Contrariness

Correcting the Record

Over the weekend, I had coffee with a Hungarian friend who spent a lot of time in America as a kid and teenager, because his father is an academic. He has a critical view of the US system because of its tolerance for economic precarity for so many. He supports the Orban government, and agrees with me about how totally biased and distorting the news media are, based on the kinds of things that middle and upper middle class reporters care about. For example, said my friend, in the long wake of the 2008 global economic crash, Viktor Orban’s government passed a law forbidding banks from expelling people who had defaulted on their mortgages from their homes. “Barack Obama didn’t do that,” said my friend. And then we talked about how with the US left, as long as you fly the rainbow flag and say “Black Lives Matter,” you can do whatever you want with the economy, and you won’t hear a word of protest from the supposed champions of the little guy versus Capital.

Rod Dreher, Who Is Viktor Orban, Really? (emphasis added)

Assaulting Hades

[A] liturgical practice … in Orthodoxy … is a frontal assault on Hades.

The traditional name for these celebrations is “Soul Saturdays.” They are celebrations of the Divine Liturgy on Saturday mornings offered for the souls of the departed … They make a fitting prelude for Holy Week and Pascha. At Pascha, Christ Himself “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestows life.” This is the Great and Holy Sabbath – the true and Great Soul Saturday. This is the great theme of Pascha itself. Christ’s Resurrection is, strangely, not so much about Christ as it is about Christ’s action. Many modern Christians treat Pascha (Easter) as though it were a celebration of Jesus’ personal return after a tragic death. Orthodoxy views Christ’s Holy Week, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades and Resurrection as one unending, uninterrupted assault on Hades. This is the great mystery of Pascha – the destruction of death and Hades. Death is the “last enemy.” Those who forget this are like soldiers who have forgotten the purpose of the war in which they fight.

And so the battle forms a significant part of the liturgical effort of the Church. The boldness of the third prayer is quite striking …

I can recall the first time I offered this prayer in my priesthood. I had a copy in front of me, but had not read it before the service, nor had I ever heard it. I trembled as I offered the words … astounded by their boldness. I had never heard such boldness before the Throne of God within the walls of the Church itself. It is also a reminder of the weakness and infirmity of the legal imagery of salvation. The legal view requires of God that He be the enforcer of Hades. To such a prayer He could only reply: “I cannot grant such things because of my Justice!”

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Pentecost and the Liturgy of Hades (emphasis added).

Bait-and-Switch

If there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be—and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it …

One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, "How does someone else’s marriage affect me?" and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change …

It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core "live and let live" argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

Andrew Sullivan, quoted by William McGurn

CRT

An old friend we visited Saturday en route to our favorite vacation spot asked my thoughts on Critical Race Theory, and I think I shocked him with my mild dismissiveness, which I couldn’t explain all that well on the spot. "Well, the reported excesses, like telling white school kids that their skin tone makes them irredeemable oppressors, already constitute racial harassment or a racially hostile environment under Title VII, so why do we need new laws?" was the gist of my answer. Very lawyerly.

The incompleteness of that answer has bothered me, and I’ve surfaced two more reasons:

  • Laws banning ideas are a bad idea, especially when the ideas sought to be banned are ill-defined or mis-defined, which is the case with most or all of the anti-CRT laws. Similarly, the inability to define CRT suggests that much of the murmuring about it is mostly Shibboleth.
  • The reported excesses of CRT exemplify progressive overreach, which generates its own cultural backlash. I don’t need to enter that fray.

Reading Between the Lines

There were three kinds of evangelical leaders. The dumb or idealistic ones who really believed. The out-and-out charlatans. And the smart ones who still believed—sort of—but knew that the evangelical world was shit, but who couldn’t figure out any way to earn as good a living anywhere else. I was turning into one of those, having started out in the idealistic category.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I don’t really recommend Schaeffer, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of reading between the lines here to explain how Schaeffer became the equivocally-Christian author of kiss-and-tell Exvangelical books and Huffington Post columns.


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

Poke them in the axioms

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


Is the tide turning?

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

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

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

The Economist

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

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


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

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

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


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

Bob Stevenson and Josh Fenska, Thin Discipleship


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

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

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Overcome Evil By Doing Good

But maybe he shouldn’t say that:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Alan Jacobs, Snakes and Ladders

The same heuristic could be applied to whole news sources.


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

Reflections on America

Having largely lost our religion(s), modernity has seen fit to create new ones. If we wonder what constitutes a modern religion (or efforts to create one) we need look no further than our public liturgies. Various months of the year are now designated as holy seasons set-aside to honor various oppressed groups or causes. It is an effort to liturgize the nation as the bringer and guardian of justice in the world, an effort that seeks to renew our sense of mission and to portray our nation as something that we believe in. It must be noted that as a nation, we have not been content to be one among many. We have found it necessary to “believe” in our country. It is a symptom of religious bankruptcy. As often as not, major sports events (Super Bowls) are pressed into duty as bearers of significance and meaning. The pious liturgies that surround them have become pathetic as they try ever-harder to say things that simply are not true or do not matter. This game is not important – it’s just a game.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, When America Got Sick


Rod Dreher spent a few days in Bucharest and gave a talk where they hoped to have maybe 100 people and to sell maybe 50 copies of the Romanian translation of Live Not By Lies. They had more like 500 (some traveled 12 hours by train), sold 400 books, and Rod spent a long time signing books and chatting with people:

As I was preparing my remarks, I reflected on something I have picked up on a lot in my nearly two months here in Central Europe. The peoples of this part of the world looked to the West for hope and direction when they suffered under Communist dictatorship. They still hold the West in high esteem. Yet they also experience a great deal of Western arrogance, mostly from western Europeans, but also Americans — liberal elites who treat them like primitive children who need to be taught how to be proper moderns. Perhaps the main source today of Western contempt has to do with the natural conservatism in this part of the world vis-à-vis LGBT rights. Billionaire George Soros, among others, has poured money into countries like Romania via his NGOs to try to undermine traditions on the family, and religious authority. I had heard on my first night in Romania, and in various conversations throughout the day, that political elites in Bucharest routinely mock social and religious conservatives, in particular over their views on family and sexuality.

Well, in my talk, I told the audience that they may hear from the West, and from their Western-oriented elites, that they should be ashamed of their faith, of their traditions, and of their moral beliefs. This is one of the big lies that they must reject with all their heart, soul, and mind, I said. You have looked up to America for so long, but look at us now: we are destroying ourselves, because we have forgotten God. With this woke ideology, we have nothing to offer you but destruction. You don’t need to learn anything from us; we Americans need to learn from you, and your saints.

I worried for a moment that I might be flattering the crowd, but I actually believe every word of this, one hundred percent. I felt the anger rising inside me — anger at American and EU elites, their NGO agents, and progressives within institutions and political life here, all doing their best to make these people ashamed of themselves, their history, and their traditions. I’m truly beginning to understand what Ryszard Legutko meant in his great book The Demon in Democracy, about how the Communist nomenklatura did an about-face after Communism’s fall, and easily re-invented themselves as Eurocrats. They already shared a common faith in materialist modernity, and a contempt for religion and tradition. The Western left is eager to condemn 19th century colonialism, but it hasn’t the faintest sense that what it’s doing now is a 21st century cultural version of the same. No, it considers what it’s up to today as liberation from ignorance and the chains of the past.

(‌What I Saw In Bucharest)

If I could sum up the message [Romanians in Bucharest] gave me, in comment after comments, it’s this:

“Thank you for telling us that we don’t have to be ashamed of our faith and our traditions to be decent democratic people. We hear all the time from Western Europeans and our own elites that there is something wrong with us, and that we have to throw away our inheritance to join the civilized world. You have reminded us who we are, and that we have nothing to be ashamed of.”

I’m not exaggerating here. When I was checking in at the airport for the flight back to Budapest yesterday, the young woman behind the counter saw my passport and said, “Oh, you’re the guy who had the conference this weekend.” We talked briefly about it, and I signed a copy of my book for her as a gift. She thanked me, and said, “They always try to make us feel ashamed.”

I can scarcely express how angry that makes me as an American, knowing that my country — its government, its NGOs, and its corporations — are behind all this. Over and over I heard that the political and cultural leaders of contemporary Romania, the ones seeking to curry favor with the West, look down on the Christians as backwards barbarians — “relic-kissers,” they call them.

Rod Dreher, The Wild Men of Romania

“Behind all this” and also behind sometimes-nefarious population-control efforts. It’s things like this that confirm my impression that we’re not a force for unmitigated good in the world. Perhaps it’s even a net negative, more evil than good — but there’s no objective measure of that, and my suspicions are probably a matter of temperament (I did come of age in the 60s, after all).


George Packer, The Four Americas is a very broad-brush look at America’s current divisions, worth reading, but not so good I expect to buy his book.


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


Potpourri 5/27/21

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

Separated at Birth

Compare:

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

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

with:

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

Jesse Singal

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

What’s not cancel culture

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

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

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

Fauci lied, people died

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of which,

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

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

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

The Big Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the purpose of life?

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

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

A Christian Man in Embryo

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

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

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

Excerpts:

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

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

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

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


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

Curated gems

The rest of the story

This has always been a staggering irony of the Snowden story: the primary attack on him by U.S. officials to impugn his motives and patriotism is that he lives in Russia and thus likely cooperated with Russian authorities (a claim for which no evidence has ever been presented), when the reality is that Snowden would have left Russia eight years ago after a 30-minute stay in its airport had U.S. officials not used a series of maneuvers that barred him from leaving.

Glenn Greenwald, ‌As Anger Toward Belarus Mounts, Recall the 2013 Forced Landing of Bolivia’s Plane to Find Snowden. Indeed, in 2013, the U.S. used another series of maneuvers to divert Bolivia’s presidential jet and force its landing in Austria, with the President aboard it, on the basis of false suspicions that Edward Snowden was on it.

  • “France has apologised to Bolivia after Paris admitted barring the Bolivian president’s plane from entering French air space because of rumors Edward Snowden was on board.”
  • Spain also ended up apologizing to Bolivia. Its then-Foreign Minister cryptically admitted: "They told us they were sure… that he was on board.” Though the Spanish official refused to specify who the "they” was — as if there were any doubts — he acknowledged that the assurances they got that Snowden was on board Morales’ plane was the only reason they took the actions they did to force the plane of the Bolivian leader to land.
  • Given that it was only the U.S. which was so desperate to get their hands on Snowden — they had already used Vice President Biden to lead a highly coercive effort to threaten countries with punishment if they gave him asylum — few doubted where this false intelligence originated and who was behind the unprecedented act of forcing a presidential plane to land. Indeed, all of this was so glaringly obvious that not even the U.S. government was willing to deny it.

So you might want to modulate the outrage at Belarus — or ramp up the skepticism about our own purity.

Parachute efficacy randomized control trial

Parachute use did not significantly reduce death or major injury (0% for parachute v 0% for control; P>0.9). This finding was consistent across multiple subgroups. Compared with individuals screened but not enrolled, participants included in the study were on aircraft at significantly lower altitude (mean of 0.6 m for participants v mean of 9146 m for non-participants; P<0.001) and lower velocity (mean of 0 km/h v mean of 800 km/h; P<0.001).

Conclusions Parachute use did not reduce death or major traumatic injury when jumping from aircraft in the first randomized evaluation of this intervention. However, the trial was only able to enroll participants on small stationary aircraft on the ground, suggesting cautious extrapolation to high altitude jumps.

Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial | The BMJ. For possible applications, see Slate Star Codex.

Is the Vice-President "Asian"?

If you work in a massage parlor, you likely come from, and are in, a very different economic situation from the one Kamala Harris has inhabited most of her life … What does Harris’s life have to do with theirs, when it comes to any of the stuff that matters? …

In theory, of course, the connection is that Harris is part-Asian, and the victims (well, the ones mentioned in the Politico story), were Asian. But I feel like I should be putting that term — ‘Asian’ — in scare quotes. These particular victims were mostly Korean. So on paper Harris, like the victims, has “Asian heritage.” But I ask you in good faith: What the hell does this mean? The distance from the part of India where Harris’ mother is from to Seoul is about 3,300 miles. These are entirely different civilizations. Even the most racially ignorant rube would be unlikely to mistake someone of Indian descent with someone of Korean descent. And of course even here the language is extremely slippery, because India, in particular, is quite ethnically and linguistically complicated, as one would expect of a gargantuan country of almost 1.4 billion people.

I’m just not sure there’s any way to conceive of a concept of ‘Asianness’ that 1) includes both Kamala Harris and the victims of the massage-parlor murders and 2) doesn’t horseshoe into something redolent of old-school racism or Orientalism.

Jesse Singal, On Kamala Harris’s Privileged Upbringing And Why It Matters

He’s right. I, too, have been bothered by the inclusion of Indians as "Asian." Not in common parlance, they’re not.

I’ll second what the self-loathing woman said

Keira Bell was a troubled fourteen-year-old living in England. Daughter of an unemployed, alcoholic mother, she was distressed by the physical changes brought on by puberty. Her mother and others suggested that perhaps she really wanted to be a boy. Keira adopted their idea. At age fifteen, she was referred by a government psychologist to the Gender Identity Development Service. By age sixteen, she was being given a drug regimen of puberty blockers. The National Health Service continued its ministrations with a double mastectomy at twenty. After that surgery, Bell came to some realizations: “I recognized that gender dysphoria was a symptom of my overall misery, not its cause.” Looking back, she says, “I had so many issues that it was comforting to think I really had only one that needed solving: I was a male in a female body. But it was the job of the professionals to consider all my co-morbidities, not just to affirm my naive hope that everything could be solved with hormones and surgery.” Bell sums up: “I was an unhappy girl who needed help. Instead, I was treated like an experiment.”

Some years ago, I asked Paul McHugh, former chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, what could stop the medical profession’s adoption of the monstrously destructive transgender ideology. He replied, “When these kids grow up and realize what has been done to them, the lawsuits will be ruinous.” Bell did exactly that. In 2020, a panel of High Court judges issued a unanimous verdict to the effect that Bell’s treatment amounted to an unscientific experiment with life-altering consequences. The Court severely restricted the use of puberty blockers and hormone treatments for children under sixteen. The clinic is appealing the ruling.

It is my hope that people like Keira Bell find the right malpractice lawyers and win billions of dollars in damages. For those severely harmed by the transgender mania, this would be a good start toward something like justice.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added).

Everyone other than "desisters" are labeled "transphobic" for hesistancy about the trans mania, but perhaps desisters can escape with nothing worse than "self-loathing."

Diary this one for a month from now

France, Debray notes, has obligingly assimilated such anglicisms as gender studies, Gay Pride, revenge porn, and #MeToo, along with the collective self-loathing they are meant to carry with them. Since Debray has always been attentive to the role of privilege and guilt in his own early revolutionary enthusiasms, this is a subject that interests him greatly. “The stigma of being a bourgeois oppressor was not irremediable,” he recalls. “You could join the Communist party, a trade union, or a guerrilla commando in Mozambique. But white privilege? Where do you go to get over that? The dermatologist?”

Christopher Caldwell, ‌Régis Debray, Radical Conservative

As I read this fascinating profile (probably paywalled for another month or so), I kept thinking "ironic distancing" of Debray from his revolutionary past, and Caldwell himself eventually so characterized it.

If Debray carries a lesson for his twentieth-century readers, perhaps it is that the French radical tradition really is a tradition, as dedicated to rules, rituals, and reverence as any other.

The sure-fire short-cut to Heaven

My favorite part of Matins may be what I call martyr wordplay. Example:

On this day the holy Martyr Seleucus, having been sawn asunder, was perfected in martyrdom.
Verse: Without a groan, Seleucus bears the sawing
And so saw the saw as a short cut to Heaven.

I’m not kidding. Many of the Martys, while not seeking out martyrdom, welcomed it when it sought them out. I’m just following their lead — in enjoying the wordplay.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

England truly, and enduringly, is "the Mother Country." It’s like — wow! — a parallel universe!


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

My Grudges

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

Predators at Work

Sexual abuse at group home prompts questions about oversight

by Jason Shepard

January 18, 2007RSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is the oversight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Indiana to Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Spring House to prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘There’s things I need’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appropriate action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From Isthmus, a publication in Madison, Wisconsin)


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Visual content for a change

From this week’s Economist.

Love how they go with “birthing people” and “pregnant persons” but then just call it the MOMMIES Act. https://t.co/OIvNXqHNcX— Robert Tracinski (@Tracinski) May 6, 2021

Don’t miss the people who responded by pretending to not understand his point.


One reason why we spend so much time thinking and talking about elites is that we often hope and pray that a better elite can bring significant, rapid change—to yank the right out of its current malaise sooner rather than later. At present, however, there is no obvious path for speedy, top-down change. There simply isn’t an active market for the necessary message.

David French, Make No Mistake: The GOP Has a Grassroots Problem.

If you follow this blog, you likely have noticed a lot of content from the Dispatch (including essentially anything I quote from David French). Although I’m starting to figure out that David’s entertainment tastes are, um, not at all like mine, I think the Dispatch is doing a very good job at delivering on what they say they’re about, and is worth the price for any non-destitute conservative (or liberal who wants to avoid captivity to a bubble).


The Soviet occupiers subdued religious hierarchies, he said, making sure that the senior leaders — bishops and such — were collaborators. Bishop Istvan remarked that what he sees happening in liberalizing Protestant churches in the West reminds him of this process. The idea, he explained, is that they have been colonized by utopian idealists who believe they have found the truth. Said the bishop, “The Bolsheviks imposed this in a harsh, brutal way, but in the Western countries today, it is happening in a soft way.”

… The bishop went on to say that every society needs an enemy in mind. After the end of the Cold War, the West lacked for an obvious enemy. Now, he said, the elites have decided that the enemy is traditional Christians.

“It’s not a Cold War, but a Cold Civil War, happening in the US, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher

I suspect, based on my observations of how societies behave, that the Bishop is right: every society needs an enemy in mind. Even if he’s not,

  1. It gives us an idea why Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros; and
  2. It should make us reflect on why we demonize Putin, Orban and others.

“We are not good survivors of Communism,” said Bishop Istvan, of his generation. “If you read the Book of Exodus, you will see that it took forty years of wandering in the desert for the Israelites to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Many of them wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they could have a few material things guaranteed for them. I feel like my generation has been told by God that we can’t enter the Promised Land.

“But I ask myself,” he continued, “which Promised Land should I want to enter? Should it be the West? The problem is, there is no fruit there. There is no milk, there is no honey.”

That resonated deeply with me, this point of Bishop Istvan’s. Something similar has been front to mind for me since I first arrived here three weeks ago. There is something about putting distance between oneself and America, and looking at America from a non-woke country, that highlights the true insanity of what’s happening in our nation.

Rod Dreher, My Afternoon With A Calvinist Bishop – Daily Dreher, quoting Istvan Szábo.


“Believing that everything will be better if only we gather more information,” blogger Michael Sacasas recently wrote, “commits us to endless searching and casting about, to one more swipe of the screen in the hope that the elusive bit of data, which will make everything clear, will suddenly present itself.” …

… There is nothing of real import happening in the world for which Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is the best source of information.

Joseph M. Keegin, Be Not Afraid


In the old Dark Ages, it was impossible to persuade the feudal chiefs that it was more worth while to grow medicinal herbs in a small garden than to lay waste the province of an empire; that it was better to decorate the corner of a manuscript with gold-leaf than to heap up treasuries and wear crowns of gold. These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Dark Ages

More scrapbooking

Larry Kudlow

Now that Donald Trump’s former economic adviser Larry Kudlow has taken his words of wisdom from the White House to Fox News, he wants the nation to know that President Joe Biden is plotting to force Americans to drink “plant-based beer.”(Befuddled Larry Kudlow Rails That Biden Will Force Americans To Guzzle ‘Plant-Based Beer’)

Now to be fair to Kudlow (who, be it remembered, was supposed to be one of the super-smart guys on Team [45]) also said "this kind of thinking is stupid." Since he’s super-smart, I assume he was referring to his own thinking.

Or something.

Liz Cheney

I assume you have heard by now that Liz Cheney is in imminent danger of being ousted from GOP leadership because of her keen bullshit detector and the loud sirens attached to it:

If Cheney is ousted, McCarthy will be the feckless House Republican leader who acted as the toady enforcer of [45]’s dangerous election lies. Every Democrat can say, with a straight face, that in Kevin’s House, lying is a litmus test for leadership.

Amanda Carpenter, Kevin McCarthy: Master of Strategery

I’m in danger of getting back in and wallowing too much in politics, but I found Jonah Goldberg’s analysis of what Cheney’s up to pretty persuasive:

The media and the Democrats understandably want to make this all about her brave truth-telling about “the Big Lie” and the “insurrection.” But the real issue for Cheney—I believe—is only incidentally about all of that. Again, I’m not saying she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, but her real goal is to free the GOP from the Trumpian captivity and the ideological and political corruptions that stem from it. And she’s losing that effort, at least in the short run.

It says a lot, and none of it good, that Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney are unwelcome in today’s GOP while Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are in good standing.

Education versus Job Skills

Whole universities are now devoted to churning out skilled laborers—even if that means cutting entire humanity departments. Job skills and upward mobility seem to be more important than profound people, able to feel and think well about the mysteries of life.

A major problem, though, is that the liberal arts themselves have been instrumentalized toward the market. They are pitched primarily as leading to employment. Why the liberal arts? For more effective communication. Writing skills for memos. Teamwork and collaboration. Critical thinking, etc. The liberal arts are good because they make students marketable to industry.

Alex Sosler, The Liberal Arts for Loss and Lament

I’m on the Board of a very small Classical Christian School, which really should be bigger. I’d like to attribute our struggles to a spirit (among potential patrons) akin to the instrumentalizing of liberal arts in colleges and universities: "It’s not enough to produce great souls, who love truth, beauty and virtue. No. You’ve got to show us how greatness of soul, and loving truth, beauty and virtue ‘cash out’."

And as a product of postwar 20th-Century America, I cannot deny that I’m tempted to tell them how I think it cashes out, though you shouldn’t justify primary goods by how they facilitate secondary goods.

Twitter-Truth

Twitter Truth is now an actual criterion for newsworthiness that many journalists live by. If they didn’t, how do you explain an article like this? Or all the other instances of Twitter nonsense getting written up as though it means anything or has inherent value, without any fact-checking? If something is Twitter True, it now warrants coverage and credulous amplification. And this from a tribe — my tribe — that endlessly, and rightfully, mocked Donald Trump for his “people are saying” innuendo.

Jesse Singal. I love the coinage Twitter-Truth.

Kevin McCarthy’s Big Reveal

I couldn’t figure out how to embed a tweet in Markdown, which is what I use to write my blogs until the last phases. Here is the link. It is visual.

The Point of Life

I remain baffled at how many adults seem to think that the point of life is to enjoy the meaningless mild approval of armies of strangers rather than to build a tight little network of friends and family who are passionately invested in you. But even if you don’t share my values, perhaps you can admit that treating personal animus like it’s politically meaningful is unhelpful. If you think I’m an a**hole, just say I’m an a**hole. If you don’t like someone, just say so. That doesn’t mean you don’t write about politics. You just drop the phony f**king holier-than-thou routine and acknowledge that you’re motivated by animal spirits more than anything else, like everyone else. For years I have played a simple game: when I meet someone in person who says they don’t like my writing, I challenge them to name an issue on which we disagree. They fail over and over again. Like literally they can’t name anything. The truth is they don’t like me, who I am, as a person, but for whatever reason they feel compelled to pretend that it’s deeper than that. It isn’t and that’s fine. If we can’t actually grow up, maybe we can be mature enough to admit that we are immature, and that all of this is a child’s game.

Freddie deBoer (lightly expurgated).

I disagree with Freddie on the point of life, but prefer his version to the alternative that baffles him.

Learned Helplessness

To donors, business leaders, trade association heads, operatives, commentators, and other powers-that-be in GOP circles:

Don’t just call me to commiserate and lament.

Call them. Call the Republican members of Congress you’ve supported. Call the National Republican Congressional Committee. Call your fellow donors.

And tell them: “No. No more support. If you’re going to purge Liz, we’re gone. Really. For this entire cycle. A party that purges a truth-teller isn’t one I will support. And I’ll say this publicly and I’ll rally my fellow donors to follow my lead.”

And I’d add, to GOP-supporting conservative writers: No more angst.

Say the truth loudly and clearly. Say that the behavior of Republicans is a danger and a disgrace. If all you can muster is concern about how purging Cheney for telling the truth might “diminish” the GOP and hurt its chances with swing voters—if you lack the fortitude to do anything other than play for triple bank shots with an eye toward preserving your place—well, better not to write anything at all.

So, to GOP donors and conservative elites: Enough with the comfortable posture of learned helplessness. Enough with the ineffectual finger wagging. Just Say No.

Alas, the Republican donors and the conservative elites are unlikely to say No. Learned helplessness is a balm for people who would rather avoid taking an uncomfortable stance.

And so they stand athwart history, clucking their tongues and wringing their hands.

William Kristol, The Learned Helplessness of Republican Elites

The refrigerator-magnet-poetry word-jumble method of inquiry

Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage, continues defending her book against hysteria. She asks "Has Censorship Become Our Baseline Expectation?" and recites several incidents of news stories implying that Amazon is an intransigent bad-actor for not banning her book as it earlier banned Ryan Anderson’s provocatively-titled When Harry Became Sally.

“Amazon won’t stop selling book questioning transgender youth” noted a surprised New York Daily News on Tuesday. “Amazon overrules employees’ calls to stop selling book questioning mainstream treatment for transgender youth,” declared The Seattle Times. “Amazon Refuses to Stop Selling Anti-Trans Book,” reported an apparently disappointed Edge Media. And yesterday’s NBCNews.com: “Amazon will not remove book advocates say endangers transgender youth.

For every one of these publications, the baseline assumption is censorship. It is Amazon that “won’t stop selling,” or “overrules employees” or “refuses to stop selling” or “will not remove”—Amazon whose actions strike today’s journalists as significant and surprising.  Amazon the intransigent bookseller, stubbornly insisting on continuing to sell books. Standing up to the calls for censorship is now what surprises us. The numberless calls for book banning no longer do.

I told Ms. Long that the book contains not a word of hate—almost verbatim what the Economist wrote when it named mine a Best Book of 2020:  “Predictably controversial—yet there is not a drop of animosity in the book.” Though the book discusses “gender dysphoria,” a diagnosis recognized in the DSM-5, it never equates transgender status with a mental illness because, put simply, I don’t believe that it is.

Well, she replied, I see ‘contagion,’ ‘epidemic,’ don’t you think that tends to diagnose?

“Are you seriously going to pull out random words from my book?” I asked her.

“They aren’t random,” she said. “They’re from chapter headings.”

I explained that the words “contagion” and “epidemic” often refer to social phenomena, like peer-to-peer fads or trends, as the dictionary bears out and is obviously the case in Irreversible Damage. But in all of this explaining, I was the witness in the hot seat, under cross-examination. I was the one who had to explain myself before this refrigerator-magnet-poetry word-jumble method of inquiry.

I would oppose banning this book (and almost all others) even if it did ineffably "endanger transgender youth" because it does far, far more to protect them from ill-considered irreversible bodily mutilation at the hands of ideologues or medical profiteers.

I would point out, however, that there is not really a baseline expectation of censorship — except in the case of books that in some sense take a conservative or traditional stance on matters of sexuality and gender, especially the transgender social contagion.


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


Some thoughts 5/1/21

What the wrath of God looks like

I was nurtured on stories as a child that contrasted Christ’s “non-judging” (“Jesus, meek and mild”) with Christ the coming Judge (at His dread Second Coming). I was told that His second coming would be very unlike His first. There was a sense that Jesus, meek and mild, was something of a pretender, revealing His true and eternal character only later as the avenging Judge.

This, of course, is both distortion and heresy. The judgment of God is revealed in Holy Week. The crucified Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God. There is no further revelation to be made known, no unveiling of a wrath to come. The crucified Christ is what the wrath of God looks like.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Bridegroom and Judgment

Why Jordan Peterson thrives

Contempt for the “working class” by North America’s “liberal educated elite,” is a major reason for his popularity, he says. “There aren’t very many people with an encouraging voice,”[Jordan] Peterson says. “Most of the things you read by intellectuals—not all, but it’s a failing of intellectuals—most of it is criticism. Look what you’re doing to the planet. What a detestable bunch of wretches you are, with your rapacious structures and your endless appetite and your desire for power. . . . Look at what your ambition has done to the planet. How dare you!”

Mr. Peterson doesn’t directly challenge the substance of these dreary criticisms. Rather he protests that they’re unnatural and unhealthy. “The proper attitude toward young people is encouragement,” he says—“their ambitions, their strivings, their desire to be competent, their deep wish for a trustworthy guiding hand. I think our culture is so cynical that it’s impossible, especially for the established intellectual chattering critics, to even imagine that encouragement is possible.”

When I ask what he thinks is driving the effort to destroy him and others who hold heterodox views, he diagnoses his persecutors as though they’re exactly the sort of young people who wander into his lectures or buy his books looking for structure and purpose. His admirers and his fiercest detractors are, in his mind, not so different from each other.

Barton Swaim, The Man They Couldn’t Cancel

From an essay on atheism with lots of insights:

I can’t tell you how often … commenters on liberal blogs would preface a denunciation of Richard Dawkins by reassuring everyone that they themselves were agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated. “Of course Christianity isn’t literally true,” they would always say before excoriating arrogant atheists. What they never seemed to understand is that the “of course” was a more grievous insult to sincere Christians than Christopher Hitchens could ever come up with. What the atheists felt they needed to prove, the anti-atheists simply assumed away. They took as given that traditionally religious claims about the world were so ridiculous that they could dismiss them with a footnote. The difference is stark. Angry atheists think religion is wrong. Anti-angry atheist liberals think religion is not even wrong.

Since I begin writing about this topic – that is, since the very beginning, as the first thing I wrote online that more than a dozen people read was about being a certain kind of atheist – I have been known by religious people as a nice atheist, a respectful atheist. I am never sure how to feel about this condition. I still define my orientation the same way: that to come to atheism honestly and constructively you must come to it in loss and pain. You don’t accept atheism, when it is genuine. You surrender to it. Either way, I am an atheist. I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false. I think religion on balance has been a detriment to human life and human flourishing. And I think the gradual attrition of believers into nonbelievers, through apathy and distraction more than anything else, would be good for the world.

Freddie deBoer, ‌What Became of Atheism, Part One

"I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false" is a sentence that may be worth my returning to some day, as the metaphysical content deBoer describes elsewhere in his essay is not true of all religion, and not (very) true of Orthodox Christianity. If I were being flippant, I could say "well, I don’t believe in that God, either."

Stake in the ground: Two sexes

Here’s what the science says: there are only two human sexes. That’s because there are only two types of gamete (the sex cells — egg and sperm). Humans (like all mammals) can develop along one of two pathways: towards making eggs (female) and towards making sperm (male). If anyone ever finds a third sex it would be a discovery on a par with finding a new continent — with a guaranteed Nobel prize. Until you see those headlines, you can rest assured there are exactly two sexes.

Biological sex exists and it matters — most obviously because the existence of the human race depends on it. You can’t make a human baby without a male and a female — yet the sex-denialists hardly ever mention reproduction. Which is odd since that’s precisely why sex exists.

Nathan Williams, Sex deniers are the new flat earthers

How our press covers Hungary

“You are sitting next to the Fifth Avenue of Budapest,” he said, referring to nearby Andrassy Avenue. “The only people Western journalists ever seem to talk to live within a two-mile radius of this street.”

Later, as I was headed home from work, I thought about how someone could stand on Andrassy holding a sign saying, “Viktor Orban, Go To Hell,” and nothing would happen to them. What do you think would happen to someone standing on the corner of Fifth and 45th in Manhattan, holding up a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter Sucks,” or “Homosexuality Is A Sin”? …

But remember your catechism: countries like Hungary are the real illiberal democracies.

Rod Dreher

Surprise Orthodox Anglicans

There has been talk in my neck of the internet about Prince Philip having reconnected with his Orthodox Christian roots, and here’s a sign, which I’m surprised hadn’t surfaced earlier, that he had:

There was one clear sign of this complex heritage during the funeral. Prince Philip had requested that, just before his body was lowered into the Royal Vault, the choir sing the famous Kiev setting of the Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed.

"Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints: where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting," the singers chanted. "Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man: and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth. … All we go down to the dust; and weeping o’er the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."

Terry Mattingly, Wish for the ‘Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed’ — A Hint at Prince Philip’s Complex Faith History

Note, too, this:

Prince Charles also has frequented Mount Athos. One Athonite monk told The Guardian newspaper that there is "no question" that Charles is "Orthodox in his heart. Sadly, he is very constrained by his position." The Prince of Wales has maintained ties to the Vatopedi Monastery and, like his father, to the Friends of Mount Athos.

Id.

Western civilization

The older I get, and the more I learn about history, the more convinced I am that Western civilization committed suicide with World War I. The rubble is still bouncing from that unparalleled catastrophe.

Rod Dreher

Contrariness

The function that herbivores play, for example, in stimulating biomass accumulation is both powerful and real. Chickens have historically converted kitchen scraps into eggs. Pigs have historically scavenged domestic waste products as varied as whey, offal, forest mast, and spoiled grain. That a large percentage of landfilled material is animal-edible food waste should strike us as criminal. Rather than showering landfill administrators with greenie awards for injecting pipes into the anaerobic swill to collect biogas, we should be cycling all that edible waste through chickens and pigs so that it never goes to the landfill in the first place.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal


Food safety is completely subjective. I don’t think for a minute that most of what’s in the supermarket is safe. But it’s been deemed safe because it only kills you slowly. While thousands of people die due to unnatural food and nutrient-deprived food, the food police go after a cottage-industry cheesemaker because two people got diarrhea.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Why I (sorta) miss the New York Times

Chauvin Was Convicted. Something Is Still Very Wrong reminds me that I not only miss much of what Ross Douthat and David Brooks write these days by dropping the New York Times, but I also miss Elizabeth Bruenig (and Frank Bruni).

It’s tough when an institution is the pinnacle of professional ambition in a field yet has become boycottably corrupt.


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

What a normal human being looks like

The monasticism of the desert fathers is a major influence in Orthodoxy, and the Apophthegmata Patrum—the sayings of the fathers (and mothers) of the desert—range from remarkably practical advice to a startling sense of participation in the divine. Take these two selections, from Benedicta Ward’s translation in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian Publications):

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Note the words, “the old man.” The idea is preserved in the Greek word for “an elder”—geron—still used of wise monks and spiritual directors, the idea being that it takes time and patience to get there.

At one moment, my friend pointed to where a group of young converts were sitting — all men and women in their twenties — and said to me, “Do you know why they are all here?”

“No,” I said, mindful that he had spent a lot more time talking to them than I had.

“They’re here because they came and found something deep, and real. They all came from Protestantism, which is falling apart. They were looking for something that they could stand firm on, that wasn’t going to collapse. They found it here.

“Look at me,” he went on. “Why do you think I’m here? Well, my wife and I came because you invited us, but we kept coming because we saw the same thing that they saw. That’s why we’re Orthodox. It’s real, more real than anything we had ever seen before.”

Rod Dreher, Abba Joseph’s Fingers (paywall likely)

Note: Abba Joseph is extraordinary only by the low standards fallen humanity has set. Sub specie aeternitatis, he’s normal — what God intended humans to be. It’s just that the rest of us are severely disabled.


The real irony of this past century of innovation is that the modern innovators are perplexed by the outcome which they themselves conditioned. The global pandemic has exposed the irony. COVID is surging and the conditioners cannot understand why people will not simply listen to the experts. Of course, they have ignored the simple question: which experts ought we to listen and why ought we to listen? You cannot derive an ought from an is. The entire foundation of their worldview is instinct, and they have built an entire ethic upon it. However, instincts are the “is” and they desperately want for us to derive from instinct their desired “ought.” Their answer to the question, why, is the paternalistic response, “because I said so.”

We decry the rise of QAnon and wonder aloud why people can no longer think critically. The conditioners built a system which rendered useless the very critical thinking for which they now plead. If there is no universal objective value, then by what measure do we think critically? We have access to endless facts and no mind with which to critique them. How can a student solve a math problem if conditioned to believe that 2+2 has no solution which is transcendent of and objectively discoverable by the pupil’s mind? Universal subjectivity of all truth has no limiting principle. In Lewis’ day, the conditioners came for language. The deconstructionists finished in the 70’s the work begun by Lewis’ contemporaries decades before. Now, the conditioners have come for everything. Subjectivity in biology. Subjectivity in mathematics. Each man is to follow his instincts. Each man has become his own epistemological center. Perception is reality.

Lewis foresaw this inevitability nearly 80 years ago. Now, in the midst of political polarization, rampant conspiracy theorizing, a global pandemic, racial injustice, and economic uncertainty, our conditioners make demands of the polis which they themselves have made impossible. “Follow the science!” “Trust the election officials!” “Do not fall prey to conspiracy theories circulating on social media!” C.S. Lewis provides the response to such demands, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

James Ranieri, The Restoration of a Thinking Polis Has but One Solution: Classical Education, Part One


Similar agencies of deceit, militarism and imperialism now robustly use this same branding tactic. The CIA — in between military coups, domestic disinformation campaigns, planting false stories with their journalist-partners, and drone-assassinating U.S. citizens without due process — joyously celebrates Women’s Day, promotes what it calls The Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers (ANGLE), hosts activities for Pride Month, and organizes events to commemorate Black History Month. The FBI does the same.

It’s so sweet that one is tempted to forget about, or at least be more understanding of, all the bombing campaigns and all the dictatorships they install and prop up that repress and kill the very people that they purport to honor and cherish. Like the GCHQ, how menacing can an intelligence agency be when it is so deeply and sincerely supportive of the rights of the people they routinely spy on, repress and kill?

Again, this does not make the CIA perfect — sure, they make some mistakes and engage in some actions that are worthy of criticism — but to combat real evil, you do not go protest at Langley. They are engaged in important work combating homophobia, racism and misogyny. Thus, real warriors against evil look not to them but instead go searching online for the Boogaloo Boys and boomers on Facebook who post Q-Anon and other problematic memes. That is where your focus should remain if you want to root out the real threats.

Large corporations have obviously witnessed the success of this tactic — to prettify the face of militarism and imperialism with the costumes of social justice — and are now weaponizing it for themselves.

Glenn Greenwald has quickly become one of my indispensible Substack subscriptions. He’s got a fabulous crap detector (sometimes it almost seems like a death wish), and you can’t even distract him by playing “woke” on liberal groin pieties.

Greenwald puts all the big-name media to shame with their lazy facilitation of diversionary tactics by woke capital and governmental power centers. They’re too busy chasing stick figures and, increasingly, simply making stuff up, to really speak truth to power.


What a piece or work Andrew Cuomo is! Revisiting Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Orthodox Jews In Light of His “Fucking Tree Houses” Comment – Reason.com.

I wish the difference between him and me was one of kind rather than of degree. That’s all I’m going to say about that.


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