The Nation’s Pulse

The Nation's Pulse

The Stupidest Year Ever

By 12.29.14

The stupidest year in the history of the planet spins to a merciful conclusion in a few days. Too close to the photo of Kim Kardashian breaking the Internet to see the big picture amidst the little dots, we remain blissfully ignorant that we live in the golden age of dumb.

In January, Pew reported that a quarter of the American population hadn’t read a book in the previous year. Many among the remaining three-fourths confirm the suspicion that people lie to pollsters. The percentage of non-readers has tripled since 1978, a year that witnessed 900 Americans poison themselves in the jungle because a guy wearing sunglasses told them to and Clint Eastwood fill theaters by co-starring alongside a monkey.

The Nation's Pulse

The Real Meaning of ‘Merry Christmas’

By 12.23.14

Just days days until Christmas, and I’ve heard enough “Happy Holidays!” greetings to last a a few lifetimes. 

So, Merry Christmas everyone! Yes, that’s right, Merry Christmas! I’m done with that PC “Happy Holidays” greeting that has dominated over the past several decades. I haven’t heard a hearty Merry Christmas in years. Why, even Santa has succumbed to the generic mantra, “HO, HO, HO, Happy Holidays!” Bah, humbug. It’s just not right.

I don’t know when the “Merry Christmas” greeting was first trumped by the bland, generic “Happy Holidays” substitute. It was probably at some point in the late ’70s or early ’80s, when diversity initiatives began to take hold in American industry and sensitivity to any minor affront reached its zenith.

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Mayor De Blasio’s Bloody Hands

By 12.22.14

“Hatred and fanaticism, the flabby spirit of complacency that has permitted the preachers of fanatical hatred to appear respectable, and the self-righteousness that labels all who disagree with us as traitors or dolts, provided the way for the vile deed that snuffed out John Kennedy’s life.” 
— The editor of the Austin American writing in November 1963

“De Blasio, Sharpton and all those who encouraged this anti-cop, racist mentality all have blood on their hands. They have blood on their hands.”
— Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to Newsmax, December 2014

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Blessings Go Uncounted

By 12.15.14

According to the Wall Street Journal, “construction of church buildings in the U.S., has fallen to the lowest level since private records began in 1967.”

That’s not a surprise. The Fifties and early Sixties saw a great surge in church attendance so these data don’t account for the likely building of many new churches in those years. Such structures are usually built to last for a long time, so it’s also not surprising that the number of new religious buildings has declined.

The WSJ concedes that with the recession more-or-less over, renovations and new building may move ahead again; however, its writers have decided that the decline “is a confluence of trends: a drop in formal religious participation, changing donation habits, a shift away from the construction of massive megachurches and, more broadly, a growing taste for alternatives to the traditional house of worship.”

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Our Competitive Entitlement Economy

By 12.11.14

It’s not unusual for non-Americans, and many Americans of a center-left disposition, to portray the United States as a dog-eat-dog society: one in which the poor are left to fend for themselves and where a night-watchman state doesn’t intervene, save in extreme circumstances and often not until it’s too late. It’s a mantra that’s endlessly repeated, from the academy to the pulpit, from Congress to your local council.

Judging, however, from the latest update on global social expenditure released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—hardly a den of infamous “neoliberal” bogeymen—this portrait simply isn’t true. In fact, as the Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson notes, it turns out that America is the world’s second-biggest social spender, right after that global exemplar of fiscal rectitude and economic prudence: France.

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America’s ‘Other’ Inequality

By 12.8.14

There is a highly unequal distribution of common decency between most Americans and those who abuse the welfare state. But amid the ongoing hubbub about income and wealth inequality, this disparity of propriety gets short shrift. Forget the monetary cost. It’s the social price tag—and its polarization of politics—that’s killing us.

Let’s be clear, I do not mean to single out Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” of the U.S. population that receives some form of government benefit. Rather, I mean to focus upon those who abuse Uncle Sam’s generosity.

Although waste, fraud, and abuse isn’t breaking the bank, it’s no small line item. According to the U.S. government’s own estimates, 5.2 percent ($98.7 billion) of its social program payments are “improper”—meaning that the payment went to the wrong person, the payment amount was incorrect, there was no documentation justifying a payment, or the beneficiary used the payment on something for which it wasn’t intended.

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FDA: More Nutrition Information Will Make Americans Healthier — Oh, Really?

By 12.2.14

The Food and Drug Administration’s broad new menu-labeling rules will force restaurants, movie theaters, and grocery stores to add calorie information to the food they sell. The FDA’s action is based on a provision of the Affordable Care Act mandating more nutritional labeling, which is part of a federal plan to control the obesity epidemic in this country.

This new information, which few consumers will pay any attention to, will cost the affected industries $1.9 billion. Of course, the extra cost for all this new information, which few except Washington bureaucrats are really interested in, will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

FDA officials opine that the new requirements will “help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families,” and thus will lead to healthier nutrition. That’s a laudable plan, but I just don’t think it’s worth much. 

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Spencer Tracy at Plymouth Rock

By 11.26.14

Plymouth Adventure, a 1952 film with Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney, is not a great movie. But as the story of the Pilgrims’ passage on the Mayflower it appears every season around Thanksgiving. It’s melodramatic and somewhat dated but still warmly moving and instructive. Tracy, true to his own real-life personality, effectively portrays a grumpy, unlikeable, and chronically depressed but competent Captain Christopher Jones, who meanly accepts a bribe to deliver the Pilgrims to chilly Massachusetts rather than the desired southerly Virginia.

Captain Jones also makes no secret of his trans-Atlantic lust for Gene Tierney, the primly attractive Dorothy Bradford, wife of Pilgrim leader William Bradford, who nobly suppresses her own hankerings for the bawdy captain, while hoping to save his despondent soul.

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The Few, The Loud, The Marines

By 11.7.14

The colonists who founded the United States Marine Corps in Tun Tavern 239 years ago Monday certainly understood their demographic. The launch of the USMC in a Philadelphia bar makes sense in a way that the founding of NAMBLA in an old church does not.

Uncommon valor is indeed a common virtue in taprooms, particularly in those moments before last call. Captain Samuel Nicholas didn’t possess a computer algorithm of the like Amazon employs to tell customers who bought The Audacity of Hope that they might also enjoy Mein Kampf. But he intuitively grasped that people who liked fighting also liked drinking.

Appropriately, Marines gather around the world in barrooms, or at least banquet halls with bars in them, to celebrate owing their existence, like so many of us do, to a meeting in a barroom. I have the good fortune to attend one such event this weekend.

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The Growing Halloween Depravity of Grownups

By 10.31.14

Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers kill kids rushing to become adults. Is it too much to ask of the ghoulish trio to apply their talents toward adults rushing to become kids?

The grownups who have decimated the ranks of trick-or-treaters by aborting 10 million of them in the last decade offer penance for their sins against Halloween by dressing up in place of the missing children. The National Retail Federation estimates that adults will spend $1.4 billion on their own Halloween costumes this year. That’s $1.4 billion that they could have spent on man-cave clubhouses, a huge birthday party, a collection of Care Bears, or some other pastime recently favored by adults.

One way thirtysomething Halloween enthusiasts recoup the money spent on costumes involves not dispensing candy. One can’t help but notice the same couples, dressed in the late night as a sexy Ebola nurse and her doting patient, hiding in their kitchens with the lights out earlier in the evening when the doorbells ring.