You can see the nativist hatred in its full intensity by watching the followers of our latest populist demagogue Donald Trump — people I call “Trumpeters” — exhibit orgiastic glee when he tells them he will deport 11 million illegal aliens, together with any American-born children they may have.

Trump — a man in the populist mold of Huey Long and Father Coughlin — already promises he will set up a “deportation force” to enter the immigrants’ homes and arrest them en masse. Since the immigrants are all entitled to court hearings, a President Trump will have to set up internment camps to house the millions of arrested immigrants until they can be tried.

Trump’s immigrant-bashing is all the more outrageous when we remember that when Romney was running for president, Trump bashed him for suggesting that illegals “self-deport.” Trump has no compunction about the illegal immigrants’ children born here being included, advancing the unusual legal theory that the Constitution does not (as the 14th Amendment seems clearly to do) make the children of illegals born here legal citizens.

You can see nativist hatred in its full intensity by watching the followers of Donald Trump exhibit orgiastic glee when he tells them he will deport 11 million illegal aliens.

Trump has repeatedly promised us a “fabulous wall,” to be paid for — by the Mexicans themselves! All we will need in addition are fabulous concentration camps. This is fascism of a new kind — fabulous fascism. And we need a new word for it. Perhaps the Orwellian neologism “fabulism” best captures Trump’s political program.

Of course, as readers of this estimable journal know, I don’t think that this resurgent nativist tide is — as the mainstream media portrays it — solely a Republican phenomenon. We must remember that Obama himself, when he was a US Senator, play the key role in scuttling the Bush comprehensive reform plan; moreover, after winning the presidency and having near-dictatorial control of Congress, he refused to introduce any immigration plan, or even discuss the topic for two years. He started to feign interest in the issue only after the Republicans took back the House, and intensified his charade when they took back the Senate.

The reason is, as I have suggested, that two key components of the Democratic Party base are deeply anti-immigration: organized labor, and the African-American community. The former dislikes immigration because it fears that immigrants will lower native-born workers’ wages and compete for their jobs, and the latter fears not only competition for jobs but losing its status as the main victim group entitled to governmental support.

But the joke is on the nativists, because the most recent wave of immigration is in fact rescuing this country.

Demographers love the cliché, “demography is destiny,” no doubt in great part because it accentuates the importance of their profession. But there is a fair amount of truth to it. For this reason, the most recent Pew report on recent trends in American demographics is well worthy of comment.

This resurgent nativist tide is not solely a Republican phenomenon. We must remember that Obama himself scuttled the Bush comprehensive reform plan.

As most of the European and Asian countries face contracting populations, our population is slated to grow robustly. The Pew report projects (on the basis of the most recent US Census data) that the American population will grow by an estimated 36% over the next half-century, reaching 441 million in 2065. The main driver of this projected increase in population is immigration. The report notes that nearly nine out of ten of the additional 103 million people will be immigrants or the children of immigrants (both legal and illegal). In fact, the percentage of immigrants in America’s population will rise from the current 14% to an estimated 18%.

Being spared the baleful effects of demographic decline puts us in much better economic shape than virtually all of our trading partners — indeed, most of the world. Social scientist Joel Kotkin has recently explored the idea that most countries will be facing demographic implosion. He points out that half the world’s population is now living in countries that are at negative population growth and suggests that by 2050, 139 countries (representing three-fourths of the world’s population) will be at negative population growth. China is just the most recent country to face this problem — which is why it has now frantically reversed its “one-child” policy. (What a surprise: government planning that results in failure! Who could have imagined it?) China is facing the same problem as Japan, Korea, Singapore, and most of Europe: increasingly fewer workers to support the elderly population.

Japan in particular is the paradigm case of a country struggling with deep demographic distress. The current population of 127 million is predicted to shrink to 108 million by 2050 — at which time there would be three Japanese over 65 for every one under 15. By 2100, the U.N. projects that Japan’s population will shrivel to 84.5 million, while Japan’s National Institute of Population projects it will plummet to 60 million — less than half its present size.

Exceptional in the Asian context is India. India continues to experience population growth, and is predicted to overtake China to become the world’s most populous country in just seven years. India faces no labor shortage in the foreseeable future — its population is not expected to peak until about 2060.

Being spared the baleful effects of demographic decline puts us in much better economic shape than virtually all of our trading partners — indeed, most of the world.

Even more interesting information from the aforementioned Pew Report is that there has been an historic demographic shift in the pattern of American immigration. Up to the 1970s, most immigrants to the US came from Europe. Starting in the 1980s, and peaking in the 1990s, most immigrants hailed from Mexico (and elsewhere in Latin America). But since 2011, most immigrants have come from Asia.

Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans today are foreign-born, compared to only 37% of Hispanic Americans. Asians are predicted to surpass Latinos as the biggest foreign-born group in four decades — at which point, if the predictions are accurate, a higher percentage of Americans will be Asian than Black.

As Asians increase their numbers in America’s population, they will increase the wealth and productivity of this nation. Why? Because more than any other ethnic group — whites included — they embrace traditional marriage and education. Consider first the rates of American children born out of wedlock. As of 2013, the statistics are stunning: 72% of Black children are born outside of marriage, 66% of American Indian children, 53% of Hispanic children, and 29% of white children. The figure for Asian children is only 17%.

Now consider educational attainment. Looking at American ethnic groups, the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2014 was: American Indian 5.6%, Hispanic 15.1%, black 22.4%, and whites 40.8%. Asians were at a whopping 60.8%.

Obviously, we should hope that the immigration of Asians only accelerates — the proliferation of scholars and entrepreneurs that would result would be of enormous economic and social benefit to all of us non-Asians.

Part of the reason for this historic shift is that the number of Asians seeking citizenship keeps rising steadily, in large part because Chinese and Indian students in American universities apply for citizenship upon graduation. Given the fact that most Asian countries — including China, but excluding India — are in demographic decline, we can expect that India will more and more be the supplier of our immigrants.

But another reason for the historic shift to Asian American immigration is the recent reversal of Mexican immigration. As a recent WSJ article reports, over the last five years, more Mexicans headed back to Mexico than moved here — 1,000,000 Mexicans decamped, compared to 870,000 coming in.

Trump’s fabulist fascism targets immigrants as a way to appeal to neurotic and psychotic voters who made bad personal life choices.

There are two major reasons why the flow of Mexican immigrants has reversed. First, over the past two decades, the Mexican birth rate has plummeted, and is now at about replacement level. But second, while the economic boom times from the 1980s until 2008 created lots of jobs for Mexican workers, the slow growth of jobs during the Obama “recovery,” along with the higher rate of growth in the Mexican economy, has drawn many Mexicans back home.

So Earth to Trump:

The Mexicans are already self-deporting, and the new wave of immigration is from Asia, not the Middle East.

And me to Trump:

I am a classical liberal, i.e., one who favors modern free market capitalism. This system, which involves the free movement of financial capital, products, and labor (human capital) across the world to find their most productive uses, isn’t just the right thing to do from the perspective of economic theory. During the modern era, and during the past half-century in particular, it has proven empirically to be the only force able to lift massive numbers of the absolute poor out of their misery — something that no other force (including religion) has ever been able to do. And this system is also morally superior because it allows the maximum amount of personal liberty: unless it threatens the security of the nation, every person should be free to invest his money where he believes it will give him the best return; unless it threatens the nation, every person should be free to buy products he finds it in his interest to buy, from anyone else on the planet; and unless it threatens the nation, every person should be free to employ anyone it is in his interest to employ.

Hence I hate interventionism (i.e., welfare statism), despise socialism, and loathe communism. But I both loathe and fear fascism. Forinterventionism, socialism, and communism are based on relatively weak psychological forces, to wit, envy of the rich and pity for the industrial working class. I say that these psychological forces are weak, first because the world is moving with increasing acceleration toward a global post-industrial (or more specifically, an epistemic) economy, with low-level factory work disappearing not just in America, but in every other industrialized economy (including China’s). So the appeal to pity for the proletariat is losing power, as the proletariat itself disappears. (Witness the precipitous decline in union membership in the private sector over the past half-century). And second, envy can always be countered by self-love: show an envious man that he, too, can become wealthy and the envy dissipates as “greed” (self-interest) grows.

But fascism — while it certainly does exploit envy of the rich and pity for the proles — appeals mainly to the love of one’s own tribe and the hatred of other tribes. Its power to pervert patriotism and intensify it by demonizing other groups is potent. Trump’s fabulism targets immigrants as a way to appeal to neurotic and psychotic voters who made bad personal life choices — failed to graduate from high school, had kids without first having jobs and husbands, got into drugs or booze too deeply, refused to work hard, whatever — and are profoundly unhappy. Trump, like all demagogues, is a master manipulator of pathological politics — the politics of projection of one’s own failures upon innocent people.

That is why Trump is to be feared, as well as despised.




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Refugee Screening

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Take This Climate Deal — Please!

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On December 12, 2015, climateers the world over celebrated as a new climate change accord, known as "the Paris Agreement," was approved. It was the culmination of four grueling years of behind-the-scenes negotiations designed to save the planet from catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). At the stroke of the gavel marking its acceptance, the more than 40,000 climate change diplomats from 195 countries erupted into cheers, ovations, high-fives, champagne toasts, tearful embraces, and, of course, rampant backpatting.

“This is truly a historic moment,” proclaimed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — the first "truly universal agreement on climate change." According to the New York Times, President Obama "strode triumphantly into the Cabinet Room of the White House to declare victory in his quest" for the ambitious deal. An ebullient John Kerry tweeted: "#COP21 agreement is the strongest, most ambitious global climate agreement ever negotiated." It is "the best chance to save the one planet we got," intoned Mr. Obama, perhaps too choked up for grammar. Or perhaps he noticed the Eiffel Tower illuminating the phrase "no Plan B," and the shuddering possibility that the deal — his vaunted legacy — could fall apart.

It is a progressive's dream: a profligate, utopian scheme that will fail, even if it achieves its goal.

Scaremongering climateers tell us that, unabated (i.e., absent the Paris climate change accord), mean global temperature will rise 3.7 °C by 2100, rendering earth uninhabitable. With the accord, the nations of the world pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to levels intended to limit the rise to no more than 2.0 °C. But the decline in GHG emissions resulting from the Paris agreement is predicted to reduce the temperature rise by a vanishingly small 0.2 °C. That is, if the pledges of all 195 participating nations are carried out to a tee, including the expenditure of trillions of dollars on green technology, the mean global temperature will rise 3.5 °C by 2100, rendering earth uninhabitable.

While cameras inside the convention hall captured the joyous tears of climate diplomats as they celebrated fabricated success, they missed the angry tears of climate activists outside, as they rebuked the Paris agreement as an irresponsible, fraudulent charade, too diluted to be of any meaningful value. The soft-spoken Dr James Hansen, father of CAGW, referred to the deal as "a fake," "a fraud," "just worthless," and "just bullshit." But it will establish a colossal, intrusive UN climate bureaucracy that will haunt the world forever. It is a progressive's dream: a profligate, utopian scheme that will fail, even if it achieves its goal. Measured on a scale of maudlin self-congratulation (the auto-aggrandizometer), this is progressivism's finest achievement in central planning.

Although the agreement is not legally binding, climate change luminaries such as Obama, Kerry, and Ban Ki-moon assure us that the emission reduction goals will be met. Signatory nations must fulfill their pledge or face international ridicule through the agreement's clever "name-and-shame" mechanism. There is nothing like peer pressure to bring totalitarian police states such as China into compliance.

Similar pressure will be applied to support the Green Climate Fund — a coffer to be filled annually with $100 billion from rich nations for the purpose of cajoling poor nations into remaining poor.

Without the fund, none of the 130 nations of the developing world would have signed the agreement. With the fund — according to the delusions of progressives from the developed world — dictators, bureaucrats, and crony industrialists from impoverished countries will purchase exorbitantly expensive solar panels and windmills instead of extremely cheap coal, oil, and gas, and they will convince their citizenry that chronic disease and poverty can wait while 0.2 °C is shaved off the 2100 global temperature. (To the 1.3 billion people who have never experienced electricity, what's the rush?)

There is nothing like peer pressure to bring totalitarian police states such as China into compliance.

To ensure compliance, the Paris accord mandates that all nations shall report on their emissions reduction progress every five years — “a serious form of enforcement and compliance,” insists Mr. Kerry. Patting himself on the back, Kerry said that the voluntary pact (a 31-page cornucopia of vague commitment, toothless aspiration, and astounding deceit) would "prevent the worst most devastating consequences of climate change from ever happening." Who knows? With CAGW thought to be so solved, progressives may use the Paris agreement as a model to tackle other vexing problems, such as social injustice or income inequality. At this very moment, liberal thinktanks could be pondering the idea of bribing African or South Asian countries into pledging lower birth rates; or shaming Islamic terrorist organizations when their beheading reduction pledges are not met.

Returning to reality, the pledges of the landmark Paris accord (an agreement that will not work even if its pledges are met) will not be met — not even close. Rich countries will try; they will achieve some token, largely symbolic, degree of success. Poor countries won't bother; they have vastly more pressing challenges. No matter the size of the Green Climate Fund, the developing world will not be persuaded to replace cheap, reliable fossil fuels with expensive, unproven solar and wind technology — technologies that, after more than 30 years of development, still rely on subsidization for survival. These are also technologies that have become staggeringly more expensive after only five years of the enormous, unsubsidized strides in US fracking technology that have produced staggering declines in oil and gas prices. Oil prices, for example, which have been above $100 per barrel since 2011, have plummeted to below $40.

Media accounts credit Obama for the agreement's acceptance. They say that in pledging the US to draconian emission cuts, he leveraged the rest of the world to follow. But the US is in no position to make such a commitment, it is not legally bound to do so, and there is neither congressional nor popular support for it. Warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “Before his international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject.”

This lack of enthusiasm is produced, in no small part, by the economic stagnation that has plagued the US economy from the day Obama took office. With unprecedented, and growing, national debt, declining net worth, and labor participation at its lowest since the Carter years, where will the money come from?

Dictators, bureaucrats, and crony industrialists from impoverished countries will convince their citizenry that chronic disease and poverty can wait while 0.2 °C is shaved off the 2100 global temperature.

Ironically, the most promising source of money is the energy bonanza that fracking has created — the very source of prosperity that progressives seek to ban, in their efforts to decarbonize the world's economies. Unleashing US energy production could swiftly stimulate the US economy, lift incomes and wages, expand the middle class, create new jobs, generate enormous tax revenues, and eradicate the debt. But with the 2016 election drawing near, Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton pledges to outdo Obama. She plans to build 500 million solar panels and promises that 33% of all US electricity will be generated from wind and solar by 2027. Not to be outpandered by Mrs. Clinton, rival candidate Bernie Sanders promises 80% by 2050; and Martin O’Malley promises 100%.

It is highly unlikely, however, that a beleaguered American public will allow a Democrat president to shutter its energy goldmine, thereby continuing economic stagnation. As to the prospect of a Republican president, McConnell says that Obama should not make "promises he can’t keep." Nor should he "take credit for an ‘agreement’ that is subject to being shredded in 13 months.”

The Paris deal has no chance of thwarting CAGW — if planet salvation was even an important consideration. For those who are astounded by Mr. Obama's claim of victory, or who are wondering how so much credit could be awarded for so little accomplished, his triumph has nothing to do with saving the planet. It is a purely political victory — one for which he does deserve credit, and the highest of praise from progressivism, considering the coming creation of the UN climate change behemoth.

It is this deceitful absurdity that has progressives doing cartwheels and patting themselves on the back. The agreement itself is irrelevant, serving only to set the stage for future global central planning. The four years taken to write it featured little more than a backroom search for language that would read like a treaty but would be watered down and rendered toothless enough to get 195 nations to sign it — of which, 130 had to be bribed with the Green Climate Fund. It is not legally binding; the emissions reduction pledges are voluntary and aspirational, enforced only by the palsied hand of a “name-and-shame” system of global peer pressure. As to contributions to the slush fund, rich countries are "strongly urged" to fulfill their commitments.

The watering down process persisted to the end, holding up the vote to adopt the agreement for two final hours. Fearing that the Obama administration might be required to seek Senate approval for a binding treaty, US diplomats insisted that the word "shall" be changed to "should" in a clause on meeting emissions targets. They might as well have found a place for "pretty please" or "just bullshit."




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Star Wars Rewakens

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Unless you’ve been frozen in a block of carbonite for the past year, you know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise, opened last weekend to the largest box office in film history, pulling in nearly $250 million in North America alone, and over half a billion dollars worldwide. Stormtroopers trooped into selected theaters on opening night for pre-screening festivities and fans dressed in costume to celebrate the return of the “real” Star Wars. (Many fans refuse to acknowledge the disappointing prequels.) Actors, director, and film pundits were interviewed on television and in print for weeks leading up to the release. Hour-long specials chronicled the history of the franchise and the making of this film. Jimmy Fallon watched, aghast, as guest Harrison Ford tore apart a collectible 1977 Han Solo doll (er, action figure) on the Tonight Show. It has been a spectacle worthy of the Roman Colosseum — or Boba Fett’s next dinner party.

So let’s start by addressing the first question reviewers are asked whenever an overhyped movie comes to town: is it any good?

Fox Business host Neil Cavuto spent an entire show last week proclaiming the film to be “stupid” and “nonsense.” To be fair, I think Cavuto was just being contrarian and having a good time in a spontaneous interchange with Bobby Jindal. Nevertheless, my advice to Cavuto is, stick with your day job and leave the night job to film lovers. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is spectacular.

Star Wars was a once upon a time, a Saturday matinee cliffhanger, an old-fashioned romance, and a cowboy western all rolled into one, dressed up in spacesuits and alien life forms.

Cavuto — and fans — had reason to be skeptical about this latest offering. The original trilogy was a masterpiece of mythic storytelling combined with groundbreaking special effects that changed the direction of action films. Who can forget the first sight of that gigantic spaceship scrolling across the screen, looming ever larger and bringing with it an ever-increasing sense of wonder and foreboding? Before we could even think, “How did they do that?” we were drawn into the story that took place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It was a once upon a time, a Saturday matinee cliffhanger, an old-fashioned romance, and a cowboy western all rolled into one, dressed up in spacesuits and alien life forms. When the ending credits for Return of the Jedi rolled six years later, we were satisfied, but immediately hungry for more. We wanted to know: how did Chewbacca and Han meet? Why were Luke and Leia separated at birth? What happened to change the shining Jedi, Anakin Skywalker, into the Dark Knight, Darth Vader? Fans wrote their own stories, made their own movies, and longed for the official prequel.

So George Lucas complied. When he decided to create a trilogy of prequels that would “explain it all,” audiences salivated with anticipation. As the master filmmaker who could do no wrong, especially when he followed Star Wars by teaming up with Steven Spielberg for the Indiana Jones trilogy, Lucas was given carte blanche over the script and the filming. And the trilogy bombed. Instead of showing us the backstories of the characters we loved, Lucas introduced a whole new cast of characters, tinged with heavy-handed politicking and a nonsensical romance that was simply unbelievable — in the non-hyperbolic sense of the word. (See my review in Liberty.)

What was missing? In my opinion it was Marcia Lucas, who was no longer married to George and thus was no longer guiding the story from behind the scenes. Marcia edited the original Star Wars films and won an Oscar for it in 1977. By contrast, George has yet to earn a competitive Oscar. Lucas deserves all the credit for his creative vision and his skybreaking technology of Star Wars, and is responsible for the way every action film is made today. Kudos to him for all he has accomplished. But he needed someone who would nurture the characters. He found that someone in director J.J. Abrams.

Nurtured himself by Steven Spielberg, Abrams knows how to make an action film exciting. He also knows how to create an homage that can stand on its own. Super 8 (2011), in which a group of young teens saves the world while making a home movie, is probably the best example. It is made in the style of Abrams’ mentor, Steven Spielberg, and contains a plethora of “Easter egg” references to Spielberg’s trademark moments, yet it stands entirely on its own as an exciting, well-made film. (See my review.) Similarly, in The Force Awakens Abrams provides audiences with ample nods to the original trilogy, including some sets and scenes that are nearly identical. Yet the homage never becomes distracting or overbearing. We simply enjoy the sense of nostalgia as we are carried along by the story. My grandson was so enthralled that he forgot to eat his popcorn until the movie was over!

Marcia Lucas edited the original Star Wars films and won an Oscar for it in 1977. By contrast, George has yet to earn a competitive Oscar.

The story is a simple, classic quest: the rebel forces must find Luke Skywalker before the Empire, now called the First Order, can reach him. Within this overarching plotline we also find a story that focuses on friendship and family, and a theme that resonates with loyalty, redemption, and the freedom to choose one’s path. The characters care about each other, and because of that, we care about them too. There’s nothing stupid or nonsensical about that, Mr. Cavuto.

Is The Force Awakens a sequel or a remake? It takes place 30 or so years after Return of the Jedi, and Han, Luke, and Leia are senior members of the ongoing resistance. Sequel, right? Yet in many ways the story is a remake of the original: as stormtroopers attack, a droid is entrusted with an urgent message. A trio of rebels — one woman, two men — travels through the galaxy in the ”piece of junk” Millennium Falcon on a quest to save the world. Once again we are treated to wide vistas of strange, majestic landscapes through which our heroes trudge with tireless resolve on their way to new adventures. We see sets and scenes that seem familiar, and some that are identical to those that appear in previous films. Abrams even casts rebel pilots who look almost exactly like the pilots in the original film 40 years ago. Some reviewers have called this repetition “derivative,” but I consider it thematically essential. The message is subtle but clear: history repeats itself. We must be constantly on guard and ready to fight against the tyrannical forces that would enslave or destroy us. Each victory is but a respite before the next onslaught against our freedom.

Characters in film are often defined by the costumes they wear, and the costuming is outstanding. As before, officers in the First Order wear caps and epaulets reminiscent of the Third Reich, reminding us of the tyranny of empire-building. Their textures are heavy, dark, and oppressive. By contrast, members of the resistance wear natural fabrics and leathers. Rey (Daisy Ridley) wears a tunic with soft, feminine ruching held in place (and out of the way) by rustic leather straps. Her costume reminds us that she is a woman, but she is girded to fight. She carries the weight of the resistance in her careworn eyes and doesn’t have time to worry about holding her own against “male privilege.” I suspect her name (which means “king” in Spanish) will be revealed as significant in a future episode. Ridley is simply perfect in the role.

History repeats itself. We must be constantly on guard and ready to fight against the tyrannical forces that would enslave or destroy us.

Finn (John Boyega) is another character defined by his costume; when he puts on the leather jacket of the rebel Poe (Oscar Isaac), he also puts on Poe’s mission.

Unfortunately, Boyega doesn’t put on Poe’s personality. I was disappointed by his bland acting — no charisma. I also wanted Carrie Fisher to open her mouth a little bit more when she spoke, but I had the same problem with her in the original Star Wars In fact, I had to watch it a third time before I could decipher all the dialogue. But these are niggling complaints. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumphant return of the Jedi. I can’t want for the next installment.


Editor's Note: Review of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," directed by J.J. Abrams. Disney, 2015. 135 minutes.



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Winter Housekeeping

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It’s an old idea: at the end of the year you’re supposed to put things in order, take care of pending business, settle your accounts. But since I’m too lazy to settle my own accounts, I’ll do something easier. I’ll settle the nation’s accounts, at least its verbal ones.

Let’s start at the top of the pile.

President Obama, always good for a pratfall. In his climate change rant in Paris on November 30, Obama said, among other risible things, “I come here personally, as leader of the world’s largest economy.” That one sentence has at least three problems.

  1. How else could he come, except personally?
  2. “Leader” is not a title. Not in this country. Not yet. The noun therefore needs an “a” before it. I’m not making a petty distinction here.
  3. But what does it mean to be a leader of an economy? You can picture an individual leading a company, but you can’t picture him leading a whole economic system. What, with a leash? With fife and drum for accompaniment? Even the delusional Andrew Carnegie didn’t picture himself in that way. Of course, if Obama imagines that the economy of the United States is equivalent to the political organization of the executive branch, it won’t be hard for him to put himself in that picture. And I guess that’s what he does.

At long last, have you no history? These days, you don’t need to read a book to discover the elementary facts of history; you can just Google them. But why bother? Why not just say, as many news authorities said, and kept on saying, on the occasion of the Paris terrorist attacks, “This is the worst night in the City of Light.” No, it wasn’t. For one thing, there were centuries of ravages by the French kings. Then there was the violence of the French Revolution. Including the Reign of Terror. And more revolutions later. How about the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, accompanied by the violence of the Paris Commune, during which communards did their best to destroy the city, only to be executed en masse by their opponents? As if that weren’t enough, there was the Nazi conquest and occupation . . . need I continue?

After the terrorist attacks we were also lectured by smart, university-trained people about our age-old connections with France. CBS, to cite but one example, asserted that “since 1776, America has been allied with France.” No, it hasn’t. Look it up. Check out the XYZ Affair. Or the intervention of Napoleon III in Mexico. Or the Vichy regime. Or about a hundred other passages in the flippin’ history of effin’ France.

Many news authorities said, and kept on saying, on the occasion of the Paris terrorist attacks, “This is the worst night in the City of Light.” No, it wasn’t.

But things have gotten really bad when one of the smartest, and certainly one of the most self-possessed, of TV newsfolk allows herself to begin a discussion of a papal tour to the Central African Republic by saying, “Pope Francis, becoming the first pope to visit an active combat zone. . . .” (Harris Faulkner, Fox News, November 29, 2015). Visit? Popes used to lead their armies in battle. And Pius IX and Pius XII would have been happy if they could simply have visited a combat zone, instead of being besieged in the Vatican and deprived of secular rule, as was Pius IX, or living in a city occupied by Nazis, as did Pius XII. Perhaps I should mention Napoleon’s almost successful attempt to destroy the papacy by kidnaping the pope, etc.

December’s resurgence of the Bowe Bergdahl case reminded me that European history isn’t the only kind that the self-appointed experts don’t know. Has anyone in the media questioned the idea, promulgated by the current administration but seemingly accepted even by its critics, that the United States has “never left a soldier behind on the battlefield”? But it’s obviously untrue. Something like 30,000 Northern prisoners died in Civil War camps, partly because the North eventually decided not to do prisoner exchanges with the Confederates (unlike President Obama, who exchanged five Gitmo prisoners for the idiot Bergdahl). There are Americans still living who were “left behind” in enemy custody in other wars. Anyone who asks himself a simple question about “no man left behind” can find this stuff in a minute.

Yes, language changes, but not that fast. A play was recently performed in my vicinity. The play was good, and it was well performed. But this is the way in which the advertisement characterized the play: “Heartsick love slings like mud, the drink pours strong, and music hides everywhere as the party just. keeps. trying. to. storm.” Gosh, Nellie, imagine that! But what play do you think the ad was trying to describe? It was Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t guess. It could just as easily have been Macbeth.

Has anyone in the media questioned the idea, promulgated by the current administration but seemingly accepted even by its critics, that the United States has “never left a soldier behind on the battlefield”?

The absence of the presence. If someone blocks the street in front of my home, screaming and threatening and preventing me from coming and going, or blocks access to my store, with the intention of stopping my business, I won’t regard that as a peaceful act. Neither would you. But whenever there’s a leftist demonstration that doesn’t proceed to mayhem and murder, it is acclaimed as peaceful, even by the rightwing media. Thus, on November 27, Brit Hume and Chris Wallace, two of the most estimable news people in the nation, conducted a long conversation on Fox about how great it was that recent protests in Chicago had been peaceful.

Wallace: What was most interesting about the protest was that they were clearly heartfelt and they clogged the Magnificent Mile, the downtown shopping area of Chicago, as you can see. They were also peaceful.

Hume: They were peaceful, and in addition to that, they had a point. . . .

Indeed they did, and I agree with that point, wholeheartedly. Police shouldn’t shoot and kill people when they don’t need to, and mayors shouldn’t cover it up when that happens. But it was not a peaceful protest.

Don’t lay to me. I don’t want to pick on Fox News. I’m not accusing Fox of anything that others aren’t guilty of doing. But when the best people at Fox lose their standards, what will happen with all the rest of them? Fox’s Juan Williams is a fine writer, and I’m not saying that because I usually agree with him, because I don’t. So it is especially disappointing to see that even he is losing his grip on English verbs. On Thanksgiving he was on the air discussing (guess what?) Thanksgiving, and he said that after eating a Thanksgiving meal, you have to go and “lay down.” My reaction was what I would expect to have if I found that a dear friend had contracted bubonic plague: you too, Juan? “I’ll lay on the bed; I laid on the bed; I’ve laid on the bed” is the current national plague, and when it gets to Williams, you know it’s hit almost everyone. Any reading of purported news and commentary confirms this awful truth, and it’s enough to make you want to lay right down and die.

Going Hillary just one step further. In case you didn’t know it, North Korea has a state-sponsored “girl band,” which was supposed to put on its act, which must be awful, at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. On December 12, however, the performance was canceled. The reason, according to the NCPA, was: “for a reason.”

Government, it seems, is not the only offender. Government undoubtedly provided the models, standards, touchstones, and paradigms for the job title that Walmart gave its employee, Enrique Marquez, before the dopey young man was revealed as an accomplice of terrorism in San Bernardino, but that doesn’t excuse Walmart. According to the company, Marquez was employed as “an asset protection and customer specialist.” It’s generally believed that this means Enrique was a security guard.

The back to nature movement. If you were going to list the most self-righteous movements in America today, what would appear at the top of your list? Ah, there are so many to choose from! But Mehmet Karayel has provided evidence that the California Water Curtailment Movement may win the prize.

Tennyson referred to “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” Not an attractive portrait of the old gal, but I prefer it to “Nature, dry, brown and weedy.”

In case you haven’t noticed — and there’s not much reason why you should — California is suffering from one of its cyclical droughts. Shrill voices insist that everyone conserve, and yet again, conserve! The owners of these voices — mostly governmental — are in a somewhat difficult position, because while ordinary citizens are flushing their toilets only once a day, the state is dumping billions of gallons of water into the Pacific to create optimal conditions for the Delta smelt, a useless species of fish.

This is the background for the item Mehmet mentioned. It’s a journalistic effort to shame the human hogs who slurp and guzzle more water than their neighbors (though much less water than any single Delta smelt). It might be remembered that the hogs are also paying for the water they use, but I guess that’s beside the point. The article’s nicest touch is this:

Slurp central appeared to be a place in Danville called Saddleback at Blackhawk, an unnaturally lush, gated community full of sprawling multimillion-dollar mansions. The enormous green lawns, tropical plants and exotic trees surrounding the homes are in stark contrast to the adjacent hills, which are dry, brown and weedy.

Tennyson referred to “Nature, red in tooth and claw.” Not an attractive portrait of the old gal, but I prefer it to “Nature, dry, brown and weedy.”

Let me be very specific with you. On December 15, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest but perhaps the worst district in the nation, suddenly shut down all 1,100 of its schools because of a terror hoax that everyone else, including the New York City School District, recognized as a hoax. A press conference attended by countless government officials produced not even an attempt to notify parents about what had been done with their kids when the schools shut down, but it did produce repeated assurances that every official was acting out of an abundance of caution regarding a very specific threat. It was specific because it didn’t just say that “weapons” would be used; it specifically mentioned bombs and guns. Even more compelling was the fact that it didn’t just say that “schools” would be attacked; it specified the 1,100 schools of the Los Angeles district.

It’s my duty to predict that specific will be the next word you hear a thousand times a day. It can be contained only by equally frequent references to an overabundance of caution.

* * *

Well, so much for 2015’s abuses of language. Let them go. I have two important things to say at this December’s end.

For 14 years, the readers of Liberty have tolerated, indulged, and, often against their better judgment, encouraged this column. For their generosity I am more grateful than I have words to say, and I will do my best to merit their continued indulgence.

The end of 2015 also marks ten years since the death of the original encourager of Word Watch — R.W. Bradford, founder, publisher, and editor of Liberty, who died on December 8, 2005. (See “A Life in Liberty.”) But for me, Bill has never died, nor will he.

Bill Bradford was a great man — brave and independent, generous and kind, and as much fun as 20 other people. What he didn’t knew about American history and politics wasn’t worth knowing, and his knowledge of the American libertarian movement cannot ever be surpassed. Bill understood what freedom meant; he knew it, he lived it, and he granted it joyously to others. He also knew, very well, what is meant by quality of language. He wanted Liberty to be a journal that sought both freedom and excellence. What worthier goal could there be?




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The Star Wars Lesson for Libertarians

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With Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise from George Lucas, and a new trilogy helmed by science fiction superstar director J.J. Abrams beginning on December 18, Star Wars is in the news in a way it has not been for over a decade. This may be the time to observe that a valuable lesson for libertarians can be found in the original Star Wars trilogy, a lesson easily overlooked by the millions of obsessive Star Wars fans — as well as by libertarians.

Consider what Darth Vader says to Luke Skywalker in the lightsaber duel near the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Vader seeks to goad Luke into an angry hatred of him, hoping that this will lead Luke to the Dark Side. Also consider Return of the Jedi, where Vader and Luke duel again, and Vader tries to threaten Luke into becoming angry with him. Again, the implication is that anger and hatred lead to the Dark Side. This interpretation of Star Wars also echoes the teachings that Yoda gives Luke in his Jedi training. I don’t want to spoil the movies for those who have not seen them, but it becomes clear that the Emperor’s plans to turn Luke to the Dark Side also focus on making Luke angry and full of hatred. A pivotal moment comes when Luke attacks the Emperor, an attack which the Emperor invites as part of Luke’s path to the Dark Side. And the conclusion of Jedi is defined by the conflict between love and hate.

Social conservatives should focus on cultivating virtue in themselves instead of focusing on hatred of sin in others, because this hatred of sin really is the sin of hatred.

Here’s the interesting thing that few fans notice: Darth Vader and the Emperor want Luke to become angry at, and direct his hatred toward, none other than Darth Vader and the Emperor. Hatred and the Dark Side are practically identical, while love is the central power of the Force.

The principle can be described like this: “Goodness is love and evil is hatred. Hatred of evil is more akin to hatred than it is to goodness. Therefore, hatred of evil is the path to evil, not to goodness or love. Love of goodness is not the same as hatred of evil. Hatred of evil is hatred, and is therefore evil.”

This set of ideas, which we can call the Star Wars Principle, has obvious applications to both social libertarianism and economic libertarianism. The people who want to criminalize drugs are fueled by their hatred of drugs. But this hatred of drugs is hatred, which is evil. The good thing for them would be a love of goodness, in this case sobriety, which they could manifest by choosing to be sober and live a drug-free life. Social conservatives should focus on cultivating virtue in themselves instead of focusing on hatred of sin in others, because this hatred of sin really is the sin of hatred.

The Star Wars Principle means that you should focus on goodness in your own life and ignore evil in other people’s lives, other than to defend yourself from it when it assaults you. If you don’t do this, you will be consumed by hatred toward the evil in others, which will make you a mean, nasty person, constantly full of anger. The Principle reduces to a “mind your own business,” “live and let live” attitude that is quintessential libertarianism.

Peaceful, calm, respectful civility is absent from our politics; and sadly, this is also true of many libertarian radicals who demonize their enemies.

In economic terms, hatred of the rich is quite different from love of the poor. Instead of making money and donating money to charity or working to create economic opportunity for the poor, the socialists and leftist liberals make war on the rich and the owners of private property. The culture of the Left is a culture of hatred of the rich, driven by envy — a hatred of people who have been more successful than you, instead of a sincere caring about people who have been less successful. As such, socialism is very clearly a servant of the Dark Side. In contrast, a culture of love of the poor, if it was strong with the Force, would focus on charitable work for the poor, on donating one’s own money to help the poor, but with an understanding that you can’t donate money unless you first make money. It would not be focused on stealing other people’s money to help, or try to help, the poor.

The political climate in the United States is dominated by anger and hatred, of Left against Right and Right against Left. Which Fox News or MSNBC political talk show airs without insults or anger? Which political candidates run campaigns in which they promote themselves as good and do not try to tear their opponents down as evil? Peaceful, calm, respectful civility is absent from our politics; and sadly, this is also true of many libertarian radicals who demonize their enemies and are full of anger against “supporters of the state.” The Dark Side, where you get power by making people angry, is easier and more seductive for people who seek to rule, at the expense of love, goodness, peace, and the Force that embodies them. Libertarians would do well to learn this Star Wars lesson.




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A Face in the Crowd Boards the Trump Express

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When you’re a libertarian living in New York and working in academia, you learn to keep your politics to yourself most of the time. But something strange is happening in New York, and indeed across the nation. Over and over again, I’m hearing dyed-in-the-wool, knee-jerk social Democrats say, “You know, I’m kind of leaning toward Trump.” It happened again this morning on my way to the airport. My Italian-American New York cab driver asked what I thought about the political race. I talked about the merits of Rand Paul’s philosophy. And he said, “I’m leaning toward Trump.”

What does this blowhard, demagogy, crony capitalist have that I’m missing? When he isn’t being blatantly and outrageously offensive, he’s demonstrating a naiveté that makes Sarah Palin look like a Rhodes scholar. His answer to every challenge is a version of, “Trust me. I know how to fix that. Everybody likes me. I like everybody.” Sheesh! What do people see in Donald Trump, besides the fact that he’s not a career politician?

It makes me think of Elia Kazan’s 1957 masterpiece, A Face in the Crowd. It’s nearly 60 years old, yet it’s so timely that it could have been used as a storyboard for Trump’s triumphant rise as a political candidate — and his potential fall. Of course, Trump’s early life was quite different from that of the title character in the movie, but they are prophetically similar in the way they use the media to sway and control their audiences.

When Trump isn’t being blatantly and outrageously offensive, he’s demonstrating a naiveté that makes Sarah Palin look like a Rhodes scholar.

In the film, Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) is the host of a popular radio series called “A Face in the Crowd,” for which she interviews ordinary people and asks them about their lives — kind of a combination of the modern “man in the street” interviews and the old “This Is Your Life” series. She thinks it would be interesting to interview someone in the drunk tank at an Arkansas jail, and that’s where she meets Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a loud, obnoxious, uncouth drifter and country singer who agrees to do the interview because the sheriff has promised to let him out of jail a few days early if he will. Rhodes ad libs some off-the-cuff good humor and sings a song that becomes a running theme, “Free Man in the Morning.” Marcia, charmed by his untrained openness and the blues in his voice, promptly nicknames him “Lonesome” Rhodes. A radio-television star is born.

Lonesome has neither social graces nor emotional filters. He speaks his mind, mocks his sponsors, coddles his listeners, and rejects the idea of being “dignified” or respectful. He’s a brand new kind of star, just as Trump is a brand new kind of candidate, and the public loves his folksy, off-script style. He develops a following of avid — some might say rabid — followers, who riot in the streets when a mocked sponsor understandably fires him for his rude, outrageous comments. He is indeed a “free man in the morning,” owing nothing to anyone, and the public loves him for it.

When a new sponsor, “Vitajex,” designs an ad campaign based on scientific analysis of its energy supplement’s ingredients, Lonesome rejects the facts and ad libs his own campaign for Vitajex based on emotional appeal and unsubstantiated claims. Sales soar, and so does Lonesome’s popularity. His face ends up on the covers of every national magazine, while his name is attached to ships, roses, and even a local mountain. You can’t buy that kind of publicity — and you don’t have to, when the press is fawning all over you. (Donald Trump knows that secret, too.) Lonesome watches his ratings the way Trump watches his polls. He has no formal background in marketing, but he knows instinctively just what to do to keep his ratings moving upward.

Like Lonesome Rhodes, Trump avoids the use of data, studies, or even common sense to support his claims.

Eventually Lonesome becomes the campaign advisor to presidential candidate Worthington Fuller, a ”worthy” candidate who is smart, wise, respectable — and boring. Lonesome markets him as a product rather than a statesman. “Do you know anyone who bought a product because they respect it?” he bellows. “You gotta be loved — loved!” Lonesome makes Fuller a folksy man of the people, and Fuller promises to create a cabinet position for Lonesome: Secretary for National Morale. In short order Lonesome has moved from drunk-tank denizen to cracker-barrel entertainer to national celebrity to influential politico. “This whole county is just like my flock of sheep!” he brags. “They’re mine. I own ’em! I’m gonna be the power behind the president!”

Marcia is charmed, fascinated and repelled by Lonesome, and Neal is masterly in the way she portrays these conflicted emotions. Director Elia Kazan colors the black and white film with an artist’s palate, manipulating the shadows with skillful lighting that enhances character and mood, especially Marcia’s growing horror at the monster she has created. Griffith, too, excels as an actor; in fact, he portrayed Lonesome’s despicable, manipulative persona so believably that, according to Hollywood insider Marc Eliot, he virtually ended his own movie career. This was the era of typecasting, and audiences had trouble accepting Griffith in any other way than as the loathsome Lonesome Rhodes. But the brilliant actor went on to success in playing country bumpkins (No Time for Sergeants), a folksy southern sheriff (The Andy Griffith Show), and a folksy southern attorney (Matlock). He was immensely successful in those shows, and he became one of Hollywood’s most respected and beloved actors. Yet in A Face in the Crowd, his debut film, audiences can see the depth of his talent and consider what might have been if audiences had been able to separate the actor from the character.

The connections between Lonesome Rhodes and Donald Trump are eerily apparent. In a recent front-page article for the New York Times, reporters Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman analyzed the results of a linguistic study they commissioned that examined all of Trump’s public words uttered in speeches and interviews for an entire week (“95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, from Trump’s Tongue,” December 6, 2015, A1, 27). Their findings confirm my thesis. Trump isn’t folksy as Lonesome is (leave it to Hillary to fall into an artificial cornpone drawl when she campaigns in the South), but Healy and Haberman point to Trump’s “breezy stage presence” as crucial to his connection with the American public. Like Lonesome, Trump is “an energetic and charismatic speaker who can be entertaining and ingratiating . . . There is a looseness to his language that sounds almost like water-cooler banter” and is almost as meaningless. In one particularly meaningless attempt to be ingratiating, Trump is quoted as saying of his fellow candidates: “All of ’em are weak, they’re just weak. . . . I think they’re weak, generally, you want to know the truth. But I won’t say that, because I don’t want to get myself, I don’t want to have any controversies. So I refuse to say that they’re weak generally, O.K.? Some of them are fine people. But they are weak.” Yet the public is buying into it.

Lonesome doesn’t know it, but in the time it takes to go from the penthouse to the ground floor, public opinion will have turned against him.

Granted, Trump is as different from Rhodes in the content of his speech as he is in social origins. He has successfully tapped into the fears of the nation by creating an Orwellian “precarious us” vs. “dangerous them” scenario. Healy and Haberman point to his constant repetition of “divisive words, harsh words and violent imagery” to stir up hostilities and prejudices that most Americans have been afraid or ashamed to voice. He has made bigotry fashionable again. By contrast, Rhodes lulls his audiences with good ol’ boy platitudes. But Trump is very much like Rhodes in his maverick approach to marketing, and his stubborn insistence that he is right and everyone else is wrong. Again referring to the study of Trump’s stumping, he “forgoes the usual campaign trappings — policy, endorsements, commercials, donations — and instead relies on potent language to connect with, and often stoke, the fears and grievances of Americans.” Also like Rhodes, Trump avoids the use of data, studies, or even common sense to support his claims; in fact, Trump stubbornly refuses to recant statements that are outrageously and patently false, such as his claim to have seen thousands of Muslims cheering in the streets of New Jersey after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, Trump taps into the public’s growing mistrust of government and the media “to erode people’s trust in facts, numbers, [and] nuance.” Facts are the enemy now, but we have the Donald to protect us. Just trust him.

Trump and Rhodes are particularly connected in their narcissistic need for attention, power, and adoration. Lonesome Rhodes cries out plaintively, “I’m gonna make them love me!,” while for Trump it’s already a done deal: “I like everybody. Everybody likes me,” he reminds audiences matter-of-factly whenever he is challenged to provide specific details about how he will solve a problem. As my cab driver explained, “Trump surrounds himself with smart people. They’ll get things done. He doesn’t have to give details. He’s a smart guy.” How does my cabby know? Because Trump tells us so, multiple times in every speech. Trust him. He’s right.

Can Trump be stopped? Should he be stopped? I’m fascinated by the diverse support this offensive, bombastic demagogue is amassing. Even many Liberty readers have boarded the Trump Express. But where is that train headed? In one of the most ironic moments of A Face in the Crowd, Lonesome enters an elevator after what he thinks was a successful TV show attempting to sell Worthington Fuller to the public. He crows enthusiastically to the operator, “Going down. Going all the way down” on his way to a fancy dinner in another part of town. Lonesome doesn’t know it, but in the time it takes to go from the penthouse to the ground floor, public opinion will have turned against him because of something he said on the show. One can only hope that Trump makes a similar misstep that takes him down. So far, however, his intellectual and ideological blunders keep translating into higher polls. I don’t get it. But unlike my cab driver today, I’m leaning away from Trump. All the way away.


Editor's Note: Review of "A Face in the Crowd," directed by Elia Kazan. Warner Brothers, 1957. 126 minutes.



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The Religion of the Environmentalists

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The crazed environmentalism of the official class has recently been the subject of two articles in Liberty, which is highly appropriate: if those people won’t leave the subject alone, why should we? Here’s my own, smaller contribution.

I’m interested in the status of environmentalism as a religion. I agree with the libertarian and conservative consensus that it is. What makes me curious is the psychological component. What do the true believers in environmentalism get out of it, as a psychological reward?

The traditional religions offer many psychological rewards and motivations: a personal relationship with the God of the universe; the prospect of eternal life; the glory of religious art, music, and literature; pride in an ancient heritage; the calm assurance of truths understood by contemplation. These are rewards that environmentalism does not offer.

If you believe what they said, they were ready to shoot themselves over the possibility that George Bush would permit oil drilling in a tiny part of Alaska.

Environmentalism offers no hope of an eternal life; its concern is entirely with this world. It replaces God with material objects and forces that cannot speak and cannot help. While some adepts claim that nature puts them in a contemplative state in which they make actual discoveries of truth, the truths they learn are hard to identify. Their experience, as described, is indistinguishable from the one you get from eating a big dinner. As for art, music, and literature, the best that environmentalism seems to offer is the photography of pretty objects, and one can find that in any fashion magazine. There is no environmental music, and as for literature, if you think John Muir was a good writer, you might do well with any other old-fashioned sermonizer. The great literature of “nature” was the literature of the Romantic period, which was pre-environmentalist; it was a literature specifically concerned, not with the preservation of certain rocks and trees, but with the mind’s superiority over the natural world:

O Lady! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!
       And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,
           Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
               Enveloping the Earth—
And from the soul itself must there be sent
        A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
Of all sweet sounds the life and element!

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Dejection ode

When I try to find some grand tradition of environmentalist “literature,” I think of Samuel Butler’s parody in The Way of All Flesh (1903):

The first glimpse of Mont Blanc threw Mr Pontifex into a conventional ecstasy. “My feelings I cannot express. I gasped, yet hardly dared to breathe, as I viewed for the first time the monarch of the mountains. I seemed to fancy the genius seated on his stupendous throne far above his aspiring brethren and in his solitary might defying the universe. I was so overcome by my feelings that I was almost bereft of my faculties, and would not for worlds have spoken after my first exclamation till I found some relief in a gush of tears. With pain I tore myself from contemplating for the first time ‘at distance dimly seen’ (though I felt as if I had sent my soul and eyes after it), this sublime spectacle.”

Not only are many traditional rewards completely absent from the environmentalist’s psychological balance sheet, but many new debits have been added. One of them is panic fear. If you can believe the sources, environmentalists are convinced that the civilized world is about to be ended by “climate change,” that “unless all of us work together now,” a new dark age will descend upon humanity. On the local level, they are constantly being scared to death by some new “environmental threat.” What a way to live! If you believe what they said, they were ready to shoot themselves over the possibility that George Bush would permit oil drilling in a tiny part of Alaska that not one in ten thousand of them could have found on a map, that none of them would ever have visited, and that could not have affected any of their lives, even if a meteor had wiped it out. And now they’re looking, with fear and trembling, at a convocation of blowhards in Paris as the last, best chance to Save the World.

So what are the psychological rewards of the environmental religion? There must be some. I’ve thought of four.

1. An easily sustained self-righteousness. Members of traditional religions are famous for this quality. Jesus denounced the self-righteous religious teachers of his time, finding many of these “hypocrites” among people who were close to agreeing with him on doctrinal issues. But traditional religions usually make you jump through some hoops before you blossom forth as a scribe or Pharisee. To be a self-righteous Christian, you have to be baptized, make a financial pledge, show up at the charity bazaar . . . something. But an environmentalist can feel self-righteous about nothing more than voting Democrat, or intending to. The kindergarten teacher who scares the kids into thinking that if they don’t recycle all their garbage they’ll be killing the whales no doubt experiences one of the cheapest rushes of self-righteousness available on this planet.

There is no environmental music, and as for literature, if you think John Muir was a good writer, you might do well with any other old-fashioned sermonizer.

2. Freedom from moral control. Traditional religions have mechanisms to keep their members in line. That sounds pretty grim, and often it is, but imagine what would happen if they didn’t, if every believer got to express his self-righteousness in any way he wanted. But you don’t have to imagine anything; just look at the environmental movement. Is there anyone in the movement whose job is to say, “Wait a minute. You’re going too far. There’s such a thing as truth. It really isn’t true that ISIS was caused by climate change. And you know, when you remove a lane of heavily traveled road and turn it into a bike lane, you’re not doing any good for the environment. Not only are you hurting other people but you’re increasing emissions from the jammed up cars. So my advice is, stop it.” Have you ever encountered anyone like that — in the movement itself?

3. Membership in an exclusive group. When you notice that last month you depleted your bank account by $1,000, rather than the $2,000 you predicted, you naturally welcome that knowledge. “Whew!” you say. “That’s great! Next time, I’ll pay better attention to my math.” When you meet a nice elderly lady who spends one day a week working for her church’s charity mission, and she notices that the number of homeless people has greatly diminished, you’ll hear her say, “Thank you, Jesus! Something must be working!” But when you suggest to an environmentalist that the dire predictions of climate change, or whatever such people want to call it this month, may not be true, you know what the reaction will be. Your facts will be dismissed, your intelligence will be questioned, and if you persist in conveying the good news, that will be the last time you get a chance to do it.

Now, who would want to hear bad news? Only people for whom knowing the terrible truth provides membership in a group of superior minds, in a club of intrepid thinkers who know things that other people don’t, including things they don’t know because the things aren’t true. Millenarians are commonly of this type. If you try to show them that their prophecies of a dreadful end-time are not being fulfilled, they won’t feel happy and relieved; they will shun you with contempt. Membership in their exclusive group is purchased at the price of unquestioning belief, and for some people, this isn’t too high a price for the satisfaction it gives.

4. Aggression. Put satisfactions 1 through 3 together, and that’s what you get. The environmental religion is a refuge for people who enjoy feeling right in their own eyes, who value their membership in an allegedly superior group far more than the claims of truth, and who want to be free from normal ethical controls. When those conditions are satisfied, the pleasures of aggression can be indulged without limit.

Is there anyone in the environmental movement whose job is to say, “Wait a minute. You’re going too far. There’s such a thing as truth"?

The spirit of aggression is, of course, well manifested in the constant barrage of leaflets, “public service” announcements, museum displays, school curricula, political diatribes, and other means of insulting and degrading any human being who drops a Kleenex in the “non-recycle” bin. It is manifested in the gleeful fantasies of those religious visionaries who delight in imagining a not too distant future when deniers will find their cities sinking under the waves and their children screaming for relief from 130-degree temperatures.

And there are many Americans who, mild-mannered in the book club or the faculty lounge, derive great and sordid pleasure from damaging others’ lives and livelihoods. Do you think people would give their time and money agitating for laws against plastic bags or paper plates if they didn’t get a kick out of closing down some “polluter’s” business? Do you think they would fight, as California’s “environmental activists” have fought, to dump billions of gallons of water into the Pacific Ocean in order to “save” an ugly and useless fish, while demanding harsh penalties for humans who do not “save water”? Do you think the bureaucrats who take out two lanes of a busy street and turn them into bicycle paths feel anything but pleasure as they watch a thousand heathen motorists creeping through a traffic jam, while a solitary saint whizzes past them on a bike? Do you think anyone would do such things, if he weren’t enjoying his aggression against normal people?

Isabel Paterson observed that “there is a secular self-righteousness which borrows all the unbearable features of formalized piety with none of its graces.” When she made that remark, in 1932, she was thinking about some particularly unfortunate aspects of Victorian culture — about which, she noted, there were also many good things to say. But there aren’t any good things to say about environmentalism. And unlike the Victorians, it’s still around. In fact, it’s everywhere.




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Real Cinematic Quality

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Sylvester Stallone burst onto the cinematic scene 40 years ago as the writer and star of a tender little film about a small-time fighter with a big heart who finds love, honor, and self-respect while being beaten to a pulp in the ring. He goes the distance, and in doing so, he fulfills his dream. The budget ($1 million) of this film was so low that stars Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith shared a cramped dressing room and producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler had to mortgage their houses to come up with an additional hundred grand to complete it, but it too went the distance. Rocky was the feel-good film of 1976 and won the Oscar for Best Picture. Stallone, who had been earning $36 a week as an usher while trying to make it as an actor, became the star of multiple action-film franchises from Rambo to The Expendables, but he eventually became more caricature than character. Rocky spawned six sequels over four decades that also became increasingly hollow imitations of the original. Until now.

Creed, the latest entry in the franchise,manages to match the storytelling magic, cinematic quality, and emotional impact of Rocky by paying homage to the original without becoming a knockoff. In this film, Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the abandoned love child of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), Rocky’s nemesis-turned-friend in the earlier films. Raised in foster care and group homes after his mother’s death, Adonis is a troubled kid with something to prove. Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) finds him and brings him into her home, where he receives a good education and entry into a good job. But he still has something to prove, and he needs to do it in the ring.

Here the roles begin to be reversed. Johnson-Creed is now the young man with heart who can’t seem to get a break or a trainer, while Rocky (Stallone) has become the curmudgeonly trainer who agrees to take him on. This is not the arrogant, cocky Stallone of recent films, but a subdued, introspective mentor who knows his time in the spotlight has ended and is somehow relieved by that fact. Rocky is worn down by loneliness; Mickey (his trainer, Burgess Meredith), Paulie (his best friend and brother-in-law, Burt Young), and his beloved Adrian (Talia Shire) have all passed away. He takes a fatherly interest in Adonis, who calls him “Unc.”

Rocky spawned six sequels over four decades that also became increasingly hollow imitations of the original. Until now.

Adonis connects with a love interest similar to Rocky’s Adrian. Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is a professional singer who also faces broken dreams: she has a degenerative ear condition that is stealing her hearing. Yet she faces the loss with courage, optimism, and determination. She will not let fear of the future destroy her enjoyment of what she has today. Bianca is no blossoming wallflower as Adrian was, but she provides a strong, modern counterpoint to Adonis.

Creed is what a movie ought to be, and what the original Rocky was: a strong story with believable characters facing believable conflicts; music that supports rather than controls emotion; and cinematography that captures the grit and reality of the story without cheap (or not-so-cheap) manipulation. The film contains a number of extended-shot scenes designed by cinematographer Maryse Alberti to enhance the sense of realism. Watch especially for the two rounds of Adonis’ first professional boxing match that are captured in a single shot — no editing, no slo-mo, no cutaway shots, just perfect choreography from actors, director, makeup artist (who applied blood to one fighter while the camera was in close-up on the other) and steadicam operator Ben Semanoff, who must have been bobbing and weaving as much as the fighters in order to stay in position. It required a dozen takes to get that single shot, and it was worth it. “Everybody thinks we were cheating, but that is one shot,” Alberti is quoted in Variety.

The film builds inexorably to the big fight, and it’s a doozy. The punches feel real and unrehearsed. But Creed really isn’t about boxing. It’s a story about ambition, disappointment, determination, and going the distance — about having a creed, and living by it.


Editor's Note: Review of "Creed," directed by Ryan Coogler. MGM, Warner Bros. New Line Cinema, 2015. 133 minutes.



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Give Up Your Guns

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A few years ago, there appeared online a satire of an American religious group, written by a disaffected member. This group — the name doesn’t matter — believes that because the present world is wicked, God will soon destroy virtually all its people in an apocalyptic war against his own creation. The satire, which unfortunately I can no longer find, went something like this:

Problem: Crime is rampant in our society.
Solution: Kill 7 billion people.

Problem: Violence plagues many countries of the world.
Solution: Kill 7 billion people.

Problem: Sexual immorality continues to increase.
Solution: Kill 7 billion people.

Etc.

I was thinking about this on December 2, as the chorus of modern liberal shrieks went up about the events in San Bernardino. The president and Mrs. Clinton started shrieking even before the crimes had ended, and they have continued in the same way, as if the addition of facts and information meant, and could mean, absolutely nothing. And indeed, they can’t mean anything to the shriekers, because their solution to every problem is the same: end the right to bear arms.

To them, it makes no difference who was using the guns, or whether the guns were legally acquired, in a state that has some of the toughest gun laws in America. It makes no difference that the terrorists were obviously dedicated enough to acquire guns, no matter what laws existed to prevent them. It makes no difference that . . . But why expand the list? Nothing makes a difference to the gun controllers’ apocalyptic worldview. It’s their religion, and it cannot change. It can only be preached at a higher volume.

Certainly it makes no difference to them that normal Americans have pretty much stopped caring what these particular prophets of doom are saying. We’ll see how much difference it makes to normal Americans that a sizable number of their leaders are religious lunatics.




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Ayn Rand: Champion of the Working Class?

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In his libertarian manifesto For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard accused Ayn Rand of being a pawn of corporate people profiting from the welfare state. As evidence that she was out of touch with reality, he cited her famous statement that the businessman is America’s most persecuted minority (Mises Institute edition [388], quoting Rand, “America’s Most Persecuted Minority: Big Business” [1962]; reprinted in Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal).

Objectivism, to the extent that the general public knows anything about it, is often regarded as a rightwing position and can be seen as a boon to efforts to push libertarians into the hand of the Tea Party Right. While this belief is ignorant, the masses do not have a detailed and nuanced grasp of the details of libertarian doctrine, nor should we expect them to. Many people merely adopt a false and shallow impression that libertarians are some type of conservatives who are on the far Right, compared to moderate Republicans. Some left-libertarians, such as I, are very frustrated with the tendency of Objectivism to be classified in this way. The truth about Rand (like the truth about all things) is deeper and more surprising than a first impression would allow. Rand should not be considered a member of the Right. In several important ways, indeed, she resembled a populist leftist.

The middle-aged Rand, still fresh from her own experience of poverty, tended to respect working-class folk more than rich people.

To examine the sense in which she was, historically, a friend of the working class and an enemy of the conservative Right, several things come into focus. First, let us consider Rand herself. She was a working-class woman, and quite poor during much of her adult life. It was only with the sale of the movie rights to The Fountainhead, when she was almost 40 years old, that she achieved significant self-made wealth, which was to last and grow for the rest of her life. To say, then, that Ayn Rand hated the working class and loved the rich would be to assume that she hated herself for many years — something absurdly contrary to her fundamentally self-loving and perhaps narcissistic personality.

Second, Rand always had a particular affinity for working-class people who want to earn their wages instead of relying on the welfare state. For example, Rand pushed to have The Fountainhead movie premiere in a working-class area, saying that she knew her “real audience” was there (Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Anchor Books edition, 212). When the audience in working-class Southern California applauded the movie at its premier, Rand said, “That’s why I like the common man.” The middle-aged Rand, still fresh from her own experience of poverty, tended to respect working-class folk more than rich people.

Third, and perhaps most obvious and also most extremely inconvenient for rightwing libertarians, is the conservative movement’s frequent hatred of Rand, and her counterattacks against that movement during the 1960s. Any disciple of Rand knows what the hateful, anti-Randian sentence “To a gas chamber, go!” means and embodies; for those who don’t, a more extensive knowledge of the history of the libertarian movement is required (for which I recommend Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism, one of the best works on the subject). Rand’s hatred of conservatives is undeniable. The title of her essay “Conservatism: An Obituary” (1962, reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal) is self-explanatory. If one goes beyond the title to read the text, one sees that Rand held nothing back. She was full of anger. She once said that liberals seek to enslave the body and conservatives seek to enslave the mind, both conceding freedom to that part of human existence which they care about least. This comment is hardly flattering to the Right.

Fourth, and finally, consider Rand’s signature novels themselves. Of course, all her fans have read them, but few have read carefully. In The Fountainhead, Gale Wynand gets rich by pandering to the stupid masses in his newspapers. In Atlas Shrugged, James Taggart, the major villain, is, among many other things, a rich white male businessman who inherited vast wealth and is the CEO of a major railroad. Is this a character created to praise the rich, a character that rich people should love?

Rand would have seen the working class as a place where many potential John Galts exist.

Or did Rand seek to praise productivity and intellect, not the rich as such? Compare James Taggart to his sister Dagny, a hero of the novel. Dagny is a woman who actually runs, not simply pretends to run, a great railroad. Her role in the novel makes it years ahead of its time in terms of gender equality. Let us not forget that Rand was a woman, and, as such, a living embodiment of the freedom of women to pursue careers, a freedom by no means certain for most women in America during Rand’s lifetime. Most people would regard progressive feminism as a leftist element in Rand. The creator of Galt’s Gulch, the Utopia in Atlas Shrugged, is fairly prosperous in the Gulch itself, but in “our world” he is a mere day laborer who lives in poverty — and that’s where he lives during most of the book. It is easy to connect the dots and assume that Rand would have seen the working class as a place where many potential John Galts exist. One of the basic messages of the novel is that our world would condemn all such people to a meager existence.

Murray Rothbard despised the big business Right (at least before his “paleolibertarian” phase); I believe that Rand did as well. Contemporary conservatives may exploit Rand’s ideas, just as they exploit so many other ideas, both economic and philosophical; but that’s no reason for working-class libertarians and left-libertarians not to embrace Rand as one of their own.




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