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.

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