Saturday, 1/7/23

Culture

Jordan Peterson

The Campaign to Re-Educate Jordan Peterson” reminds me of how little written about Peterson. That isn’t likely to change because I just can’t take the time to get more than a smattering of the Jordan Peterson content available, and I don’t want to write in ignorance.

I like what I’ve heard and read and seen, but I was making my bed before Jordan Peterson was out of diapers, and I don’t personally need his coaching on how to do life. If a lot of younger (mostly-)men find it beneficial, I’m sure they could do far worse than taking advice from him.

In recognition of his influence, though, I pray for him daily.

AI’s limits

I have been an AI skeptic, which extended to Chat GPT. Ezra Klein has a fantastic podcast on the topic, which I haven’t even finished yet.

My fundamental instinct was right: AI is closely akin to bullshit in the Harry G. Frankfurt sense that it bears no relationship to truth. What AI does — so far at least if not ever and always — is basically pastiche of things that it has read and stored in its memory banks.

But my skepticism overlooked the harm AI can do. To make a long story short, I don’t think I can ever trust the internet again for important research; it’s too easy for a single AI “clickfarms” to create a web of websites all pointing in the wrong direction, or pointing aimlessly, with alluring headlines and reciprocal hyperlinks to reinforce the bullshit.

And of course our enemies will be using AI in elections to make any Russian interference in the 2016 election negligible in comparison.

Conservatism and Woke Capital

When I see stories about how Indiana’s conservatism makes it hard to recruit and retain tech workers, I detect a PR campaign at work.

Big Business has been a solvent dissolving families and communities for at least a century, and the press increasingly is a lazy accomplice.

Launch credentials

Aaron Renn has moved to Substack, and The Masculinist is no more. I’m not shedding many tears over that, but I endorse this from #48:

I have a three-year-old, and my ambition for him is that he will not have to go to college. I hope that by the time he turns 18, there will be alternative paths for him to launch himself into life without having to spend the time and money that were previously expended to obtain these “launch” credentials.

Let’s be honest, for 95% of people, college is purely about vocational credentialing. They go to college so they can get a good job coming out of it. For most high paying positions today, a college degree is still the price of entry. In some professions, the amount of formal education required to practice is still going up.

But in others it’s changing in the opposite direction. And that change is a good thing, though we need a lot more of it.

Nellie Bowles excerpts

Red-letter day

I almost never agree with Josh Hawley since he re-invented himself as a populist pugilist, but he hit a right note here:

Standing with me is Josh Hawley, who this month encouraged young men to “log off the porn and go ask a real woman on a date.”

Nellie Bowles, TGIF. All subsequent Nellie Bowles excerpts from the same January 6 post.

Enforcing a dubious orthodoxy

A new law in California paves the way for doctors to lose their license for “dissemination of misinformation or disinformation related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.” That sort of behavior is now considered “unprofessional conduct.” 

Longtime TGIF readers know my stance, but for all the newcomers: Misinformation and disinformation are real phenomena. But most of the time these days the words are political terms applied to any information a ruling clique doesn’t like. Often, it’s used by progressive journalists who want to see various voices censored on social media. 

In the case of Covid, many, many very real facts were considered mis-and-disinfo. Like: The vaccine does not prevent transmission of Covid. That was considered fake news, verboten. Had this law been in place you would have lost your medical license for saying it. In that case, people saw with their own bodies that, although vaccinated, they were very much coughing. But thanks to this new law that muffles doctors, who knows what we won’t know going forward.

Pretendians

Another fantastically insane fake Native American: I’m beginning to think that any high profile Native American influencer should be assumed to be a white girl with a spray tan. The latest Pretendian, who is quite literally a white girl with a spray tan: Kay LeClaire. A major leader in the Indigenous movement, LeClaire has claimed Métis, Oneida, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cuban and Jewish heritage. She was a co-owner of giige, a “Queer and Native American-owned tattoo shop and artist collective in Madison, WI.” She was a community leader-in-Residence at UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology and was part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. She has had copious speaking engagements, and she even led a name-change-mob, forcing the local music venue Winnebego to change its name for Indigenous sensitivity (it was named after its street). She sold crafts and clothes, all while pretending to be a Native American (that’s a federal crime, by the way). Obviously she also claims to be Two-Spirit, a sort of nonbinary identification long-practiced in Native cultures. 

She is in fact German, Swedish and French Canadian. An anonymous blogger identified the fraud.

On a related note, it’s a good time to read this article about how the official “Native American” population in the U.S. between the years 2010 and 2020 . . . doubled. Pretty soon every high school senior will be Native American. Little Harrison and Haisley will be touring the Princeton campus like, “why, yes, this is my ancestral feathered headdress, thanks for asking.”

Governors putting immigrants on buses to NYC

Wait . . . now Democrats are busing migrants to New York? Gov. Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, is busing migrants to New York City. And New York mayor Eric Adams is not happy about it, saying: “This is just unfair for local governments to have to take on this national obligation.”

Recall not three months ago, when busing migrants to New York was considered outrageous, potentially human trafficking, worthy of huge splashy headlines and endless features about the suffering these trips were causing. When the buses come from Colorado, surely the response will be the same? Of course not.

I just checked, and there is not a single story on The New York Times homepage right now. Polis describes his busing program to NYC versus the essentially identical Republican busing program to NYC as “night and day.” Because, Polis says: “We are respecting the agency and the desires of migrants who are passing through Colorado. We want to help them reach their final destination, wherever that is.”

You really should subscribe to the Free Press on Substack.

Politics

From earlier in the week:

Wise words

In 1992 [David Letterman] was famously passed over to succeed Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show” in favor of Jay Leno. Months passed, Mr. Leno’s ratings wobbled, NBC offered Mr. Letterman a second chance. And even though he was now fielding better offers from other networks and syndicators, he still had to have Carson—it was his dream from childhood to succeed that brilliant performer, have that show. He couldn’t give it up.

His advisers, in the crunch, told him a truth that is said to have released him from his idée fixe. There is no Johnny Carson show anymore, they said, it’s gone. It’s the Jay Leno show now, and you never wanted to inherit that.

Soon after, Mr. Letterman accepted the CBS show where he finally became what he wanted to be, No. 1 in late night.

Sometimes you have to realize a dream is a fixation, its object no longer achievable because it doesn’t exist.

Some of the [House Speaker election] spectacle connects in my mind to the fact that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a longtime idea that he must be speaker, and would do anything for it, and left his colleagues thinking eh, he just wants to be speaker—he’s two-faced, believes in little, blows with the wind. So they enjoyed torturing him. And in the end he made the kind of concessions that make a speakership hardly worth having.

This introduced an unusually white-hot Peggy Noonan column, and her no-holds barred take-down of the Freedom Caucus (“stupid,” “highly emotional,” “nihilis[ts],” no “historical depth”) is spot-on.

Remembering January 6

At 6:01 p.m. on January 6, with the day’s carnage behind him, Trump issued his last tweet of that day.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote. “Go home with love & in peace.” Trump ended with this admonition: “Remember this day forever!”

We will, just not in the way Trump and his party want us to.

Peter Wehner

Hunter Biden

… The House inquiry into Hunter Biden damages him but not his father ….

One of Karl Rove’s predictions for 2023. I have no opinion on most of them, but this one’s spot on, and the obsession of the GOP Congress-in-Waiting (there is no Congress until a Speaker is elected, which hasn’t happened as I write) is contemptible.

Speaker Pelosi

I know Nancy Pelosi was (is?) almost as hated by Republicans as Hillary Clinton. In reaction, I was inclined to praise her effectiveness as Speaker of the House.

But I must admit that her effectiveness was purchased at the cost if further infantilizing our feckless Congress. Pelosi was effective at advancing Democratic goals not purely by management and persuasion. She tended to formulate massive omnibus bills in secret and then introduce them at the last minute before something dreadful like a government shutdown would arrive. Last year’s $1.7 trillion year-end bill was a classic example.

Her sobriquet probably should be “Take It or Leave It Nancy.”

And Kevin McCarthy’s complicity is why at least one House GOP member opposed him.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 1/5/23

Culture

Words to live by

The larger point is that a rich and satisfying life involves checking a lot of boxes, not checking the same box over and over again until the combination of the ink and the pressure punches through the paper of your checklist. Moreover, some of these boxes require subordinating yourself to something greater than yourself. Virtually all meaningful institutions demand some sacrifice of yourself and your immediate wants to the greater good of the institution. The family is the first and most obvious example of this. You can’t be a good father or husband, mother or wife, if you expect your family to always put your needs first.

Jonah Goldberg, Something Short of Tragic

Why not wait and see if the odds are with you?

The best estimate, from studies starting in the 1970s, is that around 80% of gender-dysphoric children who are allowed to express themselves as they wish, but who do not socially transition—change their clothes, pronouns and the like to present as members of the opposite sex—will, as they grow up, become reconciled to their biological sex. Yet puberty blockers seem to prevent that reconciliation. In European clinics that report numbers, it happens with just 2-4% of children given the drugs. American clinics rarely publish figures, but anecdotally the picture is similar.

The Economist, Gender Medicine — Little Is Known About the Effects of Puberty Blockers. So far as I know, this is still true almost two years later, but the U.S. was charting its own ideologically-mad pursuit of a standard of care that said “block puberty at a minimum, no questions asked,” unlike any of our peer nations.

Self-own extraordinnaire.

I had no idea who Andrew Tate was, that he had a stable of cars, that he trolls Greta Thunberg, and that he now holds the world record for a self-own. But then someone shared this: Andrew Tate’s Arrested for Human Trafficking After Trolling Greta Thunberg.

What Purdue did in the Daniels Decade

We stood for excellence at scale. We did not accept that there’s a tradeoff when bringing education to more people – the original assignment of land grant universities like ours, to open the doors, widen the aperture to higher education. Many people, with some cause, said, Well, the bigger you grow, the lower the quality of the students you’ll have. Many of them will not succeed. We’ve challenged that. And in fact, we have grown 30%. The quality of our students, their performance, the graduation rates, everything has gone up, not down. As my successor will be happy to tell you, we’ve grown to one of the biggest engineering colleges anywhere. And at No. 4 in the national rankings, we are bigger than the top three put together. So you don’t have to trade that off, and I think we’re demonstrating that.

We said that in a world where outcomes are more and more determined by technology and science and the advance of those disciplines that we had an unusual opportunity, and very much a duty, to deliver to the nation more graduates skilled in those areas and more research that contributed the advanced knowledge in those areas. Ten years ago, 41% of the students at this university were in a STEM discipline – a high percentage. Today, it’s 68%, of a student body that is 30% bigger. We are producing for this nation, the kind of talents on which our future success so heavily depends.

Now former Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, via Based in Lafayette, a Substack that’s indispensible for local news as the local Gannett newspaper struggles.

I have my reservations about big research universities, but Purdue, and land-grant University, is a pretty good neighbor.

An Englishman on American Football

I see American Football as the sport that’s the obvious creation of a society based around hyperconsumption. It’s only about a dozen minutes of actual stuttering play stuffed into this capitalist packaging of hype and image, coming with hundreds of adverts for products you weren’t interested in and drowning in a wealth of the packing chips of instant replays and shots of players and officials loitering. I just can’t see the appeal.

Alastair Roberts He said that almost seven years ago. It wasn’t a prophecy of injuries or fatalities, but the appeal of the American spectacle should, but probably won’t, diminish after the Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest on field, triggered by the kind of hits fans pay to see. I’m skeptical that technology can make safe a game based on large people crashing into each other at high speed.

American Football eclipsed by World Football/Soccer is one of my hopes for progress.

David French to wed the grey lady

All things considered, I’m content.

David French will become a regular columnist for the New York Times on January 30 and will cease being a regular columnist for The Dispatch, which he helped to found. But (whew!) he’ll continue doing the Advisory Opinions podcast with Sara Isgur. That’s what mattered most to me.

And I subscribe to NYT, so I’ll read his relocated columns, too.

Maybe The Dispatch should try to wrest Michael Brendan Dougherty or Daniel McCarthy away from National Review now.

The Alzheimer’s Streetlight Effect

There’s an old joke about a drunk who lost his keys. It even has given a name to a cognitive error: The Streetlight effect.

I’m reminded again that it’s not always funny, as when scientists pursue theories that have been pretty well disproven, such as amaloid plaques as the cause of Alzheimer’s, simply because that’s where the grant money is.

On the other hand, that does tend to prove that scientists and humans, not gods, and as prone to venality as any preacher who tells his people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

British Mysteries

The Missus and I have been enjoying British mysteries on the BritBox streaming service, but we’ve reached the point where we agree that the writers riffing on G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, likely British secularists if not neo-pagans, have no idea what makes the protagonist Father Brown (beyond routinely telling the murderer to repent and confess to the police). The stock characters are no longer enough to sustain our interest.

They also have become less imaginative, more graphic (e.g., profuse blood flying in a knockout punch), and more sexual, the sort of pattern that turned us off other mysteries with attractive protagonists (like the Midsomer Murders).

Then, of course, there’s The Hidden Cost of Cheap TVs, too, but that’s been fairly obvious for a long time.

Stage Manager

My latest Mac OS update brought with it an annoying intruder named "Stage Manager," who keeps getting in the way of my own stage management.

I learned how to shut him off today, and now I find that I occasionally want him back on. In other words, he’s not all bad.

This is probably just me being a grumpy old man.

Politics (but smarter and less bitter than in the past)

GOP New Years Resolution: Live Not By Lies

I doubt that serial liar and fabulist George Santo deserves as much attention as he’s gotten, but at least it’s all been negative. He seems to be his only apologist.

Yet nobody with power to do anything is proposing to do it. Here’s an idea for them:

Kicking George Santos out of Congress is a job for the people of Long Island, one that they can do for themselves if they should happen to discover some particle of communal self-respect. But there are things that Republicans in Congress could and should do to set an example here: They could and should refuse to give him committee assignments; they could and should vote to censure him; they could and should expel him from the Republican Party. …

If the Republican Party would like to make a desperately needed New Year’s resolution, it should be this: that the GOP will cease being an organization dedicated to lies, based on lies, trafficking in lies, cultivating lies, and strategically reliant on lies. The Republicans should embark on a very modest course of self-improvement that begins with telling the truth. Of course, such a specimen as George Santos would have no place in such a party.

Neither would Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Mike Pence ….

Rachael Larimore

Is Trump now a moderate?

For the first time as a candidate, Trump might not be “the craziest son of a b-tch in the race.” That phrase comes from a memorable interview Rep. Thomas Massie gave in 2017 explaining why so many Ron Paul voters in the 2012 primaries ended up becoming Donald Trump supporters in 2016. An authoritarian candidate should struggle to attract libertarians, but Trump didn’t. Massie knew why.

“I went to Iowa twice and came back with [Ron Paul]. I was with him at every event for the last three days in Iowa,” Massie said. “From what I observed, not just in Iowa but also in Kentucky, up close with individuals, was that the people that voted for me in Kentucky, and the people who had voted for Rand Paul in Iowa several years before, were now voting for Trump. In fact, the people that voted for Rand in a primary in Kentucky were preferring Trump.”

“All this time,” Massie explained, “I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas — they were voting for the craziest son of a b-tch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along.”

Nick Cattogio

What Everybody Knows

[E]ven if American institutions and rules make the U.S. system more unstable (under certain conditions) than those in other democracies, the events of January 6 depended on the introduction of an additional variable as a catalyst—and that is Donald Trump’s narcissism and malevolence. Trump simply couldn’t face his own loss—or rather, he couldn’t face admitting his own loss in public—and avoiding that humiliation was more important to him even than the fate of American self-government. If getting himself declared the winner required overturning the rule of law and liberal democracy in the United States, that was fine with him.

[A] number of prominent GOP candidates were extreme, badly informed, personally unappealing, and wildly inarticulate, and so performed poorly in the midterm’s general election contests. But how did these bum candidates end up competing in general elections in the first place? The answer, obviously, is that Republican voters chose them (often at Trump’s urging).

And that means it isn’t just Trump who’s responsible for January 6. It’s also all the voters who ended up doubting the trustworthiness of America’s electoral institutions across the board while simultaneously placing the entirety of their faith in the hands of a verified con artist out to protect his delicate ego from the painful truth of his failure to win an election.

It’s this consideration, among others, that keeps me from joining The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last in reversing position on the question of whether Trump should be prosecuted. Where Last has come around to the view that prosecution may well be the least-bad option, I continue to believe it would be less bad to allow Trump to continue fading in stature than to risk reviving his reputation among the mob of dittoheads who once revered him by turning him into an outlaw/folk-hero locked in a fight to the figurative death with the “Democrat Justice Department.”

Damon Linker, What Everybody Knows

Blaming the victim without regret

Even on issues where I am nominally on his side, I think he deserves all of the trouble he has invited upon himself …

I do not think Congress should make his tax returns public because I think punitively releasing tax returns is a bad practice, even when done against people I think have it coming.

Donald Trump lied over and over again about his tax returns. He said he’d release them, then didn’t, claiming he couldn’t because he was being audited. He probably lied about the audit; he certainly lied that being audited prevented him from releasing them. He broke all sorts of rules—admittedly informal rules, but rules nonetheless—and as we’ve seen over and over again, when one “side” breaks the rules, it gives the other “side” psychological permission to break other rules in response. Trump invited the predicament he’s in. He wants the rules to benefit him, never to bind him.

Jonah Goldberg, Something Short of Tragic

Congress and Trump’s Tax Returns

The actual point of the release is to embarrass Mr. Trump for refusing to release his returns. We criticized him for this, but it isn’t a legal requirement. Democrats needed a legislative purpose to pry private records from the IRS, and the best excuse they could manage was a desire to strengthen the agency’s presidential-audit policy. The weakness of that rationale was laid bare at the Dec. 20 meeting when Ways and Means approved the release.

Karen McAfee, Democrats’ top oversight staffer, couldn’t explain how releasing the returns would affect legislation. Pressed by GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, she sputtered that Democrats want a bill “to make sure that the audits start on time.” No word on how speeding up audits requires broadcasting Mr. Trump’s finances to the world.

The Trump Tax Return Precedent

Here’s another instance where someone did something unjust to Trump, but at the same time it’s true that he brought it on himself.

I doubt we’re heard the last of this. Trumpist Republicans will want payback, and they’ll not have trouble finding allies.

Just Desserts

McCarthy is getting exactly what he deserves. After January 6, he failed to lead. Instead, he swallowed what was left of his pride and traveled down to Mar-a-Lago to make amends with Donald Trump.

Yet he’s not being punished for that grotesque capitulation. Instead he’s facing yet another act of “burn it down” disruption from many of the same figures—including Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert—who’ve built their entire brands around trolling, rage, and rebellion.

It’s possible that GOP obstruction will yield a better speaker. One can hope. But a hope is not a plan, and it seems that the “plan” is to simply block McCarthy and see what happens.

While I don’t want to intrude too much on Nick’s populism beat, one of the tragedies of our time is that populists can often diagnose real maladies (elites have failed in many respects, and America faces real problems), yet they often decide to “solve” the problem with something  worse ….

David French

To hell with that

Wren: To hell with what?

Meijer: With the idea of running at this moment [against other Trumpist candidates]. What is required from a purity test standpoint — folks know they need his endorsement, and then what they end up doing to get that endorsement ends up being disqualifying.

Wren: This dynamic played out with your Republican primary opponent, John Gibbs, the far-right conspiracy theorist who criticized women’s right to vote and propagated the idea that Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta participated in satanic rituals. Yet you went to a unity rally with him. That surprised me.

Meijer: I was surprised at the media reaction to that. In my mind, not going to something like that is a sore loser move. The least I can do is wish him congratulations and best of luck. It’s funny there were a lot of kind of anti-Trump and Never Trump folks who trashed me for that. I was like, “Oh, do you want me to act the same way [Trump] did? Do you want me to deny that I lost? Do you want me to be a sore loser? Come on.”

Former Congressman Pete Meijer

Senator Sinema’s Independent prattling

… we are united in our … independence.

Kyrsten Sinema, putative Independent, via Lee Drutman, Kyrsten Sinema and the Myth of Political Independence

I fear that her personal declaration of independence will be the electoral kiss of death, as it was with another interesting political figure, Justin Amash.

Closing thought

Life doesn’t come with a trigger warning.

Poet/Activist Pádraig Ó Tuama, Interview with Krista Tippett


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Christmas Eve

I have nothing Christmas-Evish to say, but I wanted to get these out.

Culture

Welcome to Dystopia

Welcome to Dystopia. Enjoy your ejection.

Crypto: Money without a purpose

Hip, hip, hooray! Finally, someone with credentials call out crypto for what it is:

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That’s why everyone in Washington seems to think that federal financial-services regulators are the natural overseers of crypto trading. This is wrong. Crypto trading should be regulated for what it is—a form of gambling that emulates finance—and not what its advocates tell you it is.

Todd H. Baker, Crypto Is Money Without a Purpose

My view is even more cynical than his. He thinks it’s risky like gambling. I think it’s oftener a Ponzi-like scheme that will inevitably collapse after the promoter has spent it most of it in riotous living. That’s worse than “a gamble.” Its opacity merely buys the crooks extra time.

Return of the face-palm

I heard a young reporter on local TV Tuesday Night reporting on the Respect for Marriage Act because a local couple was invited to the White House for the signing ceremony. It wasn’t going too badly until:

This ensures that the Supreme Court cannot overturn the same-sex marriage laws placed by the Obama Administration in 2015.

That is soooo wrong on multiple levels!

  1. The Supreme Court, not the Obama Administration, mandated recognition of same-sex marriage under constitutional pretexts.
  2. What the Supreme Court giveth, the Supreme Court can taketh away (though I’d wager a health amount at fairly long odds that it will not do so in my lifetime or, probably, the lifetime of the next generation).
  3. The Respect for Marriage Act assures, more or less, that if SCOTUS decides that the Constitution doesn’t require allowance of of SSM, such “marriages” already contracted will be recognized throughout the country. In exchange for that concession from SSM opponents, it assures against the most egregious infringements of their religious freedom.
  4. Had the Obama Administration done it, in no case would its action be referred to as “placing” SSM laws.

With that kind of misinformation in responsible legacy media, it’s no wonder that people are tempted to seek their news elsewhere and that the Supreme Court is viewed as a profoundly political branch, just like the legislative and the executive branches, of the national government.

Follow the incentives

[W]ithin the community of people who claim to speak on Black America’s behalf – professors, writers, think tankers, diversity consultants, etc – most of the incentives point towards more extreme stances. You will be tempted to think that I am speaking only about Black public intellectuals, but of course America’s most-read racism expert is a very wealthy white woman with a lucrative business taking white people’s money to tell white people they’re racist so that white companies can limit their liability if they should ever be sued by a non-white employee.

Freddie deBoer, The Synecdoche Problem

Racial Ridicule and Hate Speech generally

If you want to know why hate-speech laws are perverse, read FIRE’s and My Amicus Brief on Connecticut’s “Racial Ridicule” Law

The Four Dimensions of Military Power

When I read this again, it occurred to me that Russia is struggling (failing, one hopes) in Ukraine because of failing on the third dimension. Not for lack of perverse effort:

(The Economist)

Cradle of Ponzi Schemes?

Purdue University likes to call its football program “the cradle of quarterbacks,” the University overall “cradle of astronauts.”

Leaders of such educational institutions readily take credit for Rhodes and Fulbright scholars. What of those graduates who helped foster an environment of avarice and schemes of the get-rich-quick? Are we so assured that they did not learn exceedingly well the lessons that they learned in college?

Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

Politics

Diversionary tactics

The January 6th Select Committee released its 845-page final report last night, days before Republicans are set to take back the House and almost assuredly dissolve the panel. The report includes 11 recommendations to prevent a similar event from happening again, including reforms to the Electoral Count Act, additional oversight for Capitol Police, and harsher punishments for attempting to impede the transfer of power. House Republicans released a 141-page counter-report of their own earlier this week, focused primarily on security failures at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 rather than the reasons the U.S. Capitol required additional security in the first place.

TMD (emphasis added)

An unfamiliar pathogen

Some populists were up in arms that Ukraine’s President Zelensky didn’t wear a suit to the White House:

[T]he interest in Zelensky’s garb is curious, particularly since it’s plain as day that he would have been attacked by this same crowd of chuds if he had dressed finely for the occasion. Populists would have demanded to know how much of their hard-earned taxpayer money had gone toward buying natty new duds for “this grifting leech,” in Matt Walsh’s words, or for Zelensky’s better half. “We want nothing to do with you,” Candace Owens tweeted at Zelensky. “Stop stealing from our people while your wife drops tens of thousands of dollars shopping in Paris.” The claim that Mrs. Zelensky is living high on the hog in Paris is an inch thin, it turns out, but no matter.

It’s what Zelensky represents that irks them—competence, sacrifice, bravery, honor. … He could have whimpered. He could have fled. He fought.

And people whose political immune systems have been exposed to nothing but Trumpism since 2015 simply cannot handle it. Their reaction to an honorable figure at this point is almost immunological, inducing a sort of fever as they struggle to fight off an unfamiliar pathogen. That’s how they end up having a group conniption about someone not wearing a three-piece in the White House.

Nick Cattogio, Fashion Statement

Vacillating Rhythm

American policy has oscillated between a hubristic interventionism and a callous non-interventionism. “We overdo our foreign crusades, and then we overdo our retrenchments, never pausing in between, where an ordinary country would try to reach a fine balance,” George Packer wrote in The Atlantic recently. The result has been a crisis of national self-doubt: Can the world trust America to do what’s right? Can we believe in ourselves?

David Brooks.

One of the things that bothers me most about our political polarization is that the world cannot count on a new President keeping the commitments of a former President.

Spare Us

It is certain that Donald Trump will never again be president. The American people won’t have it …

He’s on the kind of losing strain that shows we’re at the ending of the story. Next summer it will be eight years since he went down the escalator. Time moves—what was crisp and new becomes frayed and soft. His polls continue their downward drift. He is under intense legal pressures. This week the Jan. 6 committee put more daggers in: Only the willfully blind see him as guiltless in the Capitol riot. He will be 78 in 2024 and is surrounded by naïfs, suck-ups, grifters and operators. That was always true but now they are fourth-rate, not second- or third-rate.

He has lost his touch. Remember when you couldn’t not watch him in 2015 and 2016? Now you hear his voice and give it a second before lowering the volume …

The party he’s left on the ground seems to be trying to regain its equipoise. November’s results will speed the process. The GOP in Congress is a mixed bag. There are more than a handful in the House who try to out-Trump Mr. Trump, and they will no doubt continue to batter the party’s reputation. In the Senate only two members really try to out-Trump Mr. Trump, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

Peggy Noonan, Spare Us a Trump-Biden Rematch (emphasis added just because I think we all need to remember those things).

Natural Selection at work

The fates of Republicans and Democrats began to diverge markedly after the introduction of vaccines in April of 2021. Between March 2020 and March 2021, excess death rates for Republicans were 1.6 percentage points higher than for Democrats. After April 2021, the gap widened to 10.6 percentage points.

David French

It hadn’t occurred to me that stupidity about Covid vaccines could have measurable effects on mortality. And bear in mind that vaccine resistance is not universal among Republicans, so a relative handful of dummies is really paying a price for their mantra of “do your own research.”

A bright spot in Tampa Bay

After losing his wife to illness and later rediscovering joy, Frantz Laroche—an Uber driver in St. Petersburg, Florida—is on a mission to bring off-the-charts levels of holiday cheer to each ride, Gabrielle Calise reports for the Tampa Bay Times. “He wears a festive headband and a glowing string of Christmas lights around his neck,” Calise writes. “His sleigh is a black Honda Odyssey complete with glossy leather seats. Each person who enters it during the holiday season will be quizzed on classic Christmas music as they zip through the streets of St. Pete.” Laroche plans to keep driving for the rest of his life. “Because of politics, because people hurt each other for no reason, somebody’s got to drive his butt all over Florida to spread the positivity to others,” Laroche told Calise. “You are among 30,000 passengers I’ve entertained just to put a smile on their face. And I intend to entertain 30,000 more.”

TMD


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Monday, 12/19/22

How we differ from traditional cultures

Choose ye this day

You can believe exactly what people in 1450 believed, but you cannot believe it in the same way they believed it because you have a choice.

Paraphrase of Carl Trueman, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan

This is a modern conundrum. I can say “I had no choice but to become Orthodox when I saw and learned what I did,” but of course I did have a choice. Choosing has been unavoidable for centuries now — at least in upper strata in Western Christendom (perhaps it’s one of those proverbial “first-world problems”).

Choosing to change religion is not even a costly choice here as it is still elsewhere in the world. Yet there is a toll to be paid, coming from banks of integrity, for not choosing what overwhelmingly commends itself.

(Sullivan/Trueman was a great interview, by the way, between very smart Oxbridge men with significant differences of opinion but an ability to converse civilly. Go thou and do likewise.)

East and West

Further:

To say that Orthodoxy is “Eastern” and that Catholic and Protestant Christianity are “Western” is not a poetic description or a mere matter of geography. The terms have long been employed to indicate real differences in historical experiences and thought—not simply the final conclusions but the process by which we arrive at those conclusions.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox. I do not have, even by inheritance, the historical experience of the Eastern Church. My heritage is Western. So while I believe and practice Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot believe and practice it in quite the way a devout “cradle Orthodox” would.

I like to think that converts like me bring something of value nonetheless, particularly where the faith may have tended toward a complacent cultural club or, as in my parish, where no single cultural group of Orthodox Christians coalesced to to support a church, and converts both added numbers and served as a catalyst for a new, more American (i.e., “pan-Orthodox”) parish. That my parish is in the relatively obscure Carpatho-Rusyn diocese may make it easier to avoid an ethnic identification — as in when people ask whether my Orthodoxy is Greek or Russian.

Traditional civilizations

In a traditional civilization it is almost inconceivable that a man should claim an idea as his own; and in any case, were he to do so, he would thereby deprive it of all credit and authority, reducing it to the level of a meaningless fantasy: if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it; if it is false, there is no credit in having invented it.

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

Culture generally

Journalistic murmurations

I’ve heard, and find it plausible, that the New York Times tacitly decides what’s “news” worthy of mainstream attention.

I’m starting to think there is some similar organ on the Christian and Christianish Right, because (for instance) all of a sudden “everyone” (i.e., many on the Christian Right, from which orientation I gain much daily commentary — this, for instance) is writing about MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, as implemented in Canada and increasingly “recommended” in heavy-handed ways.

It’s a worthwhile story, but I don’t think you’ll see it in the New York Times. It may have started with advance copies of The New Atlantis.

It occurs to me that this phenomenon is rather like a murmuration. (I hope that apt metaphor is original. I certainly am not conscious of having encountered it elsewhere.)

The Promise of Pluralism imperiled

In the seven years since Obergefell was decided, the American left has been on a mission to diminish the legal and practical foundations of the Constitution’s free-speech rights.

They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be recognized as more important and that the Supreme Court in Ms. Smith’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, should affirm this new reality. Colorado’s law lists the classes of discrimination as “race, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), national origin/ancestry, creed, marital status.”

This Supreme Court is likely to decide in Ms. Smith’s favor, maintaining the prohibition established in 1943 by Justice Robert Jackson as the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” that the government can’t compel, or coerce, an individual to adopt the majority’s opinion.

Still, this case is among the reasons you have been seeing a public assault on the high court’s conservative members. The left’s playbook, across politics, is to stigmatize its opposition as outside acceptable opinion.

Daniel Henninger, They Want to Shut You (and 303 Creative) Up.

I’ll be blunt: I think free speech rights trump antidiscrimination rights. The only issue is whether what the state is forbidding or commanding qualifies as “speech.” In the 303 Creative case, it so clearly was speech that Colorado admitted it.

Western Civ

The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac.

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

Your periodic reminder

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

Questioning whether violence really is religious risks the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I’ve believed that violence doesn’t come from true Christianity for more than 50 years. I probably was guilty of scripture-twisting, but I cited James 4:1-4 as my prooftext.

My conviction, and the bloody wars provoked by non-Christian ideologies in the last century, gives me cause for grave concern as we arguably are abandoning a real, if flawed, Christian heritage now that our great atheist enemy is defunct.

Politics (sigh!)

Marshall Law

Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress ….

Kevin D. Williamson

Ron DeSantis

I want two things out of the 2024 presidential cycle. One is the end of Donald Trump’s political career, whether in the primary or general election. I don’t care when or how it happens as long as it happens.

The other is a greater willingness among conservatives to criticize their leadership. We’ve spent seven years encased in a repulsive personality cult devoted to a repulsive personality. If the cult disbands in the next election, one obvious lesson in the aftermath is that it shouldn’t be replaced by a new one.

Nick Cattogio

Cattogio thinks the best way to end Trump’s political career is an incumbent Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (you may have heard of him).

I’m agnostic on what it will take to drive a stake through Trump’s blackened heart, but I’m tending negative on DeSantis.

He’s smart enough to know that some of the culture war laws he has backed are unconstitutional, but backed them anyway despite his oath to uphold the constitution. Maybe the Morning Dispatch’s satirical summary of the Bill of Rights is his for real:

On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

That’s not my view of the Bill of Rights.

I can forgive Marjorie Taylor Green her illiterate outbursts before I forgive the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron DeSantis. All of them are better-educated and probably smarter than me, but they tend toward unprincipled pandering and willing to subvert the Constitution for political gain. For all I know, DeSantis seems better than the other two only because I’m less familiar with him.

The Coverup is the Crime

Remember that dad who got dragged out of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, after pressing school officials about in-school sexual assaults on girls by a cross-dressing boy? The idea of the problem being the dad fit a leftish narrative so well that Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate threats against teachers and school officials and people began viewing vocal parental involvement in Board meetings as terroristic.

Well, it turns out the dad may have been right and that school officials were criminally covering up the assaults.

Caveat: There are twists and turns in this story. The charges are mostly misdemeanors and potentially somewhat political. I doubt that the dust has settled enough for clarity. It’s now well-known that a cross-dressing male sexually assaulted two girls in two bathrooms, but those bathrooms apparently were not yet subject to a “come as the gender you feel today” policy.

Let the healing begin

Republicans actually turned out more voters than Democrats in November. They even won the national popular vote. But in races involving Trump’s candidates, many Republican voters split their tickets, punishing Trump favorites like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake who questioned the 2020 results. It turns out that running against democracy is not a recipe for democratic success.

It’s sobering to realize that history can turn on the personal quirks of one person. But it’s also comforting, because as the 2022 midterm results suggest, some of the ugliest aspects of the Trump era aren’t inherent to our system or deeply embedded in our society. They are the downstream effects of one bad actor. Remove him and the pollution he caused will remain, but once disconnected from its source, it can slowly be cleansed, as we saw in this past election.

Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl. The idea of a “national popular vote” in Congressional and Senate elections is quite bogus for most purposes, but it somehow feels instructive here.

Hard fact

You can’t fact-check a person out of hope and purpose. They’ll resent you even if you’re right.

David French

Just for fun

France can still pull it off if Mike Pence has the courage

@EricMGarcia


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 11/17/22

Embodied Perception

To emphasize the role that our bodies play in determining how we inhabit and therefore perceive the world, and to entertain the notion of cognitive extension, is to put oneself on a collision course with the central tenets of the official anthropology of the West. As we have already noted, embodied perception poses a direct challenge to the idea that representation is the fundamental mental process by which we apprehend the world.

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

I think Crawford calls this “the official anthropology of the West” because of our fetish that everyone must go to college to encounter more representations of the world, less actual world.

Long-term readers may justly suspect that, in my behavior, I am slave to this official anthropology. I tend to prefer reading to getting up and going for a walk or making something with my hands.

An opportunity, not a death knell

Let’s start with what the pro-life pessimists get right. Tuesday’s results confirm the anti-abortion movement’s fundamental disadvantages: While Americans are conflicted about abortion, a majority is more pro-choice than pro-life, the pro-choice side owns almost all the important cultural megaphones, and voters generally dislike sudden unsettlements of social issues.

You can strategize around these problems to some extent, contrasting incremental protections for the unborn with the left’s pro-choice absolutism. But when you’re the side seeking a change in settled arrangements, voters may still choose the absolutism they know over the uncertainty of where pro-life zeal might take them.

However, when abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot, many of those same voters showed no inclination to punish politicians who backed abortion restrictions. Any pro-choice swing to the Democrats was probably a matter of a couple of points in the overall vote for the House of Representatives; meanwhile, Republican governors who signed “heartbeat” legislation in Texas, Georgia and Ohio easily won re-election, and there was no dramatic backlash in red states that now restrict abortion.

In other words, Republicans in 2022 traded a larger margin in the House and maybe a Senate seat or two for a generational goal, the end of Roe v. Wade. And more than that, they demonstrated that many voters who might vote pro-choice on an up-down ballot will also accept, for the time being, pro-life legislation in their states.

For a movement that’s clearly a moral minority, that’s an opportunity, not a death knell ….

Ross Douthat

FTX

I have generally avoided getting into discussions about cryptocurrencies, because I am a perennial late-adopter who never understands how the big new thing is supposed to work or why anyone would even be interested in it. Aware of that bias, the fact that crypto always struck me as an elaborate Ponzi scheme wasn’t quite enough for me to be sure that it was an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Besides, even if I was sure, that wouldn’t be reason enough to confidently predict collapse; flim-flam operations sometimes get bought by companies with real businesses—or may even monetize their hype into real currency that they use to buy real companies—and thereby achieve something like an enduring presence in the business landscape that they might not have been able to achieve on their own merits.

So what interests me primarily about the collapse of FTX is this business could ever have been idealized. The premise behind FTX is that, even though nobody is totally sure what crypto is ultimately good for, people love to trade it, and to concoct ever more elaborate schemes for leveraging waves of investor enthusiasm.

Noah Millman

Priorities

My wife and I had a conversation one day with a pleasant couple who were much younger, and much more prosperous, than we were.  Husband and wife were both high-dollar attorneys.  She expressed strong frustration because the kids were in day care, but she wanted to stay with them herself.  “Why don’t you?” we asked.  They answered that they had expenses.  “Like what?” we asked.  Well, they had to keep up the payments on their big, expensive boat and their big, expensive house on the lake.

The difference between her facial expression and his were intriguing.  She became nervous.  He became alarmed.  There was some history here, and he didn’t want his wife going down this road.  She didn’t want to displease him.  We changed the subject.

To one degree or another, almost all husbands and wives divide labor, and they are generally happier doing so.  Obviously, not all women desire an exclusively domestic life, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But there is a great deal wrong with the fact that we force women to act against their domestic inclinations for reasons that have nothing to do with their fulfillment.  We call it being liberated, but it is really about serving the interests of men — and economic managers.

J Budziszewski I have seen another variation on this: high-earners who “can’t afford” to pay the tuition they agreed for private Christian education.

Letting the cat out of the bag

It is important that we start on time. We are training our children for the work force.

Remark from the school on a first-grader’s report card, via Jonathan Malesic, When Work and Meaning Part Ways

There’s another cat in the bag, too. We’re training our children in a second role of consumers. A hyperbolic account:

[S]trange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. It’s madness. Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

This is one of the reasons I think Huxley far surpasses Orwell as a prophet of dystopia (although I’m pretty sure I had no opinion either way before the year 1984.)

Things they told you that weren’t, now that you think about it, true.

On a note related to the preceding item, this:

The transformation of work into a spiritual enterprise, the site of our highest aspirations—to transcend ourselves, to encounter a higher reality, to serve others—is the work ethic’s cruelest unfulfilled promise.

Jonathan Malesic, When Work and Meaning Part Ways

Speaking of truth, the Wall Street Journal’s Pepper & Salt cartoon is one of few cartoons I view regularly. Wednesday’s gave me a rueful chuckle:

Guilty and unashamed

Caffeine is so widely used and normalised that we don’t think of it as a drug or notice how it alters our minds. Research into its effects is often hampered by the difficulty of finding people who aren’t already dependent on it.

Sophie McBain, The psychoactive plants that change our consciousness, reviewing Michael Pollan, This is Your Mind on Plants.

A Hoosier teetotaler on the Isle of Islay

I opened my first-ever bottle of Laphroaig, “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies,” Monday night, as nightcap and to usher in the Nativity Fast that began Tuesday (a sort of personal “fat Monday”).

Wow! Now I think I know what Cutty Sark was trying to do when it produced a liquor that tasted like Listerine. In fact, that’s what the smell of Laphroaig reminded me of. Mercifully, the taste is not Cutty Sark.

Laphroaig is to every other scotch I’ve had as Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA is to Bud Light. It’s more — much more — but not just more. It’s different, too. From the label, that difference may be peat and smoke, but I’m forever hearing scotch afficianados talk about “peatiness,” so maybe I’m way off base. My palate and liquor vocabulary reflect my teetotaler roots.

Truth be told, I’m not sure how well I really like it. I’m not exactly alone. It was a shock. But I’ll know by the end of the bottle in a few months.

My last two items are about someone I hate even to name. Skip them if you like.

Trumpism without Trump?

Trumpism can survive without Mr. Trump.

Peter Wehner, Never-Trumper from the early days.

Isolating this phrase, I could hope that we get “Trumpism without Trump,” but that totally depends what one means by that phrase.

I could, and probably would, endorse the GOP continuing toward making itself the party of working-class middle-Americans of all races. Highlighting their plight is one of the (few, but consequential) good things Trump did.

Wehner, though, means by “Trumpism without Trump” a GOP that is malicious, dishonest and destructive. No thanks.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

It’s about time

Jonathan H. Adler, Trump Lawyers Sanctioned for Frivolous Lawsuit Against Political Opponents

There’s apparently no deterring Trump, but maybe his legal prostitutes (that’s what I consider lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits just because a client is willing to pay them to do so) can be deterred.

Election Day 2022

I’m going to post this Monday evening though some of it is Tuesday-oriented and some (I am included) have already voted, because much if it is relevant to the impending election.

Election 2022

Worrisome

I’m old enough to remember the Beatles appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and I can’t remember an election in which so many political newcomers had a serious shot at taking out established politicians of the opposite party.

Here’s the short list among the Senate races: J.D. Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Joe O’Dea in Colorado and Tiffany Smiley in Washington. They are, respectively, a venture capitalist/author, an ex-football star, a doctor/television celebrity, another venture capitalist, a retired Army general, a construction company CEO and a nurse. They’re all complete outsiders with no political experience. Their Democratic opponents, except for Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, on the other hand are all incumbent senators or representatives. Even so, Mr. Fetterman is no rookie, having served as a small-town mayor before becoming lieutenant governor.

Gregg Opelka, GOP Outsiders Dominate the 2022 Midterms

Not just difference, but menace.

Americans are sorting themselves out by education into two roughly equal camps. As people without a college degree have flocked to the G.O.P., people with one have flocked to the Democrats.

“If Democrats can’t win in Nevada,” one Democratic pollster told Politico, “we can complain about the white working class all you want, but we’re really confronting a much broader working-class problem.” Even Black voters without a college degree seem to be shifting away from the Democrats, to some degree.

Back in those days I didn’t find a lot of class-war consciousness in my trips through red America. I compared the country to a high school cafeteria. Jocks over here, nerds over there, punks somewhere else. Live and let live.

Now people don’t just see difference, they see menace. People have put up barricades and perceive the other class as a threat to what is beautiful, true and good. I don’t completely understand why this animosity has risen over the past couple of decades, but it makes it very hard to shift the ever more entrenched socio-economic-cultural-political coalitions.

Historians used to believe that while European societies were burdened by ferocious class antagonisms, Americans had relatively little class consciousness. That has changed.

David Brooks, Why Aren’t the Democrats Trouncing the Republicans?.

I find myself in the odd position of fitting the Democrat college-educated, sushi-eating, jazz-listening, foreign-traveling profile, but rejecting both major parties ideologically. This goes back to 2005, as I’ve said before.

What has changed for me since the 2016 election is that I think I’ve apprehended the new Republican zeitgeist, so that the 2016 election of Trump no longer baffles me nearly so much.

This doesn’t mean that all is normal, all is well. The press won’t let us forget that a great many 2022 Republican candidates are unqualified and/or conscious liars about the 2020 election, but the Democrats have a good share of odd-balls, too.

It’s a very unhealthy polarization, elimination of which I’m inclined to effectuate through ranked-choice voting until I hear a better idea.

Is Democracy on the Ballot?

Sure, Americans like to complain about democracy, but they don’t want to get rid of it. Indeed, besides a handful of fringe dorks and radical fantasists, there is literally no significant constituency on the American right or left for getting rid of democracy. There are significant constituencies for bending the rules, working the refs, even rigging the system, and these constituencies should be fought relentlessly. But while often in error, most of these people believe they are on the side of democracy. The people who wildly exaggerate both voter suppression and voter fraud believe what they’re saying. They’re just wrong.

I take a backseat to no one in my contempt for both the grifters and sincere hysterics on the right who take things like Dinesh D’Souza’s 2000 Mules seriously. But even Dinesh’s carefully crafted crackpottery works on the assumption that democracy is good. Even putsch-peddlers like Michael Flynn argued for rerunning the election, because in America we believe that elections confer legitimacy for elected positions.

For all of Donald Trump’s lies about the election being stolen, his mendacious vice pays tribute to the virtue of democracy. He wants people to believe he actually won. His whole bogus pitch is premised on the idea that democracy should be restored.

Now, I should be clear. I don’t think Donald Trump gives a damn about democracy, but he knows deep in his condo salesman brain that the American people do. His attitude toward democracy is indistinguishable from his attitude toward golf and business—he sees nothing wrong with cheating, but he also wants people to believe he won fair and square.

Cheating is terrible. But there’s a difference between stealing a couple bills from the bank when playing Monopoly and saying, “Screw this game, it’s corrupt. I choose Stratego!”

Jonah Goldberg

The GOP as hostage crisis

The conservative world is, right now, largely split between two camps: the Republican establishment and the MAGA populists. Traditional Republicans still understand the importance of character, at least to some extent. Indeed many of them were proud of a perceived contrast between the Bill Clinton–led Democratic Party and a Republican Party that (once) remembered when character was king.

But now, as my Dispatch colleague Nick Catoggio writes, “The modern Republican Party is essentially a hostage crisis in which each wing could kill the party by bolting the coalition but only one wing is willing to do it and both sides know it.” The MAGA wing will stay home if its demands aren’t met. The establishment, by contrast, dutifully marches to the polls, no matter who has the “R” by their name.

David French

Politics generally

Equivalencies can be true

I find that often the equivalence is not quite as false as individuals like to think that it is. For example, we hear claims that Republicans do not support democratic norms. If someone mentions Abrams as a counter-example then one would be hit with the false equivalency charge. But a recent poll shows that resistance to democratic norms among Democrats is not less common than it is for Republicans …

Many commenters on the left state that politically inspired violence is a problem on the right. Pointing out the attack on Scalise only gets you an accusation of false equivalency. Yet this same poll tells a different story. Democrats are more supportive of politically inspired protesting without a permit (36.6% to 31.6%), vandalism (8.1% to 3.6%), assault (3.5% to 1.1%) arson (2.1% to .9%), assault with a deadly weapon (2.1% to .8%) and murder (1.6% to .1%) than Republicans. It is easy to make the case that attitudes supportive of political violence are much more of a problem on the left than on the right.

But let’s admit that there are times when conservatives are more in the wrong than progressives. Is that still justification to run behind a false equivalency argument to ignore the sins on the left? It is not. A society where men are allowed to hit their wives is better than a society where men are allowed to kill their wives. However, they should not hide behind arguments of false equivalency to avoid the obvious problem that they should not be hitting their wives.

George Yancey, The Problem with False Equivalency Claims

The de-Baathification of the GOP

[H]ere’s the thing for Democrats: There will be no de-Baathification of the Republican Party.

The “reckoning” for which many Democrats and some Republicans have yearned for years—the one in which Trump is ruined and all of the toadies who drooled on his golf shoes will either also be ruined or forced to come begging for forgiveness—is not to be. That’s not to say that Trump might not one day be ruined or that many who once sported red hats with pride will quietly abjure their MAGA membership. It’s just that these things don’t happen all at once.

Almost half of the Republicans in the Senate voted against censuring Sen. Joe McCarthy in 1954 after the Wisconsin red baiter drove one of his fellow senators to suicide with blackmail over the senator’s son’s homosexuality. Out of 206 Democrats in the House in 1998, only five could bring themselves to vote to impeach Bill Clinton for lying and obstructing justice to conceal his assignations with a 21-year-old White House intern, offenses he had obviously committed. It took decades in both cases for the parties to come to terms with what partisanship had blinded them to.

If the GOP ever comes back to being interested in governing again, it will come a little bit at a time.

Chris Stirewalt, Dems Face a Test After Tuesday

The wrongness of Roe

If Dobbs has shown us anything, it is the limited usefulness of constitutional theory to the pro-life movement. The future of the cause will require sustained engagement with the questions of biology and metaphysics upon which the anti-abortion position has always depended, questions that lie outside politics in the conventional sense of the word. Legal thinking is by nature unsuited for such efforts — and perhaps even corrosive to them.

Matthew Walther in the New York Times

As an attorney (albeit retired), I will not apologize for long considering the reversal of Roe v. Wade a good to be sought in and of itself, regardless of what state legislatures subsequently would do on the topic of abortion. In this, I’m not so much arguing with Walther as pointing out that there is more than one perspective on the wrongness of Roe.

Claremont Institute’s diagnosis

I listened recently to an episode of the podcast Know Your Enemy, a couple of articulate young lefties putting American conservatism under the microscope, and I think they helped me figure out what the heck has gone wrong with the Claremont Institute.

The Claremont Institute is broadly “Straussian,” but its “West Coast Straussianism” differs from “East Coast Straussianism.” One way it differs is its valorization of Thumos. That may at least partially explain grotesqueries like Michael Anton’s 2016 Flight 93 Election and Claremont’s continuing favorable orientation toward Orange Man.

Twitter

This is Marx on Twitter. Any questions?

Twitter used to be owned by someone from a particular economic class, and should [Elon] Musk get tired of his new toy he’ll sell it to people from that same class. What I’m complaining about in the essay is not that Musk is being criticized but rather that the criticism leaves off the hook the rest of the ownership class that previously owned Twitter, such as the Saudis. (That is, an autocratic theocracy that beheads people for being gay.) The basic contention of the essay is that Marxist class analysis teaches us that the ownership class as a class is our enemy, and that moralizing about individual members of that ownership class is not a Marxist project. That he is the world’s wealthiest person does little to distinguish himself from the rest of the ownership class, and nothing to change the basic class analysis; he’s no better but not particularly any worse.

Freddie deBoer

On leaving Twitter

While a denizen of Twitter, I prided myself on never having retweeted that picture of the shark swimming down the street during a hurricane, or, for the most part, any of its text equivalents. I don’t think my own mind ever got poisoned, in other words, but I did see minds poisoned. (‘Who goes redpill?’ is an article I would like to read someday.) The thing is that on Twitter there’s always a hurricane, and a shark is always swimming toward you through its chum-filled waters. Repeatedly batting it on the nose takes effort, and is that how you want to spend your one and only life?

Caleb Crain via Alan Jacobs

Culture

How we think

[P]erceptual and pictorial shapes are not only translations of thought products but the very flesh and blood of thinking itself.

Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking, via Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

The delusions delivered by ideologies

[A]ll ideologies seek to do the impossible. Which is to contain the uncontainable cosmos in rational, propositional thought in order to fix it …

The theoretical models we create can never—will never— actually match the unspeakable and unsayable fullness of reality, no matter how powerful our computers become, or thorough our thinking. The map can never be the territory—it is as simple as that. This is even more true with those aspects of reality that actually matter, that actually means something to us, e.g., Love, Meaning, Beauty, God, etc. Instead, this impulse focuses on simple systems it can somewhat model and reduces everything to that. Yet this simple-minded approach is what humans have been trying to do for some 500 years or more. It has in some ways worked wonders, but in those wonders, it has created disasters—disasters both psychological, political, and ecological.

This habit of control is built into the way we have been taught to think, be and move into the institutions that are supposedly charged with our well-being. As this becomes clearer, however murky, we try to hide from it2. Since this reductive/abstracted way of relating to the world is what we know because it is what we have been taught, the more we seek to swerve from the catastrophe the more we steer into. We are trying to solve the problem by the same means that got us into it in the first place. Even those who see the problem most clearly are hardly immune from this blindness. To engage with reality differently is now a struggle against ourselves, given the current state of affairs. We need to start from a very different kind of beginning.

Jack Leahy, Where Two or Three are Gathered: On the 12-Steps and Forming Anarcho-Contemplative Community

Or more succinctly:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Saturday, 10/1/22

Cursing Darkness

Drink ‘till he’s cute

Purdue University recently was found liable for retaliation against a co-ed for her 2017 complaint that a fraternity member had sex with her without her consent because she was too intoxicated to give real consent. The two female administrators involved remain in their offices with Purdue’s backing (Purdue thinks the jury blew it), and, of course, protests ensued.

Here’s what Purdue had to say about it:

We appreciate our students and their passion on this truly important issue. But we believe, because of the evidence presented, that this is not the correct case to use in advocating for it. This was a very rare case of discipline for making false statements in a sexual assault report. The undisputed facts overwhelmingly established that Roe chose the sexual encounter she later labeled a sexual assault. …

The jury, which in part exonerated university administrators, ruled on the narrow issue of whether Purdue, having conducted a thorough investigation, appropriately disciplined Roe based on its finding of false charges.

Purdue’s position in these matters has long been clear: we will not tolerate sexual harassment in any form, including and especially sexual violence. But neither will we tolerate lying or making false accusations that can have lifelong consequences.

As for our two outstanding administrators, Dr. Katie Sermersheim and Alysa Rollock, we absolutely stand behind them, and any suggestion that they resign is out of the question.

Based in Lafayette.

Here’s a representative protester:

“When you listen to campus tour guides walk by, what do you hear parents ask: ‘Is this campus safe? Can my daughter walk home at night?’” Grace Gochnauer, a Purdue junior, said. “If I was the tour guide, my answer would be no.”

Purdue isn’t Mayberry RFD, but it has no particular problem with stranger rape of co-eds walking home at night. You know what you don’t hear parents ask? “Can my daughter get willingly get blackout drunk at a party, have sex with her apparently enthusiastic consent, and then get a pound of flesh when she regrets it later?”

I once stayed in a girl’s dormitory when on campus for a summer recording session. When I turned out the lights at bedtime, I saw a glowing message on the wall, painted cunningly so it only showed up in the dark: “Drink ‘till he’s cute.” Read between those lines. A frat boy’s equivalent could be “Drink ‘till you’re irresistible.”

I wish Purdue hadn’t found it necessary to ignore the elephant in the room. Call me santimonious, but if campuses could stop binge-drinking, they’d stop maybe 95% of problematic sexual intercourse. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s unrepentant history of binge-drinking, even when under legal age, was a big reason that I thought the first allegation against him might be true — and why I remain agnostic about it still.

David French never said that!

Jake Meador, one of the good guys, writes about Alternatives to Culture War, but credulously alludes to a slander leveled against David French by tribalist culture warriors.

The slander, widely spread (and here and here ad infinitum), is that French thinks Drag Queen Story Hours are a “blessing of liberty.” Here’s Meador:

It was easier to be anti-culture war when our country still knew what marriage was and what men and women are. But as the SOGI landscape has shifted, culture war has started to look like a viable strategy, especially if the alternative is talking about drag queen story hour as a “blessing of liberty.”

The slander is so prevalent that searching “David French drag queen blessing of liberty” returned, for me at least, six or eight of the lies before it gave one link to the truth. What David French called a blessing of liberty was the absence of viewpoint discrimination in public spaces:

My position was simple — I don’t like drag queen reading hours, but I also want to preserve for all Americans the First Amendment-protected right of viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities when those facilities are opened up for public use. I don’t want the government dispensing access on the basis of its preferred messages or its preferred speakers. Handle bad speech with better speech. Counter bad speakers in the marketplace of ideas, not through the heavy hand of government censorship.

… Our present regime that broadly protects viewpoint neutrality in access to public facilities is the hard-won result of decades of litigation from free speech and religious liberty advocates, and it represents both a public good in its own right and a practical blessing for millions of American Christians. As our government continues to grow — including by creating an immense number of public facilities — it is quite simply just that taxpayers are able to have equal access to the facilities they paid to create.

Viewpoint Neutrality Protects Both Drag Queens and Millions of American Christians | National Review.

Anyone who won’t pause their Jihad long enough to notice the difference between “Drag Queen Story Hour is a blessing of liberty” and “viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities” is a blessing of liberty should stay home and shut up.

And if that’s culture war, so be it.

I’ve certainly flirted with the idea that liberalism has failed, and it’s therefore (almost by definition) time for some kind of post-liberalism. But I’ve yet to find any strange post-liberal devil I prefer to the liberal devils I already know. For that reason, I’m particularly keen to defend right-liberal David French from tendentious slanders by any and all far-right liars.

Conservatisms

If these populist, corporatist, nationalist, ultramontane, oh-so-European ideas succeed in replacing conservatism as we once knew it, they will be called conservatism. But as Friedrich Hayek argued, this conservatism will be “Old World conservatism,” because the conservative in America is necessarily a defender of the liberal tradition of the founding.

[T]he Heritage Foundation is, by any sane reckoning, an elite institution and it admits as much to donors. Second, this us-vs.-them framing implies that the “everyday people” of Italy have more in common with the “everyday people” of America, which is 31 flavors of nonsense for all sorts of reasons, not least that Italians aren’t Americans. Conservatives used to understand that the old Marxist idea that members of the working class were united against the ruling class regardless of nationality—“Workers of the world unite!”—was folly. But now, “Everyday people of the world unite!” is the rallying cry of a leading conservative think tank?

Now, I can’t put “conservative” in scare quotes the way I’d like to, because I think Heritage can still claim to be conservative. But let’s have no illusions: It’s not the same kind of conservative it used to be. Heritage used to champion American exceptionalism with gusto. As Heritage co-founder and longtime president Ed Feulner put it, “And while, in the heat of political battle, we naturally focus on the differences between liberals and conservatives, and their contrasting visions of our country’s future, it is important to remember that regardless of party or political philosophy, we are Americans, we love our country — and we are patriots.” In 2019, Heritage even founded the Feulner Institute for American Exceptionalism, which seems to have had as much impact as the Goldberg Institute for Healthy Living—neither organization even has a website.

Jonah Goldberg, Slouching Towards the Old World

Gotta stay in the limelight, no matter what

[P]erhaps the most revealing aspect of the book, to be published next week, is that Trump gave Maggie [Haberman], a Times reporter since 2015, three interviews for it. This is the same Trump who vilified her on Twitter, called her names and cast her as the personification of “fake news.” Maggie just pressed on, asking the right questions, getting the right people to answer them and seemingly trusting on some level that Trump would never wholly cut her off. She can recognize a performance when she sees one. And she can hear in a narcissist’s self-regarding soliloquies the aching need to babble on.

… Maggie (a friend of mine) and the other journalists whom he publicly insulted but privately indulged were, to him, reserves of precious attention, their discerning gazes trained on him, their busy thoughts dedicated to the puzzle of him, their notepads and audio recordings and television cameras a conduit to ever greater fame. There was danger in letting them in, peril in having them around, but the alternative was worse. They might give prime real estate on the evening’s newscast to some other circus act. They might write books about a lesser clown.

Frank Bruni, Donald can’t quit Maggie.

Lighting Candles

Journalistic bias, journalistic power

[T]he classic critique from the Right about [news] bias and the new critique from the Left about false equivalency often strike me as frivolous. They can often make sense on some particular item — Ouch, gotta admit, that’s a pretty good point — but cumulatively seem to miss the important point.

That point, in my view, is that the power of journalism does not principally flow from word choice. (Don’t call it a “misstatement” when it’s really a “lie.”) It does not flow from tonal presentation. (More than a half-century ago Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, said network commentators revealed their bias “by the expressions on their faces, the tone of their questions, the sarcasm of their responses.”) The point is that the power of journalism comes from the primacy of reporting — from telling their audiences things that people in power would prefer they not know.

John F. Harris, The Reporters Who Proved That Journalism Is More Powerful Than Trump

Emotional Safetyism

By the mid-1990s, the doctrine was being used to sue an employer who printed a Bible verse on paychecks (which a court found to be religious harassment of non-Christians). A university forced a graduate student to remove a photo of his bikini-clad wife from his desk, because someone filed a harassment complaint. A library worker was forced to remove a New Yorker cartoon from his work area after coworkers said it harassed them. The town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, removed a painting from a public exhibit in City Hall after a city employee filed a hostile-environment complaint about it. Those incidents and others like them should have been seen as flashing red lights, but weren’t.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge, on “emotional safetyism.”

Gestalt switch

[A]s we have already seen, normal science ultimately leads only to the recognition of anomalies and to crises. And these are terminated, not by deliberation and interpretation, but by a relatively sudden and unstructured event like the gestalt switch.

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutons

Counting one’s privilege

I highly recommend this Outliers, Revisited episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I won’t ruin it for you except that it involves a 40-30-20-10 “rule” that holds true in way too many fields.

Election Prep

Now might be a good time to refresh your memory on whether your congressperson, on January 6, 2021, voted for the United States of America or voted for the “Oathkeepers” and other insurrectionists. My congressman, normally a cipher, voted with the insurrectionists.

Gathering flowers

Bloggers and writers

I’m a blogger. Bloggers have different talents than writers.

We value writers for their prose and their insight. We value bloggers for their speed, their efficiency at curating news, and their ability to formulate strong political opinions—“takes,” we might more aptly call them—about literally anything that might turn up on the Drudge Report or in the average news junkie’s Twitter timeline.

Nick Catoggio at the Dispatch.

Quoted with approval.

The production of “childhood”

If there were no age-specific and obligatory learning institution, “childhood” would go out of production. The youth of rich nations would be liberated from its destructiveness, and poor nations would cease attempting to rival the childishness of the rich.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 9/8/22

Culture

Bravery

“Many people praised me for my bravery for having done this — to which I could only say: Millions of people do this kind of work every day for their entire lives — haven’t you noticed them?” she said in 2018 in an acceptance speech after receiving the Erasmus Prize, given to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts.

From the New York Times obituary for Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich went “underground,” trying to live on various minimum wage jobs.

I’m sure I read some of her journalistic writing, and even looked forward to the byline as a harbinger of good writing, but I apparently missed how well-regarded she really was.

Conservative academia

Do ten conservative American academics even exist? (Try naming ten outside of Hillsdale College. I’ll go: Harvey Mansfield, Niall Ferguson, Ruth Wisse, Robby George. Struggling to come up with a fifth without Google.) Then again, we wouldn’t know because they are closeted.

Bari Weiss, Dissidents and Doublethinkers in our Democracy

Too stupid for ranked-choice voting?

It seems to me that Damon Linker is arguing “America is too paranoid and too stupid for ranked-choice voting.”

I agree, though, that it’s not likely to prove a panacea.

Todd Rokita does something right for a change

In a stunning development, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has done something necessary and with minimal fanfare:

Nineteen state attorneys general wrote a letter last month to BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink. They warned that BlackRock’s environmental, social and governance investment policies appear to involve “rampant violations” of the sole interest rule, a well-established legal principle. The sole interest rule requires investment fiduciaries to act to maximize financial returns, not to promote social or political objectives. Last week Attorneys General Jeff Landry and Todd Rokita of Louisiana and Indiana, respectively, went further. Each issued a letter warning his state pension board that ESG investing is likely a violation of fiduciary duty.

ESG Can’t Square With Fiduciary Duty

I am inclined to think that these (presumably Republican) Attorneys General are “on the wrong side of history.” I think the sole interest rule will fall because it ignores corporate externalities.

Think of it this way: would an institutional investor before the Clean Water Act have been morally justified in avoiding companies that used streams and rivers as a dumping ground for toxic byproducts? But it would have been unlawful under the sole interest rule.

Now draw analogies.

But meanwhile, we don’t elect attorneys general to be on the right side of history. We elect them to enforce the laws as they are.

A question not worth researching

Cable news is for idiots, so I’m not going to subject myself to hours and hours of watching it to evaluate whether the average political positioning of a CNN guest has changed. But I think the circulation of the particular Francesca Chambers clip you cite as supposed evidence of a Trumpy shift at CNN is weaksauce — and boy have I been seeing a lot of apoplectic liberals share it on Twitter. (Jesus, people, will you get a hobby already?)

Chambers, who covers the White House for USA Today, has been a fixture on cable news for years, not just on CNN but also on MSNBC and Fox News. That she made an inane jump to “optics” when asked about Trump bringing the aunt of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli on stage at a Pennsylvania rally — Hale-Cusanelli is the January 6 riot convict who praised Hitler and posed with a Hitler mustache (in order to be “ironic”, he says, of course) — does not say anything about CNN changing. It just reflects that cable news political panel discussions have always consisted of replacement-level-or-lower armchair political strategizing and posturing — there are hours and hours and hours of time to fill, and they have been filled with this crap my entire adult life. (By the way, Sara Fay and I wrote back in January about how to book an actually good political conversation panel, based on our experience at Left, Right & Center.)

Josh Barro

Politics

Metapolitics

The Right denies the reality of events, clueless to its eventual Emperor Has No Clothes moment. The Left, however, seeks to deny the very nature of humanity itself. Both worship at the same altar, but their beliefs are predicated upon differing hermeneutical approaches within the Cult of Progress. The former believes the fantasy of a technological harnessing of apparently limitless resources to produce an ever-expanding material prosperity, all without consequential damage to the society at large. The Left believes in the fantasy of a technological harnessing of the apparently limitless ability to refashion mankind itself, regardless of the demolition of existing societal structures, and again, all without serious consequences. This latter one, while indeed the more extreme, worries me the least, as it is the more difficult case to make—indeed, often farcical in its extremities—and seems likely to eventually collapse in upon itself. The former, however, I consider the more dangerous at this moment in history, as they appear fully ready and prepared to project and maintain their Will to Power. At these times, you cannot go wrong by referencing Shakespeare, “a plague of both your houses.”

Terry Cowan, Grand Delusions, Past and Present

Political promises then and now

It is, of course, true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do. Nothing ever does half the good—perhaps nothing ever does half the evil—which is expected of it. And that may be a sound argument for not pitching one’s propaganda too high. But it is no argument against war.

C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory

Our last Conservative President

When I hear politicians promising that we can have it all — particularly that our postwar “happy motoring” can continue forever, only electrified instead of gas-powered — I’m reminded that Jimmy Carter, who urged some voluntary austerity, was our last conservative President.

Election heuristics

Years ago my friend Bill, an Army officer and fellow grad student, hosted our department for a cookout. While everyone was happy to eat his food and drink his beer, most of our colleagues despised Bill’s beliefs. One of them—call her Jane—took Bill’s small children aside, taught them a left-wing chant, then led them, her eyes glittering with hateful glee, on a little protest march through the gathering. Ever since that day, I’ve found voting to be a snap. I simply identify the candidate most likely to embody Jane’s hopes for America, and I vote against that son of a bitch with everything I’ve got.

Tony Woodlief, The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium

That’s a pretty lousy heuristic, but a pretty good story.

Amtrack Joe’s Big Warning

Spare us the pieties while you knee-cap us, please

How can an American president go wrong in identifying threats to democracy? Biden offered a master class.

[I]n describing their goals, he cast a net so wide it included everyone from those who cheered the attack on the Capitol and the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to those who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage.

As categories go, this one is capacious.

It includes violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — as well as every faithful Catholic or evangelical Christian whose deeply held moral convictions bring them to oppose legalized abortion.

In other words, Biden claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them. That may resonate with partisan Democrats who have never seen a conservative they didn’t consider a bigot or a fool. But it gives the lie to the idea that dismantling MAGA Republicanism is the prime objective of the president or his party.

Bret Stephens, ‌With Malice Toward Quite a Few

I did not listen to the speech, but when someone as sober as Bret Stephens says Biden lumps together January 6 insurrectionists and faithful Catholics who vote Republican based on the abortion issue, I’ve got to think that’s a fair characterization.

And “devout Catholic” Biden invites just contempt for doing that.

Stephens again:

Is that smart as hardball politics? Maybe. But Biden could have spared us the pieties about timeless American values. As far as I can tell, he has yet to say a word in public against the [Democrat] ad buys [to elect MAGA candidates in GOP primaries], much less tried to stop them. Instead, his speech makes a neat bookend to a strategy of promoting MAGA extremists so they can be denounced as MAGA extremists. Some liberals took a similar approach in 2016, all but rooting for Trump to win the nomination on the theory that he’d be Hillary Clinton’s weakest opponent. Look how that worked out.

Dark Brandon

Surely it’s damning that what so many people seem to remember isn’t Mr. Biden’s message but the nakedly political use of the uniformed Marines behind him (calling Gen. Mark Milley)—and the neon illumination that made the stately face of Independence Hall look like the entrance to a bordello in some red-light district.

Even more striking was the tone. Gone was genial Joe from Scranton, the man who persuaded Americans that he would give them a calm and drama-free presidency. In its place was Dark Brandon, a superhero saving America from imaginary armies of fascism.

William McGurn, Biden is Angry, But Not Serious

Is his church the enemy?

Biden’s speech conflated the refusal to accept election outcomes with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — implying that the positions of his own Catholic Church are part of a “MAGA Republican” threat to democracy itself — while touting a State of the Union-style list of policy achievements, a cascade of liberal self-praise.

Ross Douthat, Does Biden Really Believe We Are in a Crisis of Democracy?

Realignment

Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.

Yuval Levin via Jason Willick

How small this narcissist is!

Yesterday, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump addressed a rally supposedly in support of Republican candidates in the state: Mehmet Oz for the Senate; the January 6 apologist Doug Mastriano for governor … [T]his was what led local news: “Donald Trump Blasts Philadelphia, President Biden During Rally for Doug Mastriano, Dr. Oz in Wilkes-Barre.”

Yes, you read that right: Campaigning in Pennsylvania, the ex-president denounced the state’s largest city …

The rally format allowed time for only brief remarks by the two candidates actually on the ballot, Oz and Mastriano. Its message was otherwise all Trump, Trump, Trump. A Republican vote is a Trump vote. A Republican vote is a vote to endorse lies about the 2020 presidential election.

On and on it went, in a protracted display of narcissistic injury that was exactly the behavior that Biden’s Philadelphia speech had been designed to elicit.

David Frum, Biden Laid the Trap. Trump Walked Into It.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Indiction 2022

Culture

A “culture of disrespect” and its primary vector

“We now have very good research comparing American kids who speak English at home to immigrant kids who don’t speak English at home,” he said. “American kids who speak English at home are much more likely to be anxious, depressed, disengaged, and experienced non-suicidal self-injury compared to kids who don’t speak English at home, using speaking English at home as a proxy for engagement with American culture.” When he advises immigrant families in the United States, he tells them not to speak English at home.

“Being American-born and raised to American parents is now a major risk factor for bad outcomes,” Dr. Sax said. “Being American-born and raised to American parents is a major risk factor for anxiety, depression, disengagement from school non-suicidal self-injury and many other bad outcomes, being children of immigrants and not speaking English at home now predicts good outcomes.”

America has become a “culture of disrespect” and English, a primary vector. Every cultural medium—your kid’s favorite webisodes on YouTube or Disney Plus—promotes to children the notion that parents are foolish and inept and that it’s admirable, cool, or smart for kids to dismiss, deride or countermand them.

I liked what Dr. Sax had to say, in part because he seems to wrestle with his own conclusions. He clearly dislikes telling Americans our culture is “toxic” for families; the very idea seems to pain him. The problem is, he believes it is true.

Abigail Shrier, ”I Don’t Want American Kids”, quoting Dr. Leonard Sax.

Why do we want a liberal education? …

… Because everyone in the modern university is living in its opposite, and it sucks.

Zero-tolerance as amulet

“Zero-tolerance” is a phrase that people use in a vain attempt to ward off evil. Whenever any institution makes an official statement declaring that they have a “zero-tolerance approach” to anything, everyone knows what it means: We have been infinitely tolerant to this kind of behavior in the past, and we just got caught, so we have to make a statement. It’s like calling yourself a “patriot” or an “anti-fascist” — it means precisely the opposite of what it says.

Alan Jacobs, let’s be clear

Is this coherent and meaningful?

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

The Phantoms in our lives

Remember Phantom limb syndrome? Then there was Phantom Phone. Now, in a similar vein, I think I have Phantom haptic syndrome from my Apple Watch.

I really haven’t fully decided whether my Apple Watch makes my life any better, especially if you net out things like that.

Economia

The scourge of income equality

I fully expected, from the title, to find sheer sophistry here. I misunderestimated Phil Gramm:

In 2017, among working-age households, the bottom 20% earned only $6,941 on average, and only 36% were employed. But after transfer payments and taxes, those households had an average income of $48,806. The average working-age household in the second quintile earned $31,811 and 85% of them were employed. But after transfers and taxes, they had income of $50,492, a mere 3.5% more than the bottom quintile. The middle quintile earned $66,453 and 92% were employed. But after taxes and transfers, they kept only $61,350—just 26% more than the bottom quintile.

… Despite Democratic politicians’ efforts to provoke resentment against the rich, when was the last time you heard working people complain that some people in America are rich? The hostility of working people is increasingly focused on a system where those who don’t break a sweat are about as well off as they are.

This justifiable resentment is the economic source of today’s American populism ….

Phil Gramm and John Early, Income Equality, Not Inequality, Is the Problem

This makes me a bit more hostile to Universal Basic Income, too.

Will collapse necessarily end “the good life”?

There’s a YouTube wherein:

Peter Zeihan explains why he thinks everything is about to come crashing down. Amongst his predictions, delivered with an excitable zeal which belies their context, are the coming disintegration of the economies of Germany and China, global demographic collapse, a rise in famines and a collapse in global supply chains, and the ongoing disappearance of the workforce across all industries.

What’s interesting to me about this kind of presentation is often what is missing. In this case I heard nothing at all, for example, about the future of Africa and nothing of any seriousness about climate change or ecological degradation. More to the point, it’s very much an economist’s worldview, which means it is hemmed in by the usual limitations. It’s possible that what constitutes a good human life may amount to more than growth in material wealth, but you won’t come across that notion here. It’s a machinist’s analysis of the failures of the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

Politics

Ends and Means

If we are willing to grant, at the outset, that the people we’re debating agree about ends—that they want a healthy and prosperous society in which all people can flourish—then we can converse with them, we can see ourselves as genuine members of a community. And even if at the end of the day we have to conclude that we all do not want the same goods (which can, alas, happen), it is better that we learn it at the end of the day than decide it before sunrise.

Alan Jacobs, How to Think

What the politically-disengaged do know

He loves to be loved. He even loves to be hated. He cannot bear to be ignored. So in a sense, I’m playing into his hands.

So be it.

So be it.

I’ve been stunned at how many people I’ve encountered who fit this description. They’re establishing careers, starting families, buying first homes—building a life—and don’t really have the time or inclination to get engaged politically. They don’t know a ton about either party’s policy platform or legislative record. What they do know is Trump irritates them to no end. He reminds them of the lightweight underclassmen at a college kegger; his raucousness was entertaining at first, but the act has worn awfully thin. They just want to get rid of him and get on with the party.

Tim Alberta, 4 Funny Feelings about 2020

One terrible reason to support a candidate

Trump has benefited, as usual, from his being the center of attention, as well as from a defensive reflex among Republicans who may have misgivings to rally around him anyway, figuring that if he is so hated and abused by the other side they owe it to him — and themselves.

This may be an understandable sentiment, especially with memories still fresh of the abuses and hysteria that attended the Russia-gate probe. At the end of the day, though, that a potential presidential candidate was raided by the FBI is a terrible reason to support him.

Rich Lowry


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Monday, 8/28/22

Student Loan Forgiveness

Student Loan Forgiveness 1

The bigger problem with student debt cancellation, however, is that it’s an ad-hoc, one-off move that does absolutely nothing to fix the deep pathologies in the way America financed undergraduate education. Matt Yglesias was exactly right to ask [on Twitter] what happens on the morning after the debt cancellation:

What is the plan for the day after universal debt cancellation when masters programs raise tuition and tell prospective students not to worry about it because the debt will be cancelled down the road?

But this perverse incentive, which economists call moral hazard, will only exacerbate an underlying problem. For decades, our strategy has been to limit the supply of available college seats while using subsidized loans to pump up the demand for those limited spots.

So we need to ask ourselves why we’re merely applying an expensive band-aid instead of addressing the deeper issue — and why we’re still so enamored of the idea of hurling big wads of cash at already-overpriced service industries.

Noah Smith, America is not fixing its college financing system (H/T The Morning Dispatch)

Student Loan Forgiveness 2

We were propagandized my entire high school simply to go to college, and we were promised if we did we would make more money and have a better life (“College graduates make 1 million dollars more than those who only graduate from high school!”). We received no guidance about which colleges to go to, how much money to take out, what to major in if we wanted return-on-investment, etc. Every guidance counselor told us this; every hallway had a poster proclaiming this; every teacher drilled it into us; from ages 13-18.

And we listened to them. And then we (as a generation) found out we’d have the equivalent of mortgages to pay off before we could get a real house and also that Boomers were not retiring so we couldn’t get jobs.

To put the question simply: In sussing out responsibility for the choice to take on debt, I don’t think “was someone holding a gun to your head when you took out the loan?” is the right question. I think something closer to “when you took out this loan—almost certainly while still a teenager or in your extremely early 20s—did anyone help you understand what you were doing and what the real ramifications of this choice would be?” In most cases, I think the answer is “not really.” Does it follow, therefore, that all the loan must be forgiven? Perhaps not. But at the very least we need to reckon with agency in a serious, thoughtful way and not in the simplistic terms being put forward by many commentators.

Jake Meador, Two Bad Reasons to Oppose Loan Debt Forgiveness and Two Better Ones

No comment

Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe made the economic realities inadvertently stark when he tweeted on the day of Biden’s [student loan forgiveness] announcement, “Good news for thousands of my former students. I’m grateful on their behalf, Mr. President.”

David French, Is There a Christian Case for Biden’s Debt Relief Plan?.

Yes, I relented on my intention to pay no more heed to French on the intersection of politics and religion. And, yes, the wisdom of that resolve was confirmed; IMHO, French shed no real religious light on his stated topic.

Rank politics

The Rarest Thing in Politics

Like my friend, I disagree with Liz Cheney’s political positions.

But there is something about her.

As much as I disagree with her, I trust her.

Why? Because she has demonstrated a quality that is so rare in American politics today — perhaps, also, in American life — that we cannot help but find that quality to be attractive.

Liz Cheney has integrity.

When I see Liz Cheney, I feel that I am in the presence of an American patriot. True, I disagree with her. But I know we would have a respectful conversation. Like I said, I trust her.

Liz Cheney makes me think of one of the later verses of “America the Beautiful” — the ones that we rarely sing, but which I think are among the finest lyrics to ever appear in a patriotic song.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life

The verse might have been referring to American heroes who proved themselves in military battle. They loved their country more than they loved their own lives. That is the meaning of sacrifice.

Liz Cheney exemplifies those words as well. When she led a principled fight against Donald Trump, she knew she was sacrificing her run for reelection. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Jeffrey Salkin, It’s Cheney-mania!

Whatever happened to the Emerging Democratic Majority?

We didn’t anticipate the extent to which cultural liberalism might segue into cultural radicalism and the extent to which that view, particularly as driven by younger cohorts, would wind up imprinting itself on the entire infrastructure in and around the Democratic Party—the advocacy groups, the foundations, academia of course, certainly the lower and middle levels of the Democratic Party infrastructure itself.

Ruy Teixara, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, on why his Emerging Democratic Majority hasn’t emerged.

A Real Problem for Republicans

The main thing holding the GOP back from a complete takeover? The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis is surely onto something when he notes that the Party of Lincoln, in its Trumpified version, has a fondness for nominating “idiots” to run for office.

Indeed, as Nellie [Bowles] noted only last week, there isn’t enough cocaine in the world to keep Mitch McConnell and voters everywhere from recognizing that “candidate quality” is a real problem for Republicans. They tend to nominate people with absolutely zero experience even running for office, much less holding it. The results aren’t just Dr. Oz alienating Pennsylvania voters by suggesting that John Fetterman brought about his own stroke, but Georgia’s favorite son, Herschel Walker, yammering on about too many trees while being unable to accurately count his own children. 

Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance managed to win his primary in Ohio with just 32 percent of the vote but rarely goes a week without some sort of gaffe, such as suggesting that women should stay in violent marriages.

Nick Gillespie

Democrats nominate an occasional loose cannon, but I wouldn’t be all that keen on eliminating party primaries were I a Democrat: the Republican base keeps delivering candidates that a relatively easy to beat.

Russia 2016, USA 2022

A report published this week by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory indicated that Twitter and Meta, for the first time, recently removed a set of fake accounts from their respective platforms for “using deceptive tactics to promote pro-Western narratives in the Middle East and Central Asia.” The influence campaign had reportedly been active for years, promoting the interests of the United States and its allies, spreading anti-extremism messaging, and opposing countries like Russia, China, and Iran. Neither tech platform directly attributed the activity to the U.S. government, but the U.S. and United Kingdom were listed as the “presumptive” countries of origin.

The Morning Dispatch.

Could you remind me again how evil Russia is for trying surreptitiously to influence things like our 2016 election?

Just because it’s a fun simile

We remember Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and not Hillary Clinton’s almost-certainly criminal cattle-futures shenanigans because most people know what sex is and understand that you’re not supposed to cheat on your spouse, but trying to explain futures trading to the typical voter is like trying to get a dachshund to bark in terza rima — they just aren’t equipped. But people naturally get hypocrisy, or at least a dumbed-down version of it.

Kevin D. Williamson, Hypocrisy for Dummies

Culture

Whence cancel culture?

I had to drive a couple of hours yesterday, and I heard on a podcast a sober but startling theory I really need to pass along.

Roughly one-third (I believe he said) of college graduates are supporting themselves through jobs that require no more than a high-school education because there are not enough jobs in “the managerial class” for which they’ve been groomed. We are college-educating more people than the market requires. So the competition for managerial class jobs is fierce.

Whence cancel culture. If you can pick off a superior with a grainy home movie of him in blackface decades ago, you might just move up the ladder — assuming you’re on the ladder. If you’re not on the ladder but want on, picking off a peer by exposing a tasteless Tweet just might eliminate her from consideration.

The dynamics of the New York Times staff as described by escapees seems to fit this theory “to a T.” Restless youngsters have knocked off a number of their bosses, older colleagues and peers.

So cancel culture is (just?) the war of all against all in modern garb.

Do the math

It’s not difficult to see what’s going on here: oil companies haven’t invested in new and better domestic refineries because they know that, even in this hour of essentially free money, their profit margins are shrinking and there aren’t 30 years of crude in the ground to pay off 30-year mortgages on new refineries. The oil companies are in a “sunset industry” and they know it.

James Howard Kunstler, Adapt or Die: Kunstler’s Guide to Living in the Long Emergency.

I like the epigram to this article, too:

It is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that a writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.”

—George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

Maggots doing what comes naturally

A sprawling campus, part of the University …, covers their eastern reaches. The waters are channelled into generic, forgettable pools fringed with generic, forgettable buildings. It is, of course, the modern kind of forgettable architecture. Every chunk of grey and glass has its own unique variation on the shape of a shoebox. The innovations are of the type that everyone in the world has seen so much of that only those paid to do so can even pretend to care anymore.

In this, the University … is no better or worse than every other university. They have all spread their aggressively mediocre buildings across the cities and towns: shiny lumps of architectural conformity that advertise the shallowness, greed, and transience of the institutions to the whole world. We should be thankful for them. They physically represent the death of the modern university’s soul, and so make it obvious. Now a university is just a machine for uprooting humanity. It takes the young from home but gives then no adult responsibilities, drops them into a society of other uprooted youth, habituates them to the mentality of the virtual class, and leaves them drifting in debt and doubt.

At this point, some readers may hope I will criticise the ‘woke’. I will not. A worm digesting a living human being is a problem. A worm digesting a corpse is just the natural order of things. The universities are corpses and fashionable ideologies are maggots.

A terrible decision killed the universities. History, always Sphinx-like, showed them three good things, but only let them keep two. The one that they left on the table was the one that they should have treasured. Without it, their wyrd was written. The three gifts history offered were called ‘important’, ‘new’, and ‘true’.

FFatalism, Academic landscapes.

More: An earnest young postgraduate once told me that texts have no meaning. I said I didn’t know what he meant. He tried to explain it to me again. I’m not sure why. He must have thought that he was saying something.

Quintessentially Legal and Quite Mad

Arkansas banned healthcare professionals providing gender transition procedures to anyone under 18. A Federal District (trial) Court and Circuit (appellate) court have both now held that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause:

[U]nder the Act, medical procedures that are permitted for a minor of one sex are prohibited for a minor of another sex. A minor born as a male may be prescribed testosterone or have breast tissue surgically removed, for example, but a minor born as a female is not permitted to seek the same medical treatment. Because the minor’s sex at birth determines whether or not the minor can receive certain types of medical care under the law, Act 626 discriminates on the basis of sex.

H/T Religion Clause.

I have seen this kind of reasoning over and over as the courts impose on us, and on legislators who beg to differ, their view of “discrimination on the basis of sex.” For instance, if John can marry Suzy then Sally should be allowed to “marry” Suzy.

I’m not alone:

As the [Franciscan Alliance] argues in its brief, in 2016 the government interpreted ObamaCare’s nondiscrimination provisions “to require doctors and hospitals nationwide to perform and insure gender-transition procedures and abortions or else be liable for ‘sex’ discrimination.”

Specifically, the feds read the law to require that services be offered on an equal basis. “If a gynecologist performs a hysterectomy for a woman with uterine cancer,” the alliance’s brief says, “she must do the same for a woman who wants to remove a healthy uterus to live as a man.”

This cultural clash isn’t going away, and the country is in for more trouble if progressives can’t rediscover the principle of pluralism. The government’s appeal shows a bloody-mindedness that is difficult to fathom.

Transgender Patients vs. Religious Doctors – WSJ

However often I’ve seen it, I’ve never been able to get used to such reasoning as being sane. It strikes me as sophistry, though when we set out to outlaw sex discrimination, we implicitly set out to eradicate invidious sexual stereotypes. If we leave it to individual judges to determine what’s invidious, won’t decisions be all over the map? Isn’t a stupid, sophistical woodenness better than that?

Nah!

A Child’s Purpose

“Because children grow up, we think a child’s purpose is to grow up,” Herzen says. “But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment … Life’s bounty is in its flow. Later is too late.”

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.