Potpourri 9/3/20

Kyrie
Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake—Lord have mercy. 

Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief—Lord have mercy. 

Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves—Lord have mercy. 

And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we are half-way down—Lord have mercy. 

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

Thomas has not been on my radar as a poet. This one blew me away (there’s a great deal more to it), as did Tell Us.

* * *

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

* * *


“The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility,” Jackson writes. “Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in. There is no such thing as a ‘homecoming’ major.

Wes Jackson via Wendell Berry via Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry.

* * *


In Pittsburgh on Monday, the Democratic presidential nominee responded forcefully to President Trump’s charge that “no one will be safe in Biden’s America.” … “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” Mr. Biden asked. “He can’t stop the violence—because for years he has fomented it.”

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

* * *


… Christopher Lasch is someone you cite a lot in this book, and in his work there’s a real sensitivity to the importance of these cultural issues. For educated people, the conflicts over busing or religion or sexuality or whatever reinforce the sense that working people are not really worthy of our concern because they’re authoritarian, behind the times. And then for the working class, it really drives home this perception that they are held in contempt. And Lasch seemed to believe that this tension was baked in because the values of the managerial elite were precisely the values of liberal-capitalist meritocracy: individual autonomy, self-development, personal liberation, etc., the flip side of which is a suspicion of working-class values like solidarity and thick ties like family and religion and neighborhood. The working-class view is more conservative, in a sense, but it’s also a product of a real class difference in how people see their place in the world.

Well, yes, I totally agree with that. I thought you said you were pushing back.

What I’m trying to get at is: There’s a sense in which this is a very real dividing line between more affluent, college-educated Democrats and members of the white working class and even sections of the non-white working class, where the former are often socially liberal and economically conservative/centrist and the latter are often economically liberal but more conservative on issues like abortion, immigration, crime, etc. How do you think Democrats or the left more broadly should try to navigate this divide? Do you think that open conflict over these issues can be avoided if you just focus on economics? Or does something eventually have to give — working-class whites moving left on culture or educated liberals deciding that they need to accept people with more conservative social views — say, a pro-life, gun-owning Catholic — as a part of the coalition?

This is a problem, of course, but I also think it is possible for people to come together on a common cause without agreeing on everything. The problem is getting the Democrats to acknowledge that common cause. Up until now, the Democrats have spent all their resources reaching out to those affluent white-collar people in rich suburbs. Those are the only “swing voters” they’re interested in. This bunch gets everything. It’s all crafted to please this group — economic policies, culture-war stances, everything. I happen to think a really robust program for reclaiming middle-class America from the forces that have wrecked so many people’s cities and lives and health would be immensely popular. It would be so popular that lots of people would be willing to overlook, say, one’s views on gun control in order to get behind it.

What’s the Matter With Populism? Nothing. (metered paywall – New York Magazine)

* * *


Baron Trump looks like the world’s most miserable child.

* * *


[A]nother narrow Trump victory, especially one in which the popular vote goes for Biden, is going to kick off civil unrest that will make this summer look tame. Trump’s opponents will ping-pong even harder between the two fever dreams of the first term. The first, that Trump is a foreign pawn and opposed to everything that makes American great. This charge comes with a complimentary retweet of James Comey standing near the Liberty Bell. The second, that Trump is the final, rotten fruit of a rotten American tree that must be uprooted altogether. This one comes with a retweet of 1619 Project impresario Nikole Hannah Jones explaining that arson isn’t violence.

My assumption, however, is that Trump’s second term may prove to be more difficult than the first for him. While some progressives are trying to moralize themselves for the November election by predicting a second term flowing with dictatorial power aimed at undermining democracy forever, I predict more slapstick incompetence.

Instead of hiring the best people, Trump has relied on whoever is nearby. This cast of characters has included people with their own firm agendas (such as John Bolton) or people who just seemed to have the Trump vibe (such as Anthony Scaramucci). Many of these people have had short careers in Trumpville — and leave it quickly to write scathing memoirs of their time within. About a dozen former White House officials or other flunkies have left Team Trump to write hair-raising tell-alls.

Trump already had problems with hiring enough people to fully staff the Executive Branch. His inability to do so is part of what allows the “deep state” to undermine, dodge, or contravene his authority as president. His reputation for administrative neglect, sudden reversals, and micromanaging has dissuaded qualified people from joining the administration. It leaves the presidency weakened.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, Donald Trump Second Term: What to Expect | National Review

* * *


Reporters standing in front of scenes of arson, flames billowing behind them, not very far from scenes of shooting and murder, insist that the protests are “mostly peaceful.” National Public Radio and a multi-billion-dollar global media conglomerate team up to bring you an illiterate “defense of looting.” The president comes to the defense of a dangerously stupid teenager who went looking for trouble illegally armed with a rifle in his hands and, to no one’s great surprise, found the trouble he was looking for.

But if there is a case to be made for looting, how about we start with NPR and its affiliates? The NPR Foundation reported holding $342 million in assets in 2018, and NPR’s management and on-air talent are splendidly compensated, many of them in excess of a half-million dollars a year. You can commission a shipload of lectures on income inequality and the salubrious effects of looting for that kind of “just property.” NPR’s headquarters on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C., is “just property,” too — property NPR isn’t even much using at the moment, because of the epidemic. Would NPR object to someone burning it down to make a political point? Would looting NPR’s property be defensible? Yes? No? Why or why not?

… The same people burning down grocery stores today will be complaining about “food deserts” in 18 months.

… the petulant children in Portland want only to play-act at being Jacobins, and the petulant child in the White House requires a full-time culture war lest he be forced to run for reelection on his record of spotless administrative excellence and confidence-inspiring leadership. If ever two clutches of fools deserved one another, these are they.

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

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Peter Viereck: American Conservatism’s Road Not Traveled | Front Porch Republic was very good.

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

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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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.

My preferential option

There was a time in my childhood when I just assumed that there was a nameless “they” who somehow would “not let you print” dirty words. I don’t recall what words I thought were dirty enough to fall under the ban, but judging from the podcast on the fight to publish Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, which battle was fought during that phase of my childhood (1957), I wasn’t far off the mark.

The prosecutor had a slam-dunk case, since Howl not only included the f-word, but associated it with a human anatomical feature more commonly associated with scat than with eros, and to complete the trifecta celebrated repeated explorations that and another orifice with a series of men. Oh: the poet was a man, too, in case you didn’t know.

Remarkably, despite a disconcerting Judge assignment for the bench trial, the criminal defendants were able to capitalize on a recent Supreme Court precedent to get a ringing acquittal. That summary leaves out a ton of fun, colorful and diverting details.

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Things have changed somewhat in the last 62 years. There has not been even one prosecution of a poem, successful or unsuccessful, during that interval. There’s almost nothing, poetic or not, that “they” don’t let you print, in a prior-restraint sense, and there’s not even that much they can punish you for publishing after you’ve done the dastardly deed.

But that’s not the end of the story. We now have NGOs to serve as censors. The 800 pound gorilla, Amazon.com, may refuse to sell it after you’ve printed it.

The “it” here is not “dirty words,” but the entire written œuvre of one Joseph Nicolosi, one of whose theories aggrieved our  most potent interest group — the group given to alternate uses of bodily orifices. I know he aggrieved them, and I assume that their ire had something to do with Amazon’s decision to make Nicolosi an un-person.

Poof! Gone! (Well, maybe they sell your book if you vilify him, but none of his books.)

For all I know they’ve banned other heretics, damn them.

And that’s why I now have a preferential option for Barnes & Noble, which I visited this afternoon to acquire my “deluxe hardcover commemorative facsimile edition of” Howl, including the City Lights branding (along with a larger volume of poetry and an earlier-in-the-day ebook).

You, too, can make Barnes & Noble your preferential option. There’s even a free Nook app for your smartphone or pad, and a list of ebooks that’s nothing to snort at. There’s nothing wrong with other online options or with making your local indie bookstore your preferential option for tangible books, either.

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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).

Why teach poetry?

Most Westerners today are freer, safer, and more prosperous than at any previous point in history. What we aren’t is more thoughtful.

This is the age of superficiality.

Consider Time Magazine and the online archive of its covers. In 1967, Robert Lowell was the last poet to appear on the cover of Time. He had been preceded by Robinson Jeffers, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, and Evgeny Evtushenko. Here are some people who have appeared on the cover since they last featured a poet: Leonardo DiCaprio (twice), Kanye West (twice), BB8, Darth Vader (four times, if you count young Anakin), Yoda, Spiderman, Adele, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, Bono (thrice), Tom Cruise (twice: with and without Nicole Kidman), Julia Roberts, Pikachu, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carey, David Letterman, Jodie Foster, Bart Simpson, Kevin Costner, Superman, Mickey Mouse, Bette Midler, Molly Ringwald, the Alien from Alien and Aliens, Madonna, Crockett and Tubbs, Shirley MacLaine, Cheryl Tiegs (twice), Sylvester Stallone, Brooke Shields, Burt Reynolds, John Travolta, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, King Kong, Charlie’s Angels, Cher, Elton John, Jaws, and Raquel Welch …

Everyone knows that the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. What might be more surprising is that the great Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman appeared on the same episode. Rock musicians continue to appear on late-night television, of course, but how many violinists do you see on screen with Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, or Carson Daily these days? Our public fare is pure sugar. We are a nation with a mental junk-food problem.

Our morning network news programs give us about fifteen minutes of actual news followed by an hour or more of celebrity gossip and fluff. The most popular cable television shows offer little more than the pornography of violence and the violence of pornography. The once-lordly major networks have been given over almost entirely to the vapid wasteland of The Bachelor and Big Brother, vast stretches of nothingness that the average American can sit in front of for hours with no fear that our own empty lives will be made to seem cheap in light of some greater thoughtfulness or beauty …

[T]he pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful is, at best, tolerated. As the Marxist theorist Theodor Adorno puts it in “The Schema of Mass Culture,”

from our earliest youth all of this [everything that is beautiful and good] is only admitted on the condition that it is not after all to be taken seriously. With every gesture the pupil is given to understand that what is most important is understanding the demands of ‘real life’ and fitting oneself properly for the competitive realm, and that the ideals themselves were either to be taken as confirmation of this life or were to be immediately placed in its service.

It’s fine to offer music classes or read a poem, as long as you can demonstrate how these things make students better at the “real” subjects we call STEM. But let’s be sure to wink and sneer about their little choral groups or poetry clubs.

Benjamin Myers

I can’t think of any of my hot buttons that Myers didn’t hit (in an essay much longer than my excerpt), though I’m mildly skeptical about “uniquely” in this key paragraph:

The teaching of poetry matters greatly in the age of superficiality, because poetry uniquely and especially calls us back to tradition and to traditional use of symbol. It calls us out of the shallows into the deeper water of human experience. It draws us toward transcendence.

I suspect that great classical choral music does much of that and adds something that poetry lacks: literal music.

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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.

Clips and comments, 1/22/19

1

From time immemorial, people have buried the dead. Sometimes, they even risked their lives to carry out this most basic duty. In times of persecution, for example, Christians put themselves in great danger to recover the bodies of martyrs so that they might receive the holy rites of Christian burial.

The Old Testament recounts the story of the elder Tobias, who, while exiled to Nineveh, observed the Hebrew Law by burying the dead against the wishes of King Sennacherib.

The body is sacred and must be treated with all due dignity and respect. It has always been that way. No one needed to explain why the dead must be buried—until our time.

Thus primed for a Catholic author, John Horvat II, to call on his church to repent of allowing cremation, I instead got standard-issue tongue-clucking about the Washington legislature, which is prepared to allow insult to reposed humans by a different pagan-tinged means than the cremation the Catholic Church now allows:

[I]t is hard not to be shocked by a bill now before the Washington State Legislature with a good chance of passage. Lawmakers are working toward allowing a new process called “recomposition,” by which human beings would be turned into compost.

Human composting is not just a practical alternative to burial. It is an eco-religious act. Its advocates openly promote it as an expression of social justice and ecological fervor. It fits into a pantheistic worldview where everything is reduced to matter in constant transformation.

The process of human composting consists of putting shrouded unembalmed human remains in a revolving cylinder with wood chips, alfalfa and other organic matter to hasten decomposition. After a month, the body is reduced to a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil that can be used for planting trees to benefit the Earth.

The comments to this article features some (presumably Catholic) readers arguing over the relative environmental benefits of cremation versus composting (the author at least focused on the right thing), which tells me that the Catholic Church has already been utterly routed in the battle for human dignity after death.

2

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

From (the late) Mary Oliver, When Death Comes (H/T Christopher Benson)

3

I began reading John Senior’s The Death of Christian Culture anticipating delight and insight.

Those haven’t been absent, but neither has bitter disappointment:

The only way to bring Christianity to the Bantu or the British, however, is to bring them clothes, chairs, bread, wine, and Latin. Belloc was exactly right in his famous epigram: “Europe is the faith; the faith is Europe“ … The church has grown in a particular way and has always brought its habits with it, so that wherever it has gone it has been a European thing—stretched, adapted, but essentially a European thing.

(Page 19) I do not believe this, and don’t even think that an observant Roman Catholic should believe it. If Senior is not taking Belloc out of context, I’m disappointed in both.

This was first published in 1978, not 150 years ago, when it might have been forgivable for “a man of his times.” They read like the words of a man who mistook mere cantakerous atavism for fidelity.

His great-grandchildren will see Christian African missionaries in Europe (if it’s not too Islamicized in Europe to allow it), and they won’t be bringing tea, crumpets or chairs.

4

Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Coming Test Acts Will Challenge Religious Freedom, predicts that government is turning against orthodox faiths and will “threaten[] employment and restrict[] the political action of those dissenters who c[an] not endorse the established opinions of the state. And the pressure they bring to bear will be a major test of faith for Christians themselves.”

I may be wrong in thinking this fairly remote, but I am right to observe that concentrated corporate power is doing the same thing on its own, without laws to compel them or to impede them.

I’ve said for years that I oppose big corporate power as well as big government power, but at the moment I fear it far more.

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Rediscovering imaginary Mary

It’s Advent, drawing nigh to Christmas, so religion writers turn in desperation for new angles, giving this fan of the old angles an occasional case of the heebie-jeebies.

For instance, there’s something weird and a little creepy about Evangelicals trying to turn the Theotokos into some kind of Che Guevara figure when they stumble onto the continuation of the Magnificat after the first lines they’ve known. Here and here are examples. I first encountered both within the last 24 hours.

Fifty years ago, that sort of thing was scorned by Evangelicals as Liberation Theology, so I guess Evangelicals are on roughly their usual time-lag for adopting fads, turning Mary into a revolutionaryvehicle for Jesus,” on a long Uber drive from Heaven to Bethlehem, with some zesty direct action planned (politics is what it’s all about, right?) after she drops off her fare.

Bah! Humbug! Have these people no capacity for mystery?

GABRIEL

When Eve, in love with her own will,
Denied the will of Love and fell,
She turned the flesh Love knew so well
To knowledge of her love until
Both love and knowledge were of sin.
What her negation wounded, may
Your affirmation heal today;
Love’s will requires your own, that in
The flesh whose love you do not know,
Loves knowledge into flesh may grow.

MARY

My flesh in terror and fire
Rejoices that the Word
Who unites the world out of nothing,
As a pledge of His word to love her
Against her will, and to turn
Her desperate longing to love,
Should ask to wear me,
From now until their wedding day,
For an engagement ring.

GABRIEL

Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
To-day the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.

W.H. Auden, For the Time Being.

Now that is truly radical.

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While we’re on a Christmas theme, let me praise this little benediction snippet, attributed to the Church of Ireland and set to glorious, sappy music by Philip W.J. Stopford:

May Christ, who by His incarnation gathered into one all things earthly, all things heavenly, … fill you with joy and peace.

We Tenors get to sing that, and it usually kind of chokes me up.

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri, 12/14/18

1

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon in a podcast recounted a professor at an Anglican divinity school complaining that much commentary on Pauline epistles focus disproportionately on the first halves, what God has done for us, to the neglect of the second halves, what we should now do.

2

Christian struggle against evil in this world is not, in its first instance, political or social, but ascetical.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, commenting on Psalm 57 (Septuagint numbering)

3

Women’s magazines and news outlets depict women who vote Republican as deviants. Vogue headlined a postelection commentary “Why Do White Women Keep Voting for the GOP and Against Their Own Interests?” The Guardian asked: “Half of White Women Continue to Vote Republican. What’s Wrong with Them?” The latter article asserted that “white women vote for Republicans for the same reason that white men do: because they are racist.” Barbra Streisand claimed “a lot of women vote the way their husbands vote; they don’t believe enough in their own thoughts.” Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Madeleine Albright have all expressed similar sentiments in public.

Far-left activists next month march on Washington again under the banner “the Women’s March.” The media will present them as simply “women”—as if women with other views don’t exist.

Carrie Lukas

4

Peggy Noonan reports (among other things) some polling data that prove the worthlessness of some polls (such as “Four in 10 expect Mueller will find evidence of crimes, while just over half of those polled do not think they will be impeachable offenses.”), then settles in to her real point:

Politics is part theater, part showbiz, it’s always been emotional, but we’ve gotten too emotional, both parties. It’s too much about feelings and how moved you are. The balance is off. We have been electing magic ponies in our presidential contests, and we have done this while slighting qualities like experience, hard and concrete political accomplishment, even personal maturity. Barack Obama, whatever else he was, was a magic pony. Donald Trump too. Beto O’Rourke, who is so electrifying Democrats, also appears to be a magic pony.

Messrs. Obama and Trump represented a mood. They didn’t ask for or elicit rigorous judgment, they excited voters. Mr. Trump’s election was driven by a feeling of indignation and pushback: You elites treat me like a nobody in my own country, I’m about to show you who’s boss. His supporters didn’t consider it disqualifying that he’d never held office. They saw it as proof he wasn’t in the club and could turn things around. His ignorance was taken as authenticity. In this he was like Sarah Palin, another magic pony.

But sober judgment, serious accomplishment, deep knowledge and personal maturity are most important in our political leaders, because of the complexity of the problems we face. History will be confounded that at such a crucial time, trying to come up with a plan to address such issues as artificial intelligence and robotics and the future of work and a rising China and the stresses of the nuclear world, we kept choosing magic ponies and hoping for the best.

5

“There are some people in our party here who are just plain anti-Muslim,” said Tarrant County [TX] GOP chairman Darl Easton, who appointed Dr. Shafi to his post. “There are more than I expected there to be.”

Muslim GOP Leader Targeted by Party Activists in Texas.

That leader is a Pakistani immigrant surgeon, who came here before 1990. The kerfuffle reminds me of 1960, when JFK had to promise some Texans (history rhymes) that he was, in effect, American first, Roman Catholic second.

Even if Roman Catholicism or Islam entail some political positions at odds with American political and constitutional traditions, which I do not concede, it is part of America’s dubious genius so to “assimiliate” people that such entailments drop away.

Dare I suggest that Texas should worry more about its home-grown Independent Fundamental Baptists than about 53-year-old Muslim immigrant surgeons? Those IFBs seem to think that 14-year-old girls are temptresses agains whose wiles its male pastors are powerless. Sounds un-American to me.

But in the category of “probably not fake news,” the Wall Street Journal reports that pro-Kremlin activists want to bring back monarchy, perhaps with Vladimir Putin as Czar. I say it’s probably not fake because, heck, I know some American Orthodox converts who gratuitously hanker for a Czar/Tsar in Russia again.

Maybe Orthodox Christians shouldn’t be trusted to hold office in America? (It might be a blessing.)

6

A confused mother writes to The New York Times‘s advice column:

I’m the mother of an amazing teenage daughter. Our relationship is close, but recently things have gotten complicated. She came out to us as pansexual when she was 11. I was concerned about her labeling herself at such a young age and being bullied.

Came out as pansexual at age 11. Hoo boy. I’d bet cash money that this mother is not remotely worried about bullying; she was rightly worried that her daughter was weirdly and inappropriately sexualizing herself at a young age. But she can’t say that in her culture, because we are crazy people.

Rod Dreher. I’d take that bet for a modest amount, Rod, because we may be a crazier people than you recognize. Remember the little girls’ beauty pageants, with the girls all tarted up by their moms? The sexualization is just a public school thing.

Don’t miss Reader Zapollo in Dreher’s UPDATE.

7

Every once and a while, Caitlin Johnstone comes up with something that’s not expressly political. I like this poem. I can’t help it.

8

From the Department of Denial Is Not A River In Egypt:

As for men and women with homosexual tendencies who have already made religious vows, Francis ordered them not to act upon their desires in any way: “It is better that they leave the priesthood or the consecrated life rather than live a double life.”

… [S]ome 80 percent of the victims of priestly sexual malfeasance have been male. And more than 95 percent of those boys haven’t been prepubescent children (whose predators have their own pathology) but adolescents past puberty and sexually mature in body if not in mind. In other words, the bulk of the entire unsavory enterprise concerned run-of-the-mill homosexual activity conducted under the cover of priestly reputation for holiness and a strikingly lopsided adult-teen power dynamic.

Charlotte Allen.

9

Saved for last, a news Dump-On-Trump.


Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex musters evidence that Donald Trump hasn’t even been good at promoting Trumpism, which, if true, would have to rank among the most abject of failures.


[T]his president leav[es] his constituency high and dry through political incompetence, behavioral incontinence, an inability to maintain a focus on anything, and an incapacity to think or act coherently.

Robert Merry, American Conservative. This is not an earth-shattering reversal, as the American Conservative has tended to the #NeverTrump side, but I thought it well-expressed.


I find Barr to be awful, but in a conventional way. So — Whitaker, the acting AG, I find to be awful in a norm-violating, Trump-administration type of way.

Ken White (a/k/a Popehat) in the All The Presidents Lawyers podcast of 12/10/18.


Many Never-Trumper Christians have acknowledged solid Federal Court nominees and a cooling of government hostility toward orthodox Christians (perhaps a better record on religious freedom overall, even, despite the rhetoric unmistakably targeting Muslim immigrants). Other Christians support Trump, period, full stop.

George Yancey has an instructive analogy for the supporters, in which analogy the Never-Trumpers will recognize their own concerns.

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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Observations on Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church might be called a little stingy in its acknowledging of anyone as a theologian. Strictly speaking, our church recognizes but three—just three saints whose names include that epithet. They are Saint John the Theologian (also called John the Evangelist), Saint Gregory the Theologian (also called Gregory of Nazianzus, and one of the Cappadocian Fathers), and Saint Symeon the New Theologian. As it happens, each of these men wrote their theologies in poetry, highlighting to some degree the rabbinic understanding that true theology is always parabolic, as the One of whom we speak extends beyond comprehension, irreducible.

One of the discoveries that led me finally to embrace the eastern church was its disposition toward biblical scripture. The church of my youth approached the scriptures as if they were both knowable and reducible to proposition; each verse was approached as a fixed utterance, dictated, word by word, by God to certain men; the scriptures were understood to be God’s words precisely, and they were understood to be the revelation, as such. On the other hand, Orthodoxy observes that what God revealed to these men was but a glimpse of himself, and that those men thereafter employed their own words to offer up what might be better understood as a witness to the revelation. That is to say, these writers beheld a mystical vision, and sought to share it by whatever means they could muster. What we make of their textual witness is, of course, another matter.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

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The Hermetic Decalogue

If he would leave the self alone,
Apollo’s welcome to the throne,
Fasces and falcons;
He loves to rule, has always done it;
The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
Be like the Balkans.

But jealous of our god of dreams,
His common-sense in secret schemes
To rule the heart;
Unable to invent the lyre,
Creates with simulated fire
Official art.

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

Athletic, extrovert and crude,
For him, to work in solitude
Is the offence,
The goal a populous Nirvana:
His shield bears this device: Mens sana
Qui mal y pense.

In our morale must lie our strength:
So, that we may behold at length
Routed Apollo’s
Battalions melt away like fog,
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:–

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Administration.

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.

W.H. Auden, Under Which Lyre, subtitled A Reactionary Tract for the Times, debuted as a Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946.

The poem came to my attention (though I own Auden’s collected poems), by Ross Douthat riffing on a new book from Alan Jacobs.

During his visit, Auden met James Conant, then the president of Harvard and a man associated with the Apollonian transformation of the modern university, its remaking as a scientific-technical powerhouse with its old religious and humanistic purposes hollowed out. “‘This is the real enemy,’ I thought to myself,” Auden wrote of the encounter. “And I’m sure he had the same impression about me.”

Ross Douthat.

Lord, count me among the Hermetics when Thou comest into Thy kingdom (if I’m not too far gone already).

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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