American Happiness and Discontents

The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

A collection of short pieces by the incomparable, indispensable George F. Will, mainly his syndicated column. It's big, slightly under 500 pages, which means there are a lot of those pieces, and they cover a lot of disparate topics. You don't want to overdose; I spread out my reading over the three weeks allowed by the folks at the Portsmouth Public Library. (Yes, they're ultrawoke, it's Portsmouth after all, but they do a pretty good job of buying books by conservative/libertarian authors.)

I thought the best way to "review" the book would be to provide a sampling of paragraphs here and there that made me smile/nod/wince. Limiting myself to a "fair use" ten.

Here's something I didn't know about a famous photograph:

Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Saigon’s police chief shooting a Viet Cong in the head during the 1968 Tet Offensive seemed to validate some Americans’ sympathies for enemy. Hastings casts a cold eye, noting that the Viet Cong was in civilian clothes and had just cut the throats of a South Vietnamese officer, his wife, their six children and the officer’s 80 year-old mother.

On President Trump:

This unraveling presidency began with the Crybaby-in-Chief banging his spoon on his highchair tray to protest a photograph — a photograph — showing that his inauguration crowd the day before had been smaller than the one four years previous. Since then, this weak person’s idea of a strong person, this chest-pounding advertisement of his own gnawing insecurities, this low-rent Lear raging on his Twitter-heath has proven that the phrase malignant buffoon is not an oxymoron.

On a court case that sought to stop the Greece, NY Board of Supervisors from opening their meetings with a prayer:

Taking offense has become America’s national pastime; being theatrically offended supposedly signifies the exquisitely refined moral delicacy of people who feel entitled to pass through life without encountering ideas or practices that annoy them. As the number of nonbelievers grows — about 20 percent of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, as are one-third of adults under the age of 30 — so does the itch to litigate believers into submission to secular sensibilities.

Physics 101, and the prospects for nuclear fusion:

As in today’s coal-fired power plants, the ultimate object is heat — to turn water into steam that drives generators. Fusion, however, produces no greenhouse gases, no long-lived nuclear waste and no risk of the sort of runaway reaction that occurred at Fukushima. Fusion research here and elsewhere is supported by nations with half the world’s population — China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the European Union. The current domestic spending pace would cost $2.5 billion over 10 years — about one-thirtieth of what may be squandered in California on a 19th-century technology (a train). By one estimate, to bring about a working fusion reactor in 20 years would cost $30 billion — approximately the cost of one week of U.S. energy consumption.

Mr. Will and I are both fans of Virginia Postrel:

America now is divided between those who find this social churning unnerving and those who find it exhilarating. What Virginia Postrel postulated in 1998 in The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress - the best book for rescuing the country from a ruinous itch for tidiness - is even more true now. Today's primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled "progressives," who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.

On free-range parenting:

Today's saturating media tug children beyond childhood prematurely, but not to maturity. Children are cosseted by intensive parenting that encourages passivity and dependency, and stunts their abilities to improvise, adapt and weigh risks. Mark Hemingway, writing at The Federalist, asks: "You know what it's called when kids make mistakes without adult supervision and have to wrestle with the resulting consequences? Growing up."

On the very large target of current insanities at institutions of higher education:

As "bias-response teams" fanned out across campuses, an incident report was filed about a University of Northern Colorado student who wrote "free speech matters" on one of 680 "#languagematters" posters that cautioned against politically incorrect speech. Catholic DePaul University denounced as "bigotry" a poster proclaiming "Unborn Lives Matter." Bowdoin College provided counseling to students traumatized by the cultural appropriation committed by a sombrero-and-tequila party. Oberlin College students said they were suffering breakdowns because schoolwork was interfering with their political activism. Cal State University, Los Angeles established "healing" spaces for students to cope with the pain caused by a political speech delivered three months earlier. Indiana University experienced social-media panic ("Please PLEASE PLEASE be careful out there tonight") because a priest in a white robe, with a rope-like belt and rosary beads was identified as someone "in a KKK outfit holding a whip."

On the silver lining in the rage for "sustainability":

There is a social benefit from the sustainability mania: the further marginalization of academia. It prevents colleges and universities from trading on what they are rapidly forfeiting, their reputations for seriousness.

On abortion:

A New York Times editorial (Dec. 28, 2018) opposing the idea that “a fetus in the womb has the same rights as a fully formed person” spoke of these living fetuses — that they are living is an elementary biological fact, not an abstruse theological deduction — as “clusters of cells that have not yet developed into viable human beings.” Now, delete the obfuscating and constitutionally irrelevant adjective “viable,” and look at a sonogram of a ten-week fetus. Note the eyes and lips, the moving fingers and, yes, the beating heart. Is this most suitably described as a “cluster of cells” or as a baby? The cluster-of-cells contingent resembles Chico Marx in the movie “Duck Soup”: “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

On a lighter note, the Beach Boys:

Boomers must be served, so Mick Jagger, who long ago said, “I’d rather be dead than sing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45,” is singing it at 68. In 1966, the 31-year-old Elvis Presley asked the Beach Boys for advice about touring; he has been dead for nearly 35 years, but they play on, all of them approaching or past 70, singing “When I Grow Up (to Be a Man)” without a trace of irony. Southern California in their formative years was not zoned for irony.

URLs du Jour


  • Too soon? Well, it's been 80 years. Mr. Ramirez makes an apt comparison.

    [Accounting Tricks]

  • Today's argument for cutting the Defense budget. John Lucas of the Federalist looks at a recent article from "researchers affiliated with the Army Cyber Institute at West Point." And they argue: To Combat 'Disinformation,' Gov't Should Control Speech. That article is written “is written in response to the Capitol insurrection.”

    The Cyber Center authors’ thesis is that the “insurrection” at the Capitol building on Jan. 6 was a mortal danger to the country that was caused by disinformation, namely the idea that the 2020 presidential election was rigged or stolen. The “insurrection” spawned by this alleged disinformation then becomes the justification for the authors’ proposed government censorship (although they eschew the term) of free speech.

    The article suffers from a number of flaws. One of the most notable – and dangerous – is that the authors wade deeper into the political wars by advocating more government control over speech that they regard as outside the mainstream or, as they put it, contrary to a desired “shared reality.”

    Lucas goes on to note that "insurrection" is an actual crime, with a legal definition. And nobody involved in the January 6 has been charged with that.

    Jack Reacher would not have made this mistake.

  • Looking at our feudalist future… is Joel Kotkin at Quillette, asking the musical question: Work or Welfare?

    Throughout history, work has been the common lot of humanity—at least, outside of the idle rich and those who could not find any. It was celebrated by the Calvinist capitalists described in Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as a means for people to achieve their “own salvation.” Labor for its own sake was embraced by the Marxist canon as well—work, wrote Friedrich Engels, “is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself.”

    Yet today’s baffling shortage of workers in high-income countries may presage something different: a post-work society, in which only a select few labor. For most, economic maintenance would come from some form of universal basic income (UBI). This notion has been tried as part of the COVID-19 relief program and in President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better initiative, which allows benefits for those who could join the workforce but don’t care to.

    I don't think a future where large numbers of citizens live idly on the dole would be stable or pleasant. Hope we don't have to find out.

  • I knew that. At the American Council on Science and Health, Josh Bloom has lost patience with those who mislabel: It's the Fentanyl Epidemic, Stupid.

    It's time to update our language, something that is routinely done to ensure accuracy and minimize antiquated, bigoted, and offensive terms. Think about some of the changes we've seen in the past few decades. You don't need me to tell you that terms for people of different races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations have changed. And it's not just that. There are no longer stewardesses, only flight attendants. Go into CVS and ask where the rubbers are. Note the look that the pharmacist will give you. Try referring to someone with a learning disability as "retarded" or an unmarried woman as a "spinster." See how well that is received.

    Likewise, it is time to stop calling the overdose deaths of 100,000 people an opioid crisis. The term is outdated and inaccurate. And, in my opinion, it is being intentionally misused by various groups and individuals (you know who they are) to push their own agendas and perhaps to benefit financially. What's the harm in using an inaccurate name? Plenty. More on that later.

    This language obfuscation only helps those looking for a payday from "Big Pharma".

  • But there's amusement available in the news. Found by Kyle Smith (NRplus, sorry). Jussie Smollett: Funniest Trial Ever.

    Spare a thought for Jussie Smollett’s lawyers. Think of them being much like infantrymen who walk through fire on the way to glory, except they’ve been slogging through a mire of bulls*** on their way to absurdity. While wearing flip-flops. Their field commander is an insistently moronic fraud. The Iwo Jima flag they struggle to raise is the reputation of a dim actor who thought he would raise his profile by telling the world that he was attacked by the world’s least likely lynch mob — a duo of black MAGA-heads who just happened to have bleach and a noose on them in case Jussie Smollett should walk by. At two o’clock in the morning. On an exceptionally cold Chicago night. Then walked away after 30 seconds without robbing their victim or doing him more than superficial harm.

    The man Dave Chappelle dubbed Juicy Smollé may not have been much of an entertainer when that was his profession — admit it, you’d never heard of him before January 29, 2019, and that’s part of the reason he needed Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Buff to stage a fake beating. (Get a gander at these guys, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo: If they were inclined to beat you up, your injuries would be something other than scratches. Smollett’s face would have looked like Cubist portraiture if they had really attacked him. Ten seconds of actual punching and they’d have Picasso’d this guy.) Yet Smollett should be dubbed American Reality Entertainer of the Year for the hilarity he has brought us all in Chicago for the last week as he has steered his lawyers to argue outright fiction.

    Kyle goes on to note a valuable lesson: how gullible people (Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Donald Trump) can be when you yell “racism.”

  • Next up on ABC's Wide World of Sports. The WSJ had a great story about snow sports in an unexpected place: Hawaii Blizzard Means Volcano Skiing—and It’s as Tricky as It Sounds. The Big Island got lots of snow on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. But:

    Hawaiian skiing isn’t for the faint of heart, though. Sharp lava rock abounds beneath layers of snow that some skiers find surprisingly thin because of the wind and sun, resulting in numerous injuries.

    I confess that it hurt just to read that.