Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy

Never has a blog title spoken quicker to the absolute truth than "Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy" ...


Another New Column: "For the Corporation"

Wednesday, 26 march 2008 - 637 words

Bill Maher said something interesting last week, which by itself is newsworthy because Maher tends to bypass interesting and linger somewhere between thoughtless reaction, easy joke-getting, and provocation. Asked by Chris Matthews to lend his vast military experience to the Iraqi War on its fifth anniversary, talk eventually got around to Senator Obama’s Pivotal Speech About Race. Say, Bill, isn’t Barack dreamy?

“I thought it was great that Barack Obama, in the speech, made the point that you [meaning “little people”] are not being kept down by the immigrants or the black guy,” Maher said. “That is not who is your problem. Your problem is the corporation, the greedy corporation and those people who – who put politicians in office, who do the bidding of those corporations, who rapaciously plunder the workers’ pensions, who take their jobs overseas and so forth. That is the real problem.” [i]

It would be interesting to know what corporations Maher is talking about; if he knows of companies that are uniformly plundering the pensions of its employees, he’d do better to reach out to the Feds than blabbering about it to Chris Matthews. For the time being we’ll assume he knows of none and additionally forego the obvious question of whether, in Maher’s view, it’s better for environmentalists, trial lawyers, and George Soros to put politicians into office, taking the opportunity instead to discuss corporations as a modern ideal.

The Left uses “Corporations” as a derisive term, in much the same way it puts Big in front of things it doesn’t like or understand (e.g., Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Fast Food). Not necessarily because they’re bad companies (though some certainly are), and not because they’re shortchanging shareholders, but because they’ve committed the cardinal sin of not behaving to the Left’s exact specifications (Wal-Mart), or because they’ve had the nerve to win the same sorts of no bid contracts as during previous administrations (Halliburton), furthermore having the insolence to provide the services contracted to provide.

Granted there is something serious to be said about instances of corruption and over-charging, but I for one find it impossible to believe that anyone who stands stoic while a government spends four trillion dollars really gives much of a damn about over-charging for corn, or whatever it was. (You’ll find that Big Government is the only Big the Left supports without reservation.) More likely the Left's contempt for King Hal is Cheney related than it actually understands what happens there.

When your basic philosophical tenet is “From each of his own, to each of his own,” it’s going to be hard to understand how and why corporations work, which is why liberals are so vexed by the idea of jobs being moved overseas. Here the conservative takes a split: Of course something awful happens whenever an American loses a job, but there isn’t a Right-winger worth his salt who doesn’t take the Kudlow Creed imminently more seriously than its Communist counterpart. [ii]

Corporations aren’t in business to provide jobs. They’re in business to turn profit and, where applicable, serve shareholders. To the degree any large company is a “good citizen,” it becomes one against its own self-interest, tolerating repetitive regulation, over-regulation, and prohibitive rates of taxation. The Left’s answer to ExxonMobil turning record profits was not to dig into its quarterly filing and take note of how much of that profit will be pumped back into its own infrastructure, or how much will be dedicated to R and D, or what the company means by R and D, or the dividend it will pay its shareholders. Its first reaction was to read the top line and wonder how much more they can pilfer. Which is fine if you want to be France by 2015, not so great if you continue to hope capitalism will work its magic.

[i] Hardball, 19 March 2008; http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23725038/; last accessed 23 March 2008.

[ii] The Kudlow Creed: “I believe free market capitalism is the best path to prosperity.”


New Column: "(Jeremiah) Wright Reasoning"

Saturday, 22 March 2008 - 701 words

Always better for the interested observer to read Barack Obama’s speeches as opposed to watching or listening to them. As is designed, the mind tends to wander when he speaks, so distracted by his masterful delivery that the substance of his remarks, provided there is any substance, becomes irrelevant. When foregoing essence, Obama can be expected to offer creepy neo-socialism, petty vagaries, and / or various renditions of “Aren’t you wonderful for being so open-minded as to vote for a black man?”

Unfortunately for Senator Obama, no one was particularly interested in last Tuesday’s broad-brushed simplifications of slavery at the time of the Constitution’s writing, or a generic rehashing of his books. (“I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.” We know, we know.) All we wanted to hear about was Jeremiah Wright, and whether Obama would take the occasion as his opportunity to fashion his very own Sister Souljah Moment.

Not quite. Senator Obama chose instead to walk an intellectual tightrope: Racism is horrible and oughtn’t be tolerated (check); so much so that even his own grandmother, who is still alive, is fodder for an embarrassing public backhanding (gee whiz, really?); but even though Wright should be condemned, “in unequivocal terms,” it’s important to know that his displays of overt racism and paranoia are part of a bigger black religious experience. Or something. “The church [Trinity United] contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.”

Are kindness, cruelty, intelligence, and ignorance unique only to the black experience, or do they also have bearing on the white experience? If they do indeed have some bearing, shouldn’t large pockets of white racism and suspicion be excused on the grounds that sometimes dignity escapes us, as it did so often for Reverend Wright?

We know now that Obama’s white grandmother has 1) fretted over young blacks on the street, and 2) made minorities the subject of some backward comments. Well, on the first count, so has Jesse Jackson (“There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved”[i]), but don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to throw him under a bus. On the second count, it would be interesting to know whether White Grandma’s comments were as sand-poundingly idiotic as Reverend Wright’s greatest hits, as opposed to simply being ignorant.

Senator Obama’s point was that he can no sooner divorce himself from Wright than he can his grandmother, which seems a stunning lack of tenacity for someone who thinks he can handle our enemies better than George W. Bush has handled them. Geraldine Ferraro’s latest salvo against the Obama campaign was to essentially say, Look, he can mention me in his little speeches all he wants, but Barack Obama’s continued association with Wright only brings his judgment into further question. You’d be hard pressed to prove she’s wrong.

Anyway, the problem with Wright’s reasoning isn’t necessarily that he’s anti-America; he’s barely indistinguishable from the rest of the liberal Left, as far as that goes. The problem is that what passes for his thinking only seems to draw one half of a circle; add the other half and his arguments become … well … circular. If God would damn America, in the form of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then who’s to say Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t God’s punishment for Pearl Harbor?

And why would God damn America for “treating [its] citizens as less than human” when the closest we come to enslaving people these days is through the income tax? Wouldn’t God have been better to damn James Buchanan’s America, or Franklin Roosevelt’s America for interring Japanese, or Hitler’s Germany for its concentration camps, or the Soviet Union for the Gulag? Wouldn’t it be safer (and smarter) to speculate that the War Between the States and the Second World War accounted just fine for God’s punishment?

[i] Juan Williams, Enough, page 110 in the hardback edition.


Essay: Last Words on William F. Buckley, Jr., 1925 -2008

Wednesday, 19 March 2008 - 1,767 words.

At the time of this posting, William F. Buckley, Jr. has been dead for three weeks. At first planning to write or say nothing to mark the occasion, I did finally begin taking notes and reflecting at significant length after two weeks, finally deciding a few days ago to string them all into a series of disjointed thoughts, as some tribute to my literary hero.

* * *

In the weeks before a website called IntellectualConservative.com launched the “In Dissent” column (it was called “For the Record” then), the site’s editor posted a teaser. Its exact wording has escaped me over the years, but the upshot was, “If you love William F. Buckley, Jr., you’ll love Brian S. Wise,” which was (and in large measure remains) as thrilling and frightening a compliment as has ever been bestowed upon a failed newspaper columnist who had someone managed to fool a few people into thinking he was smart.

How many commentators, would you guess, have been placed at the back end of that association over the years since God and Man at Yale? And how many have been called, or thought themselves, the logical successor to the Buckley legacy? But succession was a lost cause. William F. Buckley, Jr. was the literary equivalent of Johnny Carson: every pretender who rose to claim the throne seemed to forget that the ideal man was already sitting there, and eventually every aspirant collapsed under the weight of someone’s expectations. Every time the smoke cleared, there was Buckley, standing alone. And it was right.

Of course it takes some doing to live up to that sort of hype, and so that first column was about Buddy, the Clinton’s First Dog, which had just been hit by a car and killed. (The upshot: It wasn’t newsworthy … but fine for a column, one supposes.)

Yes, well. Let’s just say it took some time to hit my stride.

* * * * *

Let’s also say that you knew nothing of Mr. Buckley’s work before he died but have since decided to build as comprehensive a collection of his work as possible; books, columns, interviews, speeches, debates, articles, obituaries, commentaries, television appearances, “Notes and Asides” sections from National Review, et cetera. That means you will have to purchase fifty-four books – I’ve counted, but confess to occasional fallibility – written and published between 1951 and 2008, including one on Barry Goldwater being released this Spring, and “at least five” others if you include those he edited.

His columns, numbering more than 5,600 and published between 1962 and 2008, contain more than 4.5 million words, which, if published in their entirety, would “fill 45 more medium-sized books." You can collect the vast majority of the columns (and why not?!), and so many of his articles, thanks to archives maintained by National Review Online and, to a much greater extent, Hillsdale College, which makes over 8,300 pieces available to the public online.

This is to say nothing of the 1,504 episodes of Firing Line taped and broadcast between 1966 and 1999, impeccably cared for and catalogued by the Hoover Institution. Some are available for purchase on VHS, but at $45 a pop. (A comparatively small number are available for free viewing.) It would be far more time consuming to assemble the “Notes and Asides” columns, published in National Review between 1967 and 2005. Of course you would need access to a large, metropolitan or college library, and Lord only knows how many dimes you’d need for the copy machine.

Also troublesome would be his speeches, beginning (we’ll say charitably) with his first address to the Yale Political Union in 1946 and concluding with his last speech, also to the Yale Political Union, sixty years later, in 2006. To make it somewhat easier on yourself, start with Let Us Talk of Many Things (a book of collected speeches, released in 2000) and work your way forward filling in the gaps.

And while you’re it, you may as well drop Yale a line and ask if the collected Buckley papers are available for perusal. Together they weigh seven tons.

Now you see not only the enormity of your task but also have some idea about the furious pace with which Mr. Buckley set about changing the tenor of American politics; never mind the television appearances, interviews, debates, book reviews, and whatever else. Christopher Hitchens put it best in his piece for The Weekly Standard: “The late William F. Buckley Jr. was a man of incessant labor and productivity, with a slight allowance made for that saving capacity for making it appear easy. But he was driven, all right, and restless, and never allowed himself much ease on his own account. There was never a moment, after taping some session at Firing Line, where mere recourse to some local joint was in prospect. He was always just about to be late for the next plane, or column, or speech, or debate. Except that he was never late, until Wednesday [27 February].”

* * * * *

First word of Mr. Buckley’s death hit National Review Online via a brief posting at The Corner, by Kathryn Jean Lopez: “I’m devastated to report that our dear friend, mentor, leader, and founder William F. Buckley, Jr., died this morning in his study in Stanford, Connecticut. He died while at work; if he had been given a choice on how to depart this world, I suspect that would have been exactly it. At home, still devoted to the war of ideas.”

As obituaries and tributes mounted, the tidbit about Mr. Buckley dying at his desk took on a life of its own. In its obituary (in the poorly edited first draft and the corrected second), the New York Times wrote in the second paragraph, “He was found at his desk in the study of his home, his son [Christopher] said. ‘He might have been working on a column,’ Mr. Buckley said.” Reuters, second paragraph: “Buckley suffered from emphysema over the past year and died early on Wednesday while writing in his study in Stanford, Connecticut….” The Associated Press, first paragraph: “William F. Buckley died at work, in his study.” So on and so on.

Some may be confused as to the relevance of that datum, but it very much warranted mention. For writers, more than any other group of people, there is just something romantic and majestic about dying with their boots on. It speaks not only to the character of the man (to soldier on while clearly so unwell) but the personal meaning of his mission. All writers – and by “writer” I mean someone who is compelled to manage words by a force they cannot understand – hope to die as Mr. Buckley died: At home, hip deep in words, perhaps sensing that something more severe than normal is amiss but hoping beyond hope there is enough time to finish the next sentence, and then the next paragraph, and then, God willing, the next chapter….

* * * * *

“Stories told over the last week by writers who knew Bill Buckley have had their effect on those who didn’t,” Anthony R. Dolan wrote for National Review Online. “Among the affected is a young and exceedingly bright conservative who raised with me the question of whether some of the pieces wouldn’t have been better off with more on the great man himself and a little less on the authors and what they said, discussed, or did with the great man.” Dolan’s response: “Hard to do." Every conservative had Their Buckley, by which I mean that Mr. Buckley became something different and personal to whoever found themselves enamored. Here, reflections of My Buckley.

Literally the first words I ever read by William F. Buckley, Jr. were these, in mid-1993, from a column dated 10 April 1990: “The point, then, is that women who go to an abortionist, or who procreate illegitimate births, are not the best judges of right and wrong, even if society agreed that they should in their own situation be the executors of the critical decision, whether to give birth or to abort.”

This is quite the one-two punch, because when properly considered it forces one to confront his biases. Being the young liberal, about ten minutes had to pass for me to completely hash out Mr. Buckley’s argument. How many girls had I known to routinely engage in reckless sexual behavior without bothering to protect themselves, and how many ended up suffering the (physical, emotional, and financial) slings and arrows of abortion clinics when, for a mere fraction of the cost, they could have purchased birth control pills, or condoms? (It didn’t occur to me they oughtn’t have had sex in the first place, as it had never before that point.) By the time I’d conceded he was right, I’d further decided to give Mr. Buckley a chance.

In September 1993 I purchased Happy Days Were Here Again, which took five weeks to read. His every point of contention with liberalism was thought through to what seemed its logical conclusion. Even though I ultimately disagreed with him on several points (interpret that as a youthful devotion to an ideology crafted by and for teenagers; points of contention today could be counted on one hard), learning was taking place, slowly but surely. If this was Republicanism, then I had horribly misunderstood it – but most liberals do.

Other conservative columnists, also masters of their craft, were eventually brought into the intellectual fray, but at the fore of my creeping change were William F. Buckley, Jr. and National Review. Eventually I awoke from what felt like a dead sleep, feeling forced to unburden myself of this new understanding. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote; in total, four awful little books, a lovely fifth book of collected work, and a few hundred passable columns before finally slowing to a crawl in mid-2005. After eleven-and-a-half years as a writer (eight as a columnist), the writing had become repetitive and stale. There was nothing new to say.

Of course, by the time Mr. Buckley had entered his twelfth year as a writer, it was … 1963.

The standard by which a man judges himself should be greater than he thinks is manageable; that way he’s always struggling to become better. In that respect, I’ve let Mr. Buckley down. As my gift wilted, Mr. Buckley eased into his 80s, carrying on with book and column writing even after Mrs. Buckley died and he became sick. To the degree any of us can advance a rational, modern conservatism, we owe him everything for clearing and maintaining a path. A world without William F. Buckley, Jr. is a world significantly less worthwhile.


Greg Gutfeld Also Understands Eliot Spitzer, in Another Way

From Red Eye, 3am Wednesday morning, 12 March.

"Spitzer: Victim of Ugly, Rich Guy Syndrome"

What can Elliot Spitzer do to save himself? He needs to be honest.

Fact is, he's an ugly dork. He spent his young adult life saddled with a goofy frame, which served as a pedestal for a face that gives children nightmares. And that's why he ended up where is he today.

Instead of picking up chicks, he picked up books. He scored an amazing 1590 on the SAT exam and went to Princeton, where he was elected chairman of the student government. Then he nailed a perfect score on the LSAT and went on to Harvard Law. He got married and had kids.

But something was missing and that was something was called "getting your freak on."

But now as governor of New York he has power. And so he fell victim to "Ugly Rich Guy Disorder" — otherwise known as Bill Maher Syndrome — in which a dorky guy desperately tries to make up for lost time by having as much sex as possible.

Mahr, no lady killer when obscure, practically lives at the Playboy mansion now. Spitzer would have done the same, if he didn't have to be so discreet — hence, the whores.

So how does Spitzer get out of this? By getting other ugly rich guys to back him. If he just says, "Look, I'm not an attractive guy. I didn't get laid in high school," then wealthy nerds across the country will rise up to defend him, led by Jeremy Piven, I hope.

And if you disagree with me, then you sir are worse than Hitler.

Column: "Understanding Eliot Spitzer"

Blogging beneath you? Understood. Read "In Dissent" at BrianWise.com by clicking here; Newsvine.com here; this column at same by clicking here; or at The Reality Check here; or at American Daily here.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008 - 697 words

Lord only knows how David Eigen, author of something called Men: The Gods of Love, was invited to appear split-screened with Anderson Cooper Monday night, but he was, and proceeded to explain, in world record time, how he thought Eliot Spitzer’s tendency toward whoring was a function of his being an emotionally overwrought, thoroughly modern man. “I think the governor is guilty of having a situation where he’s just not been able to express himself and probably doesn’t know how. And, you know, there’s no question men have a huge sex drive, which really is a replacement for all the other needs they have. And he just found himself in a place where this – he just needed to go outside of that relationship.”

Continued Eigen, “I’m not excusing it. [Really?!] I’m just saying, you know, this is where men have been caught in an actual situation where they’re not allowed to have feelings. So, it becomes – everything becomes about sex. And that’s what the problem is here. Men need to be allowed to have feelings, be allowed to say, hey, you know, I had a bad day at the office and I need a hug. I need to tell you how I feel downtrodden or how it’s too much for me.” (Not even Cooper, CNN’s resident feminized oh-dear, was buying this nonsense. “Well, I mean, it seems like we're going very far down the road of speculation. We don't really know what their relationship is like or what's going on in his family's life.”)

Other than Lawrence O’Donnell’s wondering why the FBI was investigating the case at all (on Live with Dan Abrams, which I watched so you wouldn’t have to), Eigen’s “analysis” set Monday’s high water mark for televised pointlessness. Oprah may have nodded in solemn agreement, but she would. This sort of asininity fails to explain how Spitzer’s having a bad day at the office would really, logically, translate to dropping $4,300 for four hours worth of whore-mongering, other than the fact it just would, because that apparently is how men behave when they need a hug.

Writing for FoxNews.com Tuesday, someone called Yvonne Fulbright (irritatingly branded a “sexpert”) came closer than anyone to getting it right, but shot herself in the foot by stopping first to insult Silda Spitzer. “When I first heard about the Eliot Spitzer scandal, I immediately wondered what’s not going on in Spitzer’s marital bed. After all, when your average married man goes to a prostitute, it’s often because he’s sexually dissatisfied of sexually deviant.” In other words, her fallback position was to wonder how this was Mrs. Spitzer’s fault. We anxiously await Fulbright’s next column, where she will hopefully explain how every other female victim in America’s long, illustrious existence also had it coming.

Despite this inanity, Fulbright strikes the right chord here, but pulls up short: “Research shows that people consumed with power experience an adrenaline rush. This helps to explain why some people are willing to push the envelope – and why someone like Spitzer may have been unable to control himself.” (This comes precariously close to the Twinkie Defense, but with vaginas.) The next point should have been that even though children are expected to have trouble controlling themselves, adults are expected to rise to a higher standard of decorum, precisely because they have lifetimes of experience at their backs. Adults are supposed to know better than this.

Eliot Spitzer’s problem is that he likes to have sex with strange women, and the odds are slim to none that this is a new character flaw. This should seem obvious to anyone not attempting to pawn the intellectual equivalent of snake oil, or for those not bowing to political correctness during prime time. We tend to assume a man can fill his brain with Dr. Phil’s “homey witticisms about relationships,” or something similar, and call it self-awareness, but at the end a man has to know himself. No amount of masking (say, through marriage and child rearing) will calm the desires he, as a man elected to uphold the laws of New York State, should want to control. And until you understand that, you cannot understand Eliot Spitzer.

David Eigen on Anderson Cooper 360, 10 March 2008 broadcast; accessed Tuesday, 11 March.

FoxNews.com: “Power and Prostitutes: Why Powerful Men Can’t Help Themselves” by Yvonne K. Fulbright; accessed Tuesday, 11 March.