14 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


Having déjà vu about having déjà vu—surely in this space there have been past blatherings about scary variations of the word “very.” As in “we had an awfully wonderful time,” or “That was terribly kind of you,” or “That donation is frightfully generous,” or “Mrs. Smith, your son is devilishly handsome.”


Some entomologist out there might explain how all such came to be in this shockingly glorious and ever-evolving language of ours, English.


This fascination comes to mind in this season, Your Curious Epistler having flipped through the gospels and stumbled into Nativity readings, specifically this beautiful passage from Luke:


And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.


Sore! Not “very” afraid but “sore.” Powerful, eh? Bloody powerful even.


Enough. Mi casa may be su casa, but feel free to say no mas to mi fascinación. So let us—before you get sore at Your Humble Correspondent—get to all the goodies stuffed into this week’s stocking.


Be Not Sore Afraid to Rip Open the Wrapping Paper on Each of These Gifts


1. At National Review, Neal B. Freeman offers rules by which to live. From the piece:


  • One of the satisfactions of a life both long and contentious is the lascivious sensation that, because you have survived your opponents, you could in some possibly significant way be adjudged their superior.
  • I am surprised to find that I now think Mark Twain had it right when he wrote that “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” In my own case, I threw off the bowlines, as Twain had instructed, and I was lucky enough, now and then at least, to catch the trade winds. But I only rarely sailed great distance from the safe harbor. Opportunity costs can be costly.
  • I offload onto you only a single burden. You may think you’ve heard the footsteps of the mindless mob, seemingly in monument-toppling ardor, coming for William F. Buckley Jr. I think you heard right and you must resist that mob. WFB was a prince among men. His only crime was that he was a God-fearing, Constitution-minding, tradition-revering, market-respecting male back when those things were acceptable. As our old friend Mort Sahl used to say, “Anyone who maintains a consistent position in America will eventually be tried for treason.”


2. At Plough Quarterly, Kurt Armstrong tells the tale of a handyman, mundane division, but enmeshed in “the primacy of human relationship.” From the reflection:


I’m a handyman. People hire me to fix things. My jobs start when someone tells me about something they’d like me to build, or some problem they want me to solve: we need to put a window in the north wall; we want a tile tub surround; this sink is leaky; our old fence is rotten and needs replacing; we’d like to paint our kitchen cabinets.


Each call or email is a window into a more complicated situation. If, say, there’s a damp spot on the kitchen ceiling, I’ll start by snooping around the house: just upstairs from the kitchen is a bathroom. Is there a leaky valve or a loose fitting? There’s no access panel to the plumbing in the bathroom, so I go back to the kitchen and cut out the wet section of the ceiling. I square the edges of the cut so it will be easier to patch, and I cut the hole a few inches beyond the wet section so I have better access to whatever it is that’s creating the problem. I can see the plumbing set between the joists, and—aha!—it’s not in the drain or the faucet but somewhere in the supply line. A loose nut on the braided supply hose, or a loose PEX connection?


However tricky the diagnosis, fixing the problem is always its own complicated puzzle. And then there is an inescapable intimacy to the work. I have to be mindful of the fact I’m inside someone else’s home, in their living space, maybe even standing on the kitchen counter, holding a drywall saw, carving a hole in the ceiling. These customers have had to admit a vulnerability, and they’ve asked me to come and help. The problem is mechanical, structural, or technical, but my work is every bit as much relational as it is physical. The repair problem is always tangible, but it’s always people I’m working for. I can fix the leak, I’m sure. But how quickly do they need it done? Can I work here in the kitchen while still allowing them to do what they need to do? Am I working quickly enough for them? Am I making more of a mess than they’d anticipated? And how perfect will they expect the drywall patch to look when I’m done?


3. At RealClearInvestigations, Steve Miller explores the tangled web and alliance of Big Philanthropy and leftist politics. From the analysis:


More than 150 progressive nonprofits spent $1.35 billion on political activities in 2021 and 2022, according to data compiled by Restoration of America, a conservative political action committee. Although there are no readily available estimates of comparable conservative efforts, observers say they are overmatched.


“The liberal nonprofit sector is much bigger than the conservative nonprofit in the political arena,” said Bradley Smith, a former commissioner with the Federal Election Commission and founder of the conservative Institute for Free Speech.


The progressive nonprofits include faith-based groups, ethnic activist operatives, and colleges and universities, which have taken on an outsized part of the Democratic party’s election strategy.


The groups work around legal restrictions on nonprofits that accept tax-deductible donations by selectively engaging in nonpartisan efforts including boosting voter education and participation.


But, like the estimated $332 million that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated to public elections offices to help run the 2020 elections, much of it winds up in the hands of groups that operate in liberal strongholds and work with reliably Democratic constituencies.


4. In Commentary, Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik explains how the “Jewish Story” is also the American Story. From the piece:


The first Jewish community to correspond with the president was that of Savannah; one Levi Sheftall wrote to Washington in June of 1790, glowingly reflecting how “your unexampled liberality and extensive philanthropy have dispelled that cloud of bigotry and superstition which has long, as a veil, shaded religion.” Washington responded in kind, exultantly writing, “I rejoice that a spirit of liberality and philanthropy is much more prevalent than it formerly was among the enlightened nations of the earth.” But then Washington went further, concluding with a scriptural reference, an exegetical interpretation, what Jews would call a dvar Torah:


May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land—whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation—still continue to water them with the dews of Heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.


Here, Washington reveals that he was not merely responding to a letter; he was making American Jews feel as if they truly belonged. What he tells them is that he sees the tale of the Exodus and of America as parallel: The God Who performed miracles for Jews in the past is the same Deity Who performed miracles for America in the present. The God Who saved Israel from tyranny saved America from tyranny as well. The Jews were to be welcomed in America not only because of the ideals of equality, but also because of the way in which the Jewish story inspired America itself.


5. At Newsweek, Eli Steele finds the actions of Harvard University president Claudine Gay to be an explainer for why he “never checked the ‘Black’ box.” From the piece:


As a child, I was fascinated by the story of my paternal grandparents's interracial marriage in 1944 in segregated Chicago. The 1967 interracial marriage of my black father to the daughter of Holocaust survivors in the same city wasn't much easier; at the time, America burned with race riots. My grandparents and parents had every reason not to marry across the color line. But they chose love over their racial order.


I believed then and now that they were better Americans than the white supremacists opposing their marriages, and, from a young age, I've seen it as my birthright to defend the principles of freedom, equality, love, and a greater humanity beyond racial orders of any kind.


But I would be faced with another kind of racial order than my parents and grandparents. When I hit my teens, I encountered tremendous pressure to conform to a single race on school applications and in personal encounters. And with this pressure, it felt like my identity, which I thought was defined by the choices I made and the responsibilities I accepted, had become a currency in someone else's political power game.


6. At The Blade of Perseus, Victor Davis Hanson explains how American universities were lost, and how the status quo may get upended. From the piece:


Universities and students have plenty of money to continue the weaponization of the university, given their enormous tax-free endowment income. Nearly $2-trillion in government-subsidized student loans are issued without accountability or reasonable demands that they be repaid in timely fashion.


Exceptions and exemptions are the bible of terrified and careerist administrators.


Faced with an epidemic of anti-Semitism, university administrators now claim they can do little to curb the hatred. But privately they know should the targets of similar hatred be instead blacks, gays, Latinos, or women, then they would expel the haters in a nanosecond.


What is the ultimate result of once elite campuses giving 70-80 percent of their students As, becoming hotbeds of dangerous anti-Semitism, and watered-down curricula that cannot turn out educated students?


The Ivy league and their kindred so-called elite campuses may soon go the way of Disney and Bud Light.


7. At The American Conservative, Harry Scherer wonders when urban bosses will start treating the homeless as people and stop treating them like animals. From the article:


One such problematic site in Phoenix gained national attention in September when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney ordered the city to clear a homeless encampment known as “the Zone.” Though not sanctioned by the city, this encampment became the valley’s homeless hub to which, the judge’s ruling claimed, Phoenix police officers would offer “courtesy rides” from throughout the city. Blaney’s ruling relied on evidence of the city’s failure to enforce criminal laws, increased violent crime, a growing organized crime element, public drug use, prostitution and public indecency, fire hazards, property crimes, and other factors that proved the city’s strategy of merely observing the Zone was both unsustainable and grounds for triggering public nuisance laws. The judge concluded, “the city will not clean up the Zone unless forced to do so.”


Steve Tully, who represented the nineteen plaintiffs in the case and served as majority leader of the Arizona House in the mid-aughts, told us the properties of his clients were surrounded by inhabitants constructing semi-private structures, operating a drug bazaar, and satisfying biological needs. The plaintiffs’ complaint claimed, “a great humanitarian crisis unfolds as homeless residents of the Zone die on a daily basis.”


Tully said that “people in this debate say, ‘we got to treat them like people.’ And I say to them, ‘yes.’ Now, what does that mean, ‘treat them like people?’ With responsibility, right? Respect them to behave in a certain way. They’re not animals.”


8. At Tablet Magazine, Julia Schaletzky charges that college presidents are lying about free speech. From the article:


The discussion around free speech by campus presidents is misleading because the issue is not the law itself. Rather, college administrators have been weaponizing the First Amendment when it suits them, and blatantly disregarding it when it doesn’t. When the Proud Boys were threatening to have a presence during a protest recently, Berkeley brought the FBI to campus, just in case. For the pro-Palestine protesters too busy to do their coursework, we are being asked to use our “discretion to administer grace and flexibility” for grading so that they don’t fail their classes.


The rule of law requires that laws are enforced equally against all, so that we are not governed by the whims of the powerful but by a shared set of norms and rules that apply equally. Unfortunately, in the self-governing world of academic institutions, the rule of law is easily abandoned by like-minded ideologues working together to bring about what they call “social change,” which apparently requires that one group’s idea of the good must monopolize the entire space and mission of the university.


The technique these activists use has become a familiar one: Concepts cloaked in aspirational language such as “inclusion and belonging” are applied only to a few selected groups, while being denied to others, such as Jews, but also biological women, moderates, and conservatives. It is sobering to see that after more than $25 million has been invested in such initiatives at Berkeley annually we have created campuses that are in fact less welcoming and less inclusive than they were 10 years ago.


9. At Law & Liberty, Juliana Geran Pilon finds that anti-Zionism has become a cement binding some nasty ideologies. From the beginning of the essay:


Why would Islamist Jihadists and leftwing progressives make common cause concerning Israel and the Jews? The answer is: why not? Both are ideologies, carefully crafted by shrewd political warriors who use age-old tactics. Exploiting ambiguities in texts held sacred, they distort reality and glorify “righteous” violence, engaging in zealous asymmetric warfare. Radical ideologues are dualists who pit Good vs. Evil; Poor vs. Rich; Islamist Jihadists vs. Infidels; Blacks vs. Whites; Anti-Racists vs. Racists, etc. Ideology is a great bargain: twitter-size history and built-in morality, two for the price of one. Most ideologues end up fighting with one another. Some switch from one ideology to another. But the savviest among them form coalitions, to be dissolved when circumstances change.


Islamist Jihadists appeal to the only “true” reading of the Koran; whoever contradicts it is an infidel who deserves death. “Martyrs” who die executing the sentence are instantly admitted to Paradise. The hard left also rejects debate, albeit by embracing contradiction. “Motion itself is a contradiction,” declared Karl Marx’s patron and disciple Frederick Engels in 1877. As defined by Marx, later embellished by V. I. Lenin and Mao Zedong, contradiction must actually be stoked to expedite the putatively inevitable march of history. Never mind that inevitability would seem to contradict the notion of human intervention. Contradiction leads to confusion, which stokes conflict and violence. Finally, after the Apocalypse-Revolution, comes Paradise. On earth, in heaven, why quibble?


No ideology, however, has persisted longer than Jew-hatred, or anti-Judaism, now generally known as antisemitism. With their stubborn insistence on worshiping their own way and maintaining their traditions, Jews have been mistrusted and persecuted ever since being expelled from their homeland by the Romans in 70 AD, who destroyed the Second Temple of Jerusalem.


10. More L&L: Education guru Bruno Manno considers the end of the “Blaine Era,” now that the prejudice has been ruled unconstitutional, but sees challenges still at hand. From the essay:


The landscape for educational freedom is thus finally freed of nineteenth-century prejudices. But other federal constitutional questions remain.


For example, immediately following the Carson decision, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey released a statement decrying the decision. “The education provided by the schools at issue here is inimical to a public education. They promote a single religion to the exclusion of all others, refuse to admit gay and transgender children, and openly discriminate in hiring teachers and staff. I intend to … ensure that public money is not used to promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.” He vowed to do all within his power to ensure that the Maine Human Rights Act banning discrimination against someone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability would be enforced since the Court’s decision does not make it clear whether “any religious schools that accept public funds must comply with anti-discrimination provisions.” This would mean that religious schools with policies that discriminate against students and staff for any of those reasons would be prevented from participating in the Maine tuition program. (Of course, federal law currently prohibits all private schools, whether or not they participate in educational choice programs, from discriminating based on race or ethnicity.) But Nick Reaves, counsel at the Becket Fund, writes in the Harvard Journal of Law that since the Court in Carson relies on “the principles of religious autonomy, [the Court] confirmed that religious organizations must have the freedom to operate in accordance with their beliefs.” The Supreme Court will eventually decide this issue.


Another unresolved question is whether states with secular public charter school laws can allow religious private charter schools. Charter schools are privately operated but publicly funded institutions that are defined in state laws to be public schools. The answer depends on a legal concept named the state action doctrine which requires that there be state action—not merely private action—before there can be a constitutional violation. If for federal constitutional purposes charter schools “are private then . . . prohibitions on charter schools being religious are unconstitutional. But if they are public ‘state actors’ then [charter schools] likely [must] be secular,” writes Notre Dame Law Professor Nicolle Stelle Garnett.


11. At City Journal, Heather Mac Donald dissects college free-speech battles and finds the punishment, at least at the University of Pennsylvania, and the crime are out of kilter. From the analysis:


The presidents’ refusal to declare hypothetical calls for the genocide of Jews punishable conduct has been portrayed as the greatest scandal of the hearing. It was not.The real scandal was the presidents’ duplicity in citing a “commitment to free expression” as the reason why they needed to give “wide berth to . . . views that are objectionable,” as Gay put it. . . .


It was those fantastically counterfactual assertions of loyalty to academic freedom that should have doomed Magill and the other two presidents. On any common understanding of truthfulness, their claims to protect “objectionable” views were flagrantly contrary to the facts. Having been exposed as hypocrites, dissemblers, and enforcers of politically correct thinking, they should all be fired as unfit to lead institutions ostensibly dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the transmission of knowledge.


Ironically, however, it was their one correct stance during the entire hearing debacle that put them in peril. However woodenly they asserted their alleged reason for not shutting down the pro-Hamas demonstrations, that reason should have been controlling. Speech should be protected unless it crosses the line into direct threats to individuals or incitement to imminent violence. Student parroting of Islamist slogans does not meet those tests. Allowing a central authority to ban speech that it declares injurious to the common good is a license for precisely the abuse of power that has been the norm throughout human history, a norm that the Founders were so insistent on overturning. Moreover, it has been in the name of creating what Magill called a “safe, secure, and supportive” campus “climate” that universities have suppressed unwelcome facts and unpopular speakers.


12. At the Whidbey News-Times in Oak Harbor, WA, David Svien reports on some local lady hoopsters sinking free throws for a good cause. From the article:


They shoot, you pay, everyone scores.


The Coupeville High School girls’ basketball team is conducting a fundraiser this season based on how many free throws the squad hits in varsity games.

You pledge a certain amount for each successful charity shot, then pay up at the end of the season, once all the numbers are totaled up.


All money raised goes to the Wolf program to help with equipment and supplies.


Fans can reach out to Coupeville coaches or players to get a donation sheet.


Lucky 13. At The Imaginative Conservative, Liam Beecher makes the case for being jolly. From the article:


To be jolly is to possess a joyful buoyancy of spirit, to be full of warm and energetic cheerfulness. There is, however, a misunderstanding to be avoided at all costs in this definition. The cheerfulness that characterizes jollity is never to be confused with the cheerfulness which is bred of frivolity. The spirit of a jolly man is inimical to frivolity. Jollity is born of an appreciation of the good things that life has given to us; the recognition of the goodness of life fills a man with joy, and puts him in a jolly humour. To be jolly thus presupposes an attitude of gratitude, an attitude which is essentially thoughtful, and which leads a man to engage in wholesome and fruitful merriment. J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits provide an example from fiction; their response to the goods of everyday life, such as food, drink, and tobacco, is one of gratitude and exultation.


A frivolous man, on the other hand, cannot be jolly. He is not thoughtful enough to have any real appreciation for the beauty and goodness around him. Rather, he seeks his own gratification by whatever means he can contrive. The things of this world have no meaning except insofar as they are means to bring about his own satisfaction. His own attempts at merriment are hollow and meaningless, hedonistic attempts to gorge himself on as much enjoyment as he can lay his hands on. Such a man’s spirits are not buoyant but weightless; his “happiness” is not effervescent, but evanescent. With such a warped perspective on life, the frivolous man can never attain joy. It stands to reason, then, that he cannot attain jollity.


Bonus. At The Spectator, Olivia Potts dunks on the hating of doughnuts. From the piece:


But after a few years of refusing to make anything remotely resembling a donut, I’ve come round. However, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum. Now, the kind of donuts I dream about are not the fat, custard-splurging ones but the classic ring donut. A ring donut takes the treat back to its most basic form, and rich, sweet dough fresh from the fryer, rolled in sugar while still warm, is hard to beat.


I do have a soft spot for a classic American glaze, though, made with icing sugar, a little milk and a splurge of vanilla paste. The glaze will coat the top of the donut, thick enough to stick but thin enough to set and crackle on touch. It also protects the donut, extending its life just a little.


The dough might appear sticky while you’re turning it out from the bowl, but with a little flouring, it’s very workable. Proving times, especially at this time of year, are hard to dictate: my kitchen is as cold as the Arctic, so I tend to MacGyver a proving drawer by turning my oven to its lowest temperature for a few minutes while I’m mixing up the dough, and then turning it off and popping the dough or cut donuts in there to prove. Whichever way you do it, be led by the dough: a donut that is pressed gently with a fingertip and retains the indentation but doesn’t deflate is ready to fry.


For the Good of the Order


Uno. At AmPhil’s “Givers, Doers, & Thinkers” podcast, host Jeremy Beer and guest Ericka Andersen drill deep to discuss why women have been at the forefront of the exodus from church affiliation. Strap on the headphones and listen here.


Due. At Philanthropy Daily, Madeline Fry Schultz reveals how agents of charity are finding holistic ways to address homelessness. Read it here.


Tre. Did we hear you correctly, you want information about the Heritage Foundation’s “Innovation Prizes” because you might even want to have your organization apply? Well, you’re in luck: You’ll find complete information right here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Q: What is a snowman’s favorite meal?


A: Chilly.


A Dios


Has the pushback begun? In earnest? Or has the Left’s march through institutions had a hiccup? Santa’s naughty list this year must be massive, which explains why the price for coal lumps is high. Sorely!


May We Receives Graces to Keep Us in Good Ones


Jack Falalalala, who rids himself of his seasonal name at jfowler@amphil.com.

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