CHERNOBYL’S LESSONS

Socialism, an economic system with an unbroken record of failure, still succeeds in attracting adherents. One recent poll reveals that among members of Generation Z, slightly more have a positive reaction to socialism (61%) than to capitalism (58%).

In our hemisphere, Cuba and Venezuela stand out as stark monuments to the miseries inflicted by socialism. In Cuba, thousands of opponents were put “up against the wall” to be shot by firing squads, and thousands more are in prison today. In Venezuela, the government recently ordered the military to run over its own people, as they protested in the streets. But this is not what young people have in mind when they profess admiration for socialism. And, in fairness, they have a point. All socialist systems fail, but not all socialist regimes murder and imprison their people.

A better illustration of how socialism works — or doesn’t work — appears in the HBO miniseries Chernobyl.

Chernobyl gas mask

The city of Chernobyl is not Havana or Caracas. Rather, it brings to mind the reaction of the heroine in Ayn Rand’s We the Living  upon first hearing the words of the “Internationale”: “They were not intoxicating as wine, they were not terrifying as blood. They were gray as dishwater.” Chernobyl is a dishwater city. The buildings are decaying. Paint peels from the walls.  Everything rusts and corrodes. Men’s suits, even those of high ranking government officials, are dowdy and ill-fitting.

These physical attributes match the mental characteristics of the Party apparatchiks who run the place.  These are gray dishwater men, whose primary purpose in life is to avoid doing anything for which they might possibly be blamed. Continue reading

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GAME OF THRONES FOR DUMMIES AND POLITICOS

Game of Thrones concluded last Sunday as the most watched HBO show in history. But it wasn’t watched by everyone. Many people are more interested in politics than fantasy. While millions waited anxiously to learn the fates of the candidates vying for the Iron Throne, millions more were closely following the candidates crisscrossing Iowa.

On close inspection, there is no conflict between fantasy and politics. They’re both there in Game of Thrones, which, like The Wizard of Oz, is actually an allegory about contemporary politics. It’s not easy to discern the political messages. You have to watch carefully.  If you do, here’s what you find.

Westeros map

At the outset, the Isle of Westeros (the United States, of course) is facing an environmental crisis. “Winter is coming,” warns one character after another, predicting that the realm is facing climate change, and complaining that no one is doing a damn thing about it. At the same time, the country – or the Isle – is facing an immigration crisis. The Free Folk are pouring over the northern border. And they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing crime. They’re bringing milk of the poppy. They’re bringing rapists – which, in this milieu, is tantamount to bringing coals to Newcastle. Some Wildlings, one can assume, are good people. Continue reading

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HARVARD’S FAILING GRADE

Something troubling has happened at Harvard.

For the past ten years, Professor Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., in addition to teaching at the Law School, has served as Faculty Dean of Winthrop House, one of the twelve houses where Harvard undergrads live after their freshman year. He has held that post along with his wife Stephanie Robinson, a lecturer at the Law School. (Traditionally, a person in that position was given the title “Master,” but in 2016 that honorific was removed because of its alleged association with slavery – an association that may surprise the hundreds of graduate students upon whom Harvard annually bestows Master of Arts, Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administrations, and Master of Science degrees.)

In addition to teaching law, Faculty Dean Sullivan has had a notable career as a practitioner. Over the years, he has represented Michael Brown, a black man shot by the police in Ferguson, Missouri; Aaron Hernandez, the late New England Patriot convicted of murder; and the family of Usaamah Rahim, a suspected ISIS terrorist killed by the Boston Police.

Last January, Sullivan got involved in another high profile case, when he joined the defense team of Harvey Weinstein.

Sullivan

As soon as he announced his association with Weinstein’s defense team, Sullivan came under attack. Continue reading

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THE CONWAYS AND CONSERVATIVES: A TALE OF TWO BROKEN HOMES

Not since Princess Di and Prince Charles has a deteriorating marriage attracted the level of interest lavished on Kellyanne and George Conway. It has become the nation’s favorite reality TV show; a show aired not just on one station, but on every single news outlet, whether cable or network or print.

The three stars of the show are Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, her husband, prominent securities law attorney George Conway, and her boss, President Donald Trump.

george and kellyanne

Once upon a time, all three were happy together. When Trump stunned the world by winning the election, George, wearing a MAGA hat, reportedly wept with joy, and happily boasted of his wife: “She did it! She did it! She made history.” Following the inauguration, he was under consideration for an appointment to at least two high level Justice Department positions.

But in time, George’s attitude toward his wife’s boss soured. By May 2018, George was emailing critics with advice on how they might improve their arguments. In November 2018, George organized a group of Federalist Society lawyers called “Checks and Balances,” to encourage their fellow conservatives to speak out against what they saw as Trump’s attacks on constitutional principles. Days later, he gave an interview in which he  compared the Trump administration to “a s***show in a dumpster fire,” and said he would rather move to Australia than vote for him again.

Trump responded to George’s growing barrage of negative comments by tweeting that George “often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway … is VERY jealous of his wife’s success.” He attributed George’s criticism to resentment over failing to get a Justice Department appointment. He concluded by calling George “a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell.”

George responded: “You. Are. Nuts.” and announced that Trump suffers from “a narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissim.”

The next day, President Trump told reporters that George was a “whack job.”

And then things went downhill. Continue reading

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THE REPARATIONS TEMPTATION

Donald Trump’s favorability rating is an anemic 41.8%. That bodes ill for his 2020 reelection prospects. But Trump has a secret weapon. It’s called the Democratic Party, an organization apparently determined to ensure his reelection.

Democratic Party

Democrats – including older members who should know better – fawned over the rollout of the so-called “Green New Deal,” the infantile brainchild of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This freshman representative believes that the world will end in 12 years unless drastic action, such as cutting back and possibly eliminating air travel, is taken. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scoffed at the “Green dream or whatever they call it.” But at last count, five declared Democratic presidential candidates have lined up to support it.

Then there is the proposal to totally eliminate private health insurance companies and replace them with  a fully government-run system, a move that would displace a half million jobs. It is supported by Bernie Sanders and, for about one day, by Kamala Harris.

And then there is the Party’s acclimatization to anti-Semitism. Last week, the Democratic Party proved itself unable to agree on an unambiguous repudiation of freshman Representative Ilhan Omar, who, for the third time, issued noxious anti-Semitic statements. Instead, the Party drafted an anodyne condemnation of hatred of all sorts. There was no mention of Omar – who justifiably characterized this as a victory. Three Democratic candidates — Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren— issued statements supporting her.

Almost lost amidst the din of self-destructive activity has been Democratic Party support for yet another controversial – and deeply unpopular – idea: reparations for the victims of slavery. Continue reading

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TAKING ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ SERIOUSLY

“I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y. Times, February 10, 2019

When dealing with statements by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the maxim coined by journalist Salena Zito about President Trump is equally applicable: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” In Ocasio-Cortez’s case, it tends to be Republicans who take her literally but not seriously. The press and her supporters (the two often overlap) take her seriously, but not literally.

Taking her literally, the statement makes no sense. Ringworm is a common skin disease, similar to athlete’s foot or jock itch. It’s easily treated by over-the-counter antifungal ointments, and incidence of the problem has little or nothing to do with access to health care.

Apprised of this, Ocasio-Cortez clarified her statement, tweeting: “For what it’s worth, I  meant to say hookworm.”

Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez-1-e1534170511949

For what it’s worth, hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite, is a serious problem, unlike ringworm. But contrary to a report in a leftist English publication claiming that the diseases is “rampant” in the American South — a report she apparently relied upon — the Alabama Department of Public Health released a later study showing “no evidence of an increased incidence” of the disease.

So it’s best to weigh her statement by taking her seriously, but not literally. Read that way, her message is: “A system that allows billionaires to exist while there is extreme poverty is wrong.”

Is it? Continue reading

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THE TWO HOUSES OF THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL

Two houses, quite unlike in dignity, in fair Manhattan, is where we lay our scene.  One is the House of Weissman, whose patriarch serves as an esteemed tenured professor of mathematics at Columbia University. The other is the House of Maisel, whose patriarch operates a garment factory, a profession commonly known as “the rag trade.”

We are of course in the milieu of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the award-winning series about Miriam Maisel, née Weissman (played by Rachel Brosnahan), an affluent Jewish girl, circa 1958, who seems to have it all: Upper West Side apartment, supportive husband, a toddler and a baby, and two very sophisticated and cosmopolitan parents. But by the end of the first episode, her husband has left her for another woman, and she is forced to move back in with her parents. Miriam decides to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.

Critics have seen Mrs. Maisel as an Eisenhower Era precursor to the Modern Woman.  A review in the New Yorker notes that her “routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some ‘fucks’ thrown in.” The New York Times  proclaims  that Brosnahan’s star turns “comes at a time when it’s crucial to reclaim women’s place in stand-up history.”

But something deeper than feminism seems to be at work in the series. Consciously or not, it touches upon a historic division within the American Jewish community:  the chasm between American Jews of Russian or East European descent and those of Germanic descent.

maisel photo weisman photo

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