Posted on March 25th, 2013 No comments
Germany is plagued by an unusually large number per capita of pathologically pious zealots of the type who like to strike heroic poses as saviors of humanity. The number may even approach the levels found in the USA. They definitely take the cake when it comes to the subspecies of the tribe whose tastes run to nuclear alarmism. They came out of the woodwork in droves the last time an attempt was made to move radioactive waste via rail to the storage facility in Gorleben, tearing up the tracks, peacefully smearing a police vehicle with tar and setting it on fire, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Now, in keeping with that tradition, an article just appeared in the German version of New Scientist, according to which those evil Americans are actually planning to restart the production of (shudder) plutonium.
Entitled The Return of Plutonium and written by one Helmut Broeg, the article assumes a remarkable level of stupidity on the part of its readers. Mimicking Der Spiegel, Germany’s number one news magazine, its byline is more sensational than the article that follows, based on the (probably accurate) assumption that that’s as far as most consumers of online content will read. Here’s the translation:
The USA stopped producing plutonium 25 years ago. In order to preserve the ability to launch deep space missions, they will resume the production of the highly poisonous and radioactive material.
Only in the body of the article do we learn that the particular isotope that will be produced is plutonium 238, which, unlike plutonium 239, is useless for making nuclear explosives. As it happens, Pu-238 is the ideal material for powering thermoelectric generators such as that used on the Curiosity Mars rover because it decays primarily via emission of alpha particles (helium nuclei) and has a half life of 87.7 years. That means that its decay products are mostly stopped in the material itself, generating a lot of heat in the process (because of the short half life, or time it take half of the material to decay), which can be converted to electricity using devices with no moving parts. The world supply of the material is currently very short, and more is urgently needed to power future deep space missions.
All this is very sinister, according to Broeg. He quotes Heinz Smital, who, we are informed, is an “atomic expert” at Greenpeace, that, “the crash of such a satellite could contaminate large areas with radioactivity. Don’t look now, Mr. Smital, but if you’re really worried about radioactive contamination by alpha emitters like Pu-238, you might want to reconsider building all the coal plants that Germany is currently planning to replace the nuclear facilities it has decided to shut down. Coal typically contains several parts per million of radioactive uranium and thorium. A good-sized plant will release 5 tons of uranium and 10 tons of thorium into the environment each year. Estimated releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. That amount has gone up considerably in the intervening years. The cumulative radiation now covering the earth from these sources dwarfs anything that might conceivably result from the crash of a rocket with a Pu-238 power source, no matter what implausible assumptions one chose to make about how its containment would fail, how it would somehow enter the atmosphere at hypersonic speed so as to (optimize) its dispersion, etc. Of course, the radioactive isotopes released from burning coal will also be with us for billions of years, not just the few hundred it takes for Pu-238 to decay.
But wait! Dispersal of Pu-238 isn’t the only problem. There’s also (drum roll) the BOMB! Broeg drags in another “expert,” Moritz Kütt, a physicist at the Technical University of Darmstadt, who assures us that, “In the production of Pu-238, some Pu-239 is produced as well. As a matter of principle, that means the US is resuming the production of weapons-useful material.” Kütt goes on to ask what the world community would have to say if Iran announced that it would produce Pu-238 for a space mission?
To appreciate the level of gullibility it takes to swallow such “warnings,” one must spend a few minutes to check on how Pu-238 is actually produced. Generally, it is done by irradiating neptunium 237 from spent nuclear fuel with neutrons in a reactor. Occasionally the Np-237 captures a neutron, becoming Np-238. This, in turn emits a beta particle (electron), and is transmuted to Pu-238. It’s quite true that some of the Pu-238 will also capture a neutron, and become Pu-239. However, the amounts produced in this way would be vanishingly small compared to the amounts that could be produced in the same reactor by simply removing some of the fuel rods after a few months and chemically extracting the nearly pure Pu-239, which would not then have to be somehow separated from far greater quantities of highly radioactive Pu-238. In other words, if the world community learned that Iran had a nefarious plan to produce bomb material in the way suggested by Kütt, the reasonable immediate reaction would be a horse laugh, perhaps followed by sympathy for a people who were sufficiently stupid to adopt such a plan. As for the US deciding to replentish its stocks of bomb material in this way, the idea is more implausible than anything those good Germans, the brothers Grimm ever came up with. It only takes 4 kilos of Pu-239 to make a bomb, and we have tons of it on hand. In the unlikely event we wanted more, we would simply extract it from reactor fuel rods. The idea that we would ever prefer to attempt the separation of Pu-239 from Pu-238 instead is one that could only be concocted in the fevered imagination of a German “atomic expert.”
Posted on November 8th, 2012 No comments
The election is history and the unlucky soothsayers I referred to in my last post are eating crow. To paraphrase Billy Joel in one of his songs, “they didn’t have quite enough information.” For the edification and amusement of my readers, here are some of Tuesday’s losers.
Noted Republican strategist Karl Rove. He thought the polls suggested that more Republicans and fewer Democrats would show up to vote than in 2008. He was wrong.
In an article entitled, “Reflections on Mittmentum,” the ever hopeful Roger Kimball, who blogs for PJmedia, wrote the day before the election,
My own sense of the matter, as I have said here on many occasions, is that Mitt will not only win but win handily. The final tally, I suspect, will show Mitt the victor with something like 330 electoral votes.
The day after, a chastened Kimball wrote,
But I misread and misread badly both the mood of the country and the depth of support for Obama’s failed policies. I will doubtless get around to rejoining Ron in the battle, but a little hiatus for reflection will not come amiss.
That is certainly a sentiment his fellow prophets will agree on. Soothsayers over the water also got their comeuppance on Tuesday. Christopher Carr of Australia’s conservative mag, The Quadrant, had assured his readers,
On November 6, 2012, Mitt Romney will be elected President of the United States by a comfortable margin. It will not be a cliffhanger, despite the chorus of conventional wisdom.
Carr added that, because of his choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate, and his strong performance in the debate, Romney’s victory was assured. In his post mortem after the results were in, he sadly concluded,
Mitt Romney played Mr. Nice Guy. President Obama played the demagogue. But nice guys finish last.
In Germany, Der Spiegel’s token conservative pundit, Jan Fleischhauer, also had it wrong. In an article entitled “Bad, Bad Romney,” a satirical dig at the usual German version of reality in which the Republicans are bad guys and the Democrats good guys, he writes,
In the media the battle for the White House is already decided; Mitt Romney… has no chance. Unfortunately, wishful thinking isn’t much help in a democracy. The Republicans may not have the press on their side – but they have the numbers.
Not one to dwell on his mistake, Mr. Fleischhauer penned another article entitled “Our Obama-Love is Infantile“ a couple of days after the election analyzing the “root causes” of German anti-Americanism. It was probably more useful to his readers, noting, for example, that Germans have been hopefully and confidently predicting the downfall of the United States for the last 40 years. In fact, it’s probably been longer than that. I note in passing that, in reading the many comments after the articles on the U.S. elections on German webzines, there are a lot more Germans pointing to the faults of their own country and condemning the ubiquitous destructive criticism of the United States than there were, say, ten years ago. The usual received wisdom according to which the U.S. is the decaying embodiment of evil imperialism, run by shadowy financiers, and inhabited by Bible-thumping Christian versions of the Taliban, is still there in abundance. However, more nuance is gradually being added by those who ask questions such as why, if we are so evil, and Germany such a paradise, so many Germans are looking around for the best shortcut to a Green Card.
One thing that both the lucky and the unlucky pundits will likely agree on is that the electorate is fractured along racial and gender lines as never before. Political ingroups in the U.S. are rapidly becoming less defined by ideology, and more defined by demography. Romney won the vote of white males over thirty by a massive majority. Obama won the black, Hispanic, Asian, and single female votes by similarly huge majorities. His majorities trumped Romney’s. It seems that similarly constituted Democratic majorities will continue prevail more frequently than not in national elections for a long time to come. To the extent that political and economic issues mattered in this election, they mattered less in their own right and more as cultural attributes associated with race and gender than in past elections. The Benghazi debacle was a huge deal for white males over thirty. It was a non-issue for young black women.
Posted on August 31st, 2012 No comments
Niall Ferguson’s recent publication of an article attacking Obama in Newsweek generated a lot of useful data on the nature of political thought. Consider, for example, the hundreds of comments left on liberal and conservative political blogs and websites. They’re easy enough to find on Google. On the former, the commenters are typically furious because of their conviction that Ferguson’s article is nothing but a pack of lies, and on the latter they are triumphant because of their conviction that Ferguson not only answered but demolished the charges of deception, and exposed his opponents as the real liars. For the most part, the comments are morally charged, and seem to fully vindicate Jonathan Haidt’s point about the emotional dog with a rational tail. To the extent that any of the commenters attempt to use reason at all, it is to vindicate intuitions about whether Ferguson is “good” or “evil” that are entirely predictable depending on whether they dwell on the right or left of the political spectrum. There are virtually no instances of the apparent use of reason to weigh and balance the evidence before forming an opinion. The more obsessed an individual is with politics, the more predictable his opinions become on any politically loaded issue. If there is any good news in all this, it is that both sides are well-represented in the social media, at least in the United States. The rare individual who is inclined to weigh the evidence on both sides and attempt to formulate an opinion informed by reason at least has easy access to both points of view. The result is a salutary restraint on the ardent partisans of both sides that encourages them to occasionally temper their ideal worldview with doses of reality. If only one point of view were represented, there would be an opposite tendency to replace reality with fantasy.
The German media provides a good example of how this works in practice. As in the U.S., the social media in that country has powerful voices on both the “left” and the “right.” There are pronounced differences among the partisans of both sides, particularly regarding issues of local interest. However, as regards, the U.S., the message from both sides is remarkably similar. This was very evident in the most recent of the periodic eruptions of anti-American hate in Europe that reached its climax during the final years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush Administrations. Coverage of the United States, whether in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the right or Der Spiegel magazine on the left, was uniformly anti-American and quasi-racist. For example, Americans were universally stereotyped as prudish, religious fanatics, gun nuts, etc. Occasionally the bitter attacks on the U.S. took up so much space on Der Spiegel’s website that it was difficult to find any news about Germany. The anti-American wave only subsided when a few people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice (and be shocked) by what they were seeing. Apparently the big dogs in the German media concluded that, profitable though it undoubtedly was, they would have to tone down what had become blatant hate mongering if they wanted to preserve some chance of continuing to win prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.”
Today things are significantly more subdued although the media still throws a chunk of red meat to the Amerika haters now and then. However, the one-sided nature of the reporting is still the same. Consider, for example, the recent coverage of the Republican National Convention. Whereas, after a brief honeymoon, the Obama Administration is now generally portrayed in the German media as merely ineffectual, the Republicans are decidedly bad guys who are typically described as “radical,” “extreme,” and “crazy.” They are, of course, “racist” as well. Thus, for example, there was heavy coverage of incident in which two unknown individuals threw nuts at a black CNN correspondent and told her that was how they “fed the animals,” but no mention of the seemingly more egregious racism behind the defacing of Republican Mia Love’s Wikipedia entry, and little, if any, notice of the fact that persons of color were prominent speakers at the convention at all.
Paul Ryan is described as an “extremist” in both the “rightist” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (“Ryan is known as a proponent of budget slashing and massive cuts in the area of social welfare”) and the “leftist” Der Spiegel (“Romney’s choice for Vice President has prepared a plan of battle that includes more explosive for America’s democracy than all (Sarah) Palin’s vices – nothing less than a declaration of war on America’s social solidarity”), based on either grossly distorted and one-sided portrayals of his record, or, more commonly, no evidence at all. In spite of the fact that the federal budget proposed by Ryan calls for increased spending every year for the next decade and beyond, he supposedly wants a “skeleton state.” In condemning Ryan, Der Spiegel goes so far as to provide its readers with a fairy tale version of “history” that would never pass the “ho ho” test if there were anyone around with an interest in bothering to challenge it:
Ryan sees himself as a tribune of the people. He likes to quote Ronald Reagan’s remarks to the effect that, if the rich had more, their riches would “trickle down” to the rest of the citizens. The result of this experiment is well known: Reagan had to massively increase taxes in 1982, because the U.S. budget deficit had become gigantic.
In fact, Ryan couldn’t quote Reagan’s remarks about “trickle down” economics, because the term is a straw man used by his enemies. English speakers can easily Google the facts about economics in the Reagan years, and see for themselves that the 1982 tax increase was not “massive” by any reasonable definition of the term, and particularly not when compared with the tax cut of 1981, that it represented a compromise in return for spending cuts, that there was a net overall decline, not increase, in the tax rate during the Reagan years. Furthermore, in spite of tax cuts, as noted by economist M. T. Griffith,
As a result of the Reagan tax cuts, tax payments and the share of income taxes paid by the top 1% climbed sharply. For example, in 1981 the top 1% paid 17.6% of all personal income taxes, but by 1988 their share had jumped to 27.5%, a 10 percentage point increase. The share of the income tax burden borne by the top 10% of taxpayers increased from 48.0% in 1981 to 57.2% in 1988. Meanwhile, the share of income taxes paid by the bottom 50% of taxpayers dropped from 7.5% in 1981 to 5.7% in 1988.
The “gigantic” U.S. budget deficit of 1982 was only about half what it is today as a percent of GDP. The arguments and interpretations of the legacy of the Reagan years continue in the U.S. to this day, with lots of spin on both sides. The point is that the version in the German media is generally a great deal more crudely one-sided than one typically finds in the U.S., even among the most ardent partisans on either side. Only one point of view speaks with a significant voice in the social media. “Fact checking” by the other side is not a concern, because there is no other side, other than a few brave but insignificant bloggers.
The Eastwood speech was another prominent feature of the convention that was portrayed one way by the Right, and an entirely different way by the Left. In Germany, it was portrayed only one way, more or less in lockstep with the version you’re likely to find in the New York Times or Washington Post. Which version you happen to prefer is beside the point. The point is that, on this as on so many other complex issues dealing with the U.S., in Germany, you only get one version, and it’s usually a great deal cruder and tendentious than its equivalent here.
According to Marx, a monopoly of the social means of production in the hands of a single economic class is a bad thing. In practice, it seems to me that a monopoly of the social means of communication on behalf of a single point of view may be a good deal worse. That was the state of affairs that prevailed in the U.S. in the 60’s and 70’s. With respect to “news” about the United States, it is a state of affairs that prevails in Germany, and probably a good number of other countries to this day. Where such monopolies exist, formal “freedom of the press” is meaningless. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like whining about Rush Limbaugh, Foxnews, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the right, or about George Soros, MSNBC, and the many influential U.S. bloggers and websites of the left. As long as both of them exist, it’s a good thing. They keep each other honest.
Posted on July 31st, 2012 2 comments
Well, actually that’s only technically true. Any potential Obama voter who can afford the fare and tell a red state from a blue state becomes an honorary U.S. citizen as soon as they set foot on these shores. They can vote as often as they like, as long as they don’t do it all in the same precinct. Still, I had to chuckle when I glanced at the website of Der Spiegel this morning. They are so in the tank for Obama they make MSNBC look like the soul of objective journalism. Here are the stories I found in a quick glance through:
Headline: Candidate Embarrassing Byline: Stiff as a board, clueless, artificial. Republican Presidential candidate exposed many of his weaknesses on his European tour.
Headline: Romney Enrages Palestinians (have they ever not been enraged?) Byline: Romney campaigns on his foreign tour – and arouses the Palestinians against him in the process.
Headline: Romney’s Blundering Tour through Europe Byline: The U.S. candidate for President booked a week of blunders and slip-ups in Europe. Things just aren’t going right for the Republican.
Headline: Stepping in it On Tour Byline: The Palestinians accuse him of racism, the British are cross, and Polands Solidarnosc doesn’t like him.
Headline: Romney Advisor Curses Reporters in Warsaw Byline: There’s no end to the criticism directed at Romney’s foreign tour – now one of his advisors lost his cool.
And mind you, that’s just what I saw in a quick glance on a single day. Actually, it’s a huge improvement. Back in the last years of the Clinton and first years of the Bush Administrations, Der Spiegel’s website was so full of vile, quasi-racist anti-American rants that it was often difficult to wade through it all and find any news about Germany. They only gave it up when a few people across the pond started to notice, and the editors realized they were putting all those prestigious international prizes for “objective journalism” in jeopardy. They still occasionally throw out some red meat to the Amerika haters, but only enough to keep them on life support.
Posted on March 10th, 2012 1 comment
In 1920, the famous Marxist Rosa Luxemburg wrote,
Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.
In 2012, speaking of Clear Channel Communications, which provides a variety of programs, including the Rush Limbaugh show, to the Armed Forces Network, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said,
I would hope the people that run it see just how offensive this is and drop it on their own volition. I think that is probably an issue that should be left to the folks that run that network. … In other words, I’d love to see them drop it, but I don’t think I’d legislate it.
Gee, thanks Carl! No doubt tears of gratitude should be running down our cheeks. If you’ve ever wondered what kind of “progress” people are talking about in the context of “progressive” politicians like Levin, now you know. When it comes to realizing that there’s no such thing as freedom of speech unless it applies to people who don’t think just like him, Levin doesn’t have a clue . It was obvious enough almost 100 years ago, and to a Marxist, no less, but apparently Levin is a slow learner.
And what of Limbaugh? The Left, in one of their signature fits of contrived virtuous indignation, is trying to silence him for a remark about a woman that pales to utter insignificance in comparison to the misogynistic bile their own paladins have poured on conservative women. Why does it matter? Because, whether you like his politics or not, Limbaugh has probably done more for genuine freedom of speech than anyone else in this country since H. L. Mencken resigned as editor of the American Mercury. Before Limbaugh came along, individuals could say pretty much whatever they wanted. However, the mainstream media had a virtual monopoly on what a Marxist like Luxemburg might call the “social means of communication.” In other words, they controlled the “voices” that could actually be heard by a significant audience, and they saw to it that the ideological message that voice promoted had a relentless slant to the left. Limbaugh was the first to succeed in making a genuine crack in that monopoly. His lead was followed by numerous other conservative talk show hosts, and, eventually, Foxnews.
The country is better off for it. Thanks to Limbaugh and others like him, freedom of speech really means something in this country. Compare our situation with that of any major country in Europe, and you’ll begin to understand why there’s reason to be grateful. Consider Germany, for example. I happen to follow the media there rather closely. They have big media on the “right,” like the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and big media on the “left,” like Der Spiegel, but they have nothing like Limbaugh or Foxnews. As a result, the message as far as anything that really matters is concerned is surprisingly uniform.
For example, anti-Americanism in the media there expands and subsides, much as it does in other European countries. During the most recent extreme, from about the last few years of the Clinton Administration through the first few years of the Bush Administration, anti-American hate reached truly astounding levels. Occasionally, it was hard to find any German news on Der Spiegel’s website because the available space was all taken up with ranting diatribes against the evil Americans. It didn’t matter whether you read Der Spiegel, or boulevard mags like Stern, or wannabees like Focus, or the FAZ on the moderate right, or the Deutsche National Zeitung on the brown-shirted fringe, or even if you only watched the news on TV. The relentless, mindless anti-American bile was everywhere.
To their credit, a good number of Germans tried to push back. Unfortunately, the only “voice” they had was a few little blogs. So it is with most major ideological issues. There are nuances and differences in tone between the “left” and the “right,” but the overall message is surprisingly uniform, particularly in the broadcast media. Limbaugh put an end to that in this country. When there is a slant to the news, it is immediately called out and recognized as such by loud and strong voices, regardless of whether it happens to be to the left or the right. Hack politicians like Levin have always found that kind of genuine freedom uncomfortable.
One could cite many examples of the allergic reaction of the old media in Europe to the possibility that anyone who doesn’t “think right” might be heard by a significant audience. The recent vicious “legal” persecution of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands comes to mind. In the UK, the old media used their political water boys to resist erosion of their control of the message by Fox News, and Iranian Press TV was banned for “breaching the broadcasting code.” They cheered loudly when the government went to the extreme of banning 16 people with some semblance of a public voice, including US radio talk show host Michael Savage, from entering the country. If nothing else, Savage would have been a useful anodyne against the BBC’s relentless slanting of the news against Israel. The UK once allowed pacifists a voice in her public media even as her troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk and she fought on alone against Hitler. Obviously, times have changed.
In a word, be happy if Rush Limbaugh really irritates you. If you can still hear him it means there’s still some semblance of freedom of speech in this country.
Posted on December 19th, 2011 No comments
Habitués of the European media are aware of the anti-American slant commonly found in “news” stories about the US, unless, of course, they happen to belong to that rather common species, the anti-American Americans. In fact, there was recently something of an “algal bloom” of anti-Americanism there, lasting more or less from the last years of the Clinton into the first years of the Bush Administration before it finally choked on its own excess. The tone is rather more subdued today, although one still sees the occasional piece of red meat thrown out to the proles. It’s good for the bottom line.
The phenomenon is hardly a novelty. As I noted in a recent post about George Orwell, he often referred to instances of it in his essays, stretching over a period from the early 20′s to the late 40′s, and unabated even during some of the darkest days of World War II when, by all accounts, we were supposedly allies. It actually goes back much further than that. In fact, I recently found some amusing examples in a copy of the British Quarterly Review, the great organ of the Tories in the first half of the nineteenth century, dating back to April, 1822. There, in a review of several books about our country that had recently made their appearance entitled, “Views, Visits, and Tours in North America,” we find ourselves described as a vulgar and inconsiderable tribe engaged mainly in the mutual gouging out of eyes and taking of potshots at each other. For example, one of the authors recounts several anecdotes about the “rough tumblers” he ran into in Pennsylvania:
…he was told of another who had been so milled in a rough and tumble, that a compassionate bystander said to him, ‘you have come badly off this time, I guess.’ ‘Have I,” replied the fellow with a triumphant grin, ‘what do you think of this?’ holding up an eye which he had just taken out of his pocket.’
Potential emigrants are advised to avoid the “pestilential vapors that hover over the thick savannas of the American wilds.” By way of example, one of the books describes a party of disappointed pilgrims, on their way back from the new state of Illinois:
These poor people informed him that they had purchased a large tract of land in the state of Illinois, and settled upon it the preceding summer, since which period they had lost eight of their number by dysentery, fever and ague; and the remainder had determined to quite the pruchase, and return with the loss of all their time and nearly all their money.
I trust that at least a few of the brave souls who risked their fortunes in Illinois had better luck. The author of another of the books recounts a similar tale of woe:
In addition to the misery of travelling in an old carriage, ‘with springs of hickory-wood, and horses fitter for the currier than for harness,’ he meets with rattle-snakes, and alligators, and dead carcasses, and putrid smells; butcher’s meat not fit for any creature but a dog; cows that give only a quart of milk a day, and, worst of all, with dreadful agues and fevers which carry off a great part of the population.
In summing up the tale of all these torments and miseries, the reviewer reflects sadly on the folly of those who would leave their happy home,
…to replunge into that state of savage life from which we happily escaped so many centuries ago; – to forego all the comforts and all the blessings of civilization; to be set down for life in the midst of a lonely and pestilential wilderness, surrounded with disease and death; – to be devoured by fleas and bugs, and mosquitoes within doors, and to live in the constant dread of snakes, scorpions, and scolopendras without…
etc., etc. I rather suspect that some of the British coal miners in the Manchester of that day had a rather less charitable view of “all the comforts and all the blessings of civilization” to be found in the England of the time. But as for us poor Americans, alas, we had not even the solace of a respectable religion in these miserable surroundings. One of the authors describes a “representative congregation” of our countrymen as,
…an ignorant, vulgar and fanatical horde, who, under the name of Shakers, have established themselves at a town named Union, not far from Cincinnati. This sect originated with a woman of the name of Ann Lee, of Manchester, who having, with her associates, committed various offences against public decorum, was glad to take refuge in America. The essentials of the creed are nearly allied to blasphemy; and the admission to the holy state of matrimony is so opposite to any thing like decency, that none but the filthiest pen could prostitute itself in detailing it.
In fine, then, the reviewer can foretell no great future for our country;
…in vain should we look for the arts, the elegances, the refinements, and general intelligence of this country (England) among so heterogeneous a population as that of the United States, where, with the exception of a few cities and towns on the shores of the Atlantic, the inhabitants of which are mostly engaged in trade, a great part of the population is perpetually on the wing, confined to no fixed home, and changing their occupations with their places of abode. Among a people thus circumstanced, the refinements of intellectual and polished society are not to be found or expected; and whether they ever will exist under the present form of government is a point on which our opinion is not called for; …but we have very little hesitation in repeating a conviction we have long felt, that as population becomes more dense in the Western States the present republican form of government will be found inadequate, and that Old and New America will necessarily become at least two, if not more, distinct and rival nations; the result of which would, in all probablility, be advantageous to both or all of them.
Thus the wishful thinking of an old English Tory. I should say we did rather better than he expected. Readers of this blog will recognize European anti-Americanism, both antediluvian and modern, as a sadly predictable manifestation of what Robert Ardrey referred to as the Amity/Enmity Complex, that aspect of human nature that we so love to ignore in spite of the mayhem, slaughter and warfare that have played such a constant and pervasive role in human history and of which it has been the prime mover. One can but speculate on why we Americans have never been so quick to identify the Europeans as an outgroup and return all this spite and hatred in kind. We certainly have had no lack of hatreds and animosities of our own in the meantime. Perhaps we can just be more easily imagined as a single, distinct entity upon which to foist all the stigmata of evil.
Whatever the target, though, it is in our nature to perceive an outgroup for every ingroup, and an evil for every good. As the horrific events of the twentieth century amply demonstrated, that tendency of ours is becoming a greater existential threat to our species with every advance in the technology of destruction. We would do well to stop ignoring it and at least try to find ways to minimize its destructiveness. Our survival may depend on it.
Posted on November 2nd, 2011 No comments
In a recent article that appeared in Der Spiegel we find that the editors are ”shocked, shocked,” about Halloween portrayals of Obama as a zombie with a bullet wound in the head. The piece is a classic of its kind, and follows a familiar MO. Spiegel headlines are often scurrilous misrepresentations of the truth, especially in matters touching on the US. The editors then “correct” the disinformation somewhere in the body of the article that follows, well aware that many visitors to their site never look beyond the headlines.
In this case, the headline blames the entire Republican Party for the pic: “Republicans Portray Obama as Zombie with a Head Wound.” Those patient enough to glance at the byline discover the news is rather less sensational. Only the Republicans in the State of Virginia are to blame: “Republicans in the US State of Virginia issued an invitation portraying Barack Obama as a zombie with a head wound.” But wait, there’s more! Those curious enough to actually read the article find that only the Republicans in a single one of the thousands of US counties are to blame: “In the race for the White House, the Republicans of Loudoun County in the US State of Virginia seem to have overshot the target.” The article never does quite get to the real truth: that the zombie portrayal was the bright idea of a single imbecile, who has since resigned after being denounced by the rest of the Republicans in the Loudoun County Committee.
No matter, the editors shake their heads sadly over the regrettable affair, noting that it has,
…inspired great outrage. “Repulsive” and “disgusting” are only a few of the comments about the picture of the President.
They should know. They’re experienced in such matters. Here’s a portrayal of another US President that appeared on the cover of Der Spiegel a few years back.
Posted on May 10th, 2011 No comments
The European media don’t flaunt their anti-Americanism the way they did in times past. I follow the German media, and the level of spite and hatred directed at the United States by the Internet media there a decade ago was amazing. Der Spiegel was always at the head of the pack of baying hounds. It was often difficult to find any news about Germany on their website in the maze of quasi-racist anti-American rants. People on this side of the pond began to notice, and eventually the “respectable” media began to refrain from wearing their hatred on their sleeves. Apparently some rudimentary sense of shame still existed among them. However, the phenomenon of anti-Americanism is still alive and well. Inevitably, it reappears on the occasion of any significant American victory. The squaring of accounts with bin Laden is a case in point. Here’s a sample of the headlines that have appeared on the Spiegel website since that happy event:
Merkel’s Joy Outrages Critics (The usual cheap shots from the pathologically pious against the German Chancellor for daring to approve of the raid.)
How a Judge wants to Bring Merkel to her Senses (A terminally self-righteous Hamburg judge wants to sue Merkel for “approving of an illegal act.”)
Bin Laden, the Victor (Psychobabble deploring the fighting of “evil with evil.” Hand-wringing over an action described as, “an assault by 79 elite soldiers, who shot an unarmed old man, surrounded by women and children.)
Poll – Germans are not Happy about bin Laden’s Death (no kidding?)
American Justice (Oh my! It seems there are some questions about whether the operation was justified under international law.)
Schadenfreude over bin Laden’s Death is Unworthy (A particularly nauseating display of ostentatious self-righteousness by a “theology professor.”)
…and so on, and so on. All this isn’t a purely German phenomenon, of course. Other bloggers have noted the pervasive grief in the rest of Europe over bin Laden’s demise. Seen from a purely psychological perspective, it’s encouraging. Apparently the Europeans still perceive us as “King of the Hill.” After all, they would hardly have worked themselves into such a lather if Gautemala had succeeded in bumping off its public enemy number one. It may be that China’s turn is coming, but they’re not there yet.
Posted on March 7th, 2011 1 comment
Back in the day, coverage of U.S. military operations in the German media consisted mainly of a melange of self-righteous posing and predictions of imminent doom. For example, according to Der Spiegel, Germany’s number one news magazine, in an article published less than two weeks before the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. Army was “stuck in the sand,” it faced a “worst case scenario,” the Iraqis were fighting “much harder than expected,” and the war was likely to last “for months,” and then only if the troops already on the ground received “massive reinforcements.” Unabashed when all these prophecies of doom turned out to be so many fairy tales, Spiegel immediately shifted gears to the usual fare comparing Iraq to Vietnam that Americans became familiar with in their own media. Inevitably, as well as being another Vietnam, Iraq was a “quagmire.” By 2006, Spiegel was confidently assuring its readers, in lockstep with the NYT and WaPo, that, “The Iraq strategy of the Bush Administration has failed.”
Fast forward to the next President. The winds of insurrection are blowing in the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya, however, the revolutionary wave has been checked, at least for the time being, by the stubborn refusal of Muammar Qaddafi to play his assigned role and bow out gracefully. Meanwhile, the U.S. President seems in no hurry to take any “unilateral action,” and seems to have a distinct aversion for any action more forceful than declaring that Qaddafi’s bloody massacres of his own people are “unacceptable.” Oddly enough, Der Spiegel seems to have changed its tune. According to the headline of an interview with delegate to the European parliament Martin Schulz, the “opportunism (Taktiererei) of the European states is a scandal.” Schulz thinks that “a military intervention in Libya may be considered as a last resort.” Spiegel has a long history of expressing its editorial opinion via such “expert” mouthpieces. It would seem the Schulz interview is no exception. For example, according to the bolded opening paragraph of another article under the headline, “Qaddafi’s Counteroffensive puts the West under Pressure,” we read,
Intervene or watch and wait? After ever more violent battles, Libya threatens to sink into civil war, and with it into chaos. There is increasing pressure to intervene, and it is falling above all on western states. Meanwhile, Germany, the EU, and the USA are standing idly by.
All this sounds harmless enough by US standards. For the German media, though, it’s positively jingoist. In the past, their MO has always been to wait until we actually do take action, then print a stream of articles about civilian casualties, bombings of hospitals and old folks homes, allusions to Vietnam and “quagmires,” the selfish motives of the U.S and its evil corporations which, in this case as in Iraq, would undoubtedly be oil, etc., etc. But Obama isn’t playing along. By all appearances, it’s starting to get under their skin. A byline of the above article refers to the U.S. as the “Helpless World Power #1.” The U.S. military is portrayed as “skeptical” about intervention, and “playing for time” to avoid it. Pentagon spokesman is using the excuse of Libyan air defenses “more effective than those of the Iraqis in 2003,” to explain this “stalling.” In a word, Der Spiegel is positively egging us on to send in the cavalry.
Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that the German media, along with the rest of that of “old Europe,” would turn on us with a vengeance as soon as the first boot of the first U.S. GI touched Libyan soil. I have a better idea. Let’s just stay out of it. Give peace a chance! If the Europeans are so worried about the fate of the Libyan people, I’m all in favor of letting them have a go at saving them, but without our assistance. There are occasions when I feel positively comforted by the fact that Barack Obama, and not John McCain, is our President. This is one of them.
Posted on December 8th, 2010 No comments
Looking for Amity/Enmity Complex data points? Look no further than the German mass media, where inspiring hatred of out-groups has acquired the status of an art form, then as now. It’s odd, given the country’s history, but there you have it. The hate object du jour varies from time to time, but the hate fetish itself remains. Predictably, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was increasingly concentrated on the “one remaining superpower,” the United States. In the last years of the Clinton and the first years of the Bush administrations, anti-US hate mongering in the German media reached a climax that, in a favorite phrase of Dr. Goebbels in his Diaries, would have “made your hair stand on end.” Eventually, people on the other side of the Atlantic began to notice, and the editors of Der Spiegel and some of the other major “news” venues began to realize that they could not keep it up and still expect to win any more of those prestigious international prizes for “objectivity.” The “hate index” has declined considerably since then, but they still occasionally throw out a few chunks of red meat to the more atavistic of their fellow citizens to keep them interested.
Lately, the trend has again been upwards, but with an interesting twist. The US has acquired a co-bad guy: China. The citizens of the Middle Kingdom should be proud. German hate is a testimony to China’s newly acquired power and status. She recently co-starred with the US in a Spiegel rant about our “sins” at the Copenhagen climate conference. It seems that, based on a careful parsing of the latest Wikileaks material, the US and China formed a “pact” to de-rail the conference, no doubt as part of their greater conspiracy to destroy the earth’s climate and eradicate mankind. According to the byline of a Spiegel article charmingly titled, “USA and China were Brothers-in-Arms Against Europe,”
It was a political catastrophe – it’s now clear how last year’s Copenhagen climate summit became such a spectacular failure. The recently revealed US State Department documents betray the fact that the USA and China were working hand in hand. The two biggest climate sinners derailed all the plans of the Europeans.
The article is full of dark hints about the “revelations” in the Wikileaks documents. For example,
It was a visit that China’s rulers could be pleased about. Towards the end of May 2009, John Kerry, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had met with Vice-Premier Li Keqiang in Peking. Kerry told him that Washington “could understand China’s reluctance to accept binding goals at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. And then, according to a dispatch of the US embassy in Peking, the American sketched a new basis for a meaningful cooperation between the US and China against climate change.
The US diplomatic papers now document how close the contacts between the two biggest climate sinners in the world, the USA and China, were in the months before (the conference). They give weight to those voices that have long speculated about an alleged coalition between the old and new superpower.
As anyone who takes an interest in climate negotiations will have noticed, all of this and, for that matter, the rest of the “revelations” in the article are old hat. All of it was copiously reported at the time, for example, here, here, and here. Read through these articles and you’ll notice that, at the time, Kerry was referring to his visit as another potential “Nixon to China visit,” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who also visited China at the time, hailed the climate change negotiations as a potential “game changer” in US China relations. Under the circumstances, it’s rather difficult to understand how Der Spiegel’s astute editors could have been “shocked, shocked,” to discover the “closeness” of the discussions between the US and China only after they had waded through the Wikileaks papers.
The article continues with some pious remarks about the virtue of the Europeans compared to the sinfulness of the Europeans in matters of climate. Under the byline, “The USA and China can continue to blow smoke,” we read,
Because the US signed the (Kyoto Protocol), but never ratified it, China and America can continue to blow smoke. The Europeans, on the other hand, must reduce their use of energy. That’s why they fought for a new treaty in the days before Copenhagen: at the very least, the USA, China and the other “threshold countries,” India and Brazil, should agree to firm goals for reducing (energy use).
Good Christians will be reminded of Luke 18; 11-12,
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
As for my Chinese readers of a certain age, they will, no doubt, recognize a remarkable similarity between the Spiegel rants against their country and the slanders and innuendo in the dazibao (propaganda posters) that were so prominently visible during the heyday of the Great Cultural Revolution. To them I can only say, if you really want to be a superpower, get used to it.
It turns out, by the way, that the German’s are even more hypocritical than the Pharisee. At least he actually did give alms to the poor. When it comes to concrete results in reducing greenhouse emissions, however, they are the ones blowing smoke. In the years between 2000 and 2007, they reduced their emissions per capita by 5%. The ”sinful” USA reduced its emissions by 5.5%. Throw in the effect of reforestation (and it certainly should be thrown in, because it results in a real reduction in greenhouse gases) and the US reduction increases to 11%, bettering the German performance by better than a factor of two. It would seem that the editors of Spiegel consider the striking of pious poses and signing of “worthless scraps of paper” of more importance in determining who is a “climate sinner” than actual performance.
And what really did happen at Copenhagen? What became of the “close relationship” between the US and China that “remained hidden” from the blinkered eyes of German journalists until they were happily enlightened by Wikileaks? Evidently they count on both the short memory of their readers, and their inability to use Google. In fact, the US and China began quarreling about climate change before Copenhagen, their disagreements became worse at the conference, became even more strident as the conference continued, and, according to other European observers who apparently don’t share the sharp eye of Spiegel’s editors for uncovering secret conspiracies, eventually wrecked chances of reaching an agreement.
No matter as far as German editors are concerned. When it comes to bashing their latest hate objects, the truth is of no concern. If articles like this about Chinese women torturing animals, this, according to which China admits to being “climate sinner number 1,” and this, according to which China is “attacking” the West economically while its “paralyzed, weakened” victims look on are any indication, their latest hate object would be China. Move over, USA, the new Yellow Peril has arrived.