Dear Intelligent American,
It’s always a delight to check out Plough Quarterly, discovered later in life by Yours Truly and proving ever-welcome fare for a political junkie seeking the non-political, thoughtful, and literate. Below you will find a link to Alex Rowson’s recent piece there on the meadow—the British meadow, to be specific. Not too many generations ago, it was plentiful and maybe even definitional of England. “Full many a glorious morning have I seen,” said the Bard, “Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, Kissing with golden face the meadows green.”
What is kissed now, there—or here? Vistas ever turned over to skyscraping and bird-chopping turbines . . .
Pardon the lament. Back to meadows. The piece prompted Your Humble Scribbler to noodle memories of silver-screen meadows, maybe best captured throughout the glorious 1944 British war film, A Canterbury Tale. You will find at that link a YouTube capture of this production of “The Archers,” the remarkable British film-making duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A Canterbury Tale is an incredibly sweet, even exquisite movie. You simply must watch it. Seeing it scheduled early one weekday morning on TCM resulted in calling in sick (however, since it was the boss who was claiming sickness, it’s possible no actual call occurred).
Now let us pile into the surrey, the one with the fringe on top, and ride yonder to the excerpts and links that await, right now, because if we wait too long a lark’ll wake up in the meh-der.
We Have Arrived. Get A-Readin’!
1. At RealClearBooks & Culture, one finds fan favorite Daniel Mahoney’s précis of the new edition of the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s memoir, Between Two Millstones, Book 2: Exile in America, 1978-1994. From the piece:
In his new situation of comparative leisure, Solzhenitsyn continued to turn down most invitations. Completing The Red Wheel was his ﬁrst priority. But an intelligent and sympathetic journalist at the BBC Russian Service, Janis Sapiets, whom we already met in Book 1 of Between Two Millstones, offered the Russian writer an opportunity to speak directly to the Russian people. That interview, broadcast in February 1979, on the ﬁfth anniversary of Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion, provides a perfect summary of Solzhenitsyn’s principal concerns about the Russian past, present, and future. He was severely critical of newly minted Russian émigrés (from the “Third Wave” of emigration) who never failed to blame Russia, historic Russia, Orthodox Russia, for the terrible crimes of the Bolsheviks (this view would become dominant in the West, too). . . .
In the interview with Sapiets, as in chapter 6 of Between Two Millstones, Solzhenitsyn would lay out a ﬁrm but moderate and manly patriotism that rejected Russian self-hatred and self-abnegation, as well as the fascist, neo-pagan, and neo-Bolshevik temptations. All three of the latter positions falsely identiﬁed love of Russia with an immoral accommodation with those who had destroyed her liberty, her intellectual and spiritual life, her property-owning peasantry, and her historic Christian faith. Solzhenitsyn would never make an accommodation with those who systematically tyrannized the bodies and souls of men. As always, Solzhenitsyn’s was a principled via media, opting for what he suggestively calls “a healing, salutary, moderate patriotism.” Alas, he did not ﬁnd much of it in émigré or homegrown Russian intellectual circles. Facile cosmopolitanism, and hatred of the nation, or an anti-Christian nationalism, were increasingly the order of the day. Many who should have known better confused Solzhenitsyn’s proud, principled, moderate, and self-limiting patriotism with fascism and imperialism. Some of these men had come to hate historic Russia: Sinyavsky shamelessly called Russia, still suffering from the ravages of Communism, a “bitch.” Many of those who defamed Solzhenitsyn were barely concealed Soviet men who shared Communism’s utter disdain for truth, country, and the spiritual dimensions of human existence.
2. At Comment Magazine, try as she might to avoid them, Anne Snyder finds herself in the unavoidable: the gender wars. From the piece:
Looking back now at how relatively free I felt as a Christian woman making her way in relationships, career, secular milieus, and sacred canopies, I think I was taking for granted the gift of unusually considerate family formation and, crucially, love layered across generations shaped by cross-cultural encounter and exchange. My parents, culturally astute people of faith, had protected me from the more suffocating gender expectations of American evangelicalism, even as they’d questioned the more destructive orthodoxies of second- and third-wave feminisms. I entered the real world naive, but healthy. It seemed counterproductive to make gender—and in my case, being female—a protagonist in human grievance; I told myself never to stoop and play that card.
Then some bruising began. The first reported feature I ever wrote—about shifts in voting patterns among Asian Americans—was hacked up by a conservative magazine seeking to use people and their compellingly nuanced patriotism for a crass political end. Later, a book manuscript went through similar treatment, when what would become The Fabric of Character was initially rewritten into a didactic expression of a good-old-boys formula for Wasp morality. In the workplace I witnessed inappropriate overtures from men toward their female colleagues, and women’s kowtows to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In definition of success—“you must strive to be a company executive”—made too many of them exhausted and, more often than Sandberg could ever have wanted, self-berating. I noticed a fierce defiance in women who had come of age in the sixties and seventies, their open bragging about how many abortions they’d had obscuring a tenuous hold on control. Fast-forward to my own marriage and multiple miscarriages, an unexpectedly public vocation and its struggle to communicate clearly in an intellectual arena still dominated by male referees, and the foils to my personhood began to highlight a distinctively female shape—one that I was experiencing as both thorn and gift, vulnerability and power. I began to wonder if there was a way to double down on my commitment to dignifying all men and women by sowing the conditions for wholeness in their sharing of this world, but to do so, with quiet mischief, as a woman. And I wondered if this might not be the best century to try.
3. At Hoover Institution’s California on My Mind, Lee Ohanian admits he was wrong: The Golden State could not (and did not) fix itself. From the analysis:
Every major policy error I have observed has become worse in the last five years, including budget waste, the failure of politicians to prioritize what Californians want, the lack of oversight and accountability within state and local government, and a deepening of the costly symbiosis between state politicians and the political interest groups who lie at the center of nearly all of California’s policy failures. And this nexus will preserve California’s deeply flawed policy status quo until voters decide that they have had enough.
Overpayment and waste within state government is considerable, and it largely reflects the lack of incentives for state agencies to be efficient and the lack of accountability when they make costly mistakes. California’s state budget has grown over 50 percent in the last five years, rising from $201 billion in 2018–19 to $311 billion this fiscal year, totaling nearly $24,000 per California household. Despite this budget, I doubt one could identify any major activity or department within state government that performs at a high level and is operated at a reasonable cost.
State employee compensation is one major cost component that appears to be too expensive. State workers on average received about $143,000 in total compensation in 2019, roughly twice as much as private-sector compensation that year. This reported difference is too low, however, because public-sector pension contributions are understated, prefunding of public-sector retirement health benefits are not included in compensation, and the value of additional public-sector compensated days off is not included. A state public-private compensation comparison has not been performed since 2019, but average state worker compensation today could be as high as $170,000 if it kept up with inflation.
4. At The Spectator, Stephen L. Miller finds Hollywood a Land of Kryptonite, determined to off Superman. From the article:
Director Zack Snyder, who brought the Man of Steel back to the screen in 2013, portrayed Superman as a flawed, Christlike figure, employing real-world media personalities like Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper and Neil deGrasse Tyson to debate the philosophical meaning behind an alien with the ability to fly landing on Earth. Exploring Superman from a real-world media perspective is a rich concept. You can imagine the long diatribes and think pieces from the opinion pages of the New York Times—“Superman’s silence on the death of George Floyd is unacceptable,” or “Superman was AWOL during the January 6 riots. That’s a problem.” It would be enough for him to throw his hands up altogether and search out causes on new planets with intelligent life instead.
This is the dilemma, not only for the character of Superman, but for the portrayal of any pro-American hero in Hollywood. In the recent Avengers films, Marvel’s Captain America starts out rooted in World War Two American military symbolism, fighting the Nazis. Every film thereafter sees him dealing with personal and moral complications that rarely have anything to do with fighting for and protecting American ideals. The portrayal of American soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy seems to be Hollywood’s only universally agreed upon moment of American heroism. America was good. Nazi Germany was bad—but everything that came after is a morally complicated struggle session.
Hence why Hollywood has the very idea of Superman backwards. Superman knows what American exceptionalism is; Hollywood and our media struggle with accepting the same idea. Instead they view him as a symbol of imperialistic and misguided patriotic propaganda, and therefore, he must be reinvented, reimagined and rewritten. It is why Hollywood has failed to top Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman film.
5. At The Wall Street Journal, Elisabeth Messenger warns that labor unions have lost their way, but not to their membership’s wallets. From the op-ed:
The American Federation of Teachers, with more than 1.6 million members, paints a rosy picture of financial prosperity, with $152 million in assets and a net financial-position improvement of $15 million since 2020. A closer examination, however, reveals an alarming trend: the union increased its membership dues while losing more than 10,000 members since 2020.
No wonder teachers are turning away from the union when only 34% of its spending goes toward acting on behalf of its members. The AFT diverts large sums to political activities, supporting left-wing causes and candidates, taking no account of the diverse political affiliations among its members. Political spending accounted for 17.3% of the AFT’s total outlays in the 2021-22 fiscal year. AFT President Randi Weingarten pulls in roughly $488,000 a year—more than eight times what a teacher makes.
The situation is arguably worse at the even larger National Education Association. It spent $49.2 million on political activities in 2021-22, surpassing the amount spent on membership representation by $3.5 million. Like the AFT, the NEA protected revenue from membership losses by hiking dues. The union’s emphasis on financial investment further highlights its shift away from representing teachers and toward building its own wealth.
6. At Plough Quarterly, Alex Rowson pleads on behalf of the threatened meadow, that once-most-British thing. From the essay:
And yet, for many of us, opportunities to see species-rich meadows (semi-natural grasslands that have not been ploughed, reseeded, or “improved” with fertilizer) are rare. This was not always the case. Meadows were still common up to the mid-1930s. Indeed, their abundance was closely linked with Britain’s self-identity—the green and pleasant land. Meadows are regularly featured in paint, poetry, and song. Through nursery rhymes such as “One Man Went to Mow” and the simple childhood pastimes of making a daisy chain or telling the time with blows on a dandelion clock, meadows stole into our imaginations at an early age and bedded down in our hearts. In addition to their cultural value, meadows were once highly valued resources, integral to the survival of pre-industrial farms. “Shut-up” in the spring to allow the grass to grow, they were cut in late summer—by which time the grasses and wildflowers had set seed, ensuring their propagation and survival. Haymaking was regarded as the peak of the year, a time associated with sweat and toil, community and parties. The resulting fodder kept the livestock going through winter. In the days before combustion engines, meadows provided the fuel that kept the countryside running.
Things began to change with the outbreak of World War II. With disrupted trade routes and growing pressure on national food production, the government launched the “Dig for Victory” campaign. Hay meadows and pastures—along with commons, copses, marshes, heaths, hedgerows, and other so-called wastelands—were plowed up and planted with crops in the quest for self-sufficiency. Alongside rationing, the campaign was a success. But rather than being a temporary solution, the drive toward intensification continued in the postwar years. Government subsidies encouraged farmers to maximize their land’s agricultural potential. Improved machinery and a battery of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides facilitated the increase in productivity. Silage and other alternative livestock feeds slowly removed the need for traditional hay meadows. This science-centered upscaling of agriculture delivered on its targets. Despite the United Kingdom’s rising population, food became ever more abundant and costs fell for the average consumer. By the mid-1980s, however, it became apparent what had been lost in the process: 97 percent of species-rich meadows had vanished. Widespread habitat destruction and chemical pollution had also caused an associated collapse in wildlife populations.
7. At The American Conservative, Peter Hitchens, frequent visitor to these shores, finds the USA’s decline to be palpable. The love affair may be over. From the piece:
And then it all changed. It was of course 9/11 that signaled the alteration and darkened the sky, the growing mistrust, the boot-faced bureaucracy. This was bad enough for Americans, but perhaps even more dismaying for foreign admirers. Bit by bit, the glitter came off. There were actual crashes on the D.C. Metro. Washington became enormous, sprawling forever into Northern Virginia and Maryland. I felt increasingly as if it was somewhere else, unlike the optimistic, spacious America I thought I knew. Travel round the country, once so relaxed and spacious, became tedious with excessive security, more spartan and more crowded. I know these are only impressions, but what else do I have? The trains grew worse, and Amtrak began serving its breakfasts (once superb) on plates made out of some ersatz composition instead of proper china.
On my last visit a change of planes at a major mid-western hub was so dingy and exhausting, and the airport itself so tired, crowded, and unwelcoming . . . Everywhere there were long lines of dispirited people, looking like a defeated army. Even some years ago the growing state-sponsored squalor of San Francisco was becoming evident in some parts of the city. Now I dread to go back at all. But behind it lay a feeling of a country in decline. I do not just mean that the country seems poorer and shabbier, a sensation that has grown stronger and stronger since the Iraq War. I no longer have that sensation of sunny liberation I had back in the 1970s and 1980s whenever I set foot there. Some years ago I wrote a little optimistically about how the first sight of Cape Race in Newfoundland (the first American landfall for those arriving by sea from Europe) lifted my spirits because the continent beyond was mostly under the rule of law and protected by jury trial and the Bill of Rights. Now I think it is suffering a new birth of unfreedom, in which these safeguards grow weaker every day.
8. At The Free Press, Ruby LaRocca offers a five-point “counterintuitive guide” for teen happiness. From the proposal:
Learn How to Conduct Yourself in Public. It all begins with knowing how to arrange your face when having conversations with real, living people. No one wants to talk to someone who has a slack jaw and glazed eyes, who yawns openly, who doesn’t laugh at jokes or nod in recognition. Too many Zoom school sessions involved speaking into a void of faceless boxes.
So for my seventeenth birthday, I threw an intergenerational celebration of First World War–era poetry. I labored lovingly on a historically accurate chocolate cake modeled on the trenches and the waste of No Man’s Land. When I told my best traditional high school–aged friend to come with her favorite war poem, she said sarcastically, “It will be so hard to choose.” I invited my favorite teachers, family members, and friends of my parents. A little weird, but it was a great party, and the conversation flowed.
Part of learning how to conduct yourself in public is learning how to interact with people of different ages and experiences—who read different books, watch different shows, and grew up in a different time than you.
9. At Quillette, Joseph Grosso takes on the idea that space beckons, wondering if slipping earth’s surly bonds is better than staying put. From the essay:
Thinking further ahead, one has to wonder what kind of Lord-of-the-Flies societies may develop in such harsh material conditions. Contrary to the libertarian vision of space as a boundless frontier, it is more likely that the specter of totalitarianism would hang above any developing settlement as serious questions about resource distribution emerge. Where there is dictatorship, there is conflict, and such conflict might rebound back to Earth, which threatened by a future self-sufficient Mars colony may be inclined to move toward a one world government (see the TV show/book series The Expanse). On Earth, the ocean has a tendency to dissolve workers' rights at sea. Is it reasonable to think that the vastness of outer space will be an improvement?
It is quite easy to imagine humans coming down with severe cases of homesickness in such a context. In the Danish-Swedish film Aniara, a Mars-bound cruise ship goes adrift with no chance of rescue. The passengers get addicted to an AI system called a “Mima” that taps into participants’ memories and emotions to produce experiences of Earth’s lush past. The same sentiment can be found in Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Aurora, in which a large crew flies a huge ship equipped with 24 self-contained biomes for seven generations to settle a distant planet. As the ship’s biomes start breaking down, the first settlers touch down on the moon of Tau Ceti, where they are infected and killed by an extraterrestrial prion. A character facing imminent death rants to another about those who organized the mission: “So what’s the point? Why do it at all? Why not be content with what you’ve got? Who were they, that they were so discontent? Who the f*** were they?” He sums up what may be the long-term sentiment about Homo sapiens and space expansion:
“So, of course, every once in a while some particularly stupid form of life will try to break out and move away from its home star. I’m sure it happens. I mean, here we are. We did it to ourselves. But it doesn’t work, and the life left living learns the lesson, and stops trying such a stupid thing.”
10. At National Affairs, Naomi Schaefer Riley and James Piereson delve into Big Labor’s attempts to unionize nonprofits. From the essay:
While there have been some recent high-profile unionization campaigns at Amazon and Starbucks franchises, unions are struggling to find more members. Now that earlier waves of unionization in factories and the public sector have run their course, union leaders are looking to the non-profit sector as an area ripe for expansion.
One way they’ve tried pursuing this strategy is by asking state and local governments to exert pressure on the non-profits they work with. In Chicago, for instance, the recently passed Human Service Workforce Advancement ordinance requires that human-service organizations, as a condition of working with the city, have in place a “labor peace agreement.” Such agreements prohibit employers from opposing or disrupting unionization efforts among their employees.
While unions pushed the mayor and city council to approve the measure, non-profit leaders fear that the ordinance will cause them financial hardship at a time when they are already having trouble paying competitive wages. Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago recently expressed “solidarity” with non-profits in a letter to local officials while also acknowledging the sector “needs more funding to fulfill our mission and our commitments to our employees.” The city’s chamber of commerce was more dramatic, noting that the rule could force non-profits to cut back on services or even close.
But as unionization has waned in the public and private for-profit sectors, union organizers are running out of other options.
11. At The Republic in Columbus, IN, Brian Blair reports on a huge turnout for a Sister Hazel rock concert to raise funds for a local hospice. From the article:
Also among an estimated 6,000 people at the show were local residents Greg Morris and his wife Kim. The couple has seen the group about 25 times total at venues as varied as a cave at Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee to an acoustic set in a Greenwood Best Buy parking lot to promote a show that night in Indianapolis.
“So many of their (older) songs are just so catchy,” Morris said. “Some of their newer material I’m not yet quite that familiar with.”
The pair even delayed their honeymoon a couple days to catch the quintet in concert. The group is best known for its 1997 hit “All For You.”
Lead singer Ken Block and his mates opened the show with the song “Change Your Mind.” At one point in between tunes, he referred to hospice’s work and asked those in the crowd to raise their hand if the nonprofit had touched their life or helped in some way.
A lot of hands went up throughout the audience.
12. At Port City Daily in Wilmington, NC, Shea Carver reports on a local philanthropist’s contest that comes with a $1 million award—to open a restaurant that will help revitalize Burgaw’s town square. From the article:
Come October, a winner will be named in a nationwide challenge that will bring a new restaurant concept to Burgaw’s historic town square.
Own Your Own Competition was launched in the spring by Richard Johnson, who is offering one winner a million-dollar startup investment and a space on West Courthouse Avenue to open an eatery.
An entrepreneur, Johnson—who founded HotJobs.com two decades ago and sold it to Yahoo in a $400-plus million deal at the height of the dot-com boom—has been buying up properties in town over the last few years. The goal is to revitalize the 143-year-old Burgaw town square, promote its preservation and future development, recenter commerce and restore its quaint charm.
Two of the buildings he invested in have already become restaurants. One is Fat Daddy’s Pizza, which opened in 2020 and is run by Jay Kranchalk.
Bonus: At The Lamp Magazine, Jude Russo provides a fascinating sectarian way of reading classic children’s literature. From the piece:
Upon rereading The Wind in the Willows, my conviction has grown only stronger that Mr. Badger of the Wild Wood comes from a very old Catholic recusant family.
Enthusiasts will remember that the climactic Battle of Toad Hall is won with a sneak attack enabled by Badger’s knowledge of secret passage leading into the butler’s pantry at that residence. That passage had been disclosed to Badger by Toad’s father. “Your father,” he explains to Toad, “was a particular friend of mine, and told me a great deal he wouldn't have dreamt of telling you. He discovered that passage—he didn't make it, of course; that was done hundreds of years before he ever came to live there—and he repaired it and cleaned it out, because he thought it might come in useful some day.” A secret passage leading from the servants’ corridors at a great house built some centuries before the reign of Edward VII—Badger is clearly describing a priest hole, an escapeway for Catholic priests celebrating secret Masses for the remaining English faithful.
Why is Badger the only person Toad père consults about the priest hole?
Consider then the description of Badger’s home in the Wood. It is on the site of an ancient town, ruinous, and far removed from the fashionable world of the River Bank, the kind of dwelling for a very old and once-prominent family that can no longer keep up; what’s more, it is in a neighborhood mostly populated with the more turbulent races of creatures, the stoats and weasels, whom Badger is expected to keep in good English order. Consider Badger’s own social bearing: While he is regarded as a local grandee, a cut above even the gentry-class Otter, Rat, and Toad, he mostly eschews their company (“Simply hates Society!”), and has oddly low manners. (He drinks his tea from a saucer.) His family’s position is both visibly elevated and isolated. What class of people had such a place in the England of 1908?
For the Good of the Cause
Uno. Register for the forthcoming Center for Civil Society conference on “Rise of the Nones: How Declining Religious Affiliation Is Changing Civil Society.” It takes place on November 7–8 in glorious Scottsdale, AZ. The line-up is super: Speakers include Shelby Steele and Mary Eberstadt. Get complete information right here.
Due. At Philanthropy Daily, wise man Iain Bernhoft gives the expert letter-writing skinny on AI. From the piece:
Now, though? I’m looking for ways to make AI useful. No doubt you are too. After all, generative AI is garnering comparisons to the printing press . . . nuclear bombs . . . and the invention of fire. Who wouldn’t want to harness the power of fire if it’s going around? No one wants to be the last caveman pounding out strips of raw meat.
Hence this article, which will almost certainly look comically naive and off-target in a few years. That aside, I want to take a stab at answering the question: How can ChatGPT (and other generative AI programs) help you produce the fundraising copy you need?
Here are a few preliminary observations, three cautionary and three suggestive, to set you on the path towards harnessing the power of generative AI in your day-to-day fundraising operations.
Read it in toto to get those advisory tidbits!
Tre. If fundraising for nonprofits is your game, then you just gotta attend AmPhil’s forthcoming “In the Trenches” Master Class (Thursday, October 12th, via Zoom, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., Eastern) on “Integrating Direct Mail and Digital Outreach.” This session will be a goldmine of wisdom. Get your pick and shovel and sign up—easily done right here. (And one day, when our paths cross, you can say, “I’m so glad I took your advice about that class, Yours Truly!”)
Department of Bad Jokes
Q: How did the Spanish meadow express its gratitude?
Who changed the 5:30 Sunday late Mass to 4:30?! Rats: That’s definitely another entry in the very thick purgatorial file. And to think, Your Humble Correspondent was just decrying society’s slighting of the Commandment on the Sabbath. Did anyone hear a cock crow?
May We Have the Graces to Be More Attentive to the Creator,
Jack Fowler, who will be grateful for indulgences sent to email@example.com.