Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Personal cybersecurity

You report on digital privacy, health and education technology. What are your most important tools for doing your job?

We’re living in a surveillance economy where sites and apps can track and categorize our every online move. In that ecosystem, encrypted communication services have become some of my most important reporting tools.

For people who would rather not reach me through my corporate Gmail account at The Times, I use ProtonMail, an encrypted email service. I also use Signal, an encrypted text messaging and calling service. And I do some online research through Tor, a browser that masks your online address so sites can’t track your physical location. I also use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t store your search history.

(Natasha Singer, New York Times, product hyperlinks added.)

Check, check, check, check. But I don’t know which acquaintances use ProtonMail and Signal, which limits usefulness.

She also uses Disconnect. (Strokes chin thoughtfully.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.


Michael Brendan Dougherty suggests a parallel between fake news and the fake sex of porn:

In one domain of human life, the political, we’re expected to be entirely sober, civic, and lacking in prejudice. We’re supposed to avoid what is coarse and coarsening. And the code that programs our media experiences needs to reflect those same commitments. In the next open tab, judgments about coarseness and its effect on the rest of society are openly sneered at. The heart — or some other organ — wants what it wants. Our culture-makers seem to believe in a neatly cleaved human nature. In one realm, we can expect ourselves to act as angels, and do the disinterested thing. In another, perhaps to let off some steam, we must give the Devil his due.

But perhaps the defenders of porn should consider that the common purveyors and sharers of fake news across social media are also engaged in a form of self-abuse, combined with titillation, and fantasy life. They no more believe that Barack Obama is running guns to ISIS than that the surgically enhanced 30-year-old woman in a plaid skirt is a very bad Catholic-school girl. It’s just a reality they prefer to envision. One where they can gaze into a backlit screen, click around, and imagine they aren’t wasting their lives clicking around on a backlit screen.

(Michael Brendan Dougherty, Fake Love, Not News)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Meticulous truth-tellers

Alastair Roberts, a smart fellow, has a smart take on the viral video of BBC’s Kathy Newman beclowning herself in an interview with Jordan Peterson.

I’ll assume you’ve watched the video and thus will omit most of Roberts’ summaries of Jordan’s message:

Peterson’s message is that men need to grow up because the world needs powerful men, and because women need powerful men. Men’s power is something that they have to offer the world and also something in which they should find meaning and dignity. And men’s power is good for women too.

Just how counter-cultural this message is merits reflection, not least as an indication of part of what is wrong with our world. Within society today, men are increasingly taught that their power is toxic and problematic, that they need to step back to let women advance. The sort of male spaces in which men develop and play to their strengths are closed down and the sexes integrated. The suggestion that the male sex rather needs to step up and play to its strengths, and not just function as meek, compliant, and deferential allies to women, is one that instinctively appalls many. ‘Powerful man’ is seldom heard as anything but a pejorative expression.

While Newman and others like her tend to perceive gender relations primarily in terms of the frame of competitive and largely zero-sum relations between individuals in a gender-neutralized economy, where male strength will almost unavoidably function as an obstacle and frustration to women and their advancement, Peterson asks the crucial question: ‘What sort of partner do you want?’

Just how threatening the development of powerful men is to our society and how invested our society has become in stifling men and discouraging their strength is illuminating, and the responses to Peterson are often telling here—both the instinctive resistance of many women to the prospect of more powerful men and the immense hunger of young men for a maturity they feel they lack.

A society that needs its men to be weak will ultimately prove to be frustrating for both sexes. Here the interpersonal dynamics of the interview are illuminating. Newman seems to be expecting to deal with another man-child who is acting out against the matriarchal forces in society, some puerile provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos, perhaps. Encountering a manly adult male instead, she seems to be wrong-footed. By the end, she appears to be charmed by Peterson, despite herself.

(Emphasis added)

Elsewhere, Roberts and Rod Dreher noted Peterson’s commitment to truth-telling and his meticulous care with his words.

The first time I consciously noted that there are meticulous truth-tellers in the world, and that they stand out from the pack of logorrheic guys-at-the-bar, professional blatherskites, “puerile provocateurs” and televangelists, was when I read Dag Hammarskjöld‘s Markings (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

We need more meticulous truth-telling, and Peterson is getting some reward, in the coin of the age (celebrity) for modeling it.

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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Any stick will do …

A most strange complaint was channeled through NPR’s All Things Considered Monday.

Although 90% of deportations under Donald Trump have been to Mexico, Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador, some of the other 10% are up in arms:

“It’s really indiscriminate. ICE, in their aggressive tactics of detention, are going after the Irish as much as they’re going after any other nationality,” says Ronnie Millar, director of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston.

Irish visa overstayers have been swept up in the administration’s nationwide immigration dragnet. Under strict new rules, anyone here illegally is a target — whether they’re convicted of a crime or not. In 2017, ICE deported 34 undocumented Irish, up from 26 the year before. The numbers are tiny compared with the 128,765 Mexicans ejected from the country last year, but in Boston’s closeknit Irish community the wave of arrests is big news.

Tommy O’Connor, a bartender at the Green Briar Irish pub, says his undocumented Irish customers are wary these days.

“It makes everyday life more difficult,” he says. “For a simple traffic stop they can be deported.”

He tells the story of a prominent local Irish immigrant, John Cunningham, who went on camera with an Irish TV crew last year talking about his fear of living illegally in Boston. Weeks later, ICE arrested him and sent him back to Ireland.

“It was a shock because it wasn’t during a traffic stop, he was arrested in his home,” O’Connor says. “It means it could happen to anybody because he was a very well known figure in the Irish community.”

Millar, director of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston, says that Irish immigrants are “on high alert.”

“They have no confidence that the color of their skin provides any protection for them,” he says.

“[N]o confidence that the color of their skin provides any protection for them ….” “Racist.”

“Discrimination.” “Indiscriminate.”

Any stick will do to beat a dog.

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“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Why I’m not a Libertarian

Reason is a libertarian monthly print magazine covering politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews.” Thus saith the sponsored link in my search results.

[I]t’s shortsighted when publications like Reason Magazine scoff at law enforcement’s attempts to curb child trafficking by implying that runaways are more safe with pimps than with child protective services, basing this conclusion on the fact that that’s what trafficked, manipulated sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds say when asked.

Yes, Reason. I can’t think of another serious publication that would report on the Weinstein trafficking allegation in this way: “In this case, Weinstein is accused of using a fraudulent employment opportunity to lure Noble to his hotel room for what he hoped would be quid-pro-quo sex and what turned into a sexual assault.” It appears we have a national problem these days with hoped-for quid-pro-quo sex turning into sexual assault. All those dashed hopes.

Reason has long defended prostitution and turned a blind eye to the trafficking in the sex industry, preferring to champion rights for “sex workers.” And again this past spring, the magazine’s associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown penned a cover story accusing the FBI of policing sex in their attempts to save trafficked victims. “Most of the minors found in these crackdowns are not selling sex because someone is forcing them into it,” Brown urges, “but because they have no other palatable options to get by. They need shelter, cash, better care, legit employment, and better prospects all around.” Seemingly blind to how having limited options is fertile ground for coercion and exploitation, Brown paints an empathetic picture of a man named Irick Oneal who was prosecuted for trafficking a fifteen-year-old runaway who says she didn’t want to go back to CPS. Elsewhere, she describes trafficking prosecutions like this: “U.S. prosecutors announced federal indictments against a Missouri man accused of driving an 18-year-old sex worker across state lines and a pair of cousins whose initially consensual pimping of three adult women (including one of the defendants’ girlfriends) had turned abusive.” I suppose the pimp’s hopes were dashed here too.

Such statements reveal an agenda to portray prostitution as based on consensual relations at all costs—even at the cost of overlooking children being sold into slavery. It’s hard to think of another explanation that would gloss over the value of removing a thirteen-year-old girl from traffickers and instead bemoan the arrest of numerous prostituting adults caught in the same sting. “Authorities are routinely taking money set aside to stop child sexual exploitation and using it to find and punish adults, many just a few years past childhood themselves, for private sexual activities,” Brown decries. Who exactly did she think was exploiting the children, if not adults? 

Somewhere along the way, Brown and Reason lose sight of the value of that thirteen-year-old girl. Somehow it’s more important to protect profits than to stop the rape of a girl. Somehow, that girl’s repeated sexual assault, stolen liberty, and damaged health became a cost of doing business, for which the surrounding adults are not accountable.

According to Reason Magazine, if more adults are arrested than minors rescued, it means the entire effort to stop child trafficking is a failure or a farce. It doesn’t strike them as curious that the so-called “sex workers” aren’t fazed by trafficked minors in their midst. Perhaps Reason doesn’t want to investigate that further, because then they’d see that most people working in the sex industry came from backgrounds of sex abuse under eighteen as well. They’d see that many of them also first stumbled into the industry at thirteen or fourteen too. Perhaps many in the sex industry aren’t appalled by child abuse, not because it’s only happening to a rare few of them, but because it’s what most have experienced themselves.

(Harvey Weinstein Isn’t Unusual: Sexual Abuse and Trafficking in the United States)

At my advanced age, I’ve had many reminders why I cannot resolve my political ennui by declaring myself Libertarian. Reptilian reductionism ranks high among those reminders, and I cannot bring myself to think that the evil of sex trafficking is less that the evils sometimes wrought in trying to stop sex trafficking.

And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I went to the source and didn’t just trust Witherspoon’s summary of how Reason was treating sex trafficking.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The Golden Globe deflection

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

There are classics of the genre. After Princess Diana died in August 1997, the British press came under severe pressure, accused of literally driving the poor half-mad woman to her death. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.

The best deflection has some truth in it. . The Windsors were a chilly lot …

I thought of all this last weekend as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.

They went so far, a viewer would be forgiven for thinking that they were not upset because they found out about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, et al. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter, that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.

Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.

(Peggy Noonan)

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.


Tuesday’s televised meeting of the president with congressional leaders to discuss immigration. This was not a good performance by past presidential standards: Trump seemed unable to grasp what a “clean” bill meant, or where Republicans stood on it. Oklahoma Senator James Lankford acknowledged as much when he said the meeting got “confusing.”

“Fire and Fury” has so thoroughly succeeded in lowering public expectations for Trump that it makes it that much easier for him to exceed them.

(Bret Stephens, New York Times)

Trump proves he’s sane

(Headline of Daniel Henninger column, Wall Street Journal, citing the same immigration meeting Stephens thought “not a good performance”)

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Toxins and antidotes

I encountered one of this quotes before and may have shared it, but now I’ve read the whole article:

When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me end with a few rays of hope and some thoughts about what can be done. I began this lecture with a discussion of the fine-tuned liberal democracy, which is the hypothesis that human beings are unsuited for life in large diverse secular democracies, unless we can get certain settings finely adjusted. I think this hypothesis is true, and I have tried to show that we have stumbled into some very bad settings. I am pessimistic about our future, but let me state clearly that I have low confidence in my pessimism. It has always been wrong to bet against America, and it is probably wrong to do so now …

[I]f you want more hope, let me tell you why I think things are going to start to improve on university campuses, beginning in the fall of 2018: because as things get worse on campus, more people are beginning to stand up, and more people are searching for solutions. Some college presidents are starting to stand up. They all know they are sitting on a powder keg, and they want to defuse it. Also, they are generally liberal scholars, deeply opposed to illiberalism …

Professors are starting to stand up, too. At Heterodox Academy, we started with 25 members two years ago; now we have over 1,400, evenly balanced between left and right. We got a big surge of members after the violence at Middlebury because that was a tipping point. Professors are overwhelmingly on the left, but they are mostly liberal Left, not illiberal. My field—social psychology—for example, is quite sane. I have been raising the alarm about political imbalance and orthodoxy since 2011, and so far nothing bad has happened to me …

And most importantly, some students are beginning to stand up. At Reed College, one of the most politically orthodox schools in the country, social-justice activists had been protesting and disrupting the first-year humanities course for more than a year. They called the course an act of white supremacy because it focused on dead white authors. They said the course was traumatizing to non-white students. They brought their signs and chants into the classroom every day, making it hard for professors to teach or for students to learn. Many Reed students and professors objected, but none dared to do so publicly, lest they be called racist themselves. Finally, this fall, several Asian students stood up, criticized the protesters, and asked them to stop interfering with their education. Once these students stood up, support for the protesters collapsed. Many people had been going along out of fear, rather than conviction.

(Jonathan Haidt) This edited transcript of Haidt’s Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, delivered on November 15 has much more of worth than I have quoted, including analysis of how we got so polarized. A hint: I left the GOP in 2005, but there was handwriting on the walls ten years earlier (which I did not notice.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

More worrisome than fast lanes and slow lanes

What worries me more than fast lanes and slower lanes on the internet:

[T]he [Google/Facebook] duopoly’s dominance threatens the marketplace of ideas. Beyond advertising, Google and Facebook control how millions of people find their news. Americans are far likelier, collectively, to encounter articles via search engines and social media than on a news site’s home page.

Google is used for nearly 90% of online searches in the U.S. A Pew survey this summer found that the four most popular social-media sites for getting news are Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google), Twitter (which has a Google partnership), and Instagram (owned by Facebook). No more than 5% of Americans use another social-media platform to get news.

If executives at a Silicon Valley monopoly [e.g., Google] believe that censoring certain content will push the world in a positive direction, market pressures cannot sufficiently restrain them.

Journalists also argue that tech companies are pushing media toward the lowest common denominator. Social media rewards clickbait—sensational headlines that confirm readers’ biases. Google and Facebook’s advertising duopoly bleeds traditional publishers of the revenue needed to produce high-quality news. At the same time, Google’s search engine is biased against subscription content, depleting another source of funding.

The bottom line is that Google’s and Facebook’s advertising policies and algorithms make it less profitable to produce high-quality journalism from any perspective. Their duopoly also gives tech executives the power to defund and block content they personally object to without taking a major hit to the bottom line.

(Mark Epstein, Wall Street Journal) Unlike fast lanes and slow lanes, this threat is not hypothetical. It is making us stupider already:

In a November speech, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, argued that “edge providers” like social-media websites and search engines “routinely block or discriminate against content they don’t like.” Mr. Pai cited YouTube’s decision to place age restrictions on and pull ads from videos by conservative commentator Dennis Prager’s Prager University, including a video by Alan Dershowitz on Israel’s founding.

He also pointed to Twitter’s suspension of a pro-life campaign ad from Rep. Marsha Blackburn, an action that would have been illegal if done by a TV or radio station. Twitter has refused sponsored tweets from immigration opponents, saying its hate-speech policy is triggered by messages such as “the fiscal cost created by illegal immigrants of $746.3b compares to total a cost of deportation of $124.1b.”

When virtually all online advertising goes through two companies …, they have the power to harm websites arbitrarily. One political blog that posted an article trying to distinguish the “alt-right” from white nationalism received a warning email from Google’s AdSense team. An editor took the article down, explaining to readers that the blog “needs revenue from the Google ad platform in order to survive.” You needn’t agree with the editorial decision to publish the article to be troubled by Google’s vetoing it.

On top of all that, Google and Facebook are entirely opaque about how they decide what to put under your nose when you do a Google search or go to wherever it is that people go on Facebook to (eeewwww!) get world news. All we know is that paid advertising has something to do with it. Beyond that, Google keeps search algorithms secret partly for the legitimate purpose of keeping content providers from gaming the system.

Need I note that this article is unlikely to appear at the top of your Google search or on Facebook if, God help you, Facebook is where you go for actual news about the world?

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.