The Forces That Work Against Us

An interview by Jason Willick in the Wall Street Journal with historian David M. Kennedy echoes some of the concerns I’ve aired above:

Mr. Kennedy doubts the “psychological distance” between groups in America is greater now than then. Imagine if we could compare the perception of Germans in 1785 to that of Poles in 1905 to that of Asian and Hispanic immigrants today. “My instinct is that the sense of difference is pretty comparable over time,” Mr. Kennedy says.

Then why are the politics of immigration so fraught today? One answer is polarization. As American identity fractures deeply into red and blue versions, new arrivals are losing a common ideal of citizenship into which they can assimilate.

Immigrants are also regarded by the political parties not only as workers or neighbors but as a voting bloc. Democrats tout America’s declining white share of the population as a key to their long-term governing majority; Republicans fear the opposite. Restrictionism on the right is rooted not only in cultural difference but also a fear that more immigration risks a loss of political power.

Immigration politics didn’t always sort neatly along party lines. During the wave of immigration between 1890 and 1914, immigrant votes were “up for grabs,” Mr. Kennedy says. “The political identity of immigrants and immigrant-descended communities really didn’t solidify” until the New Deal, after a 1924 law and the Great Depression reduced immigration. Franklin Roosevelt appointed a far larger number of Catholic judges than had the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations. This showed that Democrats were “out trying to recruit loyalty in these immigrant communities, which were largely Catholic and Jewish.”

Mr. Kennedy sees today’s Republican Party as having all but “conceded that they will not make any inroads in immigrant communities,” as “nativist elements” in the GOP “seem to have gained the upper hand.” Yet the left’s changing approach has also made the politics of immigration more divisive. “In the last generation or two,” Mr. Kennedy says, “diversity became not just an observed fact, but something to be valorized in its own right.”

The dominant American view until the late 20th century was that “we welcome all kinds of people but we expect them to assimilate into some range of standard values, behaviors, aspirations, ambitions.” Now, diversity itself has become the paramount value in parts of American culture. When celebrating difference replaces creedal values like liberty, fair play and respect for the Constitution, that undercuts “the project of assimilation,” Mr. Kennedy says.

Diverse societies need stories, even myths, to articulate what they have in common or what they are working toward collectively. Mr. Kennedy suggests that academic historians no longer contribute to this national understanding. When he was trained in the 1960s, most historians agreed on a “master narrative about American history.” It was based on the “perfection of the idea of democracy of this country.” That process was “incremental, slow, back and forth” but you could “still trace the arc.” And it gave Americans a way to talk about their national project.

Academic history is dominated today by “subsidiary questions” about “ethnic or racial or gender” groups, Mr. Kennedy says. These are “all interesting and legitimate stories in their own right,” but they have “squeezed energy out” of “the big, integrative, long-term project.” He worries that “the history of America is no longer the history of America—it’s about things that happened in America. But the fact that they happened in America is kind of incidental to the story.”

Mr. Kennedy is clearly alarmed by Donald Trump’s anti-immigration politics. But from “a purely analytical or historical point of view,” he says, it should not be surprising. “There seems to be a threshold percentage of immigrants in the population that triggers a pretty robust nativist reaction. And the threshold,” based on the reactions in the 1850s, 1920s and today, “seems to be somewhere in the 11%, 12%, 13% range.”

Additionally, the difference between an English and German population and Irish immigrants or an English, German, and Irish population and Italian immigrants is a lot less than the difference between our pre-1965 population and the mass immigration from Mexico we’ve seen over the last half century or the present immigration from China and India.

We are presently testing the limits of our society in its ability to assimilate new immigrants. Today’s Chinese immigrants come from a country less diverse than we have ever been and accept levels of surveillance and repression like nothing we’ve ever seen before in a society more diverse than ours has been in more than a century. Don’t be surprised if the friction increases.


Flagging Optimism

I will say this much about Fareed Zakaria’s latest Washington Post column. I agree with him that it’s hard to be optimistic and I agree that 1973 was a watershed year. That’s just about where our agreement ends.

Our disagreements begin in its second sentence:

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a secular celebration of America, and as an immigrant, I feel I have much to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving is not secular celebration. The very thought is nonsense. To whom would one be grateful? Consider the very first Thanksgiving proclamation in the United States by George Washington:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

or from Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863:

n the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

This must be a trying time for anyone who believes in Whig history, as Mr. Zakaria clearly does:

The American republic is an extraordinary creation, built to accommodate very different people with utterly different ideas and values. It has survived the battles between slave owners and abolitionists, the First Red Scare and McCarthyism, Vietnam and Watergate. All of those struggles were high-stakes affairs, each aroused passions, and each eventually ended, though not without bitterness and disappointment. History, even the history of a powerful and successful country such as the United States, is not a collection of merry tales with happy endings. It’s full of fights, with wins, losses and draws.

But choices have consequences. His quoting of Ezra Klein is telling:

Ezra Klein notes a related transformation: “Almost 70% of American seniors are white and Christian. Only 29% of young adults are white and Christian.”

Most of the immigrants who have come here over the last 55 years have come from cultures that do not believe in a constitutional order or, indeed, the rule of law. Here is what Mr. Zakaria says he values in the United States:

America’s greatest assets — its constitutional republic and its democratic character — seem to be in danger of breakdown.

They’re breaking down because too many of its people don’t believe in them.

He and I disagree about what made 1973 a watershed year:

We have been going down this road for a while. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote about “The Imperial Presidency” in 1973. The legislation and culture after Watergate led many to believe that matters were under control.

The War Powers Act by which Congress attempted to cede its power to make war to the president was enacted in 1973. Since then Democratic Congresses have ignored it when the president was a Democrat while Republicans have ignored it when the president was a Republican.

If you want to end the “imperial presidency”, we must expect less from the federal government and Congress must re-assert its powers. We must be a limited government of defined powers.

President Trump’s angry rhetoric doesn’t bother me as much as it does Mr. Zakaria. It reminds me of a line from Woody Allen’s first move, What’s New, Pussycat?: “Every time she sees me she screams because every time she sees me I attack her.” Trump is a counter-puncher. If his opponents don’t like angry rhetoric, perhaps they should stop attacking him.

Cynic as I am about politics, I’m not as concerned about Congress’s loss of its “core oversight capacity” as about its perseveration on finding fault with presidents of the opposing party, evinced in two consecutive administrations.

There are several things that concern me. The first is the incredible partisanship that has been fulminating over the last 25 years and the second is our transition from a guilt culture in which behavior is restrained by internalized guilt to a shame culture in which behavior is restrained by externalized shame as we become post-Christian. Such a culture requires a drastically more intrusive government than the one to which we have become accustomed.


What Should We Be Doing About North Korea?

For the life of me I can’t figure out what Josh Rogin wants to do, in his words, “bolstering the alliances we depend on, not attacking them”. From his latest Washington Post column:

North Korea has announced that it is planning to break off the nuclear talks at the end of this year and return to a dangerous pattern of provocation and escalation. Is the administration prepared for that huge challenge as President Trump runs for reelection? Its actions toward regional allies suggest the answer is no.

I don’t see any proposals in his column. I’m pretty sure I know what he’s against—Trump. Is that enough? Will there ever be a good time to discuss cost-sharing with our notional allies? How would you identify such a time?

Does he support the status quo? It isn’t working. Under the status quo, North Korea is improving its nuclear weapons and developing intercontinental missile capability.

I don’t agree with Trump’s approach, either, but at least I’ve made some suggestions, e.g. pushing China to stop propping North Korea up which it will continue to do until doing that is more expensive that letting the Kim regime collapse. I also think we should be seizing the opportunity of Kim’s occasional missile tests to do live field testing of our anti-missile capabilities which I guest most would consider irresponsible. IMO it’s better to know if the systems you’re developing work under real world conditions than not to know.


Robert Benchley’s Advice on Preparing a Turkey

A Seasoned Blackened Turkey :: Serve to spiced New Yorkers

This turkey is work… it requires more attention than an average six-month-old baby. There are no shortcuts, as you will see.

Get a HUGE turkey– I don’t mean just a big, big bird, but one that looks as though it gave the farmer a hard time when he did it in. It ought to weigh between 16 and 30 pounds. Have the poultryman, or butcher, cut its head off at the end of the neck, peel back the skin, and remove the neck close to the body, leaving the tube. You will want this for stuffing. Also, he should leave all the fat on the bird.

When you are ready to cook your bird, rub it inside and out with salt and pepper. Give it a friendly pat and set it aside. Chop the heart, gizzard, and liver and put them, with the neck, into a stew pan with a clove of garlic, a large bay leaf, 1/2 tsp coriander, and some salt. I don’t know how much salt– whatever you think. Cover this with about 5 cups of water and put on the stove to simmer. This will be the basting fluid a little later.

About this time I generally have my first drink of the day, usually a RAMOS FIZZ. I concoct it by taking the whites of four eggs, an equal amount of whipping cream, juice of half a lemon (less 1 tsp.), 1/2 tsp. confectioner’s sugar, an appropriate amount of gin, and blending with a few ice cubes. Pour about two tablespoons of club soda in a chimney glass, add the mix, with ice cubes if you prefer. Save your egg yolks, plus 1 tsp. of lemon — you’ll need them later. Have a good sip! (add 1 dash of Orange Flower Water to the drink, not the egg yolks)

Get a huge bowl. Throw into it one diced apple, one diced orange, a large can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of a lemon, and three tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger (If you like ginger, double this -REB). Add 2 cans of drained Chinese water chestnuts.

Mix this altogether, and have another sip of your drink. Get a second, somewhat smaller, bowl. Into this, measuring by teaspoons, put:

2 tsp hot dry mustard
2 tsp caraway seed
2 tsp celery seed
2 tsp poppy seed
1 tsp black pepper
2 1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp mace
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp savory
3/4 tsp sage
3/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp basil
1/2 tsp chili powder
In the same bowl, add:
1 Tbsp poultry seasoning
4 Tbsp parsley
1 Tbsp salt
4 headless crushed cloves
1 well-crushed bay leaf
4 lrg chopped onions
6 good dashes Tabasco
5 crushed garlic cloves
6 lrg chopped celery

Wipe your brow, refocus your eyes, get yet another drink–and a third bowl. Put in three packages of unseasoned bread crumbs (or two loaves of toast or bread crumbs), 3/4 lb. ground veal, 1/2 lb. ground fresh pork, 1/4 lb. butter, and all the fat you have been able to pull out of the bird.

About now it seems advisable to switch drinks. Martinis or stingers are recommended (Do this at your own risk – we always did! -REB). Get a fourth bowl, an enormous one. Take a sip for a few minutes, wash your hands, and mix the contents of all the other bowls. Mix it well. Stuff the bird and skewer it. Put the leftover stuffing into the neck tube.

Turn your oven to 500°F and get out a fifth small bowl. Make a paste consisting of those four egg yolks and lemon juice left from the Ramos Fizz. Add 1 tsp hot dry mustard, a crushed clove of garlic, 1 Tbsp. onion juice, and enough flour to make a stiff paste. When the oven is red hot, put the bird in, breast down on the rack. Sip on your drink until the bird has begin to brown all over, then take it out and paint the bird all over with paste. Put it back in and turn the oven down to 350 degrees F. Let the paste set, then pull the bird out and paint again. Keep doing this until the paste is used up.

Add a quart of cider or white wine to the stuff that’s been simmering on the stove, This is your basting fluid. The turkey must be basted every 15 minutes. Don’t argue. Set your timer and keep it up. (When confronted with the choice “do I baste from the juice under the bird or do I baste with the juice from the pot on the stove?” make certain that the juice under the bird neither dries out and burns, nor becomes so thin that gravy is weak. When you run out of baste, use cheap red wine. This critter makes incredible gravy! -REB) The bird should cook about 12 minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes. Enlist the aid of your friends and family.

As the bird cooks, it will first get a light brown, then a dark brown, then darker and darker. After about 2 hours you will think I’m crazy. The bird will be turning black. (Newcomers to black turkey will think you are demented and drunk on your butt, which, if you’ve followed instructions, you are -REB) In fact, by the time it is finished, it will look as though we have ruined it. Take a fork and poke at the black cindery crust.

Beneath, the bird will be a gorgeous mahogany, reminding one of those golden-browns found in precious Rembrandts. Stick the fork too deep, and the juice will gush to the ceiling. When you take it out, ready to carve it, you will find that you do not need a knife. A load sound will cause the bird to fall apart like the walls of that famed biblical city. The moist flesh will drive you crazy, and the stuffing–well, there is nothing like it on this earth. You will make the gravy just like it as always done, adding the giblets and what is left of the basting fluid.

Sometime during the meal, use a moment to give thanks to Morton Thompson. There is seldom, if ever, leftover turkey when this recipe is used. If there is, you’ll find that the fowl retains its moisture for a few days.

That’s all there is to it. It’s work, hard work— but it’s worth it.

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Thanksgiving Thoughts from Dave Barry

May I suggest some Thanksgiving thoughts from Dave Barry?

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, November 21, 2004 in The Miami Herald

Thanksgiving is that very special holiday when we take a break from our hectic everyday lives to spend quality time with our loved ones, rediscovering all the reasons why we don’t actually live with them.

But Thanksgiving is also a spiritual time of quiet reflection – a time when we pause to remember, as generations have remembered before us, that an improperly cooked turkey is – in the words of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – “a ticking Meat Bomb of Death.”

Read the whole thing.


Thanksgiving Thoughts from Mark Twain

Here are some Thanksgiving thoughts from my fellow Missourian, Sam Clemens, who wrote under the better-known name Mark Twain:

Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for — annually, not oftener — if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.


Thanksgiving Thoughts from Will Rogers

If you don’t know who Will Rogers was, look him up. We could use more Will Rogers nowadays. Here are some remarks of his relevant for Thanksgiving:

Well now, anyhow, another little announcement. On last Sabbath evening, I referred to the Pilgrims, our Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. Well, boy, you ought to wait ’til I heard from New England. I split New England just wide open. It seems there’s a town up there called Provincetown, and they have adopted a slogan which says, “Don’t be misled by history or any other unreliable source. Here’s the place where the Pilgrims landed.” This is by unanimous vote of the Chamber of Commerce of Provincetown. Provincetown has been made the official landing place of the Pilgrim. Any Pilgrim landing in any other place was not official.

If he landed on Plymouth Rock, well, it just served him right, that’s all. It served him right. Nothing but a chicken should be named after ’em…, Plymouth Rock. That’s for the town people. You country people got that gag. That’s for the town folks. Plymouth Rock, not a White Leghorn. Country folks is smarter than city folks anyhow. You never have to explain a joke to country folks. Who but a chicken, or a seal, or a Pilgrim would land on a rock anyhow?

Now in the first place, I don’t think that this argument I have created up there is so terribly important. The argument that New England has got to settle in order to pacify the rest of America is, “Why were they allowed to land anywhere?” That’s what we want to know. As a race there has never been any comparison between the Pilgrim and an Indian. Now I hope my Cherokee blood is not making me prejudiced. I want to be broad minded, but I am sure that it was only the extreme generosity of the Indians that allowed the Pilgrims to land. Suppose we reversed the case. Do you reckon the Pilgrims would have ever let the Indians land? Yeah, what a chance! What a chance! The Pilgrims wouldn’t even allow the Indians to live, after the Indians went to the trouble of letting ’em land.

Well anyhow, the Provincetown officials sent me a lot of official data, that when the Pilgrims landed they found some corn that the Indians had stored and that the Pilgrims were about starved and that they eat the Indians’ corn. And they claim that the corn was stored at Provincetown. You see, the minute the Pilgrims landed they got full of the corn and then they shot the Indians; perhaps because they hadn’t stored more corn.”

But they’d always pray. That’s one thing about a Pilgrim, he would pray. Mostly for more Indian corn. You’ve never in your life seen a picture, I bet any one of you have never seen a picture of one of the old Pilgrims praying when he didn’t have a gun right by the side of him. That was to see that he got what he was praying for.


There’s No Accommodating Some People

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency is always a good resource for Thanksgiving-themed information. Those with guests with special dietary needs may find this one, “Please Accommodate Our Jolly Rancher Diet This Thanksgiving”, particularly helpful. You’ll be glad you did.



Be sure to check out Conor Friedersdorf’s “13 Easy Tips for Politicizing Your Thanksgiving Dinner” at Atlantic. Here are the first two:

  1. Many families say a predinner prayer. But what if heathens are present? To include them, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, too, replacing “one nation, under God” with “… under Trump” so that everyone feels welcome.
  2. Do you freeze up when it’s time to say what you’re thankful for? Pre-write your list on a phone app and read from the screen when your turn comes. Members of oppressor groups will want to begin by noting, “I’m thankful for my white-male privilege,” especially when sharing a table with blue-collar kin, who may not have read Peggy McIntosh’s seminal essay in their cultural-competency training.

Read the whole thing. It still isn’t too late to put one or all of these handy tips into force, guaranteeing, as Mr. Friedersdorf puts it, “the best Thanksgiving of your life”.


Vertically Integrated Monopolies

Try as I might I can’t figure out exactly what the editors of the Wall Street Journal are saying they like or don’t like in this editorial:

Americans nowadays have a plethora of options to stream movies online, and many may not recall the last time they viewed a film in a theater. So credit to the Justice Department for getting with the digital times.

The Antitrust Division on Friday asked the U.S. Southern District Court of New York to terminate the 70-year-old Paramount consent decrees that restrict how films are distributed in theaters. As antitrust chief Makan Delrahim noted, “These decrees have served their purpose, and their continued existence may actually harm American consumers by standing in the way of innovative business models for the exhibition of America’s great creative films.” Hear, hear.

During the 1930s, eight major studios controlled film distribution, and five also owned theaters. In that pre- Netflix -DVD-VHS-multiplex era, theaters had single screens, crimping film distribution. The Justice Department discovered that the major distributors were colluding to limit competition. In 1938 the government sued the distributors under the Sherman Antitrust Act for conspiring to fix licensing terms, among other things.

Distributors lost at the Supreme Court and were required to divest their theaters. Government consent decrees also prohibited them from engaging in licensing practices that are common in other industries. For instance, distributors were forbidden from bundling film licenses or providing exclusive licenses to theaters in geographic areas.

New distributors such as Disney (which isn’t covered by the decrees) benefitted, but the movie scene has changed in seven decades. Even small-town theaters have multiple screens—an AMC in Peoria is currently showing 16 films—and most films can be streamed online within months of their debut.

Small distributors and filmmakers also have other launching pads. Netflix plans to release more than 50 films this year—more than Warner Bros., Disney and Paramount combined. MGM distributed 52 movies in 1939, including “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but distributed only three last year. All were duds.

Let’s stop right there. Does no one copy edit this stuff? It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t released in 1939 but in 1947, one of Jimmy Stewart’s first post-war pictures. And it wasn’t distributed by MGM at all. It was distributed by RKO. Gone With the Wind was produced by Selznick’s organization and distributed by MGM. The Wizard of Oz was produced and distributed by MGM and shown in its theaters. BTW two of three of those movies flopped.

The context of the consent decree they don’t seem to like is that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (and other studios) were vertically integrated monopolies. They produced the movies, distributed them, showed them in their own theaters, and they didn’t show movies other than their own in those theaters. They used their monopolies to prevent upstarts from competing with them and used their control of the whole process to lock performers into contracts that paid them far less than they were worth.

Do the editors just not like government regulation? Or do they like government regulation that subsidizes big businesses but not regulation that controls them? Personally, I have no problem with any level of government regulation of companies that wouldn’t exist at all without government-granted monopolies.

As I have documented in earlier posts there are only a handful of vertically integrated companies today that control broadcast television, streaming, cable, and, increasingly production. Those companies are creatures of government action either via exclusive franchises or insanely long copyright durations. Amazon wouldn’t exist, at least not in its current form, unless it had been exempted from collecting and paying sales tax for nearly 20 years. It, too, is a creature of government.

IMO Disney needs to be broken up. I presume that the editors would like that even less than the consent decree that prevented the old studios from owning their own theaters.