14 min read

Dear Intelligent American,


That word, “American.” A perfect and coordinated quartet of syllables, so lyrical, so strong, so purposeful: There’s that buildup—the introductory trill of the schwa, ahhhh—the note held for just a longer instant—that segues to the trio of mare-ah-kah, the sounds and beat of the entire word coming full circle, a Yankee Doodle alpha and omega, this tiny symphony of four notes typically and proudly punctuated with a tight, accompanying nod.


America is also so . . . Italiano.


He’d be 573 years old this Saturday, March 9: Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer, navigator, and cartographer from Florence whose map-emblazoned first name has become that of this great nation, of continents North and South, and that in-between “Central” thing.


Boy, did we ever dodge una pallottola. What if Momma and Papa Vespucci had instead named their darling of destiny . . . Umberto? Or Giacomo? Or Luca or . . . Leonardo? Momma mia! We wouldn’t be “American.” No, we’d be “Lennys.” Imagine Lee Greenwood’s tune: “I'm proud to be a Lennican . . .” Would God shed his grace on . . . Lennica? Kazan’s epic would be Lenny Lenny. English-lit classes would debate “The Great Lenny Novel.” Imagine Olympic Games fans chanting, “U . . . S . . . L, U . . . S . . . L!”


Or: I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of Lenny, and to the . . .


Enough! With all due respect to all Lennys out there, whether Kravitz or Bruce, or Leonards, whether Bernstein or Nimoy, or Leonardo, like DiCaprio or da Vinci, (sorry, Leonid, commies don’t merit this apology) the name fits you. Wear it in good health, or if you’ve already gone to eternity, may it adorn your legacy. Kudos to that mom who monikered you as she did.


But kudos too for the inspired decision Mrs. Vespucci made on that cold day in 1451—surely her guardian angel whispered into that Florentine ear. If only she could have known that someday half the world would be defined by her decision.


Now—after we admit our happiness that Amerigo’s older brother, Girolamo, wasn’t the family cartographer—let us attend to the excerpts and links that thankfully are upon us, these frivolous thoughts having been exhausted.


Enjoy the Ensuing Recommendations, as You Have Been Granted a Dispensation from Intellectual Fasting


1. At Discourse, the great Bruno Manno explains the heavy lift that must be done to help K-12 student recover from pandemic-learning loss. From the piece:


These five factors—struggling students, chronic absenteeism, ill-informed parents, frayed communities and a fiscal dilemma—create major impediments to addressing the learning loss puzzle. A reinvigorated recovery program must treat the recovery effort as not simply a school district problem. It is a community problem that the community must solve.


There are three things every community can do to create a community recovery plan. First, openly acknowledge the scope of the learning loss problem—to ensure that everyone knows the problem exists. Second, develop a strategy to solve the problem. Third, establish accountability by creating a report card to keep the community informed on the progress being made to solve the problem. Communities should craft an approach to the learning loss puzzle that is transparent, evidence-based and accountable.


2. More Bruno: At The 74, the edu-guru explains why “college for all” fails the grade for many students. From the beginning of the piece:


February is National Career and Technical Education Month, an opportunity to consider how CTE helps young people flourish and reach their potential. Two facts should guide this reflection. First, the K-12 college-for-all model of recent decades does not serve the aspirations and needs of all young people. Second, Americans want opportunity pluralism, believing that many pathways, not just the road to college, lead to meaningful and prosperous careers.


Public opinion surveys report that Americans’ perception of the value of a college degree has changed, especially among young people. A Wall Street Journal headline blared, “Americans Are Losing Faith in College Education.” This shift includes a strong preference for young people acquiring practical skills and lifelong learning opportunities outside the college degree. Moreover, a recent study showed that half (52%) of college graduates are in jobs where their degrees are not needed, with the majority underemployed a decade later.


Federal support for CTE began with the 1927 Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act. Its legislative update in the 2006 Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act replaced the term “vocational education” with “career and technical education.” Federal funding now exceeds $1.462 billion. CTE differs dramatically from the vocational education of old, which tracked students based on family backgrounds and served as dumping grounds for young people judged as unfit for academic rigor.


3. At Claremont Review of Books, fan favorite Daniel J. Mahoney considers Paul Robinson’s new tome on Russia’s historic political spectrum, from its tzarist then to its Putin-ist now. From the piece:


But there remains the elephant in the room: Vladimir Putin. Contrary to the regnant presumption, he is hardly a Bolshevik or an aspiring Stalin. He values Russian statehood and territorial integrity, but he loathes Lenin and all his works. He has even encouraged the mandatory teaching of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago in Russian public schools. Until recently, writes Robinson, he “combined his desire for a strong state with repeated rejections of authoritarianism and totalitarianism.” The Russian president has repeatedly quoted Ilyin; he is generally sympathetic to a moderately statist version of market economics, and thus to some liberal attitudes. At a deeper level, he regularly defends what in 2014 he called “fundamental conservative values” such as “patriotism and respect for the history, traditions, and culture of one’s country.” He is not committed to restoring the Soviet Union, nor is that a motive behind his disastrous war with Ukraine. If anything it is more germane to observe that Putin is deeply suspicious of the woke regime in the West and the LGBTQ+ ideology that informs it.


But things are changing for the worse. Putin has stayed in power for a long time—too long. His domineering presence has crowded out real political life. His rule has become more authoritarian and heavy-handed, less “autocratic” in the traditional Russian sense. (Russian conservatives never identified autocracy with arbitrariness and despotism.) Some of his most fevered supporters want “nothing bad said about Russia,” and that does mean about the Soviet Union, too. For example, The Gulag Archipelago is under increasing assault in schools from both Communists and “ultra-patriots” in Putin’s party, even if it still has Putin’s support. Putin is fast forgetting that civic freedom is an integral element of a healthy national and public life. A vicious circle ensues: the West grows ever more anti-Russian, sometimes stupidly and hysterically, even as “official” Russia throws dirt at everything Western. There is blame for this sad situation to be cast on all parties.


4. At The American Conservative, Bruce Gilley has strapped on armor and joined the “Reconquista,” intent on taking back the academy. From the article:


For 50 years, conservatives have been complaining about the leftist capture of American higher education. It’s a real problem—trust me. Far less than a tenth of the faculty in most humanities and social sciences departments, as well as many professional schools and science fields, are conservatives. The syllabi and curricula are leftist ideology run wild. College campuses feel like Democratic Party summer camps. Students graduate without ever hearing the rational, evidence-based arguments of half our citizens. The odious Leninists of the faculty lounge tell them that Republicans are reactionaries and anti-intellectuals.


I’ve done my share of complaining. Now, I am taking action. On February 29, Richard Corcoran, president of the New College of Florida, announced that I will be spending my sabbatical from my home institution in 2024–25 as Presidential Scholar at the college. It is the beginning of what I hope will be a long-term engagement.


While there have always been private institutions in the United States that offer intellectual diversity, New College is the first Reconquista of a publicly-funded venue. Since virtually every college and university in other Western countries is what we would call “public,” this has broader significance. Taking back power from the academic mullahs who have turned higher education in the West into little more than a madrassa system of leftist thought depends on storming the public institutions, not fleeing from them. My shield is raised and my visor is lowered.


5. But at Tablet Magazine, Neetu Arnold finds an in-progress foreign takeover of American colleges. From the article:


What we are witnessing is the latest consequence of a quiet revolution in higher education: the internationalization of the American university. Today, there are more than one million foreign students enrolled at American universities, making up more than 5% of the total student population. At elite universities, the situation is much more extreme: international students make up almost 25% of the student population.


The process of internationalization was slow at first, but it has rapidly accelerated in the past two decades. Since the Institute of International Education started to keep track of foreign student enrollment in 1948, it took over 50 years for enrollment to increase from 25,000 to more than 500,000 by 2000. But it only took 15 years after that for the number of international students to double to its current level of one million.


The motivations of universities to admit so many international students are two-fold. Foreign students, first and foremost, serve as cash cows. They disproportionately pay full price for tuition and housing, whether it comes from sponsorships by foreign governments or their own families’ largesse. The deal is even better for public universities—international students pay the out-of-state price, which is significantly higher than the tuition rate for in-state students.


6. More Tablet: The son of a CIA analyst tries to understand why his late mother warned him against raising his children as Jews. Asking her former colleagues for an explanation uncovered more about the spy community’s partisan prejudices than it did about what influenced his mother’s concerns. From the piece:


When I asked another former CIA analyst about the protests on campus, I was told there’s been a “marked rise in antisemitism due to Israel’s attack on Gazan civilians and the number of casualties,” which is true. Then again, the number of antisemitic attacks in 2022 (the last year for which data is available) is double the number in 2017 and triple the number in 2016. The rate of increase has been exponential for some time.


There was a ready response to that one, too: We’ve seen an uptick in antisemitism “with the rise of the far right, including the antisemite of the whole world, Trump,” a connection I found perplexing. The Abraham Accords seem nothing if not good for Israel. In response, I was told that Trump said that our blood is being “polluted” by Jews and that the U.S. is a Christian country. I couldn’t corroborate any of this, though when I tried, I discovered a campaign speech in which Trump said: “if you hate America, if you want to abolish Israel, if you don’t like our religion, if you sympathize with the jihadists, then we don’t want you in our country.”


It was almost as if these veteran analysts, whose careers were devoted to impartiality and, above all, neutrality, were reading from a crib sheet supplied by the DNC.


“Is antisemitism a problem in America?”


Well, there’s “also a lot of anti-Islamic stuff” and “white nationalism stuff in Europe too.” So many European countries are “tilting right.”


7. At UnHerd, Mary Harrington reviews the progressive American media’s retreat from its once-prevailing, adamant affection for the First Amendment. From the beginning of the piece:


Is America still governed by the Constitution? Back in the 1980s, the Columbia Law Review advocated clarifying the law to protect journalists’ First Amendment, rights even on private property. Just today, though, Blaze reporter Steve Baker was arrested by the FBI for his January 6 investigations, on charges including “knowingly entering a restricted building”.


Blaze commentator Auron Macintyre fears that this document’s glory days are over: “Whatever we are governed by now,” he said, “it is not the Constitution”. He may have a point: this isn’t the only recent instance of progressive concerns that the Constitution is an obstacle to American values. According to MSNBC legal analyst Barbara McQuade, the First Amendment is an obstacle to truth. Promoting her new book in conversation with MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, McQuade declared that America’s deep-rooted cultural commitment to free speech meant “disinformation” was rampant, while attempts to impose “common-sense solutions”—implicitly, McQuade’s preferred restrictions on speech—were impossible in that context, due to widespread resistance to “censorship”. . . .


Wherever people stand on the desirability of free speech, this illustrates a growing crisis in one of the modern democratic (which is to say, American) world’s most cherished beliefs: that as long as you have a robustly written constitution, the political order will remain stable forever. But back at the end of the eighteenth century, the Savoyard reactionary Joseph de Maistre argued in Studies on Sovereignty (1794) that the real constitution of a people is actually only secondarily written down; the true, living constitution emerges from a people’s dispositions, habits, accumulated cultural patterns and everyday conditions. And these, he argued, are only written down when they become contested in a way that requires clarification. Conversely, it’s possible to impose any paper constitution you like on a people for which it’s ill-suited, and find it ignored in practice.


8. More UnHerd: Matthew Feeney charges that Big Tech has kidnapped our kids. From the piece:



Valorising technology, on the empty assumption that the work of corrosion and subversion and redefinition it is doing is emancipatory and progressive, became very hard to distinguish from worshipping power for the sake of how powerful it is. Enthusiasts were keen to read healthy tidings in the rise of the internet, and benefits both spiritual and political from the psychic and social changes it wrought, even though the clearest, the most potent, the only obvious claim that it could make for itself was one of brute ontology. It was an emergent phenomenon of singular scope and reach and gravity. But its spokespeople continued to read its effects as progressive, to insist it was doing humanity’s work. They continued to mock those who publicly worried about its dangers, even as its growing power to remake everything, by its own inner logic, and on behalf of the most profitable companies in the history of capitalism, was growing ever more flagrant.


As I watched this dynamic play out over the second decade of this third millennium, I found myself thinking: wait, aren’t writers and intellectuals and academics supposed to be vigilant and skeptical about power, especially power working on behalf of capital? So why, every time someone goes public with a reasonable worry about the singular and rapidly growing power of digital technology, is that person mocked by sophisticated professionals of the intellectual class for fueling another “moral panic”. This term was so popular it grew, over the history of commentary on the internet, into a sort of authoritative cliché, a peremptory move by with-it pundits that conveyed a regime enforcer’s mix of swagger and dullness.



9. At RealClearReligion, Jerry Newcombe ponders what ever became of manners, and why they matter. From the article:


I believe there really is a link between manners and morals. William Wilberforce, the great 18th-19th century Christian statesman, who spent his lifetime championing the cause of abolishing the slave trade and slavery in the British Empire as a longtime Member of Parliament, was also engaged in a lesser-known crusade.


He and other reformers in pre-Victorian England pushed for what they called “the reformation of manners.” The modern translation of that would be “the reformation of morals.”


In short, manners and morals are related. But they are not the same. A person can have great manners and be morally corrupt. The Eddie Haskell character on Leave it to Beaver provides a classic humorous example of that.


However, if you remove manners from society, we are left with a crasser and cruder world. Outward good manners are generally a reflection of inside decency and kindness, and reflect the Christian concept of putting others ahead of self.


10. Two Thumbs Up: At National Review, Jack Butler gets all buggy over Dune: Part Two. From the piece:


It is a lot to handle. And the film does so with great skill. Its visuals are once again stunning. Desert vistas take on a spare beauty. CGI and practical effects blend so thoroughly that even the most reality-defying wonders on screen appear not just credible but gasp-inducing and spine-tingling. (Another great Hans Zimmer score helps.) Just about every scene, action and non, is staged with care, without frenetic resort to excessive cutting and perspective-shifting. Its choices are deliberate, and no more so than when some of the book’s most famous scenes get translated to screen seemingly straight out of a careful reader’s vivid imagination. And for all that, the film is also capable of great subtlety (consider one sequence in which a group of warriors walk into a haze to meet their foes in combat) and even intimacy. Dune: Part Two has made many worthy entries to the all-time pantheon of sci-fi iconography.


The script, by Villeneuve and Jonathan Spaihts (who also handled screenwriting on Part One), guides the proceedings well enough. At times, the story can seem to lack direction between its moments of great power, but those moments are great enough to forgive this flaw.


11. At Detroit Free Press, Susan Bromley reports on the people of Milford, MI, ponying up to keep the local cinema operating. From the article


An emergency campaign to raise $10,000 for the Milford Independent Cinema brought in more than double the goal in 10 days.


“Wasn’t that amazing?” Bryan Gutierrez, president of the Huron Valley Film Organization, asked on Feb. 27, expressing his delight at the show of community support that raised $20,430.


But asking the community for donations, despite its resounding response, prompted more crucial questions, including what now? What will keep a single-screen movie theater alive in an era of multiplexes and at-home streaming services?


Jason Krzysiak and Kevin Maher, former president and former board member, respectively, of the now-defunct Friends of the Main Art Theater, have some ideas.


12. At Spiked, Fredrik Andersson and Lars Jonung lay out the tough news for lockdown enthusiasts: Sweden proved them wrong. From the piece


Although we could not explore every possible impact of the various lockdown measures, our conclusions were straightforward: countries that imposed more lockdown measures did not experience lower excess death rates. In fact, Sweden had one of the lowest excess death rates towards the end of the pandemic, with fewer people dying compared with a normal pre-pandemic year.


It is true that Sweden fared less well during the spring of 2020. However, these problems were temporary and limited to certain regions. This was mainly due to Swedes returning from winter vacations in the Alps, where the virus was spreading rapidly. In most parts of Sweden, the spread was modest and fully in line with that observed in other Nordic countries. . . .


The impact of lockdowns on mortality rates may have been inconsequential, but the economic effects were overwhelmingly negative. The more a country locked down, the larger the decline in GDP. The UK recorded a fall in GDP of almost 10 per cent – the largest decline in output in modern history. In Sweden, in contrast, the fall in economic output was actually less than that during the financial crisis of 2008. The Swedish economy had fully recovered by early 2021 and is now about six per cent larger than it was in 2019.


Lucky 13. At Bloomberg, Daniel Moss analyzes the demographic crisis that has come to Singapore and other Asian countries. From the column:


Singapore’s punishing demography, and the need to address it, was underscored Wednesday when a minister revealed that a key measure of fertility tumbled to yet another record low. Japan and South Korea are the poster children for this type of decline, rich economies that aren’t churning out enough kids even as the ranks of seniors multiply. More recently, China’s dwindling population added to the gloom surrounding the former juggernaut. Singapore gives them a run for their money.


Unlike China, Singapore grew rich before becoming old. And setting the city-state apart from Tokyo and Seoul has been a longstanding policy of topping up local headcount with workers from abroad whose skills the island can use. While this approach has always had caveats, and has ebbed and flowed with domestic politics, seldom has it been more valuable. . . .


“We are an aged society; soon we will be a super-aged society,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in last year's National Day Rally, the rough equivalent of the US State of the Union address. “This has massive social and economic implications. We have much to do to help our seniors age well.”


Bonus. At Strong Towns, Edward Erfurt laments the power a powder of suburban snow has over the education of children. From the article:


Something as innocent as freshly fallen snow becomes the guilty culprit in halting the functions of our public schools. The modern reality is that our schools are so heavily reliant on our transportation system that, when our transportation system fails, our educational system fails. The perverse reality that the education of our children is ultimately dependent on bussing is an idea incomprehensible to a generation before us.


The differences between the modern suburban development pattern and the traditional development pattern becomes more apparent when you compare the new schools built on large parcels on the edge of town to the older schools built within the core of our downtown. We actually live less than a mile from my oldest son's school. This school is the original central school for our county built in a prominent location in the middle of town. It could be described as an urban school that is highly walkable.


The downtown school is surrounded by businesses and homes. When it snows, adjacent property owners take pride in clearing their sidewalks following the snow storms. A few inches of snow do not create an obstacle and it is an easy walk to school, and even an easier walk to the sled hill.


Despite the ability to walk to this school, the entire school district must close because the buses are unable to travel the suburban roads, or the parking and loading areas at the schools at the edge of town have not been cleared.


For the Good of the Order


Uno. Save those dates! October 23-24. And mark the location! Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA. Why? Because that’s when the Center for Civil Society will be hosting its 2024 Givers, Doers, & Thinkers conference, this one on “K to Campus: How the Education Reform Movement Can Reshape Higher Ed.” Agenda and speakers will be announced soon, but registering, getting info, and all such stuff can be done and found right here.


Due. At Philanthropy Daily, “Big Ben” Domingue chimes in on how a fundraiser should best handle frustration. Catch it here.


Department of Bad Jokes


Bartender to grasshopper: “Hey! We’ve got a drink named after you!”


Grasshopper to bartender: “You’ve got a drink named Leonard?”


A Dios


If you believe work is the curse of Eden, amigo David Bahnsen, author of Full-Time: Work and the Meaning of Life, suggests you need to do a U-turn. Do take in his interview with National Review’s Dominic Pino, right here.


May We Be The Potter’s Clay,


Jack Fowler, who resides with his anxieties and delusions and ancient maps at jfowler@amphil.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *