Friday 12/16/16

  1. Science as science
  2. Hiking the Holy Mountain
  3. Physical and Spiritual?
  4. Trump’s appointees
  5. Who’s obsessed with Ayn Rand?
  6. The Narrative and True Truth

First Things


[T]here is no moment in which, no perspective from which, science as science can regard human life and say that there is a beautiful, terrible mystery in it all, a great pathos. Art, music, and religion tell us that, and what they tell us is true, not after the fashion of a magisterium that is legitimate only so long as it does not overlap the autonomous republic of science. It is true because it takes account of the universal variable, human nature, which shapes everything it touches, science as surely and profoundly as anything else. And it is true in the tentative, suggestive, ambivalent, self-contradictory style of the testimony of the hundred thousand witnesses, who might, taken all together, agree on no more than the shared sense that something of great moment has happened, is happening, will happen, here and among us.

(Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books, Freedom of Thought)

Secondary Things


Bought the book and I’m looking forward to it.

Tertiary Things


For some reason, I never got around to reading Marilynne Robinson until now, despite having heard high praise for her craftsmanship and her religious sensibility.

I decided to start off with a book of essays, and the first and only one I’ve read so far lived up to her billing.

Yet something about her religious convictions, reportedly Calvinist but accompanying a generally liberal political outlook, no longer resonates. The things she takes as obvious about religion, looking around her, are oftener than not inapplicable to my present religious milieu.

For instance, her assumption of a turf battle between physical and spiritual sounds strange when one draws no such distinction, but rather distinguishes uncreated from created, with the latter divided, in the words of the Creed, into visible and invisible — both created just the same.

Though I remember the first 50 or so years of my life well enough to consider her assumptions true as regards her likely milieu, it now is as if I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that no longer is of any concern to me.

My consequent temptation is to Pharisaism — “Lord, I thank Thee that I’m not like that Calvinist Robinson over there.” Resisting that temptation requires me to say no more.


Donald Trump has three types of appointees:

  1. Political rookies, dangerously inexperienced.
  2. Bomb-throwing radicals who are likely to change things.
  3. Insiders, incapable of draining the swamp as he promised.

It must be true because I keep reading it in the New York Times.

It’s going to be a long four years, but the last eight have been pretty partisan, too, I have observed anecdotally.


Strangely, our progressive friends insist that the Right is entirely in thrall to the ideas of Ayn Rand. Left-leaning writers in places such as New York and Washington tend to be culturally insular — parochial, even — and many of them do not know very many conservatives. I cannot tell you how many times I have met some well-meaning lefty who tells me (thinking it is a compliment!) that I do not seem like one of those people. A young woman once insisted that, as a conservative, I simply must hate homosexuals. At the time, I was living in TriBeCa and working as a theater critic, which is not a very good gay-evasion strategy. People know what they know.

But I don’t think that Jonathan Chait insists that conservatives are intellectual hostages to Ayn Rand because he doesn’t know better; he’s just intellectually dishonest.

(Kevin Williamson)


Times journalists are fearless when they hear statements like “Trump says he’s going to sue you” or “You’re not allowed in here” or “The mayor denounced your story at his press conference.”

What will make them quail are the words: “The desk wants to know —”

That means a copy editor has found something bewildering, confusing or flat-out wrong in your story. And the copy is going nowhere until the matter is resolved.

Eileen Shanahan was a star economics reporter in the Washington bureau. She wrote with great clarity but not much flair, as she was the first to acknowledge. So she was understandably proud of herself in 1963 when she came up with a snappy lede to describe an austerity program that cut the use of limousines by federal officials.

“Some big wheels in Washington are going to have smaller wheels from now on.”

Ms. Shanahan filed her copy. It was transmitted to New York. Then the call came. The desk wanted to know. Do sedans actually have smaller wheels than limousines?

(David W. Dunlap, The Desk Wants to Know, about life at the New York Times)

No wonder they couldn’t understand Donald Trump. They’re more literalist than the most extreme fundamentalist — except when they’re pushing the narrative, that is.

Mollie Hemingway has a story at the Federalist titled 5 Ways The Media Can Regain The Public Trust. “Learn to enjoy obvious figures of speech” isn’t one of them, but this one really, really caught my eye and earns my highest kudos:

3) Quit Pushing Narratives Over Facts

The New York Times‘ former media correspondent Michael Cieply wrote in Deadline Hollywood last month about how his former newspaper pushed narratives, in contrast to how he’d seen it done at other newspapers:

It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called ‘the narrative.’ We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.
Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: ‘My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?’
The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: ‘We set the agenda for the country in that room.’

The reason nobody trusts the media is because the media hasn’t been pushing facts but narratives. To claim that they will now suddenly discover “doing their jobs” as an answer to what ails them is cute. The media always do a better job of skeptically covering Republicans than Democrats. How many times have people joked that we need a Republican in the White House so journalists can remember what it is they do.

It is so perfect how the media re-discovers their important oversight role just as soon as a Republican is elected. But the problem — and it really is a problem in this era — is that the very last people you would trust to cover Trump are the ones ostensibly tasked with doing just that. That’s not healthy.

I’m hostile enough to Trump that some of Hemingway’s other points get a big “Meh” from me, but The Narrative, the scripting of the news, the patent effort to “set the agenda for the country” is obvious from give-away verbal tics, and it 16. I’ve promoted the Wall Street Journal to my primary news source over the New York Times as a result of the Times’ tendentiousness.

It may well be that the philosophies with which young journalists have come of age prevent them from even admitting that there are such things as facts to which they can “stick” without spin. It may be, as the late Francis Schaeffer would have put it, that they know nothing of “true Truth.”

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.