White House

The Presidency as Foreign-Policy Theater

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on response in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida from the White House in Washington, D.C., September 2, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and, to the extent that it cannot be avoided, politics. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

The High Price of Big Man Mojo

The American retreat from Afghanistan, with its whimpering and scurrying and its generally cringing tail-between-the-legs posture, would have been debacle enough without the Biden administration’s having added a massacre of children and innocents to it.

The fact that it was a massacre enabled by incompetence does not improve the situation.

General Frank McKenzie, who is in charge at U.S. Central Command, confirmed last week that a drone strike carried out in Kabul in order to ward off an imminent attack from ISIS-K actually killed a carload of civilians, mostly children.

“I offer my sincere apology,” General McKenzie said. Oh, at least it’s sincere. He affirmed that he is “fully responsible for this strike and this tragic outcome.” If General McKenzie is fully responsible, then perhaps he — or someone above him — should act like it and see to it that he is, at a minimum, fully relieved of his responsibilities.

But is General McKenzie really fully responsible?

“The strike on 29 August must be considered in the context of the situation on the ground,” General McKenzie said, “in Kabul at Hamid Karzai International Airport following the ISIS-K attack that resulted in the deaths of 13 soldiers, sailors, and Marines, and more than 100 civilians, at Abbey Gate on 26 August. And also with the substantial body of intelligence indicating the imminence of another attack.”

That is a useful context to consider, because it is not a relevant military context at all — it is a political context.

The horrifying attack on August 26 confirmed only the general sense that violent attacks against U.S. forces and those under their protection were likely, if not inevitable, during our headlong retreat from Afghanistan. It told us what we already knew. The events of August 26 did not tell us anything about whether that particular vehicle — packed with an aid worker and his family — was likely to be part of an ISIS-K operation. The events of August 26 are unlikely to have shed any light on whether the intelligence, if we can call it that, preceding that drone strike ought to have been judged credible.

The events of August 26 are relevant mainly for political — or, we might as well say, cosmetic — reasons.

And it seems to have been the politics that we were responding to.

The collapse of the Afghan government and the surrender of U.S. forces to the Taliban (and we might as well call it what it is) already was shaping up to be a fiasco. Subcomandante Malarky boasted that the Afghan military had been so well-trained and splendidly provisioned by the U.S. government that its ability to hold off the Taliban was a near certainty. “They have an air force,” Joe Biden said of the Kabul government. “The Taliban doesn’t.” Someone might have reminded him that the Taliban already conquered Afghanistan once without the benefit of an air force, and that the attack on the United States that precipitated our involvement in Afghanistan was carried out by means of box-cutters and building schematics.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was even more emphatic: “We are not withdrawing. We are staying. The embassy is staying. Our programs are staying.”

(I know the Blinken type. When one of these bloodless, dead-eyed Ivy League lawyers says he isn’t going to screw you, you’re already screwed. Blaming them for it is like blaming a wasp for stinging you — it is what they do, their nature.)

The seemingly instantaneous collapse of the notionally U.S.-backed regime in Kabul — a regime that had been in reality neglected by U.S. officials wearied by its corruption and inefficacy and then actively undermined by the Trump administration’s decision to bypass it altogether and conduct direct negotiations with the Taliban — calls to mind Lee Smith’s “strong horse” principle, which he applied to the Arabic-speaking Middle East but which also shapes political calculation in much of the rest of the world. As Osama bin Laden once put it, “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse,” a sentiment Smith connects to the thinking of medieval Arab historian Ibn Khaldun.

We are the weak horse.

There are many factors that shape the political life of Afghanistan: religion, ideology, tribe, geography, history — but also the brute facts of brute force. That has always been the problem with setting an arbitrary deadline for wrapping up U.S. efforts in Afghanistan: Without the United States, the Taliban wins, and it is not in the interest of anybody in Afghanistan to see to it that it takes the Taliban a long time to win — if they ultimately end up on the losing side of that fight, they and their families are going to be tortured and murdered. President Biden did his best impersonation of Lyndon Johnson, who famously complained about sending “American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

That’s familiar stuff, and it generally shakes out the same way. The same political decision that made Taliban rule inevitable also made it imminent. This isn’t the Army–Navy football game — there are real consequences for being on the losing side of a fight in Afghanistan. It was never going to be the case that as Uncle Sam went limping back home Afghans were going to stand there and make things worse for themselves.

The fact that the United States chooses to be the weak horse does not change the political algebra.

American presidencies do not run on policy — they run on magic.

They run on the superstitious (and, indeed, idolatrous) belief that there is something magical about the person of the president, that he enjoys the powers of at least a demigod, and that the nation’s prosperity and security are mystically connected with his person and his ritual performances in the democratic agon. That is how the 9/11 attacks came to be, in a very strange but true sense, about George W. Bush. They became something more than an event.

When the nation is insulted or attacked, then the president must respond in some symbolically satisfying way or risk losing the Mandate of Heaven. Hence President Bill Clinton’s decision to blow up an empty pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in retaliation (or so he said) for terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. There were a couple of different stories told to justify that attack — some fiction about the facility being used to produce nerve gas and that it was connected to Osama bin Laden, who had lived in Khartoum a decade earlier — but the timing was perfectly Clintonian: two months after the film Wag the Dog opened in theaters and one week after the Monica Lewinsky matter became public.

Clinton, who had been a draft-dodging bum in the 1960s (one of the many things he has in common with Donald Trump), was intent on remaking the Democratic Party along more centrist and less McGovernite lines, and he was sensitive about looking like too much of a flower child. At the same time, anything that looked like a variation on the theme of Vietnam was, in those years, strictly off limits, especially for a Democrat. The question about U.S. military engagements in the Clinton years was never about U.S. interests — the question was: What does this say about Bill Clinton?

It was a difficult question to parse politically. The memory of Vietnam was alive for Clinton-era Democrats who had cut their political teeth in the anti-war movement, but in the most recent major U.S. military conflict before Clinton’s presidency, Operation Desert Storm, President George H. W. Bush had if anything made it look too easy. U.S. forces drove Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait in four days of fighting, a show of force that was underlined by the ruthless massacre of some unknown number of retreating Iraqi troops — estimates run from hundreds to as many as 10,000 — on the so-called Highway of Death. President Bush’s actions were a sharp departure from those of his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, who must have been the most dovish hawk there ever was, the greatest peacenik ever to be denounced as a warmonger.

The first Gulf War left Americans with the impression — and the expectation — that U.S. forces could impose any outcome they desired, anywhere in the world, with a minimal loss of life and a money cost that was easily lost in the financial vortex of Washington. We still operate, in no small part, under that misapprehension, failing to appreciate that our ability to impose military outcomes is insufficient to secure the political outcomes that are, in fact, our actual national-security goal.

Clinton’s only political goals were self-serving. But Clinton nonetheless was compelled to act — politically compelled, not militarily compelled. If anything, his obviously symbolic response probably emboldened Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, persuading them that the price of attacking the United States was, all things considered, quite tolerable, a burden they were willing to bear in the service of jihad. Bin Laden, being largely ignorant of American political realities and hostage to his own messianic mania, had expected much the same thing after 9/11 — a symbolic retaliation followed by retreat.

Because Barack Obama had at least the good sense to more or less ignore Joe Biden out of existence for eight years, Osama bin Laden did not live to see his expectations finally come to pass. But a symbolic retaliation followed by retreat is precisely what President Biden ultimately intended to offer, at the end, in Afghanistan. After the airport attack — the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a decade — President Biden was politically compelled to do something, lest his Big Man Mojo be seen to wane and the Mandate of Heaven slip from his quavering grasp. That compulsion surely was felt all the way down the chain of command. And it resulted in taking the first opportunity to make a theatrical show of force — in this case, against a car with seven children in it.

Because Congress is run by Democrats, there probably will be no serious oversight effort made to learn how that decision was made and how it went wrong. But the political dynamics animating the administration are plain enough.

George H. W. Bush was far from indifferent to political realities, but he was a politician of an increasingly rare kind: one who was not only a politician. In the Gulf War, he understood what U.S. interests were actually at stake, identified the most direct and convenient means for securing those interests, built a grand coalition that served U.S. military and diplomatic interests, and to a considerable extent trusted — wrongly — that the contrast between his old-school competence and the low-rent shtick of the grabasstical governor of Arkansas would secure his reelection. But by 1992, our presidential politics already had become surreal: George H. W. Bush was denounced as a “wimp” — the editorial cartoonists liked to depict him as an old woman — by the same people who had five minutes ago denounced him as a warmonger, not only for his leadership in the Gulf War but even before that, for his courageous actions as an airman in World War II. (The charge was strafing Japanese lifeboats.) There has always been an element of purely symbolic exchange in our presidential politics, from George Washington on, but by the 1990s that economy of symbols had become almost entirely unyoked from the business of being president. That is the only way to understand the madness of handing power over from the experienced and capable hands of George H. W. Bush to such a man as Bill Clinton.

The symbolic presidency and presidential administration remain disconnected. That makes it impossible for a president to shut up and do nothing — even when that is the best course of action.

The prevalence of symbolism over all else means that presidents are compelled to act — even when the action is pointless or destructive. Sometimes, that is an ill-considered tariff or a ridiculous promise about Mexico paying us to build a border wall. Sometimes, it is showing up at a disaster scene as though the presidential presence brought with it mystical healing powers rather than resource-consuming distraction. Sometimes, it is the mystical laying of presidential hands upon a Skutnik during the State of the Union address.

Sometimes, it’s a carload of kids being burnt on the altar of muscular executive action.

Words About Words

We use iconic to mean something like “famous and admired” or “celebrated,” but we really should restrict its use to people whose depictions are, in fact, icons, which is to say, people whose images are used in some emblematic capacity.

Queen Elizabeth II is an icon; Prince Charles is not. Che Guevara is an icon; Muammar Gaddafi is not, at least not outside of Libya. An icon can stand for a nation (Mohandas Gandhi), a movement (Susan B. Anthony), an ideology (Adolf Hitler), a sensibility (Le Corbusier), an era (Marilyn Monroe), an episode (Abraham Lincoln), a cultural current (Hugh Hefner), an ideal (Mother Teresa), and, of course, religions and religious tendencies.

Like an artistic style, the iconic quality of an image is most easily detected when it is being copied: Elizabeth Holmes dressed up like Steve Jobs, not like Bill Gates, for the same reason that there have been many parodies of William F. Buckley Jr.’s writing and speech but none of Ezra Klein’s. To borrow from Gertrude Stein, a woman who knew, there has to be some there there. It is a quality that you cannot buy, engineer, or even earn — celebrities who set out to make themselves into icons (Lil Nas X) almost always fail. They end up like the ironically named Madonna, who is a kind of vampire that has fed on a series of genuine icons, derivative to such an extent that her considerable originality is obscured by the enduring looks and personas which, in layers of pastiche, compose her image.

All logos aspire to the iconic condition, but only a few achieve it: Apple, McDonald’s, Nike, Starbucks — you know that these logos have reached that height because they can be parodied, while attempting to parody some very well-known but not iconic logos or brands (say, Armani or Tesla) is like telling a joke that nobody gets. In that respect, a person who is genuinely iconic has a face that works the way the McDonald’s arches do, supralinguistically — straight to the lizard brain, where the consumer instinct lives.

We use iconic lazily and promiscuously, but we should hold it in reserve: For one thing, it is rarely warranted, and, for another, when it is warranted, you don’t need to be told.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader, apparently not entirely familiar with your obedient correspondent, writes in with a sports-related question. Stuck in his craw is the broadcasters’ phrase “former first-round draft pick.” What would be more accurate, he says, is “previous first-round draft pick.”

Former seems to indicate that the player is no longer a first-round pick. But, it seems to me, the player in question will always have been a first round pick — it simply happened a while ago. In other words, previously.”

There is something to that. Surely it matters when a player was a first-round draft pick: I would imagine that the bidding starts higher for 2019 first-round picks than it does for 2011 first-round picks. So, why not say it that way: “Andrew Luck was a 2012 first-round pick.” The easiest cure for ambiguity is information and precision.

Seems easy enough.

Make it so.

From the Things That Shouldn’t Need Saying Desk . . .

Literally means literally — describing a thing that actually happened. As opposed to metaphorically. A reader shares an example from the late Norm Macdonald and the extant Lena Dunham, via Vulture:

NM: I guess a whole bunch of people hate her or something. I didn’t know she was a big person.

V: It’s even weirder if you didn’t know who she was. You just picked some random stranger to correct their use of the word “literal” on Twitter?

NM: Well, that does bother me. They told me what a writer she [Dunham] was. Whenever somebody tells me that someone’s a great writer and the first thing you see is “literal” used incorrectly . . .

V: Forget about your career, do you think Twitter has been good for you as a human being?

NM: It’s definitely bad for me as a human being.

If you happen to be in the market for a titanium hammer, here is an Amazon review: “I used this hammer for framing a basement a couple weeks ago and literally fell in love with this amazing hammer.”

That is going to be a love story for the ages.

If you ever are in doubt about how to use the word literally, just see how Joe Biden does it, and then don’t do that.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. In it, you will discover 60 words for heroin and some very sad stories involving those words.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

Writing in the New York Times, Ezra Klein insists that the words “supply side” will “summon the ghost of Arthur Laffer.”

That’s pretty spooky — for one thing, it isn’t even October yet.

For another, Arthur Laffer isn’t dead.


Referenced above: The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

In Closing

Something from this week’s reading, from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, stood out:

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter . . . By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king.

There’s a reason there is so much Old Testament sensibility in the earliest days of our nation. Pharaoh was very much on the pilgrim mind.

Every now and then I come across a Bible verse that I must have read a dozen times but makes me wonder whether I’ve really read the book at all.

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Health Care

The High Price of Free Health Care

People walk past a mural praising the National Health Service in London, England, March 5, 2021. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a semi-fortnightly vexation. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it in your in-box, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Trouble in Single-Payer Paradise

There are two kinds of people who support single-payer health care in the United States: Those who point to the British system as a successful example, and those who know something about the British system.

Under the Conservative government of Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom will see taxes raised to their highest-ever peacetime level with a new surcharge going to support the financially wobbly National Health Service and “social care,” meaning nursing-home care or at-home care for the elderly. The taxes will fall disproportionately on the wages of young people, who don’t vote Conservative, to the benefit of wealthier retirees, who do.

One of the proverbs you hear when it comes to comparisons between the United States and the United Kingdom goes roughly: “Sure, they pay higher taxes, but at least they get something for it, including free health care.”

Neither one of those is exactly true.

Apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult to make, because both countries have multiple taxing jurisdictions (high-income New Yorkers pay more than high-income Texans, and high-income Scots pay more than high-income Englishmen) and tax things like investment income and profits from selling a residence differently. That being said: Middle- to upper-middle-income Britons do pay higher national income taxes than do their American counterparts, but when state and local taxes are taken into consideration, the math looks different, with middle-income households in New York State, for example, liable in at least some cases to pay higher income taxes than they would in the United Kingdom. (By way of comparison, taxpayers in Denmark typically pay nearly twice the income tax they would in the United States.) Overall, British income taxes are slightly but not radically higher than American taxes.

So, comparable income-tax rates and all that sweet free health care — it looks like the British are getting a great deal, no? But, of course, it is more complicated than that.

The Brits take a great deal of national pride in the NHS, but, for many in the United Kingdom, that pride is not enough to get them to actually rely on the NHS for health care: One in five Britons choose private care funded out-of-pocket rather than the NHS care funded by the taxes they already are paying, according to the BBC, citing delays, lack of available services, and the indignity of having to “fight for treatment” with the NHS bureaucracy. One in four NHS patients say that working with the state-run system has harmed their mental health.

Meanwhile, residential and at-home care for the elderly, a growing concern in aging nations such as the United Kingdom, can be outrageously expensive. Britons with modest assets (say, $35,000 in home equity) might expect to pay around $90,000 a year for retirement care. In some cases, those expenses can run into six figures.

It isn’t just care for the elderly. Mental-health care in the United Kingdom is poor (though not as poor as it is in the United States) and getting poorer as the number of available treatment spots are cut.

That’s typical of the socialist model of providing scarce goods and services: The things that are free you can’t get, and the things you can get aren’t free. There is a reason that, contrary to what you hear from American progressives, few countries in Europe or elsewhere actually have national single-payer systems. Germany doesn’t have one. France doesn’t have one. Health care in Switzerland happens in an entirely private (but highly regulated) market.

The new surcharge and the related reforms are meant to get social-care costs under control. And while the government of Boris Johnson is not always obviously competent, this is not a Johnson problem: British governments have been grappling with social care since the 1970s. The timelines there are always kind of interesting to me: The welfare state in the United Kingdom took its modern form in 1948, and, less than 30 years later, the country was a wreck. But now as we approach a half a century since the crisis that brought Margaret Thatcher to power, many of the basic problems with that welfare state remain unaddressed. Thatcher’s government made important and fruitful reforms, but there is only so much one government can achieve. Tony Blair tried, and largely failed, to reform the system. Theresa May’s government attempted to deal with the social-care problem and got burned in much the same way the George W. Bush administration did when it tried to reckon with the financial imbalances of Social Security.

These problems are in the lesser part economic and in the greater part political.

Of course, a very rich country such as the United Kingdom has the resources to provide care for the indigent and the elderly. But it has lots of other things it would like to pay for, too: an army and a navy, educations for young people, roads, bearskin hats at $1,500 a pop. The British also want to have a private economy with lots of investment and trade, and enough left over for the occasional Spanish holiday. Choices have to be made.

The NHS is chronically underfunded for the same reason U.S. public pensions are chronically underfunded: Politicians run for office every couple of years, and they have powerful incentives to spend money on things for their constituents in the here and now rather than set aside resources for the use and enjoyment of future beneficiaries. Real investments require real money, but promises are free. And so money goes to where the votes are. And it doesn’t go where the votes aren’t — that is why in the United States, the architects of our social programs have generally tied the interests of the broad middle class to the welfare state through entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. As the proverb has it: “A program for the poor is a poor program.”

A very tiresome mode of political argument is the one that goes thus: “The ideal version of my imaginary system is preferable to the actual version of your real-world system.” We saw this in the Barack Obama-era health-care debate, when Democrats and the just-the-facts gang at places such as Vox sniffed that the (grievously misnamed) Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit. Critics, myself included, responded: “That may be true, if the cost projections are not exceeded, and if all the unpopular tax increases are fully implemented. But that isn’t going to happen.” When tasked with giving the ACA a deficit-impact rating, the Congressional Budget Service did everything except make rude masturbatory motions as its analysts dutifully reported, “Sure, in the imaginary world in which this all goes according to plan, it will reduce the deficit.” In reality, everybody knew that measures such as the “Cadillac tax,” a levy on the expensive health-care benefits enjoyed by Democrats’ union allies, were never going to be implemented. As it turns out, many of the key features of the ACA were never implemented.

We see the same dynamic at work in areas other than health care; e.g., with the same big-city progressives who demand higher taxes to fund expanded welfare benefits fighting against higher taxes to fund expanded welfare benefits when those taxes fall on big-city progressives in the form of capped federal income-tax deductions for state and local taxes.

Recent COVID madness notwithstanding, Australia is, in general, a very well-governed country, and a rich one. Its single-payer health-care system is a mess, “under pressure and underfunded,” as the Australian Medical Association puts it, with “delays to treatment, bed shortages, and lengthy waiting lists for elective surgery.” New Zealand, another rich and well-governed country with a similar system, suffers under a “drastic shortage of specialist staff,” expecting to lose up to a third of its neurosurgeons in the coming years with no easy way to replace them. Canada has similar problems. These shortcomings are endemic.

None of this is to say that the U.S. model is the only model, or even that it is a good one. There are several different good ways to do health care. The Swiss model has many American admirers, and the ACA was in part an attempt to adapt Swiss practice to American realities. Many American progressives profess to admire the German way of doing things. But what the German model and the Swiss model have in common is a ruthlessly enforced individual mandate to purchase private health insurance; i.e., one of the parts of the ACA regime that both Republicans and Democrats were content to abandon.

And that points to the fundamental issue that we never seem to get around to really thinking about. The case for single-payer health care, like the more general case for a health-care system with a larger role for government, is not at its foundation about economic efficiency, quality of care, or even access to care. Some largely public systems perform pretty well on the efficiency and access criteria, and so do some largely private systems. Our health-care debate is not based in economics but in temperament — mainly risk-aversion.

The great sources of stress in the American system are the threat of losing coverage and then incurring some massive medical costs, and the related issue of general price opacity. If you want LASIK eye surgery, you can get a quote, you can get three competing quotes, you can arrange financing if needed, etc. The same for many kinds of cosmetic surgery, some kinds of dentistry, and some other services. Of course, not everything can be priced that way. But the lack of transparency, prices, and accountability is, I think, the root of our anxiety about health insurance and health care.

A single-payer system such as the NHS is attractive to some people because it promises — often falsely — to relieve that anxiety. I have even heard some more thoughtful people put it in the appropriate terms: “I would be willing to accept health care that is less innovative and of slightly lower quality, with longer waits and fewer amenities, in exchange for knowing that I was never going to get a bill for anything more than a relatively trivial copay.” And that is not a necessarily irrational position — it is the position of someone who prices risk in a different way from what you or I might do.

A single-payer system also introduces new problems and new sources of anxiety. And so much of our debate ends up being a comparison between the British system and the U.S. system, or the Canadian system and the U.S. system, or the French system and the U.S. system, whatever. Politically, that means exaggerating or emphasizing the defects of the system you like less and waving away the defects of the system you prefer. That is an unprofitable use of time and energy.

What would be more productive, I think — especially for proponents of more liberal and market-oriented solutions on such issues as health care — is to understand and appreciate the stress and anxiety that some Americans believe could be alleviated with an NHS-style monopoly or similar system, and develop reforms that speak to these concerns — which are legitimate concerns and deserve to be treated as such — in a way that is more consistent with our values and with American practice. Local norms and culture matter enormously in these things: I am a great admirer of the Swiss model of government, but I think it would be catastrophic to attempt it in the United States.

I am not much of an admirer of the NHS, which I also think would go simultaneously up in smoke and down in flames, Hindenburg-style, if attempted in the United States.

As Boris Johnson can attest, it isn’t working that well in the United Kingdom, either.

Words About Words

A New York Times headline: “If the Police Lie, Should They Be Held Liable? Often the Answer Is No.”

As you might have guessed, the headline says the opposite of what the article says. The report, by Shaila Dewan, notes that the police often are not prosecuted but does not argue that they should not be prosecuted. In fact, the author seems to believe the opposite.

This is one of the problems of getting news reporting too mixed up with agenda-driven opinion writing: Should is a word for opinion columnists, not a word for reporters.

. . .

Last week, I wrote about the adjective/adverb fast and mentioned that I couldn’t think of a use that wasn’t related to speed. (The issue was the redundancy “fast-speed Internet.”) About 11,451 of you wrote in to remind me of the use of fast to mean fixed or steady: “He held fast,” “They were fast friends,” “She was a woman of fast resolve.”

This sense of fast is, in fact, older than the sense of speedy. Fast is one of those funny words such as cleave that come to mean both a thing and its opposite: Cleave means both to cling together (“a man shall cleave to his wife”) and to separate, which is what a cleaver does.

That which is fast goes quickly, while that which is fastened goes nowhere.

The references inform me that the root is the Proto-Indo-European past, meaning firm, and it isn’t clear exactly how that produced identical English words meaning both quick and fixed. One idea is that fast in the sense of fixed came by extension to mean disciplined or resolved, a sense that fast maintains in English, and from resolved on to vigorous or energetic. A religious fast, then, would be a demonstration of resolve, while running fast would be running with vigor and energy. That’s speculation. The theme running through all these is commitment, but, as far as I can tell, no one really knows beyond a very vague sense how all these words fit together.

But in none of these senses is “fast-speed Internet” a sensible thing to write.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader writes in with a classic: evacuate, which has come up repeatedly in the case of Afghanistan. Contrary to what you might read in the Washington Post, NPR, or CBS News, places are evacuated — made vacant — not people. This is one of the many things people learned from watching The Wire. (RIP Michael K. Williams.) Afghanistan was evacuated, the Americans and Afghan allies there were rescued.

Some of them.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Memory Lane

Some of you have heard me tell the story of my first being offered a job by the Atlantic. I warned the editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, that there would be howls of protest, and not just howls but blubbering and ululations and hoots, all of them in protest. He scoffed. “This isn’t the high church of liberalism. This isn’t the New York Times.”

Home and Away

Writing in the New York Times, I argue that the January 6 riot at the Capitol was not an attempted coup d’état but only half of one: the less important half. The more important half is still being carried out.

Meanwhile, at the New York Post, I consider the possibility that the rapidly declining share of men among college undergraduates just might possibly have something to do with the fact that we’ve been telling men for a generation that the problem with our institutions is that there are too many men in them. Apparently, they listened.

You can watch me discussing Vivek Ramaswamy’s new book, Woke Inc., with the author here.

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. If you are curious about what some of those disaffected young men mentioned above are up to, you can find out therein.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Car Thieves from the Future?

From the Sacramento Bee: “Davis has felony convictions in Sacramento and Santa Cruz counties dating back to 2017 and was arrested in June in Sacramento in an auto theft case involving a 21012 Nissan.”

I am reminded of an Onion headline: “Earthquake Sets Japan Back to 2147.”


Do check out Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.

In Closing

I didn’t write or say much about the 20th anniversary of 9/11, mostly because I didn’t think I had anything useful to add to the conversation. But, one observation: Much of what has been said and written about the attacks of September 11, 2001, characterizes the terrorists as “savages.” I understand the reason for writing that way and no doubt have done so myself on many occasions. But the sobering — and terrifying — truth is that these horrific acts were not performed by uncivilized people from some barbaric backwater. Osama bin Laden himself was an educated man (he studied for a time at Oxford) and valued education in others: Two of his wives had doctorates.

Osama bin Laden was not raised in an environment of fanaticism — he helped to construct one. In that famous picture of him and his family on vacation in the 1970s, there are plenty of bellbottoms and not a burqa in sight. The difficult task is drawing a line between the kid in that picture to 9/11. These acts were not performed by barbarians — they were performed by intelligent men, in many cases by educated men, and by sincerely if perversely devout men, with the full consent of their consciences.

Nazism did not arise in some unlettered desert — it was the product of Europe’s most intellectually accomplished nation.

When we encounter people with radically different values from our own, we sometimes think of them as somehow less than human, as closer to animals than to us. That has led us to many mistakes in the Muslim world and will lead us to similar mistakes regarding China and other challengers to Western liberal values.

Savagery would be, by comparison, a relatively easy problem to deal with.

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Like a Rolling Stone

A supporter of then-president Barack Obama attempts to have him sign a copy of Rolling Stone at a campaign rally in 2012. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a hebdomadal conspectus of stuff I’m thinking about. To subscribe to the Tuesday, and I hope you will, please follow this link.

Why the Media Keep Publishing Fiction

I once taught a whole college seminar on how Rolling Stone got took.

And now Rolling Stone has done it again. Maybe I’ll expand that seminar to a full semester — because the lessons of the journalistic crimes of Rolling Stone are applicable to much more than Rolling Stone.

The venerable pop-music magazine, which not long ago had to retract a splashy story about a vicious gang rape that never happened, has now been obliged to issue a correction — this should be a prelude to retraction — for a story about how gunshot victims wheeled into hospitals in rural Oklahoma are being left to bleed and groan in agony because the emergency rooms are overrun by cases of ivermectin poisoning. As with the infamous rape case, this is a culturally electric event that . . . did not actually happen: “Rolling Stone,” the correction reads, “has been unable to independently verify any such cases as of the time of this update.” There is a reason Rolling Stone has been unable to independently identify any such cases: There are no such cases.

More from the correction:

The National Poison Data System states there were 459 reported cases of ivermectin overdose in the United States in August. Oklahoma-specific ivermectin overdose figures are not available, but the count is unlikely to be a significant factor in hospital bed availability in a state that, per the CDC, currently has a 7-day average of 1,528 Covid-19 hospitalizations.

The most important word in this story is not “ivermectin” — it is “Oklahoma.” Because you know who lives in Oklahoma — Joe Rogan fans.

The story turns out to have been based on the claims of one doctor — claims that Rolling Stone never checked. Why? Because the story is about (1) ivermectin, and, more important, (2) Oklahoma.

More correction:

The doctor is affiliated with a medical staffing group that serves multiple hospitals in Oklahoma. Following widespread publication of his statements, one hospital that the doctor’s group serves, NHS Sequoyah, said its ER has not treated any ivermectin overdoses and that it has not had to turn away anyone seeking care.

Another journalistic Hindenburg goes down in flames at Rolling Stone — oh, the buffoonery.

In 2015, I taught a journalism seminar at Hillsdale College, the subject of which was Sabrina Erdely’s 2014 Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus,” which related the story of a horrifying, brutal sexual assault at the University of Virginia, a crime that — and this part still matters! — did not happen. The story was a fantasy, a concoction, and a libel — and Rolling Stone’s report was, in the words of Erik Wemple at the Washington Post, a “complete crock.”

A crock of what precisely, though?

Like most of the phony hate crimes and fabricated racial and sexual insults that have for years been an epidemic among young Americans, especially on college campuses, the Rolling Stone rape hoax was a neurotic casserole of familiar ingredients: social and romantic disappointment, weaponized envy, prejudice, mental-health problems, and a progressive-activist culture in which the effort to discredit and abominate cultural enemies — more often than not dishonest — takes the place of argument.

These things follow a pattern: When Lena Dunham made up a story about being raped while a student at Oberlin, her fictitious villain was not a member of the chess team or the president of the campus Sierra Club chapter but a swaggering College Republican; when North Carolina Central University student Crystal Mangum made up a story about being gang-raped, the malefactors were the Duke lacrosse team; the UVA hoax author, Jackie Coakley, falsely claimed that she was gang-raped by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as part of an initiation ritual. When feminist activist Judy Munro-Leighton made up a story about being raped, she chose as her assailant Brett Kavanaugh, who was at the time a Supreme Court nominee in confirmation hearings. Jussie Smollett alleged that he was assaulted in the wee hours by . . . weirdly bitey Trump-loving Empire fans who just happened to have a length of rope and a quantity of bleach on their persons as they roamed the freezing streets of Chicago on an early January morning.

In all of these cases, the story wasn’t about what the story was about.

None of those fabricated rapes was presented as a mere crime of sexual violence — a crime that happens every day in these United States, disproportionately affecting not college women (who are, in fact, less likely to suffer rape than are women the same age who are not in college) or well-heeled activists but poor women in isolated urban and rural communities, women with little education, women on Indian reservations, illegal immigrants, etc. The stories and the data associated with some of these places are shocking.

But here’s the thing: Nobody cares about those women.

Not really. Of course, they’ll say they do. In reality, the kind of women our newspaper editors and magazine publishers care about are college students, white tourists abroad, and celebrities. But the most important variable in these hoaxes is not any of the personal qualities of the fictitious victims but the cultural resonance of the fictitious attackers. If you want to see a Native American leading the nightly news, put him in front of some white high-school kids wearing MAGA hats.

Magazines such as Rolling Stone, the major newspapers, the academic establishment, and the professional-activist class are not staffed in the main by people who grew up on Indian reservations or in dysfunctional mountain villages, people who dropped out of high school, people who have been incarcerated, or other people from the margins. You may find one or two or those at any given media property, but you’ll find a lot more Oberlin and UVA graduates. Their interests, anxieties, and obsessions are those associated with their class. They don’t know — or care — what’s happening at Pine Ridge or in Owsley County. But they do know what sort of class-adjacent people they like and don’t like, they do know what sort of lifestyles and cultural affiliations they disapprove of, they do remember being snubbed or insulted (even if they only imagined it) by some frat goofus at UVA, and they do know what sort of people they resent.

They don’t know much, but they know what they hate.

And so these made-up rape stories are not stories about rape — they are indictments of fraternity culture, or jock culture, or Southern institutions, or Republicans, or anybody else who wanders into the cultural crosshairs of the hoax artists. The Oklahoma ivermectin story works in the same way, fitting into a prefab politico-cultural narrative that is not strictly speaking connected to the facts of the case at hand. Stephen Glass’s fictitious report from CPAC is another example of the same thing at work. No one questions tales of victimization involving people they assume to be, always and everywhere, victims. No one questions tales of depravity discrediting people they believe to be depraved. Joe Rogan can’t be a half-bright meathead who sometimes says things Professor Plum doesn’t like — he has to be a monster, responsible for the deaths of hundreds or thousands of people. Of course the corpses of those rubes in Oklahoma are piling up like cordwood — Joe Rogan has to be stopped!

(Joe Rogan is a genuine crackpot about ivermectin and much else — maybe don’t take medical advice from the Fear Factor guy.)

This reflexive prejudice deforms journalism in ways that are not limited to seeing the occasional work of pure fiction published as news. As I have written before, this same tendency is why the same media kingpins who claim to be the tribunes of the poor and the forgotten will publish about 53 articles on the admissions policies at Harvard or the University of Texas law school for every one article they put out about the high-school dropout rate in Milwaukee. Harvard applicants matter, elite law schools matter, and Milwaukee high-school dropouts don’t matter.

Dead hicks in Oklahoma matter only because Joe Rogan matters.

Rolling Stone is not alone in this. Writing about the problems of the unionized public-sector work force in big Democrat-run cities does not push the right buttons for your average Washington Post reporter or editor — it does not lower the status of a perceived enemy but instead threatens a perceived ally. But, beyond that, the situation in Milwaukee’s troubled public schools (or Baltimore’s, or Dallas’s) simply does not have any personal resonance for media decisionmakers, speaking in most cases neither to their own experiences nor — more important — to their social aspirations. The people who edit the Washington Post are the sort of people who care intensely about who gets into Harvard and what’s happening at Georgetown. Only a minority of Americans are college graduates, but the people who run Rolling Stone and the rest of the major media are in large part people who have powerful emotional connections to campus life.

School choice for poor black kids in Philadelphia isn’t even a blip on NPR-listening Democrats’ radar – but forgiving college loans sure as hell is. Why? It is obvious enough.

For progressives who see those who do not share their political priorities not as having different views but as enemies, publishing a made-up story about deranged gang-rapists at UVA pushes all the right buttons: white privilege, rich-jerk privilege, male privilege, Southern brutality, maybe even Christian hypocrisy if you can figure out a way to shoehorn it in there.

You can be sure that if someone had come forward with an unsubstantiated, loosey-goosey story about having been gang-raped by the staff of Rolling Stone, that claim would have received a good deal more scrutiny — not only at Rolling Stone, but at any mainstream-media outlet. Not because they are personally connected to Rolling Stone staffers, but because they live in the same world as Rolling Stone staffers. Southern fraternity members and college athletes are natural bogeymen to the media-staffer demographic, and so claims about them, however outrageous, are treated sympathetically. Oklahoma, on the other hand, inspires more fear among big-city progressives than the terrifying prospect of . . . being made to pay their own property taxes.

The Rolling Stone story got picked apart in about five minutes as soon as it encountered the lightest skepticism. The Duke lacrosse story required a criminal investigation. Lena Dunham’s made-up story fell apart as soon as one curious reporter — in this case, me — spent five minutes on Google and made one telephone call. That wasn’t exactly hardcore investigative journalism, and I don’t write that to be modest: The students I taught at Hillsdale were undergraduates, not professional magazine editors, but they were able to see the problems with Rolling Stone’s reporting and its agenda-driven narrative pretty easily. Which is to say: These stories don’t get published because nobody knows how to prevent that from happening — these stories get published because nobody cares, because these stories serve the purposes of a particular narrow cultural agenda and flatter the prejudices of a particular narrow set of educated and generally affluent American professionals.

(It is worth bearing in mind that the captains of our ruling classes are so greedy that they are willing to rob the poor and the oppressed even of their suffering, which is why you so often find cases like those of Edward Said, whose hardscrabble Palestinian childhood was an invention, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the daughter of an architect who was raised in affluent Westchester County and invented a “working-class” background for herself. These people simply must have the best of everything, including the pleasure of congratulating themselves on how far they have come and the adversity they have overcome. That is the emotional foundation of our victimization Olympics.)

This is a problem of political bias, but political bias is part of a larger cultural bias, a particular social orientation. Rolling Stone has always been left-leaning, but it also was for many years the home of great writing from conservatives, notably P. J. O’Rourke and Tom Wolfe. But we have closed ranks, socially, in recent years, for a variety of reasons, many of them just blisteringly stupid. This has coincided with certain social and economic changes that have undermined the quality of American journalism. It is not that we do not know how to get it right, or even that we do not have the resources to get it right — it is that our petty hatreds and cultural tribalism have led us to believe that it does not matter if we get it right, that lies and misrepresentations about cultural enemies are virtuous in that they serve a “greater truth.” And this is not an exclusively left-wing phenomenon: Donald Trump’s lies, and the distortions and misrepresentations of right-wing talk radio and cable news, are excused and even celebrated on the same grounds.

The test of a political claim in our time is not whether it is true or false but whether it raises or lowers the status of our enemies.

It is, of course, a little bit amusing that those at the commanding heights of our media are so blinded by prejudice that they cannot see the plain evidence that they are blinded by prejudice. Class prejudice is a bigger part of that than is generally appreciated, but there are other kinds of prejudice at play. (It is complicated, because many other kinds of prejudice are intertwined with class prejudice: religious prejudice, notably, but also racial prejudice and linguistic prejudice.) Making our media even more of a monoculture — more intellectually and politically homogeneous — is going to make this even worse. You do not have to be of a certain background to write about people from that background, and you do not have to have personal experience with any particular social situation to write intelligently about it. But you have to do the work, which is a lot more difficult and a lot less enjoyable than simply indulging your own prejudices and hatreds.

Unhappily, our so-called journalists are by the day less willing to do that work — and have fewer incentives to do it — which is why they keep getting snookered by interchangeable lies from a cast of interchangeable liars.

A note to our progressive friends: This is your version of Q-Anon — falling for obvious, ridiculous lies because you want to believe the worst about people you hate.

In Other News . . .

Writing about cancel culture, Anne Applebaum turns up her nose at “anyone who tries to shoehorn these stories into a right-left political framework.”

Writing in the Atlantic, she was.

Now, where did I leave that shoehorn?

Words about Words

Where I come from, a shoehorn is not a shoehorn — it is a shoe spoon. But, depending on where you are, it may be a shoehorse, shoespooner, shoe schlipp, or shoe tongue.

It is a damned interesting word: Shoe horn in its literal sense dates back to at least the 15th century, but its modern metaphorical sense goes back only to the 19th century.

For some period of time between the coining of the word and the emergence of the modern metaphorical senses, shoehorn had a different metaphorical sense: cuckold.

My guess is that the horn part explains that. The connection between horns and sex has been around a lot longer than English has, and the popular tradition connecting horns and cuckolds goes way back into the history, and the pre-history, of the British isles. The Charlton Horn fair, with its obvious pagan survivals, was held at a site known as “Cuckold’s Point,” and, according to legend, it was instituted by King John in recompense to a man whose wife he had seduced. It probably predates King John’s reign by some time.

But the connection is not exclusive to the Western world: Horns have been used for centuries in folk medicine as aphrodisiacs — as the rhinoceros horn still is in China, among other places.

More Words about Words

From the New York Times, writing about Billy Bob Thornton’s series “Goliath”:

Once again, an ace supporting cast (including the series regular Nina Arianda and the newcomers Bruce Dern, Jena Malone, J.K. Simmons and Elias Koteas) works magnificently to deliver a moody and complex mystery with juicy twists.

I understand the use of the word newcomers here, meaning “newcomers to the series,” but it is jarring to see the word newcomer applied in any context to 85-year-old Bruce Dern, who was appearing on stage when Billy Bob Thornton was appearing in diapers.

(Literally, Mr. President. Literally.)

I am reminded of the opening credits for Robert Rodriguez’s Machete: “Starring Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez . . . and . . . introducing . . . Don Johnson.” Johnson, who was an enormous celebrity in the Miami Vice era, had been dormant for a while before appearing as the villain in that 2010 film. Introducing was a little joke, but also an announcement of his intention of reviving his career. Which he did.

An old friend of mine who got by for some years as a semi-professional golf hustler said he used to caddy for Don Johnson, who was, according to my source, a gentleman and an excellent tipper.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Writing in Slate about Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite-internet company, Claire Park notes: “Incumbent satellite providers like Viasat and HughesNet currently offer median download speeds 10 times slower and upload speeds 20 times slower than median speeds available through an at-home, fixed broadband connection.”

Do not do this. If you do, your prose will be . . . 100 times less readable.

“Times slower” is a variation of “times less,” which is a clumsy formulation. Times should go with more or with things that go in the direction of more, in the direction of increase: “The CEO earns 300 times more than the lowest-paid employee.” While it is true that you can get less through multiplication (multiplying by a number less than 1) times by its nature wants to point in the direction of increase. Better to write: “One-twentieth the speed of a fixed broadband connection,” or “The lowest-paid employee earns 1/300th what the CEO is paid.”

The same story mentions “fast-speed affordable internet.” Why not “fast, affordable internet”? I can’t think of a context in which the adjective “fast” does not refer to speed, either literal (Literal, Mr. President!) or metaphorical.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

News from Hollywood?

How Star-Making Pollutes the Cosmos.”

Home and Away

We are going to have vaccine mandates, at least narrowly tailored ones for medical personnel and those in similar work. So, we are going to need a secure and reliable system for monitoring vaccinations. The one we have is kind of a joke. More in the New York Post.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Shoe-schlipping kept to a minimum.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.


Do read David Mamet on the sorry state of American theater here in National Review.

In Closing

I am writing this on Labor Day, which is, in my view, kind of a disreputable pinko holiday, even if it originally was instituted to preempt the deeper red festivities of May 1. Oh, I know, we conservatives are supposed to be building the Populist Right-Wing Farmer-Labor Party these days, but I do not think that I have very much to contribute to that particular project. That being said, I do have a little sentimental attachment to Labor Day because it marks the anniversary of my first association with National Review, back in 2007, which led to the best job I’ve ever had or could imagine having. I am inexpressibly grateful to the friends and readers who have made that possible, something I do not say nearly often enough.

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Alexander Hamilton’s Revenge

Detail of Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull, c. 1805 (via Wikimedia)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, and, more often than you might expect, Vikings. To subscribe to the Tuesday — and I hope that you will — please follow this link.

His Elective Majesty

Why is it that the political life of China or Russia seems in some important way simpler to us than does the politics of the liberal-democratic world?

Probably, we are mistaken, and the political reality in Beijing or Moscow seems — but only seems — simpler than the situation in Washington, London, or Brussels. But there are some differences in the non-consensual societies (as Jay Nordlinger, quoting Robert Conquest, has taught me to call them) that do promise some simplification — that is the sort of thing that tempts the likes of Thomas Friedman to envy Beijing’s power to act, apparently without interest-group obstruction or self-interested procedural shenanigans, in those “China for a day” fantasies.

In science fiction, there are stereotype planets (single-biome planets like the ice world Hoth in Star Wars and the desert world Arrakis in Dune) and stereotype civilizations (Star Trek’s Vulcans are logical, the Klingons are martial, and the Ferengi are, as Paul B. Sturtevant put it, “stereotyped crypto-Jews” who “look and behave like the Jews in the worst of Nazi or early-20th-century American propaganda”) and it is all too easy to take a similarly flattened view of the real world: The Chinese are relentless Han ethno-nationalists, the Russians are psychologically fixed on their history as the front line of the Christian West against the Muslim East, etc. Oversimplification is a very efficient way to make yourself stupid. But it is the case that concern for individual liberty does not seems to complicate Beijing’s decision-making the way it does Washington’s and that Moscow’s nationalist agenda will steamroll right over any muffled chirping about the rule of law or liberal-democratic norms. There is not much tension between nationalist ambitions and individual liberty in China or Russia because individual liberty is so lowly regarded as to barely enter the conversation, while the rule of law is whatever the national powers need it to be at any given moment.

With that in mind, we should understand the progressive dream of being “China for a day” as a close cousin to the perverse envy that some on the right evince for illiberal regimes such as those of Vladimir Putin or Viktor Orbán, and a near relation to the Trumpists’ grudging admiration of Xi Jinping: It is rooted in a desire for a simplified politics, one in which we liberate ourselves from the need to work out unsatisfying tradeoffs between competing values by rejecting some of those values. Managerial technocracy under “expert” government offers much the same promise: that we can escape from the messy business of compromise and consensus-building by abandoning the liberal-democratic paradigm for something fresher and more active. You will notice that calls for a “new politics” — whether those are rightist lamentations of the “dead consensus” or Senator Sanders’s demand for a “political revolution” — never point toward a more complex and consensus-driven politics that takes account of a wider array of competing values and discrete interests, but instead push relentlessly toward a simplified, cruder practice, a political equation with fewer variables to take into consideration.

This line of thinking infests both parties, and entices both left-wing activists and right-wing activists in the direction of executive aggrandizement, government by executive order, and presidential unilateralism rather than government by legislation, compromise, and bipartisanship. It is a homogenizing politics of larger lumps: We the People vs. the Swamp or the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent.

Like many of our political problems, this one is old enough to be practically eternal.

We trace our modern democracies to Greek and (to a lesser extent) Roman models, but Western parliamentary forms owe at least as much (and probably much more) to the consensus-oriented politics of the Germanic tribes that left their cultural marks everywhere from Iceland and the British Isles to Lombardy and beyond. It may seem strange to use the word egalitarian to describe societies that practiced slavery and human sacrifice — as in the case of the Vikings mentioned last week — but consider that in the first half of the Viking age, there were no kings as such, and no formal hereditary aristocracy, either. There was social mobility among the three main classes of persons, and the free men of the tribe all enjoyed the right to have their grievances heard and settled under law at a proto-parliamentary assembly, the famous þing, or thing. (The modern English word court, referring simultaneously to a monarch’s retinue, his official venue, and a judicial assembly is a reminder that these were, at one time, essentially one thing, with acting in a judicial capacity being the chief domestic responsibility of a king.) In Norse society, the jarls may have enjoyed rank and title (jarl survives in the modern English earl), but they usually did not enjoy any special formal political power — the power they had came from their followers and from their ability to use their prestige and their wealth to shape public opinion and shove consensus in one direction or another — something not entirely alien to our modern democratic practice.

But as these primitive tribal societies became more complex and sophisticated — and as the scope of political questions became national rather than local — they found that they required new modes of government. Like the Americans living under the Articles of Confederation, they came to believe that they needed a more robust national state and, especially, a more active and permanent executive who could focus sustained attention and effort on long-term national interests, something that could not be achieved through ad hoc alliances of tribal chieftains and regional magnates or other similarly temporary and fragile instruments of cooperation. This meant balancing goods and values that often were in tension: A powerful king might be simultaneously a protector of his countrymen’s rights and interests and an insult to their sense of equality; the desire to act decisively will at some margin always clash with the desire for consensus; the principle (sometimes unarticulated) of majority rule will always be in tension with minority and individual rights and with traditions enshrining such rights; the king’s obligation to provide public goods (beginning with physical security) assumes the state’s access to material resources necessary to creating such goods (soldiers have to be paid, roads and fortresses don’t build themselves) which brings the state into conflict with the property rights of individuals. A great deal of what pretends to be political philosophy is in fact only rhetoric put into the service of pretending that these goods and interests are not in conflict.

Many of those Germanic tribal societies attempted to resolve the tension between their egalitarianism and their desire for a powerful executive with what Henry Jones Ford described as “the oldest political institution of the race, the elective kingship.” (Ford, who served in the Woodrow Wilson administration, knew something about elective kingship.) The formalities and character of these elective kingships varied over time and between peoples: Certain Gallic tribes elected kings for one-year terms, while most other elected kings held office for life. In Venice, the doges were in effect elected monarchs with constitutionally limited powers. Among the egalitarian Swedes, the early kings were elected at an assembly open to all free men with relatively open terms for candidacy, but in later practice both electors and candidates were restricted. In Scandinavia as in the rest of Europe, the limits on elective kingship grew narrower over generations as the superstition of “royal blood” came to dominate political belief. Societies that had developed for generations without any sort of monarchy, much less a hereditary monarchy, eventually came to believe that they could not function without such a thing. When the American colonists decided that they did not need one, George III was sincere in his concern that the new nation might “suffer unduly from its want of a monarchy.”

King George was not alone in this. Alexander Hamilton was a calculating nationalist before he was a Broadway sensation, and his political orientation was very much informed by monarchists such as Jacques Necker (finance minister to Louis XVI) and by his own view that the English system of government was the best the world had to offer. While the great statesmen at the constitutional convention were debating the relative merits of the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, Hamilton saw serious deficiencies in both and proposed instead a model of government that was in its main points the English model adopted to American circumstances: a popularly elected commons, an indirectly elected senate with untitled lords serving lifetime terms, and — most radical to the modern American mind — an elected king. He didn’t call the king a king but a “governor,” one with far-reaching political powers and a lifetime appointment as long as he remained in “good behavior.”

Hamilton’s elected king was in many ways similar to the presidency that eventually took shape: He was to serve as commander in chief of the armed forces and chief national representative in foreign affairs, and would have held veto power over the national legislature. Exactly no one rallied to Hamilton’s banner — in fact, after his five-hour disquisition on his proposal for national government, his ideas never even came up for discussion at the convention, but the echo of them can be heard throughout the Founding era, for example in John Adams’s much-ridiculed proposition that the American president should be styled quasi-monarchically: “His Elective Majesty.” That the president would in any case be a kind of king was plain to Hamilton, as reported in The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, which says of Hamilton’s president-for-life:

It will be objected probably, that such an Executive will be an elective Monarch, and will give birth to the tumults which characterise that form of Govt. He wd. reply that Monarch is an indefinite term. It marks not either the degree or duration of power. If this Executive Magistrate wd. be a monarch for life — the other propd. by the Report from the Committee of the whole, wd. be a monarch for seven years.

There is an echo of that old pre-monarchy Norse practice in the earliest days of the American republic, which was open but more democratic in rhetoric than in practice, in which a genuinely egalitarian ethos coexisted with a system of government in which local magnates and chieftains exercised an outsized influence, putting some considerable distance between equality under the law and equality in fact. (There were monstrous similarities, too, notably slavery-based agriculture.) And, in spite of Alexander Hamilton’s ambitions and John Adams’s anxieties, the president did not behave very much like an elected king, at least for a generation: George Washington, being a demigod, would not condescend to kingship; John Adams was too conservative and too unprepossessing to act the king; Thomas Jefferson was an aristocrat who gave his heart to the French Revolution; James Madison wanted a bank, not a crown; James Monroe, the empire-builder, might have made a king under different circumstances, but republican norms held him in check; John Quincy Adams was too much his father’s son to be dipped in purple.

Henry Jones Ford, mentioned above, made his observation about Americans’ resurrecting elective kingship in relation to Andrew Jackson, whose ascent to power (and to an excellent if less-successful musical than Hamilton’s) ushered in a new kind of presidency that was a lot like an old kind of kingship: king as all-father, king as embodiment of the people. As Ford wrote: “The truth is that in the presidential office, as it has been constituted since Jackson’s time, American democracy has revived the oldest political institution of the race, the elective kingship.” But this is a kingship that rises up from the people rather than being handed down from heaven: “The greatness of the Presidency,” Ford wrote, “is the work of the people breaking through the constitutional form.”

But it is not kingship, of course, that has distinguished American political life: It is the constitutional form — or it was, until about five minutes ago.

In Other News . . .

I should probably note that Thomas Friedman’s “China for a Day” bit often has been willfully misrepresented and unfairly maligned. Thomas Friedman has a lot of bad ideas, but single-party police-state brutality is not among them. “I don’t want to be China for a second,” he said during the now-infamous exchange. “I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus, and stick-to-it-iveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.”

Friedman’s problem is not that he is a closet Maoist — it is that he does not seem to understand that the optimal is the enemy of the good, and that the real choice faced by every free society is between competing suboptimal solutions, some of which are better than others.

Words About Words

There is a Polish proverb I love that is more and more useful every day: Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” This is especially useful if you are a conservative who watches Fox News from time to time or if you are following the Senate race in Ohio.

The word monkey is one of those words that are just funny, and it seems to be as funny in Polish as it is in English. Some words are funny because they sound like they should be dirty (dongle, poop-deck, haboob) or because they are foreign-language words that look absurd in English (humuhumunukunukuapua’a), but, sometimes, it’s just the phoneme, in this case, –nk, which is part of a lot of funny words: monkey, funky, honkey, tinkle, spank, spelunk, conk, stank, stunk, zonk, wank, etc. Why is –nk funny? No one knows. It just is, and groups of –nk words, rhyming or not, are funnier still: funky monkey, spank the monkey, junk in the trunk, rinky-dink, drunk as a skunk, yank the crank, etc.

You can take that to the bank.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Speaking of kings, elected or hereditary, they are not coronated — they are crowned at a coronation. Coronate is an adjective describing something that has the shape of a crown, as in “coronate flowers.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. It contains many interesting stories, but not many Vikings.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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I have mentioned it before, but, because it is relevant to this week’s discussion, Michael Novak’s Choosing Our King is a truly excellent book and very enjoyable.

In Closing

Other news from Ohio:

 “The rest is history,” she said. “That pig really has established our brand, made it near and dear to so many hearts.”

And lower backs, apparently. Simpson Bush recounts the time at an expo in the Twin Cities that two women approached her, lowering their pants just enough to display matching flying pig tattoos.

Un maiale che non vola è solo un maiale.” 

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Law & the Courts

‘Print the Legend’

Police await the arrival of then-president Donald Trump to view border wall prototypes in San Diego, Calif., March 13, 2018. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics that sometimes goes on vacation and doesn’t go anywhere or do anything particular but enjoys it nonetheless. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Of Course the Police Are Lying to You — but, Why?

In 1936, it was Reefer Madness, Louis Gasnier’s cinematic moral panic about high-school students who descend into an orgy of rape and murder after being enticed into trying marijuana. The history of Reefer Madness contains several wonderful bits of poetic juxtaposition: originally financed by a Christian ministry, the film became a profitable commodity after it was reworked for the “exploitation” circuit; it was later embraced by potheads as a kind of unintentional parody, and it almost certainly is the case that most of the people who have seen Reefer Madness today are marijuana users or were at one point; best of all, the film’s scheming drug pusher is played by Carleton Young, who is all but forgotten except for his immortal turn as the newspaper editor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which his most famous line is effectively the motto of the various propaganda offices serving in the so-called War on Drugs: When the legend and the facts are at odds, “Print the legend.”

The spirit of Reefer Madness lived on and found new energy in Reagan-era anti-drug campaigns, from “Just Say No” to “This Is Your Brain on Drugs,” in which an egg-frying John Roselius gave a stirring performance much more memorable than his bit parts in Space Jam and Con Air. There were endless DARE lectures intended to leave the children of the Cold War “scared straight,” along with tall tales of the PCP Superman — whose sudden transformation, physical power, and ungovernable rage mark him as part of the long literary tradition that runs through Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde to Stan Lee’s Incredible Hulk — the myth of the “contact high,” legends about “flashbacks,” and a thousand baseless ghost stories about otherwise happy and healthy young people who, exposed to some drug or another, suddenly decide they can fly and fling themselves off balconies to their deaths.

(We even had that story in Lubbock, Texas, where you’d be damned hard-pressed to find a balcony high enough to kill yourself jumping off.)

In the 19th century, we had the Yellow Peril — Chinese immigrants and their opium. In our time, we have the . . . the other Yellow Peril, or the Yellow-and-Brown Peril: fentanyl, the legend of which combines old-fashioned Sinophobia with Trump-era Mexicanophobia. Of course fentanyl is a real thing. So are illicit Chinese drug factories and Mexican cartels. In 2020, nearly 70,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses, mostly from fentanyl, a figure that was up sharply from the 50,000 opioid overdoses in 2019. Nearly 1 million Americans have died from drug overdoses of all kinds since 1999. (For comparison, alcohol-related deaths in the same time frame amount to about two-and-a-half times that number.) But as we have seen with everything from homelessness to violent crime, interested parties will reliably exaggerate things that are real problems, and, at times, will simply fabricate stories about them. For example, it is true that there are violent racists in the world, and it is also true that practically every campus hate-crime incident you’ve ever heard about is a hoax.

Which brings us to beautiful San Diego.

In early August, San Diego’s sheriff’s department put out a video purporting to show a trainee overdosing on fentanyl — and nearly losing his life — after merely being exposed to the stuff while processing evidence after an arrest. The deputy, David Faiivae, falls to the ground in a catatonic state after encountering a white powder that the sheriff’s office later identified as containing fentanyl. The sheriff’s office put out one of those now-familiar, po-faced propaganda videos, with Sheriff Bill Gore intoning seriously about the dangers his men face over corny background music and the usual heroic-cop posturing. The “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” moment comes when the deputy declares: “I’m Deputy David Faiivae, and I almost died of a fentanyl overdose.”

Except, he didn’t. Almost certainly.

It is physically impossible to overdose on fentanyl from the kind of exposure Deputy Faiivae experienced while being recorded on body-cam video. He was wearing gloves and long sleeves while handing bagged quantities of drugs. Even if he weren’t wearing gloves, he still wouldn’t have overdosed that way: Fentanyl cannot be absorbed through the skin in any significant quantity without some solvent, but even when such a solvent is present, as with the fentanyl patches that are given to some patients for pain, it would be practically impossible to overdose from brief accidental exposure. The same is true of inhalation of airborne particles: A study of workers in legal fentanyl factories found that at the highest concentrations found in those facilities, they would have to take off their protective gear and spend hours standing in a little haboob of opioid particles before even absorbing a clinical dose of the stuff, much less a life-threatening overdose.

The charitable explanation of what happened with Deputy Faiivae is that it was a mistake. The less charitable explanation is that it was a hoax.

The case for being charitable is not very strong here.

Among other things, the sheriff’s department did not bother to collect a sample from Deputy Faiivae for toxicological examination — after an episode that allegedly had him at death’s door. Think on that: A law-enforcement officer was, if this story is to be believed, almost killed in the line of duty, and the law-enforcement agency for which he works neglected to perform the most elementary investigation. The guy was dosed with Naloxone, a powerful drug used to counteract heroin overdoses. But the rest of the overdose protocol — breathing support, for instance — was completely ignored.

Why? Most likely, because he was not having an overdose.

Never mind the criminal question: Surely the insurance office would be interested in what happened — and it was only a few years ago that a San Diego sheriff’s deputy was charged with felony fraud for misrepresenting his physical condition for insurance purposes.

No physician ever diagnosed Deputy Faiivae with a drug overdose — the “diagnosis” came from the sheriff. Deputy Faiivae did not display any of the typical symptoms of a fentanyl overdose. Add all of that to the fact that he was never in a position to experience a fentanyl overdose to begin with, and it is difficult to credit the good faith of the sheriff’s department here.

So, what the hell is going on?

“There is a public-relations motive,” says Sheila P. Vakharia, deputy director for research and academic engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we see police out there putting themselves at risk, courageously exposing themselves to scary chemicals and drugs, then we think, ‘Obviously, these are good people doing good work.’ It motivates and sustains a commitment to the drug war. It gets people scared and angry, and this mobilizes people to support expanding police budgets, to make sure there are cops on the street, to spend any amount of money — whatever is needed to find these drugs and the people selling them and get them off the street. It mobilizes people’s emotions to get them to act in ways that are aligned with their agenda.”

It is a mistake to take police or prosecutors at their word in any matter — but especially in this one, where the record of fabrication and misinformation is so long and shameful. But the underlying political dynamic should be obvious enough: I’ve never met someone involved in issue advocacy who has said that the problem they were working on has been solved — they almost always say the opposite, that thus-and-such a problem has never been worse, that immediate action and massive spending are needed, etc.

You’ll never hear Randi Weingarten say that we are spending enough on schools, you’ll almost never hear a secretary of defense or a flag officer say that the military budget is too big and bloated, and you’ll rarely if ever hear a cop or a prosecutor say that the drug situation is anything other than a crisis and the worst that it ever has been. The same pattern holds true in politics: Every election, you’ll hear that the Other Party is the most dangerous it has ever been, that we are one election away from sliding into communism or fascism or whatever.

And it is all — all of it — bull.

It is lies and nonsense and self-serving dishonesty. Police departments will lie to you for the same reason a presidential campaign will lie to you: for money, power, and status. We should be clear-eyed about this. Our police departments and prosecutors’ offices are rife with misbehavior, some of it criminal, with abuses of power ranging from dangerous buffoonery to outright corruption. Conservatives tend to understand this easily when it comes to government schools or the IRS but are instinctively protective of police and military agencies. But a bureaucracy is a bureaucracy is a bureaucracy, and the same dynamics of institutional self-interest operate in all of them to some degree. On top of the usual interest in salaries, benefits, and pensions, police departments suffer from a terrible addiction: Police are hooked on being thought of as heroes. And some of them are heroes.

But most of them are, most of the time, something closer to tax-collectors. There isn’t anything inherently dishonorable in that. There’s a job that has to be done. It is what it is.

But that job has to be done honestly and competently, with high degrees of transparency and accountability.

There is reason to doubt that that is what is happening in San Diego.

This “overdose” drama requires independent investigation as a potential criminal matter. If the San Diego sheriff’s department staged this episode — which appears to be at least possible if not likely — then losing their jobs is the least Sheriff Gore, Deputy Faiivae, et al. should face. An open society cannot tolerate police who stage crimes or fake on-the-job medical traumas for public-relations purposes.

We can be confident that an overdose is not what happened in this case.

So, what did happen?

In Other News . . .

On the subject of drugs and drug policy, I was not persuaded by Aron Ravin’s piece, “Libertarians Were Wrong about Marijuana Legalization.”

Part of my criticism is alluded to above — taking police and prosecutors at their word that things are, invariably, worse than they have ever been — but part of it is that I don’t think Ravin quite gets what libertarians actually think about marijuana-legalization projects such as the one in Colorado.

There are, of course, utopians and ideologues, who insist that legalization is all upside and no downside, that it will end criminal cartels and produce enough tax revenue to provide free false teeth to every needy mouth from sea to shining sea. But that does not capture the fullness of opinion or analysis. As I argued in a 2015 National Review cover story on the Colorado project, legalization will always be a mixed bag, and partial legalization will be a very mixed bag in that the “presence of black markets in prohibition states ensures the presence of black markets and gray markets in legalization states.” Which, as Ravin notes, is something that has come to pass.

A useful point of comparison is Nevada’s limited legalization of prostitution. By most accounts, the sex business as practiced in Nevada’s legal brothels is better and safer for both sellers and buyers than is the criminal sex business on the streets, in casino bars, etc. But the legal-prostitution business in Nevada is very limited and very highly regulated, and, hence, much more expensive and less easily accessible than is illegal prostitution. It has had very little discernable effect on street-level prostitution in Las Vegas (prostitution is not legal in Las Vegas, in spite of what some poorly informed tourists believe) or throughout the rest of the state. From that point of view, Colorado is sort of Pahrump writ large: an improvement for those who buy and sell marijuana on the legal market, but not large enough to overcome the economic forces of the black market — or, more precisely, of the various black markets.

As many libertarian-leaning critics predicted, organized-crime penetration remains an issue in the upstream supply chain, where it is relatively easy to divert a few hundred pounds of legally grown marijuana here and there for very profitable black-market profit margins, and legalization creates special problems in nearby prohibition states. Those idiots getting arrested bringing Colorado marijuana into Nebraska are not getting caught with amounts that can legally be purchased in Colorado, but often with hundreds of pounds or more.

This is no surprise: The presence of Las Vegas and a thousand smaller gambling destinations has not eliminated illegal gambling in the United States. It hasn’t even eliminated illegal gambling in Las Vegas. There remain black markets in alcohol, tobacco, and other legal products, driven in part by taxes and regulations. There are licensed gun dealers and illegal gun traffickers, licensed bus operators and outlaw bus operators. (And, no surprise, there is some real overlap between the unlicensed gun merchants and the unlicensed bus outfits.) We should expect that there will always be illegal marijuana sales — for example, sales to minors.

It took decades to break the grip of organized crime on Las Vegas. It will take some time for corporate producers to squeeze the cartels out of the marijuana market — and it is possible that they will never squeeze illegal producers out entirely, because it is relatively easy to grow marijuana. Note that fentanyl is produced both legally for medical purposes and illegally for recreation and profit. The question is not whether legalization delivers some utopian transformation of unhappy social realities — it won’t, and most libertarian critics understand that — but whether the best harm-reduction strategy in the case of marijuana is sticking a gun in somebody’s face with a hearty “Just Say No!”

Our experience with that strategy so far suggests very strongly that it is not the most reliable one, and that it brings along with it some fairly terrible unintended consequences, on display in San Diego and elsewhere.

Words About Words

What’s a Viking? In 1820, no English-speaking person knew.

Viking is one of those unusual words whose date of entry into English is known precisely — it was introduced in 1820 by the Reverend John Jamieson, the great scholar of Scottish literary history, best known for authoring the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language. In 1820, he published editions of John Barbour’s “The Bruce” and Blind Harry’s “Wallace,” two biographical poems, with the word Viking appearing in his notes on the former.

But beyond that, it is a little hazy.

The word Viking appeared nowhere previous in modern English or in Middle English. But the Old English word wicing goes back in the records centuries farther than does its likely Old Norse cognate, vikingr, though some scholars are not convinced the words are directly related. The Norse vic and the English wic both can mean bay or inlet, surviving in English in placenames such as Greenwich — linguistically if not socioeconomically equivalent to Green Bay — and in the name of the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, the “smoking bay.”

(Sandwich was a sandy bay, and by extension the settlement that grew up on that bay, before it was an earl or his lunch. And while there are some sandy bays in the Sandwich Islands, which we now call Hawaii, they were named in honor of the finger-food guy, who was also First Lord of the Admiralty.)

But a vikingr wasn’t a person — it was something a person did, an expedition of piracy. You weren’t a Vikingr, you were someone who went on a vikingr.

In that sense, vikingr is maybe a little like the modern English camper. Other than the words camping and camper, derived from camp (from the Latin campus, the site of a temporary military habitation), we don’t have a specific word for the antisocial activity of going into the wilderness to escape the comforts of civilization or for the benighted people who do it. The people who go on camping trips are campers, and the people who went on viking trips were vikingrs, and, eventually, Vikings.

But as far as the inhabitants of the British Isles were concerned, the Scandinavian pirates who terrorized their coasts and enslaved those they did not massacre were not Vikings — they were Danes, the “Deniscan” of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Danes haven’t always been about social democracy and tasteful furniture design — they once were some of the ass-kickingest people in Europe. Many of those “Danes” were not from Denmark but from what are now Sweden and Norway, but, then as now, one breed of foreigner was much the same as another to a Yorkshireman.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Some drive-by prescriptivism:

Amit Katwala has written an essay about name discrimination in Wired, in which he notes that he was named after a famous Indian actor, whose name he goes on to spell a couple of different ways, all of them wrong. The actor is Amitabh Bachchan. I wouldn’t normally whack somebody over that (it’s not like I’ve never got a name wrong) but, if your whole essay is predicated on the power of names, you might want to double-check.

Amitabh Bachchan is one of the most famous men in India, someone with approximately 100 percent face-and-name recognition. But, outside of India, he is anonymous enough that he can fly commercial mostly unnoticed, as Jay Nordlinger reports after having encountered the movie star sitting quietly by himself in the Zurich airport.

Moving on . . .

Writing in the New York Times, Cassady Rosenblum insists “work is a false idol.” But all idols are false — the expression she and her headline writers are looking for is “false god.”

Speaking of Jay, do him a favor and remember that it is “forbid to” and “prohibit from,” not the other way around.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

In California, it’s the Sage from South Central vs. the Schmuck from the French Laundry. More in the New York Post, an Alexander Hamilton Joint.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Think of it as a course of treatment to cure you of populist sentimentality, if you suffer from that malady. You can also read in it a great deal more about Colorado’s marijuana-legalization efforts and prostitution in Nevada.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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A History of Private Life, Vol. III: Passions of the Renaissance. Part of a series exploring private life from ancient Rome to modern times. Terrifically interesting and insightful.

In Closing

I suppose there is some sort of bipartisan sensation in watching Joe Biden execute Donald Trump’s Afghanistan program even more incompetently than the Trump administration might have been expected to do. At a special session of the House of Commons held to debate the situation in Afghanistan, multiple members of Parliament castigated Biden’s approach in the bitterest terms — they held him “in contempt,” as the Telegraph put it. In this, the British are only repaying the president’s obvious contempt for the United Kingdom. As one member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet put it: “The U.S. remains by far and away our most important ally — but we are not Washington’s most important ally by some stretch.”

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Politics & Policy

Progressivism, Democracy, and Climate-Change Action

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) participate in a “No Climate, No Deal” demonstration outside the White House in Washington, DC, June 28, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about bringing the heat. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Climate and Democracy

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body, has released its most recent report on global warming. Those of you who follow the climate discourse will already know that these reports are handed down with a great deal of ceremony and that they are received as though they had originated at Delphi, Hira, or Corinth.

A familiar part of the ritual is the report’s moral amplification by the press, which is always a couple of more degrees further gone into hysteria and lamentation than the IPCC report itself is. Not that the report is all rainbows and sunshine. (Well, sunshine.) It continues the longstanding IPCC trend toward certainty: that the consequences of climate change are going to be catastrophic; that the current disturbance in the climate system is the product of human action, largely the consumption of fossil fuels; that a radical change in the whole pattern of human life is required to slow down climate change and prevent its becoming even more dire. In fact, the gradual evolution of the IPCC’s estimates of confidence (a five-point scale: very low, low, medium, high, very high) in its assumptions and in its forecasts (which are graded from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain) is one of the most-studied aspects of the report.

As is proper, much of the report consists of technical scientific discussion that will be of very little practical use to the lay reader, even those with reasonably good general-science education. In this case, sola scriptura just won’t do. But then, this has always been more of a sola fides matter, at least for the general public.

A word that does not appear in the report is democracy. And democracy is the specter that haunts climate activism.

Climate change is not a new issue. It is an issue that seems to grow in urgency each year if we judge by taking the temperature of the political rhetoric. But it is an issue that does not seem to grow in urgency each year if we consider the actions of governments, democratic and otherwise, around the world.

The first meeting about climate change was held in 1963, and by the end of that decade much of the basic science of climate change was in place. Cesare Emiliani and Edward Norton Lorenz (father of the “butterfly effect”) argued from geological evidence that relatively small changes in the climate situation could produce very large effects, while the possibility of polar ice melts, rising sea levels, etc., were part of the scientific discussion before the moon landing. At the same time, other theories of climate change — notably that anthropogenic aerosols would lead to catastrophic global cooling — also were part of the discussion and, at times, dominated it.

But by the 1990s, the climate-change discourse had taken on, more or less, its modern form: 1992 saw the failed Rio Conference, 1997 witnessed the creation of the Kyoto Protocol and the first Prius to roll off the assembly line — the climate agenda has always been, in no small part, a shopping list — and much of the debate by that point consisted of arguments over the validity of evidence.

Some 20 years ago, the third IPCC report called it “very likely” that, barring an effective program of mitigation, we were in for the most disruptive period of climate change since the last ice age.

What you or I or anybody else believes about the cause or reality of climate change shouldn’t matter in evaluating what I am going to discuss next, but, for the record, I will note here that I have more or less conventional views about climate change — that while there is a good deal of distortion and exaggeration in the popular press, I have no reason to believe that the facts regarding the state of the climate and its likely course of evolution are appreciably different from what you will read in the IPCC reports and similar documents. I do not think that climate change is a hoax or a plot or anything like that, though it often functions as a pretext for groups with other, generally illiberal, agendas.

(I suppose that I also should note for the record that, as announced a few months ago, I will be doing a project on climate change in partnership with the Competitive Enterprise Institute over the course of the coming year.)

Climate change as a potential public-policy issue has been with us since the 1960s, while climate change understood in at least some quarters as an urgent public-policy issue has been with us since at least the 1990s. And in that time, the major governments of the world have decided to do . . . not very much. There has been a great deal of talk, agreements entered into and abandoned — and then reentered into, at least notionally, in the case of the United States and the Paris agreement.

We have seen some progress: In the United States, emissions not only of carbon dioxide but also of other greenhouse gasses such as methane and nitrous oxide have declined, if the Environmental Protection Agency is to be believed. And that’s not because poor addled Hunter Biden has been huffing the nitrous oxide out of the sky, or because we have cut back on fossil fuels — in some considerable part, the improvement in the U.S. greenhouse-gas situation is the result of one fossil fuel — coal — having been partly supplanted by another fossil fuel — natural gas, which produces fewer emissions when used to produce electricity. Wind and solar have made a difference in electricity, too.

But, for the most part, the liberal democracies (to say nothing of China and the other authoritarian states) have said, “No, thanks!” to the kind of radical climate policies dreamt of by Green New Dealers, “climate justice” activists, and socialists such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D., N.Y.) who wish to use the climate issue as an excuse for imposing political regimentation on market economies.

Progressives generally argue that this is because our democracy isn’t a real democracy, that it is distorted or captured by big money from Big Oil and other self-interested business concerns. But that isn’t political analysis — it is foot-stamping, insisting that democracy is only democracy when it gives the blessed caste what it demands.

Beyond the American scene, you can take your pick of democratic models — Western Europe, Scandinavia, India, Japan — and you will see similar results. The United States is a bit of a rhetorical outlier and a bit less inclined to keep up appearances by going through the motions with international agreements that no one has much interest in or intention of enforcing. Norway is producing about as much oil today as it did a decade ago, and about as much as it did in the late 1990s, though well under its turn-of-the-century peak. The United States is producing more. As in the United States, the biggest change in countries such as France has been the displacement of coal in electricity generating by natural gas, along with wind and solar.

Because progressives are at heart utopians, they have a difficult time acknowledging tradeoffs. On Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays, climate change is the most important consideration in the world. On Tuesday, Thursdays, and every other Saturday, the top issue is “democracy,” vaguely and inconsistently defined. In fact, Democrats care so much about democracy that they have shut down the democratic process in the democratically elected legislature in Texas in the name of “democracy.” Instead of tradeoffs, progressives embrace a practically mystical model of the unity of all virtues. And so it is practically impossible for the Left to think intelligently about the tradeoffs involved. If you doubt that, read this transcript of Ezra Klein trying to lead a discussion on the question “What If American Democracy Fails the Climate Crisis?” You’ll notice that the headline question never really even enters the conversation.

We use the word democracy as though it signified something sacred rather than merely procedural. But it does not make democracy any less precious to forthrightly recognize that it is one value in a world of values that are sometimes complementary and sometimes rivalrous. Progressives ought to be grappling with the fact that one of the things they put forward as a nonnegotiable and absolute good — democracy — is at odds with something they insist is an existential threat to human civilization — climate change.

Rather than deal with that honestly, progressives have fallen into a number of obvious alternatives: hysterical moralizing, in which those who do not concur with their agenda must be denounced as moral monsters, because there can be no honest disagreement; aggressive indoctrination, in which affirming various aspects of the climate fides as a precondition of participating in educational or business life, including the cynical ploy of indoctrinating children as a means to getting at their parents; “lying for justice”; and, of course, using the levers of the state to subvert inconvenient democratic realities.

The most likely solution to this conundrum will be found — very likely — in the words “science says.” Progressives have long struggled with the tension between their desire, often genuine, to be democratizers and their desire to give experts (however unreliably identified) a larger role in the administration of public affairs. The democratizing aspects of progressive reform often end up being catastrophic for democracy — see the sorry state of radically democratized contemporary political parties and shed a quiet tear for the smoke-filled room of old — and government-by-expert is a hit-or-miss affair — remember that during the “global cooling” scare there were people talking about covering the polar ice caps in soot or taking other radically invasive measures to bring up the temperature of the planet. All sorts of bad science and pseudoscience — eugenics, the grain-based diet, “scientific” racism — have enjoyed expert support at various times.

The great danger on climate change is that frustrated progressives, unable to win the argument and move the democratic states with their two favorite phrases — “studies prove” and “science says” — will take it upon themselves to liberate the demos, whose members either won’t or can’t understand what “science says,” and unburden them from the responsibilities of self-government. There are times to overrule the will of the people (as I wrote, democracy is one good among many competing goods), but attempting to forcibly reorganize the material life of the entire human race without consent or buy-in is to leap headlong into certain disaster. To accomplish this would require a program of coercion unprecedented in human history. Believing that this would be done with the very best of intentions does not provide a moral get-out-of-jail-free card.

On the matter of climate, progressives insist that President Biden must achieve his climate goals even if the democratically elected representatives in Congress disagree — even though it is Congress, not the president, that has the power to make law. Biden himself has threatened to act over and above Congress, the matter being, in his words, a “moral imperative.” Progressives such as Christy Goldfuss of the Center for American Progress argue that Biden should act “without Congress,” if Congress will not comply with his demands.

Why do we elected congresses and parliaments if not to make decisions of precisely this kind? The fact that progressives have not got their way on this issue is not an indictment of democracy — it is a reflection of the fact that different people have different priorities. Maybe Americans and Europeans and Japanese should have different priorities — but they don’t. This is a matter of stated preferences (“Go green!”) being at odds with revealed preferences (for inexpensive energy and the bounty that comes with it). The democracies have had plenty of time to adopt the more radical version of the climate agenda — and they have, for the most part, said, “No.”

And so the missives keep coming, from IPCC and from other quarters. “The report leaves me with a deep sense of urgency,” Jane Lubchenco, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, tells the New York Times. That’s what it is meant to do.

More heat doesn’t mean more light.

Words About Words

“It’s in and it’s big,” reads the AP headline. The subject is . . . the infrastructure bill. Goodness, gracious.

Moving on . . .

Theranos, soon to be back in the news, is an unfortunate corporate name in that it sounds like some kind of evil cult — which, in its way, it was. Theranos is a portmanteau, a word made from smudging two other words into one, the textbook example being motor + hotel = motel. Portmanteau here is a metaphor that has taken on a separate life of its own: A portmanteau is a suitcase with two equal halves, and a metaphorical portmanteau is a word into which parts of two other words have been stuffed.

The portmanteau constituents for Theranos are “therapy” and “diagnosis.” There’s a little linguistic irony lurking in there: Diagnosis is formed from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge, and Gnosticism purported to offer a special kind of knowledge that was available only to a special kind of people. As the ancient mystic Georgius of Costanza put it, “it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

The next time a waiter asks you, “How are we doing?” I hope you will join the cause and reply: “Are we . . . plural?” Or the more straightforward: “There is no we.” You could try the old “What do you mean we, kemosabe?” but you’ll probably get fired from your job or expelled from college.

I don’t know what foetid spawn of the pit decided that waiters should address normal, mentally functional adults having a ribeye as though they were crayon-eating preschoolers, but somebody needs to make it stop.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Here’s a man with a face made for radio talking with Joe Scarborough about right-wing hippies.

Here is Clarence Page writing in the Chicago Tribune. It is a column that is mostly about how surprised he is to find himself agreeing with a column I wrote a while ago. Column-writing is a funny business, especially in August.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. There is more bunkum catalogued.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

The shortest road to civic peace is prosperity. Make sure there is enough yogurt in the bowl.

Katy is indifferent to the camera, but Pancake seems to know she’s being photographed — which is really remarkable for a creature who does not understand how mirrors work.

But Katy is good at letting you know what she wants.


I’ve been enjoying Noah Hurowitz’s book on El Chapo, especially the background about Sinaloa. The title is: El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord.

In Other News . . .

Reading about “time crystals” makes me feel as if I should be taking an enormous bong rip, but this is a real and fascinating thing.

In Closing

I have written a great deal about trust in institutions. Trust is not just something nice to have — it is an immensely practical consideration. Trust is the lubrication that makes an open society work. As our politics descends more deeply into dishonesty, distortion, and hysteria, the decline in trust will very likely prove more catastrophic than the state of the climate or the state of our public finances.

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Health Care

Vaccination Agitation

A commuter receives a COVID-19 vaccination at Grand Central Station Terminal train station in New York City, May 12, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about many things. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

On Vaccine, Between Persuasion and Coercion
The news seems to be sinking into even some traditionally thick and numb Republican skulls: We need to have more people vaccinated against COVID-19. How to go about getting that done? Somewhere between persuasion and coercion lies the middle way.

Kay Ivey is the Republican governor of Alabama, one of the states with the lowest vaccination rates. As COVID-19 infections creep up around the country, Governor Ivey observed: “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

Exemplary right-wing radio dope Phil Valentine, who, like most right-wing radio dopes, had played some pretty enthusiastic footsie with anti-vaccine activism and related conspiracy kookery, later found himself on oxygen in a critical-care unit with a bad case of COVID-19, and now has dipped a toe into the pool of regret. His brother relayed: “Phil would like for his listeners to know that while he has never been an ‘anti-vaxxer’ he regrets not being more vehemently pro-vaccine.” That is, with apologies to the afflicted, bullsh**. It isn’t true that Valentine was never an anti-vaxxer — anti-vaxxers rarely describe themselves that way, but he had pointedly refused the vaccine himself and argued that others should do the same if they did not have conditions likely to put them at risk of dying from COVID-19, because, as he wrote, “you’re probably safer not getting it.” That claim is — and this still matters! — not true.

It is strange and unpredictable what will get Americans’ libertarian hackles up. The Right, which has embraced theatrical self-harm as a kind of weird performative political ritual, is the political home of most (but by no means all) vaccine skeptics (and mask skeptics, and hydroxychloroquine quackery, etc.) and its tribunes worry about vaccine mandates of different kinds. Steve Holt, a Republican state legislator in Iowa, speaks for many when he calls so-called vaccine passports “un-American,” “unconstitutional,” and “unacceptable.” But I am not sure that is quite right.

Conservatives, including many libertarian-leaning conservatives, traditionally have been comfortable with such measures as registering young men for possible military conscription and placing limits on certain kinds of business transactions or travel during emergencies or out of concern for national security. During World War I, the United States drafted three men for every two volunteers, and the generals sent 116,516 Americans to their deaths in the service of interests that were quite remote from our own national interest. We drafted 10 million for World War II and 2.2 million for Vietnam. It is a peculiar libertarian principle that accepts marching tens of thousands of Americans to their deaths at Meuse–Argonne but balks at seeking to encourage wider vaccination by taking some active measure — presumably some measure short of the prison sentences given to draft resisters.

But the libertarian principle here is very subtle indeed. Representative Holt is a vocal supporter of a new Iowa law that forbids private businesses to require customers to prove that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Some businesses, as you may have noticed, have put up signs asking that non-vaccinated people continue to follow such protocols as wearing masks and observing physical distancing. But there is no practical way to enforce that. Perhaps there are other businesses that wish to limit their clientele to those who have been vaccinated, though I am unable to find any serious or widespread effort at that. Such businesses may be operating from an excess of caution — or they may simply be marketing themselves to the more cautious among us. Who knows?

But haven’t conservatives traditionally believed that a business has the right to manage such affairs on its own terms? Conservatives made such arguments against, to take one very prominent example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How is it that the libertarian principle that bucks at requiring restaurants and hotels to serve African Americans somehow necessitates requiring the same businesses to serve people who, for whatever reason, fail to get themselves vaccinated?

It is unlikely that the United States would have much luck implementing something like the Israelis have tried (with limited success) with the recently reinstated “green pass” program. The green pass showing that someone is COVID-immune (from vaccination or prior infection, or confirmed by a recent negative test) is used to control admission to such venues as gyms and restaurants. This is technologically feasible in the United States but culturally impossible for our increasingly ungovernable people.

Americans’ lack of faith in the government and other institutions is a real problem — and the worse problem is that this lack of faith is not entirely unjustified. We have seen the weaponization of the IRS and other federal agencies along with grotesque abuses of prosecutorial power by, among others, the former California attorney general who is today the vice president. We have seen elected officials in New York, to take one example, abuse their powers and lean on financial-services companies in order to try to ruin political enemies such as the National Rifle Association. We have Democrats right now threatening to pack the federal courts, expanding the bench until enough Democratic partisans can be seated for Democrats to be confident in getting their way. We have seen Democratic operatives and progressive activists line up behind the multi-billion-dollar extortion attempt directed at Chevron. This isn’t conspiracy-theory stuff — this is stuff that holds up in court.

I sympathize with Michael Brendan Dougherty’s plea for a more respectful and charitable dialogue on the subject of vaccines. But I also believe that while it is true that you will attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, you’ll attract even more with manure — and we should identify bovine byproduct as such when we encounter it. And a lot of the anti-vaccine discourse has been that very stuff in refined form.

With that in mind, of course businesses — and employers — ought to be free to make their own arrangements as they see fit when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. The federal government probably ought to apply some pressure, too, for example by requiring proof of vaccination for people entering the United States, whether they are foreign nationals or American citizens. The federal government should use public-health spending to encourage laggard states and municipalities to pursue more active vaccination programs. Colleges and universities would be entirely within their rights to require vaccination against COVID-19, just as kindergartens and elementary schools require vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, etc. Churches, surely, must be free to approach this on their own terms.

Of course, we’d be better off if vaccination were the overwhelmingly prevalent norm, in much the same way that we’d be better off if having health insurance were the overwhelmingly prevalent norm. And there’s the thing. We tried to fix the health-insurance system by copying aspects of the Swiss system, including the “individual mandate,” the rule that people take the initiative to sign themselves up for insurance. The Swiss have something like 99.7 percent compliance with their mandate — because they enforce it, aggressively. Our mandate was such a joke that we ended up abandoning the idea entirely. We could pass a vaccine mandate tomorrow, but getting Americans to comply with it is another thing entirely.

But we should make an effort to persuade the persuadable, imposing inconveniences and both informal and formal sanctions. Un-American? George Washington ordered his troops to be inoculated against smallpox during the Revolution.

But the Spirit of ’76 is, in our time, somewhat attenuated.

The way this whole thing has unfolded has been both head-clutchingly stupid and deeply unpatriotic. The COVID-19 epidemic was received as a political gift by Democrats, who saw in it their best chance for getting rid of Donald Trump back when the unemployment rate was under 4 percent and wage growth was strong. President Trump, ever incapable of thinking more than one step ahead, obliged his critics by treating COVID-19 as a political liability for himself and trying to wish it away, thus setting up the minimization-maximization dialogue that still dominates our COVID politics. It did not have to be this way. But democracy apparently must mean that 500,000 dead Americans got the leadership they deserved.

Words About Words
A monster, you say?

In what sense?

We use monster to mean something unnatural or disturbing: a werewolf or a zombie or Godzilla. But the older sense of monster — a warning or an omen — remains both useful and at times apt. In that sense, all monsters are ahead of the curve.

Monster comes from the same Latin root as monstrance (that windowed receptacle in which Catholics display the Host), demonstrate, monitor, admonish, etc.: monere, meaning to show, remind, or warn. We have demonstrate, remonstrate. If you are the sort of person who is familiar with the monstrance, you may have encountered Premonstratensian, a religious order whose members take their name from a French placename that also is derived from monere — but the pre there, despite appearances, is not the familiar prefix meaning beforehand, as in premonitory. So the Premonstratensians are preachers and ministers rather than prophets with premonitions, as the name might seem to suggest.

The goddess Juno has moneta as one of her epithets, which classical sources took also to be derived from the Latin monere, though many modern scholars think that is an error. In any case, the association of the temple of Juno Moneta with coinage gives us both the English money and mint.

So we can think of Godzilla as a monster in both the common modern sense and the older sense: a fantastical creature but also an omen of the troubles to come in the Atomic Age.

Q. E. more or less D.

Rampant Prescriptivism
In American English, we give someone something, we don’t gift someone something — even if that someone is gifted. Using gift to mean give has been a thing in English for several centuries, but it was until recently uncommon. No one really knows what gift-as-a-verb took off, but one theory is that Seinfeld is to blame by popularizing the words regifting and degifting. If that is true, then gift-as-a-verb probably will outlast the American Express “black card” as Jerry Seinfeld’s most enduring gift to culture.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away
You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Makes a great gift. Gift it to someone in your life who needs more despair.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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In Other News . . .
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Richard J. Evans’s The Third Reich in Power contains some really interesting history about Nazi economic policy that will be of interest to many readers of this newsletter.

In Closing

I’m going to go with: a society that is economically and culturally dynamic enough that there exists such a thing as the public life and career of J. D. Vance. That and a reasonable tax rate on book royalties.

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Economy & Business

Get a Job

Job seeker Ben Sandfulder speaks with potential employers during a job fair in Roswell, Ga., May 13, 2021. (Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about things I see and hear at 7-Eleven. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Get a Job
Your local 7-Eleven is a very different place at 7 a.m. than at 11 p.m. or 7 p.m. I worked the overnight shift at a 7-Eleven for a while — way back in ye olden days before the normalization of vagrancy transformed every commercial establishment from Starbucks to 7-Eleven and every public place from parks to busy intersections into makeshift homeless shelters and psych wards — and even in a relatively sleepy college town, things got pretty weird around 3 a.m. on Saturday. When the bartenders say, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” some of those people end up at 7-Eleven.

But 7 a.m. on a Monday is a different scene altogether. The people who work for a living are up-and-at-’em and in want of coffee. My neighborhood is in that stage of gentrification where you can’t afford to buy a house here anymore, but you’re still five miles from the nearest Starbucks, and the people who work in your more classic clock-punching type jobs don’t much hit the local hipster café, with its oat milk and vegan pastries.

There was a bit of a line at 7-Eleven on Monday, and I overheard a bit of conversation between the two women behind me. One was telling the other that she expected a busy day at work, because she was going to be updating some spreadsheets for her employer, which, she said, takes all day. When she started the job, she said, she didn’t know what Excel was, and she told her friend that the first time her employer had asked her if she knew how to work with spreadsheets, she thought they were having a conversation about bed-linens. She learned how to use the program from YouTube videos. It was impossible to miss her pride in this. A couple of years ago, she didn’t know how to work with spreadsheets, and now she does, and she has a different kind of job and, to some related extent, a different kind of life. Her world got a little bigger and a little richer. She deserves to be proud.

That’s the part we should pay more attention to in our debates about employment and labor policy.

Of course, it is good — and necessary — that people use their time and energy doing economically productive work. We all thrive or starve together. You know about the guy who tried to make himself a sandwich? He ground wheat into flour, milked a cow and made his own cheese, made salt from seawater, etc. It took him half a year and cost $1,500. The same guy spent four grand making a suit. And though he endeavors to make these items “from scratch,” he doesn’t really — not until he is making his own tools out of iron he mined with his own hands. The division of labor is what makes civilizations work in physical terms. The more efficient the use of labor — human action guided by human intelligence is the most precious of all resources — the more prosperous your society is.

And it also is good — and necessary — that people earn income from doing productive work. Earning a living not only allows people to take care of themselves and their families (and their communities) in their material needs but also allows them to do so in a way that gives them a measure of independence: The client who is forever reliant upon a patron for his daily bread is never really free, never really at liberty in his own life. That’s a big part of the difference between being a very highly skilled (or simply in-demand) worker vs. one who is more easily replaced: You have more choices about how you work, when you work, where you work, with whom you work, and for what you’ll work. That, in turn, gives you more choices about everything from where you live to how your children are educated. This makes people more satisfied about their situation and more confident in their ability to sustain and improve it.

But it is also good — and necessary — that this is something that in most situations people earn themselves. We could give people more choices about things like where they live and how their children are educated by simply giving them money. And, in some cases, that’s what we should be doing: There are people with serious disabilities, children and elderly people without competent families to care for them, and other classes of people who will in almost any decent modern society be provided for at some level through public expenditure. But it is a mistake to treat people as though they are disabled or incompetent simply because they are poor, unskilled, or not especially well-educated. Of course, we could maintain such people in some kind of public dependency indefinitely — we are a very rich society with great resources. But at a certain point, we aren’t doing people any favors by doing them favors — we are instead denying them the opportunity to become free and happy in a way that they cannot be as dependents.

Arthur Brooks, the great apostle of “earned success,” notes research showing that people are happier when they feel successful at work irrespective of income. “The opposite of earned success,” he writes, “is ‘learned helplessness,’ a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania.”

It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.

During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”

The urgent political issue raised by Seligman’s research is control. We live in an increasingly complex, globalized world in which the ever-more-sophisticated division of labor leaves humanity as a whole radically better off — by almost any measure — while providing outsized rewards to a relatively narrow set of skills and cognitive abilities that are not evenly distributed and that are not earnable, which complicates the issue of earned success. There are many people who have the skills and talent to be successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, technologists, entertainers, cultural innovators, etc. And there is no reliable way to say with confidence who has those abilities. But most people don’t have those skills and talents and cannot acquire them. They experience the economy most intensely as something that happens to them — or something that is done to them — and economic changes very often are a source of anxiety and personal upheaval. And there is no sharp divide between the personal and the professional: Researchers have found that a man is more likely to end up in divorce court after losing a job than after an episode of marital infidelity.

The favorite bromides of the populist Left are like the favorite bromides of the populist Right in that they promise to give people who feel powerless more control over economic tides: For Democrats, that means minimum-wage rules, entrenching the power of labor unions, using the tax code to discourage offshoring and imports, etc., while for Republicans that means tariffs, entrenching the power of market incumbents, using the tax code to discourage offshoring and imports, etc. These policies make more sense if you think about them not as economics but as psychotherapy.

We have in some sense been here before: During the rapid 19th-century transformation of the U.S. economy from a largely agricultural one to a largely industrial one, ownership of wealth became more concentrated — and wealth inequality was much more pronounced among industrial workers than among agricultural workers, more pronounced in the cities than in the countryside, and more pronounced among black Americans than among whites — it was more pronounced where the innovation was, where the change was happening. The post–Civil War pattern retraced the post-Revolution pattern: The Revolutionary War was an economic catastrophe for the colonists. Before the war, scholars estimate, colonial households had on average higher incomes than did English households, even when the average included slaves — and, on top of that, the same scholars calculate that New England had less economic equality than any other similarly developed society in the world. The war was a serious setback, but the American economy grew dramatically after independence — and wealth inequality increased, too, especially in the South. Economic revolutions produce outsized growth, and the fruits of that growth accrue disproportionately to those who are closer to the edges of innovation. You could still make a good living selling horse tackle in 1903, but not the kind of fortune that Henry Ford was about to make. Many businesses have greatly expanded their operations by selling on Amazon. You can make a lot of money doing that — but not the kind of money you make by starting Amazon.

This isn’t true only of celebrity entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos — it is also true, and in some senses more significant, among workers who are simply a few degrees of separation closer to them. And that is where there is a kind of inequality-multiplier effect: If you have some resources (savings, well-off parents, a high-income spouse), some skill or some education that gives you a degree of confidence about your future prospects, then you can take some risks: an unpaid internship, a low-paying entry-level job in a field with lots of upward mobility, starting a business or going to work for a new business that is still a little wobbly, etc. Seattle has a fair number of millionaires who got rich by doing an ordinary job at Microsoft in the 1980s for subpar wages and equity that turned out to be worth a fortune but could have ended up being worth nothing. It is a lot easier to take a chance like that if your Plan B is reasonably solid. If you are young Bill Gates or young Mark Zuckerberg, failure means . . . going back to Harvard.

Helping people on the margins to achieve the real and lasting happiness that comes with earned success and helping them to acquire the confidence and the resources to take on new challenges and try new things should be the fundamental pillars of conservative economic policy. Part of that is being realistic about the likely paths to success for people who are not going to get a STEM degree from a four-year university. Our national failure to pay serious attention to the interests of these Americans is both a product of a key cultural failure — the generally unstated belief that people who do non-glamorous jobs are losers and victims — and a contributor to that failure. Trying to push people into college when their real interests and abilities lie elsewhere not only sets them up for failure, it needlessly puts the stink of failure on their likeliest roads to success.

On the left, they used to like to mock conservative economic policy as a man in a top hat and monocle telling a poor man, “Get a job!” On the right, now, some have adopted the same line of criticism, mocking the Republican Party as a bunch of out-of-touch company men advising the young and the struggling, “Learn to code!” But “Learn to code!” is great advice for some people, and “Get a job!” is in many cases exactly the right course of action. It is certainly more sensible than, say, “Artificially inflate the prices of raw materials and see what that does to factory wages,” or, “You can’t do anything to help yourself — it’s all those rascally Chinese!

“Get a job!”

Hell, yes. Shout it from the rooftops. Being good at something challenging and making a living at it makes people happy. It’s not all there is to life, and it’s not for everybody. But it’s for a lot of us.

Words about Words
David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words is a very interesting book with some very interesting observations about the word potato.

As with our discussion of mustard last week, potato has been used both to mean something desirable (“That’s the potato!” apparently was a happy exclamation, once, and potatoes has been used to mean money, as with clams or bread) as well as something undesirable or unimportant: couch potato, small potatoes, etc.

What is interesting — especially if you are former vice president Dan Quayle — is Crystal’s observations about spelling. Potato was a borrowing from Spanish — patata, itself a borrowing of the Haitian Carib batata. Unlike Spanish-speakers, Anglophone people were not naturally comfortable with that o at the end of potato, which presented a challenge for spelling it both in the singular and in the plural. Potato looked funny to them, and potatos looked like something Greek. And so potatoe was a common early spelling of potato, and survives in the plural as potatoes.

Vice President Quayle was ruthlessly mocked for misspelling potato as potatoe. It was one of those things: If the media decide you are stupid, then you are stupid as far as the news goes. When Quayle made self-deprecating jokes about practicing his Latin before a trip to Latin America, the media reported the joke as though it had been said in earnest. I was always irritated by the potatoe incident, if only because as a newspaper editor I saw an awful lot of raw newspaper copy coming across the Associated Press wire and knew from that experience that potatoe would have been the least of the American press’s sins against English.

It is good to have an editor.

Rampant Prescriptivism
Corporate-speak is a bottomless well of linguistic barbarism, and a reader writes in to ask about the use of persist as a transitive verb. Apparently, he receives memos instructing him to do x in order “to persist” y, as in: “We have to implement new procedures to persist these developments.” Apparently, this is meant to communicate something like “make persistent” or “ensure that this persists.”

Yikes, ye gods, and Yeezus: no.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away
This recent drama in Austin isn’t the first time Texas Democrats have shut down the democratic process in the name of saving democracy from . . . the democratic process. More in the New York Post, America’s Newspaper of Record.

You can listen to me and my amigo speaking of many things in this episode of Jay Nordlinger’s Q&A. A listener writes to point out that the “suddenly, then all at once” line is from Hemingway, not Fitzgerald. My bad — and thanks to Alec for the correction.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Danker than you’d expect.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .
There is a new show on television called Kevin Can Go F**k Himself. It is a dark sendup of the old sitcom trope of the feckless schlub married to an implausibly attractive woman.


My first name is inherently comical. It’s just one of those words, like kumquat or snarf. I don’t know why those Welsh phonemes in that order are funny, but they are.


You don’t even have to hear it.

Kevin has not been a great name when it comes to television and cinema. Before Kevin Can Go F**k Himself, we had the school-murderer drama We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Kevin in Up wasn’t too bad, even if she was ruthlessly misgendered. Kevin the Minion is the least-cool Minion. Kevin the penguin from 3-2-1 Penguins? Ask Wikipedia: “While Kevin has no specific job on the ship other than cleaning, he is always ready to help when needed by the others.”

Kevin from The Wonder Years? Please.

You can tell it’s a problem name because you can’t really make a hero or a villain out of it. Kevin the Impaler? Kevin the Terrible? Chairman Kevin? Generalissimo Kevin? Nope. King Kevin? Sounds like something on the children’s menu at a 1970s burger restaurant. Or maybe, to quote The World According to Garp, “a flavor in a gay ice-cream parlor.”

(I’m pretty sure that line is from Robin Williams, not from John Irving.)

Here’s an approximate transcript of an actual conversation including nine-year-old me:

Kevin: “Why’d you name me ‘Kevin’?”

Kevin’s Long-Suffering Mother, Lighting Her 22nd Winston of the Day: “You were named after the preacher who married your father and me.”

Kevin: “You’re divorced.”

Kevin’s Long-Suffering Mother, Exhaling Blue Smoke: “That’s right.”

Kevin: “Does that mean I can change my name?”

KL-SM&C.: “. . .”

Kevin: “I mean, it didn’t take.”

Saint Kevin is such a lame saint that I didn’t even choose him for my patron — mine is Thomas Becket, as portrayed by Richard Burton.

“Kevin can go f*** himself.” Don’t think I haven’t heard it before.

But I think Karen still has it worse.

David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words, mentioned above, really is worth your time. A certain kind of pedant (this kind!) will especially enjoy his discussion of the “greengrocer’s apostrophe.”

In Closing
I’ve been thinking a lot about the mechanics of politics lately, particularly in its relation to the mechanics of religion. On Sunday, I heard a very interesting sermon about factionalism in the early church, which Saint Paul dissects in his letter to the Corinthians. Apparently, some early Christians formed cliques seeking to identify themselves with some prominent figure in the church, whether Paul or Peter or Apollos or someone else. “Was Paul crucified for you?” he asks. “Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

Politics, especially presidential politics, is a similar kind of status game. The president or presidential candidate is a mascot for a particular tribal identity, and in his elevation they see their own elevation — or else they see their own defeat and humiliation in his defeat and humiliation.

What’s particularly distasteful about that sort of thing, to my mind, anyway, is that there is no reciprocal relationship. Partisans will adore and, indeed, will worship a political leader, but he does not return the sentiment to the individual partisan. That’s the sad lot of the populist politician: He must find his power in being the voice of an aggregation of people to whom he would not give a second’s consideration as individuals. Take your pick of the great current populist leaders and ask which one has a son or daughter who married a factory worker. (I’ll wait.) As individuals, such people are not the sort the politician would be friends with, invite to his home for dinner, go into business with, lend money to, be happy to see one of his children marry, etc. They have value only as an electorate — which is to say, as a mob. The politician doesn’t care what any of them thinks or does or loves — only what all of them do, or the majority of them. In that way, the politician is someone who sells his soul for the good opinion of people he despises by the inch but worships by the mile.

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God’s Little Lobbyists

(DrewMauck/Getty Images)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, politics, and culture, along with some stuff about the initiation rites of Anatolian mother-goddess cults that I wisely edited out but promise to put into a book soon. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Evangelize the People

Soon after he came to power, Adolf Hitler was asked whether he intended to nationalize German industry. Hitler answered that there was no need for that. “I shall nationalize the people,” he declared.

“Which is what he did,” wrote the great historian John Lukacs, “alas, quite successfully.” Those who would try to press our society in a different and better direction — who would drag it, kicking and screaming, against its natural inclinations — have the opposite mission: not to nationalize the people, but to evangelize them. There is no avoiding the squabbles of procedural democracy, but even the most expert and ruthless squabbling is doomed to failure unless it is yoked to a real change in the minds of the American people. (The minds, not the hearts — this is a question of political thinking, not one of religious sentiment.) That is, I think, the pattern of action for American Christians who wish to be engaged with politics as Christians. But let’s not move on from Hitler and his politics just yet.

A certain kind of glamour hangs on such monsters as Hitler. It is the same glamour that hangs on many saints and saviors. One sometimes hears a version of it from Christian apologists who take a Case for Christ-style preponderance-of-evidence approach to the Gospel: “Jesus must have performed miracles and been raised from the dead — how else to explain the devotion to this otherwise obscure exorcist from the Galilean backwaters?” But these Christians are not persuaded by shows of devotion that the emperor of Japan is the descendent of a sun goddess, that Haile Selassie was God Incarnate, or even that Idi Amin was “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular,” to say nothing of the uncrowned king of Scotland, though many of Amin’s subjects and sycophants would have sworn to it.

It is a myth that L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology as a bet with Kurt Vonnegut, but in even the relatively short span of American history we have seen new religions invented ex nihilo, faiths for which men were willing to kill and die. And by creating a cult that masqueraded as a political party — a socialist workers’ party — Adolf Hitler convinced what was arguably Europe’s most intellectually and culturally advanced country to stage a kind of national mass-suicide beyond the wildest imaginings of Jim Jones.

To make or to remake a people — toward heroic ends or monstrous ones — is a display of tremendous power, and that kind of power attracts not only admiration but worship. And religious iconography tends to repeat itself: It is not for nothing that (among many other similarities) Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama, and George Washington each was said to have revealed his true nature in an encounter involving a sacred tree, one of the most ancient religious symbols, or that each was purified by a period of suffering in the wilderness. Nor is it an accident that coins invested with a special meaning figure prominently in both religious and political mythologies. In the case of George Washington, the winter at Valley Forge is an event that actually happened, while the cherry-tree story was a fable (probably a spontaneously generated folk tale rather than a propagandistic fabrication) amplified by the ever-entrepreneurial Parson Weems. The legend about Washington’s throwing a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River took a few different forms before it fossilized into its final version. But both the fact and the fiction fit easily into a longstanding mythological template.

The pagan character of German politics in the 1930s was clear to many observers and widely remarked upon at the time. The pagan character of American politics (and society) in our time is less plain to modern Americans, partly owing to the decay of our religious education. Of course, it is always easier to see the cultishness of the other side as cultishness.

None of this is exactly new, and we see familiar patterns of myth and legend, of rebirth and deliverance, in our own time: The Nazis had their Horst Wessel, and the January 6 maniacs have their Ashli Babbitt, who has assumed Kate Steinle’s role in their martyrology. Their spiritual and political leader, Donald Trump, succeeded in working a radical change not in the entire people but in a non-trivial share of zealots and converts, who are growing even more clabbered and paranoid, rather than less, as the days pass. And a fair number of those born-again cultists profess an altogether different religion on Sundays, even if many of them have effectively ceased to believe in any higher power than that of the president as anything more than a matter of rhetoric and tradition. I am reminded often of Ezra Pound’s sneer that the “Catholic Church went out of business when its hierarchy ceased to believe its own dogma.” That’s an exaggeration, but it is an exaggeration of something that is true.

The footprint of Trumpism in American Christianity, particularly among those we clumsily and vaguely characterize as “Evangelical,” is large and persistent. It is powered in part by genuine political disagreement, in part by cultural anxiety, and in part by a large and rapacious commercial apparatus that converts Americans’ fears into fortunes 30 pieces of silver at a time. (This makes more sense if you think of cable news, political radio, and social media as in effect one complex and recursive system of self-moronization.) And it grows in its opportunistic way because American Christians still, after all these years, have not quite figured out how to engage with politics without either drifting into some unholy compound of state-idolatry and theocracy or degrading the church to the position of just another special-interest group among many, a half-assed Chamber of Commerce for the faithful — God’s little lobbyists. Because they have been convinced that we live in especially critical times and that the other side is irredeemably evil and on the verge — always and forever on the verge — of achieving irresistible power, they are all too eager to subordinate eternal concerns to short-term political mandates, proclaiming themselves practical and hard-headed men of worldly experience.

This is a particularly acute institutional problem for Evangelicals, because they do not have the Catholic Church’s history of wielding real political power, and — perhaps more importantly — because they do not have its hierarchy. The Catholic Church discovered many centuries ago that if an organization is going to cultivate princely power, then it had better have some princes. The pope can meet any head of state — including heads of officially atheist states — as a peer, and in most cases something more than that. Lesser princes of the church have sufficient status and prestige (purely secular qualities but necessary ones) and, in some cases, enough plain political clout to meet any legislator and most heads of state eye-to-eye. But without a hierarchy of that sort, American Evangelical leaders most often come to wide influence only as political pundits or operatives (Mike Huckabee, Ralph Reed), or as a familiar species of self-help guru (Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes). A very few, such as Tim Keller, achieve some intellectual influence as clergymen, but that is a bit of a high-wire act: Almost invariably, they end up politically neutered by a too-scrupulous bipartisanship or else are spiritually evacuated by factionalism and the unclean hurly-burly of democratic action in the real world.

What should the relationship between church life and political life look like?

Imagine some extraordinarily effective and charismatic Christian minister who traveled the country, preaching and teaching, changing lives everywhere. Now, imagine that minister has a very attractive young assistant. Should the two of them travel alone together without their spouses? Share a hotel room? Of course not. Even if they were two people of unimpeachable personal probity, it would be a mistake, and maybe something worse than a mistake, to put them to the test. Putting them to that test would be wrong even if they passed it, thereby confirming their trustworthiness. (Some Christians will be familiar with the phrase “sin and the occasion of sin.”) Thrift might argue for one hotel room, but prudence would argue for two — even if as a matter of pure practical calculation, the ministry would reach more people if travel costs were reduced. Everyone understands that, because almost everyone has at least some passing familiarity with the underlying issue. (That is why Bill Clinton’s sexual misdeeds produced a national convulsion but Hillary Rodham Clinton’s cattle-futures shenanigans are all but forgotten: Most people don’t really understand futures trading, but most people know something about sex — even Ayn Rand devotees have heard something about it.) If that seems as obvious to you as it does to me, then think about this: One night in a hotel room with someone who probably shouldn’t be there is not one-one-thousandth as dangerous to the missionary soul as a long-term flirtation with political power, the seductive and corrupting pull of which exceeds in intensity and outlasts by many years the minor compulsions of the flesh. I cannot say how many men and women I have known who were apparently immune to the usual array of petty vices but were ensorcelled and enslaved by a fleeting encounter with political power. This kind of Christian activism has the effect of profaning what is holy rather than infusing grace and spiritual discipline into practical affairs.

This is a Christian nation!” our friends insist. But, of course, it is no such thing. If it were, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The state of our country at this moment does not represent something that has been done to us, in spite of the populists’ victimhood politics. A Christian nation would know its own mind and have some idea of its own soul.

The United States is a Christian nation in the same sense that King Henry VIII was a Christian statesman: No doubt there was much that needed reform in the 16th-century church, but King Henry’s nationalism and his dynastic ambitions propelled his reformism, not the other way around — the kingdom that is not of this world is, in skilled hands, plastic enough to be retrofitted onto the politics of any kingdom you like.

To evangelize the people is to go to the democratic source and to set our sights on something more vital and more enduring than the penny-ante politics that currently dominates so much of our imagination. This is not a pie-in-the-sky project: It is the only secure road to real change in the long term. Think of it this way: President Trump appointed some excellent judges to the federal bench, and I expect that will have some desirable effect on abortion jurisprudence — but a culture in which the normal thing to do is to pay off the porn star with whom you were having an affair in order to avoid a confrontation with your third wife and grease the skids for your presidential campaign is a culture that is going to have abortion, whether there is one Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court or nine. And a Christian politics that demands the excommunication of Joe Biden after having elevated Donald Trump to the status of Fidei Defensor is unserious as either a Christian enterprise or as a political one. The only thing it is any good for is making money.

Some of our practical-minded and hard-headed men of worldly affairs may sniff at that, but if they showed us anything between 2017 and 2021, it is that they do not know what to do with real power when they have it. The cynic might be forgiven for concluding that they didn’t know what to do with real power because they have never thought much about it, having been so preoccupied for so many years with the pursuit of power for its own sake that they forgot what they had wanted it for, if indeed they ever knew.

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

An evangelized people will be able to make an answer to that question. A people that has been merely indoctrinated, propagandized, or nationalized will not.

Words About Words

Because Charlie has been on vacation (if you’re wondering where your new MD&E is) I haven’t had my weekly gun-nut talk, so I’m going to inflict a little bit on you. I have knowledge in here [points agitatedly at cranium] that I need to get out there [points at you].

One of my funny little obsessions is where measurements come from. The metric system is full of fun ones: a gram, for example, is one cubic centimeter of water at 4 degrees centigrade; the original definition of a meter was the “length of a pendulum with a half-period of one second,” which was later changed to the distance traveled by light moving in a vacuum for 1/299,792,458 of a second, for obvious practical reasons.

Firearms come in calibers, millimeters, and gauges. The last of these is the most amusingly medieval.

As some of you know, a shotgun gets bigger and more powerful as the gauge number declines: a 20-gauge shotgun is smaller than a 12-gauge, which is smaller than an eight-gauge, etc. Before we had the technical ability to define our measurements by things such as the speed of light or the weight of a volume of water at a specific temperature, we had to rely on less refined means. Shotgun gauges are defined this way: The gauge of a shotgun is the number of lead balls the same diameter as the gun’s bore that it would take to weigh one pound. So a shotgun with a bore the size of a one-pound ball of lead would be a one-gauge, though you won’t see one of those in your local sporting-goods store. A 20-gauge is smaller than a 12-gauge because it would take 20 balls the size of the bore rather than twelve to weigh a pound. The convention flips when the gauge is larger than one. If you’ve ever read about the French firing “four-pound guns” at their enemies in the Napoleonic wars, they’re talking about cannons that push out a four-pound ball.

But a .410 shotgun is, for historical reasons, described as a caliber rather than a gauge. A firearms caliber is the size of the bore expressed in decimalized fractions of an inch or in millimeters. So a firearm with a quarter-inch bore is a .25-caliber, a half-inch bore is a .50-caliber, etc. This leads to some confusion, because it doesn’t actually tell you anything about the weight or the speed of the projectile leaving the firearm. A .223 rifle is a lot more than three-thousandths more powerful than a .22 rifle, just as a 7mm rifle is a lot more powerful than a 9mm handgun. A .38 and a .380 are different, even though the decimals are exactly equivalent.

(By the way, you normally only say or write “caliber” with the imperial units: a .45-caliber handgun, but a 9mm handgun, not a 9mm-caliber handgun. But: “What caliber?” “Nine millimeter.”)

A good deal of this is marketing: A .500-caliber revolver could be described as a .50 caliber or a .5 caliber — because that’s how decimals work! — but “five hundred” sounds a lot more awesome. Similarly, I have a rifle that is stamped as being chambered for the .275 Rigby round, but I have never in my life seen a box of ammunition labeled .275 Rigby, which is identical to the cartridge known as the 7mm Mauser or 7×57. The backstory there is that the Rigby rifle company had had good luck selling its English buyers hunting rifles chambered in 7mm Mauser, which was a common European military caliber. But in the Second Boer War, a lot of Englishmen got shot to pieces with a lot of 7mm Mauser ammunition, and appetite for the cartridge — along with most anything bearing the name “Mauser,” for that matter — declined sharply in England. So the Rigby people, still having rifles to move, converted that metric caliber into an imperial one and called it the .275 Rigby (though every box of that ammunition I have ever seen is labeled 7×57 Mauser).

I suppose that makes the .275 Rigby the “freedom fries” of the ammunition world.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Some of you wrote in to question my use of “cut the mustard.” Tsk-tsk, you would-be correctors wrote, don’t you know this is a barbaric bastardization of the military term “cut the muster”? I got four or five notes like that.

The thing is, it isn’t true.

There’s no real evidence that “cut the muster” ever was an expression of any kind — and, of course, it doesn’t make any literal sense.

That being said, it’s not entirely clear where “cut the mustard” comes from. We have similar uses of “cut” and cut-adjacent words — to make the cut, to be a cut above, to be able to hack it, etc. So “cut” in the sense of “qualify” or “satisfy requirements” is there.

But what about mustard?

The OED says that in 19th-century American slang, mustard meant “something which adds piquancy or zest,” and, by extension, “that which sets the standard or is the best of anything.” We have some funny and unexpected equivalents, as in the way a certain excretory profanity is used both to mean the best and the worst of something: His old car is a piece of sh** vs. That new Aventador is the sh**.

So, to cut the mustard is to meet or exceed the standard, according to this line of thinking, to be up to snuff, to make the cut, to . . . pass muster or, as it was once written, to pass the musters.

As for cut the mustard, as I have written before: Good enough for O. Henry, good enough for me.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the “Real America,” here. I think you may enjoy it.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support the National Review Institute, go here.


Nobody hits all the time, and almost nobody misses all the time. I spent some time beating on Garry Wills last week, but his Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment is a singularly fascinating book. If you are interested in the apotheosis of the American presidency, this is a hard book to beat.

In Closing

Godspeed to the Cubans taking on their island’s brutal dictatorship. Maybe a few of our American socialists, who are always going on about their being democratic socialists, could lend a hand — or at least an encouraging word? No?


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Politics & Policy

You’re Either with Maduro, or You’re against Him

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro speaks during a ceremony in Caracas, January 22, 2021. (Manaure Quintero/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and Champagne. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

A Question of Standards

To what standard should Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her socialist colleagues in the Democratic Party be held when it comes to the matter of the Democratic Socialists of America and its unwavering support for the brutal dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela?

A word about these socialists: There’s a certain kind of talk-radio knucklehead who insists that every member of the Democratic Party — and about 80 percent of Republicans — is a socialist or a Marxist or a communist. That is nonsense. I am not even convinced that all of the Democrats who call themselves “socialists” are socialists. But we are not in this case talking about a subjective evaluation: We are talking about people who are members of a particular organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, who support that organization and who are supported by it in their pursuit of political power. And, as it happens, the DSA has for a long time — and quite recently — reiterated its support for the Maduro dictatorship, under which the people of Venezuela have been reduced to eating zoo animals and worse. Before that, the DSA supported his predecessor, the murderer and torturer Hugo Chávez, who bought progressive Democrats such as Chaka Fattah on the cheap, with a few stirring words and a couple of barrels of heating oil.

So, what standard applies?

Should we apply the Ibram X. Kendi standard? Kendi, who in our irredeemably racist society makes a pretty good living as a professional anti-racist, insists that it is not enough for people of goodwill to be non-racist — in order to cut the moral mustard, they must be actively anti-racist. From this point of view, everybody is either an activist — an activist who supports Kendi’s work and his agenda — or a collaborator: It’s Team Ibram Kendi or Team David Duke. Racism is morally repugnant and it is a terrible way to organize a society — and surely the same can be said of dictatorship. Surely the same can be said of starving people for political purposes, locking up political prisoners, murdering political dissidents, etc. So if we embrace the Kendi standard, then it is not enough to simply forgo the practice of dictatorship oneself or to oppose it in principle. Given the opportunity to oppose a savage dictatorship in a practical way, it would follow, one has a moral obligation to do so. So when Representative Ocasio-Cortez can manage nothing more than “it’s a complex issue” in the face of Maduro’s murder and torture and repression, and when she remains in good standing with the DSA and its constant support of Maduro, then, surely, according to this standard, she must be condemned as well.

But the Kendi standard isn’t the only possible standard. There is the Democratic Party standard, under which any number of workaday conservative congressional Republicans have been condemned for having “voted with Trump” in some large share of their votes. This line of criticism has been applied even to such unrelenting Trump critics as Senator Mitt Romney (R., Utah by way of La Jolla). This is, by any intelligent standard, a nonsensical way of evaluating a member of Congress — there were many Republicans who were going to vote for tax cuts and Amy Coney Barrett even if Donald Trump had remained a second-rate game-show host — but Democrats invoke it constantly in their rhetoric and campaign ads. Relying on the Democratic standard is going to be hard on so-called moderate Democrats such as Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.), who, according to ProPublica, has voted with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a little more often than Nancy Pelosi has: 89 percent of the time, in fact — that’s more than Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has voted with Matt Gaetz.

By the standard of her party, Representative Slotkin must be considered an adjunct to the Venezuelan junta and its apologists. So must Representative Colin Allred, who must positively rejoice in that surname, given the fact that he has voted with the dictator-enabling Representative Ocasio-Cortez 93 percent of the time. There are more than 10,000 Venezuelans living in and around Representative Allred’s north Texas district, many because they have been obliged to flee their homeland. I’m sure they’ll understand.

Maybe we should apply the Twitter-Peon standard. This is the standard under which every member of an institution is held personally responsible for every opinion held by every other member of that institution. We get this a lot around National Review. Often, it is framed as an opportunistic change of heart: “Well, here’s National Review saying x, and here, just a few months later, is National Review arguing not-x! Harrumph!” National Review of course publishes a great many writers who disagree about a great many things: I could spend a month doing nothing but relitigating my many disagreements with Charlie Cooke, Michael Brendan Dougherty, or Ramesh Ponnuru. I even disagree with Jay Nordlinger sometimes: He is way more liberal on the question of James Taylor than I think is defensible! There isn’t a party-line imposed.

I assume there is similar internal disagreement in the DSA. But if we take this as our standard — and it is a standard applied to all sorts of institutions and individuals — then we have to assume that Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman are all hunky-dory with the dictatorship in Venezuela, as indeed must be such lesser-known figures as state senators Julie Gonzales of Colorado and Sam Bell of Rhode Island, state house member Mike Connolly of Massachusetts, mayor-elect India Walton of Buffalo, etc. If any of them takes a dissenting view, they are keeping quiet about it.

So, what’s it going to be, progressives? Democracy or dictatorship? Are you with Maduro or against him?

Words About Words

“Massachusetts Police Arrest 11 Heavily Armed Militia Members After Bizarre Hours-Long Standoff,” reads the Slate headline.

“Militia members,” eh?

The Islamic State is a militia, as are Boko Haram and the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. But you will not often see a news story that generically characterizes these as “militias.” You’ll get at least a little more, because “militia member” in the United States, particularly in the context of police encounters, usually means white-guy Mossy Oak mall-ninjas up in Idaho (or their spiritual offspring elsewhere) getting ready to take on the New World Order, or whatever they’re calling it this season.

Amazing that Slate can publish a lengthy report about a bonkers black-nationalist sect without ever mentioning that that is what is being written about.

The Moorish “sovereign” movement, the “militia” mentioned above, is the Frankenstein’s monster created by stitching together the crackpot teachings of the Moorish Science Temple with those of the Sovereign Citizens movement. The Moorish Science Temple, which has been around since the early 20th century, is something like the Black Hebrew Israelites reimagined as a Masonic lodge with a Muslim theme rather than a Hebrew one. The Sovereign Citizens movement bubbled up from the same ferment that produced the so-called patriot and militia movements, and though its ideas once were associated with white-power knuckleheads, they have been taken up by other groups, including certain African-American subcultures, with some zeal.

Who says the melting pot is over?

There are the obvious terrifying aspects to these groups, but the optimist in me sees old-fashioned American blending in action. In the same way Elijah Muhammad’s so-called Nation of Islam created an alternative communal history for black radicals in search of one, the past several decades have seen the spread of purportedly Nordic variations on that theme, with Odinism and “Ásatrú,” which sometimes goes by the bracingly forthright name “Heathenry,” among white lowlifes, particularly those in prison, as well as among some bourgeois whites in search of a mythology around which to construct an artificial identity more attractive than the one they have in real life. This being America, all of that silly neo-paganism can be absorbed and reordered by capitalism, hence the plethora of Viking-themed beard-grooming products in recent years.

In a similar way, “Sovereign Citizens” thinking has spread from the jacked-up F-350 set to a whole rainbow of American nuttiness.

Speaking of Moors: How weird is it that Amazon is suppressing books taking a dissident view of transsexual questions while still happily taking in money generated by Anthony Hopkins in blackface as Othello?

Funny old world.

In Other Language-related News . . .

Shame on those sissies at LVMH. The European luxury-goods titan (“LV” for Louis Vuitton, “M” for Moët, “H” for Hennessy) is Europe’s most valuable company (having overtaken Nestlé), and its chairman, Bernard Arnault, is, depending on what the markets are doing on any given day, either the wealthiest man in Europe or the wealthiest man in the world. His company owns everything from Château d’Yquem to Dior to Loro Piana to Princess Yachts. Like that other sometimes-richest-man-in-the-world, Jeff Bezos, M. Arnault has shown that he is the kind of guy who can be pushed around without too much effort.

As you know, the French have fought for years to defend the exclusive right of vintners in Champagne to call their bubbly wines “Champagne,” a legal convention internationally recognized since the 19th century. It is an indication of how much the French care about this that the appellation rule gets a line in the Treaty of Versailles. There are many makers that produce a Champagne-style fizzy wine, everywhere from Albuquerque to South Africa, and they generally describe themselves as “sparkling,” méthode Champenoise, or something like that. If it doesn’t come from Champagne, you can’t call it “Champagne.” Everybody knows the rules.

Except for Vladimir Putin.

Russian wines — and who hasn’t asked the sommelier at a fine restaurant, “Don’t you have anything Russian in the cellar?” — have long, brazenly appropriated the name Champagne, or “Shampanskoe,” in Russian. Under a new law, only Russian wines will be labeled “Champagne” in Russia, meaning that it will be illegal to sell Champagne as “Champagne.”

LVMH originally put out word that it would pull out of the Russian market in protest, but, apparently, that is not to be. Instead, it will knuckle under and start calling Moët (and, presumably, its other Champagnes) “sparkling wine” in order to keep access to the Russian market.

What’s the point of being the richest guy in the world if you can’t stand up for yourself? Or, as Donald Regan might have put it: What’s the point in having f***-you money if you don’t, from time to time, say, “F*** you!”?

It’s been a few years since the world has seen a Frenchman surrender that fast.

Congratulations, Bernard Arnault: You are now the John Cena of fine wine.

Rampant Prescriptivism

From the Context Desk: There’s a time to use the word “fallout” when it comes to U.S.-Russia relations, and this isn’t it: “Biden warns Putin of ‘devastating’ fallout if activist Navalny dies in jail.” “Fallout” from Brexit might be a diplomatic brouhaha – fallout from a U.S.-Russia confrontation is the nuclear kind.

From the Fact-Checking Desk: My fancy-pants East Coast–elitist friends over at the Wall Street Journal apparently don’t know what a “flatbed” is. I guess Matt Murray has never seen his 1986 Ford Escort being hauled away on one.

From the Not-a-Typo desk: A reader asks about “cereal rituals,” from last week. “Perhaps I’m Froot Loops with this observation, but don’t you mean ‘serial rituals’?” Nope. I meant the sacrum cereale, a ritual meant to ensure the health of crops, so named for the goddess Ceres. Though I think it is more often written “cereal rites.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

My thanks to the “Politics and Media 101” guys for hosting an interesting and wonderfully non-hysterical Clubhouse discussion on “cancel culture” and related themes. It is refreshing to be able to have a real conversation.

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Not currently for sale under any appellation in Russia.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.


Michael Novak’s Choosing Our King touches on a theme that is very much on my mind these days — the ceremonial and symbolic functions of the American presidency. He wrote this book in the wake of Watergate, which gives it a very interesting vintage flavor.

In Closing

Obviously, we take the Champagne issue seriously around Chez Williamson:


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Politics & Policy

The Devil and Garry Wills

President Joe Biden departs Holy Trinity Catholic Church on the first Sunday as president in Washington, D.C., January 24, 2021. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter on divers and sundry themes. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

What Have We Learned?

One of the great ironies of the abortion debate is that the pro-life camp, purportedly made up of religious fanatics, mostly wants to talk about biology, while the notionally secular pro-abortion faction has embraced a medieval superstition about “ensoulment” and “quickening,” as exemplified most recently by Garry Wills’s latest New York Times essay, flabbergasting in its simplemindedness, on Joe Biden and the Catholic bishops.

Wills’s column is the sort of Dark Ages hoo-haw that gives Dark Ages hoo-haw a bad name.

We shouldn’t live by prehistoric superstition when we have better alternatives, but we shouldn’t sneer at our forebears as primitive — they would recognize us, and we should recognize them and recognize ourselves in them. As James George Frazer argued in The Golden Bough, magic is the embarrassing ancestor of science, the fruit of mankind’s earliest efforts to produce a systematic explanation of the physical world and natural phenomena. Is the thunder really the Sky Father  shaking his shield? No, of course not, but put yourself in the place of those early men: Everybody you know believes that the Sky Father causes thunder, everybody you have ever known believes it, the people of the highest standing in your community attest to it, your father and your grandfather believed it and, even if you were to question it — and here’s the most important part — what’s the next-best explanation?

The elaboration and refinement of next-best explanations over centuries — and not very many centuries — took us from Jupiter and Minerva and orgiastic cereal rituals to physics and genetics and space tourism. And that happened really, really quickly: The time between the first organized human agriculture and today constitutes about 3 percent of the totality of human history. Or think of it this way: When Joe Biden was born, Nikola Tesla and Piet Mondrian were still alive — two Joe Bidens ago, Ulysses Grant was just taking charge of Union troops, and three Joe Bidens ago, they were hashing out the Constitution in Philadelphia while Mozart was swanning around Prague. We are anatomically the same animals as our caveman ancestors, but our social evolution has moved with incredible speed in the last three centuries. The number of years that passed between the first flight at Kitty Hawk and the moon landing is fewer than the number of years Oprah Winfrey has been walking the earth. We have had electric lights for about 0.04 precent of the time Homo sapiens has been around, and yet that short span has been enough time for us to go from Edison bulbs to iPhones. But for the other 99.96 percent of human history, we worked by firelight — or shivered in the darkness.

So we should not laugh too hard at the old superstitions — and, more to the point, we should not be very surprised to see many of those superstitions survive into our own time. The myth about Ronald Reagan’s refusal to say the word “AIDS” as president is the modern answer to the old belief that the touch of a king could cure scrofula, just as the American folk belief that the nation’s economic performance is a judgment on the character of the president is an echo of the ancient superstition that the king’s piety ensured good crops and fecund livestock while his impiety brought about drought or plague. (If I’ve been hitting that theme more often, it is because I am writing a book about it.) We are superstitious creatures, and magic is never far from our minds.

It is probably worth noting here that our modern attitudes toward science are in many ways like our ancestors’ attitudes toward magic or religion, which is to say, they are informed by a status game. Not one American in 10,000 has the scientific training to engage meaningfully with the science touching climate change, evolution, or vaccines, and our attitudes toward those things mostly reflect tribal identities: Team Fauci vs. Team Trump. This leads to all kinds of stupidity, from young-Earth creationism (an astonishingly common view among Americans) to anti-vaccine kookery to, in the case at hand, the denialism — human denialism — at the center of the abortion debate.

What’s rare about Wills’s essay is that he forthrightly connects his thinking to Dark Ages superstitions and expects (not without some reason) that the readers of the New York Times opinion pages, who sway in the wind like a field of rotten corn, will be satisfied with that.

Wills demands to know: If Christians of old thought abortion a serious matter, then why is Judas at the bottom of Dante’s inferno, rather than a gang of abortionists? (Seriously, that’s where he starts. Judas, of course, is not alone at the bottom of the pit — Brutus and Cassius are there with him, because Dante did not share my view that Brutus is the hero of that story and Julius Caesar the villain. But that’s for another week.) Dante’s Divine Comedy is an idiosyncratic allegorical work mainly concerned with the personalities and events of 14th-century Florence and historical figures connected to them. It is not a map of medieval moral orthodoxy and certainly not a statement of Christian religious orthodoxy, a fact that was obvious enough to the agents of the Inquisition who censored it. I admire Dante deeply, but his moral schematic is his own.

A better indication of the state of public thinking about abortion in Dante’s time and place might be found, to take one obvious example, in the laws of the nearby Tuscan cities of Siena and Castiglion Aretino, which “prescribed the death penalty for anyone supplying abortifacient herbs to [a] pregnant woman causing her to abort the fetus,” according to Jurists and Jurisprudence in Medieval Italy: Texts and Contexts. Abortion was covered as a category of homicide or as a stand-alone crime in the laws of Milan, Genoa, Benevento, etc. Dante, a man of politics, must have been familiar with these statutes or similar ones. He may even have objected to them for the same reason Wills objects to similar statutes in our time.

While custom and law varied from place to place in the Christian world, and it is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison between medieval law and our own (abortion was treated as something closer to a tort than a crime in much of Europe in the Middle Ages, but, then, so in many cases was murder, at least murder that was not political in character, murder of a commoner that did not touch the state or the royal household; many other acts that we would think of as serious crimes in our time were treated similarly, and that treatment does not necessarily indicate that these matters were thought of as inconsequential), it is remarkable how similar ancient disputes about abortion are to our own: For example, enforceability was a pressing issue in medieval abortion law (it was difficult to prove that an abortion was induced rather than a natural miscarriage, and sometimes difficult to prove even that there had been a pregnancy) and the matter was understood to be graver later in the pregnancy.

Dante seems to have shared the common view that the unborn progress toward humanity and that, in some point during the pregnancy, a soul is conferred by God — see Purgatorio Canto 25, where Dante puts this explanation into the mouth of the Roman poet Statius:

Open thy bosom to the truth that comes.
Know soon as in the embryo, to the brain,
Articulation is complete, then turns
The primal Mover with a smile of joy
On such great work of nature, and imbreathes
New spirit replete with virtue, that what here
Active it finds, to its own substance draws,
And forms an individual soul, that lives,
And feels, and bends reflective on itself.
And that thou less mayst marvel at the word,
Mark the sun’s heat, how that to wine doth change,
Mix’d with the moisture filter’d through the vine.

Here, Dante is writing under the influence of the classical philosophers, but his fellow Italians did not swallow the Greco-Roman view whole: The influential legal commentator Accursius, who died just before Dante was born, had suggested that the Roman punishment for abortion, banishment, was adequate only for abortions induced in the first 40 days of a pregnancy, whereafter, he thought, the penalty should be death. This line of thinking was not uncommon.

Wills sees the gradualist view in Aquinas and attributes it to the influence of Aristotle:

Aristotle told him—that it came at or near childbirth, after an earlier stage of having a nutritive soul (like plant life), which developed into an animal soul, at last receiving a rational soul. Thomas kept Aristotle’s biology, just adding that God himself infuses the soul into the body at some unspecified time during the last stage of this process.

I have no doubt that Wills is correct that Aquinas took this idea from “Aristotle’s biology.” And Aristotle’s biology was excellent — for its time. As it turns out, we have learned a few things since Aristotle was scrawling his thoughts in charcoal on animal skins by the light of a fire he started by banging rocks together. Aristotle’s biology was primitive, mistaken, and, from the point of view of our own time, preposterous. It is difficult to believe that if Aristotle had access to 21st-century science and technology he would maintain his 4th-century B.C. views, just as Dante probably would have modified his 14th-century A.D. views if he knew what we know.

There isn’t some magical thing that happens in the last three weeks of pregnancy that changes the unborn from a “sea sponge” (Dante’s description) into a human being. The ancients, believing that the soul animated matter, took detectable fetal movement as the sign of “quickening” or “ensoulment.” (Islamic law has traditionally taken the same view, prohibiting abortion only after 120 days.) We now know, for example, that fetal movement starts only a few weeks in — before many women even know they are pregnant. We now know that there is a detectable heartbeat at only five weeks in. Etc. These aren’t pro-life points: They are the simple facts of the case.

There simply isn’t some dramatic thing that happens late in the pregnancy that radically changes the organism in question — to maintain otherwise is pure superstition, but it is a popular superstition, because it buttresses the legal fiction of “personhood,” under which those who wish to permit abortions are able to define “human being” in a way that excludes the (1) individual (2) living (3) human (4) organism they wish to see put to death.

Wills must at some level understand that this is preposterous, which is why he retreats into the further preposterousness:

The religious opponents of abortion think that the human person actually antedates the Aristotelian scheme, dating it from “conception” (when the semen fertilizes the ovum). But the Catholic theologian Bernard Häring points out that at least half of the fertilized eggs fail to achieve “nidation”—adherence to the uterus—making nature and nature’s God guilty of a greater “holocaust” of unborn babies than abortion accounts for, if the fertilized ovum is a “baby.”

Presumably, if God wanted a world in which there were no mass murders or genocides, then He, being omnipotent, could do something about that. He doesn’t. It does not follow that we are directed to be indifferent to mass murders and genocides and other great evils that are the product of human volition. God also permits plagues and disasters, and we work on vaccines and countermeasures. The fact that many pregnancies fail to take does not tell us anything at all about the moral standing of intentional abortion, any more than the fact that everybody dies tells us anything about the morality of murder or war. This is shockingly immature stuff from Wills, who is too old for this schoolboy theodicy. He should be embarrassed to write such things. But it gets worse:

The opponents of abortion who call themselves “pro-life” make any form of human life, even pre-nidation ova, sacred. But my clipped fingernails or trimmed hairs are human life.

This is either the dumbest thing published in the New York Times since the last time Paul Krugman wrote or it is willfully misleading, a bad-faith argument. Because, as you may have noticed, you can give your children a haircut or trim their nails without controversy — this does not mean that you can kill them if they get in the way of your social life or cost too much money. Likewise, you can tattoo or pierce yourself all you like, but tattooing or piercing a stranger without his permission is a crime. The morally relevant level of organization here is organism, not tissue. An unborn child is an (1) individual (2) living (3) human (4) organism, not a part of another organism. It is an individual in the sense of being biologically distinct from its parents, living in the sense of being composed of tissue that is living rather than tissue that is dead, human as opposed to rutabaga or salamander, and an organism as opposed to a pile of toenail clippings, a tumor, or a pint of donated blood. These are not interpretations or religious revelations. These are facts as well-attested as any biology has to offer. “Ensoulment” and similar superstitions are simply ways of changing the subject: moral cowardice and intellectual cowardice.

Dante had the excuse of not knowing these facts. Garry Wills does not.

The rest of this tedious nonsense you will have heard before in other generally adolescent contexts. Neither Jesus nor the Bible explicitly condemns abortion, Wills notes. Maybe “Thou shalt not kill” isn’t clear enough for everybody, but, setting that aside, do we really want this to be our guide? Jesus is mum on the questions of cannibalism and child pornography, while the Bible takes a pretty tolerant view of slavery. In Dante’s time, the deans of European law accepted that an eight-year-old girl could consent to marriage, that heresy should be a capital crime, and that witches were a thing. (In fact, some legal scholars believe that at least some witchcraft prosecutions were de facto abortion prosecutions.) They also didn’t know about germs, lots of them thought the earth was the stationary center of the universe (well . . .), and did not — let’s remember — really know where babies come from on anything but the more superficial physiological level. The first mammalian ovum wasn’t even observed until 1827.

Maybe we should build on that knowledge, no?

But the true believers in the religion of man-as-meat require a metaphysics, inasmuch as the biology is against them.

Next, they’ll be telling us how many angels can dance on the head of an infrastructure bill.

Words About Words

From the Nope Desk: “Why Young Adults Are Among the Biggest Barriers to Mass Immunity,” the New York Times reports, adding, illiterately: “Many are foregoing Covid-19 vaccines for a complex mix of reasons. Health officials are racing to find ways to change their minds.” Foregoing is going before, forgoing is doing without.

Also: Jupiter, mentioned above, is the Roman sky-father, whose name is derived from the Greek root for sky or heavenly (zeu, as in Zeus) and the familiar pater. So, literally, sky-father. These are very old roots and widespread enough that you’ll see similar words in Sanskrit. And, as Indiana Jones learned the hard way about the Latin name of another Heavenly Father, the Romans spelled it with an I: Iuppiter.

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader demands to know why I write Côte d’Ivoire instead of Ivory Coast. After all, I don’t write Italia, España, or Bhārata. Fair point. I think of the Most Interesting Man in the World in that Dos Equis commercial, who advises: “Unless we are going to conduct the entire conversation in Spanish, it is best not to begin with ¡Hola!” But Côte d’Ivoire is just a lot more fun to write, and, so, I’m sticking with it. Jay Nordlinger tells of a reader who once wrote a letter to Bill Buckley saying that he was going to cancel his National Review subscription because there was “too much untranslated French.” But not everything has to be for everybody. “You are not for all markets!”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. More thoughts on man-as-meat.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .

We have been having some work done around the house. The supervisors are at work:

But some supervisors are more dedicated than others:

And then there’s the union-mandated break:


An enjoyable read: Cultish, the Language of Fanaticism, by Amanda Montell. Also: Michael E. Ginsburg has written a thriller about one of my favorite terrors: Debt Bomb. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks like a hoot.

In Closing

Abortion is a very difficult subject — to think about, to write about, to disagree about. In that conversation, honesty and charity are desirable — but intelligence is critical. We simply cannot afford very much more stupidity on either side.

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Politics & Policy

Read Bernie’s Lips: No New Taxes*

Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to examine President Biden’s proposed budget request for fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill, June 8, 2021. (Shawn Thew/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, culture, and language, with some special attention paid to the mental and spiritual deficiencies of senators. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Biden’s Nickels, Bernie’s Dimes

Here is one you may have not seen coming: One of the holdups on that ridiculous $1 trillion infrastructure package currently idling in Congress is the fact that — picture me double-checking my notes here — Republicans want to include a tax increase, while Joe Biden and — really! — Bernie Sanders oppose it.

Strange days, indeed — most peculiar, mama!

Republicans have put forward the possibility of indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. Currently, the federal gasoline tax is structured as a flat fee of $0.183 per gallon, a rate that has been preserved in amber since Ye Olden Days of 1993, when gasoline went for an average of $1.11 per gallon. Put another way, in 1993 the federal gasoline tax was about 16.5 percent, whereas today it is about 6 percent. Indexing the tax to inflation is one way to go about rationalizing it, but a far simpler thing would be to calculate the tax as a percentage, which would keep it stable in relative terms even as the price of gasoline goes up and down, as it so often does. We already do that with sales taxes of other kinds.

Funding roads and bridges and such with a gasoline tax is an old idea and based on the principle that the people who use the roads are the people who should pay for them. That is fine as a principle, I suppose, but there isn’t really much reason to believe that it holds up as a matter of practical fact: We all use the roads, because we all move around, use products that are trucked from place to place, live in houses made of things that were not simply gathered up from the construction site, etc. When Amazon puts a tank of gasoline into a delivery van, it doesn’t just eat the expense, and (forgive me for repeating this point yet again, but it is important) it doesn’t necessarily just pass the cost on to consumers, either, because Amazon has to compete, just like any other business, and if it jacks up prices too much, shoppers will go elsewhere — and so it passes on its costs to everybody else as best it can: its employees and vendors, businesses that sell on Amazon, service providers, etc. In that way, we all pay taxes together. You should think about that when Senator Sanders talks about raising taxes on “the rich” — the rich are, for the most part, pretty good with money, which is why they are rich. A tax on Jeff Bezos or Exxon is, ultimately, a tax on you, Sunshine.

A higher gasoline tax will get passed on throughout the economy pretty easily, which is one reason it’s not a terrible tax.

Raising the tax might also create some incentives for individuals and companies to pursue greater fuel economy, though history suggests that gasoline prices have to get pretty high before Americans start passing over trucks and SUVs for economy cars. A high-enough gasoline tax might even create an incentive that would get people to choose electric or alternative-fuel cars — and Republicans can’t have that, so they’d prefer to include an equivalent fee on electric cars, too. If your big issue is environmental externalities, you can go chasing those all over the world and never really get it very well sorted out. Electric cars are far from carbon-free, but powering cars with electricity generated at a natural-gas (or nuclear!) generating plant produces a lot less carbon dioxide than does running dinosaur juice through a V-8. But a tax on electricity would have similar effects to those of a gasoline tax, creating incentives for energy efficiency and being spread out through the economy through the magical effect of nickel-and-diming consumers, workers, and business partners.

The problem with a higher gasoline tax — the problem for President Biden and for his congressional allies — is that people notice higher gasoline prices, and they hate them. They will look for someone to blame, and they will find someone. They’ll also notice when Amazon or GrubHub raises delivery fees — often, companies go out of their way to explain to consumers why they are raising prices. “Don’t blame us!” says the memo from the marketing department.

We mostly fund the federal government from taxes on income. We tax wages and salaries, we tax corporate profits, we tax gifts and inheritances, we tax investment payoffs and dividends, etc. There’s no particular reason we have to fund the federal government that way, and the policy world is full of just very very very enthusiastic people who will explain to you the merits of some other tax regime. They all have the same problem, which is that every man-jack ends up thinking he is paying too much while the other guy is paying too little.

For the past couple of weeks, we have been treated to a just astoundingly stupid series of breathless reports and vitriolic denunciations from people who are scandalized that there are some famous Americans who do not pay very much income tax because they do not have very much taxable income. Jeff Bezos is notionally the wealthiest man in the world, but it’s not like he’s got $200 billion in his Chase Sapphire Checking account. He owns a big piece of Amazon, and his net worth is approximately whatever his shares are worth right at this second. If he wants to convert that on-paper wealth into money he can spend, then he has to sell some shares, at which point he pays taxes on his capital gains. If he gets dividends, he pays taxes on those — and the dividends are paid out of funds that already have been taxed as corporate income. Most reasonably well-informed people understand this, but the angst and wailing and howling never stops, anyway, because it just seems wrong to people. But if you adopt some other tax system, it’s going to seem wrong to a lot of people in six months, too. That’s not a revenue problem — that’s a human-nature problem.

That being said, there’s a case for having several different sources of federal tax income — diversification is prudent — and for having an updated version of the gasoline tax as part of that mix. The case against raising or indexing the gasoline tax is purely political — President Biden doesn’t want to be blamed for it.

Something is going to get worked out, though, almost certainly — because almost everybody in Washington is itching to spend that $1 trillion or more. Senator Lindsey Graham (R., Slytherin), addressed the president directly: “President Biden: If you want an infrastructure deal of a trillion dollars, it is there for the taking, you just need to get involved and lead.” It would be helpful as a political matter if the president got involved, but perhaps Senator Graham could be reminded that the Senate is its own thing, and it can pass whatever kind of bill it wants. It can even override the president if he doesn’t like it. The lawmakers ought to, from time to time, make law and act like they’re in charge of it.

But I must confess that the libertarian in me is enjoying the prospect of a $1 trillion slop-bucket being derailed by a 5-cent tax hike.

Words About Words

Mike Pompeo, one of the geniuses behind Donald Trump’s foreign policy, likes the term “pipehitter.” He has a new political-action committee, called CAVPAC, which sent out a fundraising email over his signature reading, in part:

We named the organization CAVPAC as a nod to my time in the U.S. Army Cavalry — the CAV in the PAC. [Editorial note: Thank you for your service, and cue puking sounds.] My cavalry service taught me that America needs warriors who lead and are willing to ride first into the fight without fear.  CAV also stands for Champion American Values [Editorial note: More puking sounds], the values that we know have made our country exceptional.

Pompeo subsequently sent out some tweets calling for “pipehitters” to support his PAC. His website demands: “Become a Pipehitter — someone who is unapologetically American, someone who fights for our future, someone who never gives an inch, someone who is dedicated to stand against the radical Left’s agenda.”

The usual late-career Republican-hack boilerplate, except . . .

A pipehitter is a crackhead, i.e., he who hits the pipe.

By extension, the word came to be used to describe someone with a fanatical dedication to a task or cause (if you know any crackheads, you’ll understand exactly why) even to the point of disregard for personal well-being. You’ll recall Marsellus Wallace’s stated desire to recruit a couple of pipe-hitting colleagues to work over an adversary with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. (When he promises to “get medieval” on those who have wronged him, he does not mean reading them carefully selected passages from Thomas Aquinas.) Parts of the U.S. military took up “pipehitters” as a term of respect for hard men who do bad things to bad people.

“Mike Pompeo has a plan, and he needs crackheads!”

And maybe some better PR people.

Rampant Prescriptivism

When is a cat not a cat? When it is certified as a dog!

From the Salt Lake Tribune: “Rilie Atkinson, a student at the University of Utah, said that she was turned away by multiple properties despite having a cat that is certified as an emotional support animal, as well as a dog.”

Here’s one of those situations where you’ll want to use a few extra words to avoid blurriness. (Also, that first that is unneeded, and despite is the wrong word there.) Better to write: “She was turned away for having a dog and a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal.” Or “. . . a cat that is certified as an emotional-support animal and a dog that isn’t.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. There are some pipehitters in there, to be sure.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

Not a Cult

A Missouri man pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he had threatened to lynch a Black congressman the day after the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol and a Jewish congressman in 2019, court records show.

. . . Mr. Hubert acknowledged that on May 6, 2019, he had called the Washington office of Mr. Cohen, who is Jewish, and told a staff member that he had “a noose with the congressman’s name on it” and planned to “put a noose around his neck” and drag him behind his pickup truck.

Three days later, F.B.I. agents went to Mr. Hubert’s home, where he admitted making the call and said he had done so because he was offended by a comment that Mr. Cohen had made about Donald J. Trump, who was president, the agreement states.

Believe Me, It’s Not a Cult

A Connecticut man has been arrested on charges that he threatened to kill Representative Adam Schiff of California, the Democrat who was the lead impeachment manager in the House during the proceedings against President Trump, federal prosecutors announced on Monday.

The man, Robert M. Phelps, 62, of Torrington, Conn., used a meeting request form on Mr. Schiff’s congressional website to send the expletive-laden threats, which were made on Nov. 12, the eve of the first public impeachment hearing, according to a criminal complaint.

Mr. Phelps was taken into custody on Friday and made a brief appearance the same day in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. He was at least the third person to be charged with threatening Mr. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor who became the face of the impeachment case against Mr. Trump.

Totally and Completely Not a Cult

A Trump supporter who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 threatened on social media to assassinate Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that day and also threatened the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot a woman as she tried to enter the Speaker’s Lobby, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Garret Miller, 34, of Richardson, Texas, was arrested on Wednesday and charged with, among other things, threats, knowingly entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, according to a criminal complaint.

. . . Writing on Facebook on Jan. 16, Mr. Miller said the officer was “not going to survive long,” and he claimed that “millions” of people agreed with him that the officer deserved “to die,” the complaint said.

. . . “Mr. Miller regrets the acts he took in a misguided effort to show his support for former President Trump,” [his lawyer] said.

Some People Are Saying It’s a Cult

Prosecutors have added five felony weapons and assault counts against a white man already charged with attempted murder for shooting into a car carrying four Black girls during a rally for President Donald Trump in Iowa.

We Have the Best Cultists

A supporter of former President Trump has been found guilty of threatening to kill lawmakers before President Biden’s inauguration in January. . . . [Brendan] Hunt said in the video that people should take guns to Biden’s inauguration later that month and “literally just spray these motherf—ers.”

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Hiding the Facts from Readers Is the Opposite of a Journalist’s Job

Police investigate the scene of a shooting in the Sixth Street entertainment district of Austin, Texas, June 12, 2021. (Nuri Vallbona/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, politics, and culture. (And, when you’re lucky, dachshunds.) To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

Start with the Facts

On Monday morning, my wife showed me a “blue alert.” A bald guy with a beard riding a motorcycle had shot a cop. She read me the description. “You check a lot of boxes,” she said.

Motorcyclists as a group have a bad reputation, and that’s not new: In the immediate post-war years (the era famously depicted in The Wild One), the American Motorcycle Association apparently felt the need to put out a statement insisting that 99 percent of all motorcyclists were decent, law-abiding people — at which point, the nation’s nascent outlaw-biker gangs embraced the designation you can still see on their patches today: “1%.”

The stereotypes about motorcyclists are probably unfair. (To say nothing of the stereotypes about Tatars, who apparently look so suspicious that they sometimes — more often than you’d think! — get stopped by the police for the suspicious activity of taking a walk down the street they live on.) But if the police are on the hunt for a bikerish-looking white guy, that’s usually what they say, and for good reason — white and male alone are enough to eliminate about 75 percent of the residents of Dallas County (where that police shooting took place), and, if you add in the bald head and the beard and other reasonably visible attributes, you can eliminate most of the population. Assuming that your average Texas biker isn’t traveling around with a Simon Templar–style disguise kit, police looking for that suspect can ignore the women, the African Americans, the ginger dudes with long red ponytails, this guy, etc.

You say what you’re looking for: standard, reasonable stuff. An inconvenience for those of us who get stopped for looking suspicious, to be sure, but the world is an imperfect place.

As you may have heard, on Friday night there was a mass shooting in Austin, Texas, in the Sixth Street entertainment district. Fourteen people were shot; as of this writing, one has died. This apparently wasn’t one of those loser-shoots-up-his-school mass shootings, but one of the more common shootings involving “some kind of disturbance between two parties,” as the police put it. So the shooter didn’t kill himself or wait around for the police and force them into shooting him. He fled, and the police, naturally, put out a description of him.

The Austin American-Statesman, the local daily, refused to publish that description. Instead, it put this editor’s note at the end of its report:

Editor’s note: Police have only released a vague description of the suspected shooter as of Saturday morning. The American-Statesman is not including the description as it is too vague at this time to be useful in identifying the shooter and such publication could be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes. If more detailed information is released, we will update our reporting.

Some of you will have guessed that this “vague description” did not involve a MAGA hat or a Confederate-flag T-shirt.

In fact, the description put out by the police was that of a black man with a skinny build and dreadlocks. Vague? Maybe. But nonetheless useful, and the Statesman is obviously wrong — and must know it — to claim otherwise. Black men compose about 4 percent of the population of Travis County. Skinny black men with dreadlocks (or braids — witnesses sometimes say one when they mean the other) make up an even smaller share of the population. In a county of 1.3 million people, eliminating 96 percent or 99 percent of the population is useful.

A suspect, a minor, was arrested over the weekend. A second suspect remains at large as of this writing. The local newspaper won’t tell you the relevant information about him, either.

What are newspapers for?

Newspapers exist to tell people about what is happening. If newspapers are sometimes instruments of justice and enlightenment, it is because facts — and the vigorous if necessarily imperfect pursuit of them — sometimes are instruments of justice and enlightenment. That is what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he observed: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” But that, of course, assumes that newspapers are doing what they are supposed to do.

I used to give a lecture about the culture of American journalism in which I mentioned the House of Elzevir, the great Dutch book-printer (the modern publisher is named in its honor) that made it its business to publish things that certain authorities elsewhere in Europe did not wish to see published, most famously Galileo’s Two New Sciences. In the fight between the printers and the Inquisition, journalists used to know what side they were on. But in our time, the most powerful forces in media have got in touch with their inner Torquemadas and feel the need to quash heresy before it can pollute the minds of the pure and the blameless. We even have an Index, of sorts, courtesy of Jeff Bezos et al.

If you believe that doing good necessitates keeping things from readers — or willfully misleading readers, as the Statesman did — then you have no business being in journalism. You should go do something else — join a cult, or seek out work in Amazon’s book-banning department, which amounts to much the same thing.

The Statesman here is following a lamentable precedent. The worst episode — the one that stands out most in my mind — involved a cover story in the Philadelphia Daily News, one of those spirited democratic tabloids of which the New York Post is the platonic ideal. Philadelphia was suffering a crime wave with an elevated number of murders, and so the Daily News published an interesting piece about the shocking number of fugitives wanted on murder charges who remained at large. The cover contained mugshots of all the current fugitives, all of whom were men and none of whom was white. The predictable uproar ensued, and the editors of the Daily News allowed themselves to be bullied into publishing an apology for acknowledging the facts. It was one of the all-time-low moments in modern American journalism, one that emboldened practitioners of the now-familiar mob-rule model of media management. Shameful stuff.

This isn’t how you make things better. This is how you make things worse.

Singapore, to take a counterexample, has a local civic culture that is at times stultifying — some critics say repressive — and one feature of that culture is that journalists, intellectuals, and other voices in the public discourse rarely acknowledge ethnic or religious tensions. There is some official censorship, but — as the American Left is learning to its great satisfaction — self-censorship is more effective. Scandinavia has its Janteloven to enforce herd culture, Japan its conformist ethic. But the United States is not very much like Singapore or Denmark or Japan. In our open, irascible, competitive culture, social problems do not get better when we refuse to acknowledge them or to talk about them openly — they fester, instead.

There are many complex issues touching the situation of African Americans vis-à-vis crime, police, and incarceration. None of them will be improved by adopting superstitious speech norms that prevent newspapers from reporting the facts about a given crime, including descriptions of the suspects. And the silly way the Austin American-Statesman did it — Gee, I wonder which stereotype was on their mind? — is as destructive as it is ridiculous. They may as well have written: “He’s black, okay? According to the description, anyway. You’re thinking he is, we know you are, and we’d rather not talk about it, so don’t make a big deal about it, alright?”

If you think the way to address our thorniest and most sensitive problems is to not talk about them — and to go out of your way to hide unwelcome facts related to them — then, for goodness sake, don’t become a newspaper editor. Go sell hotdogs.

Aptronym Alert

From the New York Times:

In 1917, when Marshall Field & Co. moved its underwear and bedspread manufacturing from Illinois to the town of Leaksville, which consolidated with two other towns to form Eden in the 1960s, it was to be closer to non-unionized labor and cotton, a raw material used in many of its products. Though known today for its former retail empire, Marshall Field had an equally important wholesale business that supplied its stores and others.

Moving your underwear business to Leaksville sounds like a piss-poor plan to me.

In Other News . . .

I’m the wrong Kevin Williamson to consult on Scottish questions (though I have written a bit about “Scottish” issues), but I think this from the New York Times is a charming example of how tribalism produces the occasional good result, at least when it comes to what Charlie Cooke probably still secretly calls “football”:

Tam Coyle, a veteran of more than 100 overseas games since 1985, recalled how fans started a chant with lyrics that included the words “We’re the famous Tartan Army, and not the English hooligans.” And Richard McBrearty, the curator of the Scottish Football Museum in Glasgow, said the rivalry with England was so deep that even the Scots’ reputation for good behavior could be traced to it.

“The Scottish fans wanted to isolate themselves,” he said. “They wanted to say, ‘Look at us, we are better than the English.’”

I wish I could direct some of that energy into the United States, sometimes, if I could be confident that it would make people who feel threatened by Asian immigrants start more businesses and work harder in school.

Words About Words

From Slate:

Over the past several years, Yale Law School has faced a number of controversies involving two of its best-known professors: Amy Chua and her husband Jed Rubenfeld. The pair are the closest thing Yale Law has to a celebrity power couple, less for their legal and academic achievements than their boundary-pushing bestsellers and op-eds.

Professor Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and the co-author, with her husband, of The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, in which she argues that the secret to Chinese-American motherhood (and the parenting of other successful minority groups) is to make your children believe that they are part of a superior, high-performing community while simultaneously making them anxious about their individual achievements and, hence, their status within that high-achieving community — a programmatic approach to high expectations. I am reminded here of Jay Nordlinger’s wonderful account of the Indian educator Ben Chavis’s response to the charge of “acting white”: “‘Acting white’ is not enough. I’m acting Jewish. Or maybe Chinese.”

Professor Chua is, in my view, a bland but very competent writer, producing the sort of prose one associates with Ivy League law-school faculty. I don’t know how much meaningful boundary-pushing she does. Her most famous essay (the basis of Tiger Mother) was published in the Wall Street Journal. Her books are sold in airports and read by people who would otherwise be reading The Economist or a Malcolm Gladwell book. Not exactly samizdat. Not exactly the Marquis de Sade — or even Joe Rogan, for that matter .

Ah, but she’s at Yale. And there are people at Yale and at likeminded institutions who are very interested in redrawing boundaries in such a way as to place Professor Chua outside of them.

Boundary-pushing is like accountability and offensive: Whose boundaries? Accountability to whom? Offensive to whom? Language of the sort deployed in the Slate article is designed intentionally to obscure that issue, because acknowledging it would raise the question: Why should we, or anybody else, defer to your claim to the power to set the limits of public discourse? Why shouldn’t we think of this as a naked power grab on your part?

Which is, of course, what it is.

A culture in which Amy Chua is pushing up against the boundaries is a culture with some problems. I pity the novelists and the poets. Or I might, if they weren’t leading the charge for narrower boundaries.

And Furthermore . . .

The New York Herald once complained that the late 19th century was the Age of Shoddy. Shoddy at the time was both an adjective and a noun, referring to a kind of cheap cloth.

The world has seen its silver age, its golden age. This is the age of shoddy. The new brown-stone palaces on Fifth Avenue, the new equipages at the Park, the new diamonds which dazzle unaccustomed eyes, the new people who live in the palaces, and ride in the carriages, and wear the diamonds and silk—all are shoddy. Six days in the week they are shoddy businessmen. On the seventh day they are shoddy Christians.

But the Age of Shoddy has come and gone. As attested to by the items above, this is the Age of Petty.

And Even Furthermore . . .

The ghost of Yogi Berra apparently is writing for Sports Illustrated, insisting, on the matter of Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer: “These pitchers’ hands have become the face of a scandal.”

And thus does the literal facepalm meet the metaphorical one.

Rampant Prescriptivism

About last week’s column, a reader observes: “You were slow to point out that the permafrost is thawing quickly, not ‘fast.’ Unless it is engaged in fast motion while also thawing. Which I suppose it is, from a Galilean perspective.” For the record, I was not slow to point that out — I didn’t point it out at all, so I was remiss rather than slow.

Another reader wants to know why I wrote was instead of were in this sentence:

If all you ever saw of Europe was the nice parts of Amsterdam, the nice part of Zurich (which, in fairness, is called “Zurich”), the Louvre, Kensington, etc., then you might indeed share Thomas Friedman’s view of the world, that when it comes to cities and infrastructure, we are the Flintstones compared with the Jetsons abroad.

“I’m sure you have an unassailable reason for using was,” he writes.

Nope. Were is what you want there.

The subjunctive mood in English — how it is written, whether that matters, its relationship to kinda-sorta-but-maybe-not-technically subjunctive forms — is a hotly disputed topic, one of those debates in which grammar and philosophy complicate each other. In general, we use the “bare” or uninflected form of a verb with the subjunctive, to express things that are possible but not actually known to be the case at this time: “It is critical that the president know his talking points,” as opposed to “The president already knows his talking points.” “We asked that he listen closely,” as opposed to “He listens closely” or “He listened closely.”

The conditional counterfactual, as in my sentence above, generally gets a were rather than a was, though some grammarians insist that this doesn’t really matter, that it’s a grammatical-virtue-signaling bugaboo. As usual, I think it’s better to use different words and different forms for different things. “‘Here I raise my Ebenezer’ is one of those hymn lines that would befuddle you if all you knew of the Bible were the lectionary.” Or: “If he were in better shape, then he wouldn’t be wheezing.” This is sometimes called the irrealis were. The irrealis mood expresses things that are not currently known to be the case, as opposed to the realis mood, which is used for statements of fact.

If you want to dig in a little, I recommend this discussion from Merriam-Webster.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Fun fact: Many of the Amazon reviews of this book illustrate the thesis of my earlier book, The Smallest Minority. To quote the great philosopher K.: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

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After watching the series and on the recommendation of many readers, I’ve been reading Wolf Hall. All the praise is warranted — and I am not naturally sympathetic to people called “Cromwell.” As a fan of A Man for All Seasons, it is fun to see the same story told with the hero and villain reversed.

In Closing

If you are wondering about that “Ebenezer,” it is not Mr. Scrooge but a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12 in the 18th-century hymn, “O, Thou Font of Every Blessing.” The short version: Samuel wins a big battle and drives the enemy back to a certain point at which he erects a stone monument he calls “Ebenezer,” or “stone of help,” saying, “Up to this point, the Lord has helped us.”

There is a kind of wonderful humility — and an antidote to fanaticism — in that:

“Is God on your side, Samuel?”

“So far.”


Thinking Honestly about Health Care, Welfare, and Taxes

A doctor holds a stethoscope in the Intensive Care Unit at the Melun-Senart hospital near Paris, France, October 30, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language and politics and culture and sundry and divers shenanigans, but not about the ancient Germanic god of war and sky, though I do reserve the right to change the name to the Týsdagr if that should change. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

The Persistent Power of Invincible Ignorance

Forgive my plucking a comment from the obscurity of Twitter to make an example of, but it is a useful one. In an exchange about health-care policy, a professor of political science at a major American university asked a familiar question: Why is it that some Americans apparently believe that the United States is incapable of managing a single-payer health-care system like France’s?

You’ll see the problem there.

The fact is that nobody actually knows whether France or the United States is capable of managing a single-payer health-care system, because neither country has single-payer health care. Not many countries do.

France’s health-care system is different from the U.S. system in important ways, but it is in other ways quite similar: It is based on insurance. As in the Swiss system and the original version of the Affordable Care Act regime, that insurance is compulsory. Patients pay for their health care and then are reimbursed — but not for the full amount — by their insurers. The French generally have to consult with a general practitioner before being referred to a specialist, they must pay lab fees, etc. About a quarter of the hospitals are for-profit and the rest are either private nonprofits or public. There is an extensive system of subsidies and price controls. What the French do not have — and what almost none of the countries of Western Europe and few countries around the world have — is single-payer, a public-monopoly model of health care found in the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and a few other countries.

There is much to admire in European governance and much that Americans — conservative and progressive both — could learn from the successes of Western Europe and the Nordic countries in particular. It also is the case, I’m afraid, that a great deal of American thinking about European governance is based on the experiences of tourists and business travelers. If all you ever saw of Europe was the nice parts of Amsterdam, the nice part of Zurich (which, in fairness, is called “Zurich”), the Louvre, Kensington, etc., then you might indeed share Thomas Friedman’s view of the world, that when it comes to cities and infrastructure, we are the Flintstones compared with the Jetsons abroad. Friedman originally made that observation after flying from Hong Kong to JFK — but you get much the same sensation flying from Schiphol or Geneva or, in spite of the Italian reputation for organizational dysfunction, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino. But journey out into the exurbs of Amsterdam or Rome and you’ll see a very different world. There are many Americans who would be happy to trade our problems for those of the Netherlands or Sweden, and many who would not. The more you know, the less obvious it is: Silicon Valley tech types with impeccably progressive credentials bemoan the persistently dirigiste model of business in Western Europe.

Which is to say, in order to learn from European practice, it is necessary to understand what it is the European actually do — and, of course, there is no “European” model of health care: Sweden and Switzerland have very different systems. But American progressives, and a surprising number of conservatives, believe that Europeans can simply go to the doctor and receive free treatment with no copays, cost-sharing, or medical bills, simply because their governments aren’t dominated by mean meanies like Mitch McConnell or the memory of Paul Ryan. (I really do wish that Paul Ryan had had the lasting effect on American governance that his progressive critics attribute to him — the country would be better for it.) There are many European systems, but most of them look more like Obamacare than they do the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Even Norway has an annual deductible.

That isn’t an argument against single-payer in and of itself. It’s an argument against lazy thinking and mindless tropes.

Another perennial favorite is the idea that the Europeans can afford their relatively generous welfare states because they freeload on the American military presence in Europe, that NATO is a subsidy for European social programs. That isn’t really true, either: France, which is Europe’s biggest social-welfare spender, is also its biggest military spender. Sweden, famous for its comprehensive welfare state, announced in December that it will increase its military spending by 40 percent in the near future. The United Kingdom and Australia manage to fund their single-payer health-care systems even as they spend a larger share of GDP on defense than does China. While it is the case that most of our NATO allies fall short of the 2 percent benchmark for military spending, the European countries aren’t really the outliers when it comes to defense. The United States is at the high end, along with Russia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, while pacifistic Japan brings up the rear. Of course, it matters what you choose to count: Defense as share of GDP gives one measure, defense as share of government spending gives another: Thrifty Singapore has a relatively small public sector, but it dedicates about a third of its spending to the military, while the United States earmarks far less of its budget for the military, choosing instead to fund entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare.

But you’d be surprised how very little worldly people know about the world, and how much of our political discourse consists of “I went to Copenhagen once and it was really nice so let’s have socialism.” It is bananas. When I was covering Bernie Sanders’s bad-granddad presidential campaign in Iowa, an enthusiastic Sanders supporter told me that she was hoping to move with her husband to a socialist country. I asked her which one. She said: Germany — the place where Porsches come from, a thoroughly capitalistic, trade-oriented country that has been governed by its conservative party since Billie Eilish was in preschool.

The big difference between the United States and most of the wealthy European countries isn’t defense spending, and it isn’t single-payer health care — it’s taxes. Sweden can afford a magnificent welfare state because middle-class Swedes pay much higher taxes than do middle-class Americans. That’s the most remarkable difference between American and European practice. In both contexts, the poor are taxed relatively lightly while businesses and high-income people are taxed at comparable rates — the top individual tax rate in France is 45 percent vs. 37 percent in the United States. (N.B.: There is much more to a tax system than statutory rates.) But in the United States, the bottom half of all earners pay almost no federal income tax, while the broad middle is very lightly taxed by world standards. The share of taxes paid by the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States is nearly twice what it is in France. And that’s not because we tax the rich more, but because we tax the middle class less.

And that is one of the reasons why there is such a market for cultivated ignorance among those who would prefer to have a much larger welfare state. I have never encountered a single Democratic politician of any consequence who is willing to forthrightly admit that paying for a European-style welfare state will necessitate European-style taxes on the middle class. Even Bernie Sanders, who comes as close to admitting this as anyone on the national stage I’ve seen, mostly pretends that it isn’t the case and that we can pay for everything by jacking up taxes on Jeff Bezos, a couple of Wall Street guys nobody likes, and the members of the “allah-garchy” he is always honking about.

We can’t have a useful debate about the real choices in front of us unless we are willing to be honest about what those choices are. And it’s a damned rare specimen in Washington who is willing to face those facts — even in private.

Words about Words

I don’t know whether the humor of the New York Times is puerile in this case or purely unintentional:

Kathryn Garcia Doesn’t Want to Be Anyone’s No. 2: Ms. Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, faces the challenge of persuading New York city voters to elect a political newcomer as mayor.

But I am pretty sure this minor illiteracy is unintentional:

In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install “chillers” into the permafrost — which is thawing fast because of climate change — to keep it solid enough to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt.

That which is Kafkaesque isn’t merely paradoxical — it is contradictory or logically impossible in some surreal and nightmarish way, which is not exactly the same thing. Charlie’s recent experience with the British quarantine regime was Kafkaesque, inasmuch as he was obliged to take a test he could not possibly take — a test on the eighth day of a seven-day stay.

But, even if it we include the paradox in the Kafkaesque, the example above is not a paradox. There isn’t anything paradoxical about using chillers to solidify permafrost that is thawing because of climate change, although it is ironic.

Rampant Prescriptivism

More from the Times:

On infrastructure, Republicans offered a fraction of the spending in the Biden plan.

Do yourself a favor and avoid that very stupid formulation. If Republicans were offering Biden 99 percent of what he was asking for on infrastructure, that would be a fraction of his request: 99/100. If they were offering him 150 percent of what he asked for, that, too, would be a fraction: 3/2. If they offered him exactly what he asked for, we could express that as a fraction, too — 1/1 — though it would be odd to write it that way.

Better to indicate which fraction: If it is half, or a tenth, that tells you something. But to write “a fraction” is not to say “a great deal less.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here.

You can read a “Religion Unplugged” review of Big White Ghetto here. My thanks to Professor Robert Carle.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

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To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

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It is not a new book, but if you are interested in what was really going on in the Cold War — something we seem to be forgetting rapidly — you might enjoy Paul Lettow’s Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. We forget what a committed peacenik the alleged ol’ warmonger was.

Destroyer Update

Readers demand, I deliver. Katy and Pancake after a hard day’s destruction.

Pancake is not sure about this new dog.

In Closing

I understand my former colleagues at The Atlantic are forming a union in the hope that it will help them to cultivate intellectual diversity on the staff. I do wish them the best of luck with that.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

National Security & Defense

Dispatches from the Future Front

U.S. Army troops with Second Battalion, Fifth Cavalry Regiment, and Croatian soldiers stand in front of the vehicles they used in the exercise Immediate Response combined-arms live-fire demonstration at Eugen Kvaternik Military Training Area in Slunj, Croatia, May 26, 2021. (Sergeant Joshua Oh/US Army)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics. This week includes a long q-and-a with retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, who has a new book out today. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will, follow this link.

Today’s Politics, Tomorrow’s Warfare

Ben Hodges, the author (more precisely, one of three co-authors) of Future War and the Defence of Europe, has the right résumé for the book: United States Military Academy, Army Infantry School, National War College, etc. — and, outside the classroom, he commanded the 101st Airborne’s 1st Brigade in Operation Iraqi Freedom, served as director of operations for Regional Command South in Kandahar, and ran the Joint Staff’s Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell. He began his military career in Germany and returned to Europe as commander of the U.S. Army Europe. He retired as a lieutenant general and set up shop in Frankfurt as a strategic-studies specialist with the Center for European Policy Analysis.

That’s the short version of his curriculum vitae. And so when he says the United States needs to strengthen its defense and security relations with the Europeans because of the likelihood that U.S. forces will be engaged with Russia and China simultaneously, he is someone you listen to.

Our conversation has been edited a bit for brevity and clarity and to address my unfortunate habit of saying Balkans when I mean Baltics and vice versa.

Q:  You focus on the Black Sea and the Baltics — why?

The Black Sea is the real cauldron of competition between Russia and the West. The Baltic Sea is traditionally important to them — St. Petersburg is there, and part of their access to the Atlantic comes out of the Baltic Sea, Kaliningrad is sovereign Russian territory, an oblast. But in terms of economic impact and their ability to really influence things, the Black Sea is more important to the Russians. It’s their launching pad for everything they do in the South Caucusus, in the Balkans, and, of course, in the Middle East and in Africa, in the Eastern Med[iterranean]. Their support for the Assad regime in Syria, for example — which has had no positive outcomes for anybody else except the Kremlin and the Assad family — was only possible because of their illegal annexation of Crimea. They are able to use force against Georgia — 20 percent is occupied by Russians — Transnistria still has Russian peacekeepers, and what they’re doing in Ukraine is quite well-known. This is real competition, and the West is just not paying attention to it.

Q: Our relationship with Russia seems confused. When it comes to online shenanigans, they’re Public Enemy No. 1, but when it comes to Russian troops on the ground in places they don’t belong, we shrug it off.

During the Obama administration, with the “reset” with Secretary Clinton, there was an attempt to work with the Kremlin in the mistaken belief that you could deal with the Kremlin like you could deal with another European country. We tried to imagine situations and think about how they might act through Western eyes vs. how Putin thinks. There has been a refusal, or at least a reluctance, on the part of Western political leaders, in Europe and in the U.S., to even consider that they have very bad intentions, believing that they are somehow interested in a win-win outcome — they’re only interested in a win outcome. You hear the Germans and the French saying we have to keep a dialogue going and all that, but, since 2008, the Russians have invaded Georgia and Ukraine, they have troops all these different places, and they never back down — they may stop, but then they keep going again. What we saw six weeks ago was a continuation of that.

I can remember the White House tapping the brakes on us on some exercises we were doing in Poland, for example, back in 2016, saying, “Take it easy; you’re going to provoke the Russians.” Which is ridiculous. Then the Trump administration came in, and, of course, that was a catastrophe when it came to dealing with Russia. And now the Biden administration comes in, and I have to say I’m disappointed there. When President Biden said in his first phone call with President Putin that Ukrainian sovereignty is a priority for the United States, I thought: “All right! That’s a hell of a policy statement!” Of course, we have no strategy that underpins it, and you can’t have a strategy for the Black Sea region if you haven’t figured out a strategy for how you’re going to deal with Russia. And now there’s a feeling that we’re going down the same path of thinking we can deal with these guys, negotiate with them — forget it, that’s not who they are and have been for hundreds of years. I don’t know why we allow ourselves to continue to be surprised.

Q: In the near term, what should change to make our policy more realistic?

No. 1, we have to get our European allies [engaged]. The ones in Eastern Europe already get it. The ones in Western Europe are more reluctant to address the Kremlin as a serious potential adversary. You have to acknowledge the threat before you can expect people to actually do something. If you are a political leader, then once you acknowledge a threat you are compelled to do something.

None of this means we isolate the Kremlin or shut the door — it’s a great country with limitless resources, and the changing polar ice cap means that they are going to be involved in a lot of really important stuff for all of us. But you have to deal with them from a position of strength. They’ll cry about it, but that’s all they respect.

No. 2, I would like to hear the president declare that we have a strategy for how we’re going to deal with the Kremlin, including in the Black Sea region, in the Arctic, and in the Baltics. He could even say, “It’s not ready yet, but I’ve got my best people working on it, because we’re going to have a strategy and we’re going to prioritize resources.” Because, right now, the feeling is: “Well, Russia’s bad, but we can contain this, and the real threat’s China.” We don’t get to choose the threats. They’re all threats.

Q: How much of our trouble with the Europeans is their failing to take the problem seriously enough, and how much of it is the fear that we are no longer a credible ally?

I would say the former more than the latter. Sweden, Finland, Baltics, Poland, Romania — they get it. But when you go west of there, less so. Even in the U.K., I’ve been surprised by how quiet they’ve been about what Russia is doing in Ukraine, for example. In Western Europe, it’s more about failure to acknowledge the threat. But none of them have been encouraged by what appears to be a wavering U.S. commitment. I used to say, at the beginning of the Trump administration: “Don’t pay attention to the tweets — look at what’s happening on the ground. Because, actually, U.S. boots on the ground in Europe increased during the time of President Trump. And this has continued in the early months of the Biden administration. But people are not comforted by that when they see the Biden administration waiving the sanctions on the head of Nord Stream 2. Of course, this is because we need Germany as our most important ally in Europe. But I can’t see any evidence that Germany has said, “Okay, we’ll deal with the Kremlin, we’ll bring them around and make them comply.” So, what was the quid here?

Q: And what does the U.S.–European relationship look like from your vantage point in Germany?

I would say that it is better now than it was just a few months ago, if just because the tone has changed. Nobody doubts that President Biden is a committed trans-Atlanticist and committed to NATO: Secretary Austin has made it clear, Secretary Blinken has made it clear. So, at least you don’t have that anxiety about the president of the United States at a summit blowing the thing up. The next summit is in two weeks here, and there’s nobody worried that Joe Biden is going to say, “All right, you guys suck, I’m outta here!” So, that’s helpful.

And, of course, the Defender 21 exercises are under way, with tens of thousands of troops, from the U.S. and other allies, with a huge investment to bring equipment over from the States, to move around Europe and practice — that’s significant, and that has not gone unnoticed.

But then there are the policy issues: Nord Stream 2, a very weak response to [Russian foreign minister Sergei] Lavrov’s claim at the Arctic Council meeting that the Arctic “is all our land,” even the response to [Alexander] Lukashenko’s seizing that Ryanair flight — there’s no way that could have happened without Kremlin knowledge, because the air-defense systems of the two countries are totally integrated. Then there were the two U.S. Navy ships that were headed to the Black Sea a few weeks ago that were stopped before going into the Black Sea. Our great Navy is not scared of anybody, but the decision to stop them would have been made, obviously, well above the admiral level. The way it was explained — or not explained — it looks like we were intimidated and scared away. That’s not how great-power competition is supposed to work.

Q: What do you think about the “strategic autonomy” that the European have spent so much time talking about in recent years?

The problem with strategic autonomy is that there is no official definition of it. It’s just kind of batted around without any common understanding of what it means. So we all try to guess what it means and what are the implications.

But the nations of Europe have always been able to make their own decisions. If this was created because France, for example, wanted a free hand to do things in Africa or the Mediterranean, they never had to ask American permission. So I don’t know what problem they’re trying to solve. I do think that there’s a defense-industry aspect to this, that they would like to see more of the defense industries of Europe combine together and for European nations not to buy American-made systems. So there’s an economic aspect.

Frankly, the United States would love to see Europeans take on more responsibility — they’re going to have to. If we’re in a conflict in the Indo-Pacific region, which I think is a real possibility in the next five or six years, then most of our Navy, Air Force, and intel is going to be focused on that region. To make sure the Kremlin does not take advantage of that, we’re going to need a very strong European pillar to continue to deter the Kremlin while most U.S. capability is focused in the Pacific.

We should keep working to remove all doubt about America’s commitment to Europe. And we’re not here just to protect Europeans — the EU is our biggest trading partner. It’s in our economic interest that Europe is prosperous, stable, and secure, even if they didn’t pay one euro, pound, or krona for their own defense. We have to talk more about how it’s in our interest to continue to contribute to NATO and to have a stable, secure, prosperous Europe. That would help.

And we don’t have the capacity to do anything by ourselves anymore, even with this massive defense budget. So we need to stay engaged here.

We also need a more sophisticated focus on what burden-sharing means. There has been so much focus on 2 percent [of GDP that NATO countries are expected to spend on defense] that we’ve lost perspective on what we really are after. Instead of 2 percent, what do we really need from Germany? What do we need from Italy? What do we need from Lithuania? That’s the collective “we” — NATO, not the U.S. And I think that would go a long way toward improving the willingness of nations to invest in collective security.

Q: As we work to remove doubts about our commitment, isn’t there some grounds for that doubt?


President Obama said, “Pivot to the Pacific,” a bad choice of words. “Pivot” means “turn away from and turn to.” As soon as he said that, I was getting questions from Europeans. “Are you leaving?” And then the Trump administration significantly increased the doubt. Now, the Biden administration has some work to do.

Q: You said earlier it was likely that in the next few years we would be drawn into a conflict in the Indo-Pacific. What does that look like?

Missiles, planes, ships, submarines, long-range fires. . . . I don’t see land forces on the Asian continent.

Q: I meant: With whom? Are you talking about a war with China?

Absolutely. The Chinese have watched how we in the West have responded to Russia’s continued invasions — sanctions, but nothing too powerful. They see that we in the West didn’t do crap after they smashed the protesters in Hong Kong, not even the Brits. The Chinese Communist Party is emboldened by that. The well-known fake islands down in the South China Sea and the claims they make — the Chinese pretty much do with impunity what they want down there. Even when an international court rules in favor of the Philippines, the Chinese are like, “Try to stop me.” The Chinese fishing fleet is in effect an arm of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], and this is one of those situations in which it is very likely that somebody shoots or does something.

And then you’ve got Taiwan. The language coming out of Beijing about Taiwan is increasingly aggressive and militaristic. That would be a hell of a mission for the PLA, to seize Taiwan, but it won’t be like Normandy: There will be all kinds of other things happening, like cyber-sabotage. And I think Xi is on the clock, that he wants his legacy to be that he was the guy who got Taiwan back.

And China’s on the clock. Their demographics are very bad, and they just announced today that families can have three kids instead of two. But it’s going to be 19 or 20 years before those new children are ready to be privates in the Chinese army.

I don’t have any special access to intel. But a couple of people who do have access to intel — Admiral [Phil] Davidson, who just gave up command of the Indo-Pacific, and the admiral who took his place — have both said [that they expect a conflict within] six years.

Q: And if the Chinese decide to take Taiwan tomorrow, what does the United States do?

That’s a great question. The language from various administrations consistently gives the implication that we would defend Taiwan, but there’s not an alliance compact. So, is it shaking your fist? Strong statements in the U.N.? Those are all completely and totally empty. I imagine the White House, the Pentagon, and the Indo-Pacific command have a series of options that they have thought through, but I don’t know.

What’s a strong response? Is it kinetic? Isolating China? That’s where the Chinese have some advantage — in the economic sphere. We have to work together: the United States, the EU, Canada, the U.K., Australia, India, Japan — that’s a lot of economic power. If you work in concert, you could probably exercise leverage over the Chinese.

But, right now, there’s a Chinese economic-advocacy office in the building next to me. They’re all over Germany. We have thousands of rail cars every month that show up in Duisberg coming from Shanghai. There is deep investment, and deep control, of infrastructure here in Europe.

Q: Your list of countries makes me wonder: Is India still on the team? Managing coalitions is hard, and getting harder, because of the populism and nationalism that we have seen in response to what we call, for lack of a better term, globalization. Does that seem right to you?

The [Narendra] Modi government is under serious pressure right now because of COVID and its implications for the economy. Part of our ability to resist what the Chinese are doing and what the Russians are doing is based on the resilience of societies. Do people trust their government? That doesn’t mean you love everything about it, but do you trust it? Do you trust elections? Your judiciary? Do you have confidence that the government is doing its best? Those vulnerabilities are what the Chinese and the Russians go after, to exploit distrust. They go after weak societies that don’t have great resilience. It comes down to leadership: Can elected officials regain the confidence of a majority of their populations?

I just saw this unbelievable video of retired Lieutenant General Mike Flynn at a Memorial Day event in Texas, and he was asked by a veteran in the audience: “Why can’t we do what they did in Myanmar?” A military coup. And Mike Flynn said, “It should happen here.”

My God. That’s the kind of thing enemies of our country will exploit.

Q: Why write Future War?

I was excited about the project because I wanted to address what the impact of technology in warfare might look like. But also this notion that you and I have been discussing: that the United States is going to need European allies to deter the Kremlin or, if deterrence fails, to defeat Russian forces, probably while simultaneously being engaged with Chinese forces as well. I’d never been part of a book project before. And the publicity gives me a chance to talk about the issues that the book is about. It’s not Tom Clancy. It’s aimed at influencers and policy-makers across Europe and in the United States.

Q: You say your year in Afghanistan was the hardest of your service. What do you make of what’s happening there now?

I agree with President Biden’s decision to pull out: No. 1, it’s not ever going to get better. Two more years, five more years, the Taliban is not going to surrender — it’s not going to happen. No. 2, we were not willing to do what was necessary with Pakistan to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I mean, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan — and he wasn’t hiding in a cave. [We need to address] the ability of the Taliban and other extremist organizations to use Pakistan and then come in — if we aren’t willing to do that, then I don’t know how you justify continuing to send young women and men into Afghanistan, not to mention the money. Third, I’m not an advocate for high taxes, but if we weren’t willing to raise taxes to pay for this deployment, then there’s no pressure on the Congress, because the average American family, unless they have a family member there, they don’t feel it. It doesn’t impact their lives. So there was no pressure to get it done.

Of course, I worry what happens to women there now, and what else happens in the aftermath. We will retain the right and ability to go back in and smash something if we need to. And that’s what we should have done 18 years ago: walk away but retain the ability to smash.

Q: Final thoughts?

Today [as we conduct this interview] is Memorial Day back in the States. People are never sure how to wish you a happy Memorial Day, because it isn’t happy. The best way we can pay respect to the women and men who have been killed in our nation’s wars is to make sure that we never send someone else to a war where we haven’t thought it through to the end. Nobody should die in a conflict where we’re not even sure about it.

. . .

Future War and the Defence of Europe will be published in the United States today, and a German-language edition will appear in the spring.

Words About Words

Many years ago, when I was given a copy-editing test for a job at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, I made one mistake: Having recently returned from working in India, I dropped in a British defence when I meant a good ol’ American defense. Future War and the Defence of Europe is an Oxford University Press book first published in the United Kingdom, hence defence.

British and American: Vive la différense.

(No, that doesn’t work that way — French is a well-policed language.)

On the fun-but-not-fun front, Fox News reports: “Two people fatally killed after car struck on Georgia state highway.” It’s bad enough to be killed, but to be fatally killed — oh!

Rampant Prescriptivism

Snopes debunks an Internet image purporting to show Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas. The story includes a reference to — sic, damn your eyes! — “Dr. Pepper.”

There’s no period in Dr Pepper.

This isn’t mere pedantry. (Mere!) This subject ends up being a subtle one. Generally speaking, you want to write brand names, the names of organizations, and such the way the parties named write the names themselves. But there are limits. The PGA Tour, for example, insists that it is PGA TOUR, all-caps. But that’s ridiculous, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to write it that way. Likewise, you are free to make fun of real-estate agents who insist that they are Realtors™. Panic at the Disco was, for a long time, Panic! at the Disco. And then there is Therapy? as the Nineties band styled itself.

The name as written by its owner gets the benefit of the doubt, but there are limits.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

Joe Biden talks a good multilateralist game, but it is time to deliver — especially when it comes to China and studying the origin of COVID-19. More from me in the New York Post.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. A Christian reader recently described these stories to me as “lots of cross, little resurrection.” I’m afraid that’s about it.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.


If you are interested in artificial intelligence, facial recognition, privacy, and regulation, then check out this very interesting essay in Wired.

In Closing

China isn’t alone in facing demographic decline. After decades and decades of panicked essays about “overpopulation,” the shift toward panicked essays about population decline has begun in earnest. This, apparently, is what it takes to convince the world that human beings are assets, not liabilities.

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Politics & Policy

Keeping Up with Nikole Hannah-Jones

Nikole Hannah-Jones on CBS This Morning in 2019. (Screengrab via YouTube)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and many other things. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will, please follow this link.

Disposing of Nikole Hannah-Jones

What to make of the case of Nikole Hannah-Jones, organizer of the New York Times’ sloppy and troubled 1619 Project, who has been denied, at least for the moment, tenure for a professorship at the University of North Carolina after a pressure campaign from conservative critics?

Some of the criticism is not very persuasive, and I’ll begin with that.

A university trustee said that Hannah-Jones’s tenure review had been put on pause because of her lack of a “traditional academic background.” It is a truth universally acknowledged that professors of journalism are among the most genuinely worthless specimens walking God’s green earth and that any halfway self-respecting society would exile them to the moon, and I am not at all sure that an advanced degree in journalism is more of a qualification than a disqualification when it comes to instructing students. (Set aside for the moment that journalism is not something that can be learned in a classroom. It is a trade, not an art or a science, and journalism degrees are some of the purest lab-grade bunkum ever produced.) That being stipulated, Hannah-Jones is in possession of a master’s degree — from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, which presumably is good enough for UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media — which is not a doctorate but is more academic preparation than many journalism professors have.

(In truth, some universities shy away from hiring their own Ph.D.s as professors. It’s a weird world, but that’s another story.)

The position is not described as that of a “professor of practice,” but that is what most journalism professorships are — i.e., appointments for which the qualifications are more generally professional than academic. Universities hire novelists to teach writing (often with horrifying consequences) and businessmen to teach business and lawyers to teach law and painters to teach painting and architects to teach architecture. Professor Matthew McConaughey of the University of Texas is not, to my knowledge, in possession of a doctorate, nor is he famed for his scholarly sensibility. (He holds an undergraduate degree from UT; my time there overlapped with his, but our social circles did not much intersect.) He teaches a film-production class, “Script to Screen,” because he has some experience with that, and because it gives the university the chance to publish this hilarious staff photo.

(Alright, alright, Governor.)

And, of course, the more persuasive criticism of Hannah-Jones is about that — her practice of journalism, which is distinct from scholarship, though the two intersect at points. The National Association of Scholars sent an open letter to the Pulitzer committee (who are weasels in full, or at least mustelid-adjacent) demanding that they revoke the prize given to Hannah-Jones, and their account, along with the case made here at National Review and elsewhere, is damning. One of the Times’ own fact-checkers on the project, historian and African-American studies professor Leslie M. Harris of Northwestern University, warned the Times that key claims of the work were unsupportable. She listed other mistakes that she had communicated to the Times before the project was published but that went uncorrected.

When the Times did get around to amending the report, it did so in a guilty, sneaky, underhanded way — “stealth edits,” or unacknowledged corrections — for obviously political reasons. Donald Trump, running for reelection as president, had made a pet cause of the 1619 Project, some Democrats worried that the 1619 Project was giving him rhetorical ammunition, and the editors of the Times buckled under the consequent pressure. Hannah-Jones did the cable-news circuit claiming, preposterously, that the 1619 Project had never said what it said, and the Times reworked critical passages in an attempt to deny Trump a talking point. This is intellectual dishonesty — it is intellectual dishonesty in scholarship, it is intellectual dishonesty in journalism, and it is intellectual dishonesty in any other context. There’s a lot of that in journalism right now — Jonathan Chait exists — and a great deal more of it in academia. As the NAS letter put it:

The duplicity of attempting to alter the historical record in a manner intended to deceive the public is as serious an infraction against professional ethics as a journalist can commit. A “sweeping, deeply reported and personal essay,” as the Pulitzer Prize Board called it, does not have the license to sweep its own errors into obscurity or the remit to publish “deeply reported” falsehoods.

If I thought for a minute that the University of North Carolina were motivated by a concern for intellectual honesty or professional ethics, then I might ask: Why only withhold tenure? If Hannah-Jones is unfit for a tenured position because of unethical behavior and intellectually dishonest professional conduct, then she is unfit for a non-tenured position, too. But I have seen this sort of thing up close, and I think I know what is going on here: panic, terror, and cowardice.

I have seen this movie before.

When The Atlantic was trying to figure out whether to give in to the mob and fire me on my third day of work there for . . . bein’ evil on Twitter . . . the editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, tried to come up with some interim half-a-loaf measure. He suggested an apology to . . . no one in particular . . . and I declined to apologize to no one in particular for being lied about by particular halfwits. (More of that ancient history here.) The contract-but-no-tenure deal offered to Hannah-Jones is the same kind of one-testicle gesture, a very management-seminar move from a board of directors that doesn’t have the courage to fish or cut bait — “curs that like nor peace nor war.”

It is tempting to write that the University of North Carolina deserved better, but it doesn’t.

That being said, the only remedy for “cancel culture” rage mobs is for institutions to learn to stand up for themselves. If the university had meditated upon Hannah-Jones’s merits and demerits and decided not to offer her the position, or to offer her a different position on different terms, then that might have been rightly understood as a gesture in the direction of honesty and competence. As it is, it is only a gesture of cowardice, an affirmation that the University of North Carolina is — like Yale, the New York Times, the Associated Press, Facebook, Apple, etc. — an organization that can be bullied into submission. I understand the desire of some conservatives to gleefully shout “Your rules!” and watch the carnage, but that kind of eye-for-an-eye-ism is both morally illiterate and poor strategy, inasmuch as the Left can bear a great many more losses in academia, media, and culture than we can. Tit-for-tat is a profoundly stupid strategy when you are profoundly outnumbered.

The best practice for universities, media outlets, technology companies, and the like would be to vet their hires beforehand, close that book and open a new one, and then decline, as a matter of publicly stated policy, to respond to pressure campaigns of this kind. This would spare us spectacles such as that involving the Associated Press and Emily Wilder, the reporter who was canned after criticism of her involvement with a pro-Palestinian group when she was an undergraduate at Stanford. The AP knew what Emily Wilder was when they hired her, and Hannah-Jones is a known quantity.

As usual, our focus on the personality in question — on the hate object with a face and a name — leads us astray. As an ideological and cultural matter, how much does it really matter who, exactly, sits in the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism? Because the chances are 104 percent that the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism is going to be a semi-maniacal ideologue of approximately the Hannah-Jones kind in any case. The ideology is built into the position, and so is the bias. They aren’t going to hire Charles Murray. The Associated Press is going to go right on being a biased and at times incompetent organization with or without Emily Wilder.

If you want to cancel something, cancel the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media in toto. People who want to work as reporters should study economics, history, Victorian novels, French poetry, art, physics — almost anything but what is taught in journalism schools. You can’t go building a bullsh** farm and plant it thickly with bullsh** and then act surprised when there’s bullsh** under foot. In many years of interviewing college students and recent graduates for journalism jobs, I have never once met a journalism major who could tell me what “millage” is, though I have heard them hold forth on privilege and intersectionality and whatever the bullsh** chef’s special is down at the bullsh** market.

Denying tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones will make some conservatives feel like they have won something. But they won’t have.

And Furthermore . . .

“Hey conservatives, this is why liberals don’t believe you care about free speech,” reads the headline over Alyssa Rosenberg’s column in the Washington Post.

Hey, Alyssa Rosenberg, this is why conservatives believe you don’t care about free speech: You argue that we should literally disappear television shows in production and film projects if they don’t accord with your political prejudices.

Maybe sit this one out, Comrade O’Brien.

Words About Words

D.C. lifts mask mandate for fully vaccinated people,” reads the Washington Post headline. Underline: “Those who are fully vaccinated only need to wear a mask in places where it is required.”

Which is to say: “Wearing a mask is required only in places where it is required.”

Muppet News Flash, right there, Washington Post.

Sally Buzbee, the incoming Washington Post editor, must really be regretting that newspaper editors aren’t allowed to yell at people anymore.

This is a job for yelling in Danish, I think. Danish has some great words for such scenarios: One of them is Sprogblomster, which I am totally not making up and which literally means “language flower” and is used to describe an amusing error.

A less lovely Danish word for a blunder is Tanketorsk, or “thought cod.”

Sally Buzbee, the incoming Washington Post editor, must really be regretting that newspaper editors aren’t allowed to slap people with cod anymore.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Come on, Mansion Global: I expect my preposterous real-estate news to be flawlessly edited!

Buyers feel pressure to make snap decisions, and some forego routine home inspections for fear of losing to another bidder. “If you’re a buyer, this is the most frustrating time,” said Jonathan Campbell, vice president of DLP Realty in Bethlehem. The local market, he said, is outpacing the mid-2000s housing boom.

I am tempted to forgo pointing out the error in the foregoing.

The foregoing is that which came before: “Nothing in the foregoing clauses should be read as nullifying this condition.” Forgoing is doing without, abstaining: “He spent Lent forgoing meat.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Warning: May make you want to apply for a change of species.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

‘Because I Can’  . . .

Simone Biles continues her long career of being everything that is right about America:

“They’re both too low and they even know it,” Biles said of the rewards for her beam dismount and the double-pike vault. “But they don’t want the field to be too far apart. And that’s just something that’s on them. That’s not on me.

“They had an open-ended code of points and now they’re mad that people are too far ahead and excelling.”

Despite not being properly rewarded, Biles, the defending Olympic champion in the all-around, said she would continue doing them.

When asked why, she quickly answered, “Because I can.”


The straightforwardly named A History of Italy podcast is very nicely done and worth your time. I like the modesty of “a history of Italy,” as opposed to “the history of Italy” — the same reason this magazine is not called The National Review, incidentally. We’re just one national review. There are others.

None as good, of course, but there are others.

In Closing

There is a story making the rounds that British PM Boris Johnson missed a number of official meetings because he was busy writing a biography of Shakespeare and in a rush to finish the book because he needed the money to pay for his divorce.

I’ll just say this: British political scandals are not very much like ours.

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Politics & Policy

What’s Wrong with the Audubon Society

(Chuck Nadeau/iStock/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about major issues and minor irritations. To subscribe to the Tuesday, which I hope you will do, please follow this link.

A Pathology of Institutional Decay

You all know O’Sullivan’s Law, from my friend John O’Sullivan? “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.”

E.g., the Audubon Society, which is hopping mad at your favorite correspondent!




Goodness! You’d think someone representing the Audubon Society would know a canard, if nothing else, when he sees one. Part of my thesis is that the environmental movement is less about measurable real-world environmental outcomes and more about rituals of tribal affiliation and Kulturkampf politics.

So, Exhibit A, right there.

The Audubon Society wasn’t always a platform for feckless and rage-addled left-wingery. It once was an organization that welcomed environmentally interested people of different political persuasions and social outlooks. It pretends to be that still. (It even has a former Republican congressman on its board.) The Audubon Society’s path has followed that of far too many other important 20th-century institutions. The NAACP, founded a few years after the Audubon Society (now there’s a statement of American social priorities) once counted many conservatives among its members and leaders, Barry Goldwater prominent among them. But that was back when the NAACP was focused on its stated mission, advancing the interests of African Americans, rather than acting as an all-purpose Democratic machine component, which is what it does now. Back when Amnesty International was focused on the situation of political prisoners, William F. Buckley Jr. was on the board of its New York chapter, something that would be unthinkable in our time. The Southern Poverty Law Center has always attracted a hard-left element, but it was not always the irredeemably nasty nest of kookery and crankery that it is today. The Anti-Defamation League (which once sent me a sniffy letter for approvingly quoting a rabbi who didn’t share its executives’ cultural politics) has not always been the debased thing it is nowThe American Civil Liberties Union wasn’t always full of baloney. Etc.

What causes institutions to fulfill O’Sullivan’s Law? That happens mostly through personnel decisions. Institutional drift isn’t usually random — it is pushed in one direction or another by the sort of people who are drawn to an organization or the sort of people and personalities an organization selects. Personnel trends end up being self-reinforcing, because jobs are filled mostly by social processes rather than by HR philosopher-kings looking at CVs and dispassionately checking off boxes. Institutional drift is non-random for the same reason the errors in the CBS News’s reporting about firearms policy are non-random: Bias is not a plot among conscious malefactors but an intellectual disability at the organizational level.

The desire to enforce social and political homogeneity within an organization through personnel action — the desire to intentionally institutionalize bias — is the basis of what we call “cancel culture.” It is neither surprising nor coincidental that the most important and high-profile cancel-culture episodes have been in-house headhunts (as at the New York Times and Yale) rather than the result of external pressure. Cancel culture is in no small part a result of organizational capture, the situation in which the people who are supposed to serve an institution use the institution to serve themselves, pursuing their own interests (financial, cultural, political, sexual) rather than the mission of the institution. This is a widespread and reasonably well-understood problem, but outside of publicly traded corporations (which take considerable pains to align management’s interests with those of shareholders and impose a reasonable degree of transparency and accountability on corporate management), very few institutions of any real social significance address such problems in a robust way. In many industries, including media and technology, management pursues precisely the opposite course of action, entrenching its own cultural and political interests with whatever tools are in hand. Apple just got rid of an employee who wrote a book that some other Apple employees didn’t like, arguing — this is by now tediously familiar — that its commitment to diversity requires it to exclude people who . . . think different.

Corporate human-resources departments are full of prim and donkey-souled enforcers of petty orthodoxies for the same reason mortuaries employ a relatively large number of necrophiliacs. People end up going where they already were inclined to go. I’ve never met a prison guard and been surprised to find out he is a prison guard.

The people who are attracted to nonprofits are a lot like the people who are attracted to journalism. (By “journalism” I mean print journalism and its digital equivalent — journalism in writing. TV people are a different breed entirely, failed actors and jumped-up sports announcers rather than failed novelists and aspiring politicians.) They are crusaders, even if they mostly are milquetoast crusaders, and the desire to be a crusader precedes and supersedes the commitment to any particular crusade. A few years ago, I was speaking with some students about working in journalism, and I asked one what she wanted to do after graduation. She said she hoped to work in a nonprofit. “That’s great,” I said. “A nonprofit doing what?” She hadn’t thought about that. “So, you don’t care what the organization does, as long as it doesn’t make a profit doing it?” She didn’t want to put it exactly that way, but, yes, that was it. That’s one expression of a particular, strange, but not at all uncommon cast of mind, which sees profit as evidence of exploitation rather than as evidence of social value created. From her point of view, “nonprofit” meant “virtuous.” And who wouldn’t prefer to do virtuous work?

People who take a different view of profit don’t often end up in journalism or nonprofits and, when they do, they frequently end up in explicitly conservative publications and institutions — O’Sullivan’s Law, again. The Philadelphia Inquirer does not bill itself as a left-wing or Democratic outlet, but its editors investigated my politics aggressively when I interviewed for a job there a million years ago — not as a columnist but as a copy editor.

The Audubon Society does not advertise itself as a Democratic front group — in fact, it advertises itself as the opposite. But, of course, it is run by Democratic hacks who are veterans of Senator Ben Cardin’s officeapparatchiks from non-environmental left-wing groupsformer Democrat-leaning media peopleformer Gates Foundation people, and the like. The political contributions of the people associated with it (a useful but by no means perfect indicator) most recently ran 99.72 percent Democrat, according to OpenSecrets.Org. It’s woke, but, of course, never woke enough. (No one ever is — that’s the point of woke hysteria and the source of woke power.) Its magazine has taken on a more overtly political character, and its environmental activism has mutated into an all-fronts left-wing posture.

Becoming another left-wing cell among thousands of others more or less like it makes the Audubon Society less effective at its notional mission rather than more effective. But, of course, its stated mission is not its operative mission — its operative mission is to provide incomes and influence to its executives and staff, who typically lean more energetically left than do its board members as a whole or its supporters. That’s a typical pattern, too, notably in universities — even the university boards that are left-leaning to the point of actual goofiness seldom are as left-wing as the English department or the women’s-studies department. Such institutions end up being hotbeds of mediocrity because intellectual homogeneity and enforced conformism practically guarantee it. The unchallenged mind grows flabby from disuse at the institutional level as readily as the individual level.

An illustrative example of this mediocrity can be found in the case of David K. Johnson, “mixologist, professor” (his words) in the nation’s 127th-most-prestigious history program. (Don’t blame me, University of South Florida — you brought this on yourselves.) A few weeks ago, I gave a talk for the Benson Center at the University of Colorado, which has been hosting a series of discussions on cancel culture. I argued, as I have before, that this phenomenon is not particularly new, but that while many of my friends on the right denounce cancel culture as “neo-McCarthyism,” the scare it most closely resembles is not the red one but the lavender one — the anti-gay hysteria that convulsed the U.S. government, Hollywood, much of corporate America, and the service industry at the same time as the Red Scare and for related reasons. The effects of the Lavender Scare were much greater than the actual number of job losses and criminal prosecutions by themselves would have accounted for on their own, and this was by design. The point of the Lavender Scare was not to lock millions of people up on sodomy charges — punishment was only the easiest means to the end of terrorization. Terror was the point, not incarceration. It was a means of enforcing social homogeneity. Likewise, the point of bullying the New York Times into firing writers with nonconforming views isn’t to “silence” Bari Weiss — it is to terrorize other people with nonconforming views into never voicing them in the first place. It is a matter of making an example.

Professor Johnson publicly charged me with making a “misuse of history” in that argument. Because he is the author of a well-regarded book about the subject, I took his criticism seriously and wrote to him asking him to expand. Taking his criticism seriously turned out to be a mistake, which I suppose I should have foreseen. You will not be surprised to learn that he hadn’t seen the talk or read a transcript of it, that he is unfamiliar with my views and work, or that he based his judgment on — and this I could not make up — a blog post on a site run by “the co-author of UrbanMushrooms.com, which is an online guide to mushroom hunting in cities.”

University of South Florida meets urban-mushrooms guy: That’s about as low-rent an echo-chamber as you could come up with. But the Audubon Society is much the same thing with some legacy prestige.

(Personally, I have met more interesting mushrooms.)

We need institutions to do what the Audubon Society is supposed to be doing. We need institutions to do what the NAACP and the ACLU and Amnesty International are supposed to be doing. We even need institutions to do what the University of South Florida, in its stately C-minus fashion, is supposed to be doing. But we do not have them.

Whose interests are served by that? Meditate on the question and much will become clear and clearer.

Seemingly independent phenomena such as cancel culture, media bias, and campus madness would be better understood as manifestations of the same phenomenon: institutional failure following institutional capture.

Words About Words

A secondary irritation related to Professor Johnson of the nation’s 127th-most-prestigious history program: He calls himself @gayhistoryprof on Twitter. There is much that might be mined from the identity weirdness of that, but I’m here for the language trouble. Unpunctuated, “gay history prof[essor]” could refer to several different kinds of people: It could describe a heterosexual professor whose area of expertise is the Stonewall Riotsit could describe a gay professor whose scholarship focuses on Gettysburg and Bull Run, or a gay professor whose interest is in the histories of gay people.

Wondrous things, hyphens.

Rampant Prescriptivism

Stopped cold by an Andrew C. McCarthy sentence, a reader asks: What’s up with viz., and why not just use the more familiar i.e.?

From McCarthy: “And the stated objective — viz., to prevent Congress from acknowledging the states’ certification of their electoral votes — was a blatant violation of constitutional principles of federalism that conservatives revere.”

You’ll get conflicting accounts of these from Fowler’s and the OED, among others. Some will say there is functionally no difference between the two, others insist that there is a useful subtlety there. My experience is that the people who write viz. are mostly lawyers, because the abbreviation — from the Latin videlicet, “it may be seen” — is conventionally used in judicial writing.

I.e., from the Latin id est, “it is,” is much more common, and commonly misused where e.g. — exempli gratia, “for the sake of example” — is called for.

So, viz. is lawyerly. In general, you don’t want to write like a lawyer who is not Andy McCarthy, because other lawyers are generally ghastly writers. About half of the American lawyers who can produce a really good paragraph already write for National Review, and most of the other half eventually will, too.

I.e. is best used as a simple restatement of what comes before, where you might otherwise write, “which is to say.” I relied on my only means of transportation, i.e., my trusty Schwinn. Viz. more often is used to introduce a more expansive or comprehensive restatement, where you might write “namely,” especially if there is a sequence or list involved. His itinerary took him through four capitals, viz. Paris, London, Bern, and Brussels. Or: He was in error on three points, viz., the logical question, the historical question, and the arithmetic.

Many guides advise avoiding both i.e. and, especially, the uncommon viz., on the grounds that readers will find them jarring. I think it depends on the kind of writing you are doing: If I were giving detailed instructions to a deliveryman about how to find an out-of-the-way location, I probably wouldn’t use either. But if I’m writing something intended to be read for pleasure, I might use either one as appropriate, for the same reason I sometimes use uncommon words — that’s part of the fun, and it is not burdensome for contemporary readers to look things up, one of the few compensations for the displacement of printed material by the digital.

For similar reasons, I like that the New Yorker uses diaereses in words such as coöperation, and I would very much like to bring back the two-words-and-a-period-and-italics version of  “7 per cent. solution.”

Also, starting next week, this newsletter will be produced with hand-set type and sent out by messengers mounted on ponies.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Probably best to avoid if you’re already being treated for depression or anxiety.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen, my podcast with the very fancy-sounding Florida man Charles Christopher William Higgenbotham Cooke, here.

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Related to the language question above:

By way of further introduction, I will now quote a remark made to me by the who-shall-remain-nameless then-president of the American Historical Association, when I met him at a symposium back in my student days just after the Second World War: “Ah,” he said, limply pressing my hand, “Blum, did you say? A Jewish historian?”

Though the man surely intended this remark to wound me, it merely succeeded in bringing delight, and even now I find I can smile at the description. I appreciate its accidental imprecision, and the way the double entendre can function as a type of psychological test: “‘A Jewish historian’ — when you hear that, what do you think? What image springs to mind?” The point is, the epithet as applied is both correct and incorrect. I am a Jewish historian, but I am not an historian of the Jews — or I’ve never been one, professionally.

Instead, I’m an American historian — or I was.

In Closing

Help wanted. Badly.


Politics & Policy

Infrastructure Is Infrastructure

(Larry Downing/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter sounding sundry and divers themes, from politics to language to culture. To subscribe to the Tuesday, follow this link.

Time to Lay Pipe

Every now and then, the world pauses briefly to say, “Hey, dummy — pay attention.”

Seventeen states and — oh, glorious irony! — the District of Columbia have declared states of emergency after the closure of the Colonial pipeline, which brings fuel from Gulf Coast refineries to eastern cities. Gasoline prices already are rising and are expected to rise sharply in the immediate future. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, fresh off the indignity of losing the title of world’s busiest airport to Bai Yun International in Guangzhou, is nervously watching its fuel stores, as are other airports (including Charlotte Douglas and Raleigh-Durham) served by the pipeline. The population centers of the East Coast are at risk of significant disruption to everything from deliveries to travel — because almost half the fuel used in the most densely populated part of the country travels through a single pipeline that runs from Houston to Linden, N.J., currently out of service after an apparent act of extortion through cyberterrorism.

“Hey, dummy — pay attention.”

President Joe Biden is no friend of pipelines. Practically his first act in office was unilaterally stopping a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project that already was under way. Biden proposes to be President Infrastructure, so long as expanded welfare benefits and subsidized childcare for two-income professionals in Washington qualify as “infrastructure,” while his administration micturates from a great height upon actual infrastructure — e.g., the pipelines, refineries, and transportation networks that connect our workers and factories and trucks with the actual fuel our economy runs on, as opposed to the imaginary unicorn-juice economy that exists in the fantasy world of President Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, et al.

Even if you believe, as President Biden says he does, that the United States must be coerced by federal bayonets to accept a radically different economic model that forgoes fossil fuels, abandoning the fossil-fuel infrastructure before that transition has happened — indeed, before some of the necessary technologies that might one day enable such a transition even have been developed — is insanely irresponsible. It makes Americans hostages to a narrowminded and moralistic ideology. If you believe, as I do, that under any reasonably responsible policy fossil fuels — especially natural gas — will be part of the mix for the foreseeable future, then preventing environmentally responsible investment in and development of the necessary infrastructure is radical misgovernance.

It is difficult to say what, if anything, President Biden actually believes about this. It may be the case that he himself does not know; he is a wind-tester, not a thinker. But the so-called environmentalists who apparently have his ear and who dominate Democratic policy-making circles believe, in short, that there is no such thing as environmentally responsible development of traditional energy infrastructure — which is why they fight every pipeline, every refinery, every effort to move fuel via rail, every depot, every shipment terminal, etc. Think of this as the Elizabeth Holmes model of activism and the Theranos model of alternative energy: The underlying product not only isn’t yet viable, it does not actually exist — but the Green New Deal types believe that if they can just have their way and get what they want on a day-to-day basis right now, then at some point in the future when the finances are sorted out they can magic into existence the goods and services that will justify their earlier demands and promises.

“Hey, Dummy — pay attention.”

We know that this is going to be a problem — because it was a problem just a few years ago, when the pipeline in question was shut down because of flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey. Gasoline prices spiked, and, in some cities — including cities in Texas, the heart of energy country — the pumps at gas stations were shut off for lack of fuel. When the fuel stops moving, then people and goods stop moving in short order. A relatively brief interruption in one pipeline can have severely disruptive effects. To my mind, that means: lay more pipe.

And there are other pipelines that serve some of the areas that depend on Colonial — but not with sufficient capacity to replace what has been taken offline. And so we face the age-old question of pricing risk: Would we rather have more capacity than we usually need and bear the expense that goes along with that, or would we rather have less capacity than we sometimes need and bear the risk that goes along with that?

When an unusual but by no means unprecedented storm caused Texas’s electricity network to collapse in February — that was less than 90 days ago but has, of course, vanished almost entirely as a matter of public interest — the distinct impression I got was that many of my fellow Texans experienced that interruption as a severe hardship. It killed 111 of them. A widespread disruption in the fuel supply would have effects of similar magnitude and character — in fact, given that we rely on natural-gas pipelines to feed many of our electricity plants, an interruption in the fuel supply could have, in some cases, precisely the same effect.

“Hey, Dummy — pay attention.”

When it comes to energy, more is more. That doesn’t mean that we abandon air quality or clean-water regulation or drill for oil in the middle of Central Park — it means that abundance is the end goal, and that responsible environmental management is a requirement that conditions that goal. Unless you are in thrall to anti-capitalist (and, ultimately, anti-human) ideology, this is a manageable problem — complex and requiring a great deal of specialist knowledge and political negotiation, but manageable. As we have seen in the case of fracking — opposition to which is pure Kulturkampf with almost nothing to do with genuine environmental concerns — Americans are, in spite of ourselves, capable of creating a situation in which industry, regulators, and communities work together in a reasonable productive and beneficial way. There are more and less environmentally and socially responsible ways to develop a more robust energy infrastructure with sufficient redundancy — i.e., a situation in which a cyberattack on a single pipeline won’t leave a big chunk of the population suddenly vulnerable.

The temporary shutdown of Colonial probably will not be a catastrophe. And COVID-19 could have been 20 times more lethal than it is. But we will only get so many dry runs in the form of relatively manageable challenges. Either we will have the resources — physical, financial, and social — to meet future challenges, or we won’t. Either we will have excess capacity or we won’t. Either we will have fortified our infrastructure or we won’t. If we want to make our energy infrastructure less vulnerable to disruption, then we know how to do it.

And if we want to make our public finances less vulnerable to disruption . . .

“Hey, dummies — pay attention.”

The Circle of Spite

It is a shame, for many reasons, that Donald Trump went out of his way — and Georgia was out of his way! — to tank the Republicans’ Senate majority. I am curious what Senator Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) would have done with a Republican majority when President Biden gets around to making a Supreme Court nomination, assuming he gets the chance. I am guessing that it would have been devious and entertaining.

(Let us hope Stephen Breyer is eating his Wheaties.)

Instead, it seems more likely that Republicans will fail to win control of the Senate before such a thing comes to pass, though that is by no means certain, of course. How might minority Republicans conduct themselves?

My guess is: a lot like minority Democrats did.

The fantastical and outrageous attacks on Brett Kavanaugh — the Democrats’ own QAnon episode — constituted a genuinely radicalizing moment for some on the right, amplified by the subsequent attacks, less lurid but equally dishonest, on Amy Coney Barrett. Already there is talk in right-wing circles of tanking any eventual Biden nominee with a tit-for-tat strategy justified by a tit-for-tat morality. Republicans haven’t grown any better at lying since the Nixon era, but they have grown more comfortable with it.

And, if we really are embracing the standard set by the Kavanaugh hearings — that we have to pretend to credit the most fanciful allegations from the most obviously damaged and neurotic hangers-on that the dark arts of politics can dredge up — then they don’t have to be any good at lying, just willing.  Given that “Not Very Good At Lying But Certainly Willing is the new motto of the Party of Lincoln, we can expect things to get ugly.

Words About Words

“Of course Caitlyn Jenner is a Republican,” our friend Rob Long observed. “She’s a rich old lady in Malibu.” I cannot think of a more appropriate candidate for California Republicans, or for Republicans at large, really.

But one thing about Jenner’s gubernatorial campaign launch did irritate me: the word “elitist,” which has become a term of general abuse deployed so promiscuously that even the Malibu-dwelling former stepfather of Kim Kardashian can throw it around without inviting scorn. I am reminded of the Republican state party chairman who bitterly denounced the “establishment,” as though the world could possibly mean something other than state party chairmen and their ilk.

When I worked out of National Review’s Manhattan office, I made the usual cable-news rounds, and I always enjoyed watching the populist anti-elitists of the Right and the great proletarian heroes of the Left getting into their respective limousines to be shuttled home to the Upper East Side or Alpine or Greenwich after their nightly denunciations of the high and mighty. One of the things populists in both parties have a hard time really appreciating is that Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow have a hell of a lot more in common with each other than either has in common with . . . well, with you, Sunshine. Some of Rush Limbaugh’s connection to Donald Trump was political substance, but some of it was adjacent private-jet parking, too.

Rampant Prescriptivism

I was really ready to jump on the Wall Street Journal about this headline until I got to the final word: “English Journalist Couldnt Bear Abuse’s of the Apostrophe.” Well done, copy desk.

Retirees are often urged to find new activities and causes. After a career as a newspaper reporter and editor in England, John Richards took up the role of defending the apostrophe, an often abused punctuation mark.

When he started the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001, there were only two members, Mr. Richards and his son, Stephen. Soon, however, he had more than 250 members, and some made unsolicited cash donations. Letters and emails arrived from all over with examples of misuse of the apostrophe. Many offenders left the apostrophe out of possessive phrases or inserted the mark where it wasn’t needed, as in market signs advertising “apple’s.”

Then the crusade ran into resistance. Mr. Richards told the Daily Mail that he spotted a restaurant advertising “coffee’s.” He offered free advice. “I said very politely, ‘It’s not needed. It’s a plural,’” Mr. Richards said. “But the man said: ‘I think it looks better with an apostrophe.’ And what can you say to that?”

In 2019, he shut down his campaign. “The barbarians have won,” he said.

No, they haven’t. As another Englishman who cherished the language said: We shall never surrender.

And Furthermore . . .

An action that is in progress is under way; a pedestrian tunnel under a thoroughfare is an underway.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. It’s extra salty.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

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To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

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I’ve been on a George Kennan kick lately, and, in addition to my earlier recommendation of John Lukacs’s A Study of Character, I think you might enjoy, especially, the first volume of his memoires, 1925–1950. One of Kennan’s great irritations in life was the constant subordination of U.S. foreign policy to domestic politics; it is always a fantasy to believe that anything politicians do is beyond politics, and in Kennan’s protestations one can hear suggestions of contemporary political formulations used for cynical purposes: “the time for debate is over,” “this isn’t a political issue,” etc. But Kennan was more a realist than a fantasist, and the root of his complaint — the need to minimize the violence policy-makers can do to intelligent policy — remains very much with us. The United States — and this is a bipartisan problem — seems set on making the same mistakes vis-à-vis China we made with the Soviet Union. With that in mind, Kennan makes continually interesting reading.

Furtherly Furthermore . . .

I never met John Lukacs, but a mutual friend in Philadelphia once described him as a man who would glare skeptically at the sky if you remarked that it was a nice day. Wonderful writer.

In Closing

In the days before the great plague, I had a brief but memorable conversation with James Carville about snobbery and snootery. I wish I had recorded it. Maybe I will see if I can get him to sit down to revisit the subject on the record. By now, you’ve probably all read his Vox interview, in which he touches on the subject of “wokeness,” but, if you haven’t, it is worth your time:

We have to talk about race. We should talk about racial injustice. What I’m saying is, we need to do it without using jargon-y language that’s unrecognizable to most people — including most Black people, by the way — because it signals that you’re trying to talk around them. This “too cool for school” shit doesn’t work, and we have to stop it.

In the high-Clinton era, the two big strategic brains of the Democratic Party were James Carville and Paul Begala, who were partners in a consulting firm. The Democrats became more the Begala party than the Carville party — a rare stroke of good luck for Republicans.

Paul Begala once lost an election to an imaginary cartoon character. James Carville will rip your lungs out, but at least he won’t be a completely insufferable fussbudget while doing it.

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Politics & Policy

What the Republican Party Needs vs. What It Wants

Texas 6th Congressional District candidate Michael Wood (Campaign ad image via YouTube)

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The Unmaking of a Congressman

Mike Wood has done harder things than running for the House of Representatives, and some of those hard things he did in Afghanistan, where he won two Purple Hearts and a Navy Commendation Medal — which made it especially irritating for him to listen to fellow Republicans describe him as a “traitor” during his recent campaign in Texas’s 6th District. Wood has a direct, unadorned way of communicating (one section of his campaign bio begins, “After getting shot . . .”), a refreshingly stoic style in our age of hysterical politics. Emotionally incontinent displays are not his thing, but there is some tension in his voice when he sets that scene.

“Not a whole lot gets to me, but when some of these nut-jobs called me a ‘traitor,’ it got to me more than it should. I have scars on all four limbs from fighting for this country, but — because I refused to bend the knee to Donald Trump — I’m some sort of Benedict Arnold character. But that’s where our politics are right now.” Hearing about the Utah GOP’s treatment of Mitt Romney — the senator was denounced as a “traitor” and, of all things, a “communist” — Wood saw it as more of the same: “Disgusting.”

Wood, whom I first met when he was a National Review Institute Regional Fellow in Dallas, is the sort of candidate conservatives used to dream about: under 40, a decorated veteran, articulate, educated (bachelor’s from NYU and an MBA from SMU), a business owner with a big, photogenic family, he had everything going for him with the exception of one thing: apostasy.

Wood is one of a surprisingly large number of conservatives who opposed Trump in 2016 but supported him — voted for him, anyway, with whatever other qualifications or hesitation — in 2020. But he also has been plainspoken about the Trump movement, which he accurately describes as a “cult of personality” in thrall to loopy conspiracy theories. It was Trump’s post-election performance leading up to the events of January 6 that most troubles Wood, who calls Trump’s conduct “disqualifying.”

Some very wise political insiders in Texas advised Wood to tamp down the anti-Trump rhetoric, on the theory that while the GOP may be — may be — ready for post-Trump leadership, it is not ready for anti-Trump leadership. And those voices of caution probably were right as a matter of pure political calculation — Wood came in fifth among Republicans and ninth overall in the 23-candidate, bipartisan goat-rodeo of an election — but there is more to life, and more to political life, than calculation.

“I want to serve in elected office,” he says, “but I don’t want to go to Congress if that means I have to act like Madison Cawthorn or Lindsey Graham. If the cost of entry into Republican politics is that you have to pretend to buy into lies, then I don’t want to do that.”

Wood’s anti-Trump stance won him national media attention and the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News, but it did not win him a lot of support in the Republican rank-and-file. After the election, noted QAnon kook Marjorie Taylor Greene ridiculed Wood and Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of his political allies. The nice lady who thinks that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers wrote that Wood and his backers are “clueless about what Republican voters think and feel” and that what Republicans demand is “America First and loyalty to Trump.” And, as strange as it is to write, the nice lady who thinks that California wildfires are caused by Jewish space lasers is almost correct: Wood is far from “clueless” about the Republican demand for “loyalty to Trump” — he is keenly aware of what Republican voters think and feel, but he believes that these thoughts and feelings are grounded in falsehood and paranoia that ultimately will destroy the Republican Party and do great damage to the country itself. And, to the detriment of his electoral prospects, he says so.

The race in the 6th will be resolved in a runoff, and the candidate expected to win is a Trump-endorsed member of the State Republican Executive Committee (Drain that swamp!) whose main claim to the seat is that she is the widow of the man who most recently held it.

It is a sign of the Republican times that the standout moment from Wood’s campaign was a confrontational talk-radio interview. DFW-area right-wing radio host Mark Davis, a presumably smart guy who hosts a multidimensionally moronic radio program, complained that Wood’s assertions about the facts of the presidential election were “condescending” in that they did not match up with how many members of his audience “feel.” Wood, exasperated, said: “This is one of the worst parts of what Trump has done to the Right — he’s turned us into a bunch of whiny little lefties. It’s all about ‘feelings.’ It’s all about ‘Well, you’ve got your truth, I’ve got my truth.’ ”

Davis, obviously caught off guard, fumbled around for a bit and then declared the exchange “wonderful radio.”

But it wasn’t wonderful radio — it was idiotic radio elevated only by the fact that one of the parties in the conversation understood it to be idiotic and had the guts to say so. It was also a textbook illustration of what ails the entertainment wing of the Republican Party at this unfortunate moment in time: cowardice. Davis and his kind are plainly terrified of their audiences and afraid to say anything that might make them uncomfortable, even if that means going along with B.S. so unmistakable that you can practically smell it through the radio.

One of William F. Buckley Jr.’s great escapades was his doomed 1965 campaign for mayor of New York City. He knew he wasn’t going to win. (“What is the first thing you will do if you win?” a reporter asked. “Demand a recount,” he answered, maybe the most famous bon mot in his extensive catalog.) But getting elected mayor wasn’t the point. There are those who can understand what the point was and those who can’t. The same is true of Mike Wood’s eight weeks as a politician. Let him with eyes see.

It is not clear to me that such a man as Mike Wood has a future in the Republican Party. If he doesn’t, then that is going to be a lot less of a problem for him than it is for the GOP.

Why Not Quarantine?

I have followed the ghastly COVID-19 situation in India with sympathy and dread. I lived in Delhi for a short but important part of my life, and my attitude toward the place may be distorted by sentimentality, but it remains a big part of my idea of what a city is. Right now, it is a city that is suffering terribly. As late as March, India’s seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths was running under 100 — the most recent average has it at more than 3,400 a day. The stories of sick people dying by asphyxiation as their relatives search desperately for oxygen are too horrible to dwell on here.

The Biden administration has announced a ban on travel from India, which is the right thing to do. It also has announced that U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and many others will be exempted from the ban, which is precisely the wrong thing to do — or, rather, it is the incomplete thing to do.

The United States is not a compact or isolated island-nation such as Singapore or New Zealand, it is infamously unable (more accurate to say unwilling) to control its borders, and its cultural situation is such that Americans would not tolerate or comply with the invasive surveillance that some Asian countries such as Taiwan have used with some success against COVID-19 or the heavy-handed but also relatively effective methods practiced in New Zealand. Americans will defy emergency measures during a genuine emergency even as they cravenly thank TSA gropenführers for their service and tolerate all manner of grotesque police misconduct — our national libertarianism wanes when it should wax and waxes when it should wane.

But there is one policy relied on elsewhere in the world that the United States should take up: quarantine.

And by quarantine I mean something more like New Zealand’s “managed isolation” — two weeks of not-great room service in a hotel you can’t leave — rather than the loosey-goosey “self-quarantine” contemplated by the Biden administration and typical of recent American practice.

The Biden administration’s program — like similar travel bans put into place by the Trump administration — is the quintessential 21st-century American public policy: a ban on travel from India that does not actually ban travel from India. If we forbid the foreign nationals to enter the country while permitting U.S. persons (citizens and permanent residents) to enter from the very same point of origin — while merely hoping that they will subsequently conduct themselves in the cautious and responsible way for which Americans are so famous — then we may as well not have a travel ban at all. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and the virus does not distinguish between legal residents of the United States and tourists and business travelers. If the evidence supports restricting the travel of Indians from India — and I believe it does — then it also supports restricting the travel of Americans from India.

In January, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that is comical reading. It purported to establish a seven-day quarantine period for all international travelers entering the United States, including returning Americans. These travelers are, according to the order, “required to comply” with “recommended periods of self-quarantine.” The juxtaposition of “required” with “recommended” is pure 21st-century Americana. The executive order included no enforcement mechanism, though it did solicit suggestions — suggestions! — about how to “assist travelers in complying with such policy.” “Assist in compliance” is language that might make George Orwell smile: The budding American police state remains in its pre-Oedipal hall-monitor phase.

The Centers for Disease Control put out a statement affirming that it “will not be mobilizing in any way to enforce its guidance as a rule.”

Although it appears likely — at the moment — that the asinine refusal of many Americans to be vaccinated against COVID-19 means that the infection will remain a persistent and routinely deadly menace for the foreseeable future, it also appears — at the moment — that the epidemic is starting to come under control here. Of course, that could change. But this epidemic is not the only problem — it is likely if not certain that there will, at some point, be another. And one of the most effective tools available to prevent the importation of infectious disease from abroad during an epidemic is supervised quarantine. At the moment, we do not have well-developed procedures or facilities for implementing such emergency measures. COVID-19 has been awful, but there are potentially far worse infections out there. We should get ready for them.

It would be better to make some preliminary preparations for future epidemics now rather than in the middle of some unknown crisis to come. Contra Laura Ingraham et al., New Zealand is not some authoritarian hellhole, and the United States might do itself a favor by learning something from its example.

Making Merchandise of Believers

Greg Locke, the fanatically pro-Trump pastor of the Baptist Global Vision Bible Church in Joliet, Tenn., is the quintessential false prophet, one of those miscreants who would “make merchandise of” his followers, in the evocative language of the King James translation.

There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

Locke had previous prophesied that Donald Trump would “100 percent remain president of the United States for another term.” In the fairly transparent manner of a not very bright man caught in an embarrassing lie, the pastor today insists that Joe Biden is a “fake president” and therefore that his earlier prediction is not falsified. He is far from the only one of this ilk. Many of the QAnon lunatics still expect Trump to return to the White House in glory, any minute now. Some of these lunatics and con artists are church leaders, including a few you may have heard of.

The colonization of the Christian church in the United States by politicians is a catastrophe for both religion and for politics. As a political matter, it is malpractice; as a religious matter, it is idolatry. The world requires a witness who will speak the truth at any cost, and it falls to the church to be that witness — the New York Times is not going to do the job.

A church that embraces lies for the sake of convenience and transient secular power is no church at all — and that is what many Americans, especially conservative Protestants, are faced with.

Words About Words

Speaking of the colonization of church by state, I’ve been watching the Wolf Hall series (I’d appreciate any informed recommendations about whether to read the novels from which it is adapted), which puts me in mind of a reader’s question: Why is it beheading, not de-heading?

If you remove ice from an airplane or frost from a chicken, you are de-icing or defrosting, while halls that have been decked (with boughs of holly, which is the only thing halls get decked with, as far as I know) they are bedecked. Separating married people is divorce, while bringing two together is a betrothal. We befriend those we like and defriend those who irritate us on Facebook.

Why behead?

In English, we have prefixes and suffixes that are “privative,” meaning they negate or reverse the quality expressed by the word: unalienable, anhedonic, emotionless, atypical, nonsense, antimatter, etc. We don’t have a lot of privative be- in modern English, but they had it in Old English, including in beheafdian, from which we get the modern English “behead.”

People learning English as adults sometimes have a hard time with privative formations, because they are subtle and do not follow any obvious exceptionless rule: Why insufferable rather than unsufferable, while inalienable and unalienable are so interchangeably used that both appear in different drafts of the Declaration of Independence? Why is uncorrect incorrect? Why does inflammable mean flammable instead of not flammable?

The last of these is the easy one to answer: because in- in this usage isn’t privative at all — that which is inflammable is that which may become inflamed, from the Latin inflammare.

As for the rest, even the most rampant prescriptivist must at some point accept that English is one of those great spontaneous orders that are “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

I recommend to you Matthew Walther’s very interesting New York Times essay on the utterly unsurprising Trumpism of Biden’s first 100 days in office, but I cannot endorse the headline: “Biden’s First 100 Days Would Make Trump Jealous.” I trust the reason is obvious enough to regular readers.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

People are power, I argue in the New York Post, which is why California and New York are each losing a House seat while Florida picks up one and Texas gains two. It’s not just high taxes and housing costs.

There’s more in play than high taxes and high rents. The increasingly stifling and conformist “woke” political culture of California and New York have made them less attractive to many of the kind of people who have the money and the freedom to pack up and move to Texas or Florida. And the two states’ overbearing response to the coronavirus epidemic — which, incredibly enough, managed to be both heavy-handed and ineffective at the same time — poured gasoline on a fire that already was smoldering.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Inside you will find what I hope are some interesting details of this American life with which you are not already familiar.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.


George Kennan: A Study of Character, by the late John Lukacs. The Cold War is not done with us, and we are not done with containment.

In Closing

From Adam Ferguson’s Essay on the History of Civil Society, 1767. Note that the Cromwell referenced here is Oliver, not the one in Wolf Hall, his ancestor.

Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design. If Cromwell said, That a man never mounts higher, than when he knows not whither he is going; it may with more reason be affirmed of communities, that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended, and that the most refined politicians do not always know whither they are leading the state by their projects.

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White House

Joe Biden’s Executive Incoherence

President Joe Biden speaks about the status of coronavirus vaccinations and his administration’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 21, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Welcome to the Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about language, culture, and politics that will, with any luck and the kind attention of a few good editors, turn out to be more coherent than this week’s subject. To subscribe to the Tuesday and receive it in your inbox, follow this link.

Biden vs. Biden

That the Biden administration should be incoherent is the least surprising development so far of 2021 — Joe Biden himself is generally incoherent on a personal level. Biden’s incoherence is not (contra the popular right-wing talking point) mainly the result of his advanced age or the state of his mental acuity — he has been a little bit dim and a little bit all over the place for the entirety of his very, very long career in public office, since he was a young man, because he is a creature of pure self-serving opportunism without a moral center or real principles.

It would be easy to call him a weathervane, but a weathervane is anchored on something and centered. President Biden is more like that plastic bag blowing around in American Beauty — empty, lightweight, subject to the moment’s prevailing wind.

Because of this debility, President Biden cannot manage a “team of rivals” the way more serious figures such as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt did in their respective times. This is a particularly troublesome shortcoming in a president for whom FDR and his administration are the guiding lights, even if the guidance derived from that quarter is almost exclusively a matter of rhetoric and nostalgia.

Like the Biden administration, the Franklin Roosevelt administration comprehended a genuinely diverse array of political tendencies, from agrarian progressives (Claude R. Wickard) to crypto-Communists (Henry Wallace) to Republicans (Henry Stimson), but its members were obliged to take seriously the two great crises of the time (depression and war) and were disciplined by the president’s own masterly — and often masterful — leadership. As with the resolutely non-ideological (and effectively nonpartisan) administration of Dwight Eisenhower after the war, the character of the administration amplified the character of the man.

The Biden administration also is home to quiet rivalries between its moderate-pragmatist elements (Janet Yellen, Lloyd Austin), its hardcore left-wingers (Xavier Becerra), its amoral power-seekers (Kamala Harris, in the West Wing, with the icepick), and its workaday crackpots (Deb Haaland et al.). But the Biden administration does not have Franklin Roosevelt at the head of it — it has the bad luck to be headed by Joe Biden, who apparently believes that he can be Donald Trump when it comes to the so-called war on drugs while being Patrisse Cullors on police reform, and that he can be the Ronald Reagan of a new Cold War with China while playing Woodrow Wilson’s role in a new League of Nations. At home, he presents himself simultaneously as the sensible pragmatist and . . . Santa Claus.

Unlike the Roosevelt administration, the Biden administration does not bring a particularly intense focus to the great crises of the time — in spite of its bursts of rhetorical vehemence. On the matter of the coronavirus epidemic and its aftermath, the administration has allowed itself to be pulled in six different ways by bureaucratic inertia, narrow political self-interest, and competing approaches to risk-management; on the matter of China, his administration lacks the intellectual rigor and moral seriousness to disentangle the knot of economic and geopolitical factors that actually shape our real-world relationship with the so-called People’s Republic, which is quite different from both Washington’s rhetorical account of Beijing and Beijing’s rhetorical account of Washington. Biden has access to some excellent advisers on both of those issues, but all advisers can do is offer advice. Biden makes decisions like a man who expects the music to stop abruptly and fears that he will be the one left without a seat.

You can tell how much of this is stagecraft requiring the suspension of disbelief. President Biden would have us believe things that are logically incompatible, e.g., (1) that climate change is one of the most important crises facing the human race, and (2) that John Kerry should be entrusted with leading our response to climate change. John Kerry should not be in charge of climate change — he should be in charge of addressing the national debt, because the only thing in life he ever has had much talent for is marrying money. (Mr. Kerry has married two heiresses; the current Mrs. Kerry has married two senators — these are totally normal people and not weird at all.) You don’t put John Kerry in charge of something because you think it is an existential threat that requires a substantive response — you put John Kerry in charge of something when you want self-regarding summitry and highly refined New England umbrage. On that front, John Kerry always delivers.

Unlike many of my fellow conservatives, I think climate change is a real problem. But if I didn’t think it was a problem, I’d expect it to become a cosmic crisis after putting it in John Kerry’s portfolio. But from Joe Biden’s vantage point, John Kerry is a promising young man.

It was not easy to take Joe Biden very seriously as a candidate. It is impossible to take him very seriously as a president. The Biden administration is like an angry chimpanzee at a chess tournament — it isn’t going to win the match, but that isn’t what we should be worrying about.

A little bit of incoherence is not necessarily a bad thing in an administration, if it is the right kind of incoherence: Often, successful political leaders do not seem to be operating from any sort of grand plan because they are not operating from any sort of grand plan, but rather are pursuing piecemeal reforms as opportunities present themselves. There are worse ways to govern.

In U.S. politics, a president typically gets to do only one or two big things — the really successful ones get two big things done (Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and oversaw important changes in economic policy), the moderately successful ones get one thing done (Richard Nixon ended the Vietnam War, Barack Obama signed a health-care bill), and many fail to achieve even one big thing. The ones who fail to put even one big thing on the scoreboard aren’t necessarily bad presidents or failed leaders — Harry Truman spent his presidency finishing up Roosevelt’s unfinished business, and George H. W. Bush showed his quality in a foreign-policy crisis that forced itself onto his agenda — though some of them surely must be understood as failures. Donald Trump’s two big issues were trade and immigration, and he achieved lasting reform on neither issue.

Pragmatism and compromise can be expensive. George H. W. Bush broke a campaign promise (“read my lips”) in order to broker a budget deal with intransigent Democrats holding the majority in Congress, which was the right thing to have done as a matter of policy but probably cost him reelection. (Democrats razzed him about it, but the people who really carped most bitterly on the tax-pledge issue were Republicans led by Pat Buchanan. The more things change . . . ) George H. W. Bush had a kind of cultivated integrity that was not to be found in Barack Obama or Donald Trump. He wasn’t an ideologue, and he wasn’t uncompromising — the coherence of his administration was to be found in a set of very wide principles, liberally applied. George H. W. Bush’s presidency was less shaped by what he thought his career was about than by what he thought his country was about, and what he thought it should be about.

But even the most successful presidents are compressed in memory until they are as two-dimensional as a Herblock cartoon. Ronald Reagan was one of the greatest peace-seekers of his time — he talked constantly of peace, sought to make peace, entered into controversial arms-control agreements (over the strenuous objections of the editors of this magazine), and even dreamt of developing an effective anti-missile system and then simply giving the technology to the Soviet Union and other countries in order to render our own nuclear missiles ineffectual along with everyone else’s. But history will remember him as a warmonger, even though he was remarkable among modern presidents for his disinclination to use the war-making powers at his disposal. Our cartoon history cannot account for the reality that the great military crisis of the second half of the 20th century was resolved in no small part through the efforts of a celebrity libertarian from California who used the words peace and peaceful 14 times in a short address at Eureka College in the second year of his presidency — long before the war had been won.

But Reagan had an unusual political gift and the benefit of being on the right side of the most important issues of his time.

The difference between Biden and our more effective executives may simply be that those other presidents knew what they wanted and, for that reason, had some idea of what to do. They often did things that were politically difficult rather than simply try to triangulate their way into popularity. Because of the way history compresses things, it is easy to forget that many Americans energetically opposed U.S. involvement in that second European war (Roosevelt himself promised voters, “Your boys are not going to be sent to any foreign war”) and that the New Deal, the most significant political development between Appomattox and Pearl Harbor, was bitterly opposed by many Americans. Ronald Reagan’s antagonists included an American Left whose best minds were either pro-Communist or committed a nearly religious belief in the moral equivalency between the United States and the Soviet Union. Abolishing slavery was a distinctly minority enthusiasm in Abraham Lincoln’s time.

What is remarkable is that while Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan were able to exercise leadership on genuinely controversial issues, Joe Biden is overmatched by an issue about which there is an effectively universal consensus regarding outcome: Nobody wants the coronavirus epidemic to continue, and, aside for a few kooks in the “voluntary human extinction” movement, there is no pro-coronavirus faction. But on such practical matters as workplace rules relating to COVID-19, the administration is unable to move forward in a direct and timely way. Faced with the thorny cultural politics of vaccine refusal, President Biden’s big, bold idea is . . . paid time off. It is remarkable how many social problems Biden and Biden-style Democrats believe can be addressed with paid time off or higher wages for government workers — paid time off is now, according to the Biden administration, “infrastructure,” of all ridiculous things.

Perhaps President Biden can free-stuff his way through the rest of the coronavirus epidemic. He stepped into a situation that was about as encouraging as could be expected — the vaccines were good-to-go and the economic recovery already was under way — but, even with that great advantage, his administration acts as though it is in a constant state of low-level panic.

And so expectations should be modest indeed for the Biden administration’s work on the much more difficult issue of China. The epidemic has been awful, but the virus does not have 350 nuclear warheads and something north of $1 trillion of U.S. public debt in its portfolio.

And Xi Jinping is not looking for paid time off.

Words About Words

I have mentioned masterful before, but I would like to briefly revisit the word. Masterful is different from masterly — a masterly performance is one that demonstrates a high level of accomplishment, but a masterful performance is one that exhibits a controlling or domineering character. Franklin Roosevelt was both a masterly politician (he was good at politics) and a masterful one (he was at times tyrannical).

One of the strange new habits associated with our increasingly tribalistic politics is that it is now verboten to observe that someone “on the other side” is good at something. These are words that — for some people, anyway — must not be spoken. But Bill Clinton was a really good politician. Slimy and dishonest, to be sure, but one with real talent — masterly. Understanding that is useful for understanding all sorts of things, from the history of the 1990s to why Mrs. Clinton was less successful in her quest for power than Mr. Clinton was. Paul Krugman was a good economist before he was an incompetent newspaper columnist. Alec Baldwin is a very fine actor, a fact that is not nullified by his juvenile politics.

There is a danger in excessive admiration for mere skill (here, the Bill Clinton example is again useful), but there also is danger in refusing to give even a devil his due. Conservatives are very sensitive to current efforts to police our speech and our thought, but we are at the same time developing a language-policing and thought-policing culture of our own. This should be discouraged.

If we cannot speak plainly about things and write plainly about things, then we will lose our ability to think clearly about those things — as, indeed, we already have in many spheres.

Rampant Prescriptivism

May vs. might is a fun one. Some advice holds that may should be used when something is more likely and might when something is less likely, but that does not seem to me exactly correct. May is best used to indicate an ordinary fact and might a hypothetical or counterfactual. “He has a debt that may take years to repay” vs. “If he loses his job, he might not repay that debt at all.”

Also: Might is the past tense of may. “I may win this race. I had thought I might win the earlier race until Andretti shot past me.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here, if you would like to learn about life in an Austin homeless camp or death in Chicago.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

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In Other News . . .

After taking my first flight in more than a year, I briefly visited New York City last week, to host a dinner conversation with the National Review Institute’s regional fellows as part of the “Burke to Buckley” program. The conversation was great, but New York City, or at least Manhattan, is positively shell-shocked. Parts of Midtown were deserted at midday, and the mood on the street was somewhere between Great Depression and war zone. The only sign of normalcy was the consultant types at Pershing Square have too-loud conversations intended to communicate their personal importance. (You get a much worse version of that on the NYC–D.C. Acela, or at least you used to, pre-plague: “You tell Goldman Sachs to reschedule — I have a meeting at the White House!” “We have $500 million in that deal!”) Empty storefronts, shuttered businesses, even more widespread vagrancy, etc. — I cannot remember having seen New York City quite so grim.

Some of these problems are the result of the coronavirus epidemic. Some of them are not.

New York City got hit a lot harder than many other parts of the country did, and it has a claim to our sympathy on that count, but the evidence of institutional failure and misgovernance is visible everywhere from Battery Park to Fifth Avenue to Harlem. Conservatives write off New York City just as we write off California, and we are wrong to do so in both cases. New York City went 20 years without electing a Democrat mayor, and while Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg may not be everybody’s particular hot steaming cup of Lord Bergamot, a party that cannot make a credible case for itself in the wake of the incompetence and maladministration of Bill de Blasio has some soul-searching to do.

The same is true of Gavin Newsom’s California. It won’t do to tell ourselves that New Yorkers and Californians are simply zombies who will not listen and cannot be reasoned with. It is the job of those who would hold power to persuade. The typical Californian and the typical Republican may disagree about 80 percent of the issues, but they could probably have a fruitful conversation about affordable housing. New Yorkers don’t want urban blight and terrible schools — there is room for intelligent negotiation and persuasion.

The Republican mayoral primary will pit a bodega activist with no Wikipedia page against celebrity vigilante Curtis Sliwa.


Check out Louis Menand’s The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, for observations on figures ranging from James Baldwin to Susan Sontag and from Hans Morgenthau to Elvis.

In Closing

Any system is inherently unstable that has no peaceful means to legitimize its leaders. In such cases, the very repressiveness of the state ultimately drives people to resist it, if necessary, by force.

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections.

The objective I propose is quite simple to state: To foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.

This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want government repression of religious liberty, a single political party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead of democratic tolerance and diversity?

–Ronald Reagan, Speech to the British Parliament, 1982

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Politics & Policy

The Strange Cares of Billionaires

Then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during the 2010 meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C., November 16, 2010. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about gauche billionaires. Also politics, language, and culture. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” which I hope you will do, please click this link.

Lady Fristberg, of the Princeton Fristbergs
First, some caveats: I don’t like the way “elite” is used as a term of abuse; I think it is enormously destructive that right-wing populists have decided that our best institutions of higher education should be regarded as class enemies to be defeated rather than important institutions in need of reform; I think it is unseemly when people sneer that this or that billionaire is still really, really rich — a billionaire, in fact! — even after making a big charitable donation; it is a sign of our national soul-sickness that in certain quarters, philanthropy as such is derided as the new Medici indulgence or scorned as an analgesic helping to put off the more fundamental structural economic changes dreamt of by such would-be revolutionaries as Senator Bernie Sanders. And of all the Democrats and crypto-Democrats who were running in 2020, Michael Bloomberg would have been my first choice.

That being stipulated, I will confess that reading about the new Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity at Princeton University caused my eyes to roll so hard you’d have thought I was auditioning for a role in The Exorcist XVII: The Devil Goes Down to Muleshoe.

Princeton, like practically every other similar institution in the country, believes that it has a diversity problem. I myself am not convinced that it does, but Princeton is of course entitled to decide for itself. Princeton reports that about a quarter of its student body is made up of “underrepresented minorities,” which is lower than the combined black and Latino share of high-school graduates in the United States but not radically so. (And Princeton, with fewer than 9,000 students and one of the country’s most selective institutions, offers a relatively small data set. Nationally, African Americans make up about 13 percent of college students, roughly proportional to their share of the population.) More interesting than the racial-ethnic breakdown is the fact that a fifth of Princeton’s students come from households reporting less than $50,000 a year, to me a surprisingly high figure. I see little to criticize in these figures.

There are two things Princeton and Michael Bloomberg have in common. One, neither of them needs money: Bloomberg’s net worth is estimated at around $60 billion, and Princeton’s endowment is about $27 billion, with its annual endowment income amounting to more than $170,000 per student, a figure that allows Princeton to offer generous financial-aid packages that allow most of its students to graduate with no student-loan debt or very little. Some 82 percent of Princeton undergraduates finish debt-free, and the median debt among those who do borrow is less than $10,000. It is to Princeton’s credit that this is the very model of how an elite institution of this sort should conduct its basic business.

The other thing Princeton and Michael Bloomberg have in common is Emma Bloomberg.

The elder Bloomberg daughter is a richly credentialed academic striver, having followed her undergraduate degree at Princeton, which today houses 220 undergraduates at Emma Bloomberg Hall, with a joint graduate degree in business and public administration from Harvard, which is to be home to the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University after a $150 million donation from Bloomberg Philanthropies. She worked for the Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit that has benefited in many ways from its Bloomberg relationships.

Ms. Bloomberg has the usual insufferable class markers (her ex-husband’s surname is “Frissora” and their daughter bears the portmanteau surname Frissberg) and she has spent her career mostly in what amounts to an extended version of the family business, working in institutions supported by her father’s money. She also worked in the mayor’s office in New York — something not entirely surprising for a Bloomberg.

In the great American tradition of starting a club in order to give yourself something to be in charge of, she founded Murmuration, a nonprofit that for a long time did not seem to actually do very much of anything but was notionally oriented toward education reform until it starting buying up campaign-oriented enterprises. It employs veterans of such organizations as the Center for American Progress and the Bloomberg-founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and it rejoices in the services of a vice president of communications who was until 2015 the “national fan ambassador” for USA Curling — something very close to the perfect recipe for perfect mediocrity. This is what happens when Tracy Flick has real money.

In a documentary film about the undistinguished children of rich people, her sister, Georgina, complained that “it sucks” being a Bloomberg. She has since had a change of heart. It probably does suck, in some ways, but it beats flying coach.

Today, Emma Bloomberg sits on the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will donate $20 million to her alma mater for its new diversity center, to be named after her. This is the billionaire’s equivalent to a matching set of logo-covered Louis Vuitton luggage or a Burberry plaid baseball cap.

It is not the case that a daughter’s making a career out of her father’s money and connections means that she necessarily is unaccomplished in her own right — Lucrezia Borgia spoke a half-dozen languages and held real political power as governor of Spoleto, which gives her a better claim to having shattered a glass ceiling than anything that could be boasted of by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was finally unsuccessful in politics as anything other than extension of the career of her gifted and amoral husband.

But if we must have Bloomie Borgias and modern Medici, then we really need an updated version of the old aristocratic manners and perhaps even a touch of — difficult as it is to imagine, given the character of the people we are talking about — the self-effacing discretion that characterized earlier generations of moneyed patrons.

It is vulgar to name an institution after someone living in exchange for money. It is vulgar when Michael Bloomberg does it on his own behalf, and it is triple-double vulgar when he does it on behalf of his daughter, who is barely 40 years old and is lightly accomplished at best.

It is probably a bad idea to name an institution after a living person in general for almost any reason — especially in light of our recent convulsions over things named for people who died 500 years ago.

This sort of vulgarity is far from unknown at institutions such as Princeton, which is home to the Frist Campus Center and has seen various members of the Frist family frolicking about its exclusive campus. It even has been suggested in some quarters that these two developments may be somehow linked! Our norms should discourage very strongly this kind of self-aggrandizement, but the trend seems to be in the opposite direction: Princeton also will be home to a new dormitory named for Mellody Hobson, the second Mrs. George Lucas, a sprightly youthful Princetonian born the year the billionaire film director married his first wife.

Perhaps the Frissbergs — or maybe even the Fristbergs, in the happy event of such a conjunction! — will do better when it is their generation’s turn.

And while I will here repeat that $20 million is a great deal of money irrespective of how much more than that one has, that Michael Bloomberg could have bought his daughter a private island (why settle for semi-private?) rather than plaster her name (which is also his name) on an Ivy League institution (for a second time), that the philanthropic impulse should be generally encouraged, etc., it is worth noting that this is another excellent example of the way that the elites who dominate our political discourse and our policy-making institutions are — inevitably — obsessed with their own interests and constrained by their own experiences.

The social situation of African Americans is, in many ways, a scandal: twice the average poverty rate (and three times the white poverty rate), four times the national average felony-conviction rate, shorter life expectancy, etc. But the social situation of people who are black and who also are plausible candidates for admission to Princeton is a different story. Students who might end up at Princeton if there is a bit more enthusiastic diversity outreach aren’t going to Rikers Island if they fail to get into Princeton — they’re going to Stanford or Penn or Duke or — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — Berkeley. The people who need help are not promising young black Princeton applicants — they are black high-school dropouts, and, indeed, high-school dropouts of all races. They are addicts and people with mental-health problems, felons attempting to reenter society and find decent work, etc.

Of course, we as a nation can walk and chew gum at the same time — but we don’t.

We don’t have Bloombergs — or the former Mrs. Jobs, or the former Mrs. Bezos, or Mrs. Gates, or other representatives of the billionaire-dilettante class — lined up to be the next principal of Milwaukee’s North Division High School. But for the sake of the country — and for the sake of its most vulnerable people — fixing what’s wrong at North Division is going to matter a great deal more than seeing to it that Princeton has one more thing named after the Bloombergs.

Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. The press loves a story about the press. The people who dominate the political conversation, philanthropy, and the policy-making process cannot help but be most intensely interested in themselves. That is human nature.

One of the many blessings of a market-oriented economy — besides the fact that somebody has to earn those billions before they can be given away — is that markets are one of the few social institutions that really force us to think about other people’s lives and aspirations and that reward us for satisfying other people’s needs and desires. Government agencies can be run — indefinitely — for the benefit of their employees, and philanthropic endeavors can persist for years in vanity, crankery, and incompetence. Which is not to say that we do not need good government and effective philanthropy — we certainly do. But we should appreciate how powerful is the urge to build monuments to oneself and to create high-class sinecures for one’s family and allies.

For every Pope Alexander VI there is a Savonarola in waiting.

Words about Words
As some of you will have noticed, I am interested in something in linguistics called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, part of something known more generally as “linguistic relativity.” The idea is that the structure of a language influences or constrains how we think about the world. The classic example (based on nonsense, apparently) is the folk belief that Eskimos have a very large vocabulary of words for different kinds of snow. Benjamin Whorf, writing in 1940, argues that the Eskimo have different words for different kinds of snow because in their environment these constitute “different things to contend with.” In English, all the different kinds of snow are just snow, whereas “to an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable.” That turns out to be a just-so story, but there are legitimate examples. For example, some languages have a word for the obligation a daughter-in-law owes to her husband’s parents (with no equivalent for sons-in-law) while the English-speaking people had no such word and no such concept. Because we think in language, it is difficult to think very clearly about something for which we do not have a word, and we have a tendency to try to fit things into the categories created by our language.

And so words can shape our thinking in powerful ways. For example, the metaphorical “cloud” of off-site software has taken on a conceptual life of its own, spoken about and treated as though it were an actual entity rather than a way of talking about providing a software service. In response — this is how you know the issue is a serious one — someone has taken the time to emblazon a T-shirt with the slogan: “There Is No Cloud. It’s Just Someone Else’s Computer.”

F. A. Hayek, who couldn’t possibly have known how bad things would get, invested a great deal of ink in demonstrating the emptiness of the concept of “social justice.”

As demonstrated above, words such as equity, diversity, inclusion, etc., have been used to smuggle assumptions into our language and, hence, into our thinking. The displacement of the biological term sex by the grammatical term gender is another example of this.

Rampant Prescriptivism
I was thinking about “the cloud” in part because a reader wrote to complain about a degradation in the language of software professionals. Cloud software is, properly speaking, “off-premises,” but my reader reports that this qualification increasingly is being shorted to “off-premise,” which means something else entirely, perhaps describing the second act of a Charlie Kaufman script. The plural of premise is premises, but premises in the sense of a site or location is a distinct word, albeit one that derives directly from the plural of premise, in its legal sense denoting the details of a deed. So, don’t write premise when you mean premises.

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

Why do we call a single building the premises? To answer this question, we must go back to the Middle Ages. The English word premises comes from the Latin praemissa, which is both a feminine singular and a neuter plural form of praemissus, the past participle of praemittere, “to send in advance, utter by way of preface, place in front, prefix.” In Medieval Latin, the feminine form praemissa was often used with the sense “logical premise” in philosophical discussions, while the neuter plural praemissa was often used with the sense “things mentioned before” in legal documents. Latin praemissa was borrowed into Old French as premisse and thence into Middle English. In Middle English legal documents, the plural premisses came to be used with the sense “the property, collectively, which is specified in the beginning of a legal document and which is conveyed, as by grant.” By the first half of the 1700s, this use of the word had given rise to the modern sense of premises, “a building with its grounds or appurtenances.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com.

Home and Away
You can listen to me talk with Brad Polumbo about why I don’t want too much democracy here.

You can listen to me talk with Ross Kaminsky about using employment as a tool of social and political coercion here.

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Other News . . .
Are traffic stops dangerous for police officers? All my life, I have heard that they are the most dangerous thing a typical police officer does in a typical day. In a conversation with Mark Joseph Stern, Jordan Blair Woods of the University of Arkansas School of Law discusses his Michigan Law Review article in which he makes the case that this is a myth, one that has distorted both law-enforcement practices and legal thinking. Both the interview and the law-review article are worth reading.

A podcast you should be listening to is Mark Leonard’s World in 30 Minutes in association with the European Council on Foreign Relations. Consistently interesting conversation and good reading recommendations.

The Destroyer Cometh
Pancake (“the Destroyer”) is no fan of baths and absolutely hates having her paws cleaned after running through the mud, but, if you happen to leave the shower running . . .

In Closing
“Probably it is true enough that the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently,” writes F. A. Hayek, “that on most questions they accept views which they find ready-made, and that they will be equally content if born or coaxed into one set of beliefs or another. In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority. But this does not mean that anyone is competent, or ought to have power, to select those to whom this freedom is to be reserved. It certainly does not justify the presumption of any group of people to claim the right to determine what people ought to think or believe.”

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Politics & Policy

Hysteria Is Not a Program

(Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, politics, culture, and the unconquerable stupidity of the American press. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link. Subscribing to “The Tuesday” is free, but subscribing to National Review is not, because this content does not just exnihilate onto the Internet. The best thing you can do to support our work is to become a National Review subscriber, which comes with sundry benefits that you may find of interest. I am, as always, grateful for your support of our work.

Mirror Images

Not that everybody is enchanted with everything they read in this space. Far from it.

Last week, I wrote a couple of pieces that irritated readers Right and Left. And so, proceeding in a politically dextrosinistral fashion . . .

A number of right-leaning readers wrote in, occasionally spitting with rage, to protest my suggestion that the time is ripe for a bipartisan deal on gun policy. The refrain was, for the most part: “No compromise!” Some of the less verbal among the critics sent cartoons of Lucy van Pelt pulling the football away from Charlie Brown. The usual right-wing social-media accounts desperate to draft off of NR’s traffic did the sort of thing they usually do, in the usual sad-clown fashion. And to think: It was only a few years ago these folks were talking up The Art of the Deal.

Here’s some negotiating advice: When the other side offers you something you want, take it.

Of particular interest to me was former Brady Campaign director Dan Gross’s column in the New York Times, in which he forthrightly conceded that if our goal is reducing the level of criminal violence in these United States in a meaningful fashion, then focusing on mass-shooting events (which claim fewer lives every year than do firearms accidents) and pressing for policies such as a ban on so-called assault weapons is not the way to go. Gross suggested several possible courses of action, including doing more to investigate and prosecute gun-trafficking operations. So, if you are keeping score: Gross supports an assault-weapons ban in principle, writing, “I believe there is no place in civilized society for guns that are made for the express purpose of killing people,” which is a case against the Second Amendment per se — the right enshrined therein isn’t about pheasant hunting. I, along with most other gun-rights advocates, would oppose such a ban. But the action item here isn’t what we disagree about — it’s what we agree about. If there are more like Gross, willing to put the “assault weapons” issue on the back burner (I don’t expect them to set it aside entirely) and instead work with conservatives on trafficking and straw buyers — something many Second Amendment advocates have been seeking for years — then why on God’s green earth should we pass up the chance to take “Yes” for an answer?

Conservatives — and, specifically, elected Republicans — still have not learned the lesson they should have taken from getting so thoroughly rope-a-doped by Barack Obama on health care back in 2009. During the health-care debate, Democrats offered up some policies that ranged from the mediocre to the positively bad, and Republicans responded by insisting, almost with one voice, “We have the best health-care system in the world! Harrumph!” Even if Republicans had been right about that — and they weren’t — that would have been political malpractice of the worst kind. Millions and millions of Americans wanted (and still want) to see big changes to our health-care system, not because of ideology but because of risk aversion — medical bills are unpredictable, insurance benefits can be difficult to understand and manage, plans linked to employers are inherently insecure, etc. Americans were worried about losing their insurance, getting a surprise medical bill for tens of thousands of dollars, or having a condition excluded from coverage by their insurers on some self-serving pretext. Lecturing these people that they should just be grateful for what they have was a political loser, to be sure, but it was also — and this still matters! — bad policy, there being considerable room for improvement in the American system.

Gun control is an issue in which Kulturkampf considerations often trump empirical considerations and reasoned exchange, which is why Gross is not having much luck moving progressives in his direction. But facts are facts: The United States does have a great deal of criminal violence, more than does any comparable country, and while the fundamental problem is that Americans are simply violent people — which is why we also have more knife homicide and big-heavy-rock homicides than other countries — a criminal with a firearm is more dangerous than a criminal with a baseball bat or a knife. Mass shootings do not account for many deaths (relatively speaking), but they are a genuine cultural phenomenon. As with health care, millions of Americans are dissatisfied with the violent-crime situation in our country. Conservatives should be dissatisfied, too. The Democrats are ready to offer an array of bad policies, and the Republicans are ready to offer Americans, for the most part, squat.

(We never did see that great Donald Trump health-care plan, did we?)

But gun trafficking is a real thing, and straw-buying is a real thing, and there is no Second Amendment reason we should be protecting the felons involved in those crimes. Every time a Democrat says Republicans aren’t willing to do anything about guns, the Republicans should be pushing back: Okay, how about we lay down a mandatory minimum of ten years in federal prison for straw-buyers and traffickers and then make sure U.S. attorneys will actually get off their collective asses and prosecute those cases? How about we use the levers of federal power to encourage local prosecutors to prioritize those cases, too? How about we stop giving probation in weapons cases — when we don’t fail to prosecute them at all — and start putting these offenders in jail for real? You want to crack down on illegal-gun trafficking? Then let’s get cracking.

Joe Biden is out there talking about “ghost guns,” which are used in about as many murders as LEGO bricks or corn starch. Republicans ought to be responding with real policies designed to put real pressure on real criminals. They ought to be pushing everywhere, from the federal level to city hall, for improvements in mental-health care, too, which could help not only with violent crime but also with the persistent vagrancy in our cities.

But rather than flooding the zone with better policies, Republicans demand instead displays of mood affiliation. For Republican-oriented partisans and media entrepreneurs, the world is always ending, because their business model insists that the world always be ending, and their enemy is not proponents of bad policies — their enemy is anybody who thinks, acts, or talks as though the world is not ending.

Which it isn’t.

The cultivation of hysteria for fun and profit is a fine way to program a talk-radio station but a terrible way to run a country.

Moving On . . .

Some of you may have heard that I wrote a piece headlined, “Why Not Fewer Voters?” This inspired some prepackaged hysteria from our friends on the left. It is impossible to overestimate the stupidity and intellectual dishonesty of, to take one example, the response offered by Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate, under the appropriately hysterical headline, “National Review Comes Out Against Democracy, Explicitly.” The problem, Mathis-Lilley argues, is that conservatives at NR and elsewhere are “cracking under the strain of the Republican Party’s current unpopularity,” particularly in regard to Donald Trump’s failure to win reelection.

Do you know with whom the Republican Party currently is unpopular and has been for a good long while? Your obedient correspondent.

Mathis-Lilley cites me, Dan McLaughlin, and Andrew C. McCarthy in making his case for traumatized Republicans and Trump enthusiasts. But it is difficult to make his analysis line up with his choice of subjects: Insofar as this is about me and my political preferences, I don’t think it’s very likely that I’m going to be driven mad by the inability of a party to which I do not belong to reelect a candidate I opposed. McLaughlin, too, declined to support Trump in 2020, citing, among other things, the president’s “racially inflammatory rhetoric toward Mexican immigrants, Muslim refugees, and black protestors, while getting badly tongue-tied when discussing white nationalists,” yet Mathis-Lilley would have you believe that he is in some way an ally of “psychotic white-power militias.” My more indulgent friend Andy McCarthy, for his part, argued that Trump was unfit for the office, unprincipled, hobbled by “consuming narcissism, nonstop dissembling, infantile outbursts, inability to admit error, withering attacks on well-meaning officials he entices into working for him,” but, all in all, still a better choice than Joe Biden.

Given all that, I’m not entirely sure Mathis-Lilley is on precisely the right track here.

But the facts don’t matter. There was a prefab narrative, ready for deployment, insisting that Republicans are anti-democracy (for reasons of racism, obviously) and that’s what the story was going to say — even when the writer in question, me in this case, is not a Republican. Heather Cox Richardson, among others, mischaracterized me as a Republican, because it fits the flow of the argument even if it doesn’t fit the facts. She corrected herself after I pointed out the error and criticized her sloppy journalism, protesting in her own defense, “I am not a journalist.” And I hope the professor will forgive me for insisting on the point, but: If you are publishing a newsletter about current politics, then you are in the journalism business, and, irrespective of what you call yourself, the question is whether you are going to be a competent and responsible journalist or the other kind.

As expected, no one on the left has made anything approaching a serious response to my arguments, in some cases because they haven’t bothered to read them at all (this is obvious in some circumstances) or because they aren’t packing the gear to do so. And I’m still comfortable denying the vote to felons and teenagers.

Instead of a real discussion, what we get on the left is the mirror image of we get on too much of the right: performative hysteria. Right-wing performative hysteria and left-wing performative hysteria are, in fact, part of a single unitary phenomenon, which is not really politics as such but something closer to a blend of group therapy and role-playing game. It’s dumb and it’s boring, and it is much more of a problem for democracy than is the disenfranchisement of embezzlers or the absence from the electorate of people who can’t figure out how to organize their way to a photo ID by next November.

Department of Nope

Last week’s “Words about Words” contained an error regarding the derivation of the words tactic and technology. The word tactic does not derive from the same Greek root as technology; I misunderstood a reference to a Greek phrase in which both root words appear. Oxford Languages gives the etymology of tactic as “from modern Latin tactica, from Greek taktikē (tekhnē) ‘(art) of tactics’, feminine of taktikos, from taktos ‘ordered, arranged.’” Thanks to the Hellenists out there for the correction.

Words About Words

On the subject of “full stop,” a reader notes that his ex-wife was overly fond of affected British-isms, including “taking a tub,” a phrase I never had heard before. (I didn’t even know British people bathed!) He did not say that this is why she is the ex, but, if I were a divorce-court judge, I wouldn’t fault him for it.  If I want goofy Britishisms, I’ll record a podcast and get Charlie to pronounce “Chipotle.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

One of the many businesses I have meant to start over the years but haven’t is a very narrowly focused Hollywood prop shop that produces nothing except fake newspapers, newspaper clippings, microfiches of old newspapers, etc. For some reason, no one in Hollywood seems to be able to make up a phony newspaper. (You know who is good at that? The Philadelphia Inquirer.) Some god-awful examples include the terrible front pages and the library microfiche in Silence of the Lambs and practically every stalker shrine in every movie that features one. But perhaps the worst offender in recent memory is in The Dark Knight Rises, in which we catch a glimpse of a Gotham Times article linking Selena Kyle to a “hiest” [sic].


I’ve spelled a word wrong in a newspaper headline before. It happens — but, in the Gotham Times? I don’t think so. They’ve got super-editors over there.

Christopher Nolan’s team is really good at a lot of things, but not car-chase scenes or, alas, spelling. I hear that’s fixed in the Snyder cut.

Oh, wait . . .

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com.

Home and Away

You can buy my latest book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. I hope you will enjoy it. But if you buy it and don’t enjoy it, that’s okay, too. I have dachshunds to feed.

You can listen to me talking about infrastructure with Julie Mason here.

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

The Jen Psaki show is endlessly entertaining. Asked what the White House is doing to reach out to conservatives who are wary of the coronavirus vaccine, she said: “We’ve run PSAs on The Deadliest Catch. We’re engaged with NASCAR and Country Music TV. We’re looking for a range of creative ways to get directly connected to white conservative communities.” Greenwich High School, y’all. Goodness, gracious.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.


One Wrong Step

Demi Lovato performs the national anthem before Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., February 2, 2020. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, and, apparently, celebrity gossip. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

Some Varieties of Addiction

Because I am blessedly insulated from many aspects of pop culture, I know the name “Demi Lovato” only from a (typically) brilliant Remy parody. But now that I know her name, I have acquired another more interesting pair of words: “California sober.”

Lovato, for those of you who are similarly insulated, is an American pop singer who found her way into the tabloid headlines after overdosing on a heroin-fentanyl cocktail in the summer of 2018. The overdose was horrifying, and she still cannot drive a car because of vision loss associated with brain damage. She has since sought treatment for her drug problem and describes herself as “California sober,” a tongue-in-cheek term of recent coinage that entails abstinence from so-called hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine but the continued moderate use of marijuana and/or alcohol. “California sober” accords with an approach to substance abuse broadly known as “harm reduction,” which focuses on preventing the worst kind of self-destructive behavior associated with drug use rather than the criterion of absolute abstinence.

Lovato has come under criticism for her use of the term, both from addiction professionals (by which I mean doctors and therapists, not the other kind of addiction professional) and from recovering addicts who protest that to speak of qualified sobriety is an “insult” to those who practice a more total form of abstinence. There is a certain kind of American who always is looking for something to be insulted about. Many of them have New York Times columns.

Addiction recovery exemplifies several American tendencies. One is our ability to make an ersatz religion out of practically anything (count me with David Foster Wallace among those who believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is pretty obviously a cult, albeit a largely benign and well-intentioned one). Another is our ability to make a business out of anything (turnover in the addiction business is estimated at $42 billion a year in the United States). And a third is our ability to make Kulturkampf out of anything.

Human beings are storytelling creatures, and the mandate to create a unifying, comprehensive narrative about drug addiction is no less powerful than the need to create a unifying, comprehensive narrative about politics, the economy, or anything else. For practitioners of AA-style recovery, “California sober” is not only an insult but heresy. Of course, reality is much more complex than our storytelling accounts for. The D.A.R.E. and Reefer Madness school of propaganda would have you believe otherwise, but the vast majority of people who try serious drugs, including opiates/opioids and cocaine, never develop a problem with them. Overdosing on LSD is practically impossible to do by accident; the drug is not physically addictive. As Anthony Daniels (writing as Theodore Dalrymple) documents in his Romancing Opiates: Pharmaceutical Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy, the popular understanding of heroin addiction is wildly exaggerated, and heroin withdrawal is a relatively minor medical issue, far less dangerous than alcohol withdrawal. There are people who develop a problem with cocaine or heroin who give up those drugs but continue to use alcohol or marijuana without a problem. But we do love our stories, especially when they include a bright moral line with our kind of people on one side and the wrong kind of people on the other.

One of the problems with “California sober” is its lumping in marijuana and alcohol together. There are a great many people who have serious drug problems who are able to put aside heroin or cocaine but continue to have lifelong problems with alcohol, and some who develop a problem with alcohol as a substitute after overcoming a problem with a different drug. There are many reasons to believe that alcohol is far more dangerous to someone with other addiction problems than marijuana is. Of course, most people who use alcohol use it responsibly, and there is a world of difference between someone who has a glass of Bordeaux a few times a week and the guy who was sitting on the curb in front of a 7-Eleven a few blocks from my house this morning nursing a tallboy at 8 a.m.

We have a long tradition associated with alcohol, which is intertwined with everything from our cooking to our religion. But if that tradition were not there and we were starting from scratch, a rational society would probably have far more serious reservations about alcohol than about marijuana. Put another way: If alcohol had been invented last week, there is no way in hell we would let people sell it. That doesn’t mean that alcohol prohibition would be a good idea — no more than the prohibition of marijuana or other drugs is a good idea — but a mature and responsible politics recognizes degrees of interest richer than “legally permitted” vs. “legally prohibited.”

(N.B.: As my friend Jay Nordlinger sometimes points out, it is a fiction that “Prohibition didn’t work” — alcohol consumption substantially decreased after Prohibition was enacted. It was still a bad policy, in my view, but reality is complicated.)

We love our stories, and one of the stories we love best — it does not speak very well of us — is the humiliation of celebrities. Any opportunity for recreational cruelty will find many takers, but these more than most. My goodness, how people delighted in the personal troubles of Tiger Woods and the financial woes of Allen Iverson. (Race is a subject that induces hysteria in the American conversation, but it does seem to me that there is a special contempt brought to bear on famous black men who suffer a financial reversal. It seemed to me that there was much more contempt and ridicule heaped upon, say, MC Hammer during his bankruptcy than on Willie Nelson during his IRS-related tax problems, and much of that contempt had a familiar racial flavor: Hammer was a flashy spendthrift with too much jewelry, while Willie was a lovable outlaw heroically resisting the IRS. I don’t want to sidetrack myself here, but I have noted in the past that if Barack Obama had rocked a big-ass gold Rolex of the kind sported by Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, the resulting chorus of mortified denunciation would have been loud enough to drown out the engines of Air Force One.) Sometimes, the ritual humiliation of celebrities is the prelude to an eventual redemption story, but often it isn’t. Sometimes, someone goes from the top to the bottom, and we see to it that he stays at the bottom, because that is where we want him. Human beings are kind of awful that way.

(The chance to enjoy the gross pleasures of recreational cruelty is also why we exaggerate the vices of our political opponents — if they are beastly horribles, then we not only are liberated from feeling guilty about hurting them, we get to feel positively righteous about it.)

Perhaps our love of celebrity humiliation comes from the fact that the lofty status enjoyed by the likes of famous singers and mind-bogglingly wealthy athletes liberates us from that thing we are always pretending to care about so much: empathy. (By empathy we mostly mean sympathy, but that is a fight for another time.) People who are rich and famous, who have splendid resources and social connections, do not, according to a certain line of thinking, deserve our consideration. These high and mighty, who have so much more than . . . well, us . . . had everything going for them, messed it up, anyway, and so we are, according to this line of thinking, entitled to enjoy their troubles.

But people are people, and they don’t stop being people when they have money and fame. I happen to be writing this column within view of a basketball court where one of the 400 or so wealthiest men in the world stops by to shoot hoops from time to time. (I don’t see him today.) If he puts his foot down the wrong way, he is going to twist his ankle like anybody else, and, because he is not a young man, he’s more likely to injure himself than he would otherwise be. Age doesn’t care how many billions he has or about the fact that people sometimes stop to take pictures of him while he practices his jump-shot. There is a reason such phrases as “one false move” and “one wrong step” resonate with us.

One wrong step — one wrong literal step — can change a life. When I was about twelve years old, I was at the home of a friend my age who was roughhousing around with his father. His dad gave him a gentle shove, but he put his foot down just the wrong way and stumbled backward several steps and fell, back first, through a glass table. A shard of glass went all the way through him, like a sword. He lived, but I suspect his life was never the same. I am positively confident that his father’s life was never the same. One wrong step.

Mental-health problems, of which addiction is one important kind, are a more prominent feature of public life in our time than they seem to have been in the past. It may be the case, as a few old veterans I know insist, that we simply are softer now and less able to endure the ordinary stresses and strains of life. It may be that the same problems existed in the past but simply weren’t acknowledged or else were talked about in a different way. We conservatives have been known to go on at some length about character, and character is important: But is it really character that determines why one man enjoys a cocktail before dinner on Saturday nights with no problem, while another has a “Sunday morning coming down” and puts a plug in the jug, while yet another ends up drinking a breakfast beer in front of a 7-Eleven? I kind of doubt that character is all there is to the story. But still we desire — practically demand — that our stories should be simple: In one telling, a drinking problem or a heroin problem is just a matter of free will and bad choices; in another telling, a substance-abuse problem is something that “just happens” to people, like cancer.

(Not that we’ll let cancer just be cancer — that has to be a moral test, too: “He must have been a smoker.”)

“California sober” probably works for some people. I hope it works for Demi Lovato. It probably works better for people who have an ample supply of money and other resources than it does for people who are poor, unemployed, dependent, suffering from further mental-health problems, etc. People with money have problems, too, and the lucky ones have problems that can be solved, or at least mitigated, with money. But money has its limits. Housing is very expensive in California and in big progressive cities, but the tent cities in Austin and Los Angeles are not evidence of an economic problem — they are evidence of a mental-health problem. These are refugee camps, properly understood, but not for economic refugees.

If we would step outside of our stories for a moment — as we should, given that they are mostly fiction — then we might see something in these episodes other than the chance to smugly enjoy having our biases confirmed. There is a seductive kind of pleasure, gleeful and prideful, in being told that the people we already were inclined to think of as awful really are awful. But that’s just another destructive addiction. Frankly, I have more respect for the needle.

One wrong step — a thought that is or ought to be, if you will forgive the word, sobering.

Words About Words

A reader from Ireland writes in about gendered languages and my discussion of the same with Charles C. W. Cooke. He informs me that the Irish word for girl, cailín (source of the name Colleen) is grammatically masculine. Sometimes, grammatical forms are linked to the meaning of a word, and sometimes they aren’t. Making a big political fuss out of the fact that some languages are gendered — e.g. the atrociously illiterate neologism Latinx — is silly.

(And: Yes, it’s Irish word, not Gaelic word.)

You see similar things across languages, for example in Latin where the words for such traditionally male occupations as farmer and sailor have feminine endings even though they are grammatically masculine: nauta, agricola. There’s probably a reason for that (perhaps the association of farmers and sailors with notionally feminine entities, the earth and the sea, respectively), but Romans didn’t walk around looking at farmers sideways because the word for their occupation ends in -a. Our language is not grammatically gendered the way the Romance languages are, but gender comes up, often engendering stupid debates. English speakers who are not cripplingly neurotic are perfectly capable of understanding that a woman may be the “chairman of the board” or that the use of the generic “he” in a sentence does not exclude women from it.

A particularly interesting example to me is the English girl, which originally referred to a young child of either sex. Our friends over at the Online Etymology Dictionary quote Anatoly Liberman:

Girl does not go back to any Old English or Old Germanic form. It is part of a large group of Germanic words whose root begins with a g or k and ends in r. The final consonant in girl is a diminutive suffix. The g-r words denote young animals, children, and all kinds of creatures considered immature, worthless, or past their prime.

But if we really want to get into the cultural politics of sex and gender, then we should start with the displacement of the word — and fact — of sex by gender.

Rampant Prescriptivism

The gentlemen of the Oklahoma Bar Association write that they “are hoping to take a different tact” on a project, to which I will untactfully reply: Get it together, you feckless Joads.

Oklahoma has some beautiful lakes, but it is not exactly the center of American sailing life. National Review readers have no excuse for not knowing their sailing terms, and so of course you all already know that the expression is “take a different tack.”

To tack is to “change course by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind” the Oxford dictionary people tell us. (Oxford, mind you: I’m more inclined to take their word for it when it comes to rowing terms.) From that use, we get the more general “change tack” or “new tack” meaning a new direction for an endeavor. I suspect that tact found its way into the formulation by way of association with tactic, since to change tack might very well mean to change tactics, too.

Tactic comes from the same Greek root as technique and technology (τέχνη, tékhnē, meaning art or craft) whereas the nautical tack comes from the same Germanic root as tine (the pointy part of a fork) and the English tack in its sense of fastener: a tack is something that holds something in place, including, in some cases, a rope that holds a sail at a particular angle. Equipment suited to a particular task, such as fishing, is tackle.

So, pin this to your frontal lobe: It’s “change tack,” not “change tact.”

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

Home and Away

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Wooly Wilds of the ‘Real America,’ here. Generally less sympathetic than this edition of “The Tuesday.”

My National Review archive can be found here.

Listen to Mad Dogs & Englishmen here.

My New York Post archive can be found here.

My Amazon page is here.

To subscribe to National Review, which you really should do, go here.

To support National Review Institute, go here.

In Closing

It being Easter, I thought I would share something that came up in some reading earlier this week. I have heard sermons touching on the biblical story of the righteous prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer, a few dozen times over the course of my life. Naturally (at least naturally to me), I always thought the story was about Hosea, an example of heroic forgiveness that we should emulate. And that is true as far as it goes, but at some point, I came to understand that I was identifying with the wrong character in the story altogether. The heroic self-conception dies hard, even in those of us who have no special claim to it. Easter’s empty tomb is indeed a triumph — over death, over the gates of hell, but, mostly, over us, all of us Gomers and prodigal sons. To believe in redemption is to believe first in the need for redemption.

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Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is a Ridiculous, Power-Hungry Crackpot

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questions Deputy Treasury Secretary nominee Adewale Adeyemo during his Senate Finance Committee nomination hearing, on Capitol Hill, February 23, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter dedicated to language, politics, culture, and heckling Elizabeth Warren. To subscribe to “The Tuesday” and mainline all this high-class abuse straight into your inbox, please follow this link.

‘Shut Up,’ She Explained

Elizabeth Warren — the ridiculous hustling flatbilly grifter from Massachusetts from Oklahoma who snookered the academic establishment by pretending to be a Native American while writing dopey self-help books that are so sloppy and intellectually dishonest that it’s a surprise skeezy old Joe Biden hasn’t plagiarized them yet, a political grotesque who prides herself on being in the first generation of her family to attend college but rage-tweets as though she were in the first generation in her family with opposable thumbs, as ghastly and deceitful and god-awful a sniveling and self-serving a creature as the United States Congress has to offer — is, in spite of the genuine facts of her sorry case, getting a little full of herself, and believes that as a senator, she should be above the petty “heckling” of the little people.

You know, peons. Like you.

Sometimes, they mess up and tell you what they are thinking. And what Senator Warren is thinking is: “Shut up, or I’ll use the power of my office to shut you up.”

At issue is the senator’s recent social-media spat with Amazon. Because Senator Warren is as dreadfully predictable as a chlamydia outbreak in West Roxbury, you can imagine the insipidity of her complaint: “Blah blah blah, fair share, higher taxes on everybody except important hometown business interests and rich liberals in Cambridge, blah blah blah, Amazon.” Etc.

To which Amazon offered a perfectly sensible response, if I may paraphrase: “You’re in the Senate, you ridiculous ninny — and you are even on the freakin’ committee that writes tax legislation. You got a problem with tax law? We know a counterfeit Cherokee princess repping Massachusetts you might want to have a quiet word in private with.”

(My words, not theirs. Should have been theirs, though.)

Senator Warren, because dishonesty is her reflexive instinct (remember that bullsh** made-up story about being fired from a teaching job for being pregnant?), protested: “I didn’t write the loopholes you exploit.”

Well, senator . . . this is going to be kind of awkward!

Do you know what another word for “loophole” is? Law. Loopholes aren’t manufactured at some overseas sweatshop loophole factory operated by Charles Koch’s evil cousin Skippy — they are manufactured right there in the august body that is the United States Senate Committee on Finance, of which Senator Elizabeth Warren is, insanely enough, an actual member. She may as well have a sign on her door reading “Loopholes ’R’ Us.

This is Senator Warren’s mess. Jeff Bezos just pays the bills.

And, of course, “loopholes” aren’t really loopholes. “Loopholes” are what useless low-minded demagogues call intentionally designed features of the tax code when they are being used by somebody it is politically convenient to attack. We see this year after year after excruciatingly stupid year: Somebody with big ideas about spurring blue-collar employment proposes a tax subsidy for politically connected manufacturers, and then two years later bitches that tax subsidies are being used by politically connected manufacturers. Because we tax businesses on their profits rather than on their cashflow, ordinary expenses are deducted from taxable income — and politicians bitch about businesses getting to deduct expenses resulting from business decisions the politicians don’t like. An endless cycle of asininity, over and over and over.

Amazon’s strategy for minimizing taxes on its profits is indeed a devious one: not making very much money. Amazon routinely posts quite low profit margins: Last year’s 5.5 percent, modest by the standards of an Apple or a Google, was unusually high for Amazon, and in many years Amazon has reported no profit at all or almost none, choosing to reinvest its income into the business — you know, that chronic capitalist short-termism we’re always hearing about.

That’s not a loophole. That’s how basic U.S. corporate-tax law works.

It doesn’t have to work that way, of course: Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House, too, and there isn’t anything stopping them from passing a big fat progressive tax-reform bill that raises corporate taxes and capital-gains taxes to 65 percent, that radically narrows the deductibility of business expenses, whatever.

Go ahead. Should be fun to watch.

But this isn’t about taxes. This is about power.

Senator Warren has informed Amazon that she intends to — her words, here — “break up Big Tech so that you’re not powerful enough to heckle senators.” If the people of Massachusetts had any self-respect, they’d remove her from office over that threat.

(If the people of Massachusetts had any self-respect, they wouldn’t be the people of Massachusetts, so she’s probably safe.)

But allow Professor Williamson to give Professor Warren a little civics refresher: Here in the United States, we have a nifty thing called the Bill of Rights, which means that everybody — everybody — is powerful enough to heckle a senator. It goes with the job you effin’ dolt. (See? Heckling is easy!) This isn’t North Korea or Venezuela or East Germany — not yet! — where people have to be afraid of criticizing those who hold government office. The fact that Senator Warren so obviously wishes that it were so is a real good reason to retire her pronto.

Heckling pissant politicians is our national pastime. It’s what we do. We have a word for the kind of society in which those without power are too terrified of those with power to criticize them: tyranny.

And tyranny is what Senator Warren plainly desires — if we take her at her own word. Of course, there are lots of reasons not to take her at her own word, beginning with the fact that she is a habitual liar.

If Senator Warren weren’t dumber than nine chickens and as useless as teats on a boar hog, it would be genuinely surprising that she would put this political extortion threat into writing and publish it. Because that is what she is doing and what must be understood: Senator Warren is threatening to use the power of her office to impose economic sanctions on Americans to keep them from publicly criticizing her. I don’t have any particular sympathy for the recreant techno-bullies over in Jeff Bezos’s shop — I think it is just damned weird that our nation’s biggest bookseller is also our premier book-banner — but once you accept this kind of abuse of political power, it’s a short route to chaos.

This is, in fact, precisely the kind of thing the Democrats impeached Donald Trump over: the abuse of official power. Senator Warren “has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-government and the rule of law.”

We have the senator’s own word on what must follow from that.

And it involves more than heckling.

Words About Words

What exactly is a loophole, in the non-metaphorical sense? It is a balistraria, which is to say, an embrasure or crenelle, as the space between two merlons traditionally is called.

No? Not helping?

A loophole is a slit or other opening in a castle’s battlements through which archers of old could fire arrows or that defenders could use for other purposes, such as pouring burning pitch down on invaders. There seems to have been some cross-linguistic fertilization going on, with the Middle English loop (window) and the Dutch loop (to run or jump, related to leap and lap) playing off one another. Macmillan reports:

The “modern” meaning of loophole is itself over 300 years old, but it’s not entirely clear how we get from a narrow window in a castle to an omission — in a law or contract, for example — that provides an opportunity for evading its intended purpose. The consensus seems to be that the current use developed not from Middle English loop (a window) but from Dutch loop (which is related to the verb loopen, meaning “to run”), and from the now obsolete Dutch word loopgat, which was a hole through which someone or something could “run away” or escape. Somehow this concept — which is also reflected in loophole’s near-synonym escape clause — attached itself to the existing word loophole, and it’s easy to see why. The loopholes in a castle give you an advantage over your adversary, and so — potentially — do the loopholes in a law or contract.

Increasingly, figures such as Senator Warren use loophole to mean, “a feature of the law that is inconvenient for me politically but which I lack the courage, conviction, or intelligence to change.”

Rampant Prescriptivism

A reader writes to draw attention to the frequent mispronunciation of Realtor as “re-Al-it-tor,” which is what you become if you have a gauntlet with the Reality Stone in it. (Too soon?) Funny thing about Realtor — if you fail to capitalize it, you will sometimes get a note gently reminding you that it is a registered trademark that should be used only to refer to a member of the National Association of Realtors. They get pretty ridiculous about this:

As a REALTOR®, you can use the REALTOR® membership mark to help identify yourself as a member of the National Association of REALTORS®. To help protect the power the NAR brand, please read and follow our guidelines once you’ve selected the logo you want to use.

Any time you feel the need to write frequently in all-caps and use the ® three times in a short paragraph, you are engaged in very bad writing and should stop immediately.

But the underlying point is a valid one: When trademarks go into common generic usage, trademark owners can lose their legal rights. Aspirin, for example, used to be a registered trademark. (So did Heroin, but nobody much wants that one anymore!) The makers of Levi’s jeans, Xerox photocopiers, Dumpster-brand trash receptacles, etc., used to send newspaper editors irritated letters if they saw, e.g., xeroxed used as a generic term for photocopied. By way of comparison, Alphabet seems perfectly contented for google to be a synonym for search. Other common words in this category, some of which are still very much contested as exclusive intellectual property, include teleprompter (a product of the TelePrompTer Corp.) cellophane, trampoline, escalator, dry ice, laundromat, zipper, adrenaline, frisbee, jacuzzi, jet-ski, and memory stick.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@NationalReview.Com

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In Other News . . .

The People demand it, so here is a Katy-and-Pancake update. As you can see, Katy objects to Pancake’s presence a bit less than she used to, although she’s still pretty growly.

Pancake has about doubled in size in only a few short weeks. She is still unfortunately unclear about the distinction between outside and inside but seems to have figured out that she isn’t going to get breakfast until 5 a.m. even if we get up at 4:30 a.m. Dachshunds are not very smart dogs, but they do have priorities, and breakfast is the main one for Katy and Pancake both.

Katy is pretty mellow, but the littler puppy is a vicious little beast, ripping the stuffing out of her toys and doing some considerable violence to the rugs. Hence she is to be known as Pancake the Destroyer. Witness the decapitation of Lammy.

In Closing

Please do take the time to heckle your senators regularly. It is more important than voting.

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Politics & Policy

How Federalism Thwarts Dystopia

Delegates point to an electoral map at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., in 2016. (Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about language, culture, politics, and watching Joe Biden fall up stairs in a highly symbolic fashion. To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link. If you don’t want to subscribe, then follow this link.

Hotel California Politics

There is a fun web game called “Redraw the States,” which lets you reimagine the 2020 presidential election by moving counties from one state to another. The idea is to flip the results of the election in as few moves as possible. For example, Donald Trump would have won in 2020 if the votes of just three counties – Philadelphia (Pa.), Fulton (Ga.), and Wayne (Mich.) — had been reassigned to California or some other Democratic state. The opposite strategy — turning blue states red by annexing Republican counties to them — is a little more difficult, or at least I found it so, because Republican votes tend to be spread out over a greater number of less densely populated counties. So, you could have flipped a state to the Trump column by adding in the votes of Lubbock County, Texas (120,000 votes, two-thirds of them for Trump) to Georgia, but finding the votes to flip Pennsylvania or Michigan in a single Trump county is a lot more difficult. The counties that Biden won have in total 67 million more residents than the counties that Trump won.

I imagine that both of my Democratic readers already are thinking: “Reassigning the votes of a handful of dense, urban, and disproportionately black counties to California is effectively the same thing as taking them right off the map, which is, of course, what Republicans are trying to do by making it more difficult to vote.” The broad objection to the Electoral College is similar: that our state-centered presidential elections have the effect of quarantining big-city votes in a handful of states instead of allowing their effects to be distributed across the country as they would if we had a single national popular election for president. Lately that has worked to the advantage of Republicans in two ways: by reducing the effect of the very large Democratic majorities in California and by not reducing the effect of the smaller Republican majorities in Texas and Florida. In 2020, Joe Biden won California’s 55 electoral votes by a margin of 29 percent, while Donald Trump won the 38 electoral votes of Texas and the 29 electoral votes of Florida by only 5.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. Put another way, the 11 million votes that Biden got in California earned him 55 electoral votes, while the roughly equal number of votes Trump won in Texas and Florida combined won him 65 electoral votes. Biden’s advantage of 5 million votes in California was of less worth in terms of electoral votes than was Trump’s advantage of about 1 million votes in Texas and Florida combined.

There are many factors that go into that, including the fact that Republican presidential candidates more or less forgo campaigning in California and other states in which they are not realistically competitive, while Democrats will put up a pretty good fight in Florida (and, to a lesser extent, in Texas) because they believe they can win there.

It is impossible to disprove a counterfactual, but I strongly suspect that if in 2000 George W. Bush had won the notional “popular vote” while Al Gore won in the Electoral College, or if Hillary Rodham Clinton had won an electoral victory over Trump in 2016 without winning more votes nationally, then we would be hearing a good deal less from Democrats about the purported injustice of the Electoral College. (Facebook would be a happier place, too, if the Democrats hadn’t needed someone to blame for 2016 and settled on Mark Zuckerberg rather than, say, their incompetent candidate.) But that is not how our particular democratic cookie crumbles.

It is (entirely too) easy to oversimplify this. For example, taking Philadelphia, Fulton, and Wayne counties off the electoral map by consigning them to the oblivion of California or Connecticut would affect more white voters than black ones (each of those counties has a larger white population than black population) but would affect black voters disproportionately (each of those counties is more than 40 percent black in a country that is 13 percent black), while our current arrangement tends to amplify the influence of voters in such largely white states as Wyoming and North Dakota.

This is particularly galling from the point of view of the gross majoritarians when it comes to Senate seats, which, unlike Electoral College votes, are distributed among the states with no regard for population at all: Why, they demand, should the half-million people of Wyoming enjoy as much Senate clout as the 40 million people of California?

Again, reality is complicated: While small-state voters are disproportionately white and Republican, this is not a straightforwardly partisan issue, either: The same arrangement that benefits Republican Wyoming also lifts up the voice of our lightly populated second-whitest state, Soviet Bernistan.

The point of view of the gross majoritarians makes sense only if the states don’t. And so it is no surprise to find voices ranging from the dopey Left to the zany Left calling for the abolition of the states: Writing in Jacobin, Rob Hunter dismisses the states as “an ignoble legacy from the early history of the republic,” part of “American federalism’s long tradition of strangling popular sovereignty and democratic equality in the knots of competing and multiple state jurisdictions.” Lawrence R. Samuel, writing in the Washington Post, insists that diminished regional differences have turned “the once radical proposition of the ‘United States’ into an anachronism that now has little or no real value.”

I find myself agreeing with the gentleman from Jacobin in his assessment but not his conclusion: Yes, federalism and many other aspects of American government are very much designed to strangle popular sovereignty and to frustrate democratic equality by dividing power into competing jurisdictions. I think he has it about right when he writes: “Federalism multiplies the loci of power that must be captured by popular movements seeking to transform the capitalist state, or even just win some advances within it.”

I differ from Rob Hunter in that I thank God for it.

Why do we have states at all?

(Why, for that matter, do we still have counties when we have no counts, while we have no shires in spite of our having so many sheriffs?)

Hunter supplies part of the answer to his own question: Dismissing the value of the states as theaters for policy innovation, he writes: “History has shown how those little ‘laboratories of democracy’ are just as likely to be run by mad scientists as they are by benevolent researchers.” Indeed, they are. But what is true of the small ones also is true of the big ones, as 20th-century and 21st-century national governments broadly allied to Jacobin’s view of the world amply demonstrated by murdering some 100 million people in labor camps and gulags and through the use of such innovative tools as mass starvation as an instrument of political discipline. These United States are one of the few polities in the world that can be characterized accurately as enjoying open borders — between the states — which makes fleeing bad public policy and abusive government relatively easy. Relocating from California to Texas is pretty straightforward.

(It is a hell of a lot easier than relocating from Texas to, say, Switzerland.)

If you happen to be advancing a fundamentally totalitarian view of the world that recognizes no legitimate