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Andrew Sullivan On The Importance Of Rediscovering Healthy Patriotism

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To move beyond Trumpism, Democrats (and forward-thinking conservatives) must look to embrace a healthy and inclusive patriotism, and end their love affair with a cold form of globalism which undermines nation states, communities and livelihoods

Andrew Sullivan remains my blogging hero and inspiration, but I must confess that until very recently I have not greatly enjoyed his recent return to semi-regular online writing for New York Magazine. The thinking and prose is generally as fine as ever, but Sullivan’s excessive hysteria (not to say that real concern is unwarranted) in the face of Donald Trump’s election victory and the start of his presidency has been offputting, as has his continued slow drift away from conservatism and overly-enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election campaign.

That being said, last week’s Interesting Times column/diary is vintage Sullivan – beautifully poetic, well argued and undeniably valid.

Sullivan writes of globalisation and urbanisation’s losers, and in praise of patriotism:

I’ve always been unusually attached to places. It’s one reason I still call myself a conservative. Travel doesn’t attract me. I’ve now lived in the same loft in D.C. since I bought it, in 1991 (apart from an ill-fated year and a half in New York City); I’ve spent 20 consecutive summers in the same little town at the end of Cape Cod, and have no desire to go anyplace else. Even when I go home to England, I tend to spend around half my time near where I grew up.

I wouldn’t go so far as Malcolm Muggeridge, who famously said: “Travel, of course, narrows the mind.” (Don’t you love that “of course”?) But I would say that the reverse can also be true. Staying put allows you to really get to know a place deeply at different times and in different seasons, to capture, often serendipitously, a small detail you’d never seen before, or arrive at a street corner and suddenly remember that this was where you first met an old friend.

But staying home brings grief with it as well. Everything changes, and when your beloved tree at the end of the street is cut down, or a new Safeway replaces the corner baker, or, more fatally, the factory that used to be the linchpin of the place lies empty and crumbling, it stings and wounds and demoralizes. When I’ve visited my own hometown in England, so much is the same. And yet, on closer inspection, many of the once-vibrant shops are selling secondhand clothes, or given over to real estate offices. My old church has a broken window where the rain comes in. The services have dwindled to near nothing. Maybe it’s being away for so long, but it seems familiar and yet a little empty, as if something in it has somehow died, a continuity somehow lost.

And more and more, I suspect, the shifting winds of this merciless global economy and the impact of mass migration are bringing about similar changes all over the West. This beautiful but deeply sad story about how a provincial town in France has slowly died — as its young people flocked to cities, as its shops were supplanted by a supermarket, says a lot about the moment we are in: “Down another street is the last toy store, now closed, and around a corner is the last independent grocery store, also shuttered. Walk down the empty, narrow streets on some nights and the silence is so complete that you can hear your footsteps on the stones.” The town, Albi, is not alone.

In America, as Charles Murray has shown in his extraordinary book, Coming Apart, the young and the smart and the talented — the people who would once have formed the core of these small towns — have long since fled to distant colleges and cities. They don’t come back. They would once have been the police chief or the town librarian or the school principal. They once helped make the town a well-run place with a clear identity, where the same families and networks lived together, died together, belonged together. These connections have attenuated … as economics supplants culture, as efficiency erases the individuality of inefficient places, as Amazon rips the heart out of shopping districts, as the smartphone removes us from physical space, and as many more immigrants and their culture alter the feel of a place in ways that disorient those with memories and loyalties.

I don’t think we can understand the politics of this moment — Brexit, Trump, Le Pen — without noticing this abiding sense of loss. The middling city and small town are going the way of the middle class. Patterns of farming in rural America are being devastated. I loved this English farmer’s account of the changes he is seeing: “The future we have been sold doesn’t work. Applying the principles of the factory floor to the natural world just doesn’t work. Farming is more than a business. Food is more than a commodity. Land is more than a mineral resource.”

Jobs are vital not simply because of money — but because they give lives meaning, a meaning that now seems so remote people medicate themselves with opiates. People are grieving for a lost way of life. This is not racist or retrograde or even backward. It is, rather, deeply human. For it is in these places that a deeper identity forms, that Americanness, Britishness, la France profonde, endures. And what we’re seeing right now, across the developed world, is a bid to retain the meaning of a culture and a way of life in the headwinds of faceless, placeless economics.

And Sullivan’s conclusion:

Nationalism is one response. The answer to it is not globalism, which is as cold as it is remote, but patriotism, that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places or the scapegoating of minorities or a phobia of change, that confident identity that doesn’t seek to run away from the wider world but to engage it, while somehow staying recognizable across the generations. If the Democrats hope to come back, that patriotism is going to have to define them once again. But can they get past their racial and sexual and gender obsessions and reach for it?

This is the distilled question of our times.

The answer is not globalism – Sullivan is quite right. This does not mean a rejection of capitalism, globalisation and international free trade, on which our prosperity depends, but it does mean acknowledging that there are negative externalities to all of this aggregate economic progress. We accept that this is the case with the environment, and take measures to restrict environmental damage caused by economic activity, but until now governments have scarcely acknowledged the impact of globalisation on local communities, national identity and cohesiveness, let alone formulated meaningful ways to protect what we are unwilling to lose while still unleashing the best that globalisation has to offer.

This is a challenge – as I have repeatedly acknowledged on this blog – which falls hardest upon conservatives and small government advocates such as myself, who traditionally envisage a very limited role for the state in our lives. If corporations and cross-border economic activity create negative externalities as well as create wealth and material abundance, who if not the state will keep those externalities in check? Left-wing politicians can simply wave their hands and promise new economic programs to retrain workers or encourage labour mobility, inefficient or fruitless though they may ultimately prove to be. We on the Right have a more difficult job, relying as we prefer to do on individuals and the institutions of civil society.

And this is why Sullivan’s enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign depressed me so. I also preferred Clinton to Trump because of the latter’s self-evident deficiencies in temperament, knowledge and ideological sincerity. But Sullivan was strongly for Clinton, and I found that fervour to be inexplicable. As Sullivan rightly notes in his latest column, the answer to nationalism is not more cold globalism. And yet that is precisely what Hillary Clinton and Democrats of her type offered. It is still all they offer – she who spoke openly of her desire for a borderless world where plane-hopping elites treated global megacities as their playground while the impoverished servant class were rooted to their dying towns.

Sullivan is quite right that patriotism – “that love of country that does not require the loathing of other places” – must be embraced again by all sides, not weaponised as a unique virtue by the Right or demonised as evidence of inherent racism by the Left. But right now we are moving away from that goal.

For as long as so many Republicans remain seemingly in lockstep with the Trump agenda, despite the president’s frequent deviations from conservative principle (let alone the normal standards of presidential decorum and basic decency), they effectively lend their tacit support to the administration’s more uncomfortably nationalist behaviour and rhetoric. And for so long as the Democrats and others on the Left choose to double down on their repellent formula of Maximal Globalism + Identity Politics, putting forward candidates like Hillary Clinton who are utterly incapable of speaking authentically to Middle America and the suffering working classes, their actions will continue to signal that they view rural and small town America as expendable so long as wealth and opportunity continue accruing to the urban, coastal elites.

For better or worse, the Republican Party seem to have made their choice. Though they may grumble about the ObamaCare repeal and replacement (or RyanCare, as some Trump loyalists insist on calling it) and some of the administration’s other ideas, it is hopeless to look to the GOP for an alternative to Trumpism so long as their man occupies the White House and they hold both houses of Congress.

That leaves it to the Democrats. The ideologically bankrupt, morally compromised Democrats, whose first response to a stunning repudiation by voters at the ballot box was to swiftly reconfirm all of the main architects of that defeat back into their gilded leadership positions, and who are too busy worshipping at the altar of identity politics to pay attention to the fears and aspirations of Trump’s America.

In short, embracing a healthy new sense of patriotism seems like a grand idea, and a necessary one – but Lord knows who in the American political and media class possesses the wisdom, foresight and bravery promote it.

 

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When The Establishment Dismisses The Economic Pain Of Struggling Americans, Donald Trump Wins

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A throwaway line by a well-meaning journalist reveals the gulf in understanding between the political / media establishment and the struggling Americans who are not just drawn but actively pushed into the arms of Donald Trump

On his live blog of Night 3 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Andrew Sullivan notes:

Rick Scott is up first. He’s informing us that the U.S. economy isn’t growing. That’s not true.

Yeah, okay. One point to Hillary Clinton, I guess. Except that for millions of Americans, the economy may as well not be growing. For millions of Americans, the economy is utterly stagnant – or at least the end of the labour market which they occupy is stagnant.

One of the reasons that so many people are enraged by the political class – and willing to give Donald Trump the time of day – is the airy way which their entirely legitimate concerns are dismissed by the elite.

There is a howl of pain emanating from the squeezed American lower middle and working classes – a cry that the economy is not working for them, not making it possible for them to achieve the American dream. But what is the establishment’s response? Too often, their response is simply to sniff that the dumb idiots have their facts wrong, that the economy is actually growing very nicely (for artisan bread makers and graphic designers and people working in the professional service sector), and that the dumb hicks should just shut up and stop complaining.

We see exactly the same thing with immigration. As Tucker Carlson wrote so memorably (and accurately) back in January:

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

And the scary thing is that it is the so-called “compassionate” liberals and progressive conservatives most likely to hold these dismissive views of the concerns of the squeezed middle and working classes. It is the people who make such a sanctimonious show of supposedly caring about equality that happily bank the many gifts that Obama’s economic recovery has bestowed upon them while looking with disgust and contempt at the complaints of their fellow Americans who are being left behind.

If that is how the elite really want to continue behaving then fine – it is their prerogative. But they cannot feign surprise and dismay when struggling Americans then lose faith in their leadership and their policy prescriptions, and go looking for something, anything else.

As it happens, I don’t think for a moment that Andrew Sullivan is indifferent to the suffering of America’s struggling working poor. He is a blogging hero of mine, and someone whom I respect enormously. But he is also very much part of the media elite and lives a life very far removed from those who struggle and live paycheck to paycheck. One can understand his instinctive irritation on hearing Rick Scott falsely state that America’s economy is not growing under President Obama.

But what we need now from the establishment is an enormous effort to find empathy for those Americans who have not seen an economic recovery since 2008, no matter what the top line GDP figures say. When hard-working people are hurting and living precariously at a time of their lives when they had been raised to believe they should be enjoying the fruits of the American dream, it is not enough to summarily dismiss their concerns, even – perhaps especially – when they are poorly or angrily articulated.

The Republican Party has already failed to learn this lesson of empathy and humility. Donald Trump is their punishment. The American Left and non-aligned conservatives and libertarians can scarcely afford to make the same mistake.

 

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 1 Summary

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As the Republican National Convention gets underway in Cleveland, it is hard to recall a time when American conservatism has been in so parlous a condition

Andrew Sullivan (in a most welcome return to political live-blogging) captured the ugly essence of Night 1 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio:

Just mulling over the events tonight, there’s one obvious stand-out. I didn’t hear any specific policy proposals to tackle clearly stated public problems. It is almost as if governing, for the Republican right, is fundamentally about an attitude, rather than about experience or practicality or reasoning. The degeneracy of conservatism – its descent into literally mindless appeals to tribalism and fear and hatred – was on full display. You might also say the same about the religious right, the members of whom have eagerly embraced a racist, a nativist, a believer in war crimes, and a lover of the tyrants that conservatism once defined itself against. Their movement long lost any claim to a serious Christian conscience. But that they would so readily embrace such an unreconstructed pagan is indeed a revelation.

If you think of the conservative movement as beginning in 1964 and climaxing in the 1990s, then the era we are now in is suffering from a cancer of the mind and the soul. That the GOP has finally found a creature that can personify these urges to purge, a man for whom the word “shameless” could have been invented, a bully and a creep, a liar and cheat, a con man and wannabe tyrant, a dedicated loather of individual liberty, and an opponent of the pricelessly important conventions of liberal democracy is perhaps a fitting end.

Well, quite.

What struck me most from the first night of the Republican convention, as speaker after speaker stood and railed against President Obama, called for Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail and led the delegates in endless chants of “USA! USA!”, was the fact that these people were all scared. Scared of the future, scared of their economic prospects, scared of Islamist terrorism, scared of national decline.

Rudy Giuliani, appearing a very shrunken figure since his glory days in the late 1990s and during 9/11, sounded like a fearful pensioner shouting at the television when he gave his barnstorming prime-time speech. Where had his America gone, he shouted, and who would keep them all safe in these dangerous times? The answer, of course, was always Donald Trump.

We know that some American conservatives have skipped the convention entirely in disgust – and who can blame them? But of those in the convention hall – or the Quicken Loans arena, to give its full title – the vast majority seem to be drinking the Kool-Aid, or have at least reluctantly reconciled themselves to the fact that Donald Trump is their presidential nominee.

Something has changed in the soul of the Republican Party. One can argue endlessly about the reasons why – this blog believes that the continued failure of Republican government to benefit the struggling middle classes, the failure of the Tea Party to make a positive difference despite its loud rhetoric together with the ill-fated adventurism of the neoconservatives, has done much to alienate working class Americans from a conservative political class who have little to offer them but shallow patriotism.

Of course, Donald Trump offers shallow patriotism too. But he is also a strongman. Where President Obama wrings his hands and attempts to explain the complexity of the world and the problems facing America – often to excess – Donald Trump offers clarity and bold, oversimplified solutions. ISIS can be defeated without putting American boots on the ground, just by America deciding to “lead” again. Semi-skilled manufacturing jobs can be repatriated to America simply by “standing up” to nefarious foreign countries like China and Mexico. And apparently, after having been ground down by two stalled wars and a financial crisis, American conservatism was sufficiently dejected and debased to pick up that message and run with it.

I came of age (and became aware of American politics) in the late 1990s, in the tail end of the Clinton presidency and into the George W. Bush era. And in that time, in books and speeches by prominent conservatives, American conservatism was clearly dedicated – in rhetoric, if not always in practice – to advancing freedom. Freedom for the individual in America, and (sometimes disastrously) freedom for people in other parts of the world.

But the Republican Party of 2016 barely talks about freedom at all. On the first night of the RNC in Cleveland, speakers and delegates gathered under a massive sign proclaiming “Make America Safe Again”. Freedom has apparently gone out the window completely – why else would Republicans nominate an authoritarian like Donald Trump, a man who expresses contempt for freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and human rights? And in freedom’s place comes the soothing, reassuring, beguiling promise of safety.

The America I now see through the prism of the current Republican Party – thankfully quite a distorted prism – is one where the American Dream has died for millions of people, or is at best on life support. The Republican primary voters who overwhelmingly voted to make Donald Trump their presidential nominee, and who are now gathered in Cleveland for the quadrennial party convention, were motivated by not by a sense of opportunity but by fear. Fear for their physical safety from terrorism. Fear of economic instability. Fear of relative decline.

Tim Stanley agrees:

Note: preserve. Not build more, not expand, not create – but preserve. You might argue that Trump is conservatism in its purest sense, the sense of being about conserving the best of the past. You might also argue that this represents a break from Reaganism, which is optimistic and about growing the economy to the advantage of the individual.

I’ve been a US conservative convention goer for eight years and I can tell that a change has come over them. You used to hear a lot about defending the Constitution and shrinking the government. Not so much anymore.

The people who are interested in those things are here. On Monday afternoon, God bless them, they tried to kick Trump off the ticket with a rules challenge on the convention floor. They failed and stormed off. They never had the numbers necessary to do it and the Republican establishment has reconciled itself to Trump anyway – so no dice.

And that’s the most depressing thing of all – there is no longer a major political party in the United States remotely dedicated to expanding freedom for the individual and defending against the encroachment of the state.

Lord knows that the Democrats will not be championing liberty now that they are led by Hillary Clinton and nearly entirely captured by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics. For small-c conservatives, libertarian and conservatarians, this election is very much a case of pick your poison.

Andrew Sullivan is quite right to highlight the lack of any serious policy discussion on Day 1 of the convention (and if you don’t get any on the traditionally less TV-worthy opening days then you won’t get any at all). Trumpian conservatism clearly is not interested in solutions. Like their strongman hero, the Republican Party of 2016 has decided that the difficult, intractable problems of Islamist terror, deindustrialisation, global competitiveness and social mobility can be solved simply by willing them away, by “standing up to America’s enemies” and being swept along by Trump’s strong leadership.

Maybe it will take defeat in the 2016 presidential election for the Republican Party to be shocked out of its current stupor and invigorated to find a way to appeal to Trump’s broad coalition of voters with a more optimistic, pro-liberty message.

The nightmare scenario, though, is a Trump victory, which would gild this fear-based, revanchist form of conservatism with the prestige that comes with winning (never mind posing a serious threat to the American republic) and has the potential to transform Donald Trump from an unfortunate blip on the political landscape to an early 21st century Ronald Reagan.

In short, it is hard to see any grounds for hope at all going into this Republican Party convention. But this blog will continue to watch and hope for the green shoots of a future conservative revival, something better to come once this Trumpian nightmare is over.

 

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 36 – Michael Bloomberg’s University Of Michigan Commencement Address

Michael Bloomberg delivers a college commencement speech worth hearing

While it is true that a generation of university students – the product of our therapeutic culture and “you can’t say that” attitude to political debate – is now being indoctrinated into the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics with alarmingly little resistance from the educational establishment, there is at least one graduating class which has been sent out into the world with a rather more inspiring (and small-L liberal) message ringing in their ears.

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was invited to address the University of Michigan’s graduating class of 2016, and from the first word of his speech he tore into the culture of safe spaces, trigger warnings and all of the other illiberal symptoms of this new orthodoxy.

From Bloomberg’s speech:

The most useful knowledge that you leave here with today has nothing to do with your major. It’s about how to study, cooperate, listen carefully, think critically and resolve conflicts through reason. Those are the most important skills in the working world, and it’s why colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas.

The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through “safe spaces,” “code words” and “trigger warnings” is, in my view, a terrible mistake.

The whole purpose of college is to learn how to deal with difficult situations — not run away from them. A microaggression is exactly that: micro. And one of the most dangerous places on a college campus is a safe space, because it creates the false impression that we can insulate ourselves from those who hold different views.

We can’t do this, and we shouldn’t try — not in politics or in the workplace. In the global economy, and in a democratic society, an open mind is the most valuable asset you can possess.

Think about the global economy. For the first time in human history, the majority of people in the developed world are being asked to make a living with their minds, rather than their muscles. For 3,000 years, humankind had an economy based on farming: Till the soil, plant the seed, harvest the crop. It was hard to do, but fairly easy to learn. Then, for 300 years, we had an economy based on industry: Mold the parts, turn the crank, assemble the product. This was hard to do, but also fairly easy to learn.

Now, we have an economy based on information: Acquire the knowledge, apply the analytics and use your creativity. This is hard to do and hard to learn, and even once you’ve mastered it, you have to start learning all over again, pretty much every day.

Keeping an open mind to new ideas is essential to your professional success — just as it’s crucial to our collective future as a democratic society.

Note the loud booing quickly drowned out by cheering when Bloomberg talks about the inherent intellectual and academic danger of a “safe space” – while his remarks were warmly received, there is clearly a very vocal group of students who did not want to hear this message, and who will step forth from the University of Michigan with very warped views about how political debate (and even ordinary interpersonal relationships) should be conducted.

Bloomberg then turns his attention to the presidential race and the state of American democracy in general:

Democracy in action can actually produce a lot of inaction, which we see every day in Washington and other levels of government, too. When governments fail to address the needs of the people, voters in both parties get angry and some politicians exploit that anger by offering scapegoats instead of solutions.

If we want to stop demagogues, we have to start governing again, and that requires us to be more civil, to support politicians who have the courage to take risks, and to reward those who reach across the aisle in search of compromise.

Here, Bloomberg is almost channelling Andrew Sullivan, who makes his incredibly welcome and sorely needed return to political commentary in the New York magazine with these words:

An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.

(I’ll be blogging a response to Andrew Sullivan’s piece separately in due course).

Bloomberg closes with this warning:

Think about this: In 1960, only 4 to 5 percent of Democrats and Republicans said they would be upset if a member of their family married someone from the opposing party. In 2010, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans said they would disapprove of such a marriage. In 1960, most people would never have believed that interparty marriage would attract such resistance, while interracial and same-sex marriage would gain such acceptance.

For all the progress we have made on cultural tolerance, when it comes to political tolerance, we are moving in the wrong direction — at campaign rallies that turn violent, on social media threads that turn vitriolic, and on college campuses, where students and faculty have attempted to censor political opponents.

As durable as the American system of government has been, democracy is fragile — and demagogues are always lurking. Stopping them starts with placing a premium on open minds, voting, and demanding that politicians offer practical solutions, not scapegoats or pie-in-the-sky promises.

This is a message which many students will not want to hear, but which needs to be transmitted nonetheless – and not only by commencement speakers, refreshing though it is to hear the likes of Bloomberg take up the cause.

University administrators and professors must also absorb and embrace this message and change the way they approach issues of free speech and academic freedom, for while they are not entirely responsible for the censorious and emotionally fragile nature of new students entering their institutions, they do represent the last and best hope of turning those students into robust and resilient young citizens by the time they graduate.

Michael Bloomberg delivering a crowd-riling, viral-ready commencement speech just as students are about to graduate cannot be our only firewall against the onslaught of this new illiberal movement. We must erect meaningful defences and interventions much earlier in the learning process – rather than simply bowing to the excessive demands and exaggerated sensibilities of perpetually offended students – if we wish to prevent our workplaces and government from going the same way as our university campuses.

 

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Quote For The Day

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“Be yourself. Do your work. And they will find you. And serving those readers is all the reward you need.”

– Andrew Sullivan, at the time of his recent retirement from blogging.

 

This blog will continue to provide rigorous, semi-partisan political commentary through the remainder of the 2015 British general election campaign and beyond.

(I will be live-blogging the election results on Thursday night, here).

This blog will never serve as cheerleader for any one political party, but will continue to proudly champion the interconnected causes of personal liberty, economic freedom and national sovereignty – and give credit where credit is due to any party or politician who is willing to pick up the tarnished torch of liberty in an increasingly hostile environment.

Many thanks to all those people who include Semi-Partisan Sam in their daily internet reading – both those who have recently discovered the blog and those few who have been reading since Day 1.