Amazing: No Politics

Innovation then and now

Henry Ford happily allowed his children to be chauffeured around town in the mass-market vehicles he pioneered, but today, Silicon Valley executives protect their children from smartphones and send them to schools without screens—a telling sign of their opinion of their own products.

Gladden Pappin, Advancing in Place

Pappin is an integralist or integralism-adjacent, so I read him guardedly. Still, it’s hard to resist that little ad hominem.

Pornification failure

Much later, Playboy magazine came along, in which girls removed their underwear and a boy could drive to a drugstore in a part of town where he was not known and tuck a copy into a Wall Street Journal and peruse it And later came Tropic of Cancer and Portnoy’s Complaint and now porn is freely available online though to me it has all the erotic allure of watching oil well pumps pumping in North Dakota.

Garrison Keillor

Le mot juste is "shibboleth"

I generally don’t like "why didn’t he write about this?" objections, but I think John McWhorter missed the boat by not using the term "shibboleth" in this piece.

Put not your trust in jury verdicts

There is a dissonance between what we invest in a trial and what it resolves. We rely on the criminal-justice process for the airing of important aspects and arguments around many public controversies that deeply divide us. The trial and its attendant litigation become our historical record. But in the end, a criminal proceeding settles only a very narrow point: Did the state present proof beyond a reasonable doubt to support the charges it alleged?

In the Rittenhouse trial — in what I continue to believe is a case that should never have been a criminal prosecution — the state did not meet its burden. That narrow finding is critical, and the jury made it.

Still, the trial has very little to tell us about the unrest on the streets, what caused it. It doesn’t address how the government dealt with, or rather was derelict in, its duty to provide security. It has nothing to say about prudential or moral questions unrelated to the proof vel non of charged crimes — e.g., should Kyle Rittenhouse have been on the violent scene in Kenosha that night, should he have been armed, and what does the fact that we can’t agree on these questions — indeed, can’t even seem to discuss them civilly much of the time — portend for our society? Nothing, because we’ve always been a rambunctious bunch, or disaster, because our disagreements are growing more fundamental?

Verdicts in a criminal case do not begin to address those matters.

But they are essential just the same. We can’t address anything effectively without the rule of law. Today, the rule of law won.

Andrew C. McCarthy, *‌Thoughts on the Rittenhouse Not-Guilty Verdicts *

Two paths of the novel

If the novelist cannot provide a window into reality, then he must ultimately write about himself; and his technique, or politics, or personal problems come to the forefront of his work. Like the postmodernist Pompidou Center in Paris, with all its pipes, wires, and elevators on the outside, the postmodern novel refuses the “hidden” artistry of the realistic tradition in order to flaunt its bag of tricks.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

A charitable surmise

One of the reasons that Pope Francis sometimes seems so frustrated with the state of the Church today may be that, in his experience, too many Christians tend to confuse doctrine and law and rituals and structures with the real experience of faith.

Abp. Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land

If Archbishop Chaput’s surmise is correct, I’ll give the Pope his props for a change — with a caveat: the "real experience of faith" can be absent even in a saint, and even for long "dry" spells. Witness St. Theresa of Calcutta, who suffered depression for decades, rarely if ever feeling God’s presence.

Deep paradox

In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory in The Weight of Glory

Tell me why I’m wrong

Having avoided the divisive topic of politics, I turn to the divisive subject of religion.

When I consider a story like David French’s The Moral Collapse of America’s Largest Christian University, I think that public-facing Evangelicalism is almost entirely religiopreneurs getting ego strokes and money, lots of money, and lots of — oh, never mind. This is a family blog.

Oh, those guys plus followers who will follow their leaders anywhere, including perdition, if the metrics are good (since good metrics are confused with God’s blessing).

I know there are faithful pastors laboring away far from the limelight, but the tone is set by the bozos, isn’t it?

Thinking much about politics

A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

C.S. Lewis, Membership, in The Weight of Glory


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

November 16

Not political

Amish demurrals

My apologies if I’ve quoted this before:

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

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Quantitative metrics – meh!

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

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

Godless Middle Earth?

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

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

Alan Jacobs

Valorizing a loser

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

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

Political

"The Progressives made us do it"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not mutually exclusive

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

The Morning Dispatch, 11/15/21

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

It’s 1968 again

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

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

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

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

Gerrymandering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin D. Williamson

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

Potpourri 10/11/21

Meaning is a necessity

> There are aspects of the human condition that can be explored through art, that must be explored through art, that are not conducive to stories about superheroes, wizards, cyborgs, monsters, or similar. And, in those cases where such themes are explored with genre tropes, they are generally unattractive to (some would say inappropriate for) children. And so adults should look beyond art intended for children, in order to deepen their understanding of life and the world and grapple with what it means to live a mortal life in a universe without meaning. > > … > > In life we have both cookies and kimchi, both lemonade and whiskey. There are, in other words, acquired tastes as well as obvious ones, and the former are some of the best stuff in life. This, again, does not in any way dismiss the pleasures associated with cookies and lemonade. The point is merely that very few people only consume cookies and lemonade, but far too many never access any movies or shows or books that deal in the bleaker, harder, subtler, quieter parts of life. > > Now the common rejoinder is to say “do both!” And indeed – watch both, read both. I can’t complain about that. But the entire point is that people aren’t watching both. Do you know how many people consume literally nothing but superheroes, sci-fi, zombies, video games, and so on? Very, very many. And how could there not be? Any sense that we should feel embarrassed to remain fixated on art for children in existence that once existed – and I have never been convinced that it ever did – has long since been utterly obliterated in our current moment, a time when art populism manages to both be utterly commercially and critically dominant and yet cast as a perpetual underdog. Precisely because they need to be acquired, acquired tastes have a higher barrier to entry than others, and so their embrace by the public will always be more tenuous. But there are treasures there. Think of how much is lost for so many when there is no social pressure at all to try new things, new types of things. > > It is no coincidence that we are all living in the digital world alongside a cadre of angry, embittered, activist nerds who rage out endlessly about all of the perceived slights against them. After all, there culture has told them to never leave their fantasies behind, so how can we be surprised that they react violently to the difference between those fantasies and their reality? …

Freddie DeBoer, ‌the Second Part of Life.

I do not agree with atheist Freddie that the universe is meaningless — or that humans actually can live humanly as if it were. Even atheists desire and quietly ferret out at least tacit and private meaning.

> [F]or human beings, meaning is not just a luxury. It is a necessity.

Historian Wilfred McClay, ‌Has America Lost Its Story?

Cramped narratives

> "A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large." The ideological narratives that are popular now offer just this kind of terribly cramped sense. They account for all the facts within a very small circumference, one typically marked out by the chatter of the extremely online, but they exclude much that is required for healthy, sane judgment: local particulars, affection for neighbors, and good humor, to name a few.

Jeffrey Bilbro, Staying Sane in a Mad Time (Front Porch Republic) quoting G.K. Chesterton.

Meyer Lansky vindicated!

> In the 1940s, organized crime kingpin Meyer Lansky boasted that his casino-based empire was “going to be bigger than U.S. Steel.” His prediction has been wildly surpassed. In 2014, U.S. Steel had revenue of $17.5 billion and employed 42,000 people. Indian casinos alone employed 400,000. In one recent year, gambling took in $72 billion in the United States; movie tickets, $9.5 billion; theme parks, $10.3 billion, cable TV, $51 billion. Gambling is bigger than any other form of recreation and entertainment in the country.

Helen Andrews, ‌Casino Capitalism, Literally

What troubled Michael Goldhaber

> When you have attention, you have power, and some people will try and succeed in getting huge amounts of attention, and they would not use it in equal or positive ways.

So I won’t accused of monomania for thinking that this describes Donald Trump, I acknowledge that it was stated as a general principle in the article that introduced me to the powerful concept of the "attention economy": Charlie Warzel, Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age (The New York Times). It’s one of the most illumining articles I’ve read this year, and one that I plan to review regularly until I stop getting anything new from it.

I still think it fits Trump to a gold-plated "T", but that’s not surprising, is it?

More:

> In June 2006, when Facebook was still months from launching its News Feed, Mr. Goldhaber predicted the grueling personal effects of a life mediated by technologies that feed on our attention and reward those best able to command it. “In an attention economy, one is never not on, at least when one is awake, since one is nearly always paying, getting or seeking attention.”

Fetishists

These days, when a pundit writes about politics, instead of simply stating his opinion, he feels obliged to start off with various polling numbers on what people think about it.

We are innumerate, yet we fetishize "science" that corroborates, however weakly, what we see. And most polls are very weak corroboration indeed.

Powerful fanatics compelling lies

> David Chappelle’s The Closer is, in fact, a humanely brilliant indictment of elite culture at this moment in time: a brutal exposure of its identitarian monomania, its denial of reality, and its ruthless tactics of personal and public destruction. It marks a real moment: a punching up against the powerful, especially those who pretend they aren’t. > > … > > The debate … is about whether a tiny group of fanatics, empowered by every major cultural institution, can compel or emotionally blackmail other people into saying things that are not true.

Andrew Sullivan, David Chappelle is Right, Isn’t He? (hyperlink added).

Yes, Virginia, we’re still at war. Of course we are.

Justice Kavanaugh asks a telling question:

> “Is the United States still engaged in hostilities for purposes of the AUMF against al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations?” The AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) is the 2001 congressional resolution that served as the basis for the war in Afghanistan and for continuing U.S. military operations and detention of enemy combatants. > > Yes, [Biden’s acting solicitor, Brian] Fletcher conceded, “that is the government’s position.” And it is the position the Biden administration holds, he elaborated, “notwithstanding withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.” Whatever the White House may say about the end of the forever war, the Justice Department has represented to the Supreme Court that “we continue to be engaged in hostilities with al-Qaeda and therefore that detention under law of war remains proper.”

Andrew C. McCarthy, ‌Kavanaugh Question Reveals Biden Administration Dishonesty on Ending Forever War

What’s self-evident in education?

> Educators take nothing to be self evident; trainers take everything to be so.

Elizabeth Corey and Jeffrey Polet, Indoctrination Sessions Have No Place in the Academy. By "indoctrination," they mean "[this, that, and the other] training" of most sorts.

After reading and writing this, I found that one person, Chloé Valdary, has a relatively attractive approach to antiracism training.

Good riddance, ideologue

> I think there’s an image that a lot of Republicans have, both in politics and they sort of represent a sober and judicious way of looking at the world, and we are the adults in the room. > > And it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology. > > The original Republican conservative movement, I thought, was going to go back and look at the Constitution, when Jefferson said it won’t work if you pile up everybody in the cities because they will be subject to mass hysteria. Or de Tocqueville, and you look at certain ideas, I thought that’s what we were.

Victor Davis Hanson, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, on ‌Why I Left National Review.

I’m not a big fan of National Review. I even let my subscription lapse, but recently renewed because I was being denied access to any full article (I think online publications consciously do that to recently-lapsed subscribers.) They have a few authors I like well enough to make it worth, what, $0.77 per week?

But when VDH complains that "it’s more about a culture than it is an ideology," I’m with NRO. I’ve had it with ideology. I’ve had it with "No True Conservative would willingly live in a big city" or "you’re ignoring Tocqueville."

As far as I’m concerned, conservatism is epistemically humble and therefore more cultural than ideological.

But the VDH approach is common enough, as are innumerable others, that the name "conservative" has become virtually useless.

Goodness, gracious!

> “Can’t anybody here play this game?” comes to mind when I read about Congress and the debt ceiling hassle and the Republicans’ aversion to talking about climate change even as the reality of it is rather clear and auto manufacturers are planning for electric car production, but Republicans are satisfied with a policy of denial. This is not intelligent but they believe it’s a winning strategy. Goodness gracious. Who are these people? What game are we playing?

Garrison Keillor, ‌A few beams of light on our current situation

Thoughtcrime in America

> You may disagree with parents like me who do not want our children indoctrinated with Critical Race Theory, masked during recess, or told that their biological sex is is not real. But in a free society, we don’t call the feds to police our fellow Americans because we don’t share their politics.

Maud Maron, ‌Why Are Moms Like Me Being Called Domestic Terrorists?

The other side

I detested and still detest Donald Trump. But I’m not positive I’ve counterbalanced against his unhinged narcissism (and all its corrolaries) the Democrats’ 2016 and following dirty tricks. This Holman Jenkins column helps.

National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty, responding to nonsense from formerly-respected Roger Kimball, sounds off, too:

> Nearly everything Kimball says about the ongoing resistance to Trump is true. It was meretricious, hysterical, and dangerous. Even before Trump won the election, I predicted the unprecedented subterfuge that would probably be aimed at him if he won the presidency. We saw the deep state as it really is: an ongoing class warfare against the democratic peoples and their representatives whose disruptions provide accountability. No one has to coordinate 50 former intelligence agents to issue a statement denouncing the New York Post’s Hunter Biden scoop as probable Russian disinformation, justifying suppression of the story just days before the election. The deep-staters know how to do it. > > … > > We can all throw Trump the biggest pity party in history about the subterfuge he faced within the executive branch. He didn’t have the guts to clean house and make the government employees do their jobs. In other words, he didn’t do the job he was elected to do. For a president to take control of the executive branch, he must  hire people he can trust to run one of the largest organizations on earth. Trump couldn’t or wouldn’t. Every account of the Trump White House’s operation tells us that Trump trusted and respected no one who didn’t have the last name Trump or Kushner. What his actions leading up to January 6 show us is that he didn’t respect his followers, either.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, ‌January 6 Was No Hoax, Trump Abused Supporters’ Trust

Like Dougherty, I refuse to valorize either toxic narcissist Donald Trump or the "meretricious, hysterical, and dangerous" resistance. (I confess that I was slow to recognize the latter, so dangerous did I consider the former.)

Reality Check

> (Here’s a fun tip for you all: if you have the power to get someone fired or otherwise ruin their life you are not a powerless, marginalized Other.)

Freddie DeBoer

Freddie’s ability to see through cant is why I pay to read his Substack posts. A couple of others I apparently prepaid (for a year) have become annoying noise (I’ve told my computer to put them more or less out of sight.)

Another Substack

> If you come here to take in my slant on the world, wherever that leads, you’re in the right place. If you come here to watch me own the libs, you’ll probably be disappointed. I’ll rent them on occasion, as the spirit moves. Yet I’m a firm believer that if you only find the other guy’s side to be full of con artists, chiselers, and demagogues, you’re not paying close enough attention to your own.

Matt Labash, introducing his new Substack, Slack Tide.

I’m not familiar with Labash, but I’m told he’s really good.


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.

Antipopes, Jackasses, Jennyasses, and more

Best Historical Analogy for Loser Trump?

[Antipope Benedict XIII] retain[ed] sufficient political capital to pressure heads of states to pick sides, bestowing benedictions and other benefits and if nothing else gumming up earnest efforts to allay divides. Weary, irritated leaders, both religious and royal, “said, ‘You’re out, you’re out, you’re out,’” … “and he said, ‘No, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in.’”

“Donald Trump’s not an ex-president—he’s a right-wing, nativist, revolutionary leader,” presidential historian Doug Brinkley told me recently. “He has a movement that is massive with global implications—that kind of revolutionary—and he took on the entire federal government of the United States. That kind of character doesn’t register as a typical ex-president.”

Across the Atlantic, some 600 years back, everybody said they wanted unity.

But unity was hard. “Comparing a pre-democratic system with a democratic system, there is kind of something odd,” Rollo-Koster said, offering a necessary caveat. “But behaviors remain constant throughout history regardless of the political system.” And unity was hard at that moment because of the whims and wants of leaders, because of ever-shifting protections and allegiances, and because people who had power didn’t want to give it up. “The schism,” wrote Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror, “was a trap not easy to get out of.” It “lasted as long as it did,” as Rollo-Koster put it in her book, “because it benefited the private interests of many parties.”

Michael Kruse, The Antipope of Mar-a-Lago – POLITICO

GOP Hijinks

The Oregon GOP’s official position is that the assault on the Capitol was a false flag operation, mounted to “discredit” President Trump.

The infinitely flexible Nikki Haley asks not whether former President Trump attempted to steal the election, but how low the base would like her to sink. Appearing on the Laura Ingraham show, she offered up the expected persecution narrative: “They beat him up before he got into office. They are beating him up after he leaves office. I mean, at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”

See how this works? It was Trump who was beaten, not Officer Sicknick.

Mona Charen, Republicans Make Me Proud I Voted for Biden – The Bulwark

You can’t make this stuff up, and there’s so much of it (read Charen’s full column) that it’s hard to pick an emblematic examples.

Charen continues:

Republicans are like toddlers encouraged to put on big boy underpants. They understand that it’s exciting to be a big boy. They want to. But they also know that if they put on big boy underpants, they will have responsibilities. They will have to act like big boys. So they retreat to the comfort of their diapers.


MTG

I “find it interesting” that Marjorie Taylor Greene finds interesting (i.e., makes up) a bunch of “speculation” that would warm the cockles of Nazi hearts.

What a coincidence! What are the odds that that a sane person would entertain such odd views?

H/T Jonathan Chait, GOP Congresswoman Blamed Wildfires on Secret Jewish Space Laser


[N]umerous liberal democracies have seen right-wing “populist” movements and parties emerge. So far, those that have risen to power have done so through liberal institutions — and despite moves to rig the systems in their own favor (most boldly in Hungary and Poland), nowhere has liberal government been fully overturned in favor of outright authoritarian rule or worse.

But the United States presents a distinctive, and potentially ominous, case.

Over the past three months, the Republican Party has proven itself to be a right-wing antiliberal party. Yes, this has been the culmination of a long process. Yes, it has antecedents in the American past. Yes, there are still some decent people in the party trying to oppose the trend from within. But despite all of these caveats, what we’ve recently witnessed in the GOP is something new — and newly alarming.

… [T]he Republican Party is now dominated by ideas and individuals who consider it acceptable to reject the legitimacy of democratic elections when they deliver a loss, and to encourage, affirm, and spread outright lies in order to gain and hold political power. That makes the Republican Party a great danger to liberal democratic government in the United States.

Damon Linker, Liberal democracy’s Achilles Heel


Over the years when national events have turned especially murky, I’ve asked [Senator Rob Portman’s] read on things, and what’s always struck me is his stubborn sense of reality: He doesn’t let his wishes get in the way of what he sees. In the geography of the Republican Party he’d be placed with figures like Mitch Daniels —the We Actually Know Things Caucus.

It really is something that we’re living in a time when ambitious people leave the U.S. Senate to get things done.

I asked about the comment of his former campaign manager Corry Bliss, published Tuesday in National Journal, on Portman’s decision not to run: “If you want to spend all your time on Fox and be an a—h—, there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend your time being thoughtful and getting s— done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.” Mr. Portman roared with laughter. “Did he say that?” He roared again. “Yeah, I won’t comment.”

Peggy Noonan, Rob Portman’s Exit Interview

Mitch McConnell’s Hijinks

Just as [Mitch McConnell] played Donald Trump for three Supreme Court justices and a tax cut, here he is convincing Democrats to let him have veto power over what happens in the upper chamber for years to come.

[T]he horrifying truth about American partisanship, the reason that the National Football League is vastly more entertaining than what goes on in Washington, D.C[. is that] almost no one there actually cares about winning. Holding on to office, getting the paychecks and the perks, receiving all the attention and adulation their parents and classmates apparently failed to shower upon them in their youth — these are what motivates most of our elected officials.

Which is why at the end of the day I am not hesitant to call McConnell the most effective Senate leader of the last half century, for the not very complicated reason that he not only cares about winning but does win more consistently than anyone else, regardless of the position in which he finds himself.

Mitch McConnell is the GOAT

GameStop Hijinks

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

John Maynard Keynes via Axios, Gamestop trading pits Wall Street’s powerful against the powerless

Insurrection after-effects

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III said this week that another police officer who was on duty during the January 6 Capitol attack, Jeffery Smith, died by suicide on January 15. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also died by suicide on January 9, three days after the riot, and Officer Brian Sicknick died after sustaining injuries during the insurrection. “Between USCP and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department, we have almost 140 officers injured,” Gus Papathanasiou, the chair of the Capitol Police Labor Committee said in a statement. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.”

The Morning Dispatch


If all we do as a nation is lock up some individual pelt-wearing yahoos and cringe in fear from holding a public man to account for a catastrophic abuse of leadership in public office — if we have one law against the common man, another for the elite — we will have failed to deliver that message. If you take this from an American national perspective rather than a narrowly partisan one, that ought to be obvious.

… What we witnessed on January 6 … requires a more vigorous, less timorous, response.

And one man above all others was responsible for inspiring it and setting it in motion.

It is hard to think of any abuse of high office, short of treason itself, that would have alarmed the Founding Fathers more than inspiring a mob to target the democratic transfer of power.

Did Trump do that? Unquestionably. I walked in detail through his speech that day, and asked:

> If you heard and believed every word of this speech, coming from the president of the United States . . . what would you do? Would you believe that the time had come to take up arms to save your country and democracy? A lot of Americans, people of good will, very well might.

Neither Davidson nor Domenech answers that question. Neither deals with the speech or its claims at length, falling back on generality and euphemism. Davidson says that my view “boils down to arguing that because people feel strongly about elections, Trump should have toned down his criticism of election fraud because some radicals in his party might get crazy ideas about storming the Capitol.” But in fact, as the president, he should not have said those things while setting a crowd in motion toward the Capitol with the aim of getting them to pressure Congress and the vice president in the midst of the counting process. You cannot extract Trump’s speech from the time, the place, and the context in which he chose to make it. Nor can you present it as some sort of generalized critique of election integrity, when it bluntly asserted that the stealing of an election was ongoing just down the block, and that Trump expected the crowd to participate in stopping it.

Trump Impeachment & Mob Rule — A Reply to the Federalist | National Review

This was a masterful reply to two of the heavier hitters at The Federalist (the now-Trumpist website I stopped reading, oh, around election day 2016, not the esteemed professional Society) who were engaging in sophistries against convicting Trump in the impeachment trial.

Media lowjinks

“Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet. … Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News, in the Los Angeles Times via The Morning Dispatch (emphasis added)


The Deep Lie … does not merely mislead — it is a lie so deeply embedded in the media and political ecosystem that it distorts reality and shapes our political world. It is immune to evidence, to logic, or new information, and it is endlessly recycled until its shatters our sense of sanity.

It works this way. The lie (any lie) begins in the fever swamp—>social media —> Fox News/talkradio —> goes viral —> achieves critical mass —> politicians begin to “ask questions” because “people are saying” —> dominates political debate….and the loop continues until the lie shatters our polity.

Tucker Carlson and The Deep Lie – Morning Shots

Scott Alexander is back (and gives the skinny on the gender binary)!

Scott Alexander, late of SlateStarCodex, is back with AstralCodexTen on Substack. He stretches one’s brain.

They also have a category called “gender”. They say they included measures like “femininity” and “sex-stereotyped activities” in there – I can’t find more specifics. It has a CCFI of 0.42 with confidence interval including 0.5, so looks slightly more dimensional, but can’t quite rule out it being slightly more categorical. If anyone ever demands you have an opinion on the question “is binary gender real?”, I think the most scientifically-supported answer would be “it has a Comparative Curve Fit Index of 0.42 plus or minus 0.1, which means it trends towards dimensionality but taxonicity cannot be ruled out”.

Ontology Of Psychiatric Conditions: Taxometrics

Education Hijinks

Of all the stupid arguments the politically correct trot out to justify savaging reading lists, the idea that kids should see themselves in literature is the dumbest — but just about perfect for our narcissistic culture.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever.” Similarly, not to know, through books, worlds and peoples other than your own is to remain a child forever. It is to remain narrow, self-centered, and frightened of anything that is unfamiliar. I’m not the sort of person who is particularly interested in the life of a Norwegian farm woman of the Middle Ages, but Kristin Lavransdatter absolutely captivated me, because it transported me into a radically different world, but introduced me to people whose dreams and struggles seemed very human, and very relatable. What a poverty to hand a teenager some YA crap novel about alienated suburban teens cutting themselves and dreaming of changing their sex, when they could be reading Kristin Lavransdatter. What kind of culture does this to its kids?

Rod Dreher, A Door, Not A Mirror – Daily Dreher

Benediction

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Guard your imagination!

She was still in her innocence. No evil intention had been formed in her mind. But if her will was uncorrupted, half her imagination was already filled with bright, poisonous shapes.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 10.

In any sustained battle between the imagination and the will, the imagination eventually wins.

That, too, in almost a direct quote, is Lewis (retrieved from my memory).

Weston’s (actually, the UnMan’s) grinding away at The Lady, which I remembered as tedious from my long-ago reading, brilliantly illustrates both the power of “narrative” and the ingenuity with which the evil one seduces us. Sophistry having failed, the UnMan turned to stories of heroic feminine boldness – dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories.

Ransom saw that they were having their effect, and acted accordingly.

We must, must, must guard our imaginations!

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I’d prefer no orchestration, but the striking Georgian harmony comes through (and I’m pretty sure the Church exterior is Samtavra, not the Tblisi Cathedral).

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.

Cliché

If I weren’t so compulsive, I’d probably say of my reading this late-morning, “That’s enough! Time to stop and chew on this for a couple of hours.”

Educated cynics suspect that all uses of … stock phrases are empty of thought; like a college professor whom I admired, they feel a burden to respond to every “How are you?” with a seven-seconds’ pause and measured reply. But imagine the strain, the impossibility, of trying to invent a unique response to every “How are you?”, a unique phrase for each circumstance needing “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “You have my sympathy”, a unique creed for every Christian. In this latter case particularly, pursuing freshness of expression would be _wrong. _A creed is not meant to express individual or innovative understanding and belief, but to give voice to communal, traditional understanding and belief. It is not expression but identification, not communication but communion.

That pedantic college professor is me, which is why I should chew on the rest of this very thoughtful and humane author’s insights.

And so the educated person must reassess, or risk the irony of his scorn of clichés becoming yet one more: the cliché of overeducated cynicism. Without denying Orwell’s point, could there still be an acceptable place for the cliché? Not in things meant to present and provoke fresh thought, but in circumstances that call for identification and communion? In circumstances when the rhythm of exchange, and not the reasoning of language, bears more weight?

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Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.

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.

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

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The Lord is King, be the peoples never so impatient; He that sitteth upon the Cherubim, be the earth never so unquiet.

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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.

Mother Nature winds up

I have a sinking feeling that Mother Nature is gearing up to show us, yet again, that it’s not nice to try to fool her or to abuse her. The toll could be billions.

I’m not just talking about climate change. I’m talking about the moving human pieces, and the pushing-back human pieces, too.

Like this: the global south gets hot first; its residents mass-migrate north; authoritarian personalities in the north are mightily alarmed. Mayhem ensues.

Did I just accidentally paraphrase Camp of the Saints? It’s not a rhetorical question. I think mass-migration is a key element of that profoundly racist (I’m relying on Rod Dreher for that characterization) book.

Instead of just wondering, I looked it up: Dreher says the feckless official response to mass-migration was a key plot element in Camp of the Saints, too, and I’m not sure that climate change was the migration’s impetus. But those are indifferent details, aren’t they?

We’ve got feckless governments galore, and our choices seem to be between authoritarian and feckless. And if we got the happy medium of resolute government blocking excessive immigration, the agent of death would be heat and famine — the poor dying for our sins again, but not so directly as by armed anti-immigrants. (I’m not hyperlinking to Camp of the Saints, by the way, because I only looked at it once on Amazon and now Amazon bombards me with unwanted offers of various right-wing books.)

We could use a deus ex machina about now, couldn’t we? Or ex anywhere.

I’d say I’m waiting to finish Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism for my final judgment, but I never reach certainty on such complex things.

Final Judgment isn’t mine, anyway. It’s, uh, “Mother Nature’s.”

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

The assault on truth

The estate of George Orwell owes a debt of gratitude to our Very Stable Genius.

When dealing with a political figure who faces allegations of sexual assault, financial misdeeds and obstruction of justice, it is difficult to sort out the greatest damage to our public life. But a strong case can be made that it is the assault on truth.

Not long ago, I sat on a plane next to a knowledgeable and articulate Trump supporter. The talk turned to the Mueller report, and I mentioned that Robert Mueller was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery in Vietnam. “How do you know that?” snapped my conversation partner. I sputtered something about reading it in multiple, reliable sources. She remained unconvinced.

How is any political conversation or policy discussion possible when citizens inhabit separate universes of truth and meaning? This is Trump’s most dangerous innovation: epistemology as cult of personality.

Michael Gerson, beginning and concluding a must-read column.

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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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Should a fascist poet be no-platformed?

Courtesy of Alan Jacobs, I found a wonderful essay by Edward Mendelson on a principled dispute between Bennett Cerf and W.H. Auden over Random House banishing Ezra Pound from a revised anthology, in the original of which several Pound poems appeared — that is, in modern parlance, defiantly “no-platforming” Pound.

The essay is multivalent with issues of today, starting with how grateful I am that we have no friends censorious enough to drop us over the name of our late, lamented cat Heidegger, whose namesake (in case you didn’t know) was a consequential philosopher before he was an inconsequential Nazi.

There’s no doubt that today’s progressive callout culture would side with Bennett Cerf’s initial position. My doubt comes in the area of whether they could be persuaded to reconsider, as Cerf did, or whether instead any attempted persuasion would risk getting the would-be persuader banished, too.

But the end of the essay evoked for me my own sentimental forgiveness of Auden’s unrepentant homosexuality (he tried and tried and tried chastity until he stopped trying — or so is my understanding; and yes, that reveals that there’s a callout culture temptation within me, too) based on my sense that his poetry reflected a powerfully Christian imagination despite his sexual irregularities. I think Auden himself would have rejected, and perhaps did reject, such sentiment:

Auden gave much thought to the question of writers “whose works / Are in better taste than their lives,” as he wrote with ironic understatement in his poem “At the Grave of Henry James.” When he wrote to Cerf that he got “very exasperated with the people who argue that Pound should be acquitted or let down gently because he is a poet, which is obviously nonsense,” he was refusing a subtler temptation that he, perhaps like every successful artist, knew from experience. “You hope, yes, / your books will excuse you, / save you from hell,” he wrote in a poem addressed to himself, part of his “Postscript” to a poem about poetry-writing, “The Cave of Making.”

In the same poem, he refused any fantasy that his work justified his faults—the same nonsense that he refused when others used it to justify Ezra Pound. Instead, he sensed, his faults had damaged his work: had he been a better person, he might have written better poems. In print and in private, he seems never to have condemned other writers’ work on the basis of their personal faults. He knew too little about them to judge. But his own self-knowledge led him to imagine a moment when his self and his work would both be subject to judgment:

God may reduce you
on Judgment Day
to tears of shame,
reciting by heart
the poems you would
have written, had
your life been good.

As for my own temptation to judge poetry according to the poet, Auden’s comment to Cerf hints at a cure: “The whole case only confirms my long-held belief that it would be far better if all books were published anonymously.”

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You can read other stuff at Micro.blog (mirrored at microblog.intellectualoid.com) and, as of February 20, 2019, at blot.im, at both of which I blog shorter items. Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly.