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Treating the Body Politic

 

I’m not a doctor but I know enough about medicine to know that a fever is not an illness in itself but a symptom of a larger underlying problem. And right now, America has a raging fever.

Most fevers are caused by infections. The political and punditry classes have diagnosed the problem as Donaldus Trumpitis, a relatively new disease some are describing as a cancer. But more likely than not, this case of the DTs is not the disease itself but just the manifestation of the fever.

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What Comes After “Nazi?”

 

While sitting in my favorite bagel place today, I watched a ramshackle group of middle-aged men and women — a real low-testosterone, NPR-looking crowd — walk by carrying signs that had negative things to say about Nazis, hate, and President Trump.

It saddens me a little that there are people stupid enough to believe that the anti-Nazi message actually has to be delivered, given that essentially everyone already agrees that Nazis were evil. But then, this same group was probably waving Bernie signs a few months ago, so I suppose it’s progress that they’re rejecting at least one form of socialism (the most murderous idea in human history), given that they were embracing it so recently.

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Standoff Between the President and the Military on Transgenderism

 

A few weeks ago, President Trump again threw the country into a tizzy by declaring a ban on transgender people in the military. Everyone was surprised, including James Mattis, Secretary of Defense. A number of factors seemed to contribute to Trump’s decision, including contradictory ones. I’d like to explore some of those here, and also explain the reasons why his decision may actually benefit not only the military, but this nation.

In studying the background for Trump’s decision, President Obama in 2011 repealed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy but was silent regarding transgender members of the armed forces. Following that decision, however, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that transgender people could openly serve in the military. He said:

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The Day the Clown Died: Jerry Lewis at 91

 
Photo by Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock

Jerry Lewis was the man you either loved or loathed. He was the boy who wouldn’t grow up. His style was brash and abrasive and yet even grudgingly admired by detractors. How can you gainsay a man that raises over $2 billion to fight neuromuscular diseases?

Lewis, aged 91, passed Sunday morning in Las Vegas.

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The Most Beautiful Place in the World

 

I was born in the most beautiful place in all the world! Seriously…according to my mom. Actually, she wasn’t wrong. Our isolated valley high in the Rocky Mountains of western Wyoming is pretty stunning to see. My great-grandparents on both sides of my family were among the original settlers. It has long winters, but even then the scenery doesn’t fail to meet the standard of spectacular. There are towering mountains, with red cliff faces, and other peaks that are blanketed with pine trees. The aspens form a fluttering skirt of pale green leaves at the base of these mountains all summer. Then those leaves turn a brilliant yellow in the autumn. A couple of rivers meander down the middle, and supported the beaver that enticed my trapper/mountain man ancestor to move there. Those same rivers also created succulent meadows that the farmer ancestor realized would feed dairy cows that could sustain his family when they arrived in wagons. It remains a place of beauty today.

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ACF #10 The Nolan Brothers

 

Hello, everyone! I am joined on the American Cinema Foundation podcast by Jason Eberl and George Dunn, editors of the book The Philosophy of Christopher Nolan. They are professors of philosophy with an interest in pop culture, and editors of many books on America’s favorite shows and movies over the last 50 years. Our wide-ranging discussion of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s movies goes through Memento (2000), The Dark Knight (2008), Interstellar (2014), and Dunkirk (2017).

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The Donald Trump Classic Audio Book Library

 

And now a word from our sponsor. My name is Donald Trump, I’m proud to introduce my library of the best classics of Western Civilization. Enjoy these terrific, classic, wonderful books, bound in best Texas Longhorn leather, it’s really fantastic with gold leaf on the page edges, it’s really sharp. They’ll look great on your shelves, just perfect. Plus if you order today I’ll include these really great audio tape books as read to you by me. Now how many of you can say you’ve got the President of the United States reading these really classic, great, wonderful, and superb, really the best books that Western Civilization has brought to you. Everything from this Dickens fellow, to, ah, Shakespeare, Dante, some really great Greeks (trust me, these guys know their stuff and make pretty good masons too, got a guy doing a marble platform for the toilet in master suite in the White House), and even The Art of the Deal.

Just take a listen to some of these fine, just really fantastic excerpts. I mean, Obama cranked out a bunch of his lousy speeches to hawk on the Queen, which is really pathetic, when he coulda’ used that smooth icy voice of his to read out some of these just fantastic, and frankly better, stronger, and more elegant things. Definitely better things than you’ll get on Clinton New Network. Anyways, enjoy, and listen all the way through for a special offer for you early bird types.

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The Collapse of Rock, the Beautiful Nineties, and revolutionary ugliness

 

The obsession of our popular culture with beauty has come to a tragic form of heroism. Celebrities in hearfelt and simultaneously over-produced pop songs assure the children who are their ideal audience that they are beautiful people. This assurance against evidence is premised on the knowledge that everyone is the same and that the effective truth of uniqueness is anonymity.

In societies where people are segregated by age, the young are helpless to withstand the times and powerless to attract or reward whatever attention they might get. The lie they wish to hear above all is that they have so much beauty within themselves that they can be justified. Their experience is being ignored, not found worthy of attention. The more celebrities rise spontaneously among the people, the more the people act as though they themselves were worth no attention. The celebrities then reflect this self-loathing back onto the worshiping crowds.

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Leftist Statue Demolition Doesn’t Go Far Enough

 

The orgy of statue demolition by thugs posing as the country’s racial watchdogs has generated predictable reactions from ideological purists left and right, and stirred ripples of concern among most Americans. Suddenly, national attention is focused on selected personages whose views on race relations likely differed little from those held by most Americans, North and South, during their time. No matter; they fought for the side defending slavery, which now requires the sort of historical cleansing that would warm the heart of any dedicated Stalinist.

Thus, monuments to Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Generals, along with those dedicated to the memories of ordinary Confederate soldiers, have been plunging to the ground, defaced, or quietly hoisted away during midnight hours by flak-jacketed workers guarded by police. According to the New York Times, Republican Governor Charlie Baker stated that “we should refrain from the display of symbols, especially in our public parks, that do not support liberty and equality.”

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Snowflake Zuck Bans Sabo

 

First of all, wealthy, ridiculous men who travel covertly through the land surrounded by a phalanx of guards and secretaries with the purpose of getting to know the little people have no business ruling the lives of others through a political career. So it is a particular joy to see the founder of Facebook slumming it through cow pies as he attempts to navigate the unfamiliar territory of America’s heartland. The latest mess is the permanent Facebook ban of LA street artist and free speech provocateur, Sabo.

Sabo is the genius behind the Ted Cruz with Tattoos poster, as well as some of he most effective and important street art in support of Republicanism to date. His artwork attacking the left is joyfully outrageous, and often includes politically incorrect language. Some are hilariously obscene.

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Contra Caplan on Physical Illness, Too

 

In 2006, insouciant economic imperialist Bryan Caplan published a paper outlining a consumer-choice model of mental illness designed to rehabilitate the anti-psychiatry of Thomas Szasz. Caplan claimed this model shows that mental illness should not to be understood as a “real illness” (and therefore as a matter for medical rather than moral treatment) at all, but that mental illness should be understood as a weird preference rational actors persist in despite their preference being a poor match for functioning in society.

From the perspective of Caplan’s model, mental-health treatment is a form of rent-seeking designed to paper over the interpersonal conflicts that arise when somebody won’t relinquish a preference grievously at odds with society, rent-seeking that, on the one hand, provides the “mentally ill” with official-sounding excuses for their weird preferences while, on the other hand, providing the families of the “mentally ill” with medical justification for treating sufficiently “ill” family members against their will. In October 2015, the blogger Scott Alexander, himself a psychiatrist, published “Contra Caplan on Mental Illness”, an essay pointing out why, from his perspective, it seems so strange to call mental illness merely a weird preference. Given Caplan’s framework, I would like to point out how strange it is to call physical illness not a “weird preference”, albeit a weird preference most of us take pity on out of belief that it arises from physical derangement that we don’t expect sufferers to be able to compensate for completely.

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Honoring Fallen Enemies

 

In 1944, a 20-year-old U.S. Marine corporal named Marvin Strombo got separated from his unit on the island of Saipan. Making his way back toward the rally point, he stumbled across the supine body of a young Japanese soldier. The man had apparently been killed by the concussion from a mortar explosion: his body was completely intact, bearing no apparent wounds. The sword at his side marked him as an officer. And poking out from underneath his jacket Strombo could see a folded Japanese flag.

Strombo hesitated but then reached out and removed the flag. It was covered with Japanese calligraphy: good-luck messages and signatures from the young officer’s friends and family. Flags such as this were popular souvenirs among Allied troops, so Strombo knew that if he hadn’t taken it someone else would have. But Strombo made a silent vow: “I knew it meant a lot to him … I made myself promise him that one day, I would give back the flag after the war was over.”

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Statues, History, and Truth

 

Comerica Park is home to the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball’s American League. Like so many of today’s stadiums Comerica has a “Monument Park” celebrating players of the past. There are six graven images in granite, all capturing for all-time Tiger greats performing some act of skill. The complete player Al Kaline is stretched toward the heavens making one more impossible catch. Left hander Hal Newhouser is leaned back at the end of his wind-up before delivering a strike out pitch. Charlie Gehringer is in the middle of another fluid turn of a double play. Sluggers Hank Greenberg and Willie Horton are sending one more over fence. The figures reach 13 feet in height and are fenced off from an admiring public.

Oh, and there is one of Ty Cobb, caught forever in the middle of one of his nine sliding styles.

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Hello, Goodbye

 

Today, my oldest son came home after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Oklahoma City area. To say I can’t adequately express my happiness at his return would be an understatement.

While mission service isn’t required of Mormons and I have many active member friends who never served, it is a prevalent part of our culture. In the case of my family, mission service is in our blood — my dad served in Argentina as a young man, my parents served together in New Jersey after retirement, and my three brothers and two sisters served in Mississippi, Australia, Mexico, New York, and Chile. My husband served in Brazil and I served in Washington DC, giving tours in Spanish at the temple visitors’ center as part of my assignment. (You could still see remnants of “Surrender Dorothy!” painted on the bridge over the Beltway back then.)

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Flags, Statues, and Squirrels

 

Kevin Williams has answered one question, at least, about the sudden, bizarre fixation with pigeon-spatttered statuary: “national panics over Confederate revanchism, like New York Times crusades against homelessness, tend to coincide with Republican presidencies. That is not coincidence.” He goes on to say that “the Left’s vandalism is intended mainly to get a rise out of the Right, in the hopes of getting some Republican to wrong-foot himself over a racial question.”

By attacking statues of confederate soldiers and their less savory defenders, Williams points out, the left forces Republicans not just to defend free speech for Nazis, but also to re-hash a painful war that ended a century and a half ago. Clever.

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America and Marvel, Part V: Genres and Their Reflection on American Society

 

I will close this series with two brief explanations of how genre itself involves reflections on American society. I have recently been working on horror movies, so that is one of my examples. American horror comes down to two versions of an attack on progress. One is Christian — Hitchcock did it, his many imitators since John Carpenter do it, and endless others. These stories try to put together the universal and the particular in this way. They start with a social setting that is very broad and designed to show what’s happening with American freedom. They then move on to an individual story of the emergence of evil. How crazily implausible evil has become, and how maddening, therefore, is supposed to teach the audience that they didn’t see evil in the setting. The unwillingness of good respectable middle-class Americans to see the evil in their hearts, and therefore in their society, leads them to countenance or even provoke monstrous things.

The tragic poet in this case resorts to these shocking things rightly called horror on the assumption that nothing else will even get a hearing. This is also what David Lynch wants to teach Americans; or Neil LaBute. These are very sophisticated movie-makers, but they are basically Christian moralists. They mean to remind Americans that you can stop believing in God, but you can’t stop believing in evil. Instead of providence, you get God’s wrath.

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