Thursday, 9/29/22

Today marks the 24th anniversary of my father’s death and 40 days since the death of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a titan in Anglophone Eastern Orthodoxy.

I’m surprised at how much I’ve aggregated. It definitely was time to get it out of draft and onto the internet.

Rightward swings in the Western World

When Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders

Rapid mass migration, we now know, is arsenic to egalitarian social democracy.

But why turn to the former neo-Nazis? You won’t find an answer to that in woke-captured media either. The answer is similar to the reason Americans turned to Trump: for a very long time, no one in the mainstream parties or media would acknowledge the reality of the migrant crisis or do anything about it, except call those asking questions racists and fascists.

… In the immortal words of David Frum: if liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will.

Andrew Sullivan on the roots of Sweden’s political swing to the hard right.

Italy’s rightward swing

We’re left with a picture of a country in which the center-left is supported mainly by the educated, secular, and professional classes, while the right appeals to a cross-section of the rest of the country—the working class as well as the middle and upper-middle classes, along with the religiously pious and the large numbers of Italians who treat religion as a symbol or identity-marker without actually believing in or practicing it.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because similar things have been happening in many places over the past decade. The precise political results of these shifts have varied from country to country as they’ve interacted with different electoral systems, but the underlying trends in public opinion can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in France, Great Britain, the U.S., and other countries. In each case, the center-left has gone into decline with the center-right and anti-liberal populist right rising to take its place.

Until the center-left figures out a way to win back the working- and middle-class, as well as the nominally religious, it will continue to lose precious political ground to the populist and nationalist right.

Damon Linker

I’m quite impressed with Linker’s still-newish Substack. He’s been writing almost daily, but I don’t recall any total duds yet, and that’s a bit of a rarity even with writers whose schedules are more relaxed.

Angry Incoherence from the 5th Circuit

“I think passing this law was so much fun for these [Texas] legislators, and I think they might have expected it would get struck down, so the theater was the point.” But she also believes that there is likely some lack of understanding among those responsible for the law about just how extreme the First Amendment is in practice. “Most people don’t realize how much horrible speech is legal,” she said, arguing that historically, the constitutional right has confounded logic on both the political left and right. “These legislators think that they’re opening the door to some stuff that might offend liberals. But I don’t know if they realize they are also opening the door to barely legal child porn or pro-anorexia content and beheading videos. I don’t think they’ve understood how bad the bad is.

Daphne Keller, director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, via Charlie Warzel on NetChoice v. Paxton, a bizarre 5th Circuit opinion upholding a Texas law that, motivated by a perception of liberal bias in moderation, essentially forbade big internet platforms to moderate content — and forbade them from ceasing to do business in Texas to boot! Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.

Domestic Politics

Proxy or Leader?

The flow-with-the-go model of politics is baked into representative democracy. Or, rather, representative democracy invariably is shaped by the tension between the conception of representative-as-proxy—“I’m just here to represent the Will of the People!”—and representative-as-leader, a  role in which a representative will, from time to time, be obliged to ignore or overrule popular sentiment in service to prudence and justice. This is Edmund Burke 101: “Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgement; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Kevin D. Williamson, Grift 2.0

Burke’s has been my view of representative democracy for longer than I can remember. And his examples of "Grift 2.0" ring true.

Comparative hate

I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.”

Alan Jacobs. Sadly, Vance is quite public about his Christian faith. That he should consider hate-promotion a feature, not a bug, is jarring.

Powered by Pure Spite

The cardinal virtue of modern conservative populism is spite. Whatever gambit a populist is pursuing, whatever agenda he or she might be advancing, the more it offends the enemy the more likely it is to be received by the right adoringly. Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt is an efficient example. It accomplished nothing meaningful yet observers on both sides agree that he helped his 2024 chances by pulling it off. He made the right people mad. That’s more important than thoughtful policy solutions.

Why spite has become so important to the right-wing populist ethic is hard to say, as it’s not symmetrical between the parties. The most prominent left-wing populist in Congress is probably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a politician who, despite her many faults, doesn’t want for policy ideas. Ask AOC what her top priority as a legislator is and she might say the Green New Deal or Medicare For All. The most prominent right-wing populist in Congress is likely Marjorie Taylor Greene. Ask Greene what she wants to do with her power as a legislator and she’s apt to say, “Impeach Joe Biden.”

“Impeach Joe Biden for what?” you might ask, as if that matters. …

Spite doesn’t need a reason.

Nick Catoggio (f/k/a Allahpundit), The Wild Ones

True Movements or Mostly Hype?

It is perfectly clear that there is a movement in America of people who call themselves evangelicals but have no properly theological commitments at all. But what’s not clear, to me anyway, is how many of them there are. Donald Trump can draw some big crowds, and those crowds often have a quasi-religious focus on him or anyway on what they believe he stands for — but those crowds are not large in the context of the entire American population. They’re very visible, because both Left and Right have reasons for wanting them to be visible, but how demographically significant are they really?

I have similar questions about, for instance, the “national conservatism” movement. Is this actually a movement? Or is it just a few guys who follow one another on Twitter and subscribe to one another’s Substacks?

Alan Jacobs

Culture

I dread our being too much dreaded

I must fairly say I dread our own power, and our own ambition; I dread our being too much dreaded. . . . We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing, and hitherto unheard-of power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.

Edmund Burke via Michael Brendan Dougherty, defending himself and Christopher Hitchens against charges of being Putin apologists for long opposing our policies in Ukraine, almost none of which charges are made in good faith.

Dougherty continues:

To [Peter] Hitchens, whom I have admired greatly for some time, I say now is the time to apply realism to the trolls and demagogues and even to many of the think-tankers and mandarins on the other side. Our case is that they are mishandling grave matters, that they are hubristic and deluded about their own nations and about grand strategy. We think they are casting themselves, absurdly, as great statesmen like Churchill. You and I, having read just a little more history than can fit into a two-hour movie, don’t even belong to that cult in the same way they do. Why, then, should we ever have expected them to treat their powerless critics fairly?

Realism means admitting that our leadership is unworthy, deluded, and stupid. Really they are unprepared, or unfit for their roles. They have led us from one disaster to the next for over two decades. But we may avoid the worst calamity in spite of their failures. We may be saved the miscalculation of others. Or our salvation may be that the huge treasury of power and advantage bequeathed to our nations by previous generations cannot be wasted entirely, even by foolish heirs like these. Or it may be by pure dumb luck, or the grace of God.

White Liberals

I love WL’s [White Liberals], love ’em to death. They’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.

Paul Farmer via Alan Jacobs

Invisible infrastructure

Our immigration system is broken, and relies on the invisible infrastructure maintained by non-profits and religious groups.

Leah Libresco Sargeant (italics added).

I think everyone knows the system is broken, but I had not been award of the invisible infrastructure. Maybe Paul Farmer wasn’t completely right about white liberals.

Because I say so. That’s why.

Over two decades ago, when I was getting to know Eric [Metaxas], we had a friendly argument over something theological, as we walked around Manhattan. When I challenged something Eric said, he replied that God had told him it was the thing to do. “How do you know that?” I asked. Because he did. The argument went nowhere. I remember it so clearly because that was the first time I had ever had a conversation with someone who asserted that something was true not because God said it — all Christians must believe that, or throw out Scripture — but because God had said it to them personally.

Rod Dreher, What I Saw at the Jericho March (MAGA at prayer event a shocking display of apocalyptic faith and politics — and religious decadence)

Apple pulls back from China

Apple announced Monday it has already begun manufacturing its new iPhone 14 in India, just weeks after the updated product launched and months earlier than previously expected. Production of the company’s newest line of phones typically begins in Chinese factories because of existing supply-chain efficiencies, with some of it shifting to India after six to nine months. The move is likely indicative of Western companies’ newfound desire to limit reliance on China amid economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday, 9/27/22

Battling Amazon in France

France introduces a delivery charge for books: The “minimum charge of €3 will help small independent booksellers struggling to compete with Amazon and other giant online retailers.”

Micah Mattix

The New Economy

Financialization itself, at the grand scale, was a racket—substituting swindles and frauds for the old economy of industrial production.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency

Journalism, traditional and new

Toxic News Swamp

[H]ow could MSNBC and CBS News have both purported to “independently confirm” a CNN bombshell that was completely false?

Glenn Greenwald, How Do Big Media Outlets So Often "Independently Confirm" Each Other’s Falsehoods?

Oases of Sanity

If you’re tired of tearing your hair out over political writing, Alan Jacobs has the cure: an array of sane writers who are not carrying water for anyone or any cause:

  • Leah Libresco Sargeant
  • Noah Millman
  • Damon Linker
  • Zeynep Tufecki
  • Yair Rosenberg
  • John McWhorter
  • Freddie deBoer
  • Jonathan Rauch
  • Jonathan Haidt
  • Jesse Singal
  • David French
  • Andrew Sullivan

Wordplay

Shameware

Software voluntarily installed on a smartphone to allow someone else to monitor, and challenge, one’s internet browsing. One group of Churches in particular is using it.

Similar to surveillance software like Bark or NetNanny, which is used to monitor children at home and school, “shameware” apps are lesser-known tools that are used to keep track of behaviors parents or religious organizations deem unhealthy or immoral. Fortify, for instance, was developed by the founder of an anti-pornography nonprofit called Fight the New Drug and tracks how often an individual masturbates in order to help them overcome “sexual compulsivity.” The app has been downloaded over 100,000 times and has thousands of reviews on the Google Play store.

Wired

My first reaction was “maybe some people really need this to straighten out.” But the security holes it creates are technically worrisome apart from spiritual or psychological concerns.

Mechanical Jacobins

Automobiles, in the lexicon of Russell Kirk

Fractally wrong

Techdirt founder Mike Masnick’s summary of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding Texas’ ban on big sites moderating content (see above). In greater detail…

made up of so many layers of wrongness that, in order to fully comprehend its significance, “you must understand the historical wrongness before the legal wrongness, before you can get to the technical wrongness.”

Via Charlie Warzel, Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Hobbit Day 2022

I have it on reasonably good authority that today is Hobbit Day, and it turns out that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one to cash in on Hobbits.

Culture

How the Bobos Broke America — key excerpt

I tend to quote a lot of things without comment, but I’m going to say that the following strikes me as true, and so contrary to the recent history of the Democrat and Republican parties that it’s core to why I believe a major realignment is underway. Today’s Republican party is not the same Republican party I left in January 2005. For my taste, it’s worse, but that taste almost certainly is tainted by Orange Man. But I gradually came to see his appeal:

What causes psychic crisis are the whiffs of “smarter than” and “more enlightened than” and “more tolerant than” that the creative class gives off. People who feel that they have been rendered invisible will do anything to make themselves visible; people who feel humiliated will avenge their humiliation. Donald Trump didn’t win in 2016 because he had a fantastic health-care plan. He won because he made the white working class feel heard.

How the Bobos Broke America.

There’s no need to hold a pity party for me, but I’ve spent most of my life too Christian and too socially awkward to be comfortable with social elites, too elite to feel instinctively empathetic or entirely comfortable with the working class.

How unreality spreads

Wrong beliefs and wrong perceptions are contagious whether or not they are sincere, because dissidents tend to self-censor and act like believers. That is how entire societies, such as the Soviet Union, can be built on everyone’s publicly pretending to believe what many privately know to be false.

Jonathan Rauch, Echo Chambers and Confirmation Loops in The Constitution of Knowledge.

I think this has some contemporary relevance. I’ll say no more.

National Conservatism could be a boon for religious liberty lawyers

Here’s the national conservatism “Statement of Principles” on God and public religion, signed by dozens of leaders of the national conservatism movement:

No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition. For millennia, the Bible has been our surest guide, nourishing a fitting orientation toward God, to the political traditions of the nation, to public morals, to the defense of the weak, and to the recognition of things rightly regarded as sacred. The Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike. Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes. (Emphasis added.)

This paragraph describes a form of religious supremacy that relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting Christianity a position of powerful public privilege.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that the “moral vision” of the signatories broadly reflects the diversity of Christian belief and practice in the United States. After all, there are churches that host drag queen events, as well as churches that condemn drag queens. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are completely dependent on their Bible-believing, church-going base constituencies (white Evangelicals for Republicans and Black Protestants for Democrats).

Are national conservatives thus satisfied when either party wins, so long as a Christian (Joe Biden, for example) is at the helm?

Of course not. For the term “moral vision” to mean anything, it has to mean a particular version of professed Christian belief and practice.

David French

A polity that "relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting [a form of putative] Christianity a position of powerful public privilege" is inconsistent with current Supreme Court thinking, and I don’t think Trump’s nominees change that.

When did modernity begin?

For us, the real Middle Ages extend from the reign of Charlemagne to the opening of the fourteenth century, at which date a new decadence set in that has continued, through various phases and with gathering impetus, up to the present time. This date is the real starting-point of the modern crisis: it is the beginning of the disruption of Christendom, with which the Western civilization of the Middle Ages was essentially identified: at the same time, it marks the origin of the formation of ‘nations’ and the end of the feudal system, which was very closely linked with the existence of Christendom. The origin of the modern period must therefore be placed almost two centuries further back than is usual with historians…

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World.

What Putin lacks

[T]he death of Queen Elizabeth II and the wave of antique pageantry help illuminate one of the Russian president’s important weaknesses. He has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy.

Ross Douthat, Why Queen Elizabeth’s Strength Is Putin’s Weakness

This takes “self-deprecating” too far

We sat and watched the committal service, we who threw all this away in the 18th century, all the costumery, ribbonry, and titlery and iconic disciplines and endless dignity, in favor of the mess we know all too well …

[A]fter a couple hours of admiring tradition and ceremony and everyone knowing which foot to put where, it dawns on me that this elevation of bureaucracy to an art form is what America fortunately escaped and thus was better able to give the world the phenomenal techno advances of my lifetime, the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines. These things were not created by platoons of people marching in place but by brilliant gamblers and entrepreneurs, nerds of many stripes. (We also gave the world the blues and rock ’n’ roll, but that’s another story.)

An English major in college, I looked down on IT students because they all dressed alike and carried plastic pocket protectors for their ballpoint pens. I saw them as dullards. As it turns out they were at work on data technology that led to the internet, which changed my life and yours too. Meanwhile, the English department and other humanities march along beside the hearse and the horsemen.

I wanted to be eccentric and got my wish but the engineers in my family are more engaged with the real world.

Garrison Keillor.

Once again, I’ll opine.

I like technology entirely too well, but “the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines” do nothing to fill the void in the human soul, and I deny that they are the “real world” in a meaningful sense. Maybe monarchy doesn’t fill the soul-void, either; I don’t know (at least in part) because I’ve never lived in a monarchy. But I think monarchy says something true about reality that all the tech in the world misses.

So maybe we and Great Britain are still joined symbiotically at the hip; they provide the meaning, we provide the toys and the parties.

Correlation

This sort of thing is why I’ll probably renew Jesse Singal’s Substack:

Missed it when it was fresh

[I]t is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.

Boris Johnson, mid-2018, on Burqas.

Shorts

Journalism

Two formerly solid journals seem to have picked their tribes, and now assiduously pitch to the worst tribal instincts.

The Decline of First Things

There are many occasions for exposing hypocrisy these days. In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Florida home, we can point to Hillary Clinton’s private server. Asked to denounce Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, we can cite Stacey Abrams, who never accepted her defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia.

R.R. Reno opening his big monthly Editorial in First Things.

That is Whataboutism at 190 proof. I have no idea what he thinks the FBI (or someone) ought to have done about Hillary’s server 6-7 years ago, and he certainly doesn’t tell us. He just insinuates that what they didn’t do was hypocritical because of what they later did. As for Stacy Abrams, so far as I know she has dropped “they done me wrong” from her stump speeches, unlike Orange Man (who is dining out on it), even if she has never formally conceded defeat.

That was just the opener. Considering how the column continued, I’m inclined to think that Reno had a bad case of writer’s block, and so resorted to tendentious bullshit.

I am thus reminded why I still (barely, and decreasingly) consider First Things essential reading but have ceased giving its publishing corporation anything beyond the cost of my subscription.

Conservative Radicals

It’s interesting to see a tribe close ranks.

Ron DeSantis’ sending two planefuls of refugees to Martha’s Vineyard is morally indefensible trolling.

So how does his tribe defend it? By focusing on “why the Left went so bat-guano crazy” over it, and implying that DeSantis had effectively taken a chapter from Saul Alinsky:

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

Apparently “ridicule” is now National Review’s term for instrumentalizing humans who are unpopular with the GOP.

With Kevin Williamson defecting to The Dispatch, I’m almost out of reasons (I can think of just two remaining) to glance at the National Review homepage any more.

Politics

Wrong kind of diversity

Liz Truss, Great Britain’s new Prime Minister, has completed her cabinet. There are no white men. None. But that’s not good enough for Britain’s Left:

“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”

This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.

The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view …

The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn.

Pamela Paul, When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

War? Really?

“Even the people who are responsible for disseminating the laptop admit that, on a human level, what happened to Hunter is horrifying. ‘A lot of stuff I do, I don’t feel great about,’ says one of them, Steve Bannon. ‘But we’re in a war.’”

The Morning Dispatch, recommending a New York Magazine article on the Hunter Biden laptop saga.

Steve Bannon is a very intelligent but quite unprincipled. “War”? Baloney!

J.D. Vance ❤️ Donald J. Trump

Trump went off on a tangent about a New York Times story that said Vance’s campaign didn’t ask Trump to come here. “JD wants my support so bad. He’s kissing my ass.”

Andrew Tobias on Twitter

Is this why we’re to take Trump “seriously if not literally”? He certainly captured the essence of Vance’s metamorphosis.

A Moment of Pleasure

Seldom has a Democrat made me as happy as Letitia James made me on Wednesday.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Elevation of the Holy Cross (a/k/a 9/14/22)

Culture

Building on vice

As Augustine of Hippo noticed, what the Romans called virtue was really a vicious craving for glory, for the approval of others who think well of one. This vice helped prop up the Roman republic, because the political class could win glory by performing deeds of conspicuous benefit to the commonwealth. In this way, the vice of glory protected against other vices that were even worse. The problem was twofold.  First, this strategy worked only because some little bit of real virtue remained; otherwise, one might pursue glory by foul means rather than fair. Second, indulging the itch for glory gradually undermined that little bit of real virtue, so that one did use foul means, for example buying votes. At that point the entire motivational structure begins to collapse, as the political class comes to lust not after simple glory, but after wealth and power. The curtain fell on the republic.

… Our society has a version of the Roman strategy too, but in our case the vice that protects against still worse vices is the lust for wealth itself. As Adam Smith noticed, the sheer desire for acquisition, as though by an invisible hand, can motivate people to benefit others, not because they love them but because that is how they earn a profit. Just as in the Roman case, this strategy works only if there a little bit of virtue remains; otherwise, one might pursue wealth by fraud and by governmental favors rather instead of by making a better and cheaper product. Just as in the Roman case, indulging the itch for wealth eventually undermines that little bit of virtue; today our corporations compete by gaming the system of regulations and subsidies. And just as in the Roman case, at this point the whole motivational structure begins to collapse, and the elite classes begin to scratch far baser itches than simple desire for honest profit.

J Budziszewski, Why Do We Always Hit a Wall?

This has haunted me since I read it, in part because it haunted me maybe 55 years before I read it.

No, I wasn’t conscious that Roman “virtue” was built on vice, but I did know that our system was built on the desire for wealth, and that a system like that seemed unlikely to come to a good end.

The longer I live, the closer I come to internalizing a key truth: there are no “good ends.” That’s what it means to live in a “fallen world.” But another part of what a “fallen world” means is that we are drawn, (almost?) irresistibly, to shuffle the deck chairs as it all goes down.

See also Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden.

The demand to be political first

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! A piece of pop culture has been announced, one with a diverse cast of characters and themes of female empowerment. Some conservative idiots lose their minds because they’re conservative idiots. Liberals respond by taking to the ramparts to defend the honor of the piece of pop culture against MAGA or whatever. Meanwhile, the actual artistic value of the pop culture in question is completely lost. Aesthetic concerns are buried beneath the demand to be political first. If you aren’t actively singing the praises of worthless shlock that’s vaguely associated with progressive politics, you’re one of them. My god, that She-Hulk show is f***ing dreadful, and its feminist politics are warmed-over Sheryl Sandberg tripe, but people are like “actually the CGI is supposed to look like dogshit, it’s artistic” because they think defending Disney’s latest blast of entertainment Soylent Green is the same as storming the Bastille. Conservatives freak about diversity, liberals defend art without any reference to artist, rinse and repeat. I could be talking about 2016’s Ghostbusters, or I could be talking about the upcoming Little Mermaid remake. Nothing ever changes, and it is all so, so tiresome.

Freddie deBoer, Why Are Identitarians Such Cheap Dates? (bowdlerization gently added). That opening paragraph was terrific, and the title of the posting makes it even better.

The special costs of being poor

Early in Nickel and Dimed, the great Barbara Ehrenreich offered up a blunt observation. “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs,” she wrote. “If you can’t put up the two months’ rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week,” she explained. “If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can’t save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved in a convenience store.” For the poor this is no revelation, merely a description of daily life. For many others, though, it was something else, a glimpse into a world that could feel distant. Yet it was not so far away, as she understood: The poor were all around. They worked, they loved, they tried to make do. The poor carried America on their backs and debunked its self-mythologies. So, too, did Ehrenreich, who showed no patience for pretense. She always looked for the truth of a thing, and for decades, she shared her search with all of us.

Sarah Jones, Barbara Ehrenreich Knew There Was a Fight

The platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece

Maya Jasanoff’s idea that “The new king now has an opportunity to make a real historical impact by scaling back royal pomp and updating Britain’s monarchy to be more like those of Scandinavia” — because Colonialism! — is (a) the platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece and (b) a perfect illustration of Clement Atlee’s comment that “the intelligentsia … can be trusted to take the wrong view on any subject.” The pomp of the British monarchy is the point; the ceremony is the substance — for good reasons and bad. When the ceremony is discarded the monarchy will be too. And rightly so. 

Alan Jacobs

Sheer drudgery, with a dose of despair

Teaching has its own rewards, to be sure. But you’re a lot more likely to wax eloquent about the privilege of shaping the minds, hearts, and souls of our youth when you aren’t grading their papers.

Peter C. Meilaender, I Don’t Care If My Students Get Jobs

Not a promising review

[T]o their credit, the characters managed to exchange an endless series of ponderous aphorisms without giggling. So it was that we learned how ‘the wine is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it has fermented’; how ‘the same wind that seeks to blow out a fire may also cause it to spread’; and, more pithily, how ‘there can be no trust between hammer and rock’.

Will you be able to get through the ponderous aphorisms without giggling? The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power reviewed | The Spectator

Political (after a fashion)

The difference between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers

The fundamental difference between Ukrainian soldiers, who are fighting for their country’s existence, and Russian soldiers, who are fighting for their salary, has finally begun to matter.

Anne Applebaum

Dance with the one what brung ya

In the post-Roe era, Ramesh Ponnuru argues, the pro-life movement should remember the approach that got them to to where they are today: incrementalism. “Passionate pro-lifers, in their impatience at what they recognize to be a grave injustice, are forgetting the need for patient persuasion of the public,” he writes for Bloomberg. “Some pro-lifers have made a point of claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. That’s because they don’t consider ending an ectopic pregnancy, for example, as a ‘direct abortion’—an intentional taking of human life. That’s needlessly confusing, and pro-lifers should simply say they’re for an exception in such cases. They should also broaden their agenda to include measures to aid parents of small children—such as the proposals of various Republican senators to expand the child tax credit and to finance paid leave. Promoting a culture of life includes fostering the economic conditions that help it thrive.”

The Morning Dispatch

Wordplay

Taking leave of senses

[I]f you have paid much attention to the conservative movement and conservative media, you’ve seen a few formerly sober-minded men take off the bow tie, put on the red cap, and bark at the moon.

Kevin F. Williamson, Steve Bannon Charges: Gravy Train Derailed

Truth Social

Truth Social: The media penal colony to which Twitter and Facebook sentenced Donald Trump.

Frank Bruni

Words failed them

The families and former FBI agent William Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed in person by [Alex] Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy.

Associated Press story on a second civil trial against Jones arising from his claim that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. (Emphasis added)


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 9/8/22

Culture

Bravery

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

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

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

Conservative academia

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

Bari Weiss, Dissidents and Doublethinkers in our Democracy

Too stupid for ranked-choice voting?

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

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

Todd Rokita does something right for a change

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

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

ESG Can’t Square With Fiduciary Duty

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

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

Now draw analogies.

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

A question not worth researching

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

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

Josh Barro

Politics

Metapolitics

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

Terry Cowan, Grand Delusions, Past and Present

Political promises then and now

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

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

Our last Conservative President

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

Election heuristics

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

Tony Woodlief, The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium

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

Amtrack Joe’s Big Warning

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

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

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

As categories go, this one is capacious.

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

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

Bret Stephens, ‌With Malice Toward Quite a Few

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

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

Stephens again:

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

Dark Brandon

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

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

William McGurn, Biden is Angry, But Not Serious

Is his church the enemy?

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

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

Realignment

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

Yuval Levin via Jason Willick

How small this narcissist is!

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Saturday, 9/3/22

Culture

Tolerance or acceptance?

One of the often repeated but seldom considered ethical maxims of our shallow age is the idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is what we really need …

The idea that tolerance is a good start but that acceptance is better is bullshit.

… Acceptance is not a virtue. It is a cowardice that refuses to even acknowledge the importance of morality.

Tolerance is better. It does not deny the existence of objective reality. It is quite happy admit that a person might be wrong about something important to them; but does not assume that just because another person is wrong, you should have the right or ability to correct them. It knows that assuming unlimited power to correct the errors of others leads only to atrocities. Tolerance is not some easy first step. Real tolerance, the type that consists of more than just repeating whatever beige pieties the clerical caste are churning out this week, requires discipline and a willingness to sacrifice part of your own power over the world.

Flat Caps and Fatalism, Through a glass

Royal, not “famous for being famous”

It occurs to me that my soft spot for the British Royal Family may be rooted it its refusal — for most members, almost always — to act like celebrities.

Thence also my contempt for Harry and Meghan.

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

[T]he discovery that the healthy body parts of even a tiny handful of children were being intentionally removed by world class medical institutions [should] be non-stop national news. But the forcefield of denial and magical thinking around trans issues makes it so the removal of healthy organs is actually life-saving surgery performed by doctors carrying the banner of the next civil-rights movement. The media, of course, plays along or pretends there’s nothing to report here. 

After the Children’s National Hospital story blew up last weekend, NPR was more interested in anti-trans threats against hospitals than in looking into what was actually going on. A since-deleted statement on CNH’s website indicating that gender affirming hysterectomy was available to patients “between the ages of 0-21” was charitably waved off by The Washington Post as “an error that has been corrected.” Yes, well, mistakes happen.

Meghan Daum

Homicide or Suicide?

I spent a little time with a very cynical friend and realized, debriefing myself afterward, that he’s probably no more pessimistic than I am about our future, but he thinks there are malefactors actors doing this to us, whereas I think we’re almost entirely doing it to ourselves.

The difference probably ramifies politically, but I don’t want to attribute political views to him that I have calculatedly not asked about.

Mitch Daniels on student loan forgiveness

A very interesting guy lives a few miles away, across the Wabash River. His name is Mitch Daniels and he runs an operation called “Purdue University.”

He has thoughts about student-loan debt forgiveness. Student-Loan Forgiveness and the National Debt

I put this last in this section because, alas, there’s a paywall.

Wordplay

Fun

I heard some time back that other languages have no equivalent of the English word “fun.” I’ve puzzled over that claim, and over the meaning of the English word.

Today, a clue:

Fun (n.)

“A cheat, trick” (c. 1700), from verb fun (1680s) “to cheat, hoax,”… probably a variant of Middle English fonnen “befool”: (c. 1400s)…funny money “counterfeit bills.”

– Online Etymology Dictionary

Via Mark Botts

I’m not sure I can even consider this a clue, but it popped up and might (I’m far from sure: tl;dr, as they say) help triangulate “fun”: Here’s How to Have Fun. Also, What Is Fun? – The New York Times

Certainty vs. Certitude

Too often when I get a whiff of something, I find that someone else has already gone there and posted something about it. Thus, Certainty vs. Certitude.

Business-dude lorem ipsum:

… filler language that is used to roleplay “thought leadership” among those who have nothing to say: the MBA version of a grade-school book report that starts with a Webster’s Dictionary definition. Advanced business-dude lorem ipsum will convey action (“We need to design value in stages”) but only in the least tangible way possible. It will employ industry terms of art (“We’re first to market or a fast follower”) that indicate the business dude has been in many meetings where similar ideas were hatched. Business-dude lorem ipsum will often hold one or two platitudes that sound like they might also be Zen koans (“That value is in the eye of the beholder”) but actually are so broad that they say nothing at all. In fact, in a previous draft of this newsletter, I had initially gone through the blog post almost line-by-line to point out shining examples of corporate gibberish in action, only to realize that the negative information quality of the writing actually bogged down and leeched clarity out of my own writing like an idea vacuum.

Charlie Wartzel, Business Dudes Need to Stop Talking Like This

Iatrogenic

Pertaining to disease or disorder caused by doctors. But it has popped up under my nose as metaphor at least twice this week:

Like so much of what government does, it’s iatrogenic, inflating college costs as schools continue to pocket the subsidies Uncle Sam showers on them.

Mitch Daniels, Student-Loan Forgiveness and the National Debt

Politics

A Slam-Dunk Case Against Trump2024

Trump told the Wendy Bell show that if re-elected he would issue full pardons and a government apology to rioters who stormed Capitol on Jan. 6: “I mean full pardons with an apology to many.”

Meredith McGraw via The Morning Dispatch

Thank God, the man just can’t help himself. That promise should be in heavy rotation in Democrat ads if Trump is the Republican nominee.

A crude statement of the populist essence

I’m using the term “populist” in a very specific way, drawing on part of the definition offered by author Jan-Werner Müller in his book What Is Populism? (which I had a hand in publishing during my time working at Penn Press). A populist is someone, according to Müller, who declares that only some of the people (namely, his supporters) are the people. Everyone else is either a traitor to the true people or in some other way not fully of the true people.

So, for example, at a campaign rally in May 2016, Trump declared that “the only important thing is the unification of the people—because the other people don’t mean anything.” That is a crude statement of the populist essence.

Damon Linker

(I generally keep mum on populism, as opposed to keeping mum on today’s odd Orange populist avatar, because the populists have legitimate grievances that neither party has convincingly addressed.)

More Linker, from the same post:

Liberals and progressives think history moves in a certain direction (toward justice understood as ever-greater equality) and that politics should contribute to this forward movement. Conservatives believe in slowing and managing change without necessarily presuming history moves with any underlying logic or direction. And reactionaries think things were better in the past, that there’s been a fall from that Golden Age, and that it’s possible to return to that prior state through an act of political will.

How polarization gets worse — and worse, and worse …

37 of the 50 states, where three-quarters of Americans live, are ruled by a single party. The number where one side controls both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion has nearly doubled in the past 30 years. These one-party states are self-perpetuating, as the winners redraw electoral maps to their own advantage. And politicians with ultra-safe seats have perverse incentives. They do not worry about losing a general election, only a primary, in which avid partisans call the shots because they are more motivated to vote. The way to woo such partisans is to eschew compromise.

Hence the proliferation of extremism. Most Texans think their new abortion laws are too draconian, for example, even though most also think the old national rules were too lenient. If Texas were not a one-party state, its legislators might have found a compromise.

The Economist, American states are now Petri dishes of polarisation

Can democracy survive?

Democracy cannot survive when one side believes there are only two outcomes to an election: Either they win or they were cheated.

Joe Biden

My main quibble with this was the convenient assumption that there are only two political sides. That’s why it’s good to keep reading:

If Biden truly believes that, he should let his political team know. PACs, committees, and nonprofits aligned with the Democratic Party have spent tens of millions of dollars this election cycle propping up those “MAGA Republicans” in GOP primaries, boosting their name recognition in the hopes they’ll be easier to defeat in a general election. Several of the more “mainstream” Republicans Biden lauded—Rep. Peter Meijer in Michigan, Aurora, Illinois, Mayor Richard Irvin, former Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, and many more—have fallen victim to the scheme.

The Morning Dispatch: Biden vs. ‘MAGA Republicans’


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Wednesday, 8/17/22

What fools we mortals be

Proof that he knows better

I once ran into an old acquaintance at a Middletown bar who told me that he had recently quit his job because he was sick of waking up early. I later saw him complaining on Facebook about the “Obama economy” and how it had affected his life. I don’t doubt that the Obama economy has affected many, but this man is assuredly not among them. His status in life is directly attributable to the choices he’s made, and his life will improve only through better decisions. But for him to make better choices, he needs to live in an environment that forces him to ask tough questions about himself. There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society or the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day.

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy. The movement to blame someone else now seems to have Vance as one of its leaders.

The great paradox of “queer” ideology

The great paradox of “queer” ideology is that it both seeks the margins and then complains about being marginalized! It wants both the frisson of outsiderdom and total acceptance by insiderdom. It’s the kind of reasoning you expect from a toddler not a grownup. The “centering” of the “marginalized” is how critical queer theory always eventually disappears up its own backhole.

Norm McDonald once said of the term “cisgender” that “it’s a way of marginalizing a normal person.” And he’s right. When “queer theorists” insist they are about diversity, they mean the opposite. The point is not to live and let live; it is to impose their queerness on everyone — to make themselves feel more secure.

Andrew Sullivan

Strategic Name-choosing

“I figured if I called myself Dykewomon,” she joked in an interview with J: The Jewish News of Northern California this year, “I would never get reviewed in The New York Times. Which has been true.”

Obituary of Lesbian “author, poet and activist” Elana Dykewomon (neé Nachman) in the New York Times

Solomon Asch’s corollary

In a famous 1951 experiment, the psychologist Solomon Asch showed how easily humans can be manipulated by social pressure to conform. If everyone else in the room affirms even the most blatant falsehood, we will very often affirm it ourselves, even denying the clear evidence of our own eyes.

But a variation of the Asch experiment gives hope. If only one other person in the room—a single reality ally—tells the truth, the pressure to conform drops sharply and we become much more willing to buck the lie. That is why authoritarian regimes work so furiously to stifle opposition voices, even seemingly weak ones. It is what the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was getting at when he said, “The simple act of an ordinary brave man is not to participate in lies, not to support false actions! His rule: Let that [lie] come into the world, let it even reign supreme—only not through me.”

Jonathan Rauch, The Reality Ally (Persuasion)

So, I’ll join the alliance: Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential Election. He did not steal it.

Does everyone have a narrative?

Yes, the legacy media, like the New York Times, have a narrative. But so do (some? most?) upstart media, like Quillette.

Ken White (Popehat) demolishes an absurd Quillette story, twisted and jammed into the narrative “kids today are intolerant snowflakes.”

What the story actually shows, stripped of handwaving and unwarranted characterizations, is some private school students protesting perfectly appropriately when a powerful lawyer and Harvard Professor subjected them to repeated use of the word “nigger,” part of the title of a book by another powerful professor. And, ironically, the professor who claims to have been cancelled by kids silently walking out on his lecture, is famously, even performatively, in favor of free speech and expression — for himself, apparently, but not for those who would protest his ideas.

People disagreeing with you or protesting you without trying to silence or deplatform you is not what generally is meant by “cancellation.”

But the Quillette article fits my worldview, so I might have bought it had Popehat not intervened.

‘Murica

Sclerosis plus ideological capture

America’s response to Covid-19 went badly not just for Trump-related reasons, but because of problems inherent to our public health edifice, from bureaucratic sclerosis to the ideological capture of putatively neutral institutions …

And then along with these failures came an absurd ideological spectacle, in which health officials agonized about how to state the obvious — that monkeypox at present is primarily a threat to men who have sex with men — and whether to do anything to publicly discourage certain Dionysian festivities associated with Pride Month. As the suffer-no-fools writer Josh Barro has exhaustively chronicled, public-health communication around monkeypox has been an orgy of euphemism and wokespeak, misleading and baffling if you don’t understand what isn’t being said.

This, too, has repeated Covidian failures. The political anxiety about saying or doing anything that might appear to stigmatize homosexuality mirrors the great public-health abdication to the George Floyd protests — in which a great many members of an expert community that had championed closures and lockdowns decided to torch their credibility by endorsing mass protests because the cause seemed too progressive to critique.

In each case what’s been thrown over is neutrality — the idea that public health treats risky behaviors equally, regardless of what form of expression they represent …

[S]peaking for myself, as a citizen with a personal interest in medical controversy, when I read the kind of blathering, newspeak-infused monkeypox advisories that Barro highlights, all I can think is: I can never trust anything these people say again.

Ross Douthat, The C.D.C. Continues to Lead From Behind – The New York Times

Priceless Americana

6-7 years back, I asked my eldest’s scout leader if he was a Christian. He said, “Of course, it’s the most important thing in my life.” I asked where he went to church and he replied, “I’ve never been, but my wife was raised Catholic.” For him, it was just another part of his … American identity.

One response to a social medium thread on churchless Christianity (that began with the thrown-down gauntlet “Being reliably right-wing doesn’t confer upon you the status of being an “orthodox Christian,” even if it is with a small ‘o.’”)

Is this how tribalism begins?

Protection of freedom of thought requires that no group should be permitted by law to express an opinion. For when a group starts having opinions, it inevitably tends to impose them on its members.

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots. I cannot concur with her literal sense, but today’s tribalism makes me think that she was directionally correct.

There are a number of tribalists who think me a traitor because I unexpectedly and publicly bucked the tribe — a tribe of which I was never a member, but only a co-belligerent.

Prophetic

Christian concern about popular culture should be as much about the sensibilities it encourages as about its content.

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

Just so you don’t miss the prophetic gravamen, not that the book predates social media and the ubiquitous smartphone. (And blogs, too, frankly.)

Hit list

The American Conservative has a list of cases it wants to see reversed now that Roe is reversed:

If you know all those cases without looking them up, you’re a better man than I am.

I’m sympathetic to overturning at least one of them. One other, On birthright citizenship, my reflex is that if Michael Anton or John Eastman is agin it, I’m fer it.

Did I mention that I’ve dropped my American Conservative subscription? So many sites I used to enjoy reading that I now avoid. Maybe I’m the one that’s changing (though I’m confident that the Trump-Sluagh has gotten to some of them).

It’s hard to admit that I really don’t fit anywhere other than an Orthodox Church (and that’s because the Church is mercifully broad in accommodating quirks).

George Soros is not off-limits

Democratic billionaire George Soros has, by his own admission, had an outsized influence on our politics over the years with his political donations—just as GOP mega-donors Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, and Charles and David Koch had on the right. “All well and good. America is a free country, and Soros has every right to spend his vast fortune however he wants within the boundaries of the law, as well as to justify that spending in the public square,” James Kirchick writes in Tablet Magazine. “[But] the same applies to those of us inhabiting lower tax brackets, who have no less a right to criticize Soros for how he’s trying to influence American public life.” Because Soros is Jewish, however, many progressives have adopted the tactic of dismissing any criticism of his political advocacy as anti-Semitic—a charge Kirchick, himself Jewish, believes is unfair. “The argument that the mere mention of the name ‘Soros’ is tantamount to antisemitism, which is effectively the position of the progressive political, media, and activist elite, is made entirely in bad faith,” he writes. “If the mind of a Soros supporter, upon hearing his name, races immediately to an image of a ‘Jew,’ and one who serves as a stand-in for ‘the Jews,’ it’s probably not the motives of the critic that need questioning.”

The Morning Dispatch, August 16, 2022

Isms

When I was young, there was a conservative book titled “Today’s Isms.” I was trying to figure out what ISMS stood for. It turns out, it stands for ideologies — communism, socialism, fascism. We could add a few today.

Islamism

There’s nothing freakish about the attack on Salman Rushdie:

And yet as shocking as this attack was, it was also 33 years in the making: The Satanic Verses is a book with a very bloody trail

In July 1991, the Japanese translator of the condemned book, Hitoshi Igarashi, 44-years-old, was stabbed to death outside his office at the University of Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo. The same month, the book’s Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was also stabbed—this time, in his own home in Milan. Two years later, in July 1993, the book’s Turkish translator, the prolific author Aziz Nesin, was the target of an arson attack on a hotel in the city of Sivas. He escaped, but 37 others were killed. A few months later, Islamists came for William Nygaard, the book’s Norwegian publisher. Nygaard was shot three times outside his home in Oslo and was critically injured.

And those are stories we remember. In 1989, 12 people were killed at an anti-Rushdie riot in Mumbai, the author’s birthplace, where the book was also banned. Five Pakistanis died in Islamabad under similar circumstances.

Bari Weiss, We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

But would we back Rushdie were Satanic Verses being published today?

When Rushdie made those comments to L’Express it was in the fallout of PEN, the country’s premiere literary group, deciding to honor the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo with an award. Months before, a dozen staff members of Charlie Hebdo were murdered by two terrorists in their offices. It was impossible to think of a publication that deserved to be recognized and elevated more.

And yet the response from more than 200 of the world’s most celebrated authors was to protest the award. Famous writers—Joyce Carol Oates, Lorrie Moore, Michael Cunningham, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, Peter Carey, Junot Díaz—suggested that maybe the people who had just seen their friends murdered for publishing a satirical magazine were a little bit at fault, too. That if something offends a minority group, that perhaps it shouldn’t be printed. And those cartoonists were certainly offensive, even the dead ones. These writers accused PEN of “valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

Bari Weiss, We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning

Trumpism

When I left Above the Law in 2019 for my two-year detour into legal recruiting, it was partly because of Donald Trump. Writing about the law in 2019 meant writing about Trump, and writing about Trump meant unpleasantness.

I returned to writing by launching Original Jurisdiction in December 2020, after Trump lost the presidential election, and I turned it into my full-time job in May 2021, after he left office. I thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Alas, here we are, more than 18 months after his administration’s end, and Trump still dominates the headlines. Almost every category in today’s Judicial Notice relates to the controversial ex-president.

David Lat, We Just Can’t Quit Him

Miscellany

A back-handed recommendation

I’m not generally given to wretched excess, but when I get into a six-episode Shetland on Britbox, I’m apt to binge-watch.

Breaking the Sabbath

The princess—I mean the Shiek’s daughter—was only thirteen or fourteen years old, and had a very sweet face and a pretty one. She was the only Syrian female we have seen yet who was not so sinfully ugly that she couldn’t smile after ten o’clock Saturday night without breaking the Sabbath.

Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad.

I’m not sure the princess would worry about breaking the Christian Sabbath. Twain should have made it “sundown Friday.”

Frederick Beuchner

[Frederick Beuchner] did not hold orthodox religious views.

“Contrary to widespread religious belief,” he wrote in a 1994 essay for The Times, “I don’t think God goes around changing things in the sense of making bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people, or of giving one side victory over the other in wars, or of pushing a bill through Congress to make school prayer constitutional.”

Robert D. McFadden’s obituary of Beuchner in the New York Times.

What an odd illustration of un-“orthodox religious views”!

Frederick Buechner has met Christians who remind him of American tourists in Europe: Not knowing the language of their listeners, they speak the language of Zion loudly and forcefully, hoping the natives will somehow comprehend. They seem cocky with faith, voluble with their theology, and content with a God who resembles a cosmic Good Buddy. Their certitude both fascinates and alarms him.

Phillip Yancey, ‌Frederick Buechner, the Reverend of Oz

With the caveat that I, oddly enough, cannot recall reading anything from “the most quoted living writer among Christians of influence” (though I’ve known the name for decades and decades), I recommend the Yancey piece, from Christianity Today, as far more perceptive than the Times obituary.


"The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness …." (G.K. Chesterton)

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

Thursday, 7/28/22

Polarized Politics

What would Archie say?

For all his faults, Archie [Bunker] loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.

Norman Lear, in the New York Times on Wednesday, his hundredth birthday.

Perverse polarization

Republican presidential campaigns in 2024 are going to look a whole lot different than they did in 2016: They (think they) have no use for the mainstream press. “I just don’t even see what the point is anymore,’ an adviser to one likely GOP presidential aspirant told New York Magazine’s David Freedlander. “We know reporters always disagreed with the Republican Party, but it used to be you thought you could get a fair shake. Now every reporter, and every outlet, is just chasing resistance rage-clicks.” The result? “Sitting down with the mainstream press has come to be seen by Republican primary voters as consorting with the enemy, and approval by the enemy is the political kiss of death,” Freedlander writes. “Dave Carney, a longtime GOP strategist, said that, according to his team’s research, getting endorsed by a newspaper editorial board, even a local one, hurts Republicans in primaries rather than helps them. ‘No one gives a f— what the New York Times writes,’ he said. ‘In fact, it would be good if you criticize us so that we can say that even the liberal New York Times hates us.’”

The Morning Dispatch, 7/27/22

These are the kinds of Republicans who benefit from false-flag Democrat support attacking them as too extreme, too cozy with Orange Man, in order to boost them in the primaries.

Un-Disappearing Act

Adjust your picture of press corruption. It’s not so much the lies they tell as the truths they withhold. Let Mr. Biden threaten to become an albatross to progressive and Democratic hopes in 2024, and the Hunter story will un-disappear in a hurry.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Hunter and Joe Biden Need Trump

A bit cynical, but only a bit.

Felix culpa

Speaking of Hunter’s laptop and grifting, it sickens me to think that the electoral margin of Joe Biden over Donald Trump could have been lost if American intelligence authorities hadn’t lyingly called Hunter Biden’s laptop “Russian disinformation.”

According to one survey, one out of six Biden voters said that had they known about Hunter’s laptop in time, they wouldn’t have voted for his father.

Lee Smith, The National Tragedy of Hunter Biden’s Laptop.

45’s authoritarian tendencies

[T]he 45th president had numerous authoritarian tendencies and instincts. He believed in personal loyalty, not loyalty to the office he held or to the Constitution. He despised the free press and encouraged popular hatred toward journalists. He treated as a traitor any American who didn’t support him. And then, of course, there were his words and deeds after the 2020 election, which incited an insurrectionary assault on the national legislature in order to keep himself in power despite his failure to win the electoral contest. If that isn’t a tyrannical act, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

Both the frequency of Trump’s lies and exaggerations and the obviousness of their mendacity are what make them fasc-ish. There’s a reason why the term “gaslighting” came into regular usage during the Trump administration: Living in the United States through those years often felt like enduring a sadistic psychological experiment in which we were constantly challenged about whether we would believe our own eyes and minds or the would-be dictator in the Oval Office spouting transparent nonsense. The fascist playbook often involves using precisely this kind of epistemic confusion—a thoroughly polluted information space—as an occasion or opportunity to seize or secure power.

Then there was Trump’s enthusiasm for any extremist group that gave him support. This led him to express ambivalence about the neo-Nazis who marched through and provoked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. And to offer periodic kind words for far-right groups and figures, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and various heavily armed militias.

Damon Linker, Thinking About Fascism—Part 2.

This is one of the best collections I can recall of the outward manifestations of Trump’s narcissism and worse.

Electoral Count Act Reform

Watch your Step!

“Somehow they’ve come out of the kitchen with something that actually looks as if it is correctly prepared in almost every respect,” said Walter Olsen, senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies. “Now I’m just holding my breath that someone doesn’t trip and spill the tray.”

Morning Dispatch, Bipartisan Senate Group Unveils Electoral Count Act Reform. See also William A. Galston, Surprise: A Divided Congress Is Making Bipartisan Progress.

The bad news is that some Democrats want to turn this urgently-needed Bill into a Christmas Tree. The good news is that they seem to want it half-heartedly.

Stop Screwing Around

I want to begin with a question I’ve asked before. What if Mike Pence had said yes? What if the history of January 6 was very different, Pence had agreed with the John Eastman memos arguing that he enjoyed a tremendous amount of discretion in counting electoral college votes, and he either declared Trump the winner outright, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, or sent it back to the states for the state legislatures to decide which electors were valid?

America probably would have survived that moment, but the key word there is probably. Does Trump leave the White House? If the Supreme Court intervenes, does he care? Do we see a situation in which Chief Justice Roberts swears in Joe Biden while a MAGA judge swears in Trump for his “second term”? What do state governors do? Does federal law enforcement intervene? What about the military?

Mike Pence saved us from all this chaos, and he deserves our gratitude. But he never should have been put in that position, and we have an opportunity to fix the prime legal reason why he was. The primary blame, of course, rests with the depraved corruption of Donald Trump and his cadre of loyalists. The secondary blame, however, rests with the Electoral Count Act, an absolute mess of a statute.

David French, Stop Screwing Around and Pass the Electoral Count Reform Act

In my opinion, reforming the Electoral Count Act has been Job #1 since January 6, 2021. It’s quite a bit more important than the January 6 Committee, which has been more potent than I foresaw but clearly has not dissuade all Trump supporters.

But I was reminded very recently that we should be looking for, and closing, other loopholes that could be exploited to “elect” someone the voters (yes, allowing for the Electoral College’s “electoral majorities” that differ from the raw national vote majority) rejected. And I don’t think the Democrats’ absurd allegations that, for instance, requiring Voter ID is “worse than Jim Crow” comes anywhere close to meeting the need.

What do you call this?

Voters in Tunisia affirmed a new constitution for their country that would roll back many of the reforms that once made it look like the Arab Spring’s sole survivor. Some 95% of voters opted for the new constitution, but less than one-third of eligible voters turned out. The opposition, which boycotted the poll, said the results were “not credible”. Kais Saied, the president, had pressed for the referendum to transform the young democracy into another strongman system.

The world in brief | The Economist

It seems somehow facile or crypto-imperialist to suggest that a 95% vote for something is not democratic.

Other stuff

Martyrdom and Suicide

Drawing on G. K. Chesterton, we might say that martyrdom and suicide, however similar they might seem on the surface, are diametrically opposed to each other: martyrdom occurs in the recognition of a goodness that is greater than the self, a goodness that is at the source of all things, so that one gives up one’s self in the ecstasy of affirmation; suicide is the absolute negation of all things through the negation of the self: “A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end.”

D.C. Schindler, Social Media Is Hate Speech: A Platonic Reflection on Contemporary Misology

A little sensible perspective on CRT

The CRT debate is just the latest squall in a tempest brewing and building for five years or so. And, yes, some of the liberal critiques of a Fox News hyped campaign are well taken. Is this a wedge issue for the GOP? Of course it is. Are they using the term “critical race theory” as a cynical, marketing boogeyman? Of course they are. Are some dog whistles involved? A few. Are crude bans on public servants’ speech dangerous? Absolutely. Do many of the alarmists know who Derrick Bell was? Of course not.

But does that mean there isn’t a real issue here? Of course it doesn’t.

Andrew Sullivan, What Happened To You? The radicalization of the American elite against liberalism

It will be a long time, if ever, before I’ll trust Christopher Rufo precisely because of his cynical comment about “freezing the brand” of CRT and then loading it up with extraneous things conservatives don’t like.

Title IX Run Amok

The provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 which bar sex discrimination apply to “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”. In Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School Association, (D MD, July 21, 2022), a Maryland federal district court held that a §501(c)(3) tax exemption for a religiously-affiliated high school constitutes federal financial assistance so that the school is subject to Title IX. The court added that also in its view, schools that discriminate on the basis of sex, just like those that discriminate on the basis of race, are not entitled to federal tax exemptions. The court’s opinion applies to cases brought by 5 women who are former students at the high school who allege sexual assault and verbal sexual harassment by male students at the school. JDSupra reports on the decision.

Religion Clause Blog (emphasis added).

I don’t have deep expertise on this, but I don’t think the District Court decision will (or should) survive appellate review. If tax exemption is federal financial assistance, things are going to get pretty ugly pretty fast.

We need an apocalypse

In modern terms, “apocalypse” has come to mean “the cataclysmic end of everything”. But this is a long way from the ancient Greek understanding: to uncover, to disclose or lay bare. From this perspective, apocalypse isn’t the end of the world. Or at least, not just the end of the world. Rather, it’s the end of a worldview: discoveries that mean a previous way of looking at things is no longer tenable.

In our case, it’s no longer just cranks and prophets coming to the reluctant realisation that our current way of life can’t continue. This suspicion is percolating into the mainstream — along with a raft of increasingly unhinged responses ….

Mary Harrington, Why we need the apocalypse

Unintended second-order effects

I jokingly asked my wife to go back to work.

It’s not the money. It’s that her retirement in May has left me, for the first time in my adult life, unable readily to identify what day of the week it is.

Written May 12, 1944

So Many Blood-Lakes
(written May 12, 1944)

We have now won two world-wars, neither of which concerned us, we were
slipped in. We have levelled the powers
Of Europe, that were the powers of the world, into rubble and
dependence. We have won two wars and a third is coming.

This one–will not be so easy. We were at ease while the powers of the
world were split into factions: we’ve changed that.
We have enjoyed fine dreams; we have dreamed of unifying the world; we
are unifying it–against us.

Two wars, and they breed a third. Now guard the beaches, watch the
north, trust not the dawns. Probe every cloud.
Build power. Fortress America may yet for a long time stand, between the
east and the west, like Byzantium.

–As for me: laugh at me. I agree with you. It is a foolish business to
see the future and screech at it.
One should watch and not speak. And patriotism has run the world through
so many blood-lakes: and we always fall in.

(Robinson Jeffers)


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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

Friday, 7/22/22

France has a culture, and cares about it

The French, however, are more culturist than racist in any strict sense. They have accepted black Africans who speak perfect French in their legislature but they do not accept Muslim girls who wear headscarves in their schools. In 1990, 76 percent of the French public thought there were too many Arabs in France, 46 percent too many blacks, 40 percent too many Asians, and 24 percent too many Jews.

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

I ignored this important book for maybe 20 years. Then it sat unread in my Kindle for years after I bought it.

Don’t be like me. Huntington’s theory explains a lot.

How Shakespeare transformed tragedy

In Shakespeare, tragedy is no longer the result of a fatal flaw or error: time and again it lies in a clash between two ways of being in the world or looking at the world, neither of which has to be mistaken. In Shakespeare tragedy is in fact the result of the coming together of opposites.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Kindle Location 9415.

I bought and read this book soon after hearing of it. McGilchrist writes well enough to sort out left brain versus right brain and to complicate the simplistic versions I’d heard. I guess it’s sort of brain science meets Jonathan Haidt.

Resolved:

If Joe Biden’s approval ratings weren’t in the tank, nobody would have jumped on Jill Biden for her anodyne-if-goofy tacos quip.

Students today

What I say to students is, you are not unhealthy people in a normal world, despite these statistics that show how anxious, lonely, and depressed young adults are. What you are is normal people in an unhealthy world. It’s not healthy to be anxious, lonely, and depressed, but it is a natural response to a world that is not asking you to become anything, and is not giving you confidence that you can overcome difficulty — one that’s dissociating the different parts of you, compelling you to spend a good part of your time with your body disengaged and your mind occupied. It’s totally understandable that our young people are experiencing such distress, because the world we’re asking them to live in — this world of easy everywhere — this world of superpowers, is not good for them. It would be very odd if, in this world, people were doing just fine. It’s not at all surprising that they’re struggling and feeling disconnected.

Andy Crouch via Alan Jacobs.

Professor Jacobs adds his postscript:

You can be almost certain that people who sneer with ready contempt at today’s college students don’t spend much time around them. Our young people have been given a raw deal, and most of them play it better than we have any right to expect. And the ones who don’t? They’re twenty years old. How put-together were you at age twenty?

They were wrong

The New York Times asked eight columnists to fess up and reflect on when and how they’d been wrong. (Yeah, yeah, yeah; some conservatives think the Times is all wrong, all the time. I get it.) I excerpt a few.

… about Capitalism

In the early 1990s, The [Wall Street] Journal sent me on many reporting trips to the U.S.S.R. and, later, Russia, and everything that was uncool in New York was cool in Moscow, so to be a right-wing editorial writer was to be cutting-edge and hip. I paid close attention to all the privatization plans that were floating around. If state property could be distributed to the masses, then a new capitalist Russia could be born.

I saw but did not see the enormous amount of corruption that was going on. I saw but did not see that property rights alone do not spontaneously make a decent society. The primary problem in all societies is order — moral, legal and social order. It took me a while to see that what Russia really needed was not privatization first, but law and order first.

By the time I came to this [New York Times] job, in 2003, I was having qualms about the free-market education I’d received — but not fast enough. It took me a while to see that the postindustrial capitalism machine — while innovative, dynamic and wonderful in many respects — had some fundamental flaws. The most educated Americans were amassing more and more wealth, dominating the best living areas, pouring advantages into their kids. A highly unequal caste system was forming. …

David Brooks, I Was Wrong About Capitalism

… about Mitt Romney

The campaign was extremely boring, and I really did have to stretch to find some fun ways to approach it …

The story about the dog on the roof came from a Boston Globe profile in which his son told a reporter about the time their pet pooped from his perch and messed up the car’s rear window.

Romney is now in the Senate, where he was the only Republican who voted to remove Trump from office during both of his impeachments and, recently, was the only Republican to vote against repealing Joe Biden’s mask mandate.

He also, of course, supports Mitch McConnell and his party’s agenda. If you don’t agree with that, it’s hard to get all that nostalgic about what might have been. But the one lesson I take away from my Seamus period is that there are some things that are way worse than boring.

Gail Collins, I Was Wrong About Mitt Romney (and His Dog)

… about Trump voters, 2016

What Trump’s supporters saw was a candidate whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo.

I was blind to this … I belonged to a social class that my friend Peggy Noonan called “the protected.” My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges.

Trump’s appeal, according to Noonan, was largely to people she called “the unprotected.” Their neighborhoods weren’t so safe and pleasant. Their schools weren’t so excellent. Their livelihoods weren’t so secure. Their experience of America was often one of cultural and economic decline, sometimes felt in the most personal of ways.

It was an experience compounded by the insult of being treated as losers and racists —clinging, in Obama’s notorious 2008 phrase, to “guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

No wonder they were angry.

Bret Stephens, I Was Wrong About Trump Voters

Wordplay

  1. TQIA++ nutters — (From Andrew Sullivan)

This appears to refer to people who can’t seem to help noticing the differences between LGB and the ever-expanding suffix.

Katie Herzog tacitly recognizes the the reflex to conflate different, um, sexual minorities:

“I heard on NPR that monkeypox is disproportionately impacting the ‘LGBTQ community’ but I’m pretty sure the population of lesbians who frequent bathhouses is approximately zero. … just as we are for all STIs besides bed death,” – Katie Herzog.

I’d never heard of "bed death." Turns out she’s alluding to this:

  1. Lesbian Bed Death (or LBD) is altogether more pedestrian than it first seems. Originally coined by sexologists Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein in their 1983 book American Couples, it boils down to the idea that lesbians and queer womxn in monogamous, longterm relationships are basically friends without the benefits and are having less sex than any other type of couple.

Hannah Ewens, Daisy Jones, Lesbian Bed Death: What Is It and Does It Even Exist? (all idiosyncratic spellings in original)

  1. The reflex to conflate incommensurables as "the LGBTQ community" reminds me of my former Calvinist denomination, whose magazine referred to individuals who weren’t standard-issue Dutch or Dutch descendants as "multi-ethnic" even if they were, to use the trope, black as the ace of spades.

Inability to distinguish the easily-distinguishable is sad.

  1. As much as Paris stimulated him, he always dreaded his return to Berlin, that ‘dancing carnivalesque necropolis’.

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (emphasis added)

  1. Word of the Week: post-quantum cryptography, new encryption mathematics that outpaces the capabilities even of quantum computers. Read the full article. (From the Economist)

If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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

Thursday, 7/21/22

Newsie

Good guys with guns

[A] common argument in favor of "high capacity" magazine bans is that defensive gun use never needs more than a few bullets. Here, the good samaritan used ten bullets, and he could have needed even more. In California, for example, magazines are limited to ten rounds. Had the good samaritan needed one more bullet to drop the assailant, he would have been out of luck in California.

Update 2: The Greenwood Police now report that the Good Samaritan acted quickly. In the span of 15 seconds (not 2 minutes), he fired 10 rounds, eight of which hit the assailant. And his first shot hit the assailant from 40 yards!

That is some top-level accuracy.

Josh Blackmun

I wasn’t going to say much about this until I saw that second update. That was the first time I heard that 8 of 10 shots hit the terrorist, one from 40 yards. It kind of boggles the mind.

Covid vaccination breakthrough?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in people age 18 and older, clearing the last regulatory hurdle before the shot’s widespread distribution in the U.S. Novavax’s two-dose vaccine relies on well-established vaccine technology, providing an alternative for people reluctant to take the newer mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. The U.S. has purchased 3.2 million doses of the Novavax shot.

The Morning Dispatch makes a good point about the likely nexus between new mRNA technology and vaccine resistance. I thought mRNA, which I didn’t really understand, was a lesser evil than Covid, but some other opinions varied.

News you can abuse, ignore

In the parts of the world where monkeypox is newly spreading, like the United States and Europe, the people currently most at risk of getting the disease are gay and bisexual men. A recent update from the World Health Organization noted that cases in newly afflicted countries have mainly been among “men who have had recent sexual contact with a new or multiple male partners.” In Europe, just 0.2 percent of the men who have gotten the disease identify as heterosexual. Reports from the center of the U.S. outbreak—New York City—show that “the number of monkeypox cases has nearly tripled in the last week, nearly all of them among men who have sex with men.” The infectious-disease and LGBTQ-health journalist Benjamin Ryan notes that though the U.S. is, frustratingly, not collecting demographic details on monkeypox patients, Britain is, and the numbers there are clear: “Half of men screened for monkeypox tested positive; women, by contrast, tested positive only 0.6 percent of the time.”

Opening paragraph of U.S. Messaging on Monkeypox Is Deeply Flawed.

If AIDS was the first politically-protected disease, Monkeypox is the second. Most of our media and government simply cannot find the integrity to speak plain, helpful English about diseases that are sexually transmitted among gay men. They’re probably trying to protect them; as so often, they may accomplish the opposite of their intention.

Politics and Legal Wrangling

Contraception, Sodomy, Same-sex marriage

I agree that “[n]othing in [the Court’s] opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” … we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents. After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated. For example, we could consider whether any of the rights announced in this Court’s substantive due process cases are “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in the Dobbs case (which overruled Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey).

I looked this up because I doubted news stories that said Thomas had "called for" re-examination of these other "substantive due process" decisions. I publish what I found to acknowledge that he did call for that, and to provide context:

  • Justice Thomas’s dictum tacitly invites challenges to these other "substantive due process" decisions, but I’m not sure he’ll get any challenges unless some government in the U.S. tries to undermine the court-decreed rights to contraception, consensual adult sodomy or same-sex marriage. Unlike the situation with abortion, I’m just not sure there’s anywhere left in the U.S. where a legislative majority could mistake opposition to these for a winning political position. In other words, how would SCOTUS get a case challenging contraception, consensual adult sodomy or same-sex marriage? Am I missing something?
  • You can certainly accuse Thomas of pedantry in his criticism of "substantive due process" while explicitly leaving open a door to recognizing the selfsame rights as "privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States," but that strikes many as a better legal foundation. Liberal Yale Law School Professor Akhil Amar heartily respects, perhaps even embraces, that approach.

Where should America go legislatively on abortion?

I’ve said that any legislative resolution will have greater constitutional legitimacy than did Roe‘s bogus constitutional pretexts, and I meant and mean that.

But I now should add the qualifier that I’m not sure this is a fit subject for national legislation on the circumstances where abortion should or shouldn’t be lawful. Maybe there’s room for some Congressional legislation, like maybe protecting the right to travel (which already is judicially recognized, be it noted), but historically, abortion is a matter for the states. (I’d say the same, by the way, if Congress was weighing restriction rather than liberalization.)

I’ve always assumed that once Roe was out of the way, we’d eventually reach some ideologically-unsatisfying legislative compromise, as have western European nations. I don’t think my opinionating could change that.

A Bill with exceptions exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother was introduced in Indiana’s Special Session Wednesday (a Session called to rebate some of our budget surplus, but expanded after Dobbs). Legislators who are fighting against those compassionate exceptions (and there are some) are likely to pay a political price.

Democracy and distrust

The Secret Service reportedly told the January 6 select committee on Tuesday that it cannot recover deleted text messages from the days surrounding the Capitol attack after all, and has no new messages to provide. The agency says the messages were lost as part of a technology upgrade. The National Archives has asked the Secret Service to report within 30 days on the “potential unauthorized deletion” of agency records, including what was lost and how.

The Morning Dispatch.

This story has me as frustrated as any recent story. I would have thought the Secret Service above such stuff. Everything Orange Man/Reverse Midas touches turns to merde.

Norms

We no longer honor norms; we weaponize them.

Jonah Goldberg on Bari Weiss’ Honestly podcast Election Denial: A Roundtable. Jonah had Bari laughing out loud so many times (e.g., Trump "Tweeting like a monkey escaped from a cocaine study") that I see one of two futures:

  1. Jonah becomes a frequent flyer with Bari; or
  2. Bari, fearing loss of gravitas, never invites him again.

For what it’s worth, I found her laughter delightful.

Why we need philosophers

Over forty years, Kant taught this lecture series forty-eight times. In his Physische Geographie, as the series was called, Kant insisted that knowledge was a systematic construct in which individual facts needed to fit into a larger framework in order to make sense. He used the image of a house to explain this: before constructing it brick by brick and piece by piece, it was necessary to have an idea of how the entire building would look. It was this concept of a system that became the linchpin of Humboldt’s later thinking.

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.

Note that Kant was referring to knowledge, not just scientific knowledge.

Why we don’t need end-times opinions

“We may have another year, maybe two years, to work for Jesus Christ, and [then] . . . it’s all going to be over,” he said in 1951. Two years later he said, “I sincerely believe, if I can study the Scriptures aright and read current events and keep with my current reading, that we are living in the latter days. I sincerely believe that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”

Frances Fitzgerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

I admired Billy Graham. Now, I’d call him "consequential" rather than "great." Maybe that’s hair-splitting.

Self-sabotage

Many years ago I had a student who took several classes from me and never got anything better than a C. At the beginning of his senior year he came to my office and asked me why. I reminded him that I had always made detailed comments on his paper; he said, yeah, he knew that, but he had never read the comments and always just threw the papers away. So I explained what his problem was. He nodded, thanked me, went away, and in the two classes he had from me that year he got the highest grades in the class.

improving – Snakes and Ladders

Organic towns, functional cities

Town and city are no longer the organic growths they once were. They have begun to operate on a purely functional level that has little to do with what actually brings grace into our lives. You eviscerate a habitat of its culture and the species it supports will find it increasingly difficult to survive or else they’ll mutate into something else.

Marius Kociejowski, A Factotum in the Book Trade, via Prufrock

Why do we so mythologize the sixties?

So why do those that would lead us treat the sixties as though they were our Heroic Age?

My theory is very simple: it is the last time that any of them mattered.

Those on the left pretend that society can be guided with the right policies from powerful institutional centres. They flatter themselves otherwise, but so do those on the right, even if their versions of ‘right policies’ often involves slimming down some institutional centres. The seventies taught us a harsher lesson. They ended one of modernity’s founding political myths, the idea that the vast bureaucratic engines the modern state uses to intimately order the lives of millions could be understood as a variation on the Greek city-states. They cannot: a modern state is a different order of being. It cannot be controlled by institutional centres, and even those centres can no longer be controlled. Any attempt to limit them only renders them more powerful. Nowadays, even the Machine’s smaller cogs are too big for human hands. This is the truth that our ‘leaders’ cannot even whisper. For if social institutions have become invulnerable to meaningful control, then their entire caste – politicians, journalists, civil service managers, researchers, and all – serve no purpose. To admit their pointlessness would end them. So, liberal and conservative alike, they retreat to the sixties and pretend that it matters as they launch into another round of culture war. It doesn’t matter and they don’t matter. They cannot prevent the end that is coming.

FFatalism, The culture wars were irrelevant by 1976


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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

Summer Solstice ’22

Prosecute Trump?

So far, there has only been circumstantial evidence that Trump knew he lost the 2020 Election, so news that he admitted his loss theoretically could be huge.

However, if you have access to the New York Times, do yourself a favor and read Prosecute Trump? Put Yourself in Merrick Garland’s Shoes. I think I’d call it a day at step two of the analysis: the unlikelihood of a unanimous guilty verdict in a country where so many worship the guy. Not even in the very liberal District of Columbia.

If I made it to step three, I’d again hit a wall: Do we really want that disgraceful and disgraced humbug to star as Johnny Depp with the prosecution as Amber Heard?

So I say "no prosecution." Our best outcome will be if the current Congressional hearings sufficiently disgrace him, even to those who voted for him, that he’s politically dead and buried.

Kudos to the Dispatch

Your membership allows us to do this kind of high-quality, in-depth journalism rather than chase clicks or attempt to monetize the latest outrage. Thank you.

The Morning Dispatch, touting its multi-part report on How the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Became Law.

I’ve subscribed been a member from the beginning, and the Dispatch has consistently made good on not chasing clicks or attempting to monetize the latest outrage. Its voice is unique: clearly not Trumpist, yet not obsessively anti-Trump like The Bulwark. It is one of my most valued news and commentary sources (though Jonah Goldberg alone talks and writes more than I can find time to listen and read).

Consider joining and enjoying a play-it-straight source in this tribalist historic hiatus.

Summer Kwaanza?

Juneteenth—the annual observance celebrating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865—is a holiday that many Americans haven’t heard of until recently. That has caused some to wonder if it’s just some new “woke” holiday invented by Marxist academics, the creators of the historically inaccurate 1619 Project, or some other group on the left.

It is not.

Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866, mostly by Black Americans; yet it’s a day that’s worthy of celebration by every American, as it represents a critical turning point in American history, not just Black history. It is the day that we as a people finally began to live up to one of the greatest principles we professed: a nation devoted to liberty for all.

Kay Cole James

Yes, I was among those world-weary folks who assumed Juneteenth was a summer Kwaanza. My bad.

How should we celebrate this newest national holiday?

Second-hand reading list

  • American Rhyd Wildermuth is writing about his new life in Luxembourg, discovering the complexity of European culture from the perspective of a recovering US ‘progressive’. His observations about the mapping of a simplistic American race narrative onto the old and ever-shifting cultures and ethnicities of Europe is spot-on, I think. I have long felt that the language in which British and some European cultural elites now talk about race – dividing the world artificially into ‘whites’ and ‘people of colour’, for example – is a form of American colonialism which both obscures the reality of European culture and history, and increases or introduces racial tension. Rhyd writes about this sensitively and sharply.
  • If ‘the modern world is a hell’ seems like overkill to you, this recent Guardian interview with transhumanist author Elise Bohan may wake you up, for Bohan is quite clear about where it is leading, and she can’t wait. The aim of transhumanism, she explains, is to allow us to move beyond the ‘ape-brained meat sack’ otherwise known as the human body, so that we can beat death, remake humanity, perfect nature and ultimately, in her own words ‘build God’ anew. Bohan, of course, like her interviewer, doesn’t believe in God. If she did, she might recognise that the argument she is making is precisely the same one that was made by the serpent in the Garden of Eden – which is to say that, as I suggested in my last essay, it is literally Satanic.
  • What is the alternative to this future? Neuroscientist Erik Hoel, in a long and interesting essay on his own Substack, suggests that the answer might lie in Shakespeare. Humanity is messy. Nature is complex, and not under our control. The likes of Bohan, who are designing our future, can’t cope with this mess, just as they can’t cope with loss, death, humility, the unknown, the transcendent or anything else they can’t turn into an equation or replicate in a lab. The ‘coming inhuman future’, as Hoel calls it, can only be fought with a defence of the irrational, messy, dark, light and mysterious complexity of nature, which includes our human nature. Arm yourselves.

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: Reading and Writing – by Paul Kingsnorth. Kingsnorth recommended some others, too, but these are what I’m going to read.

A quick, partial critique of liberalism

It has now become indisputable that the liberal order not only uses a variety of quasi coercive legal instruments such as bureaucratic guidances, selective funding of NGOs, and so forth, but it also exploits the liberal version of the public-private distinction to full advantage. It deploys selective enforcement of the law against “private violence” and takes political advantage of background conditions of economic necessity (“the market”) and of the radical conformity of public opinion under liberalism, instigated by the media. It controls its subjects with mobs both virtual and real, threats of ostracism, loss of employment, and a sort of reputational death (the dreaded state of being “out of the mainstream,” enforced politically by a cordon sanitaire).

Adrian Vermeule.

I continue to struggle: I want classical liberalism to work, but I am conversant with powerful critiques, including from sorta-scary guys like Vermeule. Monday, I finally ordered a primary source for its defense: Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man, having read quite a bit about it over the past few days.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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