Quote of the Day: Farewell, TWS

 

In honor of the departed Weekly Standard, I wanted to share a favorite quote from one of their finest writers, Matt Labash. He wrote this during the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary.

“As one who was never terribly enamored of Hillary Clinton’s personality to start with, I grudgingly admit to enjoying her recent near-tears transformation. Plenty of critics concede her rarely seen emotion was heartfelt, but also that it was due to the 20-hour-day rigors of the campaign trail, making her perhaps the only candidate ever to win the New Hampshire primary because she needed a nap. Still, it was refreshing to watch her punch through the icy crust of her own phoniness, so that the molten core of artificiality could gush forth.”

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The Weekly Standard, R.I.P.

 

Today, Philip Anschutz shut down The Weekly Standard. I, for one, wish that he had refrained from doing so. I do not mean to say that I agree with the stance Bill Kristol has taken with regard to Trump. I have known Bill for decades, and I have a great deal of respect for him. But I think him in error. Trump’s flaws are obvious, but the available alternatives are worse — and the man has not only done a number of good things. He has also forced a rethinking of post-Cold war policies with regard to the economy and our posture in the larger world that have pretty obviously failed.

But whether or not I think Bill right or in error on this point does not matter much. He founded and for quite a number of years edited a magazine that was nearly always thoughtful and a pleasure to read. Steve Hayes, who took it over when Trump became President, has done a terrific job, and there is nothing out there that will replace it.

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Who Was Renia Spiegel?

 

“Hear, O Israel, Save Us” “Oh God Almighty! Help us! Take care of us, give us your blessing.” 

Last week I was given a copy of the November issue of Smithsonian magazine, featuring a story on a young Jewish girl in Poland named Renia Spiegel. She created a diary right before she unknowingly entered Hell, as the horrors of the Holocaust infiltrated her innocent world. It’s a miracle that this diary survived at all if you read how it came to be found, and how it traveled over 70 years to become a powerfully troubled voice once again in 2018. The Smithsonian translated it in its entirety.

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“Sad Radicals”: A Very Insightful Read

 

I am increasingly fond of Quillette as a source of articles with a unique perspective. The recent piece Sad Radicals is remarkably insightful. A self-described former radical discusses the inherently destructive and self-destructive mindset that consumes the true believer:

The paradigm of suspicion leaves the radical exhausted and misanthropic, because any action or statement can be shown with sufficient effort to hide privilege, a microaggression, or unconscious bias. Quoted in JM, the anarchist professor Richard Day proposes “infinite responsibility”: “we can never allow ourselves to think that we are ‘done,’ that we have identified all of the sites, structures, and processes of oppression ‘out there’ or ‘in here,’ inside our own individual and group identities.” Infinite responsibility means infinite guilt, a kind of Christianity without salvation: to see power in every interaction is to see sin in every interaction. All that the activist can offer to absolve herself is Sisyphean effort until burnout. Eady’s summarization is simpler: “Everything is problematic.”

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How Gods Are Made

 

The late, great Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors. In his fantasy universe known as the Discworld (so named because the world is a disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants standing on a turtle swimming through space) he explored nearly every facet of humanity: war, peace, family, crime, politics, time travel, magic, and even religion. A concept running through a number of his books is the notion that believing in something causes it to exist and grow strong.

In Small Gods, a satire on the Reformation, he describes the origin of the gods thus: just as the physical universe was formed of the collation of dust from the origin of the universe, there was a great cloud of gods spread evenly over the universe. As humans believed in a god, it became stronger and better able to answer prayers. Moreover, the gods took on the characteristics of the humans who believed in it — a god of shepherds had a different personality than a god of goatherds, as their followers had different views of how one controls livestock — and the god took its physical characteristics from the sculptures and icons of the followers. e.g. Patina, the goddess of wisdom, was supposed to be associated with an owl; because her most famous sculptor was terrible at sculpting birds, she now has a penguin.

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Ireland Has Become a Sick, Sick Place

 

Image may contain: outdoorMany people ask me how has Ireland fallen so badly. Whilst there are many reasons, this picture summarizes at least an example of it.

This is the Twitter account of 32-year-old Simon Harris, a vain, egotistical, power-hungry mediocrity who somehow managed to become Health Minister before he reached the decade of puberty. Take a long look at this photo.

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First GPS III Satellite Scheduled to be Launched by SpaceX on Tuesday

 
GPS III SV01 is now encapsulated and will be placed on the SpaceX rocket for Dec. 18 launch. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The first GPS III satellite is scheduled to be launched next Tuesday. It will be more difficult to jam or spoof. In the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the GPS signal is spoofed and the British frigate HMS Devonshire is sent off-course into Chinese-held waters in the South China Sea (see below). One knew that GPS had become established when it was used in a Bond plot.

This trick will be more difficult once a large number of GPS III satellites are launched (always keep inertial navigation systems as a backup for your warship). When my book was published in 2013, it was projected that the first III would be launched in 2015. The delays have resulted from problems with the new ground control system.

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The Venerable Israeli Soldier and the Holiest Place on Earth

 

Catholics may have Lourdes and Moslems may have Mecca, but for me, the holiest place on earth is the central bus station in Jerusalem.

Because of the soldiers, in transit, who are everywhere. And in their faces, I see G-d.

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TV History: Christmastime and Color Television

 

When I was a kid, children’s books had holiday stories about getting in the family car and driving to Grandma’s farm. (Schoolbooks back then were usually old and worn, and the cars in the pictures had that lumpy round prewar look, so strange to “modern” kids of the Fifties). Amid the ducks and the horses and the sheep, they’d chop down a tree at dawn on Christmas morning and decorate it with candles and strings of popcorn. Then, after a big country breakfast, they’d go to church. More strange stuff: they had “ministers”, not priests, and they were addressed as “Doctor” or “Reverend”, not as “Father”. Weird place, the American countryside. We used to wonder if it really existed. Christmas was nothing like that where we lived.

This was the New York City of The Honeymooners era, of West Side Story. You see a bit of it in The Godfather. For the price of a subway token, you could visit Macy’s, Gimbels, the F.A.O. Schwartz toy store, the gigantic Lionel train layout at Madison Hardware on 23rd Street, and the big tree at Rockefeller Center, a convenient stroll from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. (Protestants had their own cathedral farther uptown, St. John the Divine.) New York was always a city of tiny apartments. Back then it was also a time of big families; I was the oldest of six boys. Everyone had lots of relatives nearby. Grandparents almost invariably had European accents of one kind or another (In my family, a thick Scottish burr; in my wife’s family, Yiddish). The city’s churches and synagogues were packed year round, but Easter/Passover and Christmas/Hanukkah took it to the highest level.

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Originalism in Theology and Law: Venerating Authoritative Texts

 

Ever since Marvin Olasky quoted SCOTX Justice Nathan Hecht on Harriet Miers’ originalism, I’ve been aware that there are connections between originalism in law and religion. I’ve done a bit of writing on the subject, including a failed unpublished essay and a draft of a chapter in a book that isn’t published either. Unlike the essay, the book is not a failed project; it’s just new and unfinished.

Mark Eckel, and I have agreed to be co-editors. Inshallah, we’ll put together our own chapters, the introduction chapter, and a proposal and get things underway sometime next year with a call for proposals from other possible authors. My finished chapter uncovers an important insight: Originalism in biblical theology is a bit more of an intentionalism, and originalism in American Constitutional law is a textualism, and there’s a reason for that difference.

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Bankruptcy and the Boy Scouts

 

This morning, I caught a squib in The Wall Street Journal reporting that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is contemplating filing for bankruptcy as a consequence of “dwindling membership and escalating legal costs related to lawsuits over how it handled allegations of sex abuse.”

I was aware of the decline in participation and I had a pretty good understanding of some of the causes. But I had somehow missed the fact that there was a sex abuse scandal — perhaps because 27 years have passed since it was exposed in The Washington Times and 24 since Patrick Boyle published his book on the subject: Scout’s Honor: Sexual Abuse in America’s Most Trusted Institution.

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TIME Misses the Mark

 

On Tuesday, TIME Magazine continued a tradition held since 1927: naming a “Person of the Year.” The publication sets out to feature a person, group or idea that, according to its editors “for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year.” In not too bated breath, TIME’s Editor –In-Chief Edward Felsenthal named “The Guardians and the War on Truth” as its feature. Four different covers featured Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Md. But this year TIME Magazine did more than just name journalists – it exposed the failings of journalism.

Following its own standard, the “award” is supposed be bestowed upon the greatest influencer of events. But are we not told journalists, these “Guardians of the Truth” are not supposed influence? They tell us time and again they are out to find the Truth, report the Truth, expose the Truth. They report the story, not be the story. Nothing but the facts, right? The Washington Post’s Post 2016 election slogan became “Democracy dies in darkness.” In February of 2017, The New York Times debuted a new marketing campaign: “The truth is more important than now than ever.” CNN came up with something about confusing bananas with apples. Today we are inundated with dire warnings of America’s impending doom from ‘fake news’ and misinformation campaigns aimed at influencing public opinion. But if journalists’ sworn duty is to report facts, how can they also be named as having the most influence?

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Trump and a “Man For All Seasons”

 

To my never-Trump friends: This National Review piece by Bradley Smith is important. He outlines the reasons why there is no campaign finance violation to which Cohen is, nonetheless, pleading guilty. It is an instructive read in toto, but please also focus on this cautionary summary:

In short, Michael Cohen is pleading guilty to something that isn’t a crime. Of course, people will do that when a zealous prosecutor is threatening them with decades in prison. But his admissions are not binding on President Trump, and Trump should fight these charges ferociously.

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A Discovery in Washington Park

 

A few years back, Marie and I were wandering around Portland’s huge Washington Park when we noticed a nice area with a bench, so we walked over a sat down. I looked down and found this little statue on the bench beside me.

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Saint Nicholas or Nick? Veneration and Popularization

 

Several years ago, I was walking through a Southwest Airlines concourse to my gate, when I saw a tall, thin Saint Nicholas deplaning. It was Christmas Eve, so I was not surprised. Continuing towards my gate, I spied a traditionally padded Santa Claus, coming off another flight. “Of course,” I realized, “you should expect to see Saint Nick in the Southwest Airlines concourse.”

As different as the two characters in the airport appeared, how much greater is the gap between the Nicholas, whose Saint’s Day is 6 December, and the jolly old Saint Nick, whose arrival coincides with and even crowds out the Christ Child or Christkindl? What does the persistence of the former and popularity of the latter say about veneration? ‘Tis the season to reflect on Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus, without going full Newsweek.

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An Old Book

 

When the wife and I had been married but a few years we moved from Portland, TX, to Richardson. I don’t remember what got us in the department store, I think it was a Dillards, but we found an oak bookcase (weighs a ton). We purchased three sections, each a bit over seven feet tall and a bit over three feet wide, one with a small desk built in, one with a couple of drawers at the bottom, and one with nothing but bookshelves. We have had it for, I suppose, 40 years now and it has moved from Richardson to Garland, to Jersey Village, to Boca Raton (FL), Cypress (TX), and now to its final home in Macon County, TN. All that is just to say I have been collecting books for a long time from different places.

Anyhow, Sue is hosting a ladies Christmas party tonight and she asked me to declutter the bookcase for the party. I spent at least half a day yesterday doing that and, in the process, came across an old book I have no idea where it came from or how it got into my bookcase. It was printed in 1875, in good condition but very fragile, and is titled “Preaching Without Notes.” Now I got curious because, in the same era, that is what R.L. Dabney (Stonewall Jackson’s Chief of Staff, his biographer and also a Confederate Army chaplain) insisted upon. I did not recognize the name of the author (Richard S. Storrs) so I Startpaged it. Found him — no surprise — on Wikipedia.

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Mounting Debt at the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

 

Now you may think I don’t have a dog in this hunt. Jewish gift giving is a fairly recent phenomenon. Then again, there are plenty of Jews who have put up Chanukah trees, too, and talk about Santa Claus coming to town. But I digress.

In my childhood family, gift-giving at Chanukah was very modest. The two years I remember most—one, I received a beautiful knit blouse with large pearl-like buttons. I wore it for years until it fell apart (or maybe I grew out of it). The other nights of Chanukah I received candy, a hairbrush, and other inexpensive treats. Another year my parents bought my brother and me a gift to share: a second-hand bicycle with training wheels. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. It never occurred to my parents to go into debt for gifts.

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Collusion Is Possible

 

It has become an article of faith in some quarters on the right – well, most — that the Mueller investigation has found no evidence of collusion with Russia and has accordingly shifted gears to process crimes like lying to the FBI or obstruction of justice. Having decided that this must be true, many have called for Mueller to wrap it up.

But this requires a lot of wishful thinking.

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Before the Holidays Get Away from You…

 

Every year at the beginning of January, we all complain to each other about how fast the holidays went by. Especially for those of us who are older, the universe seems to slam on the gas pedal and we hold on for dear life. Parties, gift shopping, baking cookies, decorating: doing all the requisite tasks that make up this time of year.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in the mood, the sense of rushing and getting things done; the mood is contagious, and by keeping busy, I feel in some ways I’m participating. But I’ve decided to spend the rest of December in a different state of mind.

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I Got Your Shutdown Right Here!

 

I loved the Oval Office drama with Don, Chuck, and Nancy. I even enjoyed filling in imaginary speech bubbles above Mike’s head. While all the players in politics and media want to run this “government shutdown” hype train, it is mostly hype.

Congress arranges the discretionary budget, which is about one-third of annual federal spending, into twelve standard annual appropriations. Just to be clear on the current state of the 12 discretionary budget appropriations:

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