Mister Bad Example

I’m not sure how I missed this piece, from five years ago, about supremely complicated story of Warren Zevon – a deeply flawed person who wrote some of the best music ever about deeply flawed people.

It’s a sprawling article that covers a lot of turf – too many

In an old Late Show episode from the ’90s, when Zevon was guesting as bandleader, David Letterman asks Zevon to play “Desperados Under the Eaves,” which he had never performed on the show. Zevon demurs, suggesting that he needs an orchestra backing him to do the song justice. Maybe he just didn’t want to play his big hymn about L.A. on the opposite coast from that “beautiful, sensual morgue.” Either way, Dave never was able to convince Warren to play it for him.

The best song can’t ever be your favorite song, because the best song belongs to everybody, whereas a favorite song belongs only to you. Goldsmith goes with “The French Inhaler,” a telling choice for a songwriter — it boasts a parallel narrative that references Zevon’s bitter break-up with the first love of his life and mother to Jordan, Marilyn “Tule” Livingston, and the controversy over Norman Mailer’s 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. It’s the sort of song — sophisticated without making a big deal about it — that professionals wish they had written.

Favorite but not “best”? Probably a three way battle between “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and “A Certain Girl”.

The rebooting of Zevon’s reputation – from untouchable to secular saint, in the two decades since he died – fills a lot of the article, and it’s fascinating, and a little bit of a blast down memory lane to the days when he was one of the most alcoholic-y alcoholics around:

One of the most haunting passages from I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead concerns “Reconsider Me,” Zevon’s most poignant love song. (Given how much Zevon labored over his lyrics, the use of “reconsider” seems especially crucial.) Crystal Zevon recounts how Warren showed up at her place at some point in the mid-’80s, before he got sober, to play her the song. In spite of everything, they were thinking about giving their marriage another go.

Their daughter, Ariel, was excited to show her daddy her report card and a drawing she made for him. But when he walked in, he ignored Ariel, instead fixating on Crystal as he played her his beautiful love song. The little girl looked on, quietly devastated.

It’s an illuminating and fascinating read if you’re a fan. And I am.

“The Only Way Home Is Through Berlin”

It’s an aphorism I’ve kept in my mind through a *lot* of life’s ugly travails and misfortunes this past 20-odd years, along with “This, Too, Shall Pass”. Together, the two lines are wonderful, complementary views of coping with life’s vicissitudes; trouble ain’t forever – but sometimes, the only way past a problem is to finesse, claw or bludgeon your way all the way to the other side of it.

Through divorce, dips in the employment situation, post-divorce shenanigans, teenage problems, pandemics, riots and all of life’s other ups and downs, both aphorisms have been priceless.

The original line was from Tom Sizemore, as Sergeant Horvath in “Saving Private Ryan”.

Sizemore didn’t write the line.

But if anyone else – John Krasinski or RuPaul or Mark Wahlberg or even Tom Hanks or Morgan Freeman, even a young Clint Eastwood – had delivered the line any other way, it wouldn’t have had the same impact.

But something about the way Sizemore delivered that line made it memorable enough to keep it front and center all these years.

And for that, I remember Tom Sizemore.

The Pop-Culture Hereafter

For every singer who manages to keep a career going for decades, there are hundreds of flashes in the pan – people who get a one-hit-wonder in their teens or twenties, have a brief spurt of stardom, and then…

…well, nothing.

What happens to them?

Nick Duerden at the Guardian wondered the same thing, enough to write a book about it. The article abridged from it zooms past an array of “where are they now” artists in a dizzying variety of genres, including one I’d been wondering about myself for a while, now:

In 1987, seemingly overnight, Terence Trent D’Arby became the most arresting new pop star of his generation. To hear him sing songs such as If You Let Me Stay and Sign Your Name was to bear witness to the art of aural seduction; the knees buckled. He became terribly famous, terribly quickly. He was 25.

Of course you remember Terence Trent D’Arby.

Er, Sananda Maitreya.

“I wanted adulation and got it,” D’Arby tells me almost 35 years later, by now working under the name Sananda Maitreya, “but I had to die to survive it.”

If his ascendancy had the stuff of legend about it, then so did his demise. Like Prince before him, he began to feel himself capable of anything, each new song he composed a masterpiece. His record company felt differently – it wanted hits, not ornate rock operas – but D’Arby was not someone easily restrained. And so, in pursuit of his muse, he spent the early 90s reportedly living the life of a tormented recluse in a Los Angeles mansion. When I speak to him – which takes six months to arrange – he suggests he was grateful to move on “from such excess and artifice. I didn’t give a fuck about it then, and even less about it now that memory has been kind enough to allow me to forget most of it.”

Prince had died, Michael Jackson, too. D’Arby was still here, albeit with a name change – prompted by a dream he had in 1995 – to help him better bury the past. Today, Maitreya lives in Milan, is happily married with young children, and writes, records and produces his own music, which he releases on his own label, behaving as he damn well pleases.

And Trent D’Arby…er, Maitreya – hints at something that dogged me and my mental state through my early thirties:

The question of whether anyone is listening any more doesn’t seem to trouble him unduly. When I ask what, if anything, he misses from the old days, he replies: “I miss the unbridled, bold, naked stupidity of youth’s vibrant electric hubris.”

As someone who oozed vibrant electric hubris himself? Even though I never had a hit (or came much closer than this single glorious evening), I do miss feeling that way pretty badly, sometimes.

Not all the side-effects, of course. I’m one of those guys who wants four metaphorical Old Fashioneds, but no hangover.

As the article shows, it doesn’t work that way, literally or figuratively.

A Matter Of Trust

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

My car broke down Saturday evening, as I was coming home from St.
Cloud.  Well not “broke,” exactly.  The computer decided something was
wrong and threw me into “Limp Mode.”  Engine runs but can’t go over 15
mph.  It’s designed so you can limp to the nearest exit to get your car
off the freeway.  I limped to Clearwater Truck Stop, called the tow
truck to haul it to the dealership in St. Cloud and arranged for a ride
home to the Twin Cities.

This is what happens in a High Trust society.  I gave a $30,000 car to
the tow truck driver, gave him my credit card number to pay the
difference between what AAA would pay and the actual cost of the tow
when he gets the final total, and just assumed the car would make it to
the dealer who would give me an honest diagnosis and estimate of repair
costs.  I felt perfectly safe doing so. This isn’t some Third World
country where giving a stranger my vehicle and credit card number would
be insanity.  This is America; that’s how we do things, here.

Interestingly, when I called the dealership to alert them the car was
coming, they asked what model year and how many miles, then said, “Oh,
your 5-year 60,000 mile warranty expired last month.” Uh huh, of course
it did.  And the computer that controls the engine knows that date,
too.  How convenient that it waited until now to discover the problem on
my nickel, not theirs.  It’s like video blackjack at the casino.  The
machine is required to pay out 93% but no more, which is achieved by
software controlling which cards I am dealt.  Oh, you needed a seven? 
You got a nine. Bust.  You lose.  Uh huh, sure I did.

What, I don’t trust the billion-dollar car maker computer or the
scrupulously honest casino computer as much as I trust a greasy-faced
20-something kid in overhauls?  No, I don’t.  And don’t even get me
started on medical doctors with their ever-changing SCIENCE, corrupt
politicians selling influence, or economists who can’t figure out why
too many dollars chasing too few goods would result in price increases. 
I don’t trust any of those jokers.  They’re transforming America from a
High Trust society into a Low Trust Third World society and I hate it.

But not the kid.  Him, I trust.

Joe Doakes


And yet it can get so much worse.

Musk In The Wind

An Inigo Montoya moment:

Democracy. They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.

Of course, what frightens Max Boot is having anything he says face a challenge. Content moderation is especially cool if it means you don’t have to face any discontent. Boot’s preferred usage is a Boot on the throat.

I am not sure what I think about Elon Musk generally. One could argue he’s built his fortune by using government subsidies and cronyism, as he clearly has, but it’s also undeniable he’s building useful things. And it’s absolutely undeniable that he has all the right enemies. And the cognitive dissonance is off the damned charts:

Does Musk want to take over Twitter? I don’t think so. The company’s financials aren’t great, and running social media companies is hard. The car crash that is former President Donald Trump’s social media experiment, Truth Social, is a cautionary tale for Musk. Does Musk want to name some people to Twitter’s board of directors? Maybe. That would allow him to have some say over its affairs without spending too much time or money.

That’s worrisome, because it’s not ideal to have a free speech absolutist who isn’t absolutely in favor of free speech at the helm of — or even close to — a media company.

So where is Timothy O’Brien making this argument? Bloomberg. Who runs Bloomberg? A billionaire who happened to be a presidential candidate in the last cycle. We live in an unserious world.

P. J. O’Rourke, RIP

P. J. O’Rourke died yesterday at the age of 74. He was one of the best conservative pundits of the last 50 years and certainly the funniest. He also had a keen eye. In his 1990 classic Parliament of Whores, he provided a spot-on synopsis of the people you meet at a protest rally. Tell me if these descriptions from 30+ years ago still don’t ring true:

World Council of Churches sensible-shoe types who have self-righteousness the way some people have bad breath

Angry black poverty pests making a life and a living off the misfortunes of others

Even angrier feminists doing their best to feminize poverty before the blacks use it all up

Earnest neophyte Marxists, eyes glazed from dialectical epiphanies and hands grubby from littering the Mall with ill-Xeroxed tracts

College bohos dressed in black to show how gloomy the world is when you’re a nineteen-year-old rich kid

Young would-be hippies dressed exactly like old hippies used to dress (remarkable how behind the times the avant-garde has gotten)

And some of those old hippies themselves, faded jeans straining beneath increasing paunches, hair still tied into a ponytail in the back but gone forever from the top

His powers of observation set him apart from other writers, especially those who tried their hand at satire. He understood his targets better than the targets understood themselves.

As O’Rourke grew older, he softened the sharp edges and some of his thinking got a bit pear-shaped. He drew the ire of conservatives everywhere when he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. I was not a fan of Donald Trump either, but O’Rourke’s powers of observation betrayed him that time:

Dorothy and Toto’s house fell on Hillary. I endorse her.

Munchkins endorse her.

Donald Trump is a flying monkey.

Except what the flying monkeys have to say, “oreoreoreo,” makes more sense than Trump’s policy statements.

Not that Hillary makes much sense either.

Hillary is wrong about everything. She is to politics and statecraft what Pope Urban VIII and the Inquisition were to Galileo. She thinks the sun revolves around herself.

But Trump Earth™ is flat. We’ll sail over the edge. Here be monsters.

O’Rourke was wrong about that. Hillary is more of a monster in real life than anything O’Rourke could imagine over the edge. We’ll leave that aside. Where O’Rourke made his mark, and where his legacy will reside, is in being a proto-Mencken for our age. And let’s say it — his bon mots were pretty bon:

There are probably more fact-finding tours of Nicaragua right now than there are facts— the country has shortages of practically everything.

Or this:

The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors— psychology, sociology, women’s studies— to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you’d have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers. A callous pragmatist might favor abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal view.

Or this:

Even the bad things are better than they used to be. Bad music, for instance, has gotten much briefer. Wagner’s Ring Cycle takes four days to perform while “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies lasts little more than three minutes.

But above all, this:

The American political system is like a gigantic Mexican Christmas fiesta. Each political party is a huge piñata — a papier-mâché donkey, for example. The donkey is filled with full employment, low interest rates, affordable housing, comprehensive medical benefits, a balanced budget and other goodies. The American voter is blindfolded and given a stick. The voter then swings the stick wildly in every direction, trying to hit a political candidate on the head and knock some sense into the silly bastard.

We all need our sticks and few wielded a more elegant brickbat than the Irish kid from Toledo. RIP,

The Next Battle

David Strom, writing on Facebook, sums up what I’ve been wanting/trying to say for much of this past 23 months:

Follow the science is a bullshit phrase, not because science itself is bullshit, but because science at best can only provide input and data on what are not scientific questions.

Science is a branch of knowledge seeking. It is not equipped to provide answers to what are in fact judgment calls. Public policy is at its root about making judgement calls–weighing risks and rewards, costs and benefits, and of course balancing competing rights and goods.

And in fact, no actual scientist believes that the scientific method is, in and of itself, superior to the other methods of seeking knowledge: history, logic, math, philosophy, and so on . They’re all just different tools to similar ends.

Science can help us better understand risks and rewards (when done well, with good data, and the right questions), but it can’t help us weigh those and come up with a “right” answer. If you have ever had a difficult conversation with a doctor you understand this. Doctors give you information upon which you make medical decisions, but in the end they ask you what you want to do based upon your own set of values.

When somebody tells you to “follow the science” they aren’t just making claims about what the science say (and in many cases it isn’t clear), but also to accept their values about how to weigh the costs and benefits.

Consider this extreme example of how important values are in making judgements about behavior (not a public policy example):

Alex Honnold is the world’s best “free solo” climber, and is admired by millions for his skill and grace. He is also, by any measure that values survival above all else, utterly insane. This is true of extreme athletes in general.

Science can tell us nothing about whether what he is doing is admirable or is just off his rocker, but if you watch any interview of him he seems perfectly rational–he just values preservation of his own life as less important than the things he gets from performing his craft.

It’s no different for a ballet dancer or football player, who both sacrifice their body and endure horrible pain to create their art/sport. They balance the risks and rewards based upon their own judgement of what is important. And obviously the answers vary by what individuals value most.

I’m going to emphasize this next bit:

Public policy exists in that same realm, although on a different scale. And public policy in a pluralistic society means that decisions about such matters are made with an eye to balancing the judgments of millions of people and finding artful compromises that garner enough support to be maintained. It’s why we have elections.

“Follow the science” is nothing more than a bullshit way to tarnish the values of people who have different visions of the good society. Science doesn’t speak to values and morals. Ask Josef Mengele. Science is just one of several means to get knowledge. A useful way. But no scientist can use it to tell you whether Monet is a great artist or not.

And yet we have bred a generation and change that believes science…

…no, conclusions given by people in real or rhetorial lab coats = morality.

It’s Veterans Day

I’ve said it in the past; I’ve always found the practice of thanking veterans for their service to be a little…off.

Nothing against those that do say it – but it’s always felt a little strange to me.

“Thanks for taking a couple years out of your life, in many cases going around the world and undergoing a lot of unimaginable stress, danger and horror. Thanks so much!”.

So for my part – to all you veterans out there: I’m glad you made it home.

Let’s make this nation worth your time, and the sacrifice of those who didn’t come back.

Logic 090

Want to get docked a letter grade on your argument?

Call it “evidence-based”.


We are seeing this phrase from an awful lot of groups, especially media, to try and market themselves as authoritative, objective, and “not fake“.

(Dishonorable mention to Minnesota and National Public Radio who’ve been leading with the equally-dumb “fact-based”).

The phrase isn’t “meaningless”, per se – but it does prey on the gullibility of the audience.

Virtually every argument that goes past the level of the thesis statement is based on some kind of “evidence“ or another, including every single conspiracy theory that more than three people share.

The flat earth theory is “evidence-based“: the evidence is too narrow in scope, obsolete or just plain wrong, but it is in fact evidence.

Phrenology – the practice of medicine based around measuring bumps on peoples heads – what evidence-based. It turned out the evidence led to a faulty conclusion.

Hair strand analysis -= the story of the structure of hair – was considered as infallible as DNA is today, for purposes of evidence in criminal proceedings. The “evidence-based” study of hair strands was considered so authoritative it sent many people to death row over the years.

But it turned out that the interpretation of the evidence, as knowledge of other ividence grew, meant that hair strand analysis turned out to be completely useless for establishing identity, and is today not a whole not more respected than phrenology or the flat earth theroy.

Evidence is not a conclusioni. It’s not distilled truth, in and of itself.

Evidence is the “table stakes” in a rational, informed debate that gets us, eventually, to the truth.

Anyone who treats that phrase otherwise deserves a sound mocking.

Random Thoughts

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

We need a new word to describe an establishment conservative, someone who claims to be conservative but is always willing to stab in the back any truly conservative movement (the Tea Party) or candidate (Trump.) StabCon, as in, “Geez, Romney is such a StabCon.”

It is well established that the Constitutional right of habeas corpus can be suspended in times of rebellion, insurrection and war. We’ve spent the last year learning that any governor can suspend the Constitutional rights of religion, assembly, and private property by declaring an emergency, no questions asked. Nevada is now the cutting edge. Bureaucrats describe unapproved statements as a ‘public health crisis’ so the Constitution no longer protects dissenting speech. And, of course, the CDC wants guns declared a ‘public health crisis‘ so the Constitution no longer protects the right to keep and bear arms.

Pretty much the only thing that is Not a public health crisis is my blood pressure going up when I see my tax bill rising, year after year. That’s perfectly okay.

Trouble Down Under. You can tell it’s a mob of vicious Neo-Nazis by the woman walking her dog. All Neo-Nazis bring their dogs to the rally. Those police are safe when firing on unarmed civilians protesting government regulations because Australians have no guns to fire back. Pro tip: do not try this at home.

Joe Doakes

What The In Crowd Knows

A tale as old as time:

Dominant liberal culture is, if nothing else, fiercely rule-abiding: they get very upset when they see anyone defying decrees from authorities, even if the rule-breaker is the official who promulgated the directives for everyone else. 

While I appreciate the willingness of Glenn Greenwald, a man of the Left, to call out the hypocrisy of our Ruling Class, this observation isn’t quite right, actually. Dominant liberal culture is all about rule promulgation, not necessarily personally abiding by rules. As time goes on, the pretense fades, and why wouldn’t it? Nothing ever happens to the Ruling Class.

Dobie Gray, a more perceptive social critic than our man Greenwald, was all over this way back in ’65:

I’m in with the in crowd
I go where the in crowd goes
I’m in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows
Any time of the year, don’t you hear?
Dressin’ fine, makin’ time
We breeze up and down the street
We get respect from the people we meet
They make way day or night
They know the in crowd is out of sight

Back in ’65, the term “out of sight” roughly meant cool, fashionable, au courant, like that. Some 56 years later, out of sight has a more conventional meaning: in the shadows, behind the curtain, holed up in nondescript office buildings in and around the Beltway. Our in crowd is an industrious lot, and they keep coming up with more rules at all times, whether our Congresscritters weigh in or not.

Any time of the year, don’t you hear? Mocking fools, making rules

But many of our fellow citizens don’t hear, nor are they listening. Instead, we all hear our animatronic Leader of the Free World as he is sent out to joust with the Teleprompter.

We make every minute count
Our share is always the biggest amount
Other guys imitate us
But the original’s still the greatest

Just ask them. If you can identify them.




Being Locked Down And Nothingness, Part II

As I pointed out yesterday, I didn’t have a lot of personal sturm und drang during the “lockdown”. Life changed, of course – but I don’t think I especially did.

I was listening to an NPR science show a few weeks back. It discussed new discoveries about the interconnectedness of pleasure and pain – literal pleasure and pain,, in this case, and their role in addiction.

Doing something pleasurable triggers a jolt of dopamine – which is pleasant, and makes you happy. Doesn’t matter what the pleasure impulse is – a small victory, a shot of bourbon, sex, a good TV show, it all triggers dopamine. Of course, there’s an inner pendulum of sorts – as the body experiences pleasure, it pushes back, so the pleasure is followed by nearly equal, nearly opposite pain. Sugar is followed by crash; Big victory is followed by “so, what’s next?”.

One of the article’s many points was that humans have more stimuli for dopamine now than ever before; 24/7 entertainment, smart phones, porn on demand, drugs from caffeine to Fentanyl and everything in between. Humans aren’t built for all the pleasure modern times presents them; eveolutionariliy, everyone in the world is a virtual Norwegian Bachelor Farmer, expecting an aescetic life.

And this past 19 months have stripped away a lot of the stimulation people used to get – and made some of the more transient ones, video games and cell phones and the like – old hat. Buzzes get old; to quote the great psychiatrist Axl Rose, “I used to do a little but a little didn’t do it, so a little got more and more”.

And “creatives”, I think, are much more addicted to more dopamine, more need for stimulus and variation, than most.

And those are the ones writing the extended laments of the misery of thjis past two years.

Being Locked Down, And Nothingness, Part I

Back around the fall of 2020, in respect to the mewling avalanche of navel gazing in the media and among parts of my social circle about how 2020 was “the worst year ever”, I made two observations.

  1. Tell that to anyone alive in 1942, or 1916 (or the 1918 Influenza), 1861, or any of the various Bubonic Plagues. Those that didn’t hit you with a brick would laugh a bitter, condescending laugh.
  2. Worst ever? It wasn’t even the worst in my lifetime, from my perspective.

This last observation was a little controversial in some parts of my social circle – but among years in my life, 2020 might have cracked the bottom five, maybe. Just off the top of my head: 2008 was horrible, 2003 was a grueling slog of unemployment, 2000 involved all the fun and frolic of a divorce and 1988 was a hideous morass of depression.

So – 2020 was #5 on the *hit parade. At worst.

I posted that list on another, lesser social media platform than this blog. And it drew…

…well, some agreement, and a particularly harsh reaction from some parts of my social circle.

I’m not going to say 2020 was fun – it was terrible, and for reasons that went beyond Covid. And 2021, so far, is worse; more people in my life, speaking for myself, have died of Covid this year than last year. Again, neither year comes close to topping any of the years I listed above.

It’s heartening to see others making the observation:

No one can or should emerge from that world-historical shock without a heightened sense of life’s transience. It is the lockdown, the pause in “busy-ness”, that has been infused with more meaning than it can hold. What started as twee high jinks about banana bread became a sour reappraisal of modernity by its principal winners: the educated, the urban, the mobile. 

It is mortifyingly non-U, in fact, to say that I enter the post-lockdown world with no new angle on life. But there it is. I am going to go out as much as I did before, thanks. I am going to travel as much as the friction of new rules allows. If some urbanites crave an Arcadian life, I encourage them to find it in the obvious places instead of bending cities to their tastes. To the extent that I have changed at all, it is in the direction of more speed and zest: passing some of my forties in an Asian megacity is a goal now, as it never was before.

No doubt, my failure to have a Damascene lockdown reveals an impoverished imagination. But then which side is more bovinely stuck in its ways here? What stands out about the great odysseys of the soul I keep reading is their familiarity. Metropolitans have always been prone to credulous nature-worship. Families have always been prone to urban flight. Mid-life ennui has always been dressed up as some fault with the outside world. What is new is the respectability that such attitudes have acquired over the past year and a half. In other words, the lockdown hasn’t changed these people any more than it changed me. It just dignified existing impulses.

Read the whole thing.

But I think there was one other factor at work.

More tomorrow.

Church, State, And The Condition Of The Soul

It’s been a longstanding issue — how does the Catholic Church deal with politicians who are Catholic, but who actively support policies inimical to the faith? Especially now, since Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, is in the Oval Office? The nation’s bishops are meeting this week and the matter is coming to a head:

This week at their annual spring meeting, the bishops of the U.S. Catholic Church — the largest faith group in the country — will debate the meaning of Communion and whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be barred from receiving it. The conversation and a vote among the church’s top clerics could have significant ramifications because it centers on one of the most intimate moments of Catholic worship and binds it uniquely to a specific political and policy position.

Intimate moment isn’t quite right; rather, the Eucharist is central to the faith. And within the Church, the centrality of the Eucharist means the stakes are high. But if you’re going to rely on the Washington Post to explain the matter, you’re going to get dogma of a different sort:

The vote comes after two decades of deliberate, passionate focus by Catholic political and theological conservatives to make abortion a litmus test for the sacrament, while church teachings on poverty, climate, racism and authoritarianism, among other things, become more subjective to follow. It also comes after years of hardening toward abortion opponents within the Democratic Party.

Much of that description is doubletalk, frankly. We have 2000 years of history with the Church and arguments about politics have been part of that history from the outset, but poverty has always been an ongoing concern. The default position of Catholicism is faith and works, which is why Catholics build hospitals and schools everywhere they go. And ascribing passion as the prevailing emotion for conservatives is cute, when you consider the behavior of the pro-choice side.

I, like Joe Biden, am a lifelong Catholic. Biden is an ostentatious sinner, but so am I. Understanding my faith has been an ongoing effort for me, especially since the Vatican II teaching I received was equivocal on many issues. I am a graduate of a well-regarded Catholic high school in Wisconsin (Top 50 in the country — just ask them!), but the quality of the religious instruction I received wasn’t very good. Scarcity applies not only to economic matters, but also to clear moral instruction. And in this Archdiocese, which harbored monstrous priests for decades, even the clearest moral instruction is tainted. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and many other Catholic politicians benefit greatly from this loss of trust. But Biden is a Catholic in a secular world. And I cannot know the condition of his soul; assuming that I do would be a sin as well.

Biden is also a symptom of a larger malady. As time has passed, Catholics in the West have been following the same dismal path that mainline Protestants have followed — the buildings remain, but the people aren’t coming. We still get decent attendance at my parish, but the faithful parishioners are aging rapidly and many young families are otherwise engaged on Sunday.

Still, hope remains. COVID has actually helped our parish school, which remained open while their public school counterparts were on a year-long Zoom call with cameras off. Parents who would not have considered enrolling their kids in a Catholic school gave Catholic education a chance and many of them are returning this year. And there is tremendous energy in the Church, mostly in places that were once missionary lands. It wasn’t a coincidence that the current Pontiff came from South America, even though his worldview is decidedly European, but there is a decent possibility that the next Pope will be from Africa or Asia. A revival is not guaranteed, but the Holy Spirit hasn’t left the building.

Planet Of The Humans, Part 0

I spent a lot of time thinking about this scene last week:

I first started paying serious attention to politics in about 1980. Like a lot of high school kids, then and now, I was somewhere out on what would be called “the left”; I wrote a platform for North Dakota Boys State (a statewide mock government program put on by the decidedly conservative American Legion) that called for systematic redistribution of wealth, abolishing nuclear energy and nuclear disarmament, and a whole bunch of stuff that would be pretty mainstream among the Bernie Bros today.

Three years later, due to the good graces of my English professor, Dr. Jim Blake, I had re-evaluated most of my assumptions. I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984, and never really looked back.

And I had no reason to. None of us did. Although the history books, all being written from the perspective of the Left, will never admit it, the two decades from 1980 to 2000 were, objectively, the last American Golden Age. I’ll squeak out an optimistic coda and add “so far”, but I’ll be honest – I haven’t been feeling it, but I’m a firm believer in acting like you want to feel, and so there is is. “So far”.

I’ll come back to that.

There’s no denying it was one of the high points of American history. We led an economic surge that brought more wealth to more people than any in history. We, as a nation, led a political surge that led to the collapse of one of the most evil regimes in history (although not the other one – so far).

Maybe it’s just the perspective of one guy’s lifetime – but I suspect you’d have to look long and hard to find a place and time when it was generally better to be a human.

Not just in material terms, but in terms of the tension between freedom and order, one of the hardest things about running a self-governing society, being in relative balance – and, more importantly, the general commitment to the system and process that kept all those moving parts in balance.

And it’s been downhill from there.

The arc from Morning in America in 1980 to last week’s skirmish at the Capitol – which, loathe as I am to come even close to Democrat chanting points, was a form of coup, not against President-Elect Biden, but against the states’ constitutional power to select electors – peaked…somewhere in the late ’90s – when one of the glories of the American system, gridlocked government, combined with a Peace Dividend brought about by the end of the Cold War (thanks, President Reagan), led to an outburst of technological, entrepreneurial and market power that brought so much wealth, and security, and general well-being, to so many people that it may have been as close to a uptopia, in some ways, as humanity can get. Because of the gridlock in government.

Somewhere between 1998 and 2005, things started to turn back south again. It’d be easy to point to the polarization of American politics, starting with the various Clinton scandals, through the fiasco of the 2000 election, the near-decade of squabbling over the War on Terror and the 2008 government-caused financial meltdown, as the cause – but it went in parallel with a lot of other changes in our nation’s political, moral and social lives that have led to their…

…I was going to say “culmination” last week at the Capitol. But of course, that’s not true. Last week’s sorry episode was, like last summer’s riots, and the social back and forth that gave us Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Trump himself, and the movements that supported them all in a way that was increasingly “un-American” (I’m still claiming a meaning for that term), and if you think that was the peak, or trough, or any sort of ending to the story, you just haven’t paid attention to 20,000 years of human nature.

So let’s not call it a culmination. Let’s call it a checkpoint, on a path that may be going up, or down, but control over which We The People need to take before the phrase “We The People” is forever relegated to the museum.

How have we gotten from the peak of Western Civilization to…this, in my adult lifetime?

Let’s talk about it.

We’ll start with President Trump, next.

But we’re damn sure not going to finish with him.

Emotional Day

For the last few years, I’ve secretly left candy in the grandkids’ shoes on St. Nicholas Day, a family holiday tradition which stretches back five generations (that I know of) and possibly more. This year, my daughter decided the oldest grandson could take over the role. I’m no longer needed.

I said it was fine with me so long as she gave him the lecture I received from my Mom when I took over as St. Nicholas: He must keep the secret. The little kids are entitled to the magic of Christmas as long as it lasts, same as he was. Never break the spell. Allow them to believe.

I know in my head this is a good thing, passing the torch and involving the next generation. I know the oldest grandson will do a fine job. I didn’t really want to drive all the way over there in the cold and dark anyway.

So why do I feel like crying?

Joe Doakes

I hear ya.

Snappy Answers To Casual Gaslighting, Part IV

“Check your privilege”

OK. Let’s check my privilege.

I grew up descended from people from an inhospitable place that nobody wanted to conquer and that nobody managed to enslave (or who managed to kill everyone that tried). My dominant culture has no experience of being enslaved – indeed, it abolished slavery hundreds of years before the rest of the world. It’s a “privilege” that every human in the world should have, and that I’m more than happy to share.

I grew up in a family where the parents stayed together (until we were all adults, anyway), and worked their butts off to give us a stable, loving upbringing where we were expected to grow up into productive, self-sufficient adults. My parents themselves were “privileged” with the same basic family structure, notwithstanding the Depression and World War 2.

Those are privileges I’m more than happy to spread to the whole world, and have nothing to do with my skin color.

I went to a public school system that was more concerned with teaching me to read, write, calculate, present myself, and reason than indoctrinating me in a view of society. It’s a “privilege” afford to very few these days.

I got a post-secondary education (thanks to my Mom working at the local college, with the commensurate tuition break) that focused on reason, logic and critical thought, rather than post-structural twaddle – not merely a “privilege”, but a decisive advantage in so many areas of my life.

Somewhere, I got a work ethic. I was blessed with ways to exercise it – for which I’m thankful. I’m more than happy to do my bit, and more, to make sure you get the same privilege.

I am a free person, with all the rights God endowed me, and all the responsibilities that position gives me. Freedom and responsibility are “privileges” I’ll fight to provide anyone who wants them, and against anyone who’ll deprive either of us of them.

In no case are those “privileges” zero-sum. My freedom takes nothing away from your freedom (that you’re not willing to give up, or at least pretend you’ve given up). And taking freedom away from others gives you no more; Germans, the Klan and Red Guards gained no freedom, no prosperity, no happiness from oppressing Jews, Afro-Americans or “counterrevolutionaries”; quite the opposite, in fact.

Freedom is the ultimate “privilege”. And it’s contagious, if you let it be. Try it, Sparky.

You are, of course, not referring to any of those. You are referring to the stretchy, sketchy concept of racial privilege which is in fact almost entirely a matter of class, not race, and is almost entirely an attempt to expiate White Progressive Guilt.

All Shook Up

Modern airplanes are equipped with a “stick-shaker” that vibrates the
control stick with increasing harshness as the airplane approaches a
stalled configuration.  The hope is the pilot will feel the shaking and
correct the airplane’s attitude before the stall occurs.

My work computer has a time-out safety feature.  If I don’t touch the
mouse every so often, it logs me out.  Which would make sense if I only
worked on-line, but I have lots of other stuff to do off-line as well. 
I’m forever logging back in.  I’m stalled.

I need a stick-shaker for my mouse.

Joe Doakes

It’d also be a great feature on credit cards.

Human Nature

In college poli-sci classes, you learn there are two schools of thought about what humans would be like in the absence of government.

Some think humans are Basically Good and government corrupts us, so if we could get rid of government, everything would be wonderful.

Others think humans are Basically Rotten and only government protects us from ourselves. If we got rid of government, our lives would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.

Recent events don’t answer the question. Did people riot because government pulled back and let them, or because government was so corrupt they had to?
Ask yourself this: if we get rid of the police, and the Basically Rotten people are correct, what will take the place of the police? Individual citizens maintaining Eternal Vigilance, dispensing Street Justice? Are we certain that’s a better solution than a municipal police force? Are we willing to bet our lives on it?

Joe Doakes

The “better solution” our social justice-y betters are splaining to us is Camden – whose new, woke, exquisitely expensive law enforcement organization has improved it from the worst murder rate of any city of any size in the United States to tied with #6 (Kansas City), were it over 200,000 people, which it’s not; it may be the most dangerous small city in the US.

Diversity Falls Short

I am attending continuing education classes, required for Minnesota lawyers. The legal profession has a serious diversity problem. 
There are too many old white men at this conference,  too few young hot chicks.  
Nothing pleasant to look at, when the Power Point is boring.  
Joe Doakes

Pretty sure its true most everywhere these days.