Wednesday, 8/17/22

What fools we mortals be

Proof that he knows better

I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early. I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy. The movement to blame someone else now seems to have Vance as one of its leaders.

The great paradox of “queer” ideology

The great paradox of “queer” ideology is that it both seeks the margins and then complains about being marginalized! It wants both the frisson of outsiderdom and total acceptance by insiderdom. It’s the kind of reasoning you expect from a toddler not a grownup. The “centering” of the “marginalized” is how critical queer theory always eventually disappears up its own backhole.

Norm McDonald once said of the term “cisgender” that “it’s a way of marginalizing a normal person.” And he’s right. When “queer theorists” insist they are about diversity, they mean the opposite. The point is not to live and let live; it is to impose their queerness on everyone — to make themselves feel more secure.

Andrew Sullivan

Strategic Name-choosing

“I figured if I called myself Dykewomon,” she joked in an interview with J: The Jewish News of Northern California this year, “I would never get reviewed in The New York Times. Which has been true.”

Obituary of Lesbian “author, poet and activist” Elana Dykewomon (neé Nachman) in the New York Times

Solomon Asch’s corollary

In a famous 1951 experiment, the psychologist Solomon Asch showed how easily humans can be manipulated by social pressure to conform. If everyone else in the room affirms even the most blatant falsehood, we will very often affirm it ourselves, even denying the clear evidence of our own eyes.

But a variation of the Asch experiment gives hope. If only one other person in the room—a single reality ally—tells the truth, the pressure to conform drops sharply and we become much more willing to buck the lie. That is why authoritarian regimes work so furiously to stifle opposition voices, even seemingly weak ones. It is what the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was getting at when he said, “The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that [lie] come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me.”

Jonathan Rauch, The Reality Ally (Persuasion)

So, I’ll join the alliance: Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential Election. He did not steal it.

Does everyone have a narrative?

Yes, the legacy media, like the New York Times, have a narrative. But so do (some? most?) upstart media, like Quillette.

Ken White (Popehat) demolishes an absurd Quillette story, twisted and jammed into the narrative “kids today are intolerant snowflakes.”

What the story actually shows, stripped of handwaving and unwarranted characterizations, is some private school students protesting perfectly appropriately when a powerful lawyer and Harvard Professor subjected them to repeated use of the word “nigger,” part of the title of a book by another powerful professor. And, ironically, the professor who claims to have been cancelled by kids silently walking out on his lecture, is famously, even performatively, in favor of free speech and expression — for himself, apparently, but not for those who would protest his ideas.

People disagreeing with you or protesting you without trying to silence or deplatform you is not what generally is meant by “cancellation.”

But the Quillette article fits my worldview, so I might have bought it had Popehat not intervened.

‘Murica

Sclerosis plus ideological capture

America’s response to Covid-19 went badly not just for Trump-related reasons, but because of problems inherent to our public health edifice, from bureaucratic sclerosis to the ideological capture of putatively neutral institutions …

And then along with these failures came an absurd ideological spectacle, in which health officials agonized about how to state the obvious — that monkeypox at present is primarily a threat to men who have sex with men — and whether to do anything to publicly discourage certain Dionysian festivities associated with Pride Month. As the suffer-no-fools writer Josh Barro has exhaustively chronicled, public-health communication around monkeypox has been an orgy of euphemism and wokespeak, misleading and baffling if you don’t understand what isn’t being said.

This, too, has repeated Covidian failures. The political anxiety about saying or doing anything that might appear to stigmatize homosexuality mirrors the great public-health abdication to the George Floyd protests — in which a great many members of an expert community that had championed closures and lockdowns decided to torch their credibility by endorsing mass protests because the cause seemed too progressive to critique.

In each case what’s been thrown over is neutrality — the idea that public health treats risky behaviors equally, regardless of what form of expression they represent …

[S]peaking for myself, as a citizen with a personal interest in medical controversy, when I read the kind of blathering, newspeak-infused monkeypox advisories that Barro highlights, all I can think is: I can never trust anything these people say again.

Ross Douthat, The C.D.C. Continues to Lead From Behind – The New York Times

Priceless Americana

6-7 years back, I asked my eldest’s scout leader if he was a Christian. He said, “Of course, it’s the most important thing in my life.” I asked where he went to church and he replied, “I’ve never been, but my wife was raised Catholic.” For him, it was just another part of his … American identity.

One response to a social medium thread on churchless Christianity (that began with the thrown-down gauntlet “Being reliably right-wing doesn’t confer upon you the status of being an “orthodox Christian,” even if it is with a small ‘o.’”)

Is this how tribalism begins?

Protection of freedom of thought requires that no group should be permitted by law to express an opinion. For when a group starts having opinions, it inevitably tends to impose them on its members.

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots. I cannot concur with her literal sense, but today’s tribalism makes me think that she was directionally correct.

There are a number of tribalists who think me a traitor because I unexpectedly and publicly bucked the tribe — a tribe of which I was never a member, but only a co-belligerent.

Prophetic

Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes.

Just so you don’t miss the prophetic gravamen, not that the book predates social media and the ubiquitous smartphone. (And blogs, too, frankly.)

Hit list

The American Conservative has a list of cases it wants to see reversed now that Roe is reversed:

If you know all those cases without looking them up, you’re a better man than I am.

I’m sympathetic to overturning at least one of them. One other, On birthright citizenship, my reflex is that if Michael Anton or John Eastman is agin it, I’m fer it.

Did I mention that I’ve dropped my American Conservative subscription? So many sites I used to enjoy reading that I now avoid. Maybe I’m the one that’s changing (though I’m confident that the Trump-Sluagh has gotten to some of them).

It’s hard to admit that I really don’t fit anywhere other than an Orthodox Church (and that’s because the Church is mercifully broad in accommodating quirks).

George Soros is not off-limits

Democratic billionaire George Soros has, by his own admission, had an outsized influence on our politics over the years with his political donations—just as GOP mega-donors Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and Charles and David Koch had on the right. “All well and good. America is a free country, and Soros has every right to spend his vast fortune however he wants within the boundaries of the law, as well as to justify that spending in the public square,” James Kirchick writes in Tablet Magazine. “[But] the same applies to those of us inhabiting lower tax brackets, who have no less a right to criticize Soros for how he’s trying to influence American public life.” Because Soros is Jewish, however, many progressives have adopted the tactic of dismissing any criticism of his political advocacy as anti-Semitic—a charge Kirchick, himself Jewish, believes is unfair. “The argument that the mere mention of the name ‘Soros’ is tantamount to antisemitism, which is effectively the position of the progressive political, media, and activist elite, is made entirely in bad faith,” he writes. “If the mind of a Soros supporter, upon hearing his name, races immediately to an image of a ‘Jew,’ and one who serves as a stand-in for ‘the Jews,’ it’s probably not the motives of the critic that need questioning.”

The Morning Dispatch, August 16, 2022

Isms

When I was young, there was a conservative book titled “Today’s Isms.” I was trying to figure out what ISMS stood for. It turns out, it stands for ideologies — communism, socialism, fascism. We could add a few today.

Islamism

There’s nothing freakish about the attack on Salman Rushdie:

And yet as shocking as this attack was, it was also 33 years in the making: The Satanic Verses is a book with a very bloody trail

In July 1991, the Japanese translator of the condemned book, Hitoshi Igarashi, 44-years-old, was stabbed to death outside his office at the University of Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo. The same month, the book’s Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was also stabbed—this time, in his own home in Milan. Two years later, in July 1993, the book’s Turkish translator, the prolific author Aziz Nesin, was the target of an arson attack on a hotel in the city of Sivas. He escaped, but 37 others were killed. A few months later, Islamists came for William Nygaard, the book’s Norwegian publisher. Nygaard was shot three times outside his home in Oslo and was critically injured.

And those are stories we remember. In 1989, 12 people were killed at an anti-Rushdie riot in Mumbai, the author’s birthplace, where the book was also banned. Five Pakistanis died in Islamabad under similar circumstances.

Bari Weiss, We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

But would we back Rushdie were Satanic Verses being published today?

When Rushdie made those comments to L’Express it was in the fallout of PEN, the country’s premiere literary group, deciding to honor the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo with an award. Months before, a dozen staff members of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by two terrorists in their offices. It was impossible to think of a publication that deserved to be recognized and elevated more.

And yet the response from more than 200 of the world’s most celebrated authors was to protest the award. Famous writers—Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Peter Carey, Junot Díaz—suggested that maybe the people who had just seen their friends murdered for publishing a satirical magazine were a little bit at fault, too. That if something offends a minority group, that perhaps it shouldn’t be printed. And those cartoonists were certainly offensive, even the dead ones. These writers accused PEN of “valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

Bari Weiss, We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

Trumpism

When I left Above the Law in 2019 for my two-year detour into legal recruiting, it was partly because of Donald Trump. Writing about the law in 2019 meant writing about Trump, and writing about Trump meant unpleasantness.

I returned to writing by launching Original Jurisdiction in December 2020, after Trump lost the presidential election, and I turned it into my full-time job in May 2021, after he left office. I thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Alas, here we are, more than 18 months after his administration’s end, and Trump still dominates the headlines. Almost every category in today’s Judicial Notice relates to the controversial ex-president.

David Lat, We Just Can’t Quit Him

Miscellany

A back-handed recommendation

I’m not generally given to wretched excess, but when I get into a six-episode Shetland on Britbox, I’m apt to binge-watch.

Breaking the Sabbath

The princess—I mean the Shiek’s daughter—was only thirteen or fourteen years old, and had a very sweet face and a pretty one. She was the only Syrian female we have seen yet who was not so sinfully ugly that she couldn’t smile after ten o’clock Saturday night without breaking the Sabbath.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad.

I’m not sure the princess would worry about breaking the Christian Sabbath. Twain should have made it “sundown Friday.”

Frederick Beuchner

[Frederick Beuchner] did not hold orthodox religious views.

“Contrary to widespread religious belief,” he wrote in a 1994 essay for The Times, “I don’t think God goes around changing things in the sense of making bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, or of giving one side victory over the other in wars, or of pushing a bill through Congress to make school prayer constitutional.”

Robert D. McFadden’s obituary of Beuchner in the New York Times.

What an odd illustration of un-“orthodox religious views”!

Frederick Buechner has met Christians who remind him of American tourists in Europe: Not knowing the language of their listeners, they speak the language of Zion loudly and forcefully, hoping the natives will somehow comprehend. They seem cocky with faith, voluble with their theology, and content with a God who resembles a cosmic Good Buddy. Their certitude both fascinates and alarms him.

Phillip Yancey, ‌Frederick Buechner, the Reverend of Oz

With the caveat that I, oddly enough, cannot recall reading anything from “the most quoted living writer among Christians of influence” (though I’ve known the name for decades and decades), I recommend the Yancey piece, from Christianity Today, as far more perceptive than the Times obituary.


"The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness …." (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Sunday, 8/14/22

Doctrine ramifies

Paul, by proclaiming the body ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’, was not merely casting as sacrilege attitudes towards sex that most men in Corinth or Rome took for granted. He was also giving to those who serviced them, the bar girls and the painted boys in brothels, the slaves used without compunction by their masters, a glimpse of salvation.

Tom Holland, Dominion

Intellect, reason, theology

Emphasis on the intellect and reason is what gives Western Christian theology a more secular and scholastic character ….

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, ‌Thinking Orthodox

And along similar lines:

We long to know God (it is our natural will, indeed). It is also true that what we know of God is extremely limited. Our knowledge is always framed with an abiding ignorance. Christ, in His extreme humility, embraced certain expressions of ignorance. When asked about the time of the “restoration of the kingdom,” Christ said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1:7) There are boundaries to our knowledge, an ignorance that is proper to our nature.

Our modern drive towards mastery of all things (so as to mass-produce universal pleasure) makes us rebel against the very notion of ignorance. If something cannot be fully known, then we declare it to be unworthy of knowledge. My own approach has been to start with what we do know: we know Christ and His death and resurrection. We have His commandments and the abiding presence of the Church which He gave us. And this knowledge of God through Christ is bounded by ignorance. Does it answer every question? Of course not – and it would be unhelpful if it did.

Within the life of the Church, there is a possible temptation to “get behind Christ,” to seek out “God” without reference to our ignorance and limitations. It is, I think, something inherent to the “mysticism” we find in the Church – a relationship with God without boundaries. However, our ignorance is a boundary and is as essential to the truth of our being as is our body itself. We are creatures, bounded by limits. Everything we know, everyone we know, we know within limits. Our ignorance surrounds us on every side.

The narrow way exults in what it knows, and ponders with humility the ignorance that accompanies it. To be whole is also to be who and what I truly am. It recognizes the tensions within us, and though it struggles to know God more fully, it also struggles to know its own limits and the mystery of our own ignorance.

God give us grace to walk in such a place.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

Counter-intuitive consequences

The legislation also demonstrates one of the oddest results of the modern emphasis on the radical freedom of the individual. In such a world, all must theoretically be allowed to have their own narratives of identity. But because some narratives of identity inevitably stand in opposition to others, some identities must therefore be privileged with legitimate status and others treated as cultural cancers. And that means that, in an ironic twist, the individual ceases to be sovereign and the government has to step in as enforcer. The lobby group of the day then decides who is in and who is out, with the result that, in this instance, the gay or trans person who wants to become straight or “cis” (to use the pretentious jargon), cannot be tolerated. His narrative calls into question that of others. We might say that his very existence is a threat. To grant any degree of legitimacy to his desire is to challenge the normative status of the desires of others.

Carl R. Trueman, Prohibiting Prayer in Australia

Consequences generally

My people weren’t huggers. We were Bible-believing Christians who avoided physical contact lest we contract the religious doubts of the embracee and who knows but what it could be true? My brother was a Bible believer who married a girl who then catholicized him. I could say more but I don’t want to cause trouble.

Garrison Keillor

TEC gets tough on (some) sin

Lest it be thought that the Episcopal Church has completely lost its way and will tolerate all manner of unrepented sin, a group calling itself “Episcopal Survivors Network” is demanding that St. Paul’s parish in Alexandria, Virginia “return [as] money derived from torture,” all tithes and offerings of two members of the parish thought to be tainted by their having invented novel forms of — ahem! — enhanced interrogation.

(St. Paul’s Episcopal in Alexandria Va. refuses to return funds from torture)

Christianity and Poetry

Highly recommended: Dana Gioia, Christianity and Poetry and a sort of companion podcast. Thesis: "Poetry is not merely important to Christianity. It is an essential, inextricable, and necessary aspect of religious faith and practice."

Christianish Trivia

Is this a great country or what? We now have had (at least) two “Christian” Bitcoin knock-offs:

This, too:

Wise Words

I make it my business to not make the hierarchy my business.

Rod Dreher, Meeting ‘Father Maximos’

Wordplay

Ressentiment

Ressentiment, a mixture of jealousy and frustration born out of humiliation.

The Economist.

I’ve run into this word for decades but never had bothered looking it up for the nuances. In my defense, I don’t think I ever used it in my own writing, aware that it connoted something I might not intend.

Perspective

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

Attributed to William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary.

Magic Words of Dismissal

One reason this newsletter has ‘fatalism’ in the title is that the word is often used a way that amuses me. It gives away the limits of what someone will allow themselves to think:

Alice: Renewable sources aren’t capable of supplying sufficient energy to replace fossil fuels on a global scale if current consumption patterns continue.

The Queen: That’s just fatalism!

The Queen isn’t addressing Alice’s point. She is using ‘fatalism’ as a magic word of dismissal to make difficult thoughts go away. If it’s ‘just fatalism’, then she doesn’t have to think about whether or not it is true. Nobody respectable is a fatalist.

Other magic words of dismissal are used in similar ways.

Anarchy: used to dismiss the idea that the state might not carry moral authority. Sometimes used to dismiss the idea that the state doesn’t carry overwhelming moral authority. Obviously, the word is never used these ways by anarchists.

Mysticism: used to dismiss any worry that there is more to the world than a chatty primate can understand.

Parochialism: used to dismiss any possibility that local interests might be more important than the interests of global networks.

FFatalism


"The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness …." (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Saturday, 8/13/22

Ya gotta work with what ya got

I once had a law partner who many considered gorgeous and who certainly presented herself well. One day, haggling outside a divorce courtoom with a lawyer who was particularly good at getting under opposing counsel’s skin, he told her he might as well give in, because she would get it anyway by [description of sexy behavior before the male judge omitted]. “Ya gotta work with whatcha got, Lou,” she shot back.

Just so in politics, too:

[Ron] DeSantis’s action-figure approach to his role as governor of Florida is in part about the fact that [Ted] Cruz, [Josh] Hawley and others don’t have the executive authority that he does and can’t make things happen as unilaterally or as quickly. They’re would-be MAGA superheroes bereft of their red capes.

Cruz and Hawley were such hams during the confirmation hearings for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson because, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, they had a stage that DeSantis, Pence, Pompeo and others didn’t. Might as well pig out on the opportunity.

Frank Bruni, Josh Hawley’s manhood, Mike Pompeo’s midriff and other 2024 teases. Bruni has takes on Nikki Haley, Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo, too.

Nellie’s Nuggets

  • Good progressives in England have removed Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” from university reading lists. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2017, which doesn’t say that much necessarily but I add my vote that it’s phenomenal. Why remove it? It has graphic depictions of slavery. Those depictions might upset people. It’s unclear how people are supposed to learn about something terrible like slavery without being upset, but perhaps Mr. Whitehead should consider a gentler sort of Goodnight Moon rendition for the delicate souls in ivory towers.
  • In Sunni v. Shiite violence, which one is the white supremacist? When four Muslim men were murdered in Albuquerque by an alleged serial killer who drove a dark grey sedan, everyone assumed the killer was some white supremacist. Biden came out to say: “My administration stands strongly with the Muslim community. … These hateful attacks have no place in America.” Turns out, the guy arrested and charged with so far two of the killings is a Sunni Muslim, and he may have been partly motivated by anger that his daughter married a Shiite Muslim. Yes, it’s true: Violence also exists outside of Western culture.
  • A lot of liberals basically won’t be happy until Trump is in Shawshank. [At least one conservative, too. (Tipsy)]

Nellie Bowles

Nellie, herself well and truly pregnant, notes this, too:

An abortion case: A hideous story in Nebraska became national news this week as an ominous sign about “post-Roe America.” Here’s what happened: a 17-year-old took pills to induce a a miscarriage, and she planned it in part on Facebook Messenger with her mom. The abortion was exposed in part after Facebook’s parent company handed over her chat history. This is the thing we are supposed to be upset about.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems the real outrage here is that the aborted baby was around 23 weeks old and, with modern medicine, could have a 55% chance of survival. (Nebraska outlaws abortions after 20 weeks unless there is danger to the mother’s life). This family allegedly induced an abortion on a viable baby, attempted to burn the body to get rid of evidence, and then buried it. I’m not sure this is the abortion privacy case to hinge the movement on right now.

All Things Trump

Trump’s effective schtick

Why is Donald Trump so powerful? How did he come to dominate one of the two major parties and get himself elected president? Is it his hair? His waistline? No, it’s his narratives. Trump tells powerful stories that ring true to tens of millions of Americans.

The main one is that America is being ruined by corrupt coastal elites. According to this narrative, there is an interlocking network of highly educated Americans who make up what the Trumpians have come to call the Regime: Washington power players, liberal media, big foundations, elite universities, woke corporations. These people are corrupt, condescending and immoral and are looking out only for themselves. They are out to get Trump because Trump is the person who stands up to them. They are not only out to get Trump; they are out to get you.

This narrative has a core of truth to it. Highly educated metropolitan elites have become something of a self-enclosed Brahmin class. But the Trumpian propaganda turns what is an unfortunate social chasm into venomous conspiracy theory. It simply assumes, against a lot of evidence, that the leading institutions of society are inherently corrupt, malevolent and partisan and are acting in bad faith.

It simply assumes that the proof of people’s virtue is that they’re getting attacked by the Regime …

America absolutely needs to punish those who commit crimes. On the other hand, America absolutely needs to make sure that Trump does not get another term as president. What do we do if the former makes the latter more likely? I have no clue how to get out of this potential conflict between our legal and political realities.

David Brooks, Did the F.B.I. Just Re-Elect Donald Trump?

Messy, absurd, uncathartic

When I first heard about the FBI’s raid on Mar-A-Lago, I merely hoped that there was a very, very good reason for it, and that the feds found what they were looking for. Days later, none of us knows the answer to either of those questions.

Donald J. Trump knows, of course. But he won’t tell us — because appropriate official silence allows him to flood the zone with his own bullshit, gin up his fevered base, and burnish his case for returning to power as a triumphant victim of the Deep State (aka the rule of law). All I know is that he is a grotesque liar and will say anything if it wins him a few minutes of news-cycle attention.

… A few more rabid Twitter cycles and every minuscule facet of this story will be pored over, and, in all likelihood, the conclusion, if it ever emerges, will be what it has consistently been: messy, absurd, and without that cathartic “We got him!” moment every Resistance groupie has been dreaming of since 2016.

Andrew Sullivan, Don’t Take The Trump Bait

Be it remembered …

“As he rails against Weaponized Law Enforcement, it’s worth recalling Trump’s chants of ‘Lock Her Up!’” – Charlie Sykes.

The Search Warrant

We’ve now seen the warrant under which Mar a Lago (is that how it’s spelled?) was searched Monday. Having not practiced criminal law, I have no particular comment on it.

But the issuance and execution of the warrant tells us something we hadn’t known and that I missed until Josh Barro and Ken White mentioned it (paywall): the Merrick Garland Justice Department does have the political will to proceed with criminal charges against Donald Trump.

Prosecuting a former President of the United States (FPOTUS, as the warrant has it) is a big deal, and Trump has done his best to make it an even bigger deal. There were (and are) legitimate questions about whether the game is worth the candle. (See David Brooks, above.) But Merrick Garland, with or without (preferably the latter) input from the White House, certainly appears to have decided that it is.

Here’s why I’m glad he did: we can’t let a bunch of domestic terrorists dictate what the government may and may not do. That’s true of the 2020 summer mobs and it’s true of the Proud Boys, playing IRA to the Trumpified GOP’s Sinn Fein. An epidemic of death threats has flipped votes in Congress, and we can’t let that sort of thing go on and, emboldened by success, grow.


"The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness …." (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Thursday, 8/11/22

Everything here today is political in a fairly direct sense. Politics isn’t all I think about, but I tend to save up the more important things (i.e., what we conventionally call “religion”) for Sunday posts.

Politics Generally

Orbán and Soros

Let’s be honest: the most evil things in modern history were carried out by people who hated Christianity. Don’t be afraid to call your enemies by their name. You can play it safe, but they will never show mercy. Consider for example George Soros, as you call him here. In Hungary, we call him: Gyuri bácsi, which means Uncle Georgie. The wealthiest and one of the most talented Hungarians on Earth! Just a hint: Be careful with talented Hungarians! I know George Soros very well. He is my opponent. He believes in none of the things that we do. And he has an army at his service: money, NGOs, universities, research institutions and half the bureaucracy in Brussels. He uses this army to force his will on his opponents, like us Hungarians. He thinks that values dear to all of us led to the horrors of the twentieth century. But the case is exactly the opposite. Our values save us from repeating history’s mistakes. The horrors of Nazism and Communism happened because some Western States in continental Europe abandoned their Christian values. And today’s progressives are planning to do the same. They want to give up on western values, and create a New World, a Post Western World. Who is going to stop them if we don’t?

Viktor Orbán

I’m a fence-straddler on Viktor Orbán. I’d like to think that illiberal democracy (which is how Orbán described Hungary a few years ago) could exist and persist as democratic. Among all his fanboys in the U.S., though, I see none who I’d trust with my vote, if only because they come across as empty suits whereas Orbán seems to have some depth. For the U.S., liberal democracy seems like the only alternative, and I can only hope that it’s still viable.

I made it a point to dig into George Soros a few years back, and I reject the idea that he is consciously malign. He is simply fundamentally an adherent of a respectable “open society” philosophy that rose to prominence as a response to the horrors of WW II; heck, he even named his foundation after that philosophy. That doesn’t mean, though, that I agree with him or with such expenditures as those for electing permissive, progressive prosecutors.

After I wrote the preceding, I ran across two articles on Soros that I haven’t read, and may never read, that appear pretty thorough. (I should note, should you think the first title antisemitic, that the Tablet is a Jewish publication):

  1. George Soros – Politics of a Jewish Billionaire – Tablet Magazine
  2. The Sanctification of George Soros – Tablet Magazine

(Of course, there’s always Psalm 146:3, too).

The Dead Consensus vs Ahmarism in Three Sentences

The Dead Consensus has no theory of power.

The Ahmarists have no theory of martyrdom.

A Christian political philosophy has to have both if it is going to be actually Christian.

Jake Meador, The Dead Consensus vs Ahmarism in Three Sentences

Fond hopes

Could it come about that with Dobbs’ reversal of Roe v. Wade, the parties could become normal again, the “abortion distortion factor” in politics having been laid to rest?

I would like that very much, because while I’ve had an extremely strong presumption against voting for Democrats since they became the party homogenously in favor of every imaginable or unimaginable abortion, I haven’t found the Republicans very palatable, either.

IRS

The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

This is one of the more perverse bits of paranoid pandering by Governor DeSantis. The IRS has been abused politically and bizarrely (why did they think that 69% of families who adopted children one year needed auditing?), but their daily functioning at their basic job has been wretched for years and years.

I dealt with their incompetence through much of my legal practice. I literally delayed my retirement by months waiting for IRS tax clearances for a deceased couple, as the agency repeatedly lost the income tax returns we filed. (When we finally closed the estate, 37 years to the day after my last law school examination, I strolled down the hall, signed an affidavit relinquishing my law license, and left the office for good.)

I deal with it still. A nonprofit I’m currently involved with keeps getting letters falsely claiming that it failed to file its informational returns nearly a half-decade ago.

The IRS needs enough funding to do its job properly, which I hope it prioritizes that over political shenanigans.

An effective heuristic

I stumbled onto Ann Coulter’s Substack a week or so ago, and I’ve now had my decadesworth of her.

Coulter, whip-smart and sexy (according to other guys’ tastes), snapped on 9/11, when her friend Barbara Olsen fell victim to the terrorist attack. There are certainly worse causes for turning from whip-smart and sexy into unhinged and repellent, but that doesn’t mean I need to support her efforts. I’ll not only not be upgrading to a paid subscription, but dropping my free one.

A year ago I wrote: “Wondering how to decide what to read? Here’s a simple but effective heuristic to cut down the choices significantly. Ask yourself one question: Does this writer make bank when we hate one another? And if the answer is yes, don’t read that writer.” The same rule applies to TV, radio, podcasts. If their clicks and ratings and ad revenues go up when we hate one another, flee them like the plague they are.

Alan Jacobs

(I dropped a half-dozen or so other free Substacks while I was there, but none besides Coulter failed the Jacobs heuristic.)

All things Trumpy

Witch Hunt?

It is true that the FBI departed from standard protocols when it investigated Hillary Clinton. The famous James Comey press conference detailing both Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information and the FBI’s decision not to recommend charges and the Comey letter announcing the re-opening of the investigation weeks before the election were well outside the norm …

The DOJ should stick to protocol. But it’s worth noting that protocol includes handing the Trump team a copy of the search warrant itself. It doesn’t contain as much information as the warrant application, but it does identify the key criminal statutes at issue and the items sought to be searched or seized. Trump can choose to release that document at any time.

David French.

Until Trump stops the generalized grousing and releases the search warrant, I’m assuming that the DOJ is not out of bounds.

But that doesn’t mean we can be smug when the raid has “civil war” trending on Twitter:

David Ashwell (@RedFury21) replying to @DamonLinker on Twitter on August 9 about the Mar a Lago raid:

We have an old saying in the law: fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. The question before us is whether, indeed, we are the nation of laws and not men that our founders envisioned. Trump is not above the law.

Damon Linker (@DamonLinker) fires back:

Enjoy living through the experience of the heavens falling on your noble head.

The Rule of Law is for Chumps

Unusually strong Damon Linker Substack Wednesday, including the Twitter exchange quoted elsewhere in this posting:

Confidence or trust in American institutions is at historic lows. Trump’s political rise was a manifestation of that lack of trust—and, as a master demagogue, his very presence on the political scene continually drives those numbers lower.

He accomplishes this by refusing to play along with the atmospherics of high-minded politics. No one is given the benefit of the doubt unless they personally ingratiate themselves to him. No Democrat (like Attorney General Merrick Garland) could possibly be trying to do the right thing. There’s always a baser motive to point to, always an interpretation of events that suggests an effort to cloak a power-grab in exalted language. Law (and its enforcement) is indistinguishable from politics. The effort to pretend otherwise is just another (more deceptive) act of self-aggrandizement.  

All of which means that for the better part of a decade now, Trump has been teaching his party that “the rule of law” is for saps, suckers, and chumps—and its voters have learned their lessons well.

America is Already Failing the Trump Test

Literally Nazis

[W]e have always been able to count on the armed forces of the United States as the apolitical and steady defenders of the American nation.

Trump wanted to change that and turn the military into his own praetorian guard. In an except from a forthcoming book, the journalists Susan Glasser and Peter Baker reveal an exchange between Trump and his then-chief of staff, John Kelly:

“You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”

“Which generals?” Kelly asked.

“The German generals in World War II,” Trump responded.

“You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?” Kelly said.

Trump refused to believe Kelly: “No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,” he replied. “In his version of history,” Glasser and Baker write, “the generals of the Third Reich had been completely subservient to Hitler; this was the model he wanted for his military.”

Let us leave aside the problem that Donald Trump might be the most intellectually limited and willfully ignorant man ever to sit in the Oval Office. Still, we must ask: Nazis?

Tom Nichols, The President Who Wanted Nazi Generals

Fight for what another day?

“I’m not sure that Dick (Cheney) ever taught Liz about the aphorism ‘live to fight another day.” This insightful comment perfectly encapsulates the best-case argument against Cheney. 

It’s also dead wrong.

The recommendation “live to fight another day,” raises the question: Fight … for what? She could serve in Congress for decades longer and never do as much to preserve our constitutional order as she has serving as the key Republican on the January 6 committee.

Cliff Smith, Cheney’s Choice. The perfect subtitle of this story is “She has opted to do her job, rather than just have her job. That matters.”

A lot of what’s wrong in Washington arises from elevating retention of office over upholding the laws and constitution.


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Tuesday, 8/09/22

I’m back from 5.5 pounds worth of Alaska Cruising. Alaska, even just in little towns along the southeast coast, was awesome. Next time I cruise, though (if there is a next time), I’ll avoid the buffet; I think I actually could have lost weight if I’d stuck with the main dining room.

Insight

The Meaning of Home

Ireland’s government is sabre-rattling about people burning wood or peat to heat their homes, as many are preparing to do in the face of possible rationing or cutoff of natural gas from Russia:

Something else is happening here, though. The campaign against warming your own house with your own fire is not quite what it claims to be. Sometimes it looks more like a displacement activity; as if a government and a nation which has no interest in actually cutting its consumerist lust down to size is going for an easy target. But it is also something with more symbolism, more mythic meat, than any discussion about ‘carbon emissions’ would suggest. The fireplace, whether our dessicated urban authorities know it or not, has a primal meaning, even in a world as divorced as ours from its roots and from the land.

Take the potential firewood ban. When you can no longer grow your own wood or cut your own turf to heat your own parlour, you are made that little bit more dependent on the matrix of government, technology and commerce that has sought to transmute self-sufficiency into bondage since the time of the Luddites. The justification for this attack on family and community sufficiency changes with the times – in seventeenth century England, the enclosures were justified by the need for agricultural efficiency; today they are justified by the need for energy efficiency – but the attack is always of the same nature. Each blow struck against local self-sufficiency, pride and love of place weaves another thread into the pattern which has been developing for centuries, and which is almost compete now in most ‘developed’ (sic) countries.

Like so much of Berry’s work, it locates the centrepoint of human society in the home, and explains many of the failures of contemporary Western – specifically American – society as a neglect of that truth. The home, to Wendell Berry, is the place where the real stuff of life happens, or should: the coming-together of man and woman in partnership; the passing-down of skills and stories from elders; the raising and educating of children; the growing, cooking, storing and eating of food; the learning of practical skills, from construction to repair, tool-making to sewing; the conjuration of story and song around the fire.

Universally, across the world and across cultures, the family and the home, however they were quite constituted, have always been the heart and root of culture. It follows, therefore, that the Machine must uproot both in order that culture may be destroyed and replaced with a marketplace in which we can buy and sell products, identities and ideologies while our ground source heat pumps maintain a constant and inoffensive temperature around us. Self-sufficient people, skilled people, independent people, thinking people: these are anathema; these are a threat. The home must go, so that the Machine might live.

In my lifetime, in my part of the world, the notion and meaning of ‘home’ has steadily crumbled under this external pressure until it is little more than a word. In a Machine anticulture, the ideal (post) modern home is a dormitory, probably owned by a landlord or a bank, in which two or more people of varying ages and degrees of biological relationship sleep when they’re not out being employed by a corporation, or educated by the state in preparation for being employed by a corporation.

Paul Kingsnorth, Keep The Home Fires Burning

Counter-intuitive consequences

The legislation also demonstrates one of the oddest results of the modern emphasis on the radical freedom of the individual. In such a world, all must theoretically be allowed to have their own narratives of identity. But because some narratives of identity inevitably stand in opposition to others, some identities must therefore be privileged with legitimate status and others treated as cultural cancers. And that means that, in an ironic twist, the individual ceases to be sovereign and the government has to step in as enforcer. The lobby group of the day then decides who is in and who is out, with the result that, in this instance, the gay or trans person who wants to become straight or “cis” (to use the pretentious jargon), cannot be tolerated. His narrative calls into question that of others. We might say that his very existence is a threat. To grant any degree of legitimacy to his desire is to challenge the normative status of the desires of others.

Carl R. Trueman, Prohibiting Prayer in Australia

The Arsenios Option

Jack Leahy has recently written about the Arsenios Option, a response to the times that he summarises as ‘flee, be silent, and dwell in stillness’. He draws on long traditions of asceticism; and I think these traditions, and people like him, are more important than is generally understood. When lives organised around the pursuit of luxury stop being possible, masses of people will need new sources of significance. At that point, ascetics can provide dramatic counter-examples that help society to refocus. It happened after Rome’s collapse. It may happen again.

A mind that takes no joy in the wonders of this age is as guilty of waging war on nature as the fools who cannot tell the difference between a factory and a farm. Some wonders do great harm, some should be renounced, and most are only here for a short season anyway. They are, nevertheless, wonders.

Those who would resist or avoid the Machine, the monster of coercion that slowly incorporates the whole world into itself, need this expansive joy that includes humans and the things we make. Joy helps us to see the enemy better.

FFatalism, Joy and laughter

Uppers

Sam the Man

Justice Alito, speaking in Rome, reportedly had some sharp words for Prince Harry, Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau for their virtue-signaling criticism of the Supreme Court un-inventing the invented constitutional right to abortion.

[T]here is no prohibition on justices discussing cases publicly once they are decided, said Akhil Reed Amar, professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School. Alito’s comments weren’t about the underlying issue of abortion, but rather about foreign dignitaries weighing in on American law without necessarily being well versed in the subject, he said.

(Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press)

Precisely so, Professor Amar. If they won’t stay in their lanes, it’s appropriate to throw a few elbows when the get into ours.

How dare they be more careful!!!!

What’s being recommended now is a slower and more careful psychological assessment of each child to ensure that other factors — family stress, autism, depression, peer pressure, trauma — are fully explored, before a diagnosis is made.

Andrew Sullivan.

Who could object to careful consideration of other factors in diagnosing a problem? American transgender activists, that’s who. If a middle-school girl says she’s a boy, that should end the inquiry, say they.

Downers

Inchoate Rage

I left [CPAC in] Dallas with a deep sense of unrest about the future of America. People aren’t wrong to be angry! I don’t think I heard a single story in which the people who had been radicalized had no right to be angry over some very real injustice they had lived through, or watched happen to people they love. It’s that they saw no hope of justice coming via corrupted institutions, and apparently had no idea how to deal with the rage they felt.

Rod Dreher, Meeting ‘Father Maximos’ (emphasis in original)

All the green shoots have died

Previously, [Jonathan Haidt] explored the rise of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide in The Coddling of the American Mind (2018), written with free speech lawyer Greg Lukianoff. At the end of that book, the authors identified several “green shoots”—encouraging developments in politics and culture that could reverse these trends. But four years later, as America reels from COVID-19 and the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, things have only gotten worse. “Massively worse,” in fact, Haidt tells me as we prepare to order our food. “We saw these green shoots and none of them have grown. All the green shoots are dead.”

Is this America’s future?

“Someone has been caused anxiety based on your social media post. And that is why you’re being arrested,” – a British policeman.

Via Andrew Sullivan

A bad, bad week for “follow the science”

Fake science: In one week, three major debunkings are a good reminder that “trust the science” is silly. Science is always a work in progress.

(Nellie Bowles)

Low-Down Liars

Your BLM Virtue-Signaling Money at Work

Shaun King used donor funds to buy a $40k dog: As the biological mother of two deranged shelter dogs, I actually didn’t know that you could spend $40,000 on a dog. But the Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King reportedly did just that, buying a very well-bred mastiff using donated money. Apparently rattled by the coverage, King defended the purchase and then took to social media to call for his followers to help him stalk two reporters who have covered his finances: “This is Kevin Sheehan of the @NYPost. ⁣He has been attacking me and my family. Send me photos of his home. Send me photos of him. ⁣And his family.”  And of Isabel Vincent, he wrote: “The amount of pain this woman caused my family is incalculable. Send me details and photos. Of her. And her home.” The key for King and others in the movement who’ve used money in sketchy ways is to terrify reporters away from covering it. Many are already too scared of their colleagues’ rage to look into BLM finances. But for anyone willing to get past that, King adds a little extra risk: He’ll make sure you’re physically unsafe that night.

Nellie Bowles (emphasis and hyperlinks omitted)

Monkeypox incoherence

People who meet all of the following conditions can now be vaccinated:

Gay, bisexual, or other man who has sex with men, and/or transgender, gender non-conforming, or gender non-binary Age 18 or older Have had multiple or anonymous sex partners in the last 14 days

New York City Health Department

There’s a notion that health officials need to lie a little to protect everyone’s feelings; it’s somehow hurtful to say guys there’s a bad virus, let’s slow down the summer parties. First, I really don’t think gay men are that sensitive. Also, you know what’s worse than hurt feelings? Getting freaking monkeypox! Oh sorry, I forgot that term is illegal now. Here’s New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner: “We have a growing concern for the potentially devastating and stigmatizing effects that the messaging around the ‘monkeypox virus’ can have on these already vulnerable communities. Therefore, I write to urge you to act immediately on renaming the ‘monkeypox’ virus.” It’s a virus that manifests as horrible boils all over your body and health officials are freaking out about the name!

Nellie Bowles


"The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness …." (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Monday, 8/1/22

Against the (Mono)Culture

The aim of a healthy farm will be to produce as many kinds of plants and animals as it sensibly can.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Feelingsball

If legitimate critiques of, say, Josh Hawley’s specific claims about wage stagnation or the WTO are met with emotional responses—“Okay, fine, but The People don’t feel that way, and oh by the way you’re basically a lobbyist for China”—there’s little point in engaging again. (The New York Times’ Jane Coaston recently called this vague and ever-changing use of the emotional trump card “Feelingsball,” after the Calvin and Hobbes schtick, which is pretty much just perfect.)

Scott Lincicome, Populist Indulgence Thwarts Serious Governing

Haunted by Tradition

The best movies, songs, musicals, and popular fiction of the period through the 1950s were created by people who were, like the early Modernists, haunted by tradition. The lyrics of a Cole Porter, the sense of drama of an Orson Welles, the rhetorical sensibility of an Edward R. Murrow were all sustained by the lingering presence of the tradition of high culture. Reminded of that tradition by such institutions as universities and museums, the proponents of popular culture paid certain, if modest, homage to the past.

Ken Meyers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

The West and The Rest

The non-Wests see as Western what the West sees as universal. What Westerners herald as benign global integration, such as the proliferation of worldwide media, non-Westerners denounce as nefarious Western imperialism. To the extent that non-Westerners see the world as one, they see it as a threat. The arguments that some sort of universal civilization is emerging rest on one or more of three assumptions as to why this should be the case.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

(mumble-mumble) maybe I oversold this complaint

Okay, since I may have said something snarky about media and government tap-dancing around Monkeypox, a partial retreat is in order: Should Monkeypox Be Considered an STD? Experts Debate. (H/T The Morning Dispatch).

Staying inland

Now that I know about shark-infested beaches, I have one more reason to stay inland. I don’t want some poor reporter to have to write the second paragraph of my obituary, “Mr. Keillor was eaten by a shark off Jones Beach on Tuesday while wading in a raspberry-colored swimsuit and wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat fringed with straw fronds. A memorial service will be held at a time to be announced later.”

“Memorial service” suggests that there was not enough of me left to put into a burial plot. The shark took the meaty parts and other sharks got some and turtles finished the job. What was left could be put in a tunafish can. I was a productive author for fifty years but in the future, if my name comes up in conversation, someone will say, “Wasn’t he the guy who was eaten by sharks?” So I renew my vow to avoid beaches.

Garrison Keillor

Dreher and Orbán

Damon Linker, as preface to interrogating Rod Dreher’s defense of Viktor Orbán, traces Rod’s public progression over the 20 years of their friendly acquaintance. Excerpt:

Rod’s timing ended up being slightly off. Though he had been making versions of this argument on his blog for years, the book-length statement of his position—The Benedict Option—was published in March 2017, two months into the Trump administration, at a moment when the religious right was in no mood at all to entertain stepping back from the political fray. Demoralized just a few years earlier, its hopes had been raised by the new president’s promise, despite his lack of personal piety or virtue, to fight ruthlessly for social conservatives and to push back just as ruthlessly against the left.

While consistently withholding support from Trump himself, Rod spent the next few years adjusting his political stance to a new political reality. Instead of practicing what he preached and turning inward, he focused more resolutely than ever on outrages committed by the left. Rod became convinced, not only that the Social Justice Warriors were wrong, as I often thought they were as well, but that they were hell bent on building a comprehensive political-legal-cultural-technological system in which they would actively persecute Christians and anyone else who resisted The Official Woke Teaching on Gender and Sexuality.

That vignette strikes me as true, and useful, as is (in a more humorous way), his characterization of Rod going to

Budapest, where Viktor Orbán was enacting an austere and intellectually rigorous style of right-wing populism—one that Rod found far more appealing than the trashy, downmarket version Trump was haplessly pursuing at home.

My own position on Orbán is somewhat different than the standard liberal-progressive line, which portrays him as having directly targeted and largely succeeded in destroying Hungarian democracy. I’m more inclined to see him as what he claims to be: a scourge of liberalism in the name of majoritarian democracy.

Yes, he’s been pretty heavy-handed with the media, giving his party somewhat of an edge in elections. But his constitutional adjustments and other reforms haven’t imposed electoral changes out of line with other democracies, and his party today wins roughly the same portion of the vote and from the same largely rural constituency as it did when it first gained power in 2010. In the country’s most recent election, this past April, election monitors didn’t take note of any systematic fraud. Hungarians are simply voting in favor of making Hungary an illiberal democracy.

Linker cites some recent Orbán remarks to conclude that he’s beyond the pale and that Rod should back away, rather trying repeadly the “What he meant to say was [insert some bowdlerized version].”

America lags more sensible countries again

Britain’s only gender-reassignment unit is to close following a damning report into its operations. The Tavistock clinic was accused of being too quick to rush children onto puberty blockers and of failing to explore its patients’ mental-health problems. Kids with gender dysphoria are to be sent to new regional centres, which will be required to have stronger links with mental-health services.

(The Economist) Lisa Selin Davis has more at Bari Weiss’s Substack.

Go thou and do likewise, America.


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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.