Lazy Sunday LXIV: Grab Bag

After taking last weekend off due to severe migraines, I’m finally getting back to normal.  My fever seems to be getting lower each day, so I’m praying it’s finally running its course.  I’ve also been trying to improve my diet, with less salt and more fruits and veggies in the mix.  That’s helped with my blood pressure a bit, though I still need to get that down.  Finally, I’m seeing a neurologist Tuesday afternoon just to make sure these migraines are merely related to my fever, so I appreciate your prayers.

For this weekend, I figured I’d just grab some different posts and throw ’em up.  These are some of my classics, posts that I think were pivotal in the history of The Portly Politico:

Here’s hoping my personal health and our nation’s health both improved markedly over the next few days.  Thanks for your patience this past week with the lackluster and brief posts.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Phone it in Friday VIII: Coronavirus Conundrum

It’s been another crazy week here in the world of yours portly.  The quarter is coming to a close, and I’ve got a mountain of ungraded quizzes and tests to slog through to appease the gods of higher education admittance.

Ergo, it’s time for a very special coronavirus (or “COVID19,” for your cool kids) edition of Phone it in Friday!

  • Tomorrow’s SubscribeStar Saturday will be a detailed rundown of what I’ve been doing to prepare for the extremely remote possibility that we all get quarantined in our homes and have to practice social distancing to avoid spreading the bug any further.  Here’s the short preview:  I bought a bunch of rice, beans, and spaghetti.
    • On that note, I’m yet again flummoxed by fears of everyday hunger in America.  Ten pounds of rice came to about $7; same with the spaghetti.  Twenty cans of beans cost around $12.  You can eat—maybe not well, but enough to survive and function—for a month for extremely cheaply.  Whining about “hunger” in the United States is a farcical outlier.
    • I am thankful to live in the United States, a country with the best medical system in the world, and the means to treat most diseases.  I’m optimistic that the virus will pass through quickly
  • Was it bat soup, or a Wuhan biological weapon?  Either way, I think we’ve seen the wisdom of the trade war with China, even though we weren’t anticipating something like a Chinese-created pandemic.  The coronavirus exposes the weaknesses and contradictions at the heart of China, and puts lie to the notion that this is a “Chinese century.”  I’ll be glad to be done with such rubbish.  The Chinese have come far, yes, but it turns out a totalitarian regime built on a culture of death and lying (“saving face”) can only snooker people for so long.
    • That doesn’t mean that China will no longer pose a threat.  Indeed, I believe China to be our biggest geopolitical competitor.  All the more reason to relocate industries back to the United States, or at least to friendlier countries like Vietnam, rather than deal with the Chinese.
    • For the best treatment of this subject, read blogger Didact’s essay “Corona-chan Comes for You.”  He spells out the economic threat of the coronavirus, and how the whole thing is likely the result of Chinese incompetence and the insane cultural concept of “face,” in which it’s better to lie (in the Chinese mind) than to risk bringing shame to your family.  Concepts like that make me glad to live in the United States.

My hope is that after all is done, China will be a pariah, no longer vaunted as a power on the rise, but maligned as a malicious, mendacious regime.

That’s it for this brief Phone it in Friday.  Wash your hands, stock up on dry goods, and stay healthy!

—TPP

TBT: The Human Toll of Globalization

One of the more interesting developments in conservatism since Trump’s rise in 2015-2016 has been a reevaluation of our basic economic policy.  Much of the ideas debated originated, in our modern political era, with Pat Buchanan.  For decades, the assumption among conservatism was that economic efficiency was the highest good, as it lowered costs and eliminated or reduced government overreach.

That was a reasonable set of assumptions when our nation shared a common culture, and when the United States dominated global markets hegemonically.  But the goal of reducing the size of government morphed pathologically into the mad worship of Efficiency above all else.  We sold out social capital—stable families, cohesive communities, robust civil society—for quick cash.

That’s the gist of Z-Man’s post today, “Middle-Man Conservatism.”  Tucker Carlson has similarly touched upon the woeful consequences of worshiping Efficiency-for-its-own-sake.  Sure, Americans possess a pioneering spirit—we’ll move to the oil fields in North Dakota if we have to do so—but we’re still motivated by the same things other humans are:  family, community, belonging.  Gutting our communities to save fifty bucks on a washing machine is a ludicrous trade-off.

Read More »

One-Way Cosmopolitanism

A major theme—perhaps clumsily conveyed—of yesterday’s post was that Americans should be able to keep their culture and local identity without shame.  As I noted, struggling rural communities are particularly susceptible to being swept away by large-scale immigration, legal or otherwise.  Thus, we see small South Carolina towns gradually hispanicize, turning into little replicas of various Latin American cultures, rather than the old Southern culture that predominated.

One often hears that Americans should be tolerant and open-minded to other cultures, and to extend maximum understanding and patience.  That is a generous and worthy view:  I don’t expect the Chinese foreign exchange students at our school to speak accent-less English and understand liberty their first day off the plane.  In that instance, we go out of our way to attempt to understand the cultural background from which those students came.

It’s another matter, though, when it involves the permanent or long-term relocation of foreign aliens to our land.  Remember the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?”  That rule always seems to apply to Americans—who are routinely criticized for being uncouth abroad—but never to any other ethnic group, and especially not to cultures outside of the West.

It’s an enduring frustration of mine:  one-way cosmopolitanism.

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Tom Steyer’s Belt

When I was in college, I formed this ridiculous pseudo-band with a suitemate of mine (who has, apparently, now gone down some dark roads) called Blasphemy’s Belt, which my bio on another band’s website refers to as an “electro-pop humor duo.”  I can’t remember how we came up with the name—our music wasn’t particularly or purposefully blasphemous (or good), and while we wore belts, they weren’t outrageous (just to keep our pants up)—but it was apparently catchy enough that people picked up on it.

The Belt never performed live, other than for an annoyed roommate, and a highly grating pop-up concert (at least, that’s what hipsters would call it nowadays) on our floor’s study room, but we generated enough buzz to get people to vote for us in a “Best of Columbia” survey in The Free Times.  We didn’t win anything, but it was an object lesson in how enough hype can make people believe you have substance when you really don’t.

That’s my self-indulgent way to introduce some literal navel-gazing—at Democratic hopeful and wealthy scold Tom Steyer‘s virtue-signalling, sanctimonious belt.

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TBT: Global Poverty in Decline

Yesterday I wrote about homelessness, particularly the sense that many “homeless” panhandlers are simply shakedown artists well-versed in emotional manipulation, guilt-trips, and implied violence or mental instability.

The United States enjoys incredible prosperity, unprecedented in history.  That prosperity doesn’t necessarily give our lives meaning—a key critique of traditionalists like my intellectual hero, Richard Weaver—but it’s probably a moral good to not have to worry about your ability to feed and shelter yourself.

But the United States is not the only beneficiary of wealth and abundance.  The rest of the world has enjoyed huge increases in quality of life since the end of the Second World War, and especially since the end of the Cold War.

So, contrary to Leftist myth-making, the United States has not kept the rest of the world down (and, by implication, is therefore morally responsible for taking in its impoverished, unassimilable hordes).  Instead, capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty.

That is the subject of this TBT feature, August 2018’s “Global Poverty in Decline“:

Regular readers know that I frequently cite pollster Scott Rasmussen’s #Number of the Day series from Ballotpedia.  I do so because a.) his numbers often reveal some interesting truths about our world and b.) blogging is, at bottom, the art of making secondary or tertiary commentary on what other, smarter, harder-working people have thought, written, and done.

Yesterday’s #Number of the Day dealt with global poverty; specifically, Americans’ ignorance to the fact that global poverty has declined substantially over the last twenty years.  Indeed, global poverty has been reduced by half in that time.

I’ll confess I was ignorant of the extent of this decline, too, although it makes sense that poverty has decreased, especially when you consider the rise of post-Soviet market economies in Eastern Europe and China’s meteoric rise since the 1980s.

I suspect that the perennial culprit of the Mainstream Media is to blame, in part, for this ignorance, coupled as it is with progressive politicians.  The rise of “democratic socialist” candidates—as well as the lingering effects of the Great Recession—would have Americans believe that the global economy is in terrible shape, and that “underprivileged” parts of the world labor in ever-worsening poverty (so, let’s just move them all here—that’ll solve poverty!).

It’s refreshing to see that capitalism is working its economic magic, and people all over the globe are lifting themselves out of poverty.  If representative republicanism and strong civil societies can take root and flourish in more places, the ingredients will be in place for continued economic and cultural growth.

Leftism in a Nutshell

You’ve got to admire the balls of the Left.  Yes, their wild policy prescriptions come from a combination of ignorance, wickedness, and magical thinking, but that doesn’t stop them from putting out some crazy ideas.

Take this piece from Gavin McInnes’s former rag, Vice:  “The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less.”  The headline says it all:  let’s just not work so hard, gah!

Naturally, click-bait headlines like that don’t tell the full story.  The “degrowth” movement the piece discusses is classic progressivism:  we should support a robust public transportation system and give generous welfare benefits so people can spend less time working.

The “degrowth movement” is an inversion of Obama-era economic thinking.  Recall the sluggish recovery following the Great Recession, and how Obama informed us that low-growth was the “new normal” we’d all have to learn to love in America.  Now that the economy is roaring under President Trump, progressives are flipping the script:  “oh, wait, too much growth is a bad thing because climate change!”

Like most Leftist economic ideas, it’s premised on denying people choice and subsidizing loafing with generous bennies:

Degrowth would ultimately mean we’d have less stuff: not as many people working and producing materials, so not as many brands at the grocery store, less fast fashion, and fewer cheap and disposable goods. Families would perhaps have one car instead of three, you’d take a train instead of a plane on your vacation, and free time wouldn’t be filled with shopping trips but with non-money-spending activities with loved ones.

Practically, this would also require an increase in free public services; people won’t have to make as much money if they don’t have to spend on healthcare, housing, education, and transportation. Some degrowthers also call for a universal income to compensate for a shorter work week.

I’m all about saving money and avoiding empty consumerism.  I’ve written that there is more to an economy than faceless efficiency units slaving away for plastic crap from China.  I’m not unsympathetic to the idea of taking more time for family and personal edification (as a good deal of the workweek is wasted in meetings and busy work).

But this “degrowth movement” is absurd.  It’s all premised on a government somehow funding a massive welfare state as the citizenry becomes less productive.  Even the sympathetic economist they interview for this ideological puff piece argues that cutting growth to reduce carbon emissions would only have a marginal impact environmentally, but would be devastating socially and economically.

It just goes to show you that the Left hates the idea of hard work.  For them, work is an imposition, and we’d all be better off enjoying endless relaxation and luxury.  It’s the seduction of never-ending childhood: a paternalistic state provides all the goodies so we can watch TV and pursue pleasure all day.

Work is ennobling.  It’s important to earn a living wage for honest, valuable, productive work.  But beyond that, work provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment (I think this is particularly true for men, although women derive great satisfaction from work, too, especially the difficult, important work of raising children).  There is an identity to holding a job, and a sense of satisfaction from doing that job well.

Can one enjoy a good quality of life by pursuing a more minimalist approach?  Yes, of course:  if anything, Americans spend far too much money, a good deal of it on empty baubles.

There is a simple joy to minimalism, and I enjoy “spending” money on savings (it’s very satisfying to watch savings and investments grow).  But subsidizing lollygagging and calling it “investing in infrastructure” is not the sign of a great nation or civilization.

They Live: Analysis and Review

Last night I watched John Carpenter’s 1988 cult smash They Live, which explains (along with a couple of hours of Civilization VI) why today’s post is late.  I’ve been eager to catch this flick for awhile, and a fortuitous chain-combo of RedBox coupons and special promotions had me streaming it digitally.  What a glorious age for instant gratification.

The basic plot of the film is as follows:  out-of-work drifter Nada (played by wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; the character is named only in the film’s credits) arrives in Los Angeles looking for work.  After landing a job on a construction site (the site manager says it’s a “union job,” but Nada lands the gig after asking if the Spanish-speaking crew is in the union, too), Nada meets Frank Armitage (Carpenter veteran Keith David), a black construction worker from Detroit, trying to earn a living for his wife and children back home.  Frank takes Nada under his wing, and they head to a soup kitchen shanty town.

While at the town, Nada notices suspicious activity in a nearby church; upon further investigation, he stumbles upon a box of sunglasses that allow him to see the world for how it really is:  a black-and-white world filled with subliminal messages like “OBEY” and “MARRY AND REPRODUCE,” as well as constant messages to “BUY” and “CONSUME.”  Money reads simply “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

More shockingly, some humans appear to be fleshless, bulging-eyed aliens, akin to zombies.  Piper figures out quickly that the horrifying creatures are not friendly, and he embarks on a shooting spree—which, of course, appears like a random shooting to everyone else.

It unfolds from there:  Nada convinces Frank—after a nearly-six-minute alleyway brawl—to try the glasses on for himself.  Seeing the world for what it is, the two join up with the small resistance, which is quickly smashed by the fleshless invaders and their human collaborators (which enjoy support from the media and law enforcement).  The film ends with the disruption of the device that keeps everyone “asleep” regarding reality, with terrifying (and humorous) consequences.

Much has been written about this film, as its not-so-subtle message of anti-commercialism is low-hanging fruit.  No less a scholar than Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek cites They Live as an influence on his understanding of ideology.  The film inspired street artist Shepard Fairey‘s famous “OBEY” stickers (another fascinating bit of pop culture detritus).

As such, there’s not much I can add, but I have some general reflections.  In the age of attempted Deep State coups and a political and media establishment at odds with the common man, They Live contains a certain relevance to culture in 2019 (if there really are subliminal messages in advertising, I wish there were some encouraging people to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE”; the message today is exactly the opposite).

The alien invaders manage to take control because they cut a deal with America’s elites:  give us access to your resources and cheap labor, and we’ll make you fabulously wealthy.  At a swanky dinner near the end of the film, aliens and humans toast their 39% return-on-investment.  Frank Armitage, disgusted, tells one human collaborator that he “sold out his own kind”; the collaborator says, “What’s the threat? It’s just business.”

That scene seems particularly relevant to 2016:  globalist elites were eager to serve up a deeply corrupt Hillary Clinton to continue to advance their goals of cheap labor and monochromatic global conformity.

Piper’s character, on the other hand, states his optimism early in the film:  “I believe in America.”  Even as a homeless drifter, Piper believes he can succeed if he just keeps working hard.  But he’s a man of principle—once he realizes the rigged game that’s afoot, he decides to beat them rather than join them.

Consider:  the latter option would be so much easier.  Betray your own people—humans, or, in the context of the 2016 election, Americans—for a distant, indifferent, self-aggrandizing elite, and reap the rewards.  But Piper—a loud-mouthed wrestler—fights back.  He wants a fair shake for himself and his countrymen, not a rigged system at the expense of his fellow humans.

His methods are comedic and clumsy (a hallmark of another Carpenter classic, Big Trouble in Little China), but he manages—against all odds—to make it to the top of the alien-collaborator hierarchy, ultimately bringing the whole thing down.  One can be forgiven for seeing in Nada President Trump’s historic, unlikely rise to the presidency in 2016.

That said, I shouldn’t take that metaphor too far.  Carpenter had no inkling in 1988 that Donald Trump would become president amid the crushing dominance of a politically-correct, Davos Man elite (although Trump discussed the possibility of a run at the time).  Carpenter’s message is a more heavy-handed cautionary tale about excessive consumerism and materialism.

There, however, some compelling fruits that have come from ignoring those warnings.  While globalization and capitalism have reaped huge financial rewards, they’ve come at the expense of Americans.  Frank’s line about betraying “your own kind” resonated heavily with me:  just as the human collaborators sold out their people to the aliens, our elites have sold out their countrymen and culture for cheap labor and cheap plastic crap from China.

We will always engage with art and culture in terms of our own experiences, though I would caution against excessive “current year” interpretations.  The film is a product of the 1980s.  That its message still seems so fresh is, perhaps, an indication of our culture’s stagnation since that glorious decade.

Nevertheless, They Live presents a timeless warning against sacrificing our patrimony for wealth.  Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver; was that “just business”?

***

So, is They Live worth watching?  Absolutely.  I had a blast even before Nada discovered the glasses (which is nearly half-an-hour into the film, or so it felt—it spends a lot of time showing his struggles to find a job).  The film contains the iconic line, “I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass—and I’ll all out of bubblegum.”

Roddy Piper acts the way wrestlers in 1980s films act, which is badly, but it’s perfect for his character, a man who is principled but driven by his id (and libido, with lethal consequences).  Keith David’s performance as Frank Armitage steals the show—he just wants to make money to support his family without any hassle, but is drawn into a fight he never wanted.

You’ll see some of the plot twists coming from a mile away, but the film is fun and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend you check it out.  Of course, I’m a big fan of John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favorite movies), so your mileage may very.  For $2.99, though, it’s worth the rental.

Trade War Favors the United States

Thanks to my dad for sending along this piece from stock guru and madman Jim Cramer about the trade war with China.  I’ve been writing a great deal lately about economics (including the “Lazy Sunday IX” and “Lazy Sunday X” compilations), and I share Cramer’s nuanced view of the trade war and Trump’s tariffsGlobalization of capital is not an unalloyed good.

Cramer gives a nuts-and-bolts rundown of this latest round in the trade war with China.  Monday saw a big selloff in the market, as investors panicked about China slapping tariffs on American goods.  As Cramer points out, the biggest loser is Apple, which is also reeling from a loss in the Supreme Court that will allow a class-action monopoly suit to go ahead against the tech giant.

The two other companies that will most be affected are Boeing and Caterpillar.  Cramer points out—as does President Trump—that there is a huge backlog of potential customers waiting to purchase jets from Boeing, and Caterpillar made a deal with the devil, so screw ’em.

Otherwise, the Chinese dragon looks a lot more like a paper tiger.  In addition to blocking imports of liquefied natural gas—like jets, a product that the rest of the world is clamoring to import from the United States—China targeted a laundry list of foodstuffs:

…[W]hen the Chinese unveiled their retaliation list it was pretty pathetic. I am going to list some of them because you are going to know how little ammo they really have. Here’s the guts of the list: beans, beers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rabbit meat, frog legs, almonds, cashews, apples, pineapples, dates, figs, mandarin oranges-mandarin!-hazelnuts, pears, macadamia nuts, whey as in curds and whey although curds aren’t on the list, eggs, butter, pasta, rice, corn, eels, trout, chickens, turkeys, peanuts, cakes, wine, wheat and then here’s some odd ones: televisions, DVRs, and cameras.

Note that those farm products are the necessities of life.  The production of televisions, DVRs, and cameras, as Cramer notes wryly, has been wiped out Chinese competition already, so they’re absurd non sequiturs.

I had a friend lament the collapse of the soybean farmers because of the trade war.  While I sympathize with the farmers, one could be forgiven for thinking this an example of missing the forest for the soybeans.  Someone else will buy the soybeans, and our generous farm subsidies will dull the pain of any major losses.

That’s all to say that soybeans and temporary market disruptions are a small price to pay to restore the American economy and to hobble China’s.  China is a far more serious geopolitical and economic threat than the Russian boogeyman (not to say Russia isn’t a threat), yet we’ve kow-towed to their authoritarian corporatism for decades, with ruinous results.

Yes, some products will cost more.  I spoke with a repair technician about doing some work on an old saxophone, and he said, “Your buddy Trump is why parts are so expensive.  As soon as the trade war started, prices for parts jumped 1000%.”  Based on the value he placed on my pawn shop Noblet, I’m assuming he’s engaging in a bit of genuine hyperbole.

Regardless, the technician lamented the decline of the once-great American instrument-making industry (huge in Elkhart, Indiana), saying that parts are made in China and other countries, with only a few horns still assembled in Indiana.  He mentioned, too, that Gretsch “sold its soul to the devil” as a result of cutting corners and relocating abroad to save costs.

Again, his fixation was on the high price of parts—but those parts could be made here again, at a higher-quality and lower cost.  Elkhart could once again become the global capital of instrument manufacturing, and saxophones wouldn’t be cheap, leaky Chinese toys.

In the short-term, the trade war will be painful for some investors (although Cramer argues that this latest round will calm down as early as today, with investors getting over their textbook-based fear of a Smoot-Hawley Tariff situation), and in the long-term, trade wars tend to produce only losers.

But in the Chinese case, it’s worth some short-term pain, and the disruption of reallocating resources, to regain our economic dominance against China.  Anything we can do to hobble their rise is a net benefit for the United States, East Asia, and the world.