I stole this idea from Barb Knowles who got it from Paul who got the idea from Aaron who stole it from Jess. (Whew! It all reminds me of the Tom Lehrer song “I got it from Agnes”–quite possibly the dirtiest song ever written without using a single off-color word. But I digress.)

  1. Blogging
  2. American football
  3. Pizza
  4. Economics
  5. The color red
  6. History
  7. Desert landscapes
  8. The movie Lawrence of Arabia (combines 6 and 7)
  9. Writing
  10. The book A Confederacy of Dunces
  11. A good scary story.
  12. Gilbert and Sullivan operettas
  13. Political theory
  14. Hazelnut coffee
  15. Conspiracy theories
  16. Well-written, metered, rhyming satirical poetry.
  17. The number 17
  18. Thunderstorms
  19. Friendly political debates
  20. The sound of howling wind.
  21. The unutterable melancholy of a winter sunset in a farm field.
  22. Pretentious sentences like the one above.
  23. Knights of the Old Republic II
  24. Halloween
  25. The book 1984
  26. Niagara Falls
  27. The song “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner”
  28. Pumpkin-flavored cookies. coffee, cake etc.
  29. The book The King in Yellow
  30. Hats
  31. Chess
  32. Trivia competitions
  33. Numbered lists
  34. Mowing lawns
  35. The smell of fresh-cut grass
  36. Black licorice
  37. Beethoven’s 3rd,5th and 9th symphonies
  38. The color light blue.
  39. Exercise machines
  40. My iPad
  41. Feta cheese
  42. The movie Jane Got a Gun
  43. Etymologies
  44. Gregorian chants
  45. December 23rd
  46. The story “The Masque of the Red Death”
  47. Mozzarella sticks
  48. Leaves in Autumn
  49. Long drives in the country
  50. Fireworks
  51. The song “You Got Me Singin'”
  52. The book To Kill a Mockingbird
  53. Constitutional republics that derive their powers from the consent of the governed.
  54. Strategy games
  55. Puns
  56. Ice skating
  57. My Xbox One
  58. The smell of old books
  59. Hiking
  60. Tall buildings
  61. Bookstores
  62. Gloves
  63. Rational-legal authority, as defined by Max Weber
  64. Bagels with cream cheese
  65. The Olentangy river
  66. The movie The Omen
  67. Far Side comics
  68. Planescape: Torment
  69. The song “Barrytown”
  70. Reasonable estimates of the Keynesian multiplier
  71. Stories that turn cliches on their heads.
  72. Editing movies
  73. Really clever epigraphs
  74. The movie “Chinatown”
  75. Ice water
  76. Deus Ex
  77. Silly putty
  78. Swiss Army Knives
  79. Anagrams
  80. Wikipedia
  81. Radical new models for explaining politics.
  82. Weightlifting
  83. Lego
  84. Madden 17
  85. The song “The Saga Begins”
  86. Trigonometry
  87. Writing “ye” for “the”
  88. Well-made suits
  89. Popcorn
  90. Pasta
  91. The word “sesquipedalian”
  92. The movie Thor
  93. Blackjack
  94. The movie The English Patient
  95. Pretzels
  96. Cello music
  97. Bonfires
  98. The story “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
  99. Soaring rhetoric
  100. Astronomy
  101. Getting comments on my blog posts.

My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every State in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair State of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the State of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business.

It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation; shall we, their descendants, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bimetallism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bimetallism, and then let England have bimetallism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: ‘You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.’

–William Jennings Bryan, July 9, 1896

So we have to rebuild our infrastructure, our bridges, our roadways, our airports. You come into La Guardia Airport, it’s like we’re in a third world country. You look at the patches and the 40-year-old floor. You look at these airports, we are like a third world country. And I come in from China and I come in from Qatar and I come in from different places, and they have the most incredible airports in the world. You come to back to this country and you have LAX, disaster. You have all of these disastrous airports. We have to rebuild our infrastructure.

Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse, but save it. People have been paying it for years. And now many of these candidates want to cut it. You save it by making the United States, by making us rich again, by taking back all of the money that’s being lost.

Renegotiate our foreign trade deals. Reduce our $18 trillion in debt, because, believe me, we’re in a bubble. We have artificially low interest rates. We have a stock market that, frankly, has been good to me, but I still hate to see what’s happening. We have a stock market that is so bloated.

Be careful of a bubble because what you’ve seen in the past might be small potatoes compared to what happens. So be very, very careful.

And strengthen our military and take care of our vets. So, so important.

Sadly, the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.

Donald J. Trump. June 16, 2015

Via Thingy, a hilarious and bizarre conspiracy theory about how famous singer and songwriter Bob Dylan was a puppet of U.S. intelligence. Thingy doesn’t know if it was written as satire or not.  My hunch is that it wasn’t, because clearly the author, one Miles Mathis, spent a lot of time either researching or making up a bunch of random things to string together.  I don’t think even Jonathan Swift had enough patience to write a satire that long.

What’s funny about this is that there is a tiny, tiny, infinitesimally small kernel of truth behind all this nonsense:

We know Intelligence was running all sorts of secret operations in the 1960’s. Many of them have since been partially de-classified, like Operation Mockingbird, Operation Bluebird, Operation Chaos, MKULTRA, and many many more. But there appears to have been an even larger, more fundamental Operation beneath all of them. This was Operation Rolling Stone. It was the promotion of change in all forms. To what end? The promotion of trade.

He’s right that it’s not a coincidence that the 1960s social upheaval and the work of liberals, like Dylan, did lead to the promotion of trade. It’s ironic because many of the liberals were not in favor of capitalism, yet they ended up promoting it.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have become way more amenable to the idea of free trade post-’60s.

But it wasn’t a conspiracy by U.S. intelligence, or the Illuminati, or the Elders of Zion, or the Freemasons, or the Esoteric Order of Dagon. It just happened.  I think it’s because the social values of ’60s liberals are quite compatible with laissez-faire trade–values like not discriminating against people based on skin color, or gender, or religion etc. It doesn’t require an elaborate conspiracy where Bob secretly sets the stage for Jim who twenty years down the road will secretly say something to Dan that will motivate him conspire with Harry to fundamentally alter the culture of the United States.

So, I guess, he did identify a correlation between to phenomena.  I think it’s even true that there is a causal relationship there.  Where he goes completely off track is in attributing it to some conscious conspiracy by a bunch of people, most whom would be dead long before any of their efforts came to anything.

That said, he does go a little overboard in asserting how much trade has accelerated in the last half-century, saying:

Gentlemen in the early 19th century looked down on trade, as we see from reading Dickens or Austen, or watching Downton Abbey. The English aristocracy mocked American wealth, since it came from trade.

Where does he think the English aristocracy’s wealth came from? Ever heard of the East India Company?

Is it a joke, or is it for real?  The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

I see  that Electronic Arts has gotten the exclusive rights to Star Wars video games.  I remember another thing EA got exclusive rights to, and that didn’t work out so great…  but we’ll see.

I’m not saying this is necessarily bad news–for one thing, if I understand correctly, EA can still publish games that other developers make. To my mind, it could be good or bad.

I’ve been thinking about the Mass Effect series again, and how weirdly uneven it was for a trilogy that was supposedly mapped out in advance.  The first Mass Effect had a very interesting story, but the gameplay was a little wonky, at least to people like me who aren’t really familiar with RPG mechanics.  Combat in ME1 feels very awkward.

Then Mass Effect 2 streamlined the combat, making it much more like the popular Gears of War series.  The hardcore RPG people may disagree, but I think this made for a superior game, even if they had to mess with some established background information of the setting to make it work.  ME 2 is still my favorite in the series, even though parts of the story don’t make sense.  And I think it’s interesting that EA acquired BioWare between ME1 and 2, and in the latter, the game suddenly became much more  accessible to the average gamer.

But then you have Mass Effect 3, which had many well-known problems with its infamously unsatisfying endingBioWare insists that they had total creative control, so you can’t blame EA for the ending.  (Then again, the Illusive Man insisted he had control of the Reapers, too…) But in addition to all the in-game problems, it was criticized for forcing players to buy a bunch of additional stuff in order to get the “full” ending.  Again, it’s just interesting to me that there was no comparable marketing scheme for, say, BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic (2003) or Jade Empire (2005) or even the first Mass Effect (2007).

So, I think we have a pretty good roadmap already for what is going to happen to a beloved science-fiction franchise whose video games department is now being run by EA.  But wait!  There’s more!

Everyone thinks that this means Star Wars game will become increasingly Call of Duty-like, and you will see a lot of polished but simplistic games.  Pretty much everyone feels that the  Battlefront series or something like it will be making a comeback. And why not?  If EA can make something Star Wars themed that can compete with the highest-grossing game series in history, why wouldn’t they?

This isn’t so bad, really.  Battlefront was a fun game.  It’s just that I think everyone feels EA is just too big, and when a company gets that big, it’s hard for them to function the right way.  They can keep making money off of AAA blockbuster games for a while yet, but they can’t really innovate, because that involves risk. Which means we probably won’t be seeing any deep, philosophical,  Star Wars RPGs like the great Knights of the Old Republic II anytime soon.

But more than that, there are indications that EA is just generally mismanaged.  As Shamus Young says in that article, they are not running their company as well as they might, just from a pure business point of view.  However, I think their model is sustainable for the near-term future.  Star Wars has been popular since the 1970s–people will continue to buy any heavily-hyped game that ties with that franchise for a few more years.  This is where we see the similarity to EA’s NFL license monopoly–the NFL has been popular since the 1960s, and for those who play sports games, it’s the only show in town.

The difference, of course, is that the NFL, while not technically a monopoly is the only widely-watched pro football league in America. Star Wars is not the only major science-fiction franchise. There are still more of those to compete with Star Wars games.

That’s why I think the monopoly on Star Wars has a greater chance of blowing up in EA’s face than their NFL  monopoly–the latter is essentially a monopoly on a near-monopoly, because the NFL controls a huge amount of market share in the market for football.  EA is building off of that. But it’s different with the market for sci-fi games–it’s more of an oligopoly, with just a few competitors: Star Wars, Star Trek, and so on.

If we assume that consumers are indifferent as to which science-fiction franchise’s video games they choose to spend money on, this means there is still an element of competition in the market.  But, of course, not all consumers are not indifferent–they have preferences for franchises.  So, I want Star Wars to have the better video games, among other reasons, to show up the Trekkies. (Not that I dislike Star Trek, but still.) Branding is always very important in oligopolies.

The point is, this arrangement coupled with EA’s past problems with understanding different markets as mentioned in the Shamus Young article linked above and… well, the title of this post says it all.

Official Portrait of Congressman Paul Ryan

No doubt you are all reading about the big political announcement of the day. Everyone is talking about it.

I am referring, of course, to William Russell Sype’s announcement of his candidacy for President in 2016.  As long-time friends of my blog, he and his campaign manager P.M. Prescott will have my support.  I will not even expect him to appoint me Chairman of the Federal Reserve in exchange for my endorsement. (hint, hint.)

But there is actually another political announcement in the news today.  Apparently, the candidate the Republican Party Doesn’t Want But Thoroughly Deserves has gone and picked Paul “Andrew” Ryan as his running mate.

Yes, the man who said “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” is now running for Vice-President.  That statement, on the face of it, would probably have made Ayn Rand ill, since saying “public service” to an objectivist is like saying “it” to the Knights Who Say “Ni”.  But, perhaps they would be willing to make an exception for someone willing to attack the irrational values of charity from within, a la Darth Sidious.

In my opinion, this does not really change anything about the campaign, although it does excite the base.  The Democratic base, that is, because I think they dislike Ryan more than the Republicans ever really liked him.

“Reck·on·ing: an itemized bill or statement of a sum due.”

That is the second definition at The Free Dictionary for the word “reckoning”. A dark bit of irony, given the fate of the game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning 

I’d been seeing ads for it on game sites and in stores for awhile, but I never paid any attention to them, because the whole fantasy/medieval setting has never done much for me. I’m still recovering from forcing myself through Neverwinter Nights 2.

But today, I saw that 38 Studios, the company that made it, is folding. It’s getting a lot of publicity because it was founded by Curt Schilling, a baseball player so famous that even I have heard of him. I’ll have more on the business aspects of this in a minute, but first a little more about the game itself.

Also of note to me was that the game’s lore was created by R.A. Salvatore. I’ve only read one book by him, the novelization of Attack of the Clones. I thought it was pretty bad, to be honest, but I know he’s a very widely-acclaimed fantasy author.

The plot of Kingdoms of Amalur sounded…. Well, let me show, not tell. From the Wikipedia page for Kingdoms:

“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” follows the story of a mortal known as the “Fateless One”, who having died before the game’s outset, is revived in the experimental Well of Souls by the gnomish scientist Fomorous Hugues. The first and only success of the experiment, the Fateless One must escape the facility when it comes under attack… Having escaped the facility, the Fateless One – having no memory of his life before his death – learns of the intriacies [sic] of the world he has returned to by the Fateweaver Agarth…

For comparison, here’s a bit of the plot summary for Planescape: Torment a famous and almost universally beloved RPG from 1999:

“Planescape: Torment”‘s protagonist is “The Nameless One,” an immortal being who, if killed, will wake up later, sometimes with complete amnesia…

The game’s story begins when The Nameless One wakes up in a mortuary. He is immediately approached by a floating skull, Morte, who offers advice on how to escape…

Well, I guess it’s a nice tip of the hat to Torment… that’s good, I suppose. Not breaking a lot of new ground, though. Regardless, the general reception of the game was good, but not great.

Apparently, though, it needed to be great, because 38 Studios ran out of money and laid off all their employees. That’s sad. It’s always a shame when people lose their jobs.

And this is where the story gets really bad. Back in 2010, Rhode Island loaned the company $75 million dollars to move there, on the idea that it would generate “jobs” and “tax revenues”. The Governor of Rhode island is not at all happy about the situation, and Schilling has apparently run out of money to put into the company.

Another aspect to the whole thing is that Schilling is known for his support of Republican politicians. It seems, as Brian McGrory notes, rather hypocritical that a Republican should be taking money from the government to support his business. Doesn’t quite square with the whole “free market” thing, and all that. But then, I don’t know what kind of Republican Schilling is. Perhaps he has no deep philosophical or ideological ties to them; he merely recognizes–correctly–that as a wealthy person it is to his financial advantage for them to win.

What concerns me more is the black eye it gives to video gaming companies as business ventures–people will think twice before investing in a game company with the specter of it being “the next 38 Studios” hanging over it. I mean, if one that is backed by a wealthy celebrity and produces a reasonably well-liked game can’t succeed; that’s going to give everyone pause.

In the first three parts of this series, I have established what I see as the logic of the American political system as it stands today.   Now, we need to examine the flaws and the potential dangers in this system.

It is first of all the case that nationalists—as opposed to patriots, the distinction between which you can see analyzed here or here—have been on the losing end of things since the 1960s.  Cosmopolitan liberals have been gaining since then, and this the nationalists will not abide.

But still, the clear winner over this time period has been the materialist business interests, for whom the nationalists vote based on their promises to cut the size of government, and with whom the cosmopolitans are obliged to compromise in the interest of seeing their gains on social issues protected.

The Thomas Frank question is: why do the nationalists continually vote for the anti-government big money people when they never do actually do anything to help the nationalists in their quest to abolish gay marriage, feminism, and secularism and restore militarism, flag-waving culture, traditional families and Christian dominance?

One hypothesis is that the nationalists are, by and large, ignorant hicks.  They certainly do hate the education system, bastion of liberalism that it allegedly is.  Thus, they can be duped every four years by some businessman who spouts slogans about “family values” and “sanctity of marriage” and who once elected cuts the capital gains tax and curtails welfare benefits.

When you add in that most nationalists are rural, and that many of them are Southern, where the schools have never been as good as the North or West, it looks compelling to say that they are just easily-tricked bumpkins.  Some liberals pity them, some liberals mock them; but they are seen widely as buffoons.

There is some evidence against this hypothesis, however.  That is why I read the works of Oswald Spengler or the political writings of H.P. Lovecraft.  They were both nationalists and, abhorrent though their views may be to me, there can be no doubt they were very intelligent men.

Moreover, you can see intelligent, educated nationalists even in the present day: a loose association sometimes called “the alt-right”.  I had a brief exchange with one of their number, OneSTDV, that some readers may recall.

Many of them are quite intelligent and well accustomed to philosophical debate and reasoning.  And they hold political views which I think many people supposed were now extinct in this country.  For example, they are fairly open about their admiration for fascism. They are more reactionary than most liberals can even imagine.

There are a few mainstream figures as well—Pat Buchanan is one—who may be classed as reasonably well-educated nationalists.  So, it is possible for such people to exist. Their philosophy is surprisingly intricate, and they can prove quite formidable in debate.

Given that, why keep voting for the materialist business interests, which care nothing for nationalism except insofar as it dictates the currency whose flow dictates their actions?  Well, in some cases, the nationalists don’t.  But in general, the reason is simply that both sides have common cause in that they hate the government. (With the exception of the military, in the case of the nationalists.)

They have different reasons: the nationalists hate it because it is populated by liberals.  (Most Republicans in government are far too liberal for their taste.)  Materialist corporate-types hate it because it has the power to take their money.  This fact means that business interests have a much easier time compromising with government than nationalists do.  Business wants to keep the government from getting its money; nationalists hate the actual people in the government .

Nonetheless, the nationalists’ plan is therefore rational: allow the Randian-minded businessmen to screw with the government long enough and it will eventually become weak.  Once it is weak, they will be in fine position to send in a candidate who really does mean to take us back to the 1950s. But clearly that day has not yet come.

Liberals are semi- cognizant of this threat, but it is very difficult to make the connections and realize that the nationalists may not be merely an angry group of people, but actually followers of a philosophy; one that is internally consistent and entirely antithetical to liberal values.

When I had my exchange with OneSTDV, many of his readers commented on my blog.  Interestingly, the topic that they focused on was this part:

[OneSTDV’s] belief that blacks are inherently inferior to whites intellectually. He calls this idea “Human BioDiversity” or “HBD”. I call it “racism” myself, and I believe it to be false.

Most of their comments centered on this point, and there was a lot of back-and-forth about the validity of it. One thing that caused some confusion—and this is my fault—was disagreement over whether “HBD” was the same thing as “racism”.  To my mind, they amount to the same thing: the belief that different races are in inherently different in non-trivial, especially mental, ways.  Now, some HBDers seemed to object to my effectively calling them racists, but I didn’t mean to imply that they are all klansmen; merely that they see race as an important factor in determining how well a person’s mind functions.

That’s an aside, but I wanted to get that bit of terminology clarified before proceeding.  What was especially interesting to me about the response to my OneSTDV post was a comment by “Ken S”:

“I am a fairly liberal HBD’er and I also frequently find OneSTDV’s blogging distasteful.  But don’t let that turn you off from finding out more about this viewpoint, there is much evidence in support of some of the non-political tenets of HBD…

While I like might like what you have expressed in the context of the arts, this is not the proper context that HBD lies in.  HBD itself is a scientific idea and the politics expressed at blogs like OneSTDV are responses to scientific data that question whether or not current social policies are doing more harm than good.  Even if he is wrong about the politics it would not make him wrong about the scientific findings that he uses to support his position.”

I also discovered the writings of a blogger named “John” at the sadly now-removed blog Stream of John, who also holds fairly liberal political views while still agreeing with the validity of “HBD”.  (I assume that he discovered my blog through reading OneSTDV)

Together, these two go to demonstrate a very interesting point: agreeing with the HBD hypothesis does not automatically determine one’s political beliefs.  After all, if these two can be liberals while still agreeing with the HBD view of things, it shows that there is no political philosophy that automatically follows from it.

Which is interesting, for it implies that OneSTDV and I would still have cause to quarrel even if one of us were somehow able to persuade the other on issues of race.  More broadly speaking, it shows that the divide between cosmopolitans and nationalists runs much deeper than even racial issues.

At bottom, these are whole philosophies of life that clash; they cannot be reduced to beliefs about race, or gender, or economics or any of the other issues.  The philosophical battle encompasses all of these.  If this hypothesis is correct, it in turn implies that there will never be consensus, and thus there is constant tension the political system.

President Obama–the same President Obama who is allegedly engaging in “class warfare” and supposedly out to tax “job-creators”–has announced a plan to “lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%.” Read all about it.

One thing to keep in mind before arguing about what this plan means is that it is a plan that is being proposed. Meaning that if anything ever does come of it, it will probably be completely different than it is now, once all the different interests have hashed it out.

But, just for fun, let’s talk about it. Apparently, idea is that in exchange for these tax cuts, “corporations would have to give up dozens of loopholes and subsidies that they now enjoy. Corporations with overseas operations would also face a minimum tax on their foreign earnings“, according to the Associated Press article.

Okay, but here’s the thing: ultimately whether it comes under the label “taxes”, “loopholes”, “subsidies” or what have you, there is ultimately only one question: do the corporations get more money as a result of this plan or less? I’d like to see some sort of estimated balance sheet that gives some idea whether corporations, if treated as a monolith, win or lose from this plan. I won’t hold my breath, though, because it’s going to be virtually impossible to get good reporting on that.

More to the point, even if you somehow did find that out, we would then have to drill down into the details of which corporations will lose and which will win, and then try to figure out if they’re the right ones. Which is always a gamble, because it’s basically the same problem as trying to pick winners. And then of course, as the AP article points out it is unlikely that any of this will happen in an election year, and thus, even assuming Obama does get re-elected, it’s unknown what the Congress will look like next year.

This is why the idea of getting rid of the whole tax code appeals to people. It appealed to me, in my Libertarian days, until I realized that since taxes in some form are necessary to run a government, there would have to be new one installed, and in the course of installing it, all the same problems would immediately recur.

While we’re on the topic, why is Obama doing this, if such a class-warrior he is? Is he just as beholden to the corporate interests as his Republican opponents. I don’t know, but I know some Democrats who are going to think so.

Long-time readers might remember when I asked the question “was Theodore Roosevelt a socialist?” I said at the time that I thought T.R. “was merely a pragmatist, and found that the easiest way to thwart radical socialism was to allow for moderate socialism.” The same argument could apply here, if we ask “is Obama out to aid the corporations?”* Well, yes, but not as much as the Republicans are. The easiest way to thwart radical corporate tax cuts is to allow for moderate ones.

 

*I did not ask “is Obama a Capitalist?” for reasons which are long and complicated. The short version is that, in my view, very few people can actually be said to be “capitalist”, as almost all countries, governments, and corporations engage in some scheme of artificial wealth redistribution, which, according to some Republicans makes them “socialist”. By their definition, almost everything short of anarchy is socialism. Also, of course, helping corporations isn’t quite the same as being a capitalist, but it’s not being a socialist either.

There’s an old story, probably apocryphal, that’s often told about Adlai Stevenson. Supposedly, at one of Stevenson’s campaign stops, a woman yelled to him “You have the vote of every thinking person!” To which, the story goes, Stevenson replied “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!

It’s the sort of story that resonates with any one who has any interest whatsoever in politics, at least now that Stevenson is so far back in history that he has ceased to have any power to divide people politically. Everyone always feels like their side–right though it undoubtedly is–is also an oppressed minority, overwhelmed by hordes of uninformed imbeciles motivated only by the propaganda of shadowy elites.

This is the view that is held both by the members of the Tea Party and by most of the people who oppose them. And I suppose this is so because it is partially correct–and necessarily so, given the way politics works in this country.

The Tea-Party is, as I have said before, a re-branding of the Republican party to make it seem more fresh and exciting, but most of all to dissociate it from the unpopular George W. Bush and his administration.

Now, this does not mean the Tea Party is quite the same thing as the Republican Party; obviously, from day one they have sought to purge anyone who shows any signs of compromising with the Democrats from the party’s ranks. They appear to be insistent on ideological purity.

Many Democrats have tried to label the Tea Party as an “astroturf” (fake grass-roots) operation, citing Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks organization and the work of the Koch Brothers. And they are to some extent correct, though I suspect every large movement and every mass demonstration has some wealthy backers, if anyone cares to check.

But what does the Tea Party, as an organization, want? Most people who are sympathetic to them have said they are a sort of Libertarian movement, which claims to want smaller government. Those who oppose them say that they are racists. The Tea Partiers deny this, saying they only oppose “Big Government”.

Data about what the members of the Tea Party think about certain issues are at odds with the slogans they yell. As I noted earlier, a majority of Tea Partiers think free trade is bad for the country. This is not exactly a Libertarian position. Yet they continue to argue for capitalism, and despise governmental attempts at economic intervention.

So from all this we are to gather that they are clamoring for a free market, nothing more. Yet so often they are found not talking about this stuff at all, but about “restoring honor to the country” and “American exceptionalism” and “taking their country back”. They are always dressed in super-patriotic garb, always waving the flag and talking of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. This is all complemented by a dose of fundamentalist Christianity–often with the implication that the Christian God blessed America specifically as the “greatest nation”.

This is, as I’ve said many times, nationalism. Not necessarily ethnic nationalism, as so many will infer. It may well be a completely non-racist, non-ethnically prejudiced nationalism, but nationalism it is nevertheless. The “Restoring Honor” rally held by the Tea Party’s much-beloved Glenn Beck was a cry for a return to National Greatness. The American exceptionalism talk means just what it says.

And the hatred of Obama? I think that much of it is not racially motivated. If you listen to the Tea Partiers, a chief complaint of theirs about Obama is that he supposedly “apologizes for America”. They want a President who will speak only of the greatness of America, a view which focuses solely on the positive things it has done. (At this point, they usually make some reference to the phrase “Shining City upon a Hill“.)

I believe Obama damned himself completely in the eyes of these Nationalists when he said, in response to being asked if he believed in American exceptionalism: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” This type of subjective thinking is wholly, dare I say it, foreign to the religious nationalist’s worldview.

In his otherwise excellent article on the Tea Party, Matt Taibbi wrote:

“It’s a mistake to cast the Tea Party as anything like a unified, cohesive movement — which makes them easy prey for the very people they should be aiming their pitchforks at. A loose definition of the Tea Party might be millions of pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC.” 

The second sentence is accurate to an extent–though some would couch it differently–but the first part seems blind to the fact that virtually everything the Tea Party movement does is filled with symbols of Americanism and references to American history–not necessarily accurate history, of course, but some romanticized version of it. The underlying theme of it all is a longing for National Pride and National Greatness.

So, the rank-and-file Tea Partiers are nationalists. They want to protect American jobs through protectionist measures, punish illegal immigrants, deny any mistakes made by America through history, and above all restore “National Greatness”. This is the will of the majority of Tea Party participants.

But, it must be remembered, these are only the foot soldiers, not the generals. “Theirs not to reason why“, they simply are carrying out the strategy laid out by the other aspect of the Tea Party: the businessmen who finance the whole thing.

This is where the Libertarian strain comes from. The people who fund the Tea Party have no interest in “National Greatness” either for the United States or for any other nation. They just want to be able to make deals to do business with China, or to keep costs down by not having too many environmental standards to comply with at their factories.

This is not the sort of thing most people would get on board with–largely because, as often as not, capitalism works in opposition to nationalism. (For example: sending American jobs over to China? No American nationalist could ever sign off on that, even if an economist justified it with Ricardian comparative advantage.) 

Hence, the need to on the one hand spread the Capitalist system while on the other giving the Nationalistic streak in the party something to distract it from the details of how the system works. Much better that the Nationalists should be told the government that is regulating the capitalists is “anti-American” than to try to defend the decidedly non-nationalistic behaviors of capitalism itself.

The late Conservative political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote of the “Davos Man“. Named for the site of the World Economic Forum, Huntington said such people “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations”.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing that Glenn Beck and his followers are always talking about, hinting at dark conspiracies to destroy the American way of life by international socialism. And, I suppose there is a kind of truth to it; though it isn’t really a secret conspiracy. (If it were, we wouldn’t hear about it.) The point, though, is that there are also international capitalists who have just as little interest in national loyalty, but who are willing to exploit it for their own sake.

This conclusion is somewhat unsatisfying, mostly because, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is precisely the kind of thing that everyone concludes about the opposing side, no matter who they are. And furthermore, it is because this is the sort of thing that naturally arises in our system of politics. The same sort of dynamic exists in the Democratic Party; and I’m sure if one looked one could find contradictions between the intellectuals at the top and the working-class rank-and-file.

If one is sympathetic to the overall goals of a party, one calls it a “compromise”, and hails the miraculous union of these viewpoints. But if one is unsympathetic, it is a “contradiction”, and a bizarre cabal with one side pulling the others’ strings.

In any case, however, this is my conclusion as to the structure and philosophy of the Tea Party. Feel free to critique it.

“The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction… The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”–George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Part 2.

Well, Darryl Campbell argues that people are getting what they already know out of reading Orwell’s books, and not in a good way. He writes:

“Never mind that, for most of his life, Orwell advocated nothing short of a socialist revolution in England! As far as these people were concerned, Orwell’s works amount to nothing more than an anti-government, anti-change screed.” 

“Orwell’s works… cannot really be understood without some semblance of historical and intellectual context.”

He argues persuasively, and I do agree that people may be reading more of libertarian philosophy into Nineteen Eighty-Four than was really Orwell’s intention. He was a bitter, disillusioned Socialist, not a Capitalist. However, I do disagree with Campbell on Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is not really political. It’s based off of the Soviet Union, but that’s just superficial. Really, it is about much deeper things than that. It is an allegory about human nature. And therefore it is, in my view, always relevant to any undertaking. Campbell argues that Orwell’s modern-day political opposites use Animal Farm‘s lines to oppose things Orwell himself would have supported. But of course! The point of Animal Farm was that even noble endeavors can go badly wrong.

(Hat Tip to Andrew Sullivan)