‘The Death of Expertise’: Tom Nichols offers great read for understanding our slow-motion cultural implosion

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A book called The Death of Expertise came out not too long ago. The best way to describe it for regular readers of this blog is as follows: It’s as if author Tom Nichols read my mind and then put all my disparate thoughts on Western civilization’s slow-motion car crash into a nice package. His understanding of how modern technology, social media, and left-wing academics exacerbate the problem is, unfortunately for future generations, on point.

I spend a lot of time on social media for work, and over the years I have seen a disturbing trend take place on the internet and college campuses. A toxic brew of left-wing “social justice” indoctrination on American campuses mixed with digital echo chambers, available to men and women of all political stripes, slowly boiled. (We’ve seen the effects of this during the U.S. presidential inauguration protests, the Berkeley riots, and the insanity at Evergreen State College in Washington state.)

Mr. Nichols, however, is one of the few people I’ve seen who has a firm grasp of the dangerous social dynamics at play beneath the surface. Like your friendly neighborhood blogger, he seems to think a miracle is needed to stave off an ugly future.

“I fear we are witnessing the death of the ideal of expertise itself, a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers — in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.

Attacks on established knowledge and the subsequent rash of poor information in the general public are sometimes amusing. Sometimes they’re even hilarious.  Late-night comedians have made a cottage industry of asking people questions that reveal their ignorance about their own strongly held ideas, their attachment to fads, and their unwillingness to admit their own cluelessness about current events. […] When life and death are involved, however, it’s a lot less funny. […]

The overall trend is one of ideological segregation enabled by the ability to end a friendship with a click instead of a face-to-face discussion.

Underlying much of this ill temper is a false sense of equality and the illusion of egalitarianism created by the immediacy of social media. I have a Twitter account and a Facebook page, and so do you, so we’re peers, aren’t we? After all, if a top reporter at a major newspaper, a diplomat at the Kennedy School, a scientist at a research hospital, and your Aunt Rose from Reno all have an online presence, then all of their viewers are just so many messages speeding past your eyes. Every opinion is only as good as the last posting on a home page.

In the age of social media, people using the Internet assume that everyone is equally intelligent or informed merely by virtue of being online. — Tom Nichols,The Death of Expertise (Oxford University Press, 2017). Pages 3, 129.

Boom.

Across every personal and professional level of my life I have witnessed the proliferation of this mentality. Google gives people a false sense superiority. A five-second search that allows a man to throw out a random factoids convinces him that he’s an expert when, in reality, his depth of breadth of knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Social media offers a one-two punch of perniciousness: It encourages people to dehumanize the guy on the other side of the screen while simultaneously fostering false pride and moral superiority. That, dear reader, is a recipe for violence.

Mr. Nichols’ book is by no means perfect (he sometimes shows off his own ideological blind spots by unfairly framing certain political issues), but it is still highly worth your time. It’s the perfect book to sit down with for a few hours by the pool or at the beach. Check it out if you want to better understand our widening political divide, or if you just like slightly terrifying reading material.

‘Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging’: Junger’s must-read explains why America is tearing itself apart

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Roughly 17 years ago I exited the military after a stint as a mechanized infantryman in the U.S. Army. Even though the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the nation’s “long war” had not yet begun, I found myself having a difficult time with the transition to civilian life. Understanding why I missed my old platoon — and why I felt a growing fear and sadness for the country I loved — took years (and a blog like this) to figure out, but author and former war reporter Sebastian Junger articulates it all in his must-read book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

Americans who have not lived under a rock for the past 20 years have witnessed the slow-motion implosion of our culture.

  • Cable news pundits obsessively talk of “red states” and “blue states.”
  • The politics of personal destruction reigns supreme.
  • Saying “all lives matter” is interpreted in a Twilight Zone-ish twist by millions of people as somehow racist.
  • Americans watch carefully constructed social-media feeds that tell them all Republicans are the equivalent of Darth Vader, or that all Democrats have shrines to Fidel Castro in their bedroom.

In short, the modern world is deficient in something that is causing tens-of-millions of people to feel isolated, alone, and empty. The void is filled with confusion, and that in turn fuels the kind of anger and hate that was the hallmark of the 2016 election cycle.

Why is it that many soldiers and civilians who have lived through war sometimes get nostalgic for it?

What are the consequences for society when a person “living in a modern city or suburb can, for the first time in history, go through an entire day — or an entire life — mostly encountering complete strangers”?

Why are we often surrounded by others, yet “feel deeply, dangerously alone”?

One of the answers can be found in tribal societies. And no, your friendly neighborhood blogger is not saying Native Americans should have won the clash of civilizations at our nation’s inception. I am merely saying, like Mr. Junger, that we can learn from their ability to provide “the three pillars of self-determination — autonomy, competence, and community.”

Mr. Junger writes:

“After World War II, many Londoners claimed to miss the exciting and perilous days of the Blitz. (“I wouldn’t mind having an evening like it, say, once a week — ordinarily there’s no excitement,” one man commented to Mass-Observation about the air raids), and the war that is missed doesn’t even have to be a shooting war: “I am a survivor of the AIDS epidemic,” an American man wrote in 2014 on the comment board of an online lecture about war. “Now that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, I must admit that I miss those days of extreme brotherhood…which led to deep emotions and understandings that are above anything I have felt since the plague years.”

What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender. There are obvious stresses on a person in a group, but there may be even greater stresses on a person in isolation, so during disasters there is a net gain in well-being. Most primates, including humans, are intensely social, and there are very few instances of lone primates surviving in the wild. …

Whatever the technological advances of modern society — and they’re near miraculous — the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.” — (Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2016), 92-93.

Tribe covers issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety among combat veterans, but it would be a big mistake to solely think of it as a book for the military community. It is much more than that, because it is a blueprint for getting the nation on a path to cultural healing.

The author continues:

“The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs — and, more broadly, over liberal and conservative thought — will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.

So how do you unify a secure, wealthy country that has sunk into a zero-sum political game with itself? How do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place? […] I put the question to Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. …

“if you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different — you underscore your shared humanity,” she told me. “I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?” […]

Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves. (127-128).

Tribe is by no means “the” answer to the nation’s deep-seated cultural problems, but it is a significant piece of the puzzle. To get a good look at the big picture, I suggest pairing Mr. Junger’s quick-read with George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic. Each book provides a template for transcending dead-end partisan bickering, and in turn getting America efficiently focused on  becoming a more-perfect union.

France bans Down Syndrome ad from TV because smiling kids might ‘disturb’ women who had an abortion

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Years ago I was a substitute teacher just outside Chicago. There were days when I had the opportunity to join special education classes, which included kids with Down Syndrome. I am not lying when I say that those were some of the best kids I ever had the privilege to meet.

Given that experience, you can see one of the many reasons why a story out of France caught my eye just before Thanksgiving.  It turns out that a commercial by CoorDown titled “Dear Future Mom” is now officially banned from the airwaves. The reason? It might “disturb the conscience” of women who elected to have an abortion.

The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on the story Wednesday:

“Abortion is legal in most of Europe, but its proponents are bent on suppressing efforts to change the minds of mothers considering it. Witness France’s ban on a television commercial showing happy children with Down Syndrome (DS).

Produced to commemorate World Down Syndrome Day, the commercial showed several cheerful children with DS addressing a mother considering abortion. “Dear future mom,” says one, “don’t be afraid.” “Your child will be able to do many things,” says another. “He’ll be able to hug you.” “He’ll be able to run toward you.” “He’ll be able to speak and tell you he loves you.”

France’s High Audiovisual Council removed the commercial from air earlier this year, and in November the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, upheld the ban, since the clip could ‘disturb the conscience’ of French women who had aborted DS fetuses.”

Ask yourself this question: If French courts are permitted to ban a television commercial that features smiling kids because it might “disturb the conscious” of some viewers, then what is off limits?

Answer: Nothing.

Whether you agree or disagree with abortion, then I hope you can see just how incredibly terrifying this court’s logic is from a free-speech and religious liberty perspective. People often behave like the liberties enjoyed by the western world will be around forever, but that is not the case.

“But Doug!” you said, “Why should we care about France? We sort of expect that kind of thing from the French and Europe as a whole, right?”

The truth, sadly, is that every nation has Thought Police — even the U.S.

One merely needs to check out BuzzFeed’s hit piece on the hosts of HGTV’s hit series Fixer Upper. Writer Kate Aurthur founder herself a juicy target to destroy because a popular married couple is suspected of a Mind Crime. That’s why she wrote “Chip And Joanna Gaines’ Church Is Firmly Against Same-Sex Marriage.”

Shocker — Christian family belongs to a church that does not approve of homosexual relationships.

Perhaps Allahpundit over at Hotair put it best:

“The BuzzFeed piece is proof that we’re past the persuasion stage now in the culture wars, particularly as regards gay rights, and into the bludgeoning stage, where the left feels secure enough in its gains to try to strongarm the holdouts.”

Boom.

In France, smiling kids with Down Syndrome cannot appear on television. In America, Christian couples with hit television shows have giant websites trying to find ways to destroy their career.

In France, powerful legal councils keep you off the air if you  disturb the conscience of women who had an abortion. In America, liberal reporters will try to derail your television career if you “disturb the conscious” of secular Democrats.

And with that, I will leave you with a quote by John Philpot Curran:

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” — John Philpot Curran.

If you do not think you have anything to learn from men who were born in the 1700s, then think again.

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Orwellian ‘Fake News’ claims on D.C. sex-trafficking story exposes true liars and deceivers

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“PizzaGate” is now being picked up by major media outlets. There is no denying it now that The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Fox News affiliates in the nation’s capital have filed reports. That is the good news. The bad news is that they are liars and deceivers of the highest magnitude.

For those who are new to the story surrounding Comet Ping Pong, WikiLeaks, Washington’s 49th “Most Powerful” man and the Podesta brothers, here is the quick run-down:

  • WikiLeaks revealed roughly 50,000 stolen emails belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Some of those emails revealed that he had very bizarre friends and often seemed to really, really, really like “pizza.”
  • Individuals on Reddit, 4chan, YouTube, and other websites started looking into John and Tony Podesta’s connections (Tony is one of the biggest lobbyists in D.C. and has an art collection that features nude teenagers). One of those indiviuals was No. 49 on the GQ’s “Most Powerful” individuals, James Alefantis.
  • Mr. Alefantis (former boyfriend of Correct the Record’s David Brock) owns Comet Ping Pong in Washington, D.C. The establishment next to his business is another pizza place called Besta Pizza, which until the past few weeks had a pizza logo that was a dead-ringer for a symbol that law-enforcement agencies warn is favored by pedophiles. The guy who owns Besta Pizza worked under Bill Clinton in the Department of Justice investigating human trafficking, sex crimes, etc.
  • Mr. Alefantis’ Comet Pizza Instagram account and the accounts of his employees featured highly troubling images for a “kid-friendly” and “family friendly” establishment. (That is how the company bills itself. That is not my opinion.)
  • Comet Ping Pong features entertainers who are weirdly obsessed with sex. It has commissioned promotional work to a woman whose portfolio includes blatant imagery of sex abuse of children.
  • Those investigating this on the internet say this is clear evidence that warrants an investigation. They have been accused of creating “Fake News” by every major media outlet that has covered the story.

Read the following articles and then ask yourself why all of them either completely avoided linking to publicly available images, or weirdly tried to make it sound like this was all a partisan thing started by Donald Trump fans.

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This is not about Donald Trump. This is about innocent children. This is about teenagers who are lured into an establishment with grown men who make it crystal clear what kind of “pizza” is on the menu.

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Honest reporters do not shout “Fake! Fake! Fake! Fake! Fake!” That is not how it’s done.

James Alefantis and his employees do not get to post sexually explicit material all over the internet and then play the victim when people start talking about it, sharing the images, and wondering what the heck goes on at these late-night events featuring “Sex Stains.”

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Americans who are revolted by YouTube videos of Comet Ping Pong performers making comments about pedophilia (i.e., “We all have … preferences.”) are not “fevered.” Their outrage is healthy because normal people don’t take little kids to that kind of “performance.”

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What is going on between the media and those who are taking down publicly available material is insidious. This needs to be clearly explained so there is no mistaking what is happening.

  • There is a systematic effort to cast anyone who is upset about this as a weirdo or a “conspiracy theorist.”
  • By making it impossible or near-impossible to actually find the evidence, the media shrinks the pool of people who know the truth. When that happens, righteous anger sounds like the ranting and raving of lunatics.
  • When the rest of the population cannot see the evidence, they are inclined to believe the media because to do otherwise would require confronting evil.
  • The practical effect of all this is that anyone with integrity within the media is discouraged from doing the right thing because they do not want to lose their jobs, be seen as kooks, audited by the IRS, confronted by corrupt law enforcement officials, or wind up dead.

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You are being manipulated, and the manipulation is not being done by your fellow Americans on Reddit. It is being done by powerful people in the nation’s capital and their friends in places like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg News, and Fortune magazine.

The mainstream media is corrupt.

Do not take anything they tell you at face value.

“Fact Checkers” are partisan hacks and “Fake News” is a euphemism for “Opinions or Facts We In The Mainstream Media Do Not Like or Want to Cover.

If you do not realize and accept this, then you will continue to live in a world where “kid-friendly” pizza places can promote “Shut up N F*ck Men” without repercussions. That is not just unacceptable — it is evil.

Exit Question: Would you bring your child to a “Sex Stains” show? The reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Times apparently would, since this is all one big “Fake News” story.

Dan Slott deactivates Twitter over ‘pro-Trump’ rhetoric, joins Humberto Ramos in self-imposed safe space

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If there were stocks in safe spaces, then Donald Trump’s presidential election would send them through the roof. The Nov. 8 election forced artist Humberto Ramos to run for the “blue” hills last week, and now Marvel writer Dan Slott has deactivated his account due to “pro-Trump” rhetoric (i.e., there are more people standing up to Dan’s obsessive political tweets — even after endless rounds of blocking people — than his mind can handle).

Marvel’s lead scribe for The Amazing Spider-Man informed his Facebook followers on Monday that he has so little self control that his best option for Twitter right now is to “remove the temptation.”

Mr. Slott claims Donald Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon, is a “white nationalist,” but as usual he provides no credible evidence to back his claims.

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To make such inflammatory charges would be like this blog discussing Dan Slott’s own history of bigoted statements towards Christians without linking to the evidence. But since this blog is concerned with backing up its claims there will always be links, videos and screenshots for readers to consider.

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Dan Slott telling Christians who just won a case at the U.S. Supreme Court to go to “Christ-Land” is just as bad as CNN contributor Van Jones saying Donald Trump was elected president by a “whitelash,” but activist-writers are master practitioners of selective moral outrage.

Question: What would Dan Slott’s reaction be if two years from now Democrats perform well during midterm elections and Steve Bannon refers to their “blacklash” performance?

Question: What would Dan Slott’s reaction be if two years from now a Jewish group wins a case at the U.S. Supreme Court and Steve Bannan tells them to go to “Jew-ville”?

The answer in both cases is that Dan Slott would lose his mind on social media and cite the man’s words as proof-positive that he is a monster.

The reason why activist-creators in the comic industry and Hollywood are melting down before your eyes is not necessarily because Donald Trump will be the 45th commander in chief.

What really upsets these people is that Mr. Trump’s commanding victory has emboldened millions of Americans to finally — finally — push back against the endless charges of racism and bigotry leveled their way over mere differences in opinion.

My suggestion to readers for the day Dan Slott inevitably returns to Twitter is to continue defending your position, no matter how many different ways he tries to impugn your character. He will either block you (take it as a badge of honor), or retreat once again into a safe-space of like-minded peers.

Maybe Dan Slott and Joss Whedon can plot a coup together, even though we both know they would never be on the front lines…

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Humberto Ramos goes full safe-space baby after Trump win, won’t travel to ‘red’ states

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The 2016 U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump is not even one week old and it is already paying cultural dividends. The very same people who for months worried about the sanity of the Mr. Trump’s supporters are melting down. Hollywood activists like Joss Whedon are using coup-like rhetoric, protesters are destroying private property, and Safe Space America advocates are terrified because voters would not allow them to turn the nation into a giant college campus.

And then we have artist Humberto Ramos, a man who so desperately wants a safe space that he is refusing to attend conventions in “red states.”

His Nov. 11 Facebook post is one for the ages, but for all the wrong reasons.

Continue on, dear reader, as I break it down into its many embarrassing elements.

“I remember my first trip to the USA as a life changing event, it was 1992 and for the first time I arrived to the land of opportunity, where dreams come true. I felt I got to the place where everything was possible if you work hard for it, so I did and that hard work paid off as a wonderful career filled with success and personal pride for the achievements accomplished but no professional goal could even get close to what it is to me the thing I thank the most about my job, the amazing chance to meet people from a different country, a different culture and background a different language who became my friends, people both colleagues and fans who honored me with their sincere friendship and love, their care and warmth. Every single time I’ve step into the USA I felt at home some of people I get to see at every show I am invited to have slowly but strongly turn into my second family, some of them I even get to see them more frequently than my blood family, I always felt welcome to the USA until last Wednesday, November 9.”

Humberto Ramos came to the U.S. decades ago with the idea that The American Dream was attainable — and within a short amount of time his theory was verified through hard work and determination. He felt nothing but “care and warmth” from the vast majority Americans.

“I, as well as the rest of the world witnessed with more sadness than horror how that map in the TV screen turned red a color that means stop, danger or beware I couldn’t believe my eyes. I understand politics and also understand that every single person is entitled to a political orientation which I can agree with or not, I have dear close friends whose political orientation is the total opposite to mine, I’ve always respected that and will keep respecting because I strongly believe this is the only way this insane world can heal…. through respect.”

The artist acknowledges that he has met many “red state” friends, who have done nothing but wish him the best in his personal and professional endeavors.

 “I understand the needs and the urge for a change in a way that make us hope for a better future to our families, believe me, we in Mexico sadly know that better than no one else. I respect when you choice for a fresh new approach, I respect the right for this country I admire to vote different from what us outside the USA wish. but when the new elected president’s very first campaign speech address me, a Mexican who constantly visit your country I can’t but take his sayings as a personal offense, when he said Mexicans where …. well, all the things he said I thought: nobody will take this guy for real, I thought he will say he crossed the line an apologize, I thought he as a candidate for a respectful party will moderate ….. never happened.”

Yes, Donald Trump’s Republican primary speech certainly addressed Mexicans. What Mr. Ramos leaves out is that the future president-elect was talking about people who are entering the country illegally.

The Washington Post reported June 16, 2015:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting. And it only makes common sense. It only makes common sense. They’re sending us not the right people.

It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably — probably — from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.

Reasonable people have concluded that Mr. Trump did a horrible job articulating his point, but he was clearly talking about illegal immigration and the problems that come from having no control over the southern border. Humberto Ramos apparently cannot make a distinction between legal and illegal entry into the United States, but at least 60 million Americans (many of them Hispanic) had no trouble doing so on Nov. 8.

Mr. Ramos continued:

 “After witnessing the USA election I will be respectful of the decision taken and I will keep respecting your country, your people and your laws, but also and above all I respect myself and my country and I don’t take for granted Mr. Trump’s speech and the people to hear it and embrace it, I know when I’m not welcome and I won’t expose myself to be offended or mistreated, there is no need.

So I want to communicate that four at least the next 4 years I decide NOT to attend to any conventions that take place in the red states, those states who voted for Mr. Trump, those states where I am clearly not welcome.

For the fans. I ask your understanding and support. Hey, we can meet in many shows across your beautiful country but please understand I can’t go to a house I’m not being invited, the vote clearly says that.”

Your friendly neighborhood blogger lives in a “blue” state and has “blue”-favoring relatives, but I am not actively looking for a new home or avoiding family members.

Unlike Mr. Ramos, I am mature enough to understand that just because someone favors a different public policy than me, it does not mean I am “not welcome” in their presence.

“One last thing, I love the USA and I love your people, those who share love and care, to all you we from the world beg you, don’t let the bullying an hatred win, we stand with you … make America great. Yes, you can.”

That is great advice, but it seems as though it should be applied to left-wing activists like Joss Whedon.

“This is simple: Trump cannot CANNOT be allowed a term in office,” the Save The Day Super PAC creator tweeted Monday. “It’s not about 2018. It’s about RIGHT NOW.”

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Question: Who should Humberto Ramos fear more — Donald Trump, who only wants to deport people who entered the country illegally while millions of others respect our immigration laws, or guys like Joss Whedon?

All sovereign nations have immigration laws (do a little homework on how Mexico treats immigrants from Latin America), but not all of them have millionaire Hollywood activists who use coup rhetoric when elections don’t go their way. One would think Mr. Whedon would be a bit more responsible with his words now that dozens of arrests have been made in Portland, Oregon, due to destruction wrought by left-wing protesters.

Finally, this post would not be complete without mentioning Dan Slott (who seemingly deactivated his Twitter account Monday because he too needs a temporary safe space from all the Donald Trump news out there).

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Ask yourself this question: Is it more likely that upon hearing news that Donald Trump would be the 45th commander in chief that racist white people got into their Dukes of Hazzard cars and attacked Muslims, or that most reports were stupid college kids exaggerating the facts, political fights that got out of hand, and outright hoaxes?

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The reason why the Dan Slotts of the world cannot take this new political reality has little to do with anything truly scary about Donald Trump. A political earthquake happened that makes normal people reexamine their existing assumptions about the world, but Dan Slott and his friends are ideologues. Therefore, they have decided to double down on the “Trump is Hitler … Trump is Darth Vader” theory that has been peddled for months.

If I see Mr. Ramos sometimes in the near future within my “blue” state, then I will have two words for him: “Grow up.”

Podesta’s ‘Spirit Cooking’ ignored by mainstream media while pundits still bring up Nancy Reagan’s astrology

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Your friendly neighborhood blogger has heard people in political conversations — for years — bring up how “weird” it was that Nancy Reagan believed in astrology and what implications it might have for the country since her husband was the commander in chief. This week, however, the mainstream media ran as fast as possible away from a WikiLeaks reveal that Hillary Clinton’s right-hand man, John Podesta — and his Clinton-bundler D.C. lobbyist brother Tony — are good friends with Marina Abramovic. She is the “performance artist” who has a passion for getting naked, cutting herself, and doing all sorts of bizarre things with sperm and blood.

Translation: Republican wife who thinks there may be something to astrology = Scandalous. Liberal elite rings who think “Spirit Cooking” and blood mixtures painted on golems (clay figures used during religious ceremonies) is normal = non-story.

Earlier this week I was sifting through WikiLeaks files when I ran across an invitation from Tony Podesta to his brother John to attend a “Spirit Cooking” dinner with Ms. Abramovic (i.e., the lady who gets upset on Twitter when she’s accused of being into satanic rituals despite creating an @AbramovicM666 account).

“Are you in NYC Thursday July 9 Marina wants you to come to dinner Mary?” — Tony Podesta, June 28, 2015.

“Dear Tony, I am so looking forward to the Spirit Cooking dinner at my place. Do you think you will be able to let me know if your brother is joining? All my love, Marina.”  — Marina Abramovic, June 25, 2015.

These people are obviously good friends. This is how you speak with your inner circle. Therefore, it is newsworthy that someone who will literally be able to whisper in the ear of the commander in chief if Hillary Clinton is elected president hangs out with freaks.

Here is what the New York Times said of Ms. Abramovic on Nov. 1:

“You will need to be able to withstand a great deal of conversation about clairvoyants and tarot cards and didgeridoos and kundalini life forces and monks and gurus and ‘how the soul can leave the body through the center of the fontanel of the head’ to make it very far in this memoir. …

Ms. Abramovic reports in ‘Walk Through Walls’ that under the right circumstances, she can foresee world events,” the newspaper wrote. “‘I dreamed of an earthquake in Italy: 48 hours later, there was an earthquake in southern Italy. I had a vision of someone shooting the Pope: 48 hours later, someone tried to shoot Pope John Paul II.’”

Ask yourself this question: Who are your friends and what do you guys do on the weekend? Do you fill tubs with blood-like goo and naked women and then eat from their bodies, or do you go to a steakhouse and have fun over a few beers?

Ask yourself this question: Why does Hillary Clinton’s inner circle include Anthony Weiner — a man who is under FBI investigation for sexual messages to a teenage girl; Bill Clinton (need I say more?); and people who think Marina Abramovic’s naked self-mutilation and occult “art” is normal?

I wrote a story on this subject for work, but not a single mainstream media outlet covered it. They ignored it. They shunned it, ironically, like the devil. Meanwhile, Twitter and YouTube and other social media platforms exploded with “Spirit Cooking” trends. The traffic for the story was through the roof — and yet, silence.

People like Katie Pavlich over at Townhall, one of the few writers who addressed it, tried to torpedo the story entirely using giant straw-man arguments. Because Ms. Pavlich felt Infowars likened Mr. Podesta to a “blood sucking, hair eating devil worshipper,” then ipso facto there was nothing to cover.

Wrong.

You can tell a lot about a man by who his close friends are, and it speaks volumes that the Podestas receive “all my love” messages from a woman who thinks it’s normal to get naked in front of strangers and cut herself, or to create “aphrodisiac” recipes that require “fresh urine” and “fresh sperm milk” for “earthquake nights.”

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For Townhall writers like Ms. Pavlich, it apparently means nothing that Ms. Abramovic a.) sees herself as a mystic, b.) says that performing her rituals at home makes “magic” possible, and c.) told artist James Franco that she hates the studio and loves to “perform” at home.

“If you are doing the occult magic in the context of art or in a gallery, then it is art. If you are doing it in a different context, in spiritual circles or private house or on TV shows, it is not art.” — Marina Abramovic on question about magic via Reddit interview.

Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Oh, and did I mention that the artist now says she called the “Spirit” dinner that because “we just call things funny names”?

What are all the chances that out of all the “funny” names she could have picked, she used “Spirit Cooking dinner”?

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And here is what she told Mr. Franco:

“I hate studio, to start with. Studio is a trap. Studio is the worst place — the artist should never be [there]. The art comes from life — not from studio.” — Marina Abramovic to James Franco via Wall Street Journal interview, December 2009.

The mainstream media is filled with a bunch of people who are obsessed about losing their place within “The Inner Ring” that C.S. Lewis spoke about years ago.

The mainstream media are terrified about what will happen if they cover an explosive story about Hillary Clinton’s inner circle and then she is elected president. That is why CNN and others had to be dragged kicking and screaming to cover WikiLeaks, FBI investigations into the former secretary of state, and the “pay-for-play” corruption of The Clinton Foundation.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong and the Podesta brothers’ buddy-buddy relationship with Marina “Eat the Pain” Abramovic is not worth your time.

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Exit Question: What are the chances that late-night comedians and SNL would have a field day if Donald Trump’s inner circle included an “artist” whose works required her to sit on mountains of bloody bones, stab her fingers, and “eat the pain”?

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Just “art.”

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‘Black Hawk Down’: Read the book because the movie can never do the men who died justice

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If you ask most people what they think of Black Hawk Down, then the vast majority of the time the response you’ll get will probably be something along the lines of, “Good movie.” That is understandable, given that it was a blockbuster film in 2001 produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Ridley Scott.

If you are like me, then perhaps you’ve always had an itch regarding the movie and, more importantly, the event — the downing of two MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and the subsequent deaths of 18 American soldiers Oct. 3-4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Sure, it made for a night out at the theater, but perhaps you’ve felt that it was somehow insulting to only know the tale through its Bruckheimerization.

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been working on a book in my spare time that will eventually see the light of day (we’re at the artwork stage now, so hang tight!). There are parts of the novel that required knowledge of Task Force Ranger, and at some point I admitted to myself that it would be literary heresy to not read Mark Bowden’s masterpiece to assist with authenticity. It is safe to say that there probably is not a more comprehensive retelling of the ill-fated attempt to capture two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

And if you do not think any of this is still relevant, then I suggest you start reading The New York Times. The paper reported Sunday in a piece titled In Somalia, U.S. Escalates a Shadow War:

The Obama administration has intensified a clandestine war in Somalia over the past year, using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.

Hundreds of American troops now rotate through makeshift bases in Somalia, the largest military presence since the United States pulled out of the country after the “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993. …

In March, an American airstrike killed more than 150 Shabab fighters at what military officials called a “graduation ceremony,” one of the single deadliest American airstrikes in any country in recent years. But an airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who were American allies against the Shabab.

Outraged Somali officials said the Americans had been duped by clan rivals and fed bad intelligence, laying bare the complexities of waging a shadow war in Somalia. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said the Pentagon was investigating the strike.

Who, exactly, are we fighting? Why are we there? Should we be there?

Mr. Bowden’s book provides many of the answers, which unfortunately raise more questions:

“In books and movies when a soldier shot a man for the first time he went through a moment of soul searching. Waddell didn’t give it a second thought. He just reacted. he thought the man was dead. He had just folded. Startled by Waddell’s shot, Nelson hadn’t seen the man drop. Waddell pointed to where he had fallen and the machine gunner stood up, lifted his big gun, and pumped a few more rounds into the man’s body to make sure. Then they both ran for better cover.

They found it behind a burned out-car. Peering out from underneath toward the north now, Nelson saw a Somali with a gun lying prone on the street between two kneeling women. The shooter had the barrel of this weapon between the women’s legs, and there were four children actually sitting on him. He was completely shielded in noncombatants, taking full cynical advantage of the Americans’ decency.

“Check it out, John,” he told Waddell, who scooted over for a look.

“What do you want to do?” Waddell asked.

“I can’t get that guy through those people.”

So Nelson threw a flashbang, and the group fled so fast the man left his gun in the dirt.” — Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down (New York: Grove Press, 1999), 46.

If you want to know what it’s like to have an entire city honed in on killing you and those you hold dear, then I suggest reading Black Hawk Down. The book can be a bit arduous at times — it’s like trying to eat a steak the size of your head — but there is no escaping it because a.) Mr. Bowden leaves no stone unturned, and b.) the experience for the men on the ground was grueling.

Perhaps the best endorsement of the book that I can give is this: I did not know much about the author before picking up the book, and was surprised to find out he is not a veteran. He’s just a reporter who did a damn good job telling a story.

Black Hawk Down is a book about courage and fear, the nature of war, success and failure on the battlefield, and most importantly the experiences of the men who fought valiantly to save one another in situation that was so surreal that it seem like “a movie.”

 It was not a movie — it happened — which is why those who care about national defense issues should read it sooner rather than later.

Kudos to Mr. Bowden for writing a book that will be read by military men and women for generations to come.

‘Letters to a Young Catholic’: George Weigel hits a literary home run

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George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic is a wonderful book, but oddly enough I must begin this review by griping about the title — it’s something that Catholics of any age should read. In fact, the publisher does not lie by billing the book as “a modern spiritual classic,” which is why I recommend it to anyone who is interested in such issues.

Like many Catholic kids, my parents took me to Mass every Sunday growing up. And, like many Catholic kids, I was not exposed to the writings of G.K. Chesterton, George Weigel or other intellectual heavyweights. What I did have access to were kind adults who lacked the ability to articulate the faith in a way that “clicked” for me. I drifted from the Church as a young man and did not come back until I learned many painful lessons. If I were exposed to a book like this as a teenager then it probably would have saved me a lot of lost time, although I admit to having a largely impenetrable chip on my shoulder in those days. (And yes, I know that some of you would argue that it’s still there!)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Letters to a Young Catholic is that in many ways it doubles as a must-read for those who are wondering why America’s political institutions are crumbling before our eyes. The way in which the author travels the globe, goes back in time, covers essential questions about the Catholic faith that all young people ask, and then ties it into our contemporary political landscape is like watching a gymnast who puts everything out on the floor before the judges — and nails it.

Mr. Weigel writes:

If American popular and high culture could ever agree on a theme song that captured the idea of freedom driving much of contemporary life, it would almost certainly be Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” I did it my way seems to sum up the widespread notion that freedom is a matter of asserting myself and my will — that freedom is really about choice, not about what we choose and why. Suggest that certain choices are just incompatible with human dignity and with growth in goodness, and you’ll get some very strange looks these days, whether on campus or in the workplace.

Catholicism has a different idea of freedom. In the Catholic idea of freedom, freedom and goodness go together. A great contemporary moral theologian, Father Servais Pinckaers, OP, explained all this. […] Learning to play the piano, he reminded us, is a tedious, even dreary business at first: well do I remember my own distaste for a book of technique-strengthening tortures entitled Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios. But after doing one’s exercises for a while, what originally seemed like a burden comes into clearer focus — learning to do the right thing in the right way is actually liberating. You can play anything you like, even the most difficult pieces. You can make new music on your own. Sure, Father Pinckaers writes, anybody can pound away on a piano. But that’s a rudimentary, savage sort of freedom,” not a truly human freedom. …

I did it my way teaches us an idea of freedom that Father Pinckaers calls “the freedom of indifference.” Doing things “my way,” just because it’s my way, is like banging idiotically on the piano or talking gibberish. The richer, nobler idea of freedom the Catholic Church proposes is what Father Pinckaers calls freedom for excellence — the freedom to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, as a matter of habit. That’s the truly human way. Because that’s the kind of freedom that satisfies our natural desire for happiness, which itself reflects our desire for God, who is all Good, all the way.  […] What’s all this got to do with democracy? Everything. Freedom untethered from moral truth will eventually become freedom’s worst enemy. — Weigel, George. Letters to a Young Catholic. Basic Books, 2015. 305-306.

A friend of mine texted me on Monday and said she hoped that I would cover the first U.S. presidential debate on the blog. In many ways, the text from Mr. Weigel’s book shown here tells us everything we need to know.

Why is America forced to choose between a woman who should be wearing an orange jumpsuit in a federal prison, and an egomaniac with occasionally orange skin?

Answer: Because America long ago decided it wanted to untether freedom from moral truth.

There really is no way to read Letters to a Young Catholic and not have a crystal clear understanding as to why civil society in the U.S. is unraveling. Our cultural influencers embrace a kind of nihilism “that enjoys itself on the way to oblivion, convinced that all of this — the world, us, relationships, sex, beauty, history — is really just a cosmic joke,” and we are now paying the price.

Mr. Weigel counters that “against the nihilist claim that nothing is really of consequence, Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ. And if you believe that, it changes the way you see things. It changes the way everything looks.”

If for no other reason, wayward Catholics should read this book to realize that what they thought was Catholicism growing up was in all likelihood a grossly watered down version of the Faith that denied them knowledge of its true richness and beauty. There are numerous reasons for this, and the author does a masterful job spelling it all out. I found myself thinking, “Finally! Someone who gets it,” and I am sure you will too.

Dan Slott: ‘Politicize the f–k’ out of tragedy, ignore 5th Amendment to strip innocents of rights

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Marvel writer Dan Slott recently let it be known that he really doesn’t like it when Christians pray after Islamic terror attacks, but this week he made it clear that exploiting raw emotions after a tragedy is good and virtuous — “politicize the f–k” out of such moments were his exact words. He also wants innocent Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists — all Americans, in fact — to know that it is “crazy” to uphold the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Due process? Who needs that? Police states are so much more efficient.

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Men like Dan Slott are political vultures. They swarm around in circles and wait for people to die before tearing at the carcasses. There are millions of Americans who will look at the gruesome spectacle and agree to anything to get it to stop, but luckily there are others who use logic and reason to ensure the blessings of liberty for future generations.

South Carolina Rep. Try Gowdy, for instance, demonstrated after the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attack just how dangerous it would be to deny an innocents their constitutionally protected rights because the government suspects them of a committing a crime.

Mr. Gowdy had the following exchange in December with Kelli Burriesci, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Screening Coordination, Office of Policy of the United States Department of Homeland Security:

Trey Gowdy: Let me ask you a question about the terrorism list. What process is afforded a U.S. citizen — not someone who overstayed a visa, not someone who crossed a border without permission — but an American citizen?  What process is currently afforded an American citizen before they go on that list?

DHS: I’m sorry, there is not a process afforded the citizen prior to getting on the list. There is a process should someone feel they are and unduly placed on the list.

Gowdy: Yes there is. And when I say ‘process,’ I’m actually using half of the term due process, which is a phrase we find in the Constitution — that you cannot deprive people of certain things without due process.

So I understand Mister Goode’s idea, which is wait until you’re right has been taken from you and then you can petition the government to get it back. I understand that that’s his idea. My question is can you name another constitutional right that we have that is chilled until you find out it’s chilled, and then you have to petition the government to get it back? Is that true of the First Amendment?

DHS: Sir, there are strict criteria before anyone gets put on the list.

Trey Gowdy: That’s not my question ma’am. That is not my question. My question is what process is afforded a United States citizen before that person’s constitutional right is infringed? He’s fine when we do it with the Second Amendment. My question is, ‘How about the First?’ How about we not let them set up a website or Google account? How about we not let him join a church until until they can petition the government to get off the list. How about not get a lawyer? How about the Sixth Amendment?

How about you can’t get a lawyer until you petition the government to get off the list? Or my favorite — how about the Eighth amendment? We’re going to subject you to cruel and unusual punishment until you petitioned the government to get off the list.Is there another constitutional right that we treat the same way for American citizens that we do the Second Amendment? Can you think of one? **pause** Can you think of one?

DHS: I don’t have an answer for you, sir.

Ms. Burriesci didn’t have an answer because deep down she knows that Mr. Gowdy is correct.

Do you know who else agrees with Mr. Gowdy and not with comic book writer Dan Slott?

Answer: The American Civil Liberties Union.

“The standards for inclusion on the No Fly List are unconstitutionally vague, and innocent people are blacklisted without a fair process to correct government error,” the ACLU wrote on Dec. 7, 2015. “The government has emphasized that it is making predictive judgments that people like our clients — who have never been charged let alone convicted of a crime — might nevertheless pose a threat. That’s a perilous thing for it to do.”

How would Dan Slott feel if, 50 years from now, Jews in the United States were routinely put on terrorist watch lists because they were merely suspected of crimes? They could not fly, they could not own weapons, and perhaps their 8th Amendment rights were frozen until they could prove they weren’t terrorists.

That sounds pretty scary, right? Not to Dan Slott.

If you think due process is an essential component to living in a free society, then Dan Slott insults you on Twitter. That is because, like I said, he is a political vulture. It may be fitting for a guy who regularly writes about Spider-Man’s villains, but it is not funny.

With that said, I highly suggest listening to Reason’s Remy sing “How to React to a Tragedy,” with Dan Slott in mind. It perfectly lampoons activist-writers like those employed by Marvel.

Editor’s Note: Hat tip to Colossus of Rhodey for bringing attention to Mr. Slott’s tweets.