Thursday, March 2nd, 2023
Thursday, January 5th, 2023
At Charlie Hebdo’s brave beautiful #MullahsGetOut competition “every contestant won a place in hell”.
Friday, October 7th, 2022
Oh my, Walter Russell Mead joins Tyler Cowen for a rich brief hour, and they barely mention WRM’s new book Arc. While in print WRM can seem a bit mealy-mouthed, often it seems throat-clearing to not alienate those with whom he basically disagrees, here he comes out strong and hearty. And TC’s idiosyncratic method of firing off questions works with WRM because each one prompts such a rich answer that there’s little need for normal back and forth.
Sunday, October 2nd, 2022
The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People
Walter Russell Mead
Mearsheimer and Walt — three words that do not appear once in this 1045-page book but are clearly its raison d’etre. John Mearsheimer is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago; Stephen Walt is Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School; together they are the respectable face of American anti-Semitism, reputable enough that Walter Russell Mead seems unwilling to criticize them by name, despicable enough that their book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy infuriated our southern-born dean of foreign relations to work on this book for a dozen years or so.
The Wikipedia article on the Lobby book illustrates Mead’s Southern Gentleman approach; whereas Israeli historian Benny Morris says “their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity,” Mead applauds the authors for “admirably and courageously” initiating a conversation on a difficult subject, but more in sorrow than in anger laments that while their intentions are surely strictly honorable, they commit “easily avoidable lapses in judgment and expression.”
Making multiple approaches from multiple angles, Mead demolishes their central notion, giving it the withering moniker of Vulcanist thinking. (Actually I take issue a little with this label, because since the book is so long I forgot the elegant historical anecdote that originates it — a theory of astronomy that attempted to explain celestial workings by means of an undetected planet that doesn’t actually exis. Instead I mentally defaulted to popular culture, where Star Trek’s Vulcan is a stand-in for excessive logic — a characterization quite antithetical to his notion of Vulcanist thinking. This is a shame because the term therefore probably won’t catch on, which it could have perhaps as a shorthand for tendentious yet respectable and therefore ultimately even more ridiculous thinking.)
Especially enriching are his fleshing out of the geopolitical maneouverings among the US, Britain and Russia at the time of Israel’s founding. Important here for Mead’s thesis is that the legend of Truman’s Jewish friend from back in Missouri inveighing on the flummoxed President to recognize Israel be relegated to Queen Esther-echoing myth. For it is WRM’s contention in his chapter “Cyrus Agonistes” that American support for Israel is endemic to the United States, rather than due to the influence of the American Jewish lobby qua Walt and Mearsheimer — moreover it’s despite American Jews, whose leaders have for most of Israel’s history been actively working against a Jewish state, their energies only turning once America as a whole pursued full-throated support for Israel after it became the Middle East’s unambiguous Six Day War strong horse.
It’s also a helpful historical insight that WRM groups 19th century American support for Jewish return to Israel with support for the birth of the Italian and Greek nationstates:
In the ancient world, as Americans saw it, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews had been much like Americans of the nineteenth century. They were mostly agrarian people, nations of family-owned farms. They had free institutions and their societies were grounded in virtue. But corruption, urbanization, and monarchy had wreaked their ugly work; in time, all three of the ancient peoples fell from their virtue and freedom into slavery, superstition, and oppression.
As the nineteenth century progressed, and the Greek and Italian independence movements advanced, the possibility of a restored Jewish commonwealth also began to gleam on the horizon.
In fact the discussion of nationalism’s birth pangs from the empires of eastern Europe, the chapter entitled “Maelstrom”, is perhaps the richest part of the book.
As a columnist I have been irritated by what I perceive as WRM’s intellectual mealy-mouthedness. But as a full-throated podcast guest I realize this is merely his print persona, a tic I suppose similar to what he probably views as his Straussian icy politeness regarding Mearsheimer and Walt. That said, I took umbrage when in the book he referred to the Second Intifada, a wave of despicable terror attacks against Israel in the wake of the Oslo Agreements, using the BBC-like passive even-handed term: “violence flared”. I instantly recalled eyewitnessing the shellshock in the hours after the Dolphinarium suicide bombing that killed and maimed dozens of partying teenagers. I was only somewhat mollified later in the book when he mentioned this particular bombing by name, without mentioning that the victims were teenagers.
This is a book about America not Israel, and as well as constituting a scathing retort to Mearsheimer and Walt, is a continuation by other means of his 2001 book Special Providence that classifies the various streams of America’s foreign policy; in portraying America’s relationship with Israel, Arc explicates the fullest expression of the Jacksonian stream, a Meadian classification that, unlike Vulcanism, does seem to be sticking.
Friday, August 5th, 2022
The second most important country in the Western Alliance is almost detached from it, all by the apparently innocuous and meliorist actions of Germany’s peppiest environmentalists.
Conrad Black, Triumph of Davos Man
Saturday, July 30th, 2022
Nice on Nietzsche. And nice that reviewer John Gray mentions La Gaya Scienza as one of his best books. Time for a reread.
Wednesday, June 8th, 2022
Tuesday, March 15th, 2022
The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia have met with President Volodymy Zelenskyy. The glimmerings perhaps of a significant new bloc.
Friday, March 4th, 2022
Tuesday, March 1st, 2022
Russia, as parlance goes, is too big to fail; we need to forge it an off-ramp from this horrific self-inflicted disaster, as Commentary’s Noah Rothman argues in “What if Russia loses”, Sam Altman of YCombinator tweets, and presumably plenty of other smart people are saying.
Putin though is probably not quite ready to take it, thinking he may yet regain the military upper hand, as attested by the lengthy convoys headed today to Kyiv. He may then as Putin biographer Anita Hill fears, savvily offer the delectable compromise of partitioning Ukraine, wherein he gets the east and others can divvy up the rest. Joe Biden has after all a predilection for territorial break-up — he thought it right for Iraq.
Fortunately it seems we are well beyond Europe countenancing such temptations; Germany has reoriented around the danger emanating from Russia, the UK is acting on what it called it “a catastrophe on our continent” [emphasis mine], and a myriad of surprising others are joining the fray each in their way (Switzerland, Finland, etc).
Also, it does seem self-evident that Vlad the Mad has lost some of the faculties he’s had up to now, so that such diplomatic savvy might never be forthcoming from him. As of now, Russian diplomatic efforts in such forums as the United Nations are of the Baghdad Bob sort even as the Ukrainians are performing masterfully, not just spreading the word but showing Westerners (and probably everyone else): we’re your sort of people — more, we’re the sort of people you hope you are.
Once again, the West must win firmly, though this time — unlike after the collapse of its Soviet Union guise — there should be effective stroking of Russia’s vanities.
Monday, February 28th, 2022
At last, Mark Steyn is writing again.
I take faint glimmers of a new seriousness in the chancelleries of Europe not as a sign of Nato “unity”, but as the dawning realization that the US has blown the last thirty years and they’re now in a post-American world, and, absent course-correction, ultimately on the same grim trajectory as Ukraine.
Saturday, February 26th, 2022
At /r/interestingasfuck, President of Ukraine Zelensky plays piano without his hands. As humanity rallies to ballsy Ukraine, it seems Putin has lost already?
Friday, February 11th, 2022
Radical Protestantism leads the pilgrim from the “howling wilderness” and the “enchanted ground” of the Old World and leads him to the Canaan of the spirit. The question is addressed to, and answered by, the individual pilgrim. The Jew is born into the people of Israel; the Christian seeks adoption into the Israel of the Spirit. American Christianity retains the radical individualism of its Protestant forebears, who chose as individuals to become Americans. We have become Americans by adoption, and we have adopted the history of Israel as our national common memory. A profound parallelism is involved. The biblical Election of Israel was not a prize that God awarded to an unlikely nation of shepherds, but rather the outcome of Israel’s free choice to accept the Torah and the responsibility of election. It is our free choice to become Americans that is the cornerstone of our culture.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2022
eVTOL Innovation YouTube channel extols the Lilium as the most promising of the upcoming ways we will fly.
Wednesday, January 12th, 2022
In the very-nicely-titled online review Crooked Marquee, Jason Bailey does justice to Wes Anderson’s fabulous new The French Dispatch:
Charmingly, this film that loves writers is also one of Anderson’s most lavishly directed – which is, I know, saying something … Anderson’s films have also become a welcome opportunity for serious actors to let their hair down – Tilda Swinton is clearly having a blast.
Yes indeed, The French Dispatch is a box of supercandy for grownups. Modern works seem to take it as part of their mission to be the supreme work; even if doomed to fail, there’s an understanding that a serious attempt elevates everything. (Or, as Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I don’t design a house without reimagining the social order.”) The French Dispatch is a contender for one thing it is an ode to other mediums: typography, cooking, France, the written word. All that and the title triggers “The French Mistake”…).
And looking around again at reviews, actually again it’s David Brody who treats it most appropriately, so bloody enthusiastic that he retells parts of it, which seems rather a faux pas for his critical stature. Brody reminds us at the end that yes, it is a screenplay that flows with noble emotion, exquisitely portrayed. And in the end he compares Anderson with Hemingway. See, what did I tell you…
Friday, November 5th, 2021
Walter Russell Mead points out that the USA and EU are progressing towards trade deals at the expense of China. This is a grand thing, a major story, that I’m not seeing reported anywhere else at all.
Tuesday, October 26th, 2021
Hijinks for the practicing intellectualoid: Mansfield on Machiavelli, acknowledging the Florentin’s modernity paternity.
Friday, July 9th, 2021
A voice new to me, David E. Bernstein, gives a fresh and concise viewpoint on the tired topic of why so many love to hate on Israel, providing separate reasons for the disparate groups. For Christians:
Christian critics of Israel so often accuse Jews of not learning anything from the Holocaust; in their mind, the Holocaust is a story about Christian sin and possible redemption via the actions of the victims; the fate of the Jewish people as a people is at best irrelevant.
Mohammed started his empire with limited territory and a small army, only to expand throughout the Middle East and North Africa. There is undoubtedly some latent fear that Israel is a camel’s nose under the tent for Jewish expansionism. This of course misunderstands Zionism and Judaism, but the average Muslim knows little about Judaism.
Friday, May 14th, 2021
This feels important — Austria flies Israel’s flag alongside its own and the EU’s over the Chancellory in Vienna.
Monday, February 15th, 2021
Howard Oakley provides this survey of paintings of trains.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Ross Douthat in his typical perfect way essays on American childbearing in the really nice magazine Plough.
Sunday, January 26th, 2020
Wednesday, December 18th, 2019
Counterintuitive arguments from the redoubtable Ambrose Evans-Pritchard that Boris’s ascension reduces the plausibility of Scottish secession from the UK.
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
“Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict” — the inaugural James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Lecture in Economic Inequality at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics by Thomas Piketty (March 30th, 2018).
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
AutoCar drives the electric Jaguar I-Pace from London to Frankfurt. As recently as two years ago such a journey simply wasn’t feasible. Now, once you have the more expensive car, it’s much cheaper than driving diesel let alone petrol. That said, charging stops are an hour rather than five minutes, and every 200 miles rather than say every 500. But I think there is some good here. Travellers must get out and stretch their legs for a longer while. All in all our automotive future looks improved.
Sunday, September 8th, 2019
I want to ride the Goldenpass Express, a Swiss panoramic train designed by Pininfarina.
Friday, March 15th, 2019
Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2018 [PDF] by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Sunday, December 16th, 2018
The nine totally must-read lessons of Brexit by Ivan Rogers, who was fired as Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union for stating some of these truths. Abject.
Thursday, October 25th, 2018
British influence in the EU has been far greater than recognised, this piece argues. If this was better understood in Britain — and if, say, the BBC had devoted a couple of hours a week to pure Europe news — I’m guessing Britons would be much more pro-Europe today and the Brexit own-goal would not have occurred.
Tuesday, July 10th, 2018
A German court has issues the first GDPR ruling, reports The National Law Review. It concerns ICANN, the American non-profit that oversees the global WHOIS database of registered internet domain names, and German registrar EPAG.
Sunday, June 17th, 2018
Michael Chabon on Finnegan’s Wake .
As my year of diving languorously into the murky waters of the Wake wore on, I came to feel that it was this failure, this impossibility, this grand futility of the Wake, that constituted its secret theme, its true aboutness.
Thursday, May 31st, 2018
The Dawn of Day
This is a delicious book to pick up in spurts — BMW punchy as Emerson is Rolls-Royce bubbly — but I couldn’t say what it’s chiefly about, where it starts, where it ends, how it fits in with Nietzsche’s other books, nor whether I’ve even read it before (I do remember particular points but perhaps they’re also mentioned in the other books). As usual this 19th-century giant sounds as if he writes… this morning.
Sunday, April 1st, 2018
What did Jews tend to die of? The entry on morbidity in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906.
Friday, March 30th, 2018
When Galileo looked up at the night sky with his new-fangled teslescope one profound effect was the dislodging of the nonsensical metaphysical notion from Aquinas of the perfection of the stars.
Sunday, January 21st, 2018
“A gifted mimic, he nonetheless eschews regional accents for comic effect.” Dean Allen, RIP by his friend Om Malik. I used Allen’s work to type this very link; he invented Textile, a method for writing HTML (now superceded in mindshare by John Gruber’s Markdown). See also Gruber’s and Jason Kottke’s eulogies.
Saturday, December 30th, 2017
In Mosaic, Martin Kramer tells the tale, set over lunch in Ein Kerem, of the closest Jerusalem ever got to internationalization. (At one point I found the internationalization of Jerusalem a heady and exciting notion—providing of course that the UN move its HQ there.) A most vivid history op-ed piece.
Monday, December 11th, 2017
There has never been a West European post-Second World War policy in [the Middle East] except to await the American position and then stake out something more favourable to the Arabs.
Conrad Black, “The Palestinians should take what they can get while they can”
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Ivan Rogers, the UK’s Permanent Representative to the EU during David Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister, speaks to the events leading up to the Brexit referendum. There’s so much detail, and we see where Cameron was succeeding, but nonetheless a failure happened here.
Tuesday, October 24th, 2017
On the crippling ambivalence throughout the British Government as it feels compelled to implement Brexit. Something’s got to give.
Spengler (David Goldman) on the irony that Europe’s new rightwing nationalists admire Israel.
Monday, September 25th, 2017
In a nice interview about his book, the great Yanis Varoufakis reviews what happened during the Greek bailout negotiations.
Tuesday, July 4th, 2017
Robots don’t eat chocolate. James Meek weaves a rich tale of Cadbury’s moving its chocolate factory from Bristol in England to Skarbimierz in Poland. We get EU politics, British commercial history and contemporary Polish politics. It’s a microcosm of the economic game of musical chairs happening in our era. [via Tyler Cowen’s marginalrevolution.com]
Sunday, June 25th, 2017
As an antidote to the borderline smarminess of Jason Horowitz’s New York Times article about returning to Rome, here is a more substantial, dignified, rewarding and useful guide to visiting the city by a blogger named Nan Quick: My Recipe for a Stress-Free Week in Rome. Warning: she takes a couple of paragraphs to warm up.
Saturday, June 24th, 2017
He had me with his first-paragraph mention of Trattoria Da Enzo, my favorite. I’ve forwarded to visitors this panegyric to Rome by the incoming New York Times’ bureau chief. A lot of attractive restaurants mentioned and described. [via Juan Carlos Bronstein, who was unimpressed by the tone, as are many others in the comments]
Friday, June 23rd, 2017
Tainted and beloved: Terry Teachout on the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras’ participation in the Nazi project..
Saturday, April 22nd, 2017
This is fascinating: Turks residing in liberal Europe voted far more heavily for Erdogan’s authoritarian referendum — about 70/30 — than did Turks at home, about 50/50. Far less still did Turks in the USA and the UK vote for it — about 84% and 80% against respectively. A measure of ideological/cultural integration?
Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
Albeit behind Iran, Israel squeaks onto Walter Russell Mead’s list of the Great Eight Powers of 2017. It’s amazing that only one European country makes it here.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2017
Ian Buruma on Brussels. I found it a pretty exciting city so when I saw this article I jumped on it (plus I vaguely remember being impressed by something else this fellow wrote) and it’s pretty sweeping and fun.
Monday, October 17th, 2016
Visiting Poland, George Weigel articulates the current civilizational crisis.
Monday, September 12th, 2016
Now that I’ve joined eyeem.com, I was attracted to this article on Instagram and art history. “Today, we look at Instagram feeds with the same level of scrutiny as the Renaissance merchants who converted their Madonnas into ducats.” He argues persuasively and enjoyably that we are being just like Amsterdam burghers.