Daniel Lee finds in the memory of the historic Dixie Highway a reminder of the old America, the optimistic, enterprizing, Get-Things-Done America, that was so different than today’s endlessly complaining, obstructionist, afraid-of-everything America.
Martinsville, Ind. â€” Just visible through the trees off Indiana State Road 37, south of Indianapolis, there was for many years a derelict iron bridge carrying a fragment of an older incarnation of the highway.
You wouldnâ€™t have known to look at it, but that old pony-truss bridge was an indirect ancestor not only of State Road 37, presently being converted to the southern-Indiana leg of Interstate 69, but of the whole American interstate system.
The conversion of Indiana 37 is the latest step in a controversial project that began near Evansville in 2008 and has been marching up the 142 miles between southwest Indiana and Indianapolis ever since. Presently there are about 30 miles to go.
Waiting in my car amid the dust and roar of earth movers recently, I noticed that the old iron bridge was gone, finally giving way to time and progress, cleared to make room for a county road exit ramp.
Itâ€™s too bad. The bridge was one of the last remnants of the old, winding two-lane State Road 37 that was replaced in 1976 by the four-lane on which Iâ€™m stopped in construction traffic. Old roads donâ€™t just magically vanish when bypassed. Through the years they tend to fade slowly away, a bit like Cheshire cats, leaving traces of themselves behind. The bridge was one of those traces.
Old 37 today is just a lane here, a weed-covered track there; in places a longish driveway. A piece of it winds for a lovely ten miles or so through the Hoosier National Forest above Bloomington, along wooded ridgetops and past old rural settlements like Hindustan and Dolan, now just loose scatterings of well-lived-in roadside homes.
Some places itâ€™s plainly marked as Old 37. Other pieces bear different names: New Harmony Road, Liberty Church Road, Hacker Creek Road. The practiced eye can spot these ghosts of the old highway by their character of meandering Indian trail (which they quite likely grew from) compared to the squared-off grid of county-road systems.
There are people who make a hobby of finding and tracing these old tracks â€” the forgotten slivers of crumbling cement, asphalt, and sometimes brick they call â€œalignments,â€ the tag ends of early motor-age roads like the old east-west Lincoln Highway and its successor, the more famous Route 66. These hobbyists are a bit like explorers of an America that is in the sad process of disappearing, buried by time and poor choices.
As it happens, the old, two-lane 37 was in its turn the descendant of one of these older traces, call it the ur-37, the Indiana portion of a route from the Midwest to Florida known as the Dixie Highway, which existed under that name from about 1915 to 1926, when the country moved to a more uniform highway-numbering system.
The brainchild of Indianapolis businessman Carl G. Fisher, a principal in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and an auto-parts inventor and salesman, the Dixie Highway was created to be an escape route from bitter Midwestern winters to warm, sunny holidays in the South â€” especially another Fisher creation, the resort city of Miami Beach.
The Dixie â€” at first merely a skein of loosely connected local roads â€” zigzagged through parts of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, labored up and through the mountains of Tennessee and northern Georgia, and then coasted down through the tobacco fields and pine barrens into Florida. At a time when roads almost invariably centered on and served rural Americaâ€™s innumerable tiny villages, the Dixie Highway became in a sense the nationâ€™s first primitive interstate-highway system.
It also prefigured and midwifed the birth of the automobile age and the explosion of travel by road. As detailed in the book Dixie Highway, by Tammy Ingram, an assistant professor of history at the College of Charleston, road-building then shifted from a chaotic, locally controlled process-on-the-fly to a high-priority national project.
But it wasnâ€™t easy. Ingram describes the fractious process of choosing the Dixieâ€™s route, with communities vying for its promised tourism dollars and access to regional markets. A 1915 planning meeting in Chattanooga brought the competing parties together and promptly devolved into a donnybrook that earned the nickname â€œThe Second Battle of Chattanooga.â€
Eventually, Fisher and the Dixie Highway Association simply chose not to choose, essentially doubling the communities it served by creating two northâ€“south branches instead of one main trunk. Connector roads between the branches almost accidentally gave the Dixie its prototypical highway-system character.
Like the Dixie Highway, the planning process for Indianaâ€™s southern leg of I-69 â€” the work presently underway here â€” was also a rough road, so to speak. There were lawsuits, protests, and angry slogans painted on the statehouse. But this time people werenâ€™t clamoring to be included; they wanted out. They demanded that the highway project be stopped or rerouted away from them. …
M. Brandon Godbey identifies what Americans ought to learn from the COVID-19 national freakout.
1) Incompetent bureaucracy: The CDC and FDA played hot potato with the COVID Crisis for months without any coherent strategy. It seems like the more government agencies become involved in the process the more muddled our future becomes. We have found that the medical bureaucracy, like all bureaucracies, eventually falls victim to entropy. At some unknown point in the last 20 years, it stopped functioning as a legitimate source of medical leadership. Today, it is a mass of purposeless tentacles that primarily exists for the sake of self-perpetuation.
2) The Corruption of â€œExpertsâ€œ: Since the way to big money in the sciences is through government grants, the way you â€œhit it bigâ€ in science isnâ€™t by finding empirical truth, itâ€™s by repeating opinions that politicians want to hear. We have thus created a generation of quasi-scientists that feed off the government teat with the tenacity of even the worst parasites. When stressed by the pandemic, this system quickly devolved into competing scientific factions, each one pitching their own version of a doomsday scenario for the sake of money, prestige, and sheer professional vanity.
3) Feckless Politicians: Instead of leading in a time of crisis, governors and mayors are taking the path that absolves them from guilt instead what is best for citizens. Constantly in reelection mode, they make choices based on what they might be blamed for instead of what is right. When decisions are made through the â€œreelect me at all costâ€ framework, civil right quickly go out the window. Last night, my own governor reassured the Commonwealth of Kentucky that he was perfectly willing to use Gestapo tactics to record the licence plate numbers of those that attend Easter services and effectively put them under house arrest. Other governors have behaved in a similar manner, each one trying to one-up their neighbor.
4) Our Decadent Society: We have become a tragically unserious people, obsessed with celebrity and sorely lacking in critical thinking skills. Social media algorithms have spoon-fed us our own views over and over again. Mass media feeds our inherent cognitive biases, facilitating a surreal kind of mass paralysis that consists of one part hysteria and one part blind submission. We have become the grotesque inhabitants of the mindless hive from E.M. Foresterâ€™s imagination. The lessons of history lost on us, we behave like sheep walking to the slaughter, bleating in unison.
5) We are Coddled and Soft: Our lives are easy, and many of us have become detached from the world of hard-working men and women that make our lives possible. We want the truckers to deliver our food and the servers to bring it to us, but we gleefully clap when the economy that supports them is torn asunder. Our general lack of understanding of the collaborative nature of macroeconomics is appalling. Products arrive at our doorstep; food appears in front of us; entertainment is provided in multiple forms at any time or place. Yet the processes by which these miracles are created are so remote and alien to us that we are perfectly willing to watch them burn to satisfy our busybody natures.
Ross Douthat penned a pretty decadent essay last Sunday, contending that, yes, Virginia! we are living in a time of generalized decadence, and then, arguing that, though decadence ought to be resisted, at least, a bit, really decadence is not so bad after all. Yup, there is decadence for you, alright.
Following in the footsteps of the great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, we can say that decadence refers to economic stagnation, institutional decay and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development. Under decadence, Barzun wrote, â€œThe forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.â€ He added, â€œWhen people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.â€ And crucially, the stagnation is often a consequence of previous development: The decadent society is, by definition, a victim of its own success.
Note that this definition does not imply a definitive moral or aesthetic judgment. (â€œThe term is not a slur,â€ Barzun wrote. â€œIt is a technical label.â€) A society that generates a lot of bad movies need not be decadent; a society that makes the same movies over and over again might be. A society run by the cruel and arrogant might not be decadent; a society where even the wise and good canâ€™t legislate might be. A crime-ridden society isnâ€™t necessarily decadent; a peaceable, aging, childless society beset by flares of nihilistic violence looks closer to our definition.
Nor does this definition imply that decadence is necessarily an overture to a catastrophe, in which Visigoths torch Manhattan or the coronavirus has dominion over all. History isnâ€™t always a morality play, and decadence is a comfortable disease: The Chinese and Ottoman empires persisted for centuries under decadent conditions, and it was more than 400 years from Caligula to the actual fall of Rome.
â€œWhat fascinates and terrifies us about the Roman Empire is not that it finally went smash,â€ wrote W.H. Auden of that endless autumn, but rather that â€œit managed to last for four centuries without creativity, warmth, or hope.â€
Whether we are waiting for Christians or barbarians, a renaissance or the Singularity, the dilemma that Auden described is now not Romeâ€™s but ours.
Natalia Dashan brilliantly explains why the Radical Left is winning at elite schools like Yale and everywhere else in the National Establishment.
Western elites are not comfortable with their place in society and the responsibilities that come with it, and realize that there are deep structural problems with the old systems of coordination. But lacking the capacity for an orderly restructuring, or even a diagnosis of problems and needs, we dive deeper into a chaotic ideological mode of coordination that sweeps away the old structures.
When you live with this mindset, what you end up with is not an establishment where a woke upper class rallies and advocates for the rights of minorities, the poor, and underprivileged groups. What you have is a blind and self-righteous upper class that becomes structurally unable to take coordinated responsibility. You get stuck in an ideological mode of coordination, where no one can speak the truth to correct collective mistakes and overreaches without losing position.
This ideology is promulgated and advertised by universities, but it doesnâ€™t start or stop at universities. All the fundraisers. All the corporate events. The Oscars. Letâ€™s take down the Man. They say this in front of their PowerPoints. They clink champagne glasses. Letâ€™s take down the Man! But there is no real spirit of revolution in these words. It is all in the language they understandâ€”polite and clean, because it isnâ€™t really real. It is a performative spectacle about their own morale and guilt.
If you were the ruler while everything was burning around you, and you didnâ€™t know what to do, what would you do? You would deny that you are in charge. And you would recuperate the growing discontented masses into your own power base, so that things stay comfortable for you.
Yale students, if they werenâ€™t powerful when they came in (and most of them were), they gain power by being bestowed a Yale degree. What would you do with this power? You donâ€™t want to abuse it; youâ€™re not outright evil. No, you want something different. You want to be absolved of your power. You are ashamed of your power. Why should you have it, and not somebody elseâ€”maybe somebody more deserving? You never really signed up for this. You would rather be somebody normal. But not, â€œnormal,â€ normal. More like normal with options and vacations and money â€œnormal.â€ Normal but still powerful. Or you want to be something even better than normal. You want to be the underdog. There is always a certain strange sense of pleasure in being an underdog. Expectations are lower. Whenever you accomplish anything at allâ€”it is an accomplishment. You would rather have a narrative story of â€œcoming up from the bottom.â€ Someone who not only does not have the responsibility of power, but someone who has a right to feel resentful of those who do. And better yetâ€”someone who can use this resentment as a tool for self-interest.
How do Yale students give up their power? They do this in one of two ways. One way is termed selling out. This usually means taking a high-paying job at an institution that is at worst blatantly unethical, and at best not intentionally idealistic. A consulting job, a meaningless tech job, or a position at an investment bank. This is generally seen as the selfish route.
But there is more to selling out that nobody talks about. These jobs are the dream jobs of the middle class. Theyâ€™re not supposed to be jobs for the sons and daughters of millionaires and billionairesâ€”these kids donâ€™t actually need the money. They want independence from their parents and proof that they can make it on their ownâ€”and prestigious work experienceâ€”but they have wealth acquired through generations that they can always fall back on. These people are generally as harmless as the middle classâ€”which is to say completely harmless. They keep to themselves. They quietly grow their bank accounts and their 401ks. And just like the real middle class, they donâ€™t want to risk their next promotion through being too outspoken. They have virtually no political power. This mindset is best encapsulated by: â€œIâ€™ll go with the program. Please leave me alone to be comfortable and quietly make money.â€
They effectively become middle class, because there is no longer any socially esteemed notion of upper class. They have a base of power, of f-you money, that they could use to become something greater than just another office worker or businessperson. But there is no script for that, no institutional or ideological support. What would it even mean to be an esteemed, blue-blooded aristocrat in 2019? So they take the easy and safe way.
How else do Yale students give up their responsibility?
They go in the other direction. These are the people who call themselves idealists and say they want to save the world. They feel the weight of responsibility from their social statusâ€”but they donâ€™t know how to process and integrate this responsibility into their lives properly. Traditionally, structurally well-organized elite institutions would absorb and direct this benevolent impulse to useful purpose. But our traditional institutions have decayed and lost their credibility, so these idealists start looking for alternatives, and start signalling dissociation from those now-disreputable class markers.
But the capacity to really think through what an alternative should look like, and create one, is so rare as to be effectively nonexistent. Instead, idealists are forced to take the easy way of just going along with dominant ideological narratives of what it means to do good. They feel guilty about their wealth and privileges, and feel that they wonâ€™t be doing their part unless they do something very altruistic, and the idealistic ideologies reinforce these feelings. So they go overboard, and rush headlong into whatever they are supposed to do. They purport to speak for and be allied with underprivileged groups. They get their professors fired for minor infractions. They frantically tear down whatever vestiges of the old institutions and hierarchies that they can, and conspicuously feel guilty about the rest.
These are the people who buy clothes from Salvation Army and decline your Sunday brunch invitation because itâ€™s too expensive, sometimes with the implication that they are saving their money to donate to more effective causes, if they arenâ€™t pretending not to have it. They are the people who might attack or cut off their friends for ideological reasons. They discharge their personal responsibility by sacrificing everything outside of their distant mission, including friendships and social fabric.
Itâ€™s an understandable impulse. After all, given the state of legacy institutions, what else are you going to do with the energy of idealism? But ultimately, by going along with the narratives of an ideology that can efficiently capture these impulses, but has no structural ability to deliver on its promises, just diverts more energy from what a normal benevolent elite should be doing.
These people might sometimes say that they are â€œtired of fightingâ€â€”but this is not the full truth. Fighting is fun. It is always very fun to be a warriorâ€”to have something you believe in that guides you. To be part of a tribe, working for the good of mankind. To be revered and respected for being on the bleeding edge of the paradigm.
There’s clearly too much money in Brooklyn and in Portland.
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Underlying that richness, you’ll enjoy the warmth of honey-like amber, smooth sandalwood, fine tobacco, and Madagascar vanilla.
As you savor each whiff, you can’t help to think that this must have been the aroma that permeated the atmosphere of Papaâ€™s Havana home.
We have given in to mundane, socially acceptable evil that we now accept as good, and that starts with individualism/equality, which is the backdoor into the human psyche. All of the stuff that the far-Right detests â€” diversity, decay in behavior, shattering of the family, international finance, Idiocracy, mass/pop culture, ethnic crime â€” has its origins in equality or being used to justify equality as a workable program. We target the root, where everyone else is swatting at flies and missing the big point. …
The core of politics for me is realizing that most people mean well, but do not understand how their actions translate to reality. They see a thing, want that thing, and desire that some all-powerful force will make it so, but that is religious thinking, not leadership. Democracy means that whoever sells the most pleasurable lie wins, and as a result society has drifted Leftward. At the close of the twentieth century, however, it had become clear that the liberal West was dying just as the Communist East had done.”
Successful civilizations lead to weak populations. Weak populations know they are inferior. They know this instinctively. They have no purpose for existing. They donâ€™t articulate this directly. They act it out indirectly by throwing themselves into acts of symbolic importance because they are not capable of acts of importance.
“The movement towards androgyny occurs in late phases of culture, as a civilization is starting to unravel. You can find it again and again and again through history. In the Greek art you could see it happening. All of a sudden the sculptures of handsome nude young men, athletes, that used to be very robust in the archaic period, suddenly begin to seem like wet noodles toward the end. And the people who live in such periods (late phases of culture)â€Šâ€”â€Šwhether itâ€™s the Hellenistic era, whether itâ€™s the Roman Empire, whether itâ€™s the Mauve decade of Oscar Wilde in the 1890s, whether itâ€™s Weimar Germanyâ€Šâ€”â€Špeople who live in such times feel that they are very sophisticated, theyâ€™re very cosmopolitan: â€œhomosexuality, heterosexuality, so what, anything goes, and so onâ€¦â€ But from the perspective of historical distance, you can see that itâ€™s a culture that no longer believes in itself. And then what you invariably get are people who are convinced of the power of heroic masculinity on the edges. Whether they be the Vandals and the Huns, or whether theyâ€™re the barbarians of ISIS, you see them starting to mass on the outsides of the culture. And thatâ€™s what we have right now. Thereâ€™s a tremendous disconnect between the infatuation with the transgender movement in our own culture and whatâ€™s going on out there.”
Bobbi’s working the weird shift this week, which generally means we eat lunch together, but then she goes to bed and I shift for myself for dinner.
Having put on pounds again during The Year Without A Summer, I’m back to watching carbs and tracking calories and stuff like that. Also, I’ve generally stopped drinking for a bit, since there are low-carb ways to drink, but those are all super calorie dense.
(Another change this triggered is going to caffeine-free sodas after about 6PM and some melatonin right before bed.)
Anyway, last night after the cats got their 6PM feeding I toddled over to Fresh Market on foot for some nigiri and those tasty coconut snacks. It had gotten warm enough that I was a little leery of walking home with the nigiri, but I figured I’d just buy an Amy’s cheese enchilada frozen dinner and toss that in the bag to keep the fish cold for the eight-minute walk home.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about that, since the sushi counter was all out of nigiri, and they were sold out of both the coconut snacks and the Amy’s cheese enchiladas.
“Jesus, I live in a food desert!” I muttered, as I bought some manchego cheese and a bag of organic sprouted pizza flavor almonds as a consolation prize and trudged home.
Yale’s Brutalist Art and Architecture Building, designed by Paul Rudolph 1963.
â€œHow did it ever happen that, when the dregs of the world had collected in western Europe, when Goth and Frank and Norman and Lombard had mingled with the rot of old Rome to form a patchwork of hybrid races, all of them notable for ferocity, hatred, stupidity, craftiness, lust, and brutalityâ€”how did it happen that, from all of this, there should come Gregorian chant, monasteries and cathedrals, the poems of Prudentius, the commentaries and histories of Bede, the Moralia of Gregory the Great, St. Augustineâ€™s City of God, and his Trinity, the writings of Anselm, St. Bernardâ€™s sermons on the Canticles, the poetry of Caedmon and Cynewulf and Langland and Dante, St. Thomasâ€™ Summa, and the Oxoniense of Duns Scotus? How does it happen that even today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice, can put up a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grow up at the cost of millions of dollars on the campuses of American universities?â€