Dear Intelligent American,
Comes now the most solemn of weekends. Yes, for many it stands for nothing more than summer’s beginning, seersucker suits, open beaches, roadside vegetable stands, the Good Humor truck. Yet still in many communities throughout this great country, enough embrace its formal purpose that citizens—whether gathering at bronze memorials or granite obelisks or well-groomed cemeteries where Old Glory keeps company with white crosses, under which sleep the honored dead of Lexington and Concord, Shiloh and Fredericksburg, Belleau Wood and Saint-Mihiel, Iwo Jima and Bastogne, Heartbreak Ridge and Inchon, Huế and Hamburger Hill, Fallujah and Kabul—remember the fallen, and why they fell, and pray they rest eternally in God’s embrace, the hunters home from the hill.
How else to rightly mark Memorial Day? Maybe wear a poppy. Or avail yourself of the fare offered this weekend by Turner Classic Movies, which, as it does annually, will pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Or read In Flanders Fields. And remember all the fallen as forever young and awaiting us in that place of peace, where all have been made whole.
Those Who Enjoy the Intriguing, We Have Prepared for You a Feast
1. At Comment, Jeffrey Mitchell considers a capital idea. From the essay:
As my students learn from their textbook, The Copyeditor’s Handbook, the down style “favors the sparse use of capital letters,” while in an up style “many more nouns and adjectives are uppercased.” Garner’s Modern English Usage, which my students also use, launches its entry on capitalization with this: “There are really just three rules: capitalize the first word of a sentence, the pronoun I, and proper names.” “What could be easier?” says its author, Bryan Garner. But then, he continues, “the ‘yeah-but’ bug bites. You’re writing a business letter and you notice that everyone capitalizes Company when it refers to your company, even when it’s not used with the company’s name. Isn’t that a common noun?”
A major difficulty is that “up” takes many forms. Countless organizations obey their own “house styles,” in which—to elevate the “house” and its officials—generic words like “company,” “university,” and “president” are capitalized at all times. And individual people have countless preferences and habits. Nearly everyone uppercases the first word of a sentence and the pronoun “I,” but what does “proper” mean? According to Garner, a proper noun or adjective identifies “a specific person, place, or thing,” but that definition is easy to stretch, especially when capitalization becomes what The Copyeditor’s Handbook calls “an issue of giving or denying status to a term.”
Up styles can be quite rational and self-consistent. For example, the Roman Catholic Church routinely uppercases “church” in English when referring to itself as an institution, along with other terms of special importance to it like “encyclical.” But a down-style publisher like the New York Times won’t capitalize “church” and “encyclical” in this way, and neither will I. Such choices can arouse deep feelings: one of my students almost cried in class when she learned that capital-C “Church” isn’t everyone’s rule.
2. At The New Atlantis, Tara Isabella Burton reveals how Silicon Valley, once so reason-obsessed, is now “going woo.” From the essay:
The online rationalist ecosystem had become wider—and weirder—sparked in part by the organic if tech-boosted formation of communities on Twitter, where people-you-may-know algorithms were increasingly connecting members of the burgeoning postrationalist scene with old-school rationalists. These connections only intensified during the pandemic, when people’s lives moved more online and the sacrifices engendered by isolation made many under the rationalist umbrella more conscious of the importance of embodied community.
Tyler Alterman, expanding upon a term he first heard on the Intellectual Explorers Club podcast by Peter Limberg, has called this new wider social landscape the metatribe. In a September 2020 Twitter Thread influential enough that several people I spoke to for this piece seemed aware of it, Alterman declared the year 2020 the “dawn of the metatribe.”
The metatribe, Alterman wrote, “is neither nihilist nor locked onto an ethical system. It has political opinions without being left, right, or center. . . . metatribers often appear to be ‘heterodox.’” The metatribe, furthermore, “is scientific without scientism. It is spiritual while being neither new age nor traditionally religious.” It includes both members of the specific “postrat” subculture as well as thinkers from other subcultures caught up in the wider postrationalist turn.
The “metatribe” is not the only term used by members or ideological fellow-travelers. Others call it “the liminal web,” “the sense-making web,” or the “intellectual deep web” Who counts as metatribe members — rationalists, postrationalists, metamodernists, or accounts that just post good memes — is hardly set in stone.
3. At National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez argues that the best commencement speeches have nothing to do with politics. From the piece:
Arthur Brooks has managed to carve out a living by studying, speaking about, and encouraging happiness (after many fascinating journeys, including as a classical French hornist and president of the American Enterprise Institute). He teaches happiness at Harvard, even. I was sitting next to him at commencement at the Catholic University of America recently before he shared some of the secrets of the pursuit of happiness. Talking with students who largely shared his (our) Catholic faith, he could presume a few things: that they believe in God. That they believe that there might very well be a plan God has for them. What a relief for them. They have a starting place, following in the footsteps of the God who loved them first.
At a dinner the night before for those receiving honorary doctorates (I was among them; don’t worry, I have no “Dr.” illusions), Brooks talked about the gift that is Ivy League students coming into his office and closing the door and asking the most important things. I want to be married. I want to have a family. How do I do these things? They know in their hearts that career and material success aren’t everything. If they have religious faith, they have the suspicion, at the very least, that those are not the things they are going to be judged on.
4. At The American Conservative, Hayden Ludwig describes how a national popular vote would gut the Constitution. From the analysis:
The name is misleading. While most presidential election winners have won more votes than the losers (Trump is the fifth and most recent exception), all won the presidency by garnering more electoral votes—not popular votes—than their opponents. Every state has a slate of electors determined by its population: California has fifty-five while Idaho has four. There are a total of 538.
Put simply, when individual voters cast a ballot they’re really voting for one party’s proposed slate of electors versus the other’s. After the November election, the winning party’s electors gather in Washington to vote for their nominee, who is soon sworn into office.
Americans instinctively understand this. You don’t vote on legislation in Congress; you vote for a representative to do so with your interests and well-being in mind. No one is outraged by this—yet NPV would have us believe that the United States has never held a free and democratic election in two and a half centuries.
“Progressives” cast this system as uniquely insidious and undemocratic, a relic of colonial-era “white supremacy” in dire need of an update.
5. At The American Mind, reflecting on the death of Jordan Neely, Adam Ellwanger disdains the addiction to from-afar emotional attachment to public tragedies. From the beginning of the piece:
Since then, this event has been a flashpoint in a national debate – no one really agrees what the debate is about, but apparently it was important enough that people who were angry about the circumstances of his death briefly shut down parts of the New York subway. All the people who care about this event believe that it has something to tell us about a larger reality in American life. Some want to paint Neely as a promising young black man gone too soon. In the same way that George Floyd’s death in 2020 earned a thousand hagiographies, the Black-Lives-Matter-types have already sainted Neely as a victim of white racism. Others seem to think that this event tells us something about homelessness. Still others see the inevitable result of the lax approach to crime, policing, and punishment that has obtained since the riots in the wake of Floyd’s death.
But is Neely’s death representative of any “larger truth” about America? Or is it just a single event that serves as a cultural Rorschach test and invites people to leverage what they see to advance preexisting narratives about society? Frankly, I don’t care about what happened with Neely. And unless you know him, know another person involved, or live in New York City, I don’t think you should care either. As national journalists famously said when they refused to cover abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors in Philadelphia, Neely’s death is ultimately just a “local crime” story. Who’s the criminal? I don’t care. I don’t live in New York City.
6. At Front Porch Republic, Brian Kaller discovers the obvious idiom answers the question of what Irish farmers do when the sun shines. From the reflection:
Scythes are a great example of a simple human tool that we replaced with more complex ones to dubious benefit. They can work as fast as a lawnmower, according to David Tressemer in The Scythe Book, and without any fuel or electricity. In a fuel or economic crisis they could easily be adopted again, if people knew what they were and how to wield them.
“Before long the hayfield would be a hive of activity and friendly banter, as the new mown hay was tossed and turned, caressed by the breeze and dried by the warm sun,” Francie Murray said. When it was dry enough they raked it into piles, bundled them into sheaves, leaned groups of sheaves together into stooks, and let them dry more. When it was dry enough to pile into haystacks, Mary Lyons said, the “meithal piked the hay onto the rick [haystack] and covered it” with a roof of reeds pulled from the bogs.
“The methods people used were time-tested, refined over centuries,” my elder friend Peter told me, but they vanished as Ireland modernised; cheaper technology allowed farmers to spend all day on “a 100,000 pound tractor and never speak to anyone,” as my neighbour Ellen put it.
7. At First Things, Lee Siegel comes to the defense of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye as a surely Christian novel, and a great one at that. From the beginning of the essay:
When I recently ventured to say to an old acquaintance of mine, an academic mandarin who teaches literature at an elite university, that The Catcher in the Rye was a profound work of art, he smiled gregariously as if about to relish a shared ironic joke, then gazed at me with slowly dawning horror when he realized that I was not joking. If I had told him what I really thought, he might well have passed out.
J.D. Salinger’s tale, which to date has sold 65 million copies, making it the highest-selling literary novel of all time after Don Quixote and A Tale of Two Cities, is the most Christian novel ever published. Following the experiences of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield as he travels to and around his native New York City after being expelled from a fancy private school in Pennsylvania, Catcher is a painstakingly allusive and meticulously structured parable of the problem of evil.
The book is not the straightforward coming-of-age story its admirers revere it as. Catcher’s fabled protagonist has not, at the end of the novel, acquired the rudimentary self-knowledge that marks a coming-of-age. In the book’s last paragraph, Holden tells us that “D.B. [his older brother] asked me what I thought about all this stuff I just finished telling you about. I didn’t know what the hell to say. If you want to know the truth, I don’t know what I think about it.” At the book’s conclusion, Holden is—in the conventional sense anyway—right back where he started.
8. At Law & Liberty, Gary Galles delves into America’s local zoning laws and their uses and abuses. From the essay:
When considering how necessary zoning is, we must weigh the costs (which almost anyone who has had trouble with zoning boards or bureaucracies can rant at length about) against the benefits. A law can advance our general welfare only if its benefits outweigh its costs. And careful consideration of the alleged benefits of zoning reveals that many of the harms supposedly addressed by zoning can be addressed in other ways. Almost all of the purported benefits come down to avoiding chaos and widespread incompatible land uses that would allegedly occur in the absence of zoning. As Dave Cole argued, “property rights and property values are in danger without zoning.”
If this is the justification, we should ask what we don’t actually need zoning to solve, then ask how much zoning power remains justified once we have winnowed the field of misleading scare stories. It turns out that individuals have many reasons to avoid conflict voluntarily.
Sometimes there are mutual negative effects, meaning both parties have reasons to avoid an association that would be harmful to them. Positive effects on neighboring properties would lead to voluntary co-location. There are cases in which there are both external benefits (which economists call economies of agglomeration) and costs (e.g., congestion) for those involved, but the benefits are greater, so net gains guide people towards the most valuable land uses.
9. At The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn considers the 2024 elections and abortion. From the piece:
There are other things pro-lifers can do. A friend of mine with a child who has Down syndrome suggests a pro-life ad featuring families like his and asking why their children’s lives should be treated as having no worth. It’s an uncomfortable question to ask—and impossible to imagine the press ever asking it of Joe Biden—but putting it out there would be clarifying.
For the moment, the clash between Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump has been reduced to the precise number of weeks abortion should be allowed. But the Republican challenge in 2024 is much larger.
Constantly we are told—rightly—that Americans want to keep abortion legal but also support limits. Mr. Biden is not for any limits. For Republicans to prevail, they need to break through the protective media barrier and drive that home to the American people.
10. More WSJ: Janet Adamy reports that America’s youth are dying at an alarming rate. From the article:
Older children and teenagers, ages 10 to 19, accounted for most of the increase in death rates for young people. Boys, whose mortality rates are roughly twice those of girls, saw their death rates worsen to a slightly greater degree during the pandemic, Woolf found. The overall findings held true when researchers excluded those ages 18 and 19, who were included in the broader research because such government data is grouped in five-year age bands.
Physicians and public-health researchers say that school closures, canceled sports and youth activities and limitations on in-person socializing all worsened a burgeoning mental-health epidemic among young people in the U.S. Social media, they say, has helped fuel it by replacing successful relationships with a craving for online social attention that leaves young people unfulfilled, and exposes them to sites that glamorize unhealthy behaviors such as eating disorders and cutting themselves.
Demand for psychiatric services, counseling and other behavioral health supports far outstripped supply, leaving young patients to turn to emergency departments that were strained by the crush of Covid.
“We are seeing younger and younger patients coming in with mental-health crises, and even those 8 to 10 years old coming in with suicidal ideation,” said Lois Lee, a pediatric emergency physician at Boston Children’s Hospital who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.
11. At The Spectator, Sam Leith exposes the “academic publishing grift.” From the article:
As I understand it there are two different models of academic publishing—and both suck. The first is the basic old-school soak-the-customer type. It’s this that I come across most often as a literary editor, when I get wind of an interesting-sounding forthcoming hardback only to find that it’s 180 pages long and costs $170. That’s the captive-audience model. You know a handful of institutions will need to buy this monograph or subscribe to that journal, so you make a short print run, price the hardback in three figures, and wham-bang. That’s defensible inasmuch as it’s generally more expensive per unit to make a short print run of a book than a long one. But dozens of times more expensive? I don’t think so.
The internet, now, has brought an exciting new twist to this old formula: the soak-the-contributor strategy of which the NeuroImage refuseniks complain. In this case, rather than just not pay a scholar for the work you are very profitably publishing, you make the scholar pay you for the privilege. This is the captive-contributor model.
The way academia is set up in Britain and many countries, you need to be publishing to stay in your job. It doesn’t matter much if your books or papers don’t reach a wide audience or an audience at all: they are entries on your résumé and tick vital boxes in the UK’s Research Excellence Framework by which academics are judged. (It’s a great loss, I think, to the commons of knowledge that REF disincentivizes scholars from writing books for the general public, but that’s a topic for another day.)
12. At Quillette, Iona Italia reveals she has become deeply infected by a passion for chess, and notes too the game’s dark side. From the essay:
Not all chess players have felt as positive about the time they have spent on chess as Benjamin Franklin did. Without the comforting illusion that chess is indirectly benefiting other areas of one’s life, the urge to play can feel like a destructive addiction. Michel de Montaigne wrote, “I am ashamed to lay out as much thought and study upon that as would serve to much better uses.” Far from viewing chess as an aid to intellectual creativity, for Albert Einstein, allegedly, “Chess holds its master in its own bonds, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom of the very strongest must suffer.” Marcel Duchamp, who abandoned a successful career as an artist and destroyed his marriage to Lydie Sarazin-Levassor to dedicate himself to the game full time, called himself “a victim of chess.” H. G. Wells described it as “A nameless excrescence upon life,” that “annihilates a man.”
And this addiction is not based on pure hedonistic pleasure. Unlike dancers, chess players rarely report experiencing a blissful state of Csikszentmihalyian flow: chess is simply too difficult for that. It demands a more painful kind of absorption that Garry Kasparov has described as “mental torture.” In addition, chess is, of course, a zero-sum game: “I like the moment when I break a man’s ego,” grandmaster Bobby Fischer once commented in a post-match TV interview. Our human tendency towards loss aversion often makes such blows more painful than chess victories are joyful. For men, perhaps especially, the loss of status that losing a game implies—a loss directly reflected in rating points—is often agonizing, perhaps especially since chess is a perfect information game, a game involving very few elements of luck: when you lose, you have only your own incompetence to blame.
Lucky 13. At Aza.org, that world-renowned website for Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Sarah Gilsoul reports on former SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon wowing the crowd and bringing in the charity bucks for something bigger than a fish tank. From the beginning of the story:
Comedian, actor, and former Saturday Night Live Cast Member Kevin Nealon had a crowd of 200 laughing out loud during the Still Standing gala benefiting the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Sanibel, Fla., on 24 April. Nealon’s performance capped off an evening of giving, community fellowship, and laughter.
The gala, presented by The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company for the 19th consecutive year, took place at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, Fla., where guests enjoyed dinner, an exciting live auction, and paddle raise. The evening was the Museum’s most successful fundraiser in history, as the organization raised over $390,000 in sponsorships, auction sales, and donations combined.
Following Nealon’s stand-up performance, the Museum’s Executive Director Sam Ankerson announced the philanthropic kindness of two Sanibel couples in attendance, Jim and Gaye Pigott and Bill and Laurie Harkey, who earlier this spring each made $500,000 gifts toward the Museum’s post-hurricane restoration.
BONUS: At Tablet Magazine, Paola Gavin sings the praises of that licorice-y herb, fennel. From the piece:
The Israelites were not the only ones who made use of the plant. The juice of giant fennel or Silphium (now extinct) was used by the ancient Egyptians as a form of contraception. Fennel was also much enjoyed by the Greeks and the Romans. (According to Greek mythology, Prometheus carried a burning ember, which he stole from the Chariot of the Sun, in the hollow stalk of giant fennel and so brought fire to mankind.) The Greeks believed fennel was a symbol of courage, victory, and success. Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides recommended fennel for all kinds of maladies, especially heartburn, nausea, menstrual disorders, and bladder and kidney problems; he further claimed that fennel increased the flow of milk in lactating mothers. Fennel seeds were also used as a remedy for snake bites.
The Romans also used fennel as a medicine, especially to improve eyesight and calm the nerves. Fennel tea was often given to Roman soldiers before battle, as they believed it gave courage and strength. Cato recommended seasoning olives with olive oil, vinegar, salt, fennel seed, and mastic.
For centuries, Sicilian Jews were great lovers of fennel. When they were expelled from Sicily after the Spanish Inquisition, they introduced fennel to the Italian mainland, where it was dubbed a Jewish food—so much so that fennel simmered in olive oil with garlic was named finocchi alla giudia, or “fennel, Jewish style.” Another favorite Italian Jewish dish was finocchi alla parmigiana—steamed fennel topped with melted butter and grated Parmesan. In Tuscany, raw fennel was often served at the end of a meal to freshen the breath and aid digestion. Fennel was also said to make bad wine taste good; according to Giacomo Castelvetro, the 17th-century gastronome, Venetian innkeepers would offer fennel and nuts free to their customers before serving them inferior wine. It’s worth pointing out that finocchio—which means fennel in Italian—is also a derogatory name for “homosexual.” Legend has it that when homosexuals were burned at the stake during the Inquisition, fennel was often employed to disguise the smell of burning flesh.
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. At Philanthropy Daily, Megan Schmidt and Jack Salmon tell of a new Kansas law that protects charitable donor intent. This is good news. Read about it here.
Due. You’ve been warned: On Thursday, June 29th, the Center for Civil Society shall host a one-hour, free webinar on why “The Right to Association Needs Help.” Expert on that subject of the associative right, found in the First Amendment’s profound “Assembly Clause,” Duquesne University’s Luke C. Sheahan will join Yours Truly to explain why civil society is weakened when empowered entities (such as the federal courts) fail to give this essential right deserved protection. An enlightening experience is guaranteed! Sign up, right here.
Tre. Does America’s skyrocketing irreligiosity have something to do with the problems affecting this nation? If you believe the answer to that question to be “Yes,” and you have a keen concern about the consequences this poses for this One Nation, Under God, then do come to the important C4CS conference—“Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society”—taking place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. Get complete information right here.
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet?
Many will be traveling this weekend, and when William Whiting wrote (in 1860) what has come to be known as the “Navy Hymn,” well, there were no cars to be had—far-flung getting-about was done on the sea. Nevertheless, even in 2023, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” seems, more than any other hymn, appropriate for Memorial Day and its realities. Listen to it here.
May the Alpha and Omega Enfold All Who Perished in Defense of Liberty,
Jack Fowler, who is hiding in plain sight at firstname.lastname@example.org.