It’s our purported son’s 47th birthday. I say “purported” because we clearly are not old enough to have a 47-year-old.
On the other hand, my late cousin Dutch and his wife were grandparents at 35. Hmmm.
Journalism and informational overload
Asymmetrical ideological inconveniences
For all their anxiety about media gatekeeping, you’re more likely to find news that’s inconvenient for the left in the New York Times than news that’s inconvenient for the right on a conservative website. People who earn a living complaining about collusion between Democrats and liberal journalists had no issue with Trump treating one Fox News host as his “shadow chief of staff” and patching in another via speaker phone to weigh in during Oval Office meetings. The Venn diagram of populist outlets that screech endlessly about media corruption and populist outlets being sued for defamation for lying about the 2020 election is basically a circle.
Bombarded by “Datapoints”
- The sum of our daily bombardment with information is to overwhelm and deplete our cognitive resources.
- [F]rom someone’s perspective, we are all conspiracy theorizers now. We are all in the position of holding beliefs, however sure we may be of them, that some non-trivial portion of the population considers not just mistaken but preposterous and paranoid … [or] rather than saying that we are all conspiracy theorizers now, I should say that we are all, from someone’s perspective, cult members now.
L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society
Vindication is maybe a little too sweet
The indispensable journalist Jesse Singal, who has written a great deal about hasty “transitioning” of adolescents presenting with something like gender dysphoria, faced an alarming challenge: the author of part of the World Professional Association of Transgender Health’s Standard of Care said Singal had misinterpreted what he wrote and had failed to call for confirmation of his interpretation.
Except it turned out that his challenger wasn’t the author. And Singal hadn’t misinterpreted what the real co-authors wrote. And what they wrote is pretty commonsensical. Singal’s defenders rejoiced, perhaps to excess, at his vindication:
Ever since I have started writing about this issue, a subset of genuinely immoral people in academia and media have tried very hard to lie about my writing on this subject and, in some more extreme cases, destroy my reputation with straightforwardly defamatory claims. My work is by no means perfect or above critique, and I’ve made mistakes, but there’s a chasm that’s light years wide between what I’ve written and what a subset of my critics insist on maliciously and performatively pretending I’ve written.
Could anything better symbolize this than an academic popping up to wrongly accuse me of misrepresenting his work, and of not reaching out to him beforehand, only for it to turn out that he didn’t even write the thing he claimed to have written? Over and over, I tweeted at the people who had jumped on the bandwagon against me, demanding deletions and apologies (my batting average wasn’t great on the apologies front). It was not a good use of my time, and of course my lack of grace here certainly didn’t improve the overall Twitter climate on this issue (and so many others): the debate over youth gender medicine really is treated like a team spectator sport rather than a matter requiring humility, nuance, and compassion. My “enemies” were thrilled that I had been humiliated, and they performed the online equivalent of beating up a me-shaped piñata, and then my “allies” were thrilled at the dramatic turnabout and gave Edmiston the same treatment.
I’m certainly not saying that my actions and his were equivalent; he was the aggressor, he publicly launched a false accusation at me, and he badly misrepresented his role working on the WPATH SoC. Rather, I am saying that the hysterical pitch of Twitter exacerbates everything, and that I threw fuel on the fire because I was so tired of years of defamatory bullshit and had finally achieved the sort of nigh-indisputable, 120-decibel vindication I’d often longed for during these profoundly asinine blowups.
It’s quite a tale if you’re interested.
The most effective way to sap distraction of its power is just to stop expecting things to be otherwise—to accept that this unpleasantness is simply what it feels like for finite humans to commit ourselves to the kinds of demanding and valuable tasks that force us to confront our limited control over how our lives unfold.
Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks
Down the Straussian Rabbit Hole – by Damon Linker
It’s become quite common among readers of Strauss to recognize that his mature writings (from roughly the early 1940s on) contain two teachings: a morally edifying surface message for public consumption and another, deeper, more subversive teaching fit only for his most careful and discerning readers. This is how Strauss claimed the greatest works in the history of political philosophy from the ancient Greeks on down to the late 19<sup>th</sup> century were written, and it’s now widely assumed the often-elliptical formulations and unresolved paradoxes in his own books and essays point to the same strategy in his own work.
The challenge, as always, is deciphering the hidden, or “esoteric,” teaching and separating it out from the surface, or “exoteric,” message.
Smith, following Canadian author Shadia Drury and others, including Alamariu, suggests that Strauss’ esoteric teaching is, in most respects, indistinguishable from Nietzsche’s: radically inegalitarian, contemptuous toward democracy, thoroughly anti-Christian, and favoring a strict aristocratic hierarchy with Great Philosophers who break violently and gleefully from the restraints of ordinary morality, patriotism, and piety at the tippy-top.
Damon Linker, Down the Straussian Rabbit Hole
The results are in, and there’s no evidence that mask mandates, alone or in combination with other preventive measures, made any difference in Covid transmission. But the CDC is unbowed:
When people say they “trust the science,” what they presumably mean is that science is rational, empirical, rigorous, receptive to new information, sensitive to competing concerns and risks. Also: humble, transparent, open to criticism, honest about what it doesn’t know, willing to admit error.
The C.D.C.’s increasingly mindless adherence to its masking guidance is none of those things. It isn’t merely undermining the trust it requires to operate as an effective public institution. It is turning itself into an unwitting accomplice to the genuine enemies of reason and science — conspiracy theorists and quack-cure peddlers — by so badly representing the values and practices that science is supposed to exemplify.
There were people who “knew” masks were useless before evidence warranted their certainty, and we should not hold them up as prophets now. I, for one, went along with the CDC, but fully aware at the time that (a) they were motivated by the demand that “somebody do something!” and (b) there were some reasons (mask filtration data, size of the virus, etc.) to think they were scripting mere hygiene theater.
I sing in one small choir that continues to rehearse and sing masked — for the supposed benefit of the immunocompromised spouse of one singer. Part of me wanted to trumpet these results and demand an end to our masking; part of me wants to just quietly quit the choir at the end of this season; part of me … well, it’s a long story and I don’t want to hold the group up for derision. Moreover, there’s this important qualification:
[T]he analysis does not prove that proper masks, properly worn, had no benefit at an individual level. People may have good personal reasons to wear masks, and they may have the discipline to wear them consistently.
(Source: Bret Stephens, who’s discussing a survey by “Cochrane, a British nonprofit that is widely considered the gold standard for its reviews of health care data.”)
It’s Nellie Bowles Day!
It’s Friday (as I write), which means that Nellie Bowles has brought forth another TGIF collection
- Pfizer is dropping a fellowship that wasn’t open to white or Asian applicants, after civil rights lawyers reminded them that’s super illegal.
- NPR cutting 10 percent of its staff: The public radio station—that is, in part, taxpayer funded—is losing money and needs to cut staff. I can’t point to an institution that has more fully failed its mission than NPR, which went from fulfilling a genuine public service with news and great stories (I’m thinking of early This American Life) to just another hyper-partisan maker of mush. Tote bags and mush.
And a longer one:
University DEI admins come up with their perfect replacement: Vanderbilt University’s office of diversity issued a statement consoling students about a recent mass shooting at Michigan State. But apparently they are so very busy that they used AI to write it.
Let me back up: last week, 43-year-old Anthony Dwayne McRae—who had previously pleaded down a felony charge that would have prevented him from possessing a gun—slaughtered three students, seemingly at random, on Michigan State’s campus.
In response, Vanderbilt’s equity workers released a touching statement about how everyone needs to be kind and inclusive to, I guess, prevent mass shootings by nearby career criminals: “Another important aspect of creating an inclusive environment is to promote a culture of respect and understanding.” And: “[L]et us come together as a community to reaffirm our commitment to caring for one another and promoting a culture of inclusivity on our campus.” And: “Finally, we must recognize that creating a safe and inclusive environment is an ongoing process that requires ongoing effort and commitment.” It’s the same nonsensical but warm sentiment said over and over—inclusive (7 times), community (5 times), safe (3)—and it kinda worked!
Except at the bottom of the statement was this sentence: Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023.
People were upset. The university apologized. And yes, you could ask what exactly these bureaucrats are doing all day. But their laziness might also be their genius: replace all university bureaucrats with ChatGPT. Like the discovery of penicillin, sometimes accidents make genius.
The saddest part may be that if Vanderbilt Administrators hadn’t slipped up and included the footer, nobody would have suspected that this wasn’t just more bureaucratic pabulum.
Not only is the statue not fully human, it is not an attempt to depict a real woman, with the exception of having a collar as a tribute to the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Not one historical woman was judged worthy of receiving the honor by [artist Shahzia] Sikander.
The statue has some resemblance to women in its figure, but it is then changed and warped into something nonhuman and nonfemale. Its hair forms horns and the arms become tentacles. The face is void and harsh. The statue clearly plays on Early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in which the deity rises from a clamshell, but whereas Venus is the epitome of the feminine form, this one is deliberately smoothed over. It is a depiction of a neutered woman, a woman who must lose and transcend her femininity in order to be empowered.
The statue represents two great deceptions foisted upon women in modern society. To be empowered, women must intentionally diminish their femininity and to succeed in life necessitates delaying motherhood and, if necessary, sacrificing one’s own child. Far from empowering, this message treats femininity as inherently lesser than masculinity; it then is a worldview that can never affirm women as women.
Sarah Stewart, Value and True Femininity
Free-speech defences of porn treat ‘individual choice’ as a static matter than can be controlled by the principle of avoiding harm. The Second Law of Pornodynamics argues that the inexorable consequence of normalising porn will be systemic harm, and as such all porn should be brutally repressed.
[T]he sequel to “Porn will always exist” tends to be “and so we should normalise, regulate and contain it”, with the unspoken subtext “… and make money out of it without being socially ostracised.”
Mary Harrington, The Three Laws of Pornodynamics. Don’t overlook “and make money out of it.”
I don’t write much about pornography because, thank God, I rarely think about the harder-core versions (i.e., excluding the soft-core porn that is much of prime-time and "reputable" streaming videos today). I have it on good authority, though, that it’s pandemic, not excluding "good" kids.
Blasphemy, old and new
[I]t’s not possible to have a functioning society without restrictions on speech and actions that violate that society’s sacred values. For without some sacred values, you don’t have a society, just chaos and conflict. This is still understood by those Muslim believers who react with anger (and sometimes worse) when nonbelievers insult the Prophet.
[I]f something looks a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. And when a movement with an instantly recognisable symbol, a distinctive metaphysics (identity precedes biology, all desire must be celebrated) and a calendar of feast days celebrated by governments, corporations, universities and public bodies acquires the ability to punish those who deface its symbols, the only possible thing you can call it is an emerging faith – one with a tightening grip on institutional power across the West.
Of course it remains to be seen whether this faith will prevail, or be replaced by something still newer and stranger. The point is: forget the marketplace of ideas. Forget the secular interregnum. It’s over: even if you personally are still among the number mumbling about civil debate and tolerance, you’re surrounded by a growing array of factions who don’t play by those rules.
Mary Harrington, Blasphemy is dead. Long live blasphemy.
The stars must have aligned
I have no idea what this means, but on Friday Peggy Noonan and David French both published admiring articles about Jimmy Carter’s 1979 “Malaise Speech.”
Northerners go to Florida to find happiness and after about thirty-six hours they realize that climate does not solve their problems: even though it’s 75 degrees, they still are themselves and that’s their problem. They feel isolated, their life is purposeless, they believe stuff they know is not true.
There he goes again
Chuck Schumer once again is backing more extreme Republican primary candidates who he thinks will be easy enough to beat in the general election:
I’m not immune to the pushback that it’s the voters’ faults. Sure. Kind of. If the ads said, “This person is a lunatic and is being backed by the Democrats because that’s how sure they are that he can’t win a general,” I’d be totally on board. If the ads just said, “This person has repeatedly said the 2020 election was stolen,” I’d be pretty close. But that’s not what they say!
“Janel Brandtjen is as conservative as they come,” reads a postcard sent to Republican voters from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which calls her “a conservative pro-Trump Republican.”
The TV ads being run by the presumptive Democratic nominee note that their preferred Republican won an award for being “pro-life legislator of the year” from a state organization.
A candidate who otherwise would have very little funding and low name recognition is suddenly up on television and in every voter’s mailbox as the “conservative pro-Trump Republican.”
I don’t think it’s entirely fair to “blame voters” at that point ….
Sarah Isgur, The Sweep
Kamala Harris is going nowhere
Speaking of the 25th Amendment, there is a part of it with which many Americans are not familiar: If Biden wants to nominate a new secretary of state or a Supreme Court justice, this requires the approval of the Senate—but if the president wishes to choose a new vice president, this requires the approval of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which currently is under Republican control. There are many Democrats who wish to be rid of Vice President Kamala Harris, whom they have rightly judged to be a political liability with no likely political future of her own, but the only way Biden is getting rid of Harris is by dumping her from the ticket and getting reelected in 2024. It is very difficult to imagine House Republicans voting to approve any new vice president Biden might conceivably choose. Mitch McConnell took a lot of heat for running out the clock on Merrick Garland but, far from paying a political price for this, he harvested a bumper crop of political benefits. Kevin McCarthy, who serves at the mercy of a dozen or so howling moonbats, would have no incentive at all to help Biden replace Harris—and with the vice presidency vacant, McCarthy would be second in line to the presidency with only the oldest-ever incumbent between him and the Oval Office. That’s a storyline more appropriate to a political thriller, but it is something to keep in mind if your current Kremlinology tells you Harris is going anywhere.
Biden is stuck with Harris, and Democrats—and the country—are, it seems, stuck with the both of them, however doddering the man in charge of the executive branch of the federal government may be. It is tempting to write that with only a little sensible political calculation, Republicans could put themselves in an unbeatable situation. But if you think the coming election is foolproof, then you don’t know the fools in question.
Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ejaculation
On Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ejaculation about a Red State/Blue State “divorce”:
Neither political tribe finds much satisfaction in the United States as it actually is and in Americans as they actually are. That is because the United States of America is a real place full of real people rather than an exercise in ideological (more genuinely tribal) wish-fulfillment.
As befits Kevin D. Williamson, there’s much more to his column than that bit.
[Ted] Cruz and [Josh] Hawley know that what Trump was trying to do was unconstitutional and would, if successful, gut the Constitution and perhaps even democracy. They simply lacked the courage to tell the snowflakes what they don’t want to hear, so instead they lent aid and comfort to the atrocity this week.
Jonah Goldberg, January 8, 2021.
Home may be where the heart is but it’s no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos
… Pete Buttigieg, the man who is proving single-handedly that Rhodes Scholars are overhyped.
And if you eat the yellow snow?
[W]hen you sit down on ice, you get polaroids.
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.
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.