Thursday, February 21, 2019

Small but worthwhile movies

Stumbled across some good movies lately. The list order here is subjective, approximately in order of their cinematic quality, but every film is worth watching, and each tackles larger issues than you might expect, with a certain grace.

The Man Who Knew Infinity -- Triumph over adversity in a culture not your own
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society -- How one person affects many other lives
Minding the Gap (documentary) -- What it means to grow into young manhood today
Priceless -- How human trafficking is an all-too-common affront to dignity

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A telling comparison

On the one hand, there's Thomas Lifson, Editor at American Thinker, well pleased with President Trump's speech yesterday to an enthusiastic crowd at Florida International University. Trump talked eloquently about the situation in Venezuela.

On the other hand, there are editors at Yahoo News, who included a hot take from Venezuelan dictator Nicholas Maduro, reacting to the same speech by calling it "almost Nazi-style."

I watched the speech (which is on YouTube until someone there decides that too many people are triggered by it).

Guess what?

The speech was great, and not the least bit "Nazi-style" (whatever Maduro meant by that).

Our local NBC affiliate reprinted an Associated Press report about the speech under the headline "Trump pleads with Venezuela's military to back Guaido." In fairness, that was part of his speech, but you'd never know from the headline that President Trump was speaking from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness, and you'd never know that he also cataloged the evils of socialism with help from the First Lady and the mother of a police officer who was slain for political activity by Maduro's goons.

This, ladies and gentleman, is why the charge of "fake news" has such resonance. Most of the people in the media aren't even trying to hide their anti-conservative / pro-socialist biases any more.




Saturday, February 16, 2019

On bringing U.S. troops home

I submitted this original essay to American Spectator Online, which passed on the opportunity to publish it. The copy that went to them had lots of hyperlinks to buttress my points. Even without those links, however, I wanted to get the piece out there:


Exit Strategy

It was the second most refreshingly self-evident line in a State of the Union speech that had several rhetorical flourishes worth remembering, and for that reason in this culture, it was courageous. "Great nations do not fight endless wars," President Trump reminded us. The only truer thing he said while arguing from principle in his extended call to greatness was that "All children -- born and unborn -- are made in the holy image of God."

Both points deserve more thought than most politicians want to give them, but only the president's statement about wars triggered something other than predictable reactions from his opponents, and only that statement might also be viewed in ways unrelated to the shedding of American blood abroad.

Trump's enemies ignored the line, preferring to subject other parts of the SOTU to mendacious "fact-checking." Among his allies -- or at least those members of the Establishment not obviously hostile to his agenda -- Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen voiced civil but typical disagreement most eloquently. Thiessen wrote a column marinated in the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone that Beltway insiders and journalists still lean on for conversations about all things Trump, including the mental acuity of people who agree with him.

By District of Columbia standards, Thiessen is a fair-minded analyst rather than a Democrat with a byline. Nevertheless, as the author of a book that defends the morality of "enhanced interrogation techniques," Thiessen apparently considers himself a realist. Like former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who resigned from that post over policy disagreements with President Trump, Thiessen traffics in what he calls "hard truths."

Those "hard truths" smell to me like the bat guano of conventional wisdom. "We don't get to decide unilaterally that the war [in Afghanistan] is over," Thiessen reasons, because "the enemy gets a vote." While implying that U.S. troops should stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, he quotes from an intelligence assessment that was leaked to the New York Times, part of which claimed that "a complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would lead to an attack on the United States within two years."

Suppose for the sake of argument that the "fight jihadists over there rather than over here" cadre is right, and that bringing American troops home from places like Afghanistan and Syria would inevitably mean additional work for the bomb squads and SWAT teams of major metropolitan police forces in the United States. Wouldn't it still be more cost-effective to fight terrorists at home than to fight them abroad, and wouldn't we be more motivated on our own soil than we could possibly be while acting as ambassadors to a place that fellow Spectator contributor Doug Bandow calls "a nation in name only, ruled by the valley and the village"?

Other people understand the reliability of President Trump's instincts more than Thiessen does. For example, a mordantly funny post at the Babylon Bee this past December pretended to interview a disappointed soldier "who was looking forward to hanging out in Syria for another 20 [or] 30 years."

Apologists for the Deep State fail to mention that even a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria would not necessarily leave Islamists with an unfettered license for making mayhem at the expense of the "Great Satan." The Taliban commanders, unhinged mullahs, and terrorists who strayed too far from the intramural amusement of pronouncing death sentences on fellow travelers could still be harried by private military contractors, many of whom are veterans not long out of U.S. uniforms.

Some of the advisers who caution President Trump against a hasty withdrawal of military assets from Afghanistan and Syria are patriots with protective instincts. They've seen what failed states look like, or served long enough in government to want to atone for the inaction that cost American lives in Benghazi under the previous administration. But in marked contrast to the sunny encouragement coming from POTUS, they're tolerant of incompetence, and trying to make fear-based decisions for the rest of us.

The left-leaning editor of Politico, for example, grudgingly admits that the withdrawal moves that President Trump contemplates for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Syria "are not indefensible." He does not often compliment the man whom late-night TV comedians treat like an evil toddler, and his complaint is that withdrawal initiatives should be slow-walked, because "In a normal administration, a big move like [ordering U.S. forces home] would have taken place only after endless rounds of discussions at multiple levels of governments, arguments between agencies, and consultations with allies." But Trump announced his new policy in a Tweet, because he's not afraid of the communications platform where his fondness for superlatives has already been lampooned.

Here in the cheap seats, decisiveness is a feature, not a bug. "Normal" administrations have failed us: Is New York governor Andrew Cuomo's enthusiasm for infanticide normal? Is California governor Gavin Newsom's whimpering about a "manufactured crisis" on our southern border normal? Is it normal to extort money from politicians haunted by old yearbook photos, or sell classical liberal values to people shaped by the longstanding rivalry between Shi'ah and Sunni Muslim theologians? Let's instead stipulate that it's foolish to cede the terms of an argument to progressives.

And speaking of progressives: The women in white who were high-fiving each other and the air at the SOTU for the sake of a "diverse" Congress ought to recognize the merits of their colleagues across the aisle. True, President Trump's clarion call to "choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction" had a deliberately biblical echo that educated secularists might find discomfiting. But if he's right in saying that great nations do not fight endless wars, then his point would apply even in our so-called culture wars, where the Party of the Perpetually Aggrieved always finds something to complain about.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

An informative footnote from Eric Dolin

"In writing this book I had to decide whether to use the term Indian or Native American when referring broadly to the native inhabitants of North America. I chose Indian in large part because many of the authors I admire use that term, and it is the term with which I am most comfortable. Thus, I was glad to read in David Hackett Fischer's book Champlain's Dream that when he asked a gathering of Indian leaders what they preferred to be called, they gave two answers. If one is referring to a specific nation, then they said that the name of the nation should be used, e.g., Mohawk. But if one is referring to 'all of them together,' then they said the term Indian 'was as good as any other,' and that 'they used it with pride.'