Sunday, 5/28/23

Tim Keller

Hedgehog Keller knew two big things

[T]wo fundamental ideas propelled [Tim Keller]: Biblical Christianity is not a political position, and secular liberalism deserves theological critique—because it is not simply how the world really works, but is itself a kind of faith.

One might have expected Keller to imitate the apologists who were at the height of their powers while he was starting out as a young pastor: men like Francis Schaeffer and Josh McDowell, who blended their mission to defend the truth of Christianity with their callings as culture warriors.

Instead, he modeled his writing and preaching on irenic British Christians: the Anglican minister John Stott and, especially, C. S. Lewis (although Keller’s books feature a wide range of cultural and literary references, including Pascal, Tolstoy, the movie Fargo, various atheist thinkers—even, at least once, the Disney cartoon Frozen). Over the years, Keller became not just a Christian apologist but a sophisticated critic of secular liberalism, especially its worship of personal autonomy as the highest good. He pushed his audiences to consider whether total sexual freedom was truly the pinnacle of human liberation, or whether the boundaries of marriage might actually enrich their lives. He took on the false idol of professional achievement: “As long as you think there is a pretty good chance that you will achieve some of your dreams, as long as you think you have a shot at success, you experience your inner emptiness as ‘drive’ and your anxiety as ‘hope,’” he wrote in 2013’s Encounters With Jesus. “And so you can remain almost completely oblivious to how deep your thirst actually is.”

… We all seek what [Charles] Taylor calls “fullness”: an idea that, Keller wrote, “is neither strictly a belief nor a mere experience. It is the perception that life is greater than can be accounted for by naturalistic explanations … It is the widespread, actual lived condition of most human beings regardless of worldview.”

Molly Worthen

Worthen’s remembrance, better than any other I’ve read yet, shows here why I found Keller a kindred spirit. I have omitted a few of his traits that I should emulate, but frankly have not and may be temperamentally incapable of emulating.

(More on Worthen personally below.)

Keller on the social marks of evangelicalism

Keller was no fundamentalist. He saw the return of fundamentalism in the form of the Moral Majority as part of the problem. In 2022, he began speaking of the six social marks of evangelicalism, which he essentially equated with fundamentalism. These were moralism over gracious engagement, individualism over social reform, dualism over a comprehensive vision of life, anti-intellectualism over scholarship, anti-institutionalism over accountability, and enculturation over cultural reflection.

From Dale Coulter’s reminescence/obituary for Tim Keller.

If more will listen and repent, this could become Keller’s posthumous great contribution to Evangelicalism.

I am not holding my breath.

I’ve read half a dozen obituaries or remembrances of Tim Keller now, and I’ve reached a conclusion: If I had been a member of his Church when I encountered Orthodox Christianity as I did, I still would have become Orthodox, but with more mixed feelings and more nostalgia for my “former delusion” at its best.

Biblical goals, biblical ethics

Over time, some in the Christian world came to criticize Tim [Keller]’s commitment to … engagement as a weakness, or at least, as an approach poorly suited to this moment. “I would argue quite the opposite,” Bill Fullilove, the executive pastor at McLean Presbyterian, told me. “His model of gracious and thoughtful engagement, even when disagreeing vehemently, is exactly what we need more of today. It is simply impermissible to pursue biblical goals while ignoring biblical ethics.

Peter Wehner (italics added)

My first registered sour note from Tim Keller

When I asked him to define for me an “Evangelical,” he borrowed Church of England bishop and theologian N. T. Wright’s answer: an Evangelical was the one who would immediately and exuberantly respond yes to the question, “Do you believe that Jesus really, truly, bodily rose from the dead?”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Tim Keller.

I appreciate Keller’s ecumenical gesture, but that definition makes “evangelical” useless for anything more than ruling out professed Christians who don’t or can’t affirm the real, true, bodily Resurrection.

(In his defense, “evangelical” is notoriously difficult to define.)

Pica outbreak among the rationalists

According to Tara Isabella Burton (Rational Magic — The New Atlantis), a lot of Silicon Valley rationalist types are stepping back from rationalism and dabbling in — well, quite a palette of things:

Vogel’s enthusiasm [Vogel is a pseudonym] for beauty, for poetry, for mythic references, for an esoteric strain of quasi-occult religious thought called Traditionalism: all of this, his onetime compatriots in the rationality community might once upon a time have dismissed as New Age claptrap. But Vogel’s personal journey from rationalism to postrationalism is part of a wider intellectual shift — in hyper-STEM-focused Silicon Valley circles and beyond — toward a new openness to the religious, the numinous, and the perilously “woo.”

… More and more rationalists and fellow-travelers were yearning to address personal existential crises alongside global existential risks. The realm of the “woo” started to look less like a wrong turn and more like territory to be mined for new insights.

This wasn’t totally out of left field, even for rationalists. They even had a word for such impulses, according to a former employee of the Center for Applied Rationality, Leah Libresco Sargeant, who writes regularly on how rationalism led her to her Catholic faith. They called it “pica,” after a compulsion that causes people to eat dirt or other non-food objects, and that is often a sign of nutritional imbalance.

I love that “pica” metaphor.

Eyes wide open

Evangelicals claim sola scriptura as their guide, but it is no secret that the challenge of determining what the Bible actually means finds its ultimate caricature in their schisming and squabbling. They are the children of estranged parents, pietism and the enlightenment, but behave like orphans. This confusion over authority is both their greatest affliction and their most potent source of vitality.

I think that locating one’s primary authority as a Christian in the Bible, has a lot of implications. One thing it can do is provide a license to to break away from wider communities — from a church, from a pastor, another source of authority — who is telling you things you you don’t want to hear — a message that is in some way at odds with how you experience Christianity. And it can be a license to start your own community.

I see that impulse towards schism or toward entrepreneurship, too, would be an another way of putting it, as something that has really enlivened evangelicalism that in the context of American culture, and the at least relatively speaking, free market that we have in our in our religious marketplace …

But over the long term, I think it is not always a good thing to be able to break away from people you disagree with, from ideas and information that make you uncomfortable. And so I see that relationship to authority, and perhaps … its power, but also its brittle quality, as something that has both really served evangelicals but has also been a source of consistent struggle.

Molly Worthen, interviewed by Colin Hansen. The inset quote is from her Apostles of Reason which she wrote before she was a committed Christian. She converted to active Christian faith in 2022.

In fairness, I should note that she converted through, and now attends, a Southern Baptist megachurch, but does not appear to back down from her earlier characterization of Evangelicalism. She had her eyes wide open before her heart was.

It must be uncomfortable for her in many ways. But pastor J.D. Greer, to his credit, spent a lot of time with her, answering her many questions, even looping in Tim Keller a time or two. So I understand why she would attend his megachurch.

But she is aware of Orthodoxy, and friendly toward it, albeit while anachronistically viewing it as too ethnic. I’m praying that she’ll discover the truth about that.

The Gospel According to St. John

When I was a young Evangelical, several lifetimes ago, it was common practice to give a new convert a copy of the Gospel According to St. John — never Saints Matthew, Mark or Luke.

Sometime after I became an Orthodox Christian, I was surprised to learn that the Gospel According to St. John was traditionally the only version of the Gospel withheld from pre-converts, known as catechumens.

Only then, in the earlier days of Christianity, were they admitted to the second half of the Liturgy, and then, immediately after Pascha (the traditional time for baptizing catechumens), was the Gospel According to St. John preached, for it was considered too theological for them until baptism.

So familiar were the Gospels to me that I had trouble seeing why it was considered too theological, but that coin has finally dropped, thanks to Fr. Stephen De Young’s Bible studies. It’s not all that difficult to grasp, really.

You see, the Gospel According to St. John was written many decades after the other three “synoptic” Gospels, and it was written to a Church well familiar with the basic narrative of Christ’s incarnation, life, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. So John did not repeat all that basic narrative, but filled in the gaps, giving prolonged attention to some of Jesus’ teachings and to passion week, defying any strict chronology as he did.

It’s in that sense, I think, that John wrote a “theological” gospel as a complement to the three relatively more historical or narrative versions.

And that’s why I think Evangelicalism erred in passing out his version to new converts who might not yet know that outline of Christ’s earthly ministry — just who was this guy to whom they’d committed themselves?

If you can tolerate his mannerisms, as I have learned to do, you can learn a lot from Fr. Stephen, which I suppose is why Ancient Faith Ministries has given him a platform.

Chaos response

[Iconographer Jonathan] Pageau focused, in part, on waves of online conspiracy theories that have shaken many flocks and the shepherds who lead them. Wild rumors and questions, he said, often reveal what people are thinking and feeling and, especially, whether they trust authority figures.

“Even the craziest conspiracy nuts, what they are saying is not arbitrary,” he said …

“It’s like an alarm bell. It’s like an alarm bell that you can hear, and you can understand that the person that’s ringing the alarm maybe doesn’t understand what is going on. … They may think that they have an inside track based on what they’ve heard and think that they know what is going on. But the alarm is not a false alarm, necessarily.”

The chaos is real, stressed Pageau. There is chaos in politics, science, schools, technology, economic systems, family structures and many issues linked to sex and gender. It’s a time when conspiracy theories about vaccines containing tracking devices echo decades of science-fiction stories, while millions of people navigate daily life with smartphones in their pockets that allow Big Tech leaders to research their every move.

This chaos will lead to change, one way or another, he said. The goal for church leaders is to listen and respond with biblical images, themes and stories – as opposed to more acidic chatter about politics.

Terry Mattingly (emphasis added). Pageau was addressing Orthodox clergy.

Christianity as “religion”

In the pre-modern West, as in much of the world today, there was no such thing as “religion”. The Christian story was the basis of peoples’ understanding of reality itself. There was no “religion”, because there was no notion that this truth was somehow optional or partial, any more than we today might assume that gravity or the roundness of the Earth are facts we could choose to engage with only on Sunday mornings.

Paul Kingsnorth, Is there anything left to conserve

Gnostic extremists

My pessimistic views about the physical world made me instinctively suspicious of Christian traditions that incorporated tangible gestures of piety into their worship—gestures like raising hands, making the sign of the cross, kneeling during confession, and so forth. I preferred to attend churches that did not sully the worship experience with earthly things like ornate communion tables, pictures of saints, or even beautiful church buildings. Material things were in competition to spiritual things. I was surrounded by others who thought similarly, including some who went so far as to burn down their church building. “What a powerful testimony to the fact that God’s kingdom is not of this world,” they reflected while watching their former sanctuary go up in flames.

Robin Phillips, Confessions of a Recovering Gnostic.

I haven’t mentioned it lately, but I agree with Robin Phillips, who wrote a lot about it, that gnosticism is pandemic in American Protestantism.


… A mirror’s temperature
is always at zero. It is ice
in the veins. Its camera
is an X-ray. It is a chalice

held out to you in
silent communion, where gaspingly
you partake of a shifting
identity never your own.

(R.S. Thomas, Collected Later Works)

Wordplay for keeps

The problems with the King James Version of the Bible come from the translators’ imperfect mastery of Hebrew, and the problems with other versions come from the translators’ imperfect mastery of English.

Robert Alter via John Brady on


They go on to assume or claim, without philosophical justification, that the remarkable success of this methodological reductionism entails that we should accept the kind of ontological reductionism in which reality is seen ultimately as consisting only of the interactions of the universe’s basic building blocks.

Christopher C. Knight, Science and the Christian Faith

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

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, 5/27/23

It’s a long one today, but I’ve broken it down by rubric.

And for what it’s worth, Mrs. Tipsy and I have been married 51 years as of today.


The single most counterintuitive social principle in all of human history.

The idea that obnoxious, misguided, seditious, blasphemous, and bigoted expressions deserve not only to be tolerated but, of all things, protected is the single most counterintuitive social principle in all of human history. Every human instinct cries out against it, and every generation discovers fresh reasons to oppose it. It is saved from the scrapheap of self-evident absurdity only by the fact that it is also the single most successful social principle in all of human history.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

I could have classified this under politics, but if we lose all culture of free speech, we’ll eventually lose the law as well — and I wanted anyone who skips politics to see it.

Tasting monasticism

Fascinating: Molly Worthen, What College Students Need Is a Taste of the Monk’s Life

RIP Europe, age 33

The Europe that came together in 1990 is coming apart again, its people angry and fragmented, its leaders visionless, the once-free-ish West boiling in a stew of hate speech laws, vaccine mandates and ever-accelerating censorship and intolerance. ‘Populists’ continue to barrack and harrass its leaders, and neither they nor their media allies can quite work out why. The last global empire is led by a confused octogenarian, and within a few years the biggest economy in the world will be a communist dictatorship. The Scorpions never saw that one coming.

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World

“Science” in service of ridiculous ideologies

“White-throated sparrows have four chromosomally distinct sexes that pair up in fascinating ways. P.S. Nature is amazing. P.P.S. Sex is not binary,” – Laura Helmuth, editor-in-chief of Scientific American. The sparrows have just two sexes, as Community Notes corrected. Jerry Coyne has a beaut of a piece on this.

I regret that I have no recollection of the source for this, but I hereby explicitly disclaim adding a word other than the heading.

The elite avatars of proledom

Stanford Law School students were in the news for awhile, thanks to a contingent of them having shouted down a conservative campus speaker … I’ve come to think that the whole frame of the thing speaks to a real refusal of the American left to take its own ideas seriously. The debate fell along the typical lines. Liberals and lefties, as is their habit, rushed not only to defend the student protesters but to lionize them. What I find somewhat depressing is that this has become a habit, anointing representatives of the academic 1% as the footsoldiers of progressive change. The catechism of 21st-century progressivism insists that we are creatures of our immutable demographic traits, that our race and our class and our privilege define us and our influence on the world. If that’s true, how are we to assume that law students at Stanford Law School are anything other than the next generation’s shock troops of the bourgeoisie, whatever their professed politics? Where did all of that demographic determinism go?

Freddie deBoer, Stanford Law Students Are Your Class Enemy


This feeling that I’m feeling isn’t schadenfreude

… because there’s not an ounce of sorrow in it:

Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes—convicted in November on a number of charges, including seditious conspiracy, for his role instigating the January 6 riots and seeking to disrupt the transfer of power—was sentenced on Thursday to 18 years in prison, the longest such term of any January 6 defendant thus far. The head of the Oath Keepers’ Florida chapter, Kelly Meggs, was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

TMD. It’s important that insurrectionists like Rhodes and Meggs pay dearly.

On the other hand, I’m not opposed in principle to Ron DeSantis’ promise to review January 6 convictions and consider Presidential pardons. I know one fellow I’d like to see pardoned, who wandered in rubbernecking like a bog-standard tourist. I at least glimmeringly understand why DOJ prosecuted one and all, but for some of those convicted, the process should be the only lasting punishment.

It pays to increase your word-power

With the etiology now explained (Happy 20th Birthday to the Streisand Effect), I may add “Streisand Effect” to my vocabulary.

It doesn’t pay (easily) to win a bet with PillowMan

As long as I’m channeling Volokh Conspiracy postings, here’s another one, equally gratifying and more contemporary: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Taken to Court for Refusing to Pay the Person who Proved Him Wrong


It is in the nature of American justice that anger can end a life, yet forgiveness cannot necessarily save one.

Elizabeth Bruenig, A Murder Forgiven

Just because

You only live once

I had marked this for sharing already, but then I had lunch with someone, soon turning 61, who is feeling his age and wondering if he has mis-spent his life, and it became more salient to me:

I had a dream last night in which I visited [my parents] James and Dora on their farm after the house burned down and saw their seven kids and little Eleanor had a terrible fever and the family sat praying for her — a fleeting dream but I would give anything to revisit it. I feel the same way about the picture of my mother, 17, with sister Elsie and friend Dorothy, three girls in summer dresses standing holding their bikes by Lake Nokomis in 1932, so happy — I want to ask her, “Do you realize you’re going to have six kids and not much money and they’ll cause you a lot of problems? Is this really what you want? I’m a writer, I can send you to Hollywood. You’re very charming, very funny. What he loves about you, millions of others would love too. What do you say, kid?” And she gets on her bike and wheels away.

Garrison Keillor

The problem of Uniqueness

[T]he analytic process cannot deal with uniqueness: there is an irresistible temptation for it to move from the uniqueness of something to its assumed non-existence, since the reality of the unique would have to be captured by idioms that apply to nothing else.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Two favorite safety devices

BitDefender Box protects my entire home network, including IOT devices. I cheerfully pay up each year for software and firmware updates plus anti-virus for all my iOS and MacOS stuff.

The only kind of stepladder I have any business using these days.

Now, even if you hate politics, you might want to read the opener to the next item.


The Quaker whose mule wouldn’t plow

One of my favorite stories, for roughly five decades now, is of a Quaker with a mule who wouldn’t plow.

Finally, after various goads, the Quaker walked to the mule, took its ears gently in hand, looked into its eyes, and said “Brother mule. Thee knowest I am a Quaker, Thee knowest I cannot beat thee. Thee knowest I cannot curse thee. What thee does not know is that I can sell thee — to the baptist up the road. And he can beat the living daylights out of thee.”

That’s pretty much how I’m starting to feel about the wokesters/progressive Left/successor ideology. My “baptists” are the Irreligious Right, the Christianist Right — both capable of violence, I think — and a few politicians who can see which way the wind is blowing, such as Ron DeSantis.

I doubt I can vote for DeSantis, in part because of his ham-handed attacks on the progressive Left in Florida and his playing illegal immigrants (I know the adjective is offensive to some, but it’s a perfectly good description) as pawns by putting them on busses headed to Blue zones. So maybe I really wouldn’t sell my cultural adversaries to him.

And I know I can’t vote for Trump.

But I’m starting to feel at least ambivalent, not entirely negative, about how the “baptists” might handle this. And I’m certain I’m not alone.

Fear casts out love

Fear casts out love. And not only love. Fear also casts out intelligence, casts out goodness, casts out all thought of beauty and truth.

Aldous Huxley via Peter Wehner, who was explaining ‌The Minds of Trump Supporters

I am aware of the possible irony of placing this after the immediately preceding item.

When Peggy Noonan speaks, one should listen

Peggy Noonan gives Ron DeSantis some advice:

At some point, I think soon, he’ll have to make a serious, textured and extended case against Donald Trump. Not insults and nicknames, not “Can he take a punch? Can he throw a punch?” No, something aimed at the big beating heart of the GOP that tells those who’ve gone on the Trumpian journey and aligned with him that they can no longer indulge their feelings. At a crucial point in history they’ll lose again, and the damage to the country will be too great. Throwaway lines like “the culture of losing” aren’t enough. That’s just a line that signals. Don’t signal, say. Include the long history of political losses—Congress, the presidency, the opportunity for a red wave in 2022.

Yes, tell those good people that you served your country in a tragedy called Iraq and the other guy claimed bone spurs and ran during a tragedy called Vietnam. You think you don’t have to say it, but you do. People who love Mr. Trump need reasons they can explain to themselves to peel away.

Religious conservatives in the 2016 election

When religious conservatism made its peace with Donald Trump in 2016, the fundamental calculation was that the benefits of political power — or, alternatively, of keeping cultural liberalism out of full political power — outweighed the costs to Christian credibility inherent in accepting a heathen figure as a political champion and leader.

The contrary calculation, made by the Christian wing of Never Trump, was that accepting Trump required moral compromises that American Christianity would ultimately suffer for, whatever Supreme Court seats or policy victories religious conservatives might gain.

Ross Douthat

There’s a lot distilled in those two paragraphs. I particularly note that the second paragraph at least hints at the view that Christianity is about something other than political power, a possibility that the New York Times in particular almost never considers. (“Politics is real, religion isn’t” is the gist of it.)

Yet I don’t see my own position reflected in either of them.

My core anti-Trump conviction was that his narcissism would distort his perceptions of reality, and that a President who misperceives reality — or even just a few key realities at a few pivotal times — could damage the nation terribly — worse than Hillary Clinton would.

The current formulation of my former position is inevitably colored by what actually happened, because I didn’t commit my position to writing in 2015-16 so I could some day say “see, I told you so.” But narcissism and misperception of reality was definitely at the core. And in 2016, I still thought that Christian Trump-voters were probably holding their noses because of the alternative. If I spoke or wrote about how wicked he was, it was my trying to pry others away from him with arguments that I thought they’d find weightier than “he’s a toxic narcissist.” I never expected so much troll-like adulation of that man under Christianish auspices.

Had it not been for his mesmerizing narcissism, he’d have never been such an effective demagogue and would not have won the GOP primary. So I’d never have needed to weigh whether a mere serial adulterer and shady casino magnate, without a disabling personality disorder, was an acceptable alternative to a woman who deplored roughly half the nation.

What keeps Damon Linker up at night

I just don’t think, even now, that the imposition of a right-wing tyranny is a likely scenario for the United States. Far more likely is a mutually reinforcing cycle of extra-constitutional power grabs, spasms of civil unrest, efforts to impose order, and more egregious acts of violence aimed at “the system.” This wouldn’t become a civil war like the one that consumed the United States in the 1860s, with massive armies facing each other for protracted, bloody battles aimed at seizing territory. But it would nonetheless be a form of low-boil civil war, perhaps resembling The Troubles in Northern Ireland more than any other recent examples.

… each side’s greatest fear is a dictatorship by the other side.

Another is that when each side is informed about the other side’s fears along these lines, the reaction is angry and mocking dismissal. You’re saying I’m a threat to them_? What a bunch of bullshit. Everybody with a brain and capable of unbiased thinking knows_ they’re the problem.

Yet another fact about our politics is that each side is becoming more willing to entertain (or fantasize about taking?) extra-constitutional acts in order to protect itself from what it’s convinced are the threatening extra-constitutional acts by the other side. Trump’s self-coup-attempt in January 2021 is only the most obvious and egregious example. More recent ones have come up throughout the current debt-ceiling battle, with prominent Democrats proposing all kinds of gambits, justified by the supposed national emergency posed by looming debt default, to get around the Constitution’s placement of the power of the purse in the hands of Congress.

My point, once again, is not to assign or remove blame from either side—or to treat both sides as equally good or bad. If the choice is between Trump’s self-coup to keep himself in power despite losing the 2020 election and the Democratic Speaker of the House talking with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about a plan to undertake a coup of their own against that same dictator-president, I would side with the latter every time. But the latter is still a coup—an unconstitutional power grab undertaken to thwart a prior unconstitutional power grab.

Damon Linker

I don’t know how to prevent this except by one personal step: declaring myself a noncombatant. That won’t keep “them” from coming for me, whichever “them” it be, and I don’t know how to prevent that, either.

Imagining a Trump reprise

[I]magine a second Trump administration. This time he surrounds himself with loyalists who vow to do his bidding. Among their first acts is to impose Schedule F reform on the executive branch, which enables them to fire tens of thousands of career civil servants and replace them with even more loyalists. This would open up the possibility of a more DeSantis-like Trump administration.

Yet it would still be different in one decisive respect: Trump doesn’t affirm any consistent ideology. Instead, he aims to inflict as much pain and damage as possible on his own enemies and those of his supporters. To that end, he’s perfectly willing and happy to reverse course the moment he sees an opening for a victory or a deal. He relies entirely on his own judgment. He doesn’t follow the lead of advisers. He sizes things up with his own eyes, and makes sudden, snap decisions. He prizes flexibility and despises constraints—and as we all learned in the two months following the 2020 election, this even extends to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the norms of ordinary democratic politics, including the peaceful transfer of power.

This sounds more than a little like the kind of government the ancient political philosophers described as a kingship—albeit one in which the king wholly lacks in virtue or wisdom. They called such a leader a tyrant. Such a tyranny is different than the ideological forms of dictatorship we’re familiar with from the modern age because it has no overarching constellation of ideas it seeks to enact or to which it looks for guidance. It’s the rule, instead, of one man seeking to satisfy his own insatiable hunger for attention and thirst for the adulation of the people.

Modern ideological dictators are ascetics of a kind. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong devoted their lives to a cause.

But Trump’s only cause is himself. Somewhat like the ancient tyrants Plato and Aristotle analyzed, he is a political hedonist who acts as he does out of a craving for the pleasure that comes from being loved and cheered by a crowd.

Damon Linker, The Rise of the Anti-Ideological Right—2 I’m not sure how “political hedonist” differs from political narcissist, but I’ll let that go.

Surely not!

I’m beginning to despair of the whole right, but especially the anti-woke formation (much as I loathe woke-ism). There’s no positive vision to it. It’s unserious. It seems designed to stave off real populism at the level of political economy.

Sohrab Ahmari on Twitter (H/T Nellie Bowles)

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

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.


It has been a while. Let’s have a little fun.

bellicose utopianism

The foreign policy mind-set that emerged in the United States after the end of the Cold War, demonstrated by Washington’s series of regime-change wars.

stenographic process

How ethnic-Albanian militants, humanitarian organizations, NATO and the news media fed off each other to give credibility to genocide rumors about Yugoslavia. (It’s tempting to call most of today’s journalists “stenographers”)

For both items, see Why Are We in Ukraine?.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a famous actress. And then, as I got a little older, I just wanted to be a successful actress. And then, as I got even older, I wanted to be a successful actress, and I also didn’t want anyone to know who I was.

Psychologist (and occasional actress) Pamela Paresky, who hosts a regular get-together for Thought Criminals.

There are so many people who trade in cancellation—circles where they wear it like a badge of honor. It is good to be brave. But you shouldn’t be an edgelord.

Sarah Rose Siskind, one of the thought-criminals, who monkeywrenched her young life by an anti-affirmative action column in a campus paper at Harvard.

it is because … political discourses … are so detached from the prospect of actual violence that they can afford to be so extreme.

Alexis Carré, in the concluding essay in a series on the “coalition of the sensible” at Public Discourse.

Even a bad man can get railroaded.

Peggy Noonan

It’s hard to ==underestimate== Tim Keller’s influence on American evangelicalism—even though he preferred to call himself a “conservative Protestant.” …

Dale M. Coulter, Remembering Tim Keller. I strongly suggest that Coulter meant “overestimate.”

When Princeton withdrew his [Kuyper Award], Keller went and delivered lectures associated with the award anyway, a magnanimous gesture that ==belied== his generous spirit.

Daniel Darling. I’m less sure of this, but it seems to me that “belied” is the wrong word, too. “Belie” is in my vocabulary, but I usually need to check to make sure I’m not misusing it.

I notice that sort of thing often enough that it seems like there should be a name for it. “Spoonerism” comes to mind, but that’s not it.

Décroissance, or “de-growth” in French. The aim of some left-leaning Europeans, who would like to deliberately shrink the economy in the hope of avoiding ecological and societal collapse. Read the full story.

Suddenly, talk of de-growth seems to pop up daily or oftener in my reading. Apparently, that’s not just an anglophone thing.

We owe a debt of gratitude to whoever coined “Luxury Beliefs.” It’s adjacent to ad hominem fallacies, but some lifestyle advocacy is so patently destructive of the poor (even if the elite can get away with living that way) that shorthand dismissal is a healthy instinct.

Monday 5/22/23

Open Culture Wars

Our Culture War is a Cold War

True revolutionaries do not need to borrow authority from institutions, because they have the power to take what they want from their unconsenting enemy. The woke Left, whether we want to admit it or not, and whether it is itself conscious of it or not, has no such power. It has only consenting victims.

People on the New Right will probably object, claiming that they’re unwilling to listen to and aren’t convinced by the woke Left but are coerced into acquiescing in its beliefs and required conduct thanks to its institutional power—that they are the victims of a form of violence. But the nature of the new Left’s power is not Schmittian. Instead, its power comes from its capacity to influence the state through … “institutional capture” [a/k/a] “cultural hegemony.”

The irritating proximity of different ways of life, which is inevitable in complex modern societies, would not lead their proponents to such extreme expressions of disdain and mutual hatred if those proponents were made to bear the consequences of their discourse. Without such a prospect, each side can all too safely afford to see the other as an absolute enemy and claim to heroically stand for its cause. In the spirit of Schmitt, no situation is as little political as ours.

The woke Left and the New Right are manifestations of a deeper crisis. Both of them find their origin in the neutral state’s aims to liberate people from the responsibility to determine and to pursue a common good, and therefore focus on the administration of things. The state remains neutral out of fear that our disagreements about the common good might lead us to become enemies. But polarization shows clearly enough that peace reduced to mere coexistence, and the virtues attached to it (tolerance and moderation), fall short of what makes human beings want to form a united people, and ready to cultivate the virtues necessary to achieve such a goal.

Freedom, understood as individual autonomy, can never be the sole or even the main question to which a political regime provides the collective answer: How to live together and still be free?

Our problem is not that Left and Right are bringing us to the verge of civil war, but that their political demands have become completely detached from the reality of the human relations that make the satisfaction of such demands possible and just.

Alexis Carré, in the concluding essay in a series on the “coalition of the sensible” at Public Discourse.

That essay was a real mind-bender for someone like me who has bought the narrative that we are dangerously polarized, almost on the brink of a hot civil war. It’s one of the rare pieces I’m flagging (Obsidian bookmark) to re-read after a while.

The other essays in the series are linked at the top of Carré’s essay.

Our ideologically incoherent tribes

Today, the Lewises argue, “Left” and “Right” are competing bundles of unconnected and sometimes incompatible issue commitments held together by tribalism. The authors bring to bear a wealth of social science research that shows that people’s issue commitments are more heavily influenced by group loyalties than by philosophical consistency. They also catalogue a history of various political stances that, for example, began as Right, then were considered Left, and sometimes back again, depending on the coalitions’ needs. Trade protectionism, for example, was “Right;” then “Left;” now “Right” again (or maybe “Right” and “Left”). Foreign interventionism took the reverse course. Today what counts as “Right” and “Left” has become conflated with party, and party with the views of individual leaders. All of this, the Lewises contend, cuts strongly against the “essentialist” concept of ideology and in favor of their “social theory.”

Andrew Busch, reviewing The Myth of Left and Right by Hyrum and Verlan Lewis.

Considering what became of the GOP in 2015-16, this “social theory of ideology” has some obvious appeal, as the GOP now holds policies opposite those held ten years ago, and the change was not gradual and evolutionary.

Covert Culture Wars

No Place of One’s Own

To make every place available to all is not to erase privilege, if by that term we mean something illegitimate. Rather it is to erase an earned ability to know and to use diverse and localized pockets of the world according to different levels of personal investment and responsibility. Another way to name this would be the end of ownership, conceived not simply as private property, but as title to inhabit some place on the earth as one’s own.

Matthew Crawford, Seeing Like Google

Google Street View undermines our ability to inhabit a place on earth as our own, and Google has ambitions toward something even more deracinating (I suspect it involved the map of your home created by your Roomba and uploaded to our overlords.)

It is good periodically to be reminded, first, how evil Google is and, second, to trace the implications of its hubris (and its market-tested insouciant responses to objectors).

Participatory disinformation

Disinformation and conspiracism spread in advanced, individualistic democracies like the United States not because their targets are sheeplike but because, to the contrary, so many people are active collaborators in their own deception. … “It’s a fight between good and evil,” one woman told the Associated Press in 2021, explaining why she spent hours every day scouring the internet for proof that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. “She saw systems fail those most vulnerable,” reported the A.P., “and her faith in the standard truth-bearers of American democracy—courts, Congress, the media—eroded. She felt she could trust nothing but believe anything.… … Conspiracy theories like the ones about the 2020 election and the COVID-19 pandemic “are profoundly participatory disinformation campaigns,”

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

Return from captivity

Playing in her first real WNBA game in 579 days, Brittney Griner did something Friday night in Los Angeles that national television audiences hadn’t seen her do in a long time: The Phoenix Mercury center stood for the national anthem.

She stopped doing so in 2020 but has resumed the practice after returning from 10 months of imprisonment in Russia. “One thing that’s good about this country is our right to protest,” Griner said after the game when I asked her about the issue. “You have a right to be able to speak out, question, to challenge, and do all these things. [After] what I went through, it just means a little bit more to me now. I was literally in a cage and could not stand the way I wanted to … and a lot of other situations. Just being able to hear my national anthem, see my flag, I definitely wanted to stand.”

Jemele Hill

Trans matters

Telling statistics from Tavistock

The Tavistock Centre, the sole facility in the NHS dedicated to [gender reassignment], kept statistics on the children who came to their doors. Among those referred in 2012, ninety percent of natal girls and 80 percent of natal boys reported being same-sex attracted or bisexual. There is no inherent relationship between trans and gay and bi people. So why this staggering overlap? No answer. If a Christianist hospital was busy changing the sexes of overwhelmingly gay kids, so that they became straight, what do you think the gay rights establishment would say? But when a queer facility does exactly that, all the worriers are bigots.

… From the Times of London:

So many potentially gay children were being sent down the pathway to change gender, two of the clinicians said there was a dark joke among staff that “there would be no gay people left.” “It feels like conversion therapy for gay children,” one male clinician said. “I frequently had cases where people started identifying as trans after months of horrendous bullying for being gay,” he told The Times. “Young lesbians considered at the bottom of the heap suddenly found they were really popular when they said they were trans.”

Another female clinician said: “We heard a lot of homophobia which we felt nobody was challenging. A lot of the girls would come in and say, ‘I’m not a lesbian. I fell in love with my best girl friend but then I went online and realised I’m not a lesbian, I’m a boy. Phew.”

You might imagine that, given this record, the queers would go out of their way to reassure us, to show how tight the safeguarding is, how they screen thoroughly to ensure that gay kids are not swept up in this. But they regard the very question of whether gay kids are at risk as out of bounds.

Andrew Sullivan, Notes on a Medical Scandal. I don’t recall Sullivan ever before penning such a crie de couer, but I’m glad he did. You should read the whole thing if you can, bearing in mind that “queer” isn’t used as an insult but as the self-chosen adjective of the activists he’s opposing.

I had not known the “staggering” extent of the overlap between homosexual attractions and subsequent trans identification, but had been aware that most adolescents who presented with gender dysphoria would, if denied medical transition, eventually settle into conventional gay or lesbian identities. That probably is why the trans ideologues are ruling the very question of whether gay kids are at risk out of bounds, transphobic and evil.

I should also mention (confess?) that I have previously overlooked (not just underestimated the “stick” of anti-gay bullying, underestimated the role of qualms about homosexual attraction, and overestimated the “carrot” of social valorization as motives for kids to declare themselves trans.

Inconvenient parallel

California banned conversion therapy for minors in 2012. That law later withstood two legal challenges. I wonder if the precedents in those cases will affect legal challenges to the Texas and Florida bills [banning gender transitioning procedures for minors] as judges weigh whether legislators overreached in denying treatments many trans kids want.

Conor Friedersdorf

The Culture without the War

CNN trembling at the prospect of Trump 2024

[I]f you remember CNN’s ratings during the Trump presidency, then you know that quivering you see among the talking heads now might not be rage so much as thrill. More like the quivering you hear about in romance novels. There’s an unholy but unstoppable union, a love hidden but never extinguished kind of shake—yes yes yes!—it’s the story of Donald J. Trump and cable news.

Nellie Bowles

The Ancients: What Makes the Best Regime?

The ancient philosophers’ primary question was what makes the best regime. Democracy certainly did not qualify. Why not? The answer was simple. They thought democracy was a messy system, systematically undermining the rule of law, profoundly partisan, often hostile to the most prominent leaders and citizens. The famous defense of democratic Athens delivered by Pericles in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War is in fact more a defense of Athens and Athenian imperialism than of the democratic political model. When Plato and Aristotle wrote their scathing remarks about the Athenian system, they thought it was already in decline and Athens might soon become a victim of the crisis from which it would not be able to recover. And this is exactly what happened.

Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy

Guilt by Association

There seems to be some titilating about famous men who knew Jeffrey Epstein, the latest being Noam Chomsky.

For the record, I think human beings — even Jeffrey Epstein — are more complicated than that. If every man who knew Jeffrey Epstein was a sexual predator, then I should give up on Christianity and become a frank Manichean.


  • A student told me there were no objective moral truths.  I mentioned a precept of the Decalogue, and asked “What about that?”  He replied, “That’s not morality, that’s justice.”  But if we take justice in the classical sense – giving to each what is due to him – almost all morality is about justice.  To my wife, I owe fidelity; to my parents, honor; to the child whom I sire, an intact family in which to enjoy the care of me and his mother.
  • A warning to intellectuals such as myself. Supposing the existence of square circles, you can do a lot of things: You can make syllogisms about them, you can develop theories about them, you can even prove theorems about them. But that doesn’t mean that they exist.
  • As a Christian, I believe in the Messiah.  That doesn’t mean I have to like political messianism, which we find both on the right and on the left.  The difference is that left-wing political messianism is usually utopian, trusting the hero to take us to a political promised land — but right-wing political messianism is usually reactive, trusting the hero to save us from the crazies who believe in utopia.  The advantage here lies with the left, because unfortunately, most people are more impressed by lunatic visionaries than by persons with no vision at all.

J Budziszewski

The Burden

I realized
at dusk
under the flight path
of the rooks
that this weight on me
was perhaps not words
or my need to belong
but was the weight
of knowing too much
seeing too much
taking on too much
staring too long into the abyss
taking it all so personally.

(Paul Kingsnorth, versified by me because I felt that it “scanned” as poetry)

Rank Politics

DeSantis head-scratcher

Some of what Ron DeSantis is doing seems sensible, some dubious, some flat-out weird. What in heaven’s name is the purpose of the “2-minute opening remarks” in the fifth item on this list?


A group of prominent Democrats are calling for $14 trillion to be paid as reparations to the descendants of slaves. The bill was introduced by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who said: “The United States has a moral and legal obligation to provide reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its lasting harm on the lives of millions of Black people.” I’m on board with reparations. At least, I think it’d be better to do a big reparations shebang—cut checks and call it a day—than the strange sort of slow-drip reparations plans we see in liberal institutions. Like, yes, $14 trillion is a lot of money. But if the alternative is Robin DiAngelo trainings till the end of time and making the MCAT illegal and allowing people to self-ID as doctors because that’s more equitable, then $14 trillion is a bargain. 

But here’s why reparations … will never happen: simply cutting checks to the descendants of slaves means shuttering all the thousands of racial justice nonprofits that serve as an employment program for America’s white grad students ….

Nellie Bowles

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

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, 5/21/23

Tim Keller, RIP

A major Protestant pastor has died at age 72, yet I’m surprised how many people have never heard of him. I left Protestantism roughly 26 years ago, but Tim Keller (who I doubt I’d heard of while still Protestant — everybody was talking about Bill Hybels or, if they were more intellectual, Ravi Zacharias) — once he came onto my radar, seemed a thoroughly admirable man.

In the measure of the world, Tim Keller wasn’t a newsworthy mover or shaker because he stayed away from partisan politics. If I were still Protestant, I hope I’d be a Tim Keller kind of Protestant:

Christianity’s unsurpassed offers — a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.

Tim Keller via Alan Jacobs

A few other things I’ve read about Keller upon his death:

  • “Fifty years from now,” the journal Christianity Today wrote in 2006, “if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.” (New York Times obituary)
  • He defined a fully formed Christian as “somebody who finds Christianity both rationally and intellectually credible, but also emotionally and existentially true and satisfying.” (New York Times obituary)
  • In 2022, he began speaking of the six social marks of evangelicalism, which he essentially equated with fundamentalism. These were moralism over gracious engagement, individualism over social reform, dualism over a comprehensive vision of life, anti-intellectualism over scholarship, anti-institutionalism over accountability, and enculturation over cultural reflection. (Dale Coulter)
  • He focused on grace because he believed that most people understand how broken they are. (Dale Coulter)
  • In 2017 Princeton University awarded him a prestigious prize named for Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper. But the once proudly Christian institution rescinded the award after intrepid critics discovered, to their chagrin, that Keller, like Kuyper, took the Bible’s teachings on sexuality seriously.** Yet the New York pastor was also known for his warmth and gentleness, even toward those with whom he disagreed. **When Princeton withdrew his prize, Keller went and delivered lectures associated with the award anyway, a magnanimous gesture that belied (sic) his generous spirit. (Daniel Darling)
  • He wasn’t embarrassed to be associated with Jesus, nor was he embarrassed to be associated with Jesus’ followers. (Daniel Darling)

That last one almost felt accusatory.

Faux Christianity

I believe that I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Populist Christianity

Even when Fundamentalists set out to defend the truth, their temptation was to rally large constituencies to the cause rather than to prepare for scholarly exchange.

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

Autonomy, community

I sadly cannot recommend Rod Dreher’s recent writing, and my subscription to his Substack is set to expire, not renew. But I owe him a debt of gratitude for much of what he has written in the past, which I’ve followed non-stop since Crunchy Cons.

I strongly suspect that Rod would defend his recent turn by saying the world has changed, and so must his writing if it’s to remain relevant and true. My response would be, I think, that human nature has not fundamentally changed, and that ephemeral things appeal less to me than constant things. That’s my first draft outline of my imaginary conversation with him, at least.

Meanwhile, this Dreher excerpt was particularly frank and, frankly, is true of me and probably of many others:

I have to tell you, spending time with the Bruderhof folks caused an unsettling reaction within me. I was glad that theological differences would keep me from considering living in a Bruderhof — glad because to be honest, I know that I’m too much of a coward to surrender so much autonomy to live in close community. For me, this was a real moment of painful honesty. The Bruderhof communities have some of the things I desire, but they have them because people have voluntarily given up a degree of liberty and autonomy that we all take for granted. I felt like the Rich Young Ruler of the Gospel — the one who wants what Jesus offers, but won’t surrender everything to get it. I talk a good game about community built on religious belief and mutual obligation, but if there were an Orthodox Bruderhof, would I join?

With the Bruderhof

His concluding question may amount to “can I practice the Benedict Option I’ve preached?”

One of Reno’s most tightly-packed thoughts

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

True, that

An active and deeply engaged liturgical life is especially important for anyone who is seeking to truly become Orthodox in mind and heart.

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

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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, 5/17/23


Gentle Persuastion

Let’s start with something nice.

Peter Wehner recounts an anecdote from a 1985 gathering of the South African National Initiative for Reconciliation, where the Dutch Reformed were guardedly present:

Bishop [Desmond] Tutu was one of the last people to speak; as he was preparing to do so, the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church were uneasy, visibly stiffening. Tutu addressed his remarks directly to them.

“I just want to thank God that he brought you, my white brothers, here to South Africa,” the Anglican bishop told the Dutch Reformed Church leaders, as best Haugen recalls his words decades later. “I thank God that you came because you brought the mission hospitals, and I was born in a mission hospital. I thank God you brought the mission schools, and I went to a mission school. But most of all, my brothers, I thank God that he brought you because you brought the word of God. But now I’m going to have to open up that word of God and show you why your apartheid system is a sin.”

Tutu proceeded to do just that.

Causation isn’t always obvious in human affairs, but according to Wehner “The following year, the Dutch Reformed Church declared that South Africa’s system of racial separation and minority white rule was morally wrong and had done the country and its people grievous harm.”

My recollection is that they declared it a heresy, which meant a lot to me since I was then a member of the Christian Reformed Church, historically Dutch and quite thoroughly “adjacent” to South Africa’s Dutch Reformed in many ways, and its defense of apartheid was an embarrassment — embarrassing like the Russian Orthodox Patriarch blessing the invasion of Ukraine.

What pluralism is and isn’t

Pluralism is an irreducible, sociological fact of American life. It is not a set of norms that requires perfect neutrality in public spaces; instead, it creates parameters around what’s politically possible amid profoundly diverse views about first principles.

Elayne Allen, Sensible Politics Can’t Ignore Religion.

That may be a sleeper. You might want to read it again.

Harder questions for The Man Who Would Be King

What the TV professionals should learn is that they have two choices in dealing with another Trump primary campaign. They can take the kind of this-is-an-emergency path urged on them by some press critics and anti-Trump writers: Don’t platform him or normalize his campaign in any way, don’t let him speak on live TV, cover him only within a set framework that constantly emphasizes his authoritarian tendencies and attempts to overturn the last election. I don’t believe this path is wise or workable, but it at least has a moral consistency lacking in the “democracy is in danger and tune in tonight for an hour with the demagogue!” approach that we already watched play out in 2016.

Alternatively, if the press intends to conduct interviews and run debates as normal, then in preparing for them they need to try to think a little bit more like Republican voters as opposed to center-left journalists. Not in the sense of behaving slavishly toward the former president, but in the sense of writing the kinds of questions that a right-leaning American primed to dislike the media might actually find illuminating.

In part, as Ramesh Ponnuru suggests, that means drilling into Trump’s presidential record on conservative terms rather than liberal ones — asking about, for instance, the failure to complete the border wall or the surge in crime in the last year of his administration. In part, as Erick Erickson writes, it means asking obvious questions that follow from his stolen-election narrative rather than just attacking it head-on — as in, if the Democrats really stole the election, why did your administration, your chosen attorney general and your appointed judges basically just let them do it?

Ross Douthat, Trump’s Lesson for the Media and Ron DeSantis

Sounds about right

Special Counsel John Durham—appointed during former President Donald Trump’s administration—issued a 306-page report criticizing the FBI’s investigation into allegations linking the Trump campaign and Russia ahead of the 2016 election. Durham found the collusion probe was opened based on “raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence” and that investigators placed too much stock in supposed evidence provided by Trump’s political rivals. The report also alleges the FBI was far more hesitant to investigate claims Hillary Clinton’s campaign had similar foreign ties. GOP Rep. Jim Jordan—chair of the House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government—said yesterday he’d invited Durham to testify next week.

Via The Morning Dispatch for 5/16/23

Once again, I’m in the position of holding two truths in tension:

  1. The Media, the FBI, and who knows who all else, will do just about anything, including dirty, sleazy tricks, to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.
  2. Donald Trump nevertheless is deeply unqualified for the Presidency of this troubled nation-state I live in.

The Biden Family Grift

“I don’t see any direct evidence of misconduct in the memo or reports about it,” Ken White, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor who worked on government fraud and public corruption, told TMD. “When it rises to the level of an official doing things because of payments to a family member, or paying money with the specific intent to change an official’s decision, that’s illegal. But hiring a public official’s idiot brother-in-law for your board of directors generally isn’t.”

“There’s a vast amount of activity that’s sleazy but legal in American politics,” White told TMD. “It’s reasonable to make inquiries about why a vice president’s relatives are getting big payments from foreign countries. But so far it’s smoke, not fire.”

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees released a joint staff report last week claiming a letter signed by former intelligence officials during the 2020 election discounting the legitimacy of the infamous Hunter Biden laptop was coordinated with the Biden campaign and exploited the national security credentials of former officials.

Via The Morning Dispatch for 5/16/23

Point Well Made

President Biden says he will not negotiate with congressional Republicans over a bill to increase the debt ceiling. This is preposterous and indefensible, for several reasons: For one thing, taxing, spending, and borrowing are inherently congressional powers, not presidential powers. For another thing, Joe Biden is president—not king. The idea that a president would refuse to negotiate with Congress over congressional action is nonsensical from a constitutional point of view and autocratic from a political point of view. Congress is not there to do the president’s bidding—if anything, it is the other way around: The president is charged with the faithful execution of the laws Congress passes, not with barking orders at the branch of government that is actually charged by the Constitution with responsibility for this issue.

Kevin D. Williamson, Emperor Malarkey I.

I’m pleased to report that Biden was lying/bluffing/bloviating and is indeed talking with congressional Republicans — talks that cynics might even call “negotiations.”

Christian Nationalisms

Michelle Goldberg, who I don’t usually read, caught my attention with this one:

A major question for Republicans in 2024 is whether this militant version of Christian nationalism — one often rooted in Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on prophecy and revelation — can overcome the qualms of more mainstream evangelicals. The issue isn’t whether the next Republican presidential candidate is going to be a Christian nationalist, meaning someone who rejects the separation of church and state and treats Christianity as the foundation of American identity and law. That’s a foregone conclusion in a party whose state lawmakers are falling over themselves to pass book bans, abortion prohibitions, anti-trans laws, and, in Texas, bills authorizing school prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.

What’s not yet clear, though, is what sort of Christian nationalism will prevail: the elite, doctrinaire variety of candidates like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, or the violently messianic version embodied by Flynn and Trump.

If DeSantis treats Christianity as a moral code he’d like to impose on the rest of us, Trump treats it as an elevated status that should come with special perks. That’s how he can slam DeSantis for being “sanctimonious” even as he wraps his own campaign in biblical raiment. If a Republican wins in 2024, the victor will preside over a Christian nationalist administration. The question is whether that person will champion an orthodoxy or a cult.

What a hell of a state we’re in when Donald Trump, with zero Christian bona fides, is considered the avatar of one variety of “Christian Nationalism.” And while I question the use of “Christian Nationalism” to describe MAGAworld, he’s definitely the avatar of something that thinks it’s Christian. So too may be DeSantis, this time with some bona fides.

It’s shaping up once again that I’ll be unable to vote in good conscience for either major party candidate next fall.


How much menace can we be required to tolerate?

Today, Kat Rosenfeld of UnHerd gained the coveted status of “Writers the Tipsy Teetotaler intends henceforth to pay closer attention to.”

Her topic is the subway death of Jordan Neely at the hands of Daniel Penny with the approbation of some other passengers. It’s so rich that I commend the whole essay to you at UnHerd though it was reprinted at Bari Weiss’s Free Press behind a paywall:

During the 2017 peak of the #MeToo movement, the conversation about sexual harassment came down to two related but ultimately separate questions. On the one hand, there was the question of what men shouldn’t do; on the other, there was the question of what women could be expected to tolerate.

For [Jordan Neeliy] to die on the dirty floor of a subway car, screaming and defecating on himself while three strangers held him by the arms, legs, and neck, he had to be first failed at every turn by a system that was supposed to shelter and protect him — not just from doing harm, but from being harmed by others when his mental illness manifested in frightening ways.

Here, one might have expected that many of the same voices who argued so vehemently against the notion of resilience in the midst of MeToo … would now demand zero tolerance for male aggression on public transit …

But, no: instead, many of the people who once insisted that men who slid into DMs deserved the complete destruction of their professional reputations became passionate advocates for toughening up when it came to dealing with volatile people on public transit.

To sum up: a man who reposts an off-colour joke is advertising his innate misogyny, to the point where women should feel uncomfortable sharing a workplace with him. But an agitated and clearly unstable man announcing to a crowded subway car — as Neely reportedly did — that he’s been pushed to the brink and is ready to die, or go to prison for life: why in the world would you find that menacing?

Of course, today’s 180-degree pivot to brash fearlessness is identitarian horse-trading: MeToo is out, BLM is in. The dynamics of any conflict must be considered along these lines, and the narrative must be massaged accordingly. This was true in 2020 when a white woman called the police on a black man who threatened her in a public park; it is true now, as piety demands that the behaviour of the black, homeless victim of this terrible tragedy must not be scrutinised in any way. On the Left, that is; the Right has spent the past few days waving Neely’s criminal history in the air, singing “He Had It Coming”, in an absolute spectacle of ghoulishness.

That mindset, so ubiquitous in the wake of MeToo, so popular among progressives in general, says that no breach of decorum or moment of discomfort is too insignificant to ignore. It must be registered. It must be punished. It’s nothing more or less than a call for constant vigilance. The thing about that: when you demand vigilance, you get vigilantes.

(Italics added)

One cavil: Maybe Rosenfeld has been frequenting further-Right sites than I do, but “singing ‘He Had It Coming’, in an absolute spectacle of ghoulishness” strikes me, for once, as hyperbolic bothsiderism.

There definitely is a reflex to defend Daniel Penny, but the Right-coded commentary I’ve seen appreciates that Jordan Neely was non compos mentos and didn’t “deserve” to die. Were it clear that Daniel Penny intended his death, a lot of his support would disappear.

Meanwhile, I’m at least glad that there’s a generous legal defense fund for Penny — some of it probably ill-motivated, but the shade of green is the same regardless of motive — so he can mount a proper fight against dubious criminal charges.

Abortion extremism

North Carolina state lawmakers voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that prohibits most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation, with exceptions for rape and incest (up to 20 weeks of gestation), “life-limiting anomalies” (up to 24 weeks), and life of the mother (no limit). The bill also appropriates money for child and foster care programs, contraception, and paid parental leave for teachers and government employees. North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers have pitched the legislation as a model for states around the country.


I said previously that Governor Cooper’s veto should brand him as an absolutist and his party’s position on abortion as extreme.

I know I am well out of the mainstream, but this Bill strikes me as being about where the country is likely to end up on average, for the foreseeable future, with a few solid blue states echoing Gov. Cooper’s absolutism in favor of any and all abortions.

And if accepting that reality offends you, I commend The Truth of Sensible Politics at The Public Discourse.


A Cold Splash of Reality

A few years before his death in 1972, [C.] Day Lewis was made Poet Laureate of the UK—which is generally a mixed blessing of an honor, tending to mean that the poet in question has their best work behind them and now must try to summon the muses to celebrate the wedding of someone sixth in line to the throne.

Things Worth Remembering: A Poem for Parents | The Free Press

Fun fact 1: C. Day Lewis was father of Daniel Day Lewis.

Fun fact 2: Although I recognize the name as that of an actor, I probably could not pick Daniel Day Lewis out of a police lineup of famous middle-age, caucasian (whatever that means), dark-haired actors. I’m just not a movie groupie.

Embrace of Vigilantism

Jamelle Bouie, who I probably should watch more closely, echoes my distress over the Right-wing valorization of white males who arguably acted as vigilantes. (The Republican Embrace of Vigilantism Is No Accident).

He might have mentioned Left-wing valorization of the victims, who generally were not without fault in the lethal incidents, but if I’m going to complain about bothsiderism, I shouldn’t fault writers who don’t practice it — even if it’s because they see no enemies or toxic extremists on their side of the spectrum.

Companion Piece: Recommended: Firearms Classes Taught Me, and America, a Very Dangerous Lesson

Companion Piece to the Companion Piece: B. D. McClay, Phenomenology of the Gun (Recommended by an acquaintance on

The Good Life

Despite sociological evidence to the contrary, it remains to all appearances virtually axiomatic that the acquisition of consumer goods is the presumptive means to human happiness-and the more and better the goods, the better one’s life and the happier one will be.

Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation

More, from elsewhere:

Let’s just say you’d better have great discipline and a very rich interior life if you expect to be happy amid great affluence.

If this is true of individuals, that money doesn’t buy happiness, why can’t it be true of a whole society? Perhaps we can sum it up thusly: What does it profit a man to gain the world yet lose his soul? If America has gained the world but lost its soul, we should be anxious indeed.

Jon D. Schaff, Are Americans Better Off?


Ultimately, the education system should commit to spending at least as much on a fifteen-year-old whose next seven years will be spent in a combination of school, apprenticeship, and employment as it spends on one headed to a four-year public university.

Oren Cass, The Once and Future Worker

In the footer of each blog post, I mention my presence on and for shorter items or outbursts, respectively. Now Alan Jacobs has written a neat summary of, the three paths of

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

We are in the grip of a grim, despairing rebellion against reality that imagines itself to be the engine of moral progress.

R.R. Reno

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.

Mothers Day 2023

Discipline versus religious libertinism

Every day at five in the afternoon, I closed my books in the English graduate reading room in the library and crossed the street to the chapel for evening prayer. The service took about 20 minutes. The Epistle and the Gospel were read, psalms and spiritual canticles were recited, and prayers were said. It was spare in the extreme. Sometimes there were only two of us in the congregation besides the reader. There was nothing at all to appeal to any wish for pomp and ceremony. There was not even any music. There was certainly no variety. Every day followed the same pattern. Variety, apparently, was entirely irrelevant.

To someone not accustomed to disciplines like this, the picture might appear bleak. How can we go on, day after day, year, after year, with the same routine? Does it not all dry up and die?

Yes, indeed, it does dry up and die, if there is no taproot of life irrigating it. Just as the utter sameness of marriage dries up and dies if love departs, so will any routine. To the libertine, accustomed to woman after woman, the man who returns day after day, year, after year, to the same spouse, with no variety, appears unfortunate in the extreme. We must ask the man himself how things are.

Tom Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough.

“Disciplines” versus novelty and spectacle. That’s how gyms, physical and spiritual, work.

Not how they used to work, but how they work. Period, full stop.

Sins, transgression, infirmity

The reason we have sexual harassment is that we do not believe in chastity.  In the end, the only way to discourage unwanted advances is to condemn immoral ones.  To discredit sexual harassment, one must discredit sexual sin.

J Budziszewski, Things I Had to Learn. This is quite a little compendium of wisdom from an academic who thinks hard about things from a Thomistic and natural law perspective.

On first reading, though, I found one item (not in my quotation) that needs qualification: Budziszewski’s understanding of “sin” is too narrow, and his categorical pronouncement (Sins are not “mistakes.” Mistakes are things we didn’t mean to do.) is therefore substantially false.

Sin (Greek hamartia) is “missing the mark.” We can miss the mark in unintentional ways as well as intentional.

Since my early days approaching Orthodox Christianity, that discovery rang very true and made me appreciate this paragraph from the Orthodox “Trisagion prayers”:

Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake.

I suggest that Budziszewski’s view of sin is restricted to what this prayer calls “transgressions.” Transgressions, by the way, are relatively easy to recognize and take to sacramental confession. My infirmities, such as abstraction/absent-mindedness that makes me inattentive to the needs of others, are harder to recognize and pin down. But they do “miss the mark” and thus need healing.

I hope this rank pedantry is helpful to someone.

(By the way: “Budziszewski” is a name the spelling of which is so daunting that I’ve had to turn it into a TextExpander clip.)

Another book arguing that God exists

So: A very prominent trial lawyer has written a book, published by what used to be my favorite religious publisher, arguing that God exists and that the “Four Horsemen” atheists (of a decade or two or three ago) are full of — well, something unflattering.

It must be a mark of my age (or something) that I’m not tempted to add this to my reading queue. I can’t anticipate all his arguments, probably, but I have no interest in shoring up my faith in the bare existence of something conventionally called “God,” which is how many apologetics and theodicies proceed.

Dare I even suggest that this book might be a distraction from the real business of Christian living for many of its readers — a sort of “spiritual realm” echo of our Manichean politics?

But if you’re at a point in your life where you’re doubting that any manner of God could possibly exist, go for it.

Winged God

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity’s control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?

(R.S. Thomas)

Two opinions, held simultaneously

  1. I detest and condemn the Jehovah’s Witness cult/sect.
  2. I greatly regret that the European Court of Human Rights held that Finland can forbid them from making notes on their door-to-door calls under its “data collection” regulations. (Religion Clause: European Court: Finland May Require Jehovah’s Witnesses to Obtain Consent Before Taking Notes on Those They Visit)

I have no idea whether the ECHR is correctly interpreting Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
but I fault the Convention if it doesn’t protect note-taking of religious proselytizers.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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, 5/13/23

Rank Politics

More on the CNN forum

If I were the president of CNN I’d feel like the Alec Guinness character at the end of “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Suddenly he realizes that all his work, his entire mission, only helped the bad people he meant to oppose. “What have I done?”

Ramesh Ponnuru in the Washington Post offered the kind of questions he wished had been asked: Why have so many high-level officials of your own administration, including an attorney general, national security adviser, defense secretary and two communications directors, turned against you? Are you bad at hiring people? With Republicans holding both the House and Senate in the first two years of your presidency, why didn’t you get funding for the border wall? Were you rolled by Speaker Paul Ryan, or did you just drop the ball?

Mr. Trump’s critics, foes and competitors will say that he often lied. Of course he did, over and over. It’s what he does. Dogs bark, bears relieve themselves in the woods; we can’t keep “discovering” this.

His special talent, his truest superpower, is seeming to believe whatever pops out of his mouth, and sticking to it. Observers shake their heads despairingly: “He lies and people believe him.” I think it’s worse than that. He lies and a lot of supporters can tell it’s a lie—they know from their own memory it’s a lie, that, say, Jan. 6 wasn’t a “beautiful day” of “patriots” full of “love”—but they don’t mind. They admire his sheer ability to spin it out.

Peggy Noonan, CNN Brings Donald Trump Back

One of my two Senators shows some balls

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, was a bit salty the morning after Donald Trump’s Wednesday night town hall on CNN, telling reporters that he didn’t plan to support the former president for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Why?, he was asked. “Where do I begin?” Based on video collected in social media posts, Young disagreed with Trump’s stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That was for starters, when it came to Young’s impression of a Trump for ’24 run. According to HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic’s social media feed, Young said: “You want a nominee to win the general election. As President Trump says, I prefer winners. He just consistently loses. In fact, he has a habit of losing not just his own elections, but losing elections for others. … I don’t think conservatives would be well-served by electing someone whose core competency seems to be owning someone on Twitter.”

Via Dave Bangert, Based in Lafayette, a Substack from a retired local newspaper guy who’s entering his third year of doing an awfully good job as his former employer fades away.

Indiana Sen. Todd Young made no bones about his opposition to Trump the day after the town hall. Asked to list his reasons, Young replied, “Where do I begin?” And others may soon be so emboldened.

If the point of lying down is to avoid the fight, including Trump pushing another raft of low-quality Senate candidates in key races, how does it look if it’s not a one-time decision but a daily struggle? What if, like Mike Pence, you do everything you can to serve Trump and he still ends up sending a murderous mob after you?

If you have to take a beating either way, there’s got to be some appeal to starting on your own two feet instead of flat on your back.

Chris Stirewalt

Sen. Young has finally done something that might just persuade me to vote for him. (We live in an age where the bar for statesmanship is tragically low.)

The tragedy of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a very successful sociopath … [His] tantrums and threats stem entirely from a narcissistic grandiosity and sense of entitlement only possible for someone who has made a lifetime of immoral choices and has either come out the better for it or simply paid no discernable price …

… Barring some last-minute conversion, his soul is lost. But the compulsion to defend Trump is doing damage to the souls of his defenders.

Jonah Goldberg

I hope for the salvation of everyone, no exceptions. But the hope is thinner for some than for others.

But maybe prosperity gospel heretic Paula White (who was his adviser and now identifies as his pastor) gave Trump some magic salvation words to say back in 2015-16, and that’s why partisan Evangelical hacks were assuring America’s most gullible voters that Trump was now “a baby Christian.”

Less rank politics

Not holding my breath

Mainstream media really should put a hold on Harlan Crowe and Clarence Thomas so it can give the Biden family grift the attention it deserves.

Why does public safety “code Right” in the US?

We have an Englishman staying with us right now, and it’s funny talking to someone from a country where liberals want, fight for, and actually expect clean, safe subways and clean, safe parks. In England and much of Europe, these aren’t controversial goals. Public transit is a point of pride, a brilliant use of public funds. Here in the US of A, for some godforsaken reason, the good liberals who run cities have decided that wanting safe subways and clean, fentanyl-free parks is right-wing and lame. Which leads us to Emma Vigeland, an influential leftist media personality, co-host of The Majority Report, a perfect representative of the movement, so here’s her full quote this week:

“I was hit, at one point, sitting on the subway by a man who was having a mental health episode. . . hit me in the face and body and it was jarring, right?” Vigeland says. “Every one of us who’s taken public transit has had this kind of situation happen. . . . And I was scared, I was hit. But my fear is not the primary object of what we should be focusing on right now; it’s the fact that this person is in pain. The politics of dehumanization privileges the bourgeois concern of people’s immediate discomfort in this narrow, narrow instance.”

Like me, Emma went to fancy private schools before she became a socialist and I became. . .  whatever this is. Anyway, I love her private school-meets-American-socialism dig at the people who want safe subways: She calls it “bridge-and-tunneler anti-homeless hysteria.” Emma, I agree there are some bridge-and-tunnel vibes going on in the subway conversation. Like ugh, all these women who don’t want to be punched in the face, wandering around with ugly purses. It’s jarring!

Nellie Bowles

Not politics

Central Park

I’ve moved away from mass media and the megaworld and simply go walk in the park and admire the nameless walkers. benchwarmers, birdwatchers, ballplayers, and realize that celebrity being so widespread, it is anonymity that is special. Fame is an old story and the nameless are a delightful mystery.

It’s Central Park, 840 acres in the middle of Manhattan, land bought by the state legislature in 1856 at the urging of idealists like the poet William Cullen Bryant, designed by the landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and the work was completed in 1876, a peaceful paradise where a person can move at a stately pace or perch in a peaceful spot and observe vegetation, wildlife, humanity, or consult the heart, whatever appeals at the moment.

Timing is everything. In 1856, the tract was rocky, swampy, unurbanized, and had the legislature not moved promptly, developers would’ve figured out how to drain and level the land and the grid would’ve swallowed it and today it would be blocks and blocks of rectangles. Instead we enjoy this fabulous gift from the 19th century.

That the seed was sown by a famous poet is astonishing. Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” was his big hit; my grandma Dora knew passages of it by heart, especially his admonition to go to your grave unafraid, with unfailing trust, as one wraps a blanket around himself and lies down to sleep.

Well, they didn’t have TikTok back then so they had to do their best with what they had, such as poetry.

Garrison Keillor, A day in May sitting in the Park

I remain grateful

It seems I’m one of few college graduates in my age cohort that has never tried marijuana — not even without inhaling. Vacationing in states that have legalized it, and driving past all the dispensaries cashing in, I’ve had fleeting thoughts of “what the heck, should I see what all the buzz is about?” and then answered “Nah.”

Seems that this has been a good life choice. Apart from never gaining even more weight that would have come with heavy use (and the consequent appetite stimulation), I may have avoided worse:

Heavy marijuana use increases the rate of schizophrenia: A new analysis of nearly 7 million Danish health records found that heavy marijuana use correlates with schizophrenia. The study claims that marijuana played a role in 15 percent of schizophrenia cases. And that “one-fifth of cases of schizophrenia among young males might be prevented” by avoiding heavy marijuana use. One new problem is that weed has gotten too good (i.e., too strong). The study was published in Psychological Medicine, and its authors are clearly super lame and total narcs.

Via Nellie Bowles

Wordplay, aphorisms and memorables

I’ve left Twitter now — as so many of you regularly lobbied me to, and it does indeed feel better. But I still look at it, the way you look at your own poo before flushing.

Andrew Sullivan, The Intermission Is Over

It’s the damnedest thing, but a race to the bottom does produce a winner.

Chris Stirewalt quoting Sen. Kevin Cramer on the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024.

If Trump was back in his old fighting form, congressional Republicans were back in their old roles too: a broom and shovel brigade cleaning up behind him.

Chris Stirewalt

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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.

Friday, 5/12/23


(Let’s start with something pleasant.)

  • Murmur. An onomatopoeia that fascinates me because the Bible is chock-full of murmuring and murmurers.
  • Augur and inaugurate
  • Casserolades: concerts of banging pots and pans to signify political discontent. This seems to be a uniquely French thing. The demonstrators are called ‌casseroleurs.
  • Womb envy: [The envy that men may (or is it “allegedly”?) feel of the biological functions of the female. Contemporary womb-enviers are said to be prominent among those technicians making lavish claims of sentience for (misnamed) Artificial Intelligence. “It’s only natural that computer scientists long to create A.I. and realize a long-held dream.” (Jaron Lanier) (Side note: I guess it’s okay to recognize sexual dimorphism when the point it to belittle males.)
  • An ambient expectation of human subservience. The unarticulated requirement that humans do more and more common tasks in the manner required by digital designs. (Synthesized from the context of Jaron Lanier’s use of the term in There Is No A.I.)
  • A sensational scoop was tweeted last month by America’s National Public Radio: Elon Musk’s “massive space sex rocket” had exploded on launch. Alas, it turned out to be an automated mistranscription of SpaceX, the billionaire’s rocketry firm. (From the Economist, I believe.)

I’m glad a stuck around for Frank Bruni’s “For the Love of Sentences” after he commented on CNN’s Town Hall featuring DJT. Some gems through Bruni:

  • One peculiarity of European aristocrats is that their names pile up, like snowdrifts … It’s lunchtime in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and I am about to meet Leka Anwar Zog Reza Baudouin Msiziwe Zogu, crown prince of the Albanians. (Helen Lewis)
  • The red velvet robes trimmed in ermine, the five-pound crown, the gold robes on top of gold robes dragging over gold carpets — the regalia often made it feel like a Versace fashion show staged in an assisted-living facility. (Rachel Tashjian)
  • Watching a coronation is the constitutional equivalent of visiting a zoo, and finding a Triceratops in one of the enclosures. (Tom Holland)

Not Trump

(We now inch toward truly unpleasant truths, albeit colorfully expressed.)

The source of aesthetics, ethics (and folly)

We favor the visible, the embedded, the personal, the narrated, and the tangible; we scorn the abstract. Everything good (aesthetics, ethics) and wrong (Fooled by Randomness) with us seems to flow from it.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “core generator” of insights.

Garrison Keillor, scab?

I salute the Hollywood writers who went out on strike this past week but I can tell you that we essayists won’t be joining them. For one thing, the essay is deeply imbedded in our nation’s very identity (U.S.A.) but for another thing, a national essay strike would be like a National Husbands Day of Silence, most wives wouldn’t care and many wouldn’t notice.

Why I am not joining the strike | Garrison Keillor

Hell will be paid

The transgender movement now wields tremendous power, and many children are being transitioned long before they reach their teen years. They are being put on puberty blockers and going under the knife before they are old enough to vote, drink, or drive. Many will wake up one day and realize that their ability to conceive children and experience sexual pleasure was destroyed by the adult ideologues that they trusted.

Jonathon Van Maren, Life After Detransition.

I’d look forward to the malpractice judgments against the ideologues and profiteers were it not that every such judgment is inadequate redress for the kinds of harm they cause.

Professional Human Losers

I have a cyber-acquaintance (I was well aware of him even before cyberspace, though), Alan Jacobs, who’s something of a Christian Public Intellectual — a dying breed as he noted in a Harpers article a few years back. One of Jacobs’ muses in turn is Austin Kleon, whose postings he frequently shares, and at which I frequently yawn. That probably means I’m a shallow person — or that my brain and Jacobs feed on different things.

But this one caught my fancy as it catches our moment. I’ll just say it involves, and riffs off, Jeopardy Champ (now host) Ken Jennings losing to a supercomputer.

It’s short enough that I won’t risk, by quoting an excerpt, omitting something that might edify you, whose brain may also feed on different things than mine.


Mortician Bonasera/Don Corleone = Harlan Crow/Clarence Thomas
True or False?

If you answered “true”, you get an A+ from Brooke Harrington.

Because the publisher is the Atlantic (and the author isn’t Adam Serwer) the article is less than 100% meritless. But Harrington gives away her guttersnipe game when (a) she views any conservative justice’s friends as suspect and (b) she reports no similar friendships of liberal justices.

But wait! There’s more!

African Americans, migrants, and the children of migrants tend to reject anti-intellectual politics, and still see the educational system as the most likely means of social advancement for their children. This makes it easier for poor whites to see them as unfairly in alliance with rich white liberals.

David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs

Easier, yes, but the captivity of these groups to the Democratic party is independent evidence of alignment with rich white liberals.

Fomenting stochastic violence

(Getting closer to the nasties …)

The law in its majesty neutrality has decided that people on both the Left and the Right can spout incendiary lies so long as the threat of violent response is not imminent. But I think the coinage “stochastic violence” or “stochastic terrorism” is nevertheless useful, and that “random” violence is sometimes (often?) rooted in lying rhetoric (and, as in the case of the January 6 insurrection, calling it “random” is a cop-out).

Setting the stage, deploring the actors

But who, sir, makes the [slave] trader? Who is most to blame? The enlightened, cultivated, intelligent man, who supports the system of which the trader is the inevitable result, or the poor trader himself? You make the public statement that calls for his trade, that debauches and depraves him, till he feels no shame in it; and in what are you better than he?

Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Slavery aside, we still do this: we escalate our rhetoric and then damn the actual perpetrators of such stochastic terrorism as our rhetoric invited.

Or maybe, if we’re shameless enough, we’ll call the terrorism a …

Patriot Purge

Yeah! That’s the ticket!

If you infuse an issue or set of issues with religious intensity but drain a movement of religious virtue, then profound religious conflict — including violent conflict — is the inevitable result. Indeed, we saw religious violence on full display when a mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and it is no coincidence that one of Carlson’s most mendacious projects was his effort to recast the Jan. 6 insurrection and its aftermath as a “patriot purge.”

Maybe I should leave it at that, but the author has more:

The more the Christian right latches on to cruel men, the more difficult it becomes to argue that the cruelty is a bug, not a feature …

Many Christians fear that kindness doesn’t “work,” so they discard it. This is how even decency itself becomes a “secondary value.” Aggression, not virtue, becomes the touchstone of political engagement, and anything other than aggression is seen as a sign of weakness.

Both quotes from David French, Tucker Carlson’s Dark and Malign Influence Over the Christian Right

As someone who cannot remember ever watching Tucker Carlson’s segment in its entirety (who hasn’t encountered clips of him?), I can’t speak of his “cruelty” or “aggression” except to say that they were nowhere near my top-line impressions. Maybe that showed up when he singled out some random click-baity schmuck for ridicule?

Trump’s court loss

(Sigh! It’s time.)

We’ll all go down together

The first rule of the modern Republican Party, it’s said, is “You can’t criticize Trump.” But that’s not correct.

The actual rule is “You can’t take sides with the left against Trump.” It just so happens that every moral objection to Trump’s character and fitness is now “coded” as leftist …

In 2023, the question of Trump’s character has become a litmus test of right-wing authenticity. To deem him unfit for office is necessarily to have been corrupted by left-wing propaganda, even if the “propaganda” in question is Trump being accused of sexual misconduct by 20+ women and then being held liable for sexual abuse in court.

This explains why so many conservatives, elected and otherwise, resorted to grumbling about the “New York jury” after yesterday’s verdict. If the jurors were a bunch of partisan blue-state hacks, as their critics insinuate, it’s passing strange that they ended up finding Trump not liable on [raping] her. But since holding him accountable for any moral failing is behavior that’s now associated exclusively with Democrats, the belief on the right that the verdict could only have been tainted by politics will be inescapable.

That dynamic conveniently makes it impossible for Trump’s fitness for office to be challenged legitimately by someone on his own side, as challenging him on those grounds means you’re not on his side at all.

Reporter Benjy Sarlin captured the absurdity when he tweeted, “It’s hard to sum up the 2024 situation more succinctly than this: Trump is already calling DeSantis a groomer based 100% on innuendo with 0 penalty; and DeSantis cannot respond by citing an actual jury finding of sexual abuse.” It’s ludicrous. But it’s also completely rational for DeSantis and the rest of the field under the circumstances to overlook the Carroll trial, since to mention it would be to take sides with the left against Trump. And that would disqualify them, not him.

Nick Cattogio, Mostly Peaceful Sexual Abuse.

It is humiliating to live in a nation-state where Donald Trump could win the Presidential election not just once, but twice. But here is where my wife, friends, family and Church are, so I’ll stay and we’ll all go down together.

I’m quite confident that we’ll go down, but what do I know? I’m not a self-appointed “Apostle” or “Prophet” with power to declare that Donald Trump, right now, is our dulytruly-elected President.

Law or Donald Trump? Pick one.

[W]e watched as even Trump-nominated judges ruled time and again against Trump’s election challenges, yet a majority of Republicans still do not believe that Joe Biden legitimately won enough votes to carry the 2020 election. When the choice is between the law and the evidence or Donald Trump, Republicans have consistently picked Trump.

But is sexual abuse different? Can an actual jury verdict — after a trial featuring all the due process that American law requires — finally break the bond with Trump?

Here is the darkest possible outcome to the case, one that I fear is more likely than not. The Republican public will either shrug at the result or will simply choose to disbelieve the jury, assuming without evidence that it was biased against Trump. Indeed, when asked about the verdict, Senator Marco Rubio told a Bulwark reporter, “That jury’s a joke.” Senator Lindsey Graham said he questioned “the whole process” and told Punchbowl News, “I think you could convict Donald Trump of kidnapping Lindbergh’s baby.”

But would a jury so hopelessly biased against Trump jury reject Carroll’s rape claim? Or is that an indication that the jury actually weighed the evidence supporting each charge?

David French

More Trump derangement

It’s deja vu all over again

Back when Trump first burst on the scene in the summer and fall of 2015, conservative pundits assured us the Republican electorate would reject him and opt for someone/anyone else. That turned out to be wrong—yet here we are nearly eight years later and often the very same people now assure us the Republican electorate would be rejecting Trump and embracing DeSantis if only the media weren’t playing dirty.

I don’t buy it.

Hey, I get it: Being wrong’s a bitch. Yet error can still be worthwhile if it serves as an opportunity to learn and course-correct. Right-leaning writers recognized this when they made the point against Democrats who spent the better part of the Trump administration blaming Vladimir Putin, James Comey, the New York Times, CNN—really anyone but themselves—for Clinton’s loss. But now these same conservatives refuse to subject themselves to the same degree of scrutiny and soul-searching.

Which means they are depriving themselves of the chance to adjust their thinking in the light of a bracing and crucially important truth about the Republican Party: That when given the choice between a know-nothing narcissist and moral cretin who embodies their resentments and channels their anger and hatred but accomplishes little and a candidate who’s spent years proving himself a vastly more competent, woke-slaying enemy of liberalism, the voters still prefer the first guy.

Decrying the fact doesn’t make it any less true.

Damon Linker

Bad Omen

I never did much criminal law, but this strikes me as a bad omen if your name is Donald Trump:

A Friday court filing revealed that at least eight of the 16 false Georgia electors who planned to declare former President Donald Trump the winner of their state’s 2020 presidential contest have accepted immunity deals in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ investigation of attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The brief filed by the electors’ defense attorney shows the electors will be immune from prosecution if they testify truthfully in the probe.

The Morning Dispatch for May 8

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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.

Two pundits on the “Town Hall”

Two pundits opine on CNN’s “Town Hall” with Donald Trump and adoring fans. I’ll be writing on (among other things) slightly less topical Trumpiana bright and early tomorrow.

It’s never Trump’s — not on this score, not on any other, not when a jury rules against him, not when voters pick someone else to be in the White House, not when he’s indicted, not when he’s impeached, not when he’s impeached a second time, not when he’s caught hiding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, not when he’s caught on tape.

He was grilled about such a tape, the one after Election Day 2020 that has him ordering the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, which Biden narrowly won, to overturn that result by finding him more votes.

“I didn’t ask him to find anything,” Trump insisted, incorrectly. “I said, ‘You owe me votes.’” Whew! I’m glad that’s cleared up.

[S]omeone like Trump doesn’t change. His self-infatuation precludes any possibility of that.

[W]here CNN went wrong was in the audience it assembled, a generally adoring crowd who laughed heartily at Trump’s jokes, clapped lustily at his insults and thrilled to his every puerile flourish. When several of them had their turns at the microphone, their questions were air kisses, which is why Collins had to keep stepping in to slap Trump around with her own. The contrast — her righteous firmness, their star-struck flaccidity — was disorienting and repellent. Between now and November 2024, we’re in for a stranger and scarier ride than in any other presidential election in my lifetime, and there’s no telling how it will end.

Frank Bruni, Trump’s ‘Stupid,’ ‘Stupid’ Town Hall.

In defense of CNN’s audience assembly, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (13th Amendment).

How, in the face of that, are you going to persuade non-Trumpists to subject themselves to this ordeal? My next pundit even admits that he hasn’t “watched a media appearance by former president Donald Trump in real time for several years.”

But he reconstructs afterward:

Unless he’s felled by an act of God, Trump is going to be the Republican nominee …

Trump’s still got it. “It” is the instinctual capacity to display dominance and mesmerize the Republican electorate with effortless, highly entertaining displays of contempt for (longstanding but fast-waning) norms of political conduct, the hollow earnestness of mainstream media personalities, and, yes, truth itself.

The former president is imbecilic on policy, a moral cretin, a pathological narcissist—everything his media critics (including yours truly) have thrown at him for nearly eight years now. But he is also a world-class demagogue—one of the greatest in history. He was born to do this, and he’s going to keep doing it until he drops. Given his age, he could drop at any time. But if he doesn’t? I’m sorry, but he’s got the nomination locked up.

[H]ere’s the thing: The country is not just deeply divided; it’s extremely narrowly divided. Trump is going to win the GOP nomination, and when he does, he will be the beneficiary of our polarization, which puts anyone with a pulse within striking distance of the White House.

[B]iden looks and sounds like a doddering old man and Trump (sorry) doesn’t.

Because the Republican majority in the House is already succeeding in making the Biden family (if not (yet) the president himself) look as sleazy as the Trump family. (Mainstream journalists will only be able to ignore the story for so long.)

Damon Linker, The World-Class Demagogue Returns.

A couple of thoughts on this.

  • Is it always the case that those who are immune to a particular demagogue look on in sheer incredulity at those who fall for him/her?
  • Are we to the point where a conscientious Christian can implore God to fell Trump?

Update: I added a paragraph to the Linker quote, inadvertently omitted originally.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

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