From this weekend’s WSJ.com: When Elmore Leonard died in August, the papers were full of obituaries that described him as “a novelist who made crime an art.” So, at any rate, declared a headline writer for the New York Times. A year earlier, the National Book Foundation had presented Mr. Leonard with its annual medal for “distinguished contribution to American letters,” calling him a “great American author,” and the Library of America announced that it would be bringing out a three-volume edition of his work in 2014. I didn’t want to rain on his cortege, so I didn’t say what I thought, which was that he was one of the most overpraised writers of our time. A very good one, mind you—I’m a passionate fan of Mr. Leonard’s brisk, funny crime novels—but overpraised all the same.
What’s wrong with his books? For one thing, they’re repetitious to a fault. I can’t count the number of Mr. Leonard’s novels that revolve around a divorced man of a certain age who falls hard for a wised-up younger woman. On the other hand, a cheeseburger is a cheeseburger. No matter how many you’ve eaten, you can usually make room for another one if it’s good, and Mr. Leonard wrote a lot of good books—”LaBrava,” “Maximum Bob” and “Tishomingo Blues,” in particular.
So why grump about his obituaries? Because they exemplify a trend that has gotten out of hand. It used to be that we didn’t take popular culture seriously, but now we don’t take anything else seriously.
Lefties Contemplate the Pain of “Cyberlibertarianism,” Wonder Where They’ll Ever Find a Centralized World to Manage Choice and BehaviorPosted: December 8, 2013
He starts off going wrong with a rather gross misunderstanding of what being “of the left” in American terms means these days:
The digital revolution, we are told everywhere today, produces democracy. It gives “power to the people” and dethrones authoritarians; it levels the playing field for distribution of information critical to political engagement; it destabilizes hierarchies, decentralizes what had been centralized, democratizes what was the domain of elites.
Most on the Left would endorse these ends. The widespread availability of tools whose uses are harmonious with leftist goals would, one might think, accompany broad advancement of those goals in some form. Yet the Left today is scattered, nearly toothless in most advanced democracies. If digital communication technology promotes leftist values, why has its spread coincided with such a stark decline in the Left’s political fortunes?
What the left really wants is a centralized elite authority that pursues particular ends it claims to desire, often allegedly on behalf of “the people”; people who really want dethroned authority, free flow of information, and decentralization are libertarians.
Why would a left that wants to see a world shaped to its own particular desires–about income distribution, market and personal choice and behavior, and forced change in people’s transportation, energy, and consumption choices, embrace a world of greater decentralization and choice?
Alex Mayyasi writes: On January 15, 2009, geese struck and disabled the engines of US Airways Flight 1549, forcing captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to perform an emergency landing on the Hudson River. The smooth landing resulted in no casualties and remarkable pictures of the passengers and crew waiting on the plane’s wings in front of the Manhattan skyline. The “Miracle on the Hudson” received heavy media coverage that lifted Sullenberger to American hero status.
Nine months later, William Morrow published Sullenberger’s memoir Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters. Although one reviewer called the writing style “as methodical as one of Sully’s checklists,” the book received high marks. But how did an amateur writer with a full schedule as a pilot, crash investigator, and CEO of a safety management consultancy find time to write a book in under nine months?
Just as he received assistance landing Flight 1549, Sullenberger had a co-pilot working on his book. On the cover of Highest Duty, just below Sullenberger’s name, it reads “With Jeffrey Zaslow.” Zaslow, who passed away in 2012, was a journalist and author whose name also appears on the cover of the memoirs of professor Randy Pausch and US Representative Gabrielle Giffords. He was, in other words, the person who most likely wrote the book: the ghostwriter.
Writers like Zaslow represent an open secret in book publishing and any content with a byline – that the title of author is often more of an executive position rather than an indication of who wrote the words on the page. Dictionaries define an “author” as either “a person who has written something” or “a person who starts or creates something, such as a plan or idea.” Readers assume the first, while publishers understand it’s the second.
I heard a portion of an interview with Hannan on the radio yesterday, it was compelling, made me want to hear more. Maybe I’ll get the ebook edition.
Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World [Kindle Edition] [Hardcover Edition]
Daniel Hannan writes: How many countries fought for liberty in both World Wars and the Cold War?
We are still experiencing the after-effects of an astonishing event. The inhabitants of a damp island at the western tip of the Eurasian landmass stumbled upon the idea that the government ought to be subject to the law, not the other way around. The rule of law created security of property and contract, which in turn led to industrialisation and modern capitalism. For the first time in the history of the species, a system grew up that, on the whole, rewarded production better than predation.
Why did it happen? Why, after thousands of years of oligarchy and tyranny, did a system evolve that lifted the individual above the tribe rather than the reverse? How did that system see off rival models that elevated collective endeavour, martial glory, faith and sacrifice over liberty and property? How did the world come to speak our language?
I set out to answer these questions in my book, published in North America as Inventing Freedom and in the rest of the Anglosphere as How we Invented Freedom. (It’s reviewed here by Charles Moore.) I trace the lineage of liberty back through its great landmarks – the war against slavery, the American Revolution, the Glorious Revolution, the English Civil War, Magna Carta – to its origins in the folkright of Anglo-Saxon common law. Read the rest of this entry »
Greg Pollowitz notes: I’m not sure this is the type of review Chris Matthews was hoping for from the Times of his new book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. “It’s a nice idea for a book, if only it were true”:
“Ever since our national politics dissolved into a miasma of polarization and strident punditry — which means either the Clinton pseudoscandals or the John Adams administration, depending on your historical reference point — Washington pontificators have waxed wistful for gentler times. In the glow of nostalgia, even ideologues and scoundrels come to resemble civic-minded statesmen who put aside partisanship to broker compromises.
This romantic tendency usually makes for bad history. A few good books have mined the vein — including last year’s overlooked “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis,” by Ira Shapiro, a former Senate aide — but Chris Matthews’s “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked” isn’t one of them. A former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and aide to the House speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. (one of his subjects here), Matthews is best known today as an MSNBC talking head — snarling head, some might say — a kind of Democratic Pat Buchanan giving voice to the resentments of the disgruntled middle class. For those familiar with his brand of confidently asserted overgeneralization, the book is about what you would expect.
Wes Vernon writes: Taken page by page, this book is a fun read. Taken as a whole, it remains entertaining but acquires a deeper meaning. One must add up all “50 Things Liberals Love to Hate” to appreciate fully the huge canyons that have divided us into two nations in terms of worldview.
It is now common-sense Americans (of whatever ethnic, racial or religious background) versus a segment of the population that has bought into a strain of thought that constitutes an intellectual “foreign object” in our midst.
The latter is a disruption to — and arguably, an attempted destruction of — the free exceptional nation we have come to know and love and for which our Founding Fathers sacrificed that we may enjoy prosperity and happiness as rewards for hard work and initiative.
Author Mike Gallagher is a radio talk-show host whose daily routine is such that he can’t avoid stumbling over other-planet ideas promoted by those who, with a straight face, imply, “Doesn’t everybody think so?” If they get the wrong answer to that question, their follow-up will include such epithets as “racist,” “bigot,” “homophobe,” and “Islamophobe,” to cite some of the milder insults.
Mr. Gallagher obviously had fun putting all these leftist pet peeves between two covers. The book is filled with howlers that are at once amusing and threatening.
Take, for example, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, two parts of one of the “50 Things,” and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) acolytes who go to court to force each of those two groups to admit members of the opposite sex into their ranks.
The people pushing that idea are not ignorant of the most basic facts of life and human nature. Most (though not all) know that boys and girls are wired differently. Liberals know it all too well. That’s what they intend to change.
Here we are in the baby boom cosmos. What have we wrought?
P.J. O’Rourke writes: The Baby Boom generation spans eighteen years. Already, the earliest boomers have reached retirement age. Many are getting more conservative as they get older. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports.
We are the generation that changed everything. Of all the eras and epochs of Americans, ours is the one that made the biggest impression—on ourselves. That’s an important accomplishment, because we’re the generation that created the self, made the firmament of the self, divided the light of the self from the darkness of the self, and said, “Let there be self.” If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you may have noticed this yourself.
That’s not to say we’re a selfish generation. Selfish means “too concerned with the self,” and we’re not. Self isn’t something we’re just, you know, concerned with. We are self.
[BOOKS] George F. Will on Scott Walker’s ‘Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge’Posted: November 30, 2013
Milwaukee — In 2011, tens of thousands of government employees and others, enraged by Governor Scott Walker’s determination to break the ruinously expensive and paralyzing grip that government workers’ unions had on Wisconsin, took over the capitol building in Madison. With chanting, screaming and singing supplemented by bullhorns, bagpipes and drum circles, their cacophony shook the building that the squalor of their occupation made malodorous. They spat on Republican legislators and urinated on Walker’s office door. They shouted, “This is what democracy looks like!”
When they and Democratic legislators failed to prevent passage of Act 10, they tried to defeat — with a scurrilous smear campaign that backfired — an elected state Supreme Court justice. They hoped that changing the court’s composition would get Walker’s reforms overturned. When this failed, they tried to capture the state Senate by recalling six Republican senators. When this failed, they tried to recall Walker. On the night that failed — he won with a larger margin than he had received when elected 19 months earlier — he resisted the temptation to proclaim, “This is what democracy looks like!”
Walker recounts these events in Unintimidated: A Governor’s Story and a Nation’s Challenge. Most books by incumbent politicians are not worth the paper they never should have been written on. If, however, enough voters read Walker’s nonfiction thriller, it will make him a — perhaps the — leading candidate for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
Ed Driscoll writes: Has there been a more spectacular downfall to an American city than Detroit? As late as 1965, Jerome Cavanagh, its then-mayor, the first of what would be to this very day an unending series of Democrat party officials leading the city, could say with some honesty, “frequently called the most cosmopolitan city of the Midwest, Detroit, today, stands at the threshold of a bright new future.”
And the Titanic was thought to be unsinkable as well, right up until she left the Southampton docks.
The riots of 1967 would be Detroit’s equivalent of the iceberg; the 1974 election of Coleman Young as the city’s mayor for the next two decades would cement its doom permanently, until ultimately, it was forced to declare bankruptcy this past July. And in addition to the city’s institutional reverse-racism, its fiscal mismanagement has been spectacular as well. As PJM’s own Richard Fernandez noted back in September, inside Detroit’s City Hall, from 1985 through 2009, “the pension trustees were draining the pension because they were so sure, so absolutely certain that the taxpayers would have to refill the pot they felt safe helping themselves to whatever they wanted… What could go wrong? To everyone’s amazement something completely unprecedented happened: City Hall went broke. ‘They didn’t reckon with the possibility,’ [Megan McArdle wrote inBloomberg News] ‘that the city would simply run out of money, and the state would decline to step in, leaving them with no deep pockets to make up for their mismanagement.’ And so the Detroit pension is bust unless they find something they can siphon off to replenish it.”
As we bid Lessing farewell, the blight she spoke of—“political correctness” and, in particular, its toxic feminist strain—is on the move again
Cathy Young writes: The tributes to Doris Lessing, the novelist and Nobel Prize laureate who died on November 17 at 94, have given scant attention to one aspect of her remarkable career: this daughter of the left, an ex-communist and onetime feminist icon, emerged as a harsh critic of left-wing cultural ideology and of feminism in its current incarnation.
Over 20 years ago, I heard Lessing speak at a conference on intellectuals and social change in Eastern Europe at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. It was 1992, the dust still settling from the collapse of the Soviet empire. Lessing opened her memorable talk with a warning: “While we have seen the apparent death of Communism, ways of thinking that were born under Communism or strengthened by Communism still govern our lives.” She was not talking about the East but the West, where coercive “social justice” had reinvented itself as “antiracism,” feminism, and so forth. “Political correctness” had become, Lessing said, “a kind of mildew blighting the whole world,” particularly academic and intellectual circles—a “self-perpetuating machine for dulling thought.”
What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence? A small group of psychologists say they are moving toward answers. Is anyone listening?
Tom Bartlett writes: The former battery factory on the outskirts of Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia, has become a grim tourist attraction. Vans full of sightseers, mostly from other countries, arrive here daily to see the crumbling industrial structure, which once served as a makeshift United Nations outpost and temporary haven for Muslims under assault by Serb forces determined to seize the town and round up its residents. In July 1995 more than 8,000 Muslim men, from teenagers to the elderly, were murdered in and around Srebrenica, lined up behind houses, gunned down in soccer fields, hunted through the forest.
The factory is now a low-budget museum where you can watch a short film about the genocide and meet a survivor, a soft-spoken man in his mid-30s who has repeated the story of his escape and the death of his father and brother nearly every day here for the past five years. Visitors are then led to a cavernous room with display cases containing the personal effects of victims—a comb, two marbles, a handkerchief, a house key, a wedding ring, a pocket watch with a bullet hole—alongside water-stained photographs of the atrocity hung on cracked concrete walls. The English translations of the captions make for a kind of accidental poetry. “Frightened mothers with weeping children: where and how to go on … ?” reads one. “Endless sorrow for the dearest,” says another.
Across the street from the museum is a memorial bearing the names of the known victims, flanked by rows and rows of graves, each with an identical white marker. Nearby an old woman runs a tiny souvenir shop selling, among other items, baseball caps with the message “Srebrenica: Never Forget.”
This place is a symbol of the 1995 massacre, which, in turn, is a symbol of the entire conflict that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. The killings here were a fraction of the total body count; The Bosnian Book of the Dead, published early this year, lists 96,000 who perished, though there were thousands more. It was the efficient brutality in Srebrenica that prompted the international community, after years of dithering and half measures, to take significant military action. Read the rest of this entry »
Do Single-Family Homes Threaten the Planet?
Randal O’Toole and Damien M. Schiff report: A plan to squeeze most residents of the San Francisco Bay Area into multifamily housing offers a test case of whether land-use bureaucracies nationwide, encouraged by the Obama administration, should be allowed to transform American lifestyles under the pretext of combating climate change.
Currently, 56 percent of households in the nine-county Bay Area live in single-family homes. That number would drop to 48 percent by 2030, under a high-density development blueprint called Plan Bay Area, recently enacted by the Association of Bay Area Governments and the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
“Decreeing radical lifestyle changes for average Americans is expensive, intrusive and ineffective.”
Plan Bay Area has already drawn several legal challenges, and the debate could spread nationwide if, as may happen, it becomes a model for regulators in other parts of the country.
Owning a single-family home has long been part of the American dream, but Plan Bay Area embraces a dramatically different vision of the ideal community: crowded rows of high-rises and mass-transit platforms.