BEN WEINGARTEN

Reader. Writer. Thinker. Commentator. Truth Seeker.

Month: April 2014

Mark Steyn speaks with TheBlaze on his new book, and everything from global warming to Common Core to the First Amendment

We spoke with best-selling author and columnist Mark Steyn in connection with the release of a newly updated version of his entertaining and insightful book of obituaries and appreciations, “Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Steyn spoke with TheBlaze Books on his newly updated book, the fate of America, and issues ranging from gay marriage to global warming to free speech to education and Common Core. The interview, which we conducted in-person, is transcribed below with edits for clarity and links.

If you appreciate this interview, be sure to follow Blaze Books on Facebook and Twitter.

Give us a brief synopsis of your newly updated book, “Passing Parade: Obituaries & Appreciations.“

Steyn: Well my big books in recent years have been on the big geopolitical, socio-economic picture. A lot of statistics, lot of numbers, lot of big picture stuff. “America Alone” is essentially a book about demography – I mean I got a best-selling book about demography which doesn’t happen very often, but it’s about fertility rates, really. “After America” in some ways is about debt – it’s about multi-trillion dollar numbers. And they’re all big picture things, but for me the real pleasure is writing about people, and reminding yourself…that it’s not all fertility rates and debt/GDP ratios, but that at the right moment of history, one individual can make a difference. And the people in this book are people who made a difference. That can be in the sense of winning the Cold War like Ronald Reagan did, or it can be in the sense of William Mitchell, who’s the guy who invented Cool Whip…I like writing obituaries. The only thing I would say is that it’s hard to write about people you…you can’t be entirely negative or hateful about people. There’s gotta be something in there [within the person] that you respond to.

And it’s interesting – even someone like Romano Mussolini, who is the Mussolini’s son – Il Duche – the big-time fascist dictator of Italy…Romano Mussolini was a jazz pianist of all things, and I met him once when he came to play in London. His group was called the “Romano Mussolini All Stars.” And after the war in Italy, his dad had been hung from a lamppost, the bottom had dropped out of the dictating business, but Romano got to be the jazz pianist that he’d always wanted to be. But he thought the Mussolini name wouldn’t go well, so he changed his name to the equivalent of “Romano Smith and His Trio.” And nobody came to see him. And then he discovered that actually, the Romano Mussolini All Stars, that that was actually quite a draw with the jazz crowd. But there’s even in that – as I said, Mussolini wound up hanging from a lamppost when they caught up with him with his mistress, but even…the final anecdote about that is that the last time Romano saw his dad, when his time had almost run out, and everybody was catching up with him, and his dad came in effectively to say “Goodbye…” he didn’t know it would be the last time he saw him and he asked him to play some music from Franz Lehár, from The Merry Widow. And just that, even in the…just that little vignette is like a very poignant, human moment, in the life of someone who a couple weeks later was hanging from that lamppost.

I think you always have to if you’re writing – even if you’re writing about – whoever it is, there’s gotta be some little way into the story that makes them human.

And you know as bad as things are – when I think back to that time for example, and I think when Neville Chamberlain was forced out of the prime ministership in the spring of 1940, if the Tory party had picked Lord Halifax instead of Winston Churchill, the entire history of the 20th century would have been different. And so the lesson you draw…we’re in New York City…Winston Churchill was almost hit by a car crossing 5th Avenue in 1932 or whatever it was – if that taxicab had actually left the tread marks over Winston Churchill — again the entire history of the second half of the 20th century would have been different. And so the lesson you draw from that is that yes the debt numbers are bad, yes the demographic numbers are bad, yes all the big picture stuff, the trends, the macroeconomic stuff is all bad, but even so, one man, the right man at the right moment can make all the difference…extraordinary people can make all the difference.

One of the obituaries that I thought interesting was Strom Thurmond’s. Give some readers insight into the story in which you were stuck in an elevator between Barbara Boxer and Strom Thurmond.

Steyn: I was covering the impeachment trial of President Clinton, which was the first time I’d been exposed close up to the United States Senate, which is not a lovely site. And one of the few interesting things as that trial wore on was actually Strom Thurmond because he – Clinton had the sort of two sexpot lady lawyers – and Strom Thurmond used to bring candy for them each day, and then press them with his 112-year old lizard-like hands into their fingers. And you could see the women were like, fatally taken aback by this, but at a certain level they understood that this was what it was gonna take to prevent their guy from being removed from office. And in the end, Strom did not vote to remove Clinton from office, in part I do believe because he had the hots for those lawyers.

But yea, there was one moment at the end of the day where we were sort of pressed in a crush – me, Barbara Boxer, Strom Thurmond, and a ton of other people. And I suddenly noticed what I thought was this like incredible-sized lizard on the sleeve of my coat. And I was listening to – I think Barbara Boxer was talking – so you look down in horror as this thing is moving down your arm, and then I realize that as it then reached down and began to stroke my hand that it was the incredibly wizened fingers of Strom Thurmond who I think had been meaning to reach over and stroke Barbara Boxer’s hand, but had fallen a little short, and ended up stroking mine.

What can you do? It’s not often…people are always saying your editors always want you to get up close and personal with these political figures, and I felt, if nothing else, I’d done some serious heavy petting with Strom Thurmond.

But, you know, we live in hyper-partisan times, and that’s fair enough. My view basically of the American situation — Mark Levin and I were actually talking about this one time, and Mark put it very well: it’s a 50/50 nation and one side has to win, and the other side has to lose. And I tend to agree with that. All that said though, when you’re being groped by Strom Thurmond, it’s important to be able to recognize the comedy in your own side too. I like to think I could always do that.

Read more at TheBlaze…

America’s Submission to Islam and the Censorship of the Left

By now you are likely aware of the recent events at Brandeis University.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an Islamic apostate with a fatwa on her head, a fearless critic of Islam and a stalwart defender of women’s rights was slated to receive an honorary degree and deliver a commencement address at Brandeis. The degree was summarily revoked due to “past statements…inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Image Source: Getty/Michel Baret/Gamma-Rapho)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (Image Source: Getty/Michel Baret/Gamma-Rapho)

Many folks have admirably opined on this matter:

John Podhoretz spoke with a candor sorely lacking in this age of intolerant “tolerance,” when he said that the decision by Brandeis President Fred Lawrence was “nothing less than the act of a gutless, spineless, simpering coward.”

Charles Cooke spoke incisively to the irony of the situation that Ms. Ali was targeted despite tending “to side with a favored group — women — against a favored foe — religion,” in one of the “peculiar outcomes” of the “Left’s hierarchy of victims.”

Professor Jay Bergman spoke passionately to the hypocrisy of the matter in light of the honorary degrees awarded to Tony Kushner and Desmond Tutu despite their respective anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic remarks, seemingly in direct conflict with the school’s “core values.”

All of these critiques are legitimate, but what underlies them is something more fundamental: dhimmitude.

Dhimmis are non-Muslim citizens living as second-class citizens under an Islamic state, subjected to various social, political, and economic restrictions, along with a tax called a jizya. Dhimmitude is a phrase coined by author Bat Ye’or to reflect as one author puts it, “an attitude of concession, surrender and appeasement towards Islamic demands.”

What Brandeis did in caving to the likes of CAIR (Council of Islamic Relations) — an unindicted co-conspirator with Hamas in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation case — whose primary work seems to be to smear as “Islamophobes” and drown out all those critical of Islam (including abused Muslim women themselves), along with Brandeis’ Muslim Students Association (MSA), an organization which  was founded in America by Muslim Brotherhood members in 1963, represents nothing less than the epitome of Western dhimmitude.

Continue reading at TheBlaze…

George Will: ‘I’m quite confident that we’re going to rebel against this abusive government’

In an interview with TheBlaze Books [TwitterFacebook] in connection with the release of his new book, “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred,” we spoke with prodigious columnist and author George Will on all things baseball and his unified theory of beer, and then moved on to the arguably more important topic of the state of the union, touching on everything from the American founding, Will’s affinity for the Tea Party, to 2016, to immigration.

Among other explosive comments, Will told us that he is “quite confident that we’re going to rebel against this abusive government…sooner or later arithmetic is going to force realism on us.”

Our interview, which we conducted via phone, is below, slightly modified to include links and italics for emphasis.

There’s the old cliché that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Is there a time in world history that you think is most analogous to today, and what country do you think in that era represented America? In other words, are we in World War I, and America is the British Empire, or is this World War II, or are we Rome? I’m curious as to your thoughts. 

Will: Well ever since at about the time of the American founding, Edward Gibbon wrote “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” people have been fascinated by the threat that democracies would decay; that history would be cyclical not linear; that decay and decline was inevitable; that the seeds of destruction were in particular regimes and particularly in democracies. And clearly the American founders worried about this. And Lincoln worried about it at Gettysburg, that the question was “Whether we shall long endure this form of government.”

So I think that we’re in a period today comparable to the American founding period in two senses: one, we’re worried about decay — we’re worried about whether we’re squandering our legacy and whether we’re calling into question whether people can really govern themselves — but also because, and this is the heartening part of this, today as never before in my lifetime, Americans have rekindled their interest in the founding era and the founding principles. Look at the wonderful sales of biographies of the founders: Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison. Look at the Tea Party, which I think frankly is one of the great events of my lifetime.

The American people go through life with a little crick of their necks from looking back at the past, and that’s healthy. We always relate to the Declaration and to the Constitution and here, along comes the Tea Party movement named after something that happened in 1773: the Boston Tea Party. And it’s called us back to reverence for, and understanding of, and insistence upon, the founding principles of limited government. So, in a good sense and a bad sense, I think we’re in the founding period. We’re in a period like our founding when we considered first principles and worried about the possibility of decay.

What do you view as the greatest threat to America today?

Will: The greatest threat to America today – there are two of them and they’re related: one is family disintegration, the fact that Americans’ babies are born to unmarried women. We know the importance of a father in the home. We know that the family is the primary transmitter of what’s called social capital, that is the habits, mores, customs, values, dispositions that make for success in a free society. So that’s one threat to America.

The other is the simple fact that we will not live within our means. We are piling up debts for other people to pay. We used to borrow money for the future. We won wars for the future. We built roads, highways, bridges, dams, airports for the future. Now, we’re borrowing from the future, from the rising generations in order to finance our own current consumption of government services, and that just seems to me as fundamentally and self-evidently wrong as can be.

And to follow up on that, I would imagine that you probably agree that politics is a reflection of the culture – policies can ultimately have an effect on the culture, but politics stems from the culture. So to that end, can you see a time at which our society will so rebel against the Leviathan state that it will actually vote to slash it’s own benefits, and the largesse that it’s receiving?

Will: I’m quite confident that we’re going to rebel against this abusive government. I think that, you know Winston Churchill said, “The American people invariably do the right thing after they have exhausted all the alternatives.” And I think we’re beginning to get to the bottom of the list of alternatives, and to realize that arithmetic is inexorable. You can’t make 2+2 equal 7, and sooner or later arithmetic is going to force realism upon us.

Read more at TheBlaze…

George Will explains his unified theory of beer (and speaks with TheBlaze about all things baseball)

In an interview with TheBlaze Books [TwitterFacebook] in connection with the release of his new book, “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred,” we spoke with prodigious columnist and author George Will on baseball, the Cubs and Wrigley Field, Will’s view on shortening baseball games to 7 innings, PEDs and his entertaining and informative unified theory of beer.

Our interview, which we conducted via phone, is below, slightly modified to include links and italics for emphasis.

Who is this book intended for? And why should non-Cubs fans and even non-baseball fans read it? 

Will: Well it’s a little bit a book about me, it’s a book about Chicago, it’s a book about 20th century history, and about baseball in general. And beyond that it’s a book about the peculiar chemistry of loyalty that we develop towards these teams. Those of us who are sports fans occasionally sit back and say, “What am I doing? Why do I care so much about this?”

And the answer is a complex one that we care about excellence, and professional athletes do difficult, dangerous things well, but beyond that I think baseball particularly – the everyday-ness of it – the 162 game season, the fact that going to the ballpark is a big part of being a baseball fan in a way that going to a football stadium is not a big part of the NFL fan’s experience. I served on a Major League Baseball commission that studied this and we came to the conclusion that about 98% of self-identified NFL fans had never been to an NFL game. In baseball the ballpark itself, the experience of coming together with fellow members of your tribe for three hours of shared enjoyment is much more important than in other sports. In cities particularly where we’re kind of a dust of individuals, this provides us with unity – one that may only gather and disperse for three hours, but it does so 81 times a year at home, and on the radio and television, so it’s a very interesting chemistry of loyalty that’s also the subject of the book.

There’s also some I find interesting and amusing digressions on the history of beer and it’s relationship to baseball, and Babe Ruth’s called shot – alleged called shot in the 1932 World Series – I’m deeply skeptical of the whole myth, and things like that. It was a writing challenge that provoked me as a professional writer – I said “Well, Wrigley Field’s coming up on one hundred years old, must be some interesting things there. Turns out there really were.”

You mention a couple of stories there – I also thought in particular the Lady’s Day stories with folks being able to stand on the field were quite amusing, along with the sad story you tell of Hack Wilson’s life. Is there any one particular story that most resonated with you, or that you care most deeply about associated with the Cubs and Wrigley Field?

Will: Well let’s go with a couple of things you mentioned. One is the sad story of Hack Wilson who to this day holds one of the almost unbreakable records in baseball: 191 RBI’s in one season. He was five foot six. His shoe size was five and a half (5 ½). Very strange looking man and frankly today we know that some of the curious physical attributes of him are associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. And indeed he was born to a teenage unmarried mother who was herself an alcoholic. He was to die of alcohol-related ailments. But in a blazing career with a sharp rise in trajectory and equally sharp plunge, he dominated baseball for a few years. And there is a melancholy aspect of this because professional athletes generally have a compressed trajectory because they peak a little early in life and have to find something to do with the rest of their lives. He unfortunately didn’t have much of a rest of his life.

The most amusing story to me was to discover that Wrigley Field had a vendor for awhile who was a “ne’er-do-well,” and he seemed to have ways of sort of cheating his fans and the Cub management kept an eye on him. His name was Jack Rubenstein. He later left Chicago, moved to Dallas, changed his name to Jack Ruby and of course entered history by killing Lee Harvey Oswald.

Wonderful stories like this – you mentioned a moment ago the Lady’s Day phenomenon – William Wrigley (the Wrigley after whom the ballpark is named), was a visionary in baseball. First of all with regard to radio, a lot of owners said, “Oh radio’s going to kill baseball, it’s terrible. People won’t come out to the ballpark anymore.” He said, “Nonsense. Radio will be the greatest merchandiser of our sport. It will whet people’s appetite for coming to the ballpark.” So, he gave away the broadcasting rights to the Cubs. In fact at one point five Chicago radio stations were broadcasting the Cubs. And indeed it worked. People began to come out to see that which had interested them on the radio.

And you mentioned Lady’s Day – he said, “Look, our ballparks at that time were sort of rough and ready places, and women didn’t want to go there – particularly didn’t want to go there alone.” He said, “Well, we’re gonna let them in free.” Well, on some days 17,000 showed up. And they overflowed the grandstand and the bleachers, and would stand in high heels – people got dressed up to go to the ballpark then – they’d stand in the outfield their heels sinking into the dirt and they’d string a rope around the outfield to contain them and still define the outfield. And they could help the Cubs because when the opposing batter hit a deep fly they’d back up, so the Cub outfielder could have more room to chase the fly down, and when the Cub batter hit a fly ball they’d move in, so they’d be more apt to go into the crowd for…I guess they’d call it a ground rule double. But this was the way baseball began to merchandise itself, and was a great success.

Read more at TheBlaze…

Famed libertarian author Charles Murray tells TheBlaze why he has given up on political solutions

We spoke with Charles Murray, author of the new book, “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life,” and most famously the stillcontroversial “The Bell Curve,” on a variety of topics from why Professor Murray has increasingly given up on policy solutions to America’s problems altogether, to grammar, the importance of Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” and religion.

We conducted our interview via e-mail, reproduced below with minimal edits and modified to include links.

And in case you missed it, be sure to check out our full review of Murray’s book as well.

Make the pitch to readers young and old for why they should pick up a self-identified curmudgeon’s guide to self-improvement? Did you intend for your book to appeal to an audience beyond ambitious young adults and their parents?

Murray: You have to understand that this book wasn’t planned. It just happened. I started writing tips to [American Enterprise Institute’s] AEI’s young staff, getting some pet peeves off my chest (for example, tip #2, “Don’t use first names with people considerably older than you until asked, and sometimes not even then”) and it grew from there. A lot of the readers told me this was useful stuff and that they were emailing my tips to their friends. So why not make a book out of it? In answer to your question, the book is pretty specific in its target audience: Smart, ambitious 20-somethings, usually with a college degree.

Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) “Coming Apart,” towards the end you note that those living in super-bubbles should and in a sense have a duty to reassert their values in order to fix the cultural divide. Given the advice in “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead,” is there meant to be any continuity between the two works?

Murray: I didn’t plan it that way, but many of the tips draw directly from my earlier work, and not just “Coming Apart.” The discussion of judgmentalism, using the example of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,” draws directly from a similar discussion in “Human Accomplishment.” The tip that talks about the cardinal virtues draws directly from a passage in “Real Education.” The discussion of the sources of human happiness draws from “In Pursuit.” Many of the things that in earlier books I discussed in the abstract have found concrete applications in “Curmudgeon’s Guide.”

Read more at TheBlaze…

Why does Allen West wish that more top generals would resign from the military?

Former Congressman and retired Lieutenant Army Colonel Allen West has a new book out titled “Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom.”

Yesterday Blaze Books spoke with Rep. West about his new book, and a wide variety of issues ranging from the military, a message he hopes the military sends to civilian leaders and Russia, to education and Common Core, to how the congressman believes Republicans can go about garnering support in the black community, the potential for a third major political party and much more.

Below is the transcript of our interview, edited for clarity and length. For more, be sure to check out the 12 most provocative quotes from Rep. West’s new book, and if you’d like to keep abreast of similar content, give us a follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Give your elevator pitch for why Blaze readers should pick up “Guardian of the Republic.”

West: Well I think it defines me and it also defines why I fight so passionately for this country. Which I think all Blaze readers really believe passionately in this country. So I think it’s so important right now when you see the American people really not fundamentally understanding what America is about and its established principles and values, that’s what I try to do in this book and it really is not an autobiography, it’s a philosophical biography. 

If there were one or two takeaways from your book that you would like to emphasize, what would they be?

West: Number one to understand that I’m living the American dream. To have been brought up out of the inner city of Atlanta, Georgia, to be where I am today sitting here with you looking out over New York City. That’s incredible, and that’s what is part of American exceptionalism. Number two is to understand that fundamentals of America is principles and values, and we’ve got to be able to get that message out there. Because right now we’re on the wrong path and we need to take the exit ramp. Number three, being a black conservative is not something new, it’s not trendy, it’s been around. As a matter of fact, some of the most conservative people in America are black, but we’re viciously attacked and demonized because the other side cannot stand for us to exist. And then the last thing is about – you always have to talk about the future, solutions, and I believe that the future of this nation can be brighter once we once again re-connect with our principles.

One of the things you speak to in this book is the lack of principled leaders in Washington.

West: Just think about what recently happened when the president comes out yesterday [Tuesday] on the Rose Garden and says you know we never went out and tried to sell Obamacare to everyone. We just kind of let people make their own choice. Well that’s a gross exaggeration of the truth. I mean think about the billions of dollars [the Obama administration spent on its healthcare efforts]. So I think that we need to get honor and and integrity and character restored back to Capitol Hill. This guy testifying right now Mike Morell who lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee; you know Susan Rice going out and saying what she said [on Benghazi]…there’s a perpetual lying – and this is bipartisan of course – that we have got to get people that are concerned about the American interests, not their own self-interest, not special interests. And that’s what I want to try to bring out. We have to get back to servant leadership.

Why are fewer military folks seeking public office at least at the national level?

West: We don’t want to deal with the BS. I mean we’re very straightforward, we’re mission-oriented, we’re task-oriented, and we just don’t have time for charlatans, usurpers and jokers or pranksters. But what you are finding is that there is a clarion call out there to get more to take off their uniform, put on a suit and tie and run, because as someone told me “the oath of office that you took does not have a statute of limitations.”

Read more at TheBlaze…

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