The Weekend Jolt

National Review

It Tolls for Thee, Babycakes

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Put down the KitKat, drop the Mounds, and pay heed.

Today is All Souls Day, and Your Humble Correspondent appreciates this brief tolerance of spiritual anxieties before we get to the ensuring Thanksgiving Feast of NR links. This (fascination) cannot be helped, having stumbled onto, and then becoming fixated with, sites about mystics and apparitions and accounts of tormented souls from Purgatory (there is a museum!), and . . . well, how about you just read Dante.

Still, it’s no laughing matter. Nor is Brexit, which represents another situation where souls are trying to leave some oppressive situation — although it cannot be said that the EU is some means of purification on the way to holiness. It is, as Kevin Williamson points out, the Hotel California:

When the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union — rightly or wrongly, intelligently or meat-headedly, however you see it — that should have been that. But British sovereignty has become so entangled in European protocols as to render Brexit difficult if not quite impossible without the cooperation of the European Union itself. And that cooperation has not been exactly forthcoming. Brussels has worked to make Brexit as difficult, painful, and expensive for the United Kingdom as it can. It has even gone so far as to demand the creation of what amounts to a national border for goods within the United Kingdom, in effect permanently ceding a portion of British sovereignty to the European Union.

And that is the way in which the European Union indentures British liberty and democracy. There is more to liberty than simple unrestricted freedom of action. Liberty includes rights embedded in a particular political regime and legal context, meaning liberty under British government and British law of British making. The British people might legitimately have chosen another course of action — but they did not. And while majoritarian democracy is an instrument of limited legitimacy and applicability (which is why we Americans have a Bill of Rights — “unalienable rights” cannot be voted away), when a question is put to the people, either the result must stand or the people must conclude that they no longer enjoy sovereignty, liberty, or democracy.

What else? Oh yes, Kate Smith beat the Yankees. And kudos to the Nationals for taking the World Series, and to pound home this point, Phil the Editor, who rarely offers two cents about this missive’s contents, corresponds thusly: “I know you don’t like post-merger ball facts for the Jolt, but this is the first World Series in MLB history in which every game was won by the away team. And it’s now been 6 years since a team won the series at home (last, Sox).”


1. Our national debt mounts. We declare this to be nuts. From the editorial:

The news that the budget deficit has returned to a point just a hair shy of the trillion-dollar mark is dispiriting. The Trump administration is rightly proud of its economic record of modest but steady growth accompanied by strong employment and very good growth in wages. But if we cannot get government spending under control during the good times, what hope do we have for the more challenging times? And there will be more challenging times.

Congressional Republicans did make some real progress on spending controls during the Obama years, but it is very difficult to resist revenue-hungry special interests — especially when those interest groups represent big blocs of voters.

And budget reform without presidential leadership is more difficult still. The major drivers of federal spending are Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (along with other health-care subsidies), and national security. President Trump has ruled out pursuing Social Security and Medicare reform out-of-hand. These are very popular entitlements, and particularly popular among some sensitive Republican constituencies. Likewise, military spending is very popular among Republicans, and some conservatives argue, not without reason, that we are not spending enough on the armed services.

We are all for negotiating an extra nickel off every case of pencils the federal bureaucracies order, but the U.S. government is not going to be able to put its fiscal situation on solid footing without addressing the major drivers of spending — meaning entitlement reform. Even if Republicans were willing to countenance the radical tax increases put forward by some leading Democrats, these almost certainly would prove insufficient to cover spending if it continues on its current trajectory. We would need to roughly double federal taxes to make that happen.

2. Parliament’s December 12 election is a choice between sanity and the abyss. From the editorial:

Both the Blair and Cameron governments contributed to the institutional logjam and crisis of the recent Parliament. Cameron’s Fixed-Term Parliaments Act was supposed to copper-fasten a Tory–Liberal Democrat majority. Instead, the result was to create a novel situation where a majority of parliamentarians opposed to the government’s negotiating strategy with Brussels attempted to puppeteer the executive and undermine the prime minister rather than bring his government to an end and face an election. Separating power and responsibility in this way had the predictable result of sowing chaos and confusion in Westminster. The speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, was supposed to be a neutral referee and guardian of parliamentary custom. He became a wild innovator and occasional usurper, undermining the executive on behalf of those committed to reversing Brexit.

These novelties were blessed by yet another. When Johnson made the perfectly normal political decision to suspend Parliament and call for a Queen’s speech, the Supreme Court that was invented by Tony Blair’s government jumped in to declare that what had heretofore been a royal prerogative was now an illegal act. This was an astonishing act of constitutional transgression that, if unchallenged, will resound in history until the days when the memory of a European Union is as distant as the Crimean War. A new Tory government must begin putting recommitting the institutions of British governance to their proper roles.

And so the Tory campaign Johnson leads is on the side of democracy, national sovereignty, the union, Britain’s traditional allies, and constitutional restoration. Prevailing means sanity. Failure leads to the abyss. Good luck to him.

3. Elizabeth Warren has cunning health-care plan that may cost the equivalent of the entire world’s GDP. Or a hell of a heck of a lot. We find her scheme to be textbook fanaticism. From the editorial:

For what purpose does Warren ask Americans to risk reduced national income and declines in access to specialty care? Why should they be prohibited from having private health insurance? It can’t be in order to cover the uninsured: There are many ways — good and bad, conservative and progressive — to expand coverage without forcing everyone into a government-run system. Is it because Americans, even those who are well-off, must be saved from having to pay deductibles and co-payments? That hardly seems like a crisis demanding a sweeping governmental response.

Warren’s plan, heavy as it is on taxes and controls, is alarming in its own right. Still more so is the ideological fanaticism it expresses.

See Miss Virginia

Your Humble Correspondent acknowledges that NR — in its triple threat of Kyle Smith, Armond White, and Ross Douthat — has America’s premier assembly of movie critics. But even Zeppo got crowds in on his brothers. So herewith a recommendation: See the new flick, Miss Virginia, which may be difficult to catch at the local Cineplex, but is to be had: I caught it on Amazon Prime.

Watch the trailer here.

This is the story of single mom Virginia Walden Ford (played by Uzo Aduba), who led the determined and successful fight to have Congress pass legislation to create “opportunity scholarships” for District of Columbia students desperately in need of an alternative to their expensive hellhole schools. Matthew Modine plays the fictional Congressman Clifford Williams, who proved to be Miss Virginia’s Capitol Hill champion.

The flick is a project of The Motion Picture Institute, which is, well, not liberal — it’s determined to make entertaining, inspiring, educating movies and videos about human freedom. So I was rooting for it when the “WATCH” arrow was clicked, but frankly, braced for disappointment. Not so! The movie is very entertaining, yes, educational, with some terrific bits of acting, and a happy (and true!) ending offset by some prior bits of sorrow.

You want a great movie review? Read Armond, Kyle, or Ross. You want to watch an enjoyable / educational movie with the family? Watch Miss Virginia.

Here Is Your Big Basket of Delicious Conservative Halloween Candy — Get Chewing!

1. Rachel McKinnon, says Madeleine Kearns, is not only a cheat, she’s a bully. And this too: She’s a he. Or is it her’s a him? Anyway . . . from the piece:

So, what’s this got to do with the culture at large? First, by pretending that McKinnon is not a man, we have allowed him to cheat at sports at the expense of his female competitors. Because McKinnon being a man is directly relevant to the argument that he should not compete against women, in calling him something other than a man, we obfuscate that argument — and all for the sake of a very recently invented set of blasphemy norms (e.g. “misgendering” and “deadnaming”) that don’t apply to us non-believers.

Second, by pretending that McKinnon is not a man — but rather a vulnerable woman — we have forsworn all expectations of accountability and decency. The most egregious example of this, and the precise moment I decided to stop lending McKinnon special courtesies, was when he lauded the terminal illness of a young woman, Magdalen Berns, whom I held (and still hold) in great esteem.

Berns believed strongly that men cannot be women. As she lay on her deathbed in Scotland, at the age of 36, surrounded by her loved ones, McKinnon tweeted that he was “happy” when bad people died, that this feeling is “justified,” that Berns is a “trash human,” and further advised his followers “don’t be the sort of person who people you’ve harmed are happy you’re dying of brain cancer.” By contrast, here is a characteristically civil, clear and courageous quote from Berns: “it’s not hate to defend your rights and it’s not hate to speak the truth.”

Men can be so rude sometimes.

2. Armond White says Jesus Is King — Kanye West’s new documentary and album — will have a long-lasting impact. From the review:

West’s gospel revival coincides with his political independence. So far, this is West’s most powerful statement since supporting President Trump and wearing a MAGA cap in public. By reviving his faith in the word of God and the independence of black Americana gospel, he forces others to remember the moral foundation of the civil-rights movement, which has been forgotten and deliberately disregarded by fervent secular liberals. (It was at a high pitch during the funerals that turned the spiritual transitions of Aretha Franklin and Elijah Cummings into shameless political rallies.)

Throngs of fans and worshipers taking part in West’s various Sunday Services concerts across the country over the past year are vividly documented in the 38-minute film Jesus Is King. (The IMAX visual emphasis on land, sky, and clouds evokes George Stevens’s 70 mm The Greatest Story Ever Told.) When worshipers sing the lyric “He walked with my mother / I want Him to walk with me,” the song’s emotional resonance recalls the faith of generations — from before the sea change of black politics’ bitter alignment with the tenets of Communist atheism.

The beautiful essence of Jesus Is King is its non-bitterness. Despite private struggle and public pushback (“Before the flood, they did the same to Noah”), West has realized a way to avoid and confound liberal media’s trap: the promotion of black bitterness as the core of African-American self-realization. Jesus Is King is a spiritual work thanks to its deep feeling — pure expression brought to today’s calamitous social condition. The album rejects any recourse to political solutions. West’s personal movement, and the public convocation of his Sunday Services, is clearly against the politics of division.

3. More Kanye: Andrew Walker believes his conversion could be a “cultural wrecking ball” (hopefully not the kind Miley Cyrus rode). From the Corner post:

But in the media rollout of West’s album, it’s worth paying attention to other statements he’s made. He’s criticized abortion and believes that the African-American community is getting played by Democrats. He remains defiant in the face of political correctness. A man of evolving identities who has struggled with mental illness in his past, he told Zane Lowe during a two-hour long Beats 1 interview that during the planning of the album, he insisted that those around him fast and abstain from premarital sex. In the interview with Lowe, West has the anthropology of C. S. Lewis, the economics of Wilhelm Röpke, the cultural mood of Wendell Berry, and the defiance of Francis Schaeffer. In Jesus Is King and in interviews, we see a Kanye West upholding what Russell Kirk referred to as the Permanent Things.

He’s rejecting the hyper-sexualization of culture that he admitted he helped create. In an ode to the Niebuhrian Christ-and-culture typology, he said he’s now living his life for Christ and ostensibly against culture.

In a word, Kanye West is now a cultural reactionary by the standards of our society, and could be, in time, a cultural wrecking ball that dislodges so much of the assumed, comfortable, and unchecked cultural liberalism that dominates the most elite sectors of our country and mocks anything resembling traditionalism and social conservatism. In an age of libertarian sentiment, when the currency of American society appear to be glamorization and the notion that consent is the only reasonable moral standard, West is calling for restraint and limits.

4. Andy McCarthy eyeballs the House impeachment inquiry resolution, and, among various observations, finds a flawed proposal and a questionable process. From the analysis:

With that as a concrete example of what’s at stake, we should pause to deal with the central procedural issue. Republicans continue validly to complain about the rigged process. Whether it will be rigged going forward, though, depends on how committed Schiff and, ultimately, Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) are to open proceedings that both are and appear to be fair. It is not frivolous for Republicans to grouse that the future open proceedings with due process are tainted by the month of closed proceedings without due process, which has made impeachment a foregone conclusion. But the procedural argument won’t win the day, and Democrats still have to make their case to the public, no matter how one-sided things have been to this point.

I am not without hope that there will be real due process in the public hearings — not because hardcore partisans Schiff and Nadler will suddenly transform into paragons of fairness, but because it is in their interest to be fair.

The court here is public opinion, and — because the president is highly unlikely to be removed by the Senate — the verdict will come in November 2020. If the House Democrats have an impeachment case against the president, the Democrats have a strong incentive to let the process play out with deferential due process befitting the seriousness of the matter. If the case is thin gruel and the process is manifestly skewed against the president, with disclosure withheld, cross-examination slashed, exculpatory witnesses denied, etc., it will look like a partisan hit job — i.e., Democrats determined to impeach a president they never accepted, not spurred by egregious misconduct.

The public will judge the House impeachment inquiry on the finished product, not the dodgy start. In this vein, Republicans are seizing on the broad discretion and control that the resolution vests in Schiff. This is a sensible strategy: Schiff has conducted himself disreputably, theatrically reading an absurd caricature of the Trump-Zelensky transcript, concealing his staff’s coordination with the so-called whistleblower (and earlier, championing the discredited Steele dossier). A former prosecutor, Schiff is a very able interrogator; he is also hyper-partisan, sneaky, and erratic.

All that said, congressional inquiries are adversarial political proceedings, which means someone has to be in charge of them. Elections have consequences, so the someone is a Democrat. Since we are in a very partisan time, Republicans and Democrats tend to vote in antagonistic lockstep. Where there are disputes, Democrats will win because they have the numbers. That doesn’t mean the process has to be rigged. That will be up to Schiff. If Republicans make reasonable requests, Schiff would be well advised not to turn them into disputes; if he denies them, Democrats will look terrible. If Republicans make outlandish demands that appear designed to delay or derail the proceedings, there will be sympathy for Schiff. A lot rides on how he presides — and how Nadler does in phase-two.

5. The Vatican holds a long and circusy “Amazon Synod,” and Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders if false gods were worshipped in St. Peter’s. From the piece:

John Henry Newman was canonized a saint a few weeks ago by the Catholic Church. His essay on the development of doctrine laid out stringent criteria by which to judge new expressions by Churchmen. Chief among them, they must not violate the law of non-contradiction. “A true development is that which is conservative of its original, and a corruption is that which tends to its destruction,” he wrote. What would he think today?

I often think of Badiou and Mao, and Orwell’s Winston Smith, when I read documents authored by the au courant prelates of my Catholic Church, or apologetics on behalf of the new way of doing things. In 2018, a Canadian priest and Catholic media maven, Fr. Thomas Rosica, wrote that Pope Francis “breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is ‘free from disordered attachments.’” One hears in this the same line about thinking in infinities. It turned out that Fr. Thomas Rosica had plagiarized this effulgent passage from an ex-Catholic turned fundamentalist, and reversed its meaning by doing so. The original author had meant it as a criticism, the latter as flattery. The latter’s use required stupidity and intelligence. On his grave, it should say, He loved Big Jesuit.

The recently concluded Synod of the Amazon has been dogged by the principle of contradiction. A scandal broke out about a statuette of a pregnant figure. Some authorities in Rome called it an image of the Blessed Virgin — a veritable Our Lady of the Amazon. Others, including Pope Francis himself, called the statue “Pachama” after the South American fertility goddess. Some activist Catholics, having been told this was an idol of a false god being erected in their Churches, took the statue and threw it into the Tiber. But Francis clarified that the display of the statues was “without blasphemous intent.” There’s a certain athleticism of mind at work.

6. As Jack Crowe and Tobias Hoonhout find out, the drive-by media has no problem straight-facing it when they sit on news that might hurt a liberal Democrat. From the report:

A reporter who now works for the New York Times failed to report on public records which he obtained in April that cut against Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D., Mass.) claim that she was fired from a teaching position in 1971 due to pregnancy discrimination.

Reid Epstein, who was then working for the Wall Street Journal, filed an open-records request with the Riverdale Board of Education on April 2 seeking “to inspect or obtain” copies of public records relating to Warren’s time teaching at Riverdale during the 1970-1971 school year. In response to his request, Epstein received school-board minutes on April 10 that challenge Warren’s story, according to documents obtained by National Review through the New Jersey Open Records Act.

Epstein, who moved to the Times on April 19, never broke the story. Reached for comment, a Times spokeswoman said that the “records were inconclusive” and the potential story required further sourcing.

7. Nicholas Phillips checks out lefty journalist Andrew Marantz’s new book, Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of American Conservatism and sees things of which George Orwell made mincemeat 80-plus years ago. From the review:

One senses Marantz’s fear of any angle that could be seen to soft-pedal or both-sides the problem of the far Right — the author repeatedly frets about being morally compromised by merely covering them. The sole time the online Left appears in Marantz’s book is, I kid you not, when he contrasts the Left’s “sincere aspirations to virtue” with the Right’s cynicism — as if being progressive made you immune to social-media outrage incentives.

The next thing Marantz says we need is a new appetite for regulating Internet speech. He treats the need for online gatekeeping as embarrassingly obvious yet is largely silent on how it would work, resorting to metaphor (social media is a party, and sometimes you need to bounce misbehaving guests — something hardly anyone would disagree with) rather than the language of policy and law, which demand concrete line-drawing. He claims this is intentional; it’s also convenient. Marantz takes us inside a Reddit war room where employees make ad hoc, but mostly reasonable, decisions about which communities to ban, suggesting that censorship is easy enough if we deploy the common sense of the average Silicon Valley tech mogul. The problem will go away if we change the rules of the digital conversation, which is an especially attractive solution when the people who control those rules are highly educated fellow elites.

This is why Marantz’s account is ultimately a feel-good story, even though he goes to great pains to reject arc-of-history optimism. For him, dealing with extremism doesn’t mean changing anything about how our society is ordered. Not once does he attribute extremism to social or economic causes that exist outside of the Internet. He acknowledges that extremism is more attractive to people who are “alienated” or “lonely” or who lack “a strong sense of self,” but he doesn’t ask why more Americans than ever seem to feel this way. Instead, he chooses the solutions — a different moral vocabulary and the will to enforce it online — that involve no sacrifice for the class of which he is a member. Indeed, it’s a new privilege — who do we suppose will be teaching us this new vocabulary? Who will enforce its rules? Probably the kinds of people who become New Yorker staff writers.

8. Alan Hawkins and Betsy VanDenBerghe consider the new figures showing divorce rates in decline, but counsel against cheering. From the analysis:

While a decline in the divorce rate merits a parade that we’re loath to rain on, two other trends deserve a less triumphal reception.

First, the specter of divorce continues to haunt young adults in ways that discourage marriage and encourage cohabitation. While the passage of no-fault divorce laws in the 1970s made ending harmful marriages easier, it also contributed to a wholesale legal and social rejection of a strategic pillar of marriage: permanence. Divorce rates skyrocketed in the 1970s and then stabilized in the 1980s. They have receded somewhat over the past 30 years. Today demographers estimate that about 40 percent of first marriages and 60 percent of second marriages will end in divorce. But the divorce rate, while no longer in the stratosphere, never quite came back down to earth either.

And rates remain high enough that the specter of divorce still hovers in the public consciousness. The divorce phantom especially affects younger men and women, many of whom lived through their parents’ break-ups, in a way aptly phrased by NR’s Kyle Smith: “Warning: Do. Not. Get. Divorced. But since you can never be sure your partner won’t dump you, really, you shouldn’t get married. Or fall in love in the first place. Best bet: Don’t be born.”

While divorce angst and its accompanying postponement of marriage paradoxically contributes to today’s lower divorce rates, it doesn’t keep young adults from romantic relationships. Instead, viewing marriage as fragile and divorce as a common and random accident waiting to happen, younger Americans, a recent study found, were more likely to remain unmarried and cohabit, a scenario that researchers have linked to increased odds of a future divorce. For younger adults, high expectations of divorce significantly decrease their odds of being married, yet the odds of divorce are hardly fixed. Relationship skills that significantly increase chances for marital success help even those with risk factors for divorce achieve healthy marriages.

9. Lindsey Burke and Jonathan Butcher investigate the Johnson Administration’s “Great Society” spending spree and find it did bupkus for America’s poor and needy. From the analysis:

Head Start, the federal pre-kindergarten program for low-income children launched under Johnson, has had no lasting learning gains for enrolled students. What’s more, a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found Head Start centers inflating enrollment numbers by doctoring student applications. Taxpayers have spent more than $240 billion on the initiative since its launch in 1965.

Washington has spent $2 trillion on K–12 schools since 1965, yet there has been no improvement in actual student learning for disadvantaged students compared with their peers. The achievement gap between children from low-income families and wealthier students was the equivalent of four years of learning decades ago and remains that size today. There has, however, been a notable increase in the bureaucracy. The number of administrators has increased 137 percent since the 1960s.

Today the federal government originates and services 90 percent of all student loans, spending $150 billion annually on loans and grants. Tuition at public four-year universities has increased 213 percent (after accounting for inflation) since 1987. Meanwhile, a slightly smaller proportion of students from families in the bottom quartile of the income distribution graduate from college today, the very students Johnson’s loan programs were supposed to help.

By any measurable indicator, the Great Society has been a bust for students.

10. The Golden State goes dark. Rich Lowry uses the flashlight to see that California can’t keep on the lights. From the piece:

California governor Gavin Newsom, who has to try to evade responsibility for this debacle while presiding over it, blames “dog-eat-dog capitalism” for the state’s current crisis. It sounds like he’s referring to robber barons who have descended on the state to suck it dry of profits while burning it to the ground. But Newsom is talking about one of the most regulated industries in the state — namely California’s energy utilities, which answer to the state’s public utilities commission.

This is not exactly an Ayn Rand operation. The state could have, if it wanted, pushed the utilities to focus on the resilience and safety of its current infrastructure — implicated in some of the state’s most fearsome recent fires — as a top priority. Instead, the commission forced costly renewable-energy initiatives on the utilities. Who cares about something as mundane as properly maintained power lines if something as supposedly epically important — and politically fashionable — as saving the planet is at stake?

Meanwhile, California has had a decades-long aversion to properly clearing forests. The state’s leaders have long been in thrall to the belief that cutting down trees is somehow an offense against nature, even though thinning helps create healthier forests. Biomass has been allowed to build up, and it becomes the kindling for catastrophic fires.

As Chuck DeVore of the Texas Public Policy Foundation points out, a report of the Western Governors’ Association warned of this effect more than a decade ago, noting that “over time the fire-prone forests that were not thinned, burn in uncharacteristically destructive wildfires.”

11. Victor Davis Hanson chimes in (even referencing Dante!) and sees his home state becoming pre-modern, courtesy of idiocies inflicted by progressives. From the piece:

Californians know that to venture into a typical municipal emergency room is to descend into a modern Dante’s Inferno. Medical facilities are overcrowded. They can be as unpleasant as they are bankrupting to the vanishing middle class that must face exorbitant charges to bring in an injured or sick child.

No one would dare to connect the crumbling infrastructure, poor schools, and failing public health care with the non-enforcement of immigration laws, which has led to a massive influx of undocumented immigrants from the poorest regions of the world, who often arrive without fluency in English or a high-school education.

Stores are occasionally hit by swarming looters. Such Wild West criminals know how to keep their thefts under $950, ensuring that such “misdemeanors” do not warrant police attention. California’s permissive laws have decriminalized thefts and break-ins. The result is that San Francisco now has the highest property crime rate per capita in the nation.

Has California become premodern?

Millions of fed-up middle-class taxpayers have fled the state. Their presence as a stabilizing influence is sorely missed. About one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in California. Millions of poor newcomers require enormously expensive state health, housing, education, legal, and law-enforcement services.

California is now a one-party state. Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the legislature. Only seven of the state’s 53 congressional seats are held by Republicans. The result is that there is no credible check on a mostly coastal majority.

12. More CA / MBD: Michael finds the floperoo prexy candidacy of Kamala Harris tracks California’s increasing failed-state trajectory. From the commentary:

Now it’s obvious that Harris is not a top-tier candidate. Gabbard had attacked Harris for laughing at the idea of smoking marijuana herself, while compiling a record as a draconian drug warrior and a dodgy prosecutor willing to do what’s unjust if it advanced her political career. The attack is effective as a symbol of Harris’s hypocrisy and opportunism, and it points to the fundamentally dysfunctional political culture of California: The rules are applied vengefully to the peons, the rules are rewritten or ignored for the privileged.

California is one of the most unequal states in our society. California has more superrich than anywhere else in the country. It also has one of the highest poverty rates. There, the rich are indulged, protected, and cosseted, while the poor are punished, humiliated, and cast into chaos. The parts of the middle class that haven’t fled the Golden State for Boulder, Colo., Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tenn., Columbus, Ohio, or Atlanta are now subjected to semi-regular preemptive power outages. Which means school closings, lost days at work, and spoilage at grocers and restaurants.

What strikes most visitors to Los Angeles and San Francisco these days is the obscene wealth and squalor in close proximity: billion-dollar work campuses at one edge, but human feces in the old neighborhoods. California’s infrastructure is among the worst in the nation, despite the fact that the state could be counted as one of the five largest economies in the world. The infrastructure that has been built out in recent years has mostly served the tech giants in Silicon Valley. It has connected the enclaves of the superrich and facilitated their travel. California is leading the country in building new lanes for high-occupancy vehicles and those willing to pay a toll for reduced travel time. Even the highways can be made to resemble gated communities.

13. Kyle Smith checks out The Rise of Jordan Peterson and finds the documentary about the accidental movement leader pretty fair. From the review:

The doc gives plenty of airtime to his ideological opponents, who in interviews say things such as “I was in danger of vomiting all over my keyboard,” as if their inability to control their own digestive tracts is Peterson’s responsibility. “You hurt my feelings, so I get to lock you up” is an idea that gains traction every day, and Peterson deserves praise for being the rare campus figure to call this absurd. The raving hordes who want ever more restrictive speech codes come off poorly in this movie, but that’s because the movie quotes them fairly.

Co-written and directed by Patricia Marcoccia, The Rise of Jordan Peterson (which is playing in a few theaters and available via video on demand) makes an effort to pierce the increasingly outsized public persona of its subject and “unpack” him, to use a very Peterson-y verb. Courtly and polite, Peterson speaks with a mild, Muppet-y voice, yet can’t resist being nettlesome: Kermit the Firebrand. At times this gentle soul seems like an unlikely candidate to be whipping up opposing armies. He might have preferred to remain focused on his academic work on belief systems, myths, and archetypes. But like many others on the right, Peterson is ultimately motivated by an inability to let bunkum prevail unchallenged. A daughter gives him a psychological test in which Peterson is asked to rate himself in various categories. “You have no idea how irritated I actually am,” he says, in one revealing moment. He also says he isn’t as eager to quarrel as people think: “They agitate the hell out of me, but I won’t back away from one [dispute].” There’s an element of fun to it, of course: “I figured out how to monetize social-justice warriors,” he says with a gleam in his eye.

14. Something Fishy Here: Brian Allen eyeballs the work of James Prosek. From the beginning of his review:

James Prosek (b. 1975) is the Audubon of fish. John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, published between 1827 and 1838, is an amalgam of science and art. Audubon’s renderings of hundreds of birds, mostly in watercolor, were elegantly engraved in volumes that informed ornithology for generations. The art’s gorgeous and cinematic. Whenever I see an Audubon bird, I think of close-ups of movie stars. For most of his career, and he’s a mid-generation artist, Prosek has done the same thing with fish.

Prosek is a modern man. He’s a fascinating, fine artist but a master of today’s media. He makes documentaries, writes, teaches, and promotes conservation initiatives. A few years ago, he retraced the first book on fishing, The Compleat Angler, written by Issak Walton in 1653. His documentary on Walton is unusually good.

I’ve been writing about outside-the-box artists off and on all year. Angela Lorenz makes artist’s books. Sheila Hicks is a textile sculptor. Henri Broyard is a young African-American painter. I planned to write about Prosek this month, mostly because he defies boundaries and thinks about art and science. Then, Harold Bloom died last week. Prosek and I were Bloom students at Yale, though of different generations. Bloom taught me about Shelley, Southey, Byron, and Wordsworth.

Bloom called Prosek “an original.” He thought Prosek was the best artist of his — Bloom’s — era. What did he mean?

15. Jack Butler is gnawed at by the persistence of the superstitious and its kin, and explores why. From the essay:

We can turn to two resources for guidance: Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin, and The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. These books, published in 1967 and 1971, became iconic horror films whose 50th and 45th anniversaries, respectively, came last year. The books have several superficial similarities: main characters who are actors, deaths by falling that set their plots in motion, dream sequences, fictional books-within-books about devil worship, rearrangements of words as key plot points, and a reliance on the agnosticism and skepticism of main characters for evil to succeed.

The far more important similarity, however, is that both books, as well as their subsequent film adaptations, were not merely thrilling supernatural yarns told in decidedly modern settings (Rosemary’s Baby largely in New York City and The Exorcist mostly in Washington, D.C. — the twin capitals of modernity). They also mix in with their supernatural horror a heavy helping of contemporary anxieties. Taken together, they suggest a frightening answer to the question of why the supernatural seems to cling bitterly to the supposedly rationalist present.

On its face, Rosemary’s Baby is merely a modern adaptation of a frightening gothic tale: a newly expectant mother who begins to suspect that others have dark designs on her unborn child. But beneath this lurid surface, much of the contemporary anxiety of the 1960s creeps. Rosemary, though trying to live happily in New York City with her striving actor husband Guy, does not belong there. Describing herself as a “country girl at heart,” Rosemary is, in fact, a lapsed Catholic who “escaped” from her big family in Omaha, Neb., among whom she considered herself “the black sheep.” Like many urban refugees from a purportedly oppressive heartland, she has cut herself off from this family . . . and yet retains many of the modes, manners, and folkways of her kin: crossing herself on instinct, chafing against her husband’s insistence against children because he “wasn’t ready yet,” desiring to see in person the visiting pope and reflexively defending him against irreligious neighbors.

As the plot against Rosemary’s child becomes clear to her, however, she confronts another aspect of urban life. Her fellow apartment residents, whom she comes to suspect are devil-worshipers, have expertly manipulated her social circle so that she is essentially alone in confronting them. Atomized city life becomes itself a fearsome foe, as does the lure of the world itself: When Rosemary’s husband reveals his complicity in these devil-worshipers’ plot, he justifies it on the basis that “we’re getting so much in return . . .” Many misguided souls, across place and time, have found gaining the world but losing that soul an attractive bargain. All these phenomena are amplified by conspiracy and dramatic effect, but draw from real-world urban dislocations.

Mandatory NR Webathon Plug and Your Ensuing (Deserved?) Mandatory Guilt Trip

We here touch on the idea of reparations for the sin of gluttony — per Dante and his Purgatorio, it is the vice handled in the Sixth Level in that un-Heavenly place. This lecture might be a bit too high-handed, abusive, and counter-productive. Smart-arsey. But there is a fact: There are a gazillion NRO readers who camp out on the site, day in and out and all the live-long, who stuff their brains and engorge their intellects courtesy of the Endless Feast we publish. We serve, we bus the trays, we wash the dishes. Yes, it’s all free, but really, you can’t tip?

Of course, as every good conservative knows: There is no such thing as a free meal. All that wisdom you are consuming? Someone is paying for it. If not you, then it really is about time you ponied up, especially if you never have. OK, Nervy Me is telling you that, but Nervy Me is only repeating what your conscience is telling you, although maybe you cannot hear it from all the mandible mastication you are enjoying.

Who is and has been paying are generous souls (it’s official: this is also All Generous Souls’ Day), selfless peeps who accept the importance of NRO and its existence and its megaphone for propagating the conservative faith, who acknowledge that we do need the kindness of strangers to persist, who want this sucker to survive and even thrive. So they have donated, cash that is cold and hard, like that Dove Bar you just inhaled, when we have appealed. Which we are doing right now with our 2019 Fall Webathon.

Purgatory Boy just wrote a persuasive (we’ll see about that) entreaty for all, especially the long-time moochers, to donate. Where to read it, to be persuaded as promised? Right here. Where to donate if only to ease your conscience? Here.

Now, how about another slab of lasagna and a slice of pie?

The Six

1. At The Catholic Thing, Michael Pakaluk reflects on the writings of (newly canonized) John Henry Newman and the idea that we have lost the sense of what the true purpose of a university is. From the piece.

The basic idea of John Henry Newman’s great work, The Idea of a University, is one of those brilliant arguments that take your breath away for its simplicity and power. A university, he says, as its name implies, is a place of universal learning. Therefore, an institution that failed to teach about God, the central reality, the origin and end of everything else, whatever its other merits, simply could not be called a university. It would be a sham university, like a dodgy place that on principle excluded chemistry or physics. With devastating logic, Newman then traces out the disorders that must afflict an academic community that has plucked out its very heart.

It’s an audacious idea, that our most prestigious universities are, most of them, not genuine universities at all.

Trouble is, there’s a second and different idea in Newman’s work. He also describes a university as a place where the distinctive beauty of the intellect is imparted, just for its own sake:

There is a physical beauty and a moral: there is a beauty of person, there is a beauty of our moral being, which is natural virtue; and in like manner there is a beauty, there is a perfection, of the intellect. . . .The artist puts before him beauty of feature and form; the poet, beauty of mind; the preacher, the beauty of grace: then intellect too, I repeat, has its beauty, and it has those who aim at it. To open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, eloquent expression, is an object as intelligible. . .as the cultivation of virtue, while, at the same time, it is absolutely distinct from it.

This too is an audacious idea. Sure, we’re used to the argument that a university should emphasize the “liberal arts,” not simply offering specialized or pre-vocational disciplines. But Newman’s critique is much broader. If you are thinking about a university in terms of grades, programs, and majors, he is saying, and not (so to speak) the intellectual personalities you are forming, then you are missing the mark entirely. It’s not clear whether any existing university at all has the right goal, on Newman’s view.

2. Greg Piper, doing his thing at The College Fix, reports on how University of Michigan administrators have run afoul of this thing called the First Amendment, and are shutting down a formal “Bias Response Team” that was little more than a home for campus SJWs. From the piece:

Speech First’s inaugural lawsuit against a university bias response team was not looking so good in the summer of 2018.

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the UMich team, saying it does not have “a lot of teeth” and accused students aren’t compelled to talk to the team.

More than a year later, the 6th Circuit ordered her to reconsider a preliminary injunction. “Even if an official lacks actual power to punish,” as the university repeatedly claimed about the BRT, “the threat of punishment from a public official who appears to have punitive authority can be enough to produce an objective chill,” the majority opinion said.

Some of the main targets of “verbal bias grievances” at UMich were classroom discussions and faculty in particular, according to public records The Fix obtained covering spring 2018.

The settlement binds the university to not reinstate the definitions of “bullying” and “harassing” that it removed in the wake of Speech First’s lawsuit, and to not reinstate the BRT.

Though the university encourages “anyone who feels they have been harmed or negatively impacted” to report a campus climate concern, both the settlement and CCS page emphasize that the replacement team is “not a disciplinary body, cannot impose discipline, and does not require participation in any aspect of CCS’s work.”

3. At Law & Liberty, the eminent scholar Daniel J. Mahoney expounds on the 30th anniversary of the collapse of European Communism. From the essay:

For all their differences, and they were often significant, it might be said that Havel, John Paul II, and Solzhenitsyn all succumbed to a (very qualified) “utopia” of their own. They dreamed of a new kind of society, where freedom was accompanied by “repentance and self-limitation” (Solzhenitsyn); where the Catholic spirit informed a Polish democracy that valued persons as persons (John Paul II), and defended an understanding of free politics rooted in moral judgment and a civility that went much deeper than good manners (Havel). Solzhenitsyn knew that evil could never be expunged from the soul and the world and fully appreciated that all ideological revolutions (which he also called “bloody, physical ones”) only lead to tyranny, coercion, unprecedented mendacity, and a cruelty and fanaticism that ignored the inescapable drama of good and evil in the human soul.

But Solzhenitsyn hoped that democratic man might learn to pay more attention to his soul and overcome, at least in part, “the excessive engrossment in everyday life” in modern, democratic societies that he lamented in the Harvard Address of 1978. Havel speaks for all of our heroes when he wrote in his chapter “Politics, Morality, and Civility” from 1992’s Summer Meditations that a call for a conception of liberty and human dignity that does not ignore the concerns of the soul has nothing to do with some naïve hope that the internal struggle in each human soul between good and evil may one day come to an end. There will never be a heaven on earth, Havel insisted: such projects, always ideological in character, have been forever shattered and exposed by the evil, utopian enterprises of the twentieth century: “The world has had the worst experiences with utopian thinkers who promised all that.” And as Solzhenitsyn wrote in 1993, fraternity can never be imposed politically, through soul-crushing despotism. We need to return to the great anti-totalitarian wisdom of the twentieth century so that we don’t lose sight of these essential truths. Human nature can never be fundamentally changed, all three would agree. But while firmly and unequivocally castigating utopian and ideological “bloody and physical revolutions,” and their accompanying “socialist projects” that led to violence and lies on an unprecedented level, Solzhenitsyn holds out hope for a “moral revolution” over the historical horizon, that might elevate our souls while adding moral content to our precious political and civil liberties. But he concedes that this is a “new phenomenon which we have yet to discover, discern, and bring to life.” One might speak of the bon usage of utopia that at the same time acknowledges that theocracy and despotism do nothing to protect and promote the things of the spirit. Solzhenitsyn always insisted that there could be a despotism in the name of the soul just as an inordinate attention to material concerns could distort human freedom and well-being. He was a partisan of mesure or moderation, an equitable balancing of material and spiritual concerns. This is, of course, faithful to the best classical and Christian wisdom. And it has nothing to do with religious fanaticism.

4. At Gatestone Institute, Andrew Ash is all over the BBC Thought Police, petrified at the potential of a single lifted Muslim eyebrow. From the story:

Celebrated interfaith activist Lord Indarjit Singh has sensationally quit BBC Radio 4 after accusing it of behaving like the “thought police”. He alleges that the corporation tried to prevent him discussing a historical Sikh religious figure who stood up to Muslim oppression — in case it caused offence to Muslims, despite a lack of complaints.

The Sikh peer, who has been a contributor on Radio Four’s Thought For The Day programme for more than three decades, is also accusing Radio Four bosses of “prejudice and intolerance” and over-sensitivity in relation to its coverage of Islam, after he says he was “blocked” from discussing the forced conversion of Hindus to Islam, under the Mughal emperors in 17th century India.

The 87-year-old peer’s resignation comes as a blow to the show’s flagship segment, that has been a part of Radio Four’s Today programme since 1970, and has been described by Britain’s former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, as “one of the last remaining places in the public square where religious communities are given a voice in Britain.”

The segment, originally aired on November 28, 2018 — and in spite of Singh’s script containing no criticism of Islam — is the latest in a long line of suspect BBC decisions enforced by seemingly over-zealous producers. “It was like saying to a Christian that he or she should not talk about Easter for fear of giving offence to the Jews,” Singh said. There were, however, no complaints about the segment reported to OFCOM, the government approved broadcasting watchdog.

5. USAID policy has subsidized “smallholder” farmers in Africa and elsewhere, on the premise that targeted support will create economic growth. It’s not working, say American Enterprise Institute experts John Beghin and Vincent H. Smith, who argue that the time has come for a paradigm shift. From their paper:

The prevailing paradigm for aid heavily relies on improving smallholder subsistence farmers’ productivity to generate growth and development in the agricultural sector. Here we identify and evaluate this paradigm’s shortcomings in terms of the modest outcomes that have been achieved and those that appear attainable. These include the impacts of programs based on the smallholder paradigm on productivity and their substantial limitations as mechanisms for fostering region- and countrywide economic growth and development.

For smallholder farms, market participation and adoption of commercial inputs and technology are difficult because of inadequate scale and size. This conclusion is based on a body of new evidence showing that midsize farmers in developing countries, especially in Africa, are more productive and have more human capital than smallholders. These midsize farms adopt mechanization, use commercial inputs, and enable labor to flow out of subsistence agriculture into more productive farms and other sectors of the economy.

The smallholder and subsistence farmer paradigm is a cornerstone of USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative and other agricultural development projects. USAID is not alone. Many development agencies in other countries, and several international organizations, have adopted the same paradigm. As a result, those agencies also generally pursue agricultural development policies based on smallholders and their potential to produce more food.

However, the premise that the smallholder is the vehicle for widespread agricultural productivity growth is flawed or, alternatively, has hit its limits. Unequivocally, the focus on smallholder agriculture has contributed to greater food security for subsistence households by mitigating their vulnerability to the consequences of adverse weather, health, and other shocks. However, it is the wrong linchpin if the objective is to increase sector-wide agricultural output and agricultural productivity growth. Benefits from economies of scale and size are multiple, especially in marketing and adopting commercial practices and technologies. The prospects for agricultural output and productivity growth based on small-scale and subsistence farmers are essentially limited because of the resource constraints they face.

6. Related: At The American Conservative, James Bovard explains how USAID bucks makes democracies more kleptocratic. From the analysis:

Transparency International, which publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index, shows that corruption surged in Ukraine during the late 1990s and remains at obscene levels (though recent years have shown slight improvements). Taylor was ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, when corruption sharply worsened despite hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid. Ukraine is now ranked as the 120th least corrupt nation in the world—lower than Egypt and Pakistan, two other major U.S. aid recipients. What Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder is to the NFL, Taylor appears to be to the anti-corruption cause.

Bribing foreign politicians to encourage honest government makes as much sense as distributing free condoms to encourage abstinence. Rather than encouraging good governance practices, foreign aid is more likely to produce kleptocracies, or governments of thieves. As a Brookings Institution analysis observed, “The history of U.S. assistance is littered with tales of corrupt foreign officials using aid to line their own pockets, support military buildups, and pursue vanity projects.” And both American politicians and bureaucrats are want to continue the aid gravy train, regardless of how foreign regimes waste the money or use it to repress their own citizens.

If U.S. aid was effective, Ukraine would have become a rule of law paradise long ago. The country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, may be sincere in his efforts to root out corruption. But it is an insult to both him and his nation to pretend that Ukraine cannot clean up its act without help from Donald Trump. The surest way to reduce foreign corruption is to end foreign aid.

BONUS: The ChiComs are utter, utter barbarians. In Haaretz, David Stavrou tells the story of Sayragul Sauytbay, who reveals the atrocities inflicted daily upon the Uyghur minorities imprisoned in the Red China government’s “reeducation” camps / hellholes. From the piece:

STOCKHOLM – Twenty prisoners live in one small room. They are handcuffed, their heads shaved, every move is monitored by ceiling cameras. A bucket in the corner of the room is their toilet. The daily routine begins at 6 A.M. They are learning Chinese, memorizing propaganda songs and confessing to invented sins. They range in age from teenagers to elderly. Their meals are meager: cloudy soup and a slice of bread.

Torture – metal nails, fingernails pulled out, electric shocks – takes place in the “black room.” Punishment is a constant. The prisoners are forced to take pills and get injections. It’s for disease prevention, the staff tell them, but in reality they are the human subjects of medical experiments. Many of the inmates suffer from cognitive decline. Some of the men become sterile. Women are routinely raped.

Such is life in China’s reeducation camps, as reported in rare testimony provided by Sayragul Sauytbay (pronounced: Say-ra-gul Saut-bay, as in “bye”), a teacher who escaped from China and was granted asylum in Sweden. Few prisoners have succeeded in getting out of the camps and telling their story. Sauytbay’s testimony is even more extraordinary, because during her incarceration she was compelled to be a teacher in the camp. China wants to market its camps to the world as places of educational programs and vocational retraining, but Sauytbay is one of the few people who can offer credible, firsthand testimony about what really goes on in the camps.

I met with Sauytbay three times, once in a meeting arranged by a Swedish Uyghur association and twice, after she agreed to tell her story to Haaretz, in personal interviews that took place in Stockholm and lasted several hours, all together. Sauytbay spoke only Kazakh, and so we communicated via a translator, but it was apparent that she spoke in a credible way. During most of the time we spoke, she was composed, but at the height of her recounting of the horror, tears welled up in her eyes. Much of what she said corroborated previous testimony by prisoners who had fled to the West. Sweden granted her asylum, because in the wake of her testimony, extradition to China would have placed her in mortal danger.


What do Eli Grba (“Pat, I would like to buy a vowel”) and Vaughn Eshelman have in common? If you thought, expansion drafts, you’d be right. And for having particular places in them.

Grba was the first man drafted in baseball’s first-ever expansion draft, which took place on December 14, 1960. The spot starter and relief pitcher for the Yankees (he had a 6–4 record with a 3.68 ERA in 1960) was picked up by the new Los Angeles Angels (the particular selection suggested Casey Stengel, who had been recently fired as the Bronx Bombers’ manager) and started the franchise’s first game, hurling a complete-game 7–2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on April 11, 1961 at Memorial Stadium. He’d go on to compile a 20–24 record over three seasons for the Angels, making his last Major League appearance in August of 1963, followed by a few more years tooling around in the minors and the Mexican League.

One odd claim to fame: Grba was on the Yankees’ roster for the 1960 World Series, and appeared once — as a pinch runner. He was the only Yankee pitcher who did not actually pitch in the Series.

As for Eshelman, his distinction is that he was the last player ever selected in MLB’s six expansion drafts. That occurred on November 18, 1997, when the newbie Tampa Bay Devil Rays grabbed as Pick #70 the southpaw pitcher, who in the previous three seasons had compiled a 15–9 record for the Boston Red Sox, appearing in 83 games (he started 30 — none ever a complete game) and racking up a chubby 6.07 ERA. He never pitched for Tampa Bay, or in another MLB game (he kicked around in the minors until 2001).

But let’s give Eshelman a little hurrah: In his first two appearances for the Red Sox — May 2, 1985 at Yankee Stadium and May 7, 1995 at Tiger Stadium — the rookie pitched a combined 13 scoreless innings, and if you add the first five frames of his next appearance (May 13, 1995 at Fenway, which proved a 6–4 win over the Yankees), his first 18 innings of MLB action were scoreless. And not many people can make that claim.

A Dios

On this day, especially, as the old line in the old song goes, pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you. You have been warned.

Also, taking advantage of your captive audience state, my boy Andy is running for the Board of Education in Milford, CT (First District) and if you vote there, please do so, for him, if not early, then surely often. If you don’t vote there, and have no relatives at the Milford Cemetery who you can convince to back my offspring, then consider praying for his victory.

God’s Blessings on You and All Souls Who Can Benefit from Our Prayers,

Jack Fowler, who believes that he will be lucky if he catches the last train to Purgatory, and can be told why he will miss it at


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