I thank the modest number of people who still follow this blog, which has been evolving for just over twelve years now.
Within the past 24 hours, I’ve renewed my personal commitment to stop wallowing in "the news." That’s made easier by the news being full of war-talk these days, which for 55 years or so has been distressing to me, even more than to others I think.
But war-talk isn’t the only reason I’m kicking the news habit.
A cyber-friend recently published what I think is a completely original analogy:
The Ukraine crisis is huge: it may end us all. Naturally it’s all over the news. But I’ve been thinking that, before there was an actual world crisis, the 24-hour news feed wasn’t much different in tone. Something really important is happening right now, and you need to read about it here! “World Order Collapses!” isn’t presented much differently than “Sleaze Accused of Sleaziness!”
I thought, oddly, about the takeover of “compression” in contemporary music recording. Audio technology can easily handle variations in volume from a delicate whisper to ear-splitting sound. (A good recording of the William Tell Overture is an example.) But more and more, people are half-listening to the music while they jog through city traffic; they can’t deal with these variations. So the solution is to flatten the dynamic range so everything sounds kind of loud all the time. (People used to blame CDs for this and say that vinyl was better. In fact, CDs are much better at capturing dynamic range; it’s just that producers in the CD era chose the compression path. Now of course, there’s nothing but audio streaming, with its even worse distortions.)
In the world of audio, these are choices that we as consumers made, or at least allowed, and the result is only an impoverished experience of music. When we apply the same mentality – keep everything at 11 all the time – to the news cycle, the results for our minds and souls are a bit more serious.
John Brady, Compression and the news. My own "soul reason" is that I think I read the news out of vainglory, a/k/a vanity. Smartypants lawyers, after all, are supposed to be sophisticates and to know what’s going on in the world. Reading the news helps me fake that by giving me a wide choice of tendentious narratives (from A to C or D) to choose from. But I think it’s healthier not to be vain, right?
A fairly good list of reasons is in Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. There’s a lot in there that I haven’t mentioned.
This matters for the blog because, to a sorry extent, I’ve let Tipsy Teetotaler become largely a news and commentary aggregator. If I stop reading news, that’s got to change.
I suspect I’ll blog less often. Since this isn’t substack and nobody’s paying to read me, that shouldn’t matter much. I also suspect that I’ll blog a bit more about books and long-form journalism — things that actually explain how things came to be this way, or to put them in context. And maybe, if I stop doomscrolling the clickbait, I’ll regain some of my lost cognitive capacity and produce some original thoughts.
That said, I’ve collected some news before my new news resolve, and I share it now with you before the blog undergoes its metamorpohosis.
Not about us
Comments like [the examples] above seem so transparently self-promotional (look, look, here’s how a war across the globe is really about the thing I’m always talking about already!) and beyond gross.
Now is not the time for petty culture war grievances and personal grifts. Yes, life—and news—in America goes on, but maybe the day Russia starts bombing Ukraine isn’t the time for your critical race theory rant or your masculinity-crisis paranoia, you know? And it certainly isn’t the time for you to try and tie whatever you would be on about anyway into the war news cycle.
I promise, the culture war and all its brave keyboard warriors will still be there next week. So will COVID-19, and climate change, and border battles. Just let it go for a minute. Show some respect, empathy, and perspective.
If you’re tempted to post things like: Russia is doing this because Americans use too many pronouns! At least Putin isn’t woke! How will the murder of Ukrainian civilians affect gas prices? Stop. Go outside for a walk. Call a loved one. Cuddle a pet. Do anything real and good and tangible while counting your blessings that you will very likely never know the fear and pain of having your country invaded by a warmongering dictator.
This isn’t about us. Stop making it about us.
Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Stop Trying To Make Ukraine About Your Culture War
Civil Religion versus Political Gnosticism
From a longish, provocative, 30,000-foot view of the tensions between Russia and the West, these passages haunt me. Maybe they make sense only in context (which I invite you to read, but only when you have time to really wrestle with it):
[E]ven were Soviet communism defeated, the Russian roots in a more modern form of Civil Religion would remain. It would need to be combatted, but on a different footing and understanding.
[T]oday the old and new “neo-cons” are the newest incarnation of “right gnostics,” right liberals who are comfortable with a slower liberal revolution, yet always listing leftward in their accommodation to the “blessings of liberty.” They are the pawns of the “messianic gnostics …”.
Patrick Deneen, Russia, America, and the Danger of Political Gnosticism
(This is the kind of commentary that likely will carry over as the blog changes.)
It is a truism in moral reasoning: To will the end is to will the means. One cannot have a duty to perform an act one lacks the capacity fulfill. Can Ukraine prevail without more direct military support from the West? It’s possible, but most analysts consider it very unlikely. Would Ukraine prevail with full NATO backing? Almost certainly. That implies NATO must be prepared to take up arms on Ukraine’s side, to ensure the supposed moral commandment is fulfilled. To hold otherwise — to claim the West should stop short of joining the fight, when that might be the only thing compatible with fulfilling the commandment — sounds appalling.
Us versus them
… a country fast turning totalitarian, one where a law which allows a 15-year-jail sentence for “spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian armed forces” will soon be rubber-stamped by parliament …
The Economist. If keeping a nation’s people in the propagandistic dark is your metric of totalitarianism, I can’t deny it’s a decent metric.
We in the USA have enough confidence that I can still read RT, Al Jazeera, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Pro Publica, Bellingcat, Gilbert Doctorow and the like as a check on mainstream media’s lazy repetition of our government’s line. But it’s very time-consuming (another reason not to read the government’s line in MSM in the first place — see above), and I don’t have a very reliable heuristic on who’s closer to the truth.
Learning in War Time
The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.
Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian.
Paul Kingsnorth continues to deliver
I started really paying attention to Paul Kingsnorth last Summer or Fall when I learned that, to his own immense surprise, he had left Paganism (his last waystation) and become not just a Christian but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’ve appreciated him a lot since then, though he was on my radar even before that.
Baptized into Progress
- I was about a quarter of the way into What Technology Wants before I realised I was reading a religious text. It was quite a revelation. What Technology Wants is a book published a few years back ago by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and a significant spokesman for what we might call the Silicon Valley Mindset. It takes us on a journey through the historical development of technology and into a future in which, Kelly believes, technology will be living force which controls our destiny.
- Techno-utopianism is a subset of the contemporary religion of Progress, into which we are all baptised at birth. If Progress is God, technology is the messiah come to do His will on Earth.
Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene. This predates Kingsnorth’s conversion, by the way.
Tell me the new old story
[I]t hasn’t escaped my attention that all my writing, in whatever form, is basically just a reiteration of the same story, which seems to be the only one I’m capable of telling: human-scale life versus the Machine culture that is overwhelming it.
"In science", as Joseph Needham put it, "a man is a machine, or if he is not, then he is nothing …."
H.L. Mencken, Prophet
A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
H.L. Mencken, quoted by Garrison Keillor.
Manually laboring drudges might work long hours without sacrificing productivity, but businessman could not. Their work required imagination, thought, calculation.
Americans, [Andrew Carnegie] remarked to his cousin, “were the saddest-looking race … Life is so terribly earnest here. Ambition spurs us all on, from him who handles the spade to him who employs thousands. We know no rest. … I hope Americans will find some day more time for play, like their wiser brethren upon the other side.
Sounds as if Carnegie (Rockefeller, too) made a virtue out of what Marx saw as capitalism’s central defect.
Playwright Tom Stoppard made some extended remarks recently at an awards presentation, including acknowledging his charmed life:
[I]f politics is not about giving everybody a life as charmed as mine, it’s not about anything much.
Perhaps you will recall that in the summer of 1968, England had its dissidents, too. Thousands of young people of student age, egged on by not a few of their seniors including some of my friends, occupied buildings and took to the barricades to overthrow the existing order. The disdain of the revolutionaries for bourgeois democracy, aka "fascism", was as nothing compared to my disdain for the revolutionaries. They were living in the same England, as a birthright, as I was living in as an accident of history.
I’m seemingly a pessimist. I rarely see myself in the mirror without something that looks like a scowl. My morning prayers have a fairly long list of American sins that I keep trying to leave in God’s hands (and then keep taking them back).
So it’s good for me to be reminded, especially as beautifully as Stoppard does, of just how much freedom we have, and of how much millions in the world would love to be here — and surely it’s possible to remember that without becoming some kind of jingoist.
Discussing race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Walker Percy once told William F. Buckley that “From a moral point of view, it’s very simple. It’s either right or wrong, and there was a lot wrong. From a novelist’s point of view, human relations are much more complex than saying the white racist is wrong and the black protestors are correct.”
What does it tell us about our appetite for ambiguity that Walker Percy could not say that today without being chased out of his local public television studio.
Republic of the People
We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People.
Guy Reffitt, January 6 insurrectionist, texting his family exultantly on 1/6/21.
Reffit has now pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. As explained by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review, it’s going to be tough case to prove all elements of that crime at trial, so don’t be surprised if there are few such guilty pleas or even if there are acquittals at trial.
What science "allegedly" shows
Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.
Sports Illustrated, writing about Lia Thomas, quoted incredulously by Nellie Bowles.
I’d cross-index this under "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing."
Rashida Tlaib, speaking for the Working Families Party, delivered the left’s response, and even she was relatively muted. She pushed back on Biden’s calls for more police funding and called, as usual, for canceling all student debt.
There is no regressive policy among Democrats quite so blatant as the call for blanket cancellation of student debt. I have no doubt that many students got in over their heads, but wiping out the student debt of those (by definition) lucky enough to go to college or beyond show how little the Democrats care for people less fortunate.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.