16 min read

Dear Intelligent American,

 

Are we really surprised by the cultural disrobing of decorum? The virtue and practice of it—if not dressing for success, at least dressing to avoid channeling your inner hobo—is living on vapors in this era of rampant slovenliness. Here comes the Cranky Uncle: Look at those pictures of baseball crowds and public-park picnickers and ballroom dancers from two generations back! The men in jackets, ties, and collared shirts, the women in dresses! Cue Archie and Edith!

 

Our culture and mores are reflected in our apparel, no? It seems, once upon a time, that duds offered a sense of general respect, not only for the individual, but for the broader community, for those other folks sitting alongside in Wrigley’s grandstand, that nearby couple spreading a blanket in Central Park, or the throngs walking along with the midday foot traffic on Mission Street. No mas. It would be hard for Charlie Chaplin’s tramp to stand out today, even were he presiding in the U.S. Senate chambers.

 

Literally.

 

Shall we lament the junior senator from Pennsylvania? Yes. But let us also lament the should-know-better, wrinkled-tee-shirt (“Hooters”)-clad senior in flip flops and cargo shorts at Sunday services (“God doesn’t care how I dress!”), the hoodie’d teen at Grandma’s funeral, or the pajama-pants’d mom parading at the PTA meeting.

 

“Casual Friday,” you gateway drug! . . . Hearing knocking on the wall, and a family member yelling, “Are you all right in there, Dad?!” it seems time for Your Humble Correspondent to deescalate and get to the weekly purpose of this supposed-to-be-jovial enterprise.

 

Excerptio, Ergo Sum

 

1. At The New Criterion, James Piereson refreshes memories about President Lyndon Johnson’s political game-playing and legacy-building, which included pressuring Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg to resign. From the piece:

Did Johnson have something on him? Goldberg must have wondered the same thing. When Johnson called the next morning, Goldberg reluctantly agreed to resign his seat on the Court. Within hours, he and his wife, both crestfallen, were called to the White House to stand next to President Johnson as he announced the surprising appointment to the U.N. With this move, Johnson had his vacancy on the Court.

 

The next week Johnson appointed Abe Fortas, his old ally and “fixer,” to fill Goldberg’s seat on the Court. That was undoubtedly his plan all along (too bad for Goldberg). Fortas, following graduation from Yale Law School, pursued a career in government during the 1930s, and later became a partner in Arnold and Porter, the most influential law firm in Washington. When Johnson won his election to the Senate in 1948 (by 87 votes), he turned to Fortas to defend him against charges that the votes were stolen. Later, when Johnson assumed the presidency after Kennedy’s assassination, he called upon Fortas for advice on appointments and policies, and occasionally for help in drafting speeches and announcements. It was Fortas who advised Johnson to set up a presidential commission to investigate the JFK assassination. Fortas was a frequent visitor to the White House, and continued to play the role as Johnson’s advisor and fixer even after he took his seat on the Court.

 

With that appointment secured, Johnson began to look about for ways to create still another vacancy on the Court. He knew whom he wanted to appoint (and it was not Arthur Goldberg): Thurgood Marshall, then his solicitor general, who would become the first black man to win appointment to the Court. But there was as yet no vacancy for Marshall to fill. Johnson soon found one when he appointed Ramsey Clark as his attorney general in early 1967, knowing that Clark’s father was a justice on the Supreme Court. This maneuver in turn caused Justice Tom Clark (who had been appointed in 1948 by President Truman) to resign his seat in order to avoid conflicts of interest with his son who might soon be bringing cases to the Court. Clark’s resignation created the vacancy Johnson used to elevate Marshall to the Court.

 

2. At City Journal, W. Bradford Wilcox finds that—more than ever—two-parent families matter to kids and their future. From the analysis:

Likewise, the new Institute for Family Studies report found that the advantage associated with being raised in an intact family for young adults’ odds of reaching the middle class or higher as thirtysomethings has grown in recent generations. For boomers who entered their thirties around 1990, coming from an intact family boosted their odds of reaching the middle class or higher by 16 percentage points. By contrast, millennials who entered their thirties in the last decade and grew up in a stable family saw their odds boosted by 20 percentage points. We again have yet more evidence that, at least for some outcomes, the advantage of being raised in a stable, married family may be growing for today’s children and young adults.

 

Why are studies showing that the benefits of marriage and a stable family for children today are larger than in the past? Is it because marriage is increasingly the preserve of educated and affluent Americans, thereby skewing the results? Well, no. The studies referenced above control for factors like race and parental education, and still find a premium associated with being raised in an intact family. So that’s not likely the story.

 

Three other factors seem more likely explanations. First, dads are more involved in their kids’ lives than they used to be. This means children in married families generally have the benefit of more fatherly attention today than they did a few decades ago.

 

3. More CJ: Nicole Gelinas puts the whammy on mopeds and e-bikes making NYC pedestrian-risky. From the piece:

What we do know is this: since New York State and City legalized e-bikes in early 2020, e-bikes have made New York’s streets meaner.

 

As e-bikes and gas-powered mopeds have become ubiquitous, the number of people killed by them has soared. This year, Streetsblog reports, e-bike or moped riders have killed three pedestrians. Official data are murkier, as New York City unhelpfully lumps together pedestrian deaths caused by traditional pedal cyclists, historically rare, and pedestrian deaths caused by e-cyclists. Last year, the city reports, bicyclists (including e-cyclists) killed three pedestrians; a fourth pedestrian was killed by a moped or similar device. (These data don’t include pedestrians killed by traditional motorcyclists.) In 2021, two pedestrians were killed by bicyclists, and a third was killed by a moped. In 2020, no pedestrian was killed by either a cyclist or a moped driver.

 

That makes ten deaths in less than three years caused by drivers of two-wheeled vehicles (again, not including motorcycles)—a massive increase in fatalities not caused by cars, trucks, or motorcycles. Through 2020, it had taken 13 years for ten pedestrians to die under the wheels of bicyclists, e-cyclists, or mopeds, fewer than one per year.

 

4. At Law & Liberty, L. Joseph Hebert argues that America’s success is dependent on much more than the genius of our Constitution. From the essay:

When conscience comes up in a constitutional context today, it is usually in relation to the Bill of Rights. As the words of our Constitution’s First Amendment make clear, government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion or abridge the freedom of speech. Yet it remains controversial whether and when such rights may be overridden by compelling governmental interests, or to what extent accommodations must be made when impartial laws happen to conflict with the deeply held convictions of particular citizens.

 

Though its proper contours are debatable, this sensitivity to the special protection of conscience is fundamentally true to the spirit of our institutions. According to James Madison, the First Amendment’s principal architect, “government is instituted to protect property of every sort,” and “conscience is the most sacred of all property.” Yet Madison was initially skeptical regarding the need for a Bill of Rights, believing that the original design of our constitutional republic was a sufficient and even superior protection for cherished liberties.

 

Madison’s reticence ought to give us pause. It is not that contemporary constitutional discourse places too much weight on the concept of conscience and associated rights. Rather, the question is whether our focus on the extraordinary claims of conscience has led us to forget the role conscience ought to play in everyday governance and civil society.

 

5. At National Review, Armond White catches a documentary and remembers when the late Tom Wolfe was the Big Kahuna of the Big Apple. From the piece:

Director Richard Dewey bases his approach on Michael Lewis’s 2015 Vanity Fair article “How Tom Wolfe Became . . . Tom Wolfe,” imitating what Wolfe ingeniously made seem like an easygoing style. (The Talking Heads track “I Zimbra,” faux-primitive art-rock, is always exciting to hear, but it makes for a misleading launch in the doc.) Dewey works best letting the excitement of Wolfe’s career rise speak for itself—his daring reportage should shame this era’s media mongrels.

 

Wolfe’s personalized style and onomatopoeic headlines belonged to the rule-breaking cultural upheaval of the 1960s yet also challenged it perfectly. Wolfe’s post-Yale, journeyman-journalist background—a kind of starting over at the bottom—differs from the Ivy League fast-tracking that turns today’s journos into snarky elitist partisans. Plus, Wolfe was “the most skillful writer in America,” Christopher Buckley observes. “He can do more things with words than anybody else.” What seemed casual and slangy actually displayed a shrewd, inspired vocabulary.

 

Lewis recalls when “newspapers did not have a distinctive voice [or reporters who] sounded unlike anybody else.” Gail Sheehy recounts, “There was no sense of style, everything had to be in the first paragraph: Who, What, Where, When, Why.” Well, that’s certainly over now. And not because Wolfe broke the rules. Instead, he brought reportorial integrity—curiosity—to whatever subject was at hand. That’s what’s missing from most so-called journalism.

 

6. At The American Conservative, Bill Kauffman reflects on music man Bruce Springsteen. From the article:

If his early songs drowned the listener in Dylanesque word torrents (“madman drummers bummers Indians in the summer”), he hit his stride with Darkness on the Edge of Town, a magnificently gloomy meditation on working-class life punctuated by irruptions of Kerouacian exuberance as the narrator insists “that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.”

 

I wore out that lugubrious L.P., and his concert at Shea’s Buffalo kicking off the 1978 tour in support of the album was breathtaking, but by the time I was 20 I had caught on to the specious way Springsteen was marketed. My favorite bar in town had “Badlands” on the jukebox, but those who lived rather than poetized “the workin’ life” vastly preferred Michigan’s Bob Seger.

 

I’ve been thinking about Bruce since reading the excellently titled Deliver Me from Nowhere, Warren Zanes’s new book about the making of Nebraska (1982)—the “rural” album that is the oddest entry in the Springsteen oeuvre.

 

Nebraska was the last uncalculated gasp before Bruce began analysis, refined his musculature for the MTV-friendly Born in the USA album, and married (and divorced) a model. (“Those gals in the bowling alleys must be a real stuck-up bunch,” cracked GM assembly-line worker Ben Hamper in his takedown of Bruce during the mayfly-brief glory days of Mother Jones magazine.)

 

7. At Catholic World Report, William Carroll does some soul-searching. From the essay:

We find a similar metaphorical use of “soul” in Jon Meacham’s 2018 book The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels. Here we also have a word, angels, used metaphorically. It only makes sense, if at all, to speak of the “soul of America” if we recognize the root meaning of “soul.” For many, the very notion of a soul is only an archaic reference.

 

In the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where art Thou?, set in Mississippi in 1937 during the Great Depression, there is a scene in which three convicts, who have just escaped from prison, pick up a hitch-hiking young guitarist who tells them that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the ability to play the guitar. One of the convicts, who had converted to Christianity in prison, remarks incredulously: “For that you traded your everlasting soul!” The young guitarist responds: “Well, I wasn’t using it.”

 

Perhaps there is a sense in which contemporary human beings have sold their souls, so to speak, precisely because we do not see any need for them. In a world so persistently described by materialist and mechanistic principles, founded so it seems on the natural sciences, do we have any need for a soul? As the philosopher Paul Churchland, reaffirming the views of many, claims in Matter and Consciousness: “We are creatures of matter. And we should learn to live with that fact.” Or as he writes elsewhere, “The doctrine of an immaterial soul looks, quite frankly, like just another myth, false not just at the edges, but to the core. This is unfortunate, since that hypothesis is still embedded, to some depth or other, in the social and moral consciousness of billions of people across widely diverse cultures.”

 

8. At UnHerd, Conrad Black notes the retirement of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, his fiercest competitor. From the beginning of the reflection:

“I’m calling to celebrate the demise of Maxwell,” said Rupert Murdoch down the phone to me on the morning Robert Maxwell’s private effects were being auctioned in a bankruptcy sale. I acknowledged that Maxwell had been a frightful scoundrel, but that he was an unforgettable character and I didn’t like to think of him floating around dead in the Bay of Biscay. “I do,” was the reply. Murdoch, as I was often reminded over many years, was a fierce competitor.

 

Rupert Murdoch, who has retired after 69 years at the head of News Corporation, is indisputably the foremost and boldest media proprietor in history. Lord Northcliffe and William Randolph Hearst would have been contenders for that title in earlier times, but Northcliffe died before the radio, film, and television industries were seriously established, and while Hearst was to some extent a multi-media owner, he was a pioneer only in some aspects of the newspaper business. Both men confined themselves to their native countries. Hearst is better remembered as a fantastic, almost Oriental art collector, builder of the most magnificent residence in the new world, and fabled star of public curiosity, especially as the inspiration for Citizen Kane. Northcliffe, to the extent he is still remembered, (he died nearly a century ago), is chiefly recalled for the madness of his last years; a few months before he died, he phoned the editor of The Times, which he owned, shouted “Are you a shrimp or a brewer?” and hung up without waiting for an answer. Such eccentricities have never been ascribed to Rupert Murdoch.

 

9. At National Affairs, Nat Malkus warns about the possibility of a new and costly entitlement—“income-driven repayment”—for student-loan relief. From the piece:

Today, IDR operates as a safety net helping relatively few borrowers. Under current rules, a cohort of 2017 graduates might see substantive relief from IDR. About 62% of IDR participants with typical debt relief levels (about $13,000) who earned certificates or associate's degrees would pay off their loans. Their peers who earned bachelor's degrees had higher debt levels (about $31,000) but a similar percentage, 59%, would pay their loans in full. For both groups, about 12% would pay nothing. These relatively generous rates are consistent with the idea that IDR is a safety net. Biden's changes are not.

 

In a January report from the Urban Institute, Jason Delisle, Matthew Chingos, and Jason Cohn examined what might be forgiven for these borrowers with typical debt burdens under the proposed changes. Under the new IDR program, only 11% of borrowers who earned a certificate and associate's degree, and 22% of borrowers who earned a bachelor's degree, would repay their loans in full. That is far less than the roughly 60% who do today. More shockingly, they estimate that 69% of certificate and associate's degree holders with typical debt would repay less than half their loans, while 38% would pay nothing. This forgiveness amounts to over $6,500 for those repaying less than half their loans and the full $13,000 per borrower for those who pay nothing. Among borrowers who earned bachelor's degrees, 49% would repay less than half their loans while one in five would pay nothing, leaving taxpayers on the hook for over $15,500 and $31,000 per borrower, respectively.

 

10. Crack Your Cheeks, Rage: At Commentary, James Meigs huffs, puffs, and blows down arguments for wind energy. From the piece:

Clearly, politicians and environmentalists love wind power. And so do the manufacturers, construction companies, labor unions, and others who tap into the subsidy pipeline. But apparently, few people want to live near wind turbines—even if they’re on the distant horizon. Energy analyst Robert Bryce tracks local opposition to wind and solar projects in his Renewable Rejection Database. Bryce reports that more than 400 communities have moved to block or restrict wind power to date. (Solar-power installations also attract opposition.) The resistance doesn’t come just from conservative, fossil-fuel-addicted NIMBYs. Communities are fighting wind projects even in deep blue Massachusetts and California. Often, local branches of the Sierra Club and other green groups lead the charge.

 

The opponents have a point. Wind turbines may be green in the sense that they make electricity without emitting carbon, but they are pretty rough on the local environment. For starters, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that wind turbines kill over 1 million birds each year. Wind farms also require enormous amounts of land, about 85 acres for each megawatt of power produced. New York City used to get 25 percent of its power from the now-shuttered Indian Point nuclear plant. That plant produced more than 2,000 MW of power on a site of 240 acres. That’s less than half a square mile of land (much of which is left wild). Replacing all that power with wind turbines would require some 265 square miles.

 

The low energy density of wind also means that it takes a huge quantity of materials to produce each megawatt of power. A land-based turbine requires as much as 1,000 tons of concrete and 165 tons of steel (materials that take huge amounts of energy to manufacture). The turbine blades are crafted from exotic (and non-recyclable) blends of fiber and resins. And the generators require neodymium and other rare-earth metals (which are mostly mined in regions with sketchy environmental protections). After all that investment in energy, materials and labor, the typical turbine will last only 20 years.

 

11. Homer Simpson Is Holding on Line One: At The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Mary Ellen Ritter does not glaze over the results of a delicious fundraiser. From the beginning of the report:

Highbanks Secondary Learning Center hosted its first Donut Drive & Thrive fundraising event Friday morning encouraging DeBary community members to drive or walk through the school’s parking lot to purchase vanilla-glazed, chocolate or gluten-free doughnuts—all topped with sprinkles.

 

Doughnut Ask Donut Tell sponsored the event and provided 500 doughnuts.

 

“It’s a labor of love,” said Sarah Kelley, CEO and baker who makes, cuts and tops all doughnuts by hand. She was extremely proud of Friday’s event and the community’s overwhelming support.

 

The doughnut drive raised $620, according to Principal Jay Strother, and all of the proceeds will benefit Highbanks faculty, staff and student recognition, awards, incentives and other campus needs.

 

12. At Comment Magazine, Miranda Kennedy, convert, wonders how and if feminism, whatever that might be, can coexist with evangelical Christianity. From the essay:

At the time I struggled to explain it, even to him. But gradually I began noticing that I wasn’t alone in putting elements of myself on hold in this congregation. A few weeks after I first attended, the pastor took me out to coffee, and chuckled when I described what a strange experience this church was for me: “I know, it requires a lot of cognitive dissonance, doesn’t it?” he said. He strongly implied—but didn’t exactly say—that he didn’t agree with all the convictions of the denomination either. Already I had observed that some of the attendees would laugh off the beliefs about women as “extreme” and “silly,” and point out that although women couldn’t be ordained, they did serve in leadership roles at the church. I decided I’d go with that too. My faith still felt young and vulnerable. I felt I had to protect it, and that this church was the safe space for it, until it grew a little stronger.

 

My own feelings about feminism had become complicated in recent years anyway. Existing on a separate, angry plane from men had not helped women make a lot of progress. I was exhausted by the strident extremes of our culture, and many of my own stiff views had mellowed or become more complex. Abortion no longer seemed the unassailable right I’d once championed. I had struggled to have even one child and had been unable to have a second. This one life my husband and I had managed to create seemed so very fragile. Even before my Christian conversion, I’d started using the word “sacred” when I thought of her life. In the months and years since giving birth, I stopped believing abortion should be available to all women “free and on demand,” as I used to marker onto my poster boards. Now I’d probably write “rare and limited.” But I didn’t talk to my old feminist buds about that.

 

The pastor at my new church—and pretty much everyone there—avoided talking about abortion, women, homosexuality, and sexual ethics generally. It was an urban church in a liberal city, and the pastor was well aware that bringing up these issues would be a losing battle. The strange unspokenness of it left me sometimes wondering and guessing, and at other times existing in a blissful unknowing. This, too, was new for me. I am a journalist; euphemism is generally my enemy.

 

Lucky 13. At The Messenger, the great Bruno Manno compiles Gen Z surveys and finds a desire for K–12 education to get more muscular on vocational and practical knowledge. From the analysis:

But post-pandemic, Gen Zers—those typically born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s—are questioning that conventional wisdom. They want K-12 to provide them with practical knowledge and skills, more career education, and multiple education and training pathways to careers.

 

Three recent surveys of Gen Z chronicle this shift, tracing their opinions before, during and after the pandemic. They were conducted by ECMC Group and VICE Media, through seven Question the Quo surveys since 2020 on education and career; YPulse, surveying many topics, including education; and Gallup on education, well-being, and the future.

 

These surveys provide three insights into how Gen Z sees the relationship between K-12 education, going to college, and starting a career. Their central message is a call for opportunity pluralism, or creating many pathways to adult success, rather than a default college for all.

 

First, Gen Zers are skeptical about college degrees. They question whether a college degree delivers sufficient return on investment, citing problems like affordability, student loans and debt. Around half (51%) of high schoolers are thinking about pursuing a college degree, down more than 10 percentage points since before the pandemic and 20 points since shortly after COVID-19 began. Middle schoolers are even less likely to say they plan to go to college.

 

BONUS: At Plough Quarterly, Joey Hiles looks to Tocqueville to explain why the blues also come with red and white coloring. From the beginning of the essay:

Why do all my friends live in different states? Why have I lived in four cities in the last six years? Why have I moved right at the moment when I have made new friends and begun to feel at home? Why did I see my grandparents only a few times per year as a child? Why is my extended family spread out across the United States? Why are these questions relevant to every person that I know? Why are they most true for the most successful members of society, who get fancy degrees and work high-paying jobs?

 

Alexis de Tocqueville’s book Democracy in America, completed in 1840, answers these questions. As a philosopher of loneliness, Tocqueville diagnoses the condition from which we modern people suffer. To read him is to better understand America, the West, and one’s own soul. Like all great philosophers, his words are compelling not merely as propositional logic; they reveal the secret strings that organize human life; they show us to ourselves.

 

Tocqueville sought to understand the democratic age, what we now call modernity. Not only would this age give birth to a new kind of political regime and economic order, it would alter the souls of the people living in it down to their dispositions, habits, and mental world. Tocqueville thought that the democratic man would have new strengths and new challenges to overcome, compared with the premodern man. Alongside his new freedom and comfort, he would struggle to sustain the lasting bonds to family, community, and place that make life worth living. He would be lonely. The democratic man, in other words, is me. And countless studies confirm that I am not alone (no pun intended). Contemporary Americans move constantly, have fewer friends than ever, and lack lasting community.

 

For the Good of the Cause

 

Uno. The clock is ticking! Register now 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. If nonprofit fundraising is your game, then don’t miss 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.

Tre. It’s that time of year . . . to prepare for that time of year. Yes, end-of-the-year fundraising pitches need to be crafted and strategized now. At Philanthropy Daily, Maria Parry offers wisdom for writing an effective appeal. Learn more here.

Quattro. Is your institution interested in a strategic plan? Guess what: A successful plan has four pillars. What are they? You’ll have to get the free AmPhil e-book to find out. Download it here.

Cinque. It’s true! AmPhil offers Insights. Find them here.

 

Point of Personal Privilege

 

The Hartford Courant, needing to fill space for a Saturday edition, decided to report on the City Clerk campaign of Yours Truly. Read all about it.

 

Department of Bad Jokes

Q: Why did the dad knock on the refrigerator door before he opened it?

 

A: As a warning in case there was a salad dressing.

 

A Dios

 

Traveling to and from both coasts this weekend past, vectoring through various hubs, Your Intrepid Correspondent, at Charlotte’s colossal airport, was thrilled to bump into one of the giants of conservative scholarship, none other than the great George H. Nash, biographer of Herbert Hoover and author of the classic work The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945 (which you can order here). One of the kindest of men, the anxiety prompted by plane-boarding scrums vanished upon seeing the friend and historian. The serendipitous meeting shall be considered a gift from Our Creator, the Dispenser of Tender Mercies.

 

May He Let Us Know the Season, and Reveal to Us the Purpose,

 

Jack Fowler, who will turn, turn, turn at jfowler@amphil.com.


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