Thursday, July 30, 2020


The Wall Street Journal
Jeff Bezos and America
Congressional testimony brings a welcome surprise.
July 29, 2020 5:44 pm ET

There’s so much anti-American vitriol in current news coverage that it’s especially refreshing to find an unexpected argument for liberty floating along in the flood of contemporary events. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos shared an inspiring message about this great land and its infinite possibilities as he appeared remotely before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was easily the most powerful and compelling testimony offered in the halls of Congress since Tuesday. 

Mr. Bezos was appearing along with other tech CEOs before Judiciary‘s Antitrust Subcommittee to discuss competition in digital markets. But he decided to set the table by pointing out that while he may be the richest man on the planet, he didn’t exactly start out that way. Here’s an excerpt from his opening statement to the subcommittee:

My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.

My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over. My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my mom. You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad. They have been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives.

Whatever one thinks of Amazon’s business tactics, it’s hard not to stand up and cheer for the people who made it possible. Explained Mr. Bezos:

The initial start-up capital for came primarily from my parents, who invested a large fraction of their life savings in something they didn’t understand. They weren’t making a bet on Amazon or the concept of a bookstore on the internet. They were making a bet on their son. I told them that I thought there was a 70% chance they would lose their investment, and they did it anyway.

Gratitude has perhaps been in short supply lately in our public discourse, and who would have guessed it could be found at the House Judiciary Committee? The Bezos testimony explained his entrepreneurial success and the risk-taking American culture that encourages such ventures. It seems unlikely that Mr. Bezos would describe himself as a supply-sider, but he also explained how such an environment allows companies to create amazing inventions that consumers never demanded but quickly embrace. 

Later in his remarks, Mr. Bezos also expressed standard media-boss liberalism on climate change and income inequality, so perhaps one could say there was something for everyone in Wednesday’s testimony. One could say the same about this big, flawed amazing country we share. Said Mr. Bezos:

... the rest of the world would love even the tiniest sip of the elixir we have here in the U.S. Immigrants like my dad see what a treasure this country is—they have perspective and can often see it even more clearly than those of us who were lucky enough to be born here...even in the face of today’s humbling challenges, I have never been more optimistic about our future.

There are millions of non-billionaires who feel the same way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020



To the People of the State of New York: AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers,
October 27, 1787, Number One (p. 1). Kindle Edition. 


Sunday, July 19, 2020


To be under a barrage of prolonged shelling simply magnified all the terrible physical and emotional effects of one shell. To me, artillery was an invention of hell. The onrushing whistle and scream of the big steel package of destruction was the pinnacle of violent fury and the embodiment of pent-up evil. It was the essence of violence and of man’s inhumanity to man. I developed a passionate hatred for shells. To be killed by a bullet seemed so clean and surgical. But shells would not only tear and rip the body, they tortured one’s mind almost beyond the brink of sanity. After each shell I was wrung out, limp and exhausted.

During prolonged shelling, I often had to restrain myself and fight back a wild, inexorable urge to scream, to sob, and to cry. As Peleliu dragged on, I feared that if I ever lost control of myself under shell fire my mind would be shattered. I hated shells as much for their damage to the mind as to the body. To be under heavy shell fire was to me by far the most terrifying of combat experiences. Each time it left me feeling more forlorn and helpless, more fatalistic, and with less confidence that I could escape the dreadful law of averages that inexorably reduced our numbers. Fear is many-faceted and has many subtle nuances, but the terror and desperation endured under heavy shelling are by far the most unbearable.

E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa (74). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, July 11, 2020


Op-Ed  by Rick Hess
KIPP’s new mantra: ‘Slack off. Be mean.’
July 6, 2020

Last week, just before the Fourth of July, the influential KIPP charter school network announced it had decided to abandon its longtime mantra “Work Hard. Be Nice.” KIPP’s leaders explained that the affable slogan had to go because it hinders efforts to “dismantle systemic racism,” “places value on being compliant and submissive,” “supports the illusion of meritocracy,” and doesn’t “align” with KIPP’s “vision of students being free to create the future they want.”
What to make of all this? Well, KIPP has pledged its 240-odd schools to the cause of anti-racism. Generally speaking, that’s certainly admirable. But anti-racist education today can mean many things. What KIPP has embraced is a fairly radical vision that retreats from defending even time-tested, broadly supported, foundational virtues if someone hints that they’re freighted with wrongthink.
I’ll get into the larger issue of anti-racist education some other time. Today, I just want to offer a few thoughts on KIPP abandoning its hope-filled, successful, quarter-century-old motto. This is a decision that’s puzzling, disheartening, and short-sighted.
It’s puzzling. This move is so focused on placating the wild demands of the woke cadres that it suggests KIPP has lost its bearings. In 30 years in and around schools as an educator and scholar, I’ve yet to meet the parent—of any race or background—who doesn’t want their child to be nice and to work hard. I’ve yet to meet the responsible teacher who doesn’t want the same. As a parent, I certainly want my kids to work hard and be nice. I think that’s pretty typical. And I haven’t met many people who are seeking lazy, nasty neighbors or colleagues. It will be telling to see how KIPP’s new posture is received by parents, longtime supporters, and public officials who believe in hard work and kindness.
It’s disheartening. Of all the virtues, hard work and kindness have got to be among the most appealing and universal. The fact that KIPP’s leaders won’t stand by these shows a stunning lack of civilizational confidence. After all, anti-racist activists have suggested that a subculture of online, alt-right weirdos was able to poison the settled meaning of the 250-year-old Betsy Ross flag. Even if one accepts the dubious notion that “Work Hard. Be Nice.” has somehow been tainted by systemic racism, educators with any confidence in their cause should relish the opportunity to remove that taint from a relatively baby-faced slogan. 
Now, perhaps “nice” is too mild for our superheated times. Okay. Perhaps KIPP needed a more ambitious-sounding mission. Fair enough. With confidence, its leadership might have built on what they had. They could’ve gone with “Work Hard. Be Kind. Change the World.” Or “Work Hard. Be Good. Show Courage. Fight Oppression.” Instead, they retreated. 
It’s short-sighted. Universal, aspirational values offer a moral language for rallying support. In retreating from these, one is left without a way to win new allies and bring them along. Indeed, when you declare that those who value hard work or kindness are part of the problem, you’ve kind of painted yourself into the corner. And, for what? I’ve known a number of KIPP leaders over many years, and I find it hard to believe that they don’t want their kids to live in a world that values kindness and hard work. 
One has to wonder whether the KIPP cognoscenti have really thought this through. Do they honestly think that working hard and being nice is in tension with the “future” that KIPP’s students want to be “free to create”? If so, exactly what kinds of students does KIPP’s brain trust think it has and what kind of future does it imagine they want to create? In the meantime, KIPP slouches towards its new mantra: “Slack Off. Be Mean.”

Thursday, July 9, 2020


At times like this, it is always useful to remember the poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist...

“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist...

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew...

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Monday, July 6, 2020


“Footbinding in China:
A Curious Look at the Male Role
in a Tool of Social Subjugation”

Melodie Dongyao Liu
The Concord Review Fall 2015

For centuries, Chinese mothers tightly bound their daughters’ feet to alter them into highly coveted “golden lotus” shapes. This included forcing up the arch and creating a cleft in the sole of the foot, requiring the bones to break and the skin to rot and peel away. After two years of torturous suffering, the girls’ feet would ideally measure only three inches in length. These mimicked the feet of famed 10th-century dancer Yaoniang, who was said to have performed atop a giant gilded lotus in the court of Li Yu, last ruler of the Southern Tang dynasty. Mothers knew that their daughters’ feet would serve as the main determinants of their future prospects. To matchmakers, rich rulers, and prospective mothers-in-law, the quality of their feet spoke volumes about  their upbringing and strength of character. By the Qing dynasty, neatly-bound feet were necessary for the navigation of almost every Chinese province’s social structure.

Historians trace mythological beginnings of the practice to the Southern Tang dynasty of the Five Dynasties period. In the course of a thousand years, footbinding became ingrained in Chinese culture, due to its erotic appeal and symbiotic relationship with class distinction. By the mid-twentieth century, criticism from Western cultures and internal nationalist pressure had eradicated the practice from China. The purpose of this essay is to explore how male forces facilitated the practice’s beginnings, institutionalization, and eventual downfall.