Dear Weekend Jolter,
It might come to that. To Uncle Sam or his Cousin Columbia telling you what you can and cannot say (next comes . . . think!). Folks, I kid you not, the First Amendment is under duress, under assault, from determined punks and jackasses who think the Constitution is nothing more than fading ink on a piece of old, dead tree. Its words, its utterances, its protections — these are the things and thoughts of dead slaveholders.
Rights? Yes, we have them, but they are of the Piehole-Shuttage variety. More akin to Miranda than anything James Madison promulgated. Leftists are Heck-bent to prevent you (yes, you) from sprechen die conservative. The manifestation of this is found in National Review v. Mann, which may be headed to the Supreme Court. We’ll know in early November if SCOTUS will take up this pressing case, about which you can be briefed here.
Here’s the message, and the ask: NR is defending itself against this amazingly funded leftist assault — and in doing this NR is also defending your right to free speech. This prompts us to ask our besties and BFFs to sing a song of sixpence — well, since that might only be worth 50 cents US, think 100 or even 1,000 times sixpence.
Our 2019 Fall Webathon seeks to raise general funds, much of which will be allocated to our legal costs in National Review v. Mann. The drive’s goal is to raise $275,000. So far, over 1,600 people have contributed a total surpassing $165,000. God bless each and every one of them. But we could use double that number, frankly. Which is where you come in.
Before you get to all the goodies below with which this missive will thrill you, I ask, directly: Make a contribution. Especially if you have been an NR — I think the correct term is junkie — all these years, your uneasy conscience uneasily sidestepping these twice-yearly appeals, knowing down deep, and not so deep, that NRO is functioning because good people have made it a cause and provided material relief, which in turn has made your ability to enjoy NRO a reality.
That in turn makes you know, down deep, and not so deep, that the right thing to do is to follow their lead and example and make a donation. Shall we say, finally? We shall. Do that here. Don’t do that . . . here. Whatever you do or don’t do, God bless. Now, away we go . . .
1. The Syria pull-out, empowering Turkey madman Erdogan, was an ignominious retreat, engineered for President Trump. From our editorial:
The process was atrocious. Trump didn’t consult with the military and foreign-policy professionals around him or those on the ground, leading to a chaotic U.S. response as events unfolded. More important, cutting loose the Kurds who had recently sacrificed so much to be our front-line fighters in the successful campaign against the ISIS caliphate was dishonorable. Turkish and Turkish-allied forces immediately pushed civilians from border areas and engaged in atrocities, most notably the assassination of the Kurdish politician and activist Hevrin Khalaf.
The defenses made of Trump’s pullback don’t hold up very well. One is that we only had about 100 troops on the Turkish border, not enough to stop an invasion. True, but such minimal trip-wire forces have stayed the hand of much more formidable adversaries, namely the Eastern Bloc at the Berlin Wall and North Korea on the DMZ. Another is that Turkey is a NATO ally that we didn’t want to skirmish with on the ground. Yes, but this logic would have acted even more powerfully on Turkey, which would have had much more to lose if it killed any of our troops. The fact is that Trump could have held the Turks back if he hadn’t been motivated by a long-standing desire to begin liquidating our commitments in the Middle East — even the smallest, safest, and most useful commitments.
Baker, One of Your Dozens Please, Tasty and Hot and Covered with Sprinkles and Pleasing to the Conservative Palate!
1. As if problems on the Number 7 train aren’t enough, Bernie came to Queens on Saturday. Kyle Smith profiles his Weekend at Bernie’s Rally. From the piece:
Sanders’s speech was characteristically Sandernista stuff: Droning, badgering, meandering, enervating, needlessly, endlessly long. Sanders is the kind of guy who could promise every American free Netflix for life and still make it sound like a shut-up-and-take-your-medicine speech. The man is pure Castro oil. As his brillo-pad-on-sandpaper voice flayed the eardrums, the Bernie signs drooped. Even his most ardent fans looked at each other like they were ankle-deep in a bear trap. Whether Sanders was being uselessly vague (“Our legislation. Will hold. The fossil-fuel industry. Accountable.”) or issuing absurdly unrealistic blue-sky promises (“Our program will eliminate homelessness in America!”), he sounded completely irrelevant to 2019. Five years older than the oldest Baby Boomer, already ten years past the average life expectancy of a man born in 1941, he is not the man to lead America through the 2020s. He’s the man at the deli who wants his tuna-on-rye special RETOASTED, THE RIGHT WAY THIS TIME.
To give some sense of how detached from actual American reality Bernie Sanders sounded, one of his introducers was the beach-ball-shaped remnant of the Beach Boys era Michael Moore, who made multiple references to Franklin Roosevelt as if the 3.7 percent unemployment rate and roughly 50 percent bump in the stock market since Donald Trump was elected mean that it’s 1932 again. “They say Bernie’s too old,” Moore bellowed. “Oh yeah? Well, here’s what’s too old: The electoral college is too old!” Sick burn, Mike. Any bets on which of those two old things lasts longer?
Moore at least stayed on message, unlike Tiffany Cabán, the “queer, Latina” (her words) who narrowly lost the Queens D.A. race last year and on Saturday declined to indulge the crowd when it chanted, “You were robbed!” Cabán’s parents grew up in a socialist wonderland: New York City public housing. As the Bernie rally was staged right across the street from the largest public-housing project in the Western Hemisphere, the Woodbridge Houses, the attempted messaging was muddled. The New York City Housing Authority, dreamed up by liberals and socialists and run by them more or less continuously ever since, has been so poorly managed by the Che Guevara-quoting mayor of New York City that a judge turned over management of it to . . . the administration of Donald J. Trump. An examplar to the world, it is not. Just ask Cabán! “My parents,” she said, “grew up in public housing in the Woodside Houses [nearby in Queens]. . . . They grew up with mold, chipping paint, asbestos, crumbling ceilings, nameless serious health risks, and my parents had to live with it. . . . Early on our family learned that government didn’t really care about us.” Do go on about why we need more of it, then.
2. Kevin Williamson argues that Elizabeth Warren would treat the wealthy like penned-in sheep, there to be milked and shorn. Ewe are going to want to read this. From the piece:
The class-warfare dreams of the American Left do not have a great deal to do with its professed desire to build a Scandinavian-style welfare state here. The U.S. tax system already is much more progressive than is typical of Europe, including the Scandinavian countries, and by some measures is the most progressive in the developed world. The northern-European welfare states do not differ markedly from the United States in how they tax the wealthy; they differ in that they also tax the middle classes heavily, which the United States does not. There is in fact much about the Swedish tax regime that a billionaire might prefer: There is no inheritance tax, no gift tax, very little property tax (it is capped at about $800 a year), relatively low and straightforwardly administered business taxes, etc. Because Sweden is well-governed, it treats its tax regime as a question of revenue rather than a question of so-called social justice, which is why the inheritance and gift taxes so beloved among American class warriors were scrapped: They generated practically no revenue (about 0.2 percent of total tax income), they were difficult to administer, and they created all sorts of perverse incentives that were not in Sweden’s long-term social interest. And so it is no more: That is how intelligently administered countries do things.
But not the United States.
The basic tax situation is similar in the United States, with inheritance taxes producing barely measurable federal revenue, about one-half of 1 percent of the total. They are of very little concern to most families, but they are of intense concern to a few families with lots of property, often in the form of a business. These families will sometimes take extraordinary steps to avoid paying the tax, though many of those near the threshold for paying the estate tax stay under by relying on the simpler alternative of maxing out their allowance of tax-free gifts to children, children’s spouses, grandchildren, etc., every year for the last several decades of their lives. That won’t do much for the hectomillionaire and billionaire set, but they have options, too.
3. Roman Catholicism continues its Francis-led free-fall, says Dan Hitchens. From the piece:
In the last 48 hours there have been two big Vatican stories. First, revelations about the Holy See’s financial crisis; second, and more bizarrely, a furious dispute over statues being thrown into the Tiber. But really it’s all one story, the big story of contemporary Catholicism: a disastrous failure of leadership at the top of the Church.
Vatican finances may not usually be a subject to set the pulse racing, but the last month has been dramatic: Vatican police raided offices and confiscated computers, after finding — to quote a leaked search decree — “serious indications of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of office, money-laundering, and self-laundering.” Other leaks suggested that as much as $560 million of Catholics’ donations to the Vatican were invested in speculative deals that Vatican investigators described as “reckless.” The pattern, even at this early stage of the inquiry, is familiar: The faithful have trusted a leadership class that has done little to deserve their trust.
Indeed, donations are already falling — partly because of the abuse crisis, where once again the Vatican has been less than transparent. In 2017 it emerged that Pope Francis had reduced sanctions against some abusers. Then last year, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the U.S. made a set of spectacular accusations, claiming there had been a concerted effort, featuring many senior figures up to and including the pope, to protect Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from numerous allegations of abuse. A letter from the Catholic Women’s Forum, bearing almost 50,000 signatures, asked for a Vatican response to the ambassador’s claims. None came.
Silence and confusion have recently become Vatican trademarks, not least where doctrinal questions are concerned. For instance, an ambiguous papal document was used to claim that the Church now blesses divorce and remarriage; instead of clarifying that the Church could never do so, the Vatican allowed the confusion to grow, and when the pope did speak, he piled ambiguity on ambiguity.
4. President Pence? Rich Lowry calls out the idiocy. From the column:
A lot of Trump supporters are going to want to blame the Republican establishment even if Trump loses in 2020 with the backing of the united party apparatus. Imagine what they will think if a couple of dozen Republican senators decide to deny him the opportunity to run for reelection, without a single voter having a say on his ultimate fate. It’s hard to come up with any scenario better designed to stoke the populist furies of Trump’s most devoted voters.
Trump himself isn’t going to get convicted by the Senate and say: “Well, I’m a little disappointed, to be honest. But it was a close call, and Mike Pence is a great guy, and I’m just grateful I had the opportunity to serve in the White House for more than three years.”
He won’t go away quietly to lick his wounds. He won’t delete his Twitter account. He won’t make it easy on anyone. He will vent his anger and resentment at every opportunity. It will be “human scum” every single day.
And it’s not as though the media are going to lose their interest in the most luridly telegenic politician that we’ve ever seen. The mainstream press would be delighted to see Trump destroyed, yet sad to bid him farewell. The obvious way to square the circle would be to continue to give Trump lavish coverage in his post-presidency. He’d be out of the White House but still driving screaming CNN chyrons every other hour.
In other words, Trump’s removal wouldn’t be a fresh start for Pence and the GOP; it would be more like getting stuck in the poisonous epilogue of the Trump era, awaiting the inevitable advent of the Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, or Pete Buttigieg era.
5. Brexit madness prompts Dan McLaughlin to deep dive into UK’s history of political coalitions. From the piece:
All political coalitions evolve naturally over time; issues come and go, and so do constituencies. But it can be perilous to change a party’s stripes too abruptly. For a political party or movement, there’s both an identity and a community formed from the combination of the voters it pursues, its positions on issues, the nature of its leadership, and the way it presents itself to the public. It is always easier to kick out politicians and chase away voters than it is to bring new supporters into the community and develop new leaders with a new identity. The experience of the British Tories in the mid 19th century offers a vivid illustration, one that carries cautions for today’s conservative parties, from American Republicans to the Conservative party of today’s U.K.
The British Parliament before 1832 was in only the vaguest sense a democratic or representative institution. High property-owning thresholds for voting, unevenly distributed districts, and the division of power between the elected House of Commons and the hereditary House of Lords all combined to dilute its democratic character. Still, from the time it began meeting regularly in the early 1700s, Parliament was a legislature with two principal factions — the Tories and the Whigs — that had distinct constituencies and points of view.
The Whigs, as defenders of parliamentary prerogatives against the throne, were the dominant faction for the bulk of the 1700s, but by the end of the American Revolution, the Tories had surpassed them. Between 1783 and 1830, including the entire quarter-century of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath, the Tories ran every ministry but one, in a unity government that lasted barely a year. The prestige of wartime leadership attached to men such as William Pitt the Younger, and war heroism to the Duke of Wellington. Their status as a long-governing majority party fostered a diversity of views within the party, elevating men such as George Canning and Robert Peel who were not orthodox Tories.
6. Mark Mills says the Nobel Committee has batteries on the brain. From the analysis:
Today, Asian nations are furiously building new battery factories, with a forecast 400 percent increase in output within the decade. But even that still won’t dent humanity’s energy=storage needs, not even if we limit our focus to cars and grids, which account for roughly half of all energy use. And that says nothing about costs.
Using today’s Nobel-class lithium magic, it still costs over 100 times more to store energy in a battery than it costs to store the same amount of energy as natural gas or oil. Even a twofold improvement in lithium technology won’t come close to closing that cost gap and bring us any closer to a “rechargeable” and “fossil fuel-free” world.
Storing consumables — for weeks, not just a few days — has been central to civilization since pre-history, whether it’s water, materials, food, or fuel. Most are easy to store, but not so electricity. Electrons, as one may recall from high-school physics, are like-charged and vigorously repel each other. Clever physics and engineering are required to convince huge quantities of electrons to “cohabit.”
Innovators have been trying, since ancient times, to “catch lightning in a bottle” — an expression attributed to Benjamin Franklin. While archaeologists at the Baghdad Museum discovered a Mesopotamian battery dated to 250 b.c., the modern battery dates to 1800 (Italian physicist Alessandro Volta) and to 1859 with the lead-acid battery (French physicist Gaston Planté). The 1970s discovery of a lithium option (by a physicist and two chemists) was a huge leap, but far from enough to meet planetary aspirations.
7. Victor Davis Hanson finds America is engaged in an untenable alliance with Turkey, the pal of so many of our enemies. From the column:
Under Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has become NATO’s only non-democratic nation. It’s also NATO’s only Muslim-majority member. Erdogan has been trying to re-create Turkey as a new Ottoman imperial power. He feels no allegiance to Western-style democracy.
During the Obama administration, Erdogan snubbed the obsequious American attempts to promote Turkey as the cornerstone of America’s Middle East policy. President Trump should remember that and perhaps reconsider his own sometimes appeasing outreach to Erdogan.
Turkey opposes, if not detests, almost every American ally in the region, and befriends almost every U.S. enemy.
It despises Israel, aids its enemies and hopes for its dissolution. Turkey is currently attacking the U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria. It works against the pro-American Sisi regime in Egypt. Turkish violations of Greek airspace in the Aegean are a common occurrence, as are aggressive simulated attacks on Greek aircraft.
8. Jon Lerner argues that troop presence does not translate to “endless war.” From the analysis:
We keep troops in Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Cuba, and the Persian Gulf region for a reason. It is not to prolong “endless wars” that are in no sense actual wars. It is to protect American interests in preventing future wars.
What about Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan?
We have roughly a thousand troops in Syria, about the same as in Cuba. It’s true that there is active combat in Syria, but it hasn’t much involved Americans. In the entire eight-year Syrian civil war, there have been a total of eight American service deaths. While even one death is tragic, more U.S. troops are killed in training accidents every year than in our entire time in Syria. This low level of U.S. participation doesn’t seem to fit the “endless war” thesis any more than our presence in Cuba does.
Beginning in 2003, we had a major war in Iraq. There have been over 4,500 U.S. military deaths in Iraq. Of those, 81, or fewer than 2 percent, occurred in the last seven years. The U.S. troop level in Iraq peaked at 166,000. Today, it’s around 5,000. So, if our presence in Iraq constitutes an “endless war,” then we are 97 percent of the way toward ending it.
Afghanistan might be a clearer example of an “endless war.”
9. John Hirschauer writes about Kentucky’s crazy and dangerous law regarding those “incompetent” to stand trial. From the beginning of the report:
In February of this year, Cane Madden of Kentucky was released after allegedly sexually assaulting a woman. Per arrest records, Madden was accused of biting the victim and “removing a large chunk of [her] face.”
Face-ripping is the sort of behavior that you imagine wouldn’t elude the grasp of the prosecutor’s office. Not, it seems, in Kentucky.
Madden was arrested — his sixth arrest, with a rap sheet including burglary, assault, and threatening to kill a child — but soon after his arrest, a clearly deranged Madden was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC), the state’s competency restoration facility, for the entirety of the 30 days allowed by statute. Still unable to aid in his own defense at the end of 30 days, Madden was placed by Judge Annie O’Connell on an additional 60-day hold, the longest extension permitted by Kentucky law.
The 60-day extension came and went, and Madden was still unable to stand trial. Judge O’Connell said, since he was “unlikely to regain competency in the foreseeable future,” the sexual assault charges against him would be dropped. The burden then fell on the prosecution to civilly commit Madden —an obvious danger to the community — to one of Kentucky’s psychiatric hospitals for treatment. They succeeded.
Later, however, the hospital released Madden, insisting it had no legal standing to hold him. Why? He didn’t meet the state’s strict standards for involuntary commitment.
10. Daniel Tenreiro reads Andrew McAfee’s More from Less and concludes that yep, capitalism will save the world. From the review:
Last month, Greta Thunberg, the Messiah of the environmental movement, told delegates at the United Nations Climate Summit that addressing climate change was at odds with “fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” This view is not confined to teenage protesters. The same case was made in a 2017 New York Times opinion piece titled “The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid.” Prominent thinkers such as Naomi Klein and George Monbiot have spent years arguing that free enterprise and environmental protection are fundamentally incompatible. Indeed, recent policy proposals such as the Green New Deal concede as much. Rather than curbing pollution, climate activists have set their sights on the capitalist system as a whole.
But they’re wrong, says MIT research scientist Andrew McAfee. In his new book, More from Less, he details how decreasing resource usage has coincided with economic growth. Until roughly 1970, American GDP grew in lockstep with energy consumption. Increasing output required more raw inputs, thereby harming the environment. However, since 1970 — and, coincidentally, the inaugural Earth Day — economic growth and resource usage have decoupled entirely. Whereas real GDP has nearly quadrupled, energy consumption has barely budged.
This is the result of a process McAfee calls “dematerialization,” which refers to two general phenomena. First, goods require less raw material. Aluminum soda cans, for example, have decreased in weight from 85 grams in 1996 to 12.75 grams in 2011. Buildings and cars have also gotten lighter. Second, and more significant, technological advances obviate the need for increased material output. In the 1990s, the features now available in a smartphone would have required numerous distinct gadgets (e.g., camera, calculator, clock radio, tape recorder). Now, an eight-ounce handheld device suffices. As a result, American consumption of steel, copper, fertilizer, timber, and paper has decreased — not just per capita but in absolute terms. As we get richer, we consume less.
11. Armond White says a lousy civics lesson is in store for those who see Black and Blue. From the review:
Every scene of Black and Blue teaches a progressive civics lesson. Example: The film begins with rookie New Orleans cop Alicia West (Naomie Harris) jogging-while-black when she is stopped by white patrolmen who are stunned to discover: “She’s blue!”
West’s harassment and the suspicion of her are the point of this scene and of the entire film, which exploits public distrust of police — and even distrust by one of their own. The background of black cops’ social expectation and racial indoctrination, detailed by Charles Burnett in The Glass Shield (1994), is ignored.
Set in a post–Hurricane Katrina New Orleans of dilapidated, still-unrenovated neighborhoods — the result of natural catastrophe, local ineptitude, and government corruption — Black and Blue bruises the image of modern urban America. In addition to furthering the bad reputation that cops have suffered since the 2014 Ferguson protests, the film perpetuates civilian negativity. It’s a thriller that sells cynicism: skepticism as entertainment.
Heroine West is an Afghanistan war veteran who came home and joined the force, looking for a purpose. (“I want to help,” she explains. “Food banks and inner-city programs help,” she is told.) West’s ideals are shaken when she discovers systemic corruption among a squad of narcs. The only new gimmick is that West’s body cam — standard issue after Obama’s response to Ferguson — records dirty cops executing several black drug dealers. This ignites a subplot in which West’s former disenfranchised homies also turn against her. Behaving like enraged activists, the lawless New Orleans blacks fight against the cops, leaving West in the lurch. Is she more blue than she is black.
12. Next month the voters in Washington State will face a referendum on racial preferences in government. Heather Mac Donald has the down-lo on the confusing choice voters have. From the article:
Voting in Washington has begun on a ballot initiative to overturn that state’s ban on racial preferences in government. Voters outlawed racial preferences in 1998, as part of a mini-wave of eight such state initiatives, led by California anti-preference crusader Ward Connerly in the 1990s. The momentum behind that push for color-blindness in government has long since petered out, as identity politics became ascendant. The advocates of race-neutral government hiring, contracting, and college admissions are now on the defensive, fighting relentless efforts to undo their work.
In April 2019, the Washington state legislature hurriedly passed Initiative 1000 to bring preferences back into government policy. Now voters are facing a confusing choice. Though the referendum currently before them, Referendum 88, was instigated by racial-preference opponents, overwhelmingly Asian, to overturn Initiative 1000, a yes on the referendum would confirm passage of Initiative 1000 and reinstate preferences, and a no vote would preserve the pre-Initiative 1000 color-blind status quo.
Initiative 1000 has adopted the specious rhetoric of “holistic” college admissions, rhetoric that the Supreme Court, to its discredit as a supposedly rational jurisprudential body, has embraced. Race cannot be the “sole qualifying factor” in awarding or denying a public benefit, according to the initiative. This requirement allegedly prevents racial preferences from turning into quotas. These are the same claims made on behalf of “holistic admissions,” a supposedly real and definable practice that is meant to keep racial admissions preferences constitutional by avoiding a quota system. We are supposed to believe that admissions offices in a “holistic” regime make highly individualized decisions about applicants that award only the slightest “tip” to candidates on the basis of race. We are supposed to believe that the admissions office has NO idea what number of minorities it is shooting for, even though the racial percentages of any class remain stable from year to year, as was shown in the ongoing litigation over Harvard’s racial preferences.
13. Senators Chuck Grassley and Bill Cassidy believe there is a way to make pharmaceutical prices more affordable. From the piece:
The drug Duexis is an example of this. Duexis is a combination of famotidine (trade name Pepcid) and ibuprofen (Motrin). A 90-day supply of over-the-counter Pepcid costs approximately $20, and 100 tablets of Motrin cost approximately $12. Yet when these two are combined into the drug Duexis, the price rises to approximately $2,600 for a 90-day supply. Congress must ensure that regulators of the industry use the proper metrics when determining what constitutes innovation.
The status quo presents too many opportunities for manufacturers to game the system. Until Congress acted at the end of September, manufacturers could introduce “authorized generics” — drugs that are produced and sold bnby the same manufacturer as the brand-name drug — to the market in a way that reduced the amount of money they were required to rebate back to Medicaid programs. This practice ripped off taxpayers and kept prices artificially high. In the funding bill passed at the end of September, Congress included a portion of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA) to end this practice.
The trick is to rein in gimmicks and abuses while maintaining incentives for true innovation that advances science and leads to discovery of new cures. There mustn be a system that facilitates breakthrough treatments and miracle cures, but it needs to be sustainable for patients and taxpayers.
PDPRA, which passed the Senate Finance Committee in July, begins to restore the balance between incentivizing new drugs and returning true market forces to protect the interests of patients and taxpayers. Too oftennn we see the same drug receive year-after-year, double-digit price increases without the justification of innovation, shortages, or other market forces. No matter how high the cost arbitrarily increases, Medicare pays the bill. By requiring manufacturers to rebate the increased amount by which drugs covered under Medicare Part D exceed the rate of inflation, we protect taxpayers from bad actors exploiting Medicare and taxpayers. Manufacturers can still set the price at the amount they want, but the taxpayer will not automatically pick up the tab.
Excerpts of Some Great Forthcoming Books Are Front and Center in the New November 11, 2019 Issue of National Review.
Served up here are four tempting selections from the new issue. What more does one need to say?
The book wades into four thorny issues—“gay,” “women,” “race,” and “trans”—marking new territory for the author, whose last book was about Islam and immigration. No tidy resolutions are found in its pages. Rather there are questions—precisely the right questions—giving the reader permission to think, without telling her what to think. “I hope that this book will help clear some terrain across which afterwards other people may more safely pass,” he explains in his introduction, invoking as a metaphor the Great Viper, a mine-clearing device used by the British army during the Second World War.
Our culture is a much longer, more sprawling river than is often imagined. Murray treks upstream to the polluted waters of contemporary philosophy, before heading back down to pop culture’s shallower pools. Near the source of these waters, Murray discovers Foucault’s “perverse” and “dishonest” obsession with power, as well as his disregard for charity and forgiveness. He finds latent Marxism, its anti-capitalist formula applied to new structures of “privilege,” ones that relate to identity. The new formula insists that “the power of the patriarchal white males must be taken away and shared around more fairly with the relevant minority groups.”
In the academy, Murray encounters deconstructionists—perhaps more accurately labeled destructionists—and, nearby, social constructionists and others who have breathed life into some staggeringly mad ideas (e.g., that gender is entirely a “performance” untethered to biology). The new “disciplines” are fool’s gold. Queer studies, black studies, gender studies, whiteness studies—all explore new “interlocking oppressions.” Murray observes wryly that no accompanying “map of utopia” has ever been (or, presumably, ever will be) provided. So what do we nourish ourselves with in the meantime, while awaiting salvation? Shame, anger, confusion, and despair— all force-fed to the young, whom the author advises us to pity. The absurd cannot be explained
This is the golden age of the SUV. The truly modern American SUV appeared in 1984 with the introduction of the Jeep Cherokee, which was preceded by the more straightforwardly truckish Ford Bronco and Chevy Blazer, among others, but the species’ genetic antecedents go back much further than that. Like wristwatches and khaki pants, the SUV has its origins in the military, which is probably why it still remains associated with a little jolt of virile swag, even as its main purpose is cocooning suburban mommies in aluminum and steel as they fetch a load of 2 percent and Honey Nut Cheerios from Albertsons. After the Great War and its muddy horror of trench warfare, the idea of mounting station-wagon bodies on four-wheel-drive chassis caught on around the world—the utility end of “sport-utility” was obvious enough.
Chevrolet sold its first Carryall Suburban in 1935. It was a commercial truck with three rows of bench seats surrounded by a big squared-off body with windows, basically a cargo van for human cargo. As Dave Cole of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., told Automotive News, it was a people mover, “something to haul the miners to the mines.” All utility, no sport. It cost $675, or under $13,000 adjusted for inflation—not too bad, really. (No AC, no GPS, no USB port, no backup camera, no bumpers . . .) The pieces were all there: the passenger-carrying capacity of the station wagon, the off-road capabilities of the Willys military-derived civilian vehicles, the shape and utility of a pickup truck with a camper shell over the bed—that, and the great American delusion that we’re all just one split-second decision away from lighting off for the territories, that we need the capability to load up our vehicles with a half-dozen passengers and a whole lot of gear—and any gear will do, really; it’s not the hobby that counts, but the gear—and go off-roading to wherever it is we’re going on the other side of where the asphalt ends.
The Jeep Cherokee quickly gave rise to that great delicious contradiction, the luxury SUV—rough-’n’-ready, rustic, rebellious, utilitarian, eminently capable, and swathed in fine Corinthian leather.(Ricardo Montalbán, the man whose eminently refined Mexican accent made Chrysler upholstery sound so very sexy, was a dedicated NATIONAL REVIEW reader.) The luxury SUV was inevitable: Land Rover’s association with the fancy English country-house set all but ensured its vehicles would end up with London-club interiors, and Toyota’s Landcruiser— which began as a knockoff Land Rover, right down to the name—was sure to follow suit, because that’s what it did. In the United States, both Jeep and Lincoln have a claim for pioneering the luxury SUV, though Bigasstruckus americanusas a species reached its apex with the Cadillac Escalade.
3. From Rick Brookhiser’s new book, Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea, comes this essay on the New York Manumission Society and its role in paving the road for liberty for slaves. From the essay:
On January 25, 1785, nineteen New Yorkers met in the house of John Simmons, innkeeper. The American Revolution had been particularly harsh on New York, which the British had conquered in the grim fall of 1776. Washington’s prudent generalship, and the help of Britain’s longtime enemy France, had won victory by 1781. Yet the enemy had not evacuated the city until the end of 1783. A third of it had burned; all its trees had been cut for firewood. Commerce had only just revived.
The men gathering at Simmons’s house looked to a civic and moral revival. Most of those present were Quakers, many of them interrelated. Robert and Thomas Bowne were descended from an old Quaker family in Flushing. John Murray Sr. and Jr. gave their name to a hill north of the city. Elijah Cock, Effingham and Lawrence Embree, Samuel Franklin, John and William Keese, Edward and Joseph Lawrence, Willet Seaman, and William Shotwell were additional Friends, as Quakers were known. Others in attendance were veterans — James Cogswell, William Goforth, Melancton Smith, and Robert Troup. The meeting was called to order by Troup, a 28-year-old lawyer who had been both a British prisoner of war and a general’s aide at one of America’s great victories, Saratoga. Troup was an amiable young man whom everybody liked; one friend would call him “a better antidote to the spleen than a ton of drugs.” This January meeting had the serious purpose of forming a “Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated.”
In the chaos of the American Revolution, many slaves in and around New York had freed themselves simply by disappearing. Slave catchers, known as man-stealers or blackbirders, hunted for runaways and scooped up free blacks if authentic runaways were not to be found. In November 1784, city authorities had foiled an attempt to spirit away a group of free blacks on a ship bound for either Charleston or the Bay of Honduras.
This was the immediate stimulus for the New Yorkers to meet, but they had larger ends in view. A committee of five — Embree, Franklin, Murray Sr., Smith, and Troup — was appointed to draw up the society’s regulations and bylaws for approval at the next meeting, February 4. This time the society met at the Merchant’s Coffee House, the city’s largest. This was a larger meeting, attended by George Clinton, James Duane, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton.
4. And from Rich Lowry’s forthcoming triumph, The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free, we are treated to his strong arguments. From the piece:
It’s not just the intellectuals. American elites are enmeshed in the world of globalization—the enhanced travel and contacts, the multinational corporations, the NGOs. This inclines them to the view that the world is and should be ever more interconnected, and they are often fired by a near-messianic certitude that this trend is associated with the spread of all that is true and good. As [Samuel] Huntington points out, in the 19th century the growing sophistication and continental scale of American business promoted the nationalism of American elites over and against localism; now they promote the transnationalism of American elites over and against nationalism.
Globalization is real and the market a powerful force, but utopianism about trade and technology—supposedly driving us toward a borderless world and inevitable progress—has proven as facile and wrong as any other utopianism.
No, trade with China didn’t radically transform its regime. The general secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, has effectively made himself president for life, centralizing power and writing authoritarian “Xi Jinping thought” into the constitution.
No, social media haven’t promoted liberalization. Once upon a time, leaders in tech boasted that, in the words of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, the Internet is a “force for peace” in the world. That was before it became clear that tech was a powerful tool in the arsenal of Russia and China, that Facebook had played a role in ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and that white nationalists and other extremists use social-media platforms as a tool of radicalization.
And no, the nation isn’t fading away, contrary to what has been constantly predicted by observers who wish it were.
Amity’s Next Book Looks Like It Will Be Her Fifth NYT Bestseller
Our dear pal Amity Shlaes has a big, new, and yep, important (understatement!) book coming out in mid-November: Great Society: A New History. It couldn’t come at a better time: As a new generation of Americans preach Socialism, Amity’s 500-page juggernaut takes us back to the 1960s, when this idiocy wasn’t only advocated: It was tried, and implemented by the old New Deal-loving president, Lyndon Johnson, and even in part by Tricky Dick. The experiment failed: Amity gives a thorough accounting of the economic devastation. Here’s a slice from the book’s terrific introduction:
The reforms of the 1960s nearly always made the federal government the shepherd. Because they were ambitious, and because they demanded selflessness, the reforms sounded great. And the federal shepherd worked hard to make the reforms look as great as they sounded. Ambitious reforms needed time to succeed. It would be a shame if a project aborted because early results didn’t look good. So, for display purposes, presidents emphasized inputs, not results. Congress, too, as the Hoover Institution’s John Cogan has put it, “measured success by labels and dollars attached to legislation”—not by results. The political success of a project mattered more than empirical success. Occasionally, the effort got a new name. The “New Frontier” of Kennedy became Johnson’s “Great Society,” which became the “Great Nation,” and then the “Abundant and Just Society” of Richard Nixon. All the efforts were, however, of a piece in their effort to get to “great.” One can include all three presidencies in a description of a what may be called the Great Society era. In that era, the federal government also redefined its role in the arts, on television and radio, and in public schools. Washington left no area untouched.
In its Great Society endeavor, the country relegated the private sector to the role of consultant, workhorse, and milk cow. And, at first, business went along. Soon enough, however, businesses came to find the 1960s intrusions by the federal government too much of a burden. Federal rules squelched innovation. Federal law made labor too expensive. The 1960s reforms first impinged upon, then violated, what a 1966 candidate for governor of California, the actor Ronald Reagan, called the “creative society.” And soon enough states and towns also grew disturbed. Local authorities discovered that under the polite letters, official visits, and federal funds from Washington operated a competitor that threatened to weaken the states and towns permanently. The New Deal had expanded the federal government so much that for the first time, Washington had surpassed the towns and cities as a presence in the economy. The 1960s reforms seemed designed to finish the job, to squeeze the states and towns out of government altogether. This was true even when the reforms bore names that suggested towns had nothing to fear from Washington, such as the “New Federalism.” Often, the business executives and the mayors noted, these great reforms did not seem to be achieving their goals. Their suspicion mounted as they observed that the incessant rebranding concealed the questionable results of a reform. When an extant index or measure delivered disappointing results, the authorities tinkered with the measure or blithely abolished it altogether. The cooperation of the early 1960s morphed quickly into a public contest. On the one hand stood the federal government and its allies, most often labor unions. On the other hand stood the rest of the nation. This book chronicles that epic clash.
Do get it. Order your copy of Great Society now: Here’s the Amazon link.
And Do You Know Where You Can Discuss the Book with Amity, Face to Face?
Yes, on the National Review 2020 Rhine River Conservative Cruise. She’s one of our speakers! Do check out this cool ad about the sojourn (it takes place April 19–26 on AmaWaterways’ luxurious AmaMora). Of course, you can visit nrcruise.com (it lacks that très cool ad) for complete information.
1. In City Journal, our old colleague Tracy Lee Simmons investigates a collection of ancient wisdom. From his review:
Back in the 1940s, C. S. Lewis remarked on a trend that he saw gaining steam even among some of his better pupils at Oxford: a belief that books penned by the greatest minds of the previous two or three millennia could be grasped only by credentialed professionals. This instinct steered them away from the satisfactions of primary literature and into the swamps of secondary works expounding upon the original sources. “I have found as a tutor in English Literature,” Lewis wrote, “that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.” Lewis was not denigrating commentaries; he wrote some formidable ones himself. He was merely making the point that most great writers of the distant past wrote to be read and apprehended by curious minds, not merely to provide fodder for exams and dissertations.
Princeton University Press has recently made the task of heeding Lewis’s admonition to return ad fontes a good deal easier with its Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers series of compact, handsomely bound, pocket-sized translations of a handful of the major works of Greek and Roman authors—works that, as each brief introduction testifies, remain applicable to the lives of thoughtful readers. And they all come with a refreshingly sparse amount of explanatory material interposing itself between authors and readers. These are not school editions; they’re to be read on airplanes and by the fireside with a stiff drink. And they can change lives. Like a truly liberal education of the kind they enrich, these books are eminently useful.
The author choices are sensibly predictable: Cicero, Thucydides, Seneca, and Epictetus, three of whom were active men of affairs as well as deeply reflective thinkers who wrestled with eternal questions, and even dared to answer a few. Those who read these small books thoughtfully will be making a second draft on their education. If your liberal arts curriculum didn’t pass along much of the wisdom encased in these books in return for your tuition dollars, you were cheated. By now, sadly, that includes most of us.
2. At VoegelinView, Daniel Mahoney sees wonderful things in Roger Scruton’s novel, Notes from Underground. From the commentary:
Roger Scruton’s Notes From Underground is in keeping with a small group of classics that truly get to the heart of the totalitarian negation of the real. These are works that deftly combine literature and philosophy, and sometimes theology, too, and speak to the soul as it confronts the demons of modernity. These books include Solzhenitsyn’s magisterial The Gulag Archipelago, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, and Alain Besancon’s The Falsification of the Good, which gets to the heart of the totalitarian and ideological project to falsify the Good with the help of George Orwell, the author of 1984, and Vladimir Soloviev, the great Russian Christian philosopher and theologian. All of these memorable books confront, with rare philosophical depth and a literary art that captures the greatness and misery of the human soul, the capacity of life and truth to resist a nothingness that is surely demonic. To resist the ideological lie is thus to restore truth—and hope—to their central places in the economy of human things. Notes From Underground is an achievement of the first order.
3. At Law & Liberty, Lee Edwards reflects on Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson, and what their 1964 clash portended, but really meant. From the piece:
It is difficult to imagine two politicians more opposite in their political philosophies than Senator Barry Goldwater, the uncompromising apostle of conservatism, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a true believer in New Deal liberalism.
Goldwater came to Washington, D.C., not to pass new laws but to repeal old ones. Johnson never met a federal program he didn’t like.
The Arizona Republican’s favorite President was Thomas Jefferson; his favorite thinker was Russell Kirk, who ghost-wrote speeches for him. The Texan Democrat’s favorite President was Franklin D. Roosevelt; the political thinker he most resembled was Niccolo Machiavelli. Former LBJ aide Eric Goldman called his boss “Machiavelli in a Stetson.”
Goldwater believed in individuals. Johnson thought in electoral blocs. Goldwater swore by the Constitution, Johnson by the New Deal.
4. More Law & Liberty! Our dear pal Hadley Arkes sees the so-called “conservative” Supreme Court as being a source of downward-spiraling relativism. From his essay:
Last days in the term for the Supreme Court have been days for releasing decisions on the most controversial cases, so watchers of the Court have become used to bracing themselves for some of the worst decisions that the justices can deliver up. Amid the wreckage produced in that culminating week last June, the Court managed to resume its role as the Chief Engine at work in the coarsening of the culture. One of the most notable first steps came years ago in gradually sweeping away the restraints on pornography, applied in a rough but overall useful and salutary way by the States and cities. And now, the Court took another critical step: It struck down the laws that have long worked to bar the use of obscenities in the titles of corporations. A seasoned lawyer in New York pointed out to me many years ago that, if those restraints were not in place, the telephone directories would be filled with names such as the Amherst F–ing Coffee Company.
The case was Iancu v. Brunetti. Erik Brunetti sought a trademark for a brand of streetwear he would call “FUCT”—Friends U Can’t Trust. Close enough to the F-word that the Federal Trademark and Patent Office refused to register the trademark. During the oral argument on the case, Chief Justice Roberts was willing to voice the concern that would spring up at once for ordinary folk: that these kinds of advertisements would be posted in malls where children could see them; but even apart from children, the case raised the question of whether the government should be “facilitating this kind of vulgarity.”
Roberts did not recede from his concerns here even as he concurred with the main opinion written by Justice Kagan, striking deeply at any laws that would impose moral restraints on the names of corporations. The remarkable thing was that Roberts’s concern for opening the floodgates on vulgarity was expressed in terms even more vibrant and fearful in the liberal wing of the Court by Justices Sotomayor and Breyer. In registering those deep qualms, these three judges were described only as “dissenting in part.” And there we find the true puzzle of this case: Virtually all of the justices writing separate opinions revealed their keen awareness of the further, corrosive damage in the culture that this decision was certain to license. Each one of them voiced the wish that Congress would replace the current law with a measure more narrowly focused to deal with vulgarity, obscenity, and lewdness. And yet, each one of them fell in line to strike down the law as it was, finding it too broadly phrased to cover things “immoral” and wrongful. So convinced they were that the law was too vague to be sustained that it somehow failed to count for them that the administrators applying the law applied it precisely as these justices would have wished.
5. In the Era of Immediate Diss, Matt Purple, in The American Conservative, smacks back at the clap back. From the piece:
Clapbacks tend to be both short (though not pithy) and ad hominem, little hit-and-runs that eschew substance in favor of cheeky personal attacks. That should sound familiar: it’s exactly how Twitter operates. Over on everyone’s favorite free speech psychomanteum chamber, the character limit makes punchy insults more effective than actual argument. That clapbacks are now being heard off a presidential stage should be evidence enough that real life is aping Twitter rather than the other way around. And sure enough, there was Warren’s quip, liked and retweeted and GIFed endlessly by people who probably can’t list a single other thing she said during that town hall.
The problem isn’t that politicians are suddenly getting sassy with each other: Ronald Reagan’s “youth and inexperience” line against Walter Mondale is all anyone remembers from that 1984 debate. And even the gold standard of political argument, Lincoln-Douglas, once saw the former call one of the latter’s arguments “as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death.” The problem is that we’ve now confused clapbacks with the meat and potatoes of political discourse. Rather than leave insults and punchy remarks where they belong, nestled within larger arguments, we’ve seized on them, torn them out of context, and treated them as arguments themselves. Warren’s remark is hardly the worst example of this. Many people seem to think Kamala Harris is qualified to command the largest military in the world solely on the basis of her ability to clap back against President Trump.
Why has this happened? Because we’re all exhausted. Deluged with endless opinions in this Misinformation Age, we seek shortcuts through it all, and snappy lines that allow us to dismiss opposing points of view without actually engaging them work perfectly. Both sides of our politics are guilty of this—Donald Trump’s Twitter vitriol can be viewed as an even less artful form of the clapback—but there’s no question the left has the advantage when it comes to clapback culture. This is because it also has the advantage when it comes to the culture in general. Left-wing nostrums are so hegemonic, so taken for granted, that countervailing points can be made to look ridiculous simply by holding them up against the common backdrop. That makes clapping back easy, almost effortless, because so many others begin from the same assumptions that you do.
6. The very liberal Church of Sweden is exposed by Nima Gholam Ali Pour at Gatestone Institute for supporting “Christian” entities that cannot get enough of Israel Hate. From the piece:
The majority of the board members of the Swedish Jerusalem Society have been, or still are, employed by one of Sweden’s largest institutions, the Church of Sweden – and reciprocally, the Church of Sweden has an official representative on the board of the Swedish Jerusalem Society. That an association hostile to Israel has a close relationship with the Church of Sweden is not a surprise: this author has previously chronicled how the Church of Sweden supports the false, highly distorted Kairos Palestine Document.
The main activity of the Swedish Jerusalem Society in the Palestinian territories now seems to consist of raising financial support for Good Shepherd’s Swedish School in Bethlehem. Although the school, which offers education from the first grade in elementary school through high school, is officially a Christian school, 98% of its students come from Muslim homes.
Although Good Shepherd’s Swedish School is marketed by the Swedish Jerusalem Society as a school that promotes peace, Tobias Petersson, director of the think tank Perspective on Israel, has revealed that the textbooks used by Good Shepherd’s Swedish School have jihadi content that encourages holy war against the State of Israel.
The textbooks celebrate the Palestinian terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who was one of a group of 11 terrorists who murdered 38 civilians in Israel, including 13 children, on March 11, 1978. Also, in those textbooks, Jews are described as liars and corrupt. Petersson has reviewed the contents of the school books with Arabic translators living in Sweden. He has also verified the translations by getting second opinions to confirm their accuracy.
Maps in the schoolbooks and on the walls of Good Shepherd’s Swedish School do not show the State of Israel; instead the outline of Israel had been displaced by the identical outline of the “State of Palestine”. The school has opened its arms to controversial Palestinian Greek Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who is known for his praising of terrorists and hateful words against Israel.
BONUS: At a conference, I bumped into good pal Jennifer Kabbany, editor of The College Fix, and pledged to highlight a TCF piece by reporter Brittany Slaughter on Republican students (in Connecticut) starting to fight back again partisanship-based discrimination. From the article:
University of New Haven student Timothy Anop will never forget the day he went to class wearing a Trump shirt. He says his professor promptly berated him, telling Anop point-blank his opinions do not matter because they’re conservative.
That was in 2016, and Anop has not forgotten that experience. In fact, it’s part of what fuels his burgeoning effort as chairman of the Connecticut Federation of College Republicans to demand he and his like-minded peers have the right to be heard — and respected — on campus.
The federation recently rolled out an initiative called “Take Back the First” that calls on campus leaders at Connecticut’s colleges and universities to add political free speech protections to their anti-discrimination policies.
“There are roughly 22 other colleges in Connecticut that do not include political ideology in their discrimination policy,” Anop said. “We’ll be lobbying them to hopefully amend their discrimination policy to include political ideology to make it a protected act on campus.”
The Boy, a possible son-in-law, was over, discussing cool team logos of legend, and we both agreed that the Houston Colt .45s, as the Astros were know in the first three years of their franchise, was nifty, with the revolver’s smoke forming the “C” of the “Colt.” Do check it out. “I wonder,” said the boy, “if anyone ever wore the Number 45 while playing for the 45s?”
And so we checked that out, and indeed there was, and it’s all pretty melancholy. Jim Umbricht was a little long in the tooth for a rookie when he broke into the Big Leagues, finally, at the ancient age of 28, the Pittsburgh Pirates giving him a crack at starting a game in late 1959. What an entry: The first batter he faced that Saturday afternoon in Cincinnati was the Reds’ All-Star second baseman, Johnny Temple. He hit a home run. And in short order so did Frank Thomas and rookie Buddy Gilbert, the first of his tiny seven-game MLB career (Gilbert would only appear in one more game after that, and he’d hit a dinger in that one too).
To recap: The first three career hits Umbricht gave up (all in the first inning of his first appearance) were solo dingers. That might be a record.
After two more years with sporadic play in the Big Time, Umbricht was one of the last selections (the 35th) in the National League expansion draft in 1961, picked by Houston. He took Number 45, and appeared in 34 games for the newbies, posting a 2.01 ERA and earning a perfect 4–0 record, all the victories in relief (including an important late-season win over the collapsing first-place Dodgers, who would go on to lose a tiebreaking playoff game to the Giants). Things looked good for the 32-year-old righthander.
But between seasons, Umbricht discovered that he had malignant cancer. He had radical surgery, trained with determination, and . . . the hurler was in uniform for the Colt .45s on opening day. Now sporting Number 32 in 1963, Umbricht appeared in 35 games (he started in 3) and earned a 4–3 record with a 2.61 ERA. He had proven to be a bright spot on the Colt .45s’ staff in its initial two seasons. There wouldn’t be a third: The cancer returned, the category — incurable. A few days before the 1964 season began, Umbricht passed away. He was 33.
In 1965, Houston’s team, now the Astros, retired his last number, 32. The only Colt .45s player to wear Number 45, other than Umbricht, was aged rookie pitcher Don Bradey, who appeared in just three games in his career, all in 1964. On his 30th birthday he started against Los Angeles — it was the final game of the season — and the Dodgers blew out his candles: Bradey lasted just 2/3 of an inning, giving up 4 hits, 2 walks, and 5 earned runs. He took the loss.
We know not the hour. Came the news from Claire that her brother, Greg, a.k.a Vhan (a self-imposed nickname with a hint of teenage secret-agent coolness in 1975 — marvelously, it stuck), had passed away on Saturday, his heart giving out at the age of 59. It had almost given out three years earlier, but he had the “widowmaker” in his doctor’s office. Location, location, location, as the saying goes — he survived. Then came . . . borrowed time? We all live on it. We were pals from the second day of high school, college roommates, vendors at the House that Ruth Built, mutual stonebreakers and wiseacres, occasional combatants, movie fans (he named an intramural basketball team Klaatu Barada Nikto and thrilled to nearly everyone’s ignorance of the reference). He leaves a young daughter. I beg you, if you have a prayer in you, to pray for his soul’s peaceful repose, and comfort for his mother, sisters, and child. And I beg another prayer: this one for Al, Big Al, so dear to NR, so tormented by his illness. His affairs in order, he is ready to meet God, Who we hope has open arms of true comfort. Pray that Al’s last days are merciful and happy (his last few months have been a passion), and a small preview to the eternity he richly deserves.
God’s blessing on You and Yours,
Jack Fowler, champion of heroic failure, who can be told that and much more if you email him at email@example.com.