Category: Uncategorized

Do What Feels Awful

America is awash in trashy magazines—People, an issue of which mysteriously shows up in my mailbox every week, Us Weekly, InStyle, the legions of greasy tabloids devoted to critically examining the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby bump—but perhaps the trashiest of them all is Cosmopolitan, a magazine whose chief stock-in-trade revolves around creative sexual uses for cranberry Yankee candles. Cosmo is superlatively trashy in large part because it ostensibly purports to be classy; it seeks to present itself as a latter-day Kama Sutra, but it generally ends up being a kind of lowbrow ulta-soft-core sex confessional, with the same 12 Mind-Blowing Sex Moves to Try in Bed recycled month after month for years on end.

If there were any more proof needed that Cosmo is little more than checkout-aisle garbage, last week the magazine ran a paean to infidelity, explaining to its readers “Why You Should Rethink Your Stance on Cheating.” There are, apparently—of course—efforts to “break down the taboo that exists around [cheating] in U.S. culture,” and Cosmo is evidently onboard.

Citing Esther Perel, “probably the foremost scholar on cheating that the world has to offer,” the magazine gives several reasons why you shouldn’t flip out when your spouse has sex with someone else. Among those reasons: cheating is very common; cheating is “way more complicated than most people think;” “treating cheating with shame only hurts people more;” and so forth. Relativizing immorality is usually the quickest way to normalizing it: a lot of people cheat, after all, and anyway it’s like super-complex and complicated and everything so you totally shouldn’t shame someone who does it. In truth I can think of no other area of moral depravity that we so often seek to equivocate, let alone in so perverse a way: racism, after all, is also both common and complex, but nobody—no good person, anyway—wants to “break down the taboo that exists around it.” But when it comes to breaking your spouse’s heart, tearing apart your family, and placing animalistic desires over self-control and self-sacrifice, well—we wouldn’t want anyone to be ashamed of doing those things, would we?

But maybe that whole dichotomy is outdated anyway, as Perel argues:

Monogamy can’t and shouldn’t be assumed. Perel credits LGBT communities with carrying the conversation around non-monogamy and more realistic, freeing approaches to dating. “When you are not part of the heterosexual norm, you are more isolated, but you are also sometimes a lot more creative,” she said. “You get to actually invent your own norms, you’re not beholden to a system that is telling you how to live.” She added that conversations around monogamy should be just that – a conversation, and not an assumption. It lessens the odds that you’ll ask something from a partner that they can’t or don’t want to deliver, and makes sure everyone’s on the same page in a healthier way.

“Inventing your own norms” is, of course, a euphemism for promiscuous, sluttish behavior—which, if you’re into that sort of thing, then sure, I suppose you should “credit LGBT communities” for helping to make such behavior not merely mainstream but potentially orthodox. That seems to be what a lot of people are aiming for, anyway: the kind of relationships gay activist Dan Savage calls “monogamish,” which is to say not monogamous at all. (It is interesting, in any case, to compare the rhetoric of gay marriage rights with the weird whisper campaign going on beneath it: “Gay people want to get married just like straight people” very often exists right alongside “LGBT people can teach straight people a lot about open marriages.” Do tell.)

Monogamous norms exist for a reason—several reasons, actually, all of them good: they promote family stability, they protect children (those both living and as-yet-uncreated) from instability and insecurity, they are physically safer, they ultimately undergird a stable and civil society. There has always been infidelity, of course, and one assumes there always will be—but it has also always been looked upon as a moral failure, something that is of course forgivable and rectifiable but nonetheless bad and utterly inadvisable. If we are indeed moving toward a society in which infidelity is looked upon favorably—if sexual promiscuity and immorality become the open and celebrated norm—then families, children and society will surely all suffer for it. And that would be a great shame, in every sense of the word.

A New Definition of Pain and Suffering

A small sampling of some eye-catching headlines from reviews of the latest Star Wars movie: “How the women of ‘The Last Jedi’ make ‘Star Wars’ a Force.” “Women Become a Force to Reckon With in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’.” “‘Star Wars’ Always Put Women in the Back Seat, But in ‘The Last Jedi’ They Call The Shots.” “Women’s Stories Are More Prominent Than Ever in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’.” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi Offers the Harsh Condemnation of Mansplaining We Need in 2017.” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi Should Just Be Called ‘Women Getting Shit Done’.” “Laura Dern Says It’s ‘Really Exciting’ That ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Has Strong Female Leads.”

Hmm. I’m sensing a bit of a theme here. Now, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan—I wouldn’t even really call myself a “fan” of the series, at all, and my unorthodox opinions of the films have earned me more than a little scorn—so maybe I’m not fit to judge. But still: is there not something mildly kind of pathetic about all of this geeking out over the lead billing in a silly space opera?  I don’t know. Maybe it’s the uniformity of it all—the drearily predictable rave reviews of a film because some women in it behaved in a certain way.

Feminists would say that it’s about more than that—that it has to do with “representation” and showing little girls everywhere that women can be space generals, too—but in truth there is no cultural commentary more enervating and banal than feminist film criticism, a literary genre that essentially turns on the shallow proposition: “A woman did something in a film and it made me (happy/angry).” Its chief contribution to the critical art world is the Bechedel Test, an utterly useless political evaluation tool that views motion pictures like H.R. anti-harassment training videos. One does not get the opinion that a feminist critic has ever truly enjoyed a film, apart from the rare instances when a movie offers a “harsh condemnation of mansplaining.”

That Star Wars—a corny, mostly overrated space opera series—has become the fixation of progressive gender pundits is something of a funny joke, but there you are. In truth, that ideology led a lot of people to overlook some seriously glaring faults of the last movie, The Force Awakens, which was hailed as an absolutely dynamite show-stopper of a movie but which ended up being more or less meh, which is to stay quintessentially Star Wars. It was fun at times, interesting at others, clever at certain moments—but it was also a shamelessly derivative space battle movie with largely one-dimensional characters, a film beset by dozens of major plot holes and with a lead protagonist who was freakishly powerful and successful in a way that defied all reasonable suspension-of-disbelief conventions. The movie also relied several times on comically convenient narrative developments in order to advance the plot, the kind of lurching cinematic touches that honestly reminded me of the fiction I used to write in eighth grade.

It is possible to still enjoy The Force Awakens in spite of these problems—I did, to a certain extent—but the adulation seemed a bit over-the-top for what was, at the end of the day, a largely sloppy rehash of some tired old space tropes.

It was not until after I saw the film that it became clear: while one could get a kick out of the movie easily enough, the high critical praises heaped upon it were likely motivated in most part not primarily by its quality—for it was not a very good movie, and was very far from a great one—but because of what it represented, vis a vis a powerful lead female character beating up a bunch of guys and flying spaceships around the interstellar medium. It becomes easy, in that vein, to ignore the movie’s serious shortcomings. That is kind of the moment we’re in, where we’re supposed to get excited when “badass” fictional female characters do “badass” things, even as the movies themselves are kind of lame.  The Force Awakens—and in all likelihood The Last Jedi—are as hugely successful as they are probably in no small part because of silly gender politics, the kind that think “women getting shit done” is one core measure of a film’s enjoyability. Oh well, surely all of these movies are better than the Star Wars Holiday Special.

No It’s Really Not That Bad

It’s a funny world we live in. “We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization and our religion and to set free a suffering humanity,” Roy Moore said after losing his Senate race. “Today, we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty. Abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Well, sure, stipulated, all of it. But are we really supposed to accept that Roy Moore is the guy to save us from all of it—Roy Moore, who was booted off the Alabama Supreme Court not once but twice, who managed to lose a throwaway Senate race to a Democrat, and whose own sordid past apparently included sexual predilections toward 14-year-old girls? Roy Moore—is this the guy who’s going to drag our civilization back from the brink?

I have about had it with the regular cycle of heroic blustering bullshit that marks every single American election. Every two to four years we are clubbed with another round of messianic prophecy, bugling declarations that This New Guy is The One, and his opponent is The Anti-One, the former the solution for everything and the latter the foil to it all. It is true that America, like every country, often runs some very bad people for political office, and sometimes we even run some good ones. But for the most part we put up regular politicians: corrupt, self-serving, venal, inept, incompetent, not very bright. Sometimes politicians do genuinely bad things, i.e. the Democrats and Barack Obama in 2010; sometimes they telegraph intent to do even worse things, such as Hillary Clinton’s obvious hostility toward American individual gun rights. But for the most part the formula runs as follows: if it’s the guy On Your Side, he’ll probably do some things you like but also some things you don’t like; if it’s the guy that’s Not On Your Side, he’ll probably do some things you don’t like but maybe also some things you do like.

Would that we comported ourselves more along those lines. But instead we have the apocalypto-style politics of American political life, which is part of the reason why hundreds of thousands of Alabamians apparently felt the need to vote for an embarrassing hack of a disgraced judge to represent them in the greatest deliberative body on the planet. In fairness, Doug Jones is a genuinely nasty guy, someone who—desperate and empty denials notwithstanding—supports literal baby-killing as a model public policy. So you can understand the impulse to want to keep him away from the Senate. But that is the problem: in our political system, we are so often convinced that the only choice we can reasonably make is between a deadweight pervert lout on the one hand and a genuine champion of infanticide on the other. “I believe the heart and soul of our country is at stake,” Roy Moore said about this race. Oh my goodness, let us hope not—what a rotten heart that would be, and an empty soul, if these were the two choices upon which we staked them.

Make no mistake: Democrats and liberals should be genuinely ashamed at this victory, given the caliber of man they elected to serve in the Senate. There is nothing to celebrate in sending a man to Washington who believes it should be 100% legal to suck the brains out of a fully-grown human child (unless you’re into that sort of thing, anyway). But those who voted for the losing Roy Moore should be embarrassed, too—it was the wrong choice. We can do better than this. And the first step we take to getting there is by divorcing our politics from the insufferable doomsday impulse that has become, aggravatingly, so commonplace in this country.

That Which is Out of Sync

“I’m miscarrying right now,” Danielle Campoamor wrote at Romper last week, “and it’s only strengthening my beliefs about abortion.” You should read her essay; there is a desperate sadness to it, a sort of inadvertent confessional made by someone frantically attempting to come to grips with the marked brutality of abortion, of deliberately killing one’s unborn child. We cannot hope to fight and eventually end abortion if we do not first understand the people who have and advocate them.

“There is a common misconception that the mom who miscarries is a very different person than the woman who aborts,” Campoamor wrote, “but I’m here to say there is no difference.” This is kind of a non sequitur—abortion, being a choice, is qualitatively different from miscarriage, which is involuntary—but Campoamor seems determined to equate the two, hoping, it would seem, to draw an explicit equivalence between the unwilling phenomenon of miscarriage and the deliberate, premeditated killing of an unborn human:

Miscarriage and abortion are sisters. Just like my body knew what to do when an abnormal embryo implanted itself in my uterus, my mind knew what to do when a healthy embryo found its way to the soft lining of my uterine wall back when I was 23 years old, in an unhealthy relationship, living paycheck-to-paycheck, unwilling and unable to be a mother. They haven’t always synced up, my body and my mind, but even separately they’ve known what to do at different times in my life. I do not regret my decision to have an abortion.

“My mind knew what to do:” can you think of a more quietly ghastly justification for murder than this? I am hard-pressed. This is beyond even the stereotypical excuse one hears from the schizophrenic, the insane, the mentally deranged: “The voices made me do it.” But Campoamor is none of these things; she is, for all appearances, perfectly healthy and of sound mental faculties. Still, she killed her child—why? She was “unwilling and unable to be a mother,” as if she were not a mother already; she was “living paycheck-to-paycheck,” as if that justifies taking a human life. “My mind knew what to do,” she says. There is such an evasiveness here, a transference of guilt: it wasn’t me, it was my mind. But be honest with yourself: would you not reach for the same kind of exculpatory language, if you killed someone but were not comfortable with it? Haven’t we all, at some point, had to justify our bad choices by deflecting responsibility for them? Even the most mundane excuses for run-of-the-mill poor behavior—“I was tired,” “I was  mad,” “I was frustrated”—are simply shades of this kind of equivocation. Then again there is a big difference between, say, speaking unkindly to someone and killing another human.

At play here too is a resolute unwillingness to accept the way the world is. “They haven’t always synced up, my body and my mind,” she says. I feel I should not have to point this out to a grown woman, or to anyone reading this right now, but: it matters not one whit whether a woman’s mind is “synced up” with her pregnant body or not. Pregnancy abides, syncing or no syncing—the life inside of the woman remains a life, alive, a human being. “My mind just wasn’t synced up with my body!” is another chilling defense, a post hoc justification for murder. Could you not use this under other circumstances, e.g. postpartum? “My mind wasn’t synced up with my six-month-old baby. So I killed it.” What is the difference, exactly?

Abortion is the easy way out, a quick and brutal fix for a temporary circumstance. Nobody wants to be known as a lazy person, let alone a brutal one. Do you? So we invent excuses, exculpations, justifications, denials, evasions, rationalizations, vindications. But quite apart from the usual petty reasons, abortion seems to be a unique inspirer of self-serving apologia, perhaps because it is so uniquely terrible and so difficult to face. This is part of what makes the fight against abortion so difficult: to turn the tide on abortion we are likely going to have to convince millions and millions of women who have had them, and millions and millions of men and women who have supported and paid for the abortions, and still millions more who have held abortion up to be an objective good, that they have been undergoing, funding and championing an inhuman monstrosity. It is not easy to own up to such a thing. There is so much work to be done, and so much of it is very steeply uphill.

What Do I Have to Do to Get a Conviction Around Here?

Whenever the subject of police criticism arises in the United States, a familiar refrain usually comes up: “Cops have some of the most difficult jobs in the country. You don’t know what it’s like to be a cop, so you shouldn’t criticize them.” This show-stopper of a point is often made most eagerly by police officers themselves, who seem to believe their professional performances are more or less beyond reproach, as if every cop were le Roi Soleil above even the merest whiff of even the most constructive criticism. 

This is odd, because police officers are human beings, and as human beings they have the capacity to be, and often are, viciously stupid, inept, incompetent, hateful, spiteful and woefully unfit for their jobs. Such was the case with the police officers who last year were responsible for the death of unarmed Daniel Shaver, one of whom was recently declared not guilty of second-degree murder.

The video of this shooting is markedly infuriating, though maybe, to the average cop, it looks perfectly reasonable. Several police officers responded to reports of an individual pointing a gun out of a motel room window; having descended upon the hotel room of the alleged gunman, they shout for the inhabitants of the room to exit. Charles Lagnley, another police officer on the scene who has all the poise and professional tact of a pro-wrestling villain on literal steroids, barks and occasionally shrieks a succession of baffling directions at the two individuals who come out, alternately telling them to keep their legs crossed while at the same time ordering them to crawl toward the police officers. ” If you move,” he tells Shaver at one point, “we are going to consider that a threat and we are going to deal with it and you may not survive it.” Later he screams at Shaver: “DO NOT PUT YOUR HANDS DOWN FOR ANY REASON! YOU THINK YOU’RE GONNA FALL – YOU BETTER FALL ON YOUR FACE! YOUR HANDS GO BACK INTO THE SMALL OF YOUR BACK OR WE ARE GOING TO SHOOT YOU!” Eventually directed to crawl, Shaver—sobbing, drunk, obviously confused and terrified—appears to reach around to his waistband, likely to pull his pants up. He is then shot five times by officer Philip Brailsford. Shaver was unarmed.

Before the days of body cams, it was doubtlessly easier for police officers to wave away shootings like this: just describe the victim as having acted “erratically,” sit through a perfunctory inquest and maybe a slapdash internal review, and you’re good to go. Technology allows us to exert a measure of accountability over our law enforcement, though plainly it is often still insufficient: Daniel Shaver was killed for no reason, and his juice box trigger-happy killers will suffer no punishment for it. Indeed the only person who suffered for it was Daniel Shaver, who is dead.

There was no reason for this to happen: it would have been entirely possible, and rather more appropriate from a practical perspective, to have the suspects in this case simply lay face down on the floor and have the officers approach them rather than screaming a series of orders at them. Why did that not happen? Maybe Lagnley simply likes giving orders to people; it is entirely possible that he regularly feels powerless in his personal and professional lives and relishes the chance to bellow at people. We’ve all been there, of course—we’ve all taken out our aggressions and insecurities on unfair targets from time to time—but then again the average person’s lashing out doesn’t generally, as a rule, lead to a young father getting shot.

Daniel Shaver is dead, and apparently there is nobody on the planet who is legally culpable for his death—in the eyes of our punitive justice system, he just vanished into thin air, through the fault of nobody at all. This is a terrible thing, but it is also, in its own terrible way, fascinating. You can sort of understand the shooting death of Shaver, if only in the context of the vicious incompetence and professional malice of the police officers who killed him. But what about the eight men and women who looked at the profoundly compelling evidence and said, “Eh, oh well?” What is it about police officers that leads us to imbue them with both a superhuman aura of majesty and exceptionally little responsibility for their own actions? Why are we comfortable with this kind of society?

Pull the Lever Back Slowly

My friend and former colleague Bethany Mandel believes that it’s the media’s fault that a majority of Roy Moore supporters disbelieve the accusations leveled at him. Well, maybe she’s right, but I myself doubt it. Our media, to be sure, are a uniquely hack-filled class, given now more than ever to glaring, humiliating, career-ending journalistic errors, and public trust in them is at an appropriate historic low. Then again, the crux of the Roy Moore story is not the media but the women: it seems the accusations against Moore have been vetted thoroughly and transparently enough that the only way one can disbelieve them is by disbelieving the women who made them.

While I’m not positive about every one of the allegations against Moore—the yearbook thing feels off, just kind of weird and strange—I believe enough of them: I think Moore did indeed lust after fourteen-year-olds when he was in his early thirties, I don’t doubt that  he tried to initiative sexual contact with them, and I find Beverly Young Nelson’s claims about his little attempted tryst with her in his two-door to be compelling by any reasonable standard (“Mr. Moore was wearing brown hush puppies on his feet,” she wrote, which—believe me—is something you remember about this kind of thing). We cannot honestly know for certain what happened between Roy Moore and these women—but that is true of so many things which we nevertheless accept as credible. Why stop now?

So while the media deserve some of the blame here, ultimately we should view this not as a problem of credibility but one of political calculation: a great many voters in Alabama simply do not want Democrat Doug Jones representing them in the United States Senate. And I will admit that, in a strictly limited sense, I get it: last year I voted for Hillary Clinton, one of the more venal, corrupt, self-serving, pro-baby-killing politicians to ever grace the national political stage. I did so because I felt Donald Trump posed a unique and urgent threat to global peace and the American constitutional order, while Hillary Clinton represented little more than a slightly less competent, slightly more unlikable version of Bill Clinton. I have come to believe that some of my fears about Donald Trump were not exactly prescient. But I don’t regret voting the way I did based on the evidence I had at the time. So, I understand: you make do with the information you have, and you vote the way you think is best, and—as appears to be the case with a great many Alabama voters—maybe you lie to yourself about the guy you’re voting for, just to make yourself feel a little better.

Just the same: it is an odd thing. The 2016 presidential election did have a sense of urgency about it (though don’t they always?), a unique sort of seeming moral impetus. Whether or not that was actually the case, I don’t think you can say the same thing about a special election of one senator in Alabama. “The fate of the United States hinges on electing Roy Moore to the Senate” is not really a believable statement, though it is one Roy Moore has more or less made. Color me skeptical.

Maybe a lot of Alabama voters feel the same way as Moore—and that is a shame. I don’t think it is necessary, in this case, to vote for Doug Jones, and I find Jeff Flake’s take on the matter to be pathetically self-serving. But it would seem that—if for no other reason than to err on the side of caution—voting for Roy Moore is not something one wants to be known for, not given what we know to be likely true about the man. Put another way: the allegations against Roy Moore are either true or they’re false. If they’re true, voting for him becomes a vote for an unrepentant, uniquely perverted man. If they’re false—well, maybe they are. But anyone who believes that must ask themselves why they believe that, and whether or not they apply that level of stringent scrutiny to every other aspect of their lives.

Garbage in Every Can

We have become so used to the staggering abundance of food in 21st century first-world economies that we are apt to forget just how much of it—-the vast majority of it—is garbage, figuratively and in some cases quite literally. While having the appearance of abundance, the modern supermarket, and overwhelmingly the modern restaurant, are simply clever delivery mechanisms for various permutations of garbage: industrial chemicals blended into cheap muffins and danishes, third-rate dairy products cooked in order to conceal their obvious inferiority, fake fish, mountains upon mountains of processed wheat and refined sugar, bread injected with preservatives and conditioners and corn syrup in order to conceal its self-evident low quality, billions of gallons of soda.

The free market types (and I am one of them) like to point out that the proof is in the pudding, as it were: at no time in history has the human race been more well-fed and satiated than it is now. That is true: in the annals of human history, we have never had our bellies so full—of garbage. Over three-quarters of the average American’s caloric intake comes from food that is at least moderately processed; over three-fifths come from food that is “highly processed—multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.”

The proof is indeed in the pudding, almost literally: two-thirds of Americans today are overweight, and it will probably be 3/4 by the end of the decade. Thirty percent of us are obese. This is indicative of a diet of poison, not health. It is indeed preferable to starving to death—I suppose. But what a dismal dichotomy.

In Europe they have taken some proactive steps to fend off the tide of garbage. In London they recently banned fast food restaurants within 400 meters of school buildings, while a leading medical organization is calling for a ban on junk food television ads while children might be watching. France recently banned unlimited soft drinks in restaurants. Ireland recently undertook to forbid “unhealthy food sponsorships aimed at children attending primary school.”

These are excellent solutions—if you are a statist whose sovereignty has been willingly outsourced to a cadre of petty tyrant busybody bureaucrats. The United States, the people of which even at this late hour still retain a modicum of dignity ordered toward our precious freedoms, has no use for the heavy, scratchy horse blanket of nanny state politics. Such regulations are an irritant to the American mind, something properly held in contempt and dismissed with sneers and rolled eyes. It drives progressives crazy when you laugh uproariously at the pathetic politics of European social democracy. Good—–laugh about it often.

So—barring a revolution of European-style regulatory oversight in this country—it is up to us to decide what to do about the garbage; whether or not we will continue to eat from the bounty of genuinely nasty food that forms the majority of our food supply. I am even now hopeful that the average American is capable of turning away from it all, that we can begin a shift away from the garbage and towards clean meat, healthy eggs, whole vegetables, raw fruit, water—–the basic building blocks of a healthy and satisfying food life.

But sometimes I doubt it—especially when I see someone eating a packaged cupcake or a frozen pound cake or a microwave burrito and they throw up their hands and exclaim, “I don’t even want to know what’s in it.” Imagine if you took the same approach to buying a house, or renting a hotel room, or choosing a spouse: “I don’t even want to know what’s in it.” That we make this exception so often for food—the stuff that keeps us alive, that literally builds us—is something of a genuine mystery.

My own family has made genuine strides toward eliminating most of the garbage from our refrigerator and our pantry. I say that not with pride (though we are proud of it) but rather an emphasis on what it takes to do this. If you want to start eating healthier, and as a result feeling and being healthier, you must do these things:

First, commit yourself to cooking in the home as much as possible. No, not one meal a week, or two, or three. Try nineteen or twenty. Don’t let it be a rare occasion; don’t be the person who says, “I cooked last night!” as if it were a novelty. Make it a non-novelty, workaday, part of your schedule. Buy an apron; aprons are invaluable. Sometimes you’ll screw up—you forgot to thaw the meat, a recipe turned into a disaster, you were too busy to grocery shop—and you may need to spring for a take-out meal somewhere. But for the most part you can do it. Make your breakfast, your lunch and your dinner at home. Eat leftovers. Plan ahead. Use the crockpot.

Second, start shopping—honest-to-goodness shopping, the kind that would make a star homemaker from the 1940s proud. When you grocery shop, buy only whole foods: meat, eggs, dairy, fruit, vegetables, maybe some staples (flour, sugar, etc). Do the farmer’s market if you can afford it (most of you can). Eschew even the nominally healthy cans of soup—they’re usually loaded with garbage, multisyllabic stuff you’ve never heard of. Make your own soup; make your own broth, too. It’s easy. Avoid even the “organic” processed food, which is usually but two or so steps removed from the garbage a few aisles over. If you see a processed food you like, find a recipe to make it from scratch. Consider making your own bread.

(At this point you might be shaking your head, saying: “I don’t have time to do any of this.” I have news for you: you almost certainly do have time. The person who says “I don’t have time to cook” is very likely lying, either to himself or, for whatever reason, to you. In 21st century America, with an astonishing array of time-saving kitchen devices and shopping options that make cooking easier than any other time in human history, very few people are genuinely incapable of making meals. Cooking is usually a matter of priority, not possibility.)

Third: begin to love food. No, not as a glutton loves food—rather as a chef loves it, recognizing that food nourishes us and it should be tasty and enjoyable as a result. Appreciate the power and simple joy of good cooking, of preparing a good and healthy meal, of serving it to your loved ones or yourself. Begin to recognize that the mountains of garbage peddled by the food industry every day—the snack cakes, the chips, the “fruit” snacks, the microwave taquitos, the breaded and frozen fish wedges, the canned biscuits—-is the antithesis of what food should be.

An optional fourth directive: talk to people about cooking and food, especially people who don’t eat or cook well. Don’t badger or even proselytize; just talk about it. Have them over for dinner; give silent witness to good cooking and eating. Show that it requires work, but not particularly hard work; demonstrate that it is rewarding, and very much so.

There are people who will accuse you of being “elitist” because you’ve done away with additives and preservatives and artificial flavors and colorings. Fine: that’s the point. Genuinely good food is elite, i.e. it is superior to bad food. This is a tautology. If everyone ate “elite” food over the garbage—if everyone were “elitist” in this regard—that would be fantastic! The people who think eschewing garbage food in favor of good food is “elitist” are people who, for some strange reason, are uncomfortable with objective truths. No matter: invite them over for dinner, too.

If you can do none of these things, then at least try this: the next time you reach for some ultraprocessed, ultrapreserved culinary knick-knack in the grocery store, turn the package around, look at the ingredients, and then ask yourself: Do I really want to eat all of this stuff? Do I want to put it into my body? Why?

Reading is Believing

The Gospels are among the most misunderstood texts in world history, primarily because much of the criticism directed at them comes from people who have never read them. “Fairy tale” is the word you often hear people use to describe these texts, often with a sneering upturned lip—as if the Gospels were similar in both content and ambition to Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast or Little Red Riding Hood. With this we are supposed to assume that the principle character of the Gospels—Jesus—is as real as Hop-o’-My-Thumb or Cinderella, a vehicle for a mere morality story and nothing more, a nice thing to read to your children so long as you assure them that witches and talking wolves and the Son of God do not actually exist.

If one actually reads through Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, one discovers almost exactly the opposite. Rather than a simplistic stock-character fantasy yarn, the Gospels depict a world and a narrative firmly contextualized within the realm of 1st-century Jewish peasantry; the texts are as historical as they are evangelical. And rather than a simple tale of good versus evil, righteousness versus wickedness—the stuff of fairy tales—we have a story and a lesson utterly beyond all others. The moral of the Three Little Pigs is “don’t be lazy.” The teaching imparted by the Gospels is that God loves you beyond all fathomable reckoning and wants you to live with Him in unimaginable glory for all eternity. This is not a nursery rhyme.

As I wrote, a great deal of this kind of Gospel criticism comes from people who are unlearned in the text. One gathers that the average unchurched critic thinks the Gospels are full of fantastical and unbelievable events. In fact, while there are astonishing claims throughout them—the Virgin Birth, the numerous miracles and healings and exorcisms, the Resurrection—the Gospels are more naturalistic, so to speak, than not. Were it not for the supernatural events depicted in them, and the theological claims made by Christ Himself, the books would simply tell a story about an itinerant charismatic Jewish preacher who taught love and forgiveness, irritated the wrong people, was crucified, and died. You would think that, were the authors of the texts trying to tell an actual fairy tale, they’d ham it up a bit more than they actually do. But they don’t.

A great example of the actual fairy tale genre of Gospel comes to us from a recent discovery out of  Egypt by way of Oxford: scholars recently discovered a scrap of “the original Greek manuscript describing what Jesus secretly taught his brother James.” And what did Jesus teach his “brother?”

“Jesus tells his brother James that though they are both going to die violently, death is not something to be feared,” Landau, a lecturer at the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies, told Newsweek over email. “All James needs is to remember the passwords that his brother has taught him, so that he can escape from the clutches of the archons, a set of demonic beings guarding the material world.”

Anyone even moderately knowledgable in the style and narrative of the canonical Gospels will recognize at once the radical, almost comical difference in tone and content here. Instead of the rather laconic and unaffected narrative depicted in the Synoptics, or the more theologically explicative account in John, we have a depiction of Jesus as a kind of wily secret agent passing along clever tips to help James triumph in a battle against demons. “Remember to say this magic password to help you win:” that’s not believable, it’s the plot of a video game or a child’s fantasy. It is, in fact, the type of silliness that the fairly tale critics of the Gospels think are in the Gospels—but of course they are wrong.

Beyond that, the charge that the Gospels are fictional asks us to accept one of two rather incredible claims: either (a) that the authors of the Gospels wrote them with intent to deceive everyone into believing they were true (and moreover that they actually succeeded!), or (b) that the authors wrote the Gospels as mere inspirational doggerel, nothing more—and then evidently failed to inform anyone, anywhere of this fact. The former makes no real sense—Why go to all that trouble? What’s the point?—and the latter  is equally inexplicable: if I wrote a fantasy novel that thousands of people believed was factual, I’d take pains to set the record straight as quickly as possible. That there exists absolutely no historical record whatsoever that the authors of the Gospels did such a thing is yet another indication that they believed wholeheartedly that what they were writing was the truth. One is perfectly capable of believing the story of Jesus Christ is not truthful, of course—but not on the grounds outlined above, for which there is really no evidence at all.

The Price of Immorality

As I am not a sexual predator or even a low-grade pervert, I do not know what drives men like Matt Lauer to expose their genitals to women. I think it has something to do with power, or a lust for it—which is odd, because men like Lauer, and Harvey Weinstein, and Louis C.K., and many others, are already far more powerful than the average man or woman could ever hope to be. These are the newsmakers and the trendsetters and the guys who sell out entire auditoriums at $100 a head. So maybe power, like nicotine, is both addictive and fleeting: one becomes desensitized to being on television and being talked about every single day, so one must drop one’s trousers in front of a surprised woman every now and again to get that sweet fix.

As I have written before, God willing this is just the beginning, and that the crusty, smelly underbelly of famous pervert denouement will continue to be exposed, bit by bit—one can hope, anyway. But as is always the case, there is such a troubling subtext to this latest revelation: we are hearing that same familiar chorus, that “everyone knew” about Matt Lauer’s behavior, but nobody really did anything about it. One gathers that people were afraid of Matt Lauer, which is kind of ridiculous. Matt Lauer is probably the least intimidating man in American media today; I’d be more worried about squaring off against Ira Glass or Jimmy Fallon than I would against Lauer.

But of course people weren’t frightened by Matt Lauer’s diminutive figure; they were frightened by what he could do to their professional lives, their career. Lauer allegedly exerted a great deal of control over both the personnel and the news at 30 Rock; if you weren’t on his good side, you might not climb the ladder or even get a foot on a rung. You want to become a journalist or a well-paid high-ranking staffer behind the scenes, or else you just don’t want to rock the boat at what is probably a cushy job, so you keep your mouth shut. That makes sense—if you’ve made your peace with perverts, I guess. But most people haven’t, and would in fact say precisely the opposite. Yet still: “everyone knew.” Everyone always knows.

I want to submit that, looked at in a certain light, there is almost as much shame in keeping quiet for cynical personal reasons as there is in doing the act itself. Indeed, you can explain (though obviously not excuse) the behavior of most of these men fairly easily: they are mentally ill, they are psychotically power-hungry, they are sick sexual deviants who get their rocks off by terrorizing and harassing women. But what of the key grips and coffee runners and secretaries and co-workers—are they sick, or psychotic, or mentally ill? No: in many if not most cases they are just trying to get ahead in the industry and they don’t want to get a reputation as a whistleblower. That’s their excuse. So it seems like this is an awful kind of double-edged sword: on the one hand we have legions of perverts exploiting their power in order to gratifying their own sexual perversions, and on the other hand we have far too many people who are willing to buy careers with silence. I do not think we can fix our sexual degeneracy problem overnight. But I suspect it will never be fixed so long as enough people prize their own paychecks over doing what is obviously, self-evidently right.

An Enduring American Identity

For my money there is no greater political spectacle today than President Trump’s constantly referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.” There is, I think, no jest in contemporary politics more richly deserved than this. For years Warren, the whitest white person who ever whited, a woman whiter than a wedding dress in a Yukon snowdrift, identified herself as Native American, a claim that is as self-evidently false as it is utterly unsubstantiated. As Dana Loesch points out, Warren’s claim wasn’t simply that she had Native American heritage, it was that she is actually Native American. (“When actual Cherokee activists travelled to confront Warren over her claims,” Loesch writes, “Warren refused to meet with them.” Wouldn’t you?)

It is interesting to see liberals go to the mat for Warren. I cannot imagine a scenario more primed to stoke the fires of contemporary progressive anger: a rich, privileged white person impersonated an ethnic minority—an ethnicity that has been an historical victim of genocide and industrial-scale land theft, no less—for decades, very possibly earning favorable treatment from minority-obsessed academia in the process. If a lily-white Republican man had somehow claimed to be a minority of some stripe, and had likely benefited from his false claims, the media and political response would be unprecedented, a tornado of savage, gleeful fury. Elizabeth Warren, however, is opposed to big banks or Wal Mart or something, so she gets a pass. This is tribalism at its finest—er, uh, well, you get the point.

Whether or not she reaped the rewards of being a white Indian a few decades ago, Warren is definitely doing it now. In a fundraising email, she called Trump’s Pocahontas insult an example of the “very worst of gutter politics.” (Worse than a white person impersonating a Native American?) She refers to his usage of “Pocahontas” as a “racial slur,” an assertion that is making the rounds: Joy Reid, Jim Acosta, HuffPo, and numerous others claim that the name of an historical Native American somehow constitutes a “racial slur.” This is a nonsensical evasion, of course; how could a name constitute a “slur?” Yet even at its worst—as an offensive repurposing of an historical figure’s name—it is hard to imagine how deploying the word “Pocahontas” as an insult is somehow more scandalous than pretending to be a Native American. Put another way: how deeply perverted do your priorities have to be to get angry at the guy making fun of the opportunistic Indian-imperonsating white woman instead of the opportunistic Indian-impersonating white woman herself?

The politics of “identity” may provide something of an escape hatch for Warren: in an age where one of the chief progressive political planks is that a man can “identify” as a woman and consequently be a woman, I suppose it is not so far a stretch for a very white person with a very white heritage to “identify” as a non-white. Though one rather suspects that the politics of the identifier in question are important: if Elizabeth Warren’s name were Michelle Bachmann or Martha Roby, you can imagine she wouldn’t get off so easy. In any case, at this point it seems clear that Warren would like for everyone to forget about the fact that she once called herself an Indian. It is a mark of Trump’s scattershot sagacity that he won’t let her, or any of us, do so. Warren may have a long and fruitful political career ahead of her—she may even be president one day—but, if things continue as they are, her unscrupulous and deceitful past will likely follow her even unto retirement. As well it should.