Mark Steyn speaks with TheBlaze on his new book, and everything from global warming to Common Core to the First AmendmentPosted: April 23, 2014
For TheBlaze, Benjamin Weingarten writes: We spoke with best-selling author and columnist Mark Steyn in connection with the release of a newly updated version of his entertaining and insightful book of obituaries and appreciations, “Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade.”
[Explore Mark Steyn's book: "Passing Parade: Obituaries & Appreciations" expanded edition at Amazon]
In a wide-ranging interview, Steyn spoke with TheBlaze Books on his newly updated book, the fate of America, and issues ranging from gay marriage to global warming to free speech to education and Common Core. The interview, which we conducted in-person, is transcribed below with edits for clarity and links.
Give us a brief synopsis of your newly updated book, “Passing Parade: Obituaries & Appreciations.“
Steyn: Well my big books in recent years have been on the big geopolitical, socio-economic picture. A lot of statistics, lot of numbers, lot of big picture stuff. “America Alone” is essentially a book about demography – I mean I got a best-selling book about demography which doesn’t happen very often, but it’s about fertility rates, really. “After America” in some ways is about debt – it’s about multi-trillion dollar numbers. And they’re all big picture things, but for me the real pleasure is writing about people, and reminding yourself…that it’s not all fertility rates and debt/GDP ratios, but that at the right moment of history, one individual can make a difference. And the people in this book are people who made a difference. That can be in the sense of winning the Cold War like Ronald Reagan did, or it can be in the sense of William Mitchell, who’s the guy who invented Cool Whip…I like writing obituaries. The only thing I would say is that it’s hard to write about people you…you can’t be entirely negative or hateful about people. There’s gotta be something in there [within the person] that you respond to.
And it’s interesting – even someone like Romano Mussolini, who is the Mussolini’s son – Il Duche – the big-time fascist dictator of Italy…Romano Mussolini was a jazz pianist of all things, and I met him once when he came to play in London. His group was called the “Romano Mussolini All Stars.” And after the war in Italy, his dad had been hung from a lamppost, the bottom had dropped out of the dictating business, but Romano got to be the jazz pianist that he’d always wanted to be. But he thought the Mussolini name wouldn’t go well, so he changed his name to the equivalent of “Romano Smith and His Trio.” And nobody came to see him. And then he discovered that actually, the Romano Mussolini All Stars, that that was actually quite a draw with the jazz crowd. But there’s even in that – as I said, Mussolini wound up hanging from a lamppost when they caught up with him with his mistress, but even…the final anecdote about that is that the last time Romano saw his dad, when his time had almost run out, and everybody was catching up with him, and his dad came in effectively to say “Goodbye…” he didn’t know it would be the last time he saw him and he asked him to play some music fromFranz Lehár, from The Merry Widow. And just that, even in the…just that little vignette is like a very poignant, human moment, in the life of someone who a couple weeks later was hanging from that lamppost.
I think you always have to if you’re writing – even if you’re writing about – whoever it is, there’s gotta be some little way into the story that makes them human.
And you know as bad as things are – when I think back to that time for example, and I think when Neville Chamberlain was forced out of the prime ministership in the spring of 1940, if the Tory party had picked Lord Halifax instead of Winston Churchill, the entire history of the 20th century would have been different. And so the lesson you draw…we’re in New York City…Winston Churchill was almost hit by a car crossing 5th Avenue in 1932 or whatever it was – if that taxicab had actually left the tread marks over Winston Churchill — again the entire history of the second half of the 20th century would have been different. And so the lesson you draw from that is that yes the debt numbers are bad, yes the demographic numbers are bad, yes all the big picture stuff, the trends, the macroeconomic stuff is all bad, but even so, one man, the right man at the right moment can make all the difference…extraordinary people can make all the difference.
One of the obituaries that I thought interesting was Strom Thurmond’s. Give some readers insight into the story in which you were stuck in an elevator between Barbara Boxer and Strom Thurmond.
Steyn: I was covering the impeachment trial of President Clinton, which was the first time I’d been exposed close up to the United States Senate, which is not a lovely site. And one of the few interesting things as that trial wore on was actually Strom Thurmond because he – Clinton had the sort of two sexpot lady lawyers – and Strom Thurmond used to bring candy for them each day, and then press them with his 112-year old lizard-like hands into their fingers. And you could see the women were like, fatally taken aback by this, but at a certain level they understood that this was what it was gonna take to prevent their guy from being removed from office. And in the end, Strom did not vote to remove Clinton from office, in part I do believe because he had the hots for those lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »
For the NYTimes, Jonathan Kandell writes: Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” established him as a giant of 20th-century literature, died on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” would sell tens of millions of copies. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’
Cristóbal Pera, his former editor at Random House, confirmed the death. Mr. García Márquez learned he had lymphatic cancer in 1999, and a brother said in 2012 that he had developed senile dementia.
Mr. García Márquez, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, wrote fiction rooted in a mythical Latin American landscape of his own creation, but his appeal was universal. His books were translated into dozens of languages. He was among a select roster of canonical writers — Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway among them — who were embraced both by critics and by a mass audience.
“Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an event of world importance,” the Swedish Academy of Letters said in awarding him the Nobel.
Mr. García Márquez was a master of the literary genre known as magical realism, in which the miraculous and the real converge. In his novels and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart. Read the rest of this entry »
This article is from 2008, but even more relevant now. I had a flashback today, to a book I read a long, long time ago, “Ecotopia,” that had an influence on my thinking. It was a popular counterculture book at the time (during the post-Watergate Ford/Carter era, I was a typical know-nothing dreamy liberal, barely out of high school) and today I discovered Ecotopia‘s influence was wider than I realized. A quick search turned up this NYT article, exactly what I was looking for.
It confirmed my suspicion, that Ernest Callenbach‘s futuristic book did, in fact, accurately predict trends that are flourishing today. Not just in the Pacific Northwest (where the novel takes place) but in other parts of America, too. If you’ve seen Portlandia, and know this semi-obscure cult book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Sometimes a book, or an idea, can be obscure and widely influential at the same time. That’s the case with “Ecotopia,” a 1970s cult novel, originally self-published by its author, Ernest Callenbach, that has seeped into the American groundwater without becoming well known.
The novel, now being rediscovered, speaks to our ecological present: in the flush of a financial crisis, the Pacific Northwest secedes from the United States, and its citizens establish a sustainable economy, a cross between Scandinavian socialism and Northern California back-to-the-landism, with the custom — years before the environmental writer Michael Pollan began his campaign — to eat local.
White bicycles sit in public places, to be borrowed at will. A creek runs down Market Street in San Francisco. Strange receptacles called “recycle bins” sit on trains, along with “hanging ferns and small plants.” A female president, more Hillary Clinton than Sarah Palin, rules this nation, from Northern California up through Oregon and Washington.
“ ‘Ecotopia’ became almost immediately absorbed into the popular culture,” said Scott Slovic, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a pioneer of the growing literature-and-the-environment movement. “You hear people talking about the idea of Ecotopia, or about the Northwest as Ecotopia. But a lot of them don’t know where the term came from.”
In the ’70s, the book, with a blurb from Ralph Nader, was a hit, selling 400,000 or so copies in the United States, and more worldwide. But by the raging ’80s, the novel, along with the Whole Earth Catalog, seemed like a good candidate for a ’70s time capsule — a dusty curio without much lasting impact.
From Pretty Sinister Books: Helen McCloy would have made a great writer of TV crime show scripts these days. While readingThe Man in the Moonlight (1940), her sophomore detective novel featuring Dr. Basil Willing, I was struck by the abundance of arcane bits of scientific knowledge that made up the clues and evidence in her usual fascinating plot. She introduces biochemistry, anatomy, abnormal psychology, symbology, and even the construction of heating and air conditioning units in to her multi-layered plot. The story of the murder at Yorkville University could easily have been an episode onHouse or Elementary or any of the dozen of shows in which the plot hinges on little known medical, psychological and historical facts.
Not Cool, the New York Times Bestselling writer’s latest tome, calls out the merchants of cool for being anything but hip. It’s alternately blistering and riotous, a full-on assault against those who embrace values that are the antithesis of cool.
[Order Greg's book "Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You" from Amazon]
Gutfeld slashes moral relativism writ large and stands tall for virtues which should be considered Fonzie-level cool but sadly aren’t. Every page has at least one gut buster, lines so ripe you’ll want to recycle them at the next cocktail party. Just be wary who you tell. The recipient might be the sort of faux cool merchant Gutfeld has in his sights.
The Red Eye standout begins his journey, where else, in the fifth grade. It was there he got his first lesson about both cool and the purposes of summoning it in public.
“Fifth grade had just discovered the velvet rope. And it was held by lowbrow illiterates with snot on their sleeves,” he writes. The stakes were low then. Not any more. Read the rest of this entry »
Before the French Revolution Devolved into Madness, Executions, and Terror, it was a Revolution of Ideas…Posted: March 18, 2014
Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre, by Jonathan Israel, Princeton
Duncan Kelly writes: In August 1793, four years after the fall of the Bastille, the Tennis Court Oath and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and just seven months after the execution of Louis XVI, a democratic constitution for France was proposed. It represented a flowering of Enlightenment rationalism, balancing radical ideas of popular sovereignty with a pragmatic recognition of the need for a system of representative government.
Yet by October, with enemies all around, the constitution had been set aside as the French government declared itself “revolutionary until the peace”; a warrant was put out for the arrest of the Marquis de Condorcet, a philosopher and mathematician who had been one of its principal engineers. He would take his own life around five months later.
After Condorcet’s Girondin faction was pushed aside by the Montagnards, the Revolution took a different course into Terror, with the “incorruptible” Robespierre ruling through the Committee of Public Safety until the coup of 9 Thermidor (or July 27) 1794. Thermidorean reaction would see Robespierre executed the next day, and a new period of rule established under the Directory. Five years later, Napoleon’s dictatorship took power. France’s democratic experiment was over – and yet nothing would ever be the same again. Read the rest of this entry »
I heard this in the car the other day, great story.
For NPR, Leah Binokovitz reports: On Twitter, some writers started asking the same question: Wouldn’t it be great if Amtrak offered “residencies” to writers, so they could ride the rails and write? And Amtrak said: Let’s try it.
[Listen to the story: Download]
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST: Things can take off fast on Twitter. And that’s what happened when a couple of writers expressed how much they like riding trains, Amtrak specifically. It started with an idea: Wouldn’t it be great if Amtrak would offer writers a chance to ride the rails for free and do some writing along the way? Soon, the idea was being tweeted and retweeted, and Amtrak replied: Sure.
NPR‘s Leah Binkovitz explains.
LEAH BINKOVITZ, BYLINE: Alexander Chee had been thinking about this for a while. He’s a novelist working on his second book. Last year, the literary organization PEN American Center asked him in an interview: What’s your favorite place to write?
ALEXANDER CHEE: I said that I like to write on trains and that I wished Amtrak had residencies for writers.
BINKOVITZ: His comments started a conversation amongst friends and writers on Twitter. The idea seemed to take on a life of its own.
“We’re often silly, and we’re spoiled by any measure of history…At the same time we made the world a better place — just not necessarily in the ways we set out to.”
– Author P. J. O’Rourke
In his first book of all new, previously unpublished material since 2007, best-selling humorist P. J. O’Rourke turns his lens on his fellow post-war babies. In “The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way” O’Rourke draws on his own experiences and leads readers on a candid, laugh-out-loud journey through the circumstances and events that shaped a generation.
At this Cato Book Forum, he will tackle the big, broad problems stemming from the generation that, for better or worse, changed everything.
Though these two articles aren’t directly related, they share a common theme: “Girl Power”!
First, commenting on the real vs. unreal-proportions Barbie debate, is author Virginia Postrel, in an essay provocatively titled called ‘Average’ Barbie Is Just as Fake’, Postrel begins with reflections drawn from her own childhood experiences with dolls:
“When I was a little girl, my favorite dolls came from Mattel and had wildly inhuman proportions. To me, they were magical and special and didn’t look the least bit strange…”
Then gets into the business with Mattel:
“…As a mass-produced product, a doll represents a single version of female proportions. Taken as a role model, any single standard excludes those with a different build. Celebrating “average” doesn’t solve the problem. Instead of trying to create a plastic role model, it’s both kinder and more honest to treat a doll as an object of escapist fantasy – a plaything.
Barbie’s popularity is waning, a fact Lammily boosters rarely fail to mention. But Mattel is in the business of selling play, not social commentary…”
Like most guys, other than G.I. Joes (and nobody really talked much about the Joe’s body image) I have no experience with dolls (honest!) and defer to thinkers like Postrel for insights. Put those dolls away and read the whole thing.
The second article involves the recent “Ban Bossy” campaign — featuring the comments of a author Jonah Goldberg, who I’m sure would agree is equally knowlegable discussing Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, or Foghorn Leghorn – and who also draws from personal experience.
“…It seems patently untrue that a) Bossiness is the same thing as “leadership,” b) That bossiness is a gender-specific issue for kids, c) That girls are falling behind in leadership nationally or in schools. Some of my views are based on the fact that I am the father of a little girl and some of it is based on informed common sense…”
And questions the premise that girls are disproportionately disadvantaged in the first place:
“In every conceivable way women are doing better and better. Sheryl Sandberg is herself proof of that. No rational or objective person believes that things aren’t getting better for women in the workplace or the executive suite.
For the Times Literary Review, Robert Irwin writes: The title Reading Darwin in Arabic notwithstanding, most of the men discussed in this book did not read Charles Darwin in Arabic. Instead they read Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Ernst Haeckel, Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, Gustave Le Bon, Henri Bergson and George Bernard Shaw in European or Arabic versions. They also read popularizing accounts of various aspects of Darwinism in the scientific and literary journal al-Muqtataf (“The Digest”, 1876–1952). The notion of evolution that Arab readers took away from their reading was often heavily infected by Lamarckism and by the social Darwinism of Spencer. Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859, but Isma‘il Mazhar’s translation of the first five chapters of Darwin’s book into Arabic only appeared in 1918.
For a long time, the reception of Darwinism was bedevilled by the need to find either neologisms or new twists to old words. As Marwa Elshakry points out, there was at first no specific word in Arabic for “species”, distinct from “variety” or “kind”. “Natural selection” might appear in Arabic with the sense “nature’s elect”. When Hasan Husayn published a translation of Haeckel, he found no word for evolution and so he invented one. Tawra means to advance or develop further. Extrapolating from this verbal root, he created altatawwur, to mean “evolution”. Darwiniya entered the Arabic language. Even ‘ilm, the word for “knowledge” acquired the new meaning, “science”. With the rise of scientific materialism came agnosticism, al-la’adriya, a compound word, literally “the-not-knowing”.
[Robert Irwin is the author of "Visions of the Jinn: Illustrators of the Arabian Nights" (Studies in the Arcadian Library) and "Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, mystics and the sixties" both available at Amazon]
Theories about evolution had circulated widely in Britain and France from the late eighteenth century onwards. In the nineteenth century the work of Georges Cuvier on the reconstruction of creatures from fossil remains and of Charles Lyell on the geological evidence for the great age of the world and its slow transformation had prepared the ground for consideration of Darwinism.
Female lust is normal: Now that the consensus is finally established, we’ve been hit by a tidal wave of confessional sex memoirs…
Claire Dederer writes: Maybe you remember the old joke: “Why do dogs lick their balls? Because they can.” Here’s a new one I just made up: “Why do women lie about sex? Because they can.” It’s not really funny, I admit, but it does have the benefit of being true. Women are anatomically secretive. Our stuff is neatly tucked away, and the obvious signs that connote female arousal—arching, gasping, and so on—are secondary and unreliable. They might be genuine, or they might not be.
Image source: turnbuckleblog
Men are all evidence. A character in Sophie Fontanel’s new memoir of celibacy, The Art of Sleeping Alone, succinctly describes the male dilemma. Carlos has ended his marriage because he no longer wants to have sex with his wife. Fontanel asks him whether he has told his wife the true reason he left. Carlos replies: “How could I have lied to her? With love, you can always get out of a bind because you can’t see it, but getting a hard-on, or not, you can’t wriggle out of that; might as well be frank about it.” When your hard-ons are invisible, there’s room for lots of wriggling.
By now, of course, it’s difficult to think of female desire as in any way hidden. The cultural speculum has been firmly inserted for a good look around. Women have long since learned all about how our tucked-away stuff works, with pioneers of second-wave feminism as our guides: Our Bodies, Ourselves was practically standard-issue along with the dorm-room furniture when I arrived at my very liberal college in 1985. Meanwhile, female lust has been thoroughly documented (or at any rate, endlessly and theatrically depicted) by the adult-film industry. How would porn get along without horny females? Science, too, has lately been busy substantiating the existence of girl lust. In his recent tour of burgeoning research into female desire, What Do Women Want?, Daniel Bergner reports a current verdict: women are at least as libidinous as men.
“…I read Nin in college, and more than a few of you probably sampled her unforgivably arty, but also truly dirty, prose too…”
There it is. We can finally all agree that women want to have sex. Variously portrayed in the past as tamers of men and tenders of children, we’re now deemed well endowed with horniness. But does that mean we experience desire in the same way that men do? My lust tells me we don’t. Mine, I confess, isn’t blind or monumental or animal. It comes with an endless internal monologue—or maybe dialogue, or maybe babel. My desire is always guessing, often second-guessing. Female lust is a powerful force, but it surges in the form of an interrogation, rather than a statement. Not I want this but Do I want this? What exactly do I want? How about now? And now?
“A radical is one who advocates sweeping changes in the existing laws and methods of government.”
- Hillary Rodham (Clinton) in her 1969 thesis “There Is Only The Fight : An Analysis of the Alinsky Model”
As voters stagger through the long hot summer of the 2012 Presidential campaign, activists who want to defeat President Obama are fighting an uphill battle to help their fellow citizens get an honest assessment of who Barack Obama is and what he believes. The mainstream media are certainly no help in vetting Obama, having proven themselves both as slippery and as shallow as a puddle of bacon grease.
Obama’s past matters because it isn’t just his past. As author Stanley Kurtz shows in his upcoming book Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities, the President’s background past is relevant today because it leads directly to his wealth redistribution policies and other radical plans to reshape America.
Because of the Fourth Estate Fail, it’s incumbent on conservative activists and citizen journalists to do the job of explaining to voters the truth about Barack Obama. This article is the first in a series that uses Kurtz’s Spreading The Wealthas a jumping off point to lay out in stark detail how President Obama has practiced distinct brand of Chicago-style politics has had implications for every aspect of his policy, from Obamacare to the housing crisis.
The plain truth is that President Barack Obama has operated in a manner completely consistent with his political roots as a Alinsky-style community organizer. That simple assessment is accurate but useless as an explanation. Most voters have no idea who Saul Alinsky was or even what being a “community organizer” means. Ironically, this ignorance is especially acute among liberals.
The good news is that understanding Alinsky and his profound impact on Obama’s policies & political operation can be simple.
Alinsky’s manifesto Rules For Radicals lays out the principles of community organizing and the blunt, modern language makes it an easy read. Yes, it’s evil–but it’s seldom pedantic.
However, I think an even better place to start is the astounding, in-depth interview that Playboy magazine did with Alinsky in 1972. The entire interview at the link is from a political website and there isn’t a NSFW photo anywhere.