How big is Trump’s amygdala?

It has been a long time since I tried to write a book review, and I’m not sure I ever really knew how.

New Year’s Eve’s eve, I undertook to read Frank Buckley’s The Republican Workers Party, which my son thoughtfully bought for me, intuiting that I might like it because it was my wish list.

Clever lad. Good amygdala.

I wanted to read it because Buckley (no known relation to William F.) is a smart guy, not an elected hack, and I thought I might gain more insight into how Trump got elected, and why “it was just what we needed,” as the subtitle has it.

I finished it the next day, mission accomplished.

The book struck me as uneven, and as mostly a platform for Buckley to advance his pet theories, with Trump as a convenient if implausible icon of his impending triumph.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by a couple of what I considered key insights:

First, what everyone knows but tends to forget as Trump makes his own oafishness so prominent: Trump was not Hillary Clinton.

I thought that Hillary Clinton was vastly more mean-spirited and less principled than Obama, and more vindictive than Richard Nixon; that as president she would happily use all the tools at her disposal to silence dissent, and that the progressive media would cheer her on as she did so.

Page 10. That is exactly right. Had my state been in play, I feared I would need to vote for the corrupt but stable Hillary, with exactly such consequences when she won (as she surely would, right?).

The social conservative awakening that helped elect Trump came when voters realize that the liberal agenda amounted to something more than a shield to protect sexual minorities. It was also a sword to be used against social conservatives. The trump voters might have grumbled about the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell decision that recognized the right to same-sex marriage. But that didn’t pick anyone’s pocket and no great political protest followed. It was a different story when homosexual activists employed there newly one right to put religious believers out of business.

Page 57 (italics added). Here, I hope he’s right. We could really use a backlash in this area, and Hillary would have resisted that backlash.

In our culture wars, in Hillary’s condemnation of the deplorables, the religious voter experience to reverse Sally Fields moment: “You dislike me! You really dislike me!“

Page 58. Again, pitch perfect. I took some solace in the perception after the election that at least Trump did not hate people like me, and that he had enough supporters of a sort for which he likely would mistake me, that I would remain Not A Target in a Trump regime. So far, so good on that.

While Hillary Clinton ignored Catholics, Trump went out of his way to court them. It didn’t happen overnight. Early in the campaign he picked a stupid quarrel with Pope Francis. But by the end he was persuaded to grant a lengthy interview to the Catholic EWTN television network and to tweet his happiness at the canonization of mother Theresa. The mainstream media didn’t notice any of this, but Catholics dead. They were seven-plus for Trump, and white Catholics were +23 for him, providing him with the winning margin in the crucial rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. And that was the election.

Add a dinner party, I told all this to a New York Times reporter. “What’s EWTN?” he asked me.

Page 59. Insularity is not a flyover country exclusive. Or as Jonathan Haidt has noted, conservatives grok liberals better than vice-versa.

Second, social immobility has become a real problem. Chapter 6, Where Did the Dream Go?, focuses on our loss of social mobility in the United States, both absolute and relative to other nations. Canada vastly outstrips us in social mobility, and people will suffer a lot of deprivation stoically until they think their children will have it no better.

Immobility matters more to us than inequality. Only three things will last to the end of time, God‘s promise to Abraham; the Church; and the selfish gene.

P 44. Very nice line.

The American dream isn’t dead; it just migrated to Canada, and the other countries that are more mobile than us. In what we wrongly take to be the land of opportunity, a bicoastal aristocracy, smug, self congratulatory and disdainful of the Trump deplorables in the heartland, has cleaved itself off. Because of this we are living in what Marxists call an objectively revolutionary society.

Page 45. This is a severe problem, even if putative billionaire Trump, who got his money by a mixture of gift, inheritance and tax fraud, is a dubious avatar of renewed social mobility.

Third, in chapter 8, Nationalism, the author compares the Republican Workers Party to the Christian Democrats of Europe. If I could buy that, it could be very welcome news, and I sort of half buy it.

Before you laugh derisively, remember that he’s describing the Republican Workers Party, not your father’s Republican party, and that we’re in the midst of a big political realignment. Allow me—a notional member (my state doesn’t register party affiliation) of the American Solidarity Party, which is pretty explicitly Christian Democrat—at least to be hopeful.

On nationalism versus “white nationalism,” a nice quip at page 68:

There isn’t much room for white nationalism in American culture. For alongside baseball and apple pie, it includes Langston Hughes and Amy Tan, Tex-Mex food and Norah Jones. You can be an American if you don’t enjoy them, but you might be a wee bit more American if you do.

Fourth, Chapter 9, How to Bring Back Our Mojo, includes an discussion of the importance of school choice, which Trump supposedly made central to his campaign. I don’t recall that and I haven’t seen Betsy DeVos do anything about it.

There will be many roadblocks and lawsuits if DeVos tries to reform primary and secondary education, and I’m not sure how well we (as opposed to nations who’ve long enjoyed school choice) would execute school choice after having a substantial monopoly by government schools for so long.

But the educational statistics are horrible. Let’s just say that America is #1 only in unearned self-esteem, and in the teens or lower far too often. And the excuses are lamer than Buckley at his lamest.

Speaking of which, Chapter 9 is also one of Buckley’s most deeply uncharitable chapters, imputing to the New Class (his derisive term) all kinds of nasty, self-serving motives, reminding me of the John Birchers who thought that every misstep was ipso facto part of a conscious Communist conspiracy. He makes many solid points about educational choice and about the folly of our immigration laws, but to me they were sullied by those sleazy and demagogic imputations.

Shame on him. The points could have stood without creepy theories about his ideological adversaries, and probably would have been more forceful.

Fifth, Chapter 11, Draining the Swamp, includes a proposal for a truly radical slashing away at regulations, through appointment of a Commission to eliminate duplicate or anti-competitive regulations, cutting the Code of Federal Regulations by something more than 50% (I think it was closer to 90%). He cites a Napoleonic project along those lines.

Though this vastly ambitious idea has some appeal, I don’t trust any administration to do it without checks, even if the APA itself might be too cumbersome a check. Verdict: not remotely ready for Prime Time.

Chapter 11 also includes the author’s most disingenuous point, among several, that taxing large college endowments “would serve to focus them on their educational mission.” Surely he knows better, and after his book went to press, it emerged that this proposal, now enacted, will cause collateral damage to religious friends of the administration. Insofar as they supported the tax as a way to punish liberal educational foundations, I’m feelin’ the schadenfreude burn.

Buckley is not entirely unaware of Trump’s shortcomings, and takes at least token notice of a few:

At the White House, we’ve been treated to a succession of feckless amateurs, flaming egomaniacs and shady hustlers.

Page 4.

Every time things have turned his way, Trump has made an equal and opposite gaffe. Firmness and prudence, energy and tact, were not given to him in equal measure, and the man who wrote The Art of the Deal now finds himself obliged to deal with people who can scarcely hide their contempt for him.

Page 4.

In the passage that I thought was most counterproductive to the author’s aims, he discusses a theory that the amygdala correlates to empathy. He seems to assume that Donald Trump is empathetic, but he left me wondering:

  • How big is Trump’s amygdala?
  • What’s his cunning/empathy ratio?

At its worst, which worst spanned several chapters, Buckley’s “argument” reminded me of the opening anecdote in Tucker Carlson‘s early Politico piece about Trump:

About 15 years ago, I said something nasty on CNN about Donald Trump’s hair. I can’t now remember the context, assuming there was one.

In any case, Trump saw it and left a message the next day. “It’s true you have better hair than I do,” Trump said matter-of-factly. “But I get more pussy than you do.” Click.

At the time, I’d never met Trump and I remember feeling amused but also surprised he’d say something like that. Now the pattern seems entirely familiar. The message had all the hallmarks of a Trump attack: shocking, vulgar and indisputably true.

Trump’s response wasn’t much beneath Carlson’s original snarky remark. But “We won, so suck it up” (i.e., “I get more pussy than you do”), even if tacit, really isn’t really an satisfactory response to many (or most) of the criticisms of Trump.

Yet that was Buckley’s tone, I thought, as he made a number of implausible and pro forma arguments about how Trump does this or intends that. See, for instance, “amygdala,” above.

Verdict: Worth reading, especially if you are still baffled and disoriented about how Trump could happen, but keep your critical thinking at about Defcon 2.

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Potpourri, 12/17/18

1

Here’s the racket that you should have gone into. You’re selling something, a college diploma, that’s deemed a necessity. And you have total pricing power. Better than that: When you raise your prices, you not only don’t lose customers, you may actually attract new ones.

For lack of objective measures, people associate the sticker price with quality: If school A costs more than B, I guess it’s a better school. A third-party payer, the government, funds it all, so that the customer—that is, the student and the family—feels insulated against the cost. A perfect formula for complacency.

The acquisition of Kaplan was, as he puts it, a “matter of kismet.” Mr. Daniels was determined to enhance Purdue’s online educational offerings but frustrated by his inability to do so. “Every year, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I write a little self-evaluation and give it to the board,” he says. “Three years in a row, the worst grade I gave myself was for online education.” Purdue faced a make-or-buy decision: “Should we invest and build an online presence internally, or should we try to acquire it?”

In early 2017, a common friend connected Mr. Daniels to Donald Graham, chairman of the Graham Holdings Co. , which had sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos in 2013 and still owned Kaplan University. “Don called me,” Mr. Daniels recalls, “and he said to me, ‘This will probably be the shortest call of your day, but I don’t suppose, by any chance, you want to buy Kaplan.’ ” Fifteen minutes later, “we had a deal.”

“The most innovative university president in America,” Mitch Daniels in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Interview, 12/15/18, College Bloat Meets “The Blade”.

I’m near the epicenter of Daniels’ doings, just across the Wabash, and it is stimulating.

2

A rather harsh assessment:

I’ve only been around Phil Anschutz a few times. My impressions on those occasions was that he was a run-of-the-mill arrogant billionaire. He was used to people courting him and he addressed them condescendingly from the lofty height of his own wealth.

I’ve never met Ryan McKibben, who runs part of Anschutz’s media group. But stories about him have circulated around Washington over the years. The stories suggest that he is an ordinary corporate bureaucrat — with all the petty vanities and the lack of interest in ideas that go with the type.

This week, Anschutz and McKibbin murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned. They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance.

John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, reports that they actively prevented potential buyers from coming in to take it over and keep it alive. They apparently wanted to hurt the employees and harvest the subscription list so they could make money off it. And Anschutz, being a professing Christian, decided to close the magazine at the height of the Christmas season, and so cause maximum pain to his former employees and their families.

David Brooks. If Brooks is right, I hope it stings Anschutz quite bitterly.

3

Don’t take our freedom of speech for granted.

“Australia is the only Western democracy without an explicit constitutional protection for freedom of speech,” Matt Collins, a defamation lawyer and the president of the Victorian Bar, told me. “People say that Sydney is the libel capital of the world,” he added.

The upshot: Not only is it easier for a plaintiff to win a defamation suit in Australia, but people are far less likely to blow the whistle on misconduct, knowing what the legal (and therefore financial) consequences might be.

“The use of defamation cases against women with sexual harassment complaints is having a huge chilling effect,” said Kate Jenkins, the Australian government’s sex discrimination commissioner. “Women I speak to all over the country are absolutely adamant that they cannot complain because it risks absolutely everything for them.”

An Australian filmmaker named Sophie Mathisen put it more bluntly: “The question in our current context is not, Do you want to come forward and speak on behalf of other women? The question is, Do you want to come forward and set yourself on fire publicly?”

Bari Weiss.

4

Megan McArdle, investigating a scientific taboo on research on intelligence, hits a wall and finds herself vilified for even asking questions. Along the way, she makes an interesting case that there are good reasons for the taboo:

There’s a history, I said, of scientists finding whatever they expect, from scientists insisting that humans had 48 chromosomes, even as their experiments kept showing 46, to the eugenics that fueled the Holocaust. One of Jussim’s own papers shows that left-leaning social psychologists have long been inadvertently biasing their research toward answers the left finds congenial.

Given flawed scientists and imperfect scientific methods, and given the fraught history of Western racism, isn’t the likelihood of getting it wrong just too high? And the potential cost of those particular errors simply too catastrophic to risk? All societies place some questions out of bounds because they’re too toxic; we don’t debate whether child molestation or spousal murder is acceptable.

Without hesitation, Jussim agreed. Carl wasn’t endorsing a link between race and IQ, Jussim pointed out, just starting a discussion about whether we should study it. “If we had that discussion,” he said, “I would personally advocate for a moratorium for all the reasons you just described.”

How the social science community built the wall she hit is an interesting story, too. It’s an example of ad hominem and guilt by association replacing refutation.

5

There’s an interesting Catholic/Orthodox dialogue going on, again between theologians. And some of them have agreed that basically they agree on so many things. They’re really the same. Leave out the political aspect of this, but even from the point of view of the average believer, if you spend ten minutes at the Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox church and ten minutes in a Roman Catholic mass, you understand these are totally different pieties. And whatever the theologians have decided is the same, the little old babushka who kisses the icon knows that what she does is different from the Catholics down the road. So I think in answer to your question, the denominational divisions basically define theology, and for most lay people, the theological distinctions are not terribly real.

Peter Berger H/T Rod Dreher, who elaborates a bit on the point, as do his readers.

6

I am pleased to report that my Advent/Christmas choral singing is complete, after four extra rehearsals and three concerts in two weeks with Lafayette Master Chorale and Lafayette Chamber Singers (on top of ordinary Church services). My 70-year-old vocal chords are ready for a rest.

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Potpourri 11/27/18

1

An obese man wants to lose weight. He hires a personal trainer and a nutritionist and informs them he wants to go from 300 pounds to 200. “I am willing to diet and exercise,” he tells them earnestly. The obese man purchases an expensive program with the personal trainer, whom he sees five days a week. The nutritionist advises the obese man on meal plans, and he begins eating grains for breakfast, a salad for lunch, and lean white meat and vegetables for dinner. He jogs a mile every morning, then works with his trainer at the gym for ninety minutes.

Three months pass and the man has lost no weight. The nutritionist inquires about his eating habits, and the man says he has eaten exactly what she told him to eat.

“Are you eating anything besides what I told you to eat?”

The man replies, “Before bed, I’ll have pizza, cake and ice cream, and a few Russian imperial stouts.”

The nutritionist asks, “Is that the only time you eat that kind of food?”

The man replies, “It’s typically what I eat on weekends. Monday through Friday, though, from breakfast till dinner, I keep the diet and do the exercise.”

Of course, merely keeping a diet for eight hours a day, five days a week, will not be sufficient to improve a man’s health. Neither will a classical education do much good if it is only kept on weekdays during business hours. It is possible for a man to undo his daily diet every night before bed, and it is likewise possible for everything that happens between 8am and 3pm at school to be erased at home between 3pm and bedtime.

If classical education were mainly concerned with students knowing what is right, then whatever took place in the life of the student between 3pm and bedtime would not matter so much. For all their faults, video games, pop music, and social media are not likely to scrub the memory. However, a classical education is more concerned with loving what is right than merely knowing it ….

Joshua Gibbs, A Classical Education Demands A Classical Home.

2

In the forties, there were many who turned against their old beliefs, but there were very few who understood what had been wrong with those beliefs. Far from giving up their belief in history and success, they simply changed trains, as it were; the train of Socialism and Communism had been wrong, and they changed to the train of Capitalism or Freudianism or some refined Marxism, or a sophisticated mixture of all three. Auden, instead, became a Christian; that is, he left the train of History altogether. I don’t know whether Stephen Spender is right in asserting that “prayer corresponded to his deepest need”—I suspect that his deepest need was simply to write verses—but I am reasonably sure that his sanity, the great good sense that illuminated all his prose writings (his essays and book reviews), was due in no small measure to the protective shield of orthodoxy.

Hannah Arendt, writing about W.H. Auden.

3

I texted over the weekend with a European friend with whom I had not been in touch for a couple of decades. Over the course of our conversation, I revealed to him that since we had last been in touch, I had left Catholicism. He said he had too. It turns out that a kid he had once been an altar boy with told him that Father had molested him back then. My friend said it was “just dumb luck” that he wasn’t attacked also. He has learned, as have we all, that rapey Father was not unusual, and that bishops have known about dirty priests like him for a long time, and done little or nothing about it. My friend couldn’t take any of it seriously after that. He told me that he misses certain things, but that he is not going to take his young sons into the Church, as he regards the Catholic priesthood as “a refuge for homosexuals and child molesters.”

Now, you can regard that European man as a fool if you like, but the fact is that the Catholic faith, which has been faithfully handed down in his family from time immemorial, stops with his generation, and may never again be known among his line ….

Rod Dreher.

4

I’ve never been one for name-dropping, but … Wess Stafford.

It seemed at one point as if everybody in my former Evangelical circles knew who he was, but the irony is that I didn’t — though I’d gone to school with him, graduating with him, in a very small school (i.e., graduating class of about 60).

Wess Stafford arrived at Wheaton Academy during the blizzard of ’67 hopeless, alone, and angry. The way he saw it, he had two choices – run away or end it all. Today, when asked, Dr. Stafford would tell you that what followed was a transformation so powerful that he now refers to his life as “before Wheaton Academy and after Wheaton Academy!”

(Wheaton Academy Giving Tuesday email)

That’s all true. I know Wess now and we’re on first-name basis. But I didn’t know him then because his arrival was the beginning of our last semester, and he quickly learned that his education (beginning on the African mission field) to that point had been woefully inadequate. (Things that had happened to him — hint: see item 3 — didn’t help matters any.) He was going to have to study like mad to begin to catch up, and though he had hoped to outrun our track coach, Gil Dodds, athletics weren’t going to fit into his schedule, which left little time for anything but intense study.

He did what he had to do and went on to become famous for his charity work.

So, his slipping into our stream at the last minute and then having to bury himself in his room and in the library is my excuse for not remembering him.

The world is full of interesting stories. I hope this was one.

5

For what it’s worth, I have zero indignation about the woman in Mississippi, running for public office, who said “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be right there in the front row.” (Or something like that.)

The reporting has been free of all context except that she’s white, her opponent is black, she attended a private school that was segregated, and it is, above all, Mississippi (wink, wink, home of deplorables).

I have no sympathy with racism, but the remark, without context, is susceptible of non-racist interpretations, and I’m sick of the game of “Gotcha!,” where the press helps gin up the “controversy.” The press failure to provide more context leaves me very, very suspicious that they’re just trying to keep our rapt attention.

6

It’s so great that we have a very stable genius businessman for President!

When GM announced that it was cutting 15,000 jobs, our very stable genius businessman/President said he wasn’t happy about it (his happiness is the measure of all things) and they should try making something that people will buy.

Why didn’t GM think of that? Duh!

MAGA!

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Edifying and unedifying

1

For some fairly obvious reasons, football has become lashed at the hip to the idea of American patriotism. This is no doubt in part to many a coach’s misguided use of war as an analog for the sport—and vice versa. Fighter jet flyovers and platoons of soldiers waving oversized flags on the field are de rigueur for NFL and college games alike. More troubling, though, is the near-ubiquitous effort across the football landscape to pay overt and uncritical tribute to the military—the annual circus to Honor the Troops.™

Such empty gestures are dangerous, and need to stop …

Americans have been browbeaten into fearful reverence of the military-industrial machine. Thanking military service members has gone from an odd pleasantry to a social requirement …

Even the Kaepernick kneeling controversy—as simultaneously immortal and threadbare as it’s become—has been attacked with the cudgel of “RESPECTING OUR VETERANS WHO DIED FER YEW!”Framing the issue as a crass affront to our beloved men and women who ”defend our freedom” is the simpleton’s trump card.

You’re disrespecting our soldiers who are defending our freedom against ISIS! Or the Taliban. Or somebody in Africa. We think. We’re pretty sure anyway. Honestly, we don’t even know or care who we’re fighting now or where, but man that Kaepernick guy really pisses. us. off.

The flaw in these rituals of adoration is that they give fans, players, and universities a cheap pass. They are an insidious placebo in the maintenance of our democracy—a democracy still struggling with the ramifications of fully voluntary military service and the social chasm it created. Honoring the troops with this sterilized, prepackaged, hot-dogs-and-apple-pie brand of reverence allows everyone involved to feel as though something meaningful has occurred. These displays of gratitude provide us the cheap comfort of believing we have both bridged the civil-military divide and come to some deeper understanding.

In reality, such spectacles only reinforce the notion that the military is part of the great “them”—that group of faceless citizens who exist far outside the sphere of our lives and who should be seen and heard only at arm’s length (and only for a few hours on a Saturday each fall). …

“GoForThree,” a pseudonymous 13-year Army veteran. I’m glad he/she said it.

Bonus: The article illustration is “patriotic” Purdue helmets. Are you listening, Mitch?

2

While we’re Honor[ing] the Troops™, here’s another helping of reality.

William S. Lind is at the rightmost edge of bloggers I follow, and I read him with caution because I’m aware that he’s pretty far “out there.”

But I can find little to fault in Get Out While We Can, and find the last paragraph especially chilling:

Afghanistan has a long history of being a place easy to get into but hard to get out of. Successful retreats are perhaps the most difficult of all military operations no matter where they are conducted. Conducting a successful retreat from Afghanistan is near the top of the list of daunting military tasks.

Everyone knows we have lost and will be leaving soon …

[W]hat we may face is a widespread realignment within Afghanistan in which everyone tries to get on the good side of the victor, i.e., the Taliban, with American forces still there. Afghan government soldiers and police will have a tempting opportunity to do that by turning their weapons on any nearby Americans. In that part of the world, “piling on” the loser is a time-honored way of changing sides to preserve your own neck …

What is needed most now is detailed planning by the Pentagon for a fighting withdrawal [from Afghanistan]. I am not saying we want to get out that way. It is contingency planning in case we have to. I fear that planning will not be done because it will be politically incorrect, since the military leadership still pretends we are winning. Subordinates will be afraid to initiate planning that contradicts their superiors’ public statements. But if we have to put a fighting withdrawal together on the fly, a difficult situation will become a great deal more hazardous. I hope some majors and lieutenant colonels are developing the necessary plan now, even if they can’t tell their bosses what they are doing.

3

I have no reason to doubt that the University of Oklahoma participates in the wretched excess, but here’s a story from there about something much more serious, and immune from the charge of giving anyone “a cheap pass”:

A course in the Great Books which was described by those teaching it as “the hardest course you’ll ever take” has received “sky high” enrollment as students rose to the challenge. Inspired by a syllabus taught at the University of Michigan in 1941 by the British poet, W. H. Auden, the course requires 6,000 pages of reading: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Horace, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Pascal, Racine, Blake, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Rimbaud, Henry Adams, Melville, Rilke, Kafka and T. S. Eliot. And that’s not all. For good measure, the course also includes opera libretti from Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Bizet and Verdi.

Oklahoma is not entirely alone, but may be unique in the size of the host institution. Smaller programs exist at Wyoming Catholic College and Sequitur Classical Academy in Baton Rouge, where Rod Dreher’s kids attend, and which I believe is the institution alluded to in this:

The depth and breadth of learning that these students have achieved is evident in the depth and breadth of the topics that interest them. Here are a few of the topics chosen, each of which speaks for itself:

The Separation of Church and State: Good for Our Nation?

Church Music: Congregational and God-Centered

The Environment and the Extent of Man’s Moral Obligation

Love: How Objective and Subjective is it?

Individualism and Atomism: The Destruction of Family and Society

Discoveries in Genetics and the Flaws of Evolution

Medical Ethics: Treating Both Body and Soul

Technology: When Seeking Freedom Enslaves Man

Pretty impressive for high schoolers.

4

Education can only go so far, though. Ted Cruz is very well-educated and smart, but:

“All they can do is attack the president all day long on the scandal of the day,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who became an aficionado of the term [“Trump Derangement Syndrome.”].

This is the same Cruz who, in 2016, called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen” and “a serial philanderer.” Perhaps the senator suffers from Trump Rearrangement Syndrome, a disorder common among Republicans who disown every criticism they ever offered of Trump so he’ll help them win reelection.

E.J. Dionne.

And prudence is needed, too. I applauded Chief Justice John Roberts’ rebuke of the guy in the White House. I was imprudent to do so.

We do have an independent judiciary. Judges are not beholden to any president, including the one who appoints them. The judiciary plays a key role in our system of checks and balances. “Trump judges” should rule against Trump when he is wrong. That is why it is so important for the chief justice stay above politics. Roberts is right that our “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” Rolling around in the rhetorical mud with Trump is not just bad form; it also undermines the very judicial independence Roberts is seeking to uphold.

Marc Thiessen

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Counter-hegemony

A fine Saturday WSJ profile of Heather MacDonald, who was only halfway onto my radar previously. She has some very plausible explanations of phenomena that swim against both progressive and conservative streams on snowflakes, Title IX Due Process, patriarchy and more.

Emphasis added.

1

Heather Mac Donald may be best known for braving angry collegiate mobs, determined to prevent her from speaking last year in defense of law enforcement. But she finds herself oddly in agreement with her would-be suppressors: “To be honest,” she tells me, “I would not even invite me to a college campus.”

No, she doesn’t yearn for a safe space from her own triggering views. “My ideal of the university is a pure ivory tower,” she says. “I think that these are four precious years to encounter human creations that you’re otherwise—unless you’re very diligent and insightful—really never going to encounter again. There is time enough for things of the moment once you graduate.”

2

Her views are heterodox. She would seem a natural ally of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.” They argue that college “snowflakes” are the products of overprotective childrearing, which creates oversensitive young adults.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn’t buy it. Minority students disproportionately come from single-parent homes, so “it’s not clear to me that those students are being helicopter-parented.” To the contrary, “they are not getting, arguably, as much parenting as they need.” If anyone is coddled, it’s upper-middle- class whites, but “I don’t know yet of a movement to create safe spaces for white males.”

The snowflake argument, Ms. Mac Donald says, “misses the ideological component of this.” The dominant victim narrative teaches students that “to be female, black, Hispanic, trans, gay on a college campus is to be the target of unrelenting bigotry.” Students increasingly believe that studying the Western canon puts “their health, mental safety, and security at risk” and can be “a source of—literally—life threat.”

3

She similarly thinks conservatives miss the point when they focus on the due-process infirmities of campus sexual- misconduct tribunals. She doesn’t believe there’s a campus “rape epidemic,” only a lot of messy, regrettable and mutually degrading hookups. “To say the solution to all of this is simply more lawyering up is ridiculous because this is really, fundamentally, about sexual norms.”

Society once assumed “no” was women’s default response to sexual propositions. “That put power in the hands of females,” …

Young women … are learning “to redefine their experience as a result of the patriarchy, whereas, in fact, it’s a result of sexual liberation.”

4

What about the idea of actively enforcing viewpoint diversity? “I’m reluctant to have affirmative action for conservatives, just because it always ends up stigmatizing its beneficiaries,” Ms. Mac Donald says. Still, she’s concerned that as campuses grow increasingly hostile to conservatives, some of the best candidates may decide, as she did, that there’s no space left for them.

5

What worries Ms. Mac Donald more than the mob is the destructive power of its animating ideas. If the university continues its decline, how will knowledge be passed on to the next generation, or new knowledge created? Ms. Mac Donald also warns of a rising white identity politics—“an absolutely logical next step in the metastasizing of identity politics.”

6

I turn now to Andrew Sullivan, as I often do on Friday or Saturday.

His Friday column, The Danger of Trump’s Accomplishments, is almost perfect, but “Put a spoonful of sewage in a barrel of wine and you get sewage”:

The Republican senators likely to be elected this fall will, if anything, be even more pro-Trump than their predecessors. Corker, Flake, McCain: all gone. The House GOP will have been transformed more thoroughly into Trump’s own personal party, as the primary campaigns revealed only too brutally. And if by some twist of fate, a constitutional battle between Congress and president breaks out over impeachment proceedings, Justice Kavanaugh will be there to make sure the president gets his way.

(Emphasis added)

That ipse dixit about Brett Kavanaugh defending Trump from impeachment is vile, far beneath Sully’s usual level and, I’d wager, wrong. Moreover, it undermines the judiciary and, thus, the rule of law as surely as Democrats do when they talk as if Kavanaugh is some kind of Manchurian Associate Justice.

And — set me straight if I’m missing something — I think it’s stupid. The House impeaches; the Senate tries the impeachment. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has nothing to do with this process which, as we’ve been reminded much of late, is political despite the allusion to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

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More potpourri

1

  1. “We oppose the nomination of XX, a dangerous right wing extremist ….” (The gist of an actual progressive press release, where someone forgot to fill in the name of the actual nominee after the announcement. But they probably were the first out of the gate to oppose whoever-the-heck.)
  2. We oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a dangerous right wing extremist …. (subsequent story, stable for a while).
  3. We oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh because this woman says he lewdly and drunkenly attacked her at a teen drinking party 36 or so years ago.
  4. We oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh because he dangled his dong in front of an extremely drunken co-ed at Yale, which nobody else present saw. Oh. Never mind.
  5. We oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh because he ran quaalude-fueled gang rape parties. We know because a client of Trump’s evil progressive twin says she attended lots of them and finally got raped. Oh. Never mind.
  6. We oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh because we believe all survivors. (11th-hour virtue-signaling theory, to which some still adhere despite the patent lack of corroboration.)
  7. We oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh because he got too hot under the collar after we threw all this crap at him and was very evasive about our questions and didn’t break down under questioning like someone on Perry Mason.

Am I the only one who thought “they’re playing Calvinball, not conducting a Senate inquiry”?

Calvinball is a game invented by Calvin and Hobbes. Calvinball has no rules; the players make up their own rules as they go along, making it so that no Calvinball game is like another.

Rules cannot be used twice (except for the rule that rules cannot be used twice), and any plays made in one game may not be made again in any future games. The game may involve wickets, mallets, volleyballs, and additional sports-related equipment.

There is only one permanent rule in Calvinball: players cannot play it the same way twice. For example, in one game of Calvinball, the goal was to capture the opponent’s flag, whereas in a different game of Calvinball, the goal was to score points by hitting badminton shuttlecocks against trees using a croquet mallet. Masks must be worn at all times in Calvinball; these are not allowed to be questioned.

Are there more than a dozen of us who are bothered by Kavanaugh’s excessive (and probably illegal) drinking as a teenager? Absent evidence that he has an ongoing problem, I wouldn’t disqualify him for it, but the halo is ill-suited to him.

2

Jonathan Chait and Andrew Sullivan, prophets:

3

I feel so affirmed that at least one other person in the cosmos thought that!

4

5

6

What do they teach children today?!

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Thoughts on Complete Education

Your work and career are a part of your life,” he said when I met with him and the Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt. “Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.” I love that assessment — the precision, balance and sweep of it.

Frank Bruni, writing about St. John’s College (emphasis added). During his visit to the Santa Fe campus and his eavesdropping on some classes:

Three dynamics stood out.

The first was how articulate the students were. Something wonderful happens when you read this ambitiously and wallow in this many words. You become agile with them.

The second was the students’ focus. A group discussing Homer’s “Iliad” spent more than 10 minutes on the phrase — the idea — of someone having his “fill of weeping.” If digital devices and social media yank people from one trumpet blast to the next, St. John’s trains them to hold a note — to caress it, pull at it, see what it can withstand and what it’s worth.

The third dynamic was their humility. They weren’t wedded to their initial opinions. They weren’t allowed to be. And they moved not toward the best answer but toward better questions. In the “Iliad” and in life, is there any catharsis in revenge? Any resolution in death? Does grief end or just pause? Do wars?

Jack Isenberg, a senior, told me that St. John’s had taught him how much is unknowable. “We have to be comfortable in ambiguity,” he said.

What a gift. What an education.

(Emphasis added)

It’s now official: if I get huffy and drop the New York Times again, Frank Bruni is part of what I’d miss, along with his more conservative brethren Ross Douthat and David Brooks. (Heck, I already miss Brooks because he’s on “book leave” or some durn thing.)


I added emphasis to the preceding item for a reason:

The end of education for the religious-minded person might be seen, depending on his or her particular religion, as, say, the salvation of one’s soul, the glorification of God, the attainment of holiness or enlightenment, that is, something distinctly transcendent or spiritual. For the secular-minded person, it might be career preparation, the material betterment of humanity, self-fulfillment, that is, something distinctly temporal and material … [B]oth extremes and those in between consider education as primarily a means to these all-important ends. For this reason, they tend to characterize the transmission of knowledge and skills as the right and only model for education, with right answers, whether spiritually or materially regarded, and the most useful skills, aimed at the good of the soul or the good of the world, the only proper curriculum.

In this view, questions and questioning are important, but only when they give rise to and are aimed at definite answers. And liberal-arts disciplines, such as logic and literature, are generally a good thing to learn, but only when directed to securing desirable spiritual or worldly goods. In this way, the priority of answers, especially the right answers, and useful skills, in a school’s curriculum and pedagogy tends to render other types of questioning and other, not-so-useful skills obsolete. Open-ended questioning, speculative contemplation, and philosophical enquiry, and those skills that are deemed “useless,” such as a capacity for wonder, an appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful, and a grasp of the world as a whole, are either a waste of time and money, or just mere means to obtaining “right” answers and useful skills.

Thaddeus Kozinski, Questions Are Better Than Answers: On the Socratic Method.

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Political Potpourri, 9/10/18

The Good

1

Heather Mac Donald, in “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture,” notes that, “as of early 2018, 79 judges had issued rulings against schools’ rape trial procedures” adopted in conformity with the Obama administration’s dictates.

She says a 2006 University of Virginia survey found “that only 23 percent of the subjects whom the survey characterized as rape victims felt that they had been raped” …

Mac Donald notes that campus sexual-assault policies often assign “wildly asymmetrical responsibilities and liabilities.” In campuses’ alcohol-saturated hookup culture, men are assigned the Victorian role as guardians of frail females’ virtue: If he and she are drunk, she typically is absolved of agency and he is accountable for both of their behaviors. Yet, contradictorily, a core tenet of academic progressivism is that the differences between men and women are not innate, they are “socially constructed,” having nothing to do with biology. Never mind various cultures’ centuries of experience with laws and courtship rituals developed to tame the male libido.

George Will, defending Besty DeVos’s revision of Department of Education rules on handling of campus sexual assault complaints — which have been widely mischaracterized so egregiously that “bad faith” is almost the only explanation.

 

2

I asked the senator from Kentucky if his record on judicial appointments, including the decision to hold open the seat vacated after Scalia’s untimely death in February 2016 until after the presidential election was the most important part of his legacy as a senator. “I think it’s the most consequential series of things that I’ve done that have the longest impact on the country,” he answered. “In the legislative process,” he continued, “there’s not much you can do all by yourself. The one thing the majority leader can do that no one else can do is the schedule, what you will do or what you will not do. I think the decision not to fill the Scalia vacancy was the most consequential decision of my career. And I think the follow-up on that, to not only fill the Supreme Court vacancies, but put in place men and women [on the federal courts of appeals] who believe that the job is to interpret the law into as many places as we can, particularly at the circuit court level, for as long as we’re in the majority is the most important thing I will have been involved in in my career.”

Hugh Hewitt, Mitch McConnell has saved the Constitution.

For the record:

  1. I’m deeply ambivalent about the precedent of sitting on a SCOTUS nominee without hearings. It doesn’t pass a smell test even if it’s not unlawful.
  2. But I’m grateful for the quality of Trump’s judicial nominees and that their judicial philosophies* are more congruent with my own than Merrick Garland’s presumably** is.
  3. “Saved the Constitution” is hyperbole, but the stakes were high, and the tendency to see SCOTUS nominees as having “an agenda” is a sad symptom of the how the court is perceived, with some justification.

 

3

The truth is that “settled law” is just a euphemism that jurists and legal scholars use to refer to Supreme Court precedent that is indeed binding – but only until a majority of the justices decide that it should be overruled. In the 2003 e-mail, Kavanaugh was largely right to say that the Supreme Court “can always overrule its precedent.” And that’s a good thing. The Supreme Court needs to have the power to overturn flawed constitutional precedent, as this is usually the only way to correct wrong constitutional decisions, short of using the extraordinarily difficult amendment process.

Few people, particularly on the left, pine for the return of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case in which a narrow majority upheld the constitutionality of anti-sodomy laws. The Court eventually overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which has since become something of an iconic decision.

Ilya Somin (emphasis added). Somin doesn’t mention boring but binding precedent upholding anti-sodomy laws years before Bowers v. Hardwick:

The first challenge to a sodomy law to reach the U.S. Supreme court was Doe v. Commonwealth Attorney of Richmond in 1976. That case challenged Virginia’s sodomy law as a violation of the right to privacy. For technical reasons, the Supreme Court was required to consider the appeal of this decision upholding the law (in most circumstances, the Court only hears cases it selects). Although the Court accepted neither written nor oral arguments, its memorandum upholding the law is its first decision in a sodomy challenge.

ACLU, Getting Rid of Sodomy Laws. The one sentence summary affirmation was binding authority, and it meant in effect that there wasn’t enough merit to the case against sodomy laws to waste any time explaining why.

My own position long was that all jurisdictions should repeal sodomy laws, but I couldn’t find an acceptable constitutional rationale (a free-floating right of privacy just doesn’t cut it for me) for striking them down.

 

The Bad

4

Jay Sekulow, tried to argue to Robert Mueller that Trump could not be asked to give an interview because he is a compulsive liar. They literally explained to Mueller how they conducted a mock interview with Trump, and he was so unable to tell the truth that they considered him mentally disqualified from testifying:

Jay Sekulow went to Mueller’s office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn’t possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.

“He just made something up. That’s his nature,” Dowd said to Mueller.

It seems somehow unfair to let somebody remain on the job as president because he’s such a compulsive liar he can’t be allowed to testify under oath.

Jonathan Chait

 

5

Publicity is bad when it attracts the dogged scrutiny of a special counsel along the lines of Robert S. Mueller III. The man isn’t perfect. But he is deeply experienced and impervious to distractions. Trump has loosed a rabid and foaming Rudolph W. Giuliani on Mueller, to no more effect than a Pekingese yipping at a Greyhound bus. With his patrician wealth, his Bronze Star and his sterling résumé, Mueller neither wants nor fears anything Trump can bring.

On the other hand, Mueller has obtained certain things that, I’d wager, lie at or near the root of Trump’s mania. No, not the sordid details of a porn-star payoff. Trump has been known to spill dirt on himself to the tabloids just to stroke his own ego. He could be the emoji for shamelessness.

I’m talking about Trump’s bank records , turned over last year by Deutsche Bank, which also coughed up $630 million in fines in 2017 to settle charges of participating in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme. And I’m talking about the immunized testimony of Trump’s longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg . If anyone knows the details of money (Russian or otherwise, licit or not) moving through Trump’s privately held businesses, it’s this guy. And I’m talking about Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns, the ones he has been so determined to keep private, which Mueller almost certainly possesses .

This is the forest, I’ll bet, from which the president’s increasingly nutty behavior is being shaken.

David Von Drehle. Von Drehle also speculates that Jared Kushiner wrote The Anonymous Op-Ed, as even Jared and Ivanka need an exit strategy.

 

6

In nations that have known the horror of dictatorship or foreign occupation, there are often long traditions of what Poland’s national poet once called “patriotic treason” …

In occupied countries, large public events can spontaneously take on political overtones, too …

I am listing all these distant foreign events because at the moment they have strange echoes in Washington. Sen. John McCain’s funeral felt like one of those spontaneous political events. As in a dictatorship, people spoke in code: President Trump’s name was not mentioned, yet everybody understood that praise for McCain, a symbol of the dying values of the old Republican Party, was also criticism of the authoritarian populist in the White House …

There can be only one explanation for this kind of behavior: White House officials, and many others in Washington, really do not feel they are living in a fully legal state ….

Leading members of Congress might resist invoking the 25th Amendment, which would of course be described by Trump’s supporters as a “Cabinet coup.” The mob — not the literal, physical street mob, but the online mob that has replaced it — would seek revenge. There may not be any presidential goons, but any senior official who signs his or her name to a call for impeachment or removal will certainly be subjected to waves of hatred on social media, starting with a denunciation from the president. Recriminations will follow on Fox News, along with a smear campaign, a doxing campaign, attacks on the target’s family and perhaps worse. It is possible we have underestimated the degree to which our political culture has already become more authoritarian.

Anne Applebaum, Washington feels like the capital of an occupied country. This rang very true to me.

 

Elsewhere

7

In the wake of reports about his predecessor’s systematically harassing seminarians in a beach house, Cardinal Wuerl suggested that it was nothing that couldn’t be solved with more vacation time.

… Wuerl has announced a six-week “season of healing.” No penitence, no accountability. Just an announcement that in six weeks, he expects his image to be rehabbed, and everyone else will have to move on. You weren’t healed during my season of healing? That’s on you, bub. As for me, it’s time for another retreat with the lads.

Michael Brendan Dougherty

Footnote

* I say “philosophies” in the plural because Brett Kavanaugh says he is an “originalist” while others insist he’s a “textualist.”

** I say “presumably” because we never got the hearings that would have identified his reportedly moderate philosophy.

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Friday, 9/7/18

1

Evelyn Waugh’s gently satirical Scott-King’s Modern Europe follows the declining career of a classics teacher at Granchester, a fictional English public school. Granchester is “entirely respectable” but in need of a bit of modernizing, at least in the opinion of its pragmatic headmaster, who is attuned to consumer demands. The story ends with a poignant conversation between Scott-King and the headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”

“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”

“Oh yes. Often.”

“What I was going to suggest was—I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”

“No, headmaster.”

“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

Richard Gamble, To Be Unfit for the Modern World.

2

Midway through Revelation, John sees a pantomime of the Gospel’s beginning, enacted in the sky (Rev. 12). There’s a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, crowned with twelve stars, laboring to bring a boy into the world. Near her is a dragon, ready to devour the infant …

We’ve seen plenty of sea monsters over the past few centuries, from the de-Christianization purge of the French Revolution to the personality cult of today’s North Korea. Even cuddly liberal house pets can turn into monsters. But oppressive political regimes aren’t the only threat. The dragon always calls monsters from the sea and monsters from the land, monsters of the state and monsters of the church.

Easy examples come to mind: Compromised German churches under the Nazis; Orthodox priests double-timing as KGB agents. But there are land beasts closer to home: Churches that support the fascism of the new sexual regime and persecute traditionalists; churches that cheer on every American war without asking whether it’s just or unjust; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic internationalism; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic nationalism.

Revelation unmasks the satanic monsters that lurk behind the veil of power, and it reminds us that sea monsters are never alone. Whenever a thuggish state tramples on the faithful, there will be thuggish pseudo-saints nearby, piously cheering it on.

Peter J. Leithart

3

Any discussion of the family must presuppose that it can be defined. That definition until recent times has always been accepted to be the natural or traditional family. It’s not possible to talk about alternative families, different kinds of families without first having a primary model.

Family First (New Zealand) board member Bruce Logan, quoted by Carolyn Moynihan.

Family First faces loss of charitable status because it advocates for the traditional family, whereas New Zealand now has thrown open “family,” which means that Family First advocates (drum roll) discriminaaaaaation! How could that possibly be a permissible charitable purpose.

QED

4

Someone wrote the other day:

Unlike the many, many online commentators who are extremely performative in their iconoclasm (yet somehow always managing to comfort the powerful), [Fredrik] deBoer is truly orthogonal to established ideologies.

That packs in quite a lot, and it seems like a good description of why many folks want to encounter deBoer.

Thursday, he did it again, in self-care is just another set of expectations you’ll never realize. It defies my summarization, but it seems to me that we’d miss a lot if we thought only about self-care when we read it. It applies to more than that, as I assume he intended.

5

We sang many hymns together. For the most part, our hymns served collectively to frame what would prove to be the centerpiece of our Sunday services: the sermon that—I now recognize—replaced centuries-old liturgical worship with something akin to a classroom whose lessons were punctuated by a soundtrack.

The hymns employed within that frame, by and large, fell into two categories: preparation for the sermon and altar call. Most were sentimental and didactic, speaking to the choir—as it were—while pretending to speak to God. That is also how most of our public prayer worked—with the pastor overtly addressing God while more pointedly admonishing the flock.

In any case, one hymn stood profoundly apart from the others, as it seemed to me more like prayer than any other utterance we made; it was, moreover, a prayer that I found myself praying as I sang the words. That hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” therefore has always moved me.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

6

Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

Rod Dreher (emphasis in original).

Notre Dame (My emphasis).

This came to mind as I read Nicholas Zinos, Erotic Love and the Totalitarian State, which agrees with me that Huxley got sex in dystopia better than Orwell, and who introduced me to One Evening in 2217, a 1906 classic available as part of a collection of Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction, in English translation.

I find Brave New World scarily prophetic — so far, more so every time I read it.

7

It is perfectly necessary and routine for hired and appointed officials to give advice that runs contrary to a president’s wishes and instincts. It is perfectly legitimate to try to guard any president against his worst defects of judgment and character, and such stories are the stuff of all White House memoirs. And it is necessary for advisers and attorneys to warn a president about the constitutional and moral limits that should restrain his ambitions.

What is disturbing about the Times op-ed author is that he or she admits not to doing the above, but to actively subverting the agenda of the president on policy questions that were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign, questions on which this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.

And yet, one shouldn’t feel too bad for Trump. It is President Trump’s inability to hire and staff his campaign and his administration with competent and ethical people willing and able to translate the ideologically heterodox promises of his campaign into workable policy that gives this resistance staying power, and that constantly humiliates him in the press. Trump has not hired enough of the best people. He’s hired too many self-flatterers, grifters, and people who proudly identify with the swamp. If he can’t get out of his own way, no one else will either.

Kevin D. Williamson

8

If you prick him, does he not explode? If you stroke him, does he not purr?

The testimony of the tell-alls is remarkably consistent. Some around Trump are completely corrupted by the access to power. But others — who might have served in any Republican administration — spend much of their time preventing the president from doing stupid and dangerous things.

Michael Gerson, We are a superpower run by a simpleton.

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Monday Mélange 9/3/18

 

1

The narrator provides us with one final parcel of information that he has learned about Bartleby, a rumor he has heard that before the young man entered his employ, he worked in the dead letter office in Washington, D.C.:

Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death.

Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!

James Gardner, in a “Masterpiece” review of Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener.

2

[E]ven a silent and secluded Benedict sends a message. Italian friends have told me that The Benedict Option has become for many in Italy a refuge from the Francis stuff. I find that discouraging, to be honest, because I did not write the book with an anti-Francis agenda in mind, and don’t want it to be taken as anti-Francis. Nevertheless, Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a major Francis mouthpiece, and Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago have both publicly denounced the book and the idea as counter to Pope Francis’s vision, so what can I say? My book is certainly infused with the spirit of Ratzinger, who I think of as the second Benedict of the Benedict Option.

An interesting blog of Rod Dreher, drawing parallels between the first Benedict’s retreat from a “dangerous and godless gulf” and the reported motivation behind Benedict XVI’s resignation — the loss of a Vatican battle over cracking down on the likes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

However his resignation came about, there’s reason for hope in his continued relevance:

Years ago, when I was in college, I read Thomas Merton’s great autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. In it, Merton, who wrote it as a new Trappist monk, talked about the World War II years, and said that maybe the entire world was held together by the prayers of monks hidden away in monasteries.

3

Since the authorities announced on Aug. 22 that Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a farmworker from Mexico, was charged with first-degree murder in her death, politicians and pundits have used the arrest to push for stronger immigration laws.

In a column in The Des Moines Register on Saturday, her father, Rob Tibbetts, encouraged the debate on immigration. “But,” he added, “do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”

The Register on Friday published a column by the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., in which he blamed Democrats for Ms. Tibbetts’s death and said claims that conservatives and Republicans were politicizing her death were “absurd.”

Melissa Gomez, New York Times.

You might as well ask bears not to shit in the woods, Mr. Tibbetts. And that steaming pile? “Fake news!” “Absurd.”

4

Oh, the horror!

Rolling Stone accuses the Education Secretary of ‘listening to the men’s rights groups she’s met with’.

Cockburn at Spectator USA.

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