Zacchaeus Sunday 2023

We know Lent is coming when Zacchaeus Sunday arrives. It has arrived.

Unions

Every sacrament of the Church is about union with Christ, or union with another human being (marriage). It is predicated on the possibility of true communion and participation.

The claim that this is true and possible distinguishes Orthodox Christianity from virtually every form of contemporary Christian believing. It is the foundation of the sacramental world of the Church.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Communion of Friends

The (occasional religious) wisdom of David French

It’s one thing to yell at the culture, “Get back to church!” It’s another thing entirely to make sure your religious community is worth coming back to.

David French

I enjoy David French on the law quite a lot, but there’s a wide gap between his Reformed Christianity (in which I’d have been quite at home 30 years ago) and Orthodox Christianity. Hence the parenthetical in the title.

Science and the Christian Faith

After a 25-year hiatus, I am reading again about Science and the Christian Faith. What drew me back was that this book is by an Orthodox Christian — a priest and astrophysicist. Apparently there have been others, but this was the first to come to my attention.

The difference from other Christian treatments is material, as I fully expected it would be. I may have more to say later — or I may not. Some of it’s getting pretty deep.

Rule-following

Observing Orthodox practices is no more a guarantee of salvation than abiding by all the decisions of the pope and the magisterium, or speaking in tongues, or saying the “sinner’s prayer” and acknowledging Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

Adhering to Orthodox practices to the letter is legalism, and legalism distorts the entire spiritual life. True Orthodoxy is devoid of a spirit of legalism.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

I can think of a very prominent person, widely judged to be evil, who knows and practices much Orthodox choreography.

Evangelical guru lightened up in Italy

Italy was where they proved themselves to be so much more than their fundamentalist beliefs. It was as if they wanted me to somehow grow past the constricted world they had fallen into.

Frank Schaeffer, of his parents Francis and Elizabeth Schaeffer, in Crazy for God.

I quote this with my usual caveat: Frank Schaeffer was an angry Protestant/Evangelical/Fundamentalist and now he’s an angry Orthodox Christian. I don’t like or trust anger, even if I tend toward it myself.

That said, this is an uncommonly gracious observation, almost out of context in the overall book.

A pairing

Ultimately, theology is not a set of definitions or theories. Theology is mystery since it transcends the rational mind and attempts to express the inexpressible. In schools of theology and seminaries, theology is indeed an academic subject and, as such, it requires accuracy and embraces a certain “intellectual rigour,” as Met. Kallistos remarks. This does not conflict with Orthodoxy, since “we do not serve the Kingdom of God through vagueness, muddle and lazy thinking.”28 But he also notes that in other sciences or areas of investigation, the personal sanctity of the scientist or inquirer is irrelevant. This is not the case with theology, which requires metanoia (repentance), catharsis (purification), and askesis (spiritual struggle).

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Both the fundamentalist and the higher critic assume that it is possible to understand the biblical text without training, without moral transformation, without the confession and forgiveness that come about within the church. Unconsciously, both means of interpretation try to make everyone religious (that is, able to understand and appropriate scripture) without everyone’s being a member of the community for which the Bible is Scripture.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

The Best, 1/27/23

Culture

Transhumanism

I find transhumanism repugnant, and I believe in the wisdom of repugnance because I believe that some truths are not susceptible of distillation to catchy slogans for the ADHD World we live in, and perhaps not possible to articulate directly at all.

But I was unaware that there was more to it than billionaire nerds asking “wouldn’t it be cool if we could upload our brains and live forever?” No, there’s another case, superficially more plausible:

If humanity’s technological progress can be compared to climbing a mountain, then the Anthropocene finds us perched on a crumbling ledge, uncertain how long we have until it collapses. The most obvious way out is to turn back and retrace our steps to an earlier stage of civilization, with fewer people using fewer resources. This would mean acknowledging that humanity is unequal to the task of shaping the world, that we can thrive only by living within the limits set by nature.

But this kind of voluntary turning back might be so contrary to our nature that it can never happen. It is far more plausible that the human journey was fated to end up in this dangerous spot ever since we first began to change the ecosystem with farming and fire. Such a view forms the basis of antihumanism, a system of thought that removes humans from their pedestal and contends that, given our penchant for destruction—not only of ourselves but also all other species—we are less deserving of existence than are animals, plants, rocks, water, or air. For antihumanists, the only way off the precipice is a fall, with the survivors left to pick up the pieces. And if there are no survivors, that wouldn’t be a tragedy; there will always be beings in the world, even if there are no human beings.

Australian philosopher Toby Ord uses the image of the crumbling ledge in his book The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity (2020). “Fueled by technological progress, our power has grown so great that for the first time in humanity’s long history, we have the capacity to destroy ourselves,” Ord writes. He believes that the odds of this happening in the next 100 years are about one in six, the same as in a game of Russian roulette. “Humanity lacks the maturity, coordination and foresight necessary to avoid making mistakes from which we could never recover,” he concludes.

Ord is not an antihumanist but rather a transhumanist, a research fellow at the world’s leading center for transhumanist thought, Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, which looks to scientific and technological advances as the only path forward. Transhumanists agree with antihumanists that human nature is morally and physically circumscribed in ways that make it impossible for us to get past the precipice. They likewise agree that Homo sapiens is doomed to disappear. But for transhumanists, this is a wonderful prospect because we will disappear by climbing instead of falling. As Ord writes, “Rising to our full potential for flourishing would likely involve us being transformed into something beyond the humanity of today.” That something will no longer be “us” in the strictest sense, but our posthuman successors will preserve what is best and most important about us. “I love humanity, not because we are Homo sapiens, but because of our capacity to flourish,” Ord writes.

Adam Kirsch, The End Is Only the Beginning (The American Scholar)

The appeal of that comes from its familiarity: We’ve been making problems with technology, then solving them with more technology, for a fairly long time now. Unless you stop to think about it, that seems normal.

(H/T Alan Jacobs)

Humanity without limits seems at best inhumane to me. Nonetheless, I recommend the American Scholar article, which pairs well with C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

White nationalism

The constant accusations of “white nationalism” remind me of preachers and other polemicists calling Playboy “hard-core pornography” 50 years or so ago. People are going to catch on fairly quickly when they see something white nationalist/hard-core and there’s no term left on the rhetorical spectrum to describe it.

Haute Couture

I don’t recall ever seeing a piece of haute couture that so vividly captures the intersection of aburdity and misogyny:

(H/T the Atlantic)Legal

Legalia – Brett Kavanaugh

Perhaps because of some new movie or something, Justice Brett Kavanaugh seems to be back in the news, and it set me thinking about his confirmation hearings again.

When I was becoming a lawyer, I had to sit for a personal interview with another lawyer (or two). One of the questions was “Have you ever broken the law?” My answer was that, starting around age 19, I had two alcoholic beverages, one on each of two occasions, contrary to law. He/They were amused at my candor.

Back to Justice Kavanaugh: the thing that bothered me most about his nomination was his long history of drinking to drunkenness, beginning in high school and continuing, apparently, nonstop to present. I supported him before I knew of this, waffling afterward (I’m a bad member of any tribe).

I expect greater respect for the law from highly-placed Judges. I am obviously not squeaky-clean in the underage drinking department, but I’m close, I admit that I broke the law, and I admit that I was wrong. Kavanaugh lied and tap-danced about his drinking.

“But are you serious that ‘the thing that bothered me most about his nomination was his long history of drinking to drunkenness’? Two women accused him of sexual assaults!”

Yes, I am serious. I was not convinced by those two female accusers. But the history of drinking made both charges more plausible than they would have been without that history. Drunken sexual encounters, voluntary, involuntary and borderline, are the bane of every major university, and both accusations fit fairly well into the “drunken frat boy/drink until you’re irresistible” pattern.

Had I been a Senator, I think I’d have voted to reject the nomination, not because I found those accusations likelier true than not, but because I don’t want an unrepentant, somewhat sanctimonious, drunk on the Supreme Court — a man against whom the accusations had some sting.

Politics

Red-pilling for power

Damon Linker does a pretty good job in The Red-Pill Pusher of explaining and rebutting Curtis Yarvin, a “neo-reactionary” (Linker’s term, but I doubt Yarvin would reject it), of whom I had heard, and probably could have placed as Right rather than Left figure. Beyond that, I was essentially ignorant of Yarvin’s particular spin on things — or how much influence it has built in formerly-reputable conservative circles like Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, whose Hillbilly Elegy marked him as someone with a background and a mind possibly suited to high office.

Yarvin gets a lot of facts right, a few more plausible. Yet my reaction against his conclusions is different than what Linker articulated (which probably was less than what he could have articulated).

Here’s my problem with Yarvin. He is hungry for power, and his obsession with power has already corrupted him. He has made it clear that among his first exercises of power would be sweeping, radical firings that would cripple government (and cause much misery to the newly-unemployed). Then he and his mostly-unnamed pals would amateurishly assume most or all of the vacated offices and try to impose their will on a country that’s about 50% of a different mind. It would make the Trump years a model of decorum and competence in comparison. I think it highly likely that there would be much bloodshed.

I have no reason to trust that their program would make the country better or make its citizens freer.

No thanks.

Signs of hope

I recently (like within the past half hour as I type) heard a preacher say that he has only seen one encouraging sign in public so far this year: a bunch of NFL players kneeling and praying around a teammate felled on the field by a heart attack.

It’s a tempting narrative: world; hell; handbasket. You can fill in the blanks.

Yet I see other signs — contemporaneous if not distinctly 2023.

  1. I found it encouraging that a high proportion of the worst emerging Republican jackasses were handed their heads by voters last November.
  2. I find it encouraging that honest liberals, and even one Marxist, keep saying things that get them labeled — oh, I don’t know; “white nationalists,” probably. Examples here and here.
  3. I find it almost as encouraging that most honest conservatives have no use for Donald Trump and say to in terms that gives aid and comfort to liberals. (A bold claim I know, but I can always fall back on the No True Scotsman fallacy if you find a counter-example.)
  4. Indeed, I find it encouraging to be reminded that center-left and center-right have an awful lot in common when compared to the alternatives.

The Quaker’s Mule Who Wouldn’t Plow

One of my favorite stories is about the Quaker whose mule refused to plow.

The Quaker tried to coax him every way he knew. Finally, he stepped around in front of the mule, took him gently by the ears, and stared into his eyes.

“Brother mule, thou knowest that I am a Quaker. Thou knowest I cannot beat thee. Thou knowest I cannot curse thee.

“With thou knowest not is is that I can sell thee to the Baptist down the road, and he can beat the living daylights out of thee.” 

Mitch Daniels, though Presbyterian rather than Quaker, ran no negative ads in his two successful runs for governor of Indiana, yet he won re-election in a year when Barack Obama memorably took Indiana’s electors in the presidential race. As President of Purdue (recently retired), he froze tuition for ten years.

It does my soul good cheers my sinful heart, then, to see that Mitch has supporters who are willing to respond to barbarians who are trying to keep him from running for the Senate seat Mike Braun will vacate next year to run for governor:

Then with a toxic blast of political rectal gas, [Representative Jim] Banks signaled he would enter the brewing 2024 U.S. Senate race. Teaming up with Club for Growth President David McIntosh, the pair did something we’ve never seen before: Running a preemptive TV ad designed to keep a rival — Mitch Daniels — out of the race.

… [I]n the eyes of Club for Growth, a PAC of billionaires, it said in the TV ad, “After 50 years in big government, big pharma and big academia, Mitch Daniels forgot how to fight. An old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.”

Long-time GOP operative Mark Lubbers responded to the Club for Growth TV ad, telling me, “These are the same people who cost us Republican control of the Senate. Sad to see that Banks has thrown in with them.”

… 

Donald J. Trump Jr. then tweeted on Jan. 13: “The establishment is trying to recruit weak RINO Mitch Daniels to run for U.S. Senate in Indiana. The same Mitch Daniels who agreed with Joe Biden that millions of MAGA Republicans are supposedly a danger to the country & trying to ‘subvert democracy.’ He would be Mitt Romney 2.0.”

This was the first time anyone had described Daniels as a “weak RINO.”

Lubbers responded to Trump the younger: “You think the progressive left needs to be fought; we think it needs to be BEATEN. That requires optimistic positive conservatism that builds majorities, wins elections & makes policy. Not just foaming at the mouth, counting tweets, and grifting contributions. Hit the road.”

(Brian Howey)

Thank you, Mark Lubbers. And I’m very disappointed with David McIntosh — though it’s possible that he’s who he always was but I’ve changed.

Freddie clears the bases

Freddie deBoer hits a grand-slam homerun. Excerpts:

When you think politically, … think of the most privileged person you have ever seen, and ask if your next act will be of any threat to him. I call this the Rich Uncle Pennybags test, after the guy from Monopoly. The question is, does your next proposed political action hurt Rich Uncle Pennybags? … I am saying that a left-wing movement that devotes most of its time, effort, and attention to actions that fail the test risks no longer being a left-wing movement at all. I’m saying that a left wing that constantly fails the Rich Uncle Pennybags test is precisely the kind of left-wing movement that establishment power would prefer to face – a movement about symbolism over substance, about the individual rather than the masses, about elevating minorities in the ranks of a corrupt system rather than ending that corruption, about personal antipathy rather than structural reality.

[P]olitics is about mass action at scale, and the ability of politics properly understood to address interpersonal bigotries is limited. What’s not limited is our ability to reduce economic and social inequalities between identity groups, if we engage in politics in the right spirit and with a healthy understanding of the need to achieve structural change instead of personal critique – the kind of structural change that Rich Uncle Pennybags can’t ignore.

That’s a really good understanding of politics, even if you’re on Uncle Pennybag’s side. But the best parts were (1) examples of pseudo-progressive obsessions that fail the test and may even strengthen Uncle Moneybags, and (2) things I read between the lines.

F’rinstance, Uncle Moneybags doesn’t mind DEI training. It may even help him. He probably doesn’t mind the rich kids of Antifa.

And just as the Right is full of people whose whole purpose in public life seems to be trolling and triggering the Left, so the Left is full of people whose whole purpose in public life, objectively, seems to be trolling and triggering the Right. They fail the Uncle Moneybags test and, along with their equally self-indulgent Right-wing co-conspirators, debase our visible political discourse and waste time that could be spent on consequential, not clickworthy, things.

A Pleasant Surprise

The Justice Department announced Tuesday two Florida residents had been indicted for allegedly vandalizing at least three pro-life pregnancy centers in Florida, spray-painting threats like “if abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” and “YOUR TIME IS UP!!” on the sides of the buildings. If convicted of the charges—which also included violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act—each defendant could face a maximum of 12 years in prison and fines up to $350,000. A number of crisis pregnancy centers around the country faced threats or violent attacks in the months leading up to and following last year’s Dobbs decision.

The Morning Dispatch

If forced to wager, I’d have wagered that Biden’s DOJ would never ferret out and prosecute the perpetrators of any attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. Since I didn’t wager, I’m pleased to have my mild bias disproven.

Nonconformists

Transgender woman with Mike Tyson face tattoo GUILTY of raping two vulnerable mums with “her penis”

Most of the press went along with the defendant’s post-arrest change from man to woman, as did the judge, calling him “she” throughout the trial.” The Sun, god bless ‘em, did not.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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, 1/22/23

I (Still) Don’t Mind Singing in an Empty Church

I am well aware that over my almost 13 years of blogging, I’ve more or less exhausted many of my ideas, and have become something of an aggregator or curator instead of someone expressing his own thoughts.

So I’ve begun — tentatively, at least — going back to my early blogging days for inspiration. In so doing, I found this from March of 2010. The title was I Don’t Mind Singing in an Empty Church. It still holds true:

Well, technically, I’m not sure the Church is ever really empty. There’s always that great cloud of witnesses.

But apart from them, the Church is sometimes empty except for Priest and Cantor (me). We rarely have more than the “clergy” (Priest, Deacon, Cantor and maybe another Reader) at the very beginning  of Matins. Occasionally that will happen in a weekday service, too. Usually one or two will arrive soon after the start, though. The inspired doodle above is (from Steve Robinson at Pithless Thoughts, shall we say, reality-based.

But it doesn’t bother me, at least not in the sense of “why do I bother?” I may regret that many who could be present don’t bother, and miss out (missing out on what is the point of this posting – read on). But many really can’t come, and that’s okay. We’re a small Parish, with lots of young families with children. I’d think there was something seriously wrong if those families dragged their young ones to Matins, which combined with Liturgy routinely runs almost 3 hours. Others commute as much as an hour each way. So I don’t expect them to come.

But by coming and singing, I myself – hard of hearing and heart – steep in the teaching and mind of the Church. Slowly, I’m absorbing it. That counts for quite a lot since I’m serious about my faith but have nearly 5 decades of baggage from other Christian traditions, each misguided about many things, to unload.

One of those pieces of baggage is how to approach scripture. I had already begun to write this when Father Stephen posted on “the hearing of the word.” It illustrates beautifully how the Church approaches scripture:

I am convinced after years of preaching and listening to preaching that the bulk of Scripture has become lost to our ears. We hear it, but fail to “hear” it ….

Much of my conviction on this matter has come in the last 12 years or more and my immersion into the services of the Orthodox Church. These services, long and with ample “hymnography” that is but a poetic commentary on the Scriptures and doctrines that surround any particular feast, are probably the richest surviving engagement with the Word of God to be found in a 21st century Church. Here no Reformation has occurred and reduced all Scripture to a “riff” on Justification by Faith, or a subset of Calvin’s paradigms. Here no Enlightenment has shown with its darkness of doubt and obfuscation.

Instead, there is a constant wonderment at the Scriptures themselves, as if the hymnographer were discovering something for the first time or had found a rare gem to share to any willing to listen – and all in the form of praise and thanksgiving to God.

It is true to say that in Orthodoxy, “Theology sings.” ….

…In our modern context most people have either been shaped by fundamentalist literalism; by modernist historical criticism; or by nearly nothing at all. In each case the Scriptures will not sing – they will not yield up their treasures.

I was struck by a particular case this evening – at the Vigil for  Palm Sunday. The gospel account in question was the Matthean version of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem:

“And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon.”

Modern historical criticism hears in this only the “foolishness” of Matthew. Matthew has cited the prophecy in Zechariah that “your king is coming to you…mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass,” and has crafted his story in precisely that manner, placing Jesus astride two animals. The same critics will note that in other gospel accounts Christ is only on a “foal of an ass,” i.e., one animal. Historical Critics have a field day with such problems (I was first confronted with this “discrepancy” in my sophomore year of college – it was presented as if the professor had noticed something no one had ever seen before). Modern fundamentalists will rush to defend the integrity of the gospel accounts, “Two different eye-witnesses reported on the same thing and one emphasized one thing and the other emphasized another.”

Both explanations lack imagination and are precisely the sort of blindness that afflicts so much modern reading of Scripture. Listening to the hymnody for the Vigil of Palm Sunday, the hymnographer, without apology for the discrepancy, races to it and declares:

“O gracious Lord, who ridest upon the cherubim, who art praised by the seraphim, now Thou dost ride like David on the foal of an ass, The children sing hymns worthy of God, while the priests and scribes blaspheme against Thee. By riding an untamed colt, Thou hast prefigured the salvation of the Gentiles, those wild beasts, who will be brought from unbelief to faith! Glory to Thee, O merciful Christ. Our King and the Lover of man!”

the ancient hymnographer has come closer to the heart of Scripture than either the modern sceptic or the modern literalist will ever know.

… The writers of the New Testament believed that everything in the Old, when read rightly would yield insight into the Messiah and the mystery of our salvation. But their creative insight (again, I believe it is inspired) is far removed from the flat-footed nonsense that we hear out of modern fundamentalist “prophetic” scholars, whose reading of the Old Testament is almost as poorly constructed as the 19th century false prophecies of the book of Mormon! Neither bear any resemblance to the treatment of prophecy found in the New Testament.

And thus I return to my original point. We have become deaf. We listen with ears either hardened by modernist scepticism, or by a false literalism that has substituted Darbyite nonsense for the Apostolic faith, or reduced Scripture to delicate harmonizations. None of them have the boldness and audacity of the patristic hymnographers who stood in the proper line of succession, proclaiming the faith as it had been taught and received and continuing to expound its mysteries. Thank God that somewhere in this modern world, you can still stand and listen to the wonders of our salvation, sung and unraveled before the unbelieving heart of man. Glory to God who has so loved mankind!

So, whether there’s a single soul besides me in church, I’m singing theology. I’m singing poetry. I’m expounding the mysteries of the faith. I’m unraveling the wonders of our salvation before my own unbelieving heart, made dull by 48 years of desperate harmonizations – “flat-footed nonsense.”

[If this sampling from Father Stephen has whetted your appetite, probably the most target-rich zone of audacious expounding of the Old Testament is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, sung in segments during the first week of Lent and then sung in its entirety Thursday of the 5th week. Download and savor.]

And in a sense that I’m slowly and dimly beginning to apprehend, we are doing the reconciling work of God. This gets into a sacramental view of the world, which I am unqualified to address and would surely botch if I tried. Perhaps another day.

Although I’m occasionally bone-weary when I go to sing, it’s always a very great privilege, and I benefit as much as anyone.

Published March 27, 2010

This recent post from Father Stephen expands on why I benefit from singing even in an empty church, particularly when I wrote that I “steep in the teaching and mind of the Church”:

What is often experienced at first as “boredom” (the sameness of the liturgy or the interminable character of the Psalms or Canon in some services) is nothing more than a description of something that exists for the nurture of the nous rather than the emotions and reasoning. Imagine walking with someone through a Redwood forest, or along a quiet beach and being told, “I’m bored.” In truth, the forest and the beach are quite common examples of noetic experiences that have yet to be eradicated or destroyed by our culture. It is not surprising that many people report an awareness of God in such settings.

The One Mediator – And the Sacraments (emphasis added).

I really should at least provide a hyperlink for nous, which is more than the first person plural French pronoun.

The Desire of the Nations

It is a strange yet incontrovertible fact that, when God did take flesh, He in many ways (though certainly not all) revealed himself to be closer in spirit to the Tao of Lao Tzu then to God as conceived by the Hebrews at that time, even though the Hebrews had the revelation of Moses. This might be difficult to accept by those who are accustomed to thinking of Christ as the fulfillment of the expectation specifically of the Hebrews. Ancient Christian tradition, however, holds that Christ satisfied the longing of all the nations.

Hieromonk Damascene, Christ the Eternal Tao

The whiff of an empty bottle

Alasdair MacIntyre famously suggested that modernity is like the late Roman Empire, living on fragments of old ideas and practices that made sense only within a context that is now largely lost. Christian institutions, such as parishes, schools, hospitals, and aged-care and welfare agencies, might seem quite healthy. But they can easily lose their souls and become Christian “zombies” indistinguishable from secular NGOs.

As a young man, backpacking around Europe while deciding my vocation, I spent a fortnight in Florence. Two young guys from Seattle arrived at my youth hostel with only a day for Florence and asked me whether there was much to see! Though no expert, I offered to take them around. Engraved in my memory is an incident in the Uffizi Gallery. One of them turned to me and asked, “Who is the woman with the baby in so many of the pictures?”

Anthony Fisher, The West: Post- or Pre-Christian?

Peace in our time

[I]t came as something of a surprise that the Anglican bishops voted this week to stand firm on gay marriage. The result is somewhat qualified—the bishops also voted to permit blessings and prayers for same-sex civil partnerships and to issue a forthcoming apology about past sins against LGBTQ+ people. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, however, is apparently delighted:

This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage. I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church. I hope it can offer a way for the Church of England, publicly and unequivocally, to say to all Christians and especially LGBTQI+ people, that you are welcome and a valued and precious part of the body of Christ.

Or, to put it more concisely in the words of Neville Chamberlain, “Peace in our time.”

Carl Trueman

Half-Converted Christians

There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already – without Him. This kind of Christianity is more terrifying than agnosticism or hedonism.

Rod Dreher, Schmemann and Social Justice. I suspect that Dreher was quoting or closely paraphrasing Fr. Schmemann, a towering figure in American Orthodoxy.

I don’t want my Sunday posts to turn political, but it seems to me that this may be relevant to the Donald Trump supporters who began calling themselves “Evangelical” without darkening the door of even the Trumpiest “church.”

Steve Robinson returns!

To my delight, I stumbled onto one of my favorite sporadic podcasters and doodlers, who apparently disappeared partly because of cancer, but it now back with the Pithless Thoughts II.

(2023 Resolutions)

It appears that “sporadic” no longer fits, which is a good thing if I’m going to pay-to-read.

Do not subscribe expecting any political commentary.

More from Steve:

The internet gives us an omniscience about, and a platform to address the world in ways that were previously available only to God.

The problem is, we are not equipped to be God. Adam and Eve had one thing to control and could not deal with the temptation attached to it. They failed as “gods” in a near-perfect world in which only one thing in their world demanded a consequential choice. One thing. In one small place. With one clear instruction. No other people. No “big picture”. No big deal. Their world was as limited as their humanity. And yet they failed to be even as human as they could have been.

I don’t know if the world is bigger and more complicated because of the Fall, or if we have just not been able to keep up with it because of the Fall. Either way, we are not created with the capacity to deal with omniscience. Our finite humanness is created to obey God and let God be God and judge and control all things (to not “be God”). It is not created to “be God” and judge, control and respond to the entire world’s issues. Because we are not God and we live in a fallen world, we can only take in so much pain, evil and dissolution (on top of what is already in our own hearts and lives) before we break.

I’ve watched the internet for over 20 years now and I see the same thing happening. We are in a cultural and personal “psychotic break”.

The “break” is this: We are overwhelmed with an ungodly amount of information, we are tempted and called on to be “gods”, but we, by nature, incapable of omniscience. The world is big, out of control, gray and complex. We, on the other hand are small, relatively powerless and simple. At the intersection of the vast world and our limited humanity is the potential for “psychosis”. And it is ultimately a spiritual issue.

The hardest spiritual discipline, from the beginning, is to “stay in our human lane” and not fall for the First Temptation to “be like God, knowing good from evil”. All the evils in the world were brought about by that simple appeal to our human ego and the news of the world, no matter how intimate or global that news is, has tempted humanity since.

You Will Be Like God

Mystery

Her mysteries are but the expressions in human language of truths to which the human mind is unequal.

John Henry Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua

Saturday, 1/21/23

Culture

Journalism

If you think the decline in local newspapers is only an abstract story, or that Facebook posts can make up for local investigations, ladies and gentlemen, we give you New York’s Third Congressional District.

Peggy Noonan

(New York’s Third Congressional District is represented by a fellow who may be named George Santos.)

Enneagrams

I have heard or read many mentions of enneagrams, but only very recently did I look up the topic in the most authoritative source in the history of the cosmos.

It’s clear to me that my “characteristic role” is “reformer, perfectionist.” I also have a pretty good dose of “investigator, observer.” These tendencies correspond to particular besetting sins, of which I was well aware without the enneagram framework.

Beyond that, I’d feel as uncomfortable getting deeply into enneagrams as I would getting into QAnon. Maybe that’s unfair, but I’m not interested in wading into either enneagrams or QAnon to find out for myself.

David Crosby

If you care about such things, you’re probably aware that David Crosby died Wednesday night at age 81. It’s a gift to the rest of us that he lived so long despite the antics of his younger self.

I have a very soft spot for him, and I can identify three reasons without even breaking a sweat:

  1. The music. He was a great and creative folk-pop artist, and his music generally features great jazz-influenced harmonizations.
  2. The candor. Crosby appeared to be utterly candid about his self-inflicted injuries. Better that he’d not inflicted them in the first place, but afterward he certainly didn’t glamorize them.
  3. The sense of purpose. Marveling that he’d lived so long (see item 2), Crosby felt duty-bound to realize all the good music he had in him in his remaining days.

It’s my understanding that not all will be saved, but that I’m permitted to hope for the salvation of all. Requiescat in pacem; et lux perpetua dona eis domine. I’m not even going to spell-check that.

Why the Machine won’t win

I don’t think that the Machine will win … I don’t think it can. The drive to control is like the old lady who swallowed a fly. The solutions only exacerbate the problem. For the Machine, the problem is contingency: the sheer unpredictability of the world. To kill that fly, it swallowed the spider of hierarchy, the top-down view; but that was not enough. Centuries later, under mechanical influence, we cram down a T-Rex of lies just to convince ourselves that our social world makes sense. It doesn’t.

What do I mean by contingency? The living world is like a tree. Structures and shapes reappear at different scales. Look at a tree and it has pattern, form, wholeness. Look at a single leaf and, though only a tiny part of the tree, it too has pattern, form, wholeness. If your only interest in the tree is firewood, then the wholeness of the leaf doesn’t matter. If, though, you wish to understand a living tree, you get nowhere until you see the wholeness of the leaf. This is the source of contingency. What happens at leaf-level is almost infinitely variable, but reverberates up all the scales to the biggest. And this is the Machine’s great weakness. If its eyes were allowed to see the fractal subtlety of the leaf, then its mind could not devise a system for controlling the tree. It would be lost in contemplation. So it abstracts out the life. Leaves becomes Lego pieces and people become numbers. Rather than measure the world, the Machine always measures a proxy. This is how it will fail.

How do I know this? The Machine itself is an organism, although it does not know it, and organisms die.

It doesn’t matter whether you tear your empire to pieces in a frenzy of revolutions or allow it to slowly collapse under its own bureaucratic weight. Either way, it dies. It would be better to learn acceptance. The end of a civilisation is not the end of the world. It is not even the end of the human world. It is merely the end of the the culture of the cities: a passing phase that encloses even the most remote countryside now, but which is not all we have been or can be.

FFatalism, Against cyberpunk. For barbarism.

Law

Forensic lawyering

I don’t know that I’ve coined many phrases in my life, but I claim credit (after watching hired-gun “forensic witnesses”) for labeling the proverbial “world’s oldest profession” as “forensic dating.”

In that sense, our former President has long kept a stable of forensic lawyers — hired guns ready to file any damnfool nonsense to punish his critics.

But every lawyer is ethically obliged not knowingly to file lawsuits based on false facts or lacking any plausible legal theory in support. In other words, many of Trump’s lawsuits were unethical. But he and his lawyers never (or virtually never) got called on it. In my experience, a high proportion of lawsuits are unethical and should get sanctioned, but Trump is not alone; Judges tend be pretty lax on idiotic lawsuits from people who don’t pretend to be billionaires, too.

I was once a defendant in one of those idiotic lawsuits. The facts were roughly thus: Zoning ordinances forbade sexually-oriented businesses within X feet of residential neighborhoods (I think). Anyhow, someone set up a porn shop <X feet from whatever it was. I signed a petition asking My Fair City to enforce the zoning law.

So the city sued me, and everyone else who signed the petition, and the filthmonger, saying essentially “we don’t know what the ordinance requires us to do; let the people who annoy us fight it out with the filthmongers.

I knew the odds were against sanctions, so I just fought my way out of the suit and then glared even more than usual at the corrupt City Attorney who filed it.

So nobody could be happier than I that a judge has finally called Trump’s lawyers on an unethical lawsuit, and imposed big-dollar sanctions ($900,000+) on his lawyer and on him personally for a frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton (every silver lining must have a cloud) and others:

“This case should never have been brought,” U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks wrote in a 46-page ruling. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”

“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Judge Middlebrooks wrote. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions.”

Mr. Trump’s claims were “a hodgepodge of disconnected, often immaterial events, followed by an implausible conclusion,” the judge wrote, adding, “This is a deliberate attempt to harass; to tell a story without regard to facts.”

Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Judge Orders Trump and Lawyer to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Bogus Suit; see also Jonathan H. Adler, Trump Lawyers Sanctioned AGAIN for Frivolous Suit Against Political Opponents

Universal Principles

“NHL player Ivan Provorov shouldn’t have to wear a pride jersey for the same reason Colin Kaepernick shouldn’t have to stand for the anthem. … [T]he universal principle is free expression over compelled speech,” – Nicholas Grossman via Andrew Sullivan.

Complicating Grossman’s attractive categorical statement is that this is the NHL, not the government. But I like free speech culture, not just free speech law.

Politics

Manichean fanaticism, left and right

The right is not unique in conspiratorial delusion, of course. The refusal of many on the left to accept Tump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real and widespread. Both Hillary Clinton and John Lewis declared Trump an illegitimate president. Remember the Diebold machines of 2004? Not far from the Dominion stuff today. And the intensity of the belief on the left in an unfalsifiable “white supremacist” America has a pseudo-religious fervor to it. The refusal of [Eric] Metaxas to allow any Republican to remain neutral or skeptical is mirrored by Ibram X. Kendi’s Manichean fanaticism on the far left.

But the long-established network of evangelical churches and pastors, and the unique power of an actual religion to overwhelm reason, gives the right an edge when it comes to total suspension of disbelief.

Andrew Sullivan, Christianism and Our Democracy

Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend

The far right thus fixates on whatever controversy is dominating politics at the time.

How America’s far right flits from issue to issue | The Economist

The Economist is generally sane and smart. But that block-quote amounts, doesn’t it, to “the far right engages whatever cause progressives have thrust onto center stage”?

Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend.

Davos

“It was, and is, a corrupt circle-jerk,” – Jill Abramson on Davos via Andrew Sullivan.

Wordplay

Economist’s Words of the week:

  • Reichsbürger, a German far-right extremist group that rejects the legitimacy of the federal republic in favour of the German Reich of 1871. Read the full story here.
  • Friendshoring, a kind of reverse offshoring in which supply chains are redirected to stable, ideally allied countries. Read the full story.

Economists’ Words of the Year:

Aridification: the long-term drying of a region; a term applied when “drought,” or even “megadrought,” are no longer sufficient.

Productivity paranoia: an affliction of home workers afraid of being seen as shirkers, and bosses afraid that home-workers are indeed shirking.

TWaT city: one where many commuters travel to the office only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Battery belt: a green-friendly revitalised form of America’s “Rust Belt” through investment in industries such as electric-car manufacturing and “gigafactories” that make batteries for electric cars.

Vertiport: where multirotor drones that are large enough to carry people, also known as flying cars, take off and land.

At war with decadent dictionaries

I will never relent! “Literally” means literally, not “virtually” or “damn straight!” If we let them get away with changing that meaning, 55 years of my life are in vain!


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Wednesday, 1/18/23

“Science”

Follow the scien(tists’ secret agendas)

Few areas of medicine have become as politically heated, and in need of cool-headed research, as treatment of transgender children. Neither side seems to be engaging in good faith. Some Democrats have misrepresented the medical consensus on how best to help children with gender-related distress, presenting this as a closed matter when there is no global scientific consensus. The cherry-picking of evidence by medical bodies such as the American Academy of Paediatrics helps explain why Republicans have become twice as likely as Democrats to believe scientists have agendas beyond the pursuit of scientific fact.

The Economist, 1/14/123

The Über-Agenda

More drugs and surgery for kids: The American Academy of Pediatrics this week came out with new recommendations: Obese children should be given weight loss drugs and surgery at ages as young as 12 and 13, respectively. Now, that is probably the right thing to do for severely obese children. But also: The new recommendations argue that “obesity is a chronic disease.” Obesity, in the new mindset, can never be about choices. It is not a lifestyle problem. 

The message is: body positivity and junk food are a-ok (can’t be shaming anyone!) until the American medical establishment can profit, and then it’s a sharp pivot to  hardcore drugs and surgery. It’s cheap, government-subsidized corn products shoveled into school lunches, then a series of expensive drugs for chemically imbalanced adolescents. There is no middle ground. 

One thing I noticed in the new pediatric guideline is they use the word overweight in a way I’d never seen. It goes: “youth with overweight and obesity.” As in: “This is the AAP’s first clinical practice guideline (CPG) outlining evidence-based evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with overweight and obesity.” Obesity and “overweight” is a disease you catch.

Nellie Bowles

Has anyone devised and deployed an effective incentive for doctors to learn about, and prescribe, good nutrition — patient-tailored if necessary?

Legalia

Notably off-narraative

Some LGBetc students sued to circumvent or invalidate exemptions for certain religious schools from certain nondiscrimination rules:

To recap, a coalition of students sued the Biden Department of Education, seeking to roll back religious liberty and place a high price on the autonomy of religious organizations, the Biden administration defended religious liberty, and a Clinton-appointed judge dismissed the case, relying in part on unanimous Supreme Court precedent decided by both Republican and Democratic-appointed justices.

This is not exactly the culture war narrative you hear on cable news.

David French, trying to inject a little anti-inflammatory into the culture war narrative.

(H/T Get Religion, critiquing the pathetic coverage of the story by RNS).

Covenants not to compete

For the record, I viscerally and strongly support the Biden FTC’s move to abolish Covenants Not to Compete. I do so because I have seen their abuse over and over again.

My state, Indiana, always greets lawsuits over these covenants with ritual incantations that they are viewed with disfavor. Then it always upholds them, no matter how ludicrous and unreasonable.

What I most hate about the Indiana approach is the perversity of this reasoning:

  1. Unless otherwise agreed, all employees are “at will.”
  2. It’s sad that you uprooted your family and moved X miles for a job with an employer who didn’t mention covenants not to compete, but when your new employer thrust the covenant before you on your first day and said “sign,” it was supported by adequate consideration because employer didn’t fire you then and there.
  3. Yes, the employer could still fire you without cause tomorrow. What is it about “at will” you don’t understand, dummy?

I suppose if you checked, you might find one or two covenants rejected by an Indiana appellate court, though I don’t recall one. So sue me.

And I suppose that the FTC probably lacks lawful power to abolish them. So sue it. I know someone will.

Politics

The difference between conservatives and Freedom Caucus

Some people have asked me, “How has the Trump era changed you?” For one thing, it has made me a lot more conservative — not in the Fox-and-talk sense, but in an older, Burkean one. Most of the radicalism in me has been snuffed out.

One of the GOP’s new congressmen, Madison Cawthorn, said, “I want a new generation of Americans to be radicals.”

Well, to hell with that.

Jay Nordlinger, Lies, Patriotism, and Consequences, January 11, 2021.

The populism that the press keeps styling as some sort of conservatism is still radical two year later, as shown by legislation that proposes wholesale to tear down systems and replace them with untried “conservative” alternatives. Florida Governor DeSantis is not exempt from this observation, as he loads up the Board of New College of Florida with populists like Christopher Rufo, who are in a hurry to demolish and rebuild.

One Simpson’s episode worth ten thousand words

As we approach the 30th anniversary of The Simpsonslegendary Monorail episode, Alan Siegel caught up with Conan O’Brien—a former writer for the show—on what it was like to pitch what is now considered one of the most timeless bits in sitcom history. “[“Marge vs. the Monorail”] warned the world about charismatic men selling foolishly grandiose solutions to problems that don’t need fixing,” Siegel writes for The Ringer. “References to the episode will never cease making O’Brien happy. While browsing the Rose Bowl flea market, his friend once noticed a framed travel poster showcasing Homer and the monorail. ‘It says, “Glides as smoothly as a cloud,’’’ O’Brien says. ‘I was like, “You have to buy that for me.” It wasn’t even that much. That’s hanging in my house, and I kind of smile every time I see it.’ Still, the fact that ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’ is seemingly brought up whenever a grifter dupes the public surprises O’Brien. After all, it was an idea that started very, very small.”

The Morning Dispatch

Gun control as culture war

[A]ttempts to ban ordinary weapons such as semiautomatic rifles and handguns are plainly unconstitutional, that they would be unlikely to do much to deter violent crime, and that they are at root intellectually dishonest: They are more genuinely a culture-war assault by progressive-leaning urbanites and suburbanites on gun owners as a demographic, one that is perceived (not entirely accurately) as being socially retrograde, white, male, rural, Southern, middle-aged—everything that communicates “Trump voter” to people living in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Kevin D. Williamson

Face the GOP Facts

[I]t’s long past time for well-meaning conservatives writing in good faith to face up to the facts: The GOP is not an economically populist party and shows no signs at all of becoming one. It’s a culturally populist party with a plutocratic economic agenda.

Damon Linker, The Right’s Economic Populism is Stillborn

Realistic Expectations

“The only reason for a Republican hopeful to put their own aspirations aside and back DeSantis in 2024 is because it would be good for the country for the GOP to finally rid itself of Trump,” Nick writes in Tuesday’s Boiling Frogs. “I doubt a single one will pass on the race for that reason.”

The Morning Dispatch

January 6

The Stanford historian David M. Kennedy has spent a career as an authority on American society and politics; winner of a Pulitzer Prize, he wrote one of the most popular textbooks on American history and has delved into a number of controversies and political movements. But he has struggled to come up with any analogue from the past for what he describes as the “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. “This is a unique moment,” he says, “where a degree of insanity and irrationality has infected a large enough sector of our body politic that we’re really sick. I think we are politically sick, and I use that word advisedly.”

Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna and Emily Cadei, The Education of Josh Hawley – POLITICO

Nonpartisan Gmail filters

The Federal Election Commission decided last week to dismiss a complaint brought by the Republican National Committee and other GOP campaign groups that alleged Gmail’s spam filter constituted “illegal, corporate in-kind contributions to the Biden campaign and Democrat[ic] candidates across the country.” Republicans cited a North Carolina State University study that found GOP campaign emails were sent to spam at a significantly higher rate than Democratic ones, but FEC officials found no evidence any disproportionate results were intentional and held that Google had “credibly supported its claim” that the spam filter exists for commercial purposes. As Sarah noted last year, Republican campaigns have a long history of overusing and sharing email lists, resulting in spam filters being triggered at a higher rate.

The Morning Dispatch

Quoted without concurrence

I doubtless suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, even after having watched with bemusement people with Bush or Obama derangements. By admitting this, I’m saying that I simply have never understood how Donald J. Trump could appeal to any upright adult human, let alone appeal as POTUS.

I know he does appeal to some such people, though, and is at least tolerable to many more. So I need periodically to let one of his defenders make the case:

When it comes to Donald J. Trump, people see what they wish to see. Much like with the audio debate a few years ago “Do you hear ‘Laurel’ or ‘Yanny’?,” what some perceive as an abrasive, scornful man bent on despotism, others see as a candid, resolute leader unflinchingly committed to America’s interests.

Kellyanne Conway, The Cases for and Against Trump

(Another thing I can’t understand is how vocal NeverTrumper George Conway and Kellyanne kept their marriage intact 2015-2020.)

Cited without any conviction that it really matters

Renato Mariatti makes the case that Biden’s retention of classified documents is nothing like Trump’s:

Based on what we know now, Biden’s sloppy retention of a smattering of classified documents looks more like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inadvertent retention of classified material on a private email server than former President Donald Trump’s stubborn refusal to return hundreds of classified documents to the DOJ despite repeated demands from federal officials.

Trump is under investigation for willful retention of classified records because he ignored direct requests from national archives officials, a grand jury subpoena and even a personal visit from DOJ’s top counterintelligence official. The FBI seized the documents pursuant to a search warrant only after they discovered that Trump’s attorneys lied to them and that documents had been moved inside Mar-a-Lago after their visit.

While the Biden investigation is at an early stage, and there may be key facts that are not yet public, Biden’s actions appear to have been sloppy and inadvertent rather than willful and obstructive. Most of the statutes that Trump is under investigation for violating wouldn’t apply to Biden’s conduct. The only statute that Hur would likely investigate is 18 U.S.C. 793(f)(1), which punishes the loss or removal of national defense information resulting from “gross negligence.”

Culture

Woke schoolmarms

[W]hy does wokeness … drive me crazy?

The beginning of an answer can be found in the fact that wokeness makes me feel like I’m attending Sunday school in a denomination and parish I never chose to join. I just turn on the radio or open the paper or scroll through Twitter — and the next thing I know, a finger-wagging do-gooder with institutional power behind him is delivering a sermon, showing me The Way, calling on me to repent, encouraging me to be born again in the moral light.

Damon Linker, Why does wokeness drive me crazy?

Too much of a good thing?

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

Walter M. Miller Jr. [A Canticle for Leibowitz]()

Faces and heels

Aaron Renn has a fascinating account of “heels” and “faces,” a dichotomy from the argot of professional wrestling that I’d not heard before, including this interesting take on the Trump phenomenon:

Playing the heel is not always a strategic failure. Some people can succeed in both using heel mode to benefit themselves, and having some strategic success as well.

The big example is Donald Trump. The party system, political finance structure, and media apparatus made it essentially impossible for any fundamental changes to or questioning of the system to gain traction. Trump, in a judo type move, was able to use the media’s desire for a conservative heel to draw immense media attention that catapulted him to the presidency. Most of the time, he was able to successfully parry media attacks using some variation of heel tactics.

Not only that, his candidacy and presidency shook up the system in a way that I don’t recall ever happening since the Reagan era. While ultimately it might be completely suppressed – every major institution in society, including the Republican Party establishment, is aligned with making that suppression happen – he certainly made an impact. And that would not have happened without using heel tactics.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has not only spent decades in the media spotlight, he’s also in the pro wrestling hall of fame. He has a deep understanding of how these dynamics work and how to deploy them successfully.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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, 1/15/23

Assembly by False Hearts

In our digitalized, printed world, we have access to almost everything. The vast discourse of the saints, the details of the canons, the deeds and records of empires, are all available to almost everyone. Someone wants to make a point and assembles a long list of quotes drawn from the saints. Every word written is true, and yet the presentation is not true.  It is impossible to argue with such things – you are resisting the saints! And it is equally impossible to help someone whose heart is in delusion to understand that such a collection can be false – primarily because it was assembled by a false heart.

The Scriptures are abused in the same manner. It is terribly frustrating to be confronted with a vast collection of verses gathered in the service of a false teaching. The same thing was confronted by the fathers early on. Fr. Georges Florovsky gives this summary of an account by St. Irenaeus:

Denouncing the Gnostic mishandling of Scriptures, St. Irenaeus introduced a picturesque simile. A skillful artist has made a beautiful image of a king, composed of many precious jewels. Now, another man takes this mosaic image apart, re-arranges the stones in another pattern so as to produce the image of a dog or of a fox. Then he starts claiming that this was the original picture, by the first master, under the pretext that the gems … were authentic. In fact, however, the original design had been destroyed …. This is precisely what the heretics do with the Scripture. They disregard and disrupt “the order and connection” of the Holy Writ and “dismember the truth” — …. Words, expressions, and images — … —are genuine, indeed, but the design, the … hypothesis, is arbitrary and false (adv. haeres., 1. 8. 1).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Goodness and a Word in Due Season. (Ellipses replace Greek text that wouldn’t render on WordPress)

St. Irenaeus’s analogy always grabs me, and it’s as applicable to today’s heretics as to gnostics two millennia ago.

Midhir’s Invitation to the Far Laned

Irish, author, unknown, ninth century

Fair woman, will you go with me to the high land
where sweet music is? There your hair is like the primrose
And people stroll with snow-white skin.

In the high land, there is neither yours nor mine.
The women’s teeth are white; the men’s eyes are black and clear.

Every cheek is the pink of foxglove.

The meadows of Ireland are fair to see –
But they are like a desert when you have seen the high land;

Irish ale is fine to drink – but in the high land
the wine they serve will turn your head into a cloud.

In the place, I speak of, the young do not die before their time;
They serve the old ones, who are wise
and shield the young in turn.

Sweet dreams flow always through the fair land
and the minds of the people are clear

as skin with no blemish,
as a child’s face in the virgin morning.

When we walk together there, you will see
these men and ladies,

you will see them on all sides, tall, and fair and kind.
But they will not see us.

For Adam’s transgression is a dark cloak around us,
and it means we cannot be seen, or counted among them.

(Martin Shaw & Tony Hoagland, Cinderbiter)

The missus almost immediately picked up that C.S. Lewis, consciously or unconsciously, echoed this old Irish poem in The Great Divorce.

A compulsion as common as the air we breath

Orthodoxy theology defines only what is necessary and always leaves unspoken that which cannot be explained. This approach was part of the Christian faith from the beginning. But the Western phronema often suppresses, dismisses, minimizes, or ignores this stance. The Western mind is compelled to define and explain everything, since without a rational explanation a concept or fact cannot be considered true, or, conversely, all truth can be proven rationally.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

Me, too

[N]one of the things that I care about most have ever proven susceptible to systematic exposition.

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread With the Dead

The Spiritual Life Doesn’t Work

I have wondered how the “success” of the spiritual life would be measured? I could imagine that the number of persons baptized might be compared to the number of the baptized who fall short of salvation—but there is no way to discover such a thing. In lieu of that, we often set up our own way of measuring—some expectation of “success” that we use to judge the spiritual life. “I tried Christianity,” the now self-described agnostic relates, “and found that it did not live up to its claims.” I’ve seen things like that.

To my mind, the entire question is a little like complaining about your hammer because it doesn’t work well as a screw-driver. The problem is that the spiritual life doesn’t “work,” and it was never supposed to. It is not something that “works”; it is something that “lives.” And this is an extremely important distinction.

We today look to our faith to solve problems. Whether we suffer from psychological wounds, or simple poverty and failure, we look to God for help. The spiritual life, and the “techniques” we imagine to be associated with it, are the means by which we “help ourselves”—and then God will do the rest.

Well, this narrative is simply not part of the Christian faith …

The lives of the saints are filled with information of an opposite sort. For example:

  • [St.] Mary of Egypt is directed into the desert by the voice of the Mother of God. She lives miraculously on very little food. But she tells of 17 years—17 years!—of virtual torture as she battled the temptations that had governed her previously sinful life. Our daily trials would seem as nothing in comparison.
  • St. Silouan the Athonite told about a period of 15 years in which he had no sense of the presence of God, but was instead tortured by demons.
  • St. Seraphim of Sarov spent years in prayer and fasting, was beaten, robbed and left like a cripple.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Slow Road to Heaven


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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, 1/12/23

Culture

Beware, lest the fate of Jordan Peterson befall thee

Now, no one who has followed [Jordan] Peterson—presumably including the higher-ups at the College of Psychologists of Ontario—seriously believes he would agree to such a request. He has confirmed as much on Twitter. (This is a guy who burst onto the scene in 2016 after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns.) And Peterson is famous enough at this point to be inoculated against the financial consequences of refusing to submit, which the college must know.

The college’s statement, then, is not a message to Peterson, but a message to other would-be dissenters: Comply with our politics, or risk losing your livelihood.

[T]here is something about the [Jordan] Peterson story that is more chilling. It was not enough for the College to declare his comments offensive. It had to go one step further and imply that there was something about him that was unwell. By referring Peterson to a therapist for daring to speak his mind, the College of Psychologists of Ontario has pathologized dissent. It has made political disagreement into an illness.

Neeraja Deshpande, Will Jordan Peterson Lose His License for Wrongthink?

Moot Now

Stanford University has, mercifully, retreated from some seriously deranged and intellectually incoherent rules:

To mention but a single category of forbidden words, Stanford’s thirteen-page index prohibits terms that define people by just one of their characteristics.  “Prisoner,” for example, defines people by the characteristic of being, or having been, in prison.  Instead, Stanford says, one should say “person who is/was incarcerated.”  My first, uncharitable thought was that Stanford’s DEI experts hadn’t gone nearly far enough, for as you will see if you think deeply about it, the expression “person who is/was incarcerated” still identifies people according to just one of their characteristics, the characteristic of being incarcerated.

Another of the banned words on Stanford’s list is “prostitute.”  Anyone can see why.  Who wants to be called a prostitute?  The Stanford DEI administrators suggest substituting the phrase “person who engages in sex work,” which is considerate of them.  After thinking it over, however, I thought “Oho!  Does not this phrase too define people according to just one of their characteristics, the characteristic of engaging in sex work?”  Perhaps one might say “person who may, sometimes, perform sexual acts for money, as anyone might from time to time.”  But who is to say what counts as a sexual act these days?  So that’s out.  This is a tough one.  For now, the best substitute for “prostitute” I’ve been able to come up with is “political consultant.”

J Budziszewski, Sympathy for Stanford

An effective heuristic

One of my most vital convictions is summed up in this post: “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.” Americans have these wildly distorted views of people whom they perceive to be their political enemies because so many journalists and talking heads enrich themselves through stoking hatred. Those people should be utterly shunned.

I’m confident this originated with Alan Jacobs, though I don’t have a URL.

This admonition hasn’t been far from my mind since I first saw it. But I would refine it: “Does this writer, in this blog or publication, make bank when we hate one another?” I have to have that refinement or else Rod Dreher’s Chicken Little routine at The American Conservative would disqualify him even though his Substack, Rod Dreher’s Diary, is just fine — so intense that I want to avert my eyes sometimes, but not making bank on hate.

For Rod’s sake, I wish he’d find a way to dump his Chicken Little gig.

Populists, too, can march

Ron DeSantis has appointed a bunch of conservatives, even a rabble-rouser or two, to the Board of New College of Florida, the most liberal (in the political sense — i.e., “progressive”) of Florida’s state schools.

Michelle Goldberg refers to it as Christopher Rufo’s “long march through the institutions,” which strikes me as just about perfect, if you know the allusion.

The end of woke capital?

Is the politically active CEO poised to become a thing of the past? “Businesses waded into these once-taboo topics to begin with because they claimed they aligned with their corporate values, and—let’s be real—because they viewed it as good PR,” Beth Kowitt writes for Bloomberg. “[But] the era of widespread corporate outspokenness is ending. Part of the calculus for corporations is that they may be realizing they overestimated the goodwill their public stances generate. Research from Vanessa Burbano, a professor at Columbia Business School, has found that there is a ‘significant demotivating effect’ if an employer takes a stance an employee disagrees with, but no statistically motivating effect if the employee agrees. ‘The blowback you get is greater than the benefit,’ she told me. The reason, she says, is likely what’s called a ‘false consensus effect.’ People tend to assume that others share their values and are surprised and react more strongly when they find out that’s not the case.”

The Morning Dispatch.

I don’t know about the wider trends, but woke capital is still trying to tell Indiana’s legislature what to do. Maybe they’re doing that because they succeeded with Indiana RFRA in 2005 and there’s no reason to think they can’t succeed again, so highly do we value our image as business magnet.

Social Climbing

It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually read, but for some reason, this caught my eye: Xochitl Gonzalez, The New Case for Social Climbing. Recommended.

Ethnomasochism

The passing of the Queen became primarily an occasion for a recitation of the crimes of British imperialism, both real and imagined. This catechism, and those that follow the same template in other Western countries, ironically serves to provide a kind of cohesion — not of the nation, but of a post-national ruling class that regards itself as the civilized minority and defines itself against a backward majority.

Matthew B. Crawford, Love of one’s own. I just discovered that Crawford has a Substack. I’m in!

Uniqueness

It must surely be granted that whatever is unique defies definition. Definition then must depend on some kind of analogical relationship of a thing with other things, and this can mean only that definition is ultimately circular.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

Politics

The January 6 Committee Report

The committee’s report documents starkly how Trump literally erased and stopped history from being recorded as he waited to see how the storming of the Capitol would unfold: He stopped the White House photographer from taking pictures between 1:30 and 4 pm, there are no official records—as there should be—of his telephone calls that afternoon despite his assistant saying “he was placing lots of calls,” and, “the President’s official Daily Diary contains no information for this afternoon between the hours of 1:19 pm and 4:03 pm, at the height of the worst attack on the seat of the United States Congress in over two centuries.” These are huge historical holes, as anyone who studies the presidency knows—the daily diary usually tracks every single interaction a president has to the minute, including who stepped into or out of what room when, when telephone calls were attempted, whether they were successful, etc. And we have these records from the darkest and most fraught moments of American history—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Saturday Night Massacre, 9/11, and so on. Trump’s foresight to stop these records on January 6 is as solid evidence of a mens rea, a guilty mind, as you could imagine.

Garrett M. Graff, January 6 Report: 11 Details You May Have Missed | WIRED (emphasis added)

I got an email from a Florida Man today, saying the January 6 report is all LIES! LIES! LIES! and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, stupid people, send money to this grift I call a defense fund!

Those who haven’t figured out that this is a grift, funnelling money straight into his pocket, deserve to lose whatever they send.

Mitch McConnell ain’t afraid of Florida Man

In another sign that Republicans are really ready to ditch Trump, Mitch McConnell was brutal on the former president in a recent interview with NBC News: “Here’s what I think has changed: I think the former president’s political clout has diminished.” And then on losing the midterms: “We lost support that we needed among independents and moderate Republicans, primarily related to the view they had of us as a party—largely made by the former president—that we were sort of nasty and tended toward chaos.” Nasty and trending toward chaos is a pretty perfect way to describe the former president and his would-be political successors.

Nellie Bowles

Conservative versus Amateurish and Crazy

If the House was full of Dan Crenshaws, Mike Gallaghers, Steve Scalises, and Pete Meijers and purged of all the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Matt Gaetzes, it would be just as ideologically conservative if not more so, but it would be a lot less amateurish and crazy. And that would be good for the GOP, conservatism, and the country—because voters don’t just vote for individual candidates, they vote for which party they want to see in power. So of course, all things being equal, the “establishment” should err on the side of supporting candidates who make the party more attractive to voters generally.

Jonah Goldberg

Call us unreliable

[A]llies and rival powers alike know that a Republican winning the White House could portend foreign policy reversals on multiple fronts around the globe. That makes us a far less reliable partner and source of stability than we have been in the past.

Damon Linker, Foreign Policy and the Right

Social media carrying water for the Administration

Email exchanges between Rob Flaherty, the White House’s director of digital media, and social-media executives prove the companies put Covid censorship policies in place in response to relentless, coercive pressure from the White House—not voluntarily. The emails emerged Jan. 6 in the discovery phase of Missouri v. Biden, a free-speech case brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and four private plaintiffs represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

These emails establish a clear pattern: Mr. Flaherty, representing the White House, expresses anger at the companies’ failure to censor Covid-related content to his satisfaction. The companies change their policies to address his demands. As a result, thousands of Americans were silenced for questioning government-approved Covid narratives. Two of the Missouri plaintiffs, Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, are epidemiologists whom multiple social-media platforms censored at the government’s behest for expressing views that were scientifically well-founded but diverged from the government line—for instance, that children and adults with natural immunity from prior infection don’t need Covid vaccines.

Emails made public through earlier lawsuits, Freedom of Information Act requests and Elon Musk’s release of the Twitter Files had already exposed a sprawling censorship regime involving the White House as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. The government directed tech companies to remove certain types of material and even to censor specific posts and accounts. Again, these included truthful messages casting doubt on the efficacy of masks and challenging Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

Jenin Younes and Aaron Kheriaty, The White House Covid Censorship Machine

This story is significant because private actors can violate first amendment free speech rights if they are acting under government coercion to do so — as they apparently have been.

I have taken all recommended Covid vaccines and available boosters. I know that “do your own research” can easily lead one to quacks and deliberate liars, and a realistic assessment of my science literacy suggests I’d be susceptible to that. I don’t object to the government communicating its official position to citizens. But I draw the line at government censoring dissent — directly or by turning social media into its agents.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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, 1/8/23

Orthodoxy

Two from Constantinou

  • Orthodoxy holds that the fullness of the Faith was revealed to the Church at Pentecost, once and for all. The Greek Fathers utilized their education in the service of the Church to explain doctrine, not to find new truths, since the fullness of the truth was received at Pentecost.
  • Ultimately, theology is not a set of definitions or theories. Theology is mystery since it transcends the rational mind and attempts to express the inexpressible. In schools of theology and seminaries, theology is indeed an academic subject and, as such, it requires accuracy and embraces a certain “intellectual rigour,” as Met. Kallistos remarks. This does not conflict with Orthodoxy, since “we do not serve the Kingdom of God through vagueness, muddle and lazy thinking.” But he also notes that in other sciences or areas of investigation, the personal sanctity of the scientist or inquirer is irrelevant. This is not the case with theology, which requires metanoia (repentance), catharsis (purification), and askesis (spiritual struggle).

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind (emphasis added)

Both of these observations point out true Orthodox distinctives in comparison to Western Christendom, don’t they?

How to Live (temporally)

Within this longer blog post is a priceless bullet-list on “how to live.” I review it regularly.

Though I blog a lot about politics, it’s been a long time since I argued politics. The difference in outcomes between policy A and policy B are usually less important to me than the potential for personal alienation. So my political blogs are mixtures of “this is my opinion; yours may vary” and “here’s something thought-provoking or very well written.”

I guess that confirms that I’m temperamentally in David French’s “hope and freedom” camp versus the camp of “anger and power.”

Other

A Reminder of Where We Were Two Years Ago

Certainly, the bulk of Pentecostal-charismatics who follow the prophets are in for a shock when Biden gets inaugurated Jan. 20. Rather than admit their error, Brown says some prophets have already concocted a scenario where Trump will be inaugurated “in heaven” and that God will replace Biden with Trump sometime this spring.

Julia Duin, Charismatics are at war with each other over failed prophecies of Trump victory

The whole story is well worth reading, Julia Duin being a “Religion Beat” pro in the press.

Homeless

I am thinking of a Black Southern Baptist–trained pastor who could not stomach taking his kids to church within his denomination anymore because of his fellow church members’ reluctance to talk about racism. A longtime staffer at a major American archdiocese who feels daily rage at the Catholic Church’s inability to address the clergy sexual-abuse crisis. A young woman fired from her job at a conservative Christian advocacy organization because she spoke out against President Trump. A Catholic professor who bitterly wishes the Democratic Party had room for his pro-life views. These are all examples from the world of religion and politics, but they speak to a deep and expansive truth: In many parts of American life, people feel the institutions that were supposed to guide their lives have failed, and that there is no space for people like them.

Emma Green, The American ‘way of life’ is unsustainable for so many. Is it time to build radical forms of community?

Seeing this excerpt surface in Readwise, I’m reminded that I haven’t seem much from Emma Green lately, and I miss her.

A baffling, frustrating, near-Saint

Did the 20th century produce anyone more baffling than Simone Weil? Christ at the Assembly Line

Russia and Ukraine

It’s a useful skill to be able to hold two truths in mind at the same time.

Truth #1 is that Russia is unjustified in invading Ukraine.

Truth #2 is that, discounting all the bullshit about “de-Nazification” or “Russki Mir,” Russia is right that the West is decadent, particularly in the area of sex and gender (with the U.S. leading the way), and that Ukraine is worrisomely trending westward in many areas of culture.

I literally pray every day that God will thwart our meddling in traditional cultures, and I generally have sexual perversity in mind as the distinctive way we meddle these days. I also pray that God will turn back all manner of attacks on Ukraine. So I’m rooting for Ukraine to win against Russia in the hot war, but also that it will reject some of our ways as it grows closer to the West.

Nota Bene

No Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on January 6 or 7. All Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on December 25.

You read that right.

The thing is, December 25 on the Julian calendar (which much of world Orthodoxy follows liturgically) is January 7 on the Gregorian Calendar, the “civil calendar,” which some Orthodox (including my parish) follow for every Christian feast except Easter/Pascha.

Religion News Service summarizes plausibly enough, given its Gregorian Calendar premises:

While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate [Epiphany/Theophany] on Jan. 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 19, as their Christmas falls on Jan. 7.

It is not disputed that the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate astronomically.

I won’t get into the intra-Orthodox disputes over the “calendar issue,” which I personally shunted aside decades ago. Those arguments do nothing to edify.


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, 1/7/23

Culture

Jordan Peterson

The Campaign to Re-Educate Jordan Peterson” reminds me of how little written about Peterson. That isn’t likely to change because I just can’t take the time to get more than a smattering of the Jordan Peterson content available, and I don’t want to write in ignorance.

I like what I’ve heard and read and seen, but I was making my bed before Jordan Peterson was out of diapers, and I don’t personally need his coaching on how to do life. If a lot of younger (mostly-)men find it beneficial, I’m sure they could do far worse than taking advice from him.

In recognition of his influence, though, I pray for him daily.

AI’s limits

I have been an AI skeptic, which extended to Chat GPT. Ezra Klein has a fantastic podcast on the topic, which I haven’t even finished yet.

My fundamental instinct was right: AI is closely akin to bullshit in the Harry G. Frankfurt sense that it bears no relationship to truth. What AI does — so far at least if not ever and always — is basically pastiche of things that it has read and stored in its memory banks.

But my skepticism overlooked the harm AI can do. To make a long story short, I don’t think I can ever trust the internet again for important research; it’s too easy for a single AI “clickfarms” to create a web of websites all pointing in the wrong direction, or pointing aimlessly, with alluring headlines and reciprocal hyperlinks to reinforce the bullshit.

And of course our enemies will be using AI in elections to make any Russian interference in the 2016 election negligible in comparison.

Conservatism and Woke Capital

When I see stories about how Indiana’s conservatism makes it hard to recruit and retain tech workers, I detect a PR campaign at work.

Big Business has been a solvent dissolving families and communities for at least a century, and the press increasingly is a lazy accomplice.

Launch credentials

Aaron Renn has moved to Substack, and The Masculinist is no more. I’m not shedding many tears over that, but I endorse this from #48:

I have a three-year-old, and my ambition for him is that he will not have to go to college. I hope that by the time he turns 18, there will be alternative paths for him to launch himself into life without having to spend the time and money that were previously expended to obtain these “launch” credentials.

Let’s be honest, for 95% of people, college is purely about vocational credentialing. They go to college so they can get a good job coming out of it. For most high paying positions today, a college degree is still the price of entry. In some professions, the amount of formal education required to practice is still going up.

But in others it’s changing in the opposite direction. And that change is a good thing, though we need a lot more of it.

Nellie Bowles excerpts

Red-letter day

I almost never agree with Josh Hawley since he re-invented himself as a populist pugilist, but he hit a right note here:

Standing with me is Josh Hawley, who this month encouraged young men to “log off the porn and go ask a real woman on a date.”

Nellie Bowles, TGIF. All subsequent Nellie Bowles excerpts from the same January 6 post.

Enforcing a dubious orthodoxy

A new law in California paves the way for doctors to lose their license for “dissemination of misinformation or disinformation related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.” That sort of behavior is now considered “unprofessional conduct.” 

Longtime TGIF readers know my stance, but for all the newcomers: Misinformation and disinformation are real phenomena. But most of the time these days the words are political terms applied to any information a ruling clique doesn’t like. Often, it’s used by progressive journalists who want to see various voices censored on social media. 

In the case of Covid, many, many very real facts were considered mis-and-disinfo. Like: The vaccine does not prevent transmission of Covid. That was considered fake news, verboten. Had this law been in place you would have lost your medical license for saying it. In that case, people saw with their own bodies that, although vaccinated, they were very much coughing. But thanks to this new law that muffles doctors, who knows what we won’t know going forward.

Pretendians

Another fantastically insane fake Native American: I’m beginning to think that any high profile Native American influencer should be assumed to be a white girl with a spray tan. The latest Pretendian, who is quite literally a white girl with a spray tan: Kay LeClaire. A major leader in the Indigenous movement, LeClaire has claimed Métis, Oneida, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cuban and Jewish heritage. She was a co-owner of giige, a “Queer and Native American-owned tattoo shop and artist collective in Madison, WI.” She was a community leader-in-Residence at UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology and was part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. She has had copious speaking engagements, and she even led a name-change-mob, forcing the local music venue Winnebego to change its name for Indigenous sensitivity (it was named after its street). She sold crafts and clothes, all while pretending to be a Native American (that’s a federal crime, by the way). Obviously she also claims to be Two-Spirit, a sort of nonbinary identification long-practiced in Native cultures. 

She is in fact German, Swedish and French Canadian. An anonymous blogger identified the fraud.

On a related note, it’s a good time to read this article about how the official “Native American” population in the U.S. between the years 2010 and 2020 . . . doubled. Pretty soon every high school senior will be Native American. Little Harrison and Haisley will be touring the Princeton campus like, “why, yes, this is my ancestral feathered headdress, thanks for asking.”

Governors putting immigrants on buses to NYC

Wait . . . now Democrats are busing migrants to New York? Gov. Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, is busing migrants to New York City. And New York mayor Eric Adams is not happy about it, saying: “This is just unfair for local governments to have to take on this national obligation.”

Recall not three months ago, when busing migrants to New York was considered outrageous, potentially human trafficking, worthy of huge splashy headlines and endless features about the suffering these trips were causing. When the buses come from Colorado, surely the response will be the same? Of course not.

I just checked, and there is not a single story on The New York Times homepage right now. Polis describes his busing program to NYC versus the essentially identical Republican busing program to NYC as “night and day.” Because, Polis says: “We are respecting the agency and the desires of migrants who are passing through Colorado. We want to help them reach their final destination, wherever that is.”

You really should subscribe to the Free Press on Substack.

Politics

From earlier in the week:

Wise words

In 1992 [David Letterman] was famously passed over to succeed Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show” in favor of Jay Leno. Months passed, Mr. Leno’s ratings wobbled, NBC offered Mr. Letterman a second chance. And even though he was now fielding better offers from other networks and syndicators, he still had to have Carson—it was his dream from childhood to succeed that brilliant performer, have that show. He couldn’t give it up.

His advisers, in the crunch, told him a truth that is said to have released him from his idée fixe. There is no Johnny Carson show anymore, they said, it’s gone. It’s the Jay Leno show now, and you never wanted to inherit that.

Soon after, Mr. Letterman accepted the CBS show where he finally became what he wanted to be, No. 1 in late night.

Sometimes you have to realize a dream is a fixation, its object no longer achievable because it doesn’t exist.

Some of the [House Speaker election] spectacle connects in my mind to the fact that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a longtime idea that he must be speaker, and would do anything for it, and left his colleagues thinking eh, he just wants to be speaker—he’s two-faced, believes in little, blows with the wind. So they enjoyed torturing him. And in the end he made the kind of concessions that make a speakership hardly worth having.

This introduced an unusually white-hot Peggy Noonan column, and her no-holds barred take-down of the Freedom Caucus (“stupid,” “highly emotional,” “nihilis[ts],” no “historical depth”) is spot-on.

Remembering January 6

At 6:01 p.m. on January 6, with the day’s carnage behind him, Trump issued his last tweet of that day.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote. “Go home with love & in peace.” Trump ended with this admonition: “Remember this day forever!”

We will, just not in the way Trump and his party want us to.

Peter Wehner

Hunter Biden

… The House inquiry into Hunter Biden damages him but not his father ….

One of Karl Rove’s predictions for 2023. I have no opinion on most of them, but this one’s spot on, and the obsession of the GOP Congress-in-Waiting (there is no Congress until a Speaker is elected, which hasn’t happened as I write) is contemptible.

Speaker Pelosi

I know Nancy Pelosi was (is?) almost as hated by Republicans as Hillary Clinton. In reaction, I was inclined to praise her effectiveness as Speaker of the House.

But I must admit that her effectiveness was purchased at the cost if further infantilizing our feckless Congress. Pelosi was effective at advancing Democratic goals not purely by management and persuasion. She tended to formulate massive omnibus bills in secret and then introduce them at the last minute before something dreadful like a government shutdown would arrive. Last year’s $1.7 trillion year-end bill was a classic example.

Her sobriquet probably should be “Take It or Leave It Nancy.”

And Kevin McCarthy’s complicity is why at least one House GOP member opposed him.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Sell-by date expiring soon?

I don’t often post twice in a day, but it seems to me that Kevin McCarthy may find a piece of his soul that hasn’t been sold or mortgaged and thus win a Pyrrhic Speakership. These will be less relevant then.

But first:

Now, in ascending order of brilliance, commentary.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald has improbably begun “coding Right”:

It is an article of faith in liberal Democratic circles that the Republican Party and the American right is a cult, a cult of personality, in which reverence for Donald Trump is required, no dissent from party orthodoxy is permitted, and everyone mindlessly and obediently falls into line behind their leaders whenever they’re told, doing whatever they’re told, without questioning any of it.

That’s because American liberals are sophisticated. They’re well-educated and erudite, very rational, so, they know how to think for themselves. They love to flatter themselves by reciting the 1930’s Will Rogers’ quote: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat”. They’re just too thoughtful, too intellectually feisty to be controlled. They’re guided by science and the values of the Enlightenment. They’re profoundly individualistic and can’t be herded or controlled.

The Conservatives, they’re primitive. They barely have functioning brains. That’s why they go to two-year community college programs and learn how to fix cars, and are plumbers, or sell boats. They’re simple-minded, even religious. They love and worship authority, so they just do whatever they’re told. That’s why they all think and act alike.

All of this probably comes as a huge surprise to Congressman Kevin McCarthy ….

Glenn Greenwald, Right-Wing Populists Revolt: Trump Tax Returns, McCarthy’s Speaker Vote, & More

Kevin McCarthy

I relish his personal embarrassment for reasons explained here. No one in Congress save possibly Elise Stefanik has accommodated themselves to Trumpism in pursuit of power as cynically as McCarthy has. To watch him stymied and embarrassed repeatedly on the House floor by the Trump acolytes he courted at the brink of achieving his life’s ambition is justice too sweet for my weak prose to capture. We’d need a poet for the occasion.

Come to think of it, that poem has already been written.

Nick Cattogio.

She had me at the headline

It was the embodiment of the Twitter meme: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”

By bowing first to Trump and then to Greene, all McCarthy has done is show other Republicans how much there is to gain from pushing him around. His downfall isn’t surprising: Almost no one who has sold his or her soul to Trump has come out ahead. (The jury is still out on the Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik.) The reason these deals with the devil always go bad, I suspect, isn’t metaphysical. It’s simply that Trump sycophants are ultimately undermined by their weak and flabby character.

McCarthy’s Republican opponents are right in surmising that he believes in nothing and will yield under pressure; the evidence is his inability to stand up to them. His mistake was convincing himself that a party obsessed with dominance would reward submission.

Michelle Goldberg.

Wow! Though Goldberg writes well, I rarely read her. But this time, she had me at the headline: Leopards Eat Kevin McCarthy’s Face and she delivered well beyond expectation.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.