Category 1. American Culture

American Anomie?

To an extent that I have only come to appreciate with the passage of years, I was born in the shadow of World War II. As a boy in the 1960s, that war seemed like ancient history to me; my father had fought in it, but refused to speak about his wartime experiences, so all I had for perspective about that actually recent history were patriotic war movies of the sort that haven’t been made since that time. In those movies, our guys wore the white hats and they always triumphed, albeit generally at a poignantly felt cost. 

To my father and others of his generation, no doubt war memories, many of them horrid, were all too fresh – the thirteen years between the war’s end and my birth must have seemed like the blink of an eye to them – shorter than the time between 9/11, which I remember wi...

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Failing Gatekeepers

I attended Phillips Exeter and Princeton. As an undergraduate, I majored in English and studied three other languages – one living, two dead. I loved most of my courses.

As I recall, in the late 1970s standards were quite high in Princeton’s English Department; I worked very hard at my studies and achieved only the level of being slightly above average in my departmental ranking. I did not graduate with honors. At the time, I excused my undistinguished academic record as having been caused by my participation in – and an excessive focus on – varsity athletics, but as many others have shown, that’s a lame excuse.

My loves of reading and writing, nurtured through my formal education, have followed me through life; I would also like to think that my course of study – which bo...

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About the Suburbs

In the immediate aftermath of WWI, commuter train lines were built reaching up into Westchester County. An area just outside the city’s limits that had been countryside became the town where, many decades later, the Beloved Spouse and I would raise our children and spend much of our lives. Within the space of a few years after what’s now our train line went in, the land was cut into quarter-acre and half-acre lots, thousands of houses were built and a suburb was born.

Initially, many of the homes were nearly identical. The house that we bought 32 years ago and lived in for our first ten years here has a twin just a block away. Other houses on the street also have twins a block away...

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System Failures

That international trade is strongly positive in its over-all effects is the strongly-held, consensus view among both economists generally and my social class in particular. I have no doubt that the economists’ perspective is correct, as far as it goes – meaning, that trade increases global wealth by making the best use of different nations’ comparative advantages – but it has nothing to say about those who lose out as a result of the improved efficiencies.

Global trade, like migrations and the constant, churning changes inherent to capitalism, disadvantages some while benefiting others. Creative destruction is the very engine of a free market...

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Generation Z – Back to Square One?

Two weeks ago, the Beloved Spouse and I rewarded ourselves for the considerable effort of having hosted a large family gathering over Christmas by slipping away for a week of relaxation and recreation in a much warmer place. Five of the seven days of our vacation were spent as part of a professionally managed group adventure featuring daily cycling, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and/or paddle-boarding. Beside us, there were eight other paying participants, mostly couples or parent/adult child pairs; in addition to the sporting adventures, we all stayed at the same two resorts and ate meals together. Everybody got along well and as far as I could tell, had a marvelous time.

Among the other participants were a retired bond trader of roughly my age and one of his adult sons, a graduate stu...

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Private Civility/Public Incivility

One of the many ways in which I am fortunate is that I am often surrounded by people who disagree with the political ideas that I cherish most. When many of your closest relatives, friends and colleagues are on the other side on important issues, you learn to see people who disagree with you as merely misguided rather than, as is too often the case where such differences arise among strangers, as ignorant, stupid or flat-out evil.

I know that some of the people who are dearest to me feel just as strongly as I do about political issues, but have managed to arrive at the opposite conclusions to mine...

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Falling Standards/Failing Students

The rot in our schools is far worse than we want to admit. To get a sense of how bad it is, a quick read of this post https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/how-colleges-are-ripping-generation-ill-prepared-students will give you an overview. The author’s (unimpeachable) data is drawn from the recently-released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/), which should be a source of grief to one and all. Quoting the linked post: “Only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent did so in math. Among black students, only 17 percent tested proficient or better in reading, and just 7 percent reached at least a proficient level in math.”

Amazingly, most of these manifestly unprepared high school gra...

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Media Hypocrisy

La Rochefoucauld famously quipped that “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”. True enough, but I still find that particular trait grating. Most people do.

I want to barf when I read the press’s endless encomia to Senator McCain, not because I hated the Senator – I most certainly did not – but because I’m old enough to remember when, during the presidential campaign of 2008, the very same media – indeed, in many cases the same people –  painted him as a Crypto-Nazi. At that time, I was contributing to McCain’s (sadly, inept) campaign and paying very close attention to how he was being portrayed.

Now they praise McCain for two reasons – that he hated Trump and that he’s dead, in that order...

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A Great Country

Governor Cuomo has spent recent days walking back a comment he made in a speech last week that America “…was never that great.”

In trying to show his opposition to all things Trump, Cuomo had gone too far, insulting those who take pride in our country’s accomplishments. It’s impossible to imagine such a sentiment having crossed the lips of previous generations of progressive politicians like, to pick a not-so-random example, Mario Cuomo. The son lacks the father’s deftness – and his judgement.

Besides being politically foolish, the younger Cuomo’s comment was wrong by any conceivable objective measure...

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A Culturist

As you may know, the word libertarian fairly describes my thinking on most broadly political, economic and even social matters; there should be a word that captures how I, and others like me, think about culture. I propose the word culturist. I think – and clutch your pearls now if you are one of the perpetually offended – that some cultures are better than others.

By better, I mean both that such cultures are – in broad terms – fairer and that they encourage behaviors that result in the creation of vastly more wealth and knowledge. They help mankind not lead lives that are, in Hobbes’s immortal phrase, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

Over time the vast majority of people who have ever lived have done so in Hobbesian conditions; we do not...

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