Thalassocracy

The Internet is a funny thing.  Anyone that’s ever gone down a Wikipedia hole realizes that, pretty soon, that one thing you needed to look up can turn into a two-hour deep dive into barely-related topics.

It’s also weird.  There’s so much content—so much that we can’t really quantify it—you’re bound to stumble upon something interesting.  It is, perhaps, a sad commentary of the human condition that, given unlimited access to information and knowledge, we use the Internet primarily for mundane purposes, and frequent the same dozen websites everyday.

Of course, that’s also the problem of abundance.  People can’t handle that many choices, and there are only so many spare hours to cram in unorganized knowledge.

That’s how I came to stumble upon the topic of today’s post, thalassocracy, or “rule by the sea.”  I recently purchased a very nerdy space exploration strategy game called Stellaris (itself a recommendation from a member of Milo’s Telegram chat).  Stellaris has a steep learning curve, so it’s a game that basically requires the player to do homework to figure out what they’re doing (my race of peaceful, space-faring platypus people has surely suffered from my ignorance).

That homework assignment (no, seriously, it’s a fun game!) sent me down a rabbit hole on the game’s wiki, and one of the in-game events involves a group called the Bemat Thalassocracy.  I’d never heard the term before, and searched out its meaning.  That brought me to a website called Friesian, which is apparently a site promoting the philosophy of Jakob Friederich Fries, an eighteenth-century philosopher opposed to that ponderous windbag Hegel.  The website dates back to 1996, when it began as a community college website.

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TBT: Why the Hate for Space Force?

An unintended theme of the blog this week has been space, with two posts on our galaxy and our place in it (read “Galaxy Quest” and “Galaxy Quest II“).  One of the first posts I wrote on the blog urged the United States to expand into space.

So I was thrilled, understandably, when President Trump announced the creation of Space Force.  What a brilliant idea—and one that the ten-year old boy in me celebrated right away.  Diligent readers will know that I voted for Newt Gingrich in the 2012 South Carolina Republican Party, and donated $100 to his campaign after he promised to put a colony on the moonby the end of my second term.”

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#MAGAWeek2019: President Trump’s Independence Day Speech

It’s #MAGAWeek2019 here at The Portly Politico.  Each day’s post will be a SubscribeStar exclusive.  For a subscription of $1/month, you gain exclusive to each day’s posts, as well as exclusive content every Saturday throughout the rest of the year.  Visit my SubscribeStar page for more details.

I was not planning on writing about President Trump’s incredible Independence Day speech as part of #MAGAWeek2019, mainly because I try to keep these posts historical.  The speech was so powerful, though, and so educational in a historical sense, it and President Trump have earned a spot (alongside the president’s favorite food) as part of my annual celebration of American greatness.

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TBT: Transformers 2: Conservatives in Disguise?

For this week’s #TBT feature, I’m digging back, for the second time, to a very old post from 2009.  It’s about—of all things—the second movie in the modern Transformers franchise.  Yeesh.

Anyway, the point of the essay—and its cringe-inducing navel-gazing—is that a government bean-counter does everything he can to wield his meager bureaucratic power like a little dictator, in the process undermining the unsteady alliance between the good Autobots and the US military.

It reminds me of Ghostbusters, when the functionary from the Environmental Protection Agency comes and shuts down the containment unit—the one holding all the captured ghosts—because it’s using too much energy and might represent an environmental threat.

Think about that for a minute, and reflect on how awesome the 1980s were—the Zeitgeist was such that the minor villain was guy who worked for the EPA.  Even left-leaning Hollywood razzed busy-body government employees during the Reagan era.

Regardless, enjoy this blast from the past, an example of a trend in Conservatism, Inc. of reading into films a conservatism message (except I was probably right on this one):

Earlier today I saw Michael Bay‘s highly-anticipated (and critically-panned) Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Prior to seeing the movie, I had no intention of writing a blog about it. Although films are occasional inspirations for my essays (see my article about the lack of strong African-American fathers, which I wrote after seeing Boyz n the Hood), I never imagined that Transformers 2 would be the subject of one of my blog entries because I don’t write straight-up reviews. Honestly, I figured it would be exactly what it is: a steady stream of explosions, robots, and mass destruction.

What I didn’t count on was that it would only be what I expected 99% of the time. That other 1% is the focus of this essay. Like the first Transformers film, Transformers 2 spent a great deal of time covering the U.S. military and its interactions with and against the various transforming automatons. Generally speaking, the soldiers are characterized as normal and basically decent–they want to do what is best for their country and they want to protect the weak and innocent, but they will follow the civilian authority of the Constitution.
In Transformers 2, however, I noticed a more overt, though still very, very subtle, endorsement of conservative politics–or, at the very least, a critique of modern liberalism. I don’t want to read too much into this (well, actually, I do), but there are several moments during the movie when the misinformed meddler, the entity trying to put the kibosh on the Autobot-military alliance, is a mealy-mouthed government bean-counter who sees the Autobots as an alien menace that constitutes a risk to national security. Now, sure, action movies are overflowing with literal-minded government stooges and opportunistic politicians who are always putting up a wall of red tape that is harder to break than the concrete bunker our hero just crashed through on his motorcycle. The key difference in Transformers 2, however, is that the government stooge in question is acting under direct orders from the president, who is explicitly identified as… Barack Obama (one news report states that “President Obama has been relocated” to a bunker somewhere in the Midwest).
Not evidence enough? At one point, this pencil-pusher makes a point straight out of the Obama foreign policy playbook: let’s try to negotiate with the bad guys. Maybe we can talk out our differences and everyone can live in peace. When the bureaucratic boob said that, I almost fell out of my seat. I don’t know if Michael Bay or the writers of Transformers 2 were intentionally making this point, but for this chubby conservative the implications were loud and clear: Obama and other liberals who demand negotiations before resorting to force against overtly hostile, dangerous opponents are fatally off base and out-of-touch. The president’s puppet makes the point that the United States should not be involved in the civil war of an alien race in the first place, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is anyway. The United States, the filmmakers seem to be suggesting, has a responsibility to aid the Autobots against the new Decepticon menace, whether it likes that obligation or not, and the proposed policies of Obama and other liberals in foreign relations are potentially devastating.
Besides a subtle endorsement of a neoconservative foreign policy–or at least a more realistic approach to foreign threats–Transformers 2 is, as I have mentioned, heavily pro-military. The film depicts soldiers as law- and order-abiding citizens who, even if they don’t like it, abide by civilian authority. This is a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood fare, which casts soldiers in the light of threats to democracy and as right-wing gun nuts who want nothing more than to seize control of the government themselves. While we should have a healthy wariness of the military as a potentially repressive arm of the federal government–a wariness that dates back to colonial America and that is most evident in the writings of Thomas JeffersonTransformers 2 makes it clear that the U.S. military is a military of dedicated civilian volunteers who value and fight for freedom. They are not professionals who ride roughshod over the freedoms of others, be they Americans or foreigners. In fact, the U.S. military works closely with several Middle Eastern governments in the film, including the Egyptian and Jordanian militaries. In one scene, when a Jordanian helicopter is grounded by a Decepticon, American soldiers aid the fallen foreigners. This is not the unilateral, oppressive, quagmired military we hear so much about in the media; this is a dynamic, humane force made up of regular, freedom-loving Americans.
This brings me to one final point, a point I’ve been mulling over for awhile. We are constantly told that wars are started by the elite and fought by the poor; that wars are little more than opportunistic struggles or, even worse, the effect of some perceived slight or random occurrence; that war is rarely right or even necessary. In different times and in different places, many of these assumptions were true. Wars in the past were started by absolute monarchs or power-hungry tyrants, while they were fought by loyal vassals or downtrodden peasants.
In the United States, however, this is not the case. We live in a society where the people, at least in theory and, cynics aside, very much in practice, have a say in the functioning of government. Whatever slogan-spouting liberals will tell you, their bumper-sticker philosophy is severely flawed and misinformed. If the United States goes to war against a hostile power or terrorist group, it is because the people have given their approval. Foreign policy is, admittedly, concentrated in the executive branch of the government, which means that the president and the Secretary of State have a great deal of influence in deciding its direction. Any president hoping to keep his office, however, is going to be careful in how he deals with foreign policy.
Therefore, the traditional criticisms levelled against war are at best incomplete and at worst obsolete, at least when applied to the United States. There is still a great deal of debate about whether or not the United States should be the world’s police officer; regardless, wars are not foisted on unwitting dupes by a greedy elite in America.
This claim is a bold one, but I stand by it. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not have been fought and would not have endured so long without significant support from the American people. Now that support is beginning to wane, serious questions are being asked about America’s future role in those countries, but we are seeing a huge amount of popular outpouring for the people of Iran, who are currently struggling against their sham of a government. President Obama’s “let’s-talk-it-out” approach to foreign policy is not enough when facing a regime of authoritarian thugs.

Veterans’ Day 2018, Commemoration of the Great War, and Poppies

The following remarks were delivered to the Florence County Republican Party at its 12 November 2018 monthly program, which was dedicated to honoring veterans.

Yesterday Americans, Europeans, and the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, what we call the First World War.  The Armistice that silenced the guns of one of the most brutal conflicts in human history was signed in the wee hours of 11 November 1918, but did not take effect until 11 AM—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  That bit of numerical symmetry, while memorable, cost an additional 2738 lives, with 10,944 casualties—a pointless denouement to a destructive war.

Peace would ultimately come to Europe—after three prolongations of the Armistice—in 1920 with the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles (the United States, refusing to join the League of Nations, negotiated a separate treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Berlin, in 1921).  That treaty, which the Germans called the Diktat because of its severity, and because it pinned the war solely on the German Empire, was a reflection of the Armistice signed three years earlier.

In preparing tonight’s remarks, I came across an article that describes the first meeting between Marshall Foch, the commander-in-chief of the Allied forces, and Matthias Erzberger, a middle-aged German politician who had come to sue for peace.  The Frenchman looked stonily at the German peace delegation, and said, “Tell these gentlemen I have no proposals to make.”  Rather, Marshal Foch had a number of demands to issue, thirty-four in total, including Germany’s agreement to pay heavy reparations.

In hindsight, we know the folly of trying to squeeze blood and treasure from the turnip that was a starving, reduced Germany—and the radicalism it, in part, inspired.  But we have to understand, as best we can, the bitterness and weariness the Great War wrought.  Millions of men in Europe had lost their lives, or were maimed for life, fighting in the war.  The republican governments of France and Britain were not willing to accept peace without something to show for it; their people (and voters) would not have accepted it.  Indeed, Marshall Foch told his staff he intended “to pursue the Feldgrauen [field grays, or German soldiers] with a sword at their backs” until the moment the Armistice went into effect.  One cannot help but wonder that the fighting in this final hours was motivated, in part, by a mutual bloodlust, and an opportunity to settle scores one last time before the clock struck eleven.

From the grime and death of the Great War, however, grew new hope—a hope for peace, yes, but also a hope that humanity could avoid such a devastating conflict again.  That hope—and the enduring hope for a world built on peace and understanding—is poignantly symbolized in the flowering of the churned up “No Man’s Land,” the pock-marked area between Allied and German trenches.  Immortalized in Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” poppies were first flowers to bloom in that graveyard of Western civilization.  To this day, the crimson of the poppies serves as a reminder of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries, and that even in death, life endures.

I will close this somewhat grim Historical Moment with a brief reading of that poem; it can commemorate the men there far better than I:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.