Is Chick-fil-A a Worm in the Big Apple?

You can get my take here at the Acton Institute.

But here’s a clip:

To be fair to the author, he’s not crazy about McDonald’s and Starbucks, either. He throws shade at both companies for their “deadening uniformity”. Consumers are also a problem, because of their preference for established goods over things that are “new and untested.” He seems to be saying that if Chick-fil-A has the gall to bring another chain to New York, it should at least have the good taste to adopt the progressive politics he can count on with Starbucks.


Though Our Ears Be Deafened . . .

In Cicero’s On the Commonwealth, Scipio has a dream of heaven where he goes to visit his grandfather.  While there, he is entranced by the music of the spheres.  Sadly, he learns that men have lost the ability to hear it, though it is everywhere:

Men’s ears have been filled with this sound and consequently grown deaf to it.  You have no duller sense than hearing, just as at the point where the Nile plunges from high mountains at the place called Cataract, the race of men that lives there is completely deaf because of the magnitude of the sound.  The sound made by the rapid revolution of the universe is so great that human ears cannot grasp it, just as you are unable to look directly into the Sun, because your sight and sense are overcome by its rays.




To Be Wise, Strong, and Loving: A Prayer for All of Us

I’ve been thinking about a prayer I used to offer each night while putting the kids to bed. You really have to think about what you want to pray for your young children. One of the things I settled on was to ask God that he would help them to become wise, strong, and loving.  I still pray it, but no longer while sitting on the edge of a child’s bed.
If I could pray anything for the people of my country and for myself, it would be this same thing. It seems to me that we are currently far from the goal.
What is it to be wise? To be wise is not to be caught in the grip of one’s passions and to lose discernment in the process. The wise person doesn’t have to know everything, but they do need to be sure that they DON’T know it all. The wise person must be measured and judicious. Wisdom means not jumping to conclusions, prejudging motives, and making too easy denominations of people into friends and enemies. Being wise means seeking understanding rather than casting aspersions and assuming ill will.  To be wise is to give others the benefit of the doubt and to assume they mean well until evil intent becomes obvious (which is quite rare).
 Being strong doesn’t have to do with physical strength, at least not the way I was praying for it.  When I ask for my kids to be strong, I mean that I hope they will learn to be resilient.  Strong people don’t give up easily.  They take their licks from the world and don’t go into permanent retreat.  To be strong is to continue to try to learn and grow.  It is to encounter difficulty and to realize that while the challenge is too big right now, it won’t always be that way.  Strong people intuitively understand that they have inherent value (given by God, in my mind) and that the world is not enough to dissolve them down to nothing.  Strength comes in part from finding joy in overcoming failure.  We also display strength when we make correct use of our will.  Instead of dominating us, it exists to give energy and emotional substance to our reason.
When I ask for my children to be loving, I am looking for them to gain the ability to extend their heart out beyond themselves.  Love is fierce and real for spouse, for family, and for children.  That is true.  But love should not be in partnership with the preference and hatred that can emerge for those we see as being outside of our circles.  Love has to do with seeing every person as a special creation of God.  It means situating yourself within God’s will as a person who reaches out to others and who tries to bring them in to the fellowship of all mankind.  Love doesn’t mean abandoning your beliefs, though, because without conviction love can degenerate into nothing more than sentiment without foundation.
My prayer is that we would gain the wisdom, strength, and love to bear with each other.  We need to utterly deny the sick, emotional satisfaction of seeing others as villains in the Lex Luthor mold.  We need to be resilient enough not to make enemies too easily and to bounce back quickly when our pride is hurt.  We need to love well enough to give up the self-centeredness and tribalism that so easily possess us.  We need to gain the capacity for real friendship even with those with whom we disagree.
I pray these things for my children.  I pray them for you.  I pray them for myself.


Explaining Why Trump’s Charlottesville Comments Were a Mega-Fail

Because I write so often on politics and culture, people who know me often bring questions or something they’d like to discuss.  The thing I keep hearing lately, especially from folks who aren’t big political partisans, is a question about why Trump’s comments regarding Charlottesville are such a big deal.  I want to try and address that.

Let’s begin with an admission.  Much of what the president said about events in Charlottesville was factually accurate.  There were people in the counter-demonstration who were ready to use violence and who were provocative.  If the question has to do with simple law and order, it is entirely possible that the counter-demonstrators were the spark that lit the fuse.  The problem is that to see events in this light lacks substantial context.  And in this case, context is everything.

It would be one thing if the Charlottesville protesters were your standard Southern men who collect Civil War (or the War between the States as many would have it) memorabilia and who cherish the gentlemanly reputation of Robert E. Lee.  Whether you agree with them or not, that’s a debate that can be had without necessarily entailing a strongly racist view.  After all, the defenders of Lee typically see him as something of a tragic figure.  He was arguably the best military man in the nation, but his sympathies were with his native Virginia.  Had Virginia been a Union state, Lee might well have ended up as president of the United States.  I’ve never heard these folks promote Lee as some kind of champion of the slavery cause.

But the reality seems different.  It appears that the Charlottesville protesters did, indeed, embrace something like white nationalism.  If we put the best possible face on it (which takes some work), then we can see them as people who believe that the European culture promoted the highest level of civilization.  Unfortunately, they believe that to continue enjoying western civilization artificial or political means must be employed to keep minorities out or limited to marginal numbers.  That’s where we get away from the best possible face (which still has problems) and move toward the marred side of the Janus profile where white supremacy lurks.  They are not really defending Lee so much as they are cynically using Lee to promote an ugly form of racial superiority.

When President Trump entered the picture, which was made necessary by the ultimately fatal consequence of the clash of protesters, he spoke almost as if addressing two gangs of kids who had mixed it up and needed to be dressed down and sent home.  To paraphrase, “Hey, now, you kids are better than this.  There’s plenty of blame to go around.  Clean yourselves up and go home.”

The problem is that this is the wrong frame.  Even if both sets of protesters were bad in certain ways, the simple fact is still that one set is setting forth a form of white supremacy (white nationalism can’t get away from that charge) and the other is opposing (unfortunately, violently) the first group’s speech.  Yes, it’s bad to start swinging clubs at white nationalists holding a demonstration.  But there is nothing good about the particular demonstration in the first place.  Like I said, they aren’t the good-hearted apologists for Lee.  They are promoting the idea that western civilization has to be protected from many non-European races.

In addition, the President didn’t speak to the situation with American history adequately in mind.  In all my 47 years I have hated carrying around the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism.  It seemed like some unjust tax I have always had to pay.  But the simple fact is that I do live in this particular world with the history that we have and it can’t be escaped.  I would never dream of speaking about a protest like the one in Charlottesville without fully recognizing that this is not a conflict conducted in a vacuum.  The history is fresh enough that white supremacy connects to a time when it had a lot more power behind it.  To fail to adequately describe that reality as a president is to fail in the spiritual and emotional sense of leading.

These are the reasons why President Trump’s comments caused so much distress.  He isn’t living in the cutthroat world of New York real estate any more.  Neither is he any longer the type of celebrity who benefits from any story so long as his name is correctly spelled.  He’s the leader of a country with both a tragic and a great history that still wields more power than almost all the others combined.  Shooting from the hip is just not an option.

Trailing Edge Review: Spider Man Homecoming

  1.  I’m just gonna say it at the outset: I greatly prefer the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, which is much more true to the source material.
  2. This Spider-Man is the first one who actually IS the menace J. Jonah Jameson repeatedly claimed him to be.  His reckless incompetence is part of the story here, but it bothers me.  The Peter Parker I knew was deeply responsible after failing to stop the death of his Uncle Ben (now a missing figure).  Now, his destructiveness sets the stage for a new origin of sorts.
  3. I like Zendaya and enjoy seeing her liberated from those Disney shows.
  4. The film is effective at bringing multi-culturalism to the cast.  Makes perfect sense in New York.  MJ is half-black.  Flash is Indian-American.  Pete’s sidekick (previously a non-factor because his secret always made him a loner) is an Asian kid.
  5. Pete has a side-kick.  I don’t like it because it interferes with the tragic nature of Spider-Man.  He can’t be known because of what will happen to Aunt May.
  6. Aunt May is Marissa Tomei.  I miss the Aunt May who was Pete’s one solid source of love in his life and who needed him, too.  She was old and frail, which made her all the more compelling as someone he had to protect.
  7. What is up with the crazy 70’s outfits Marissa Tomei is wearing?
  8. Spider-Man wears a suit that is basically a Stark creation with its own “Jarvis.”  While it provides comic relief and drives the story in certain ways, I can’t stand it.  Please, please let this Iron Spider concept go away.  In the 1980’s we saw Spider-Man develop in ways (see his battle with Titania in Secret Wars) that showed he was one of the most formidable characters in the Marvel Universe.  He doesn’t need Tony Stark’s technology to get there.
  9. The Vulture of long-standing comic fame was a lawyer.  Spider-Man Homecoming presents us with a Vulture who is basically a Trump voter.  The uncaring elites come and take away his honest work, thus earning his lasting enmity and convincing him to do things he would never have otherwise done (like voting Trump?).  But pay attention, the Vulture has gone from being a member of the elite (by implication who feasts on carcasses) to being a working class type guy tired of being oppressed.  What’s wrong with this guy?  Couldn’t he just take unemployment or go on disability???  I hope my sarcasm comes through.  The Vulture has effectively been transformed from a parasite lawyer to a working class criminal.
  10. Is the spider sense gone?  I think the spider sense is gone.  This Spider-Man gets taken by surprise in combat.  Unthinkable.

Thoughts from the Treadmill: Dirty Dancing Edition

  1.  How long is this vacation, anyway?  There’s time for a tremendous amount of drama and an awful lot of dance training.  Do people stay at resorts in the Catskills for a month at a time?
  2. Why is Patrick Swayze putting so much effort into a dead-end dance career?
  3. Parents during this time clearly have different expectations regarding knowledge of their teen’s whereabouts than most of us do today.
  4. Isn’t Jennifer Grey headed for the same kind of unexpected pregnancy that landed Swayze’s dance partner in trouble?
  5. What’s all this business with training barefoot on an elevated log?  Is Patrick Swayze training to be a ninja?  Will Jennifer Grey become a ninja, too?
  6. Are they training to become ninjas of dance?
  7. Or is it something deeper they seek?  Is dance merely a pretext for something else?
  8. Are they becoming — dare I say it? — ninjas of love?
  9. Is the film really about Marxism?  The owner of the resort is clearly an oppressor.  Grey’s parents are obviously members of the uncaring, corrupt bourgeoisie.  Dance is setting the proletariat free from the drudgery of labor.  Jennifer Grey is an intellectual from the bourgeoisie who recognizes the real potential of the proletariat in the form of beautiful, chiseled Patrick Swayze.  She clearly thinks that revolution never looked so good.

Donald Trump and Sticks and Stones

trump mic

Being conservative and having Donald Trump for your president is pretty much the opposite of having Ronald Reagan.  Where Reagan was full of class and fought back well when he had to, Donald Trump is on the wrong side of the sticks and stones debate.  He thinks that words are the weapon of choice and frequently wields them with the intent to wound.  When it comes to presidential rhetoric, Donald Trump is a boor.  That’s just a fact.  It’s silly to argue otherwise.

It’s even sillier to have a presidential spokesperson standing on a podium defending the president in a situation like this one.  What’s the point?  The only one who can defend the comments is him.  Why would a reporter even bother to ask a spokesperson about it?  And why would the spokesperson bother to answer?

How should we go about discussing it?  Should I post that I disapprove of his comments?  Should others?  Isn’t it basically obvious?  If anyone defends his remarks with regard to a television host’s purported facelift, then they expose their own lack of class.  Look, we’ve hit upon a self-evident truth!

These days we sometimes talk about signal versus noise.  We’ve gotten the signal.  It’s not the first time.  Donald Trump lacks class and restraint.  That’s known.  I’m not sure why we need belabor the point.  If we choose to have a national freak-out every time the president tweets badly, I contend we’ll just waste our time and satisfy a lot of emotional needs.  We’re endlessly thrashing about in an ocean of noise.

The whole thing makes me think of my wife’s approach to behaviors she disapproves of from our kids (and sometimes even from me).  She just refuses to acknowledge it.  She calls it extinction.  My suggestion is that we just extinguish the behavior from the president by refusing to acknowledge it.  But that won’t happen because there are points that need to be scored.  I get it.

Every second we spend fussing over a non-event like this Mika Brzezinski blow-up is still less time spent talking and thinking about real policy.  The hotter the president runs, the cooler the rest of us need to be.