Sweet Romantic Teenage Nights

American liberalism’s current iteration, which really came into its own during the Bush years, has for nearly a decade been pining for those years: first under the presidency of Obama, and now under that of Trump. During the era of the former, one observed a subtle sort of desperate, bamboozled aimlessness among American liberals: for eight years they had been bellowing that George Bush was almost literally Hitler, they had watched eagerly as Jon Stewart smirked and sniggered his way through a tiresome routine of pencil-tapping incredulity, and they had said things like “Not my president!” (They always say things like “Not my president!“). The Obama presidency, which to American progressives seemed like the complete logical complement of the Bush presidency, in fact seemed to leave liberals without much of a political raison d’être, which is why the Left spent most of the Obama presidency blaming Obama’s mistakes on George W. Bush.

Now that Trump is in office, the Left seems to be pining for Bush in a different way: “Bush was bad,” you’re hearing a lot of these days, “but he wasn’t Trump. (They always say things like “Bush was bad, but he wasn’t Trump.”) The New Republican is always Much Scarier than the Old Republican, an equation that compounds upon itself as the years go by: Picture it as, for example, Trump=Bush43(Bush41+Reagan), where of course the values of expression are themselves subject to similar processes, stretching all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower. It adds up quickly! And as the numbers grow larger, the average liberal is increasingly given to saying: “Gee, (previous Republican president) was literally Hitler, but (current Republican president) is literally literally Hitler! (Previous Republican president) was way better.”

Not so fast, Will Ferrel says:

In the guise of his frat-boyish Mr. Bush, Mr. Ferrell reminded the audience, “You might remember, the W. stands for wassssup,” and said that he had lately been working on his oil paintings and earning an online M.F.A. from the University of Phoenix.

Pointing to a recent poll showing that Americans now give Mr. Bush a 61 percent favorability rating, Mr. Ferrell said: “That’s right. Donny Q. Trump came in, and suddenly I’m looking pretty sweet by comparison. At this rate, I might even end up on Mount Rushmore, right next to Washington, Lincoln and I want to say, uh, Kensington?”

But before anyone started wishing for Mr. Bush to return to office, Mr. Ferrell said, “I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight and remind you guys that I was really bad— like, historically not good.”

He added: “Don’t forget, we’re still in two different wars that I started. What has two thumbs and created ISIS? This guy.”

Just in case you forgot. In truth, George Bush wasn’t a very good president, though to say he was “historically not good” is a bit of a stretch. One is obliged to point out that John F. Kennedy more or less ignited the Vietnam War proper—breaking the 1954 Geneva agreement in the process—and that conflict led to vastly more casualties than we’ve seen under the “two different wars” that George Bush spearheaded. Yet nobody has ever called Kennedy “historically not good.” I wonder why?

In effect Will Ferrel is signaling that the Left wants to have it both ways: we’re not to forget that George Bush was an economy-tanking, warmongering, Islamic-youth-radicalizing dummy, but we’re also expected to know that even by those standards Donald Trump is worse. This neat trick manages to avoid calling for any kind of meaningful reflection on the part of American liberals while falling into the same old enervating histrionics as before. And on it goes.

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about this whole charade is that, compared to what they saw as the defects of the Bush presidency, it is unclear why the Left is so acutely hysterical about the Trump administration thus far. Yes, Trump has done some things to anger liberals—pulling out of the useless Parish climate accord, say, and playing hardball on immigration law to the national embarrassment of Democrats—but overall it’s been kind of staid, at least when stacked up next to the genuinely overwrought response from the Left. Progressives’ most consistent and shrill accusation directed at the President—that he “colluded” with Russia to steal the election, or something—has thus far been utterly unsubstantiated, a running national joke that may very well end in total, abject humiliation for Democrats and liberals more generally. Indeed, there are good signs that the whole thing is on the verge of unraveling.

I would not put it past Donald Trump to be guilty of something, Russia-related or otherwise, but as of now the ongoing Russia investigation has all the appearances of a total loss on the part of the Left. Wouldn’t you , if you were a liberal, pine for the relatively simpler and more secure days of smug Daily Show-style politics? I would.

Take This Into Consideration

My wife and I have been working our way through the Godfather series recently. The first movie in particular is a genuine masterpiece of a film, a feature that but for The Shawshank Redemption would probably hold the title of the greatest movie ever made. That it does so in spite of having any morally upright protagonists—-there is no one in the film with clean hands aside from the submissive wife Apollonia, the dimwitted bodyguard Calò, and perhaps Enzo the Baker—-is something of a mystery. Who are we supposed to root for in this film? The one bad guy or the countless others?

A few generations of moviegoers have fallen in love with the Corleone family, and they have achieved a cultural prominence rivaled by few other fictional characters: we are supposed to be enchanted with the Corleones and their underworld exploits. “Though crime in reality tends to be petty, sordid, individualistic, emotional, and poorly planned,” Kyle Smith writes at National Review, “in the Godfather films it’s the opposite of all these things.”

But this is not really true. The great trick of The Godfather has been to convince millions of fans that there is something about the Corleone family that is substantively different from that of a common thug or depraved street criminal. There is not. The Don and his brood are not in any way righteous; they are, instead, more or less garden-variety crooks, one rung above the street gangs in style but operatively indistinguishable.

In spite of its ostensible elevated nature, the Corleone criminal empire does in fact skew heavily toward “petty, sordid, individualistic, emotional” crime. Our first clue to this effect is how several of the mafiosi almost desperately insist otherwise. Both Michael and Tom Hagen maintain that the attempted assassination of Vito, and the intended retaliation against the Turk and McCluskey, are “business, not personal.” Only Sonny is willing to admit the truth (“They shot my father? It’s business, your ass”), and he responds in a distinctly personal way, launching a brutal and expensive war. The Corleones attempt to keep emotion at arm’s length, to maintain the appearance of dispassionate businessmen, but nobody is fooled: they respond as any vain, egocentric criminal would when one of their own is gunned down.

The fundamental pettiness of the Corleone empire is evident in other ways: the violent interference run on behalf of the self-interested Johnny Fontaine, the parochial and ethnocentric mistrust of son-in-law Carlo Rizzi, the needless assassination of Moe Green. Vito’s burgeoning criminal operation depicted in The Godfather Part II is similarly crass and thuggish: Vito, Clemenza and Tessio make a living hijacking garment trucks, and later Vito uses his fearsome reputation to cow his fellow Italians into submission. Nobody on the receiving end of one of the Godfather’s implicit threats of violence could ever mistake it with “righteous vigilante justice.”

If there is a moral subtext to The Godfather—and, superlative series though it may be, it’s not at all clear that it contains any moral message whatsoever—it is this: human beings, particularly the worst among us, are excellent at convincing ourselves of the righteousness of our own sinful behavior. We are never more persuasive than when we are persuading ourselves that our purely self-interested actions are also the right thing to do, particularly if we can position ourselves near someone even worse than us. In a deleted scene from the first film, Vito Corleone expresses disgust over Jack Woltz’s pedophilia, while at the meeting of the Five Families Don Zaluchi stipulates that no drugs are to be sold to children: “That’s an infamnia,” he says. It is interesting to listen to cold-blooded murderers opine on matters of morality, as if their hands are not utterly tacky with gallons of blood.

Well-dressed and charming though they may be, the Corleones are not, properly construed, good people; they are not righteous in any meaningful sense of the word. They are violent, tribalistic, oversensitive crooks, corrupt and nasty and cruel. It is a mark of the series’ artistic majesty that, even half a century later, we are still captivated by the base behavior of a bunch of fictional gangsters. One suspects that, if we were on the wrong side of the Corleones in real life, we would not feel even half as beguiled by them.

Oh, They’ve Got You Now

In a country where abortion is a legal and common reality, we are all, in a sense, survivors of it, at least insofar as there was a time when all of our mothers could have easily killed us and yet did not. Particularly in the wake of last week’s annual and magnificent March for Life, it is worth examining two frequent arguments that, while not strictly pro-abortion, are nevertheless regularly deployed by pro-abortion partisans in order to advance their cause.

The first runs along these lines: “If pro-lifers really wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they would be supportive of comprehensive sex education and in favor of free access to contraception. These things are proven to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions, so if pro-lifers are opposed to them, then they are not really serious about ending abortion.”

There are two major flaws with this, one practical and the other, as it were, conceptual. To the first: we actually know—we have hard, rigid, scientific, factual, incontestable data to prove it—that comprehensive sex education and contraception are not necessary to keep the unwanted pregnancy rate low. We draw this conclusion from two related statistics: one, nearly three-quarters of all out-of-wedlock births are unintended. and two, the out-of-wedlock birth rate, and consequently the unintended pregnancy rate, has absolutely skyrocketed over almost the past century. For the pro-abortionist to make his argument with a straight face, he would have to believe that what he calls “comprehensive sex education” was more universal in the 1920s than in the early 2000s, or that contraception was more widely-available during the Great Depression than it is today!

To the conceptual aspect of the problem we respond: One can be opposed to “comprehensive sex education” (which often seems to take the form of teaching eleven-year-olds how to put condoms on bananas) and one can equally be opposed to “free” contraception (or even contraception more generally!), yet one can still proudly call oneself pro-life and anti-abortion. The pro-life position is not about condoms and pills and copper implants and teaching schoolchildren how to “safely” contracept with each other; it is about ending abortion—making it illegal, for one, and also working to shift the culture so that more and more people see it for the abhorrence that it is. That’s it. That’s what pro-lifers want to do. Pro-choicers like to try to ensnare pro-lifers in a silly and useless political argument, a kind of hostage-by-policy approach to the whole thing (“If you don’t support free tubal litigations, you’re not really pro-life!!!”), when of course the matter is much simpler than that. We will address this in some more detail in a moment.

Pro-choicers—and actually more than a few progressive or statist-minded pro lifers—also like to come at the issue in another, similar way, namely by saying things like: “If pro-lifers were really pro-life, they would support mothers and children, especially poor mothers and poor children, with paid maternity leave, generous welfare, free childcare, free housing, free food, universal healthcare, etc etc (and also free contraception, of course). If a pro-lifer doesn’t support government programs and policies to help mothers and children, then they’re not really pro-life—they’re just pro-birth!”

To this we have two objections. The first is this: Government policy is a complex and deeply idiosyncratic tool. It doesn’t always do what you think it’s going to do; sometimes, in the main, it doesn’t really do anything at all, and sometimes it does very bad things when you think it’s going to do good things. In particular, government policies that seek to financially and medically support large numbers of people have a history of being not just wasteful but practically counterproductive: there is strong evidence, to take one small example, that many American welfare policies actually perpetuate poverty rather than alleviate it, and that government health insurance for poor people is actually a net loss for poor peoples’ health. It is not at all unreasonable, therefore, for pro-lifers to disagree about the effectiveness and propriety of this or that government policy while still advocating a strict pro-life ethic. “You can’t be pro-life unless you agree with progressive economics!” is a weak, air-filled, toothless argument.

But more importantly we might point this out: There is nothing that says one has to support both fundamental civil rights and consequently an expanded, all-enveloping welfare policy. These things can easily be mutually exclusive. By way of example, let’s try a useful historical what-if. Suppose a pro-slavery partisan approached a fervent abolitionist in the 1850s and said to him: “Oh, you want to abolish slavery? Well, do you support a federal jobs program for freed slaves? Do you support giving freedmen a housing stipend and vouchers for beef, eggs and grain? Do you support free education for freed child slaves? Well, if you don’t support all of these things, then you’re not really in favor of abolishing slavery!” Would this make any sense at all, or would it be the nonsense rambling of someone committed to denying the full civil rights of a substantial sub-class of the population?

The howling, idiot-simple hollowness of this argument becomes evident when you divorce it from the smug assumptions of modern social progressivism. Abortion, like slavery before it, degrades and dehumanizes and kills; all right people should oppose it. And if you encounter someone who tries to trick you into supporting it by this or any other similar silly dialectic, don’t be afraid to point out how simply wrong they are, and how their wrongness directly contributes to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths every year.

You Are Woman, Hear Me Roar

Here is an honest question: if you went out on a date with someone, went back to his or her apartment, made out, performed oral sex on each other, accepted your date’s fingers in your mouth not once but several times, allowed your date to penetrate you with his or her fingers a few times, tolerated your date’s frank and explicit sexual dirty talk for a protracted amount of time, performed oral sex on your date again, and finally left the apartment after your date called you an Uber—-would you consider the experience enough of a traumatic violation to publicly denounce your date as a sexual assaulter?

Probably not. But that’s just what happened with Aziz Ansari, the comedian who has now been publicly slandered as a sexual predator by a woman with whom he went on a date last year. The two went out to dinner and then returned to Ansari’s apartment, at which point the drama above played out. Ansari’s anonymous accuser eventually decided that, because she wasn’t really interested in Ansari’s advances but he kept on advancing anyway, he had “sexually assaulted” her. “You ignored clear non-verbal cues,” she told him over text. “You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable.”

Maybe this young woman is right—-perhaps her cues were obvious enough that a gentleman, so to speak, would have politely put his penis back into his pants and called it a night.  And yet there is such a surreal quality to the alleged victim’s account, a quality that is prevalent throughout so much of modern feminist literature. Namely: Couldn’t Ansari’s date have just, you know, left the apartment? Like, right when things started getting too heated?

There is a weird and destructive impulse in modern feminism to reject such practical advice in favor of ideological purity. “She shouldn’t have to leave,” feminists say. “Ansari should have respected her obvious desire to not have sex!”

Well, okay: stipulated. But, assuming the young woman’s “non-verbal” desire was in fact so obvious, it is nevertheless the case that Ansari wasn’t respecting it. Like, at all. The woman claims to have recognized this more or less from the beginning. It was extremely clear early on in their sexual encounter that Ansari was basically a loutish horndog. The proper choice, assuming one wasn’t receptive to his loutishness, would have been to get the hell out of there. So that’s what she should have done.

The bizarre responses to this simple and reasonable suggestion have been legion. “Yes, women should feel empowered to speak up when something they don’t like is happening to them or they feel coerced,” Josephine Yurcaba wrote at Romper, “but it is because of a culture of sexual intimidation and aggression — created by men — that we stay silent.” This is, quite frankly, preposterous. By all accounts the young woman’s sexual encounter with Ansari was awkward, weird and juvenile. It was hardly the stuff of “intimidation” or “aggression,” properly construed. In any event, if a twentysomething woman is so profoundly susceptible to this “culture of sexual intimidation and aggression” to the point that she is literally incapable of leaving a male slut’s apartment when she wants to, then perhaps—until this culture is radically changed—the smart thing would be for women to not go back to guys’ apartments at all. Is that unreasonable?

Here is a modest suggestion to all women, everywhere: If your date is doing something, anything, that you don’t like—if he is pestering you like a 17-year-old on prom night, or plying you with cheap white wine, or sticking his fingers down your throat, or any number of things—then end the date right then and there. He sucks; he’s not worth it. Don’t worry about offending him; you’re not going to see him after tonight, because—again—he’s not worth it.

Don’t listen to the chorus of preening feminist commentators who insist that you’re too incompetent to slap him across the face and leave his apartment. You can do it. Accepting anything less than full self-agency in this regard is a cheat to yourself and a sop to hysterical ideologues who depend on your weakness to sell their silly ideologies.

Everybody Gets a Baby!

“Population control is a fraught topic, and carries with it associations with eugenics and other nasty historical events,” writes Kristen Pyszczyk at CBC. “But we still need to talk about it.” Ah, do we? I’m not so sure—though in either case it is deeply concerning that Pyszczyk does not actually dismiss out-of-hand the implementation of “eugenics and other nasty historical events” in order to achieve “population control.” I guess she’s prepared, come what may.

The author’s tacit consideration of “nasty historical events” is inspired by Chip and Joanna Gaines’s announcement that they are expecting their fifth child. Now, most people are excited and impressed when a couple announces they’re expecting baby number five—but some people, hearing the joyous news, can only thing of our species’ alleged impending extinction:

I get that humankind’s theoretical demise is not enough to justify abstaining from what is for many the most meaningful experience of a lifetime. But it’s not theoretical. Climate change is getting measurably worse, populations are multiplying exponentially and economic inequality is not getting better. And to top it off, Prince is dead. Don’t bring a child into this.

Procreation is becoming a global public health concern, rather than a personal decision. So when people do irresponsible things like having five children, we absolutely need to be calling them out.

It is notable that Pyszczyk identifies herself as a “feminist.” It has really been quite delightful to watch more and more feminists gradually shift from “My body, my choice,” to “You deserve to be shamed for the choice you made with your body.” The feminist politics of “choice,” which for years have seemed so immutable and so monomaniacal, have started to give way in the face of climate change hysteria. We “absolutely need to be calling out” the women who decide to reproduce in ways that climate mavens don’t approve of: how progressive!

Here is the truth of the matter: babies are great. They’re fantastic, actually, and there is no cap to it: one baby is great, two babies is fantastic, five babies is a freaking supernova of baby delight. There will always, of course, be a chorus of shocked, pearl-clutching Malthusians who say that having more than a teacup pig or a couple of hermit crabs is irresponsible and unfair to our overcrowded, groaning, verge-of-annhiliation planet. Ignore them; actually, point and laugh at them. The Malthusians are always wrong; they always have been and they will be again. (“This time we’re right!” the Malthusians insist; they always insist this.)

If you want to have five kids, have five kids. Heck, why not go for lucky number seven! After all, once the greenhouse effect really gets carried away and civilization finally collapses, you’ll definitely want to have enough workers on hand to comb the ravaged countryside looking for the last remaining scraps of food and drops of water. You have to plan for the future.

The Forgotten, Man

Trump’s “shithole countries” comment was wrong, though not in the way you probably think. It seems that a great many people are incensed over the mere suggestion that a country could be considered a “shithole,” which strikes me as a fantastic bit of posturing: some countries are indeed markedly worse than others, to the point that you could call them “shitholes” in the strictly idiomatic sense without much guilt. Indeed, the term and the sentiment behind it are both so commonplace—we’ve all called something a shithole at one point out another, and anyone who tells you differently is lying—that the fury over Trump’s using it seems honestly comical, and the denial of its basic premise has at times reached outrageous levels. Joan Walsh, for one, refused to say whether she would rather live in Haiti or Norway, which is just the kind of intellectual cowardice that has made the Era of Trump such an hysterical era of American politics.

The problem with Trump’s belief here is not his assertion that some countries are “shitholes” but rather his suggestion that the United States should not prioritize temporary protected status for immigrants and refugee migrants from the “shitholes” themselves. The United States is blessed both materially and politically—we are rich and we are stable—in a way that a great many Souths African and American countries, say, are not and have not been for a long time. It makes sense that we might have a not-insignificant moral duty to open our borders as much as is reasonably feasible in order to welcome some of the people who, through no fault of their own, have been born into hellish, impoverished chaos. There are a great many people on the Left who think that borders are meaningless and that immigration law should be essentially nonexistent, and they are of course wrong about that, and even they probably know it; I have come to believe that the Left is often ashamed of its own intellectual chicanery but is too scared to say so. Yet the firebreathing populist agonies from the Trumpian Right are similarly uninformed. A responsibly generous immigration program is not a bad thing for the United States, in fact it is a net good thing, and the data bear this out.

All of which is to say, if we’re going to have immigrants, we should make it a point to take those from the worst countries in addition to taking those from the best—that we should be prepared to welcome, no matter their origin, “all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.” Such a policy—such a worldview—would require some small amount of thought, and to be honest it is not at all clear that Donald Trump thinks about much of anything, outside of his own Twitter feed and whatever woman he’s considering making his fourth wife. He seems to lack the necessary grace required for even moderate reflection on simple topics, and the necessary tact to not open his mouth and let the world know what silly thoughts he is having at any given moment. In the end one rather suspects that it would be easy to pull one over on him—to have him sign an immigration bill without really knowing what’s in it. Lawmakers who care enough about this issue would be foolish not to exploit the president’s own blinkered vanity for the betterment of our public policy.

Night of the Living Shoulder Camcorder

In the Age of the Reboot, only one thing is certain: everything you have ever known and loved will be remade again. Next up on the reverse chopping block is Roseanne, a reboot of which will debut later this spring.  I mostly recall Roseanne as filler programming in between The Price is Right at 10am and the early-afternoon Power Rangers block, but what little I’ve actually seen of it is actually not that bad. So you can be rest assured that, somehow, the producers will find a way to take a winning formula and make it really lame, as they did with Girl Meets World and the Twilight Zone and a few dozen other desperate rehashes.

But of all the reboots currently sloshing around the economic basin these days, none is more interesting to me than the “reboot” of Circuit City, a once-legendary chain of electronics and appliance stores that went bankrupt almost a decade ago. Circuit City is, like your ob’t blogger, a native of Richmond, Virginia, where it started its life as Wards Company, hocking televisions and other nascent electronics in the late 50s. Times being what they were, Wards eventually expanded to offer most of the consumer electronics market, including portable CD players for $114, which at the time seemed like a really good idea.

I can remember going sometimes to a big-box Circuit City outlet when I was a child, and most of what I remember is how markedly boring a place it was. Electronics stores are, for children, like crack houses for crack addicts: they’re the place where you’re supposed to go get your fix, be it crack rocks or blinking, stimulating electronic gratification. But Circuit City was never really all that fun: they had a bunch of dull big-screen televisions and some video cameras and, late in the game, laptops and maybe some tablets…but there was always an empty, kind of desperate quality to them, like the JC Penney’s outlets you sometimes find still attached to dying malls. Ghostly. Uncomfortably quiet. I can remember standing around at a Circuit City once while my father dickered over a washing machine or a microwave or something, watching a short clip of Jurassic Park played on loop endlessly on a bank of crummy televisions . They couldn’t even play the whole damn movie. How cheap can you get when you can’t spring for the full license of Jurassic Park?

So it is weird to see it making a comeback. A great many people lost their jobs when it shuttered nine years ago, and that was bad—but overall Circuit City’s demise seemed entirely appropriate, its being a weird sort of dusty relic of late-20th century electronica. For goodness’s sake, it was called Circuit City—circuit! As if people were buying ham radios instead of modern television sets. It’s like naming your kid “Jeeves:” if you’ve got the wrong title, there’s really only one career option for you.

But in the end it is less interesting to think of what Circuit City may become—which probably isn’t all that much—and more interesting to think of where we’ve been since it last left us. 2009 is not, in cosmic or even Gregorian terms, that far away from 2018. Yet still, consider the technological differences between then and now: the smartphone revolution has been fully realized, driverless cars are on the cusp of ubiquity, “augmented reality” is a thing, 3D printing is increasingly a practical reality.

It is striking how quickly things change. It is of course possible for a business to come back from the dead after a decade off. Yet it is an odd thing that anyone would want to bring back Circuit City, a company that, on its deathbed, was little more than a second-rate Best Buy with an outmoded reputation. And even before it officially launches, the Circuit City reboot looks to be almost comically inept: the company promises to be “in more household then ever before,” it assures potential customers, “We understand the struggles of online shopping” (Really? What are they, exactly?), and it heralds: “For the new breed of American workers who we call the ‘millennials’, we will offer 24/7 Customer Service, including live chat, phone support and lifetime free tech support.” This is just kind of inexplicable. Phone support for millennials—there’s something to get the old liquid capital flowing!

No industry, it seems, is safe from the Reboot Curse; media and consumer electronics both will fall to it. It will be fascinating to watch Circuit City relaunch and almost certainly re-fail; it will be the whole history of the store played out again in miniature. The lesson, as always, will be: don’t try and recreate something that’s past its time (particularly if it went down in flames the first time around). Now, I would be interested in seeing a remake of Kay-Bee Toys. But I won’t keep my fingers crossed.

Throw It in the Microwave Oven

Millennials tend to get a bad rap. But in truth they are, pound for pound, really no more or less awful than any other generation, which is to say that they have good habits and bad ones and it’s kind of silly to pretend that they are somehow uniquely terrible rather than just normally terrible. But there is one area in which my generation’s failures are both marked and uniquely concerning, and it is food:

Millennial households devote more of their at-home food spending to prepared foods, such as frozen entrees and instant breakfasts, than the other three generational groups. In addition, the slight negative relationship between income and prepared food purchases for the three oldest generations was absent for Millennials. Millennials’ preference for convenient, prepared foods could be due to a variety of reasons. Perhaps, some Millennials may lack cooking skills or interest in cooking. Or, maybe some Millennials prefer to spend their non-work time on activities other than cooking and cleaning up afterwards. In fact, Millennials spend significantly less time on food preparation, presentation, and clean-up. An ERS analysis of 2014 time use data revealed that, on average, this generation spent 88 minutes doing food preparation, presentation, and clean-up—55 minutes less than Gen X’ers who spent the most time at 143 minutes.

Now, it’s worth pointing out part of the reduction in time spent preparing and cleaning food may be attributable to the timesaving advancements of the modern kitchen: surely it is easier to cook more easily in 2018 than it was in 1988. Nonetheless, the overall picture is a bleak one: we are seeing a shift toward “frozen entrees” and “instant breakfasts,” the types of things that are referred to, bloodlessly and unpleasantly, as “prepared foods” (can you imagine a less appetizing genre?). There are more than a few people who think that this shift is a good one, and that we should all embrace our new prepared food overlords: there is a reason that “meal kits,” which are first cousins to “prepared foods,” have become so popular and profitable in recent years. Increasingly, even the people who actually cook still don’t really want to think about it all that much.

This is a poverty, for a great many reasons but chief among them this one: food is a good thing, and like any good thing it is best when it is done well, not poorly or halfheartedly. But to do food well—to be a good cook and to wring the best and most nourishing aspects of food out of the natural and commercial spheres—one must be familiar with food at the most elemental level of which one is practically capable. For some people, a relatively small number, this may mean growing some or most of your own food. For most of us, however, it means buying good-quality whole foods, as fresh and as local as is feasible, and making out of them the things that a great many businessmen would love to make for us. When you buy “prepared foods,” you are saying—for whatever reason—that someone else, a line drone on a corporate culinary assembly line, say, can make that meal better than you can. But that’s not true, and we all of us know it’s not true, instinctively if in no other way. Being a good cook is easy and fun, if you teach yourself how to love and enjoy it.

I don’t know what will come of my generation in this regard, if they’ll come around to cooking or if they’ll drift even further away from it. Maybe a little of both. I don’t think, as some cynics do, that these tendencies mean we will eventually, on a civilizational scale, lose the art of good cooking. That will always be there. The great tragedy, however, is this: there are many, many people who are currently making a great many terrible food choices and who are living poorer and less enjoyable lives because of it. Cooking, eating, even cleaning—it’s all supposed to be fun and enjoyable and deeply gratifying. “Instant breakfasts,” not so much,.

A Big Reputation Gone Sour

“Taylor Swift Is No Longer Relatable,” Bryan Rolli writes at Forbes, “And Her Ticket Sales Prove It.” There is a great deal of truth to this. Once upon a time Taylor Swift combined the absolute best attributes of sweet and clever creativity with cash-machine American capitalism: she was a funny, seemingly friendly pop music virtuoso who appropriately had no shame leveraging her considerable talent to make a few hundred million dollars. In a country that thinks Hillary Clinton is an acceptable role model for young women, we could do worse for celebrity inspiration than a cheerful bubblegum self-made media mogul who, if we’re being perfectly honest, really does know how to write a song.

Or, er, did. These days we are past the honest simplicity of her earlier work and the smiling, goofy levity of her career midpoint; in recent years Swift has adopted a confusing sort of femme fatale comportment, quite deliberately distinct from the public image she affected years ago. “Bad Blood” seems to have been the turning point, a really dreadful song that projects the image of a clenched jaw and a cold hard-water shower (Lena Dunham’s guest appearance in the music video did it no favors). Her newest album, Reputation, continues along this line: the album art is itself bloodless and unpleasant, the album’s lead single is a lurching and wooden kind of celebrity vendetta drone, and its other offerings are more or less a boring mish-mosh of instantly forgettable cookie-cutter synth pop that is distinctly angry, or at least annoyed, before it is anything else. Her personal style has taken a similar dismal plunge: where once, and by her own admission, she was known for her modest midcentury aesthetic, she is far better known today for her odd, unappealing, severe-looking kickline style of dress. This is not your grandmother’s Taylor Swift.

Why does any of this matter? Ultimately, one supposes, it doesn’t, at least insofar as we should be teaching our children—and ourselves—to not really care all that much what celebrities do. But there is something to be said for a celebrity culture of the kind that Swift, however briefly, embodied: outwardly kind, sexually reticent, self-aware and self-deprecating but also ostensibly honest and unaffected. We should not pretend, of course, that someone as rich and famous as Taylor Swift can be all of these things all of the time, or that such behavior cannot itself be a purely transactional business decision. But that’s kind of beside the point: for better or worse (it’s for worse), lots and lots of people look up to celebrities and follow their lead on any number of important behavioral questions. We should want more of our famous people to conduct themselves as Taylor Swift once did, and we should want them to avoid the kind of tiresome, grating sort of bearing she now regrettably practices.

Guts!

It is always good to sharpen one’s dialectical foil every now and then. One pro-abortion argument you may come across in the abortion debate is this: “Just as you wouldn’t force someone to donate a kidney or part of a liver, so you should not force a woman to ‘donate’ the use of her body to a fetus.” I.e., if you’re not in favor of forced organ donation, nor should you be in favor of forced pregnancy, which is to say the criminalization of abortion.

There are serious flaws to this argument. The first is this: pregnancy is not, properly construed, analogous to donating an organ: it is getting pregnant that is the analogy. Put another way: most people agree that nobody should be forced into either pregnancy or organ donation. The pertinent question thus becomes: once someone has voluntarily become pregnant or donated an organ, do they have the right to materially reverse their decision? Most people would agree that, once you have donated an organ, you do not have the right to ask for it back—your rights to your organ only extended insofar as you did not grant them to someone else. The same is true of pregnancy: one cannot morally “take back” the act of getting pregnant, any more than one could “take back” a length of large intestine one gave to a donee, without violating another’s rights—and in the case of abortion, killing someone.

(The common rejoinder for those who support abortion runs along these lines: “Just because you consent to sex doesn’t mean you consent to pregnancy.” But this too is flawed, for reasons we’ll address, though indirectly, next.)

Though many people may concede that one doesn’t have the right to kill an unborn human if one voluntarily got pregnant, there are still many people, more than a few of them who self-identify as “pro-life,” who draw the line at rape: “I don’t believe abortion should be legal,” they say, “except in cases where the woman was raped, and therefore did not voluntarily consent to pregnancy.”

But let us go back to the organ donation argument: suppose a woman woke up in a bathtub full of ice and discovered that one of her kidneys had been harvested and sold to an unwitting hospital, who subsequently placed her kidney in the body of a very sick child, saving his life. Neither the child nor the doctors nor the utterly incompetent medical board of the hospital were aware of the kidney’s illicit status. Would the woman be morally justified in ripping the child’s abdomen open and taking her kidney back?

Most people would very likely say no—that the child’s own lack of complicity in the organ harvesting scheme would render a reclamation of the organ immoral, particularly insofar as the child’s own bodily autonomy would have to be seriously violated in order to reclaim it. There are, surely, more than a few people who would argue that, yes, the woman has the right to take her kidney back from the child. Yet even if that were the case, would not all of society properly regard her as a cold, unfeeling lowlife at best, and a moral monster at worst? But we do not think the same way about abortion; indeed in many cases we celebrate it and encourage it.

The same principle holds true for women who engaging in consensual, yet contraceptive, sexual intercourse—indeed, the principle holds even more true, given that the risk of conception is almost-universally known and understood. The bottom line is this: one cannot use organ donation as a similitude for abortion unless one is prepared to endorse a barbaric and brutal set of moral values about both organ donation and abortion. Just as importantly, one must be prepared to call such values barbaric and brutal, and not pretend as if they are righteous and ethical.