MLK Day 2020

Here’s to another Monday off from work (for those of us blessed to work in fields that give out random days off liberally).  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is one of those holidays that feels like an excuse to have a little taste of the recently-departed Christmas holiday.  Everyone is still dragging in January, coming off the high of Christmas and New Year’s.  I find the cold intellectually stimulating, but most of us are spending our time comfortably indoors, basking in central heating.  It all makes for seasonal sluggishness.

Last year’s MLK Day post sought to take advantage of the day’s cozy laziness with some suggested reading.  Contra the whole “make it a day ON” virtue-signalers, it really is the perfect day to crank up the heat, brew some coffee, and enjoy reading with some fried eggs (over medium, please) and toast (and, for us Southerners, a hearty helping of grits).  It’s one of the last taste of the hygge before the warm weather creeps back in (which occurs sometime in late February or early March here in South Carolina).

That’s all by way of lengthy preamble to today’s post.  I thought this year it might be worth looking at the holiday itself, and the man behind it.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was, indeed, a remarkable man, and one who did a great deal to advance the cause of liberty, more equally enjoyed.  But while we’re not allowed to say so—MLK has been elevated to something like sainthood in the American Pantheon—he was an imperfect vessel in many ways.

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Mailchimp Monkeys with Molyneux

I purchased a new vehicle a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, I’m seeing Nissan Versa Notes everywhere (and they are not terribly common).  We’ve all experienced this sensation before:  we learn a new word, for example, and suddenly we hear it spoken frequently, when before it went unheard.

That’s the phenomenon I’m experiencing this morning:  no sooner did I write about Big Tech’s crippling control over our freedom of speech, e-mail service Mailchimp unceremoniously dumped Internet philosopher and YouTube personality Stefan Molyneux.  Molyneux hosts Freedomain Radio, which bills itself as “the world’s number one philosophy show.”

I’ve listened to a lot of Molyneux’s videos.  He’s not my favorite commentator, and he can be a bit rambling (not that I can judge him too harshly for that), but his demeanor and style are endearing, and his output is insanely prolific.  Within hours of a major news event, he’ll have a detailed, lengthy video breaking down the relevant information.  On top of all that, he hosts a live call-in show, from which he’ll derive videos that often ninety minutes in length.  It helps that his callers often have entertainingly tragic problems.

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TBT: Tom Steyer’s Belt

Like many bloggers, I wrote a “2019’s Top Five Posts” feature to acknowledge the most-trafficked posts of the year.  One of the surprise sleeper hits was this post, “Tom Steyer’s Belt.”

I wrote this piece on September 30, 2019, largely as a cheeky throwaway.  It didn’t seem to get much traffic initially, but that’s true of many of my posts.

Then, probably in late November, but certainly by December, I noticed something:  it was getting a handful of clicks everyday.  It was just a few at first—maybe four or five, sometimes less—but then the views grew.

Now I’m getting dozens of views everyday from this post alone—usually more than fifty!  As the Democratic primaries approach and challengers drop out, Tom Steyer and his stupid belt continue to hang in there, running ads all over the place.

Perhaps not surprisingly, other people want to know the meaning behind the belt.  According to my WordPress analytics—limited as they are—a few of the clicks to my piece come from the search terms “why does Tom Steyer wear that stupid belt” and “Tom Steyer’s stupid belt.”  Less judgmental permutations also bring up my site.

The belt has, apparently, captured the nation’s imagination (and, presumably, Steyer’s waist):  it has its own Facebook page, where “The Belt” posts hilarious comments.

Well, at least some good will come from Steyer’s campaign—a good laugh at a clueless Leftie’s expense.

Here’s 2019’s “Tom Steyer’s Belt“—now the most popular post on The Portly Politico:

When I was in college, I formed this ridiculous pseudo-band with a suitemate of mine (who has, apparently, now gone down some dark roads) called Blasphemy’s Belt, which my bio on another band’s website refers to as an “electro-pop humor duo.”  I can’t remember how we came up with the name—our music wasn’t particularly or purposefully blasphemous (or good), and while we wore belts, they weren’t outrageous (just to keep our pants up)—but it was apparently catchy enough that people picked up on it.

The Belt never performed live, other than for an annoyed roommate, and a highly grating pop-up concert (at least, that’s what hipsters would call it nowadays) on our floor’s study room, but we generated enough buzz to get people to vote for us in a “Best of Columbia” survey in The Free Times.  We didn’t win anything, but it was an object lesson in how enough hype can make people believe you have substance when you really don’t.

That’s my self-indulgent way to introduce some literal navel-gazing—at Democratic hopeful and wealthy scold Tom Steyer‘s virtue-signallingsanctimonious belt.

Tom Steyer is a former hedge fund manager and current environmentalist nutcase who, along with half of the population of the United States, is running for the Democratic presidential primary in 2020.  Unlike Blasphemy’s Belt, nobody knows who he is; I don’t even think he qualified for the debates. Unfortunately, he’s trying to rectify that by running incessant ads on Hulu.

I’ve seen enough attack ads from Democrats to tune them out—they’re just a more overt form of the dishonesty progressives usually engage in—but Steyer’s ad brings bile to my throat.  It’s not because of his ludicrous claims (that President Trump is a “fraud and a failure), idiotic as they are.

It’s because of his stupid belt.

Tom Steyer has no chance in the Democratic primary because a.) he’s unknown; b.) he’s an old white guy and c.) he’s not the old white guy who was President Obama’s VP.  As such, he no name recognition or intersectionality points.  He’s not even a pretend Indian like Elizabeth Warren.  He wears a blue button-up shirt with rolled-up sleeves and jeans in his commercials—the default uniform of politicians trying to appeal to the working man—and is utterly forgettable.

Except for that belt!

Here is the one picture I could find of it online, and it’s just a picture of someone’s television showing the ad (care of a Kenyan newspaper):

Steyer Belt.jpg

Here is an excerpt from the article (again, it’s from a Kenyan newspaper, so the written English is prone to syntactical errors):

The Presidential hopeful revealed while responding to a curious netizen who inquired the significance of the belt since he had worn it in one of his campaign videos.

Steyer noted that he bought the belt during his visit to Kenya.

“Thanks for noticing my favorite belt! I bought it on a trip to Kenya from female artisans,” he tweeted.

Additionally, he affirmed that the belt is a reminder that the world benefits when women are educated, as the belt was made by female artisans.

“I wear it as a reminder not to be so formal, and also as a symbol that the world is a better place when we educate women and girls,” he mentioned.

This kind of pandering makes my skin crawl.  Look, I have nothing against unusual belts.  But you look at a guy like Tom Steyer wearing this ridiculous belt in a campaign ad for president, and you know he’s trying to virtue-signal.  He said as much in the excerpt above—“I like the belt, but I also want to show how progressive I am by buying colorful belts from African women.”

His very sartorial choice is a political statement.  If you’re a punk rocker, yeah, you’re showing your disdain for order with your outrageous duds.  But you’re not likely to run for President of the United States (that would be too normie and conformist—being a part of the system, rather than trying to tear it all down).

Also, how much education does it take for a Kenyan woman to make a weird belt?  She probably learned how to do it from her mother, not from a progressive public school (there, she’d just learn to resent her skillfulness making belts as a form of patriarchal, white oppression—then no belts would get made at all).

Mostly, though, Steyer’s belt highlights his own clueless elitism.  Nobody cares about your belt you picked up at some street bazaar on a luxury safari in Kenya.

Clothes say a great deal about a man (or woman).  I feel better about myself when I’m dressed well (and it’s not 8000 degrees and 400% humidity outside).  I, too, have an unusual little ornament that I sometimes wear, that often draws attention—but it’s way more endearing than some empty gesture of my multicultural bona fides.

Years ago, I had a student who was obsessed with South Korean culture and music.  She especially loved a K-pop group called Exo—basically a Korean boy band.  Before a big concert, she asked if I’d wear an Exo tie if she bought me one; naturally, I said yes.

A couple of weeks later she came to be with a little felt bag.  She explained that Exo did not have ties, but they did have tie clips.  I pulled from the bag a little piece of silver-colored metal, with a button-sized picture of Korean teen heartthrobs.

I wear it frequently, as it’s functional (it holds my ties in place) and a conversation starter.  It’s always fun to tell, as I lead with, “Oh, it’s a Korean boy band” so I get weird stares, then I tell the story above, which is an endearing example of a close and respectful student-teacher relationship.

I’m not saying I’m immune from self-righteous outbursts, but I don’t politicize a sweet, unique gift from a student (it also doesn’t look like I’m wearing the clothing of another culture in order to make myself appear more diverse and progressive).  If I wore that tie clip in a political ad (a distinct possibility), no one would be able to tell that there are ten Korean boys on it (at least, I hope not!).  Tom Steyer knows people will see his colorful, clearly-exotic belt, and he’s banking on progressive voters saying, “Wow, this old white Wall Street hedge fund manager is really down with the struggle.”

Perhaps, like the great David Carradine, Steyer’s ham-fisted belt will be his undoing.  Then again, he was never really done up in the first place.

Destroying Marriage with the Flip of a Coin

Today’s post is something straight out of Dalrock’s excellent blog:  a couple in Florida decided to take the last name of whoever won a coin toss.

Here is the image from the article:

A picture is worth a thousand soyboys.  I sent this article to my younger brother, sister-in-law, and girlfriend yesterday, and my brother commented, “The entire aesthetic of the lady officiant makes me think of one of these dystopian sci-fi settings where there’s one secular religion imposed by the State.”  Amen.

I will add:  the bride’s (Darcy’s) reaction to winning the coin toss speaks volumes.  She’s clearly gloating at winning an arbitrary coin toss that strips her husband of his last remaining shred of masculine dignity.  And the look on the groom’s (Jeff’s) face suggests he is not pleased with the outcome.

Of course, Jeff will never admit this fact.  Here is a particularly cringe-inducing excerpt:

At the altar of their Dec. 14 wedding, they flipped a brass, engraved medallion, one side with Darcy’s last name, and the other with Jeff’s surname.

“It’s fair. I am a graduate student in economics at Florida State and I think about fairness,” Jeff told the Palm Beach Post.

“Being with someone who was willing to start the marriage from a creative and teamwork and fair place felt like a really good first step toward an equal partnership,” Darcy, a nurse-midwife, added.

When the time came, it was Darcy’s name that won out. Mr. and Mrs. Ward were thrilled with the result.

“You could say I won,” Jeff said. “I was the one who received something new.”

The phrase “I am a graduate student in economics at Florida State and I think about fairness” perfectly encapsulates the clueless virtue-signalling of noodle-wristed academics.  Jeff is saying, “I’m smart, so I know better than centuries of tradition.”

His claim that he “won” because he “received something new” is protesting too much.  Jeff knows that what he and his wife have done is ludicrous—otherwise it wouldn’t make the New York Post—and emasculating, so he’s attempting to save face with a ex post facto justification.

The hyphenation of last names, or wives keeping their maiden names, may seem like a small personal choice, but it’s one of the thousand little cuts against traditional marriage.  Marriage is the coming together of two people into one, with the husband as the spiritual leader.  Taking her husband’s last name is a significant demonstration of devotion and fidelity.  It also serves the practical purpose of confirming paternity and keeping fathers responsible to their children.

It might seem like I’m making a big deal over a small decision—“it’s just a name, TPP.”  Well, what’s in a name?  Surely there is some symbolic and practical significance to taking a husband’s name.

Further, I’d be more amenable to such arguments if we hadn’t seen the systematic destruction of marriage over the last 100 years.  That destruction began with baby steps.  Anything we can do to shore up traditional marriage is a positive good.

I completely understand the special cases:  academics retaining their maiden names professionally, for example.  But a wife should not begrudge her husband for becoming one with him—that’s a recipe for a failed marriage.  Besides, no kid wants to be saddled with a hyphenated last name.

Let’s hope Jeff and Darcy make it.  My instincts tell me they won’t.  Darcy is clearly the “man” in this relationship, and Jeff is not.  Whether they realize it or not, that’s going to breed a great deal of unhappiness and strife.

I hope I’m wrong, for their sake.

The Enduring Legacy of Milton Friedman

One of the major debates on the Right over the past year or so has been the efficacy of libertarianism.  Part of that debate arises from disagreement about the role of government:  should it attempt to be neutral, as libertarians argue (which, we have seen, it is not), or should it act in the “common good” (or, as the Constitution puts it, the “common welfare”)?  In a world in which the Left wins victory after victory in the long culture wars, the assumptions of the “New Right” that arose following the Second World War are increasingly called into question.

Among those assumptions are libertarian economics.  Increasingly, conservatives are adopting a more suspicious view of concepts like supply-side economics and free-market capitalism.  That suspicion is not because capitalism is a failure, per se, but because it is almost too successful:  the wealth and prosperity it brings have also brought substantial social and cultural upheaval.  Because capitalism is an impersonal and amoral system, it doesn’t make value judgments about what is “good” or “bad” in the context of marketplace exchanges.  The Market itself is the highest “good,” so any hindrance to its efficiency is bad.

Ergo, we see arguments in favor of legalized prostitution, legalized hard drugs, legalized abortion, etc.  Again, if market efficiency is the greatest good, then why not allow these “victimless” activities?

Of course, unbridled libertarianism is doomed to fail, especially as it scales up.  Legalized hard drug use might keep junkies out of prison, but we don’t want heroine addicts buying their next hit at the grocery store.  Prostitution destroys families and the lives of the women (and men) involved, and spread disease.  Abortion is straight-up murder.

Capitalism cannot sustain itself in a vacuum.  It needs socially conservative behaviors and attitudes to sustain it.  If one wanted to live in a stateless libertarian paradise, one would need a small, tight-knit community in which everyone bought into the non-aggression principle and agreed to be honest in business dealings.  But as soon as one person decided not to abide by the unwritten social code, the entire experiment would unravel, like that scene in Demolition Man when the effeminate police force doesn’t know how to use force to subdue a violent criminal.

But for all of those critiques, capitalism remains the best system we’ve ever developed.  I agree with Tucker Carlson that the economy is a tool, not an ends to itself, but if government interferes too much with the tool, the tool is no longer effective.  If anything, the economy is a chainsaw:  too much regulation and the engine stalls and the blades become dull due to misuse and neglect; too little regulation and you lose an arm (or your life), even if you cut down a ton of trees in the process.

One of the most powerful books I ever read was Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom (1962).  It transformed the way I viewed the relationship between the government and economics.  Friedman would have a huge impact on my life and my thought.  While I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, I still largely accept his conclusions.

Friedman was a minimalist when it came to government power, but he still recognized some role for government:  maintaining the national defense, combating pollution, and fighting against infectious diseases.

Here is a 1999 interview with Milton Friedman, from the excellent Uncommon Knowledge series, hosted by Peter Robinson.  It highlights some common objections to libertarian economic ideas, as we as Friedman’s thoughtful, nuanced responses:

For what it’s worth, I’ll add that Peter Robinson is a fantastic interview.  He possesses that perfect quality in an interviewer:  he doesn’t steal the limelight.  I grew so weary of Eric Metaxas‘s interviews, not because his guests were uninteresting—he has great guests!—but because he can’t help but talk over them constantly (his penchant for campiness also goes a bit overboard, and I love that kind of cheesy stuff).  After listening to some of Peter Robinson’s interviews Sunday afternoon, I never found myself wishing he would shut up—always a good sign.

Regardless, these are some weighty issues.  I have been hard on libertarians over the past year because I think they tend to reduce complex issues to supply and demand curves, and I can’t help but notice how we keep losing ground in the culture wars by espousing endless process and slow persuasion (which seems to be stalling in its effectiveness).

On the other hand, I’m glad that conservatives don’t wield power the way progressives do; as Gavin McInnes once put it in a video (one I would never be able to locate now) after the 2016 election, Trump and conservatives have sheathed the sword of power.  Progressives, masters of psychological projection, expected Trump to come out swinging, because that’s what they would do.

I just don’t know how long we can delay them from swinging the sword again, and after Trump’s unlikely victory (and his likely reelection), I imagine progressives will no longer even engage in the pretense of even-handedness and fair play:  they will crush us relentlessly if given the chance, rather than face an uprising again.

Libertarianism doesn’t have the answer to what to do to prevent that scenario.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure any faction on the Right does—at least not in any way that is palatable.

SubscribeStar Saturday: The Twenties

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

It’s (sort of) the start of a new decade, and every blogger and tin-pot commentator (like yours portly) has been putting out prediction posts for the decade.  My good friend and fellow blogger Bette Cox has written not one, but two posts about the coming decade, based on her prayer-conversation with God.

I’ve taken more of the approach of photog at Orion’s Cold Fire:  rather than offering lock-of-the-century predictions, I’ve just commented on things as they stand currently.  I am notoriously bad at making predictions and calling elections.

That said, I thought I’d play to my strengths and instead write about The Twenties—the 1920s.  Yes, it’s a bit hackneyed, but looking back at the past can be instructive of where we are now, if not what our futures hold.

Note to subscribers:  due to a heavy rehearsal schedule today, this post may not be completed until later this evening.  Thank you for your patience.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Napoleonic Christmas

It’s Christmas Week!  And what a glorious week it is.  It’s been raining persistently in South Carolina since Sunday morning, but I’m enjoying the coziness of the hygge—warm coffee and lazy reading.

PragerU had a little video up this morning from historian Andrew Roberts about Napoleon.  It’s an interesting take on the not-so-short French emperor—an apologia, really (for those that prefer reading—as I often do—to watching videos, here is a PDF transcript).

Roberts argues that Napoleon was not the necessary precursor to Hitler, et. al.; rather, Napoloen was “sui generis“—a man unto himself.  While I believe the ideas of the French Revolution did unleash the totalitarian forces of Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism, and all the rest—a murderous, bloody Pandora’s Box—I’ve never considered Napoleon among their ranks.

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A Little Derb’ll Do Ya: Haydn’s “Derbyshire Marches”

My Saturday morning ritual involves “sleeping in” until about 8:30 AM, brewing some coffee, and listening to Radio Derb, John Derbyshire’s weekly podcast for VDare.com.  Derb goes back for years—he used to write for National Review, before they kicked him out for writing “The Talk: Nonblack Version” for Taki’s Magazine.

I first found out about him and his controversial essay from NR, back when I was a devout print subscriber, amid the heady days when campus protests were novel enough to be terrifying.  NR ran a little blurb about Williams College cancelling a scheduled talk from Derb, and I’ve been listening to his podcast—an entertaining mix of news, science, political and cultural commentary, and updates on the president of Turkmenistan—ever since.

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Thanksgiving Week!

It’s Thanksgiving Week!  November is flying by; Halloween Week (and Halloween!) seem like yesterday.  Yesterday was a crisp, autumnal day, a brief respite of warmth before cold weather returned to South Carolina this morning.

As a teacher, one of my favorite “weeks” of the school year is this one.  I put “weeks” in quotation marks because, from a teaching perspective, this isn’t truly a “week,” or even a “short week” (four days, such as the Labor Day holiday early in the academic year).  Instead, it’s two days of either cramming in tests and material, or of laconically drifting into the glorious Thanksgiving Break.

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