Thursday 12/29/16

  1. The Islamic menu
  2. Immigration
  3. What’s wrong with Wendell Berry?
  4. A Team of Hard-Liners
  5. Divisive versus Controversial
  6. How Women in Media Blew the Election Coverage

Secondary Things


A sacred text, like any text (think of Hamlet, or Plato’s Republic, or the U.S. Constitution) admits of a range of interpretations, a menu, if you will. It’s possible to interpret a text in a way that goes against its intent. But while it’s technically feasible to make any text say anything you want with enough chutzpah or self-delusion, the actual content of the text itself will still present a range of options, and will make some options more plausible than others. You can interpret Hamlet as saying that the eponymous character was insane all along and the ghost of his father was a hallucination, or that he was never insane and faked insanity, or started out sane and then grew insane through the course of the play. Or you can interpret Hamlet as being about an Asian woman living in Argentina throwing a tea party. But it will be awfully hard to get traction with that last interpretation, at least compared to the far more plausible previous ones.

But here’s the key thing: There is a menu of reasonable options through which to interpret the same text. There is no one right way to read Hamlet.

By the same token, the Islamic State might be picking the wrong options in the Islamic menu, but they’re still picking from the Islamic menu. This is not a semantic point. It has real-world consequences. People who are drawn to the Islamic State are devout Muslims, and it is self-defeating to try to keep them out of radicalization by pompously lecturing them about how the Islamic State’s ideology has no basis in Islam, when it is obvious that it does.

… No doubt, many of those who would deny any link between the Islamic State and Islam do so out of an honorable desire to stem Islamophobia. But willful blindness is never a good idea, and especially when it leads those who would see the Islamic State defeated to shoot themselves in the foot.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Inside the minds of jihadis)

Tertiary Things


Rod Dreher reflects on immigration:

I’ve written here that I would a thousand times rather that my next-door neighbors were an observant Muslim family, which by default would mean they shared most of my socially conservative beliefs, than a secular, let-it-all-hang-out American family. It’s all about the kids, really. I could say the same about, say, an observant Catholic or Evangelical immigrant family from Mexico.

But the dynamic changes when we are talking about an entire society. It’s a useful thought experiment to play out in your head, because it forces you to think of what you value socially. I would not want to live in a society that’s majority Muslim, because despite sharing many values, there is not a majority-Muslim country in the world that I would want to live in …

In January 1994, I was visiting a friend in Oslo, and went to Sunday mass at the city’s Catholic cathedral. My friend, who is not religious, warned me that the church would probably be nearly empty, as most Norwegian churches are these days. It took me longer to get there than I anticipated (Southern boys don’t walk on frozen sidewalks well), and when I opened the church doors, I could barely squeeze in! It was literally packed — and maybe five percent of the congregation was white. They were black Africans, Filipinos, and Asians — all Catholic immigrants. It was a glorious sight, all those people in that church, praising God.

And yet, I can’t say that I would want Oslo to turn into Lagos, Manila, or Saigon any more than I would want Lagos, Manila, or Saigon to turn into Oslo.

Not long ago, on this blog, a reader challenged me when I said that I would rather my children grow up in a non-Western country that is recognizably Christian than in a post-Christian Western country. The reader called BS on me, and you know what? He was right to. Neither one’s culture nor one’s nationality has anything to do with whether or not you find favor in the sight of God … but it’s not negligible either ….

(Anti-Modern = Pro-Muslim + Pro-Immigrant?) If this stirs a strong reaction in you, positive or negative, why not click over to the Dreher blog and chime in with your comment? There aren’t any visible yet as I write this, but they’re normally some of the most thoughtful (due to his moderation of comments) anywhere I’ve seen.


I’d have to say that Rod’s on a roll. Wednesday, he followed up the preceding immigration study with a blog about Plough‘s The Hole in Wendell Berry’s Gospel: Why the Agrarian Dream Is Not Enough.

I, like Rod and Tamara Hill Murphy, the author of Plough’s article, are not iconoclasts. We’re fans of Berry (I mostly of his poetry and essays), but Murphy finds fault with Berry’s fiction in particular:

On the other hand, when I read Berry’s fiction, I begin to suspect he would not much approve of me. I read as if I were an adolescent who is constantly objecting “Yeah, but…” to the author’s often narrow view of the good life and his criticisms of anyone who wanders off the path. I can be contrarian, too, Mr. Berry.

The dissonance with Berry occurs when I consider other family tales buried under the agrarian beauty. These are stories of shattered relationships, addiction, job loss, abandonment, mental illness, and unspoken violations that seem to separate my kinfolk from the clans in Port William. In Berry’s fictional village, readers occasionally witness felonies, infidelity, drunken brawls, and tragic deaths, but all of them seem to be told in a dusky, warming light.

Dreher doesn’t just agree, but lends his own spin.

I recommend both items to cure a possible excess of worshipfulness toward this important thinker and writer.


Greenblatt is one of Trump’s main advisers on Israel, and he worked with David Friedman (Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel) in drafting the party platform plank that denied the existence of the occupation and omitted any reference to a two-state solution. In keeping with most of Trump’s other appointees, he appears to have no relevant experience for the position he will fill, but he is reliably hard-line on the issues that he advises Trump on.

This is just the latest hard-liner that Trump has selected for a role in his administration, and it is part of a pattern of choosing advocates of more aggressive policies in their respective areas of interest. We have already seen several top national security positions have gone to strident Iran hawks with Flynn’s appointment and the nominations of Mattis and Pompeo. Earlier this month, we saw the nomination of the extremely pro-settler Friedman as ambassador to Israel. Last week, Trump named noted China hawk Peter Navarro to head the newly-formed National Trade Council, which fits with Trump’s other recent efforts to antagonize China. This is the profile of an administration that is looking to pick a lot of fights.

(Daniel Larison)

The only reasons I would have considered voting for Trump included the prospect of a less hawkish foreign policy than Hillary Clinton was likely to give us. So much for that.


The mere choice of an adjective can slant an article — and it may even be unconscious. Julia Duin’s Commentary on a New York Times article on the new Archbishop of Newark:

After another few sentences on the man’s humility:

… he is just the kind of leader Pope Francis is elevating to realign the church in the United States with his priorities.

As the pope has made clear over the past three years, fancy lifestyles, formality and regal titles like Prince of the Church are out of style for cardinals. So is an emphasis on the divisive issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, even though the church’s underlying position on those issues has not changed.

Instead, in the pope’s view, the church should emphasize humility and service to the poor…

Well, hmm. That’s interesting.

What about Tobin’s August press release praising then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for signing a new law banning abortions based on disability? What about Tobin’s July broadside against vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine for his abortion and same-sex marriage views being against “well-established Catholic teachings?” And what about his Facebook post on Tuesday about Dec. 28 being the Feast of the Holy Innocents together with a photo of a Planned Parenthood clinic?

But that doesn’t fit the narrative. Now I get that the Times has been reading articles from Crux about Tobin as well as America magazine, so the idea of Tobin as one of Francis’ men is not alien. It’s a valid news hook.

My brief is the loaded language. Would the reporter call racism a “divisive” issue? Probably not. Why not use a more neutral word such as “controversial”? The word “doctrine” could even be used in context.


How many times did we hear that women—more than half the voting population, remember—would thrill to the prospect of breaking the “highest, hardest glass ceiling?” How many articles chronicled the disgust women felt for the sexist comments and stories of groping by the Republican candidate? The mismeasure of the women’s vote couldn’t be because men were driving the conversation. Over the past few decades, women have filled campaign staff rooms, press pools, and media opinion pages.

No, ironically, the problem is that women in media have spun their own cocoon.

Remember: it wasn’t very long ago that journalists were scuffed-shoed beat reporters—almost all of them men. Their siblings and cousins were nurses, cops, and firemen. They were both the sons, and the interpreters, of America’s vast blue-collar middle class.

But in recent decades, journalism has become an enclave of the college-educated, inhabited by the sons and daughters of lawyers and professors who can afford to help them during their many years on campus, in graduate school, and working at internships and low-paying entry jobs in New York, Washington, and other luxury cities. By the outset of the 2000s, a majority of fledgling educated journalists were women—or, more specifically, relatively well-off, Title IX-empowered women thoroughly indoctrinated in the history of white-male wrongdoing … .

… Journalism, gender studies, media, and sociology majors—the young women, like Jessica Valenti, Anna Holmes, Irin Camron, and Jill Filipovic, names now well-known to cable news producers and booking agents—didn’t exactly cover the news: in the early years of the Third Wave and the blogging revolution, they were the news. On sites like Jezebel and Feministing and at lefty zines like Salon and Talking Points Memo, they had the freedom to explore their feelings about sex, men, politics, popular culture, and feminism. Speaking to their own (single, educated millennial) peer group, they didn’t worry much about persuasion or analytical rigor.

… In the past few years, their influence has only grown, as mass-market fashion magazines like Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire have given them column space, effectively crowning them the new elite experts on women’s issues.

They weren’t ….

(Kay S. Hymowitz, How Women in Media Missed the Women’s Vote)

* * * * *

“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.

About readerjohn

I am a retired lawyer and an Orthodox Christian, living in a collapsing civilization, the modern West. There are things I'll miss when it's gone. There are others I won't. That it is collapsing is partly due to calculated subversion, summarized by the moniker "deathworks." This blog is now dedicated to exposing and warring against those deathwork - without ceasing to spread a little light.
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