Saturday, July 20, 2019
By Mark Steyn
July 20, 2019
Fifty years ago today man landed on the moon, in the persons of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and courtesy of a lunar module from Apollo 11. The most I've ever written about the "space race" was in my book After America, and the passage attracts criticism both from the Nasa types and those who think the whole man-on-the-moon thing was a crashing bore. Nevertheless, the modern world was built by the men who ventured beyond the edge of the map, and in that sense the stasis of the last half-century is both unusual and a little disturbing. To mark the anniversary, The New York Times wondered when a woman might reach the moon - which sounds a humorless rewrite of the old feminist gag that "if they can put a man on the moon, why can't they put them all there?" So here's a few of my thoughts on the subject over the years:
The Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903. Fifty-nine years later, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, and seven years after that Buzz Aldrin became the first man to fly to the moon and play "Fly Me To The Moon" on the moon - thanks to the portable cassette recorder he took with him. In a certain sense, the moon landing was the culmination of the tremendous inventive energy of the nineteenth century (if I had to pick a so-called "greatest generation" it would be somewhere in the latter half thereof). Half a century from the Wright Brothers to The Right Stuff - from nosediving into the neighbor's cornfield to walking the surface of the moon - followed by half a century devoid of giant leaps and even small steps.
When After America came out, I was booked on "Fox & Friends" to talk it over with Brian Kilmeade. Sitting next to Brian on the couch waiting to get going, I watched Steve Doocy across the studio link to an item on the space shuttle Enterprise beginning its journey to whichever museum it's wound up at. Steve called it "historic", and, as I remarked to Brian, pity the nation whose greatness becomes "historic" - whose spacecraft exist only in museums. There's a passage in After America on just that theme:
In 1961, before the eyes of the world, President Kennedy had set American ingenuity a very specific challenge—and put a clock on it:
'This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.'
That's it. No wiggle room. A monkey on the moon wouldn't count, nor an unmanned drone, nor a dune buggy that can't take off again but transmits grainy footage back to Houston as it rusts up in the crater it came to rest in. The only way to win the bet is with a real-live actual American standing on the surface of the moon planting the Stars and Stripes. Even as it happened, the White House was so cautious that William Safire wrote President Nixon a speech to be delivered in the event of disaster:
'Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace...'
Yet America did it.
It was not a sure thing. In 1961 the Soviets had it all over the Americans in the space race: They had already reached the moon, with the unmanned flight Luna 2, and they had put a man in space, Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin and the cosmonauts were inspirational figures well beyond the Warsaw Pact. By contrast, all the US unmanned missions had been failures, and their astronauts were earthbound - or sub-orbital at best. Kennedy was cautioned against his moon speech on the grounds that he was setting America up for very public humiliation.
But he chose to go ahead.
And now? From After America:
Four decades later, Bruce Charlton, professor of Theoretical Medicine at the University of Buckingham in England, wrote that "that landing of men on the moon and bringing them back alive was the supreme achieve- ment of human capability, the most difficult problem ever solved by humans." That's a good way to look at it: the political class presented the boffins with a highly difficult and specific problem, and they solved it—in eight years. Charlton continued:
'Forty years ago, we could do it—repeatedly—but since then we have not been to the moon, and I suggest the real reason we have not been to the moon since 1972 is that we cannot any longer do it. Humans have lost the capability.'Of course, the standard line is that humans stopped going to the moon only because we no longer wanted to go to the moon, or could not afford to, or something.... But I am suggesting that all this is BS. . . . I suspect that human capability reached its peak or plateau around 1965-75—at the time of the Apollo moon landings—and has been declining ever since.'
Can that be true? Charlton is a controversialist gadfly in British academe, but, comparing 1950 to the early twenty-first century, our time traveler from 1890 might well agree with him. And, if you think about it, isn't it kind of hard even to imagine America pulling off a moon mission now? The countdown, the takeoff, a camera transmitting real-time footage of a young American standing in a dusty crater beyond our planet blasting out from his iPod Lady Gaga and the Black-Eyed Peas or whatever the twenty- first-century version of Sinatra and the Basie band is. ... It half-lingers in collective consciousness as a memory of faded grandeur, the way a nineteenth-century date farmer in Nasiriyah might be dimly aware that the Great Ziggurat of Ur used to be around here someplace.
How long will it even half-linger? Great civilizations can survive a lot of things, but not impoverishment of spirit. That's one reason I didn't join in the media sniggers at Donald Trump's new Space Force - because I'd like it to be true. Here's me and Michio Kaku taking it seriously:
As I commented a year or so back:
Those "Space Age" astronauts were men of boundless courage and determination: they strapped themselves in and stared not just death in the face but death in hideous and unknown ways. Yet they were also ordinary men, who were called upon to do extraordinary things and rose to the challenge. These days we are unmanned in more than merely the sense of that Luna 2 expedition. Glenn and Armstrong are gone, and their surviving comrades are old and stooped and wizened, and yet the only giants we have. Space may still be the final frontier, but today, when we talk about boldly going where no man has gone before, we mean the ladies' bathroom. Progress.
~adapted from Mark's bestseller After America. Personally autographed copies areexclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore.
As the third year of The Mark Steyn Club cranks into top gear, we're very appreciative of all those who signed up in our first flush and have been so eager to re-re-subscribe for another twelve months. We thank you all, and hope to see at least a few of you to thank you personally on our Second or Third Steyn Cruise. For more information on the Club, see here.
By Joshua Lawson
July 18, 2019
Edwin Aldrin poses for a photo beside the U.S. flag on the moon (July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong)
The NASA Missions Awoke America’s Competitive Spirit
Americans Have Never Been Afraid of Challenges
BY ROGER L. SIMON
July 19, 2019
Soviet tanks roll through the streets of Budapest in 1956.
The Cold War was fought as much on an ideological front as a military one, and the Soviet Union often emphasized the sexism and racism of its capitalist opponents — particularly the segregated United States. And the space race was a prime opportunity to signal the U.S.S.R.’s commitment to equality. After putting the first man in space in 1961, the Soviets went on to send the first woman, the first Asian man, and the first black man into orbit — all years before the Americans would follow suit.
Thursday, July 18, 2019
By Victor Davis Hanson
July 17, 2019
The summer season has ripped off the thin scab that covered an American wound, revealing a festering disagreement about the nature and origins of the United States.
The San Francisco Board of Education recently voted to paint over, and thus destroy, a 1,600-square-foot mural of George Washington's life in San Francisco's George Washington High School.
Victor Arnautoff, a communist Russian-American artist and Stanford University art professor, had painted "Life of Washington" in 1936, commissioned by the New Deal's Works Progress Administration. A community task force appointed by the school district had recommended that the board address student and parent objections to the 83-year-old mural, which some viewed as racist for its depiction of black slaves and Native Americans.
Nike pitchman and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently objected to the company's release of a special Fourth of July sneaker emblazoned with a 13-star Betsy Ross flag. The terrified Nike immediately pulled the shoe off the market.
The New York Times opinion team issued a Fourth of July video about "the myth of America as the greatest nation on earth." The Times' journalists conceded that the United States is "just OK."
During a recent speech to students at a Minnesota high school, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) offered a scathing appraisal of her adopted country, which she depicted as a disappointment whose racism and inequality did not meet her expectations as an idealistic refugee. Omar's family had fled worn-torn Somalia and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before reaching Minnesota, where Omar received a subsidized education and ended up a congresswoman.
The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won the World Cup earlier this month. Team stalwart Megan Rapinoe refused to put her hand over heart during the playing of the national anthem, boasted that she would never visit the "f---ing White House" and, with others, nonchalantly let the American flag fall to the ground during the victory celebration.
The city council in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, voted to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before its meeting on the rationale that it wished not to offend a "diverse community."
The list of these public pushbacks at traditional American patriotic customs and rituals could be multiplied. They follow the recent frequent toppling of statues of 19th-century American figures, many of them from the South, and the renaming of streets and buildings to blot out mention of famous men and women from the past now deemed illiberal enemies of the people.
Such theater is the street version of what candidates in the Democratic presidential primary have been saying for months. They want to disband border enforcement, issue blanket amnesties, demand reparations for descendants of slaves, issue formal apologies to groups perceived to be the subjects of discrimination, and rail against American unfairness, inequality, and a racist and sexist past.
In their radical progressive view — shared by billionaires from Silicon Valley, recent immigrants, and the new Democratic Party — America was flawed, perhaps fatally, at its origins. Things have not gotten much better in the country's subsequent 243 years, nor will they get any better — at least not until America as we know it is dismantled and replaced by a new nation predicated on race, class and gender identity-politics agendas.
In this view, an "OK" America is no better than other countries. As Barack Obama once bluntly put it, America is only exceptional in relative terms, given that citizens of Greece and the United Kingdom believe their own countries are just as exceptional. In other words, there is no absolute standard to judge a nation's excellence.
About half the country disagrees. It insists that America's sins, past and present, are those of mankind. But only in America were human failings constantly critiqued and addressed.
America does not have to be perfect to be good. As the world's wealthiest democracy, it certainly has given people from all over the world greater security and affluence than any other nation in history — with the largest economy, largest military, greatest energy production, and most top-ranked universities in the world.
America alone kept the postwar peace and still preserves free and safe global communications, travel and commerce.
The traditionalists see American history as a unique effort to overcome human weakness, bias, and sin. That effort is unmatched by other cultures and nations, and explains why millions of foreign nationals swarm into the United States, both legally and illegally.
These arguments over our past are really over the present — and especially the future.
If progressives and socialists can at last convince the American public that their country was always hopelessly flawed, they can gain the power to remake it based on their own interests. These elites see Americans not as unique individuals but as race, class and gender collectives, with shared grievances from the past that must be paid out in the present and the future.
We've seen something like this fight before, in 1861 — and it didn't end well.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
By Collette Bancroft
July 12, 2019
The title of Ace Atkins’ ninth novel about Mississippi Sheriff Quinn Colson is a tipoff that one of the book’s main subjects is politics: It’s called The Shameless.
Atkins, a former St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune reporter, writes the Colson series as well as continuing the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. (His eighth Spenser book, Angel Eyes, will be published in November.) Colson is a native of the fictional town of Jericho in Tibbehah County, Miss., a man with a deep knowledge of his state’s problems who refuses to surrender to them.
“He’d been sheriff now for nearly a decade and he still wasn’t sure the state was getting any better. It was the entire reason he’d retired early as a U.S. Army Ranger, believing he could make a difference, fighting corruption, drug running, and violence in his own backyard.”
As The Shameless opens, he’s feeling discouraged. With his new wife, Maggie, Quinn is making an obligatory appearance at the county fair, where the two hear a speech by a slick, silver-haired politician named Jimmy Vardaman, whom Quinn knows all too well.
“Vardaman,” Atkins writes, “had kept a big hunt lodge in Tibbehah County for decades, the source of wild rumor and sustained fact, a place where he’d worked out deals with some of the most corrupt sorry-ass people in north Mississippi. Several times Vardaman had been on the fringe of people Quinn had either sent to jail or shot. But Vardaman always slipped clear of it, like a man who stepped in cow s--- and came out smelling like Chanel No. 5.”
Now Vardaman is running for governor on a populist platform that stops just half a breath short of outright racism, spouting religious platitudes despite his skeevy past. The crowds love him.
Quinn and Maggie don’t, but when they leave partway through his speech they’re confronted by a clutch of black-clad thugs who tell Quinn he “ain’t got no right trying to make Senator Vardaman uncomfortable.”
“Quinn had met a hundred guys like this,” Atkins writes, “wannabe Special Forces operators who took online courses and drooled over gun magazines.” When one of them threatens Maggie, Quinn steps up. “Didn’t even drop your cigar,” she says admiringly.
Another of Vardaman’s devoted supporters in Jericho is a Bible-thumping county official known to all as Old Man Skinner. His current project is raising money to erect a 60-foot cross next to the highway, where it will obscure a “damn Mississippi landmark,” the big neon sign for a strip club called Vienna’s Place. It’s a classic situation — campaigning politicians raging righteously against the vice they happily indulge in once the votes are counted.
The club’s proprietor, the lovely and formidable Fannie Hathcock, has a more pressing problem: a turf battle she’s fighting against other Mississippi organized crime bosses, including a Tunica casino mogul and a Choctaw chief.
In the last Colson novel, The Sinners, one casualty of those turf wars was Quinn’s best friend and fellow vet, Boom Kimbrough, who is now struggling to recover from a savage beating. Quinn’s fierce former deputy, Lillie Virgil, now a U.S. Marshal, has made it her business to arrest a dirtbag named Wes Taggart, one of Boom’s attackers. (Quinn shot the other one.) She captures Taggart with the help of his ex-girlfriend, a high school senior turned stripper “whose real name was Tiffany Dement but went by Twilight to avoid professional confusion.” Taggart’s arrest, however, will trigger further chaos.
Meanwhile, Quinn’s sister Caddy, a recovering addict, is running her ministry for refugees and poor and homeless people on half a shoestring and trying to figure out why Bentley Vandeven, a rich kid from Memphis, is romancing her.
Into that mix of the usual homegrown characters Quinn deals with, Atkins tosses a couple of folks from the big city — Brooklyn, to be exact. Tashi Coleman and Jessica Torres are settling into Jericho to do research for their true-crime podcast, Thin Air. They’re digging into the disappearance 20 years ago of a local teenager, Brandon Taylor, who vanished while deer hunting. When he was found with a bullet through his head, his death was deemed a suicide, but his family doesn’t buy it.
It’s not just another cold case for Quinn. Brandon was a few years younger, but Quinn knew him in high school. And Brandon’s girlfriend then was Maggie Powers — now Quinn’s wife. Her young son, whom Quinn is about to adopt, is named after Brandon.
Tashi and Jessica are also chasing rumors that the former sheriff, Hamp Beckett, who was Quinn’s uncle, might have covered up the real nature of Brandon’s death.
That’s a lot of plot lines, but Atkins keeps them running smooth and hitting on all pistons as the action accelerates. Could Fannie’s power struggles and Caddy’s “Ole Miss frat boy” suitor and Brandon Taylor’s long-ago death and Vardaman’s current campaign all be related? You’ll be surprised.
Contact Colette Bancroft at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.
The Shameless: A Quinn Colson Novel
By Ace Atkins
Putnam, 446 pages, $27
Meet the author
Ace Atkins will be a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Nov. 9 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
July 12, 2019
Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume Three: Herself Alone, by Charles Moore (Allen Lane, 880 pp., $24.06)
Forty years on, Margaret Thatcher’s election as Great Britain’s first female prime minister still looks miraculous. The rise of a woman to dominance, in the hostile, closed environment of the British Conservative Party, was astounding. In The Iron Lady (2011), Meryl Streep makes the point eloquently. But the miracle that followed Thatcher’s election is no less remarkable.
Right after World War II, Labour prime minister Clement Attlee, overly optimistic about the capacity of government to do great things, laid the foundations of the British welfare state. The sentiment was understandable: centralized authority had just proved itself capable of organizing the country’s resources in the war effort. Well-meaning do-gooders now assumed that the state could do the same postwar, defeating the peacetime adversaries of poverty and need. Filmmaker Ken Loach calls this attitude “the spirit of ’45.” The postwar economic consensus was so robust that it became known as Butskellism, since the policies of Rab Butler, the Conservative chancellor of the Exchequer from 1951 to 1955, and his Labour predecessor Hugh Gaitskell were indistinguishable.
The glory days of interventionism didn’t last, however. By 1979, a third of the British workforce was employed by government, directly or indirectly, yet unemployment continued to rise throughout the 1970s. Inflation rose to double digits, exceeding 25 percent, making even middle-class Britons insecure about their savings and purchasing power. Keeping it under control seemed impossible: government-owned businesses, unable to say “no” to the demands of the trade unions, administered a vast portion of the economy.
Thatcher recognized the economic crisis as a failure of politics. She offered a gospel of government retrenchment and individual initiative that sounded outdated. She wanted to make people responsible again for their economic destinies, instead of entrusting their fates to state guidance. This meant denationalizing the British economy. Before Thatcher took office, “privatization” was a word out of science fiction; ten years after she left office, it was a global norm. She changed England and, by changing England, changed the world.
Thatcher was guided by ideology without being an ideologue, as the third and final volume of Charles Moore’s biography demonstrates. She compromised when needed and used her political compass to pick her fights. The British don’t like designating “isms” for their prime ministers. There was no “Gladstonism,” and “Churchillism” is a rare usage, but “Thatcherism” is the exception. In 1999’s The Anatomy of Thatcherism, Shirley Letwin emphasized that Thatcherism was less ideology than attitude—an understanding of society as the spontaneous development of individuals and families, who ought to be the subjects of their own fate and not the passive objects of national politics. Thatcher aimed to stimulate self-reliance and independence, and she saw these virtues threatened by the culture of passivity that statism engenders. Victorian values like thrift, prudence, and diligence, she once told historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, “were the values when our country became great.”
While Thatcherism is mostly associated with a set of policies (privatization, tax cuts, monetarism), it should be seen as part of a broader cultural picture. Thatcher’s agenda benefited from years of discrete and tireless cultural work, mostly by the Institute of Economic Affairs, the forerunner of modern, market-oriented think tanks. But her instincts were at least as important as her ideas. Alfred Sherman—indispensable as an early advisor and speechwriter but eventually excluded from her inner circle—once told me that Thatcher never read Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman, as she had claimed, but only Frederic Bastiat. Bastiat’s classic essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen,” with its emphasis on the long-term, unintended consequences that flow from apparently beneficial efforts, so that intended societal gains end up as losses, is perhaps the only economic lesson any prime minister needs to learn. That we shouldn’t clip the wings of those who will follow us down the road is perhaps the gist of Thatcherism, with its call to responsibility in the public sphere to allow for liberty in the private one.
Thatcher embodied the highest qualities of leadership. Though no scholar, she was scrupulous, attentive, and curious. She slept little and worked hard. Was she a populist? Among those who define themselves as such, she stands as a symbolic figure because she was brought down in 1990 by the Tories’ europhile wing. Certainly, the British political establishment always looked down on this shopkeeper’s daughter. And yet Thatcher’s defining quality, and the reason why we still speak of Thatcherism, is that she told people things that they didn’t want to hear. She may have not liked the eurocrats in Brussels, or the Sir Humphrey Appleby-style bureaucrats at home, but she never told people that they could blame those bureaucrats, or anyone else, for their own faults or failures. In a world where political success goes hand in hand with providing suitable scapegoats for voters, this is unusual, to say the least. Thatcher’s like won’t come around again.
Alberto Mingardi is director general of the Italian free-market think tank, Istituto Bruno Leoni. He is also assistant professor of the history of political thought at IULM University in Milan, a presidential scholar in political theory at Chapman University, and an adjunct fellow at the Cato Institute.