Category Archives: media

How Network Foretold the Age of Fake News

For better or worse, we now live in a 24/7 news cycle. More importantly, the information you consume says everything about your moral fiber according to the woke intelligentsia. When the news that long awaited Mueller report was finally complete and submitted to the DOJ, you could predict how the findings would be received simply based on which side of the Trump ideological border wall you’ve located yourself. Even if you’re not full on MAGA, there is a significant contingent of independents, libertarians, classical liberals, dissident rightists, and even a couple of lone progressives who hold a skeptical view of the news media. Like clockwork, William Barr’s release of Mueller’s statement was perceived through completely different lenses by these two factions. For anyone in the media skeptic contingent, there was vindication. Of course Russiagate was a hoax. Of course it was initiated by the Obama administration and carried out by a cabal of deep state partisans intent on undermining Trump’s presidency. Of course the media were packed with neocons, DNC shills, and deep state assets who were far more invested in an ideological agenda than journalism. Anyone not gripped by Trump Derangement Syndrome could recognize this.

For everyone else, it was merely more evidence that the conspiracy to undermine #OurDemocracy was deeper than anyone could imagine. Maybe the Russians even got to Mueller himself! What should have been a moment of self-reflection and contrition became an opportunity to double down. There has always been an ideological divide, but it appears that it is more pronounced than it has been in recent years. Perhaps more importantly, the media have been unmasked as the partisan activists they are. The degree to which they actively foment this division is now glaringly obvious. To be sure, there are numerous examples of yellow journalism that predate the Trump administration, but what’s different now is that the once vaunted “fact checkers” are being fact checked in real time. The “fake news” meme that originated in Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a weapon against Trump has been hurled back in their faces. And nothing is more beautiful than dishing back the scorn that is so routinely heaped upon the average Americans whom the media elites hold in such abject disdain.

The funny part is that Hollywood has exposed the media aristocracy as the mendacious grifters they are on numerous occasions. Films function on multiple levels and there are a handful of films which pull back the curtain and reveal the machinery of power in all of its depravity. Sidney Lumet’s scorching satire of television news media, Network, is such a film. However, Network goes a step further. It is properly seen as a piece of predictive programming or revelation of the method. With the possible exception of its pitch black ending, every aspect of the film has played out in the real world in ways that match or surpass its wildest moments.

Released in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, Network captures the television news establishment at a crossroads. In William Holden’s aging news executive, Max Schumacher, we have an archetype of dying media integrity. Max is old school. He became president of the news division in a world where the idea of an independent, objective media free from the corrupting influence of the ratings rat race and advertising dollars was sacrosanct. The news division was a loss leader on the corporate balance sheet. News was a sober affair untainted by cheap sensationalism. But Max’s moral compass withers when tempted by the sexual charms of vapid ladder climber Diana Christensen and the opportunity to usher Howard Beale into the wide world of political commentary. Max’s affair with Diana is portrayed as consensual, but the recent exposes of Matt Lauer and Les Moonves suggest that the real world of network television is a little more predatory than Lumet and company represented. Today, media executives like CNN’S Jeff Zucker make no bones about their muckraking agenda nor do they hide their attempts to silence independent voices who have an opposing editorial POV.

In Faye Dunaway’s Diana Christensen, we have a feminist power fantasy, an emotionally stunted sociopath imprisoned by her pursuit of success, and an architect of the reality TV/social media celebrity. Not only does Diana champion Howard Beale’s transformation into a television prophet, she engineers the celebrity of a group of Marxist revolutionaries. When Diana sees footage of the Ecumenical Liberation Army, she sees a ratings bonanza. Diana’s legacy is felt in every corner of the mediasphere. Simply smooth out the Marxist militancy, add lipstick, Louboutins and a middle class Latina, and you’ve got AOC. Just look at the money and fanfare she’s gotten from the Hollywood establishment and one can reasonably conclude that Lumet was revealing the extent to which the Leftist “revolution” is a completely manufactured farce. In short, Diana Christensen would be the one who green lights Jussie Smollett’s “interview” with Robin Roberts.

Howard Beale unwittingly begins his career as a commentator simply for deviating from the antiseptic “reporting” he was required to do. Beale was conceived as a Cronkite-esque anchorman who imbues the broadcast with gravitas. Nowadays, Beale’s analogue is a robotic stuffed suit like ABC’s David Muir. A braindead automaton who is trained to read a teleprompter with the requisite dramatic inflections in his voice in order to convey an impression of Serious Reporting. In Beale, we also see the origins of the blurred lines between editorial and journalism. It’s not that Beale was dishonest, it’s that he gave a voice to disaffected Americans who knew they were being plowed under by the system. He simply put all of the impotent rage, frustration and sadness over the state of the world on loudspeakers.

Seen from a progressive perspective, Beale is nothing more than a proto Alex Jones or Sean Hannity. A more honest appraisal of Beale’s legacy would also include Bill Maher, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Cenk Uygur and even Rachel Maddow. As much as CNN and MSNBC like to tout their fearless pursuit of #FACTS, the truth is that everyone filters reality through a set of moral and emotional receptors. Journalism is not just a clinical recitation of facts. Facts all by themselves don’t tell a story. Every journalist worth his salt is attempting to insert his investigations into a larger narrative mosaic. The types of questions you ask or don’t ask, the manner in which facts are framed or omitted, and the extent to which weaponized language is used all contribute to the audience’s ability to process the information. The story that’s being told emerges from a set of preconceived moral and ideological presumptions. And ethics can be bought and sold. UBS didn’t care what Beale said when they saw the ratings. They only cared when he encouraged his audience to thwart the deal between the parent company and the Saudis.

The true masterstroke of Network is the scene when Beale is called on to the carpet by CEO Arthur Jensen. After Beale’s “Mad as hell” diatribe, Jensen’s monologue is a close second. Chayefsky and Lumet pull back the curtain on the full agenda behind the entire mass media complex: global domination. It’s about total pacification and technocratic servitude. Jensen informs Beale that he hasn’t just scotched a business deal. He’s “meddled with the primal forces of nature”. Even after Jensen lays down the law, Beale continues to drop truth bombs.

Howard Beale: Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people, and that’s why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died. Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communications Corporation of America; there’s a new chairman of the board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy’s office on the twentieth floor. And when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?

But it’s just a movie, right?

Nope. Fast forward to the present day.

In the wake of the most exhaustive federal investigation of a POTUS in modern history, half of America still thinks Trump is guilty of colluding with Russians. Motherfucking half!
Bill Maher says he knows Trump is guilty because…wait for it…..he has a television!

Howard Beale was right.

Network may be regarded as a satire, but both Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky were deadly serious. Isn’t it ironic that we have to look to entertainment for truth and news for comedy?

Advertisements

The Post (2017)

Most of Steven Spielberg’s directorial output falls into two broad categories. Big budget popcorn blockbusters like Back to the Future and Ready Player One in one group, and quasi-historical agitprop like Schindler’s List and Amistad in the other. While they both serve the same political goals, the films in the latter category are easier to dissect because they aren’t veiled in fantasy or sci-fi symbolism. Released a mere year into the Trump presidency, anyone who isn’t already on board with Spielberg’s politics can smell the agenda behind the film a mile away. Simultaneously a softball primer on the Post’s role in exposing the Pentagon Papers and a love letter to the movie’s namesake, The Post amply demonstrates Spielberg’s mastery of the medium. Though one gets the impression that Spielberg more or less phoned this film in, it is a surprisingly satisfying drama on its own terms. It is also a cunningly deceptive work of progressive propaganda. If we take the case that even when making historical dramas Spielberg is revealing occulted truths underneath the exoteric editorial, The Post reveals a lot about the true nature of the DC power structure.

The film traces the events that occurred between Daniel Ellsberg’s theft of the Pentagon Papers from the Rand Corporation archives up to the Post’s coverage of the report and subsequent Supreme Court exoneration. The drama of the film centers around the tensions that arise when a sedate establishment paper like the Post exercises editorial courage and actually lives up to its assumed mandate to hold the powerful accountable for their actions. As WaPo heiress, Kay Graham, Meryl Streep is the tentative-but-determined publisher and widower trying to negotiate a path forward for the paper. While trying to reconcile the competing aims and advice of Post chairman, Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts), editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and board member, Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Streep is plying yet another tiresome spin on the Beleaguered Womyn Standing Up to The Patriarchy.

As the film opens, we are plunged into the war torn hellscape of South Vietnam in 1965 as it’s seen through the eyes of high level Pentagon bureaucrat and assistant to Secretary of Defense, Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg knows the war effort is a failure and all their attempts at technocratic administration have had no effect. Disaffected with the lies being spewed by Robert McNamara, Ellsberg returns to the employment of the Rand Corporation and uncovers reams of research performed by his employers that reveal just how much had been hidden from the public over several administrations.

In 1971, New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan ran the first article exposing the leaked papers and was subsequently throttled by the Nixon administration in court. Cowed by the iron fisted tactics of the White House, the leadership of the Post were at first reticent to pursue what was obviously an explosive story. Driven by a sense of journalistic duty, Post reporter, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), goes on a tireless search for Ellsberg in a world without internet connectivity or cell phones. After communicating through presumably untapped phone booths, the two meet in a secluded hotel room and Ellsberg hands him the 7000 page trove. As he flies back to DC, the stewardess innocently asks about the giant box occupying the adjoining seat. “Just government secrets”, he quips.

As a viewer, you already know how things will resolve, but Spielberg masterfully crafts the dramatic beats. It remains engrossing throughout. However, just like Bagdikian’s quip, Spielberg is also putting a lot in plain sight that goes beyond what he wants you to see. For one thing, he is very clever about how he frames the moral conflict. When Bradlee presses Graham about the importance of maintaining the integrity of their role as members of the fourth estate regardless of whose feathers might get ruffled, Graham initially balks because of her close social ties with McNamara. To his credit, Spielberg is revealing the longstanding symbiosis between the progressive political establishment and their media lapdogs. At a crucial juncture in the film, Bradlee openly acknowledges the Grahams’ proximity to the highest echelons of the Democratic power elite.

Ben Bradlee: [to Kay] You know, the only couple I knew that both Kennedy and LBJ wanted to socialize with was you and your husband.

It’s a refreshing moment of honesty, but this is also a cinematic parlor trick. Just as Lincoln portrayed the Democrats as the villains, Spielberg again wants you to see this film as a fundamentally apolitical work upholding timeless truths and sacred American ideals irrespective of his obvious partisanship. After all, this is simply a quasi-historical account of an event which was damaging to Democratic presidents. Spielberg wants to show you how pained and tortured Bradlee and Graham were in weighing the decision to release the information that would be damaging to people in their social circles who also happened to be on the same political team as they were. He really wants you to believe that the WaPo of 2018 and all other establishment media outlets are just these selfless, intrepid truth seekers who would fearlessly pursue the truth even if it was damaging to a Democratic regime. Spielberg really wants you to think that all of these pampered elites are going to put everything on the line and hold the political class to account even if it disrupts their cushy lives, their exclusive access and their career fortunes. Ergo, you should trust the media to be just as fearless about holding both parties accountable regardless of which party occupies the White House or controls Congress. Right.

The central deception of the film is that it tries to paint WaPo and establishment media as independent actors. Who really thinks that the Washington Post under Jeff Bezos is really a completely neutral paper without an unspoken ideological bias? Who really thinks that the millions donated to Democrats and the prospect of a fat Pentagon contract aren’t tilting the coverage in one direction? Who really takes Jennifer Rubin and George Will seriously as honest conservatives?

And what about the Rand Corporation? Ellsberg gets painted as a hero for stealing the report and leaking it to the media, but is anyone asking what they’re up to in the first place? If you read the official line, it’s just a cutting edge think tank which just happens to attract the brightest minds from the military, intelligence and academic communities who are applying themselves to the world’s thorniest issues. If you scratch just below the surface, you find a collection of shadow technocrats and neocons who are agitating for expanding surveillance, global military intervention, weather manipulation and various forms of social engineering. When anyone discusses the “deep state” or the “shadow government”, it includes quasi-private, para-intelligence organizations like Rand. Who’s to say that the release of the Pentagon Papers wasn’t quietly authorized by Rand as a large scale psychological operation in the first place?

What’s really galling about The Post is just how predictably tone deaf Spielberg is to the cultural moment. Like his imperious cohorts and their servile, feckless sycophants, Spielberg is painfully oblivious to the media landscape of 2018. Since Trump announced his candidacy for POTUS, there has been an incessant and increasingly unhinged howl of fauxtrage from the ruling elites that someone who hasn’t been properly anointed has claimed the reins of power. He hasn’t hidden the fact that this film was meant as another broadside against Trump, but who’s going to come away from this film with a changed mind? Progressives will congratulate themselves for watching another movie which confirms their biases and conservatives will either ignore it or vent over Hollywood’s liberal agenda.

What’s perhaps most odious about The Post is that Spielberg has the audacity to continue to present progressives as the champions of press freedom and civil liberties. The media and political landscape of The Post is ancient history. Like everyone in Hollywood establishment, Steven Spielberg seems to hold the belief that there are people outside his echo chamber who need a history lesson on the importance of a free press and the dangers of executive overreach. The stupid rubes just don’t get it. Pay attention, you MAGA hat wearing degenerates. Steven Spielberg wants all you stupid peasants to just ignore the absolute monopoly progressives hold in media, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and academia and get really worried about the despotic overreach of Donald Trump. Just ignore the aggressive and punitive clampdowns of the Obama administration. Pay no attention to the fact that during the era in which this was set, the entire liberal counterculture predicated their movement on free speech First Amendment rights, but now cheerleads the multibillion dollar tech giants who openly censor and deplatform any opinion to the right of Bernie Sanders. Just disregard the fact that WaPo Executive Editor, Marty Baron, openly admitted that Trump was more accessible than Obama at the recent Poynter Ethics Summit. Just close your mind off to these inconvenient facts and focus all your attention on that ominous final scene and pretend that Trump is just a carbon copy of Nixon. Just luxuriate in this romanticized portrait of a bygone era where liberal virtue was a metaphysical certitude. Kind of like the way Wade Watts donned his VR goggles as he entered the Oasis in Ready Player One.

The Post takes its place alongside All The President’s Men and Spotlight as a subgenre of films in which Hollywood consecrates its fellow media brethren as eternal champions of truth and guardians of the American republic. It’s not that these media victories were inconsequential or untrue, it’s just that the one-sided agenda they serve is so blatantly obvious at this point. Will Spielberg ever make a film chronicling the years the media spiked or ignored Hollywood’s abuses? Will the cinematic adaptation of the Harvey Weinstein media story ever get made? Will Spielberg ever make a film which paints the sexual revolution in a bad light? Where’s the media’s aggressive investigation of the allegations contained in An Open Secret? Oh, that’s right. None of these exist because this would be damaging to the progressive establishment.

On the positive side, The Post’s historical details are outstanding and a shocking reminder even to me of how distant the technological world of 1971 seems. Telephones were devices plugged into walls and had rotary dials which required a small amount of physical exertion to operate. Newspaper print had to be laid out in typesetting machines and then put into production with giant presses. After the paper is printed, the bundles are loaded on to trucks through human chains of men. Sure, it still goes on to this day, but for how much longer? Shortly after Graham authorizes the printing of the story, the film cuts to Bagdikian cracking a wry smile as the rumble of his desk signifies the impending arrival of a historic journalistic scoop. And when the paper arrives, the whole world stops to read it. Maybe there’s something to learn from the analog world after all.

The Post is an enjoyable enough 2 hours of viewing, but I doubt anyone will look back on it as one of Spielberg’s best films. The fact that this film was fast tracked into production so quickly after Trump entered the White House says quite a bit about how deeply he’s agitated the ruling elites. In the film, Parsons excoriates Graham for putting the future of the paper at risk by publishing stolen top secret government documents. His concern that everything was on the line rang true. I suggest that Parsons’ anxiety offers a window of insight into the panic that has gripped the progressive establishment. Not because he’s the tyrant they continuously portray him as, but because he’s not in their Club. Sure, he’s a billionaire and everyone loved him before he went into politics, but since he entered the arena, he joined the Wrong Team. Making things worse is that he’s openly adversarial and calling out WaPo and all the other media lackeys for being the water carrying propagandists they are. Anyone who isn’t inside the progressive bubble knows this. And we certainly don’t need a patronizing cinematic lecture from Steven Spielberg in order to understand the virtues of a free press.

Firing Line Returns as Progressive Hugbox

In the annals of 20th century American conservatism, few legacies loom as large as William F. Buckley’s. For better or worse, National Review remains a pace setter and barometer of modern establishment conservatism. Aside from his oversight of NR and nascent spy novel career, Buckley further distinguished himself through his current affairs show, Firing Line. With his oddly captivating air of aristocratic sophistication and a demeanor which teetered between thinly veiled disdain and genteel charm, Buckley was a champion of the marketplace of ideas long before the “intellectual dark web” were a thing.

Though YouTube has already established itself as the most accessible venue to engage in the battle of ideas for content creators of every ideological persuasion, PBS and the Hoover Institute have decided to pretend they care about civic discourse with a reboot to the franchise. Featuring the eminently telegenic great granddaughter of Herbert Hoover as host, Margaret Hoover is attempting to extend Buckley conservatism into the 21st century with her exceedingly banal and toothless brand of “Center Right” Conservatism Incorporated.

Based on the extended interview she gave to Reason’s Nick Gillespie and the episode I watched featuring “democratic socialist” rising star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I’m hard pressed to identify a single position she holds which distinguishes her from the neocon, globo-capitalist, corporatist establishment. The opening sentence of her Wikipedia page describes her as “an American political commentator, political strategist, media personality, feminist, gay rights activist, and author.” Not exactly a set of descriptors that screams “conservative”. She comes across like another progressive in conservative clothing whose sole existence is designed to placate liberals who claim to listen to “both sides”. Appealing enough to watch, but devoid of any ideas that deviate from approved establishment orthodoxy. She seems right at home alongside other anti-Trump neocon shills like Jennifer Rubin and David Frum. The show itself also seems calculated to blunt criticisms that PBS is a captured propaganda arm of the Left. I was especially interested in this episode because I naïvely assumed that Ocasio-Cortez would offer Hoover ample opportunity to challenge her narrative and present a contrasting worldview.

I know. What was I thinking? This is PBS, after all.

Buckley had a knack for setting up the guest in a manner which simultaneously highlighted his august achievements while very subtly tipping his own hand. He was magnanimous, but he was editorializing while he did it. He could even manage very sly digs. By contrast, Hoover’s artless introduction of Ocasio-Cortez reeked of over the top fangirl praise and obsequious fawning. This seemed less an introduction and more of an extension of the gushing adoration that’s been heaped at her feet by the progressive establishment since winning the nomination of the New York 14th. As Hoover ratcheted up the swooning praise with each sentence, the camera would linger on Ocasio-Cortez’ blushing giddiness. Hoover even went full Teen Vogue by mentioning her ability to sell out lipstick, and Ocasio-Cortez giggled in gleeful affirmation. It was meant to be a lighthearted moment, but for this middle age curmudgeon expecting a hard hitting current affairs show, it set up a Girls Club vibe that was tonally wrong.

The interview that followed only confirmed this impression. Bill Buckley’s once venerable Firing Line has been repurposed as Progressive Hugbox. Hoover asked wide open questions which provided ample opportunity for cross examination, and failed at nearly every juncture to challenge or engage. Where Buckley took every opportunity to present a contrasting argument and even administer the occasional smackdown, Hoover seemed content to go through the motions and play pattycakes with her guest. The whole thing was one gigantic missed opportunity. Even someone as MOR as Ben Shapiro could have made Ocasio-Cortez break a sweat. Hoover, on the other hand, seemed mostly in agreement with Ocasio-Cortez throughout!

On “Democratic Socialism”

Of all the assaults on language and deceptive word games deployed by the Left, perhaps the most odious is the pernicious lie called “democratic socialism”. Progressives who embrace the inevitable endgame of their worldview fall into two camps. One camp is the “Real socialism has never been tried” crowd and the other is “Not Venezuelan socialism. DEMOCRATIC Socialism” crowd. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is in the latter camp. When Hoover wisely chose to ask her to elaborate on the meaning of the term, Ocasio-Cortez did not disappoint and delivered a doozy of vacuous piffle. In the hands of any ideologically grounded conservative or libertarian, this would have been a slam dunk. Anyone worth his salt could have torn her to shreds.

Democratic socialism is the value that in a modern, moral and wealthy society, no American should be too poor to live.

Since its earliest modern incarnations, socialism has taken root in the conscience of the Left precisely because it speaks to moral instincts and the eschatological inevitability of an egalitarian, secular utopia. Ocasio-Cortez has stripped out the fact that her utopian vision requires the instantiation of vast new bureaucracies and large scale redistribution. She blithely omits the fact that it also requires the guns of the state to implement and leaves only the rhetorical ear candy. Whether this is out of ignorance, dishonesty or stupidity, I cannot say, but it’s a glaring omission regardless.

With this statement alone, Ocasio-Cortez left herself deeply exposed. Hoover could have made mincemeat out of her right then and there, but instead, she allowed her to serve up more heaping portions of brainless drivel.

On the Economy

Ocasio-Cortez likes to tout her economic credentials on social media, but she exposed herself as yet another economic illiterate peddling fanciful tales of endless, large scale economic hardship and woe.

Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week, and can barely feed their kids.

Differences in skill level or ambition never enter into her calculus. Any disparities in outcome can be rectified by subsidizing college and pouring more money into the education bureaucracy apparently.

Along with her asinine claim that “everyone has two jobs”, Ocasio-Cortez’ assertion was thoroughly disconnected from reality. EVERYONE? Really? Again, Hoover could have eviscerated these claims, but she opted to let this steaming pile to stand unchallenged. I can’t imagine Buckley doing the same.

On Immigration

On the issue of immigration, Ocasio-Cortez predictably leaned on boilerplate progressive clichés and platitudes.

Hoover blew it again by completely bypassing her STATED intention to abolish ICE. Instead of taking the claim at face value and challenging her on the specifics of the plan, Hoover punted and asked her simply to expound upon her vision for broad based immigration reform.

To Ocasio-Cortez, every immigrant is a potential food truck entrepreneur or bodega owner, there is no downside to immigration, there are no issues of assimilation with which to contend, there are no criminal elements, and there are no standards that should be applied. It’s just one big multicultural Wonderland. But perhaps this is consequence of American republicanism taken to its fullest conclusion. It may be impossible to impose constraints or uphold standards on a collection of abstract principles that sanctify human liberation and equality.

However, on this subject, Ocasio-Cortez actually revealed a new and heretofore unprecedented position for the progressive Left. A tacit acceptance of American imperialism.

Instead of taking what was once a fairly conventional, antiwar, non-interventionist leftist stance, Ocasio-Cortez seemed to concede that regime change was a prerequisite for being part of the progressive political aristocracy in the American globalist imperium. She seems to want to ensure that displaced refugees will be granted automatic citizenship.

On Capitalism

In yet another colossal oversight, Hoover completely missed an opportunity to dismantle Ocasio-Cortez’ vacuous Marxist twaddle.

Capitalism has not always existed in the world and will not always exist in the world.

The first part of the statement is, of course, correct. Laissez faire capitalism wasn’t practiced or promoted in earnest as ideology until the 18th century. Mercantilism, trade guilds and feudal economies preceded it. But the question is what exactly does she envision if she wants to see us “evolve” beyond it? Hoover wasn’t interested in finding out.

Ocasio-Cortez seems to buy into the standard Marxist view of history. Capitalism is but a necessary step in an inexorable forward march of human progress. Socialism is both an inevitability and a necessity.

Equally bewildering was her contention that we live in “no hold barred, Wild West hypercapitalism” society. This is such a painfully idiotic cliche, that it shouldn’t need to be rebutted, but these nostrums are essentially the equivalent of scripture for progressives. We live in a highly regulated, quasi-socialist market economy which is centrally managed by bankers. The staunch refusal to acknowledge the extent that government institutions, public-private partnerships and corporations all aid and abet the progressive establishment is simply astonishing. The perpetual posture of being beleaguered underdogs is beyond tiresome.

The fact that we’re still addressing these ideas lends credence to the claim that capitalism and socialism are merely two sides of a false dialectic. Clearly, there are vested interests who want these ideas to infiltrate the culture. The radical Left and their globalist sponsors have been promoting these ideas for well over a century. They wouldn’t still be around without generous patronage.

On Israel

The one moment that has the rightward social media commentariat Twitter feeds ablaze was her stunning admission over the disputed territories in Israel.

I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue!

Quite the admission from a Boston University graduate with a degree in economics and international relations. It seems like this question should have been right in her wheelhouse. What I suggest it reveals is the power of the Left’s linguistic and ideological programming. Could it be cowardice given that Israel is a longstanding punching bag for the Left? Probably not. Given that she’s been coronated as the Left’s new Fearless Truthsayer, I’d expect her to let the Palestinian Liberation flag fly.

Why bring back Firing Line?

Hoover’s abysmal performance begs one burning question. Why revive Buckley’s show at all if you’re making no effort to even attempt a genuinely conservative approach?

I wanted to be enthusiastic about this show, but it feels a little bit like the current affairs equivalent of the 2016 gender swap Ghostbusters reboot. A shameless attempt at reviving an intellectual property that once had cultural cachet. What’s so edgy about another anti-Trump establishment neocon who gives a socialist a free ride? If Bill Buckley were alive today, he’d likely find his encounter with Gore Vidal a quaint memory. He’d probably be relegated to hosting demonetized Google Hangout streams on YouTube while fighting back accusations of being alt-right.

How many PBS viewers are truly interested in the battle of ideas at this juncture? What percentage of their audience are aging boomers just trying to uphold the delusion they’re interested in an opposing perspective?

What does this say about the vitality of Buckley’s synthesis of post-Burkean conservatism and laissez faire classical liberalism? Even worse, what does this say about the alleged gulf between the Right and the Left if Margaret Hoover is nodding in agreement with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

Margaret Hoover represents exactly the kind of bland establishment conservatism that propelled Trump to the White House. National Review’s Against Trump issue only fueled the perception that the conservative intelligentsia were out of step with the grassroots. We’re living in a time when the very idea of conserving national borders is considered tantamount to the reopening of Auschwitz. A reboot of Firing Line with an assertive host could have been a positive contribution to public discourse. Too bad we got Progressive Hugbox instead.

Schadenfreude: Harvey Weinstein and the Herculean Hypocrisy of Democrats

Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long career of sexual harassment is now coming to light, and there’s a ton being written about it. I just thought it would be fun to take a tour through some choice tweets made by alleged champions of Womyn’s Rights and the deafening silence we hear when the allegations are directed towards a wealthy and powerful Hollywood patron of the Democratic Party.  

And of course, right at the top of the hypocrisy hit parade is none other than Queen Hillary herself. Fearless Champion of Womyn’s Rights. But only when it’s politically expedient. 

Just change “survivor” to “perpetrator”, and the tweet actually works, Hillary

Birds of a feather as they say.


And the virtue signalling hits keep coming. 

And of course, who can forget Michelle Obama’s moving tribute to Mr. Weinstein? Or the plum internship Malia got at the Weinstein company?

Progressivism.

The radical notion that you can claim the moral high ground when the facts fit the narrative. 

The Dataist Reformation is Nigh

Any good review you read, whether it’s books or films, gives you a sense of what the artist intended as well as the reviewer thinks of the content. I don’t normally write posts that comment on reviews of others, but this was brought to my attention and I think it’s worth a brief post because it’s timely and it’s another example of the way The Guardian uses a book review to advance its ideological agenda. 

In his review for the new book by Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus, David Runciman engages in some doom laden speculations over the humanity destroying influence of the Silicon Valley Technorati he has branded with the utterly idiotic term, “Dataists”. As usual, it’s a piece that ascribes dubious intent to those develop technology and a religious zealotry to those who allegedly seek better living through Big Data.

First off, I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece in The Guardian which praised the achievements of the market.  Predictably, Mr. Runciman doesn’t acknowledge the market as the engine of that achievement.

The evidence of our power is everywhere: we have not simply conquered nature but have also begun to defeat humanity’s own worst enemies. War is increasingly obsolete; famine is rare; disease is on the retreat around the world.

He acknowledges that humanity’s genius is most powerfully demonstrated when exercised in groups, but makes no meaningful distinction between religions, corporations or nation states. Both Harari and Runciman are presenting the individual as powerless independent of a collective and “waves of information” as some kind of sentient power to be resisted. 

Individual human beings are relatively powerless creatures, no match for lions or bears. It’s what they can do as groups that has enabled them to take over the planet. These groupings – corporations, religions, states – are now part of a vast network of interconnected information flows. Finding points of resistance, where smaller units can stand up to the waves of information washing around the globe, is becoming harder all the time.

Runciman goes on to explain that “we” are in danger of uncoupling intelligence and consciousness, and then in the very next paragraph, likens the State to an inhuman, unresponsive robot. 

Not all of this is new. The modern state, which has been around for about 400 years, is really just another data-processing machine. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes, writing in 1651, called it an “automaton” (or what we would call a robot). Its robotic quality is the source of its power and also its heartlessness: states don’t have a conscience, which is what allows them sometimes to do the most fearful things. What’s changed is that there are now processing machines that are far more efficient than states: as Harari points out, governments find it almost impossible to keep up with the pace of technological advance. It has also become much harder to sustain the belief – shared by Hobbes – that behind every state there are real flesh-and-blood human beings. The modern insistence on the autonomy of the individual goes along with a view that it should be possible to find the heart of this heartless world. Keep scratching at a faceless bureaucracy and you’ll eventually uncover a civil servant with real feelings.

He correctly asserts that the State cannot keep up with technological (market) change.  This has been the contention of free market thinkers for decades. The State is not subject to market forces. The nation state is little more than the machinery of warfare backed by a collection of bureaucrats who dictate how this fearsome power must be applied in the name of “The People.” This is precisely why it can do fearful things. It has no incentive to respond to supply, demand or to economize.  Mises argued that to destroy this capacity was to nullify humanity’s uniquely teleological contribution to the universe.

Technology companies are certainly innovating at warp speed, but the State is hastening the automation of the world through policy, too.  Every time the government mandates price controls (e.g. minimum wage) or imposes additional costs through regulation, business will seek a labor saving technological solution.

Runciman portrays this book as a sort of new Hegelianism for the Information Age. He presents this data driven technological dystopia as a historical inevitability, but tries to hedge his dire predictions by saying “the future is unknowable.” Like Hegel, ideas and individuals are absent from his analysis. The article only refers to a giant, amorphous “we”. Naturally, the belief in the individual’s power to shape his own fate is nothing more than a “leap of faith”. He posits that “Dataism” is the new religion because for progressives, the word “religion” is a dogwhistle that signals to the reader that there is mindless obedience and authoritarian rule to be resisted. After all, those who sign up for the Dataist project “will be the only ones with any real power left and it will be relatively unchallenged.” Conveniently, his analysis of what qualifies as “religion” excludes the inefficient, unresponsive, inhumane State. Because if you “keep scratching at a faceless bureaucracy and you’ll eventually uncover a civil servant with real feelings.”

True to progressive form, Harari is “insouciant” about humanity, but REALLY concerned about the fate of animals under humanity’s stewardship. Way to keep your priorities straight, guys. 

The development of AI, robotics and supercomputers is a topic that certainly warrants continued inquiry and discussion.  Perhaps this book is a meaningful step in that direction, but it comes across like another cynical, fatalistic bit of academic pomp that consigns humanity to an anonymous, technologically driven hive mind that strips away individual agency. It’s amazing that such highly educated individuals warn of the imminent uncoupling of intelligence from consciousness, but are so cavalier about the true source of humanity itself: the individual. But The Guardian wouldn’t have published this review if it wasn’t the exact ideological agenda the review was meant to serve. 

Spotlight (2015)

image

Besides being a surprisingly engaging dramatization of the Boston Globe spotlight team’s exposé of the child sex abuse epidemic of the Catholic Church, Spotlight is a soaring testimony to the importance of free speech and a free, independent press. With freedom comes great responsibility, and just as this film affirms these principles, it also reminds us that the pursuit of the truth takes real courage. However, like its 2017 companion film, The Post, it suffers from a partisan self-congratulatory sanctimony that tilts it towards agitprop.

Spotlight falls solidly in the tradition of films such as All The President’s Men. It’s a great example of how a story of individuals in the press who doggedly pursued the truth and real moral virtue in the face of institutional opposition and threats of ostracism can make compelling screen drama.

All of the elements of this film click. Everything from the casting to the writing to the details of the victims to the quintessentially Bostonian vibe of the film, Spotlight epitomizes intelligent, economical cinematic storytelling. Out of all the films that have billed themselves as Boston Films in recent years, this and Black Mass were the most successful in terms of their portrayal of the scenic details, accents, personalities and provincial attitudes.

The tension of the film centers around the ever escalating opposition and stonewalling the team faced as they deepened their investigation. An especially great scene which captured the courage that each player had to muster was Marty Baron’s first meeting with Cardinal Law; roles played by Liev Schreiber and Len Cariou respectively. Prior to the meeting, the Globe lawyers filed a suit to unseal public records pertaining to past abuse cases. Baron is a model of composure as Law tries to seduce him into the conspiracy of silence between institutional powers. “Things go well when our institutions work together, don’t you agree Marty?”, asks Law. “Actually, I think the press works best when it stands alone.” BOOM! Fuck off, Law.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone coming out of this film with anything other than a deep-seated contempt for the Catholic Church hierarchy. The enormity of the damage done to the lives of the victims is harrowing all by itself, but what is even more galling is the combined sense of denial and above-the-law entitlement exercised over many years. The scale of the scandal beggars belief.

Ironically, this is also the film’s great shortcoming. I sense that this film was greenlit because it humiliates the Catholic Church and its leadership. Anything that makes Christians look like corrupt degenerates and liberals look like virtuous crusaders is Hollywood’s default setting. They are deserving targets of course, but it’s increasingly obvious that the Catholic Church is not the sole province of child sex abuse. It would be truly courageous if someone in Hollywood were just as fearless about pursuing child sex abuse within the Hollywood community. But I’m not holding my breath.

The most abiding message of the film is its fearless affirmation of free speech and a free, independent press. Good journalism is an invaluable public service and having the courage to suspend confirmation biases, challenge institutional power and pursue facts wherever they lead should be the guiding principle for any journalist and the standard to which journalists are held accountable. Since we live in an era of sensational clickbait journalism, academics who obscure reality by cloaking theories in pretensions of impenetrable profundity and publications which pursue an agenda driven interpretation of “facts”, the film reminds us that there are objective, verifiable facts and obtaining them is often more difficult than any of us imagine.

Advertisements