Inner-city Baltimore asks the nation:
How do we socialize our young males?
“Instead of a world living in peace because it is without religion, why not imagine a world without nation states?…
“Few there are, however, who would venture to ask if there might be a better way for humanity to organize itself for the sake of the common good. Few, that is, beyond a prophetic voice like that of Dorothy Day, speaking acerbically about ‘Holy Mother the State’..."Cardinal George was the poster man of the exhausted bishop. His intellectual orthodoxy remained in the realm of ideas. He never enacted the orthopraxy of the protective shepherd. He threw up his hands to the world of men, nations, and war. When he had hiring powers and unopposed leadership he improved institutions like Mundelein Seminary. Some of his writing and a few of his quotes were trenchant. But he was no ruler of men. When he faced a predator like Father Dan McCormack, he ran away like the hireling -- and the wolf devoured his black male sheep. That was his most publicized failure to protect, but it was not an exception. He has left Chicago Catholics, and particularly young males, in the care of one of the nation's most deeply compromised presbyterates. He goes now to face the Good Shepherd. It is not clear he will rest in peace.
As with every other Dickens in my experience, I read the first half of the book in about two months and the last half in about two days. Yes, it takes some time to get into. But once it sucks you in, there’s no escape. The compelling situations, fascinating characters, and intricate mysteries keep you turning pages to the very end, and leave you wanting more.
While Bleak House itself is a good place, the word “bleak” in the title gives an accurate description of the book’s tone. Though Dickens’ usual macabre touch is mostly lacking, there is no denying that it’s a bleak tale on many levels. But the hope is there, very plainly, alongside the serious warnings. If I had to label the message of Bleak House, I would say that it is a story that contrasts wisdom and folly.
Capable, conscientious, affectionate Esther Summerson knows nothing of her lineage, having been brought up by her godmother. Her life is one of misery and solitude until she is placed under the care of her guardian, Mr. Jarndyce, an eccentric, warm-hearted bachelor. Mr. Jarndyce’s two other wards – cousins Richard and Ada – adore Esther as well, and she finds herself completely happy and loved for the first time in her life.
But the Jarndyce family has a curse hanging over them in the form of a court case – “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” – which has been dragging out for years. Fortunes have been spent, men have taken their own lives, and it has become the laughingstock of the courts. No one remembers what it is about, and Mr. Jarndyce would prefer to forget the whole thing. But when Richard begins to become obsessed with it, Esther and her guardian are afraid it will destroy him.
Then slowly, darkness enters Esther’s own life, in many forms. She learns of her shameful heritage and her tortured mother. Illness robs her of her beauty, and she is brought face-to-face with the poverty and tragedy of the poorer classes. She watches as Ada’s heart breaks over Richard’s folly. She sees intrigue ruin the lives of those close to her, and learns that people are not always what they seem.
Through it all, her bright, kind personality shines, as she casts sunshine on those around her, always thinking of others before herself. And she finds that even in the darkness, hope can prevail...
Starkly contrasting is the haughty, anguished Lady Dedlock. The self-centered actions of her youth bring trouble on everyone around her, cause her constant fear, and threaten to destroy her marriage. Even when her softer side is manifest, the way she shows it is selfish and thoughtless, with a couple of rare exceptions. Lady Dedlock is a confused, tortured woman, one whom it is hard to love but very easy to pity.
Then there’s Mrs. Jellyby. Mrs. Jellyby, mother of eight children, wife to Mr. Jellyby, and obsessed with a mission – Africa. This woman dedicates her life to Africa, constantly writing, speaking and working, all to help the poor people of Booriboola-Ga be able to have coffee. Meanwhile, her children get hurt and get into trouble, her house is an utter disaster, her husband has become so weary of life he can hardly hold his head up, and her oldest daughter Caddy learns to almost hate her. Such a noble woman! One of the most touching lines in the book comes when Mr. Jellyby pleads with Caddy on the eve of her wedding; “Please, don’t ever have…a mission.”
Black elites are eager to blame bad black outcomes on bigotry and quick to denounce or mock anyone who offers an alternative explanation. But we should be thankful that black leaders of yore didn’t pretend that racism must be vanquished from America before blacks could be held primarily responsible for their socioeconomic circumstances.
“We know that there are many things wrong in the white world, but there are many things wrong in the black world, too,” Martin Luther King Jr. told a congregation in St. Louis. “We can’t keep on blaming the white man. There are things we must do for ourselves.”
I mentioned that King quote, which comes from a 1961 profile of him in 'Harper’s Magazine,' in a [newspaper] column several years ago. Some readers accused me of fabricating it. In the era of Al Sharpton, apparently it is hard for people to believe that leading civil-rights leaders used to speak so frankly about black self-help and personal responsibility. Which may be all you need to know about the quality of those black leaders today—and the commentators who carry water for them.
Back in the heyday of the British Empire, a man from one of the colonies addressed a London audience. “Please do not do any more good in my country,” he said. “We have suffered too much already from all the good that you have done.” That is essentially the message of an outstanding new book by Jason Riley about blacks in America. Its title is Please Stop Helping Us. Its theme is that many policies designed to help blacks are in fact harmful, sometimes devastatingly so. These counterproductive policies range from minimum-wage laws to “affirmative action” quotas.
This book untangles the controversies, the confusions, and the irresponsible rhetoric in which issues involving minimum-wage laws are usually discussed. As someone who has followed minimum-wage controversies for decades, I must say that I have never seen the subject explained more clearly or more convincingly. Black teenage-unemployment rates ranging from 20 to 50 percent have been so common over the past 60 years that many people are unaware that this was not true before there were minimum-wage laws, or even during years when inflation rendered minimum-wage laws ineffective, as in the late 1940s. Pricing young people out of work deprives them not only of income but also of work experience, which can be even more valuable. Pricing young people out of legal work, when illegal work is always available, is just asking for trouble. So is having large numbers of idle young males hanging out together on the streets.
When it comes to affirmative action, Jason Riley asks the key question: “Do racial preferences work? What is the track record?” Like many other well-meaning and nice-sounding policies, affirmative action cannot survive factual scrutiny. Some individuals may get jobs they would not get otherwise, but many black students who are quite capable of getting a good college education are admitted, under racial quotas, to institutions whose pace alone is enough to make it unlikely that they will graduate. Studies that show how many artificial failures are created by affirmative-action admissions policies are summarized in Please Stop Helping Us, in language much easier to understand than in the original studies. There are many ponderous academic studies of blacks, if you have a few months in which to read them, but there is nothing to match Jason Riley’s book as a primer that will quickly bring you up to speed on the complicated subject of race in a week, or perhaps over a weekend. As an experienced journalist, rather than an academic, Riley knows how to use plain English to get to the point. He also has the integrity to give it to you straight, instead of in the jargon and euphemisms too often found in discussions of race. The result is a book that provides more knowledge and insight in a couple of hundred pages than are usually found in books twice that length.
Unlike academics who just tell facts, Riley knows which facts are telling. For example, in response to claims that blacks don’t do well academically because the schools use an approach geared to white students, he points out that blacks from foreign, non-English-speaking countries do better in American schools than black, English-speaking American students. Asian students do better than whites in schools supposedly geared to whites. In all three of New York City’s three academically elite public high schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech — there are more than twice as many Asian students as white students. So much for the theory that non-whites can’t do well in schools supposedly geared to whites.
On issue after issue, Please Stop Helping Us cites facts to destroy propaganda and puncture inflated rhetoric. It is impossible to do justice to the wide range of racial issues — from crime to family disintegration — explored in this book. Pick up a copy and open pages at random to see how the author annihilates nonsense. His brief comments pack a lot of punch. For example, “Having a black man in the Oval Office is less important than having one in the home.”