Tuesday, 12/9/14

  1. Tower of Babel
  2. Who smells worse abroad: Putin or US?
  3. Virtuosos and Barbarians
  4. What the naked Emperor-to-Be is up to these days
  5. Apt journalistic analogy


With the University of Virginia fraternity rape story collapsing, and people turning rage from the fraternity toward Rolling Stone (if not toward journalism generally – though the bloggers who note this fed the story, too), and with the “damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don’t” conundrum on believing a woman who claims rape, and with calls for a new “national dialog on race” going unheeded since one side knows that the rhetorical deck is stacked – with all of that, and so much more, the story of the Tower of Babel gains fresh currency, no?

(H/T Rod Dreher, who ‘fessed up to credulity on the rape story and whose more recent blog jump-started this little musing.)


Speaking of distrusting media, this Dimitri Orlov interview suggests that we’ve been totally misled by American media on the Russia/Ukraine story and that America, not Russia, is in very, very bad odor in large swaths of the world today. F’rinstance, whatever became of the swell story that Russia shot down supplied weapons used to shoot down must have done something that makes Putin responsible for Flight MH-17?

There’s more than a little truth in the suggestion that America’s message to national leaders around the world today, most of whom are our clients, is “do as we tell you or we’ll ‘bring Democracy’ to your country, capiche?” (except our diplomats might not know “capiche”).

The prophecy of the fall of Babylon the Great gains gains fresh currency, no?


More on the takeover of The New Republic by a snot-nosed barbarian zillionaire Chris Hughes:

A liberal arts education educates young people into a particular way of life, a particular culture. Some of them become virtuosos in this way of life, which means they absorb its animating ideas and sentiments, but can improvise. All cultures need these virtuosos, because all cultures face external and internal challenges that require adaptation, revision, and renewal. The prophets of Israel were virtuosos. Socrates, Luther, Burke, and Emerson were virtuosos.

Although I disagree with where he wanted to take us, I count Richard Rorty an American virtuoso. … As an editor, Wieseltier sought liberal virtuosos. (Conservatives were not part of his mix. He was interested only in a conversation about a progressive future.) And when he found them he gave them an extraordinary amount of space to speak to us about things that matter.

But today’s universities don’t train virtuosos. A shallow scientism and materialism has found its way to the classroom. Political correctness shuts down conversation, insisting on sterile platitudes. Conservative ideas are largely excluded, and many of the most important questions facing us today simply aren’t posed in ways relevant to our public life (which unlike the university culture isn’t monochromatic). And anyway, if starting a company and cashing out as a billionaire is the way to change the world, who needs Shakespeare?

Wieseltier has sharply criticized these trends. But they and other enemies of humane reflection continue unchecked. As a result, the university has become less and less relevant to our public conversation about how to live—and Wieseltier’s extraordinary gifts as an editor capable of serving as a go-between also has become less important. Which is why, again, I don’t think we’ll see him reappear elsewhere, nor will we see a younger version emerge. On the whole, a person of Chris Hughes’ generation does not think of college professors as important for more than credentialing them on the ascent to great things.

(R.R. Reno) I’m glad I re-read that piece. I was apparently distracted at first encounter and missed some good stuff.

Young Hughes fires platitudes at the notion that he’s a barbarian:

I’ve never bought into the Silicon Valley outlook that technological progress is pre-ordained or good for everyone. I don’t share the unbridled, Panglossian optimism and casual disdain for established institutions and tradition of many technologists. New technologies and start-ups excite and animate me, but they don’t always make our lives or institutions better. That’s one of the many reasons why I bought the New Republic — to preserve and invest in an important institution in a time of great technological change. Its voice and values have been important for a century, and technology should be used not to transform it but to develop and amplify its influence.

At the heart of the conflict of the past few days is a divergent view on how the New Republic — and journalism more broadly — will survive. In one view, it is a “public trust” and not a business. It is something greater than a commercial enterprise, ineffable, an ideal that cannot be touched. Financially, it would be a charity. There is much experimentation in nonprofit journalism – ProPublica and the Texas Tribune are proving the model — and that may be the right path for certain institutions. At the New Republic, I believe we owe it to ourselves and to this institution to aim to become a sustainable business and not position ourselves to rely on the largesse of an unpredictable few. Our success is not guaranteed, but I think it’s critical to try.

(Washington Post, where lurketh a metered paywall)


“The ultimate goal of these bans is to make abortion illegal in this country, and this would be a step along that path.” Thus spake Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, of a proposed federal law to ban abortion after 20 weeks.

Thus far, I agree with her. Banning abortion after 20 weeks, because a child of that gestational age feels pain, is inconsistent with the holding of Roe v. Wade. But Roe v. Wade richly deserves to be abandoned. As John Hart Ely said in Yale Law Journal early on, it’s not just bad constitutional law; it’s not constitutional law at all and barely pretends to be.

And yes, the people in anti-abortion think tanks who propose such laws will want additional laws later if they succeed in this. That’s called “incrementalism,” winning bit by bit. It’s a venerable way to chip away at entrenched evil. But there’s no guaranty we’ll get what we want in a democratic polity. Early-pregnancy abortion is really deeply entrenched now, to our great shame, and a lot of women are conscience-compromised on the subject (see “cognitive dissonance”).

There’s also the matter of federalism. I expect to be ignored in this suggestion: Congress needs to make the case that it has authority to pass a national law banning any abortions at all, since the authority to prohibit homicides of all sorts belongs, prima facie, to the states, not the national government. (Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup, chirrup …)

There’s more I could write. For instance, I suspect that this is a GOP sop to an important partisan constituency, and that it will be carried out, if at all, with the customary tone-deafness of a bunch of rich guys who’ve paid for a few abortions themselves over the decades, but “that was different, because, gosh, her completing that pregnancy really would have really messed up my ambitions.”

Yes, I really have become that cynical. I’ve been reading and listening to voices not from the fever swamps, but from clear-seers who simply note that the emperor is naked.


More than a decade ago, I wrote about the McMartin preschool case, and other satanic ritual child abuse accusations that turned out to be false. Back then, the slogan many supporters of the accusations brandished was, “Believe the Children.” It was an antidote to skepticism about real claims of child abuse, just as today, “Believe the Victims” is a reaction to a long history of callous oversight of rape accusations. “Believe the Victims” makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.

(Margaret Talbot via Rod Dreher)

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.