Trump as Republican Party Reptile

I just did some Thoughts on Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech for Samizdata. Here is the complete speech of Trump’s that I was on about, and to which I linked, twice, because I think the fact that we all now can link directly to it is so very good.

Something else I didn’t complicate my Samizdata piece with did occur to me, while I was reading that same speech, and in particular when I read things like this in it:

We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass. We are the land of Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody. (Applause.) We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen – (applause) – Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton – General George Patton – the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali. (Applause.) And only America could have produced them all. (Applause.) No other place.

We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan. We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream – it was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert; who built up Miami from the Florida marsh; and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore. (Applause.)

Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet. We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon – and one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars.

We gave the world the poetry of Walt Whitman, the stories of Mark Twain, the songs of Irving Berlin, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the style of Frank Sinatra – (applause) – the comedy of Bob Hope, the power of the Saturn V rocket, the toughness of the Ford F-150 – (applause) – and the awesome might of the American aircraft carriers.

I’ve read this before, I thought, or something a hell of a lot like it. Yes, a piece in P. J. O.Rourke’s Republican Party Reptile, which was published in 1987, about an epic car journey O’Rourke made across America, in a Ferrari. I read this book in the late eighties. The Ferrari piece in this book would appear to be a slimmed down version of this piece, which was published in Car and Driver, in 1980.

I wrote a Libertarian Alliance pamphlet in praise of O’Rourke’s essay (also in praise of classical CDs), which included big quotes from the 1987 version of O’Rourke’s piece, including things like this:

… To be in control of our destinies – and there is no more profound feeling of control of one’s destiny that I have ever experienced than to drive a Ferrari down a public road at 130 miles an hour. Only God can make a tree, but only man can drive by one that fast. And if the lowly Italians, the lamest, silliest, least stable of our NATO allies, can build a machine like this, just think what it is that we can do. We can smash the atom. We can cure polio. We can fly to the moon if we like. There is nothing we can’t do. Maybe we don’t happen to build Ferraris, but that’s not because there’s anything wrong with America. We just haven’t turned the full light of our intelligence and ability in that direction. We were, you know, busy elsewhere. We may not have Ferraris but just think what our Polaris-submarines are like. And if it feels like this in a Ferrari at 130, my God, what can it possibly feel like at Mach 2.5 in an F-15? Ferrari 308s and F-15s – these are the conveyances of free men. What do the Bolshevik automatons know of destiny and its control? What have we to fear from the barbarous Red hordes?

And like this:

… And rolling through the desert thus, I worked myself into a great patriotic frenzy, which culminated on the parapets of the Hoover Dam (even if that was kind of a socialistic project and built by the Roosevelt in the wheelchair and not by the good one who killed bears). With the Ferrari parked up atop that orgasmic arc of cement, doors flung open and Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” blasting into the night above the rush of a man-crafted Niagara and the crackle and the hum of mighty dynamos, I was uplifted, transported, ecstatic. A black man in a big, solid Eldorado pulled up next to us and got out to shake our hands. “You passed me this morning down in New Mexico,” he said. “And that sure is a beautiful car. …”.

Note that Mount Rushmore includes, along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln: the Roosevelt who killed bears, Teddy Roosevelt, but not the Roosevelt in the wheelchair who presided over the Great Depression. No wonder Democrats are now saying they hate it.

I don’t know what P.J. O’Rourke is up to these days, so whether he had any direct input into Trump’s speech I have no idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I’ll bet you anything that whatever combination of Trump and Trumpsters wrote Trump’s speech at the very least knew all about that O’Rourke piece. I’ll go further. I’ll bet Trump read that O’Rourke piece at some point in the 1980s, and remembered it, and said to his guys: “That’s what I want! Write me something like that!” And they did. Right up to the stuff about cars, and warships, and the Hoover Dam, and about how “there is nothing we can’t do”.

Even if you hate everything about P.J. O’Rourke and everything about Trump and if you especially hate Trump’s speech the other day, you surely may still be agreeing about the O’Rourke echoes I think I heard.

If I’m right, then this is a story which confirms something else I am fond of telling anyone who will listen, which is that all the people alive now will, in thirty or forty years time, either be thirty or forty years older, or dead. You can tell a lot about the world now, by asking what people in their teens and twenties were getting excited about, thirty or forty years ago. There will be more of that.

Of course, I loved Trump’s speech, just as I loved that P.J. O’Rourke Ferrari piece. God is a figment of the human imagination, but setting that quibble aside, may He Bless America.

Poetic perfection in a reopening pub

Rebecca Day tweets:

I’ve spoken to regulars Chris and Jimmy. Jimmy hasn’t gone to bed after his night shift tarmacking the roads. He had a shower and came straight here. He described the taste of his first Carling as being like an ‘angel pissing on the tip of my tongue’.

In her original tweet, Rebecca Day put “p***ing” and “his” tongue, so I’ve restored what Jimmy said to its original state of perfection. You’re welcome.

One of the services this blog supplies to its regular readers is to pluck occasional pearls of perfection like that (or that (or that)) from the torrent of swine shit that is Twitter, or at any rate what Twitter seems to turn into for many people.

Civilised disagreement works better face-to-face (therefore cities have a future)

The present dose of Plague History we’re having has caused much pessimism concerning the future of big, densely packed cities. Being an enthusiast for big city architecture, especially the seriously big and eye-catching sort, I am now more than ever on the lookout for people saying things about why cities confer, and will continue to confer, an advantage upon all those who live and work in them.

So, I particularly noticed this Bo Winegard tweet, when I encountered just now:

It depresses me how quickly a person on twitter can go from disagreeing with you to cursing and insulting you. Strikes me that there’s probably an evolutionary mismatch because almost all of our interactions were face-to-face. People are much nicer when they have to look at you.

I think that captures a key advantage of face-to-face communication, which is that it makes it more likely that those face-to-face communicating are that bit more likely to do it like ladies and gentlemen rather that like loutesses and louts.

I think people on twitter shout, so to speak, partly because they can. But also, maybe, because they feel they have to, to get their point across. If you do one of those oh-so-gently meaningful and very politely phrased criticisms, on Twitter, or for that matter during a conference-at-a-distance, you are liable to fear that your point will get lost. Your iron fist will be completely smothered by the velvet gloves you chose to wear. Face-to-face, you can literally see and hear and feel your point getting across. Or not, in which case you can politely rephrase it.

Being able to disagree in a civilised manner, in a way that doesn’t leave lasting scars or permanent feuds, is fundamental to the successful functioning of any organisation.

My dad was a barrister, in American: a trial lawyer. British barristers are always careful to call each other “my learned friend”, and the more fiercely they are quarrelling, the more they are careful to scatter these words upon all the insults they trade. That always used to amuse me, when my dad talked about it. But an important point was embodied in such drollery, not least because dad often spelled it out explicitly. When arguing, be polite. The more fiercely you argue, the more important politeness becomes. Twitter seems to make that harder. Face-to-face communication makes it easier.

So, cities will survive. Face-to-face communication is now one of their core purposes.

Matt Welch on how to practise

I’ve had this tweet open for ever, and I was just looking through all the results, with a view to shutting it.

David Burge:

I’m looking for advice, but not about anything in particular GO

In my opinion, the best advice came from Matt Welch:

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

Very true. Both halves.

I’m English. You practise, verb. What you practise is practice, noun. Like Advise and Advice. (Commenters: If you think that’s wrong, I don’t care.)

BMNB QotD: Silence

Michael Tracey:

I don’t think it’s accurate that “silence” automatically equals “complicity” or “violence.” Sometimes people are “silent” because they have complicated views about a complicated subject, and decline to mindlessly repeat whatever clichés you are trying to force down their throat.

Which I only got to read because Steve Stewart-Williams (plus another of my followees Claire Lehmann) liked it. (See also: this posting here (also made possible by SS-W liking and linking to something) which told me about this bit of video about dentistry.)

Am now following Michael Tracey. So far? Disappointed. Says he’s “friend to all dogs”, but have scrolled and scrolled, but have found no canine references at all. Just him not being silent about all the rioting and posturing. But it’s all good knockabout stuff, and he’s still right about silence.

Jokes about a broken blog

Not mine, thank goodness. 6k’s. A few hours ago, 6k told the tale of his broken blog, in the form of a blog posting which he had to put instead, at first, on Facebook.

I LOLled at this bit:

I’m optimistic that the engineers at Afrihost will get their act together in the very near future and put the server plug back into the wall after the cleaning lady socially distanced it from its socket, …

Ah yes, the eternal and never-ending war between cleaning ladies and us computer users. That surely speaks, in the language of Lockdown, to all of us.

I did not LOL at this next bit. I merely smiled. Even though I now think it funnier. This is how 6k summarised his tale, having successfully copied it to his actual blog:

So now you’ve read a blog post about a blog post about not being able to post a blog post on the blog I wasn’t able to post on.

Blogging is, or can be, sometimes, a lot like stand-up comedy. Bloggers are mostly seated throughout, but the same principles do often apply, of a stressful life told of amusingly, and often at quite some length while you wait for the joke but are in the meantime at least diverted, and then there are jokes like those above, finding new ways to say eternally true things. At which you often LOL, but often are happy enough just to smile at.

A Twitter dump

For several months now, as alluded to tangentially already today, I have a ever heightening heap of, in particular, tweets piling up in my computer, which I have in mind to say clever things about, and which I do not in the meantime want to completely forget about. Pocket is great for articles with big headings at the top, but less good for tweets. So, here is a twitter dump, several of which are now way out of date, but still fun to remember.

This has made some impression on the pile. Not much, but some. So, in no particular order …:

Horrific find in local cafe. Destruction of great literature to create a bookish aesthetic. Shameful. Wasteful.

When God tries to punish your city for homosexuality but gays use their magic shield to protect it.

Two Concordes landing simultaneously.

I was glad to help you get home safely.

… you can be anything you want to be. You absolutely can not.

Inequality is the idea you can never be happy with a million dollars if the guy next door has a billion.

When I said Boris should get the unpopular stuff out of the way straight after the election, I meant unpopular with other people, not me.

“The United Kingdom is the last major European country where it is illegal to use e-scooters on public roads, bike paths, and pavements. This is despite surveys and usage indicating they are overwhelmingly popular where they are legal.” Time to fix that.

I see the potential for a whole new and compelling theory of modern political trends: ‘where does the bonkersness go?’ It could be called The Bonkers Dynamic, or Bonkerology.

Why did the Pilgrim Fathers leave for the New World? … They sailed because they felt themselves in a story.

Brexit Day +4: The grounded planes, the chaos in the streets, the unpaid workers, the crippling strikes, the faltering economy, the upper class buffoon in charge, the petrol bombs, the riot police, the snipers on rooftops, the tanks on the streets. But enough about France

I will not stand for baseless attacks and slander, unless they are directed at people I personally dislike.

A little excess fear is exactly what evolutionary principles would predict. The cost of us getting killed even once is higher than the cost of responding to a hundred false alarms.

However the #CoronavirusOutbreak plays out, pundits and commentators will craft a clean story for why whatever ends up happening was obvious all along.

From Dawah to damage control – All the workshops that used to be around trying to convert non-Muslims to Islam, are now trying to keep Muslims from leaving Islam and doubting religion.

When a team loses it looks unpopular, out of touch, and hence more likely to lose in future. It is the very act of winning that changes other people’s minds because they don’t want to be on the unpopular team, and winning shows that what you’re offering is what’s popular.

“I wish you bad luck …”

I don’t know which of the people I follow on Twitter drew my attention to the tweet that contained the quote that follows, a tweet which has been hanging around on my hard drive ever since I encountered it, but whoever it was, thank you.

There’s probably some computer trickery by means of which I could have straightened this out, but regulars here know that computer trickery is not a great strength of mine, and in any case, here at BMNB you get what you pay for. So, here is the quote, curves and all:

The tweeter who tweeted this, Daniel Negreanu, tells us that this is an excerpt from a commencement speech to a graduating middle school class, given at some time or other, somewhere in America, by someone called John Roberts. There is a bit of discussion below about who this particular John Roberts might be (anyone?), but basically, this is the only thing I have heard by or about him. This quote was in its turn quoted in The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. That being where the curvy graphics came from. A photo presumably.

This is the kind of thing I used to put on my now long defunct Education Blog. Maybe I should start doing more of this kind of thing.

I especially like what he said about luck.

Parshall and Tully (and Slim) on why Japan lost

I recently watched the 2019 movie about the Battle of Midway. Wanting to make a bit more sense of what I had just watched, I then purchased Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully. This seems to be a much respected volume, and now that I have started dipping into it, I find that, just as was promised, it is especially illuminating about the approach adopted by the Japanese side in this battle. Here is how the chapter entitled “Why Did Japan Lose?” ends (pp. 413-415):

British Field Marshal William Slim, who had been defeated in Burma by the Japanese in early 1942, but who would later return the favor by crushing them in the same theater in 1944, beautifully captured the spirit of his enemies in an excerpt written about the Japanese Army. He remarked:

The Japanese were ruthless and bold as ants while their designs went well, but if their plans were disturbed or thrown out – ant-like again – they fell into confusion, were slow to re-adjust themselves, and invariably clung too long to their original schemes. This, to commanders with their unquenchable military optimism, which rarely allowed in their narrow administrative margins for any setback or delay, was particularly dangerous. The fundamental fault of their generalship was a lack of moral, as distinct from physical, courage. They were not prepared to admit that they had made a mistake, that their plans had misfired and needed recasting. … Rather than confess that, they passed on to their subordinates, unchanged, the order that they themselves had received, well knowing that with the resources available the tasks demanded were impossible. Time and again, this blind passing of responsibility ran down a chain of disaster. … They scored highly by determination; they paid heavily for lack of flexibility.

This passage might just as easily have been written about Midway, as it perfectly encapsulates the problems the Japanese had when it came to altering their battle plans. In the matter of lack of moral courage, Yamamoto, Nagumo, and Yamaguchi were all quite clearly guilty as charged. Equally perceptive is Slim’s insight that sticking with a plan, even a bad plan, was a mechanism whereby the Japanese individual could personally absolve himself of responsibility for a defeat. Too often, though, the price for doing so was needless casualties, or even the outright destruction of one’s force, typically followed by the atoning suicide of the commander in question. All in all, this was not an effective model for winning a war against a numerically superior opponent.

By the same token, it is clear from many of the failures of learning and adaptation just discussed that the Japanese entered the Battle of Midway wearing doctrinal handcuffs, the effect of which was to retard still further their ability to innovate. Whereas American doctrine is generally presented to a commander as a codification of guidelines concerning the effective conduct of combat, the very nature of the Japanese military culture made its own doctrine far more rigid with regards to interpretation. This manifested itself in Nagumo and Genda’s disinclination to augment their tactical scouting assets with carrier strike assets, even in the face of accumulating evidence that the Americans were more alert than they ought to have been.

In the same way, the apparent unwillingness of First Air Fleet staff to even consider splitting the attacking power of Kido Butai after discovering the Americans later in the morning originated in doctrinal imperatives. Launching a quick attack against the Americans with CarDiv 2’s kanbaku before Tomonaga’s recovery, difficult though this would have been to implement, might have given the Japanese their best possibility to inflict more harm on their opponent than they actually managed. Yet, Japanese doctrine prescribed massed airpower as the correct answer to any tactical problem that arose, and Nagumo and his staff dogmatically stuck to that formula.

Likewise, Nagumo’s doctrinaire decision to close directly on the Americans had the effect of leaving his fleet positioned between two hostile forces (Midway and the American carriers). A decision to maneuver more freely, either to the north or northwest, could have mitigated some of the advantages that the Americans had accrued by virtue of the superior (and wholly intentional) initial positioning. Despite the Japanese love of indirect approaches at a strategic level, their love of closing directly to knife-fighting range at the tactical level was never better demonstrated than at Midway.

Some of these problems stemmed from the simple fact that in early 1942 the aircraft carrier was still a brand-new weapon system. As such, the body of doctrinal thinking in all the carrier navies was relatively small and still maturing. Other navies might have viewed an immature doctrine as being a tacit admission that some degree of interpretation by unit commanders would be required during the course of battle. The Japanese apparently did not see things this way – they stuck to the playbook, small as it might be. When improvisation was called for, they answered with the most expedient, and transparent tactic available-charging the enemy. Thus, in the critical matter of adaptation, the Japanese likewise failed abysmally.

Taken as a whole, the inescapable conclusion that emerges from a careful examination of the battle is the fact that the Japanese defeat was not the result of some solitary, crucial breakdown in Japanese designs. It was not the result of Victory Disease, nor of a few crucial personal mistakes. Rather, what appears is a complex, and comprehensive web of failures stretching across every level of the battle -strategic, operational, and tactical. Every aspect of the enterprise was tainted in some way. The surface manifestations of these deeper failures may ultimately have been a host of mistakes committed by individuals. And some of those mistakes were clearly more important that others. But the vast majority of them were in some way symptomatic of larger failures within the Japanese military and within the Navy’s cultural fabric, its doctrine, and its preferred modes of combat. They were the end products of an organization that failed to learn correctly from its past, failed to plan correctly for its future, and then failed to adapt correctly to circumstances once those plans were shown to be flawed.

Intriguingly, the seeds of many of these errors had been planted some forty years before, through the initial teachings of the Japanese Naval Staff College, and from the flower of Japan’s greatest victory – the Battle of Tsushima. They had lain unnoticed all that time, growing unchecked, waiting for the right time, place, and individuals to give them expression. Instead of culling these warped seedlings, the Japanese Navy had fostered their growth in the 1930s. The twin pressures of a violent nationalism, combined with the sure knowledge that they would be the underdog in any war with America, had conspired to skew Japan’s naval policies and doctrine still further during that time period. As a result, by the time the Pacific war began, and despite its undoubted tactical prowess, the Navy’s ability to mentally fight the war at a strategic and operational level was already fatally damaged. It was at Midway that the breadth of these shortcomings finally revealed themselves, with catastrophic results for both the Imperial Navy and the Japanese nation. Of course, in the larger context of the war, the Battle of Midway was just one of the first of a much greater harvest of bitter fruit that would fall from the poisoned tree of Japanese militarism.

The military defeats that began with the Battle of Midway stem from the harsh reality that, far from being the truly modern, progressive institution that it fondly imagined itself to be, the Imperial Navy was in fact possessed of the most parochial of outlooks. Instead of the quick, limited war Japan’s military leadership envisioned, the Pacific war soon revealed itself to be all encompassing and all consuming. In a shockingly short time, America had begun waging war against Japan across every strategic dimension available to a great industrial power – military, political, economic, and scientific. Japan was assaulted on the ground, through the air, and on and under the sea. Ultimately, it was beaten decisively in every one of these arenas. In this sense, Midway was merely symptomatic of the Imperial military’s larger failings. Most obvious was their fatally misguided decision to launch a war of aggression against the most powerful nation on earth. Having done so, moreover, they found themselves engaged in a conflict whose scope and complexity forced its participants to evolve at a frenetic pace. As it developed, for the Japanese this was a particularly daunting challenge. Despite the amazing speed with which they had modernized their fighting forces after 1848, they were still bound by thought patterns linked to an earlier military and cultural era, as well as the warped legacy of Tsushima. In the final analysis, it is no exaggeration to say that the conflict the Japanese military instigated in 1941 was not only beyond its resources, but also beyond its understanding.