14 min read

Dear Intelligent American, 


The Vastly Better Half and Your Humble Correspondent trekked several hours to Cape Cod for a few days of mostly vacation—although Civil Thoughts knows no rest—and played a few Don McLean classics to cheer us up. Ha! “Vincent,” “American Pie,” “Castles in the Air”—the dude can sing, but mamma mia there’s a lot of Eeyore in his soul. 


Songs aside, we arrived at the hospitable in-laws’ sweet little place, unloaded the car, and realized the High Holy Laptop had been left four hours behind by This Black-Belt Dimwit. Lacking the vital machine, the mind raced:  How in the h*ck could this missive be constructed? Alas, the expected panic attack did not ensue. Fate’s gauntlet having been thrown down, its challenge was accepted, and bested! May one boast? One may: What you read now was authored on a cellphone, fat fingers brandishing a deadly stylus, pecking away. Pecking with gusto! Pecking because we dare not deny the subscribers of this epistle its weekly bounty. And there’s this motivation, which maybe was best sung by the aforementioned Mr. McLean: At AmPhil and its Center for Civil Society, We Love You So.  


Reading this output, it’s quite possible—believes He Who Pecks—that someone ground out this prose while in the midst of a sun stroke. Could have been the case! If there are bizarre thoughts above or below, decipher them if you can, and please do enjoy. 


Have a Slice of Some Pie, Preferably American, While You Savor These Slices of Wisdom 


1. At The American Conservative, Bruno Manno lays out the case for an education “opportunity agenda.” From the beginning of the piece:


K-12 education issues are often cast today as a story about Americans divided on what we want from our schools, a culture war between left and right. While there are fundamental disagreements, this story is mostly wrong. The result is a collective illusion—a false narrative—that ignores a stubborn fact. Americans broadly agree that we should end what’s been a central goal of K-12 education for many years: “college for all.” 


In its place, Americans want a new opportunity program for young people, in which a college degree is one of many pathways to success. Facilitating this “opportunity pluralism” is a common-sense governing agenda for policymakers, based on a more flexible K-12 system. It also empowers the domestic realists of the ideological heartland, led by civic pluralists who nurture civil society by building different K-12 education pathways programs for young people. These programs can develop a young person’s agency by providing him or her with the knowledge, relationships, and networks—profitable knowledge and priceless relationships—he or she needs to pursue opportunity and human flourishing. 


The name “opportunity pluralism” suggests broad appeal. What faction, left or right, could argue with a plurality of pathways to success? Yet K-12 education for many years has been dominated by the singular ideal of “college for all.” This model aims to move nearly all K-12 students down the same path, from elementary to middle to high school to college to a degree and, finally, to a job. 


2. More TAC: Carmel Richardson opines on why Americans have left church. From the piece


Modern individualism, no doubt, has butchered community on the altar of individual achievement. But as destructive as this atomization has been, the church itself seems to have played a role in the slaughter. It has catered to this culture, with churches styling themselves like businesses attracting customers, rather than as guardians of the faith. 


This commercial approach tells church leaders to ask less of parishioners, not more, so that their economizing minds will recognize the good deal they’re being offered. Thus, sermons are shortened and avoid thorny passages. Children of all ages are split up and taken out of the service for various Sunday schools and youth groups. Services are live streamed to make attendance as easy as pressing “play.” This market approach to membership has led Americans to view Christianity as just another social club, and an expendable one at that. 


Sociology gets confused, however, when it sees the correlation between responsibility and commitment, and concludes that the solution to this “Great Dechurching” is to give everyone a job. It is good for churches to demand physical things, like more volunteers for children’s chapel. Jobs should be given, yes, but they are only half the story. The missing piece is the cornerstone: If the church is not demanding enough of Americans for them to care to attend on Sunday, it is not demanding enough of itself theologically, too. 


We Interrupt These Links . . .  


Here and now is the ideal place and time to remind you about the forthcoming Center for Civil Society conference—“Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society.” It takes place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. You had best get complete information, which you can find right here, because you are sure as h*ck coming! 


. . .  Now Back to All that Scintillating Wisdom . . .  


3. WTH?! Still more from TAC: Peter Hitchens tells what it is like to confront the Sacrament of Marijuana and its apostles. From the essay:


It was in the course of trying to combat the campaign for marijuana legalization, over many years, that it came to me that I was not challenging reasonable opponents but fanatics and zealots. I would slog to some campus meeting, armed with carefully-researched facts, mostly about how the law against the possession of marijuana was not in fact enforced. And I would find my opponents, often obviously intelligent people, behaving as if I had never even opened my mouth. I might as well not have turned up. They simply repeated the false claim that I had rebutted, making no attempt to challenge my facts. The mythology of the persecution of drug abusers was an essential part of their lives. It was part of the case for legalization. Therefore it could not be abandoned. Therefore challenges to it must be ignored. What did it matter if it simply was not true? As for the strong circumstantial evidence, and the powerful correlations, which suggested that this might not be the moment to put such a drug on open sale, and to allow it to be advertised, this too was ignored as if it had not been said. Mental illness? There was more evidence that peanuts were dangerous to health (I have been told this in supposedly serious debates). 


Then there would be the “What About Alcohol?” segment of the discussion in which the presence of one disastrous legal poison was somehow stated to be an argument for the licensing of a second such poison. And finally we would reach “What About Portugal?” or “What About Amsterdam?” in an attempt to pretend that the legal changes in these places showed drugs to be harmless, claims now utterly exploded and never very firmly based. Even the Washington Postno longer believes the claims about Portugal and Amsterdam, and recently reported on the squalor and crime in both places.  

4. At Public Discourse, Wesley Smith argues that the first thought about helping the homeless is not about the home. From the analysis:


Current policies on housing have proved to be both ineffective and expensive. In 2013, the Obama administration promulgated new regulations governing the federally funded campaign against homelessness, known as “Housing First.” This remains the current federal policy, and it treats homelessness primarily as an issue of shelter. The governnment pours money into taxpayer-subsidized housing vouchers based on the idea that when people find shelter, they will return to meaningful and productive lives. 


But that approach often puts the cart before the horse. Many among the unhoused—certainly not all, but a large percentage—became homeless because of their own dysfunctional personal behaviors. Housing First does nothing to address this aspect of the problem. To the contrary: Housing First forbids requiring beneficiaries, as a condition of receiving assistance, to attend drug rehabilitation programs, look for work, or even take their mental health medicines as directed by a doctor. They can accept services that might be—and often are—offered, but they are under no enforceable obligation to do so. If they take drugs, refuse work, or even are charged with crimes, housing is still available to them. 


That’s like putting a bandage on an inflamed wound without also applying medicine to heal the underlying infection. As a result, many of the unhoused receiving Housing First benefits make no effort to turn their lives around, leaving them mired in dysfunction and dependence. 


5. At The Wall Street Journal, Naomi Schaefer Riley proclaims the value of philanthropists “sunsetting” their foundations. From the article:


Darren Walker, the current president of the Ford Foundation, says that foundations that exist for longer periods “are designed to respond to a changing world.” If the Ford Foundation had closed decades ago, he wonders, “What would we not have done? And I think about all of the institutions the Ford foundation helped to create over its many decades of existence,” like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Walker believes its current focus on income inequality can be seen as a way of honoring its founders legacy: Henry Ford thought “inequality was a threat to democracy,” Walker says, which is why he “raised wages of frontline workers.” 


But Rob Reich, a professor of political science at Stanford and the author of “Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better,” argues that perpetual foundations undermine democracy by prioritizing the desires of the dead over those of the living. “With little or no formal accountability, practically no transparency obligations, a legal framework designed to honor donor intent in perpetuity, and generous tax breaks, what gives foundations their legitimacy in a democratic society?” Reich asks.  


The idea of sunsetting a foundation doesn’t have to mean rushing to give away money. Rather, it gives staff and board members a clear time frame for thinking about larger gifts. Walker himself serves on the board of a new climate-change-focused foundation called Waverley Street, created by Lauren Powell Jobs, that has a 10-year time frame for sunsetting. “It is an urgent issue about which we want to contribute moon shots and accelerating solutions,” he says. 


6. At Front Porch Republic, Christina Baker stands up for “play dates”—maybe a matter of necessity. From the article:


In a perfect world, our children would romp out the door after completing their chores and their schoolwork (we homeschool) and knock politely at their best friend’s door, who lived just around the corner in our quiet, speeding-car-free neighborhood, and spend a couple of hours engaged in free creative play, or a massive self-directed building project, or an epic game of Scrabble. How I sometimes wish we lived in that world! 


The reality is, it is a fifteen-minute drive to many of my children’s friends’ houses, most of which are not even in the same direction. Our neighborhood is relatively quiet, but not so much that I’m comfortable sending my younger kids out of sight alone. The other children in the neighborhood go to school and have after-school activities, so that much of the time they aren’t available to play. And there are a couple of kids who, after our observation of how they play, my kids aren’t allowed to play with anymore. 


Enter the playdate. 


7. At Law & Liberty, Yuval Levin finds the answer to depolarization in the Constitution. From the beginning of the essay:


We live in an age of animosity. Americans are polarized, and often bitterly divided. And the institutions of our public life seem only to exacerbate our discord. Congress, the presidency, and the courts have all become arenas and objects of culture-war enmity, so that frustration with the constitutional system’s assorted dysfunctions is rampant. Too many Americans are therefore persuaded that our Constitution is unsuited to our contemporary circumstances—that it assumes a more unified society than we now have, makes it too difficult to adapt to changing times, and so in this divided era can only make our problems worse. 


But what if we are divided less because our constitution is failing us than because we are failing the Constitution? What if the framework of our democratic republic could offer us a guide to the hard work of fostering cohesion and forging common ground? 


In fact, just that sort of work is a crucial purpose of the US Constitution. It is not its only purpose, of course. The document is meant to enable American self-government, on the terms demanded by the Declaration of Independence and in light of the imperatives of order, justice, virtue, liberty, and safety, among others. The preamble to the Constitution nicely summarizes its formidable aims. But that list of objectives does begin with the ambition to “form a more perfect union,” and the modes of governance created by the Constitution compel a fractious people to build coalitions and seek mutual accommodation. 


8. At City Journal, Michael Bonner explores the problem of hyper-individualism. From the article:


This advice is banal, but it also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what a society is. The report seems to assume that society is little more than an aggregation of solitary individuals who need social connections simply to meet private needs. Moreover, various groups, clubs, or associations, to which a person might belong, are presented as enhancements of social life and private happiness. 


These ideas would have been incomprehensible in any former time. Thinkers from Xenophon to Tocqueville have inherited, reiterated, and passed on the truth that the basic element of a society is not the individual but the household or family. The earliest civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia were structured as networks of households scaled upward from families to institutional households and beyond to the entire polity. This ideal of civilized order survived into the classical and medieval world and reached a peak in the voluntary associations known in Europe as guilds and in the Islamic East as futuwwa. Such institutions were modelled on the ideal of sibling relationships and expressed common interests and values. Their modern descendants are the volunteer and civic associations, church youth groups, and benevolent societies that distinguished American life in the mid-twentieth century. Think of President George H. W. Bush’s inaugural address and its invocation of the “thousand points of light . . . the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good.” 


The interlocking structure of such organizations does not so much enhance social life as constitute it. These groups are society; without them, there can be no social life. Neither the Internet nor any other piece of technology or scientific knowledge can bring us together. And mass communication through social media or teleconferencing can actually leave people feeling more isolated than before. 


9. At National Review, Madeleine Kearns finds that Barbie is an attempt, maybe unproductive, to sort out the behavior of men and women in a post-liberal world. From the reflection:


Upon seeing the giant Barbie (Margot Robbie), the little girls begin smashing their baby dolls — a detail conservative commentator Michael Knowles suggests shows that “feminism makes girls kill babies.” 


The instinct to care for someone more vulnerable and the desire to be needed by others is natural in both men and women. But modern feminists have traded mutual dependence for greater autonomy. Barbie is a serious attempt by a talented filmmaker to make sense of the confusion men and women face in our post-liberal world. . . . 


Fewer people marry, and when they do, they marry later. They have fewer children. Both sexes suffer when they seek meaning and purpose in isolation. This is evident early on. A recent CDC report found that 57 percent of high-school girls reported experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year.” Teen suicides, the majority of which are completed by males, are on the rise. 


Barbie exists as a critique of structures that create unhappiness. The screenplay reads more like a play for intellectuals than a film with mass appeal. The characters, albeit intentionally, talk not like real people but as ideological archetypes. 


10. At Verily Magazine, Margaret Brady outs very troubling workplace discrimination against pregnant women. From the piece:


“It would be better for your career if you just brought a coat hanger.” 


That’s the shocking headline on a new study commissioned by the United Kingdom civil rights organization Pregnant Then Screwed. A pregnant mom, Connie, had just shared with her boss that she was expecting, only to be slapped in the face with that outrageous, discriminatory response. Adding insult to injury, at least three co-workers later piled on the pressure, telling Connie she should have aborted her baby for the sake of her job. 


Sadly, she’s not alone. PTS’s study of thousands of women in the U.K. found 1 in 61 had bosses who’d insinuated they should end their pregnancies for career reasons. In fact, more than half of mothers reported they’ve experienced some kind of mistreatment based on childbearing and parenting. They endured everything from rude remarks about maternity leave, to bullying about job performance while expecting, to inappropriate commentary about their pregnant bodies. A whopping 20 percent had left a job to escape a bad experience in the workplace. 


11. At The College Fix, Blake Mauro profiles a retiring Clemson University professor, and presents his valedictory recommendations to preserve the virtues of higher education. From the beginning of the piece:


Great Books scholar Colin Pearce, who has spent the last several decades of his life in front of a classroom, said he’s leaving academia with a sense of trepidation, as the classical liberal education enjoyed by students of the past is no longer what today’s young scholars experience. 


“There is a great demand placed on the university by the corporate sector for a supply of ‘credentialed’ students to serve their operations,” Pearce said. “Then there is the pressure from the political sphere to make the university cohere with the most strongly trending opinions in the public square.” 


“Whatever insulation the university had against these forces in the past has long since dissolved.” 


12. At KCTV5, Mark Poulose reports on the annual Kansas City hot dog fundraiser for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. From the article:


The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hosted it’s annual “Heart of America Hot Dog Festival” in the 18th and Vine District Saturday. The event is a music festival, and the food sales from the hotdogs go directly to the NLBM. 


“We do a lot of events, and you’re not supposed to have a favorite,” said Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President, Bob Kendrick. “It’s like having a favorite child, but I have to admit, this is by far my favorite event.” 


Thousands of people packed into the festival amid Saturday’s heat. . . . 


“We are always super thankful that the community comes out and supports this each and every day,” said Kiona Sinks, a spokesperson for the NLBM. “We take great pride in bringing something of this magnitude to 18th and Vine.” 


Lucky 13. More Baseball: At Tablet Magazine, Debby Waldman rereads Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer and finds, perhaps, a message from her long-dead father. From the reflection: 


I wondered how Dad felt, reading Kahn’s account of paternal support for his career choice. According to Mom, my paternal grandfather was so upset about Dad’s decision to turn his back on his observant, Orthodox Jewish upbringing and become a Reform rabbi that he ripped up the tuition check to the seminary. Any hope Dad had harbored that his father’s feelings might have changed was obliterated a few years later, at my grandfather’s funeral. The officiating rabbi interrupted the service, looked down at Dad, and said, “When you’re preaching in your church, you should remember what kind of Jew your father was.” 


None of that would have resonated with me the first two times I struggled through The Boys of Summer. I was not privy to information about Dad’s career angst until 10 years after he died. There were other details that went over my head, among them the sexual references. Had Dad been so caught up in Kahn’s nostalgia of baseball fields and newsrooms that he missed the multiple iterations of f—k and descriptions of scantily clad women in bars and strip clubs? 


I’ll never know, just as I’ll never know whether it was strictly baseball that led him to give me the book, or whether he did so because he thought, or perhaps hoped, that I might follow his path to journalism school. I always thought I made that choice after he died when, inspired by an episode of  The Waltons, I decided the best way to earn a living as a writer would be in a newsroom. Now I can’t help wonder, was it Dad who planted the idea in my head, not John-Boy Walton? 


Bonus: At The Catholic Thing, Anthony Esolen writes beautifully about the importance of place. From the reflection: 


Symptomatic of the contempt for place: laying highways that cut old neighborhoods in half, effectively destroying them; zoning laws that make walking to a small grocery store impossible; college admissions giving the stiff arm to local students; and yes, our own Church, advising us that mere buildings are of no importance, and forgetting that for human beings, any place where people have come together to worship God can never be a mere building. 


Forgetting also that if people are going to have a place to enjoy a full human life, there must be places, not mere locations, just as there must be families and interrelationships among families, not just pin-pricks of procreation here and there. 


I am not speaking here as a traditionalist but as a human being. In John Webster’s revenge tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi, the villainous Cardinal dies remorseful and unrepentant, with words that express the emptiness of his despair, for he and his wicked brother have murdered their sister: “I pray now, let me be laid by, and never thought on.” 


In an earthly sense, the Cardinal’s fate is now almost everyone’s, and not at death only but here and now. We need to live in a place, to be known there, and our families also to be known, unto our children and our children’s children. God did not mean us to live like dogs, or dry grass. 


For the Good of the Cause 


Uno. What is amazing about nonprofit fundraising is that all the effort that goes into acquiring a donor is often—for many an organization—tossed away when the donor isn’t retained. This is a relational milieu, after all. If you or yours are flabby when it comes to the follow-up, or even the getting, well then you need to attend the forthcoming (Thursday, August 17, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Eastern) AmPhil Major Gifts via-Zoom webinar on “Acquiring, Retaining, and Upgrading Your Most Valuable Donors.” You really ought to check this out. Get complete information, here. And do it now—the 17th is almost here! 


Department of Bad Jokes  


Q: What did the frustrated man do after spending many hours trying to remember the word that is the opposite of “night”?


A: He gave up . . . and called it a day.


A Dios 


Mackerels of holiness: We done did do’ed it! Blessed be the Stylus! 


May the Author of All Things Write Upon Our Hearts, 


Jack Fowler, who may be written to at jfowler@amphil.com. 

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