Curated for your reading pleasure

MYOB

Once, when Berlioz sobbed at a musical performance a sympathetic onlooker remarked: ‘You seem to be greatly affected, monsieur. Had you not better retire for a while?’ In response, Berlioz snapped: ‘Are you under the impression that I am here to enjoy myself?’

Via Iain Mcgilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Contemptible hyperbole

Books are violence, so says the American Violencesellers Association.

Tweet included in this story

If so, there’s something wrong with the regime.

The reason why what Francis has done matters is because some day the kind of liberalism he embodies will come for you — for the simple, sweet thing you were doing that wasn’t bothering anyone else but, by its mere existence, was an existential threat to the governing regime. You are next.

The Pope’s merciless war against the Old Rite

Evangelical/QAnon overlap

I don’t really trust Vice News, but this is a reasonable answer (because Ryan Burge it both a pastor and a serious sociologist of religion) to a question (‘why the big overlap between QAnon believers and Evangelical believers?’) that may not be as urgent as appears (because the premise that 34% of America is "Evangelical" ignores that many identify as "Evangelical" because they’re conservative-leaning and not atheist or agnostic, though they rarely go to church; further, if I wanted to be mischievous, I could affirm that I’m "born again" in both this historic sense — I’ve been baptized — and the Evangelical sense — I once had an emotional experience of "inviting Jesus into my heart").

Caveats aside, this could be worth 6 minutes of your time. The prevalence of Dispensationalism was the major reason I left Evangelicalism 40+ years ago.

Deconstructing "America is back"

In his Friday G-File, Jonah riffs on the Biden administration’s incessant “America is back” declarations. “For Biden, it seems to have two meanings. One is his narrow argument that we are rejoining all of the multilateral partnerships and alliances that Trump pulled out of or denigrated,” he writes. “But there’s another meaning to ‘America is back.’ It’s an unsubtle dig at Trump and a subtle bit of liberal nostalgia all at once. It’s kind of a progressive version of ‘Make America Great Again.’ It rests on the assumption that one group of liberal politicians speaks for the real America, and now that those politicians are back in power, the real America is back, too. But the problem is, there is no one real America. There are some 330 million Americans and they, collectively and individually, cannot be shoe-horned into a single vision regardless of what labels you yoke to the effort.”

The Morning Dispatch, 7/19.

Good points, Jonah.

Huxley > Orwell

With the benefit of hindsight, I concluded for long ago that Huxley was more prophetic than Orwell:

“Hug me till you drug me, honey; Kiss me till I’m in a coma: Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny; Love’s as good as soma.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Yes! But …

Censorship Circumvention Tool Helps 1.4 Million Cubans Get Internet Access | World News | US News

"The Toronto-based company’s Psiphon Network receives U.S. government financial support."

I think this is great, but:

  • I would not be surprised if Psiphon allows the U.S. to spy on its users as a quid pro quo for financial support.
  • This sort of thing just begs for retaliation — like ransomware attacks, maybe.

A rare naughty

Those who confuse burro and burrow don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

Spotted on Pinterest by the Missus.


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.

Competent beta males and other fancies

Identitarianism’s bad faith is right out in the open. If you watch closely, you’ll see that white liberals broadcasting their virtuous, courageous commitment to “listening to black voices” will suddenly waver when the black voice in question expresses opinions closer to John McWhorter’s than Ta-Nehisi Coates’. Almost without exception, people who make blanket statements of the form “I listen to X” or “Listen to X” are — and there is no more polite way to say this — full of shit.

Jesse Singal, Lobbying for Millionaires, for Social Justice

This is a fitting companion to Freddie de Boer’s Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect, quoted extensively last time.


The atmosphere is stifling, sluggish, leaden. Outside, you don’t hear a single bird, and a deathly, oppressive silence hangs over the house and clings to me as if it were going to drag me into the deepest regions of the underworld. At times like these, Father, Mother and Margot don’t matter to me in the least. I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage. “Let me out, where there’s fresh air and laughter!” a voice within me cries.

Annelies, a 2004 choral work by James Whitbourn, based on the Diary of Ann Frank.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing this, though I must admit that the work didn’t come alive for me in rehearsal — not until production week, when we finally heard the brilliant “Ann Frank” soloist the Artistic Director had hired. Then: wow!


This is not about Donald Trump:

Donald Trump doesn’t get away with lies because his followers flunked Epistemology 101. He gets away with his lies because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them. Some students at elite schools aren’t censorious and intolerant because they lack analytic skills. They feel entrapped by moral order that feels unsafe and unjust.

The collapse of trust, the rise of animosity — these are emotional, not intellectual problems. The real problem is in our system of producing shared stories. If a country can’t tell narratives in which everybody finds an honorable place, then righteous rage will drive people toward tribal narratives that tear it apart.

Over the past decades, we cut education in half. We focused on reason and critical thinking skills — the core of the second reservoir of knowledge. The ability to tell complex stories about ourselves has atrophied. This is the ability to tell stories in which opposing characters can each possess pieces of the truth, stories in which all characters are embedded in time, at one point in their process of growth, stories rooted in the complexity of real life and not the dogma of ideological abstraction.

Now as we watch state legislatures try to enforce what history gets taught and not taught, as we watch partisans introduce ideological curriculums, we see how debauched and brutalized our historical storytelling skills have become.

It is unfashionable to say so, but America has the greatest story to tell about itself, if we have the maturity to tell it honestly. The Fourth of July weekend seems like a decent time to start.

David Brooks, ‌How to Destroy Truth (H/T my brother-in-law, since I don’t currently subscribe to the New York Times.)

This is more congruence, by the way, as I discussed last time; indeed, it’s congruent with ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, though I’m only now getting into that part of the book.


Buddhism, I’ve found, is how to live in Hell without becoming a devil. The competent man who guards his thoughts and emotions and stays calm and studies differential equations and provides for those around him financially even while living among very unhappy and unhealthy people—that is how the Aristocracy of the Competent is formed. When the Competent beta males rise to the top, that is when we will have a Renaissance.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power.

The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer? What is a “conservative”? Where I live, the term “staunch conservative” is a synonym for “Trump supporter,” in spite of the fact that Trumpism is far more akin to populism than conservatism, as traditionally defined.

Then there’s this other word: “patriot.”

I want all those words back. “Evangelical” is a word with a rich theological and historical tradition. It has meant something good. The word “conservative” has long been connected to the defense of the classical liberal virtues of the American founding. And I can think of no better time to reclaim the word “patriot” than on our nation’s Independence Day.

No, it’s not just that I “want” those words back. We need them back. …

David French, How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?


When the Pony Express needed riders, it advertised

a preference for orphans-

that way, no one was likely

to ask questions when the carriers failed to arrive,

or the frightened ponies stumbled in with their dead

from the flanks of the prairies….

There were plenty of orphans and the point of course

was to get the mail through, so the theory was sound….

think of those rough, lean boys-

how light and hard they would rise

fleeing the great loneliness.

Mary Oliver, The Riders (H/T The Daily Poem for July 2)


The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence.


You can’t unsee what you have seen, unlearn what you have learned. The only way to live entirely at ease with one’s hometown is never to have left, never to have seen how life is elsewhere, right? Or maybe not. Ruthie’s nature was not my nature. For me the only reason I was able to return to St. Francisville in the middle of my life was because I left it so long ago and satisfied my curiosity about the world beyond. Had I chosen Ruthie’s path when I was young, my way through life would likely have been bitter, filled with regret about the roads not taken.

Rod Dreher, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming


I have pared down a very contentious, even hurtful, couple of paragraphs to just one recommendation: I cannot recommend Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity too highly for anyone who wants to understand how so much of North American Christianity became so chaotic and heretical.


This one ought to be good comedy fodder:

Rural county in Nevada moving to rename road after Trump

YERINGTON, Nev. – A rural Nevada county where voters sided solidly with Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is moving to rename a road after him. Lyon County commissioners voted 4-1 on Thursday for renaming the half-mile Old Dayton Valley Road in Dayton, an unincorporated community 23 miles south of Reno. Commissioner Ken Gray, a Republican, told KRNV-TV that he chose the road because only a few government facilities and no residents have addresses on it, making the change easier.


Jonah Goldberg unpacks some Trump bombast and finds inadvertent self-revelation:

Trump is a human incarnation of anti-factual narratives. Case in point: His trip to the border this week.

At a meeting to discuss border security, Trump went on a tear about how he “aced” a test designed to tell whether he was cognitively impaired. This is an oldie but a goodie, so I was glad to see him reach deep into his catalog. At the event, Trump called out to Rep. Ronny Jackson, the president’s former physician who had administered the test. Trump said:

“Did I ace it? I aced it. And I’d like to see Biden ace it. He won’t ace it.”

“He will get the first two. There are 35 questions and the first two or three are pretty easy. They are the animals. This is a lion, a giraffe. When he gets to around 20, he’s gonna have a little hard time. I think he’s gonna have a hard time with the first few, actually.”

Well.

The test doesn’t have 35 questions, merely 10 or 11 tasks (here’s a sample test). And it’s not supposed to take more than 10 minutes.

Boasting that the test was “really hard” doesn’t quite make the point Trump thinks he’s making. If you find a sobriety test “really hard,” that’s not quite the same thing as saying, “I’m sober.” If you struggle to pass a basic cardiovascular test, that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’m in great shape.” And if you say a test designed to determine if you have dementia got “really hard” toward the end, maybe that should be a cause for concern? I mean, if you have to dig deep to successfully repeat the sentence, “The cat always hid under the couch when dogs were in the room,” that’s not something to brag about.

The final—and presumably hardest question—asks if the patient knows the date, place, and city where the test is being administered.

(Emphasis added)


I had heard someone say that Vienna combined the splendour of a capital with the familiarity of a village. In the Inner City, where crooked lanes opened on gold and marble outbursts of Baroque, it was true; and, in the Kärntnerstrasse or the Graben, after I had bumped into three brand-new acquaintances within a quarter of an hour, it seemed truer still, and parts of the town suggested an even narrower focus.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (and Jan Morris), A Time of Gifts

From what Rod Dreher wrote just last Friday (I Am Pieter Brueghel’s Waffle Man – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher, Vienna is still magical.


Reflections introduced by Jeff Bezos’ rationale for going to space:

I think, is that the standard choices presented to us – reason versus superstition; progress versus barbarism; past versus future; Earth versus space; growth versus stasis – were always chimeras. The choice is not between ‘going forward’ or ‘going back’, but between working with the complexity of human and natural realities, in all their organic messiness, or attempting to supersede them with abstractions which can never hope to contain them.

Perhaps this is why artists, saints, poets, mystics and storytellers often have a better handle on what reality actually looks like than those who sing the praises of Science or Reason. The English painter Cecil Collins, for example, explained his view on the matter in a beautiful mid-twentieth century passage which is worth quoting in full:

Rationalists are very fond of saying that without reason the universe would be a mad place; but of course it is a mad place even with reason. Any artist, or poet, or really alive person, knows it is mad. It is a horrible and terrifying place full of a bitter cruelty and obscenity. It is a place full of wonderful, profound beauty, and the tenderness of vast mysterious sacrifices. What it is not is a nice little rational puzzle that works out in the end.

No, the universe of experience is a different matter. It is a deep abyss, full of voices, some whispering, some shouting, the voices of frustration, the voices of unfulfilled longings, the voices of mysterious lusts, of mystical desires that can find no place in the world, the voices of deep, buried wrongs that cry out from an abyss of world desolation, the voices of misfits, neurotics, failures, the weak, an abyss full of the ecstasy of the poet, the glow of the praise of life, full of an incomprehensible love and an incomprehensible destructiveness.

All these voices are centred in man’s consciousness and in order to escape from them he builds in his mind a prison of rationality, and then tries by the aid of the official world, to shut them out.

Paul Kingsnorth, A Thousand Mozarts (The Abbey of Misrule)


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.

… But I won’t do that

Things I won’t do

Bari Weiss lends her Substack to a Bitcoin debate. Balaji S. Srinivasan says Bitcoin Is Civilization. Michael W. Green makes The Case Against Bitcoin.

I understand Bitcoin a bit better now. Still won’t go there.


I haven’t been willing to invest the time to gain pop-culture literacy, but the way Alan Jacobs uses Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement, I kinda wish I knew more about Breaking Bad.

> I think I better understand the Republican capitulation to Donald Trump when I think of their decision to nominate him as the GOP Presidential candidate in 2016 as the equivalent of Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement.  > > Breaking bad walter and krazy 8 episode 3 > > I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time — it seemed like the only real option. But then, once you have him in the basement, what do you do with him? Until you decide, you are as much his prisoner as he is yours.

I’m still not going to pursue pop-culture literacy, though. My pop-culture literacy pretty much ceased when my son went off to college (though before that, I did listen to some Meatloaf, whence today’s title).

Something the New York Times won’t do

First, Bari Weiss, now Elizabeth Bruenig. It’s not good enough to be a center-left same-sex married bisexual (though Weiss shuns sexuality labels) or a progressive Catholic; if you’re not totally, unequivocally committed to the successor ideology, you’re not welcome in the trenches of the newspaper of record.

What will it take for New York Times’ management to wrest control back from the toxic Jacobins in the newsroom?

Artistic Directors are gods

One of two choirs I sing in, Lafayette Master Chorale, is announcing on Thursday our return and our concert schedule for 2021-22 — after abruptly ceasing rehearsals and concerts 14 months ago. We’ve missed singing. We believe and hope that our patrons have missed us.

We also just released our virtual recording As If We Never Said Goodbye, a piece we’ve never rehearsed or performed together:

> I dont know why I’m frightened
> I know my way around here
> The cardboard trees, the painted seas, the sound here
> Yes, a world to rediscover
> But I’m not in any hurry
> And I need a moment > > The whispered conversations
> In overcrowded hallways
> The atmosphere as thrilling here as always
> Feel the early morning madness
> Feel the magic in the making
> Why, everything’s as if we never said goodbye
> > I’ve spent so many mornings
> Just trying to resist you
> I’m trembling now, you can’t know how I’ve missed you
> Missed the fairy tale adventures
> In this ever-spinning playground
> We were young together
> I’m coming out of makeup
> The lights already burning
> Not long until the cameras will start turning
> And the early morning madness
> And the magic in the making
> Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye > > I don’t want to be alone
> That’s all in the past
> This world’s waited long enough
> I’ve come home at last > > And this time will be bigger
> And brighter than we knew it
> So watch me fly, we all know I can do it
> Could I stop my hand from shaking?
> Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for? > > The whispered conversations
> In overcrowded hallways
> So much to say, not just today, but always
> We’ll have early morning madness
> We’ll have magic in the making
> Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye

The conjunction is kinda magical.

Political Punditry

Peggy Noonan

> What is to become of the Republican Party? It will either break up or hold together. If the latter, it will require time to work through divisions; there will be state fights and losses as the party stumbles through cycle to cycle. But in time one side or general tendency will win and define the party. Splits get resolved when somebody wins big and nationally. Eisenhower’s landslides in 1952 and ’56 announced to the party that it was moderate. Reagan’s in 1980 and ’84 revealed it was conservative. The different factions get the message and follow the winner like metal filings to a magnet. > > The future, according to this space, is and should be economically populist and socially conservative. > > The future GOP, and the current one for that matter, is a party of conservatism with important Trumpian inflections. The great outstanding question: Will those inflections be those of attitude—wildness, garish personalities and conspiracy-mindedness? If so, the party will often lose. Or will the inflections be those of actual policy, in which case they will often win? > > … > > One of the scoops of the Cheney drama was when the Washington Post reported that in a briefing at an April GOP retreat the National Republican Congressional Committee hid from its members polling information on battleground districts. That information showed Mr. Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones: “Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.” Bad numbers had been covered up before. Ms. Cheney concluded party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid acknowledging the damage Trump could do to Republican candidates. ate Peggy Noonan (UPDATE: Link switched from WSJ to her blog, which doesn’t have a paywall.)

How the GOP Could, In A Parallel Universe, Deserve to Win

> The Tories now have a 15-point lead over Labour in the polls. Blair noted Boris Johnson’s achievement: “The Conservative parties of Western politics have adapted and adjusted. But by and large they’re finding a new economic and cultural coalition.” > > This too is in the GOP’s grasp. The party did much better in the last election than anyone thought in the House and would have held the Senate without Trump’s antics in Georgia. > > … > > And here’s how you get that to stick with Trump voters. Credit him for bringing some newly potent issues to the fore — mass immigration, trade, the culturally left-behind, woke authoritarianism, non-interventionism in foreign policy, new wariness of China. Thank him, but stress the need to move forward. The truth is: Trump may have been helpful in creating a new Republican politics, but he did so entirely in service to his own vainglory. There is, in fact, no future path forward for Trumpism if Trump sticks around. Absorbed entirely into one man’s ego, the GOP is simply a backward-looking grievance and conspiracy machine, driven not by policy but by Trump’s own psychological inability to concede defeat.

Andrew Sullivan (emphasis added). I had not thought about it, but it is becoming received wisdom among anti-Trump and NeverTrump Republicans that his undermining of the integrity of the electoral system suppressed Republican voting in Georgia enough to cost them the two Senate seats. Considering how close both races were, that’s very plausible.

And the GOP clings to him still.

Short-takes

  • “When Cheney’s liberal critics place her support for democracy alongside her other positions, they implicitly endorse the same calculation made by her conservative opponents: that the rule of law is just another issue,” – Jon Chait.
  • “According to the Club For Growth, which has the gold standard of scorecards in Washington for measuring conservatism, Ilhan Omar has a better score for fiscal conservatism than Elisa Stefanik,” – Erick Erickson.
  • “We did not immigrate to this country for our children to be taught in taxpayer-funded schools that punctuality and hard work are white values,” – an anonymous father quoted by Erika Sanzi, the director of outreach at Parents Defending Education.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

The Bulwark (Never-Trumpers)

> Here’s what this really comes down to. Cheney’s ouster is about one thing, and one thing only: Liddle Donny Trump’s feelings. Liddle Donny couldn’t take the fact that “Sleepy Joe” wiped the floor with him in November … Liddly Donny is throwing a tantrum down in South Florida, and all of his butt boys in Congress are rushing to coddle him.

Tim Miller

Wire Reports

Trump’s right. The election was fraudulent.

> DENVER – A Colorado man suspected in the death of his wife, who disappeared on Mother’s Day 2020, is also accused of submitting a fraudulent vote on her behalf for Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, newly released court documents show. Barry Morphew told investigators he mailed the ballot on behalf of his wife, Suzanne Morphew, to help Trump win, saying “all these other guys are cheating,” and that he thought his wife would have voted for Trump, anyway, according to an arrest warrant affidavit signed Thursday.

Wire Reports in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, May 15.


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.

Martinet pronouns (and much more)

Best thing I read Monday: Are We Still Thinking?.

There’s a lot more to it than this, one of my favorite quotes of an American Founder:

In the 1780’s, John Adams wrote:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

I have a reminder set to re-read the article. It’s that good.


Bari Weiss turned most of her column over to the lament of a Romanian-born mathematician:

Sergiu wrote me in an email that the situation in his field reminds him of this line from Thomas Sowell: “Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.”

Bari Weiss, introducing There Is No Such Thing as "White" Math – Common Sense with Bari Weiss

The centerpiece of Sergiu’s complaint is an 83-page piece of idiocy that proves, if nothing else, that its funding source, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, does not have perfect pitch.


Legal writing guru Bryan Garner puts a pin in the "what are your pronouns?" bullshit:

What’s new isn’t the generic pronoun but the referential pronoun: the one that refers to a known person (Bill, John, Krys, or Emily). People are deciding for themselves how they want to be referred to behind their backs — in the third person. If you were addressing them directly, of course, you’d simply use you and your. A social movement is behind the idea that people get to decide how references to them should sound when they’re absent.

Bryan Garner, Pronominal Strife – Los Angeles Review of Books (emphasis added)


"Legislating by letterhead" belongs in our lexicon, though I think I recall conservatives doing the same sort of thing as this:

The precursor to the hearing was a revealing letter sent Monday by two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney. The duo demanded the CEOs of a dozen cable, satellite and broadband providers explain what “response” they intended to take to the “right-wing media ecosystem” that is spreading “lies” and “disinformation” that enable “insurrection” and provokes “non-compliance with public health guidelines.” Specifically they asked each CEO: “Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax and OANN . . .? If so, why?”

When Republican members of the committee and outside groups shouted censorship, Ms. Eshoo shrugged. “The First Amendment, my friends, starts with four words: Congress shall make no laws,” and she, Anna Eshoo, had no intention of enacting a law to shut down conservatives. She was merely asking “strong, important questions”—i.e., whether private regulated companies understand that (if they know what’s good for them) they’ll do the dirty work for her, thereby saving her the hassle of complying with the Constitution. She was just asking.

“Right now, the greatest threat to free speech in this country is not any law passed by the government—the First Amendment stands as a bulwark,” says Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. “The threat comes in the form of legislating by letterhead.

Kim Strassel, ‘Just Asking’ for Censorship – WSJ


After a long absence, Garrison Keillor assaulted my RSS aggregator yesterday with multiple postings. I have no explanation for this delightful onslaught or for the preceding absence.

I’ll be selective, minimizing politics.

I married a pro-vaxxer, which is good to know after all these years — we never discussed vaccines during courtship — and in addition to her respect for science, she has the patience to track down clinics online and spend time on Hold and so now I am vaccinated …

I was not asked for a credit card at any point, or a Medicare card, so evidently the country is slipping into socialism, as Republicans predicted, but I am too old to argue, I obey. Young people wearing badges told me which line to get in and I did. A young woman who said she was a nurse gave the shot and I didn’t ask to see her license. Nor did I ask for assurance that the vaccine did not contain a hallucinogen that would make me accept the Fake News: I already accept that Joe Biden was elected president and that Trump supporters invaded the Capitol on January 6. It’s too laborious to believe otherwise. This is Occam’s Razor, the principle they taught in high school science: the simpler theory tends to be true. You’d have to devote weeks to working up a new theory of massive electoral fraud by Venezuelans and Antifans buying thousands of MAGA hats to storm the Capitol, and at 78 I don’t have the time for that. The vaccine may extend my lifetime but there are no guarantees.

The old scout stands in line at the clinic | Garrison Keillor

The joy at the heart of the lockdown in the pandemic is the daily reassurance that you married the right person. A funny person with her own life who is never at a loss for words and so is good company and who reads the news for me and passes along the good stuff.

She read me a story in the Times last week about the hellish life in the skinny skinny new skyscrapers of Manhattan. Developers have taken tiny lots and thrown up a 90-story needle and sold apartments for vast amounts to people who want to look down on the rest of us but meanwhile high winds cause the needle to sway dramatically, which often snaps water pipes and causes major leaks and brings elevators to a stop and causes eerie whining sounds. It gave us joy, to think that architects and developers have found a way to earn big profits from torturing oligarchs from authoritarian countries who have way too much money.

The pandemic: one man’s appreciation | Garrison Keillor

In the Fifties, they tore down sixteen acres of tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller brothers they built a symphony hall, an opera house, a theater, and a dance theater around a plaza with a fountain. Republicans were behind it and Lincoln’s name is on it and when you attend events here, you brush elbows with a good many moguls and grande dames who probably miss Ronald Reagan keenly and you go in to watch performers, 95 percent of them Democrats, some to the left of Bernie Sanders, but the conflicting views between the stage and the box seats are forgotten in the glory of “Der Rosenkavalier” or Beethoven or “Les Sylphides.” If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

I first saw the U.S. Capitol in 1962, heading for Baltimore to attend a wedding, got lost, saw a lighted dome and realized I was in Washington. I parked and walked up the steps and in the door, past one policeman sitting on a folding chair in the foyer, and walked in under the great dome and looked at the statues and murals, and saw only a couple of cops relaxing in a hallway, not paying much attention to anybody.

When I tell people about that night, it feels like ancient history. Those days will never return. Even at the opera, security men wand you as you come through the turnstile. After the Capitol insurrection of January 6, security will be iron-tight forever to come, metal detectors will beep at every steel zipper, uniformed men with assault weapons will watch your every move. Walking into the Capitol of 1962, the openness of it told you that we are a civilized society with a high level of mutual trust. I don’t care to ever visit Washington again and see our government on wartime alert for attacks by our fellow Americans. Too painful.

A night outside, eating with friends | Garrison Keillor

Will Hollywood rise from the dead when the pandemic ends? It must. Truly. I decided it was my duty to sit down and write a screenplay for a movie to hold a theater of young people transfixed for a hundred and ten minutes, but it’s no use, I’m too old and comfortable, too well-married. I live with a woman who sits across from me at the breakfast table and reads the paper and tells me what I need to know from it, which takes her five minutes, and leaves me free to think my own thoughts. I spend less time worrying about our democracy than I do trying to remember Natalie Wood’s costar in “Splendor In The Grass.” (Warren Beatty.) William Inge wrote that movie and he felt entitled to torture beautiful Natalie and throw her into a loony bin because he was an alcoholic gay male suffering from depression. I don’t have that privilege, having had a happy childhood. I write a scene and it’s two people remembering their childhoods. No drama. Dishes need to be thrown, tables overturned.

The end of the worst, bring on the better | Garrison Keillor


Micah Mattix respects Christopher Lasch, but thinks Robert Penn Warren is needed as a corrective. He starts showing where Lasch over-sold his case:

For Lasch, the unbounded pursuit of capital has led to the commodification of nearly all of life. The decline in American manufacturing has made it difficult for working-class families to live on a single salary. The result, often, is both parents work full-time and outsource child-rearing to “professionals.” Small stores and local hangouts, where people of different classes might interact, have been replaced by big box stores and impersonal chain restaurants in pursuit of greater margins. The result is that informal conversations between groups has ceased. The wealthy go to private cocktail parties and exclusive clubs while the plebs stare at TV screens in Chili’s. The “decline of participatory democracy,” Lasch writes, may be directly related to the disappearance of these “third places.” Education has abandoned moral formation in favor of creating efficient workers while, at the same time, nourishing a sense of entitlement though victimhood narratives that postpone adulthood. Math and science—the golden tools of the market—are funded while history and English are either cut or repurposed to teach “soft skills.” Doing right is replaced with feeling good in homes and churches. The list goes on.

But this has been going on for much longer than 25 years. I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, which was first published in 1952 and which can be read as a commentary on post-WW II life in the South. It’s set in the fictional Taulkinham—a town of shops and movie theaters. “No one was paying any attention to the sky,” O’Connor writes. “The stores . . . stayed open on Thursday nights so that people could have an extra opportunity to see what was for sale.” In one scene, a man sets up “an altar” to sell a new kind of potato peeler. All everyone does in Taulkinham is shop and go to the movies. There are no two-parent families in the novel. Young men are either unemployed or work menial jobs. And the only religion that anyone shows any interest in is Hoover Shoat’s prosperity gospel, where, he tells the townsfolk “You don’t have to believe nothing you don’t understand and approve of.”

Warren’s corrective, distilled:

Warren’s argument for role of poetry in a democracy reminds us not only of the importance of taking the long view but also of the centrality of excellence for a good society. This is Lasch’s concern, too, but it cannot be recovered through economic reforms alone.

Micah Mattix, Saving the American Experiment – Law & Liberty


Of the Golden Trump at CPAC 2021:

“It’s definitely not an idol,” Mr. Zegan insisted. (“I was a youth pastor for 18 years,” he noted.) “An idol is something somebody worships and bows down to. This is a sculpture. It’s two different things.”

At CPAC, a Reverence for Trump – The New York Times

"Trust me; I’m a former youth pastor" is a nonsequitur right out of the gate, but "an idol is something somebody worships and bows down to" is a particularly risible affirmation coming from within a Christianish tradition whose dumbed-down "worship" of God almost certainly includes no bowing.


CPAC was full of Trumpists saying they’re conservative, not Republican. I have no taste to vote for saving the Republican Party from their ilk, but I hate to see the term "conservative" debased.


Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

I John 3:2


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.
fullsizeoutput_b1c

* * *

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.

fullsizeoutput_b78.jpeg

* * * * *

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.

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

* * * * *

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.

Single standards

I commented just a bit earlier about the good news for religious freedom out of Michigan, courtesy of Masterpiece Cake Shop.

But now, I must quibble about my second encounter of the story:

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French (italics added)

David French is a very good lawyer and a steadfast friend of both free speech and the free exercise of religion, but he blew this one (I suspect a bit of cerebral flatulence; I doubt that he would disagree with me if he caught wind of my existence).

I, too, know something about the law in this area and I do not agree that it would have been preferable to carve out special immunity for creative professionals with sincerely held beliefs. I wanted the court to rule “that creative professionals could not be required to produce art.” Period. Full stop.

Carving out a exemption only for sincere religious belief is a retreat from the sound principle of artistic freedom and would, I believe, perversely feed into the designer narrative that “religious freedom is just an excuse for bigotry.”

Yes: because nobody should be able to coerce an artist to produce something he doesn’t want to produce for whatever reason, spoken or unspoken, I want a creative professional to be able to say to me “I’m an ardent atheist, hater of all things and all peoples religious, and I won’t create art for Christians. If you don’t like it, put it where the sun don’t shine.”

He’d be smarter to “just say no, thank you,” but polite bigots don’t deserve special exemption from legal coercion.

I do not mean to imply that bigoted utterances are completely harmless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise feelings. But as a general rule I think the harm of disrespecting someone, even openly, is lesser than the harm of coercing artistic expression — and we need to make laws for general cases, not rare exceptions. Coerced expression, after all, profoundly disrespects the artist.

A fortiori, I’d support the atheist if, for instance, he was a florist and we wanted him to deliver flowers to our Church early every Sunday morning, designed to complement our liturgical calendar or the sermon themes the pastor phoned in. Or a baker, and we wanted a “Jesus Loves Me” inscribed sheet cake.

I wouldn’t even call him a bigot for that: How is an artist supposed to artistically express something he thinks is at best hocus pocus, likelier an opiate of the people?

No doubt some can do it (I suspect impiety in some composers of great 20th Century English language religious choral works, the art form I know best, for instance), and I’ll leave it to them to deal with qualms of conscience. But I don’t expect, let alone want the law to compel, artists to prostitute their art.

This hypothetical atheist florist is very, very close to a reverse mirror-image of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman and other artisans who have been punished (in Stutzman’s case, obsessively pursued by an evil elected official) for refusing orders to adorn same-sex weddings — the lightning-rod du jour.

Phillips and Stutzman both served gays gladly, but drew a line at celebrating by tangible proxy a “wedding” they considered something on the lines of wicked, or impious mummery.

For what it’s worth, I doubt that the law would punish the atheist florist for declining weekly expressive bouquets to a church. There has been a double-standard that could well be dubbed “the LGBT distortion factor,” to go along with the “abortion distortion factor” (normal legal rules suspended in the presence of abortion) and the lesser know “creationist distortion factor” (any science teacher who both attends church and exposes evolution to critical examination loses and gets branded with a scarlet “C”).

I don’t like legal double-standards, which is precisely why I don’t like David French’s presumably inadvertent expression of what Jack Phillips’ partisans were hoping for in Masterpiece Cake Shop. I don’t doubt that there are some protections that free exercise of religion affords where free speech falls short, but compelled artistic expression surely isn’t one of them.

* * * * *

I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, 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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Why teach poetry?

Most Westerners today are freer, safer, and more prosperous than at any previous point in history. What we aren’t is more thoughtful.

This is the age of superficiality.

Consider Time Magazine and the online archive of its covers. In 1967, Robert Lowell was the last poet to appear on the cover of Time. He had been preceded by Robinson Jeffers, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, and Evgeny Evtushenko. Here are some people who have appeared on the cover since they last featured a poet: Leonardo DiCaprio (twice), Kanye West (twice), BB8, Darth Vader (four times, if you count young Anakin), Yoda, Spiderman, Adele, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, Bono (thrice), Tom Cruise (twice: with and without Nicole Kidman), Julia Roberts, Pikachu, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carey, David Letterman, Jodie Foster, Bart Simpson, Kevin Costner, Superman, Mickey Mouse, Bette Midler, Molly Ringwald, the Alien from Alien and Aliens, Madonna, Crockett and Tubbs, Shirley MacLaine, Cheryl Tiegs (twice), Sylvester Stallone, Brooke Shields, Burt Reynolds, John Travolta, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, King Kong, Charlie’s Angels, Cher, Elton John, Jaws, and Raquel Welch …

Everyone knows that the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. What might be more surprising is that the great Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman appeared on the same episode. Rock musicians continue to appear on late-night television, of course, but how many violinists do you see on screen with Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, or Carson Daily these days? Our public fare is pure sugar. We are a nation with a mental junk-food problem.

Our morning network news programs give us about fifteen minutes of actual news followed by an hour or more of celebrity gossip and fluff. The most popular cable television shows offer little more than the pornography of violence and the violence of pornography. The once-lordly major networks have been given over almost entirely to the vapid wasteland of The Bachelor and Big Brother, vast stretches of nothingness that the average American can sit in front of for hours with no fear that our own empty lives will be made to seem cheap in light of some greater thoughtfulness or beauty …

[T]he pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful is, at best, tolerated. As the Marxist theorist Theodor Adorno puts it in “The Schema of Mass Culture,”

from our earliest youth all of this [everything that is beautiful and good] is only admitted on the condition that it is not after all to be taken seriously. With every gesture the pupil is given to understand that what is most important is understanding the demands of ‘real life’ and fitting oneself properly for the competitive realm, and that the ideals themselves were either to be taken as confirmation of this life or were to be immediately placed in its service.

It’s fine to offer music classes or read a poem, as long as you can demonstrate how these things make students better at the “real” subjects we call STEM. But let’s be sure to wink and sneer about their little choral groups or poetry clubs.

Benjamin Myers

I can’t think of any of my hot buttons that Myers didn’t hit (in an essay much longer than my excerpt), though I’m mildly skeptical about “uniquely” in this key paragraph:

The teaching of poetry matters greatly in the age of superficiality, because poetry uniquely and especially calls us back to tradition and to traditional use of symbol. It calls us out of the shallows into the deeper water of human experience. It draws us toward transcendence.

I suspect that great classical choral music does much of that and adds something that poetry lacks: literal music.

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Singin’ the Self-Empowerment Blues

I believe popular culture has lately taken a sharp turn toward the Satanic.

Having been taught about Satan by Dante, Milton, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, I know that demons are paradoxical beings, simultaneously crafty and bumbling. Dante’s devils are grotesque and juvenile; they fart like trumpets and molest the weak. Dante satirizes the foolishness of devils, as though to mock anyone as a fool who falls for their childish ploys. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, wrote clever devils who played the long game, laying traps and patiently waiting for their prey.

There is no better representation of the devil for our age, however, than the one conceived by John Milton. Milton’s devil is an eternal optimist, a plucky and self-confident fellow who cheers his friends by showing them how to make the best of a bad situation. As he is written in Paradise Lost, Milton’s Satan has accomplished absolutely nothing worth boasting about, but he boasts nonetheless. And what exactly does one boast about when he has done nothing which is worthy of boasting about? He boasts about being true to himself and living according to his own principles, that’s what.

The man who approaches Paradise Lost expecting to find the same Satan venerated by Scandinavian black metal bands and Anton LaVey will turn the final page of the poem and suffer sore disappointment. Milton’s Satan never kills anyone, neither does he rape, steal, or utter vulgarities. He does not kidnap children, establish cults, teach magic, participate in Halloween, or teach teenagers to play Led Zeppelin records backwards. He is not even terribly interested in conning others into such foul activities. Rather, one could triangulate the personality of Milton’s Satan using just three figures from popular culture: singer Katy Perry, fictional boss Michael Scott, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

Joshua Gibbs The (Satanic) Power Of Positive Thinking.

Do read it all.

* * * * *

You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

That’s why it’s poetry

Sir, you can’t translate poetry into prose. That’s why it’s poetry.

Caitlin Johnstone quoted that in a column that greatly exceeded my expectations Seven Reasons Why I Make Art (And Why You Should,Too. I began pulling excerpts, then concluded that I’d be doing a particular disservice if anyone took my excerpts as adequate representations.

But she embedded a video that was evocative, and I found a transcript. Read it as poetry, free verse:

Catalysts to say what has never been said, to see what has never been seen. To draw, paint, sing, sculpt, dance and act what has never before been done. To push the envelope of creativity and language and what’s really important is, I call it, the felt presence of direct experience which is a fancy term which just simply means we have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.

Don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time, where you are now, is the most immediate sector of your universe and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, you are disempowered. You are giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media, so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y or something. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking.

That is all cultural diversion and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, and your fears… and we are told no, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral, “get a degree”, “get a job”, get a this, get a that, and then you’re a player. You don’t even want to play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world. Where is that at?

Terence McKenna, Reclaim Your Mind (emphasis added).

“Beauty will save the world” is variously attributed, but I like the attribution to Dostoyevsky, who know who Beauty was.

Then why are so many Christians “half-baked morons”? I suspect it’s because their “art” is reliably propagandistic, and they’ve allowed Beauty to be twisted into ideology (a synonym or close cognate of Johnstone’s “narrative”). Johnstone’s “narrative matrix of the propagandists” certainly encompasses Evangelical megachurches and television evangelists (I’m thinking of you especially, Falwell fils and Robert Jefress, but Joel Osteen merits separate dishonorable mention).

My contribution to spreading beauty has been singing. I haven’t sung explicitly subversive songs for about 50 years, but because much of the western choral canon is sacred, I’ve been singing tacit subversion to this secularizing culture for most of 55 years now.

I may try my hand at poetry, if I can get over the hangup that the only poetic forms I halfway know are limerick and Haiku.

* * * * *

You can read my more impromptu stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.