Ye olde variety store

Reminder to self

I’ve been seeing a lot of accusations lately that various conservatives are white supremacists, or, somewhat more narrowly, that they are adherents of "white replacement theory." My initial reaction was to treat this as a way of mainstream media saying that conservatives have cooties.

But when it comes to white replacement theory, there’s a very important line: it is on one side of the line to think that there is a conspiracy to replace white people with darker skinned people, and that the southern border (for instance) has been thrown open by the Democrats as part of that conspiracy. It is on the other side of the line to note that much of our immigration is darker-skinned people, and that white folks have sub-replacement fertility levels, and that as a matter of fact we are on track for white people to be outnumbered by the year 2050 — without carrying on luridly about how that, ipso facto, will be "the end of America.”

My personal history of dismissing warnings too casually is cautionary. I was slow to see that the charges of anti-Semitism against conservative columnists Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis were not just epithets thrown by liberals, but true. (Both were brilliant, but both really were antisemitic, though Sobran at least wrote a lot that was not tinged with antisemitism.) I was also slow to see that Patrick J. Buchanan was coming unhinged, as I think he was (and is).

So in dealing with charges of white replacement theory, and giving due allowance to the possibility that somebody like Tucker Carlson is insincerely talking about it just to attract viewers, I need to be aware that even if the comments, prima facie, fall on the right side of the afore-described line, bringing the subject up obsessively is a very bad sign. That’s what should have tipped me off earlier on Sobran.

Meatloaf on side constraints

The Federalist Society is committed to advancing the rule of law, which is why many of its members, in their individual capacities, have worked so hard for the appointment of judges who believe in the rule of law. And many of those judges, in ruling against meritless election challenges brought by the man who appointed them, stood up for the rule of law in the past few months, to their great credit.

But to sacrifice the rule of law as a value, in the hope of getting four more years of a president who might appoint good judges but is otherwise anathema to the rule of law (sic), is simply perverse. I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, ‌The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?. Lat was commenting in the second paragraph on some individual Federalist Society members. The Society itself cannot lawfully back a candidate, nor did it do so unlawfully.

On choosing to cease choosing

[H]uman flourishing depends, [Antonio García Martínez] says, on the acceptance of various "unchosen obligations" (to family, to community, to God) that form the backdrop of a morally and spiritually satisfying life. Hence his attraction to Judaism, an ancient, communally based system of laws that seems far more secure than our confusingly fluid world of freely choosing individuals.

Which means that García Martínez is converting to Judaism in order to escape secular modernity — but isn’t his own decision to convert itself an individual choice? And as such, isn’t it just as much an expression of the modern mindset as any of the trends he denounces here and in his broader social media commentary?

Yes, it’s a choice to stop choosing, but that still grounds his conversion in an act of the individual mind and will. García Martínez will always know that what can be chosen can also be unchosen — that he can choose to leave Judaism with an ease that would have felt quite foreign to a premodern Jew.

This doesn’t mean that García Martínez is making a mistake in becoming Jewish. (I have my own complicted history with Judaism, Catholicism, and conversion.) But it does mean that doing so isn’t likely to liberate him from modernity, returning him to the premodern world as conservatives like to imagine it — a world defined by fated obligations individuals have no choice but to take on and accept with gratitude and fulfillment.

Choosing is the destiny of human beings, from which we will never be rescued.

Damon Linker

I wish Antonio García Martínez were choosing Orthodox Christianity instead of Judaism, but I had the same types of taunts tossed at me as I approached Orthodoxy: "So, you’re choosing to stop choosing, huh?! Har-de-har-har-har!"

I gotta live in the world as it is. In American law and the American mind, one’s church is a "voluntary association." You can opt in; you can opt out. Nobody can stop you legally and few will try socially*. But I can choose wisely and resolve to let the faith, in that chosen setting, do its work on me, not looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Or looking for sheer novelty, as if it doesn’t matter:

To assert that all religions are really just different paths to God is a denial of the central tenets of these religions. The Hindu Yogin trying to achieve oblivion and utter absorption into the faceless universe is not on the same path as the Jew bowing down before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or the Scientologist working to become “clear” of alien beings called “thetans.” To suggest that all these believers are really on the same path is to do damage to their theological systems—to assert that somehow we know better than these people do what their teachings really are.

Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

[* The late Jaroslav Pelikan, perhaps the greatest Anglophone church historian of the 20th Century, left his natal Lutheranism for Orthodoxy very late in life. A Calvinist friends who had studied at Yale said that would "shake Yale up." "Why?" I asked. "I didn’t think Yale still had strong religious identity." "It doesn’t," he replied, "and it will shake them up that one eminent among them cares enough about religion to actually change his."]

I just can’t figure this out

New York Times’s criteria for considering a story religious continue to baffle. Why, for instance, is a call for blessing same-sex couples, from German Bishops in the Roman Catholic Church, not there?! It clearly is a religion story and it even flatters the Times’ notion of how arc of history is bending!

My, we are hard to please!

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (a delightful book, but not Orthodox-with-a-capital-O; it’s Roman Catholic, but in a sort of anticipation of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

"A recent survey by the American College Health Association showed that, in 2008, one in 2,000 female undergraduates identified as transgender. By 2021, that figure had jumped to one in 20."

But any suggestion that there’s a social contagion involved is a Hateful Transphobic Lie.

The surge doesn’t exist, and it exists because Republicans are adding testosterone to our public water supplies to try to shore up the Eurocentric Heteronormative Patriarchy, and the one in 20 were there all along, but just too embarrassed to say it. Yeah! That’s the ticket!

[In this mad age, I probably should note that this was sarcasm.]

Zeal has its limits

Question: When is a person sure of having arrived at purity?

Answer: When that person considers all human beings are good, and no created thing appears impure or defiled. Then a person is truly pure in heart.

St. Isaac of Syria, quoted here

And again:

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

How we live today

“After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth,” we use our bodies “only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work."

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

No tribe wants him

I grow weary of the Covid discourse. So, so weary. I am particularly exhausted by the fact that the side that is more correct on the epidemiology, the pro-vaccine side, is also worshipful of expertise, incurious about basic questions, contemptuous of good-faith questions, and shrill in all things. I hate it all.

Freddie DeBoer, reprising this blog

Practicing silence

Sit in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day, not to become more "productive", but to become more human and, ultimately, more Christlike.

This is advice to myself.

Silence?! 20-30 minutes of silence!? It’s so terrifying that I must try it.

UPDATE: A 300- knot prayer rope helps. I couldn’t imagine remaining silent for that long without my scattered mind going hither, thither and yon. But the same faith that (through one of its wise priests) counseled sitting in silence 20 to 30 minutes each day knows how to do that: repetitive prayer — not, I hasten to add, that God will hear me because of repetition, but that my heart (and who knows what else) will be changed by it.

The nice thing about this gigantic rope is that praying the full rope takes me about 21 minutes, and if I add another hundred knots (to the first bead, which is a tactile clue) I’m at almost 28 minutes. I don’t have to try to remember how many times I’ve prayed a 50-knot rope — which is itself a distraction from "silence."

Just for fun

I don’t know if I want to cheer or jeer Dutch artist Jens Haaring.


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.

Sunday Potpourri, 10/3/21

Religion

A voice crying in the wilderness?

I am not asking Christians to stop seeing superhero movies or listening to pop music, but we need to be mindful of how we use our time. Many of the popular stories in our culture leave us worse off. Instead of haunting us, they glorify vice, distract us from ourselves, lift our mood without lifting our spirits, and make us envious and covetous of fame, sexual conquests, and material possessions.

Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

Rawls’ secular convolution

[I]t took [John] Rawls several hundred pages of Harvard-level disquisition and ‘veils of ignorance’ analogies to restate Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mathew 7:12.

‌Antonio García Martínez, in the course of an essay on why he is embracing Judaism.

First, I almost laughed out loud at Martínez’s summary of Rawls’ best-known, laboriously-constructed, moral (?) principle.

Second, Martínez makes a good case for fleeing secular modernity to a religion of some sort, and makes a good-enough case for Judaism — pretty movingly, actually. I could gladly have quoted much more.

But he makes no case for why he needed to leave Roman Catholicism, to which all of the Old Testament is likewise available, to secure the Old Testament for his children, nor did he even acknowledge that he’s leaving Catholicism, not secularism.

Is Roman Catholicism indistinguishable from secularism to him? Was he living as secular within the Latin Church?

PRE-PUBLICATION "UPDATE": Rod Dreher, who apparently is friends with Martínez, says he "was baptized Catholic [but] lost his faith in adulthood … AGM does not make a theological argument for Judaism, explaining why he chose it over returning to the Catholicism of his youth, or over any other religious option. It sounds like he’s taking a leap of faith that God really did reveal Himself to the Hebrews, and that unique revelation was not improved on by Jesus of Nazareth or Mohammed."

I had not heard of his loss of faith.

Good news, fake news

Nobody escapes suffering. Trite words, but true ones. I think the main reason I get so mad at happy-clappy forms of Christianity is because they seem to function to deny suffering, rather than help us to let it refine us. A Christianity that minimizes suffering is fraudulent; its gospel is fake news. Mustapha Mond’s phrase “Christianity without tears” applies here. Suffering is a sign of grave disorder in the cosmos — a disorder rooted in sin, and ending in death. These are heavy mysteries.

Rod Dreher, ‌Into The Darkness

Politics

For your prayerful consideration

barring a serious health issue, the odds are good that [Donald Trump] will be the [Republican] nominee for president in 2024

New York Times Editorial Board (italics added).

Consider adapting that italicized clause for your daily prayers.

I personally cannot presume to pray "Please, Lord, smite Donald Trump." But I can prayerfully share my concern about his toxicity, and that I like the USA well enough to lament it, and that our future worries me half sick when my faith is weak.

Chutpah

However the legislative gamesmanship playing out on Capitol Hill is resolved over the coming days, one thing is certain: The Democrats got themselves into this mess. They tried to enact an agenda as sweeping as the New Deal or Great Society though they enjoy margins of support vastly smaller than FDR or LBJ — and though their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress are themselves deeply divided between progressive and moderate factions.

The Greeks would have called it hubris. A Borscht Belt comedian would have talked of chutzpah. Either way, it’s hard to deny the Democrats have fallen prey to delusions of grandeur.

Damon Linker, ‌Why do progressive Democrats expect their agenda to pass with such a small majority?

Mutually-profitable kayfabe

Did you know that Russians hacked our electrical grid? Did you know that Trump was connected to a server communicating with Russians? Did you know that Russians were paying bounties for dead American soldiers in Afghanistan? Get his taxes—the answers are there. When The New York Times eventually got ahold of them and parenthetically noted, amidst a cloud of dire innuendo concerning profits and losses of his real estate business, that no evidence existed in them pointing to any ties to Russia, the narrative was already too well entrenched to dislodge.

The Russia hysteria served a psychological function for those at a loss as to how the country they led had slipped from their grasp. It allowed them to offload the blame for the serial failures through which they rendered themselves beatable by a carnival barker onto the machinations of a foreign power. It allowed them to indulge fantasies of the president’s imminent replacement. It helped media companies reverse a downward spiral and restore themselves to profitability as they turned all of public life into a mutually profitable kayfabe with the object of their obsession.

Wesley Yang (Hyperlink added because I had no idea what "kayfabe" was. Once you know, "mutually-profitable kayfabe" becomes an elegant distillation of much of our public-life-as-reported — though I get the feeling that a lot of the true political animosity between parties is all-too-real now.)

My remaining concern is: Isn’t "mutually-profitable kayfabe" at least semi-redundandant? What kayfabe is zero-sum?

Perspective

As far back as Leviticus, priests were given the power of quarantine (13:46), masking (13:45), and even the destruction of property (14:43-47) in the interest of managing and containing disease. Throughout history, political authorities have exercised all sorts of powers for the sake of protecting the health of those God has given them authority over. The interdependent nature of the created order means that there is hardly a law that can be passed which does not have some effect on health. The health of our bodies is not a penultimate summum bonum requiring slavish insistence on removing all potential hazards, but our existence as embodied creatures means that whatever other endeavors are going on, health is always somewhere nearby either as a constitutive process or an important outcome.

‌Biopolitics Are Unavoidable

Just a little quibble over whether one human can own another

Even during the Civil War—I think we’re more divided now than we were then. As Lincoln said, we all prayed to the same God. We all believed in the same Constitution. We just differed over the question of slavery.

Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute, explaining to Emma Green how America is more divided now than in the Civil War.

"Just differed over the question of slavery." This man is too tone-deaf to be President of the Dog Pound, but he’s atop a big Trumpist-Right "think" tank.

What if there’s no omelet?

There’s a famous French Revolution-era maxim that declares that one does not make an omelet without breaking eggs. That maxim has served as a shorthand warning against Utopianism ever since.**

But what if there’s not even an omelet? What if the movement is simply about breaking eggs? What if “fighting” isn’t a means to an end, but rather the end itself?

David French, ‌A Whiff of Civil War in the Air

Culture and Culture War

Some limits of liberalism

The American Political Science Association was faced with the Claremont Institute wanting two panels that included John Eastman — he of the notorious memo on how Mike Pence could legally steal the election for Trump. It offered a sort of Covid-era compromise: those panels would be virtual (thus lessening the likelihood of vigorous protests of the live portion of the meeting).

I have not read what Claremont said upon withdrawing from the meeting, but I’d wager it invoked classically liberal values:

Liberalism stands for the free and open society. But does that mean it must make space for those who would destroy the free and open society? If the answer is yes, liberalism would seem to have a death wish. If the answer is no, liberalism looks hypocritical: Oh, so you’re for open debate, but only if everyone debating is a liberal! There really is no way to resolve this tension except to say that liberalism favors a free and open society, but not without limits. It can tolerate disagreement and dissent, but not infinitely. And writing a memo to the president explaining precisely how he could mount a coup that would overturn liberal democratic government in the United States crosses that line.

Damon Linker, ‌An academic scuffle tests the limits of free debate

Tacit misogyny?

It is striking that there is no … zealous campaign to abandon the word “men” in favour of “prostate-havers”, “ejaculators” or “bodies with testicles”.

The Economist, ‌Why the word “woman” is tying people in knots

Uprooted

Even if you are living where your forefathers have lived for generations, you can bet that the smartphone you gave your child will unmoor them more effectively than any bulldozer.

In all the time I have spent with people who live in genuinely rooted cultures — rooted in time, place and spirit — whether in the west of Ireland or West Papua, I’ve generally been struck by two things. One is that rooted people are harder to control. The industrial revolution could not have happened without the enclosure of land, and the destruction of the peasantry and the artisan class. People with their feet on the ground are less easily swayed by the currents of politics, or by the fashions of urban ideologues or academic theorists.

The second observation is that people don’t tend to talk much about their “identity” — or even think about it — unless it is under threat. The louder you have to talk about it, it seems, the more you have probably lost. The range of freewheeling, self-curated “identities” thrown up by the current “culture war” shows that we are already a long way down the road that leads away from genuine culture.

Paul Kingsnorth

Plus ça change …

We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories

Cecil Rhodes, quoted by Edward Goldsmith, Development As Colonialism.

More:

Throughout the non-industrial world, it was only if such conditions could no longer be enforced, (usually when a new nationalist or populist government came to power), that formal annexation was resorted to. As Fieldhouse puts it, “Colonialism was not a preference but a last resort”.

Slowly as traditional society disintegrated under the impact of colonialism and the spread of Western values, and as the subsistence economy was replaced by the market economy on which the exploding urban population grew increasingly dependent – the task of maintaining the optimum conditions for Western trade and penetration became correspondingly easier. As a result, by the middle of the twentieth century as Fieldhouse notes: “European merchants and investors could operate satisfactorily within the political framework provided by most reconstructed indigenous states as their predecessors would have preferred to operate a century earlier but without facing those problems which had once made formal empire a necessary expedient”.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back in 1991, I saw the late Professor Derrick Bell, a well-known Critical Race Theorist from Harvard Law School, talk about how proud he was that he got his students, including a specific Jewish woman, who did not think of themselves as white, to recognize and become much more conscious of their whiteness.

What strikes me about this literature is how it ignores what seems to me to be the obvious dangers of encouraging a majority of the population to emphasize and internalize a racial identity, and, moreover, to think of themselves as having racial interests opposed to those of the non-white population. I mean, what could go wrong? It would be one thing to note the obvious dangers of increased ethnonationalism, racial conflict, and so on, and explain why the author believes the risk-reward ratio is favorable. But the literature I came across (which admittedly is not comprehensive), the possibility that this could backfire is simply ignored.

David Bernstein, “White Racial Consciousness” as a Dangerous Progressive Project – Reason.com

A relatively harmless polarity

Some parents react to a child being a National Merit Scholar by saying "Woohoo! A shot at Harvard, or Yale, or Princeton!" Others say "Woohoo! Full scholarship to State U!"

[I]n 2018-2019, more National Merit Scholars joined the Crimson Tide than enrolled in Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Michigan the University of Chicago, and virtually every other top university in the land.

David French, ‌American Higher Education, Ideologically Separate and Unequal

Miscellany

I’ll have to take a pass

I want small businesses to succeed, but having just heard about a local Bourbon & Cigar lounge, I’ll have to take a pass.

I have no problem with the bourbon, but it took me about 16 years to kick tobacco, with pipe and cigar being my favored poisons. I haven’t touched tobacco during the subsequent more-than-half of my life, and I’m not starting again.


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.

Single-Issue Voting — Again

There was a time when I considered myself substantially a single-issue voter, and that single issue was abortion. But then a smart guy infuriated me by insisting that the Republicans were insincerely "playing" anti-abortion voters with anti-abortion rhetoric. The guy had some political baggage that gave me a second reason to discount his opinion — besides, that is, not wanting to look like a fool to myself.

Whether before or after that encounter, I began noticing GOP fools or rogues, quite unsuitable for high office, regardless of what they said about abortion. And less than three years after my infuriating encounter, I repudiated the GOP for unrelated reasons.

The GOP hasn’t gotten any better, but they got my votes more often than not.

Now details have emerged on exactly what Trump was up to on January 6 when the crowd he enfrenzied rioted in the Capitol, calling for Mike Pence, for whom a gallows had been prepared: Trump was executing a plan by a sociopath named John Eastman (who certainly should be expelled from the Federalist Society for this stunt) to "legally" steal the election through ambiguities of the Electoral Count Act of 1887. See here, here, here and probably many other places.

It’s appalling.

After laying the factual predicate from November 3 to present, ranging from death threats to officials with integrity to absurdities like the Ohio GOP censuring a Michigan Congressman, Mona Charen summarizes her (and my) feelings:

So there really is only a single issue I will vote on in 2021—truth. The Republican party, in Washington and nationally, has become a conspiracy of liars. As such, it threatens the stability of the republic. Even a seemingly inoffensive candidate like Glenn Youngkin has given aid and comfort to this sinister agenda by stressing “election integrity” in his campaign. It doesn’t change a thing to reflect that he’s almost certainly insincere. He stopped talking about it after winning the primary, suggesting that all the “integrity” talk was just a sop to MAGA voters. Still, a victory for him will send a message that the Republican party is normal again, a party that good people can support.

It’s not. It’s a cult dedicated to lying, rewarding liars, and punishing truth tellers. I won’t vote for it.

Me neither. When I can’t vote for Democrats (i.e., most of the time), I’ll be voting third party or abstaining.


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.

Downers and uppers

Afghanistan

This week has been a real downer, but I can’t not mention Afghanistan. Rest assured that I picked four that don’t seem to be echo-chamber fare:

1

Back in 2001 and 2002, Pat Buchanan was warning against the Iraq War, and against nation-building in Afghanistan. He was marginalized as a heretic by the official gatekeepers of the Right. Because Pat Buchanan has objectionable opinions about some things — he was “far right,” in their estimation — he was not to be taken seriously in anything.

But Pat Buchanan was right. He was right about Iraq, and he was right about Afghanistan. The same people who denounced him as a heretic then are leading the chorus of denunciation against Viktor Orban and Hungary. And you know, maybe they’re right. I don’t think they are, but you can make up your own mind about that. I would just strongly urge you to keep an open mind about Hungary, because the anti-Buchananites are the same ones now fashioning themselves as anti-Orbanites. Are you sure you should trust their judgment? Are you sure you should trust their construal of what Hungary is like? Keep that in mind.

Rod Dreher, Andrew Sullivan Vs. Viktor Orban

2

[W]hen faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It’s not like the U.S. didn’t try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women’s rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance–most of the time with hardly any fighting at all–showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what’s also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity. America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America. There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

The Social Pathologist: Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

"Globohomo" is not in my vocabulary, and I don’t plan to add it. It is such very short shorthand that I don’t know whether it even communicates much to peripheral members of the author’s tribe.

But it has been reported by at least semi-credible sources that our Embassy in Kabul was recently flying the rainbow flag in celebration of something-or-other, and it’s safe to assume that Afghans are broadly aware of what all it stands for. It’s not really surprising if Afghans chose the Taliban (they gave up awfully easily; maybe a better explanation than "willing surrender" is forthcoming) again over the cosmology of which that flag serves as a condensed symbol — which cosmology they have some reason to believe is the eventuality of liberal democracy.

3

The withdrawal plan always seemed abrupt and arbitrary. Why did the White House think the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was the right date for a pullout? What picture of America do they carry in their heads that told them that would be symbolically satisfying? It is as if they are governed by symbols with no understanding of what the symbols mean.

Peggy Noonan

4

Prophecy for a nation of wankers:

In the next few days, another girl foolish enough to think she can keep going to school will take another bullet to the head, and when that happens, the left is going to lose its mind. … Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott will go 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden to determine which one of them gets to fund girls’ education in Afghan refugee camps. The winner will fund beautiful schools — air-conditioned, STEM-centered schools. And there might even be time for the winner to private-jet herself to the Aspen Ideas Festival to explain the importance of girls’ education before those schools are blown up, along with the girls inside them …

Caitlin Flanagan.

Collect for the Feast of St. Jonathan Swift

A decade ago, when I thought things were getting bad — oh how naïve I was in those days — I wrote an essay “Against Stupidity” in which I argued for the canonization of St. Jonathan Swift and even wrote a collect for his feast day.

Gather around, friends … and let’s bow our heads and say together,

Almighty and most wrathful God, who hate nothing You have made but sometimes repent of having made Man; we thank you this day for the life and work of Your faithful servant Jonathan Swift, who constantly imitated and occasionally exceeded Your own anger at the folly of sin, and who in his works excoriated such folly with a passion that brought him nigh unto madness; and we pray that You may teach us to be imitators of him, so that the follies and stupidities of our own time may receive their proper chastisement; through Christ our Lord, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.

Alan Jacobs.

Politics as fashion

I’m frequently surprised that bog-standard lefty shit now attracts shock and pushback. The most obvious of these is free speech. I don’t support free speech despite being a leftist, I support free speech because I’m a leftist … I’m not interested in giving the pro-free speech case here, but I am asserting the simple fact that free speech has always been a leftist priority … But there has been little opportunity to fight for those values because people seem to have just sort of woken up one morning and decided free speech was out. When did we vote on that? Was there a meeting I missed? If we’re going to make massive changes to basic commitments, we better have a serious process of working that out. Instead free speech is out like mom jeans. It’s politics as fashion.

Same thing with deference to the establishment media. I criticize the NYT or other big-shot MSM property on Facebook and people react in horror. “Criticizing the media?!? Who are you, Tucker Carlson?” But distrust of the media has been a leftist stance since before I was born. The media is the propaganda arm of capitalism and empire. Yes, reporting serves a vital function, but commies like me have distrusted the corporate media for ages. If you think that should change, fine, then argue that. But don’t act like I’m the weird one for not suddenly adopting a dramatically different attitude towards the media out of fear of appearing to be a Republican.

Freddie deBoer, When Nothing is Worked Through, Nothing is Explained, Nothing is Understood

What crooked timber we are!

I think I first saw this nearly three weeks ago, but its weirdness lingers:

Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’” Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.

Brooke Harrington, ‌Vaccine Refusers Don’t Want Blue America’s Respect

Degenerate natural law

When the Supreme Court announced a “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, some thought it was rejecting the very idea of natural law. Really it was asserting a degenerate theory of natural law, one widely held in the culture—or at least in those parts of it which our controllers choose to recognize, such as law schools, abortion facilities, and liberal seminaries. It was propounding a universal moral right not to recognize the universal moral laws on which all rights depend. Such liberty has infinite length but zero depth.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Hillsong just doesn’t cut it any more

I received an e-mail the other day from a longtime reader of my blog, a megachurch Protestant who quit going to his normal church when the congregation became defiantly committed to the idea that Covid is a hoax. He and his wife are both medically compromised, so they couldn’t take the risk of attending services there anymore. He wrote:

Based on your writings, I decided to give the Greek Orthodox Church a try.  I’ve been attending on and off for 8 months.  Now that we are vaccinated, I am also back at my old church, but after a service that opens a window to Heaven so the congregation can sing the Trisagion [“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”] with the angels, Hillsong pop music falls flat.  Having seen the members participate in the last supper with the Lord, passing around a tray of sliced up pie crust to "commemorate" the event doesn’t cut it.  Bottom line, I’m likely on my way to Orthodoxy.

This is what “come and see” means.

Rod Dreher

Rinsing one book off with another

I am re-reading Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence. After reading Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, I feel the need for something clean and wholesome.

Most of this book was about events during my lifetime. I caught the author in a few trivial factual mistakes and, as she warmed to the task of demolishing religious right leaders, unwarranted or even absurd interpretations and commentary.

But the arc of her account rings true, and she’s right far oftener than she’s wrong.

The big-name Religious Right leaders — Falwell, Robertson, Dobson particularly — loved the limelight (Robertson denied it) and eventually came to instantiate the folk-definition of a fanatic: one who, having forgotten his goal, redoubles his efforts. Such redoubling too often involved wild-ass hyperbole, apocalyptic predictions about Democrat rule, over-promising and, in general, neglect of the very religious precepts they were supposed to be defending.

In the end, their discreditable behavior discredited them, the GOP, the Conservative cause, and worst of all, the reputation of the Christian faith.

Fr. Maximos, a young but advanced Athonite monk ordered to go to a monastery on Cyprus, is nothing like that.

Food news

I’ve taste-tested it twice now and can confirm that the Strawberry Brie Burger at Bryant, just outside of West Lafayette, Indiana, is one of the best burgers on the face of the earth.

Get it medium-rare. Salty, sweet, creamy, unctuous and smoky. What more could you ask?


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.

Irresistible forces and immovable objects

Two serious blogs in one day is unusual, but here’s the second.

Liberalism versus the Successor Ideology

Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. [The Successor Ideology] will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Look how far the left’s war on liberalism has gone.

Due process? If you’re a male on campus, gone. Privacy? Stripped away — by anonymous rape accusations, exposure of private emails, violence against people’s private homes, screaming at folks in restaurants, sordid exposés of sexual encounters, eagerly published by woke mags. Non-violence? Exceptions are available if you want to “punch a fascist.” Free speech? Only if you don’t mind being fired and ostracized as a righteous consequence. Free association? You’ve got to be kidding. Religious freedom? Illegitimate bigotry. Equality? Only group equity counts now, and individuals of the wrong identity can and must be discriminated against. Color-blindness? Another word for racism. Mercy? Not for oppressors. Intent? Irrelevant. Objectivity? A racist lie. Science? A manifestation of white supremacy. Biological sex? Replaced by socially constructed gender so that women have penises and men have periods. The rule of law? Not for migrants or looters. Borders? Racist. Viewpoint diversity? A form of violence against the oppressed.

[Ibram X] Kendi, feted across the establishment, favors amending the Constitution to appoint an unelected and unaccountable committee of “experts” that has the power to coerce and punish any individual or group anywhere in the country deemed practicing racism. Intent does not matter. And the decisions are final. An advocate for unaccountable, totalitarian control of our society is the darling of every single elite institution in America, and is routinely given platforms where no tough questioning of him is allowed.  He is as dumb as Obama is smart; as crude as Obama is nuanced; as authoritarian as Obama is liberal.

We are going through the greatest radicalization of the elites since the 1960s. This isn’t coming from the ground up. It’s being imposed ruthlessly from above, marshaled with a fusillade of constant MSM propaganda, and its victims are often the poor and the black and the brown. It nearly lost the Democrats the last election. Only Biden’s seeming moderation, the wisdom of black Democratic primary voters, and the profound ugliness of Trump wrested the presidency from a vicious demagogue, whose contempt for our system of government appears ever greater the more we find out about his term in office.

… one reason to fight for liberalism against the successor ideology is that its extremes are quite obviously fomenting and facilitating and inspiring ever-rising fanaticism in response. I fear the successor ideology’s Kulturkampf is already making the 2022 midterms a landslide for a cultish, unmoored GOP. In fighting S.I., we are also fighting Trump.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?. I’m marking this as a favorite. It’s just devastatingly effective demonstrating that the Left is the aggressor in the current Culture Wars, and just how damaging those wars are (the Left just might give us Trump 2024).

And, by the way, Trump’s baaaaaaack (at CPAC)!

Why “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for the Successor Ideology

[The New York Times] is the media hub of the “social justice movement.” And the core point of that movement, its essential point, is that liberalism is no longer enough. Not just not enough, but itself a means to perpetuate “white supremacy,” designed to oppress, harm and terrorize minorities and women, and in dire need of dismantling. That’s a huge deal. And it explains a lot.

The reason “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for this new orthodoxy is that it was precisely this exasperation with liberalism’s seeming inability to end racial inequality in a generation that prompted Derrick Bell et al. to come up with the term in the first place, and Kimberlé Crenshaw to subsequently universalize it beyond race to every other possible dimension of human identity (“intersectionality”).

A specter of invisible and unfalsifiable “systems” and “structures” and “internal biases” arrived to hover over the world. Some of this critique was specific and helpful: the legacy of redlining, the depth of the wealth gap. But much was tendentious post-modern theorizing.

Again, Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?. This felt worth extracting from his general discussion of successor ideology radicalization because it gives the “critical race theory” moniker its due.

J.D. Vance finds his inner Winston Smith

“It was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Donald Trump,” – Robby Soave, on J.D. Vance’s volte-face over Trump now that he’s seeking the cult leader’s endorsement for the Ohio Senate race.

Via Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?.

The cardinal problem

C. S. Lewis describes the premodern view as one in which “the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.” According to the modern view—unwittingly set in motion by Bacon, Descartes, and others—”the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” And there is no reality—no truth of things—to order our wishes.

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

This book is at least 19 years old, and I think the original publication is further back than that. And up it pops in Readwise with another insight that converges on what I’m currently focusing on. (I needn’t posit divine intervention: what you’re thinking about and looking for shapes what you see.)

Conservatives are the counterculture now

Because the larger culture has drifted away from the traditional norms of family life, for instance, mere persistence in those norms is becoming a countercultural statement—and a community consciously built around them becomes, almost by default, a subculture with a moral life of its own, provided it is given the freedom to try.

Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic.

Is Levin’s premise true? Upperclass liberals live boringly conventional and bourgoise marital lives.

MAGA Anger Explained

Sometimes, I’m surprised how long it takes for gossip to reach me. This time, it was 5 days.

Last Thursday, a Twitterstorm began issuing shortly before noon, from one @MartyrMade. I missed it because I’m utterly neglecting my Twitter account.

That night, Tucker Carlson took 7 minutes to read it on air. I missed it because life is too short to fit in Tucker Carlson.

Donald Trump read from it during his 90-minute CPAC therapy session (I think that was Sunday). Need I explain that I don’t follow CPAC?

@MartyrMade’s Twitter account surged from 7,000 followers to 70,000. Good for him. But crickets were all I heard.

But today, Glen Greenwald turned over his Substack to @MartyrMade, a/k/a Darryl Cooper, “to elaborate on his influential thread, with a focus on what led him to these observations ….” The observations were a sharp and plausible “general theory” about why so many Trump supporters distrust the 2020 Election.

Spoiler alert: they distrust the Election because they’ve come to distrust many of our major institutions, and not without reason.

Here’s one of Cooper’s many observations, to my mind one of the best:

GOP propaganda still has many conservatives thinking in terms of partisan binaries. Even the dreaded RINO (Republican-In-Name-Only) slur serves the purposes of the party, because it implies that the Democrats represent an irreconcilable opposition. But many Trump supporters see clearly that the Regime is not partisan. They know that the same institutions would have taken opposite sides if it had been a Tulsi Gabbard vs. Jeb Bush election. It’s hard to describe to people on the Left, who are used to thinking of American government as a conspiracy and are weaned on stories about Watergate, COINTELPRO, and Saddam’s WMD, how shocking and disillusioning this was for people who encouraged their sons and daughters to go fight for their country when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq.

They could have managed the shock if it only involved the government. But the behavior of the press is what radicalized them. Trump supporters have more contempt for journalists than they have for any politician or government official, because they feel most betrayed by them. The idea that the corporate press is driven by ratings and sensationalism has become untenable over the last several years. If that were true, there’d be a microphone in the face of every executive branch official demanding to know what the former Secretary of Labor meant when he said that Jeffrey Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The corporate press is the propaganda arm of the Regime these people are now seeing in outline. Nothing anyone says will ever make them unsee that, period.

‌Author of the Mega-Viral Thread on MAGA Voters, Darryl Cooper, Explains His Thinking

Pointing out what may be obvious

I didn’t set out to follow a common theme, but I seem at least halfway to have found one.

  • The successor ideology is totalizing
  • MAGA American doesn’t want to be totalized by anyone but Donald Trump
  • MAGA America, famously if formally leaning Evangelical, isn’t all that faithful in Church attendance, and they’re not letting some preacher totalize them with knowledge, exhortations to self-discipline and virtue. No, they’re going to try to subdue reality to their wishes.
  • This is not a formula for healthy civic life. Left-liberals, center-liberals and right-liberals need to make common cause against the toxic extremes.

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.

We interrupt the frenzy over CRT to revisit Cancel Culture as a bipartisan curse

I know that Cancel Culture is passé now, and that my former tribe has moved on to Critical Race Theory.

But it hit me during this morning’s romp through sundry news and commentary sources that cancel culture is both alive and bipartisan in America.

First, Bari Weiss tells the story of Maud Maron, an impeccably liberal Legal Aid attorney who was canceled by her colleagues for not drinking their latest Kool-Aid:

“None of this would have happened if I just said I loved books like White Fragility, and I’m a fan of Bill de Blasio’s proposals for changing New York City public schools, and I planned to vote for Maya Wiley for mayor. The reason they went after me is because I have a different point of view,” she said.

That difference came out most starkly in education, and in Maron’s role on the school board and as a candidate for city council she was outspoken in her views.

“I am very open about what I stand for. I am pro-integration. I am pro-diversity. And also I reject the narrative that white parents are to blame for the failures of our school system. I object to the mayor’s proposal to get rid of specialized admissions tests to schools like Stuyvesant. And I believe that racial essentialism is racist and should not be taught in school,” she told me.

This apparently didn’t sit well with some of her colleagues.

None of her colleagues, who know that the charges against her are bullshit, dare speak up for fear they’ll be next.

(Bari Weiss, A Witch Trial at the Legal Aid Society)

So far, so perfectly consonant with conservative talking points.

But this, on the Trumpist Right, is harder for me to look at, as it involves my former tribe, involves cancellation of a pubic official precisely because he upheld the constitution and laws he swore to uphold, and cancellation by party officials many of whom took the same oath:

To many Americans, Brad Raffensperger is one of the heroes of the 2020 election. Georgia’s secretary of state, who is a conservative Republican, refused then-President Donald Trump’s direct pleas to “find” the votes that would overturn his defeat in the state. “I’ve shown that I’m willing to stand in the gap,” Raffensperger told me last week, “and I’ll make sure that we have honest elections.”

As he bids for a second term as Georgia’s top election administrator, however, Raffensperger is not so much standing in the gap as he is falling through it. A Trump loyalist in Congress, Representative Jody Hice, is challenging him in a primary with the former president’s enthusiastic endorsement, and the state Republican Party voted last month to censure him over his handling of the election. GOP strategists in the state give Raffensperger no chance of prevailing in next May’s primary.

“I would literally bet my house on it. He’s not going to win it,” Jay Williams, a Republican consultant in Georgia unaffiliated with either candidate, told me. Another operative, speaking anonymously to avoid conflicts in the race, offered a similar assessment: “His goose was cooked the day Georgia’s presidential-election margin was 12,000 votes and Trump turned on him.”

(Russel Berman, Trump’s Revenge on Brad Raffensperger in Georgia – The Atlantic — italics added).

Few Republicans, who know that Trump’s charges against Raffensperger are bullshit, dare speak up for fear they’ll be next.

I could multiply examples were I willing to ruin my day. But I’m retired, and I need not ruin my day to produce more publishable words.

I just wanted to share these two signal cases. And to say that having public officials, or former public officials, so willful as to do what Trump and the Republicans are doing in Georgia, and so powerful that nobody seems willing to stand up to them, is more ominous than some crazies at the Legal Aid Society. You’ll never convince me that a majority of Republicans would have protested had Trump announced that he was cancelling last November’s election because the Democrats were ‘up to no good.’ There is no line Trump could cross that would lose him many of his supporters.

Oh. This too: To the cowards courage-impaired: You are at little more risk of assassination for speaking out than you already are for being public figures. You are not, in America in 2021, at risk of prison for speaking out. You are only at risk of getting primaried (or cancelled by frenzied colleagues if you’re on the Left) and having to find some other work to do. Buck up, bunky! You can do this!

My Grudges

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

Predators at Work

Sexual abuse at group home prompts questions about oversight

by Jason Shepard

January 18, 2007RSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is the oversight?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Indiana to Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Spring House to prison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘There’s things I need’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appropriate action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(From Isthmus, a publication in Madison, Wisconsin)


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

What Liz Cheney’s ouster will mean

What the House Republican conference is doing, probably today, is contemptible, but let it be conceded that there is a market for it in the recently-revolutionized Republican base. So I turn to politics, holding non-political items for later.


Today, we stand on the precipice of the House Republican conference ratifying this attempt to subvert American democracy. They are poised to punish Liz Cheney for saying this simple truth: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” In her place, they will elevate Iago in heels, Elise Stefanik, whose claim to leadership consists entirely of her operatic Trump followership.

Let’s be clear: The substitution of Stefanik for Cheney is a tocsin, signaling that the Republican party will no longer be bound by law or custom. In 2020, many Republican office holders, including the otherwise invertebrate Pence, held the line. They did not submit false slates of electors. They did not decertify votes. They did not “find” phantom fraud. But the party has been schooled since then. It has learned that the base—which is deluded by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin—believes the lies and demands that Republicans fight. As my colleague Amanda Carpenter put it, the 2024 mantra is going to be “Steal It Back.”

If Cheney must be axed because she will not lie, then what will happen if Republicans take control of Congress in 2022 and are called upon to certify the Electoral College in 2024? How many Raffenspergers will there be? How many will insist, as Pence did, that they must do what the Constitution demands? How many will preserve any semblance of the rule of law and the primacy of truth?

With this sabotage of Cheney, House Republicans are figuratively joining the January 6 mob.

Mona Charen, The Real Steal Is Coming – The Bulwark


Here’s the problem that is obvious to voters: If GOP leaders in both chambers were doing a better job containing Trump, Cheney wouldn’t need to comment. Their pleas of “but we need a conference chair to speak for the conference” argument or “see, we replaced a woman with a woman” (albeit one who is more ideologically moderate and won’t challenge Trump’s lies) won’t connect beyond the Always Trump echo chamber. In 2022 races, these dogs won’t hunt, especially with suburban female voters.

The meaning is obvious. Trump matters more than truth. The post of GOP conference chair is now a third-party validator for CNN and Vox. “With Cheney’s impending ouster, the GOP chooses Trump over principle,” CNN writes. “The Big Lie is the GOP’s one and only truth,” according to Vox.

The problem for the GOP is conservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal opinion section and National Review are making the same argument, and they are right.

In its piece, “Liz Cheney is Not the Problem,” NRO dismantles the Always Trump case: “The problem isn’t that Cheney is making controversial statements; the problem is that Republicans consider her obviously true statements to be controversial.”

… Be careful about trying to put people in their place, particularly when they are motivated by principle, patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution.

John Hart, How Purging Liz Cheney From Leadership Will Backfire for the GOP – The Dispatch


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.

More scrapbooking

Larry Kudlow

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

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

Or something.

Liz Cheney

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

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

Amanda Carpenter, Kevin McCarthy: Master of Strategery

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

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

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

Education versus Job Skills

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

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

Alex Sosler, The Liberal Arts for Loss and Lament

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

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

Twitter-Truth

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

Jesse Singal. I love the coinage Twitter-Truth.

Kevin McCarthy’s Big Reveal

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

The Point of Life

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

Freddie deBoer (lightly expurgated).

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

Learned Helplessness

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

Don’t just call me to commiserate and lament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Kristol, The Learned Helplessness of Republican Elites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Catching up …

I’ve been, as previously mentioned, focusing on a fun personal project, which entails lots of rabbit-trails and techie learning. But I’ve noticed a few things that seem worth sharing.


The longer Trump is out of office, and the more the press treatment of Biden so starkly contrasts to that of Trump when they take identical substantive positions (e.g., no action against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashogi), the more I understand (not to say “agree with”) the Trump revolution. I don’t expect to be backtracking after reading Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites and Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public, both on my bookshelf awaiting me.


We are a sick country when Netflix has a show top 10 show, Marriage or Mortgage, featuring couples agonizing over whether to have a vulgarly lavish wedding or whether to buy a vulgarly lavish house and postpone any wedding.

Does nobody ever think of a modest wedding and a modest starter home?


America has gone through four Great Awakenings. The first (1730–1755) and second (1790–1840) were rooted in the conviction that Christ reigns victorious over the invisible economy, that the debts incurred by human transgression have been offset by divine innocence. Christ the Scapegoat, through his unmerited death on the Cross, did what we could not: He paid our debts. He took on the stain of sin in order to wipe it clean. These awakenings had a political significance. By preaching the universality of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy, they helped shape the disparate colonies, and later states, into a nation. One could say something similar about America’s third awakening (1855–1930), which was fired by the social gospel. It sought to employ the universality of divine solicitude to unify the country beyond the divisions of economic class.

We are now undergoing a fourth awakening, and matters are very different. The previous awakenings took place under the firm hand of American Protestantism. But today, Mitchell observes, “we are living in the midst of an American Awakening, without God and without forgiveness.” In the century that separates us from the outburst of the social gospel, our society lost its hope in the Cross but not its sense of guilt. The panic over righting wrongs remains, but gone is the promise of redemption. Without the Cross of Christ, the transactions of the invisible realm must be set to balance wholly within the power dynamics of the visible world.

Mitchell sees the rise of identity politics as a crisis of the invisible economy erupting into the visible. No longer guided by the Christian insight that the universality of sin means its resolution must be a divine act, identity politics apportions guilt and innocence according to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, each weighed according to intersectional theory. Guilt and innocence no longer attach to one’s freely chosen actions over the course of a life but are imputed on the basis of one’s inherited and immutable characteristics, skin color above all. The idea of original sin abides but is tragically twisted. It is still something one is born with, but it is no longer universal. Rather, like the Angel of Death, it passes over some and lands upon others.

James F. Keating, Woke Religion, reviewing Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time.


I grew up fundamentalist and we avoided rhythm for fear it would lead to dancing and copulation so we praised God in slow mournful voices, like a fishing village whose men had been lost in a storm. We never learned to play a musical instrument for fear we might have talent and this would lead to employment in places where people drink liquor.

What it’s like to be old, if you want to know | Garrison Keillor


When I hear descendants of the Magisterial Reformation saying that sola scriptura isn’t what I think it is, I’m reminded of the perennial excuse of die-hard Communists that “real Communism hasn’t been tried.”

Protestantism was fissiparous (schism-prone) even during Luther’s lifetime. And if one glosses sola scriptura to require heedfulness to the interpretations of one’s clergy, then what you’re left with is simply scriptura, with no the sola. And adherence to scriptura is not at all uniquely Protestant if one insists on proper and not private interpretation.


The coverage of the Atlanta massage parlor murders this week may have destroyed any vestige of respect for media and elite opinion. I was thinking along those lines, but Andrew Sullivan says it better:

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran ninenine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

When The Narrative Replaces The News – The Weekly Dish. There’s more than that:

  • Harvard sent out a note to students premised on this being an anti-Asian crime.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones wove it into her narrative of “racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”
  • The Root ominously prophesied that “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect ….”
  • Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false (direct quote from Sullivan).

All of that, on the currently-available evidence, is false and absurd. Sullivan again:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

The longer Trump is out of office, and the more the press treatment of Biden so starkly contrasts to that of Trump when they take identical substantive positions (e.g., no action against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Jamal Khashogi), the more I understand (not to say “agree with”) the Trump revolution. I don’t expect to be backtracking after reading Christopher Lasch’s Revolt of the Elites and Martin Gurri’s Revolt of the Public, both on my bookshelf awaiting me.


We are a sick country when Netflix has a show top 10 show, Marriage or Mortgage, featuring couples agonizing over whether to have a vulgarly lavish wedding or whether to buy a vulgarly lavish house and postpone any wedding.

Does nobody ever think of a modest wedding and a modest starter home?


America has gone through four Great Awakenings. The first (1730–1755) and second (1790–1840) were rooted in the conviction that Christ reigns victorious over the invisible economy, that the debts incurred by human transgression have been offset by divine innocence. Christ the Scapegoat, through his unmerited death on the Cross, did what we could not: He paid our debts. He took on the stain of sin in order to wipe it clean. These awakenings had a political significance. By preaching the universality of sin and the wideness of God’s mercy, they helped shape the disparate colonies, and later states, into a nation. One could say something similar about America’s third awakening (1855–1930), which was fired by the social gospel. It sought to employ the universality of divine solicitude to unify the country beyond the divisions of economic class.

We are now undergoing a fourth awakening, and matters are very different. The previous awakenings took place under the firm hand of American Protestantism. But today, Mitchell observes, “we are living in the midst of an American Awakening, without God and without forgiveness.” In the century that separates us from the outburst of the social gospel, our society lost its hope in the Cross but not its sense of guilt. The panic over righting wrongs remains, but gone is the promise of redemption. Without the Cross of Christ, the transactions of the invisible realm must be set to balance wholly within the power dynamics of the visible world.

Mitchell sees the rise of identity politics as a crisis of the invisible economy erupting into the visible. No longer guided by the Christian insight that the universality of sin means its resolution must be a divine act, identity politics apportions guilt and innocence according to a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, each weighed according to intersectional theory. Guilt and innocence no longer attach to one’s freely chosen actions over the course of a life but are imputed on the basis of one’s inherited and immutable characteristics, skin color above all. The idea of original sin abides but is tragically twisted. It is still something one is born with, but it is no longer universal. Rather, like the Angel of Death, it passes over some and lands upon others.

James F. Keating, Woke Religion, reviewing Joshua Mitchell, American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time.


I grew up fundamentalist and we avoided rhythm for fear it would lead to dancing and copulation so we praised God in slow mournful voices, like a fishing village whose men had been lost in a storm. We never learned to play a musical instrument for fear we might have talent and this would lead to employment in places where people drink liquor.

What it’s like to be old, if you want to know | Garrison Keillor


When I hear descendants of the Magisterial Reformation saying that sola scriptura isn’t what I think it is, I’m reminded of the perennial excuse of die-hard Communists that “real Communism hasn’t been tried.”

Protestantism was fissiparous (schism-prone) even during Luther’s lifetime. And if one glosses sola scriptura to require heedfulness to the interpretations of one’s clergy, then what you’re left with is simply scriptura, with no the sola. And adherence to scriptura is not at all uniquely Protestant if one insists on proper and not private interpretation.


The coverage of the Atlanta massage parlor murders this week may have destroyed any vestige of respect for media and elite opinion. I was thinking along those lines, but Andrew Sullivan says it better:

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We should not take the killer’s confession as definitive, of course. But we can probe it — and indeed, his story is backed up by acquaintances and friends and family. The New York Times originally ran one piece reporting this out. The Washington Post also followed up, with one piece citing contemporaneous evidence of the man’s “religious mania” and sexual compulsion. It appears that the man frequented at least two of the spas he attacked. He chose the spas, his ex roommates said, because he thought they were safer than other ways to get easy sex. Just this morning, the NYT ran a second piece which confirms that the killer had indeed been in rehab for sexual impulses, was a religious fanatic, and his next target was going to be “a business tied to the pornography industry.”

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran ninenine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crime. Sixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

When The Narrative Replaces The News – The Weekly Dish. There’s more than that:

  • Harvard sent out a note to students premised on this being an anti-Asian crime.
  • Nikole Hannah-Jones wove it into her narrative of “racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”
  • The Root ominously prophesied that “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect ….”
  • Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false (direct quote from Sullivan).

All of that, on the currently-available evidence, is false and absurd. Sullivan again:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it. 

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

The media is supposed to subject easy, convenient rush-to-judgment narratives to ruthless empirical testing. Now, for purely ideological reasons, they are rushing to promote ready-made narratives, which actually point away from the empirical facts. To run sixteen separate pieces on anti-Asian white supremacist misogynist hate based on one possibly completely unrelated incident is not journalism. It’s fanning irrational fear in the cause of ideological indoctrination. And it appears to be where all elite media is headed.

Others reached that conclusion about media and elite opinion ahead of me. Just because they jumped the gun doesn’t mean they were wrong.

That’s it for now.


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.