In Pursuit of Jefferson

Traveling through Europe with the Most Perplexing Founding Father

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Back in 2009, I watched Julie & Julia, a movie about a 30-something New Yorker (Julie) working through all 500+ recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Its parallel narratives involved Julia's days learning her craft in France with Julie's sometimes amusing efforts. Amy Adams as Julie, Meryl Streep as Julia, and it's not the worst chick flick your wife will ever drag you to see.

I was reminded of that more than once reading this book. It could well have been titled Derek & Tom. The author, Derek Baxter, a Jefferson fan from his youth, got an idea to get to know his idol better by following his travels, mostly in Europe. He's mainly inspired by Jefferson's brief Hints to Americans Travelling in Europe, with its subsection "Objects of Attention for an American". TJ suggested paying detailed attention to topics that might be useful to transfer to the young nation: agriculture, mechanical arts, gardens, architecture, politics.

But not everything. TJ's amusing aside on painting and statuary: "Too expensive for the state of wealth among us. It would be useless therefore and preposterous for us to endeavor to make ourselves connoisseurs in those arts. They are worth seeing, but not studying." And the "courts" (haunts of the nobility):

To be seen as you would see the tower of London or Menagerie of Versailles with their Lions, tygers, hyaenas and other beasts of prey, standing in the same relation to their fellows. A slight acquaintance with them will suffice to shew you that, under the most imposing exterior, they are the weakest and worst part of mankind. Their manners, could you ape them, would not make you beloved in your own country, nor would they improve it could you introduce them there to the exclusion of that honest simplicity now prevailing in America, and worthy of being cherished.

There are a lot of great anecdotes in this book. I especially liked Jefferson's efforts to rebut a snooty European who maintained that American animal species were degenerate compared to their European counterparts. TJ wangled the shipment of the corpse of a seven-foot New Hampshire moose across the pond. (It did not travel well.)

And the thing Baxter and his wife notice about Versailles? It smells like pee.

Baxter found a lot to like about Jefferson. It is difficult to comprehend TJ's breadth and depth of interests today; in comparison, our modern politicians seem to know little more than how to get elected via bullshit.

But there's also one big item to despise, unfortunately. Slavery, of course. Baxter's discoveries in this area dishearten him, and also this reader. Despite his glowing words about inalienable rights in the Declaration, TJ's post-revolution behavior was mostly self-interested. His lavish lifestyle in Virginia required a raft of involuntary servants, and he made no effort to free them, or to plan for their eventual freedom.

And, of course, Sally Hemmings.

Baxter is seemingly mild progressive, and semi-woke. His efforts to drag in modern issues occasional induce eye-rolling. His discussion of climate change (relevant due to TJ's interest in meteorology) clocks in at approximately 0.73 Thunbergs on the alarmist scale. A few pages are expended in describing his White Guilt and White Privilege. (In keeping with trendy usage, he capitalizes "White" and "Black" throughout.) And this is really bad:

Jessup White lives in Richmond, following a career as a broadcast journalist. No matter what her family achieves, though, she's left with a constant worry about their safety. White violence can affect any African American, across all genders, ages, and occupations. "My son went to MIT. But he's six feet tall with broad shoulders. He's a big strong Black man. I know what can happen to him," she says, referencing the never-ending police killing of African Americans.
To put it mildly, this is divorced from statistical reality. Ms. White's son may have things to worry about, but cop violence (bad as it can be) is pretty far down the list.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 3:41 PM EDT

URLs du Jour


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  • Couldn't help but notice the URL calls them "Lies", not "Misinformation". But whichever word you use, Eric Boehm says the Congressional Budget Office is doing the job Politifact won't: New CBO Report Exposes Biden's Deficit-Reduction Misinformation.

    By the time inflation comes under control sometime next year, the federal budget deficit will be ballooning once again—and on course to hit $2 trillion annually by the end of the decade.

    The new economic and budgetary outlook released by the Congressional Budget Office this week forecasts steady if unspectacular economic growth for the next 10 years, falling inflation rates, and climbing budget deficits. The report projects that "the current economic expansion continues, and economic output grows rapidly over the next year." But the government continues to spend more than it collects in tax revenue, driving annual budget deficits to $1.7 trillion by 2028 and $2.3 trillion by the end of the 10-year budget window in 2032.

    And what of Biden's claim that the deficit has "gone down both years that I've been here"?

    "Since July 2021, CBO has raised its projection of the 10-year deficit by a total of $2.4 trillion, mainly because of newly enacted legislation," the report reads. "Revenue increases, which reduce deficits, were mostly offset by economic changes that increased outlays—particularly those for interest and Social Security."

    It's fun to blame Biden for this. But (of course) not a penny is spent that Congress doesn't approve. And (also of course) those CongressCritters are only in a position to do that because people voted them in.

    But as a guy said once: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

  • Disclaimer: contains no actual quantum theory. Jonah Goldberg's (unpaywalled) G-File is headlined Schrödinger’s Serial Killers. It's nuanced, heartfelt, and excerpting a few paragraphs will not do it justice. Nevertheless, here's where Schrödinger comes in:

    So, when we talk about how X or Y creates mass shooters, we should understand that X and Y also don’t cause people to become mass shooters. It’s a bit like the uncertainty principle. Some statements really are both true and untrue. 

    Consider irresponsible rhetoric. Last week, after the Buffalo shooting, there was a lot of talk about how uttering anything that even sounds like “replacement theory” causes violence. I think there’s a good argument for this and a good one against it, because both positions are meaningfully correct. “Fill in the blank with whatever radical ideology you want,” Lankford says in his interview. “There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions of people with that ideology who nevertheless wouldn’t commit these crimes. So what’s really making these people different is not just the ideology, but the homicidal and often suicidal tendencies.”

    My tentative thoughts: Jonah might have been better off going with Bayes instead of Schrödinger. We're all against mass shootings (at least I hope so). But efforts to "do something" will (a) invariably impact a number of the innocent and (b) miss a lot of the actual evildoers.

    Further unbridled speculation: George Will's 2014 column made a lot of people freak out when he claimed when pervasive victim rhetoric makes "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

    It's easy to think of yourself as an oppressed victim. When things don't go your way, it can't be your fault, and it can't be your responsibility to fix things. Is it any wonder that some people resort to deadly, incoherent violence in that mental state?

    Proposing ineffective and counterproductive draconian gun laws is also easy. Fixing the victimhood culture is a more difficult task.

  • Oops. The Daily Caller reports the latest from the folks in charge: US Govt To Blame For Burning 312,320 Acres In New Mexico.

    The U.S. Forest Services (USFS) said Friday it had started two fires that devastated thousands of acres of land and hundreds of homes in New Mexico.

    The agency said it started the April 6 Hermits Peak Fire and the April 19 Calf Canyon Fire, reported Reuters. The two fires combined into the largest-ever wildfire in New Mexico history.

    How about (I've asked this before) Uncle Stupid declining to take on additional responsibilities until he stops setting things on fire accidentally? Just a thought.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 3:41 PM EDT