Thursday, 8/24/17

  1. Dick Gregory tribute
  2. Don’t expect moral courage, apologies
  3. Conservatives: Stop Cheering Milo
  4. New normal
  5. Libertarian/alt-right correlation
  6. O wad some Power the giftie gie us
  7. Silence


[T]he fight for freedom is out there — it ain’t at my house.

(The late Dick Gregory, explaining why he continued a tough schedule of appearances in his late 70s, in a tribute by a fellow comedian.) More:

For comedians, there are three types of co-workers. There are comedians who you think you’re better than. There are comedians performing at a level that you think you’re equal to or can one day ascend to. And there are comedians who make you want to throw out your act. You see them onstage spewing brilliance that makes you in an instant feel not only creatively inferior, but also aware that you’ll never be able to do what they just did.

You leave, after watching a comedian like this, and instantly reflect on every choice you’ve ever made as a performer. The farther away from the venue you travel the more your awe turns into disappointment in yourself. You look back on the jokes you’ve written as if they are all no longer worthy of performance.

“I have to do better. I have to become a better comedian,” you think to yourself.

The way I felt after watching Dick Gregory perform just twice transcended comedy for me. He had the ability to make me reflect upon who I was, not only as a comedian but, more important, as a person. I left both times feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t dig deeper. I didn’t work hard enough.


Serious professionals in every field know first reports are unreliable. We aren’t counting certain modern-day news sites, of course. Their job is manipulating passing, news-related symbols in ways that pleasure their target audiences. Bandwagons are their profession.

According to Charlottesville’s Daily Progress, there were two armed militias, one representing a pro-Constitution group, the other a left-wing group. No shots were fired. They worked together to break up fights. Neither supported the Nazis, and both promptly withdrew when the governor declared an “unlawful assembly.”

In a tweet she has been made to regret, the New York Times ’s Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported: “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ beating white nationalists being led out of the park.”

Many reputations are now tied to a false version of what Donald Trump said, and a version of events in Charlottesville that may or may not survive careful documentation. Do not expect moral courage or any apologies. Mobs are mobs. Nazis whose every thought is reprehensible will still quail in the face of a lawless crowd. CEOs of publicly traded companies are not in the business of being brave. And yet the natural order is holding. Neo-Nazis and white supremacists may be a continuing American embarrassment and eyesore, but they are not today’s most pressing threat to our civil liberties.

(Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., The Great Nazi Scare of 2017) As Jenkins says, “Donald Trump’s press conference, in its entirety, is available online and takes 23 minutes to watch. He did not fail to denounce Nazis and racists.”

“Do not expect moral courage or any apologies” is a powerful truth. I have seen my local press fall into a frenzy of false “everybody knows” slanders, which, when exploded irrefutably (they found selfie videos of the criminal doing in my home town, to the boys who were bullied into recanting their accusations, what he was convicted of doing in Madison), elicited the equivalent of “mistakes were made on many sides.”

Yeah. Right. The victims in Madison no doubt take comfort in the ruse that it was honest mistake rather than malicious and mindless journalistic partisanship.

What to make of the whole Trumpian digression from what was supposed to be an announcement of an infrastructure initiative I will leave to others, so long as they’re honest enough to admit that seemingly relevant truth.

But I give the Subheadline of the Day award to Nicholas Kristoff:

The president inexplicably finds it easier to condemn reporters than neo-Nazis and white supremacists.


The Chancellor of UC Berkeley has promised to protect the right of Ben Shapiro and Milo YaWhatsHisFace to speak as invited this Fall. Good for her (I assume Carol is a she).

But be it noted that I’m fairly tepid toward whip-smart, pretty-witty Ben Shapiro and I have no use for Milo. They should both be allowed to speak, by all means, but one is a fairly serious conservative pundit, a bit provocative as befits his youth, and the other is pure opportunistic provocateur.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because I think it’s time for sober conservatives to stop cheering the provocateurs, who despite their right to speak are sometimes just calculatedly rude and insulting to people. That “conservative” student groups invite them to campus doesn’t mean they’re good spokesmenpersons (gotta include Ann Coulter) for conservatism, and they seem, like libertarianism, to correlate with the rise of emboldened white nationalism.

This insight is not original with me, but I cannot remember who brought my vague awareness into focus. I’ll update if I stumble onto the piece that did.

UPDATE: My vague awareness came into focus courtesy of a source quoted at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, Does libertarianism have an alt-right problem?

[Matt] Lewis closes by suggesting that libertarians (and conservatives) become more vigilant about associations with white supremacists. He’s right. I would also suggest that conservatives and libertarians rethink their embrace of controversialists, particularly on college campuses, as this feeds the alt-right beast. Libertarianism may not be responsible for the alt-right, but it’s fair to ask whether enough libertarians have done enough to fight it within their own ranks.

(First hyperlink added; other in original)


The Los Angeles Times ran a forceful — and largely persuasive — editorial titled “Enough is Enough.” It began, “These are not normal times,” and then followed with a blistering indictment of elected Republicans who refuse to stand up and speak out about the damage the president is doing to the country and his own party.

But maybe the new abnormal is the new normal, as the last line of the piece suggests: “This is the seventh in a series.”

(Jonah Goldberg)


Why do so many in the alt-right come from libertarianism (as this story assumes)?

[M]y guess is that this has as much to do with attitude as it has to do with ideology. One explanation for why young libertarians metastasize into alt-righters is self-selection bias. Some of the people drawn to libertarianism are predisposed to be seduced into the alt-right. In this regard, they are merely passing through a libertarian phase. “Libertarianism is an unpopular view. And it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views,” explains Kevin Vallier, an associate professor of philosophy at Bowling Green State University, who writes for the blog Bleeding Heart Libertarians. “Some of these personality types are people who are open to new experience, love the world of ideas and have a disposition for independent thought. However, some of these personality types simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views, who like to argue and fight with others, who like insult and… shock.” Vallier continued, “The worst flaw in the contrarian trap is that it makes libertarians open to views that deserve to be unpopular and despised, including the thinly-veiled racism of the sort Hans Hermann Hoppe trades in from time to time.”

(Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast) I complained recently that I wasn’t sure what the alt-right was, and resolved not to use it until I had a better idea. This piece, describing 5 differences between libertarians and the alt-right, helps.


After the US invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein, its withdrawal left a political and security vacuum in the country. Political instability and factional rifts in post-war Iraq provided a hotbed for the rapid growth of the IS group, which later spread into Syria, and inspired terrorist attacks elsewhere.

The US should understand no country alone can tackle the challenge of terrorism. Before it plunges deeper into another Afghanistan quagmire, the US should truly reflect upon its anti-terror strategy and cooperate with other countries in jointly fighting terrorism.

(Wang Hui, Trump will find there is no quick fix to end war in Afghanistan, China Daily)

Rising to a challenge by John Mark N. Reynolds, I’m trying to put some foreign press in my daily mix. I double-dog-dare any Trumpista who bitches and moans about “fake news” to fault me for visiting China Daily, Russia Today and Al Jazeera in addition to Breitbart (which comes not from another country, but from a parallel universe).

[T]o suggest that Antifa is perpetrating ‘less violence’ than that of its distant far-right cousin is a disingenuous and subjective appeal to moral relativism. Considering this anarchist group’s tactics of hurling stones and incendiaries, swinging bats and utilizing home-made flame throwers, it is only due to sheer luck that nobody has been killed during one of their ‘protests.’ Equally disturbing is the anarchist group’s reasoning for inciting violence, which is to shut down free speech and assembly on the part of the right. This they openly admit on their anarchist website, that carries the delightfully foreboding title, ‘It’s Going Down.’

Whatever one may think of the far right, shutting down free speech is not a defensible tactic. In fact, it comes off as absolutely fascist, and may explain why their members go to great lengths to conceal their identities – out of pure shame. What would their mothers say?

(Robert Bridge, US Liberals cozy up to Antifa, America’s anti-free speech ‘Taliban’, Russia Today)


Let me tell you some of the things that I am “doing” right now: reading an essay by Stephen Metcalf in The Guardian, a story about President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in The New York Times, a piece about the implosion of a website called Mic in another publication called The Outline (halfway through), the text of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Divini redemptoris (two-thirds done); checking out the college football section of a new sports website called The Athletic; finding a quote in volume IX of The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman; pulling up the directions to La Grange, Indiana, in Google Maps; trying to learn more about the life of Julian Watts-Russell, a young English convert to Catholicism who died fighting for the Papal States; deciding whether I should re-subscribe to the London Review of Books (“There is still time!”); seeing whether there are any new messages in Slack or in either of my two email accounts, or any notifications on Twitter; filling out health insurance forms; flipping over a Shirelles record; smoking; eating a roast-beef sandwich; drinking tea; thinking about a book review and a fellowship project and a long essay that need finishing; writing this column.

I need to stop doing these things. Or rather I need to do some of them, each in their sequence, with long breaks in between for being quiet.

(Matthew Walther, quietly reminding us what we probably know already) I’m working on it. It’s weird trying to figure out a new “normal” as I transition to retirement. So far, it has involved too much sitting on my backside, reading stuff online, and blogging. Books with a much higher signal-to-noise ratio remain unread.

* * * * *

Gosh! Did you see what President Donald Trump is up to today? How utterly fascinating he is! I weep with envy when I look upon Melania. He fills my every thought! He surely doesn’t need to start any more stupid wars to get my undivided attention! No siree!

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.