APEX Hour at SUU

3/9/21: Charles Cooke and the Importance of Weirdos

Episode Summary

In this week’s episode, journalist Charles Cooke joins host Lynn Vartan to discuss the importance of “weirdos" in our culture and society. Their discussion ranges from specific historical weirdos, to the the nerds of today, and they also cover gun rights and becoming American in between. Enjoy!

Episode Notes

SUU APEX: https://www.suu.edu/apex

Southern Utah University: https://www.suu.edu 

Episode Transcription

[00:00:01] Hey, everyone, this is Lynn Vartan, and you are listening to the APEX Hour on KSUU Thunder 91.1. In this show, you get more personal time with the guests who visit Southern Utah University from all over learning more about their stories and opinions beyond their presentations on stage. We will also give you some new music to listen to and hope to turn you on to some new sounds and new genres. You can find us here every Thursday at 3 p.m. or on the Web at suu.edu/apex. But for now, welcome to this week's show here on Thunder 91.1.


[00:00:47] All right, well, welcome in, everyone, this is APEX Hour on Tuesday, which is a little bit unusual. But for those of you who may be listening for the first time, welcome. My name is Lynn Vartan and I'm the curator of APEX Events. And today, our guest joining us is Charles Cooke. Welcome, Charles. How are you? 


[00:01:06] I'm good. Thank you for having me. 


[00:01:08] Awesome, it's so great to have you. I know you are an expert podcaster and we want to make sure to promote all the podcasts. So let's start by just talking about who you are and what you do and where we can find more of you. 


[00:01:21] OK, well, I am, until Monday, the editor of nationalreview.com, at which point I'm going to go back to my old job there, which is writing every day. And as well as writing, I'm going to be keeping up the two podcasts that I do with National Review. One is called Mad Dogs and Englishmen, which I do with Kevin Williamson and the other is called the Editors, which is I think, and our flagship podcast. And that's with Rich Lowry and then a rotating cast of characters. And you can find those on well everywhere, really anywhere in Spotify, Stitcher, Google podcasts. 


[00:01:57] And can you talk just a little bit about kind of what the platform is and just maybe share just what the podcasts are like and what you guys talk about? 


[00:02:05] Sure. Well, National Review is probably the oldest conservative magazine in the United States, and it was founded by William F. Buckley in 1955, still going, strong despite rumors to the contrary podcasts. Mad Dogs, an Englishman, is a libertarian leaning podcast that I do with Kevin Williamson. It's just the two of us. It's fairly rambling and wide ranging. The editors is more topical. We do it twice a week. We talk about the big issues in the news and generally three or four people on it. And sometimes we agree. Sometimes we argue. But it's always civil. 


[00:02:41] Yeah, civility. That's kind of the name of the game. It is, and what you talked about today was and I'd love to just do a little snapshot of it because I thoroughly enjoyed, it was "The Importance of Weirdos." Can you tell anybody who's maybe listening? What does that mean? 


[00:02:57] Well, just as I said at the outset, because I'm from Florida, so I sort of felt not original. I'm not I'm from England, as you can hear. But I'm now from Florida, an adopted Floridian. I think that the qualities that many people who make a big difference in American life have are often inextricable from what we consider to be their flaws. And I think that if we become as I fear we are, more conformist and less tolerant. Then we will try and hammer out the rough edges on a lot of people. And in so doing, we're going to hammer out all of the edges and we're going to get rid of the people who see the world differently because they see the world differently. And so we don't get to take advantage of what they have to offer. You know, we don't get the Steve Jobs and we don't get the Beethoven and we don't get the Walt Disney because we think that they're weirdos. And, of course, they are right that that's what they're supposed to be. 


[00:03:58] You had some great examples in your talk. I think that you you said two things that that I didn't, you said many things that I learned for the first time. But Tesla was afraid of circles. 


[00:04:09] He was afraid of circles. That's right. And also in the less abstract realm, he was afraid of polls. And if any woman went near him wearing pearls, he would run away. 


[00:04:18] No way. True story. Oh, my gosh. That's amazing. I wonder where that comes from. Like, what's the deal with that? 


[00:04:26] And he had a mathematical mind. I think he had to walk around every building that he visited three times before he could go in. He had to wipe down cutlery with no fewer than or no more than eighteen napkins before he would eat. So, you know, the next step, obviously, is to be afraid of circles. 


[00:04:44] And the other example that really stood out to me was the fava beans, was that Pythagoras? 


[00:04:49] Yeah, Pythagoras believed fava beans were human in nature and to eat them was to become a cannibal. 


[00:04:56] That's crazy. That's absolutely-


[00:04:58] Weirdos. See? 


[00:04:59] Yeah, I love it. Well, I'm a big fan of weirdos. I want to say I'm a self-proclaimed weirdo. And what I thought we do is just kind of do some round just sort of round table general topics. I've been reading a lot of your writing and a lot of things, and I just wanted to ask you about several things and kind of go from there. So we're using the we were just talking about the word weirdo. I like to switch to the word nerd because you wrote quite a bit about, you know, this nerd nerd society or nerd impression that we're sort of getting in the world today. And I wondered if you and I thought it was really interesting. It was particularly an article about Neil deGrasse Tyson and a bit of the danger that you see there. I wondered if you might elaborate on that. 


[00:05:46] Well, I, to say I was a trailblazer here because when I wrote this piece, I got a lot of blowback, including from Neil deGrasse Tyson himself. And then about six months afterwards, everyone in the world seemed to agree that actually Neil deGrasse Tyson is annoying. So I took the heat for for what became consensus. You're welcome. No, look, what I say in the piece is that I'm not actually criticizing nerds, but for a lot of people who are nerds or consider themselves to be nerds, life is actually quite tough. And so what we have developed in in lieu is a fake, nerdy, you know, for example, very well-connected good-Looking wealthy people who go to the White House Correspondents Dinner described it as nerd prom. But it's not you know, these people are on television. They have millions of dollars in the bank, then they're not nerds. And the second part of it was, was what you could call scientism, which is the trying to reduce the complexity of life to to sort of scientific equations as if people aren't different. They have different values than each other. And I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is just really annoying like this, you know, I mean, he said he said a few years ago that what we really need is a society that instead of being focused on democracy, is focused on pure reason. Well, I mean, firstly, no, because we disagree as to how we should run our society even when we agree on the details. But also we've tried that it was the French Revolution. It was a massive disaster, and it led to the people who were deemed to be on the wrong side of what he considers to be reason being executed. So, no, I didn't like this movement. I'm glad that it's sort of gone away a little bit. 


[00:07:31] I mean, on the one hand, it is sort of the popularization of science and the interest in that. I mean, I think there's some positive aspects to that part of it. But when it maybe then politicizing is not exactly the word, but when it starts to move beyond that into this more social construct of what a scientist is, it seems that that's where it gets more problematic. 


[00:07:56] Yeah, but also, I don't think it should become politicized and it often is. I mean, if you look at coronavirus, for example, the outcomes between Texas, New York, California and Florida are fairly similar. Now, New York's the worst of the bunch. 


[00:08:11] Right. 


[00:08:12] And yet New York was the one that the beginning, we were told, was following the science with a capital S. And people look down on Florida, especially Florida, which has an elderly population, has done very well. Every governor I think involved has been trying to do the right thing. I don't think there's anyone out there who said, you know, I don't care about all people. The response and the results have not really been much different, you know, Governor Newsom and Governor Dissatisfy totally different approaches in about the same result and to take one as this paragon of science and the other one as this sort of rube and run with that, as the press did for months, is silly, right. That they were responding to the data they had and making judgments. 


[00:08:54] Yeah. OK, that's really helpful and really clarifies it. Which brings me to another question, which is about things like the virus, which I don't know that you've written about, or at least I hadn't come across it yet. I was curious because I don't think that this is going to be the last time we see something like this, a virus or something. And I was just curious, you know, what you what your opinions were sort of about all the different states. And and as that relates to our national response and what could we do better next time, in your opinion? 


[00:09:29] Well, we will be a better place next time, because for the first few months here, we were all scrambling. So assuming it's anything like this, you might not be right. We'll be better placed. I think what we could do better is take an approach toward potential pandemics in the same way as we do in, say, defense matters. Oh, I mean, I'm not an interventionist. I don't want us to run around the world invading countries and playing policeman. But I am very strong on defense would literally defense. I want the United States to have a very, very strong military in case we are attacked, but also because I think that that historically is how you stay out of wars. And also, you know, there is going to be a global power. And I think it was much better that it's us than, say, China. Well, that involves spending money, not something I like as a conservative. But you have to spend money in order to have a strong defense. And the argument is, well, let's spend some money now so we don't have to spend more in lives and treasure if it all goes wrong. I think it's time to take that approach toward pandemics. I mean, it really would not be a problem, in my view of the federal government said, right, we're now requisitioning or not requisitioning, but building 10 warehouses spread out around the country and we are going to have years worth of supplies of PPE and Lysol and gloves in case this happens again so that we can very quickly respond. Yeah, it cost a little bit of money or they're not very much. No, but certainly it would save a lot of money because we've lost trillions of dollars and people have lost their livelihoods and we've seen suicides and lack of education and so on. 


[00:11:15] And that kind of even just that small example of a stockpile of simple things like that would also have done so much for the the the general feeling and the panic and the right and the one against one stockpiling of individuals and that kind of thing probably as well, don't you think? 


[00:11:35] I do. I do. I mean, because we were we were somewhat caught unawares and the costs of that have been enormous and, you know, obviously in lives. But one of the reasons that although I have been in favor of some of the lockdown's, I think that some states have been too zealous. Is that the effects that it has had on especially older people, lonelier people, poorer people, marginalized people and children has been extraordinary and much harder to count. And if you could mitigate some of that ahead of time, then it's a no brainer. 


[00:12:07] Totally agree. Thank you. Well, it's already time for our first song. And I did a bunch of looking around for things that you might have mentioned online that you like. And the first is a band that is new to me, but now I I'm really happy to know about. And that's The Currys. So a Florida based group, right? 


[00:12:26] Yeah. 


[00:12:27] And I have one song from them, which is "Man on the Side," and I don't know if that's a cover. Let's do "American Heartache" from them. So this is going to be "American Heartache" by the Currys. You're listening to KSUU Thunder 91.1.


[00:16:52] All right, well, welcome back to the APEX Hour, KSUU Thunder 91.1. This is Lynn Vartan. That was "American Heartache" by The Currys. And as always, if you're interested in the music that you hear on the APEX Hour, I have a Spotify open playlist called Played on the APEX Hour that you can find on our website. And our website is suu.edu/apex. So check it out. I am in the studio with Charles Cooke and we are just talking about a whole bunch of different topics. Welcome back, Charles. 


[00:17:22] Welcome. Thanks for having me. Welcome to you too. 


[00:17:25] Thank you. Well, that song was "American Heartache" and we'll use that as a segue. You didn't have an American heartache, but perhaps you had an American dream early on as a child. So you you are now an American citizen as of about 10 years ago. 


[00:17:43] I know. Up to two years. 


[00:17:44] A few years ago. 


[00:17:46] Well, three years ago. 


[00:17:47] But you moved here maybe 10 years?


[00:17:49] Yeah. It takes a while, though, to become a citizen. 


[00:17:52] Tell me a little bit about, you know, when that became a part of your desire and that decision process and and about the process itself. 


[00:18:02] Oh, I always wanted to be in America. 


[00:18:05] Really? 


[00:18:06] Yeah. We first came to Florida, as all English people do for vacation when I was about three. And I said back then, I this is where I want to live. 


[00:18:17] Well, it had that, what had the impression on you? I know you've said the open spaces and that. 


[00:18:23] Yeah, it's the open spaces and the weather and palm trees. I mean, part of it at three was vacationing while on vacation. I mean, it's not real life, but I mean that a change by the time I was six or seven and and I don't know, I just resonated at the American level. I just I like it here. 


[00:18:43] And is it the now that you're sort of more mature, is that the American spirit? Is that, I know that it's an intangible sort of thing and you've written a bit about that. But what is it? And do you do you still love it? 


[00:18:57] Oh, I do. I do. I do. And of course, this is before I had any political opinions. So it's in some ways it's tied to that too now. But it wasn't until I was 18 or so. And the wide open spaces, it's not just the actual space which Britain does, but it's, I mean, well, the listeners can't see here, but but if you look around this town. I mean, that those rocks, it's iconic, and I think you either. You either like that or you don't. And and for some reason, despite having no real family connection to it or no institutional memory of it, that just felt very natural to me. That felt like home somehow. 


[00:19:45] Cool. 


[00:19:45] It's never going away. 


[00:19:46] That's awesome. What was the immigration experience like for you? Was it, as you expected? Was it different than you expected? 


[00:19:55] It was different in the sense that I didn't expect to get a two month internship that turned into a one year one and then got a green card and then get married. And I don't think I particularly had an established view of what that process would be like. It is involved, takes a while and know I became a. A permanent resident within a year and a half of moving here, which is unusual, so I was quite lucky. National Review sponsored my application. OK, yeah, I didn't go through my wife, so I was told, you know, I love you because. 


[00:20:30] Right. 


[00:20:31] I didn't I didn't marry you for my green card. 


[00:20:34] And then there was a long wait to become a citizen. And I should say I'm actually in favor of that. Yeah, I think it's good to immerse yourself in a country before you are able to vote or be of that place. I wouldn't want to expedite that for people. 


[00:20:52] Right, right. Great. Well, thank you for that. And then before I lead into some of the more topical things, where did writing about politics, when did that come in and how did that come into your life? 


[00:21:06] Yes, I had no political interest really in until I say, 9/11. And, you know, I suppose before then I was ignorant, but it was blissful in that I was into other things. I was into music. I'm a huge roller coaster fan, obsessive.


[00:21:23] That's wild! 


[00:21:25] I had a website as a teenager about roller coasters. No, I still, I still am obsessive about them. In fact, I mean, I'm working on a book about roller coaster. 


[00:21:35] No way. That's amazing. Do you have a date when? 


[00:21:38] Though, because I've been working on it in my spare time and it's going to be a road trip style book and covid killed that part of it. So I'm waiting for everything to reopen. 


[00:21:48] Do you have a favorite roller coaster? 


[00:21:50] I do. I do. It's in North Carolina. It's called Fury 325 at Carowinds. 


[00:21:55] OK, and why do you love that one? 


[00:21:58] Well, it's 325 feet tall and it drops you 80 degrees and then it goes at 100 miles an hour for the rest of the track. So it's pretty intense. 


[00:22:05] Oh my gosh.


[00:22:06] I'm a weirdo with this because I almost you know, you read about people who they they need to go to extremes because normal life becomes boring for them and they throw their parachute out. And then catch it. So I'm not like that at all except with roller coasters. I am just the more absurd the ride the better. 


[00:22:29] And it doesn't matter if it's a drop or if it's a spin or anything like that?


[00:22:32] I'm, I'm you know, but I also take a real interest in the the engineering side of it. So, you know, most roller coasters built in the United States now, with the exception of of those that are built by a guy from Idaho, are actually Swiss. And they took over the market in the 90s and they revolutionized it with with computer aided design is actually very interesting if you're into that sort of thing. I guess it's glorified trainspotting. 


[00:22:57] But do you play that video game that designs roller coasters? 


[00:23:01] I have done, yeah. 


[00:23:02] Yeah. I've heard that's quite popular. 


[00:23:04] I have done, I used, I may have been obsessed with that as a kid.


[00:23:07] But we got off track. So roller coasters into political writing. 


[00:23:11] Yes. So I had no interest in politics. And I think 9/11 made me ask a lot of questions that I just really had no idea what the answers were to, you know, well, why is America the most powerful nation in the world? I mean, what makes it so? What is Islam? I mean, I don't know. And from there, I went to university and I got really interested in American history, specifically British colonial America and the Revolutionary War. And by the end of my time at university, that's what I was most interested in. And I just started following American politics quite closely and I realized how much I care about this the most. Yeah. And so I guess four years after that, having played some music, I applied for an internship at National Review and then it was my job to write about it. So it really snowballed. 


[00:24:05] Yeah. Well, I want to ask you about writing voice and developing writing style and all those things. But before that, I'd love to get into maybe a bit more topical things that I know that you've written quite a bit about gun laws, and I'd love to sort of just talk about that and some of the controversy surrounding that today. So can you give us first your sort of stance on on that and then we'll go from there? 


[00:24:33] Well, the first part of it is that the Second Amendment to the Constitution protects an individual right. And that matters. It matters because the Constitution is the law. So irrespective of what one's stance is, that has to be respected, that should be our starting point. Now, 80 percent of Americans accept this, but there is a 20 percent contingent that doesn't. And I think that's dangerous because, you know, you start chipping away at the bits you don't like and then it all goes to the people I respect the most who disagree with me are those who say, yeah, sure, that's what it says, but we should change it. OK, now we can have a debate. Yeah. And that's actually how I came to this topic, because I studied it at Oxford that the passage of the Bill of Rights and I was completely on the other side of the political debate. 


[00:25:18] Oh, really? 


[00:25:19] And I realized that a lot of the political rhetoric around this was dishonest and out of step with the history. So that that's the first part. But the more that I've written about this and looked into this, the more I've come to the conclusion that the right is a good one in a free country and a necessary one. And also that gun control in a country with this culture and this many firearms doesn't work. Now, people will say, ah, but what about Britain? 


[00:25:49] Right. 


[00:25:49] There are very few guns or New Zealand very few shootings, and that's true. But it is a totally different proposition to try to come up with a regime of gun control in a country that has no gun culture, no constitutional right, and almost no guns than in a country such as the United States that has a constitutional right, a very strong gun culture and 400 million guns more than people. You just have to look at it differently. And the fact is that there are no laws that have done anything to either reduce gun violence or really help. I just think they're completely useless in either directions. Some advocates of of the Second Amendment will say, oh, we passed this law and everything got better. I don't think that's true. But I also know that since 1993, the crime rate has been halved. The instances of crime committed with firearms has been halved across all income groups, all regions, all races, men and women, not not the women really commit any crime, but, you know, they are victims of it, and I think that really matters when discussing this, because you really do not want to pass laws that don't work, especially when it when it applies to a constitutional right. 


[00:27:10] It's so rare, that statistic I read that in your writing that how the gun violence has gone down. And that's so often you don't hear that right now where you almost never hear it. Yeah. I want to ask you a little bit more about this. And so what do you say to those who say, OK, sure, everybody can have a gun, but what about these automatic weapons? And you know that inevitably that comes up. So what about the automatic weapons and then associated with that? What about the school shootings and things like that? So what do you say to that? 


[00:27:44] Well, so we've got to get the terms right. So automatic weapons are heavily regulated. Automatic weapons continue firing with one depression of the trigger. OK, so what we're talking about when we talk about assault weapons are semiautomatic weapons the same as an average handgun, but just look like an automatic weapon. So it's mostly esthetic, OK? Those weapons are used so infrequently in murders that the FBI doesn't actually keep statistics. So you're more likely in America in an average year to be killed by someone's hands and fists than you are by rifles of all sorts? Not not not these specific ones, which is 10 percent of rifles, just just by rifles of all sorts. Insofar as there is a problem with gun violence in the United States that that could be addressed. It's handguns. It's 90 percent more of all gun violence is committed with handguns. Now, school shootings are disproportionately committed with so-called assault weapons. And I think that that is because they look like movie guns. But the functionality of those weapons is no different than a handgun, I think. And in fact, the worst school shootings have been committed with handguns. But it's certainly the case that is that the weapon of choice on average of of a school shooter. It's also the weapon of choice of lots of Americans. I mean, the AR 15, which is a very standard rifle that just looks different than others, is owned by a 15 to 20 million Americans. It's the most popular rifle in the country and it's own because it's easy to use. It's light. You know, this is a matter of taste, but a lot of women, for example, will buy one because it's not wooden stock, it's not heavy. So I think this is a total red herring. Um, I think that the the real problem in the United States is the criminal use of handguns, and that's what we should focus on. 


[00:29:42] And and then so how do we focus on that? And I think particularly when is there a way to focus on that, especially in relation to school shootings, which seem to be such I mean, are such a tragedy and and and such a public tragedy and what can be done in the context of also maintaining gun rights? 


[00:30:08] Yeah, I mean, obviously, school shootings are extremely traumatic. It would, I think, be a mistake for us to focus too much on it. A couple of reasons I say that, firstly, unlike with a lot of crime, they're almost impossible to predict and events that are impossible to predict are almost impossible to prevent. And secondly, they are such a small proportion of the crime that I think a lot of people here, the focus that is put on them and think, well, what about my community? You know, I mean, if you live in the south side of Chicago and then you see MSNBC focused on school shootings all the time, it's not unreasonable to think, well, is that because white kids were involved? And the moment that you have, you know, minorities being gunned down as they are, then we sort of ignore it. So I don't know the answer to the question, but what I am much more interested in trying to fix as public policy is, for example, the straw purchase of firearms by criminals. Yeah. And the federal government does a lousy job at it. We just we just bad at enforcing it. Yeah, but that's where the guns that are used in crime. So, you know, there are 30,000 deaths a year as the result of firearms. Not 20,000 of them are suicides. That's a different problem again. Right. But the 10,000 that remain are the real meat of the problem we have. You know, an average of like 17 people a year die in school shootings. That's really bad. That's terrible, but I just, I just think our national debate over this is so skewed. 


[00:31:47] Right. And it's great to hear you talk about it because it puts things in a very reasonable perspective, which which I certainly appreciate. So you did mention the suicides. And I wonder and I wonder if you think that the state of general mental health in our nation has anything, bears anything in related to this? Or maybe not, because you can't just regulate everything just because of mental health problems. 


[00:32:18] No. And of course, it is a different question for a government to prevent people from doing something to themselves compared to prevent them from doing something to another person against their will. So I think two things on this simultaneously. One, the United States does not have a suicide problem relative to other nations. It has the same suicide rate as Britain, slightly lower than France. Half of Japan, one third of South Korea. 


[00:32:46] Right. Right. 


[00:32:48] South Korea has no guns at all. Japan has no guns at all. Britain has really no guns at all. That said, it is, of course, much easier to kill yourself with a gun than with almost anything else. So the way to study this, and I'm not a statistician, but the way I've read the studies is you have to do a replacement analysis. In other words, what would somebody determined to try to kill themself use if the gun wasn't available? And the estimates on this vary, but I think most would say, you know, you might get 70 to 80 percent of the suicides. Now, that is that's a substantial saving of lives because it's 80 percent that's four thousand people who wouldn't die or at least wouldn't die having tried. Those are real people who have families, of course, the question of what you do in a country with 400 million guns is very difficult. But that's also something that we should we should focus on because that's a huge number. 


[00:33:50] Mm hmm. Thank you for all of that. On that topic, I find it fascinating to to chat about I was saying that, you know, my views from living in Southern California and now living in Utah, it's just been something that's come up that I'm thinking about in many different ways. So thank you for all that. It's time for another song. And I think you are a fan of Supertramp. 


[00:34:12] I love Supertramp. 


[00:34:13] So we'll do one of the I mean, "Give A Little Bit" is just, you know, awesome. So let's hear the famous "Give A Little Bit" by Supertramp. You're listening to KSUU Thunder 91.1. 


[00:38:29] All right, well, welcome back to the APEX Hour. This is Lynn Vartan. I'm joined in the studio with Charles Cook and that was "Give A Little Bit" by Supertramp with that great little ending right at the end, just that little arpeggiated chord. So welcome back into the studio, Charles. 


[00:38:45] Thank you. 


[00:38:46] OK, so we did we've covered a lot of the bases, but I know something that you have very strong opinions and have written quite a bit about censorship. And so I'd love to start a conversation about that. I know a you know, particularly today, we got into a bit of cancel culture and maybe that's related a bit. But let's start with just censorship and and tell me tell me what your thoughts are right now, today. 


[00:39:13] Well, I'm against it. 


[00:39:15] I love it. 


[00:39:16] Yes, I'm strongly against it. I do think it's related to cancel culture because I think both come from the assumption that we can decide what is true and proceed accordingly. 


[00:39:31] Right. 


[00:39:32] It's not that I don't have strong, strong views on this. I think I know what's true as well. It's just that I might be wrong. 


[00:39:39] Right. 


[00:39:39] And also, I might have different experiences than someone else. And, you know, if you take, say, religion, you have many people who make competing claims. And the way to deal with that in a society is to tolerate all of them, not to privilege any of them. And well and also tolerate people who have none like myself. So I think ultimately censorship is arrogance. Yeah, I think it is the tool of people who have decided that there is no longer a need for a debate or conversation on a given topic and who are shutting it down so that they can artificially prevail.


[00:40:27] So censorship, how do you feel? Let's let's just say from like the 90s to now, what trends have you seen? And of course, counterculture is its own thing, but it's kind of almost an offshoot in a way. But maybe how big was censorship in in the 90s or pick a decade, really? And then how has that evolved to now? 


[00:40:54] Well, there's a paradox here, because the United States has probably never had a more robustly defended First Amendment. So we are at the moment in the golden age of First Amendment jurisprudence on the question of speech and and not because one party or faction or political view has prevailed, but because the ideas have been accepted in the courts across the board. I mean, the average free speech case in the Supreme Court is resolved nine nothing or eight to one. And usually that one is on procedural grounds. So we are not in a period of government censorship in the way that we were in, say, the 1920s right now during the First World War. Woodrow Wilson, the worst president, was imprisoning his opponent, was was picking up Jewish immigrants off the street for distributing anti-war leaflets in Yiddish on the grounds that the nation couldn't possibly tolerate that, which is preposterous. And the Supreme Court upheld that. And as of 1919, it slowly began to change his mind and go back to the Constitution as it was written. And we are now living at the tail end of that, thankfully. Unfortunately, at the same time, we seem to have decided to impose a certain censorship culturally. And so while the courts will strike down censorship laws of all sorts, we are less and less likely to listen to each other on college campuses and in politics. And we are more likely to shun people who dissent. And that worries me not only because there's really no point ultimately having a set of laws if the culture decides to supersede them. But but also because eventually the people who are spearheading this will be on the court themselves and then it will change and we'll lose both. 


[00:43:02] Yeah. That you so eloquently got at what I was in eloquently trying to ask, which was. Yeah, I think that, you know, historically we are seeing a time of very low censorship on the one hand. But culturally we're seeing this great rise in censorship and and how that will play out future generations, as you said. You also mentioned religion in the context of that. May I was just curious to drill down a bit more on that, how, you know, in the in the basis of so many of the prominent religions is this is the fact, according to those religions, that I am right and you are wrong or my belief is right and your belief is wrong. So how do we reconcile that, you know, in in a cultural time where we've got this evolved free speech, but yet the counterculture, but yet perhaps an even stronger sort of religious stronghold, I guess. What do you think about that? 


[00:44:07] Well, so I have no religion at all. It doesn't bother me in the slightest. Other people do. And I don't want them to hold back or kowtow to me. I'm quite happy to be told by someone who is extremely religious, that I'm wrong. I'm quite happy to be told I'm going to hell as long as everyone gets to do it. 


[00:44:30] Right. 


[00:44:31] And you know that there are, of course, and have been imperfections in American life. But America has done that better than almost every country for a long time. You know, it's actually remarkable that we have coexisted in the way that we have been. What worries me, frankly, more than the prospect of of different religions coexisting is restrictions on conscience. And I do see a lack of respect for conscience emerging. 


[00:45:09] What do you mean by that? 


[00:45:10] Well, I think that the Obama administration's decision to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor, which the Biden administration has picked up again, is a huge mistake. You know, I'm speaking in Utah. People listening understand what it's like to be a religious minority. And it often ends badly. Nuns are I mean, to put it in the parlance of my talk earlier, they're widows, that they're different. And and we should cherish that and respect that. Now, of course, those nuns were saying, right, Charles, you have to live according to everything I believe I would object to. But I think that was a step too far. I would like to live in a country in which the Amish can co-exist with everyone else without feeling that they're put upon. And although they can I sense some drifting away from that that principle. 


[00:46:03] I see. Well, thank you for that. I'd love to kind of turn the tides and talk a little bit just about the writing process and finding your voice and writing. I find your writing to be very compelling and very engaging to read. Yeah, really. And I'm wondering, is that something that emerged? Did you consciously work on that? Talk to me about the development of your writing voice. 


[00:46:31] Well, to be honest with you, I think it is all the product of my being somewhat argumentative. I think I write cathartically. I don't wake up in the morning and think I have to write words today. What I do is exist in the world with the newspaper and talk to people and then find myself forming opinions or, you know, sometimes being irritated and then I think. That that's something I want to write about. So I've got it out. So I have written OK. And I suppose I've always been argumentative in that way. And now I've somehow managed to get a job. 


[00:47:14] How does your voice changed or developed in the in the years that you've been writing? 


[00:47:20] I mean, that's a good question. I don't know to what extent it's changed, although as I said earlier in my talk, I do find myself writing more defensively at the moment because of the culture in which we live and that people's willingness and desire really to take words out of context. But my view is that for better or for worse, if you are writing as a professional, you should say what you think and you should be honest about it. And you shouldn't play games or try and position yourself or writers are not politicians. They shouldn't be politicians. They shouldn't pick a side. They shouldn't sit and scream out who will like them. They don't have constituencies in the way politicians do. You should just say what you think. I think I've always done that. I'm not sure that it's changed. I've probably become more confident as I've gotten and more used to writing. It's a muscle, perhaps. But what what you see when I write, for better or for worse, is me just being argumentative. 


[00:48:33] Yeah. Would you say that you you you said something interesting about not having writers, not having a contingency. So how much concern do you have for your audience in quotes like the development of your audience or the maintaining of your audience? Is that part of your subconscious in your process? 


[00:48:55] I mean, I think everyone's going to be tempted towards that, but I really try to keep it down. You know, if I, so I wrote for National Review, a conservative magazine, I'm a conservative, I'm a libertarian, really, but I'm conservative on some issues. I have mostly readers who are conservatives, but there is an enormous difference between my job and that of, say, a representative in Congress. And I'm very keen to keep it that way. So sure, I'm sure that I sit there and think, well, if I write this, I'm going to get rude emails of people. I'm going to like me. And, you know, as a human being, I'm sure sometimes that weighs on me. But I also know my job is yeah, and and so I really do try to to shy away from it. And in my my book, I. I have a lot of criticisms for the right, because I'm not trying to win their votes. 


[00:50:01] Right, exactly. The great position of a writer in that way. Well, that's actually really cool to hear. I'm really happy about that now that you're in podcasting. Yeah, I was curious about, you know, the spoken word. And is that different for you in your process or in in or preparation or anything? How is expressing yourself in that format feel and go through the world in your eyes? 


[00:50:32] So I've never had a problem talking since I was a kid. The podcasts are less prepared than my writing. I think it's important to do your research, but I certainly wouldn't want to sit and write a script and then read it. Yeah, partly because the forum lends itself to discussion and argument. And that's one reason that we do it. And if you're reading something off of a screen and then someone interrupts and says, oh, what about this? You thought, well, let me finish. You know, whereas writing is a very different animal, especially for a magazine, it's going to be printed on a piece of paper and it's always going to stay like that forever, whatever happens. You know, I actually think that podcasting has provided a bit of an avenue for people within cancel culture because it doesn't get easily scanned and picked up by would be censors. It's very, very easy for someone to look through a piece and take a line out of context. It's much more difficult for them just technically to do it on a podcast. And, you know, so you're, I'm sure, aware that there is a movement to get rid of Huckleberry Finn. This is a silly movement which is based on the existence in that book of the N-word, but not used in a laudatory sense, but used to portray conditions at the time, which were horrendous for African-Americans. The word is useful because it shows us how casually that word was thrown at Americans. The instinct that you see as regards Huckleberry Finn is actually also on display in journalism, what people do is they search for certain words or phrases or they find passages in. And articles, and then they say, ha ha ha ha. You can't really do that on a podcast, so I think it's provided a real outlet for people who don't want to do that to each other to have proper conversations. 


[00:52:34] Yeah, I hadn't thought of it that way, but it definitely feels that way, which is great. So cool. Next question in relation to this is I wondered, are there do you have how do you stay informed? Do you have sort of your three or four sources, not private sources, but public sources that you love to read? Are there certain writers that are your go to how do you keep your information sharp up to date? What are your favorites? 


[00:53:03] So I do read certain newspapers every day, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post. And then the rest of it is people send me things, I mean, partly because I'm the editor. So I know I have to know what everyone's writing. And then you you get sent that the source material that they're responding to and and read it. I mean, to be honest, this is one part of my job that is exhausting. And I'm looking forward to going back to being a writer, not not because I'm, you know, actively trying to be less informed, but because it would be nice to focus more than I'm able to. It's a good thing at one level to be able to know the two things that happened today. At another level, it compartmentalizes your brain and it makes it very difficult to concentrate on something in detail. Which is something I use to be better at, but if I had kids...


[00:53:55] Well, that's cool to hear what your process is like now that you're going sort of back to full time writing. Is there anything that you are really looking forward to writing about that you can share with us? 


[00:54:06] Well, it's more that the frequency of it. I just enjoyed. Responding every day to the news, that's awesome, and it's a different discipline than writing a magazine piece once a month. 


[00:54:20] Oh, that's so cool. Well, we're excited to be reading more from you. We actually don't even have time for our last song. I was going to play another Supertramp theme. So everybody listening, go get your Supertramp on. But it's time for my sort of last question that I love to ask, which is what's turning you on this week? And it can be it can be anything. It can be a movie or a TV show or a book or a podcast or a magazine. It could be really anything. We've had it be food. It can run the gamut, but it's just an opportunity for people to get another little insight into you. So, Charles Cooke, what is turning you on this week? 


[00:55:00] You know what I've become honestly obsessed by and it's partly for something to do on airplanes is the Monopoly game on my iPhone. 


[00:55:07] No way. 


[00:55:08] You can play other people on the Internet. So there's real stakes. I mean, there's no money involved, but I can't stop playing, really.


[00:55:17] I always think of that maybe would be boring on a flight or-


[00:55:21] No, no, no, because because you connect to three other random people and then there's the game is on the board. It's all animated too. And it's great. 


[00:55:29] Oh, my gosh. So what are your Monopoly, do you have favorite strategies? I know people kind of have like I'm going to go for the expensive things. I'm going to buy up all the little things. I'm going to buy up all the the the railroads or whatever. 


[00:55:41] Yeah. So it's funny you ask that actually because I Googled the other day good monopoly strategies and I found a guy who had done a whole bunch of research on this and he said that well you really want are the orange ones and the red ones. OK, now the midrange is what apparently wins you the game. And he said just be incredibly aggressive at the beginning. Just buy everything, develop everything. Doesn't matter of every point. You only have three or four dollars. Hoarding money doesn't help you because then you have to spend it all on houses and hotels you land on. So I've started doing this and it sort of works. 


[00:56:14] So is that should we be doing that in life too? 


[00:56:17] I think life might be a little bit different, especially if it's your own money. 


[00:56:21] That's awesome. All right. Well, you heard it here, the Monopoly game. Well, Charles, thank you so much for your time today. It's been really fun to talk to you. Thank you. Awesome. OK, well, that's it for us. We'll see you next week. 


[00:56:35] Thanks so much for listening to the APEX Hour here on KSUU Thunder 91.1. You can find us again next Thursday at 3 p.m. for more conversations with the visiting guests at Southern Utah University and new music to discover for your next playlist. And in the meantime, we would love to see you at our events on campus to find out more. Check out suu.edu/apex. Until next week, this is Lynn Vartan saying goodbye from the APEX Hour here on Thunder 91.1.