15 min read

Dear Intelligent American,

 There is one remaining soul, Maria Branyas, who lived while Old Glory had a mere 45 stars: Her birthday (March 4, 1907) occurred but a few months before Oklahoma’s statehood added the 46th. Maria—the world’s oldest living person—was born in San Francisco, but her Catalan family eventually returned to Spain, where she has lived for over a century. Only one other American—114-year-old California native Edie Ceccarelli—has lived under a banner with fewer than 48 stars (New Mexico and Arizona became states, weeks apart, in early 1912). God bless both ladies.

Flag Day approaches (next Wednesday), and curiosity (also: a son who waves vexillological) prompts one to wonder about earlier drapeau iterations, such as when there were only 15 states—symbolized by the actual Star-Spangled Banner that fluttered above Fort McHenry in 1814, dodging air-bursting bombs. Or, cannot the contemplative fellow daydream about when Nebraska joined the Union in 1867: What was the semblance of order and visual appeal for 37 stars? Glad you asked.

We approach the purpose of the missive, but before we arrive, remember that the emblem of the land I love is not some mere fancified fabric. It is a thing for which it is worth dying. Its protection on the battlefield has been marked repeatedly over our decades by extreme exhibits of bravery, including by the likes of William Carney and another Medal of Honor recipient, Van T. Barfoot, who showed an abiding love for Old Glory well after his courageous exploits in World War II.


Let us salute. And now, take it away, Mister Cohan.


More Excerpts than Those Revolutionary Stellae Stitched by Betsy Ross


1. Analysts at the Victims of Communism Museum have released an exhaustive study documenting widespread government torture in Cuba. From the report:

The Cuban State has an extensive history of human rights violations, which it commits systematically and in a generalized manner against various sectors of civil society, especially those who recognize themselves as dissidents or those who disagree with the system. Torture, which is methodological and extended over groups of individuals, is one of the most common human rights violations on the island, a fact that has been reported in numerous cases that have been verified and adopted by the United Nations, the IACHR, and NGOs around the world.


Although Cuba has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment since 1995 and to date, its domestic criminal legislation has not been made compatible to the minimum degree necessary to punish conduct related to this scourge, in contravention of Article 4.1 of the Convention. In addition, despite multiple reports from diverse and highly reputable organizations on a systemic pattern of torture that punishes freedom of expression and those who dare to exercise it, such behaviors and patterns of violations have not ceased.


In order to understand the context in which the acts constituting torture, inhuman and degrading treatment take place, it is necessary to explain to this worthy Committee, the socio-political-legal context existing in Cuba. This context proves that the acts of torture, all of which are prohibited by the UN Convention which will refer to in subsequent sections, are committed by agents of the Cuban authorities, in full harmony with the directives of the public authorities, and that this type of illegal act, which is persecuted in practically all countries of the world, is based on motives of political dissidence and discrimination against their own citizenry.


2. More Communism: At National Catholic Register, Solène Tadié interviews fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney about the republishing of the late, courageous Hungarian Cardinal József Mindszenty’s powerful Memoirs. From the article:

“Mindszenty stands out in the darkest of times as a fierce defender of liberty and human dignity and a jealous guardian of Christian values and virtues and the rights of the Church,” Daniel Mahoney, professor of politics at Assumption College in Massachusetts, told the Register, stressing that the cardinal was also a passionate patriot without ever getting close to the racialist and nationalist movements that were widespread at the time, gathered behind the Arrow Cross Party.


Mahoney, who wrote the introduction to the new edition of the Memoirs, published almost a half-century after the first edition in 1974, and whose own intellectual path was significantly influenced by the Hungarian primate, views him as an “anti-totalitarian titan” and as the “guardian of ‘eternal truths.’”


“Mindszenty defended truth, liberty and what he called ‘the sanctified tradition’ of his people against every form of ideological mendacity,” he said.


(NB: You can order Memoirs directly from Ignatius Press, here.)


3. More Mahoney: At The American Mind, the author of the Conservative Book of the Year accepts his honor from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. From the remarks:

Today, nearly 35 years after the annus mirabilis of 1989, we are observing a repetition in new form of the ideological Lie. Progressives willfully see in imperfect but largely decent societies nothing but evil, injustice, and exploitation. Critical Race Theory and “wokeness” have replaced gratitude to our forebears and democratic self-respect, and new groups of people, alleged oppressors, are called to loathe themselves or to be banished from the civic and human community. Such unrelieved contempt for our fellow citizens has nothing to do with justice, social or otherwise. Quite the contrary. It makes a mockery of the shared bonds that make free civic life possible, and it creates a fictive world of permanent victims and oppressors. And it is light years away from the affirmation of common humanity.


So much for the moral realism that affirms, in Solzhenitsyn’s famous words from The Gulag Archipelago, “that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.” Faced with human nature in extremis in the Soviet Gulag, Solzhenitsyn rediscovered a truth central to classical and Biblical wisdom, as well as to the sober moral and political wisdom of our founding fathers: “It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” To acknowledge this is to begin to find wisdom and self-knowledge.


4. At Comment Magazine, Anne Snyder reveals the findings of her deep dive into the factors involved in social change. From the beginning of the piece:

For those who have not been following along, Comment and our accompanying podcast The Whole Person Revolution have undertaken a six-month exploration of social change—what it is, how it happens, what we tend to miss in our impatience for quantifiable results. Where our spring issue took a philosophical approach to these questions, this second issue is more like a scatterplot almanac—select histories of social movements as they begin in what Gal Beckerman calls “the quiet before,” the fragile ferment of instinct and hope.


We are interested in this fertile underground because we live in a culture that defaults to celebrity even though it yearns for community, and in an age that attends largely to that which is preened in public. We discount the processes of discernment and trust necessarily nurtured in private. There is an attractive mischief about turning instead toward more hidden beginnings: What is going on when that first trimester is successful, able to mature and birth new life? Is it possible for green shoots to grow on their own terms, not in response to a perceived threat, but rather as an outgrowth of love and a confident vision of the good?


As I’ve spoken with students of movements and steeped myself in the narratives you’re about to read, a kind of pattern has glimmered into focus: principles, ingredients, those nutrients in the soil that eventually bear fruit and change history’s direction for the better. Here they are, framed in the form of questions to provoke you into what we at Comment hope is a more honest public conversation about what true social change actually requires.


5. That Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Kid: At Law & Liberty, Shoshana Weissmann looks at a movie that tilts when it takes on that war against big-city pinball regulations. From the beginning of the essay:

The risible history of pinball regulations is retold in Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game. If you can sit through a cliché script and writers beating you over the head with a dozen callbacks and motifs—quite a few for a movie with about a 90-minute runtime—you’ll learn about a strange regulation of a popular game, its origins, and how it was reformed.


The film is confusingly set up as an actor-portrayal of a documentary featuring a depiction of the modern-day Roger Sharpe—the pinball player, author, and activist who challenged New York City regulations against the game. But the film also features an actor-portrayal of the past and younger Sharpe, chronicling his efforts to rest the pinball bans. (This reviewer, at least, couldn’t initially tell that the portrayal of the older Sharpe wasn’t the real Sharpe.) This creative choice seemed to fail, not just because of any confusion, but because of its jarring effect on the storytelling. Towards the end, he even clarifies some creative liberties taken by the movie, playing up the faux-documentary feel.


“Most people don’t even know pinball was illegal,” says the modern-day Sharpe (well, not the real modern-day Sharpe, but the character who is mock-interviewed as Sharpe). Although he “was really bad at pinball,” he grew to master the game at the University of Wisconsin. Viewers then see the younger Sharpe grow into a young adult, playing pinball in what becomes his regular pornography store. He claims to never enter behind the curtain, always staying in the entryway with the pinball machine that he later remarks is the only one he can find in New York City.


6. More Movies: At National Review, Armond White critiques a new documentary that takes on filmmaker David Lynch and his fixation on The Wizard of Oz. From the review:

Since MGM’s beloved musical fantasy (based on books by L. Frank Baum) first aired on TV in 1956, it influenced Lynch through surrealism—the now-forgotten movement that began in the 1920s when European artists sought to reveal unconscious thoughts, using the logic of dreams and the effrontery of political (anarchist) rebellion. Surrealism suited cinema’s creative potential as a new, popular art form.


Yet Lynch/Oz’s six politically correct sections start with a smug reading: “We all contain within our selves a deep truth of ourselves and the power to be what we want to be.” That’s Amy Nicholson repeating the recent revisionism toward Hitchcock’s Vertigo that values pop art only in solipsistic terms. She equates Lynch and Oz to Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, “writing twisted gory stuff,” essentially denying Lynch’s ability to create an art experience and understanding that people can hold in common. She contradicts herself: “You can’t use Oz like that because everyone’s seen this film.”


But that’s why Lynch’s greatest effort is his 1990 Twin Peaks, in which he reached beyond his indie-movie cult to address a mass audience. It matched how The Wizard of Oz was introduced to Boomers via ritual TV broadcasts. The first Twin Peaks series was probably the most profoundly affecting TV drama series since Peyton Place lifted the lid off middle-class American society. Twin Peaks used the nature of serial narrative form to explore America’s pre-Y2K morality, haunted by murder and secret lusts. It familiarized psychological undercurrents (as in a high-school student’s unforgettable premonitions of dread), not today’s politicized polarization.


7. More NR: Jack Butler explains why Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse flopped. From the analysis:

Economist Noah Smith saw in the metaverse the possibility for greater resource efficiency. “The more fun or useful stuff you can do in VR—games, business meetings, vacations, hangouts—the less you’ll have to suck up physical resources to do it in meatspace,” he wrote. “The more you can transform your subjective world by overlaying it with AR, the less you’ll have to suck up resources transforming your physical environment to suit your tastes.” Kids today, instead of riding around in cars as in American Graffiti, Smith wrote, could get their kicks in the digital world. “That means less gasoline burned, less steel and aluminum used, and so on. But more fun ultimately to be had.” Uh-huh.


Maybe it’s unsurprising that, when so many elite people and institutions agreed on a claim so dramatic, the claim would collapse. Regardless, it has indeed collapsed: Apart from Meta itself, Walmart, Disney, and others who were suckered into the metaverse have of late been withdrawing, cutting their losses along the way.


What happened?


One major problem: The technology simply wasn’t there. In Zuckerberg’s early promotional video, he sold a flash, futuristic melding of the digital and physical realms. The reality was a clunky, awkward, buggy platform that offered shallow simulacra of activities readily accessible in the physical world. The prospect of a new niche activity appealed, as is common today, to a subset of weirdos—in this case, the kind of person who would want, say, to get married in the metaverse. For everyone else, though, it appeared to be some unholy hybrid of a boring video game and a Zoom call.


8. Back to Communism: At The Imaginative Conservative, Chuck Chalberg declares Whittaker Chambers’s Witness a story for the ages. From the essay:

More specifically, Chambers’ autobiography is a brief against what he had gradually come to regard as essentially a “fascist,” even a “terrorist” organization. For the Whittaker Chambers of Witness, communism, fascism, and socialism were virtually indistinguishable. After all, if “socialism was “justified,” well then “terror was justified.” Having finally become convinced of all that, having observed the Soviet purges with “great revulsion,” having concluded that communism was “more evil” than Stalin,” Chambers would leave the party in 1938.


Last, but far from least, Witness is a brief against the “dying civilization” that was the United States of the Jazz Age. The America of F. Scott Fitzgerald, flappers, and general frivolity was dying? The young Chambers vaguely thought so at the time. The mature Chambers of Witness was convinced of that.


Having recently re-read what must still rank as one of the most compelling autobiographies in all of American literature, I can assure you that it deserves to be re-read—or read—as we contemplate what’s left of a civilization that Whittaker Chambers tells us had begun to die long ago, a civilization that as of the mid-twentieth century was also dying of “indifference and self-satisfaction.”


9. At The Cullman Times, Patrick Camp reports on some Alabama elementary school students who excel at Things Cursive. From the beginning of the article:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.


The phrase, more than likely, is one of little significance to the majority of today’s younger generations. However, those attending elementary school when cursive handwriting was still a part of the required curriculum, can quickly recognize the sentence for its unique characteristic of containing each letter of the english alphabet, and hours spent refining their skills by rewriting the words. While digital messaging has caused a decline in the necessity for penmanship, the art is not completely lost.


In fact, Azlynn Florence, a fifth grade student at Sacred Heart Elementary School, recently received national recognition for her handwriting technique, when she was named as a semifinalist in the 32nd annual Zaner-Bloser National Handwriting contest.


As the longest running and best known contest of its kind, more than 80,000 kindergarten through eighth grade students from 49 states compete in the Zaner-Bloser contest each year. Competition begins at the school level before narrowing the field of competition at the state level. Once a student has made their way to the national stage, judges select a grand national and a semifinalist for each grade level based on the shape, size, spacing and slant the letters. Beginning in the third grade, students must swap from traditional print lettering to cursive.


10. At The Unafraid, Isaac Willour comes to the defense of Chick-fil-A. From the piece:

The very first sentence on Chick-fil-A’s DEI page contains this phrase regarding the chicken restaurant’s mission: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”


Yeah, that’s the wokeness I was told to be afraid of.


Did they have to use a flashpoint term like DEI? Perhaps not—but if that’s the sole reason for the boycott, then the advocates of that boycott have to argue that they’re seriously boycotting one of the most openly conservative/Christian-friendly brands in America because they did the right thing but used the bad word, which is a level of pettiness that, even to a conservative who supports boycotting brands when necessary, seems like hair-splitting.


Yet, go back to the aforementioned parable about brands. For anyone connected with Grove City College, the idea of completely normal and respectable brands catching fire in the modern snuff-out-all-the-wokeness age should hit close to home. The parable is about Christian colleges every bit as much as it is about fried chicken producers.


11. At Quillette, Naomi Schaefer Riley attacks America’s failing child-protection services. From the analysis: 

If we really wanted to protect children from sexual abuse, we would be doing more to keep children away from their abusers. Unfortunately, the driving ideology of these agencies is to keep children with their families or reunite them after briefly removing them to foster care. The Adoption and Safe Families Act, which was passed in 1997, required states to make “reasonable efforts” at family preservation before terminating parental rights. But lawmakers allowed that there might be “aggravated circumstances” that would make such efforts unnecessary or inappropriate. Those included “abandonment, torture, chronic abuse, and/or sexual abuse.”


Tragically, many states keep trying to reunite children with parents even after they have committed unspeakable offenses. A case in Pennsylvania, for instance, saw three adolescent girls sent back to the home of their father who’d repeatedly raped them. In fact, analysis of federal data by Sarah Font of Pennsylvania State University, found that nearly half of children exiting foster care in 2019 were reunited with families from whom they’d been removed in the first place. As Font notes, “even with exceptions, the default is still to [make] reasonable efforts” to keep the kids with their abusers.


The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence notes that “Reunification after child sexual abuse is a topic that can bring up intense feelings, but the reality is that many who are convicted of a crime and sent to jail or prison do eventually return to their homes and communities.” It is one thing, of course, for these adults to return to their communities. It is quite another to return them to a home where they have sexually abused a child. Nevertheless, the Center’s website notes, “Even when the person who abused a child is held accountable for his or her crime, at some point, the community and his or her family will still need to interact with them in some way.” These should be two separate questions: reintegration into the community versus reintegration into a family with minor children.


12. At The Free Press, James Fishback reports on high school debates no longer allowing . . . debate. From the piece:

First, some background. Imagine a high school sophomore on the debate team. She’s been given her topic about a month in advance, but she won’t know who her judge is until hours before her debate round. During that time squeeze—perhaps she’ll pace the halls as I did at the 2012 national tournament in Indianapolis—she’ll scroll on her phone to look up her judge’s name on Tabroom, a public database maintained by the NSDA. That’s where judges post “paradigms,” which explain what they look for during a debate. If a judge prefers competitors not “spread”—speak a mile a minute—debaters will moderate their pace. If a judge emphasizes “impacts”—the reasons why an argument matters—debaters adjust accordingly.


But let’s say when the high school sophomore clicks Tabroom she sees that her judge is Lila Lavender, the 2019 national debate champion, whose paradigm reads, “Before anything else, including being a debate judge, I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. . . . I cannot check the revolutionary proletarian science at the door when I’m judging. . . . I will no longer evaluate and thus never vote for rightest capitalist-imperialist positions/arguments. . . . Examples of arguments of this nature are as follows: fascism good, capitalism good, imperialist war good, neoliberalism good, defenses of US or otherwise bourgeois nationalism, Zionism or normalizing Israel, colonialism good, US white fascist policing good, etc.”


How does that sophomore feel as she walks into her debate round? How will knowing that information about the judge change the way she makes her case?


Lucky 13. At The American Conservative, John Hirschauer reports on the political battle against ugly public architecture. From the article:

Trump's executive order, recognizing that public buildings should "beautify public spaces and inspire civic pride," declared classical style "the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings." The president was required to be made aware whenever the General Services Administration, responsible for the construction of public buildings, signed off on a new federal building whose design would be characterized by "fragmentation, disorder, discontinuity, distortion, skewed geometry, and the appearance of instability."


The executive order replaced a disastrous status quo. Faced with a surge in the federal workforce, John Kennedy established the Ad Hoc Committee of Federal Office Space to create a framework for the construction of new federal office buildings. In 1962, that committee published the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, which delegated the design of federal buildings to "distinguished architects." It insisted that while no single federal style should be imposed, preference should be given to "contemporary" designs. The result was a rash of Brutalist and Modernist eyesores, from the dystopian J. Edgar Hoover and Hubert H. Humphrey Buildings to the warped, concrete-fitted Robert C. Weaver Building.


Polling reveals that more than 70 percent of Americans prefer classical and traditional architecture, but popularity was never the point for the Brutalist and Modernist architects. Their designs were intended to crush the human spirit and reflect what they perceived as the brutality of human existence. The response to Trump's executive order revealed that his critics agreed with those premises, even if they dressed up their concerns as being about the administration's imposition of one single style.


BONUS: At AD Today, Gia Myers reports on a croonful and tuneful fundraiser that brought in the bucks for some Pennsylvania Catholic schools. From the beginning of the article:

Students at 25 schools throughout the Diocese of Allentown participated in “Make a Joyful Noise,” a friendly online musical competition to celebrate school spirit and raise funds for schools throughout Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Northampton, and Schuylkill counties.


Inspired by “Cooks with Collars,” a successful fundraiser that raised a total of $305,110 for parishes and Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Allentown, “Make a Joyful Noise” challenges diocesan students to create entertaining videos about their schools, incorporating music and dance to showcase what they feel makes their schools unique.


Students and teachers sang along and danced to a wide variety of music genres, including pop, rock, and Broadway-style musical numbers.


On the competition’s website www.weloveourcatholicschools.com, each school has a fundraising page where anyone can watch a video, cast a vote for their favorite video, and donate to the school.


Videos have been viewed over 15,000 times on YouTube and Vimeo. People have viewed videos and voted across Pennsylvania and even other states, including New Jersey, New York, and Florida.


Over 1,000 donations have been made, ranging from $2 to $10,000, and the competition has raised a total of over $133,000.


For The Good of the Cause 

Uno. Where do you want to be when the heat wave strikes? In Denver, the Coolio Colorado City, where, from Monday, July 10th, through Wednesday the 13th, AmPhil's Center for Civil Society will host a Major Gifts Training Seminar for development professionals looking for intensive training and buffed-up knowledge in the critical art of dealing with key prospects and generous givers. This is an opportunity to gain consequential knowledge, so don’t miss it. Get more information, and sign up, right here. 

Due. You gotta believe . . . or do you? Could it be that America’s skyrocketing irreligiosity has something to do with the problems affecting this nation? Great Caesar’s Ghost, this is a really important issue, so important that you must attend the forthcoming C4CS conference—“Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society.” It takes place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. Get complete information, right here.

Tre. On Thursday, June 29th, C4C09S will host a one-hour, free webinar on why “The Right to Association Needs Help.” Duquesne University’s Luke C. Sheahan, expert on that subject of the associative right (you know—it’s smack dab in the middle of the First Amendment’s profound “Assembly Clause”), will join Yours Truly to explain why civil society is weakened when empowered entities (such as the federal courts) fail to protect this essential right. An enlightening experience is guaranteed! Sign up, right here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: Why did the man leave his communist girlfriend?


A: He saw too many red flags.


A Dios


Having driven to and from Gettysburg (to visit some sisters building a monastery—Little Round Top will have to wait for another day), the existing contention was proven again: Traffic problems owe a debt to slow-pokes in the passing lane. Move!

May We Be Imbued by The Ancient of Days with Deserved Wisdom,

Jack Fowler, who can be found pushing the pedal to the metal at jfowler@amphil.com.

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