The Great Game continues

I’ve told my son numerous times that he can’t imagine the irrational paranoia of the Cold War, when anti-war protesters were routinely told to “go back to Russia” for criticizing anything from the MX missile to funding the contras. I remember during the Carter administration my father saw US and Soviet posturing as a continuation of the Great Game. Until recently labeling anyone to the left of Zbigniew Brzezinski a fellow traveler seemed anachronistic. But not today! Now one can apparently be considered a “Putinite” for criticizing Hillary Clinton’s devotion to transparency. Perhaps I’m only feeling nostalgic, but somehow this turn of events is comforting. Continuity in the face of change reassures, I guess.

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Dreaming of Enlightenment

Today after reading a BBC article entitled “Could Trump launch ‘sneak attack’ on IS?” which evaluated Donald Trump’s Sunday night debate claim the American military is “stupid” for announcing a pending attack on the IS-held city of Mosul, I sat and pondered the reality that neither the BBC nor any of the debate viewers have any reason to believe Trump has any expertise whatsoever in military affairs. Trump may or may not be a successful real estate tycoon. His large real estate holdings and multiple bankruptcies certainly validate attempts to assess his business acumen, but his utterances on foreign policy lack coherence let alone insight. How is it the American people are bothering to pay any attention at all to the man’s statements?

I’m reading Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Enlightenment, on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophers. It occurs to me my countrymen are failing to practice basic analytic principles I remember being taught in junior high school. What would Descartes say? Leibniz? What might a twenty-first century Enlightenment look like?

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Grabbing genitalia in the White House

I’m not sure whether it’s locker room language, but Trump’s video tape remarks definitely fit the White House. Charles Colson’s office had a plaque reading “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow -Teddy Roosevelt.” Lyndon Johnson in 1965 talking about bombing Vietnam: “I’m going up her leg an inch at a time … I’ll get the snatch before they know what’s happening.” In preparing to be president Trump may well have taken Roosevelt, Johnson and Nixon as role models.

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On dottings and crossings and thinking too much

Gary Johnson: Talking about a foreign leader that you respect, that you admire—I have a hard time with that one. That’s just who I am. And now I’m going to have to pick out a world leader and there’s going to be something wrong with them. And now I’m going to have to defend them! Well, maybe I think too much.

Andrea Mitchell: By the same token, you’re running to be commander-in-chief. Foreign policy and unexpected events are part of the portfolio.

Gary Johnson: Yeah, and you know what? The fact that somebody can dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a foreign leader or a geographic location then allows them to put our military in harm’s way.

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It was almost as if a new word were needed, disresponsible, a step beyond irresponsible, meaning you should have been the one to take responsibility but shucked it off.

—Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011), 254.

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This morning I am thinking about the Dunning–Kruger effect, anosognosia, and receptive aphasia. It seems an interesting lens through which to view the United States.

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Polarization in a Depoliticized Populace

Given the place that politics occupies in the life of most people, their preferences are unlikely ever to cluster at ideological poles.…To us, the essence of polarization is when hot-button issues become salient concerns for a large percentage of people. People feel intensely about these issues because they tap into something deep inside them. It might be the case that people’s preferences are not that different from those of their opponents, but they do not see it that way. When it becomes difficult for people to understand how their adversaries come to have the preferences they do, the political system feels polarized. Even if middle ground is available, people fail to perceive it.

—Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler, Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 24-25.

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Arc of the Moral Universe

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

—Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrasing Theodore Parker, August, 1967

Heartening words, delivered by King in an inspiring fashion. This morning I got to asking myself though, what reason have I for believing in Parker’s concept of a moral universe? I found Parker’s oratory against the war with Mexico well-crafted and affecting when I read it this summer, but I am not in the habit of studying nineteenth century cosmologists, and it occurred to me that there is no empirical evidence for believing Parker’s claim.

I was considering the question this morning perhaps as a result of attending an Our Revolution party last night, and a Brand New Congress meeting the night before. Neither organization seems to present the slightest hope of impeding a Clinton or Trump continuation of Bush and Obama’s wars. What if instead of Parker and King it was Eric Blair who was the more prescient?

But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

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Brand New Congress

I thought the Brand New Congress meeting on Harrison last night was a real waste of time. There were two very nice young women presenting with a pitch which might have made more sense given to college students than the general public. BNC was presented as a national organization which seeks to win a super majority in Congress in 2018 with candidates as yet unvetted running on an unformulated platform whose most general planks are yet to be decided on.

One of the high points of the substance communicated was that in 2017 all of the candidates will be flown to Washington, DC for a photo opportunity to kick off fundraising. This, of course, is right out of Boorstin: a pseudo-event is the goal to be worked towards.

Anyone can nominate a candidate for BNC. The three qualifications (I took notes) are that the candidates:

  1. Are good at what they do.
  2. Reflect their communities.
  3. Are able to win.

There were about fifty people attending, mostly middle-aged and older. I didn’t see a black face.

During Q&A one guy asked whether BNC will be running someone against Pelosi. He said he’d called the BNC office a couple months ago and been told that they wouldn’t be challenging her. The BNC presenters were quick to disavow this position to make it clear that no decisions have been made yet – they may be running someone against Pelosi but then again they may not, it depends on whether Pelosi endorses the as yet undecided upon BNC platform. Who is drafting the platform and what is the process? Well, we are told, there are people making those decisions – go to the BNC website and get on the mailing list for more information.

The importance of a super majority was stated several times. We were assured that if we doubted the staying power of the organization we should know it will be around until it wins a super majority, even after the 2018 elections.

I’m going to an Our Revolution meeting tonight to check that out. There were a couple people last night saying to e-mail about yet another organization also.

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In the early 1930’s a scheme was developed for using telephone circuits to pipe music into places which leased the Muzak service.…In 1957 the Muzak library consisted of 49,000 selections (about 7,500 of which were in use at any one time), each recorded on a 16-inch disk. In the New York office, housed in the large Muzak Building, these selections were combined and made up into groups of three eight-hour reels of magnetic tape, each group comprising a twenty-four-hour sequence.…Muzak became the world’s largest user of telephone line networks. It was conservatively estimated that in one way or another, music by Muzak was being heard by about fifty million Americans daily.

—Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image, (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 175-76.

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