A Sadder Zeitgeist?

Over the last few days, I watched Ekaterina, The Rise of Catherine the Great.

You already know how it goes: gorgeous sets, beautiful actors, Machiavellian plotting, more than a dollop of sexual sizzle, eventual triumph of the heroine. Given that it’s de facto Russian propaganda, produced by Russia’s state TV network – and that Catherine is revered in Russia today for having swallowed much of Poland and Ukraine – the production is infused with Russian nationalism and the sex is demurely offstage.

That said, it’s pretty effective propaganda. The actress who plays Catherine is gorgeous – which always helps rivet this particular viewer’s attention – and at every step of her tortured path to the throne, her motives are portrayed sympathetically...

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An Apologia for Civil Horizon

We sometimes don’t know why we do what we do; we may even hold tight to perspectives about our motivations that others – or even we ourselves – will later rightly conclude did not reflect reality.

For a poignant example, consider the Civil War. Most of the soldiers in blue fought to save the union as, initially, did President Lincoln; though he hated slavery, Lincoln saw the possible dissolution of the union as a more immediate evil. And if, in 1860, he had issued a call for volunteers to fill an army to eradicate slavery, few would have signed up.

Reciprocally, in most of their minds, the Confederates fought to defend their states against ‘the War of Northern Aggression’ under the banner of states’ rights – the theory being that if a state could freely join the union, it could surely ...

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What the Iconoclasts Forget

Years ago, a friend who doesn’t eat meat told me that he thinks that in a few generations people will remember their carnivorous forbears – like me – with the same sense of shame now felt by the descendants of American slave owners. His comment didn’t convince me to change my eating habits but it did set me thinking about how societal norms sometimes undergo radical changes.

Until late in the eighteenth century, slavery was more or less universally accepted as the way of the world. Every empire-building conqueror and even the thought-leaders among the great ancient civilizations took the buying and selling of human beings for granted...

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An Experience and Some Thoughts

The days are short.

This morning it was dark when the Beloved Spouse and I arose; we had eaten our breakfasts in artificial light before we could tell that the sky was clear. The sun didn’t come over the ridge to our east until about 7:20.

It was unseasonably warm – nearly 60 – so I decided to go out in my kayak for what I’m fairly sure was the last paddle of the season. When I got down to the water, I was greeted by a sight that looked remarkably like the photograph atop this page*. The air over the cove was clear and still, but there was a wall of fog over the river just past Goose Island. I could barely make out a bluff on the far side of the river.

After I paddled out into the river and fog I found that visibility was only a few hundred yards; I couldn’t see the town of Essex until...

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The Dog that Didn’t Bark

I am ever more convinced that Obama is smarter – or at a minimum vastly more self-aware – than onetime rival, then subordinate, then hoped-for-successor Hillary Clinton.

I know, I know, they’re both supposed to be really smart – the media has been telling us so for years. But now, as to Obama, I can sort of see it. He, you see, has been dead silent on the supposed Trump-colluded-with-Russia story all along.

When I first commented on Obama’s fascinating silence on that score here back in April, I was making the perfectly logical inference that the reason for the former president’s reticence was that he knew that such claims had no substance, and so, didn’t want to tarnish his own legacy by associating himself with the media frenzy over baseless calumnies...

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Coming to Like Trump

I am beginning to like this guy Trump.

As longtime readers of these posts know, I gave money to and voted for Gary Johnson. I have regularly written about my differences – both stylistic and substantive – with the President. I am often horrified by his thin-skinned immaturity and un-presidential tweets and – more substantively – I am truly worried by his nonchalance about the growth of entitlement spending (typified by his acceptance of the pre-existing conditions aspect of Obamacare) and his threats to tear up the NAFTA treaty. I can read a column like this one (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/452799/donald-trump-america-talent-chief) by die-hard never-Trumper Jonah Goldberg and agree with every word.

And yet, … I think he is doing a lot of good. Let me detail the ways:

– I ...

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By Any Means Necessary?

A man I have known for a long time and both like and respect recently posted the following comment on LinkedIn:

“The President’s move on Dreamers is wrong. Very wrong.”

I am not in the habit of publicly dissenting from LinkedIn comments, but I couldn’t restrain myself from leaving the following response:

“Disagree. A President doesn’t get to unilaterally change laws as President Obama did in this instance, which is why DACA is an unconstitutional infringement on legislative powers; Congress must act to grant relief from current law if relief is to be granted. Process matters.” 

His comment got a lot more ‘likes’ than mine did.

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Fewer and fewer people – even highly accomplished ones like the man whose comment I was responding to above – have much reverence, or even respec...

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Bourgeois Values

As you may know, two law school professors – Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania and Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego – recently provoked a noisy backlash from progressives associated with – and culturally dominant at – their institutions by co-authoring this (http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/paying-the-price-for-breakdown-of-the-countrys-bourgeois-culture-20170809.html) oped praising bourgeois values. In it, they gave advice that once would have been seen as anodyne – trite, even – but that many now see as racist:

“That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness...

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Race, One More Time

What is racism if not the idea that race matters?

But just try to suggest that race doesn’t matter in polite company, and see how far that gets you. At a lovely dinner party on Saturday night I had a spirited discussion on precisely this topic with the woman who was sitting to my right, with whom I have been friendly for a long time. We are still on good terms; now she just thinks I’m nuts.

Her first response was that she has often been told by her black acquaintances that the people who claim to be colorblind are generally the ones who are the most bigoted. She didn’t mean to imply that I am a bigot, you understand, just to hint that I was on thin ice.

I hadn’t claimed that I didn’t see color, though; of course I do...

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A Universalist Vision

“I am human and I think that nothing of that which is human is alien to me. “

– Publius Terentius Afer, now known as Terence, a Roman poet and former slave

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Like most Americans, I have been following the violence employed as a political tactic around the country by the “antifa” left, and now by white nationalists in Charlottesville, with horror. These groups are mirror-images of each other, and not just in the tactics they employ. They are splinter-group reflections of a culture that has been discarding the universalist ideal (“All men are created equal”) in favor of narrower – and ugly – group interests.

I can’t begin to match the clarity of this (https://www.facebook.com/brendan.oneill.79/posts/1450097131747042?pnref=story) post on the sense of victimhood that drives...

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