Game of Thrones Episode 6 — The Night King’s Spear

by David French

Spoilers abound.

Let’s start with the big picture. I’m seeing lots of comments online that this is the episode when Game of Thrones became conventional fantasy fiction (this sharp piece from The Ringer is one example), and that may well be right. To some extent it was inevitable. After all, the show has featured white walkers from the pilot episode and dragons from the end of the first season. A collision was always coming. It’s hard for supernatural beings to fight and for the show to retain its Wars of the Roses–style grounded grittiness.

But if this is the episode where Game of Thrones became Lord of the Rings, it did it well – in two separate ways. First, the fight on the ice was as epic and gripping as good fantasy fiction can be (yes, I’m ignoring the implausible way they got there), and the emergence of the Night King as even more powerful than we previously understood puts him on the path to Sauron-level malevolence and might. The cinematography was as stunning as always. I have to continually remind myself that I’m watching television, not a $200 million summer blockbuster.

Second, this was one the few times we actually witnessed Lord of the Rings-style virtue. Jorah Mormont’s contrition in the face of his past sins was one of the more powerful depictions of true repentance that I’ve seen in a long time. The truly penitent man doesn’t just feel sorrow for his wrongs, he accepts that those wrongs have enduring consequences and absorbs that reality as part of his penance. When Jorah refused his family’s sword, I saw a man who’d been truly redeemed. It was a potent moment.

But the show isn’t quite Lord of the Rings yet (in fact, I suspect it will rediscover its roots in the finale), and the interplay between Sansa and Arya was every bit as frustrating and sinister as classic GoT can be. At this point, I’m concerned that Jon could return to Winterfell on a dragon’s back only to find one sister standing over the dead body of another — with Littlefinger smirking in the shadows. In fact, exactly that kind of horror would be the crowning sorrow for a Stark family that’s been betrayed at every turn. Betraying each other would be the final — and worst — twist of the knife.

Finally, it seems that if Dany is going to remain the “breaker of chains,” then it will be Jon — not Tyrion — who will keep her on the right path. He is a hero worthy of her admiration. He obviously has her heart. It will be fascinating to see what happens when she realizes that she was holding the hand of a trueborn Targaryen — her nephew, no less. His decision to bend the knee may forestall an immediate power struggle, but will it blunt her paranoia? Time will tell, and the Mad Queen scenario, sadly, is still in play.

Stop Making the Absurd Argument that ‘Far-Right’ Extremists Are More Dangerous than Jihadists

by David French

Ever since the alt-right terror attack in Charlottesville, I keep seeing the same tired (and utterly absurd) argument online. Far-right terrorists, some say, are more dangerous than jihadists. To support this nonsense, they tend to cite garbage studies that, among other things, 1) omit the casualty count from 9/11; 2) omit American casualty counts from overseas terrorist acts; 3) omit American military deaths in anti-terror combat operations; and 4) omit jihadist terrorist attacks against friends and allies. A study that does any of those things is willfully and indefensibly understating the magnitude of the jihadist threat. Consider the following facts:

-On September 11, jihadists hit the mainland United States harder than any foreign enemy since the British Army burned Washington D.C. in the War of 1812.

-In the War on Terror, jihadists have inflicted more civilian casualties in the United States than any great power in any of the great wars of the Twentieth Century.

-They have killed thousands – and seriously wounded tens of thousands – of Americans in combat operations abroad.

-In the absence of American military efforts, they have proven that they can take entire cities, control territories the size of nation-states, commit genocide, and trigger an international refugee crisis that even now destabilizes European politics.

-They strike our NATO allies – nations we’ve promised to help defend – time and again, using bombs, guns, and vehicles to kill and wound civilians by the hundreds.

-Finally, in spite of massive military, intelligence, and domestic security efforts (and in spite of the fact that Muslims make up a tiny percentage of the American population), jihadists still kill more Americans here at home than any other brand of extremist.

(To illustrate the absurdity of studies that purport to measure threats only after the war starts and without consideration of military efforts overseas, consider that by these measures “far-right” domestic extremists would be more dangerous than Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. After all, the Axis powers were only able to inflict a tiny few casualties here at home.)

None of this means that far-right (and far-left) domestic extremists aren’t evil and dangerous. None of this means that law enforcement shouldn’t remain vigilant, especially as extreme political polarization spikes political passions here at home. But domestic divisions cannot and must not distract us from the threat of the foreign enemy. When it comes to terror, there is one and only one apex predator, and it kills in the name of Allah.

‘Buckle Up’

by Jay Nordlinger

I never expected to be thinking about Susan Rosenberg this weekend. But Andy McCarthy writes of her in his excellent piece about Charlottesville, Trump, etc.

As you may recall, President Clinton was very busy during his last few hours in office. He did a lot of pardoning and commuting. (I don’t mean that he drove from Rockville to D.C. I mean that he commuted sentences of prisoners.) Two recipients of his clemency were Rosenberg and Linda Sue Evans, both of them terrorists in the Weather Underground. I wrote about Rosenberg, though Linda Sue is a story unto herself. That piece was called “Clinton’s Rosenberg Case.”

(For the benefit of the young and others: “The Rosenberg case,” traditionally, refers to the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted and executed as spies for the Soviet Union.)

Susan Rosenberg is a fairly honest type, I find. While she was in prison, she would not accept the designation “prisoner of conscience.” Hell, she said, she was trying to overthrow the government. She never apologized for her crimes. She was — frankly, forthrightly — on the other side: the other side of America and its constitutional republic. She wanted us to live the kind of life that Cubans, for example, have been forced to live, since 1959.

Upon her release, however, she made a statement that was a little bland, as I put it in my piece: bland, passive, and self-absolving. “It was an extreme time,” she said. She was talking about her heyday with the Weathermen.

Several weeks ago, I gave a talk about today’s politics — across the nation and on campus — titled “An Age of Extremes.” I borrowed my title, of course, from Eric Hobsbawm (whose view of the world was little different from Susan Rosenberg’s). These extremes are on left and right. They have more in common than either would like to admit.

On Friday, Senator Ben Sasse wrote a highly interesting article headed “The Next Charlottesville.” The last paragraph begins, “It feels like violence is coming.” Sasse says that it is up to all of us to “reaffirm” our “exceptional American Creed.”

I agree. Many on the right have accused Sasse of “virtue signaling.” This is not a phrase I ever heard until recently. I know that, whenever someone tries to appeal to right and wrong, someone accuses him of “virtue signaling.”

Sanctimoniousness is an obnoxious quality. But virtue is a necessity of life (any life worth living). We should not give up on it or be disdainful of it. If you take the morality out of politics, you’re left with ugliness.

“Buckle your seatbelt — it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” (This old saying is derived from All About Eve, the 1950 movie.) Yesterday, Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Trump, tweeted the following, with reference to Steve Bannon’s return to Breitbart:

#FAKENEWSindustrialComplex – & all others who don’t believe in #MAGA – have no idea what’s about 2 happen.

Buckle up Establishment!

Whether we believe in #MAGA or not; whether we’re part of the Fake News Industrial Complex or not; whether we’re part of the Establishment or not — I think we’re all buckled up …

Should We Starve Alzheimer’s Patients?

by Wesley J. Smith

The idea of starving a helpless elderly person to death used to be thought of as the most egregious crime. An abhorrence.

Now, for some, it is merely another form of “death with dignity.”

The assisted suicide advocacy organization Compassion and Choices–formerly the more honestly named Hemlock Society–teaches people (with a prime focus on the elderly) how to starve themselves to death, a form of suicide they call “voluntary stop eating and drinking” (VSED).

But many in bioethics wish to take that avenue to dying further, requiring nursing homes to starve dementia patients to death if they so stated in an advance directive.

Now, as these things are wont to do, the idea has gone from the professional literature into the popular media. USA Today has a story about a man trying to force his wife to be starved because she has Alzheimer’s–this even though she willingly eats snacks and her meals. From the story:

Across the U.S., the more than 5 million people living with dementia are typically encouraged to put their end-of-life wishes into writing early and to pick a trusted person to carry them out, said Beth Kallmyer, vice president of constituent services for the Alzheimer’s Association.

That’s no guarantee, however, that those requests can — or will — be honored. In Nora Harris’ court case, her advance directive and testimony from her husband, her daughter and two close friends all indicated that she wouldn’t want anything to prolong her life.

“That court decision basically condemned Nora to the full extent of the Alzheimer’s disease,” Bill Harris said. “They gave her no exit out of this situation.”

The “exit” is to refuse medical treatment, such as antibiotics or a feeding tube when it becomes needed–which under the law, is deemed a medical treatment.

But spoon feeding and handing out snacks, willingly eaten, is not medical treatment. It is humane care, the kind owed to every human being.

Advance directives govern medical treatments desired or to be refused when the signatory becomes unable to make her own decisions. It does not require caregivers to violate the fundamental rules of humanity.

Think of it this way: If a dementia patient had requested to be left in bed in front of an open window without a blanket on a winter’s night in order to die by hypothermia, should the nursing facility be forced to do that? Of course not! They owe the patient a duty to be kept warm.

Ditto if a patient asked not to be turned to avoid bed sores. Or directed that their linens never be changed.

The same must go to spoon feeding and offering liquids, or we are no longer a moral country. That isn’t to say forced feeding, but if a patient willingly takes nourishment, that must control.

The article goes on to describe VSED and says it can be a peaceful death without suffering. No–unless a doctor participates in the suicide with heavy palliative interventions. But even then, VSED committers can always change their minds.

That would not be true of a nursing home patient from whom food and water was withheld.

Of course I understand that no one wants to go through Alzheimer’s. Of course I understand the grief families feel and the many sleepless nights caused by having a beloved stricken with this dread affliction.

But life is what it is. We should mitigate suffering as much as we can, but there are just certain lines that must not be crossed, both because others could be victimized–ever hear of elder abuse?–and because some acts and omissions are inherently wrong.

On a more practical level: How many nursing homes would close their doors if the operators–many of which are religiously focused–knew they would be forced to starve some of their patients to death?

How many loving and caring people would opt out of dedicating their lives to the people who live and are cared for in such facilities rather than risk killing their patients by a means that would now be branded criminal neglect, at best? 

And no more of people saying that I don’t know what it is like to have people I love suffer. My mother died of Alzheimer’s in my home last year. My uncle died of it several years ago. Believe me, I know what Alzheimer’s is like, up close and personal!

Automation, Unemployment and Moravec’s Paradox

by Andrew Stuttaford

Writing in the Guardian, here’s Larry Elliott on automation. The whole article is well worth a read, even if it’s too simplistic to argue (as he does) that the Luddites were wrong. Over the longish term they most certainly were. The industrial revolution paved the way for an immense improvement in living standards. But what that happy history omits is the fact that it took a while to do so, a phenomenon known as the ‘Engels pause’:

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the real wage [in Britain] stagnated while output per worker expanded. The profit rate doubled and the share of profits in national income expanded at the expense of labour and land. After the middle of the nineteenth century, real wages began to grow in line with productivity, and the profit rate and factor shares stabilized.

Put another way, the Luddites were (broadly) right about what the new technology could do to their prospects and those of their children, but hugely wrong about what it would mean for their grandchildren.

It’s worth noting that the Engels Pause was also a time of growing popular political discontent in Britain,

Convinced by the logic that the hit to demand from mass unemployment will (to oversimplify) constrain the extent to which tasks are handed over to the robots, Elliott argues that the robots “will create more jobs”. More jobs? I’m not convinced, but he’s on stronger ground when he asks this:

[W]hat if these jobs are less good and less well paid than the jobs that automation kills off? Perhaps the weak wage growth of recent years is telling us something, namely that technology is hollowing out the middle class….

Robots are likely to result in a further hollowing out of middle-class jobs, and the reason is something known as Moravec’s paradox. This was a discovery by AI experts in the 1980s that robots find the difficult things easy and the easy things difficult. Hans Moravec, one of the researchers, said: “It is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult-level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.” Put another way, if you wanted to beat Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion, you would choose a computer. If you wanted to clean the chess pieces after the game, you would choose a human being.

In the modern economy, the jobs that are prized tend to be the ones that involve skills such as logic. Those that are less well-rewarded tend to involve mobility and perception. Robots find logic easy but mobility and perception difficult.

“It follows,” says Joshi [an economist at BCA Research], “that the jobs that AI can easily replicate and replace are those that require recently evolved skills like logic and algebra. They tend to be middle-income jobs. Conversely, the jobs that AI cannot easily replicate are those that rely on the deeply evolved skills like mobility and perception. They tend to be lower-income jobs. Hence, the current wave of technological progress… is hollowing out middle-income jobs and creating lots of lower-income jobs.”

Recent developments in the labour market suggest this process is already well under way. In both Britain and the US, economists have been trying to explain why it has been possible for jobs to be created without wage inflation picking up…. The relationship between unemployment and pay – the Phillips curve – appears to have broken down.

But things become a bit easier to understand if the former analysts and machine operators are now being employed as dog walkers and waiting staff. Employment in total might be going up, but with higher-paid jobs being replaced by lower-paid jobs. Is there any hard evidence for this?

Well, Joshi says it is worth looking at the employment data for the US, which tends to be more granular than in Europe. For many years in America, the fastest-growing employment subsector has been food services and drinking places: bar tenders and waiters, in other words.

AI is still in its infancy, so the assumption has to be that this process has a lot further to run. Wage inflation is going to remain weak by historic standards, leading to debt-fuelled consumption with all its attendant risks. Interest rates will remain low. Inequality, without a sustained attempt at the redistribution of income, wealth and opportunity, will increase. And so will social tension and political discontent.

The Guardian is what it is, thus the call for sustained redistribution, but the risk of “social tension and political discontent” cannot be wished away. And the risk of that will rise significantly as automation gnaws its way higher up the food chain. 

And gnawing away is what it’s doing.  Here (for example) is a recent story from CNBC on radiologists:

Arterys, a medical imaging startup, reads MRIs of the heart and measures blood flow through its ventricles. The process usually takes a human 45 minutes. Arterys can do it in 15 seconds. The remarkable power of today’s computers has raised the question of whether humans should even act as radiologists. Geoffrey Hinton, a legend in the field of artificial intelligence, went so far as to suggest that schools should stop training radiologists. Those on the front lines are less dramatic.

“There’s a misunderstanding that someone can program a bot that will take over everything the radiologist does,” said Carla Leibowitz, head of strategy and marketing at Arterys. “Radiologists still use the product and still make judgment calls. [We're] trying to make products to make their lives easier.”

According to Dreyer, a radiologist spends about half the day examining images. The rest is spent communicating with patients and other physicians. There’s only so much that automated systems can take over.

“Our desire to have somebody in control, I don’t think that will go away anytime soon,” said General Leung, cofounder of MIMOSA Diagnostics, which is testing a smartphone device that uses AI to aid diabetics. “Someone’s always going to want a person to have made the decision.”

True, but what will they be paid to make that decision?

Meanwhile, at the lower end of the scale, the traditional retail sector is taking a battering from the impact of e-commerce,  but so far as retail workers are concerned, the hit  from the switch to online shopping  will be both direct (store closings) and, in a sense, indirect, as those stores that survive turn to automation to defend their profitability:

A recent analysis by Cornerstone Capital Group suggests that 7.5m retail jobs – the most common type of job in the country – are at “high risk of computerization”, with the 3.5m cashiers likely to be particularly hard hit. Another report, by McKinsey, suggests that a new generation of high tech grocery stores that automatically charge customers for the goods they take – no check-out required – and use robots for inventory and stocking could reduce the number of labor hours needed by nearly two-thirds. It all translates into millions of Americans’ jobs under threat.

None of this will happen overnight, and there will still be room for employees to work alongside them, but there will be fewer of them – and what will they be paid?

They’re Hiring in Fargo

by Fred Schwarz

Waiters rank second only to cabdrivers for the title of Lazy Journalist’s Best Friend, and in my defense I can only say that (a) I’m really more of an editor than a journalist and (b) I’m posting on vacation, so you can’t call me lazy.

Anyway, the very nice man who delivered our Cornbread Benedict and Meat Lover’s Skillet in the coffee shop of our truck-stop hotel (in which we were the only customers at 8:45 a.m.; truckers start work early) said Fargo is booming, and what it needs most is workers. “You could walk down the street and go into any business and they’ll hire you on the spot,” he said. “There was a store up the road from here that was doing really well but they had to shut down because they just couldn’t staff it. You hear lots of stories like that.”

This isn’t the boom-and-bust oil economy of western North Dakota; it’s based on solid industries such as food processing, transportation, and health care. As our helpful waiter explained, “Starting salaries are several dollars above the minimum wage [which is $7.25 an hour], and the cost of living is very affordable.” From a traveler’s standpoint, the only downside is that when you ask a waiter or hotel worker or shop clerk for directions, or to recommend a place to visit or eat, they all say, “Sorry, I’m not from this area.” And there’s nothing new about this; at the absolute depth of the post-2008 recession, Fargo’s unemployment shot up all the way to 4.5 percent.

To be sure, free-market efficiency can be adhered to too religiously, and “creative destruction” is a harsh prescription when it’s a community that’s being destroyed. So I’m not telling Rust Belters that they should pack up and move. But if anyone from a faltering town is looking for a place to start fresh, Fargo is worth a visit.

Opioids: Politicians Should Not Play Doctor

by Andrew Stuttaford

Back in January 2013 I put up a post over on Ricochet on moves to cut access to prescription painkillers by then Mayor Bloomberg and the rather better qualified FDA.

As the New York Times reported, the FDA explained (my emphasis added):

Trying to stem the scourge of prescription drug abuse, an advisory panel of experts to the Food and Drug Administration voted on Friday to toughen the restrictions on painkillers like Vicodin that contain hydrocodone, the most widely prescribed drugs in the country. The recommendation, which the drug agency is likely to follow, would limit access to the drugs by making them harder to prescribe, a major policy change that advocates said could help ease the growing problem of addiction to painkillers, which exploded in the late 1990s and continues to strike hard in communities from Appalachia and the Midwest to New England. But at 19 to 10, the vote was far from unanimous, with some opponents expressing skepticism that the change would do much to combat abuse. Oxycodone, another highly abused painkiller and the main ingredient in OxyContin, has been in the more restrictive category since it first came on the market, they pointed out in testimony at a public hearing. They also said the change could create unfair obstacles for patients in chronic pain.

My comment then:

Chronic pain? No matter. Just suffer a little bit.

And, no, this won’t achieve anything. There will just be something else.

There was.

Lessons have not been learned.

Charlotte Gazette-Mail:

States are enacting strict limits on the number of powerful prescription painkillers doctors can prescribe, a move that many believe will help fight the opioid crisis but has raised alarms among some physicians.

At least 17 states have enacted rules to curb the number of painkillers doctors can prescribe. Some, including Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Ohio, have passed laws limiting the duration of initial opioid prescriptions to five or seven days. Others are passing dosage limits. In Kentucky, a law went into effect last month capping opioid prescriptions for severe acute pain to three days…

Writing for the American Council on Science and Health, Josh Bloom notes that Oxycontin in its abusable (pre-2010) format had been “a significant driver of opioid addiction since its introduction in 1996”, but he also notes the “fallacy that is now all but “fact” is that opioid pills are now responsible for the surge in overdose deaths in the US”, but (my emphasis added):

A bit of digging around on the NIH [National Institute of Health] site tells us otherwise. In 2010, the year that OxyContin became abuse-resistant, 20,000 people died from opioid overdoses. During the ensuing five years, OxyContin abuse dropped and the strict restrictions we now see on opioid pills began to take hold. The result? Between 2010-2015 [annual] opioid overdose deaths in the US increased by 65%, roughly 13,000. And even a cursory examination of Figure 2 [You’ll have to follow the link to the whole piece to see the chart] shows that increase was entirely due to injectable drugs like heroin or fentanyl.

There was indeed “just something else”.

From an earlier (November, 2016) piece by Bloom:

Once abuse-resistant OxyContin (pure oxycodone, the opioid medication in Percocet) was approved in 2010, its use immediately declined by 66 percent. But, between that time and 2013, overdose deaths from heroin (more accurately heroin and/or fentanyl) more than doubled, as addicts were forced to turn to these cheaper, more available, and more dangerous drugs. Not only did heroin/fentanyl overdose deaths go through the roof, but outbreaks of HIV (from needle sharing) were subsequently seen in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

This same trend was seen in different forms in different areas of the country.

To deny that there is an opioid crisis would be lunacy, and it’s unsurprising to see commenters asking Bloom what he would do.

Here’s his ‘lead’ answer (again my emphasis added):

This is both easy and difficult. The “easy” part is admitting that harsh restrictions on prescription opioids have provided no benefit, only harm, especially to pain patients. The entire 2016 CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain has to be thrown out. The CDC and PROP premise that limiting prescriptions will prevent pain patients from becoming addicted is clearly wrong. The data that I showed proves that it does nothing of the sort. Addiction to opioid in pain patients – even those who have been treated long term- is rare, and there is plenty of evidence to support this. Addiction arises from *recreational*, not therapeutic use of the drugs.

While pill mills must be shut down, the government must stay out of the doctor’s office. There cannot be arbitrary limits on dose or number of pills. Doctors who act in good faith should not have to worry about getting on a DEA list (they do). Patients with real needs should NOT have their doses involuntarily tapered down. This is barbaric. The care of patients is none of the government’s damn business. Loosening the tight restrictions on prescribing meds for pain patients and the physicians who treat them is essential.

These new laws and policies punish the innocent to protect the guilty.

For those already addicted, there is no easy answer. With fentanyl replacing heroin, addicts will die sooner or later. It is inevitable. If this takes wider use of methadone to stem this tide, so be it. The Puritanical objection to “replacing one drug for another” may sound appealing, but this is real life. Harm reduction, not philosophy is what is crucial.

The war on drugs has never been won. Carrying it out on the backs of the sick and injured is inhumane.

Indeed.

And making things worse is, well…

As to what should be done, that is an enormously difficult question, and it is a question that is likely to become even more acute. As automation creates ever higher levels of structural unemployment and—don’t forget it— underemployment, more and more people will try to devise more pleasant alternative realities for themselves, perhaps by losing themselves in video games, or maybe by turning to whatever Soma they can find.

I don’t have an answer to this, but I do know that politicians who pretend that they do are making matters very much worse.

When Czars Resign

by Armond White

When I read about the president’s entire Arts Council resigning, I cheered. Who expected that a handful of America’s culture czars would, surprisingly, step out of the way and give up their undemocratic, though tax-funded, authority?

The resigners included such millionaires as artist Chuck Close, playwright-director George C. Wolfe, and TV-movie comedian Kal Penn. Not mere council members, each one was a known Obama supporter (and recipient of Obama-administration honor or favor). Their resignations were overdue since, owing to the election’s change in administrations, they should have resigned already — in January, before the inauguration, when they could have faked good conscience.

By waiting until the dirty dog days of August, they seem to have belatedly revealed that they never respected or honestly collaborated with the new administration; they simply kept their well-remunerated advisory gigs.

Now, after the mess of Charlottesville and the mainstream media’s deliberate misreading of White House statements, these czars have uncustomarily succumbed to show-business, art-world, and theater-bubble peer pressure.

Peer pressure is an undeniable part of the arts-panel experience — as it is also evidence of millennial virtue-posturing.

After serving on a National Endowment for the Arts panel in 1990, I resigned myself to the truth of what I had observed there: The feeling of power — of helping advance projects by talented and untalented petitioners alike — was both a privilege and a burden. My sharpest instincts as a practicing arts critic had to be held somewhat in check, while my “liberal” experience as an always-hopeful audience member turned into something strange. I was obliged to become a citizen-gambler, taking a chance on that gift word “art,” hoping that petitioners would make work that served their fellows: Was this project using X-rays really a work of artistic imagination? Would this film adaptation of O. Henry signify true originality? Was this applicant essentially just a money-grubber who could not depend on a paying public’s approval? Would I be essentially subsidizing a hustler’s rent and restaurant tabs?

Since 1990, I have learned that arts councils comprise a culture unto themselves. The government isn’t run by aesthetes, but it sometimes depends upon professionals who have demonstrated an interest in the arts to act as a government intermediary. Giving arbitrary authority to a select few isn’t to be taken lightly. A new administration has lots to do, and correctly overseeing so many councils is more than one man can handle.

But it seems to me that this upstart arts council of disingenuous holdover resignees should have been disbanded months ago — around the time no bigger name than Jackie Evancho could be convinced to perform for the American people’s quadrennial inauguration ceremony.

Looking back from personal and civilian experience, this mass resignation is great. Start from zero. (Grants are usually only given to political fellow-travelers anyway.) I say, begin again. Refute the Obama revolution that “transformed” America into an elitist state of empowered celebrities. It had filled the government with uncompromising progressives — wealthy ones at that — who would rather see the system collapse than compromise their egotism. Let freeloader grant applicants squirm, or let Hollywood, Broadway and the mainstream media — our new czars — get off the government tit and totally fund themselves.

Re: On Charlottesville, Trump, and Anti-Americanism

by Jonah Goldberg

Response To...

On Charlottesville, Trump, and Anti-Americanism

Andy McCarthy has a great piece today where he fleshes out how hardcore, violent, leftist radicals are still admired, romanticized and lionized among mainstream American liberals.  While, mainstream conservatives are expected – rightly – to denounce the alt-right, the Klan, neo-Nazis, et al., liberals take deep offense at the notion that they have any problem whatsoever to their radical left. And, Andy writes, if you “dare notice the radical Left, you are not an observer of objective fact, you are a neo-Nazi sympathizer. If you dare notice that many of the ‘peaceful protesters’ were swinging batons and spraying chemicals, you need a re-education course in ‘unconscious racism.’”

This raises a point I briefly made in my column yesterday. The alt-right does mainstream conservatism a favor by making it clear they do not want to be part of our movement, they want to be an alternative to it. “We don’t have a starting point with William F. Buckley, we don’t have the same starting point as Richard Lowry and Jonah Goldberg and National Review,” Spencer told Buzzfeed. The alt right is “radically different from George W. Bush, the conservative movement, etc. It really was a notion of an alternative.”

This is very helpful for me as a conservative because it underscores the thing I want underscored the most: I have nothing to do with these bigoted tribalists. It’s one of the only things we can agree on.

The funny thing is that if you actually read or listen to antifa, or virtually any of the radical groups today or in the past – ANSWER, Black Lives Matter, the Weathermen, the Black Panthers et al. – they make it quite clear that they want to be an alternative to mainstream or “corporate” liberalism. Even peaceful radicals of the Bernie Sanders stripe make that clear. They really are an “alt left” in a meaningful sense because to one extent or another they hate the market system, revile free speech and find common cause with anti-American forces here and abroad.

The problem is liberals don’t want to acknowledge it. They love the popular front logic. They celebrate the passion and will of everyone from Occupy Wall Street types to Antifa. Remember how hard it was for mainstream liberals to say anything bad about Bill Ayers?

Why is that? I can think of lots of partial explanations, but one in particular comes to mind. Envy. I know a great many sensible liberals. I’m always struck by how some of them are a little ashamed of their conservative sides. They think it’s selling-out or some other kind of corruption. They celebrate people who stay committed to their youthful radicalism as if the inability to grow up is admirable.

I’m reminded of this passage from Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: “I have seen young people, and older people too, who are good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest of reasons.” He continued: “They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack. And commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.”

I am delighted to say that the alt-right doesn’t speak for me. I wish more liberals were as eager to say the same about the mask-wearing, violent, unpatriotic, anti-American radicals they are foolishly celebrating. Liberalism and America would be better off if liberals called these goons the “alt-left.”

The Attacks in Catalonia: ‘Blind’ Violence?

by Andrew Stuttaford

Pope Francis on last year’s Nice attack (via the National Catholic Register):

Pope Francis condemned the attack on Bastille Day Celebrations in France, calling it an act of “blind violence.”

While Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the man who drove a truck into the 14th July crowds in Nice last year, was undoubtedly unstable, had not shown much interest in religion and lacked any formal affiliation with ISIS, it seems fairly clear what pushed him over the edge.

GQ:

In the final two weeks of his life, however, and perhaps for the first time, [Bouhlel] appeared to develop an interest in Islam, the religion into which he had been born. He played recitations of the Koran in his car; he criticized a friend for listening to music; he began to grow a beard. Online, he researched the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a killing carried out in the name of the Islamic State.

Also in evidence on [his] computer was his apparent fascination with the crowds drawn each summer to the Promenade des Anglais, on Nice’s tranquil coastline, where on July 14 the city’s Bastille Day fireworks can be watched unobstructed, reflected in the black mirror of the sea.

These things were not known by the time that the Pope diagnosed the slaughter as “blind violence”, but, given what’s happened in Europe in recent years, for Francis to describe the killings in the way that he did was as much of a rush to judgment as (in this case) immediately pinning the blame on Islamic extremism.

Pope Francis yesterday on the Barcelona attacks (via America magazine):

Pope Francis has condemned “the blind violence” of “the cruel terrorist attack” in Barcelona…

The Washington Post today:

BARCELONA — Spain was seized Friday with the realization that it had incubated a large-scale terrorist plot, as authorities across Europe mounted a manhunt following the deadliest attacks to strike the country in more than a decade: two vehicle assaults in Barcelona and a Catalan coastal town.

Investigators believe that at least eight people plotted the attacks, putting them at a level of sophistication comparable to major strikes in Paris and Brussels in recent years. Other more recent attacks in London, Berlin and the southern French city of Nice were perpetrated by individuals operating largely on their own.

Spanish counterterrorism officers were scrambling to untangle the terrorist network, which involved at least four Moroccan citizens under age 25, according to intelligence officials. In addition to those four, authorities have detained three Moroccan men and a Spaniard.

In a sign that the attack could have been significantly worse, police said they believed the assailants were planning to use propane and butane canisters in an explosive assault against civilians. Instead, the gas ignited prematurely, destroying a house in Alcanar, about 100 miles southwest of Barcelona that was being used by the suspects. The explosion killed at least two people and injured 16, including police officers and firefighters investigating the site…

Blind violence. Really?

The temptation, of course, is to dismiss the Pope’s remarks as simple foolishness, but that would be a mistake. To misquote part of an old line, he has eyes and he sees. The question is what he wants everyone else to see or, more accurately, not to see.

Bannon’s Ouster

by Rich Lowry

If I were a committed Trumper, I’d be worried about the president losing his chief ideologist who had a major role in getting him to the White House. Now, the high-level Trump team is overwhelmingly composed of New York Democrats of various sorts — family and bankers — and impressive, patriotic, but not highly ideological generals. Trump is going to Trump regardless, as we know, but this is a very strange match of a populist/nationalist at the top with a bunch of people who aren’t in sympathy with that worldview around him. Bannon’s departure probably signals that we are entering the phase of the Trump phenomenon when his hard-core supporters argue everything would be going much better if the president weren’t being ill-served and betrayed by all the globalists around him.

Trump Shrinks the Presidency

by Ramesh Ponnuru

For decades, thoughtful observers of American politics have called for downsizing the presidency. Under President Donald Trump, they are getting what they asked for, if not in quite the way they had pictured it.

That’s the start of my latest Bloomberg View column is about the cult of the presidency, and Trump’s effect on it.

Trump’s Latest Polling

by Rich Lowry

If I’m not mistaken, I saw an anti-Trump conservative wondering hopefully on Twitter the other day how soon Trump would be polling in the 20’s nationally. No doubt that he’s done himself harm, as noted earlier, but as the sharp Josh Kraushaar notes, his polling is about where it was, maybe a little higher:

Finally, Trump’s overall job-approval rating is virtually unchanged in the aftermath of Charlottesville. Quinnipiac’s new survey found it at 39 percent, up 6 points since its last survey earlier in the month. Gallup now pegs his approval at 38 percent, inching upwards from his all-time low of 34 percent just before the Charlottesville protests. The aforementioned PBS/Marist poll also found his job approval at 38 percent. For context, that’s the same percentage who viewed him favorably on Election Day before he won the presidency.

Who Is Really Opposed to Fighting Internet Censorship?

by Jason Richwine

Response To...

How to Break Silicon Valley's ...

Jeremy Carl makes a strong case for imposing viewpoint neutrality on tech firms that function as de facto public utilities. To prevent censorship at the whim of a few large firms, Carl would ban Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. from rejecting or discriminating against users for their political views. I endorse the proposal for all the reasons he laid out. But it’s interesting to contrast the public versus private incentives for each party involved. Specifically, one might assume that Republicans in Congress would be eager to ensure that conservative speech is not censored, while Silicon Valley leaders would oppose any such regulation. I suspect the opposite is true.

Silicon Valley leaders are currently falling over themselves to see who can most thoroughly blacklist alt-right groups. They justify the censorship with the principle that they will not be parties to “hate.” In my experience, however, large organizations worry only about their bottom lines. They rarely stand up for any greater principle if it gets in the way of conducting business as usual. When Silicon Valley censors, it is less principle than it is virtue signaling – defensive virtual signaling, to be more precise. Tech firms fear shaming and controversy ginned up by “social justice warriors,” so they compete over who can censor the most. It’s an arms race to make their businesses controversy-proof.

Tech firms would obviously prefer not to worry about signaling all the time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was some way to end the need for signaling without losing virtue points to rival firms? That’s exactly what regulation would do. If Congress imposes viewpoint neutrality on Silicon Valley, its businesses could simply dismiss complaints from Social Justice Warriors: “Sorry, we would love to refuse service to these right-wingers whom you hate, but we can’t. We’re just following the law like everyone else.” Their public posturing notwithstanding, Silicon Valley leaders must find this outcome appealing.

Now think about Congress. Politicians dislike distractions just as businesses do, and the alt-right has become a major distraction for Republican politicians. Every time the alt-right pops up somewhere, the media ask Republicans questions about it, link Republicans to it, tell Republicans to condemn it more forcefully, and so on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the alt-right could just go away? That might happen – in large part, at least – if tech firms are allowed to block the alt-right’s access to major forms of commerce and communication. For the Republican party, the most immediate effect of passing a neutrality regulation would be to invigorate an alt-right movement that has become a big thorn in its side. How many Republicans are going to be excited about doing that?

I agree with Jeremy Carl that Silicon Valley’s censorship of “hate” will morph into censorship of mainstream conservatism. In fact, as Mark Krikorian noted yesterday, it already has! Nevertheless, Republican politicians may be too worried about the next election to think about the long term. The result may be that a tech-neutrality bill struggles in Congress for different reasons than most people assume.

Krein Is Wrong: Trump Supporters Always Expected a Pivot

by Alexandra DeSanctis

The New York Times published a column yesterday — “I Voted for Trump. And I Sorely Regret It.” — by Julius Krein, the man who last year founded a journal dedicated to advancing the intellectual case for “Trumpism.”

The column is a scathing denunciation of the president, and it reveals that there indeed exists a sort of “last straw” for at least some Trump supporters, including those who supported him very publicly through many other unpleasant episodes. On one point, however, Krein notably misses the mark.

“Those of us who supported Mr. Trump were never so naïve as to expect that he would transform himself into a model of presidential decorum upon taking office,” Krein writes.

I suppose Krein must be allowed to speak for his own expectations. But to claim this of all Trump supporters is demonstrably false. There is a veritable laundry list of prominent Trump promoters who, over the last year and a half, averred until they were blue in the face that the candidate could “pivot” and become presidential anytime he chose.

Trump himself pushed this idea heavily, giving his supporters ammo to lob at anyone who accused him of being un-presidential. In the spring of 2016, just before locking up the GOP nomination, Trump told Sean Hannity, “At the right time, I will be so presidential that you’ll call me and you’ll say, ‘Donald, you have to stop that, it’s too much.’” And in a later interview Trump said, “At some point, I’m going to be so presidential that you people will be so bored.”

His supporters repeated these phony claims ad nauseam, on any of the countless occasions that they were asked about Trump’s evident lack of decorum or integrity. (Thanks to Jonah Goldberg for compiling several of these examples in a past NRO piece.)

As Trump’s senior aide, Paul Manafort told the RNC, “When he’s out on the stage . . . he’s projecting an image that’s for that purpose,” Manafort said. “You’ll start to see more depth of the person, the real person. . . . The negatives will come down. The image is going to change.”

“I think you’re going to see it. I think you’re going to see the change in tone,” Reince Priebus predicted last year, back when he was RNC president. Priebus was perhaps the biggest proponent of the “pivot” theory, repeating this promise in numerous interviews over the course of the campaign.

Republican senator Bob Corker said of Trump in June 2016: “He’s got this defining period that’s over the next two or three weeks where he could pivot, can pivot, hopefully will pivot to a place where he becomes a true general election candidate.”

“You’re going to see Trump pivoting,” Ben Carson promised on Morning Joe in March 2016.

From the New York Post’s endorsement of Trump: “Should he win the nomination, we expect Trump to pivot — not just on the issues, but in his manner. The post-pivot Trump needs to be more presidential: better informed on policy, more self-disciplined and less thin-skinned.”

These are just a tiny selection of the countless statements from the Trump acolytes insisting that a presidential man lurked somewhere beneath the New York businessman’s uncouth surface. Kudos to Krein for coming to his senses, and for doing so publicly. But perhaps if the proponents of the elusive Trump “pivot” had viewed the man with clear eyes a year and a half ago, we wouldn’t still be arguing over him today.

An Appalling Speech by Secretary Tillerson

by Roger Clegg

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has just given an appalling speech. From beginning to end it embraces bean-counting on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex in order to reach the right percentages of this, that, and the other; the great irony is that he thinks this approach demonstrates his commitment to the principle of nondiscrimination. So the response of this part of the Trump administration to neo-Nazis’ call for politically incorrect race-based action in Charlottesville is politically correct race-based action at Foggy Bottom.

Secretary Tillerson specifically promises a State Department “Rooney Rule”: “Every time we have an opening for an ambassador position, at least one of the candidates must be a minority candidate.” Not only is such race-based hiring divisive, unfair, and an endorsement of just the sort of identity politics that we ought to have learned by now is poisonous, but it is illegal, as explained here and here.

The purported justification for this discrimination is this:

I think one of the things that it’s important to appreciate is the value of diversity. It’s not just to achieve a mix of population that looks like the rest of our country. I know from my long career in the private sector, my experience has been the value of diversity in the workplace is it enriches our work, it enriches our work product to have individuals who come with a different cultural perspective or they come with different life experiences. That’s the value. They will see things in the world that I cannot see. I did not have that life experience.

So, first, note that if something is done “not just” to achieve X, then it’s conceded that indeed X is one of the aims; but trying to have more of this group (and thus less of that group) because of national demographics is nothing but the “discrimination for its own sake” that Justice Lewis Powell rejected in Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v.  Bakke.

As for the rest of the justification, why should skin color and national origin be used as proxies for “cultural perspective” or “life experiences”?  Do all blacks and whites think alike, do all Asian Americans and Latinos live in the same neighborhood? Why does Secretary Tillerson assume that, by knowing someone’s race and ethnicity, he knows how “[t]hey will see things in the world”? This is just the crudest of stereotyping.  And, here again, it is not only wrong but illegal:  No federal court has recognized a “diversity” exception to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans employment sorting and discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.

This week’s lesson for the Trump administration: It needs to embrace E pluribus unum, and make clear its categorical rejection of identity politics and race-based policy and action, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.

Other Thoughts on Charlottesville

by Roger Clegg

Some additional thoughts on Charlottesville.

First, liberals should condemn lawless and violent behavior by those on the Left, and conservatives should condemn lawless and violent behavior by those on the Right. There is a temptation when this is done on both sides to temper that criticism by adding a “But . . . ” — that is, to say, “Of course, it is wrong to kill the police, but we must recognize that black lives do matter,” etc., or “Of course, it is wrong to ram a car into a protestor, but many protestors on the Left are violent types, too,” etc.

The trouble is that, if you do this in reaction to something that is indefensible — like a murder or a riot — then the other side will understandably feel that you are not only tempering your criticism but excusing it or at least signaling that it’s understandable and therefore forgivable. And so the other side will get really upset. Again, this is true on both sides: Conservatives didn’t like it when liberals added a “but” sentence in their response to riots and police murders, and that’s why liberals (and others) are upset with President Trump’s equivocations here.

It’s okay, of course, to make these broader and more nuanced points in some other context, but not when the action being discussed and in our face is one where nuance is unacceptable and clarity is essential.

Second, and for what it’s worth, here’s a piece that I wrote for NRO sixteen years ago on a hot issue at that time, namely whether the Confederate battle flag should be removed from the Mississippi state flag. That’s a different issue from what to do with statues and the like, but some of the points I made then have some relevance now.

Finally, bear in mind that the media love drama and have a vested interested in convincing the public that the end of the world is at hand and so it really needs to keep watching the television, buying the newspaper, visiting this website, etc.  Extra, extra, read all about it!  That’s not to say that what happened in Charlottesville was not newsworthy, and I do feel a little bit like Frank Drebin in this clip when I urge people not to obsess about marching and murderous neo-Nazis; what’s more, a president’s pronouncements can on their own raise issues bigger than what he is pronouncing on. Nonetheless, a few extremist kooks and one bad weekend with one murder in one town do not a Weimar Republic make.

Re: Bannon Out of the White House

by Charles C. W. Cooke

After the last few days, I thought it was inevitable that Bannon would go. But not this quickly. Notably, everyone within that early round of appointments — Spicer, Priebus, Bannon, Flynn — is gone now. Begun, the Breitbart wars have.

Bannon Out of the White House

by Alexandra DeSanctis

President Trump has reportedly told his senior aides that he will remove Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, from White House staff. The decision comes after several days of speculation that Bannon might be on his way out, rumors that went into overdrive after news broke that the president suspected his chief strategist might be responsible for leaking information about internal White House business.

Bannon also came under fire after he denounced several of his White House colleagues in a recent interview with a left-wing reporter. The chief strategist has reportedly been the source of much contention within the West Wing since the start of the presidency, stirring up near-constant disagreements with other advisers, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had this to say of Bannon’s firing: “Kelly and Bannon mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day.”

The dismissal of Bannon raises questions about the path forward for Trump’s agenda. Bannon has long been seen as the president’s primary connection to his base, supporters who were drawn to Trump’s populist rhetoric and hard-right-wing agenda. Without his influence, there seems to be room for Trump’s closest advisers to take his presidency in a new direction.

A Momentous Issue

by Jay Nordlinger

On the homepage, we have a piece by Alexandra DeSanctis about Down syndrome and abortion. I read it with a mixture of admiration and disgust: admiration for the piece; disgust at the casually eliminationist approach to babies (thus people) with Down syndrome.

If you don’t like “eliminationist,” “eugenic” will do.

Xan’s piece gave me a memory: of a long, searching, powerful piece on the same subject by Tucker Carlson, written when we both worked at The Weekly Standard. Here it is, from December 1996: “Eugenics, American Style.”

Tucker begins by quoting Joycelyn Elders, one of President Clinton’s surgeons general (and notorious). Dr. Elders spoke of abortion as a public-health boon, given that babies with Down syndrome and other defects were being aborted. Further, Tucker reports on the pressure faced by parents of unborn children who have been determined to have Down syndrome. The pressure is to abort.

I read the piece at the time of publication, of course, and did so with admiration and disgust. I have re-read it — and feel the same.

So, I commend to you these two pieces: Xan’s written on Wednesday, Tucker’s written more than 20 years ago. Each of them addresses a momentous issue, one that goes to the heart, really, of what it means to be human.

P.S. Earlier this year, I visited Down Home Ranch, in Texas. It was founded by friends of mine, and friends of National Review: Jerry and Judy Horton. It is a ranch for adults with Down syndrome, and one of the residents is their daughter Kelly. To read about the Hortons and the ranch, go here.