Actual ruminations

I’m aware of my tendency to blog like a mere aggregator or curator, but today, for whatever reason, I slowed down and thought.

Living consciously within limits

On the 15th of each month, a reminder pops up to read my maxims (they actually come from two American Orthodox Priests, one living, one reposed). Sometimes I don’t get around to it until, say, the 17th.

As I read them today, it occurred to me that they give a decent idea of how an Orthodox mindset should cash out in “practical” life (if only we weren’t always missing the mark).

I do try to live by them (that’s why I review them monthly). Even falling short, it’s a much saner way to live than not trying at all.

On a closely-related note, I read an article just now (as I write) that I thought good enough to save and index: Dedication: In Praise of the Long-Haulers. It uses the term "stickers," in contrast to "boomers," a contrast I’d seen before.

But this time, in conjunction with indexing, I decided to make "sticker" a tag in my system and to look for like articles. My system was crawling with them. For instance:

Granted, my system (a kind of database) is kind of young, after a computer crash garbled its predecessor. So I may have just been on a "making-a-virtue-of-Covidtide-necessity" binge of rootedness ruminations. But I think these really are the kinds of people I most admire, and that I’m gradually become more stickerlike myself.

Maybe this just means I’m getting too old to fight or rally in the streets.

Abortion back on the docket

The [U.S. Supreme] court said Monday it would review next term whether all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional. The court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade declared that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in the first six months of her pregnancy when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb.

The test case is from Mississippi, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, blocked enforcement of the law, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions.

NPR

The news, you may have noticed, is often over-hyped. This story really isn’t, whatever the ultimate outcome, because SCOTUS took the case even though there is no "Circuit split."

There is no Circuit split (inconsistent results from different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal) because under existing precedent, laws like Mississippi’s are clearly unconstitutional as unduly burdensome on the (court-created) right to abortion. The Supreme Court seldom takes discretionary review of issues on which all the Circuit Courts are agreed, and when it does, it’s thought to be likely that the court itself is doubting its precedents (or universal Circuit Court interpretation of those precedents).

So this case, more than any other since Planned Parenthood v. Casey thirty years ago, really could be the Big One. And if you think that a major change in the Supreme Court’s view on abortion would not be a bit deal, you haven’t thought it through or you have a crazy-high threshold for "big deal."

For more detail, including the already-diminished relevance of Roe v. Wade, see The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday or listen to Monday’s Advisory Opinions podcast.

While we’re on the topic, this item:

During a congressional hearing last week, … Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, repeatedly denied the existence of a federal ban on barbaric partial-birth abortions that has been law for 18 years …

… In his confirmation hearings, Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion, deflecting with repeated claims that he would “follow the law” as head of HHS. Now Becerra outright denies the existence of a statute that has been around for nearly two decades.

… Becerra can hardly plead ignorance on this topic. As a freshman congressman, he voted against the ban

National Reviews (incendiary partisanship elided)

So what’s with Becerra’s denial? Is he just hair-splitting because he doesn’t like the "partial-birth abortion" label? The author anticipated that:

As for Becerra’s parroting of the abortion lobby talking point that partial-birth abortion “is not a medical term,” neither is a heart attack, but almost everyone understands what one is.

An entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment

Mr. Sanders has become the chief obstacle to his party leaders’ hopes of restoring the full federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, known as SALT, capped at $10,000 by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco calls the loss of that deduction “devastating.” Likewise New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who vowed that “one of the first things” he would do as majority leader would be to see that the SALT cap is “dead, gone and buried.”

But not Bernie. Asked directly on “Axios on HBO” last week whether he supports this effort, Mr. Sanders proudly raised his progressive colors: “You can’t be on the side of the wealthy and powerful if you are going to really fight for working families.”

It’s making for an entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment, with two opposing camps—low-tax Republicans and the leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing—finding themselves in the same foxhole. Each wants to keep the SALT cap, but for very different reasons.

WSJ

I had forgotten the delightful colloquialism "bootleggers-and-Baptists" moment.

Congresslechers and Cicadas

Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector with strong ties to Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to federal crimes including sex trafficking a minor. The New York Times reported last month that Gaetz himself is under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking crimes.

The Morning Dispatch. Joel Greenburg "pleaded guilty" and agreed to cooperate. If Matt Gaetz is guilty and not too sociopathic to know it, he should be getting very, very uncomfortable.

But if his goal is getting laid by as many undiscriminating women as possible, he’s had a relatively good run — as has Garrison Keillor:

[C]ompared to the male cicada who, after seventeen years underground, has one sexual experience, dies, and never gets to see his progeny, my life is a fairy tale.

The cicadas are out for survival of their species — survival is victory. Father David touched on this in his homily on Sunday and quoted the verse in 2nd Corinthians: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. “Struck down but not destroyed” describes cicada existence pretty well. As for being “persecuted,” we Episcopalians have it pretty easy. Flocks of cicadas are carried by the wind over Manhattan and a few land in Central Park and some in flower pots on terraces and our persecution, believe me, is minimal.

Then I went forward for Communion and saw slight movement on Father David’s vestment sleeve as he held out the wafer to me and said, “The body of our Lord,” and I saw an insect on his extended thumb, perhaps a dying male, and he said, “Hang on,” which he’s never said before during Communion and I flicked the cicada away. “Thank you,” he said. “And also to you,” I said.

At my age, I no longer worry about Noah and the Ark and all those folks knocking on the door begging to be let in. I haven’t read Job in years. The city is noisy, the numerosity is staggering, crazy people yell at you, I don’t belong here but then neither do most of the others. And there have been times on the uptown C train, packed into a car with people on all sides standing within inches of each other and still not touching, avoiding eye contact, when I’ve thought, “We are all one in God and He loves us dearly,” and known it is true. It’s hard to explain this to Midwesterners. You have to be there.

Garrison Keillor, The impending crisis of exploding cicada data

And one clip without comment

Top Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors blasted fellow Republicans pushing additional audits of the 2020 election results as conspiracy theorists and grifters. “We ran a bipartisan, fair election. That’s every piece of evidence that I’ve ever seen put in front of us,” said Clint Hickman, a Republican supervisor. “We are operating on facts and evidence presented to this board.” The county’s top election official, Stephen Richer, also a Republican, called new claims of irregularities from former President Donald Trump “unhinged.”

The Morning Dispatch


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

Potpourri, 12/5/18

1

There is nothing NSFW about the thread — it’s just screenshots of these users’ profiles. Such as:

You get the idea. Twitter is kicking off anyone who “deadnames” or “misgenders” a trans person, but allows stuff like this.

Rod Dreher.

That was the last straw. I have deactivated my Twitter account.

 

2

When my conservative evangelical parents and I left the theater [after watching Boy, Erased, they said to me, “That was so powerful.” My dad observed, “Some movies seem to drag and lose your attention. Not this one.” My mom said, “It’s all just so sad — and cultish.” Evangelical Christians still tempted to embrace the conversion therapy framework should ponder why it is that two people who (unwittingly) reared a gay son while looking to James Dobson for parenting advice had that reaction to this film.

Not only has conversion therapy heaped false guilt on the shoulders of parents, it has left many of its participants unable to distinguish between true Christian holiness and the straitjacket of mid-twentieth century gender norms. It’s high time we left it behind and joined its victims in lamenting its sad legacy.

Wesley Hill.

Reading this reminds me that I once considered Joseph Nicolosi and NARTH “experts” on how homosexuality happens and how to “cure” it. I wasn’t deeply into it because I had no gayness to cure, but they guided my half-baked attitudes. It had not occurred to me that the parents of gay kids suffered false guilt because of those theories.

My attitudes may still be half-baked, but Wesley Hill and other abstinent gay Christians are who I listen to now.

 

3

Bryan Behar did something unconscionable.

He praised George H.W. Bush.

The former president had just died. In Behar’s view, it was a moment to recognize any merit in the man and his legacy.

Many of his followers disagreed. They depended on Behar for righteous liberal passion, which left no room for such Bush-flattering adjectives and phrases as “good,” “decent” and “a life of dignity.” How dare Behar lavish them on a man who leaned on the despicable Willie Horton ad, who nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, who did too little in the face of AIDS, whose privilege often blinded him to need.

They lashed out at Behar. They unfollowed him. And they demonstrated the transcendent curse of these tribal times: Americans’ diminishing ability to hold two thoughts at once.

We like our villains without redemption and our heroes without blemish ….

Frank Bruni, who’s nearly as good as Ross Douthat this Wednesday morning. They’re both behind the New York Times’ metered paywall, so choose Douthat first; it’s a column for the ages — I highlighted almost every word in my “keeper” copy. His thesis is we’re pining for WASP aristocrats like 41, because the meritocrats (starting with 42) are such a sorry lot in comparison.

 

4

From Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe:

In October 2015 the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, criticised Soros publicly as one of a circle of activists who “support anything that weakens nation states.” Soros responded publicly to confirm that the numerous groups he was funding were indeed working for the ends described by Orban. In an email to Bloomberg, Soros said that it was his foundation which was seeking to “uphold European values,” while he accused Orban of trying to “undermine those values.” Soros went on to say of Orban: “His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.” The dialogues ceased before anyone could ask Soros how long those European values might last once Europe could be walked into by people from all over the world.

… Orban leads a tiny and relatively poor Central European country of fewer than 10 million people, is desperately attempting to prevent that country from committing cultural suicide like the rest of Europe. It is hard for Americans to understand what the world looks like from the perspective of a country like that …

… Orban considers Soros’s university to be an agent of real corruption in the heart of his embattled nation. Consider something as petty as the gender studies program at the university. That’s a garbage discipline that promotes an ideology that destroys marriage and family …

Rod Dreher.

One may, I suppose, view Soros’ project as benign or even admirable, but I am sympathetic to Orban (and suspicious—cui bono?)—that billionaire Soros’ “Open Society” is designed in part to clear the path, for him and his kindred, to more billions.

 

5

A few years ago, I first encountered members of a fundamentalist church who believed that fiction is wrong. They taught that reading about characters and events which are not literally real violates the ninth commandment because it involves sentences which, out of context, convey falsehoods. “Once upon a time there lived a princess named Snow White” is a lie, according to this thinking, because there technically never was such a person.

When I asked these Christians to explain Jesus’ parables (which are stories), they insisted that there really must have been a Prodigal Son, a Good Samaritan, and a man who built his house on the sand! They couldn’t prove this claim, of course, except by begging their first principle that all technical non-facts are lies. I pointed out that this was circular. That was more or less the end of the discussion. I think we moved on to debating whether C. S. Lewis was a warlock.

Is Santa Claus a lie?

 

6

Even for a hit piece the article feels incredibly forced, ham-fisted and desperate. Reading it gives you the feeling as if [name omitted] is leaning way into your personal space, pressing his face against your ear, and saying “You are not to believe the things that horrible man says about what is happening in your world. I will tell you what you are to believe about those controversial events. Big Brother is your friend. You love Big Brother.”

Caitlyn Johnstone

Johnstone embeds a video without (that I noticed) saying why, but it’s an interview of Noam Chomsky by journalist Andrew Marr, with a typical click-baity description. Excerpts:

Chomsky: … Unpopular ideas can be silenced without any force.
Marr: How?
Chomsky: He [Orwell] gives a two-sentence reponse … “Two reasons: The press is owned by wealthy men who have every interest in having certain things not appear; but, second, the whole education system from the beginning on through, gets you to understand that there are certain things you just do not say ….”
Marr: This is what I don’t get. It suggests that [unintelligle] are self-censoring …
Chomsky: Not self-censoring. There’s a filtering system that starts in kindergarten and goes all the way through … It selects for obedience and subordination. And especially …
Marr: So stroppy people won’t make it …
Chomsky: … behavior problems. If you read applications to graduate school, you’ll see that people will tell you “he’s not good, doesn’t get along too well with his colleagues,” and you know how to interpret those things.

Marr: How can you know that I’m self-censoring?
Chomsky: I’m not saying you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting there.

Chomsky speaks softly and confidently, but this is a perverse example of Bulverism.

The inverview video is just a clip of a longer video, so maybe Chomsky gets into how Marr is wrong, and not just why (i.e., he’s been carefully groomed and filtered and deemed worthy to front for The Man). But that Johnstone might think the clip profound does not speak all that well of Johnstone, who always writes colorfully and entertainingly, but also, too often, flippantly, in the sense of assuming that the joke on her target has already been made, and that it’s time for ritual mockery.

 

7

“Deplorables” was bad, but the most insulting thing anyone said about Trump supporters in 2016 was said by Trump himself: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Can you live down to that, Trump fans?

 

8

Rudy makes a fool of himself. Details. Summary:

Giuliani spent 16 years as a security consultant and was originally brought on to the Trump team as a cybersecurity adviser. Be terrified. https://t.co/OTK6KERlyT

— Alex Laird (@alexdlaird) December 5, 2018

All because he can’t type, accidentally creating the URL G-20.in, and then tried to blame a Twitter conspiracy against him.

 

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Clippings (and a little opinion) 11/30/18

In some ways the most important items are last, but they have to do with heroes like Robert Mueller and villains like Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen. Some of you therefore might experience serious cognitive dissonance.

1

It’s unusual to open with the insights of a pseudonymous (or at least obscure) monk, but here goes:

The promise from the Universe, the deal I was offered by 1990’s-2000’s liberalism, is aptly summarized by Anthony Kennedy’s baptism of Existentialism as The American Philosophy in his Casey opinion, which self-same authority he quotes in his Planned Parenthood vs. Casey opinion. “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The Universe had begun to offer unlimited pregnancy-free sex via the birth control pill, and we happily accepted this deal. But the Universe didn’t keep up its end of the bargain, and guys kept on knocking up the ladies when they were hoping not to. Anthony Kennedy stepped up and let us know that the Universe would be held to its promise, for we have trusted in it up to this point, and some unwanted fetuses will not stand in the way of the promise.

… In the name of freedom, we denied the Incarnation of the One Logos, unaware of that denial’s concomitant task: the unique re-logosification of each material being.

Brother Sean Finds The Key

2

I do not trust our mainstream news media. That distrust is not Trumpian, so let me explain.

I think the Wall Street Journal does the best job of straight news reporting and avoiding sensationalism, but there’s always the problem of bias in story selection (the judgment of what is “newsworthy”) and its Opinion page is predictably—well, it’s predictably what you’d expect from a very committed capitalist journal during a time of resurgent putative socialism.

So I check the New York Times daily to see what more might be newsworthy (and to read conservative and liberal-leaning opinion from columnists I’ll not enumerate). But even excluding excluding sexual deviance—a topic of endless fascination at NYT (and one on which it has semi-officially decreed that only one opinion is permissible: deviance is entirely immutable yet fluid, unchosen yet an important part of designing one’s own very best life, without moral implications and nobody else’s business except when media want to shove it at us)—the Times has become unreliable at straight-up reporting, mixing opinion into its news too often and systematically excluding some voices.

I got so disgusted with the click-baity headlines at “the Jeff Bezos Washington Post” that I now skip directly to the Opinion page and the articles categorized under “Acts of Faith.”

There are, of course, weeklies and thoughtful journals beyond that.

But all those are mainstream, and I find the entire US mainstream frequently non compos mentis. So I’ve aggregated some non-mainstream voices, no less insane at times, but insane in different ways and a helpful balance to the mainstream.

It would be untruthful to suggest Breitbart, as I very rarely go there, but it might provide some balance to my list, which leans progressive (because the mainstream is more conservative than most people appreciate). In some ways, my whole RSS feed qualifies as alternate voices, with a few exceptions like Dilbert and religious news and commentary.

This is an answer to anyone wondering “where does he come up with all this stuff?”

3

Speaking of Traditional Right, 4th Generation War (a/k/a 4GW) is one of its obsessions:

The recent mass shooting at a country music bar in California again raises an important question: are such shootings, at least some of them, an aspect of Fourth Generation war?

… so far we know no motive for the California shooter. So where, if anywhere, does it fit into Fourth Generation war?

The answer, I think, may be that this and similar cases are men’s reply to the war on men being waged by feminism. When women get seriously angry, they talk. When men get seriously angry, they kill. And feminism’s war on men, which is being carried to ever-greater extremes, is making more and more men, especially young men, very angry.

The so-called “#MeToo” campaign is only the latest absurdity. Of course most women have been subject of sexual advances from men. It is hard-wired into human nature, and into the nature of most of the animal kingdom, that the male takes the initiative in sexual encounters. Most women expect and want men to do so …

But feminism now decrees that any man taking the initiative risks being charged with that most heinous of all crimes, “sexual harassment”. Even if the woman welcomed his advances at the time, if she later changes her mind, he is guilty. He is presumed guilty until proven innocent and the woman’s word must be taken as true. The man who is convicted is thrown out of school, loses his job, and may find his whole career path closed to him–all on nothing more than a woman’s word. Of course men are getting angry ….

William S. Lind

4

I’m keeping an eye on Hungary because of my sympathy for some of what Viktor Orban has done and despite the drumbeat from our mainstream media labeling Orban or Hungary “far right.”

A NYT opinion piece Friday accuses Orban of “attacking civil society,” which, if true, would be a major black mark. But the link to prove that charge opens this piece, which opens:

Hungary’s parliament has voted to tighten control over non-governmental organisations that receive financing from abroad, as prime minister Viktor Orban continues to rail against alleged foreign interference in his rule.

(Emphasis added) It’s true that Orban’s vision of a good Hungarian society differs from that of, most notably, George Soros, King of the Meddlesome “Open Society” NGOs. But I don’t consider outside NGOs to be “civil society”, or at least consider the question so debatable that it’s tendentious to equate opposing foreign NGOs with “attacking civil society.” Hungary already has a very venerable civil society, thank you, even if Communism suppressed it.

Critics say the rules are intended to hinder the work of NGOs and portray them as suspicious and disloyal elements …

Yes. And just what is your point?

5

[T]his week the Senate Judiciary Committee had to halt progress on confirming talented judges thanks to GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.

… Mr. Flake has said he will block all judicial nominees until he receives a vote on a bill that would insulate Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation from normal political accountability …

Mr. Flake’s stunt will have zero effect on President Trump or Mr. Mueller, and he’s compromising a substantive principle to make a futile political gesture. Mr. Flake is hurting the cause of confirming conservative judges who would enforce the Constitution in the name of a bill that is unconstitutional.

The legislation violates the Constitution because it would prevent the special counsel from being fired except by a Senate-confirmed Justice Department official for “good cause.” But Article II allows the President to fire inferior officers of the executive branch at will.

Wall Street Journal editorial (emphasis added)

Tim Scott drove the final nail in the coffin on the nomination of Thomas Farr on grounds that his fingerprints were on an illegal effort to suppress black votes in South Carolina in 1990. I respect that, especially considering Sen. Scott’s skin tone and unique position.

But I’d have to agree with the Journal on Jeff Flake’s blanket obstruction, and for the reasons I’ve quoted. What good is an oath to uphold the Constitution if the urge to continue the pissing contest with Donald Trump can overcome it?

Jeff Flake’s Sad Exit” indeed.

6

The Benedict Option has now been translated and published in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Portuguese. It will soon be published in Croatian and Korean. The book has sold fewer raw copies in Europe than in the US, where it was a bestseller, but from my calculations, has done much better proportionally with European Christians than it has with American Christians. Why is that?

[Daniel] McCarthy’s [Spectator US] column explains it, pretty much. So many conservative American Christians have not yet come to terms with demographic reality. They still believe that because Donald Trump is president and the Republican Party is doing well politically, that they (we) have meaningful cultural power. European Christians don’t have the luxury of this illusion, and haven’t had for some time. They understand clearly that the future of the Christian faith depends on recognizing reality and acting on facts, not sentimentality.

Rod Dreher

7

[T]here were real problems facing the working class, a social crisis that had some link to stagnating incomes and the decline of industrial jobs, and the tax-cuts-as-panacea style of conservatism had passed its sell-by date. What was needed was not a repudiation of Reaganomics but an updating (and a recovery of some of Reagan’s own forgotten impulses), in which conservatism would seek to solidify the material basis of the working-class family and blue-collar communities — with child tax credits, wage subsidies, a more skills-based immigration system — even as it retained its basic commitment to free trade, light regulation and economic growth.

That was the story we wanted Republican politicians to tell. Instead Donald Trump came along and told a darker one. “Sadly the American dream is dead,” he announced after that escalator ride, and proceeded to campaign on a radically pessimistic message about the post-Reagan economic order, in which bad trade deals and mass immigration were held responsible for what he called “American carnage” in working-class communities.

During the campaign I called this message “reform conservatism’s evil twin,” since it started from a similar assumption (that the existing Republican policy agenda wasn’t offering enough to the American worker) and ended up in a more apocalyptic and xenophobic place.

Ross Douthat

8

Here is one fact beyond dispute. Look at the men whom Trump has traditionally surrounded himself with: Stone, Corsi, Paul Manafort, Cohen. These are some of the least reputable people in American politics. Trump’s inner circle has always been a cesspool.

And there is a reason for this — a reason Trump has traditionally employed unethical people to serve his purposes. It is because he has unethical jobs for them to do, involving schemes to remove political threats and gain electoral advantage. And there is every reason to believe that Trump has fully participated in such schemes.

Michael Gerson

9

When asked whether his party’s rout of Republicans on Nov. 6 indicated that many voters recoiled when they saw “R” next to a candidate’s name, [Colorado] Gov.-elect Jared Polis demurs, saying what they effectively saw was: “T.”

George Will

10

If you have any interest in what Special Counsel Robert Mueller is up to, Ken White lays it out in the Atlantic. This has been a very consequential week, with heavy foreshadowings.

I now fully expect the new House to impeach Trump, with well-supported and serious “high crimes and misdemeanors.” As usual, “it’s not the ‘crime,’ but the coverup.”

I cannot (yet?) predict what the craven Senate will do.

(Update: I tweaked a typos and an artifacts of rephrasing.)

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Why vote for Trump?

Resolved: This is the most plausible explanation to date of Donald Trump’s presidency:

[W]hat genuinely excites Mr. Trump’s crowds and draws them to him is their shared antiliberalism.. By liberalism … I refer to the liberalism now metamorphisized into progressivism ….

The man who attends a Trump rally turns on his television set and that night’s news leads off with a Black Lives Matter protest in his city. If that city is Chicago, he might recall that this year some 2,619 people have been shot, 475 shot and killed, the preponderance of these being black people shot by black youth gangs. If it is another city, there is a distinct possibility, as fairly often in the past, that the protest will lead to looting of nearby shops. Al Sharpton, nattily turned out, is likely to have flown in for the festivities to remind everyone about the world’s injustice.

Our man changes channels and is greeted by a story of a long and happy lesbian marriage. He reads in the papers that people are fired from jobs for remarks that, under the reign of political correctness, are interpreted as racist, sexist, you name it; that students feel unsafe at Yale; that a year’s tuition, room and board at Dartmouth is $74,000. Doubtless before long he will read a story about an 11-year-old who is suing his parents for not allowing him to transgender himself.

Oh God, he thinks, make America great again, make America straight again, make America anything but what it is becoming. What elected Donald Trump, and what sustains him, is not his rather dubious charisma, his ideas, his obvious jolt to the country’s earlier slow economic growth, and no, not even the wretched campaign run by Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump was chosen as a rebuke to the progressivism that has made life in America seem chaotic, if not a touch mad, and that now threatens to take over the Democratic Party.

Joseph Epstein

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Friday, 9/7/18

1

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

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

“I thought that would be about the number.”

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

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

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

“Oh yes. Often.”

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

“No, headmaster.”

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

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

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

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

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

Richard Gamble, To Be Unfit for the Modern World.

2

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

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

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

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

Peter J. Leithart

3

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

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

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

QED

4

Someone wrote the other day:

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

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

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

5

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

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

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

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

6

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

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

Rod Dreher (emphasis in original).

Notre Dame (My emphasis).

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

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

7

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

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

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

Kevin D. Williamson

8

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

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

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

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Self-narcotizing cant

From a Rod Dreher blog, quoting a Reformed Christian in Great Britain:

I am extremely rare in being concerned about Christian education. Most evangelicals I know think it is selfish, and possible sinful, to take children out of state education because of the evangelistic opportunities one can have at the school gate. It is also argued that children can’t be kept out of the world indefinitely. None of this makes sense. There is a deep, deep naiveté amongst most Christians and when you consider what we are up against, we are going to be eaten for breakfast. I just find a deep seated objection to thinking the way you do in the Benedict Option but with no clear rationale as to why.

That said, there are a few Christian schools which have been set up in the UK in the last few years which are excellent, however most evangelicals I speak to are suspicious about them.

One often hears US Evangelicals claiming the same thing about public schools. My guess is that it’s far, far more likely that the Evangelicals kids are going to get “evangelized” by the popular culture than the other way around. I also wonder if some parents who could afford these schools for their kids aren’t simply rationalizing the fact that they would rather get the free education than make a sacrifice to pay for them.

Most Christians in the United States apparently feel the same.

Our professed concern for “the children” is self-narcotizing cant.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

What is “conservative”?

Can I still call myself conservative?

The answer depends on your definition. Here’s one I’ve always liked: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society,” said the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan. To which he added: “The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”

Conservatives used to believe in their truth. Want to “solve” poverty? All the welfare dollars in the world won’t help if two-parent families aren’t intact. Want to foster democracy abroad? It’s going to be rough going if too many voters reject the foundational concept of minority rights.

And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

This is the fatal mistake of conservatives who’ve decided the best way to deal with Trump’s personality — the lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness — is to pretend it doesn’t matter. “Character Doesn’t Count” has become a de facto G.O.P. motto. “Virtue Doesn’t Matter” might be another.

Trump demands testimonials from his cabinet, servility from Republican politicians and worship from conservative media. To serve in this White House isn’t to be elevated to public service. It’s to be debased into toadyism, which probably explains the record-setting staff turnover of 34 percent …

Conservatives may suppose that they can pocket policy gains from a Trump administration while the stain of his person will eventually wash away. But as a (pro-Trump) friend wrote me the other day, “presidents empower cultures.” Trump is empowering a conservative political culture that celebrates everything that patriotic Americans should fear: the cult of strength, open disdain for truthfulness, violent contempt for the Fourth Estate, hostility toward high culture and other types of “elitism,” a penchant for conspiracy theories and, most dangerously, white-identity politics.

This won’t end with Trump. It may have only begun with him. And Trump’s supporters may wind up proving both sides of Moynihan’s contention: not just that culture is what matters most, but that politics can still change it — in this case, much for the worse.

(Bret Stephens, Why I’m Still a Never-Trumper)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Revival isn’t inevitable

It brought to mind a conversation I had last night, out with friends. We were talking about the degeneration of stable ideas of family, sex, and gender. One of my friends, a lawyer, cited Stein’s Law: “Whatever can’t go on, won’t.” His point is that the gender ideology madness is bound to burn itself out, because it is incompatible with reality, and therefore unsustainable, in the same sense that communism was unsustainable. I suspect he’s right about that, but it’s going to take a long time for that to happen, because gender ideology fits so perfectly with the basic ideology of our time: autonomous individualism, which is to say, Anthonykennedyism: The belief that one is entitled to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, or the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

In response to this, I pointed out that Stein’s Law has not predicted social conditions for the black underclass in America. Since midcentury, the black unmarried birth rate has soared. When the Moynihan Report came out in the 1960s, 25 percent of black births were to unmarried women — far higher than the white rate. Now the black rate, as I said, is over 70 percent, and the white rate is higher than the black rate in the 1960s.

The bad social outcomes of this phenomenon have not retarded its growth for any demographic group. As out-of-wedlock childbearing becomes intergenerational, so does poverty …

It’s straight out of Charles Murray’s worst nightmare …

These are the people middle class and upper middle class folks don’t see. They don’t come into this world ineducable or doomed to dysfunction. They are crippled mostly by culture. The mystery is why these cultural habits persist, even though the outcomes for the children raised in it are so poor. According to the theory, people should recognize that living in this particular way means suffering and misery, so they will change their views and their way of life to live in a more sensible way. But that clearly does not happen often, or at least not often enough. Why?

The point I’m trying to make is that the belief that cultural revival is inevitable, because people will inevitably turn away from destructive ideas and behavior, strikes me as insupportably optimistic. People are not reliably rational actors. Civilization is a far more fragile thing than we suppose ….

(Rod Dreher)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

France & America

 

France and America are countries linked at birth and have always seen in each other funhouse-mirror visions of the other, and they have used the other to try to understand themselves. Writers such as Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century and Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber in the 20th wanted France to be more like America; today, Gobry argues, America is turning into France, and in the wrong ways.

(Editor’s note on each of the articles I’m about to excerpt)

1

As of the most recent count, the French government spends an eye-watering 57 percent of the country’s GDP every year, with the crazy taxes that go along with that. The country ranks a paltry 72nd on the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index, behind such free-market champions as Kazakhstan and Malaysia.

An administrative-law professor of mine once quipped, “In terms of administrative law, the French Revolution never happened.” By this, he meant that all one sees in the French law is just a long, uninterrupted power grab by the central government. The aristocracy and the Church had to go not because they were inegalitarian, but because they doled out status by birth or, what’s worse, by God, which challenged the State’s monopoly on status-conferring.

To speak generally, what a typical Frenchman wants out of life is some status granted, directly or indirectly, by the government. The government’s job, then, is to find some way to distribute status and economic rent in a way that keeps the social peace while preserving its own power and paying off the losers.

Hence civil-service laws, whereby civil servants cannot be fired and are paid by the state until death.In France, to be a bureaucrat is not a job, it is a status.Under Brussels-mandated austerity rules, French civil servants have barely had a pay raise in five years, and they have mostly taken it lying down — but everyone knows they would strike or even riot if something was done to threaten their status.

(America’s Francification, Part Deux)

2

If there’s one way in which America and France differ from each other, it’s in the role of religion. America famously stands out among Western nations for its religiosity, and France for its rigidly enforced secularism.

But the picture is more complicated than that. France has many religious people, andAmerica has a strongly secular contingent, which tends to occupy the country’s elite perches.The Christian sociologistPeter Berger famously quipped that if the most religious country on earth is India, and the most secular is Sweden, then America “is a nation of Indians run by Swedes.”

But the ground has begun to shift. Americans are less and less religious — or at least, less and less churched. As Ross Douthat has pointed out in his invaluable book A Nation of Heretics, Americans are not turning into Christopher Hitchens–style militant atheists; they believe in God, in spirituality, in the numinous, in numbers at least as large as ever. What they are rejecting however, is institutional forms of religion, whether Protestant or Catholic, whether black or white. They are therefore rejecting Christian orthodoxy, with significant cultural consequences.

In terms of politics, however, this may end up being a distinction without a difference. After all, as the secularist creed proclaims, it doesn’t matter what people believe in their hearts of hearts, so long as they leave it there.(That this creed is hypocritical, since secularists have no problem bringing their own metaphysical commitments to politics, is another matter.)

(America’s Francification, Part Trois: Secularism, emphasis added)

3

Paris is to France what the Boston-Washington Corridor and Silicon Valley are to America: Giant magnets that pull young brains out of the heartland:

If you’re drowning in college debt and the economic future looks bleak for all but the most successful, it becomes almost a matter of survival to jump on the meritocratic hamster wheel and run as hard as you can.

Men and women who would have become regional elites in a previous generation now all congregate around New York and Washington, playing their national games instead of enriching their local communities.

(Washington Wealth and the American Desert? Not Yet, But It’s on the Horizon)

4

America has a strange bipartisan blind spot. The Left’s social liberalism and the Right’s libertarian tendencies combine to make the family the great forgotten institution in American politics. Republican officeholders can talk a good game about “family values” and, sometimes, social issues related to the family, but when it comes to policies aimed at materially supporting and strengthening families, one hears crickets. But the family is the basic unit of society, and if supporting the family isn’t conservative, then that word is meaningless.

By contrast, family policy is an ancient commitment of the French political class, shared broadly across almost every political divide, for over a century, through regime changes and constitutional crises. There are quibbles around the edges, but there is broad agreement on the idea that strengthening the family is one of the pillars of government policy.

None of the objections on the right to pro-family policy hold water. The libertarian Right argues that pro-family policy is “social engineering,” but this is nonsense. The idea that tax policy, for example, should take into account only the individual as the most basic economic unit is an a priori metaphysical stance that is no more or less “social engineering” than structuring policy around the family, which after all was considered the basic economic unit for the great bulk of human history. What’s more, in practice, pro-family policy would only — though far from sufficiently — act as a pushback against the decades of effectively anti-family social engineering pursued by the Left.

Every one of the ills I’ve been writing about in this series is connected to the atomization of American society, which has been perhaps the main driver of the country’s deleterious turn over the past few years. In the face of runaway divorce and illegitimacy rates and declining birth rates, the decline of the American family is not merely one problem among many, it is a national emergency. In this context, policy tools such as marriage incentives and child tax credits are not luxuries, but bare minimums.

(America’s Francification: La Fin)

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“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.