Sunday gleanings 1/9/2022

Popular Christianity

How tragic it is that so much of the popular version of Christianity preaches a secularized message. It keeps God isolated, but popping in from time to time. It has lost the sense of the permeation of matter by divine Grace, the sacramental vision of reality; it insists that the Eucharist is just bread and wine, baptism is just a bath, and the world operates independently of God. It preaches a moralism of being “good,” leading only to obsession with guilt, and then, when that becomes too much, to shamelessness. It preaches that our salvation is acquired by a simple confession, and that it consists of going to “heaven” instead of going to “hell”—not a life lived in cooperation with divine grace…

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

Not what it’s for

I believe in evangelism, but it is not a means of cultural engagement at all.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Epiphany and Theophany

The incorrigible habit in western media of mis-identifying Othodox Theophany as Epiphany is an annual irritant.

I do not know how East and West diverged on the observance of January 6, but they are not the same Christian Feast under different names. Such is the "depth" of religion journalism in the U.S. that a common date and the conceptual similarity of the two names throws journalists off every time.

What is common about them is that both celebrate the revelation (theophany) of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. But:

In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles …

Eastern Christians, on the other hand, commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God ….

Wikipedia thus gets us in the ballpark. But its initial description of Theophany falls pretty far short of the fullness. Fortunately, it gets much closer further into the article.

Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis at this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Second Person of the Trinity at the time of his baptism. It is also celebrated because, according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist marked [the first of – (Tipsy)] two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven (the other occasion was the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor). Thus the holy day is considered to be a Trinitarian feast.

(Emphasis added)

Here’s the hymn of the feast:

When Thou, O Lord, wast baptized in the Jordan,
the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
For the voice of the Father bore witness to Thee,
and called Thee His beloved Son;
and the Spirit in the form of a dove
confirmed the truthfulness of His word.
O Christ our God, Who hast revealed Thyself//
and hast enlightened the world, glory to Thee.

We sing it five times in the festal liturgy, just in case one’s mind wanders (which probably isn’t the real reason).

I’m a partisan (and a gentile, no less), but I think the first open manifestation of the Holy Trinity is a weightier matter than gentile kings visiting the Christ Child.

And I know it’s not the same thing.

Where is God when you need Him?

In the wake of the tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean in 2007, major newspapers in America (and elsewhere) asked the question, “Where is God?” Tragedy reminds us of God’s apparent absence, but our cries of abandonment seem empty in light of the demands we make for God’s absence at most other times and places.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Everywhere Present

The most thoroughly atheist culture in history?

Has Western society become the most thoroughly atheist in history?

[Augusto] Del Noce’s real genius was his prophetic insight into the rise of Western irreligion. He saw that Marxism “won” the war of ideas, even as it collapsed as a theory, by establishing the economic dimension of man as humanity’s defining reality. For Del Noce, the West “defeated” Marxism not by reaffirming biblical morality or Christian anthropology but by quietly shedding both. Western countries won by outproducing Marxist systems on their own terms, with material results—superior science, superior technology, more and better consumer goods. The dark side of technology, Del Noce argued, is a passion for “total revolution”—permanent revolution against the past doing business as innovation. The byproducts of its success have been religious agnosticism, sexual liberation and radical secularism. By the time of his death, Del Noce viewed much of Western society, despite its Christian residue, as the most thoroughly atheist in history, a feat achieved not by persecuting God, but by ignoring and rendering him irrelevant.

Francis X. Maier, ‌How Marxism ‘Won’ the War of Ideas.

(Serving suggestion: Read my first item again.)


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.

Miscellany, 1/8/2022

Fairly Political, but not in a partisan way

Politics of friendship, politics of enemies

[Y]ou can’t operate political systems without friendship, and what has been terrifying in the United States is the replacement of a politics of friends with a politics of enemies. And this then makes any possibility of legislative comity just impossible. That’s why one of my friends has talked about a civil war, because a civil war is a state where a politician across the other aisle regards you as an enemy who is about to destroy everything you value most, and must be resisted by all means, fair or foul. That culture of antagonism is extremely dangerous to the stability of democratic systems. I think we’re living through a very bad period.

I’m a historian, so let’s not set our hair on fire. We can remember periods in American history where, for example, one senator crossed the floor, picked up a stick and nearly beat another senator to death. Now, that was in the run up to the real Civil War. Let’s not forget, we’ve been there before, and we’ve walked it back. And I think we could walk it back again, but I fear that it’s going to take some calamity to wake us all up. And I thought, in fact, that January 6th and the invasion of the sacred precincts of the Congress would have been the calamity that would wake everybody up. But it doesn’t appear to have done so. That’s another sign that democracy in America is in a very, very serious place.

I don’t think there should be enemies in the American house. I don’t think there can be, except one kind of enemy who takes up arms against the system itself. The people who took up arms against Congress on the 6th of January are enemies; they have to be dealt with by the security forces. They have to be put in jail. But apart from that, there are no enemies.

Michael Ignatieff to Yasha Mounk

Whaddya gonna do with your enemies?

I rarely read New York Times Editorial Board opinions, but this one caught my eye (before I noticed its authorship):

[P]eel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election.

(Emphasis added, because it’s true and chilling)

January 6 was terrorism

January 6, 2021, was not a riot. It was not a protest, an insurrection, or a (failed) coup—at least, not exclusively so. None of those terms capture the exact nature of premeditated violence done for psychological effect to achieve political ends that characterized the violence at the U.S. Capitol that day. There is a better term, one that does precisely capture that mix: terrorism. January 6 was an attempted terrorist attack on the U.S. Congress. It is important that we call the attack by its rightful name to recognize the threat we face.

Terrorism is, under U.S. law, “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” There is no question the January 6 attack, in which hundreds of people violently broke into the Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election, fits that definition.

Most of the protesters on the Mall were peaceful, and even a majority of those at the Capitol did not illegally enter the building. But that is a little like saying 9/11 was mostly peaceful because a majority of New Yorkers were not murdered that day. It somehow misses what was distinctive and noteworthy that morning. Most people act peacefully and lawfully most of the time. But we’re rightly interested in what is unique and unusual behavior—which will be, by definition, a minority of people in a small amount of time—that has outsized influence and does disproportionate damage to public safety and democratic norms.

Paul Miller, ‌Stop Calling It a Riot.

After I wrote this, someone (Matt Labash, I think) said January 6 was a bunch of LARPers who let things get out of hand. That seems too benign, but that "[t]here is no question the January 6 attack …fits that definition" invites the question "then why has nobody been charged with terrorism?" I think there’s an answer, but I’m going to let others develop it if they can.

Freudian slip

Sen. Ted Cruz is very, very, very sorry that he referred to January 6 as a “violent terrorist attack” earlier this week. Please forgive him, 2024 presidential primary voters, he’ll never do it again.

The Morning Dispatch

Never, ever, ever, talk or act as if "cancel culture" exists only on the Left.

Ted Cruz is not a stupid man (see below). That makes him all the more dangerous. But we’re blessed at the transparency of his demagoguery, and his profound personal offensiveness.

Sauce for the Goose

Proving that his political instincts remain just as sharp as ever, Sen. Ted Cruz on his podcast Friday sounded off on the question of whether Republicans will impeach President Biden if the GOP retakes the House. While Cruz’s assessment that House Republicans would be very likely to impeach Biden is quite right, the Texas senator shouldn’t be gassing about it. Cruz is universally known and mostly disliked across the political spectrum, so his comments will provide lots of fodder for Democrats to say that a vote for Republicans this fall is a vote for another impeachment. Cruz justified the idea even if it was not merited, saying “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” “That is not how impeachment is meant to work,” he said. “But I think the Democrats crossed that line." Adding to the miseries of Kevin McCarthy, Cruz even offered some guidance for the House GOP on how to proceed. Democrats will be trying to get Republicans to wade into impeachment issues right up to the election in hopes of forcing candidates to either scare moderates or anger radicals on their own side. This time, the fish jumped right in the boat for them.

‌Chris Stirewalt

Be mindful, folks, that this same Ted Cruz holds forth as the Real Christian®️ candidate.

Fiddling while the pyromaniacs are at work

At a moment when the highest value should be placed on rebuilding consensus around the conduct of elections and restoring confidence in results, both parties remain fixated on revving up their respective bases with boob bait.

Yuval Levin lays it out in his New York Times piece this week: “If we take both parties’ most high-minded arguments at face value, they are worried about problems that barely exist. It is easier than ever to vote: Registration has gotten simpler in recent decades, and most Americans have more time to vote and more ways to do so. Voter turnout is at historic highs, and Black and white voting rates now rise and fall together. These trends long predate the pandemic, and efforts to roll back some state Covid-era accommodations seem unlikely to meaningfully affect turnout. Meanwhile, voter fraud is vanishingly rare. The most thorough database of cases, maintained by one of the staunchest conservative defenders of election integrity, suggests a rate of fraud so low, it could not meaningfully affect outcomes.”

‌Chris Stirewalt again.

Slim pickin’s if you dumb along with dishonest

[A]las, though Cruz, Hawley, and DeSantis have proven plenty dishonest, they’re not that dumb. DeSantis went to Yale, then Harvard Law. Cruz went to Princeton, then Harvard Law. Hawley mixed things up a bit, going to Stanford, then Yale Law. You know, just like all honest-to-God populists do.

That’s why if you’re pulling for the dumb-and-dishonest ticket, you have to endorse someone like Lauren Boebert/Madison Cawthorn, the spiritual future of the party.

Matt Labash, Was January 6 an Inside Job?

Changing with the Times

Sometimes, a column’s title is so evocative that I don’t feel the need to read the column:

The G.O.P. Is Making ‘Critical Race Theory’ the New ‘Shariah Law’

(Charles Blow)

Not Political

Substack

One of my (few) favorite things about 2021 is the emergence of Substack, and that writers at hidebound prestige publications have been able to cast off their employers’ fetters and speak the truth as they see it. Some of them see it quite clearly.

Some, like Rod Dreher, have found in Substack a side gig — a place to write occasionally about concerns beyond quotidian politics. (I’m hoping Rod will break entirely from blogging for American Conservative, since his blogging there keeps setting his hair on fire.)

A few (at least) are finding it markedly more remunerative to write for Substack than, say, for the New York Times or New York magazine (I’m looking at you, Bari and Sully).

And at least one, who sabotaged his employment by a mental health flare-up, is getting almost all his income there.

Such is the left-liberal hegemony of prestige media that most of the fugitives tend to sound right-liberal. If you know of any interesting and honest left-liberal or hard-left Substackers, I’d love to know about them, too.

After I had substantially written this item, Bari Weiss kicked off the New Year asking her readers to tell her a bit about themselves. They obliged, and obliged, and obliged, more than 1500 (and counting) times. The responses are roughly what I would expect. The least common denominator, it seems to me, is a desire to be told, soberly, the truth. Many of us know these truths, but it’s a little disorienting, week after week after month after month, to see nothing but damnable denials in the mainstream media.

Parting shot: Since it is in my conscious working memory at the moment, I perhaps should note that a disproportionate share of my Substack subscriptions are Lesbian (Bari Weiss) or Gay (Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and David Lat. It will soon leave my working memory, unless writing it down cements it. Since I can think of no plausible explanation for it beyond coincidence, it’s not worth obsessing about.

On cancel culture, deeper than usual

Of course it’s stupid that [Patton] Oswald faced such condemnation for posting a meaningless photo [of himself with Dave Chappelle] in the first place. But come on, dude. Have some self-respect. More importantly, have a little strategic sense here: they’re not going to stop coming after you. They never stop. Apologizing is just blood in the water. You can’t be good enough to satisfy this particular kind of frenzy. What we could do is to advocate for both interpersonal charity and for the kind of moral humility that ancient religions counseled. But then, if you do that you can’t reap the benefits that Oswalt has from carrying the right water for the right people. Those moral forces which you unleash on other people you unleash on yourself, and thus we have Oswalt in a profoundly 21st century dilemma that resonates with lessons from antiquity.

Does anyone involved think that going after Patton Oswalt will materially benefit trans people in any real way? It’s one thing to find Chappelle’s words bigoted and offensive, a perfectly fair position. It’s another thing to think that the people ostensibly fighting against them here are actually motivated in good faith, given that this action can’t possibly help trans rights. Some people just love to rage out on the internet and find juicy targets, and they fall all over the political spectrum.

Social conservatism is essentially dead in American life, as crazy as that sounds; the church ladies and scolds of the right have ceded the ground to bizarre techno-reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, anti-politicians, and crypto-utopians. But there are still a lot of people out there who endorse a bitter and provincial moral vision carved out of folk Christianity and American exceptionalism. The issue is that those people have no presence whatsoever in our culture industries, certainly not in the mainstream media and increasingly little in the conservative media, which is increasingly made up of shmucks trying to get “Intellectual Dark Web” cred who don’t even pretend to care about Jesus.

You can’t be good enough. That’s the point of all of this, if this post is too long and complex for you. You can’t be good enough. They will come to you soon enough. Chappelle was once held up as an idol for the racial radicalism of his show by the people who now reject him. Louis CK was beloved of the woke, until… something happened. Amy Schumer was a hero until she wasn’t. There are others and there will be more. (Your heel turn is coming, Lil Nas X. I can feel it.) Offense is a market, and as long as there’s demand, there will be supply. We’re so desperate for targets of offense that they canceled Norman Mailer yesterday, and he’s been dead for 15 years.

Freddie deBoer, You Can’t Be Good Enough

Face-to-face versus Twitbook

Insightful anecdote from someone I follow on micro.blog:

Many people will write things online that they would never say face to face to someone. We human beings are not wired to see messages on a screen as coming from other full, complex people. I was communications director at a small, nonprofit organization sharply divided by a controversy. Different factions wanted to use the organization’s newsletter to supposedly advocate for their POV, but these "articles" were scorching condemnations of the other side. So I refused to publish them, not wanting to start a slow-motion flame war; which caused its own set of problems and endangered my job. The leadership made some rules: people must meet in person to talk about these things. Several meetings were set up to allow everyone who wanted to, to attend and say their piece. Leadership also announced they would not respond to emails or voice messages on the controversy; you had to come in person and discuss things face to face, with witnesses present. We got through this period only, I believe, because we did not allow the option of online communication. Some people left, but I believe it would have been far worse if the institution had endorsed debates in writing.

To be an American

This quote is not really representative of the long article from which it’s taken, but I think it nails something important:

To be an American is to inherit the gift of living with one foot in the present and one foot in the future, while the rest of humanity has one foot in the present and one foot in the past. Then, every 20 years or so, we trash whatever tenuous equilibriums we have cobbled together and leap off again into the unknown. So it is, and forever will be, until the oleanders bloom outside my door, and California tumbles into the sea—which might be any day now.

David Samuels, ‌The Happiest Place on Earth.

I watched an Amazon documentary on vineyards of Burgundy, and this "one foot in the present and one foot in the past" was vividly portrayed.

A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world.

I’ve written before about the value of moderation in consistency, of the need when cross-pressured by countering winds to tack back and forth. Similarly, there’s the need, when trying to understand one’s world, to alternate between specificity and generality. I do a lot better with specificity, because I have seen the ways that the embrace of a Big Theory tends to shut down people’s minds. But lately I have been feeling the absence, in my thinking, of a more general account of who we are, how we got here, and how we might navigate the prevailing winds of the future.

Or is that feeling merely a temptation? — Is the “general account” rather a snare and a delusion? …

[M]aybe a “general account” is not what is needed so much as equipment for acting wisely and lovingly — in a Christlike way — this day. A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world. What that might look like is something I plan to think about a lot in the coming year. Please stay tuned.

Alan Jacobs, ‌the cross-pressured self

Oopsie! I guess we were evil after all!

Black eye for the Google and class action rackets:

Google Street View provides panoramic street-level pictures from across the world, which it obtained from special camera cars. Google: Whoops, our cars also took substantive info, like passwords, photos, and documents, transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi. Much litigation ensues. A class action covering 60 million people settles for $13 mil, with the money going to attorneys’ fees, various costs, and an assortment of nonprofits that promise to use the money "to promote the protection of Internet privacy"—and not a penny to the people whose privacy was violated. Ninth Circuit: That’s fine. Concurrence: It’s time for us to reconsider our precedent okaying monetary awards to third parties instead of damages for class members.

‌Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Crash diet

John Huey—former editor-in-chief of Time Inc.—has a surprising New Year’s resolution: Consume less news. “Having spent more than 40 years reporting, writing and editing the news, I am surprised to conclude that overconsumption of news, at least in the forms I’ve been gorging on it since 2016, is neither good for my emotional well-being nor essential to the health of the republic,” he writes in the Washington Post, arguing there isn’t enough going on to “fill the 24/7 maw” of cable, talk radio, and social media. “I don’t intend to stop fretting about my country. Nor will I give up reading the newspapers and magazines I deem essential to understanding the world around me. But I am planning a crash news diet. … If the news is big enough, it will find me.”

The Morning Dispatch

Not endorsed

If man is doomed to perish, then universal infertility is as painless a way as any. And there are, after all, personal compensations. For the last sixty years we have sycophantically pandered to the most ignorant, the most criminal and the most selfish section of society. Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism.

P.D. James, in her dystopian The Children of Men.

Purdue Men’s Basketball

Having had a stellar (undefeated) non-conference start, Purdue men already have dropped conference games to Rutgers and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin loss, this week, was especially bad, as Purdue’s defensive inadequacies were on full, mortifying display while their offense went uncharacteristically cold.

The Boilermakers bounced back today against Penn State, coached by a first-year coach who assisted at Purdue long enough to know the current players, and Coach Matt Painter’s mind, very, very well.

Penn State gave me a scare by having their big guy attack our big guys on offense, getting both Zach Edey and Trevion Williams in such foul trouble that Purdue played ten minutes with neither of them on the court — doing better than I feared they would.

Penn State has demonstrated come-from-behind potential, and they made a late-game run at Purdue, who held them off 74-67.

It’s going to be a "prove your stuff" season for the Boilermakers, ranked #3 just a few weeks ago, but with any luck it will toughen them, show the players that Coach is right about their weaknesses, and get them peaking by March Madness time.

Love isn’t love (acid test)

The government doesn’t really believe that "love is love," and I’m glad of that: No Security Clearance for Employee Who Had Admitted to Downloading Child Pornography

What we can’t not know

Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.

Nikola Tesla


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.

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


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.

December already?

I continue, with surprisingly little effort, to cease wallowing my mornings away with doomscrolling the news. It makes for less frequent blogging, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting.

Did your November fly past as quickly as mine?

Foretaste

Maybe you should sit down to read this and then mark your calendar in anticipation: on Sunday, I’m posting something nice about the Evangelicalism of my youth.

It may have boogered-up formatting, as WordPress seems incompetent at handling markdown other than paste-it-and-publish; save it and go back for edits and it incorrigibly inserts literal > before every blockquote.

Realism

People who discuss lowering the voting age – not only those for it but also those against – assume that it would mean a transfer of political influence to the young.

That is absurd. It would mean no such thing.

… It would only mean increasing the political clout of those who have influence through the young.

Pop stars. Sports coaches. Schoolteachers. Writers and editors of media aimed at teens. Especially people in such groups who have no children of their own to take up their time and attention.

… So one could expect further politicization of entertainment, primary and secondary education, youth athletics, children’s and “young adults” books, and teen magazines and media.

J Budziszewski

Ascetic abstention

Sondheim’s work was at its strongest when it lingered in the pain of the dawning realization that no ever after ever lasted long. His music and lyrics looked squarely at life and insisted, gently and eloquently, that of course it was never going to be exactly how we wanted it to be, that messiness and ambiguity were to be expected, and could even be part of the beauty.

Amy Weiss-Meyer, ‌What Stephen Sondheim Knew About Endings

I’ve pretty much stopped reading about Sondheim — though every new article is a temptation. An especially lovely surprise was John McWhorter’s heartfelt tribute.

"Earth Alienation"

“Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age,” [Hanna] Arendt wondered, “which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky?”

I thought about Arendt as I listened to Jeff Bezos talk about space exploration at a recent event held at the National Cathedral, a setting that will strike those of you familiar with the late David Noble’s work in The Religion of Technology as altogether apropos. The thesis of Noble’s book was that “modern technology and religion have evolved together and that, as a result, the technological enterprise has been and remains suffused with religious belief.” In this light, a cathedral is an altogether appropriate setting for the annunciation of a not-so-novel message of technologically mediated salvation and transcendence.

To be sure, Bezos makes a number of statements about how special and unique the earth is and about how we must preserve it at all costs. Indeed, this is central to Bezos’s pitch. In his view, humanity must colonize space, in part, so that resource extraction, heavy industry, and a sizable percentage of future humans can be moved off the planet. It is sustainability turned on its head: a plan to sustain the present trajectories of production and consumption.

L. M. Sacasas, Earth Alienation As A Service

This merits full reading, as the infatuation with space travel and colonization is not the only way in which our technological advances correlate to alienation from our actual situation.

In a related vein:

I kept thinking about Jesus’s admonition that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. The point is not that rich people are wicked. The point is that if you have money, it is much easier to believe that you can control things, that your money and the technology it can afford (as well as living in a relatively wealthy society) buffers you from contingencies. We forget our dependence on God, but more to the point, we forget to cultivate awareness of Him.

Experience of the natural world does not generate faith. (Christianity is not a so-called Nature religion.) But surely it can encourage a certain psychological orientation favorable to some brands of religious faith; and this suggests the correlative possibility that reduced experience of the natural world might do just the opposite.

It is probable that no one has yet created a cataphatic theology grounded in technological analogies because it cannot be done. Technological artifacts point us to the wrong creator — to the human race, not God; so they seem bereft of real signals of transcendence. Further, as they become our environment, they imprint in the collective subconscious the message that things exist in order to serve us. That is the very last thing we need to intuit.

despite its undeniable defects, asceticism was "positive, not negative" because it "fundamentally aspired to liberate the highest powers of personality from obstruction by the automatism of the lower drives."

Rod Dreher, ‌‘The Luminous Dusk’

Call me a bigot, but everyone who expresses enthusiasm about space colonization (or Zuckerberg’s Metaverse) as a solution to some problem sinks in my estimation (unless they were alread rock-bottom).

RSVP Hall of Fame

Late in life, during the Second Vatican Council’s alleged golden dawn, Waugh received an invitation to a book launch by self-consciously “progressive” Catholics. He shot back by postcard his unforgettable RSVP: while he would not attend a social meal in the progressives’ company, “I would gladly attend an auto da fé at which your guests were incinerated.”

Bacevich et. al., The Essence of Conservatism

Pro-life feminism

As humor writer Dave Barry put it, “Critics allege that [Amy Coney] Barrett belongs to a harmful non-secular cult that subjugates ladies by forcing them to turn into Supreme Court justices.”

We need to broaden the tent of feminism. If, in order to be a feminist, one cannot simply be against the oppression of women but also must affirm abortion or other left-of-center causes, then feminism does not actually exist as a movement. It is merely pro-choice progressivism marketed for ladies.

And that ultimately weakens the cause of feminism because it excludes a lot of women, especially young women ….

Tish Harrison Warren, ‌Why the Feminist Movement Needs Pro-Life People

Fox-No-More

Fox broadcasts Seth Rich conspiracies? Memory-holed. Fox gave airtime to Kraken lawyers? Well, they were just asking questions. Its streaming platform airs a deranged Patriot Purge documentary that re-imagines the reality of January 6? Nobody watches Fox Nation anyway.

The cultural and political consequences in the right-wing grassroots are considerable. Politically engaged citizens can cite to you chapter and verse of (very real!) mainstream media scandals, yet they’re often completely shocked at the idea that the alternative institutions they follow are often substantially less reliable than the MSM they despise.

But honestly, how would they know? They’re inoculated against criticism of the right by the left, and how many voices on the right are reliably independent and free of Fox’s influence?

Mainstream media is still often plagued with groupthink and intolerance. Unfortunately, the right surveyed years of problems with legacy outlets and then built a media industry that was somehow even worse.

David French.

Despite Fox’s dominance, The Dispatch’s Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes resigned as contributors after Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge insanity,

Consider supporting The Dispatch. And getting off Fox News. All network news stultifies, but some stultifies more than others.

Unintended consequences

I don’t know why we don’t think more deeply and consistently of consequences of public policies and programs:

[T]he intentions behind a given policy tell us little about its likely effects ….

Tyler Cowen, commenting on a paper by Boaz Abramson in When Lawyers Make Things Worse.

Some meat:

Policies that make it harder to evict delinquent tenants, for example by providing tax-funded legal counsel in eviction cases ("Right-to-Counsel") or by instating eviction moratoria, protect renters from eviction in bad times. However, higher default costs to landlords lead to higher equilibrium rents and lower housing supply, implying homelessness might increase.

Early to bed, early to rise

My early jobs as a dishwasher and parking lot attendant began at 6 a.m. and I remember this dimness well. It changed my life. I stayed home at night and went to bed early and postponed debauchery to my mid-twenties and then, at the age of 27, I got a job on the 5 a.m. shift and postponed it again. A dear friend of mine, whose parents subsidized her fully, went out late one night and fell in with some fascinating strangers who introduced her to hashish and some other substance and she fell into a psychotic state and had to be hospitalized and spent some time in a drug program where she met more fascinating troubled people and it changed her life. She never found a vocation. Instead, she became fascinated by her own disability and made a career of being troubled, married a troubled man who abused her, and today she’s in a nursing home somewhere, a faint replica of the witty woman she once was, and I am waiting for the coffee to brew so I can get back to work on a novel. Early to bed and early to rise makes for a life that, if not wealthy and wise, is at least pleasant and sensible.

Garrison Keillor

Lies the Atlantic told me

Ending legal abortion in America, though, has long been the main goal of the conservative legal movement.

Adam Serwer.

Serwer is wrong if he means that literally, sloppy if he doesn’t.

Ending the pretext that the Constitution mandates legal abortion has been the goal. It remains after that to persuade legislatures of the appropriate restrictions on abortion.

I will be surprised if more than 5 states fly their progressive flags by legislating abortion on demand throughout pregnancy; if more than 10 states ban all abortions initially; if more than 5 states that initially banned all abortions continue to do so 5 years after Supreme Court success; if a majority of states don’t allow abortions in the first trimester.

A lot of politicians have gotten by with feigning pro- or anti-abortion purity on the cheap for almost 50 years now. We’ll see how much dross the legislative crucible throws off.

(There was another Atlantic item even worse than Serwer’s.)

Why I don’t rush to give 5 stars to new podcasts

Can anything good come out of the now-Trumpified Claremont Institute?

I’ll leave it for you to judge, but my hopes for Spencer Klaven’s Young Heretics podcast (held out as classical education for adults who weren’t classically educated) turned, for my tastes, into propaganda as the young, bright podcaster would "apply" the lessons of antiquity to modern U.S.A.

Sad. But at least it’s one less podcast I feel obliged to audit.

And it confirms the wisdom of ignoring pleas of new podcasts to "visit Apple podcasts and give us a 5-Star rating." Give me a dozen or so episodes, folks; I’m not your Junior Marketing Assistant.

Afterthought

I would be remiss if I failed to ask — How ’bout them Boilermakers?!

The Purdue Men’s basketball team bodes well to get a number 1 ranking if it can win its next road game. It’s 7-0, averaging over 90 points per game, and (if you hadn’t heard) 10-men deep. A lot of good teams will drop to Purdue, as Villanova did, simple because Purdue wears them out by rotating in fresh legs all game long, and getting solid production off the bench.

I hope the NBA knows how to reward team play — but that they don’t get Jaden Ivy to bolt after just two years. His mom, a WNBA veteran and Notre Dame coach may be able to steel him against the blandishments.


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.

Relatively reflective

Today, I have deliberately avoided politics or focused commentary on particular current events — and that involved cutting maybe 60% of what I’d clipped. I may be old, but I haven’t given up doing better.

Wisdom from the Vietnam era:

For the Student Strikers
By Richard Wilbur

Go talk with those who are rumored to be unlike you,
And whom, it is said, you are so unlike.
Stand on the stoops of their houses and tell them why
You are out on strike.

It is not yet time for the rock, the bullet, the blunt
Slogan that fuddles the mind toward force.
Let the new sound in our streets be the patient sound
Of your discourse.

Doors will be shut in your faces, I do not doubt.
Yet here or there, it may be, there will start,
Much as the lights blink on in a block at evening,
Changes of heart.

They are your houses; the people are not unlike you;
Talk with them, then, and let it be done
Even for the grey wife of your nightmare sheriff
And the guardsman’s son.

Recommended by A.M. Juster, the pen name of Michael J. Astrue, a conservative who has served in high government roles in Washington, in a PBS interview. This poem, which I hadn’t read before, is a keeper.

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

21st-century American political culture has become an ever-widening suckhole of cringe.

Matt Taibbi‌

Asking the right question

Alan Jacobs suggests an introspective question for Christians who aspire to political power:

How must I be formed as a Christian in such a way that I can be worthy of the power and influence I desire?

The question comes in a context that makes the next sentence apt:

That the integralists and Christian nationalists I read don’t seem to be asking that question is, I think, cause for concern.

It should concern us all.

Part of Dubya’s charm in the 2000 election was (a) he seemed to have a real (if fairly shallow) love of Christ and (b) his demeanor conveyed that he could take or leave political power. They don’t make many like that.

Serendipitous misreading

You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes or so long.

Ted Lasso and the Temptation of “Aww, Shucks” Idealism – Front Porch Republic

I misread the quoted portion as “You see, the thing about movies is that they’re usually ninety minutes too long” and agreed heartily. I’m also noticing all the padding in even very good nonfiction books, like 4000 Weeks. It’s hard enough to identify key parts when skimming that I have little choice but to go ahead and read the padding, resenting it even while understanding that what I’m reading might fail as “a book” if 75% of the pages were edited out.

What we can do

[W]e cannot literally believe or disbelieve things at will, but for better or for worse, we can willfully place ourselves in situations or courses of action that may produce change in our beliefs …

[I]t’s true that we can’t shut off unwanted feelings like a switch.  It’s also true that the very effort of trying to suppress them can stir them up.  Even so, our control over our inward life is much greater than we like to admit, just like our control over our beliefs.

J. Budziszewskizi, ‌Can We Believe and Feel Things at Will?

I have taken this to heart yet again. The things I obsess about, the things I wallow in, require careful consideration.

Artistry

Bowls From an One Hundred Year Ash Tree – The School of the Transfer of Energy

News-adjacent

This commentary was encountered as I was reading about current events, but it has a long, or nonexistent, sell-by date:

Fox News boosters, inside and outside of the network’s offices, like to describe this business model as “respecting the audience.” Defenders of Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program used to say much the same about it — that all it was doing was tapping into an underserved audience and taking its concerns seriously. But that account is almost comically one-sided. Just as the capitalist economy doesn’t simply give people what they already wanted but actively creates new desires and shapes consumer tastes, so right-wing media doesn’t just respect the pre-existing views of its audience. It also actively intensifies and radicalizes those views by flattering the prejudices that underlie them and providing an endless stream of provocations designed to confirm their validity.

That’s how the model works: Ratings rise and profits increase by giving viewers more red meat than they knew they wanted — a process that, over time, moves the Overton Window among American conservatives ever further to the right. Fox News is a machine for generating ideological extremism, in other words ….

Damon Linker, Fox News was toxic long before Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 movie


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.

Still recovering from politics

Not political

Hygiene Theater

[I]f detractors mock these measures—temperature checks before concerts, QR codes instead of paper menus at restaurants, outdoor mask wearing—for being useless and performative, it’s worth remembering that not everything we do need necessarily have a use, and that not everything performative is without merit.

Colin Dickey, In Defense of COVID Hygiene Theater

Science Today

Highly recommended: Matthew Crawford, How science has been corrupted. H/T @ayjay

I have no axe to grind except to wipe the smugness and censoriousness off some politicized "follow the science" faces.

Abortion polling

Most abortion polling is meaningless because most people have no idea what the abortion status quo is, what Roe held, or how Casey effectively replaced Roe. Witness this.

An apparent exception: How Americans Understand Abortion: A Comprehensive Interview Study of Abortion Attitudes in the U.S. (PDF)

NFTs

Gotta say this massaged my smug nerve (though I had been thinking more in terms of tulip mania): NFTs are the new Beanie Babies H/T @Cheri on micro.blog

People went batshit for these things. They would scour the internet to try and guess which Beanies would be discontinued when, and which ones would likely shoot up in value a little bit later. Demand for these "collectables" sky-rocketed because, well, demand sky-rocketed.

Yes, this

To believe in medicine would be utter madness, were it not still a greater madness not to believe in it.

Marcel Proust, quoted in a letter to the Wall Street Journal

Ivermectin

Scott Alexander of Astral Codex Ten offers up Ivermectin: Much More Than You Wanted To Know — a very accurate title for a very long Substack posting.

The Summary (Alexander’s own words)

  • Ivermectin doesn’t reduce mortality in COVID a significant amount (let’s say d > 0.3) in the absence of comorbid parasites: 85-90% confidence
  • Parasitic worms are a significant confounder in some ivermectin studies, such that they made them get a positive result even when honest and methodologically sound: 50% confidence
  • Fraud and data processing errors are of similar magnitude to p-hacking and methodological problems in explaining bad studies (95% confidence interval for fraud: between >1% and 5% as important as methodological problems; 95% confidence interval for data processing errors: between 5% and 100% as important)
  • Probably “Trust Science” is not the right way to reach proponents of pseudoscientific medicine: ???% confidence

I believe these conclusions not because I read the whole article but because this is the kind of thing Scott Alexander writes and he is pretty trustworthy.

You got a problem with that? Maybe you should think about how much you (and everyone else in the world) believe based on trustworthy sources.

"Independent journalism"

Substack says it has more than 1 million paid subscriptions – Axios

When Substack appeared and had a run of success, news executives treated it as something traitorous and horrifying, being sure now the independents were to blame for their audience crop failures …

They were making the same mistake they nearly all made with Trump, confusing symptom with cause. Yes, a few independents have done well, but that’s mainly because the overall quality level of mainstream news plunged so low so long ago, audiences were starved for anything that wasn’t rancidly, insultingly dishonest.

… If they really wanted to wipe us out, of course, they could just put out a New York Times that sucked less. In a million years, that won’t occur to them. Which, God forgive me, I still find funny, even if there are surely more important things to worry about today.

Matt Taibbi

What do you expect?

When police are ineffectual in riots, what’s a neighborhood, or a property owner, to do? David Bernstein, ‌A Reality Check for Progressives on the Rittenhouse Case is very good and pointed.

Uneducated

When conservatives complain about the state of higher education, they typically point the finger at the deterioration of the social sciences and humanities into critical theory, identity politics, and “grievance studies.” I sympathize with the complaint, but the number of students actually majoring in those areas is tiny compared to the army marching through business, communications, engineering, and medicine. The university is being taken over by future accountants and lawyers more than social justice warriors.

Paul Miller, ‌We Are Less Educated Than We Think

Miller is not trying to reassure us with future rule by accountants and lawyers. They’re no better educated than the lefties who spend their 6-8 years of college nurturing identities and identity-based grievances,

Political — National Conservative Conference

In Wednesday’s G-File, Jonah responds to a Christopher DeMuth op-ed from last week making a “Flight 93”-style case for national conservatism. “Things are complicated,” he writes. “But what is obvious to me is that the threat to the country is not lessened when conservatives think the answer to that threat is to emulate progressive tactics and categories of thought.”

The Morning Dispatch

Another voice:

Listening to Hawley talk populist is like listening to a white progressive Upper West Sider in the 1970s try to talk jive. The words are there, but he’s trying so hard it sounds ridiculous.

The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called “the left” that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump.

They are wrong, too, to think there is a wokeist Anschluss taking over all the institutions of American life. For people who spend so much time railing about the evils of social media, they sure seem to spend an awful lot of their lives on Twitter. Ninety percent of their discourse is about the discourse. Anecdotalism was also rampant at the conference—generalizing from three anecdotes about people who got canceled to conclude that all of American life is a woke hellscape. They need to get out more.

Sitting in that Orlando hotel, I found myself thinking of what I was seeing as some kind of new theme park: NatCon World, a hermetically sealed dystopian universe with its own confected thrills and chills, its own illiberal rides. I tried to console myself by noting that this NatCon theme park is the brainchild of a few isolated intellectuals with a screwy view of American politics and history. But the disconcerting reality is that America’s rarified NatCon World is just one piece of a larger illiberal populist revolt that is strong and rising.

David Brooks on the National Conservatism Conference. It’s foreboding.

One figure in National Conservatism is Rod Dreher, who I’ve followed since his first book, Crunchy Cons. Brooks’ quote from Rod ("We need to unapologetically embrace the use of state power") corroborates the opinion of another friend, Orthodox Christian as are Rod and I, who says Rod has started putting his "trust in princes, in sons of men in whom there is no salvation." Psalm 145:3 (146:3 in Western Bibles). That verse, of course, starts off "Put not your …."

Here’s my fear, evoked by Brooks’ take-down of Amanda Milius:

Another speaker, Amanda Milius, is the daughter of John Milius, who was the screenwriter for the first two Dirty Harry films and Apocalypse Now. She grew up in L.A. and wound up in the Trump administration. She argued that America needs to get back to making self-confident movies like The Searchers, the 1956 John Ford Western. This was an unapologetic movie, she asserted, about how Americans tamed the West and how Christian values got brought to “savage, undeveloped land.”

This is about as dumb a reading of The Searchers as it’s possible to imagine. The movie is actually the modern analogue to the Oresteia, by Aeschylus. The complex lead figure, played by John Wayne, is rendered barbaric and racist while fighting on behalf of westward pioneers. By the end, he is unfit to live in civilized society.

But we don’t exactly live in an age that acknowledges nuance. Milius distorts the movie into a brave manifesto of anti-woke truths—and that sort of distortion has a lot of buyers among this crowd.

(Emphasis added) It’s not at all hard for me to envision these NatCon crusaders being "rendered barbaric and racist while fighting … [b]y the end, … unfit to live in civilized society."

So the remarkable realignment of the major parties — who really thinks the Democrats are still the "party of the working man? — leave me no political home outside my dear, so-far-ineffectual, American Solidarity Party.


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.

November 16

Not political

Amish demurrals

My apologies if I’ve quoted this before:

These observations dismiss the popular belief that the Amish reject all new technologies. So what’s really going on here? The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Quantitative metrics – meh!

Please don’t email me about my position on the Substack leaderboards. 100% of such emails have been in the way of encouragement and congratulations, so of course I’m not mad about it. But I saw those when I first set up this newsletter and said “nope nope nope.” I’ve never intentionally checked the leaderboard since, though I’ve blundered into it a couple times. It’s just exactly the kind of quantitative metric I don’t want to care about. I want to pay the bills and write for a passionate audience, not climb some status ladder. You can reference it in comments if it’s germane to your conversation, but in general please let me stay in the dark.

Freddie deBoer. By "writ[ing] for a passionate audience, not climb[ing] some status ladder," deBoer has created a Substack some very smart people are calling names like "indispensible" — and I welcome them to Freddie fandom.

Godless Middle Earth?

Musing about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and its lack of religion, priests, and such:

For the Extremely Online Discourse Police, the sole purpose of language is to declare allegiances and repudiations, and you can’t do that effectively if you “tell the truth but tell it slant.” The good news is that this moment will not last, and (again) in the long run Dickinson is exactly right to say that “Success in Circuit lies.”

Alan Jacobs

Valorizing a loser

I’ll have to take David French’s word that Kyle Rittenhouse is not just defended, but valorized in significant parts of the Right, because I don’t watch or read them even for purposes of vigilance.

But I agree with French that valorizing Rittenhouse will produce copy-cats. He should be left to live with his folly and shame, but bad actors will try to put him in the limelight for their own profit or dubious ends.

Political

"The Progressives made us do it"

Of J.D. Vance’s transformation as an Ohio Senate Candidate:

Progressives who lament the loss of another “genteel” conservative ought to ask themselves whether their own uncompromising politics have played a role.

Sean Speer, ‌What elite commentary gets wrong about J.D. Vance

This is sort of interesting, because it makes explicit the sort of "the other guys are an existential threat and must be defeated by any means necessary" that is tearing our country apart.

David French is the bane of the new right for good reasons. One reason is he’s not having any of the macho bullshit that passes for masculinity today, and neither did wise voice of an earlier era, like Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise …

It may indeed be impossible to reconcile the hard, progressive left and the allegedly white nationalist right, but even in the aggregate they’re not a majority in the country. The problem is, the extremes are riled up, active, colorful and "newsworthy." The majority is none of those.

Not mutually exclusive

In Friday’s G-File, Jonah uses the latest developments regarding the Steele dossier to make a point about both-sides-ism. “Going by what we know, the Steele dossier was a travesty. It was an outrageous, indefensible, dirty trick,” he writes. But on “the other side of the ledger,” Donald Trump openly called on the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election, his campaign held a meeting with a Russian woman promising to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, gave internal polling data to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. “Now you can make as much or as little about all of this as you want—and many people have, in both pro- and anti-Trump tribes,” Jonah concludes. “My only point is that just because Team A misbehaved, that doesn’t mean Team B’s misbehavior didn’t exist.”

The Morning Dispatch, 11/15/21

And they did both misbehave, which reinforces my unwillingness to pledge myself to either of them.

It’s 1968 again

Of Steve Bannon’s Contempt of Congress indictment, David Frum says Bannon knows exactly what he’s doing:

It’s a political strategy, intended, like the Chicago Seven’s strategy in Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom all those years ago, to discredit a legal and constitutional system that the pro-Trump partisans despise.

The Trump partisans start with huge advantages that the Chicago Seven lacked: They have a large and growing segment of the voting public in their corner, and they are backed by this country’s most powerful media institutions, including the para-media of Facebook and other social platforms.

Thanks to that advantage, the Trump partisans don’t need to convince much of anybody of much of anything. It won’t bother the Trump partisans that their excuses are a mess of contradictions. They say that nothing happened, and that it was totally justified; that Trump did nothing, and that Trump was totally entitled to do it. Their argument doesn’t have to make sense, because their constituency doesn’t care about it making sense. Their constituency cares about being given permission to disregard and despise the legal rules that once bound U.S. society. That’s the game, and that’s how Bannon & Co. will play the game.

Gerrymandering

When I was young and ignorant, I had the same dumb opinion about gerrymandering as almost everybody else does: I was shocked by it. The process was politicized, and I was scandalized. As a veteran state legislator in Texas explained it to me, redistricting isn’t politicized — it is political per se, “the most political thing a legislature does,” as he put it. It does not have to be politicized because it is political by nature, and to “depoliticize” it, as some self-serving Democrats and a few callow idealists suggest, would be to change its nature and its character. The Democrats who lecture us about the will of the people would, in this matter, deprive the people’s elected representatives of one of their natural powers.

The gerrymander — like the filibuster, the earmark, the debt ceiling, and other procedural instruments of power — is something that people complain about only when it is being used against them. The Democrats were perfectly happy with gerrymandering for the better part of 200 years, understanding it to be an utterly normal part of the political process. They began to object to it when Republicans got good at it. And, in a refreshing bit of candor, their argument against partisan redistricting is that Republicans are too good at it.

Seriously — that is the Democrats’ argument: that gerrymandering was all good and fine until Republicans figured out how to make the most of it. Republicans, in clear violation of the ancient Republican Party tradition, embraced cutting-edge technology and availed themselves of the best experts’ help in order to methodically and intelligently conduct a long-term program of serious and profitable political action. “Never before have party strategists been armed with sophisticated computer software that can help them carve districts down to the individual street and home,” Hedrick Smith wailed in a 2015 essay.

Detail-oriented Republicans with an attention span exceeding that of a meth-addicted goldfish — angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

Go look at an old district map of Texas during that state’s 130 years of Democratic legislative control, and what you will see is not exactly a hard-edged display of Euclidean regularity. Democrats made the most of their redistricting power in the Texas legislature and — bear this in mind, Republicans — it wasn’t enough to save them. Not nearly enough. Once Texans decided they were no longer buying what Democrats were selling, there was no procedural shenanigan that was going to save the[m].

… in spite of Republican manipulation of House districts, the Democrats quickly rebuilt their congressional majorities with the assistance of Donald Trump.

Kevin D. Williamson

Sometimes I just post stuff, but I substantially agree with this. "Agree with" does not mean "exult in"; I haven’t considered myself a Republican since January 2005.

Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

If you can’t measure it, it’s not "God’s Blessing"

I have been listening to Christianity Today’s podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which of necessity focuses on the doings of pastor Mark Driscoll. Episode 11, a really long one, is playing as I type.

I can’t decide if this is a complicated story or a really simple one:

  1. Much of Evangelicalism is congenitally more interested in numerical growth than in discipleship and true Christian growth.
  2. That propensity, combined with a narcissistic pastor who produced numerical growth for a number of years, completely broke down any pastoral accountability or Christlikeness.

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

If the goal is Church growth and not Church health, one way to do it is get a really charismatic, dynamic personality that attracts a large number of people and let him do whatever he wants. And then he’ll never leave. And the people will say "I go to so-and-so’s church. So-and-so is my pastor."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, I never met him. He’s my pastor."

The speaker was Mark Driscoll, the disgraced Mars Hill pastor, himself.

A simple story, I think. And it’s being replayed, a bit more softly and in a lower register, throughout Evangelicalism today.

Because in much (most?) of Evangelicalism, numerical growth is per se "God’s blessing on pastor so-and-so’s ministry."

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

  • II. … Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. …
  • VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.
  • XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
  • XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.

Wendell Berry. This was written 1991, before the internet revolution, but I’m not sure he’d change a word of it today.

Guilt by free association

The only motivation for the invocation of Schlafly seems to be that, as [Linda] Greenhouse notes, she was the subject of a television mini-series in 2020, and that both were lawyers with large families. "Forty years later, more than a few people looked at Amy Coney Barrett and saw Phyllis Schlafly," Greenhouse writes, with no indication of who those people were. "And how could they not, given the similarity in the two women’s biographies?" This isn’t even guilt by association. It’s guilt by free association.

Noah Feldman, reviewing Linda Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink, via Josh Blackman.

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

I was and remain deeply indebted to Marx’s critique of the economic, social, and cultural order of capitalism and to the development of that critique by later Marxists.

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

Caveat on the headline: the first edition of After Virtue was published in 1981. I don’t know if it included this acknowledgement. In my neck of the woods, acknowledging learning from Marx in 1981 would at least get you the side-eye. I personally didn’t learn from him until later, after Communism fell, and sensible people stopped obsessing about it.

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

I think it would be preposterous to deny that there are good things [about social media]. My favorite thing is people with rare diseases finding each other and being able to compare notes. That wasn’t possible before. But it has to be said that all of those good things could happen without this algorithmic overlord. You could have all of the good of the internet and all of the good we associate with social media, which is real, without this crazy-making business model. And that’s why I find a fallacy in a lot of thinking that’s like, well, we just have to deal with Facebook making the world darker and crazier because we need this or that. That’s not true at all.

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

Readwise suggests something it thinks I might like to read at the end of each day’s review of things I have read. Friday’s suggestion was this:

Goddess worship, feminine values, and women’s power depend on the ubiquity of the image. God worship, masculine values, and men’s domination of women are bound to the written word. Word and image, like masculine and feminine, are complementary opposites. Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

It probably is selling briskly in a niche market of which I’m not a part. But it reminds me of some crazy PhD. thesis in a world where a high proportion of sane ideas have been explored by prior doctoral candidates. After defense of the thesis, the newly-minted PhD will have become heavily, heavily invested in the thesis, howsoever absurd, and will carry it into the academy with him/her.

The most baneful effects of this pattern are in theology, where an original contribution to the literature will be very likely heretical.

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

We all get things wrong. What makes this more worrying is simply that all these false narratives just happen to favor the interests of the left and the Democratic party. And corrections, when they occur, take up a fraction of the space of the original falsehoods. These are not randos tweeting false rumors. They are the established press.

Andrew Sullivan, decrying the deceitfulness of mainstream media — to which media, nevertheless, sensible people have no good alternative.

(I increasingly think we do have a good alternative: tune out the news almost entirely. What good does it do me in Indiana, for instance, to have any opinion whatever about the interaction of Kentucky Catholic School boys and an older native American in DC?)

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

Tensions are indeed rising between the U.S. and China, but that’s not primarily because the former is a democracy and the latter is authoritarian. It’s because America is a global hegemon that projects power into China’s near abroad, and China is a rapidly rising power seeking to expand its influence across East Asia. That places the two countries on a collision course, and whether they’ll prove able to avoid armed conflict will have very little to do either country’s form of government.

Damon Linker, The anachronistic vision behind Biden’s Summit for Democracy.

Biden’s vision may be anachronistic, but he’s not alone in that.

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out the 13 representatives’ office phone numbers and urged Americans to “politely say how they feel about these traitor Republicans voting to pass Joe Biden’s Communist agenda.”

Morning Dispatch, ‌Did ‘Republican Traitors’ Save the Filibuster?.

MTG’s "Politely address traitors who voted for Communism" does not pass the plausible deniability test when things like this were the response:

They did. “You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor,” one voter said in a voicemail left for GOP Rep. Fred Upton, vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope you f—ing die. I hope your f—ing family dies. I hope everybody in your f—ing staff dies, you f—ing piece of f—ing s—. Traitor!”

Even National Review, in a descent almost as steep as that of the Claremont Institute, was outraged at Republicans voting for the the infrastructure bill.

I. Don’t. Get. It.


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.

Gleanings, 11/9/21

Todays posting has zero politics (I resolutely deny that the judiciary is political). That’s not to say no draft item was political, but that I felt sullied by their presence and deleted them.

Forgetting what it means to be fully human

Of course, there are hands somewhere in the chain of events that produce the stuff of our lives. In a globalized economy, the hands may be a world away. Many items, such as clothing and electronics are rarely made in America anymore. My home county in South Carolina once boasted the highest concentration of textile mills in the world. Today, there are none.

We are a people who eat without farming and are clothed without weaving. Our lives are abstracted from the activities that sustain them. We are alienated from human existence, though we rarely notice.

I have an instinct that this alienation creates a “thinness” to our existence. We lose connection and communion and wander amid ideas and not realities. Economists describe all of this as a “service economy,” meaning that what we do is abstracted from growing and making.

I am not a Luddite who believes that a world with mechanical devices is inherently bad. I do believe, however, that it is possible to forget much of what it is to be human. There are always hands somewhere in the chain of events that give us what we need and use. However, when it is never our own hands, something is lost.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Distraction Delusion


Biggest Supreme Court debut

In law school, I got the best score in a class of 100 or so on Introductory Constitutional Law. Maybe that’s because I was very interested in what government could not lawfully do, whereas my progressive classmates didn’t much care about annoying words like "cannot lawfully" when it came to pursuing their goals. I literally cannot remember any other student voicing moral objection, for instance, to academics lying, in their Amicus brief opposing capital punishment, about what the social science data showed.

So although I’ve soured (again) on general news and on politics, I follow several smart legal blogs and podcasts. I’m not even opposed to gossipy items like this:

In the years that I’ve been following SCOTUS, who has had the biggest high-court debut? I’d probably say then-SG Elena Kagan, whose first oral argument before the Court was in a little case called Citizens United in 2009.

But Texas’s solicitor general, Judd E. Stone II, is not far behind. On Monday, he presented his first arguments to the Supreme Court in two matters you might have heard of: Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas, aka the challenges to S.B. 8, Texas’s controversial new abortion law.

I’ll discuss those cases more below. For now, I’ll just observe that Stone seemed to get the most buzz of the four advocates, who included two former Lawyers of the Week—U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar and former Texas SG Jonathan Mitchell, the mastermind behind S.B. 8’s clever design—and Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

How did Stone do? Not surprisingly, assessments on Twitter reflected observers’ views on the merits of the controversial cases, with a self-described liberal calling Stone an “idiot” and a self-described conservative calling him “incredible.”

Speaking for myself, I thought that Stone acquitted himself very well, especially for a first-time advocate handling two extremely difficult, high-stakes cases. He fielded a flurry of challenging questions, not just from the three liberals—especially Justice Kagan, who along with Justice Alito might be the Court’s best questioner—but even from the conservatives.

And whether or not you liked the substance of Stone’s responses, there’s no disputing that he kept his cool throughout the proceedings (when many of us might have wet ourselves or fainted). I agree with Steven Mazie of the Economist, who tweeted that “given the totally bonkers law he’s been assigned to defend, Judd Stone is pretty unflappable.”

David Lat’s Original Jurisdiction blog

Seriously: Defending a deliberate, brazen and byzantine hack of the legal system one’s very first time at SCOTUS would be about as (ahem!) interesting as a day could ever be.

Struggling for the right rationale

My favorite legal blog is Volokh Conspiracy, a very active multi-author collaboration. Much fat being chewed there on Texas S.B. 8:

The principle at stake is that state governments cannot gut judicial protection for a constitutional right.

if Texas prevails in this case, it and other states could use similar tools to undermine a wide range of other constitutional rights, including gun rights, property rights, free speech rights, and others.

If a state enacts a statute that blocks meaningful federal judicial review of laws that might violate constitutional rights, courts should not permit such a subterfuge to succeed. If doing so requires overruling or limiting previous precedents on issues like sovereign immunity and limitations on the plaintiffs’ ability to sue to enjoin judges (as opposed to other types of state officials), then that is what should be done. These latter principles are far less important than ensuring judicial protection for constitutional rights, and therefore should give way in cases where there is an unavoidable conflict between the two.

The Supreme Court need only rule that sovereign immunity must give way in a case where the only alternative is to shield from challenge a state law that could create a serious "chilling effect" on a constitutional right. Such "chilling effects" already justify preenforcement lawsuits in a number of other contexts, such as freedom of speech. The case for such prioritization is especially strong when we are dealing with rights protected against states by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Ilya Somin, joining the chorus that "you can’t let Texas get away with this."

Stephen E. Sachs, whose ideas Somin is critiquing, files a rejoinder, of course, and for those who like getting into the legal weeds, it helps show just how rich a discussion topic Texas’s [expletive deleted] law is.

NFL

The coin just dropped Sunday on how different NFL helmets look now that they’re trying, through both officiating changes and technology, to reduce brain injuries. They’ve all got some kind of inset plates on the "forehead" of the helmet likeliest to be involved in dangerous hits. Oddly, I noticed the tighter officiating before I noticed the helmet changes (that’s odd because I have only recently begun watching football again, and I don’t read about it).

Now that I’ve given my amateur impression, I offer you a link to NFL talk about the subject. There are other links if you search "nfl helmet technology improvement."

UATX

One of the very best things about freedom and entrepreneurship is that when things get bad, innovators can create better alternatives.

[M]any universities no longer have an incentive to create an environment where intellectual dissent is protected and fashionable opinions are scrutinized. At our most prestigious schools, the primary incentive is to function as finishing school for the national and global elite. Amidst the brick and ivy, these students entertain ever-more-inaccessible theories while often just blocks away their neighbors figure out how to scratch out a living.

Pano Kanelos, ‌We Can’t Wait for Universities to Fix Themselves. So We’re Starting a New One..

Kanelos’s new university is getting a lot of buzz on the Right, though not all the dissidents affiliating with it are by any means conservative.

Columbia Core Curriculum

Neither coldly academic nor hotly confessional, “Rescuing Socrates” is a warm, appealing narrative of how it feels to be “thrust into a conversation” with fellow students about life’s most “serious and unsettling questions.” Because it is a narrative, the book does not impose what Mr. Montás calls “an artificial compression” on the subtle and cumulative workings of this type of education. Instead he gradually reveals how the process worked. “Many of the conversations . . . went over my head,” the author writes, “but like a recurring tide that leaves behind a thin layer of sediment each time it comes, eventually forming recognizable structures, the intensive reading and twice-weekly discussions were coalescing into an altogether new sense of who I was.”

Martha Bayles, ‌‘Rescuing Socrates’ Review: Great Books, Greatly Missed

Our position is ineffable, hence undebatable

You know personally I’ve been achingly specific about my critiques of social justice politics, but fine – no woke, it’s a “dogwhistle” for racism. (The term “dogwhistle” is a way for people to simply impute attitudes you don’t hold onto you, to make it easier to dismiss criticism, for the record.) But the same people say there’s no such thing as political correctness, and they also say identity politics is a bigoted term. So I’m kind of at a loss. Also, they propose sweeping changes to K-12 curricula, but you can’t call it CRT, even though the curricular documents specifically reference CRT, and if you do you’re an idiot and also you’re a racist cryptofascist. Also nobody (nobody!) ever advocated for defunding the police, and if they did it didn’t actually mean defunding the police. Seems to be a real resistance to simple, comprehensible terms around here … right now it sure looks like you don’t want to be named because you don’t want to be criticized.

Freddie deBoer, ‌Please Just Fucking Tell Me What Term I Am Allowed to Use for the Sweeping Social and Political Changes You Demand

On a related note:

Funny thing about culture wars: No one ever seems to think the left launches them. Take the “1619 Project,” an effort by the New York Times to recast America’s true founding from 1776 to 1619, when a privateer ship brought 20 kidnapped African slaves to Virginia. The project has also been adapted for American classrooms.

“Yet when parents object to it, as they did in Virginia, the Times accuses the GOP of stoking a culture war,” columnist Michael Goodwin noted in Sunday’s New York Post. Never mind that the “1619 Project” is itself a culture war salvo.

Implicit in accusations of Republican culture wars is that some uncouth person, probably motivated by hate, is raising an issue that American liberals have deemed beyond discussion in polite society, whether it’s abortion, public-school curriculums, guns, crime or something else. So instead of honest political debate, we get what we saw in Virginia—Mr. McAuliffe’s claim about Mr. Youngkin’s “racist dog whistles,” the Lincoln Project’s sending phony white supremacists to smear Mr. Youngkin, or an MSNBC commentator explaining that the election of Winsome Sears, an African-American woman, as lieutenant governor is somehow a victory for white supremacy.

William McGurn, Wall Street Journal

Read what labels?

While health pundits tell us to “read the labels,” I tell my cardiology patients to eat food that requires no label. An apple looks like an apple and Oreos don’t grow on trees.

John Miller, M.D., letter to the Wall Street Journal

For what it’s worth — and I think it may be worth a lot

Rolls-Royce will begin to develop small modular nuclear reactors after securing £455m ($617m) from Britain’s government and a small group of private investors. Such reactors are considered a cheaper and quicker way to harness nuclear energy. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business and energy secretary, said they presented, “a once in a lifetime opportunity to deploy more low carbon energy than ever before”.

The Economist Daily Briefing for November 9.

Brazening it out

Meinecke interprets the ideological conflict between Germany and her opponents in these terms. He thinks that Germany was accused of immorality only because she frankly declared that Might was Right, while the Anglo-Saxon powers, who acted no less unscrupulously, continued to pay lip-service to morality.

Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

Newsworthiness

The Justice Department announced Monday it has indicted a 22-year-old Ukrainian national and a 28-year-old Russian national for their involvement in a series of ransomware attacks on businesses and government entities—including this summer’s Kaseya attack—and is seeking to extradite the 22-year-old from Poland where he was arrested. The Justice Department also said it seized more than $6 million in ransom payments, and the Treasury Department on Monday sanctioned Russian cryptocurrency exchange Chatex for allegedly facilitating those payments.

The Morning Dispatch for November 9. I didn’t see this item in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. But then I didn’t see this there, either.

"Newsworthiness" is an interesting concept, and varying interpretations of it is where a lot of "media bias" lies — not how they cover stuff, but what stuff they cover in the first place.

A folder for the unclassifiable

I’m going to need a new Obsidian folder captioned something like "Just Because It’s So Good." I’m not sure what all will go in beyond Garrison Keillor’s semi-weekly reveries.

21st-Century Primatology

[O]ne feels as though they have a professional obligation [to be on social media]. When Jane Goodall became a primatologist, studying chimpanzees, she didn’t stay in posh Hampstead, the place of her birth. No, she went to Tanzania where the chimps lived and bred and flung monkey-dung at each other when agitated. Similarly, if you’re in the a-hole observation business, you have to go where they live and breed and fling dung at each other. Meaning, you have to at least occasionally read Twitter.

Matt Labash

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.

Curated for 10/27/21

The cure for out-of-parental-control public schools

Terry McAuliffe may have been too candid for his own good, and Republicans may have "pounced" on his statement (“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”), but his statement parallels the state of the law:

[T]he state does not have the power to “standardize its children” or “foster a homogenous people” by completely foreclosing the opportunity of individuals and groups to choose a different path of education. We do not think, however, that this freedom encompasses a fundamental constitutional right to dictate the curriculum at the public school to which they have chosen to send their children.

1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Brown v. Hot, Sexy, and Safer Productions, Inc., via David French.

Since public school parents are not a homogenous bunch, how could any other rule work?

National Review’s Andy McCarthy addresses a bolder claim than a parental constitutional right to dictate public school curriculum, namely that public schools are unconstitutional:

Professor [Philip] Hamburger is right to highlight this project’s offensiveness to the parents of schoolchildren as among its worst features. That said, parental dissent, which is widespread but not unanimous, is just one reason why the project should be resisted. And Hamburger strains mightily not only to portray this dissent as the dispositive objection to progressive curricula, but to portray such curricula as a violation of the constitutional right to free speech.

It is an ill-conceived theory, and reliance on it will only disserve a critical cause by giving progressives an easy target to shoot at.

Hamburger asserts:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination.

It would be generous to describe these propositions as dubious. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that most pedagogy, like most human interaction, takes the form of speech, and therefore that the whole of education is, as Hamburger maintains, covered by the First Amendment. Even if all that were true, what he is arguing for here would not be freedom of speech, but freedom from speech.

Essentially, he posits that the First Amendment gives one party to a protected communication a veto over the other. By this logic, if parents wanted their children to be taught that two plus two equals five, teachers would be expected to comply. Ironically, moreover, Hamburger’s suggestion that public schools are compelling parents to “make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination,” or at least pressuring them to do so, is belied by the very legal authority that he offers in support of his specious First Amendment claim.

The best solution for parents who don’t like what’s going on in public schools is to get their kids out of public schools.

Two final, somewhat tangential, observations:

  1. I sympathize with public school board members. They are almost always (so far as my experience goes) well-meaning volunteers, dependent on educational professionals for their information, and, realistically, serving these days mostly as lightning rods for those educrats.
  2. Phillip Hamburger’s piece was so flawed that I’ve got to suspect the Wall Street Journal of high-class clickbaiting.

Time to descend from the pulpit

Elections are not prayer meetings, and no one is interested in your personal testimony. They are not therapy sessions or occasions to obtain recognition. They are not seminars or “teaching moments.” They are not about exposing degenerates and running them out of town. If you want to save America’s soul, consider becoming a minister. If you want to force people to confess their sins and convert, don a white robe and head to the River Jordan. If you are determined to bring the Last Judgment down on the United States of America, become a god. But if you want to win the country back from the right, and bring about lasting change for the people you care about, it’s time to descend from the pulpit.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal

As if on cue, Damon Linker on wokeness:

Then why does wokeness nonetheless drive me crazy?

The beginning of an answer can be found in the fact that wokeness makes me feel like I’m attending Sunday school in a denomination and parish I never chose to join. I just turn on the radio or open the paper or scroll through Twitter — and the next thing I know, a finger-wagging do-gooder with institutional power behind him is delivering a sermon, showing me The Way, calling on me to repent, encouraging me to be born again in the moral light.

Do not underestimate Russians

Napoleon at last occupied Moscow as he had occupied the capitals of Austria and Prussia, but instead of surrendering, as those countries did, the Russians retreated and fought on. Suddenly Moscow burned down and Napoleon, facing the Russian winter in a destroyed city, was forced to make a rapid retreat. Assuming that history is made by decisive actions, historians asked whose idea it was to incinerate Moscow. Some credited the city’s furiously patriotic mayor, Rostopchin; others picked other Muscovites. Nonsense, Tolstoy replies. No one decided to burn the city down. No one had to, since a city made of wood, where scarcely a day passes without a fire, “cannot fail to burn when its inhabitants have left it and it is occupied by soldiers who smoke pipes, make campfires . . . and cook themselves meals twice a day.” Likewise, no one ordered the inhabitants to leave—Rostopchin in fact tried to stop them—but the civilian equivalent of “the spirit of the army” led them to feel that they simply could not remain under French rule. By leaving, they unintentionally made the city burn and, without intending it, saved Russia. Tolstoy concludes: “Moscow was burned by its inhabitants, it is true, but by those who abandoned her, not by those who stayed behind.”

Gary Saul Morson, ‌Tolstoy’s Wisdom and Folly

An organized vehicle for neurotic progressivism

But even accounting for their courage, Martin Luther King Jr., who began his career in ministry as a staunch liberal inspired by Unitarian Pastor Theodore Parker, felt compelled to renounce the flimsiness of unitarian liberal theology in a 1960 essay: “liberalism’s superficial optimism concerning human nature caused it to overlook the fact that reason is darkened by sin. … Liberalism failed to see that reason by itself is little more than an instrument to justify man’s defensive ways of thinking.” The delusional optimism of liberal theology, according to King, could not stand up against the hard, grim reality of human chauvinism and cruelty.

From its inception in 1825, the American Unitarian Association—formed from a schism within the Congregationalist church, with the Unitarian contingent leaving behind those committed to Calvinism—was as much an institution for social reform as a religion. Theologically, however, it could never really get its act together.

… in lieu of having commitments to theology or anything identifiable as the divine, the Unitarian Universalist church has functioned for decades as primarily an organized vehicle for … neurotic progressivism ….

‌The High Church of Wokeism

Seeking status and significance?

[I]n the United States, a record nearly 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August, according to the Labor Department, and more than 10 million positions were vacant — slightly down from July, when about 11 million jobs needed filling …

… [T]here might also be something deeper afoot. In its sudden rearrangement of daily life, the pandemic might have prompted many people to entertain a wonderfully un-American new possibility — that our society is entirely too obsessed with work, that employment is not the only avenue through which to derive meaning in life and that sometimes no job is better than a bad job.

… They’re questioning some of the bedrock ideas in modern life, especially life in America: What if paid work is not the only worthwhile use of one’s time? What if crushing it in your career is not the only way to attain status and significance in society? …

Farhad Manjoo, ‌Even With a Dream Job, You Can Be Antiwork.

So the goal is "status" and "significance"?

I don’t think so:

if a man lived in obscurity making his friends in that obscurity, obscurity is not uninteresting.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

And don’t forget that leisure is the basis of culture.

Beta male smackdown

I’m old enough to remember when John Zmirak was bragging to his friends about hanging a picture of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in his Manhattan office. He had much better taste in right-wing strongmen then. They were actually, you know, strong.

Rod Dreher, responding to Trumpkin "failed writer and professional ankle-biter" John Zmirak who called Rod (and others outside the asylum) "beta males." Rod’s response is pretty devastating — especially if one’s familiar with Zmirak.

Empathy failure

Came across this from last year, as I was still reading anything from any plausible source to explain why my fellow-American Trump supporters weren’t patently wrong, but had reasons I could apprehend with enough effort:

…as preposterous as it may sound given Trump’s penchant for exaggeration and sarcasm, a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for truth against the overt political propaganda of the corporate media.

Robert Hutchinson, Why so many voters support Donald Trump: a letter to baffled non-Americans

For the record, I highlighted this for the outlandishness, not that it helped me understand. It is not logical to vote for a terrible President because the media lie about him, and Trump’s lies and cruelties were not mere "exaggeration and sarcasm."

I just cannot get into the mind of Trump voters, and their own explanations have more drollery and trolling than plausibility. I only hope that the madness somehow — ummmmm — dies down before 2024, and the only obvious way for that to happen is something that I, not having rightful power over life and death, dare not pray for.

Shithole University

“The Liberty Way”: How Liberty University Discourages and Dismisses Students’ Reports of Sexual Assaults — ProPublica

Is anyone really surprised? My only surprises are:

  • that Liberty hung on to a handful of very good people, like Karen Swallow Prior, as long as it did; and
  • at Liberty, as elsewhere, almost all of the young women who got sexually assaulted were partying and drinking, as were the louts who assaulted them.

But we’re not supposed to notice the nexus between getting blasted and getting sexually assaulted, because that would be blaming the victim. So the only effective preventive — sobriety in comportment and drinking — is off-limits for discussion.


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