Day: December 28, 2017

The Age of Reflexive Antagonism


When the obituary is written on American democracy, Jonathan Haidt will merit a mention.

No thinker has done a better job documenting the dizzying deterioration of our national fabric than this social psychologist.  Through his many books, lectures, and popular articles, Haidt has diagnosed our condition, and his verdict isn’t good.  In fact, at our current trajectory, it’s fatal.

Haidt first earned his fame with his moral foundations theory, which explains how our ethical beliefs, and thus our political voting habits, are shaped by particular values we hold.  For example, conservatives rank feelings of loyalty and respect for authority high on their personal scale.  Liberals, on the other hand, laud fairness and care for others.

It was from this formulation that Haidt branched out to how political strife is threatening what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called the “vital center.”  His first target: American universities and the vapid ideology thrust upon hapless students.  In Haidt’s estimation, our institutions of higher learning are mollycoddle factories churning out aggrieved graduates who’ve never had their beliefs challenged.  This incubated sanctimony renders civil discourse impossible, as contrary views are seen as inherently malicious and thus illegitimate.

Anyone who’s had a five-minute conversation with a recent college graduate knows exactly what Haidt is talking about.  Despite a freshly minted degree, most are dilettantes in everything other than reciting late-night comedy show monologues about Donald Trump.

In a recent speech before the Manhattan Institute, Haidt identified a new corrupter of comity: the Republican Party.  Haidt’s conservative fans may take issue with this, but it would be to their detriment.  The man has a point: Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” in the mid-’90s ushered in a new era of gamesmanship that has only worsened the divide between the two major parties.

Gingrich, Haidt writes, deliberately shortened the legislative calendar to ensure that members would not move to Washington and “develop personal friendships with Democrats.”  The chummy backroom dealing that previously defined politics was lost.  The bipartisan consensus that saw America through two world wars and a decades-long standoff with the Soviet Union vanished.

These two centrifugal forces – Republican brinkmanship tactics and university-sanctioned fealty to identity politics – have made us an enraged and unhappy people.  They pull us apart, testing the relational bonds that form a society.  Haidt doesn’t limit his critique to just these two phenomena, though.  He also names the biased media, increased diversity through immigration, and the lack of a great enemy as other elements that tug at the sticky substance that keeps our national identity together.

Is it any surprise, then, that each new policy battle brings outrage followed by irrational retaliation?  The Republicans’ big tax cuts package was protested vigorously by leftists, who claimed that allowing working people to keep more of their pay is the equivalent of genocide.  When the House of Representatives was voting on the final package, a woman in the gallery took her top off in hopes of jamming the process.

In a similar vexed fashion, when the FCC voted to end net neutrality regulations, which prevented big internet companies from providing faster access to certain content, Chairman Ajit Pai received hundreds of death threats.  Some people were so enraged at the idea of slower Netflix speeds that fantasizing about murder became OK.

Much of this senseless dissent is driven by news media that have, for all intents and purposes, dropped the veil of impartiality.  Trump’s win shattered reality for many journalists; the America they thought they understood was made a mystery.  They react by adopting the rage of their readers.  Their language belies an immense hatred of the president and his supporters.

Following the passage of the GOP tax reform plan, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and speaker of the House Paul Ryan were snapped in a picture, thumbs up and jubilant smiles on their faces, with President Trump and Vice President Pence.  Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama adviser, joked that the picture would be on the front page of the New York Times “the day Trump is indicted.”  Ben Rhodes, another former Obama staffer, chimed in with “alongside the obits for Ryan, McConnell, and Pence.”

Had these been former George W. Bush staffers, our ears would be assaulted by the screeches of a thousand pundits decrying violence-filled, death-wishing rhetoric.  Instead, House whip Steve Scalise, who nearly died last April after a Bernie Sanders-supporting madman pretended he was on a fox hunt in a baseball field with defenseless congressmen, was left to chastise them.  That was unacceptable.  Since liberals hold the monopoly on victims shaming oppressors, it was left for Jonathan Chait of New York magazine to blithely dismiss his concern.

This isn’t thinking; it is the reflexive antagonism Alasdair MacIntyre called “emotivism.”  Partisan allegiance has clouded our ability to empathize and think clearly about problems that require collective action.  Pressing issues are no longer viewed through the lens of happy disagreement; rather, bitter rivalry sets the sights.

Anger is an easy drug.  It feels good being sanctimonious.  When we’re pissed, we’re invested in something.  That easy satisfaction has bled too deeply into our politics.  We, in the words of Iago, no longer have “reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts.”

All’s not lost, however.  Washington may be damned, but the wellsprings of talent may be improving.  As Haidt points out, more and more professors and students are pushing back against the stifled academic atmosphere on campus.  Haidt’s own organization, Heterodox Academy, has exploded in size as liberal academics join with conservatives to stand up against intolerant suppression of ideas.

Just as Washington doesn’t have to be a swamp where civil discourse goes to die, college doesn’t have to be a bog of stagnant groupthink.  Change is possible.  But it starts most effectively at the personal level.  We must ask ourselves: how do we have disagreements that don’t devolve into screaming matches?  How do we debate issues without letting hot emotion take control?

Next time you’re knee-deep in all-caps arguments over Facebook with someone you know personally, here’s a mild suggestion: quit griping.  Offer to grab him a drink.  Your heart, and your blood pressure, will be better off.

When the obituary is written on American democracy, Jonathan Haidt will merit a mention.

No thinker has done a better job documenting the dizzying deterioration of our national fabric than this social psychologist.  Through his many books, lectures, and popular articles, Haidt has diagnosed our condition, and his verdict isn’t good.  In fact, at our current trajectory, it’s fatal.

Haidt first earned his fame with his moral foundations theory, which explains how our ethical beliefs, and thus our political voting habits, are shaped by particular values we hold.  For example, conservatives rank feelings of loyalty and respect for authority high on their personal scale.  Liberals, on the other hand, laud fairness and care for others.

It was from this formulation that Haidt branched out to how political strife is threatening what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called the “vital center.”  His first target: American universities and the vapid ideology thrust upon hapless students.  In Haidt’s estimation, our institutions of higher learning are mollycoddle factories churning out aggrieved graduates who’ve never had their beliefs challenged.  This incubated sanctimony renders civil discourse impossible, as contrary views are seen as inherently malicious and thus illegitimate.

Anyone who’s had a five-minute conversation with a recent college graduate knows exactly what Haidt is talking about.  Despite a freshly minted degree, most are dilettantes in everything other than reciting late-night comedy show monologues about Donald Trump.

In a recent speech before the Manhattan Institute, Haidt identified a new corrupter of comity: the Republican Party.  Haidt’s conservative fans may take issue with this, but it would be to their detriment.  The man has a point: Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution” in the mid-’90s ushered in a new era of gamesmanship that has only worsened the divide between the two major parties.

Gingrich, Haidt writes, deliberately shortened the legislative calendar to ensure that members would not move to Washington and “develop personal friendships with Democrats.”  The chummy backroom dealing that previously defined politics was lost.  The bipartisan consensus that saw America through two world wars and a decades-long standoff with the Soviet Union vanished.

These two centrifugal forces – Republican brinkmanship tactics and university-sanctioned fealty to identity politics – have made us an enraged and unhappy people.  They pull us apart, testing the relational bonds that form a society.  Haidt doesn’t limit his critique to just these two phenomena, though.  He also names the biased media, increased diversity through immigration, and the lack of a great enemy as other elements that tug at the sticky substance that keeps our national identity together.

Is it any surprise, then, that each new policy battle brings outrage followed by irrational retaliation?  The Republicans’ big tax cuts package was protested vigorously by leftists, who claimed that allowing working people to keep more of their pay is the equivalent of genocide.  When the House of Representatives was voting on the final package, a woman in the gallery took her top off in hopes of jamming the process.

In a similar vexed fashion, when the FCC voted to end net neutrality regulations, which prevented big internet companies from providing faster access to certain content, Chairman Ajit Pai received hundreds of death threats.  Some people were so enraged at the idea of slower Netflix speeds that fantasizing about murder became OK.

Much of this senseless dissent is driven by news media that have, for all intents and purposes, dropped the veil of impartiality.  Trump’s win shattered reality for many journalists; the America they thought they understood was made a mystery.  They react by adopting the rage of their readers.  Their language belies an immense hatred of the president and his supporters.

Following the passage of the GOP tax reform plan, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and speaker of the House Paul Ryan were snapped in a picture, thumbs up and jubilant smiles on their faces, with President Trump and Vice President Pence.  Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama adviser, joked that the picture would be on the front page of the New York Times “the day Trump is indicted.”  Ben Rhodes, another former Obama staffer, chimed in with “alongside the obits for Ryan, McConnell, and Pence.”

Had these been former George W. Bush staffers, our ears would be assaulted by the screeches of a thousand pundits decrying violence-filled, death-wishing rhetoric.  Instead, House whip Steve Scalise, who nearly died last April after a Bernie Sanders-supporting madman pretended he was on a fox hunt in a baseball field with defenseless congressmen, was left to chastise them.  That was unacceptable.  Since liberals hold the monopoly on victims shaming oppressors, it was left for Jonathan Chait of New York magazine to blithely dismiss his concern.

This isn’t thinking; it is the reflexive antagonism Alasdair MacIntyre called “emotivism.”  Partisan allegiance has clouded our ability to empathize and think clearly about problems that require collective action.  Pressing issues are no longer viewed through the lens of happy disagreement; rather, bitter rivalry sets the sights.

Anger is an easy drug.  It feels good being sanctimonious.  When we’re pissed, we’re invested in something.  That easy satisfaction has bled too deeply into our politics.  We, in the words of Iago, no longer have “reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts.”

All’s not lost, however.  Washington may be damned, but the wellsprings of talent may be improving.  As Haidt points out, more and more professors and students are pushing back against the stifled academic atmosphere on campus.  Haidt’s own organization, Heterodox Academy, has exploded in size as liberal academics join with conservatives to stand up against intolerant suppression of ideas.

Just as Washington doesn’t have to be a swamp where civil discourse goes to die, college doesn’t have to be a bog of stagnant groupthink.  Change is possible.  But it starts most effectively at the personal level.  We must ask ourselves: how do we have disagreements that don’t devolve into screaming matches?  How do we debate issues without letting hot emotion take control?

Next time you’re knee-deep in all-caps arguments over Facebook with someone you know personally, here’s a mild suggestion: quit griping.  Offer to grab him a drink.  Your heart, and your blood pressure, will be better off.



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Befuddlement in Catalonia


I am neither in favor of nor against Catalonia’s independence.  The recent turn of elections, where the independentistas won a majority of seats in the parliament, has proven nothing.  What does remain is an absolute amazement at the incompetence of Iberian government on all sides at all levels.  Aggravating this are remarkable levels of fake news.

Before one addresses the recent elections, which the independentistas won, we should start in June of 2017, when the Catalan government itself ran a poll.  The result showed a then embarrassing drop in support for independence, down to a mere 41.1%.  The link to the original poll on the government site has been “conveniently” taken down, but we know the results.

[T]he percentage of people supporting a Catalan independent state dropped to 41.1 percent in June [2017] from 44.3 percent in March.

Beneath all the hype, the independentistas did not have a clear majority as late as six months ago, and their own polls showed that support was decreasing at that time.  That the Catalan authorities even bothered to stage an election in October was beyond all reason, unless they planned to engineer results.

The central Madrid government declared the election illegal when it could have avoided a problem by declaring it merely pointless.  To be sure, Madrid’s violent actions to suppress the elections were thuggish and counterproductive.

A mere four months from the June poll that showed 41.1% approval, suddenly, the “approval” for independence jumped to an astounding 92% overall in October, if you can believe it.  Apparently, approval for independence had more than doubled in just four months.  Incredible!  The Catalan government sold the election results to the world as a truly democratic expression of the will of the Catalan people.  One is amazed at how many people bought that line.

Clearly, what happened is that only one side showed up to vote in October, with the pro-Madrid electorate preferring to obey Madrid’s prohibition on voting in an illegal election.

This is not to favor Madrid.  Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (Popular Party) has a reputation for quasi-fascist sympathies.

Over the past decade, The Partido Popular has intervened through lawsuits and legal trickery to suppress expressions of Catalan autonomy, in a manner the Catalans rightly considered unconstitutional.  By 2010, the Catalans had had enough, and the drive for independence started with a massive rally in Barcelona.

This much can be seen in this video of the 2010 rally: 

Along the way, Madrid authorities handed down positively obscene rulings like overturning a Catalan ban on bullfighting.

One gets a sense of provocations from the central Madrid authorities akin to the Intolerable Acts that led to the American Revolution.

But there the similarities end.

Contrary to what is told in popular American history, our forefathers laid strong groundwork to gain popular support.  The ratio of one third in favor of the Revolution, one third against, and one third neutral is based on an unreliable quote, attributed to John Adams, but without merit.  Adams’s quote actually referred to American sympathies with the French Revolution. 

In reality, the popularity of the American Revolution was much stronger, and while Tories were a problem, they were a clear minority.

There is evidence a large part of the population supported independence before the reluctant leaders in the Congress would vote upon or commit that sentiment to paper.


… Recent historians of the Loyalists, such as William Nelson, have estimated them at no more than a sixth of the population.

The Founders would never have started the Revolution with the low support base seen in Catalonia.  The American Revolution was a bottom-up operation, where the leaders reflected the will of the people. Barcelona was a top-down fiasco, where the leaders tried to engineer a false majority.

False?  Regarding the December vote:

The pro-independence parties did not, however, win the popular vote, failing once again to secure a share of more than 50%.

The secessionist parties defied consistent poll predictions of a hung parliament to secure an absolute majority of 70 seats out of 135, and 47.5 percent of the popular vote. Meanwhile the unionist bloc took 57 seats, with 43.4 percent of the vote[.]

The independentistas won a razor-thin majority in the Catalan parliament, but only because the results were tilted by district-apportioning that favored the more Catalan rural districts.  Barcelona itself is not as secessionist as the rest of Catalonia, and the independentistas know it.

Madrid-supporters have used that anomaly to call for Tabarnia (a coastal region including Barcelona) to secede from Catalonia.  Moreover, Franco purposefully planted Spaniards in Catalonia to frustrate Catalonian designs. They are a large group today.  Britain tried the same stunt in Ireland by planting British settlers in Ulster, but the unionists remained a rather small minority for most of the period of British rule, which led to the gerrymandering of Ulster to create an artificial local majority.  Franco was more thorough.  Catalan unionists are a rather large segment at 43.4%.  The independentistas have not won them over.

Worse yet, the independentistas have relied on Muslim immigrants educated in Catalan, with no attachment to Madrid, to fortify their vote.  They use outsiders no less than Franco.

So what we see is popular support for independence at 41.1% in June, 92% in October, and then back down to 47.5% in December.  Look at those numbers!  Do they look stable?  If anything, it is the October vote that is the most unreliable.  This is not the way to win a revolution.

The amount of corruption in both Madrid and Barcelona is appalling, and this crisis is being manipulated by both sides to hide it.

Both the ruling PP party and Catalonia’s independentists are using the national question to whitewash their own history of corruption and enthusiasm for austerity.

The incompetence of Barcelona is perfectly matched by Prime Minister Rajoy, who must have been out of his mind to order another election and to expect better results.

Prime Minister Rajoy’s People’s Party (Partido Popular) lost most of its seats in the Thursday election, dropping from 11 to three.

Probably in recognition of its failure, Madrid has ordered withdrawal of Spanish police.

What Spain will do now is anybody’s guess.  The independentistas have won a “questionable” victory, but not a mandate.  Prime Minister Rajoy has suffered a major defeat.  Neither side has a true appreciation for democracy; rather, both show a willingness to manipulate results.

What we see is a European tendency for leaders to manipulate the electorate rather than lead the stirrings of popular will.

No side is correct in Catalonia.  The independentistas should have waited for another generation of language education to take hold so that the unionists could have been won over to a Catalan sensibility.  Catalan use is growing, but it is often a second language still.

Beneath all of this is the fake press.  European news sources are incredibly biased one way or the other.  It is astounding to see how this Euro paper or that Euro news site delivers only half the story with no substantial explanation.

Catalonia is a mess, in every sense of the word.  Both sides are manipulative and corrupt.  These elections prove nothing except that European “democracy” has never even risen to the level of Tammany Hall.  Tammany, at least, knew how to sense the public mood and knew when to back off.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website about the Arab community in South America at http://latinarabia.com and a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.

I am neither in favor of nor against Catalonia’s independence.  The recent turn of elections, where the independentistas won a majority of seats in the parliament, has proven nothing.  What does remain is an absolute amazement at the incompetence of Iberian government on all sides at all levels.  Aggravating this are remarkable levels of fake news.

Before one addresses the recent elections, which the independentistas won, we should start in June of 2017, when the Catalan government itself ran a poll.  The result showed a then embarrassing drop in support for independence, down to a mere 41.1%.  The link to the original poll on the government site has been “conveniently” taken down, but we know the results.

[T]he percentage of people supporting a Catalan independent state dropped to 41.1 percent in June [2017] from 44.3 percent in March.

Beneath all the hype, the independentistas did not have a clear majority as late as six months ago, and their own polls showed that support was decreasing at that time.  That the Catalan authorities even bothered to stage an election in October was beyond all reason, unless they planned to engineer results.

The central Madrid government declared the election illegal when it could have avoided a problem by declaring it merely pointless.  To be sure, Madrid’s violent actions to suppress the elections were thuggish and counterproductive.

A mere four months from the June poll that showed 41.1% approval, suddenly, the “approval” for independence jumped to an astounding 92% overall in October, if you can believe it.  Apparently, approval for independence had more than doubled in just four months.  Incredible!  The Catalan government sold the election results to the world as a truly democratic expression of the will of the Catalan people.  One is amazed at how many people bought that line.

Clearly, what happened is that only one side showed up to vote in October, with the pro-Madrid electorate preferring to obey Madrid’s prohibition on voting in an illegal election.

This is not to favor Madrid.  Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (Popular Party) has a reputation for quasi-fascist sympathies.

Over the past decade, The Partido Popular has intervened through lawsuits and legal trickery to suppress expressions of Catalan autonomy, in a manner the Catalans rightly considered unconstitutional.  By 2010, the Catalans had had enough, and the drive for independence started with a massive rally in Barcelona.

This much can be seen in this video of the 2010 rally: 

Along the way, Madrid authorities handed down positively obscene rulings like overturning a Catalan ban on bullfighting.

One gets a sense of provocations from the central Madrid authorities akin to the Intolerable Acts that led to the American Revolution.

But there the similarities end.

Contrary to what is told in popular American history, our forefathers laid strong groundwork to gain popular support.  The ratio of one third in favor of the Revolution, one third against, and one third neutral is based on an unreliable quote, attributed to John Adams, but without merit.  Adams’s quote actually referred to American sympathies with the French Revolution. 

In reality, the popularity of the American Revolution was much stronger, and while Tories were a problem, they were a clear minority.

There is evidence a large part of the population supported independence before the reluctant leaders in the Congress would vote upon or commit that sentiment to paper.


… Recent historians of the Loyalists, such as William Nelson, have estimated them at no more than a sixth of the population.

The Founders would never have started the Revolution with the low support base seen in Catalonia.  The American Revolution was a bottom-up operation, where the leaders reflected the will of the people. Barcelona was a top-down fiasco, where the leaders tried to engineer a false majority.

False?  Regarding the December vote:

The pro-independence parties did not, however, win the popular vote, failing once again to secure a share of more than 50%.

The secessionist parties defied consistent poll predictions of a hung parliament to secure an absolute majority of 70 seats out of 135, and 47.5 percent of the popular vote. Meanwhile the unionist bloc took 57 seats, with 43.4 percent of the vote[.]

The independentistas won a razor-thin majority in the Catalan parliament, but only because the results were tilted by district-apportioning that favored the more Catalan rural districts.  Barcelona itself is not as secessionist as the rest of Catalonia, and the independentistas know it.

Madrid-supporters have used that anomaly to call for Tabarnia (a coastal region including Barcelona) to secede from Catalonia.  Moreover, Franco purposefully planted Spaniards in Catalonia to frustrate Catalonian designs. They are a large group today.  Britain tried the same stunt in Ireland by planting British settlers in Ulster, but the unionists remained a rather small minority for most of the period of British rule, which led to the gerrymandering of Ulster to create an artificial local majority.  Franco was more thorough.  Catalan unionists are a rather large segment at 43.4%.  The independentistas have not won them over.

Worse yet, the independentistas have relied on Muslim immigrants educated in Catalan, with no attachment to Madrid, to fortify their vote.  They use outsiders no less than Franco.

So what we see is popular support for independence at 41.1% in June, 92% in October, and then back down to 47.5% in December.  Look at those numbers!  Do they look stable?  If anything, it is the October vote that is the most unreliable.  This is not the way to win a revolution.

The amount of corruption in both Madrid and Barcelona is appalling, and this crisis is being manipulated by both sides to hide it.

Both the ruling PP party and Catalonia’s independentists are using the national question to whitewash their own history of corruption and enthusiasm for austerity.

The incompetence of Barcelona is perfectly matched by Prime Minister Rajoy, who must have been out of his mind to order another election and to expect better results.

Prime Minister Rajoy’s People’s Party (Partido Popular) lost most of its seats in the Thursday election, dropping from 11 to three.

Probably in recognition of its failure, Madrid has ordered withdrawal of Spanish police.

What Spain will do now is anybody’s guess.  The independentistas have won a “questionable” victory, but not a mandate.  Prime Minister Rajoy has suffered a major defeat.  Neither side has a true appreciation for democracy; rather, both show a willingness to manipulate results.

What we see is a European tendency for leaders to manipulate the electorate rather than lead the stirrings of popular will.

No side is correct in Catalonia.  The independentistas should have waited for another generation of language education to take hold so that the unionists could have been won over to a Catalan sensibility.  Catalan use is growing, but it is often a second language still.

Beneath all of this is the fake press.  European news sources are incredibly biased one way or the other.  It is astounding to see how this Euro paper or that Euro news site delivers only half the story with no substantial explanation.

Catalonia is a mess, in every sense of the word.  Both sides are manipulative and corrupt.  These elections prove nothing except that European “democracy” has never even risen to the level of Tammany Hall.  Tammany, at least, knew how to sense the public mood and knew when to back off.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who wishes he had availed himself more fully of the opportunity to learn Spanish better in high school, lo those many decades ago.  He runs a website about the Arab community in South America at http://latinarabia.com and a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.



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An Emotional and Silent Wound


With the holidays having just passed, people should remember that not everyone celebrates with sugar and spice and everything nice.  Those who have fought to keep Americans safe have experienced triumphs and tribulations on the battlefield and after returning home.

Some who have come home from the War on Terror have experienced PTSD.  As authors Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor wrote in their novel Last Christmas in Paris, those with PTSD “walk on both legs without the use of crutches.  They swing both arms by their sides.  They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries.  These men suffer in an entirely different way.  They suffer in their minds.  The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.”

American Thinker interviewed Adam Shumann, one of the soldiers highlighted in the book and film Thank You for Your Service, about the true-to-life struggles and trauma he experienced.  The statistics are overwhelming, considering that one in five – at least 500,000 – of those who have served in the War on Terror have either TBI or PTSD.  Adam’s former wife, Saskia, noted, “It’s not as if he caused this.  He didn’t.  It’s not as if he doesn’t want to get better.  He does.  On other days, though, it seems more like an epitaph, and not only for Adam.  All the soldiers he went to war with, the 800 in his battalion, come home broken in various degrees, even the ones who are fine.  I don’t think anyone came back from deployment without some kind of demons they needed to work out.”

Adam compares the emotions he has with PTSD to “how you might feel after a really bad car accident with your nerves fried, adrenaline pumped, scared, having a rapid heartbeat, and your mind racing.  This is what it is like for me on some days.  It is exhausting because it lasts all day.”

Although he acknowledges being changed by the war experience, he does not think it was all for the worse.  “I have a different perspective on life.  I tend to value what I have a little more.  Of course, there is always a negative side.  I tend to hold people to a higher standard that sets me up for disappointment.  For example, the military teaches you to be punctual and professional.  In the military, when someone is not doing their job, it is an obligation to correct them.  But now, in this politically correct world, I have to watch myself and to stop from telling someone they are messing up.”

Although he does not call it by that name, he still has survivor’s guilt, feeling remorse each and every day for his buddies who died in the war.  “People have to understand what we went through.  They were not over there.  Those of us who fought cannot put ourselves in a mindless box and become desensitized to what happened over there.  Most of us have experienced a traumatic incident like your buddy getting killed.  Each and every day, we wondered if we were going to be killed.  It becomes an imprint on our brains.  There are things I will never, ever talk about unless it is with the guys I served with.  I can only open up to someone capable of listening who has the ability to handle what I have to say.  I would love to unload some of this baggage, because it is some heavy stuff.”

It is not just the soldier who goes through these experiences, but also their families.  Adam wants people to understand that initially, he did not comprehend what he was going through and was terrified.  “I could not explain anything to my wife, Saskia.  The more she would press, the more I would shut down, literally falling asleep during arguments.  Her patience was worn down after a while.  She was just as confused as I was.  She heard my violent outbursts at night.  I slept with my rifle by my bed.  If it were not there, I would get up and freak out while I looked for it.  She was the one who spurred me to seek help.”

Unfortunately, she was not happy with Adam’s choice of programs.  The one in Kansas, where he lived, had a bad reputation.  His advocate suggested he enroll in the Pathway House in California.  He credits that program with saving his life because of his suicidal thoughts.  Adam describes it as “a group setting where you lived together in what best can be described as a barracks.  There was this unit mentality, once again a part of a team.  Guys would pair up with a peer.  They understood how embarrassed I felt that I could not even satisfy my contract with the military.  Funny how it was my mind that got me thrown out.  Even after my first deployment, I sought out a doctor but was told I was fine, prescribed some pills, and sent back to my unit.  It was after my third deployment that everything came undone.  I really just wanted to get better, and I really wanted to be myself again.  Every time I would run into a door or barrier, I would just figure out a way around it.  It was probably the hardest fight of my life to just get back to who I was, and the biggest revelation of that is that you are not going to get back to who you were before.  You are not going to be that person again after an experience like that.”

Adam is an introspective person.  He has some suggestions for the military, considering that the higher-ups invest a lot of money in training.  “It is sad that more is not invested in continuing care and doing it on the spot.  After a death on the battlefield, they send a chaplain.  But these units are so tight that they don’t want to speak with someone they do not know.  I think a doctor and psychiatrist should be embedded with each unit.  After a mission, we can unload on them and talk about our experiences.  It would help to figure out on the spot why we are confused or angry instead of internalizing it.  I wish I could have gone back in time and sought help before I reached the end of my rope.”

PTSD is an emotional and silent wound that is not out there for people to see.  The stereotype is still alive and well where many associate it with being a lunatic.  Adam told American Thinker he is looking for work.  “Any job at this point would be fantastic.”  He insists he does not want charity and wants the job only if he is deemed qualified.

As Americans, we should never forget those who have fought for our freedoms and have sacrificed themselves emotionally or physically.  As Adam summarized it, “I wish for a little more love and happiness and to understand each other.  We are all in this together, whether someone who is a veteran, still serving, or a civilian.  If you are in a position to help, do so.  And if you need help, ask for it.”

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.

With the holidays having just passed, people should remember that not everyone celebrates with sugar and spice and everything nice.  Those who have fought to keep Americans safe have experienced triumphs and tribulations on the battlefield and after returning home.

Some who have come home from the War on Terror have experienced PTSD.  As authors Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor wrote in their novel Last Christmas in Paris, those with PTSD “walk on both legs without the use of crutches.  They swing both arms by their sides.  They have no need for facemasks to hide their injuries.  These men suffer in an entirely different way.  They suffer in their minds.  The horrors they have seen and the endless sounds they have endured night after night stay with them.”

American Thinker interviewed Adam Shumann, one of the soldiers highlighted in the book and film Thank You for Your Service, about the true-to-life struggles and trauma he experienced.  The statistics are overwhelming, considering that one in five – at least 500,000 – of those who have served in the War on Terror have either TBI or PTSD.  Adam’s former wife, Saskia, noted, “It’s not as if he caused this.  He didn’t.  It’s not as if he doesn’t want to get better.  He does.  On other days, though, it seems more like an epitaph, and not only for Adam.  All the soldiers he went to war with, the 800 in his battalion, come home broken in various degrees, even the ones who are fine.  I don’t think anyone came back from deployment without some kind of demons they needed to work out.”

Adam compares the emotions he has with PTSD to “how you might feel after a really bad car accident with your nerves fried, adrenaline pumped, scared, having a rapid heartbeat, and your mind racing.  This is what it is like for me on some days.  It is exhausting because it lasts all day.”

Although he acknowledges being changed by the war experience, he does not think it was all for the worse.  “I have a different perspective on life.  I tend to value what I have a little more.  Of course, there is always a negative side.  I tend to hold people to a higher standard that sets me up for disappointment.  For example, the military teaches you to be punctual and professional.  In the military, when someone is not doing their job, it is an obligation to correct them.  But now, in this politically correct world, I have to watch myself and to stop from telling someone they are messing up.”

Although he does not call it by that name, he still has survivor’s guilt, feeling remorse each and every day for his buddies who died in the war.  “People have to understand what we went through.  They were not over there.  Those of us who fought cannot put ourselves in a mindless box and become desensitized to what happened over there.  Most of us have experienced a traumatic incident like your buddy getting killed.  Each and every day, we wondered if we were going to be killed.  It becomes an imprint on our brains.  There are things I will never, ever talk about unless it is with the guys I served with.  I can only open up to someone capable of listening who has the ability to handle what I have to say.  I would love to unload some of this baggage, because it is some heavy stuff.”

It is not just the soldier who goes through these experiences, but also their families.  Adam wants people to understand that initially, he did not comprehend what he was going through and was terrified.  “I could not explain anything to my wife, Saskia.  The more she would press, the more I would shut down, literally falling asleep during arguments.  Her patience was worn down after a while.  She was just as confused as I was.  She heard my violent outbursts at night.  I slept with my rifle by my bed.  If it were not there, I would get up and freak out while I looked for it.  She was the one who spurred me to seek help.”

Unfortunately, she was not happy with Adam’s choice of programs.  The one in Kansas, where he lived, had a bad reputation.  His advocate suggested he enroll in the Pathway House in California.  He credits that program with saving his life because of his suicidal thoughts.  Adam describes it as “a group setting where you lived together in what best can be described as a barracks.  There was this unit mentality, once again a part of a team.  Guys would pair up with a peer.  They understood how embarrassed I felt that I could not even satisfy my contract with the military.  Funny how it was my mind that got me thrown out.  Even after my first deployment, I sought out a doctor but was told I was fine, prescribed some pills, and sent back to my unit.  It was after my third deployment that everything came undone.  I really just wanted to get better, and I really wanted to be myself again.  Every time I would run into a door or barrier, I would just figure out a way around it.  It was probably the hardest fight of my life to just get back to who I was, and the biggest revelation of that is that you are not going to get back to who you were before.  You are not going to be that person again after an experience like that.”

Adam is an introspective person.  He has some suggestions for the military, considering that the higher-ups invest a lot of money in training.  “It is sad that more is not invested in continuing care and doing it on the spot.  After a death on the battlefield, they send a chaplain.  But these units are so tight that they don’t want to speak with someone they do not know.  I think a doctor and psychiatrist should be embedded with each unit.  After a mission, we can unload on them and talk about our experiences.  It would help to figure out on the spot why we are confused or angry instead of internalizing it.  I wish I could have gone back in time and sought help before I reached the end of my rope.”

PTSD is an emotional and silent wound that is not out there for people to see.  The stereotype is still alive and well where many associate it with being a lunatic.  Adam told American Thinker he is looking for work.  “Any job at this point would be fantastic.”  He insists he does not want charity and wants the job only if he is deemed qualified.

As Americans, we should never forget those who have fought for our freedoms and have sacrificed themselves emotionally or physically.  As Adam summarized it, “I wish for a little more love and happiness and to understand each other.  We are all in this together, whether someone who is a veteran, still serving, or a civilian.  If you are in a position to help, do so.  And if you need help, ask for it.”

The author writes for American Thinker.  She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.



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Trump: The Unlikeliest Churchillian



Beneath the veneer of literary styles, there are obvious historical similarities between Winston Churchill's becoming prime minister and Donald Trump's shocking election to the American presidency.



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Beauty and Nausea in Venice


“On or about December 1910, human character changed,” wrote British novelist Virginia Woolf in 1924.  “I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless.”

Woolf’s famous quote refers specifically to an exhibition of naturalist paintings.  More broadly, 1910 marked the approximate date of a huge shift in the world of art: out went the traditional goal of creating beauty, replaced by the modernist goal of promoting ideals and imparting a political message, especially one that would épater la bourgeoisie (shock the burgers).  Toward this end, rudeness and ugliness are inherent in the progressive goal of irritating, disturbing, and teaching.

Italy, home of the Renaissance, widely considered the apogee of artistic achievement, offers a striking place to observe this contrast, as my recent travel to twelve Italian towns brought home.

Since the Grand Tour began in the seventeenth century, the traveler’s dominant experience in Italy has been to go and immerse oneself in its beauty.  In part, it’s the country’s natural attractions, from rolling hillside vineyards to dramatic seaside vistas.  But mostly it’s the Italians’ artistic accomplishments: Roman statuary and ruins, Renaissance piazzas and paintings, Venetian canals and bridges.  The lesser arts also hold their own: pastas, sauces, and olive oils pay homage to the fine art of cooking, celebrated nowadays even in gas station stops along limited-access highways.  Like innumerable foreigners before me, I have been captivated since my first visit in 1966 by the classic Italian devotion to beauty, by the historic areas and their remarkable cultivation of beauty.

But that’s just the historic areas.  Leave those, and ugly modernity quickly intrudes.  In Bologna, for example, once you exit the Renaissance town center, you bump into Stalinist-style buildings, hideous storage tanks, and oppressive graffiti (an Italian word, by the way).

If architecture is the most ubiquitous expression of decay, painting, sculpture, and music suffer from the same woes, a point extravagantly proven every two years by the famed Venice Biennale.  Opened in 1895 and held during odd years for an interminable six and a half months, its contents contrast spectacularly with the transcendent beauty of its host city, Venice.  Among the unique blend of canals, gondolas, medieval palaces, and baroque churches, neighbor to the highest of the arts, sit a former factory and warehouse full of the sad and miserable excrescences known as modern art.

I traipsed from hall to hall of the 57th biennale, expecting to find didactic, pedantic, and politically radical exhibits.  To my relief, overtly left-wing politics were nearly absent; instead, I found the dreary vacuity of mostly pointless shapes, pictures, and words.  Most artifacts seemed childlike, relying on boisterously primary colors, simple shapes, and simplistic messages.  Skill, beauty, and meaning were all conspicuous by their absence: a hammock loaded with random papers.  Hanging sneakers with plants growing from them.  A mural made up of audio cassettes.

Only a perverse exhibit of mock corpses that featured rotting organic matter contrasted with this blandness; the catalogue has the nerve to call these nauseating figures an “aesthetic and ecstatic transfiguration” creating “a new magical world.”

It came as no surprise to learn that the New York Times’ review of the biennale’s current iteration berated it for being too apolitical in the age of Brexit and Trump.  Fine, but calling the decayed corpse exhibit “sexy” appalled me for its implication of necrophilia.

I felt tempted to shout out to the horde of art-worshipers, “The emperor has no clothes.  This is a fraud.  Leave this bleak place, and instead visit Venice’s exquisite streets, waterways, churches, and palaces.”  But exhibit-goers had each paid an entrance fee of €25 (US$30), and, judging by the many photographs being snapped and the learned discussions underway, the biennale cheerfully satisfied their artistic tastes.  So I stayed mum.

Two concluding observations: Venice is arguably the world’s most exotic and beautiful city; how ironic that it spawned among the most prominent purveyors of dreck masquerading as art.  One hundred seven years after Woolf’s December 1910 turning point, one wonders how much longer the farce of modern “art” will continue – when leading artists will repudiate politics and instead rediscover the ageless goal of creating beauty.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) has enjoyed the arts in 88 countries.

“On or about December 1910, human character changed,” wrote British novelist Virginia Woolf in 1924.  “I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless.”

Woolf’s famous quote refers specifically to an exhibition of naturalist paintings.  More broadly, 1910 marked the approximate date of a huge shift in the world of art: out went the traditional goal of creating beauty, replaced by the modernist goal of promoting ideals and imparting a political message, especially one that would épater la bourgeoisie (shock the burgers).  Toward this end, rudeness and ugliness are inherent in the progressive goal of irritating, disturbing, and teaching.

Italy, home of the Renaissance, widely considered the apogee of artistic achievement, offers a striking place to observe this contrast, as my recent travel to twelve Italian towns brought home.

Since the Grand Tour began in the seventeenth century, the traveler’s dominant experience in Italy has been to go and immerse oneself in its beauty.  In part, it’s the country’s natural attractions, from rolling hillside vineyards to dramatic seaside vistas.  But mostly it’s the Italians’ artistic accomplishments: Roman statuary and ruins, Renaissance piazzas and paintings, Venetian canals and bridges.  The lesser arts also hold their own: pastas, sauces, and olive oils pay homage to the fine art of cooking, celebrated nowadays even in gas station stops along limited-access highways.  Like innumerable foreigners before me, I have been captivated since my first visit in 1966 by the classic Italian devotion to beauty, by the historic areas and their remarkable cultivation of beauty.

But that’s just the historic areas.  Leave those, and ugly modernity quickly intrudes.  In Bologna, for example, once you exit the Renaissance town center, you bump into Stalinist-style buildings, hideous storage tanks, and oppressive graffiti (an Italian word, by the way).

If architecture is the most ubiquitous expression of decay, painting, sculpture, and music suffer from the same woes, a point extravagantly proven every two years by the famed Venice Biennale.  Opened in 1895 and held during odd years for an interminable six and a half months, its contents contrast spectacularly with the transcendent beauty of its host city, Venice.  Among the unique blend of canals, gondolas, medieval palaces, and baroque churches, neighbor to the highest of the arts, sit a former factory and warehouse full of the sad and miserable excrescences known as modern art.

I traipsed from hall to hall of the 57th biennale, expecting to find didactic, pedantic, and politically radical exhibits.  To my relief, overtly left-wing politics were nearly absent; instead, I found the dreary vacuity of mostly pointless shapes, pictures, and words.  Most artifacts seemed childlike, relying on boisterously primary colors, simple shapes, and simplistic messages.  Skill, beauty, and meaning were all conspicuous by their absence: a hammock loaded with random papers.  Hanging sneakers with plants growing from them.  A mural made up of audio cassettes.

Only a perverse exhibit of mock corpses that featured rotting organic matter contrasted with this blandness; the catalogue has the nerve to call these nauseating figures an “aesthetic and ecstatic transfiguration” creating “a new magical world.”

It came as no surprise to learn that the New York Times’ review of the biennale’s current iteration berated it for being too apolitical in the age of Brexit and Trump.  Fine, but calling the decayed corpse exhibit “sexy” appalled me for its implication of necrophilia.

I felt tempted to shout out to the horde of art-worshipers, “The emperor has no clothes.  This is a fraud.  Leave this bleak place, and instead visit Venice’s exquisite streets, waterways, churches, and palaces.”  But exhibit-goers had each paid an entrance fee of €25 (US$30), and, judging by the many photographs being snapped and the learned discussions underway, the biennale cheerfully satisfied their artistic tastes.  So I stayed mum.

Two concluding observations: Venice is arguably the world’s most exotic and beautiful city; how ironic that it spawned among the most prominent purveyors of dreck masquerading as art.  One hundred seven years after Woolf’s December 1910 turning point, one wonders how much longer the farce of modern “art” will continue – when leading artists will repudiate politics and instead rediscover the ageless goal of creating beauty.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) has enjoyed the arts in 88 countries.



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