Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War’

This is an election year. Given the two candidates and the mood of the country, the 2024 election will almost certainly entail controversy. Whoever wins, millions of Americans will be angry and disappointed by the result. There will be accusations of cheating, or voter suppression, or something.

British filmmaker Alex Garland has therefore chosen an auspicious year for the release of Civil War, a movie about a hypothetical Civil War II in the United States.

But perhaps he has made a movie that is just a little too timely. More on that shortly.

Civil War is “deliberately vague” about the exact causes and instigators of its hypothetical conflict. The movie posits four different factions, each comprised of various states.

This is where things get hinky. Garland doesn’t follow the Red-Blue formula that most of us would expect. For example, the movie portrays Texas and California in an alliance. We can all agree that this is something that would never happen in real life.

This unrealistic scenario is, I suspect, deliberate, too. Garland did not want to make a movie that blatantly picks sides in the American culture wars. Making the alliances unrealistic would be one way to do that.

Reviews and…buzz?

Reviews of Civil War are mixed. I’m not the first person to observe that the political alliances depicted in the film don’t mirror our current political divisions.

Some reviewers seem to have taken issue with that. Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post put it this way:

“Civil War’s shtick is that it’s not specifically political. For instance, as the US devolves into enemy groups of secessionist states, Texas and California have banded together to form the Western Forces. That such an alliance could ever occur is about as likely as Sweetgreen/Kentucky Fried Chicken combo restaurant.”

Oleksinski called Civil War “a torturous, overrated movie without a point”. We may conclude that he didn’t like it.

But what “point” was Oleksinski looking for, exactly? Alex Garland faced an obvious marketing dilemma here. If he had made a movie about the Evil Libs, he would have alienated half his potential audience. If he had made a movie about the Evil MAGAs, he would have alienated half his potential audience.

There is really no way to please everyone with a movie like this. Except by remaining vague. And then you irritate people because you didn’t take a stand.

I haven’t heard a lot of buzz about this movie in my own social circle, nor in my personal Facebook feed. Civil War is not exactly a movie that most people will want to see with their kids. Nor is it likely to become a date night favorite.

Civil War’s topic, and the clips I have seen of it, make the movie seem too similar to the news stories we have seen in recent years: the BLM riots of the summer and fall of 2020, and the J6 riot of January 6, 2021. The current war between two former Soviet Republics: Ukraine and Russia.

How many people want to pay good money to see a movie about something like that at the cinema?

Good question. I suspect that Civil War will find a wider audience once it moves to streaming/cable.

Could another Civil War really happen?

Alex Garland is not alone in his speculations about a Civil War II. Frankly, I have my doubts.

The First Civil War (1861 – 1865) was actually about something. Southerners were fighting to preserve their entire economic system. White Northerners were fighting to preserve the Union.

(Contrary to what many people believe, the Union did not initially wage the Civil War with the goal of ending slavery. The sainted Lincoln, moreover, would have let the Confederate states keep their slaves, if only they had not seceded.)

Blacks had the biggest stake of all, with their freedom on the line.

Whichever side you were on, there was something worthwhile to fight about.

But what about now? Are we really going to go to war over transgender bathrooms and idiotic pronoun rules? Over the self-evident question of what a woman is? Over abortion? Over the annual Pride Month spectacles? Over whether or not President Biden will force Americans to buy uneconomical and unwanted electric vehicles?

The issues that divide us now, as divisive and tiresome as they are, seem trivial by comparison.

A civil war, over all that nonsense? Hopefully, the country has not become that stupid. But you never know.

-ET

Ukraine: lost causes and military realities

In February of 2022, I was as gung-ho as anyone about pushing the Russkies out of all Ukrainian territory. For a few weeks, I even put a Ukrainian flag on my social media profile. 

Then I learned more about the background causes of the war: the true nature of the Obama administration’s involvement in the 2014 Maidan coup, via the now discredited diplomat Victoria Nuland. I learned how NATO and the EU angled to bring Ukraine into the Western sphere of influence, by hook or by crook.

I also watched, with growing alarm, as the leaders of countries that haven’t fought a real war for decades (France, Germany) or even centuries (Sweden), rattled their swords at Moscow.

France and Germany, I should note, haven’t actually won a war in centuries.

And I also saw the battlefield realities. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have died in battle in order to support NATO, EU, and American plans for Eastern Europe. The empire of liberal democracy and free markets, imposed on the lands of the former USSR at the barrel of a gun. With lots of death and destruction as the cost of doing business. 

That’s how I came to a new and difficult conclusion: The Ukraine war should be ended now, while there is still something of Ukraine and its population left.

Yes, that might mean permanently ceding four eastern oblasts and Crimea to Russia. But those areas were long Russian territory anyway. And our side is not exactly winning here, is it?

For further evidence of the desperation of the Ukrainian situation, watch the video above.  A young woman in Ukraine is running a GoFundMe in order to buy equipment for her middle-aged father’s Ukrainian Army unit. 

This is not how modern wars are fought, by any side that has a chance of winning. 

Shortly after he took office, President Biden withdrew US forces from Afghanistan. Not because he loved the Taliban, but because the war there had become too costly, in both human and financial terms.

The US withdrew from Vietnam in 1975 for similar reasons. And now–50 years later–the US and Vietnam are military allies against China. How’s that for irony? And for the pointlessness of most foreign wars?

No, I do not want to fight until the last Ukrainian, over the question of which flag flies over the Crimea or Donbass. The West needs to use its power and influence to bring about a peace settlement, rather than consuming more Ukrainian lives in a futile and destructive war. 

-ET

Joe Biden at 30? Me at 4? Wow

The news segment below shows President Biden as a young senator in 1972. Biden was then 30 years old.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was President of the United States. The Vietnam War was winding down, but US troops were still active there. Leonid Brezhnev was the General Secretary of the Soviet Union. Iran, still under the Shah, was a staunch US ally.

The two highest grossing movies of 1972 were The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. Disco had yet to make an appearance. Robert Flack, the Rolling Stones, and Cat Stevens all had best-selling albums. 

And, of course, 1972 was the year of Don McClean’s American Pie.

Yeah, 1972 was a long time ago.

On a personal note: I will turn 56 this year, and Joe Biden has been in government since I was 4 years old. Make of that what you will.

Some readers will necessarily interpret this as a subliminal political statement: “Don’t vote for Biden…he’s really old!” But Biden’s age is no secret, and it’s doubtful that anything you read here is going to change your mind…however you plan to vote in November.

No, this is just a reflection on how much time has passed: for the president, but also for yours truly. In 1972, Joe Biden was in the prime of his early adulthood, and my life had barely begun. Tempus fugit. How time flies. For all of us.

-ET

 

 

 

Republicans and abortion realism

The Supreme Court of Arizona has just confirmed a 160-year-old ruling that bans almost all abortions in the Grand Canyon State. The Democrats and their mainstream media shills are making the most of it. Did you expect otherwise?

I try to be a realist where the real world is concerned.

Take the present war within the former USSR. I really wish that NATO hadn’t goaded Russia into calling in its historic claims on portions of southern and eastern Ukraine.

But after two years of relentless bloodshed and not-so-crippling economic sanctions, we must face facts. All the West is accomplishing by continuing to pour in military aid is a.) making more dead Ukrainians, and b.) raising the risks of World War III.

Ergo, I want to negotiate a settlement and end the war. Even if Ukraine loses territory as a result.

That doesn’t make me “pro-Russian”. That makes me a realist.

But what about abortion? Once again, I’m a realist. I’ve always seen some accommodation of legalized abortion as a necessary evil in an evil world.

You might say that makes me “pro-choice”. In terms of what the law should be: perhaps. But with a very big asterisk.

I doubt that the folks shrieking “My body, my choice!” in the public square would be completely pleased with my position. They see abortion as an ideal, like Freedom of Speech. I see abortion as a dehumanizing moral blight—albeit one that must be tolerated, within certain parameters. There is a difference. 

Moreover, I can see no way of outright banning abortion that doesn’t fall outside the dreaded Overton Window. Theoretically, we could do just about anything. But there are some dogs that simply aren’t going to hunt in a democratic society.

Let’s start with the law itself. (We’ll leave enforcement for another time.) Pro-abortion views predominate among a.) young voters and b.) female voters. Unless we plan to change the basic structure of American democracy (i.e., who’s allowed to vote), absolutist abortion bans will always be a sure way for a Republican candidate to go down in flames against a pro-abortion Democrat. And all Democrats are pro-abortion.

Republicans, therefore, have to face the facts. In military terms, they are the beleaguered Ukrainian army, and Planned Parenthood is the fully ramped-up Russian war machine, with Sukhoi fighter jets and hypersonic missiles.

Republicans are ahead on certain fronts in the culture wars. (I think the left’s transgender obsession has just about run its course with most of the public.) But on the abortion battlefield, the GOP has not yet captured the hearts and minds of a plurality of voters. Poll after poll, and election after election, demonstrate that.

Since the Dobbs vs. Jackson decision of 2022, Republicans in various states have [temporarily] succeeded in enacting laws that ban abortion. But these laws also fall outside the consensus views of their electorates.

The GOP often uses the courts to bring about such outcomes. (Case-in-point: the recent Arizona decision.) When Democrats do this on a divisive social issue, Republicans call it “judicial activism”.

Since the 1960s (more than fifty years now), American culture has been rotting from the inside out. And abortion would be a complicated debate in the best of times.

I understand the idealism of pro-life Republicans. I can laud it, even. But when you’re in a war zone (if I may continue that metaphor) sometimes you have to focus on triage measures. Especially when you’re losing. And conservatives are losing, at present.

***

Where the law is concerned, Republicans need to cede territory on abortion in the short run, as ground that they cannot realistically defend at the present time. They need to remember that law and politics are always downstream from culture. Republicans who are earnestly pro-life need to set about the difficult work of fixing an American culture that has spent three generations careening down the path of civilizational suicide. Good luck with that.

Accomplish that, however, and the matter of abortion will take care of itself, in the long run. Because the voters will be on board.

Fixing a broken culture is no easy thing. Perhaps that’s why Republicans have spent the last two years since Dobbs in a purely tactical mode. The GOP has been trying to manipulate and finagle voters—whom they assume to be wrongheaded—into doing the right thing. 

The voters, as we’ve seen, might be wrongheaded; but they have not been manipulated. Nor have they been finagled very much.

In the final analysis, people in a democracy have to be persuaded. Hearts and minds must be coaxed—not compelled—from the Stygian cultural darkness of the last half-century.

That’s hard work, fixing a broken culture. But if you truly want to see abortion tossed on the scrap heap of history, that’s the place to focus: hearts and minds and persuasion. Not on legal and judicial maneuvers that will be overturned in the next election cycle.

-ET

What pro-Palestinian protestors can learn from the Beatles

In 1968 the Beatles released the song ‘Revolution’. This was at the height of that long-ago decade’s counterculture. The song satirized the growing excesses of late 1960s leftwing activism. 

The Beatles were no one’s idea of conservatives. But the group nevertheless recognized an iron law of all countercultural movements: they always go too far, and end up alienating the people they want to convince.

When this happens, “the movement” ends up preaching to no one but the choir. The movement becomes an echo chamber, and the rest of society simply tunes it out…or maybe tries to crush it.

‘Revolution’ is well worth listening to in its entirety, but I want to focus here on two lines only:

“If you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao

You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow…”

In the 1960s, some leftwing college protestors did, indeed, carry pictures of Ho Chi Minh and Chairman Mao. They looked like complete tools, and ceased to be taken seriously by anyone but their fellow travelers.

Back to 2024.

This past weekend, a pro-Palestinian activist named Tarek Bazzi led an anti-Israel, anti-America protest in Dearborn, Michigan. Bazzi and his assembled comrades-in-arms were protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza, and US support for Israel. 

Bazzi not only quoted the late Ayatollah Khoemeini in glowing terms, he also led the crowd in a chant of “Death to America”.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have non-trivial historic claims to the land they’ve fought over for more than a century. (The conflict did not begin with the founding of the State of Israel in 1948; it began decades before that.) Neither side has a claim that is beyond dispute, and neither side can claim a complete moral high ground. Both sides have legitimate grievances against the other.

But the Palestinians have a unique ability to make themselves unsympathetic victims. The term “likable Palestinian spokesperson” would seem to be an oxymoron. Case-in-point: Representative Rashida Tlaib.

In 2001, Palestinian crowds in Jerusalem openly celebrated the 9/11 terror attacks. That was the moment in which I was sorely tempted to lose any interest in their fate.

But 9/11 was more than twenty years ago, you might say. Okay, fair enough. On October 7 of last year, Hamas, the elected governing authority of Gaza, launched its terror attacks on Israel.

You’ve already heard and seen the accounts of the massacres and the sexual violence that Hamas loosed on Israeli civilians. In the immediate wake of those attacks, there was a chorus of cries of “Allahu akbar!” in Gaza.

Then the payback came. Gaza stopped shouting “Allahu akbar!” and began shouting to the world, “Call off the Israelis! The jihad wasn’t supposed to go like this.”

You might argue, nevertheless, that the Israeli response has gone too far, and the retribution has been too indiscriminate. Those are American bombs, moreover, that are being dropped on Gaza.

All fair points. On October 7, I was ready to join the IDF myself, even though there’s not a Jewish bone in my body. Six months later, I’m far more open to “two wrongs don’t make a right” arguments.

This is why I can’t issue a blanket condemnation of the pro-Palestinian protestors who have made the news in recent months. They are not entirely wrong, even if they are wrong on many points. Even if they are endlessly obnoxious and tirelessly unpleasant.

But its one thing to be unlikable, it’s another thing to be stupid about it. When you shout “Death to America!” in the public square, you affirm all the worst things that Americans suspect about Muslims. “Death to America!” was the chant of the Iranian radicals of 1979, after all. Surely Tarek Bazzi and his pals know that.

Back to the Beatles and “Revolution”. If I may paraphrase the Fab Four:

“If you go shouting ‘Death to America’, every American who isn’t a radical crackpot is going to tune you out and hate your guts.”

Shout “Death to America” in the public square, and you’ve lost me. Palestinians might have celebrated 9/11. I didn’t. Nor did I celebrate San Bernardino (2015), the London Tube attacks (2005) or any of the many other Islamist terror attacks carried out in the West over the last 30-odd years.

The Israelis, for all their missteps and hamfistedness, at least understand that you don’t gain sympathy by doing your best to be repellant at every turn. Palestinians wishing to make their case in the West might find a lesson there.

-ET

Fight until the last Ukrainian, or the (literal) end of the world?

In 2021, the Biden administration ceded the entire nation of Afghanistan to the Taliban. The US withdrawal not only doomed the people of Afghanistan to the Islamist rule of the Taliban, it effectively squandered the trillions of US taxpayer dollars and thousands of American lives lost there since 2001.

The Democratic Party cheered the end of a costly US overseas commitment. There was barely a peep from the neocon chickenhawks in the GOP. 

Yet now, three years later, those same parties claim that it’s all or nothing where Ukraine is concerned.

Few Americans have a grasp of the convoluted history behind the conflict:

  1. The disputed regions, Donbass and Crimea, were long Russian territory. Especially Crimea. Crimea belonged first to the Tatars and then to the Russian Empire. Then to the Soviets…and then to Ukraine. Crimea has changed hands many times. 
  2. Ukraine and Russia have a long, complicated history together. For example, Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the USSR from 1964 through 1982, was Ukrainian. Mikhail Gorbachev also had family ties to Ukraine. 
  3. The identity of post-Soviet Ukraine is  a matter that the West should have left to the Ukrainians. Instead, we were determined that Ukraine would become a jewel in the crowns of the European Union and NATO. So in 2014, we played midwife to a coup against Ukraine’s lawfully elected (but pro-Russian) president, Viktor Yanukovych. That is when the present troubles really began.

***

Does all that equal a justification of the Kremlin’s subsequent actions? Of course not. But it should be clear, at this point, that Russia isn’t going to be cowed by the departure of Starbuck’s and McDonalds. Two years after they were put in place, Western sanctions have failed. Miserably.

We are now faced with the following options:

  1. Fight until the last Ukrainian. At the same time, keep pouring billions of dollars into a war that cannot be won. That will enable us to cry uncle years from now, perhaps, after we have spent billions more and killed even more Ukrainians. (Assuming there are any military-age Ukrainians left by then.)
  2. Go to war with Russia ourselves. Russia is a nuclear-armed power. Are you willing to bring about the end of the world over the question of which flag flies over Donbass and the Crimea? Short of that, are you willing to send young Americans to die within the boundaries of the former USSR? That’s what going to war with Russia would mean.
  3. End the war with a negotiated settlement. Put a stop to the bloodshed. Sooner rather than later. 

***

It seems to me that #3 above is that they call the “least-worst option”. Given Russia’s demands, that will probably mean a.) ceding territory that was historically Russian, anyway, and b.) taking Ukrainian membership in NATO off the table.

(But Ukrainian membership in NATO never should have been on the table to begin with.)

***

This is the solution that former President Trump, one of the few realists in the public debate on this long and costly war, intends to propose.

Let me be clear: this is an imperfect solution for an imperfect world. But if you’re upset about ceding Donbass and the Crimea to Russia, where were you when the Biden administration was handing all of Afghanistan–and its 41 million inhabitants–to the barbaric rule of the Taliban, only a few short years ago?

First go and get Afghanistan back.  Then I’ll listen to your armchair battle cries about fighting until the bitter end in Ukraine. Otherwise, I want to settle and end the war, lest the mutual bungling of multiple nuclear-armed powers bring about the end of the world, quite literally. 

-ET

Dulles International Airport and the dueling fools of DC

House Republicans have put forth a proposal to rename Dulles International Airport after former (and perhaps future) President Trump. The bill is meeting with the expected braying in the mainstream media.

As an American citizen, there are many issues that concern me at present…

Our government, and the clownish governments that rule the various countries of the rest of NATO, are rushing toward World War III with Russia. They are risking all our lives over the question of which flag flies over land that was long Russian territory, anyway.

The deficit continues to grow at an unsustainable rate. Washington is no longer burning through our money. It’s burning through the money of Americans who won’t be born before all presently living Americans are dead.

Biden has made us a laughingstock and a near-failed state with his mismanagement of the border. It’s become a cliché, but yes: the only border Biden cares about is the one between Ukraine and Russia.

Every week, a foolish new “woke” initiative spews from the White House. These range from forcing us to buy electric vehicles that no one wants, to declaring a special day of visibility for Americans who self-identify as cocker spaniels.

The country is a mess, to put it mildly.

Amid all of this, renaming Dulles International Airport after Donald Trump—or anyone, for that matter—would not even make the bottom tier of a thousand-item priority list.

There is no monopoly on foolishness in our government at present. The only real question is: which band of fools will bring about collapse first, if permitted free rein? The Democratic Party is doing its best to destroy us in any number of ways, but we ought not get cocky about the GOP. Case-in-point: this new initiative to rename Dulles International Airport, an item as unwanted as Joe Biden’s electric cars.

-ET

A rainy, controversial Easter

Today is Easter Sunday. A rainy day here in the Cincinnati area.

I didn’t want to get into any controversies today. Easter is a Christian holiday, and you are more or less free to observe it or ignore it, as is your preference.

Easter always falls on a Sunday, so we don’t have to fret about whether or not businesses are open or closed. Most of the grocery stores are open today. My gym is closed.

But controversy came my way. One of my Facebook friends had to tell me that President Biden declared Easter to be “Transgender Visibility Day”.

That isn’t one hundred percent accurate. Transgender Day of Visibility has actually been around since 2009. It has always been observed on March 31. This year it happened to coincide with Easter, which falls on different dates throughout March and April.

Transgender Day of Visibility is a day for all transgender individuals to wear reflective gear when out and about. Just kidding! Not that kind of visibility. You know what kind of visibility I’m talking about.

President Biden has made transgenderism one of the salient characteristics of his administration. He has elevated numerous transgender individuals to senior posts, including Assistant Secretary for Health, Dr. Rachel Levine.

She was Dr. Richard Levine not so many years ago, and she is the father of two children. Yes, that’s the logic of the world we’re currently living in.

At the same time, the Biden administration banned religious symbols from any eggs submitted for the annual White House Easter egg contest.

That means no crucifixes, no stars of David, no Islamic crescents, even. Are angels okay? I would guess not.

Never mind that Easter is a specifically religious, specifically Christian holiday.

To put this in the contest of the LGBTQ theme, that would be like banning the rainbow flag during Pride Month. If you’re going to ban the associated symbols, why even bother with the holiday?

But the Biden administration isn’t about to ban the rainbow flag. Throughout Pride Month, the rainbow flag flies not only inside the White House, but in US embassies throughout the world.

And herein lies the backlash to Biden’s very public Transgender Day of Visibility commemoration. Americans aren’t afraid of gender fluidity. We aren’t hostile to it. We had Ziggy Stardust in the 1970s, and Boy George in the early 1980s, for goodness sake.

What we are sick of is an administration that treats religion as something that is barely tolerable, while demanding that we salute the flag of alternative sexuality at every turn. There’s an imbalance here, at the very least.

-ET

Kim Davis, Henry David Thoreau, and the high price of civil disobedience

Here’s a sequel to a news story from September 2015.

Kim Davis, a lowly county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

You can probably already guess why, even if you don’t remember the case. Davis, an evangelical Christian and a social conservative, didn’t agree with the new state policy of recognizing same-sex marriages.

Davis was taken away in handcuffs and briefly jailed. Meanwhile, the marriage licenses were issued by other county employees.

The resultant brouhaha became an international news story for a time. I remember this well, perhaps because I live in neighboring Ohio.

I also remember concluding that Davis was in the wrong—on technical grounds, at least. When I worked in the private sector for a Fortune 500 corporation, I didn’t always agree with my employer’s policies. But I always acted in accordance with company policy. Because that’s what having a job is all about.

My private-sector employer had no authority over me beyond the workplace. When your employer is a branch of the government, however, the stakes are higher. For a government employee, the employer is the law. This means that violation of a policy, even for reasons of conscience, may make an employee a lawbreaker. Kim Davis broke the law, even though she was following her conscience.

Kim Davis was not the first American dissenter to oppose a government policy through peaceful noncompliance with the law. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) refused to pay his taxes during the 1840s. Thoreau did not want to provide the federal government with material support for the Mexican-American War, which he saw as unjust.

Henry David Thoreau

Like Kim Davis seventeen decades later, Thoreau was briefly jailed for his actions, or non-actions. Thoreau’s experiences became the basis for his essay, “Civil Disobedience”, which you may recall from high school.

Thoreau’s opponents in the 1840s saw the Mexican-American War as progress, an instrument of America’s manifest destiny. Manifest destiny was the idea that America had a God-given right and duty to expand its borders, even at the expense of other peoples and nations.

In the 1840s, the dominant political establishment was just as focused on manifest destiny as the establishment is now focused on all things LGBTQ.

American Progress (1872) by John Gast. An artistic conception of manifest destiny.

Perhaps Thoreau’s ultimate, unintended lesson is that you can’t fight city hall. Despite Thoreau’s act of civil disobedience, manifest destiny won the day in the 1840s. The federal government was victorious in its war with Mexico. Fifty-five percent of Mexico’s territory was ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Kim Davis’s act of civil disobedience did not have any real effect on the inevitable outcome, either. What was the net result in Rowan County, after all? Everyone got their marriage licenses. Other government employees simply signed the necessary documents.

But what about the punishment meted out to this modern-day Thoreau of Rowan County, Kentucky?

Kim Davis’s 2015 mugshot

Kim Davis was fired for her civil disobedience. And since she had willingly become a county employee, Davis deserved to be fired.

But jailed and financially ruined?

Consider, for a moment, the crimes that won’t earn you jail time. A few years ago, the city council of San Francisco decriminalized thefts up to $950. In New York City, there have been documented cases of violent felons being released because of court backlogs and overcrowded jails. But there shall be no mercy for a Kentucky county clerk who refuses to sign a marriage license.

Then came the endless lawsuits. Of course, the lawyers saw an opportunity to enrich themselves.

Nine years later, a federal judge has ordered Davis to pay a group of lawyers $260,104 in fees and expenses. This is in addition to $100,000 in damages that she’s been ordered to pay a same-sex couple who sued.

That’s $360,104 in total. For refusing to sign documents in a government office in a rural Kentucky county.

The aim—and the effective outcome—of all these measures is to ruin Kim Davis, to permanently pauperize her.

Once again, I’m not defending Kim Davis’s original actions. There should have been consequences for her (termination of employment). She did not deserve all of this.

Let’s return to this question of progress. I’ll remind you that in the 1840s, manifest destiny was seen as progress, “the right side of history”. By some. In 2015, some people believed (and still do) that changing the millennia-old nature of marriage is progress.

Henry David Thoreau would be remembered differently today if he had expressed his opposition to the Mexican-American War through violence. But Thoreau didn’t blow up a US Army ammunition depot. He withheld his taxes. 

Kim Davis’s case would be different had she crashed a same-sex wedding, rather than simply withholding her signature. Her noncompliance, like Thoreau’s noncompliance in the 1840s, was largely a symbolic crime.

Another word for symbolic might be ideological in this context. Here’s another lesson from history: when a nation is lurching toward dictatorship, it is ideological crimes that are punished the most harshly, without any sense of reason or proportion.

This is where we must depart from Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau did not have to cope with the twenty-first-century zeal of weaponized ideological conformity. Weaponized ideological conformity has its roots in the French Revolution, and the violent leftist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Forced ideological conformity has its roots in the USSR and Nazi Germany.

The imposition of ideological conformity requires public examples. The nonconforming must be thoroughly broken in a public manner. This will dissuade anyone else who might speak out, or engage in similar dissent.

Kim Davis, to her detriment, volunteered to become a public example when she refused to sign marriage licenses for a while in rural Kentucky. Her real crime had little to do with paperwork, and everything to do with her unwillingness to affirmatively embrace the government’s new ideological orthodoxy.

Davis’s fate was a sign of things to come. Less than a decade later, teachers have been fired for failing to publicly affirm that gender is malleable, and can be arbitrarily altered by using different pronouns.

But in the case of Kim Davis, at least, the state accomplished its aims. To the best of my knowledge, no government employee has repeated her particular act of civil disobedience since.

-ET

JFK, Marlene Dietrich, and the problem of the aging Lothario

Eleanor Herman’s Sex with Presidents: The Ins and Outs of Love and Lust in the White House, is well worth reading both for its historical content, as well as its human interest angle.

In this book, you’ll learn about the honey trap in which Alexander Hamilton was ensnared in 1797. Women and sex, it turns out, were among Hamilton’s principal weaknesses.

Alexander Hamilton

There are the requisite chapters about Warren G. Harding and the Nan Britton affair. Also Eisenhower’s unconsummated sexual liaisons with his wartime driver, Kay Summersby. (Apparently, Ike was impotent by the time he became involved with the much younger, statuesque Summersby.)

Needless to say, the chapter on John F. Kennedy is among the most lurid. There are the expected entries about Marilyn Monroe, and the two White House secretaries nicknamed Fiddle and Faddle. But there are also some surprises.

According to this book, JFK was into partner-swapping mini-orgies involving other men, too (Note: not with any male-male contact, though). And of course, threesomes with two women. (What man isn’t, after all?)

While most of JFK’s conquests were on the younger side, not all of them were. When German actress Marlene Dietrich visited the White House shortly before JFK’s death, Kennedy decided that he had to have her, too.

Dietrich, born in 1901, was sixteen years older than Kennedy. She was then already in her sixties. Dietrich quickly decided, though, that she would not turn down a chance to romp with America’s youthful, charismatic commander-in-chief.

But there was one caveat: “I was an old woman by then,” she later recounted, “and damn if I was going to be on top.”

Dietrich also reported that the encounter did not last long. JFK was fast out of the gate. That assessment conformed to other reports about our 35th president.

Marlene Dietrich
John F. Kennedy

Speaking of age: JFK died at 46, when he was still in his prime. He is frozen in amber as a youngish, good-looking man.

For as long as he lived, JFK was largely attractive to women. But even during his lifetime, he showed signs of what would now be called predatory behavior. He often manipulated women into sex, and occasionally plied them with alcohol and drugs.

And speaking of age again: Some of his partners were far too young for a grown man in a position of power, even by the standards of that era.

What if JFK had not been martyred at the age of 46? What if he had served out a presumable second term and died of old age? A normal lifespan would have placed Kennedy’s death sometime in the 1990s or the early years of the twentieth century. (He would have turned 100 in 2017.)

We can assume that at a certain point—probably not far into the 1970s— the women would no longer have been quite so willing, and JFK would have met with more resistance. For JFK, sex was more than a mere biological drive. He was clearly compulsive about his conquests, and regarded sex as an extension of his power.

It is therefore not difficult to imagine JFK, had he lived, being embroiled in a sordid late-life sexual harassment scandal, not unlike those that befell both Trump and Biden. (Joe Biden was accused of sexual harassment, too, both by Senate staffer Tara Reade, and seven other women. But the mainstream media chose not to dwell on these accusations. Make of that what you will.)

Like many Americans who are too young to remember JFK in office (he died five years before I was born), I grew up thinking of Kennedy as a mythic figure. I attended Catholic schools, and a portrait of JFK hung in at least two of my K-12 classrooms, right beside portraits of the Pope and several of the saints.

But keep in mind: had he not been martyred in 1963, JFK would have been just another former president in his golden years.

I might also note that Donald Trump had no shortage of willing female partners in his 30s and 40s. In those days, Trump was not a controversial septuagenarian politician, but a glamorous tabloid billionaire. Many women wanted to be with him.

Time and age are the enemies of sex appeal. The difference between a celebrated ladies’ man and a reviled lecher is often a matter of a few years and a few wrong presumptions. Just ask Donald Trump.

-ET

View SEX WITH PRESIDENTS on Amazon

Autoporning and politics in Virginia, 2023

Susanna Gibson, a Democratic legislative candidate in Virginia, had an unconventional side hustle until recently. She and her husband live-streamed sex acts for tips on a site called Chaturbate.

This has raised all kinds of questions: about the legitimacy of sex work, about whether or not an individual who has participated in such can viably run for office, etc.

Allow me to give you my two cents.

I’ve always held that consensual sex work should be legal, so long as a.) it involves only consenting adults, and b.) it is done discretely enough so that uninterested parties can easily ignore it.

This would preclude brothels and sex shops in shopping malls. Of course.

On the other hand, I never understood the government’s persecution of Alexis Wright, the so-called “Zumba prostitute” in 2013. Wright was then a 29-year-old woman, selling her own sexual favors in the privacy of her own Zumba studio, to men who were mostly in their 40s. This was the ultimate victimless crime. Yet Wright spent six months in jail.

Susanna Gibson and her husband were not breaking any laws, however. One of the perverse contradictions in the law is that it’s legal to charge money for sex, so long as it’s done on camera for third-party consumption. Ergo, Gibson violated no law when strange men paid her to have sex on camera with a man (her husband, in this case). But if one of them had paid her to have sex with them off-camera, then a crime would have been committed. Go figure.

But no one—not even Gibson’s eventual Republican opponent—has proposed that she be jailed for her naked entrepreneurial endeavors. The issue is whether or not this should have a bearing on the viability of her campaign.

That’s a complicated one, because individual voters will ultimately decide for themselves. Historically, candidates have often dropped out of races in the wake of sex scandals.

Gary Hart, in the infamous “Monkey Business” photo (1987)

The oldest example I remember is that of Gary Hart, a Democratic hopeful for the presidential election of 1988. Hart dropped out after he was photographed with the much younger Donna Rice in the infamous “Monkey Business” photo of 1987.

Yes, that was a long time ago. Around 15 years ago, New York Governor Eliott Spitzer resigned after he was caught paying call girls for sex. I suppose that is vaguely analogous to Susanna Gibson’s peccadillo.

The problem is that what we do online, for a mass audience, is public information, ipso facto.

Consider this blog post. In the above paragraphs, I make the case that consensual, behind-closed-doors sex work should be legal for adults, both as sellers and buyers, under certain conditions. Had I not put that online, you wouldn’t know that I held such an opinion. My decision to put it online makes it no longer a “private” matter.

If I were to decide to run for office as a family-values Republican at some point, one of my opponents would surely dredge that up. And that would be fair game.

Susanna Gibson has accused her detractors of engaging in “the worst gutter politics” since her [paid] sex videos surfaced. Members of Gibson’s unpaid cheerleading squad in the media, meanwhile, have leveled charges of misogyny. (Were Gary Hart and Eliott Spitzer also victims of misogyny?)

But this ultimately comes down to a question of common sense, not sexual morality. Could Gibson not have foreseen this outcome?

Alexis Wright, the Zumba prostitute of a decade ago, was engaging in paid sex behind closed doors in a non-public setting. She had a reasonable expectation of privacy. So, arguably, did Eliott Spitzer, who paid for sex with high-class call girls in the closed enclaves of hotel rooms.

Susanna Gibson, on the other hand, had her paid sex in the very public arena of the Internet. By all indications, she made no effort to conceal her identity.

Yet now she’s crying foul because, lo and behold, someone saw those publicly distributed videos and said, “Hey, that’s a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates!”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not painting anyone with a scarlet letter here. Whatever else we might say about Susanna Gibson, she is certainly not boring. When describing her open marriage arrangement, Gibson reportedly told her online viewers, “I’ve had three [men] in a day actually. Don’t tell my husband he was the third.”  As Bill Murray told a character in the 1981 movie Stripes, “I want to party with you, cowboy.”

But if I were a voter in Virginia, I would have my doubts about her qualifications. Not because of the sex, not because of the open marriage, and not because of the money….but because Susanna Gibson seems genuinely surprised that this all unfolded as it did.

That bespeaks an inability to anticipate the consequences of a given set of actions. Is that the kind of representative that any voter wants?

Voters in Virginia seemed to feel the same way. Gibson lost the election.

-ET

The woes of Mike Pence, and the only sure prediction for 2024

While giving a speech at a National Rifle Association event in Indianapolis a few days ago, Mike Pence was booed as he took the microphone. A very awkward moment, to be sure.

The 2024 Republican hopeful and former VPOTUS is now scrambling to carry out damage control, as one might expect. But his case is likely hopeless. As a Republican candidate for president, it’s hard to do worse than that.

In these hyper-partisan times, politicians get booed, harassed, and hounded all the time, of course. But Mike Pence was not driven from the grounds of an American university by shaggy, leftwing student hooligans with weight and hygiene issues. He was not harried by climate change fanatics or frothing pro-abortion fetishists screeching “My body, my choice!” Mike Pence was booed at the podium of an NRA event not only in his home state, but in the state where he used to be the Republican governor.   

Mike Pence would likely be a long shot even if our political environment were, well…saner. He has a notable charisma problem, and that’s been a major handicap for any national candidate since the advent of televised debates.

Commercial television has been around since the late 1940s. Political debates, though, did not become a televised phenomenon until 1960, when Kennedy debated Nixon. Prior to their televised debate, Nixon was ahead in the polls. But Nixon’s sweaty, awkward, twitchy performance gave the youthful, relaxed, and photogenic Kennedy a solid advantage. We might say that JFK was our first president to be elected by television.

Mike Pence’s first obstacle, then, is that he can’t run for president in 1920 or 1948, when the charisma of a national candidate was much less of a factor.

Pence’s more immediate handicap, though, is that he is a moderate, at a moment in time when the most activist voters of both parties prefer extremist whackos. For evidence of this trend, I need mention only two names: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

What will the general election of 2024 bring? If the current electorate gets what it deserves, we’ll face another stark choice between the bumbling incompetence of Joe Biden (with all his loony, far-left camp followers coming along for the ride), and the temperamental volatility of Donald Trump.

We’ll see. But one thing is for certain, where the next U.S. presidential election is concerned: Mike Pence will not be anywhere near the podium on Inauguration Day 2025. He will not last long in the Republican nomination race of 2024, either.

-ET

Kristen Clarke, Harvard, and “race science”

Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee to head the DOJ Civil Rights Division, penned a 1994 letter to the Harvard Crimson, stating that African Americans have “superior physical and mental abilities”.  At the time, Clarke was an undergraduate at Harvard, and the president of the university’s Black Students Association.

Clarke based her letter on…race science.

Here are some excerpts from the letter:

“One: Dr Richard King reveals that the core of the human brain is the ‘locus coeruleus,’ which is a structure that is Black, because it contains large amounts of neuro-melanin, which is essential for its operation.

“Two: Black infants sit, crawl and walk sooner than whites [sic]. Three: Carol Barnes notes that human mental processes are controlled by melanin — that same chemical which gives Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.

“Four: Some scientists have revealed that most whites [sic] are unable to produce melanin because their pineal glands are often calcified or non-functioning. Pineal calcification rates with Africans are five to 15 percent [sic], Asians 15 to 25 percent [sic] and Europeans 60 to 80 percent [sic]. This is the chemical basis for the cultural differences between blacks and whites [sic].

“Five: Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities — something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards.”

 

Obviously, this is complete hooey, dressed up in the sort of pseudo-scientific language that passes for erudition at places like Harvard.

Obviously, the mainstream media would be shrieking, Twitter would be exploding, if a white nominee to any senior federal government post had made similar claims about whites, based on “race science”.

Nevertheless, I’m of two minds on this one.

Clarke’s age is not available online, but her Wikipedia entry states that she graduated Harvard in 1997. Backing into the numbers, this would mean that she was about 19 years old when she wrote the above words.

Kristen Clarke

Most people don’t reach full adulthood until they are about halfway through their twenties. (This is why I would be in favor of raising the voting age, rather than lowering it, but that’s another discussion.)

This doesn’t mean you should get a blank check for everything you do when you’re young, of course. But there is a case to be made that all of us say and think things during our formative years that will make us cringe when we look back on them from a more mature perspective.

This is certainly true for me. I was 19 years old in 1987. I am not the same person now that I was then—both for better and for worse.

Secondly, let’s acknowledge environmental factors. Being a student at Harvard is likely to temporarily handicap any young person’s judgement and intellectual maturity. Even in 1994, Harvard University was a hotbed of pointy-headed progressivism and insular identity politics.

Clarke was also involved in the Black Students Association. There was a Black Students Association at the University of Cincinnati when I was an undergrad there during the late 1980s. Members of UC’s BSA were known to write whacko letters like the one above. Most of them, though, were nice enough people when you actually talked to them in person. They just got a little carried away when sniffing their own farts in the little office that the university had allocated for BSA use.

What I’m saying is: I’m willing to take into account that 1994 was a long time ago. A single letter from a 19-year-old, quoting pseudo-academic race claptrap, shouldn’t be a permanent blight on the record of a 47-year-old. And I would say the same if Kristen Clarke were white, and had taken a very different spin on “race science”.

We all need to stop being so touchy about racial issues, and so preoccupied with them. That goes for whites as well as blacks, and vice versa.

I’m willing to give Clarke a fair hearing, then. But I’m skeptical. Her 1994 Harvard letter isn’t an automatic disqualifier; but it’s a question that needs to be answered.

I’m also skeptical of Biden. Biden may be a feeble old man; he may be a crook. He is not particularly “woke” at a personal level. In fact, some of his former positions on busing and crime suggest that he’s anything but “woke” on matters of race.

Yet Biden is now head of a Democratic Party that is obsessed with race. This means that Biden may try to overcompensate, by filling his government with race radicals. This recent selection supports that concern.

Given the time that has elapsed between the present and 1994, given Kristen Clarke’s age at the time, I want to hear what she has to say in 2021 before I outright condemn her as a hater or a looney. But this recent personnel selection doesn’t make me optimistic about the ideological tilt of the incoming Biden administration.

-ET