The end of the world as we know it …

THE EIGHT PRINCIPLES OF UNCIVILISATION

‘We must unhumanise our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.’

  1. We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling. All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history. We will face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
  2. We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’.
  3. We believe that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves. We intend to challenge the stories which underpin our civilisation: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from ‘nature’. These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
  4. We will reassert the role of storytelling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.
  5. Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. Our art will begin with the attempt to step outside the human bubble. By careful attention, we will reengage with the non-human world.
  6. We will celebrate writing and art which is grounded in a sense of place and of time. Our literature has been dominated for too long by those who inhabit the cosmopolitan citadels.
  7. We will not lose ourselves in the elaboration of theories or ideologies. Our words will be elemental. We write with dirt under our fingernails.
  8. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. Together, we will find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.

The Eight Principles of Uncivilization (Dark Mountain Project)

I wonder whether Paul Kingsnorth, an author if this Manifesto some years ago, would still unequivocally endorse this from Priniciple 5 now that he is a Christian:

Humans are not the point and purpose of the planet …

It seems to me that it is defensible from one standpoint, but also incongruent with, for instance, “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man” from the Nicene Creed, which he now confesses.


[T]ime has not been kind to the greens. Today’s environmentalists are more likely to be found at corporate conferences hymning the virtues of ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethical consumption’ than doing anything as naive as questioning the intrinsic values of civilisation. Capitalism has absorbed the greens, as it absorbs so many challenges to its ascendancy. A radical challenge to the human machine has been transformed into yet another opportunity for shopping.

Dark Mountain Manifesto


“At a time when fewer Americans attend religious services, religious narratives about Christian nationhood may have their strongest political effects when, and perhaps because, they are detached from religious institutions.”

Please read that sentence again.

Richard Ostling, Did January 6 attack on Capitol highlight ‘D.I.Y. Christianity’ as decade’s next big thing?.


[T]here is no such thing as independent media; there are only different kinds of dependence. If your financial security is derived from the approval of others, you are not independent. You can be dependent on different people and that difference does matter. I have been remarkably successful here in a crowdfunding context but I probably would never have been able to get a staff writer job at any traditional publication. (Such a job would probably pay a third of what I’m making, but that’s for another time.) But my generous readers are themselves stakeholders whose interests I will inevitably weigh and value. A consequence of this dynamic is that “independent” media is subject to external pressures too, in ways both good and bad. If you don’t like something about what is typically branded as the independent media, you can yell about it, which increases engagement and helps who you want to hurt; you can hope that it will go away, which it almost certainly won’t; or you can try to use the power of incentives, that very universal dependence.

Freddie deBoer


[In t]he attempted suppression of the old Mass…, Francis is attempting to use centralized authority to complete the revolution of Vatican II, to consign definitively to the past a liturgy that’s often a locus of resistance to the council’s changes. (It’s many other things as well, but Francis is not wrong to see it playing that role.)

Ross Douthat, ‌The Ungovernable Catholic Church

I love that parenthetical, because I know it’s true from conversations I’ve had with the kinds of Catholics who support the Latin Mass. But at present, Pope Francis is keener on making the big catholic tent big enough for German progressives than for those who resist some or much of Vatican II.

As an Orthodox Christian, I tend to support the traditional Latin Mass simply because it is at least recognizably Christian Liturgy (unlike the Novus Ordo).

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. A Church nourished on the Novus Ordo apparently is friendly to gay marriage and women priests, hostile to 2000 years of tradition.


During the hundred days after George Floyd’s death, one heard frequently about unrest in the city of Portland, Oregon. Every day, the journalist Andy Ngo posted video on Twitter that seemed to show horrendous clashes between the police and black-clad rioters that Ngo identified as antifa … At the same time, the journalist Bret Weinstein on his DarkHorse podcast told tales of ongoing, bitter antifa provocation and violence. Not long ago, the writer Douglas Murray visited Portland and compared the city to third world war zones he had visited. “This is not normal,” he said again and again.

How did the Times respond to the situation in Portland? There had been criticism of the paper by conservative outlets for under-reporting the events in Portland and under-playing the violence when it did report. In July, a couple of months after Floyd’s death, when the troubles had been going on for some time, the Times sent the distinguished journalist Nicholas Kristof to investigate. He wrote a piece, much of it tongue in cheek, about how very hard it was to find a genuine anarchist in the whole city of Portland. The demonstrations, as he saw them, were overwhelmingly instances of peaceful civic engagement. “We see dueling narratives. One is Trump’s, and it portrays Portland and other cities with protests against police brutality as teetering on the abyss and requiring his Lincolnesque hand to hold America together. The other is—well, shall we call it reality? Yes, there’s violence and vandalism, as well as opportunistic looting, and it will be a challenge to manage it, but local officials are much better placed to do so than the White House.”

Now of course Trump reacted in predictable fashion, sending federal officers into the city. If in fact there was horrid violence in Portland, then Trump was right—and one began in time to sense that in this paper, Trump could almost never be right. So who was one to believe? Should I credit the Times’s distinguished representative? The paper newly committed to an agenda would surely prefer that there was nothing terribly dangerous going on in Portland. So Kristof had some reason to see some things and block out others. Or should I believe Andy Ngo, who has been fighting a one-man war against antifa for some time? He’s surely more sinned against than sinning in all this—antifa members put him in the hospital with a brain injury not long ago—but obviously he has his views and biases. Should I believe Bret Weinstein, an admirable one-time science professor who stood up against a mob at Evergreen State College? Weinstein now hosts a podcast for “curious minds and free thinkers” and his view of Portland is far more dire than that of the visitor from the Times.

Ten years ago, this question of belief would have been very easy to answer. I would believe the Times, of course. A decade ago I would never think to measure Ngo and Weinstein’s views of the truth against the truth dished up by a Times stalwart like Nick Kristof. But for many readers like myself, that kind of confusion will, I suspect, become more and more the order of the day as people begin to see that the Times has transformed itself.

Mark Edmundson, Changing Times (boldface added).

A very good point. The Times versus Donald Trump? No problem. The Times versus Andy Ngo and Bret Weinstein? Should be no problem, but it is.


The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today has been riveting thus far. But dare the flagship publication of a movement of mostly independent churches ultimately indict Mark Driscoll’s D.I.Y. independence itself as a major cause of the spiritual damage?

While waiting for the next installment of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, I listened to The Roys Report‘s recent two-parter on Trinity Church, Driscoll’s latest venture. It’s now clear to me that Driscoll has gone full personality cult, and that people should flee while they still can.


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.

Irresistible forces and immovable objects

Two serious blogs in one day is unusual, but here’s the second.

Liberalism versus the Successor Ideology

Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. [The Successor Ideology] will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Look how far the left’s war on liberalism has gone.

Due process? If you’re a male on campus, gone. Privacy? Stripped away — by anonymous rape accusations, exposure of private emails, violence against people’s private homes, screaming at folks in restaurants, sordid exposés of sexual encounters, eagerly published by woke mags. Non-violence? Exceptions are available if you want to “punch a fascist.” Free speech? Only if you don’t mind being fired and ostracized as a righteous consequence. Free association? You’ve got to be kidding. Religious freedom? Illegitimate bigotry. Equality? Only group equity counts now, and individuals of the wrong identity can and must be discriminated against. Color-blindness? Another word for racism. Mercy? Not for oppressors. Intent? Irrelevant. Objectivity? A racist lie. Science? A manifestation of white supremacy. Biological sex? Replaced by socially constructed gender so that women have penises and men have periods. The rule of law? Not for migrants or looters. Borders? Racist. Viewpoint diversity? A form of violence against the oppressed.

[Ibram X] Kendi, feted across the establishment, favors amending the Constitution to appoint an unelected and unaccountable committee of “experts” that has the power to coerce and punish any individual or group anywhere in the country deemed practicing racism. Intent does not matter. And the decisions are final. An advocate for unaccountable, totalitarian control of our society is the darling of every single elite institution in America, and is routinely given platforms where no tough questioning of him is allowed.  He is as dumb as Obama is smart; as crude as Obama is nuanced; as authoritarian as Obama is liberal.

We are going through the greatest radicalization of the elites since the 1960s. This isn’t coming from the ground up. It’s being imposed ruthlessly from above, marshaled with a fusillade of constant MSM propaganda, and its victims are often the poor and the black and the brown. It nearly lost the Democrats the last election. Only Biden’s seeming moderation, the wisdom of black Democratic primary voters, and the profound ugliness of Trump wrested the presidency from a vicious demagogue, whose contempt for our system of government appears ever greater the more we find out about his term in office.

… one reason to fight for liberalism against the successor ideology is that its extremes are quite obviously fomenting and facilitating and inspiring ever-rising fanaticism in response. I fear the successor ideology’s Kulturkampf is already making the 2022 midterms a landslide for a cultish, unmoored GOP. In fighting S.I., we are also fighting Trump.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?. I’m marking this as a favorite. It’s just devastatingly effective demonstrating that the Left is the aggressor in the current Culture Wars, and just how damaging those wars are (the Left just might give us Trump 2024).

And, by the way, Trump’s baaaaaaack (at CPAC)!

Why “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for the Successor Ideology

[The New York Times] is the media hub of the “social justice movement.” And the core point of that movement, its essential point, is that liberalism is no longer enough. Not just not enough, but itself a means to perpetuate “white supremacy,” designed to oppress, harm and terrorize minorities and women, and in dire need of dismantling. That’s a huge deal. And it explains a lot.

The reason “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for this new orthodoxy is that it was precisely this exasperation with liberalism’s seeming inability to end racial inequality in a generation that prompted Derrick Bell et al. to come up with the term in the first place, and Kimberlé Crenshaw to subsequently universalize it beyond race to every other possible dimension of human identity (“intersectionality”).

A specter of invisible and unfalsifiable “systems” and “structures” and “internal biases” arrived to hover over the world. Some of this critique was specific and helpful: the legacy of redlining, the depth of the wealth gap. But much was tendentious post-modern theorizing.

Again, Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?. This felt worth extracting from his general discussion of successor ideology radicalization because it gives the “critical race theory” moniker its due.

J.D. Vance finds his inner Winston Smith

“It was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Donald Trump,” – Robby Soave, on J.D. Vance’s volte-face over Trump now that he’s seeking the cult leader’s endorsement for the Ohio Senate race.

Via Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?.

The cardinal problem

C. S. Lewis describes the premodern view as one in which “the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.” According to the modern view—unwittingly set in motion by Bacon, Descartes, and others—”the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” And there is no reality—no truth of things—to order our wishes.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

This book is at least 19 years old, and I think the original publication is further back than that. And up it pops in Readwise with another insight that converges on what I’m currently focusing on. (I needn’t posit divine intervention: what you’re thinking about and looking for shapes what you see.)

Conservatives are the counterculture now

Because the larger culture has drifted away from the traditional norms of family life, for instance, mere persistence in those norms is becoming a countercultural statement—and a community consciously built around them becomes, almost by default, a subculture with a moral life of its own, provided it is given the freedom to try.

Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic.

Is Levin’s premise true? Upperclass liberals live boringly conventional and bourgoise marital lives.

MAGA Anger Explained

Sometimes, I’m surprised how long it takes for gossip to reach me. This time, it was 5 days.

Last Thursday, a Twitterstorm began issuing shortly before noon, from one @MartyrMade. I missed it because I’m utterly neglecting my Twitter account.

That night, Tucker Carlson took 7 minutes to read it on air. I missed it because life is too short to fit in Tucker Carlson.

Donald Trump read from it during his 90-minute CPAC therapy session (I think that was Sunday). Need I explain that I don’t follow CPAC?

@MartyrMade’s Twitter account surged from 7,000 followers to 70,000. Good for him. But crickets were all I heard.

But today, Glen Greenwald turned over his Substack to @MartyrMade, a/k/a Darryl Cooper, “to elaborate on his influential thread, with a focus on what led him to these observations ….” The observations were a sharp and plausible “general theory” about why so many Trump supporters distrust the 2020 Election.

Spoiler alert: they distrust the Election because they’ve come to distrust many of our major institutions, and not without reason.

Here’s one of Cooper’s many observations, to my mind one of the best:

GOP propaganda still has many conservatives thinking in terms of partisan binaries. Even the dreaded RINO (Republican-In-Name-Only) slur serves the purposes of the party, because it implies that the Democrats represent an irreconcilable opposition. But many Trump supporters see clearly that the Regime is not partisan. They know that the same institutions would have taken opposite sides if it had been a Tulsi Gabbard vs. Jeb Bush election. It’s hard to describe to people on the Left, who are used to thinking of American government as a conspiracy and are weaned on stories about Watergate, COINTELPRO, and Saddam’s WMD, how shocking and disillusioning this was for people who encouraged their sons and daughters to go fight for their country when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq.

They could have managed the shock if it only involved the government. But the behavior of the press is what radicalized them. Trump supporters have more contempt for journalists than they have for any politician or government official, because they feel most betrayed by them. The idea that the corporate press is driven by ratings and sensationalism has become untenable over the last several years. If that were true, there’d be a microphone in the face of every executive branch official demanding to know what the former Secretary of Labor meant when he said that Jeffrey Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The corporate press is the propaganda arm of the Regime these people are now seeing in outline. Nothing anyone says will ever make them unsee that, period.

‌Author of the Mega-Viral Thread on MAGA Voters, Darryl Cooper, Explains His Thinking

Pointing out what may be obvious

I didn’t set out to follow a common theme, but I seem at least halfway to have found one.

  • The successor ideology is totalizing
  • MAGA American doesn’t want to be totalized by anyone but Donald Trump
  • MAGA America, famously if formally leaning Evangelical, isn’t all that faithful in Church attendance, and they’re not letting some preacher totalize them with knowledge, exhortations to self-discipline and virtue. No, they’re going to try to subdue reality to their wishes.
  • This is not a formula for healthy civic life. Left-liberals, center-liberals and right-liberals need to make common cause against the toxic extremes.

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.

“Legal Technicalities” (and much more)

Legal technicalities

I need periodic reminders that I’m a human, not a rational computing machine. My feelings about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s reversal of Bill Cosby’s rape conviction is the latest reminder.

Never has the unmasking of a sexual predator disconcerted me more than the unmasking of Bill Cosby. It seemed impossible that he could be a serial rapist. I could hardly bear his conviction even though the unmasking seemed complete and convincing (more from press coverage of the context than from trial testimony about the particular case).

Sarah Isgur of the Advisory Opinions podcast is vehement that his release from prison is not based on a “technicality,” because freedom from self-incrimination is fundamental, not technical. I still call it a “technicality” as a reminder to myself that the “evidence” against Cos (in a sense broader than what improperly was admitted in court) seems convincing — bitterly, disappointingly, convincing.

If you want to hear more about this twist in the Cosby case, check out Why Bill Cosby is a Free Man – by David French and Sarah Isgur – Advisory Opinions‌. Spoiler Alert: The prosecutor of Cosby dunnit.

CRT redux

I mentioned recently an exchange with an old friend on Critical Race Theory. I wouldn’t change a word of that.

But my friend sent me a link (he reads this blog) and an implied invitation to further discussion.

So I set about collecting some articles on CRT and I now expand my comments.

My suspicion that there’s no agreed definition of Critical Race theory was confirmed. I think the author of the article he sent me implied a straw man definition of CRT. My knowledge that some on The Right are creating and exploiting confusion in waging culture war was confirmed.

The confusion makes it hard to say “what I think about CRT” in much the same way I hesitate to say I’m “conservative” these days: “conservative” by whose definition? “CRT” by whose definition?

But I’ll cobble together a “steel man” definition from two sources: Alan Jacobs of Baylor (and formerly of Wheaton) and an anonymous lefty reader of Rod Dreher’s blog:

Critical theory (of which CRT is a subset) is a discipline based on the conviction that the ways we think about our humanistic subjects are not self-evidently correct and require investigation, reflection, and in some cases correction. Critical Race Theory is a tendency to make race the central device in such investigation, reflection, and correction.

I have no problem with “Critical theory” as I’ve defined it. Far from it. Quite a bit of what I write here tacitly adopts it, albeit in a relatively undisciplined way.

But it is dangerous to pursue Critical Race Theory if that means that race is the sole, or even the primary, device for analysis. It’s dangerous because it’s imbalanced, but I also oppose it because I still aspire to “color-blind, melting pot” America, and racializing everything impedes that. Anyone using CRT should be prepared to code-switch before they get way out on a limb of implausibly racial explanations of injustices or social anomalies that have plausible non-racial explanations.

Convergences

I’ve Heard people talking about “convergences“ quite a bit lately, and I have to say I am experiencing a lot of convergence myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a very spritely blogging, because the convergence I’m getting points toward the important things in life being right hemisphere, and sometimes ineffable without a kind of violence.

I’ve been reading ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World and the last line of this stanza keeps coming back to me:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

(From Wordsworth, The Tables Turned.) “Murdering to dissect” is the gist of what the left hemisphere sometimes does to comprehend the right hemiphere’s more holistic apprehensions.

BLM

Freddie de Boer caught fire. I quote extensively to give the context of his concluding indictments:

[W]hen people are asked to contribute to a cause a natural and indeed necessary instinct is to ask about the honesty of the do-gooder in question and the efficacy of their program. Otherwise there’s no point, there’s no progress. Why would we bother to empower people to fix things if we hadn’t asked whether they were honest and effective?

Those absolutely basic requirements of positive change have been completely evacuated from the public discussion of social justice politics, due to the fact that most people are afraid of the consequences of engaging in adult discrimination about these politics and also because they don’t really respect the people who espouse them … [N]one of us have (sic) any … reason to trust the people panhandling for money, clout, and fame through the auspices of social justice … We are all being told, by progressive consensus, that we have to mindlessly donate, ask no questions, never wonder about motives, and never, ever consider the efficacy of their efforts. We either blindly fall in line when they say to give them whatever they want, including the adoption of extremely contentious policies in a polarized democratic country, or we’re on the other side, the bad side, and we have to live with the black mark of being “part of the problem.”

Nowhere is this dynamic more obvious than concerning BlackLivesMatter.

There is no mainstream media criticism of BlackLivesMatter. There isn’t. There’s explicitly conservative criticism and “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff …

When a politician comes out with a tax plan, journalists and analysts look at it and say, “does this tax plan add up? Does it have the markings of an effective tax plan?” They’ll poke holes in it – yes, if it’s from the other party, but also if it’s from their own. Because they know we need tested and robust tax plans. But when Ibram Kendi says, “all of my vague recriminations and radical-sounding racialist woowoo is the solution to racism,” every journalist and analyst you know scratches their beard and says, “ah yes, indeed,” and they don’t even say that very loudly. But where’s the proof that any of Kendi’s rhetoric actually leads to any action at all? That such action does/could prompt positive change? Who is checking his work? What has Ibram Kendi’s ideology accomplished, beyond enriching Ibram Kendi? Can we point to, like, a graph that shows the outcome of his good works? It certainly seems that we can’t. Since this is the case, why does 95% of the journalism that references Kendi make literally no mention of the basic concept of efficacy?

Media and academia are controlled by white liberals and white liberals live their lives in absolute petrifying fear of being called racist. Or transphobic or ableist … But … talking about honesty and efficacy is how you make sure progress is happening. If you actually care about any political movement, you dedicate yourself to the task of critical engagement. The way adults do for other adults … That’s what love requires. What respect requires. The policy on lefty Twitter is that you never ask hard questions about #BlackLivesMatter, ever, and most people in establishment media write for the approval of lefty Twitter above and beyond any other motivation. $10.6 billion dollars1 were sucked up into a vague and amorphous social movement that has no defined boundaries or parent organization, and yet many of the biggest players in the media haven’t once asked where it went!

The most obvious fact about this horseshit “great awokening” we’re going through than that it’s all powered by condescension … You know why the immense numbers of white liberal journalists on Twitter who cheered on the movement last year and put “BLM” in their Tinder profiles never ask hard questions about the movement and whether it was using its political capital and economic resources wisely? Because they think Black people are the [expletive deleted] junior varsity of politics. Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity. Supporters ask questions and make criticisms. And it is the media’s job to investigate all notable political movements, even if its members are fundamentally supporters of those movements. That responsibility has been almost totally abdicated in regards to BLM.

Where did that $10.6 billion go? If the mainstream media has any credibility at all – and if anyone involved has any respect for the goals of BlackLivesMatter, rather than fear of appearing to oppose them – they’d perform a major, critical, skeptical, hard-nosed investigation. The public interest demands it … [C]heck this fact: BlackLivesMatter has existed for seven years and it’s resulted in more new houses for Patrisse Cullors than pieces of national legislation. Media, do your [expletive deleted] job. Prove me wrong.

Something tells me they won’t!

Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect (likely paywall)

If you admire his courage, consider subscribing. He “nails it” like this quite regularly, and is followed by smart prominent thinkers left, right and center. “Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity.” That alone is worth an annual subscription!

Performance-enhancing drugs

U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has been suspended for one month after testing positive for marijuana, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday morning.

(USA Today network)

Some social media acquaintances, quoting Robin Williams, helped me pin down what’s annoying about this: marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug only if there’s a Hershey bar waiting at the finish line.

Masculinizing

Aaron Renn, a veteran researcher and writer, began relatively recently, to publish a newsletter (The Masculinist) and then added a podcast by the same name. (See here.)

I moderately enjoyed the newsletter and greatly enjoyed the podcast — until the past two weeks, when Renn seems to have lost some coherence and has resorted to insider chit-chat about North American Evangelicalism (like most Evangelical commentators, he reflexively equates that to “the Church”). I stand so far outside Evangelicalism these days that I barely recognize the players’ names, let alone Renn’s allusions to what they’ve been up to lately.

He may become one of the few paid subscriptions I drop.

Getting Trumpy

From here to the end, it’s witty and insightful, but all Trump-related, should you wish to abstain.

Trump’s legacy

It went on like that for the whole interview. Romney knew the infrastructure bill in detail. He praised President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He differed with Democrats about social spending and taxes. He stated unequivocally that the election was free and fair. In short, he was completely out of step with modern “conservatism” and the Republican party.

Some said that the permanent change Trump would effect in the Republican party would be a heightened attention to the needs of the working class. That may or may not materialize. Some Republicans are making noises about being a “worker’s party,” but there doesn’t appear to be anything concrete there yet.

No, the biggest post-Trump change is the eager embrace of indecency …

Do you remember—eons or five years ago—when it was considered beneath contempt to attack a politician’s family? Bring the heat for the man in the arena, but by all that is holy, leave his wife and kids out of it? It seems antique now. When one of the Biden family dogs passed away a couple of weeks ago, a National Review writer tweeted, “Champ Dies. Major lives on. The Biden family tragedy in miniature.”

Mocking a family when they’ve lost a beloved pet, which was the way some on Twitter interpreted this, would have been tasteless and cruel. But this was much more sinister. The implication was that Biden’s “good son,” Beau, had died while his brother Hunter lived on. Who does that? And especially those who call themselves conservative and constantly rant about threats to civilization. How can they not see that undermining basic civility and decency is itself an attack on civilization?

Well, at least we have Romney, and a few more, to remind Republicans of what they once were and could be again.

Mona Charen, Decency, R.I.P.

The indictment

Everybody seems to agree that prosecuting his CFO is prosecutors’ way of trying to flip him and get to Trump. But what do they think Trump did?

A grand-jury indictment of Donald Trump’s business and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, unsealed this afternoon in New York, alleges tax evasion arising from an attempt to pay Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives extra money “off the books.” Prosecutors charge that Weisselberg and others received rent payments and other benefits without paying the appropriate taxes on them. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have said they will plead not guilty.

So far, the danger is to Trump’s friends and his business, not the former president himself. But the danger could spiral, because Trump knew only so many tricks. If Trump’s company was bypassing relatively moderate amounts of tax on the income flows to Trump’s friends, what was it doing with the much larger income flows to Trump and his own family? Even without personal testimony, finances leave a trail. There is always a debit and a credit, and a check issued to the IRS or not.

David Frum

The Big Steal in a nutcase – ummm, nutshell

In our country today, a considerable minority of our fellow citizens believe that the 2020 election was stolen in plain sight by left-wing mathematicians in Venezuela who devised algorithms to rig voting machines to overturn a landslide Republican victory and elect a senile Democrat and his communistic base to run the government who want to confiscate your guns and make everyone ride bicycles and live on tofu and kale and who invented a fake Chinese influenza so they could force immunization with a vaccine that makes people passive and accepting of state control, which allows vampires to move freely and drink the blood of small children, but in August, when the rightful president is reinstated and our borders are secure, we can breathe freely again and make America great.

I take no position on that. Strange things happen every day. I am only an observer; I don’t make the rules. As I have said on so many occasions, “You kids work it out among yourselves.”

The truth of the Fourth: a minority report | Garrison Keillor

January 6 distilled

I’m not sure I’ve heard a better summary of the events of January 6 than a text early that afternoon from my younger brother – the text that first alerted me that something big had happened: “It’s official. Trump has turned us into 3rd World shithole.”


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

Potpourri, 6/30/21

Woke Capitalism

The birth of wokeism was a godsend to corporations, Mr. Ramaswamy says. It helped defang the left. “Wokeism lent a lifeline to the people who were in charge of the big banks. They thought, ‘This stuff is easy!’ ” They applauded diversity and inclusion, appointed token female and minority directors, and “mused about the racially disparate impact of climate change.” So, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s narrative, “a bunch of big banks got together with a bunch of millennials, birthed woke capitalism, and then put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption.” Now, in Mr. Ramaswamy’s tart verdict, “big business makes money by critiquing itself.”

Mr. Ramaswamy regards Klaus Schwab, founder and CEO of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as the “patron saint of wokeism” for his relentless propagation of “stakeholder capitalism”—the view that the unspoken bargain in the grant to corporations of limited liability is that they “must do social good on the side.”

Davos is “the Woke Vatican,” Mr. Ramaswamy says; Al Gore and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, are “its archbishops.” CEOs “further down the chain”—he mentions James Quincey of Coca-Cola, Ed Bastian of Delta, Marc Benioff of Salesforce, John Donahoe of Nike and Alan Jope of Unilever —are its “cardinals.”

Can Vivek Ramaswamy Put Wokeism Out of Business? (WSJ)

“Guarding the Chalice”

Ross Douthat on the rumors that American Catholic Bishops are (were?) considering “a document on the proper reception of communion that might propose, or at least suggest (the document does not actually exist yet), that the Eucharist be withheld from Catholic politicians who favor or vote to fund abortion”:

Withholding communion from politicians who are particularly implicated in those abortions, then, is both a political and a pastoral act. Political, because it establishes that the church takes abortion as seriously as it claims — seriously enough to actually use one of the few disciplinary measures that it has at its disposal. Pastoral, because the politicians in question are implicated in a uniquely grave and public sin, and taking communion in that situation is a potential sacrilege from which not only the Eucharist but they themselves need to be protected.

This kind of straightforward logic does not, however, make the plan to withhold communion from Joe Biden a necessarily prudent one. The first problem is that it is pastorally effective only if the withholding takes place, and in the structure of the church only Biden’s bishops (meaning the bishop of Wilmington, Del., or the archbishop of Washington, D.C.) and the priests under their authority can make that kind of call. So the most likely consequence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issuing some sort of document is that Biden continues to attend Mass and receive communion from friendly priests and prelates, and the bishops as a corporate body, already weak and scandal-tarnished, look as if they’ve made a partisan intervention with no meaningful effect.

Which points to the second problem — that a direct attempt at a communion ban will inevitably be interpreted as a partisan intervention, at a time when the partisan captivity of conservative Christianity, Protestant and Catholic alike, is a serious problem for the witness of the church.

By this I mean that however reasonable the bishops’ focus on abortion as a pre-eminent issue, in a polarized nation it’s created a situation where Republicans can seemingly get away with a vast accumulation of un-Catholic acts and policies and simple lies — many of them on display in Donald Trump’s administration, which was amply staffed with Catholics — and be perpetually forgiven because the Democrats support Roe. v. Wade.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Bishops, Biden and the Brave New World

Rod Dreher weighs in in several ways, but this especially caught my eye:

I don’t know how Orthodox bishops have reacted in similar situations. I do know this: that in the Orthodox Church, when I’ve been traveling, I have been refused communion by priests who did not know me when I presented myself for communion. This is how I learned not to do so unless I have been able to speak to the priest before services to let them know that I am an Orthodox Christian who has had a recent confession. Generally speaking, Orthodox priests are zealous about what they call “guarding the chalice”. They do this because of their high view of what Holy Communion is — a view shared by Catholic teaching. They do this in part to protect the laity from receiving communion unworthily. You might not get this, but if you believe what Orthodoxy and Catholicism says about the Eucharist is true, then it should make logical sense to you.

It comes down to this: in this moment, is the Church (not just the Catholic Church) called to be prophetic, or therapeutic? I think that only by being prophetic — calling the world out — can it be therapeutic, and heal the world of its brokenness.

Surveillance capitalism. For instance …

The Sleep Number bed is typical of smart home devices, as Harvard business school professor Shoshana Zuboff describes in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It comes with an app, of course, which you’ll need to install to get the full benefits. Benefits for whom? Well, to know that you would need to spend some time with the sixteen-page privacy policy that comes with the bed. There you’ll read about third-party sharing, analytics partners, targeted advertising, and much else. Meanwhile, the user agreement specifies that the company can share or exploit your personal information even “after you deactivate or cancel” your Sleep Number account. You are unilaterally informed that the firm does not honor “Do Not Track” notifications. By the way, its privacy policy once stated that the bed would also transmit “audio in your room.” (I am not making this up.)

Matthew Crawford in testimony to Congress.

If there were no existential threats, we’d invent one

The post-WW2 military posture of the U.S. has been endless war. To enable that, there must always be an existential threat, a new and fresh enemy that can scare a large enough portion of the population with sufficient intensity to make them accept, even plead for, greater military spending, surveillance powers, and continuation of permanent war footing. Starring in that war-justifying role of villain have been the Communists, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Russia, and an assortment of other fleeting foreign threats.

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, and President Joe Biden, none of those is the greatest national security threat to the United States any longer. Instead, they all say explicitly and in unison, the gravest menace to American national security is now domestic in nature. Specifically, it is “domestic extremists” in general — and far-right white supremacist groups in particular — that now pose the greatest threat to the safety of the homeland and to the people who reside in it.

Within that domestic War on Terror framework, Gen. Milley, by pontificating on race, is not providing cultural commentary but military dogma. Just as it was central to the job of a top Cold War general to embrace theories depicting Communism as a grave threat, and an equally central part of the job of a top general during the first War on Terror to do the same for Muslim extremists, embracing theories of systemic racism and the perils posed to domestic order by “white rage” is absolutely necessary to justify the U.S. Government’s current posture about what war it is fighting and why that war is so imperative.

Whatever else is true, it is creepy and tyrannical to try to place military leaders and their pronouncements about war off-limits from critique, dissent and mockery. No healthy democracy allows military officials to be venerated to the point of residing above critique. That is especially true when their public decrees are central to the dangerous attempt to turn the war posture of the U.S. military inward to its own citizens.

Glenn Greenwald, ‌What is Behind Gen. Mark Milley’s Righteous Race Sermon? Look to the New Domestic War on Terror.

Gen. Milley From another angle:

You have this pampered man-child trust fund baby calling a decorated veteran a pig and stupid.

Charlie Sykes on Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson on Gen. Mark Milley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). See also here.

Slightly sinister boy scouts then …

Elsewhere, in a single observation, Leigh Fermor captures the essentially hysterical nature of Nazism better than any philosophical analyst. Watching people salute one another in the street, he writes:

“People meeting … would become performing seals for a second. This exchange, soon to become very familiar, seemed extremely odd for the first few days, as though the place were full of slightly sinister boy scouts.”

‌Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Tensions of Travel

… and now

Rod Dreher hits a grand slam:

“A reader in Madrid sends me this photo from the Spanish city of Valencia. It’s a poster put up by the city government:

“It reads: “In Valencia, there are men with a vulva and women with a penis. Yes.”

“Well, no. This is a lie. This is a lie that the government of the city of Valencia is telling with big street signs. Yet to the European Union elites, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban is the real problem.

(Emphasis added)

Yeah. The real problem is the ones who won’t salute. That’s the ticket.

Orbán is not “far right”

“A hero to Europe’s far right, Mr. Orban says he wants to overhaul education and reshape his country’s society to have a more nationalistic, conservative body politic. But his critics argue that the donation is legalized theft, employed to tighten Mr. Orban’s grip on power by transferring public money to foundations run by political allies.”

That “far right” smear again. The New York Times, like most Western journalism outlets, is incapable of telling the truth about Orban and his party. They are not “far right.” Fidesz is center-right. Hungary actually has a far-right party. It’s called Jobbik, and it’s openly anti-Semitic — or was, until it underwent some kind of strange makeover, and now says its Jew-hating is in the past. Last December, Jobbik formally teamed up with the left-wing opposition, in hopes of beating Orban in the 2022 race. Yes, the left-wing parties are now formally allied with a party whose stars have called their capital city “Judapest,” and called for making a list of Hungarian Jews who pose national security threats. But please, New York Times, tell us another story about Viktor Orban being mean to George Soros.

Rod Dreher, Head East, Conservative Intellectual.

More:

Among US journalists, you often hear bitter complaints about the bias of Fox News, and sometimes you hear expressed a grudging belief that the existence of Fox means there is balance in the American media. This is because journalists are so overwhelmingly liberal that they can’t perceive how far to the left, and how unbalanced, their viewpoint is. I’ve written before about a study, now over 20 years old, by two professors at Baruch College, who demonstrated that the US media did a good job of reporting on the rise of the religious right as a force within the Republican Party, but missed entirely the parallel rise of the secular left as a force within the Democratic Party. Their thesis was that the media didn’t see what was right in front of their eyes because to them, it was only natural that secular liberals would grow more dominant within the Democratic Party. It wasn’t news; it was nature.

Progressophobia

Last week Bill Maher of HBO’s “Real Time” did a commentary on something he believes deeply destructive. Maher, who has described his politics as liberal, libertarian, progressive and practical, is a longtime and occasionally brave foe of wokeness in its extreme manifestations. He zeroed in on one aspect that fuels a lot of grievance, and that is the uninformed sense that America has largely been impervious to improvement.

Mr. Maher called this “progressophobia,” a term coined by the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. Mr. Maher defines it as “a brain disorder that strikes liberals and makes them incapable of recognizing progress. It’s like situational blindness, only what you can’t see is that your dorm in 2021 is better than the South before the Civil War.”

His audience laughed uncertainly. You could tell they didn’t want to get caught laughing at the wrong thing and weren’t certain what the wrong thing was. Normally they’re asked to laugh at right-wing idiocy, which is never in (sic)

“If you think that America is more racist now than ever, more sexist than before women could vote, you have progressophobia,” Mr. Maher said. Look at the changes America has made on disputed issues like gay marriage and marijuana legislation. “Even something like bullying. It still happens, but being outwardly cruel to people who are different is no longer acceptable. That’s progress. Acknowledging progress isn’t saying, ‘We’re done,’ or, ‘We don’t need more.’ And being gloomier doesn’t mean you’re a better person.”

“The ‘Friends’ reunion we just had looked weird, because if you even suggested a show today about six people all of whom were straight and white, the network would laugh you out of the room and then cancel you on Twitter. And yet there is a recurrent theme on the far left that things have never been worse.”

Peggy Noonan, Bill Maher Diagnoses Liberal ‘Progressophobia’

Protestant Clergy Sex Abuse

[C]ompared with evangelicals, Mainline churches have “seemingly” been “less susceptible to pervasive sexual abuse,” and related cover-ups or minimizing of the problem.

Reporters should seek to eliminate the “seemingly” hedge word and figure out whether their performance is in fact superior. If so, are Mainliners simply more moral?

Tooley finds the explanation in church structures and cultures.

First, Mainline groups are rapidly aging and often lack the thriving youth ministries that supply ample targets for predators.

Second, Mainline churches have “a genuine institutional advantage with wider systems of accountability” whereas the bulk of evangelicalism is “congregationalist,” so each local church governs itself without oversight and accountability …

Richard Ostling, ‌Mainline Protestants and Sexual Abuse Scandals

I think Tooley is spot-on in both observations, though I had only thought of poor “accountability” of independent founders/pastors before he pointed out the “youth ministry” angle.

Postscript: The Vaccines

I’m starting to regret, at least a little, trusting the government that Covid vaccines were safe:

So somehow there’s enough bias in the system to shut down anything generic, cheap, and safe and to amplify things that are dangerous, new, still under patent.

If there is an argument to be made about our economic and political system, it is that our system can allow you to evaporate trillions of dollars of wealth in the pursuit of billions of dollars of wealth. And that’s what we’re seeing here.

‎Bret Weinstein, DarkHorse Podcast: How to save the world, in three easy steps.

A fuller description of the participants in the podcast, which is very long (3 hours 16 minutes):

Dr. Robert Malone is the inventor of mRNA Vaccine technology.
Mr. Steve Kirsch is a serial entrepreneur who has been researching adverse reactions to COVID vaccines.
Dr. Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist.
Bret talks to Robert and Steve about the pandemic, treatment and the COVID vaccines.

So these are not some random crackpots.

They got me thinking about my own vaccine experience, but if I were to write about it, it would be:

  • unreliable (I’m not sure that this problem emerged after the vaccine)
  • anecdotal and
  • maybe just a denial that I’m a fat old man, and that age catches up with people like me quite brutally.

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.

Poke them in the axioms

I seem to recall ProPublica doing some worthwhile muck-raking, but it wasn’t this week. But I guess if you’re in possession of stolen income tax returns of very, very rich men, you’ve got to say something even if it’s breathtakingly stupid.


Is the tide turning?

Last month the Spanish parliament voted against a bill that would allow people to determine their own gender. A day later Germany’s voted down two such bills. Few newspapers took any notice.

In May the Karolinska University hospital in Stockholm, which contains Sweden’s largest adolescent gender clinic, released new guidelines saying it would no longer prescribe blockers and hormones to children under 18 …

Research has had an impact. In a paper in 2015, a Finnish psychiatrist, Riittakerttu Kaltiala-Heino, found that more than 75% of adolescents applying for sex-reassignment surgery needed help for psychiatric problems other than gender dysphoria. (Another paper, published this year, found 88% needed such help.) Finland last year adopted strict guidelines prioritising therapy over hormones and surgery.

The Economist

The story also refers in the same paragraph to the "LGBT community" and to "LGB Alliance Deutschland." While I can no longer claim to understand the world’s increasing madness, it seems to me that "T" has distinct interests so diverging from, and sometimes contradicting, "LGB" interests that it’s a stretch to lump them into a notional "community."

Only the unwillingness of groups like Human Rights Campaign (inventors of the yellow-on-blue equal-sign logo) to declare victory (same-sex marriage surely was the end-game for LGB, right?) and go home (i.e., disband) keeps the four letters together. It’s not an uncommon story for an entity to think that it is what it’s about, and to expand the mission or pretend then war is continuing after they’ve decisively won.


Every time the culture decides through popular vote to ask for government penetration into the marketplace, it creates a climate that pushes the biggest players to curry concessionary privileges with the regulators. The little players don’t have the clout, manpower, or capital to arm-twist. The big players do. And that is why every time, every time, every time—should I say it once more?—every time the public asks for government oversight, it eventuates in the bigger players getting more power and the smaller players being kicked in the teeth.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

Salatin, a small, innovative farmer, knows whereof he writes.


[S]in goes underground when it’s not socially acceptable. No one watches porn in the pews at church or beats their wife at the grocery store. Why would we expect post-1965 racism to remain out in the open?

Bob Stevenson and Josh Fenska, Thin Discipleship


I have noted, through the years, that the patriotism that inhabits the thoughts of many is a deeply protected notion, treated as a virtue in many circles. This often gives it an unexamined character, a set of feelings that do not come under scrutiny …

Asking questions of these things quickly sends some heads spinning. They wonder, “Are we not supposed to love our country?” As an abstraction, no. We love people; we love the land. We owe honor to honorable things and persons. The Church prays for persons: the President, civil authorities, the armed forces. We are commanded to pray and to obey the laws as we are able in good conscience. Nothing more. St. Paul goes so far as to say that our “citizenship [politeia] is in heaven.” The assumption of many is that so long as the citizenship of earth does not conflict with the citizenship of heaven, all is fine. I would suggest that the two are always in conflict for the simple reason that one is “from above” while the other is “from below,” in the sense captured in Christ’s “my kingdom is not of this world.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Overcome Evil By Doing Good

But maybe he shouldn’t say that:

People get unbelievably upset when you poke them in the axioms.

Jordan Peterson, Biblical Series I: Introduction to the Idea of God (Transcript)


[T]here is a widely-shared impression that the kind of regional or mid-major papers that were once so essential have not had anything like the same success in transitioning to subscription-dominant financial models. The internet was already disproportionately concentrating power into the hands of a few major newspapers before digital subscriptions deepened, and of course three or four of them already enjoyed national influence even before we entered the online era. Concentrating greater power and influence into a few publications is detrimental to my basic philosophy for media, which is that you want a diversity of voices not so much for diversity itself but so that many different viewpoints can, perhaps, triangulate on something like the truth. What you get now is that, despite the vast number of competing shops and options compared to the past, the NYT in some ways is perversely even more the Official Voice than it once was.

Which means that the Official Voice is a haughty bloodless affluent educated socially liberal voice. Many have suggested that its increasing reliance on subscription sales makes the NYT even more dependent on an explicitly liberal Democratic audience.

If newsgathering becomes too expensive for almost every publication, then the few papers that can continue to do it will control the narrative of truth …

Freddie deBoer, Can News Survive Being Unbundled? (paywall).

Wondering how to decide what to read? Here’s a simple but effective heuristic to cut down the choices significantly. Ask yourself one question: Does this writer make bank when we hate one another? And if the answer is yes, don’t read that writer.

Alan Jacobs, Snakes and Ladders

The same heuristic could be applied to whole news sources.


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

Potpourri 5/27/21

For what it’s worth, today is my 49th anniversary. I hope the 50th starts with something better than a trip to the Emergency Room for a nosebleed that wouldn’t quit (the third in the last 2-3 years after decades with nary a leak). I shall follow up with my Primary Care Doc.

Separated at Birth

Compare:

[P]eople … hate my media criticism. Hate hate hate it. You would not believe the number of people who write to me saying “I almost/might/did cancel my subscription because I don’t want to hear pointless media gossip anymore!” Do the other stuff, they always say, the good stuff, the probing, researched stuff. But this media stuff, it’s too personal. That’s always the claim: that when I write about media, I’m necessarily attacking individuals rather than structures. That it’s personal. Then I go back and read what I wrote and inevitably I see myself critiquing structures and find nothing particularly personal. There’s a real incommensurability here. People are free not to like whatever they want, but I think deciding that criticism designed to reflect on an industry rather than individuals is too personal forecloses on important conversations.

Freddie deBoer, ‌You (Still) Can’t Sit with Us

with:

Expressing concern about insufficiently careful diagnostic practices for TGNC youth is not an attack on this group. This is like saying that the sentence “I believe psychiatrists should establish confidence an antidepressant will help a depressed person before prescribing it to them” is an attack on depressed people. It’s just a plainly ludicrous position, and a dangerous one given the extent to which it pathologizes normal, important clinical work.

Jesse Singal

Do the people who try to turn legitimate concerns into offensive personal attacks actually believe it?

What’s not cancel culture

Perhaps no one’s juvenilia should disqualify her from a job—and the reason isn’t merely that most of us said idiotic things in adolescence—but because that’s as it should be. If we are ever going to test out an extreme idea or hurtful comment, adolescence is the time to do it—a period of identity formation when we require all the feedback we can get. We demand adults behave themselves precisely because we assume this was preceded by beta-testing, a period of adaptive idiocy, when they tore through adolescence’s maze, hungering for affection, altering behavior in response to every dead end, registering each shock of pain. It seems compassionate—perhaps even necessary—to place a black box around statements made in high school and college, particularly where a young person has later disavowed them.

But is there no public statement predating one’s employment so vile as to render someone an obviously bad hire? (The emphasis on public statement seems critical because all social life might end if we did not retain the freedom to explore half-baked or foolish ideas in private with intimates.) …

Abigail Shrier, in a post on what is not “cancel culture.”

Fauci lied, people died

Okay, the causation between Fauci’s lie (that masks don’t help is the one that most offends me) and people dying is pretty convoluted, and I’m not furious with Fauci or obsessed with him. But fourteen months ago, our Masters desperately wanted to move the Overton Window to disallow — nay, to excoriate and anathematize! — any questions about a nexus between the Wuhan emergence of a novel and deadly coronavirus and the Wuhan Institute of Virology (or a sister facility in Wuhan).

  • Washington Post: “repeating a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked” (“debunked,” by the way, is becoming a journalistic weasel-word. It means that the hive has decided the narrative.)
  • New York Times: “Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins”
  • The former President of the United States (“TFPOTUS” or “45”) repeatedly praised China for its “efforts and transparency” in containing the virus, going out of his way to thank Chinese President Xi Jinping “on behalf of the American People.”

That’s definitely changing. F’rinstance …. I could write more, but my knowledge is what you can get by reading a variety of responsible new sources, neither (a) following conspiracy-oriented websites nor (b) living within an entirely monocultural information silo.

And, in full-disclosure mode, the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin and former New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil (chased out of the Times in an unrelated cancel-culture incident) were among those conspicuously giving deeply-reported and establishment-tinged cover for respecting the lab-leak theory of the pandemic. And of course, TFPOTUS went into full blame-shifting mode, with racial overtones, as soon as buddy-buddying with China became a political liability. (The last seemed to persuade nobody sensible.)

But do not forget that the questioners fourteen months ago were right, and our masters were either ignorant or lying for some ulterior motives (which might even have been honorable).

Speaking of which,

Some of the biggest cases of mistaken identity are among intellectuals who have trouble remembering that they are not God.

Thomas Sowell, quoted in On Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell, by Jason L. Riley.

And some of our Masters at the NYT still don’t want us to discuss the lab-leak theory because of its (supposedly) “racist roots.”

The Big Lie

The intellectual arrogance of clever people, intolerable though it often is, is nothing to the intellectual arrogance of ignorant people.

Anthony Powell (in his notebook). (Via Alan Jacobs.

I cannot help but think of Election 2020 and its aftermath when I read that.

The Late, Not-So-Great “God Bless the USA Bible” project

There are 66 books in the Bible.  Some streams of Christian faith include 14 others, known as the “apocrypha.”  But no version of orthodox faith has an American apocrypha.  Including the founding documents of America and the theology of American nationalism in the Bible is offensive.

Shane Claiborne, Doug Pagitt, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jemar Tisby and Soong-Chan Rah, welcoming news of the abandonment of a “God Bless the USA Bible” project at Zondervan, a division of Harper-Collins.

I, too, welcome the abandonment, though the proposal itself is a sort of apokálypsis (as if we needed any more) of the sorry state of American Christianity.

But let me correct the authors about something: the 14 books omitted from most Protestant Bibles are only called “apocrypha” by those Protestants. To me and other Orthodox Christians, they’re called “Bible.” And there is at least one additional book, Enoch, recognized as “Bible” by Ethiopian Orthodox.

Art is the one medium in which one cannot lie successfully lie

When we build, say, a business area in which all (or practically all) are engaged in earning their living, or a residential area in which everyone is deep in the demands of domesticity, or a shopping area dedicated to the exchange of cash and commodities – in short, where the pattern of human activity contains only one element, it is impossible for the architecture to achieve a convincing variety – convincing of the known facts of human variation. The designer may vary color, texture and form, until his drawing instruments buckle under the strain, proving once more that art is the one medium in which one cannot lie successfully lie.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (quoting John Raskin)

What is the purpose of life?

[W]e Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: what is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: the purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles.

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

A Christian Man in Embryo

Paul Kingsnorth’s recent (January) conversion to Orthodox Christianity, from a non-Christian prior adult life, has fascinated me partly because I was vaguely aware of the Dark Mountain Project and the “dark ecology” it represented and partly because, frankly, my personal experience of adult converts to Orthodox Christianity is almost entirely of people coming from Roman Catholicism or one of the innumerable Protestant denominations or “independent” churches (scare-quotes because independent churches seem invariably small-b baptists, whether they want to admit it or not).

I nevertheless don’t recall ever reading Kingsnorth’s blog post titled dark ecology until today.

Even if I had read it, it would merit re-reading, long though it be, and I personally read it as the musings of a man developing a sane and sober mind some years before discovering, to his surprise, probably the most sane and sober Christian tradition, which we now share.

Excerpts:

  • This is the progress trap. Each improvement in our knowledge or in our technology will create new problems which require new improvements. Each of these improvements tends to make society bigger, more complex, less human-scale, more destructive of non-human life and more likely to collapse under its own weight.
  • ‘Romanticising the past’ is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticise the future.
  • Progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress. It is far too late to think about dismantling this machine in a rational manner – and in any case who wants to? We can’t deny that it brings benefits to us, even as it chokes us and our world by degrees.
  • The neo-environmentalists have a great advantage over the old greens, with their threatening talk about limits to growth, behaviour change and other such against-the-grain stuff: they are telling this civilisation what it wants to hear. What it wants to hear is that the progress trap which our civilisation is caught in can be escaped from by inflating a green tech bubble on which we can sail merrily into the future, happy as gods and equally in control.

Another foreshadowing in the pre-Christian life of Paul Kingsnorth:

Finally, we put in a small plantation of birch. I love birch groves. Ours is only a few metres square, but I’ve made a fire pit in the middle of it, and maybe in ten years I’ll be able to sit around it and pretend I’m on the Russian steppe. I don’t know why I would want to pretend that, but I do.

This second article also is full of hubristic techno-narcissists, who get little sympathy from PK.


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.

Essentially unrelated

My dear Socrates … you know why they are putting you to death? It is because you make people feel stupid for blindly following habits, instincts, and traditions. You may be occasionally right. But you may confuse them about things they’ve been doing just fine without getting in trouble. You are destroying people’s illusions about themselves. You are taking the joy of ignorance out of the things we don’t understand. And you have no answer; you have no answer to offer them.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile


Most poets in the West believe that some sort of democracy is preferable to any sort of totalitarian state and accept certain political obligations, to pay taxes, to vote for the best man or programme, to serve as jurymen, to write letters of protest against this or that act of injustice or vandalism, but I cannot think of a single poet of consequence whose work does not, either directly or by implication, condemn modern civilisation as an irremediable mistake, a bad world which we have to endure because it is there and no one knows how it could be made into a better one, but in which we can only retain our humanity in the degree to which we resist its pressures.

W.H. Auden in Encounter (April 1954), via Alan Jacobs


The term civil religion was introduced by Rousseau in the eighteenth century. In the last chapter of The Social Contract, Rousseau proposes an explicit civil religion as a cure for the divisive influence of Christianity, which had divided people’s loyalties between church and state. Rousseau does not wish to erase Christianity entirely, but to reduce it to a “religion of man” that “has to do with the purely inward worship of Almighty God and the eternal obligations of morality, and nothing more.”

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Oh. Only "inward" worship and yada, yada, yada. Nothing to see here. Move along now.


On so many topics, the legacy press has forcibly limited the scope of legitimate discussion. The downstream effect of this is is as obvious as it is alarming: It denigrates trust in institutions that are meant to be in the business of pursuing the truth. And it drives curious people to dark corners of the Web, where conversations about the origins of the virus mix easily with those about the Rothschilds.

Bari Weiss, ‌Did Covid Come From the Lab? Mike Pompeo says Yes.


Dr. Russell Moore is leaving the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. A lot of Southern Baptists considered him a liberal for deny 45’s suitability for the office of POTUS and for answers like this one, which forever endeared him to me.


Russell Moore isn’t the only Evangelical who warned against 45:

The day after his inauguration, I wrote, “A man with illiberal tendencies, a volatile personality and no internal checks is now president. This isn’t going to end well.” And it didn’t.

Peter Wehner, arguing that we’re not out of the violent woods yet.


I often think that the famous Orthodox answer to certain questions, “It’s a mystery,” … is not a statement that means, “I do not know,” but, rather, “I know, but there are no words for it.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌The Verbal Icon of Christ


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.

… But I won’t do that

Things I won’t do

Bari Weiss lends her Substack to a Bitcoin debate. Balaji S. Srinivasan says Bitcoin Is Civilization. Michael W. Green makes The Case Against Bitcoin.

I understand Bitcoin a bit better now. Still won’t go there.


I haven’t been willing to invest the time to gain pop-culture literacy, but the way Alan Jacobs uses Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement, I kinda wish I knew more about Breaking Bad.

> I think I better understand the Republican capitulation to Donald Trump when I think of their decision to nominate him as the GOP Presidential candidate in 2016 as the equivalent of Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement.  > > Breaking bad walter and krazy 8 episode 3 > > I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time — it seemed like the only real option. But then, once you have him in the basement, what do you do with him? Until you decide, you are as much his prisoner as he is yours.

I’m still not going to pursue pop-culture literacy, though. My pop-culture literacy pretty much ceased when my son went off to college (though before that, I did listen to some Meatloaf, whence today’s title).

Something the New York Times won’t do

First, Bari Weiss, now Elizabeth Bruenig. It’s not good enough to be a center-left same-sex married bisexual (though Weiss shuns sexuality labels) or a progressive Catholic; if you’re not totally, unequivocally committed to the successor ideology, you’re not welcome in the trenches of the newspaper of record.

What will it take for New York Times’ management to wrest control back from the toxic Jacobins in the newsroom?

Artistic Directors are gods

One of two choirs I sing in, Lafayette Master Chorale, is announcing on Thursday our return and our concert schedule for 2021-22 — after abruptly ceasing rehearsals and concerts 14 months ago. We’ve missed singing. We believe and hope that our patrons have missed us.

We also just released our virtual recording As If We Never Said Goodbye, a piece we’ve never rehearsed or performed together:

> I dont know why I’m frightened
> I know my way around here
> The cardboard trees, the painted seas, the sound here
> Yes, a world to rediscover
> But I’m not in any hurry
> And I need a moment > > The whispered conversations
> In overcrowded hallways
> The atmosphere as thrilling here as always
> Feel the early morning madness
> Feel the magic in the making
> Why, everything’s as if we never said goodbye
> > I’ve spent so many mornings
> Just trying to resist you
> I’m trembling now, you can’t know how I’ve missed you
> Missed the fairy tale adventures
> In this ever-spinning playground
> We were young together
> I’m coming out of makeup
> The lights already burning
> Not long until the cameras will start turning
> And the early morning madness
> And the magic in the making
> Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye > > I don’t want to be alone
> That’s all in the past
> This world’s waited long enough
> I’ve come home at last > > And this time will be bigger
> And brighter than we knew it
> So watch me fly, we all know I can do it
> Could I stop my hand from shaking?
> Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for? > > The whispered conversations
> In overcrowded hallways
> So much to say, not just today, but always
> We’ll have early morning madness
> We’ll have magic in the making
> Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye

The conjunction is kinda magical.

Political Punditry

Peggy Noonan

> What is to become of the Republican Party? It will either break up or hold together. If the latter, it will require time to work through divisions; there will be state fights and losses as the party stumbles through cycle to cycle. But in time one side or general tendency will win and define the party. Splits get resolved when somebody wins big and nationally. Eisenhower’s landslides in 1952 and ’56 announced to the party that it was moderate. Reagan’s in 1980 and ’84 revealed it was conservative. The different factions get the message and follow the winner like metal filings to a magnet. > > The future, according to this space, is and should be economically populist and socially conservative. > > The future GOP, and the current one for that matter, is a party of conservatism with important Trumpian inflections. The great outstanding question: Will those inflections be those of attitude—wildness, garish personalities and conspiracy-mindedness? If so, the party will often lose. Or will the inflections be those of actual policy, in which case they will often win? > > … > > One of the scoops of the Cheney drama was when the Washington Post reported that in a briefing at an April GOP retreat the National Republican Congressional Committee hid from its members polling information on battleground districts. That information showed Mr. Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones: “Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.” Bad numbers had been covered up before. Ms. Cheney concluded party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid acknowledging the damage Trump could do to Republican candidates. ate Peggy Noonan (UPDATE: Link switched from WSJ to her blog, which doesn’t have a paywall.)

How the GOP Could, In A Parallel Universe, Deserve to Win

> The Tories now have a 15-point lead over Labour in the polls. Blair noted Boris Johnson’s achievement: “The Conservative parties of Western politics have adapted and adjusted. But by and large they’re finding a new economic and cultural coalition.” > > This too is in the GOP’s grasp. The party did much better in the last election than anyone thought in the House and would have held the Senate without Trump’s antics in Georgia. > > … > > And here’s how you get that to stick with Trump voters. Credit him for bringing some newly potent issues to the fore — mass immigration, trade, the culturally left-behind, woke authoritarianism, non-interventionism in foreign policy, new wariness of China. Thank him, but stress the need to move forward. The truth is: Trump may have been helpful in creating a new Republican politics, but he did so entirely in service to his own vainglory. There is, in fact, no future path forward for Trumpism if Trump sticks around. Absorbed entirely into one man’s ego, the GOP is simply a backward-looking grievance and conspiracy machine, driven not by policy but by Trump’s own psychological inability to concede defeat.

Andrew Sullivan (emphasis added). I had not thought about it, but it is becoming received wisdom among anti-Trump and NeverTrump Republicans that his undermining of the integrity of the electoral system suppressed Republican voting in Georgia enough to cost them the two Senate seats. Considering how close both races were, that’s very plausible.

And the GOP clings to him still.

Short-takes

  • “When Cheney’s liberal critics place her support for democracy alongside her other positions, they implicitly endorse the same calculation made by her conservative opponents: that the rule of law is just another issue,” – Jon Chait.
  • “According to the Club For Growth, which has the gold standard of scorecards in Washington for measuring conservatism, Ilhan Omar has a better score for fiscal conservatism than Elisa Stefanik,” – Erick Erickson.
  • “We did not immigrate to this country for our children to be taught in taxpayer-funded schools that punctuality and hard work are white values,” – an anonymous father quoted by Erika Sanzi, the director of outreach at Parents Defending Education.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

The Bulwark (Never-Trumpers)

> Here’s what this really comes down to. Cheney’s ouster is about one thing, and one thing only: Liddle Donny Trump’s feelings. Liddle Donny couldn’t take the fact that “Sleepy Joe” wiped the floor with him in November … Liddly Donny is throwing a tantrum down in South Florida, and all of his butt boys in Congress are rushing to coddle him.

Tim Miller

Wire Reports

Trump’s right. The election was fraudulent.

> DENVER – A Colorado man suspected in the death of his wife, who disappeared on Mother’s Day 2020, is also accused of submitting a fraudulent vote on her behalf for Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, newly released court documents show. Barry Morphew told investigators he mailed the ballot on behalf of his wife, Suzanne Morphew, to help Trump win, saying “all these other guys are cheating,” and that he thought his wife would have voted for Trump, anyway, according to an arrest warrant affidavit signed Thursday.

Wire Reports in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, May 15.


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

Potpourri, 5/14/21

Last chance to recalibrate

Many years ago, I met a woman who had had the kind of experience you ordinarily only find in fiction. As a young adult, she was in a serious car accident, resulting in a head injury. She suffered a period of total amnesia, followed by months of convalescence. When she recovered, she was never the same: Her family relationships weakened; she cut out former friends and found new ones; she moved halfway across the world; her interests and tastes changed; she became more outgoing and less self-conscious; she no longer cared much what other people thought about her.

Her parents always attributed these major character changes to her “bump on the head.” But she told me no—the injury had nothing to do with it. Rather, it was the recovery time, away from ordinary routines, that created a punctuation mark in the long sentence of her life. She had a unique opportunity to assess her priorities. She vowed to take nothing in her former life as given. She tore her beliefs and values down to the studs, and rebuilt them. And in so doing, she said, she became happy for the first time in her life.

Arthur C. Brookes, How to Have a Happier Post-Pandemic Life (The Atlantic)

This intriguing opening led me into an okay essay — an essay that might profitably be expanded.

I agree with the author that the pandemic had given a lot of us a chance for introspection, and even more broadly that Brookes undertakes.

Essential workers

Among the less imaginative "takes" on the pandemic are (1) how essentially nobody could self-quarantine for months in the last pandemic because "remote work" wasn’t feasible; (2) how scientific knowledge facilitated development of vaccines with astonishing rapidity, further lessening the effect of the pandemic.

What I think remains under-covered in the pandemic is about how the truly essential workers in our economy are those who must show up in person, including not only nurses (who have gotten a reasonable amount of good press), but grocery store cashiers, shelf-stockers (is that the gender-neutral term?), bus drivers, police, fire, paramedics. A lot of these people not only must show up in person, but must do so for a second full-time or part-time job to make ends meet.

Economists, especially of the Austrian school, will hate this, but I’ll say it anyway: a lot of these people are underpaid for the risks they took.

Brett Kavanaugh

The Atlantic’s McCay Coppins has moved on from speculating about Trump to speculating wildly about Brett Kavanaugh. The Advisory Opinions podcast and legal blogger Josh Blackman have both pushed back, the former as Kavanaugh fans, the latter somewhat skeptical.

I think Kavanaugh got treated very badly on the supposed sexual misbehavior and that it was a mere understandable human lapse, poor form but not disqualifying, for him to have lost his cool at the end of all that indignity.

But his adolescent aspiration to become alcoholic got treated too gently. I avoided underage drinking (three or four lapses between 18 and 21, zero drunkenness) because it was illegal (kind of a litmus test for a future lawyer/judge, don’t you think?), and I’m pretty scornful of a guy who upholds the law for everyone but himself.

Doing real good versus limelight-grabbing

I recently started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. When he’s good, he’s very good.

My Little Hundred Million, is very, very good. Just listening to it is instructive, but you could spend a lot of time thinking about other applications of the insights (Gladwell gives several).

Low-valence geezer

I resist bonding with fellow liberals because it gets to feeling too comfy, sitting and murmuring in unison about Mitch McConnell and how devious and evil he is, so I say, quietly, “The real problem is that he’s smarter than the others. There is an art to obstruction and he is an artist.” So they start unloading on Trump and I listen and then I put my oar in: “ Donald Trump is an original, nobody like him before or since. All the others, either party, are variants of a type, but Trump came along, boasting, wearing his contempt proudly, and enough people loved him for that to elect him. Other presidents took the job very seriously but he was more like a sultan or an emir. And here he is, the most admired man in America. Democrats approve of Biden; Republicans adore Trump. No comparison.”

This statement lets some air into the conversation. You sit around on a terrace with your fellow liberals and the conversation turns choral and my job is to soloize, offer dissent in a minor key ….

Garrison Keillor


I now turn toward political matters. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Not worth the powder to blow them up

I would feel differently if NRO was a religious journal, especially if it were explicitly Roman Catholic, but somehow it smells exceedingly fishy when political journal National Review Online is constantly meddling in whether President Biden should be denied communion (Thursday’s installment) because of his support of legal abortion.

This is doubly so because "pro-life" Republicans haven’t really done a damn thing for the unborn beyond (a) confirming judges thought to be hostile to abortion, (b) proposing that Catholic Democrats be excommunicated. They’ve been playing pro-life voters for suckers. I wish I could remember the guy who first threw that in my face in 2002 so I could apologize for my hostile reaction. (They’ve been playing all social conservatives for suckers on all issues. Remember you heard it here first.)

Perhaps if the GOP truly does "permanently become the Party of the Working Class" (see below) that will change, but I wouldn’t bet on it considering its odd idea of who is "working class."

Trump > truth

The calculation was pretty straightforward: The need to stay on the good side of Trump voters and donors—which necessarily means staying on the good side of Trump—was greater than the need to tell the truth about January 6, the “big lie,” or Trump generally.

Jonah Goldberg

Staying on the good side of Trump is more important than truth-telling? You know what I say about that? Die, GOP, die!

Working Class Republicans

I have seen it suggested that most of the country doesn’t know who Liz Cheney is and that in a few months, nobody will remember or care about her ouster. There may be some truth in that. Heck, there may be a lot of truth in that.

I also recall confidently announcing that Election 2016 meant that some major political realignment was underway, and by that I meant

  • working-class voters migrating to the GOP
  • suburban soccer moms migrating to the Democrats and
  • other things beyond my imagination at that point (sort of implied by "major realignment").

Well, Kevin McCarthy wants the GOP to "permanently become the Party of the Working Class." (If you don’t know Liz Cheney or Kevin McCarthy, why are you reading?) That was kind of predictable, as one of the big stories of 2016 was how many had come on their own.

So the GOP got a real working man running for governor of Virginia (he typed with a smirk on his face). Read all about it in the first of three items here.

The ambiguous adjective 45 has earned, fair and square

I have never wavered on whether 45 (he who shall not be named) was a suitable President of the United States (or candidate, for that matter). But I think, considering his continued reach and inexplicable popularity, that I must allow him the ambiguous adjective "consequential."


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.

My Grudges

Lafayette Journal & Courier in high dudgeon, January 11, 1997

Predators at Work

Sexual abuse at group home prompts questions about oversight

by Jason Shepard

January 18, 2007RSS

In 1998, when Walden Homes hired Gregory Ledbetter as a counselor for troubled boys at Spring House, a group foster home funded by Dane County taxpayers, he was already an experienced sexual predator.

Ledbetter had moved to Madison less than a year before, after escaping 43 charges of sexually molesting boys at a group home in Indiana. His new job afforded him fresh opportunities, and he took prompt advantage of them, as ‘Henry’ would soon find out.

Henry (a pseudonym, like all names of juveniles in this article) was 15 when he ended up at Spring House, on Madison’s near east side, in 1999. ‘Almost every night,’ Henry later told police, he went to Ledbetter’s apartment, where they would ‘smoke marijuana, play videogames and watch porno movies.’

Ledbetter manipulated Henry into sexual acts, as he had with many other boys before and after, according to hundreds of pages of police and court records reviewed by Isthmus. Sometimes Ledbetter would perform oral sex on the boys; other times it was anal sex. A camcorder next to Ledbetter’s bed recorded the encounters.

Then Ledbetter would return his victims to Spring House, where he was paid to make meals, lead group discussions and serve as a role model for boys who’d been abandoned and suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.

Ledbetter, 39, was convicted last year of molesting several Spring House residents, among other victims. His crimes were so heinous that a Dane County judge sentenced him to life in prison, rejecting Ledbetter’s offer to be castrated.

Strikingly, Ledbetter is not the only sexual predator hired in recent years by Walden Homes to support and nurture some of Dane County’s most vulnerable teenagers. Angela Kalscheur, 26, faces more than 40 years in prison on charges related to sexual acts with four boys at Spring House. She has admitted to the crimes and will likely strike a plea bargain to avoid trial, now set for Feb. 7.

Both cases highlight breakdowns in a system that is supposed to provide care for kids in government custody. Background checks obviously failed, since Walden hired Ledbetter despite a dangerous and troubled past. And staff supervision was so poor that both counselors were able to prey on multiple youths over many months.

The cases also reveal insufficient oversight of private facilities that operate with public money. Even after the fact, county and state officials failed to aggressively investigate how such crimes could have happened. County and state officials operated in isolation so extreme that county officials praise Walden for its oversight efforts while the state accuses Walden of malfeasance. And elected officials with oversight responsibilities were kept in the dark.

County officials stress the assurances they’ve received from state regulators that Walden is in compliance with licensing rules.

‘We have nothing to hide,’ says Lynn Green, Dane County’s director of human services. ‘I am going to stand behind the work we’ve done in this situation 100 percent.’

Adds Bob Lee, administrator for Dane County’s division of children, youth and family services: ‘We feel as badly or more badly than anyone that some kids did not have good experiences there. But the totality of the agency’s experiences with Walden Homes is what’s most important to us.’

That may not be good enough for local elected officials. County Supv. David Worzala, chair of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee, was ‘astounded’ to learn of the abuse from Isthmus last week. County Supv. Barb Vedder, the committee’s vice chair, also professed ignorance: ‘I am surprised we weren’t told about this.’ (Charges in both cases drew media attention, but some accounts did not mention Spring House by name.)

This week Worzala launched an investigation into oversight of Walden Homes, which continues to annually receive about a million dollars in county funding.

‘My conclusion is it’s outrageous that this has occurred in group homes in Dane County,’ says Worzala. ‘These kids are in our care. They’re vulnerable, and we need to provide a safe environment.’

Where is the oversight?

Worzala, a member of the Dane County Board since 2004, doesn’t like to criticize county government. He uses the word ‘we’ when referring to it, and says he’s a ‘big fan’ of Green and her department.

But Worzala is at a loss to explain why he first learned of these incidents from a reporter: ‘I don’t know what to say. However, I will say this: Now I know about it, and it will be addressed.’

Next Tuesday, Worzala plans to call officials from Dane County and the state Department of Health and Family Services to account for their actions before his committee.

‘These are horrific cases,’ he says. ‘The system’s broken. We need to look at it. Clearly county and state oversight needs to be reviewed and discussed. We need to do something to make sure this never happens again.’

Walden Homes Ltd. is a nonprofit corporation that continues to run three group homes in Dane County: Coventry Group Home on the north side, and Horizon House and Thoreau House on the isthmus.

Dane County taxpayers have paid Walden $4.7 million over the past five years to care for children ordered into its group foster homes. A tax filing for 2004 shows county taxpayers, at $910,882 that year, were by far Walden’s largest source of income; next in line was the state Department of Corrections, at $44,550. The money went in part to Walden’s longtime director, George Nestler, who received a salary of about $90,000.

Nestler did not return repeated calls seeking comment on this article.

According to the tax filing, Walden Homes aims to provide ‘a stable, highly supervised group foster home environment’ for adolescents. But that’s hardly what it did for nearly a dozen of Dane County’s most troubled teens, who were victimized by these two counselors.

Indeed, records suggest that Spring House, 511 S. Ingersoll St., was a deeply troubled operation. Police have been called to the group home 151 times since 2000, often in response to neighbor concerns. Police logs reviewed by Isthmus show complaints about disturbances, thefts, damaged property, liquor law violations and general juvenile complaints. Other calls involved battery, drugs and an overdose.

‘There were police over there all the time,’ says Scott Thornton, who lives nearby. Neighbors also complained to state regulators about lax supervision. (Walden’s corporate office is located at 1102 Spaight St., just around the corner from Spring House.)

But the decision to close Spring House in June 2006 purportedly had nothing to do with child molestation or complaints from neighbors. Rather, Walden told the state it wanted ‘to make better use of our resources.’ Agrees Dane County’s Green, ‘It was purely a financial decision on their need to fill beds.’

From Indiana to Wisconsin

On Oct. 15, 2005, after being tipped off by a neighbor that Ledbetter, then 38, was having sex with a 16-year-old boy, Madison police executed a search warrant on his apartment. They discovered a jackpot of evidence in his bedroom: 150 videotapes stashed in a locked dresser drawer and a safe. The tapes, spanning more than a decade, were meticulously labeled with the boys’ names, ages and dates.

In letters and testimony to Dane County Judge Dan Moeser, Ledbetter and his parents traced his predatory pedophilia to his troubled childhood. They said Ledbetter had a sexual relationship with an older man when he was a teen. And, when he was around 17, his best friend committed suicide with Ledbetter’s shotgun after announcing that he was gay and being rejected by his family.

‘He gave me an ultimatum about him killing himself, and I didn’t stop him,’ Ledbetter wrote. ‘I carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life.’

‘Greg was never the same after that,’ his parents wrote. Following his own suicide attempt around this time, Ledbetter was committed to a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., where his sister lived, but was released after a few months when the insurance money ran out. ‘We regret to this day not keeping him institutionalized.’

Court records say Ledbetter graduated from Purdue University with an education and fine arts degree and worked as a student teacher in an elementary school. At about age 26, he began working at the Cary Home for Children in Lafayette, Ind. He was there for two years.

In January 1996, prosecutors charged Ledbetter with 43 counts of child seduction based on allegations from two group home residents.

According to Indiana police reports obtained by Isthmus, one boy said he had dozens of sexual encounters with Ledbetter between December 1993 and May 1995, when he was 16 and 17. It began with oral sex at Ledbetter’s parents’ house and escalated to anal intercourse, with the use of marijuana almost always preceding the sex. A second group home boy, 17 at the time, reported having at least 35 sexual encounters with Ledbetter.

Indiana newspapers reported that the allegations against Ledbetter were the second sexual allegations against Cary Home staffers in two years, and local politicians called for the firing of the home’s director.

The arrest also captured local headlines because Jerry Ledbetter, Greg’s father, was a city councilman who supported a local ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The family said Ledbetter was arrested in retaliation for his father’s progressive politics, and spent $19,000 in legal fees fighting the charges.

In January 1997, prosecutors dropped the charges after Ledbetter’s defense attorney secured an affidavit from one of the boys, saying he made up the allegations.

Eight years later, Madison police would discover what Indiana police did not: videotapes of Ledbetter having sex with at least three boys from the Indiana group home.

From Spring House to prison

By 1998, Ledbetter had moved to Madison and was looking for a job. The Spring House group home had just opened, and it was hiring. Ledbetter’s first day was April 20, 1998.

Ledbetter had already spent at least five years preying on vulnerable boys in Indiana. Over the next 22 months, he was given regular access to troubled boys in Dane County’s care. He made the most of it.

Police reports and a detailed criminal complaint relate the accounts of several group home victims, including ‘Billy,’ who was 14 when the abuse began.

‘The situation has made things hard for me,’ he told a detective. ‘You know, it was hard to go on with my life.’

Henry, mentioned above, told police he once complained that Ledbetter would openly tell the boys in his care that he ‘loved to suck cock.’ Henry said Ledbetter let the residents ‘smoke dope and go wherever they wanted,’ for which he ‘expected something in return.’ Henry also said Ledbetter once showed him a .45 caliber handgun.

‘Jeff,’ who was 16 when he engaged in sexual encounters with Ledbetter at Spring House, told police he ‘felt obliged to do this with the defendant since the defendant was making their life at the group home fun.’

In February 2000, Ledbetter left Spring House. Over the next five years, records show he met other boys through his jobs at a Walgreen’s, a Blockbuster video store, a Marcus movie theater and a store in South Towne Mall.

One of these was a 16-year-old who, his mother told police, had brain damage stemming from childhood abuse and suffered from learning disabilities, cancer and cerebral palsy. Court documents offer a particularly disturbing summary of one videotaped encounter. The boy, who appeared to ‘act more like an 8-year-old than his own age,’ expressed ‘random thoughts regarding eating at Old Country Buffet and videogames and his mother and his curly hair’ during unprotected anal intercourse with Ledbetter.

Yet another boy told police that Ledbetter handcuffed him and used duct tape on his mouth before anally penetrating him.

It’s not clear from court documents and police reports how many boys Ledbetter molested during his eight years in Madison. Ultimately, Dane County prosecutors charged him with 92 felony counts of child sexual assault, enticement and sexploitation, relating to 10 boys.

In July 2006, Ledbetter was convicted following a plea agreement; he received a 90-year prison sentence. Under the state’s truth-in-sentencing law, he won’t be eligible for parole until he is 129 years old.

‘I am viewed more as someone who was over-punished and denied the right of rehabilitation as a sex offender,’ Ledbetter wrote to Judge Moeser in October from prison in Waupun. He now spends his days playing classical music on a piano, painting and drawing in his cell, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

‘There’s things I need’

Angela Kalscheur graduated from Mankato State University in Minnesota in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice, records show. She interned at a center for juvenile sex offenders before Walden Homes hired her in November 2004 to work at Spring House.

Like Ledbetter, Kalscheur worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift as an assistant counselor at Spring House. Her duties included preparing meals, supervising homework and leading group talks. And while she and Ledbetter likely never met, Kalscheur used many of the same strategies to entice boys into satisfying her sexual desires.

According to a criminal complaint, ‘Nick,’ then 15, arrived at the group home in March 2005 and quickly learned that Kalscheur was having sex with several boys; he later told police this was ‘common knowledge.’ Nick said he didn’t report Kalscheur because he used this information as leverage to extend his curfew and get an allowance without doing work. Once he walked in on Kalscheur having intercourse with ‘Joe,’ and was invited to participate.

Joe told police that within a week of arriving at Spring House in the spring of 2005, when he was 17, Kalscheur told him something to the effect of, ‘There’s things I need,’ then hugged him and put his hand down her pants. Joe estimated that he and Kalscheur had sexual contact about 35 times, including twice at her house.

A third boy, ‘Damon,’ told police that Kalscheur performed oral sex on him about five times, starting on his 16th birthday. He said he knew other residents were having sex with Kalscheur, and that she asked him not to tell because she could lose her job.

‘Just keep giving me head,’ Damon said he told her, ‘and you won’t need to worry about it.’

Kalscheur, the complaint says, regularly gave the boys alcohol and cigarettes. She also drove them to a location on the south side, where they bought marijuana. The boys would get high as Kalscheur returned to the group home.

In June 2005, another Spring House counselor had a chance meeting with a former resident, who told of sexual encounters with Kalscheur when he was at the home. The counselor reported the allegations to Walden Homes’ director Nestler, who, as required by law, reported the allegation to Dane County officials.

Kalscheur continued to work at Spring House for the next month, and was fired on July 27 on a matter unrelated to sexual abuse, county officials say.

On May 25, 2006, Madison police detective Dave Gouran spoke with Kalscheur at her home. After initially denying any wrongdoing, Kalscheur eventually admitted to having sexual contact with Joe, Nick and Damon, as well as other boys from the group home.

Kalscheur’s attorney, Eric Schulenburg, expects to reach a plea agreement in the near future, and will argue at sentencing that her crimes don’t merit prison.

‘To send her to prison is a crime, and there’s no need to make this two crimes,’ says Schulenburg, adding that he has trouble viewing the 16- and 17-year-old boys in this case as victims.

Appropriate action?

The unprecedented abuse at Spring House ‘ going back decades, county officials can’t remember another substantiated molestation case at a juvenile group home ‘ has local politicians worried.

‘Clearly, two makes a pattern,’ says Supv. Worzala. ‘The Ledbetter case is frightening. You’re talking about border hopping of predators. It’s unacceptable.’

But Dane County’s Bob Lee says that after learning of misconduct, local officials ‘did what was required’ and took ‘appropriate action.’ These actions included interviewing group home residents and attending Spring House staff meetings.

Regulating group homes, county officials stress, is the state’s responsibility. ‘The state is required to license and monitor. The onus is on them,’ says Marykay Wills, the county’s mental health and alternative care manager. ‘The state assured us that Walden did what they were supposed to do.’

But state officials and records provided to Isthmus undercut many of these claims and suggest that county officials either aren’t being forthcoming or remain uninformed as to the state’s apparently grave concerns about Walden Homes, both before and after these molestation cases came to light.

‘It is very likely that we would have taken the steps to revoke the license at Spring House if they had not voluntarily closed,’ says Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Family Services.

State officials accused Walden Homes of a ‘lack of cooperation with the department in its attempt to thoroughly investigate the allegations,’ according to a letter sent to Walden dated Oct. 25, 2006, written after Isthmus began making inquiries into the state and county’s handling of the matter.

That letter, and a follow-up (click HERE), allege that Walden staff members were told by a Walden supervisor and in a written memo not to cooperate with investigators. The letters criticized Walden’s management and accused Walden supervisors of overlooking complaints from other staff about Kalscheur’s behavior.

County officials are also apparently clueless as to the rules regarding background checks. Lee explains Ledbetter’s hire by saying ‘the state does not require out-of-state background checks. Now should they? Maybe. But they don’t.’

Marquis contradicts this, saying state law does indeed require out-of-state criminal background checks for any state in which an applicant may have lived in the past three years, information he or she is required to provide.

How Ledbetter passed his background check after being charged with 43 counts of child molestation at his last group home job may never be known. When state regulators sought to review Walden’s records, they discovered that ‘all terminated staff files and discharged resident files’ from Spring House had been destroyed by Walden’s director in December 2005. The destruction of these files occurred in the middle of police investigations into both the Ledbetter and Kalscheur cases.

State officials fined Walden $1,000 in the Kalscheur case, which Walden initially appealed. Walden dropped its appeal after it closed Spring House and moved its residents to Thoreau House, located around the corner in the same building as Walden Homes’ Spaight Street headquarters.

Walden Homes continues to reap county contracts for its three other group foster homes, into which troubled teens are regularly ordered. In 2006, Walden received $986,766 in county funding. Lynn Green, the county’s human services director, thinks the relationship is working well.

‘Walden has a long history of providing very good group home services in Dane County,’ she says. ‘They were one of the early group homes, and George Nestler has been with them 20-plus years. Hundreds if not thousands of Dane County kids have received excellent services from the Walden Homes system.’

(From Isthmus, a publication in Madison, Wisconsin)


I don’t hold a lot of grudges, but I hold a few related to this sorry case.

It’s not that “everyone knew” the Lafayette charges were true and that the local scribes were ignoring what everybody knew. I had spoken to one of the accusers professionally, and I wasn’t certain. One seldom is.

When the boys withdrew their accusations, I considered possible both that the charges had been false and that Defense counsel for Ledbetter had “gotten to” the accusers somehow. I wasn’t sure which.

My grudge is that the Journal & Courier didn’t know, either. Yet it wagged its corporate finger at everyone who believed (or dutifully investigated) the adolescent boys who accused Ledbetter, and turned a secret abuser into a martyred saint. Everyone should have had the Journal & Courier’s confidence that the charges were false, though the confidence was unwarranted and turned out to be false. I was at the very least adjacent to those the santimonious ink-stained wretches were excoriating.

My grudge also is that hiring an “out” homosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents (that’s the kind of facility that employed Ledbetter) of the same sex, whatever the written rules may have said, was recklessly in defiance of common sense — as it would have been reckless to hire a heterosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents of the opposite sex. This was not, in other words, a “freak accident.” It was completely foreseeable. More heads should have rolled than did (though Commissioner Nola Gentry’s replacement was a Marjorie Taylor Greene type, far inferior to Nola).

So my grudge, finally, is that not all “discrimination” is invidious (some is utterly sensible), and thus not all discrimination should be legally forbidden, as it increasingly is — and as the Journal & Courier supports.


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