Friday, January 5, 2018

Brooks on Trafficking

No, not that kind of trafficking, that would be too controversial.

Image via YoungInRome.

We may or may not have skirted the danger of war on the Korean peninsula, the situations in Yemen, Ukraine, Myanmar, and other places continue to degenerate, President Macron is trying to take over the Middle East peace process, Congress is about to attempt to provide a real appropriations process for the first time in well over a year of living from continuing resolution to continuing resolution, news is out that Donald Trump tried to shut down the Russia investigation about eight separate times, fearless federalist attorney general Jefferson Beauregard is declaring war on the 29 states where some kind of marijuana use is legal, and a new book is out (four days ahead of schedule after Trump's advance denunciation of it increased demand to an irresistable level) providing credible evidence of the president's diminished cognitive capacity, so naturally David F. Brooks ("How Would Jesus Drive?") is writing about how grateful we should all be that some people have good traffic manners.

Moreover, Pope Francis agrees with him on that, in his homily for the New Year's Eve Vesper service at the Basilica of Saint Peter:

it was good to get a reminder, from Pope Francis in his New Year’s Eve homily, that the people who have the most influence on society are actually the normal folks, through their normal, everyday gestures being kind in public places, attentive to the elderly. The pope called such people, in a beautiful phrase, “the artisans of the common good.”
Small deeds, he said, “express concretely love for the city … without giving speeches, without publicity, but with a style of practical civic education for daily life.”
The pope focused especially on driving, praising those people “who move in traffic with good sense and prudence.” As Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution points out, driving is precisely the sort of everyday activity through which people mold the culture of their community.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that in his homily for the New Year's Eve Te Deum Mass last week Pope Francis focused especially on driving?

Answer: Yes, in principle, but first of all, the seven words he devoted to driving (in the official English version, "move in traffic with purpose and prudence, or in Italian, "si muovano nel traffico con criterio e prudenza", eight) are strictly speaking fewer than the 11 he gave to being attentive to the elderly or those in difficulty, or the 36 to those who do their civic part in this way in spite of being in economic difficulties themselves; and I think "con criterio" really means you shouldn't be driving at all without a good reason in Rome, but using public transport. Who really focuses on driving is Brooks's source, John L. Allen, Jr., in the online magazine Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse, which devotes a lengthy paragraph to the terrible traffic conditions in Rome, the place the Pope was talking about, following the Pope's recommendation that the artisans of the common good should also "point out things that are wrong" ("Segnalano le cose che non vanno"). And Brooks, who goes on to discuss good driving habits for 13 paragraphs, which I'm going to pass on analyzing.

Annoyed with Allen's "style of practical civic education for daily life" in place of Francis's "style of civic upbringing (educazione doesn't most often mean "education") being practiced in everyday life (praticata nel quotidiano)", which isn't the same thing. Also the Pope didn't say at all that prudent drivers, parents and teachers, are "the ones who have the most influence on society". Sadly, though I'm sure Francis is right in saying that they constitute the majority of Romans, their influence is not as extensive as we could wish.

I haven't been able to locate where Richard Reeves singles out driving as an activity in which people mold the culture of their community, but I'm sure I'd agree with it enough.

It's hard to find anything even moderately offensive in today's column, except for "total sleazoids" (this is actually the thirteenth time in Times history that the word "sleazoid" has occurred, previous users including Maureen Dowd and, I'm sorry to say, Gail Collins)—

Over the past several years we have done an outstanding job of putting total sleazoids at the top of our society: Trump, Bannon, Ailes, Weinstein, Cosby, etc.
—and the appointment of old Bill "Pull Up Your Pants" Cosby as an honorary Democrat to fill out the bothsiderist dance card.

And maybe its omissions of what the Pope did focus on, the past year with its "works of death, lies, and injustices... the wars that are the flagrant signs of our absurd, recidivist pride... and all the small and large offenses against life, against truth, against brotherhood, that lead to so many forms of human, social, and environmental degradation" and the gratitude he feels for the Romans whose bishop he serves as, even when they're outside of their cars, especially the "parents and teachers who, in this same style [of civic upbringing] try to train their children with a civic sense, to an ethics of responsibility, raising them to feel a part of, to take care of, to be interested in the realities that surround them."

But it mainly reeks of inoffensiveness, really, like a think piece in McCall's or Readers' Digest ca. 1962. And penny-a-lining.

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