Writing, Alan Furst, And Envy

In keeping with our recent discussions, now even our titles have a list of three.  When folks talk about money, fame, trophy wives or politics (whoops four) we are generally not susceptible to envy but we are for writing.  In Red Gold, Alan Furst

Sidebar: Red Gold is another excellent book in the Night Soldier series.  If you like the world weary adults in film noir then you will love the series. In fact, the protagonist in Red Gold was, and if he lives through WWII, will be a film producer. So far, most of the series is only loosely connected so you can jump in anywhere.   End Sidebar.

has our hero Jean talking to the commie Weiss during the WWII German occupation of France and:

Weiss smiled. “It should, logically it should but the world doesn’t run on logic, it runs on the seven deadly sins and the weather.  Even so we try to do what we can.”
“And it helps,” [Jean] said, “to have machine guns”

We wish we could write just one passage like that.  Here, on the other hand is a really good article at Unherd on the Tories and Brexit by Robin Aitken.  Of course, you should read it all but here is a sample:

Why should it be imagined that younger people, who inevitably know less than their elders, are better equipped to decide the country’s future? It is only in the modern era, and particularly in western countries, that we have come to flatter and fawn over the young, not because of their shining hair, good teeth and clear skin (all very desirable) but because they supposedly have insights denied to the old.

We enjoy both Robin and Alan but only the latter causes us envy.  We felt a guilty pleasure when we noticed that Alan wrote that Jean left the truck running and later came back and started it.  Ha, we would not make that elementary mistake!  It does bring us joy that we have nine more of Alan’s Night Soldier books ahead of us.

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Comments On Kamala

We still think Kamala will be the next president but we are more concerned about our prediction than we were a few months ago.  It seems more likely that the year will be 2024 rather than 2020 but time will tell.   Instapundit cited a Jim Geraghty post in NRO’s Corner that caught our attention.  Jim says and quotes:

The other day Wonkette offered an article with a headline that declares — cleaning it up for your sensitive eyes — “Kamala Harris Doesn’t Have To Explain Herself To Your Dumb [Tushes].”

Infuriated by headlines about a Harris speech declaring that she is defending her record as a prosecutor, Stephen Robinson writes:

Is Harris on trial here? Why is she “defending her record”? Did she lose all her cases like the prosecutor who faced off against Perry Mason each week? That guy needed to explain himself. Harris put [bad words] in prison. She imprisoned [bad words] so well she was the first woman elected district attorney of San Francisco and the first black woman to become attorney general of California. She’s the Serena Williams of law and order.

While she’s undoubtedly better than Hamilton Berger, Harris’s record is a little more complicated than that. [Emphasis added]

Jim concludes that candidates always need to defend their records.  We agree but we have concerns.  First, Stephen can’t be bothered to look up Hamilton Berger like Jim did.  Really, this is not a tweet but Stephen’s article and he can’t be bothered to type in Perry Mason prosecutor.  Go and try it.  We will wait as it won’t take long.  You won’t even need to finish typing prosecutor and you will find that Hamilton Burger has his own Wikipedia site!

Second, what is a good record for a prosecutor?  We are not convinced that Jim is right that Kamala is better than Hamilton.  Hamilton, on our small sample, never convicts the innocent or frees the guilty.  Obviously, life is more complicated than a TV drama but convictions, as Scooter Libby could tell you, might not be the best measure of a prosecutor. Evaluating teachers and prosecutors involves problems because the goals, learning and justice, are hard to measure.

Third, Jim is worried about the need to serve a strong leader demonstrated in the tone of Stephen’s article.  Instead, given the circumstances at Oberlin College, we find Jim’s parenthetical comment is more important:

(Whatever else you think of [Stephen]’s argument, he’s absolutely right when he declares, “it’s insulting to claim that black people can only have an adversarial relationship with the criminal justice system or that a black woman can’t prosecute crimes without betraying her community.”)

Kamala has a mixed heritage but we are not getting into the swamps of what is black in the quote.  The important point is that protecting communities from bad actors is a good idea even if Oberlin disagrees.

Sidebar: We have already said that convictions are not necessarily justice and we would add that police do not always act properly.  Protecting communities without harming them is a challenge and we agree with Jim that Kamala should explain how she did that.  Perhaps she has examples of convicting cops.  We just think that Stephen’s law and order message is the important one rather than the she doesn’t need to explain one.  End Sidebar.

This is the first good news we have seen about a Democrat presidential candidate.  Perhaps more is forthcoming but we are not holding our breath.

Making Public Universities Private

Richard Vetter has an interesting article at Minding the Campus with a strange start.  You should read the whole thing as vouchers for college is an interesting idea.  Near the beginning of Let’s Privatize State Colleges he categorizes colleges:

Some of them are renowned highly selective research institutions like the University of California at Berkeley or the University of Michigan, while others are relatively obscure schools with an open admissions policy. But all receive some degree of subsidization from the state government where they are physically located.

Writers love groups of three: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.  In Bonanza there is Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.  In the Brady Bunch there is a dad with three boys marries a mom with three daughters.  When you add in the Brady’s housekeeper there are three groups of three.  Perfect.  Yet Richard has just two: Berkeley and open admissions.  It is particularly strange because the middle, what we will call comprehensives, is almost surely the majority of state college enrollment.  Here is a 2016 story for the University of Wisconsin System.  There are (rounding) 43,000 students at Madison (a Berkeley clone), 11,000 at the colleges (they have open admissions or close to it) out of 179,000.  The remaining 125,000 or 70 percent are enrolled elsewhere.  To call the 125,000 comprehensives is slightly expansive but that is what we are going with.  States will vary but comprehensives are likely a majority of enrollment nationwide.

Sidebar: The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has 26,000 students and doesn’t fit as a comprehensive because it has a significant doctoral program but it is not, sorry, Berkeley.  The Carnegie classification is much more detailed. Check the numbers at the link.  There are 130 doctoral schools with very high research and 741 masters degree schools which is the traditional definition of a comprehensive.   We will use the term comprehensive to include these second tier research programs and some schools without a masters program.  We know there are more categories.  End Sidebar.

The comprehensives, as defined in the sidebar, are the biggest group of students.  Richard is not just talking about Berkeley.  Richard has a neat idea: Let’s give money to needy and/or accomplished individuals rather than schools.  He says:

Why don’t we provide vouchers for college attendance like some states do for students going to K-12 schools? The aid could be more explicitly targeted to kids who are either relatively poor or who excel academically.

We like vouchers for K-12 but are not supportive of Richard’s proposal for three (there is that number again) reasons: gamesmanship, lack of confidence in the state, and it is not a priority.  First, there is the opportunity for gamesmanship.  Do 529 accounts count? Is your parents’ income and assets considered if you go into the armed forces and then return to school?  The current system has enough of these challenges.  Making the potential returns bigger will only exacerbate the current challenges.

Second, we are expecting each state to come up with and adjust a system that prevents gamesmanship and deals with grad students, veterans, varying programs, and finances.  For example, 150 credits are required to sit for the CPA exam in most states.  Do you get five years in accounting but four years in finance?  We are not confident that the state will make things better.  Colleges have employee contracts that are set up before enrollment.  Under Richard’s system when a college does not reach enrollment targets there will be a big financial problem.  What will be the state’s plan for short-term versus long-term financial problems.  Will contracts be honored?

Third, and most importantly, state college vouchers should not be a priority for conservatives.  The reason vouchers for K-12 are a priority is to encourage competition.  Comprehensives are already intensely competitive within state and sometimes among states and they often have a program or two where they compete with the flagship school(s).  The flagship schools compete among states.  There is lots of overlap in the Wisconsin (Madison) and Minnesota application pools.  College vouchers might increase competition but there is already intense competition.

If we are going to spend our time on education we need to worry about (of course, three things) K-12 vouchers, union issues, and free speech, especially in college.  Vouchers for colleges is a fun topic to kick around among  conservatives (why not allow students to use them at private schools?) but it shouldn’t be a priority.

 

Paul McCartney In Madison

We accompanied the Lady de Gloves, our sister, and a friend to see Paul McCartney at the Kohl Center in Madison.  Wow! it was worth the trip.  Paul gave a three hour tour (just like Gilligan) of 38 songs from the Beatles, Wings, and his solo work.  You need to see him before this musical treasure is gone.

Paul’s voice is not the instrument it once was but he is still a joy to listen to.  What make it a great show is the songs, the organization, his presence, and his musical skills.  Paul is onstage for all three hours playing a variety of guitars, keyboards, and a (baby?) grand piano.  It makes three hours fly by.

Paul is a star and he knows it because he can still connect to us. At one point amidst all the applause he says (approximately) I think I’ll take a second to drink it all in.  It wasn’t a talk-fest like some concerts (Donovan) we have been to but he did have some great stories.  The one we liked was very brief and concerned writing Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite and the relationship we saw with expertise.  Paul related, as many knew, that a substantial part of the lyrics came from a poster of John’s.  Paul made a self-depreciating comment something like, “After that there wasn’t much to writing it.”  Of course there was much to it.  The first step was to see the germ of the song on the poster.  The second step was to flesh it out.  Several steps later there is a song worth including on Sgt. Pepper.

The organization of the show starts with the brass section showing up in the third (?) song in the audience in about section 105.  Shortly after they closed off part of the stage to do some of the older Beatles songs as a small group.  Later, Paul did a couple of solos on a cube that rose up (15 feet?) from the stage.  The pyrotechnics in Live And Let Die scared the bejeezus out of us.  The video content was interesting.  We especially liked the tribute to George.

And there are great songs even without playing Yesterday!  We could list a half dozen songs he should have added.  Paul is still the popular rocker he was with the Beatles so his library is 50 plus years of joy.  Sure there was a song about bullying and another about segregation (Blackbird) but it was not a woke show.  It was fun.  It was great fun.  You should see Paul while you still can.

 

WWII Alternative History

Robert Tombs at Unherd has a nice piece celebrating the Tommies and their contribution to the allied victory on D-Day and in WWII.  We agree when Robert says:

What is the reality? Britain, and of course the Empire, continued to make immense economic and military efforts throughout the war: an unparalleled level of civilian mobilization, as well as more than five million in the armed forces by 1945 serving from Denmark to China.

and

Recent historical analysis asserts that the Second World War was fundamentally won in the air and at sea, where Britain played a leading, and perhaps predominant, role from 1939 to 1945.

What we don’t agree is what was the likely alternative if D-Day failed.   Robert says that if D-Day had failed then:

The Wehrmacht would have been able to reinforce the Eastern Front, and perhaps made Stalin contemplate (not for the first time) a separate peace, leaving the Nazis dominant in Europe. The Holocaust was still extending its merciless grip to the surviving Jewish populations of Hungary, France, Holland, and Italy. The world would have faced an indefinite prolongation of a global war in which thousands were dying daily. To end the agony, the first atom bombs would probably have been dropped on Germany.

We agree on the Holocaust as the Soviets were no help in stopping that.  But the rest seems highly unlikely.  In June 1944 the Soviets were advancing on Germany like Germany did in the other direction in 1941 [from Laurence Rees, War Of The Century: When Hitler Fought Stalin].  The Stalin and the Soviets had every reason to continue their advance and no reason to stop.  And, as Robert describes, British  [and American] bombing was having an enormous impact on Germany’s ability to fight the Soviets.  Nazi domination of Europe was no longer possible.  The issue was Soviet domination or a balance between the Soviets and other allies.  There are lots of possibilities but the real nightmare scenario of a failed D-Day 75 years ago is that the Iron Curtain would reach to the British Channel.

 

Enough Philosophy!!!

Michael R. Strain, an AEI guy writing on The Corner at NRO has a great post on philosophical debates.  Michael is talking about conservatism debates but we have seen it in numerous academic situations.  We had a colleague who was sincerely convinced that if we came to an agreement on principles that every other issue could be resolved from those principles.  Our accounting/economics background lets us play the principles game but we realize that the practical needs more than principles.  Michael seems cut from the same cloth.  Perhaps we can make him an honorary accountant. Oh, and we think of that as a great honor for an economist.

Do read all of Michael’s post.  We have a long quote below because we need it for our discussion of conservatism.  Michael starts out:

Rich’s post this morning, which builds off Matthew Continetti’s excellent column, addresses a feature of the intra-conservative debate that has been on my mind for quite some time: The emphasis on doctrinal discussion above specifics.

Rich’s post is forward looking. He accurately observes: “The questions, What and How? almost never appear, i.e., what policies are we talking about and how are we going to achieve them?”

There is a backward-looking component to this as well. I commonly come across some variant of the following: “I’m a free trader. I just think trade should be put in its proper place. It isn’t more important than family and community.” But what, specifically, does that mean? [f we are honest it means the speaker is not a free trader.]  Was the president right not to enter TPP? Should the United States not have formed NAFTA? Should we have actively tried to keep China out of the global trading system?

In his first paragraph we think Michael is being kind about the contributions of Rich and Matthew but kindness is a good thing.  The conclusion is exactly right because doctrinal discussions don’t lead to specifics.  They can be useful but we need both doctrine and specifics.

The second paragraph is exactly right except he (or Rich) leaves out priorities.  We would end the last sentence in the second paragraph with “rather than others.”

The third paragraph shows how folks defeat proposals that they do not agree with or are not their priorities.  The bold phrases can be rearranged so that the first two are something specific like free speech, lower taxes, or entitlement reform.  You could change the third one to any meaningless generality or keep it the same.

Rather than dissing David French let’s find some specific proposal that we can support.  The Donald and the Democrats may make passage problematical but we need to get specific on a good proposal.  It could be health care but we can’t find Avik Roy’s proposal.  If we don’t like it then Michael tells us how to answer.

Conan Versus Mick And Keith

In the movie Conan The Barbarian, the title character is asked: What is best in life?  Arnold replies:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!

It is true it is great to win big but it almost never happens in sports, politics, or bridge. And it is also true that there will be another Super Bowl or election in short order.  Thus, we hope for Conan but realize that Mick and Keith are more likely:

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime,
You’ll find you get what you need!

And both quotes end with an exclamation point.  We all want what Conan wants but don’t realize the wisdom of Mick and Keith.  As examples we have The Donald, Josh, Sohrab Ahmari, the greens, and both sides on abortion .  The Donald on tariffs and the abortion parts are so obvious that we are only going to look at the other three.

Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO tries to defend Josh on attacking the prospective judge, Michael Bogren. We are not convinced but read it all. He identifies three arguments against Josh.   We are on the first one:

[Michael] was merely representing a client and, if we reject his nomination because he faithfully advocated their position, we are traducing the core American right to fair legal representation. That’s the view of the editors of the Wall Street Journal, [and MWG] for example.

Part of Ramesh’s counter-argument to the first argument is:

Perhaps more important, Sullivan was punished for the mere fact of representation, whereas Hawley has criticized Bogren for the way he represented East Lansing. For these controversies to be analogous, Sullivan would have to have been criticized for smearing and bullying [Harvey] Weinstein’s accusers.

It is a forgone conclusion that Sullivan will be criticized.  Of course Harvey’s defender(s) are going to be criticized for smearing and bullying his accusers.  They are going to advocate for Harvey in the same way that Michael made the best case for his client.  In Harvey’s case it would mean casting doubt on the accusers in some manner.

Sohrab does his best Conan in attacking, of all people, that noted never-Trump stalwart David French from NRO.  Sohrab, at First Things says:

I added, “The only way is through”—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.

Conan would be impressed although it might help to mention salting the earth too.  Sohrab makes this guy look reasonable and nuanced.  We understand that in politics we need coalition with folks with different priorities.  Conservatives will never be a majority.  Any group of conservatives with an adjective will be a tiny minority.  To have a majority coalition we need David and Sohrab.

Sidebar: We have never found a modifier for our conservatism.  The closest we came is when Rod Dreher coined Crunchy Cons.  We are really close to the opposite of that but there don’t seem to be enough of us to warrant an adjective.  End Sidebar.

Jeremy Carl at NRO tells us:

Last week BP and Shell both pledged support for the Climate Leadership Council’s (CLC) proposal for a revenue-neutral “carbon fee and dividend” plan, under which extractors of carbon-based fuels would be charged a fee, and all of the money collected would be distributed to the public as a dividend. While conservatives have a wide variety of views on how, or even whether, to address climate policy, this initiative is perhaps the most genuinely bipartisan attempt so far to move forward on a famously contentious issue.

We are not at all sure we want to support this deal but much depends on the details.  Our first choice would be a lower tax without a dividend.  Holman W. Jenkins, jr at the WSJ has great article on how environmental regulations lead to conflicts. If we undo these as part of the deal we might be in.  Do read it all.  But the greens are not in.  They are not in because they love Conan:

But  instead of expressing happiness that some of the biggest oil producers were willing to accept a major concession to help lower emissions under a plan with almost unprecedented bipartisan support, many on the left have complained because the plan also limits climate-change-related litigation.

Jeremy notes that none of this litigation has ever succeeded so far.  But the greens still want to hear the lamentaions of the oil companies’ stockholders.

It is hard to compromise, especially when principles are involved.  It is a tough decision but sometimes you just got to play Mick and Keith.  As an example, we hope that David and Soharb will join us in voting for The Donald in 2020.  Strange things can happen over the next year when we find out the Democrat nominee but right now it looks close to certain that The Donald is our best option in 2020.