American Happiness and Discontents

The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020

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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.