Saturday, 11/18/17


  1. Guard-rails
  2. An Orthodox Jewish perspective on religious freedom
  3. Quite a gambit
  4. Roman J. Israel, Esq.


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

(Ta-Nehisi Coates, via David French, defending “the Pence rule”)


[I]f Mr. [Jack] Phillips [of Masterpiece Cakes] were to offer me a cake when my children, God willing, reaches this milestone [a wedding], I would say, ‘Thank you very much, Jack. But, since you are not running a kosher bakery, I can’t eat the cake,'” [Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Yaakov] Menken continued. “My desire to keep kosher is in no way discriminatory to Mr. Phillips or anyone else; neither is his desire to honor his own faith.”

Menken argued that lower courts have wrongfully defined religion as being limited to “how we worship” and that “there is no protection regarding how we act and what behaviors we support.”

“If free exercise of religion means running off at the mouth, the Supreme Court says I am exercising. Need I tell you that this is dangerous to no one more than Jews because our religion is all about action,” Menken said. “The way we tie our shoes in the morning is a religious act. The fact that we dress and look differently is exercise of our religion. We have a library of books on how to do business in accordance with our faith. Our legal codes tell us that we are to give up our life rather than to buckle to government pressure and change the color of our shoelaces.”

In speaking about Phillips’ case, Menken argued that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission has “decided to force Mr. Phillips to change the way he practices his religion or give up his business.”

“If exercise of religion doesn’t include exercise, then government can tell Jews whether we can do kosher slaughter,” Menken stressed. “If you tell us that we have freedom of speech and freedom of worship but we cannot let religion guide how we do business, that is not religious freedom.”

Menken added that “we Jews have seen this before,” referencing governments that have tried to force people to follow “earlier versions of political correctness.”

“What is new and foundly disturbing is the misuse of the language of civil rights to trample civil rights,” Menken said.

(Christian Post via ADF on Twitter)

The Rabbi may have spoken better than he knew in that last paragraph.

As “civil rights” were conceived, and still should be conceived, they subsist between private persons (and in some cases legal entities) and government. This original meaning of “civil rights” has fallen into desuetude, replaced by a vastly more expansive and sinister meaning.

To enlist the government to bind another person may, in a few limited instances, such as racial discrimination, be necessary to secure civil rights, and that was the justification for our 1960s “civil rights” legislation. How secure is your right to travel freely, for instance, if you never know whether you’ll be able to get a meal and a motel room at the end of your day?

It was easily demonstrated that dark-skinned people were at particular risk of being denied that meal and room.

Put differently, there is no civil right, strictly speaking, to a restaurant meal or a motel room, but there is a civil right to travel freely, which right is chilled if there’s widespread refusal to serve or house people like you. (There was, in some cases, a further rationale of liberating those conscientious restauranteurs and hoteliers who wanted to serve and accommodate, but feared censure or violent reprisals if they did so without the cover of law—a sort of “level playing field” rationale.)

Today, a banshee shriek of “discrimination!” seems to be all it takes to shut down critical mental facilities, and pander bear governments routinely certify fashionable victim groups who let out that cry. I sat through hours and hours of public hearings 20-25 years ago, as local governments in my county fell, one-by-one, to demands to include “sexual orientation” in human relations ordinances. In all those hours, I heard only one credible complaint of discrimination, local or elsewhere, based on sexual orientation in the contexts of education, employment, housing or public accommodations. That complaint involved a dispute between gay and straight roommates in an apartment, which some (including me) would consider too intimate a setting for invoking an anti-discrimination ordinance, as contrasted to a discriminatory refusal of a landlord to rent—but it fit the then-proposed definition of “discrimination in housing”!

I intend to continue insisting, no doubt in vain for at least a while longer, that the disadvantage wrought by putative discrimination be something greater than hurt feelings and a trip down the block to a less “discriminatory” vender of like goods or services. The alternative is, as the Rabbi said, trampling civil rights in the name of civil rights.


Republicans are deep in an airtight bunker of their own design, looking nervously at their cyanide capsules and wondering when the end will arrive. They can’t quite hear the artillery fire yet but they’ve heard the radio crackle with reports of Team Blue breaking through the lines in Virginia, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Alabama. A year ago they thought they had busted the secret code of American politics, but today their empire of empty sophistry and irreconcilable policy goals is crumbling all around them. Their answer to their historic unpopularity and their 11-point deficit on the generic congressional ballot is to double down on the very policies that have made them so loathed in the first place. It’s quite a gambit.

(David Faris, The GOP’s Walking Dead)


I rarely get out to movies. My last was Arrival, and there was a long gap before that. But Roman J. Israel, Esq. might get me out.

Joe Morgenstern at the Wall Street Journal panned it, but, man! Denzel Washington as an obsessive-compulsive lawyer on the autism spectrum?! How could that go wrong?

Maybe Morgenstern isn’t close to someone who’s sorta like Roman J. Israel, Esq. He probably didn’t like Mozart and the Whale, either.

I’ll take Morgenstern’s key “recommendation” as this:

This is a setup for what turns out to be another very long setup, a piling on of detail about the aging hero’s gallant but hermetic existence. Mr. Gilroy has already shown us, in one of the first shots, that this obsessive-compulsive attorney, with his retro Afro and aviator-style glasses, plasters every surface of his office with Post-it notes—such a plague of yellow patches that I couldn’t help thinking “uh-oh, there goes subtlety.” The same goes for his staple diet, peanut butter—countless jars of it lined up on shelves in his shabby little apartment. My response was along the lines of “I get it, I get it,” though I couldn’t help noticing that my companion was moved to tears by Roman’s self-imposed isolation. One person’s contrivance is another’s pathos.


* * * * *

“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.