Thursday, 9/8/22

Culture

Bravery

“Many people praised me for my bravery for having done this — to which I could only say: Millions of people do this kind of work every day for their entire lives — haven’t you noticed them?” she said in 2018 in an acceptance speech after receiving the Erasmus Prize, given to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts.

From the New York Times obituary for Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich went “underground,” trying to live on various minimum wage jobs.

I’m sure I read some of her journalistic writing, and even looked forward to the byline as a harbinger of good writing, but I apparently missed how well-regarded she really was.

Conservative academia

Do ten conservative American academics even exist? (Try naming ten outside of Hillsdale College. I’ll go: Harvey Mansfield, Niall Ferguson, Ruth Wisse, Robby George. Struggling to come up with a fifth without Google.) Then again, we wouldn’t know because they are closeted.

Bari Weiss, Dissidents and Doublethinkers in our Democracy

Too stupid for ranked-choice voting?

It seems to me that Damon Linker is arguing “America is too paranoid and too stupid for ranked-choice voting.”

I agree, though, that it’s not likely to prove a panacea.

Todd Rokita does something right for a change

In a stunning development, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has done something necessary and with minimal fanfare:

Nineteen state attorneys general wrote a letter last month to BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink. They warned that BlackRock’s environmental, social and governance investment policies appear to involve “rampant violations” of the sole interest rule, a well-established legal principle. The sole interest rule requires investment fiduciaries to act to maximize financial returns, not to promote social or political objectives. Last week Attorneys General Jeff Landry and Todd Rokita of Louisiana and Indiana, respectively, went further. Each issued a letter warning his state pension board that ESG investing is likely a violation of fiduciary duty.

ESG Can’t Square With Fiduciary Duty

I am inclined to think that these (presumably Republican) Attorneys General are “on the wrong side of history.” I think the sole interest rule will fall because it ignores corporate externalities.

Think of it this way: would an institutional investor before the Clean Water Act have been morally justified in avoiding companies that used streams and rivers as a dumping ground for toxic byproducts? But it would have been unlawful under the sole interest rule.

Now draw analogies.

But meanwhile, we don’t elect attorneys general to be on the right side of history. We elect them to enforce the laws as they are.

A question not worth researching

Cable news is for idiots, so I’m not going to subject myself to hours and hours of watching it to evaluate whether the average political positioning of a CNN guest has changed. But I think the circulation of the particular Francesca Chambers clip you cite as supposed evidence of a Trumpy shift at CNN is weaksauce — and boy have I been seeing a lot of apoplectic liberals share it on Twitter. (Jesus, people, will you get a hobby already?)

Chambers, who covers the White House for USA Today, has been a fixture on cable news for years, not just on CNN but also on MSNBC and Fox News. That she made an inane jump to “optics” when asked about Trump bringing the aunt of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli on stage at a Pennsylvania rally — Hale-Cusanelli is the January 6 riot convict who praised Hitler and posed with a Hitler mustache (in order to be “ironic”, he says, of course) — does not say anything about CNN changing. It just reflects that cable news political panel discussions have always consisted of replacement-level-or-lower armchair political strategizing and posturing — there are hours and hours and hours of time to fill, and they have been filled with this crap my entire adult life. (By the way, Sara Fay and I wrote back in January about how to book an actually good political conversation panel, based on our experience at Left, Right & Center.)

Josh Barro

Politics

Metapolitics

The Right denies the reality of events, clueless to its eventual Emperor Has No Clothes moment. The Left, however, seeks to deny the very nature of humanity itself. Both worship at the same altar, but their beliefs are predicated upon differing hermeneutical approaches within the Cult of Progress. The former believes the fantasy of a technological harnessing of apparently limitless resources to produce an ever-expanding material prosperity, all without consequential damage to the society at large. The Left believes in the fantasy of a technological harnessing of the apparently limitless ability to refashion mankind itself, regardless of the demolition of existing societal structures, and again, all without serious consequences. This latter one, while indeed the more extreme, worries me the least, as it is the more difficult case to make—indeed, often farcical in its extremities—and seems likely to eventually collapse in upon itself. The former, however, I consider the more dangerous at this moment in history, as they appear fully ready and prepared to project and maintain their Will to Power. At these times, you cannot go wrong by referencing Shakespeare, “a plague of both your houses.”

Terry Cowan, Grand Delusions, Past and Present

Political promises then and now

It is, of course, true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do. Nothing ever does half the good—perhaps nothing ever does half the evil—which is expected of it. And that may be a sound argument for not pitching one’s propaganda too high. But it is no argument against war.

C.S. Lewis, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory

Our last Conservative President

When I hear politicians promising that we can have it all — particularly that our postwar “happy motoring” can continue forever, only electrified instead of gas-powered — I’m reminded that Jimmy Carter, who urged some voluntary austerity, was our last conservative President.

Election heuristics

Years ago my friend Bill, an Army officer and fellow grad student, hosted our department for a cookout. While everyone was happy to eat his food and drink his beer, most of our colleagues despised Bill’s beliefs. One of them—call her Jane—took Bill’s small children aside, taught them a left-wing chant, then led them, her eyes glittering with hateful glee, on a little protest march through the gathering. Ever since that day, I’ve found voting to be a snap. I simply identify the candidate most likely to embody Jane’s hopes for America, and I vote against that son of a bitch with everything I’ve got.

Tony Woodlief, The American Conservative 2020 Presidential Symposium

That’s a pretty lousy heuristic, but a pretty good story.

Amtrack Joe’s Big Warning

Spare us the pieties while you knee-cap us, please

How can an American president go wrong in identifying threats to democracy? Biden offered a master class.

[I]n describing their goals, he cast a net so wide it included everyone from those who cheered the attack on the Capitol and the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, to those who oppose abortion rights and gay marriage.

As categories go, this one is capacious.

It includes violent Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — as well as every faithful Catholic or evangelical Christian whose deeply held moral convictions bring them to oppose legalized abortion.

In other words, Biden claimed to distinguish MAGA Republicans from mainstream ones and then proceeded to conflate them. That may resonate with partisan Democrats who have never seen a conservative they didn’t consider a bigot or a fool. But it gives the lie to the idea that dismantling MAGA Republicanism is the prime objective of the president or his party.

Bret Stephens, ‌With Malice Toward Quite a Few

I did not listen to the speech, but when someone as sober as Bret Stephens says Biden lumps together January 6 insurrectionists and faithful Catholics who vote Republican based on the abortion issue, I’ve got to think that’s a fair characterization.

And “devout Catholic” Biden invites just contempt for doing that.

Stephens again:

Is that smart as hardball politics? Maybe. But Biden could have spared us the pieties about timeless American values. As far as I can tell, he has yet to say a word in public against the [Democrat] ad buys [to elect MAGA candidates in GOP primaries], much less tried to stop them. Instead, his speech makes a neat bookend to a strategy of promoting MAGA extremists so they can be denounced as MAGA extremists. Some liberals took a similar approach in 2016, all but rooting for Trump to win the nomination on the theory that he’d be Hillary Clinton’s weakest opponent. Look how that worked out.

Dark Brandon

Surely it’s damning that what so many people seem to remember isn’t Mr. Biden’s message but the nakedly political use of the uniformed Marines behind him (calling Gen. Mark Milley)—and the neon illumination that made the stately face of Independence Hall look like the entrance to a bordello in some red-light district.

Even more striking was the tone. Gone was genial Joe from Scranton, the man who persuaded Americans that he would give them a calm and drama-free presidency. In its place was Dark Brandon, a superhero saving America from imaginary armies of fascism.

William McGurn, Biden is Angry, But Not Serious

Is his church the enemy?

Biden’s speech conflated the refusal to accept election outcomes with opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — implying that the positions of his own Catholic Church are part of a “MAGA Republican” threat to democracy itself — while touting a State of the Union-style list of policy achievements, a cascade of liberal self-praise.

Ross Douthat, Does Biden Really Believe We Are in a Crisis of Democracy?

Realignment

Today’s Right implicitly understands itself as the outside party, oppressed by the powerful and banging on the windows of the institutions. Today’s Left implicitly understands itself as the insider, enforcing norms and demanding conformity.

Yuval Levin via Jason Willick

How small this narcissist is!

Yesterday, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump addressed a rally supposedly in support of Republican candidates in the state: Mehmet Oz for the Senate; the January 6 apologist Doug Mastriano for governor … [T]his was what led local news: “Donald Trump Blasts Philadelphia, President Biden During Rally for Doug Mastriano, Dr. Oz in Wilkes-Barre.”

Yes, you read that right: Campaigning in Pennsylvania, the ex-president denounced the state’s largest city …

The rally format allowed time for only brief remarks by the two candidates actually on the ballot, Oz and Mastriano. Its message was otherwise all Trump, Trump, Trump. A Republican vote is a Trump vote. A Republican vote is a vote to endorse lies about the 2020 presidential election.

On and on it went, in a protracted display of narcissistic injury that was exactly the behavior that Biden’s Philadelphia speech had been designed to elicit.

David Frum, Biden Laid the Trap. Trump Walked Into It.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Tuesday, 7/5/22

There sure as heck was a crack in Leonard …

… yet, oddly, that seems to be how some of the light got in.

Even while living it all out, Cohen felt—and documented—the emptiness of the sexual revolution. His most apocalyptic, almost Ginsberg-like commentary on the world he and his fellow revolutionaries had created was the 1992 song and album, The Future, which ended with these verses:

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder

Leonard Cohen lived long enough to see the freedom of the sixties turn into something else—something that, despite his enthusiastic personal participation, was poisonous, especially for the vulnerable.

Jonathon Van Maren, Leonard Cohen’s Lost Children.

I discovered Leonard Cohen quite late in my life (and his). I enjoyed his lyrics so much that I bought a volume of his poetry, only to find that volume full of adolescent sexual obsessions and hints (or more) of promiscuity. I won’t again make the mistake of straying beyond his music.

Punish the hated standards!

A lesbian law student in Idaho, offended by the sexual standards of the Christian Legal Society chapter and its sponsor, got the university to issue no-contact orders against them. The targets of those orders sued and, it should go without saying, won:

In a footnote, commenting on a faculty member’s statement that religious beliefs are not an excuse to deprive others of their rights, the court said:

Phrases such as this have taken root in recent years and paint an overtly negative picture of religious liberty. The assumption such phrases implicate is that people use their religion to mask discriminatory conduct and then try to “hide” from any legal consequences by invoking religious protection. The Court will not dissect why this assumption is a shallow look at religion, and fails to provide any substance to numerous individual constitutional rights. Suffice it to say, in a pluralistic society, people should honor differing viewpoints and build bridges of understanding instead of arguing that opposing viewpoints are inherently discriminatory and must be punished or excluded from the public square.

Religion Clause: University’s No-Contact Orders To 3 Christian Students Violate Free Speech Rights

The route to the Celestial City

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.

— Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

Via Alan Jacobs.

I’ve got to read about my doppelgänger, Jayber Crow, sooner rather than later.

Pax Anglo-Saxonica

For European officials and politicians, a great fear gnaws at the back of their minds when they look at the ongoing war in Ukraine: What happens if the United States loses interest?

Despite the war being in Europe, involving European powers, with largely European consequences, America remains the essential partner for Ukraine. For most of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Britain, in particular, the reality that Ukraine would likely already be lost were it not for American military support has only proved the intrinsic value of living in an American world order. For others, including the French, such dependence is now a source not only of shame, but of long-term vulnerability. America might care enough to supply Ukraine today, but with Donald Trump limbering up for his second shot at the presidency, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture a time when this is no longer the case.

And as French President Emmanuel Macron has warned, whichever American president is in office when this is finally all over, Russia will remain, its preoccupations, fears, interests, and myths the same as before.

Tom McTague, America’s Necessary Myth for the World.

I feel that I have one foot in in Orthodox civilization. (I don’t know a metaphor for less than the half implied by "one foot." If I did, I’d use it.) I have read enough about Russia that I was starting to think I understood it.

Then Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine, and my conceit went away.

But McTague is writing about us, not Russia, and this is clearly his central point:

The great paradox in the world today is that the “dumb simplicity” of America’s self-perception, as one senior European government adviser put it to me, is both obviously bogus and fundamentally true. The story that America tells about itself is both the source of many of its foreign-policy disasters and the necessary myth without which much of the world would be a more brutal place.

[As a] government adviser put it to me, “show me a foreign minister in the West who really wants less America.”

The dumb simplicity of America’s interventions is often infuriating and obtuse, or even disastrously naive and destructive. It exists in people like Neal and Holbrooke, Bush and Biden. And yet if America stops believing in its myth, if it scurries back into the safety of its continental bunker, having decided it is now just another normal nation, then a cold wind might start to blow in places that have become complacent in their security. When the dumb simplicity is removed, the complexities of the world start growing back.

This is what Ukraine fears and others in Europe expect. In the end, though, what really matters is which story America believes, and for how long.

I wish we had enough internal stability that our allies could feel confident that the next President wasn’t just going to repudiate all foreign alliances, and in fact would do nothing that was both substantial and abrupt.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Tuesday, 6/28/22

Still more on Dobbs

As I know the lay of the land uncommonly well, I am trying to say some genuinely useful things, that are not being said very commonly, on the reversal of Roe and Casey. I’m also trying to avoid worsening tensions. I even exited social media for a few days (maybe more than necessary — I’ve been peeking) when a discussion started getting unproductively heated.

Face-saving failure

Confirmation hearing vignettes:

Here’s Justice Gorsuch: “Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, is a precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed. . . . So a good judge will consider it as precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.”

He added that “If I were to start telling you which are my favorite precedents or which are my least favorite precedents, or if I viewed precedent in that fashion, I would be tipping my hand and suggesting to litigants that I have already made up my mind about their cases.”

And here’s Justice Kavanaugh: “Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It has been reaffirmed many times. It was reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. . . . So that precedent on precedent is quite important as you think about stare decisis in this context.” He made no specific pledge about either case that we have seen. Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressly rejected the idea that Roe was a super precedent.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, which also explains why a nominee cannot pledge to uphold a precedent or to strike it down:

Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Manchin said Friday they feel Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch deceived them on the precedent point in testimony and in their private meetings with the Justices. We weren’t in those meetings, but we’d be stunned if either Justice came close to making a pledge about Roe.

The reason is that the first rule of judging is that you can’t pre-judge a case. Judges are limited under Article III of the Constitution to hearing cases and controversies, and that means ruling on facts and law that are specific to those cases.

No judge can know what those facts might be in advance of a case, and judges owe it to the parties to consider those facts impartially. A judge who can’t be impartial, or who has already reached a conclusion or has a bias about a case, is obliged to recuse himself. This is judicial ethics 101.

An authority on this point is no less than the late progressive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as she explained in 1993. “It would be wrong for me to say or preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide,” she said. “A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process.”

Frankly, no nominee should ever pledge their vote on any issue at confirmation hearings. That alone would be a disqualifier. Any Senator worth his or her seat should understand that, and since I respect them as senateworthy, I suggest that both Collins and Manchin do understand it. Their face-saving isn’t convincing.

Now flooding the zone shamelessly

As I scan the New York Times Opinion page since Friday morning, it’s apparent that "flooding the zone with sh*t" is not a MAGAworld exclusive.

Do not trust the Grey Lady for reliable interpretation of Dobbs overruling Roe or for prognostications about what a supposedly agenda-driven court is going to do next. (Exception: Ross Douthat wrote one of the wisest things I’ve read in the aftermath, and they did publish it.)

Is the court going to ban contraception? Ban sodomy? Ban same-sex marriage? Overrule the precedents that dogmatized rights to each into existence?

Just remember: courts decide cases. They don’t go out and make mischief on their own. So how would SCOTUS even get a chance to rescind these other "unenumerated rights"?

Damon Linker (After Roe: The Reversals to Come), who I respect enough to read when it’s obvious we disagree, imputes a nefarious agenda to the court but skips any suggestion of how it would get the opportunity to realize that agenda.

I can think of no obvious way other than some jurisdiction banning contraception, sodomy or same-sex marriage, resulting in a fresh round of litigation.

What do you think of the life expectancy of a legislator, even in Texas, who proposed to outlaw contraception? Outlawing sodomy would be a hard sell in 2021 even in red states. I could imagine a performative bill to define marriage as sexually binary, but have trouble imagining it getting very far.

If it did, the lower Federal courts would almost certainly strike such a law down under Griswold, Lawrence or Obergefell. Then SCOTUS could just decline to grant certiorari.

If it granted "cert," the stare decisis analysis on those precedents would include factoring in some very, very concrete reliance on Obergefell in the SSM context.

I’m no prophet, and I’m not close enough to the political poles to be incapably of suffering rude surprises, but I just don’t see those other precedents falling until there’s I’m long in the grave and there have been some major wake-up calls from realities we’ve had on call-blocking for a while.

Heartening

After weeks of incendiary rhetoric, attacks on crisis pregnancy centers, and a foiled attempt on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s life, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups formally disavowed violence in the name of their cause. Those who use “destruction and violence” do not speak for them or the movement, the groups said in a statement.

TMD

On a related note, one of my favorite Substackers, Freddie deBoer, scared me by opening that it’s time for the Left to engage in extralegal resistance. Fortunately, it turned out that he meant things like helping abortion-minded women get to states where abortion is legal, or even to help them find clandestine abortions in their own states.

I don’t even think the former could be criminalized; the latter, perhaps.

Victor Rosenblum

As I was writing yesterday that I wish Nat Henthoff had lived to see Friday’s Dobbs decision, I was wracking my brain for the name of his "country cousin" (also a prolife liberal Jewish Democrat) at Northwestern University Law School. I finally gave up. Of course, it finally came to me this morning. So: I also wish Victor Rosenblum had lived to see this day.

Advice for the despondent

After stylishly signaling his pro-choice virtue, Garrison Keillor shows some sympathy for the 6 justices who are now pariahs, and then turns to some good advice for his own tribe:

Meanwhile, remind yourself that other people have thrived under wretched governors so don’t be discouraged. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar threw Bach in jail for daring to think he had individual rights. Dante was sent into exile and he wrote the Inferno so he could put the politician Argenti into the Fifth Circle of Hell. Dostoevsky joined a liberal study group for which, in 1849, he was thrown into prison and sentenced to death by firing squad, and was third in line to be executed when a pardon arrived. He lit out for Paris, London, Berlin, and figured out how to survive, writing Crime and Punishment in serial installments for magazines, avoiding politics. While cruelty is in power, do what Mozart did. Exercise your gifts. Create beautiful things. Wolfgang stayed clear of emperors and did his work and he lives on today and the emperors are just moldy names on marble slabs covered with pigeon droppings. If you can’t write The Marriage of Figaro, write your own marriage and make it a work of art.

That’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do, in my very limited way, for more than a decade. I like to think of myself as that proverbial butterfly in the Amazon, very subtly changing the weather in Indiana.

Not Dobbs

Still flooding the zone

The Donald reads conservatives out of MAGAworld

Bozos on the bus

What we need as a nation, more than anything else I can think of, is a recommitment to basic competence, and, especially, a refusal to accept ideological justifications for plain old ineptitude. Too often Americans give a free pass to bunglers and bozos who belong to their tribe.

Alan Jacobs, I think we’re all bozos on this bus – Snakes and Ladders

Inauguration Day 2017 in a Nutshell

Speaking of clowns:

When a clown moves into a palace, he doesn’t become a king. The palace becomes a circus.

Turkish Proverb (reportedly)

A little levity

I probably have given too short shrift to the January 6 Committee hearings because … well, I didn’t think anything they said would change my life or my vote. But I sure got a chuckle out of this:

H/T Yassine Meskhout


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Proving the rule (and more)

Proving the rule

I have long said that when a denomination forms a committee to study whether they’ve been wrong about something that puts them at odds with the culture (and in recent years that almost always involves homosexuality), it invariably leads the denomination to capitulate to the culture.

I was wrong. Wrong about "invariably." Such studies are usually charades, but not, apparently, always.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (the denomination in which I was an Elder until I left to become Orthodox, and in which my wife so far remains) studied sexuality from 2016 until last week. Then it "voted Wednesday at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith."

The vote, after two long days of debate, approves a list of what the denomination calls sexual immorality it won’t tolerate, including “adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex.”

Christianity Today, Christian Reformed Church Brings LGBT Stance Into Faith Statement.

Note that homosexual sex is not singled out, though it leaps out on its own to everyone who knows what specific sexuality triggered the six-year study.

The reactions from the dissenters so far have run along predictable lines, which I resist critiquing except to say "It is not compassionate to affirm people’s sins." If you think "homosexual sex" is not a sin, and should be affirmed, then we do not agree.

(I do not mean by "sin" what most western people mean by "sin." Sin is "missing the mark." Deciding on the eternal consequences of particular sins, including the sin of the dissenters from the CRC synod’s decision, is infinitely above my pay-grade.)

The heaviest price the CRC will pay will almost certainly be at its highly-regarded Calvin University, a third of whose faculty publicly voiced opposition to the report from which the synod’s decision flowed:

What’s going to happen to Calvin? It’s going to lose its rock star faculty. But it’s probably going to remain Christian. These liberal faculty are going to go on to greater things, professionally, and be able to dine out on how they were badly treated by the homo-hating fundagelicals at Calvin. But the CRC has taken a brave and unpopular stand for the Gospel. God sees.

Rod Dreher. Most gay-affirming faculty will leave because they will no longer be able to subscribe (literally, as in "sign below" — I signed something analogous as an Elder) the denomination’s fortified faith statement; it would mark them as not among the cool kids to relent now by subscribing The Loathsome Thing, especially if they earlier subscribed the pre-emptive dissent.

Rod’s reader Andrew S. comments:

The momentary rush of conservative enthusiasm for this move will please Rod’s readers, but the fury of the left will be in full force over the next several weeks and months. Any university board contemplating a similar move better should study what will likely happen, and plan accordingly for a media siege of their institution. Watch for the following:

  1. a sudden drop in college rankings, unattributable to any objective criterion currently used by the major ranking media;

  2. a tsunami of requests, using already existing anonymous online reporting portals, for Biden’s Department of Education to open Title IX investigations at the universities in question;

  3. calls by social media talking heads to blacklist graduates of the schools;

  4. a sudden mysterious dearth of available federal and private grant money for faculty at these schools, along with the denial of conference platforms for faculty members.

Financial pressures are such that many if not most religiously-affiliated schools will quickly develop new “insights” into the Bible that permit them to cave in to the left, if they haven’t already. Board members sticking to Christian principles better raise prodigious sums of cash to plow into their endowments and strengthen ties with allied Christian schools to bolster their financial self-sufficiency. Woke winter is coming, and Calvin will provide an example of what other colleges should expect.

Do you doubt this? This manifests the "soft tyranny" that a few on the center-right ridicule, but which I take quite seriously, as recently as Tuesday morning:

It has now become indisputable that the liberal order not only uses a variety of quasi coercive legal instruments such as bureaucratic guidances, selective funding of NGOs, and so forth, but it also exploits the liberal version of the public-private distinction to full advantage. It deploys selective enforcement of the law against “private violence” and takes political advantage of background conditions of economic necessity (“the market”) and of the radical conformity of public opinion under liberalism, instigated by the media. It controls its subjects with mobs both virtual and real, threats of ostracism, loss of employment, and a sort of reputational death (the dreaded state of being “out of the mainstream,” enforced politically by a cordon sanitaire).

Adrian Vermeule.

I have said at least once before and will say it again: the Christian Reformed Church was a very good place from which to come to Orthodoxy. It never dove into the zaniness of broader evangelicalism (thought many parishes and individuals have dipped their toes, or even waded in up to the knees). Rather, from my earliest arrival struck me as sober and serious-minded.

Yet I expected it to cave in, because I do not trust Protestantism over the long haul to interpret their touchstone, their scriptures, in any seriously countercultural way.

I’m heartened that this was not the CRC’s year to swallow the zeitgeist. And they set such a firm precedent that it will be hard to backslide very soon. By then, the zeitgeist may have moved on, as zeitgeists are wont to do.

Why the rule remains generally valid

We are not in a post-Christian age, but in a post-Enlightenment age. The reason why these Christianities are collapsing is that they were rationalized.

Fr. Hans Jacobse on the WAWTAR podcast.

Calvinism ("the Reformed faith") is surely among the most rationalized. Its system fails, in my opinion, not for lack of rationality, but for lack of humanity: it’s hard to see daylight between Reformed predestination and simple fatalism, hard to see room for meaningful human agency.

Denialisms

I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.” Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?

Jeffrey Goldberg, Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic.

You can swap "climate change" with a lot of other issues, most famously Alex Jones’ claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, the bereaved parents "crisis actors." On second thought, "the Democrats stole the 2020 Election" may be more famous.

Hard words

A. G. Sertillanges wrote in The Intellectual Life: “The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production…. Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.”

Kit Wilson, Reading Ourselves to Death.

Another excellent article read, on the perils of too much reading.

Babylon, not Israel

[S]ome see America as a new Israel, God’s chosen country that’s now being taken over by His enemies, rather than a new Babylon in which Jesus-followers are mixed in with many others.

Marvin Olasky, The Sixty Years’ War: Evangelical Christianity in the Age of Trump.

The oldest lie of all is the denial of death.

The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.

FFatalism, The dishonest land The whole short posting was excellent in a bleak sort of way.

And, God help me, I love cities anyway.‌

Dad theory

My kids—if I can even use the possessive—are a part of me, but I cannot see them if I reduce them to my own reflection. Parenthood entails limitless closeness; all parents see more of their very young children than their kids can see of themselves. Being a dad, though, means perceiving this intimacy from a distance and working to make it outwardly manifest through awkward, conscious effort. This dialectical relationship resembles good thinking, which brings us to the first moment of Dad Theory. Dads guard against losing themselves in particularity, on one hand, and losing themselves in abstraction, on the other. Being a dad means being neither too attached to one’s own concerns to see things clearly, nor too impressed by speculation to see the messiness of real life. To practice Dad Theory is to negotiate with the known unknowns—and to trust that love is a stable point you can use to navigate through ambiguity to reach something solid and sure.

Matt Dinan, ‌It’s Time for Some Dad Theory, via Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dads Choosing to be Dependable

When is a coup too stupid to be a coup?

The American Conservative‘s Peter Van Buren looks at January 6 and concludes that the coup attempt was so stupid and so deficient in his post-hoc markers of coup attempts (he sets a remarkably high bar) that it couldn’t possibly have been a coup attempt at all.

I’m so glad he cleared that up. It will be a relief when my subscription expires and I no longer feel duty-bound to rummage through such garbage in search of nourishment.

Word of the day:

Portent. Since portents don’t come with Divinely-inscribed subtitles, I’ll leave it to you to decide what this means.

But if you want to call it "mere coincidence," note that your case is no stronger than mine for "portent."


To the woke, discernment is discrimination and boundaries are oppression.

Richard Abbot, who I don’t know from Adam but who responded to this.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri 6/9/22

January 6, with us forever

After Mr. Pence was hustled to safety, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is reported to have told colleagues that Mr. Trump said that perhaps Mr. Pence should have been hanged.

Maggie Haberman, ‌Pence Staff Feared for His Safety Amid Trump’s Pressure Campaign Before Jan. 6.

That’s at least triple hearsay (someone says that Mark Meadows told colleagues that Trump said) plus a "perhaps," but with Trump, it seems sufficiently credible — and yes, I’ll plead guilty to confirmation bias if you can get an indictment.

The most astonishing part of this whole story is that Mike Pence finally said "no" to the Orange God. I thought he’d taken leave of his senses when he agreed to run with Trump, but it was only his principles that he was abandoning.

I’m assuming that the public "hearings" that begin this evening will be agitprop. I assume that it will be the kind of anti-Trump agitprop that I’m predisposed to believe. But the very fact that they brought in a storied documentary producer to help stage it counsels that I avoid it and rely on multiple secondary sources (probably WSJ, NYT and the Dispatch — which culpably leaves out stellar sources like Alex Jones, Breitbart Steve Bannon’s War Room "television show," Think Progress or other emetic productions).

Surely the gist will be something like this:

This was a violent assault on the United States Capitol, and it was provoked by a sitting president of the United States,” Cheney said. “He oversaw a multipart plan, [the] objective of which was for him to stay in power, to overturn the results of an election and stay in power. And I would say to people, as you’re listening to some of my colleagues and others who think that the way to respond to this investigation is with politics and partisanship—those people are not acting in a way that is healthy for the country.

Liz Cheney on the Dispatch Live

Defense/Defiance

Spend much time at gun shows or at gun shops, and you’ll quickly become familiar with something called the “tactical” or “black gun” lifestyle, where civilians intentionally equip themselves in gear designed for the “daily gunfight.” It’s often a form of elaborate special forces cosplay, except the weapons (and sometimes the body armor) are very real.

Something has changed in the streets as well. It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe.

David French,‌Against Gun Idolatry.

I’ve noticed increasingly that I "learn" things by reading other than what the author directly intended. In this case, French helped me put my finger on what I, an enthusiast neither for guns nor for gun bans, find obnoxious about open carry regimes: they enable performative assholery and political intimidation.

Knock-on celebrity

Some individuals reach the unfortunate but not entirely irrational conclusion that the best way to be remembered is by assassinating somebody whose long-lasting fame is guaranteed. There is something very modern about this approach. In the celebrity culture where we all live, nothing is worse to some people than the idea of dying unknown and staying that way. Shooting your way out of this box is a method of leeching off of someone else’s celebrity. In the celebrity culture, a negative reputation for all times is better than no reputation at all. John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln because he (Booth) was a Southern partisan. John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan because he wanted fame, like Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver—or at least an opportunity to touch fame.

Michael E. Kinsley, Old Age

Social Media in the unreal world of celebrities

Somehow, this seems related to the preceding item:

[I]t is difficult for me not to have some level of sympathy for [Amber] Heard. She has not only been found by the jury to have testified falsely as to critical issues of fact—to have lied—but been so pilloried throughout the nation that she has become a public face of falsehood. We have had public figures at the highest level of national authority who have routinely lied about far more important matters and have never been subjected to anything like the level of opprobrium she is now enduring.”

The rage against her—and the worship of him—has been primal. And there was no escaping it. Over the course of the trial, it felt like the algorithms that drive social media were programmed to stoke hatred of Heard.

Famed attorney Floyd Abrams via Bari Weiss.

The delusion of quantification, mastery and management

You likely read or heard about Jonathan Haidt’s big April essay in the Atlantic, “After Babel: Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.” The thesis is pretty straightforward: social media is ruining America. In the New Yorker, Gideon Lewis-Kraus takes an admirably fair and honest look at Haidt’s claims. Frankly, Lewis-Kraus is to be commended not only for his analysis but for the spirit in which it was presented. Basically, he found that it is difficult to support Haidt’s most dire claims with existing data.

Lewis-Kraus, and the scholars he consulted, are probably right. Haidt’s case is difficult to defend given existing research. Interestingly, however, they all seem to approach this in similar fashion: they grant that Haidt is right to be concerned, but they’re simply not sure if he is concerned about the right things and in the right measure. Lewis-Kraus is also to be commended for the running acknowledgement that it may be difficult to measure and quantify the kind of effects we’re looking for. I remain skeptical that we can rely merely on social scientific data to ground our action. That may very well be a symptom of the deeper (Babel-like!) delusion of mastery and management. But along those lines, this was a particularly interesting observation:

“Gentzkow told me that, for the period between 2016 and 2020, the direct effects of misinformation were difficult to discern. ‘But it might have had a much larger effect because we got so worried about it—a broader impact on trust,’ he said. ‘Even if not that many people were exposed, the narrative that the world is full of fake news, and you can’t trust anything, and other people are being misled about it—well, that might have had a bigger impact than the content itself.’”

Well, that’s kind of the point isn’t it? I mean, that consequence Gentzkow describes is a consequence of social media, which acts as a massive assortment of feedback loops from the social body to the collective consciousness, such that it generates all manner of distorted and disordered actions.

Finally, on this score, I’ll say that the allusion to the Babel narrative amounts to little more than window dressing (curiously, the Atlantic seems to have removed the reference from the title). When Haidt writes, with reference to the tower, that social media platforms “unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together,” he seems to be overlooking the fact that in the Hebrew story the destruction of the tower was not something to be lamented. The destruction of the tower was an act of judgment on the hubris of the builders. I think there was an interesting direction in which to take that story, but I’m not sure this was it.

L.M. Sacasas, ‌Readings and Resources (emphasis added because I share his skepticism about our collective delusion).

Writers shouldn’t talk

Who in their right mind would want to talk, much less listen, to a person who has contrived to spend as much of her life as possible crouched over her computer in isolation, deleting unsatisfactory variants of a single sentence for upwards of an hour? Nothing in my daily practice has prepared me for the gauntlet of a tête-à-tête. Writing is an antidote to the immediacy and inexactitude of speech, and I resent any attempt to drag me back into the sludge of dialogue …

Books and essays are the product of long bouts of thinking, which makes writers fantastically ill-suited to summoning opinions instantaneously …

To be adept at honing sentences for weeks or months is no guarantee of any aptitude for improvisation. Nor does skill at fictionalizing life or theorizing about it correlate with any facility for entering into the thick of things.

Becca Rothfeld, Writers Shouldn’t Talk

From my subjective core, this is almost too obvious to say write. I’m myself in Rothfeld’s camp. I’ve labored way too long over relatively short speeches I was expected to give, and then delivered them as closely to the written text as I could manage while maintaining reasonable eye contact. I don’t trust my spontaneous utterances to be worth the attention of assembled auditors. Obviously, I’m less inhibited about the written word.

Celebrate the First Amendment

An Australian court on Monday ordered Google to pay $515,000 to former Australian politician John Barilaro for failing to take down from YouTube a campaign of “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive, and defamatory” videos attacking him, which the court ruled “drove Mr. Barilaro prematurely from his chosen service in public life and traumatized him significantly.”

TMD. I do not know the details behind this, so I won’t call Mr. Barilaro a snowflake, but I’m having trouble imagining any possible details that would support liability in U.S. Courts. And with due allowance for familiarity, I like it that way.

Dreherisms

Smart to have a dumb home?

The business rationale for the smart home is to bring the intimate patterns of life into the fold of the surveillance economy, which has a one-way mirror quality.

Matthew B. Crawford, Defying the Data Priests

Librarian cosplay

I’m tired of hearing about supposed book bannings in the U.S.

  • Deleting a book from a curriculum while leaving it in the school library is not a book banning.
  • Someone trying to get a book removed from a public library, which tells that someone to go take a hike, is not a book banning.

What’s going on, I think, is bored librarians (is there another kind?) engaging in ritual cosplay ("You can have To Kill a Mockingbird when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!").

Wordplay

From the Economist:

Word of the Week: écoponts, “wildlife bridges” in French. France is building overpasses for animals to reduce roadkill and help them roam more freely. Read the full story.


You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony M. Esolen, Out of the Ashes (Kindle location 411)


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

“Pro-Abortion” is now official (more)

Blogging the ineffable

It occurred to me recently that my blog is an odd project because, increasingly, the things that matter most to me are ineffable.

I’ve read at least one book that “effed the ineffable” by going on and on, shifting to reflect from varying angles. I actually thought it was pretty effective, but you had to be keenly interested in the topic to wade through so much overlapping, kaleidescopic quasi-repetition. (I did find that 24 years of immersing myself in Orthodox Christian worship, as my Parish’s cantor — and not just the Sunday Liturgy — had “communicated” the same things.)

I’ve taken a stab at poetry occasionally, but rarely have thought it remotely successful. Anyway, I once heard it said that the person who becomes a poet to say something is less poetic than someone who becomes a poet because he/she likes messing around with words.

I guess the reason I keep blogging may be that I, too, am going on and on, in prose, shifting to reflect from varying angles — just not between the covers of a single book and without an explicit Master Goal. But in a lot of ways, my blog is a very large commonplace book, but an online friend (we’ve narrowly missed meeting IRL) already took that in his blog (now Substack) title.

Anyway, I actually looked briefly at what WordPress says about my blog (something I rarely do since I’m not writing to be popular), and apparently it’s emailed to 350 addresses, and I assume that some others get the RSS feed. I’m pretty sure that some of the emails are bogus, created for god-knows-what purpose. But a heartening number probably are real people, and to them I say thank you for your indulgence.

A partisan scold as arbiter of “Disinformation”

The preoccupation with “misinformation” and “disinformation” on the part of America’s enlightened influencers last month reached the level of comedy. The Department of Homeland Security chose a partisan scold, Nina Jankowicz, to head its new Disinformation Governance Board despite her history of promoting false stories and repudiating valid ones—the sort of scenario only a team of bumblers or a gifted satirist could produce.

Barton Swaim, How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’ (Wall Street Journal)

Janus-faces

There is something so disingenuous about critical theorists both arguing that they are revealing the real truth about the world in order to change it, and then claiming that they’re just offering an alternative take of history within a liberal context. You can see this intellectually dishonest bait-and-switch in the 1619 Project. It claims something truly radical — that the real founding of America was in 1619 because the core meaning of America is white supremacy, not liberal democracy — and then, when called on it, turns around and says no, silly, we’re just engaging in a thought-experiment to explain how racism has affected all of us, and to provoke debate. Well: which is it? In theory, they tell you it is all compatible with liberalism; in practice, they prove and believe the opposite.

Andrew Sullivan, Don’t Fight CRT. Expose It.

Dobbsian thoughts

Well, then: I’ll be glad to say “pro-abortion”

From an official Planned Parenthood website, an about-face that reveals a lot:

Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed. At least one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion during their lives, and they should be supported and celebrated. It’s time to retire the phrase “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” for good.

Maia Baker, What’s wrong with choice?: Why we need to go beyond choice language when we’re talking about abortion.

I heard a youngish woman recently describe her long-ago long bus trip to a D.C. “pro-choice” rally. Older women were talking of abortion as if it were good, not a lesser evil. One even bragged that she’d had 6 abortions, and it was her primary birth control.

The youngish woman emerged from the bus pro-life.

Amnesiac même advocacy

From a supplemental Andrew Sullivan substack May 13:

[Sullivan’s critic1]: You’re conveniently forgetting that five of the nine justices (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett) were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote.
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: That is completely irrelevant. But even it it weren’t, both of Bush’s appointees were picked during his second term, after he won the popular vote against Kerry.

[Sullivan’s critic2]: Currently, several state legislatures have big GOP majorities that in no way reflect the number of votes each party received in the preceding election. My guess is that one or more of these legislatures will act quickly this summer, after Roe is overturned, to outlaw abortion. Will that be an instance of democracy working well?
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: Yes, it absolutely will. And voters can vote again in November. Again: is it the pro-choice position that no states be allowed to legislate on abortion because gerrymandering exists? What else are they barred from voting on?

[Sullivan’s critic3]: While I am certain there are women who would never have an abortion — and they cannot imagine allowing any other woman to have an abortion — the majority you refer to as “pro-life” is deeply affected by another condition: religion. The majority of the pro-life women you speak of, through their faith, surrendered any sense of having power that isn’t subjected to the approval of the church or their husbands! They have no distinct awareness or appreciation of the fullness of their own free will — their liberty — or their innate freedom to make decisions on their own, entirely independent of their faith. 
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: I’m afraid this completely misunderstands Catholic teaching on this. Women are not supposed to submit their moral views to their husbands’ approval. And the thinly veiled contempt for religious people — they don’t have any autonomy or agency — is a form of bigotry, in my view.

On that last point, see Eugene Volokh’s contemptuous response to that kind of motivated reasoning, which he no doubt hears a couple of times each week if not each day.

Talk less, Smile more.

Now when Chief Justice Roberts speaks of the Court as an “institution,” he approaches that concept from a PR perspective–5-4 decisions are bad, incoherent 9-0 decisions are good. Thomas could not care what final votes are. Rather, he worries about attacks on the Court by the political branches, and more recently, from within.

Unlike Justice Ginsburg, no one knows where Chief Justice Roberts is. To quote Aaron Burr, “Talk less, Smile more, Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” NFIB v. Sebelius may have saved the ACA, but the controlling opinion destroyed the Supreme Court as we know it. The anonymous conservative told Politico:

“There is a price to be paid for what he did. Everybody remembers it,”

Roberts won the battle, but lost the war. Now Thomas is making this point explicitly.

Josh Blackman (emphasis added)

Selective non-enforcement

Of the laxity of law enforcement in protests at Justices’ homes:

When it comes to the contrast to Jan. 6, what stands out to me is actually a similarity: a large protest gathered on Capitol Hill and authorities responded with much too little force to disperse it — including after it got way out of hand. Where things differ has been the aftermath, with federal prosecutors now aggressively prosecuting people who merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside. That seems like overreach in the opposite direction — discretion erring on the side of undue harshness. We should absolutely be throwing the book at everyone who ransacked the building and sought to commit acts of violence against members of Congress or the vice president in order to overturn the election. But that likely doesn’t describe everyone, or even most of the people, present at the protests that day.

Damon Linker (who, should it not be clear, favors discretionary non-prosecution of smallish, non-menacing demonstrations at the Justices’ homes).

I’m acquainted with someone who “merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside” the capitol on 1/6/21, but is being prosecuted nonetheless. The Feds have lost at least one such case at trial, and I’m hoping they’ll now relent on the others.

Point is: I’m willing to extend the same grace I want for him to wrong-headed people who peacefully protest at justices’ homes – even if there’s a federal law that facially makes that illegal.

Overturning nature

[T]he lawn signs in university towns announce, “Hate has no home here.” This sentiment amounts to reversing the fall of man and proclaiming the kingdom of God. And as I have argued, today’s progressive cultural politics seeks to overturn the authority of nature. Thus we have at once widespread resignation—and God-like ambition.

It’s really very strange. One hundred thousand people die of opioid overdoses in a single year, and elites throw up their hands and do nothing. Meanwhile, they put untold millions into transgender activism and insist that the fullest resources of the medical-industrial complex must be employed to attain its goals.

R.R. Reno.

I generally don’t like arguments in the form of “Why are you writing/worrying about X?! You should be writing/worrying about Y!” But I can’t help but suspect that elites have noticed that the people dying of opioid overdoses are mostly deplorables, not real people.

Oh: And that the trans cause is stylishly pseudo-transgressive.

Words to live by

We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.

French writer Charles Péguy via R.R. Reno. I’m not sure that Reno is seeing what he’s seeing, but he’s seeing one of the right problems.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

The impending reversal of Roe (and more)

On the impending reversal of Roe

Will Congress enshrine abortion in federal law?

Democrats are talking about using the nuclear option (abolishing the filibuster) to enshrine Roe into federal law over Republican objections. I’m not sure they’ll hold Joe Manchin either on abolishing the filibuster or on abortion if they do, but let’s set that aside.

If they succeed, I suspect the law will meet the fate of RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: held unconstitutional as a restriction on states’ “police powers.”

A similar outcome on abortion would leave abortion enshrined on military bases, federal women’s uterus-havers prisons and some other federal domains, but at the very political high cost of turning the Senate into a more democratic and less deliberative institution.

What a contrast!

I made it a point to listen to a top liberal legal podcast on the leaked SCOTUS opinion.

As I suspected would be the case, these three law professors offered no substantive defense of Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey. None. Because they’re too smart to think it’s defensible in any terms of conventional constitutional reasoning. It was all mockery (Justices Alito and Thomas, Thomas’s wife, etc.), F-bombs and other vulgarities, unintelligible in-group code, posturing and dark speculation about what other “rights” the conservative majority wants to destroy.

It heightens my appreciation for the excellence and sophistication of Advisory Opinions — where I learned, by the way, of the existence of the other legal podcast.

Delegitimizing the Court

Speculating on possible reasons for the leak:

[F]inally, to the extent that a leak like this has some delegitimizing effect no matter what, that might be an end unto itself: If the court is going to be conservative, then let it have no mystique whatsoever.

This last place is where most liberals will end up, I’m sure, should the draft ruling turn out to be the final one. But there is an irony here, of course, because a key implication of Alito’s draft — and of arguments marshaled for generations by Roe’s critics — is that treating the judiciary as the main arbiter of our gravest moral debates was always a mistake, one that could lead only to exactly the kind of delegitimization that we see before us now.

Regardless of whether the draft becomes the final decision, then, its leak has already vindicated one of its key premises: that trying to remove an issue like abortion from normal democratic politics was always likely to end very badly for the court.

Ross Douthat. I’m glad Douthat pointed that out. I hadn’t thought how the delegitimization of the court started 49 years ago with Roe.

Roll out the protest signs!

Meanwhile, Substacker Rhyd Wildermuth envisions the less-than-punchy woke protest signs that should, for woke consistency’s sake, be forthcoming:

  • Protect a pregnant uterus-haver’s right to choose
  • Trans-women, cis-men, and assigned-male-at-birth non-binary people should not be allowed to make decisions on what trans-men, assigned-female-at-birth non-binary people, and cis-women do with their bodies.

Everything else

Doom’n’gloom

[T]hough I will never condemn those ‘dead white men’, neither can I stand up and ‘defend the West’ in some uncomplicated fashion. The West is my home – but the West has also eaten my home. Should I stand up to save it from itself? How would that happen? What would I be fighting for?

The French esoteric philosopher René Guénon, who dedicated his life to studying the metaphysical decay of the West, called this the ‘crisis of the modern world’, and he saw it as an explicitly spiritual matter. In his 1945 book The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, Guénon, a French convert to Sufi Islam who lived much of his life in Egypt, argued that the modern West’s decisive turn away from the spiritual life towards the purely material realm had plunged us into an era he called the ‘Reign of Quantity’. He referred to this turn as ‘the modern deviation’, or sometimes ‘the Western deviation.’

Guénon believed that the world’s old religious traditions all contained the same ‘universal character’ and could lead towards the same truth. The modern West, however, had unilaterally turned away from the pursuit of any higher truth, and the result had been the Reign of Quantity, which was now overcoming the world at Western hands. ‘Western domination’, he wrote, ‘is itself no more than an expression of the “reign of quantity.”’

All of this brings us back to where we began – the culture wars of the age of hyperreality. Guénon concluded his dense and sometimes difficult study by suggesting that we are living in a ‘great parody’: an age of ‘inverted spirituality’ and ‘counter-tradition’ in which even institutions which claimed to be transmitting the spiritual traditions – most churches, for example – were shells of the real thing. To Guenon, this was a manifestation of an actual spiritual war. He agreed with St Paul that ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.’ Some dark spiritual force was inhabiting the shell of our culture, he said, and driving us ever downwards.

Paul Kingsnorth

How Not To Write An Obituary

Terry Cowan gives some overdue advice on writing an obituary. I hope it was as cathartic for him to write it as it was for me to read it, because (I predict, for no better reason than general pessimism about humanity) that it won’t change a thing.

Setting aside “soulmate” and “love-of-her/his-life,” this advice is my favorite:

Finally, do not try to preach your loved one into Heaven by way of their obituary. There is no need to go on and on about what a fine Christian Gloria Kay was, or expanding on how much she “loved the Lord.” Frankly, it is not as if the Office of Admissions in Heaven is keeping a file of clippings, and this obituary will be one more document in your favor. Just say “Gloria Kay was a faithful Christian, a member of fill-in-the-blank Church.” Also, go-slow on stating what your loved one will be doing in Heaven now. That is always just so much broad evangelical wishful thinking. It is important to remember that we are actually not in control here, and it may be presumptuous to assert that Homer is now face to face with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When I see an obituary that says something like “Wilma adored her precious children and grandchildren but her greatest joy was telling others about Jesus,” well, that just describes the type of person you would duck down another aisle if you saw them across the way in the grocery store.

The only missing thing I can think of “earned his angel wings.”

Sen. J.D. Vance

In the Fall of 2016, I traveled from Indiana to St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in eastern Ohio for a brief personal retreat. Running low on gas, I pulled off the four-lane road and traveled a few miles to a small town gas station.

That small town almost certainly had more Trump signs than homes, with at least one sign in every yard and not a single Hillary Clinton sign.

I don’t think of myself as especially insular, but I was shocked.

Over almost six subsequent years since, I’ve begun (or perhaps more than begun) to understand why (for what reasons or interests other than perverse nihilism or lib-trolling) people like rural Ohioans voted for Trump. They’ve been passed over, and they’re not accepting the idea that they deserve it because they’re of less value than coastal Americans.

Fair point. Weighty, even.

I still detest Trump personally (for reasons I summarize as “toxic narcissism” because writing a Bill of Particulars could consume my whole remaining life), and I regret that a Republican populist must kiss his hind-parts and get his endorsement to win a primary.

So Tuesday’s Ohio primary victory of J.D. Vance Tuesday, after he finally got Trump’s endorsement, isn’t much of a surprise, nor will his victory in the Fall be a surprise.

I hope he can become his own man again after the abasement of his campaign. He’s a bright guy who could elevate the debate if he wants to.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Newsfasting

We Orthodox Christians have just started Lent yesterday, and I’m already irritable from not being able to stuff my face promiscuously! Or from something.

There are always dozens of reasons for irritation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ukraine

I find that some news just kind of splashes up onto my pants legs even when I’m limiting news consumption. Believe me that I’m limiting news:

  • Reading the Economist World in Brief and The Morning Dispatch for top news, but rarely click through the Economist.
  • Entirely skipping the Wall Street Journal.
  • Limiting New York Times to obituaries, religion (almost never anything good or even new there), a glance at the Opinions page, and maybe sports and travel.
  • Investigative reporting is higher-quality than regular news, but I still can’t do anything about most of what I see in The Intercept, ProPublica, and bellingcat, so I skip them most of the time.
  • When someone I respect recommends analysis by someone else that I respect, I’ll usually click through if the topic is of interest.

This is still a work in process. I may, at the risk of irritability, cut back further.

Ukraine sues Russia

Last week the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals, launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine. On Monday the International Court of Justice, which judges governments, hears allegations of genocide. But these are not accusations against Russia. Rather, Ukraine wants the court to rule that Russia’s own allegations of genocide against Ukraine in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are false and contrary to international law.

Russia accepts the authority of the ICJ (unlike that of the ICC). But Ukraine does not expect its neighbour to bow to the court’s verdict. Russia did not even turn up to the court on Monday (their defence was due on Tuesday). Instead, Ukraine hopes that a verdict in its favour would strip Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of any vestige of legal pretext for an invasion, which, he claims, was launched to stop the supposed genocide.

Economist World in Brief.

How interesting to ask a court to rule that your invader’s excuse for invasion is a lie — and the invader has no answer to your “put up or shut up” challenge.

How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia

Ross Douthat, How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia is a brilliant distillation of nuclear wisdom, it seems to me.

In short, our conventional forces are so vastly superior to those of Russia that if we directly engaged Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, we’d quickly put Putin’s back to the wall and he might, quite literally, go nuclear.

I guess not all problems are answerable with technology, huh? I’ll take a wise man over a technocrat (almost) any day.

Longfellow was right

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.”

George Will via the Morning Dispatch

Private Sanctions and Cancel Culture

The Bulwark chronicles how private companies and other non-government actors are punishing Russia for the Ukraine invasion.

I am not entirely amused because this sort of private war is also being waged against Wrongthink in America. For instance, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin and her husband have been banned from AirBNB for associating with Nick Fuentes, of whom AirBNB (and almost everyone else, including me) does not approve.

It may come to the point that making “exercise of free association or free speech rights” protected classes will be a better choice than letting cancel culture commit a kind of economic terrorism.

Fourth Generation War

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we face Fourth Generation war, not against state militaries similar to our own but non-state forces that fight very differently. While the next conservatism favors a strong defense, it should also question the hundreds of billions of dollars we pour annually into legacy forces and weapons suitable only for fighting other states. A strong defense requires military reform, not just heaps of money.

Andrew J. Bacevich, J. David Hoeveler, James Kurth, Dermot Quinn, Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, et al., The Essence of Conservatism

Russia may be about to experience this in Ukraine if they seek to occupy.

(I’ll bet William Lind wrote this item. He’s always talking about Fourth Generation warfare.)

Gallows humor?

Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that “anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.” But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.

Maria Varenikova, ‌Hate for Putin’s Russia Consumes Ukraine, H/T Claire Berlinski via The Morning Dispatch

Patriotism in its purest, loveliest form

After more than 24 years away, Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan finally returned to Odessa, the city where she and her parents were born. “Now that I’m finally here, I wish I wasn’t,” she writes in her dispatch from the coastal city, where she’s been able to reconnect with her 81-year-old great aunt, Baba Zina, who refused to evacuate. “When I asked why that was, she scolded me, telling me to not get distracted from driving. Then she explained that she was born in this city. It’s her home. She visited the United States four times. Four of her siblings moved there, but she returned to Odessa each time. There’s something about this city—with its roots back in imperial Russia, its classic architecture, its appreciation for artists and its Black Sea beaches—that make people romantic about it. Peak Odessa: The opera and ballet theater is the most fortified building in town, surrounded by a wall of sandbags. ‘I visited the Vienna opera house just to see how it compared to ours. Ours is better,’ Zina said as we drove by the theater. ‘I went to the one in Paris, too. It was nice, of course. But ours is nicer.’”

via The Morning Dispatch

Three items from Protestants

Choosing a story

I haven’t quoted Jake Meador in a while because I stopped following him because I was too busy wallowing in “news.” because reasons.

The core problem facing the western church today is that virtually everyone, including many of us, believes that the most basic, elemental right a person has is the right to self-designate. This means that, as we are cast adrift in the world, trying to make sense of who we are, where we are, and what we ought to do, we mostly do not turn outward and allow the need of neighbor and nature to answer our questions. We do not look to culture for guidance or to family or to faith. In the words of Hauerwas, *“we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story.” And so to answer the question of who we are, we look inward toward our own ambition and aspiration, desire and need. We act according to that, with scant attention paid to the costs such action will have for the world or for our neighbors.

Jake Meador, touting his new book, What Are Christians For?: Life Together at the End of the World (emphasis added).

You could do much worse than Jake Meador on the internet.

Put on the whole snappy comebacks of God

[W]e’re not really after understanding, I [] think, but rather the maintenance of a certain way of life which is sustained not necessarily through ordering affections and desires toward good ends, but rather simply through a kind of automated acquiescence to authority figures.

One gets the idea from a fair bit of Christian worldview literature (especially when some conference or course is being advertised) that a worldview is almost like a set of categories you can download, and then march out into the world equipped with the right answers and knowing in advance how to refute the wrong answers. But this is not how people learn—not how they learn real meaningful knowledge and wisdom at any rate. This kind of pre-packaged knowledge turns out to be awfully flimsy and brittle when confronted with the complexities of the real world.

Jake Meador again (quoting Brad Littlejohn), but a different blog post.

I’ve been around smart Evangelicals who thought “Worldview camps” and such were really good and really cutting edge. I had figured out pretty early on that they were pretty much as Brad Littlejohn says. Plus you can’t overcome the effects of six daily hours of public school and three daily hours of television with a one- or two-week camp.

Grokking ‘Sin’

It wasn’t until college that I ever really thought about the Christian doctrine of sin. I had grown up in a Baptist church hearing about how Jesus *“died for our sins,” but it seemed that sin was the breaking of certain rules — drinking too much, sleeping around, lying, murder and stealing …

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and *“under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval …

This is the slow dawning that I had about myself in college, and with it came liberation. Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Tish Harrison Warren

Seeing sin as mere rule-breaking is, in my personal experience, the worst thing about Christian fundamentalist taboos (smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards and secret societies) of the 50s and 60s, which my Evangelical boarding school aped. It certainly gave me a skewed view, which was harmful to me and others spiritually — even though 14-to-18 year-olds have no business smoking, drinking or joining oath-bound secret societies anyway.

Other stuff

SCOTUS Opposition failure

When Kevin Williamson, a bright guy, can do no better than this in opposing a Democrat SCOTUS nominee, you know you’ve got a pretty good nominee.

Summarizing:

  • She’s part of the meritocracy, the ruling class. (He’s convincing on that.)
  • Dick Durbin and his ilk insinuating that she’s got some hardscrabble backstory is bunk. (He’s got a point.)
  • She does not believe in the rule of law. (He doesn’t deliver one single iota of evidence for that. Not one. And that’s the only one he says should disqualify her.)

After watching one-after-another Republican-appointed justice disappoint, I’m done with making predictions about actual future performance of a nominee.

Truth in Journalism

The nonconformists over at The Postliberal Order set us straight on journalistic terminology:

  • Democracy and liberalism
  • The difference between American philanthropists and Russian Oligarchs
  • Fact-checks
  • The difference between military interventions and invasions
  • Propaganda in general

You’ll appreciate the next item even more if you read this one. It’s short.

This is not propaganda

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act

The Senate passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act by unanimous consent on Monday. Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to designate lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Morning Dispatch.

My immediate reaction was that lynching isn’t much of an issue today, and I think I was right, but there’s this so you can gauge the problem for yourself.

And if you think it’s enough that Ahmaud Arbery was “essentially” lynched, be advised that (a) you can’t prosecute for “essentially the same thing” and (b) his murderers got life without parole, which is longer than 30 years.

Buildings for nomads. This is how the late Sir Roger Scruton described “various financial district glass-pane shoeboxes—structures.” (H/T Anthony DiMauro). Some might consider that a commendation; I don’t.

Wordplay

United in diversity:

“The EU’s quite vapid motto.” (Ed West)

Ostpolitik

From the Economist:

Ostpolitik (noun): a decades-old strategy of dealing with Russia based in part on the hope that gas pipelines could promote mutual dependence and therefore peace. Read the full article.

Spelling bees

Congratulations to [Name], an [School] student, who is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., May 29 to June 3. [Name] won a 10-county regional bee Saturday at [Site] in [City]. His winning word: Archetype.

Spelling Bees aren’t what they used to be.

Simile of the day

One of the guests was a retired Hungarian art historian. She had the most delicate Old World accent. It was like listening to audible porcelain.

Rod Dreher

Mal mots

In a piece for National Review, John McCormack notes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has diminished America’s already fledgling neo-isolationist movement even further.

The Morning Dispatch (italics added).

Someone at the Dispatch misapprehends “fledgling.”

(And once again, I’m glad I don’t write for a living and to deadline.)

Servants of their servants

For all drunkards and gluttons I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

St. Nicholai of Zicha, Prayers by the Lake XXIX, via Fr. Stephen Freeman (italics added)

How we think

Intellect confuses intuition.
Piet Mondrian

The Economist World in Brief


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

So prolific I categorized it

Legalia

Satire must rhyme, too

David Lat, author of the legal blog Original Jurisdiction, on Sunday named Ilya Shapiro his "Lawyer of the Week," with Michael Avennati and David Freydin as "lesser white men" Runners-Up.

If I have to explain it, it won’t be funny any more.

Thumb on the Scale

I know that Wikipedia isn’t perfect, but it’s disappointing that a partisan can slip in and edit the articles on his preferred candidate for SCOTUS and the articles on the two most prominent other contenders:

Meanwhile, on the SCOTUS nomination front, one top contender, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.C. Cir.), issued her first appellate opinion. It earned high scores from legal writing guru Ross Guberman and high scores from progressives, with Mark Joseph Stern of Slate declaring it “an unqualified win to union rights.” This will only strengthen Judge Jackson’s status as the favored pick of progressives, many of whom have raised concerns about her main competitors, Justice Leondra Kruger (California Supreme Court) and Judge J. Michelle Childs (D.S.C.).

What are those concerns? Maybe check out the Wikipedia pages for Justice Kruger and Judge Childs—which a former Jackson clerk helpfully edited to make the two sound less appealing to the left, while simultaneously editing Judge Jackson’s entry to make her appear more palatable to progressives.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Maybe this can take the heat off Ilya Shapiro. Less logical things have happened.

Against collusive secrecy

A UCLA First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic student and I were just appointed by a District Court as amicus to file a brief supporting the right of public access and opposing sealing of certain documents. The parties had both agreed to sealing, but "courts are duty-bound to protect public access to judicial proceedings and records," even as to "stipulated sealings … where the parties agree." And appointing an amicus curiae to represent the no-sealing position will help give the court an adversary presentation on the matter.

Eugene Volokh. I did not know, and am happy to learn, that courts are duty-bound to protect public access to judicial proceedings and records. If the parties want to keep everything under wraps, they should go to private arbitration. I don’t want my taxes paying for secret, possibly collusive court proceedings.

Mainstream Media

As close as they come to fresh Russia news

[A] substantial part of the added value I seek to bring to reporting and analysis is derived from my following the Russian-language electronic and print media closely, whereas the vast majority of commentators who populate Western television news and op-ed pages only offer up synthetic, rearranged factoids and unsubstantiated claims from the reports and analysis of their peers. Investigative reporting does not exist among mainstream. Reprinting handouts from anonymous sources in high places of the Pentagon and State Department is the closest they come to daily fresh “news.”

Gilbert Doctorow

When the "news" fails to inform

So Joe Rogan "used a racial slur," "the N-word," on his podcast. It is a shame that we can’t even talk about whether he was using it as a racial slur, or whether he was quoting some historic literature, or whether the word qua word was the being discussed (as I’m discussing it now).

Well, that was my reaction to the Wall Street Journal’s cryptic telling of the tale. The Morning Dispatch comes helpfully much closer:

Rogan apologized over the weekend for repeatedly saying the N-word in older podcasts—he said he used to think it was acceptable to use in context ….

It has been a long time since a white man could say [Voldemort] repeatedly, even in context, without giving offense. Rogan should have (and probably did) know better.

I hope I don’t need to write any more about Rogan, but the censors are still probing getting him kicked off Spotify.

Miscellany

What’s the goal here?

On that side, a professionally-dressed young woman introduced herself as a social worker to her client. On the other, a disheveled-looking white guy with dirty hair and open sores on his face sat down, and by any measure he presented as male. After introducing herself, the first question she asked was "What are your pronouns?". What followed was this excruciating attempt to explain the very concept of pronouns. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but here are some snippets:

"No, no, I don’t mean your name. I mean your pronouns."

"A pronoun is a way for someone else to refer to you"

"No, I already know your name, I’m asking about your pronouns"

"So for example, my pronouns are ‘sheehurr‘*, so yours would be….?"

"That’s your middle name, which I already know, I’m asking about what word someone else would refer to you, like if they were talking about you to someone else…"

*[I’m trying to be mindful of how "she/her" would sound spoken out loud to someone completely ignorant of the concept.]

And so forth. This went on for about five minutes until my own client showed up and I had to close the door. It’s fair to say that the other guy did not give a fuck about pronouns, nor would it be anywhere near the top 100 of his priorities given his circumstances at the time. And perhaps most maddening of all, pronouns are completely irrelevant in a conversation with only two parties. He’s in jail, and this is what state resources dedicated to indigent defendants were being diverted to accomplishing. Scott Greenfield had already written about this potential trend on perverted prioritization way back in 2017.

No matter what you discuss in Law and Critical Deviant Sexuality class at Yale Law School, you’re given a few minutes to gather the information necessary to save a client’s life, to get the client bail or know whether to take the plea offer. You can spend those few minutes on things that you feel deeply about or things that they feel deeply about, like beating the rap.

And here’s the kicker: most of the people you will represent will be minority, poor, male and, yes, guilty, to some greater or lesser extent. Like me, they too are not woke. Even if they are, they don’t give a damn about it at the moment, and want you to be a tough lawyer focused only on what they need rather than your feminist agenda or transsexual sensitivity.

Yassine Meskhout, ‌Three Little Pronouns Go To Court

Be it remembered that a fanatic is one who, having lost sight of the goal, redoubles xyrs efforts.

Living in the free world after the end of history

Once, I thought I lived in the free world. The liberal West was supposed to be the point on which the arc of history converged. But nobody talks like that any more. History has started up again, and we are all just holding tight.

… [W]hat happened when the [Berlin] wall fell was not the triumph of freedom over oppression so much as the defeat of one Western ideology by another. The one that came through was the oldest, subtlest and longest-lasting, one which disguised itself so well that we didn’t know it was an ideology at all: liberalism.

… Each … upheaval[], whether in Jacobin France, Marxist Russia or Nazi Germany, failed to create the promised utopias but did have the effect of clearing away the the traditional structures of the pre-modern era. Into the void created by this process rushed the Machine – the ‘monster that grows in deserts’ – with its sensibility of control, measurement, utility and profit.

In this new world, the three poles of culture would no longer be people, place and prayer, but individual, market and state.

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World

Unavoidably incomplete pictures

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle teaches us that if you isolate a particle, you have to stop the flow of the wave. The key concept here is not that isolating the particle gives you a false picture of reality, but rather that isolating the particle gives you an unavoidably incomplete picture of reality. The mistake is to think that by isolating and pinning down the particle (so to speak), we have made it possible to know the full story.

Think of the famous line of Wordsworth: “We murder to dissect.” We have to remove a living creature from the flow of life in order to dismember it to study it. This is fine, but we must not be under the illusion that life is merely a combination of discrete parts. To think this way, though, is to see the world as a madman does.

Rod Dreher

Grotesque?

  • "Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."
  • “When you have to assume that [your audience is not Christian], then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” Her audience assumed, in its midcentury optimism, that everything was OK. But everything is not OK. There is something wrong with humanity. There is something unnatural in nature.

Flannery O’Connor, via Plough

A trigger-warned recommendation

I recommend Abigail Shrier’s ‌Child Custody’s Gender Gauntlet only if you have a strong stomach and have not been feeling despair over the culture’s direction. (It’s also available here.) It upset me about as much as anything I’ve read in the last month or so.

Consider that (a) a recommendation and (b) a trigger warning.

A creed for rogues

Man is the measure of all things, but man has no fixed nature. Man measures all things by his words, but words have no fixed meanings. Language is not an instrument for finding truth, but for changing it. Those who can master it, master all. It is a good creed for rogues, and commends itself to tyrants in every age.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

My pronouns

I’ve got a presumption against making nice with people who solemnly pronounce their pronouns, let alone people who waste precious time on the topic, but I’ve been dreaming of getting back to Paris, so I just updated one social medium profile to specify my pronouns as il/son/lui-même.

Covid

Safetyism on Parade

I probably could have put this under politics, but since I take a swipe at Dubya along with the quoted swipe at Buttigieg, I think it belongs here.

In a recent Department of Transportation report, Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote that “zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways.” Although that sounds nice, it’s obviously not true, George Will argues in his latest Washington Post column, and it’s irresponsible to pretend it is. “The phrase ‘zero tolerance’ (of a virus, or violence, or something) is favored by people who are allergic to making judgments and distinctions: i.e., thinking,” he writes. “There must … be limits to prophylactic measures against even clear and present dangers. Otherwise, public health officials will meet no resistance to the primal urge of all government agencies: the urge to maximize their missions. … When Buttigieg identifies as ‘the only acceptable’ social outcome something that is unattainable, we see how government forfeits the public’s trust. Americans are hitting the mute button on government that calls life’s elemental realities and painful trade-offs unacceptable.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Be it remembered that I "hit the mute button" on the GOP in January 2005, when Dubya declared as national policy eradication of tyranny from the world.

That "There must … be limits to prophylactic measures against even clear and present dangers" is a message many progressive friends in the arts aren’t willing to hear yet when it comes to Covid. I’m ready to treat Covid like the flu unless another particularly deadly variant emerges, but if I want to make music outside of Church, I still must wear a mask, it seems.

Datapoint

Last week, despite daily COVID-19 cases at record highs, Denmark decided to do away with all its pandemic restrictions. No more mask mandates, no more vaccine obligations, no more isolation requirements. To better understand the rationale for the move—which Sweden, Norway, and Spain have since echoed—Derek Thompson spoke with Danish researcher Michael Bang Petersen. “Our hospitals are not being overwhelmed,” Petersen told The Atlantic. “We have a lot of people in hospitals with positive tests, but most of them are testing positive with COVID rather than being there because of COVID. They’re also in the hospital for a much shorter duration than previous waves. The number of people being treated for pneumonia is a critical indicator, and that’s going down as well. … It’s important to be clear that waiting to remove restrictions is not a cost-free decision. A pandemic is not just a public-health disaster. It affects all parts of society. It has consequences for economic activity, for people’s well-being, and for their sense of freedom. Pandemic restrictions put on pause fundamental democratic rights. If there’s a critical threat, that pause might be legitimate. But there is an obligation to remove those restrictions quickly when the threat is no longer critical.”

The Morning Dispatch

Politics

Sore, sore loser, loser, loser

Almost every public comment Trump makes these days is focused on the election … He also warned that he would incite unrest if prosecutors who are investigating him and his businesses took action against him.

Trump’s mind has no room to entertain any other thoughts, at least not for long. His defeat is his obsession; it has pulled him into a deep, dark place. He wants to pull the rest of us into it as well.

I discuss Trump in psychological terms because I have said for a half-dozen years—and previously in these pages—that the most important thing to understand about Trump is his disordered personality; it’s the only way to even begin to think about how to deal with him. (I’m not the only person to think that.)

A wise conservative friend of mine who is a critic of the left recently told me, “At the elite level, the Republican Party is much worse than the Democratic Party when it comes to the health of American democracy. It is led by, and defined by, Trump, who wants to attack our institutions at every level.”

So he does, and so he has. Trump was dangerous, his mind disordered, before; he’s more dangerous, his mind more disordered, now. He’s obsessed and enraged, consumed by vengeance, and moving us closer to political violence. His behavior needs attention not because of the past but because of the future. A second Trump term would make the first one look like a walk in the park.

Peter Wehner, ‌Trump Is Obsessed With Being a Loser

Indeed he is: obsessed; a loser; dominated by a narcissistic personality disorder. I, like Wehner, recognized the very dangerous narcissism well before he was elected.

In a June 2016 essay for The Atlantic, Northwestern University psychology professor Dan P. McAdams diagnosed (from a distance) the then-candidate similarly, writing in part:

"People with strong narcissistic needs want to love themselves, and they desperately want others to love them too—or at least admire them, see them as brilliant and powerful and beautiful, even just see them, period. The fundamental life goal is to promote the greatness of the self, for all to see."

And Jennifer Senior, writing in The New York Times in 2019, put it this way:

"A number of Donald Trump’s critics have reached a consensus: We are being governed by a man with a narcissistic personality disorder, almost certainly of the malignant variety, and it’s time to call it by name."

According to DSM-5, the seminal guide to mental disorders and illness, a person with narcissistic personality disorder demonstrates "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy."

Chris Cillizza, Paul Ryan was convinced Donald Trump had narcissistic personality disorder

Provocations have consequences

[A]s conservatives tub-thump for NATO expansion in Europe and hawkishness elsewhere, they seem clueless as to what these things entail: the integration of evermore geographic space into the same socioeconomic order they find so oppressive at home.

Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Deneen and Gladden Pappin, ‌Hawks Are Standing in the Way of a New Republican Party

The authors characterize themselves and post-liberals, signifying that they think classical liberalism has failed (Deneen wrote a whole book on that premise) and they’re ready to move on.

I tend to agree with their assessment of liberalism, but I’m suffering from a preference for the devil I know over the one I don’t — and a conservative appreciation that revolutions generally make things worse.

Meanwhile, the three of them have enough heft to elicit several push-backs, like here and here.

RNC: Who needs friends when you and your fellow-combatants can have such fun?

As the old saying widely attributed to Ronald Reagan goes, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.”

But the legitimacy of the democratic process is a heck of a 20 percent to disagree about …

“The Republican National Committee hereby formally censures Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and shall immediately cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party.”

… Cheney and Kinzinger’s transgressions? Supporting Democratic efforts to “destroy President Trump” more than they support “winning back a Republican majority in 2022,” and “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

After the language of the censure resolution was made public, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel quickly sought to clarify that the RNC viewed stolen election claims and efforts to overturn said election as “legitimate political discourse,” not the violence at the Capitol. But the message came through loud and clear: Any effort to draw attention to January 6 rather than sweep it under the rug is not welcome at the Republican National Committee.

The Morning Dispatch: Republicans Choose Their Corners in the January 6 Brawl

Ronna McDaniel’s clarification was patent bullshit: the January Sixers who were engaged in "legitimate political discourse" (the ones who didn’t smash their way into the Capital, some of them calling for hanging Mike Pence, in case you’re really dim-witted) are not being prosecuted, let alone persecuted (with the possible exception of the Orange God King in Exile, who incited the riot, and whose successful prosecution for something therefore has some allure).

MTG: Your 15 minutes of fame are up

"Now we have Nancy Pelosi’s Gazpacho Police, spying on members of Congress …." Congresscreature Marjorie Taylor Greene.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Monday meanderings

(No, I didn’t collect all these today, but my queue was getting pretty full.)

Sex, sport, and hard truths

Scientists are generally "uncomfortable with black-and-white statements, because science is all about nuance." But in the case of sex and sport, "there are some hard truths that deserve to be trumpeted." There is a significant performance difference between males and females from puberty onward. Testosterone is the primary driver of that difference. There is a wide gap, no overlap, between the male and female T ranges. Sex may not be binary for all people or for all purposes. But for sport, what most of us mean when we say "sex" is actually what matters, and that sex is undeniably binary: you either have testes and functional androgen receptors, or you don’t. "Full stop."

On average, even in the elite athlete population, males have 30 times more T than females. This includes both transgender women and girls starting from the onset of puberty, and 46-XY males with the two differences of sex development (DSDs) that are most relevant for sport: 5ARD (alpha-reductase deficiency) and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity). The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalists in the women’s 800 meters in Rio—Caster Semenya, Francine Nyonsaba, and Margaret Wambui—are all suspected of having the former condition. They are not "hyperandrogenic females." The latter are represented on the figure as 46-XX females with PCOS (polycystic ovaries) and CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia).

… Pick your body part, your geography, and your socioeconomic status and do your comparative homework. Starting in puberty there will always be boys who can beat the best girls and men who can beat the best women.

Doriane Coleman, ‌On the Biology of Sex, Sex Differentiation, and the Performance Gap.

This is the first substantive article in a very recent guest series at Volokh Conspiracy.


Brace yourself for more rainbow flags and diversity trainings

A tornado outbreak tore through the midwest on December 10, killing more than 80 people. Many are still missing. Some factory and warehouse workers in the region say their bosses threatened to fire them if they left their posts to go home. In the last decade, corporations have been able to placate the American left with rainbow flags and diversity trainings. It would be interesting if this tornado—and the reports from inside a candle factory and Amazon warehouse—reignites something of the old, real labor movement. We hope so. The candle factory workers have filed suit.

Nellie Bowles‌.

Amazon’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is also good.


Hygiene theater

So why are our authorities catering to neurosis and fear rather than explaining the truth: that the virus is never going away, and the way to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated and boosted. Why isn’t that the only message?

I am a naturally pro-social person. I wear a mask when required. I get tested when required. I try to accommodate and respect people’s differing risk preferences. But I’m very privileged when it comes to COVID; doing these things is easy for me. I don’t have little kids in school. I work from home. None of the extant restrictions materially impact my life.

Yet even I feel myself being radicalized, starting to think: maybe it’s not enough to make reasoned arguments against rules that are little more than hygiene theater. Maybe it’s time to break them.

And if I’m feeling that way, how on earth must normal people feel?

Noah Millman, ‌The radicalization of a COVID moderate

I’ve read one fairly powerful series on why vaccine hesitancy might be warranted even if the vaccines are safe. I won’t try to summarize except to say that the storyline goes "so if most of us get vaccinated, what happens then, and then even later — and cui bono?" It’s here, here and here, though there’s a likely paywall.

Again, I’m vaccinated and boosted, preferring the possibly false assurances of my government to the dark hints of resisters. I’ve not been persuaded that I made a bad call, even if eventualities may eventuate. They always do, and it’s shocking how much I instinctively avoid reckoning with that most of the time.


Too old

We need also to be frank about Biden. He’s too old to be president, and most people sense this. He was elected because he was someone clearly not as toxic to the electorate as most of the other more radical Dems. But in office, this has been shown to be a chimera. There is nothing to distinguish him in policy from the far left.

His administration has embraced race and sex discrimination in every part of the federal government; he has endorsed the subordination of biological sex to gender identity in the law; his goal in immigration policy is to enable mass migration, not stop it. His administration routinely deploys the hideous acronyms of woke language — “equity,” “Latinx,” “BIPOC,” “LGBTQIA+” — and any return to plain English and common sense violates their commitment to “social justice.” Just watch Biden repeat the nonsense word “LatinX” in public. It’s pitiable.

Just yesterday it was reported that his administration will offer bonuses to Medicare doctors who “create and implement an anti-racism plan.” An “anti-racism plan” means doctors must now view “systemic racism” as a health issue, and deny any biological differences in health between human genetic sub-populations. This is ideology, not science. Biden views people as groups first, individuals second. That’s why he decided on the racial and gender identity of his vice-president and his top Supreme Court nominee before he even considered the individual pick.

Andrew Sullivan.


Red-pilled

Harvard College Suspends Standardized Testing Requirement for Next Four Years | News | The Harvard Crimson

Freddie deBoer summarizes what this boils down to in the real world: "[G]etting rid of the SATs is just another way for them to consolidate total and unfettered privilege to choose whoever is going to make their pockets even heavier, and that they are and will always be in the business of nominating an aristocracy that will deepen inequality and intensify exploitation …."

More:

You can’t make college admissions fair by getting rid of the SAT because colleges admissions can’t be “fair.” College admissions exist to serve the schools. Period. End of story. They always have, they always will. College admissions departments functioned as one big anti-Semitic conspiracy for decades because that was in the best interest of the institution. Guys who the schools know will never graduate but who run a 4.5 40 jump the line because admissions serves the institution. Absolute … dullards whose parents can pay – and listen, guys, it’s cute that you think legacies are somehow the extent of that dynamic, like they won’t let in the idiot son of a wealthy guy who didn’t go there – get in because admissions serves the institution. Some cornfed doofus from Wyoming with a so-so application gets in over a far more qualified kid from Connecticut because the marketing department gets to say they have students from 44 states in the incoming class instead of 43 that way, because admissions serves the institution. How do you people look at this world and conclude that the problem is the SAT?

And what just drives me crazy, what I find so bizarre, is that all these PMC liberals in media and academia think they’re so endlessly disillusioned and over it and jaded, but they imagine that it was the SAT standing in the way of these schools admitting a bunch of poor Black kids. What … do you think has been happening, exactly? They’re standing around, looking at all these brilliant kids from Harlem and saying “oh God, if only we could let in these kids. We need to save them from the streets! But we can’t get past that dastardly SAT.” They decide who to let in, and they always have! They can let in whoever they want! Why on earth would you put the onus on the test instead of the schools? You think, what, they would prefer to admit kids whose parents can’t possibly donate? The whole selection process for elite schools is to skim a band of truly gifted students from the top, then admit a bunch of kids with identical resumes whose parents will collectively buy the crew team a new boathouse, and then you find a kid whose parents moved to the states from Nigeria two years before he was born and whose family owns a mining company and you call that affirmative action. And if you look at all this, and you take to Twitter to complain about the SAT instead of identifying the root corruption at the schools themselves, you’re a … mark, a patsy. You’ve been worked, you’ve been took. You’re doing the bidding of some of the wealthiest, most elitist, most despicable institutions on earth. You think Harvard [cares] about poor Black teenagers? Are you out of your … minds?

It was in their best interest to use the SAT before, so they used it. Now it’s in their best interest to have even more leeway to select the bumbling doofus children of the affluent, and you’re applauding them for it in the name of “equity.” Brilliant.

It’s all corrupt. All of it. From the top to the bottom. It is so insane that all of these people who are ostensibly so cynical about institutions, who will tell you that capitalism is inherently a rigged game, who think meritocracy is a joke, who say that they think these hierarchies are all just privilege, will then turn around and say “ah yes, the SAT is gone, now fairness and egalitarianism will reign.”

(Expletives deleted (that’s what most of the ellipses are) — and they were numerous).


My missing moral foundation

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at today’s political tribalism, having experienced something similar.

I was a conservative "culture warrior" for decades. My reasons for ceasing aren’t entirely clear even to me, because most of my convictions remain much the same today. Part of it probably has to do with getting over the conceit that people with opposite convictions are necessarily moral monsters who must be publicly anathematized and sent into exile.

But I was never advise of the tacit requirement that I support just about any tomfoolery that any fellow-warrior might come up with. I apparently was, as I learned when a conservative fellow-warrier decided to call for a newspaper boycott over it running Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse comic strip even after (gasp!) it introduce a gay middle-school boy character.

For my money, that strip, gay character or not, was one of the loveliest on the whole comic page — and I said so, loudly, probably in a letter to the editor (remember those? Good times!).

At the time, I was the newspaper’s lawyer, but that didn’t influence me (it just wasn’t all that lucrative). Nevertheless, my fellow-warrior’s mother called me and lambasted me about "30 pieces of silver" and yadda, yadda, yadda. I was reminded of this little chapter when I recently saw the mother’s obituary. She had apologized in the meantime.

I don’t recall other specific incidents when I broke from some tribe I’d never consciously joined, but I have the impression that the For Better or Worse chapter was not the only one, even if it was particularly vivid.

Another time, I returned from vacation to find my firm fairly far into litigation against a quirky acquaintance with whom I’d shared some lunches over a mutual interest. When I heard the allegations, I thought "I hate to say it, but that sounds like something he’d do," so I joined the team working on it.

I later took Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire, discovering that my score on "Loyalty/betrayal" was shockingly low for a conservative. All I can say in defense is that I try to be faithful to principle. And I still suffer qualms about that second incident.

Maybe this was why my Evangelical/Fundamentalist schools forbade membership in "oath-bound secret societies" like fraternities, lodges and such: don’t take an oath that might require you to betray principle for the sake of the tribe. If so, it’s not entirely bogus.


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died ten years ago, and there’s been a little burst of "Boy! We could sure use Hitch now!" articles. The most recent thought we could use him because he was fearless and the rest of us (including the author) are scared to death of getting cancelled.

I enjoyed much that Hitch wrote, the best of which has aged well. But I think that God, in his great mercy, gave us all the Hitch we really needed, and I wish for no more.


Pro-tip

Ignorance has been an excellent strategy for me. I could listen to Fox and it’d make me furious, but I don’t and I save a lot of time that I’d spend chewing the carpet.

Garrison Keillor


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.