1. On the “Muslim Game of Thrones” series Atif Baloch, DW
  2. Why secession, separatism, and disunion are the most American of values Rebecca Onion, Slate
  3. A history of America’s exceptional idea Jonathan Leaf, Modern Age
  4. Populism is a feature of globalization, not a bug Angelos Chryssogelos, Noema

The Good Life vs. reality

Recently, a former classmate badgered me into accompanying her on a run to the supermarket. As we were checking out, I, as a person who is very dedicated to the principle of self-interest, used a handful of coupons and a discount card to lower my final tally. My companion had a judgmental reaction to the proceedings: she gave me to understand that she never sought discounts or used coupons because to do so was beneath her station. Oddly, she could see no connection between her attitude and her continuous complaints about being short on funds. It was only much later that I connected her attitude at the cash register with her frequent monologues about a “broken society,” a slight fixation on “inequality,” and an overweening sense of entitlement.  

In 1971, NBC produced a sitcom called The Good Life, not to be confused with the British series of the same name. The American series was unsuccessful, in comparison to its competition, and it was canceled after fifteen episodes. I have never seen the show as NBC has never rerun it or provided a home release of it. I first heard of The Good Life in a book, whose title I have regrettably forgotten (for a long time I thought the book was Greg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox but now I can’t find any allusion to the tv show in Easterbrook’s book.). The author of the forgotten book alluded to The Good Life as a watershed moment in tv history with its portrayal of the so-called super-rich – the one bit I remember was that the book described the show as “the most luxurious show [in terms of portrayal of lifestyle]” and connected the show to a sudden increase in a broad sense of entitled victimhood throughout society. The Good Life  was also, apparently, part of creating the environment conducive for the success of the soap opera Dallas (1978 – 1991).

The plot behind The Good Life is that a middle-class couple become exhausted with the pressures of suburban life and maintaining a lifestyle that’s beyond their means. Consequently, the pair decide to scam their way into the household of an industrialist multimillionaire by disguising themselves as a butler and housekeeper. The theme which (apparently) underlay the show was the idea that there is a class of people who live extravagant, exotic lives (the proverbial good life) and therefore can afford to support some sponging malcontents.

When researching the show, one thing that struck me about it was how prescient it was in terms of foretelling some of the themes which are present in our current socio-political discourse. The two con-artists are reasonably successful college graduates who believe that society promised them the good life as a reward for going to college and having careers; however, when the pair see the lifestyle shown in glossy magazines – mansions, tennis courts, Rolls-Royce cars – the couple feels that society has reneged on its promise. The logic of the show’s premise is that the couple has been pushed by society – that wicked, amorphous “they” – toward a life of deception because there is no other path to riches open to them.

LitHub ran an article titled “How the well-educated and downwardly mobile found socialism.” The article isn’t worth reading, but the title touches on what began as the fictional premise of The Good Life and has become a full blown, ideologically fraught, issue today. What happens when perception of status is overblown and there is no sense of timeframe to temper expectations? 

Thinking of the popularity of AOC or Andrew Yang and the manner in which they have successfully tapped into the tropes of “unjust society” of “inequality,” the modern millennial (my own generation) seems to have embraced the premise of The Good Life. The tv show contained a very subtle, and completely subversive, inversion of the moral order: because “society’s promises” were broken, the dishonesty of the protagonists was not immoral. The extension of such reasoning is that the industrialist was obligated to support the swindlers anyway due to his greater wealth.

Capx just ran a terrific article by Jethro Elsden, “Jane Austen, the accidental economist,” in response to the new film version of Emma. One of the interesting tidbits the author found was that in modern terms, Mr Darcy’s £10,000 per annum income is probably equivalent to £60 million today, which would make his wealth around £3 billion. Even then Elizabeth Darcy had to “make small economies” once she decided to support her sponging sister and feckless brother-in-law. Granted the economies might have been the result of not telling her husband, but still the point remains that no one can long support spongers.

Elsden alluded to the logic of social pressure and the malignant effect it had on Austen’s characters who feel compelled to engage in an “arms race.” A major reason the swindlers of The Good Life turn to dishonesty is that they feel pressured to look like successful suburban college graduates. The problem was that  in the case of Austen’s characters and the tv show from 154 years later, the definition of “success” in relation to appearances was fungible. Rationally, it is ridiculous for the youngish couple of The Good Life to be in same place financially and socially as their mark, the middle-aged, widower industrialist whose lifestyle (but not work ethic) they covet.

To return, finally, to the anecdote regarding my shopping expedition, the episode is an example of a type of path that begins with frivolous preconceptions and ends with The Good Life on the comic end and the rise of Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren on the other. These politicians have located a demographic which has no sense of progression of time, stages of development, or realistic expectations. A perfect example is my ex-classmate, who has subjected herself to a fantasy regarding her own realistic expectation and now believes that the social contract has been broken.  For such a demographic, the emotional trumps the rational. It is easier to believe themselves wronged than as merely victims of their own imaginations.


  1. UCLA and its new ideological litmus tests Erik Gilbert, Quillette
  2. Sovereignty and the Latin American experience Greg Grandin, London Review of Books
  3. How good is television as a medium of history? Castor, et al, History Today
  4. SETI’s charismatic megafauna Nick Nielsen, Centauri Dreams

When school shootings get made into horror films

Del Playa is an unreleased horror film directed by Shaun Hart which follows a conventional college, sex and murder Hollywood archetype. However, distinct from the humdrum influx of young adult horrors, Del Playa bears an uncanny resemblance to the Isla Vista rampage two years ago.

When Elliot Rodgers murdered six human beings and injured fourteen others in Santa Barbara, my first reaction was terror for my sister, who was studying at the state university down there. My family connected, everything was fine and national news quickly rolled in. His manifesto and Youtube uploads were publicly available for everyone to indulge in.

When Del Playa’s trailer came out, people instantly noticed the similarities. There’s a petition to halt the movie release with 30,000 signatures, citing it as “insensitive” and “untimely.” Shaun Hart has said the lead character of the film (which takes place in Isla Vista) is “not meant to portray anyone in particular [but admittedly] there is a connection of Santa Barbara.” Let’s proceed as if the movie is directly spawned by the real life massacre, which is most likely considering all the facts – it would just be horrible PR to admit.

Although the film is embedded in controversy and poor taste, it’s completely unremarkable in its subject matter. People are invariably intrigued by “true events” stories, documented by the rise in murder-porn television. (South Park, unfailing in cultural astuteness, made a great episode of this phenomena.)

With Del Playa and the like, it’s perhaps natural to feel revulsion. The reaction might be that murderers don’t deserve to be immortalized, or that the producers are simply profiting off a tragedy, which they certainly are trying to do. And serial killers of prolific body count or grotesque modus operandi often achieve cult status among the living. 

But Elliot Rodgers is not Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Dennis Rader; he’s not a Gacy or a Manson or a Berkowitz. Rodgers is not interesting. He’s not worthy of study or understanding. He was a misogynistic and narcissistic misanthrope incapable of any self reflection or profundity. Rodgers was pathetic and his ultimate motivation for killing human beings was petty jealousy. I’m so furious upon reading his manifesto, I went to smoke a cigarette for the first time in months. And I thought I’d quit.

The disgust at Del Playa, however, is greatly misplaced. It’s equivalent to getting personally angry at the police for arresting harmless pot smokers: it’s completely unreasonable because they’re following the demands of a law (theoretically) democratically derived. Now, Del Playa is likewise derived by demand. Be disgusted at the consumers, not the enforcers or producers. Although the film might be unseemly, the distribution and buying of tickets is a voluntary transaction between consenting adults, and no one has the right to stop this product from being manufactured. It’s an issue of freedom of transaction, not morality.

Even if the writers penned Del Playa directly after the massacre, in an act of pure insensitivity and cynicism, they have the right for an audience, and the audience has the right to see the film.

Illegal Immigration: Bad Faith and Mental Confusion

When I have insomnia, I watch the news and news commentaries in a language other than English. Looking at the same object from different angles makes you smarter, I think. So, the less I sleep, the smarter I become, and the smarter you become, indirectly (to a very small extent, I realize).

Early in the morning, there is a long interactive discussion about immigration on Univisión’s “Despierta America “(“Wake up America”) First comes a badly illustrated, falsely descriptive jeremiad by a Hispanic immigration advocate. He is what I called in academia, a “professional Mexican.” I don’t know what he is getting at. He is not doing anything useful. He only perpetuates a sort of 1970s exploitation narrative that does not even make me feel young. The advocate complains bitterly of course, that today or yesterday, several hundred illegal immigrants, presumably all with a rap-sheet, have been gathered nationwide for deportation. The charming and beautiful anchorpersons play along. Everybody refers to “immigration.” No one ever says, “illegal” immigration or even “undocumented” immigrants. Next comes an immigration lawyer. He takes questions on-air from callers who want help to fix their status as people who entered this country illegally, some, several times. Still, there is no reference to illegal immigration in general; the topic is still simply “immigration.” The show remains on “immigration, “ no qualifier. It makes you wonder if there are any people from Spanish-speaking countries of the Western Hemisphere who ever entered this country legally.

The confusion between immigrant and illegal immigrant in this largest of Spanish-language television networks in the whole world, Univisión, constitutes a massive exercise in collective bad faith. It’s not going to help in the next political stage. No wonder conservative stay pissed off. No wonder their anger at illegal Hispanic immigrants sometimes comes to resemble anger at Hispanics in general.

Speaking of conservatives and of their distaste for illegal immigration, it does not help that they are confused on several important points. The fact that this country does not seem to be able to control its borders, the fact that its official immigration policies do not serve our interests, that’s all bad enough. We, conservatives, don’t need, in addition, to entertain and to propagate false notions of the burden immigrants, legal and illegal impose of us.

First, let me repeat that immigrants earn slightly more money on the average than the native-born. In our economic system, this means straightforwardly that immigrants contribute more, on the average than the native-born. Second, there is a widespread idea that illegal immigrants (illegal) consume government services while they don’t pay taxes. However common this belief, it does not withstand the most superficial examination. Here is why: It’s probably true that illegals avoid paying the federal income tax and also what state income taxes there are. That would be because they fear that filing government paper entails a risk of detection and of deportation. They routinely exaggerate the risk but it’s understandable.

Illegal immigrants however cannot avoid any indirect taxes or most other taxes, be they property taxes (that support schools), sale taxes, or excise taxes, including both federal and state tax on fuels. You might think that’s not much until you remember that 46 or 47 % of Americans do not pay any federal income tax. It’s likely that the % of Americans not paying state income tax is identical or, even higher. Thus, only illegal immigrants who situate themselves somewhere near the top 50% income bracket or within it would have to pay income tax at all if they filed. How many can that be? Think it through, don’t dismiss the thought out of hand.

What am I telling you?

It’s likely that illegal immigrant pay something close to their normal share of all taxes. I mean of the taxes they would have to pay if they were legal immigrants or US citizens. Not worth getting into a tizzy over, I say!

I know I have not dealt with payroll taxes, including taxes that support Social Security and Medicare. It’s likely that, by and large, illegal immigrants don’t pay those either. Reason is fear of detection again (see above). I know what you mean. I am with you. I wish they would pay those, right now, or at least, tomorrow. Please, follow through with this thought also. You will be amazed.

Bad faith, intellectual dishonesty on the one side; utter confusion fed by angry indignation on the other. It does not look good unless some conservatives will come to their senses. (Hint: The Wall Street Journal does a good job on the topic of immigration but it’s doing it so quietly hardly anyone is paying attention.)


The Fat Women and Bill O’Reilly

I was going to leave behind that storm in the tea-cup but it won’t go away. It’s there, on the TV, in front of me every time I go to the gym. Besides, it may have a cultural meaning, or several meanings, after all. So, here it goes:

Last week, the television host Bill O’Reilly got into a tangle on “The View.” It’s a morning show for women. (More below.) What happened is that two of the three fat women show hosts walked out on him because of something he said. They walked off their own show, like that!

First, O’Reilly. He has an evening television program that’s very popular, one of the most popular in the nation, and his simple-minded books are bestsellers. He is a blow-hard, not very well-informed, a little obtuse, and stubborn. His English is uncertain although he obviously spends his morning coffee time reading the dictionary. He is also clearly an Irish-Catholic prude of the worst kind. With all this, O’Reilly is very effective when he decides to right a scandalous situation nation-wide. Several times, he has put the fear of God in lazy, or malevolent, or dishonest state legislatures and forced them to do the obvious or the obviously needed. He used forthright terror in each case and named names.

Now, “The View.” As I said, it’s a women’s show. It comes on a ten on the Pacific Coast. (That’s why I catch it a the gym and only there and then.) It’s designed by women for women. The hostesses are five women. One is Barbara Walter, an old journalist who has been over-rated all her life. Yet, she is a reasonable women although lacking in general culture. She has had the immense good sense to invest her large media earnings into her continued good appearance. She looks nearly as good as she did twenty years ago. I respect that. Barbara is a classical moderate DC liberal. The second hostess is a fairly foxy blonde who plays the token conservative very well although her lack of bulk is probably a handicap. The three other hostesses, one white, two black, are fat. They are not “somewhat overweight” like most of us, they are frankly fat. None of the three could buy her clothes in a department story if she had to. One is a brassy New-York-sounding woman whose name escapes me, and it does not matter. She wears maternity clothes year-around. The other is a black woman with a pretty and sweet face and a sweet disposition most of the time. She often displays common sense. The last member is Whoopi Goldberg, a very large black woman who used to be a good actress. She became a media person years ago by making shocking statements no one expected from a black person. She learned to be an African-American white upper-middle-class oral radical with little ghetto on her. Continue reading