Independence Day 2022

I have no flag-waving enthusiasm for you, but nothing too dark, either.

Trying to post daily isn’t a habit that comes easily. I’m dropping this one Monday morning, whereas my intent is to put a bow on my posts the prior evening.

Politics

From the Department of I Wish I’d Written That

I’ve been thinking about the weird intense hatred many conservatives feel for people like David French and Liz Cheney — for anyone they think isn’t “fighting.” Here’s my conclusion: The conservative movement has too many sheepdogs and not enough shepherds.

Sheepdogs do two things: they snap at members of the herd whom they believe to be straying from their proper place, and they bark viciously at wolves and other intruders. Sheepdogs are good at identifying potential predators and scaring them off with noisy aggression. (Often they suspect innocent passers-by of being wolves, but that just comes with the job description. Better to err on the side of caution, etc.)

What sheepdogs are useless at is caring for the sheep. They can’t feed the sheep, or inspect them for injury or illness, or give them medicine. All they can do is bark when they see someone who might be a predator. And that’s fine, except for this: the sheepdogs of the conservative movement think that everyone who is not a sheepdog – everyone who is not angrily barking — is a wolf. So they try to frighten away even the faithful shepherds. If they succeed, eventually the whole herd will die, from starvation or disease. And as that happens, the sheepdogs won’t even notice. They will stand there with their backs to the dying herd and bark their fool heads off.

Alan Jacobs

When abortion wasn’t a partisan issue

Abortion was not always a partisan issue:

Both before and immediately after the Roe v. Wade decision, many prominent Republicans, such as First Lady Betty Ford and New York Gov. and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, supported abortion rights.

At the same time, some liberal Democrats spoke out against abortion rights, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver and his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.

The anti-abortion movement was strongest in the heavily Catholic, reliably Democratic states of the Northeast, and its supporters believed that their campaign for the rights of the unborn accorded well with the liberal principles of the Democratic Party.

By the time the Supreme Court reversed Roe, the anti-abortion movement had become so thoroughly allied with conservative Republican politics that it was difficult to imagine a time when liberal Democrats who supported an expanded welfare state were leaders in the movement.

Daniel K. Williams, Before Roe, anti-abortion activism included liberals inspired by Catholic social teaching. In that ellipsis lies some interesting stuff, so read the whole thing.

It always puzzled me that abortion had become so partisan an issue. And gradually, it horrified me that abortion opponents felt obligated to vote for the creepiest, most implausible Republicans as long as they said they’d work to overturn Roe. Some of them plainly had not internalized the meaning of "pro-life."

I suppose there was an analogous process on the side of abortion supporters. Lord knows, the Democrats have some creepy people in high places.

We’ll see how, or whether, Dobbs changes that. The liberal Democrats who oppose abortion and haven’t died off should find the American Solidarity Party most congenial.

Jonah discerns a bit of hypocrisy

Definitions vary, but I think we can all agree that giving voters and their representatives power to make decisions is part of any serious understanding of democracy. I know that totalitarian and authoritarian countries like to call themselves democracies too. But such claims are what you might call “deceptive advertising” or “false branding” or “lies.”

As the English setter said when making a big fuss about a quail, here’s what I’m getting at: A lot of people described the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade as a blow to “our democracy.”

But let’s move on.

Nach maga, kommen wir.

There’s one area where I agree with Democrats about the threat to “our democracy.” All of the hardcore MAGA candidates championing the stolen election lie are a real threat to democracy. I may not agree with progressives about the scope or scale of the threat (I suspect our democracy can survive the election of a bunch of Trumpian Mini-Mes). But that, too, is beside the point. You don’t have to buy the argument that these bozos, grifters, useful idiots, and poltroons pose an existential threat to democracy to still think they pose a serious threat.

More importantly, I’m not the one saying they pose an existential threat. Last November, leaders of 58 of the most influential progressive groups wrote an open letter to Congress saying that, “Our democracy faces an existential threat—the very real possibility that the outcome of an election could be ignored and the will of the people overturned by hyperpartisan actors.”

So what have Democrats—who often echo this rhetoric—done to thwart these hyperpartisan democracy assassins?

Fund them to the hilt!

Jonah Goldberg, Democrats Have a Funny Way of Expressing Concern About ‘Our Democracy’

Legalia – Waffling on Coach Kennedy

As I’ve said, I’m not all that impressed by Coach Kennedy, the 50-yardline-post-game-prayer guy who won in the Supreme Court last week. In fact, I would have been okay with it if he had lost on the theory that his prayers, in the total context of his history of post-game prayers, was excessively (if subtly) coercive (which is more or less what the dissent argues).

Now, Prof. Josh Blackman (No Offense, But It’s Just A Prayer) has given me second thoughts about whether there ought to be any cause of action for "coercion" so subjective as the facts here shown.

Naturally, Mr. Kennedy’s proposal to pray quietly by himself on the field would have meant some people would have seen his religious exercise. Those close at hand might have heard him too. But learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is "part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society," a trait of character essential to "a tolerant citizenry." Lee. This Court has long recognized as well that "secondary school students are mature enough … to understand that a school does not endorse," let alone coerce them to participate in, "speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis." Mergens. Of course, some will take offense to certain forms of speech or prayer they are sure to encounter in a society where those activities enjoy such robust constitutional protection. But "[o]ffense … does not equate to coercion." Town of Greece.

Justice Gorsuch in Kennedy v. Bremerton (emphasis added).

Sometimes, I just need a good whack up side-o-the-head.

(I am not friendly, by the way, to what I take to be the Coach’s version of Christianity; that is almost invariably true of religious freedom cases in the U.S. because the U.S. has, in Ross Douthat’s words, so much Bad Religion. So don’t give me the "How’d ya like it if he was praying a Muslim prayer, huh?!" bit.)

Miscellany

Funning

I was told some decades back that the word "fun" has no real equivalent in other languages/cultures. That possibility was so much fun that I didn’t risk spoiling it by checking out the claim.

I also couldn’t define "fun." Now, at the end of his guest post The Holy Anarchy of Fun at Bari Weiss’s Common Sense, Walter Kirn gives it a shot:

Fun is abandonment. “Don’t think. Do.” It’s a form of forgetting, of looseness and imbalance, which is why it can’t be planned and why it threatens those who plan things for us. Fun is minor chaos enjoyed in safety and most genuine when it comes as a surprise, when water from hidden nozzles hits your face or when the class hamster, that poor imprisoned creature, has finally had enough and flees its cage.

I can’t say I find Kirn’s elliptical definition anything better than evocative, but now that he puts fun under my nose again, I find that feel less censorious toward it than I once did.

We spend too much time in the left hemisphere, "murdering to dissect" as Wordsworth put it. "Fun" could be at least a waystation on the way to

… a heart
That watches and receives.

Eine Kleine Structural Racism

Here is an example, not necessarily huge, of "structural racism": Brian Sawers, What Lies Behind That ‘No Trespass’ Sign – The Atlantic. It’s also an interesting historical story even apart from its ongoing effects. Suffice that keeping freed slaves in a deeply subordinate position was a substantial part of the motivation for closing formerly open lands.

For a few years in my childhood, my Dad owned maybe ten acres of country land, mostly woods. The idea was we’d build a custom home there some day. Dad posted "No Trespassing" signs, which found themselves peppered full of 22 caliber bullet holes. We even caught a squirrel hunter in flagrante delicto one time. It never occurred to me until now that maybe Dad shouldn’t have posted those signs, but should have expected hunters to visit, which really did him no harm. (This was an era where a landowner wouldn’t get sued if someone invited himself in a got hurt accidentlally.)

I don’t suppose there’s be a lot of people opting for a subsistence diet of squirrels, rabbits and more exotic critters, hunted on open lands, so I don’t know how lingering is the oppressive effect of these laws. But suffice that lands were legally open, and trespassing wasn’t a thing, until slaves got legally emancipated.

Both sides

There are some really crazy ideas out there, and not just on the QAnon Right:

Someday I will do this long-form and with a lot of sources and such, but I’m writing at the moment out of considerable annoyance. In short, I am so sick and tired of being told by leftists that our mental illness problems (my mental illness problem) are the fault of capitalism, or perhaps some such vague and useless thing as “the system.” Sometimes they say this specifically about suicide as well. I would like to ask compassionate people to stop doing this, and I have the following questions and complaints.

Freddie deBoer, My Brief Brief Against "Mental Illness is Just Capitalism, Man, the System".

Because what Freddie is responding to seems so outlandish to me, I’ll leave you with that teaser and link rather than quote more.

On B1G "stealing" USC and UCLA

College sports are so shameless that when anyone else does anything shameless in the world, they have to pay college sports a sizable royalty.

Jason Gay, My Big Ten Welcome to…USC and UCLA.

I talked to a sports fanatic at Church coffee hour yesterday. This move portends a lot more than I realized.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday bright spots

If with all your heart you truly seek me …

… ye shall ever truly find me. Thus saith our God. (Mendelsohn, Elijah, paraphrasing Jeremiah 29:13)

Martin Shaw, a notable in British Neo-Paganism, went out to to the woods for a 101-day vigil (!) of some pagan sort, roughly around the beginning of Covidtide. At the end, he had an attention-getting vision, and then began having the dreams — like Christ coming to him like a stag:

Shaw says he used to think Christianity was dull and domesticated. “I was wrong.”

His problem was that he thought the tame bourgeois Evangelicalism in which he was raised was the be-all and end-all of Christianity. He says, of that church, “What on earth would they have done with Blake?”

Shaw says that he believes he was in contact with the One who made the universe. It rendered him speechless. “I have been appropriately silent,” he tells Mark Vernon, adding that this is the first time he has revealed in public his conversion.

“You could not have argued me into Christianity,” Shaw says. It took this overwhelming experience of awe.

He goes on to say that Christianity is the fulfillment of all kinds of pagan myths.

“There was this deep interior announcement: ‘You knocked, and now I’m here. What should we do?”

On modern Christianity:

“We seem to have lost our saints, we’ve lost our monks, we’ve lost our connection to our bush soul, we’ve lost the angular, strange, weirdness of Christ.”

Shaw describes the call to Christ as “an invitation, not an imposition. … It’s chucking keys into cells to try to get you out into fresh air.”

He tells Mark Vernon that he’s been trying to figure out which church to embed himself in. He’s visited a Baptist church, an Anglican church, and a Catholic Church. “People will forgive almost anything except for becoming a Christian,” he says, alluding to the anti-Christian propaganda that’s everywhere. He found in all those churches “really kind, gracious, invested people.”

“But last Sunday, I walked into the Eastern Orthodox church, into the Divine Liturgy. I walked into a kind of Christian dream that was so deep. It had no beginning, and no end. It was absolutely unlike any form of Christianity I’ve yet come across.”

“It was as if every 15 minutes that passed, the door through the centuries was opening. I found in an almost unimaginably deep way a contact with … a sort of Christian dreaming.”

Shaw says he had never thought about Orthodoxy’s “aboriginal presence in Britain” before the great schism of 1054.

Vernon, a former Anglican priest, suggests that Orthodoxy, not having gone through the Reformation, could be more about drawing us into participation with the mysteries — doing something, rather than having something done to us.

Shaw responds by saying the last time he felt like he did after that liturgy was when he was in a sweat lodge with an American Indian twenty-five years ago. He was so dazed after the Divine Liturgy that he drove through a stop light, and almost caused a crash. Everybody was yelling at him. He rolled down his window and yelled, “I’ve just been to church! And I don’t know what’s going on!”

Shaw, who is best known says the truth about myth is that it’s not about the past at all, but about something always present. This resonated with me in light of what the Cambridge cultural anthropologist Paul Connerton said about the qualities traditional cultures that have successfully resisted modernity have in common. As I recall, they all 1) have a sacred story that tells them who they are; 2) celebrate the sacred story in an unvarying liturgy; 3) use their body in their liturgy; and 4) experience the liturgy as taking place in some sense outside of time.

Rod Dreher, writing about the conversion of Martin Shaw, "a big name in the neopagan/neopagan-ish world, who recently converted to Christianity." It appears that he isn’t going to be satisfied with anything less than the fulness of the faith that’s found in Christian Orthodoxy.

I would suggest that God saw Shaw’s heart and said "time to reclaim my own."

I also would suggest that Protestantism (perhaps Catholicism, too) may "have a sacred story that tells them who they are" and "use their body in their liturgy," but they vary their liturgies, which in no sense take place outside time.

Paul Kingsnorth and now Martin Shaw. God is up to something He hasn’t shared with me. He’s like that, you know. I have no other explanation for how Shaw could apprehend the timelessness of the Divine Liturgy on first exposure than that his paganism has kept his intuitive powers sharper than most of ours.

Elizabeth Oldfield perceives some commonalities in these and other "later in life" conversions:

[T]hey are slowly losing the youthful idealistic sense that they alone can locate the levers of change. They are butting up against the limits of their own intelligence and agency, and looking for something other than themselves to have faith in.

… Men who are arrogant or apathetic cause harm, and a path that requires humility, courage, vulnerability and service might just act as an antidote.

There was some of all that in my conversion, from deracinated to primal Christianity, at 48-49.

I’ve subscribed to Martin Shaw’s Substack, and it looks as if it could rise very near my favorites. He’s doing something I think is unique, valuable, and congruent with Orthodoxy (assuming that’s where he settles for a spiritual home).

A remarkable execution

I’ve never read last words like these:

First, thank you, my precious Father, for shepherding me for over 20 years and leading me to the edge of Paradise. I want to thank my beautiful wife who has loved me with everything she has. I want to thank my friends and legal team, and, most of all, Jesus Christ, through this unfair judicial process that led to my salvation. I pray the Lord will have mercy on all of us and that the Lord will have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me! Panagia Theotoke soson me! [All Holy Mother of God save me].

Last words of Monk Ephraim, formerly known as Frank Atwood, before his recent execution in Arizona for a murder which I doubt he committed:

on june 8, an american orthodox monk was executed for murder. how did this come to be? in 1987 frank atwood was convicted in arizona for the murder of a child. at the time of his arrest & trial, & ever since, he insisted on his innocence of the crime. (i have no way of knowing whether he was guilty or not, but that may also be true of those who tried & convicted him.) in prison, he read the mountain of silence: a search for orthodox spirituality by kyriakos markides. powerfully moved by it, he wrote to metropolitan athanasios of limassol in cyprus, who appears in the book. a correspondence began, which led to frank’s coming under the spiritual care of fr paisios at st anthony the great monastery in arizona. he was baptized & began to practice a life of prayer & asceticism. a few days before his execution, he was tonsured a monk & received the name ephraim, after fr ephraim, founder of st anthony’s monastery. his spiritual father paisios said that, regardless of his guilt or innocence, he had undergone a "complete transformation of life".

the case received great attention in greece, but as far as i know was ignored by american secular media outside of arizona. this account of his execution includes a powerful first-hand report from the arizona republic. you can see photos & video of his funeral at st anthony’s monastery here. metropolitan athanasios, who first received frank’s inquiries, has some remarks here.

frank.jpeg

as it happens, the assembly of canonical orthodox bishops of the united states of america has just published a "statement on the sacredness of human life & its untimely termination". it offers a whole-life teaching, rejecting abortion, euthanasia, & capital punishment.

o lord, remember us in thy kingdom.

From the rags of light monthly newsletter of my cyber-friend, John Brady, an Orthodox fellow of about my age (original formatting). You can subscribe here.

I formerly opposed the death penalty because our criminal justice system is more error prone than the powers and dominions want to admit. I’m aware, obviously, of the Innocence Project, but this is the first case I can recall where an innocent man was executed (rather than conclusively exonerated while on death row).

Now, with a push from my nation’s bishops, I’m opposed because it’s morally wrong even when they get the right guy.

From a reporter who witnessed the execution:

The Department of Corrections protocols ensure that few people see an execution, and there is little public awareness of this most serious and final act of justice. The death penalty is presented as a clean, sterile, administrative procedure carried out flawlessly and by the book. Now I know what they were trying to hide.

I have looked behind the curtain of capital punishment and seen it for what it truly is: a frail old man lifted from a wheelchair onto a handicap accessible lethal injection gurney; nervous hands and perspiring faces trying to find a vein; needles puncturing skin; liquid drugs flooding a man’s existence and drowning it out.

I have written extensively about Atwood’s case. I listened to the victim’s family talk about the pain and suffering the murder of Vicki Lynne, and subsequent court case, caused them — the generational trauma it left with their family and the community of Tucson. I talked with every attorney I know about the process and asked questions about what I was about to witness.

But I was not prepared to see the act of capital punishment carried out in front of me.

The state of Arizona conducts executions in all of our names. I thought I understood the weight of that process, but now I feel the reality of it. We killed a man today. I killed a man today. And I will live with that realization for the rest of my life.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 7/2/22

Bring back the smoke-filled rooms!

My older brother and I had lunch Thursday. We commiserated over the unintended consequence of party primaries producing extremist and jackass candidates. And now, the Democrats are spending unprecedented amounts to boost the craziest, least-electible Republicans in the primary elections — hardball at a level never before seen (the tactic isn’t new, or a Democrat specialty, but the amounts are eye-popping).

Why should the state prop up this destructive and preposterous system by running primaries, at taxpayer expense, for the Democrat and Republican parties, private entities that can nominate candidates in just about whatever manner they wish? Those parties have no rightful claim to my tax dollars; I increasingly avoid both of them, but to add insult to injury, the states promote their toxic duopoly by excluding most other parties from having state-funded primary races. Some of the arguments trotted out in church/state cases come to mind — you know, the ones about how tyrannical it is to force support of odious opinions via taxation.

Maybe if we abolished state-financed primaries, the major parties would return to the "smoke-filled rooms" — which we admittedly thought toxic until we saw that the alternative was worse.

(Abolishing the military draft is another bright idea I’m not so sure about any more.)

Another detransitioner, another lawsuit

The Sunday Times in London this week brings a devastating account from a young detransitioner, Ritchie Herron, who is suing the National Health Service after having his penis removed. He claims he was fast-tracked into a surgery that made him infertile and incontinent. It seems obvious to say that doctors ought to pause and try to understand what issues a patient may be facing beyond gender dysphoria before immediately removing someone’s penis. The only way the shoddy medical care around this is going to stop is through lawsuits.

Nellie Bowles

Corporate Cosplaying

For me, June mercifully past was the most obnoxiously in-your-face Pride Month yet, and that’s saying a lot. Two examples that I mercifully missed (though I saw plenty more):

On his website, the activist who came up with the rainbow tree logo to signify “outdoor safe spaces” in the National Parks gives some chilling insight as to why so many things from the Grand Canyon to Oreos are covered in the rainbow flag: “Have you ever asked yourself, ‘Is it safe to hold my significant other’s hand here?’ LGBTQ+ people are regularly assessing if spaces are welcoming. Even more so in outdoor and rural places that have traditionally been less-so than urban bubbles.”

Here’s another way to say the same thing: “Have you ever been troubled by the fact that when you go into public places some of the people you see don’t hold the same beliefs as you? Does it bother you that anyone would have the audacity to disagree with you or to believe that you’re not behaving as you should? Here’s a pin you can wear on your jacket or backpack to let people know that they should never be allowed to disagree with your beliefs about human sexuality.”

Rainbow Oreos & American Democracy.

I do disagree with prevalent beliefs about human sexuality and I see no reason why that might ever change.

Meanwhile, are we clear, "conservatives," that corporate America is not our friend? <begin hyperbole>Give me the powder and the map and I’ll blow up corporate America.<end hyperbole>

Have you figured out yet, liberals, that you’re being played? That it’s easier and more profitable for corporate America to give you Rainbow Oreos and performative threats to boycott states in Jesusland than to actually stop being evil?

Case in point:

Several American companies responded to a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the ruling that declared abortion a constitutional right in 1973. Amazon, Apple, Meta, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft and Nike were among those that pledged to cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions and other medical care not available in their state.

(The Economist) Note that this faux-generous offer is cheaper than family leave for employees who choose life.

Guns redux

For more on what’s wrong with Justice Thomas’s gun-rights decision, see On Guns, a Supreme Court Head-Scratcher: Is a Colonial Musket ‘Analogous’ to an AR-15?

I don’t think it contradicts anything I wrote, but it goes deeper.

Opinion that has held up well

Impeachment and removal with less than two weeks to go in this presidency may seem like a waste of time and energy. And the president, through a spokesman, has committed to an orderly transfer of power. But we think it would be an important act of civic hygiene, sending an important message to future would-be Trumps as well as to the rest of the world. Our image as a shining example of democracy and the rule of law has been covered in filth since the election. Republicans especially have an obligation to make a clear break with this man and this behavior for the good of the country, their historic reputations, and for the viability of a Grand Old Party that has shed any claim to grandness under this president.

Impeach Donald Trump, Remove Him, and Bar Him From Holding Office Ever Again, January 7, 2021


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri (Happy July)

Bravery and patriotism

"Her superiors — men many years older — are hiding behind executive privilege, anonymity and intimidation," Cheney said. "Her bravery and patriotism were awesome to behold. Little girls all across this great nation are seeing what it really means to love this country, what it really means to be a patriot."

Liz Cheney, speaking of Cassidy Hutchcinson’s, Tuesday’s blockbuster January 6 Committe witness.

Good news from North Korea

The cryptocurrency crash has likely depleted North Korean coffers full of stolen cryptocurrency. To raise revenue while skirting sanctions, the country has invested in bands of hackers to steal hundreds of millions in crypto heists in recent years, Josh Smith reports for Reuters. The U.S. Treasury put the value of one theft at nearly $615 million pre-crash. It’s hard to estimate how much of that haul the crash has wiped out. “If the same attack happened today, the Ether currency stolen would be worth a bit more than $230 million, but North Korea swapped nearly all of that for Bitcoin, which has had separate price movements,” Smith writes. $230 million is still nothing to sneeze at, but North Korea has some major expenses to cover. “One estimate from the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons says North Korea spends about $640 million per year on its nuclear arsenal. The country’s gross domestic product was estimated in 2020 to be around $27.4 billion, according to South Korea’s central bank.”

The Morning Dispatch

Very bad news from the Texas GOP

The Texas GOP added some interesting planks to its platform this year—among them, a resolution declaring the 2020 presidential election fraudulent. Augustus Bayard breaks down what else you need to know about what Republican delegates got up to in Texas.

The Morning Dispatch. That may be the worst of the news, or it may not. The platform also calls for repeal of the 16th Amendment (authorizing federal income taxes) and a referendum on secession.

Bless their hearts!

Mission Creeps

Institutions sometimes don’t really want to win.

The "Human Rights Campaign" won big when Obergefell was decided, but instead of throwing a celebratory party and then closing up shop, it went looking for new issues, seemingly having settled on pushing transgender ideology even though T hasn’t got much to do with LGB. It’s only natural for people who’ve dined out on a now-resolved progressive issue to want another one in its place. (This is not unrelated to the Iron law of institutions)

Some pro-life organizations may now be in a similar position. If any of them had the mission of reversing Roe v. Wade, their mission is accomplished. Those whose mission was passage of a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution still have some legitimate mission. Those whose mission is to end abortion in America need never cease operation (because that will never happen).

But the specter of "mission creep" looms. How far can an organization go in supporting collateral projects to make society more hospitable to women, infants, and embryos in order to reduce the felt need for abortion? Are pro-life organizations now going to pivot to backing child tax credits, WIC, SCHIP, "artificial" contraception, and other collateral causes to show their compassion for women?

Of course they are, at least some of them. Should they? Where’s the line? Are supporters who drop away because of "conservative" opposition to such government programs to be excoriated as not really pro life?

By rights, pro-life people from the political side should consider pivoting the dollars and volunteer hours to the culture-building side. If they do, though, I suspect most of their Republican pals will put them on call-blocking.

The only party I know that’s both anti-abortion and friendly to building a more family-friendly culture is the American Solidarity Party.

Just sayin’.

A kind of genius, a kind of charlatan

Taubes soon achieved a kind of mocking multi-version notoriety as a kind of charlatan. On one occasion, some Harvard professors began a discussion about the theory of the soul of Bertram of Hildesheim, whose notions, they posited, were an intermediate form between the Thomistic and Scotist schools. After listening intently, Taubes went on to expound brilliantly and in detail about Bertram, astonishing all present with his profound and comprehensive knowledge — until he was informed that no such person existed. It is, of course, easy to ridicule such pretension, but Muller, while aware of Taubes’s many dubious qualities, is always at pains to point out as well his acumen and insight. The Bertram incident, Muller notes, “also reflects his talent for placing a book or thinker in a field of intellectual coordinates, and deducing what the key tenets ought to have been. To pull off the stunt he actually had to know a great deal about Thomism (i.e. the followers of Thomas Aquinas) and Scotism (i.e. the followers of Duns Scotus).”

Steven E. Aschheim, Brilliant Scholar or Predatory Charlatan?: On Jerry Z. Muller’s “Professor of Apocalypse: The Many Lives of Jacob Taubes”

The Noble Cause

Are

the most vociferous supporters of Donald Trump [falling into] a determined repetition of assertions – especially that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen, but also concerning COVID–19 and many other matters – that wouldn’t stand up even to casual scrutiny, and therefore don’t receive that scrutiny[?]

That sounds to Alan Jacobs uncomfortably like the Lost Cause/Noble Antebellum South lies with which the South has dispositionally flirted for 150 years now.

Why Jesse Singal remains a man of the left

Question: Where’s your red line with the left? You frequently criticize people who jump ship to the right out of disgust with the left, but for you personally, what would it take? —Keese

For every crazy story about something happening on the left, I promise you there is an equivalent one from the right. It happens to be that there are more liberals in media and academia, so there’s an endless supply of stories coming out of these places about various forms of overreach and radicalism, but that doesn’t mean the average journalist or academic is crazy. I mean, see above — most folks just want to do their jobs and not get fired by a psychotic 25-year-old.

More broadly, I think this is the wrong way to approach politics. I don’t see “the left” as a social club I’m a member of because I like the people in it and approve of their conduct. I see it as a loose set of beliefs about the way the world should work that I view as much better and more reasonable than what the right has on offer. I really think luck determines almost everything, and that society should be built in a way where rather than endlessly reward those who already have gotten lucky, we do what we can to lift up the unlucky to a decent standard of living. I think a lot of bootstraps discourse is nonsense, or close to it, when you look into the specifics.

I’m not laying out a particularly detailed or sophisticated philosophy here, and I’m of course going light on policy specifics, but the conservative movement is not a welcoming place for those who hold those beliefs. So I don’t think any number of insane blowups on the left would cause me to “switch” — it would have to be some sort of deeper ideological transformation that I don’t think is in the cards. I’m too old.

Jesse Singal


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 6/30/22

Shamelessly ad hominem

Dave Portnoy can’t even deal right now. Shortly after the Dobbs news broke, the “barstool conservative” celebrity took to Twitter with an “Emergency Press Conference.” “I feel like I have to speak on this issue,” Portnoy announced. There followed 2.5 minutes of semi-coherent ranting, where he proposes that we are “literally going backwards in time,” that “maybe not everything is to a T in the Constitution,” considering it was written by “people who own slaves,” and that he’s pretty sure “95 percent of people in the country think like me — they’re socially liberal and financially conservative.”

Of course, it’s tempting to point out that this is the hot take we would expect from a guy who defended himself against charges of being a repulsive womanizing scumbag by countering that maybe he was, but he didn’t break the law. Portnoy would hardly be the first of his kind to wax vehemently eloquent on the sanctity of women’s reproductive autonomy. But his take also reflects the whole political oeuvre he represents—that areligious potpourri of sexual libertinism, anti-authoritarianism, anti-wokeness, and lots of f-bombs.

Bethel McGrew (emphasis added).

I don’t know much about Portnoy. I first paid attention to the phenomenon of “barstool conservatives” within the last month. But I like, and credit, the observation that keeping women “reproductively autonomous” is damned convenient for guys with Satyriasis.

Newly-salient

It is a crime, to take just one example, to aid and abet the forcible intimidation of government officials, including the vice president and members of Congress.

Andrew C. McCarthy, citing newly-salient Federal Criminal laws after Cassidy Hutchinson’s Tuesday testimony.

McCarthy continues:

In any event, Hutchinson explained that the speech, like all presidential speeches, was carefully vetted by staff. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his staff pleaded for removal of the exhortations Trump was insistent on including — “fight for me,” “fight for the movement,” and so on. They were too close to the legal line of incitement. It was plainly foreseeable that the mob could take forcible action; if it did, White House lawyers feared that this rhetoric would place Trump squarely in legal jeopardy for whatever mayhem resulted — obstruction of congressional proceedings, intimidation of and assault on federal officials, and so on.

The rhetoric stayed in the speech.

So did Trump’s vow that he would be marching to the Capitol with the mob.

A mea culpa: I just assumed that Trump’s vow that he would be marching to the Capitol with the mob was just another of his (literally) innumerable lies to whip up mobs. But if you’re familiar with Hutchinson’s testimony, you now know that he was prevented from doing so by the Secret Service — and may have tried to wrest the steering wheel away from his Secret Service chauffeur.

On the observation that a lot of Hutchinson’s testimony was hearsay:

Still, a few things are worth bearing in mind. First, this isn’t just any hearsay — like idle chatter a witness might eavesdrop on. We’re talking here about a chain of command, where government officials are expected to report things to their superiors — in this instance, up to the president’s chief-of-staff. More to the point, Hutchinson learned these details just minutes after the encounter in the limo. Ornato came directly to Meadows’s office with Engel. As Engel looked on in apparent affirmation, Ornato relayed what had just happened to Hutchinson. Engel gave no indication that Ornato had gotten any of the details wrong. And if Hutchinson is lying or exaggerating, it’s strange that, under oath, she would voluntarily identify so many witnesses who could contradict her.

… [W]hen we say the committee lacks due-process legitimacy, that means it lacks legitimacy as an ultimate finder of fact. It does not mean that we can blithely dismiss any evidence the committee discloses. It does not mean that, because we’d prefer that the evidence not be true, we can dismiss it out of hand because we don’t like the Democrats or the committee process. These witnesses are testifying under oath. There is significant risk to them if they are found to have committed perjury.

For now, all we can responsibly do is ask ourselves whether the evidence presented under these deficient procedures seems coherent and credible ….

In that last assessment, confirmation bias is inevitable. To me, the evidence is coherent and credible.

Recommended: Damon Linker, After Roe: A Letter to My Teenage Daughter About the Dobbs Decision

Excerpt:

Many rejoiced at [Roe v. Wade], but it also angered lots of people—at first, mainly Catholics, who strongly opposed abortion, but they were soon joined by evangelical Christians and even some secular activists. These critics of Roe made two main arguments: first, that the decision was immoral because it declared that women had a constitutional right to murder their babies; second, that the decision was tyrannical because it negated democratically enacted laws.

Before long, those making these arguments came to be called the “pro-life movement.” For the past forty years, it has fought to influence public opinion and gain support in the legal community. That effort finally achieved its goal last Friday, after 49 years, when a Supreme Court majority took its side, declaring, in part, that enough Americans consider abortion to be murder that it should not be treated as a constitutional right; states should be free to permit or forbid the procedure based on the outcome of democratic debate.

I think Linker’s account is extraordinarily fair.

For whatever reason rooted in my emotional make-up, I have always been more in the “Roe was tyrannical” rather than “Roe was immoral” camp. Perhaps it’s because my pro-life awakening came when I was in Law School, already enrolled in a Constitutional Law class.

I believe I have written here that any state legislation on abortion would have a constitutional legitimacy that Roe and its progeny lacked. At least for now, that’s all I’m going to say about my position on what restrictions my state should enact, confident that it’s not going to declare a 40-week open season on the unborn, or even 20+ weeks. In a few weeks, when our legislature convenes, my attention will presumable sharpen.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Feast of Saints Peter & Paul, 2022

SCOTUS

What’s wrong with the gun-rights decision?

If you’ve read me for very long, you’ll know I’m pretty tepid about gun rights. But I’m going to weigh in on last week’s Bruen decision anyway: I don’t like it.

What I don’t like is the approach Justice Thomas took to reach his results. For ease, and because I’m not so hot on guns to go any deeper, I’ll quote my beloved Morning Dispatch:

Thomas’ majority opinion does rework how courts should assess the constitutionality of gun legislation. Courts must drop their previous efforts to balance the interest of the state in preventing gun violence against the Second Amendment rights of individuals, Thomas wrote, and instead consider only the Second Amendment’s text and the “history and tradition” of gun legislation when the Second and 14th Amendments passed.

“They’re not looking for whether there was the exact same gun regulation,” Stephen Gutowski, founder of gun policy outlet The Reload, told The Dispatch. “They’re looking at whether there was a similar gun regulation.”

Thomas writes that courts are more equipped to perform a historical legal analysis than the cost-benefit analysis they’ve been attempting, but Breyer’s esoteric weapons list highlights that it could still be a challenge to properly identify and apply relevant regulations. “I just think [Thomas is] a little overconfident in the ability of particularly lower courts, which don’t have endless resources and immense law libraries,” Seth Chandler, a University of Houston law professor who has taught Constitutional law, told The Dispatch. “Even Justice Thomas acknowledges that this process of analogous reasoning, it’s not straightforward and obvious.”

(Italics added)

It’s not just that history offers only analogies in many cases but that, reportedly, Justice Thomas discarded some historic restrictions as not relevant for one reason or another. How are the lower courts supposed to evaluate history when he was kind of cavalier about it.

So Bruen has not added consistency and clarity to Second Amendment Jurisprudence. It may have diminished it.

Joseph Kennedy, the football-prayin’ fool

On Monday, SCOTUS decided Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the praying football coach case.

On Monday, I began reading Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civiliztion, which I’m enjoying very much, but not at the moment because I’m typing about a case I was surprisingly ambivalent about.

So let’s see if we can make some brief sense of it and get me back to Huntington. I am hugely indebted to the Advisory Opinions podcast because when I saw all those printed words I said “No, siree! I’m not going to cut-and-paste from all that! I just don’t care that much!”

  • Majority version: Saintly Joseph Kennedy only wanted a moment of private, personal prayer at the 50 yard line immediately after the football games he’d just coached. Conscience-bound, he conscientiously violated oppressive directives from the school district, which suspended, then fired him. He wins on both religious speech and general free speech grounds, the gap between which we’re now narrowing. By the way, we hereby drive a stake through the heart of Lemon v. Kurtzman, one of several zombie precedents we’ve left haunting the countryside, while giving the side-eye to lower courts who don’t get the joke.
  • Dissent: WTF! You’re describing a completely different case! This is a case of a willful provocateur seeking to lead his players to Evangelical-Jesus, praying in a very public place, in front of most of the stadium, and by winks and nods inviting players to join him at mid-field and yelling “Neener! Neener! Neener!” at the School Board. If we allowed this sort of thing, it would lead to terrible places and he really should have lost.
Coach Pharisee  and his entirely "voluntary" congregation, with no perceived pressure that they must pray to play.
Coach Pharisee and his entirely voluntary flock. He has his reward.
  • Yes, the facts stated in the opinion and those stated in the dissent differed almost that wildly. My impression has been that the dissent’s version is closer to the whole truth, the majority’s version a bit — Ahem! — curated. (I also thought trials, not appeals, were supposed to determine the facts, but never mind.)
  • Net result: Kennedy wins and nobody should cite Lemon v. Kurtzman any more. Future courts are again told to consult “historical practices and understandings.” You may genuflect now and back out of the room slowly — and try to wipe that look of puzzled incredulity off your faces.

Hard cases make bad law, but this one seemingly made almost no law at all except that a zombie is now declared a corpse. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it unless I stumble across a more compelling version.

Do not forward; moved, left no forwarding address

The West Caldwell Police Department has responded to multiple calls at a residence formerly owned by Justice Samuel Alito. Erroneous information was circulating on the internet that indicated that Justice Alito still resides in West Caldwell, and individuals have been sending harassing packages to the current resident.

Justice Alito moved out of West Caldwell Just after being confirmed to the US Supreme Court, 15 years ago in 2007. The current homeowner has no affiliation with Justice Alito and deserves to live in peace in their home free from harassment, regardless of anyone’s political beliefs.

All incidents will be investigated and those responsible will be charged and prosecuted.

Please like and share this post to hopefully put an end to this activity.

Howard Bashman (How Appealing) via Eugene Volokh

I will never again complain about people who ignore my voicemail greeting and leave messages for an auto parts place with a number one digit off our home phone number.

Tallying the cost of Dobbs

It is done. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years in which abortion has been a constitutional right.  

Now Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders need to acknowledge the costs of their victory. The most visible is nearly a half-century of being in bed with the Republican Party, and most recently its leader Donald Trump, a man of low morals willing to lie, cheat and, to hear the Jan. 6 committee tell it, break the law in order to stay in office. 

It also meant becoming a single-issue constituency who sacrificed nearly every social justice issue to create a Supreme Court that would reverse Roe v. Wade.

Yes, the Republicans finally delivered on their promise to reverse Roe, but in every other way it is making the world less hospitable to life. To call this pro-life is absurd.

Thomas Reese, What has the demise of Roe v. Wade cost the Catholic Church?.

There’s not all that much more to the piece, but Reese lists areas of Catholic Social Teaching he thinks have been neglected.

Miscellany

The New Handmaiden’s Tale

I’m sure it’s just another form of sex work, and therefore liberating, but I find this exceedingly creepy.

H/T Rod Dreher

I would find just as creepy, I think, if it was an opposite-sex pair of yuppies staring into each others eyes, congratulating each other on outsourcing a job they just wouldn’t disrupt their careers for.

This instrumentalizes women and commodifies babies, so it’s in perfect keeping with the zeitgeist.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Tuesday, 6/28/22

Still more on Dobbs

As I know the lay of the land uncommonly well, I am trying to say some genuinely useful things, that are not being said very commonly, on the reversal of Roe and Casey. I’m also trying to avoid worsening tensions. I even exited social media for a few days (maybe more than necessary — I’ve been peeking) when a discussion started getting unproductively heated.

Face-saving failure

Confirmation hearing vignettes:

Here’s Justice Gorsuch: “Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed. . . . So a good judge will consider it as precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.”

He added that “If I were to start telling you which are my favorite precedents or which are my least favorite precedents, or if I viewed precedent in that fashion, I would be tipping my hand and suggesting to litigants that I have already made up my mind about their cases.”

And here’s Justice Kavanaugh: “Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed many times. It was reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. . . . So that precedent on precedent is quite important as you think about stare decisis in this context.” He made no specific pledge about either case that we have seen. Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressly rejected the idea that Roe was a super precedent.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, which also explains why a nominee cannot pledge to uphold a precedent or to strike it down:

Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin said Friday they feel Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch deceived them on the precedent point in testimony and in their private meetings with the Justices. We weren’t in those meetings, but we’d be stunned if either Justice came close to making a pledge about Roe.

The reason is that the first rule of judging is that you can’t pre-judge a case. Judges are limited under Article III of the Constitution to hearing cases and controversies, and that means ruling on facts and law that are specific to those cases.

No judge can know what those facts might be in advance of a case, and judges owe it to the parties to consider those facts impartially. A judge who can’t be impartial, or who has already reached a conclusion or has a bias about a case, is obliged to recuse himself. This is judicial ethics 101.

An authority on this point is no less than the late progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as she explained in 1993. “It would be wrong for me to say or preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide,” she said. “A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.”

Frankly, no nominee should ever pledge their vote on any issue at confirmation hearings. That alone would be a disqualifier. Any Senator worth his or her seat should understand that, and since I respect them as senateworthy, I suggest that both Collins and Manchin do understand it. Their face-saving isn’t convincing.

Now flooding the zone shamelessly

As I scan the New York Times Opinion page since Friday morning, it’s apparent that "flooding the zone with sh*t" is not a MAGAworld exclusive.

Do not trust the Grey Lady for reliable interpretation of Dobbs overruling Roe or for prognostications about what a supposedly agenda-driven court is going to do next. (Exception: Ross Douthat wrote one of the wisest things I’ve read in the aftermath, and they did publish it.)

Is the court going to ban contraception? Ban sodomy? Ban same-sex marriage? Overrule the precedents that dogmatized rights to each into existence?

Just remember: courts decide cases. They don’t go out and make mischief on their own. So how would SCOTUS even get a chance to rescind these other "unenumerated rights"?

Damon Linker (After Roe: The Reversals to Come), who I respect enough to read when it’s obvious we disagree, imputes a nefarious agenda to the court but skips any suggestion of how it would get the opportunity to realize that agenda.

I can think of no obvious way other than some jurisdiction banning contraception, sodomy or same-sex marriage, resulting in a fresh round of litigation.

What do you think of the life expectancy of a legislator, even in Texas, who proposed to outlaw contraception? Outlawing sodomy would be a hard sell in 2021 even in red states. I could imagine a performative bill to define marriage as sexually binary, but have trouble imagining it getting very far.

If it did, the lower Federal courts would almost certainly strike such a law down under Griswold, Lawrence or Obergefell. Then SCOTUS could just decline to grant certiorari.

If it granted "cert," the stare decisis analysis on those precedents would include factoring in some very, very concrete reliance on Obergefell in the SSM context.

I’m no prophet, and I’m not close enough to the political poles to be incapably of suffering rude surprises, but I just don’t see those other precedents falling until there’s I’m long in the grave and there have been some major wake-up calls from realities we’ve had on call-blocking for a while.

Heartening

After weeks of incendiary rhetoric, attacks on crisis pregnancy centers, and a foiled attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s life, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups formally disavowed violence in the name of their cause. Those who use “destruction and violence” do not speak for them or the movement, the groups said in a statement.

TMD

On a related note, one of my favorite Substackers, Freddie deBoer, scared me by opening that it’s time for the Left to engage in extralegal resistance. Fortunately, it turned out that he meant things like helping abortion-minded women get to states where abortion is legal, or even to help them find clandestine abortions in their own states.

I don’t even think the former could be criminalized; the latter, perhaps.

Victor Rosenblum

As I was writing yesterday that I wish Nat Henthoff had lived to see Friday’s Dobbs decision, I was wracking my brain for the name of his "country cousin" (also a prolife liberal Jewish Democrat) at Northwestern University Law School. I finally gave up. Of course, it finally came to me this morning. So: I also wish Victor Rosenblum had lived to see this day.

Advice for the despondent

After stylishly signaling his pro-choice virtue, Garrison Keillor shows some sympathy for the 6 justices who are now pariahs, and then turns to some good advice for his own tribe:

Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.

That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do, in my very limited way, for more than a decade. I like to think of myself as that proverbial butterfly in the Amazon, very subtly changing the weather in Indiana.

Not Dobbs

Still flooding the zone

The Donald reads conservatives out of MAGAworld

Bozos on the bus

What we need as a nation, more than anything else I can think of, is a recommitment to basic competence, and, especially, a refusal to accept ideological justifications for plain old ineptitude. Too often Americans give a free pass to bunglers and bozos who belong to their tribe.

Alan Jacobs, I think we’re all bozos on this bus – Snakes and Ladders

Inauguration Day 2017 in a Nutshell

Speaking of clowns:

When a clown moves into a palace, he doesn’t become a king. The palace becomes a circus.

Turkish Proverb (reportedly)

A little levity

I probably have given too short shrift to the January 6 Committee hearings because … well, I didn’t think anything they said would change my life or my vote. But I sure got a chuckle out of this:

H/T Yassine Meskhout


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mostly abortion-related

David French, Cassandra

I follow David French in podcasts and blogs because:

  • He’s a seasoned litigator aligned with me on abortion, free speech, and religious freedom; and
  • I have to put up with hearing him to hear the amazing Sarah Isgur.

But Sunday, I think his reflexive religious provincialism got the better of him in Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready.

He starts off well enough:

I’ve been a pro-life advocate and activist for more than 30 years …

Through it all, I was guided by two burning convictions—that Roe represented a grave moral and constitutional wrong and that I belonged to a national Christian community that loved its fellow citizens, believed in a holistic ethic of life, and was ready, willing, and able to rise to the challenge of creating a truly pro-life culture.

I believe only one of those things today.

My feelings about Roe are unchanged. …

But then he paints a very bleak picture of the right generally and more specifically his corner of the religious right, which he reflexively equates with "the Church" (it’s one of his most annoying verbal tics, another is hyperbolicic use of "tremendous, tremendous"):

The two sides of the great American divide are now staring at each other and asking, “Now what?” The answer from pro-life America should be clear and resounding—the commitment to life carries with it a commitment to love, to care for the most vulnerable members of society, both mother and child.

But life and love are countercultural on too many parts of the right. In a time of hate and death, too many members of pro-life America are contributing to both phenomena. Is that too much to say? Is that too strong? I don’t think so.

In deep-red America, a wave of performative and punitive legislation is sweeping the land. …

… The vicissitudes of politics haven’t just linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right, they’ve transformed parts of the anti-abortion movement, making many of its members as toxic as their “libertine and hyperindividualist” allies.

In the meantime, the Republican branch of the American church is adopting the political culture of the secular right. With a few notable exceptions, it not only didn’t resist the hatred and fury of the MAGA movement, it was the MAGA movement.

(Emphasis added)

Now I suppose there are at least three possibilities here:

  1. He’s right about pro-life America, period, full stop.
  2. He’s right about Evangelicalism.
  3. He’s engaged in hyperbole to get Evangelicals to to better than settling for liberal tears.

I reject the first possibility. I’ve been pro-life a decade longer than French (mostly because I’m two decades older). I broke markedly, if not completely, with Evangelicism shortly before I became actively pro-life, and left Protestantism entirely a about a decade-and-a-half later.

I do not believe that lib-trolling and vindictiveness is any significant part of Orthodox Christianity, though Orthodoxy is anti-abortion (as the historic church always has been — i.e., before American Evangelicals got recruited to the cause by C. Everett Koop, Francis Schaeffer, and less principled actors).

I also don’t believe that it is a significant factor among observant Roman Catholics, "observant" being measured by adherence to Catholic Social Teaching as well as participation in their Church’s sacramental life. Indeed, Catholic Social Teaching (Christian Democracy) is the North Star of the American Solidarity Party, which party alone I support these days.

Bottom line: I believe French is wrong about the Church because his provincialism blinds him to the bigger picture. I certainly hope he’s wrong.

And French’s turn to anti-vaxx sentiment a red prolife America seems like totally gratuitous grievance-airing.

I suggest to David French that if he’s all that down on Calvinist-tinged Evangelicalism, he step out for a breath of incense-tinged air at one of the Anglophone Orthodox Churches in his area.

Come and see, David. Give it a month or two of Sundays.

Douthat on the risk of toxic response

Observant Catholic (see above) Ross Douthat puts French’s point less apocalyptically (I’m being very selective; read the whole column if you can):

While the pro-life movement has won the right to legislate against abortion, it has not yet proven that it can do so in a way that can command durable majority support … [T]he vicissitudes of politics and its own compromises have linked the anti-abortion cause to various toxic forces on the right — some libertine and hyperindividualist, others simply hostile to synthesis, conciliation and majoritarian politics.

… But among its own writers and activists, the movement has understood itself to also be carrying on the best of America’s tradition of social reform, including causes associated with liberalism and progressivism.

To win the long-term battle, to persuade the country’s vast disquieted middle, abortion opponents … need to show how abortion restrictions are compatible with … the health of the poorest women, the flourishing of their children, the dignity of motherhood even when it comes unexpectedly or amid great difficulty.

These issues … are essential to the holistic aspects of political and ideological debate. In any great controversy, people are swayed to one side or another not just by the rightness of a particular position, but by whether that position is embedded in a social vision that seems generally attractive, desirable, worth siding with and fighting for.

Here some of the pathologies of right-wing governance could pave a path to failure for the pro-life movement. You can imagine a future in which anti-abortion laws are permanently linked to a punitive and stingy politics, in which women in difficulties can face police scrutiny for a suspicious miscarriage but receive little in the way of prenatal guidance or postnatal support. In that world, serious abortion restrictions would be sustainable in the most conservative parts of the country, but probably nowhere else, and the long-term prospects for national abortion rights legislation would be bright.

In a part of French’s column, he quoted this Douthat column but said it didn’t go far enough. I think it does — because Douthat’s vision is more Catholic (and more catholic).

Making abortion unthinkable

Even in the Evangelical world, there are sane people wanting actually to make things better:

Roe was an unjust ruling. I have always believed it would be overturned, as other unjust decisions by the court were, although I thought it would take longer. I rejoice that it did not. But of course it will take longer for abortion to become unthinkable, which is the real goal of the pro-life movement.

Karen Swallow Prior

Prior continues:

Still, I was, like my fellow evangelicals, a Johnny-come-lately in a long line of people who have opposed abortion and infanticide and tried to defend vulnerable life.

Members of the early Christian church within the ancient Roman world rescued abandoned infants (often those who were female or otherwise deemed inferior) from certain death ….

I always appreciate it when Evangelicals admit, even if tacitly, that Evangelicalism is so unlike the earliest church that it cannot claim vicarious credit for what the earliest church did.

Orthodoxy (and even Catholicism) can.

Still more:

The judicial fiat of Roe v. Wade jump-started the culture wars that have poisoned our political process and brought us to a place of polarization and unbridgeable division. Indeed, this division has been capitalized on by far too many pundits and politicians, for whom a position on abortion does not appear to be a sincerely held belief, but merely an issue they can (and do) leverage for votes or monetize for financial gain. Such betrayal casts a shadow on the overturning of Roe, which has been for me and many others a long-awaited event.

Even so, making abortion unthinkable might start with the law, but it won’t end there. For it is not only the supply of abortion that matters but also the demand. I lament the impoverishment of a social imagination that cannot conceive of a world in which women can flourish without abortion.

Nat Henthoff

On this day, I remember with fondness the late Nat Hentoff, a Jewish atheist who nevertheless believed in the right to life of the unborn, and said so in a time and place where that cost him something. Here is a column Hentoff wrote after he hosted pro-life liberal Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Bob Casey at Cooper Union in downtown Manhattan.

Rod Dreher.

Henthoff was a fierce member of the ACLU back when the ACLU was actually about civil liberties, and was one of the preeminent jazz critics of his age.

I wish he had lived to see last Friday.

He really didn’t need the Committee’s help …

This just seems to make Donald Trump look awful, just awful."

Neil Cavuto, Fox News, on the latest revelations from the January 6 Committee.

You’re surprised that Trump is awful, Neil?

Terrorist wishcasting

I note, with raised eyebrow, the terrorist plans underway to set about attacking Catholic churches and pregnancy resource centers. As someone put it in a dark joke-tweet, this is the state of the discourse in 2022: “You don’t care about pregnant women!” “Well no, we have numerous buildings and institutions expressly set up for that purpose actually, how can we help you?” “Oh really, where? Let’s go firebomb them!”

Bethel McGrew


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sunday, 6/26/22

Observing a metaworld

When I’m not wowed by a Fr. Stephen Freeman blog, I often wonder if my head just isn’t on straight that day, so often has he wowed me in the past.

He wowed me again today. Fr. Stephen Freeman, Healing the Soul and Unbelief:

The Church describes human beings as made in the image of the Logos. On that basis, we are sometimes hymned as “rational (logikos) sheep.” Human beings think and speak. There is a relationship between the thing that we perceive (say, an Auroch) and its depiction (a wall painting). The walls of the caves are covered in logoi, “words,” if only we knew how to read them!

When human beings speak, we inadvertently offer a world-beyond-the-world. There is the experience (my vacation), and there is the telling of the tale (“you won’t believe what happened on my vacation”). Were someone to insist that only the thing-itself mattered (“therefore, I don’t want to hear about your vacation”), the world would soon collapse into a muteness that even the animals transcend.

In our modern period we see far less of the sky and animals, much less the plants and the movement of the seasons. Our houses are much the same temperature year-round. We are, instead, observant of a meta-world, the narrative of the endless news cycle, driven by disaster, fear, speculation, and distraction. Our advertising (always present) bathes us in oil, sugar, salt, and sex while promising an endless supply of dopamine.

Then he almost seems to change the subject:

I am struck by the preponderance of unbelief in our day and time. Frequently, the “problem of evil” is cited as an overwhelming obstacle to belief. I think of this in particular when I consider that antiquity was dominated by far more suffering on a daily basis than our present age. Our lives would seem magical in their easy dismissal of childhood diseases, our caloric intake, and the unending variety of all things offering themselves for consumption.

I have an aside that is worthy of note. I have been particularly struck over the years of my pastoral ministry at the abiding interest in the Church within the ever-shrinking community of young couples who are starting families. My experience is anecdotal, such that I can point to no statistics. But those conversations point me in the direction of transcendence. Few things in our modern lives are as primitive as child-bearing … So much can go wrong. To raise a child attentively, is (and should be) awe-inspiring. They are examples of transcendence embodied.

The experience of belief begins, I think, with the experience of transcendence, the questions of meaning and significance. It is a conversation that struggles to find its way in a sea of commodities and mundane pleasure. We are not immune to the transcendent – but simply distracted.

In Jesus Christ, we confess, Transcendence became flesh and walked among us ….

Smack-talkin’

I’ve recently begun enjoying the Unbelievable podcast, downloading a few back episodes to get started. This one was outstanding; another was immediately suspect from the teaser:

Shane Claiborne: "The cross and the gun give us two very different versions of power, and one of them says ‘I’m willing to die,’ the other says ‘I’m willing to kill.’"
Kyle Thompson: "If somebody comes in there — an evil person wants to come in there — and kill people, you and people like you will be some of the people who hide behind people like me, hoping I take that guy out before he gets to you."

I was fairly confident after that brief teaser that I would find Kyle Thompson, new to me, unbearable — and something about Shane Claiborne (who I’ve encountered before) often grates a bit, too. I really don’t want to listen to American fundagelicals calling each other hypocrites or fascists on a British Christian podcast.

I still recommend the podcast. I’ve sort of drifted into following a lot of podcasts that are occasionally good, but then deleting two-thirds to three-quarters of new episodes base on a summary that is either uninteresting or not interesting enough to edge out something else. I recommend the approach, at least for free podcasts.

Boundaries

A "God-fearing" person is one who recognizes boundaries, and that when one reaches one, one should go no further.

(I failed to record the source of that bit of wisdom.)


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

At last, after 49 years …

Dobbs

The case and my feelings

After some 40 years as consciously pro-life, most of those years being actively pro-life as well, I feel a strange let-down and foreboding:

  • Dobbs means pro-abortion terrorism for a while;
  • Dobbs means prolonged political debate in many of the 50 states, some of which will swerve performatively too far left or right;
  • Dobbs is messier procedurally than I remembered; and
  • I have friends who are beside themselves with grief and rage (I hope they appreciate that I was constitutionally outraged by Roe for 40 years).
  • UPDATE: Of course! Duh! The leak made this anticlimactic all by itself! (H/T Advisory Opinions podcast)

Yes, I’m satisfied with the outcome: Roe was wrongly decided, and Casey may have been even worse. It’s important for the structural integrity of our constitutional system that political issues not be hijacked by the courts under constitutional pretexts.

On what becomes of birth control, inter-racial marriage, same-sex marriage, anti-sodomy laws, and any remaining liberal groin pieties, I suggest that the most important observation in Alito’s opinion is this:

… even putting aside that these cases are distinguishable, there is a further point that the dissent ignores: Each precedent is subject to its own stare decisis analysis, and the factors that our doctrine instructs us to consider like reliance and workability are different for these cases than for our abortion jurisprudence.

(Opinion at 71-72)

Homework: using the factors for upholding or overruling precedent outlined by Alito, do your own stare decisis analysis on each. I’ll get you started: not one of the four is deeply rooted in our history and traditions, but that’s only the beginning of the analysis. From there, it gets more interesting.

Night of Rage

In a recent video essay, my friend James Wood has suggested that in this day and age, thinking Christians should work to recover a theology of the demonic. I don’t assume this suggestion will be equally meaningful to all my readers. But I submit that you can’t contemplate what drives men to organize a “Night of Rage” against Christian charities whose sole purpose is aiding pregnant women, and not wonder if there is a dark something or other lurking back of it all.

Bethel McGrew, Morning in America. I quote it because I was thinking exactly the same thing. There is no logic to vandalizing or even firebombing pro-life pregnancy centers unless the motivation is consciously pro-abortion, not pro-choice, or else one is demonically confused.

Other Legalia

Principled

We could not abandon ongoing representations just because a client’s position is unpopular in some circles.

Former Solicitor General Paul Clement on leaving Chicago’s Kirkland & Ellis when they decided to abandon second amendment litigation. He is forming his own firm with another Kirkland partner.

Best wishes. Even though I’m at best lukewarm about guns, this stand is principled, and nobody’s going to have to pass the hat so Paul Clement can pay for his lunch.

Correct facts, dubious conclusion

One of the reasons I think the Supreme Court got it right in Carson v. Makin is the poor quality of the dissents. Justice Sotomayor actually invoked the "wall of separation," an extraconstitutional metaphor that probably has never actually fit our nation’s polity (starting with the little-known fact that we had state-established churches into the 1830s).

But an odder one is Justice Breyer’s:

This potential for religious strife is still with us. We are today a Nation with well over 100 different religious groups, from Free Will Baptist to African Methodist, Buddhist to Humanist. See Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape 21 (May 12, 2015). People in our country adhere to a vast array of beliefs, ideals, and philosophies. And with greater religious diversity comes greater risk of religiously based strife, conflict, and social division. The Religion Clauses were written in part to help avoid that disunion. As Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading drafters and proponents of those Clauses, wrote, “ ‘to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.’ ” Everson, 330 U. S., at 13. And as James Madison, another drafter and proponent, said, compelled taxpayer sponsorship of religion “is itself a signal of persecution,” which “will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion, has produced amongst its several sects.” Id., at 68–69 (appendix to dissenting opinion of Rutledge, J.). To interpret the Clauses with these concerns in mind may help to further their original purpose of avoiding religious-based division.

Is there any evidence whatever that increased religious diversity leads to greater strife? Doesn’t Western history’s putatively religious strife generally involve Protestants versus Catholics in a society where almost everyone was one or the other? Doesn’t our present reality belie Breyer’s logic, i.e., doesn’t our lack of strife despite "well over 100 different religious groups" tend all by itself to disprove Breyer’s prophecy?

Let’s end the end-runs now

Anticipating this week’s school funding decision, Maine lawmakers enacted a crucial amendment to the state’s anti-discrimination law last year in order to counteract the expected ruling. The revised law forbids discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and it applies to every private school that chooses to accept public funds, without regard to religious affiliation.

Aaron Tang in the New York Times

It would be interesting to learn whether the debate over S.P. 544 (the Bill in question) included any invidiously discriminatory snark about religion.

But the legislature avoided one other potential infirmity.

Previously, Maine law allowed sexual discrimination in education (some of the private schools receiving aid while religious schools did not were either all-male or all-female) while forbidding sexual orientation discrimination (with an exception for religious schools). That seems exceedingly odd, as bans on sexual discrimination are generally older than those based on sexual orientation.

The revision adds a prohibition on sex discrimination as well as sexual orientation discrimination, and thus will put those other private schools to the choice of going co-ed or forfeiting aid.

I can’t think of a legal theory I’d want to see recognized by courts that would allow Maine private schools to do an end-run around the legislature’s end-run. It’s always been the case that state money comes with strings attached.

The challenge for private schools now is the get parents to care enough about their children’s longterm wellbeing to reject the economic values society promotes, notably including consumerism, and to redirect some dollars to tuition in schools that won’t perpetuate those ultimately-immiserating values. Sad to say, most "Christian" schools are consumerist with a religious veneer.

January 6

Liz Cheney, kamikaze pilot

[Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis … is capturing the Republican imagination as tough and committed but not unstable or criminal.

Peggy Noonan.

"Not unstable or criminal" is an improvement for the post-2015 GOP.

But I, a former Republican and still reflexively concerned about that party, am not enthusiastic about DeSantis for more than maybe 30 seconds at a time. His appearance, unfortunately, is kind of Mafia. He is quite smart but too often "politically savvy" in crudely manipulative way.

More Noonan:

Mr. Trump’s national polling numbers continue underwater, but the real test will be to see those numbers after the Jan. 6 hearings are over. I believe we’ll see Rep. Liz Cheney’s kamikaze mission hit its target, and the SS Trump will list.

This is one of the great stories. Mr. Trump won’t recover from it.

I think Republicans, including plenty of Trump people, are slowly but surely solving their party’s Trump problem.

Liz Cheney, or Providence through her, has turned the January 6 Committee into a nothingburger for the Democrats and a boost for sane, non-criminal Republicans. Some day, maybe, a renewed GOP will issue her a posthumous pardon and even lionize her as a self-sacrificial heroine in our nation’s hour of need — no less than Mike Pence’s steadfastness on January 6 itself, and equally "kamikaze."

Still, I’ll be voting American Solidarity Party again in 2024, I think, and don’t expect ever to declare myself Republican again. And I don’t expect politics from any perspective, to really accomplish much of lasting importance.

The January 6 Committee, a liberal view

The decision by the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, to keep pro-Trump Republicans off the Jan. 6 committee has eliminated the back-and-forth bloviating that typically plague congressional inquiries, allowing investigators to present their findings with the narrative cohesion of a good true-crime series. Trump, who understands television, appears to be aware of how bad the hearings are for him; The Washington Post reported that he’s watching all of them and is furious at McCarthy for not putting anyone on the dais to defend him.

Dustin Stockton helped organize the pro-Trump bus tour that culminated in the Jan. 6 rally at the Ellipse in front of the White House. Politico once called him and his fiancée, Jennifer Lawrence, the “Bonnie and Clyde of MAGA world.” On Tuesday, after a hearing that included testimony by Rusty Bowers, the speaker of the Arizona House, and the Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, Stockton tweeted, “This has been the most impactful of the January 6th Committee hearings. Embarrassed that I was fooled by the Fulton County ‘suitcases of ballots’ hoax.”

He was referring to the conspiracy theory, pushed by Trump and his allies, that election workers smuggled fraudulent ballots into the State Farm Arena in Atlanta and ran them through the voting machines multiple times. Tuesday, he said, was the first time he realized the tale was a complete fabrication.

… The hearing on Tuesday … got to him, especially the testimony from Freeman and Moss about how their lives were upended by the lie Stockton helped spread.

“To see the just absolute turmoil it caused in her life, and the human impact of that accusation, especially, was incredibly jarring,” Stockton said of Freeman.

… Elite conservatives mostly understood that Trump’s stories about a stolen election were absurd; as one senior Republican official asked The Washington Post, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time?” But his rank-and-file devotees weren’t all in on the con. Instead, they were the marks.

Michelle Goldberg.

I think we know now what the downside was of humoring Trump.

Politics Generally

Biden’s incoherence on LGBT

In no area has the Biden administration been more appallingly misled by extremists than in "LGBT" issues. His ignorance of what constitutes "conversion therapy" has led to a particularly perverse result — as shown in the last sentence below:

Some therapists who work with children with gender dysphoria worry that [a June 15 Biden executive order “advancing equality for lgbtqi+ Individuals”] could be interpreted to mean therapists should not investigate why someone feels distressed about their biological sex. … It has long been held that people with gender dysphoria should have therapy before drugs.

Increasingly, however, such talking therapy has clashed with “gender-affirmative” care, which accepts patients’ self-diagnosis that they are trans. That is now considered best practice in America’s booming trans health-care field. Therapy has been dismissed as “gatekeeping”, even when applied to trans-identifying minors for whom gender-affirming drugs can be particularly harmful. … Finland and Sweden have mostly stopped prescribing blockers to under-18s in favour of talking therapy, because the evidence base for them is thin. Mr Biden’s order, by contrast, asks federal departments to expand access to “gender-affirming care”.

The order does not impose an outright ban on therapy for gender-dysphoric youth. But it will have a “chilling effect”, says Lisa Marchiano, a Jungian therapist and a co-founder of the Gender Exploratory Therapy Association. Most decent therapists should be able to help people with gender dysphoria, she says. Yet America’s focus on affirmation means many are wary of doing so. Instead, they refer children to gender therapists, who are likely to affirm a trans identity and suggest drugs. Some gay adults who struggled with gender nonconformity in adolescence say they believe that encouraging children with gender dysphoria to consider themselves trans is in effect conversion therapy.

The Economist (emphasis added)

If there is any grain of truth in the conservative charge of "grooming" or "recruitment," it’s that foreclosing or chilling pre-transition psychological assessment delivers gender-dysphoric kids to the tender mercies of people who don’t make real money unless the kid transitions.

What liberals can learn from conservatives

By and large, I’ve been underwhelmed by Damon Linker’s new Substack. It’s a big commitment to write and some length many times per week, and Linker seems, ummmm, out of the habit.

But Friday he hit a home run, especially for anyone who has read and pondered Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind..

  • He tacitly challenges Haidt to "do better" on measuring the moral values of liberals;
  • He explains why he thinks liberals profess disinterest in the values of sanctity, authority and loyalty;
  • He suggests that liberals are missing out on a full appreciation of moral pluralism by discounting sanctity, authority and loyalty; and
  • Bonus for me who wasn’t familiar at all with Isaiah Berlin (beyond knowing that he was an important intellectual of some sort), he summarizes Isaiah Berlin’s thoughts on moral pluralism along the way.

I have reason to think that this link will get you Linker’s full piece even if you’re not a subscriber.

Face-plant

Lauren Boebert apparently thinks that if Jesus and da boyz had them some AR-15s, He wouldn’t have had to die that yucky ole death.

She made this remark to a gathering at some "Christian Center."

To be fair, the response to her was tepid at best.

They never should have invited her, but it’s weird what some "Christians" will do to raise money.

I attended a Christian college once (not Wheaton) that honored archaeologist and oil multi-millionaire Wendell Phillips (back when "millionaire" meant something) with an honorary doctorate. After he used his acceptance speech to contradict things the university considered part of the faith, they barred faculty from later rebutting him from that same pulpit.

I do not name it because I have some reason to think it’s doing better now.

Unclassifiable (unless the class is "Bless Their Hearts")

This NYT item would have me tearing my hair out if I had any hair.

In short, it’s about some Christianish or Christianist business that are hawking guns for Jesus, and they wear their faith (such as it is) on their sleeves, or gunstocks, or anywhere else they can put it to be noticed.

I’m a fallible interpreter of scripture, but doesn’t "put not your trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation" include putting trust in the arms you keep and bear, as in declarations like the "Second Amendment to our Constitution is the cornerstone of the freedom we enjoy as American citizens"?

(Reminds me, by the way, of an actual quote from an Oklahoma legislator in the mid-70s: "The first thing the communists do when they take over is outlaw cockfighting." Bet you thought it was going to be "take away all the guns," didn’t you.)


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.