Livin' in the USA Feed

Let's Revise the "Generations" Business

I've been complaining for a long time--yeah, I know, this sentence could end right there, but I'll continue anyway--I've been complaining for a long time about the "generations" construct which is a sort of pop sociology thing that sometimes seems barely a step up from astrology. This chart, harvested from Wikipedia, sums up the system, if we can call it that:

1024px-Generation_timeline.svgAnd I think it borders on crazy. I guess it started with the "lost generation" of the 1920s. But that term was just an observation that Gertrude Stein made about a particular set of extremely atypical artists. I don't know whether it was ever applied to an entire cohort of people who just happened to have been born around the same time. It certainly wouldn't have made much sense to classify my wife's grandmother, born ca. 1900 in rural Mississippi and growing up in circumstances more 19th than 20th century, more frontier than suburbia, with Ernest Hemingway's crowd.

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Impermissible Ideas

As it always had the potential to do, the philosophical and religious neutrality which is the ostensible framework of the American system is collapsing. See this post by Rod Dreher, one of many in which he describes the movement in big-time journalism to full-on advocacy for various left-wing causes. Here's an anecdote:

All this put me in mind of a conversation I had maybe 15 years ago, when I was a columnist and editorial writer at The Dallas Morning News, with a Millennial writer there. He knew that I was a conservative, and I knew that he wasn’t, but none of that mattered. I mentioned to him one day that I thought the paper’s coverage of the gay marriage issue was one-sided, and had become a matter of pro-LGBT advocacy journalism. He agreed that it was one-sided, but told me that he didn’t think there was a legitimate other side. I pointed out that we lived in a rather conservative part of the country, and that most of our readers took the opposite position on gay marriage (this was around 2005, I think). Were they all bigots who didn’t deserve to be consulted in our reporting? Yes, he said. If the paper was reporting on the Civil Rights movement, he said, would we feel morally and professionally obligated to seek the views of local KKK leaders?

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Two New Year's Day Reflections

I find Kevin Williamson to be the most consistently interesting writer at National Review these days. That's not necessarily entirely a good thing, because when I say "interesting" I also mean "entertaining," and often that entertainment involves scathing language about someone. In principle I do not approve of scathing language about persons and try to resist the temptation to use it, so I guess what it amounts to is that I'm vicariously enjoying his put-downs, which makes me feel just a touch guilty. Not very, because most of the time the put-down is merited.

And I usually disagree with at least some part of any piece he writes, sometimes something minor and sometimes major. His brand of conservatism is definitely more libertarian than mine. But--and this is a little surprising for a libertarian, or at least a somewhat-libertarian--he is really at his best on deeper subjects. This is one:

If we are to resolve something for 2020, then maybe that should be our resolution: to bear always in mind that this is not Donald Trump’s America or Elizabeth Warren’s America but ours and Walt Whitman’s and John Coltrane’s and Herman Melville’s and Toni Morrison’s, and that if we really love this country, then that can only be because we love the people in it, the ones who are with us still and the ones who have been, who are “not enemies but friends.”

This will be our year. It will be the year that we make of it, which is both our great hope and our great, fearful responsibility.

Read the whole thing; it's worth it. One thing I like about him, something he shares with recently citizen-ized Charles Cooke, also of NR, is an appreciation of this country in all its madness and glory. Elsewhere he recently said something to the effect that what works for health care in Switzerland will not work here:

The basic problem with that always has been that Switzerland is full of Swiss people, while the United States is full of maniacs.

Precisely. I always stress that when discussing American politics and culture with someone from another country: you simply won't understand us unless you start with the recognition that we're more than a little crazy. Samuel Johnson's famous remark that "If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life" applies triply to the United States of America. I am often sickened and repelled by this, that, or the other in the U.S., but never not interested. 

And, as Williamson says, life in these United States is not defined or limited by politics. I cringe whenever I hear someone refer to "Donald Trump's America." I fear such people live in cyberspace, large parts of which Donald Trump has made his own in the way that is too often effective in cyberspace: by being a troll. A great many people on the left seem to feel that their lives have been almost ruined, or in some cases not even "almost," by Trump's presence in the White House. This is...unhealthy to say the least, and as it's partly a choice, most unwise. 

I think the reality of life for the very large majority of us is that politics generally has a relatively small impact on our day-to-day lives, and plays a very small role in our conversation and other dealings with other people. I can recall only a few face-to-face conversations over the past half-year or so with anyone except my wife in which the subject even came up. Two of those were with liberals, and when the conversation drifted into politics--not by my choice--it immediately blew up in my face. The level of rage was disconcerting, and I will certainly try hard to avoid any more of those. 

Also at National Review, Richard Brookhiser does a nice exegesis of Thomas Hardy's "The Darkling Thrush." Perhaps you remember that it was the first poem in the 52 Poems series that I did a couple of years ago. I don't think more than a few days ever go by without my thinking of those last two lines.

Written In Sand

This was taken from a room in a motel at Gulf Shores over the Thanksgiving weekend. It struck me as very poignant. Where will Mike, Angie, Logan, and Blake be ten years or more from now? Will they remember each other? Will they remember Thanksgiving 2019? And where will I be? Possibly not in this world.

This message was well above the waterline, but would have been blown away, or mostly blown away, by now, as we've had some windy days since then. WrittenInSand

Sharing Is Not Necessarily Caring

Like any reasonable person, I am annoyed by the tendency on the part of some people to use the word "share" in place of "said" or some equivalent. "Jane shared that she had pizza for lunch." I guess it's one of those infections that has spread from the world of psychotherapy. But I very much enjoyed this item from a news story about a fitness instructor who apparently went a little berserk and started sending death threats to people she viewed as competitors:

“All hell is gonna rain fire down on your world like never seen before,” Steffen allegedly shared in a message to one victim.

Le Spleen de Samsung?*

My DVD player is having problems so I started looking for a new one. Of course all sorts of stuff has changed since I bought this one--everything is Internet-enabled, etc. So, trying to figure out what I actually need and/or want, I was reading the users' questions and answers for one I'm interested in, and saw this:

Question:  Does it have app for MLB tv
Answer:     i’m not good with tech stuff - i don’t know what MLB means and i hate apps
By Brandy [name redacted] on March 5, 2019

I would almost sort of like to meet Brandy.

* (Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris: "The title of the work refers not to the abdominal organ (the spleen) but rather to the second, more literary meaning of the word, "melancholy with no apparent cause, characterised by a disgust with everything".)

The Issues Are Not the Issues Anymore

I've been trying to remember where I heard, attributed to some leftist, the saying that "The issue is not the issue." The only thing turned up by a quick search is a remark attributed by David Horowitz to some SDS organizer of the '60s: "The issue is never the issue. The issue is the revolution." 

Even if that's apocryphal, it certainly describes the method of many political activists, especially those who see themselves as being engaged in a campaign for some sort of broad and fundamental change. You pick particular situations that can be exploited for your purposes, but they're mainly important as means toward a far more important end.

I think--I'm afraid--that the quotation has a wider application now. It pretty much sums up our whole political situation. Right and left disagree as much as they ever have about specific policy questions. But those are somewhat in the background except insofar as they can be used to advance the essential cause: for progressives, to gain decisive control of the federal government so that "the New America" can begin (I've been seeing that term a lot recently); for conservatives, to prevent that. 

Old-fashioned liberals believed in the constitution, but they are a fading breed, being replaced by leftists for whom the constitution is at best a set of more or less arbitrary rules that can be set aside when progress requires it. At worst it's just one more oppressive structure put in place by white men to keep everyone else down. In any case, it should be construed as requiring (or permitting, as the case may be) whatever advances the progressive cause. That tendency on the left has been evident for as long as I can remember, but it's far stronger now. 

It becomes more and more clear that a lot of very influential progressives simply don't care in any positive way about the actual history, culture, people, and constitution of this country. They can only value it insofar as it seems to promise a bright shining socialist John-Lennon-Imaginary future. Anything that would get in the way of that vision must be discarded or destroyed. They're best understood as millenarian religious fanatics. I don't by any means say that everyone on the political left thinks this way, but, as I said, they are many and influential beyond their numbers.

So when the question "What do conservatives want to conserve?" is asked, my answer now is pretty simple: the constitution. Everything else in American political life depends on that. If we lose it, we lose the republic. And I think that would be a bad thing--even for those who don't at the moment understand that it would be. 

Kevin Williamson, writing in National Review a couple of weeks ago in response to a New York Times call for "packing" the Supreme Court as a way of defeating the obstacle of originalist judges, makes the point brilliantly:

Bouie complains: “In the past, courts have walled entire areas of American life off from federal action. They’ve put limits on American democracy.” Indeed, they have — that is what they are there for. The Constitution and, specifically, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments exist explicitly to “put limits on American democracy.” Majorities do not get to overturn freedom of speech or freedom of religion. They do not get to impose slavery or imprison people without trial. There are lots of things majorities do not get to do. This is not some modern conservative invention to frustrate progressives — it is the design of the American constitutional order.

(Strange that you never hear progressives complaining about how Roe vs. Wade “walled off” abortion from majoritarian lawmaking.)

Bouie’s majoritarian ideology is nowhere to be found in the Constitution; in fact, the very structure of American government is designed to frustrate that kind of crass majoritarianism. Hence the Senate (as originally organized) and the presidential veto, both designed as checks on the excessive democratic passions to which the House might be subject; hence the written Constitution and the Bill of Rights, i.e. America’s Great Big List of Important Stuff You Idiots Don’t Get a Vote On, and a Supreme Court constitutionally empowered to police those limits. You can call that an ideology, too, and even conservative ideology, which it is: Properly understood, the principles and philosophy of the Founding are what it is conservatives try to conserve.   

Exactly. The movement for getting rid of the Electoral College deserves similar scorn for similar reasons. Speaking of which, there is no surer way to get me to vote for Trump than to attempt to subvert the Electoral College. (You can read Williamson's whole piece here.)

We're in a strange situation now (to say the least). I don't think Trump really understands or cares about the constitution much more than most of these progressives do. People call him a fascist, but that's silly and lazy: if the word means anything useful (which is questionable), a fascist is a person with a rigid ideology. That's one of the last things Trump can be accused of being. The note in his manner and behavior that makes people think of fascism is that of the caudillo: the amoral strong man of the sort who tends to gain control of nations that have no strong constitutional framework, no strong deeply-rooted sense of "government of laws, not men."

And yet he has pretty well delivered on his promise to appoint constitutionalist judges, who are the final bulwark of a republic deserving the name. The man progressives call authoritarian is actually, where it counts most, shoring up the foundations against authoritarianism--even if he doesn't know exactly what he's doing. 

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid Trump Controversies

A few months after Trump's election I realized that there was no point in following the news stories about him. Every few days there was some new burst of outrage, and at least two thirds of the purported scandals turned out, when I read more about them, to be exaggerated, trivial (what was that nonsense about Melania's jacket a while back?), or sometimes just plain false. It's just not worth the bother of paying attention. Even the big He's A Russian Agent!! story pretty much fizzled out, and in fact, according to some non-crazy people, was more of an FBI scandal than a Trump scandal.

I thought most of the media had thoroughly discredited themselves years ago, but they continue to dig their hole deeper. They clearly see destroying Trump as part of their mission, at the moment probably the most important part. And I suppose it works for them in some ways. It does serve to keep the anti-Trump outrage at fever pitch. But for those who, like me, don't much care for him but have kept some sense of balance, it produces only irritation and disdain. And of course his millions of active supporters just dig in their heels and see him as a hero-martyr. All in all, it serves only to deepen the cloud of anger and mistrust that has enveloped the country.

As of today the completely stupid uproar about Trump's statement that Hurricane Dorian threatened Alabama has been going for about a week. I frequently use Google News to get an overview of the day's news stories. This is about half of the stories about Hurricane Dorian currently displayed there. 


This is crazy. On both sides. It's hard to tell at this point who's baiting whom, and who's crazier. I'm not sure what Trump originally said, but the fact is that we here in Alabama were worried about Hurricane Dorian for a while. "Threatened" might be overstating it, but the projected path of the storm for several days had it heading more or less due west across the Florida peninsula. It is not only possible but has in the past happened that a storm has done that and then re-strengthened after it got into the Gulf. And I assure you that any hurricane in the northern Gulf of Mexico is always a big deal for us. Damn right we were concerned, and watching closely, until it became more or less certain that the storm was going to turn north. In calling it a threat to Alabama, Trump was not lying and not crazy. At worst he was exaggerating and/or speaking carelessly. It was not a big deal

But then of course the Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers in the press and social media had to jump in and start jeering and accusing. And then of course the thin-skinned egotist in the White House had to respond. And the thin-skinned egotists in the press had to respond to that...and here we are, a week later, still talking about it as if it were important. I wonder if anyone has brought up impeachment yet.

I would like to think that this is some sort of nadir, but it can probably get worse. 

Talk About Selling Out

A CapitolOne ad:

Life Doesn't Alert You About Your Credit Card--But Eno Can

And I thought I was pretty close to unshockable in such matters. 

BrianEnoYoung3Sure, I'll keep an eye on that credit card for you.

Of course Eno has changed a lot since the above pic (ca. 1972).


Brian Eno, in case you don't know his name--i.e. have little interest in the popular music of the past 50 years or so--is quite a brilliant fellow. Presumably the people at Capitol One are abysmally ignorant. 

I guess one can't claim copyright infringement on one's name, especially when the use of it has nothing whatever to do with one. But this is odd. I didn't bother finding out why Capitol One came up with those particular three letters for their service. 

Sunday Night Journal, October 21, 2018

Several weekends ago my wife and I went to the opening at the Mobile Medical Museum of an exhibit which featured Dr. James A. Franklin, Sr., and his work: "Dreaming at Dawn: African Americans and Health Care, 1865-1945." This rather inadequate photo is of the portrait of him displayed in that exhibit:


 This is a photo of the placard accompanying the portrait:


I don't know whether you'll be able to read it or not, so I'll give you the high points. James A. Franklin, Sr., was born in Chattanooga. In 1914 he became the first African-American to receive a medical degree from the University of Michigan. Instead of escaping permanently from the segregated South, he wanted to return there "because he wanted to be closer to his people and felt that there would be more of a demand for his services." (That last part was probably an understatement.) He landed in Evergreen, Alabama, a small town a hundred miles or so north of Mobile. During the 1918 influenza epidemic a local white farmer asked him to treat his wife. Franklin did--successfully, we were told at the opening--but then was forced to leave town under threat of being lynched for touching a white woman. He moved to the Mobile area and established a very successful medical practice, so successful that he was written up in Ebony magazine as "The Richest Doctor in the South."

I would not have known this was happening except that my wife is the archivist for the Mobile Archdiocese, and she had provided several photographs from the archives for the exhibit. This was one of them:

StMartinDePorresHospitalIn case you can't read that card under the photo, the picture is of a ward in the St. Martin de Porres hospital, a Mobile hospital for African-Americans, established by the Archdiocese in 1947 and run (I think) by the Sisters of Mercy.

The opening was very simple affair but a somewhat moving one for me. A couple of prominent members of the black community gave brief speeches. I didn't catch the name of one (well, okay, I missed it altogether, because we were a little late), but the other was Karlos Finley, a well-known local lawyer/politician who is, if I understood correctly, the son of Dora Finley, who for many years was the regular Sunday morning lector at the Cathedral and whose father was Dr. Franklin. Also present were several teenagers, Karlos Finley's children, Dr. Franklin's great-grandchildren, which I found particularly touching.

I was moved both by Franklin's story, by what he did in the face of racial hatred, and also by the distance we've come in removing racial barriers and hostility. Sometimes, reading the national news, and even more reading national opinion, I feel despair about the racial situation in this country, and fear that we are heading in a direction that can only lead to more and worse conflict. There are a lot of people, or at least some very loud and prominent ones, who seem intent on inflaming racial hostility and grievance rather than working for harmony. In a strange twist, the loudest, most prominent and prestigious of these are now on the left, where for many the comprehensive racialization of almost everything seems to have mostly replaced the old liberal ideal that race shouldn't matter. In an even stranger twist, many of these are white people vilifying other white people--but then that's basically just another front in the culture war, another reason to hate the enemy whom you would hate in any case.

I think some of this is fueled by people who see our existing problems and despair. And I also think most of these are too young to understand just how much things have changed for the better, and might not despair if they did understand it. No one under sixty or so can have much personal memory of it; for younger people, segregation and the civil rights movement are just things in history books. But I saw them both, up close, and I remember it very well, and I know that the change has been vast.

I'm encouraged by the fact that the vitriol that emanates from the most politically vocal, and the conflict that seems to exist in some places, mainly the big cities, just don't seem to be major factors in everyday life where I live. I would certainly not claim that the Mobile, Alabama area is a paradise of racial harmony. Tensions exist. De facto segregation very much exists. I'm sure old-time hard-core racism still exists, though it isn't respectable.

Yet I don't have the sense of intense and furious conflict, of outright hatred at work, that I get from activists and the media. People get along tolerably well. They are reasonably courteous in public spaces, they work together, go to school together, shop together, eat at the same restaurants, cheer the same football teams, which are often predominantly black but no less loved by white fans. Social interaction is less common but it certainly happens. Inter-racial dating and marriage happen. Black politicians can get elected with a fair share, in some cases a majority, of the white vote. Fairhope, where I live, is a predominantly white town which had a black police chief until he retired a couple of months ago.

My local grandchildren started attending a "magnet" school this fall--a predominantly black school, in a less-than-upscale area of town, which emphasizes academics in an effort to attract white students and achieve more racial balance. My wife and I went to Grandparents' Day there a couple of weeks ago. We found neat and orderly classrooms full of bright and eager children, teachers who struck me as sharp and engaged, and a lot of very attentive parents and grandparents. My grandsons are in the minority there, but at least at this point (middle school and high school may be a different matter) I'm not worried about them. (I mean, about their schooling. I'm plenty worried about a lot of other dangers they face in these times.)

And so on. In short, the problems are real, and I emphasize that I'm not denying them. But they don't seem apocalyptic. 


On Tuesday night I went to see Dylan at the Saenger in Mobile. I hadn't planned to go, as the tickets were expensive and I've seen him three times before, but the mother of the two aforementioned grandchildren talked me into it. "It may be the last time he ever tours!" And it may very well be, as he's 77.  I was glad I went. You don't go to a Dylan concert to hear a reprise of his greatest hits of days gone by, as you might with some old band of the '60s or '70s (or '80s or '90s) which hasn't done anything very interesting for a quarter of a century or more. You go to hear him rework those old songs, and some new ones, with the help of a really fine band. For the most part the songs are unrecognizable until or unless you make out some of the words. And the results are often really effective, in spite of the fact that I'm not sure Dylan's vocalizing now should even be called singing. My only real complaint was that they were too loud for the space, so that the sound bounced all around and muddied everything up. I was sorry I hadn't brought earplugs, not to protect my ears--it wasn't that loud--but to suppress the sludge and clarify the sound. 

Some YouTube user called Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands has posted a lot of audio-only recordings of recent Dylan concerts.  They sound very much like the one I heard, with very similar set lists. Here's one from just a couple of weeks ago, in Tucson. Click on "Show More" and you'll see a set list with links which will take you to specific songs. Try a couple that you know well and you'll see what I mean.

By the way Dylan never so much as touched a guitar during the performance. He was behind a piano except for two songs where he stepped out and sang at a standalone microphone. 

Sunday Night Journal, May 6, 2018

I would prefer to think that a more accurate title for Patrick Deneen's Why Liberalism Failed would have been Why Liberalism Is Failing. That it is failing seems clear. It's a Carnival Cruise liner heading for the rocks while the drunken captain tries to seduce a passenger, a 747 with three engines out and slowly losing altitude, piloted by a man who refuses to believe that the cumulo-granite mass ahead is an unappealable statement of natural law. But I still allow myself a certain hope that the wreck will be somehow avoided, or that when it comes it will be a relatively gentle impact from which most of us will emerge relatively unharmed.

However, I don't think that's the most likely outcome. I think that if the liberal order does crash and burn it will be a very destructive event, and that whatever new order arises will be, at least for the next century or two, a pretty ugly and perhaps really evil one. An old friend of mine used to say that he lusted for the apocalypse, and I can sympathize with the feeling. But he had no children, and I have children and grandchildren.

And anyway, I rather like much of what liberalism has produced. All in all, I rather like representative government, and science and technology--surgery with anaesthesia, for instance--and heretofore-impossible levels of prosperity and personal freedom. However deficient, however productive of unwanted and unforeseen consequences, however unsustainable it may all be, I would prefer that we be able to keep those things that most of us agree are basically good things.

And I don't think it's possible to construct a new order by saying "we'll keep this, but discard that, and add this other." The development of civilizations doesn't happen that way. That's not to say it can't be guided, that the good can't be fostered and the bad suppressed, but it can't be assembled from pre-fabricated parts. It can't even be grown like a plant without the proper seed, soil, and climate. I went on record here some years ago as describing myself, where our immediate political and cultural situation is concerned, as a liberal conservative, meaning (in part) that I would like to conserve what I value in the liberal order. (It's in my book! Which has sold literally dozens of copies!) So I would like to believe that it isn't all over yet. 

I pause here to make it clear that we're talking about liberalism in the broad philosophical and historical sense, not the contemporary political faction which also bears the name. It's probably accurate to say that liberalism in this broad sense is more or less identifiable with modernity, with the characteristic way of looking at the world that has obtained in Western culture since the 18th century at least. The American republic is its most visible and successful implementation. 

Deneen points out that the "liberal" and "conservative" factions in current politics, the "left" and the "right," are all liberals in that they basically accept the philosophical foundations of classical liberalism, and are more accurately described as left-liberal and right-liberal. This is not new--I've seen those terms used for many years, with right-liberals being the true classical liberals and left-liberals being...what, exactly? Deneen uses the term "progressive liberalism," which is handy; I don't know if it's original with him or not.

I've always been a little puzzled as to how the transition from classical to progressive liberalism happened. The latter is now a form of statism, and at first glance it may seem unreasonable to see it as a natural development of classical liberalism, which is in great part about freeing the individual. Dennen devotes a whole chapter, "Uniting Individualism and Statism," to the question of how and why this is so. He argues that progressive liberalism is not an attempt to reverse individualism, but to preserve one aspect or sort of individualism that is endangered by another: 

The more individuated the polity, the more likely that a mass of individuals would inevitably turn to the state in times of need. This observation, echoing one originally made by Tocqueville, suggests that individualism is not the alternative to statism but its very cause

The individualism arising from the philosophy and practice of liberalism, far from fundamentally opposing an increasingly centralized state, both required it and in fact increased its power. Indeed, individualism and statism have powerfully combined to all but rout the vestiges of pre- and often nonliberal communities animated by a philosophy and practice distinct from statist individualism. Today's classical liberals and progressive liberals remain locked in a battle for their preferred end game--whether we will be a society of ever more perfectly liberated, autonomous individuals or ever more egalitarian members of the global "community"--but while this debate continues apace, the two sides agree on their end while absorbing our attention in disputes over the means, thus combining in a pincer movement to destroy both the vestiges of the classical practices and virtues that they both despise.

The expansion of liberalism rests upon a vicious and reinforcing cycle in which state expansion secures the end of individual fragmentation, in turn requiring further state expansion to control a society without shared norms, practices, or beliefs.

(My emphasis throughout.)

For a long time I've thought that the essential flaw of liberalism is its attempt to organize collective life without making a commitment to any core principles as to what human life is and what it is for, to prescind (or attempt to prescind) from the ultimate questions of meaning, and to operate on the assumption that people can believe whatever they want to believe on those questions as long as they don't bother other people. As has been pointed out over and over again, this requires that there be some basic metaphysical and ethical consensus among citizens--specifically, what we call the Judeo-Christian tradition--and it begins to disintegrate when that consensus does so, as it manifestly has done in the U.S.

And I've hoped that the disintegration could be avoided if we could return to what I take to be the original constitutional vision, a federal system which allows for real philosophical and practical diversity among the states--if, to be clear, we could defuse our current conflicts by abandoning the idea that the central government must enforce upon all the states exactly the same responses to questions, such as abortion, on which there are irreconcilable differences of opinion arising from irreconcilable philosophical views. Part of this solution, if it were a solution, would be the encouragement or at least the non-discouragement of all those entities--"mediating institutions," as they're often called, which stand between the individual and the state: family, religion, local community.

Well, Patrick Deneen is here to quash that hope. He thinks the problem is even more basic; in his view the system is working as designed. The diminishment of mediating institutions is a feature, not a bug. In his view, it is not the misuse of the Constitution that's the problem, but the document itself. Liberalism, he maintains, is in fact intended to reduce and eliminate every social structure that would limit the free exercise of the individual will, with only the state granted that limiting power, and then only in the name of protecting the same exercise of will on the part of others. In a striking bit of rhetoric, he describes the Constitution as a species of technology which implements that function:

The precondition of our technological society was that great achievement of political technology, the applied technology of liberal theory, our Constitution. The Constitution is the embodiment of a set of modern principles that sought to overturn ancient teachings and shape a distinctively modern human.

That puts things in a different, and, to me, rather unwelcome light, as I tend to see the Constitution, as a practical document, as a bit of genius. Some of what Deneen says in that area depends on support from sources like The Federalist Papers, and I'm not in a position to say whether they justify his conclusions. But what is happening around us certainly seems to fit.

There's a great deal more in the book, and I encourage anyone who's interested in these matters to read it. It's fairly short (under 200 pages) and very accessible to the non-academic. 


By the way, at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher reports on a very interesting conversation between Deneen and Ross Douthat. I must state for the record that I've been saying for over thirty years that we would see more and more people who believe that Brave New World describes a very desirable utopia.

I more or less agree with Douthat's point about the world outside the media seems to be doing a lot better than it looks from inside. Which is certainly not to say that all is well. 


Somewhat related: I recently had a chance to look at the August 1938 issue of Progressive Farmer. This commentary about the influence of the automobile struck me. "So it has proved," indeed. You may need to enlarge this to read it.


The cover is by N.C. Wyeth. Sorry it's out of focus. There's a caption at the lower right that says "Lunch for Father," or maybe "Daddy."


Sunday Night Journal, March 18, 2018

 I said last week that the big contemporary corporate or government employer is "not meant to produce free citizens. And it doesn't want them." Later I started thinking about how different our biggest corporations--Google and the like--are from their counterparts of thirty or forty or fifty years ago, and yet how similar. Once upon a time there was much worrying about the organization man and the man in the gray flannel suit who worked for a big company and always wore a suit and tie and lived in a suburb and was crushed into conformity. Then along came the '60s and everything began to change, and we were all set free to wear jeans at all times and express our unique and vibrant individuality. 

But the essential nature of life in a big organization is the same. It's still just as necessary to fit in as it ever was; only the details have changed. The corporate style is more casual and smiley and whimsical now, and Google may try to establish a playful atmosphere for its employees. But under all that, at a deeper level, it may be even more conformist, and most especially at the biggest and most glamorous corporations, as the firings of Brendan Eich and James Damore illustrate. Their ideological deviations are comparable to being discovered to be a communist (Eich) or declaring yourself to be one (Damore) in the '50s.

I worked for a large corporation for most of the 1980s, and I don't think I would have gotten fired for any political or social opinion. "Human resources" (repulsive phrase) departments had not yet become dominated by left-wing political activists, as they seem to be in many corporations now. I suspect that they don't see what they do in that way, but are like many people of progressive views do not acknowledge any distinction between holding and working for those views and the pursuit of the good. Or, to put it less abstractly, basic human decency. 

There's something a bit creepy about the playful surface. You, the employee, may be allowed to build your own desk out of "oversize Tinker Toys," but your utility is in the end the only thing that matters. And the more they put a smiley face on it, the more it makes me think of the Eloi and the Morlocks

And where marketers in olden days may have tried to sell you something telling you that it will help you fit in, they now try to sell you something by telling you that it will mark you as a defiant individualist. But in the end they're still selling status. And it's still more in the corporate interest for people, whether employees or customers, to behave like a herd, and be treated like one.


By the way I haven't bought a pair of jeans since sometime in the late '70s. I remember standing in a long checkout line at the supermarket and noticing that every single person ahead of me was wearing jeans. I had worn them as a symbol of rebellion in the late '60s--I would like to say a gesture of individuality, but of course I was only conforming to a group whose opinion I valued above that of the mainstream. And I obviously still had some of the contrary spirit in me, because I decided at that moment that I was through with blue jeans. Not sure when the last pair wore out. In a hot and humid climate they're not even very comfortable most of the time. 


 Rob G sent me this quote from Augusto Del Noce's The Age of Secularization, which was written in the late '60s:

The so-called 'global' revolution becomes an absurd revolt against what exists. It becomes a form of ahistorical activism that cannot distinguish what is positive and what is negative in the existing reality. It faces the following fork in the road: it can either seek a way to escape reality, becoming practically indistinguishable from the beat and hippie movements, or it can enter into alliances with pre-existing forces in the system it fights against, possibly claiming the role of avant-garde and stimulus, but actually serving as a tool.

The beatnik and hippie movements were actually a mixed bag in that respect: the desire to escape reality was part of them, yes, but there was also a desire precisely to find and encounter reality. On the whole the former has proved more appealing and durable, though. Del Noce's last sentence is a pretty fair assessment of how things turned out.

I think when Del Noce says "revolt against what exists" he means simply the existing social order, but in conjunction with the reference to "a way to escape reality," it suggests to me something that seems increasingly common: a belief that we can simply redefine and reconfigure reality to our liking with very few absolute limits. Certain things may be impossible at the moment, such as "uploading" one's consciousness into a machine, but in time we'll figure it out. Never mind that that whole idea is based on an assumption that has no foundation other than that the people who hold it think it's obvious--I mean the idea that one's very self consists of data that can be stored in some physical medium.

The Obergefell decision strikes me as some kind of landmark in that reality-defying movement. Yes, it came as the logical outcome of a long development, but still, the event itself may stand as the marker of a decisive shift, because it makes the denial the law of the land. Until a few decades ago pretty well the entire human race in all times and places would have agreed that the words "husband" and "wife" (in whatever language) refer to specific real things, based on physical sex, and easily and usefully distinguished from each other in both language and practice. Everyone would have agreed that it is intrinsically impossible for a man to have a husband, or a woman to have a wife. But now that idea has been declared officially and legally false, and anyone who continues to believe it is held to be wicked and inhuman and at the very least to be excluded from the society of decent human beings. 

It's like having the government declare, and most people accept, that there is no difference between a circle and a rectangle. Other denials and absurd assertions follow by necessity: that circles may have corners, for instance, and that a rectangle may have curves. Reality will have the last word, but I don't know how long it will be before that word is spoken.


It's been thirty years, at least, since I read Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter, which I consider to be a great masterpiece. and though I haven't re-read it I see no reason to change that opinion. Around the time I read it I bought her other enormous novel of medieval Norway, The Master of Hestviken, but only just now have I finally taken it up. It's a tetralogy (Kristin is a trilogy), and I've now finished the first book, The Axe. On the basis of that I would say that it's going to be at least as good as Kristin. I will no doubt have a lot more to say as I go along, and will try to avoid giving away too much of the plot, on the assumption that most people haven't read it, but for the moment just this: I have never read a more affecting picture of a person utterly broken by remorse. I don't recall being quite as moved by anything in Kristin as I was by this.


I've also sampled that gum which has come back in style: two episodes of the new Twin Peaks. (The gum is a Twin Peaks reference, in case you're not familiar with the series.) So far my reaction is mixed. Considering that this is truly a sequel, and what happened at the end of the original series, I'm very much hooked already. I have one major reservation: changing standards, and the fact that the new series was not made for traditional network TV, free Lynch (and/or Frost) to include more violence and horror than in the original, and some of that has been hard to take. It's not just the presence of it, but that you feel like it could appear very suddenly at any moment. That isn't going to stop me from watching it, unless it gets very much worse, which I've been told it does not. And of course it's great to see some of the old characters twenty-five years on.



Sunday Night Journal, March 4, 2018

The world is changing. Those words recur several times in The Lord of the Rings, and they keep recurring to me about these times and this country, and in particular over the past few weeks about the gun control debate. It seems to me that a slow transformation in the way Americans think about their country, especially about its political system, is under way. I tend to think the change is overall for the worse, but perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps when the new order stabilizes it will prove to be, on the whole, an improvement. But it will be different. It may preserve the forms of the Constitution, but the document will in effect no longer mean what it was intended to mean. 

Somewhere in something of Chesterton's there's an observation about the prudent approach to ancient structures. I have no idea which book or essay or newspaper column it's in, so I can only paraphrase the general idea, which is this: The impulse of many people when they come upon something--a fence, for instance--that seems to have no purpose is to say "I don't see the purpose of this. Let's tear it down." But the wiser response is to say "I don't see the purpose of this. We'd better leave it alone until we figure out why it's here." 

After Donald Trump won the electoral college, and therefore the presidency, a lot of people started demanding that we get rid of the electoral college. Most of them seemed to have no idea why the system was designed that way, that it's meant to distribute power more widely and prevent a situation where a few highly populated areas exercise complete control of the federal government. They also seem to have almost no idea at all that the state governments are not simply branch offices of the national government. They seem to see the country as being organized like a huge corporation, with its main office in Washington and every aspect of government, all the way down to your county courthouse, existing to implement the will of corporate HQ. This is not explicit, but it's the picture of the way a large organization works that they carry in their minds. But it's not what the Constitution prescribes.

Moreover, and worse, they tend to see the president as the equivalent of a corporate CEO, whose word, for all practical purposes, is law for as long as he holds the job: in short, as a king. This view has been growing for a long time and it seems to get worse every four years, which is why presidential elections are now so bitter; there is more at stake than there really should be. I think some of these people are genuinely surprised that the president cannot simply order the removal of all guns from private hands. Or, if they do realize that he doesn't have the power, they think he (or she) ought to--which is pretty odd considering that for the most part those who think this would be a good state of affairs also think Donald Trump is a fascist. 

I don't think many people under the age of forty or so really have a lot of knowledge of or sympathy with the old constitutional vision. I get the impression that they are not educated in that way, as earlier generations were. When they speak of democracy they mean an extremely crude version of it--that a numerical majority of citizens, counted nation-wide, should determine every question of policy. They don't mean the careful balancing of powers and interests that the Founding Fathers explicitly intended to prevent the likely result of pure democracy: the tyranny of the majority. 

The Constitution implies, more or less presupposes, and is meant to foster the development of a nation of free citizens: farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and mechanics who are free to manage their own affairs within very broad limits, and can be trusted to do it in a reasonably responsible way. The existence of slavery, the many crimes against the Indians, and all the other ways in which this vision was denied do not negate the intention. 

What I see developing now is an entirely different conception of what the nation should be. Instead of the ideal of free and responsible citizenry governed by representatives chosen from among themselves, the new paradigm sees two sorts of people: sheep and shepherds. The vast majority of us are the sheep, of course. We are stupid, ignorant, irresponsible, not knowing what is in our own best interests, at the mercy of the herd instinct--and worse, unlike sheep, always ready to do violence and other sorts of evil if the hand of the state isn't there to stop us. For the good of each of us and of all the other sheep, we need to be guided and protected by the strong hand and sound judgment of shepherds, who are few in number but great in wisdom and power. Many of the sheep class themselves see it this way, which is why democratic means are being used to transfer more and more power to the shepherding class. No one would put it that way, of course; no one wants to think of himself as being of the sheep, and no one who wants to be one of the shepherds would dare to use those words. 

The 2nd amendment makes a good deal of sense in the context of the old vision. Even setting aside the amendment's strong implication that private ownership of firearms is first of all meant to provide a ready defensive militia, its presumption is "Why should a citizen not be allowed to own a gun?" But in the sheep-and-shepherd context the question is "Why should anyone except the shepherds and their agents  be allowed to have a gun?"

I think this accounts for some of the mutual incomprehension of the two sides in the gun control debate. The shepherding party says "You don't need that gun." The free-citizen party says "That's not for you to decide." The shepherding party sees anyone with a gun as being likely to commit murder at any moment for little or no reason. The free-citizen party sees most people as responsible and murderers as being rare anomalies.

The gun-owning citizen also wonders why, given all the other menaces to life and health in this country, he and the tens of millions like him should be held morally responsible and have their traditional rights nullified when one person runs amuck with a firearm. And why this one terrible but rare problem should get more attention and generate far more emotion than other ills. According to Charles Cooke, whom I'm inclined to trust to get the numbers right (he provides a link for the second): 

By the time the clock strikes midnight, an average of 21 Americans will have been killed by drivers aged between 16 and 20. Tomorrow, on average, eleven teenagers will die because they were texting while driving

So if we raised the legal driving age to 21, thousands of young lives might be saved, vastly more than will be killed by lunatics attacking schools. The people who die in this manner are just as dead, and their families just as bereaved, as those murdered in Parkland, Florida. But there is no general public emotion, no journalistic outcry, and few or no calls for government action. Obviously deliberate killing creates more shock and outrage than accidents, but if the accidents are killing far more people, and are (in theory at least) preventable, something else is at work in the disproportionate demand for action against guns. I think what I've said here is part of that something else. 

The change in our conception of the commonwealth, if it is as big and lasting as I suspect, is ultimately a change in the people. The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means, and in the long run that will be determined by the people. It almost seems inevitable, since the whole drift of the past fifty years and more in our culture has been toward the loosening of all self-restraint. And it's an iron law of human nature that people who cannot control themselves will be and must be, for everyone's sake, controlled by others. 


Apropos of nothing in particular, but before I forget it, here's the funniest thing I've heard anyone say about the president:

Everything Trump says makes sense when you just preface it with, "Donald from Queens, you’re on the air."


Here, via a link at Dappled Things, is an interesting conversation about mystery novels from two Catholic writers of same. One of them, T.M. Doran, I've heard of, and I have to admit it was not an enthusiastic recommendation, but still, it's interesting.


Sorry it's out of focus, but new cypress needles are one of my favorite spring colors, especially when they catch the sunlight.


Sunday Night Journal, October 8, 2017

Contrary to my usual practice, I'm writing this on Friday afternoon. Maybe not the post as it will eventually appear, but a start on it, because we are expecting Hurricane Nate to arrive here on Sunday, and who knows whether I'll even have internet access then. I'm not terribly worried, as it isn't expected to be a bad one, just barely over the wind speed that serves as the somewhat arbitrary point where a tropical storm officially becomes a hurricane. Quite possibly it won't even be a hurricane by the time it gets to this latitude. Or it may get stronger, or it may change direction and go somewhere else. There's a peculiar suspense about waiting for a hurricane, especially of course if it's a bad one. 

A few weeks ago, when it looked possible that Hurricane Irma might end up coming this way, my wife noticed a dead tree among the many live ones on the bluff behind our house. I don't know why we had never noticed it before, as it's obviously a danger to the house, even without a hurricane. We agreed to call a tree company "soon" and get it taken down, but we haven't done it. So that's my point of greatest unease about this storm, as that tree looks as if it wouldn't take much to bring it down. I'm going to set myself a reminder on my computer or my phone for June 1, 2018: get ready for hurricane season (which officially runs from June through November). The serious ones generally occur in late August and throughout September. This October one is a little unusual.

It occurs to me that for some days now I've seen no news stories about the situation in Puerto Rico. I'm sure they're there, but they aren't appearing on the headline-aggregating web sites where I most often get my general news. I've seen a number of snarky Facebook posts about Trump's behavior regarding Puerto Rico, but I don't pay any attention to those. And that pretty much goes for the mainstream news, too. As I seem to say here at least every other week, I'm no fan of Trump. But the media have gone so far overboard in their open desire to destroy him that I don't pay much attention to their attacks, either. I figure they're usually based on some kernel of fact, but that the reporting will exaggerate, distort, and select to make Trump look as bad as possible. And unless it's a hugely important question, it's not worth the bother of trying to dig out the truth. In a day or two they'll be baying about something else anyway.

There are millions of people who look at the "mainstream media" that way, or with even more skepticism and hostility. This is a bad situation, for journalism and for the country. Institutions like the Washington Post and New York Times and the major TV networks still do very good work where their political interest isn't invested. But where it is, they simply aren't trustworthy. They want to be regarded as impartial judges, like referees in a football game, but they openly favor one team over the other, and rule accordingly. I'm sure they are sincere in their belief that it is their moral duty to work for progressive policies, but in so doing they have destroyed the respect which should have been their most effective tool. (This piece at National Review is a good treatment of the whole syndrome.)

On the left end of the political spectrum, invective inflation has set in, and I hear more people saying that they just don't have words to express their hatred and disgust for Trump. That's not surprising. They've been calling everyone who disagrees with them a Nazi for 40 years and more now. If Nixon was Hitler, and Reagan was Hitler, and Bush (2) was Hitler, and Trump is vastly worse than all of those, what can you say about him? Maybe a howl of rage is the only thing left.

I just did a quick search for news on Puerto Rico's situation. Most of the stories that turned up were much more about Trump  than about the situation on the island. The media clearly want this to be "Trump's Katrina". So far it isn't. But then "Bush's Katrina" wasn't Bush's Katrina, either. If the same thing had happened in the Clinton or Obama administrations, the disaster wouldn't have been hung around their necks in the same way. 


If you're ever in the path of a hurricane and want to extract the maximum possible anticipatory dread from the waiting, I recommend reading Isaac's Storm, a vivid account of the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas. I think I read it in 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina, though it could have been the previous year, when we had Hurricane Ivan, which was bad enough. Here's my Sunday Night Journal from September 4, 2005, a few days after Katrina: "Uneasy in the Aftermath". I mention in that post that the water was lapping against the side of my house. This is what it looked like:



When a hurricane is churning up the sea, somewhere below the surface there is still calm. I don't know how far down the turbulence extends, but I have the impression that it isn't so very far. That thought has been on my mind frequently of late, with hurricanes in the news, and a hurricane of sorts raging in the Church. I'm referring mainly to the controversy about Amoris Laetitia, but also the general prevalence of factional conflict.

I was sick at heart when it became clear that such conflict was going to be one of the most immediate and striking characteristic of Francis's papacy. I really had thought that the worst of that was behind us, but obviously I was wrong. I think the level of animosity is actually higher than it was thirty years ago; perhaps the internet has a lot to do with that. Or probably. In this respect it mirrors our political culture.

We could argue all day about who is most to blame for the situation, but no matter what one thinks about that, the situation is there. I decided a while back that I would not participate. Occasionally I do let myself get drawn in, but not very far. For the most part I'm able not only to stay out of the fights but to avoid following them in much detail. I avoid the web sites and the Facebook posts where they are conducted. There is nothing I can do to resolve the debates, and they have nothing immediately to do with my own spiritual life. The moral questions involved are not ones that affect me directly and I have no theological qualifications enabling me to pass judgment on the abstract questions. No one is looking to me for guidance and counsel. I trust that the Holy Spirit will eventually straighten it out, but that won't be in my lifetime. And I'm grateful to God and Pope Benedict for the Ordinariate.

I pray, I go to Mass, I receive communion, now and then I go to confession. I read and think. I'm swimming below the surface now, and I don't feel the effects of the storm above very strongly. The analogy breaks down in one way, though: as you go deeper into the sea, it gets darker, but down here there more light, not less.


If you're thinking "He should treat politics the same way he treats the Church's quarrels," well, so am I. It's harder to get away from that stuff, though. And it does have a more direct influence on my life.


Sunday evening

As you've probably heard, the hurricane ended up being a pretty mild affair. I'm not sure it was even a hurricane when it made landfall sixty or seventy miles west of here. The wind we got wasn't much stronger than a big thunderstorm can muster, though it lasted a lot longer. And we had a lot of rain, six inches or so, though I've seen more in the same amount of time (roughly twenty-four hours) from more or less ordinary storms. There was quite a storm surge in the bay, though, The water came up at least four feet higher than its usual high-tide level, washing a great deal of sand and debris into the woods. A lot of piers were damaged; when the waves start pushing on the cross-pieces from below, they come loose pretty quickly. Much of the debris consisted of boards torn loose from piers and other shoreline structures in just such events. I spent an hour or two this afternoon hauling pieces of lumber, some of them quite large and heavy, from the shore and the woods up to the place where the city will pick them up. I'm grateful that I'm still able to do that kind of work.

This is what I saw around 8 this morning. There's not supposed to be water where I'm standing. The beach should start about where that wave is breaking beyond the trees. 



Sunday Night Journal, August 20, 2017

After the disturbance and the murder in Charlottesville, I saw more than one demand that anyone who considers himself a conservative or in any way on the political right make a public denunciation of the Klan, the Nazis, and all others of their ilk. I have not done this, although I do detest their views and was shocked by the murder. There is something in me that resists making such public announcements, and I've been asking myself what it is. It would cost me nothing, really, so why not do it?I think my reluctance has two components.

The first, and strongest, is that it is a bullying accusation, saying, in effect, "You resemble certain people whom I consider to be monsters, and so I suspect that you may be a monster, too. I'm generously giving you an opportunity to prove to me that you are not." (Not very generously at all, actually, because the demand tends to come from those who already consider conservatism to be next door to fascism. I know someone who seems to believe very sincerely that the Republican Party is the political arm of the Ku Klux Klan.) The demand for a public statement of correct opinion is not made of those who are not already suspect. It's a variant on the ancient rhetorical trap of the loaded question: when did you stop beating your wife? Most people who recognize the game refuse to play it. I do.

Not very long ago at all a progressive activist took a rifle and a pistol and plenty of ammunition to a softball field where a group of Republicans were practicing for a game. It seems that he would have killed them all if he had not been himself killed by police. As it was, he only managed to injure gravely one congressman, and give a police woman, Crystal Granger, an ankle wound. It didn't occur to me to demand that my friends or anyone else on the left prove their good faith by formally denouncing the shooting. I assumed that at the very least they did not approve of it, even though this fellow apparently is generally of the same mind as they on politics, which is not the case with me and the Charlottesville demonstrators. Probably I could with a few minutes' searching turn up some leftists who did approve, but I would not take those as evidence that all did.

I expect the same courtesy to be extended to me. And if that's naive, there's not much point in my trying to demonstrate my good faith; it's already presumed bad, and the burden on me to prove otherwise, and what argument will succeed in that? I deny that my political views bear any resemblance at all to those of Nazis and Klansmen, and do not deign even to argue the point because arguing with a loaded question is a losing game, and meant to be.

But there's another and more fundamental reason that I tend not to make public statements of grief or outrage about events like the Charlotte mess. This is mainly a matter of personal temperament, but I generally find such statements a little unconvincing when made by other people, and in making one would feel whatever I said to be unconvincing. The reason is that any words I might come up with would be so vastly inadequate to the thing. What, for instance, can I say to what happened a few days ago in Barcelona, which as of right now has killed fourteen times as many people as the Charlottesville attack? To write a few words expressing shock and horror, perhaps to add, on Facebook, a few emojis signifying weeping and/or prayers, would feel absurd, almost offensive in its triviality as compared to the horror. 

I don't mean to mock or belittle anyone who is in the habit of making such statements. If you do, I assume that you are expressing what you actually feel, and that you are not merely engaging in pro forma gestures. But it feels that way to me when I do it. And so I generally don't. If that makes me seem indifferent or callous, I regret it, but don't intend to do differently. Person to person, in the face of someone's grief, I'll say words that I know are inadequate, because I know that as a rule in those situations any gesture of sympathy is worth something; it is truly the gesture that matters. But publicly, in a matter that has nothing directly to do with me, and addressed to the world at large rather than to those who are actually suffering, it feels insincere. It feels like cant. 

Samuel Johnson's "Clear your mind of cant" was said in a somewhat different context, but it's relevant:

BOSWELL: “Perhaps, sir, I should be the less happy for being in Parliament. I never would sell my vote, and I should be vexed if things went wrong.”—JOHNSON: “That’s cant, sir. It would not vex you more in the House than in the gallery: public affairs vex no man.”—BOSWELL: “Have not they vexed yourself a little, sir? Have not you been vexed by all the turbulence of this reign, and by that absurd vote of the House of Commons, ‘That the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished’?”—JOHNSON: “Sir, I have never slept an hour less, nor ate an ounce less meat. I would have knocked the factious dog on the head, to be sure; but I was not vexed.”—BOSWELL: “Sir, upon my honour, I did imagine I was vexed, and took a pride in it; but it was, perhaps, cant; for I own I neither ate less, nor slept less.”—JOHNSON: “My dear friend, clear your mind of cant. You may talk as other people do: you may say to a man, ‘Sir, I am your most humble servant.’ You are not his most humble servant. You may say, ‘These are bad times; it is a melancholy thing to be reserved to such times.’ You don’t mind the times. You tell a man, ‘I am sorry you had such bad weather the last day of your journey, and were so much wet.’ You don’t care sixpence whether he is wet or dry. You may talk in this manner; it is a mode of talking in society: but don’t think foolishly.”

 (I copied and pasted that directly from As often with Johnson, you have to remember that he delighted in verbal combat, and not take everything he says as the last word on the subject. I believe we all these days sometimes experience real anxiety caused by the times, and may in fact sleep less, or eat less. But for the most part it is our private joys and sorrows that really affect us, for better and for worse. As Johnson also said:

How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.


In Barcelona, a heartening rejection of Islamophobia : that's a Washington Post headline. It's a pretty disheartening contrast to the wild cries of "This is Trump's America!" that have been the progressive reaction to Charlottesville. Guilt by association is forbidden where Islam is concerned, but required toward Trump-supporting Americans.


Something else that I've seen more than once since the election: anti-Trumpers declaring their intention to cut Trump supporters entirely out of their lives. This really rather shocks me. Political differences, and even more so religious differences, can certainly, and in fact have, come between me and people I know, to the point that we don't much enjoy each other's company, and so have little to do with each other. But it's certainly not, on my side and I hope not on theirs, a deliberate act of rejection or excommunication, just a sad consequence of having too little in common to sustain the relationship. But to those for whom politics has taken the place of religion, Trump is a blasphemy, a sacrilege, the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not. I suppose the effect is especially brutal since he succeeds a man who was a sort of saint to them, the philosopher-king Barack the Good. 

I was at a gathering of my wife's family on Friday night. There were twenty or thirty people there, and I never heard a single word about politics. I know there was at least one avid Trump supporter there, and at least a couple who oppose him, though maybe not passionately. I think this is more typical of Americans as a whole than the obsession with politics that results in the sort of animosity I described.


Yesterday afternoon I was browsing the news and, naturally, found myself thinking "How can people be so stupid?" Then I went outside and mowed the lawn in flip-flops.


I don't understand the coloring of this picture. It's the late afternoon sun a few weeks ago, but where are the colors? It does have some hints of color, so I didn't just change it to black-and-white. I use the now-obsolete photo editing tool Picasa to fiddle around with pictures, but it saves a history all modifications, and there's no record of any change to this one. Some quirk of the no doubt overwhelmed iPhone camera, I guess.



Sunday Night Journal, August 13, 2017

Some time back, maybe two years or so, I saw a "meme" on Facebook which contrasted the educational backgrounds of left-wing and right-wing TV-radio controversialists, much to the disadvantage of the right-wingers, at least in the eyes of whoever constructed the "meme."  (I'm sorry, I cannot resign myself to the unqualified acceptance of that silly term.) For the left, it was people like Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow, who have degrees from prestigious schools (the only one I remember now was William and Mary). For the right, it was people like Rush Limbaugh, who have little or no education past high school. (This required some cherry-picking, excluding, for instance, George Will, Ph.D, Princeton, but then he is more a print than a television presence. If the comparison were made entirely within the realm of print, conservatives would certainly hold their own, though they would be outnumbered.)

I reposted the "meme" with some sort of derisive comment about people who place excessive value on educational credentials. I don't remember exactly what I said, and although it's presumably still available on Facebook it would take a while to find it. In any case I apparently did not express my meaning very clearly, because I immediately got several responses from people making remarks along the lines of "If you needed a lawyer, wouldn't you want one who went to a good law school?" and, if I remember correctly, at least suggesting that I might be anti-intellectual.

The episode distressed me, because I hate being misconstrued. I don't mind disagreement at all, but I want the disagreement to be about what I said--or, if I said it badly, what I meant to say--not about something I did not intend to say. (The most unpleasant interchange I've ever had on Facebook involved someone misinterpreting my assertion that white people cannot fix what is wrong in poor black communities as meaning that the condition of those communities is unrelated to white racism. Or something like that. Not sure it ever got cleared up.)

In the remark about education I meant to be saying two things: first, that formal education in itself is hardly a requirement for engaging in combat journalism on television and radio, which is essentially a branch of the entertainment industry. Any reasonably intelligent person can gather up rocks to throw at his political enemies. But very few can mount their attacks convincingly and entertainingly on television or radio. That takes a good deal of natural talent and no doubt a good deal of practice. It's not a skill I much admire, but it is both rare and lucrative, and those few people who do it really well make a great deal of money.

It does not, however, require any specific type of formal education, or very much of it. Nor does it make much use of the breadth and depth of mind which are supposed to be acquired through higher education. Excessive care for the disinterested pursuit of truth would in fact be a handicap for it.

Second, I meant that in general to make formal education a primary indicator of the respect due to the person is a serious mistake. I meant that first in relation to wisdom and virtue; I have known a great many educated and uneducated people and have never seen any indication that either is generally superior to the other in those qualities. Moreover, in our time (maybe in all times) there are special forms of foolishness that are far more likely to be found in those who have had a great deal of schooling, and therefore are pervasive today in our educated class. Much of it falls broadly under the condemnation of the adage: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you do know that ain't so." (See this for attribution of the remark.)

I meant it in more down-to-earth terms as well. Many occupations--law, medicine, plumbing--require specialized "KSAs", as personnel managers call them: Knowledge, Skills, and Ability. In some cases the K and S are best acquired through formal training. But in the end it is the A that matters most, and in many occupations a combination of natural aptitude and hands-on work in the field can be as likely as formal training to impart it. I would think performing on television and radio would be among those. 


Why is this old conversation on my mind? It was a train of thought that began with this, a "tweet" (another term I can't bring myself to use as if it were a real word except in the context of birdsong):

Difference between Nazi and Communist is when you say how horrible Nazis have been, they don’t say “Well, real Nazism has never been tried.”

I saw it at Neo-neocon's blog, and thought it was pretty funny. Reading the comments, I came across a reference to the Nazi's "Einsatzgruppen." Consulting Wikipedia, I learned that these were essentially death squads charged with carrying out massacres of certain categories of civilians considered to be enemies of the Reich. And I found this:

Many Einsatzgruppe leaders were highly educated; for example, nine of seventeen leaders of Einsatzgruppe A held doctorate degrees. Three Einsatzgruppen were commanded by holders of doctorates, one of whom (SS-Gruppenführer Otto Rasch) held a double doctorate.

Franz Jägerstätter, on the other hand, was a farmer with "little formal education."


Maybe technology has too much of a hold on me. No, not "maybe", "definitely." A little earlier today I was looking for a magazine that I have mislaid. I found myself thinking for an instant that I could just call it on my phone, as many of us have done using someone else's phone to locate ours.


Regarding the incident in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend: haven't I been saying that many in this country have been sowing the wind, and can expect to reap the whirlwind?


Although it's only mid-August, summer is in a sense over for me. As I've mentioned before, two of my grandsons, ages five and seven, have been spending three or four days a week with us, and since it's now my wife who goes out to work every day, and I who stay at home, more than half of that time is spent with me. But school starts tomorrow, and Friday was their last day here. It's bittersweet. I've gotten almost no work done on my book, and I want to get back to it, and for that matter I've done little work of any kind at all that wasn't directly related to caring for them. But it's been good in many ways. We settled into a comfortable routine and I think it has not been an unpleasant experience for them.

One thing we've done every day unless the weather prevents us is spend a while splashing around in the bay. Happily, Friday morning was sunny and almost windless. After they'd gotten tired of playing in the water, I suggested that we walk up to the public beach and park, a quarter-mile or so away, just for a change. There are ponds there with ducks and geese and we hadn't taken that walk for a while. Depending on the water level, it can involve a lot of clambering over fallen trees or wading around stumps.

A few days before we had been playing with a tennis ball that had washed up on shore (they float and are fun to throw around in the water). But we'd forgotten to take it back to the house with us, and apparently it had washed back out with the tide. We had not gotten very far toward the park, just a few hundred feet, when they found what appeared to be the same bright green tennis ball. The boys were a bit ahead of me, as usual, and Lucas, the five-year-old, ran back and gave me the ball, in that funny way that children have: "Here"--and they hand you the pizza crust or the apple core that they don't want, or the ball that they do want but do not want to bother with at this moment. 

Well, I wanted to have my hands free to deal with obstacles, and a tennis ball is too big for the pockets of the old cut-off pants I was wearing. So I said I would walk back to "our" beach and put it with our things--the bag containing towels and sun-screen and fruit juice and pretzels. "Okay," said Lucas, and he started to go and catch up with his brother. But then he stopped, apparently a little uneasy about going too far without me, hesitated for a moment, and said "But you'll be right behind us, right?"

"Yes, I will."

Yes, God willing, now and always.


Sunday Night Journal, July 9, 2017

Johnson said of Paradise Lost that "No one ever wished it longer." I can't give my opinion on that, since I've never read more than excerpts from it. But on the basis of those I suspect I'd agree. And by that standard I would have to rate J.R.R. Tolkien's Lay of Leithian at least as high as Paradise Lost, because I've just read a substantial portion of it in a newly released book, Beren and Lúthien, and I definitely wished it longer.

This book is Christopher Tolkien's attempt to publish as one semi-coherent narrative the story of those two lovers, which is an important part of his father's mythology. He tells us in his introduction that he is now ninety-two years old (which surprised me, though it shouldn't have, as my father would be almost that old now if he were still alive). Accordingly, he expects that this will be the last of the books he has edited and published from his father's many scattered and unfinished manuscripts. I am not a Tolkien...what?...I'm trying to find an alternative to "geek" and not succeeding. "Fanatic" I guess would do, but it has a slightly unpleasant connotation, while "fan" doesn't suggest the same zeal and dedication. And "scholar" is too formal. "Nerd" is a little derogatory. "Geek" suggests, nowadays, an innocent sort of enthusiasm, while "enthusiast" doesn't convey the absorption in minute detail which "geek" does. (The development of the term is interesting: how did it go from denoting a person who performs disgusting acts in a carnival show to its current sense denoting intense and maybe obsessive interest in the details of something or other?) 

Anyway: I am not one of the people who has pursued extensive knowledge of Tolkien's entire created world and languages. The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books, also to a lesser degree The Hobbit. I read The Silmarillion in the early 1980s and found it not much more than interesting, though I had young children and a new job at the time and might have gotten more involved with it had there been fewer other demands on my attention. Of the many later books (more than a dozen) compiled by Christopher Tolkien, I've read no more than bits and pieces, though there are one or two on my shelf. I probably wouldn't have read this one if my wife hadn't given it to me for Father's Day.

It's a nicely produced volume, with illustrations by Alan Lee, whose illustrations for other Tolkien volumes I've liked more than most. I took it up because I thought it might be a pleasant diversion, maybe just shy of escapism. I found myself more involved than I expected to be, and more moved. It's something of a hodge-podge, as the attempt to put the entire narrative in one volume requires grabbing bits and pieces from a number of manuscripts composed over a period of decades, some in prose and some in verse, and in many instances varying significantly in details about the characters and events, .

And so, back to the poem: it's by far the longest sustained piece in the book, comprising more than half of the actual J.R.R. Tolkien material (as opposed to Christopher's explanatory material). It tells, in brief, how the man Beren and the elf-maiden Lúthien met, fell in love, and, in order to gain her father's permission to wed, undertook to steal a Silmaril,  one of the fabulous jewels for which The Silmarillion is named, from the crown of the evil lord Morgoth. Frankly, I expected all this verse to be rather tedious, especially as I had greatly enjoyed the first piece in the book, an early prose version of the legend called The Tale of Tinúviel (Tinúviel being another name for Lúthien). 

Well, I didn't find it tedious at all. First I was impressed by the skill with which Tolkien handled his form: tetrameter couplets. Granted, there are vast quantities of 20th century literature I've never read, but I don't know of anything else in it which sustains such a strict form so well for so long. And it's no empty technical feat: the story is a good one, the narrative moves well, and the verse is skillful and powerful. Here's a sample. Luthien and Beren have come in disguise, he as a wolf and she as a bat, to Morgoth's fortress and are challenged by a great supernatural wolf, Carcharoth. Luthien is wearing a cloak which gives her the power of casting a man or beast into an enchanted sleep.

.... The vampire dark
she flung aside, and like a lark
cleaving through night to dawn she sprang,
while sheer, heart-piercing silver, rang
her voice, as those long trumpets keen
thrilling, unbearable, unseen
in the cold aisles of morn. Her cloak
by white hands woven, like a smoke,
like all-bewildering, all-enthralling
all-enfolding evening, falling
from lifted arms, as forth she stepped
across those awful eyes she swept,
a shadow and a mist of dreams
whereon entangled starlight gleams.

Okay, maybe you find that archaic--well, it is archaic, but maybe you also find it corny, maybe even funny. I could quote some passages that might strike you even more that way. He makes use of all the old-fashioned artifice required to maintain the form he has chosen; conversational or prosy this poem decidedly is not. And then there is the whole legendary-mythological subject. But I think it's good.

I know there are a lot of people, people of intelligence and taste, who find Tolkien's whole enterprise ridiculous, who are so formed by and committed to the naturalistic methods of modern literature (as I see it), that they can't take this sort of thing seriously outside of its natural element in time, which is to say some centuries ago. I do understand that; Tolkien was certainly something of a freak, and he knew it. But I can enlist Auden on the side of those of us who do like it--The Lord of the Rings, at least, of which Auden said "If someone dislikes it, I shall never trust their literary judgment about anything again." I won't go that far, but I do take a dislike or dismissal of The Lord of the Rings as a mysterious and odd gap in taste which one neither approves nor disapproves but as a quirk, like hating the taste of beer.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I believe there is at least a fair possibility that a time will come, say at least a century or two in the future, when this poem of Tolkien's will be of more interest to critics than many of our lesser contemporaries. The poem is, sad to say, unfinished: only seventeen of a projected twenty cantos were written. They run to something over 4,000 lines of verse, less than half of Milton's 10,000-plus, and, as I said earlier, I'm sorry there aren't more.

I think the entire poem can be found in one of the other Christopher-edited Tolkien volumes, so I guess I'm going to have to find out which one and read it. I see a slight but real possibility of my becoming a Tolkien geek. Perhaps fortunately, I don't really have time.

Whatever one thinks of Tolkien's work as literature, the sheer scope of his invention is rather stunning. Until you've delved into it a bit, beyond The Lord of the Rings, you don't appreciate just how vast and detailed his invented world is. It is simply astonishing that one man could have invented so much, while maintaining a respected career as an Oxford professor and raising a family.



Another Fourth of July has come and gone, and with it the usual round of meditations and appreciations. I particularly liked this one by Charles Cooke, a young British expat. I like it not because I agree with his admiration of this or that specific thing about America, much less his general view of the world (he's a secular libertarian-leaning conservative--or conservative-leaning libertarian), but because I like his enthusiasm, and in general share it. 

I don’t know why I love the open spaces in the Southwest or Grand Central Terminal or the fading Atomic Age Googie architecture you see sometimes when driving. I don’t know why merely glimpsing the Statue of Liberty brings tears to my eyes, or why a single phrase on an Etta James or Patsy Cline record does what it does to me. It just does. I have spoken to other immigrants about this, and I have noticed that there is generally a satisfactory explanation — religious freedom, the chance at self-expression, the country’s size — and then there is the wistful stuff that moistens the eyes. Show me a picture of two canyons, and the fact that one of them is American will make all the difference. Just because it is American. Is this so peculiar? Perhaps.

I have to say, though, that I always thought this Oscar Wilde remark that he criticizes is actually quite funny: "America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." I'd heard it before but didn't realize it was Wilde.


When I read that piece and came across the term "Googie architecture" I thought at first it was a misprint for "Google" and wondered what sort of architecture was associated with Google. So I googled (of course) the term and found that according to Wikipedia "Googie architecture is a form of modern architecture, a subdivision of futurist architecture influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age." For instance:

Car_Wash _San_Bernardino _CA

(By Cogart Strangehill - Ext. Car Wash, San Bernardino, CA, CC BY-SA 2.0)

I like it, too. I mean, in a backwards sort of way. Or more accurately I feel a kind of affection for it, even though it's pretty ugly.


Here's an image from my Fourth of July. From here we have a great view of the fireworks launched after dark from the end of the big pier, three-quarters of a mile or so away over the water. 


Sunday Night Journal, March 5, 2017

I recall reading about The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch when it came out some years ago. I would have said, without checking, ten to fifteen years ago, but it was actually twenty. I remember reading some reviews at the time and thinking that it sounded interesting: essays by a poet who makes his living as an undertaker (or, if you prefer, a mortician): surely he would have some interesting things to say. Enough influential people liked the book that it was a finalist for the National Book Award, but I never took the trouble to have a look at it. And I probably never would have if my wife had not come across it recently and read it. She kept finding passages that she liked so much that she read them to me, and so when she put it down, I picked it up.

It is a very good book, and I recommend it. It treats death familiarly and casually, but simultaneously with respect and awe, and by no means without humor. That famous "dissociation of sensibility" that Eliot saw and described in the modern world is certainly not in evidence here. One who gets up in the morning and goes to work to spend the day collecting bodies from the places where they became bodies only, preparing them for funerals, dealing with the bereaved, burying or burning the bodies, sending out bills for these services and thinking about how to keep them reasonably profitable, could hardly be anything but familiar with death, and would be almost forced to become casual about it. The challenge perhaps would be not to let casual turn into indifferent. But while Lynch is unillusioned and unsentimental, he is not cynical, and definitely not indifferent. 

Moreover, he comes from a big Irish Catholic family, and while it is not clear that he still believes, he retains a very Catholic sensibility, by which I mean that he finds it easy and natural to invest very mundane, even crude or disgusting, things with great significance.

Much of the book consists of stories which are variously and often simultaneously touching, funny, and horrifying. Be advised that there are some gruesome moments. There is also a deep undercurrent of meditation on the ethics of life and death.

All of this comes together most impressively for me in the essay "Uncle Eddie, Inc.", which begins with a proposal by his brother Eddie, also an undertaker, for a sideline business specializing in cleaning the premises where a very untidy death has occurred.

Perhaps his service were a little too specialized--know only to local and state law enforcement agencies and county medical examiners and funeral homes; only needed by the families and landlords of the messy dead. Indoor suicides, homicides, household accidents, or natural deaths undetected in a timely fashion--these were the exceptional cases that often required the specialized sanitation services that Uncle Eddie and his staff at Triple S--his wife, his golfing buddy, and his golfing buddy's wife--stood ever ready to provide for reasonable fees most often covered by the Homeowner's Policy. If not the sort of thing you'd find in the yellow pages, still, tough work that someone had to do.

Had you ever wondered about such things? I had.


I went to a Mardi Gras parade in Mobile on the weekend before Mardi Gras proper. It had been several years since I'd been to a Mobile parade. Here in Fairhope there are a few parades that are fairly big and elaborate by local standards (nothing like as elaborate as those in New Orleans, I'm told). And going to one or two of those is generally enough for me. The whole thing can seem kind of tiresome, actually, once you've done it a few times. But it was fun going to a Mobile parade again: the parades are bigger, and the crowds are a lot bigger and more lively. 

It was a seriously diverse crowd. "Diversity" in its current cant-ish sense generally conjures up an image of nice middle-class people who may look different from each other and may come from different countries with different cultural and religious traditions, but have grown detached (implicitly above) those traditions, and mostly adopted the habits and attitudes and tastes of middle-to-upper-class white liberals.  

The crowd at this parade, though, at least at the place where I was watching it (Government Street) was most definitely not the place to be if you didn't want those attitudes and tastes to be offended. This crowd was mostly not very affluent, noisy, crude, old, young, black, white, and frequently very tacky. There were unattractive people wearing t-shirts advertising their sex appeal, women wearing all sorts of ill-advised super-tight pants and tops, bad hairdos, and a general preference for the cheap and gaudy, although some of the gaudiness  had a possibly ironic twist, like the tall Cat-in-the-Hat-type hats decorated with flashing lights. There were cheap plastic beads and glow sticks everywhere. A fair number of people were drunk. Many smoked cigarettes or cigars. Much food of a decidedly unhealthy nature was consumed: corn dogs, nachos (drenched in a liquid cheese-like liquid of mysterious provenance), and funnel cakes (which in my opinion are worthy of the gods). It was a lively, occasionally rowdy, but very good-humored crowd, and for my part the high spirits of the people, on and off the floats, and the pervasive beat of marching bands are very effective in putting me into a festive frame of mind.

Looking around at the crowd, I said to someone "This is Trump's America," and she looked a little shocked. Well, a lot shocked, actually, and I hastened to explain: not that these were Trump supporters--the crowd was at least 50% black, and we can assume they weren't predominantly pro-Trump--but that this was the messy, undisciplined, and frankly somewhat crazy America that many of the people who are horrified and terrified by Trump are not much acquainted with, and to the extent that they are aware of it find repulsive. It is the America that produced and elevated Trump, notwithstanding the couple of thousand miles and couple of billions of dollars between him and this crowd, and to which Trump can relate and appeal. Black people kept their distance from him for perfectly good reasons of ethnic politics, but a black politician with similar tactics and personality--a black Trump--would do very well among them. (Barack Obama I have always considered to be best understood as being temperamentally and ideologically a white liberal whose half-African ancestry gave him immeasurable cachet among the same, and an appeal far greater than an actual American black man like Al Sharpton could have.)

The technocrats of Washington, New York, and California who tend to run the major institutions of our society are generally intelligent, disciplined, and prudent. They tend to order their lives pretty sensibly. They may copulate wildly but they are careful about birth control and rarely permit unplanned births. They do well in school and are "educated" with an emphasis on the contemporary: on economics, politics, and law seen from a somewhat abstract sociological viewpoint that seems to leave them ignorant or naive about elemental human truths. They tend to view social problems as, precisely, problems, which, like textbook exercises, have rational solutions. And they don't understand people who reject their solutions and do irrational, imprudent, impractical things like smoking, diving for Moon Pies and worthless beads at Mardi Gras, and "cling[ing] to guns and religion," as our coolly technocratic ex-president complained.

A character in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength says "You cannot study men; you can only get to know them." A Mardi Gras crowd in Mobile, Alabama, is a good place to do it. 


After the parade I had a surprise, which was initially unpleasant but on balance a good one. We--my wife, a daughter and her two children,  a son and his girlfriend--were in the parking lot of the building where my wife works. It's a private lot and the entrances are blocked by padlocked chains, which is nice for us because she has a key and thus we always have a convenient place to park. While we were waiting for the traffic to thin out my two grandsons and I were throwing a Mardi Gras frisbee around the parking lot. (Technically speaking, not a Frisbee (tm), but an off-brand flying disk, a frequent "throw" from the floats.) The frisbee sailed out into the street. I went to get it. Just as I was stepping over the chain, one of my grandsons pulled it up so that he could go under it, very effectively pulling my feet out from under me. I hit the concrete pretty hard, on my side. I lay there for a minute thinking it fairly likely that I had some kind of significant damage, quite possibly a broken bone. But I didn't. I only had a few bruises and scratches. I was gratified to find that my bones are apparently not yet very brittle, even though I'm getting uncomfortably near to my three-score-and-ten years.

(I was not drunk, by the way. I had had a beer with dinner three hours earlier, nothing else.)



Seeking whom he may devour?


Biting wit: a local news story tells us that "A man had his ear bit off during a verbal altercation." 

Sunday Night Journal, February 12, 2017

For most of my adult life, until I was getting near fifty or so, I spent a lot of time thinking about What Was Wrong with Society and what Society ought to be like. I tended to assume that Society was fundamentally messed up and therefore must be fundamentally changed. When I was twenty this change was supposed to be in the direction of some sort of leftist dream, more or less utopian. When I was forty it was Chestertonian-distributist-agrarian. The magazine Caelum et Terra, in which I was heavily involved in the early-to-mid-1990s, was devoted in large part to that basic idea.

I always felt a little dishonest and hypocritical about that, though, because in my heart I didn't really have a great desire to move to the country, much less to attempt subsistence farming, and I didn't really think it was something that should be expected of most people. I had seen farming up close and didn't fall for the romantic picture held by a lot of Catholic intellectuals. I could have come into my family's medium-sized cattle-and-crops farm if I had wanted to, and sometimes I think I should have, but it would not have been a life that either Chesterton or Belloc would have much admired. An acquaintance who grew up on a family farm, asked why he hadn't stayed there, said "it was too much like work." 

I was thinking about that recently when I read an essay by Joseph Epstein, "The Big O: the Reputation of George Orwell." It was published in The New Criterion in 1990, and, as a subscriber, I was made aware of it by an occasional email the magazine sends recommending things from its archives. The essay is excellent, but unfortunately is available only to subscribers. Anyway, this remark of Orwell's really struck me:

“All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham,” he wrote in his essay “Rudyard Kipling” (1942), “because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy.”

I'm afraid that is all too shrewdly accurate an assessment not only of left-wingers but of those Catholics who tend to idealize and romanticize Catholic cultures of the past. Let's face it: most of us have fairly easy and well-provisioned lives compared to almost all the people who have ever lived, and as much as we might see and deplore the various ills (spiritual, material, and psychological) that have accompanied it--life never gives us any gain without some countering loss--we don't really want to give up things like central heat and indoor plumbing and underground sewer systems. Not to mention a plentiful and reliable food supply. Not to mention a previously unknown degree of personal freedom. And window screens, something I often think of in this context, since I live in a very hot and buggy place.

By the time I started this blog in 2004 I had pretty much given up thinking about those What's Wrong With Society And How Do We Fix It questions. Yes, things are messed up. Yes, arguably the messed-up-ness stems directly from philosophical wrong turns taken several hundred years ago. And if you want to spend time analyzing that, by all means do so. If you want to spend time thinking about, for instance, how a Christian society ought to handle property ownership, or the question of lending money at interest, by all means do so. But I don't care anymore, not in a personal way, not in any sense that suggests the ills can be done away with and right order established in my lifetime or even my grandchildren's lifetimes. It's academic, in the dismissive sense: a matter of only abstract interest and no immediate import. 

You might reply that this was once true of the abstruse philosophical errors that got us where we are, and that in the long run, they had a great deal of practical effect. Yes, that's true, and it's good that intelligent people are working on the problem. But it's like engineers on the Titanic discussing the flaws of its design, and how they might be corrected in future vessels, while the ship is filling with water. 

Conservatives are often asked what they want to conserve. I myself, in a Caelum et Terra piece published some twenty-five years ago, wondered at what point a conservative would become so out of step with his society as to be a de facto revolutionary. I thought the time might be coming fairly soon. Well, things have gotten considerably worse, but I find that I have not only not become a revolutionary but am a rather desperate conservative.

What do I want to conserve? In a word, civilization. In a few more words, Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian Civilization. And more specifically, right here and right now, I want to preserve the Anglo-American system of constitutional government, which for a long time has been under suspicion and sometimes attack from the left. Now it's also being endangered--not really deliberately attacked, but threatened by foolish reactions--from the right as well. And the conflict between the two seems to be producing something like a national nervous breakdown.

The "fundamental transformation" promised and pursued by Obama produced a reaction, and put into the White House a man unqualified for and unsuited to the position. Now the reaction to that has some significant portion of the country in a state which can fairly be called hysteria. Fear and hate are at some kind of fever pitch in the opposition to Trump, and as always when that happens principles of abstract law begin to look like intolerable obstacles. A day or two after Trump's executive order on immigration was struck down by a court, in a conversation with a Trump opponent, I was talking about the danger of whipping up fear and hysteria. She replied that the order might not have been overturned if not for "what you refer to as 'whipping up hysteria'".

The implication there, that judges ought to respond to the popular passions of the moment, is shocking. But I'm afraid that a very large number of our citizens (if that word still has meaning) see the whole constitutional system that way. The vague view seems to be something like "The Constitution exists to promote good things. Therefore what is good is constitutional, and what is bad is unconstitutional. And my party decides what is good and bad."

I don't think about building a new society anymore. I only want to prevent the destruction of the foundations of the one we have. Fortunately there is a lot of inertia in the system.


Yeah, I know I need to avoid being hysterical about the hysteria. 


Well, I'd like to think about something more pleasant now. Also from The New Criterion, the December '16 issue: Kyle Smith, reviewing a new musical which is a sort of rewrite of Holiday Inn, the 1942 Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire movie, writes:

When I say Holiday Inn is a musical feast for the family, I don’t mean bring small children: whether they’d be bored by such all-around excellence I have no idea, but I do know they can be entertained for a lot less than it costs to see a Broadway show. No, I mean bring the parents, even bring the in-laws, bring anyone who is wise enough to appreciate 1940s Hollywood stardust.

I rejoiced at that last bit, because I've come in my latter years to a great appreciation and affection for Hollywood stardust. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, for instance. Neo-neocon had a post last week about them, a bit of cheer-up in the midst of the political strife. As she says, they "generated more human happiness than many do-gooders." In case you don't want to click over and read her post--go ahead, it's short, but in case you don't--here's the video she chose to make her point. 

 I know there's no accounting for tastes and all, but I don't see how that can fail to make you smile. 


It's Septuagesima Sunday. Here's Janet Cupo's post from last year on the occasion. I usually don't look forward to Lent. Ok, to be honest I usually have a slight dread of Lent. But this year for some reason I'm looking forward to it. I feel a greater than usual need for some kind of purification. My own sinfulness (actual and potential) is not noticeably greater or less than usual, but it feels like some kind of spiritual corruption in the environment is clinging to me, and I want to wash it off.


He wants you to serve him without joy, without feeling, with repugnance and revulsion of spirit. Such service gives you no satisfaction, but it pleases him; it is not according to your liking, but according to his.

Imagine that you are never going to be delivered of your anguish: what would you do? You would say to God: I am yours; if my miseries are agreeable to you, give me more and let them last longer. I have confidence in our Lord that this is what you would say; then you would stop thinking about the matter, at least you would stop struggling.

Well, do this now, and make friends with your trial, as though the two of you were always to live together. You will see that when you have stopped taking thought for your deliverance, God will think of it, and when you stop worrying, God will come swiftly to your help.

--St. Francis de Sales, via the January issue of Magnificat


Meanwhile, Mardi Gras parades have started. Friday we went with daughter and grandsons to see the Conde Cavaliers.


Sunday Night Journal, January 22, 2017

So now Trump really is the president. I was astonished and appalled when he got the nomination, and thought it only guaranteed that Hillary would win. I was more astonished when he won the election, and was only pleased by the result because it meant that Hillary would not be president. Since then, I've heard or read a number of people saying things like "I no longer recognize my country." I don't think they really mean it. It's the striking of a pose, a way of saying "I'm very upset." But to one who did really mean it I could only say "You never knew your country." 

Donald Trump is thoroughly American, as American as...well, apple pie doesn't really do anymore, does it? I believe the phrase at one time was "Mom's apple pie." The average American mother has no time and probably little inclination to bake an apple pie, and very likely doesn't know how. So let's say Donald Trump is as American P.T. Barnum. As Hollywood. As reality TV. As Disneyland. As SUVs. As professional sports. Mega-churches. Yellow journalism. Buzzfeed and the Drudge Report. Talk radio and the New York Times. Al Sharpton. Al Gore. Starbucks. Google and Netflix. Rock-and-roll. A 10-million-word tax code

Any useful discussion of this country has to take into account the fact that we're crazy.

But admittedly, it is extraordinary that someone like Trump is president. I don't expect him to be a good president; in fact I expect him to make a mess. But I hope he surprises me again.

Something that struck me in his inaugural address was the extent to which much of it reminded me of Obama. Not in its specifics, of course, and not in its tone, but in its assertion that this is an unprecedented and almost mystical moment, and that from this point on all our problems will begin to be resolved by the sheer personal power of the speaker. Take this sentence, for instance:

That all changes -- starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.

Very Obama-like. And he goes on to promise changes which are not in the power of the president to make. From that broad perspective, both presidencies appear to be symptoms of a general movement toward a belief that government, and specifically the presidency, is the most important reality in society, the one that has the power both to cause and to solve our biggest problems, to save us from ourselves (or rather, in the minds of all too many people, the enemies in the other party). There's a longing for a king-messiah that exists on both sides of the political divide. It is far from what our founders intended, in fact is something they feared, and apart from that it is unwise, and apart from that it is unworkable. It will lead to more disappointment, anger, and polarization--the same things that helped make Trump's victory possible. We are flung out into the extremes: unbalanced nationalism on the one hand, unbalanced anti-nationalism on the other. And so on.


Show me a citizen of the world and I'll show you someone who probably doesn't like his own people very much.


As American as Star Wars. I saw Rogue One last week. It's enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, and especially if you like the original Star Wars--I mean not just the original trilogy but the first of the three in particular (which is still my favorite)--because it tells the story of how the plans for the Death Star got into the hands of Princess Leia. Thus it brings the action up very close to the point where the original film begins. It's also somewhat in the spirit of the original, and for that matter even resembles it in plot, beginning with evil descending on an isolated farm on an out-of-the-way planet. 

A few things that struck me:

Seems like most of the episodes at some point have a scene that takes place within a wretched hive of scum and villainy which has a pronounced middle-eastern feel, or perhaps I should say a Hollywood notion of a middle-eastern feel. This seems a bit odd. Why would planets in a civilization that can travel among the stars always have dusty marketplaces thronged with people in robes jostling and haggling? Is this not culturally insensitive? 

And why are those fully-armored storm troopers so very easy to kill? Or to disable with one blow from the fist or foot of a slender young woman who probably weighs 110 pounds at most?

This episode has a battle scene which is apparently meant to recall the final scenes of the original, when the Death Star is attacked. I was struck in 1977 and still am by how much the spaceship combat scenes resemble WWII air combat scenes in old movies. And in fact the whole structure of the Empire and the rebellion against it is very much a reprise of the fight against the Nazis as rendered in post-war movies, only with space-opera trappings. This is not the only movie (or movies) for which that holds. And it occurs to me that that struggle has become fixed in our minds as a sort of archetype of noble war. But the totalitarianism which is the enemy in that archetype did not exist until a few decades into the 20th century. Sure, there were always tyrants, and noble struggles against them. But this idea of the enemy as one giant inhuman machine, with its anonymous and absolutely obedient hordes of troops, and the cold, haughty, and ruthless commanders who are also absolutely obedient (and in fear of) some equally cold and haughty and ruthless superior--I think that's something new, at least in degree. More realistic films don't do it so thoroughly as Star Wars, but the flavor is there in almost any drama that pits some hero or heroine against a government (or big corporation).

Princess Leia appears briefly at the end, and the filmmakers somehow gave her the face of the young Carrie Fisher. I was oddly and surprisingly touched by that, as I had been by her recent death. In trying to figure out why, I concluded that it was partly because the original movie had seemed such a breath of fresh air to me. I remember very well the night my wife and I had gone to see some other movie--I have no idea what it was now--and saw the Star Wars preview. We looked at each other and said "We have to see that." And we did, and it was delightful.

The '70s had been a fairly dark time in some ways, a come-down from the crisis of the '60s and at the same time a sort of consolidation and solidification of some of the more negative things, and movies especially had grown considerably darker: the Dirty Harry movies, for instance, and more artsy works like Taxi Driver. And for me personally it had been a difficult period. Star Wars was a complete departure from all that, with its young and brave heroes and heroine and its simple (or simplistic) war of good and evil. It was also witty and imaginative, which may be hard to remember now that it's become such a part of our culture. It was simple fun, but it also celebrated virtue with no irony at all. 


This picture was taken in our local independent bookstore. It's not very clear, because I was trying not to be noticed and took it hastily.  In case you can't read the names, the ones in the top row are Darwin, Einstein, and Austen. I think I see John Lennon and Poe in the second row. 


These struck me initially as slightly annoying, and then as rather pathetic, like those Darwin-fish stickers that put Darwin in the place of Jesus. I always want to ask what sort of salvation Darwin is supposed to offer us. Deliverance from superstition, I suppose? But then what? 

Sunday Night Journal, January 15, 2017

One night last week I dreamed that I was on a college campus that was being terrorized by small (about man-sized) blue dinosaurs. They looked like upright alligators, a bit like Albert the Alligator in the Pogo comic strip, except that they were blue, a rather pretty light shade, rather than green, and not at all cute: more like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. They were running around loose and chasing students. I didn't see a dinosaur catch a student, but the presumption was that when and if that happened the student would be messily devoured, as an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon puts it. The campus was not any that I've known in the real world. Well, maybe it looked in a very general sort of way like parts of the University of Alabama in Huntsville campus, where I had my first job in technology: very open, very "modern" in that the buildings were simple brick or concrete affairs, nothing at all Greco-Roman.

It was night, and I was walking around, a little worried about the dinosaurs, but only a little, because I witnessed one of the dinosaurs chasing a screaming student without being extremely disturbed. I wasn't really fearful for myself (which is not at all realistic) but rather was concerned about the students and the general problem of What To Do About The Dinosaurs. I may have been part of a Dinosaur Action and Awareness Committee or something, because I felt a definite sense of responsibility.

Then suddenly there was a shift, like a scene shift in a movie that's also a time shift, the sort of thing where text across the bottom of the screen says "Five years later" or something. Things had changed significantly. The dinosaurs were no longer terrorizing students, no longer chasing them. In fact they were students themselves. They had been integrated into campus life, and on the surface it seemed that everyone was getting along. But there were subtler tensions. Aside from lingering concerns about being eaten, on the one side, and about being unjustly accused of eating, on the other side, there was just a sort of cultural barrier that made things difficult. It was not clear whether the whole dinosaurs-eat-humans thing was just a big misunderstanding, or a real problem that had somehow been resolved.  But in any case dinosaurs and humans just felt a little awkward around each other, or maybe more than a little, and so tended to keep to themselves. I guess I should say reptile-persons and mammal-persons, because both species were persons.

In this last bit, I was with some mammal-persons, in the campus cafeteria, and there were reptile-persons around. We, the mammals, were sitting together, and there was a sense that we should make some kind of gesture of welcome or at least non-hostility to the reptiles, but we didn't know what to do. Then the mammals I was with left, and I was sitting at the table by myself. In a couple of minutes I was ready to leave, too. But there was a reptile sitting at a nearby table, also alone, and I felt awkward. I thought he looked uncomfortable (don't ask me how an alligator looks uncomfortable), and I wondered if it would be a nice gesture if I went and sat with him, but that might have been unwelcome, and anyway was maybe a bit condescending or something. But then if I just got up and left, which I would otherwise have done without thinking about it, would he think I was avoiding him?

While I was considering the situation, I began to wake up. Sometimes when you're waking from a dream there's an in-between state where you are still in the dream but are beginning to be aware that it is a dream. Or at least it happens that way with me. When I reached that point, I realized that the whole thing was very funny, and by the time I was fully awake I was laughing.

Our difficulties involving ethnic diversity are not quite as bad as that. At least we all belong to the same species. 

Unfortunately they're not very funny, either. Even with good will all around, it's not easy to bridge cultural differences. There are many awkward situations. Natural inertia leads everyone to avoid the effort, just because it is an effort: much easier to just stay with one's own. Misunderstandings arise, and may lead to hostility. Or the groups may differ so much that they simply do not get along all very well, and are more cordial at a distance. What we're doing in the United States is not easy, and hasn't been the norm for most of the human race for most of history. We've managed it in the past, but it remains to be seen whether we can keep it up, with so many centrifugal forces at work.

Jurassic-world-raptor-delta      Albert


I watched the Netflix series The OA last weekend and last week. I don't especially recommend it. It was gripping at first, but grew tiresome, and I think there are some pretty major problems with the plot. It's about a young woman who disappeared for seven years and has suddenly reappeared under strange circumstances, and refuses to tell anyone anything at all about what happened to her. There's a complicated and very New-Age-y plot involving her recruitment of several other people for a mystical task. All are outsiders in some way, and all but one are teenagers. There are a number of scenes where they're all sitting around by candlelight in an abandoned house, with the young woman telling her story and leading them in very weird dance-like movements which, when perfected, will have supernatural effects. There's a bit of an encounter group quality to these sessions, as they all become more open and loving, getting past...I almost said "their hangups"... all the damage done to them by their parents and the generally mean old world.

Part way through this it suddenly dawned on me that these group scenes reminded me of the 1960s, and of my own youth: the longing for community and meaning, the impulse to seek those things in flight from the normal world, and in a small pure group of the like-minded. And it seemed very sad.

If you decide to watch it, be aware that there is a sex scene in the first episode which appears without any prelude whatsoever and is pretty much soft-core pornography. I assume someone threw that in as a reliable attention-getter, because it's completely unnecessary.  There's another sex scene in a later episode, and a few scenes of somewhat disturbing fear and violence. All that also owes something to the 1960s, I guess.


Another film from Fairhope Film Festival: Lamb, "the first Ethiopian film screened at Cannes." I expect most of us have neglected the Ethiopian cinema. But don't think the presence of this movie at Cannes represents any kind of condescension, because it very much deserves the recognition. It's a small, gentle affair, about a boy, Ephraim, who has a pet lamb to which he is very attached. The boy's mother has recently died and his father has gone to Addis Ababa to look for work. Ephraim is sent to live with an aunt and uncle, and, not surprisingly for poor rural people, their view of the lamb is decidedly businesslike: they expect it to be the main course for an upcoming feast (was it Easter? I can't remember). Ephraim naturally intends to prevent this.

From that description you might expect some kind of Disney-fied sentimental thing, but it's not that at all, and the resolution is not what I expected.  This review in The Guardian goes into more detail without giving away anything important. As the review says, a great deal of the appeal is in the picture of the lives of the people and of the land. You can get a sense of that from the trailer.

Lamb is listed on Netflix in the DVD section but is not currently available, so maybe that means it will be.



So much of what's wrong with America is exhibited in this:



The Green Greene Book

It isn't often that I run across something that makes me think "Everybody should read this." But this is one of them.

The book referred to is The Negro Motorist Green Book, compiled and marketed annually from 1936 to 1964  by Victor H. Greene. It was a guide for black people traveling in the U.S. It "listed all the restaurants, filling stations, museums, hotels, guest homes, grocery stores and establishments that readers would feel safe being Black in." 

This piece, by a writer whose name I don't recall having seen before, Carvell Wallace, discusses the book and its significance to black Americans, which would be interesting enough, but then he goes on to reflect on the way in which the people and places mentioned in the guide have vanished, and on the place of place in American life in general. His search for one address in particular, which now denotes only an undefined space below a freeway overpass in Oakland, California, leads to penetrating observations about the country and its culture. It is a really, really fine piece of writing. Click here to read it. It's rather long for online reading, but very much worth it.

Thanks to Janet for pointing this out to me.


Give Up, Liberals and Conservatives

From James Piereson's review of The Fractured Republic by Yuval Levin, in the June issue The New Criterion:

Mr. Levin views the post-war era—roughly the period running from 1945 to the year 2000—as following a coherent trajectory that has left us in a situation in which it is impossible to put into place the grand designs of either liberals or conservatives. As he writes, “In our cultural, economic, political, and social life, this has been a trajectory of increasing individualism, diversity, dynamism, and liberalization. And it has come at a cost of dwindling solidarity, cohesion, stability, authority, and social order.” This is what he means by the “fractured” republic. Over the course of these decades, Americans lived through a cultural revolution that promoted greater freedom and liberation from social norms and a market revolution that promoted dynamism and innovation while destroying the private sector unions and corporate oligopolies that dominated economic life from the 1940s to the 1980s. Conservative attempts to restore social consensus and liberal attempts to restore a managed economy are both bound to fail due to the liberating effects of these twin revolutions.

Seems pretty accurate to me. The book sounds worthwhile, although I probably won't read it just because I have so much other reading I want and need to do. A bit more about Levin's assessment of that post-war era:

The main that Americans across the political spectrum are caught in a “nostalgia trap.” They assess the current situation in terms of social and economic standards that were established in the immediate post-war decades....

As a consequence, the two political parties are exceptionally backward looking, albeit in quite different ways. Republicans and Democrats long to restore different elements of the post-war order. Liberals and Democrats, for example, wish to restore the corporatist economic structure of the 1950s and 1960s, characterized by powerful labor unions negotiating with corporate oligopolies, while also reigniting the spirit of liberation and rebellion that burned during the 1960s. Conservatives, meanwhile, tend to assess the present in relation to recollections of the social stability and shared values of the 1950s and take their economic and political bearings from the 1980s when, under Ronald Reagan’s leadership, they restored the nation’s economic dynamism following the inflation and slow growth of the 1970s while presiding over a military build-up that helped to win the Cold War. Each side looks back to the post-war period as a kind of golden age and seeks to restore a piece of it without acknowledging how far away we have since moved from the conditions of that era.

Perhaps it's just a matter of what I've happened to see and read, but it seems to me that liberal affection for the 1950s is a fairly new thing. I've been accustomed since the late '60s to hearing the '50s vilified as everything from merely conformist to quasi-fascist. But then I've probably been more exposed to the cultural revolutionaries than to old-line liberals.

For the Fourth: Some Thoughts on Patriotism

I've been thinking about this since I mentioned Obama's apparent lack of love for this country in a post last week. I see some evidence that the sort of patriotism I was thinking of there is less common than I assumed. Perhaps the president's detachment is not unusual any more. That wouldn't really be surprising, considering the ideological assault on the country that's been in progress since the 1960s.

But part of the problem in discussing any of this is the equation of patriotism with nationalism, and exaggerated, possibly pathological, nationalism at that. I don't consider them to be the same thing. In my mind patriotism is fundamentally natural and healthy, and in fact I'd say that if a person feels none of it at all then something is wrong with either him or his country or both. Further complicating things in this country is that nationalism for Americans is bound up with the American creed, which is not the same thing as the actual geographical and cultural country. Here's a Sunday Night Journal from 2005 on that topic: "Patriotism and the American Creed".

Us And Our Bottled Water

I found this fascinating: the story of the growth of the bottled water industry, and the advertising that made it happen

This is an interesting case. I don't think advertising can make people buy something for which they don't feel a real need or  which isn't so rewarding in some way that people come to see it as a need, and which doesn't to some degree provide what it purports to provide. At least not over a period of years--little bubbles of basically nonsensical enthusiasm--fads--can probably be generated with little more than clever marketing. But bottled water seems to be somewhere between those. I suspect that most people who habitually drink bottled water have a vague idea that it's healthier than tap water, but as the article says for most people this is not true. So apparently it is satisfying a need that is either based on misinformation, uncorrected for decades now, or is just some purely emotional but nevertheless persistent phenomenon.

Not unrelated: 22 cheery facts about discarded plastic, of which water and soft drink bottles no doubt constitute a large portion.

This is becoming normal in America: an abominable crime is committed and the first reaction of way too many people is to exploit it in pursuit of their political aims, which involves trying to blame their opponents for the crime. Even those whose better impulses might lead them to avoid participating find themselves responding to attacks on them. I might say "on their faction," but increasingly people are their factions.

A Slightly Hopeful Note on the Racial Situation

Never let it be said that I'm all doom and gloom. This is from a review in the March New Criterion of a book called Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, a rather interesting-sounding book about an English journalist who went to live in the Mississippi Delta. As will come as no surprise at all to anyone who knows the South, the reality of what he found there did not match the standard caricature. The reviewer, Richard Tillinghast, says:

The observations made by Bill Luckett, Mayor of Clarksdale and Morgan Freeman’s business partner, ring true from my own experience: “You’ve got five to ten percent on either side who hate. Most folks get along now, treat each other with politeness, courtesy, and respect, and that’s really all you can ask for. We don’t all have to be best friends.”

That rings true to my own experience, too. I just got back from the post office, where I listened to the friendly banter between the black man ahead of me in the line and the white woman behind the counter. "Have a blessed day," said the man as he left. "Thank you, and happy Monday," said the clerk. This is in my experience by far the most typical sort of encounter between the races. It would be foolish to pretend that racism, mild and severe, does not still exist. But every day I see--well, I used to see, before I stopped going in to work every day--people of all races working together and generally going about their business with, as the mayor says, politeness, courtesy, and respect to each other. The question for us now is whether this quiet movement will be stronger than the efforts to exacerbate the divisions. And let's not pretend that there are not parties on both sides who are doing that, for reasons which are mostly obscure to me.

I'm also reminded of something from several years ago which made me want to jump up and cheer. Artur Davis, at the time a Congressman from Alabama, was running for governor. In an interview, asked about racial opposition to him, he said (I paraphrase from memory), "There are a certain number of people who will vote against me just because of my race. There are a certain number who will vote for me just because of my race. I can't worry much about either of those groups. I just have to make my case to the others."

That's the attitude we need: not an absurd and contradictory demand that race be emphasized at all time so as to eliminate awareness of race...or something...but an acceptance of difference, and realism about the intractable nature of racial prejudice combined with a determination to remain above it. A tendency toward hostility among social groups (ethnic as well as any other, including allegiance to an football team) is as much a part of human nature as the very existence of social groups. It will never disappear completely. But we don't have to feed it. 

Unfortunately Davis did not make it out of the Democratic primary. Having voted against Obamacare, he was all but expelled from the party. I'm not sure what he's doing now.

Here's a link to that book review, though the full text may not be available to non-subscribers.

What Is Actually Happening

The formerly all-, or perhaps all-too-, American Disney company can get along with brutal dictatorships but not Christians. That goes for Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Salesforce, Unilever, CNN, Apple, and others--including the National Football League (!). Have ordinary conservatives figured out yet that corporate America is as big a proponent of liberal social doctrine as the government?

It's becoming routine for the media to put "religious liberty" in quotation marks, at least where Christians are involved.

A National Enquirer story about Ted Cruz being unfaithful to his wife got lots of attention last week, with people pointing out that the Enquirer was right in several similar cases in the past (e.g. John Edwards). So it's odd that this story about Hillary Clinton got no attention at all as far as I know. Really odd. I just can't figure it out. (Hat tip to Neo-neocon.) 

 (See this post for an explanation of the title of this one.)