Two Books I Loved

Animal Researchers Should be Proud

by Wesley J. Smith

We are often awed at the medical miracles that save so many of our lives and alleviate unquantifiable levels of human suffering.

And yet, some of us decry a fundamental activity that makes it all possible; what I call the “grim good” of animal research.

Animal rights activists excoriate animal researchers as torturers, work to ruin or prevent good research, have vandalized their labs and homes, and attempted to destroy careers. The terrorists among those ideologues have threatened their lives, even set off bombs. In the process, they have impeded the development of beneficent medical treatments and the gaining of crucial scientific knowledge.

Indeed, a few conservatives have decried animal research. Scandalous!

In a society based so much on feelings–rather than thinking–one can understand the tendency. Beyond that, empathetic people wince at any suffering experienced by animals. I know I do.

In this atmosphere, it is no wonder that many animal researchers are sheepish about their work, which is why I applaud neuroscientist and animal researcher Ashley Juavinett for coming to her profession’s defense.

Jauvinett admits she avoids speaking directly to people about what she does for fear of their negative reaction. But she is also proud of what she does, forthrightly explaining her work. From, “People Ask Me About My Experiments on Mice: The Answers are Complicated:”

The daily life of a neuroscientist doesn’t read like a headline of a popular science article. Some days, I spend hours performing a delicate surgery on a mouse, most recently to implant a recording device.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m the mouse’s primary caretaker. I spend more hours with the mouse than I do with most of my friends. I observe its behavior and worry about its stress levels. I tinker with wires, watch neurons flash across the screen, and perseverate on what kind of tape I should use.

And once that mouse has helped us figure out something more about how its brain works, I respectfully euthanize it, and move on to the next experiment.

The point, of course, isn’t to hurt the animals but use the information gained to further human thriving:

Research like mine is tough, but it provides unprecedented insight about the role of specific cell types in the brain. Some of these neurons, the ones that silence neighboring cells, are thought to be dysfunctional in disorders like schizophrenia.

With this type of research, we’ve learned how different receptors and neurons tune our reward system, changing how we conceptualize and treat addiction. The data we’ve collected have taught us that the computations in the brain are wonderfully intricate – insights that are informing computer science and artificial intelligence every day.

And here is a basic truth:

In my ideal world, we would all have a shared understanding about what research really is, warts and all. Behind almost every science or medicine headline is an animal model, and many people who conducted research on that model.

We don’t only learn things about the brain by conducting thought experiments or behavioral research; we need experimental data about what neurons are doing. We need to know how the whole endlessly complicated thing develops, changes, and breaks. We simply can’t do this research in humans.

About 10 years ago, PETA’s alpha wolf Ingrid Newkirk broke her wrist and marveled at the pain control she received. Yet she missed the fundamental point that she benefited from the very research on animals that allowed those drugs to be developed, experiments she tries every day to impede and eventually outlaw.

Animal research before trying on humans is also a core principle of the Nuremberg Code and research laws and ethical regulations. 

So thank you, Ashley Juavinett and the many other animal researchers who do the hard and unfortunately, often thankless, research work on animals for the benefit all humankind. You should be very proud of what you do.

Indeed, where would we be without you? In a world of dramatically shortened lives and greatly increased pain and suffering. 

Why Social Media Companies Can’t Stop ‘Fake News’

by Jim Geraghty

From the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why Social Media Companies Can’t Stop ‘Fake News’

Right before the holiday, Guy Benson noted that two widely-spread viral tweets about the tax reform bill were flat-out false. The first, from actress Jenna Fischer, contended that because of the GOP-supported tax reform, “school teachers can no longer deduct the cost of their classroom supplies on their taxes.”

Cut Fischer a little bit of slack; she eventually corrected her assertion and offered a lengthy apology. Her information was outdated; the House version of the bill would indeed have eliminated the $250 deductions that teachers could take for purchasing school supplies for their students. A short time earlier, it was a fair complaint; the final version of the bill kept the deduction intact. Still, her original complaining Tweet was retweeted at least 46,000 times; her apology was retweeted 3,600 times.

The second, from a now-deleted Twitter account called “@Sykotik_Dreams” – declared, “My wife’s friend just received a letter from Medicaid and Social Security saying her severely disabled autistic 7 year old son just lost his healthcare and benefits. The letter states that it’s due to your #TaxScamBill. It’s 3 days before Christmas you [bad word] [bad word]!!” This, too, was retweeted more than 46,000 times before it was deleted.

Everyone should have smelled “lie” coming off this one. Nothing in the tax bill affected Medicaid and Social Security benefits decisions. The Tweet was written on December 22nd and the final version of the bill passed the House of Representatives on December 20th. A decision like that almost certainly would have had to have been reached, and the letter would have had to have been drafted, before passage of the final legislation. The individual sharing the story offered no further illuminating details – which agency wrote the letter, any justification, or anyone who could be reached to verify the claim.

“Fake news” doesn’t just come from Moscow or Lithuanian server farms. It comes anytime someone offers something false, inaccurate, or deeply misleading, and people choose to believe it and spread it to their friends. In many cases, those who spread it and amplify it want it to be true, because it confirms part of their previous worldview. If you hate Republicans, you want to believe that their tax bill is doing nothing but terrible things to good people, that it’s living up to Nancy Pelosi’s label of “Armageddon,” and that it’s taking away health care from innocent 7-year-old autistic boys. If this dire scenario is true, it means you, the good outspoken liberal who keeps berating your relatives for their intolerably retrograde political views at Thanksgiving, is a hero, and your relatives are monsters for disagreeing with you.

Who’s to blame for fake news, the creators or those segments of the public who choose to believe it?

Facebook just learned the hard way that labeling something “fake news” does not erode the audience or appetite for that information.

Today, we’re announcing two changes which we believe will help in our fight against false news. First, we will no longer use Disputed Flags to identify false news. Instead we’ll use Related Articles to help give people more context about the story. Here’s why.

Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended. Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts. Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown.

Second, we are starting a new initiative to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not based on the news sources they depend upon. This will not directly impact News Feed in the near term. However, it may help us better measure our success in improving the quality of information on Facebook over time.

Let me help you understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not, Facebook. A great many people have strong belief systems, and at the core of those strong belief systems is the idea that they are good and people who disagree are bad; alternately, my tribe is good and the other tribes are bad. If new information comes along and appears to confirm that they and their tribe are good, or that the other tribes are bad, then they choose to believe it. If new information comes along and appears to confirm that they and their tribe are bad, or that the other tribes are good, they will declare the information false.

Essentials to Peace

by Jay Nordlinger

In Impromptus today, I have Pete Hoekstra, Charlie Dent, Emmanuel Macron, a Vietnamese refugee, Hog Jowl Road (in Chickamauga, Ga.) — many things. I begin with Jim Mattis and the importance of military preparedness. (I also talked about this with Ash Carter, Mattis’s immediate predecessor, in a recent Q&A.) I’ll say a bit more here on the Corner.

Mattis was talking to troops the other day, and, as he so often does, he recommended T. R. Fehrenbach’s book from 1963: This Kind of War: A Study in Unpreparedness. It’s about Korea. War is brewing once more on that peninsula.

I think of George C. Marshall and, in particular, the Nobel lecture he gave in December 1953. (He was the peace laureate that year.) Presenting him with the award was C. J. Hambro, an excellent Norwegian statesman. Hambro spoke of the coming of World War II: “The United States had no military strength that could prevent war or even an attack on America. And Marshall, who saw the total war approaching and his own country powerless, clearly realized the truth of Alfred Nobel’s words: ‘Good intentions alone can never secure peace.’”

Marshall’s lecture had a simple and perfect title: “Essentials to Peace.” He said, “In my country, my military associates frequently tell me that we Americans have learned our lesson” — their lesson about preparedness. Marshall went on,

I completely disagree with this contention and point to the rapid disintegration between 1945 and 1950 of our once vast power for maintaining the peace. As a direct consequence, in my opinion, there resulted the brutal invasion of South Korea, which for a time threatened the complete defeat of our hastily arranged forces in that field. I speak of this with deep feeling because in 1939 and again in the early fall of 1950 it suddenly became my duty, my responsibility, to rebuild our national military strength in the very face of the gravest emergencies.

If you would like to know more about all this, try my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace, They Say.

In today’s Impromptus, I also touch on the current storm over the FBI:

On Twitter, some people have been circulating a tweet from November 3, 2016 — five days before the presidential election. It was written by Sarah Sanders, who is now President Trump’s press secretary. She said, “When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing.”

Remember the circumstances: James Comey, then the director of the FBI, dropped a bomb on Hillary Clinton eleven days before the election. In a letter, he said that the investigation into her e-mails was being renewed. (Two days before the election, he said there was nothing to it.)

These days, of course, Trump & Co. are attacking the FBI vigorously. (Trump & Co. are under investigation.)

The older you get, the more you realize that principle plays just a small role in politics. Ethics are strictly situational. They depend on what jersey you’re wearing. They depend on which way the wind is blowing.

Yes. I guess I always knew that. It’s just that I know it a little better now. There is an old expression: “sadder but wiser.”

When major legislation you like is rushed through, you cheer. When major legislation you hate is rushed through, you cry foul. When women make sexual allegations against a president you like, you attack the women and say “move on.” When women make sexual allegations against a president you hate, the matter is of gravest concern. When a president you like plays a lot of golf, you say, “So?” When a president you hate plays a lot of golf, it’s a problem.

Etc.

In our “post-Weinstein” environment, men are being “called out” for sexual abuse in all sorts of arenas, including classical music. This leads me to tell a story, in my Impromptus. I once asked Beverly Sills, the American soprano, about Georg Solti, the Hungarian-born conductor. She said, “You’re looking at the girl who broke his hand!” What? Sills explained: He had chased her around a piano. She had slammed the lid on his hand. That night, he did not conduct.

Good.

Here’s what Andy has to say about NRI

by Jack Fowler

Over on the home page, Andy McCarthy has penned a wonderful entreaty urging you to support National Review Institute’s End-of-Year appeal. Here’s a slice of it:

The new reality means our work must tackle policy implications in the crossroads between law enforcement and war-fighting, between liberty and security — such areas as immigration, detention, interrogation, intelligence collection, investigation, and trial of suspected terrorists and their support networks. For example, for years, I’ve been advocating that we move beyond the war-versus-crime debate and fashion a hybrid — a national-security court — that adopts the best of the military and civilian justice systems: protecting the national defense and classified information, enabling the intelligence-gathering that is vital in combating an enemy that strikes in stealth, but ensuring the commitment to due process that Americans rightly demand. The times we are living through demand that we consider new ways of doing things that are rooted in our constitutional ideals. Our enterprise continues to be a powerful platform for conveying that message.

Andy’s is just the latest of several takes on why NRI is vital to the conservative mission, the Buckley Legacy, and the core interests of our readers, with whom our cause has always been mutual: Rick Brookhiser explains the benefits to the conservative movement of NRI’s Regional Fellows Program; Kevin Williamson highlights NRI’s exceptional writer-training effort, better known as the William F. Buckley Fellowship in Political Journalism; Jay Nordlinger explains how important defending and advancing the Buckley Legacy is to NRI’s mission; David French explores NRI’s mission as a conservative institution in our shared culture; Jonah Goldberg looks at the breadth of NRI’s programs; Kathryn Jean Lopez discusses NRI’s focus on the big issues that affect our society; John O’Sullivan shares the inside story of how NRI was born, and how it flourishes.

The End-of-Year appeal seeks to raise $250,000 to support NRI’s array of exceptional programs. Your tax-deductible support is very much needed and appreciated. And from what we have heard (ask your financial advisor, or Uncle Louey the accountant), it could be to your advantage, given the new tax law, to make that charitable donation (and an even bigger one) before the last seconds of 2017 tick-tock into history. Donate here. Or if you prefer to donate by check, make it payable to “National Review Institute” and mail it to NRI at 19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10036. Also, should you wish to donate stock or to make a wire transfer: contact Aaron Robinow at 212-849-2806 or email him at [email protected]. NRI’s “EIN” number is 13-3649537.

Breitbart’s Disgrace

by David French

When news cycles are crowded with outrage — some of it justified, much of it hysterical — it’s easy to lose track of the significant stories. There was one last week that conservatives can’t let slide down the memory hole. Breitbart’s editor-in-chief, Alex Marlow, admitted in an interview with CNN’s Oliver Darcy that its full-court-press in favor of Roy Moore was motivated by a desire to protect Donald Trump and that Marlow actually thought Leigh Corfman’s claims against Moore “had a lot of credibility.” Corfman, you might recall, claimed that Moore assaulted her when she was only 14 years old.

So, why did Breitbart double down in support for Moore? It was protecting Donald Trump:

Marlow said one of the factors in Breitbart’s coverage of the allegations against Moore is that, he believes, the news media was trying to use them to set a bar on sexual misconduct “that President Trump cannot match.”

“I think they want to create a standard where President Trump either from past or future accusations, will not be able to match whatever standard is now in place for who can be a United States senator,” he said. “Based off not any sort of conviction or any sort of admission of guilt, but based off of purely allegations.”

“I think that’s the playbook here,” he added. “And I think it’s part of the reason why it was so important for Breitbart to continue our coverage of the way we covered it … and for Steve in particular to hold the line the way he did for — I think part of it is because it’s not just about Judge Moore, it is not even just about establishment, anti-establishment. It’s about what’s coming next for President Trump.”

I’m sorry, but this is vile. It’s one thing to test the claims of a person who publicly accuses a Senate candidate of sexual misconduct. That’s fair, and that’s something journalists should do when considering any claim of wrongdoing. It’s another thing entirely to withhold from readers the judgment that an accuser “had a lot of credibility” as part of an effort to protect an entirely different politician from the possibility of future claims.

In other words, Breitbart facilitated the continued persecution of a credible childhood assault victim for purely political purposes. It subordinated fact-finding to its political agenda. It acted not as a journalist enterprise but as a partisan opposition research firm with a quasi-journalistic platform. It exploited the good name of its founder and the trust of its audience to try to drag a probable child abuser across an electoral finish line.

It’s clear that Breitbart subscribes to the belief that to make their nationalist omelet they have to break a few abuse-victim eggs. Marlow, however, seems unrepentant. He claims that “Bannon and Breitbart are the most feared names in politics . . . And you can see it by the meltdown that so many people are having. The joy, the elation, the perception that Breitbart lost.”

This is wrong. Feared? Not at all. Bannon and Breitbart are two of the most disrespected names in politics. As for the joy? There is always satisfaction in seeing at least a measure of justice done. An unfit politician lost. A disreputable publication has been further discredited.

Conservatives need to remember what happened in Alabama. Content from Breitbart cannot be trusted. Until it’s under new management, its agenda will trump its commitment to decency or the truth.

What Is the ‘Bennett Hypothesis’ and Why Does it Matter?

by George Leef

Serving as Reagan’s Secretary of Education in 1987, Bill Bennett advanced the argument that government student aid had a lot to do with the constant increase in the cost of higher education. Since the government was putting many dollars in the pockets of high-school grads which they could use only if they enrolled in an accredited college, it stood to reason that the people who ran the colleges would see the opportunity to capture many of those dollars for their own spending desires by increasing tuition and fees. While some leftists dismissed the idea (“College presidents aren’t like greedy businessmen!”) those who have carefully analyzed the connection between student aid and rising costs have largely come to the conclusion that Bennett had it right.

The Martin Center has just released a new paper by Jenna Robinson on the Bennett Hypothesis and she writes about it in today’s Clarion Call.

Robinson writes, “The price of college tuition and fees has risen 1,335 percent since 1978: much faster than inflation and faster even than medical care (704 percent) and housing (511 percent). Too many students go to college for the wrong reasons and too few graduate. Almost 4 million students dropped out of college with debt in 2015 and 2016. Student borrowing has soared to more than $1 trillion with many graduates (and non-graduates) unable to pay back their student loans. In short, student borrowing is on an unsustainable path. Understanding the Bennett Hypothesis and examining the evidence is the first step in getting back on course.”

In the paper, Robinson surveyed many papers on the Bennett Hypothesis and they generally conclude that for every dollar of additional student aid, tuition goes up by 60 cents. The effect is most pronounced at for-profit institutions that are extremely tuition-dependent. 

With the truth of the Bennett Hypothesis well established, we ought to stop listening to the politicians and higher-education wonks who keep saying that we must increase student aid to make higher education “affordable.” It’s time to get the dog to stop chasing its tail. The federal government should never have gotten into the business of subsidizing college (Thanks, LBJ!) and if we can’t stop cold turkey (which, sadly, is not politically possible), we need to start to consider the best ways to ratchet student aid down.

Robinson concludes, “Acting now to combat tuition inflation will improve the lives of thousands of individuals—students, parents, and taxpayers. It will also benefit the national economy. Student borrowers who previously ‘boomeranged’ home to mom and dad and put off major life events such as marriage, homeownership, and children, will be able to fully participate in the economy. Young people will not be forced by crushing debt to consider only financial rewards when choosing a career.”

Armageddon Update, Part Three

by Jim Geraghty

As noted in the days after Congressional Republicans passed their tax cut legislation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that passage of the bill would be “Armageddon.” And indeed, reports of anguish and financial ruin have arrived and been collected here and here. The Christmas holiday brought no respite, as even more companies announced how they would be punishing their workers with bonuses and raises to maximize the pain and suffering caused by the apocalypse-inducing legislation. 

Out in Hawaii:

Central Pacific Bank has become the fourth local financial institution to announce it will give holiday bonuses to employees and increase its minimum wage.

The state’s fourth-largest bank, which has about 850 employees, said late Sunday afternoon that it will provide a $1,000 bonus to all of its workforce with the exception of executives on its managing committee. The bank said the bonuses will be paid on Friday and will be in addition to the normal annual or quarterly bonuses it provides based on individual and company performances.

In addition, the bank said it will be increasing its starting pay rate to $15.25 an hour from $12 an hour starting Jan. 1 for about 126 employees. Central Pacific also said it will increase the pay for other wage “progression” positions to maintain a proportionate spread between those positions and the entry level positions where the minimum wage is being raised to $15.25 an hour.

Down in Kentucky:

Community Trust Bancorp, Inc. announced that in recognition of the contribution of the company’s employees to the ongoing success of Community Trust Bancorp, Inc. and the positive impact the changes in tax laws will have on the company, a special bonus for employees.

All full-time employees will receive a special bonus of $1,000 and employees classified as part-time will receive a $500 bonus. Executive management will not participate in this special bonus.

The bonus will be paid to employees as soon as the new tax tables are released in 2018 so that employees may receive the full benefit of the reduction in tax rates.

Over in Oklahoma:

Express Employment Professionals nonexecutive employees in Oklahoma City each will receive a $2,000 bonus before the end of the year, CEO Bob Funke said Tuesday.

Funke said the bonus is in part because of the company’s expected savings from the tax reform legislation Congress passed last week.

“We wanted to show our appreciation for our employees for doing such a good job this year,” Funke told The Oklahoman on Tuesday. “It’s our privilege to be able to give back to our employees.”

The bonus will be provided to the more than 200 nonexecutive employees at Express Employment Professionals’ Oklahoma City headquarters.

Just a bit north of there, in Iowa:

As a result of the passage of the tax relief bill this week, Ohnward Bancshares has announced it will pay a $1,000 tax relief, holiday bonus to every company employee.

This bonus is separate, and, in addition to, normal bonuses received based on company performance.

Up in South Dakota:

Pinnacle Bank president Dillon Retzlaff said company-wide, all 2,000 full-time employees — including all 12 in Iowa — received the $1,000 special bonus and part-timers received a $500 bonus.

Retzlaff broke the good news to his employees via an email and then walked out of his office to see their reactions.

“They reacted very well,” he said. “I saw some tears of joy, a lot of unexpected happiness; it was really fun to do that before Christmas. I think we caught them off guard.”

Retzlaff said it “was the best feeling in the world” to be able to tell his staff they were being given this bonus this year.

See? See! Democrats warned that if Republicans passed the tax cut, we would see ordinary employees crying over it, and the prediction came true!

It just keeps going and going – all the way east in Winston-Salem, North Carolina:

Nearly three-fourths of BB&T Corp.’s employees will get a one-time $1,200 bonus in January as part of the bank’s response to the corporate tax rate cut signed into law Friday by President Donald Trump.

The tax cut reduces corporate rates from 35 percent to 21 percent.

About 27,000 BB&T employees will receive the bonus. Most of them are not eligible for incentives or commissions, BB&T said. The bank had 37,189 employees as of Sept. 30, according to a regulatory filing.

The bank also will raise its minimum hourly wage to $15 from $12 on Jan. 1, as well as provide $100 million to the bank’s philanthropic fund.

Just think, America. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress did everything they could to stop this Armageddon from befalling you, but they just didn’t have the votes. Everyone must remember this on Election Day 2018!

Meeting the Press

by Jay Nordlinger

Impromptus today begins with a reflection on judges and ends with a letter from an eminent musicologist, who compares Tom Brady to Mozart. (Or Mozart to Brady?) In between are various other items, of course, including one on Trump and Putin. Putin gives a yearly press conference (in December). In this year’s, he flattered Trump, who gave him a phone call to thank him.

Here in the Corner, I’d like to make this point: In 2017, Trump gave just one press conference — one “solo” press conference (i.e., the kind when it’s just you, not the kind when you’re standing next to a fellow head of state or something, deigning to take a couple of questions). Of course, there are many ways to interact with the press. You don’t need to hold a formal press conference.

But I used to knock Obama for holding too few of them, and what’s good for the D is good for the R as well. Moreover, Trump seems to enjoy tangling with the press, and his fans love it too. They relish seeing their man bludgeon the “Fake News.” So more press conferences would be good for all, I think, and may 2018 bring at least two, i.e., double.

No, Loose Talk By Politicians and Pundits Will Not Start a War with North Korea

by Jim Geraghty

In a Washington Post op-ed, Ohio Governor John Kasich contends that “politicians and pundits” are going to get the United States involved in a war with North Korea.

With tensions continuing to build between the United States and North Korea, there’s growing talk by politicians and TV pundits that we are on the brink of war. In truth, we shouldn’t be anywhere close…

With millions of lives hanging in the balance, the last thing we need is to have politicians and pundits predicting odds on the probability of war. It’s neither an accurate nor a helpful way to treat a complex international challenge.  

Wars generally begin when one country decides to use physical force to assault another country beyond its borders, such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the Taliban’s refusal to turn over the al-Qaeda leaders behind the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan in 2001, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Wars begin because of conscious decisions, not spontaneously combusting as a result of commentary. Television pundits may be geniuses, idiots, or somewhere in between, but they have no role in the United States military chain of command. They have no role in the North Korean chain of command, either.

Kasich doesn’t give any specific examples of people who he thinks are “waging a war of words” and creating “a distraction from the serious task at hand.” (On paper, just about anything is a distraction from the serious task at hand. Even Christmas!) But wars do not begin because elected officials or news commentators say they think it will happen. The problem with North Korea is not what people on the television are saying about North Korea. The problem with North Korea is North Korea.

Back in mid-December, Kasich’s old 2016 Republican presidential primary rival, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said in an interview, “I would say there’s a three in 10 chance we use the military option.” He added that if the North Koreans conduct an additional test of a nuclear bomb, “I would say 70 percent.” Also, earlier this month, while speaking at a conference at the Reagan Library, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said when asked about the odds of war, “I think it’s increasing every day, which means that we are in a race, really, we are in a race to be able to solve this problem.”

Earlier in December, the official Korean Central News Agency carried a statement from an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesperson, “The large-scale nuclear war exercises conducted by the U.S. in succession are creating touch-and-go situation on the Korean peninsula and series of violent war remarks coming from the U.S. high-level politicians amid such circumstances have made an outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula an established fact. The remaining question now is: when will the war break out.”

If you want to declare that relations on the Korean Peninsula are tense, fine, but they’ve actually been more tense than the current moment. Back in August, I wrote about five times since 2009 that the North Korean regime committed random, sudden, violent military provocations, including sinking South Korean naval ships and firing artillery at inhabited South Korean islands. In each case, both sides backed away from full-scale war. If North Korea, South Korea, and the United States and its allies can avoid escalation from deadly but small-scale crises like those, they can handle whatever talk comes from politicians and pundits.

 

This Is Urgent

by Jack Fowler

In the past, when soliciting your help, NR was fixated on . . . despair. I should know — I was (and remain) the biggest despair-er. So the prose would be honest but along these lines — thank God I have a big nose, because I am standing on my tippy toes in a sea of red ink, head tilted back, still able to breathe, but barely . . . But of late I’ve held off on showering you with such woeful rhetoric.

Today that changes.

National Review Institute — the owner of National Review magazine and NRO, the happy home to many of your favorite conservative writers (after all, it’s a journalism think tank, and if you take a look at its roster of fellows, which include VDH, Andy McCarthy, Kevin Williamson, Jonah, Reihan, JO’S, Ramesh, Jay, KLO, Douglas Murray, David French, Rick Brookhiser, you’ll be wowed) — is running out of time in its vital End-of-Year appeal effort to raise $250,000 to support, among other things, the fellows program.

We’re not close to that goal. I am breaking out in hives: I need you to help us make it. Why should you? Because surely you believe the collective work of the fellows, and all the programming in which NRI engages to preserve and advance the Buckley mission, is important to conservatism, and therefore merits the support of actual conservatives. Which means . . . you. The fact is, never having had a Sugar Daddy or Momma, NRI — like NR has been for decades — is very dependent on that support. If that wanes, well, then there is trouble in paradise. Which we just cannot allow.

Lots of good people understand that. Over the Christmas weekend, many interrupted their festivities to send NRI a welcome gift, with welcome words too. Such as:

Carolyn saw fit to contribute $250 and has a blunt explanation: “Appreciate you as keepers of the flame.” Thanks. We take that duty quite seriously.

John also put $250 into the collection basket and said, “Here’s a small donation to support the best news and commentary in the business.” Nothing small about that, or any donation. All are selfless and deeply appreciated.

James, who also found 250 bucks to send NRI, tagged it with a simple reason: “Now more than ever.” Amen.

We’ll end with good old Bob, he of the $100 donation, who chimed in: “You are a voice of reason in a mad world.” Maybe even a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

That’s all wonderful. To those who have given, thanks so much. But we need many more to do likewise. Many. The cause is just. And, as James said, now, more than ever. Can you find your way to sending NRI a tax-deductible contribution of $25 or $100 or $250? Or maybe $1,000, or $2,500? Or something even more — an extraordinary contribution that will make us faint from relief and joy?

I hope so. It needs to happen. And you can make it happen. Yesterday NRO published a terrific history of NRI by John O’Sullivan. I encourage you to read it. And then do as John recommends: Show your generous and tax-deductible support of NRI and the Buckley mission, which has been entrusted to it. You can do that securely, here.

How Hallmark’s Christmas Movies Took Over Television

by Jim Geraghty

We’re often told that we’re in a “Golden Age” of television, with more quality offerings than we can possibly watch, many available all at once for lengthy “binging” of many episodes in a row.

And yet, there are times where it feels like every critically-acclaimed show has the same ingredients, and makes for well-done but not particularly fun viewing: a dark, conflicted protagonist; sudden bursts of horrific violence and lingering trauma; a tangled web of relationships, shocking twists and sudden character deaths,  corrupt authority figures, blurry moral lines, and cynical looks at past eras. Breaking Bad, True Detective, Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Americans, The Man in the High Castle, Ray Donovan, Billions, The Walking Dead… everybody’s doing some version of The Sopranos.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so shocking that there’s still a giant appetite among viewers for the opposite of all this dark and dreary storytelling. And entertainment doesn’t get much lighter or brighter than those Hallmark Christmas movies. From the first Morning Jolt of the week…

How Hallmark’s Christmas Movies Took Over Television

Hopefully your recent holidays were full of family gathering in the kitchen or around the table, presents under the tree, and peace on earth and goodwill towards all men and women, or at least everyone in your family. Or perhaps your recent weeks featured a workaholic young woman falling for the handyman widower who’s rebuilding a small-town orphanage or youth center, a precocious child asking probing questions about your love life, or a man who resembles Ed Asner named “Nick” or “Kris” and who claims to be the real Santa, and you realized you were living in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. (I think Mary Katharine Ham put together the most definitive list of clichés.)

What you may not have known is that these syrupy, predictable, quasi-nostalgic picture-perfect romances – it’s a stretch to call most of these romantic comedies – are wildly popular:

Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Channel’s annual two-month collection of round-the-clock Christmas-themed programming, helped it become the most-watched cable network last month in total day among 18- to 49-year-old and 25- to 54-year-old women.

Its five-night Thanksgiving event, which is always the highest-rated portion of the season, drove the most-watched week in network history across all key demos, culminating in Sunday, Nov. 26, its most-watched day ever among households, all 18- to 49-year-olds and 25- to 54-year-olds, and 25- to 54-year-old women. That night’s original movie, Switched for Christmas, drew 5.2 million total viewers, making it the network’s highest-rated holiday movie this year.

Overall, this year’s Countdown to Christmas is up 4 percent year over year in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos as well as total viewers and households.

It turns out that being “anti-edgy” is working out quite well for the Hallmark channel.

The prime-time audience for Hallmark — which was launched in 2001 — grew 9% in the second quarter of 2017 from a year earlier while its companion channel Hallmark Movies & Mysteries was up 23%, according to Nielsen. Most other major cable channels, such as Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family), TBS, TNT, USA, Disney Channel and Lifetime, all saw declines in that period. Although Hallmark has an older audience — its median age is 58.6 — ad revenue has been on the rise. In the first half of 2017, the flagship network has taken in $190 million in revenue, up 7% from the same period in 2016, according to Standard Media Index. Hallmark is also getting higher prices from advertisers because it has cut the number of commercials running in its programs.

“They’ve been on a roll the past few years,” said Derek Baine, a senior analyst for the media research firm SNL Kagan…

“What would have been considered dark 10 years ago would today be considered middle of the road,” Abbott said. “That allows us to play to the strength of our brand, which is quality and heritage and family friendly, and create a lot of original content for an underserved audience that just does not find it anywhere else.”

At least a few times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I relent and the Mrs. and I check in to see how Candice Cameron is doing. Because they’re so formulaic, you more or less know what every character is going to say and what’s going to happen in every scene before it happens. At least one of the romantic leads will be returning for the first time in many years to a picturesque elaborately-decorated small hometown, they’re face a supremely implausible work deadline right around Christmas, they’ll have a best friend who incessantly mentions the handsome carpenter/Christmas tree farmer/amnesiac/reindeer veterinarian who’s restoring the town gazebo/volunteering at a new youth center/going to be a last-minute substitute to be Santa in the town parade… the contrived misunderstandings, the magic mistletoe, the overwrought declarations of lost Christmas spirit… and dear God, so many decorating montages.

Then, after putting up with a Hallmark movie or two, I can change to a real Christmas movie featuring Clark Griswold or John McClane.

Thomas Griesa, R.I.P.

by Rich Lowry

We’ve lost a great. Judge Tom Griesa died last night. My wife and I got to know him and his beloved wife Chris on a National Review cruise. My wife formed an instant bond with the couple over their mutual love of music and the arts. We began attending operas and ballets together on a regular basis. We’d always go to dinner beforehand. The three of them would talk composers, singers, dancers, and conductors, and I’d listen patiently (my contribution was talking politics with Tom). 

Tom was a great enthusiast of, well, everything. His characteristic gesture was slapping his leg in delight. He would do it whenever he saw us, or when he ended one of his stories or when he heard one of yours. He loved whatever book he was reading, and invariably pronounced whatever we saw or heard at Lincoln Center as simply marvelous.

Tom and Chris were already quite old when we became friends, but they were youthful spirits who simply paid no attention to age. They kept an incredibly active schedule, including travel. Chris fell ill and became quite frail. They still insisted on keeping our dates at Lincoln Center. We’d be worried about poor Chris tipping over or taking a wrong step, but they’d walk through the crowds like they were 40 years younger. When Chris started using a wheel chair, it was a major concession.

Even then, Tom and Chris always kept their Saturday tennis lesson. It was hard to imagine how they managed it, but they did—because that’s the way they were.

Tom always called her his “darling girl.” She was elegant and sweet to the end, and for him, she never stopped being the young ballet dancer who trained in Paris and performed at Radio City (she ran afoul of the union because she wanted more rehearsal time). As far as great love stories go, don’t give me a prince and a princess, or whatever the latest celebrity pairing is—give me Tom and Chris Griesa, who exemplified true love and faithfulness for decades and every day they had together.

After Tom lost Chris, he still traveled. He took a trip to Cuba after the Obama opening. He hated Communism, but here was the opportunity to do something new, so why not? (He came back disappointed—maybe the second or third time I’d ever heard him disappointed in anything—and told us never to go.)

Tom grew up in the 1930s in Kansas City in a rock-ribbed Republican family. He used to tell stories of the bullying of the local Democratic political machine, and the time he met Herbert Hoover. He went to Harvard and then Stanford Law School and was appointed to the district court for the Southern District of New York by Richard Nixon.

He presided over the Argentine debt case a few years ago, and his tough-minded handling of the the case didn’t go over well in that country. Tom enjoyed a newspaper picture of a derisive float mocking him at an Argentine street parade. It was an occasion for great amusement. 

He was devoted to the Constitution, the law and his clerks. Not working wasn’t imaginable to him. It wasn’t till near the end of his own illness when he was, to be frank, in a bad way at the hospital that he said to my wife that he was beginning to think maybe he should retire.

A buoyant spirit, an inveterate optimist, a man of culture,  principle and faith, a talented jurist, an utterly devoted husband, a great patriot, he was a man in full, and then some. Farewell, Tom. Chris awaits you, and you will remain a model of how to live for everyone who knew and loved you. R.I.P.

 

The Man Who Would Be, and Was, King

by Jim Talent

Not having been raised in any faith, I was completely ignorant of the Bible when, in my mid twenties, I decided to study it. I read it as a young lawyer with no settled preconceptions; it’s fair to say I was skeptical, but not close-minded.

It struck me then that the Bible is a story of the relationship between human beings and God. It is, if true, the redemptive history of the human race. The first part briefly describes the creation of mankind and his alienation from his Creator. The rest of the Bible — the vast majority of it — tells us how God fixed the relationship. That part of the story focuses first on a single man (Abraham), then on Abraham’s descendants, then on one particular descendant of Abraham, whose birth Christians celebrate today.

Jesus is the protagonist in the Biblical story, the mover, if you will, of the whole plot. He was introduced in his humanity as a baby in a manger. He lived only into young adulthood. He had none of what we would call today “credentials” — no social standing, no education, no wealth, no institutional power, and quite probably, nothing physically attractive about his person. For most of his life he rarely traveled outside of the obscure village where he was raised.

Yet for three years he also was a towering and masterful public figure — a king initiating an irresistible kingdom that was outside of, above, and yet in the kingdoms of the world.

His whole life during this period was a constant interaction with people of every kind in every kind of venue: crowds and individuals, followers and enemies, outcastes and upper class, Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. The inherent authority of his words and his person constantly astonished the people he met. He dominated every encounter; he seized, and held, the frame of every conversation, directing it to his own purposes.

On the day Jesus died, he was brought before Pontius Pilate for judgment. Pilate assumed, naturally enough, that he — the Roman governor — was the master of the situation and that Jesus would be afraid of him. But by the end of their encounter, it was Pilate who was afraid, and Jesus who was the judge. This is their final exchange (John 19: 8–11):

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

Then there were the miracles, thousands of them. Again and again, Jesus effortlessly overturned the laws of the natural world. He calmed the storm, walked on water, created from nothing, healed instantly every kind of disease and deformity, and, in the final week of his life, raised a man from the dead — the episode that triggered his arrest and crucifixion.

These were all signs, designed to point everyone to Jesus, and through him to God. The God of the Old Testament was, on the surface at least, distant and foreboding. The Jews believed, and with reason, that anyone who saw their God face to face would die. But thousands of people saw Jesus, face to face. They touched him, talked with him, worked with him, laughed and cried with him. And they did not die; in fact, it was by looking to him that people lived.

He showed us in himself who God really is. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus was explaining to his closest friends what was going to happen the next day, teaching and comforting them, even though his own great Passion was only hours away.

One of his disciples urged Jesus to “show us the Father and that will be enough.” Jesus replied (and you can hear the weariness in his voice): “Phillip, have I been with you so long and you don’t know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14: 9)

It was this great character, exploding on the pages of the New Testament, who, more than anything else, drew me 35 years ago to the religion he founded. Jesus was and is a package of seeming contradictions: the man who is also God, the servant who is also king, the priest who is also the sacrifice, the savior who would not save himself, the one who died yet lived so that everyone who trusts in him, and will also die, will also live.

Yet the contradictions, I came to believe, are all true. His story is true, and he is true — just as it is also true that he is actually a living presence this Christmas morning, in the hearts and homes of his family around the world, who celebrate his birth.

‘Stoking Fears, Trump Defied Bureaucracy to Advance Immigration Agenda’

by Rich Lowry

This New York Times piece has, at times, a hostile tone, as you’d expect. But it is a good account of how the Trump administration found its footing and began to re-orient immigration policy. In my column last week about Trump’s successes, I noted a few areas were he’s probably been better than a more cautious, conventional Republican — this is another one of them.

(If Stephen Miller, the administration’s immigration-hawk in residence, ever writes a book, he should use as a blurb this quote from Dick Durbin about finding him at a dinner that was supposed to be about developing common ground on a Dreamer amnesty: “‘Stephen Miller’s presence made it a much different experience than I expected,’ Mr. Durbin said later.”)

It Took the Administration Allegedly Compromised by Russia to Finally Take This Welcome Step

by Rich Lowry

The U.S. is finally providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, something that the Obama administration — which you’d now believe was on a constant Cold War footing, given the current anti-Russia feeling on the Left — never did.

Make Democrats Vote on Extending the Middle-Class Tax Cuts

by Rich Lowry

A leading Democratic criticism of the tax bill is that the middle-class tax cuts expire. This should be very easy to remedy — Republicans should make the Democrats vote on extending them as soon as Congress comes back next year. If Democrats don’t go back on what they’ve been saying about how terrible it is that these tax cuts are temporary, passage of an extension should be a big, bipartisan accomplishment in the new year that everyone can feel good about.

Notably, by the way, even socialists like middle-class tax cuts:

Time for Trump to Confront Biotech’s Life-Altering Power

by Wesley J. Smith

Over at First Things, I have an essay provocatively entitled, “Trump Letting Scientists Play God.” Not only has he apparently not pondered one of the most epochal issues of our time, but he hasn’t even Tweeted. SAD!

Trump isn’t alone. With the deep desire to bash George W. Bush no longer driving the media–remember the stem cell conflagration?–its coverage of even more consequential biotechnological issues is sorely lacking. Nor has Congress or international agencies been of much use.

The only way I see to change the current torpor and spark a much needed international debate about how to best regulate biotechnologies such as CRISPR gene editing, human cloning, and the creation of synthetic life (to name just three) is for Trump to engage.

For example, CRISPR could be used to eradicate genetic diseases–much to be desired–but terrorists could also engineer a bird flu virus to create a deadly pandemic against which we would have few defenses.

No one in my lifetime has dominated the world’s attention like President Trump. Only he, it seems to me, has the juice to force these pressing issues into the public’s consciousness. As I state in the piece:

The greater the power in the hands of fallible human beings, the more pressing the need for checks and balances. In this field, that means national regulations and international treaties and protocols.

Instead, biotechnology today is substantially unfettered, and with that regulatory vacuum, the potential for catastrophe grows by the day.

The time has come for leadership. Only President Trump—the greatest media manager of our age—can focus the world’s attention on the potential problems associated with scientists playing God. Only his charisma can spark an international conversation about the scope of ethical rules that should maximize the benefit we receive from these technologies, while also constraining approaches that are morally destructive or unsafe.

More: “Trump clearly wants to go down in the history books as a president of consequence. I can think of no better way for him to accomplish that goal than by leading us into the beneficent biotechnological future we want, rather than risking the potentially dystopian one we could passively receive.”

Criticisms of Comey and Mueller Aren’t ‘Character Assassination’

by Victor Davis Hanson

In his efforts to refute Charles Cooke’s recent exposé of Jennifer Rubin, I was surprised to see David Frum, in passing, attack my Hoover colleague, legal scholar Peter Berkowitz (a “Sean Hannity–style character assassination of James Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller”), for suggesting, in a prescient October WSJ opinion column, that the Mueller investigation into Russian collusion may well be ethically compromised (in its zeal to go after those not accused of collusion)—in even greater fashion than was the Comey investigation of Hillary Clinton (in its absence of zeal to indict for clear violations of U.S. intelligence law).

Perhaps the common tie in both cases was the 2016 election, and the politicization of the high echelons of both the FBI and the DOJ—warped by obvious expectations that Hillary Clinton would rather easily win the presidency and thus career officials in government would then see their 2016 decisions post facto adjudicated in 2017 by Clinton or Obama hold-over appointees at DOJ and the FBI.  

Recent testimonies before the House Intelligence Committee and the stellar work of NRO’s Andrew McCarthy I think have supported Berkowitz’s worries of two months ago over the probity of both Comey’s 2016 and, so far, Mueller’s 2017 investigations.

Far from character assassinating anyone, Berkowitz and others are worried about the strange network of relationships of supposedly disinterested officials involved in these recent investigations (Mueller/Comey, Strzok/Page; the McCabes, the Ohrs, Rhee, etc.) as well as the ever more mysterious touchstone Steele dossier—the nature of its origins, payments revolving around its creation and dissemination, its 2016 handling by the DOJ and FBI, its Russian sources and suspect methodologies, its possible use in obtaining FISA warrants to surveille U.S. citizens, and quite conflicting testimonies from top FBI officials about its veracity.

In the past, many of us have appreciated Frum’s essays warning of legal overreach, especially in casting some doubt on the fairness of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s efforts to indict Scooter Libby (who may well have been hounded for a crime that did not exist, and, had it existed, that someone else committed), and Fitzgerald’s later overreaching prosecution of Conrad Black.

From what we know now of both the Libby and Black cases, and in some instances subsequent appeals and efforts for commutations or pardons, Frum was perfectly justified to express worry from time to time about the trajectories and outcomes of those prosecutions. Certainly it would have been unfair for anyone to have accused him of assassinating the character of an over-zealous Patrick Fitzgerald, when Frum occasionally focused on legal contradictions, not personalities.

What a Revealing Video Shows Us About the Tax Reform Debate

by David French

I’d urge you to watch the video below. CBS talked to three different families in three very different financial circumstances — a single mom in North Carolina who makes less than $40,000 per year, a married couple in Rhode Island with no kids who make $150,000 per year, and California parents with three kids who make more than $300,000. Each family gets a break – which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s closely followed the details of the tax plan. But two of the families thought their taxes would be higher. Watch:

This is exactly the dynamic Republicans are hoping for in 2018. Democrats and many members of the media relentlessly claimed the bill would hurt the middle class. They called it a “giveaway” to corporate America and to the very rich. Polls indicated that large numbers of Americans actually thought their taxes would increase. In other words, the public debate served mainly to obscure the truth and conceal the benefits to working families.

So what happens when reality intervenes and Americans by the millions see their take-home pay increase? The GOP’s hope is that it will lead to a public reconsideration and a rebound in Republican fortunes at the polls. And that’s certainly possible. There has been an enormous amount of doom-mongering in the media and online, and if Republicans can keep America safe and prosperous in the coming year, and if family fortunes continue to improve, then some of the hysteria may lose its bite. Eventually people tune out Chicken Little. 

But there’s another possibility. The overheated and frantic news cycles that gripped 2017 will almost certainly continue into 2018, and an impulsive and often-malicious president will likely still suck all the oxygen out of the public debate. In an age of polarization, “It’s the economy, stupid” seems to be less accurate every day. As current approval ratings indicate, American prosperity is relevant but hardly dispositive. With outrage piling on outrage, talk of tax cuts may feel like a debate a thousand news cycles old. The goal for Republicans — especially the White House — is to introduce a measure of calm and stability to American politics. Otherwise, even higher paychecks may not matter to a public weary of scandal, insults, and drama.