The Weekend Jolt

National Review

Welcome Sulfur Dioxide, Hello Carbon Monoxide

Dear Weekend Jolters,

Before too long an uber-woke, granola-and-hemp aficionado, emerging from the throes of a prolonged ecstasy occurring deep inside the recycled-material interior of her off-the-grid tiny house, weeping bulbous tears of joy on her vegan-nourished pure-bred retriever, swooning with glee over humanity’s deserved abuse at the hands of a pathogen, will milk her schadenfreude and write an essay for The Atlantic extolling the 37 climate benefits of this glorious pandemic, then setting off a Twitter barrage in the midst of which one will find this tweet: “Benefit Number 17: By suppressing the greedy capitalist economy, we garaged the world’s CO2-spewing cars and planes and trucks and made the air CLEAN AND BREATHABLE! #GoGreen #PandemicUpside #ItsOurAir #MakeMineACorona”

You’ve surely already heard that claim, and surely also wondered — this is just another case of liberal smog, n’est-ce pas? Oh, my good conservative friend, do trust those instincts of yours — they’re so correct! And if you need some facts to back them up, well, there is a Todd Myers piece calling bull-doodles. Breathe deep from the wisdom NRO provides! Catch a big whiff:

In my hometown of Seattle, one environmental activist told the local paper that people can “physically see that difference in the cleaner air.” The air-quality data tell a different story.

According to the EPA’s air-quality monitors, levels of particulate matter — known as PM 2.5 — are not lower now and have, in fact, been higher recently than the median level of the last five years. Consisting of particles smaller than 2.5 microns, PM 2.5 includes natural sources such as smoke or sea salt, as well as human-caused pollution from combustion.

In Philadelphia, a city health commissioner said, “I would expect our air pollution levels will probably go down because the number of vehicles in the streets are less.” Recent particulate-matter levels, however, have been close to the five-year average.

In Dallas, the levels of PM 2.5 are higher than average. In Boston, they are slightly lower.

This counterintuitive result could be due to a number of influences, including weather. The key factor, however, is that in most places, human-caused pollution is small relative to natural sources. Even a significant reduction in the human contribution makes only a small difference.

So, why do so many activists claim the air is ‘physically cleaner’ in the United States?

Do consider reading the entire piece while listening to “Air” from Hair.

Meanwhile, the skies of jurisprudence were polluted this week by federal judge Emmett Sullivan, heck-bent to render unconstitutional diktats in order to keep the case against General Michael Flynn festering. More below.

In fact, much more below! Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy Jolt!


1. In Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, we urge SCOTUS to stand by chromosomes and biology. From the editorial:

In October, the court heard oral arguments from the ACLU that Aimee Stephens, formerly Anthony, who had worked for six years at a funeral home in Detroit area, had been discriminated against on the basis of “sex,” prohibited under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Representing the funeral home, attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom argued that Stephens had not been unfairly discriminated against, but rather was fired for refusing to comply with the company’s sex-specific dress code.

The funeral home has the stronger case. There can be no dispute that, in 1964, the original public meaning of “sex” was anatomical and biological. Senator John Tower, who opposed the Act, stated the following during Senate debate on the topic of definitions at the time: “These terms are not defined. The term ‘sex’ is not defined, but I believe we can probably reason that that means an applicant is a man or a woman.” It is difficult to believe that the prohibition on discrimination “on the basis of sex” extended to the kinds of differentiation between the sexes that remain standard practice in millions of workplaces (e.g. separate restrooms and dress codes). Nevertheless, activists in originalists’ clothing, the ACLU attorneys have adopted a twofold strategy of sophistry, using “sex” interchangeably with “gender identity,” and kicking up dust with a secondary argument regarding sex “stereotyping.”

Boiled down, the ACLU’s argument goes like this: “But for” the fact that Stephens was born male, Stephens would not have been fired for adopting the female dress code. Surely, the correct comparator here is not a female employee fired for keeping the female dress code, but a female employee fired for breaking the female dress code. The funeral home’s justification for firing Stephens was simply that Stephens, a male employee, ought to have dressed like other male employees. As for stereotyping, as the feminist organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), wrote in its amicus brief in support of the funeral home, “Stephens’ desire to wear clothing designed for women out of a desire to ‘live. . . as a woman’ [is] simply an enshrinement of the discredited . . . sex-based stereotypes, which Title VII. . . . intended to abolish.”

If You Wanted Only a Dozen NRO Links, You Will Be Sorely Disappointed, Because, Bubs and Bubstresses, We’ve Got 20 Coming at You

1. Everything you wanted to know about Judge Sullivan’s wildly partisan decision, but were afraid to ask, courtesy of the expertise of Andrew C. McCarthy. From the analysis:

There is no complex legal issue to be resolved. DOJ’s dismissal motion may be politically controversial, but legally it is pro forma. The only branch of government constitutionally authorized to proceed with a criminal prosecution is the executive. The Justice Department has declined to prosecute. There is nothing for the judge to do besides the ministerial task of ending the case on the court’s records.

Lest we forget, the primary function of the federal judiciary is to protect the accused from overbearing government action, not to agitate for the prosecution of Americans. Even if he’s convinced Flynn is as guilty as the day is long, one might expect Judge Sullivan to be disturbed by the FBI’s perjury trap, by its editing of and misrepresentations about the “302 report” of Flynn’s interview. By the prosecution’s withholding of exculpatory evidence and concealment from the court of its threat to prosecute Flynn’s son. By the derelictions of Flynn’s original counsel, who took the case notwithstanding a deep conflict-of-interest, and who appear to have counseled Flynn to plead guilty without ever reviewing rudimentary discovery — we know they never inspected the 302 (which is mind-boggling in a false-statements case); did they ever demand that Mueller’s prosecutors produce the recording of the Flynn–Kislyak “sanctions” conversation that is the heart of the case?

Those are the kinds of questions a responsible judge would be posing, not, “How do I sentence this guy if DOJ won’t prosecute?” Regardless of what the DNC and CNN have to say on the matter, Flynn is supposed to be presumed innocent as far as Judge Sullivan is concerned.

2. Yes indeed, says David Harsanyi, the Obama administration was engaged in serious corruption. From the commentary:

Democrats and their allies, who like to pretend that President Obama’s only scandalous act was wearing a tan suit, are going spend the next few months gaslighting the public by focusing on the most feverish accusations against Obama. But the fact is that we already have more compelling evidence that the Obama administration engaged in misconduct than we ever did for opening the Russian-collusion investigation.

It is not conspiracy-mongering to note that the investigation into Trump was predicated on an opposition-research document filled with fabulism and, most likely, Russian disinformation. We know the DOJ withheld contradictory evidence when it began spying on those in Trump’s orbit. We have proof that many of the relevant FISA-warrant applications — almost every one of them, actually — were based on “fabricated” evidence or riddled with errors. We know that members of the Obama administration, who had no genuine role in counterintelligence operations, repeatedly unmasked Trump’s allies. And we now know that, despite a dearth of evidence, the FBI railroaded Michael Flynn into a guilty plea so it could keep the investigation going.

What’s more, the larger context only makes all of these facts more damning. By 2016, the Obama administration’s intelligence community had normalized domestic spying. Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, famously lied about snooping on American citizens to Congress. His CIA director, John Brennan, oversaw an agency that felt comfortable spying on the Senate, with at least five of his underlings breaking into congressional computer files. His attorney general, Eric Holder, invoked the Espionage Act to spy on a Fox News journalist, shopping his case to three judges until he found one who let him name the reporter as a co-conspirator. The Obama administration also spied on Associated Press reporters, which the news organization called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” And though it’s been long forgotten, Obama officials were caught monitoring the conversations of members of Congress who opposed the Iran nuclear deal.

3. For a while, it seemed like a New York governor would have a doctor arrested if he didn’t admit an elderly coronavirus-sufferer to infect a nursing home. Victor Davis Hanson considers the strange case of Andrew Cuomo . . . and Brother Christopher. From the piece:

Much like today, the virus not only sickened the civilian population but also ravaged the U.S. servicemen, leaving them vulnerable to enemy attack. During the Battle of New York City in 1776, the smallpox epidemic grew so dire that Commander-in-Chief George Washington described it as more dangerous than “the Sword of the Enemy.” And he was correct — for every soldier killed in battle, an estimated ten others died from disease.

Also like today, there were concerns that adversaries might use disease against us. The British intentionally sent infected prisoners back to American communities to spread the scourge. In fact, one British officer recommended, “Dip arrows in matter of smallpox and twang them at the American rebels.” (Guns and bullets were almost universal at this point; this measure was intended specifically to injure and infect.) Whether actively spreading the virus or merely taking advantage of its natural spread, Washington’s enemies sought to leverage America’s weakened state.

Despite being centuries of technological advancement behind us, our first commander-in-chief’s approach to the epidemic parallels today’s: Washington first moved to seal off his troops from foreign entrants, then he checked for symptoms within his camp and quarantined anyone suspected of being infected.

In the end, however, the quarantines proved difficult to enforce and ultimately unable to stop the spread, so inoculation emerged as the only real solution. But Washington faced fierce opposition. Inoculation was a grotesque procedure that involved first scratching the patient’s arm and inserting pus from a smallpox victim into the healthy person’s wound. This would cause the patient to contract a case far milder than if he were to inhale the virus or otherwise catch it more naturally. But he would enjoy lasting immunity.

4. Zachary Evans reports on the bipartisan effort of College Republicans and Democrats to call for the end of ChiCom-funded Confucius institutes polluting many an American college campus. From the article:

In its first official act, the Athenai Institute released a letter on Wednesday calling for the closure of Confucius institutes at U.S. colleges and universities, as well as for “full and public disclosure of all ties, both financial and academic, between centers of higher learning and all Chinese state agencies and proxies.”

The letter has been signed by the leadership of both the College Republican National Committee and the College Democrats of America, as well as numerous human rights groups committed to protecting Uighur and Tibetan minorities from persecution in China.

“The Chinese government’s flagrant attempts to coerce and control discourse at universities in the United States and around the world pose an existential threat to academic freedom as we know it. It is a civic and moral imperative that we protect that freedom,” the letter states. “In the fight against authoritarianism, universities can continue to benefit from the largesse of an emboldened authoritarian state, or they can stand on the right side of history. They cannot do both.”

China has funded Confucius institutes at universities throughout the world, ostensibly to promote knowledge of Chinese language and culture. However, U.S. officials have warned that the institutes essentially serve as propaganda outlets.

5. Jianli Yang and Aaron Rhodes have a few questions for Qui Tiankai, Red China’s disinformation-spreading Ambassador to the U.S. From the piece:

Why has China, to date, refused international requests, including from the WHO, to undertake on-site investigations into the origin of the virus?

The Wuhan lockdown was declared on January 23, and Wuhan residents were prohibited from traveling to other parts of China. Why were many thousands still allowed to travel to other countries?

Xu Zhiyong, Chen Qiushi, Fangbin, and Li Zehua are journalists, activists, and businesspeople. All have disappeared after their critical reporting about responses to COVID-19. Is your government investigating these disappearances? Why are state authorities investigating tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, who raised legitimate questions about how COVID-19 has been handled? Why has scholar Xu Zhang Run, whose concerns have been aired in this publication, been silenced? Was Dr. Ai Fen pressured by authorities after her reports on COVID-19?

6. Congressman Mike Gallagher wants the U.S. to have Taiwan’s back. From the piece:

It’s hard to have a more high-quality friend than Taiwan — a vibrant democracy under intense pressure that deserves our full support.

Unfortunately, support for Taiwan has been inconsistent. Unlike NATO’s crystal-clear Article V collective-defense commitment, the U.S. commitment to Taiwan has been muddled. Since the Carter administration, the United States has adopted a policy of “strategic ambiguity.” Once upon a time, proponents of this strategy may have told themselves that they were calming tensions by deterring both sides from precipitous action: Beijing could not count on our restraint if they opted for invasion, while Taipei could not count on our support if they declared independence.

Yet while Taiwan has embraced restrained, responsible statecraft, Beijing has poached Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, used economic leverage to punish Taipei, and engaged in dangerous military provocations with growing frequency. At a broader level, the cross-strait balance of power has shifted in Beijing’s favor thanks to a rapid rise in military spending, and General Secretary Xi Jinping has made clear his intent to annex Taiwan by whatever means necessary. The Chinese military threat to Taiwan is no longer a long-term hypothetical scenario. Rather, it is a dangerous course of action that gets more likely the less we stand up to CCP aggression.

7. There’s nothing heroic about Nancy Pelosi’s latest multi-trillion-dollar pandemic-relief bill, says Kevin Williamson. From the analysis:

The so-called HEROES Act — and, please, please, please, can we finally stop with the sophomoric acronyms? — is another wish list from the House Democrats. It contains the usual Democratic wish-list items, one of the more expensive of which is a proposal to shunt vast streams of federal revenue into badly managed states and cities in order to buy them out of their self-inflicted financial troubles. More than $1 trillion of the $3 trillion package would be in the form of aid to state and local governments, with almost all of that money — $915 billion of it — in unrestricted cash. This will be a great boon to states and cities (largely but not exclusively Democratic) that have hamstrung themselves financially by promising government workers fat pensions and retirement benefits without actually spending the money necessary to fund those programs. States and cities generally cannot go into debt to finance regular operating expenses such as salaries (they do borrow money for infrastructure projects and the like), but they can effectively borrow from their pension systems by promising benefits in the future but using the cash today for other purposes.

That creates real problems. But those problems have almost nothing to do with the coronavirus epidemic and the subsequent economic shutdown. The cities and states have taken on some extra expenses during the public-health emergency, but the biggest effect on their finances will come from lost revenue. There is a case to be made (a reasonable one if not a completely persuasive one) for helping cities and states backfill some of that lost revenue in these extraordinary times, though leaders in states with more responsibly managed finances and well-maintained rainy-day funds object to subsidizing their spendthrift neighbors. That’s a question of “fairness,” which, in politics, means . . . whatever anybody wants it to mean.

The basic problem is financial, not ethical. Many states already are spending more on their retirees than they are on current priorities such as higher education. So out of whack are the state pension systems that the Pew Trusts estimated their 2018 liabilities at more than $1.5 trillion. That doesn’t mean that $1.5 trillion would solve the states’ pension problems — it means that $1.5 trillion would get them to the point where their pension systems are broke rather than laboring under $1.5 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Even with those liabilities gone, the states would be required to continue to make ongoing pension contributions that are heavy today and only getting heavier. The question is: How much do you want to shortchange today’s first-graders and college freshmen in the service of tomorrow’s retired DMV clerks? Round your answer to the nearest trillion dollars.

8. Madeleine Kearns looks at the Connecticut trans athletes’ lawsuit and sees a need for chromosomal honesty. From the beginning of the piece:

In the latest installment of our dystopian black comedy, Biological Sex v. Gender Identity, using the scientifically accurate term “males” to refer to boys who “identify” as girls is enough to land you in contempt of court.

District Judge Robert Chatigny, during an April 16 conference call, chastised the attorneys who are contesting Connecticut’s transgender sports policy on behalf of three female high-school athletes. During the call, as reported first by National Review’s Jack Crowe, who obtained a transcript, Chatigny said that using the term “male” to refer to — well, male athletes — was “very provocative,” tantamount to “bullying.” Thereafter, in his court, it would be unacceptable, he warned.

Never mind that the two transgender athletes in question were born male and lived unambiguously as such until several years ago, when, in their late teens, they began socially “identifying” as females and competing with girls. Enabled by their state’s athletic conference, the pair have, between them, claimed 15 women’s state-championship titles and deprived countless more girls of the opportunity to participate in races and compete for scholarships.

How can you parse such blatant injustice? How can you view perpetrators as the victims? The only way to do this is to believe, as the ACLU attorneys claim to believe, that the boys — declaring themselves to be female — are female. In this instance, the person they are required to convince is not the average American, but the presiding judge. Luckily for them, he has already decided in their favor.

9. The cold facts, as Jerry Hendrix explains them, all make the case for why the U.S. Navy must keep the Arctic Sea open. From the beginning of the piece:

Last week, the United States Navy sent ships into the Barents Sea for the first time since 2010. The U.S. Naval Forces Europe announced that the exercise was intended “to assert freedom of navigation and demonstrate seamless integration among allies.” This was a good first step. But four ships operating in an ice-free Barents Sea will not reverse the decades of neglect and lack of investment in the types of ships necessary for the United States to protect its interests and those of its allies in the Arctic region. Currently, its lack of investment in icebreakers and other types of ships that can operate consistently and safely in ice-laden seas is freezing the U.S. out of conversations about the Arctic Ocean. This lack of investment has translated into U.S. diplomatic and military reluctance to push back against Russia’s expanded maritime Arctic claims. As a result, the historic principle of mare liberum (freedom of the seas) — a bedrock of international norms since the Dutch jurist Grotius conceived it — may yield to a maritime “Iron Curtain,” as Russia restricts who and what can travel through its near waters. To reverse this trend, the U.S. must immediately begin conducting consistent Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the high north.

Since 1983, U.S. policy has been to exercise U.S. ships to assert its navigation rights and freedoms in a manner consistent with the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even though the U.S. is not a signatory to the convention. Since that time, according to a Department of Defense website, the United States Navy has conducted well over 400 FONOPs, countering the excessive maritime claims of some 60 nations. The reasons stated for these FONOPs have ranged from rejection of requirements that foreign warships not enter a territorial sea without prior authorization, to rejecting baselines not drawn in accordance with current laws and norms and attempts to restrict transit or innocent passage through international straits. More recently the U.S. Navy has used FONOPs to push back on new attempts to limit foreign vessels from entering exclusive economic zones, or attempts by China to create artificial islands and then use these illegal constructs to serve as justification for territorial sea claims. As might be expected, a large proportion of FONOPs have been conducted against authoritarian nations, such as China and Iran, which reject a free sea, or freedom generally.

10. A CNN poll had some good news for Donald Trump . . . so the grave-diggers were called in. Kyle Smith noticed. From the piece:

Only after all of this stuff did we learn that CNN has a new poll out, under the headline, “CNN Poll: Biden tops Trump nationwide, but battlegrounds tilt Trump.” Polls are expensive, news organizations tend to hype them breathlessly to generate headlines in rival media outlets, Wednesday was (obviously) a slow news day, and politics is one of CNN’s core topics. Yet CNN seemed oddly unenthused about its own poll. And the story to which the homepage linked doesn’t mention that Trump had never scored higher in a CNN poll. True, there are lots of noisy data in the piece, most of which cut against Trump. But on the other hand the single most surprising and hence most newsworthy detail of the poll was that Trump holds a seven-point lead over Biden in the battleground states. The CNN story doesn’t even tell us what that figure is — seven points seems like a pretty big number — and downplays its own finding by noting, “Given the small sample size in that subset of voters, it is difficult to determine with certainty whether the movement is significant or a fluke of random sampling.”

11. Allen Guelzo whales on The 1619 Project. From the essay:

The follies of The 1619 Project begin with its title. Most of the time, when we think of how the United States began, we think of 1776 — the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. What The 1619 Project asked us to do was to dial that beginning date back to 1619 — the year the first African slaves were deposited on the shore of what was then the English colony of Virginia. As The 1619 Project’s lead writer, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, insists, this was the real moment of America’s beginnings. “No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed,” wrote Hannah-Jones. “Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional: its economic might, its industrial power, its electoral system, its diet and popular music, the inequities of its public health and education, its astonishing penchant for violence, its income inequality, the example it sets for the world as a land of freedom and equality, its slang, its legal system and the endemic racial fears and hatreds that continue to plague it to this day.”

For that reason, the purpose of The 1619 Project has been “to reframe American history” by placing “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” And through the articles and artistic contributions that compose The 1619 Project, Hannah-Jones and her collaborators have presented us with a totally new vista of America: not a land of hope, but one of misery; not a land of independence, but a land whose founders staged their revolution against Britain in 1776 to protect slaveholding; not a land of economic freedom and entrepreneurial capitalism, but a land where capitalism is modeled on plantation slavery; not a land that fought a great Civil War under a Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, to free the slaves, but a land where a racist Lincoln actually plotted to deport freed slaves; a land where (in Kevin Kruse’s essay, “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam”) even modern urban traffic scrums are the product of racially segregated city planning.

I have been a teacher of American history virtually all my life, and if there is one lesson I have learned from all that, it’s to beware of historical explanations that come down to one single cause. Human events and motivations, like human relationships, are always more complicated than that, and a cause that claims to explain everything usually winds up explaining nothing. In the Middle Ages, people tried to explain the movement of the stars and the planets by putting the earth at the center. When the stars and the planets didn’t behave according to that, they invented more and more elaborate explanations of why the earth had to be the center, until finally all the elaborate explanations broke down of their own weight, and we were ready for Copernicus. Of course, not every all-purpose explanation ends with a whimper. In 1903, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion offered a similar one-cause anti-Semitic explanation for global misery, and that, as the history of the 20th century attests, ended very, very badly.

12. George Nash, the conservative historian, puts the pandemic in perspective. From the piece:

For a time in the summer of 1918, the pandemic seemed to peter out. Then, in late August — in Europe, the eastern United States, and a section of Africa — it returned in mutated form. This second wave was far more deadly than the first, and it spread like a silent tornado. Striking first at U.S. sailors in Boston Harbor on August 27, it soon found its way inland. According to the New England Historical Society, on September 8 it reached Camp Devens (about 40 miles from Boston), where 50,000 U.S. soldiers were stationed. By September 23 more than 10,500 of them were sick with the influenza. By the 29th, they were reportedly dying at the rate of 100 per day.

Along the Atlantic seaboard and beyond, the pandemic spread with incredible speed and ferocity, assailing more and more of the civilian population. In Philadelphia, where the disease arrived via a visiting ship in September, hundreds of workers in the Navy Yard quickly became infected. Despite this warning sign, the city’s public-health director refused to cancel a scheduled Liberty Loan parade designed to raise money for the war effort. At least 200,000 people jammed the parade route on September 28. Within a week 45,000 residents of the city were stricken with the influenza. Within six weeks, 12,000 Philadelphians expired from it, the highest death toll for any American city.

By the time the pandemic’s second wave subsided in early 1919, at least 45,000 residents of Massachusetts had succumbed. By the time a third wave of the epidemic ended in the spring of 1919, an estimated 500,000 to 675,000 Americans had died of the disease, in a period when the U. S. population was less than one-third of what it is today. In the U.S. Army, which sent more than a million soldiers to fight overseas in World War I, more personnel perished from the influenza than from combat wounds.

13. Logan Beirne tells of The Father of Our Country, fighting a war and a contagion. From the article:

Much like today, the virus not only sickened the civilian population but also ravaged the U.S. servicemen, leaving them vulnerable to enemy attack. During the Battle of New York City in 1776, the smallpox epidemic grew so dire that Commander-in-Chief George Washington described it as more dangerous than “the Sword of the Enemy.” And he was correct — for every soldier killed in battle, an estimated ten others died from disease.

Also like today, there were concerns that adversaries might use disease against us. The British intentionally sent infected prisoners back to American communities to spread the scourge. In fact, one British officer recommended, “Dip arrows in matter of smallpox and twang them at the American rebels.” (Guns and bullets were almost universal at this point; this measure was intended specifically to injure and infect.) Whether actively spreading the virus or merely taking advantage of its natural spread, Washington’s enemies sought to leverage America’s weakened state.

Despite being centuries of technological advancement behind us, our first commander-in-chief’s approach to the epidemic parallels today’s: Washington first moved to seal off his troops from foreign entrants, then he checked for symptoms within his camp and quarantined anyone suspected of being infected.

In the end, however, the quarantines proved difficult to enforce and ultimately unable to stop the spread, so inoculation emerged as the only real solution. But Washington faced fierce opposition. Inoculation was a grotesque procedure that involved first scratching the patient’s arm and inserting pus from a smallpox victim into the healthy person’s wound. This would cause the patient to contract a case far milder than if he were to inhale the virus or otherwise catch it more naturally. But he would enjoy lasting immunity.

14. Michael Brendan Dougherty sees occasional tough talk, but no real tough action, in Donald Trump’s dealings with the ChiComs. From the beginning of the piece:

How much of what we hear from day to day is really just meant to please the Chinese Communist Party? When LeBron James said that Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong comments were “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation,” had he engaged in a direct conversation with a Chinese dignitary or had the NBA merely relayed its concerns to him on China’s behalf? Did some officious CCP official get a pat on the head when the World Health Organization kept praising China’s response to the emergence of a new coronavirus in Wuhan before it declared a global health emergency? When Governor Andrew Cuomo started bizarrely referring to the coronavirus as the “European virus,” was he hoping to preserve Chinese investment in New York?

It’s no longer paranoid or irrational to ask these questions. This week, an op-ed signed by the EU’s ambassador to China and his counterparts from the 27 EU member states was revealed to have been censored and edited by the Chinese government, apparently without the permission or foreknowledge of many of the authors. How common is such chicanery?

We’ve had lots of recent occasions to see China’s pettiness. The CCP made Marriott shut down its own website for having referred to Macau and Tibet as something other than part of China. The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker quickly changed Taiwan to “Taipei and environs” amid what one presumes was Chinese pressure. German-owned Mercedes is just one company that has had to ask China’s forgiveness for merely mentioning the Dalai Lama. The United Kingdom once had to read an abject statement of apology aloud to Chinese dignitaries after committing the same sin.

15. George Terwilliger has some suggestions for fixing the leadership-broken FBI. From the analysis:

The damage wrought is not limited at all to misconduct seemingly aimed at the Trump presidency. What Comey and his cohorts did has harmed the work of the career FBI and Justice Department professionals whose interests Comey now disingenuously purports to represent and protect. If he cared about protecting the ability of those good people to do their jobs in a non-politicized atmosphere, he never would have usurped the function of prosecutors when he took it upon himself to both bar prosecution of Hillary Clinton in one breath and publicly condemn her conduct in the next — all done in the heated atmosphere of an emerging presidential campaign contest in which the FBI should have been decidedly a noncombatant. The dedication and professionalism in the daily work of thousands of FBI agents and support personnel in the field offices across the country is of critical value to the nation. Likewise, the federal prosecutors who take cases to court day in and day out are the tip of the rule-of-law spear. Together, the work of these professionals is the lifeblood of the justice system, and the vast majority of them perform at exceptionally high levels still. What Comey and his cohorts wrought, however, has made doing those jobs more difficult because public trust in the FBI and the justice system is eroded and questioned. The sunshine of the work Barr has commissioned to illuminate the truth is a disinfectant, not the disease; mistaking it as such because the facts have a collateral benefit to Trump is simply another mark of the hyper-partisan mindset.

So what went wrong with the FBI is not the doing of its rank and file; it was failure of leadership. It will take both time and core changes to fundamentally alter the bureau’s orientation in the senior headquarters’s ranks. A few principles might help guide doing so.

16. German jurists have put it at odds with the EU’s supremacy. Andrew Stuttaford explains. From the beginning of the piece:

One of the reasons that the euro zone has survived for as long as it has is the impressive ability of its leaders to postpone dealing with a series of questions that are as fundamental as they are inconvenient. Is it possible to sustain a monetary union without a fiscal union? (Probably not.) Is it possible to establish a fiscal union without genuine democratic consent? (We may yet find out.) And suddenly pressing: What is the relationship between the EU’s law and Germany’s?

For half a century the conflict hinted at by this last question could mostly be treated as theoretical. Then, last week, the German constitutional court (BVG) challenged the legality of the Public Sector Purchase Program (PSPP), the $2 trillion-and-counting quantitative-easing scheme first launched by the European Central Bank (the ECB) in 2015 to prop up the euro zone’s faltering economies, and restarted in 2019. The BVG’s ruling does not concern the ECB’s Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program (PEPP), a new, smaller quantitative-easing regimen under which the ECB will buy up to €750 billion in bonds to help stave off the effects of the mess that COVID-19 has left in its wake. But it may affect how the PEPP is run: Already widely considered inadequate for the task that lies ahead, the program may be hobbled by restrictions flowing from the BVG’s judgment, and that’s before another wave of German litigation tries to bring it down.

To the EU, the BVG’s intervention was both unwelcome and insolent. So far as the EU’s jurisprudence is concerned, EU law is supreme in every member state in a manner approximately analogous to the relationship between federal and state law in the U.S. In an English case from 1974, one of that country’s most distinguished — and quirkily eloquent — judges, Lord Denning, explained that the EEC Treaty (the EEC was a precursor of the EU) was “like an incoming tide. It flows into the estuaries and up the rivers. It cannot be held back.” The treaty, he wrote, was “equal in force to any statute,” and the European Court of Justice (the ECJ) was “the ultimate authority” when it came to interpreting EEC law; even England’s highest court had “to bow down to it.”

17. In On a Magical Night, Armond White discovers a moral sex farce, French fare that beats whatever Hollywood is serving up. From the beginning of the review:

Corrupt Hollywood now specializes in remakes and reboots and has convinced the public to accept this cheat as creativity. Meanwhile, Christophe Honoré counters that nonsense with his new film On a Magical Night (Chambre 212). An homage to French cinema’s most advanced romantic comedies, it is also a wholly original film. Through the infidelity of 40-year-old law professor Maria Mortemort (Chiara Mastroianni), Honoré explores the restless itch at the heart of so many Gallic moral tales. When her 40-year-old husband, Richard (Benjamin Biolay), discovers Maria’s dalliance with a younger student, the sparring couple separate into their corners: Maria takes a room in a hotel above a multiplex cinema, across the street from their chic apartment, where, like a philosophical voyeur, she can watch Richard seething.

This premise might immediately suggest Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but Honoré, who directed last year’s deeply moving Sorry Angel, is more interested in sex-farce complications. He showcases Maria’s guilt, not suspense. As snow falls on Maria and Richard’s separation, Honoré shifts into exquisite reflection: Maria recalls Richard at age 20 (played by Vincent Lacoste) whose lustful presence sets Honoré’s film off and running.

Longing, regret, and passion materialize through different personages from the past. Every surprise appearance unpacks Maria’s subconscious — her numerous ex-lovers and, most vexingly, Irene Haffner (Camille Cottin), the piano teacher who was Richard’s first lover when he was age 15. Tellingly, even the ghost of Charles Aznavour appears as, he says, Maria’s “will.” He tells her “My role is to strengthen your resolve. Someone else handles your conscience.”

Here’s where Honoré reveals his objective: to investigate our culturally inspired desires. Hollywood’s remake mania merely cashes in on already established markets, with pre-sold properties and titles. We don’t grow from such copy-cat-ism, which means that American cinema’s ideas about morality, mortality, and existence become infantilized or politicized.

18. Now if only Jerry Seinfeld could make us laugh. Kyle Smith reviews a comedian gone stale. From the review:

Forty years ago the man was making jokes about breakfast cereal. Today he’s making jokes about . . . Pop-Tarts. People who say “It is what it is.” Portable restrooms (“I don’t know how they’re even allowed to call it a bathroom”). Cup holders. Some of this stuff is so bland it deserves to be shipped out to Vegas.

Pop-Tarts, Jerry notes, can never go stale because they were never fresh in the first place. Every person in the audience has to be shifting in his seat. Er, were Cookie Crisp jokes ever fresh in the first place, Jer? “When they invented the Pop-Tart, the back of my head blew right off,” he says. “We couldn’t comprehend the Pop-Tart, it was too advanced!” That’s how Jerry launches an ode to shelf-stable pastry that lasts about as long as Seinfeld was on the air.

Bringing things into this century, Seinfeld does a so-so bit on cell phones (“When that battery gets low, you feel like your whole body is out of power”) that culminates with Jerry hurling himself flat on the stage of the Beacon Theater in Manhattan. Jerry is 66. He shouldn’t have to throw himself on the floor to get a laugh. At another point he does some business that involves twisting himself into his mic cord. Grueling stuff.

19. Ace in the Hole 1: Kyle reflects on what he considers the nastiest-ever movie about journalists. From the commentary:

As far as I can tell, Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951) was completely ignored upon its release, and for many years thereafter. Then in 1987, when an infant who became the world-famous Baby Jessica fell down a well and the ensuing wall-to-wall media coverage came to seem a tad exploitative, even circus-like, people started to say, wait a minute, haven’t we seen this story before? The Baby Jessica/Wilder scenario inspired a 1992 episode of The Simpsons, “Radio Bart.” At the time Ace in the Hole was still so obscure that the writer of the episode, Jon Vitti, who was given the story by Matt Groening, said he had trouble locating a copy to rent. (Before the launch of Turner Classic Movies, Ace in the Hole was almost never shown on TV and the only place I could find the film, as of the mid-1990s, was the invaluable art-house video-rental shop Kim’s Video, in Greenwich Village. The place closed in 2014.)

Today Ace in the Hole must be one of the most-talked about Hollywood movies of the Fifties. It dated well because the thing that people hated about it when it was made is the thing that is contemporary about it now: It’s unbelievably nasty. Finally taste has caught up with Billy Wilder’s cynicism. (The movie is on the TCM app through May 17 and can also be found on the superb, Kim’s Video-like Kanopy app offering art-house favorites, which you can use if you have a library card from one of the many public libraries that subscribes to it. A version with commercials is showing on Pluto TV).

20. Ace in the Hole 2: And Armond has his say about this precursor to social-justice warriorism. From the review:

Billy Wilder’s 1951 Ace in the Hole, widely conceded to be the most cynical Hollywood movie ever made, brings the hammer down on journalism in a way that ought to synch with today’s rising distrust of the media — although that’s not what Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz meant when he called it “one of the great movies about journalism” during its COVID-19 quarantine broadcast.

Ironically, Ace in the Hole is a cult favorite, a dirty little secret among journalists. But there’s a catch — the insurmountable egotism of commanding-heights media — that makes the film’s cynicism part of the problem it pretends to critique.

Wilder, best known for Sunset Boulevard, The Seven Year Itch, and Some Like It Hot, turned his celebrated wit against the character of Charles Tatum, a disgraced New York scribe who lands at a small-town rag in New Mexico, where he attempts a comeback by manipulating a local man’s accident into a story that will put Tatum back in the Pulitzer Prize stakes. It is actor Kirk Douglas’s ultimate performance as a post-WWII heel, twisting the actor’s considerable talent and the force of his charisma into a spectacle of contempt. This Hollywood hoax encourages our own leering fascination that isn’t much different from Tatum’s sneering condescension.

Our identification with Tatum’s temperament and drive becomes more repugnant as the story develops. Tatum’s journalist careerism is like poker strategy. He keeps his “ace,” a Mexican-Catholic trading-post owner, trapped in a cave that collapsed when he was robbing artifacts from a Native American burial site. He plans to build curiosity for the grand, human-interest rescue story he stokes in the press.

The June 1, 2020 Issue of National Review Is in the Mail, But Also Awaits Your Eyeballs Right Here and Now on NRO

It’s a really great issue, if you can take the word of This Opinionated Fool — but you should take it. The cover brandishes the photo of John James, Michigan GOP Senate hopeful and the subject of another classic John J. Miller political profile. Let’s give you a quartet of recommended readings from the issue (Hey: You can read the whole shebang if you join NRPLUS.)

1. JJM on JJ. It’s a must-read. From the profile:

With the exception of Alabama, where voters probably will reverse 2017’s fluke election of Democrat Doug Jones, Michigan represents the best chance for a Republican Senate candidate to beat a Democratic incumbent in 2020. Polls already suggest a tight race, and James is sure to receive more attention and support than he did last time. “We’ll be there to push John across the finish line,” says Senator Todd Young of Indiana, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Flipping a Democratic seat may be reward enough for many Republicans, but the stakes in Michigan are in fact a lot higher: James could become the GOP’s next young superstar.

That’s partly because John Edward James, who turns 39 in June, is a rare political type: an African-American Republican. His great-great-grandfather was born a slave in Mississippi, and he likes to chronicle a brief family history: “In four generations, we’ve gone from a slave to a sharecropper to a mason to a truck driver and now potentially to a senator. That is absolutely remarkable, not just for our family but for our country.” His piece of the story began in 1981, when James was born in Southfield, Mich. He grew up mostly in Detroit, and although he was raised Baptist, he went to high school at Brother Rice, an all-boys Catholic school in Bloomfield Hills. (Today, he attends a nondenominational church.)

As a teenager, he didn’t think much about politics. His parents were Democrats, but he dated a girl who belonged to the Young Republicans of Oakland County. So James attended their meetings, too. As he listened to members talk about personal responsibility, a culture of life, and defending the Constitution, he kept thinking: “That makes sense to me.” He didn’t become a Republican then, he says, but “it planted a seed.”

Around the same time, he fell under the influence of Joe Anderson, a business friend of his father’s. Anderson had gone to West Point and then served in Vietnam, where he had become the subject of a French documentary, The Anderson Platoon, which won Best Documentary at the 40th Academy Awards in 1968. He encouraged James to take a look at the military academy. “The opportunity to serve others, to fight for this country,” says James, “I consider it a down payment on the debt that I owe my ancestors for the sacrifices they made for my freedom.”

2. David Mamet — yeah, that David Mamet — weaves a sterling essay on lockdowns, writing, codes, Donald Trump, and the Left’s loathing of him into a brilliant analysis of our times. From the piece:

Tragedy, to be compelling, must address a prerational experience or unity. A Hokusai painting of a wave makes us nod in recognition, as we do at a resolution of a Bach fugue. We cannot explain or dissect our experience of understanding, but it is undeniable. True art creates in us the same feeling of fulfillment, its possible description just beyond the rational mind.

The technician might explain it technically, the musician employing the cycle of fifths, or the painter some theory of color or proportion, but this merely puts the problem at one remove. For, after the technical reduction, even the expert cannot quite answer the question of why: Why, for example, is the eye so pleased by the golden mean? Like any great truth, our understanding of art must devolve into metaphysics or an assertion merely leading to an infinite regression.

The human mind will and must assemble phenomena into cause and effect. We will intuit or ascribe a causal relationship to two events that, to another, have no possible connection: Aunt Edna did not call on my birthday because she’s furious I didn’t sufficiently praise her new frock; Germany is troubled because of the Jews; we are suffering a pandemic because Trump did or did not act quickly enough, and an economic disaster because he did.

Psychoanalysis (and politics) attempts to address or capitalize on our human suggestibility, particularly on our frenzied willingness to assign our disquiets to another. Solutions offered thus flatter our ability to identify a problem, suggest its cure, and remind us to come back tomorrow for another dose.

Drama acts similarly, engaging us in the assurance that the cause of all problems is evident, and that our reason will suffice to cure them. The Bad Butler did it; Deaf People are People, Too; Love Is All There Is; and so on. If we enjoy the mixture, it must (and will) be taken regularly.

Tragedy provides not reassurance but calm through the completion of a mechanical progression. Its end is probative, for it is the disposition of all the variables (the code) stipulated at its beginning—mathematically, there is no remainder.

3. Alex Armlovich believes that conservatives should care about cities. From the beginning of the essay:

Population density is taking a beating as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Urban centers from Wuhan to New York City are hot spots for the virus, and many people argue, based on plausible intuitions, that urban crowding is to blame for its spread. Not all the evidence is in yet, and reassurances that New York could have prepared like (for instance) Seoul are, especially in the heat of the present, less persuasive to many than the mobile mortuaries humming around the city or the ongoing official use of the transit system as a homeless shelter. But cities have always faced serious challenges, and the economic and other benefits of cities are such that they have persisted for 5,000 years—even in the face of serious biothreats ranging from measles and flu to smallpox and plague.

While it remains too soon to say how big a factor urban density (as opposed to urban crowding) has been, people eager to use the crisis as an excuse to reject density should think twice. Dense cities offer capitalism’s solution to many of today’s challenges, from stagnant productivity growth to environmental degradation, in a package that conservatives should rally around.

This will require some forbearance. In recent years, cities have become associated not only with standard Democratic politics but with a resurgence of socialist activism. America’s new socialists are clustered in cities, where blunt leftist “solutions” to the nation’s policy problems are taking root. These problems include slow middle-class wage growth after one accounts for the rising costs of health care, education, and housing near (increasingly urban) good jobs, along with climate change. The Left says “late” capitalism cannot adapt—and so transformation into the first phase of “democratic socialism” is nigh. Their remedy for stagnant wages and high living costs includes union empowerment, Medicare for All, free college, and bans on construction of private housing plus universal rent control. For climate change, the solution is a vaguely sketched yet massive Green New Deal. Seeing all this, conservatives may be tempted to leave cities to their own fate.

4. Madeleine Kearns checks out the rampant narcissism behind Goop. From the piece:

Similar to Markle, Paltrow was keen to discover a “point of life” that amounted to more than “making out with Matt Damon on screen, or whatever.” She began a newsletter called “The Goop Lab” in 2008. Since then, it’s developed into a $250 million company complete with a website, a podcast, a magazine, books, stores, and its own Netflix series of the same name. The Goop Lab, Paltrow explains in the first episode, is all about the “optimization of self.” Each of the six episodes explores a theme related to this: psychedelics, “cold therapy,” female sexuality, anti-aging, “energy work,” and psychic mediumship. Put simply, Goop is about “milking the sh** out of [life].”

In many ways, Goop is like any other celebrity cult. Yet it also reflects something more widespread, embodying many of the characteristics laid out in Christopher Lasch’s 1979 bestseller The Culture of Narcissism. Lasch argued that escape into grandiose self-delusion, previously deemed pathological, had been mainstreamed as normal or even desirable. He outlined a distinction between “primary narcissism,” referring “to the infantile illusion of omnipotence,” which, applied today, describes many celebrities (including the 45th president), and “secondary narcissism,” defined by psychoanalyst Thomas Freeman as “attempts to annul the pain of disappointed love.” Lasch saw the problem beginning with the decline of the family as a dominant cultural authority. Into this vacuum unscrupulous market forces and a radical progressive social agenda had flown, offering the “propaganda” of commodities and therapeutic superstitions. “What remains to be explained,” Lasch wrote in an updated edition, “is how an exaggerated respect for technology can coexist with a revival of ancient superstitions, a belief in reincarnation, a growing fascination with the occult, and the bizarre forms of spirituality associated with the New Age movement.” Goop manages this by hiding behind feminism.

BONUS: Jay Nordlinger reviews the status of Taiwan, pathogen slayer and international pariah. From the article:

In Taiwan so far, there have been 438 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and six deaths. Schools have been open since February 25—although with precautions—and professional sports are being played, without spectators.

With the country serving as a model, why does it need the WHO? According to Taiwanese officials, the country can use all the information it can get. Every scrap helps. So too, Taiwan has information, and experience, to share.

Friends of Taiwan are pushing for its inclusion in the WHO, just as they did after the SARS epidemic. The PRC, as always, is pushing back, strong-arming anyone it can. China’s hold over people and institutions is remarkable. Beijing is a master instiller of fear.

On March 27, Yvonne Tong interviewed Bruce Aylward, by video hook up. She works for a Hong Kong news program called “The Pulse”; he is a Canadian official of the WHO. A stranger interview you never saw.

Ms. Tong said, “Will the WHO consider Taiwan’s membership?” Dr. Aylward did not answer. He looked into the camera, for a long period. Finally, Ms. Tong said, “Hello?” He said, “That’s okay, I couldn’t hear your question.” Ms. Tong said, “Okay, let me repeat the question.” Dr. Aylward said, “No, that’s okay, let’s move to another one then.”

But the interviewer persisted (politely). Then Dr. Aylward appeared to sever his connection.

Persisting, the show got a hold of him again. Ms. Tong said, “I just want to see if you can comment a bit on how Taiwan has done so far in terms of containing the virus.” Dr. Aylward replied, “Well, we’ve already talked about China, and, you know, when you look across all the different areas of China, they’ve actually all done quite a good job.” With that, he bade farewell.

The Six

1. At Commentary, Noah Rothman bashes the Cult of Cuomo. From the beginning of the piece:

The cult of personality that’s sprung up around New York’s irascible governor is partly attributable to the trauma New Yorkers have endured. Cuomo presides over one of the nation’s hardest-hit states, and his affect has been sober enough to convey a sense of authority. But in terms of performance, the outcomes this governor has overseen are so terrible and contrast so starkly with the adulation he’s received that it’s impossible to see this phenomenon as something other than a contrivance.

The governor has somehow been spared an aggressive effort by the journalistic establishment to relitigate the month of February. What was the president doing at the time to mitigate the terrible effects the pandemic would have on American society in March? If the question was asked of the governor, the answer would be, what everyone else was doing: downplaying the pandemic. “We went through this before: Zika virus, Ebola, et cetera,” Cuomo said on February 7. “But let’s have some connection to the reality of the situation,” he continued, “catching the flu right now is a much greater risk than anything that has anything to do with coronavirus.”

By late March, with the scale of the disaster now acutely felt, the governor lashed out at President Donald Trump for suggesting that he did not believe New York would require “40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.” Cuomo called the president’s suggestion “ignorant” and “grossly uninformed,” insisting that the 4,400 ventilators the state had received from the federal government would prove disastrously inadequate. But it turned out that ventilators were of less utility for treating advanced COVID-19 cases than medical professionals initially believed, and the state’s peak caseload came earlier and with fewer overall infections than anticipated. In the end, if the president had caved to the media-driven pressure to transfer nearly all its ventilator reserve to New York, they’d have gone largely unused, and the rest of the country would have been in a precarious position as a result.

In a “historic move” on April 30, Cuomo announced that the New York City subway system would temporarily cease 24-hour operations so that cars could be disinfected. The governor himself made a conspicuous trip to New York City’s unfortunately named Corona Maintenance Facility for a tour and a photo-op. This was an important directive, but one that likely came months too late.

2. As ever, Gatestone Institute’s Con Coughlin provides exceptional analysis of Things Europe — here, concerning the EU’s ever-toadying to Red China. From the beginning of the piece:

The latest capitulation by the European Union in the face of Chinese intimidation demonstrates that, when it comes to protecting the interests of member states, the Brussels bureaucracy is no match for Beijing’s new breed of warrior diplomats.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the more notable features of China’s response has been the willingness of senior Chinese diplomats to intervene forcibly in defence of China’s interests.

The interventions of these “Wolf Warrior” diplomats, so-called after a series of iconic Chinese action movies in which Chinese special forces vanquish their American foes, take several forms.

On one level, Chinese ambassadors, particularly those based in Western capitals, simply resort to blackmail, threatening to deny governments vital medical supplies to cope with the pandemic if they do not comply with Beijing’s wishes.

On another level, they indulge in disseminating fake news, using social media platforms to propagate information that is patently false.

To deal with the growing menace posed by China’s diplomatic community, it is vital, therefore, that the West take robust action to protect its interests, and to hold China to account for its role in causing the pandemic in the first place, and then trying to cover its culpability by launching a global campaign to conceal the origins of the outbreak.

3. Dear amiga Lori Kelly writes a wonderous piece for The Catholic Exchange on the faith of our fathers, literal ones, and the call to fight for it. From the article:

The year now, of course, is 2020. I am 58 years old. I live in South Boston. It is noon, and the Angelus bells just rang out from our beloved Gate of Heaven Church. As I am called to prayer, I am also again called to memory, and at the sound of the bells my heart leaps once more. Again, I am reminded of my father, my childhood, the saints and angels and even those martyred for the faith. I recollect one evening when I entered my parents’ bedroom and discovered my Father on his knees in prayer. He held his black rosary in his hands, his lips moving to the mysteries. Concluding his ave, he kissed the beads once and tenderly placed them under his pillow. To see this man, this man who I believed could fight off lions on my behalf, humbly prostrate himself before God struck me to my very core. No catechism, no teaching, no bible or homily was ever as instrumental to the formation of my faith than this image of my father and that devoted kiss.

I once traveled to Prague. So many Catholic churches there were shut down, decimated by decades of past Communist rule. I visited museums and it devastated me to see chalices, stoles and ornate monstrances all placed inside glass display cases, disposed, unused and forgotten, reduced to mere relics. It occurred to me that I had a pressing, personal responsibility to make sure that the same thing didn’t occur in my own home parish. It occurs to me, now, that there is a real possibility, if we are not careful and vigilant, that our own churches run the risk of becoming concert halls and museums.

In this age of the coronavirus, these memories of hymns, rosaries and monstrances have come rushing back to me. It all makes particular sense, now. The Church is my inheritance and my personal responsibility. Why does the Faith sometimes bring me to tears and knock me to my knees? The answer: true Beauty will do that.

4. At First Things, Algis Valiunas investigates the Russian soul and its character of suffering. From the beginning of the reflection:

The Russian soul. The phrase serves as shorthand for Russia’s national character, after the manner of American innocence, French arrogance, Italian dolce far niente, and what used to be the English stiff upper lip. Russians are reputed to feel more than the rest of us do, think deep thoughts about eternal but elusive truths, engage in fevered dispute about the meaning of it all, weep ­unabashedly and laugh balefully over the sorrowful and preposterous human lot, and drink themselves into sodden paralysis. They suffer demonstratively. They have good reason to. Russian politics have been and continue to be an abomination, and for millions of Russians daily life is an all but intolerable grind. The people’s habit of replacing one tyrannical overlord with another is regrettable, to say the least. Russian souls have long been forged, when they have not been consumed, in the fires of an earthly hell.

Yet, as Dante knew when he plunged Satan and other traitors into the frozen depths of the Inferno, hell at its worst can be extremely cold. And Siberia has become a byword for such icy torment. It is the native vale of soul-making, to borrow a phrase from an English Romantic poet. As one denizen of the Arctic region Kolyma put it, “Here we have twelve months of winter. / The rest summer.” This everlasting winter has come to be associated with the slave labor camps of Stalin’s heyday, but already under the czars Siberian imprisonment followed by exile or military service was the standard punishment for political defiance as well as more conventional criminality. As one learns from Daniel Beer’s study The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars (2016), more than a million malefactors were consigned to Asian Russia, the vast expanse east of the Ural Mountains, between 1801 and 1917. Liberals, utopian socialists of various denominations, and ­Polish patriots trying to free their homeland from imperial oppression were all heavily represented among the banished outlaws. Siberia was the proving ground for revolutionary brotherhood. Lenin and Stalin and any number of lesser incendiaries did time there. Stern wills were hardened, alliances cemented. Beer writes:

When revolution finally erupted in 1905, these exiled radicals transformed Siberia’s towns and villages into crucibles of violent struggle against the autocracy. Scaffolds were erected in the courtyards of prisons while, beyond their walls, wardens were assassinated in the streets. No longer a quarantine against the contagions of revolution, Siberia had become a source of the infection.

In due course, the prisoners became jailers and secret police, and eventually prisoners once more, as the revolution ate its own.

5. At The Imaginative Conservative, Erik Ellis asks and answers the question, what is a classical education. From the essay:

Even the strongest advocates of classical education struggle to appreciate how limited its curricular basis was. Consisting of ancient history, primarily narrated through the “lives” of its great actors, epic and lyric poetry, and classical oratory, this educational model did not aim to be comprehensive. What little direct philosophical and ethical instruction was obtained from the rhetoricians Isocrates and Cicero rather than Plato and Aristotle. The appeal was protreptic or hortatory rather than theoretical or systematic. Now almost forgotten texts like the Dream of Scipio and the Distichs of Cato served alongside Christ’s parables to furnish students with models of behavior and matter for contemplation rather than definitions and formulae. If this shocks us, we ought to remember that no less a political philosopher than the author of City of God claimed to be ignorant of Greek, and that his early philosophical training consisted almost solely of Cicero’s Hortensius, an unfortunately lost protreptic, and a few libri platonici, late antique philosophical textbooks whose synthetic mixture of Plato, Aristotle, and Stoicism the nineteenth-century historians of philosophy worked so hard to analyze, chop up, and rearrange into a logical narrative that explained the development of ideas but no longer could claim to provide guidance towards achieving eternal wisdom.

And yet, there was wisdom in this radically limited approach. Ancient, medieval, and early modern education had an oratorical orientation, recognizing that it was training leaders rather than experts. People who had been taught to imitate the classical authors, to analyze and understand their language, to construct valid arguments, and to make them persuasive, and who had committed to memory the virtuous and vicious deeds of the their noble predecessors had all the skills necessary to build civilization and inspire their peers to virtuous action. Whether we look to the Roman procurators and Chinese Mandarins of the empires of antiquity, the monks and scholastics of the medieval Church, or the bureaucrats and pioneers of more recent times, we see the constant of stable, efficient civil service carried out by leaders trained to revere a literary canon, to study it with traditional disciplines, and to see the unchanging contours of wise self-governance and prudent leadership in a constantly changing world. Although it is certainly mythical, perhaps no image more powerfully represents this ideal than that of our own frontier lawyers, who, like Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Stewart’s Ranse Stoddard, went to bring order to the Wild West armed only with copies of Vergil, Blackstone, and the Bible in their saddlebags. For all this, we cannot help but notice that the foundations of civil society rest on the spiritual products of this older form of education rather than on the material and technological advancements of our (post-) industrial economy.

6. The College Fix’s Brittany Slaughter checks out the perv-sanity at Northwestern University, where a pandemic has forced the annual “Sex Week” online. This, folks, is higher education (we apologize for what is about to be quoted on the family newsletter). From the article:

Can masturbating to the image of a pile of cash bring … a pile of cash in real life?

It’s an example of a concept advanced as part of Northwestern University’s annual student-led Sex Week observance, which has been moved online in response to the coronavirus lockdown. Northwestern Sex Week launched Monday and runs through May 15.

The “Masturbation for Manifestation” event is hosted by an affiliate with the Chicago-based sex KiKi community, described as a movement that advances sex-positive erotic arts, culture and education.

On its website, it describes masturbation for manifestation as some sort of “sex magic.” The notion is similar to the law of attraction popularized by the book “The Secret.”

“At the moment of orgasm that’s when you start to manifest and when you start to see yourself have whatever it is that you want,” the website states.

BONUS: At Reason, Veronique de Rugy finds creativity alive and well, even during (especially during) a pandemic. From the column:

It was going to be the party of the year: my 50th birthday. I rented a fantastic place, picked a great menu, and sent funny invitations designed by my hilarious friend Brooke. I was counting down the weeks. Then COVID-19 hit. Lockdowns were ordered. No party for me. Yet what replaced it was the purest expression of the best that humanity has to offer, springing from creative forces that neither this virus—nor other negative forces—can kill.

My party being canceled is, of course, a minuscule tragedy compared with the deaths and economic destruction we’ve witnessed in the last few months. Still, I was sad that what was supposed to be a great weekend spent with family coming from France and friends coming from all over the country has been postponed indefinitely. I knew my teenagers would, no matter what, make the day special—it was Mother’s Day, too—and that I would still hear from my friends.

And what replaced the party was so much more meaningful and amazing because it was fueled by my friends’ love and creativity, and by the amazing innovators who make coping with the isolation more tolerable.


Hurry Up and Weight: “Who,” queried Son #2, having seen a photo (now a meme) of Chris Christie in a uniform, “was the fattest guy to ever play baseball?” Your Humble Correspondent thought he had written about a contender in a previous WJ. Investigation proved he had not. Had he, he would have informed Dear Readers of the great Jumbo Brown, whose avois practically dupois’d at 300 pounds in the midst of his 12-year 1930s career pitching for the Yankees, Giants, Indians, Cubs, and Reds. On occasion dubbed “Falstaffian flinger” by sportswriters, Brown led the NL in saves his last two seasons (1940–41). He shared the moniker with another pitcher, James Thomas “Jumbo” Elliott, a husky southpaw who led the NL in victories in 1931 with 19.

Darn it: The Jumbos never faced each other, nor waged battle with the Athletics’ Chubby Dean. But on the other side of the Belly Curve, Brown did find himself sharing the mound one hot August afternoon in 1927 with Slim Harris. “Slim” was not too surprising a nickname for a guy who towered at 6’ 6” while weighing a scrawny 180 pounds. A hard-luck right-hander who played 10 seasons for the Athletics and Red Sox, Harris put up a lifetime 95–135 record. Of distinction, he twice led the AL in losses.

Back to the Jumbo Joust: Harris started the contest (indeed, he pitched a complete game and took the victory) against the Indians, whose starter, southpaw Garland Buckeye, gave up four hits to the first four batters, and, following a gut-check by manager Jack McAllister, the ball was handed to Brown. In relief, the butterballer went 3 2/3 innings, and faced Slim twice — both times the lanky hurler ground out to end innings. In his one plate appearance against Harris, Jumbo drew a walk and scored.

All that said, the grandest man to ever put on a MLB uniform was, likely, the late Walter Young, who played for the Orioles in 2005. The 6’ 5” first baseman is said to have tipped the scales at 320 pounds.

A Dios

There seems to be more time — spent not in cars, not on trains. Allowing us time to . . . pray? Let us suggest that you do such. Fervently even, and boldly: “God, You fix this.” After all, we cannot. Oh: Do consider adding please. Which Your Humble Correspondent will say as he asks you to please spare a prayer for the repose of the soul of Richard Gilder, a friend of this institution and a philanthropist to many causes. Along with our late colleague, Dusty Rhodes, he founded the Club for Growth. May he rest in peace and may his family find comfort in God’s mercy.

Divine Blessings, Real and Consequential, on You and Yours,

Jack Fowler, who may receive late admonitions for not having mentioned Mother’s Day in the prior issue of the Weekend Jolt, securely sent to


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