Everybody thinks that the Middle East is different somehow. It’s really not. The real reason it’s a mess isn’t “centuries old hatreds” or the “oil curse”. 30 years ago, much of the rest of the world was just as screwed up. The reason the Middle East is still a mess, is because it remains the subject of competition between regional and world powers. The US and Saudi Arabia against Iran, and Israel against everybody else (supposedly), has kept a “Cold War” dynamic going in the Middle East long after it has faded everywhere else.
China, the only power that may one day rival the United States, is a paid up member of the US system. “Competition” in the rest of the world is about “Trade Wars” not “War Wars”. The US has provided a good enough deal to get everyone on the same page. Donald Trump wants to end that. He has a straightforwardly mercantilist, or even mercenary way of looking at the world. As I put it in the video, he wants to replace a generous deal with “F#*K you, pay me!”. These rough edges might be in the process of being shaved off, but it’s worth looking at what would happen to the world if he got his way.
Trump’s world would be one of renewed competition between the US and regional powers on every continent. It wouldn’t be one of great power war, not during Trump’s term anyway, but it would mean more proxy wars. Likely locations are some you’ve heard of, like Ukraine and Libya, and some you might not have thought of, like Thailand and Azerbaijan. Political tussles that are worked out locally today would quickly attain an international dimension. The Cold War’s ability to turn every local issue into competition between the US and the USSR was extraordinary. In a world of renewed competition between regional powers, this dynamic would resurface. In the words of Thucydides…
“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
Let’s try to avoid that shall we?
I should probably explain what I’m up to with this World War 3 Series I’ve been developing over the past couple months. On one level it’s a shameless bid for views. YouTube loves World War 3. There’s a lot of stuff out there insisting that world war is imminent. One of the most annoying bits of fake news during the 2016 election was the assumption that Hillary Clinton would bring it about if she were elected. My annoyance has now transitioned to the folks who insist that Trump is going to turn the world into a cinder. The chances of that are definitely higher than they would have been under Clinton, but I think they are still pretty trivial. If we’re looking for a partner for World War III, we’ve got the same problem we’ve had since 1989. Nobody’s really interested. In the first episode in this series “Will Trump Start a War With China?” I address China’s inability to challenge us today, and Trump’s possible role in encouraging a conflict down the line. In Part two, “Is Russia Winning?” I laid out why they are pretty clearly not.
So in one sense, the point of this series is to get people to relax. But it’s not that I don’t think World War 3 is possible. In fact I think it’s inevitable. The only question in my mind is when it happens. Will it happen 50 years from now, or 500 years from now? It’s our responsibility to push that day off for as long as possible. That’s the point of this series beyond the clicks. The internet shouldn’t be talking about World War III the way it does, but it’s a good thing to think about nonetheless. We humans are violent folks. Past performance is no indicator of future results, of course, but the every year that goes by without a conflagration is a win for us. We need to think more seriously about how to keep that streak going. Which is exactly what today’s video tries to do.
US media is filled with disinformation about Syria, as I think I’ve documented fairly well. The question of Christian Refugees from Syria is no exception. The idea that this population of refugees is being discriminated against by the US government has largely gone unchallenged. This excellent politifact explainer does a good job of debunking the issue, but dances around the true reason why there are so few Syrian Christian Refugees in the United States. They devote about a sentence to the fact that Syrian Christians support Assad, and never mention the economic status of those Christians who leave, which are the two central points of my video.
The US government can’t fully commit to fighting the idea that they are discriminating against Christian refugees from Syria, because the truth does too much to undermine its narrative of the Syrian war. In Washington, DC’s story, the Syrian opposition is filled with moderate rebels trying to bring about a modern Syria. Acknowledging that Christians feel safer with Assad than they do with the Sunni opposition undermines that image. In Washington DC’s story, the Iranian influence on Syria is just as nasty and destructive as the Sunni rebels ever-closer affiliation with violent Wahabi Jihadism. According to the US government the Iranian influence is worse. In this story Assad, a member of a small, disapproved of, Shia sect, is somehow the leader of a Shia fundamentalist force. The continued comfort of Christians with Assad undermines this story. So does the fact that Christians have always been a privileged pillar of the Assad regime. In truth, Iran and Russia are the status quo powers here, trying to preserve the structures of the Syrian government as they have existed since the 1970s. They are of course maintaining the status quo with brutality and violence but it’s the US and our Gulf allies that are working to bringing anarchy.
I really like this video, I think it’s the closest thing to actual reporting that I have done in this Syria series. It was developed through long conversations with Syrian refugees I knew in my five years in Istanbul, Turkey. I don’t consider myself a journalist. My business is narratives, unpacking them, correcting them, and re-forming them. To do this I rely on the work of real journalists in Syria and around the world. At best I’m an opinion journalist. With this one I rise above that a bit, and I’m happy for the opportunity.
You may notice that the sound on this one is fantastic. My on-going battle with sound is hampered by amateur equipment, and my growing but meager sound editing capabilities. This week in Los Angeles I was lucky enough to get some professionals involved. Through the good offices of MFF Patron Abigale James I was able to procure the pro bono services of Sam May, a professional sound guy. Folks can argue about the content of this video, but nobody can dispute that it sounds fantastic. I remain super grateful for the support I get from friends and strangers. MFF may seem like it’s a solo effort, but it’s really not.
March was a monster month for the MFF. We produced 8 videos on a range of topics from Obama in Cuba, to Batman v. Superman, to the limits of Google Trends. To the extent there is a theme here it’s on the limits of narratives. As I best pointed out in my criminally under-watched first video in the Syria series, we govern ourselves, and view the world through stories. Until the robots take over, we don’t have a choice. Human minds, even the minds of supposed experts in a given subject area, are captured by stories that synthesize and simplify what’s actually going on. A large part of what we’re up to here at the More Freedom Foundation is challenging these narratives and trying to develop new ones. We will always be governed by stories. To improve things, we need to challenge the ones that aren’t serving us well, and find better ways to reckon with this infinitely complex, messy world we live in.
“Super Tuesday Explained and Ridiculed” is my favorite of my text-based videos. Released on Super Tuesday itself, it makes the very important point that Super Tuesday is a choice we made. The steady expansion of the Presidential race, to the point where it almost swallows up a full two years, is the result of stories we tell ourselves. The Presidency is of course important in our system, but it’s been getting more and more important, largely because we choose to make it so. This is the result of choices made by media, and the way that parties have organized the nominating system in individual states, but these choices are reinforced by, and reinforce the choice that the public has made to over-emphasize the President. There is a whole lot more to the US system than the Presidency, and important days like Super Tuesday. I’d argue that your governor, or your mayor, depending on your local system, are a lot more important to your daily life than the President. But we lose sight of that because of stories we tell ourselves about things like Super Tuesday and whole Presidential race.
“How Powerful Is the United States of America?” is probably my favorite video from 2016, if not of all time. It tackles the biggest broken narrative in US politics today. This is the idea that places like Iran, or Russia, or today’s China present any kind of real threat to the United States. Trump obviously presents an extreme version of this story, but he’s not the only one. Republicans and Democrats push this story as well, though in a milder form. In fact, the United States, with its US World Order runs the world. Everybody else is just living in it. The United Nations is probably the best example of the silliness of the story of US weakness. The UN does nothing without our approval. We wrote most of its founding documents and charters. The UN’s General Assembly, a powerless but more democratic entity than the all-powerful security council, occasionally releases PR against Israel. These actions get endless publicity. But nobody ever talks about the sixteen world hot spots that the UN polices so the US military doesn’t have to. It’s details like this that help to show how faulty our narrative of “American weakness” is.
“Is the USA Turning Socialist?” is a fascinating artifact of a video. It’s largely about one of my personal narratives falling apart. It’s interesting that I describe myself as a Libertarian in this one, because I don’t do that anymore. As the video above indicates I’m transitioning towards a weird “proud Globalist” stance that I haven’t really fully defined yet. The Libertarian story always appealed to me because of its extreme paranoia about centralized power and Washington, DC in particular. I still have that paranoia about power and the US federal government, but I simply can’t describe myself as a Libertarian anymore. The yawning abyss of Trump’s vision of the world has highlighted the value of things like Foreign aid, international law, trade, political correctness and the American world order. These things rely on a lot of money, international cooperation, and yes, even the US military industrial complex. Libertarians don’t support those sorts of things, so I guess I’m not a Libertarian. Weird. If the United Nations ever moves an inch towards the “World Government” fantasies of Alex Jones & Co. I’ll get super paranoid about its power as well. We’re nowhere near that though. This video itself is kind of fun, half improv, revised in post, and featuring a hobo fire. Basic Income is something we’ll hear a lot more about in the coming years. Interestingly, Milton Friedman, one of the many godfathers of modern Libertarian thought, supported the concept.
“Why the US world System Is Good For Everyone” is a brief video, but it makes a useful point, and expands on the message of “How Powerful is the United States of America“. We’re all into narratives of nationalism to one degree or another. My assumption has always been that the rest of the world should want to throw off US hegemony out of self-respect. The “How Powerful…” video makes the case for the US world system from the US perspective. This video makes the case for the US world system for everybody else. The “soft nationalist” urges of the rest of the world are better channeled into working to make the democratic and universal promises of the US world system real rather than destroying it. It’s a simple self-preservation argument. I don’t think any of us would survive the demise of the current approach…
The four videos above, as well as last month’s “3 myths about President Trump” were all produced in a five day period. I’ve only managed this particular feat of masochism twice, but I think it’s helped immensely both times. The videos in question aren’t always my most successful, aesthetically or in terms of views, but they sometimes are. And the effort puts me into a nice zone of flow. My second most viewed video ever “How Powerful Is John Oliver” was written on day 6 of a five video week in early 2015. In 2016’s “sprint week” Wednesday’s “How Powerful Is the United States of America” may be my favorite video ever, and Monday’s “3 myths about President Trump” holds up very well. The “Is the USA Turning Socialist” video is a complete mess, but I kind of love it. I think the frantic pace of a “sprint week” breaks bad habits and frees things up creatively. I’ve been devoting all my spare time to a particular project recently, but I’m looking forward to doing another sprint week at some point in March or April of 2017.
The effect of these “sprint weeks” on views is interesting. The videos produced during the week don’t necessarily do all that well, but the effect on algorithm voodoo is hard to deny. March 2016 was my most successful month ever, and remains so months later. The videos that drove this growth were all from the back-catalog. But would they have done as well if YouTube didn’t know I was producing so much content this month? Hard to say. I tend to think not.
This project has taken me to some interesting places. Sometimes they are irritating as I laid out in my “sprint week” hangover video “Google Trends Is Depressing“. Google Trends is a free service I occasionally use to generate video ideas. It lists the stories people are talking about the most. It is mostly the sea of sports and celebrity stories that I complain about in this video. It turns out that this video is completely wrong about Google Trends actually. One of my many technically savvy viewers pointed out my screw-up. It’s not that people necessarily care more about these stories, it’s just that they are better suited to showing up under the Google Trends algorithm. If a sports game goes well or poorly, or Natalie Portman signs up for a new movie it creates a discrete news event, and a spike in awareness for the related topics. On-going issues are less likely to spike to the top of Google trends. So as fun as this video is, it’s just plain wrong. Whoops!
“Is Ted Cruz Worse Than Donald Trump” fights against a narrative that we’re still dealing with today. Folks in media, including myself at times, have invested tremendous effort into turning Establishment Republicans into scary monsters. In the context of typical party politics ca. 2014 this probably wasn’t wise, but it wasn’t all that dangerous. It has tripped us up in the era of Trump. When I made this video, asserting that a President Trump was much scarier than a President Cruz, I got a lot of push-back. “What about those Supreme Court Justices, etc. etc.”. After two weeks of President Trump, I don’t think anybody would disagree with this video anymore. Traditional Republicans present challenges that are threatening to a number of Coastal American priorities. Trump threatens everyone, and threatens to tear down the context within which both progressive and conservative priorities are implemented. This is getting clearer by the day. Incredibly the old narrative persists. When I uploaded my “When Can We Impeach Donald Trump?” video, the first two comments were along the lines of “Pence would be even worse!!!” I’m sorry, but that’s just not true. Another conservative judge or two might be a bad thing, depending on your worldview, but we’re getting that anyway. You may see Pence as malign, but at least he’s an adult, who would govern with something like decency and sanity. Old narratives can be dangerous.
“What Obama In Cuba Means for America” is an attempt to build a new narrative. I’ve played with the idea of a “New American Century” or a “True American Century” before. The old “American Century” concept refers to the 20th century as one of US dominance, leaving out all those other countries in North and South America. A 21st century dominated by the United States is hard to envision. But a 21st and maybe even a 22nd century dominated by the Western Hemisphere isn’t. The rise of the Pacific can be just as good for the Americas as it is for Asia. This may become a focus of this channel towards the end of this year, provided that this channel survives to the end of this year (You can help that happen).
Before I was a politics and history nerd I was a comic book nerd. I bring this absurd level of knowledge to bear in “Batman v. Superman REVIEW: The Worst Thing About It“. A lengthy discussion of comic book history and film is a great way to close out a month focused on narrative. Though I enjoyed it, I’m happy to concede that Batman v. Superman was a terrible movie. But there is no denying that it was tremendously culturally significant. Millions of people saw it, and this is the version of these characters that a generation of kids will grow up with. That’s a shame. This video points out that at the movie has an incredibly dark vision of the United States at its heart. Frank Miller is the grim genius that shaped this movie more than any other, and his vision of the world isn’t much different from that of Donald Trump. Narrative is important, and we have to be aware of the influences that shape the things we consume. Even things as trivial as super hero movies.
Views ballooned in March 2016, hitting 25,812 up from 17,709 in February. 10 months later it’s still my best month ever. None of the top five, and two of the top ten videos in February were produced in February. Interestingly, for such a good month, only two of the eight videos crossed 100 views on their first day. Ten months later, eight of eight have topped 200 views, and of those five have also topped 300, and one has topped 5,000 (I paid to promote “How Powerful Is the US“, because I like it). At the end of March 2016 we had 156 videos, all but four of which were viewed in March, 81 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 23 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia). The John Oliver video was viewed more than 10,000 times which has only happened three times before, two months for FATCA in 2014 and one month for John Oliver in 2015.
This month was mostly about the 2016 election, and the truly unprecedented situation we found ourselves in. Some of these videos look quite prescient a year later, others less so…
But before we got into US politics, I did a video on world affairs that I think remains one of the best I have ever done. “The Oil Price and The End of Islamic Terrorism“, draws together a number of strands to put together a compelling picture of the future of terrorism and geopolitics. It defies conventional wisdom, but I think it holds up pretty well a year later. My freelance work includes a lot of oil industry analysis, which leads me to believe that oil prices will remain in the gutter. There are just too many sources of oil, and too many technologies coming on stream. As predicted, oil prices today stand at about 52 bucks a barrel, well under the 55-60 dollar band I predicted, despite some histrionics from OPEC. The video’s prediction of falling terrorism has fared well too. Saudi-funded Aleppo has fallen, and ISIS continues to be pushed back. The big deal terrorism events of 2016 were mostly lone wolf style attacks. Not enough has been done to link the oil price and geopolitics of terrorism, and I think this video remains a valuable contribution.
This month includes some of my best US election coverage. “Why Bernie Sanders is No George McGovern” took on one of the comforting myths we like to tell ourselves. In truth, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are nothing like former party insurgents like Democrat George McGovern and Republican Barry Goldwater. Those rabble-rousers of yesteryear were actually quite friendly to the establishment compared to Sanders and Trump. I brought in the comparison to Andrew Jackson, which I have seen a lot recently, now that we’re in the era of President Trump. Though I didn’t highlight it in the video, it’s also interesting that both McGovern and Goldwater were big losers. I think establishment folks were using this comparison to convince themselves that Trump would lose right up to election day. Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the title, I switched it to “Donald Trump is no Barry Goldwater” to aid discoverability in the post-Sanders era. When Sanders was running he inspired a lot of enthusiasm. This video had one of my largest opens ever, racking up 296 views on its first day, and over 500 in its first week. I think this video remains very useful a year later.
This one is not. “When to Panic About Donald Trump” is another one of those Facebook optimized videos that I stopped doing after this month. They just didn’t do very well. Also Facebook video’s threat to YouTube seems to have been over-blown as well. Facebook doesn’t yet provide a good hub for discovery of an individual’s videos. Until they have that, they won’t win over independent producers of any size. This video is neatly done, but it’s definitely in the “Don’t worry about Trump, he couldn’t possibly win!” genre. We now all now know that that’s not true.
“The Power of Sanders and Trump Explained” lays out the much maligned economic and educational reasons that these insurgent candidates did so well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a snarky journalist re-tweet some racist Trump supporter with a comment along the lines of “So it’s all about economics is it!?!?!?” I’ve seen less of this after the election. The loss of the “Blue Wall” mid-western states gave Trump the election. A lot of blue collar areas that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 switched over to Trump. There was a sad poetry to Clinton’s loss of these traditional “old left” states. Wisconsin, which used to be the closest thing to a socialist state we had, decided that the “New Democrats” had less to offer them than the Orange Chaos Muppet. As awful as Trump is, and as frankly racist as his policies and some of his supporters are, we’re not going to beat him until we acknowledge the simple fact that the bi-partisan consensus on trade and globalization up until 2016 left the majority of the country out.
“Why Scalia’s Death is a Massive Gift to the Establishment” is my least successful video of 2016. I think name-checking actual Washington, DC figures in a video title is generally a bad idea. The broader public doesn’t know who the people in “Hollywood for Nerds” are other than the sitting president. Also, this was my last effort in the “facebook-friendly” format, and my lack of comfort with it may be obvious. Nonetheless, I think the video makes a valuable point. The Democrats and the Republicans love a supreme court fight, because it makes them seem different.
Oof. “3 Myths about President Trump” is more effective than I’d like it to be. It gets essentially everything right, from Clinton’s failings as a candidate, to how craven the Republicans are, to how not moderate Trump’s government is. We’re in terrible trouble folks. Sigh.
This month’s videos do a good job of highlighting what we’re going through. One of the more interesting ways to look at US political history is the division into different party systems. Even though we’ve had something like the Democrats the whole way through, and we’ve had a Republican party since the 1850s, political scientists can see distinct party systems. Some say we’re on the fifth now, some say we’re on the sixth. Basically, what a “Republican” or a “Democrat” means has changed dramatically over the years. Some of this change happens with dramatic moments like the Civil War or FDR’s new deal, but nobody who was going through it knew they were going through such a change (OK they probably knew during the Civil War). These periods of change are always tremendously stressful. People hold on to their old ideas of what their party means long after they’ve changed completely. I’d argue we’re going through such a moment right now. 20 years from now there will probably still be “Republicans” and “Democrats”, but under the “7th party system” those parties will be completely changed. They will certainly better reflect the interests of the country than the party system ca. 2015. It sucks to be going through this, but in my more optimistic moments I imagine that it’s bringing us to a better place. Here’s hoping that’s true.
February of 2016 saw a very important improvement in video quality. I watched one of my vids on a friend’s TV, which highlighted how bad the sound had been up to this point. My recording is pretty OK, but I hadn’t been doing any sound editing in post-production. That experience with the TV convinced me to look into sound compression. I’m still quite bad at it, but I’m much better at avoiding those jarring jumps in volume that you may have noticed in my videos produced up to this point. Audio compression is a valuable tool.
Views continued their upward trend in February 2016, up to 17,709 from 16,224 in January. None of the top five, and three of the top ten videos in February were produced in February. Five of the six videos crossed 100 views on their first day, and one of them almost made it to 300 (296). Eleven months later, five of six have topped 200 views, and of those four have also topped 400, and one has topped 1,000. At the end of February 2016 we had 148 videos, all but three of which were viewed in January, 100 of which were viewed 10 or more times, 21 of which were viewed more than 100 times, and four of which were viewed more than 1,000 times (FATCA, John Oliver, Hillary Clinton, Putin-Estonia).
The truth is that nobody really knows why all forms of crime have been declining steadily since 1992. It’s obviously a combination of factors, but i think Video Games deserve a lot more credit than they get. The Freakonomics folks have looked at this briefly, but there needs to be much more focus on this variable. As attractive as theories like unleaded gasoline and “Broken Windows” policing are to some people, I think people need to look at the question much more simply. Crime is primarily committed by young men. What do young men do with their time? Video Games. What did they do in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s? Drugs and crime. That’s what I was up to anyway. Obviously there’s still time for drugs and crime with the youth of today, but the mix has changed dramatically.
Criminologists are already well aware of “street time” as a factor in crime. The heaviest crime months are always the months when it is most pleasant to roam the streets. If there are less young men roaming the streets there is less crime. Video Games have done us an incredible favor.
You may be surprised to hear that Crime is still falling in the United States. I’ve covered the supposed “Ferguson Effect” over and over. This is the idea, pushed by the New York Times, and everybody’s favorite FBI director James Comey, that Black Lives Matter has scared police departments and led to a dramatic increase in crime. I’ve always been against the way that the “Ferguson Effect” concept has been used. But I have been open to the idea. It makes sense. Justified lack of trust in police forces is probably the main reason why crime persists in inner city communities. Blaming Black Lives Matter for this, however, rather than brutal policing has always struck me as a flat out evil choice. I did a video comparing this to blaming the scandals of the Catholic Church on sex abuse victims, and I very much believe this to be true.
I may not have needed to spend so much time trying get out ahead of the “Ferguson Effect”. It turns out it doesn’t exist outside of a few places with particularly horrific recent examples of police brutality like Chicago and Baltimore. There’s a reason why Trump, Giuliani, and Lead “Broken Windows” propagandist Heather MacDonald spend so much time shouting about Chicago. The news everywhere else remains good.
The worst example that the pro “Stop and Frisk” types had throughout 2016 was Washington, DC. In 2015, Murders went up a full 54%. That Breitbart article I linked there of course probably didn’t emphasize the fact that the 2015 figure only brought murders back to the level they were at in 2008, and 2015’s 162 murders was still only a third of Washington DC’s 1991 peak of 482 murders. Regardless, a 54% increase is something to freak out about, and it provided great support those who wanted to portray America’s cities as spinning out of control. I can’t be bothered to check, but I am pretty sure Trump used the Washington, DC figure in his inauguration speech in Cleveland in July 2016. It made an impact. Unfortunately for the Trumpkins, Washington, DC hasn’t cooperated. In 2016, Washington, DC murders fell 17%. Philadelphia posted one of it’s best years ever in 2016. Crime has continued to fall in New York City, despite the end of Giuliani’s cherished “Stop and Frisk” program.
So there’s a reason the “Law and Order” types keep shouting about Chicago. They don’t have anything else left. I suppose we should be grateful to them for bringing attention to the plight of Chicago, which is a very real problem. I need to do a video on Chicago before too long, but I believe the problem there to be largely about police brutality, and the corruption and budget issues that plague Chicago at large. I laid out part of that case here, with a dismantling of a Wall Street Journal piece on Chicago.
As a final note, you may be wondering why I haven’t addressed Trump’s anti-immigration Executive Order. I have a lot to say on this, but I honestly don’t see much of a point in adding to the chorus of electronic condemnation at this point. I was marching at the Los Angeles airport on Sunday. Over the coming months I will have a lot to say about Islam, Terrorism, the United States, and the way that our politicians abuse the issue. Rest assured, the Trump administration will not come out of that discussion unscathed. Nor will the Obama or Bush administrations.
“When Can We Impeach Donald Trump?” I couldn’t stop thinking this on Saturday. On his second day as president Trump managed to drop a line about Iraq that would have been an international incident if it had come from any other politician. Nobody noticed though, because his administration’s lies about the crowd at his inauguration were so outrageous. I guess I’m kind of on board with the idea that we should give Trump a little time to succeed or fail, but his performance on his first full day was so disastrous that it made sense to look at impeachment in some detail with this week’s video.
The biggest misconception about impeachment is that Trump needs to commit some kind of special “impeachable offense” to be vulnerable to the process. That’s not what history shows. Sure Bill Clinton’s impeachment was about perjury to some degree, but Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was not. It was a purely political process. Impeachment is about how Congress votes, not actual wrong-doing. Any presidency, and Trump’s most of all, does things that could fit under the Constitution’s super vague “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” definition. If we want to impeach Trump before 2018 we’ve got to get the Republicans on board.
For many people, the main obstacle to going hard for impeachment is Vice President Mike Pence. If we get rid of Trump, Mike Pence becomes President, and a lot of people see that as worse. The fact that Pence is a fervently religious man, and a doctrinaire old school conservative is seen as more threatening than Trump. I do not find that approach convincing. I don’t like religious or anti-choice politicians either, but the threats that these two men pose strike me as very different. And the threat that Trump poses is much greater. With Pence we’ll get a conservative supreme court justice or two, and perhaps another four years of the old abortion-increasing abstinence education focus that folks like him love. That would be a shame and it would hurt a lot of people. With Trump we risk the destruction of the American world order, and four years of degradation of any common ideas of political honesty and common decency. That hurts the whole world, and presents a non-zero chance of ending it. I’ll go with Pence over Trump any day.
Some Republicans are still celebrating Trump’s election. If they knew the history of the French Revolution they wouldn’t be. As tumultuous as the Trump transition has been, it’s going to get much worse. Believe it or not, this really is a honeymoon phase. All the norm breaking and vileness of the Trump presidency will soon be turned on the Republican Party. Trump doesn’t have any other choice if he wants to keep his base with him. Though 18th century France couldn’t be more different from the contemporary United States (debatable), the gyrations of the French Revolution provide an interesting model for what this might look like.
This video owes everything to Mike Duncan and his incredible “Revolutions” podcast. Duncan is working his way through significant revolutions of the modern era. So far he’s covered the English Civil War, and the American, French, and Hatian Revolutions. He’s currently working his way through the Latin American revolutions of the early 19th century. They come out in mostly weekly, breezy, fun and digestible half hour segments. I admire a project that goes on for years like this. He’s working his way towards his beloved Russian Revolution, though I would be surprised if he got there before the 2020s.
Duncan’s work came to my attention about a year and a half ago through his old podcast The History Of Rome. That too was a seriously ambitious project. Over 5 years or so, and 179 episodes, he covered Rome’s history from the founding of the city in the 700s BC (supposedly) to the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD. I had had the idea that turned into my TEDx talk before finding the History of Rome, but I never would have had the confidence to speak on ancient history, even as an amateur, without this podcast. It’s great stuff. If I can steer you his way, I’ll be doing you a favor, and doing just a bit to re-pay Duncan for his work.
Swimming in history is a great thing. I’m constantly reading it, and thanks to Duncan, I hear about it every day at the gym too. What I try to do with my channel is convey that sense of history, and inject a bit of it into our discussions of politics and current events. Outside of a few issue areas (FATCA, Criminal Justice), I don’t know that much more about politics than your average Washington, DC journalist or academic. But I know a ton more about history, and I think that’s what makes my channel worth watching. Even if the audience finds the comparisons I draw ridiculous (I occasionally do too), the hope is that it’ll get people thinking in new and different ways. One of the things that makes this the best job I’ve ever had is the way that events, my reading, and my somewhat improvisational approach to the weekly topics point me in directions I would not have expected. For example, I now have enough videos on French history to make a playlist. That’s weird.
Mainstream discussion of Russia practically parodies itself. I’ve never been one to avoid low-hanging fruit though, so here you are. We’ve reached new levels in the United States. Previously more peace oriented Democrats are now terribly worried about the Vlad menace. So are any Republicans that have the self-respect necessary to remember the anti-Russia hawkishness their party represented before it got Trumped.
Basically, there’s not a lot of sanity out there.
One article in particular convinced me to make this video. “Putin’s Long War”, published in Politico, was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. Russia’s desperate scrambling has been recast as strategic genius. It’s reckless use of a ramshackle military instrument is portrayed as Bismarck level world-shaping. I think my video provides a more authentic picture. Many thanks to the Economist for visuals for the beginning. I lifted it quite “transformatively” from one of their more memorable recent covers.
This video nicely fits into a “World War 3” series concept I’ve been developing. This may seem like an odd choice for a channel that’s lately announced that it wants to be more positive. In fact I’m pretty optimistic about World War III. It’s something that will almost certainly happen. What I’m optimistic about is the time frame. It could happen in 50 years, or it could happen in 500 years. I hope to use the series here to lay out how we can push that date further into the future. This may surprise some of you, but there is a sizable on-line subculture that thinks World War III is just around the corner. If this series can reach some of them and get them to chill the F out, that’d be nice. Here’s the first installment of the series in case you missed it.
I don’t like Donald Trump. But that doesn’t mean I should jump in bed with the CIA. Over the past couple weeks, Democrats and progressives across this country have been doing exactly that. If you look at the reports on Russian involvement in the US election objectively, you quickly realize that there’s nothing surprising here. Countries do propaganda and attempt to influence other countries. This is nothing new. James Comey had a lot more to do with Hillary’s losing the election than Russia did and nobody’s going after him. Trump hasn’t helped matters of course, but this scandal has been consciously manufactured over the past few weeks.
Nobody is focusing on why that is. The US foreign policy establishment is terrified that Trump might actually change Russia policy for the first time since the mid-1990s. The point of the intelligence community leaks and press releases over the past month is to keep that from happening. And we’re all helping out. I’m afraid it might actually be working. Trump may want a good deal with Russia, but he won’t do it if he thinks it will hurt him politically.
One of the misconceptions most in need of correcting in this discussion is the idea that we’ve tried being friendly with Russia before. The story is that both George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried to make peace with Russia and got burned. This is ridiculous. In fact the exact opposite is what actually happened. Yes, W. claimed to look into Putin’s soul and see a friend or whatever, but his policy trampled all over Russian interests and concerns. In 2004 he over saw the addition of seven countries to NATO, some of which were once members of the Russia friendly Warsaw Pact, and some of which were actually part of the Soviet Union itself. Additionally, the war in Iraq was carried out in violation of international law and against Russia’s security council veto.
Obama also claimed that he was going to “Reset” relations with Russia. He didn’t. There was more noise about NATO expansion to Ukraine and Georgia, and there was the support of 2014’s ouster of a democratically elected and pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Perhaps most importantly there has been the massive US sponsored proxy war on Syria between 2011 and 2017. Russia has two or three countries in the entire world that are willing to cooperate with them militarily. Syria is one of them.
In addition to that, there is NATO’s little mentioned betrayal of Russia and China in Libya. I made a video about this just a few weeks ago.
Don’t let anybody tell you that we’ve already tried to be friends with Russia. If they do, they’re lying, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Celebrities are dying left and right. It’s only going to accelerate. But, as with much about the world it has got a lot more to do with how we look at things than anything concrete that is actually happening. More celebrities seem to be dying because we care more about more celebrities than we ever have before.
The genesis of this one is kind of interesting. With the majority of my videos I’m drawing on a ton of sources. The video produced is usually a synthesis of a number of things that I can tell myself is very much my own. That’s not so much the case here. There’s some of my own thought involved, but the most interesting thing about the video, the explanation for the acceleration in celebrity deaths, is completely drawn from one article. And I can’t find that article. It’s frustrating. There are few things more annoying than taking credit for other people’s ideas. Though I’m sure I unwittingly do it all the time, this time I know I am doing it. If any of you are familiar with the source that I got this stuff from, please let me know.
I’m not really a big celebrity guy. In early 2005 I threw a “Dead Celebrity Party” memorialized in the thumbnail for this video. It’s still one of the best parties I’ve ever thrown. The cult of celebrity holds few charms for me. Though I must admit, if I’m in a supermarket checkout lane I’ll guiltily read the tabloid headlines with some interest. But, I do think our celebrity obsession is bad for us. The worship of celebrity strikes me as a throw-back to an earlier and worse era, as I alluded to here….
We live in a more democratic age, but reading news about Kim and Kanye is part of an old-time desire to know more about our “betters”. We don’t have much of a hereditary aristocracy anymore, so celebrities fill the breach. If you doubt this interpretation, look at the treatment of the few real aristocrats that are left. The travails of the British Royal Family are reported on with exactly the same fervor and worship that is devoted to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I don’t like celebrity culture because I refuse to concede that we have “betters”. The struggles of the aesthetically or monetarily gifted are no more interesting than our own.
So why do a video about celebrities? Views obviously. But beyond that, I feel like it’s a big enough part of our culture that I have to address it occasionally. One must deal with the facts on the ground. Also it would be a bit hypocritical to avoid the subject. Paradoxically, if I avoid talking about celebrities on democratic principles I am actually acting in an anti-democratic fashion. The people want to talk about celebrities. Who am I to deny them that? Plus I got to talk about Bob Ross and his happy little trees, which makes me happy.