Megan McArdle vs. the rest of the Red Team

A previous post asked whether any “conservative” pundit or pol had criticized the armed mob that threatened federal officials carrying out a lawful court order in the Bundy Ranch confrontation. The answer to that question is a (qualified) “Yes.” Megan McArdle points out that Bundy was defying the law in the service of a claim to use resources he doesn’t own without paying for them, and that a civilized society depends on the rule that people “not take up arms to pursue their own self-interest against the rest of us.” She goes on to point out how much less tolerance there would be for parallel activities in an urban ghetto rather than in rural Nevada.

Now, Megan is a libertarian rather than a conservative; still, she clearly inhabits the Red side of the political spectrum. But what’s striking to me is that she seems to be unique. The default position on the Red team is that pointing guns at federal officials carrying out lawful court orders is just hunky-dory. The Republican sheriff of Clark County and the Republican governor of Nevada both backed the actions of an armed mob in defiance of the law.

Is there really no elected Republican, or right-leaning thinker or writer other than Megan McArdle, prepared to defend the rule of law? So far, apparently not. [Update: Yes there are. See below.] Unless and until that changes, it’s going to be hard to take seriously calls for “civility.” I’m prepared to stop saying that Republicans are a bunch of thugs and lunatics the moment they stop acting and speaking like a bunch of thugs and lunatics.

P.s. And where the hell are the national law enforcement associations in all this? Doesn’t the Fraternal Order of Police have anything to say about pointing rifles at cops?


Update
A reader points to three more exceptions: all pundits, still no pols. Charles C.W. Cooke at National Review, Gracy Olmstead of The American Conservative (posting at The Federalist), and Glenn Beck (!)

Botticelli’s pagan Easter greeting

It’s one of the most famous paintings in the world, deservedly so. A learned pagan erotic fantasy commissioned for his private enjoyment by a member of the tiny cultured ruling class of Quattrocento Florence has been reproduced in thousands of books, websites, coasters, and coffee mugs. I was doing a jigsaw puzzle of it on the iPad when I asked myself the dumb question : what is the subject of Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? What is it about?

nacimiento-venus
Obvious, you say : it’s clearly eros, sexual love, desire and fulfilment. Sure. But that covers a lot of ground, and the difficulties start when you try to pin it down a little more. What sort of eros? Continue Reading…

Weekend Film Recommendation: Canyon Passage

canyon-passageMy April-long tribute to Dana Andrews continues this week with an underappreciated 1946 frontier yarn made in glorious Technicolor by an extraordinarily unlikely director: Black and white film noir master Jacques Tourneur! The result is an entertaining, highly original (if blandly titled) Western: Canyon Passage.

The plot, set in mid-19th century Oregon, is not easy to summarize, which turns out to be one of the film’s virtues. Throughout there is a movie-length story thread concerning whether brave, restless entrepreneur Logan Stuart (Andrews) will marry a sweet stay-at-home woman (Patricia Roc) or end up with the sassy, adventurous flame-haired beauty the audience knows he belongs with (Susan Hayward) if only she were not engaged to his friend (Brian Donlevy). But there is much more to the film than that. It’s a slice of frontier life, told through different lenses. Indeed, the film’s highlight is an extended sequence of slight relevance to the love triangle storyline in which the pioneers raise a cabin for a newly married couple. The panoramic tale also includes subplots about the cruelty of “justice” in towns where no police or courts exist, the workings and risks of gold mining-based economic systems and how boredom leads small town dwellers to seek out destructive entertainments (e.g., egging on fistfights, engaging in compulsive gambling). Some critics found Canyon Passage too “plotty” but if you step back from the details and see it more as the story of a entire frontier community, it’s unified and not a bit overstuffed.

That style of storytelling is one sign that Tourneur clearly didn’t want to make a typical Western. Another is that the first closeup doesn’t occur until 15 minutes into the movie! Throughout the film, Tourneur keeps the camera at a distance from his stars (thereby driving producer Walter Wanger batty), which makes the audience think about the many characters in the town as a whole rather than just seeing them as background for the stars.

What makes Andrews’ commanding performance so enjoyable is the way he plays off three other talented actors. His flirty, forbidden jousting with Hayward has palpable electricity, his dedication to his flawed friend Donlevy is both inspiring and sad, and his conflict with a vicious local bully (Ward Bond) is gripping. Bond was a physical powerhouse, and his brutal character here is what Jud Fry would have been in Oklahoma! if he had regularly consumed steroids. The physical confrontation between Andrews and Bond, one of the film’s highlights, left both men bruised and in need of stitches (that’s an juicy detail in the engaging Carl Rollyson biography about Andrews that I recommended here). Other fine performances in the film are turned in by Andy Devine, Halliwell Hobbes and a then-unknown Lloyd Bridges. When such a large cast is uniformly good, you should credit the director, so hats off to Tourneur for his skill.

hoagyWhether you find this film to be outstanding or just pretty good may well turn on whether you are a fan of Hoagy Carmichael, who had an enormously successful and unique multi-decade career in Hollywood. Continue Reading…

Talking cannabis policy with Ezra Klein

I thought Ezra and his editing crew did a very nice job (other than in their somewhat eccentric choice of an interviewee). The contrast with a typical cable show could hardly be sharper: Ezra doesn’t need to compete for airtime or to show off his knowledge. He asks questions designed to elicit substantive answers, and then mostly edits the questions out of the tape.

Partial transcript here.

Ukraine: who are you gonna believe?

For reasons I can only partly fathom, some progressive pundits (though, I’m happy to say, no progressive politicians) have decided to accept a career secret policeman as the authoritative source of information about human rights in Ukraine. For balance, here are the views of a career human-rights advocate, based on the report of the professional staff of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Short version: Yanukovych’s Bikram security police were practicing torture with impunity before he fled the country; the armed anti-government activity in the West came only after months of official misconduct; human rights problems have declined since the change of regime, except in Russian-ruled Crimea, where there are now systematic violations; there has not been systematic right-wing nationalist violence; the Jewish community is not threatened; and pro-Russian forces are deliberately spreading misinformation with the goal of terrifying the Russian-speaking population in the East into thinking that their rights are under attack.

There’s a strange analogy between left-wing denialism about what Russia is up to in Ukraine and right-wing denialism about global warming. In each case, distaste for the possible policy implications of recognizing facts (worsened relations with Russia, environmental controls and energy taxes) leads to refusal to acknowledge the facts. It’s possible to argue that the U.S. should exercise restraint in responding to Russian aggression. It’s plain silly to pretend that Russian aggression isn’t happening.

The Fetishization of Elite University Admission

A friend of mine who served on a local school board attended multiple meetings in which parents complained about the way GPA and class rankings were calculated for high school students in AP courses. After hours of passionate discussion driven by a very small number of parents, he lost his temper and said “We have thousands of kids in our district and I am sick of spending all our time debating whether the few of them who want to go to Princeton are going to end up at Dartmouth instead”.

I thought of my friend when I read the recent New York Times story with the doleful title Best, Brightest and Rejected. My university’s very low rate of acceptance is the kick-off point for the article, which mentions the case of Mr. Isaac Madrid. Isaac does not understand why he didn’t get in to Stanford. Tragically enough, the story informs us, he will instead have to go to Yale.

Yale! Congratulations to Isaac and family! The NYT photo makes Isaac look pensive and maybe a little sad, when it ought to show him jumping up and down with joy because he is a no doubt amazing young person who is heading off to a world-class university.

Stanford University is a great place to get an education and I am lucky to be a professor here. But no one’s life chances break down into two mutually exclusive options: Stanford admission vs. Chronic unemployment and homelessness. Whether it’s intentional or not, the extraordinary amount of focus NYT and other prominent media outlets give to the importance of getting into ONE PARTICULAR ELITE UNIVERSITY (Usually Harvard or Stanford) distorts the perspective of many young people and their parents. I would not have believed it until I got here and saw it up close, but there really are parents with great kids heading off to great schools who consider their children not being admitted to Stanford a disaster, a crime against humanity, or both.

I think the media could do a public service by focusing coverage of university admissions more proportionately on the kinds of institutions that most people attend (e.g., my alma mater). As part of that, I would hope they could bring alive for anxious parents and young people the reality that there are lots of terrific places to get a college education and that most of the successful and fulfilled people in the country did not attend the handful of small, private institutions whose admissions are the subject of outsized media attention.

Kleiman invades Ukraine

Some readers have been puzzled about my uncanny ability to guess at Russian behavior in Ukraine. Actually, the algorithm in predicting actions by the Kremlin is simple: just assume the worst you can imagine, and you’ll be slightly too optimistic.

But in this case I have to confess that it wasn’t my brilliance alone that allowed me to spot the trends. In fact, I’ve been leading a double life: disguised as a mild-mannered (well, sometimes mild-mannered) policy analyst and teacher, in secret I’m actually one of the Russian special forces soldiers pretending to be Ukrainian “protesters,” so I’ve always been privy to what was really going down.

Now that the BBC has blown my cover there’s no longer any point in pretending.

kleiman the cossack

We will bury you.

Continue Reading…

The new Range War: a query

Has a single “conservative” pundit or politician condemned the practice of pointing loaded weapons at law enforcement officials carrying out a valid court order?

Update: Yes. See below.

BundyRanchSniper

Not that I’ve seen, so far. Just lots of pap about how “sympathetic” we should be to someone who prefers to use resources he doesn’t own without paying for them and who does not recognize the existence of the United States of America.

And that’s why I usually put “conservative” in scare quotes when referring to the currently dominant faction of the Red Team. There are real conservatives, just as there’s real medical marijuana. But Sean Hannity has about as much to do with actual conservatism as kush doctors offering recommendations to all comers at $35 a throw and dispensaries with bikini-clad beckoners outside have to do with actual medicine.

The difference between the left and the right in American politics is that the lunatic left is a marginal phenomenon; on the right, the lunatic fringe is the mainstream. I hope the genunine conservatives out there will do something to take their good name back from the snipers and the cheerleaders for snipers.

Update Megan McArdle’s column counts as a “Yes” answer to my question, though with two qualifications. First, though her political coloration is clearly Red rather than Blue, she’s a libertarian rather than a conservative. Second, her focus is on the wrongness of Bundy’s defiance of the law and his claim to use resources he doesn’t own without paying for them rather than on the wrongness of his followers using armed force to resist the rule of law.

What’s striking, though, is that so far she seems to be the only player on the Red team – pol or pundit – who has taken any sort of anti-Bundy stance. The default position seems to be that threatening to kill federal officials is just hunky-dory. As Megan points out, the racial dimensions of this are disturbing.

RBC’s candidate for Harvard Overseer

Whenever I hear the term “Harvard Board of Overseers” I imagine a bunch of slavedrivers with whips. That, of course, is grossly unfair: Harvard, like the rest of New England Brahmin society, benefited from slavery, but largely – after the abolition of the legal slave trade in 1808 – without getting its hands dirty: mostly by financing slaveholding. Pecunia non olet, and all that.

It’s also unfair because, as far as I understand it (that is to say, not very far) the real muscle lies with the self-perpetuating Harvard Corporation (“The President and Fellows of Harvard College”) rather than with the elected Overseers.

Presumably most RBC readers were, even in their youth, wise enough to avoid what is laughingly called a “Harvard education” as undergradutes. Most, but not all. And it’s harder to avoid catching a dose of Veritas when seeking a professional degree or doing a Ph.D., so it seems likely that some of you got caught in the toils, or were even forced to take a Harvard degree (without the purported education) as the price of getting tenure. (The Harvard statutes require that every tenured professor hold a Harvard M.A., and the degree is ritually conferred as needed.)

If for any of those reasons you are entitled to sing “Fight Fiercely, Hahvahd,” you are also entitled to vote for the Overseers. That being the case, you will certainly wish to vote for the RBC’s own Lesley Friedman Rosenthal, General Counsel at Lincoln Center, author of a wonderful book on lawyering for not-for-profits, and my friend since she was a sophomore on the banks of the Charles and I was a graduate student who needed help finding footnotes for my thesis. Lesley’s brand of polite, even-tempered, utterly reasonable bomb-throwing is just what the place could use.

How it’s done: Mark Begich campaigns on Obamacare

As long as the polls show the net favorables for “Obamacare” under water, there will be a temptation for Democrats, especially in Red states, to run away from it. That approach is (1) cowardly (2) wrong and (3) futile.

If people hate the ACA, they’re not going to love Democratic candidates.And if Democrats don’t stand up and brag about about the program’s good points, lazy reporters will keep reporting, “objectively,” that it is a disaster, and low-information voters will believe them. There’s a bit of a collective-action problem here; no one wants to be out of step with everyone else, but it’s also a case of “hang together or hang separately.” The only sane approach for Democrats as group is to be loud and proud about what a great idea it is to protect people from the risks of disease, the vagaries of the job market, the rapacity of some elements of the medical-care system, and the cold-bloodedness of health insurers.

Like this ad from the Mark Begich campaign in Alaska [correction: it's actually from an independent-expenditure group]:

h/t Martin Longman at Washington Monthly.0 Longman’s piece, about the “hack gap,” is worth reading. I’d add that it applies to politicians as well as pundits.