The Weekend Jolt

National Review

A Giant, Also a Hero

Dear Intelligent WJer,

On December 11 of this week past, NR and many other outfits marked the centennial of the birth of the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Of his many fans, few were keener on the century’s greatest foe of totalitarianism than our founder, who on many occasions over the years dedicated huge swaths of NR pages to the Russian author’s speeches and writings. By the looks of it, in 1983 NR published the most complete accounting of Solzhenitsyn’s famous speech, “Men Have Forgotten God,” and on his birthday this week we republished it in full. More on that and on other Solzhenitsyn tributes below.

A recommendation: If you’re looking to familiarize yourself with the broad writings and talents of the man who won the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, I suggest this 2009 collection, The Solzhenitsyn Reader.

Editorials

1. On the day of what was supposed to have been Parliament’s vote on PM Theresa May’s controversial — lousy by NR’s analysis — EU withdrawal plan, we urged a “no” vote. From the editorial:

Mrs. May deferred a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, however, not because she recognized its dangers but because she knew that it would be defeated by such a large majority in the House of Commons that her position as prime minister would likely be lost. Her present tactic is to postpone a vote, perhaps until as far away as the 21st of January, in the hope that she can persuade Brussels to qualify the provision requiring EU consent for Britain to rescind this Withdrawal Agreement. We shouldn’t dismiss that possibility outright. The tactic of concentrating Parliament’s attention on a single ground for opposition which, when overturned, becomes a reason for forgetting all the other grounds is an old one. It has worked before. Also in its favor is that May is something of a specialist in obtaining meaningless “declarations” and “politically binding” (i.e., not legally binding) deals that soften and obscure real commitments. And briefings since her parliamentary statement suggest she is now seeking such a toothless protection from Brussels that is unlikely to be enough.

Her chances of getting the Withdrawal Agreement through may also have been further weakened by an intervention of the European Court of Justice, delivered on the day before the expected vote, that was probably expected to assist her. This was a ruling that the U.K. can unilaterally withdraw its Article 50 notice that it is leaving the EU and reverse Brexit before it happens. It can, that is, decide to stay in the EU even after giving notice that it is leaving. The ruling itself is a radical rewriting of a treaty provision explicitly composed to make leaving the EU irreversible (and thus too dangerous to contemplate). It’s also a prime example of a political ruling designed to meet the court’s other unwritten duty of always interpreting laws to advance European integration. It should warn the Brits that even legally binding agreements with the EU are not to be relied upon. In the present British context, however, it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it greatly encourages Remainer MPs to continue plotting what might be called a “Hard Remain.” On the other, because it makes their maximum objective easier, it discourages them from supporting May’s Withdrawal Agreement, which would mean the U.K. ceases to have full legal status as an EU member.

2. America ships a lot — take a bow, Amazon. This has had a major (and inefficient) impact on trucking. We argue that federal regulations which ban large hitched trailers on Uncle Sam’s roads need a serious revision. From the editorial:

The poles of the freight-trucking business are parcel carriers such as UPS and FedEx at the smaller end (moving packages that usually are 150 pounds or less) and full-truckload carriers at the heavier end (moving pallets of freight adding up to tens of thousands of pounds), and in between them is the growing LTL — “less than truckload” — business.

Amazon and other online sellers have disrupted more than the retail business: The volume and configuration of their shipments has had profound effects on shipping, especially on LTL carriers. LTL trucking allows shippers with smaller amounts of freight to have their goods delivered without having to hire an entire truck and a driver for their exclusive use. This allows for the most efficient use of transportation resources, saving businesses and consumers enormous sums of money in shipping costs — by putting one full truck on the road instead of two or three partly empty ones.

The “intermodal” shipping business is an incomprehensibly complex ballet involving cargo ships, trains, and trucks in various configurations. One of those configurations, the “Twin 33” — meaning two 33-foot trailers hitched together — is at the moment prohibited on the interstate system under federal law, though 20 states including Florida and Colorado permit it and long have done so without incident. Indeed, even larger configurations (Twin 53s and Triple 28s) are legal in some jurisdictions, and their experience suggests that these pose no special traffic or safety problems.

Congress should revise the current federal regulation that prohibits tandem trailers of more than 28 feet in length. The second part of the regulation, which caps the total weight of the trailers at 80,000 pounds, need not be changed to permit this.

3. With serious revisions attached — such as Ted Cruz’s language to ban violent offenders — we believe the FIRST STEP Act (much debated on NRO) to reform federal criminal justice deserves adoption. Here’s how our editorial wraps up:

We are far more skeptical of “justice reform” than are many on the left, and even many on the right. Our sympathies lie first and foremost with the victims of crime, not with those who commit it. But FIRST STEP, with Cruz’s amendment as he has described it, focuses specifically on the aspects of the federal system that that are overly punitive, sometimes horrifyingly so. Congress should comb through the final text looking for any outstanding issues, fix them as needed, and pass it.

A Dozen that Will Keep You from Dozin’

1. You will not find Jim Comey’s picture next to “credibility” in Webster’s Dictionary. Victor Davis Hanson scores the former FBI director whose memory gets fuzzy when he is under oath. From his column:

Oddly, Comey has long posed as a modern-day Jeremiah. He thunders almost daily about the moral lapses of his perceived antagonists — mostly Donald Trump, the Trump administration, and the Republican party that Comey left.

Comey has tweeted under the pseudonym “Reinhold Niebuhr” — the celebrated 20th-century German-American theologian and ethicist. He apparently wishes to remind us of their similar moral insight.

Comey’s memoir is grandly entitled “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.” He writes to remind readers of his sterling character, which has always guided his career. Most recently, the self-righteous Comey said that the interim attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, is not very bright.

What is odd about the professed ethics of the sanctimonious Comey is that his assertions are belied by his own often-unethical conduct.

2. The Russia probe is now an investigation into payoffs to a porn actress, and who knows what tomorrow’s morphing will bring. El Jefe Rich Lowry’s new column checks out the Democrats’ “revenge fantasy.” From his piece:

The advantage of the story of the hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal is that they actually happened, and always passed the plausibility test. To credit the payoffs, it didn’t require believing in a well-coordinated scheme between a foreign intelligence service and the most shambolic presidential campaign of the modern era. All it took was imagining Donald Trump, Michael Cohen and a checkbook.

Everyone should agree that the payments were sleazy. But that’s not the live issue. Because Democrats want to see Trump impeached or even jailed, the question is whether he can be successfully prosecuted for the payments after leaving office.

The law, and common sense, suggest the answer is “no.”

The idea that Trump is going to lose reelection in November 2020 and then, having suffered the humiliation of getting booted by the voters, get indicted and stand trial on a dubious campaign-finance violation dating from 2016 is fantastical. This would be a banana-republic move, and is more a Democratic revenge fantasy — or should be — than a realistic scenario.

3. If you are rightly spooked by The Creepy Line (see Kyle Smith’s recent review / essay) then do read Michael Brendan Dougherty’s new essay makes the case for considering oversight of Big Data Brother. Here’s how his piece begins:

There is a new custom among humans, the custom of clicking a box that says, “OK” when you haven’t read the tens of thousands of words of microprint on the software use agreement you are entering. Out of this understandable absence of mind, an enormous industry arises. This industry trades in our personal data, the passively-generated facts about where, and with whom, we spend our time, what stories we visit, who we talk to, and what we say.

This enormous trade in data is not, as it currently exists, reconcilable with our society’s inherited notions of privacy. Often enough, this new data industry creates conflict with the Fourth Amendment’s constitutional protections afforded to our “papers, and effects.”

We can tame or modify this personal data industry with our laws, or we can decide to surrender our traditional notions of privacy as a common inheritance. Not just the privacy, but all that goes with it: intimacy, a sense of shelter, the ability to coordinate without the world checking in on you. Privacy could become like good schools, clean neighborhoods, access to great amenities: a privilege for those with means to find them.

Conservatives need to begin thinking about it.

4. Jonathan Tobin looks into the Trump Administration’s decision to wet-blanket the Angela Merkel-contrived UN “compact” on migration. From the piece:

The compact recognizes that there is a difference between these refugees and economic migrants. But it is clearly an attempt to begin erasing this distinction — to begin recognizing migrant rights in the same manner as refugee rights were recognized via the 1951 Refugee Convention. The conflict along America’s southern border, where many seeking asylum as refugees are clearly migrants seeking economic opportunity, illustrates the problem with this approach: It undermines the rights of refugees who are legitimately seeking new homes out of necessity as well as those who seek to immigrate legally.

Further, the compact’s denunciation of intolerance toward immigrants fails to make any distinction between hate and reasoned arguments about issues such as the rule of law, defense of borders, and how much legal immigration is wise for any particular country — let alone opposition to illegal immigration. Its spirit is rooted in intolerance for advocates of sovereignty or critics of illegal immigration and open borders policies, and there is no recognition that mass immigration can bring with it a host of costly unforeseen problems. That’s something Germany found out when it was faced with the nearly impossible task of absorbing a million migrants from the Middle East without taking into account how doing so would affect their own citizens or the way it would fuel anti-Semitism.

5. John O’Sullivan scores the no-confidence vote on PM Theresa May as a win for Brexiteers. From his terrific analysis:

Brexit too prompted a major rebellion that took May, the cabinet, and the whips by surprise. Julian Smith, the chief whip, had been telling May and the cabinet that he would deliver the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement on Tuesday without difficulty right up to the day before. Irony piled upon irony, he had invited television-documentary cameras into the inner sanctum of the Whips’ Office to record a success that turned into a disaster. It didn’t end with that. He seems to have downplayed expectations (or simply gotten things wrong) on the scale of the rebellion last night. High-end forecasts were that the Brexiteers might go as high as 80 votes. In the event, they added 37 votes to that figures for a total of 117. The whips had lost control.

That’s a humiliation for Smith, who surely is not long for this world, but also a sign of much wider dissent than previously guessed. If 117 Tories rebelled, you can be sure that many more wanted to do so — that’s the way of the world — and that the whips won’t get control back anytime soon, and certainly not on the basis of the May policy. In particular, the whips’ calculation that the majority of the Tory benches are firm Remainers is looking decidedly shaky. Last night, that realization was what evoked intakes of breath and shocked surprise from the political correspondents and media pundits in the Committee Room. There’s a Remainer bias in the media, as is generally acknowledged, but the degree of contempt and dislike of Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, David Davis, and Jacob Rees-Mogg goes much deeper than most media traits. It’s a blend of social resentment and (unjustified) intellectual snobbery, and it is provoked by the fact that its targets are in fact unusually talented and effective politicians. Hence the desire to make them small. But the media celebrated their downfall last night too soon, and as the figures sank in, the media realized that the Brexiteers had not lost the plot but moved up the field — which means that this is not the Remainer Parliament that most commentary describes but something much more unstable and uncertain.

6. Vanessa Brown Calder argues that federal paid parental leave, now championed by Rick Santorum, is both bad politics and bad policy. From the piece:

Research on the policy and politics of paid leave casts doubt on Santorum’s dual claim. Like most government economic policies, government-supported paid leave holds benefits for some workers but also involves costs and a variety of trade-offs. There truly is no free lunch.

To begin with, government-supported paid leave is costly. Paid-leave proposals such as the FAMILY Act would result in new payroll taxes on all current workers, whether or not they intend to use benefits. Indeed, the FAMILY Act’s authors outline new payroll taxes in the text of their bill. If their estimates of the future cost of the program are accurate, the new taxes would result in costs of around $200 per year for the average worker.

But these estimates rely on unrealistic assumptions about the utilization of benefits and the long-term trajectory of the program. Using more realistic assumptions based on the national use of the federal unpaid FMLA program, other estimates suggest the FAMILY Act would result in costs of around $450 per year in taxes for the average worker.

7. Work requirements . . . work. Then how come they’re not part of the farm bill? Warren Davidson make the case for reforming America’s lax food-stamp policy. From his essay:

According to the Congressional Budget Office, total farm-bill spending from 2018 to 2028 is estimated to be $867 billion. Approximately 80 percent of that will be spent on food stamps, with only 20 percent directed to the farm economy. The farm bill should really be renamed the food-stamp bill. According to data from the Department of Agriculture, at a time when the economy is thriving and unemployment is at its lowest level in decades, more than 40 million people in the U.S. are using food stamps — more than the entire population of Canada.

America is a generous country. Americans want to help their neighbors in need. But welfare is a two-way street. Healthy adults without children at home should have to work to receive welfare benefits. The reason is simple: Work requirements work. Individuals who hold full-time employment are ten times less likely to be poor than people who are out of work during at least part of the year.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton implemented welfare reforms that were bipartisan. The success of these reforms has since been repeated in Maine, Kansas, Alabama, and Indiana, where the total number of able-bodied adults on welfare rolls decreased by as much as 60 to 80 percent. What’s more, those who left welfare have seen major increases in their income. In Maine, for example, those who left welfare for the workforce more than doubled their family income.

8. More ee-ii-ee-ii-oo: Alison Acosta Winters and Caroline Kitchens tag-team to declare: Tear up the farm bill. Plow it under and start anew. From their piece:

Farm bills are often touted as a way to nurture small businesses, protect “the little guy,” and save family farms, but the reality is quite different. A 2017 Congressional Research Service report found that “farms with market revenue equal to or greater than $250,000 accounted for 12 percent of farm households, but received 60 percent of federal farm program payments.” Other research by Vincent Smith at the American Enterprise Institute found that the smallest 80 percent of farms received just 10 percent of all subsidies.

This year’s bill, like its predecessors, is a huge jumble of subsidies and other programs, such as quotas and price setting, that dole out welfare to corporate agricultural interests. It creates barriers for new farmers, wastes resources, and creates risk for farmers and taxpayers alike.

The bill leaves intact numerous harmful policies, including programs designed to shield the U.S. sugar industry from competition, which help keep U.S. sugar prices double those of the rest of the world. This hurts consumers and sugar-using businesses alike.

And when it comes to reining in cronyism and abuse, the final bill actually worsens the status quo. It would expand two expensive new programs from the 2014 farm bill: Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage. ARC covers farmers for revenue losses, while PLC covers them for low prices. Under the 2014 bill, farmers had to choose one or the other. But this bill would let them go back and forth each year to maximize their subsidies.

9. Of all the aboos to be particularly bugged about, Thomas Sowell has picked the minimum wage. He finds himself in good company with Kevin Williamson, who looks into the persistent liberal demand for $15-an-hour salaries as the foolishness it is. From his piece:

People value labor in the same way they value goods and services. Wages are what we call the price of labor. We could pay people in avocados or automobiles, but it’s easier to pay them in money. But the use of money does not change how we value that labor vis-à-vis all the world’s products. There isn’t anything dishonorable or low about working in a fast-food restaurant or as a laborer on a construction site. All honest work is dignified. But that doesn’t mean we value it the same way. We don’t value the skills of the brain surgeon more than the skills of the 7-Eleven clerk because we think he’s a better person, or even because he spent so much time and effort pursuing the education and training that made him a brain surgeon. We value the work of the brain surgeon because when you need a brain surgeon, you really need a brain surgeon, and you can’t just pull some guy off the street and give him a couple of hours of training and expect him to be competent.

You can do that with a 7-Eleven clerk. I know. I was one. I remember the training.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a way to try to force consumers of labor to value certain low-skill labor more highly than they do. But here’s the thing: They don’t. There isn’t any law that is going to make somebody voluntarily swap his Rolls-Royce for a stick of chewing gum, and there isn’t any law that is going to make any employer actually value a Burger King fry-guy (I’ve been one of those, too) in a way that is equal to how they value a newspaper copy-editor (yep) or a guy who hauls away debris from a construction site (ditto; pays better than I expected). Economic preferences are real, and you cannot legislate away reality.

10. This may be the most sensible column National Review has ever published: Heather Wilhelm’s call to parents to see organized youth sports for the insanity-inducing drug that it has become. Here’s how her column begins:

Brace yourself, parents of America, for I’m about to drop an uncomfortable truth bomb: If you’re stressed out, overscheduled, and fun-starved — and if none of these three problems relate to your job, your finances, your health, or the fact that you’re constantly forced to move between various mysterious small towns because you’re hiding in the federal witness-protection program — the odds are that organized children’s sports might be ruining your life.

It’s a dramatic statement, but it is also true. The havoc wreaked by children’s sports upon the lives and happiness of people who should simply be hanging out and doing nothing on Saturdays is impossible to measure, but it is surely close to the sum of all the heartless and bloody rampages portrayed in every Godzilla movie ever made.

Most Americans intuitively know, for example, that soccer can ruin lives. No offense to four-year-olds, who are frequently delightful people, but who wants to spend their Friday night watching four-year-olds play soccer? Actually, to be fair, no four-year-old is actually playing soccer. Instead, the children are simply running around in spirals or half-heartedly staring into middle distance or cheerfully poking giant, dangerous-looking ant piles with their cleats. They don’t want to be there either! They could be poking dangerous-looking ant piles at home.

11. Planned Parenthood’s new abortion-deflecting PR campaign slogan is “This Is Health Care.” Except, as Alexandra DeSanctis points out, health care does not kill babies. From her piece:

But even in our Orwellian age of reupholstering language for the sake of preserving the privilege of tossing away the unwanted unborn, we all know that health care doesn’t kill. Sometimes technology fails us, and very often the sick die, in spite of the best efforts of doctors and progress. As any doctor will tell you, true medicine never aims to end a life.

This is health care, they say. But health care for whom? . . .

It’s a canny strategy, and so far, it seems to be working. The trouble for Planned Parenthood is that reality isn’t on their side, and science can be kept at bay for only so long. Human beings have long debated the morality of early abortions and litigated the difference between late-term abortion and infanticide. Reasonable people can disagree over the ethics at stake in the competing rights of maternal bodily autonomy and the filial right to life. Only a person with a deadened conscience can truly believe that the abortion debate is a matter of health care.

12. More from Alexandra: She calls out the Women’s March for being a hotbed of “intersectional” Jew Hate bigotry. From her piece:

But even as it appears to bind multiple factions into a cohesive interest group and voting bloc, the logic of intersectionality — the idea that various inequalities and injustices stem from and reinforce interwoven, identity-based oppressions — is quietly undermining their burgeoning movement. No uprising based on group coherence can hold together when its fundamental philosophy glorifies victimhood, pitting allies against one another in a quest to be crowned the biggest victim of them all.

Look no further than the progressive Women’s March, which skyrocketed to prominence in late 2016 and now appears to be slowly unraveling. A lengthy piece published on Monday by Tablet magazine revealed that, even as the group’s grassroots motivated women to vote against Republicans in last month’s midterms, a handful of the organization’s spokeswomen have allowed the leadership to sink into bigotry, anti-Semitism, and financial corruption.

According to the report, several of the women who now formally lead the Women’s March met for the first time in November 2016 in New York City. At that meeting, two of them, Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory, “allegedly first asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people — and even, according to a close secondhand source, claimed that Jews were proven to have been leaders of the American slave trade.”

BONUS: The Yoo / Phillips / Ponnuru / Muñoz debate on Justice Scalia, the Constitution, and religious freedom adds another chapter.

Solzhenitsyn

1. From the Templeton Prize acceptance speech:

In this persecution-filled age, it is appropriate that my own very first memory should be of Chekists in pointed caps entering St. Panteleimon’s Church in Kislovodsk, interrupting the service, and crashing their way into the sanctuary in order to loot. And later, when I started going to school in Rostov-on-Don — passing on my way a kilometer-long compound of the Cheka-GPU and a glittering sign of the League of Militant Atheists — schoolchildren egged on by Komsomol members taunted me for accompanying my mother to the last remaining church in town and tore the cross from around my neck.

Orthodox churches were stripped of their valuables in 1922 at the instigation of Lenin and Trotsky. In subsequent years, including both the Stalin and the Khrushchev periods, tens of thousands of churches were torn down or desecrated, leaving behind a disfigured wasteland that bore no resemblance to Russia such as it had stood for centuries. Entire districts and cities of half a million inhabitants were left without a single church. Our people were condemned to live in this dark and mute wilderness for decades, groping their way to God and keeping to this course by trial and error. The grip of oppression that we have lived under, and continue to live under, has been so great that religion, instead of leading to a free blossoming of the spirit, has been manifested in asserting the faith on the brink of destruction, or else on the seductive frontiers of Marxist rhetoric, where so many souls have come to grief.

The statement of the Templeton Foundation shows an understanding of how the Orthodox spiritual tradition has maintained its vitality in our land despite the forcible promotion of atheism. If even a fraction of those words should find their way to my motherland past the jamming devices, this will bolster the spirits of our believers, assuring them that they have not been forgotten, and that their steadfastness inspires courage even here.

2. City Journal published Daniel Mahoney’s “Solzhenitsyn: A Centennial Tribute.” From his piece:

He had two great “missions,” as he called them: to witness to those who suffered and perished in the Soviet prison-camp system (and accompanying manifestations of Communist repression); and to trace the roots of the Soviet tragedy in the great unfolding “red wheel,” especially in the February Revolution of 1917 that preceded the October Revolution later that year and made it all but inevitable. He is the author of two great “literary cathedrals,” as the Solzhenitsyn scholar Georges Nivat put it: The Gulag Archipelago and The Red Wheel, two “experiments in literary investigation” that will require decades to come to terms with in any adequate way. Many silly and even pernicious things have been written about Solzhenitsyn by those who confuse love of truth with dogmatism, and the “active struggle with evil,” as Solzhenitsyn once described it, with moral fanaticism. And among these tendentious critics are those who mock patriotism, repentance, self-limitation, and liberty under God — that is, all of Solzhenitsyn’s enduring themes and commitments.

Solzhenitsyn’s was a long but ultimately rewarding journey. Since early boyhood, he wished to become a writer. One of the key chapters of August 1914(the first volume of The Red Wheel), depicting the Battle of Tannenberg and the suicide of General Samsonov, was already written in the fall of 1936, before Solzhenitsyn was 18. He dreaded what kind of writer he might have become without the experience of the Gulag. It was in the prison camp in 1945 and 1946, as he describes it in various interviews and in “The Ascent” — his account in the central section of The Gulag Archipelago of how the scales of ideology fell from his eyes — that he was “completely cleansed of any Marxist belief.” His cellmates helped him see the light of truth and the unparalleled mendacity of the ideological lie, the destructive illusion that evil is not inherent in the human soul, that human beings and societies can be transformed at a revolutionary stroke, and that free will is subordinate to historical necessity. Solzhenitsyn’s life is marked by this great paradox: in the camps, cold and hungry, and subject to limitless repression by camp guards and camp authorities, he recovered an appreciation of the purpose of things.

3. Last month at Notre Dame University, Mahoney and Ignat Solzhenitsyn had an excellent conversation about the latter’s dad’s new recent memoirs, Between Two Millstones. It’s well worth watching.

4. Biographer Michael Scammel lauded his subject in a New York Times column. From the piece:

After his death Solzhenitsyn was given a sumptuous funeral and buried at the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow. In 2010 “The Gulag Archipelago” was made required reading in Russian high schools. Moscow’s Great Communist Street has been renamed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Street, his centennial is being celebrated with great pomp this week in Russia, and a statue of him in Moscow is planned for the near future.

All this would give the writer great satisfaction. But though feted and exploited by questionable allies, Solzhenitsyn should be remembered for his role as a truth-teller. He risked his all to drive a stake through the heart of Soviet communism and did more than any other single human being to undermine its credibility and bring the Soviet state to its knees.

5. At The Imaginative Conservative, Joseph Pearce expounds on the man who was a rarity — a giant and a hero. From his essay:

For those who don’t know this twentieth century giant, whom twenty-first century historians seem intent on ignoring, a few of the principal facts of his life should be given. He was born a century ago, in December 1918, a little over a year after the Bolshevik Revolution had unleashed its terror on his motherland. Suffering the brainwashing mechanism of Soviet education, he became an avowed atheist and a believer in the secular fundamentalism of the communist regime. Then, while serving in the Red Army during World War Two he made the fatal mistake of writing critical comments about Soviet leader, Josef Stalin, in private letters to a friend. Since there was no such thing as private correspondence in the Soviet Union, his letters were read by the authorities and he was subsequently sentenced to eight years hard labour for expressing his private opinions.

Solzhenitsyn considered the experience of being arrested and then imprisoned as an unmitigated blessing because it allowed him to see through the lies of the Soviet system and to perceive the evil which he had been deluded by propaganda to believe was good. In Solzhenitsyn’s eyes the knowledge of truth outweighed any suffering that was necessary for its attainment.

In March 1953, having served his sentence, Solzhenitsyn suffered the further torment of being diagnosed with what was believed to be terminal cancer. Faced with such suffering and the imminent prospect of death, he made a final embrace of Christianity, becoming a convert to Russian Orthodoxy, a decision which marked the most important pivotal point in his life. If he had died, he would have become one of those unrecognized millions of heroes of whom later generations would know nothing, another forgotten victim of twentieth century tyranny. As it was, he made a remarkable, some might say miraculous, recovery.

6. At The Catholic Thing, Douglas Kries says there is still much to learn from Solzhenitsyn. From his article:

Marxism not only misunderstood the origin of evil, but likewise misunderstood what is to be done with its effects — with suffering. Solzhenitsyn came to realize that while there was no correlation between what he and the other political prisoners in the camps were charged with and what they were made to suffer, the Christians within the archipelago — at least the best of them — learned how to make suffering redemptive. That is, they knew how to turn their suffering into a continuous penance stemming from a continuous confession.

From there, they could turn to spiritual ascent through what Solzhenitsyn often called “self-limitation.” In his later years, he warned the West — in his lecture at Harvard and Nobel Prize speech — that the “free world” was embracing a materialist slavery of its own. That process is far more fully developed now than during Solzhenitsyn’s lifetime.

Lights. Cameras. Pundits.

1. The New York Film Festival is showing Amazing Grace, the Sydney Pollack documentary of the late Aretha Franklin’s 1972 spiritual album recording (of the same name). Armond White checks out what he considers a flawed flick. From the review:

Here’s Franklin at age 30, in awesomely strong, ingeniously imaginative voice, looking trim and pretty in a white tunic and sequined bodice (later in a gray chinchilla coat), demonstrating her emotional roots in black Baptist faith and black popular communication. She starts the two-night recording with Marvin Gaye’s “Wholly Holy” and moves through such church classics as “How I Got Over” and a pop-gospel medley of James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” In the latter, the vigorous chorus (under the direction of choirmaster Alexander Hamilton) repeats “everythingeverythingeverything-oh-everything!” — giving modern, youthful, rhythmic intensity to the Protestant standard.

This artistic and personal transformation, which is part of what defines Franklin’s greatness, must always fight against the insulting insistence that black artists are naturally gifted, non-intellectual, and therefore best understood the way their exploiters see them — through a racial-justice lens, not as individuals working out their soul salvation. . . .

Pollack’s doc has two major flaws: The spectacle isn’t specific enough (as when the Reverend C. L. Franklin makes his mack-daddy entrance), and the camera frequently searches to catch Mick Jagger in the crowd (as if white rock royalty is needed to confer significance). No wonder Film Forum’s marquee boasts an embarrassing New York Times blurb: “Like a trip to the Moon.” It suggests that black experience is still alien.

2. Lord, there is a stench: Kyle Smith sees Aquaman, and smells it too. From his pan-fried review:

Picture the worst Pirates of the Caribbean mashed up with the demented psychedelia of Green Lantern and you’ll have some idea of the feel of Aquaman, which even throws in some Sahara scenes straight out of a regrettable Mummy picture. Whether it’s Nicole Kidman’s kickboxing, Willem Dafoe’s man-bun, or the cheesy Bill-and-Ted-style guitar riff that introduces Aquaman on the soundtrack, every choice is crazy-bad.

Aquaman’s back story is like a discarded draft of Splash: Atlanna, the Queen of Atlantis (Nicole Kidman, with 30 years digitally erased from her face) washes ashore in Maine, where a kindly lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) nurses her back to health. Their son, Arthur (Jason Momoa), combines both of his parents’ qualities and is described as a bridge between the land and the sea, which is not actually how bridges work, unless they’ve got major design flaws.

3. Kyle pops the corn and watches Vice, the Dick Cheney–based flick. Which he compares to . . . a garbage dump. Here’s how the review kicks off:

The initial warning is given before Vice even starts, in an onscreen note: It’s a “true story,” we’re told. But it’s hard to be strictly factually accurate, the note adds, because Dick Cheney is such a secretive bastard. So it’s really Cheney’s fault if anything in the movie happens to be wrong.

Yet at the end a character will break the fourth wall to assert that the whole thing is factual and say, sarcastically, “Because I have the ability to understand facts, that makes me a liberal?” That sounds like an invitation to consider the facts and logic of Vice. I accept.

Near the start, writer-director Adam McKay, who somehow segued from Will Ferrell movies to this InfoWars-style garbage dump, implies that Cheney’s father-in-law murdered his mother-in-law by drowning her in a lake. Huh? What does this have to do with Cheney? Is there more evidence for this than is presented in the movie, which is none? The movie’s Lynne Cheney, played by Amy Adams, also seems to think her dad murdered her mom. Does Lynne Cheney actually think this?

4. Kyle check out Clint Eastwood’s curtain call, The Mule, and finds it oddly endearing. From the review:

Eastwood’s Earl Stone, the kind of old cuss who refers to a Latino’s car as a “taco wagon,” is a stand-in for every absentee dad in the land. A career traveling salesman, he’s spent his life on the road, but nowadays prefers to grow lilies in solitude. His ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter (Eastwood’s real-life daughter Alison) want nothing to do with him. He’s boozing it up with some fellow horticulturists when he remembers it’s his daughter’s wedding day. A flash of recognition comes over his face, but then he just . . . keeps on drinking.

That’s bad enough. But then, with hardly a second thought, Earl (whose house is in foreclosure and whose truck looks like he bought it from the Joad family) drifts into becoming a major drug trafficker. At first, he seems oblivious to what’s happening when some fine gentlemen wielding military-grade rifles tell him to run a package across state lines. But gradually it sets in that Earl, who is based on a real drug runner of similar age profiled in a magazine article, just doesn’t care that he’s an employee of some of the worst people in the hemisphere. And the script, by Gran Torino writer Nick Schenk, plays his escapades for laughs: Who would suspect a dotty old man of having hundreds of pounds of cocaine in the bed of his pickup? The ultimate head of the cartel, the drug lord played by Andy Garcia, advises his operatives to give the old coot plenty of leeway to do things the way he wants; he’s become an essential part of the operation. (Any movie that includes this particular actor in this particular role is really missing an opportunity if it isn’t called “Bring Me the Head of Andy Garcia,” but I’ll let that go.)

The Six

1. At The Spectator, venerable but now SJW–vilified Roger Scruton says go ahead and hate me. From his piece:

If there is hatred in our society, it does not come from ordinary prejudices, such as those that lead rival groups of citizens to treat each other with suspicion; it stems from those who do not see prejudice for what it is, the natural response to difference, and the desire to live in a comfort zone of one’s own. ‘-Haters of hate’ include the militant ‘Antifa’ activists, the radical antiracists, the intolerant feminists who will not permit any utterance that they regard as ‘offensive’ to the fair sex (such as this one). They are people who discern hatred all around them, in order to get on with the agreeable business of hating it: people who feel for whatever reason excluded from some aspect of our largely peaceful and compromising way of life, and are giving vent to their resentments.

2. At The American Conservative, Casey Chalk suggests that Christians living in a secular world should look for inspiration from the Prophet Daniel, he of the lions’ den. From the piece:

The Book of Daniel tells of the story of the Jewish people during their exile in what is now modern-day Iraq. Forced from their native home in Judea by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, Daniel is one of a small cadre of elite Jews brought into the royal court. We are told that Daniel and his companions were “youths without blemish, handsome and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to serve in the king’s palace.” Yet trouble quickly finds Daniel and his friends, particularly as it relates to their religious beliefs. How Daniel saves his skin is saliently pedagogical for those in a post-Christian society.

The Jewish courtiers refused to eat the defiled food of the Babylonians, which presumably was either not kosher or had been consecrated to pagan deities. Daniel’s remedy for this problem, which very well could have resulted in his death, wasn’t to aggressively pick a fight regarding his inalienable right to worship as he pleases — he was shrewdly aware of the limits foisted upon him. Rather, the text tells us, Daniel gained “favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs” of Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Daniel then used this good will to offer this senior official a proposition behind closed doors: test him and his buddies with just vegetables and water, and see how they fare. The deal was struck, and after 10 days, the Jews were “better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s rich food.”

3. You want to talk nuts, read Denis MacEoin at Gatestone Institute, who writes about the European Court of Human Rights’s blasphemy laws. From his piece:

The ECHR ruling also, unfortunately, will have an even wider impact across Europe and the world. The present writer, unlike Sabaditsch-Wolff, has a doctorate in Islamic studies and languages. If I were to refer to the original Arabic texts of the sacred traditions (ahadith) in which the story of Muhammad’s marriage and sexual relations with A’isha — texts officially held to be factually correct by all Sunni Muslims — might I too now be put on trial for the same offence? Or if I were to write an article giving details of the approximately 40 individuals who were assassinated for having insulted the prophet on Muhammad’s direct orders or whose assassinations were approved by him? What if, in the article, I also added comments on what this might indicate, backed up by chapter and verse of the Muslim histories and sacred traditions that record them, should I then be brought before a court, sentenced, fined or sent to prison?

Will no academic or well-informed individual in future be able to say anything about Muhammad, or will that now be legally prohibited? Moreover, as some Muslims are often offended by even small matters regarding their faith, such as a toy teddy bear named Mohammad or a prisoner on death row declared innocent — so that mobs take to the streets to condemn, or even kill, those individuals — what now will not be censored in the West?

It may well be suggested that Muhammad’s sexual preferences are matters of purely historical interest, but in many Muslim countries, the proper age for marriage is determined, not according to the standards of the ECHR or other international bodies, but on the strength of the firmly established sacred traditions that help form the basis, alongside the Qur’an and the ahadith, of Shari’a law. In many countries, child brides are still commonplace, often in marriages that are forced — as, for instance here, here, here and here.

4. At City Journal, Jerry Weinberger looks at “deep ecology” and sees a pervasion of an ideology.

Conservative skepticism notwithstanding, though, climate-change ideologues have more or less shaped public debate on the issue — successfully branding their opposition as “climate deniers.” And by now, nearly 50 years after the first Earth Day, a broad-ranging and increasingly draconian ecological consciousness has become pervasive in American life, extending far beyond climate issues. Go to the supermarket, for example, or look inside your pantry. You’ll find that hundreds of items in bags and cans have certifications of “Non-GMO.” That means that they contain no genetically modified organisms. In recent years, more than 27,000 products have been so certified (by the Non-GMO Project), with the purpose of putting our minds at ease that what we’re about to eat is not genetically modified and will not sicken or kill us or make us sprout a third arm. Non-GMO fanatics and millions of consumers call these forbidden fruits “Frankenfood.” Never mind that nobody has been proved to have been harmed or killed by GMOs. (That can’t be said for organic spinach or bean sprouts.) And never mind that for 25 years, almost all corn, cotton, and soybeans grown in the United States have been genetically modified, with nobody sickened or dead or sporting an extra limb. So why the intransigence of the activists and the gullibility of so many consumers?

The issue here is not the inevitable one of managing risk and rewards in modern life. It’s perfectly reasonable to wonder whether plants genetically modified to withstand the herbicide Roundup, say, might cause more of the poison to be used and thus entail some cost or harm. The giveaway term is the reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The real issue, that is, is not primarily technical or scientific; it’s moral and spiritual. With genetic engineering, in this view, we’re trying to play God and invariably upsetting the natural order of things. Put differently, and in the terms of the radical ecologist David Graber, we’re the fallen human parasite going after holy Mother Nature.

5. Submit! The transgender movement is not interested in compromise. John Daniel Davidson reports at The Federalist. From his piece:

The trend of aggressive trans activism is of course most pronounced in academia, where social justice mobs are becoming more frequent, while reason and objectivity are in precipitous decline. Recently, the notion that biological sex, like gender, is merely a social construct has gained traction on the editorial boards of magazines like Scientific American and prestigious academic journals like Nature, which published an editorial in October arguing against classifying sex “on the basis of anatomy or genetics,” and asserting that, “The idea that science can make definitive conclusions about a person’s sex or gender is fundamentally flawed.”

Thankfully, there are still some academics willing to point out that sex does not exist on a spectrum, that it is in fact so binary in humans as to be among the most statistically verifiable phenomena in nature.

For believing this, and daring to say so in public, academics are increasingly facing harassment and threats of violence. In Britain, a scholar on human rights law at the University of Reading who had the temerity to assert that sex is fixed at birth said she recently received an anonymous 3:30 a.m. phone call from someone who told her she “should be raped and killed.” The professor also reported that after a recent debate about changes to gender law, her office door was covered in urine and she was targeted online.

6. Tariffs are taxes. At Reason, Eric Boehm looks at a recent union-backed study touting aluminum tariffs — which have cost Americans over $690 million since June. From his analysis:

The bigger flaw in the EPI study is that it fails to account for the costs of the tariffs. Those 300 new jobs didn’t just spring up out of nowhere because the president said some magic words — they are the result of businesses shifting resources and strategies in an economic environment where imported aluminum has suddenly been subjected to a 10 percent tax increase. In other words, the trade-offs (in this case, the higher taxes) matter.

And the trade-offs are huge. Since the aluminum tariffs were imposed on June 1, American companies have paid about $690 million in tariffs to the federal government, according to data from The Trade Partnership, a pro-trade nonprofit, and Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, which is lobbying for Congress and the administration to remove those tariffs.

Do the math. That means those 300 jobs have cost about $2.3 million each. That’s insane. Even if you give EPI the benefit of the doubt and assume that those 2,000 additional manufacturing jobs eventually come online, we’re still talking about a price tag of about $300,000 per job.

BONUS: A remarkable First Things reflection by Helen Andrews on the Spanish Conquest. If you want to experience beautiful writing, read it here.

Explaining Macron

From my dear pal — quite real but who we shall call here Mr. A. Nonymous, who knows his French stuff très très bien — comes this unsolicited j’accuse of the French President. I have lightly de-incendiaried the email text, which I share below because I find it explique beaucoup.

1. He is a gauche caviar fraud.

2. He is a dyed-in-the-wool tax-and-spend socialist, a former finance minister for the other lightweight, Hollande, where he over saw absolute reckless carnage of the remaining economic muscle of the cadre of France.

3. He is a failed banker from Rothschild. I would always avoid his involvement because he is weak intellectually – an errant, cheap snob with his only achievement to have been in financial world – and a leftist, hence capable of kinship with Mitterrand-jerk Hollande, whom he ultimately betrayed (as is typical of his breed).

4. He was elected as a default candidate in fear of the Vichy-Nazi le Pen. He nor his weak team has any tradition typical of French leadership – of nationwide placement in the prefectures and cities and ville where they govern through the maries. Hence he is totally detached from the pulse of nation.

5. His economic policies boarder on silly and reflect his incompetence. The nation runs out of money sometime in July, and the full tax bill for the regular Frenchman, direct and indirect, runs currently into August. The contracte sociale and its tyrannical brother, the EU, has led to the break-point on the ground. He never saw it coming because his technocratic gauche / caviar world does not allow for it.

This is about bread, about gasoline, about basic amenities which have been vaporised by the so-called elite. You will hear the canard that this is not his fault but others before him. This is true but: “before him” included him, and his line of thinking, and his so-called “reforms” are merely paper mache. No thinking man would dare consider this tinkering as reforms.

All of the above doesn’t take into account the other major whammy: that he is essentially a tribalist who has rejected God and takes haven in the drum beat of Kumbayah of secularism and “respect “ for all tribes, which is best characterised by his denial of the Judeo-Christian origins of the nation, his moral relativism, his embrace of Islam and his refusal to acknowledge that the nation is besieged by Islam and is in active bifurcation in every corner.

The reason for the reduction in attacks in France is not police action or hard line policies but rather his acceptance of soft jihad. Even Mitterrand, as terrible as he was, never let Islam encroach in this manner. From mosques to acceptance of sharia to allowing local laws rewritten to accept the imposition of the Prophet’s tenants, he has essentially surrendered to the enemy. Wait till the Islamic population reaches 10 percent (currently at 8.5, and birth rates for Muslims is 3.3 to 1 while the rest of France is about 1.3 ). It is pure math and visible on streets. Watch the accelerated breakdown of law and order. The country is on the verge of total civil disorder.

Strasbourg – for those who haven’t been there recently – is almost completely turned into an Islamist state; fitting for the head of EU governing legislature.

France is a travesty.

Finally when Trump turned down his trip to Belleau wood during the armistice ceremony, I like others found that incorrect . . . until I found out real story. For months the US government was seeking clarity on intention and agenda for ceremony, and only received it two days before. Essentially Macron intended to present – and did, along with that other leftist fraud Merkel – the moral relativism that Germans / French / Americans / English were all at fault, and the war was another display of failure of the faux gods of sovereignty and imperialism. Hence, a collective apology to the world for our Western sins.

Rather than create a cause celebre Trump decided to invent security concerns as an alternative to being embarrassed, and two days later – in 8-degree weather and a relentless downpour – he attended the American-controlled cemetery in St. Cloud, and was able to have a patriotic theme of a victor over tyranny. Only French military attended – there were no members of the French government. I was there.

This, boys and girls, is the end of the Fifth Republic.

A Dios

I guess France is worth a prayer. The Fifth Republic seems to be running out of gas, courtesy of self-loathing leftism. Western civilization deserves saving . . . even in the land of snail-eaters. Even in places whose elites disdain sovereignty. And here too, where multiculturalism spreads . . . like some mustard gas, wafting from the insanity of the campuses to fog up the town. Take a knee — take two . . . and put your heart into it. Consider “ . . . deliver us from evil . . .”

God bless You and Yours,

Jack Fowler

Always available at jfowler@nationalreview.com.

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