Monthly Archives: August 2016

Well, here I am on day two of my experiment in which I write whatever comes into my head and, inconveniently, my mind appears to be a total blank.

I just finished reading Peggy Noonan’s column in today’s Wall Street Journal. Despite living an places where the Journal is widely read, I’ve never been a regular reader. However, Real Clear Politics sometimes puts up links to articles there. Her subject today is very evident from the title, “How Global Elites Forsake Their Countrymen.” Not a bad article, but it’s one in what is becoming a trend. That it took our scribbling elites as long as it has to state the obvious is notable failure of our supposed meritocracy. Still, now that our scribblers are on the case, let’s hope that our meritocrats in government and other positions heed their call.

All of this murmuring has put me in mind of a book I read long ago by Christopher Lasch. Today, when so many of our scribblers seem to be singing from, if not the same hymnal, then the same two or three hymnals, I am even more appreciative of people who defy easy categorization like Lasch. According to Wikipedia:

In the 1960s, he was a neo-Marxist and acerbic critic of Cold War liberalism. During the 1970s, he began to become a far more iconoclastic figure, fusing cultural conservatism with a Marxian critique of capitalism, and drawing on Freud-influenced critical theory to diagnose the ongoing deterioration that he perceived in American culture and politics. His writings during this period led him to be denounced by feminists and hailed by conservatives for his apparent defense of the traditional family.


Lasch’s earliest argument.. was that American radicalism had at some point in the past become socially untenable. Members of “the Left” had abandoned their former commitments to economic justice and suspicion of power, to assume professionalized roles and to support commoditized lifestyles which hollowed out communities’ self-sustaining ethics. His first major book, The New Radicalism in America: The Intellectual as a Social Type… expressed those ideas in the form of a bracing critique of twentieth-century liberalism’s efforts to accrue power and restructure society, while failing to follow up on the promise of the New Deal. Most of his books, even the more strictly historical ones, include such sharp criticism of the priorities of alleged “radicals” who represented merely extreme formations of a rapacious capitalist ethos.

The book of his that I have in mind is one that is not seen as one of his best and has been essentially forgotten. It is called The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy. Written in 1995, I nearly threw it out during my last move. It had intrigued me at the time, but in my memory subsequent events had seemed to have proved Lasch’s thesis wrong. Before tossing it, however, I decided to take another look and wound up rereading the whole thing. Looking back, it seems that the brief prosperity of the mid to late nineties simply put the social tendencies he observed on hold.

The title is an obvious nod to Ortega y Gasset.

I may need to reread Lasch yet again. In the introductory chapter, he writes,

In The True and Only Heaven, I tried to recover a tradition of democratic thought – call it populist, for lack of a better term – that has fallen into disuse.

For a number of years now, I’ve been arguing in private to friends that we need to develop a sort of liberal populism. Perhaps there was a subconscious influence from Lasch in that thought. Suddenly, however, we find ourselves in a political moment when the word “populism” is on the lips of our most elite scribblers, almost always as something to be feared and avoided at all costs.

Noonan, in her column writes:

From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage.

This puts me in mind of an article a read a couple of days ago on the National Interest, “Why Are Elites Out of Touch? They Think Anyone Who Disagrees with Them Is Crazy,” by Nitzan David Foucks. The article concludes with,

We are living in a very important time. The gap between the elites and the public is widening. The reason, as briefly shown, is the elitist language of little substance, detached from the people and their concerns. The people in response have revolted with votes of no confidence and support to new leaders who are antiestablishment. The only way to close the gap, to win back support, is to abandon the language of therapy and political correctness, to one of honesty and rational arguments.

Interestingly, in his posthumously published book from the mid-nineties, Lasch wrote:

The word has come to serve simply as a description of the therapeutic state. When we speak of democracy today, we refer, more often than not, to the democratization of “self-esteem.” The current catchwords – diversity, compassion, empowerment, entitlement – express the wistful hope that deep divisions in American society can be bridged by goodwill and sanitized speech….  In our preoccupation with words, we have lost sight of the tough realities that cannot be softened simply by flattering people’s self-image. What does it profit the residents of the South Bronx to enforce speech codes at elite universities?

I’ve been having a hard time blogging lately. I seem to have tapered off without really meaning to stop. So, I’m going to try a little experiment for a few weeks and see if it helps. Everyday, I’m going to just try to write off the top of my head and see what comes out.

One of the things that I feel has been stopping me is the fact that my politics have been changing dramatically. This leaves me feeling very uncertain of my own positions. Writing about a position of which you are uncertain has a very fraught quality. I ask myself, “Do you really want to have to defend that position?” Then I stop. Making it even worse is that this change on my own part is happening during a period when people are clearly feeling very emotional. Frankly, I don’t say what I think because I have a fear of being attacked. Putting these things together, it means that I’m afraid that I’ll be attacked for questioning.

I’m put in mind of a comic I read by Howard Cruse a long time ago. In it, a character is told, “How dare you even think these things.” That is how I feel these days. Ironically, that comic is about growing up gay in a small town dominated by evangelical Christians. I say ironic, because admiring, reading, owning the comics of someone like Cruse almost perfectly exemplifies how well within the bosom of a certain type of left-leaning environment I used to be. The thing is, I still like Cruse’s work. His work is clearly meant to be political, and I still today agree with the points he made back in the eighties.

The problem for me is that the other people in that left-leaning environment have gone to a different place and I’m not following them.

Equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity. This is where the racial justice people are heading these days. Why the descendants of African slaves have lower outcomes in many areas than other people in the U.S., including other people of African descent who were not subject to slavery in the United States, is something I simply don’t know. It’s a puzzle to me and one I absolutely do not understand. (Fun fact: Nigerian-Americans have a “median household income well above the American average.”) We need to address the underlying reasons we are having an inequality of outcome, yet I don’t believe we fully understand what those underlying reasons are. Simply insisting on equality of outcome, some schools have cut back on disciplining violent students because black students are disciplined more often than whites.

To lower suspension rates, St. Paul tied principals’ bonuses to discipline stats. Suspensions are down, but assaults have explode by 62%. (Source)

In the long run, this will not work.

Liberals who are not radicals need to start speaking out. Things that can’t be sustained won’t be. The public will search for an answer and if the only answer to the weird alliance of radicals and globalists is given by the far right, people will turn to them. We need to develop a liberal, not radical, answer to these problems.

The other thing on my mind is Victor Davis Hanson’s piece today. He discusses a group of people, but since he doesn’t name any names it has a vague feel. He talks about people who were once Democrats who became Republicans during the Regan era. He refers to them as neoconservatives.

These so-called neoconservatives (“new conservatives”) grew tired of liberals’ perceived laxity about fighting the Cold War.

He then goes on to say:

Now, a few neoconservatives are reinventing themselves again and returning to the Democrats to support Hillary Clinton. We could call them “neoliberals.”

I would like to register an early objection to calling these people neoliberals. The word neoliberal has already been coined and it already has a meaning.

Neoliberalism was an idea developed in the post war period by Friedrich A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and several other thinkers like Milton Friedman.

Friedman advocated “the New Faith ” of neoliberalism as one that would avoid the failures of both collectivism and laissez-faire approaches…. The central point of the paper, made forcefully, was that both laissez-faire policies and collectivism had failed, a development that called for a new theory of liberalism – of neoliberalism… (Source: Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics.)

Not only has the word “neoliberalism” already been used, but it’s actually a really important intellectual tendency, whether you agree with it or not. We have enough difficulty talking about politics due to the fact that “liberalism” is often confounded with a variety highly illiberal political philosophies on the left. Neoconservatism is another strain of thought. It was highly influenced by Leo Strauss. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are often confused, but they have distinct philosophies. Both have had a concrete effect on our current politics, therefore it is important to understand the difference between the two.

Daniel Stedman Jones book was very good, by the way. I found myself having a better respect for the ideas behind neoliberalism after reading it.

Anyway, my one hour has now turned into an hour and forty-five minutes. This is all very raw and I feel like I shouldn’t click “publish,” but I will go ahead and do it anyway and keep my fingers crossed.

Steamed crabs on a table.A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I decided to make the best of the heat and we went to a state park that has a little bit of a beach. Afterwards, we went to a crab house. I sent this photo to Noel, but later I found myself wondering if he was aware that crabs are a really big deal in Maryland. I tried to see if I could find a link with some information and I learned a few things I didn’t know. Perhaps it will be of interest.

For those of you who don’t know, Maryland is a mid-Atlantic state, meaning that it’s in the middle of the eastern seaboard of the United States. The Chesapeake Bay cuts deeply into the state.

Crabs are highly associated with the state, specifically a variety called blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus. According to an article on Eater, Spike Gjerde, a Baltimore chef, the growing conditions in the estuary make the crabs from Maryland especially good.

From a scientific perspective, the need for hibernation is the main reason Maryland crabs taste better than other types of crab — and also tastes better than blue crabs from other waters, according to Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Services. He explains that just like other creatures that hibernate, crabs need to build up fat stores to sustain them through the dormant period. “This gives our crabs a buttery flavor that you won’t find anywhere else,” Vilnit says.

The article also says

Marylanders prepare hard shells and other seafood by steaming them, rather than the boiling that is common along the rest of the East Coast and Louisiana. Marylanders will tell you that boiling makes the crabmeat wet, rather than just moist.

That people boiled them was news to me.

As you can see in the top picture, they’re steamed with a large amount of spices. The typical spice associated with Maryland is a spice blend called Old Bay. It was originally produced by the Brunn Baltimore Spice Company, until it was bought by the large McCormick company. Eater adds

Odds are at a crab house, what’s seasoning the crabs is made by J.O. Spice Company, not Old Bay. Established in 1945, the company supplies more than 800 restaurants in the mid-Atlantic, often creating custom blends that vary in saltiness and heat.

They are served with apple cider vinegar on the side.

Crabs are seasonal, and in Maryland they’re available from April to December.

While June through August are the most favored and tradition-laden times for eating crabs, September and October are the best time to get the largest and fattest hard crabs at the best prices.

The Eater article lists several places to get crabs, but they’re not really a fancy item and there are a lot of places that are good.


From earlier the same day.