Tuesday, 7/26/22

Prognostic myopia

We humans are besotted by intelligence, especially our own. And yet “intelligence is not the miracle of evolution we like to think it is. We love our little accomplishments—our moon landings and megacities—like parents love their newborn baby. But nobody loves a baby as much as the parents. The planet does not love us as much as we love our intellect.” In fact, “our many intellectual accomplishments are currently on track to produce our own extinction, which is exactly how evolution gets rid of adaptations that suck.”

David P. Barash, ‘If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal’ Review: Big Brains, Big Problems, quoting Justin Gregg.

That leads readily to dark humor from the Review:

  • After a worldwide nuclear holocaust, the few surviving amoeba-like creatures hold a meeting at which they decide to try evolving again. But before they do so, they together make a solemn vow: “This time, no brains!
  • Mr. Gregg concludes, glumly but effectively, that “there’s good reason to tone down our smugness. Because, depending on where we go from here, human intelligence may just be the stupidest thing that has ever happened.”

One of the genre

I registered my contrary opinion yesterday, but here’s a fairly eloquent specimen case for prosecuting our former President.

Should his re-election bid prove successful, Trump’s second term will likely be far worse than the first.

He would tighten his grip on all those near him. Mike Pence was a loyalist but in the end wouldn’t fully kowtow to him. The same can be said of Bill Barr. Trump will not again make the mistake of surrounding himself with people who would question his authority.

Some of the people who demonstrated more loyalty to the country than they did to Trump during these investigations were lower-level staff members. For the former president, they, too, present an obstacle. But he might have a fix for that as well.

Axios reported on Friday that “Trump’s top allies are preparing to radically reshape the federal government if he is re-elected, purging potentially thousands of civil servants and filling career posts with loyalists to him and his ‘America First’ ideology.”

According to Axios, this strategy appears to revolve around his reimposing an executive order that would reassign tens of thousands of federal employees with “some influence over policy” to Schedule F, which would strip them of their employee protections so that Trump could fire them without recourse to appeal.

Charles Blow, We Can’t Afford Not to Prosecute Trump

I thought this was a "Flight 93 Indictment" argument, and then the closing paragraph cinched it:

Some could argue that prosecuting a former president would forever alter presidential politics. But I would counter that not prosecuting him threatens the collapse of the entire political ecosystem and therefore the country.

From the Morning Dispatch

  • Sauce for the gander. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Friday that will allow private citizens in California to sue people involved in the manufacturing, sale, transport, or distribution of ghost guns, assault weapons, or .50 BMG rifles—or in the sale or transfer of any firearm to an individual under the age of 21. The legislation—which Newsom hinted at back in December—is modeled after Texas’ Heartbeat Act, which made use of an innovative enforcement mechanism to evade judicial review.
  • Mild-mannered Hogan raises his voice. Maryland’s outgoing Republican governor, Larry Hogan, said yesterday he will not support his party’s nominee to replace him, Dan Cox, whom Hogan has labeled a “QAnon whack job.”
  • Inscrutable. Why did the Chinese government offer five years ago to build a $100 million garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.? You guessed it: espionage. “The canceled garden is part of a frenzy of counterintelligence activity  by the FBI and other federal agencies focused on what career US security officials say has been a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade,” Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN. “Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities. Among the most alarming things the FBI uncovered pertains to Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined the equipment was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons.”

The Morning Dispatch, Monday, July 25, 2022.

The Webb

Dr. Jane Rigby, an astrophysicist and operations director for the new James Webb Space Telescope recently shared during NASA’s live press conference that she had an “ugly cry” when she saw the first images taken by the Webb:

“Earlier than this, the first focused images that we took where they were razor-sharp…that for me had the very emotional reaction like oh my goodness, it works. And it works better than we thought…personally, I went and had an ugly cry. What the engineers have done to build this thing is amazing.”

Note her ugly cry was about the telescope, not the heavens themselves. As the late social critic Neil Postman put it: “To a man with a camera, everything looks like an image.”

Never mind the stars, weep because the telescope works …

But the universe is beautiful and NASA doesn’t know why. That ought to be reason enough for weeping ….

Daniel Ray, Dr. Rigby’s Ugly Cry.

I fear Mr. Ray was a bit too hard on Dr. Rigby. She was, after all, operations director for the telescope. The waiting to see that it worked presumably was a bit nerve-wracking.

Still, and perhaps because of what I thought a harsh tone, this was rewarding to wrestle with.

The System is Rigged!

My former 9-term Congressman, Steve Buyer (Boo-yer), is charged with insider trading. It sounds like they’ve nailed him pretty solidly.

I’ve had a sleazy Congressman since Buyer, and then a cipher (the incumbent). But although I thought Buyer was barely-qualified when he ran his first campaign, a grueling door-to-door affair (with combat boots around his neck lest anyone forget he’d been a soldier), I did not think he was sleazy, and I’m disappointed to learn that he may be, or may have become, so.

By the way: does anything say "The System is rigged!" as loudly and eloquently as insider trading by a current or former National high officeholder?

Awkward

"You call this an awkward silence, but this silence is less awkward than anything I might say." (Encountered by Mrs. Tipsy on Pinterest)

This institution isn’t what you think it is

If it seems that America’s colleges and universities are poorly suited to the average American eighteen-year-old, perhaps that’s because they were never designed to serve him.

Oren Cass, The Once and Future Worker

Chestertonia

  • The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness. But the Englishman, as he has since become, works until he can pretend that he never worked at all. He becomes as far as possible another person—a country gentleman who has never heard of his shop; one whose left hand holding a gun knows not what his right hand doeth in a ledger. (Source not noted)
  • When the realist of the sex novel writes, ‘Red sparks danced in Dagmar Doubledick’s brain; he felt the spirit of the cave-man rising within him,’ the novelist’s readers would be very much disappointed if Dagmar only went off and drew large pictures of cows on the drawing-room wall. (The Everlasting Man)

It’s a long way to Heaven dear Lord,
it’s a hard row to hoe
And I don’t know if I’ll make it dear Lord
but I sure won’t make it alone.

SmallTown Heroes, Long Road, from their one-and-so-far-only "byzantine bluegrass" album Lo, the Hard Times.

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, 7/22/22

France has a culture, and cares about it

The French, however, are more culturist than racist in any strict sense. They have accepted black Africans who speak perfect French in their legislature but they do not accept Muslim girls who wear headscarves in their schools. In 1990, 76 percent of the French public thought there were too many Arabs in France, 46 percent too many blacks, 40 percent too many Asians, and 24 percent too many Jews.

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

I ignored this important book for maybe 20 years. Then it sat unread in my Kindle for years after I bought it.

Don’t be like me. Huntington’s theory explains a lot.

How Shakespeare transformed tragedy

In Shakespeare, tragedy is no longer the result of a fatal flaw or error: time and again it lies in a clash between two ways of being in the world or looking at the world, neither of which has to be mistaken. In Shakespeare tragedy is in fact the result of the coming together of opposites.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Kindle Location 9415.

I bought and read this book soon after hearing of it. McGilchrist writes well enough to sort out left brain versus right brain and to complicate the simplistic versions I’d heard. I guess it’s sort of brain science meets Jonathan Haidt.

Resolved:

If Joe Biden’s approval ratings weren’t in the tank, nobody would have jumped on Jill Biden for her anodyne-if-goofy tacos quip.

Students today

What I say to students is, you are not unhealthy people in a normal world, despite these statistics that show how anxious, lonely, and depressed young adults are. What you are is normal people in an unhealthy world. It’s not healthy to be anxious, lonely, and depressed, but it is a natural response to a world that is not asking you to become anything, and is not giving you confidence that you can overcome difficulty — one that’s dissociating the different parts of you, compelling you to spend a good part of your time with your body disengaged and your mind occupied. It’s totally understandable that our young people are experiencing such distress, because the world we’re asking them to live in — this world of easy everywhere — this world of superpowers, is not good for them. It would be very odd if, in this world, people were doing just fine. It’s not at all surprising that they’re struggling and feeling disconnected.

Andy Crouch via Alan Jacobs.

Professor Jacobs adds his postscript:

You can be almost certain that people who sneer with ready contempt at today’s college students don’t spend much time around them. Our young people have been given a raw deal, and most of them play it better than we have any right to expect. And the ones who don’t? They’re twenty years old. How put-together were you at age twenty?

They were wrong

The New York Times asked eight columnists to fess up and reflect on when and how they’d been wrong. (Yeah, yeah, yeah; some conservatives think the Times is all wrong, all the time. I get it.) I excerpt a few.

… about Capitalism

In the early 1990s, The [Wall Street] Journal sent me on many reporting trips to the U.S.S.R. and, later, Russia, and everything that was uncool in New York was cool in Moscow, so to be a right-wing editorial writer was to be cutting-edge and hip. I paid close attention to all the privatization plans that were floating around. If state property could be distributed to the masses, then a new capitalist Russia could be born.

I saw but did not see the enormous amount of corruption that was going on. I saw but did not see that property rights alone do not spontaneously make a decent society. The primary problem in all societies is order — moral, legal and social order. It took me a while to see that what Russia really needed was not privatization first, but law and order first.

By the time I came to this [New York Times] job, in 2003, I was having qualms about the free-market education I’d received — but not fast enough. It took me a while to see that the postindustrial capitalism machine — while innovative, dynamic and wonderful in many respects — had some fundamental flaws. The most educated Americans were amassing more and more wealth, dominating the best living areas, pouring advantages into their kids. A highly unequal caste system was forming. …

David Brooks, I Was Wrong About Capitalism

… about Mitt Romney

The campaign was extremely boring, and I really did have to stretch to find some fun ways to approach it …

The story about the dog on the roof came from a Boston Globe profile in which his son told a reporter about the time their pet pooped from his perch and messed up the car’s rear window.

Romney is now in the Senate, where he was the only Republican who voted to remove Trump from office during both of his impeachments and, recently, was the only Republican to vote against repealing Joe Biden’s mask mandate.

He also, of course, supports Mitch McConnell and his party’s agenda. If you don’t agree with that, it’s hard to get all that nostalgic about what might have been. But the one lesson I take away from my Seamus period is that there are some things that are way worse than boring.

Gail Collins, I Was Wrong About Mitt Romney (and His Dog)

… about Trump voters, 2016

What Trump’s supporters saw was a candidate whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo.

I was blind to this … I belonged to a social class that my friend Peggy Noonan called “the protected.” My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges.

Trump’s appeal, according to Noonan, was largely to people she called “the unprotected.” Their neighborhoods weren’t so safe and pleasant. Their schools weren’t so excellent. Their livelihoods weren’t so secure. Their experience of America was often one of cultural and economic decline, sometimes felt in the most personal of ways.

It was an experience compounded by the insult of being treated as losers and racists —clinging, in Obama’s notorious 2008 phrase, to “guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

No wonder they were angry.

Bret Stephens, I Was Wrong About Trump Voters

Wordplay

  1. TQIA++ nutters — (From Andrew Sullivan)

This appears to refer to people who can’t seem to help noticing the differences between LGB and the ever-expanding suffix.

Katie Herzog tacitly recognizes the the reflex to conflate different, um, sexual minorities:

“I heard on NPR that monkeypox is disproportionately impacting the ‘LGBTQ community’ but I’m pretty sure the population of lesbians who frequent bathhouses is approximately zero. … just as we are for all STIs besides bed death,” – Katie Herzog.

I’d never heard of "bed death." Turns out she’s alluding to this:

  1. Lesbian Bed Death (or LBD) is altogether more pedestrian than it first seems. Originally coined by sexologists Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein in their 1983 book American Couples, it boils down to the idea that lesbians and queer womxn in monogamous, longterm relationships are basically friends without the benefits and are having less sex than any other type of couple.

Hannah Ewens, Daisy Jones, Lesbian Bed Death: What Is It and Does It Even Exist? (all idiosyncratic spellings in original)

  1. The reflex to conflate incommensurables as "the LGBTQ community" reminds me of my former Calvinist denomination, whose magazine referred to individuals who weren’t standard-issue Dutch or Dutch descendants as "multi-ethnic" even if they were, to use the trope, black as the ace of spades.

Inability to distinguish the easily-distinguishable is sad.

  1. As much as Paris stimulated him, he always dreaded his return to Berlin, that ‘dancing carnivalesque necropolis’.

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (emphasis added)

  1. Word of the Week: post-quantum cryptography, new encryption mathematics that outpaces the capabilities even of quantum computers. Read the full article. (From the Economist)

If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Midweek meanderings

Plain speaking

I commented the other day on Freddie deBoer not mincing words. Neither, here, does J Peters:

We’re Lesbians on the Autism Spectrum. Stop Telling Us to Become Men

I thought of her essay as I read Abigail Shrier’s latest, a take-down of Jen Psaki and the Biden Administration’s policies on supposedly transgender teens — maybe the wickedest and stupidest Biden policy yet.

But the wicked, stupid Biden policy fits a current brain-dead ideology. Andrew Sullivan goes after it at length, from his particular concern about what it does to homosexual kids. A taste:

[N]o one is LGBTQIA++. It’s literally impossible. And the difference between the gay and trans experience is vast, especially when it comes to biological sex.

Maybe the only unique contribution Sullivan makes on this is to embed some teacher training videos that give the lie to the establishment’s charge that concerns over subversive teaching is a made-up, astroturf matter.

Student Loan policy

In his latest Bloomberg column, Matthew Yglesias points out the inflationary effects of the Biden administration’s renewal of the student loan repayment moratorium—while noting it won’t even benefit that many people. “The economy no longer needs stimulus—in fact, it needs to restrain demand,” he writes, noting the non-collection of student loans has the “opposite” effect. “A majority of the public, meanwhile, has $0 in student debt. If you limit your analysis to people under 30, the median student loan balance is still $0. For African-Americans, it’s $0. Most people do not go to college and do not incur student loan debt, and those non-debtors have lower incomes on average than the people who do go to college and do have debt. Restarting student debt collections would restrain inflation at the expense of a disproportionately high-income minority of the population. Broad debt cancellation, by contrast, would boost inflation.”

The Morning Dispatch

(This topic is a pet peeve of mine.)

The spade and the keyboard

The spade and the keyboard are two very different tools, but one thing they have in common is their ability to break the human body.

… Both may give you sore arms, but there is a difference between a keyboard and a spade. A spade can still be made fairly simply. It doesn’t need constant energy to keep going. It can last a long time, if you treat it well, rather like your body. A keyboard and a spade are both products of an industrial economy, but not to the same extent, and they do not have the same purpose. One can exist independently, the other cannot. This might be a matter of degrees, but the degrees matter – and so does the intent.

There’s another point too, though, and perhaps it is a more important one: nobody ever got addicted to a spade ….

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene

"News"

Every morning, there it is, waiting for me on my phone. The bullshit. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as “knowledgeable sources” and “experts differ,” what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin. It does impart information, strictly speaking, but not always information about our world. Or not good information, because it’s so often wrong, particularly on matters of great import and invariably to the advantage of the same interests, which suggests it should be presumed wrong as a rule.

I’m stipulating these points, I’m not debating them, so log off if you find them too extreme. Go read more bullshit. Immerse yourself in news of Russian plots to counterfeit presidential children’s laptops, viruses spawned in Wuhan market stalls, vast secret legions of domestic terrorists flashing one another the OK sign in shadowy parking lots behind Bass Pro Shops experiencing “temporary” inflation, and patriotic tech conglomerates purging the commons of untruths. Comfort yourself with the thoughts that the same fortunes engaged in the building of amusement parks, the production and distribution of TV comedies, and the provision of computing services to the defense and intelligence establishments, have allied to protect your family’s health, advance the causes of equity and justice, and safeguard our democratic institutions. Dismiss as cynical the notion that you, the reader, are not their client but their product. Your data for their bullshit, that’s the deal. And Build Back Better. That’s the sermon.

Pious bullshit, unceasing. But what to do?

One option, more popular each day, is to retreat to the anti-bullshit universe of alternative media sources. These are the podcasts, videos, Twitter threads, newsletters, and Facebook pages that regularly vanish from circulation for violating “community standards” and other ineffable codes of conduct, oft-times after failing “fact-checks” by the friendly people at Good Thoughtkeeping. Some of these rebel outfits are engrossing, some dull and churchy, many quite bizarre, and some, despite small staffs and tiny budgets, remarkably good and getting better. Some are Substack pages owned by writers who severed ties with established publications, drawing charges of being Russian agents, crypto-anarchists, or free-speech “absolutists.”

Walter Kirn, The Bullshit

Delights

New news models

This seems a good time for an uplifting word. Our local newspaper is pretty much what Kirn (preceding item) describes, but a recently-retired, not-yet-really-old, inkstained wretch has started a Substack that regular reports (5-6 days per week) local developments that actually matter. Like Purdue University planning 1200+ new dormitory beds because freshman enrollment topped 10,000 this year, and the total enrollment almost 50,000. There’s tons of off-campus housing, but maybe not enough, and President Mitch Daniels reports that students in dorms perform better than those off campus.

And he is recruiting some of his former colleagues as contributors. There’s high-class fairly unobtrusive advertisements, but that keeps the subscription cost a bit lower.

Now that is an Angel!

A cyber-friend of mine publishes a newsletter that introduced me to this wonderful painting and its author, Henry Osawa Tanner:

The subject (and title) is Annunciation. I much prefer that intense pillar of light to any anthropomorphic depiction of angels I’ve seen — if only because confronted by this, one might need to hear "fear not," while the anthropomorphic depictions elicit no fear at all.

Sundry observations

Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.

Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age


Cosmopolitans cannot escape the limits of Dunbar’s Number. Thus, cosmopolitanism is just a special case of parochialism — one with a curated, international parish.

And they’re not even nicer than the frankly parochial parochials; cosmopolitans microaggress parochials in flyover country nonstop from their high coastal thrones.

(H/T to Jonah Goldberg and Megan McArdle on Jonah’s The Remnant podcast.)


If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom.

Kurt Vonnegut via the Economist Daily Briefing


If Christianity is the one, true religion, is it that much of a stretch to believe that there is one, true expression of Christianity?

Carlton, Clark, The Way, 1998 Edition

Disgraces

Tom Cotton

Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed, but we should remember who disgraced themselves in opposition:

To lambast [Supreme Court Justice] Jackson because she claimed that the accused terrorists she represented were ‘totally innocent’ — yes, even if she was simply copying and pasting objections — is to make a mockery of the rule of law. Perhaps aware of this, Cotton made sure to acknowledge that ‘it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a lawyer for being willing to take on an unpopular case.’ But that’s what he did, over and over and over again.

Charles C.W. Cooke, on lawyer Tom Cotton, via Andrew Sullivan

Groomer-talkers

I think if we call all of them groomers and pedophiles, we are no better than they are, and conservatives have a long-standing issue with the left using ‘racist’ for everything thereby devaluing what actual racism is. I don’t want the word ‘racism’ devalued and I don’t want to devalue what it means to actually groom a child for abuse.

Erick Erickson, via Andrew Sullivan

CRT Provocateurs

[C]onservative alarm wasn’t simply organic. Opportunistic activists like James Lindsay and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo intentionally and explicitly redefined CRT. Here’s Rufo in a tweet thread with Lindsay:

We have successfully frozen their brand—“critical race theory—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

He proceeded to be as good as his word, and now the right-wing conversation about CRT is all but useless.

David French. This was an uncommonly good post by French, responding to Astroturf alarmism over Critical Race Theory.

I would invite French to consider the possibility, however, that James Lindsay is not an opportunistic activist, but a critic of shoddy scholarship in several "critial theories".

Boston Athletic Association

Historical parallels often spring to mind when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the brutality and megalomania of Vladimir Putin, many are reminded of Adolf Hitler. In the soaring rhetoric and heroic defiance of Volodymyr Zelensky, others hear echoes of Winston Churchill. In the moral outrage but relatively cautious policies of Joe Biden, there’s a touch of George — Wouldn’t Be Prudent — H.W. Bush.

And in Wednesday’s decision by the Boston Athletic Association to prohibit runners from Russia and Belarus from competing in this year’s Boston Marathon, we recall the words of Otter, one of the frat house characters from “National Lampoon’s Animal House”: “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

Bret Stephens. Having reached that punchline, I didn’t finish the Op-Ed.

Menno Simons

Another Radical Reformation theologian set forth a Christology that said the Son of God became man not “of the womb” of Mary, but rather simply “in the womb” (Menno Simons), which means that Jesus’ humanity is a new creation, not an assumption of the humanity created in Adam. Mary becomes a kind of surrogate mother, and Jesus is not truly a member of our race. (See the painting of the Annunciation, above, too.)

Father Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy

I heard something like this on WMBI, the radio network of Evangelicalism’s Moody Bible Institute: a woman show host breathlessly sharing how Jesus came down to earth from heaven through Mary like water through a pipe. I’m inclined to think it was extemporaneous blather, but it was pernicious blather.

I’m not sure there is an agreed Evangelical account of Mary’s role in salvation history, but if there were, and if it were sound, they wouldn’t be giving her the short shrift they give her now.

Fundamentalists

The 1960s and early 1970s—the so-called Long Sixties—saw the election of the first Catholic president, the Supreme Court decision banning prayer and Bible reading in the schools, the civil rights movement, the protests against the Vietnam War, and the Roe v. Wade decision. Surprisingly, only the fundamentalists objected to all of them.

Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals

Close, but no banana. Few fundamentalists objected to Roe v. Wade initially. How they came to object, in my uninvestigated opinion (though I lived through those times), is bound up with the rise of the Religious Right and its need for wedge issues. (This does not imply that opposition was wrong. Of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made.)

Wordplay

We define ourselves now by what we are not. And what we are not is everything we used to be.

Paul Kingsnorth


The only time I ever feel ashamed of being gay is on Gay Pride Day.

Bruce Bawer via Jonathan Rausch


Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux.
(The real journey of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.)

Marcel Proust via Nicolas Crose on Micro.blog.

I almost feel as if Proust were dissing my wanderlust.


Denouncement: An ersatz "denunciation" from the Dispatch. Denouncement appears to be in the dictionary, but old men get to grouse about things anyway, and I hates it! The only excuse I can see for it is to make English easier for ESL folk, which also impoverishes it sometimes.


Périphérique: (or “La France périphérique”), a term to describe parts of France left behind by high-speed trains and breezy ambition—where voters are now being desperately courted by presidential candidates.

The Economist. I assume these are Marine LePen’s base, and that Macron ignores them at his peril.


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.

Wordplay 2/28/22

Pithy

Anything that’s a problem for the Democrats becomes a little easier if Ted Cruz is in the opposition.

Gail Collins

the United States cannot be a benign power and a messianic one at the same time

Peter Beinart via Freddie deBoer

Words of the Year

Irredentism: a political and popular movement whose members claim (usually on behalf of their nation), and seek to occupy, territory which they consider "lost" (or "unredeemed"), based on history or legend.

If you didn’t know what this meant, join the club. I only recognized it as a put-down of some sort in foreign policy.

If you don’t know why I might nominate this as word-of-the-year, may God have mercy on your soul.

Runner-up, revanchism: the political manifestation of the will to reverse territorial losses incurred by a country, often following a war or social movement.

Some people seem to think that 25-cent words like that settle a debate.

Janissary: A member of a group of elite, highly loyal supporters. It would be tempting to call the formerly Never-Trump Now-Trump-Sycophant Republicans "janissaries" except that the janissaries were also highly-skilled and tightly-disciplined, whereas the Trumpistas in DC are a pack of lawless jackals, vying for advantage over their fellows and of uncertain loyalty even to Trump.

Lizardman’s Constant

Lizardman’s Constant is an idea proposed by Scott Alexander that each poll always has about 4% weird answers. In one poll, 4% of Americans said that reptilian people do control our world and, in another 4% answered ‘Yes’ to the question ‘Have you ever been decapitated?’

Quite Interesting on Twitter

Dark Humor

Every morning, Ghislaine Maxwell wakes up surprised and relieved to find she didn’t commit suicide the night before.

Nellie Bowles, Common Sense

Background, should you need it, here and here.


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.

Wordplay, 1/14/22

Newly-minted, in descending order of genius:

If you would rank the first four differently, I would not break off fellowship with you.


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.

Visual content for a change

From this week’s Economist.

Love how they go with “birthing people” and “pregnant persons” but then just call it the MOMMIES Act. https://t.co/OIvNXqHNcX— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) May 6, 2021

Don’t miss the people who responded by pretending to not understand his point.


One reason why we spend so much time thinking and talking about elites is that we often hope and pray that a better elite can bring significant, rapid change—to yank the right out of its current malaise sooner rather than later. At present, however, there is no obvious path for speedy, top-down change. There simply isn’t an active market for the necessary message.

David French, Make No Mistake: The GOP Has a Grassroots Problem.

If you follow this blog, you likely have noticed a lot of content from the Dispatch (including essentially anything I quote from David French). Although I’m starting to figure out that David’s entertainment tastes are, um, not at all like mine, I think the Dispatch is doing a very good job at delivering on what they say they’re about, and is worth the price for any non-destitute conservative (or liberal who wants to avoid captivity to a bubble).


The Soviet occupiers subdued religious hierarchies, he said, making sure that the senior leaders — bishops and such — were collaborators. Bishop Istvan remarked that what he sees happening in liberalizing Protestant churches in the West reminds him of this process. The idea, he explained, is that they have been colonized by utopian idealists who believe they have found the truth. Said the bishop, “The Bolsheviks imposed this in a harsh, brutal way, but in the Western countries today, it is happening in a soft way.”

… The bishop went on to say that every society needs an enemy in mind. After the end of the Cold War, the West lacked for an obvious enemy. Now, he said, the elites have decided that the enemy is traditional Christians.

“It’s not a Cold War, but a Cold Civil War, happening in the US, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher

I suspect, based on my observations of how societies behave, that the Bishop is right: every society needs an enemy in mind. Even if he’s not,

  1. It gives us an idea why Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros; and
  2. It should make us reflect on why we demonize Putin, Orban and others.

“We are not good survivors of Communism,” said Bishop Istvan, of his generation. “If you read the Book of Exodus, you will see that it took forty years of wandering in the desert for the Israelites to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Many of them wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they could have a few material things guaranteed for them. I feel like my generation has been told by God that we can’t enter the Promised Land.

“But I ask myself,” he continued, “which Promised Land should I want to enter? Should it be the West? The problem is, there is no fruit there. There is no milk, there is no honey.”

That resonated deeply with me, this point of Bishop Istvan’s. Something similar has been front to mind for me since I first arrived here three weeks ago. There is something about putting distance between oneself and America, and looking at America from a non-woke country, that highlights the true insanity of what’s happening in our nation.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher, quoting Istvan Szábo.


“Believing that everything will be better if only we gather more information,” blogger Michael Sacasas recently wrote, “commits us to endless searching and casting about, to one more swipe of the screen in the hope that the elusive bit of data, which will make everything clear, will suddenly present itself.” …

… There is nothing of real import happening in the world for which Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is the best source of information.

Joseph M. Keegin, Be Not Afraid


In the old Dark Ages, it was impossible to persuade the feudal chiefs that it was more worth while to grow medicinal herbs in a small garden than to lay waste the province of an empire; that it was better to decorate the corner of a manuscript with gold-leaf than to heap up treasuries and wear crowns of gold. These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Dark Ages

A few thoughts

I’ve had major, major computer woes over the past eight days and blogging went on the back burner, but I have read a bit a clipped a bit and, well, I have thoughts.


First, an interesting bit of tonic contrariness:

> Frankly, a big problem in our society is that many of our institutions are still too trusted relative to the amount of trust they deserve. Think about blue chip brands like GE or Boeing that were once synonymous with American can-do business, but are now joke companies. The response to the coronavirus should have revealed to everyone the institutional incompetence of much of our public sector. And I’ve been on record for years as writing that most communities would be better off if half of their non-profits disappeared. > > I plan to write an entire future Masculinist on why we should in many cases cease to identify the public good with the continuation and propping up of our failed institutions. As Alasdair Macintyre put it in After Virtue, “A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.” > > Care for your neighbor or the American people does not necessarily have to equate to maintenance of the American “imperium.”

Aaron Renn, The Masculinist


Second, an introduction that’s better, in my opinion, than the overall article that follows:

> People complain about QAnon, but truly lasting, impactful lunacy is always exclusive to intellectuals. Everyone else is constrained. You can’t fish on land for long. Same with using a chainsaw for headache relief. An intellectual may freely mistake bullshit for Lincoln logs and spend a lifetime building palaces.

Matt Taibbi, Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual


On sitting out the new culture wars:

> An actress who rose to prominence in a sport I loathe had been fired from a television program I have no plans of ever watching on an online streaming platform that I would never subscribe to for employing a tired but once-popular Holocaust-derived analogy in an argument about — well, I really don’t know, but I was supposed to be thrilled that she is now engaged in an unnamed new film venture with another journalist whose work I despise. Sandwiched between these two incidents was at least one other pseudo-controversy involving the inconsistent application of privacy rules at the aforementioned paper. It led to a once-pseudonymous blogger, who was supposed to be the subject of an abandoned profile, outing himself and then being written about in a somewhat nastier manner by the same publication. This in turn gave rise to dozens of impassioned defenses of the unlucky scribe by countless other 40-something male bloggers, including one prominent defender of polygamy.

Matthew Walther

I’m about 80% sitting them out, too. The remaining 20% is a weak presumption that any conservative who got cancelled is ipso facto a pretty good ole boy or gal.


Beam me up, Lord:

> An Israeli startup that is developing 3D printers for meat undertook a successful fundraising round that will allow it to distribute its products to restaurants this year. Redefine Meat combines 3D meat modelling, food formulations and food printing to build complex-matrix “meat” on its machines, made from proteins found in legumes and grains and fat from plants. The steaks resemble the texture and taste of choice cuts of beef, but with no cholesterol. Bill Gates this week called on rich countries to switch to “100% synthetic beef” in order to lower greenhouse-gas emissions from the cattle industry.

Business this week | The world this week | The Economist

The "meat" photo with the article looked very good, but I’m really not keen on faux meat. When fasting from meat, I avoid fake meat 99% of the time, especially now that the fakes are so like the real thing.

And seriously, Bill Gates: Is it really all that obvious that synthetic beef is better for the environment (and/or cows) than pastured beef?

As Michael Pollan says, if it’s made of plants, it’s food; if it’s made in a plant, it’s not food.

Eat food.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Anytown Ecumenical High

It’s been a while since I blogged, but I found an old draft, never completed, and dusted it off.

Back in my Calvinist days, and when I had a child of school-age, I thought how wonderful it would be for there to be an ecumenical Christian high school in town as we had some hesitancy about sending our son to a Catholic High School (particularly since the local Catholic High School had a reputation for binge drinking with parental connivance).

Even apart from the existence of that Catholic High School, I had no idea how impossible or unacceptably minimalist the Christian standards of such a high school would be if it attempted to take in every Christian tradition (with or without Roman Catholicism). Even excluding merely cultural Christians, there’s not much in common.

Here’s a playful stab at the statement of beliefs:

  1. Human life began better than it is now. Human disobedience is what made things worse. Go ask your respective clergy whether “better” and “worse” are predominately moral, mortal, ontological or something else.
  2. There followed maybe four millennia, maybe more. A people called Jews emerged and were called God’s chosen people. Go ask your respective clergy what continuing relevance they have, if any, to the Christian story.
  3. There was a man, who also was God, named Jesus, who came from the Jews to fix our problem. Go ask your respective clergy how His coming had something to do with saving us from our problem.
  4. Jesus’ mother was a virgin. Go ask your respective clergy whether she remained a virgin or whether that would be creepy and subversive of the sexiness we so dearly love.
  5. Without having sinned or committed any capital offense, Jesus nevertheless was crucified some 2000 years ago. We all agree that this was very important, but we can’t entirely agree why. Go ask your respective clergy what Jesus’ crucifixion has to do with saving us from our problem.
  6. Early Sunday after His Crucifixion, this Jesus came back to life, not just a little but totally.We all agree that this was very important. It foreshadows that we won’t stay dead forever, at least if we’re Christians. Go ask your respective clergy whether, beyond that foreshadowing, that just proved Jesus really was God or whether it had something more to do with saving us from our problem.
  7. 40 days later, Jesus left us in something called Ascension in churches that care about things like that. Go ask your respective clergy whether that’s important in saving us from our problem. Extra credit: Ask your clergy why you don’t commemorate it if it’s important but you don’t commemorate it.
  8. After he went away, somebody sent something or someone called the Holy Spirit. Go ask your respective clergy whether it was God the Father from whom He/it proceeded or whether it was from both from the Father and the Son.
  9. While we’re on this Father and Son and Holy Spirit business, go ask your respective clergy to explain the Trinity to you. Watch this video first and you can have fun playing “Name That Heresy” with most clergy.
  10. After that the Church grew. Go ask your respective clergy whether it grew on the basis of the Old Testament, the teaching of the Apostles (written and oral), the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament  that hadn’t been written yet, none of the above, all of the above, or what?
  11. The early Church worshiped rather formally as did the Jews of the Synagogue. Or they sat around on the floor, strumming harps and spontaneously bursting into choruses like Kum-Ba-Ya or “Our God is an Awesome God” in Aeolian mode and Aramaic language. Go ask your respective clergy how the early church worshiped.
  12. The Church had and has somewhere between one and seven or more ordinances, sacraments, mysteries, or whatever you call them. Go ask your respective clergy how many, what you call them, why that particular number.
  13. The Church soon had or didn’t have Bishops and a structure that extended beyond individual congregations. Go ask your respective clergy how the early Church was governed.
  14. One becomes a “Christian” (an encomium) by asking Jesus into his or her heart. Or one becomes a “Christian” (a fact that has little or nothing to do with being nice and middle class or even acting like a Christian) by baptism. Yeah, go ask your Clergy. Sheesh!
  15. Around the time of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century, God dropped the ball, the Church got seduced by secular power, and nothing more good happened until Martin Luther. Or there were always true Christians, who basically were Baptists, but history and fake Christians have suppressed that fact. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the Bishop of Rome started putting on airs and eventually tore the Church. Or the Church was one and not corrupt until the other four Patriarchs decided to rebel against the Pope in Rome, who everybody knew was the penultimate boss of the whole Church (second only to Christ, whose vicar the Pope was), and thus those rebellious Patriarchs eventually tore the Church. Or something. Go ask your respective clergy.
  16. Someday, Jesus is coming back one or more times. Go ask your respective clergy why He’s coming back and whether He’s coming back once, twice, or multiple times, and whether any of those will be a secret (except for the tantalizingly suspicious disappearance of every Fundamental, King-James-Bible-Believing Baptist in the world).

I think you’ve got the idea by now. And I haven’t even touched on what the school’s sports teams pious nickname would be, whether and what Christian symbols would be allowed, or other thorny issues.

Jesus’ desire that we all may be one is not faring all that well. Go ask your pastor how it can possibly be God’s will that His Church fall into such cacophony.

Or maybe the Church is faring just fine, but “we” is narrower than everybody who says “Jesus” with a little fervor.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

I don’t control my lights, door locks, or anything else by speaking commands to my 1st-generation Amazon Echo. Indeed, I shut the microphone off about a year ago and I only use it like a table radio — direct streaming or bluetooth from my phone — and controlled from the Alexa app on my phone, not by voice.

When Echo dies, it will either not be replaced or will be replaced with a streaming radio with better sound quality (though Echo isn’t too bad). And no voice control.

There is no way I’m going to wear a pair of Alexa-powered Bose earphones, wandering around in “public” but in my own little world inside my head, isolated from the world except for asking it “how do I get shiny hair?” when I see a slick Afghan Hound.

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

I’m partial to the hypothesis that living in unreality (in which I’d include virtual reality) creates ennui.

I noticed recently, though, that most articles of the “digital detox” genre are focused on productivity, not on humanity let alone holiness. I’m told that Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism is different. I hope so, because after I catch up on a little backlog of magazines, it’s my next book (on Kindle, of course — so sue me).

Indeed, much of my reading lately seems to evoke gentle regrets: “Gosh, I could have lived this better way if only I’d been wiser.” There’s a reason for the saying “Too soon old, too late smart.”

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

A magazine that frequently gives me gentle regrets is Plough, from the Bruderhof community. I think Mother Jones and my secular “alternate lifestyle” magazines will be going unrenewed, Plough renewed.

* * *

Meanwhile, I’ve taken a deep breath, installed Freedom, and instructed it to help my self-control by cutting me off from the internet and from various apps at times of day when I am resolving to do something other than sitting on my arse with a computer on my lap.

* * *

I had an Impossible Burger once. It was surprisingly burgerlike.

But Michael Pollan says “if it comes from a plant, it’s food; if it’s made in a plant, it’s not food.” Heck, you don’t even save calories and fat grams with Impossible Burger. If I want burger taste, I’ll buy a burger.

Except maybe when I’m dying for meat in Lent. Once or twice, tops. I think it was Lent 2019 when I tried one.

* * *

Did I mention that I came of age in the 60s? And was an Audio-Visual Dept. geek?

* * *

I just saw San Francisco 49er defender #2 helping a Green Bay Packer runner to land on his back rather than the top of his helmet when undercut by San Francisco 49er defender #1.

There is magnanimity in the world. Especially from teams that are up 20-0 in the first half.

 

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

New York adventures and thoughts

I’m visiting New York City for a few days, mostly to see Heroes of the Fourth Turning, but with other things thrown in for good measure.

I’m glad I allowed four full “ground days” (i.e., non-travel days) because I kept stumbling onto subway trains that took me further south when I needed to go north to get to the Met. Then I got off at 96th and Lexington because the Met is at 1000 5th Avenue, so I’d need to walk West to 5th Avenue, north 4 blocks to the Met.

5 blocks north, at 101st, no sign of the Met. Out come the phone and GPS.

Well, do tell! 1000 5th Avenue is roughly at 82nd Street, not 100th.

I think I’ll adopt a preferential option for busses, as I know north from south on the surface, but I don’t know what I need to do to realize that things like street addresses are not always logical here.

* * *

The Met may be facing an encounter with Cancel Culture. It not only has a Sackler (Purdue Pharma opioids) Gallery of Egyptian art but (oh the horror!) a David H. Koch plaza.
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* * *

There is literally nonstop background noise in my hotel just west of 9th Avenue on 42nd Street. I’m 12 floors up but can’t escape it.

I used to think I’d like living here if money were no object. But I’m quickly relenting. It would have to be enough money to let me live above the noise, and that would be kind of artificial, no?

God loves us all. God loves the city(ies). There’s even a St. Raphael of Brooklyn, canonized after I became Orthodox.

And God knows that small(er) towns have their distinctive constellations of temptations. But I think that for the duration, something a bit less urban than Manhattan is my sweet spot.

UPDATE: “Above the noise” might mean “above 59th Street and away from the major avenues.” I walked from 10th Avenue over to Central Park (86th Street, I think) on Saturday morning, and it was acceptably quiet. Nice brownstones, too.

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* * * * *

The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.