Francisco Franco and the Champagne Supply

Francisco FrancoSomething that I find constantly fascinating is how conservatives embrace fascists. Other than truly radical people, you don’t see a corresponding embrace on the left. In fact, if you look at Noam Chomsky (or me for that matter), you don’t see an embrace of left wing dictators. But on the right, as long as the fascist is willing to left Exxon make money in his country, he is just fine with establishment conservatives.

The best recent example of this is Augusto Pinochet — a truly vile figure. Yet he was a hero to people like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It’s very interesting. I’ve always felt that the American left’s infatuation with the Soviet Union was overblown. Most people on the left just wanted labor unions and social insurance. The left in this country has never really been radical. But even if conservatives want to believe that it was, wouldn’t this fact act as a kind of cautionary tale?

As it is, if it weren’t for the Jews and the fact that we were part of a world war against them, I think conservatives would generally think fondly of Hitler. And it isn’t exactly open to debate. Because conservatives are generally pretty positive toward Francisco Franco. And I think the reason for this is that conservatives are, at base, authoritarians. So they may have problems with bits of ideology, but they really do dream of a leader who comes in and just tells them what to do.

This is exactly why conservatives continue to adore the traitor Oliver North. And that’s why Dick Cheney is still considered a good guy: he may be wrong about everything; he may only be interested in enriching himself and his friends; he may have done irreparable damage to the United States; but damn it, he barks orders at people so he’s okay for the Republican Party! Ditto for Allen West (a classic authoritarian). Ditto for Ted Cruz. In fact, this may be the biggest problem that Rand Paul faces: he seems too thoughtful and not nearly belligerent enough (although he’s working on it).

I came upon this interesting quote about Francisco Franco from Hélène Zuber:

Franco is undeniably one of the great villains of Spanish history. His fascist forces not only plunged Spain into Civil War from 1936-39, but resulted in a harsh and violent dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975. When he died, it was allegedly impossible to buy a bottle of champagne in Spain: They were all sold out.

Franco was not exactly a conservative hero in America, but he was certainly no great villain either. But to his people he was. That didn’t matter to American conservatives, of course. That never matters to American conservatives. What matters are profits for American corporations — or multinational corporations that are largely owned by rich Americans.

Anyway, I did a Mad Kane and turned this little story about Franco into a limerick (with a slant rhyme that she hates):

I assure you that this ain’t no jive
The year was 19 seven five
   People felt no more pain
   They ran out of champagne
Because Franco the despot had died.

Conservatives are the most shortsighted people I know. Their ideas have a shelf-life of one generation at max. So they live their lives being seen as acceptable. But future generations will see them for what they really are. When Cheney dies, there will be lots of champagne corks popping!

Bloggers and Serial Killers

BlogI’m confused. I’m not sure what I should do with this blog. For some time, I’ve written five articles per day. And the average length of the articles has been about 600 words. That makes for 3,000 words per day. That sits very well with me because my first novel had chapters that were all about 3,000 words long. It seems like a proper amount of work for one day, even though each chapter took me quite a lot longer than one day to write.

But for whatever reason, the articles I’ve been writing recently have been much longer. Articles and coming in at about a thousand words. And I don’t think this is because I’m padding. I think I’m just going into a little more depth. And in the three articles I’ve written today, I’ve already reached close to 3,000 words. Do you deserve more? Well, of course you do! You don’t come to Frankly Curious for in-depth analysis. So I will continue to try to put out five articles per day.

Just the same, it can’t just be five articles per day. I actually have a problem with posts that are just an image or a video. That’s all fine for people who are on the cutting edge of what’s happening. But if I present a video to you, it probably dates from the 1950s. But there is another option.

I’ve long thought what it would be like to be an Atrios kind of blogger. His is the kind of blogging you can do only if you already have a huge audience. It is rare that he writes more than a paragraph, and usually he writes only a sentence. For example, where I wrote a thousand words about Jonathan Chait’s apologia for football, Atrios would have written, “When I read this, I thought some people never get over high school.” That’s not to say that Atrios doesn’t have keen insights that he communicates pithily. But it does seem like a bit of a cheat. It seems like idea aggregation. And the commenters rarely discuss what any given blog post is about. Each could as easily be open threads.

Regardless, I don’t have it in me. Even when I try to be brief, I find that I manage 500 words of lead up. Anyway, all of this is to say that I don’t know quite what I’m doing. What comes, comes. It is the nature of Frankly Curious anyway. It was never intended to be consistent. That’s why I can go days talking about nothing but politics and then go days not talking about politics at all. More and more, I’d like to spend my time not talking about politics. There isn’t much to talk about anyway. And what little there is makes me wish that I had been born into a more enlightened time and place — perhaps into a Neanderthal tribe on the coast of the Mediterranean.

Most likely, Frankly Curious will continue on as it has gone on. Because above all else, this website continues to be a kind of addiction for me. Some men feel a compulsion to kill people and have sex with their dead bodies. I have a compulsion to write five articles here every day. And even though some of the articles are really little more than filler like this article, I think we can all agree that this is a far better use of my time than serial murder. For one thing, there’s the whole ten thousand hours that is required to become an expert in anything and I haven’t even spent a minute murdering people. Do you really want to wait for five years while I perfect my craft? No. I think I’d better stick to what I know.

Jonathan Chait Relives His Glory Days

Jonathan ChaitAnyone who has read me even casually knows that I hate the game of football. It isn’t a political thing. I just think it is an incredibly boring game. If you like action and athletic beauty, watch basketball. If you love skill, watch baseball. (Although I am rooting for the Giants, watching the Nationals in the field is like watching great real time art.) But what is football? A bunch of testosterone fueled steroid-built bodies crashing into each other.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t like it. I’m not saying that it is wrong to like. And I know a lot more about the game than you might think. I understand it pretty well and I appreciate parts of it. But it is the most popular sport in the United States for one reason and one reason only: it is violent. Football is a game that glorifies violence. As I wrote recently, The Basis of the NFL Is Violence:

But as a society we pretend that it doesn’t mean anything else. It is compartmentalized. The billions we pay to owners and the millions we pay to players of this violent game are not supposed to be about anything but the game — it isn’t about violence! But obviously, the people who play this game well are going to be more testosterone fueled and more violent than the average person.

But like I said: I don’t like football. But Jonathan Chait does. Oh, how he does! For years, he’s been losing the argument about the NCAA staying amateur. Last year, Scott Lemieux at The American Prospect took him to task about this, Stop Defending the NCAA. And I have long wondered if Chait doesn’t really care about the football players — or at least that their needs are clearly trumped by his love of the game as a spectator.

Today, he’s back with an article that I find even more troubling, In Defense of Male Aggression: What Liberals Get Wrong About Football. As if to proclaim to the world “I’m just trying to be offensive,” the entire article is filled with pictures of football players at the ages of 6, 6, 7, and 8. But no mention is made of them in the article. I guess we are just supposed to understand that little boys in football gear is really great because they are learning valuable life lessons.

Chait is surprisingly unaware of even himself. For example, he noted that Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas about raising young men would be beyond the pale by today’s standards. But still, he noted, there are some things of value. For example, “A healthy-minded boy should feel hearty contempt for the coward, and even more hearty indignation for the boy who bullies girls or small boys, or tortures animals.” Well, in my experience, it was exactly the “strong” boys who were bullies and the most likely to catch toads and throw them high in air to watch them be squashed on the pavement. But my biggest problem with that statement is the single word, “Coward.”

In my experience, it is the most heroic man who is most likely to be called a coward. And Chait follows up the Roosevelt quote by telling the story of how he was going to quit his high school football team, because — by his own description — it was mostly about getting brutalized by bigger boys. But as he waited for a chance to talk to his coach, he didn’t know what he was going to say. He doesn’t say it, but I know what he was thinking, “They’ll think I’m a wimp. How can I tell them I don’t want to play football because I don’t like getting hit?” So Chait does what he thinks shows great character, but I think shows he was an immature coward: he does nothing. He stayed with the team.

Much of his relentlessly long article is just him remembering the glory days of high school football. And he is prepared for people like me to say that it is pathetic. So let me not disappoint: it is pathetic! And one of the people he played with went on to be a private equity manager who can “lift 225 pounds 27 times, an NFL-linebacker-like amount.” Wow. I’m so impressed! I’m sure the guy’s inferiority complex and overabundance of testosterone make him the perfect fit for a financial career that does vast amounts of damage to society.

In the end, I really wasn’t sure what I, as a liberal, didn’t get about football. I’ve never thought that football itself was the problem. I just don’t think its popularity speaks well of us. But Chait contends that football can’t be hurting society and maybe it is actually helping because we’ve become a less violent society. Of course, that trend has been going on for centuries so I hardly think that football has much to do with it.

He ends the article with what could have been the whole article:

This is an increasingly antiquated conception of male socialization. George Orwell, the old socialist, was well ahead of his time when he scribbled out an angry rant against the sporting ethic, which, he wrote, “is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” That is all more or less true. But shooting is precisely the problem with war. War minus the shooting is actually pretty great.

Really?! Because I think the British at the Battle of Stirling Bridge might disagree. And Chait’s overall argument seems to be that there are good things that kids learn from football. Fair enough. And then he says we don’t really know if high school and college ball is particularly deadly, so let’s just continue on. After all, Chait has his memories of that great tackle he made as outside linebacker. And there are all those Michigan games that he enjoys watching. And men will be men, and liberals will never understand it because, well, they’re liberals.

I always thought that Chait was a smart guy. But maybe this article is more proof that his years playing high school football did cause some brain trauma.

The Self-Perpetuation of Awards

Shorter Poems - Gerald BurnsI used to be roommates with Gerald Burns — a well known poet and literary critic. Well, he was well known in the sense that any poet is well know. He was a great writer and I learned a lot from him. He also knew everyone. He was friends with people like Andrei Codrescu and enemies with far more. Poetry is like that. At that time, Burns was something of a big deal. He had won the National Poetry Series award in 1992, which is immortalized in a wonderful book, Shorter Poems. The poems were not what most people would consider short. It is just that they weren’t thousands of lines long the way they often were in such books as, Longer Poems.

The thing about Burns’ award was that it didn’t have all that much to do with the quality of his work. It was just that he had been writing long enough and was well enough connected that eventually, he found that one of his close friends was sitting on the judging committee of a major poetry award. And they picked Burns. It had to be like that. His poetry was extremely dense and ostentatiously intellectual. Most people thought reading him was like chewing gravel. But among those who got it, his work was brilliant and even charming.

I was reminded of this on Sunday when I read Thomas Frank’s newest article, Genius Grant or TED Talk: Does a MacArthur Grant Make a Genius Smarter? It is about how awards lead to awards. The MacArthur Fellowship may have started out as a way to give out awards to deserving unknowns, but like all awards, it quickly became just a way to polish its brand. How do we know that a MacArthur Fellow is brilliant? Because he has been given lots of awards by other organizations. Unlike his best work, Frank kind of rambles in the article, but you get the point.

Let me be more blunt. Awards like the MacArthur Fellowship are part of our problem with inequality. Society decides that this or that genius is the genius. I own a number of recent English translations of Don Quixote. Not one of them is distinctly better than another. That is because they are all shockingly great in their own way. But the award business is about picking one as though he is preeminent. So Edith Grossman becomes a millionaire and John Rutherford just remains a fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the awards make distinctions where none exist. And giving money to a single creative worker is probably a bad use of resources. (For the record, Edith Grossman has not won a MacArthur fellowship; I’m just making a point.)

Of course, this isn’t all about branding. It’s also about laziness. It is a hell of a lot easier to look around and see what people other groups are celebrating than to go out and look for new or unknown talent. For example, how would anyone even know about a modern day Emily Dickinson? What’s more, an unknown artist might embarrass a foundation by turning out to be someone who isn’t right thinking as defined by the kind of people who give out these awards — you know, the TED Talk crowd. These are people who thought Nick Hanauer was “partisan” because he didn’t think rich people were “job creators” and thought that Sarah Silverman was unacceptable because she performed her act at TED the same way she has for decades. You know: upper class douchebags.

As for Gerald, I suspect there were more awards in his future. He had broken through and his work was so difficult that even if people didn’t read it, they would have gone on respecting it. But only a few years later, Gerald died quite suddenly, under the most tragic of circumstances. But his award lives on. And all the awards live on. Because ultimately, that’s what they are for: themselves.

Traitor Oliver North

Oliver North: Reporting for TreasonJust in passing, let me say that the great spiritual leader Desmond Tutu is 83 years old today. He has always been a leader in the fight for social justice and he was a very important figure in ending South African apartheid. Since that time, he has been an outspoken leader on a number of other issues such as the fight against AIDS. It is interesting that as an Anglican, he is able to do something about this huge problem and not, as Catholic priests, make it worse. But if you have any question of Tutu’s greatness, all you have to do is look at his Wikipedia page where you will find that someone has gone in and added things like, “Tutu’s admirers see him as…” There is really nothing negative said about him, but the implication is that the reality is something else entirely. I’ll have to check back in a month and see if these subtle slights are a constant. Regardless, I wanted to spend today talking about someone really vile, so obviously Tutu was out.

The American traitor Oliver North is 71 today. In the 1980s, one of the great American bogeymen was Nicaragua. You see, Nicaragua was a democracy, but it was a leftist one and so from the perspective of America, it had to be destroyed. Ronald Reagan, that great lover of freedom and the law, was in the process of illegally selling arms to Iran. The idea was that by selling Iran weapons, they would help with another problem. At that time, there were seven American hostages being held by members of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Over the course of two years, five of the seven hostages were released. But in the mean time, three more Americans were kidnapped to replace the first three who were released. Even if the arms for hostages deal had been a good idea, the administration totally screwed it up.

Oliver North was in charge of the second half of the plan: take the money from Iran and give it to the Contras. Reagan called them “freedom fighters.” It would be more correct to call them a terrorist group. Here is a list of some of the things these “freedom fighters” did: assassinating healthcare workers; kidnapping, torturing, and murdering civilians; raping women; attacking and seizing civilian housing; and burning down houses.

Regardless of what you want to call them, the Contras were primarily a right wing group that did not like the fact that the people of Nicaragua did not want them in power. Outside the fact that what Oliver North did was a treasonous act in his own country, what he did inside Nicaragua was a complete violation of international law. In fact, the International Court of Justice found in favor of Nicaragua against the United States. We lamely claimed that the US Constitution trumped international law, as though the US Constitution gave us the rights to overthrow any democratically elected government we didn’t like.

I remember the Iran-Contra hearings. I was glued to the radio. And Oliver North coming in to testify was a very big thing. It was the high point of North’s life because he more or less invented the modern Republican Party right there. Rather than stand by any sense of patriotism or legislative norms, he came in and basically said, “I did it; so what?!” Those on the committee were stunned. They weren’t prepared for North, the same way one is never prepared for someone who acts in a totally inappropriate way. The American people, of course, loved it. We are more a style oriented people. Substance is for the eggheads. And since North wasn’t apologetic, and since the Democrats were (as always) a bunch of pussies, North won.

He was indicted for 16 felonies but found guilty of only three minor ones. He was given a three year suspended sentence. But on appeal, all convictions were dropped. That’s America: smoke a joint, go to prison for thirty years; subvert the Constitution, become a national hero. And a hero he did become! At least on the right. And his career was made. It’s a funny thing about the right in this country. They constantly claim that liberals are traitors. But they joyously welcome actual traitors.

Happy birthday traitor Oliver North!