Day: September 3, 2018

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MeToo unnerves China…


QINGDAO, China (AP) — The sight of five burly guards blocking the way out of her dorm filled Ren Liping with rage.

It was 3 a.m. on a recent Saturday and the thin, bespectacled 26-year-old Chinese graduate student was exhausted. Her mind raced back to earlier in the day when she had tried once again to publicly protest her alleged rape. Again, the police had stopped her and held her at a station for hours. Again, she was escorted back to campus.

Now this.

She pounded on the glass door with her fist, but the men ignored her. “This is illegal!” she shouted, to no response. She felt nauseous. Her face was numb. She picked up a bicycle pump in the corner and smashed it against the glass.

The door shattered.

“Whoever tries to suppress my case will end up like this door,” Ren said to the men.

More than a year after she accused an ex-boyfriend of raping her on the China University of Petroleum campus in the coastal city of Qingdao, this had become Ren’s life: a series of attempts to protest the university and authorities’ mishandling of the case.

At every turn, Ren has been stymied by the school’s guards or the police, who say there’s no evidence of a crime. She was even detained in a hotel for six days at one point.

Her efforts highlight at once the challenges of reporting sexual assault in China and the determination of a new generation of Chinese women pushing the country into its own #MeToo moment despite attempts to silence them.

The movement has gathered considerable steam in China, with dozens of men, including prominent media personalities, non-profit advocates and even a top monk, publicly accused of sexual assault or sexual misconduct in recent months.

But like any social campaign, #MeToo poses a challenge to President Xi Jinping’s administration, which has waged an unprecedented crackdown on civil society groups and activism that the ruling Communist Party deems as threats to its rule.

Ren accuses Liang Shengyu, her ex-boyfriend, of raping her on campus last summer. Liang denies the allegation. They are suing each other for defamation.

In an action that legal experts say is unprecedented, Ren is also suing the police — for what she’s described as a mishandling of the investigation and the use of force against her.

“She is a representative for the #MeToo movement,” said Lyu Xiaoquan, a Beijing lawyer who helped Ren prepare her initial complaints.

Ren and Liang met in 2013 when they were undergraduates at the university’s geosciences department. Liang says he was attracted to Ren’s strength and independence. They dated for two years, experiencing for the first time the freedom of a romance far from their parents’ scrutiny.

After a bitter breakup, Liang and Ren rarely spoke. But last summer they got back in touch, and on the evening of July 28, 2017, agreed to walk back to their dorms together after Liang completed an assignment in the lab.

Their accounts of the rest of the night diverge.

Ren said that Liang asked her if they could get back together, but that she said no because she liked someone else. Liang then cornered her in a bicycle parking lot, she said, pinned her against a concrete wall and put his hand inside her denim shorts.

Stunned and terrified, Ren tried to choke him but wasn’t strong enough.

“You’re dirty,” she told him.

“You’ve been with me before. You didn’t think I was dirty then,” he said, according to Ren.

Ren said Liang ignored her protests, pulled down her shorts and raped her. She was sobbing in pain, she said.

“Do you want to destroy me?” she cried at the time.

That’s when he stopped, picked his cap up off the ground, and walked away, Ren said.

According to Liang, however, Ren had been pestering him for weeks because she thought he had a new girlfriend.

Liang said Ren tried to convince him to break up with this woman and that all they did that night was argue.

“We did not have any physical contact whatsoever that night,” he said. “And there was no so-called rape or sexual assault or behavior of that kind.”

At first, Ren did not plan on reporting her alleged rape.

“I didn’t know what people would think of me,” she said.

When it continued to haunt her five days later, she told the school, but administrators encouraged her to keep quiet. Then she went to the local police station, where a female officer told her to drop her claim, saying that not all sexual experiences are pleasurable, according to Ren.

Frustrated, Ren filed lawsuits against the police and started holding protests.

But the authorities’ resolve to silence her only grew with her efforts. In June, after she shouted in the middle of a campus square about being raped, Ren said security detained her inside a hotel room in Qingdao for six days while the city hosted a major summit.

Her parents were also ordered to stay in the hotel with her. Her mother, a wheat farmer from rural Henan, said university officials dangled vague job offers and study abroad opportunities to get Ren to drop her case. Their promises to investigate Liang’s conduct never materialized, according to her mother, who requested that she only be identified by her surname, Zhang.

“Everyone lied to us,” Zhang said. “It’s because our family has no money or power — if we did, things wouldn’t have reached this stage.”

School officials declined repeated requests to comment. Police in a district in Qingdao that oversees the campus said investigators examined the case closely, interviewing Ren and Liang, their family members, teachers and classmates, and concluded that no crime had taken place. In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, the district police bureau said investigators asked Ren about the alleged rape multiple times but found inconsistencies in her description of the circumstances.

In July, Ren took a four-hour train ride to Beijing, joining the legions of petitioners who flock to the capital to seek help from the central government for what they believe are abuses of power by local officials that lead to personal losses such as home seizures or being laid off.

Ren submitted her documents to three petition offices. A security officer at one of the places remarked that she seemed too young to be among the more than 1,000 petitioners who come to the office every day. Two months later they would return to repeat the same cycle: line up, submit papers, wait, he said.

“Just like that, I was hit with a splash of cold water,” Ren wrote on her online blog that night. “Hope has pretty much been extinguished.”

The authorities have continued to monitor Ren’s movements, she said, more than a year after she first went to the police. On a recent trip to a neighboring city, one man whom she says was trailing her dragged her into a black car when she tried to depart for a third city where she planned to meet with a lawyer.

But Ren remains determined to hold the police, the university and Liang to account.

On the eve of the Aug. 3 protest that would end up being thwarted, Ren posted somber photos of herself wearing a black sun hat and sunglasses, holding up a sign with “#METOO#” scrawled on it.

Ren correctly predicted she would face punishment for her actions. Quoting a Chinese proverb, she declared: “I’d rather be a shattered jade than an unbroken piece of pottery.”

___

Associated Press reporter Dake Kang and researcher Fu Ting contributed to this report.



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How Trump Can Save Free Speech from Big Tech


The president has been busy keeping many of the promises he made as a candidate, so perhaps my request is unfair.  I’m mindful, however, that he has similarly ambitious and entrepreneurial children, who are active on social media.

Politics is sales, and here’s my pitch. 

Americans Are Powerless

From Dennis Prager to The New York Post to Alex Jones, among others, we’ve watched the Big Tech Industrial Complex purge speech and rhetoric with which it disagrees.

It’s no small irony that the same tech companies that manipulated search data, such as Google, to work to help Hillary Clinton – she of the faux socialist resistance to the rich and powerful – constitute an absurdly rich and absurdly powerful Brahmin-like conglomerate of omnipotent tech demigods.

Think long and hard about this: what, really, can we the American people do about shadowbanning?  Or sudden, abrupt removals of comments or posts?  Or popular videos that are placed on page 425 of a search engine, or, worse, are blocked from public viewings due to creepily arbitrary “hate speech” standards?  Perhaps most disheartening is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s likely that the tech companies will never be able to restore trust in their impartiality and integrity – much the same way many Americans will never again trust the DMIC (Democrat Media Industrial Complex).  People buy and decide based on perception, and the irreversible perception the Big Tech Industrial Complex has cultivated is a very un-American hostility toward conservative political beliefs.

Sure, conservatives and America First voters could cease use of tech and social media platforms – which, in a way, is a win for Big Tech.

What about regulation, First Amendment lawsuits and antitrust litigation? All sound promising, in theory, but do we really want the federal government anywhere near the Internet? How, exactly, would the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission keep up with the 24-7 flow of data and content created by billions of users?  Answer: They won’t, and Big Tech regulation would just be more Big Government – an information superhighway iteration of Cash for Clunkers.  Big Tech would be, at any given moment, years ahead of even the most rigorous regulatory requirements, and don’t get me started on Attorney General Jefferson Sessions.

Furthermore, is there really an antitrust or First Amendment case to be made?  When the federal government won its landmark antitrust suit against Microsoft in 1998, it won on the legal basis that Microsoft was stifling its competition.  Pray, tell: how do the current tactics of Big Tech stifle competition?  Prager, Jones, and The New York Post all have their own websites; I’m unaware of any evidence that Big Tech has done anything to directly obstruct their abilities to get noticed and found on any internet search engine.

As John Stossell, one of my favorite Fox personalities, remarked recently, the tech companies likely have the constitutional right to kick whomever they want off their platforms and app markets.  Want to sue them?  Go right ahead.  Taking down, for example, Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar-valued company, would be easy-breezy, wouldn’t it?  Though I’m not a bettin’ man, I suspect that the same justices who sided with baker Jack Phillips would side with Big Tech.

Trump the Tech Icon?

So if more government, lawyers, and playing nice won’t work, what would?

This is where the president steps in.  He and his family have made a vast fortune.  Providing a viable alternative to his tens of millions of unwavering supporters – in which users post, comment, and upload free of the tyranny of Big Brother-ish uncertainty that no one will see their content due to manipulation of algorithms designed by foreign workers who can’t even vote in our elections – would make an Earth-quaking impact overnight.

The president himself had said that without Twitter, he might not be president.  If true, that’s a testament to him and his former digital media director (and current 2020 campaign chairman) Brad Parscale, more than Twitter.

Trump Valley.  Trumpbook.  Trumpitter.  TrumpTube.  Trumpterest.  Trumpagram.  Hell, create a new search engine, free of manipulation: Trumpoogle.  Name me one Trump-supporter you know who wouldn’t utilize the full suite of the Trump Valley platform; you can’t.  (This is the part where Ben Shapiro and Senators Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse lament the “echo chamber.”)

I have a two-reason theory as to why we’ve not seen a Trump-branded mode of online communication: first, the president and family don’t know how to make the many moving parts synchronize (I do, but I won’t yet reveal; as The Joker said in The Dark Knight, if you’re good at something, never do it for free); second, he and his family don’t know how to monetize it.

Like everything else they touch, Democrats have destroyed speech on the internet, irrespective of its erudition or asininity.  But there’s never been a better time to use technology to continue strengthening the America First political movement that has so frightened Big Tech, it’s gone to, and continues to go to, great lengths to suppress and make vanished anything even remotely resembling pro-Trump or conservatism.

Mr. President, please consider what I’m saying.  It all sounds impossibly daunting, but so was your electoral win – a win that was America’s political black swan event.  At the 2016 RNC convention, in which you were formally named the GOP nominee, your daughter, Ivanka, boldly stated that the election could make the impossible possible.

Trump needs to embolden and unify his side.  Let him send the Tessio Republicans, eager to betray us, as Sal Tessio did to Michael Corleone, as well as the Democratic Party and their corporate sycophants, reeling further into their downward spiral.  Let him channel your inner Sonny Corleone and take it personal, as many of your supporters have.

Big Tech and their Democrat sympathizers in Congress are on the ropes, and they know it.  Do you think they all recently convened a meeting to discuss their daughters’ weddings and yoga?  This is no time for rope-a-dope; rather, it’s a time to relentlessly attack, in the spirit of General George Patton, whom Trump is fond of quoting at your rallies and pressers.  With the midterms fast approaching, and the 2020 election heating up, time is not our friend; urgency, with a sense of urgency, is necessary to defang the Democrats.  The opposition seeks to subvert our will and our Constitution by impeaching Trump, for the crime of winning more than 270 electoral votes.

The Democrats and Tessios thought our victory was just a fad, and that we’d lose interest once the new car smell waned; the Democrats, in particular, viewed the defeat of The Original but Now Second Chosen One as a bump in the road en route to owning the presidency, federal and supreme courts, and the internet forever.  Much to all their chagrin, what seemed guaranteed to fade away has moved in the opposite direction, steered by a fired up and excited voting base.

It’s time for Trump to redefine what it means to be a Man of the People.  This, perhaps even more than any legislative achievement, will unequivocally ensconce his standing as a visionary and revolutionary president and American.

Rich Logis is host of The Rich Logis Show, at TheRichLogisShow.com and author of the upcoming book 10 Warning Signs Your Child Is Becoming a Democrat.  He can be found on Twitter at @RichLogis.

Politicians aren’t saviors or messiahs.  Devoutly secular worship of government – the belief that the State (capital S) is God – is inherent in the Democratic Party’s ideology and marketing.

At the risk of belying my adamant opposition to idolatry, I implore President Trump to save free speech on the internet.

The president has been busy keeping many of the promises he made as a candidate, so perhaps my request is unfair.  I’m mindful, however, that he has similarly ambitious and entrepreneurial children, who are active on social media.

Politics is sales, and here’s my pitch. 

Americans Are Powerless

From Dennis Prager to The New York Post to Alex Jones, among others, we’ve watched the Big Tech Industrial Complex purge speech and rhetoric with which it disagrees.

It’s no small irony that the same tech companies that manipulated search data, such as Google, to work to help Hillary Clinton – she of the faux socialist resistance to the rich and powerful – constitute an absurdly rich and absurdly powerful Brahmin-like conglomerate of omnipotent tech demigods.

Think long and hard about this: what, really, can we the American people do about shadowbanning?  Or sudden, abrupt removals of comments or posts?  Or popular videos that are placed on page 425 of a search engine, or, worse, are blocked from public viewings due to creepily arbitrary “hate speech” standards?  Perhaps most disheartening is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s likely that the tech companies will never be able to restore trust in their impartiality and integrity – much the same way many Americans will never again trust the DMIC (Democrat Media Industrial Complex).  People buy and decide based on perception, and the irreversible perception the Big Tech Industrial Complex has cultivated is a very un-American hostility toward conservative political beliefs.

Sure, conservatives and America First voters could cease use of tech and social media platforms – which, in a way, is a win for Big Tech.

What about regulation, First Amendment lawsuits and antitrust litigation? All sound promising, in theory, but do we really want the federal government anywhere near the Internet? How, exactly, would the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission keep up with the 24-7 flow of data and content created by billions of users?  Answer: They won’t, and Big Tech regulation would just be more Big Government – an information superhighway iteration of Cash for Clunkers.  Big Tech would be, at any given moment, years ahead of even the most rigorous regulatory requirements, and don’t get me started on Attorney General Jefferson Sessions.

Furthermore, is there really an antitrust or First Amendment case to be made?  When the federal government won its landmark antitrust suit against Microsoft in 1998, it won on the legal basis that Microsoft was stifling its competition.  Pray, tell: how do the current tactics of Big Tech stifle competition?  Prager, Jones, and The New York Post all have their own websites; I’m unaware of any evidence that Big Tech has done anything to directly obstruct their abilities to get noticed and found on any internet search engine.

As John Stossell, one of my favorite Fox personalities, remarked recently, the tech companies likely have the constitutional right to kick whomever they want off their platforms and app markets.  Want to sue them?  Go right ahead.  Taking down, for example, Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar-valued company, would be easy-breezy, wouldn’t it?  Though I’m not a bettin’ man, I suspect that the same justices who sided with baker Jack Phillips would side with Big Tech.

Trump the Tech Icon?

So if more government, lawyers, and playing nice won’t work, what would?

This is where the president steps in.  He and his family have made a vast fortune.  Providing a viable alternative to his tens of millions of unwavering supporters – in which users post, comment, and upload free of the tyranny of Big Brother-ish uncertainty that no one will see their content due to manipulation of algorithms designed by foreign workers who can’t even vote in our elections – would make an Earth-quaking impact overnight.

The president himself had said that without Twitter, he might not be president.  If true, that’s a testament to him and his former digital media director (and current 2020 campaign chairman) Brad Parscale, more than Twitter.

Trump Valley.  Trumpbook.  Trumpitter.  TrumpTube.  Trumpterest.  Trumpagram.  Hell, create a new search engine, free of manipulation: Trumpoogle.  Name me one Trump-supporter you know who wouldn’t utilize the full suite of the Trump Valley platform; you can’t.  (This is the part where Ben Shapiro and Senators Jeff Flake and Ben Sasse lament the “echo chamber.”)

I have a two-reason theory as to why we’ve not seen a Trump-branded mode of online communication: first, the president and family don’t know how to make the many moving parts synchronize (I do, but I won’t yet reveal; as The Joker said in The Dark Knight, if you’re good at something, never do it for free); second, he and his family don’t know how to monetize it.

Like everything else they touch, Democrats have destroyed speech on the internet, irrespective of its erudition or asininity.  But there’s never been a better time to use technology to continue strengthening the America First political movement that has so frightened Big Tech, it’s gone to, and continues to go to, great lengths to suppress and make vanished anything even remotely resembling pro-Trump or conservatism.

Mr. President, please consider what I’m saying.  It all sounds impossibly daunting, but so was your electoral win – a win that was America’s political black swan event.  At the 2016 RNC convention, in which you were formally named the GOP nominee, your daughter, Ivanka, boldly stated that the election could make the impossible possible.

Trump needs to embolden and unify his side.  Let him send the Tessio Republicans, eager to betray us, as Sal Tessio did to Michael Corleone, as well as the Democratic Party and their corporate sycophants, reeling further into their downward spiral.  Let him channel your inner Sonny Corleone and take it personal, as many of your supporters have.

Big Tech and their Democrat sympathizers in Congress are on the ropes, and they know it.  Do you think they all recently convened a meeting to discuss their daughters’ weddings and yoga?  This is no time for rope-a-dope; rather, it’s a time to relentlessly attack, in the spirit of General George Patton, whom Trump is fond of quoting at your rallies and pressers.  With the midterms fast approaching, and the 2020 election heating up, time is not our friend; urgency, with a sense of urgency, is necessary to defang the Democrats.  The opposition seeks to subvert our will and our Constitution by impeaching Trump, for the crime of winning more than 270 electoral votes.

The Democrats and Tessios thought our victory was just a fad, and that we’d lose interest once the new car smell waned; the Democrats, in particular, viewed the defeat of The Original but Now Second Chosen One as a bump in the road en route to owning the presidency, federal and supreme courts, and the internet forever.  Much to all their chagrin, what seemed guaranteed to fade away has moved in the opposite direction, steered by a fired up and excited voting base.

It’s time for Trump to redefine what it means to be a Man of the People.  This, perhaps even more than any legislative achievement, will unequivocally ensconce his standing as a visionary and revolutionary president and American.

Rich Logis is host of The Rich Logis Show, at TheRichLogisShow.com and author of the upcoming book 10 Warning Signs Your Child Is Becoming a Democrat.  He can be found on Twitter at @RichLogis.



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Labor Day, the Holiday in Need of an Update


Among American holidays, Labor Day is probably the one in most need of an update. The idea of a “labor day holiday” was conceived in the 1880s by union labor leaders who sought recognition for the social and economic achievements of American workers. Finally in 1894, U.S. Congress voted to establish Labor Day as a national holiday to celebrate workers and their contributions to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country.

Most don’t realize it, but attitudes toward labor are more progressive and respectful among Americans than they are in much of the rest of the world. European societies, for instance, generally view leisure as being more honorable than work.  In the classic, The Arab Mind, the “Fahlawi Personality”, which deemphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and physical labor, contributes to fairly widespread attitudes of indolence among Middle Eastern men.  Throughout Latin America, people who are educated generally look down on those in the laboring class. 

It was Alexis de Tocqueville, whose ever-relevant classic Democracy in America pointed out that Americans regard work “as positively honorable.”  The suggestion that work is good for the soul and necessary to a fulfilling life is also found in the Bible, which makes over 450 specific references to the value and importance of work — considerably more than its references to love, hope, joy, grace, or peace. 

Labor union membership peaked as a percentage of the entire American labor force at 26% in 1953.  Today only about 11.2% of the total labor force belongs to a labor union. But what is most striking in the face of general decline in private sector union membership has been the growth of union membership among government employees.  Some 36% of the public sector is unionized, while approximately 6.6% of business employees now belong to unions. 

Labor Day is perhaps what might be called an unfinished holiday in need of broader perspective. What is distinct about the U.S. economy is the strong and widespread entrepreneurial tradition, wherein there is frequent crossover from being a laborer to becoming a business owner — who seeks upward mobility for himself, but who also creates new jobs for others.       

It’s certainly important to commemorate those who labor.  But the people who create new jobs by taking risk in developing new products, services and market opportunities should also be recognized.  It is these visionary entrepreneurs who have been the primary drivers of progress and wealth creation that took the country from colonial poverty to world economic superpower in a little more than 200 years — making the United States the envy of the world.

Four of the five largest employers in the United States — Walmart, Amazon, Yum Brands, and Home Depot — were founded within the last 50 years while unionized labor was declining. Each of these companies was founded by visionary entrepreneurs who transformed different sectors of the consumer products retailing industry — to deliver a wider variety of products with greater efficiency and at lower prices. 

As the U.S. economy has evolved from a manufacturing to a service and information economy, it should come as no surprise that the four largest companies in terms of market capitalization — Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft — are all in the business of information technology. Each has greatly increased efficiencies for individuals and businesses, while also catalyzing a multiplier effect spawning the formation of a vast number of new companies and new jobs. 

If the patterns of past economic history prevail, the development and application of automation and artificial intelligence should not be feared as they are likely to create as many new jobs as those made obsolete. For all of us, the challenge is to embrace change, recognize opportunity, and stay on game with training and incorporating technologies of a continuously changing economy. 

So as we celebrate on the first Monday in September with that last beach party or barbecue to commemorate those who labor, let us also remember and celebrate the entrepreneurs who drive renewal and progress — creating the new labor and employment opportunities of tomorrow.

Scott Powell is senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and managing partner at RemingtonRand LLC. Reach him at scottp@rrand.com

Among American holidays, Labor Day is probably the one in most need of an update. The idea of a “labor day holiday” was conceived in the 1880s by union labor leaders who sought recognition for the social and economic achievements of American workers. Finally in 1894, U.S. Congress voted to establish Labor Day as a national holiday to celebrate workers and their contributions to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country.

Most don’t realize it, but attitudes toward labor are more progressive and respectful among Americans than they are in much of the rest of the world. European societies, for instance, generally view leisure as being more honorable than work.  In the classic, The Arab Mind, the “Fahlawi Personality”, which deemphasizes the importance of personal responsibility and physical labor, contributes to fairly widespread attitudes of indolence among Middle Eastern men.  Throughout Latin America, people who are educated generally look down on those in the laboring class. 

It was Alexis de Tocqueville, whose ever-relevant classic Democracy in America pointed out that Americans regard work “as positively honorable.”  The suggestion that work is good for the soul and necessary to a fulfilling life is also found in the Bible, which makes over 450 specific references to the value and importance of work — considerably more than its references to love, hope, joy, grace, or peace. 

Labor union membership peaked as a percentage of the entire American labor force at 26% in 1953.  Today only about 11.2% of the total labor force belongs to a labor union. But what is most striking in the face of general decline in private sector union membership has been the growth of union membership among government employees.  Some 36% of the public sector is unionized, while approximately 6.6% of business employees now belong to unions. 

Labor Day is perhaps what might be called an unfinished holiday in need of broader perspective. What is distinct about the U.S. economy is the strong and widespread entrepreneurial tradition, wherein there is frequent crossover from being a laborer to becoming a business owner — who seeks upward mobility for himself, but who also creates new jobs for others.       

It’s certainly important to commemorate those who labor.  But the people who create new jobs by taking risk in developing new products, services and market opportunities should also be recognized.  It is these visionary entrepreneurs who have been the primary drivers of progress and wealth creation that took the country from colonial poverty to world economic superpower in a little more than 200 years — making the United States the envy of the world.

Four of the five largest employers in the United States — Walmart, Amazon, Yum Brands, and Home Depot — were founded within the last 50 years while unionized labor was declining. Each of these companies was founded by visionary entrepreneurs who transformed different sectors of the consumer products retailing industry — to deliver a wider variety of products with greater efficiency and at lower prices. 

As the U.S. economy has evolved from a manufacturing to a service and information economy, it should come as no surprise that the four largest companies in terms of market capitalization — Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft — are all in the business of information technology. Each has greatly increased efficiencies for individuals and businesses, while also catalyzing a multiplier effect spawning the formation of a vast number of new companies and new jobs. 

If the patterns of past economic history prevail, the development and application of automation and artificial intelligence should not be feared as they are likely to create as many new jobs as those made obsolete. For all of us, the challenge is to embrace change, recognize opportunity, and stay on game with training and incorporating technologies of a continuously changing economy. 

So as we celebrate on the first Monday in September with that last beach party or barbecue to commemorate those who labor, let us also remember and celebrate the entrepreneurs who drive renewal and progress — creating the new labor and employment opportunities of tomorrow.

Scott Powell is senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and managing partner at RemingtonRand LLC. Reach him at scottp@rrand.com



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Will Getting Rid of UNRWA Fix the Palestinian Problem?


The Mideast crisis gets more pressure because it explodes into open world politics.  The usual response given is that UNRWA aggravates the situation by promoting a right of return for Palestinians.

While complaints against UNRWA are accurate, there may be few happy alternatives.

What should UNRWA encourage these stateless people to accept?  Even were they now to be refused the term “refugee,” as most were born outside the borders of Israel, that still does not get rid of their existence.  One cannot seriously expect UNRWA schoolbooks to educate them as follows: “You are a stateless people without civil rights in the countries where you now reside!  Be happy!”

Take, for example, Lebanon, a country that was once majority Christian, and where the percentage of Christians in the population seems to be rebounding.  The Muslims in Lebanon are split between violently hostile Shia and Sunni.  Into this fractious country came Hezb’allah, sponsored by Iran, to take de facto control of the country.

The naturalization of 400,000 (primarily Sunni) Palestinians into Lebanon would be a demographic disaster and would toss the country into civil war again.  Moreover, such a naturalization would bring a call by the approximately 1 million plus – primarily Sunni – Syrian refugees for naturalization.  Neither the Lebanese Christians nor the Lebanese Shia would tolerate it.

There is no way those Palestinians in Lebanon will ever be granted any rights.  If the Palestinian refugee crisis is a threat to Israel, it is an even more immediate threat to Lebanon.

UNRWA schoolbooks might start blaming the host countries for not naturalizing these Palestinians, but how long would UNRWA be tolerated after that?

Some would counter, “If Arab countries wouldn’t tolerate a non-compliant UNRWA, why should Israel?”

The sad fact is, Israel gets a benefit out of UNRWA.

If, tomorrow, all funding from UNRWA stopped, would this solve Israel’s problems?  Apparently, some of Israel’s generals think otherwise.  According to the Likud-leaning Israel Hayom:

COGAT [the Office of the Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories] objects to cuts in aid to UNRWA on practical grounds. … [T]he defense establishment … is afraid that if UNRWA is unable to help hundreds of thousands of needy Palestinians due to budget cuts, Israel will see rioting, an escalation in violence, and terrorist attacks.

There it is in a nutshell.  For all the complaints against UNRWA, there is a body of opinion that UNRWA keeps the pot from boiling over, if for no other reason than that UNRWA feeds the Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).  Remove that lifeline, and either Israel will have to feed the Palestinians or hunger-fueled violence will increase.

Many in the Zionist community howl against UNRWA, but as Israel Hayom has noted:

A decade later, [COGAT Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad], as head of the Diplomatic-Security Branch of the Defense Ministry … coordinated with then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to torpedo a congressional initiative against the [UNWRA] organization.  UNRWA might be bad, Gilad told Oren, but Hamas is worse.  Gilad’s successors have kept to that line, and like the IDF they see the UNRWA as the lesser of two evils.

Israel played both sides of the debate against U.S. funding.  The U.S. was excoriated for subsidizing UNRWA, but in quiet chambers, the congressmen were encouraged to vote for it.

The sad fact is, Israel, as much as the Palestinian Authority, benefits from UNRWA, though Israel likes to pretend otherwise.  What the U.S. does not provide to keep the peace, Israel may have to provide to some degree.  This can be easily observed in Palestinian purchasing habits.  Newsweek noted that “[m]any Palestinians have little choice but to purchase Israeli products.”  Cut UNRWA funding, lay off Palestinians, and it will also be Israeli manufacturers who are hurt.

Like it or not, indirectly, subsidies to UNRWA also subsidize Israel.  One can see why Israel quietly supported funding UNRWA.

All of this is a perpetual treating of the symptom, not the problem.

The problem is the “refugees,” including their descendants.  No one wants them.  Despised and disenfranchised people tend to get angry in response, and so we have violence.

The usual response is that the Palestinians have brought it on themselves, and to a certain extent, that is true.  But a lot of that bad behavior of the Palestinians is a response to their situation.  Imperial Germany and Italy exported their poor and troublemakers to America, where, once treated better, these social problems became upstanding Americans.  The same was true of other ethnic groups.  Ironically, the complaints against Palestinians among Arabs echo the early 20th-century complaints against Jews among Europeans.

While I agree that cutting UNRWA funding might be good, that still does not get rid of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, a Lebanon that could not safely absorb them.  There are roughly a half-million in Syria (or from Syria).  Syria under Alawite and Shia Baathist rule would never naturalize those Sunni Palestinians.  And so on, for the rest of the Arab world.  Nor will cutting UNRWA get rid of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, nor Gaza.

Everyone is treating the symptom, not a root cause.

To those who say the root cause is Islam, ask yourselves: if these Palestinians all became Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, would Israel take them all back?

No, Israel wants to remain a Jewish state.  Islam is a menace, but the statelessness of the Palestinians is a root cause.

I do not ask Israel to divide Jerusalem, nor to divide its patrimony, but the problem will not go away with UNRWA.  As I have said many times, the Palestinians have to be relocated and settled into other communities.  I am not suggesting Europe, as Europe is already dying out.

Strong diplomatic pressure should be put on the two areas of the world that could absorb these people: the Arab world and South America, which has a history of absorbing Arabs.  In the latter case, those wanting to go to South America must either be Christian or agree to convert.

Strong diplomatic and financial pressure should be brought to bear, with strong financial incentives for agreement.  And yes, the world Jewish community, which would be the chief beneficiary, should contribute substantially.  In 2010, the N.Y. Post reported million-dollar bar mitzvahs.  If they really wanted to celebrate their Jewish heritage, they could have gone to a kosher restaurant and used the saved money to relocate some Palestinians out of Judea and Samaria, thus making the Jewish state more Jewish.

It will cost.

This is the only solution. Anything else is Band-Aids.

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.

President Trump seems determined to shut down UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), the organization singularly preoccupied with caring for the Arab refugees, and their descendants, of the 1947-49 war between Jewish and Arab forces for control of Mandatory Palestine.  While the idea seems good – a final nail in the coffin of Palestine dreams – there might be unintended consequences.

Long going, unresolved refugee crises are not unique to the Mideast – think of the Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma), which conflict is partially rooted in British colonial era policies, or the Lhotshampas from Bhutan.

The Mideast crisis gets more pressure because it explodes into open world politics.  The usual response given is that UNRWA aggravates the situation by promoting a right of return for Palestinians.

While complaints against UNRWA are accurate, there may be few happy alternatives.

What should UNRWA encourage these stateless people to accept?  Even were they now to be refused the term “refugee,” as most were born outside the borders of Israel, that still does not get rid of their existence.  One cannot seriously expect UNRWA schoolbooks to educate them as follows: “You are a stateless people without civil rights in the countries where you now reside!  Be happy!”

Take, for example, Lebanon, a country that was once majority Christian, and where the percentage of Christians in the population seems to be rebounding.  The Muslims in Lebanon are split between violently hostile Shia and Sunni.  Into this fractious country came Hezb’allah, sponsored by Iran, to take de facto control of the country.

The naturalization of 400,000 (primarily Sunni) Palestinians into Lebanon would be a demographic disaster and would toss the country into civil war again.  Moreover, such a naturalization would bring a call by the approximately 1 million plus – primarily Sunni – Syrian refugees for naturalization.  Neither the Lebanese Christians nor the Lebanese Shia would tolerate it.

There is no way those Palestinians in Lebanon will ever be granted any rights.  If the Palestinian refugee crisis is a threat to Israel, it is an even more immediate threat to Lebanon.

UNRWA schoolbooks might start blaming the host countries for not naturalizing these Palestinians, but how long would UNRWA be tolerated after that?

Some would counter, “If Arab countries wouldn’t tolerate a non-compliant UNRWA, why should Israel?”

The sad fact is, Israel gets a benefit out of UNRWA.

If, tomorrow, all funding from UNRWA stopped, would this solve Israel’s problems?  Apparently, some of Israel’s generals think otherwise.  According to the Likud-leaning Israel Hayom:

COGAT [the Office of the Coordinator of (Israeli) Government Activities in the Territories] objects to cuts in aid to UNRWA on practical grounds. … [T]he defense establishment … is afraid that if UNRWA is unable to help hundreds of thousands of needy Palestinians due to budget cuts, Israel will see rioting, an escalation in violence, and terrorist attacks.

There it is in a nutshell.  For all the complaints against UNRWA, there is a body of opinion that UNRWA keeps the pot from boiling over, if for no other reason than that UNRWA feeds the Palestinians in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).  Remove that lifeline, and either Israel will have to feed the Palestinians or hunger-fueled violence will increase.

Many in the Zionist community howl against UNRWA, but as Israel Hayom has noted:

A decade later, [COGAT Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad], as head of the Diplomatic-Security Branch of the Defense Ministry … coordinated with then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to torpedo a congressional initiative against the [UNWRA] organization.  UNRWA might be bad, Gilad told Oren, but Hamas is worse.  Gilad’s successors have kept to that line, and like the IDF they see the UNRWA as the lesser of two evils.

Israel played both sides of the debate against U.S. funding.  The U.S. was excoriated for subsidizing UNRWA, but in quiet chambers, the congressmen were encouraged to vote for it.

The sad fact is, Israel, as much as the Palestinian Authority, benefits from UNRWA, though Israel likes to pretend otherwise.  What the U.S. does not provide to keep the peace, Israel may have to provide to some degree.  This can be easily observed in Palestinian purchasing habits.  Newsweek noted that “[m]any Palestinians have little choice but to purchase Israeli products.”  Cut UNRWA funding, lay off Palestinians, and it will also be Israeli manufacturers who are hurt.

Like it or not, indirectly, subsidies to UNRWA also subsidize Israel.  One can see why Israel quietly supported funding UNRWA.

All of this is a perpetual treating of the symptom, not the problem.

The problem is the “refugees,” including their descendants.  No one wants them.  Despised and disenfranchised people tend to get angry in response, and so we have violence.

The usual response is that the Palestinians have brought it on themselves, and to a certain extent, that is true.  But a lot of that bad behavior of the Palestinians is a response to their situation.  Imperial Germany and Italy exported their poor and troublemakers to America, where, once treated better, these social problems became upstanding Americans.  The same was true of other ethnic groups.  Ironically, the complaints against Palestinians among Arabs echo the early 20th-century complaints against Jews among Europeans.

While I agree that cutting UNRWA funding might be good, that still does not get rid of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon, a Lebanon that could not safely absorb them.  There are roughly a half-million in Syria (or from Syria).  Syria under Alawite and Shia Baathist rule would never naturalize those Sunni Palestinians.  And so on, for the rest of the Arab world.  Nor will cutting UNRWA get rid of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, nor Gaza.

Everyone is treating the symptom, not a root cause.

To those who say the root cause is Islam, ask yourselves: if these Palestinians all became Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, would Israel take them all back?

No, Israel wants to remain a Jewish state.  Islam is a menace, but the statelessness of the Palestinians is a root cause.

I do not ask Israel to divide Jerusalem, nor to divide its patrimony, but the problem will not go away with UNRWA.  As I have said many times, the Palestinians have to be relocated and settled into other communities.  I am not suggesting Europe, as Europe is already dying out.

Strong diplomatic pressure should be put on the two areas of the world that could absorb these people: the Arab world and South America, which has a history of absorbing Arabs.  In the latter case, those wanting to go to South America must either be Christian or agree to convert.

Strong diplomatic and financial pressure should be brought to bear, with strong financial incentives for agreement.  And yes, the world Jewish community, which would be the chief beneficiary, should contribute substantially.  In 2010, the N.Y. Post reported million-dollar bar mitzvahs.  If they really wanted to celebrate their Jewish heritage, they could have gone to a kosher restaurant and used the saved money to relocate some Palestinians out of Judea and Samaria, thus making the Jewish state more Jewish.

It will cost.

This is the only solution. Anything else is Band-Aids.

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.



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Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Happiness


His life started on a dairy farm.  Apart from a stint in the United States Navy, he spent the better part of the next five decades eking out a modest sustenance from milk production.  Then come the summer of ‘85, a young boy was killed in a tractor accident behind the barn.  A few months later it was almost the loss of his own hand: mangled in a hay bailer.  The attending surgeon, a veteran medic in Vietnam, said it was one of the worst injuries he had ever seen.

That was when Dad began to wonder if he should still be a farmer.

Maybe it was providential.  The drought of 1986 wiped out many farms across America.  By then Dad had found employment at a granite quarry, where he rose to become the head of maintenance before he retired in 2008.

But none of that was ever Dad’s career.

He discovered his true calling in the early 90s.  A book about knifemaking caught Dad’s eye.  It became something he wanted to take a stab at, pun irresistibly intended.

Those first forays were crude: little more than filings from rusted bits of saw blade.  But over the next two decades Dad dedicated himself to the art.  He built a shop in which to practice his hobby.  He always took advantage of opportunities to learn more about knifemaking technique.  In time he became a master of multi-layered Damascus steel.  When Dad wanted to install a power hammer in the shop, he designed and built one.  So too did he build his own propane-fueled forge.  And his anvil.  And he devised a way to produce Damascus steel with greater speed and precision than before.

By the time Dad passed away before Thanksgiving in 2014, none had doubt about what his lifetime career had been.  The knives he had made as commissioned works were innumerable.  Those he had made simply for the joy of giving to friends and family, even more beyond count.  And they were as beautiful to the eye as they were practical in the hand.

Toward the end of Navy service Dad was given an opportunity to become involved with computer technology at its very beginning.  He chose to return to North Carolina.  To start a family and find some happiness.  He ended up with more fulfillment and fame than many men get to have… or ever bother to pursue.

I don’t think Dad ever read anything by Joseph Campbell, but in its own way his life magnificently fulfilled the criteria of the heroic archetype.  “Follow your bliss,” said the author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces.  Campbell’s understanding of the drive for self-completeness has even greater bearing on the average person than it did for mythical warriors such as Perceval.  For each of us there is a Grail to achieve.  We deserve the freedom to pursue it.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because even on a subconscious level, we new that Americans had lost unforgivably too much of that freedom. Something we once had was gone and we were frantic to get it back.

For decades Republicans and Democrats alike had promised, in their respective vernaculars, comfortable conditions of being.  Too many of them had already forgotten the lessons of communist Russia, that had also guaranteed its citizens a safe existence.

Then the people of the Soviet Union became sick and tired of mere existence.  That wasn’t life.  They wanted blue jeans.  They wanted Michael Jackson tapes.  They wanted toilet paper that wasn’t semi-raw wood pulp.  They didn’t want to have to spend hours in line at the GUM department store in downtown Moscow to buy that toilet paper.  They wanted to forge their own destinies.  That is what Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II understood and tapped into.  It was a rising tide of the need to grow and become more than what one already was and when the Politburo could hold it back no more, it burst with abandon across Eastern Europe.

More than either of the two parties would like to admit, Americans have felt denied that same freedom.  Those feelings are justifiable.

For decades, Washington has assumed that people want government-mandated comfort.  Americans saw Hillary Clinton as the embodiment of that assumption.  And they turned against it. 

People remembered that America had once been better, before a generation’s worth of choking buildup.  And for whatever flaws the man possessed, they saw Donald Trump as a break from the pattern.  As a desperate arrow to fire toward a chink in the dragon’s scale.

Eighteen months after Trump took office, the domestic economy has roared to life as few dared imagine.  Long-dormant factories have been aroused and new factories are being built, including Foxconn’s new facility in Wisconsin that will employ 13,000 people.  Unemployment rates are at the lowest in decades, especially among the black and Hispanic communities.  Wages are improving.  Taxes are being slashed.  There are long-needed competitive tariffs and trade policies.  Retailers are reporting record profits.

And yet all of those are measly dividends compared to the true riches about to be poured forth.

The American people are beginning to discover the pleasure of having both more money and more time.  They are getting to devote more of their free hours to their families, to their communities, or to their hobbies.  For many this is will be enough for contentment, and that is good.  For others, they will want to know if they can go further.  They are driven to find their limits and dreaming to exceed them.  They are daring to evolve and discover the individual that he or she is meant to be.

The American people love this improving economy, because it’s enabling them to improve themselves.  They have not been able to enjoy that in a very long time. 

For President Trump, that alone has almost certainly assured his re-election.  However beleaguered the man has become to the press and late-night comedians, many more Americans than before are too busy with their own lives to care.  They ignore the chicanery inside the Beltway and consider their own aspirations, for a change.  It is an inebriating freedom and thus far, no opposing political figures have proposed an attractive counter to it.  Indeed, the more that the pundits and the celebrities ridicule Trump and his supporters, the more they themselves are becoming ignored.

The politicians erred in thinking that people want mere work.  They require work, but they need purpose and they want to follow their dreams.  Yes, there are jobs.  And yet more important than jobs, there are callings.  Americans are increasingly becoming free again to pursue those callings.  And as their spirits revitalize, so too will American culture with it.

Case in point: the film industry has stagnated.  Hollywood isn’t taking risks. But throughout the hinterlands there is undiscovered talent.  The major studios will ignore that new talent at their peril.  All that has held them back is the need to make a living.  Once there is a surplus of their own time and money they are going to lead the way to a box-office renaissance.  That the Trump-era economy figures into the equation will be largely ignored.  Then again, few ever note that Reagan’s policies brought a lot of vibrancy into the 80s.  All kids today seem to know is that it was the only decade cool enough to set Stranger Things during.

It’s that “pursuit of happiness” thing quill-penned into the Declaration of Independence.  It’s the freedom to not be content with one’s station in life, and to be able to do something about it.  A person may be born into a place and circumstance, but nobody has to be locked in for life as a prisoner to that circumstance.  It’s the difference between mere job and a life’s career.

That’s what Dad did.  He wasn’t content to merely exist.  He began his life as a dairy farmer and when he passed he had become a renowned and respected artisan.  That so many knives stamped “R.R. KNIGHT” have found their way across America and even Canada and Europe is testament to that.  He followed his bliss and found it.

That is what any of us should be able to follow after, too.  Maybe we are getting to afford to learn how to again.

Christopher Knight has been a writer, filmmaker, teacher, politician, computer technician, reporter, meat slicer, plastic factory worker, and too many other things.  He still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.  Visit his blog and find him on Twitter.

His life started on a dairy farm.  Apart from a stint in the United States Navy, he spent the better part of the next five decades eking out a modest sustenance from milk production.  Then come the summer of ‘85, a young boy was killed in a tractor accident behind the barn.  A few months later it was almost the loss of his own hand: mangled in a hay bailer.  The attending surgeon, a veteran medic in Vietnam, said it was one of the worst injuries he had ever seen.

That was when Dad began to wonder if he should still be a farmer.

Maybe it was providential.  The drought of 1986 wiped out many farms across America.  By then Dad had found employment at a granite quarry, where he rose to become the head of maintenance before he retired in 2008.

But none of that was ever Dad’s career.

He discovered his true calling in the early 90s.  A book about knifemaking caught Dad’s eye.  It became something he wanted to take a stab at, pun irresistibly intended.

Those first forays were crude: little more than filings from rusted bits of saw blade.  But over the next two decades Dad dedicated himself to the art.  He built a shop in which to practice his hobby.  He always took advantage of opportunities to learn more about knifemaking technique.  In time he became a master of multi-layered Damascus steel.  When Dad wanted to install a power hammer in the shop, he designed and built one.  So too did he build his own propane-fueled forge.  And his anvil.  And he devised a way to produce Damascus steel with greater speed and precision than before.

By the time Dad passed away before Thanksgiving in 2014, none had doubt about what his lifetime career had been.  The knives he had made as commissioned works were innumerable.  Those he had made simply for the joy of giving to friends and family, even more beyond count.  And they were as beautiful to the eye as they were practical in the hand.

Toward the end of Navy service Dad was given an opportunity to become involved with computer technology at its very beginning.  He chose to return to North Carolina.  To start a family and find some happiness.  He ended up with more fulfillment and fame than many men get to have… or ever bother to pursue.

I don’t think Dad ever read anything by Joseph Campbell, but in its own way his life magnificently fulfilled the criteria of the heroic archetype.  “Follow your bliss,” said the author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces.  Campbell’s understanding of the drive for self-completeness has even greater bearing on the average person than it did for mythical warriors such as Perceval.  For each of us there is a Grail to achieve.  We deserve the freedom to pursue it.

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because even on a subconscious level, we new that Americans had lost unforgivably too much of that freedom. Something we once had was gone and we were frantic to get it back.

For decades Republicans and Democrats alike had promised, in their respective vernaculars, comfortable conditions of being.  Too many of them had already forgotten the lessons of communist Russia, that had also guaranteed its citizens a safe existence.

Then the people of the Soviet Union became sick and tired of mere existence.  That wasn’t life.  They wanted blue jeans.  They wanted Michael Jackson tapes.  They wanted toilet paper that wasn’t semi-raw wood pulp.  They didn’t want to have to spend hours in line at the GUM department store in downtown Moscow to buy that toilet paper.  They wanted to forge their own destinies.  That is what Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II understood and tapped into.  It was a rising tide of the need to grow and become more than what one already was and when the Politburo could hold it back no more, it burst with abandon across Eastern Europe.

More than either of the two parties would like to admit, Americans have felt denied that same freedom.  Those feelings are justifiable.

For decades, Washington has assumed that people want government-mandated comfort.  Americans saw Hillary Clinton as the embodiment of that assumption.  And they turned against it. 

People remembered that America had once been better, before a generation’s worth of choking buildup.  And for whatever flaws the man possessed, they saw Donald Trump as a break from the pattern.  As a desperate arrow to fire toward a chink in the dragon’s scale.

Eighteen months after Trump took office, the domestic economy has roared to life as few dared imagine.  Long-dormant factories have been aroused and new factories are being built, including Foxconn’s new facility in Wisconsin that will employ 13,000 people.  Unemployment rates are at the lowest in decades, especially among the black and Hispanic communities.  Wages are improving.  Taxes are being slashed.  There are long-needed competitive tariffs and trade policies.  Retailers are reporting record profits.

And yet all of those are measly dividends compared to the true riches about to be poured forth.

The American people are beginning to discover the pleasure of having both more money and more time.  They are getting to devote more of their free hours to their families, to their communities, or to their hobbies.  For many this is will be enough for contentment, and that is good.  For others, they will want to know if they can go further.  They are driven to find their limits and dreaming to exceed them.  They are daring to evolve and discover the individual that he or she is meant to be.

The American people love this improving economy, because it’s enabling them to improve themselves.  They have not been able to enjoy that in a very long time. 

For President Trump, that alone has almost certainly assured his re-election.  However beleaguered the man has become to the press and late-night comedians, many more Americans than before are too busy with their own lives to care.  They ignore the chicanery inside the Beltway and consider their own aspirations, for a change.  It is an inebriating freedom and thus far, no opposing political figures have proposed an attractive counter to it.  Indeed, the more that the pundits and the celebrities ridicule Trump and his supporters, the more they themselves are becoming ignored.

The politicians erred in thinking that people want mere work.  They require work, but they need purpose and they want to follow their dreams.  Yes, there are jobs.  And yet more important than jobs, there are callings.  Americans are increasingly becoming free again to pursue those callings.  And as their spirits revitalize, so too will American culture with it.

Case in point: the film industry has stagnated.  Hollywood isn’t taking risks. But throughout the hinterlands there is undiscovered talent.  The major studios will ignore that new talent at their peril.  All that has held them back is the need to make a living.  Once there is a surplus of their own time and money they are going to lead the way to a box-office renaissance.  That the Trump-era economy figures into the equation will be largely ignored.  Then again, few ever note that Reagan’s policies brought a lot of vibrancy into the 80s.  All kids today seem to know is that it was the only decade cool enough to set Stranger Things during.

It’s that “pursuit of happiness” thing quill-penned into the Declaration of Independence.  It’s the freedom to not be content with one’s station in life, and to be able to do something about it.  A person may be born into a place and circumstance, but nobody has to be locked in for life as a prisoner to that circumstance.  It’s the difference between mere job and a life’s career.

That’s what Dad did.  He wasn’t content to merely exist.  He began his life as a dairy farmer and when he passed he had become a renowned and respected artisan.  That so many knives stamped “R.R. KNIGHT” have found their way across America and even Canada and Europe is testament to that.  He followed his bliss and found it.

That is what any of us should be able to follow after, too.  Maybe we are getting to afford to learn how to again.

Christopher Knight has been a writer, filmmaker, teacher, politician, computer technician, reporter, meat slicer, plastic factory worker, and too many other things.  He still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up.  Visit his blog and find him on Twitter.



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No Congratulations: Liberals Move to Ban Balloons


You and I in a little toy shop

Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got

Set them free at the break of dawn

’til one by one, they were gone…

According to German pop singer Nena, who sang us this story back in 1983, the fanciful release of 99 red balloons inadvertently triggered global thermonuclear war.  It was a cute antiwar song, a Euro-pop warning about an overeager “war machine” and the Bomb.  But now it’s the balloons we have to worry about:

The joyous celebration of releasing balloons into the air has long bothered environmentalists, who say the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them.  So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny, even though they’re a very small part of environmental pollution.

Accordingly, campaigns are afoot to discourage balloon releases at weddings, some states have passed laws restricting them, Clemson University ended its pre-game tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons before games, and so far at least one town in Rhode Island has banned the sale of all balloons out of concern for marine life.  The town warden suggests balloon alternatives, like “posters, piñatas and decorated paper.”  But can you tie a piñata into a giraffe? 

There’s some pushback from the Balloon Council, which works to “uphold the integrity of the professional balloon community” with safe handling standards like “never releasing them into the air, and ensuring the strings have a weight tied to them so the balloons don’t accidentally float away.”  The Council’s executive director, Lorna O’Hara, while she won’t dispute “that marine creatures might mistake balloons for jellyfish and eat them,” she’s not so sure “balloons are necessarily causing their deaths.”

Let me make clear at the outset that I’m on the side of the sea turtles, the soaring birds, and any other creature that might be harmed in this way, so I’m inclined to err on the side of the turtles.  There’s at least some science to back this up.  But that’s no guarantee that the cost-benefit ratio works out, like the way it never does with climate change.  If it must be, okay; neither plastic straws nor balloons make up much of my life. 

All the same, there’s something just not right about these hasty adoptions of bans on everyday things.  What’s the hurry?  It took 120 years for the American temperance movement to get the 18th Amendment, and that still turned out to be a terrible idea.  In just the past few weeks, we’ve heard about the rapid spread of bans on plastic straws; on balloons; on saying, “Hey, guys” to groups that include women; on “meatless” hamburgers; on crab dinners in Baltimore.  Speaking of Prohibition, expect a second try soon based on last week’s study that drinking alcohol is 100% bad for you.

My real issue is that once the left identifies a problem, its favorite solution is a ban.  With more or less success, the left in recent times has banned, or would love to ban, liquor, guns, national borders, plastic bags, cigarette advertising, DDT, flirting, binary pronouns, “hate speech,” prayers at graduation, team logos, Christmas hymns, wearing fur, words like “manhole,” Nativity scenes, nuclear power plants, coal, Civil War statues, petroleum, unwanted babies, toilets that flush, incandescent light bulbs, and Roseanne Barr.  As with kids who get overactive from too much sugar (at least, until that’s banned), if someone doesn’t shut off the supply of things to forbid, they’ll just get more out of control. 

You’ll notice that it never ends with just the ban itself.  Even images and other references to the condemned object have to be banished, too, as if the very idea of the thing must be erased.  One group that’s worried about balloons, Clean Virginia Waterways, “notes the difficulty of changing a social norm and that even typing ‘congrats’ in a Facebook post results in an animation of balloons.”  And?  Will animated sea turtles try to eat them? 

That’s the thing that gets me.  It’s not enough that we’d be willing to give up a good thing in the interest of some greater good.  For some reason, the offensive object always has to be redefined as malum in se, evil in itself.  It’s no longer enough that the Union won the Civil War and both slavery and the Confederacy went extinct 153 years ago; it’s now necessary “to erase symbols of the pro-slavery Civil War South” by tearing down Confederate statues.  We still have the Second Amendment, but liberals fall asleep to dream about outlawing firearms, and the anticipatory sanitizing is well underway in schools, such that a six-year-old gets suspended for pointing his finger like a gun, or an eighth-grader for doodling an armed stick man.

Nor is it bad enough that balloons poison sea turtles and ensnare sea fowl with their strings and ribbons, but Clean Virginia Waterways has to pile on the additional charge that they “often use helium, a non-renewable resource.”  The damn things are just bad! 

Dangerous, warns Emma Tongue of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, despite their “‘light and whimsical’ image.”  That’s exactly how Nena and her boyfriend got sucked in!

The day is coming when kids’ birthday invitations will not only be scrubbed of all balloon imagery, but bear the somber promise that Liam’s theme party will be “balloon free.”  The inevitable next phase comes when little tykes who witness balloons at other kids’ parties run home to squeal about the naughty things they saw at their classmate’s house, in turn setting off woke parent-to-unfit parent phone calls to explain a world without seabirds.

Along with plagues, mass migrations, war, volcanic activity, and university education, this is exactly the sort of thing that causes cultures over time to go extinct – meanwhile making life, bit by bit (or ban by ban) less worth living. 

By the time of the party conventions in 2020, this anti-balloon thing should be well along, which poses a real image problem if either side goes ahead with the traditional nomination speech balloon drop.  The Republicans will be called tone-deaf animal-haters for six months on CNN, and the Democrats will just be called hypocrites once or twice before the media drop it.  Most likely, the Democrats will have adopted an anti-balloon plank to please their base and will look for alternative things to drop – maybe one of those suggested by the Rhode Island city warden, like bits of colored paper or piñatas.  Or maybe they could look at things from a sea turtle’s point of view, and just drop jellyfish.

T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan.  You can email him at trclancy@yahoo.com.

You and I in a little toy shop

Buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got

Set them free at the break of dawn

’til one by one, they were gone…

According to German pop singer Nena, who sang us this story back in 1983, the fanciful release of 99 red balloons inadvertently triggered global thermonuclear war.  It was a cute antiwar song, a Euro-pop warning about an overeager “war machine” and the Bomb.  But now it’s the balloons we have to worry about:

The joyous celebration of releasing balloons into the air has long bothered environmentalists, who say the pieces that fall back to earth can be deadly to seabirds and turtles that eat them.  So as companies vow to banish plastic straws, there are signs balloons will be among the products to get more scrutiny, even though they’re a very small part of environmental pollution.

Accordingly, campaigns are afoot to discourage balloon releases at weddings, some states have passed laws restricting them, Clemson University ended its pre-game tradition of releasing 10,000 balloons before games, and so far at least one town in Rhode Island has banned the sale of all balloons out of concern for marine life.  The town warden suggests balloon alternatives, like “posters, piñatas and decorated paper.”  But can you tie a piñata into a giraffe? 

There’s some pushback from the Balloon Council, which works to “uphold the integrity of the professional balloon community” with safe handling standards like “never releasing them into the air, and ensuring the strings have a weight tied to them so the balloons don’t accidentally float away.”  The Council’s executive director, Lorna O’Hara, while she won’t dispute “that marine creatures might mistake balloons for jellyfish and eat them,” she’s not so sure “balloons are necessarily causing their deaths.”

Let me make clear at the outset that I’m on the side of the sea turtles, the soaring birds, and any other creature that might be harmed in this way, so I’m inclined to err on the side of the turtles.  There’s at least some science to back this up.  But that’s no guarantee that the cost-benefit ratio works out, like the way it never does with climate change.  If it must be, okay; neither plastic straws nor balloons make up much of my life. 

All the same, there’s something just not right about these hasty adoptions of bans on everyday things.  What’s the hurry?  It took 120 years for the American temperance movement to get the 18th Amendment, and that still turned out to be a terrible idea.  In just the past few weeks, we’ve heard about the rapid spread of bans on plastic straws; on balloons; on saying, “Hey, guys” to groups that include women; on “meatless” hamburgers; on crab dinners in Baltimore.  Speaking of Prohibition, expect a second try soon based on last week’s study that drinking alcohol is 100% bad for you.

My real issue is that once the left identifies a problem, its favorite solution is a ban.  With more or less success, the left in recent times has banned, or would love to ban, liquor, guns, national borders, plastic bags, cigarette advertising, DDT, flirting, binary pronouns, “hate speech,” prayers at graduation, team logos, Christmas hymns, wearing fur, words like “manhole,” Nativity scenes, nuclear power plants, coal, Civil War statues, petroleum, unwanted babies, toilets that flush, incandescent light bulbs, and Roseanne Barr.  As with kids who get overactive from too much sugar (at least, until that’s banned), if someone doesn’t shut off the supply of things to forbid, they’ll just get more out of control. 

You’ll notice that it never ends with just the ban itself.  Even images and other references to the condemned object have to be banished, too, as if the very idea of the thing must be erased.  One group that’s worried about balloons, Clean Virginia Waterways, “notes the difficulty of changing a social norm and that even typing ‘congrats’ in a Facebook post results in an animation of balloons.”  And?  Will animated sea turtles try to eat them? 

That’s the thing that gets me.  It’s not enough that we’d be willing to give up a good thing in the interest of some greater good.  For some reason, the offensive object always has to be redefined as malum in se, evil in itself.  It’s no longer enough that the Union won the Civil War and both slavery and the Confederacy went extinct 153 years ago; it’s now necessary “to erase symbols of the pro-slavery Civil War South” by tearing down Confederate statues.  We still have the Second Amendment, but liberals fall asleep to dream about outlawing firearms, and the anticipatory sanitizing is well underway in schools, such that a six-year-old gets suspended for pointing his finger like a gun, or an eighth-grader for doodling an armed stick man.

Nor is it bad enough that balloons poison sea turtles and ensnare sea fowl with their strings and ribbons, but Clean Virginia Waterways has to pile on the additional charge that they “often use helium, a non-renewable resource.”  The damn things are just bad! 

Dangerous, warns Emma Tongue of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, despite their “‘light and whimsical’ image.”  That’s exactly how Nena and her boyfriend got sucked in!

The day is coming when kids’ birthday invitations will not only be scrubbed of all balloon imagery, but bear the somber promise that Liam’s theme party will be “balloon free.”  The inevitable next phase comes when little tykes who witness balloons at other kids’ parties run home to squeal about the naughty things they saw at their classmate’s house, in turn setting off woke parent-to-unfit parent phone calls to explain a world without seabirds.

Along with plagues, mass migrations, war, volcanic activity, and university education, this is exactly the sort of thing that causes cultures over time to go extinct – meanwhile making life, bit by bit (or ban by ban) less worth living. 

By the time of the party conventions in 2020, this anti-balloon thing should be well along, which poses a real image problem if either side goes ahead with the traditional nomination speech balloon drop.  The Republicans will be called tone-deaf animal-haters for six months on CNN, and the Democrats will just be called hypocrites once or twice before the media drop it.  Most likely, the Democrats will have adopted an anti-balloon plank to please their base and will look for alternative things to drop – maybe one of those suggested by the Rhode Island city warden, like bits of colored paper or piñatas.  Or maybe they could look at things from a sea turtle’s point of view, and just drop jellyfish.

T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan.  You can email him at trclancy@yahoo.com.



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RIP, VS Naipaul: A Great Conservative Writer


V.S. Naipaul died on August 9 at his home in London.  Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, Naipaul was one of the great conservative writers of our time.  Among his best known novels are A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and The Enigma of Arrival.  He will be remembered not just for the superb skill as a novelist, but also for his acute analysis of society in Britain, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and India.

The guiding principle of Naipaul’s work was always his fierce artistic independence and honesty.  In an era of political correctness in which many writers succumbed to pressure to soften their opinions of political corruption in the postcolonial world, Naipaul brought clarity and understanding to what was happening in Trinidad, Argentina, the Congo, and other developing countries.  He was also one of the first major commentators to speak frankly about the dangers of Islamic extremism.

According to reports, the Nobel Committee was not eager to award its highest accolade to a writer who had fearlessly criticized the failed political culture of developing countries in Africa and Latin America and, at the same time, lauded the democratic capitalism of the West.  Were it not for the sheer scale of Naipaul’s achievement as a writer, the prize would never have been awarded to him.  Even so, his critics were quick to denigrate the awarding of the prize, dismissing it as an undeserved honor.

The fact is that the honor was long overdue.  Naipaul was not merely the most accomplished novelist of our time; he was also a social critic who brought common sense to a range of burning issues.  His works include the extraordinary account of his father’s life, A House for Mr. Biswas, and the compelling record of his own transplanted existence in Britain, The Enigma of Arrival.

In a dozen other novels, he portrayed the perilous condition of modern life in both the developed and the developing worlds, perilous especially for those who have forsaken their birthright of inherited values or who have never possessed such a birthright to begin with.  His journalistic writing on India and the Middle East changed the way many readers view these regions while his harsh criticism of African corruption, and by implication of the involvement of Western aid workers, intellectuals, and other facilitators, forced a reassessment of the entire postcolonial relationship.

It has not been sufficiently understood, I think, that the basis of Naipaul’s great success was his unflinching honesty.  A Bend in the River, his unsparing record of post-liberation tribalism and brutality in central Africa, and of the complicity of those Westerners who facilitated it, was a courageous book published at the height of the rule of political correctness, a period characterized by moral complacence and worse in the African writings of liberals such as Nadine Gordimer.

As Naipaul made clear in A Writer’s People, such honesty would not have been possible in the absence of a clear sense of self.  Unfortunately, an unequivocal sense of self is not something most of us are born with.  It must be earned by honest reflection – reflection that requires a great deal of courage in facing the truth of one’s own role in the scheme of things.

As Naipaul wrote in A Writer’s People, his origins were to be found among “a transplanted peasant India” among a people recruited to serve as indentured laborers in Trinidad.  It was not an easy thing, I suspect, for an ambitious young man to admit that his grandparents had been recruited to a squalid life of service halfway around the globe from their homeland or that his own parents had grown up as members of an impoverished, utterly provincial minority on an inconsequential speck of land in the Caribbean.  This, in any case, was Naipaul’s sense of his own background.  But by seeing and accepting it for what it was, a poor thing but his own, the writer gained “a base of feeling and cultural knowledge.”  That knowledge was the basis of many of his finest books.

Had Naipaul remained in Trinidad, he would have been a very different writer.  A large part of his “way of seeing,” an aspect of his life that made it possible for him to perceive the Caribbean and much else with such lucidity, was derived from a lifetime spent in Britain.  Though he has written of it often, few can really appreciate the author’s Herculean effort to establish himself as a writer.  It took decades before Naipaul’s writing afforded a comfortable living.  More than monetary success, however, was the enormous cultural reward of Naipaul’s labors after emigrating to Britain: the ability to view the moral condition of both Britain and the Caribbean, and beyond this of the West and the world as a whole, with unmatched clarity.

What Naipaul gained was an intense appreciation for the value of liberal democracy.  It is ironic that Naipaul, whose own heritage was quite distinct from that of Britain or America, should have become their foremost defender among contemporary intellectuals.  Within the Western democracies, for all of their moral confusion and waste, there still exists a legacy of tolerance, individual rights, and freedom.  As a cultural outsider, Naipaul was actually in a good position to estimate the value of this legacy and, after his arrival at Oxford as a scholarship student, to register the complacent disregard of many in the First World for these values.

Throughout his long career, Naipaul drew attention to what he termed the “universal civilization” of legal rights, rationality, and opportunity that, having spread from Western Europe to the Americas, Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East, is now the ideal of human beings around the globe.  Sadly, those residing within the cosmopolitan centers of Europe and America are now the least likely to appreciate that invaluable heritage of freedom.  In this respect, as Naipaul put it in A Writer’s People, “the people who wrote as though they were at the centre of things might be revealed as the provincials.”

Those who failed to appreciate Naipaul’s standard of honesty would do well to consider his understanding of the writer’s profession.  For Naipaul, this profession entailed a demand for accuracy, candor, and realism.  Now that he is gone, one can only express a great sense of admiration and gratitude.  As Naipaul once told me, he felt no connection whatsoever with the direction of contemporary culture and especially with the work of those writers who promoted themselves as victimized postcolonials.  V.S. Naipaul was far from being just another postcolonial or third-world writer.  He was a great writer working from within the grand tradition of Austen, Dickens, and Conrad, and he should be remembered as the supreme exponent in our time of the inherited values of Western civilization.  In a time when so many were bent on undermining that civilization, Naipaul was a heroic champion of its humane values and civilizing institutions.  He understood the dangers of moral anarchy as few in our time have, and he issued a warning that the loss of those values and institutions would be disastrous and irrevocable.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan.  He has published nine books and several hundred articles on American culture and politics in national journals and newspapers.

Image: Faizul Latif Chowdhury via Wikimedia Commons.

V.S. Naipaul died on August 9 at his home in London.  Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, Naipaul was one of the great conservative writers of our time.  Among his best known novels are A House for Mr. Biswas, A Bend in the River, and The Enigma of Arrival.  He will be remembered not just for the superb skill as a novelist, but also for his acute analysis of society in Britain, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and India.

The guiding principle of Naipaul’s work was always his fierce artistic independence and honesty.  In an era of political correctness in which many writers succumbed to pressure to soften their opinions of political corruption in the postcolonial world, Naipaul brought clarity and understanding to what was happening in Trinidad, Argentina, the Congo, and other developing countries.  He was also one of the first major commentators to speak frankly about the dangers of Islamic extremism.

According to reports, the Nobel Committee was not eager to award its highest accolade to a writer who had fearlessly criticized the failed political culture of developing countries in Africa and Latin America and, at the same time, lauded the democratic capitalism of the West.  Were it not for the sheer scale of Naipaul’s achievement as a writer, the prize would never have been awarded to him.  Even so, his critics were quick to denigrate the awarding of the prize, dismissing it as an undeserved honor.

The fact is that the honor was long overdue.  Naipaul was not merely the most accomplished novelist of our time; he was also a social critic who brought common sense to a range of burning issues.  His works include the extraordinary account of his father’s life, A House for Mr. Biswas, and the compelling record of his own transplanted existence in Britain, The Enigma of Arrival.

In a dozen other novels, he portrayed the perilous condition of modern life in both the developed and the developing worlds, perilous especially for those who have forsaken their birthright of inherited values or who have never possessed such a birthright to begin with.  His journalistic writing on India and the Middle East changed the way many readers view these regions while his harsh criticism of African corruption, and by implication of the involvement of Western aid workers, intellectuals, and other facilitators, forced a reassessment of the entire postcolonial relationship.

It has not been sufficiently understood, I think, that the basis of Naipaul’s great success was his unflinching honesty.  A Bend in the River, his unsparing record of post-liberation tribalism and brutality in central Africa, and of the complicity of those Westerners who facilitated it, was a courageous book published at the height of the rule of political correctness, a period characterized by moral complacence and worse in the African writings of liberals such as Nadine Gordimer.

As Naipaul made clear in A Writer’s People, such honesty would not have been possible in the absence of a clear sense of self.  Unfortunately, an unequivocal sense of self is not something most of us are born with.  It must be earned by honest reflection – reflection that requires a great deal of courage in facing the truth of one’s own role in the scheme of things.

As Naipaul wrote in A Writer’s People, his origins were to be found among “a transplanted peasant India” among a people recruited to serve as indentured laborers in Trinidad.  It was not an easy thing, I suspect, for an ambitious young man to admit that his grandparents had been recruited to a squalid life of service halfway around the globe from their homeland or that his own parents had grown up as members of an impoverished, utterly provincial minority on an inconsequential speck of land in the Caribbean.  This, in any case, was Naipaul’s sense of his own background.  But by seeing and accepting it for what it was, a poor thing but his own, the writer gained “a base of feeling and cultural knowledge.”  That knowledge was the basis of many of his finest books.

Had Naipaul remained in Trinidad, he would have been a very different writer.  A large part of his “way of seeing,” an aspect of his life that made it possible for him to perceive the Caribbean and much else with such lucidity, was derived from a lifetime spent in Britain.  Though he has written of it often, few can really appreciate the author’s Herculean effort to establish himself as a writer.  It took decades before Naipaul’s writing afforded a comfortable living.  More than monetary success, however, was the enormous cultural reward of Naipaul’s labors after emigrating to Britain: the ability to view the moral condition of both Britain and the Caribbean, and beyond this of the West and the world as a whole, with unmatched clarity.

What Naipaul gained was an intense appreciation for the value of liberal democracy.  It is ironic that Naipaul, whose own heritage was quite distinct from that of Britain or America, should have become their foremost defender among contemporary intellectuals.  Within the Western democracies, for all of their moral confusion and waste, there still exists a legacy of tolerance, individual rights, and freedom.  As a cultural outsider, Naipaul was actually in a good position to estimate the value of this legacy and, after his arrival at Oxford as a scholarship student, to register the complacent disregard of many in the First World for these values.

Throughout his long career, Naipaul drew attention to what he termed the “universal civilization” of legal rights, rationality, and opportunity that, having spread from Western Europe to the Americas, Asia, Africa, and even the Middle East, is now the ideal of human beings around the globe.  Sadly, those residing within the cosmopolitan centers of Europe and America are now the least likely to appreciate that invaluable heritage of freedom.  In this respect, as Naipaul put it in A Writer’s People, “the people who wrote as though they were at the centre of things might be revealed as the provincials.”

Those who failed to appreciate Naipaul’s standard of honesty would do well to consider his understanding of the writer’s profession.  For Naipaul, this profession entailed a demand for accuracy, candor, and realism.  Now that he is gone, one can only express a great sense of admiration and gratitude.  As Naipaul once told me, he felt no connection whatsoever with the direction of contemporary culture and especially with the work of those writers who promoted themselves as victimized postcolonials.  V.S. Naipaul was far from being just another postcolonial or third-world writer.  He was a great writer working from within the grand tradition of Austen, Dickens, and Conrad, and he should be remembered as the supreme exponent in our time of the inherited values of Western civilization.  In a time when so many were bent on undermining that civilization, Naipaul was a heroic champion of its humane values and civilizing institutions.  He understood the dangers of moral anarchy as few in our time have, and he issued a warning that the loss of those values and institutions would be disastrous and irrevocable.

Dr. Jeffrey Folks taught for thirty years in universities in Europe, America, and Japan.  He has published nine books and several hundred articles on American culture and politics in national journals and newspapers.

Image: Faizul Latif Chowdhury via Wikimedia Commons.



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VENOM: Eminem Surprise Album 'Epic Fail'…


The record is the work of an aging artist trying, and failing, to remain relevant by acting out.

Eminem is 45. His newest album, Kamikaze, is the album of a confused middle-aged Marshall Mathers whose style and ethos are at least a decade past their expiration date. The album is a turbulent 45 minutes that feels twice as long. And, ultimately, it’s a big old bummer no matter how you dice it. 

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There have been few bright spots for Mathers this decade — or this century, even. After the collapse of his group D12 and a trip to rehab in the early ‘00s, he never seemed to reclaim whatever scrappy energy that defined his rise to prominence. 

In many ways, he’s the bizarro Elvis. They both came from poverty and became the great white hopes appropriating a black cultural form. Pills and booze accelerated the death of Elvis, of course. But Mathers got clean, showing that untimely death isn’t the only endgame of megafame. “Stepping Stone” is a track in the middle of the record that feels like an addict taking inventory, reflecting on whom he may have trampled along the way and what happened with D12. And while his intentions in this song may be good, it runs counter to the violent toxic macho nonsense coursing through the rest of the record. 

The record opens with “The Ringer,” which finds Mathers venting like an adolescent, “I feel like I wanna punch the world in the fuckin’ face right now.” It only takes thirty seconds of this album before he raps, “I’m about to rape the alphabet.” This sort of lazy edgelord attitude gets old real fast and pervades the album so much that Justin Vernon has disavowed “Fall,” his guest spot  with Eminem, because Mathers takes shots at other rappers and throws out “f*ggot” on the track. 

Mathers’ style has always been somewhere in the blunted fog of horrorcore, where shock is valued above all and Mathers dials the cartoonish and dark elements to different levels. But here, this just feels like retread. Even when he’s trying to be woke, by criticizing Trump, it falls flat, partly because he uses slurs like “retarded” on this record in the same way Trump weaponizes casual hate. This isn’t #resistance music; this is music for Trump’s America. He’s reinforcing the most traditional white male American tropes through a classically black medium. 

Almost a year ago Mathers was momentarily relevant again after his BET freestyle, which gave us lines like, “’Cause what we got in office now’s a kamikaze / That’ll probably cause a nuclear holocaust” and “I’ma walk inside a mosque on Ramadan / And say a prayer that every time **** talks / She gets her mou— ahh, I’ma stop.” It went viral. On Kamikze he tries to recapture that #resistance magic with barbs like, “I empathize with the people this evil serpent sold the dream to that he’s deserted.” This is telling, because in reality, though he often tries to roast Donald Trump, Mathers’ music is probably consumed as much (if not more) by the right as by the left in 2018. Kamikaze is the aural equivalent of watching a Twitch stream or reading a reddit thread. 

Convoluted politics aside, one thing you can’t take away from Mathers is that his whole aesthetic has been widely influential, especially in Soundcloud rap culture, where beating women and being generally hateful and tortured are not bugs, but rather, features. Being hated seems like a running goal throughout Mathers’ career — he’s like an enfant terrible who conflates negative attention with acclaim — which aligns him with other seemingly lost middle-aged man-children provocateurs like Louis CK. 

This whole record is begging to be hated on and not just from a lyrical standpoint. Even the staged throwaway skits are basically direct threats to anyone like journalists thinking about criticizing Shady. They feel like bad Jerky Boys b-sides from the ‘90s. But, musically, there is also very little to be excited about. 

The production — handled by a grab bag of the usual suspects like Mike Will Made It — is generic and represents Mathers in a state of full confusion. The majority of this album feels like it fell off a truck in 2006; the other chunk is excruciating. When Eminem tries to croon on a hook, it’s just embarrassing. On “Not Alike,” Mathers is trying to co-opt Migos’ style, but it comes off like a dad pulling his back trying to do an ollie to impress his kids. And the album closes with the synergy-oozing “Venom,” which feels more like a contractual obligation than an artistic choice. 

When he sticks to his lane of light sing-songy melodies, he’s in much better shape. But it still feels like someone doing the same magic tricks, to diminishing effects, with the same old cadences, rolling out the double-time gimmickry to a world that has essentially moved on. The technicalities of his rapping style — which is what made him famous in the first place — fundamentally don’t matter in 2018. His rapping is no more impressive than some middle-aged hesher shredding Steve Vai for 40 minutes in a Guitar Center. That might have been enough a few decades ago, but technical accuracy is no substitute for having good songs that people want to hear. 

It’s odd but telling that Mathers chose to reference the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill for the album cover. That Beasties record was notable for its brazen stupidity and chauvinism, and the threesome seemed to be embarrassed by it as they grew older and matured. They went from being the rappers who rapped about date rape on Ill to the sensitive musicians who wanted to free Tibet. 

Aging respectably in any popular music scene can be extremely difficult, but the Beastie Boys — among others in hip hop — have proven it’s not a total impossibility. The Beastie Boys and Eminem are still the two most famous white rap outfits of all time. While they started at similar places, their flight trajectories finally couldn’t have been more different. 



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