Category 1. American Culture

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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Disparate Threads?

Some friends of mine are in the process of moving out of their home.  Their grown children don’t want their antiques – too much trouble.

My own tastes run to readily comprehensible things that reflect the artistry of others, but generally require a bit of tending. Sterling silver, mechanical clocks and mahogany furniture; pianos, bicycles and representational paintings. Bookcases full of printed books that I have read or hope to read.

When these things were in style, so were my views on individual liberties, personal responsibility and purpose.

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Who will need to own a car when plentiful, self-driving Uber-style vehicles always await our electronic signals? Who will need a hotel room when Airbnb evolves to the point at which appropriate rooms are available on command to people at al...

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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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What’s News?

President Trump and his allies are enjoying the media’s own goals http://thehill.com/homenews/media/340564-media-errors-fuel-trump-attacks, but the factual errors in these stories are a relatively unimportant symptom of the media’s bias problem.

Who cares, really, that only four intelligence agencies –  the CIA, FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency – had contributed to the conclusion that the Russians had interfered in the 2016 election, instead of the 17 agencies originally referenced by The New York Times and The Associated Press? As I’ve previously written, I – and, I assume, most people – believe that those four agencies were right – the Russians probably did their best to sow confusion and distrust about our election process, and i...

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Memorial Day Thoughts

I spent much of yesterday reading With the Old Breed by E.B. Sledge – a singularly appropriate choice for Memorial Day – for an upcoming book club meeting. As you may know, the book is a memoir of Sledge’s service as a Marine in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa; it was the basis for a recent, well-received PBS series produced by Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman.

Sledge describes the living hell that is war with clarity and humility.

The island campaigns in which he fought went on for weeks on end in conditions too ugly to fully describe here; the front-line troops who participated figured that sooner or later their numbers would be up, and most were right about that...

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Against Multiculturalism

Take a moment to think again about one of the most important sentences ever written:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, the Founders set out a proudly universalist vision of natural rights. If all men are created equal, then preferences for one tribe, sect or class over another, whether in law or custom, are wrong.

This statement was a (literally) revolutionary rejection of the caste systems – and tribe-based identities – of other nations of the world. It spoke of universal natural rights...

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Technology, Privacy and Freedom

Not long ago, the Beloved and I took a three-day trip to visit our older son and daughter-in-law in New Orleans. We flew from LaGuardia.

As we have long been accustomed to doing when leaving for short trips, we drove to the airport rather than use a taxi or car service. Big mistake: we had forgotten that the enormous old parking garage near the main terminal has been temporarily torn down as part of rebuilding the airport.

We were directed to park in a remote area that I had never seen before. As we awaited the bus that would take us through the construction mess and back to the terminal, I noticed a sign announcing that cash would not be accepted for payment on retrieving our car.

I wondered out loud to the Beloved if it was illegal for the Port Authority to refuse to accept cash: it say...

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I Don’t Want to Talk About It.

Is it possible to be thrown out of a tight-knit group that one was instrumental in forming? I have a chance to find out.

I am in a fabulous book club. I got the group rolling four or five years ago by recruiting a handful of close friends to the venture. On a rotating schedule, one person chooses a book, another cooks a meal and a third leads the discussion. We read all kinds of books, and our subsequent discussions are augmented by fine food and wine. We are just as competitive about the consumables as we are about the selections of, and our opinions about, the books.

Considering that the book club is small, and consists exclusively of people who are sociologically similar (we are all prosperous men, 55+) the points of view represented are widely divergent: our political and religious or...

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The Old Continent(s?)

At present, I am sitting in the bar of an old hotel in Lisbon, nursing a drink while my beloved has a pot of tea. Over the last couple of days, we have walked all over this city.

Europe is the cradle of Western Civilization; it is breathtakingly beautiful and its inhabitants have refined the enjoyment of life’s physical delights to a high art. Even so, its present state saddens me: Europe is tired.

For those who have money and live here or, like us, are just passing through, life is still beautiful, but whole countries look backward with nostalgia and forward with concern.

Europe’s native populations have opted for the illusions of security – personal and societal – provided by their local governments and the EU – over grander visions and more sustaining values.

For most Western Europeans,...

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