The Weekend Jolt

National Review

You Better Remember Mama (and NR Too)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

For the record: Irene Dunne was a big fan of NR. A subscriber, she was on the sponsor committee of this esteemed institution’s Tenth Anniversary celebration in 1965. Trés coolio. She was nominated for five Academy Awards, all for Best Actress (alas, she never won). Dunne’s most beloved role (to many, including this fan) was in the 1948 classic I Remember Mama, as Marta Hanson, the matriarch of a Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco at the turn of the century. It’s a warm and beautiful film, which TCM will be airing tomorrow (Mother’s Day) at 8 p.m. Eastern. Do watch if you have never seen it.

(Her most National Review–y film was Penny Serenade, written by the great Morrie Ryskind, who was an original editor of the magazine and helped Bill Buckley secure funding for its launch.)

’Tis a dangerous game, but if the dead could speak I would wager nonetheless that Subscriber and Supporter Irene (echoed by Editor Morrie) would be encouraging her fellow NR fans to be responsive to the current 2019 Spring Webathon, in which NR seeks to raise $175,000 (we’re not even a quarter of the way there!) to combat the growing popularity of Socialism.

I Remember . . . Ma(o)ma: Hey, you remember socialism, which is having renewed success wooing the young and witless, ignorant of the scores of millions this evil ideology has left dead (starved during the Holodomor, the Povolzhye famine, the Great Leap Forward — which claimed as many as 45 million Chinese!). And today, in plain sight, it has left once-prosperous Venezuela devastated and its people starving.

Socialism needs to be relentlessly countered. Exposed. Pummeled. Defenestrated. Starved, turnabout being fair play. We can do it. We have to do it! And by “we” I mean us and you: This requires your material help. Moolah. Boodle. Scratch. Loot. One donor to our webathon effort echoed our webathon’s primary contention: “The battle for individual freedom never ends.” We know that at NR. So do many of our readers. We are counting on those folks who recognize the seriousness of the task at hand to assist NR, so we can persist, by making a generous, selfless donation.

Mom said!

Editorials
1. Outflanked politically, presidential wannabe Cory Booker rolls out an outlandish gun-control proposal that he hopes will win the hearts and minds of Democratic primary voters. We say he’s shooting blanks. From our editorial:

Having thus far failed to break through in the Democratic primary, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey is seeking to gain an edge in the contest by advancing the most extreme package of gun-control proposals to be touted by any presidential aspirant in two decades. In addition to the usual laundry list — “universal” background checks, a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” the prohibition of standard-capacity magazines — Booker hopes to establish not only a federal registry of guns, but a federal registry of gun owners, too. Under the terms of Booker’s plan, Americans wishing to exercise their Second Amendment rights would have to apply to Washington for permission — not just once, but every five years — and to inform the executive branch of each weapon they own in their home. Exit, Spartacus; enter, Big Brother. As Orwell might have said: He who controls the records, controls the people.

As anyone who has watched the Venezuelan government’s recent confiscation drive can attest, registries of guns and of the people who own them are dangerous and illiberal per se, which is one reason that they remain illegal under federal law. It should be spectacularly obvious that a registry of firearms and their owners is, in effect, a giant map that can be used by its keeper to locate who is armed and how, and, thus, to make their disarmament possible. If that sounds alarmist, look no further than to Senator Booker himself, who continues to argue that the government should use the “terror watch list” — that is, the sprawling, error-ridden list of mostly innocent people that the federal government keeps in secret — to disarm “suspicious” Americans who have been accused, charged, or convicted of no crimes whatsoever. Edmund Burke once wrote that Americans were unique among the people of the world in that they did not wait for an “actual grievance” but instead “augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.” Once again, that tainted breeze has arrived.

2. Jerry Nadler, the Florenz Ziegfeld of the Theater of the Political Absurd, has declared a constitutional crisis. We believe something, or someone, should be declared. From our editorial:

Nothing in the regulations required Attorney General Bill Barr to release any of the report, let alone release it in its entirety. He did anyway with minimal, entirely defensible redactions that the DOJ worked through with Mueller. He then testified for hours in public before a Senate committee about his handling of the report, while declining to appear for more voluntary testimony before a House committee the next day over a process issue (the committee wanted a counsel to question Barr; the attorney general objected, likely because he didn’t like the optics).

Collectively, then, and often working at cross-purposes, the Trump administration has done Congress an enormous favor the last two years. It appointed a special counsel; not only let him finish his work, but cooperated with him (despite Trump’s ineffectual scheming against the investigation); didn’t object to his writing a narrative for public and especially congressional consumption; and with only a brief delay handed the full report, signed, sealed, and delivered, over to Congress to potentially to use as a roadmap for impeachment. (And, oh yeah, the report has been published as a book and is being sold on Amazon.) Most of Jerry Nadler’s work has been done for him.

For the New York Democrat to turn around and have his committee vote to hold Bill Barr in contempt is truly bizarre. Barr’s alleged offense is the redactions. But he has made an almost entirely un-redacted report available to top Democrats to review. They have refused to do so, boycotting the further information that they say they so desperately need.

A Dozen Roses of Wisdom (Another Dumb Flower Analogy) from the Bouquet of Conservatism (Ouch!) We Have for Moms and All Others
1. Andy McCarthy nails it: The Left and its bureaucratic allies are continuing to elevate this smear as an acceptable practice of “justice,” presumption of innocence be damned. From the beginning of his piece:

In gross violation of Justice Department policy and constitutional norms, a prosecutor neither charges nor recommends charges against a suspect, but proceeds to smear him by publishing 200 pages of obstruction allegations. Asked to explain why he did it, the prosecutor says he was just trying to protect the suspect from being smeared.

This is the upshot of the Mueller report’s Volume II. It might be thought campy if the suspect weren’t the president of the United States and the stakes weren’t so high.

The smear-but-don’t-charge outcome is the result of two wrongs: (1) Mueller’s dizzying application of Justice Department guidance, written by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), holding that a president may not be indicted while he is in office; and (2) the media-Democrat complex’s demand that only laws they like — those that serve their anti-Trump political purposes — be enforced.

2. More Andy, this time on the FBI’s use of false pretenses to launch the entire collusion shebang. From his analysis:

As I have previously detailed, after the hacked DNC emails were published, Steele (whose sources had not foretold the hacking by Russia or publication by WikiLeaks) simply folded this event into his preexisting narrative of a Trump–Russia conspiracy.

Prior to early July, when the FBI began receiving Steele-dossier reports (which the State Department would also soon receive), the intelligence community — particularly the CIA, under the direction of its hyperpolitical director, John Brennan — had been theorizing that the Trump campaign was in a corrupt relationship with Russia. Thanks to the Steele dossier, even before Downer reported his conversation with Papadopoulos to the State Department, the Obama administration had already been operating on the theory that Russia was planning to assist the Trump campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Clinton. They had already conveniently fit the hacked DNC emails into this theory.

Downer’s report enabled the Obama administration to cover an investigative theory it was already pursuing with a report from a friendly foreign government, as if that report had triggered the Trump-Russia investigation. In order to pull that off, however, it was necessary to distort what Papadopoulos had told Downer.

3. Department of Piehole-Shutting: Rich Lowry claims that we have heard enough already from Robert Mueller, who continues to trash the doctrine of innocence until proven guilty. From his column:

On obstruction, Mueller reached no such decision, and he didn’t write a confidential report, either — his report was clearly meant for public consumption. Besides that, he’s a stickler for the rules.

“Mueller’s action,” Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School writes at the website Lawfare, “seems inconsistent with what the regulations tried to accomplish, which was to prevent extra-prosecutorial editorializing.”

Worse, as Trump’s special counsel Emmet Flood set out in an excoriating letter, by stipulating that the evidence prevented him “from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” Mueller stood the presumption of innocence on its head.

By Mueller’s standard, the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove guilt — the target has to prove innocence. And if the target doesn’t, he will be disparaged in a long-form quasi-indictment spelling out why he’s not exonerated.

If anyone not named Donald J. Trump were subjected to this new prosecutorial standard, it would occasion widespread comment and — one hopes — consternation.

4. David French says that the AG is being persecuted by Democrats. From his piece:

This isn’t a “constitutional crisis.” It’s standard legal sparring that is amply grounded in past precedent and past practice. It would be unlawful for the attorney general to provide Congress with protected grand-jury information. It would be similarly unlawful for the attorney general to provide information subject to validly asserted claims of executive privilege. It would be reckless and irresponsible for Congress to continue to demand wide dissemination of at least some of the classified information in the report and the supporting evidence and at least some of the information and supporting evidence that bears directly on ongoing investigations.

So, if we’re witnessing standard negotiations between Congress and the Department of Justice and standard, competing legal assertions, then why the overheated rhetoric? Why the claims that the “crisis is here.” Aside from the fact that we live in an overheated age, we cannot separate the current proceedings from the lingering fury generated by Barr’s initial rollout of the Mueller report. Democrats are livid that he created his own summary of the report rather than reproducing some version of Mueller’s summaries, and they’re livid that he and Rod Rosenstein issued their own legal opinion that Trump did not obstruct justice.

5. Jim Geraghty fingers five fruitcake pieces of legislation your Friendly Neighborhood Socialist Congressman has drafted to plunder the treasury and make a far less perfect union. From his analysis:

Finally, over in the House, Democrat Frederica Wilson of Florida introduced the Jobs Now Act of 2019, which is interested in creating only one kind of employment: government jobs. Her bill would authorize $1 billion in new spending to be directed to “local government or community-based organizations” to “retain, employ, or train employees providing a public service for a unit of general local government.” Why require localities to come up with the funding for their own government programs and employees, when Washington can send a check? The text of the legislation specifically states that more than half of the grants must be used to “retain employees who are providing a public service and who would otherwise be laid off as a consequence of budget cuts.” The grants would be a get-out-of-consequences-free card for local lawmakers who have chosen to spend more than their tax revenues can cover and more than their local taxpayers are willing to pay.

6. Kevin Williamson gives a refresher course on federalism. From his piece:

The president represents, in theory, some 327 million Americans. Because there is so much lumped into the presidency, it is very difficult to keep presidents democratically accountable. Consider that, for the moment, purely as a technical issue. A member of the House of Representatives typically represents about 747,000 people, not 327 million. (Because of vagaries in the census and single-member states, there is some variation at the extremes: Montana has nearly 1 million in its lone House district, whereas Rhode Island has about 528,000 in its.) If you are one of 747,000, you have a better chance of making your voice heard than if you are one of 327 million. Even better, a member of the New York state legislature represents about 128,000. A member of the Nebraska state legislature represents about 38,000. A representative can get to know and understand a community of 38,000. He is not alien from them, a remote power in a remote place — he is their neighbor.

If the real power in this country rested where it should — with the state legislatures — the political scene would be radically different. A world in which most of the laws that affect your life, most of the taxes you pay, and most of your interactions with the state are overseen by a representative personally known to you is very different from the scene in Washington, that Roman triumph as imagined by P. T. Barnum. If the state legislatures had the sort of power over the Senate and the presidency that they were intended to, ordinary citizens would in practice have more access to political influence rather than less, even though it would be mediated by state-level officials. The direct election of senators creates the illusion of powerful participation, as would the direct election of presidents (and as does the quasi-direct presidential elections we have today). But in important ways, those elections leave people farther from the relevant centers of power — literally. More than half of all Americans have visited only ten states or fewer, and many of them will never set foot in Washington, D.C.

7. More KDW: He lowers the boom on one of the more colossal political jerks of our time: Pennsylvania state representative Brian Sims, a terminology junkie. From the article:

How to explain Brian Sims? None of the three most likely possibilities — that he is not very bright, that he is insane, that he is a fanatic — speaks very well of the Pennsylvania state representative, who for some reason decided to accost an elderly woman praying silently in front of an abortion facility, to film the attack, and then to boast about it on Twitter.

It is tempting to lean toward stupidity as an explanation for Sims’s shenanigans, if only because that is the most statistically likely scenario when the subject in question is a member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, as witless a collection of moldering goofs and ravening mediocrities as you will find in any of our state capitals.

But let’s not give short shrift to the insanity option. Sims — who holds elected office and previously worked for the Philadelphia Bar Association — offered a cash bounty to his social-media followers for identifying information with which to “dox” three teenage girls who were praying outside the same clinic. Mentally normal adult men do not go around photographing teenaged girls and then trolling for their names on social media in order to facilitate harassing them. Generally speaking, adult men who go around taking photographs of teenaged girls are considered creeps; Representative Sims is a homosexual, which may spare him the charge of lechery in this matter, but his behavior is still pretty weird.

RELATED: Forthcoming NRI Buckley Journalism fellow John Hirschauer describes how the big leftist creep portrayed himself as courageous while bullying the little lady fingering her rosaries. Read his account here.

8. The Left is ramping up its anti-Semitism, cloaked as support for Palestinians. Victor Davis Hanson calls out the progressives. From his piece:

The examples of progressive hatred of Jews could be multiplied endlessly, but the key question is: Why in this generation and why on the Democratic left?

There, are of course, always white nationalists who voice reactionary anti-Semitism, but most are pathetic fringe groups easily identified and ostracized. For all the invective lodged against Donald Trump, no president has proved more sensitive to Jewish issues and more committed to the survival of Israel. The anti-Semitic extreme alt-right has received no sanction from the Republican party, and it remains a tiny, mostly irrelevant group of losers. In contrast, progressive Jew-hatred is expressed at the nation’s premier institutions, such as UC Berkeley, the New York Times, and the U.S. Congress. Again, why?

The far Left is intertwined with Islamist activists. Both share a hatred of the U.S. and see the Middle East as a postcolonial victim of Western imperialism. Students and urban youth bond with radical Islamists in their shared dislike of the Western countries (such as Israel) in general and the United States in particular.

RELATED: Florida senator Rick Scott zings his intolerant congressional colleagues, who are strangely tolerant when it comes to anti-Semitic Members. Read his piece.

9. David French defends Israel’s right to counterattack Hamas, despite its nefarious tactics, which include putting the local population at risk. From his analysis:

Second, a terrorist army cannot lawfully protect itself from destruction by blending in with civilian populations, fighting from civilian structures, or using civilians as human shields. As the Department of Defense’s Law of War Manual states, the principle of distinction “enjoins the party controlling the population to use its best efforts to distinguish or separate its military forces and war-making activities from members of the civilian population to the maximum extent feasible so that civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects incidental to attacks on military objectives will be minimized as much as possible.”

This means physically separating military and civilian facilities. This means using uniforms, markings, and other measures to make sure that military forces and civilians are “visually distinguished from one another.” And this means refraining from using “protected persons and objects” — civilians or civilian structures — “to shield military objectives.”

Hamas violates every single one of these commands. It uses civilian facilities for military purposes, it tries to blend in with the civilian population, and it uses civilians as human shields. This is crucial — under the law of war none of these things in any way limit Israel’s right to defend itself. So long as Israel otherwise complies with the laws of war, the resulting civilian casualties and damages to civilian structures are Hamas’s moral and legal responsibility. It’s that simple.

10. The once-never-uttered “F-Bomb” has become ubiquitous. Heather Wilhelm asks, what the . . . heck?! From her piece:

In many ways, words can shape our very perception of reality. Edward Sapir, who helped develop the hypothesis of linguistic relativity in the 1930s, put it this way: “Human beings . . . are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. . . . The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.”

It’s a radical idea, but what if it contains a grain of truth? What does our society’s thunderstorm of public F-bombs do to our greater sensibility, cultural or otherwise? When the worst swear word becomes commonplace, what do we use to describe the truly horrific? What happened to mystery and subtlety? For that matter, what happened to the fashion sense of people who regularly sport shirts that evoke memories of the early routines of Andrew Dice Clay?

It is no surprise, I suppose, that the F-bomb has become ubiquitous as our culture’s exhibitionism has gotten out of control. But here we can draw at least one consolation: Back at the Friars Club in the Sixties, the F-word was shocking and rare, at least when uttered in public. Today, it’s emblazoned in insouciant acronyms on the packaging of mass-produced Burger King meals.

11. A brilliant explanation (IMHO) of the driving forces that have created our current political alignments. Michael Brendan Dougherty sees friendship, or at least alliances, coming courtesy of the enemy of enemies. From his piece:

James Burnham, one of the great pillars of National Review’s early years, theorized that liberty emerges in a society only when there is a conflict within the elite. In his book The Machiavellians, he wrote:

No theory, no promises, no morality, no amount of good will, no religion will restrain power. Neither priests nor soldiers, neither labor leader nor businessmen, neither bureaucrats nor feudal lords will differ from each other in the basic use which they will seek to make of power. . . . Only power restrains power. . . . When all opposition is destroyed, there is no longer any limit to what power may do. A despotism, any kind of despotism, can be benevolent only by accident.

Heading into the next election, one of Republicans’ great strengths is that their voters seem to have imbibed Burnham’s dark vision of how power and liberty are related. These voters are willing to produce a united Republican government — across all three formal branches — because they sense that Democratic control will create a consensus between the state and our modern clerical class. One could say that voters choose Republicans because they are for the separation of church and state.

This modern clerical class is not actually composed of the ordained ministers of what’s left of the Christian church. It is made up of corporate boards, much of the media, and academia. It has its communions in ideas summits, and its occasional witch-burnings in social media. There is in the written Constitution a formal prohibition against the establishment of traditional religions. But this new clerical class understands that unprovable assertions about human nature and human society can be established, so long as they trade under the name of equality.

12. “Race norming” protocols are being used to populate magnet schools in suburban Maryland, writes Mike Gonzalez, and Asian-Americans are now getting noticeably short-changed for admissions. From the beginning of his piece:

Is a public school system in a leafy county straddling the Capital Beltway discriminating against Asian Americans? The feds next door are investigating in a case with national implications, and with good reason: The type of racial balancing that Montgomery County Public Schools is using may well be illegal.

No one questions that the changes MCPS put into effect in 2016 have led to a sharp decline in Asian-American admissions to a middle-school magnet program. In 2016–2017 the drop was 23 percent; the following year it was 20 percent. The numbers for whites, Hispanics, and blacks went up. That in itself should satisfy those who always insist that policies that have a disparate impact on members of an identity group are suspect per se, and need to be reassessed.

And these students and their parents, with the help of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, have something more substantial than mere impact on their side. Though the district insists its new approach to admissions is color-blind, there is considerable evidence that the effort was in reality an attempt at “race norming,” which is unfair and illegal.

BONUS: Hollywood kowtows to Red China, which in all its nefariousness seems to never be cast in a bad-guy role in fare on the big and little (except for Bosch) screens. This is a terrific analysis by Michael Auslin. From the piece:

Even today, films and novels about evil Nazis, menacing Soviets, and perfidious Japanese are staples of popular culture. Think of The Man in the High Tower or Red Sparrow, neither of which plumb particularly deeply into the psyche of totalitarianism or the dark world of espionage. Yet in the 75 years since Adolf Hitler took the coward’s way out in his dank Berlin bunker, Nazis have never left our consciousness. And while sympathy for elements of the Soviet Union always tinged the perception of America’s elite, the Commies continue to receive a well-deserved bashing.

Beijing, however, has used its growing economic power to shape global public opinion through sophisticated propaganda operations and the blunt use of financial clout. Much of the work of scrubbing anti-Chinese images is done through the coordinating activities of the United Front Work Department. The department, which originated in the early 1940s and was revived in the late 1970s by Deng Xiaoping, reports directly to the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and is charged with building support for the CCP and by extension for China as a whole. Overseas Chinese communities, foreign journalists, and Chinese students and professors studying overseas are all targets of the United Front. It attempts to influence or even coerce them into promoting positive images of China and the Party, or to self-censor criticism. The role of state-funded Confucius Institutes in blocking criticism of China on U.S. and foreign university campuses is finally getting attention from Congress and security agencies.

Podcastapalooza
1. Belly up to the Barr: On the new episode of The Editors, Rich, Charlie, David, and Luke discuss the ridiculous clamor surrounding Bill Barr, the uproar over Trump’s taxes, and legalities around a social media crackdown. Strap on the headphones and get the wisdom here.

2. Assistant / Galley Slave Jack joins his boss on The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg to discuss rank punditry on Bill Barr, the Democratic field, and rank and pop-culture punditry on Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones. Catch the new episode here.

3. On the new episode of on The McCarthy Report, Andy and Rich discuss the possibility of Bill Barr being held in contempt, Robert Mueller’s reliance on the OLC guidance, and much more. Hear it here.

4. Even though it’s a play, King John, by one William Shakespeare, is the subject tackled by John J. Miller and Khalil Habib on the new episode of The Great Books. Prithee, uncle, get thee to thine earphones and heareth.

5. More JJM: He’s joined by Randy Boyagoda, the author of Original Prin, on the new episode of The Bookmonger. Catch it here.

6. On the new episode of Ordered Liberty, David and Alexandra take a look at the Democrats’ attacks on Bill Barr, give quick thoughts about Trump’s finances, ask the question, “If an unborn baby isn’t a human being, what is it?” and finish by exploring why Alexandra was tempted to sign a petition condemning David. Make way, wax: listen up here.

Lights. Cameras. Critics.
1. Kyle Smith likes Tolkien. But let’s not overdo it. From his review:

Filmed in the golden hues of fond memory, Tolkien, directed by Finland’s Dome Karukoski, is a pleasing if somewhat routine bildungsroman about the disturbingly Dickensian youth and happily Dickensian rise of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. The future novelist’s father died when he was a small child, and his mother when he was a teen. He and his brother Hilary were cast into a small group home, where young Ronald (sometimes known as John Ronald) meets a slightly older fellow orphan, Edith, at the piano. (At first she seems straight out of Great Expectations; even her name recalls that novel’s Estella.) Nicholas Hoult ably portrays the adult Ronald, albeit with sufficient English reserve that will make it challenging for moviegoers to warm to him, much less fall in love with him.

It’s taken for granted that we’re here for a bit of insight into The Lord of the Rings, but as with other movies about writers, Tolkien runs into the problem of how to translate into cinematic language the process of sitting at a desk and thinking. And as with other movies about writers, it relies heavily on “Here’s where he got the idea for that” moments. On the Somme, we’re meant to think, as Ronald surveys the wreckage of the battlefield: So this is where Mordor came from. This sort of thinking is reductionist and unfair to the work that goes into creating a novel, though, and much more so for one as huge as Tolkien’s quadrilogy. Millions of men fought in France but only one of them wrote The Lord of the Rings. Ultimately a film about imagination is likely to be frustrating if it sticks to approaching writers as being merely clever about observing and reappropriating elements from what they see around them rather than creating out of nothing.

2. Armond catches the French flick, Olivier Assayas’s Non-Fiction, and sees a lot of vapid MSM heinie-smoochery. Yuck. From the review:

Non-Fiction observes ruthless publishing-industry types. Editor Alain Danielson (Guillaume Canet) resents writer Léonard Spiegel (Vincent Macaigne) for intellectual differences and for having an ongoing affair with Alain’s actress wife, Selena (Juliette Binoche). Alain’s dalliance with bisexual digital techie Laure d’Angerville (Christa Théret) parallels the same envy and deceit. The French tradition of moral relativism echoes the current crisis in which personal satisfaction contradicts our purported principles — that is, how Millennials lie to themselves.

Given this theme, Non-Fiction is neither a fun sex farce, nor a serious one like Max Ophuls’s 1950 classic La Ronde or Whit Stillman’s 1998 The Last Days of Disco (in both films, STDs showed the price paid for communicable immorality). Non-Fiction’s celebration of dishonesty is compounded by IFC, the film’s American distributor, whose changed title for the film overlooks the hypocrisy implied by the film’s original French title: Doubles vies (Double Lives).

3. Professor Joseph Loconte knows a thing or two about Tolkien, and having seen Tolkien, well, let’s just say he found the movie wanting. From the review:

It is refreshing to see a film that takes up the theme of friendship, especially robust male friendship, which was so vital to Tolkien’s life and career. Tolkien (capably played by Nicholas Hoult) establishes a rich circle of friendships at the King Edward’s School in Birmingham. Together with Geoffrey Bache Smith, Christopher Wiseman, and Robert Gilson, the boys fashion a literary-artistic club with no mean purpose: to change the world.

Yet the film devotes more time to idle bantering and boozing than it does to the group’s literary and moral purposes. It also overlooks a crucial exchange: a meeting in December 1914, dubbed “the Council of London,” which was transformative for Tolkien. “In fact it was a council of life,” writes John Garth, author of the magisterial Tolkien and the Great War. The prospect of the trenches had a sobering effect. Late into the night they talked and debated — about love, literature, patriotism, and religion. It was at this moment, and among this fellowship, that Tolkien began to sense his literary calling. “For Tolkien, the weekend was a revelation,” Garth concludes, “and he came to regard it as a turning point in his creative life.”

If the film’s writers wanted to depict such a revelatory scene — which they don’t — it would have required familiarity with an ancient source of wisdom. We no longer appreciate how the educated classes of Tolkien’s generation were schooled in the classical and medieval literary traditions. From works such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Tolkien not only read the mythic and violent story of Rome’s beginnings, but also absorbed the concept of the noble and sacrificial quest. Indeed, probably the most influential work in Tolkien’s professional life was Beowulf, which he read as a young man and considered one of the greatest poems of English literature. Declares its epic hero: “Fate oft saveth a man not doomed to die, when his valour fails not.” Tolkien taught, translated, and studied the poem throughout his career.

4. More Armond and more Tolkien: He finds it pretentious and banal. From his review:

Most bio-pics that depict how famous people achieved success are sold as inspirational, but Tolkien avoids that cliché for another: It urges filmgoers to see Tolkien’s experiences (and perhaps their own) as the source for self-mythologizing flights of whimsy. His life is a mere pretext for transforming history into unreality.

The historical details of Tolkien’s poverty, social and religious influence, individual ambition, and military service during World War I are blended into evocations of Peter Jackson imagery. Finnish director Dome Karukoski and cinematographer Lasse Frank Johannessen are not fantasists, but they work in the deluxe mode of BBC realism that used to be identified with Miramax-style Anglophilia, a distinct brand of pretentious cultural fantasy. It set the fashion for indie-movie dogma that can be seen in the ways that Tolkien follows a liberal agenda: His private imagination is unrelated to any specific belief system; Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), the boarding house occupant he loves, is a budding feminist; and his Platonic friendship with Geoffrey Smith (Anthony Boyle) indicates open-minded sexual solidarity.

It’s all analogous to the Peter Jackson franchise, making each person a stand-in for Ring figures that fans can identify: Tolkien himself is a surrogate for Bilbo Baggins and Aragorn; Bratt, for Arwen; and Smith, for Sam. That fantasy world closes in on itself, but there’s something worse than this pop cannibalization: Tolkien’s near-death WWI experiences in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme structure the film’s flashbacks and flashforwards that subordinate everything to Ring legend. Giving priority to Peter Jackson’s blockbuster doesn’t make what Tolkien lived through profound; it distorts historical and cultural reality. On the battlefield, he envisions fire-breathing dragons as if emphasis on fantasy outweighed the experience of war itself.

5. Kyle explains why the world loves the Avengers. It’s got to do with loving America. From his essay:

Polls designed to reassure American progressives, in times of Republican presidencies, that “our image is suffering irreparable harm overseas” are really just measuring opinions about our national leadership, not our American nature. That essence doesn’t fluctuate with U.S. presidential results. It remains consistently impressive worldwide: Others admire our swagger, our friendliness, our purchasing power. During a period of what American liberals imagined must have been a difficult time for an American to be in France, I spent a lot of time in that country in the years following 9/11 and during the Iraq War and never experienced even the slightest hint of anti-American sentiment. If you want bitter animosity toward America, head for an American college campus, not France. For all of the Left’s yelping back home about anti-French propaganda and those fabled “freedom fries,” what gravely concerned the French was not Washington’s diplomatic problems with Paris but the steep drop-off in tourism after 9/11. The French love America because we come and spend our dollars there. America’s post-9/11 funk was their funk. When America sneezes, the world catches cold. The world is rooting for us.

Which brings me to The Avengers: Endgame, the world’s new favorite movie. It’s about to break the record for worldwide box-office gross (in nominal dollars, at least). The traits of the superhero all-star team are unmistakably American: Iron Man embodies America’s tech dynamism and Silicon Valley arrogance, Doctor Strange is the emblem of our amazing medical advances, and Black Panther personifies America’s long, fraught history of race animosity turned proud multiculturalism. When Tony Stark has some rude thoughts about Captain America’s derriere, Scott Lang corrects him: “As far as I’m concerned, that’s America’s ass.” Just so. Captain America has America’s ass. He’s also got America’s heart and his brawn, his impossible boy-scout goodness. What other country could give the world an equivalent to Captain America? Captain Ecuador? Captain Russia? Captain Azerbaijan? To a certain extent, James Bond is Captain England, but that example highlights the differences, doesn’t it? 007 is not a crusading knight. He is a cynic, not a choirboy. Bond is to Captain America what Humphrey Bogart is to James Stewart.

The Hulk, meanwhile, bears comparison to American foreign policy: Emotions can get the better of him. He doesn’t always think things through. When the Hulk does a lot of damage, though, it’s in the service of doing what’s right. He is a bit sloppy but he is also benevolent. You want him to be on your side, not to go away. The world would be less safe without him.

Eye Candy
1. In the new “Five Points” video, Rich Lowry explains the ridiculousness of the #AntiBarr campaign. Watch it here.

2. Seems like Columbia University has put on a play: There are character roles for Latinos and Palestinians, whites were cast for those roles, no Palestinians tried out . . . and snowflake outrage ensued. Kat Timpf calls them out. Watch it here.

3. Alexandra DeSanctis provides four arguments as to why your tax dollars shouldn’t go to Planned Parenthood. Watch the video.

4. More Kat: She hails the idea of kids running lemonade stands, without needing a government license to do so. Watch her video.

5. From Reason, I recommend this exceptional, award-winning video, which profiles the insane (or, evil) efforts by San Francisco’s lefty politicians to deprive people of their property rights. Watch it here.

The Six
1. Daniel Mahoney pens a brilliant Modern Age essay reflecting on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s writings — in The Gulag Archipelago — about politics the ascent of the soul. From the essay:

In the end, Solzhenitsyn brings together two imperatives: that of moral self-limitation and that of humane self-government. Unlike Tolstoy, who lived in a comparatively free country in the last periods of tsarist rule, Solzhenitsyn did not believe that “only moral self-improvement was necessary.” As he argues in volume 3, part 1, chapter 4 of The Gulag Archipelago, for beings with bodies as well as souls, political liberty matters, too. It is not the ultimate meaning of human existence, but it is “the first step,” a crucial prerequisite for avoiding a fundamental assault on the dignity of human persons. Without political liberty, human beings cannot breathe freely, nor can they exercise the arts of intelligence (and moral judgment) that are at the heart of our humanity.

In the last twenty-five years of his life, Solzhenitsyn became an eloquent partisan of democratic self-government, especially at the local level. He thought it indispensable for developing the civic and moral virtues of a free people. He did not want Russia simply to copy Western democracy, especially in its decayed, relativistic, late-modern forms. But he admired the cantonal and local liberties he saw at work in Switzerland and Vermont during his twenty years of Western exile. In his memoir of his years in the West, Between Two Millstones, Solzhenitsyn provides a moving description of the vigorous and morally serious self-government he saw at work in the Swiss Catholic half-canton of Appenzell in April 1975. It might be said that he admired the hardy “republican” spirit that he saw at work there. This kind of democracy “filled him with respect,” and he hoped it could provide an inspiration for the renewal of local and provincial civic forms in Russia itself. Solzhenitsyn also strikingly noted that the Swiss Confederation is the oldest extant democracy on earth, dating from 1291, and that “it did not spring from the ideas of the Enlightenment, but directly from ancient forms of political life.” Unlike left-liberals in the West, Solzhenitsyn does not identify self-government, or political democracy, exclusively with the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

2. In the new issue of Claremont Review of Books, Joseph Epstein catalogs the march of political correctness’s menace in American culture. From the essay:

If political correctness had stopped at the request for civil behavior, there would have been no difficulty in acceding to it. If homosexual men wish to be called “gay,” if blacks wish to be called “African-American,” if women prefer “Ms.” over “Mrs.” and “Miss,” there would be no problem whatsoever. But the program inherent in political correctness has evolved into something much more ambitious than that. In its current phase, it is revolutionary, seeking a utopia of complete fairness in all institutions—educational, cultural, political—which in its advocates’ interpretation means utter equality for all, excluding only those who violate political correctness’s underlying assumptions and well-known restrictions.

Political correctness attacks all that it finds discriminatory in public and social life. Any perceived discrimination against women, African Americans, or other victim groups is no longer to be tolerated. Nor, of course, should it be, but under the attack of political correctness more than mere discrimination is under attack. The least perceived differences between individuals and groups, whether inherent or acquired through upbringing, are for now to be ignored in order that they may ultimately be eradicated. Political correctness doesn’t allow leeway for differences in intelligence, talent, or strength. Not equal opportunities but equal outcomes are its monomaniacal goal, and it is not overly concerned about the punishing means required to achieve it.

3. At The Federalist, Ben Weingarten draws attention to the new documentary, “One Child Nation,” on the unspeakable barbarity of Red China’s butchering, murderous family-planning program. From his piece:

Students of history right up to present-day Venezuela know that economic central planning inevitably results in poverty and misery. A harrowing new documentary on China’s one-child policy shows that this rule holds true for familial central planning as well — but in the case of parents and their children, the devastation extends far beyond the material to the moral and spiritual realm. “One Child Nation,” a Sundance-winning film coming to select theaters this summer, asks us to stare this man-caused disaster in the face before the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) whitewashes it away.

The film is the work of two Chinese filmmakers, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, who were born in the 1980s near the dawn of the policy. “One Child Nation” is a story of life and loss, brainwashing and corruption, and man’s capacity to engage in unimaginable cruelty at the point of a government gun. It is a story in which human traffickers represent some of the only protagonists, saving the lives of babies otherwise left for dead in marketplaces and on roadsides, lest their parents face the wrath of the authorities.

4. At Gatestone Institute, Alan Dershowitz lays into Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for her victim-blaming response to Hamas attacks on Israel. From his piece:

These deaths and injuries were caused by the tactic employed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad: they deliberately place their rocket launchers in densely populated areas — near schools, hospitals and mosques — in a deliberate effort to maximize Arab civilian casualties. This has been called “the dead baby” or “CNN” strategy. The goal is to have CNN and other media show the children and other civilians that Israeli counter-measures have inadvertently killed in trying to stop the terrorist rockets from killing Israeli children and other civilians.

Tragically, this strategy works, because with the media, “if it bleeds, it leads.” The visual media loves to show dead and injured children, without explaining that they are actually encouraging such casualties by playing into the hands of the terrorists.

So, too, is Congresswoman Ilhan Omar encouraging the firing of rockets by Hamas and Islamic Jihad by blaming the Israeli victims for what she calls the “cycle of violence,” instead of blaming Hamas and Islamic Jihad for initiating terrorist violence against innocent Israeli civilians.

In a tweet following the rocket barrage, Omar justifies the double war crimes committed by terrorists who target Israeli civilians while using Palestinian civilians as human shields. She asks rhetorically, how many “rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends?” This implies that these war crimes are justified by what she calls the “occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”

5. The College Fix’s Graham Piro assembles an expansive list of colleges which have taken down artwork and statues lest they melt snowflakes. From his article:

But beyond Confederate controversies, two consistent themes concern the depiction of African Americans and Native Americans, and how prominent figures in American history are portrayed.

Notre Dame recently made headlines for the school’s decision to cover up murals of Christopher Columbus on campus. The movement to get the murals covered began in earnest in 2017, when more than 340 members of the school’s community signed a letter asking the university’s president Rev. John Jenkins to censor the murals. Jenkins agreed.

“Whatever else Columbus’s arrival brought, for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions,” Jenkins said of Columbus’s legacy, adding that the explorer’s arrival was a catastrophe for native people.

Pepperdine University removed a statue of Columbus in early 2017 in the face of calls to remove the explorer from campus. As a compromise, the school said that the statue would be moved to the school’s campus in Florence, Italy. Despite multiple inquiries by The College Fix, university officials refuse to say whether the statue has been set up, as promised, at its new location. For now, the statue looks like it’s been wiped off the map.

6. At Commentary, Christine Rosen delves into women’s sports getting . . . neutered? . . . by de facto, testosterone-fortified men competing (and winning, bigly). From her report:

And they are dominating their chosen sport. The same week the court ruled against Semenya, a trans woman in the U.S. named Mary Gregory broke records for women’s deadlift, bench press, and squat, as well as scoring a Masters world total record in powerlifting. As former Olympic athlete Sharron Davis tweeted, “This is a trans woman a male body with male physiology setting a world record & winning a woman’s event in America in powerlifting. A woman with female biology cannot compete . . . it’s a pointless unfair playing field.”

In Connecticut, as the Daily Signal’s Kelsey Bolar found, born-female athletes in high school are losing competitive spots (and college scholarship opportunities) to trans women. The state is one of 17 that allow trans women to compete against biologically female athletes. The first and second place winners of Connecticut’s statewide indoor track championships last year (who went on to compete in the New England regional competition) were both trans women, and their victories cost two born-female athletes a slot at the regional competition.

One athlete willing to criticize Connecticut’s new reality told Bolar that, even though many female athletes and their parents are upset that born-male athletes are being allowed to compete against women, “Everyone is afraid of retaliation from the media, from the kids around their school, from other athletes, coaches, schools, administrators.” The athlete continued: “They don’t want to draw attention to themselves, and they don’t want to be seen as a target for potential bullying and threats.” It’s a realistic (if disheartening) concern, as tennis legend Martina Navratilova discovered when she challenged trans orthodoxy on female sports. The impact on female athletics of the Democratic-sponsored Equality Act, which would add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, became a flashpoint during hearings about the bill in April.

Baseballery
We note today, especially today, two professionals. One from ancient days: Mother Watson. His real name was “Walter L. Watson,” and in 1887 he appeared in three games for the second-place Cincinnati Red Stockings in ye olde America Association. Mother pitched in two of those games, stinking up the joint by giving up 18 runs (9 earned) in 14 innings. He left the Big Leagues for good, after one stint in the outfield, with an 0–1 record and a .125 batting average. Mother died on Election Day in 1898: Shot dead in a barroom brawl, he was only 33. Why “Mother?” The definitive explanation is lost, but some say it had to do with him being virtuous — which doesn’t mesh too well with Watson’s place and manner of expiration.

Not a Mother, but a mother’s mother: We also take note of Johnny “Grandma” Murphy, the Bronx-born three-time All Star who was one of the MLB’s first acknowledged ace relievers. Murphy led the AL in saves four times, and compiled a career 93–53 record, playing 12 of his 13 seasons for the Yankees (his last turn was in 1948 with the Red Sox). Murphy appeared in six World Series for the Yanks — they won every one (Grandma was 2–0 with four saves and a 1.10 ERA in eight Fall Classic appearances). He died of a heart attack in 1970, months after his Amazing Mets (he became the team’s GM in 1967) famously won the World Series. As for the nickname: Grandma’s teammates said the fastidious hurler constantly complained like an old lady.

A Dios
Should I repeat what I did last year — acknowledge that my dear mother has, in Yours Truly, a terrible son? Even though that is true, some tipped-off relation intensely agreed that indeed I was a terrible son, but that my admission of such was insufficient of said terribleness. Would it matter if I acknowledged I am in fact a terribly terrible son? Consider it done! Not that a fire and brimstone email won’t arrive.

Regardless, love you mom, thanks for having me, for your prayers (daily communicant!), for loving me, and even more so, loving Mrs. Yours Truly and our children. And thanks especially for being there that time #5 made his final weeks in utero a thriller. God bless all mothers, biological, spiritual, adoptive, fostering.

His Graces on You and Yours,

Jack Fowler

Whose picture could one day appear next to “terrible” in the dictionary, and who can be sent your diatribes and accusations at jfowler@nationalreview.com.

P.S.: Ah yes, the promised Gran’s Recipe. A few weeks back, on Palm Sunday, I reminisced about my youth, and how on that day my grandmother would make a special dish, pronounced spitsad. Little did I know Cousin Mikey is a fan of this epistle, and an email conversation among cousins ensued and resulted in Sweet Sue sending snapshots of the actual recipe (in Gran’s all-caps handwriting) for Spizzato. I promised to share it, minus family complaints. None came (a miracle!) so it follows. You’ll probably get it right on the third or fourth attempt. But when you do, mamma mia!

Ab’t 2 lbs lamb, not too small pieces

Ab’t 3 lbs dandelions or chickory

Ab’t 9 eggs or enough to cover . . . with cheese (likely plenty of grated parmesan), parsley, pepper beat well

 

Fry meat until brown add water and let cook (same as stew)

Cook dandelions save water

Place meat in roasting pan

Spread veg(etables) add some of water, enough so that eggs will cook

Bake in 375 over until egg is settled

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