Backwater news and commentary

A strange story out of Israel.

Michael Elkohen, born Elk, has been holding forth for a decade or so as an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi in Israel, all the while intending to lead Jews to his conception of Christianity.

He apparently was a fairly persuasive humbug, as he had many followers and was entrusted with circumcisions, copying Talmud scrolls and such. (On the other hand, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copland and Joel Osteen have plenty of followers, implausible though they be. Go figure and caveat emptor.)

Persuasive Elk/Elkohen has, however, been pretty persuasively unmasked, though he denies the accusations — sort of (He says something along the lines of "Yeah, I was doing that but I repented.") If you read the stories, though, I think you’ll discern that they’ve nailed him. Here are three very overlapping accounts:

  1. NJ ‘orthodox rabbi’ accused of double life as missionary in Israel
  2. EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, the Christian missionary who went undercover in Jerusalem as an Orthodox rabbi
  3. ‘Good Jewish boy’ or chief ‘infiltrator’? NJ man spent years as fake rabbi in Israel, groups say

So much for the basic story. Here’s what fascinates me, though: Elk/Elkohen may not be unequivocally fake, even if the exposés are true.

Michael Elk came from the marriage of a non-observant Methodist and a non-observant Mennonite. (Rod Dreher wrote of his own youth something very like this, which my memory dishes up: "We didn’t go to church much, and the church we didn’t go to was Methodist.") Elk "got religion" around age 17 and went off to an evangelical college. By the time he graduated, he was living as a Messianic Jew and claiming that both of his parents were Jewish.

Elk’s path to Judaism appears to have begun around the time of his graduation. By that time, he was in a serious relationship with Crystal Tracy, whom he had met at Eastern University.

At the time, she told the JC, Elk was attending a ‘Messianic synagogue’ (for Jews who follow Jesus) called Beth Yeshua, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

He also worshipped at a charismatic evangelical church called Vineyard. Yet he was dressing like an Orthodox Jew, always wearing a white shirt, black trousers and kippah.

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, the Christian missionary who went undercover in Jerusalem as an Orthodox rabbi)

He convinced Ms. Terry that he’d discovered her Jewish ancestry, too, so they could be married — in a wedding with some Jewish accoutrements. He apparently did something similar with his second wife, after Ms. Terry woke up and dumped him (he’d lost a job over accusations of flim-flammery with the time clock). Then off he went to Israel with wife two, where they were fruitful, and multiplied, and filled the earth with five little Elkohens.

So what I thought was going to be the story of a very bright guy who had undergone extensive spy-like training starts to look like a story of a guy who got deluded fairly young and stayed deluded for the long haul — perhaps even up until now. It’s no less interesting a story for that, but press coverage seems to favor the humbug theory even while reporting the tidbits that make me suspect delusion. (Some of the Israel-based stories don’t seem very conversant with the countless Protestant groups around. One referred to the simple cross on the tombstone of Elk’s father as a "crucifix.")

Arguing against the delusion theory, though, is a 2011 MorningStar Ministries TV appearance:

In the interview, he openly praised Jesus and prayed together with other Christian devotees. The Jews, he said, needed to be “stirred to jealousy” until they followed Christ.

(Id.) But overall, I get the impression that he was a Christian Judaizer, syncretistic ally blending Jewish ritual with Christian doctrine. (That’s why I suggest that he’s not unequivocally fake.) Or as one of the stories put it, perhaps not knowing that there are Christian Judaizers:

The idea of these messianic groups is to blur distinctions in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist the Christian message.

(NJ ‘orthodox rabbi’ accused of double life as missionary in Israel)

A version of such distinction-blurring was repudiated at the very first Council of the Christian Church, in Jerusalem, where the Church held that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised, as a substantial party of Jewish Christians argued they must be. Later, Paul harshly and thoroughly warned the Galatians about such Judaizing in the Epistle to the Galatians, chapters 3 and 4.

Moreover, MorningStar Ministries, allegedly his sponsoring missionary agency, bears a distinctive mark of dispensational premillennialism, a second heresy but one that tends to go along with evangelical Judaizing:

As time went on, Ms Tracy said, Elk became more and more committed to the group. Elk considered going to their ministry school, she said, and was “very, very devoted” to their teachings.

“He carried on with MorningStar after the divorce,” she recalled. “They are very much about converting the Jews to bring on the end times. I heard this all the time.”

(EXCLUSIVE: Unmasked, above)

So sincere or not, a conscious decider or a deluded heretic, "Rabbi" Michael Elkohen deserves adherence neither by Jews nor Gentile Christians who recognize heresies.

And he reportedly is not the only covert Christian Missionary working in Israel.

Restless Natives In Judeo-Christendom

[A]dministrators made it clear to me that members of certain religious groups were overrepresented on campus. This was why the college wanted to get rid of chaplaincy programs. I suddenly realized what was at stake in the move from the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, or Thomas Chatterton Williams, for example, to the antiracism of Ibram Kendi or Robin DiAngelo. Telling me that the “number one priority of the college is antiracism,” my supervisor in Student Life explained:

And because of the colleges’ commitment to antiracism and equity the question finally becomes, Is chaplaincy sustainable? Our Jewish community has the support of its alumni donor. How do we manage that? And Roman Catholic students and others interested in Catholicism can apply for grants from an endowed fund for Roman Catholic Studies. And in order to be antiracist we have to have equal resources for Hindu students, Muslim students, Buddhist students, or we need to do away with Spiritual Life groups all together.

My supervisor was echoing Ibram X. Kendi, who writes, “If discrimination is creating equity then it is antiracist.” Inequity, in this case, means any difference between ethnic groups that isn’t reflected in the racial demographics of the United States. How does this relate to religion? I didn’t think that it did. But here this administrator decided that because Jews, being a tiny percentage of the US population are overrepresented in higher education generally, and at the college where I worked in particular, antiracism in this instance required that the number of Jewish students be reduced. Moreover, because there were 60 students at Shabbat and only a handful of Muslim students on campus, the Jewish group should not exist.

Anna Keating, The Problem with “Western” Religions on Campus – The Hedgehog Review

Contemptuous Familiarity with a Counterfeit

I found a Christianity that had retained its ancient heart—a faith with living saints and a central ritual of deep and inexplicable power. I found a faith that, unlike the one I had seen as a boy, was not a dusty moral template but a mystical path, an ancient and rooted thing, pointing to a world in which the divine is not absent but everywhere present, moving in the mountains and the waters. The story I had heard a thousand times turned out to be a story I had never heard at all.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Cross and the Machine

I appreciate that Kingsnorth is open about his conversion, but also that he’s wise enough not to be argumentative about it ("None of this is rationally explicable, and there is no point in arguing with me about it. There is no point in my arguing with myself about it: I gave up after a while."). That’s better than how I did it.

The Averted Gaze

I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Operation Varsity Blues and would summarize it as timorous.

Wealthy clients of Rick Singer spent in the high six-figures or more to get their failsons and boopsies into elite schools, making it likelier that they would graduate from merely "wealthy" to "upper-class," just one step down from fully "elite" (see Aaron M. Renn, Rediscovering E. Digby Baltzell’s Sociology of Elites (American Affairs Journal).

But that’s only part of the story. Liberal ameliorative legislation like Title IX and the ADA set the stage for some of Singer’s trickery (while not actually creating "legal loopholes").

The water polo angle may give the scandal a WASPy flavor but that’s a red herring …

In fact, if the water polo angle signifies anything, it’s the crucial importance of liberal policies in making Singer’s schemes possible. The reason schools have so many recruitment slots in boutique sports like women’s crew is Title IX, which forced colleges to equalize spending on men’s and women’s athletics. “Institutions with football programs can have upwards of 100 men on those teams,” Unacceptable explains. “To maintain equitable opportunity, they may have built really, really big women’s rowing programs.”

The biggest silent revolution in education today is the proliferation of diagnosed disabilities among affluent students. In the last ten years, elite parents discovered that getting their kid labeled with ADHD or anxiety allows them to request special accommodations on tests, like extra time or a private room. Singer encouraged clients to get bogus diagnoses so he could channel their kids to special testing sites and put his designated proctor in the room with them to correct their answers.

Students with special accommodations used to have asterisks next to their SAT scores when the College Board sent them out. In 2003, those asterisks were removed — not because wealthy parents flexed their influence, but because of a civil rights lawsuit brought by a disability advocacy group. Eliminating the “scarlet asterisk” would protect disabled students from discrimination, they said. Instead it enabled canny operators like Singer to commit fraud on a large scale.

Helen Andrews, Operation Varsity Blues: Elite Anxiety, Not Elite Privilege.

Because of Title IX gender equity rules, colleges are far more likely to have a women’s crew team than a men’s squad. Athletic departments use women’s crew teams to balance out male sports like football and wrestling. Unlike men’s rowing, women’s crew is an official NCAA sport with a sanctioned championship. Women’s Division I rowing teams are allowed to hand out the equivalent of 20 full scholarships, more than any other women’s sport.

For an edge in Ivy League admissions, grab an oar and row – Chicago Tribune

See also Hal Berghel, A Critical Look at the 2019 College Admissions Scandal

Reporting on bad behavior by rich celebrities is easy, but for me, the untold parts of the story, the parts too hot to handle, include (1) the insidious corruption of education by sports and (2) the insidious corruptibility of ameliorative legislation.

Is the Sum of Evangelical Parachurch Ministries Called "Christendom"?

I’m not exactly sour on David French, but I read him ever more critically when he (currently a Calvinist with a meandering background) addresses Christian matters. Most recently, How American Christendom Weakens American Christianity seems both formulaic and confused:

  • He provincially conflates Evangelical "parachurch" ministries with "Christendom" even though the ministries he names neither sought nor gained sway over governments. (See below.)
  • He poisons the well by insinuating that doctrinally orthodox, spiritually lukewarm institutions are in it for the money.
  • He implies that lukewarm orthodox Christians ("Christendom") were a problem to be solved rather than an inevitability.

There’s probably more.

I fully appreciate that the sexual abuses of Ravi Zacharias and Kanakuk Kamp have been much on French’s mind, but to address them as a problem of "Christendom" reads like a brainstorm he had but should have abandoned as far too facile. It seems, though, that French had this "evangelical parachurch ministries as Christendom" brainstorm a few years ago and clings to it still:

The Evangelical analogue to the state religious establishments of years past — the “Christendom” that all-too-often redefined the faith as a kind of cultural and legal conformity, a rote adherence to external religious dictates — is the creation of a series of extraordinarily wealthy, powerful, and influential institutions that not only reach and influence Americans by the tens of millions, but also shape the course and conduct of the domestic and foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

I’m unconvinced that the Evangelical institutions are as powerful and influential as French thinks. I’m even less convinced that they’re a plausible analogy to "Christendom" as traditionally understood.

But I’ve lamented that when Americans hear "Christian" they probably think of Evangelicals, or perhaps Roman Catholics in a few instances, and that neither tradition remotely represents me. So maybe those Evangelical institutions have a bigger "Christendom-like" footprint than I’m appreciating.

Tidbits

A local grade school principal challenged her students to collect 1000 cereal boxes in a week, promising that if they did, she’d let them duct-tape her to the wall. They did and she did.

In completely unrelated news, schoolchildren reportedly have problems with disrespecting their teachers and administrators.


"Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient," he explains. "There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."

Bill Gates, quoted in In Search of the Real Bill Gates – TIME, 1/13/1997.

I must be aiming somewhere other than where Bill Gates is aiming, because I consider church indispensible.


Doyle has 43,000 Twitter followers, a fan base 20 times smaller than that of the Sarcastic Mars Rover parody account.

How Substack Soap Operas Change the Media Business – The Atlantic

Comparative measures of smallness, fewness and such are a usage I’ll never consider proper.


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What Liz Cheney’s ouster will mean

What the House Republican conference is doing, probably today, is contemptible, but let it be conceded that there is a market for it in the recently-revolutionized Republican base. So I turn to politics, holding non-political items for later.


Today, we stand on the precipice of the House Republican conference ratifying this attempt to subvert American democracy. They are poised to punish Liz Cheney for saying this simple truth: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” In her place, they will elevate Iago in heels, Elise Stefanik, whose claim to leadership consists entirely of her operatic Trump followership.

Let’s be clear: The substitution of Stefanik for Cheney is a tocsin, signaling that the Republican party will no longer be bound by law or custom. In 2020, many Republican office holders, including the otherwise invertebrate Pence, held the line. They did not submit false slates of electors. They did not decertify votes. They did not “find” phantom fraud. But the party has been schooled since then. It has learned that the base—which is deluded by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin—believes the lies and demands that Republicans fight. As my colleague Amanda Carpenter put it, the 2024 mantra is going to be “Steal It Back.”

If Cheney must be axed because she will not lie, then what will happen if Republicans take control of Congress in 2022 and are called upon to certify the Electoral College in 2024? How many Raffenspergers will there be? How many will insist, as Pence did, that they must do what the Constitution demands? How many will preserve any semblance of the rule of law and the primacy of truth?

With this sabotage of Cheney, House Republicans are figuratively joining the January 6 mob.

Mona Charen, The Real Steal Is Coming – The Bulwark


Here’s the problem that is obvious to voters: If GOP leaders in both chambers were doing a better job containing Trump, Cheney wouldn’t need to comment. Their pleas of “but we need a conference chair to speak for the conference” argument or “see, we replaced a woman with a woman” (albeit one who is more ideologically moderate and won’t challenge Trump’s lies) won’t connect beyond the Always Trump echo chamber. In 2022 races, these dogs won’t hunt, especially with suburban female voters.

The meaning is obvious. Trump matters more than truth. The post of GOP conference chair is now a third-party validator for CNN and Vox. “With Cheney’s impending ouster, the GOP chooses Trump over principle,” CNN writes. “The Big Lie is the GOP’s one and only truth,” according to Vox.

The problem for the GOP is conservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal opinion section and National Review are making the same argument, and they are right.

In its piece, “Liz Cheney is Not the Problem,” NRO dismantles the Always Trump case: “The problem isn’t that Cheney is making controversial statements; the problem is that Republicans consider her obviously true statements to be controversial.”

… Be careful about trying to put people in their place, particularly when they are motivated by principle, patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution.

John Hart, How Purging Liz Cheney From Leadership Will Backfire for the GOP – The Dispatch


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Visual content for a change

From this week’s Economist.

Love how they go with “birthing people” and “pregnant persons” but then just call it the MOMMIES Act. https://t.co/OIvNXqHNcX— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) May 6, 2021

Don’t miss the people who responded by pretending to not understand his point.


One reason why we spend so much time thinking and talking about elites is that we often hope and pray that a better elite can bring significant, rapid change—to yank the right out of its current malaise sooner rather than later. At present, however, there is no obvious path for speedy, top-down change. There simply isn’t an active market for the necessary message.

David French, Make No Mistake: The GOP Has a Grassroots Problem.

If you follow this blog, you likely have noticed a lot of content from the Dispatch (including essentially anything I quote from David French). Although I’m starting to figure out that David’s entertainment tastes are, um, not at all like mine, I think the Dispatch is doing a very good job at delivering on what they say they’re about, and is worth the price for any non-destitute conservative (or liberal who wants to avoid captivity to a bubble).


The Soviet occupiers subdued religious hierarchies, he said, making sure that the senior leaders — bishops and such — were collaborators. Bishop Istvan remarked that what he sees happening in liberalizing Protestant churches in the West reminds him of this process. The idea, he explained, is that they have been colonized by utopian idealists who believe they have found the truth. Said the bishop, “The Bolsheviks imposed this in a harsh, brutal way, but in the Western countries today, it is happening in a soft way.”

… The bishop went on to say that every society needs an enemy in mind. After the end of the Cold War, the West lacked for an obvious enemy. Now, he said, the elites have decided that the enemy is traditional Christians.

“It’s not a Cold War, but a Cold Civil War, happening in the US, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher

I suspect, based on my observations of how societies behave, that the Bishop is right: every society needs an enemy in mind. Even if he’s not,

  1. It gives us an idea why Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros; and
  2. It should make us reflect on why we demonize Putin, Orban and others.

“We are not good survivors of Communism,” said Bishop Istvan, of his generation. “If you read the Book of Exodus, you will see that it took forty years of wandering in the desert for the Israelites to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Many of them wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they could have a few material things guaranteed for them. I feel like my generation has been told by God that we can’t enter the Promised Land.

“But I ask myself,” he continued, “which Promised Land should I want to enter? Should it be the West? The problem is, there is no fruit there. There is no milk, there is no honey.”

That resonated deeply with me, this point of Bishop Istvan’s. Something similar has been front to mind for me since I first arrived here three weeks ago. There is something about putting distance between oneself and America, and looking at America from a non-woke country, that highlights the true insanity of what’s happening in our nation.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher, quoting Istvan Szábo.


“Believing that everything will be better if only we gather more information,” blogger Michael Sacasas recently wrote, “commits us to endless searching and casting about, to one more swipe of the screen in the hope that the elusive bit of data, which will make everything clear, will suddenly present itself.” …

… There is nothing of real import happening in the world for which Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is the best source of information.

Joseph M. Keegin, Be Not Afraid


In the old Dark Ages, it was impossible to persuade the feudal chiefs that it was more worth while to grow medicinal herbs in a small garden than to lay waste the province of an empire; that it was better to decorate the corner of a manuscript with gold-leaf than to heap up treasuries and wear crowns of gold. These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Dark Ages

More scrapbooking

Larry Kudlow

Now that Donald Trump’s former economic adviser Larry Kudlow has taken his words of wisdom from the White House to Fox News, he wants the nation to know that President Joe Biden is plotting to force Americans to drink “plant-based beer.”(Befuddled Larry Kudlow Rails That Biden Will Force Americans To Guzzle ‘Plant-Based Beer’)

Now to be fair to Kudlow (who, be it remembered, was supposed to be one of the super-smart guys on Team [45]) also said "this kind of thinking is stupid." Since he’s super-smart, I assume he was referring to his own thinking.

Or something.

Liz Cheney

I assume you have heard by now that Liz Cheney is in imminent danger of being ousted from GOP leadership because of her keen bullshit detector and the loud sirens attached to it:

If Cheney is ousted, McCarthy will be the feckless House Republican leader who acted as the toady enforcer of [45]’s dangerous election lies. Every Democrat can say, with a straight face, that in Kevin’s House, lying is a litmus test for leadership.

Amanda Carpenter, Kevin McCarthy: Master of Strategery

I’m in danger of getting back in and wallowing too much in politics, but I found Jonah Goldberg’s analysis of what Cheney’s up to pretty persuasive:

The media and the Democrats understandably want to make this all about her brave truth-telling about “the Big Lie” and the “insurrection.” But the real issue for Cheney—I believe—is only incidentally about all of that. Again, I’m not saying she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, but her real goal is to free the GOP from the Trumpian captivity and the ideological and political corruptions that stem from it. And she’s losing that effort, at least in the short run.

It says a lot, and none of it good, that Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney are unwelcome in today’s GOP while Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are in good standing.

Education versus Job Skills

Whole universities are now devoted to churning out skilled laborers—even if that means cutting entire humanity departments. Job skills and upward mobility seem to be more important than profound people, able to feel and think well about the mysteries of life.

A major problem, though, is that the liberal arts themselves have been instrumentalized toward the market. They are pitched primarily as leading to employment. Why the liberal arts? For more effective communication. Writing skills for memos. Teamwork and collaboration. Critical thinking, etc. The liberal arts are good because they make students marketable to industry.

Alex Sosler, The Liberal Arts for Loss and Lament

I’m on the Board of a very small Classical Christian School, which really should be bigger. I’d like to attribute our struggles to a spirit (among potential patrons) akin to the instrumentalizing of liberal arts in colleges and universities: "It’s not enough to produce great souls, who love truth, beauty and virtue. No. You’ve got to show us how greatness of soul, and loving truth, beauty and virtue ‘cash out’."

And as a product of postwar 20th-Century America, I cannot deny that I’m tempted to tell them how I think it cashes out, though you shouldn’t justify primary goods by how they facilitate secondary goods.

Twitter-Truth

Twitter Truth is now an actual criterion for newsworthiness that many journalists live by. If they didn’t, how do you explain an article like this? Or all the other instances of Twitter nonsense getting written up as though it means anything or has inherent value, without any fact-checking? If something is Twitter True, it now warrants coverage and credulous amplification. And this from a tribe — my tribe — that endlessly, and rightfully, mocked Donald Trump for his “people are saying” innuendo.

Jesse Singal. I love the coinage Twitter-Truth.

Kevin McCarthy’s Big Reveal

I couldn’t figure out how to embed a tweet in Markdown, which is what I use to write my blogs until the last phases. Here is the link. It is visual.

The Point of Life

I remain baffled at how many adults seem to think that the point of life is to enjoy the meaningless mild approval of armies of strangers rather than to build a tight little network of friends and family who are passionately invested in you. But even if you don’t share my values, perhaps you can admit that treating personal animus like it’s politically meaningful is unhelpful. If you think I’m an a**hole, just say I’m an a**hole. If you don’t like someone, just say so. That doesn’t mean you don’t write about politics. You just drop the phony f**king holier-than-thou routine and acknowledge that you’re motivated by animal spirits more than anything else, like everyone else. For years I have played a simple game: when I meet someone in person who says they don’t like my writing, I challenge them to name an issue on which we disagree. They fail over and over again. Like literally they can’t name anything. The truth is they don’t like me, who I am, as a person, but for whatever reason they feel compelled to pretend that it’s deeper than that. It isn’t and that’s fine. If we can’t actually grow up, maybe we can be mature enough to admit that we are immature, and that all of this is a child’s game.

Freddie deBoer (lightly expurgated).

I disagree with Freddie on the point of life, but prefer his version to the alternative that baffles him.

Learned Helplessness

To donors, business leaders, trade association heads, operatives, commentators, and other powers-that-be in GOP circles:

Don’t just call me to commiserate and lament.

Call them. Call the Republican members of Congress you’ve supported. Call the National Republican Congressional Committee. Call your fellow donors.

And tell them: “No. No more support. If you’re going to purge Liz, we’re gone. Really. For this entire cycle. A party that purges a truth-teller isn’t one I will support. And I’ll say this publicly and I’ll rally my fellow donors to follow my lead.”

And I’d add, to GOP-supporting conservative writers: No more angst.

Say the truth loudly and clearly. Say that the behavior of Republicans is a danger and a disgrace. If all you can muster is concern about how purging Cheney for telling the truth might “diminish” the GOP and hurt its chances with swing voters—if you lack the fortitude to do anything other than play for triple bank shots with an eye toward preserving your place—well, better not to write anything at all.

So, to GOP donors and conservative elites: Enough with the comfortable posture of learned helplessness. Enough with the ineffectual finger wagging. Just Say No.

Alas, the Republican donors and the conservative elites are unlikely to say No. Learned helplessness is a balm for people who would rather avoid taking an uncomfortable stance.

And so they stand athwart history, clucking their tongues and wringing their hands.

William Kristol, The Learned Helplessness of Republican Elites

The refrigerator-magnet-poetry word-jumble method of inquiry

Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage, continues defending her book against hysteria. She asks "Has Censorship Become Our Baseline Expectation?" and recites several incidents of news stories implying that Amazon is an intransigent bad-actor for not banning her book as it earlier banned Ryan Anderson’s provocatively-titled When Harry Became Sally.

“Amazon won’t stop selling book questioning transgender youth” noted a surprised New York Daily News on Tuesday. “Amazon overrules employees’ calls to stop selling book questioning mainstream treatment for transgender youth,” declared The Seattle Times. “Amazon Refuses to Stop Selling Anti-Trans Book,” reported an apparently disappointed Edge Media. And yesterday’s NBCNews.com: “Amazon will not remove book advocates say endangers transgender youth.

For every one of these publications, the baseline assumption is censorship. It is Amazon that “won’t stop selling,” or “overrules employees” or “refuses to stop selling” or “will not remove”—Amazon whose actions strike today’s journalists as significant and surprising.  Amazon the intransigent bookseller, stubbornly insisting on continuing to sell books. Standing up to the calls for censorship is now what surprises us. The numberless calls for book banning no longer do.

I told Ms. Long that the book contains not a word of hate—almost verbatim what the Economist wrote when it named mine a Best Book of 2020:  “Predictably controversial—yet there is not a drop of animosity in the book.” Though the book discusses “gender dysphoria,” a diagnosis recognized in the DSM-5, it never equates transgender status with a mental illness because, put simply, I don’t believe that it is.

Well, she replied, I see ‘contagion,’ ‘epidemic,’ don’t you think that tends to diagnose?

“Are you seriously going to pull out random words from my book?” I asked her.

“They aren’t random,” she said. “They’re from chapter headings.”

I explained that the words “contagion” and “epidemic” often refer to social phenomena, like peer-to-peer fads or trends, as the dictionary bears out and is obviously the case in Irreversible Damage. But in all of this explaining, I was the witness in the hot seat, under cross-examination. I was the one who had to explain myself before this refrigerator-magnet-poetry word-jumble method of inquiry.

I would oppose banning this book (and almost all others) even if it did ineffably "endanger transgender youth" because it does far, far more to protect them from ill-considered irreversible bodily mutilation at the hands of ideologues or medical profiteers.

I would point out, however, that there is not really a baseline expectation of censorship — except in the case of books that in some sense take a conservative or traditional stance on matters of sexuality and gender, especially the transgender social contagion.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.


Seven shorts

Front Page News Today

Front page of my local newspaper, above the fold, is the news that "Racist post on County GOP Facebook elicits backlash."

The post was genuinely and frankly racist — no mere dog-whistle. And my former party is entirely too hospitable toward yahoos and atavists. But the County was Brown County, in Southern Indiana, roughly two hours from us. And it was a Facebook page, fer cryin’ out loud, where presumably any jackass, including enemies, can post.

This story’s placement was partly a function of the steep decline of my local paper and its increasing reliance on stories from other Gannett newspapers in Indiana (and from Gannett Corporate HQ). But we form our impression of the world from, well, glimpses and impressions left by things we generally have no time to analyze and blog about.

Do better, Journal & Courier.

I’m not sure EWTN sees what I see in this swag:

That’s all I’m going to say. (Source)

More Rules for Life

Politics can make people crazy, especially these days. For the latest evidence, consider its insidious spread to “Jeopardy!,” the game show heretofore loved by millions.

Last week Jeopardy! contestant Kelly Donohue put his index finger and thumb together in an “OK” sign, with three fingers extended, during the show’s introduction. Uh oh.

It seems some progressives are on constant watch for this gesture as a signal of white supremacy because it has allegedly been adopted by some extremist groups. Within a few days, hundreds of former Jeopardy! contestants signed an open letter explaining that Mr. Donohue’s gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.”

Mr. Donohue said he had signaled the number three because he had won the show three days in a row. He clarified his meaning in a Facebook post, but he apparently didn’t abase himself sufficiently in the view of the concerned game-show participants. “Most problematic to us as a contestant community,” they wrote, “is the fact that Kelly has not publicly apologized for the ramifications of the gesture he made.”

Mr. Donohue then posted a statement “regret[ting] this terrible misunderstanding” and condemning racism in all its forms. We hope, for his sake, that the latter declaration appeases the troubled sensibilities of the, uh, contestant community.

Mass Hysteria for $2,000

I have read that one of Jordan Peterson’s maxims in his new book is "Don’t apologize if you’ve done nothing wrong."

Keep em’ guessing

I have purchased a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in the full expectation that I’ll find much worthwhile in it (anyone who got an acknowledgment from Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities can’t be all bad), despite the book’s bugbear status, alongside "George Soros," among the Right.

A line in the sand

I understand that language evolves. I reluctantly admit that usage (eventually) makes proper.

Generally.

But—usage be damned—I will never, ever, accept that "literally" means "I’m about to engage in wild hyperbole because I feel strongly about this."

Thank you.

Cancel culture and the GOP

There are huge divides within the GOP over whether or not cancel culture is a problem government has any role in solving.

J.D. Vance—the author and venture capitalist who is likely to enter Ohio’s U.S. Senate race in the coming weeks—urged Republicans to retaliate against businesses whose leaders met to coordinate responses to Republican-led efforts to change voting laws in states across the country. “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons. We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing,” said Vance, who declined to be interviewed for Declan’s story. “At this very moment there are companies (big and small) paying good wages to American workers, investing in their communities, and making it easier for American families. Cut their taxes. No more subsidies to the anti-American business class.”

Rep. Peter Meijer, a freshman Republican from Michigan, grew animated when presented with Vance’s comments. “How is that conservative? Where is there a fidelity to an underlying set of beliefs or principles other than just taking cues from the left and being inherently reactive?” he scoffed. “If you’re using the government to compel something you like, you’re setting the precedent for the government to be compelling something you don’t like. And the non-hypocritical approach is to just not have the government be a coercive entity towards those ends.”

Meijer agreed that Republicans have work to do on this issue, but not necessarily in statehouses or the Capitol. “The Overton window has kind of shifted to where the narrative that ‘Republicans are evil’ is not just unquestioned in many elements on the left, but in corporate America, too. And to me the broader challenge is how do we regain that credibility,” he said. “We’ve lost some credibility to be viewed as serious participants in larger cultural clashes. And if all we’re doing is talking to a Newsmax and OANN crowd, we’re not flexing those persuasive muscles to be able to win over voters in the center.

Declan Garvey, ‘How is that Conservative?’.

I have been consistently impressed by Peter Meijer so far a worthy successor to Justin Amash (and that’s saying a lot), while J.D. Vance sinks ever-lower in my estimation (he started mildly positive, because of Hillbilly Elegy). If the Republicans can come up with any effective, popular, constitutional legislation on cancel culture, you literally can knock me over with a feather I will be astonished.

Certified bleak — in a hopeful sort of way

We take it as our great privilege to enter an age wherein no stone remains on another. There is much to be gained amidst the dark ruins of a shattered word: Brokenness and desolation, so hopeless in the eyes of some, are invisibly pregnant with promise in the eyes of others. As we kick the opiate of material comforts, exit the temple of broken idols, and come to acknowledge that our culture is one of loud and benumbing noise, we finally stand on the threshold of encountering Truth. If one is not seduced back to numbness by the influence of contemporary life, this threshold positions one to apprehend truly (and even transcend almost completely) our dying world’s scaffolding – its logic, appearances, gross phenomena – and come to know by experience the spiritual, otherworldly life. Thus, when one loses all that is of apparent worth and modern society’s ugly face is unmasked, a search for the new, authentic life begins.

2020 Vision: From Blindness to Sight in the Age of Collapse, via Paul Kingsnorth.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mostly political

The Sorry state of the GOP

[D]espite the happy talk in front of the cameras, some members of the conference say behind closed doors that [45]’s chokehold over the conference is poisoning the GOP from within. “[45] talked a big game about unifying the party so we can win the majority back, and all he’s done is divide the party,” said one House GOP member who did not vote to impeach the former president, and who spoke to The Dispatch anonymously in fear of retribution from House leadership. “And what he’s doing by attacking Republicans who don’t think and act like him is going to ensure that we lose the majority. … The fight is not in here—should not be in here within our conference—it’s out there with people that want to reshape our nation into socialist countries. In order to get the majority back, we have to win blue districts, we have to win purple seats.”

The Morning Dispatch: House GOP, Live from Orlando

That the GOP is badly divided as Congressman Anonymous says seems more accurate than the smiley-face picture Liz Cheney, bless her, is painting.

As I’ve said many times before, I left the GOP in January of 2005. After the Presidency of 45 (who shall not be named), I’m not even sure I "lean Republican" any more.

Nevertheless, I’m incredulous at the repeated claim that 70% of Republicans believe Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. If true, my former party is in frighteningly bad shape, but I think the truth is more like "lying trolls".


Speaking of which:

I served in Congress with Kevin McCarthy. He’s a very weak, unprincipled person. He’s perfect for today’s Republican Party.

Joe Walsh via Charlie Sykes


Of Biden’s speech and the GOP response:

[I]f I were a Republican, I’d be terrified by the incoherence of the response. Yes, Tim Scott is appealing and effectively disarms the white supremacist image the GOP has become associated with (as well it might). But there was no real theme in his speech, no discernible strategy, no credible opposition to massive new spending. You could see what happens when a party becomes a vehicle for a personality cult, provided no platform in its recent convention, and lives off the fumes of cable television’s clown car.

Andrew Sullivan, The Strange Fate Of Joe Biden

Bucking our Betters

Montana’s economy must be independent of the Megacorp Overlords, who told Indiana there’d be hell to pay if it passed RFRA. Or maybe its legislators and governor have guts. (It recently became a "sanctuary state" for gun owners, too.)

(Unintended?) Consequences

“Any prohibition on menthol and flavored tobacco products promises continued over-criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned last year. “Banning menthol is now pitched as a social justice issue,” Jacob Grier argues in Reason. “But if we take the stated preferences of menthol smokers seriously, the racial politics cut the other way. White smokers would remain free to purchase the unflavored cigarettes that most of them currently consume, while black smokers would be paternalistically forbidden from exercising their own desires and subjected to policing of illicit markets if they try to fulfill them.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Laws being turned on black people from their intended targets? Nah! Never happened here, never will.

Chameleons

I’ve taken to working on computer mostly in Markdown, including a plugin that downloads web pages as Markdown — which plugin showed me a bit of how to use metadata in Markdown files.

Some publications, I discover, tags their own web pages in metadata. The Wall Street Journal‘s tags are voluminous and essentially useless to me; The Atlantic is a little bit better. But the amusing thing to me is that The Week tags the same commentator, Damon Linker, as conservative or liberal according, I guess, to how the guy (or gal) doing the tagging feels about the treatment of the column’s topic, or even the topic itself.

Another curiosity: nobody tags in a way I can use in Obsidian (no spaces within a tag but only as delimiters) without first editing.

Easy Virtue

The pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for the Amazon Prime elite. It allowed people to feel virtuous for staying home. Watching Netflix was noble. Being anti-social was virtuous. Ordering DoorDash was saving the world. The pandemic ending takes away that easy virtue.

And people like being able to shame others. Catching people unmasked at the beach, spreading their photos, and talking about how bad that is — well that was a satisfying hobby for many this year. This group doesn’t want to go back to offices. They don’t seem to care if synagogue and church come back. That’s fine — they prefer to live mediated by screens, and they can live that life. But don’t let them force it on you.

There is no virtue in being permanently masked. There is no virtue in demanding zero risk. If there is, we wouldn’t never jump in a swimming pool or get into a car. Get vaccinated, and then get used to wearing hard pants, brushing your hair (and teeth) and meeting friends outside of Zoom.

Bari Weiss, ‌Believe Science: Get Vaccinated. Then Relax

[M]any millions of Americans spent the [45] era deeply loyal to [45] not because of policy arguments or political debate, but in large part because “prophets” told them he was specifically and specially anointed by God for this moment. These Americans were resistant to the election outcome because they were told—again and again—by voices they trusted that God promised [45] would win.

David French, ‌Making Prophecy Great Again. Unfortunately, French seems to think that "prophetic standards" promulgated by a couple of guys will rein in the "prophetic" charlatans and grifters.

Good luck with that, David. You’ve got roughly the odds placekicker Charlie Brown has of Lucy VanPelt holding the ball properly.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Some thoughts 5/1/21

What the wrath of God looks like

I was nurtured on stories as a child that contrasted Christ’s “non-judging” (“Jesus, meek and mild”) with Christ the coming Judge (at His dread Second Coming). I was told that His second coming would be very unlike His first. There was a sense that Jesus, meek and mild, was something of a pretender, revealing His true and eternal character only later as the avenging Judge.

This, of course, is both distortion and heresy. The judgment of God is revealed in Holy Week. The crucified Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God. There is no further revelation to be made known, no unveiling of a wrath to come. The crucified Christ is what the wrath of God looks like.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Bridegroom and Judgment

Why Jordan Peterson thrives

Contempt for the “working class” by North America’s “liberal educated elite,” is a major reason for his popularity, he says. “There aren’t very many people with an encouraging voice,”[Jordan] Peterson says. “Most of the things you read by intellectuals—not all, but it’s a failing of intellectuals—most of it is criticism. Look what you’re doing to the planet. What a detestable bunch of wretches you are, with your rapacious structures and your endless appetite and your desire for power. . . . Look at what your ambition has done to the planet. How dare you!”

Mr. Peterson doesn’t directly challenge the substance of these dreary criticisms. Rather he protests that they’re unnatural and unhealthy. “The proper attitude toward young people is encouragement,” he says—“their ambitions, their strivings, their desire to be competent, their deep wish for a trustworthy guiding hand. I think our culture is so cynical that it’s impossible, especially for the established intellectual chattering critics, to even imagine that encouragement is possible.”

When I ask what he thinks is driving the effort to destroy him and others who hold heterodox views, he diagnoses his persecutors as though they’re exactly the sort of young people who wander into his lectures or buy his books looking for structure and purpose. His admirers and his fiercest detractors are, in his mind, not so different from each other.

Barton Swaim, The Man They Couldn’t Cancel

From an essay on atheism with lots of insights:

I can’t tell you how often … commenters on liberal blogs would preface a denunciation of Richard Dawkins by reassuring everyone that they themselves were agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated. “Of course Christianity isn’t literally true,” they would always say before excoriating arrogant atheists. What they never seemed to understand is that the “of course” was a more grievous insult to sincere Christians than Christopher Hitchens could ever come up with. What the atheists felt they needed to prove, the anti-atheists simply assumed away. They took as given that traditionally religious claims about the world were so ridiculous that they could dismiss them with a footnote. The difference is stark. Angry atheists think religion is wrong. Anti-angry atheist liberals think religion is not even wrong.

Since I begin writing about this topic – that is, since the very beginning, as the first thing I wrote online that more than a dozen people read was about being a certain kind of atheist – I have been known by religious people as a nice atheist, a respectful atheist. I am never sure how to feel about this condition. I still define my orientation the same way: that to come to atheism honestly and constructively you must come to it in loss and pain. You don’t accept atheism, when it is genuine. You surrender to it. Either way, I am an atheist. I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false. I think religion on balance has been a detriment to human life and human flourishing. And I think the gradual attrition of believers into nonbelievers, through apathy and distraction more than anything else, would be good for the world.

Freddie deBoer, ‌What Became of Atheism, Part One

"I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false" is a sentence that may be worth my returning to some day, as the metaphysical content deBoer describes elsewhere in his essay is not true of all religion, and not (very) true of Orthodox Christianity. If I were being flippant, I could say "well, I don’t believe in that God, either."

Stake in the ground: Two sexes

Here’s what the science says: there are only two human sexes. That’s because there are only two types of gamete (the sex cells — egg and sperm). Humans (like all mammals) can develop along one of two pathways: towards making eggs (female) and towards making sperm (male). If anyone ever finds a third sex it would be a discovery on a par with finding a new continent — with a guaranteed Nobel prize. Until you see those headlines, you can rest assured there are exactly two sexes.

Biological sex exists and it matters — most obviously because the existence of the human race depends on it. You can’t make a human baby without a male and a female — yet the sex-denialists hardly ever mention reproduction. Which is odd since that’s precisely why sex exists.

Nathan Williams, Sex deniers are the new flat earthers

How our press covers Hungary

“You are sitting next to the Fifth Avenue of Budapest,” he said, referring to nearby Andrassy Avenue. “The only people Western journalists ever seem to talk to live within a two-mile radius of this street.”

Later, as I was headed home from work, I thought about how someone could stand on Andrassy holding a sign saying, “Viktor Orban, Go To Hell,” and nothing would happen to them. What do you think would happen to someone standing on the corner of Fifth and 45th in Manhattan, holding up a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter Sucks,” or “Homosexuality Is A Sin”? …

But remember your catechism: countries like Hungary are the real illiberal democracies.

Rod Dreher

Surprise Orthodox Anglicans

There has been talk in my neck of the internet about Prince Philip having reconnected with his Orthodox Christian roots, and here’s a sign, which I’m surprised hadn’t surfaced earlier, that he had:

There was one clear sign of this complex heritage during the funeral. Prince Philip had requested that, just before his body was lowered into the Royal Vault, the choir sing the famous Kiev setting of the Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed.

"Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints: where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting," the singers chanted. "Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man: and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth. … All we go down to the dust; and weeping o’er the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."

Terry Mattingly, Wish for the ‘Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed’ — A Hint at Prince Philip’s Complex Faith History

Note, too, this:

Prince Charles also has frequented Mount Athos. One Athonite monk told The Guardian newspaper that there is "no question" that Charles is "Orthodox in his heart. Sadly, he is very constrained by his position." The Prince of Wales has maintained ties to the Vatopedi Monastery and, like his father, to the Friends of Mount Athos.

Id.

Western civilization

The older I get, and the more I learn about history, the more convinced I am that Western civilization committed suicide with World War I. The rubble is still bouncing from that unparalleled catastrophe.

Rod Dreher

Contrariness

The function that herbivores play, for example, in stimulating biomass accumulation is both powerful and real. Chickens have historically converted kitchen scraps into eggs. Pigs have historically scavenged domestic waste products as varied as whey, offal, forest mast, and spoiled grain. That a large percentage of landfilled material is animal-edible food waste should strike us as criminal. Rather than showering landfill administrators with greenie awards for injecting pipes into the anaerobic swill to collect biogas, we should be cycling all that edible waste through chickens and pigs so that it never goes to the landfill in the first place.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal


Food safety is completely subjective. I don’t think for a minute that most of what’s in the supermarket is safe. But it’s been deemed safe because it only kills you slowly. While thousands of people die due to unnatural food and nutrient-deprived food, the food police go after a cottage-industry cheesemaker because two people got diarrhea.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Why I (sorta) miss the New York Times

Chauvin Was Convicted. Something Is Still Very Wrong reminds me that I not only miss much of what Ross Douthat and David Brooks write these days by dropping the New York Times, but I also miss Elizabeth Bruenig (and Frank Bruni).

It’s tough when an institution is the pinnacle of professional ambition in a field yet has become boycottably corrupt.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Calling spades “spades”

Four snippets over the past few days (several of the articles are months old, though) from people who were taking no guff.

From New York Magazine last November, on turmoil at the New York Times:

Twitter presented innumerable headaches, with reporters having to be chastised for being overtly political, or simply for sounding un-Timesian in their pursuit of likes and retweets. “There’s a very sad need for validation,” one Times journalist who has tweeted tens of thousands of times told me.

Some of the trickiest jounalistic questions have centered on what the Times is or isn’t willing to say. After [James] Bennet’s ouster, [A.G.] Sulzberger met with a columnist for the “Opinion” section who had expressed consternation about the decision. Sulzberger promised the columnist that the Times would not shy away from publishing pieces to which the Times’ core audience might object. “We haven’t lost our nerve,” Sulzberger said.

“Yes, you have,” the columnist told Sulzberger. “You lost your nerve in the most explicit way I’ve ever seen anyone lose their nerve. You can say people are still gonna be able to do controversial work, but I’m not gonna be the first to try. You don’t know what you’ll be able to do, because you are not in charge of this publication — Twitter is. As long as Twitter is editing this bitch, you cannot promise me anything.”

Reeves Wiedeman, Inside the New York Times’ Heated Reckoning With Itself


I had forgotten this prophesy:

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

Maybe you hesitate. Is it a fact that if Trump loses, he will reject defeat, come what may? Do we know that? Technically, you feel obliged to point out, the proposition is framed in the future conditional, and prophecy is no man’s gift, and so forth. With all due respect, that is pettifoggery. We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend.

Barton Gellman, What if Trump Refuses to Concede?, September 23, 2020.


Successful Substack writers continues to evoke envy, which tends to get expressed (in writing inferior to the Substack average) as addlepated moral outrage. Marxist blogger-turned-Substacker Freddie de Boer has had lots of thoughts about that, culminating most recently in this:

I write tens of thousands of words on topics ranging from why everyone is actually exhausted to The Giving Tree to the Nation of Islam to Instagram feminism to the charter school scam to atheism after the New Atheists (coming Monday!). Don’t like it? Write better shit, man. Or get mad online. It’s up to you. My people will support me, and I earned that.

What are you, 12? There’s no “deserves”


I hadn’t thought about the implications of some prominent Federalist Society members being implicated in the January 6 insurrection. But David Lat had thought about it quite a lot in the two weeks after:

The Federalist Society is a nonpartisan organization that does not — and cannot, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit — endorse candidates for elective public office. It therefore has no official relationship with Donald Trump …

Unfortunately — and quite reprehensibly — several prominent FedSoc figures played roles in Trump’s baseless challenge to the 2020 election results, and therefore bear significant blame for the Capitol attack. Law professor John Eastman — chair of FedSoc’s Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group, and a frequent participant in Society events over the years — represented Trump in his (meritless and unsuccessful) attempt to get the Supreme Court to intervene in the election, urged Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results, and had a prominent speaking role at the rally that was the precursor to the riots. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), two members of what conservative law professor John O. McGinnis once dubbed “the Federalist Society caucus” … led the charge in the Senate against certification of the election results, just hours after the horrific Capitol attack. In light of all this, a reckoning at the Federalist Society is in order.

So what should FedSoc do in the wake of the Capitol riots? …

First, and most obviously, the Society should no longer allow John Eastman, a prominent promoter of poisonous conspiracy theories about the election, to remain in leadership, as chair of the Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group …

Second, the Society should no longer host events with Eastman, Hawley, and Cruz …

Third, as a more general matter, the Federalist Society should try harder to steer clear of partisan politics. It should be non-partisan not just in name, but in spirit.

Of course, the larger and longer-term issue, not just for the Federalist Society but for conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans, is how much of their principles they are willing to sacrifice for power.  Allying themselves with Donald Trump for four years got them tax reform, three Supreme Court seats, more than 200 lower-court judgeships, and all sorts of other goodies. But was it worth it?

… I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Miscellany, 4/23/21

For many years now it has been crystal clear to me that the shape of reality is the shape of a myth, not a hard drive, and that the path back to understanding it – the way out of the cul de sac of Machine modernity – is a spiritual one.

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: The Empty Throne (The Abbey of Misrule)


First, I’d like to say I’m not surprised by much today, but I was taken aback by the rage in some parts of the right at the conviction of Derek Chauvin …

I could fill an entire newsletter with strange and dangerous reactions from prominent right-wing voices after the Chauvin verdict. The pathologies of right-wing infotainment are one reason why I have so little patience for most of the right’s relentless criticism of the mainstream media. Somehow, in all their rage and fury, they’ve created a competing media ecosystem that’s actually worse than the institutions they hate. Take the log out of your own eye.

But then, over in Ohio, many of the biggest public figures and news outlets in America got busy reminding us exactly why so many in the right feel such deep frustration. They reminded us why it’s often accurate to critique left-wing media narratives, especially when it’s obvious that those narratives will force people to deny or to ignore the witness of their eyes just as thoroughly as the far-right ignored the witness of their own eyes in the Chauvin trial.

The police shooting of 15-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was tragic and deeply, deeply sad. It was also nothing like the police murder of George Floyd. Yet immediately important voices tied the deaths together ….

David French, Don’t Create False Villains To Serve a Greater Good. I boldfaced the part that made me want to stand up and cheer, but felt obliged to provide the context, too.


… the Politician’s Fallacy: we need to do something; this is something; therefore we need to do this. There’s lots of racism in the workplace, no doubt. So the answer is to… pay businesses millions of dollars to come and preemptively scold bored employees who are only attending these workshops out of coercion? That’s the solution? Seems like a great way for a few people to get rich, but sure doesn’t seem like it’ll do jack shit to actually reduce workplace racism. Also… you get that employers pay for these things purely because they can use them as evidence that they have not created a racially discriminatory workplace in the event that they get sued, right? So Robin Diangelo’s business is literally making it harder for employees of color to get financial compensation for being the victims of discrimination. Cool, cool, cool. Anti-racism!

Ah, but I’m questioning a progressive and anti-racist and her worldview (and hustle), so I am surely just a classic Substack guy. When you can’t object to anything at all, lest you be consigned to the list of “anti-cancel culture guys,” you can’t ask if things make sense, if the tactics people in the social justice world endorse actually do what they’re meant to do. The point is to build an actually-more just world, right? So we have to figure out what actually works. I don’t begrudge people who are casting around for solutions to entrenched problems. But it’s not enough for a solution to have good intentions. It has to actually be a solution. To figure out if something actually is a solution you have to have an internal debate. You have to ask tough questions – not “just asking questions” but actual hard questions that stem from the world being a complicated place. But you can’t do that if you insist that any internal criticism is a con or a way to show allegiance to the alt-right.

This is the culture that liberals have created: asking “is this really going to make the world more just?” is itself impermissible. You aren’t allowed to ask if tactics work anymore! Ask David Shor. Do riots help Black people? We’ll never know. Racist even to ask, I’m told. Hard questions are not permitted ….

Freddie deBoer, Cynical Motives for a Cynical Time.


The Maxine Waters Problem
When America’s officials desert any standards for public or personal behavior, expect violence.

Those were the un-ironic headline and sub headline for a Daniel Heninger editorial in the Wall Street Journal on April 22. There was no mention in the editorial of Donald Trump or the violent storming of the U.S. Capital on January 6.

A strange thing has happened: I no longer enjoy the Wall Street Journal Opinion page. I still enjoy the Journal, though, for straight reporting — just about the straightest major newspaper reporting available today.

I only regret that WSJ mostly finds "newsworthy" stories about business and finance.

No, that’s not true. I even more regret that it dare not notice the signs that we’re headed for another bubble burst. Irrational optimism is more marketable.


Republican politicians who don’t toe the Trump line are speaking of death threats and menacing verbal attacks.

It’s as if the Trump base felt some security when their man was at the top, and that’s now gone. Maybe Trump was the restraining force.

What’s happening can only be called a venomous panic attack. Since the election, large swathes of the Trumpian right have decided America is facing a crisis like never before and they are the small army of warriors fighting with Alamo-level desperation to ensure the survival of the country as they conceive it.

The first important survey data to understand this moment is the one pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson discussed with my colleague Ezra Klein. When asked in late January if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country as we know it,” 51 percent of Trump Republicans said survival; only 19 percent said policy.

The level of Republican pessimism is off the charts. A February Economist-YouGov poll asked Americans which statement is closest to their view: “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated” or “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves.”

Over 75 percent of Biden voters chose “a big, beautiful world.” Two-thirds of Trump voters chose “our lives are threatened.”

The fact that Donald Trump was no kind of realistic solution does not mean that the conditions that led to his rise are false, or that the Republicans who see things apocalyptically are wrong. I too would have been one of the 51 percent of conservatives in that poll who said that politics is primarily about “ensuring the survival of the country,” though I emphatically do not believe the threat to us comes from terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants. The threat to us comes primarily from the elite leadership class in government, academia, corporate America, media, and other institutions.

Rod Dreher, after long block-quote of David Brooks


Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.

Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, quoted by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.


When I was a Calvinist, I had a young friend who was working on his PhD and then went on to become an academic in a well-regarded Christian college. So even though I had become Orthodox in the meantime, I eagerly bought a book he co-authored — a book about "Church."

What a revelation! It was difficult to find any common ground with this, for instance:

There is no single correct way of doing and being church. Trying not to be like other churches is, of course, just another conception and idealization, albeit a pathological one. While our prophetic visions of church should help us see where churches are not boasting solely in Jesus, they too often boast in themselves, and they justify their “correctness” by letting others know how they are not like “incorrect” models of church.

Thinking one has a "prophetic vision[] of church" according to which the church should be re-fashioned is just not on my radar any more — not as friendly forces, at least.


Luther once declared from the pulpit that he could commit adultery one hundred times in a day and it would not affect his justification before God.

Kimberly Hahn and Scott Hahn, Rome Sweet Home


I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer.

Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome!


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.


I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer. I do not need another computer.

Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome! Darn, that new iMac looks awesome!


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Three shorts

Our society has attached a meaning to greatness that is not as far away from Hitler’s as it would like to believe, despite our cant about democracy and freedom. Our idols today are economic conquest, unending ‘growth’ built on turning all life into ‘resources’ for human consumption, scientism disguised as objective inquiry, manic forward-motion, and the same old quest for perfectability.

We in the West invented this thing called ‘modernity’, and then we took it out into the world, whether the world wanted it or not. Once we called this process ‘the white man’s burden’ and exported it with dreadnoughts. Now we call it ‘development’ and export it via the World Bank. But – and here is the point so often missed, especially by the ‘progressives’ currently leading the charge in the culture wars – before we could eat the world, we first had to eat ourselves. Or rather: our states, our elites, our ideologues and power-mongers, had to dispossess their own people before they could venture out to dispossess others. We were the prototype; the guinea pigs in a giant global experiment. Now we find ourselves rootless, rudderless, unmoored in a great sea of chaos; angry, confused, shouting at the world and each other. We have made of our world a nihil. We are both perpetrators and victims of a Great Unsettling.

[P]eople don’t tend to talk much about their ‘identity’ unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, the more you have lost. Once an entire country is talking about nothing else, that’s a pretty good sign that the Machine has sprayed the roots of its people with Roundup and ploughed the remains into the field.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Great Unsettling (The Abbey of Misrule)


[T]he most remarkable thing about Great Hearts’ college-admissions culture is its lack of emphasis on elite universities. Kathryn LeTrent, a drama and poetry teacher at Glendale Prep, reflects: “We ask our students to reflect and write on the connection between virtue and happiness. If we emphasized that they needed to attend an elite college, that would be very hypocritical.”

Max Eden, Great Hearts Academies Charter School Network Gets Results


Nobody is going to cancel a Christian for his or her traditional beliefs and practices regarding luxury, avarice, gluttony, or any of the other so-called “deadly sins”. But resist the world’s view on lust, and you find yourself in a world of trouble.

… [T]he fundamental materialism of our consumerist, hedonistic society is profoundly anti-Christian. This challenge to fidelity would exist even if the Sexual Revolution had never happened.

The ugly truth is that far too many of us conservatives — Christian and otherwise — are not really conservatives, but anti-liberals.

Rod Dreher, What’s The Source Of The Church’s Problems

I enjoy David French quite a lot on legal analysis, but the more he writes about religion, the more I recognize a gulf between his version of Calvinism and Orthodox Christianity. Rod Dreher apparently noticed something like that, too.

If I were to summarize, I’d make up a quote and put it in French’s mouth: "Original sin! Total depravity! Now what’s your question?"

(Inspired by this misfire).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.