Dear Weekend Jolter,
You gotta admit it, at the Palmetto Square Garden, the Mouth from Scranton got off the canvas a second time — dazed and blathering jibberish about the Declaration, the blood and botox flowing from heavy cuts sustained in Iowa Round One and New Hampshire Round Two — with the crowd on its feet, screaming themselves hoarse, convinced the next punch was going to send Joe Biden back to Delaware and retirement. But with support from some new folks in his corner (Petey, Raging Amy, and some faux Latino Texan), he swung a not-so-Left hook and landed a blow that staggered the Burlington Brawler, followed by a flurry of haymakers on Super Tuesday, and . . . wouldn’tcha know it – now it’s Bernie who’s on the ropes.
(Public Service Announcement: Feel free to insert rope-a-dope joke here.)
Yep, it was a great night for Biden, said Michael Brendan Dougherty (who explains some reasons why, including the lack of a debate in the days prior to the voting). And now the howling crowd is placing side bets that Scranton Joe (some compare his invigoration to one of his idols after he heard Pop Goes the Weasel) can put the Vermont Socialist down for good in Michigan on March 10.
Mamma mia, what a difference a week makes. Welp, related political analysis and more are to be found in the vast array of linkage awaiting you below.
But before descending into the depths of WJ, a point of personal privilege is claimed. This epistle will soon enough offer you tempting fare at Podcastapalooza; but one program Your Tongue-Tied Author (the co-host) hopes you might check out is “The Victor Davis Hanson Podcast,” and if you need to know who the star is, well, you may have taken one too many upside the coconut. VDH is so darned good. Give it a listen why don’t you. You’ll find the first five episodes here.
There’s the bell! And here comes the Weekend Jolt!
1. Biden Won. Bigly. An amazing comeback, true — but it may have been about who Biden isn’t. From the editorial:
After the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday, it is looking much less likely that the Democrats will pin their presidential chances on a self-declared socialist. Enough Democrats were alarmed by that possibility to consolidate with stunning rapidity behind the candidacy of former vice president Joe Biden. They have compelling, albeit mostly negative, reasons for doing so: He hasn’t praised Castro’s Cuba, he isn’t calling for outlawing most Americans’ health insurance, he doesn’t want to ban fracking. Democratic voters forced Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Michael Bloomberg out of the race. All have now endorsed Biden.
Yet Biden, notwithstanding his impressive turnaround, is not obviously a stronger general-election candidate than Bernie Sanders. He is old, and he wears his age poorly. No sober observer will ever call either Biden or President Trump a great orator, but the latter is much better at getting his point across. Then there are Biden’s decades as a Washington insider.
2. America needs to be sober-minded about the Coronavirus threat. From the editorial:
American officials got off to an inauspicious start in addressing the crisis, with diagnostic tests initially limited to some 100 public-health labs. After the Food and Drug Administration expanded testing to other qualified labs, many reported inconclusive results from official diagnostic kits. A University of California–Berkeley lab was barred from testing a patient who did not meet the Centers for Disease Control criteria, which allowed testing only on patients who had traveled to China within two weeks of developing symptoms. That patient later tested positive. The FDA finally expanded diagnostic capabilities on February 29, but not before more than 70 cases had been confirmed in the U.S.
While federal agencies grappled with byzantine testing regulations, the White House delivered overly optimistic assurances to try to assuage panicked investors. The president himself said we had it “totally under control,” even as the CDC warned Americans to brace for domestic outbreaks.
The White House’s messaging did not fool investors. Stocks plummeted more than ten percent into “correction” territory, and banks slashed their U.S. economic-growth projections to zero for the second quarter. The sell-off receded slightly Monday after the Federal Reserve indicated it would cut interest rates — a welcome move — yet uncertainty persists as the number of cases in the U.S. grows.
3. We have a deal with the Taliban. Too bad it’s bad. From the editorial:
It’s not encouraging that the Taliban wasn’t willing to negotiate with the Afghan government prior to getting the U.S. commitment to a withdrawal, or to implement a cease-fire during the talks. Bending over backwards, the U.S. cut the Afghan government out of the negotiation, and asked only for a “reduction of violence” over the course of a week as a sign of good faith. Incredibly enough, the agreement calls for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners at the outset of the intra-Afghan negotiations and the release of all prisoners of both sides in three months. The Afghan government is balking at this provision for good reason.
It’s understandable that we want to find a way out of the Afghan war after 18 years of heartache and toil. But we shouldn’t want the entire effort, and the Afghan government, to collapse. We could have minimized our troop commitment by dropping down to 8,600 troops unilaterally. Making the promise of a total withdrawal only reduces our leverage and that of the Afghan government. In theory, we can always stop a withdrawal based on Taliban non-compliance, even though there are no verification provisions in the public agreement. But the worry has to be that President Trump wants the deal as a justification for a withdrawal he is determined to undertake one way or the other.
Enough Links to Last You a Fortnight: 15 Tender and Juicy Morsels that Will Satisfy Your Each and Every Conservative Taste Bud
1. Joe may not be a Marxist. But, says Kevin Williamson, he is a scoundrel. From the piece:
So, he is not a socialist.
What is he?
He is a vicious self-serving political hack, for one thing, one whose ambition leads him from time to time into shocking indecency. You may have heard that Biden lost his wife and daughter in a horrifying drunk-driving wreck, the fault of a monster of a man who irresponsibly “drank his lunch,” as Biden puts it.
Biden’s wife and daughter did, in fact, die in a car wreck. That is true. It is not true that the driver of the other car was drunk, that he had been drinking, or that there was any reason to believe he was drunk or had been drinking — or even that he was at fault. The late Mrs. Biden “drove into the path of [the] tractor-trailer,” the police report says. But Biden, like every other third-rate ward-heeler of his ilk, thinks and speaks only in terms of good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats — and if something bad happens to good people, then it must be because somebody in a black hat did something nefarious. The driver of that truck went to his grave haunted by Biden’s lies, to the point where his children were forced to beg the vice president to stop defaming their late father. The casual cruelty with which Biden is willing to subordinate the lives of ordinary people to his political ambitions — for the sake of a petty tear-jerker line in one of his occasionally plagiarized stump speeches — is remarkable.
2. So how’d it happen? Rich Lowry says Joe Biden has the Democratic Establishment to thank. From the column:
As Peter Beinart points out in The Atlantic, Bush and his signature initiative, the Iraq War, weren’t popular with Republicans, whereas Barack Obama and his signature initiative, Obamacare, are popular with Democrats.
This made it possible for Biden to run on restoration rather than revolution and find an audience, especially in South Carolina, where many voters told exit pollsters they wanted a return to Obama policies.
It also meant that, as a general matter, pillars of the party establishment hadn’t been discredited. The biggest moment in Biden’s comeback was the endorsement of a 14-term congressman and member of the congressional leadership named Jim Clyburn.
After Biden’s smashing South Carolina victory, the party fell in line quickly, with candidates exiting and endorsing Biden. It was a collective action of the sort that Republicans couldn’t manage in 2016.
3. Ignorance abut basic math . . . the relief that the wealthy can pay for our free lunch . . . it’s all here in Charlie Cooke’s takedown of two babbling MSNBCers who are in desperate need of flash cards and clear thinking. From the Corner post:
Obviously, the math here is spectacularly off. If Michael Bloomberg had divided the money he spent on his presidential run evenly among Americans, we would each have got $1.53, not $1 million. For Bloomberg to give $1 million to each American, he would have to be worth $327 trillion (in cash), which, for context, is around 17 times American GDP and about five-and-a-half thousand times what he’s actually worth. The scale of the error here is galactic.
It’s also extremely telling. This, right here, is why so many left-leaning Americans think that “the billionaires” can pay for everything. It’s why Elizabeth Warren was enthusiastically boosted by the media despite her ridiculous pretense that she could pay for a series of gargantuan initiatives without raising taxes on anyone but the extremely rich. It’s why Democrat after Democrat promises not to raise “middle class taxes” while promising programs that require the raising of middle class taxes. How did this bad tweet make it onto TV to be endorsed? Why did Mara Gay agree with it? Why didn’t Brian Williams notice? Because the people involved in this clip thought it was true. This is how they see the world.
4. Andy McCarthy weighs in on Chuck Schumer’s SCOTUS-directed thug talk. From the piece:
With Roe, the High Court decisively transformed itself into a political institution. The worst kind of political institution, in fact: One that pretends to be something quite different — an apolitical arbiter of what the law says, an oracle of justice shorn of passion. One that is politically unaccountable to the people whose lives it deeply affects — and affects not as a court deciding the private disputes of litigants, but as a ruler imposing national policy on a heretofore self-determining republic.
The mob is in front of the courthouse because we are inured to the unspoken reality that the Court is innately political. Political entities can be moved by mobs, such as the one that gleefully cheered Senator Schumer on.
There is no mob outside a medical lab. When specimens are submitted, the techs do their tests, and the patients either have whatever condition is suspected or they don’t. No one, however, believes any longer that jurists work with such professional detachment and rigor. No one believes they check their political, ideological, and emotional baggage at the door, applying law to facts without fear or favor.
When President Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Court, it was not for her legal acumen. The salient argument made in her favor, as if there were nothing remarkable about advocating such an attribute as a credential, was that she is a model of “empathy” — a “wise Latina” who would bring a “perspective” outside the ken of your average staid old white guy.
5. Globalization has its price, warns Victor Davis Hanson. From the essay:
One, globalization was not the end of history. It is a recurrent, cyclical, and at best morally neutral phenomenon that has always, at least in relative terms, waxed and waned over the past 2,500 years of civilization — although recent transcontinentalism carries greater consequences in the era of electronic interconnectedness.
By a.d. 200, there was a globalized Roman world of 2 million square miles, stretching from Hadrian’s Wall to the Persian Gulf, and from the Rhine to the Atlas Mountains. Like frogs around the pond of Mare Nostrum, all official business was conducted in Latin or, increasingly in the East, Greek. A Roman citizen could enjoy habeas corpus from Bithynia to the Atlantic. Thousands of small towns were marked by fora and agorae, colonnades, and basilicas. While multiracial and non-Italian, otherwise uniformly equipped and trained legions secured the vast borders. It was quite an achievement of providing aqueducts, security, and property rights to 70 million disparate peoples, but it was no longer really the earlier Roman Republic of the Scipios, either.
Yet by a.d. 500, the vast sameness was eroding. Most of the Empire in the West and the old borders in East had been picked apart by Vandals, Visigoths, Osogoths, Huns, Sasanians, and a host of other tribes and migrant and aggressive peoples.
History’s succession of subsequent would-be imperial globalists — the Byzantines, the Caliphates, the Ottomans, Napoleon, Stalin and Hitler — for a while collapsed national borders and spread uniform language, architecture, customs, and culture until their dreams eventually imploded, usually from overreach, military defeat, corruption, bankrupt ideology, demographic calcification, rampant inflation, or sheer inefficiency and bloated bureaucracy.
6. What goes up must come down: John McCormack reveals that the laws of physics apply to politics and Elizabeth Warren, the ex-candidate. From the piece:
At the first debate in June, Warren proudly declared: “I’m with Bernie on Medicare for All.” She rose rapidly thereafter as the candidate of “big, structural change.” By the time the October debate rolled around, she was in first place in national polls. But then Mayor Pete Buttigieg hit her with what proved a devastating punch.
“Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything. Except this,” Buttigieg said at the debate, after Warren refused to explain how she would fund Medicare for All.
In the days that followed, she released a plan to fund her single-payer health-care proposal. Many critics pointed out that, even with drastic tax hikes, the numbers still didn’t add up. This put her in a bind: She didn’t want to bleed any more of her relatively moderate supporters to Buttigieg, and she realized she couldn’t get to the left of the avowedly socialist Sanders. In mid-November, she retreated on Medicare for All, pledging that she wouldn’t push the matter during her first two years in office, the time when a president typically has the most political capital to spend. By the end of the month, half of her supporters nationwide had abandoned her.
7. Mayor Pete heads for the exit, and Alexandra DeSanctis, who knows a thing or two about South Bend and its former spit-polished kahuna, uses the departure to share some wise analysis. From the article:
Dropping out was the smart thing to do for the sake of preventing Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders from running away with the nomination; his exit means there’s one fewer non-Sanders option dividing the field and splitting the vote.
But it was likely an easier decision for him to make than it would’ve been for Elizabeth Warren, who’s still in the race and several decades older than Buttigieg, who only just turned 38. He’s saying goodbye to 2020, perhaps, but evidently has his eye on 2024 and beyond.
Buttigieg undoubtedly will be back, and perhaps for good reason. It was a stunning feat to go from being the barely known mayor of a mid-sized, Rust Belt city — a place whose prospects he did markedly little to improve during his tenure — to winning Iowa and finishing a close second in New Hampshire. A large part of that success owes to his ability to come across as highly articulate, though close listening revealed that he’s less eloquent than glib. He seemed to model his campaign as the second coming of Barack Obama, but he lacks the charisma of the former president and substituted an impressive ability to memorize so many talking points so thoroughly that he was able to emote as if his comments came from the heart.
As a gay man, he could play the identity-politics card with vigor, arguing that support for his campaign would be a step forward for America. In what turned out to be one of his final campaign events, Buttigieg welcomed a nine-year-old boy on stage to come out as gay and discussed the bravery it has required of him to blaze a trail as a gay politician.
8. Dan Crenshaw (yeah, him) thinks it’s high time conservatives owned the climate-change issue. From the article:
I recently joined House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in unveiling a proposal that takes existing innovative technologies — ones that have proven to reduce emissions here in the United States — that the U.S. can then market and export to the world. After all, climate change is a global issue, and with global energy demand expected to increase by 25 percent over the next 20 years, there is a distinct need for the U.S. to export cleaner energy sources to the developing world, as well as to the biggest CO2 emitters, such as China and India. Crushing our own economy, as the Green New Deal would have us do, will not stop worldwide growth in emissions or decrease worldwide energy demand.
My portion of the plan — called the New Energy Frontier — focuses specifically on carbon capture, a field in which there is already promising innovation. For instance, the company NET Power, located near my district in Houston, has developed a natural-gas electricity plant that has the capacity to power 5,000 homes, while capturing and recirculating CO2 back through the plant via an innovative thermodynamic cycle. As a result, the system produces zero net emissions.
9. Dan McLaughlin lowers the boom-er on the politics of “Middle Age” (not the Middle Ages). From the essay:
Our natural instinct as young people is to see the world as fixed and unchanging, and to rebel against that. The hard part is accepting that the world doesn’t stay changed. Consider the political world of the Baby Boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964). The Boomers, being such a large and self-conscious age cohort, grew up in the age of the creation of American suburbia and the shift from urban, rural, and small-town extended families to the atomized nuclear family in which Dad came home each night to Mom and the kids. To the oldest Boomers in particular (born in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s), the world of the 1950s and early 1960s was How It Had Always Been. That meant an age of domestic tranquility in white America, which contrasted sharply with the stark injustice of Jim Crow as it edged into the consciousness of the rest of the nation. It meant an age of mostly bipartisan consensus on self-confident hawkish internationalism. It meant an institutionalized military draft, which brought with it a social expectation that every American man would serve — a reality that would have shocked any American between 1776 and 1941. It meant a political scene that combined big-government liberalism with cultural complacency, marginalizing both the Right and the Left. It meant the swaggering certainty that Americans could do anything — a national self-image that had been very much in question in the 1930s, but seemed like it had always been there.
Then the world changed. Jim Crow started cracking open in 1954, and the whole legal edifice shattered between 1963 and 1968. The Vietnam antiwar movement, between 1965 and 1973, killed both the draft and the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. The feminist movement and the Sexual Revolution toppled the family model of the 1950s. Nixon, once the young avatar of the ascendant Eisenhower-Kennedy era, self-destructed spectacularly in 1973–74. The “youth vote” had been rebel outsiders against the monolith in 1968 (with “Clean for Gene” McCarthy) and 1972. In the 1976 election, the Boomers for the first time elected a president: Until Barack Obama in 2012, Jimmy Carter would be the only candidate in the history of exit polling to win election while losing voters age 30 or over. The Left came back into the political mainstream, and even the Right returned after Goldwater. All of that had happened by the time the oldest Boomers hit their early 30s, and the youngest were in their mid-teens. How It Had Always Been was gone; things had changed.
10. Looks like the politically resurrected “Beto” O’Rourke will lead Candidate Biden’s Second Amendment escapades, which has John Lott arguing that November will be the setting for the “gun-control election.” From the analysis:
Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden announced that Beto O’Rourke “will be the one who leads“ his gun-control effort. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate himself, famously promised in a debate in September. They are “weapons of war, designed to kill people efficiently on a battlefield,” he warned.
O’Rourke vowed to “buy back every single assault weapon” but said that he would use force if people didn’t voluntarily agree to selling their guns. The former candidate also appears to support all the currently discussed gun-control proposals.
Last year, many Democrats worried that O’Rourke’s aggressive position would alienate moderate voters and give credence to conservative assertions that Democrats really do want to take away people’s guns. Some prominent Democrats felt it necessary to distance themselves from those comments. “I don’t know of any other Democrat who agrees with Beto O’Rourke,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said. Others blamed O’Rourke for creating distrust about gun-control advocates’ motives. A CNN headline last fall posed the question, “Is Beto O’Rourke single-handedly dooming a gun control bill?”
After O’Rourke’s comments, President Donald Trump tweeted that O’Rourke had “convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away.” Biden has now locked himself into that position.
11. John Hirschauer interviews mental-health expert E. Fuller Torrey about Trump Administration efforts to undo laws that have played a central role in creating America’s homeless crisis. From the piece:
John Hirschauer: I’m sure you’re familiar with the Penrose hypothesis — the British psychiatrist Lionel Penrose’s theory that there is an inverse relationship between the rate of incarceration, and the size of “asylums” and psychiatric hospitals. In 2013, Steven Raphael and Michael Stoll released a study in the Journal of Legal Studies, which is often cited by civil libertarians and other deinstitutionalization proponents. The study estimates that the large decline in state-hospital populations over the past 70 years has accounted for only 4–7 percent of the concomitant increase in incarceration. Do you dispute that estimate?
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey: I’m not familiar with that particular paper. But the increase of the number of mentally ill people in jails and prisons, by all measures that I’ve seen, has been much, much higher and has pretty much paralleled the deinstitutionalization movement. I started following this in the early 1980s, when I first wrote on the subject. During the 1980s, about 5 percent of people in jails and prisons — especially jails, at that time — were mentally ill. A decade later it was 10 percent, a decade later it was 15 percent, and today it’s not unusual for 20 to 25 percent of prisoners in a correctional facility to have a mental illness. So there’s been a very close parallel between the numbers of patients who have been emptied out of the hospitals and the increase in the number of mentally ill estimated to be in jails and prisons. In two or three of my books, I mentioned the first person who was looking at this phenomenon in early 1980s. He looked at the number of mentally ill in the — I think it was in San Jose, Santa Clara, or San Mateo jail. I forgot which one. In any case, he had been a resident with me at Stanford, just a year ahead of me. He was the first one I could find who actually said, “Hey, look what’s going on. You just emptied these folks out of the state hospital, and now they’re all appearing in jail.”
Locally, I have volunteered at the shelters for many years and have followed the situation in D.C. A couple of my nursing staff who had been working on the ward at St. Elizabeth’s [Hospital] with me, I later saw them, and they told me that they had gone to work for the jail system. They said, “You know, it’s not very hard, because we’re seeing the same patients.”
12. Kyle Smith catches Onward. He finds a transcendent masterpiece. From the review:
A lot of movies can make you cry at the end, but a movie that can make you cry in the first 20 minutes? Ah, the Pixar touch. Onward is such a movie, one of the very best Pixar has made, full of comedy with a purpose and pointedly metaphorical action. As with other Pixar offerings, its best feature is in its world-building rather than its characteristically frantic climax, but its foundation of ideas is sublime. Onward gazes into the deepest sources of our collective psyche in anno domini 2020 and cries out movingly against the decadence of our age.
I refer to the somewhat obscure, Jacques Barzun definition of decadence: an era when “the forms of art as of life seem exhausted; the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces. . . . When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.” Oh, and intermingled with the Barzun is a lot of Seth MacFarlane. Recall that Ted imagined a world in which a magical talking teddy bear had become so ordinary over time that he wound up working in a grocery store and smoking weed all day.
Onward takes place in a less profane but more comprehensively enervated iteration of the Ted world, an imaginatively null post-magic society that makes for a nifty metaphorical overlay on our post-religious society. Dragons are just yappy little housepets, and a tavern like the one from The Fellowship of the Ring has become a Chuck E. Cheese. Fabulous creatures — centaurs, manticores — do prosaic jobs: waiting tables, driving police cars. One young fellow, Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt), stands athwart all of this, demanding a return to mystical ways, epic trials, enchantment, meaning, transcendence.
13. Armond White finds the Jean Seberg biopic was far less about art and much more about politics. From the review:
That knee-jerk media appellation “actor and activist” takes on severe meaning in the new film Seberg, a biopic about American actress Jean Seberg who became an international sensation in Jean-Luc Godard’s debut film Breathless (1960) and who died ignominiously a couple of decades later, after her involvement in anti-U.S. political activity and being under FBI surveillance.
Director Benedict Andrews, screenwriters Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, and actress Kristen Stewart (who plays Seberg) use the “actor and activist” label to indulge an idea of martyrdom that comes too easily to them. It’s an extravagance of privileged Millennial media to combine self-righteous ideology with romanticism. Godard always saw through it (detailed below).
The movie follows Seberg’s career decline, presenting it as the summation of her doom and a consequence of American political subterfuge. (“Speaking out against the perceived flaws of the government is a type of persecution,” she protests.) That means the artistic part of Seberg’s legacy gets short shrift, in favor of making a shady political critique: White, blond Seberg was investigated as part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO project for her support of the Black Panther Party. Seberg helped fund the Panthers and also had an affair with black activist Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie), by whom she got pregnant.
14. More Armond: He watches The Way Back get lost in nihilism. From the review:
Now, in the mediocre new film The Way Back, Affleck drops superhero status to play Jack Cunningham, an ailing, alcoholic construction worker who drinks to excess after a life-changing setback. Bloated and sad-eyed, Affleck embodies working-man distress, hiding the lost smile of a frightened kid. He’s a “deplorable” who looks like a pro athlete gone to seed, and that’s key to his misery. Jack’s youth as a promising high-school basketball star stings when the local priest asks him to coach the multiethnic team of b-ball Millennials.
This premise, spotlighting society’s left-behinds — the blue-collar, drug-addicted underclass seeking physical and emotional relief — should offer promise, as Dawn of Justice does. But despite being set in a Catholic-school environment, the storytelling ignores aspects of faith that would give Jack’s circumstance mythic resonance. Director Gavin O’Connor and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby choose to emphasize mundane, faithless immiseration. It takes them a full hour to reveal the tragedy that drove Jack to despair. The film sluggishly builds to that moment by emphasizing Jack’s sad, self-torturing routine. (O’Connor constructs a ludicrous montage of Jack repeatedly opening a refrigerator door to gradually drain a stockpile of brew.)
Jack’s enervating recovery in The Way Back is full of drab, predictable pathos instead of the stylized drama in Dawn of Justice. O’Connor and Ingelsby seem to be following the grim narrative familiar from Joker, last year’s Nolan-indebted Batman spin-off. This commercial ploy ruins any potential for empathy in The Way Back. Somebody at Warner Brothers seems to believe that cynicism outweighs promise and that Joker’s billion-plus box-office gross proves that audiences will buy self-pitying victimhood.
15. Brian Allen visits the Houston Museum of Fine Arts to see the “blockbuster” show by the late Irish artist Francis Bacon. From the review:
Born in Dublin in 1909, Bacon had a career that spanned 60 years. His crucifixions, deformed self-portraits, triptychs of gnarled figures, and demented popes are instantly recognizable as Bacon’s, but familiarity doesn’t mean I can ever look at them and shrug. His figures are studies in contrasts. He deforms the human figure, twisting torsos and amputating limbs, but his figures spin like dancers or tops. Convulsion is controlled. His palette isn’t neon, garish, or scary, however often he paints blood. He uses lilacs, grays, soft yellows, and browns. He takes us to this weird point where the lyrical and the brutal are in equipoise. It’s a strange beauty.
Bacon was untrained and self-educated and a gutter prodigy, making him a folk artist on steroids. He’s a brand, too, as instantly recognizable as Pollock, Warhol, Picasso, and a few others. And he was a brand who made good copy. He was a celebrity. A brawling Irishman, once a call-boy, always a drunk and a hot gay mess when homosexuality was scandalous, Bacon was a poster boy for complexity and his era’s favorite dark genius. He was also immersed in Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, and Joseph Conrad, to drop a few names.
I’m skeptical of brands, which can become shtick, or a high-dollar routine. Artists sometimes problematize as a marketing tool. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and the Wyeths come to mind as the schlockiest of self-promoters. I’m not necessarily hanging their baggage on Bacon, though he was a cunning, coy interview subject. The show left me asking question after question. First, it’s called “Francis Bacon: Late Paintings” while the catalogue is called “Francis Bacon: Books and Painting,” which puzzles me. Why? Literature and art demand very different things from us, and the writers that the catalogue links with Bacon are themselves big, complex beasts
I loved the show, but I’m unsure whether or not my take on Bacon is anything like the curator’s.
The New March 23, 2020 Issue of National Review Is So Hot They Had to Close the Printing Plant to Cool Down the Presses
Mike Bloomberg — just in time to commit candidatus interruptus — is the new issue’s cover boy, and Roman Genn’s caricature of the Napoleon Complexed billionaire is wonderful. As is every piece in the issue. Now, as is our way around here, we sample four selections for your dining and intellectual pleasure.
1. Kyle Smith, in his latest brilliant assessment of a Democrat who thinks he (or she, see Ms. Warren) has What It Takes to be POTUS, profiles the former NYC mayor, America’s Numero Uno Nanny Stater. From the profile:
“Anti-charisma” is a phrase that keeps popping up in Bloomberg stories. Here is a guy who has a knack for not having the knack. As mayor he used to zip off on a private plane to Bermuda for the weekend without informing anyone in city government. Did New Yorkers have a right to know roughly where their mayor was?, reporters asked. Nah, said Bloomberg. Bloomberg has the emotional I.Q. of one of his eponymous data machines. “Don’t ever take a lunch break or go to the bathroom, you keep working,” Bloomberg said in 2011, as if all outputs could be controlled with a keystroke. In 1999, he said that if he let women have flexibility in their schedules to allow for family commitments, he’d have to give men time off to play golf. Even his employees, staffers, and supporters can barely muster a kind word for him. “The thing about Mike is he actually isn’t that interesting,” an ex-employee told New York. “The first time I met him, he started complaining about some soup he got that didn’t taste right. I just met the guy, and he was, like, complaining about his sweet-and-sour soup.” He’s old, Jewish, immensely rich, and running a campaign about nothing—Larry David is not just a perfect Bernie Sanders, he could be Bloomberg too.
In TV commercials, Bloomberg was Master of the Universe. Behind the electronic curtain, though, he’s a dull, hapless little man—the Wizard of Blahs. He has some of the Trump attributes that turn people away but none of the ones that make them feel like pumping their fists in the air and putting political hats on their heads. Periodically in American politics a businessman comes along promising to sort out the mess and run things like a blue-chip corporation. It almost never works. Wendell Willkie tried it, and Ross Perot, and Steve Forbes, and remember Herman Cain? Mitt “I like to fire people and also let Detroit go bankrupt” Romney tried it, in his fashion. The businessman shtick worked for Donald Trump because he’s the nation’s blue-collar billionaire, a talk-radio caller (“Don from Queens”), a guy who eats McDonald’s food on his private plane and never sounds like he’s imitating the speech patterns of regular folks. The hotshots with the silver Teslas and the gynecologist wives loathe Trump, just as most of the country loathes them.
2. Some say technological advances have . . . stopped advancing. The new issue includes a trio of pieces under a special TECHNOLOGY SECTION. Charlie Cooke leads it off, and in his excellent essay, he thinks that dead-end claim is thickly sliced baloney. From the beginning of the article:
I put on a record today.
Well, I didn’t put on a record, so much as I put on a . . . well, a what? It wasn’t a vinyl plate or a spool of tape or even a piece of shiny circular plastic. Indeed, whatever physical medium was being used to store the music I was listening to wasn’t available to me at all. It simply came in through the air—like lightning. From the comfort of my chair, I picked up my iPhone, chose the album I wanted from the million-strong list that loaded instantly before my eyes, and directed the sound to the speakers in my vicinity, all of which started to play my choice within a few milliseconds. And then, when I tired of it, I shushed it with my voice.
I think about this sometimes when I hear people complain that the bright technological future we were all promised has steadfastly failed to appear. How, I wonder, would I even begin to explain Spotify and Sonos to my grandfather, who died in 1994? A compact disc could be comprehended by the elderly as a better vinyl record, much as the Space Shuttle could be comprehended as a faster airplane. But streaming? If my grandfather came back today, where would I start?
“Okay, so I’m using my telephone, which isn’t really a telephone so much as a supercomputer-cum-Library-of-Alexandria-cum-high-definition-movie studio, to send a wireless signal to the magical speakers in my home, which, upon my request, will contact a set of servers 3,000 miles away in San Francisco, and request instant access to the closest digital copy of—” “Wait, what’s a server?”
“—hold on—to the closest digital copy of one of millions of high-quality songs to which I have full and unlimited access, but neither own nor have to store, and—”
It boggles the mind.
3. Victor Davis Hanson knows a thing or two about plagues, ancient and modern, and their consequences. From the piece:
Most preindustrial mass plagues were bacterial, caused by urban overcrowding and poor-to-nonexistent garbage and sewage disposal. In the disruptive aftermath of pandemics, fundamental social and political change sometimes followed—wars lost, governments ended, wealth and power reversed. Of course, cheap antibiotics, modern medical care, and sophisticated sewage treatment and refuse collection have mostly ended the epidemic threat of typhus, typhoid, and bubonic plague. Apparently, our trust in modern drugs is such that we arrogantly do not even consider the chance of pandemic danger posed by 500,000 or so homeless Americans, who live outside in harsh weather, amid vermin, excrement, and rodents on our major urban-center sidewalks.
Instead, in the modern age, viruses have mostly replaced bacteria in posing theoretical threats of mass infection, illness, and death. While modern Western medicine, given enough time, can sometimes prevent many pandemic viral infections through mass vaccinations, they are, unlike many bacterial illnesses, often impossible, or at least difficult, to treat.
If bacterial plagues are far more unlikely in our postmodern society, globalization has still made the specter of an epidemic of a viral disease— Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and, most recently, COVID-19—not impossible. The A and B influenzas, despite mass inoculations, infect about 20–30 million Americans per year. Depending on the particular annual mutating strain, anywhere between 10,000 and 80,000 die from seasonal influenzas, mostly the elderly or chronically sick. In addition, given the easy ability to weaponize diseases in labs, and especially given the recent spread abroad of the sophisticated Western sciences of bacteriology and virology to first-generation high-technological and authoritarian societies—China in particular—the idea of a historic pandemic is not always fanciful.
4. Andy McCarthy explains why the time has come to shutter the FISA Court. From the piece:
The “necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urged,” remarked General George Washington while commanding the Continental Army. “Upon Secrecy, Success depends in Most Enterprises . . . and for want of it, they are generally defeated.” The acquisition of intelligence is and has always been a security imperative. It is also a textbook political responsibility, in the sense of being committed to the political branches of government.
That is an observation worth pausing over. While the FISC’s creation was controversial, it is rare nowadays to hear proposals for scrapping it. The inevitable rejoinder to any such suggestion is that the proponent seeks an imperial, uncheckable executive. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the conducting of intelligence operations is left to the executive branch (and has been since the inception of constitutional governance), a political responsibility is one assigned to both political branches: the presidential administration in carrying it out and the Congress in underwriting, regulating, and overseeing it.
The contention here is not that the president should get carte blanche. Intrusive government actions taken under the guise of safeguarding the nation against foreign perils have a high chance of suppressing our liberties. The Trump–Russia fiasco launched by the Obama-era intelligence services reaffirms that executive intelligence operations must be subjected to searching scrutiny. Politicized excesses dating back to the John Adams–era Alien and Sedition Acts demonstrate that our own government, under the pretext of protecting us, can do more damage to republican democracy than anything Russia or a similarly treacherous foe can do.
No, my argument for abolishing the FISC is twofold. First, intelligence is not fit for judicial management. As the Supreme Court expressly recognized (in its 1948 Chicago & Southern Air Lines ruling), intelligence is an innately political function. The most significant decisions a body politic makes are the ones about its security. If a society is to be free and self-determining, those decisions must be made not by politically unaccountable judges but by the elected officials—the president and Congress—answerable to the Americans whose lives are at stake.
BONUS: Donald Trump’s attention to India is a big deal. Daniel Tenreiro explains. From the beginning of the article:
Just ten days after Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Mao Zedong inaugurated the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru landed in Washington for a three-week tour of the United States. Time magazine called it “one of the century’s most important visits of state”—a statement that would have been inconceivable a few years earlier, when India was still a British colony of limited geopolitical consequence for the U.S. But after the loss of Beijing to Communist rule, the newly independent India suddenly became, as the New York Times put it, “potentially a great counterweight to China.” Though American leaders made overtures to Nehru, India’s policy of neutrality during the Cold War, as well as its recognition of Mao’s government, precluded a full-fledged alliance between the two countries.
Seventy years later, India has once again emerged as a possible bulwark against a rising China. Beijing loomed large as Indian prime minister Narendra Modi received President Trump at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad on February 24. Trump neglected to call out China by name during his stay, but his references to countries that “seek to claim power through coercion, intimidation, and aggression” left no doubt as to China’s influence on the U.S.–India relationship. Though marred by ongoing religious violence in the streets of Delhi, the visit exhibited the mutual affinity between Trump and Modi that may finally turn intermittent alignment into lasting alliance.
Get Some Culture!
What’s upstream of politics? Our friends at National Review Institute have made its biennial, multi-city tour — bringing NRI fellows face-to-face with readers, friends, and supporters of the Buckley Legacy — one that focuses on politics’ upstream wellspring. It’s titled “Perspectives on America Today and the Importance of Culture,” and if you are nearby any of the eight cities where these special Regional Seminars, which showcase the wisdom of Rich Lowry, Charlie Cooke, John O’Sullivan, Madeleine Kearns, Daniel Mahoney, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kevin D. Williamson, Jay Nordlnger, and Kyle Smith, are taking place, do come.
Here’s the schedule, which is still being shored up in some locations. Click away!
A New Boss, and Molly Coming to Ashland
Sharing some news from our friends at the Ashbrook Center: Molly Hemingway — author (with Carrie Severino) of Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court — will be speaking there on Wednesday, March 18 at a noon luncheon. The specifics: Ashland University, Myers Convocation Center, 638 Jefferson Street (of course, in beautiful Ashland, Ohio). If you want to attend (tickets are just $20) click here.
And then there’s the huzzah about Ashbrook’s new Big Kahuna. This week, board chairman Marvin Krinsky (a dear NR amigo) announced the good news that Professor Jeffrey Sikkenga was taking over as the institution’s new Executive Director. It’s an absolutely terrific choice.
1. At The American Conservative, Amy Wax urges donors to abandon Ivy League colleges. From the piece:
Why should private donors stop giving to higher education? University benefactors should be made more aware of the one-sided ideological profile of faculty and administrators and the relentless growth of the university bureaucracy and infrastructure that is driving up costs. They need to realize that the present volume of private money helps make universities impervious to pressure to reform some of their troubling practices, including their political tilt, their intolerance of dissent, and their burgeoning administrative apparatus.
Yet even for alumni and donors who are untroubled by these trends, there are still compelling reasons to redirect their generosity. What should benefactors do with the money that they would ordinarily devote to academic higher education generally? A strong case can be made for spending their money on projects and initiatives that improve the lives of ordinary, unspecial people, and especially those without a college degree. This group, which still comprises the majority of the country’s population, tends to be overlooked by philanthropists and foundations even as it fails to qualify for many types of assistance to the poor. Such people are in far more need of help today than the elite individuals who directly benefit from the billions spent on selective colleges and universities.
Perhaps the most effective way to persuade alumni and donors to “defund the Ivies” in favor of other projects directed at the non-college population is to highlight how few people actually attend and receive degrees from four-year academic universities. Although about 50 percent of high school graduates eventually enroll in four-year college programs, only about half of those graduate within 6 years. An additional 15 percent or so of high school graduates attend community college, but a majority of those fail to ever obtain even a 2-year degree.
2. At The Imaginative Conservative, Gregory Wolfe draws attention to Gerhart Niemeyer and his focus shifts from communism to culture. From the essay:
Beginning in the 1970s, a noticeable shift in focus and subject matter in Gerhart Niemeyer’s writings took place. It was in that decade that he began to concentrate less on the intellectual and geopolitical threat of communism and more on the cultural and spiritual condition of the West. Of course, there are no clear demarcations here: Niemeyer continued to write about communism through its demise in the Soviet Union, and matters of culture and spirit had been central to his thought for decades. But the shift was unmistakable.
It should be remembered that Niemeyer had produced an extensive body of work about the totalitarian ideologies of the modern era, especially communism, by the 1970s, by which time it was becoming clear to most observers that the struggle with communism around the globe would be a protracted conflict rather than one likely to lead to apocalyptic violence. The ultimate battleground, Niemeyer concluded, would be in the hearts and minds of those in both the East and West who could bring about renewal through an openness to transcendent truth and the wisdom of the past. In particular, Niemeyer’s deepening faith impelled him to find concrete ways to embody the Christian vision in the public square. And so the essays of his last two decades turn increasingly to matters of culture, literature, the arts, and education in the West.
3. At Gatestone Institute, Judith Bergman tracks the increasing crackdown on religion by the Commie bosses in Red China. From the beginning of the article:
China is increasing its already extremely severe suppression of religious freedom. More than a year ago, at a November 2018 hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the President of the Religious Freedom Institute, Thomas F. Farr, described China’s religious suppression as “the most systematic and brutal attempt to control Chinese religious communities since the Cultural Revolution.”
On December 30, 2019, China’s Communist Party (CCP) announced new “Administrative Measures for Religious Groups“. The measures — which came into force on February 1, 2020 — stipulate that religious organizations exist to promote the CCP and its ideology, according to Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights in China.
According to article 17 of the new measures:
“Religious organizations shall spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as national laws, regulations, and rules, to religious staff and religious citizens, and educate and guide religious staff and religious citizens to support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, and adhere to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. . .”
“In practice, your religion no longer matters, if you are Buddhist, or Taoist, or Muslim or Christian: the only religion allowed is faith in the Chinese Communist Party,” a Catholic priest said.
The Communist ideology, it seems, does not tolerate competing narratives.
4. Greg Piper, at The College Fix, reports on the University of Virginia’s one-upping a Constitutional no-no by mandating triple jeopardy. From the article:
When it comes to campus sexual misconduct proceedings, though, the federal government actually orders double jeopardy when schools already have an appeals process (allowing accusers to appeal not-guilty findings).
But have you ever heard of triple jeopardy in a college proceeding?
The University of Virginia is giving accusers yet another bite at the guilt apple under a new bylaw adopted by its Honor Committee, the student-run and student-elected body that enforces code violations.
The committee was responding to a gap in its enforcement authority, which until recently did not cover Title IX cases. Lying during a Title IX proceeding, for example, would not be functionally punishable under the old honor code.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education analyzes the new bylaw, which it says was devised in good faith but went horribly wrong in practice.
5. At Law & Liberty, Helen Dale takes in the post-Brexit lunacy coalescing behind “Trans” rights. From the beginning of the essay:
Brexit occluded every other political issue and debate in the United Kingdom, and now Brexit is “done,” all the things left to fester in darkness—unloved and alone—for three-and-a-half years are crawling out into unaccustomed sunshine.
One of those festering things is what I’ve come to call the Great Trans Rights Post-Brexit Looniness. And I’m not talking about Douglas Murray’s Madness of Crowds (which came out before the election and so enjoyed a somewhat muted critical response; the country was still consumed by Brexit). I’m talking national psychosis that takes in everything from what Labour is currently doing to itself to the Miller v. College of Policing & Anor judgement and a great deal else besides.
I do not use the word “psychosis” lightly, either, but it’s become clear—since January 31—the madness that characterised the UK’s Brexit paralysis has decamped to other, entirely unrelated issues: everything from the HS2 rail project to Heathrow’s third runway to No 10’s hiring practices to the slow motion train-wreck that is UK Labour’s leadership contest. The Miller case, however, is remarkable for its Kafkaesque weirdness and wild hilarity mingled with pseudoscientific nonsense.
6. At City Journal, Howard Husock finds Michael Bloomberg’s repudiation of his mayoral comments on redlining to be foolish. From the piece:
The tempest over “redlining” began earlier this month, when Bloomberg’s lecture at Georgetown University in September 2008—at the height of the economic crisis—surfaced online. “It probably all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” he noted then. Congress, he continued, had overreacted to the wholesale denial of mortgage loans to low-income, often black, neighborhoods—so-called redlining. In response, banks started issuing loans to less-than-creditworthy borrowers. The CRA, a federal law enacted in 1977, encouraged financial institutions to meet these credit demands.
In the debates, Bloomberg has been attacked by Senator Elizabeth Warren and other candidates as a defender of racist lending practices. Under pressure, Bloomberg wilted, blaming the crisis solely on Wall Street’s mortgage-securitization practices. But he was right the first time: government-directed lending, including by the CRA, did play a significant role in the crisis. As a 2015 Federal Reserve Board of Governors paper observed: “The CRA provides an incentive structure that could plausibly have motivated banks to originate or purchase loans they would have otherwise considered too risky.” Another Federal Reserve paper, published in 2012, estimated that, before the crisis, Fannie Mae purchased up to 5 percent more high-risk loans than it should have. The subsequent meltdown of Fannie Mae, along with Freddie Mac, led to a $200 billion infusion of federal funds—the biggest bailout of the financial collapse.
Debating the origins of the financial crisis, however, is distinct from a critical question that Democrats aren’t raising: whether government-mandated bank lending improves the financial fortunes of poor neighborhoods and their residents. As the Federal Reserve concluded in its 2015 report on the CRA: “We do not have a good estimate of the net costs or benefits of the act.” Nor is it possible to know the extent to which the government example encouraged risky private lending.
More Friend Events
The good folks at the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale will be hosting their Sixth Annual “Disinvitation Dinner,” schedule for Thursday, April 16 in New York City. The featured speaker, who has a lot to say about being disinvited, and worse, is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The WFBJP diner is always a fun and informative event. Think about going, and if you’re tempted, click here for more details.
1. At Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Charlie and Kevin discuss the American citizen in all his charming unruliness. Cut off the mattress tags and listen up, here.
2. On The McCarthy Report, the show’s namesake discusses the Taliban Treaty with Rich Lowry. The expert is in session, here.
3. The shocking outcome of Super Tuesday had Rich, Charlie, Jim, and MBD in figure-it-out mode on The Editors. Crank up the hearing aids and listen here.
4. Abortion is back before SCOTUS, and Alexandra DeSanctis is analyzing the case in the new episode of For Life. Hear here.
One of the suits here, knowing of the author’s religious proclivities (papist) and having shared fascinations (for old-time baseball), over a wonderful lunch asked: Do you know the only priest to have ever played Major League Baseball?
Having learned long ago not to deny the obvious — defined as my ignorance on so many matters — Yours Truly had to admit, somewhat shamefully, not knowing. But the circumstances, yes. Let’s explain.
In 1912, Detroit Tigers star Ty Cobb was heckled mercilessly by a Highlanders fan, one Claude Lueker, who fishmongered that Cobb’s mother was of mixed race. That did not go over well with the “Georgia Peach,” who jumped into the stands and beat the bejeepers out of Lueker, who was missing one hand and three fingers on the remaining mitt, a victim of an industrial accident. No mercy was shown, and a century later baseball historians still wrote stories headlined “Ty Cobb Beats Up a Cripple.”
There was an uproar. American League president Ban Johnson moved swiftly to suspend Cobb, whose teammates reacted by threatening to strike if the suspension was not lifted. Johnson did not concede. And so they struck, to a man. The Tigers’ next stop was Philadelphia, and with no squad of regulars, Manager Hughie Jennings had to rustle up a team of amateurs to take on the Athletics or forfeit.
So came the historic game, played before 15,000 fans at Shibe Park, on May 18, 1912, with the Tigers fielding a team with a dozen locals, Major Leaguers for a day (but for one — Billy Maharg, who would play in one more game in 1916 for the Phillies; a few years later, he would gain additional notoriety for involvement in the 1920 Black Sox scandal). They would find themselves on the losing end of a 24–2 bloodbath.
The Tigers’ pitcher that day threw a complete game: over eight innings he served up 26 hits (future Hall of Famers Eddie Collins, Home Run Baker, and Herb Pennock — in only his second MLB game, for which he earned a save — had some of them), 7 walks, 24 runs (an MLB record, and they were all earned), and struck out just once (A’s pitcher Boardwalk Brown).
Aloysius Joseph “Allen” Travers had just turned 20 and had never pitched a game before. But asked to round up a squad, and offered $50 to toss (all the other one-day Tigers were paid $25), he opted for the mound. It wasn’t until later in life that he ever talked about the Day of Infamy (which only took an hour and 45 minutes, God showing some temporal mercy).
He would never play again. Threatened with lifetime bans from baseball if they prolonged the strike, and encouraged by Cobb to concede, the real Tigers returned. Travers et al didn’t head to Washington, where Detroit was scheduled next to play the Senators. On May 21, the Tigers’ aging ace, George Mullins (he had led the AL in wins in 1909 with 29), threw a 2–0 two-hit shutout, besting Senators ace Walter Johnson, (who also gave up but a measly two hits). Cobb returned to the Tigers on May 26, with a single and an RBI in a 6–2 win over the White Sox.
As for Travers: A few years later he opted for the Society of Jesus, and in 1926 he was ordained a Catholic priest. For most of his priesthood, Fr. Travers taught in Jesuit high schools in New York and Philadelphia, where he died in 1968. RIP.
One of NR’s dearest amigas, Martha Apgar, cruiser and the loveliest of souls, beloved by our founder, went to make Heaven an even better place. We assume that but still pray nevertheless for her peaceful, eternal repose with the God she loved. A decade ago, Martha took her wealth and used it in part to counter campus insanities — she was front and center in our culture war. In the new issue of NR, we published this short tribute, which Your Humble Correspondent believes is worth sharing:
Martha B. Apgar was a Florida lady and a woman of the world. She loved God, freedom, and America. Once, she was sitting in a restaurant, next to a festive, somewhat rowdy table. She remarked, “I love the sound of Americans having a good time.” She also loved music, nature, and WFB. Virtually everyone who knew her, loved her. She was kind, smart, lively, moral, and beautiful. She was a generous donor to National Review, and a bright presence on our cruises—for many years, in the company of her elegant sister, Louise Garmy. Mrs. Apgar wanted to perpetuate free enterprise and liberal-democratic values. To that end, she created the Apgar Foundation in 2009. Born in 1928, she has died at her home on the Gulf of Mexico, outside Tampa. She leaves her family and friends, and the many whom she benefited through her philanthropy, full of gratitude. R.I.P.
May God’s Abundant Graces Nourish the Souls of You and All Those for Whom You Care,
Jack Fowler, who is quite willing to accept questions that listeners would like posed to VDH on The Victor Davis Hanson Podcast, is reachable at email@example.com.
P.S.: Getting in above the fat head God bestowed hereabouts, Your Humble Scribbler did try to defend — against the snarks at the New York Times — those who fought for some justice to be given to Michael Milken. It can be found here.