Friday, January 30, 2015

A Lifestyle So Good, It’s Mandatory



By Kevin D. Williamson
Thursday, January 29, 2015

California has effectively decriminalized marijuana (possession of less than an ounce is a civil matter roughly equivalent to a speeding ticket — a rarely written speeding ticket), and the state has a medical (ahem) marijuana program that is, for the moment, largely unregulated. At the same time, the state is launching a progressive jihad against “vaping,” the use of so-called e-cigarettes that deliver nicotine in the form of vapor. The state public-health department says that this is justified by the presence of certain carcinogens — benzene, formaldehyde, nickel, and lead—in e-cigarette vapor. But by California’s own account, all of those chemicals are present in marijuana smoke, too, along with 29 other carcinogens.

If that seems inconsistent to you, you are thinking about it the wrong way: For all of its scientific pretensions and empirical posturing, progressivism is not about evidence, and at its heart it is not even about public policy at all: It is about aesthetics.

The goal of progressivism is not to make the world rational; it’s to make the world Portland.

Vaping is, from the point of view of your average organic-quinoa and hot-yoga enthusiast, a lowlife thing. It is not the same thing as smoking, but it looks too much like smoking for their tastes. Indeed, California cites the possibility of vaping’s “re-normalizing smoking behavior” as a principal cause of concern. Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, says that vaping should be treated like “other important outbreaks or epidemics.”

But epidemics of what? Prole tastes?

Progressivism, especially in its well-heeled coastal expressions, is not a philosophy — it’s a lifestyle. Specifically, it is a brand of conspicuous consumption, which in a land of plenty such as ours as often as not takes the form of conspicuous non-consumption: no gluten, no bleached flour, no Budweiser, no Walmart, no SUVs, no Toby Keith, etc. The people who set the cultural tone in places such as Berkeley, Seattle, or Austin would no more be caught vaping than they would slurping down a Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s — and they conclude without thinking that, therefore, neither should anybody else. The wise man understands that there’s a reason that Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors; the lifestyle progressive in Park Slope shudders in horror at the refined sugar in all of them, and seeks to have them restricted.

There is not much that I myself am inclined to ban, from Big Gulps to recreational drugs, and I do appreciate that the main problem with rocky-road ice cream is the same as the problem with cocaine: It is exactly as good as advertised. But progressives, who so frequently adhere to insane theories of parenting, have trouble saying “no” to their children. Which is unsurprising, if you think about it: If you won’t say no to your teenage daughter’s elective mastectomy, how are you going to say no to an ice-cream cone? If you want a brief encapsulation of the view from Park Slope, consider this parent’s complaint about the ice-cream vendors in the park: “I should not have to fight with my children every warm day on the playground just so someone can make a living!” Making a living — psah! If only those ice-cream-peddling nobodies had had the good sense to get an MBA — or to marry somebody with one.

They cannot say no to their own children, but they can say no to grown adults they’ve never met. It’s the only rational thing to do: Science says vaping is dangerous, and progressives are all about the science. Until they aren’t.

On the matter of consumers’ contribution to global warming, Arianna Huffington was celebrated for leading a moralistic crusade against SUVs, which are disproportionately favored by the sort of people who might vape, eat at Applebee’s, watch the wrong television shows, and vote the wrong way. In reality, the most carbon-intensive thing the typical well-heeled American does is take an international flight — but you will not see progressives leading campaigns against European vacations or exotic eco-tourism in Southeast Asia or South America. Why? Because they dislike SUVs for other reasons — representing as they do suburbia, affluence, and the implicit rejection of tiny hybrids — and emissions are simply a handy cudgel. International travel, on the other hand, is considered an ipso facto moral good, being an integral part of how one learns to sneer at American culture and American habits. International jet travel is, therefore, necessary, and necessarily good.

It’s too bad there’s no subway to Cambodia. Transportation is a deeply aesthetic concern for progressives, which is why you hear Trader Joe’s–shopping types demanding the construction of a commuter light-rail network in Houston, a city three and a half times the area of Andorra with a population density approximately that of Mars. In places such as Houston and Los Angeles, effective forms of mass transit are more likely to move on wheels than on tracks. But in the progressive mind, trains are virtuous and sophisticated, and the bus is for . . . others.

This habit extends throughout the culture. For example, there is precisely as much evidence for the theoretical basis of yoga (the flow of mystical energy through the nāḍi, which, strictly speaking, do not exist) and chiropractic (the manipulation of vitalistic “innate intelligence,” which also, strictly speaking, does not exist) as there is for the young-Earth creationist notion that Adam rode out of Eden on the back of a prancing brontosaurus. But those ideas receive radically different receptions. Creationism, or even open discussions of criticism of conventional evolutionary models (generally daft but culturally significant) that might conceivably lead to discussion of creationism, is considered by progressives to be so dangerous that it is formally repressed in many circumstances. But fashionable pseudoscience ranging from homeopathy to aromatherapy is — at the insistence of those same progressives — subsidized by the federal government and the states under lunatic provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which should probably be renamed the Theoretically Affordable Craptastic Insurance Policy and Pseudoscientific Mystical Horsepucky Non-Care Because We Say So Act.

Similarly, there is no meaningful evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or safer, but the lifestyle progressives who run the Boulder schools insist on them, along with yoga. What’s banned? Chocolate milk.

And vaping, of course, if the February 3 vote at the city council goes as expected. As with California, chemicals from marijuana smoke will be officially tolerable, while the same chemicals from nicotine vaporizers will be officially outlawed.

On the subject of second-hand exposures to carcinogens from smoking and vaporizing, a critical issue seems to be temperature. A number of studies have suggested that low-temperature vaporizing produces only a tiny fraction of the already tiny amount of the substances giving the progressives in California and Colorado the fantods. But the debate will not be high-temperature versus low-temperature vaping. Why? Because vaping looks like smoking.

There are many conservatives who prefer organic food, who do yoga, who like trains, and who would prefer living in Brooklyn to living in Plano. De gustibus and all that. The difference is that progressives, blazing with self-righteousness, believe themselves entitled to make their preferences a matter of law.

And that’s the Left in short: A lifestyle so good, it’s mandatory.

The Final Solution: a Nuclear Iran



By Charles Krauthammer
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Amid the ritual expressions of regret and the pledges of “never again” on Tuesday’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a bitter irony was noted: Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe. With a vengeance.

It has become routine. If the kosher-grocery massacre in Paris hadn’t happened in conjunction with Charlie Hebdo, how much worldwide notice would it have received? As little as did the murder of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. As little as did the terror attack that killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

The rise of European anti-Semitism is in reality just a return to the norm. For a millennium, virulent Jew-hatred — persecution, expulsions, massacres — was the norm in Europe until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly wherein anti-Semitism became socially unacceptable.

The hiatus is over. Jew-hatred is back, recapitulating the past with impressive zeal. Italians protesting Gaza handed out leaflets calling for a boycott of Jewish merchants. As in the 1930s. A widely popular French comedian has introduced a variant of the Nazi salute. In Berlin, Gaza brought out a mob chanting, “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone!” Berlin, mind you.

European anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain, a disease of which Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself.

From the Jewish point of view, European anti-Semitism is a sideshow. The story of European Jewry is over. It died at Auschwitz. Europe’s place as the center and fulcrum of the Jewish world has been inherited by Israel, now the largest Jewish community on earth.

The threat to the Jewish future lies not in Europe but in the Muslim Middle East, today the heart of global anti-Semitism, a veritable factory of anti-Jewish literature, films, blood libels, and calls for violence — indeed for another genocide.

The founding charter of Hamas calls not just for the eradication of Israel but for the killing of Jews everywhere. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah welcomes Jewish emigration to Israel — because it makes the killing easier: “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” And, of course, Iran openly declares as its sacred mission the annihilation of Israel.

For America, Europe, and the moderate Arabs there are powerful reasons having nothing to do with Israel for trying to prevent an apocalyptic, fanatically anti-Western clerical regime in Tehran from getting the bomb: Iranian hegemony, nuclear proliferation (including to terror groups), and elemental national security.

For Israel, however, the threat is of a different order. Direct, immediate, and mortal.

The sophisticates cozily assure us not to worry. Deterrence will work. Didn’t it work against the Soviets? Well, just 17 years into the atomic age, we came harrowingly close to deterrence failure and all-out nuclear war. Moreover, godless Communists anticipate no reward in heaven. Atheists calculate differently from jihadists with their cult of death. Name one Soviet suicide bomber.

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.

And even if deterrence worked with Tehran, that’s not where the story ends. Iran’s very acquisition of nukes would set off a nuclear arms race with half a dozen Muslim countries from Turkey to Egypt to the Gulf states — in the most unstable part of the world. A place where, say, a moderate pro-American Yemen can fall to pro-Iranian rebels overnight.

The idea that some kind of six-sided deterrence would work in this roiling cauldron of instability the way it did in the frozen bipolarity of the Cold War is simply ridiculous.

The Iranian bomb is a national-security issue, an alliance issue, and a regional Middle East issue. But it is also a uniquely Jewish issue because of Israel’s situation as the only state on earth overtly threatened with extinction, facing a potential nuclear power overtly threatening that extinction.

On the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz, mourning dead Jews is easy. And, forgive me, cheap. Want to truly honor the dead? Show solidarity with the living — Israel and its 6 million Jews. Make “never again” more than an empty phrase. It took Nazi Germany seven years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear Iran one day.

When Bread Bags Weren't Funny



By Megan McArdle
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Last week, in her State of the Union response, Joni Ernst mentioned going to school with bread bags on her feet to protect her shoes. These sorts of remembrances of poor but honest childhoods used to be a staple among politicians -- that's why you've heard so much about Abe Lincoln's beginnings in a log cabin. But the bread bags triggered a lot of hilarity on Twitter, which in turn triggered this powerful meditation from Peggy Noonan on how rich we have become. So rich that we have forgotten things that are well within living memory:


    I liked what Ernst said because it was real. And it reminded me of the old days.

    There are a lot of Americans, and most of them seem to be on social media, who do not know some essentials about their country, but this is the way it was in America once, only 40 and 50 years ago:

    America had less then. Americans had less.

    If you were from a family that was barely or not quite getting by, you really had one pair of shoes. If your family was doing OK you had one pair of shoes for school and also a pair of what were called Sunday shoes -- black leather or patent leather shoes. If you were really comfortable you had a pair of shoes for school, Sunday shoes, a pair of play shoes and even boots, which where I spent my childhood (Brooklyn, and Massapequa, Long Island) were called galoshes or rubbers. At a certain point everyone had to have sneakers for gym, but if you didn’t have sneakers you could share a pair with a friend, trading them in the hall before class.

    If you had just one pair of shoes, which was the case in my family, you had trouble when it rained or snowed. How to deal with it?

    You used the plastic bags that bread came in. Or you used plastic bags that other items came in. Or you used Saran Wrap if you had it, wrapping your shoes and socks in it. Or you let your shoes and socks get all wet, which we also did.


I am a few years younger than Noonan, but I grew up in a very different world -- one where a number of my grammar school classmates were living in public housing or on food stamps, but everyone had more than one pair of shoes. In rural areas, like the one where Joni Ernst grew up, this lingered longer. But all along, Americans got richer and things got cheaper -- especially when global markets opened up. Payless will sell you a pair of child's shoes for $15, which is two hours of work even at minimum wage.

Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you -- two whole hours! But I've been researching historical American living standards for a project I'm working on, and if you're familiar with what Americans used to spend on things, this sounds like a very good deal.

Consider the "Little House on the Prairie" books, which I'd bet almost every woman in my readership, and many of the men, recalls from their childhoods. I loved those books when I was a kid, which seemed to describe an enchanted world -- horses! sleighs! a fire merrily crackling in the fireplace, and children frolicking in the snow all winter, then running barefoot across the prairies! Then I reread them as an adult, as a prelude to my research, and what really strikes you is how incredibly poor these people were. The Ingalls family were in many ways bourgeoisie: educated by the standards of the day, active in community leadership, landowners. And they had nothing.

There's a scene in one of the books where Laura is excited to get her own tin cup for Christmas, because she previously had to share with her sister. Think about that. No, go into your kitchen and look at your dishes. Then imagine if you had three kids, four plates and three cups, because buying another cup was simply beyond your household budget -- because a single cup for your kid to drink out of represented not a few hours of work, but a substantial fraction of your annual earnings, the kind of money you really had to think hard before spending. Then imagine how your five-year-old would feel if they got an orange and a Corelle place setting for Christmas.

There's a reason old-fashioned kitchens didn't have cabinets: They didn't need them. There wasn't anything to put there.

Imagine if your kids had to spend six months out of the year barefoot because you couldn't afford for them to wear their shoes year-round. Now, I love being barefoot, and I longed to spend more time that way as a child. But it's a little different when it's an option. I walked a mile barefoot on a cold fall day -- once. It's fine for the first few minutes, and then it hurts like hell. Sure, your feet toughen up. But when it's cold and wet, your feet crack and bleed. As they do if the icy rain soaks through your shoes, and your feet have to stay that way all day because you don't own anything else to change into. I'm not talking about making sure your kids have a decent pair of shoes to wear to school; I'm talking about not being able to afford to put anything at all on their feet.

Or take the matter of food. There is nothing so romanticized as old-fashioned cookery, lovingly hand-prepared with fresh, 100 percent organic ingredients. If you were a reader of the Little House books, or any number of other series about 19th-century children, then you probably remember the descriptions of luscious meals. When you reread these books, you realize that they were so lovingly described because they were so vanishingly rare. Most of the time, people were eating the same spare food three meals a day: beans, bread or some sort of grain porridge, and a little bit of meat for flavor, heavily preserved in salt. This doesn't sound romantic and old-fashioned; it sounds tedious and unappetizing. But it was all they could afford, and much of the time, there wasn't quite enough of that.

These were not the nation's dispossessed; they were the folks who had capital for seed and farm equipment. There were lots of people in America much poorer than the Ingalls were. Your average middle-class person was, by the standards of today, dead broke and living in abject misery. And don't tell me that things used to be cheaper back then, because I'm not talking about their cash income or how much money they had stuffed under the mattress. I'm talking about how much they could consume. And the answer is "a lot less of everything": food, clothes, entertainment. That's even before we talk about the things that hadn't yet been invented, such as antibiotics and central heating.

In 1901, the average "urban wage earner" spent about 46 percent of their household budget on food and another 15 percent on apparel -- that's 61 percent of their annual income just to feed and clothe the family. That does not include shelter, or fuel to heat your home and cook your food. By 1987, that same household spent less than 20 percent on food and a little over 5 percent of their budget on apparel. Since then, these numbers have fallen even further: Today, families with incomes of less than $5,000 a year still spend only 16 percent of the family budget on food and 3.5 percent on apparel. And that's not because we're eating less and wearing fewer clothes; in fact, it's the reverse.

The average working-class family of 1901 had a few changes of clothes and a diet heavy on beans and grain, light on meat and fresh produce -- which simply wasn't available for much of the year, even if they'd had the money to afford it. Even growing up in the 1950s, in a comfortably middle-class home, my mother's wardrobe consisted of a week's worth of school clothes, a church dress and a couple of play outfits. Her counterparts today can barely fit all their clothes in their closets, even though today's houses are much bigger than they used to be; putting a family of five in a 900-square-foot house with a single bathroom was an aspirational goal for the generation that settled Levittown, but in an era when new homes average more than 2,500 square feet, it sounds like poverty.

At that, even the people living in the last decades of the 19th century were richer than those who had gone before them. I remember coming across a Mauve Decade newspaper clipping that contained a description of my great-grandmother "going visiting" in some nearby town during the 1890s. On the other side of the clipping was a letter to the editor from a woman in her 90s, complaining that these giddy young things didn't know how good they had it compared to the old days -- why, they even bought their  saleratus  from a store instead of making it from corncobs like they did back when times were simpler and thrifty housewives knew the value of a dollar.

Joni Ernst, who is just a few years older than me, had a much more affluent childhood than the generation that settled the prairies, and more affluent still than the generations before them. But in many ways, she was much poorer than the people making fun of her on Twitter, simply because so many goods have gotten so much more abundant. Not just processed foods and flat-screen televisions -- the favorite target of people who like to pooh-pooh economic progress. But good and necessary things such as shoes for your children and fresh vegetables to feed them, even in winter.

In every generation, we forget how much poorer we used to be, and then we forget that we have forgotten. We focus on the things that seem funny or monstrous or quaint and darling. Somehow the simplest and most important fact -- the immense differences between their living standards and ours -- slides right past our eye. And when Ernst tried to remind us, people didn't say "Wow, we've really come a long way"; they pointed and laughed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Can Israel Survive?



By Victor Davis Hanson
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. Eight million Israelis are surrounded by some 400 million Muslims in more than 20 states. Almost all of Israel’s neighbors are anti-Israeli dictatorships, monarchies, or theocracies — a number of them reduced to a state of terrorist chaos.

Given the rise of radical Islam, the huge petrodollar wealth of the Middle East, and lopsided demography, how has Israel so far survived?

The Jewish state has always depended on three unspoken assumptions for its tenuous existence.

First, a democratic, nuclear Israel can deter larger enemies. In the Cold War, Soviet-backed Arab enemies understood that Israel’s nuclear arsenal prevented them from destroying Tel Aviv.

Second, the Western traditions of Israel — free-market capitalism, democracy, human rights — ensured a dynamic economy, high-tech weapons, innovative industry, and stable government. In other words, 8 million Israelis could count on a greater gross domestic product, less internal violence, and more innovation than, say, nearby Egypt, a mess with ten times more people than Israel and nearly 50 times more land.

Third, Israel counted on Western moral support from America and Europe, as well as military support from the United States.

Israel’s stronger allies have often come to the defense of its democratic principles and pointed out that the world applies an unfair standard to Israel, largely out of envy of its success, anti-Semitism, fear of terrorism, and fondness of oil exporters.

Why, for example, does the United Nations focus so much attention on Palestinians who fled Israel nearly 70 years ago but ignore Muslims who were forced out of India, or Jews who were ethnically cleansed from the cities of the Middle East? Why doesn’t the world worry that Nicosia is a more divided city than Jerusalem, or that Turkey occupies northern Cyprus, or that China occupies Tibet?

Unfortunately, two of these three traditional pillars of Israeli security have eroded.

When the United States arbitrarily lifted tough sanctions against Iran and became a de facto partner with the Iranian theocracy in fighting the Islamic State, it almost ensured that Iran will get a nuclear bomb. Iran has claimed that it wishes to destroy Israel, as if its own apocalyptic sense of self makes it immune from classical nuclear deterrence.

Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) summed up the Obama administration’s current policy on Iran as “talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” Obama has cynically dismissed Menendez’s worries about negotiations with Iran as a reflection not of the senator’s principles, but of his concerns over “donors” — apparently a reference to wealthy pro-Israel American Jews.

Symbolism counts, too. President Obama was about the only major world leader to skip the recent march in Paris to commemorate the victims of attacks by radical Islamic terrorists — among them Jews singled out and murdered for their faith. Likewise, he was odd world leader out when he skipped this week’s 70-year commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Obama is not expected to meet with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will address Congress in March. An anonymous member of the Obama administration was quoted as calling Netanyahu, a combat veteran, a “coward” and describing him with a related expletive. Another nameless administration official recently said Netanyahu “spat in our face” by accepting the congressional invitation without Obama’s approval and so will pay “a price” — personal animus that the administration has not directed even against the leaders of a hostile Iran.

Obama won’t meet with Netanyahu, and yet the president had plenty of time to hold an adolescent bull session with a would-be Internet comedian decked out in Day-Glo makeup who achieved her fame by filming herself eating breakfast cereal in a bathtub full of milk.

Jews have been attacked and bullied on the streets of some of the major cities of France and Sweden by radical Muslims whose anti-Semitism goes unchecked by their terrified hosts. Jewish leaders in France openly advise that Jews in that country immigrate to Israel.

A prosecutor in Argentina who had investigated the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 — an attack widely believed to have been backed by Iran — was recently found dead under mysterious circumstances.

Turkey, a country whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was praised by Obama as one of his closest friends among world leaders, has turned openly non-secular and is vehemently anti-Israel.

Until there is a change of popular attitudes in Europe or a different president in the United States, Israel is on its own to deal with an Iran that has already hinted it would use a nuclear weapon to eliminate the “Zionist entity,” with the radical Islamic madness raging on its borders, and with the global harassment of Jews.

A tiny democratic beacon in the Middle East should inspire and rally Westerners. Instead, too often, Western nations shrug and assume that Israel is a headache — given that there is more oil and more terrorism on the other side.