Category Archives: media

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.

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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)

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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. 

Spotlight falls solidly in the tradition of films such as All The President’s Men.  It’s another 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. 

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. 

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