Woke Restaurant Serves Discomfort Food

The DC reader who sends this says the Schadenfreude is delicious. He is correct. Washington City Paper reports on the hilariously failed effort of Busboys and Poets, a local restaurant, to be racially woke. Excerpts:

Sometimes you can have the best of intentions and still miss the mark completely. Such is the case with Busboys and Poets‘ “Race Card” initiative, which aims to foster discussions about race and privilege among its diners by handing out literal “Race Cards”—cards featuring larger questions about the state of race relations in America—to patrons as they enter.

recent Facebook post featuring one of the “Race Cards”—which reads “Did you perceive me as racist because I’m a white male?”—has garnered more than 150 shares and even more comments, with people criticizing Busboys and Poets for taking a somewhat tone-deaf approach in trying to foster a conversation about race. Other “Race Cards” that Busboys and Poets employees are handing out read: “What is your experience with race in America?,” “Have you ever been in a place where you were the racial minority?,” and “How often do you discuss race with your friends or family?”

Akosua Johnson, who posted the picture that went viral, says that a bartender at Busboys and Poets handed them the card when they sat down at the bar. Johnson, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, wrote on Facebook that the bartender, who was white, “had no idea how to actually engage with this poorly constructed, forced ‘conversation’ and so just walked away immediately after dropping the cards in the middle of my meal.”

Oh boy. This is getting good. I had to re-read the next part of the story to realize that the antecedent to the pronoun “them” is actually one person. A very woke person: Akosua Johnson, who was REALLY OFFENDED that Andy Shallal, owner of the restaurant had no reached out to the Professionally Woke Grifter-American Community for advice before playing the race card. He probably figured that by being intentionally progressive — left-wingery is written into the mission statement of the local restaurant chain — he was covered. Wrong!

You can imagine what happened next — but it’s fun to read the indignant statement from DC’s Black Lives Matter, in which its spokeswoman excommunicates Shallal and his restaurant, because he tried to do the racially correct (by BLM standards) thing in the wrong way. Akosua Johnson concludes, sadly: “The creators of this Busboys program erred in not choosing to engage more directly with racial justice activists and educators.”

Whole thing here. It usually makes sense to just shut up and cook. Who the heck wants to go eat or drink at a restaurant that serves discomfort food? Busboys and Poets, which describes itself as “a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted,” deserves this pain.

Meanwhile, Akosua Johnson would like you to compensate Akosua Johnson for Akosua Johnson’s  semi-hemi-demi-shakedown social justice accomplishment (or at least hire zir to enlighten the unenlightened):

Read more from The American Conservative…

The Racial Double Standard

Coleman Hughes, a black student at Columbia, goes there. His essay begins like this:

In the fall of 2016, I was hired to play in Rihanna’s back-up band at the MTV Video Music Awards. To my pleasant surprise, several of my friends had also gotten the call. We felt that this would be the gig of a lifetime: beautiful music, primetime TV, plus, if we were lucky, a chance to schmooze with celebrities backstage.

But as the date approached, I learned that one of my friends had been fired and replaced. The reason? He was a white Hispanic, and Rihanna’s artistic team had decided to go for an all-black aesthetic—aside from Rihanna’s steady guitarist, there would be no non-blacks on stage. Though I was disappointed on my friend’s behalf, I didn’t consider his firing as unjust at the time—and maybe it wasn’t. Is it unethical for an artist to curate the racial composition of a racially-themed performance? Perhaps; perhaps not. My personal bias leads me to favor artistic freedom, but as a society, we have yet to answer this question definitively.

One thing, however, is clear. If the races were reversed—if a black musician had been fired in order to achieve an all-white aesthetic—it would have made front page headlines. It would have been seen as an unambiguous moral infraction. The usual suspects would be outraged, calling for this event to be viewed in the context of the long history of slavery and Jim Crow in this country, and their reaction would widely be seen as justified. Public-shaming would be in order and heartfelt apologies would be made. MTV might even enact anti-bias trainings as a corrective.

Though the question seems naïve to some, it is in fact perfectly valid to ask why black people can get away with behavior that white people can’t. The progressive response to this question invariably contains some reference to history: blacks were taken from their homeland in chains, forced to work as chattel for 250 years, and then subjected to redlining, segregation, and lynchings for another century. In the face of such a brutal past, many would argue, it is simply ignorant to complain about what modern-day blacks can get away with.

Yet there we were—young black men born decades after anything that could rightly be called ‘oppression’ had ended—benefitting from a social license bequeathed to us by a history that we have only experienced through textbooks and folklore. And my white Hispanic friend (who could have had a tougher life than all of us, for all I know) paid the price. The underlying logic of using the past to justify racial double-standards in the present is rarely interrogated. What do slavery and Jim Crow have to do with modern-day blacks, who experienced neither? Do all black people have P.T.S.D from racism, as the Grammy and Emmy award-winning artist Donald Glover recently claimed? Is ancestral suffering actually transmitted to descendants? If so, how? What exactly are historical ‘ties’ made of?

Hughes goes on to lament the double standard the public applies to famous black writers. For example:

The celebrated journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates provides another example of the lower ethical standard to which black writers are held. In his #1 New York Times bestseller, Between the World and Me, Coates explained that the policemen and firemen who died on 9/11 “were not human to me,” but “menaces of nature.”1 This, it turned out, was because a friend of Coates had been killed by a black cop a few months earlier. In his recent essay collection, he doubled down on this pitiless sentiment: “When 9/11 happened, I wanted nothing to do with any kind of patriotism, with the broad national ceremony of mourning. I had no sympathy for the firefighters, and something bordering on hatred for the police officers who had died.”2 Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Bari Weiss—a young Jewish woman—was recently raked over the coals for tweeting, “Immigrants: They get the job done,” in praise of the Olympic ice-skater Mirai Nagasu, a second-generation Japanese-American. Accused of ‘othering’ an American citizen, Weiss came under so much fire that The Atlantic ran twoseparate pieces defending her. That The Atlantic saw it necessary to vigorously defend Weiss, but hasn’t had to lift a finger to defend Coates, whom they employ, evidences the racial double-standard at play. From a white writer, an innocuous tweet provokes histrionic invective. From a black writer, repeated expressions of unapologetic contempt for public servants who died trying to save the lives of others on September 11 are met with fawningpraise from leftwing periodicals, plus a National Book Award and a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant.

Hughes says this double standard is common in society:

But we make an exception for blacks. Indeed, what George Orwell wrote in 1945seems more apt today: “Almost any English intellectual would be scandalised by the claim that the white races are superior to the coloured, whereas the opposite claim would seem to him unexceptionable even if he disagreed with it.” Only a black intellectual, for instance, could write an op-ed arguing that black children should not befriend white children because “[h]istory has provided little reason for people of color to trust white people,” and get it published in the New York Times in 2017. An identical piece with the races reversed would rightly be relegated to fringe white supremacist forums. In defense of such racist drivel, it won’t suffice to repeat the platitude that ‘black people can’t be racist,’ as if redefining a word changes the ethical status of the thing that the word signifies. Progressives ought not dodge the question: Why are blacks the only ethnic group routinely and openly encouraged to nurse stale grievances back to life?

Read the whole thing. It’s very, very brave. Hughes is a black undergraduate at an Ivy League university, yet he has no been afraid to say what has been unsayable. That man has guts.

By the way, his essay is not merely an exercise in whataboutism. He addresses real philosophical and moral concerns in it. He focuses on blacks, but as a general matter, if you read the mainstream press, you’ll find there’s a tendency to treat gays and other minority groups favored by liberals with kid gloves — as if they were symbols, not real people, with the same virtues and vices that everybody else has. For example, in a previous job, I observed that some liberals in the newsroom viewed local Muslims through the lens of the culture war between liberals and conservatives, and did not want to hold them to the same standard with regard to extremist rhetoric, apparently because doing so might encourage conservatives in their own biases.

Another personal example: last year, I wrote several posts about Tommy Curry, a radical black nationalist who teaches philosophy at Texas A&M (see here and here). In his written work and spoken advocacy, Curry advocates what can only be described as anti-white hatred. Don’t take my word for it; go read the blogs I wrote, which quote generously from, and link to, Curry’s own work. A white man who spoke the same way about any racial minority would never have been hired by a university — A&M hired him knowing exactly what they were getting, because he had published — and would never be retained by one after his racism became known. I linked in one of the blogs to a podcast (subtitled, “White People Are The Problem”) on which Curry was a regular guest; on that particular episode, this philosophy professor argued that white people cannot be reasonable, because they are white.

Imagine being a white student in that man’s class.

But there is a different standard for bigots from the left. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote a long piece about the fallout from my blogs, and positioned it as Curry having suffered because he wanted to “force a conversation about race and violence” — a conversation that people didn’t want to hear. The writer — no doubt reflecting the biases of his own professional class — could not seem to grasp why people would be really offended by the unapologetic racism of Tommy Curry’s writing and speaking. This is precisely the double standard that Coleman Hughes decries. It is lucrative for radicals like Curry, Coates, and others, but a just society should hold us all to the same standard of discourse and morality. This is one aspect of the Enlightenment that I am eager to defend. It’s not only morally right, but practically, observing it it is the only way we will be able to keep the peace in a pluralistic country.

I found Hughes’s essay via Prufrock, a free daily digest that comes to you in e-mail, to which you can and should subscribe by clicking here. 

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Of Morality And Marshmallows

The Atlantic reports on a new study suggesting that the famous “marshmallow test” is unreliable as a predictor of future economic instability. Excerpt:

In the case of this new study, specifically, the failure to confirm old assumptions pointed to an important truth: that circumstances matter more in shaping children’s lives than Mischel and his colleagues seemed to appreciate.

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

Maybe so. But might it also be the case that children raised in more affluent homes will have been taught the value of resisting their impulses? I say this because one of my own children has had a very demanding sweet tooth from earliest childhood. He is also impulsive by nature. It has taken years of effort on the part of his mother and me to train him to say no to his impulses — not only for sugar, but, as he has gotten older and started earning spending money, his enthusiasms for buying things that strike his fancy. Many times I have pondered the difficulty he is going to have managing his money if he doesn’t get this impulsiveness under control. He’s a very good kid, highly moral and responsible, but impulsiveness is his Achilles’ heel.

He’s not being raised in poverty. We are middle class people, but culturally I guess that puts us with more in common with the affluent than not. Our impulsive child has been raised in a stable household — materially and emotionally — so there are no environmental factors that nurture his impulsiveness. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, this is simply one of his passions, something he has to struggle against. I have my own particular passions (anger and gluttony). Orthodoxy teaches that life itself is a struggle to crucify the passions and order ones desires towards the will of God. There is nothing wrong in principle with wanting to eat a marshmallow, but if your reason and your will are overcome by that desire to eat a marshmallow, you are weak, and can fall into sin. The regular fasting that Orthodox Christians do is designed to train the will to desire what God desires for us, not what we desire for ourselves.

Anyway, all of that is prelude to what I want to tell you. Last night, I was at a dinner party with some friends. One of them, N., told a long story about a local carpenter she and her husband had hired to do some renovations on their house. I won’t tell the story in depth, because the story is hers to tell, and she’s a writer. The gist of the story is that N. and her husband have been working with this guy for a long time — it’s a big project — and have gotten to know him well. He’s working class, and economically quite precarious. N. said the man has become a friend, and that she and her husband have been working hard to help him stabilize his life.

N. said — again, I’m summing up, but the details are sort of breathtaking — that the carpenter’s personal life is a study in chaos. He cannot grasp that he has the power to determine future events by the choices he makes today. A sense of moral agency totally escapes him. He sees N.’s ordinary family — they have kids — and thinks that they are simply one of fate’s winners. N. talked about the extraordinary lengths she and her husband have gone to befriend and to help this man, but how ultimately it has been futile. No matter what they say to him, no matter what they do for him, he cannot get it together. And he is leaving all kinds of chaos in his wake (several wives, kids, etc.).

I told N. that my wife and I have been in the very same situation, trying to help someone just like that who had become a friend … and in the end, concluding that it was futile. I wrote about it in the past on this blog: how I had gone to my lawyer, offering to pay him to represent this impoverished friend in a particular case. Lawyer said he would take my money and meet with the friend, but that in his lengthy experience with these cases, he could tell me that I’d be wasting my money and his time, because my friend would not follow through. It’s in the nature of people who get themselves into these kinds of situations, he said, to keep doing what got them into that situation in the first place. I told him I would be willing to take that chance to help her.

Next time I saw this friend, I told her to make an appointment with Lawyer X., that he would be willing to advise her, and that I would pay the bill. She thanked me profusely, but said that wouldn’t be necessary that she had decided to … well, that she had decided to keep doing the same stupid thing that got her into this bind in the first place. The country lawyer’s practical experience in dealing with the poor was wiser than my heart-on-the-sleeve idealism. Not for the first time did I feel like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story. (My future epitaph: “Call me Azzberry”.)

At dinner last night, my friend and I dwelled on the intractability of human nature in cases like this. She said that she had to conclude that a stable family life in childhood provides psychological goods that cannot be given through any other way. There aren’t enough government programs, personal charitable efforts, or anything else to compensate adequately for a chaotic childhood. My friend was certainly not saying that we can wash our hands of the responsibility for our neighbor’s welfare, but she was concluding — accurately — that we have to recognize the limits of our ability to change the lives of others. She was also saying that her experience with the carpenter made her more fully aware of how important it is to do everything she can to give her own children a stable home life.

Notice that I’m not saying — nor did I hear her to say — “affluent” home life. My folks never had a lot of money. We were an ordinary working-class to lower-middle-class family. But the gift my mother and father gave me of an orderly, stable childhood was priceless, I now see. How did they do it? They were both imperfect people who endured their share of difficulties in marriage, caused by their own flaws, as well as a period of economic stress. My father is no longer with us to discuss the matter, but the truth is, neither one of them would have been given over to much self-reflection on the question. They were the kind of people who would have simply said, “We made a vow,” and left it at that. For them, that was reason enough to stay together — that, and they always made it clear that the needs of us kids came before their own. That was just how my folks went through life. Not to get too philosophical about it, but for them, that was the Tao.

That wouldn’t have guaranteed stability in my family’s or my late sister’s, but they gave us such a good model of how family was supposed to work. Again, I don’t want to hold my mom and dad out to have been perfect. I don’t think there are any perfect families, and certainly mine had its particular flaws, some of which had unfortunate long-term consequences. That said, I am so very grateful to my parents for holding things together, and showing my sister and me that it is possible to build that kind of life, even when you don’t have much money.

My father was the chief breadwinner in our household, and, because they were a traditional 1950s-era couple, he was the one who dictated how our financial resources would be handled. I find this interesting with relation to the Atlantic article because having grown up very poor in the Great Depression, he ought to have been shaped by the experience of inconstancy in a particular way. Remember, the Atlantic writer said:

There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

That’s how my father grew up, but that same experience made him far more likely to do what he could to hedge against chaos. He talked to Ruthie and me a lot about these things, relating him to his childhood. His own father was away from home for most of my dad’s early childhood, entirely because he had to work and send money back to support his wife, children, and elderly mother, who lived in the household. That sense of vulnerability made a profound impression on my dad, who was determined that his children would not feel it, if he could help it.

Daddy wasn’t unique in that. What I can’t quite understand today is why his response to childhood poverty and insecurity was so very different from what is normal today. That is, Daddy’s response was to live as an adult in such a way that he was less vulnerable to that chaos, and in which his own children were made less vulnerable to the chaos that would have come had outside pressures broken the family apart. I’ve written many times in this space about how he had deep compassion for people who were poor and suffering victims of circumstance, but also something bordering on contempt for people who were poor and suffering, but who always blamed others, or fate, for their suffering. He would say, “You can’t do nothin’ for people like that.” This was the opinion of a man who had once been poor, and who had lived his entire life in the same community as poor people, and working with them. Kind of like that country lawyer I mentioned above.

It seems to me that aside from his personal qualities, my father was the beneficiary of a local culture that, for better or for worse, had a strong bias against people living morally disordered lives. I should add that my dad had much more hostility towards middle class and wealthy people who lived that way. “They know better,” he would say. “They don’t have an excuse.” In his case, it wasn’t so much a matter of religion — my dad wasn’t particularly observant — as it was a matter of shame and honor. The culture that shaped my father’s code said it was dishonorable for men and women to live in ways that violated its core moral code. I heard my dad say on a number of occasions, “There’s no shame in being poor,” but he also spoke with stern judgment against men who abandoned their families, people who wouldn’t work, and so forth.

That code could be harsh, but it was more realistic about life than a lot of what passes for wisdom today. I think that has a lot to do with why Jordan Peterson is so popular. He gives to young men a sense of moral agency. Peterson is not Moses coming down from the summit of Sinai, but he talks common sense to a culture that has forgotten it. There has never been a society, and never will be a society, in which somebody can live like a fool and not pay the consequences — and for that matter, inflict consequences on others. You can’t not show up for work and expect to keep your job forever. You can’t ignore your kids and expect that they will grow up to be responsible people. You can’t get loaded every weekend and wonder why your roof is falling in, and won’t fix itself. You can’t allow television and social media to raise your children, and expect that they will be good.  And so forth.

“The world doesn’t owe you a living,” my father would lecture me, usually when I hadn’t done my homework, or failed to do something I was supposed to have done. I suppose this attitude is what made my dad a natural conservative. He couldn’t stand people who were ungrateful and lazy. His basic attitude towards us kids was: I bust my ass to provide for y’all, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you waste the opportunities you’ve been given. There was a time in my life when I thought he was so square, but the older I get, the more I see that there really isn’t any other way to live. My dad was keen to help people who were down on their luck, and I see now that he allowed himself to be taken advantage of by some folks with hard-luck stories. Mostly, though, what he was eager to do was to teach people how to help themselves, and to encourage them to do so. For him, this was a matter of natural justice. A society in which people were rewarded even though they did the wrong thing, or failed to do the right thing, was not a just or good society. And doing the right thing always meant subjugating your own desires to the greater good, especially the greater good of your family.

Here’s a funny thing: a few years back, when I was working with the African-American actor Wendell Pierce on his memoir of growing up in south Louisiana, I spent some time speaking with his Uncle L.C. Edwards, the last surviving member of Wendell’s parents’ generation. Uncle L.C. was the same age as my father, and like him, had grown up in rural poverty. I loved the stories of L.C.’s parents (that is, Wendell’s grandparents): poor black farmers who weren’t educated, but who had a very strong religious ethic, and who placed enormous value on education and self-discipline as the only reliable means of self-advancement. Poverty was the enemy of both L.C. and my father, but Lloyd and his siblings also had to deal with Jim Crow. If memory serves, every one of the children of Wendell’s grandparents got educated, and escaped poverty. I’m telling you, the chapter on Papo and Mamo (the grandchildren’s name for L.C.’s parents) is worth the price of the book. Here’s a characteristic excerpt:

One Christmas evening after supper, the Edwardses went to call on their College Point neighbors, to wish them a happy holiday. The kids were startled to go into one house and to see that all that family had eaten for their Christmas meal was potatoes and grits. When they returned home, Papo told the children, “This is what I mean when I tell you it’s important to save for a rainy day. If you put your money aside now, you will have enough to eat well on Christmas.”

Given the man Papo was, if the Edwardses had any food left, he probably took it to that poor family and didn’t tell his own children for the sake of preserving their neighbors’ dignity.

His children remembered Papo as a slow talker but a deep thinker. He never made a quick decision, but acted only after prayer, deliberation, and sleeping on it. Whatever the answer was, he arrived at it through careful reason, not passion. Acting on impulse was the sure way to lose your money, in Papo’s view.

Papo worked for a time in a sugar factory and received his weekly wages in a brown packet. He had a firm rule with himself: Wait twenty-four hours before spending a penny of it. Uncle L.C. said that as a young working man, he thought his father’s rule was silly. You have the money, he figured, so why not enjoy it?

But when he got married and started a family of his own, he understood Papo’s good sense and followed the rule himself. Uncle L.C., who worked at the DuPont chemical plant, has done well through saving and investing over the years. To this day, he credits Papo for teaching him by word and example the importance of being careful with your money and not letting your passions guide your decisions.

Talking with L.C. was like speaking with a black version of my own father. Though he had long been in retirement when I met him, L.C. was always thinking of ways he could make a little money. He told me about how he would take fatherless black boys from a nearby trailer park, and try to teach them something about working to make money and to plan for the future. He told me how sorry he felt for those young men, who had no father in the home to offer them direction, or a sense of responsible manhood.

But his pity had strict limits. Like my own father, L.C. was death on those who wouldn’t work or practice self-discipline. He told me about how his own wife, a retired public schoolteacher, quit her job the very day the last of their adult children no longer needed their help paying for college. She was of a generation for whom education was the most precious thing, their ticket out of poverty and oppression. Today, though, she was worn down by students who wouldn’t work, wouldn’t behave themselves, and parents who blamed the schools and the teachers for their kids’ failures.

American culture is far less friendly to the worldview of those Depression babies like L.C. and my father. Politics and economics are complicated things. You can’t simply apply a moral code to every situation, and expect it to solve the problem. But let’s recognize this: very few Americans in 2018 are as materially poor as my dad and L.C. Edwards were when they came into this world in the 1930s. Is there anybody in America today who is poorer than a black child born to uneducated farmers living in the Deep South under American apartheid? And yet, look what they did with what they had been given! There never will be a society in which family won’t matter, and in which moral self-discipline won’t matter. 

The wealthy, and those with social connections, can absorb a lot more disorder than the less well off can, but money won’t last forever.

The world we have today is wealthier, and in some ways is better able to defray the cost of that disorder. We have more of a social safety net today than we did back then. But this world is much poorer in social capital, which is not something you can raise from Chinese bankers.

There’s a lot of brokenness in this country, and no clear way to fix it. The people my dinner companion and I were talking about last night are white. They live in Charles Murray’s fictional Fishtown. They diverge greatly from the core values and practices of stable middle-class and well-off Americans, in ways that were not true a couple of generations ago. Society has grown far more individualistic and tolerant of non-conformity. This is not entirely a bad thing! But the cost to people who don’t have a lot of social and material capital to begin with has been immense. People love to imagine that if only we brought good jobs back to America, or voted in this or that political party, then these problems would solve themselves. I don’t believe that’s true. That’s no reason not to try to improve opportunities for people, but there are no government programs or private charitable initiatives that can meaningfully compensate for the loss of a sense of moral order and purpose.

Finally, I phrase occurred to me while writing this post, a fragment from something I’d read ages ago. I googled it, and the source turned up here. Here is the excerpt I was thinking about. The writer is talking about the 1950s:

It was a more human world in that it was a sexier world, because sex was still a story. Each high school senior class had exactly one girl who got pregnant and one guy who was the father, and it was the town’s annual scandal. Either she went somewhere and had the baby and put it up for adoption, or she brought it home as a new baby sister, or the couple got married and the town topic changed. It was a stricter, tougher society, but its bruising sanctions came from ancient wisdom.

We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”

The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.

Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate.

The author of those words is Peggy Noonan. She published them in, get this, 1992. Some things have gotten better over the last 26 years. For example, when she published this, David Dinkins was mayor of her town, New York City, and the city would record just over 2,000 homicides. Know how many the city recorded last year, 25 years after the column was published? Only 290.  Progress is real!

On the other hand, I can’t get out of my head the words spoken to me by a professor at an Evangelical Christian college. Speaking about the student body, which is predominantly white, he told me that he didn’t think most of them would ever be able to form stable families. I was shocked by this.These were not kids from the blighted projects or wretched rural trailer parks. Why not? I asked.

He said, “Because they have never seen it done.”

We live in a society in which the moral code that we applaud and the people we celebrate all say: Take the marshmallow now, and don’t worry about the future. This is going to cost us.

Read more from The American Conservative…

Why the Air Force Thinks It Can Turn Gamers Into Its Next Top Guns

In late May, the U.S. Air Force announced its intention to release an advanced video game simulation. The theory is that the game, if successful, will be an effective recruitment tool among high school students.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the U.S. Army already did the exact same thing with a game called “America’s Army,” launched in 2002. That one was for a while relatively popular, but as a recruitment tool there’s little doubt it failed. Indeed, it was panned early and often for claiming to offer a realistic soldiering experience while glamorizing it as an exciting and largely consequence-free adventure. The game, of course, never showed the tedium or the dark side of military service in conflict—but what proper recruitment propaganda ever does?

Not content to merely copy a failed program, the so-far untitled Air Force game seeks to combine the allure of video games with the Orwellian realities of modern “big data” applications that the government is so fond of. In this case, officials have suggested they are literally going to monitor players to spot particularly talented ones they can recruit.

Call it recruitment recon.

As an example, imagine that the Air Force identifies a player who is particularly good at controlling the game’s simulated planes, so they offer him/her a $100,000 signing bonus to sign up for the real thing. But isn’t it possible that video game talent might not translate into real-life skills in combat? Incredibly, that seems to have been lost on the USAF.

Which is why this could be an even bigger disaster than the “America’s Army” folly—and much more expensive, too. While the Army’s gambit cost millions to design, it at least had a limited return on investment. The Air Force is prepared to throw major bonuses at good video game players on the notion that, like the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter, that’s where you’re going to find real talent.

The reason this makes sense to the Air Force (but nobody else) is because, with the advent of drone operations (i.e. remote control targeting), a number of people actually are employed in joystick-based warfare. It’s not clear whether the game will feature a drone operator mode (based in some outpost in the Nevada desert), as it seems to be focused on advanced warplanes in the heat of battle, not blowing up Pakistani wedding parties from thousands of miles away. This should come as no surprise because the life of an actual drone operator is reportedly pretty miserable, and the point of the Air Force’s game is to get kids to play so you can collect all sorts of data from them.

So far, Air Force officials aren’t providing a lot of specifics, just ambitions. They’ve also avoided estimating what the program will cost. Creating a game advanced enough to reliably attract an audience gets more expensive every year. At this point just developing a game can be counted on to cost a minimum of $100 million, to say nothing of all of the server and metadata processing costs, and the costs associated with marketing the game.

This is precisely why high-end video games don’t attempt to survive as advertising platforms. The cost of developing games has grown precipitously over the years, and players are focused on playing. They don’t want to be sold anything—not by companies, not by Uncle Sam.

This is why using a war simulation video game as a marketing tool is a terrible idea. Even in the highly unlikely event that the U.S. Air Force actually does make a popular video game, that doesn’t mean its fan base is going to be inclined toward military service, let alone suited to it. This is what happens when you combine lofty recruitment goals with a bottomless pit of taxpayer money: the military is encouraged to make reckless attempts to engage the public. The Air Force now appears to be lining up one of the most reckless of blunders yet.

Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, the Toronto Star, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Providence Journal, the Daily Caller, the American Conservative, the Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.

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It’s Walker Percy Weekend 2018

Greetings from St. Francisville, Louisiana. When I checked into my hotel for Walker Percy Weekend (I live in Baton Rouge, now, 40 miles away), the desk clerk looked at my driver’s license, then said: “You Miss Ruthie’s brother? Lord, everybody loved Miss Ruthie.”

That made me feel so good. Back home. If you want to know why everybody loved Miss Ruthie, here it is.

If you are not a Mars Hill Audio Journal subscriber, well, what’s wrong with you? It’s so, so great. People still stop me to thank me for putting them onto it. Users of iOS can download the Mars Hill app, and listen to some content for free. Ken Myers has produced a special Walker Percy discussion that everyone, not just Journal subscribers, can access on the app. Here’s the script for the introduction:

This is the Friday Feature for June 1st from MARS HILL AUDIO; I’m Ken Myers.

Today is the first day of the fifth annual Walker Percy Weekend in St. Francisville, Louisiana. The website for this unique festival celebrating Walker Percy’s life and work assures potential participants that it will be “intellectually serious but broadly accessible.” We also learn that bourbon will be consumed, although (one hopes) not in quantities comparable to some of Percy’s characters. As I recall, in Love in the Ruins, Dr. Thomas More holed up in a Howard Johnson’s with 15 cases of Early Times.

Love in the Ruins, published in 1971 and a finalist for a National Book Award, bears the subtitle The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World. Percy once commented on the book: “A serious novel about the destruction of the United States and the end of the world should perform the function of prophecy in reverse. The novelist writes about the coming end in order to warn against present ills and so avert the end.” As Ralph Wood has recently written, Percy “doubted the efficacy of a serene Christian humanism. Better to serve as the canary in the coal mine, so as to detect the asphyxiating gas that sickens unto death.”

Ralph Wood has given talks at previous Walker Percy weekends. I’m told he won’t be there this year, but two weeks back, The American Conservative published an article he wrote about Love in the Ruins called “Walker Percy’s Funny and Frightening Prophecy.” Earlier this week, I called Dr. Wood in his office to chat about the article and about Percy more generally. We agreed that Percy’s work is not as well known as it may have been 20 years ago, or at the time of his death in 1990. I asked Wood why he thought Percy has not enjoyed as much attention as another 20th century Southern Catholic writer, Flannery O’Connor.

[RALPH WOOD QUOTE]

Since this weekend is an occasion for concentrated attention to Walker Percy, at least in St. Francisville, we’ve just released a new Audio Reprint: a reading of an article by John F. Desmond called “Walker Percy and Suicide.” The article compares themes in Percy’s fiction and non-fiction with reflections about selfhood in Camus and Kierkegaard. You can purchase that reading for $2 from our website and listen to it through our app or via any web browser.

Way back in 1993, on volume 3 of the Journal, I talked with Jay Tolson, who had just written Pilgrim in the Ruins: a Life of Walker Percy. In his book, Tolson reported that — before he started writing fiction, he read a number of works by Kafka and Dostoevsky, stories about figures who were outcasts in search of spiritual meaning. I asked Jay Tolson if Percy felt himself to be such a figure.

[TOLSON QUOTE]

Jay Tolson, from volume 3 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. Tolson’s Pilgrim in the Ruins: a Life of Walker Percy was the first Percy biography to appear after Percy’s death in 1990. In 1997, Patrick Samway’s book, Walker Percy: A Life, was published. Samway was a guest on volume 27 of the Journal, in a conversation in which we talked about Percy’s relationship with the characters of his books.

[SAMWAY QUOTE]

Patrick Samway, the author of Walker Percy: A Life, from volume 27 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal.

By the way, we’ve just released volume 139, and if you’re not currently a subscriber, I invite you to take the plunge, sign up today, and enjoy over two hours of listening to something intellectually serious but broadly accessible. Guests include Simon Oliver, Matthew Levering, and Esther Lightcap Meek, and the overarching theme that emerged in the six conversations was how modern culture obscures the nature of Creation.

On next week’s Friday Feature, I’ll be talking with Jeremy Beer about the late Christopher Lasch. For MARS HILL AUDIO, I’m Ken Myers.

I’m off to the Magnolia Cafe now, where Charlie Clark and I will be hosting a back porch conversation about his Fare Forward article, “The Walker Percy Option.” The event is sponsored by The American Conservative, which is picking up the bar tab. Don’t you wish you were here?

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The Saudi Threat Against Qatar

Saudi Arabia has reportedly threatened to attack Qatar if they purchase an air defense system from Russia:

Saudi Arabia has threatened military action against Qatar if it goes ahead and acquires Russia’s top of the range S-400 air defence missile system, Le Monde daily reported.

Citing information it had obtained, Le Monde said Friday that Riyadh had written to French President Emmanuel Macron asking him to intervene to prevent the deal going ahead and to help preserve regional stability.

The Russian response has been to dismiss the Saudi threats as irrelevant, and it appears that the sale will go ahead. The Saudi threats may be empty, but after a year of unsuccessfully bullying Qatar with their blockade they may be willing to follow through on them. The fact that the Saudis are willing to threaten another country with an illegal attack like this underscores just how reckless and destabilizing Saudi Arabia has become in the last few years. The Saudis and their allies have already devastated neighboring Yemen over the last three years, and now they threaten to use force against another neighbor without the slightest justification. U.S. indulgence has helped to encourage the Saudis to become this regional menace, so it is up to the U.S. to end its support for this reckless client .

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Paige Patterson On Breaking Rape Victims Down

I cannot fathom how a purported man of God could do such a thing. From a statement issued by the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary tonight.  Emphasis is mine:

We confirmed this week through a student record, made available to me with permission, that an allegation of rape was indeed made by a female student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003. This information contradicts a statement previously provided by Dr. Patterson in response to a direct question by a Board member regarding the incident referenced in our May 30 statement. The 2003 rape allegation was never reported to local law enforcement. SWBTS will not release the student record to the public without additional appropriate permissions.

In addition, as previously disclosed, a female student at SWBTS reported to Dr. Patterson that she had been raped in 2015.  Police were notified of that report. But in connection with that allegation of rape, Dr. Patterson sent an email (the contents of which were shared with the Board on May 22) to the Chief of Campus Security in which Dr. Patterson discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could “break her down” and that he preferred no officials be present. The attitude expressed by Dr. Patterson in that email is antithetical to the core values of our faith and to SWBTS. Moreover, the correlation between what has been reported and also revealed in the student record regarding the 2003 allegation at Southeastern and the contents of this email are undeniable.

“Break her down”? Break her down?! A woman reports that she was raped, and that old man — that pastor and seminary head — wanted to meet with her privately to “break her down”? To what end? To humiliate her and intimidate her into dropping charges?

What kind of misogynistic monster does that? If that had been my daughter, Paige Patterson would have to look over his shoulder in fear every day remaining of his life.

Watch this controversial talk of his from around the same time, knowing what we now know:

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Another Senseless, Illegal Killing in Gaza by Israeli Forces

Israeli forces killed a 21-year old Palestinian woman, a volunteer paramedic, in Gaza yesterday:

A young Palestinian woman was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border fence on Friday, in another day of protests and violence, Palestinian medical sources said.

Razan al-Najjar, 21, was shot near Khan Yunis in the south of the territory, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, bringing the toll of Gazans killed by Israeli fire since the end of March to 123.

According to Qudra, Najjar was a volunteer with the ministry, wearing the white uniform of a medic when she was shot in the chest.

Targeting medical personnel is strictly prohibited even in war, and it is nothing less than criminal to gun down a paramedic while she is trying to assist others. All of the illegal shootings have been outrageous and excessive, but the killing of this young woman seems particularly perverse and absolutely indefensible. Ms. Najjar’s killing is just the latest in a series of illegal shootings of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza. As the report indicates, hers is the 123rd fatality from Israeli attacks on the protesters.

The New York Times had interviewed Ms. Najjar previously (video here), and they quote her in their story about her unlawful killing:

When we met her at a protest camp in Khan Younis last month, she said her father was proud of what she did.

“We have one goal,” she said, “to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.”

Ms. Najjar was helping to tend to the many thousands of Palestinians that are being injured in the Gaza protests when she was shot to death. She posed no threat to anyone. How could she have? She was dressed as a medic, and yet she was murdered anyway. What else do we call the deliberate shooting of an unarmed woman as she helps treat injuries?

The U.S. response to these killings all along has been to shift blame away from Israel, the obviously culpable party, absurdly pin responsibility for everything on Hamas, and to shield Israel from the consequences of its forces’ actions. Yesterday was no different. The U.S. vetoed of a Kuwait-sponsored resolution that condemned Israel’s illegal use of force against Palestinian protesters:

Kuwait’s draft resolution condemned the use of “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians” and demanded a halt to such actions.

The U.S. was unusually isolated on both this resolution and the one our government sponsored. Just as the U.S. was the only member of the Security Council voting against the Kuwait-sponsored measure, it was the only voting for its own lopsided resolution. Reflexive U.S. support for anything and everything Israel does cannot possibly be in the American interest, and it is a disaster for the people of Palestine.

Read more from The American Conservative…

Public School Sex-Ed’s Descent Into Madness

On June 14, the school board of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the tenth largest school division in the United States, will convene and likely approve a number of changes to its sex-ed program, including replacing the term “biological sex” with “sex assigned at birth,” teaching that children aren’t born male or female, minimizing the role of abstinence, and excising clergy from a list of “trusted adults.” Although I am a product of FCPS, as was my mother and a long list of aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides of my family, my children will not be attending their local elementary school. The radical sexual pedagogy promoted by FCPS, coupled with its well-publicized laxity in confronting illegal sexual behavior by its staff, has convinced me that my eldest daughter, who will enter kindergarten this fall, would be safer in a private school.

The latest recommendation by the county’s Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee builds upon other sex-ed trends in FCPS, where “oral sex” is introduced to kids as young as 12. Thirteen-year-olds, meanwhile, are told about “anal sex” 18 separate times in one year’s worth of lessons. I understand why: the proliferation of pornography accessible to our youth has made sexting and increasingly aggressive sexual activity ubiquitous problems for FCPS and school districts across the country. Studies have shown that a majority of pornography depicts violence against women. As the adage goes, “monkey see, monkey do.”

Still, the committee’s recommendation to remove clergy from the list of “trusted adults” is ridiculous, given that FCPS has been dogged by illegal sexual activity by its employees for years. In March, a Sandburg Middle School teacher was charged with possession of child pornography. Last year, a former girls’ basketball coach at Lake Braddock Secondary School was accused of sexually harassing players—the school administration kept him on staff for months after the allegation was raised. A 2016 investigation by the local News4 I-Team discovered that the response of FCPS to multiple teachers accused of sexual misconduct—with students, no less—had allowed those educators to keep their teaching licenses for years after the offenses. A Bailey’s Elementary School teacher was arrested in 2015 and charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy between 2004 and 2010.

FCPS has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of responsibility with our children, maintaining a policy towards sex offenders more relaxed than my local Catholic diocesan schools, while introducing children to sexual practices fraught with health dangers. Why should I trust a school system that perpetuates the demonstrably false narrative that public school educators are more trustworthy than priests, pastors, or rabbis? It’s bad enough that one day my children may attend colleges that permit, if not encourage, the kinds of risky sexual behavior depicted in Jon Krakauer’s 2015 best-selling book Missoula. Without a proper education, they’ll lack the maturity to navigate these treacherous waters as 12- and 13-year-olds, let alone as college freshman. As Cicero warned, “the enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”

I suppose I’m not terribly surprised by the increased abasement of the school district that educated me. When I was in tenth grade, a ninth grader at my school attended a party where she got drunk and was persuaded into a compromising position by upperclassmen. Those boys (who to my knowledge were never punished) took pictures and sent them to a popular local radio host, “Elliot in the Morning,” who spoke about them on-air. The girl was, of course, humiliated and ended up transferring schools. I think she even changed her name. (As an aside, how has that DC101 disc jockey avoided legal scrutiny? He spoke publicly about viewing what amounts to child pornography!) We’ve certainly come a long way since 1999. With handheld, Internet-accessible phones now ubiquitous among our children, how could things not descend into even more alarming harassment, abuse, and misogyny?

FCPS still boasts an impressive educational pedigree. As their website notes, the class of 2018 has 223 National Merit Semifinalists, and Fairfax County high schools are recognized annually by the Washington Post as some of the most challenging in the United States. Yet as C.S. Lewis warned, “education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” Teaching kids just entering puberty about how to “properly” use contraception and engage in safe anal sex can only be classified as a first-rate education in delinquency. Most American public schools have lost sight of Aristotle’s important maxim: “The happy life is regarded as a life in conformity with virtue…not spent in [sexual] amusement.”

Excluding my children from a public education is a hard decision for me, as I would think it is for many families—these are the institutions that have inculcated American ideas and ideals for generations of our citizens. I spent every year of grade school except kindergarten in the same public school district, which had an indelible impact on my socialization into our culture as well as on how I think and view the world. Public school districts also continue to employ huge numbers of our citizens: FCPS is the third largest employer in the state of Virginia. My mother spent more than 30 years in the system as an occupational therapist, from which she herself graduated in 1972. I was so inspired by my public education experience that I worked as a substitute and then a full-time high school history teacher, as well as a high school tennis coach.

Though I am a product of public schools and still take pride in my education, I won’t send my kids there—not as long as I can afford to send them elsewhere. Given the Catholic Church’s robust security policies in the wake of the early 2000s sex scandal, my kids are safer in my parish’s elementary school. My decision will stand until our public school systems—enduring what has become a nationwide sexual crisis—adopt policies that resist, rather than capitulate to, the worrying trends wreaking havoc on our families and our children.

Casey Chalk is a student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College.

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Your Daughter, Somebody Else’s Son

A reader in Massachusetts forwards this story about a bill before the Massachusetts legislature that would ban any therapy designed to change a person’s homosexual orientation, or belief that they are transgender. From the piece:

In the midst of a recent trend, Massachusetts is not at the forefront but may be reaching for the pinnacle. Eleven other states have banned conversion therapy, including New Hampshire earlier this month. But the Massachusetts bill is unusual, says Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.

“Similar legislation has been passed in a number of states, but this is the first time that helping your child feel comfortable in their own body could brand you a child abuser,” said Beckwith, whose organization advocates for Judaeo-Christian family values on Beacon Hill. “This is a bill that would allow the state to take away your daughter and make her someone else’s son.”

But [bill advocate Carl] Sciortino says the bill is necessary and humane.

“I think our opponents are delusional and adding to the culture of child abuse if they cannot accept that there are gay people in this world and transgender people in this world and we are who we are and no amount of quackery or child abuse will change that,” Sciortino said.

Do you see what they’re doing here? They are conflating homosexuality with transgenderism. Whatever one thinks of homosexuality and its mutability, there is very clear evidence that the great majority of children and teenagers who consider themselves transgender ultimately resolve their dysphoria in favor of their biological sex. We’re talking 80 percent and more. That does not happen with homosexuality. This clearly indicates that transgenderism is far, far less ingrained than homosexuality.

Transgender activists and fellow-traveling advocates are trying to piggyback transgenderism onto homosexuality as a legal, medical, and cultural strategy. As the reader writes:

The Therapy Ban in CA is bad, but this bill in MA may be even worse. It requires, among other things, that counseling a gender confused child to feel comfortable in their own body be labeled as child abuse under state law and that a Dept of Children and Families investigation be initiated against the parents and therapist. So, if you don’t believe your child is trans and you try to get them help, the therapist loses their license and you lose your child.

If you are a parent of a transgender child, your child has an overwhelming likelihood that he or she will desist at some point. If this bill passes in Massachusetts, you will not be able to get your child therapy that does anything other than encourage them in their trans identity — and no therapist will be able to do otherwise, even if the therapist believes the child is not truly transgender.

The “but science!” crowd is substituting ideology for medicine here. More to the point, the bill would create the possibility of the state seizing a child from his parents for the sake of gender transformation. From the story:

As for taking a child away from parents if they try to change their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, Sciortino said state officials don’t break up families lightly, and that only in certain cases might it be necessary.

“That’s why we have judges and courts,” Sciortino said. “In this case, if somebody were being exposed to an abusive practice – in this case, abusive therapy – it makes sure that that child has the protection of the mandated reporter system, to see if an investigation is warranted.”

Do people think that this won’t happen to them? That their child would never claim trans status? That the state would never prevent them from getting medically valid therapy for the child? That the state would never take their child away so the child can be injected with hormones, and such?

 

Read more from The American Conservative…