Explaining myself

I posted last night some clippings from commentary on the U.S. Presidential debate of September 29, after almost four weeks’ absence and talk of ending the blog.

Problem 1 is that Wordpess, my platform, has been making “improvements” again. I’ve generally used its native editor, and they’ve replaced it with a monstrosity called a “block editor,” which is perfectly indecipherable. It wasn’t worth the effort to learn it since it’s a patently absurd way of writing essay-like things for people to read. [UPDDATE: As I subsequently tried to find a lighter graphic theme than War Correspondence had affected, it appeared that WordPress, or bloggery in general, is focused on commerce, photomontage, and other non-essay activities.] 

Problem 2 is not really a problem at all: even at my advanced age (500 dog years), I’m learning new tricks far more rewarding that mastering a stupid editor, such as not wallowing so much in news and commentary. This was made possible by spiritual adjustments which are best summarized by the advice of Fr. Stephen Freeman (for years, and especially here) and the late Fr. Thomas Hopcko. I’ve said for years that my epitaph should be “Darn! Just when I almost had it figured all out!” — a pathetic joke for a Christian, but an accurate reflection of how I was living. This annus horribilus has been a good one for taking stock of things and changing them as needed, and I can finally consider a better epitaph because that old one doesn’t fit any more.

If you think that’s too much information or a digression, it’s not: It means I’ve had less to say because I’m less “well-informed” and less in need of “venting” about things.

There may be more, but the third factor, the one facilitating my return to blogging, is the realization that I need not use WordPress’s stupid editor. I’ve acquired MarsEdit, on which I composed last night’s blog and am composing this one. It’s worth learning for me.

So I have the blogging tools I need but less to vent about. For that reason, I’ll almost certainly not return to daily blogging, and the conceit of warring against the deathworks already is feeling stale. I may return to the Tipsy Teetotaler name and a brighter graphic theme.

Finally, I commend to you Rod Dreher’s new book, Live Not by Lies, which I got on the Tuesday release date and finished yesterday — a relatively ferocious pace for me (facilitated by not wasting time on ephemeral news — see, it all connects). I think Dreher is fundamentally right about the future for cultural conservatives, but I’m partial to a Christian (Lutheran) reviewer who suggested that we may be heading for more open and literal warfare between Social Justice Warriors on the Left and “Traditionalst” atavists on the Alt-Right, with sane Christians mostly suffering collateral damage rather than being the targets of the SJWs.

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

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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

Potpourri 9/3/20

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

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

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

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

R.S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times

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

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

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

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

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

* * *


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

Trump’s 1980 Strategy for 2020 – WSJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Brendan Dougherty, A Clutch of Fools | National Review

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

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

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

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

Glimmers of light at the end

Of course, nobody other than the Illuminati who created this fake pandemic knows what our future holds, but a couple of people have some lovely ideas that “resonate” with me:

It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thoughtabout our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is “essential” but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.

Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.

Peggy Noonan, A Plainer People In a Plainer Time (not paywalled).

[In a sense, coronavirus] is the first invasion of America. This is the first time that a menace has crossed our borders, upended the daily lives of every American and rocked our ancient sense of safety. Welcome to life in the rest of the world.

Aside from a few protesters and a depraved president, most of us have understood we need to suspend the old individualistic American creed. In the midst of a complex epidemiological disaster, to be anti-authority is to be ignorant. In the midst of a contagion, to act as if you are self-sufficient is just selfish.

But something more profound is going on. We are undergoing a more permanent shift in national consciousness, a reconstruction of meanings, symbols, values and narratives. If the old American creed grew up in an atmosphere of assumed security and liberty, the new one is growing up in an atmosphere of vulnerability and precariousness.

David Brooks, The First Invasion of America (The New York Times)

I’m not sure whether this is Brrooks’ analysis or his prayer. It’s my prayer.

We’ve got more troubles ahead, I’m confident, and not all that far ahead as far as I can tell. Getting a little plainer and being aware of vulnerability may help us deal with that — but I’m very aware that tens of millions would like to get their piece of the American Dream first. But that will always be true until the American Dream is pretty clearly dead.

(And yes, the Illuminati crack was a joke, inspired by Atlantic’s reporting on conspiracy theories.)

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

“L’état, c’est moi” does not translate well into English

This is basically an aggregation with little comment.


From FiveThirtyEight.com, two very useful ‘splainers:

H/T The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


Experts Reject Trump Claim

(Charlie Savage)

I suppose it’s necessary to consult experts since it’s POTUS who said it, and his acolytes will believe him over Charlie Savage.

But Savage’s experts will be dismissed as Deep-State opponents of Trump.

You can’t win this game. It’s like Calvinball.


It’s no excuse for Trump that he’s not a lawyer, and that, as conservative commentator Andrew C. McCarthy put it, Trump “frequently gets out over his skis when he discusses constitutional law” — that, indeed, he “mangles” it. Trump took a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. After his years in the job, he ought to know something about that document.

But it’s not just federalism that Trump misapprehends. It’s grade-school-level civics that the president carries out laws, not his whims or desires, however laudatory or popular they might be. The very Article II that he has claimed gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president,” actually says something quite different: not only that “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” but also that, if he needs authority to do something for the good of the country, he should go to Congress, “and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Faithfully executing the law means not only enforcing it but also abiding by it — including its limitations.

George T. Conway III


It has indeed been galling to watch many within the press corps repeatedly ask Trump why he has declined to preempt gubernatorial decisions or shut down grocery stores when he does not enjoy the power to do either. It was galling, too, to watch many of those same voices erupt in indignation when, eventually, he began to talk as if he does … To hear the words “the authority is total” pass the lips of our chief executive was jarring, unwelcome, and dangerous. Now, as ever, “L’état, c’est moi” does not translate well into English.

NRO Editors

I wanted to just quote the last two sentences, but the first two were worthy, too.


A remarkable thing happened Monday: The New York Times executive editor, Dean Baquet, actually had to answer questions about his paper’s very different coverage of sexual-assault allegations against Joe Biden and Brett Kavanaugh. It did not go well. It is simply impossible to read the interview and the Times coverage of the two cases and come away believing that the Times acted in good faith or, frankly, that it even expects anyone to believe its explanations. The paper’s motto, at this point, may as well be “All the News You’re Willing to Buy.”

Dan McLaughlin

I completely agree with this. What I do not agree with, though, is the conservative trolling line that they’re treating Tara Reade’s Biden accusations too dismissively. Rather, they should have treated Christine Blasey Ford’s Kavanaugh accusations more dismissively, because they were more remote and less corrobotated.

Let’s not repeat Mutually Assured Destruction. Especially as to decades-old accusations, remember why were have statutes of limitation.


[The U.S. now has] a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.3 percent (the true mortality rate is difficult to calculate due to incomplete testing regimens) …

The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


President Trump announced the United States is placing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization due to the organization’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?

WHO can get back in Trump’s good graces by conspicuously declaring an investigation of Hunter Biden as an asymptomatic Cootie Carrier.


State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses – The Washington Post

It would be easy to misapply this either of two ways:

  1. Covid-19 is caused by a Chinese-engineered bioweapon. (One reactionary blogger I follow keeps insinuating such by emphasizing the China nexus.)
  2. The Trump administration should have known that something like Covid-19 was coming and prepared for it. (True, but much, muchlater, and not based on this scuttlebutt.)

H/T The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


New York, New York, a helluva town! In many senses, and not just during this pandemic.

Rich and Healthy vs. Poor and Dead | The American Conservative


I chalk a lot of this up to social dynamics and the ever-useful Iron Law of Institutions, which posits that individuals act in a manner designed to increase their standing within their group, rather than in a manner designed to increase the probability that their group will accomplish its external goals. A certain type of performative, over-the-top radicalism is very ‘in’ online, as is clear to anyone who spends too much time on Twitter. Never was this more apparent than in the way the most online segment of the left treated Elizabeth Warren, who if elected president would have marked a major step forward for the American left on almost every conceivable front: as a corrupt neoliberal shill light years away from Sanders, ideologically. You get points for this sort of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or advances the goals of your tribe — it makes you cooler within the tribe.

It Was Self-Defeating For The Democratic Socialists Of America To Announce They Wouldn’t Endorse Joe Biden – Singal-Minded.

I’ll quote no more as this is subscriber-only content. I’ve admired Singal for his courage in bucking his tribe by raising impolitic questions about Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria in adolescent girls (what brought him to my attention, and a subject he seems to have abandoned, but that probably is for lack of anything new to say about it just yet).

He makes his living at independent journalism, and he’s pretty good at it — and pretty independent.


“Progressive” United Methodists in the U.S. have always lagged behind the culture, but then have spun comforting myth about what prophetic leaders they were and are. Today is no different.

Far from being countercultural, the United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies have too often functioned like cultural chameleons, changing their values and practices to fit in with the dominant culture. They have not operated with a strong sense of identity grounded in Scripture and tradition, and thus have not been able to face off the unpredictable and changing winds of cultural pressure and change.

And it the culture goes off the rails, American Methodism will follow. “The argument based on the myth of Methodist progress on slavery and race, then the ordination of women, and now same-sex marriage, is … bad history.”

Kevin Watson, Methodism Dividing at First Things (may not be out from behind the paywall yet) should you care to read a little skeptical history. Not surprisingly, Watson has a book should you care to read a lot of skeptical history.


12-Year-Old “Politically Vocal Boy” Loses Libel Claim Against Newsweek – Reason.com

Put on your big girl panties and get oveer it.

If you can’t stand the heat, bunky, get out of the kitchen.

If you want to dish it out, you’d better learn to take it.

Have I missed a cliché?


Tara Reade is the farce that launched a thousand trolls, but using Biden’s own words against him seems fair. Joe Biden’s Campaign Exhibits Double Standard On Due Process

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

Illusions of clarity and autonomy

The Washington Post has an Op-Ed exhorting Want to help save hospitals from being overwhelmed? Fill out that medical directive now. I expected to hate it more than I did.

So why did I hate it at all?

1. The clear message is that the some of us really should be willing to die for the rest of us.

There is little or no guilt-tripping manipulation in the column beyond that tacit message, but it goes out into a culture amply primed to understand. ‘Nuff said.

2. You’re not as clear as you think.

“[I]t is vital for physicians to know, and to honor, every patient’s explicit wishes,” the authors say, but “explicit wishes” carries a crushing burden there.

I practiced law for almost 40 years, with a lot of estate planning included. I was avocationaly involved in promotion of appropriate medical treatment for all, such as a symposium on physician-assisted suicide at Stanford in 1988, beginning before “Living Wills” became a fad. (Ever since then, by the way, I’ve been convinced that, for better or worse, we are going to get a single-payer system of some sort. I’m surprised it has taken so long.) And apart from the parents of a childhood friend, I don’t think I ever heard or was able to tease out of a client any “explicit” wishes.

My friend’s parents, though not very old, were tired of living and wanted no medical measures to sustain life.

Me: You mean that if you collapsed on the floor in front of me right now, you wouldn’t want me to call 911?

Them: Yes.

Now that was clear. I helped them doument their wish as strongly as possible, and somewhat to my surprise, they both were dead within five years.

Most of what I got from clients was vague but heartfelt pleas amounting to “I don’t want to die, but don’t let me end up like Karen Quinlan!” Understandable from the standpoint of empathy (nobody wants to “end up like Karen Quinlan”), but not as a concrete decision.

And then I had to try to fit the best I could tease out of them into something “substantially” in a legislatively-prescribed format that by itself was just more of the same vagueness. Efforts at adding clarity or nuance threatened to make it not in substantially the required form.

I couldn’t know because there was no caselaw. And there was no caselaw because …

3. Some doctor you’ve never met before will drive a Mack Truck through your ambiguities.

I can imagine clear advance directives by people who have candidly spoken with their physician about the expected course of a specific terminal condition that has been diagnosed. That’s what P.O.S.T. laws are about.

But because advance directives other that P.O.S.T. orders are (almost – see above) always vague, physicians pretty much do what they think is reasonable.

Maybe you’re okay with your long-time physician doing that, but if you’re in the hospital, it’s likely to be a physician you never met before.

4. Once you’re incapacitated, you’re no longer autonomous.

Early in court disputes over medical decisionmaking for incapacitated people (see Karen Quinlan or Indiana’s Sue Ann Lawrence), judges were groping around for a rationale to keep the courts from being flooded with such cases. They frequently lit upon the notion of “autonomy,” a rationale so transparently bogus as to drive a philosopher mad, and I was too philosophical to suffer such foolishness gladly.

The rationale was absurd and perverse because the cases invariably involved incapacitated people.

If not incapacitated, patients make their own decisions, and are bound (in theory) by no limitations on their deciding. Want to make a bizarre and lethal decision to forego an antibiotic for an easily-treated staph infection? No problem. Injecting you would be malpractice and criminal battery if you refuse it.

But how about if you’re incapacitated? May a judge reason that your life — maybe lifelong disability, or mild to moderate dementia — is so wretched that a reasonable person in that position would prefer to die needlessly of staph rather than to continue living?

My answer was and is “no.” But (admittedly in more dire circumstances) many judges were saying “yes” and justifying it as “autonomy.”

I once challenged a court of appeals judge, sitting on a panel of presenters at a continuing legal education seminar, that “autonomy-by-proxy” was an oxymoron, implying that they needed a better rationale. So obviously true was my observation that her only “out” was to deny that that was what they were doing. (So of course she ended up life-tenured on a Federal court.)

But that is what they were doing. The autonomy belonged to the patient and was only autonomous when exercised by the patient. The judges were exercising counterfeit “autonomy” in the name of the patient.

5. Be a burden to your family.

You can’t get around that by appointing a friend or family member either. Insofar as you’ve lost capacity, you’ve lost control. Nobody, appointed by you or elected by fellow-citizens, can be autonomous for you. Get over it.

So what do I recommend? Proxies, like a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and/or an Appointment of Representative for Healthcare. (The titles and details tend to be state-specific.)

In other words, giving someone you trust (and ideal who loves you) the power to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated isn’t properly autonomous, but it’s the best of a bad lot of choices — by a wide margin, too, in my opinion.

And then talk to them about your values and vague wishes before you are incapacitated.

I only had one client reject that offer, on the basis that he didn’t want to burden his family — and it turned out that he was secretly such a monster — driven by ideology, I think — that most in his family would have grieved little were he dead.

Don’t be like him.

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[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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.

Organized Chaos

 

L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.


Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.


When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.


Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Coronavirus

Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.


To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.


I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.


This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks


Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.


One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg


Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.


Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”


Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz


We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

* * * * *

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.

Impressions of COVID-19

It makes me a little crazy to hear, for example, opinion panelists asking each other “Do you think the President is doing enough about Coronavirus?” Same for columnists who say he’s doing it incompetently (or superbly).

Nobody knows exactly what to do and nothing we do is going to stop COVID-19 dead. This predicted pandemic will be, even if it gives aid and comfort to Rush Limbaugh to say it, weaponized in every way anything can be weaponized, and Monday-morning quaterbacked ad nauseum.

My sympathy for Trump in the face of unfair attacks is all-but-nonexistent, though. He has taken undue credit for good things and now he’ll take undue blame for a pandemic. Welcome to the demagogic way we play politics. But the demagoguery in a time of desperate need for calm and focus is like kids in the back seat fighting and carping as daddy tries to navigate extremely treacherous road conditions: it doesn’t help daddy drive, and daddy’s many shortcomings are irrelevant at the moment.

Hypotheticals and bad similes aside, I saw an opinion piece yesterday that “weaponized” Coronavirus/COVID-19, not directly against Trump but pointedly noting that people with high-deductible private health insurance are going to hesitate to go the Emergency Room with symptoms. They may go to their private physicians, who lack the high-tech paraphernalia of a hospital. Waiting rooms will become virus exchanges. So the argument went.

So: was that “weaponizing,” or was it just bona fide commentary? I’m going with “bona fide but flawed by omitting half the story.”

I’m inclined to think that medical waiting rooms will become virus exchanges in any event, even with Medicare for All zero-cost care. Hospitals are not intended for primary care. They’re not going to put everyone who’s coughing into a private isolation room pending “rule-out” tests. They aren’t God or even Superman and they aren’t staffed by insta-clones of adult Nobel Laureates in Medicine and Infection Control.

What our current healthcare system will do, surely, is increase mortality of a pandemic as people avoid care or delay it past the point where their lives could have been saved. If it hurts Trump and boosts Bernie to say that, so be it. I’ve thought for decades that, for good or ill, universal healthcare of some sort was inevitable (and I think I had single-payer in mind). I’m surprised it has been delayed this long.

If you think I’m weaponizing, do me the courtesy of saying “bona fide but flawed,” and tell me the rest of the story.

We may still do better than countries without sophisticated health care, by the way, however costly our care is.

* * *

Speaking of Bernie, the press needs to be looking hard — not at the unmanageable Bernie Bros, but at the unsavory retinue he has built over decades of political extremism. People like Linda Sarsour. These people will be in the White House and our agencies if he wins. They may or may not be as felonious as Trump’s sycophants, but they’ll probably be, ironically, more anti-Semitic (among other things). It won’t be any golden age.

* * *

And if Trump loses over this pandemic, look for an epic pout and deranged accusations that will make Hillary Clinton look like Sweet Suzy Sunshine.

* * *

Finally, I heard David French of The Dispatch say something last night on its podcast that made a lot of sense of disturbing things I’ve been noticing: some pundits view punditry as a purely mercenary team sport rather than as an iterative search for the truth. (That’s a paraphrase.)

Well, duh. Why didn’t I do that synthesis myself?

So you have formerly sane-looking conservative/Republican pundits saying indefensible things about indefensible actions of our indefensible President because the fans like it that way. Period. I call that “prostitution,” which is why I stay away from places like Townhall.com and Breitbart. I’ll take my occasional field trip into crazy opinions in places I never respected in the first place, like Jacobin or In These Times.

* * *

I’ll no doubt be reading more stuff soon that could have improved this blog, but for now, that’s all.

* * * * *

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

Psalm 98/99:1

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

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

Perverse rejoicing

With a provenance like the Wall Street Journal’s “Houses of Worship” opinion series and a title like Thank God, American Churches Are Dying, you’d be justified in expecting a mix of self-conscious perversity and unhealthy, un-reflective antecedent bias.

You’d be right.

It’s true that denomination-based churches—Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Catholic—have been on a downward slope for years. But nondenominational evangelical churches are growing in number, from 54,000 in 1998 to 84,000 in 2012 …

Fresh churches replacing and created from old ones, armed with modern ideas to attract and tend to a new generation of believers …

… The leaders … generally focus on creating churches that cater to specific needs. There is a church exclusively for employees of Disney World. Spanish-language services are more popular than ever. “House churches,” composed of neighbors meeting for informal services—usually in living rooms—are on the rise as well. Popular Christian leaders like Francis Chan, a former megachurch pastor who now advocates house churches, offer free training for this model.

Those with denominational affinity will be sad to see a certain kind of church fall away. But the success of new models shows significant groups of people looking for ways to live faithfully, albeit in a less structured way. Could this really signify a religious awakening?

Ericka Andersen.

Wow:

  • “Nondenominational evangelical[s]” (but she repeat herself)
  • “armed with modern ideas” and
  • “cater[ing] to specific needs;”even
  • a church that excludes you based on who employs you.

Yet the cockles of my heart remain ice-cold. I must be some kind of monster. All I can think of is the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints without any license to pander, negotiate over it, or erect barriers around it.

I will not deny a certain je ne sais pas, a certain frisson, at the closure of some churches. And God works in mysterious ways, about which circuitousness I can be awfully dense.

But if this is truly God’s work, it surely is to use these curated, Disneyfied simulacra to prepare postmoderns for the real thing.*

I fear, though, that it’s not God’s work at all. There’s another who sometimes appears as an angel of light, and who does his best work these days with counterfeits more than with frank apostasy.

(* The article’s reference to “House Churches” doesn’t trigger quite so strong a gag reflex. Those might prove to be Benedict-Option necessity in coming darkness here, as they have elsewhere in the world.)

* * * * *

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

(Jude 3)

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

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

Democrat face-plant

[I]n the area of historical consciousness [Donald Trump] is, truly, a hopeless cause. But this week Democrats joined him in the pit.

Do they understand what a disaster this was for them? If Mr. Trump wins re-election, if in fact it isn’t close, it will be traceable to this first week in February.

Iowa made them look the one way a great party cannot afford to look: unserious …

And what happened a day later in the House was just as bad.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi shattered tradition, making faces, muttering, shaking her head as the president delivered his State of the Union address. At the end she famously stood, tore the speech up and threw down the pieces.

“But he didn’t shake her hand.” So what? Her great calling card is she’s the sane one.

Some progressive members refused to attend, or walked out during the speech—one said, without irony, that she was “triggered.” …

The speech itself was shrewd and its political targeting astute …

More than ever, more showily, this was an aligning of the GOP, in persons and symbols, with “outsiders”—with those without officially sanctioned cultural cachet, with the minority, the regular, the working class. It was plain people versus fancy people—that is, versus snooty liberals and progressives who talk a good game about the little guy but don’t seem to like him much; who in their anger and sarcasm, in their constant censoriousness and characterological lack of courtesy, have managed to both punch above their political weight and make a poor impression on the national mind.

This was the president putting the Republican Party on the side of the nobodies of all colors as opposed to the somebodies. (Van Jones on CNN had it exactly right: Trump is going for black and Hispanic men, and the Democrats are foolish not to see it.) This is a realignment I have supported and a repositioning I have called for and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t please me to see it represented so effectively, and I very much regret that the president is a bad man and half mad because if he weren’t I’d be cheering.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added) Note that this is her blog, with no paywall (unlike the Wall Street Journal version).

I quote at length because this is the rare occasion when I was uncomfortable with her column. Apart from

  • the snooty liberals and progressives talking a far, far better “common man” game than they’ve played in decades,
  • that there is a realignment of parties still going on, and
  • that Trump is a bad man and half mad.

we were not seeing things alike.

But put those three bullet points together and subtract the Republican loyalty she retains but I’ve abandoned, and we are seeing things substantially alike! I just had to read more carefully and mull it a bit.

I try to avoid watching that man because I don’t enjoy feeling enraged. So I might conceivably have noticed “shrewd” or “astute” had I been watching. She is paid to watch things like that and to call them to others’ attention.

I thought it meet and right to share the impressions of someone shrewder and of cooler head than my own. You may enjoy the entirety, of course, by clicking the link, which I recommend.

* * * * *

Trump didn’t do the thing he’s accused of doing, but if he did it was fine, and in fact that’s exactly what he did, get over it, because it’s not only fine, it’s precisely what we want from a president, and can you believe that Biden did the same thing, shame on him.

Peter Sunderman

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.

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

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

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

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

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

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

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

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

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

 

* * * * *

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

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