Books & Culture

A review of Victor Stops the School Bully by Keith Vitali and Sam Oates Parker House Publishing (2020), 46 pages. $17.99

Effective Methods to Counter Bullying

Victor Stops the School Bully is truly one of the best juvenile-fiction reads on the topic of bullying, bullying dynamics, and how to finally put an end to one of the gravest, often-underreported threats to child safety and wellbeing.

Bullying, like all forms of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, is one of the myriad threats facing our children today with upwards of 20 percent to nearly half of all school-age children experiencing varying degrees of the abuse in the classroom and on the playground, and at least 15 percent having to deal with a radically-weaponized version of bullying on social media. Bullying is a societal scourge that is far too often underreported (some children feel ashamed to admit to having been bullied) with victims often carrying the emotional trauma with them for the rest of their lives. And far too many children have resorted to suicide as a way out.

Writer, actor, film producer, and world champion karate fighter Keith Vitali wants to end bullying and his new children’s book, Victor Stops the School Bully, is a substantive means to that end.

Co-authored with his third-grade grandson Sam Oates, Vitali tells the story of young Victor, a 10-year-old gold-belt karate student attending a new elementary school for the first time, looking forward to his new adventure—new teacher, new friends, and new surroundings—but he’s also naturally fearful of mean or threateningly aggressive kids who might see him as an easy-prey outsider or weak because of his niceness.

Victor is a kind-hearted, outgoing boy who loves sports, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, and he’s armed with the life lessons gleaned from his karate instructor, Mr. Mike: So-named for Vitali’s real-life friend Mike Genova, an accomplished martial arts instructor from Columbia, S.C. Throughout the story Victor reflects on the things Mr. Mike has taught him like “being yourself,” making friends, and always being a standup boy guided by personal integrity and honesty among other martial arts attributes.

Martial arts discipline is deftly woven into the book as Vitali, himself a 10th-degree black belt, shares with readers bully-countering methods through the experience of Victor. And Victor does encounter a bully, but he turns things around for the benefit of all. And this book is for all. Though a children’s book, the lessons learned in VIctor Stops the School Bully will benefit readers of all ages.

Delightfully written—readers will quickly fall in love with little Victor—and beautifully illustrated, the book concludes with 10 substantive tips to dealing with bullies, which Vitali has developed and refined over the past 30 years. The tips cover everything from how to befriend potential enemies, to developing proper body language and facial expressions, to standing your ground or perhaps walking away depending upon the circumstance. Again, lessons applicable for both children and adults.

Vitali, who currently resides in Atlanta, has appeared in numerous martial arts action movies like “Revenge of the Ninja” and “Wheels on Meals,” fighting many of the martial arts greats including Jackie Chan. In addition to his being a world champion karate fighter, Vitali was the U.S. National Karate Champion for three consecutive years, a member of Black Belt magazine’s Black Belt Hall of Fame, and named “Fighter of the Year,” and “one of the top 10 fighters of all time” by Black Belt, the leading martial arts publication in the world.

Victor Stops the School Bully is not Vitali’s first book. He’s written four instructional how-to martial arts books as well as a successful children’s video, “Self Defense for Kids” which also deals with bullying. He’s been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers, nationally and worldwide, and he has been a children’s safety guest expert on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Sam Oates, Vitali’s eight-year-old grandson, was key in helping write the book’s dialogue. “His unique personal perspective with anxieties and fears like millions of other kids his age entering a new school dealing with bullying issues was instrumental in influencing the writing of this book,” said Vitali.

Victor Stops the School Bully is truly one of the best juvenile-fiction reads on the topic of bullying, bullying dynamics, and how to finally put an end to one of the gravest, often-underreported threats to child safety and wellbeing.

Books & Culture

A review of “Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All,” by Michael Shellenberger (Harper, 432 pages, $29.99)

‘Apocalypse Never’ Takes Direct Aim at Consensus Climate Alarmism

This environmental humanist agenda that prioritizes love for humanity is a direct challenge to climate alarmists, who must now answer the question, as Michael Shellenberger writes “are they motivated by love for humanity or something closer to its opposite?”

An important new book by Michael Shellenberger, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us Allattempts to counter the common belief that climate change poses an imminent and existential threat to humanity and the planet. At 285 pages, this is a relatively short and very readable book, but it covers a lot of ground. And with an additional 125 pages containing over 1,000 footnotes, Shellenberger’s arguments are well documented.

The book should be required reading for politicians. It should also be required reading for Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and the handful of other online communications titans who exercise almost total control over what facts and opinions make their way into public discourse. This book also belongs in the hands of climate activist journalists, for whom a 16-year-old truant is an oracle with unassailable credibility, while contrarian scientists and economists are only targets for smear campaigns.

Needless to say, Shellenberger’s book has attracted furious rebuttals—this one in the Yale Climate Review is typical—but it is unlikely many of these critics read the book all the way through or approached it with an open mind. One of Shellenberger’s primary points is that while climate change is occurring, it is not the biggest global environmental threat and that policies to “fight climate change” are causing some of the most harm to the environment. So-called “renewable energy” is a prime example of this.

Renewable Energy Renews the Power of Special Interests

To debunk the supposed environmental benefits of renewable energy, Shellenberger makes frequent reference to the concept of power density. In this analysis, nuclear energy comes out on top, generating the most power while consuming the least amount of space. Power density takes into account the footprint of the generating plant, as well as the area required for extraction of construction material and fuel, the distribution grid, and the subsequent waste storage. Following nuclear is hydroelectricity, then fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources bring up the distant rear. In order, they are solar, wind, and biofuel/biomass.

The extreme amount of land consumed by renewables is only part of the problem. Because renewables supply intermittent power, backup has to be provided either in the form of grid-scale batteries or natural gas power plants. Shellenberger exposes the links between fossil fuel interests and the pro-renewable-but-anti-nuclear lobby and makes a convincing case that there is a synergy between the two. By blocking nuclear power, which offers a continuous supply of electricity, expansion of quick-start natural gas power plants become necessary to fill in when the sun is down and the wind falters.

In a section that constitutes a goldmine for political foes of California’s aristocratic families headed by the Brown, Getty, Newsom, and Pelosi clans, Shellenberger spells out exactly how this clique used its influence to protect their oil and gas interests at the same time as they have steadily worked to eliminate nuclear power. This is a scandal ripe for further investigation.

Renewables don’t just consume land and cause increased use of fossil fuel to provide the necessary backup power, they’re killing wildlife. Lots of wildlife. Defenders of wind power make the stunningly deceptive claim that “house cats kill more birds than windmills.” This knowingly ignores the fact that cats don’t kill endangered raptors, they kill common sparrows. Windmills, on the other hand, are slaughtering raptors at alarming rates, along with bats and insects. In all three cases, this is no joke. Any competent ecologist will explain the threat of extinction posed by windmills to these species, as well as how essential their survival is to ecosystem health.

Land Use Impact and “Sustainable Agriculture”

To dwell exclusively on Shellenberger’s takedown of renewables would not do justice to the rest of his book. One of his primary themes is the land use impact of various policy choices, not only in the context of renewables but also with respect to agriculture and livestock. He explains that adopting modern agricultural practices is a more significant variable, by an order of magnitude, than climate change in affecting crop yields. He explains the potential of indoor agriculture, aquaculture, and mechanized agriculture to dramatically reduce the land required for global food production. He even cites studies that find “industrial beef” requires “fourteen to nineteen times less land than pasture beef.”

This point, that “renewable” energy and “sustainable” agriculture are causing far more harm than benefit to the environment, is lost on the climate activist lobby. Shellenberger devotes a chapter in his book to explaining how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has become politicized, and that the “Summary for Policymakers” they periodically release often misrepresents the source reports to highlight worst-case scenarios. These hyped summaries are then selectively quoted by activist journalists and agenda-driven politicians to exaggerate the IPCC findings even more. Pursuant to this message, no price is too great. If climate change is going to destroy the planet any day now, it doesn’t matter if the forests burn to fuel cooking fires, or windmills and solar farms destroy habitats and species.

For those of us who already are convinced that climate change is not an existential threat, but a manageable one that may take its place among a host of other serious challenges, no further discussion is required. Politicians are corrupt, business investors are opportunistic, scientists are politicized, socialists exploit the climate agenda, and ordinary people find meaning in the climate crusade that previous generations found in religion and patriotism. Enough said.

The Case for Big Infrastructure

Something else Shellenberger highlights, however, bears special emphasis. He makes a case for big infrastructure. Not only nuclear power plants but also hydropower and power grids. He describes the plight of Africans for whom reliable supplies of water and energy would completely transform their lives. Big infrastructure in Africa would enable prosperity, political stability, and space-efficient agriculture. It would eliminate the need to forage for wood or hunt game. It would take pressure off nature preserves. It would allow African nations to acquire the development and demographic trajectory already achieved or well underway in the rest of the world; a stabilizing population, female emancipation, lower infant mortality, higher life expectancy, increased literacy, better public health, urbanization. Instead, Shellenberger writes, “sustainable” development aid rarely funds infrastructure in Africa.

An example of a project that attracts almost universal condemnation from the global environmentalist is the Grand Inga Dam complex on the Congo River. If completed, these hydroelectric dams would generate far more power than the Three Gorges Dam in China; possibly exceeding 40 gigawatts of continuous electricity. Overall, Africa’s hydroelectric potential has barely been tapped. Africa also lacks a reliable electricity grid, or a natural gas pipeline network. With the exception of South Africa, there are no nuclear power plants in Africa.

The economic and environmental benefits of big infrastructure in Africa not only would accrue to Africans, greatly improving their standard of living and quality of life. It is also an opportunity that American investors and civil engineering firms ought to seize, with the full support of the U.S. government. This not only would extend American influence in Africa and offer remunerative opportunities to American businesses, but it would also be a way to revive America’s nuclear power and civil engineering industries. Moreover, it would preclude other nations, most notably China and Russia, from stepping in to fill the vacuum.

Shellenberger’s Credentials Defy Cancellation

America’s response to the “climate crisis,” is set to go into overdrive if Biden becomes president next year. If it does it will make all of life’s essentials less affordable, especially for low-income Americans, and diminish America’s ability to do good in the rest of the world.

Virtually all climate skeptics attempt to stress this moral foundation, from the irrepressible Marc Morano to more nuanced “lukewarmist” experts such as economist Bjorn Lomborg or scientist Judith Curry, but they face an overwhelming political and cultural momentum that marginalizes their voices.

The consensus enforcers may have a tough time shoving Shellenberger into that box.

Shellenberger, who acknowledges climate change is a problem, just not an existential crisis, has impeccable credentials as an environmentalist. He has spent his entire life fighting for environmental causes and was one of the pioneering “ecomodernists,” a school of thought that sought ways to decouple economic growth from environmental destruction, and promoted practical and optimistic solutions. Shellenberger’s earlier book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, co-written with fellow environmentalist Ted Norhaus, earned him the distinction of becoming one of  Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment 2008.”

To answer the deep need for meaning that apocalyptic environmentalism offers, Shellenberger concludes his book with a discussion of environmental humanism. As he puts it, “we need to go beyond rationalism and re-embrace humanism, which affirms humankind’s specialness, against Malthusian and apocalyptic environmentalists who condemn human civilization and humanity itself . . . we must ground ourselves first in our commitment to the transcendent moral purpose of universal human flourishing and environmental progress, and then in rationality.”

This environmental humanist agenda that prioritizes love for humanity is a direct challenge to climate alarmists, who must now answer the question, as Shellenberger writes “are they motivated by love for humanity or something closer to its opposite?” To emphasize his point, Shellenberger notes that saving the African gorillas, or, for that matter, the California condor, was not something we did because we needed the gorillas, or the condors, for our survival. We saved them because we love them. Surely we can find a way, in the beliefs and crusades that animate us, to do the same for our fellow humans.

Books & Culture

Scorch the Field

It is good for us to play sometimes, and not fight. In reality, people are united by what the political utilitarian cannot recognize: by play and song and worship.

In 1947, a few months after Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in the National League, the Cleveland Indians jumped into the ring, signing Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Doby, who was in the middle of his career, and Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige, who was 41 years old and had spent what looked like a full career in the Negro Leagues. Paige quickly became one of the most beloved athletes in American sports.

Everybody had stories about Satch. He was a prodigy of agelessness. Whitey Herzog, who got to know him 10 years later, said that one day he and Paige were on the infield before a game, and Paige pointed to a hole in the center field fence, more than 300 feet away. 

“Wild Child,” said Paige, “how much do you want to bet I can throw the ball through that hole from here?” 

Herzog knew better than to lay down any money. Paige did the trick. He was over 50 at the time. It was no one-time trick: as a 49-year-old, he went 11-4 for AAA Miami, with a 1.86 ERA. When people asked him what his secret was, Paige said, “Never look back, because something might be gaining on you.” When they asked him what made his arm so strong, he joked that he’d gotten a lot of practice when he was a kid, throwing rocks at white boys.

He had unusual talent on and off the field. When Paige joined the Indians, his catcher Jim Hegan asked him if he could sing—a skill that seems to come from a different world entirely. Sure, Satch could sing. So Hegan, who had learned the art from his father, got together a barbershop quartet. Paige sang bass. Hegan, Paige, and two other teammates would go behind the backstop before games at home, to regale the fans with song.

Players were a lot closer to the fans in those days, in more ways than one. Most of them had served in the military during World War II (Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter the game has known, gave three full seasons to his country during that war, and then the greater parts of two seasons during the Korean War). Many came from the working class, using their athletic talent to get free of the coal mines and steel mills (Stan Musial). Others came from farms and ramshackle towns that had yet to shake off the Great Depression. Others came from big and crowded cities. 

Most players made good but not great wages, so that they had to work in the off-season, too, and the work they did might have made them less prone to injury on the field. Whitey Herzog, for example, went south for the winter to work on a construction crew.

By no means do I mean to suggest that all was daisies and good feeling in those days. Let one story stand as an exemplar. 

The Saint Louis Browns signed Willard Brown, a Negro League star, in 1947. Brown, who liked to swing a heavy bat, felt that the Browns’ bats were too light, until he came upon one that belonged to the fiery outfielder Jeff Heath. It had been discarded, because the knob had broken off. Brown slugged a home run with it—the first home run hit by a black man in the American League. When Brown got back to the dugout, Heath took the bat and smashed it to splinters against the wall.

That action did not cost Heath his career, which was winding to its close anyway; it was his last season with the Browns. Heath’s sin was the inverse of catcher Jim Hegan’s good deed. I do not mean that Heath was a vicious racist and Hegan was a lover of all mankind. I do not know enough about the men to make those summary judgments. I mean that what Jim Hegan did brought people together and was wholly good for his team, and what Jeff Heath did fired up enmity and was bad for his team. 

If you ask which action was more political, the answer depends on what you mean by the word. If you mean having to do with a common good, then Hegan and Paige and their singing pals were more political, and not because they wanted to show that white men and black men could sing together. The races had nothing to do with it. They were making no such point at all. The good was in the singing. But if you mean acting in a politically partisan way, then wrecking a bat because a black man hit a home run with it was more political—more political, and, ironically, more destructive of the goods for which we have political systems in the first place.

And here I come to the behavior of ballplayers in recent days: kneeling together at the national anthem, in honor of Black Lives Matter. I find it to be more like what Heath did than it is like what Hegan and Paige did. Let me explain. I am not speaking about the intentions of the ballplayers, which probably run the full range from piety and charity through indifference and timidity to envy and enmity. Nor am I making any point, here, about what the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is taken to mean, or about the objectives of the group.

I am saying that the intrusion of highly partisan politics onto the ballfield hurts what the ballfield is for, and inverts the order of goods. For politics must always be subordinate not only to the highest things, such as faith in God, but to ordinary human things, as C. S. Lewis saw: a couple of friends talking at their ease, a man reading a book he enjoys, a family at dinner. 

The motto of the fascist Mussolini denied this healthy subordination: “Everything within the State,” he said, “nothing outside of the State, and nothing against the State.” As we might put it now: everything is politically charged; the personal is political; silence is violence; hate has no place here, and so forth.

In Mussolini’s Italy, there was no haven from roving fascist informants, listening to your conversations to see if they might arrest you for expressing the wrong opinions. In the old Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wondered whether he might safely talk about his own life, let alone about the Communist Party. In America right now, many people do not dare to say what they think, or even to notice what is right in front of their noses. Everywhere we turn, we see the blaring banners of political posturing and strife: at the dinner table, in the local choir, at school, in shop windows, and now on the ballfield. 

Look beyond the absurdity that men who knock a ball around a field will have some great insight into social problems that people who do not knock a ball around a field lack. I would say the same about almost all college professors, scientists, journalists, lawyers, and politicians. The ballplayers are compromising the essential work that they do towards the common good. It is good for us to play sometimes, and not fight.In reality, people are united only by what the political utilitarian cannot recognize: by play and song and worship. 

We need you to play, you baseballers, not to make political gestures. Your job is more important than that. Be like Satchel Paige and Jim Hegan. Don’t be like Jeff Heath—no matter what you think of the cause.

Books & Culture

A review of “Wisdom and Folly: A Book of Devotional Doggerel,” by Joe Long (Covenant Books, 136 pages, $14.95)

A Long View of American Life

Do we choose wisdom or folly? We should choose wisely but, in the choosing, also make sure to bring along a sense of humor.

Joe Long is an unusual poet, if by unusual you mean someone who values and understands tradition. While some of what passes for today’s poetic musings are neither amusing nor poetic, Long’s poetry stands out as a refreshing throwback in both of these categories.

Long’s debut collection of poems, Wisdom and Folly: A Book of Devotional Doggerel (Covenant Books, Inc., 2020), is a great example of not letting the zeitgeist determine the style of poetry—or worse, not letting a poet’s work turn into yet another fad that, like any fad, will soon be forgotten.

Divided into three sections, this collection reveals Long as a poet who inherently understands the tradition of poetry as well as the difficulties of the times in which we live. Some of the poems have been published before, most notably in online magazines such as American Greatness, The Stream, and Touchstone, while others are freshly presented in this collection. 

The first part is entirely devotional. Although Long makes it clear at the beginning of the book that the poems “sprang from” his “devotions,” they are not meant to serve as guides for the reader’s spiritual reflections. Of course, any reader of this book will soon realize that there might be a joke in here since most of the poems are either explicitly or implicitly funny. 

Perhaps these reflections should indeed serve as a spiritual guide through our godless galaxy. The poems are accompanied by a Scripture verse, which serve as Long’s springboard for each poem. Biblical verse guides but, more importantly, illuminates Long’s verse.

Although Long takes religion very seriously, the poems are not meant to be humorless chunks of wisdom hitting one like big boulders over the head with their unimaginative catechism. Mirth is at the heart of Long’s work, too. Even at the beginning, we get the sense that we can expect humor as a vehicle to truth. 

In “Courting Disaster,” as if channeling Geoffrey Chaucer, Long reflects on the meaning of relationships between men and women: “If she has her heart set upon ‘having it all,’ / Then forget not thy codpiece: thou’rt in for a brawl.”

As the title implies, the interplay between wisdom and folly is at the core of our society at every point in history. Circumstances and specific events may change but we act in ways that are either smart or foolish, but often predictable. In “The Rivals,” Long writes:

Wisdom is a lady; Folly’s a coquette.
Wisdom doesn’t waste time “playing hard to get”:
Indeed, she’ll approach you, look you in the eye
Wisdom isn’t easy, but she isn’t shy. 

Folly doesn’t seek you; she pretends to hide.
Every fool, though, finds her, and none are denied
Prompt admission into her lavish affections
Sharing other fools’ fates (and sometimes, infections).

Long elevates the poetic discourse and treats the question of being wise versus being foolish with great care and precision, yet he always throws in a joke: one can only wonder what kind of “infections” folly may bring.

The second part of this collection consists of notes on poems, which are not necessarily “required” reading. Yet, these notes are not mere afterthoughts or a peek at what the poet might think about his own work. Rather, they are exegetical in nature, and invite further pondering not only about the poems but more importantly, the Scripture that inspired them. There is a sense of relationality among the poems, the Scripture verse (Proverbs, the Book of Job, and others), and the poet’s commentary.

Some poems are less devotional, particularly those that are found in the third part of the collection. Most of them were previously published in the online pages of American Greatness, and they are presented as a commentary on the ailments and absurdities of today’s society. In “Values on Parade,” Long reflects on the empty principles of leftism and ideology, false virtue, and false justice. He writes:

“Redistribute All the Things!”
Hear Greed and Envy chant together—
(Sloth and Gluttony stayed home…
There was a rumor of bad weather.) 

Now, we see the festive Wrath Parade,
Angry pink hats upon their heads!
(Sloth and Gluttony observe—
Virtually, of course, from their soft beds).

There is always an infusion of original sin in the poems, as well as of unique kinds of sins that we make on our own. For Long, Scripture is not some ancient text that one looks at occasionally, to be treated as some faux spiritual novelty or curiosity. Rather, Scripture fully embodies the everyday-ness of our lives as well as a larger picture of the destruction of the order of things. Whether directly or indirectly, he wants us to ponder what happens when we attempt to “cancel” God. Talk about folly!

All of the poems in Wisdom and Folly have a component of the sacred and the profane, and the reader is meant to think about what it means to choose one or the other. Of course, none of us is perfect and there is an interesting mixture of the sacred and the profane in all of us.   Do we choose wisdom or folly? Choose wisely, implies Long, but in the choosing make sure to bring along a sense of humor.

Books & Culture

A review of “Capitol of Freedom: Restoring American Greatness,” by Ken Buck with Shonda Werry (Fidelis Books, 208 pages, $27)

A Blueprint for American Greatness

Rep. Ken Buck’s (R-Colo.) new book provides the blueprint for correcting the progressive curricula infecting our schools.

You can’t fight somethin’ with nuthin’, as the old saying goes.

The “something” I refer to is the progressive curricula populating so much of what passes for our education system these days.

Speech codes and safe spaces are multiplying like rabbits on our college campuses. The Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” has franchised its “America is a racist concept” conceit to classrooms. Loudon County Virginia mandates indoctrinating kindergarteners with the approved narrative on slavery.

In response to the social justice warriors’ narrative of American history, traditionalists have offered . . . nothing. 

Now, Congressman Ken Buck (R-Colo.) has given us something with which we can fight. 

Early on in his new book, Capitol of Freedom, he asks, “Can we expect future generations of Americans to protect and preserve America’s exceptional greatness if they don’t even understand it?”

Buck wants to make sure they do, and in Capitol of Freedom he uses the U.S. Capitol’s art, architecture, and artifacts to tell the story of America’s heritage and history of liberty.

As he puts it, “I want every American to understand the meaning behind this magnificent building and its unique architectural features, paintings, inscriptions, and statues. Within these walls, too, are deeply moving stories about our origins as a nation—the American Revolution, concepts important to our founding fathers, their optimism about our country, and this bold experiment in which we are involved…the building represents the foundational institutions that make America great.”

The decision to locate the capital along the Potomac serves as an object lesson in compromise, so necessary to the functioning of a republic. The capital Mall represents the right to petition the government. The fact that Congress occupies the highest point in the district—what’s now known as Capitol Hill—signifies the supremacy of the legislative branch in the Founders’ design. Buck rubbishes the notion of coequal branches—the legislature is first among equals.

As for the Supreme Court, well, “All we need to do is walk over to the Old Supreme Court Chamber [a cramped room in the Capitol] to understand the judiciary was never envisioned to be a runaway branch of government, with unelected and unaccountable justices empowered to discard laws.” 

The story of how President Washington fired Pierre L’Enfant for demolishing the home of Daniel Caroll because it got in the way of the urban planner’s grand design speaks to another essential right—private property. (Hello, Kelo.)

Statuary Hall eminences, John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg and Stephen Austin, testify for freedom of religion and the right to bear arms. 

Buck draws on his personal experiences in Congress. He has fun telling the story behind the red-white-and-blue AR-15 hanging in his office in the chapter on the Second Amendment.

He explains the importance of Congress’ investigative function with the Benghazi inquiry. The fight over a War Powers Resolution vote on America’s involvement in the Yemen war illustrates checks and balances, particularly Congress’ (seldom exercised) check on war-happy executives. 

John C. Calhoun shows up in the discussion of the nullification doctrine, but his is more of a cameo appearance. The starring role is reserved for contemporary progressives’ shenanigans to nullify the transfer of authority from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration. 

Comparing current Trump derangement to the Civil War is prescient in light of reports Democrats are wargaming 2020 election scenarios where Biden refuses to concede despite losing the Electoral College vote and West Coast states threaten to secede if President Trump remains in office.

Buck hammers progressives’ identity politics and their assaults on free speech, private property, and federalism, but he doesn’t spare spineless Republicans. He slams House Republican leadership for short-circuiting his War Powers Resolution and colleagues who choose expediency over principle.

The good congressman from Colorado concludes with a call to action “for individuals and families to help keep our nation on track.” 

Tone down the rhetoric, he says, in personal and social media interactions—“we can’t let the hate drown out the debate.” Get involved in your community whether by serving on a recreation board or volunteering for a campaign—and bring your kids along to learn how our system works. 

We also need to keep our eyes on our schools and demand more of them, he says. Do they still pledge allegiance to the flag? What else are the schools doing? Last year the Colorado legislature passed a mandate requiring third-graders to be taught about abortion. The bill applies to homeschoolers and private schools as well as public schools. It was written by Planned Parenthood.

A useful corrective to the progressive curricula would be a study guide on the principles and heritage of individual liberty that built American greatness. 

Capitol of Freedom provides the blueprint for the project.

And that’s not nuthin’. 

Books & Culture

Handmaids’ Plot to Bring Fascism to America

If fascism comes to America, it will come from the Left. And while people occupy themselves in devising fantasies that supposedly are cautionary tales, our freedoms are being eroded by the day.

What does a writer of left-liberal orientation do when he sees that the injustices he railed against all his life no longer exist in the way he feared, if they ever did to the extent he professed, and, if he were honest, he would have to admit that things have been quite good?

Why, make stuff up of course! This accounts for two recent television outpourings, both multipart TV series based on books, the utterly preposterous “Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s tedious and deeply unpleasant novel of the same name from 1985, and the hateful “Plot Against America,” based on Phillip Roth’s sullen, scowling, glowering novel of the same name from 2004.

Feminism has so egregiously exaggerated the idea of women’s oppression, delineated a vision so out of kilter with the reality of women today (and even in the past), that Atwood had to make up a religiously based cultural revolution of fascist and quasi-Nazi character imposed on America by violence. Sheer fantasy is the only avenue available to illustrate all the feminist accusations against “patriarchy” that one doesn’t see as accepted practice in ordinary life but that feminists feverishly insist form the very warp and woof of our lives. 

The film and book manufacture the opportunity to piously rehearse and perversely depict all the male-generated malefactions regarding sex, family, home, children, workplace, and women’s independence that distort the feminist imagination, and to turn women’s capacity to give birth into a weapon of patriarchal tyranny. 

Most of the first season of “Handmaid’s Tale” comes from Atwood’s book. But the series throws in a few malefactions that arise from the Islamic world and conveniently presents them as part of the overarching hyper-patriarchal dystopia she has fashioned. The series also depicts the infertile, cooperating “wives” of the new regime, who must tolerate their husbands impregnating the fertile “handmaids,” as suppressed volcanoes boiling with frustration and hatred, invoking feminist godmother Betty Friedan.

Misidentifying the Target

“The Plot Against America” series is done in the same drearily prosaic, almost anthropological manner as other films made from later Roth novels such as “The Human Stain” and “Indignation.” America on balance has been so good for Jews that Roth has to conjure up a past in which the extremely unlikely election of an anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh to the presidency in 1940 instead of FDR results in intensification of animus against them, as well as government efforts to transfer them from Phillip Roth’s New Jersey to the middle-American heartland. 

There was prejudice, to be sure, and it was hurtful, but it was certainly not official policy. The real America on the whole actually resisted the blandishments of anti-Semitism, of Father Coughlin, and even of the aviator hero Charles Lindbergh, but it’s more gratifying to Roth and the series makers to exaggerate the wounds of the past by creating the United States in the 1940s to look like the bastion of bigotry and injustice the Left desperately needs it to be, complete with Klansmen in their pointy hoods. It almost seems to be Roth’s wish fulfillment; America actually being like that would justify the resentment he evidently could never get past.    

But if anti-Semitism is flaring up in Western countries nowadays, it often takes the guise of anti-Zionism, and often from the Left, as Ruth Wisse points out in Commentary. Referring to Plot the novel, Wisse sees Roth as “stuck in a time warp.”  

As had already been obvious for decades, the new aggression against the Jews originated in the Arab war against the Jewish state and had been couched since the 1960s in the slogans of Soviet anti-Zionism. The Zionism-racism accusation, pushed through by the Soviet-Arab axis at the United Nations, penetrated the United States from the left just as German-Nazi propaganda had once done from the right. The aggression had flipped political sides.

This reversal resulted in the stances and attitudes familiar to us by now—the Palestinians were cast as victims of Jewish oppression and occupation, despite numerous Israeli efforts to arrive at a peaceful solution, and anti-Zionism became a cover for anti-Semitism. 

“Rather than deal with this new threat,” Wisse observes, Roth chose “to take on the familiar Nazi bogeyman and refight the war that American troops had already won. He misidentified the target.” To say the least. 

“Fascists” Everywhere

And, let’s face it, resurgent anti-Semitism is also at least partly due to the rise of radical Islam in our midst since September 11, 2001. Yet in an interview in the Wall Street Journal, the filmmaker David Simon (creator of the riveting multi-season dramatic series, “The Wire”) intends that “Plot” sound warnings about skeptics of Muslim immigration.

“The lie of what Lindbergh is chasing,” Simon remarked in the interview, “is that somehow the Jews won’t be as good Americans as the rest of us. Which is the same thing that’s now being offered with regard to Muslims and people of color—that they’re not quite as American.”

So, anyone concerned that a culture which practices polygamy and veils and subjugates its women (real subjugation, not the fake feminist version) might resist readily assimilating to American values—especially in a time when increasingly belligerent and politically correct multiculturalism encourages them not to—is guilty of bigotry, and, I guess, fascism.

Perhaps Simon is taking his cue from General George Casey, the former U.S. Army chief of staff whose most agitated concern after the shooting at Fort Hood at the hands of a jihadist major was not for the 14 dead and 30 wounded soldiers, but for the possibility that someone somewhere might breathe a word of doubt about the wisdom of “diversity” in present circumstances. Diversity is the template by which everyone in the world has a right to come here, both as an individual and as a member of a culture that must be seen as instantly compatible with America’s universal values, even when it isn’t.

That is, anyone who deviates an iota from the absolute celebration of the universal right of all humanity to be in America, for whatever reason, from whatever cultural background, and in whatever numbers, is, yes, a fascist.

The filmmakers also wished to insinuate parallels between Lindbergh and Donald Trump—America first, supposedly isolationist, liked by ordinary people too dumb to know better, and somehow a persecutor of minorities.

Yes, that Donald Trump, the same president who affirmed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the American embassy there, insisted that the Golan Heights must remain part of Israel, and issued an executive directive emphasizing that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act extends to protect Jewish college students from anti-Semitism, which, by the way, is partly purveyed on campus by activist Muslim students.

Simon elaborated further in another interview, with Mark Golub of the Jewish Broadcasting Service. Simon made clear that the dramatized series is less a tale about Jews per se than an “allegory” for anything Trump has done that offends the progressive take on the absolute rights of all humanity to come to America. 

Efforts to control the border, worry about mass immigration undercutting American workers, alarm at specific problems presented by certain groups—to even think such thoughts is, yes, once again, fascism. America belongs to the world, to all humanity, without question. “That’s not who we are,” is the refrain that repudiates any effort at all to address specific American needs in any situation, rather than the needs of “the other.”

This is what has made it difficult to have a reasonable discussion about problems with mass immigration in recent decades. We are allowed to notice only the good things about immigrants and we are gaslighted about any problems and dangers that a group might present, such as were exemplified not only at Fort Hood, but also in San Bernardino, Boston, and Orlando, not to mention Madrid, Brussels, Manchester, Paris, Nice, and Istanbul.   

If fascism comes to America, it will come from the Left. How do I know that? Because it’s already happening. Perhaps Atwood is seeing that herself since she signed the open letter in Harper’s objecting to cancel culture and its assault on freedom of speech. Perhaps she had taken note when J.K. Rowling, also a signer, was assailed by PC sentinels for daring to affirm the existence of biological womanhood. 

Fantasy entertainment like these dramatic series, although perhaps compelling for some (Plato was right about the corrosive dangers of art), only serves as a distraction from what increasingly tyrannical political correctness and so-called “diversity” are doing to our society, our culture, and our common life. 

And while people occupy themselves in devising and watching these supposedly cautionary tales, our freedoms are being eroded day by day.

Books & Culture

The Excellence of ‘The Last Dance’

The 10-part Netflix documentary may not be the last word about Michael Jordan, but it is the best work about his greatness.

As symbolic as Superman’s S, as sleek as Nike’s Swoosh, the Jumpman logo is the silhouette of a man in midair. Like his likeness alone, like the image of a basketball player dancing in the sky, like the grand jeté of a long horizontal jump, Michael Jordan transcends sports and commerce. Like the original logo on the Air Jordan I, of a basketball with wings, Jordan is the aerial heir to the Wright brothers of his native North Carolina. The star of “The Last Dance,” Jordan has the right stuff.

A Netflix documentary about Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, “The Last Dance” should be mandatory viewing for politicians who lack Jordan’s personal finesse and professional discipline. Across ten episodes and three decades, Jordan proves he is as good a politician as any Chicagoan from the suburbs of Hawaii; better than Barack Obama, who delivers color commentary (of a sort) in the series; better, too, than the most overt politician among players, an Isiah (again, of a sort) with a passel of doubting Thomases; better than critics who feign neutrality and print lies.

Unlike most politicians, Jordan refuses to opine on that which he does not know. Whether he is too shrewd to be impolitic or too politic to be partisan, he speaks a self-evident truth: “Republicans buy sneakers too.” 

Those four words, said in response to queries about Harvey Gantt’s 1990 Senate campaign against Jesse Helms, elicit Obama’s “honest” appraisal of Jordan’s failure to “push harder” on civil rights law and public life. Then, in a rhetorical act of transference, Obama uses Jordan to ventriloquize about himself, saying: “How am I managing this image that has been created around me, and how do I live up to it?”

Jordan manages himself well, doling out Bulls tickets like a boss, shaking hands like a pol, posing for pictures like the celebrity he is. He exercises power like a natural, much to the frustration of the press. 

Jordan’s power to leave the basketball court is reason enough for the press to attack him in the court of public opinion. The attacks constitute not only a full-court press of innuendo, but the triumph of deadlines over decency; of indecency toward the murder of Jordan’s father, James.

Because Michael Jordan is competitive, because he likes to win whatever competition he enters, because he is also a competitive gambler, the press asserts that his losses on the court must be the result of his losses off the court, according to the press. How else to explain Jordan’s measly 36 points in game two of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals against the New York Knicks, which the Bulls lost 91-96, except to say Jordan was up late—with his father—playing blackjack in Atlantic City? Never mind that the Bulls won the series, and that Jordan was named NBA Finals MVP for the third straight year.

Then, in a leap so absurd that only journalists could have believed it, the press more than hinted that James Jordan’s death was payback for Michael’s gambling debts. More ironic is the fact that the New York Times did actual reportage on the murder, in contrast to the paper’s current status as a reputable publisher of crossword puzzles.

“The Last Dance” may not be the last word about Michael Jordan, but it is the best work about his greatness.

Books & Culture

‘Virtue Signal’ Game Skewers
SJW Activism

Peter Thiel calls “Virtue Signal” a game for those who “are ready to wake up from woke!”

“Virtue Signal: The Game of Social Justice,” released earlier this year by Incel Riot Studios, is a humorous table-top card game of parody and snark about social justice activists. Petty power spats, microaggressions, and wacky plot twists abound as the Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) of the game spend more time fighting each other than for their supposedly glorious causes. 

Game creator William Dalebout is a commercial illustrator. He started developing the “Virtue Signal” game after he got canceled from the graphic arts profession in 2016 for designing a banner featuring Donald Trump. 

“Trump swept Super Tuesday and suddenly became the devil incarnate,” Dalebout explained in a Facebook post last year. “And all my clients and all my designer friends . . . suddenly . . . stopped . . . talking to me. The graphic design industry is even more rabidly left than the gaming community, if you can believe that. So once you’ve committed a sin like this there’s really no redemption for you. Even if you had so little self-respect as to make an apology it wouldn’t do any good. You’re just boned. So really this project happened because there was literally no other option. You won’t work with me? Fine. I’ll find people who will.”

Dalebout’s real-life “superpower,” requiring more fortitude than the game Characters’ silly SJW superpowers, has been standing up to cancel culture. Someone needs to tell Dalebout’s epic story of defiance in the face of cancel-cancel-cancel. It didn’t end in 2016. More recently, Incel Riot has been blocked from advertising “Virtue Signal” on social media, banned from gaming conventions, had social media accounts suspended repeatedly, and Amazon has repeatedly disallowed Incel Riot from establishing a seller account.

But the cancellation fanatics have not won. Even while social media and e-commerce platforms keep blocking Incel Riot Studios, you can do your part to help spread the word with your own social media accounts and you can still buy “Virtue Signal” directly from Incel Riot online for $29. 

Here’s how to play. 

Social Justice War

Two to 12 players compete to be the first to get 15 followers for their social justice cause. The game works best with three or more players.

At the start of the game, each player selects one of several humorous SJW characters. That character leads the player’s SJW crusade during the game. Each character has a unique superpower. 

Brood Matriarch’s superpower is Genderfluidity and she can switch between male and female at “xir” turn, which comes in handy as the plots progress. (More on that in a minute.) The superpower of Burnout, who smokes a joint, is spanging; he can beg for and take a card from another player. The superpower of Marxist Academic is resource redistribution: on his turn, he can steal a card from another player. Other characters include Antifa Crusader, Twiggy Wiccan, and Captain Fedora.

Microaggressions vs. Virtue Signals 

You can slow the expansion of an opponent’s activism network by tossing down a microaggression card. To remove a microaggression, the opponent needs to play a virtue signal card, or block the microaggression “against your fragile person” with a safe space card (crayons included!).

Each virtue signal card features a unique, often ridiculous, virtue gesture. One is “1/1024th Cherokee” and another is “creative gendering” (i.e., “Hello my pronouns are Ketchup Sandwich”). And then there’s the hipster keffiyeh virtue signal; as the game makers explain, “you can [virtue] signal your way out of clown jail by wearing the keffiyeh you bought in Palestine.” 

Plot Twists

Plot cards are meta-twists that tweak the rules of the game along the way. For example, when the Thermidorian reaction plot is played, the players gang up on the player in the lead. A mansplaining plot card restricts play to characters who identify as male. A feminist S.C.U.M. plot card, seeking to “fix” the world by “the complete eradication of the male sex,” limits play to characters who identify as female. When the participation trophy plot card is played, everyone is reduced to the lowest-common-denominator and can add only one follower to their alliance at a time. 

The vicious cycle plot card requires players to play any microaggression cards in “xir” hand. For the Antifa Crusader, during a vicious cycle, he must play all of his microaggression cards at once, even against himself if there is nowhere else to play them. As the rules for this character say, “Live by the molotov, die by the molotov.”

A set of special cards add other twists. “Triggered!” cards unleash individual or even cascading game-wide hysteria. 

If you are keen on annoying a particular opponent, you can play a job card that will make your opponent suddenly employed, forcing him, her, or xem to skip a turn—“We’re adulting today, no time to justice,” says the card.

Thanks to the plot and special cards, there’s never a dull moment during your character’s social justice jihad.

Game Play

I recommend the game for ages 17 and up. Some of the humor tends toward the risque. “Virtue Signal” is not suitable for family game night with young children.

The game pairs well with adult beverages, however. 

The game includes almost 200 cards, offering a great deal of variety for ways the game can unfold. A supplemental “problematic” pack, available separately, has an additional 16 cards. The full-color, glossy game cards are well made. The graphics on the cards are stylish and delightfully absurd (not chaste, but they are funny).

The game comes with a printed booklet of the rules—a.k.a. “Principles for Progressives”—and a slightly updated version of the rules is available online. An online “Card Wiki” provides a handy overview of some of the cards. 

The basic concept of “Virtue Signal” is easy to grasp. One doesn’t have to be a microaggression grandmaster to enjoy the game. A few of the rules are a bit complicated, however this complexity is also an advantage: the more you play, the more fun you can have as you get the hang of the twists and turns of “Virtue Signal,” mapping out a strategy to snatch Soros funding away from the causes of other SJWs through the strategic deployment of microaggressions and other forms of attack built into the game.

Before playing, I recommend watching some of the how-to videos on the Incel Riot channel on YouTube (not yet canceled). The most helpful video is the “playthrough” featuring the game makers playing the game and commenting along the way about how the game works, though sometimes they don’t explain what just happened and, due to the camera distance, one can’t see which card was just played.A new, more detailed playthrough video would be an improvement. 

Incel Riot might want to consider adding a glossary to the website for “Virtue Signal.” For example, the rules and how-to videos refer to NPCs without ever explaining what these are. In gaming jargon, an NPC is a “non-player character.” In “Virtue Signal,” the NPCs are the followers the characters add to their alliance. But this is a minor problem.

Updates are at Incel Riot’s Kickstarter page. Additional updates and occasional humorous posts are available on the Incel Riot Facebook page. Incel Riot is on Twitter, Parler, and Gab. They also sell “Virtue Signal”-themed T-shirts, phone cases, et al. (perhaps you’ll want to snag a pouty Greta Thunberg “How dare you!” t-shirt for a climate-panicking sibling on your Christmas list?).

In response to the pandemic, Incel Riot made the game available online using a tool called Tabletop Simulator. At $19.99, however, the Tabletop Simulator is clunky and not user-friendly to those unfamiliar with online gaming. It is more fun to play the original game in person and to defy cancel-culture by supporting Incel Riot: buy the boxed version, put aside your devices, and hang out with friends to play. 

Whether you play online or in person, make sure at first to read each card out loud as you play. The fun of “Virtue Signal” lies not only in the dynamic of the game, but significantly also in the humor of each game card. 

The next project underway for Incel Riot Studios is a game called Deplorables poking fun at right-wingers, in which “deplorableness” will be “measured by the basket,” and characters like “Tradcath Trevor” and “Hyperdox Harold,” find something to do other than “slapfighting on the internet about Filioque or the Fourth Crusade.”

Bring the Game to Election Night Parties

After Peter Thiel and I played “Virtue Signal,” he observed: “With its menagerie of easily triggered SJW characters, ‘Virtue Signal’ is the definitive guide to the topsy-turvy America of 2020. You should only play this game if you are not an NPC and if you are ready to wake up from woke!”

This is the perfect game for your November 3 Election Night Party. No matter what unfolds that night, “Virtue Signal: The Game of Social Justice” has you covered. Here are some possible scenarios:

  1. There will be disputes about ballots, so it might be a very long night. Have “Virtue Signal” on hand to keep the party going into the wee hours as we await the results.
  2. If Orange Man wins, you and your friends can gleefully laugh about the SJWs by playing “Virtue Signal.”
  3. If Basement Guy wins, well, “Virtue Signal” has an aptly named plot card, called Race to the Bottom.
  4. As for violent riots, the game’s Antifa Crusader is already on the job.

By buying the game now, you can master the art of microaggressions before the November election, engage in an act of defiance against cancel culture, and, not least of all, tap into the much-needed humor-therapy the game provides.

In the words of Incel Riot, “May the wokest warrior win!”

Books & Culture

Decoding Howard Zinn’s Dark Vision of America

With the surplus of Zinn disciples running wild today, it may be that he would have simply blended in among the crowd.

In the course of a career that spanned over 50 years, one man seized the mantle of the accepted voice of critical history for the revisionist Left: Howard Zinn. His book A People’s History of the United States sought to teach young readers to see America from the perspective of the disadvantaged. What resulted was a cynical judgment of the United States as a wasteland that victimizes women, blacks, Indians and anyone who is not rich and white. 

As new racial radicals seek to purge America’s culture clean through riots and renamings, I spoke with Mary Grabar, author of Debunking Howard Zinn, about the many ways it seems Zinn’s dystopian designs on America are being carried out just 10 years after his death.

Born in Brooklyn in 1922 to poor Jewish parents from Austria and Russia, Zinn eventually served Europe in the U.S. Army Air Corps (precursor to the USAF) in World War II. Notwithstanding his hostility to fascism, he was against the war at first. Witnessing the aerial bombings of France was his stated motivation for his lifelong pacifism and his public image as an unaffiliated radical. 

As our discussion developed, however, Grabar was adamant that Zinn’s seeming disinclination to affiliate stemmed from his having something to conceal—namely what ex-Communist historian Ron Radosh of the Hudson Institute alleged were activities on behalf of the Communist Party USA that are documented in Zinn’s FBI file

In 1949, the Bureau’s New York office ordered an index card prepared for Zinn on the basis of him telling an undercover agent that he attended CPUSA meetings five times a week in Brooklyn. Zinn was also an employee of the American Labor Party, a New York-based political party largely dominated by Communists. The previous year, the ALP had been behind the electoral coalition that supported pro-Soviet former Vice President Henry A. Wallace for president against incumbent Harry Truman. This parallels today’s infiltration of the Democratic Party by members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

When I read Grabar’s critical review of Zinn’s life and book last year, I had already observed that Zinn’s objective wasn’t education but rather the mental conditioning of grade-schoolers into angry avengers of the past sins of America. But for a while I allowed myself to think that the effects of this process, while undoubtedly demoralizing and damaging to the overall image of America among the youth, had only a limited effect on their actual behavior. It’s clear that I was wrong. 

As Grabar’s book clearly shows, much of A People’s History depends on misrepresentation of contemporaneous sources and the application of moral and ethical standards decades or even centuries ahead of the subjects being examined. According to Grabar, this was simply a cynical ploy—using moralism in order to promote communism.

I asked Grabar why Zinn focused so obsessively on the life and purported crimes of Cristopher Columbus. She informed me that A People’s History was one of the first textbooks to reach back and start the story of America’s history with Columbus, and explained: “Howard Zinn’s goal is to present the United States as being something that is illegitimate . . . So you have to go back to the man—to the discoverer—who throughout our long tradition has been credited with setting things in motion.” 

By this logic, since the United States as the fruit of Columbus’ discovery is supposed to be viewed as poisonous, Zinn’s focus was on portraying the Genoese explorer as a genocidal monster.

According to Grabar, this perspective relies exclusively on the viewpoint of Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish priest and later bishop of Chiapas in what is now modern-day Mexico. But Las Casas arrived in Hispaniola (modern Haiti and Dominican Republic) only after Columbus had been sacked and returned to Spain. He participated in many of the slave raids on the island that he would later blame Columbus for, and only changed his attitude toward the conquest of the Americas for Christianity after his experiences in the subjugation of Cuba. 

Another angle ignored by Zinn and highlighted by Grabar was the Christian perspective that colored Las Casas’ protestations against the conquest of Indian peoples. His reports back to the Spanish crown in Madrid led to a theological showdown on slavery and the mission of Christianity with a Franciscan rival, Fr. Juan de Sepulveda, known as the Valladolid debates. Zinn excluded Las Casas’ own evolution, the fact that his opinion of Columbus was second hand, as well as the Catholic religious motivation for his criticism, creating a completely distorted judgment rather than the nuanced critique that A People’s History is supposed to be.

Dancing in the Ruins

What would Howard Zinn think about the present state of America in 2020? In light of recent riots in Minneapolis and Portland, and the subsequent decision by city governments and unruly mobs to remove the statues of historical figures like Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and Confederate officers, I asked Grabar if he would be pleased or would rather have seen the monuments stand as a reminder. 

“This was his goal,” she said. “To wipe out all reminders of a previous life.” 

As I would later discover, the Zinn Education Project, which promoted his books during his life and continues his legacy today, also highlights the 2004 film Monumental Myths which attacked historical landmarks and monuments including Mount Rushmore due to its association with the sculptor Gutzon Borglum, a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Zinn is one of the featured commentators in the film. Ironically, Borglum would later deny membership in the Klan in an exercise of self-preservation similar to Zinn’s own denials regarding the CPUSA.

Spelman, an Atlanta Affair

Not all of Debunking Howard Zinn relates to his version of history; his character is explored as well. 

In 1956, Zinn was hired to teach at Spelman College, an all-black women’s college in Atlanta, just as the civil rights movement was heating up. Zinn’s radical views, according to Grabar, were likely unknown to the administration of the small conservative Christian school at the time. 

Zinn clashed with college president Dr. Albert Manley, the first black president of the school and a Jamaican immigrant, who wanted to maintain the decorum and Christian discipline of the Baptist institution. Manley would have Zinn dismissed in 1963 for insubordination. 

Hidden from public view, however, was the threat of a moral charge against Zinn due to an affair that Zinn was having with a student. This allegation is also supported by the gay-rights activist and historian Martin Duberman in his 2012 biography Howard Zinn: A Life on the Left, which criticizes Zinn for not including the LGBT movement in A People’s History

Zinn destroyed his personal archives in 2008, meaning that it may never be confirmed whether he was indeed guilty of misconduct with the Spelman College student. 

I asked Grabar how Zinn would have been received by today’s feminists. “I don’t know if he would have done too well with the #MeToo movement,” she said. “He had a reputation for going after students and also having a number of affairs. He even confided in his daughter when she was in her mid-20s about an affair and [how] he was thinking of leaving his wife . . . I don’t know if he would have gotten away with it. But that’s just part of his character. He was a man who really had no scruples.”

Howie Don’t TERF

In one of the chapters of A People’s History, Howard Zinn attacks American colonials and settlers for their oppressive and dismissive treatment of their women. But in the decade since his death, gender politics have become complicated by the rise of intersectional feminism which validates the idea of male-to-female transsexuals as women. I asked Grabar another speculative question about whether Zinn would have sided with the intersectional side, or rather with their adversaries the so-called Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. 

She was surprisingly decisive: “Anything that tears apart our society, the family structure, Zinn would be for. His concern for women’s rights—that has nothing to do with actual women—is to abolish the family.” 

The irony of this perspective, hypothetical of course, is that Zinn’s chapter on feminism quotes from Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, a runaway slave who had her right to raise her family denied by her slavemaster.  

The simplistic and judgmental tone of Howard Zinn’s work is echoed in the the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning, critically acclaimed “1619 Project.” Grabar is researching but still has not seen evidence that its author Nikole Hannah-Jones is a Zinn disciple. She did note, however, that like Hannah-Jones, Zinn distorted evidence as he saw fit. 

Examples of such historical errors were Zinn’s citation of the Holocaust denier David Irving’s inflated casualty numbers from the Dresden bombing as well as his distortion of MIT historian and Vietcong expert Douglas Pike’s reports of atrocities in Vietnam. 

In parting, I asked Grabar how Zinn would be behaving in today’s environment. “He would be leading the mob. He glorified violence,” she answered. But with the surplus of Zinn disciples running wild today, it may be that he would have simply blended in among the crowd.

Books & Culture

Poetry Magazine Caves to the Mob

Postmodern drivel is unsavory enough when it’s coming from business leaders and the like. But when it’s coming from people who hold responsible positions in the literary world it’s especially appalling.

On or about December 1910,” wrote Virginia Woolf in a 1924 essay, “human nature changed.” Woolf was exaggerating for effect, but it’s true that in the first years of the 20th century, imaginative artists of every stripe responded to the rapid social changes and technological developments of the day—and to the profoundly challenging ideas of people like Freud, Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche—by taking approaches to art that represented a sea change from the late Victorians.

Artists searched for brand-new means of expression, reached into the distant past to find old forms to resurrect, and explored non-Western cultures in hopes of discovering useful approaches. (There would have been no modernism at all without a massive amount of what is now called “cultural appropriation.”) The futurists made art out of the sounds and images and language of the industrial world; the impressionists rejected strict realism in their paintings, and the abstractionists rejected representation entirely. 

At the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Americans first saw the works of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse. In the same year, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” debuted in Paris. The previous year saw another major cultural event: the establishment, in Chicago, of a small monthly magazine called Poetry. Its founder, Harriet Monroe, had been exhilarated by the fresh breeze blowing across the Western world; when the Armory Show moved from New York to Chicago, she reviewed it, writing excitedly that the works on exhibition “represent a search for new beauty” and “a longing for new versions of truth observed.” 

In the first issue of Poetry, Monroe explained she had founded it to provide a vehicle for the new poetry “in a world unaware of its immediate and desperate need of her [i.e. poetry], a world whose great deeds, whose triumphs over matter, over the wilderness, over racial enmities and distances, requires her ever-living voice to give them glory and glamour.”   

Poetry soon became the flagship of modern verse. In its first three years alone, it published poems by Erza Pound, William Butler Yeats, D. H. Lawrence, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Rupert Brooke, Vachel Lindsay, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Conrad Aiken, and Edwin Arlington Robinson. In its June 1915 issue, Monroe published T.S. Eliot’s pathbreaking “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”; five months later, she ran Wallace Stevens’s now-classic “Sunday Morning.” 

In keeping with the modernist spirit, the magazine’s contents were international, with early issues featuring works by (among many others) the Japanese writer Yone Noguchi and the Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore. The importance to modernism of recondite non-Western genres is reflected in the appearance in Poetry of a translation of a Nōh play by the 14th-century Japanese writer Motokiyo.

Monroe didn’t work alone. She received extensive guidance, mostly by transatlantic mail, from Pound, who, as her “foreign correspondent,” introduced her to the work of Eliot, James Joyce, and many other authors whom she helped to make famous. But Monroe was nobody’s tool. She had a good ear and eclectic tastes and an openness to the unfamiliar, but she also welcomed more traditional verse into her magazine’s pages. (“We shall read with special interest poems of modern significance,” she promised, “but the most classic subject will not be declined if it reaches a high standard of quality.”) 

Like every other successful editor of a cutting-edge magazine in a time of social and cultural revolution, she had the discernment, vision, and courage to stick to her guns, resisting the pull of the old while refusing to embrace mere differentness for its own sake. 

Monroe died in 1936, but Poetry survived under her successors, of whom there have been 11 in all. While no longer viewed as avant-garde, it remained important; for aspiring poets eager to build up impressive publishing résumés, perhaps only the New Yorker was a more desirable place from which to get an acceptance letter. When I finally had a poem taken for Poetry, I’d already been a prolific freelance writer for several years, and was accustomed to being published. I shouldn’t have been as thrilled as I was to see my name on that familiar cover, but I was thrilled—because nothing could have made me feel more certain that I’d arrived as a poet, that I’d entered a charmed circle, that I’d established at least a minor connection to the great and storied names of modern American poetry. 

That poem of mine appeared in Poetry many years ago. Since then, American poetry has changed. It’s been a long time since I glanced at an issue of Poetry—even though these days, thanks to a $100 million bequest received in 2002 from the pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly, you can read every issue for free online. 

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t have told you the name of the current editor. I know the name of his immediate predecessor—it was Christian Wiman, a very gifted poet. Other past editors of Poetry have also been estimable poets: I’ve read the work of two of them, Daryl Hine and Karl Shapiro, with great pleasure. But the man running the shop now is a fellow named Don Share whom I’d never heard of until, on July 16, I got wind of a controversy at Poetry. 

“Scholls Ferry Rd.,” a poem by one Michael Dickman, had appeared in the July/August number (Poetry prints a double issue every summer) and resulted in a torrent of complaints. On June 26, a letter signed “The Editors” responded to the fury. “[M]embers of our communities,” it noted, “have expressed outrage due to racist language used in this poem.” They continued: 

We acknowledge that this poem contains racist language and that such language is insidious, and in this case is particularly oppressive to Black, Pacific Islander, and Asian people, and we are deeply sorry . . . .

What was it, exactly, that had caused such offense? Although Dickman’s poem has been taken down from the Poetry website,* a copy of it has made the rounds on social media. While taking up 30 pages, it doesn’t contain many words; it’s a patchwork portrait of the speaker’s grandmother in which the reader is presented with fragments of memory and plenty of white space. Anyway, here’s the offending passage:

“Negress” was another word she liked to use

That’s the nice way to say it

“Oh they are always changing what they want to be called”

On the bus she dropped her purse

I was with her

A nice Negress handed it back.

Of course, the point here is not to communicate racist ideas but to give us a glimpse of the grandmother’s casual racism. Poetry’s editors plainly took this view. “We published this poem,” they explain, “because we read it as an indictment of racism within white families.” But, they add, “this was a mistake. We clearly have more work to do in considering how poems center certain voices and affect our readers. We regret not taking serious action sooner to interrogate the editorial process, and we apologize. Our commitment to this work is ongoing, and changes in the magazine’s structure and process are imminent.”

Note the language in this letter: “how poems center certain voices”; “interrogate the editorial process.” This isn’t English; it’s academic jargon, the rhetoric of postmodern critical theory. 

The idea is that Dickman was somehow wrong to “center” the voices of his white speaker (which may or may not be a version of himself) and of the speaker’s white grandmother, at least not in a poem containing the word “Negress.” 

I’m sorry, but to criticize the “centering” of these voices in this poem on such a basis is beyond ridiculous; it breaks with millennia of literary and critical practice; modernism itself—that great cultural upheaval of which Poetry was a proud part—didn’t turn its back on the past in such a flagrant way. 

On the contrary: the modernists were very aware of their continuity with the past, their debt to the past, their responsibility to the past. As T.S. Eliot wrote in his 1919 essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the poet 

must be aware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen . . . .

Some one said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.

The June 26 letter from Poetry’s editors was followed on July 16 by a longer statement signed by Don Share. “I accept sole responsibility for publishing the poem, and apologize unreservedly for doing so,” he wrote. “The poem was submitted a year ago, and reading it made me realize how rare, if not unheard of, it is for white poets to confront in their work the intimate lineage of racism that exists within their own families.” Yet, again, this doesn’t excuse the fact that Dickman’s poem 

egregiously voices offensive language that is neither specifically identified nor explicitly condemned as racist. It also centers completely on white voices, leaving room for no other presences. Because we read poetry to deepen our understanding of human otherness, I failed in my responsibility to understand that the poem I thought I was reading was not the one that people would actually read. I deeply regret that my misjudgment of the poem has affected Black, Asian, and Pacific Islander people and anyone systematically othered by institutions with a white dominant culture, such as this one.

Shore went on to repeat the nonsense about “how poems center certain voices at the expense of others” and promised that Poetry would work hereafter “to empower marginalized voices.” There was a lot more cringing language, but that was the gist of it. 

And it was all absolutely insane, in a way that we’ve all become accustomed to in the pathetic mea culpas proffered in recent weeks by suddenly “woke” corporate CEOs, university administrators, and public officials who claim to have been utterly unaware of their own poisonous racism until Black Lives Matter came along to point it out for them. 

Such drivel is unsavory enough when it’s coming from business leaders and the like. But when it’s coming from people who hold responsible positions in the literary world it’s especially appalling. 

To condemn a literary work because a character says something racist is absurd on the face of it; the fact that the person is not “specifically identified” as racist is irrelevant; the lack of specificity on that score, in the case of Dickman’s poem, is part of his strategy. As for Dickman’s failure to condemn the grandmother’s racism—is Share kidding? How can a man in his position, who presumably understands a few basic things about how literature works, seriously make such a criticism? Is this what literature has come to in the post-BLM era?

The same question applies to Share’s complaint that Dickman’s poem contains only “white voices, leaving room for no other presences.” How can anyone who cares for literature even suggest that strictures of this sort be placed on writers? This kind of thinking is right out of Stalinist Russia. 

It’s especially disgusting coming from an editor of Poetry, a magazine born of modernism. In one fell swoop, Don Share has renounced the noble legacy of modernism—which responded to the existential challenges of the 20th century by affirming the meaning and value of human life and art—and embraced postmodernism’s pernicious fixation on power, oppression, and identity politics.   

* Even though the Poetry website has been scrubbed clean of Dickman’s offending poem, Wallace Stevens’s poem “Like Decorations in a Nigger Cemetery,” which first appeared in Poetry‘s February 1935 issue and was widely criticized even at the time for its title, remains up at the same site at this writing. 

Books & Culture

A review “Communist China’s War Inside America,” by Brian Kennedy (Encounter, 49 pages, $7.99)

Common Sense About China

China’s goal, Brian Kennedy writes, is “demoralizing the United States to the point where America believes that further resistance is futile.” They can’t succeed without the help of America’s elite.

Something really strange is going on in America today. If you have wondered why political correctness requires you to avoid using the word “Chinese” with regard to a virus that came from China, then I have the book for you. It’s Communist China’s War Inside America by my friend Brian Kennedy. The good news is that the book—the latest in Encounter Books’ “Broadside” series—is very brief (the main text is only 49 pages). It is also written in a beautiful, clear style. Despite its brevity, it provides all you need to understand the nature of the Chinese threat to America, and to understand what can be done and must be done.

Kennedy gets straight to the point, writing that the Chinese 

are confident that America has grown corrupt, and that its political, financial, and cultural elites are in near-complete sympathy with the globalist project of an interdependent world, with the P.R.C. [the People’s Republic of China] at its head.

And make no mistake: the Chinese have ample evidence that their confidence in America’s elites is not misplaced. 

I have a story from my own life that illustrates Kennedy’s point. Recalling what it was like before the pandemic panic took total control of American life will help to set the stage. Back then, the media, the celebrities, and the politicians had not yet mastered the talking points of the COVID-19 narrative. During one of those early days, a local radio news personality announced with great excitement that she had secured an interview with a prominent epidemiologist from the most prestigious university in our region. After thanking the professor profusely for granting the interview, the reporter asked the obvious question, the one that was on my mind at that time: “What is the difference between this flu and the Spanish flu of 1918?” 

The professor was greatly offended by the question. She admonished the reporter never to use the term “Spanish” with regard to the flu of 1918 and never to use the word “Chinese” with regard to the flu of 2020. The professor simply would not answer the question and, for that matter, she would not address any other question having to do with epidemiology. She confined herself to scolding and reeducating the reporter, making it clear to the reporter and her listeners what was and what was not politically correct to say about the virus. 

It was an astonishing performance. The professor did not speak as an epidemiologist; instead, she spoke as a globalist. When she said, in effect, “Don’t you ever call this flu that came from China ‘Chinese,’” she was acting as a spokesperson for the ideology of globalism. 

The professor’s response, so on-target so early on, is but one example. But if you need another example, have you heard of Yu Ben Ming? If you haven’t, what I am about to tell you, I expect, will astonish you. Yu is the Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of the California Public Employee Retirement System (CALPERS). He manages the $400 billion in assets of America’s largest public pension fund. Every dollar he invests in China—and he invests plenty of them—makes China stronger and gives China more leverage over American investors and American politics. Feeling queasy yet?

The Chinese are not content to put America’s economic might to work for them while at the same time stealing America’s advanced technology; their goal, as Kennedy writes, is “demoralizing the United States to the point where America believes that further resistance is futile.” They can’t succeed without the help of America’s elites, but everything that must be done to counter the Chinese threat can be done. As Kennedy writes: “These steps must be taken now before it is too late.”

His book will bring all that is going on and all that needs to be done into sharp focus for you. Never, perhaps, in the history of publishing has so much been accomplished in so few words. You owe it to yourself to read the book, and you owe it to your friends to share it with them. 

Books & Culture

Cancel Sports!

We cannot ignore the ways that sporting actively perpetuates American inequality.

When news broke last week that the Washington Redskins football team finally would be renamed, I couldn’t celebrate: I was too worried that this progressive victory might distract us from the fact that the entire enterprise of American sports is a hotbed of bigotry and intolerance.

So it was with great relief that I greeted Karen Attiah’s column in the Washington Post the next day, where this daughter of Ghanan immigrants (Ghana being a model nation with no embarrassing history of indigenous violence) wrote that the Texas Rangers baseball team must also be renamed. 

Attiah helpfully exposes the “myths about Texas Rangers as brave and wholesome guardians of the Texas frontier, helping protect innocent settlers from violent Indians” and sets the record straight—that the Rangers are a hate group roving Tejas in a maniacal quest to exterminate the entirely peaceful indigenous people of color. I echo Attiah’s call to rename the Rangers, but we must keep our eye on the ball, so to speak. 

There is much more work to be done.

The following professional teams need to change their names, logos, and merchandising:

Major League Baseball

New York Yankees: Growing up in western New York, I was proud to be a yankee as a child. Only when I moved to South Carolina at the age of 18 did I learn that “yankee” is a slur used in the American South to denigrate people from the northeast. Years later, upon moving to Texas, I was alarmed to find that the term had been culturally appropriated by people from Mexico and Central America (a reinvented form of “yanquis”) as a derogatory attack on all people residing north of the Mexican border. Hate cannot be allowed in baseball.

Atlanta Braves: Tragically, this team has appropriated the image of the noble leaders of the indigenous resistance movement against European aggression.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pirates steal the property of others, and thus affirm capitalist notions of property and ownership that were directly responsible for the emergence of the slave trade in the seventeenth century. I propose renaming the team the Pittsburgh Commune.

Cleveland Indians: Easy Fix. Cleveland Natives.

San Diego Padres: This name celebrates the European colonizers who, posing as missionaries bringing the “Good News,” imposed the Christian doctrine of fear and white supremacy as a means to subjugate indigenous peoples.

Cincinnati Reds: While there is no direct evidence that this name was intended as a slur against indigenous peoples, there is no definite evidence that it wasn’t. Someone, somewhere, has to be offended by this. Change it.

National Football League

Buffalo Bills: A team named after a man who fought in the Indian Wars, working to subjugate indigenous peoples to a Eurocentric ethnostate which then awarded him the Medal of Honor for his efforts in the genocide? In 2020?

San Francisco 49ers: This team’s name looks back with romantic nostalgia to the era of western expansion, which was aided by a capitalist gold-lust that brought people from all over the world into indigenous lands. That is to say nothing of the ecological violence inflicted by 19th-century mining techniques which systematically raped and pillaged the natural resources of tribal lands.

Dallas Cowboys: Farming, animal husbandry, and herding—the central activities of the disproportionately-white men called “cowboys”—was another covert means by which the American government forced native peoples out of what would soon become the “American” west. Is this really something we want to honor?

Houston Texans: The fact that this team is called “The Texans” rather than “Los Tejanos” is a testament to the complete erasure of indigenous peoples in Tejas and the linguistic imperialism by which that erasure was accomplished. Until the name is changed, the team is a veritable totem that celebrates white supremacy.

Green Bay Packers: The Packers were so named because they were started with some money granted by the “Indian Packing Company.” I don’t know if the Indian Packing Company was owned by indigenous persons, but I have to assume they weren’t since we all know indigenous persons were not allowed to own property in the United States until Barack Obama’s inauguration. As such, the company that is the team’s namesake was engaged in cultural appropriation and must be denounced.

Kansas City Chiefs: Indigenous American peoples had chiefs. No cultural appropriation.

Las Vegas Raiders: (See Pirates, Pittsburgh)

New England Patriots: This name perpetuates the myth that the men who fought for independence from Britain in 1776 deserve the credit for founding this nation. Given that the true founding was in 1619, I propose calling the team the New England Slave Traders, which would also serve as an overdue acknowledgment of the white privilege embodied by the abolition movement which grew out of New England and its culture of hate.

National Hockey League

The first goal of the NHL should be creating a league that looks like America—one in which all ethnicities exist in equal proportions. The NFL and NBA serve as models to which the NHL can aspire in this regard. Nevertheless, I call for the immediate review of the following team names.

Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes disproportionately affect people of color, the poor, and the uninsured and underinsured. That’s not funny.

New York Rangers: Few people know that a man named George Lewis “Tex” Rickard was instrumental in founding this hockey club. Given his central role, people around the organization began to call the team “Tex’s Rangers,” an obvious homage to the notorious white supremacist organization after which the baseball team based in Dallas is named. (See Attiah, Karen).

Colorado Avalanche: Avalanches disproportionately affect white skiers, affluent owners of alpine property, and the over-insured. That’s not funny.

Chicago Blackhawks: The name appropriates the moniker of an indigenous American warrior from the Sauk tribe. Most fans of the Chicago team are non-indigenous.

Anaheim Ducks: In true homage to America’s true God—capitalism—this team was named after a mediocre Hollywood blockbuster about a diverse band of children attempting to play hockey. Unfortunately, it stars Emilio Estevez, a man who re-appropriated a Spanish surname after his father (Ramon Gerard Antonio Estevez, commonly known as “Martin Sheen”) had abandoned it in favor of a name that appeared more stereotypically “Anglo.”

National Basketball Association

Boston Celtics: By glorifying nordic European peoples, this team’s latent Aryanism marginalizes many Boston fans with different heritages.

Philadelphia 76ers: Easy fix. The Philadelphia 19ers.

Portland Trailblazers: More nostalgia for Manifest Destiny and westward Euro-American imperialism. This aggression cannot stand. Deciding on a new name will be contentious. I propose the Portland Riot.

One thing is clear. As we push inexorably toward a fundamental transformation of this country, we cannot leave the world of sports untouched. Because sports explicitly are framed as a diversion from the more pressing concerns of the day, professional sporting leagues encourage a complicity among everyday Americans when it comes to the inhumanity of the current regime. 

For that reason, we cannot ignore the ways that sporting actively perpetuates American inequality. Further, in showcasing and rewarding “excellence,” the world of sport is a tacit endorsement of the meritocratic American “values” that have always served as a cover for the blood and plunder inflicted by white supremacists and their capitalist allies. 

Ghana wasn’t built in a day, and the dismantling of the hatred enshrined in the sporting world won’t be achieved any time soon. But we can begin by eradicating the team names listed above that have long been so painful for so many Americans. #cancelsports

Books & Culture

The Way of Richard Brookhiser

Honor, decency, gratitude, and integrity; from these values do statues take shape. From these values do men build monuments and memorials.

If the Jews made Jerusalem famous, the Protestants made the New Jerusalem of America a light unto the nations. By Protestants, I mean the founders of our civil religion; the architects of many mansions on behalf of laws, language, culture, institutions, literature, history, and tradition. More specifically, I mean the way of those men who were White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). I mean the way of Americans of every faith—Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—and of almost every point of view. 

One man shows us the way: Richard Brookhiser. Columnist, patriot, American; Brookhiser is the author of (among other books) The Way of the Wasp: How It Made America and How It Can Save It . . . So to Speak

The book is a profile in courtesy, praising the character of good men; highlighting the acts of America’s greatest men; encouraging readers to emulate the goodness necessary to keep America great. 

The book is a primer for practicing civility and promoting citizenship, as the latter is improbable without the former. Witness the weeks preceding Independence Day, 2020: those who seek to erase history have no respect for respect itself.

Just as violent criminals do not ask permission to rob or murder, vandals do not concern themselves with property rights or civil rights. What matters to the least civil among us does, however, matter to the future of civility. Whether we have a country depends on what we do to protect our culture; the culture of the WASP, not the church where he worships—which, in fact, is a Jewish-founded, Japanese-owned clothier, J. Press, in New Haven, Connecticut.

That Brookhiser is not a WASP proves his point about the Americanness of the values he extols. Values like honor, decency, gratitude, and integrity. From these values do statues take shape. From these values do men build monuments and memorials. From these values does Brookhiser chronicle the heroism of men such as Washington, Adams, Morris, Marshall, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

Fluent in our founding documents, Brookhiser is also the host of a fine documentary about Marshall’s tenure as chief justice of the United States.

Brookhiser’s oeuvre represents his dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal. His books offer a bold defense of liberty. His devotion to America is a noble testament to the last, best hope of earth.

Happy Fourth of July.

Books & Culture

None Dare Call It Conspiracy and Its Insights for Today

Gems of wisdom abound in this book that enjoyed huge but fleeting popularity during the Vietnam era, but is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written.

Does anyone still believe what they read in the New York Times or watch on any major television network news broadcast? Because for millions of Americans, the credibility of those news sources is at an all-time low. The internet hive mind, even in the face of blatant censorship by search engines and social media monopolies, simply offers too many verifiable, alternative facts for establishment media to get away with the kind of lying they do, and yet they persist. Exposed and discredited, they keep on lying, betting that an exhausted populace simply will not verify every single thing they report.

Writing for the American Conservative, Arthur Bloom recently published a critique of American media with the not-so-subtle title, “They Really Are Lying to You.” His opening sentence: “The most effective kind of propaganda is by omission.”

Bloom is probably right, especially when one considers how much the media obsessed, for years, over what ultimately were nonstories—think “Russian collusion” or “Ukrainian impeachment.” And then there are the overblown stories—think “8 million COVID deaths in the United States by this time next year,” and now, “the nation is reeling under an epidemic of systemic racism” that suddenly, so very suddenly, have been urgent crises for, well, forever.

What will be next week’s crisis of the century? And what is really going on behind these blinding lunges from one overwhelming and orchestrated media fixation to the next? What events of greater consequence are being obscured, ignored, or omitted in favor of this coverage?

Media Making News

It doesn’t take a sleuth to watch ABC News anchor David Muir go through his nightly pattern—he curates the same stories, on the same themes, as every other major establishment network—to know that something’s going on. Why is there so much unity? Across the networks, the same facts? The same phrases? And it doesn’t take a numbers genius to realize that Muir and his “experts” have made stunning misuse of statistics to spread agenda-driven panic, first over COVID, and now over “systemic racism.”

America’s mass media aren’t reporting on mass panics and mass protests, they are creating them. They only secondarily “report” on them. Maybe COVID is the pandemic of the century. Or maybe not. The only thing we know for certain is that we can’t trust anything we hear about it on ABC Nightly “News.”

Arthur Bloom’s article is a well-documented exposé of how the media has lied in recent, and not so recent years. He alludes briefly to conspiracy theories, making the tantalizing suggestion that the media elites are trying to discredit conspiracy theorists by seeding conspiracy theories with information that is so fantastic as to be obviously false. He even suggests this tactic is what’s behind QAnon, which has, as he writes, “a remarkable ability to absorb all other conspiracy theories that came before it.”

But what is really behind the curtain? America’s media lies all the time, and they do it in lockstep with one another. Sometimes they lie by omission. Sometimes they manipulate statistics. And other times they distort their coverage, present quotes or report activities in an unrepresentative context, or engage in selective editing. Most often they just adopt a smug tone that lets the compliant or lazy listener absorb a clear message: this is a bad guy, this is a good guy. Why are they doing this?

Fifty years ago, a slim book, almost a pamphlet, was written and within a few years it sold more than 6 million copies. Authored by freelance journalist and conservative Gary AllenNone Dare Call it Conspiracy was first published in 1972. During that election year and for years afterward, the book was required reading for anyone who thought there were untold stories and unnamed forces driving current events. It is remarkable how relevant this book is today.

The historical narrative and players identified in None Dare Call it Conspiracy cannot be summarized briefly. Suffice to say that what Gary Allen described back then is similar fare to what you’ll get if you watch Alex Jones today, as well as many of the videos now coming from the QAnon network. And if you watch these sources today, remember this: Maybe instead of being seeded with information so fantastic as to be obviously false in order to discredit the entire body of work, the obviously ridiculous content is added in order to protect the body of work. Discard the ridiculous, but consider the rest, as absurdity protects it from the censors.

False Choices

While Allen’s discussion of specific players and events defies brief explication, he made several other points that are especially relevant today. While only conspiracy theorists may have believed Allen back in 1972, today there is nearly a consensus on some of these points. The first of these concepts is what Allen called the false choice between Left and Right, between Communism and fascism.

The chart shown below, taken from page 29 of the third edition published in April 1972, shows the conventional political spectrum compared to what Allen believes is a more accurate political continuum. He writes:

“We are told that on the far-Left of the political spectrum is Communism, which is admittedly dictatorial. But, we are also told that equally to be feared is the opposite of the far Left, i.e., the far-Right, which is labeled Fascism . . . this is absurd. Where would you put an anarchist on this spectrum? Where would you put a person who believes in a Constitutional Republic and the free enterprise system? He is not represented here, yet this spectrum is used for political definitions by a probable ninety percent of the people of the nation.”

Allen’s point is that if all you can choose are points in between communism on the far-Left, and fascism on the far-Right, then all you really are doing is choosing between international socialism and national socialism. Only by placing both of these forms of socialism on the Left, and by placing pure anarchy on the far-Right, do you create room within the continuum for free-market capitalism and limited government to exist.

There’s a reason for the promotion of this false choice, according to Allen, which gets to one of the main points of his book. He argues that socialism is not a share-the-wealth program, but is, in reality, a method to consolidate and control the wealth. He writes:

The seeming paradox of rich men promoting socialism becomes no paradox at all. Instead it becomes the logical, even perfect tool of power-seeking megalomaniacs. Communism, or more accurately, socialism, is not a movement of the downtrodden masses, but of the economic elite.

This insight would explain a lot of current events in America and other Western democracies. Again quoting Allen, “Radical movements are never successful unless they attract big money and/or outside support…the Left is controlled by its alleged enemy, the malefactors of great wealth.”

Gems of wisdom abound in this book that enjoyed huge but fleeting popularity during the Vietnam era, but is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written. Allen explains that by concentrating power in government, wealthy insiders will actually increase their economic power and political influence. “One must draw the distinction between competitive free enterprise, the most moral and productive system ever devised, and cartel capitalism dominated by industrial monopolists and international bankers…the cartel capitalist uses the government to force the public to do business with him. These corporate socialists are the deadly enemies of competitive private enterprise.”

Sound familiar?

The next chart, taken from page 125 of the book, offers a visual explanation of how wealthy insiders fund and manipulate naïve radicals to apply pressure to the middle class from above and below. Some but not all of the names Allen noted 50 years ago will change, but the dynamic stays the same. Perhaps one may add the names Soros, Bloomberg, and Gates to the names on top, and swap for the names at the bottom the 2020 versions of the original groups: Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the Democratic Socialists of America. And along with race and class as salient issues to incite the mob, add the “climate emergency.”

This strategy is diabolically clever: Identify the most hardened, potentially violent fanatics in a nation, and surreptitiously give them money and training. As they destabilize society, exploit the backlash that desires order to increase the size and power of government.

What Gary Allen diagnosed and wrote about 50 years ago was not unfounded. Without commenting on the conspiracy aspects, but merely on the process he identified, he was prescient, wrong only in his belief that it would happen faster than it actually did. What slowed down the process is anyone’s guess, but some broad cultural shifts come to mind: The Reagan revolution, the growing activism of the religious right, conservative intellectuals finding their voice, conservative talk radio mobilizing millions, and more recently, the power of the internet.

What has decisively changed between 1972 and today is the fact that millions of Americans, if not most Americans, now realize that there is a phony war between establishment Democrats and Republicans and that they cannot trust the media.

History will judge whether or not the election of Donald Trump marked a restoration of American sovereignty and a resurgence of America’s middle class. All that is certain today is that with rare exceptions, every establishment player, every wealthy special interest, every corporate-controlled media outlet, every billionaire, every influential actor or entertainer or athlete, all of them, have lined up to oppose President Trump with every ounce of energy they’ve got. Why?

Allen’s answer is both easy and difficult. Easy, because “conspiracy” contextualizes everything going on with no further analysis required. Difficult, because if you attempt to ferret out the entire intricate history of these alleged global insiders, you will enter an abyss of infinite pathways and unlimited possibilities. And how much does it really matter? How much difference is there between a conspiracy among elites, and a general consensus among elites? What would be handled differently, if anything?

There is an alternative answer, more hopeful and also more practical, which is simply to fight—heedless of whatever underlying conspiracies may exist—to convince more people to vote for the preservation of America’s freedoms and to stop the assault on America’s middle class. To do that requires allocating energy to exposing the fraud and hidden agenda underlying leftist policies, and convincing all people of goodwill that better alternatives exist.

Books & Culture

That Kiss!

How a spontaneous kiss momentarily reminded us of a saner, happier reality—beyond COVID-19 and beyond #MeToo mercenaries.

There’s a reason this Canadian expatriate has been missing Canada of late. In particular, I miss the everyday normality of its local CTV News.

Often apolitical, Canadians are always less eager to feature the caterwauling of politicians than to cover the joys of a cat rescue.

Or a kiss.

How natural, then, that a CTV Toronto News anchor intuitively ran with one of the most enchanting, culturally significant little video clips I’ve seen for a long time.

In it, a young, adorable girl, clutching a tiny dog, is being interviewed about face masks in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park. Her meandering replies are meaningless. She’s just a regular, uninformed, inarticulate Millennial, until . . . wait for it . . .   

A dashing and daring young man with a mop of dark hair appears out of nowhere. He is dressed like the rebel characters in the film “Hair,” Milos Forman’s formidable musical. In mid-interview, he grabs the girl and kisses her long and deep and oh-so romantically.

The cute girl goes as limp as a ragdoll in his arms. Or, like Scarlett O’Hara in the arms of Rhett Butler. Every bit of her is saying “yes.”

Here were two beautiful, real, young people, kissing spontaneously—not texting or narcissistically uploading airbrushed images of themselves to social media, but connecting in the sweetest and sincerest (if surprising!) of ways.

Here was a young man not being rude, but being romantic, a Prince who, with a kiss, turned an ordinary girl into a Princess.

Best of all, the man and the woman were both momentarily and gloriously suspended in a magic world, free of the #MeToo moral panic and the COVID-19 contagion.

And the girl? Well she responded as women would have responded to a manifestly charming and irresistible man in my day. She beamed, and she stumbled about disoriented and mesmerized. To the reporter she gasped, “He’s hot.” To the boy she called out, “text me.”

The interviewer later quizzed the boy. Was he worried he’d contract COVID-19 from the kiss? The dreamy young man, who had a faraway look in his eyes, replied: “I think the kiss was worth it.”

Damn straight it was.

Feminists and gender-study killjoys—“consent activists” too, in case you were unaware of their existence—will ruin this mesmerizing moment by raping it with the political and pseudoacademic constructs we’ve all come to know and loathe. These are, “nonconsensual,” “rape culture,” “groping,” “male toxicity and dominance,” “entitlement”—even “violence and violation.”

The truth is, the moment was pure magic. And the young lady’s face and demeanor said as much.

What a downer it was, then, when the television anchor, Nathan Downer, apologized for intuitively running with one of the most charming and hopeful video vignettes I’ve seen in a long time.

You did good, Mr. Downer. You uplifted and elevated us all, in these dark and deeply dumb days—in the days of a plague that has turned us all into untouchables and a politics that has made us a little touched in the head.

Nobody could watch that sweet moment and not secretly hope, deep down, that off-camera, those lip-locked, lovely young people got to fulfil the promise of that kiss.  

Books & Culture

The Cancel Coven of the SPLC Gets New Life

As the world emerges from a three-month lockdown, racial unrest has broken out again as a result of the killings of black Americans George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. While the nation is polarized, the reaction of corporate America and the media has been to carefully cull society and culture of any person or image that could be construed as racist or pro-law enforcement.

Statues are being toppled, kneeling for the national anthem is encouraged, and Confederate flags now are even banned at NASCAR events,  Meanwhile, careers of liberals and conservatives alike are being ruined for passing remarks, perceived slights, or non-statements of support. This is the “cancel culture” that has been stirred up through years of corporate-media-nonprofit sector collusion, and one of the main accomplices is the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

After years of writing about the SPLC’s overbearing dictates for PJ Media, writer Tyler O’Neil undertook to expose the deeper history of the group in his book, Making Hate Pay

While it brands itself as the group that bankrupted the Ku Klux Klan, in recent years the SPLC has become one of the most domineering organizations policing speech through its hate group map and watch list. But they have a sordid history of internal corruption that their journalistic friends ignore, as well as continuing litigation by targets of their watchlist for publication of libelous claims.

In a recent interview with O’Neil, we discussed the relationship between the SPLC’s work and the events happening today.

 

RM: Much of the early work of the SPLC was with indigent legal clients, often those who were at risk of being put on death row in cases like Beck v. Alabama. But since refocusing on the Klan and then other hate groups, they are now advocating for harsher sentencing for hate crimes. Can you explain how that transition happened?

TO: That transition makes up a huge part of the book and for good reason, right? There was a step-by-step process. So Morris Dees who was the co-founder felt compunction and remorse about not getting involved actively in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. So in the 1970s, he founded the Southern Poverty Law Center which did a lot of good work on specific cases on changing the way that redistricting worked in Alabama. You had the first black representatives finally win since Reconstruction, being able to represent the community a little bit . . . 

But then Morris Dees took the organization in two directions. First he was very liberal from the get-go. And he actually went and worked on the George McGovern campaign in 1972 and brought a whole bunch of those very far left donors into the SPLC’s donor base.

Then he also had this long term . . . personal history with the Klan. He had represented a Klan member in the 1960s, and he had Klan members in his family. And he eventually had a strong animus against the Klan not just as a hate group, but also personally. At one point he sat a Klan member across the room from him and pulled out a shotgun and put it in his face. And he mentions this in his autobiography he’s very proud of it. Anyway, he decided to take the SPLC in an anti-Klan direction, shooting to bankrupt hate groups like the Klan. And this is the kind of work that started to make even other people at the SPLC a little nervous; because they had signed up a lot of the lawyers to help poor people in these particular cases that the SPLC had done so well.

RM: You explored in-depth the unseen history of Dees, the co-founder and key figure in the SPLC, his naked attempts to use litigation for fundraising, and his numerous sexual indiscretions that led to a half-dozen divorces. These issues among others led to the resignations of Dees, Richard Cohen, and several other higher-ups. Why however did SPLC former employees never sue him or the organization for that behavior?

TO: Well I think they wanted to brush it under the rug, even the SPLC employees who were rightly horrified about Morris Dees’s history did not want to continue to weaken their organization by dragging out the story. And I think you see this almost terrifying double standard that a lot of liberal politicians and groups have when Brett Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assault by an extremely flimsy accusation, they’re all saying believe women. 

When Joe Biden has a much more credible accusation brought against him—still questionable, mind you, Biden is not necessarily guilty—but then they’re like, “Oh let’s, let’s brush that under the rug.” So, for partially that reason the SPLC —when it fired Dees, when Cohen stepped down, when the entire leadership was pushed out—they announced that they would do an internal review and investigation. And to this day no results have been published. 

And, in fact, shortly after Dees was fired and Cohen was let go, you had these claims based in decades of history of racial discrimination and sexual harassment—things that should get talked about and should really seriously encourage an organization to reform it. 

And their interim president [Tina Tchen] goes out and says,  “Oh, the SPLC is like the Underground Railroad,” forgetting the fact that former black employees had called the SPLC a

plantation. “No, it’s the Underground Railroad. We’re saving people from hate and violence.”

RM: It looked like not long ago that the Maajid Nawaz case and other episodes of bad publicity would wreck the SPLC’s reputation. Yet last year Chick-Fil-A donated $2,500 and did so as well in 2017. With the recent unrest, Pornhub has promised to donate $100,000 to organizations that fight “racism and social injustice” including the SPLC. The organization seems to have gotten a new lease on life. What do you think can be done after this setback for those attempting to shed light on the SPLC’s real nature?

TO:  Yeah, I wrote the book to hold them accountable for this. It baffles my mind just how much mainstream media like the New York Times has seemed to have forgotten the scandal that wrecked the SPLC. They seem to have entirely moved on, and just last year the New York Times, the Miami Herald, and the Palm Beach Post all ran SPLC and Council on American-Islamic Relations talking points slamming Act for America as a hate group. And they actually forced even Mar-a-Lago, even the Trump Organization to cancel an event with Act for America. 

It baffles my mind. It’s like, you know the organization you’re citing for this not only had a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal, but former employees came forward and said that the hate group accusation is itself a fundraising scam to raise money, to make pay. 

In January, they testified before Congress and they said that big tech and the government need to shut down hate groups and silence them because they are statistically connected to white supremacist terrorism. I mean they acted as though their hate group list, which has a million problems—it goes through all sorts of different hate groups, it accuses conservative Christian groups of being anti-LGBT, it accuses national security groups of being anti-Muslim, it

accuses groups of being anti-immigrant—and yet none of those groups is necessarily connected in any way to racism or white nationalism or white supremacy. But the SPLC testifies before

Congress saying all the hate groups are somehow proof that white supremacist terrorism is increasing in the United States.

RM: One of your chapters focused on the impact of Charlottesville on the free speech discussion and the growing movement to rename schools and institutions that have Confederate roots. This has morphed and mutated, such that even Penny Lane, the Liverpool road made famous by the Beatles song, may be renamed for its association with a slave trader. Will the SPLC, in your opinion begin to press the issue further now and sue localities that refuse to rename their institutions?

TO: I think the answer is yes. If the SPLC is smart, they’re not gonna just sue over something like Penny Lane, but I think after you’ve seen these attacks—it’s funny the SPLC not only has this hate map which plots these hate groups—there was a terrorist attack, a would-be murderer found the hate map and targeted a group [the Family Research Council] on the hate map. 

But the SPLC came out with another map, a hate map for Confederate monuments. And they said that the existence of these monuments has the potential to unleash turmoil and bloodshed citing Charlottesville. Now some of these monuments on this Confederate hate map are schools. Middle schools, elementary schools, high schools military bases in one case it was called Stonewall Elementary. . . [It’s] not named after Stonewall Jackson, it was named after a literal stone wall that was built there. And if the SPLC had done a little bit of digging they would have found that they were falsely accusing a school of being a Confederate symbol, rallying turmoil and bloodshed. And this kind of thing is malicious, and I would argue it’s defamation. 

I list 10 cases in the back of the book, many of those cases are ongoing—a few of them, like you said, Maajid Nawaz which is a tremendous story who needs to get more attention, a Muslim reformer branded as an anti-Muslim extremist. 

The SPLC would not just come with a lawsuit out of the blue, they would find some black person

who claims to feel the pain of this monument existing, and then do it on their behalf. And one of the problems with people like Governor Ralph Northam going out there and taking down these statues is that a lot of the rhetoric enables the SPLC to have a legal case to do this kind of thing.

Books & Culture

Shut Up and Coach—If (and Only If) You’re Not Woke

On the impending “cancellation” of OSU’s Mike Gundy over a t-shirt and other offenses.

Oklahoma State University head football coach Mike Gundy stirred up the woke hornet’s nest after a picture surfaced of him wearing a One America News (OAN) Network t-shirt. “What a despicable man!” was supposed to be our dictated reaction. “How dare he wear a shirt with that logo?” Gundy’s star player, Chuba Hubbard, took to Twitter and declared, “I will not stand for this. This is completely insensitive to everything going on in society, and it’s unacceptable. I will not be doing anything with Oklahoma State until things CHANGE.” Numerous teammates chimed in with similar reactions, and the university’s president and athletic director both expressed grave concerns over Gundy’s sartorial choice. 

Gundy’s crime was that he showed a mild form of support for a news network that National Public Radio has deemed “a far-right TV network that has a history of supporting Trump.”

Hubbard has now apologized for his part in the situation, and Gundy has promised that things will in fact “change.” It seems to be an amicable ending to a situation that shouldn’t have become a controversy in the first place. 

Under current law, Gundy is allowed to watch OAN, and it’s understandable why he would do so. A 2019 Gallup poll showed that “Americans remain largely mistrustful of the mass media” and only “41% currently have ‘a great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of trust in newspapers, television and radio to report the news ‘fully, accurately and fairly.’” Seeking news that is “Fully, accurately, and fairly” reported is presumably what drew Gundy to watch and show support for OAN.

Gundy has made comments in the past showing support for OAN. He was quoted in April lauding the network. “It was so refreshing. They just report the news. There’s no commentary. There’s no opinions. There’s no left. There’s no right,” he said. Where is the “hate” in news without commentary? Some managed to imagine some, writing juvenile and stupid articles about that comment of Gundy’s as well, though it did not garner anything like the current firestorm.

Let us assume that Gundy is a “conservative” or at least right-of-center. Is he not allowed to have thoughts and opinions on politics? Or is it that he’s not allowed to express them if he is “conservative”? Plenty of coaches and other people involved in athletics make their political thoughts and opinions known, with nary a peep against them. Steve Kerr, Colin Kaepernick, Lebron James, Megan Rapinoe, Greg Popovich, just to name a few, have all broadcast their political opinions widely and regularly, and they have uniformly been canonized by the media.

These sports figures have been quite free with their Leftist social-justice opinions, and if you don’t agree with them, they and the media make it clear that it’s because you’re a bigot. In fact, the average American, to these elites, is a shameful thing—just as the nation and its entire history is a disgrace. That is why our athletics intelligentsia insists we kneel during the national anthem: the United States is an evil place with an evil past, and honoring it by standing for the anthem and the national flag—or even doing something so tangential as wearing an OAN t-shirt—is something we cannot be allowed to do with impunity. 

Remember that Steve Kerr and Lebron James refused to condemn China’s human rights abuses in Hong Kong but freely and frequently criticize their own nation, neighbors, and audience.

Contrast the treatment of these politically correct sports figures with the hot water that TV commentator Laura Ingraham got into for telling Lebron James to stay out of politics and “shut up and dribble.” The entire media-corporate complex sided with James and denounced Ingraham for pointing out that a disconnected millionaire who bounces a ball for a living is not necessarily a font of great political wisdom. Of course, James is entitled to his own opinion and to share it, but Ingraham should have been accorded the same courtesy. Similarly, Gundy surely should be allowed to wear a t-shirt that bears the OAN logo without being in danger of losing his livelihood—which certainly would have been the outcome of a full-fledged player revolt against him. (He’s certainly not out of the woods yet.)

The complaint is that Gundy “glorified” OAN by wearing their t-shirt. The media echo chamber considers OAN a fringe, conspiracy-theory-spewing mouthpiece for conservatives. If conspiracy theories are cause for condemnation, however, MSNBC, CNN, and every other major media outlet should have their feet held to the flames for their role in the impeachment of President Donald Trump and countless other instances of fake news as well as their association with fringy left-wing opinions. In their view, however, honesty is the standard of good journalism for thee but not for me. OAN presents news without parroting the leftist views of the “major” networks, and therefore it is evil and watching it is an offense punishable by unemployment. If we are willing to “cancel” someone because of the news sources they choose to patronize, we are in grave trouble as a nation.

Gundy has always supported his players and defended them against unfair criticism. He became something of a household name in 2007 for his “I’m a man; I’m 40” speech, in which he railed against the press for mocking one of his players and printing unfounded claims. The whole point of that speech was that the media should leave his players alone and go after him instead. He was protecting his players, and he has made a career of doing that.

That a man of such integrity should be at risk of losing his job because of his preference regarding  news outlets or unverified, decades-old claims of using a racial slur shows just how far we have fallen as a society. Our leaders’ values used to be like Gundy’s, not those of his detractors. Leaders of the past would have said, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. If you disagree with something specific the network said, rebut it. Don’t go around chastising people for holding views that are different from your own. Have an open dialogue and convince the other party that you’re right. Don’t just run around hurling epithets as if that were a counterargument.”

Today’s elites are puny and pathetic by comparison. They have become so sensitive to criticism that they must “cancel” everyone who doesn’t toe the progressive-Left woke media line. Until we as a nation decide we have had enough of people telling us what do and how to think, Gundy will have to shut up and coach—not because we all agree that sports figures should stay in their lane, but solely because people in power don’t want the rabble to be allowed to think.

Books & Culture

Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Assessing the History Channel’s “Grant.”

The History Channel’s recent series about Ulysses S. Grant was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and based on the best-selling biography by Ron Chernow. It concluded on Wednesday and was just about what one would expect from a film created by some of academia’s and entertainment’s biggest leftists.

Although the series did fairly well in rehabilitating and humanizing Grant’s better characteristics, it could not resist hammering home trite narratives about Reconstruction, going so far as to omit well-documented history about Grant and his administration to accomplish the task. He who controls how we speak about the past and what we know about the past controls the future. This show, like much of what is created in academia and entertainment, advances that project.

Let’s start with the good. The documentary shows the hard-scrabble roots of Hiram Ulysses Grant. From the very beginning, we get a glimpse into the poverty and struggles with which the young future president coped while growing up in the old Northwest. We see his withdrawn, humble, yet strong nature—which shined during his performance in the Mexican War, especially at the Battle of Monterrey. It rightly shows the tensions in Grant’s marriage to Julia Dent, the daughter of a Missouri patriarch who owned slaves, amid the gradually escalating and heightening conflicts surrounding slavery and abolition in the pre-Civil War period.

We get a glimpse of Grant’s true heart and patriotism as he decides to get back into the Army in order to fight for and preserve the Union. That’s best summed up in the letter he wrote to his father after the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina:

Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now. That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained. There are but two parties now, Traitor & Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.

By this point, the documentary has basically set up the Civil War as a war fought exclusively over the issue of slavery. It omits the other issues—such as tariffs—which had been a sectional conflict going back for decades; it also omits the fact that Southern legislatures voted to secede from the Union democratically and that most Confederates thought that they were doing in 1860 what their great-grandfathers had done in 1776. The documentary is about teaching the Civil War as a morality play.

Nonetheless, the show does fairly well in presenting Grant’s military triumphs, his calm during battle, and his strategic brilliance. The stories of the capture of Forts Henry and Donelson and the bloodbaths at Shiloh, Wilderness, and Cold Harbor are aptly told. Though it was curious that they skipped over the Battle of Spotsylvania—an engagement that saw periodic episodes of hand to hand fighting that lasted for over 20 hours. By the time the show gets to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox, one can clearly see that the Union victory is indelibly linked to Grant’s own strategic genius and his embrace of modern warfare; he knew that the North could sustain losses which the South could not and he used the weight of both its greater population and its industrial base to drown the Confederacy in a tidal wave of men and equipment.

The Left’s Simplistic Narrative on Reconstruction

But after the Civil War, the documentary goes heavy into ginning up a simplistic narrative about Reconstruction and why it failed. The narrative is simple: Grant is a white savior who struggles admirably but fails to advance Civil Rights because of evil, racist white Southerners who violently overthrow the post-Civil War Republican governments of the South.

At the same time, Grant is undermined by a closeted racist Northern population that doesn’t have the stomach to hold the line against Southern racial violence but instead gives up because they weren’t really committed anti-racists.

This simplistic narrative is useful insofar is it advances Leftist aims today, but it omits actual history. The subtext of the assertions about Reconstruction is that anyone who opposes the “social justice” narrative of DiCaprio or Ta-Nehisi Coates today (that reparations hustler was another academic consulted and featured in the documentary) is just following in the footsteps of racist or insufficiently “anti-racist” Southern and Northern whites in a backlash against the movement towards equality.

The problem is that this is not accurate history. Reconstruction could have ended up much worse. Anyone who has studied the post-civil war periods of Russia, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Congo can attest to that. On the other hand, while the documentary gives praise for Sherman’s March to the Sea and Sheridan’s sack of the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 and 1865, it completely elides the consequences of these actions on the South after the Civil War.

The devastation was almost total. As one author puts it,

The war had destroyed two-thirds of Southern railroads and two-thirds of the region’s livestock was gone . . . One hundred million dollars in insurance investments and twice that amount in bank assets had vanished . . . Approximately 300,000 Southern white males in the prime of adulthood died during the war and perhaps another 200,000 were incapacitated, which translated to about 18% of the region’s approximate 2.75 million white males in all age groups in 1860 and about 36% of those over age nineteen.

One month after Appomattox, Grant himself wrote home to his wife, describing the conditions: “The suffering that must exist in the South the next year (1866) . . . will be beyond conception. People who talk of further retaliation and punishment…do not conceive of the suffering endured already, or they are heartless.” This quote was, of course, omitted in the History Channel’s narrative of Grant’s life.

After all the death and devastation of the Civil War, the South received no Marshall Plan as post-1945 Japan and Germany did. If you recall, that piece of American largesse offered aid and assistance to our defeated enemies worth $13 billion in 1945 (or more than $180 billion in today’s money). The Freedman’s Bureau which kept newly freed blacks (and countless poor whites) from starving in 1865 had paltry budgets compared to what post-World War II America spent on her defeated adversaries. The Bureau spent approximately $13 million in its entire existence on aid, mostly to freed black slaves ($200 million today). Sherman’s March to the Sea in 1864 caused over $100 million of damage alone ($1.5 billion in today’s dollars). These facts were completely overlooked.

For once-wealthy Southern whites, the situation after 1865 was disastrous. Most had lost much of their cash in the Civil War; those who had invested in Confederate bonds lost those entirely. Capital was non-existent in the South as Confederate currency was no longer valid. And for those whites and even fewer blacks who owned land, growing cash crops like cotton was no longer the easy path to wealth it once had been.

During the Civil War, cotton production in Egypt and India soared, increasing competition for American Southerners in a way that they were singularly unprepared for—regardless of their race. Hardly anything was done to alleviate the suffering of poor whites and blacks; those landless individuals were in an even tougher spot, most ended up sharecropping because they had neither capital nor land after the war. But the History Channel mentioned none of this.

More Curious Omissions

Add in the explosive mix of poverty and race that characterized Reconstruction governments in the South and what followed was a predictable debacle. But DiCaprio and Chernow’s hagiography completely skipped over the examples of corruption in Southern legislatures during Reconstruction. Telling this part of the complicated truth is out of fashion. So, following the fashion of the day, the History Channel passed over it.

But Southern legislatures during Reconstruction were indeed often very corrupt. Louisiana’s debt went from $17.3 million in 1868 to $29.6 million in 1872; Alabama’s state debt went from $8.3 million to $25 million during the same period.

And taxes went up alongside this corrupt spending. In one Mississippi county in 1866, the property tax rate was $3.25 on each $1,000 worth of property; by 1874, it was $30 per $1,000 of property. Those who failed to pay their property taxes could have their lands confiscated by corrupt local and state officials, who auctioned it off to well-connected political friends. For cash poor, land-rich whites this was a dire threat.

Add in the fact that ex-Confederates were barred from receiving land under the Homestead Act and landless Southern ex-Confederates were stuck in an economically devastated backwater. Like their poor white counterparts, very few freed blacks had the cash means to purchase the necessities to move West and avail themselves of the lands available with the Homestead Act. So all three groups, poor whites, landed whites, and freed blacks were left to fight over economically devastated land. And fight they did. This toxic mix of economic devastation and internal conflict accelerated an already bad situation in the South after the war.

The History Channel also completely passed over President Grant’s role as commander in chief during the Plains Indian Wars and spent about 30 seconds discussing the Credit Mobilier Scandal and the Whiskey Ring. These omissions were curious.

The Battle of the Little Big Horn took place under Grant’s leadership. Bringing the same scorched earth tactics he used to force the Confederacy to submit to the Plains, General William Tecumseh Sherman—again subordinate to now President Grant—destroyed everything that could be of use to the American Indians who resisted the tidal wave of American settlement overspreading tribal lands. And just like the defeated South, American Indians were basically given the back of the federal government’s hand and allowed to rot under the appalling conditions of what was left of their land—the reservation system. A curious omission.

Did DiCaprio (and Chernow in his book) skip this because it makes it harder to unrepentantly glory in the devastation inflicted on the White Confederate South during 1864 and 1865? Further, why did DiCaprio and Chernow pass over all reference to the Credit Mobilier scandal and the Whiskey Ring, where well-connected Northern Republican politicians and financiers bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars in railroad grants and whiskey tax revenue? Maybe this was done because Chernow’s book was devoted to revising the view of Grant as a corrupt president and was meant to rehabilitate Grant, not to set the record straight in a well-balanced fashion. If anything, it shows that the documentary was more hagiography than a truthful portrayal of both the good and bad about Grant.

Neverthless, I’d say this documentary deserves a decent grade—a C+ perhaps? It does fairly well at going over Grant’s early life and many of his achievements during the Civil War. But it fails utterly to provide balance to its hagiography, above all because of the agenda that propels it. And it can’t help but fall into tired leftist tropes about “this is who we are-ism” that overlook a more complex reality on the ground.

As long as American history is told and portrayed by left-leaning academics and entertainers, they will control what people know about history, what they’re allowed to talk about in our history, and more importantly—how they’re allowed to talk about our history. He who controls the past controls the future. For now, the telling of the past belongs to the Left.

Book Reviews

Documentary Offers Respectful Insight Into a Sad But Thoughtful Online World

“TFW No GF” is shorthand for “The feeling when you have no girlfriend,” and the search for community and identity among these young men left behind by American society is worth understanding and exploring.

Amazon is hosting a hot button film on its streaming platform about a subculture of disaffected young men in America who have formed their identities through an internet subculture called, “TFW No GF.” This is shorthand for “The feeling when you have no girlfriend.”

The project of up-and-coming documentarian, Alex Lee Moyer, originally was to be highlighted at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, until COVID-19 shut everything down. In an interview with Justin Murphy on Youtube, Moyer claims that what interested her in the world of incels and Frog Twitter was the reality that there is something more to explain the phenomenon than the dismissive buzzwords like racism and misogyny. In giving a fair shake to the infamous “Pepe the Frog” crowd, Moyer shows a great deal of courage as well as genuine curiosity.

Initially rejected by the Hollywood establishment, her project was dismissed because of claims that she had created a “cool” and “ironic” documentary about incels. In fact, it is primarily a documentary about sad men living in the interior of America with no outlet to vent their frustrations other than internet forums and Twitter. They are represented by the melancholy, Wojack meme. These young men, often adopting anonymous internet personas, have much in common with the opioid-addicted young men in middle America though instead of drugs, they use the internet to cope with their detached sense of reality.

Their online personas act as diaries that offer a window into their worldview. These are intelligent, young white men in their 20s and 30s often still living at home with their parents. Colloquially they are referred to as NEETS, meaning “not in education, employed, or training.” The most prominent of the NEETS featured in the film is KANTBOT, his Twitter account has just short of 40,000 followers and serves as a philosophical home to the world of online dissident thinkers. He’s also been questioned by the FBI and hosts a popular podcast called TEKWARS.

The “Kant” part of KANTBOT’s avatar is owed to the famed German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and is supposed to give credence to the high level of thought taking place in these circles. There are varying levels of public discourse going on between these individuals, effectively blending cringe humor with high brow philosophical critiques of modern life.

Because these men have found community by venting their frustrations online, the mainstream media has associated them with the likes of the Isla Vista and Charleston church shooters. Of course, in response to such charges, these young men create ironic memes that reinforce the association—mainly for the sake of competition to see which of them can cause the most controversy in the real world.

This is where the purpose of the documentary comes in because, in highlighting individuals like KANTBOT who acknowledge that the frustrations these young men are experiencing are real, the film explores ways to deal with these frustrations and prevent harm to others and further harm to the participants. A lot of people will watch this and feel like they’re watching potential mass shooters, but the sad truth is that these are regular guys our society has left behind.

To put it bluntly, the young men in “TFW NO GF” are dealing with a penetrating sadness they attribute to their inability to build a deep connection with a woman. The mainstream bent of our culture toward feminism leaves little room for these men to express their frustrations in the larger society. Moreover, there is little sympathy for them on the mainstream right as a popular clip of political commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle chastising an audience at UCLA demonstrates. For a number of reasons, these young men only feel at home in their online bubble. This particular bubble though may perhaps have an outsized influence on reality.

It is probably something lost on Guilfoyle, but the reality is that a large portion of millenials (in general, and not just in these circles) are largely limited to meeting potential partners online. It doesn’t add to the conversation or help the problem, frankly, to knock those who aren’t doing well with online dating, despite its growing ubiquity.

The problem these young men confront can be summed up by the fact that they are lacking in solid identity. The psychosocial benefits of having a purpose beyond yourself in life are crucial to the actualization of young men in every society. Modern American society has atomized these young men and many of them still find themselves dissatisfied even after they’ve addressed the superficial issues that were keeping them from being able to find women. Though the documentary is not explicitly political, it does paint the picture that this innate feeling of something being amiss is the reason many of these men view President Trump in a positive light.

Rather than delving too deeply into politics, however, the documentary instead chooses to focus mainly on the individual lives of these young men and their shared struggles. Naturally, the sub-culture is anti-establishment. KANTBOT’s portions are the highlight of the documentary because he is able succinctly to contextualize the ability of this group to affect reality. His ability to connect many of these young men to some semblance of a greater purpose has helped many of them off the ledge.

These communities promote intimacy in a masculine way and create a sense of competition based around posting unique information, something at which these men excel. Chances are if you’ve interacted with someone who has an anime character for an avatar, it was probably one of these guys. The line between their online lives and their real lives is quite blurred because they experience little to no genuine engagement with the other humans around them. Growing up firmly in the unfiltered age of the internet has forced these young men to mature really fast in some ways, and prevented it in others.

They have a penchant for high level trolling and express a sort of proto masculinity that leaves little wonder as to why they are at present square pegs trying to fit in a round-hole society.

Although the documentary was filmed before the advent of COVID-19 and social distancing, it is safe to say those experiences should give all of us a window into the world of NEETs, as so many of us have been forced to live like them. Consider this as you consider them. And consider, too, that these young men may very well soon see their potential to play a leadership role in society come to fruition as the world changes to become a place where online personae thrive. The vulnerability expressed by these young men in going public with their identities is the best part of the documentary. We should hope they benefit from the exposure and find ways to contribute to the larger society in the wake of the pandemic.

Moyer does an excellent job in her second outing and “TFW NO GF” is both topical and entertaining. In a striking comment, one of the young men profiled described the group in the following way: “It’s just a bunch of dudes… killing time.”

Killing time until what? That, of course, is what remains to be seen.

Books & Culture

Néstor T. Carbonell, Why Cuba Matters: New Threats in America’s Backyard (Archway Books)

Cuba’s Ongoing Threat to U.S. Interests

The United States cannot remake Cuba into a more successful country, but at the same time, we can have no interest in encouraging its failures.

Six years ago President Barack Obama visited Havana—the first U.S. president to do so since 1928. On that trip he announced that he had come “to put an end to the longest Cold War in the hemisphere.” 

As far as Obama was concerned, the war was certainly over. Even before his arrival he had announced the lifting of some travel restrictions, limitations on remittances, and the exchange of ambassadors in both capitals. More importantly, he instructed the State Department to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. 

In spite of Cuba’s horrific human rights policy and Cuba’s decades-long campaign against United States’ and free world interests, the atmospherics of the visit suggested, in fact, that Cuba was a “normal” country—President Obama even visited a baseball game with dictator-president Raul Castro! One can only speculate about the howls of indignation a similarly cordial visit to a friendly authoritarian (pro-United States) regime would have provoked in the New York Times, Washington Post, or NPR!

In foreign relations as in much else, Americans are a practical people in a hurry to get things done. How often we seem to say, “Let us deal with the concrete issues, so that we can move on to the bright, sunny uplands of aid and trade, tourism and scientific exchanges.” The fact that other societies might prefer to make ancient grudges or follies of grandeur the stuff of their foreign policy makes no sense to us, and therefore we refuse to take those attitudes seriously. When our excessive pragmatism fails to engage the unwilling partner, we slump into doubt and despair, asking ourselves what we have done wrong.

One hopes that this endemic American provincialism—rather than a covert sympathy for Third World radicalism—is what motivated President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Havana. In either case, however, the harsh fact is that as far as the Cuban regime is concerned, the war against the United States and its allies is far from over. To see just how much that is the case one needs only to turn to Néstor T. Carbonell’s Why Cuba Matters, a massive and authoritative volume which has just been published and is available both from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Carbonell is in an excellent position to discuss these matters. A successful Cuban-American businessman, he is the son and grandson of Cuban statesmen and diplomats. He spent his late teenage years struggling against the dictator Fulgencio Batista, and like most Cubans of his generation, he welcomed the advent of the revolution. Very quickly, however, he realized that Fidel Castro and his associates had little interest in making Cuba a better country; rather, their purpose was to cast the island in a starring role of what they imagined was a Communist world to come. 

Indeed, Cuba under Castro became virtually the only country in the world to voluntarily enter what one might call the Soviet commonwealth of nations. This motivated Carbonell to join the ill-fated Bay of Pigs expedition, about which he has much to say in the course of this book.

In fact, Why Cuba Matters is several books in one. One is an exercise in autobiography. Another is a discussion of the various attempts of the United States to come to terms with Cuba, first through covert action, and then through diplomatic means. And yet another is a careful analysis of the continuing threats which Cuba represents to the United States and its allies around the world.

The second of these themes represents a detailed analysis of various attempts by successive U.S. administrations, starting with that of John F. Kennedy, to reach a modus vivendi with the island regime. One by one Carbonell walks through each of these negotiations, none of which have come to fruition. 

Many old myths are consigned here to the waste basket, particularly the long-standing fantasy (which Castro himself subsequently denied) that the island turned to the Soviet Union only when the United States refused his government economic aid. Indeed, the Obama administration’s latest ploy was merely surrender—in exchange for nothing at all, Cuba got some of what it wanted, and if the Democrats returned to power next year, Cuba will get more. 

Just why some Americans feel so guilty about opposing the Cuban regime is not a subject of this book. (For that I recommend the late Paul Hollander’s recent book, From Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez). The record, however, shows itself as repeated failure. The regnant conclusion in foreign policy circles seems to be, since policy of opposition has worked, we need to try “something else,” whether that “something else” holds out any promise of success or not.

The third part of the book is the most important. It details the ways in which Cuba remains an adversary of U.S. interests. Brick by brick Carbonell builds his case, starting with the Cuban takeover of the Maduro police-state in Venezuela, financed now less by oil (which the regime in Caracas can no longer produce) than by intimate relations with rogue regimes as far afield as the Middle East. Cuba’s support of the FARC guerrillas in Colombia through weapons, intelligence, and money laundering is a matter of record.

Nor is Cuban mischief-making confined to its immediate neighborhood. Carbonell reminds us that quite recently Cuba colluded with North Korea to smuggle 240 tons of heavy weapons through the Panama Canal, hidden under bags of sugar, and of the shipment of cocaine to Belgium contained in false containers of molasses. Cuba’s long concubinage with the Soviet Union seems to be reviving in the form of a tacit alliance with Putin’s Russia, which has forgiven $32 billion of bad debt and represents a sweetener to new projects, including the reopening of an electronic listening post in Lourdes, less than 100 miles from Key West. 

There is some evidence that the regime in Havana has been engaged in intelligence and military cooperation with the mullahs in Tehran, along with similar services loaned to Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua. Cuba also provides sanctuary for dozens of fugitives and domestic terrorists from the United States. 

One might well ask what—apart from a desire to spit in the face of the United States—has motivated the regime over time. The answer is fairly simple. At the time he took power, Fidel Castro promised the Cuban people “a standard of living higher than that of Sweden.” At the time the country already had the second or third highest living standard (and by the way, literacy) in Latin America, although, as Carbonell explains, there was a huge gap between city and countryside which needed to be closed. (Even so, half the Cuban population at that time lived in cities). Now, however, Cuba’s living standards compare unfavorably with formerly less-favored neighbors like the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, or the poorest regions of Mexico.

Having failed to deliver basic subsistence to its people, the only thing left for the Cuban regime to do is to irritate or subvert more successful countries near and far. It’s a living, one might say—for the Castro family and their minions. The Cuban sugar industry can never be revived, but, as Carbonell points out in the concluding chapter, Cuba could still make significant economic progress in agriculture, food processing, mining and many other areas. This, however, would require a wholly different political and economic regime than the one which the Castros have trussed upon Cuban society. 

The United States cannot remake Cuba into a more successful country, but as the author here establishes, it can have no interest in encouraging its failures.