What a normal human being looks like

The monasticism of the desert fathers is a major influence in Orthodoxy, and the Apophthegmata Patrum—the sayings of the fathers (and mothers) of the desert—range from remarkably practical advice to a startling sense of participation in the divine. Take these two selections, from Benedicta Ward’s translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications):

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Note the words, “the old man.” The idea is preserved in the Greek word for “an elder”—geron—still used of wise monks and spiritual directors, the idea being that it takes time and patience to get there.

At one moment, my friend pointed to where a group of young converts were sitting — all men and women in their twenties — and said to me, “Do you know why they are all here?”

“No,” I said, mindful that he had spent a lot more time talking to them than I had.

“They’re here because they came and found something deep, and real. They all came from Protestantism, which is falling apart. They were looking for something that they could stand firm on, that wasn’t going to collapse. They found it here.

“Look at me,” he went on. “Why do you think I’m here? Well, my wife and I came because you invited us, but we kept coming because we saw the same thing that they saw. That’s why we’re Orthodox. It’s real, more real than anything we had ever seen before.”

Rod Dreher, Abba Joseph’s Fingers (paywall likely)

Note: Abba Joseph is extraordinary only by the low standards fallen humanity has set. Sub specie aeternitatis, he’s normal — what God intended humans to be. It’s just that the rest of us are severely disabled.


The real irony of this past century of innovation is that the modern innovators are perplexed by the outcome which they themselves conditioned. The global pandemic has exposed the irony. COVID is surging and the conditioners cannot understand why people will not simply listen to the experts. Of course, they have ignored the simple question: which experts ought we to listen and why ought we to listen? You cannot derive an ought from an is. The entire foundation of their worldview is instinct, and they have built an entire ethic upon it. However, instincts are the “is” and they desperately want for us to derive from instinct their desired “ought.” Their answer to the question, why, is the paternalistic response, “because I said so.”

We decry the rise of QAnon and wonder aloud why people can no longer think critically. The conditioners built a system which rendered useless the very critical thinking for which they now plead. If there is no universal objective value, then by what measure do we think critically? We have access to endless facts and no mind with which to critique them. How can a student solve a math problem if conditioned to believe that 2+2 has no solution which is transcendent of and objectively discoverable by the pupil’s mind? Universal subjectivity of all truth has no limiting principle. In Lewis’ day, the conditioners came for language. The deconstructionists finished in the 70’s the work begun by Lewis’ contemporaries decades before. Now, the conditioners have come for everything. Subjectivity in biology. Subjectivity in mathematics. Each man is to follow his instincts. Each man has become his own epistemological center. Perception is reality.

Lewis foresaw this inevitability nearly 80 years ago. Now, in the midst of political polarization, rampant conspiracy theorizing, a global pandemic, racial injustice, and economic uncertainty, our conditioners make demands of the polis which they themselves have made impossible. “Follow the science!” “Trust the election officials!” “Do not fall prey to conspiracy theories circulating on social media!” C.S. Lewis provides the response to such demands, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

James Ranieri, The Restoration of a Thinking Polis Has but One Solution: Classical Education, Part One


Similar agencies of deceit, militarism and imperialism now robustly use this same branding tactic. The CIA — in between military coups, domestic disinformation campaigns, planting false stories with their journalist-partners, and drone-assassinating U.S. citizens without due process — joyously celebrates Women’s Day, promotes what it calls The Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers (ANGLE), hosts activities for Pride Month, and organizes events to commemorate Black History Month. The FBI does the same.

It’s so sweet that one is tempted to forget about, or at least be more understanding of, all the bombing campaigns and all the dictatorships they install and prop up that repress and kill the very people that they purport to honor and cherish. Like the GCHQ, how menacing can an intelligence agency be when it is so deeply and sincerely supportive of the rights of the people they routinely spy on, repress and kill?

Again, this does not make the CIA perfect — sure, they make some mistakes and engage in some actions that are worthy of criticism — but to combat real evil, you do not go protest at Langley. They are engaged in important work combating homophobia, racism and misogyny. Thus, real warriors against evil look not to them but instead go searching online for the Boogaloo Boys and boomers on Facebook who post Q-Anon and other problematic memes. That is where your focus should remain if you want to root out the real threats.

Large corporations have obviously witnessed the success of this tactic — to prettify the face of militarism and imperialism with the costumes of social justice — and are now weaponizing it for themselves.

Glenn Greenwald has quickly become one of my indispensible Substack subscriptions. He’s got a fabulous crap detector (sometimes it almost seems like a death wish), and you can’t even distract him by playing “woke” on liberal groin pieties.

Greenwald puts all the big-name media to shame with their lazy facilitation of diversionary tactics by woke capital and governmental power centers. They’re too busy chasing stick figures and, increasingly, simply making stuff up, to really speak truth to power.


What a piece or work Andrew Cuomo is! Revisiting Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Orthodox Jews In Light of His “Fucking Tree Houses” Comment – Reason.com.

I wish the difference between him and me was one of kind rather than of degree. That’s all I’m going to say about that.


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.

Antipopes, Jackasses, Jennyasses, and more

Best Historical Analogy for Loser Trump?

[Antipope Benedict XIII] retain[ed] sufficient political capital to pressure heads of states to pick sides, bestowing benedictions and other benefits and if nothing else gumming up earnest efforts to allay divides. Weary, irritated leaders, both religious and royal, “said, ‘You’re out, you’re out, you’re out,’” … “and he said, ‘No, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in.’”

“Donald Trump’s not an ex-president—he’s a right-wing, nativist, revolutionary leader,” presidential historian Doug Brinkley told me recently. “He has a movement that is massive with global implications—that kind of revolutionary—and he took on the entire federal government of the United States. That kind of character doesn’t register as a typical ex-president.”

Across the Atlantic, some 600 years back, everybody said they wanted unity.

But unity was hard. “Comparing a pre-democratic system with a democratic system, there is kind of something odd,” Rollo-Koster said, offering a necessary caveat. “But behaviors remain constant throughout history regardless of the political system.” And unity was hard at that moment because of the whims and wants of leaders, because of ever-shifting protections and allegiances, and because people who had power didn’t want to give it up. “The schism,” wrote Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror, “was a trap not easy to get out of.” It “lasted as long as it did,” as Rollo-Koster put it in her book, “because it benefited the private interests of many parties.”

Michael Kruse, The Antipope of Mar-a-Lago – POLITICO

GOP Hijinks

The Oregon GOP’s official position is that the assault on the Capitol was a false flag operation, mounted to “discredit” President Trump.

The infinitely flexible Nikki Haley asks not whether former President Trump attempted to steal the election, but how low the base would like her to sink. Appearing on the Laura Ingraham show, she offered up the expected persecution narrative: “They beat him up before he got into office. They are beating him up after he leaves office. I mean, at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”

See how this works? It was Trump who was beaten, not Officer Sicknick.

Mona Charen, Republicans Make Me Proud I Voted for Biden – The Bulwark

You can’t make this stuff up, and there’s so much of it (read Charen’s full column) that it’s hard to pick an emblematic examples.

Charen continues:

Republicans are like toddlers encouraged to put on big boy underpants. They understand that it’s exciting to be a big boy. They want to. But they also know that if they put on big boy underpants, they will have responsibilities. They will have to act like big boys. So they retreat to the comfort of their diapers.


MTG

I “find it interesting” that Marjorie Taylor Greene finds interesting (i.e., makes up) a bunch of “speculation” that would warm the cockles of Nazi hearts.

What a coincidence! What are the odds that that a sane person would entertain such odd views?

H/T Jonathan Chait, GOP Congresswoman Blamed Wildfires on Secret Jewish Space Laser


[N]umerous liberal democracies have seen right-wing “populist” movements and parties emerge. So far, those that have risen to power have done so through liberal institutions — and despite moves to rig the systems in their own favor (most boldly in Hungary and Poland), nowhere has liberal government been fully overturned in favor of outright authoritarian rule or worse.

But the United States presents a distinctive, and potentially ominous, case.

Over the past three months, the Republican Party has proven itself to be a right-wing antiliberal party. Yes, this has been the culmination of a long process. Yes, it has antecedents in the American past. Yes, there are still some decent people in the party trying to oppose the trend from within. But despite all of these caveats, what we’ve recently witnessed in the GOP is something new — and newly alarming.

… [T]he Republican Party is now dominated by ideas and individuals who consider it acceptable to reject the legitimacy of democratic elections when they deliver a loss, and to encourage, affirm, and spread outright lies in order to gain and hold political power. That makes the Republican Party a great danger to liberal democratic government in the United States.

Damon Linker, Liberal democracy’s Achilles Heel


Over the years when national events have turned especially murky, I’ve asked [Senator Rob Portman’s] read on things, and what’s always struck me is his stubborn sense of reality: He doesn’t let his wishes get in the way of what he sees. In the geography of the Republican Party he’d be placed with figures like Mitch Daniels —the We Actually Know Things Caucus.

It really is something that we’re living in a time when ambitious people leave the U.S. Senate to get things done.

I asked about the comment of his former campaign manager Corry Bliss, published Tuesday in National Journal, on Portman’s decision not to run: “If you want to spend all your time on Fox and be an a—h—, there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend your time being thoughtful and getting s— done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.” Mr. Portman roared with laughter. “Did he say that?” He roared again. “Yeah, I won’t comment.”

Peggy Noonan, Rob Portman’s Exit Interview

Mitch McConnell’s Hijinks

Just as [Mitch McConnell] played Donald Trump for three Supreme Court justices and a tax cut, here he is convincing Democrats to let him have veto power over what happens in the upper chamber for years to come.

[T]he horrifying truth about American partisanship, the reason that the National Football League is vastly more entertaining than what goes on in Washington, D.C[. is that] almost no one there actually cares about winning. Holding on to office, getting the paychecks and the perks, receiving all the attention and adulation their parents and classmates apparently failed to shower upon them in their youth — these are what motivates most of our elected officials.

Which is why at the end of the day I am not hesitant to call McConnell the most effective Senate leader of the last half century, for the not very complicated reason that he not only cares about winning but does win more consistently than anyone else, regardless of the position in which he finds himself.

Mitch McConnell is the GOAT

GameStop Hijinks

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

John Maynard Keynes via Axios, Gamestop trading pits Wall Street’s powerful against the powerless

Insurrection after-effects

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III said this week that another police officer who was on duty during the January 6 Capitol attack, Jeffery Smith, died by suicide on January 15. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also died by suicide on January 9, three days after the riot, and Officer Brian Sicknick died after sustaining injuries during the insurrection. “Between USCP and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department, we have almost 140 officers injured,” Gus Papathanasiou, the chair of the Capitol Police Labor Committee said in a statement. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.”

The Morning Dispatch


If all we do as a nation is lock up some individual pelt-wearing yahoos and cringe in fear from holding a public man to account for a catastrophic abuse of leadership in public office — if we have one law against the common man, another for the elite — we will have failed to deliver that message. If you take this from an American national perspective rather than a narrowly partisan one, that ought to be obvious.

… What we witnessed on January 6 … requires a more vigorous, less timorous, response.

And one man above all others was responsible for inspiring it and setting it in motion.

It is hard to think of any abuse of high office, short of treason itself, that would have alarmed the Founding Fathers more than inspiring a mob to target the democratic transfer of power.

Did Trump do that? Unquestionably. I walked in detail through his speech that day, and asked:

> If you heard and believed every word of this speech, coming from the president of the United States . . . what would you do? Would you believe that the time had come to take up arms to save your country and democracy? A lot of Americans, people of good will, very well might.

Neither Davidson nor Domenech answers that question. Neither deals with the speech or its claims at length, falling back on generality and euphemism. Davidson says that my view “boils down to arguing that because people feel strongly about elections, Trump should have toned down his criticism of election fraud because some radicals in his party might get crazy ideas about storming the Capitol.” But in fact, as the president, he should not have said those things while setting a crowd in motion toward the Capitol with the aim of getting them to pressure Congress and the vice president in the midst of the counting process. You cannot extract Trump’s speech from the time, the place, and the context in which he chose to make it. Nor can you present it as some sort of generalized critique of election integrity, when it bluntly asserted that the stealing of an election was ongoing just down the block, and that Trump expected the crowd to participate in stopping it.

Trump Impeachment & Mob Rule — A Reply to the Federalist | National Review

This was a masterful reply to two of the heavier hitters at The Federalist (the now-Trumpist website I stopped reading, oh, around election day 2016, not the esteemed professional Society) who were engaging in sophistries against convicting Trump in the impeachment trial.

Media lowjinks

“Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet. … Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News, in the Los Angeles Times via The Morning Dispatch (emphasis added)


The Deep Lie … does not merely mislead — it is a lie so deeply embedded in the media and political ecosystem that it distorts reality and shapes our political world. It is immune to evidence, to logic, or new information, and it is endlessly recycled until its shatters our sense of sanity.

It works this way. The lie (any lie) begins in the fever swamp—>social media —> Fox News/talkradio —> goes viral —> achieves critical mass —> politicians begin to “ask questions” because “people are saying” —> dominates political debate….and the loop continues until the lie shatters our polity.

Tucker Carlson and The Deep Lie – Morning Shots

Scott Alexander is back (and gives the skinny on the gender binary)!

Scott Alexander, late of SlateStarCodex, is back with AstralCodexTen on Substack. He stretches one’s brain.

They also have a category called “gender”. They say they included measures like “femininity” and “sex-stereotyped activities” in there – I can’t find more specifics. It has a CCFI of 0.42 with confidence interval including 0.5, so looks slightly more dimensional, but can’t quite rule out it being slightly more categorical. If anyone ever demands you have an opinion on the question “is binary gender real?”, I think the most scientifically-supported answer would be “it has a Comparative Curve Fit Index of 0.42 plus or minus 0.1, which means it trends towards dimensionality but taxonicity cannot be ruled out”.

Ontology Of Psychiatric Conditions: Taxometrics

Education Hijinks

Of all the stupid arguments the politically correct trot out to justify savaging reading lists, the idea that kids should see themselves in literature is the dumbest — but just about perfect for our narcissistic culture.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever.” Similarly, not to know, through books, worlds and peoples other than your own is to remain a child forever. It is to remain narrow, self-centered, and frightened of anything that is unfamiliar. I’m not the sort of person who is particularly interested in the life of a Norwegian farm woman of the Middle Ages, but Kristin Lavransdatter absolutely captivated me, because it transported me into a radically different world, but introduced me to people whose dreams and struggles seemed very human, and very relatable. What a poverty to hand a teenager some YA crap novel about alienated suburban teens cutting themselves and dreaming of changing their sex, when they could be reading Kristin Lavransdatter. What kind of culture does this to its kids?

Rod Dreher, A Door, Not A Mirror – Daily Dreher

Benediction

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

How to deal with two conservative problems

David Hines takes a stab at answering How Do You Solve a Problem Like QAnon? | The American Conservative, and it was one of the better things I’ve read today if only because it doesn’t suggest that Q adherents aren’t wicked racists or antisemites that just need to be made dead. Indeed, without sugar-coating the problem, has has what seems a sensible solution that wouldn’t even be all that difficult to implement:

Not to put too fine a point on it, Righties have a weakness for believing stupid shit.

We’re not the only ones … But nobody on the left is as enthusiastic as deeply or as long about stupid shit as are people on the Right. When Lefties do employ stupid shit, such as gleeful pee tape rumors, the origins are typically elite Lefty circles. Our stupid shit comes from the base, tends toward the wildly implausible, and of late tends to promise imminent glory on earth: the end of a story, in which we win.

This divide exists because Left and Right are different outlooks and different cultures. Accordingly, Lefties have a different failure mode than we do. The failure mode of right-wing is kook. The failure mode of left-wing is puritan …

The central fantasy of QAnon isn’t adrenochrome, or cannibal cults, or mole children, or any of the myriad lunacies of the outlandish dystopia it presents. The central fantasy is the idea that things will be better because somebody is going to do something.

Any attempt to rein in Righty conspiracy theorists and make them actually useful will have to consider their actual interests and aptitudes. And they have them. Many of them are backbone-of-America types: they have jobs, have family lives, and are actively engaged in their communities in various ways. They turn out to events and meetings. They’re genuinely enthusiastic. They’re hard workers. They’re curious about the world and passionate to make a difference in it. They are genuinely interested in learning about things that aren’t immediately obvious. It’s just that they learn them from random YouTube videos because they don’t know how to use PACER to find court records, or how to file FOIA applications to get government documents, or how to look up Form 990s to learn about how nonprofits are organized and funded.

The Righty base desperately wants to do something, but doesn’t know how. And that’s because the elites don’t want it to learn. The root of our real problem on the Right is that elites and the base want different things. So elites don’t train the base in how to actually produce change. QAnon is what you get when a naïve, untrained base tries to fill that vacuum. What they fill the vacuum with is a story where somebody is doing something, and the end of the story is a great big WE WIN.

… It’s often noted that the Right has a surfeit of pundits; what we lack are diggers, the dedicated researchers who do the boring work of poring through documents to find news. But maybe we’ve had them all along — they’re just naive and untrained. What if we trained them, empowered them, and turned them loose?

People turn to conspiracy theories to explain a world they can’t understand. Giving them the tools to explore the real world could keep them more grounded — and turn up some interesting things for the rest of us.


For the senators who will try the impeachment, a thought: It’s time to demystify Donald Trump. He leaves the presidency disgraced. He is a diminishing asset: postpresidential power always wanes, and will especially in this case …

In running in fear from him you are running from a corpse. And you’ll never be safe anyway. Something wild has been let loose. So be brave. The Democrats want you tied to Mr. Trump forever. Stop, now.

Peggy Noonan, Liz Cheney Shows What Leadership Looks Like – Peggy Noonan (January 14)


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

First and Lesser Things

First Things

The invisible God painted his own portrait on the canvas of the incarnation.

Father Patrick Henry Reardon, The Visible Revelation of the Father


I’m on the Board of a classical Christian School that my grandchildren attend. I sometimes wonder whether parents substantially understand the ramifications of classical education. A classical educator has stated my concern well, starting with how the misunderstanding manifests in students:

Our students desire to learn the material, gain cursory knowledge, earn a high grade, get into an elite college, receive a lucrative job offer with a competitive salary, all in order to master themselves and the world around them. Classical educators desire for our students to love truth, goodness and beauty. We yearn for them to be men and women of virtue and moral character. We want them to love what God loves and to steward the world gifted to them by their Creator. Wendell Berry, American essayist, describes well the dilemma of modern education:

“Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use is not to serve industries, either by job-training or by industry-subsidized research. Its proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible… A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first.”

… Ours is a counter-cultural revolution, which explains a tension often experienced between classical educators and parents. We not only need classical teachers and classically-minded students; we need classically-minded parents. The job of the educator is not to replace the parent but to partner with them. Partnerships do not thrive if the partners are unequally yoked.

The Formation of Classical Parents | Circe Institute

The essay has three steps for The Formation of Classical Parents.


Donald Trump didn’t invent misinformation and disinformation; they have been around for much of human history. But Trump—by virtue of his considerable skills in this area, aided by social media and capitalizing on “truth decay” and diminishing trust in sources of factual information—exploited them more effectively than anyone else has in American history.

Believing that the toxicity in our politics will quickly and easily be drained would be silly; in fact, in some quarters, things will get worse. (We see this in Trump supporters who are migrating from Fox News to Newsmax and One America News because Fox was deemed insufficiently pro-Trump, as startling as that seems.) But not having a president who wakes up every morning thinking of ways to divide Americans by race, region, and religion, by class and party, will be a move in the right direction.

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” George Orwell wrote in his masterpiece 1984.

“[Winston Smith’s] heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center. With the feeling he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

For four long years, that important axiom was denied by the president of the United States and almost everyone in his party. But last month, more than 80 million Americans declared that enough was enough. What many of them were saying with their vote—what I was trying to say with my vote—was that it’s time to reaffirm that stones are indeed hard, that water is indeed wet, that objects unsupported do fall toward the Earth’s center. That two plus two does make four.

Maybe the road out of the epistemic crisis that Barack Obama correctly identified runs not simply, or even primarily, through the realm of politics or social-media reforms, as important as they are. Perhaps the path requires us to order our lives well, remind ourselves and others to love what is worthy of our love, and affirm that “one word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.” We won’t get there tomorrow. But each of us can begin to take steps on the journey tomorrow, a journey out of mist and shadows toward the sunlit uplands.

Peter Wehner, Trump’s Most Malicious Legacy – The Atlantic. I had it in the back of my mind that history had vindicated the vision of Brave New World over that of 1984, and I still think it does. But I re-read Brave New World a week or two ago and recognized that it, too, does not really fit the condition we’re in.

Walker Percy’s Prescient Dystopia, Love in the Ruins, fits all too well, though it’s a much different sort of dystopia than Huxley’s or Orwell’s.


Lesser Things

  • Fact of the day: “Of the 265 counties most dominated by blue-collar workers—areas where at least 40 percent of employed adults have jobs in construction, the service industry or other nonprofessional fields—Mr. Biden won just 15, according to data from researchers at the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan policy research group.” Lisa Lerer, New York Times.
  • Per David Catanese at McClatchy: “Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has launched an investigation into a collection of groups, accusing the New Georgia Project launched by Stacey Abrams of sending registration forms to people in New York and citing evidence of other operations trying to convince college students to temporarily change their residency to Georgia.”

The Sweep: Georgia Heats Up – The Sweep


Natural law theory has received renewed attention among Protestants in recent years. The natural law tradition posits that a God-given, self-evident universal moral order exists that human reason can grasp. The natural law defines and identifies which actions are reasonable and worth pursuing—even apart from an immediate appeal to divine revelation.

The Gospel and the Natural Law | Andrew Walker | First Things


In 2017, the situation was different, but in its own way dire. I testified:

“I have sharply criticized President [Barack] Obama’s policies, but my concerns pale in comparison with the sense of alarm I feel about the judgment and dispositions of the incoming White House team. In such a setting, there is no question in my mind that a Secretary Mattis would be a stabilizing and moderating force, preventing wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening, and over time, helping to steer American foreign and security policy in a sound and sensible direction.

Marshall did indeed reassure the American people, and Mattis did indeed block, or at least slow down, some of the wild fancies of Donald Trump.

Eliot Cohen, This Is No Job for a General – The Atlantic


Nothing is sadder than the question posed indignantly, “Do you know who I am?” I first heard it when I was 17, on a flight back from Europe (my mom had won a trip in a church raffle, and sent me). I was seated near the back row, and heard a man from Louisiana arguing with a flight attendant, who kept telling him not to hang out near the galley.

“Do you know who I am?” the man huffed. I thought, wow, a real celebrity, I wonder who he is? I learned from their touchy dialogue that the supposed dignitary was a friend of the Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner’s, who had been leading a tour of Europe with his political supporters, and was seated up in first class. Here was this guy telling a Delta Airlines attendant on a flight to Atlanta from Brussels that she’d better back down, because he’s a friend of a provincial minister of agriculture. It’s a thing of beauty, if you look at it from a certain angle.

Thoughts About Celebrity | The American Conservative


In 1908 G.K. Chesterton penned Orthodoxy to confront the idiocy of the motto “Believe in yourself”:

“Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”

Through a Looking Glass Darkly | Comment Magazine


If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.

Justice Antonin Scalia via Josh Blackman, Why rewrite Brown, Roe, and Obergefell?


“Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principle of journalism and what do we do about that,. As reporters, we kind of march into this war with our facts nobly shouldered as if they were going to win the day and what we’re seeing that is because of the scale of this alternative reality that you’ve been talking about, our facts, our principles, our scientific method–it isn’t enough. So what do we do?”

Jonathan Turley, “Free Speech Is Being Weaponized”: Columbia Dean and New Yorker Writer Calls For More Censorship

The elite consensus is rapidly repudiating free speech, which bodes ill for the future.


The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 335-78, a wide enough margin to override the veto President Trump has telegraphed. The bill, which directs military spending for the upcoming year, includes pay raises for troops and is filled with bipartisan priorities, but Trump has demanded an unrelated provision—the repeal of tech platforms’ Section 230 liability protections—be included.

The Morning Dispatch: House Powers Through Veto Threat on NDAA


Seriously, the main use of Bitcoin is to allow people to smuggle money, buy illegal items like kiddie porn, and speculate on the price of Bitcoin. They had to create an entire new Stable coin class just to get around how slow Bitcoin is when actually used. The energy use to run the system is amazingly awful. The entire market is beset with crooked exchanges and a million different Ponzi schemes. But other than that, sending your cash to strangers on the internet for beanie baby equivalents is a great idea.

Poliorcetes, commenting on Bitcoin Is Back and Booming. Will the Rally Last? (The Dispatch)

I’m 90%+ sure that Bitcoin is an hysteria, a bubble inflating (though the bursting point is uncertain), because we’ve collectively lost touch with reality.


[T]o understand how social conservatives feel about [HHS nominee Xavier] Becerra, imagine if a Republican president elected on a promise to heal partisan wounds and deal with a pandemic nominated Rick Santorum as his first secretary of Health and Human Services.

Rod Dreher quoting Ross Douthat who’s quoting John McCormack of National Review in turn.

More:

there is a chasm between what Trump’s team is telling the public about the case, and what is actually in their legal filings. The court filings are pathetic, the lawyers said. Clown-car stuff. But see, this is the kind of thing that ordinary people — that is, people without legal training — can’t easily understand. One of the lawyers said that voter fraud might well have happened, but if you can’t show evidence in court, you’ve got nothing. That is the problem here, for Team Trump.

Unlike Eric Metaxas, I don’t believe that it is clear that God is on Trump’s side, I don’t believe that Trump will be inaugurated, and I certainly don’t believe that Trump is worth dying for.

Look, I believe that soft totalitarianism is coming, and though I believe Covid is a real crisis, I also believe that powerful people are going to take advantage of it to push for bad things. But the idea that Donald Trump is our only hope — really? Really? The idea that he has the mandate of heaven, and that Christians should be prepared to see the Constitutional order destroyed for the sake of Donald Trump — it’s just beyond crazy. I would never, ever submit to the dictatorial rule of Donald Trump, and it is utterly appalling that Christians would say that doing so is what God would have us do.

Yappy Catholic crazy person John Zmirak likens me and other Christians who don’t sign on to the Trump post-election crusade to Nazi collaborators. And Eric Metaxas, who has been a friend of mine for over 20 years, promoted that column to the skies. This is where the heads of a lot of Christians are these days: Donald or death.

I think the “Stop The Steal” movement is mistaken, but I would not be so alarmed by it were these leaders not tying it to fidelity to God. The progressive Left in this country is bonkers; that we know. Must we on the Right show ourselves to be every bit as shipwrecked on the reef of ideology? Every minute we spend on trying to salvage Trump’s pride is a minute we are not spending on building a meaningful, substantive resistance. And it is de facto helping people like Xavier Becerra by neutralizing conservatives and Christians who would be open to fighting against whatever the Biden administration attempts, but who don’t want to be associated with sedition and religious extremism.

I never thought that yappy Christianist right-wingers like Zmirak would be the first to loudly label sane, observant traditional Christians as traitors.


Kelly’s lawsuit raises an interesting question of Pennsylvania law: Were the commonwealth’s 2019 election reforms that expanded mail-in voting consistent with the Pennsylvania constitution? But note the date of the reforms. Kelly could have raised his challenge well before the election. He should have raised his challenge before the election. So it was no surprise that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected his lawsuit as filed too late.

It was even less surprising that SCOTUS refused to engage. Why? Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the final authority on the meaning and interpretation of Pennsylvania law and the Pennsylvania constitution, not SCOTUS.

Everything I’m telling you in this newsletter is elementary. It represents basic election law, basic constitutional law, and basic rules of evidence. So why does the GOP belief that the election was stolen persist even through repeated, decisive legal defeats?

There’s a complicated answer and a simple answer. Let’s ignore the complicated answer for the moment—it’s based in the enduring human vulnerability to conspiracies compounded by widespread and increasing distrust in institutions. In short, to greater and lesser degrees conspiracy theories will always be among us.

In this case, however, the challenge of human nature is compounded by the fact that multiple trusted conservative and Republican voices are making arguments they know—or should know—aren’t just wrong, but frivolous.

In normal circumstances, a legal personality like Mark Levin would shred the arguments in the Pennsylvania case. Instead, he promoted it. Ted Cruz has the legal skills to know the case has no hope. He offered to argue it at the Supreme Court. And I know the attorney general of Texas well enough to know that this lawsuit is far beneath his level of legal expertise.

In other words, lawyers who should know better are conning their own fans and constituents. Credentialed charlatans are telling frightened and sad Americans exactly what they want to hear about topics they have no reason to understand. Is it any wonder they believe?

The Kraken Is Lackin’ – The French Press


Texas’s stunningly stupid statistical proof that the election result can’t be right:

That, believe it or not, is it. (A) If the 2020 voting population had precisely the same party preferences as the 2016 voting population, Biden could not possibly have won; and (B) if the mail-in and in-person voters had precisely the same party preferences, Biden could not possibly have won.

Wow! Man bites dog!! Who would have believed it!! If the 2020 voting population had the same Repub/Dem split as it had in 2016, Trump must have won!! If mail-in voters had the same preferences as in-person voters, Trump must have won!! And if my aunt had four wheels, she’d be a motorcar!!

Dr. Cicchetti, in other words, has falsified two hypotheses that nobody in his/her right mind could possibly have believed might actually be true. Garbage in, garbage out.

I would remind Dr. Cicchetti—and, more importantly, Texas AG Paxton—that we periodically conduct “elections” precisely because voter preferences may change over time, and some people who voted for the Democratic candidate in one election might choose the Republican in the next, or vice versa. Were this not the case, I suppose we’d still have a Federalist as Chief Executive. [“Your Honor, the chance that Thomas Jefferson carried Maryland in 1800, as has been reported, is less than one in 8 million billion quadrillion!! (assuming that voter preferences haven’t changed since the 1796 election …)”]

David Post, More on Statistical Stupidity at SCOTUS


Eventually, her beliefs radicalized further: She became convinced that trans women are men ….

TERFs and The Donald: The Future of Reddit’s Banned Groups – The Atlantic

Oh: biological fact is now “radical”?


Perennial wisdom:

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Potpourri 9/3/20

Kyrie
Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake—Lord have mercy. 

Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief—Lord have mercy. 

Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves—Lord have mercy. 

And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we are half-way down—Lord have mercy. 

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

Thomas has not been on my radar as a poet. This one blew me away (there’s a great deal more to it), as did Tell Us.

* * *

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

* * *


“The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility,” Jackson writes. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.

Wes Jackson via Wendell Berry via Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

* * *


In Pittsburgh on Monday, the Democratic presidential nominee responded forcefully to President Trump’s charge that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” … “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” Mr. Biden asked. “He can’t stop the violence—because for years he has fomented it.”

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

* * *


… Christopher Lasch is someone you cite a lot in this book, and in his work there’s a real sensitivity to the importance of these cultural issues. For educated people, the conflicts over busing or religion or sexuality or whatever reinforce the sense that working people are not really worthy of our concern because they’re authoritarian, behind the times. And then for the working class, it really drives home this perception that they are held in contempt. And Lasch seemed to believe that this tension was baked in because the values of the managerial elite were precisely the values of liberal-capitalist meritocracy: individual autonomy, self-development, personal liberation, etc., the flip side of which is a suspicion of working-class values like solidarity and thick ties like family and religion and neighborhood. The working-class view is more conservative, in a sense, but it’s also a product of a real class difference in how people see their place in the world.

Well, yes, I totally agree with that. I thought you said you were pushing back.

What I’m trying to get at is: There’s a sense in which this is a very real dividing line between more affluent, college-educated Democrats and members of the white working class and even sections of the non-white working class, where the former are often socially liberal and economically conservative/centrist and the latter are often economically liberal but more conservative on issues like abortion, immigration, crime, etc. How do you think Democrats or the left more broadly should try to navigate this divide? Do you think that open conflict over these issues can be avoided if you just focus on economics? Or does something eventually have to give — working-class whites moving left on culture or educated liberals deciding that they need to accept people with more conservative social views — say, a pro-life, gun-owning Catholic — as a part of the coalition?

This is a problem, of course, but I also think it is possible for people to come together on a common cause without agreeing on everything. The problem is getting the Democrats to acknowledge that common cause. Up until now, the Democrats have spent all their resources reaching out to those affluent white-collar people in rich suburbs. Those are the only “swing voters” they’re interested in. This bunch gets everything. It’s all crafted to please this group — economic policies, culture-war stances, everything. I happen to think a really robust program for reclaiming middle-class America from the forces that have wrecked so many people’s cities and lives and health would be immensely popular. It would be so popular that lots of people would be willing to overlook, say, one’s views on gun control in order to get behind it.

What’s the Matter With Populism? Nothing. (metered paywall – New York Magazine)

* * *


Baron Trump looks like the world’s most miserable child.

* * *


[A]nother narrow Trump victory, especially one in which the popular vote goes for Biden, is going to kick off civil unrest that will make this summer look tame. Trump’s opponents will ping-pong even harder between the two fever dreams of the first term. The first, that Trump is a foreign pawn and opposed to everything that makes American great. This charge comes with a complimentary retweet of James Comey standing near the Liberty Bell. The second, that Trump is the final, rotten fruit of a rotten American tree that must be uprooted altogether. This one comes with a retweet of 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah Jones explaining that arson isn’t violence.

My assumption, however, is that Trump’s second term may prove to be more difficult than the first for him. While some progressives are trying to moralize themselves for the November election by predicting a second term flowing with dictatorial power aimed at undermining democracy forever, I predict more slapstick incompetence.

Instead of hiring the best people, Trump has relied on whoever is nearby. This cast of characters has included people with their own firm agendas (such as John Bolton) or people who just seemed to have the Trump vibe (such as Anthony Scaramucci). Many of these people have had short careers in Trumpville — and leave it quickly to write scathing memoirs of their time within. About a dozen former White House officials or other flunkies have left Team Trump to write hair-raising tell-alls.

Trump already had problems with hiring enough people to fully staff the Executive Branch. His inability to do so is part of what allows the “deep state” to undermine, dodge, or contravene his authority as president. His reputation for administrative neglect, sudden reversals, and micromanaging has dissuaded qualified people from joining the administration. It leaves the presidency weakened.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, Donald Trump Second Term: What to Expect | National Review

* * *


Reporters standing in front of scenes of arson, flames billowing behind them, not very far from scenes of shooting and murder, insist that the protests are “mostly peaceful.” National Public Radio and a multi-billion-dollar global media conglomerate team up to bring you an illiterate “defense of looting.” The president comes to the defense of a dangerously stupid teenager who went looking for trouble illegally armed with a rifle in his hands and, to no one’s great surprise, found the trouble he was looking for.

But if there is a case to be made for looting, how about we start with NPR and its affiliates? The NPR Foundation reported holding $342 million in assets in 2018, and NPR’s management and on-air talent are splendidly compensated, many of them in excess of a half-million dollars a year. You can commission a shipload of lectures on income inequality and the salubrious effects of looting for that kind of “just property.” NPR’s headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., is “just property,” too — property NPR isn’t even much using at the moment, because of the epidemic. Would NPR object to someone burning it down to make a political point? Would looting NPR’s property be defensible? Yes? No? Why or why not?

… The same people burning down grocery stores today will be complaining about “food deserts” in 18 months.

… the petulant children in Portland want only to play-act at being Jacobins, and the petulant child in the White House requires a full-time culture war lest he be forced to run for reelection on his record of spotless administrative excellence and confidence-inspiring leadership. If ever two clutches of fools deserved one another, these are they.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

* * *


Peter Viereck: American Conservatism’s Road Not Traveled | Front Porch Republic was very good.

* * * * *

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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.

Cliché

If I weren’t so compulsive, I’d probably say of my reading this late-morning, “That’s enough! Time to stop and chew on this for a couple of hours.”

Educated cynics suspect that all uses of … stock phrases are empty of thought; like a college professor whom I admired, they feel a burden to respond to every “How are you?” with a seven-seconds’ pause and measured reply. But imagine the strain, the impossibility, of trying to invent a unique response to every “How are you?”, a unique phrase for each circumstance needing “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “You have my sympathy”, a unique creed for every Christian. In this latter case particularly, pursuing freshness of expression would be _wrong. _A creed is not meant to express individual or innovative understanding and belief, but to give voice to communal, traditional understanding and belief. It is not expression but identification, not communication but communion.

That pedantic college professor is me, which is why I should chew on the rest of this very thoughtful and humane author’s insights.

And so the educated person must reassess, or risk the irony of his scorn of clichés becoming yet one more: the cliché of overeducated cynicism. Without denying Orwell’s point, could there still be an acceptable place for the cliché? Not in things meant to present and provoke fresh thought, but in circumstances that call for identification and communion? In circumstances when the rhythm of exchange, and not the reasoning of language, bears more weight?

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

When the Ideologues Come for The Kids

I’ve been very active lately on my blot blog, where I mostly link to things with minimal comment, and it has been four days, I guess, since I found anything (other than fulminating about Donald Trump) that might involve enough original input to be worth writing here.

But now the first item in Andrew Sullivan’s weekly column for September 20 (metered paywall), When the Ideologues Come for The Kids, sounds all the right notes on a topic I’ve been fretting about a lot, right down to his retreat from previously endorsing Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH).

I am relatively disinterested in the identity politics and the picking on White boys (capitalization is from the Minnesota Teacher of the Year Sullivan dismantles), but this is a solid observation:

The forces involved — “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” “heterosexism” — are all invisible to the naked eye, like the Holy Spirit. Their philosophical origins — an attempt by structuralist French philosophers to rescue what was left of Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s — are generally obscured in any practical context. Like religion, you cannot prove any of its doctrines empirically, but children are being forced into believing them anyway … Having taken one form of religion out of the public schools, the social-justice left is now replacing it with the doctrines of intersectionality.

I have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to eradicate “religion,” broadly construed, from education. Again and again, I’ve seen crypto-religious ideologies slip into public schools. Intersectionality is just the latest crypto-religious fad.

Religious neutrality is a myth, though delusions about it abound. The best thing I can say for public educators who profess it is that that few of them are perceptive enough to be cynical rather than credulous in that profession.

When Sullivan starts with his retreat from DQSH, he enters territory I’m familiar and very, very frustrated with: the mad destructiveness of gender ideology. If he missed a major point, it doesn’t come readily to mind:

  1. Drag Queen Story Hour is a conscious effort to indoctrinate kids into the glories of queerness, “not campy encouragement for reading and fun.”
  2. Kids who defy sex stereotypes are being told that they’re probably the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body. Consequences, in the form of hideous medical malpractice, may follow.
  3. Claims of transgender identity are skyrocketing. This is neither a natural phenomenon nor a mere matter of closeted people finally coming out. In kids, it’s a combination of adult suggestion and social contagion.
  4. Girls have proven more susceptible than boys to adult suggestion and social contagion, and virtually their only defenders are “a few ornery feminists.”
  5. Most gender dysphoric kids, if not forced to “transition,” will grow up gay.
  6. Don’t like #5? Move to Iran, where homosexuality is so loathed that the Mullahs pay for a world-leading rate of sex-reassignment surgeries: gay boys must be turned into girls, lesbian girls into boys.

Sullivan takes this last point personally:

I remember being taunted by some other kids when I was young — they suggested that because I was mildly gender-nonconforming, I must be a girl. If my teachers and parents and doctors had adopted this new ideology, I might never have found the happiness of being gay and comfort in being male. How many gay kids, I wonder, are now being led into permanent physical damage or surgery that may be life-saving for many, but catastrophic for others, who come to realize they made a mistake. And what are gay adults doing to protect them? Nothing.

Read it. Chew on it. Speak up. Get over your sex stereotypes: a “tomboy” isn’t a boy and a “sissy” isn’t a girl.

Don’t let them bully you into silence with charges of “homophobia” or “transphobia” as they take children and commit “transitioning” atrocities on them or merely screw them over over psychologically. In Sullivan’s words, “this is not progressive; it’s deeply regressive.”

UPDATE: I should have known better than to say he had hit all the major points. He missed the extent to which observant parents are fighting back alongside ornery feminists, and how the ideologues are savaging both.

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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)

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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).

Leveling and conformity

Anthony Kronman, former Dean of Yale Law School, got triggered by an episode at Yale that to a lesser mind would have provoked merely a bit of tongue-clucking about “precious snowflakes” or some such thing. In his mind, it triggered deeper reflection, which I missed on first reading of Bret Stephens’ review column of Kronman’s forthcoming book:

Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including … the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”

It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered [Anthony] Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” … means … a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.

What’s happening on campuses today [is] a reaction against this aristocratic spirit … It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.

“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.

“They stress the need to respect and honor the feelings of others, especially those belonging to traditionally disadvantaged groups, as an essential means to this end. In this way they give credence to the idea that feelings are trumps with a decisive authority of their own. That in turn emboldens their students to argue that their feelings are reason enough to keep certain speakers away. But this dissolves the community of conversation that the grown-ups on campus are charged to protect.”

I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.

Bret Stephens

The urge to pick on Ivy League schools often is itself a leveling and conformist tendency, but not when picking on them is for their squandering a tradition of rigor and excellence, and that’s what Kronman apparently has done.

It boggles my mind to imagine someone smart enough to get into Yale sheltering in place, avoiding the storms of real challenge and growth, as if the transaction were merely commercial, a pricier version of buying a degree at an online diploma mill. Who wants to live a life of fraud and humbuggery with bought credentials?

More disturbing, I think, is the answer to “where else in our millieu do we see Tocqueville’s leveling and conformist tendency?”

It’s bad enough that we are competing in a marketplace full of people who are “the real deal,” who work their tails off to attain mastery. Worse still is that we’re selling our souls for some damned pottage.

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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).