Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Year of Reading

2015 was at least a good year for reading. Herewith, the books I’d recommend the most:

Nabokov in America, Robert Roper: Forget trying to gain a fuller understanding of Vladimir’s novels and just take in the tale. From their close call path to America—the Nabokovs lived in Berlin in the ‘30s, wife Vera was Jewish—to the son’s extraordinary, non-literary pursuits this book could easily be turned into an extended cable series.

Notebooks; 1922 – ’86, edited by Luke O’Sullivan: On his death one British paper tabbed Michael Oakeshott as the greatest conservative political philosopher since Edmund Burke. But Oakeshott was more philosopher than political philosopher. Beginning with notes as he read other philosophers—Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza—and moving on to whatever caught his eye, these aphoristically inclined entries are both interesting and delightful. “It is impossible to get happiness by following a plan. Everything about us, and we are ourselves change continually. To attempt to capture happiness and keep it is foolish.”
Poetry Notebook, Clive James: This slim volume put me on a bit of a poetry jag and in search of authors who I’d never heard of, which is all that needs to be said.

Romanticism; A German Affair, Rudiger Safranski: Somewhere I recall seeing the line that “Lord Byron was too much of a romantic not to float some balloons, and too much of a realist not to puncture them.” There may be a lot of mischief in romantic ideas but after reading this book it’s hard not to conclude that there is also something essential in it and that a ‘correction’ to the Enlightenment was necessary, or at the very least, likely.

Leisure; The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper: The aforementioned Michael Oakeshott observed the horror of the mono-modal man. In our time this is most commonly manifested in the person who runs everything through the criteria of usefulness. Like Johan Huizinga’s man the player, this is an argument for recognizing the importance of all that fails the test of practicality. In a time and place of great wealth and smart phones, Pieper’s “the proletarian is the man who is fettered to the process of work” is a caution worth ruminating on.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Addendum to a Review of William F. Buckley's The Unmaking of a Mayor

Thanks to Mark Hemingway, my review of the William F. Buckley book, The Unmaking of a Mayor, appeared on The Federalist http://thefederalist.com/2015/11/28/what-william-f-buckley-can-teach-us-about-donald-trump/

As my review noted, 50 years later, Buckley’s chronicle of his run for mayor of New York City in 1965 hasn’t just held up, it’s gotten better. But with such a rich book there were things which I reluctantly left out or were cut by the editor. To wit:

1) The solution [I should’ve written an approach]”

Such an innocuous, throwaway line, and so much conservative goodness. The progressive offers up solutions, but the conservative knows that this is an illusion. We have only approaches with all the fallibility that that implies. When a bill begins with “comprehensive” we should be especially skeptical.

2) “The complex answer is, surely, that there is a sense of psychic composure when a man who is formally aligned on the other side of the politic fence endorses all of your major platforms: it has the effect of relieving you of all of the disquietude that the existence of alternative approaches to government necessarily pose.”

You begin to understand—almost sympathize—with the progressive loathing for conservatives. It isn’t just that we stand in the way of making the world a better place, we are constantly disturbing the peace. Or at least their peace.

3) [summary of candidates’ fiscal positions] “No responsible person could tell you what kind of taxes we’d need because of the uncertainty of the extent of federal and state aid – Abe Beame”

Another easy to miss item that is very telling; a) it’s refreshingly honest, b) it tells you how much New Yorkers have lost control over their own affairs in the national mania to centralize government.

4) “in the end we are all treated as categories”

Here, my commentary was cut, with malice aforethought, by the editor. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott having defined government directed to an end as enterprise association, noted that it transforms governing into a managerial activity. To direct and reward a large and disparate population requires simplifying assumptions. Hence, the attention to voting blocs and categorization of individuals that Buckley so rightly objects to.

And this, as well as arguments made for federalism and the rule of subsidiarity (also in the book) points to a problem in the conservative movement. It seems to me there is tendency to make arguments a step removed from the source. Our politics are increasingly centralized because they are increasingly Rationalist. Form follows function. A plea for return to federalism is directed at a symptom and leaves the disease untouched.

5) Two final, somewhat related, quotes:

“One always hopes that a serious reporter will seriously listen; and one is ofter disappointed.”

“Politics simply isn’t the place for making distinctions.”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Spending/Debt Chart I'd Like to See

The above chart was posted on twitter during the most recent debate, and while I like it, I also sort of don't.

Suppose in the last year of my presidency I get through a bill that requires the government to redistribute 5% of GDP to those who make less than the median income, beginning with the next fiscal year. My vice president wins the following election and serves eight years by which time my program is firmly established. If you tally up spending/debt under my administration, my biggest impact on spending/debt gets attributed to future presidencies. That’s what I don’t like about the above chart and others like it.

The spending and associated debt for each administration is a combination of their period expenditures (discretionary spending, defense) and spending due to past legislation. The chart I would like to see would be of the area type with a band running from past to the current president. In such a graph, Eisenhower would presumably be insignificant (except highway spending?), but FDR (Social Security) and LBJ (Medicare & Medicaid) would loom large. The future cost of Obamacare would hit Obama not presidents that follow him.

I don’t know what, if any, effect such a view into spending would have, but it would give a more accurate picture of what our government is doing. Surely, there is some benefit in that.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls Would Kill the Golden State Warriors, Right?

Asked this week, Charles Barkley answered that the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls “would kill” the current Golden State Warriors. That Bulls team [Jordan, Pippen] set the record for wins in a season, the current Warriors are the defending champions and are 25 and 1. The sports columnist Michael Wilbon wouldn't go so far as to say that it’d be a rout, but he was also sure that the Bulls would win.
Well maybe. But perhaps some perspective is in order. First, it seems reasonable to assume that the larger the pool of talent a sport is drawing on, the better that sport will be. In 1996, international players were pretty rare, today it’s rather unremarked upon that a player originated outside the U.S.
Second, it may be useful to look at a basic sport (virtually no technology involved) which provides an objective measure (a clock). Somewhat at random, I chose the 100 meter freestyle and 400 meter freestyle in men’s swimming. In the ’96 Olympics the 100 freestyle was won with a time of 48.74, and the 400 meter winning time was 3:47.97. In the 2012 Olympics those winning times would’ve finished 12th.

When Wilbon asks "who is going to stop Jordan?" He is, I think, asking the wrong question. The reason no one hits .400 in baseball anymore isn't because hitters have gotten worse since Ted Williams, it's because baseball players have gotten so much better. Implicit in the assertion that the Bulls would kill the Warriors is that in 20 years, with increased interest in the sport--thanks in part to Jordan--the game hasn't improved. A complicating factor is that the more it has improved, the less likely we will see today's best as better than yesterday's.




Wanted: A Discussion of Government Administration

Quick, a refresher course. Congress passes laws and the Executive Branch, headed by the president, carries them out (stop laughing). It’s not a sexy topic, and polls don’t show it as a major voter concern, but it is past time that we ask our presidential candidates about what their plan is for government administration. And no, abolishing the IRS and shrinking the government will not do.

For I think it is incontrovertible that the actual administration of our government is a shambles. Wait times at VA hospitals are past the point of tragic. We apparently have a policy of NOT checking social media in the vetting process of VISA applications. Daily, thousands of us endure the theatre of the TSA at our airports. I would like to think that even progressives could eventually be persuaded that a neutral IRS would be a good thing before the return of a Nixon administration. Even the Secret Service, the one group that people thought were competent, have been exposed in one embarrassing story after another.

And it isn’t as if the administrative aspect of government is of minor importance. If people were confident of our ability to vet applicants our discussion of letting in Middle East refugees would change dramatically. Surely our constant security breaches aren’t helping our foreign policy. We have a huge debt problem. Does anyone believe that government services are being delivered efficiently?

To my mind a government job should, with special exceptions, always be a person’s last job, no one under the age of 55 need apply. A pre-requisite should be significant time in the private sector on the rationale that a manager should know what’s like to be a player.

Finally, we need to tilt the balance back in the direction of the public. A government job shouldn’t be a safe sinecure. We need to be able to fire those who are ineffective without making it so easy that a new administration means the wholesale change of one team for another.
Even I don’t trust my political judgment but I can’t helping thinking that government administration is a huge issue just waiting for someone to pick it up. Republicans who are always looking for a way to associate themselves with Ronald Reagan should remember that one of the high points of his domestic presidency was the firing of the air traffic controllers. There are many reasons why the public and the elite(s) are at odds. One of the more important is that when it comes to government, the elites have proven they can’t run anything. That needs to change.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Building a Cathedral and American Politics

Ever wonder why the left is always falling head over heels for their nominee. Or how Tom Friedman can have a, no masterpiece was written by committee, attitude towards American democracy. In 2008 Barack Obama, a man whose resume could fit on a credit card, was FDR and JFK wrapped into one glittering package. His election would halt the rise in the oceans and redeem the American experience. The too easy answer is that this is just power worship. The allure of getting to tell other people what to do. But a less cynical explanation is hiding in plain sight. Hiding in fourteenth century Florence to be exact.

At that time the elites competed with each other by building cathedrals rather than big governments and the grandees of Florence were a bit over-extended. The crossing space of the cathedral--a little over 144 feet--exceeded the technological know-how for building free standing domes. A hundred years after construction had begun, when the dome could no longer be put off, a competition is held to find a solution. Brunelleschi wins and his solution for a free standing dome is still an engineering marvel.

Here in the Western democracies we are now in the position of holding semi-regular competitions called elections to find the person who can put 'a roof' over the vast government that we've created as monuments to our humanity, our capacity to care. And it isn't at all surprising that progressives, far more invested in the government project, are far more invested in finding an 'architect or engineer' to complete the project. Thus, the extravagant celebration and hopes attached to the election of Barack Obama and before him Bill Clinton.

Nor is it surprising that our political Brunelleschies are looked for in the ranks of the relative unknowns. If the known, experienced politician had the solution wouldn't we have seen it by now? The one thing we can deduce from our familiarity with establishment politicians with all of their government experience is that they don't have the answer.

The analogy also suggests why the conservative argument that ambitious government programs have failed and can't work seem to persuade only other conservatives. Even if the progressive can be persuaded of failure he will tack on a 'not yet' qualifier. Here it has to be admitted, the conservative is working against American optimism. Hayek's knowledge problem is just a big data application from being resolved. Like the Florence Cathedral the pursuit of the outsized goal doesn't require a ready solution as one is sure to turn up if we just keep the faith.

It was Patrick Moynihan who observed that "somehow liberals have been unable to acquire from a lifetime of experience what conservatives seem to be endowed with at birth: namely, a healthy skepticism of the powers of government to do good." The remark is truer today than when he made it as is the gap between our commitments and the revenue to pay for them. And so the outsized hopes pinned on political candidates continue and the more acute our problems become, the wilder and more frantic our search for a miracle worker.



Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Long Game of Candidate Cruz and the Untameable Senator

@UWedge: "If you know you're going to lose then fighting is just theatre."

Have you noticed? A huge gap has opened up in the Republican nomination race. No, not Trump and the rest of the field in national polls. The gap between candidate and Senator Ted Cruz.

In the Republican field Cruz has been last and least in offering up any criticism of Donald Trump. As has been widely noted he’s playing a long game which recognizes that he is the second choice for Trump supporters. So the strategy is obvious, be patient, let the others take on Trump and bring him down, and then be there for his supporters on the rebound.

What I haven’t seen is anyone pointing to the dilemma implicit in this strategy. Cruz the presidential candidate opens up a different, and highly unflattering, perspective on Cruz the Senator. Put simply, Cruz the candidate can’t be squared with Cruz the Senator and the reason for candidate Cruz is Senator Cruz.

Cruz is popular with conservatives because he gave them in the Senate what they longed for. Not victories—he really doesn’t have any—but risk taking. As Senator he embodies what the base wants. The cause! The cause! and damn the consequences! That is his motto. He is the nothing ventured, nothing gained rebuke to Mitch McConnell who has a habit of infuriating conservatives with his McClellan like, maybe after the next election when we’re stronger, approach to politics.

The ever prudent, bide your time Cruz is now asking us to question just what Senator Cruz was up to. It doesn’t look like the exuberance of the conviction politician so much as advertisements for Ted Cruz. It raises the question who was less sincere, Marlon Brando playing Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, or Ted Cruz playing Ted Cruz. I had doubts about Cruz as president before, I have bigger doubts now.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why The Politics of the Impossible? OK, I'll Bite

“People routinely say with apparent certainty serious things that are if not patently false at least highly uncertain. And there is no debate, no confrontation of facts or analysis. The things people say are not meant to be measured on the scale of truth. They are only the signs by which one indicates which team one belongs to, like the ‘identification friend-or-foe’ signals that warplanes emit.”

-Herbert Stein, 1989

At The Federalist today [link at the bottom], Mark Hemingway notes that progressives are now calling for the confiscation of guns in America and have established the goal of eliminating gun violence and he asks why, given that neither the tactic nor goal has any real chance of being realized? Now as The Heminator isn’t your typical Oregonian to be found naked in a field, I take it his question is one of them rhetoricals, but why let that stop me from chiming in with an answer?

I would start by pointing to Kenneth Minogue’s The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. Minogue’s thesis is that traditional morality is gradually being replaced by the “political-moral.” Instead of moral concerns and markers like honesty, trustworthiness, humility, duty to be moral is now associated with voting for the right politicians and supporting—publicly of course—the right causes. Participate in an ad for ending gun violence and you can cheat on your spouse, steal water for you lawn, and treat the help shabbily.

Next, I would point to Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos which suggests by way of example that the things we typically designate as tragedies have a positive aspect. Yes, the storm that rips through your town destroying everything that’s in its path is bad and a tragedy, but it also makes life exciting and provides a break from the every-day tedium of our lives. The Percy Formula—copyright @LMandrakeJr, LTD—stipulates the more impossible the cause the greater its value. Pick a finite goal like stopping the XYX Development or building a park in the East River Area and soon you’ll be back in the existential emptiness of not having a cause. That the cause is eternal is a feature, not a bug.

Finally, I would argue that what Hemingway has noted is symptomatic of what Michael Oakeshott (the philosopher, not the welder) defined as rationalism in politics. Oakeshott maintained that our current politics were thoroughly rationalist and went on to describe some of its characteristics:

“He [the Rationalist] is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary, or habitual…He is optimistic because the Rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason’ to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion, or the propriety of an action.

He does not recognize change unless it is self-consciously induced change.

The politics it inspires may be called the politics of the felt need; for the Rationalist, politics are always charged with the feeling of the moment.

And the ‘rational’ solution of any problem is, in its nature, the perfect solution. There is no in his scheme for a ‘best in the circumstances’, only a place for ‘the best’; because the function of reason is precisely to surmount circumstances.”

Later, in a different essay in the same collection Oakeshott memorably sketches his alternative view of politics:

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbor for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting place nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel; the sea is both friend and enemy; and the seamanship consists in using the resources of a traditional manner of behavior in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion.”

It is the politics of intimations rather than certainty, of tacking rather than proceeding “as the crow flies”, of incremental rather than ‘comprehensive’ reform. Yes, please!

Stop Trying to ‘End Gun Violence’. It’s Not Going to Happen, Mark Hemingway  http://thefederalist.com/2015/12/11/stop-trying-to-end-gun-violence-its-not-going-to-happen/


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Conservative Suspicions

[The conservative] “will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers, who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances are tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or ‘social justice’, and of saviors of society who buckle on armor and seek dragons to slay.”
              - Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics

The Gun Control Talk Leads to Gun Sales Argument

For a while there was a cultural/political ritual that went like this: a public museum would decide to have an exhibition on something like the history of porn or blasphemy in the arts, a group would object, and the response would be a) censorship! and b) don’t you realize you idiot that you’re only drawing more attention to the art you object to? In short, the gist of the counter-argument was that whatever outrage we can conjure up should be accepted in silence.

The same argument is now being trotted out in support of the second amendment in reaction to calls for stricter gun control. The Progressive argument for gun control is leading to increased NRA membership and gun sales. As in the earlier battle of the arts, I don’t find this line of argument particularly convincing.

In the first place, the criteria of practicality is misplaced. On a simple cost-benefit analysis this blog, like most things I do, is a huge waste of time. We all, well most of us, know that in arguing with friends we aren’t going to change anyone’s mind and we may very well make them angry. We do it anyway, because in truth most of us have opinions and we so no reason why we shouldn’t express them.

But if we accept practicality as THE criteria the argument still mostly falls apart on the dimension of time. We start running and get all sore and miserable so that we’ll get in shape and feel better on some future day. In business, first are the cash outflows, later—we hope—the cash inflows. We object to Piss Christ in order to gather followers with an eye to the next exhibition. Jonah Goldberg put the matter rather well in response to the same argument at the start of the Iraq War, part 2:

“If my backyard is festooned with hornet nests, I will likely be safer from a sting on any given day if I do nothing than I will be on the day or days I begin destroying them. Since when is any large, important, task required to show positive results at every stage?”

That, I say, is a good point.
Mind you, none of the above should be taken as taking the side of gun control or still less for gun confiscation. To my mind the second amendment defenders have the better of the argument. But I have an impractical need to object to an argument I find mostly irrelevant.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Chicago; Yes, But Then What?

As a kid I remember my uncle, who worked at O’Hare telling me that if your precinct didn’t go for the Mayor your streets would be the last to get plowed when it snowed. When my brother moved to Chicago after finishing school he relayed his election strategy: "I vote against all the incumbents; the new guys will be corrupt too but they won’t be as good at it." Shortly before the runoff election for mayor, I answered a phone poll:
Q: On a scale of 1 – 10, ten being the highest, how likely are you to vote for Rahm?
Me: 10
Q: On a scale of 1 – 10 how would you rate Rahm’s job performance?
Me: 1

The question in Chicago isn't what should become of Rahm Emanuel but at this point, what difference does it make. As Jonah Goldberg pointed out today, Chicago is a one party city. How one party? In the 2012 Presidential election, Barack Obama got 74% of the vote in Cook County. Ah, you say Obama is from Chicago, of course he did well. In 2004 John Kerry did only slightly worse picking up 70% of the vote. And if anything these results understate things. Of the city's 50 alderman, 49 are Democrats. Forty-nine flippin' Dems out of a total of fifty!

I'm more than fine with investigating the police department, I'd be happy to see Rahm go (voting for him was, shall we say, painful), but what then? The normal recourse here is to democracy, but I think it is fair to say that democracy has failed in Chicago. The city is for all intents and purposes broke, it's citizens are leaving, Rahm's opponent in the last election ran to his left. Chicago in the worst way needs a vibrant conservative oriented opposition party, but getting one....? To that, well..."we all want to see the plan."

On Refugee-Immigrant Issue, It's the Screening

In the discussion of Muslim immigration and accepting refugees there has been a great deal of focus on secondary issues and little attention on the main one. If citizens were confident that the government could distinguish between Muslims that were coming here to embrace America and Muslims who remain committed to sharia law and are either already radicalized or pre-disposed to radicalism we wouldn’t be having this debate.

At National Review today Andrew McCarthy argues that the “they’ll lie” critique of the (rather silly in my view) Trump proposal is “meritless”. He points out that the burden of proof is on the immigrant and that it is a felony punishable by five years’ imprisonment to lie on government forms or to government agents conducting a legitimate investigation.” But of course it is the state that has the burden of proof in criminal cases to prove guilt, and yet somehow, someway we regularly read stories about people being released from prison because it later turns out they were innocent. The reticence of some/many to accept Syrian refugees in large numbers has been described as bigotry and un-American and is loudly supported by the President. In which direction do you think government officials will be inclined to tilt the scales in evaluating applications?

Today on Twitter Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard posted that the “terrorist sent 109 encrypted messages to overseas jihadist morning of Garland attack.” The FBI failed to pick up on this. Still think doubts about immigrant vetting are groundless?

In the movie Casino, the mobsters from Kansas City are in court and during a break they get into a discussion of what to do about potential witnesses:

Vinny Forlano: He won't talk. Stone is a good kid. Stand-up guy, just like his old man. That's the way I see it.

Vincent Borelli: I agree. He's solid. A fuckin' Marine.

Capelli: He's okay. He always was. Remo, what do you think?

Remo Gaggi: Look... why take a chance? At least, that's the way I feel about it.

Sadly, the government has given us plenty of reason to feel like Remo Gaggi. Given the stakes we’re not inclined to be Flounder and be told at a not too distant date by some government Otter that “you fucked up….you trusted us.” The issue is the screening, stupid.


Friday, October 30, 2015

A Player Program for the Republican Nomination Race

On Special Report last night Charles Krauthammer spoke of “two lanes” that define the Republican race. It seems odd to be continually disagreeing with him, but again I think this far too reductive analytic scheme and thereby misses too much. From my perspective, the Republican field can be placed into the following five lanes:

Establishment/Old-Guard Republicans – Bush, Kasich, Pataki

Young Guns/Reformers – Christie, Fiorina, Jindal, Perry, Rubio, Walker

Social Conservative/Populists – Huckabee, Santorum

Purists/Reform Radicals – Cruz, Paul

Outsiders-Outsiders – Carson, Trump

Doubtless there is room for disagreement as to the lines drawn and the placement but I think this is reasonably accurate looking at the candidates as a whole rather than one particular issue.

I would define the Establishment/Old Guard as the line of the party that can be most easily and comfortably traced to the Rockefeller-Ford wing and in its more recent aspect is the Bush-Bush-McCain-Romney succession. The other lanes are defined in a large sense in relation to their distinctiveness from the Establishment/Old Guard. Something of a continuum can be drawn from that starting point to Young Guns/Reformers > Purists/Reform Radicals > Outsiders with the Social Conservatives being out of place both in my schematic and to a large extent this election cycle. The weakness of the Young Guns is that they can be perceived as being part of the Establishment, while the weakness of the Purists and Outsiders is the possible/probable(?) reluctance on the part of the voters to completely throw caution aside.
Now if I’ve got this mostly right, then it is telling that of the consensus currently viable—Christie, Fiorina, Rubio, Cruz, Carson, and Trump--half occupy a position far from the Establishment/Old Guard. And the others are viable in large part because their time served isn't so extensive as to confirm that they've crossed the shadow-line. And this is why I think the emphasis on Bush’s campaign foibles, real as they are, miss the much larger point that there is almost no voter interest in picking someone from this lane except as a last resort in this election cycle.

Finally, I should note that of the above candidates Fiorina is the most difficult to place. She could be considered an outsider, but I think her running for office in California and evident policy chops exclude her. But there is probably no one in the field who has more positional flexibility in terms of which lane to conduct her campaign from than Fiorina, and that's an advantage in this race. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

More a Tribe Than a Political Party; reaction to Hillary's Benghazi testimony

I don’t normally pay attention to campaign slogans, but the Obama-Biden slogan “Forward” was so lame that it couldn’t be ignored. Coupled with the complete lack of inventiveness was the unaware conceit. For the dirty little secret of Progressivism, at least in its current form, is that it is anything but a forward looking ideology. At its core, I would argue, that Progressivism is a rejection of the modern and a pining for the unity of the pre-modern and for those invested in politics, the Democratic Party is more of a tribe than a political party.

This conceptual framework was brought to mind yet again, by Jonah Goldberg’s last G-File where he comments on Hillary’s Benghazi testimony and in particular the reaction to it. From it, and much before, Jonah makes two observations:

“When the truth is inconvenient to the villains of the tale, the pursuit of truth is celebrated as the ne plus ultra of their vocation. But when the truth is inconvenient to people they like — or beneficial to people they don’t like — it really isn’t all that interesting or important.”


“But whenever there’s an unavoidable choice to be on one side of the cultural divide or the other, the MSM will stand with the Democrats because, at the end of the day, they are Democrats and they think Democrats are normal people.”

This is spot on and follows from the party as tribe. Hillary is the all but certain new leader of the tribe. The first principle is that no harm shall come to her, because the interests of the tribe are paramount.

The political party as tribe aspect is evident in the complete disdain for the give and take of politics evinced by the President, and by the frequent calls to get beyond politics. For as the philosopher Michael Oakeshott points out:

Politics, from one important point of view, may be said to be the activity in which a society deals with its diversities…This is why we are apt to think that a genuine tribal society, which certainly has rules and customs, is not one in which politics is likely to appear. Such a society may have the necessary unity but it rarely has the necessary diversity.”

And here we are reminded of Efraim Podoksik’s contention “that what is claimed is that Oakeshott’s central concern is the idea of modernity understood as inescapable fragmentation and irreducible plurality.” It is intermittent and situational, like the times when these characteristics of the modern work against those who embrace modernity, but at its core the progressive, the Democratic Party enthusiast, is in opposition to the fragmentation and plurality of the modern. And much of the heat and contentiousness of our current affairs stems from the attempt to bring the wayward individualists and current modern world of a past time dominated by the ordered unity of the tribe.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Republican Race to Date

On this week’s Candidate Casino Charles Krauthammer put fewer chips on Jeb Bush and fingered a woeful campaign as the problem. In prior weeks, Jeb has either been picked as the Republican favorite or near favorite. This tells me the pros are looking at this election through the wrong prism.

The key to understanding the current race is 2012 in combination with 2008. By the end of his term conservatives were ambivalent about George W. They liked him in many ways, defending him against Democratic attacks but they were not at all happy with the increase in spending (pretty much across the board) and ambitious use of the military (the sizable isolationist win) that had occurred under his leadership. They wanted a ‘real’ conservative, but accepted McCain as the only viable choice in the ’08 field.
By the 2012 cycle it was clear to conservatives, that Obama was a terrible president. Pick someone decent and they’d win. The ‘establishment’ choice was clearly Romney. The primaries consisted of the base frantically searching for an alternative. Not finding one, they reluctantly listened to the party elders and accepted Romney. They didn’t trust him as far as actually being a conservative, but they were persuaded that he would win. And then Romney ran a tepid, squishy general election campaign and lost.
Twice the base set aside its reservations, ignored its instincts, and followed the party establishment and twice the resulting nominee had lost. The last, in what conservatives perceived—correctly or incorrectly doesn’t matter here—as a crucial and very winnable election. In November of 2012 it was clear that the race in 2015 – 16 was going to be a very bumpy ride indeed.
Thus, Jeb is carrying a duel legacy. He’s third in the Bush line and third in the McCain-Romney-Establishment Choice line. If you’re wondering why Bush has struggled, and you’re looking to how he’s conducted his campaign, pause, put on the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again at top volume and consider what happened in 2012.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Quick Take on the New Foreword to What Is Conservatism?

For the thoughts of random taxi drivers there’s Thomas Friedman, but otherwise the best columnist going is Jonah Goldberg. If you don’t get his NR after dark G-File, sign up here http://www.nationalreview.com/newsletters . His new foreword to the re-released What Is Conservatism is typically interesting. However, I think he slightly misses the mark in his conclusion when he writes “Fusionism is a failure if one looks to it as a source for what to think. But it is a shining success if one sees it as a guide for how to think.”

Now in what follows there lurks a rather glaring contradiction. In arguing that a book of this kind which doesn’t tell you what to think is not really a failure I am inevitably telling you what to think. And since I have no idea how to resolve this contradiction, I’m just going to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

But in what I take to be a work of political philosophy I’d argue that how to think is the correct criteria. One thing I’ve taken from reading Oakeshott is that the conclusions of a philosopher are less important and of less interest than how the philosopher arrives at those conclusions. Like math lessons, there’s no credit if you don’t show your work. And I am reminded of the many Firing Line answers given by William F. Buckley in the form of “for the conservative there is a presumption in favor of…………”

To be sure, we don’t start from zero, and it is safe to say we can eliminate communism, fascism and their like from consideration. But for 99% of our political discussions it strikes me that truth statements are of the asymptotic [still borrowing from WFB here] variety. In that range, how to think is more conservative, as I understand it, than what to think.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book Review-The Edwardian Crisis; Britain 1901 - 10

"By the early 1900s the two major parties were in danger of fragmenting under the weight of internal and external pressures."
It could be argued that a proper political education is at least as much a historical as a doctrinal one. The distance of time affords a more dispassionate, no dog in the hunt, perspective. For modern conservatives the beginning of the twentieth century is of interest because a) it seems to be the period in which the realized ideal of a limited state came to an end, and b) it was an unusually tumultuous period politically. In short, from the perspective of 2015, the question of what happened naturally arises.

David Powell's The Edwardian Crisis is framed as a reconsideration of George Dangerfield's The Strange Death of Liberal England (a book recently cited by the columnist Michael Barone) but it stands easily on its own. Whereas Dangerfield's account of the period reads like a flamboyant prosecutor's brief, Powell's has the feel of a judge's summary. The Edwardian Crisis also covers more ground in a 173 pages than Dangerfield does in 363.

Before delving into the specifics of the four 'crises' Powell considers the Victorian legacy and the issue of poverty. The economic success of the former "generated rising expectations about the level of future comfort" which were later thwarted when price inflation outstripped wage increases. The awareness of poverty increased at the same time via reports and sociological studies resulting in tentative reform measures which in turn generated a "administrative tradition of reform...with civil servants and Whitehall experts working behind-the-scenes." Poverty, for Powell, is the focal point for the subsequent 'crises'.

The crisis events for Dangerfield and Powell are 1) a constitutional crisis over the boundaries between Parliament and the House of Lords, 2) suffragism, 3) labor unrest, and 4) Irish Home Rule. The first was arguably the most consequential, affecting the others, while the last was probably the most dangerous.

The constitutional dispute came about when the Lords, in contradistinction to the tradition of not touching finance bills, struck down the 1909 "Peoples" budget. While Dangerfield presents this as the Unionist/Conservative dominated Lords outrageously thwarting the Liberal Party's budget, Powell is typically more measured. Powell notes that "the 1909 budget was the hinge upon which the social reform programme of the New Liberalism turned. It established the principle of using the budget as a means of raising finance for new areas of state spending, and of redistributing wealth". And he observes that by the later, agreed to, understanding the 1909 budget would not have been considered a finance measure.

The resolution of the constitutional crisis after two elections and an agreement that the House of Lords could delay, but not stop parliamentary measures passed unchanged three times, opened the way for the suffragism and Home Rule disputes, by eliminating the Lords as a blocking agent, and in the latter case making the Liberal Party dependent on the Irish Nationalists. It is in regard to the labor crisis that Dangerfield's account is superior in that he focuses on strikes, labor unrest, and the rise of national unions across occupations in the form of the Triple Alliance, whereas Powell spends roughly half his pages on the Labour Party. Surely it is the potential of a consolidated, general strike that presented the greater legal and societal challenge. But this is to quibble, and Powell in each chapter's summation is masterful in bringing up the multi-dimensions and cross-currents at play in each of the disputes for all those involved.

So why read a book about events 100 years ago in a different country who's findings the author admits are "necessarily equivocal". First, it's just a good read, which ought to be enough. Second, there is scarcely a page which is absent something that will be strikingly familiar to the current observer of American politics, foremost the sense of political actors being forced to resolve issues without any good options available. And finally, there is perhaps the cautionary idea of how vulnerable a political system is when the participants play the game without any restraint. Who was it that observed that "history may not repeat, but it rhymes"?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Democrats 'Debate'

There was playoff baseball on so I only watched snippets of the Democratic debate. My impression and the seeming consensus from my twitter feed, from a distinct conservative bias, was that it was generally a logical and policy train wreck. But to me the defining moment was when Hillary gave her the Benghazi Committee is nothing but a vehicle to persecute me, the people don’t care about my emails answer, and Bernie Sanders responded by echoing the sentiment followed by the debate crowd standing in applause.

First debate, FIRST DEBATE!!! and the Democrats are already circling the wagons. It was a demonstration of tribal solidarity that would’ve made the Mongols proud, if the Mongols were a notably tight knit tribe. It brought to mind the, highly critical, observation made by the late Herbert Stein who noted in regard to our public discourse that “things people say are not meant to be measured on the scale of truth. They are only signs by which one indicates which team one belongs to like the “identification-friend-or-foe’ warnings warplanes emit.”

Too true Herbert, too true. If you’re a conservative and took comfort in the ramshackle quality of last night’s debate, you haven’t been paying attention.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thoughts/reaction to an interesting J. Goldberg - T. Burrus discussion

A very intelligent conversation/interview with a conservative-libertarian focus between Jonah Goldberg and Trevor Burrus can be found here: http://www.libertarianism.org/media/free-thoughts/ideological-dorks#.8ukcd9:F0rz . There is enough to chew on here for multiple posts, but I wish to consider at least a few of the points discussed.

Towards the beginning of the interview Jonah talks about why attempts at a conservative slanted Jon Stewart type program have failed. His answer is a nice example of modes. Comedy fits within the poetic mode, that is something done for the thing itself. In contrast, the practical mode is all about transforming a current condition, to do x in order to bring about some improved change in circumstance. The failure that Jonah notes is the practical mode being applied to what should be a poetic mode activity; it is an ignoratio elenchi or a category error. And another example of the same error can be found in Lenny Bruce, when his standup routine became a vehicle for his re-litigating his legal difficulties.

At one point Jonah says that “fusionism is philosophically flawed” and it would be interesting to know what he means by the term philosophical flaw. In On Human Conduct—and elsewhere—Michael Oakeshott posits two ideal poles of government, civil association and enterprise association and makes clear that he considers that one without the other is untenable. Goldberg states that he’d accept (right word?) libertarianism if it weren’t for foreign policy and children. Oakeshott’s civil association is akin to a libertarian government and it is clearly his preference, but he notes it is incapable of defending itself and I believe he also thinks the poor are a problem for civil association (my guess is that he would consider children in regard to politics to come under the umbrella of their parents/guardians). So would Mr. Goldberg regard this indeterminancy, that political activity takes place between two ideal poles, as a “philosophical flaw?”

Towards the end of the interview, the host brings up a George Lakoff statement that “the problem with liberals [read progressives] is that we’re too rational” and in large part dismisses it by saying “no one thinks we’re irrational.” I think Mr. Burress has missed the mark here in thinking that the contrast with “rational” is irrational. If Lakoff is using rational in the sense of rationalist than the oppositions are pragmatism, idealism, existentialism, etc and I think he’s pointing to a real and important flaw. For example, the progressive doesn’t acknowledge Chesterton’s fence, because guided by rationalism it is of no account.

Finally, Jonah Goldberg talks about the palpable, current discontent and brings up the almost across the globe protests in 1968. He suggests that the current situation is rooted in technology getting out ahead of where we are. It’s an interesting take and in many respects I probably agree. But perhaps influenced by Jacques Barzun, I think it indicates an era coming to a close. The understandings and beliefs which supported the modern world have been picked over so thoroughly that there is nothing left; the parasitical activity of thought has killed the host.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Obama's Misunderstood Foreign Policy

Has a president’s foreign policy ever been more misunderstood than Obama’s? He came into office with the goal of restoring America’s reputation in the world.  Why did that reputation need to be restored? Because the U.S. was an ignorant hyper-power as anyone in Davos or other parts of Europe could tell you.

So now with things heating up in Asia and Syria looking like a modern replay of Spain in the thirties—heh, let’s get in a little preseason warfare before the big one—people are saying Obama either doesn’t have a strategy [false] or that it’s failing [really, really false].

Look Obama knew that America couldn’t cease to be a hyper-power any more than John Kerry could stop chasing after a Nobel Prize. The task was to make the world see the value in America being a hyper-power and for that Obama turned to history:

“A government of this sort doesn’t have to be regarded as the agent of a benign providence, as the custodian of moral law, or as the emblem of a divine order. What it provides is something that its subjects (if they are such people as we are) can easily recognize to be valuable…They scarcely need to be reminded of its indispensability, as Sextus Empiricus tells us the ancient Persians were accustomed periodically to remind themselves by setting aside all laws for five hair-raising days on the death of a king.”

See? The only failure here is that Obama assumed you knew more history than you do. Sure we might lose Israel in the hair-raising phase, and some U.S. cities might be no go zones for a while, but you know, eggs omelettes.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Foreign Policy and a Pure Theory of Obama

“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” - investing adage

“His answer was that his style was a system, or upon system, or some such cant; and when a man talks of system his case is hopeless.” - Lord Byron, Letters

One of the jokes in the TV series The Big Bang Theory, is genius theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper believing he's taught himself how to swim in his apartment via the internet. Sheldon, who works in string theory, thinks actually jumping into a pool is unnecessary for knowing how to swim. Last week a Russian general gave the US an hour to get out of the way in Syria, an event which closely followed the concluding of what many consider to be a disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. The criticism has consistently focused on weakness and inexperience. While I don’t think this is wrong, I think it is missing something which makes it more not less disconcerting. That is the extent to which Obama’s foreign policy is abstract, a normative theory arrived at through pure reason. Sheldon as leader of the free world (minus the extraordinary intelligence).

In the statements in which the administration suggests that it knows Iran and Russia's interests better than they do, and references to the arc of history we are dealing with a kind of homo-politicos (latin?), an abstract and necessarily uniform conception of the nation state. And while the result is nowhere near as well developed as the crudest investment theory, it does remind me of Long-Term Capital an investment firm founded by Nobel winners which put into practice the Black-Scholes option pricing theory. Unlike Obama's foreign policy Long-Term Capital had a period of great success before going bust when (nice coincidence this) the Russian market misbehaved.

And this is why I think Obama's foreign policy being predicated in theory makes it especially dangerous. Chamberlain at Munich, Carter in the 70's is weakness, a misreading of the situation. But when events brought to light their mistake, they corrected. But the theorist is likely to respond by holding only more tightly to his/her theory as indeed LTCM went in search of more capital because their positions were right it was the market that was wrong [I'm somewhat unfairly simplifying here, it's actually more complicated than this].

In the introduction to the 2nd edition of Alien Powers; The Pure Theory of Ideology, Ken Minogue remarks:

"Ideology was deadly in the twentieth century because it spread the illusion that those in posession of ideological wisdom had found the secret of understanding society as a whole. Such wisdom transcended the limited points of view we had inherited from the past. The remarkable illusion shared by communists, feminists, many nationalists, and lots of other advanced thinkers was created by imagining that the contingent world we actually inhabit, with all its unpredictabilities, was actually a system. Systems are sets of mechanisms that work in scientifically explicable ways."
For allies and adversaries, the operative idea in America's current foreign policy IS weakness. But it is rooted in something else. Particularly in the Middle East and in our dealings with Russia we are seeing Obama's Pure Theory.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Jonah Goldberg interviewed; Fusionism & Federalism - post III

Over at Powerline.com Steven Hayward has posted two segments to date of his interview with Jonah Goldberg covering the topic of becoming Goldberg. The first segment is here http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/10/how-jonah-goldberg-became-jonah-goldberg-part-1.php and the second segment is here http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2015/10/how-jonah-goldberg-became-jonah-goldberg-part-2.php . At the end of the second segment [spoiler alert] Goldberg brings up the topic/idea of Fusionism and Federalism.

Fusionism for the uninitiated is the attempt, primarily identified with Frank Meyer, to reconcile conservatism and libertarianism within the larger American conservative movement. I take it that Goldberg is amenable to the fusionist idea and he provides the foreword to a recently re-released edition of Meyer’s book on the subject http://www.amazon.com/What-Conservatism-Classic-Leading-Conservatives/dp/1610171403/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444136016&sr=1-5&keywords=frank+meyer

And one thing that surprises me, at least a little, is that no one with fusionist inclinations has realized that this site’s house philosopher is very much a fusionist. There are multiple reasons for why the political philosopher Michael Oakeshott hasn’t caught on in America, but one of them is that he is difficult to categorize and this difficulty is attributable to his not fitting comfortably in either the libertarian or the conservative camp. Indeed, both of the recently published companion books that explore Oakeshott’s work contain essays on the question of whether he should be considered a liberal [classical/libertarian], or a conservative, and the debate over whether there is one Oakeshott or an early and late Oakeshott has within it something of the same dispute. In short, someone interested in the idea of fusionism could do worse than look to Michael Oakeshott [I would suggest something other than Rationalism in Politics].

As to Federalism, this goes back to my roots. It was a James Buckley speech titled A Plea for a Return to Federalism that prompted me to look into conservative thought. And yet despite my own conversion, I’ve come to the conclusion that the conservative emphasis on Federalism is largely a mistake. Not the idea itself, although I have some reservations, but as a way to grow the conservative flock. My objection is that the Federalism argument confuses cause and effect and thus it is a discussion that exists entirely within the conservative tent.

In Rationalism in Politics, Oakeshott identifies two general characteristics of the type:

“They are the politics of perfection, and they are the politics of uniformity…there is no place in his [the rationalist] scheme for a ‘best in the circumstance’, only a place for the ‘best’; because the function of reason is precisely to surmount circumstances….Political activity is recognized as the imposition of a uniform condition of perfection upon human conduct.”
Now I take it that Progressivism is thoroughly rationalist. The replacement of federalism with centralization is therefore form following function. A plea for Federalism is to focus on the result rather than its cause and as such is likely to fail.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Tough 100 Years for Conservatives - post II

I read The Strange Death of Liberal England 1910-1914 (see earlier post for a brief review) in large part because I like English history, even when it doesn’t include dragons. But for political conservatives the period covered should be of interest because at or around that time in numerous locales it seems a political transformation occurred. The liberalism that died in England is what Americans would consider conservatism. In 1913 with the election of Woodrow Wilson America had its first progressive administration.

Real or imagined an inadequacy was discovered in what may be roughly defined as american conservatism-classical liberalism.  In America and in Europe those political principles have been in a secondary role ever since. In America, as one would expect, it was a pretty fair fight in the beginning with Wilson giving way to Harding and Coolidge. But it has been a rout ever since, rising to the surface again here and there (Reagan/Thatcher) only to give way again.

Put differently, it seems a fair question to ask who has had a worse 100 or so years, conservatives or Cub fans and I think the answer is conservatives. To be sure, it isn’t a fair question. For one you get top draft picks for failing in major league baseball and there is more turnover in player personnel than in people’s minds. But it is interesting that the Cubs have recently taken a slightly different path by accepting bad years and focusing on developing a strong farm system. The future for Cubs fans looks pretty bright at the moment. I wish I could discern a similar change in approach in the conservative movement.

Friday, September 11, 2015

[Some] Sympathy for the Devils-post I

Of the myriad opinions offered up on the success so far of Donald Trump in the Republican nominee race, the only consensus is that it is the result of the failure of Republican leadership. Now, I’m far from a fan of either Boehner or McConnell, think both have been too cautious, especially since 2014, but I think this explanation for Trump is true only up to a point. Moreover, it is a point which adheres to a rather comforting but delusional trope that the fault is always with the politicians. Somehow in a democracy the voters never get what they want.

Now to be sure the relationship between constituent and politician in a democracy is a complex one. I’m not na├»ve enough to think that politicians can’t have and pursue their own ambitions contrary to the voters, but by and large I take politicians to have one real skill, getting elected. And getting elected means being able to gauge votes. In making a point about ISIL Charles Krauthammer observed that the cold war was won because it was pursued by the leadership of both the Democrat and Republican Party. True enough, but he left out that the faction in the Democratic Party that opposed that war didn’t dominate the party like it does now. The point? It wasn’t the leadership that has changed so much as the voters selecting the leaders.

If memory serves, it is in Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding by way of explaining the social unrest of the late 60’s that Pat Moynihan observes that frustration is the difference between expectations and results. Moynihan’s point was that the War on Poverty and other social initiatives of the Johnson administration greatly raised expectations, when actual conditions on the ground didn’t change very much the result was unrest, riots.

Alas, I think the Republican leadership explanation for conservative ills is another example of Moynihan’s frustration equation. Conservatives invested in conservative causes think the movement is far stronger than it actually is. During the Bush years I regularly encountered the notion that the US was a center-right country. I didn’t buy it then and I certainly don’t buy it now. In Obama’s first term I regularly read conservative opinion that seemed to think that if only the Republican leadership were stout enough the Obama agenda could be thwarted never mind that the Republicans held the House as against the Senate, the Executive, the media, and the culture. In the aftermath of the 2014 election there was column after column on how the Republican Party had never been stronger because of the gains made at the state level. Great, Republicans are now in a better position to decide whether to institute or not institute a health care exchange, to expand or not expand Medicare. Not nothing, but not exactly a formidable position of strength either.

Yes, Republican leadership is part of the reason for Trump. But I think more telling is that Trump wasn’t a conservative until yesterday, regularly makes political statements that are anything but conservative. Theatrics and frustration only covers all of this if you want it to, if you want the MacGuffin to be of no account. But looked at more soberly I think it suggests that even within the Republican Party conservative principles are only surface deep. Trump, and just about anywhere else you should care to look, should tell you that conservatism isn’t as strong as conservatives think it is. The first step in recovery is to admit you have a problem.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Is a Coup Unimaginable?

Catherine Rampell @crampell
what?? 29% of Americans overall, 43% of Republicans could imagine a situation in which they support a military coup?

There was a fair amount of attention paid to the above tweet yesterday. First to mind is to echo William Buckley and ask of the other 71% "what accounts for your lack of imagination?" Or to put it another way I’ve been able to imagine all sorts of exploits in my own life which have had a low probability of actually occurring. But it does touch on something I’ve been pondering for awhile.

As the Annales points out the outward structure of government can remain while the political system is being fundamentally altered. Something like that is, I think, occurring in the U.S. where a system predicated on the main governmental bodies, House, Senate, Executive, Supreme Court jealously guarding their own power has given way to party.

While the match isn't exact, it seems to me that the U.S. system is evolving, particularly on the Democratic side, to something like a parliamentary system. The House, Senate, and Executive have merged into the House of Commons with the President as Prime Minister. What is being lost in this change is the checks and balances that the Constitution assumes without the addition of break points, like votes of no confidence, that exist in the English system.

How does all of that relate to the tweet at the beginning? Well, I think that in by far the most likely House and Senate election result outcomes the removal of a president via the impeachment process is a dead letter. If the party of the president holds together, the president won't be removed. That makes other scenarios and actions easier to imagine.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Strange Death of Liberal England, 1910 - 1914

George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935) is a strange history book. Entertainingly written it is also impossible to take at face value, in part I suspect for reasons that make it entertaining. The liberality of England is based on principles of free trade, property, liberty, and respectability. In the period covered (1910 – 1914), the Liberal Party holds political power with Herbert Asquith as PM and David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in Cabinet roles.

The actual Liberal Party’ run ends during WWI when George broke with Asquith to form a coalition government, but Dangerfield’s thesis is that the actual break or failure occurred earlier with the outbreak of WWI bringing about a temporary reprieve.

What brings about this ‘death’ is the failure to deal with four main political issues, a constitutional crisis brought about by the House of Lords rejecting the government’s budget, unprecedented labor unrest with labor moving in the direction of a single union and a tactic of general strikes, Home Rule for Ireland, and voting rights for women. Dangerfield’s take on all of these issues is that liberal England and the Liberal Party failed on all of these challenges and there is a note of good riddance in the telling. But even within the offered narrative one senses this isn’t at all fair. Asquith is described throughout as passive, but it is apparent that he doesn’t have any good options. When every politician is viewed with disdain, every action sneered at, one gets the sense that something important is being left out.

What comes across is that the pillar of England that falls away--through claims too long delayed, anxiety, or boredom—is respectability. The agitators here are all playing without any restraint. Not surprisingly the political system isn’t able to cope. Sort of like America these days.

Trump, Carson, and the Art of Campaigning

There are two reasons for doubting what is to follow; 1) it hasn’t been brought up by anyone else, 2) my interest in the process of politics is almost non-existent, and 3) I’m not a political pro of any kind. That’s already three reasons, and doubtless there are many more.
That said, I think an overlooked aspect of what has happened in the nomination races to date is that it is telling us something about campaigning. I take it that campaigning is akin to an art form, and that all art forms by their very familiarity eventually wear themselves out. The conventions of the political campaign haven’t really changed over my adult life, if not longer, and the familiarity of this process has resulted in a certain disdain on the part of voters.

When I look at political campaigns I’m reminded of the James Bond film franchise which began at roughly the same time as the modern campaign (???).  The political form is now somewhere in the For Your Eyes Only to Pierce Brosnan stage. Trump and Ben Carson are succeeding for many reasons, but one part of their success is that they aren’t slavishly following the typical political script. In their very different ways each is presenting a more authentic—such as it is in Trump’s case—politician. There is a Daniel Craigish refashioning of the political campaign in this.  The opportunity to do much more along these lines, to use the web and other non-traditional media more is still out there. At some point, a politician like Rick Perry, who isn’t well served by the current form, will figure this out.

Monday, August 17, 2015

End the Torture, Golf Broadcasting Needs a Rethink

We’re through the four majors of the 2015 golf season. With a fresh crop of stars emerging with some obvious rivalries the competitive landscape appears bright. The golf fan would have much to look forward to if it wasn’t for the awful state of golf broadcasting which is anything but fresh. Apart from showing many more holes the approach to telecasting golf has barely changed in my lifetime and despite the majors being covered by three different networks there’s no discernible difference among those networks in how the game is called. The exception is the European Tour events which are quite well done.

You might think that the reason the Euro Tour is better is that the Brits just know how to call golf, but then there’s Nick Faldo, so that’s clearly not it. There is a certain unfamiliarity advantage. But I think the biggest advantage is that the Euro Tour is covered with a comparatively skeleton crew. Which leads me to the following thoughts on how to telecast golf (with the majors primarily in mind).

1. Less is more, a lot less is a lot more:
There is an extraordinary excess in the amount of commentary. At points we have a reporter on the ground, an announcer at that particular hole, the host, a lead analyst all intent on interjecting something onto the proceedings. Watching golf you come away convinced that the announcers are being paid by the word. More forgivable are the suitable for radio comments particularly for putts; he comes up short, that was right all the way…What is needed is little more than quick orientation comments of the Day, second shot on 14 variety. The presumption should be to say nothing rather than something. Pay announcers by setting a ceiling amount and then deducting for each word.

2. You’re at the event live. That’s your niche:
We now have 24 hour sports stations, and an entire channel devoted to nothing but golf. The one unique thing the telecast brings to the table is that it is live. For the love of God, SHOW SHOTS. Instead we get taped segments and after round player interviews, you know all the things already beaten to death, available elsewhere, inherently dull (has a player ever said anything even remotely interesting in a post round interview?).

3. We’re just not that into you:
Somehow our main announcers think they’re a big reason why we watch. Other than the intro, there is absolutely no reason to show the announcers. Worst of the worst here was Fox, which seemed to believe that we were more interested in watching their announce team sitting behind their desk discuss the tournament than actually seeing it.

This is also where we run into my first law of sports broadcasting; the more shtick, the earlier your sell by date. Gary McCord started on CBS in 1986. Do the math. Even David Feherty who I find really inventive and funny is starting to grate. And the hosts are all terribly over-exposed. I get quite enough Joe Buck in the football season, thanks.

4. More players are in contention than you think:
Remarkably the networks are still getting caught out ignoring a player who almost wins the event until the very end. In particular, last groupitis appears to be incurable. This is especially true during the early rounds when essentially everyone is in it. There’s simply no good reason to spend telecast time showing Phil walking, Phil standing, Phil discussing what to do with his caddie on a particular shot. At one point during the British Open we watched the player and spectators search for his lost ball. How ‘bout coming back to that when it’s resolved.

5. Enough with instruction:
I maybe alone on this (as opposed to all of the above?), but at least during the majors I don’t want playing tips and swing instruction. I get it, you know the game. But I can find all the golf instruction, and then some, in other venues. To repeat, you’re live, at the event. The tournament is the thing. At one point we had 3 or 4 Fox analysts tell us how they strike the ball when putting on dodgy greens. Since we can’t actually see that or know which players are doing one or the other that commentary tells us nothing about the actual tournament at hand.

The best stretch of announcing was actually delivered on Thursday or Friday of the U.S. Open in the otherwise terrible coverage of FOX. Late in the day and down to a small backup crew, FOX stumbled into something. Shane O’Donoghue, who’s actually a golf guy, was spare and unobtrusive in the host role and analysts Flesch and Pavin made single comments and moved on. It was almost enough to give a golf fan hope.