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.

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Louisiana Governor Signs Knife Law Reform, Removes Switchblade Ban

Louisiana Governor Signs Knife Law Reform, Removes Switchblade Ban
Louisiana Governor Signs Knife Law Reform, Removes Switchblade Ban

Arizona -(Ammoland.com)- On 25 May, 2018, Governor Edwards of Louisiana signed HB 892 into law. The bill now becomes ACT 341, which reforms Louisiana knife law, removing a 1950’s era ban on switchblades.  From wafb.com:

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) –

On Friday, May 25, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed 79 bills into new laws.

The bills he signed are as follows:

(snip)

ACT 341 – HB 892 Provides relative to the illegal carrying of certain knives.

The wording of HB892, now ACT 341, is as shown at legiscan.   From legiscan.com:

(4)(a)
The manufacture, ownership, possession, custody or use intentional concealment on one’s person of any switchblade knife, spring knife, or other knife or similar instrument having a blade which may be automatically unfolded or extended from a handle by the manipulation of a button, switch, latch, or similar contrivance located on the handle. Section 2. R.S. 14:95(J) is hereby repealed in its entirety.


CODING:
Words in struck through type are deletions from existing law; words underscored are additions.

The legislative history of R.S 14:95 indicates the switchblade ban was put into place in 1956. The banning of switchblade knives was based on a propaganda campaign initiated in New York by Congressman James J. Delaney. Congressman Delany made a name for himself by pushing emotional appeals to ban switchblade knives, claiming that they were only useful for crime. Other New York politicians joined him. The same arguments used by the knife banners are in use today by current activists pushing for a disarmed population. From 1958, arguing for a national ban on switchblade knives, Senator Frank J. Pino:

New York State Senator Frank J. Pino of Brooklyn had a glib rebuttal for the sportsman angle. He testified, “Actually, these knives are, I would say inherently dangerous, they have only one purpose. They are just deadly. They are lethal weapons, and they are suited for crime, that is all they are suited for. So that the sportsmen really have nothing substantial to complain about. But they do complain. It is an emotional thing with them, somehow.

Sound familar? It should. Substitute “assault weapons” for knives and the same paragraph would fit in perfectly with the emotional arguments being pushed today to ban semi-automatic rifles. In 1958, there were plenty of semi-automatic rifles available. They could be freely ordered through the mail. So could anti-aircraft cannon, anti-tank cannon, and ammunition. But crime was very low, and the understanding of the limits of the Commerce clause was still relatively strong.

It was understood that the federal govenment could not regulate commerce inside of state borders.  That is why federal legislation was restricted to banning importation of switchblade knives and banning interstate transportation of switchblade knives. Even the interstate transport ban was recognized by the Department of Justice as problematic, and expansive of federal power. From knife-expert.com:

Deputy Attorney General William P. Rogers wrote, “The Department of Justice is unable to recommend enactment of this legislation. 

 “The committee may wish to consider whether the problem to which this legislation is addressed is one properly within the police powers of the various States. As you know, Federal law now prohibits the interstate transportation of certain inherently dangerous articles such as dynamite and nitroglycerin on carriers also transporting passengers. The instant measures would extend the doctrine upon which such prohibitions are based by prohibiting the transportation of a single item which is not inherently dangerous but requires the introduction of a wrongful human element to make it so. “Switchblade knives in the hands of criminals are, of course, potentially dangerous weapons. However, since they serve useful and even essential purposes in the hands of persons such as sportsmen, shipping clerks, and others engaged in lawful pursuits, the committee may deem it preferable that they be regulated at the State rather than the Federal level.”

In the end, the power of yellow journalism to create crises where none existed, triumphed. Congress passed the federal ban, following the example of several states. A pattern for the passage of national laws based on an emotion driven, media favored agenda, had been created.

Louisiana has joined the trend of reversing that injustice. The number of states that still ban switchblade knives is growing smaller and smaller.

It has taken six decades, likely confiscations of millions of knives from people who never harmed anyone; thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives ruined by arrests and convictions that served no useful purpose.

It is an object lesson in bad legislation.

Switchblade
Switchblade

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

Link to Gun Watch


About Dean Weingarten:Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

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Four Takeaways From The Latest Round Of Gaza Clashes

It began with an attempt by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to plant an improvised explosive device on the security fence separating Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and ended with a near full-scale conflagration on a scale not seen since the summer of 2014. Tensions for the time being have tapered off but the recent fighting demonstrates why the Israeli Army (IDF) maintains a constant state of readiness along its volatile borders. 

On Sunday, security forces monitoring the Gaza border detected an object attached to the border fence. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be a bolt cutter of the type used by Palestinian rioters to breach the fence in weeks prior. A remote controlled robot was sent in to inspect and remove the object utilizing a long cord. During the course of removal, the bolt cutter exploded. Fortunately, no one was injured but the situation could have just as easily resulted in casualties.

PIJ terrorists who planted the IED were then spotted manning a nearby observation post. An Israeli Merkava IV tank fired at the OP instantly killing two PIJ operatives. A third was mortally wounded and died soon after. Islamic Jihad swore vengeance.

Two days later, southern Israeli border towns and communities came under intense indiscriminate rocket and mortar bombardment. A kindergarten was hit but fortunately, the children had not yet arrived. Over the course of 22 hours, Hamas and PIJ fired over 100 rockets and mortars, 25 of which were shot down by Israel’s anti-rocket defense system, Iron Dome. According to military sources, the system also succeeded in intercepting incoming mortar rounds, a first in the annals of warfare. There were no fatalities but there was some property damage and three IDF soldiers were wounded, two lightly and one moderately. A civilian was also lightly injured.

The unprovoked attacks inevitably drew Israeli retaliatory strikes which came in two waves. Some 65 Hamas and PIJ positions were targeted including a U-shaped, two-kilometer long tunnel that extended into both Egypt and Israel. It was to be used for smuggling contraband as well as for facilitating terrorist attacks. Rocket and weapons storage facilities were also hit and destroyed. A Hamas naval armory which the army said contained “advanced, unmanned submarine vessels, capable of maritime infiltration and carrying out maritime terror attacks,” was hit and destroyed as well.

Israel informed Hamas through intermediaries that if it continued its attacks, the IDF was prepared to conduct a large-scale military operation, similar to those conducted in 2009 and 2014. Hamas, still smarting from the defeats of 2009 and 2014, understood that Israel meant business and ordered its operatives as well as the PIJ to cease fire. The question is how long will the cease fire hold? The answer to that is anyone’s guess.

Nevertheless, the recent round of fighting highlighted several interesting takeaways. First, the discovery of a Hamas tunnel in Egypt is likely to further strain relations between Egypt and Hamas. Egypt has accused Hamas of aiding Islamist terrorists in northern Sinai and the revelation of a Hamas-dug tunnel in Egypt further erodes Hamas’s credibility in the eyes of the Egyptian government.

Second, the Iron Dome system continues to impress. In 2014, Iron Dome succeeded in shooting down rockets but had yet been incapable of downing mortar rounds. In 2014, a mortar round fired from a Gaza school killed a four-year-old Israeli boy named Daniel Tragerman, who lived in a kibbutz near the border. Modifications and software upgrades to Iron Dome have enabled the system to now have the ability to intercept incoming mortar rounds. This is an unprecedented development in warfare.

Third, during the Obama years, Israel received equivocal support at best, when it carried out anti-terror operations against Islamist terrorist groups. Europe, taking cue from Obama, was downright hostile. But in the latest round, Israel received unequivocal political support from both the United States and the European Union, while Hamas was roundly condemned. This positive development signals a seismic shift in favor of Israel and may have been a contributing factor in Hamas’s decision to call it quits. Hamas recognizes that in any confrontation with Israel, it will lose both militarily and politically, whereas in the past, it at least had a chance of scoring political points.

Fourth, the malevolent role of the Iranian regime in stoking the recent round of violence cannot be overlooked. Iran has its fingerprints all over this one. Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders have readily and publicly acknowledged that they receive aid in the form of cash, training and weapons from Iran. For years, the Iranians have been cultivating proxies to do their bidding and these Palestinian groups are willing participants. Iran has recently been on the receiving end of some sharp blows from Israel, and the mullahs were looking for a way to strike back but without engaging Israel in direct confrontation. Gaza appeared to be Iran’s venue of choice. Nevertheless, despite Hamas’s dependence on Iran, the group still exercises some independent thought, and they wisely cried uncle for they recognized that this was a battle they had no hope of winning.         

    

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Chuck Todd: Clinton Owes Lewinsky an Apology for Letting His ‘Carnal Needs’ Ruin Her Life

CNN’s Jake Tapper joined NBC’s Chuck Todd on his 1947: Meet the Press podcast Thursday to discuss Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Both men were critical of Clinton’s behavior and that he has never apologized to Lewinsky. “I understand why people at the time were upset,” Tapper said. “I understood it then, but now, having kids, I […]

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The Urban-Rural Divide More Pronounced Than Ever

America is increasingly polarized.

That isn’t news to anyone who’s been following the social research of the past couple years. After the 2016 presidential election, David Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight wrote that “America’s political fabric, geographically, is tearing apart,” and suggested this should be seen as a “flashing danger sign.” In Yuval Levin’s Fractured Republic, which came out in May 2016, he wrote of a hollowed-out society in which mediating institutions and social capital had all but disappeared from American life, leaving in their wake a jaded individualism and growing political rancor.

But a new Pew Research Poll suggests that this polarization—across geographic, cultural, and political lines—is growing even more pronounced with time. Our political differences are strengthening, with an increasing number of urban Americans moving further left and more than half of rural voters (54 percent) declaring their allegiance to the GOP. What’s more, most urban and rural Americans see themselves as judged and misunderstood by each other, with a majority from both groups saying those who don’t live in their types of communities have a negative view of those who do.

Urban and rural divides are not new, as University of Wisconsin political scientist Kathy Cramer told the New York Times. What’s unique about our moment, however, is that “cultural divides overlap with political divides, which overlap with geography,” creating a maelstrom of suspicion and disconnect.

This remarkable growth in polarization leads the Times to ask an important question: are we sorting ourselves, increasingly moving to fit in with those in our “camp”? If not, how and why are the numbers becoming so extreme?

Cramer, for her part, suggests that place-based resentment is becoming a sort of identity marker, especially as politicians employ “us versus them” rhetoric. Shopping at Whole Foods or going to the gun range have increasingly become political acts, talismans of personality and place with markedly partisan affiliations. Our sorting seems to have more to do with an increased tendency to tie cultural and social acts (as well as geographic identity) to politics than it does with a marked shift in our habits or moving patterns.

Alongside these differences, however, the Pew poll also shows remarkable (and somewhat alarming) similarities between urban and rural communities. Both groups are about equally worried over the impact of the opioid epidemic on their neighborhoods. Both are worried about job availability. Young people from both are more mobile and restless—although “Roughly a third (32%) of young adults in rural areas say they are very or mostly dissatisfied with life in their community; this is significantly higher than the share of young adults in suburban areas who say the same (21%).”

About four in 10 Americans across geographic divides say they don’t feel attached to their current communities. While knowing one’s neighbors, owning one’s house, and living in one place for a long period of time all increase the chances of community involvement and satisfaction, only three in 10 Americans say they know most or all of their neighbors—and a third say they would move away if they could. While a greater percentage of rural folks say they know their neighbors, that doesn’t mean they interact more often. Indeed, according to Pew, community involvement doesn’t vary much by community type: “Among those who know at least some of their neighbors, rural Americans are no more likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to say they interact with them on a regular basis.”

Obviously, these figures could be worse. Most Americans say they still know at least some of their neighbors; large numbers in urban, suburban, and rural communities say they remain close to—or have moved back towards—their families. But there’s still a marked sense of alienation, suspicion, and discontent displayed in this poll. Not only do disparate American communities suspect each other of unkindness and disrespect, many have retreated from neighborliness and association within their own circles.

These findings reminded me of the suggestion in Patrick Deneen’s recently released Why Liberalism Failed that the political ideology of liberalism drives us apart, making us more lonely and polarized than ever. As Christine Emba writes in her Washington Post review of Deneen’s book:

As liberalism has progressed, it has done so by ever more efficiently liberating each individual from “particular places, relationships, memberships, and even identities—unless they have been chosen, are worn lightly, and can be revised or abandoned at will.” In the process, it has scoured anything that could hold stable meaning and connection from our modern landscape—culture has been disintegrated, family bonds devalued, connections to the past cut off, an understanding of the common good all but disappeared.

That latter loss—of a common understanding of the good—seems particularly applicable to the Pew poll’s findings regarding polarization. Although our country has always struggled with an urban-rural divide, it could be that our lack of a common conception of the good has made it even worse. Left and Right subscribe to different liberal tenets that tear at association and community: on the Right, “classical liberalism celebrated the free market, which facilitated the radical expansion of choice,” while the Left’s liberalism “celebrated the civil right to personal choice and self-definition, along with the state that secured this right by enforcing the law.” As Emba notes, both forms of liberalism foster “a headlong and depersonalized pursuit of individual freedom and security that demands no concern for the wants and needs of others, or for society as a whole.”

Thus we disconnect in terms both broad and intimate, struggling to equate our political autonomy and self-definition with the demands of empathy, neighborliness, and service. The fact that our urban and rural communities are so suspicious of each other suggests a degree of navel-gazing and self-consciousness that is deeply detrimental, if not tempered by a proper degree of rationality and generosity.

Fixing these problems will require more than a distrust of our political leaders’ schismatic rhetoric, instrumental in entrenching our divide though that rhetoric has been. Turning to the state for answers or blame is one of the reasons we’re in trouble in the first place. A healthy effort to “plug in”—to connect at the local level, to dialogue with our political “enemies,” and to engage in civic and philanthropic efforts—may be the best way to cut back on some of this rancor and polarization.

In the conclusion of Why Liberalism Failed, Deneen suggests that we need to foster local “counter-anticultures”: bastions of community, civic engagement, philanthropy, and religion to counteract our cultural and social vacuum. Levin recommends something similar in Fractured Republic, turning to Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” and the reinvigoration of associational life as a balm for widespread fragmentation.

This newest Pew poll suggests that the more deeply we know each other—and the more time we spend together—the less lonely and restless we will feel. That isn’t a shocking revelation, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Those who feel nourished and cared for by their communities will feel less cheated by the state and more empowered to confront the changes and dilemmas in their neighborhoods. It may be that by itself this can’t bridge our deep urban-rural divide, considering how widespread our resentment and political differences are. But I do think a community that feels self-sufficient and nourished is less likely to harbor feelings of resentment and suspicion toward those outside its borders: there’s less temptation towards discontent, and often a deeper awareness of the issues we share in common. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Elizabethville, Pennsylvania, need the same things: committed citizens, generous philanthropists, passionate civic leaders, savvy planners and political leaders, strong local institutions, and vigorous community involvement. They often struggle with the same things, too: loneliness, despair, unemployment, fragmented families, weak civic and educational institutions, a lack of funds, poor urban planning, and so on.

While our national discourse champions rancorous politics, local associations and news celebrate self-empowerment, service, and communal ties. They emphasize every community’s desire to become the best version of itself. The more we can focus on these things, the better.

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. She’s written for The American ConservativeThe WeekNational Review, The Federalist, and The Washington Times, among others.

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A Ben Op Blast From Germany

Here’s a short piece published in the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost. Its author is an FSSP priest. Google has done the translating, with a little clean-up help from me:

Recently I heard on the radio a documentary about the growth of evangelical Free Churches in France. The critic was a French professor of theology. He warned against these free churches: they could develop into parallel societies, which represented a greater danger than Islamism! After all the Islamist terrorist attacks that have shaken France lately, one wonders what danger he means. But the only points of criticism he mentioned were the “arch-conservative views” of these Free Churches in matters of family and sexuality: they considered divorce and homosexual acts sinful.

Actually, I am offended that this critic has ignored the Catholic Church. If such views suffice to warn of a dangerous parallel society, then the Catholic Church deserves such criticism. And she should be proud of that! Full of self-confidence, she should embody a counterculture that is based on the commandments of God, and not only does not deny the contrast to the permissive mainstream culture, or only painfully tolerates it, but actually enjoys it and prides itself on the example of the early Christians, who understood themselves as “God’s children without flaws in the middle of a warped and crooked generation, under which you shine like stars in the universe “(Phil. 2, 15).

Precisely this program of developing a conscious counterculture is the path proposed as a survival strategy of the Christian faith in a book that has caused great excitement in America and is now available in German translation. Rod Dreher, the author, calls this strategy the “Benedict Option”. His example is the St. Benedict, who has shown us how to live creative ways to live the Christian faith confidently and counterculturally.

Of course, this book has been criticized, especially by theologians; no wonder, since it is precisely theologians who have been pleasing us for five decades with the opposite strategy of the greatest possible adaptation to the world. We can see the result today: a church that, because it no longer takes its teaching seriously, is no longer taken seriously by the world, not even as a dangerous parallel society.

German original here. 

Strong, strong stuff! Thank you, Father Recktenwald. And thanks to Tobias Klein, the translator of the German edition of my book.

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If You Ever Go To The Dentist And Then Find One Of These Bumps On Your Hand, Dial 911

Science has revealed to us that our bodies are an interconnected machine where one part affects another that affects another. We understand that something that happens in one area can effect what happens to another. Not many people realize that there can be a connection between something that goes on in the mouth with something that goes on in the heart with something that goes on in the hand.

Endocarditis is an infection in or on the lining of the heart chambers and valves within the heart itself. It happens when a bacteria, fungi, or other germs from one part of the body spread through the bloodstream and attaches to a part of the heart. These germs or bacteria will cause an infection that will plague the heart. This is exactly what happened to a young man in Canada.

A 27-year-old man from Canada was recently diagnosed with endocarditis after complaining of abdominal pain, fever, night sweats, and a loss of appetite. He also displayed a painful aneurysm in the palm of his hand. The diagnosis baffled doctors because of the youth of the patient, but they understood what had gone on as they further questioned the young man about the previous few weeks of his life.

They ran tests on the young man, including a blood culture that came back positive for streptococcus salivarius. This is a bacteria that is commonly found in the mouth. They also discovered that he had dead tissue on his spleen and left kidney. They also discovered an infected mass on the aortic valve of his heart.

After going to the dentist for routine work, a bacteria got into his bloodstream and had made its’ way around the body. It was affecting his spleen, kidneys, heart, and the blood vessels in his hand. The bacteria were able to spread throughout the body via his bloodstream and cause all sorts of problems throughout the young man’s body. Although it is serious, doctors were able to handle the issues.

He was given antibiotics that were able to clear up the bacterial infection throughout his body. The antibiotics were able to clear up most of the issues except for his heart. This required a major surgery to repair the valve of his heart. This particular valve is the one that controls blood flow into the major artery of the body. It was a serious problem that required a serious heart surgery.

It is a crazy thing how interconnected your body is. A routine visit to the dentist was able to cause this young man so many problems and extensive time to repair it and heal from it. It makes one think about the little things that we do every day that are not always the best idea. We need to understand that although our bodies are amazing things, that do amazing things, they can also be a sensitive thing that can be affected by the smallest of issues. This is a reminder to us all to take care of our bodies and to pay attention to the things that we do to it.

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Moos says Nebraska-Iowa on Black Friday will resume in 2022 and last far into future

Long before Bill Moos took over as Nebraska athletic director in October, he says he understood Husker fans’ affinity for NU playing football games on Black Friday. He’s made the tradition a priority, which perhaps helps explain why Nebraska will …

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A South African Tragedy

Martin Bossenbroek, The Boer War, Seven Stories Press, 2018, 464 pp., $24.00.

The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) was a tragedy—even a “white-on-white crime.” The world’s greatest military power, the British Empire, waged war on a force of 60,000 South African Boer militiamen. Haughty British officers who had won renown fighting the Pathans in the Northwest Frontier or Madhi fanatics in Sudan thought the Boers were a similarly uncouth force that could never defeat a professional British Army. The initial successes of the Boers proved them wrong, and the British should have known better. During the First Boer War of 1880 to 1881, the South African Republic (also known as the Transvaal) and the Orange Free State won the right to self rule without interference from Cape Town, the base of British operations in South Africa.

As the Dutch historian Martin Bossenbroek explains in The Boer War, the second conflict was largely an attempt by the British to win control over the natural resources of the South African Republic. After the discovery of gold in Witwatersrand in 1885, the city of Johannesburg sprung up almost overnight. It became a boom town right out of the American Wild West, with bordellos and gambling dens. President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic and his fellow Boers despised Johannesburg and the foreigners who were drawn to it by the gold rush. Kruger, Prof. Bossenbroek writes, was a veld-bred farmer who came from the proud Voortrekker and epitomized Old Testament zeal.

Johannesburg reminded Boers of what they had left behind when they trekked out of Cape Colony in 1835. The liberty-loving Boers—a mix of Dutch, Huguenot, German, and Portuguese—resisted when the British first declared the Cape a “protectorate” before soon turning it into a colony. Boers moved eastward into the high veld, defeated several African tribes, and established the two republics—the South African Republic and the Orange Free State—that Britain sought to dominate in the war of 1899.

The Boer War is a wonderful throwback to the days of heroic history. First published in Dutch in 2012 and only recently translated into English, it divides the story into three parts. The first sets the scene with an account of South African politics and economics. The chief character is Cecil Rhodes, the brilliant mining magnate who established the colony of Rhodesia and envisioned all of South Africa as a British confederation. The Boers stood in the way of this Cape-to-Cairo vision.

The second part is about the war. It is filled with tales of battle, commando raids, and guerrilla warfare, and takes as its main character the former British Army officer and war correspondent Winston Churchill. Prof. Bossenbroek provides details about the divisions within the British Army (mainly between officers from the “Indian” vs. “the African” services) and about divisions within the Boer camp.

The final section deals with the guerrilla phase of the war. When the British could not decisively defeat the highly mobile and well-armed Boer commandos, they put Boer women and children in concentration camps so as to deprive the men of the support they needed. These filthy, disease-ridden camps became the great scandal of the early 20th century; today it is thought that some 26,000 inmates died. Despite this cruelty, some Boers fought alongside the British during the First World War.

Boer guerrillas during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

It is easy for Americans to identify with the Boers. Like the whites of North America, they are an ethnic hodgepodge, united by their Christian faith and shared experiences in the wilderness. In 1899, they wanted to be left alone in their republics; millions of white Americans feel the same way today.

Britain justified meddling in Boer affairs because of the non-Boer immigrants—mostly British—who rushed into the Transvaal during the gold rush. By the late 1890s, the Uitlanders, as the Afrikaners called them, were a majority in the cities of the Transvaal. Before long, these economic immigrants demanded voting rights and legal protection, but the South African Republic would not treat them like Boer citizens. Uitlanders then organized political action committees and even tried sabotage. In 1895, in one of the most disgraceful episodes in British imperial history, Cecil Rhodes tried to foment an Uitlander revolt that would give the British an excuse the come to the rescue of their persecuted citizens and take over the goldfields. The Jameson Raid of 1895  failed to stir up the expected rebellion, but was a sign of how seriously the British coveted South African resources.

Today, Mexico justifies agitating for anti-white, pro-Hispanic causes by claiming it is protecting its citizens. Often it doesn’t even try to hide its motivations, and groups such as La Raza make it clear that the goal of illegal immigration is Reconquista. Present-day America is no different from Victorian South Africa; demography is destiny.

Also, like the British of the 19th century, today’s egalitarians claim to have charitable motives. British do-gooders often criticized the Boers for failing to live up to their Christian duty to black and colored neighbors. The Boers understood very well whom they were dealing with and, unlike the British, actually knew how to make peace with African tribes. A similar cultural ignorance was repeated during the Apartheid era, when left-wing British governments and their allies harassed, boycotted, and harangued the Boers into giving blacks the right to vote. Since then, South Africa has spiraled into a chaos of corruption, rape, and murder. The commandos of 1900 could have predicted the consequences of black rule.

The Boer War makes for grim reading, but the conflict it describes was fought in an age of true manliness. Readers will be moved by the audacity and courage of both the British and the Boers.

It is terrible that the great British Empire that conquered Africa and India and established Singapore and Hong Kong arrayed its forces against the tiny but resolute republics of the Boers. These two people should never have fought each other. The Boer War is yet another warning to our people: European brotherhood and the future of the West are far more important than any temporary conflict or disagreement.

British casualties after the Battle of Spion Kop, January 24, 1900.

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