17 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


There’s something about that Ferris-wheel scene in The Third Man—the exquisite classic, now marking its 75th anniversary, is always worthy of comment (see below) and viewing (right here)—that has always grated, and finally it (the irritant) came to Your Intrepid Critic, albeit through some sambuca haze.


There’s no question Orson Welles was a unique, larger-than-life (almost literally) entertainer, a man of copious talent, but momma mia did he lovvvvve to step on, stomp on, tap-dance on the lines of other actors.


That “other actor,” circling above war-battered Vienna in the amusement-ride gondola, was Joseph Cotten, Holly Martins to Welles’ Harry Lime, who parried retorts and threats with his black-marketeer BFF that, in one revolution of the wheel, shared insight on everything from murder and indigestion and the Borgias to divine mercy and the Swiss and cuckoo clocks.


Cotten, who along with Trevor Howard carried this brilliant movie, is among those accomplished actors (Errol Flynn and Edward G. Robinson also in the ranks) who were never Oscar-nominated. Regardless, Cotten’s filmography boasts some of the great classics, including Gaslight, Citizen Kane, Shadow of a Doubt, and Since You Went Away. And let us not forget Soylent Green—which tastes just like mother’s cooking. Or did it taste just like cooked mother?


Speaking of taste, if your knowledge had lips, the ensuing offerings would have them smacking.


A Dozen, Plus One, Plus Another, to Satisfy Your Intellectual Appetite


1. At The American Conservative, John P. Rossi is not the first man to sing the praises of The Third Man. Nor will he be the last. From the reflection:


Reed’s direction was perfect, with the story moving from one unforgettable scene to another. However, two of the most famous scenes were Greene’s handiwork. The most memorable was the sudden appearance of the supposedly dead Harry Lime. After visiting Lime’s apartment, Holly leaves and watches a cat—Harry’s cat in fact—run along the street to a darkened doorway where it plays with the shoes of a hidden figure. Holly believes it is a policeman following him on the orders of Major Calloway and yells out. At that point, a window opens and shines a light on the man in the doorway. It is Lime.


Here, another star of the film emerges: the zither-playing of a Viennese artist, Anton Karas. Reed had discovered him, and, while looking for a musical background for the film after rejecting any Strauss waltzes as a cliché, hit upon the idea of the zither, a Viennese popular instrument, to create a musical atmosphere. It turned out to work brilliantly and, in the process, made Karas a celebrity. Indeed, “The Third Man Theme” became a number one hit in England and America.


The most famous scene in the film occurs on a Ferris Wheel in the Prater, Vienna’s entertainment center. Martin and Lime meet, and Martin confronts him about the deaths his penicillin racket is causing. Lime dismisses his concerns, noting that no one would miss those who died: “They were better off.” Welles rewrote Greene’s parting lines for Lime and in the process produced the most memorable moment in the film. Bidding goodbye to Martins, Lime notes: “In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”


2. At Comment Magazine, Aryana Petrosky, on a religious retreat, hears the sound of silence. From the essay:


Silence is laborious. Most guests arrive to Grandchamp tired, and if they don’t, the silence quickly tires them. Silence is heavy at first. The weight pulls down on the sinews of the neck, straining to allow the noise of distractions and the burdens shouldered to pass through one at a time. The sieve of silence clogs on occasion—a walk pats the interior clog loose. When it comes to the last interior obstruction, a blast of breath guts the rest.


Silence is a desert. The silence felt empty. I felt empty. Prayer felt empty. When I told this to my assigned spiritual mentor, she said that I arrived ready for retreat, standing on the edge of a vast and empty desert. Even though I tried to travel light, the luggage in my hands would soon become too heavy. I would have to drop the bags one by one as I journeyed through a measureless exile.


Silence eventually softens. I drank coffee in a bowl with the other guests. The first morning a few tears streamed down my face. The darkness of the room rested in wait for the sun to rise over the distant mountains. Only the sounds of those eating their breakfast and the grandfather clock were mixed in with the silence. The slow morning light met the candlelit room. Under the blanket of silence, the ring of the bell to announce prayer, or the surprise of laughter, or the song of a bird are all the same—gentle tugs, lifting the corner of the blanket to let in light and air.


. . . Wait! We Need to Announce Something!


The deadline (February 1!) is quickly approaching for two important Heritage Foundation projects. The first is the Innovation Prize, which provides substantial awards (yes, financial) to results-oriented nonprofits for new and innovative projects that involve research, litigation, education, outreach, or communications. Nonprofits can learn more and apply right here.


The second is the Freedom and Opportunity Academic Prize program, open to current faculty members and providing financial awards of $15,000 to academics who are engaged in scholarship relevant to current policy debates (exploring topics related to the foundation's priority issue areas) and broader questions concerning freedom and opportunity. Learn more and apply here.


Again, what’s the deadline? February 1!


Now Let’s Get Us Back to Civil Thoughts . . .


3. At The New Criterion, Anthony Daniels defends beauty, spills ink on tattooing, and skins the pathologies of groupthink, which recasts degradation as laudable. From the piece:


Many examples of the phenomenon could be given. Ever since I first noticed the ascent of tattooing up the social scale, now a quarter century ago, I have collected books about it in desultory fashion, all of them laudatory of so-called body art. Over the years, as an ever-higher percentage of the population mutilates itself in this way, I have had to change my interpretation of the phenomenon. At first, I thought it was a typical example of intellectual and moral preening, as well as of condescension towards the insulted and injured—the torn jeans of the skin, as it were. Not so very long ago, it was predominantly the marginalized—prisoners and the like—who were tattooed. Therefore, those who were not themselves marginalized sought to identify themselves with those who were, imitation supposedly being the highest form of empathy, while hypocritically enjoying the advantages of non-marginalization.


Now that a third of adults in America are tattooed, this can no longer be the explanation, if it ever was. The desire for individuation and self-expression is the commonly accepted explanation, even by those who see tattooing as a triumphant advance in human freedom. At last, people are free to express themselves! At last, they can display to the world their innermost thoughts! At last, they can actually be themselves! All this is frequently, and indeed repeatedly, intoned by the intellectual fellow travelers of the fashion for tattoos, very rarely it being noted that such individuation and self-expression—if that is what it is—is indicative of tragedy, not liberation.


4. At City Journal, Jacob Howland regards the globalism of Hamas support, and the truth of what it means: Hatred for the West. From the analysis:


When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and evicted them from Palestine, the Jews should by all odds have withered away. Instead they reconfigured their religion from the ground up. In the absence of the Temple, they found a new locus of contact with God in the Torah. Rabbis skilled in scriptural interpretation replaced the priests, and self-sacrifice substituted for the offering of animals. In subsequent centuries, the Jews produced the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, monumental works of intellectual imagination. A prodigious number of great thinkers followed, including 214 Nobel Prize winners. And after a third of the Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust, the survivors founded a new homeland, defended it with courage and conviction, and made the desert bloom.


Jewish success is an imperishable monument to the accomplishment of the West, the civilization they helped to birth and, as much as any other people, to build and sustain. The Jews reflect the best of the West: the promise of freedom, peace, prosperity, and creativity it holds for those willing to work for these things. And it is just this happiness and human flourishing that is intolerable to Islamists and their nihilistic allies.


5. At The Free Press, Mauricio Karchmer tells what drove him to bail on his tenured professorship at MIT. From the piece:


Over 65 percent of students from each MIT undergraduate class—or around 800 students—enroll in my Introduction to Algorithms course every year. When I looked at the names of the leaders of some of the most violent anti-Israel groups on our campus, I found a handful of my students on the list. Then I found out that one of my former teaching assistants—a bright young woman—was one of the organizers of the Coalition Against Apartheid and helped bring Mohammed El-Kurd to campus.


I loved my job. But I realized there and then I could no longer train kids in algorithms, knowing they might one day spread this ideology even further through their advanced knowledge. I knew I could no longer be a part of a system that foments antisemitism. In late November, I sat on the ferry I used to take from MIT’s campus back home and decided that I should resign. I have worked hard throughout my professional life to have choices, so I have the luxury of acting on my principles. A few weeks later, on December 13, I handed in my resignation to the head of the department.


My letter stated, in part: “I cannot continue teaching Algorithms to those who lack the most basic critical thinking skills or emotional intelligence. Nor can I teach those who condemn my Jewish identity or my support for Israel’s right to exist in peace with its neighbors.”


6. At The Public Discourse, Kerri Christopher unpacks the “mental load.” From the piece:


Last spring, I was having a glass of wine with a friend after her kids had gone to bed. Her husband was on a business trip overseas and I popped over to ease the witching hour of dinner, bath, and bedtime. As we picked up board books and tossed painted wooden cupcakes into the play kitchen, she asked if I had any thoughts on “the mental load.” She and her husband were both working full-time while raising three children under the age of five. She felt burdened by it all, but wanted to handle the situation charitably. She wasn’t entirely convinced by the popular narrative that men just don’t care, yet she found herself managing things in the house and with the children that her husband didn’t seem to notice. “He doesn’t think to cut the grapes length-wise for the school lunches,” she lamented. “But he did cut them when I asked . . . just not the right way. He didn’t realize that it was to prevent them being choking hazards.”


A few months later, I had a different experience. Driving down the interstate in another friend’s SUV, the back seat littered with booster seats, copies of The Boxcar Children, and stray crayons, I mentioned the concept of “the mental load” to a mother of seven, veteran homemaker, and homeschooling mom. “It’s such B. S.!” she exclaimed. “Like my husband doesn’t carry a mental load from the office? Why should I burden him with my stuff? He doesn’t come home and complain endlessly to me. These feminists are so selfish. They’re not the only ones with things on their minds.”


I was struck by the similarities and differences in these women’s responses to the concept of “the mental load.” On one hand, neither was convinced that the best way forward in their marriages was to be angry with their husbands for their different and complementary tasks and burdens. On the other, they differed in their vision of the weight of domestic tasks: my friend who shared in the burden of providing paid income for the family by working outside the home felt the strain more intensely than my friend who has set up the economy of family life in a more “divide and conquer” way: he being the sole breadwinner and she managing the daily housework, childcare, and schooling. She sees the domestic mental load as part of her tasks, just as earning income is part of his tasks.


7. At RealClearReligion, Andrew Fowler, former altar boy, wonders why the Pope is playing footsie with commies. From the piece:


Yet proponents of this genocidal, anti-Christian philosophy were openly welcomed at the Vatican by Pope Francis as part of a “transversal dialogue project” on Jan. 10. Formed in 2014, the group, DIALOP, is composed of socialists, Marxists, communists and Christians, aiming to propose a “common social ethic that can be proposed as a new narrative for a Europe in search of its identity,” according to Vatican News.


In brief talks, the pontiff encouraged the group to envision a “better world”: one not embroiled by today’s “wars and polarizations,” or one that treats society’s vulnerable as castaways. He then referenced how Nazism “discarded the vulnerable and killed them.” The irony, however, is that Communist regimes killed more people than the Nazis in the 20th century. Perhaps the meeting and collaborating with open Marxists, socialists and communists is no surprise. Since elected, critics and commentators alike have wondered if the pope is a communist due to his “critique of free-market economics,” which he again criticized during the Jan. 10 audience.


Yet Pope Francis, in this respect, was aligned with Catholic Social Teaching in his speech: that every person is a child in the eyes of God, and worthy of dignity. While collaboration between groups to better humankind is laudable, the pope is aligning with people who subscribe to a philosophy that has wrought great evil in the 20th and 21st centuries. More importantly, he is not correcting those same people to recognize the turmoil its wreaked. His apologists could argue Christ worked with tax-collectors, and associated with prostitutes and other societal outcasts—but His message centered on their conversion and repentance. Both are fundamental to Christianity and acting upon the corporal works of mercy, which if adhered to, would establish the “common social ethic” that is being sought.


8. More Vatican Reds: At The American Mind, Daniel J. Mahoney doubles down against Christian-Communist “collaboration.” From the piece:


With the other great Christian communions, it has provided a vibrant and visible manifestation of the sacred and the sacramental, of a transcendent and providential God who is active in the lives of human beings, in the process bestowing liberating grace and uplifting broken souls. It has been the spiritual body in the modern world that has best instantiated indispensable notions and practices such as right reason, the natural moral law, and a robust respect for enduring verities and wise and salutary traditions. It has reminded us of sin and the promise of redemption. It has consistently resisted lawless and reckless conceptions of human freedom and has never catered to a zeitgeist that indulges base desires, sentimental or utopian visions, or inhuman ideologies and totalitarian political projects.


To be sure, there have been “progressivist” Christian theologians and activists for a very long time now. They tend to identify Christianity with fashionable secular ideologies that conflate the “poor in spirit” with the proletariat as a revolutionary class privileged by the movement of History. Strangely, they often see in cruel tyrannies that persecute their co-religionists signs of the Kingdom of Heaven at work. They consistently put the fashions of the age above the wisdom of the Church, faith in human “emancipation” above deference to the commandments of a loving and wise God. They wish to change everything—unchanging human nature, the fundamental laws and structures of social and political life, the traditions of the Church, and an equally unchanging natural law.


9. At Commentary Magazine, John Podhoretz explains in great deal the threat of harm posed to Jews in America. From the piece:


Consider this astounding fact. After the lynching of the Atlanta businessman Leo Frank in 1915 at the hands of a mob that believed he had raped a worker in his factory, it would be another 52 years until a Jew in America was publicly murdered for being a Jew. That happened in 1977 in St. Louis, when a neo-Nazi shot a few men at random outside a synagogue. It would then be another 41 years before the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. In the intervening four decades, you could count on one hand the number of anti-Semitic killings in the United States. The fact that there were any such killings is awful, of course, but the point stands: American Jews of my age and younger simply did not feel themselves to be at any specific physical risk for being Jewish.


That began to change after the Tree of Life killing spree. Hate crimes in general against Jews began to spiral in number—including two subsequent synagogue attacks in California and Texas. YouTube kept displaying short videos of visible members of the tribe (those with black hats, beards, fringed garments) being randomly assaulted from behind on the streets of Brooklyn and elsewhere in so called knock-out attacks. A kosher grocery store was shot up in New Jersey. The home of a haredi Jew in Monsey, New York, was invaded by a man with a machete. Though polls still demonstrated that the United States remained the most philo-Semitic nation the world has ever known, actual violence against Jews for being Jews was bubbling to the surface after remaining largely still over the previous century.


Even so, as the danger mounted, more secular and less easily identifiable American Jews could readily comfort themselves with the thought that their relative invisibility as Jews was still affording them some kind of protection. And, as they are often made uncomfortable by co-religionists who do place their faith at the center of their lives and (for example) send their kids to yeshivas the New York Times regularly defames, they could stave off any worries that this dangerous new targeting of Jews for being Jews might affect them personally.


10. At Tablet Magazine, Emily Benedek profiles an NYC college English professor who is agog over the victimhood epidemic festering on America’s campuses. From the article:


The narrative of victimhood has become welded to these young people’s identity, leading to an increased detachment from, and a sense of grievance toward, America—the irony of course being that they and their parents chose to immigrate here. One girl in the class told him: “I am here in this country against my will.” Bratman asked her: “Who’s holding you? Tell me, please. I’m frightened for you,” showcasing his high-energy, high-drama style. “Everybody’s laughing, and I asked her, ‘Where are you from?’ And she says, ‘Haiti.’ OK. ‘And where were you born?’ And she says, ‘Brooklyn.’”


“So you’re actually from Brooklyn. Your parents are from Haiti,” he repeated. “Who’s holding you back? Do you really want to go to Haiti today? You should actually go and see what life is like in a noncapitalist, depressed country that is in a desperate economic struggle. Or go to Gaza to a totalitarian, autocratic, hateful, homophobic nation. Or go to North Korea, go to Iran, go to all the places as a young woman, and see what life is really like.”


“None of that is understood,” he told me. “The students are pawns of teachers who want them to believe they can never succeed. And these teachers have been spectacularly successful at convincing them it is true.”


11. At Quillette, Tim DeRoche recommends reading together two great American books. From the piece:


Huck Finn is our national epic, much like The Odyssey is for Greece or the Nibelungenlied is for Germany. Like those older epics, Huck Finn can be read as version of a Jungian myth, in which the hero descends into the Underworld, undergoes trials and tribulations, and returns to us reborn. This story of two travelers on an epic journey is an archetype of our culture, which is why it is retold with such frequency. It’s possible to read every American road novel or movie as a reworking of Huck Finn. . . .


Written 33 years before Huck Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin isn’t ironic, but earnest. It isn’t secular, but Christian. It isn’t individualistic, but communitarian. And unlike Huck Finn, Stowe’s novel really is about slavery. A committed abolitionist, Stowe wrote the book in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required northern citizens to cooperate with efforts to return escaped slaves to their owners in the south. Much like Huck Finn, Uncle Tom starts with a slave, the young mother Eliza, running away to avoid being sold down the river. But in many ways, Stowe’s work is braver and more honest than Twain’s, for she depicts the violence and the moral corruption of slavery with much greater frankness, unleavened by boyish hijinks and slapstick humor.


Stowe finds her fixed moral point in Christ. While often mischaracterized as weak and submissive, the character of Uncle Tom is explicitly depicted as Christ-like, withstanding horrific torture (and ultimately giving his life) to protect his fellow slaves. For someone like myself, who has been slowly making his way back to the Christian faith, Stowe’s novel is terrifying, for it paints an unusually vivid picture of what Christianity requires of a person in a moral crisis.


12. At Virginia’s Cardinal News, Megan Schnabel reports on a tiny town that has come back from the brink. From the story:


What’s priceless is the fact that there’s still a Pound Town Hall to host the weekly gathering—that there’s still a town of Pound at all.


In early 2022, the town, population 877 and falling, was facing an existential crisis, brought on by years of infighting and dysfunction. A top General Assembly member—the region’s own delegate—had threatened that the state would yank the town’s charter. He was tired of seeing stories in the local news about how town council members couldn’t get along, about fiscal improprieties, polluted water, misplaced drugs and guns in the police department.


If Pound didn’t get its act together, the legislature declared, it would cease to be a town.


Today, Pound’s leaders are making plans for the future, although they haven’t let go of their distrust of those who would have dissolved their town.


“I don’t think we’ve just shocked Pound, and I don’t think we’ve just shocked Wise County, and I don’t think we’ve shocked just Virginia,” said Leabern Kennedy, who was elected to the town council in 2021 on a platform of changing the status quo, and who is now the vice mayor and a driving force behind Pound’s revitalization.


Lucky 13. At The American Institute for Economic Research, Paul Mueller provides a handy guide to ESG. From the piece:


We should note that ESG initiatives are not pushed by altruistic, disinterested, objective philosophers. They are backed by people whose livelihoods and careers are strongly tied to their success—and their expansion. How strongly these people believe in the philosophical merits of ESG is beside the point; ESG clearly is now a significant vested interest.


The question of motives, though, ties into an important theory of regulation: Bootleggers and Baptists. Regulations (prohibition of alcohol in this classic 1983 example) are often advanced by two different but aligned groups. Bootleggers (who don’t want legal alcohol as competition) are driven primarily by their own material self-interests. Baptists (who would stamp out evil alcohol) are propelled by their convictions, a belief in the moral goodness of their cause.


Two important dynamics emerge here. First, (bootlegger) rent-seekers, greenwashers, and ESG salespeople use the moral justification of the (Baptist) environmentalists and equity advocates for their own gain. And second, it will be the Bootleggers who write the details of regulatory policy, because they care not about the moral wins, but the bottom line benefits. They will twist the terms and jargon until the best intentions serve only the vested interests. It happens every time.


Bonus. At Brownstone Institute, Rev. John F. Naugle wonders what ever happened to “civil disobedience.” From the piece:


As such, the battle against slavery and racial segregation in this country occupied a significant part of our instruction time. We learned about the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, from Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King, Jr. We learned that progress was made specifically by those who refused to obey unjust laws.


In my young, innocent mind, I was left with a simple thought that I have held onto until today: slavery and segregation only were allowed to exist because supposedly “good” people sinned through indifference, and they only came to an end when enough people arose who refused to conform to the injustice of the status quo.


My thoughts along these lines were given further substance when Henry David Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” was assigned to us in my sophomore year of high school. The moral obligation to disobey unjust laws non-violently and then to accept punishment in the hopes of forcing change was one of the major lessons I took away from my Catholic schooling. The willingness to embrace the consequences of such non-violent direct action was one of the things I admired about the political left, even if I did not count myself one of its members.


Now over twenty years later, I’m forced to ask: what happened to the political left? The immoral thugs of Antifa and other groups commit violence in the name of “direct action.” When police respond they resist or flee instead of peacefully submitting to arrest. Finally, and most damningly, the left denies the right of conscience or protest at all to their perceived enemies, instead surrendering themselves to the logic of totalitarianism.


Bonus Bonus. E-I-E-I-Oyvey! At National Review, Amity Shlaes recalls an American experiment in collective farming. It did not go well. From the piece:


In its first years, Casa Grande bloomed, and even earned some profits. After more time, officials hoped, Casa Grande would learn to run itself, with settler families receiving yet more profits from their share of the co-op.


But after more time, that was not what happened. Profits notwithstanding, those settlers who had believed that they would be free to homestead after an initial land grant did not overcome their disappointment: “We came on the project because it was painted rosy to us.”


What’s more, the farmers found they didn’t like sharing. They wanted their own tractors. And their own cows, and even their own chickens. There was something in the settlers’ nature that resisted even a lavish collective. Outsiders found the resistance almost humorous, like slapstick: Why were the farmers rejecting their gifts? But the resistance was also deeply human.


An older local from outside the settlement, a farmer without access to the kinds of tools or stock at Casa Grande, conveyed his impression of the collective experiment. “It’s all right, I guess. But the thing I can’t figure out is how a man tells his own chickens apart, runnin’ them all together like they do there.”


For the Good of the Order


Uno. At Philanthropy Daily, Matt Gerken dispels your notions and assumptions about “lapsed donors.” This is an article fundraising types should read, and they can do so right here.


Due. At the must-listen “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast, host Jeremy Beer and veterans guru Marcus Ruzek discuss how philanthropy can best serve those who served. Catch it here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: Why wouldn’t Number 2 date Number 3?


A: Because he was odd.


A Dios


Lest you conclude that this electronic epistle thinks unwell of the aforementioned Mr. Welles, it does not. His performances, even in The Third Man, were generally marvelous. By the way, he did not play a pope (also aforementioned) on the silver screen, but he did perform (quite wonderfully) as Cardinal Wolsey in A Man for All Seasons, and a little down the clerical ladder, as Father Mapple in Moby Dick. Why, in the classic Italian film, The Little World of Don Camillo, he even found himself in the role of . . . the voice of Christ. Kind of atop the ladder. Hard to beat that, no?


May We Be Unburdened of Impediments to Goodness,


Jack Fowler, who accepts theories as to the meaning of “Rosebud” sent to jfowler@amphil.com.

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