17 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


Wheel of Fortune may not be the kind of cultural product that Tocqueville types (maybe even the Frenchman himself, assuming he had a crystal ball) might have figured to one day be the stuff of civil society. But at least under Pat Sajak, now retired—after 8,000-plus episodes side-kicking with Vanna White—this game-show juggernaut was not a thing of incivility.


Mirth, however, has its place, its utility, its purpose.


Mr. Sajak (the chairman of the board of Hillsdale College, and a great admirer and friend of the late William F. Buckley Jr.) is a lightly known soul to Your Humble Correspondent (he was once a guest speaker on a National Review cruise!) and to many involved in various conservative institutions. Once, YHC had an idea for someone to review a then-new book—The Big Scrum, by the great John J. Miller (founder of The College Fix)—on the role Teddy Roosevelt played in reforming the once-deadly game of college football: “Ask Pat Sajak.”


Intrigued that the Maker of Typically Ridiculous Suggestions had maybe made one that . . . intrigued . . . the NR powers that be asked. And Mr. Sajak agreed. And he wrote a darned good review, which you can read right here.


And so ends the name-dropping.


Let us get on with our usual business, but not without having wished this nice and thoroughly entertaining guy . . .




Excellent Excerpts Straight Ahead! Let Us Debate Another Time Whether Y Is a Vowel


1. At Modern Age, Daniel McCarthy looks at a new, much-discussed kingly portrait, which provokes a critique of modern art. From the essay:

This Tocquevillian perspective accounts for why the thrill of transgression never wears off for the transgressors, no matter how old and predictable “modern” art becomes. Although morally and formally transgressive work is usually promoted as having some power to jolt the soul—and perhaps early on it did—the underlying logic of such art today is about conformity, not novelty: fitting in with the elite opponents of the old elitism. . . .

Yet the Tocquevillian analysis may go too far. When photography replaced painting and other visual arts as the medium for conveniently capturing images of faces, places, and objects, the old arts had every reason to adopt new aesthetics that no camera could replicate. Presentation remained as a defining quality of art, even if its former function of representation had been usurped. Impressionism, surrealism, and other modern styles showed the world in ways that photographs typically could not. And the subjects of presentation eventually came to include the elements of which painted images are composed—shapes, colors, even splatters of paint. Other artists presented as subjects for attention objects that had never been considered in such a light. This could serve to detract from the traditional priorities of art, but in individual cases that need not be so. Modern art does reflect modern conditions, sometimes in ways that produce not alienation but contemplative detachment of a sort that Schopenhauer might endorse. The problem of modern art is not that it’s not traditional, but that it easily becomes the opposite of what it’s advertised as being: an orthodoxy and straitjacket rather than a release from thoughtless imitation.


2. At The New Criterion, Victor Davis Hanson comments on a new book that claims the principal threat to America is “white rural rage.” From the review:

Had the authors seriously been “thinking and talking” about rural–urban tensions “throughout the world for centuries,” then they would have concluded from texts such as Hesiod’s Works and Days, Aristophanes’ Acharnians, Virgil’s Eclogues, Thomas Jefferson’s agricultural encomia, William Jennings Bryan’s populist writings, the Depression-era works of the Southern Agrarians, or Wendell Berry’s essays that rural distrust of city life often reflects legitimate grievances—and yet rarely manifests itself as a sustained, violent political agenda. Etymologically, to be “rustic” originally meant to live in the rus, or countryside, while “urbane” identified a resident of the urbs or city. Yet even in early Latin, the once-neutral words quickly became value-loaded, respectively pejorative and approbatory.


Schaller, a liberal political-science professor at the University of Maryland and the author of past books and articles offering advice to Democrats on how to win elections, and his coauthor, Paul Waldman—a former Washington Post columnist and the author of books about the purported lies of George W. Bush and the supposed soft treatment accorded John McCain by the media—seem rather sheltered. Their repetitive, 255-page indictment only confirms to the reader that the authors’ initial warnings about their own limitations were all too prescient.


The book itself is for the most part a rehash of Thomas Frank’s much better-researched and more closely argued, if equally unpersuasive, What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004). The similar though more melodramatic thesis of Schaller and Waldman is simple enough. Frustrated by the growing inequalities that result from a globalized economy, left-behind rural white communities resent a transformed America that, we are told, is doing quite well as it separates itself from that reactionary and calcified rustic segment.


3. Kidding Allowed: At The Free Press, Malcolm Collins doesn’t see the desire to have large families as indicative of where one should be located on a political spectrum. From the article:

Speaking of taxes: we believe in them. My wife got her degree in environmental business and started her career working for the Earth Day Network and the American Council on Renewable Energy. We are also pro-choice and support gay rights. We advocate for more surrogacy and egg and sperm donations, and against stricter government regulations for these things so that more people can have the children they want. We know that religious extremists will criticize us for using IVF—but with over half of the developed world projected to be infertile by 2060, we see normalizing the process as critical. We want there to be more acceptance for neurodiverse children and adults; Simone and two of our kids are autistic.


Simone and I also don’t believe in putting pressure on anyone who doesn’t want to have children—but there is plenty of evidence that many people want more children than they have.


So many in our cohort—millennials and Gen Z on the social left—say they can’t have a big family, or a family at all, because it’s simply too costly. Never mind that historically, the less money someone has, the more kids they have. The truth is, when some people say “I can’t afford children,” what they really mean is “I can’t afford children without sacrificing the quality of life I have grown accustomed to.”


Hold On a Second . . .


Hey, you Givers, Doers, and Thinkers: The Center For Civil Society, mother ship of this missive, announces formally its consequential conference on K to Campus: How the Education Reform Movement Can Reshape Higher Ed. The shebang takes place at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, from October 23 to 24, and just about every bit of info you want/need to know can be found here. Except maybe this: The kick-off event will be Yours Truly interviewing the great Victor Davis Hanson. The agenda is super, and yes, besides the what’s-wronging, there will be plenty of inspiration on tap. Be there.


. . . The Time to Hold On Is Now Over


4. At The American Conservative, Robert Merry finds D-Day’s 80th anniversary an instructive opportunity to aspire to selflessness. From the reflection:

It’s not often expressed explicitly, but D-Day symbolizes America’s can-do spirit as exemplified by Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation.” The greatest generation is mostly gone now, and the country’s can-do spirit seems to have departed with it. America is no longer an industrial powerhouse, certainly ill-prepared for the kind of production blitz that contributed to the World War II victory. It has engaged in multiple foreign wars since the 9/11 attacks and has distinguished itself in none of them. Sustained economic growth has eluded policymakers for nearly two decades. FDR’s old working class constituency has been devastated. No longer a cohesive nation, America struggles with civic frictions that are tearing it apart. And the political establishment seems incapable of bringing forth presidential candidates who seem capable of addressing, much less ameliorating, the persistent ills of the nation.

So, yes, we should honor the D-Day sacrifices and successes of 80 years ago with appropriate appreciation, patriotism and reverence. But it might be an occasion also to ponder what went wrong in America after the heady Cold War victory of 1989–91 and how the country might recapture the vigor, unity and surefootedness of what might be called the D-Day era.


5. At Tablet Magazine, Yosef Lindell mourns his wife’s miscarriage, and ponders how the loss melds with his faith. From the piece:

In pregnancy time, 18 weeks is an eternity. By then, the toll it’s taken on the body is immense—the morning sickness, the mood swings, the fatigue. Although I didn’t personally experience any of these, I became attached to the fragile life blossoming inside my wife’s belly. You don’t want to plan, but you plan anyway, bolstered by statistics promising smooth sailing after the first trimester. Hopes and dreams come unbidden; expectations have a wily way of asserting themselves. My wife bought a new car seat so that she could get it on sale. I thought of names. A baby bump had begun to appear.


On the first day of Shavuot, I had a hard time praying. Instead, I imagined standing at Mount Sinai, the wild wail of the shofar filling the wasteland. God’s voice thundered amid the clefts and splinters of rock, telling me, and only me, “You shall not have a baby!” I hadn’t remembered that being one of the Ten Commandments.


And that’s when I realized that 40 days after Sinai, there was a sort of miscarriage as well. Instead of being reborn as a nation devoted to God, with two luchot—tablets—as a sign of the covenant, the Children of Israel ended up with thousands dead and a pair of riven stone tablets at the foot of the mountain.


6. At The Lamp, Jude Russo uses razor wit to discuss disdain for shaving. From the piece:

I have also been reminded how much I hate shaving. Long years of hard experience in younger days disclosed to me a truth buried under advertising and lifestyle blogging: anyone trying to sell you a lotion, unguent, tonic, or foam for before, during, or after the application of the razor is a rip-off artist. You might as well slap turpentine on there for the good it does. It all works on the same principle of puffing out your skin and then drying it—a perfect storm for ingrown hairs. What you want is tap water, preferably unfluoridated. (Though I confess that, if I want to impress, I will splash around a little Aqua Velva at the neck. Good enough for Pete Rose, good enough for me!) Even so, it’s a wretched business. Press too hard, ingrown hairs; don’t press hard enough, pulling and uneven stubble. Then there’s the whole question of angle of attack—with, against, or across the grain?


My children took it well—hardly a comment. The baby laughed. My bartender, however, did not recognize me, which was hard not to take personally. Serving my highball in an uncharacteristic daze of novelty-induced confusion, he said (and he wasn’t the only one) that the shaving made me look much younger. Eddie didn’t mean it nastily—probably—but gosh, I really hope it’s not that bad. He doesn’t know what I looked like when I was young. There are pictures in yearbooks, of which I was reminded on the subway this week after getting into a car with a school group of teenagers.


7. At Claremont Review of Books, Christopher Caldwell visits Israel after the horrific October 7th attacks, and ponders how Zionism is adjusting to reality, as it has done historically. From the essay:

To travel to that region today is to hear story after story about fighters whose knowledge of their targets was creepily detailed: In Yakhini, terrorists taking the only car in the village that always, as every local knew, had a key in the ignition. In Kissufim, a platoon of gunmen attacking the house of the kibbutz’s head of security, who said later, “They knew exactly where I was.” Elsewhere, intruders knocking on the doors of houses and trying to coax the residents out, calling them by their given names. Operational plans, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has alleged, reached down to the level of “who to rape.” Hamas held out in parts of Israeli territory for three days. “It was a dramatic technical achievement with strategic meaning,” said the retired general mentioned earlier. “There is no way they will ever be our neighbors again, physically or geographically.”

It is a version—albeit the most harrowing to date—of a problem that has faced Israel since its beginnings. Zionism, the project of establishing a Jewish state in the Holy Land, is older than its detractors and even many of its defenders realize. Israel the place is what a good deal of Jewish Scripture is about, of course. But Israel the modern nation-state is old, too. It had been dreamt about by European rabbis and Jewish poets and reformers since the early 19th century. It had been championed by George Eliot and other philosemitic intellectuals; promoted by Theodor Herzl, Bernard Lazare, and other visionaries at century’s end; laid out under a League of Nations mandate on land that Britain had wrested from the Ottoman Empire in World War I; and rendered demographically feasible by a massive wave of migration to Palestine during the 1930s, when Nazism was rising and America’s borders were closed to immigrants. Israel was born in a series of bloody battles that its already impressive military won in 1948 and 1949 against the ragtag armies of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, as well as the Arab Legion of Jordan’s King Abdullah. Its conquests included territories not in the United Nations’s mandate, land on which native Arabs—mostly Muslims, but with many Christian communities, too—had lived from time immemorial. Israel expelled most of the natives and kept the land, believing, probably correctly, that the country as a whole was indefensible without it.


8. At National Review, Jeffrey Blehar tracks the trajectory of Ibram X. Kendi, and finds lies along with the rise and fall. From the piece:

What is racism, per Kendi? Anything that oppresses minorities but most especially African Americans. What is “antiracism”? Anything that promotes their social, economic, or physical well-being. How to be “antiracist”? It’s simple: Question literally every single decision you make in life on a granular level. Does voting for this candidate or referendum advance “antiracism”? How about reading this book? Wearing these clothes? Boycotting this show? Not boycotting this show? (How about this hummus? It’s made by Zionists!) The logic wasn’t even particularly compelling, merely ironclad in its suffocatingly recursive and intentionally ill-defined way. “There is no neutrality in the racial struggle,” warned Kendi, and the book (and his subsequent lectures on it—which might have cost you $20,000 a pop, provided you were an institutional sponsor) made it clear: Every single choice we make marks us like Cain as “racist” or—hopefully, the way Calvinists reckon with future salvation—as “antiracist.”


Future generations will barely believe it, but this stuff had its moment. Kendi became a multi-millionaire off the Floyd agonistes among liberal and corporate America, as I noted a year ago. The man had hustle and an easy way with conversational patter, as well as the willingness to fearlessly reductio his thesis all the way to absurdum. It captured a certain zeitgeist. No wonder he was showered with $55 million for his Boston University “antiracism center,” and no wonder he fumbled it all. It all collapsed when we shuddered ourselves out of the 2020–21 punch-drunk daze. Being surprised at the fact of Kendi’s mismanagement is like being surprised that you can’t really promote Eddie Murphy from street hustler to floor trader in the span of a month.


9. At Law & Liberty, Joshua Katz analyzes the left’s grammar, and what it tells us about the ideology. From the piece:

So what’s going on with “We keep us safe”?


We (by which I mean I and whoever is reading this) might, for the sake of argument, consider who is included in “we” from a strictly grammatical point of view. As it happens, linguists, speaking of what we (by which I mean I and some others but not necessarily you) call clusivity, like to say that the pronoun has two senses: there is “inclusive ‘we,’” which means “you and I (and maybe one or more others),” and there is “exclusive ‘we,’” which means “I and one or more others, but not you.” Many languages have entirely separate forms for the two categories: for instance, Tagalog (the standardized form of which, Filipino, is the national language of the Philippines), in which the inclusive pronoun is tayo and the exclusive kamí.


It strikes me as a modestly interesting linguistic question whether “We keep us safe” is a plausible English sentence if “we” and “us” have different meanings: “You and I keep them and me safe” or “They and I keep you and me safe,” say—or, for that matter, “We [in the encampment] keep us [in the encampment plus our ‘allies’] safe,” with overlapping but not identical inclusive referents. But this is an academic question and smells of the lamp, not the camp. There is no real possibility that this is what anyone who uses the phrase has in mind. The first-person plural pronominal forms in the Princeton announcement of May 15—there are twenty-one instances of “we,” twenty-one of “our,” and nine of “us”—clearly refer to the people in the encampment; the sole second-person pronoun appears in the final sentence of the document, “See you at Reunions,” which sure sounds like a warning to those who are not part of the “we.” (And, indeed, there were at least three separate pro-Palestinian protests on May 25, though none of these efforts to disrupt alumni festivities amounted to much.)


10. At City Journal, Brian Patrick Eha reflects on Franz Kafka’s anxieties, and concludes they have proven prophetic. From the reflection:

So it went. Overworked, insomniac, neurasthenic—he did his life’s work in fugitive hours, when, conscious of his immense literary abilities, he felt capable of anything. At other times, he sank into suicidal despair. Despite rehearsing time and again in his diary the cost to his writing, physical health, and sanity of this “horrible double life,” he kept getting promoted at the office, even after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1917 and suffering a bout of Spanish flu the following year. “Why does my name appear on the first page of the enemy’s notes?” he asked himself. “I can’t say.” And he kept having breakdowns. His life reads like a parable by Kafka.


Yet it’s impossible to imagine one Kafka without the other. His training in law, which included a brief practice in the provincial high court and criminal court, his work at the insurance institute, his management of his brother-in-law’s financially troubled asbestos factory during the war—“Wretched factory,” he griped—inform the characters and situations of his fiction. Just as real legal terms are employed (and distorted) in The Trial, whole passages in The Castle can only be called bureaucratic farce. The dance of the files—a protracted scene in the corridor of an inn, where a pair of porters distribute documents from a cart to the officials residing there, who fight to take possession of the files without showing their faces, while the hapless protagonist, K. (having intruded on this private ritual), looks on in amazement, thereby breaking one of the cloistered society’s many taboos—is as tightly choreographed as any ballet. The verbal gusto of the sequence suggests Kafka’s transport while writing it. The farce is of a special kind, however, delightful to the reader but never to K., who finally is bounced out by the landlord and his wife. “But what had he done? Repeatedly K. asked, but for a long time he could not elicit an answer, because his guilt was all too self-evident to them, and so they never even remotely considered that he might have acted in good faith.”


11. At The Thompson Citizen up Manitoba way, Matthias Johnson reports on a touch-a-truck fundraiser that brought in the dollars (Canadian!) for a local preschool. From the story:

At the event, in addition to an array of engaging outdoor activities, organizers also successfully orchestrated a variety of indoor entertainment options, including a lively selection of games and a captivating silent auction held in the TRCC. Attendees were delighted by the availability of delectable lunch and snack options, which were conveniently accessible for purchase through the acquisition of tickets. Furthermore, participants eagerly partook in a draw, with the tantalizing prospect of winning $100 cash prize, adding an extra layer of excitement to the occasion.

The event culminated in a thrilling spectacle at 4:00PM, where the scheduled "Ball Drop," would give enthusiastic participants the opportunity to purchase and place a ball into the colorful loader. As the loader ascended and then dramatically released its cargo, the aim was to land the balls as close to a designated target as possible. The individual whose ball came closest to the bullseye emerged victorious, earning 50% share of the prize pool.

The Touch a Truck fundraiser was an astounding success, bringing together the community for a day of fun and learning. With the support of generous sponsors, dedicated volunteers, and enthusiastic participants, Kiddies Northern Preschool were able to surpass their fundraising goals and make a meaningful contribution towards their cause. The positive feedback and overwhelming turnout have truly made the event a memorable experience for everyone involved.


12. At the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Stanley K. Ridgley explains what, in part, underlies the student unrest on our campuses. From the article:


Many “student” movements are actually manifestations of radical faculty and staff pet causes. In their public-affairs messaging, bureaucrats give no hint that “student development” and “student learning” include faculty and staff mobilizing students into movements to “create change,” i.e., to demonstrate, to protest, to violate university regulations, to vandalize university property, to harass other students, to jeopardize their academic standing and chances at future employment, and to put themselves at risk of arrest, with the resulting criminal record. They certainly do not acknowledge that such “curricula” constitute the aiding and abetting of criminal activity.

The guise, of course, is the great con-game of “student development” and “student learning.” Such phrases are where the social-justice cause du jour nestles, comfortably hidden. This scam vernacular has become such a ubiquitous and frequent tool of the fake “educators” of Student Affairs that when you hear or see it, it signals 1) the person using it is not to be trusted, 2) it’s an even bet that the term is masking some ludicrous, noxious project, and 3) you should probe deeper to investigate what is invariably an educational fraud perpetrated by the unqualified.

The use of students as proxy foot soldiers for faculty and staff social activists may strike you as unsavory at best. But these campus characters relish it, presenting “student activism” as a positive contribution to “student development,” criminal record and all. Needless to say, student-affairs professionals and their fellow travelers may even enjoy the vicarious thrill of seeing handcuffs placed on their charges, since they have no intention of risking anything. They’re happy in their role of academic saboteurs, encouraging others to sacrifice.


Lucky 13. At Main Street America, Becky Axilbund—legacy guru of quaint Middletown, MD—offers tips on how to rehabilitate historic-designated downtown buildings. From the article:


Purchasing a historic building is a major feat for smaller nonprofits, and it generates a lot of excitement within the Board and in the community. It is tempting to jump ahead and just start painting! However, it is important to slow down and have a plan in place before you start working on the building. There are a lot of decisions to make.\

We knew we were going to rehabilitate the exterior. We started with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. While they provide guiding principles for decision making, we found that there were many other things to consider. For example, it was very important to our Board to use local contractors as much as possible, and to select a rehabilitation approach that would maintain the historic integrity and rustic vibe of the interiors while also creating a professional appearance required for contemporary uses. We also needed to have a professional inspection for lead paint and asbestos before we could begin working. All of this required extensive planning before any work could be implemented.

We also knew that with such a small space, we would need to be strategic with the content we want to share in the Welcome Center. We hired a former National Park Service employee to create a Visitor Experience Plan, which examined the many expectations that visitors have when they enter the space and they ways we can address them, from creating exterior signage and different types of exhibits we may need to include to printed materials and small gift items that we can sell.


Bonus. At Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty Online, John Rossi assesses the classic World War I novel, Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That. From the reflection:


Graves was not an adherent of the “Lions Led by Donkeys” school of World War I history. He admires the junior officers tremendously, finding them to be brave and loyal to the men. Nor does he hate the Germans. If he is critical of anyone it is the French. He told his parents that he found it very difficult to love the French. The French civilians overcharged the English soldiers for food, and what is worse, he writes, they watered the beer directly “from canal with a horse-pipe.” One of his fellow officers says he would never fight in a war again unless it was against the French.

There are no atheists in foxholes” goes the old saw. Perhaps. But there was very little religion in these trenches. Graves, who had lost his faith in God during his public school days, writes that the soldiers had “no respect” for the Church of England regimental chaplains. They stayed behind during the fighting, one even preaching on, of all things, the “commutation of tithes” before the battle began. An exception was made for the Catholic padres who went to the battle scenes so they could give extreme unction to the dying. He particularly admired a Catholic priest who, after all the officers has been killed, “stripped off his black badges” and, taking command of the survivors, held the line.

Among other things, Graves writes offhandedly of seeing ghosts of men he knew walking around his trench waving to him. He hated the rats: he woke up once to find one next to him eating part of a corpse. He constructed an elaborate formula for taking risks. To kill a German sniper, he would take a 1 in 5 chance. To save a German life in No Man’s Land (the area between opposing armies and trench lines), the odds were 1 in 20.


Special Announcement


Get the lead out: Nominations for the 6th annual Gregor G. Peterson Prize in Venture Philanthropy are due on July 1, 2024. The $250,000 charitable gift is given to a trailblazing nonprofit that exemplifies the work ethic, values, and bold ideas of venture capitalist Gregor G. Peterson, its namesake.


How to do? Complete the simple 30-second nomination form to share the name and a few details of a nonprofit organization you believe (1) qualifies for and (2) deserves the prize. The ground rules are that the nonprofit 501(c)(3) must (1) be less than five years old or a new project of an existing nonprofit; (2) embrace the touchstone concepts of liberty, free enterprise, limited government, education, self-reliance, and individual freedom; and (3) advocate new ways to fuel problem-solving, preferably on a national scale. The winner of the prize will be announced in December 2024 at the ALEC Nation & States Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. Now, one more time: Get the lead out!


For the Good of the Cause


Uno. At Philanthropy Daily, the great Bruno Manno makes the case for apprenticeships, and urges their consideration by philanthropists. Read it here.


Due. “We need to do a capital campaign. By the way, what is a capital campaign?” Good question, one among many that will be answered at the Center for Civil Society’s “In the Trenches” Master Class scheduled for Thursday, August 8th, via Zoom, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. (Eastern). If you’re a nonprofit worker bee, or even trustee, that is noodling the idea of a capital campaign, you’ll regret not attending. So sign up. Do that, and learn more, right here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: What did the millennial contestant say to Pat Sajak on Wheel of Fortune?

A: I would like to rent a vowel.


A Dios


This Sunday comes Father’s Day. May all dads find it a day of happiness, and if necessary, forgiveness.


“Father” is how we papists refer to our ministers, and this past week, in Milford, CT, Father Cyriac Maliekal, retired pastor of the now-closed Christ the Redeemer Church, passed away. He was a gentle and holy man, and a miracle. Yes, a miracle—about which Your Humble Correspondent wrote in National Review. Son Andrew, a gifted writer, reflects on the man who was once shepherd of our flock. Read it here. Rest in peace, Father.


May We Prepare for Our Journeys Home,


Jack Fowler, who is wistful at jfowler@amphil.com.

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