GSTAAD—It feels like a sepia-tinged melodrama, one directed by the great schlock-master Sam Wood. Driving up the winding valleys through the 17th-century villages and the Castle of Gruyères on one’s right, the heartbeat quickened as Gstaad beckoned in the distance. It meant beautiful women, parties galore, challenging snow-covered slopes to swish down on, and a friendly atmosphere among the lucky few who knew about the place. All that has gone down the drain, except for the prices of everything, which have gone through the roof. It’s called progress. I used to be able to identify the mood of a time, especially here in Gstaad, but no longer. For starters, there is no more snow from upstairs, only man-made white stuff. The last February without any snow whatsoever was in 1964, and I spent it hitting tennis balls with Irwin Shaw on the Palace hotel’s outdoor courts. Nobody talked about climate change back then, and those who did were as wrong as these modern maniacs trying to shove it down our throats nowadays. One such Extinction Rebellion asshole who drives a Porsche tried to collar me the other day, and he got a somewhat rude response: “Talk to the Chinese, and tell the African Bushmen to stop burning wood, and the Markles to offset their carbon footprint by staying put in Hollywood,” I said. “I use a sailboat, a mini, and walk everywhere, so shut up.”
From my chalet high above on the Wispile there is green all around me, with the white stuff far up and away, on the glaciers in the distance. Man-made paths of snow have the suckers going up and down the ski lifts like robots, “après-skiing” being the operative word where sport is concerned. Still, there are those like my own son who insist that there is snow and good skiing, except that particular venue changes quite a lot—daily, in fact. The only good news about this is that I will have to give up skiing in the near future, and the lack of the white stuff makes it easier.
The lack of snow was offset by karate camp, with the arrival of my karate sensei Richard Amos and Ben, a tough member of the Swiss team. Implicit in karate is a sense of personal dignity, once characteristic of the samurai, even that having given way nowadays to American-style commercialism. But the way of Bushido, at least to some of us, remains a code of moral principle. Richard Sensei, Ben, and I went at it hard, but then I noticed they were cheating, taking it easy on the old boy. I truly felt like quitting. But it is the way of Bushido—one does not attack old men. Still, a few bruises make it easy to fool oneself, and I celebrated the finish of the three-day camp with one bottle of vodka all to myself.
Throughout these 55 years of karate, especially before sessions that require hand-to-hand fighting, I inspire myself by reading about real combat, as in James Holland’s brilliant Normandy ’44. This time my inspiration was panzer ace Michael Wittmann, feted throughout the Reich and awarded the Knight’s Cross by Hitler himself for his one-man shooting spree of an entire troop of three Cromwell tanks and one Sherman in a matter of minutes along with a number of half-tracks, trucks, and carriers. (Wittmann was to die in his tank in the closing days of the battle.) That is when I came to the part about my wife’s uncle, a battalion commander in the Panzer-Lehr-Regiment, “the urbane and aristocratic Major Prince Wilhelm von Schoenburg-Waldenburg.” Eight Prince Schoenburgs were killed in action in World War II, seven at the Russian front, Wilhelm while counterattacking in Normandy and taking a direct hit in the turret of his panzer and dying instantly. The Nazis made sure nobles were in the thick of the fighting, and the extremely good-looking Wilhelm was all of 25 years of age.
And now for the good news: The group of Spectator readers who came up to Gstaad for lunch and a short speech by yours truly turned out to be probably the nicest bunch of men and women I’ve met in a hell of a long while. Even the Anglophobe Alexandra, my wife, has become an instant Anglophile because of them. There were about forty, and what struck me was the fact they were not a silly, jolly bunch, but serious men and women who had obviously reached the top of their professions such as law, the academy, and business. Yet they were a happy group who knew more about The Spectator than yours truly and had very interesting things to say during the lunch. Not a single bore among them, most likely a first ever here in Gstaad.
My plan was to cover my 62 years in Gstaad as compared with the 43 years as a Spectator columnist, and how Gstaad has gone to the dogs, whereas the Speccie has gone from strength to strength. It was a good premise, but I didn’t do it justice because I couldn’t go full-out. Anyway, my visitors were happy to be in the sun, and they even thought to bring me a bottle of the great Lagavulin scotch whiskey, “your sainted editor’s favorite,” as my friend Michael put it. Next week we at The Spectator will have a surprise for you, dear Takimag readers.
The guilty flee when no man pursueth, says Proverbs, but it does not follow from this that the guilty do not flee when they are indeed pursued. The guilty also have a tendency to argue when they know that they are in the wrong, as for example architects who continue to deny that, for the past seventy years at least, they have been disenchanting the world by espousing a dysfunctional functionalism and constructing buildings so hideous that they make Frankenstein’s monster look like Clark Gable.
I refuse to think so ill of architects as human beings as to believe them to be totally unaware of what they have done. Rather, I pity them. They are like those unfortunate government spokesmen who have to defend the indefensible in public, which is always a disagreeable and nerve-racking thing to have to do. As government spokesmen invent a language full of polysyllabic euphemism to disguise the catastrophe their masters have wrought, so architects speak a language that is either incomprehensible or, where comprehensible, entirely beside the point.
I take as an example the response of a university professor of architecture to President Trump’s executive order making the classical style of architecture compulsory for new federal buildings of any size or cost in the Washington area. I do not name the professor because my target is the guild or sect to which he belongs rather than the individual. His article objecting to the executive order is typical of many.
He begins with the argument from authority: He cites a number of American architectural organizations that are highly critical or fearful of the president’s executive order. But this is like canvassing the opinion of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the KGB, and the Red Army to find out whether communism was as bad as it was painted. It is precisely the nature of the architects’ authority that is at issue.
The president’s executive order starts from what seems to me an indisputable premise, that much if not most of the federal building carried out in the past half century has been at best undistinguished and at worst hideous. But in the 1930s and even later, federal buildings that were (and will always be) a great adornment to the city, such as the Supreme Court and the Jefferson Memorial, were built. And it is not possible that what was possible then should not be possible now.
According to the executive order, classical architecture that takes its inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome symbolizes the American founding aspiration toward democracy and the rule of law. Critics point out that both were slave societies, says the professor, and indeed that the slave-owners in the Southern states of America built neoclassical mansions on their plantations. I think both arguments miss the point, though simply to reject the classical world because it was slave-owning is to deny its other and longer-lasting legacy, and would also—in logic—be to reject the founding of the American republic because some of the American founding fathers were slave-owners (and not a woman among them). History is, or ought to be, more than the backward projection of our current moral enthusiasms or obsessions.
Moreover, modernism and its successors are much more tainted by fascist and communist ideologies. And while I do not think that classical buildings are in any way aesthetically redolent of slavery—one does not look at the Maison Carrée in Nîmes and think “slavery”—modern buildings frequently speak of megalomania, both of the architect and his patron, and it is true that dictators have sometimes built in a style that one might call tyrant-classicism. But high modernism was certainly in vogue for much of the Soviet Union’s existence, with horrible results, combining hideousness of design with shoddiness of execution. Moreover, many of the originators of modernism were themselves of very totalitarian disposition—they explicitly wanted to legislate the style of architecture for the whole world—and their inhumanity is obvious from what they built.
However, the political associations of classicism and modernism (and its successors, such as brutalism and deconstructivism) are beside the point. What is important is that classical architecture, even when not of the very best, is never as bad as the kind of things that Thom Mayne builds. It can achieve grandeur through elegance and not merely by size, or by a tendency to make human beings about as welcome in its precincts as weevils in a packet of flour. What is important is to build well and beautifully, and I do not see how anyone could fail to come to the conclusion that (for example) the National Gallery of Art in Washington is incomparably superior to the recent extension of the Tate Modern gallery in London.
But the nub of the professor’s argument is this: “I fear that [the executive order] will ultimately stifle innovation and reverse recent federal support for architectural experimentation.” In other words, it will cramp the architects’ freedom to build whatever they feel like building—with the results that are to be seen everywhere.
Innovation and architectural experimentation are not good in themselves. They are to be judged by their results, not by their newness, their originality or unprecedentedness. It would be an innovation to build a skyscraper of refrigerated butter, but the fact of its innovation would not be enough to save it from reprobation. A triangular wheel would be an innovation, but it would not be an advance.
The article bears out precisely what the executive order’s preamble says: that the modernists and their successors pay no regard to beauty. The professorial author extols the new American embassy in London as follows:
[The embassy] combined provocative design with the latest advancements in security, while incorporating green building systems that reduced energy costs. Together, I believe [it] project[s] the image of a technologically advanced and enlightened U.S. federal government.
Not a word of its beauty, not surprisingly, since it is a monstrosity, admittedly one among many other monstrosities.
And why provocative design? Who is to be provoked, and what for? Architecture is not a cartoon, a play, a novel, a joke. Note also the absence of all mention of beauty or elegance in this dithyramb—for a very good and sufficient reason. If anything could bear out precisely what the executive order says to justify its promulgation, it is this.
What the building projects is not enlightenment, but total inhumanity, a tendency to dictatorship, a deeply skewed scale of values, a total lack of aesthetic discrimination, and a surrender to a self-generating and perpetuating clique. As Thom Mayne, one of the leaders of that clique, put it, he would like to build only for other architects, the only persons qualified to judge and to admire what he does. Yet surely even he has an inkling, at some level in his mind, that he has made the world a little worse than he found it.
Not until well into the Democratic debate Tuesday night did the COVID-19 coronavirus come up, and it was Mike Bloomberg, not a CBS moderator, who raised it:
“The president fired the pandemic specialist in this country two years ago,” the former New York mayor said. “There’s nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing. And he’s defunded the CDC.”
Not 24 hours later, President Donald Trump, home from India, was in the White House briefing room, flanked by the nation’s foremost health experts, deputizing Vice President Mike Pence to head the task force to lead America’s battle against the spreading disease.
Yet, by Thursday noon, the Dow Jones average was down 3,000 points on the week, a 10% plunge from its recent all-time high.
Trillions of dollars in equity value had been wiped out. The great bull market of the Trump presidency may be history.
Though only 60 Americans are known to have been infected, and none has yet died, fear has begun to grip the nation as well as the world. Yet, as of now, the numbers don’t justify the emotion.
The death toll as of Thursday was 2,800, out of 82,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide. The great majority of these are in China, where the virus originated, though the disease has spread to every continent, with Italy and South Korea the hardest hit outside of China.
Whatever happens medically — the mortality rate of the virus is between 2 and 3% — it’s hard to see how the world averts a recession if COVID-19 is not soon contained and controlled.
Already, Democrats are piling on Trump for cutting funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and failing to reflect the seriousness of the threat. And the issue does present a challenge to Trump’s presidency. His handling of it may determine his stature as chief executive.
Yet the issue is also tailor-made for Trump.
First, the disease comes out of Xi Jinping’s China, not Trump’s USA.
Second, the president occupies what Theodore Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit,” the White House. He can use that pulpit daily to command the airwaves and inform, lead, unite and direct the nation during what could be a months-long crisis. And Trump alone has the power to declare a national emergency, should that be needed.
If Trump acts as a leader, urging unity in the struggle to contain the virus and discover a vaccine, the hectoring from the Democratic left, already begun, can come to be seen as unpatriotic.
Also, Trump’s probable opponent this fall, who would be in charge of preventing the coronavirus from spreading like the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, is Bernie Sanders. And what are Sanders’ credentials and plans?
Under “Medicare for All,” Sanders intends to nationalize the entire U.S. heath care system and abolish the private health insurance plans of 140 million Americans who now depend on them.
As for the pharmaceutical industry, uniquely situated to assist in the crash effort to find a cure for the coronavirus, Sanders will confiscate its profits and put those profiteers out of business.
Still, given the alarming news coming from countries all over the globe, there is a risk that by November, the U.S. and the world may have tumbled into a recession. Airlines are already canceling flights to and from Asia. Cruise ships are pulling into ports and off-loading passengers. Travel and tourism are suffering terribly. Schools are closing.
Chinese factories that produce essential parts for factories and finished products in the U.S., Europe and Asia are shutting down. Supply chains are being severed. Shortages are cropping up.
The Japanese are talking of canceling the Olympics. If the virus spreads here, the question arises: Will our two parties still hold their nominating conventions this summer in Milwaukee and Charlotte?
The chickens of globalization are coming home to roost.
In recent decades, America’s economic and political elites of both parties surrendered America’s economic independence for globalism, a new interdependence of nations, where we Americans no longer rely on ourselves alone for the vital necessities of our national life.
That decision is now being exposed as the folly against which Hamilton and economic nationalists always warned.
According to The Washington Post, critical ingredients of medicines and drugs, upon which many American lives depend, are made in Chinese factories now in danger of being shut down.
In the ongoing struggle between nationalism and globalism, the globalists are taking a beating. Like the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans, Americans are not going to be looking to the WHO or U.N. to ensure their health, but to their own nation-states. And if a pandemic threatens, transnationalism’s “open borders” ideology is not a policy that will bring universal acclamation.
Like Trump’s America, all nations, in this crisis, are going to put their own people first. As they should.
What is it that holds our country together today? Perhaps nothing so much as lies, which, in some instances, are nonetheless effective because they are known to be lies.
Something remarkable—or perhaps all too predictable, in our cynical time—happened here in the City of Brotherly Love on Feb. 15. In the middle of Black History Month, a man spray-painted racial slurs on the Cecil B. Moore mural in North Philly and at Brightside Academy and Habitat for Humanity. A civil rights icon, Moore is a big deal in this town, so people were naturally outraged.
This week the Philadelphia police released images of the perpetrator. He is a black male, young (between 25 to 35 years of age, according to police), with a medium build. He was wearing a black jacket, gray sweatshirt, blue jeans, and brown shoes, and was carrying a black duffel bag. That description fits many thousands of young black men in Philly, so the police may never apprehend him.
Why did he do it?
One explanation might be the desire to make mischief for his fellow blacks. Perverse people do exist, so it’s possible that this man wanted his fellows to feel attacked, degraded, humiliated. Imagining their negative feelings, he’d feel a certain pleasure or satisfaction. (Precisely why a man would have such a reaction is a good question for which I don’t have an answer. I will say, though, that moral evil is sometimes rather subtle and mysterious. For instance, the gossip about others that people engage in often indicates that they are hardly displeased by the misfortunes of others—friends and family not excepted—although the gossiper’s actual state may be obscured by some pretext of “concern.”)
Another explanation would be that the perpetrator was advancing an identity-politics agenda. One of the things that the man spray-painted was “fuck niggers.” The default assumption, of course, is that anybody who would do such a thing certainly isn’t black, but probably white. And indeed, the intellectual class—journalists, professors, lawyers, Democrat politicians—is committed to getting blacks to believe that they are by definition “victims of a racist society,” in part because this lie affords a good racket for intellectuals. And needless to say, many blacks themselves believe this lie, too. Thus, for some years now, NFL players and NBA players, in the course of their disputes with team owners and league executives, have referred to themselves as slaves and to professional sports as slave plantations. The absurdity of the metaphors reveals that getting reality right is not what matters here; personal interests are paramount.
Although the perpetrator would not have directly benefited from stirring up black resentment about “racism,” he may have thought that blacks, as a group, would gain from his mischief. After all, Philly has one of the most liberal mayors in the country, the most liberal district attorney, and a new, liberal police commissioner who has already played both the race and the gender cards (she’s a black woman). Homicides are up 26 percent in Philadelphia this year, but still all three remain strong proponents of “prison reform” and “decriminalization,” in part because they think the criminal justice system is “racist.” Spray-painting language such as “fuck niggers” in public places is one way to push the leftist lie that blacks are a victim group—one that deserves “prison reform” and “decriminalization,” as well as affirmative action, reparations, and God-knows-what-all.
In truth, lies are so customary in our society that we expect them, and therefore, we no more expect powerful, public figures to be sincere than we expect the customer service representative to mean it when he or she says, “Have a nice day.” Lies are just something we Americans do, like playing baseball, watching the Super Bowl, and celebrating the Fourth of July.
This is what’s really interesting about Michael Bloomberg’s recent “apology” for stop-and-frisk policing. As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg repeatedly defended stop-and-frisk, the reason being that the method worked quite well. Indeed, stop-and-frisk corresponded to a considerable decline in crime rates in the city, and to violent crime rates in particular.
Undoubtedly, stop-and-frisk was and remains an imperfect art. It relies on human intuition and discretion, both quite fallible. Over the decades, many minorities probably were wrongly subjected to stop-and-frisk, which by its very nature lends itself to abuse by cynical practitioners.
Still, consider the alternative. Human beings are not psychic, but law and order are nonetheless essential, so how can police do their jobs without relying on “hunches” and “gut instincts”? If a group or groups are overrepresented in certain crime rates, mustn’t stop-and-frisk, and police work generally, reflect that? Is a society without stop-and-frisk preferable to one that is less “discriminatory,” even if it’s less safe? Which is the better trade-off?
Of course, this nuanced understanding of stop-and-frisk that I’ve tried to outline would be unthinkable from a politician, because his aim is to tell the right people what he thinks they want to hear. Hence Bloomberg’s “apology”:
I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused. By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized—and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities…. [As] president of the United States, I will work to dismantle systems that are plagued by bias and discrimination. I will invest in the communities that bore the brunt of those systems for generations. And I’ll put this work at the very top of our agenda.
What’s interesting about this is how hollow it rings. Does anybody think Bloomberg is sincere? His apology, I think, is a known lie. A lie that people think is necessary. It is possible to live by a known lie because people think it is necessary.
So it is, too, with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, which is not so simple or black-and-white as our culture of lies would have us believe. On Monday Weinstein was convicted of two felony counts—criminal sexual assault and third-degree rape. He was acquitted of three additional counts—two counts of predatory sexual assault and one count of first-degree rape. Weinstein also faces charges of sexual assault and rape in two separate incidents in Los Angeles. Now, I don’t doubt that Weinstein was long a creep who exploited women, and I don’t wish to imply that he never assaulted or raped them, since for all I know did. Still, in view of the evidence, most of Weinstein’s ninety-odd accusers appear to have been bartering with the producer. They didn’t want to have sexual relations with him, but they did so anyway, as they thought it would help their careers.
Most implausible are the accusations by the actresses Asia Argento and Jessica Mann, women who claim that they proceeded to have a relationship with Weinstein after he had raped them. The language of these women’s communications with Weinstein makes it very hard to believe he actually raped them.
Certainly, people who know how the world works know that, just as there are always plenty of men who want to use their power to win the favor of women, or anyway to try to manipulate or exploit women sexually, so there are always lots of women who are willing to use their looks to realize their interests, and to play the sort of quid pro quo games offered by men like Harvey Weinstein. And yet, we aren’t supposed to notice the rather simple truth that, in eros, women, like men, are hardly angels. That memory can be conveniently selective is a truth we are supposed to ignore when it comes to women and sex. That women may be self-deceived, or exploiting the general paternalism they enjoy so as to get revenge on men, are possibilities we aren’t supposed to consider.
Even in our relations with family and friends we all find that there is only so much room for truth. Life would immediately become intolerable if we knew what everyone thought of us, and if everyone knew what we thought of them. There is nothing about the character of mass society, or about mass media, that is especially conducive to the expression of truth, or to tolerance, forgiveness, or virtue generally. Rather, because of the way we live now, it is lies that thrive, lies and manipulation.
You might not have heard — because Trump is still president, so MSNBC and CNN were required to give hair-on-fire coverage of some mundane action he’s taken this week — but on Monday, Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and a criminal sexual act.
I have some random thoughts on the case and the whole #MeToo movement. Apologies in advance that this has nothing to do with Donald Trump, Dictator.
1) Every time I hear about Weinstein’s predations, I wonder how many waitresses, real estate agents and housewives in Los Angeles might be celebrated actresses today, except that when Weinstein barged out of the bathroom stark naked and lunged at them, they fled the room and didn’t look back.
Our media are so infantile. Can’t we agree that Weinstein is a psychopathic scumbag without calling the witnesses against him “heroes”?
The true heroes are the girls whose names we don’t know — not the ones who were grossed out by the pig, but had sex with him anyway, then sent him emoji-filled, suck-up emails because they wanted to be “stars.”
True, we know there are some, like Gwyneth Paltrow, who turned him down flat, so kudos to her and to Brad Pitt, who accosted Weinstein afterward and told him, “If you ever make her feel uncomfortable again, I’ll kill you.”
Not to take away from that magnificent episode, but Paltrow is Hollywood royalty (the daughter of director-producer Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner), and her boyfriend at the time was an A-list actor. Still: heroes.
But how many actresses — whom we’re supposed to envy and read about their skin care regimes and Hollywood Hills homes and how they were ugly ducklings as children (they all say that) — are really no different from the average L.A. waitress, except they were willing to have sex with Harvey Weinstein or some similarly hideous beast?
Definitely keep getting your political opinions from them, America.
2) After the verdict, I looked at the list of movies Weinstein produced. There are nearly 200, maybe more. I have zero interest in seeing any of them, and the ones I’ve so much as started were terrible — except the three or four by Quentin Tarantino and one called “Benefit of the Doubt,” which sounds good.
Weinstein’s talent wasn’t in producing movies; it was in staging aggressive campaigns with the Oscars judges.
But let’s be generous and say 10 of Weinstein’s movies were great.
That’s worse than the music industry’s practice — pre-iTunes — of selling $20 albums or CDs that had one, maybe two good songs. One good to 12 bad, versus 10 good to 200 bad.
My main takeaway from the Weinstein trial is that I’m so glad there’s Amazon Prime and Netflix now, so pushy freaks can’t get rich producing schlock that the public hates.
3) There was fleeting coverage of the Weinstein case on Monday immediately after the verdict came in, with a bank of microphones set up outside the courthouse in anticipation of the defense lawyers making a statement.
They’re the interesting ones here. Will they appeal? What do they expect from the upcoming trial against Weinstein in Los Angeles? Also, considering who the defendant was, they did pretty well.
News cameras were focused on the empty microphones, as TV anchors chit-chatted with guests, one eye on the courthouse door. On MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell interrupted her guest when she thought she caught a glimpse of defense attorney Donna Rotunno. False alarm! — back to the guest.
Finally, Rotunno emerged, headed toward the microphones — and guess who leapt in front of her and got there first? GUESS!
No, not Michael Avenatti.
Gloria Allred, who proceeded to recite a lot of boilerplate about the accusers being “heroes” and speaking “their truth.” (She did not say: “We know Weinstein was horrible because he hired my daughter to attack his accusers.”)
Hilariously, Rotunno just kept walking, while TV viewers everywhere wishes a lightning bolt would strike Allred.
4) In light of the plague of white men, it’s notable that the majority demographic on the Weinstein jury was this hated group. The jury was composed of two white women, two black women, one black/Hispanic woman; one black man; and seven white men.
Despite Weinstein’s repulsiveness, the case was far from a slam-dunk. Luckily, white men have not yet adopted the modern propensity to view the world as an Identity Group cage match. I would wager that it never occurred to a single white man on the jury to think: We can’t send a white man to prison!
5) Also relevant to the white male pestilence infecting America: If we’d cut off immigration around 1880, certainly by 1850, there would be hardly any #MeToo cases at all. (I can’t think of a single #MeToo perpetrator of founding American stock — i.e., the group that gets blamed for everything.) We need way better assimilation programs.
6) There was one notable exception to the media’s refusal to budge off their 24-7 Trump Is an Authoritarian Monster coverage on the day of the Weinstein verdict: the Kobe Bryant memorial! All news was interrupted for hours and hours of live coverage of the Kobe event. No mention of Kobe’s rape case.
In these alarming days of global quarantine, the question returns of la belle, sweet, and triste Françoise Sagan: “Oh, but do you still travel?”
Sagan judged that it was no longer worth traveling for the globalization of the asshole, the multinational franchises that offer the same products in Montpelier as in Saigon, the international fusion cuisine signed with nonsense by pretentious chefs, the abominable packs of tourists and the multitudinous picnics in museums, etcetera.
On the other hand, the troubadour Vinicius de Moraes (the blackest white in Brazil, saravá!) loved to travel through sensual latitudes. He said that traveling is the art of the encounter, and he always sang with a glass of whiskey, a drink that refines the vocal cords and also removes uncomfortable viruses.
Whiskey is essential and more important than any pharmacy mask (the fashionable new atrezzo from Venice to Beijing) because, at present, if you go on a trip, you run the risk of being quarantined in a hotel or in one of those all-inclusive floating prisons called a cruise ship. It has never been so important to choose where to stay! The quarantine at the Ritz is more bearable than at any Hilton. At least you can smoke in the rooms.
The company is also fundamental. A couple in love can survive a honeymoon if there is a bar nearby. But locking yourself for very long weeks in a room with no view while getting tested for the coronavirus is Russian roulette for any relationship.
My dipsomaniac friends recommend less traveling and more drinking. And that we do in Ibiza, which is delicious in winter. Hotels and mastodonic nightclubs close, there are no flocks of clubbers, and good music beyond electronic trash can be heard.
Although it is true that sometimes—there she blows!—the white whale appears. I usually boast of being immune, but today I woke up with a hangover nine degrees on the Richter scale. It’s something like having Little Big Horn’s war drums thundering in the head. And if you have the courage to read the newspaper, you believe it’s written in Japanese. Nothing new under the sun after several days and nights of apotheosic boozing, a broken and miraculously regenerated heart, bacchanals, gambling, samba dancing, singing mariachis and Neapolitans, and always “L’Amore che muove il Sole e l’altre stelle.”
The hangover is tremendous, but whoever counts the costs of bliss does not deserve paradise. And to great evils, great remedies: a swim in the cold sea and a jug of Bloody Marys! I prepare it in a vase from the Ming dynasty, and I pour the same amount of vodka as tomato juice, very spicy, lots of lemon and fresh coriander. On the first gulp the morning becomes brighter, we begin to live and not just breathe, we fall in love more easily, tenderness overwhelms us, and courage swells our heart. “Alcohol” is a Muslim word that refers to the healing spirit (ah, dear Omar Khayyam, you knew that the Islamic world should drink more wine than camel milk!), and the red tide covers our venial sins, connecting us with Cosmic harmony and the sacred Sanskrit equation Sat-Cit-Ananda (Being-Consciousness-Bliss) to radiate loving emotions.
Thanks to alcoholic lucidity I start to think that, before traveling, I should inform myself if they allow drinking in quarantine.
(The article in its original Spanish immediately follows.)
De la Cantina a la Cuarentena
En estos días de cuarentena global regresa con fuerza la pregunta de la bella, dulce y triste Françoise Sagan: “¿Oh, pero usted todavía viaja?”
Sagan juzgó hace tiempo que ya no valía la pena viajar por la globalización de la gilipollez, de las mismas cadenas que ofertan los mismos productos en Montpelier que en Saigón, la gastronomía que ha fusionado internacionalmente la tontería de demasiados chefs, los abominables packs turísticos, la manía de los picnics en los museos, etcétera.
En cambio el trovador Vinicius de Moraes (el blanco más negro de Brasil, ¡saraba!) amaba viajar por latitudes sensuales. Decía que el viaje es el arte del encuentro y cantaba siempre con un whisky, bebida que afina las cuerdas vocales y además aleja incómodos virus.
El whisky es fundamental y más importante que cualquier mascarilla (el atrezzo de moda de Venecia a Pekín) pues, actualmente, si uno sale de viaje, corre el riesgo de acabar en cuarentena en un hotel o en una de esas cárceles flotantes todo incluido que llaman cruceros. ¡Nunca fue tan importante elegir dónde alojarse! La cuarentena en el Ritz es más llevadera que en cualquier Hilton. Al menos se puede fumar en las habitaciones.
La compañía también es fundamental. Una pareja muy enamorada puede sobrevivir a una luna de miel si hay bares cerca. Pero encerrarse en una habitación sin vistas durante largas semanas, haciéndose las pruebas del coronavirus, es una ruleta rusa para cualquier relación.
Mis amigos dipsómanos recomiendan viajar menos y beber más. Y eso hacemos en Ibiza, que está deliciosa en invierno. Cierran los hoteles y las discotecas, no hay rebaños de clubbers y se escucha música más allá de la bazofia electrónica.
Aunque es cierto que a veces, ¡por allí resopla!, aparece la ballena blanca. Presumo de ser inmune, pero hoy amanecí con una resaca del nueve en la escala Richter. Es algo así como tener los tambores de guerra de Little Big Horn atronando la cabeza. Y si tienes el coraje de leer el periódico, te parece que está escrito en japonés. Lo normal después de varios días y noches de juerga apoteósica, el corazón roto y milagrosamente regenerado, bacanal, juego, samba, mariachis y napolitanas, y siempre “L’Amor che muove il Sole e l’altre stelle.”
La resaca es tremenda, pero quien cuenta los costes del gozo no se merece el paraíso. Y a grandes males, grandes remedios: ¡Un baño de mar y una jarra de Bloody Mary! Lo preparo en una jarrón de la dinastía Ming y echo igual cantidad de vodka que zumo de tomate, muy especiado, más limón de lo normal y algo de cilantro fresco. Al primer trago la mañana se torna más luminosa, comenzamos a vivir y no solo a respirar, nos enamoramos más fácilmente, la ternura nos embarga y el valor hincha nuestro corazón. Alcohol es una palabra musulmana que hace referencia al espíritu sanador (¡ah, querido Omar Khayyam, tu sabías que el mundo islámico debiera beber más vino que leche de camella!), y la marea roja nos cura los pecadillos nocturnos, conectándonos con la armonía cósmica y la sagrada ecuación sánscrita Sat-Cit-Ananda (Ser-Consciencia-Gozo) para irradiar emociones amorosas.
Las ideas se aclaran y pienso que, antes de viajar, debo informarme si permiten beber a los que encierran en cuarentena.
I recently unfairly baited the great baseball statistics thinker Bill James into responding at vast length to one of my snarky tweets, which got me thinking about what we could learn from baseball history about how the media often gets The Narrative wrong.
The intellectual rigor of baseball discourse, a formerly overly sentimental field, has improved dramatically over my lifetime. Unfortunately, discussion of many other more important subjects, such as immigration policy, has gotten schmaltzier.
You might think, for example, that the success of new baseball stats suggests we should use “Moneyball” techniques to pick the best immigrants, the talented few whose presence will most benefit existing Americans, out of the 7 billion non-Americans, in much the way that sports teams today carefully draft the most promising young athletes.
And, indeed, after three years in office, the Trump administration has finally managed to get into effect this week a new, improved “public charge” rule to better screen out immigrants likely to wind up on welfare. But this seemingly simple concept of America trying to more intelligently select promising immigrants and keep out ill-omened immigrants has outraged and baffled the great and the good.
Baseball statistics has become a Safe Space for white guys who like to engage in acts of pattern recognition ever since a boiler-room attendant named Bill James began revolutionizing the study of baseball stats with his first self-published Baseball Abstract in 1975.
Over the past 45 years, the progress in baseball analysis has been testimony to the value of intellectual freedom. There has been a revolution among baseball intellectuals because nobody has gotten canceled for saying something deemed immoral. The old order was overthrown because, mirabile dictu, they lost a long series of arguments, and eventually jobs. Mr. James, for example, was hired by the Boston Red Sox front office, from which he recently retired after seventeen years and four world championships.
On the other hand, as with any historic change, the victors are likely to exaggerate the backwardness of the defeated. Hence, I like to tweak advocates of the triumphant advanced analytics (or “sabermetrics”) by pointing out that many of their findings about who were the best baseball players in history were anticipated generations ago by little boys. So I tweeted that the glass hadn’t been half empty, it had been half full:
Sabermetricians congratulate themselves for noticing in retrospect what fans in the stands noticed at the time. E.g., Advanced Analytics has determined that the greatest baseball player of all time was…Babe Ruth! Who was also the most popular player ever.
I went on to point out that the eight highest-achieving careers, according to the composite Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric for estimating the best all-around players at the popular Baseball Reference website, belong to Ruth, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, and Roger Clemens, all of whom were extremely famous during their careers among fans who had never heard of WAR or James’ own rival composite statistic: Win Shares.
Interestingly, James avoided creating an all-around statistic for rank-ordering all the players in baseball until 2002 due to the inherent difficulties in doing it right, long feeling that it was more useful to answer many small questions well than one big question badly.
Even today there are multiple versions of WAR that mostly but not always agree.
So caution is advised in thinking about these new numbers. But people love using all-around statistics like WAR and Win Shares to determine who is better than whom. I’m reminded of Charles Murray’s reassurance in his new book of social-science stats Human Diversity that:
Nothing we learn will justify rank-ordering human groups from superior to inferior—the bundles of qualities that make us human are far too complicated for that.
But, judging by the popularity of these new baseball stats for ranking who is best, males love ranking. One reason so many intellectuals go berserk with rage over Murray’s publication of IQ statistics is because they recognize that, limited as IQ is, it’s the closest thing to an all-around statistic for rank-ordering that the social sciences have.
The creation of these new synthetic statistics unveiled a paradox: Most of the great careers in baseball history had already been obvious to observers. In fact, the highest-ranked player whose career has been rescued from obscurity by the newer statistics is likely workhorse pitcher Bert Blyleven at No. 40 in WAR. Meanwhile, the most famous player who doesn’t rank high in WAR is Joe DiMaggio at only No. 68.
Why don’t the new numbers show DiMaggio being as great as the man in the street, Marilyn Monroe, and Simon and Garfunkel all believed? Joltin’ Joe played in only thirteen major-league seasons instead of the twenty or more a player of his caliber could be expected to enjoy, due to a late start, war, and early retirement.
James responded to my Babe Ruth sally by tweeting:
But that’s not something that anybody, ever, claimed to have “discovered.” That was accepted truth, and we acknowledged it without controversy. What was discovered by our field was more along the lines of “we think that Larry Doby was actually more valuable than Hack Wilson.”
Doby was the Jackie Robinson of the American League, the first black in the younger circuit, who was an All-Star from 1949 to 1955, so he wasn’t totally underrated. Hack Wilson was a slugger semi-famous for setting the single-season record in 1930 with 191 runs batted in (RBIs) before drinking himself out of the National League.
But Hack’s big year was the most inflated offensive season in history, with the NL averaging .303 in 1930. Plus, the RBI statistic was traditionally overrated as a contributor to winning ballgames. (Briefly, if, say, you come to bat with three men on base and hit a home run, you are credited with four RBIs but only one run scored.) Not surprisingly, the more teammates adept at getting on base you have batting ahead of you, the more RBIs you will ring up, all else being equal.
My impression, however, is that James is underrating his movement’s accomplishment in securing Ruth’s reputation. I recollect that the condescending opinion of old-time baseball intellectuals in the 1960s was often, well, sure, ill-read fans think Ruth was the greatest because he hit a lot of vulgar home runs, but the real aficionados know that Ty Cobb’s record batting average (the most prestigious statistic) of .366 shows he was better than Ruth with his measly .342.
As late as 1974, Robert Creamer’s biography Babe needed to emphasize that the more obscure slugging average proved Ruth’s supremacy.
Today, however, 45 years into the era introduced by James, few doubt Ruth’s superiority over Cobb.
But that raises the question, why did regular fans rightly see Ruth as the greatest ballplayer way back in the statistical dark ages?
As Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot just by watching. If you watched a lot of games, Ruth’s value at helping his team win was hard to miss.
On the other hand, if you respected the reputable baseball stats of the time, Ruth seemed meretricious. As statistics professor Andrew Gelman wrote:
Responding to a comment by some humanist type who was yammering on about how there are all sorts of truths that aren’t in the numbers, James pointed out that the alternative to good statistics is not “no statistics,” it’s bad statistics. People who argue against statistical reasoning often end up backing up their arguments with whatever numbers they have at their command….
The traditional batting average isn’t a bad statistic—it’s particularly good for tracking whether a player is streaking or slumping—but it became overly enshrined in baseball lore in the 19th century and became less relevant after Ruth introduced home run slugging as a viable strategic alternative to line drive hitting in 1919.
James then followed up with a 6,765-word response on his website titled “Three Looks at the MVPs.”
MVP stands for Most Valuable Player. It’s the top annual award, one in each league, and is voted on by two sportswriters from each baseball city, typically baseball beat reporters. Modern statistical gurus frequently point to particularly dumb choices in the MVP voting in the past to show how much more enlightened we are now. James wrote:
I tried to ask the gentleman [me] how he would explain these discrepancies, if the way that we evaluate players has not really changed. Yes, Babe Ruth was always recognized as great, and yes, Babe Ruth WAS great, but what about Don Baylor in 1979, or Jackie Jensen in 1958, to name just a couple of MVP selections from the past which are not likely to be mirrored in the present?
While a baseball player’s long-term fame is a pretty good proxy for his value, single-season judgments are often silly, especially when they are worsened by the unconscious biases and faddish groupthink of journalists.
Jensen and Baylor are examples of the old habit of handing the MVP trophy to the league leader in RBIs.
Although Jackie Jensen led the American League in RBIs in 1958 with 122, today’s sophisticated statistics show that the best player that year was instead…Mickey Mantle, the legendary Yankee superstar who was the favorite of 9-year-old boys across the country.
Why did the sportswriters vote Jensen first and Mantle fifth?
Well, for one reason, Jensen beating out Mantle made a terrific narrative. Jensen, a college football All-American at Cal, had been slated to replace Joe DiMaggio in the Yankee outfield. But he was passed up by the younger Mantle and traded in 1952. Moreover, reporters knew Jensen was playing under terrible stress because of his worsening fear of flying, which soon ended his career when the American League expanded to the West Coast in 1961.
Also, the writers had given Mantle the 1956 and 1957 MVPs when the Mick had played out of this world, so 1958 seemed like a disappointment when he returned to being merely by far the best player in the league. Plus, Mantle was only 26 and he might just deserve to win all the trophies for the next half-dozen years, which would be boring, so let’s get creative and pick somebody else! (Much the same happened to Willie Mays in the National League, who had to wait from 1954 until 1965 to win his second MVP.)
Another reason was because Mantle drove in only 97 runs that year. Was he choking in the clutch?
No, pitchers were terrified of his power (he led the American League in homers for the third time in four seasons), so they walked him 129 times, thirty more bases on balls than Jensen’s runner-up total. Mantle thus led the league with 127 runs scored versus only 83 for Jensen.
But sportswriters before the James Era had a bias in favor of players who drove in runs over players who scored runs themselves. A good example of this was the 1985 voting when two Yankees had strong claims to be the AL MVP. Leadoff batter Rickey Henderson scored 146 runs, while slugger Don Mattingly drove in 145 runs. Mattingly finished first and Henderson third in the balloting even though today’s stats say that Rickey, the greatest leadoff man in baseball history, was much the better of the two that year.
My suspicion is that reporters valued RBIs over runs scored because RBIs come more in clumps (you can drive in up to four runs in one at-bat, but you can’t score more than one run), so the RBI man is more likely to get the headline the next morning.
For instance, in 1985 Donnie Ballgame had fourteen games with three or more RBIs, while Rickey had only eight games with three or more runs scored. Henderson scored in 100 of his 143 games, while Mattingly drove in runs in 84 of his 159 games. You could say Rickey was more consistent, but “Henderson Scores in Yet Another Game” is a boring headline compared with “Mattingly Clears the Bases in the Clutch.”
The player who got the write-up the next morning for the biggest play in the game tended not to be the specialist in scoring runs, but in driving them in. In other words, much of the RBI fetish wasn’t due to politics or even ideology, it just happened to be a byproduct of how journalism works.
We should keep this lesson in mind when evaluating more serious questions as well: Much of what might seem like, depending upon whose ox is being gored, either bias in journalism or the indisputable truth is often an unintentional side effect of the structures and incentives of the news and opinion business.
James then goes on to write several thousand technical words about how the dominant WAR statistic that has emerged in the past decade as the most popular way to rank-order baseball players for awards has problems that his own Win Shares was designed to get around. He says he hopes to have time for a major reform of his all-purpose metric this year.
I won’t presume to comment on these complex matters, but I do hope my impudent tweet about Babe Ruth winds up helping inspire Mr. James to take this next step.
Man, have we got a bunch of dullards on the “mainstream” right. Michael Bloomberg’s old speeches and interviews about the realities of race, crime, and law enforcement are spot-on. And how do our Conservative Inc. mouthpieces respond? They join forces with Black Lives Matter to scream, “Bloomberg’s a racist!”
I’ve picked on Tim Young before; he’s the Fox Corporate Certified Fresh™ “comedian” who has to say he’s cutting-edge on his website because otherwise you’d never know. A few days ago, Dim Tim went after Bloomberg because as mayor he’d appointed a chancellor who, upon surveying the hellish overcrowding in New York’s public schools, jokingly quipped that a little birth control wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
An outrage, blanched edgy® Tim. You see, back in 2011, New York City councilman Charles Barron (who’s now a state assemblyman) condemned the birth-control comments as “racist” because “80% of the children are black and Latino.” Barron is well-known as an open-borders pro-reparations Robert Mugabe fanboy who’s campaigned for white expulsion in Zimbabwe and South Africa. He’s also stated that “slapping white people” is necessary for his “mental health.” And now Tim Young is recycling Barron’s talking points in order to, as Ann Coulter so perfectly phrased it in her column last week, “give up winning a war in order to land a quick blow in a skirmish.”
Apparently, these days we’re no longer supposed to suggest that maybe people on welfare (including freeloading illegals) should stop having so many damn kids. It’s far more important to pander to the likes of Charles Barron. The funny thing is, back in my day, “Quit having kids you can’t support” was one of the few themes that brought people together from opposing ideologies. Reaganite conservatives embraced the argument because bootin’ welfare queens from the public teat was central to their platform. But liberals supported the idea too, because, well, liberals love birth control, always and in all forms.
And, of course, “race realists” embraced the whole “birth control for ghetto and barrio dwellers” thing for their own reasons.
Even up through the 1990s, when Bill Clinton signed off on landmark welfare reform, there was widespread support for the idea that if you can’t afford kids, don’t friggin’ have ’em.
Issues like welfare reduction and “tough on crime” policing and prosecuting were always guaranteed winners. So why are they being abandoned now? Why are mainstream conservatives siding with, and pandering to, the worst elements in the black and Latino communities—the Charles Barrons, the reconquistadors—by using Bloomberg’s views on race and crime, and his former chancellor’s quip about inner-city birth control, to virtue-signal their “anti-racism”?
Simply put, these supposed conservatives have a brain disease, an infection far worse than coronavirus. They’ve got Party of Lincolnitis. What started out as a fun if not terribly effective GOP trolling campaign during the Obama years—The Democrats are the real racists! The Democrats were the KKK and we were Reconstruction! Jackie Robinson was a Republican!—has mutated into something very malignant. The weak-minded on the right have effectively hypnotized themselves into thinking that the highest calling of Republicans is to be the party of blacks (and browns).
In fact, “weak-minded” doesn’t go far enough. These mild retards took a talking point that was supposed to lure blacks to the right, and while blacks generally proved resistant to it, the ’tards started subconsciously luring themselves to the left.
“Come over to our side, we’re the true party of blacks! [Eyes grow vacant] We are the true party of blacks…true party of blacks… [Pupils become dilated, voice gets monotone] We. Are. The. True. Party. Of. Blaaaacks! We. Must. Never. Be. Raaaaacist!”
Today’s mainstream conservatives would excommunicate Lee Atwater in a second.
Just the other night, anthropomorphic robocall Sean Hannity attacked Bloomberg for having dared to racially profile the typical urban street criminal as a “male minority.” Hannity vehemently disagreed! Walk down any inner-city street, the carbon-based pianola assured us, and you’ll get mugged by criminals of all races in equal numbers.
If only the LAPD could get a foothold against those East L.A. gangs of rampaging Danes.
Okay, you wanna play the Party of Lincoln game? Let’s do it. The post–Civil War Republicans disenfranchised white people in the defeated South, taking away the right to vote from tens of thousands of former Confederates. And no, it wasn’t because the party “loved blacks.” The postwar GOP was as cynical an animal as ever seen in American politics. As Professor Michael Perman (University of Illinois, Chicago) wrote in The Road to Redemption: Southern Politics, 1869–1879, “By the end of 1868, the Republican party was at the pinnacle of power in the South. It had rewritten every state constitution and was in control of every state government, with the exception of Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas, though these too would be won within the following year.”
Impressive achievement…and all it took was a little disenfranchisin’:
After all the party had, in effect, been created by federal legislation; the elections through which it had won power had been held under the Reconstruction Acts; and it had all been supervised by federal civil and military officials. Furthermore, the composition of the electorate had been defined by the strictures of the Reconstruction laws and, as a result, many potential opponents had been disfranchised, while others had simply refused to participate in what they regarded as a rigged election.
The “Party of Lincoln vs. Party of the Klan” strategy relies on the myth that postwar Republicans were motivated by altruism. Any mention of the fact that the party was actually interested in (as historian Clyde Wilson put it) “not equality, but plunder, plunder, plunder” bursts the illusion.
The Independent Institute’s Joseph Stromberg pointed out years ago that the post–Civil War GOP was the first party to normalize “departicipation” in American politics when it disenfranchised “unreliable” (white) voting blocs (the prewar Southern treatment of black slaves doesn’t count as “departicipation,” because you cannot departicipate those who were never allowed to participate in the first place). In essence, it was the GOP that introduced the nation to the concept of “dissolve the people and elect another.” That was the GOP’s postwar Southern strategy: change “the composition of the electorate”…exactly what leftists are doing right now. And any “conservative” who can say, “Well, it was a good tactic in 1868 because it advanced ‘racial justice’” is highly likely to advocate that strategy today for the same reason.
Once it’s understood that the GOP’s “party of blacks” phase was to a great extent a cover for party expansion, plunder, and the settling of scores with Southern whites, it becomes painfully clear what folly it is to push for “party of blacks, 2020 edition.” The “settling of scores” factor is still there (in the neocons who despise working-class whites), and the “plunder” factor is still there (in the big-business Republicans who profit from cheap foreign labor). But what’s missing is the “party gain” factor. By surrendering on surefire issues like “tough on crime,” the GOP is digging its own grave, especially at the state level.
On Tucker Carlson a few nights ago, a guest discussed how Bloomberg paid off Al Sharpton to keep blacks from being disruptive during his tenure as mayor. The GOP hacks will probably rail against Bloomberg for that, too. “Bloomberg underhandedly used his billions to keep blacks from exercising their natural right to riot and loot!” I’m not kidding—I think some mainstream conservatives are so far gone, they’d happily pander to blacks about what a shame it is that a white man used his money to suppress their right to criminality.
That damn racist Bloomberg; no wonder he left the Party of Lincoln for the Party of Lynchin’.
Bloomberg is backing away from his commonsense mayoral positions. And the best strategy on the right is to stress that not only are his recanted statements correct, but Mayor Bloomberg’s policies got results. Make the Democrats pay for forcing the recantation. Make them own it. That’s the smart path. The dumb path? Pin the views Bloomberg held as a Republican and Independent on the Democrats. Then renounce them as proof that the Dems are the Klan Party.
Let’s do a little cost/benefit analysis here. What exactly do conservatives gain by attacking Bloomberg’s past statements about nonwhites, crime, and “black and Latino males who don’t know how to behave in the workplace”? Well, there’s the aforementioned partisan “quick blow in a skirmish.” And then there’s the release of endorphins that comes from smugly assuring yourself that you’re the true, purehearted anti-bigot, while the Demon-RATS are the real racists.
The benefits? One short-term partisan jab, and some warm fuzzy enjoys.
And what are the losses? Well, pretty much everyone but the thugs and criminals loses. Back in the ’90s, Republicans had so many electoral successes because of issues like welfare reform and victim-centered criminal justice, the Democrats had to at least pay lip service to those themes. And sometimes Democrats would even match or one-up the GOP rhetoric (Hillary Clinton on “superpredators,” for example). But now, for absolutely no logical reason, it’s Republicans who are aping the Dems on those issues. It makes no sense. Dems mimicked the GOP on crime because it won them votes outside the ghettos; Republicans are mimicking the Dems on crime even though it loses them votes outside the ghettos while still not winning them votes inside.
When easily led and attention-starved conservatives join with leftists to condemn tough-on-crime policing, reality-based criminal profiling, and welfare-baby reduction as “racist,” the Overton window closes ever more on exactly the things that need to be said and the policies that need to be enacted to save America from a nightmarish, dystopian future.
When GOP hacks ridicule Bloomberg for wearing wacky clothes and doing musical theater, even though four years ago they were defending Rudy Giuliani from similar attacks on his drag performances (look, it’s what NYC mayors do…they do wacky shit), it’s harmless standard operational partisan gamesmanship. But abandoning cops and crime victims just so you can brag about how the Democrats are the real racists will get innocent people killed.
It’ll also kill the GOP. Because there’s something those “party of blacks” numskulls always leave out of the story, and that’s the climax. The Reconstruction Republicans lost all of their ill-gotten Southern gains, and eventually they even lost the blacks. Indeed, blacks arguably suffered more than they profited as the GOP’s pets. They were used for the party’s short-term profit and then swiftly abandoned.
Only the dumbest among us would want to revisit that strategy, and only the dumbest among us do. And this time, it’s not going to lead to purely regional defeat. The “new, improved party of blacks” is a recipe for some serious self-immolation, a flashy suicide befitting today’s Budd Dwyers in Dinesh D’Souza brownface.
But hey, those “Bloomberg is a racist” zingers were totally worth it!
Sen. Bernie Sanders may be on the cusp of both capturing the Democratic nomination and transforming his party as dramatically as President Donald Trump captured and remade the Republican Party.
After his sweep of the Nevada caucuses, following popular vote victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders has the enthusiasm and the momentum, as the crucial battles loom in South Carolina on Saturday and Super Tuesday on March 3.
The next eight days could decide it all.
And what is between now and next Tuesday that might interrupt Sanders’ triumphal march to the nomination in Milwaukee?
One possible pitfall is tonight’s debate in South Carolina.
Sanders will be taking constant fire as a socialist whose nomination could end in a rout in November, the loss of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House and the forfeit of any chance of recapturing the Senate.
Yet Sanders has often been attacked along these lines, to little avail.
He’s shown himself capable of defending his positions, and attacks on Sanders may simply expose his opponents’ own political desperation.
“Buchanan,” Richard Nixon once instructed me after I went to work for him in 1966, “Whenever you hear of a coalition forming up to ‘Stop X,’ be sure to put your money on X.”
Nixon recalled the Cleveland governors conference after Barry Goldwater defeated Nelson Rockefeller in the California primary. There, on the Cuyahoga River, Govs. Rockefeller, George Romney and Bill Scranton colluded absurdly to derail the Goldwater express.
A second event is the anticipated endorsement of Biden by Rep. Jim Clyburn, the most influential black politician in South Carolina, who warns that nominating a socialist like Sanders invites electoral disaster.
Yet Clyburn’s endorsement could be a mixed blessing.
With it, Biden becomes the favorite in the primary where 60% of the vote is African American. If Biden cannot beat Sanders there, in his firewall state, with Clyburn behind him, where does Biden win?
Biden faces another problem: Billionaire Tom Steyer has pumped millions into South Carolina, hired black leaders and pledged to support reparations for slavery. Polls show Steyer with rising support among black voters who might otherwise have stood by Biden.
For Biden, South Carolina is do-or-die.
If he wins here, he is revived. Yet, still, he lacks the broad and deep support Sanders has and the funds Michael Bloomberg has to be competitive in all 14 states holding primaries March 3, including the megastates of Texas and California.
Sanders is predicting victories in both and has been gaining in the polls on Sen. Elizabeth Warren even in Massachusetts, her home state, which also holds its primary on Super Tuesday.
The basic question: With Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, Steyer and Klobuchar — none of whom has beaten Sanders in the popular vote anywhere, and all competing in South Carolina and Super Tuesday three days later — who beats a surging Sanders? When and where do they beat him?
Bloomberg can probably buy enough votes to win some states. But would the other Democratic candidates, who have fought for a year, stand aside to yield the field so this ex-Republican oligarch can save their party from Sanders? Why should they?
And where is the evidence that Bloomberg can beat Sanders? Or beat Trump?
Bloomberg’s first debate raises questions of what, besides his $60 billion, qualifies him to be on the stage or in the race.
The Democratic establishment worries that if the “moderates” in the race do not start falling on their swords, dropping out, and joining behind a single candidate — Biden, Buttigieg or Bloomberg — to challenge Sanders, they will lose the nomination to Sanders and the election to Trump.
The establishment is right to worry.
While Sanders’ chances of becoming president are slim, the odds he wins the nomination and reshapes the party are good and have been improving weekly.
What model does socialist Sanders have in mind for the Democratic Party? Something like the British Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn.
“Medicare for All.” Abolition of private health insurance. War on Wall Street. The Green New Deal. Free college tuition. Forgiveness of all student debt. Open borders. Supreme Court justices committed to Roe v. Wade. Welfare for undocumented migrants. A doubling of the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Winston Churchill once observed: “Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is — the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.”
Sanders sees free market capitalism as a fat goose that lays golden eggs and can be hectored, squeezed and beaten into producing lots more.
And those most widely receptive to his message — are the young.
Welcome to the Party of JFK as reconceived by Bernie Sanders.
Can a white man box a black man without making everything racial? Absolutely. It’s the black boxers who can’t seem to help themselves.
On Saturday night in Las Vegas, two undefeated heavyweight boxers had a rematch to settle a controversial draw from the first time they met late in 2018.
Deontay Leshun Wilder was born in Tuscaloosa, AL and is widely considered to be the hardest puncher in boxing history. He boasts a murderous swinging overhead right punch he calls the “Alabama Slamma” that knocked out the first 39 men he faced. Wilder has openly stated that one day he hopes to punch someone so hard that he kills them.
Wilder won the bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics and at the moment stands as the last American boxer to win any kind of Olympic medal. He chose the nickname the “Bronze Bomber” in honor of Joe Louis, AKA the “Brown Bomber,” who was so named because of his skin color and the fact that he was only the second black man in American history to become heavyweight champion.
Over 100 years ago, Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight champion. This, combined with the fact that his wife was white during a time when white people had a sense of collective identity, led to a desperate search for a “Great White Hope” who would beat Johnson. Over the years, this search seemed to get more and more difficult.
Deontay Wilder started boxing at age 19 to help his first daughter, who was born with spina bifida. He made the decision while in the midst of a deep depression that had him contemplating suicide via gunshot. He diligently worked his way up the ranks to become the first American heavyweight champion in almost a decade.
But Wilder is still virtually unknown in the USA, possibly due to a near-total lack of charisma and a sour, brooding attitude. He also has trouble pronouncing basic words—i.e., “rememorable” for “memorable” and “advrosity” for “adversity”—and oozes the sort of ghetto hostility that suggests to many would-be fans that he’s that kind of black person.
Whereas black American boxers used to dominate the sport, it is now ruled by Europeans both black and white. And Tyson Fury—who grew up in Manchester but identifies as an Irish Traveller and refers to himself as the “Gypsy King,” a title bestowed upon the best bareknuckle boxer out of all the Irish Travellers—has taunted Wilder for the fact that even his own home country doesn’t love him, whereas Fury is a national hero in England. Taunting people about their nationality is as “ethnic” as Tyson Fury will allow himself to get.
The son of another Irish Gypsy boxer who once did prison time for gouging a man’s eyes out, Tyson Fury was born prematurely and weighed only one pound at birth. His father named him “Tyson” after Mike Tyson, his favorite boxer. Tyson Fury fought himself all the way from one pound to the 6’9”, 273-pound behemoth who weighed in for the fight on Friday.
As with Wilder, Fury’s saga involves a redemption arc. He won the heavyweight title in 2015 from Vladimir Klitschko, a white Ukrainian who, along with his brother Vitali, dominated heavyweight boxing from around 2000 to 2015. Fury quickly went into a personal tailspin that involved cocaine, alcohol, infidelity, and wanton gluttony that saw him tip the scales at nearly 400 pounds. He had constant thoughts of suicide until, like Wilder, he decided it would be unfair to his kids.
Fury sort of identifies as white, but with a special exception—his “people” have historically been abused by Irish and English whites:
I am a Gypsy and that’s it. I will always be a Gypsy, I’ll never change. I will always be fat and white and that’s it. I am the champion yet I am thought of as a bum.
In other words, he gets to claim an ethnic identity, but only with the understanding that the identity at least involves some kind of abuse at the hands of other evil whites.
Wilder, though, has no trouble identifying as black. It’s almost as if he can’t help it.
In the lead-up to their first fight in 2018, Fury made some comment about how Irish Gypsies had faced discrimination for 200 years. Wilder’s response was that his people had suffered for 400 years. When a black reporter subsequently asked Wilder what he’d meant by that, Wilder became visibly unhinged and barked at the reporter for not acknowledging that blacks were HIS people, too. Despite an estimated net worth of at least $30 million, Wilder sneeringly insisted that America’s oppression of blacks continued into the current day.
In case you were unaware, this is how the deck is currently stacked:
If you’re a black person and don’t openly proclaim your proud black identity, black people will bark at you.
If you’re a white person who does nothing more assertive than to shrug and say you don’t have a problem with being white, white people will bark at you.
Doesn’t sound like a fair fight.
Last week during a press conference when a black reporter asked Wilder if he hoped to send a message for Black History Month by beating Fury, Wilder swallowed the bait like a greasy bucket of hot wings:
I’m just looking forward to February 22. It’s a great moment in time for me. So many different events are happening, and of course we know it’s Black History Month as well, so I’m looking forward to providing my service to my greatness on black history month and like I said, making Tyson Fury a black history trivia question. When I knock the Gypsy Queen out, they gonna have [an answer to] a Black History trivia question.
For his part, Fury refused to make it racial:
I’m not really into all this racial thing about a black man versus a white man on Black History Month. I refuse to go into any sort of thing about it. We are two human beings, two heavyweights on top of our game. This is not a racial war.
He doubled down on this position when asked later by another black reporter:
We’re all human beings. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, pink or green. We share the same blood. We are humans. This fight isn’t a racial war between blacks and whites. This is a fight between the two most high-performance heavyweights on the planet going toe to toe. There’s nothing racial about this fight.
Apparently Wilder didn’t get the memo. As part of his ring entrance on Saturday night, Wilder was led by a dreadlocked rapper as they walked past a series of murals depicting black icons and the rapper spat out lyrics from his song “Black Habits”:
Black magic, black excellence
Black habits, this black medicine, everything
Black Chucks, black tux, everything, everything
Black hug, black love, everything
Praise black Jesus, play black Moses
Give ’em flowers while they still here, black roses, everything
Black tie, black ride, everything, everything
Black pride, black lives, everything…
Floyd Patterson was the heavyweight champion when I was born. He was black, as were all heavyweight champs for the next two decades.
When Muhammad Ali—the first heavyweight champ to make a point of being black—fought Joe Frazier the first time, everyone in my Irish-Catholic neighborhood supported Frazier, because even though he was coal-black, at least he wasn’t a Muslim who hated America. Joe Frazier was the “whitest” option we had.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties when a white guy—South Africa’s Gerrie Coetzee—briefly held one of the four main heavyweight belts. It was another decade until a white boxer named Tommy Morrison held one of the belts, if only for four months until he went to prison and eventually died of AIDS.
Morrison was the last legitimate white heavyweight contender from the USA, and that was a quarter century ago. As the power shifted from the USA to Europe, white heavyweights started making a return.
Tyson Fury entered the ring on Saturday night fully aware that despite his ample charisma and boxing talent, he would be denied a career merely if he made a point of being white. He was also likely aware that if he dared to note all the fuss that Deontay Wilder made about being black, it would be Fury rather than Wilder who’d be called a racist.
I wasn’t this excited about a media event since I went to a Donald Trump rally in early 2016—so excited, I shelled out the $80 just to watch the fight live on my computer.
Fury thrashed the unbeaten Wilder so severely that Wilder’s corner threw in the towel midway through the seventh round. It appeared that a crushing right hand to Wilder’s left ear in the third round shattered his eardrum. That ear bled profusely throughout the rest of the fight, with Wilder seeming dazed, frightened, and off-balance.
If Wilder had won and black people started rejoicing and twerking and high-fiving and aww-yeahing all across the world, I would have understood it as a perfectly understandable display of their tribal instincts.
For the same reason, I don’t feel the merest bit of guilt about being glad that the white guy won.