Thursday, April 21, 2022

Twilight of the Idols

Long but interesting piece in City Journal about the significance of modern iconoclasm. My bottom line: Replacing the statues of heroes with those of victims exalts the nation's dominant cult: victimhood. Only the Victim is pure. The culture that valorizes victimhood is saying that achievement is a sham because it inevitably creates losers whose victimhood trumps any good the achievement has created. So we become trapped, frozen by the impossibility of doing anything because our new Cult will seek out and exalt its "victims" as martyrs - no matter how few - above the benefit to the many. 

Monday, April 04, 2022

On American Realism about Ukraine, China and the World.


Sumantra Maitra makes the same points that I've been making for a long time, only more eloquently.  Ukraine is part of the Russian sphere of influence.  They squandered their opportunity to break free in 1917 and then again in 1990.  Maybe there will be another opportunity.  But this war isn't it.  

So why isn't India on our side?  India, like China, Russia, the EU and US consider their near abroad to be their concern as befits those with the scale to be great powers (EU is kind of an ersatz version). Indeed we consider the entire western hemisphere plus the entire pacific and Atlantic Oceans to be ours. While tossing in the antipodes, the UK and maritime east asia. The other great powers obviously resent this 'rule Amero-Britannia'. 

We are in a multi polar world where (thank God) we are no longer the world's policeman or welfare agency.  One of Trump's better moves was to emphasize this while creating lots of uncertainty about how he would respond to aggressive moves.  It may not work in the long term but the long term is simply a string of many short terms.

Our key goal today is to keep China quiet until it becomes senescent.  Not that many more years we just have to be clever and circumspect.  Obviously neither Trump nor Biden is the right model for that. China by its very rise - even before its macho posturing - has driven many powerful and rising nations back into our arms.  Our goal is to let them keep doing that while quietly making Taiwan too toxic to even think of invading (some more circumspect assistance to Vietnam is also called for).

We must thank the Blundering Mr. Putin for his help in this.  Unlike Nazi Germany - whose easy early victories encouraged Italian, Japanese and Soviet adventurism, Putin's quagmire (and the ease with which hand held American and European weapons immobilize wildly expensive military hardware) have radically changed the warlord calculus.

If it all turns out the way we hope, we ought to give Putin a Nobel Peace prize.

Thursday, December 05, 2019


Last night in my small group my friend Jerry asked us to think back to our 'best' Christmas memory. I had an immediate answer that had to do with being in Jakarta, Indonesia and having my dad - dressed at Santa - terrify dozens of small local children: "red demon man, red demon man!". But as I listened to the others talk about their best Christmas experiences I decided I was wrong. My best Christmas memory happened the year my son Sam was born. He was born a month before Christmas so had nothing else happened it probably still would have been my best Christmas.  A brand new baby is an incredible gift any time of year.

But as I think about, I don't believe that was only thing that made that Christmas special. For some time we had been helping Mildred, an elderly woman who lived in a small apartment near our home. Among other things we always brought her to church with us. And we didn't particularly like her. She was a rather miserable, bitter and terribly lonely 75 year old woman who apparently had never fit in anywhere. She was often critical and rude but it wasn't much of a sacrifice to drive a few blocks and pick her up so we tolerated the occasional outbursts.

From what we could tell she had been alone for most of her adult life.  She had never married or had children. She'd worked as a department store salesperson and had been fortunate enough to retire with a small pension that paid for an apartment in a nice part of town. But it was barren, empty of art, pictures of family members or any of the markers of a life lived with others. She was alone and apparently she had almost always been that way. 

On Christmas eve - as was common in the first few months after Sam was born - it took us longer than anticipated to get going so I drove over to pick up Mildred while Sam's mom finished all of the complex procedures necessary to bring an newborn infant out on a snowy winter's night. When we got back, mother and child still weren't ready so I brought Mildred inside to wait. And Sam's mother, being far more intuitive than me, brought him in and plunked him into Mildred's lap so she could finish getting ready.

It was then that a small miracle unfolded. Mildred leaned over him and with tears in her eyes whispered and sang him a tuneless song, the melted snowflakes on her coat glistening in the Christmas lights. She was a woman transformed. For those few minutes she wasn't bitter or miserable, she was filled with the true joy of Christmas: celebrating the birth of a baby who would love the world but also could be loved.

It's been twenty six years since that night but I think I've finally realized what God and Mildred and Sam had to teach me: that the key to surviving as a Christian in this world isn't in being loved, it's in loving. Because we Christians can survive even if no one loves us. After all Christ died for us and sent his Holy Spirit to minister to us. It's not ideal and not easy but God promises us that He is always with us and always will love us and that is enough. No we don't need other people to love us but we do need others to love. We must love others the way he does, for there is no other way to truly be like be Christian.

And so on that snowy St. Louis night we - but mostly baby Sam - gave Mildred the most precious gift she had ever received: someone that she - even in her limited, bitter state - could love. And I think that's the best gift we've ever given anyone.

I 'work' with the homeless at church. Mostly I hang out and do what my brilliant friends Andrea, Sarah and Carolyn tell me to do. I've gotten to know a whole host of what I call 'lost boys' - mostly men who have fallen between this world's cracks, people like LaKeith and Chris. And I've always thought that what I was doing was showing 'love' for them. But I realize now that as Christians they don't need my love so much as they need to have real people in their lives that they can love. The task of 'lifting' them out of their struggles isn't my job, it's their's and God's and the first thing they need to master is the vocation that we all are called to: to love one another.

Which can be very hard for me. All I need to do is admit my weakness and limitation and they'll do the rest. Because it's only when my pride dies, that I can become someone who can truly help the lost and the lonely progress on they journey to Christ. So this Christmas, I'm trying to focus less on 'proving' my love to others and more on making my self vulnerable and approachable enough so that other people can do God's will through me. Which will be strange for a rather hyperactive and self righteous man like me. 

I would love  to see Mildred holding Sam again....

Thursday, September 12, 2019

My encounter with T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens is dead. Here's a Forbes piece on him.

I have a personal recollection of T Boone: I was attending the University of Chicago when he came to give a speech. I was able to weasel my way into the handful of students who were invited to have lunch with him beforehand. I did this because at the time he was making a play for Phillips Petroleum which was my father's company whose then headquarters were in the town I graduated high school from: Bartlesville, OK. The news even featured a prayer service at the Church I attended (I suppose beseeching God to hex Boone or something). Each of us got to introduce ourselves to the great man and so I pointed out my connection. After lunch as we walked to the speech site Boone sidled up to me and worked me the entire time, emphasizing his concern for Phillips and the people of Bartlesville and so on. The ironic thing was being a Good Chicago economist, I was rather agnostic on the whole affair. But Boone was clearly more than just a cold corporate raider: he wanted to be seen as the hero. But I'll let History be the judge of that.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The dying liberal order

It's amazing that I don't even think that this is  abnormal any more. The amount of factually false statements that I see from so called "educated" friends on social media is frankly shocking. And they always cite a "news" story. I have well educated friends that have posted (in all seriousness) about the "imminent end of the world" (actual phrasing). We don't have an independent press or government anymore. Which makes it hard to have a "diverse liberal democracy".

Because if you can't trust the state or the news or educational institutions to play it fair, then you fall back on the old ways: clan and tribe.  "Blood of my blood". So much "diversity", so little honesty.

And those whose families have been obliterated by generations of social "innovation", welfare and taught helplessness are like abandoned children wandering in a war zone.

See to your neighborhood, your church (seriously, you should have one) and your kin because the broader institutions we have used to transcend them are rapidly bleeding out what's left of the trust they spent so many years accumulating.

And that's what I think about that.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Is the flight to identity politics is driven by family collapse?

I think you'll find this interesting.  Not particularly partisan but very relevant.  The Church tries fitfully to be a family substitute for the increasingly atomized lower half of our society.  It's a poor substitute for kin. When I talk to homeless about their problems I always ask 'where are your kin?' because in the dark, evil past, that's where many of these people found help and shelter (and discipline).  Today we have 'experts' who focus on bits of people but take no ownership.

It's not a solution. It's just immense expense joined to immense misery. But the commercialization and professionalization of 'social services' that used to be performed by families is So. Damned. Profitable.

The technocracy is eating us alive and nobody knows how to stop it. You see it at its worst in our most 'hip' precincts. (To be clear: the piece isn't partisan. But I am).

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The savior of the world.

In an uncharacteristic lapse in judgement, a friend asked me to give the invocation (church talk for kickoff or warm up prayer) at church. This is what I said:

Dear lord thank you for this day.
Thank you for the sunshine
and the truth of your gospel.

Lord Jesus give us eyes to see,
ears to hear,
and the faith to know that you are the savior of the world.