Wednesday, 9/20/17

1

Mrs. Tipsy has seldom been so incensed as she was at the reports of criminal charges against five football players from Wheaton College, arising from the reported violent hazing of a freshman player. She immediately attributed it to undue emphasis on athletic success — which I agree is the likeliest reason why Wheaton would admit some hoodlums and then give them a mere slap on the wrist for a (reportedly) atrocious attack. (Did I mention that the football team is ranked 4th nationally in Division III?)

Since Mrs. T has no Wheaton College connection, and since mine have been attenuated by my entry into Orthodox Christianity, there was quick agreement to a moratorium on any gifts to the college. I’m still very fond of the place, but I see a few of the fissures (an early warning side was when they dropped the team name “Crusaders”), and I fear that Wheaton will soon be Evangelical only if one grades it on a curve.

Saving the institution will supersede keeping the faith. And since I’m aware of difficult choices made by Orthodox clergy in Russia, 1917-1989, who am I to judge? (Permission granted to remind me of that if I stray.)

2

I confess that ideas like “banks lending money into existence” and, more recently, Bitcoin and other cyber-currencies have me scratching my head and asking “what is money – really?” and “Why does it supposedly have value?”

That confusion is tinctured with skepticism, too, so my confirmation bias therefore tells me that James Mackintosh is wise here:

Even if bitcoin worked better, it is in a Catch-22 because of Gresham’s law, the nostrum that bad money drives out good. Given the choice of spending inflationary government-issued money or something which holds its value, everyone would spend the bad paper stuff and hoard the bitcoin. You wouldn’t want to be the person who spent 10,000 bitcoins on two pizzas in 2010, when a bitcoin was worth a fraction of a cent. Those bitcoins are now worth $40 million. But if no one spends bitcoin, it will never get established as a currency.

There are two somewhat less ambitious claims for bitcoin that could give it value. The first is that it is a limited form of money because of its usefulness for dealing illegal drugs and dodging capital controls. The second is that it is a form of digital gold: an insurance that will keep its value even if governments confiscate or inflate away the buying power of the currencies they issue.

Gold has a value far above what is justified by its uses in electronics and jewelry only because (almost) everyone agrees that it has value. That “network effect” is what bitcoin needs to establish itself, and the more attention it garners, the more likely it is to become established. Yet gold has had thousands of years and a history of being used to back money to support its position.

If we assume that bitcoin will either succeed completely in displacing gold or fail and be worth zero, it helps explain why the digital token has been so incredibly volatile, with a 40% loss in two weeks, and a 33% rebound since Friday’s low. Based on the simple choice between total success and failure, we can very roughly say that bitcoin at 70% of the gold ETF-derived price suggests a 70% chance of displacing so-called paper gold as society’s chosen emergency store of value, and a 6% chance of displacing physical gold.

Even digital dreamers should accept that is far too high.

3

Apart from the wonderful satirical notion of Trump White House Wins Emmy Award For Best Reality Show, I’m not saying anything about the Emmys because (1) it only encourages them and (2) I am among the people who for whatever reason (I’m not aware of it being disgust with ideological bias) lost interest in television.

I think internet is my television, and if it carries the risk of getting lost in an echo chamber, I can only say “better echoes I like and choose than getting stuck in someone else’s chamber.”

4

Lawrence Tribe, no trifling authority he, thinks that the Arpaio pardon was unconstitutional and can be overturned:

To understand why Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is so dangerous, step back to 1962, when a federal court ordered the all-white University of Mississippi to admit African American James Meredith. When the Mississippi governor refused to comply, the court directed the Justice Department to prosecute him for criminal contempt of court.

At the time, many anti-integration governors vowed “massive resistance” to court-ordered desegregation. The legal struggle against segregation relied on the power of court orders — enforceable by imprisonment for contempt.

Now imagine a president such as Trump pardoning the governor for contempt, while praising him, as Trump lauded Arpaio, for “doing his job.”

The message to segregationist officials would have been clear: just ignore federal court integration orders; the president will have your back if the court tries to enforce them through its contempt power.

No official could have failed to hear that message in the Arpaio pardon. Nor could have any Trump associate in possession of evidence bearing on criminal or impeachable activity by the president. The signal to them all is: You can treat any court order to testify, even with a grant of immunity, as a friendly request and politely decline. You can count on a pardon to protect you from criminal prosecution.

Is this use of the pardon power constitutional? In most cases, however controversial, courts should not second-guess the president’s use of the pardon power. But when the Constitution says that the president “shall have Power,” that does not mean unlimited power. It means power that is not inconsistent with other parts of the Constitution.

The power to pardon is limited by the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that no person be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” That guarantee requires that courts must be able to issue and enforce injunctions to stop constitutional violations by government officials. Otherwise, compliance with a court order would be optional.

During a Virginia debate over whether to ratify the Constitution, George Mason worried that the president might “pardon crimes which were advised by himself.” James Madison replied that a president who did so could be impeached. Trump’s pardon of Arpaio should trigger congressional hearings on whether it constitutes an impeachable offense.

But it strains logic to suggest that, although a president can be removed from office for an unconstitutional pardon, the pardon itself must be judicially enforced. By pardoning Arpaio for his willful disobedience of a court order to stop violating Arizonans’ constitutional rights, Trump has pulled the republic into uncharted waters. Our best guide home is the Constitution.

I hope he’s right. Stay tuned for any harmony or discord from the Volokh conspirators, who also are very bright guys.

5

In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

(Eugene Robinson, The 2016 Election was not a fluke)

This is true. And I, too, don’t know what the new diagram looks like.

In unsettled times like these, I think the confidence of the Three Holy Youths is a much more apt response than “God is in control” or “God will provide” or anything else that might be taken in a Panglossian sense:

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

(Daniel 3:16-18)

I can’t imagine that I’ll face anything worse than a fiery furnace, and pray the grace to say “better to die than bow to false gods,” as has ever been the martyrs’ resolve.

For those who lack some of the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the uncertainty might be maddening.

6

Datapoint: A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

7

[W]hen a rank tribalist wins the office and governs almost entirely in the interests of the hardest core of his base, half the country understandably feels as if it were under siege.

(Andrew Sullivan, America Wasn’t Built for Humans: Tribalism was an urge our Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability.)

As much as I detest Trump, I can’t say I feel under siege. I feel as if the nation is under siege, I guess. Trump is unlike, and contradictory to, much of what we at least liked to believe we were about. Maybe I don’t feel under siege because I had seen through the pious stories we told ourselves well before Trump emerged from the slime.

More from Sullivan on our tribes:

61 percent of Trump supporters say there’s nothing he could do to make them change their minds about him; 57 percent of his opponents say the same thing. Nothing he could do.

When criticized by a member of a rival tribe, a tribalist will not reflect on his own actions or assumptions but instantly point to the same flaw in his enemy. The most powerful tribalist among us, Trump, does this constantly. When confronted with his own history of sexual assault, for example, he gave the tiniest of apologies and immediately accused his opponent’s husband of worse, inviting several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to a press conference. But in this, he was only reflecting the now near-ubiquitous trend of “whataboutism,” as any glance at a comments section or a cable slugfest will reveal …

For the right-tribe, everything is genetic except homosexuality; for the left-tribe, nothing is genetic except homosexuality …

As for indifference to reality, today’s Republicans cannot accept that human-produced carbon is destroying the planet, and today’s Democrats must believe that different outcomes for men and women in society are entirely a function of sexism. Even now, Democrats cannot say the words illegal immigrants or concede that affirmative action means discriminating against people because of their race. Republicans cannot own the fact that big tax cuts have not trickled down, or that President Bush authorized the brutal torture of prisoners, thereby unequivocally committing war crimes. Orwell again: “There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it. Even if one does not deny that the crime has happened, even if one knows that it is exactly the same crime as one has condemned in some other case … still one cannot feel that it is wrong.” That is as good a summary of tribalism as you can get, that it substitutes a feeling — a really satisfying one — for an argument.

And then there’s

the stance of white Evangelicals, a pillar of the red tribe. Among their persistent concerns has long been the decline of traditional marriage, the coarsening of public discourse, and the centrality of personal virtue to the conduct of public office. In the 1990s, they assailed Bill Clinton as the font of decadence; then they lionized George W. Bush, who promised to return what they often called “dignity” to the Oval Office. And yet when a black Democrat with exemplary personal morality, impeccable public civility, a man devoted to his wife and children and a model for African-American fathers, entered the White House, they treated him as a threat to civilization. Even as he gave speeches drenched in Christian allegory and offered a eulogy in Charleston that ended with a cathartic rendition of “Amazing Grace,” they retained a suspicion that he was secretly a Muslim. And when they encountered a foulmouthed pagan who bragged of grabbing women by the pussy, used the tabloids to humiliate his wife, married three times, boasted about the hotness of his own daughter, touted the size of his own dick in a presidential debate, and spoke of avoiding STDs as his personal Vietnam, they gave him more monolithic support than any candidate since Reagan, including born-again Bush and squeaky-clean Romney.

I have seen Evangelical efforts to put pious lipstick on this tribal pig, but (to mix a metaphor) not one of them holds even a drop of water. But the tribe is the tribe, and the tribe is in the tank for the lout.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

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

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.