Hillbilly Elegy

A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

[Amazon Link]

What's an elegy? I had to look it up to be sure: It's "a mournful, melancholy, or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead." I believe the author, J. D. Vance, is referring to the culture he grew up in. It's not dead, but he's left it behind.

The book is pretty good. As I type, it's number seven on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list, and it's been on the list for forty-seven weeks. Many of these sales, I think, have been to parents giving the book to their kiddos: "See, as bad as you think we were, things could have been lots worse. Specifically, your mother will never demand that you provide her with a clean urine sample that she can provide to her employer as if it were hers."

J. D. Vance, the author, tells the story of his life so far, concentrating on the hillbilly family and culture in which he was immersed growing up. It's brutally honest, and makes no excuses for the various dysfunctions. And there are a lot: e.g., drug abuse, as noted above. Family ties are unstable; at last count, I think J. D.'s mom was on husband number five, and those husbands were interspersed with numerous live-in boyfriends. Paradoxically, family loyalty is strong; funerals, weddings, graduations are all well-attended by even distant relations. (J. D. distinguishes between his "nuclear" family, relatively small, and his "extended" family, which due to all the serial marriage is huge, fluid, and difficult to track.) Generosity is rife, even to a fault.

The hillbilly culture is prone to irresponsibility, short-term thinking, and short-fused conflict, both inside and outside family bounds. In the modern world, this makes long-term employment in non-menial jobs a rarity, and financial stability even rarer. (The generosity mentioned above can cause expensive mistakes.) Within families, psychological warfare seems unremitting.

And more. J. D. is observant and insightful at what makes him and his culture tick. His story is one of both escape and acceptance. Thanks to a loving grandmother (who I pictured as Margo Martindale playing a less criminal, but more profane version of Justified's Mags Bennett) who provided good advice without necessarily following it herself. J. D. (eventually) gets decent grades in school, joins the Marines, attends Ohio State, gets into (to his own surprise) Yale Law School, finds his eventual wife, and… wrote this book. Each step of the way is tricky, and things could have easily gone wrong. A cameo appearance is made by Amy Chua, the famous "dragon mom", who was J. D.'s contracts prof at Yale; her mentoring helped hugely.

OK, I said: good for parents to give their kids. But also… you can't help but notice that a lot of the "hillbilly" dysfunctions are working their way into white working-class cultures in general. That's cause for even more concern.

URLs du Jour


■ I think we have to classify Proverbs 24:13-14 as, at best, a strained simile:

13 Eat honey, my son, for it is good;
    honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.
14 Know also that wisdom is like honey for you:
    If you find it, there is a future hope for you,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

Reader assignment: compare and contrast with Proverbs 25:27 and Proverbs 25:16. Not to go against the Good Book, but it's difficult to extract consistent honey-based wisdom from Proverbs.

■ This has been stuck in my craw for a while, so it's not quite timely, but anyway. Powerline's John Hinderaker uncovers Another Left-Wing Science Scandal. It involves glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide RoundUp.

A simple Google search on glyphosate will give you a lot of scary/ominous (and a few level-headed) results. But the scary ones are really scary and seem to come from ostensibly reputable publications like Scientific American ("Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells") and National Geographic ("What Do We Really Know About Roundup Weed Killer?"). And the resulting fear, uncertainty, and doubt has made pictures like today's Getty image very easy to find.

Much of this fear springs from a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which, back in 2015, declared that glyphosate was "probably carcinogenic". But, as Hinderaker quotes a Reuters report:

Previously unreported court documents reviewed by Reuters from an ongoing U.S. legal case against Monsanto show that [National Cancer Institute epidemiologist Aaron] Blair knew the unpublished research found no evidence of a link between glyphosate and cancer. In a sworn deposition given in March this year in connection with the case, Blair also said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis.

This has caused articles in left-wing publications wouldn't seem out of place in Reason or National Review. Example:

As of yet, there are no signs of IARC backing off its conclusion that RoundUp causes cancer. “Despite the existence of fresh data about glyphosate,” reported Reuters, the agency is “sticking with its findings.”

But the cat is out of the bag. During an EPA budget hearing Thursday, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to look into the withheld evidence on RoundUp. [UC Berkeley professor of genetics, genomics, and development Barry] Eisen, meanwhile, worries that IARC’s handling of this case will damage public perception of the group. “This is going to end up undermining people’s confidence in this agency’s ability to do this well,” he said. “They don’t seem interested in getting to the bottom of these things. These decisions seem based in politics.”

Readers, that's from Mother Jones, not previously thought to be a part of the toady corporate press. Wow.

This is something to keep an eye on, mainly to see if all those mainstream publications will back off their scaremongering.

■ The Supreme Court giveth, but also taketh away. Specifically (as Eric Boehm writes at Reason): Supreme Court Deals Blow to Property Rights.

When governments issue regulations that undermine the value of property, bureaucrats don't necessarily have to compensate property holders, the Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court voted 5-3, in Murr V. Wisconsin, a closely watched Fifth Amendment property rights case. The case arose from a dispute over two tiny parcels of land along the St. Croix River in western Wisconsin and morphed into a major property rights case that drew several western states into the debate before the court.

The whimsical Justice Kennedy voted with the reliably-statist Breyer/Kagan/Ginsbug/Sotomayor bloc. Jazz Shaw at Hot Air quotes Justice Thomas:

Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution. Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not.

One can only hope that President Trump will get some more chances to appoint replacements.

■ I am a mild baseball fan, and I'm in agreement with (superfan) George F. Will, who reports from Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park: Baseball’s Pace of Play Needs Some Juice.

From Little League on up, players emulate major leaguers, so Major League Baseball’s pace-of-play problem is trickling down. Four innings into a recent College World Series game here, just seven hits and three runs had consumed 96 minutes. During a coach’s visit to the pitcher’s mound, the other team’s three base-runners visited their dugout to confer with their coach. The Congress of Vienna moved more briskly.

Will suggests (among other things) limiting catchers' visits to the mound. I'd suggest an outright ban, enforced by hungry wolverines, but there are probably downsides to that I'm not considering.

■ And Mr. Ramirez notes that elephants can forget, or at least pretend to:

[GOP Repeal]

Last Modified 2019-06-16 10:34 AM EST