Monday potpourri, 12/13/21

Wrongful convictions

“Sprinkle some junk science onto a faulty identification, and it’s the perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction,” Hammond said.

40-year-old Syracuse rape conviction at the heart of author Alice Sebold’s memoir is thrown out

It appears that Alice Seybold was honestly mistaken in her identification of the defendant. I’m surprised, though, that the conviction was overturned decades later without DNA evidence.

Collapse of the West

Who would believe that the whole Western world, in whose image, for better or for worse, all nations seemed to hurry to refashion themselves, would collapse, not battered from without, but sagging into lethargy and indifference and stupor from within?

Anthony M. Esolen, Out of the Ashes.

Inventing existential foes

Because Trumpians live in a state of perpetual war, they need to continually invent existential foes ….

David Brooks, who gives what I consider the best explanation to date on how American conservatism produced President Donald Trump. (The explanation is not hopeful for the GOP.)

Ignoring the Classics

Of course, the classics are neither progressive nor conservative—to argue that they are one or the other is to superimpose a useless framework on them, though Featherstone is right that conservative students are the ones usually defending them. This makes sense because conservatism has a coherent theory for why the past is valuable; progressivism less so, which is why contemporary progressivism has so thoroughly abandoned the classics, even if your old-school Marxist knew his Euripides as well as anyone.

But conservatives have turned from the classics, too. Your average attender of the Conservative Political Action Conference likely couldn’t hold a candle to a mid-century Burkean in terms of reading. Policy has become king on both sides of the aisle. A few notable exceptions aside, most conservative donors are more likely to give money to political campaigns, think tanks, and partisan publications than to programs in classical education or the humanities.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock (part of Spectator World) commenting on The Left Should Defend Classical Education

Kamala “Mindless Ramble” Harris

I trace [Vice President Kamala Harris’s] decline to when she went to Guatemala and Mexico in June for meetings on immigration. Near the end in what should have been a highly prepared meeting with the press, she launched into a sort of mindless ramble in which she kept saying we have to find out the “root causes” of illegal immigration. She said it over and over. “My trip . . . was about addressing the root causes. The stories that I heard and the interactions we had today reinforce the nature of these root causes. . . . So the work that we have to do is the work of addressing the cause—the root causes.”

There is no one in America, including immigrants, who doesn’t know the root causes of illegal immigration. They’re coming for a better life. America has jobs, a social safety net, public sympathy for the underdog. Something good might happen to you here. Nothing good was going to happen at home.

That’s why immigrants have always come. Studying “root causes” is a way of saying you want to look busy while you do nothing.

She seemed unprepared, unfocused—unserious.

Peggy Noonan, Kamala Harris Needs to Get Serious.

The paradox of diversity

It can be hard to know where to go on that if diversity is a key component of a well-rounded education but an indefensible burden on the very people representing the diversity.

The idea, again, is that there’s something offensive about a Black person being asked to arbitrate the Black view on a given issue — but what if white writers don’t ask? Isn’t their asking what we were hoping for?

John McWhorter, How Can Something Be Racist but Not Racist at the Same Time?

Higher Education

I was enthused by the announcement of the University of Austin, with President Pano Kanelos coming from St. Johns. But I’m also a bit burnt out on downright enthusiasm for universities and liberal arts colleges.

I had very high regard for Hillsdale College, for instance, only to watch it go Trumpist (Michael “Flight 93 Election” Anton on faculty) and now demagogic in its fundraising letters (most recently, surveying recipients on the socialist menace).

I think I’ll watch carefully before I dig into my wallet for UofA.

Loudon County Culture War

Since Trump came on the scene, Democrats have dominated the most affluent communities in America, winning all 13 of the richest congressional districts (mostly by wide margins) in 2018 and 41 of the top 50. Republicans as recently as 1992 regularly won over half of these districts. Lately, though, in places where voters have money and college educations, Republicanism has become a stigma on the order of bestiality or syphilis …

The Loudoun mess had a lot to do with race, but it was no simple sequel to old civil rights battles. This was a brand-new tale about multidimensional racial tensions, beginning perhaps with the impatience of affluent intellectuals toward a quiet immigrant community whose chief crime, as ham-handed as this sounds, was believing the American dream. For that offense, they were sentenced to the rudest of awakenings. Loudoun doubled as the ultimate media malpractice story, in which the public across years of salacious controversies was told everything but the most important bits.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Loudoun County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts

First-world problems

Normally, an internet-connected feeding machine dispenses kibble for them at noon, but the felines’ bowls were empty and clean. The gadget hadn’t worked because of an outage at Amazon[]’s … cloud-computing unit.

“We had to manually give them food like in ancient times,” said Mr. Lerner, a 29-year-old small-business owner who lives in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Amazon Outage Disrupts Lives, Surprising People About Their Cloud Dependency – WSJ

So obvious (now that he points it out)


[H]ypocrisy is too universal to be interesting …

Liel Leibovitz, ‌Treason of the Intellectuals


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.

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.

Magic Mushrooms

Wednesday evening I watched a Netflix documentary titled Fantastic Fungi. The first voice in the documentary turned out to be the voice of Fungi, who returns for further narration (largely in the form of self-adulation) repeatedly over the 80 minutes of the show.

The last 15 minutes or so built to a crescendo which can only be described as religious in its fervor, leading me almost to expect an altar call. And fairly early in the program, I commented to my wife that there was a little bit "too much of the spirit of Carl Sagan" in the production — a foreshadowing, it proved.

However, there came a point when people described experimental treatment with magic-mushroom type stuff during terminal illness as the most profound religious experience of their lives. 
 At that point, my (Calvinist) wife expressed scorn. At that point, I (Orthodox, having read a lot in popular treatments of neuropsychology lately) thought I perceived an additional "data point" in my case against living life as if it was all made up of data points.

I’m influenced:

  • heavily and recently by Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary.
  • Michael Polanyi’s coinage of "tacit knowledge"
  • the Saints of my Church, not one of whom was canonized for analytical rigor
  • the monastics of my Church, canonized or not
  • a lifetime of singing sacred choral music, mostly in Western Christian tradition.

There probably are other influences, too.

So I’m now going to advance a hypothesis, which has been taking vague shape in my mind over several months (or longer, as in Polanyi).

My hypothesis is that psychedelics, particularly including magic mushrooms or other fungi, subvert the dominance of the analytical left cerebral hemisphere — a dominance that has arisen in part from our adulation of science and its susceptibility of objective proof. Concurrently, our use of the right hemisphere has atrophied.

If I had to refine my hypothesis, it would be that psychedelics give a boost particularly to the more intuitive or emotional right hemisphere, with which we have become so unfamiliar as late modern or early postmodern humans, that the experience of meta-perception via the right hemisphere is overwhelming and perceived as a religious experience. Many people have never experienced such a thing at all and I hypothesize that vanishingly few of us have experienced it as intensely as occurs during a "good trip."

I find corroboration for this hypothesis in the long-lasting effects of a single trip, without a need to repeat the experience frequently because the sense of well-being persists, and in the evidence that mushrooms were almost sacramental in ancient practices we now would call “religious.”

I further hypothesize that the rebalancing of the two hemispheres is part of what can happen in a modern or early postmodern monastic life. And I confess (no longer hypothesizing) that an ascetic life is the approved Orthodox Christian manner of rebalancing the hemispheres (not referred to in those terms, though, and not the ultimate goal) and, particularly, activating that portion of the right hemisphere that our God-bearing fathers have identified as the nous — a capacity much disabled in our times.

I find a slight analogy to this in my increase appreciation of much poetry after a generous pour of whiskey.

If we do not regain a balance of the hemispheres through changes in our collective life, and if research on magic mushrooms continues (which research I support), I could imagine a day when the church would approve tripping to overcome the disability life has inflicted on us — to jump-start the ascetic life, in essence.

But my hypothesis is pretty far out there, and this is not that day. As a faithful Orthodox Christian, let alone a tonsured Reader, I’m not at liberty to take a stab at chemical or fungal shortcuts to theosis, especially when they’re marketed (for thinly-veiled marketing is what Fantastic Fungi was) as an alternative religion.


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

Poke them in the axioms

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


Is the tide turning?

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

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

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

The Economist

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

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


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

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

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


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

Bob Stevenson and Josh Fenska, Thin Discipleship


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

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

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Overcome Evil By Doing Good

But maybe he shouldn’t say that:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Alan Jacobs, Snakes and Ladders

The same heuristic could be applied to whole news sources.


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

Potpourri 5/27/21

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

Separated at Birth

Compare:

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

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

with:

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

Jesse Singal

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

What’s not cancel culture

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

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

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

Fauci lied, people died

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of which,

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

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

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

The Big Lie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the purpose of life?

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

Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

A Christian Man in Embryo

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

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

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

Excerpts:

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

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

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

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


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

Mostly political

The Sorry state of the GOP

[D]espite the happy talk in front of the cameras, some members of the conference say behind closed doors that [45]’s chokehold over the conference is poisoning the GOP from within. “[45] talked a big game about unifying the party so we can win the majority back, and all he’s done is divide the party,” said one House GOP member who did not vote to impeach the former president, and who spoke to The Dispatch anonymously in fear of retribution from House leadership. “And what he’s doing by attacking Republicans who don’t think and act like him is going to ensure that we lose the majority. … The fight is not in here—should not be in here within our conference—it’s out there with people that want to reshape our nation into socialist countries. In order to get the majority back, we have to win blue districts, we have to win purple seats.”

The Morning Dispatch: House GOP, Live from Orlando

That the GOP is badly divided as Congressman Anonymous says seems more accurate than the smiley-face picture Liz Cheney, bless her, is painting.

As I’ve said many times before, I left the GOP in January of 2005. After the Presidency of 45 (who shall not be named), I’m not even sure I "lean Republican" any more.

Nevertheless, I’m incredulous at the repeated claim that 70% of Republicans believe Joe Biden was not legitimately elected. If true, my former party is in frighteningly bad shape, but I think the truth is more like "lying trolls".


Speaking of which:

I served in Congress with Kevin McCarthy. He’s a very weak, unprincipled person. He’s perfect for today’s Republican Party.

Joe Walsh via Charlie Sykes


Of Biden’s speech and the GOP response:

[I]f I were a Republican, I’d be terrified by the incoherence of the response. Yes, Tim Scott is appealing and effectively disarms the white supremacist image the GOP has become associated with (as well it might). But there was no real theme in his speech, no discernible strategy, no credible opposition to massive new spending. You could see what happens when a party becomes a vehicle for a personality cult, provided no platform in its recent convention, and lives off the fumes of cable television’s clown car.

Andrew Sullivan, The Strange Fate Of Joe Biden

Bucking our Betters

Montana’s economy must be independent of the Megacorp Overlords, who told Indiana there’d be hell to pay if it passed RFRA. Or maybe its legislators and governor have guts. (It recently became a "sanctuary state" for gun owners, too.)

(Unintended?) Consequences

“Any prohibition on menthol and flavored tobacco products promises continued over-criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned last year. “Banning menthol is now pitched as a social justice issue,” Jacob Grier argues in Reason. “But if we take the stated preferences of menthol smokers seriously, the racial politics cut the other way. White smokers would remain free to purchase the unflavored cigarettes that most of them currently consume, while black smokers would be paternalistically forbidden from exercising their own desires and subjected to policing of illicit markets if they try to fulfill them.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Laws being turned on black people from their intended targets? Nah! Never happened here, never will.

Chameleons

I’ve taken to working on computer mostly in Markdown, including a plugin that downloads web pages as Markdown — which plugin showed me a bit of how to use metadata in Markdown files.

Some publications, I discover, tags their own web pages in metadata. The Wall Street Journal‘s tags are voluminous and essentially useless to me; The Atlantic is a little bit better. But the amusing thing to me is that The Week tags the same commentator, Damon Linker, as conservative or liberal according, I guess, to how the guy (or gal) doing the tagging feels about the treatment of the column’s topic, or even the topic itself.

Another curiosity: nobody tags in a way I can use in Obsidian (no spaces within a tag but only as delimiters) without first editing.

Easy Virtue

The pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for the Amazon Prime elite. It allowed people to feel virtuous for staying home. Watching Netflix was noble. Being anti-social was virtuous. Ordering DoorDash was saving the world. The pandemic ending takes away that easy virtue.

And people like being able to shame others. Catching people unmasked at the beach, spreading their photos, and talking about how bad that is — well that was a satisfying hobby for many this year. This group doesn’t want to go back to offices. They don’t seem to care if synagogue and church come back. That’s fine — they prefer to live mediated by screens, and they can live that life. But don’t let them force it on you.

There is no virtue in being permanently masked. There is no virtue in demanding zero risk. If there is, we wouldn’t never jump in a swimming pool or get into a car. Get vaccinated, and then get used to wearing hard pants, brushing your hair (and teeth) and meeting friends outside of Zoom.

Bari Weiss, ‌Believe Science: Get Vaccinated. Then Relax

[M]any millions of Americans spent the [45] era deeply loyal to [45] not because of policy arguments or political debate, but in large part because “prophets” told them he was specifically and specially anointed by God for this moment. These Americans were resistant to the election outcome because they were told—again and again—by voices they trusted that God promised [45] would win.

David French, ‌Making Prophecy Great Again. Unfortunately, French seems to think that "prophetic standards" promulgated by a couple of guys will rein in the "prophetic" charlatans and grifters.

Good luck with that, David. You’ve got roughly the odds placekicker Charlie Brown has of Lucy VanPelt holding the ball properly.


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.

Status Update

I think I mentioned a serious computer crash and consequent problems in an earlier blog. It appears that the problems cannot be resolved and 15 months of data were lost from a database. Mercifully, the database was kind of a hobby,  where I put clippings I read in the news mostly to be doing some thing and theoretically to be able to access them later. 

Such is life

For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

II Corinthians 4:18

I may actually have a hardware problem on the computer, which I will try to have diagnosed before too long, though that is complicated by the distance of the nearest Apple store and by Covidtide.

Meanwhile, my loss of data got me thinking about alternative approaches to florilegeum, and based on its prevalence among some nerdy social media friends, I decided to download and learn about Obsidian, a relatively new database manager — no, make that freeform relational database manger — for plain text markdown files.

Obsidium is not transparently friendly, but once I took a YouTube tutorial, I got fired up about the possibilities to take a more disciplined approach to what I clip and save, and to pause for some thought as I collect things. And the learning curve isn’t all that high.

So to make a long story short, I’ve spent considerable time this week learning some new software and putting it (and myself) through our paces together.

I suspect that the consequence for my blogging will be that it is less frequent but much more thoughtful, as I’m forcing myself, I hope, to become more thoughtful.


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.

A banquet of tasty morsels

No man or woman is an island, and no one should aspire to be one, either. That, at the core, is the claim of illiberalism, post-liberalism, or any of the other names given to the movement that pushes back against individualism as an ideal. The liberalism of Locke, deeply woven into American culture and political philosophy, takes the individual as the basic unit of society, while an illiberal view looks to traditions, family, and other institutions whose demands define who we are.

It always confuses me that illiberalism is taken as a belligerent ideology – both by its detractors and some of its proponents – as though it were rooted in strength and prepared to wield that power against others. It is con temporary liberalism that begins from an anthropology of independence, and presumes a strength and self-ownership we do not in fact possess.

A world that holds up independence as the ideal offers us two rival duties: to obscure our dependence and to be resentful of it. No woman can lightly assent to the illusion of autonomy. Because a baby is alien to the world of self-ownership, every woman’s citizenship in that imaginary republic is tenuous. A world of autonomous individuals can’t acknowledge both woman and child simultaneously. The sheer amount of work it takes to stifle fertility, put eggs on ice, or pump milk for a baby not welcome outside the home makes it clear that there is something untruthful and sharp-clawed at loose in the world.

Fear and hatred of weakness and dependence wound the dependent most obviously, but are poison to all, even the people who are strong at present. Without repeated reminders that the broken are beloved, how can we remember who God is?

Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom. 7:19).

To give an honest accounting of ourselves, we must begin with our weakness and fragility. We cannot structure our politics or our society to serve a totally independent, autonomous person who never has and never will exist. Repeating that lie will leave us bereft: first, of sympathy from our friends when our physical weakness breaks the implicit promise that no one can keep, and second, of hope, when our moral weakness should lead us, like the prodigal, to rush back into the arms of the Father who remains faithful. Our present politics can only be challenged by an illiberalism that cherishes the weak and centers its policies on their needs and dignity.

Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak, Plough Quarterly.

I admire the heck of of Leah and expect to read her with pleasure until the day I die.


[I]t is her “Declaration of Conscience” speech for which [Margaret Chase Smith] is best remembered. It was 1950 and she was increasingly disturbed by Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist crusade. In February he’d made his speech in Wheeling, W.Va., charging communists had infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels. He claimed to have 205 names of known communists; in later statements he put the number at 57 and 81.

The base of the party found his opposition to the communist swamp in Washington electrifying. His wildness and disrespect for norms was seen as proof of authenticity: He’s one of us and fighting for us.

Smith was anticommunist enough that Nikita Khrushchev later described her as “blinded by savage hatred,” and she was certain communism would ultimately fail. But you don’t defeat it with lies.

She always listened closely when McCarthy spoke. Once he said he was holding in his hand “a “photostatic copy” of the names of communists. She asked to see it. It proved nothing. Her misgiving increased.

She didn’t want to move against him. She was new to the Senate; he was popular in Maine. She waited for her colleagues. They said nothing.

Finally she’d had enough. On June 1, 1950, she became the first Republican to speak out. On the way to the chamber Joe McCarthy suddenly appeared. “Margaret,” he said, “you look very serious. Are you going to make a speech?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you will not like it.”

When history hands you a McCarthy—reckless, heedlessly manipulating his followers—be a Margaret Chase Smith. If your McCarthy is saying a whole national election was rigged, an entire system corrupted, you’d recognize such baseless charges damage democracy itself. You wouldn’t let election officials be smeared. You’d stand against a growing hysteria in the base.

You’d likely pay some price. But years later you’d still be admired for who you were when it counted so much.

Peggy Noonan, Who’ll Be 2020’s Margaret Chase Smith?

I also admire the heck out of Peggy Noonan, but we’re too close to contemporaries for me to expect her writing to outlive me.


I don’t know if I was oblivious, or just too avoidant of National Review during his tenure there, or if being there forced him to write things he didn’t entirely believe, but I am rediscovering Jonah Goldberg since his co-founding of The Dispatch. This excerpting captures the full gist of what I think is a powerful argument:

You aren’t a conservative if you believe in conspiracy theories.

[T]he incompatibility of conservatism with conspiracy theories is … fundamental. One of the central tenets of conservatism is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres of well-intentioned social engineers and bureaucrats, or what Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, dubbed “sophisters, calculators and economists.”

The “sophisters, calculators and economists” had real power. They had the power to make laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

And yet we’re supposed to believe that conspirators—globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, as QAnon would have you believe, blood-drinking pedophiles—can pull off whatever they want in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: The more you know about how government actually works, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blow up the World Trade Center or steal the election, with the active participation of hundreds or thousands of conspirators, is beyond laughable when you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabilities of those “in charge.”

One of Buckley’s top priorities in fashioning modern American conservatism was that it be a worldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservative they’re not.

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


There was no chance in the world that in the autumn of 2001, I would have seen the towers fall and thought, ah-ha! this was a sign to us that we should behold the evil capacities inside ourselves, and repent. Would anybody?

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

Yes, some would. I know because I did. Then in January 2005, I repudiated the GOP when Dubya did an anti-repentance, declaring as President of the World’s Savior-Nation that we were going to eradicate tyranny from the world.

That others did not see this was the source of my now-consistent belief that the self-willed blindness of our land leaves us past the point of no return: that nothing will bring us to repentance, and that nothing good will come of our hubris. (The 2016 Presidential Election was another warning we refused to heed.)

The only open question is how our decadence will play out. For instance, who foresaw a pandemic playing out as this one has? (Some foresaw pandemic, and warned of it, and prepared plans that Trump seemingly ignored, but did they foresee the economic shut-down, the isolation, the acedia?)


I’ve been with my spouse for almost 15 years. In those years, I’ve never been with anyone but the mother of my son. But that’s not because I am an especially good and true person. In fact, I am wholly in possession of an unimaginably filthy and mongrel mind. But I am also a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one.

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates is, I believe, an atheist. I have never understood where atheists find bedrock on which to build their ethics. But I’m glad most do find it. The world would be a grimmer place if they didn’t.


We long ago gave up the wish to have things that were adequate or even excellent; we have preferred instead to have things that were up-to-date.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

We live in a time when technologies and ideas (often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship, and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels, intent on “doing us good” according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These salespeople are now with most of us, apparently, even in our dreams.

The first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But, then, this is also the first duty of everybody else.

Wendell Berry again.


As Nietzsche put it, “no price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself.”

My Journey from Born Again Christian to the Church of Woke—And Halfway Back Again – Quillette

This tickled me because “owning yourself” (a/k/a “self-own”) is the eventuality of following Nitezsche’s advice.


The term “democracy,” as I have said again and again, does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike—it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God) you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.

T.S. Eliot, via The Crack In The Tea-Cup

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).

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

I don’t control my lights, door locks, or anything else by speaking commands to my 1st-generation Amazon Echo. Indeed, I shut the microphone off about a year ago and I only use it like a table radio — direct streaming or bluetooth from my phone — and controlled from the Alexa app on my phone, not by voice.

When Echo dies, it will either not be replaced or will be replaced with a streaming radio with better sound quality (though Echo isn’t too bad). And no voice control.

There is no way I’m going to wear a pair of Alexa-powered Bose earphones, wandering around in “public” but in my own little world inside my head, isolated from the world except for asking it “how do I get shiny hair?” when I see a slick Afghan Hound.

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

I’m partial to the hypothesis that living in unreality (in which I’d include virtual reality) creates ennui.

I noticed recently, though, that most articles of the “digital detox” genre are focused on productivity, not on humanity let alone holiness. I’m told that Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism is different. I hope so, because after I catch up on a little backlog of magazines, it’s my next book (on Kindle, of course — so sue me).

Indeed, much of my reading lately seems to evoke gentle regrets: “Gosh, I could have lived this better way if only I’d been wiser.” There’s a reason for the saying “Too soon old, too late smart.”

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

A magazine that frequently gives me gentle regrets is Plough, from the Bruderhof community. I think Mother Jones and my secular “alternate lifestyle” magazines will be going unrenewed, Plough renewed.

* * *

Meanwhile, I’ve taken a deep breath, installed Freedom, and instructed it to help my self-control by cutting me off from the internet and from various apps at times of day when I am resolving to do something other than sitting on my arse with a computer on my lap.

* * *

I had an Impossible Burger once. It was surprisingly burgerlike.

But Michael Pollan says “if it comes from a plant, it’s food; if it’s made in a plant, it’s not food.” Heck, you don’t even save calories and fat grams with Impossible Burger. If I want burger taste, I’ll buy a burger.

Except maybe when I’m dying for meat in Lent. Once or twice, tops. I think it was Lent 2019 when I tried one.

* * *

Did I mention that I came of age in the 60s? And was an Audio-Visual Dept. geek?

* * *

I just saw San Francisco 49er defender #2 helping a Green Bay Packer runner to land on his back rather than the top of his helmet when undercut by San Francisco 49er defender #1.

There is magnanimity in the world. Especially from teams that are up 20-0 in the first half.

 

* * * * *

All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

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.

Surprised by food for thought

… I was continuing to make my way through Shoshana Zuboff’s great new book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. It’s not an easy book to read, in part because the things Zuboff, a former Harvard Business School professor, talks about can be somewhat arcane, but also because it’s damned depressing. This is a book about how a business model pioneered by Google has come in less than 20 years to dominate everything, with consequences we can scarcely comprehend. I’m not going to get into the book’s weeds here; there are lots of weeds, and I am not sure that Zuboff is going to be able to offer a plausible way out of this mess.

The gist of it is that nearly everything we do and say is monitored by multiple corporations, who are taking that data — usually without our knowledge or permission — and using it to figure out how to sell us things and, more crucially, to guide us toward behaving in particular ways without knowing that we are being manipulated. There is no real way to opt out of the system. It is overwhelming — and Zuboff shows how the tech companies have spent ungodly sums to manipulate politicians and regulators in order to maintain maximum access to the personal data of everyone. (The Obama administration was in Google’s pocket, for example.) Zuboff likens it to the Spanish conquistadores arriving in the New World.

I bring this up in light of Brooks’s column because if you want to talk about the foundations of society being attacked, believe me, we should all worry about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Silicon Valley on the whole a lot more than we worry about our buffoonish president. What the surveillance capitalists have done, and are doing, matters far more to the future of our democracy and its legitimacy than does Trump.

I find Donald Trump — lying, unstable, barely competent Donald Trump — to be less of a threat than I find the kind of progressive elites who hate him. He has the presidency, which is a powerful thing to have. But they control Silicon Valley. They command the US economy. They control major American institutions, including higher education and the media. And they trust in their own goodness.

Rod Dreher (Emphasis in original)

I continued reading Dreher’s blog entry, despite my initially thinking “not one of his better ones,” because I thought I might have missed something in the David Brooks column he quotes (of which I also thought “not one of his better ones”).

I’m glad I continued because, although I cannot praise his prose or pace, there’s nevertheless some nourishing if un-tasty “food for thought” in it, including a different vantage point from which to ask — yes, even 32 scant hours after release of the Mueller Report — whether Trump might actually be the lesser evil in 2020, both as a matter of self-preservation (as one whose Social Credit Score, as viewed by those who trust in their own goodness, is pretty low) and for the interests of America more generally.

As Freddie put it:

I have had a standing rule not to read anything with the word “Trump” in the headline since mid-2017. I have not kept to it 100% of the time, but I have been pretty compliant. But here’s something I know.

The Trump-Russia collusion story became a national obsession because of two matters of psychic convenience: one, the belief that someone (even a Republican FBI agent cop like Robert Mueller) is going to ride in on a horse and save us; and two, that our problems are the problem of an outside force, some malevolent international entity working evil. Only a child could believe that either of those is true.

No one is coming to save you. This is what the world is now, and this is what the world will be long long after Trump is gone. And more: this is the world we deserve. We are not broken because of Russia, or Donald Trump. We are broken because of the evil this country has done and the evil this country is. You can work to change that. But if you try to hide from it behind the Mueller report you will only fail. Because no one is coming to save you.

The 2016 election had “God’s Judgment” written all over it. 2020 may come packaged the same way. Lesser evils rather than affirmative goods may be all we’ll get to choose. Democrats: This is mostly up to you as a practical matter: can you nominate someone less evil?)\

Anyway, I point you to Dreher’s blog on the chance that you’ll find food for thought as well.

* * * * *

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).