The Weekend Jolt

National Review

And They Came with Haste

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The Gospel writer takes us directly from the swaddled babe to shepherds, doing as shepherds do, “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Men vigilant while others slept — why should it not have been to them, of all humanity, that good tidings of great joy were first announced? To be come upon by the Angel of the Lord in a glory seen by no man hitherto or hence? To behold the heavenly host offering anthems sweet and prayerful wishes of peace and good will?

Sleepers wake! These men were already so.

A night like no other, in the first moments of Anno Domini, events were set in motion. Angels rejoiced, then departed. Shepherds, sore afraid, recovered, then conspired, to “now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

To the stable they came. How could they not have?

Luke collapses time: “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”

Like the newborn, they were of mean estate — by men’s standards. But not to the Creator’s. Were not shepherds His preferred agents for Israel’s delivery? David! Joseph! And now these tenders of gentle flocks — their names lost to history, true, but their story not.

Would you too have wondered at their account? Marveled? Helpless to embrace the amazing report told by these wandering shepherds, believed their witness of the heavenly spectacle, and of this royal newborn in the stable?

Some of us, twenty centuries later, wonder anew, believe anew, and give thanks for the annual feast, so the wonderment first felt in millennia distant proves immediate and sweet and overwhelming, in excelsis.

In this Year of Our Lord 2020, our weekly missive is by chance published on the Feast of the Nativity, affording a rare opportunity: To echo the angel choirs and wish you and yours peace and good will.

Merry Christmas to all. And now, let us attend to the holly jolly Jolt!

 

Links Short, Links Sweet

Editorials

Girls just want to have run: Tulsi Gabbard Stands Up for Women’s Sports.

Warts and all: A Necessary Relief Bill.

Wise Men and Women Delivering an Abundance of Conservative Gifts

Rich Lowry: Joe, We’re Not in a Climate Crisis.

Victor Davis Hanson: China Post-Trump: Beijing Eyes Return to Global Status Quo.

John Fund: Trump Election-Fraud Lawsuits — Why They Failed.

Richard Morrison: Biden and ‘ESG’: Full Steam Ahead on Politicized Investing.

Shawn Regan and Tate Watson: Government Regulation Won’t Keep America’s Favorite Butterfly Off the Endangered Species List.

Judd Berger: Chef Apologizes for Posting Food Pic without ‘Cultural Context’.

Horace Cooper: Vote Reparations Proposal Is Unconstitutional.

Fred Lucas: Trump Impeachment Case Weakness Could Shape Political Future.

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Lonely Church This Christmas.

More MBD: Endless Pandemic Creating COVID Fatigue.

Rebeccah Heinrichs: Chinese Drones Are Spying on Americans.

John Yoo and Ivana Stradner: Time to Go on Offense against Russian Cyberattacks.

John O’Sullivan: Margaret Tebbit, R.I.P.

Jack Butler: Do They Know It’s Christmas? Yes — So Stop Singing.

Capital Matters

Andrew Stuttaford: (Another) Climate Warrior Aiming to Bypass Democracy.

Andrew William Salter: Beijing’s Iron Grip on Corporate China.

Kevin Hassett: Five Questions for Tyler Goodspeed.

Marc Joffe: Echoes of the Great Recession in Commercial Real Estate.

Lights. Camera. Review!

Armond White: Nolan’s Tenet: Filmmaker Pursues Hollywood’s New Tenets.

Alvin S. Felzenberg: The Reagans: Showtime’s Pathetic Exercise in Bashing the Gipper.

Kyle Smith: Wonder Woman 1984 Reverts to Campy Set Pieces & Moronic Plotting.

 

A Stocking-full of NRO Articles, with Exciting Excerpts Found from Top to Toe

Editorials

1. It’s a refreshing thing to find a Democrat House member call baloney on the “gender-identity” assault on women’s sports. From the editorial:

Now, Title IX is coming for women’s sports in the name of “gender identity,” that nonsensical progressive policy permitting males to compete against females if and when they claim transgender status. The wisdom of this policy has become a matter of faith for almost every Democratic legislator. The first prominent dissent came only this month from Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), who has introduced the “Protect Women’s Sports Act” into the U.S. House of Representatives, (the Oklahoma Republican, Representative Markwayne Mullin, is a co-sponsor).

In a statement, Gabbard said the bill “protects Title IX’s original intent which was based on the general biological distinction between men and women athletes based on sex.” Emphatically, this means preserving “equal opportunity for women and girls in high school and college sports,” as well as holding to account those “states who are misinterpreting Title IX, creating uncertainty, undue hardship and lost opportunities for female athletes” by allowing males to dominate and displace them.

She’s absolutely right. On account of their elevated testosterone levels and androgenized bodies, males are generally stronger and faster than females; a fact reflected in the 10 to 30 percent performance gap in elite sports. But even in non-elite sports, it only takes a handful of male athletes to completely dominate the female field; a fact clearly demonstrated in Connecticut where two high-school-aged males (mediocre athletes in comparison with their male peers) deprived female competitors of 15 state championship titles and more than 85 opportunities to participate.

2. Numerous warts and all, we found the relief bill to be necessary. From the editorial:

Perhaps more notable than what’s in the bill is what isn’t. Democrats repeatedly attempted to launder blue-state bailouts through COVID-19 legislation, jumping on the opportunity to paper over perennial fiscal imbalances. Republicans were right to hold the line, not only because of the moral hazard of rewarding profligate governments, but also because states and cities are poor channels for swift economic aid. Research from the left-leaning Brookings Institution finds that the economic benefits of state and local aid would not materialize until 2022, because governors and mayors are slow to spend federal grants.

The deal also withdraws the Treasury funds that backstopped Federal Reserve lending programs to corporations and cities, codifying Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin’s decision last month. Considering how strong financial markets are despite the limited use of Fed lending programs, it makes sense to redirect this money. But Democrats sought to retain the funds in order to provide cheap, long-term loans to cities, turning the Fed into a piggybank for New York, San Francisco, and other cities facing budget shortfalls.

Senator Pat Toomey’s success in ensuring the Fed’s emergency-lending programs remain limited to emergencies may be the most consequential provision of the bill: A permanently politicized central bank would threaten economic stability well beyond the pandemic.

Unwrap the Myriad of Gifts under the NRO Tree

1. Rich Lowry kyboshes Basement Joe’s claims about a climate crisis. From the piece:

In a climate speech during the campaign a few months ago, Biden relied on the tried-and-true alarmist tack of attributing every adverse weather event to global warming.

The flooding in the Midwest was an artifact of climate change, never mind that, as Bjorn Lomborg points out, the U.N. isn’t sure whether flooding overall is getting more or less frequent.

Somewhat counterintuitively, Biden also blamed drought in the Midwest on climate change, even though, according to Lomborg, the federal government’s National Climate Assessment says that “drought has decreased over much of the continental United States in association with long-term increases in precipitation.”

Of course, Biden maintained that California wildfires have been caused by the upward trend in global temperatures, and it is probably a factor. Still, as Lomborg notes, the amount of land that is burning around the globe has fallen sharply since the late 19th century in response to changing human behavior (e.g., more cultivation of the land).

Finally, Biden cited Hurricane Laura, the Category 4 storm that made landfall in Louisiana, as yet more climate-driven extreme weather. The studies do show more storm activity in the Atlantic, Lomborg writes, although not necessarily from climate change. Meanwhile, there’s no global trend in tropical cyclones.

2. Victor Davis Hanson finds Red China happy to see Biden up ahead and Trump in the rear-view mirror. From the essay:

Currently China is suffering its worst global-popularity ratings in its modern history. Most countries in Europe, the U.S., and its immediate Asian neighbors poll anywhere from 70 to 90 percent disapproval of China. Such negativity is hardly surprising when over 75 million worldwide have been sickened with Wuhan COVID-19 — and perhaps another 500 million untested have had symptoms or at least developed antibodies to it — along with 1.6 million dead.

Many Western countries have vowed never again to outsource their medical equipment and pharmaceutical industries to China, given their ensuing exposure in times of a Chinese-spawned viral global pandemic. The chief rub for an awakening but recently somnolent Europe and a drowsy U.S. is not whether to reboot with China, but how — given that for decades America siphoned off its technology edge, as it trained tens of thousands of Chinese engineers and scientists, while greenlighting its own students to rack up $1.6 trillion in student loans to master the arts of green, race, class, and gender victimization.

Brilliant American engineers design battery-operated cars and sophisticated solar panels; elite-glut environmental studies majors fight over how best to bankrupt the American consumer and raise prohibitive power costs for businesses. China prefers to emulate the former, not the latter.

China tactically wages war against the U.S. all the time, from on-campus espionage to cyber assault to stealing technology and blueprints of institutions it can replicate. But more important, it counts on a sophisticated strategy to subordinate the United States, and thereby remake the entire international order to enhance its own agendas.

3. John Fund lays out the primary reasons the Trump campaign’s post-election lawsuits went south. From the piece:

Many Democratic-appointed judges were hostile to Trump lawsuits. But even conservative judges privately knew anything they did to help prove fraud charges would be viciously attacked in the media and wouldn’t allow enough time to meet the Electoral College deadlines without creating national chaos.

That may explain some bizarre dismissals of lawsuits. David Shestokas, a Pennsylvania attorney, says a judge canceled the hearing where we was to produce evidence. Two days later, the judge dismissed the case. “Judges are generally willfully refusing to hear evidence,” Shestokas says.

In one court, Trump did come close to victory. Wisconsin’s supreme court rejected by a close vote, 4 to 3, his claims that proper procedures weren’t followed in allowing thousands of voters to cast mail-in ballots. Three justices ruled that some Trump claims had merit, but they didn’t say what the remedy should be or whether any votes should be thrown out.

Their silence speaks volumes for how concerns about fraud were handled this year. To paraphrase the old saying: “See no evil, hear no evil, don’t even suggest evil.”

4. Richard Morrison says we should all prepare ourselves for Joe Biden going whole hog on politicized “investing.” From the article:

Politicized investing, especially of the “environmental, social, and governance” (ESG) variety, has experienced some regulatory pushback during the last year, but the incoming Biden administration is widely expected to reverse course and accelerate in the opposite direction come January. While many ESG advocates claim that their philosophy of investing is a market-driven phenomenon, it’s likely to get its biggest state-sponsored boost to date. It remains to be seen, though, whether fans of “enlightened” capitalism will ride this wave or be submerged by it.

This year, the Trump administration’s Department of Labor — which has responsibility over pension funds covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974 — published two important rules related to politicized investing. The first rule restated ERISA’s longstanding expectation that plan managers must make investment choices for plan beneficiaries solely with an eye to financial return (with one limited exception) rather than with regard to any “socially responsible” considerations, although plans that allow beneficiaries to self-direct their retirement savings are allowed to include ESG-themed funds as an option, if, in essence, those goals can be achieved without sacrificing financial return. The second rule applied to pension-fund managers voting on corporate shareholder resolutions on behalf of their beneficiaries, and it similarly reinforced that investment returns rather than politics should guide their decisions.

Unfortunately for American retirees, Team Biden is widely expected to ignore or actively undermine the enforcement of both of those rules. Because formally repealing a published regulation can be time-consuming and legally complex (as the Trump administration found out on more than one occasion), it will be much easier to simply publish a new interpretation of what the rules mean. Jon Hale of Morningstar predicted in November that “the Biden [Department of Labor] will look at ways to clarify if not reverse the [ESG pension-fund] rule. We expect subregulatory guidance such as FAQs and advisory opinions to help bring things back toward the old status quo.”

5. The Monarch Butterfly, says Shawn Regan and Tate Watson, make the excellent case for how bureaucrats are misfits when it comes to protecting endangered species. Shawn Regan and Tate Watson: From the article:

When it comes to recovering imperiled wildlife, the ESA has a dreadful record. While it’s true that only 1 percent of the species listed under the act have gone extinct, just 3 percent have recovered. The law may be good at halting activities that harm species, but its punitive approach does little to encourage people to proactively create or restore habitats. In fact, it often does the exact opposite. Most species remain on the list indefinitely, never quite falling off the precipice to extinction, but almost never backing away from the cliff’s edge, either.

The main reason for the ESA’s failure is that it gets the incentives backward. Rather than rewarding farmers, ranchers, and other ordinary citizens who provide habitat for listed species, the act imposes significant costs by restricting how people can use their land and reducing property values by introducing regulatory uncertainty. As a former Fish and Wildlife Service administrator once noted, “The incentives are wrong here. If I have a rare metal on my property, its value goes up. But if a rare bird occupies the land, its value disappears.”

This is especially vexing and troublesome when it comes to the monarch, whose survival depends on the goodwill of landowners across the nation. The butterfly is found in every state in the lower 48 and relies on habitats ranging from rural prairies to urban gardens. The insect’s famous annual migration from Mexico to Canada hinges on the presence of milkweed — the sole food source for its caterpillars. But the weed is in short supply today, in part due to increased herbicide use.

The key to the monarch’s recovery, then, is straightforward. First, plant more milkweed. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, as many as 1.8 billion more milkweed stems are needed. The irony, however, is that granting endangered-species protections to the monarch might be the surest way to discourage people from planting milkweed. After all, why would any farmer, company, or gardener want to attract butterflies that bring restrictions on how they can use their land?

6. You thought culture-cancelling couldn’t get stupider? Judd Berger has a story about a stew of contrived consternation, with a side order of sanctimony. From the piece:

The article’s title, “Stephanie Izard Apologizes For a Poorly Received Representation of a Korean Dish,” is the stuff of time capsules. Hopefully it’s placed as a bookend to a packet of headlines starting with ‘ALLIES INVADE FRANCE’ and ending here, to capture the full arc of history that led to this point. Future generations curious how a society’s celebrated strength in heterogeneity was corroded by the rigid guarding of identity need only scroll through this social-media saga.

First, for the uninitiated (i.e., you haven’t been hungover and found yourself coveting this dish), bibimbap is a Korean staple — a rice bowl topped with neatly arranged vegetables and meat and other fixings, often gochujang (chili paste) and, if you’ve been good, a fried egg.

The photo Izard included on her now-denounced Instagram post was . . . not exactly that. It looked more like a bowl of pho that had been left out in the sun, with strips of desiccated beef and torn mint all that remain.

A butchered version of a classic, no doubt. But cultural appropriation?

7. The call for vote reparations is absurd, says Horace Cooper. From the beginning of the article:

Just when it seems that the Left’s extremism has reached its outer limits, a new radical idea comes forward. Brandon Hasbrouck, a professor at Washington and Lee University, has taken to the pages of The Nation, the Left’s preeminent periodical, to advocate so-called “vote reparations.”

It’s an idea more dangerous than it is farfetched (though it is that as well). The scheme recommends double-counting the votes of black Americans. This doesn’t merely set aside the one-man/one-vote ideal that our republic operates on; it obliterates it. This proposal wouldn’t pass constitutional muster, nor should it.

Counting some votes more than others is a throwback to a bygone era that Americans — black and white — fought to overcome. Perhaps Hasbrouck has forgotten that one of the primary aims of Jim Crow was to prevent the counting of the votes of citizens in communities and states solely on the basis of race.

Trotting out the usual woke critiques of the hour, Hasbrouck attacks the very foundations of our country’s constitutional design — including the Electoral College, the existence of the United States Senate, and even our independent federal judiciary — labeling them all legacies of slavery.

8. Fred Lucas assesses the lame-o impeachment of Donald Trump, launched a year and a million news cycles ago. From the piece:

The Trump impeachment was also the flimsiest impeachment in part because it demonstrated a complete cave by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to her left flank. Leadership is not only about being the loyal opposition and fighting the good fight. It’s also about walking your party hardliners back from the precipice.

The Constitution makes impeachment in the House relatively simple and removal by the Senate very difficult. Still, the House seldom pulled the trigger despite requiring no more than a majority vote. Normalizing House impeachment — if that is the result of lowering the bar — will likely have the effect of desensitizing the public to a legitimately impeachable offense by a future president. On the flip side, if this petty impeachment leads to absolute avoidance of impeachment, that’s also not a desirable future.

After the acrimonious election and post-election, it’s not difficult to imagine certain GOP House members demanding Joe Biden’s impeachment early on. There certainly are grounds to investigate. Congressional oversight should be robust in any administration, of course. But impeachment — which at least offers the possibility, however slim, of deposing an elected leader without an election — should be the last resort.

9. Michael Brendan Dougherty goes to Church. Where are all the parishioners? From the reflection:

If airlines will fly us packed into a little tube with strangers without spread, then surely we, acting cautiously and according to the regulations of state and church, could do this safely. We had avoided going partly because the system of reservations that our parish instituted seemed to suggest that by asking to come to Mass you would, by necessity, deny the chance to others.

We shouldn’t have been so passive. Our parish church normally has a seating capacity of 800. When the five of us arrived and filed into the last pew in the church, the number of worshippers was 32. In the time before COVID, there might have been 32 people serving in the sanctuary alone, a parade of priests, deacons, subdeacons, and row after row after row of altar boys. Several pews were roped-off between us and another worshipper.

The Mass itself was consoling and depressing in equal measure. First, the consolations. The church building itself, with its Marian blue ceiling, recently renovated sanctuary, and painting of the Assumption was a deep comfort. The Mass itself. The ancient Latin prayers, sung during other plagues, famines, wars, and panics — almost all of them much worse than what we were enduring. The voices of the two choir singers — and their children. They are friends, and though we couldn’t see them from our last-pew seats, they stood over us.

The depressing: Seeing our pastor put on a face shield before distributing communion, which was done after the conclusion of the Mass itself. Combine that sight with the tiny number of worshippers and the whole scene had a post-disaster mood. It was as if the congregation I’d known had been hit by a nuclear bomb that had destroyed 90 percent of us, and the survivors were still a radioactive danger to each other. Then there was the awkwardness of being forbidden to sing ourselves — which meant being forbidden the normal sung responses. But muscle memory applies to worship as well. We choked on our own Et cum spiritu tuos.

10. More from MBD, who shares his serious COVID fatigue. From the piece:

The domain of what we don’t know about the disease seems to grow, on a micro and macro scale. You could look at the numbers and say that New York governor Andrew Cuomo has done a worse job than Florida governor Ron DeSantis. And overall, I think DeSantis made the right call on long-term-care homes, and Cuomo initially made the wrong one. But what if you think climate and lifestyle are some of the main factors in the spread? That is, what if it’s just better to be in Miami than in New York? What if we simply don’t know enough to judge?

I’m tired of judging. I’m tired of the hypocrisy of politicians and public-health experts. I’m tired of learning how little they know or can know. I’m tired of the scapegoating and the tut-tutting by the Zoom class. And I’m tired of the attempt by the world to turn every sick person into either a blameworthy fool or a blameless victim.

The sheer endlessness of this is mind-numbing. Three weeks to bend the curve, then a hope for reopening in Easter. A false dawn in the summer, and now, what? The hope for vaccines? But we’re now told that not even the vaccines will eliminate the need for mask-wearing and restrictions.

This pandemic is easily the worst national disaster of my life. Worse than 9/11, with a policy response that is arguably worse than our endless war on terror.

11. Rebeccah Heinrichs locates the Red China drones that are spying on America. From the beginning of the piece:

The U.S. government at the federal, state, and local levels is using Chinese drones that the Chinese Communist Party is exploiting for espionage. That is the public conclusion of a branch of the Department of Homeland Security. Citing “security concerns,” other departments have all-but-explicitly publicly made the same claims, and some have begun to take steps to limit the purchase of Chinese drones.

Drones made in China and operated by Americans map U.S. infrastructure, agriculture, railroads, government buildings, power plants, disaster-relief operations, and the movements of law-enforcement officers. The data collected in those drone flights are believed to be sent back to China, where there is no divide between civil and military sectors. The Commerce Department’s listing on Friday of one major Chinese drone company on the U.S. entities list makes it difficult for U.S. companies to buy its products and underscores the growing sense of urgency to end their access to the United States. But it is time to go further. The U.S. government at all levels should immediately stop purchasing Chinese drones and end Chinese drone companies’ access to the U.S. commercial market.

The U.S. dependence on Chinese drones and the parts that go into drones is unsustainable. While there are U.S. companies waiting to meet demand if Chinese drones are excluded from the American market, there are still too few of them to meet the U.S. government’s needs, and some American drone companies still rely on cheap Chinese parts. This is one of the arguments against cutting off access to the Chinese drone market. But the risks to national security are too great to move slowly, and so in addition to cutting off access to the Chinese drone market, the U.S. should also expand existing Pentagon efforts to build an American and American-ally drone-manufacturing base that does not rely on Chinese-made parts. One can easily see how a national emergency or a conflict over the defense of democratic Taiwan could require ramping up the scale of production of drones. Depending on China for that should be out of the question.

12. More Spying: John Yoo and Ivana Stradner call for formal U.S. pushback against Russian cyberattacks. From the article:

Part of Russia’s strategy has been to prevent international legal institutions from punishing its bad behavior. One of Moscow’s deceptive — and effective — tactics has been to present itself as a cooperative power in support of the international institutions that regulate cyberspace. In 2017, Trump tweeted that he and Russian president Vladimir Putin had discussed forming “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking & many other negative things, will be guarded . . . and safe.” In 2020, the U.N. passed a Russian-led resolution on cybercrime, despite Moscow’s track record as one of the world’s largest sponsors and purveyors of it. Russia has even suggested the creation of a new U.N. cybercrime treaty.

The United States should develop an agile strategy based on deterrence instead of turning to international law and institutions that have been coopted. Like nuclear weapons, cyber weapons are cheap to deploy but difficult to stop. Preempting cyberattacks is more effective when offensive attacks are easy and defense expensive.

Evidence suggests that the Kremlin stops short when Washington pushes back. Take, for example, the U.S.’s successful covert cyberattacks against Russia’s Internet Research Agency during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. It is quite possible that similar operations prevented Russian interference in the 2020 elections. Rather than building expensive — but ultimately vulnerable — security systems, the U.S. should launch a series of escalatory responses, ranging from offensive cyberattacks to economic sanctions to covert operations. The goal is to raise the costs for Moscow until it stops its cyberwarfare. U.S. Cyber Command should not only put Russian hackers on notice that they will face U.S. criminal charges and economic and travel sanctions, but also target them with U.S.-backed hacking. More important, the U.S. should target Putin’s wealth, and that of senior government officials and oligarchs to boot. If the Russians break into sensitive U.S. government networks, the NSA should respond, in turn, by stealing personnel files of Russian military and political leaders. If Moscow seeks to disrupt U.S. elections, the CIA should drain the overseas hidden bank accounts of Russian leaders.

13. Severely harmed in an infamous IRA bombing, Margaret Tebbit conquered in many ways the afflictions that constrained her for 36 years. She has passed away, and John O’Sullivan reflects on the life of his impressive friend. From the remembrance:

Thirty-six years ago, in the early morning of October 12th, 1984, an IRA bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the Tory Party annual conference. It narrowly failed to kill its principal target, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but it killed five people and it severely injured another 31. Two of the most seriously injured victims that night were Norman Tebbit, then-secretary of state for Industry and a rising star of Thatcherite Toryism, and his wife, Margaret. She suffered perhaps the worst injuries of those who survived, first suffering great pain as they waited for rescuers to dig them from out of the rubble, then feeling nothing at all, which as a former nurse she realized meant paralysis below the neck. Earlier this week Margaret (now Lady) Tebbit died after 36 years of fighting disability, determinedly wresting some mobility back from it, but finally losing the battle we all eventually lose.

14. Jack Butler can’t help but share his disdain for the popular Band Aid tune. From the piece:

To understand why “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is so terrible, you should listen to the lyrics, even though the song’s slick and catchy structure can make it hard to really pay attention to them. The gist of the song is a juxtaposition guilt trip, contrasting an indifferent world of “light,” “plenty,” and “joy” — presumably, the world of most Western record-buyers — with the supposedly helpless suffering of the song’s subjects. (“Well tonight, thank God it’s them, instead of you!” as Bono sarcastically thunders.) It’s one thing to use guilt as an inducement; as a Catholic, I am well familiar with the power of that particular force. It’s another thing to milk a condescending stereotype, denying a whole continent not merely agency but also differentiation and even key facts about the way many of its inhabitants live.

Start with the physical descriptors of the continent of Africa in the song. It paints with such a broad brush as to suggest the entire landmass is like Arrakis, the desert planet in Dune, where water is so precious that spitting is considered a sign of respect and crying for the deceased is so rare that those who do it are thought to be honoring them by “giving water” to them. In the Band Aid version of Africa, it’s a land “where the only water flowing / Is the bitter sting of tears.” Just to make sure you get the point, the song also claims that Africa is a land “where nothing ever grows / No rain nor rivers flow.” It’s true that there are deserts in Africa, notably the Sahara, and that water access can be threatened by droughts and other factors. But the song seems to forget the existence of the Nile River (the world’s longest) and Lake Victoria, to name just two water bodies, not to mention the coastlines of many countries, and the varied landscapes of jungles, savannahs, mountains, and more. Some of the greatest civilizations in human history have managed to thrive in Africa both despite and because of its diverse features.

Capital Matters

1. Andrew Stuttaford takes on climate extremist Senator Jeff Merkley’s anti-democratic hysteria. From the piece:

If you believe that last sentence, you will also believe that these measures are compatible with a properly functioning democracy. Some “climate”-related spending — such as improving the resilience of low-lying coastal cities or, as Merkley suggests, toughening our energy infrastructure — can be justified regardless of one’s views about a climate “crisis,” which is supposedly either already with us or due the day after tomorrow. For the most part, however, “spawning a robust clean energy industry”, particularly under a scenario where the costs will be front-loaded, will be an exercise in value destruction, replacing that which does not need replacing, at least any time soon. And when value is destroyed, jobs tend to be destroyed along with them.

2. Andrew William Salter warns that Joe Biden has a big China problem. From the beginning of the piece:

Joe Biden has a China problem. First, and most obvious, is the extent to which he knew and participated in Hunter Biden’s questionable deals with Chinese firms closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A federal investigation is currently underway. And while the president-elect is not the subject of that investigation, it doesn’t take a political genius to see this may be a land mine for the incoming administration.

More broadly, Biden has been far too accommodating to the ambitious and unscrupulous Chinese state during his tenure in elected office. The CCP is clearly hoping for a return to the squishy policies it was treated with under the Obama-Biden administration. But if Biden wants to govern effectively now, he must toughen up. China difficulties extend far beyond our now-strained trade relationship; indeed, these problems stem from politics, not economics.

For all its faults, the outgoing administration understood the Chinese state for what it was.

3. Kevin Hassett has five questions for Tyler Goodspeed, Acting Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. From the piece.

How do you respond when someone asserts that the strength of the Trump economy is just an extension or spillover from Obama’s economic policies?

I think there are two ways by which this claim is disproven. The first is by looking at trends in growth rates. Economic growth is typically faster at the beginning of expansions, which is why, historically, the amplitude of an expansion is strongly correlated with the amplitude of the preceding contraction. But when we estimate trends in growth rates for a variety of macroeconomic indicators during the Obama expansion and project those trends into 2017, 2018, and 2019, we observe large residuals, indicating that growth during the first three years of the Trump administration exceeded the trend. In many instances, this is confirmed by statistically testing for slope changes.

The second, more straightforward approach is to simply look at outcomes relative to expectations. For example, in the three years before the pandemic, the U.S. economy added 7 million jobs — 5 million more than projected by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in August 2016. In the first two months of 2020 alone, the U.S. economy added more jobs (+465,000) than the CBO projected would be created in the entire 12 months of 2020. GDP was roughly $300 billion (or 1.2 percent) larger than the CBO had projected, while the unemployment rate was 1.4 percentage points lower. Whether you’re a Keynesian or a supply-sider, I think this substantial outperformance is clear evidence of a shift, and there are specific, major policy changes we can point to that we would expect to have generated such a shift.

4. Marc Joffe wonders if we are witnessing a repeat of the 2008 failures by rating agencies. From the beginning of the piece:

After facing widespread condemnation for their contributions to the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. credit-rating agencies have largely avoided scrutiny during the coronavirus recession. Indeed, the Federal Reserve used credit ratings to determine whether certain classes of borrowers should get emergency loans and what interest rates to charge them. This move contravened the spirit of Dodd-Frank, which sought to separate credit ratings from federal regulation, while underscoring the fact that the 2010 reform failed to replace the assessments of highly conflicted private firms in financial-industry oversight.

Unfortunately, these conflicts of interest remain in place and in some cases have been exacerbated by the entrance of smaller competitors into the ranks of SEC-licensed Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations (NRSRO). These problems have flown under the radar in 2020 because the recession was caused by the pandemic rather than by financial engineering gone awry. Also, aggressive fiscal and monetary policies have limited the number of large, institutional defaults we have seen thus far. If highly rated yet insolvent firms continue to service their debts with the help of the government, regulators can overlook the accuracy of their ratings. . . . Indeed, high ratings may even be seen as reflecting the possibility that government will come to the rescue of a distressed borrower.

One category of bonds that has yet to receive federal support is Single Asset/Single Borrower Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities (SASB CMBS). Like the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities instrumental in the financial crisis, CMBS are serviced from principal and interest payments on a pool of real-estate loans. But the underlying mortgages are liens on large, income-producing properties such as office buildings, apartment complexes, hotels, and shopping malls.

Lights. Camera. Review!

1. Armond White checks out Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and Minister of Propaganda Barack Obama’s movie listing. From the review:

Never a true movie-lover’s list, Obama’s annual inventory proposes new tenets; it’s always a Minister of Propaganda registry highlighting filmmakers who advertise Obama’s delusive political agenda and the plebes who accept it.

For those who can’t see the reality of Obama’s progressive tenets, Nolan’s film works through the deception — albeit to more deception.

Nolan’s Tenet (“It’s Bond on acid,” as the new ads proclaim, quoting one reviewer’s enthusiasm) appeals to the spectacle junkie while seducing the Kubrick nerd. This time Nolan employs an Obama strategy: It features a black lead character, “The Protagonist,” played by John David Washington, the cipher from Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Here’s the effect of Obama’s hope-and-change: putting race-hustling at the center of a major Hollywood blockbuster.

It turns out that the gadgety, psychobabbly mission of Nolan’s black hero, to prevent a Russian nemesis (Kenneth Branagh) from starting World War III, syncs with COVID-era dystopian fears and cynicism.

Consider that Tenet’s first three lines never establish national or moral allegiance: “Wake up the Americans,” “We live in a twilight world,” and “Welcome to the afterlife.” These are clues to the transformed America that Obama apparently approves in the films on his list, made by leftist cynics pushing their fashionable social principles.

2. Alvin S. Felzenberg finds The Reagans a pathetic bashing of Ron and Nancy. From the review:

Warning to the uninitiated: Do not mistake what comes before you as an update of anything like PBS’s extraordinary presentation of Reagan and his era as part of its “American Experience” repertoire. What you see on Showtime is neither objective history nor a fair-minded attempt to review past controversies through the perspective of the present. Its creator, Matt Tyrnauer, to his credit, is straightforward about that. He is a man with a mission.

His thesis is simple: that Ronald Reagan, through a series of “dog whistles,” carefully woven into his rhetoric, paved the way for Donald Trump’s angrier form of populism, with policies that promote white supremacy as the intended legacies of both presidents. Whatever history’s final judgment of Trump may be, few would doubt that this is a lot to pin on Ronald Reagan. In comparing the two presidents, the creators overlook some essential facts: Reagan twice won the presidency in two landslides, both in the popular vote and in the Electoral College. Trump twice lost the popular vote and prevailed in Electoral College once and narrowly. Hidden in the numbers are the hopes and expectations the American people placed in both presidents and how the presidents regarded them.

3. Kyle Smith doesn’t like Wonder Woman 1984, unless “cinematic can of processed corporate sludge” is a compliment. From the review:

As of Christmas Day, the “Imagine” video is no longer the worst film Gal Gadot and Kristen Wiig have released in 2020. Wonder Woman 1984 is an ode to parachute pants, fanny packs, eyeball-scorchingly bright colors, teased pouffy hair, and shopping malls, but the throwback item it implanted in my mind is Cheez Whiz. This movie is laboratory-made processed corporate goop in a can.

Picture the dumbest imaginable Cold War script, except with so little effort to make the action scenes zing that you might as well be watching an episode of T. J. Hooker or Hardcastle and McCormick. Wonder Woman 1984 is clunky throughout, but saves the worst for last, staging a comically awful climactic fight during which one character climbs into a costume left over from a touring production of Cats, or possibly made from the covering of a novelty fuzzy pillow purchased at Spencer’s Gifts.

Elsewhere in the Conservative Solar System

1. At Gatestone Institute, Judith Bergman highlights the EU’s “human rights” hypocrisy. From the end of the article:

Referring to the new resolution of the European Parliament on the Uighur situation, Member of the German Bundestag for the Greens, Margarete Bause, asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel whether Germany and the EU should enter into an investment agreement with China, while Uighurs there are being subjected to forced labor. Merkel effectively dodged the question, acknowledging that she was aware of the issue, but that as the negotiations were underway, she would “rather not answer hypothetical questions.”.

When the EU finalizes the EU-China investment agreement, whenever that will be, without any serious preconditions regarding China’s human rights abuses, it will have missed a crucial opportunity to mark Europe’s commitments to the human rights that it so often proclaims. By rushing into the deal before the year’s end, furthermore, the EU will have unilaterally prejudiced any transatlantic cooperation that might have been used to counter China with the incoming US administration. Crucially, the EU will project capitulation — in the words of the quote attributed to Russia’s Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them” — whereas China will be emboldened in its human rights violations from Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong to the rest of the Pacific and beyond.

2. At The Imaginative Conservative, the eminent Brad Birzer posits six things that define conservatism. From the piece:

Third, when conservatism began in the late nineteenth century, it did so, first and foremost, as a cultural movement. No one in their right senses could dismiss, for example, the influence of Irving Babbitt and Princeton’s Paul Elmer More during the 1910s through the 1930s. They and their ideas were everywhere, whether one liked them or not. One could not pick up the most prominent newspapers and periodicals without encountering their ideas. One radical minister, Charles Francis Potter, even went so far as to create a religion, Humanism, based on their teachings. In a more restrained fashion, T.S. Eliot based many of his own poems on the ideas of his favorite Harvard professor, Babbitt.

None of this should suggest that conservatism was not political. It most certainly could be, as witnessed by the “National Democratic” platform of 1896, the anti-Imperialist League manifesto, and the labeling of Woodrow Wilson as the Nietzschean “nemesis” of humanity. Yet, in its beginning, the cultural aspects of conservatism controlled politics, and conservatives considered politics a vital but limited sphere of human activity. For the most part, conservatives resisted the urge to become political until Barry Goldwater arose. At that point, all restraints came loose the political aspect of conservative grew dramatically. Today, of course, little of conservatism remains outside of the political sphere, which has swamped nearly all of human existence.

Fourth, and closely related to the third point, most conservatives of the twentieth century thought the highest human faculty was reason or, as defined properly, the imagination. They distrusted both the faculty of rationality as that of the automaton and the faculty of the passions as that of the animal. Only reason or imagination — the chests — properly ordered the human soul and human society. “It is only in the poetic imagination which is akin to that of the child and the mystic that we can still feel the pure sense of mystery and transcendence which is man’s natural element,” Dawson wrote. Babbitt and Eliot argued that one might employ three types of imagination: the diabolic, the idyllic, and the moral. Paul Elmer More claimed there could be no conservatism that was not an imaginative conservatism; and Russell Kirk always waxed eloquent — in high Platonic tones — that the imagination ruled everything.

3. At First Things, Matthew Hennessey writes of his daughter, Magdalena, and laughing matters. From the piece:

It’s not that Magdalena has no sense of humor. She can be quite funny herself when she wants to be. She does a pitch-perfect Kermit the Frog voice, for instance, but I’m always careful not to laugh when I hear it. I just smile.

“I like that, Mags,” I say. “It makes me want to laugh.” She squints her eyes in warning, as if to say, “You better not.”

This aversion to laughter is not normal — a word I use with care, because “normal” is considered unspeakable in our world. Among those who love people with disabilities and special needs, the guardians of propriety banned the word long ago, insisting instead on defining all differences of learning and behavior in relation to the “typical” world. What is normal, after all?

But the invocation of normality in this case is justified, and I must claim the privilege to use it as Magdalena’s father, that is to say, as the father of someone with Down syndrome. It’s correct to say that her reaction to laughter is not normal. Nor is it normal for parents to train teenagers not to laugh, nor for people to suppress their natural urges because someone else in the house might pitch a hysterical fit. It goes against every impulse. In our neighbors’ houses, nobody does this. When our friends visit, the way we tiptoe around laughter is viewed with uncharitable suspicion. They are right. It is abnormal.

4. At Competitive Enterprise Institute, Ben Lieberman sounds the alarm about the war — a bipartisan one — on affordable air conditioning. From the analysis:

Congressional Democrats and Republicans are currently collaborating on a bill that will make air conditioning more expensive. Hooray for bipartisanship!

Both the House and Senate have verbally agreed to add the pending Senate energy bill to must-pass year-end omnibus spending legislation. Included in that bill are measures that would restrict future production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) on the grounds that they contribute to climate change.

The problem is that HFCs are the refrigerants used in literally hundreds of millions of pieces of equipment owned by Americans — most home and automotive air conditioners as well as refrigerators. Recharging any of these systems after a leak would become more expensive once HFC supplies dwindle and prices rise.

Buying new equipment would also get costlier as systems will have to be redesigned to use one of the environmentally acceptable HFC substitutes. Many of these eco-friendlier alternatives already carry a hefty price premium, and that’s before they get the playing field tilted in their direction by Congress. The leading one, called HFO-1234yf, is nearly eight times more expensive than HFC-134a, which it would replace in new vehicle air conditioners as well as other applications. One online wholesaler is selling the former at $55 per pound and the latter at $7.50 per pound. In addition, some of the new refrigerants are classified by standards-setting bodies as flammable, which may pose safety issues.

5. F-Bombing does not make the bomber more authentic, argues Boston Globe columnist and non-prude Jeff Jacoby. From his weekly “Arguable” email (subscribe here):

As a near-absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech and expression, I don’t for a moment suggest that George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on TV should be banned by law. But it would be a fine thing if most of them were once again banned by convention, by a sense of respect, and by an appreciation for social hygiene.

“Let sewage flow into a river long enough, and eventually it may catch fire,” I once wrote in a column. “Ignore graffiti and broken windows long enough, and eventually anti-social crime can make a neighborhood intolerable. What happens to a culture in which obscenity and raunchy language are omnipresent?”

Politicians and other public figures who resort to profanity aren’t more authentic or edgy or fearless than those who don’t. They’re just more lazy. It doesn’t take increased mental effort to deploy a few F-bombs in a conversation; it takes less. Promiscuous cursing may attract attention and fluster the bluenoses, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it is trashy and cheap. Its effect over time is to build up resistance to gentleness and patience. Sometimes salty language is exactly what a situation calls for. But like saltiness in cooking, too much can ruin everything. When everyone talks like the salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” society hasn’t become more authentic, only more uncouth.

6. At the Desert News, Scott Rasmussen looks past a Biden presidency and describes what a truly transformational president will do. From the analysis:

Reagan and Roosevelt were influential not because they changed the national mood, but because they followed the nation and put the mood into words. The two presidents did not change America. Instead, their rhetoric and leadership confirmed that America had already changed. That’s the way things work in a land where the culture leads and politics lag behind.

The agendas and policies that flowed from their leadership did matter, of course. The significance, however, was not that they changed America, but that they changed American politics and government. Reagan and Roosevelt took a political system that had drifted away from the public mood and forced it back into closer alignment with the consent of the governed. In the end, both presidents helped the political system catch up with where America had already gone.

This understanding matters to us today because it means we don’t have to wait for America’s next influential president to determine the fate of the nation. Instead, we can glimpse the future of American politics by looking at where the culture is today.

7. At Real Clear History, Francis Sempa reflects on James Burnham and his 1940 take on the future of geopolitics. From the piece:

Though remembered as a conservative, Burnham eschewed philosophical labels. He was an empiricist. He studied and analyzed facts, historical circumstances, geography, and political realities before reaching general conclusions. Some criticized him for celebrating power and those who wielded it. It is more accurate to say that Burnham understood power and carefully studied how political leaders wielded it. He called Machiavelli and others who wrote truthfully about power “defenders of freedom.”

Burnham’s geopolitical analysis derived from his reading of classical geopolitical theorists, including Britain’s Sir Halford Mackinder and Yale professor Nicholas Spykman. Those theorists focused on spatial relationships and the power potential of certain geographical regions. Mackinder viewed northern-central Eurasia as the “pivot” of world politics, while Spykman believed that the crescent region that included Western Europe, the Middle East, southwest Asia, and East Asia (which he called the Rimland) controlled the destinies of the world. Burnham did not mention Mackinder or Spykman in The Managerial Revolution but he did cite them in his later geopolitical works.

The outcome of the Second World War, Burnham wrote, will result in a small number of “‘super-states,’ which will divide the world among them.” Looking geographically at regions where advanced industry and economic growth were concentrated, he predicted that three super-states would emerge from the war — in North America based in the United States; in Western and Central Europe, north Africa, and western Asia (“the European center”); and in Central and East Asia and the nearby islands (the “Asiatic center”). The postwar world would be dominated by the “struggle among the three strategic centers for world control.” All three super-states would be run by managerial elites. (Burnham called communism, fascism and New Dealism “managerial ideologies”). Other smaller nations would coalesce around the three super-states.

8. At The College Fix, Joseph Silverstein reports on insanity in the very woke student senate at Cornell. From the article:

Activist members of the student government at Cornell University are waging an ideological war against fellow Cornell Student Assembly members who recently voted against disarming campus police.

From launching recall petitions and rallying against their fellow representatives in November, to earlier this month ousting some of them from subcommittees or the entire assembly, these activist student government members say they are motivated to set right what a “white-cis-het” group of their peers did in voting down the disarmement resolution.

“These 15 student assembly members watched us pour out our traumas and fears on the floor practically begging them to vote no, and finally send a message to the university that we can no longer allow these oppressive institutions to keep us down,” said Uchenna Chukwukere, the Student Assembly vice president of finance, at a protest rally in mid-November.

“Many of these assembly members are white-cis-het men and women who quite literally laughed and danced in our faces when the resolution failed,” Chukwukere said.

“Their faces are all over social media,” he added. “We will never forget. . . . Their campus careers are over. . . . We must disarm, defund, and disband the Cornell University Police Department.”

Baseballery

Christmas celebrates a Miracle Big, but let us here recall a Miracle Small, known to and appreciated by aficionados of the National Pastime — that is the no-hitter of Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman, the only MLB pitcher to hurl such in his first start.

True, it was not his first appearance. Having pitched decently in the minors, he was picked up by the St. Louis Browns in late 1952, and was on the team’s opening day roster come 1953. His first few appearances were strictly in relief, and after four games Bobo had racked up decidedly unimpressive numbers: In 5 1/3 innings, he had an 8.44 ERA and one loss. Still, on May 6th, manager Marty Marion conceded to Holloman’s pestering to allow him to show his stuff in what Bobo was sure was his forte — as a starter. Before a rain-soaked, night-game crowd of 2,473 hardy Browns’ fans, Bobo took the mound, retired the Philadelphia Athletics Eddie Joost on a fly ball to right field, and began his dalliance with baseball immortality.

Over nine frames, Bobo walked five A’s, and even made an error to allow a baserunner. But as luck would have it — and luck would (by all accounts the Browns that day made many a great play in the field) — when our oft-mentioned pal, yes, Eddie Robinson, flew out to end a nascent rally in the top of the Ninth, not a single Athletic had registered a hit. Bobo Holloman had an official no-hitter.

The historic outing was not an indicator of forthcoming greatness. The 30-year-old righty would earn only two more wins in his brief MLB career, all of which was relegated to 1953. The most impressive one (and he final one) came in late June at Fenway Park, when he gave up only two hits and five walks over 8 innings as the Browns blanked the Red Sox, 2-0. Bobo started the Ninth, but when he walked the first batter, Billy Goodman, he was yanked for reliever Satchel Paige, who earned a save.

From there on it was dreck. His arm hurting, Holloman pitched just a few more times, bloating his ERA to 5.23. In his final appearance, against the Washington Senators on July 19th, he gave up 6 hits, three walks, and 6 earned runs over 1 2/3 innings. In a few days he was gone to the minors, and would never play in the Big Leagues again.

But he had his moment of greatness.

BATTLE OF THE BOBOS: Because you were curious, we searched, and found, the intersection: Bobo Holloman and Bobo Newsom, wrapping up his long career, appeared in the same box-score. On June 26, 1953, at Connie Mack Stadium, Holloman would start against the Athletics, and go 6 2/3 innings before being relieved by Satchel Paige (who blew a save and earned a loss). Newsom pitched an uneventful 2/3 of an inning, with no decision.

A Dios

We think today, amidst the merry-making, of those suffering, from pathogens or whatever afflicts the body and the mind. And too, the soul. More than think, we might offer a prayer that the Creator is moved to offer them peace, comfort, and health. More than prayer, the tuneful among us might sing this line from a favorite carol:

Bless all the dear children in Your tender care
And fit us for Heaven to live with You there.

A Very Merry Christmas to All,

Jack Falalalalalalalala, who will be in receipt of greetings and laments and reflections on the National Pastime at jfowler@nationalreview.com.

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