Mixed bags

Public Affairs

Public Intellectuals

If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star.

Michael Lind. An arresting thesis, elaborated to a fair degree, beginning with:

That’s because, in the third decade of the 21st century, intellectual life on the American center left is dead. Debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women Are Women, 1619, Defund the Police. The space to the left-of-center that was once filled with magazines and organizations devoted to what Diana Trilling called the “life of significant contention” is now filled by the ritualized gobbledygook of foundation-funded, single-issue nonprofits like a pond choked by weeds.

He eventually recounts how the same thing happened to conservatism shortly after the collapse of Communism, concluding on a hopeful note:

What survives of intellectual politics in the United States today consists of a growing number of exiles from establishment wokeness on Substack and an assortment of dissident leftists, conservatives, and populists, some of whom have come together in new publications like American Affairs, Compact, and The Bellows, and in quirkier couture shops like Tablet.

John Henry Ramirez

One SCOTUS case we all seemed to agree on (except for Justice Thomas) was that involving John Henry Ramirez, who wanted his clergyman in the death chamber, praying aloud with hands laid on John Henry. Texas said “no” (Texas is a very mixed bag), but it lost.

But there’s now a strage twist:

When a judge in South Texas signed an order this past week setting an execution date of Oct. 5 for John Henry Ramirez, it seemed like the end of the road.

Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a convenience store worker, a crime he has acknowledged committing. He was sentenced to death and appealed his case to the Supreme Court — not to stop his execution, but to prepare for it. He asked to have his Baptist pastor pray out loud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber, a request that brought his case national notoriety. Last month, the court ruled in his favor, clearing the path for his execution to proceed as long as the state of Texas complied with his request.

But in a surprise turn of events on Thursday, District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County filed a motion withdrawing the death warrant for Mr. Ramirez, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” His own office had requested the execution date just days earlier, but Mr. Gonzalez, a Democrat, wrote in his motion that an employee in his office had done so without consulting him.

In a broadcast from his office on Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gonzalez, whose district includes Corpus Christi, where the crime occurred, explained his decision.

“For a while now, I’ve said that I don’t believe in the death penalty,” he said. “My office is not going to seek the death penalty anymore.” He said he would be a hypocrite if he advanced Mr. Ramirez’s execution even as he instructs his office not to pursue the death penalty in new cases. Mr. Gonzalez and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

New York Times (emphasis added).

It just goes to show you never can tell.

Gender nonconformities

Why the surge?

After I scanned New York Times Opinions yesterday morning, Ross Douthat dropped a bombshell analysis of what’s going on with the surge in self-reported cases of various gender nonconformities (and a few related things). It came to my attention via Alan Jacobs’ succinct response.

If it’s not already clear, I fall in Douthat’s third “possible reading” of Gallup polling on the surge:

This trend is bad news. What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.

Add to the surge the readiness of many doctors to hormonally and surgically “confirm” kids’ brand-new-but-vehement genders and it’s a real mess.

Douthat closes thus:

I will make a prediction: Within not too short a span of time, not only conservatives but most liberals will recognize that we have been running an experiment on trans-identifying youth without good or certain evidence, inspired by ideological motives rather than scientific rigor, in a way that future generations will regard as a grave medical-political scandal.**

Which means that if you are a liberal who believes as much already, but you don’t feel comfortable saying it, your silence will eventually become your regret.

Jacobs doesn’t entirely agree:

I think this prediction will partly, but not wholly, come true. I do believe that there will be a change of direction, but for the most part it will be a silent one, an unspoken course correction; and on the rare occasions that anyone is called to account for their recklessness, they’ll say, as a different group of enthusiasts did some decades ago, “We only did what we thought was best. We only believed the children.” But they won’t have to say it often, because the Ministry of Amnesia will perform its usual erasures ….

I took the bait and followed his links on “believing the children” and the “Ministry of Amnesia,” and I’m glad I did. I intend to add “children’s crusades” and “Ministry of Amnesia” to my rhetorical armory, thought the first seems more perfect that the second:

One clever little specialty of adult humans works like this: You very carefully (and, if you’re smart, very subtly) instruct children in the moral stances you’d like them to hold. Then, when they start to repeat what you’ve taught them, you cry “Out of the mouths of babes! And a little child shall lead them!” And you very delicately maneuver the children to the front of your procession, so that they appear to be leading it — but of course you make sure all along that you’re steering them in the way that they should go. It’s a social strategy with a very long history.

So, for instance, when you hear this:

“It’s the children who are now leading us,” said Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health for the clinic. “They’re coming in and telling us, ‘I’m no gender.’ Or they’re saying, ‘I identify as gender nonbinary.’ Or ‘I’m a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m a unique gender, I’m transgender. I’m a rainbow kid, I’m boy-girl, I’m everything.’”

— certain alarms should ring. No child came up with the phrase “I identify as gender nonbinary.” It is a faithful echo of an adult’s words.

Alan Jacobs, children’s crusades

Raccoon gender vibe

Even as the Biden admin goes hard on pushing for medical interventions for gender dysphoric teenagers (green-lighting double mastectomies and the like), the mainstream media is finally listening to trans clinicians and trans adults who have been sounding an alarm: The teenage transitions are out of control. 

Here’s a profile in the Los Angeles Times this week of the brave Erica Anderson, a clinician and trans woman (Abigail Shrier quoted her in her groundbreaking Common Sense story last year). Anderson lets the LA Times reporter sit in on a session with a kid who is not sure about their gender and who talks about how their friends identify as things like raccoon gender vibe: “One friend says that their gender is the same vibe as a raccoon. They’re saying that their gender has the same, like, chaotic, dumpster vibes as raccoons.” 

Also this week, adult trans woman Corinna Cohn wrote a heartbreaking essay for the Washington Post about sex reassignment surgery and what it has been like to never have experienced orgasm, warning young people not to do this so quickly, not to give up that part of life so quickly. “From the day of my surgery, I became a medical patient and will remain one for the rest of my life,” she writes. And: “I chose an irreversible change before I’d even begun to understand my sexuality.”

And in a third vibe shift this week: JK Rowling hosted a boozy lunch with England’s greatest old world feminists. Critics call these women TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) because they do not want mixed-sex prisons or sports. The TERFs may have been hounded out of jobs and polite liberal society, but they are having fun.

Nellie Bowles, ‌But the dam has broken on trans issues in her weekly newsletter.

Ultimate things

Just, merciful, humble … and smooth

It occurs to me that over the last 30 years or so, I’ve been repeatedly exposed to Evangelical Protestant types who center their public expressions of faith on Micah 6:8.

Now that’s is a perfectly lovely verse:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

But it is part of the Old Testament, and the immediate context is God wanting justice, mercy and humility rather than empty sacrifices:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

I suspect, knowing some of the Micahphiles, that this verse is a kind of virtue-signaling, a way of saying “We’re not fundamentalists or Religious Right crypto-Theocrats.

But it’s getting a little bit old. Might I commend a substitute: Genesis 27:11?

You’re judging me?

I was in Jerusalem, and in the morning I was at the Holy Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am not a good friend of the early morning, but it was very early. There were Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Muslims, Catholics, Copts, and all the people in there. And I was judging God: if we are the right faith, the right confession, why couldn’t you give to us this sacred place? One of the consequences of my conversion was that I was becoming very strict. God told me, in the same way as the first time, ‘I’ve been struggling for many years to bring them together, and you’re judging me?’ I realized it was the only place on earth where everybody is in there together around God, even if they’re fighting each other, they are there with God.

Father Chyrsostom, a Romanian Monk, to Rod Dreher

Sholasticism versus Orthodoxy

Orthodox often feel that Latin scholastic theology makes too much use of legal concepts, and relies too heavily on rational categories and syllogistic argumentation, while the Latins for their part have frequently found the more mystical approach of Orthodoxy too vague and ill-defined.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church.

I encountered this distinction long ago, when I was investigating what the Orthodox Church was, and I’ve found it very durable and fruitful. However, I recently encountered a possible caveat:

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. …

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Putting things in perspective

The Elder Cleopa from the Sihastria monastery, who is now in the process of canonization, had the habit of recommending patience as the greatest virtue. He would say, “Patience! Patience!” harder and harder, many times.

People would say, “But Father Cleopa, how long?” He would say, “Not so long — just until the grave.” After that, you will see beauty that eye hasn’t seen and ear hasn’t heard, and your heart has never felt. Those beauties are eternal.

Via Rod Dreher


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.

Did the world as we know it really end this week?

Capitalists are not friends of the Good, True and Beautiful

Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who (to his own surprise) became an Orthodox Christian a year or so ago, has continued writing on what he calls "The Machine."

Why would transnational capital be parrotting slogans drawn from a leftist framework which claims to be anti-capitalist? Why would the middle classes be further to the ‘left’ than the workers? If the left was what it claims to be – a bottom-up movement for popular justice – this would not be the case. If capitalism was what it is assumed to be – a rapacious, non-ideological engine of profit-maximisation – then this would not be the case either.

But what if both of them were something else? What if the ideology of the corporate world and the ideology of the ‘progressive’ left had not forged an inexplicable marriage of convenience, but had grown all along from the same rootstock? What if the left and global capitalism are, at base, the same thing: engines for destroying customary ways of living and replacing them with the new world of the Machine?

… Who doesn’t want to be free?

The question that quickly arises, of course, is ‘free from what?’ A key term, found everywhere in current leftist discourse, is ‘emancipatory.’ To be ‘progressive’ is to emancipate. What is it that is to be emancipated? The individual. What are they to be emancipated from? All societal structures. And what is the best instrument for achieving this emancipation? Uncomfortably for both Rousseauvian primitivists and old-school leftists, who have seen large-scale experiments in socialist economics go up in flames time and time again, the answer appears to be: global capitalism. No other system in history has ever been as effective in breaking the chains of time, place and culture as the global empire of corporate power.

Those of us who remember the halcyon era in which ‘right’ and ‘left’ seemed to mean something might find all this confusing, but if we step back for a broader view we can see that the economics of capitalism and the politics of progressivism are both manifestations of what Jacques Ellul called technique: the technocratic essence of Machine modernity. Today’s left is no threat to technique: on the contrary, it is its vanguard. If you have ever asked yourself what kind of ‘revolution’ would be sponsored by Nike, promoted by BP, propagandised for by Hollywood and Netflix and policed by Facebook and Youtube, then the answer is here.

Paul Kingsnorth, Down the River

World’s most tone-deaf political slogan?

[T]here was no “tight spot” for Orbán—and if Western observers cannot understand why, they will continue to waste money and effort on changing the political culture of central Europe. The leader of the combined opposition, Péter Márki-Zay, closed his campaign with the slogan “Let’s bring Europe here, to Hungary.” An implausible slogan even in marginally liberal Budapest—but an insane slogan for a small-town mayor to carry into the Hungarian countryside. The results show how it was received: outside of Budapest, the entire country was bathed in the deep orange of Fidesz. The opposition’s rhetoric was designed to play well on anglophone Twitter, but the Western commentariat are not voters in this election.

Gladden Pappin

Freddie the headline-writer

One of the things I like about Freddie deBoer is when he stops mincing words, as in his title on Tuesday:

It Would Be Cool If You Would Refrain From Just Making Shit Up About Me and Trans Issues

The BLM con

Black Lives Matter Secretly Bought a $6 Million House.

It’s long past time for sensible people to stop giving to this organization. (The right time was as soon as BLM posted their broader radical agenda on their website — since toned down) Black lives do matter, but gullibly giving to a bunch of scammers doesn’t make them matter any more.

Yes, political and charitable organizations of all stripes can fall prey to the iron law of institutions (if they’re not conscious scams from the start), and if you have a "whatabout" about conservative scammers, you’re welcome to bring it on.

After I had written this, Nellie Bowles weighed in:

BLM may be the biggest nonprofit scam of our generation: For a while, the Black Lives Matter organization and its allies were very good at getting people to do their bidding. They could bully journalists into ignoring the organization’s issues (being called racist is terrifying and not worth the scoop). They could convince social media companies to happily block critical commentary and reporting on the organization’s financial improprieties.

Now, slowly, the truth is leaking out.

We already know BLM used funds to buy an $6.3 million party house in Toronto, called Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, which lists no public events. This week, thanks to a dogged freelance investigative reporter named Sean Kevin Campbell, we now know that Black Lives Matter also used nearly $6 million in donated money to buy a Los Angeles mansion. That’s Part One of the scam.

Part Two, broken by the New York Post: They bought it from a friend who paid $3.1 million for it six days earlier. So they got themselves a party house with donated funds and kicked nearly $3 million of donor funds to a buddy. Who knows how the fat thereafter was split up.

From the house, they posted a video of the leadership crew having fancy outdoor brunches. One founder, Patrisse Cullors, began a YouTube cooking show in the expansive kitchen. (After the story on their property came out, they took both videos down.) They called the holding company used to buy the house 3726 Laurel Canyon LLC, an address that can be shared since it was bought with tax-deductible charitable dollars.

Patrisse Cullors took to Instagram to slam Sean Kevin Campbell, who is black, and to slam the outlet that published his reporting, New York Magazine, calling the piece a “despicable abuse of a platform.” She added: “Journalism is supposed to mitigate harm and inform our communities.” She said the house, which has a pool and a sound stage, “was purchased to be a safe space for Black people in the community.”

It’s important not to forget how BLM leaders like Cullors raised these tens of millions: It was by chanting the names and showing the photos of dead black children. The donated money came from kind, well-intentioned people who desperately wanted to help.

Prerequisites for argument

This isn’t new, but it resurfaced this morning:

The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.

It’s a pure power struggle. The weapons in this struggle are intimidation, verbal assault, death threats and violence, real and rhetorical. The fantasyland mobbists have an advantage because they relish using these weapons, while their fellow Christians just want to lead their lives.

The problem is, how do you go about reattaching people to reality?

David Brooks, Trump Ignites a War Within the Church

Political lows

Todd Rokita

What kind of Attorney General needs this kind of recruiting?

Is this not a sign that something is amiss in Todd Rokita’s stewardship of the Indiana Attorney General’s office? Might it be that he’s not a steward, but rather treats the AG’s office as a platform for his ego?

I repeat: I have never voted for Todd Rokita. He told a whopper of a lie in his very first campaign (don’t ask me the details; I don’t remember), and has a nonstop smirk on his face that tells me he has no respect for those who do vote for him.

Presidential Pandering, Biden agenda

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday his administration would extend the pause on federal student loan repayments—first put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020—until August 31. Biden had already prolonged the moratorium in August 2021 (which he claimed at the time would be the final extension) and in December 2021. The Department of Education said yesterday it would also allow those with paused loans to receive a “fresh start” on repayment by “eliminating the impact of delinquency and default and allowing them to reenter repayment in good standing.”

The Morning Dispatch. I would bet a modest amount that "the pause" will be extended beyond August 31 to beyond the November elections.

This is on a continuum with Student Loan forgiveness, a policy so regressive as to put its proponents in the elitist category and further accelerating the re-alignment of party boundaries, with Democrats the party of the laptop class, Republicans the party of the working class.

Who’s to blame for KBJ?

To be clear, I’m not upset by the Senate confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Elections have consequences, and America elected a Democrat as President in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal wants us to remember that Georgia improbably elected two Democrats to the Senate in a 2021 runoff, too:

Republicans shouldn’t forget who is to blame for their predicament. If President Trump hadn’t been preoccupied with imagined fraud conspiracies after the 2020 election, Republicans probably would have retained two Senate seats in the January 2021 Georgia runoff elections. Without Democratic Senate control, President Biden might have been forced to choose a more moderate nominee than Judge Jackson, or possibly a jurist older than age 51, with a shorter prospective Supreme Court career.

Conservatives could spend the next 30 years ruing Justice Jackson’s decisions. Spare a thought for how Mr. Trump helped it happen.

Wall Street Journal Editorial

We’re not going to return to civility in SCOTUS confirmation hearings if the soberest, greyest conservatish newspaper in the land accepts it as good that a narrowly Republican-controlled Senate would reject a qualified Democrat nominee, but that’s where we are.

France rhymes America

Mr Macron also faces a problem that responsible politicians always face when running against populists. He offers policies boringly grounded in reality. They say whatever will stir up voters, whether or not it is true.

The Economist

Piss in omnibus illis!

Florida absurdly recapitulates

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law has tons of popularity with ordinary folks despite being dishonestly labeled by both the Left ("Don’t Say Gay law") and the Right (anti-Grooming law):

And now the darker turn: The right, which won this round definitively, can’t seem to take the win. They are using the opportunity to give the left a taste of their own medicine. ‘You’ve spent years calling us racists and transphobes. Fine. No problem. If you even criticize the law we’ll call you groomers.’

For days now, that ugly word with a dark history has been everywhere I’ve looked. And it’s being used to refer not just to opponents of the law but increasingly as short-hand for gay people. Gurgling up to join in the fun are QAnon fans, who argue that the American left is hiding a massive pedophilia ring. I suspect this backlash is just beginning.

Over the years, various people I know in my real life have gotten mad at me as I’ve argued generally for moderation and for the practical over the radical. I’m wary of sudden movements. The BLM protests and the urban burnings were cathartic and thrilling—it probably felt good yelling “abolish!”—but in the end it was pretty useless if the goal was majorly improving policing and prisons.

So too with the kids and trans issues. Right now, the progressive movement has made it an all-or-nothing conversation. Anyone who might urge caution when it comes to transitioning children, for example, is smeared as a transphobe and has been for years now. It’s 0-60, and you better get on. Women are menstruators, biological males are in the pool crushing your daughter’s race, teenagers know best if they should be sterilized, story hour better as hell be a drag show, fraysexual is part of the rainbow, and if you screw up a they/them conjugation, well, sir, you’re fired.

You would be foolish not to see that once you’ve gutted terms like racist and transphobic of any meaning, you might see horrible racism and horrible transphobia and be left with no words to describe it ….

Nellie Bowles

Still vile and evil, actually

What we’re witnessing is the continued moral devolution of a movement. Where once it was “vile” or “evil” to make frivolous claims of grotesque sexual misconduct, it is now considered “weakness” or “surrender” in some quarters not to “fight” with the most inflammatory language and the most inflammatory charges.

David French, Against the "Groomer" Smear

More vile and evil

On Fox News over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz criticized Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for her work as a public defender, arguing people go into that line of work because “their heart is with the murderers, the criminals, and that’s who they’re rooting for.” Cruz—an Ivy League-educated lawyer who clerked on the Supreme Court—should know that charge is ridiculous. “If we are to have a legal system that allows people, institutions, and governments to defend themselves against charges of illegal conduct—and we should have that system—then we are going to have lawyers who defend their clients to the best of their ability,” Charlie Cooke writes for National Review. “It doesn’t matter whether the defendant is popular, whether the institution is sympathetic, or whether the law is a good one—none of that is the point. The point is that an adversarial legal system requires advocates who will relentlessly press their case, and, in so doing, force the other side to prove its brief to a high standard. There is nothing wrong with … people who are willing to become public defenders and defend clients they suspect are guilty, and to suggest otherwise betrays an unthinking and opportunistic illiberalism.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Charlie Cooke is wrong about "unthinking and opportunistic illiberalism." It is calculatedly opportunistic illiberalism, of the sort that is becoming far too common among ambitious younger Republicans.

One man’s eschaton is another’s apocalypse

As I write, CBS it running a big, free advertisement for Joe Biden, who is celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as if it were the inauguration of the eschaton. "She’s historic! She’s black! She’s a woman! She’s a black woman! She’s a historic black woman! Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace!"

The Right seems to see her as the inauguration of the apocalypse, though they’ve had to lie like dogs to make the case. "Soft on pedophiles! You know: like the pervs at Comet Ping-Pong! She’d defend Eichman! We don’t want the kind of person who defended accused criminals! Dies irae! Dies illa! Solvet saeclum in favilla! Teste David cum Sybilla!"

Piss in omnibus illis!


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 Blame Game

I blame Star Wars and Harry Potter

American political commentary has for some time been dominated by pop culture references, in particular those two great modern fables, Star Wars and Harry Potter, which have replaced the classics as the source of communal knowledge. I’m not convinced that children’s books or films aimed at selling toys, enjoyable though they are, have that much to offer in the way of deep wisdom, compared to more ancient texts; I may be a declinist, but it is not commented on enough that America’s most-praised public intellectual didn’t know who St Augustine was.

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time

I blame Trump (look what he made these nice people do!)

After Trump’s election, many commentators expressed anxiety that his followers would plunge the country into far-right authoritarianism. Instead, it is the class of college-educated Democrats that now openly argues for the value of blind submission to authority and the elimination of personal freedoms. The trend [Christopher] Lasch wrote about in the 1990s has metastasized. It no longer poses a mere threat to democracy—it has become a full-fledged attack on basic democratic principles. Far from upholding civil liberties, the self-proclaimed “resistance” to Trumpism has itself exhibited many hallmarks of authoritarianism: suppression of dissent, demand for unquestioning obedience, and tight control over the flow of information. While scapegoating Trump supporters, a nexus of billionaires, woke corporations, public intellectuals, and Democratic officials have sparked the very descent into authoritarianism they claimed would emerge from the populist right.

This is not simply a matter of hypocrisy. It is only by painting themselves as victims fighting against their oppressors that college-educated professionals can rationalize their own authoritarianism. The cult of victimhood conjures the specter of fascism, misogyny, or white nationalism in order to justify blatantly repressive measures.

Alex Gutentag, ‌The New Authoritarians

Another take on the pivot after Election 2016:

If you go back to the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution there was generally a sense of triumphalism. Back then, the CEO of Twitter said that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party. That’s how Silicon Valley saw itself. Ten years later, you have the widespread view that Silicon Valley needs to restrict and regulate disinformation and prevent free speech on its platform. You’d have to say that the turning point was 2016, when Trump got elected against the wishes of pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley. That was a little too much populism for them. And they saw social media as being complicit in Trump’s election.

[Trump’s populist voters had sent] a message they very much didn’t want to hear. So they began to believe that the message was somehow inauthentic. That it was engineered by Russian disinformation, and that their platforms had contributed to it and that they needed to crack down and restrict free speech so that it never happened again.

David Sacks, ‌How Big Tech Is Strangling Your Freedom

I blame the Internet

Maybe this is obvious. Maybe I knew it "in the back of my mind." But Bari Weiss and Peter Robinson collectively (as Robinson interviewed Weiss on his Uncommon Knowledge podcast) put their finger on a major driver of media change: the migration of advertising from newsprint to the internet.

Loss of ad revenue means greater dependence on subscription revenue. Greater dependence on subscription revenue necessitates cultivating a large and loyal readership. Cultivating a large and loyal readership necessitates picking your target audience and pandering to them shamelessly.

Nobody in print has done this better than the New York Times. But "audience capture" is a threat in Substackworld, too. Some of the best podcasts have no sponsors, or sponsors so marginal as to be an embarrassment. I’m especially thinking of Advisory Opinions‘ David French reading an advertiser’s innumerate puffery that "the average user saved up to $794" and, in the same ad, that "20,000 users had saved a total of over $1 million" (or maybe it was 200,000 saving $10 million – same $50/person average).

Listen to it all on Bari’s Honestly podcast, which incorporates the Uncommon Knowledge episode.

Neo-aphorisms

  • Wokeness flattens everything, dividing all into oppressed and oppressor.
  • Everything great gets built by people who are dissatisfied with the options they see around them.

Bari Weiss who, I learn, has greater ambitions than just making a decent living away from the New York Times.

I blame Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has restored democracy’s image and its mojo. How? The answer is that Putin’s blundering and brutal behavior has accidentally highlighted democracy’s greatest superpower: the trait that insures that, for all of democracy’s flaws, it will triumph over autocracies in the long run. Democratic virtues like the supremacy of law, independent courts, and the protection of human rights are all important. But Russia’s debacle in Ukraine underscores the fact that democracy’s guarantee that leaders are regularly replaced is actually the system’s most important advantage. It turns out that our power to throw the bums out could end up saving not just the West, but the world.

Jonathan Tepperman, How Putin Just Revealed Democracy’s Secret Superpower – The Octavian Report

Democracies

Current political ideology update: I support democracy, but I’m open on the adjectival modifier. This is not a fixed identity, but it’s one around which I’ve been circling for a while. I read (and sometimes listen) to defenders of both liberal and illiberal democracy.

Reminder: Sunday April 3 is election day in Hungary. There is a large and improbable coalition (politics made very strange bedfellows) vying to oust Viktor Orbán, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have strengthened the hand of the leader of Hungary’s acknowledged illiberal democracy.

Plus ça change …

[H]e … returned to Washington, in time for the new session of Congress, only to find himself exhausted by just sitting and listening. He could neither work nor abide the whole “vileness and vulgarity” of the capital. When in late December he left again, he felt better almost at once. Still, he tried returning to Washington several times, but to no avail.

David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, of Senator Charles Sumner in December 1857 after his beating on the Senate floor and some recovery in Paris.

Wordplay

My local TV newscast reports that Purdue University has developed a drug to treat prostate cancer, the second-leading cancer among men.

I don’t mean to be picky, but shouldn’t that be "men and other prostate-havers"?


QAnon — an offshoot of evangelical Protestantism that’s been cross-pollinated with Glenn-Beck-style hyper-rationalism to produce an unfalsifiable belief system about hidden networks of pedophiles and behind-the-scenes efforts to thwart them led by prominent Republicans, including Trump.

Damon Linker


This tweet …  attracted much amusing scorn … It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in cringe

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time (italics added)


Thy mouth hath embroidered evil, and thy lips have woven lies.

Psalm 49:19 (Orthodox numbering; 50:19 in Western Bibles), adapted from Miles Coverdale translation of the Psalms.


I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

Alan Jacobs


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.

Metaphysics and more

Metaphysics

Kicking God’s Tires

I believe that there are great philosophical questions that are opaque to our questioning. The book of Job raises the specter of the “problem of evil” and leaves it wrapped in the mystery of God Himself. I have yet to hear anyone offer an answer to the question that satisfies. I believe that there is a “shame of ignorance” that accompanies the question, a dynamic that explains why it so often produces anger. This very shame, however, is the raw edge of our own nakedness, a point where our existence as creature meets the silence of the Creator.

In my own life, I have stood at that point many times. More than that, I have stood beside others as the questions raged in their hearts. I have listened while God was compared to a heartless beast and torturer, the most evil of all. And the silence abides. My ignorance and my speechlessness are, however, a true part of me. They represent much of the powerlessness of my creaturely existence. “You cannot make one hair white or black,” Christ reminds us. (Matt. 5:36)

We have all largely been formed in a culture of consumerism. It is not surprising, therefore, that we approach God as consumers. We want to “kick His tires,” discuss His program, find out what makes Him tick and why He does what He does. Ignorance is the bane of a consumer’s existence. God, however, is not a product for consumption. He is rightly approached in a relationship of “offering.” He gives to us, and we give to Him. It is a different mode of existence.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

Mystical? Or mostly non-linear?

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. It is the descent of God into the depths of our humanity, in His self-emptying act of Incarnation. Orthodoxy struggles with this, often coining phrases such as “joyful sorrow” to describe the conjunction of God’s saving action in the world. St. Paul captures till somewhat in his statement that “all things work together for good.” It is not something that can be described in a linear fashion, but something that seeks to give voice to the full reality of God’s saving action. God has come among us not just some select people can go to heaven. He has come among us that He might “gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus.” That ingathering is everywhere, always, and at once.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Russian Conservative insight

[F]or Christian conservatives to want moral sobriety AND all the goodies that can be produced by liquid modernity is to want what never has been and probably never can be.

Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism

What were the odds?

“0.0001 led to you, my love.”

Christ the Eternal Tao

I began reading a book by that name last night. I mention it so my non-Orthodox Christian friends, mistaking this for syncretism, will intensify their prayers for me (although they might want to consult St. Clive’s Abolition of Man before any anathema).

Wordplay

the shallows of modernity

Andrew Sullivan. I’m not even sure that those four words in that order are original, but it jumped out at me in context of the “mesmerizing” allure of “reactionaryism.”


As I wrote last week, the Ukraine war has exposed certain limits to populist thinking generally: Organized as it is around the internal failures of Western and American elites, the populist response to a clear external threat has been a kind of anticipatory opposition, a critique of elite mistakes not yet in evidence.

Ross Douthat (italics added).


Every year the N.C.A.A. tournament draws us in and then spits us back out, and every year we come back for more. But why?

Jane Coaston

Miscellany

One Craftsman

A specialist in finishes, he is a journeyman in the original, literal sense. He goes wherever the furniture is, traveling by car because the airlines do not allow the chemicals he carries. He is at the very top of his profession, a conservator of multimillion-dollar pieces of furniture, and he makes a lot of money. He is essentially a forensic chemist; he speaks of particular oils, shellacs, acetones, and methylated spirits. He is also a cultural historian…

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

American exceptionalism at its worst

80% of cars sold in Europe have manual transmissions. Some car makers, including Audi, no longer offer manual transmissions in the U.S. market at all.

So why would anyone want one? Your car is less likely to get stolen, for one thing. Thieves prove as incapable of using a clutch as any other American. There have been multiple reports over the past year—in Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and Pleasantville, N.J.—of carjackers unable to drive away.

Faith Bottum, The Dying Art of Driving a Stick Shift

Splashes of reality

  • Whatever his or her claims of solidarity with the Third World, each American college graduate has had an education costing an amount five times greater than the median life income of half of humanity.
  • The largest institutions compete most fiercely for resources which are not listed in any inventory: the air, the ocean, silence, sunlight, and health.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

My pledge

I do not care that they have changed the dictionary. I will never use the word “literally” when I mean “figuratively” or “wow!”

BIPOC mothers, White birthing people

I am not making this up, and neither did Orwell:

The urgency of this moment is clear. Mortality rates of birthing people are too high, and babies born to Black and Puerto Rican mothers in this city are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to non-Hispanic White birthing people.

Dr. Michelle E. Morse, New York City’s chief medical officer (italics added for any slack-jawed readers) via Nellie Bowles

In a related vein, the World Health Organization, in the course of calling for abortion on demand for all nine months, world-wide, came up with this agnostic gem:

laws preventing abortion at any point during pregnancy risk violating the rights of ‘women, girls or other pregnant persons …’.

Via Wesley J. Smith. At least women and girls preceded the newly-obligatory “pregnant persons.”

Politics

As if on cue …

I mentioned last time that I had not voted for Indiana Senator Mike Braun. The GOP primary field the year he was elected consisted entirely of guys trying to outdo one another in Trumpiness, so I wouldn’t have voted for his primary opponents, either.

Since last time, he has astonishingly confirmed my judgment by suggesting that the Supreme Court should not have struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia (but should have left it to the states to repeal them — thanks for that small bone, Senator).

This sort of thing is a risk of sending a faux-populist businessman to Congress: a reflex that the Supreme Court should stay out of social issues unleavened by appreciation for the gravaman of the civil war amendments.

Well if you don’t like America, why don’t you move to _?

True colors: January 6 insurrectionist granted asylum in Belarus.

What is a woman?

It’s odd that none of the GOP Senators baiting Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her inability to define “woman” have offered her their definition to see if she agrees.

No, it’s really not odd. The questions are not made in entirely good faith nor entirely bad faith. Neither was her answer. Nobody covered themselves in glory on this one.

(A workable definition is “adult female human”, but then I looked that up.)

“Parks”

The houses are all in their respective income pods, the shopping is miles away from the houses, and the schools are separate from both the shopping and the dwellings. Work takes place in the office park—the word park being a semantic gimmick to persuade zoning boards that a bunch of concrete and glass boxes set among parking lots amounts to a rewarding environment—and manufacturing takes place in the industrial park—ditto. This has some interesting, and rather grave, ramifications.

James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere

Who are the real imperialists?

In an interview with Mandiner several weeks ago, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was asked what he thought the main characteristics could be of a Chinese-led international order. While those characteristics are as yet unclear, he said, “one thing is for sure: the Anglo-Saxons want the world to recognise their position as morally right. For them it’s not enough to accept the reality of power; they also need you to accept the things that they think are right. The Chinese have no such need.”

Gladden Pappin.

Hawley, Cruz and others dispel a notion

Although their roles as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are political rather than legal, Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) got to play lawyers on TV at the Jackson confirmation hearings. And their performances won’t help dispel the notion that you don’t want Harvard and Yale Law grads as your advocates in the courtroom.

David Lat

Fact-checking the fact-checkers

[W]hen it really counts, the fact-checker’s role is not to investigate the truth but to uphold the credibility of official sources and their preferred narratives.

Jacob Siegel, ‌Invasion of the Fact-Checkers


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.

Ending a chapter

Changing direction

I thank the modest number of people who still follow this blog, which has been evolving for just over twelve years now.

Within the past 24 hours, I’ve renewed my personal commitment to stop wallowing in "the news." That’s made easier by the news being full of war-talk these days, which for 55 years or so has been distressing to me, even more than to others I think.

But war-talk isn’t the only reason I’m kicking the news habit.

A cyber-friend recently published what I think is a completely original analogy:

The Ukraine crisis is huge: it may end us all. Naturally it’s all over the news. But I’ve been thinking that, before there was an actual world crisis, the 24-hour news feed wasn’t much different in tone. Something really important is happening right now, and you need to read about it here! “World Order Collapses!” isn’t presented much differently than “Sleaze Accused of Sleaziness!”

I thought, oddly, about the takeover of “compression” in contemporary music recording. Audio technology can easily handle variations in volume from a delicate whisper to ear-splitting sound. (A good recording of the William Tell Overture is an example.) But more and more, people are half-listening to the music while they jog through city traffic; they can’t deal with these variations. So the solution is to flatten the dynamic range so everything sounds kind of loud all the time. (People used to blame CDs for this and say that vinyl was better. In fact, CDs are much better at capturing dynamic range; it’s just that producers in the CD era chose the compression path. Now of course, there’s nothing but audio streaming, with its even worse distortions.)

In the world of audio, these are choices that we as consumers made, or at least allowed, and the result is only an impoverished experience of music. When we apply the same mentality – keep everything at 11 all the time – to the news cycle, the results for our minds and souls are a bit more serious.

John Brady, ‌Compression and the news. My own "soul reason" is that I think I read the news out of vainglory, a/k/a vanity. Smartypants lawyers, after all, are supposed to be sophisticates and to know what’s going on in the world. Reading the news helps me fake that by giving me a wide choice of tendentious narratives (from A to C or D) to choose from. But I think it’s healthier not to be vain, right?

A fairly good list of reasons is in Rolf Dobelli’s book Stop Reading the News. There’s a lot in there that I haven’t mentioned.

This matters for the blog because, to a sorry extent, I’ve let Tipsy Teetotaler become largely a news and commentary aggregator. If I stop reading news, that’s got to change.

I suspect I’ll blog less often. Since this isn’t substack and nobody’s paying to read me, that shouldn’t matter much. I also suspect that I’ll blog a bit more about books and long-form journalism — things that actually explain how things came to be this way, or to put them in context. And maybe, if I stop doomscrolling the clickbait, I’ll regain some of my lost cognitive capacity and produce some original thoughts.

That said, I’ve collected some news before my new news resolve, and I share it now with you before the blog undergoes its metamorpohosis.

Ruso-Ukraine

Not about us

Comments like [the examples] above seem so transparently self-promotional (look, look, here’s how a war across the globe is really about the thing I’m always talking about already!) and beyond gross.

Now is not the time for petty culture war grievances and personal grifts. Yes, life—and news—in America goes on, but maybe the day Russia starts bombing Ukraine isn’t the time for your critical race theory rant or your masculinity-crisis paranoia, you know? And it certainly isn’t the time for you to try and tie whatever you would be on about anyway into the war news cycle.

I promise, the culture war and all its brave keyboard warriors will still be there next week. So will COVID-19, and climate change, and border battles. Just let it go for a minute. Show some respect, empathy, and perspective.

If you’re tempted to post things like: Russia is doing this because Americans use too many pronouns! At least Putin isn’t woke! How will the murder of Ukrainian civilians affect gas prices? Stop. Go outside for a walk. Call a loved one. Cuddle a pet. Do anything real and good and tangible while counting your blessings that you will very likely never know the fear and pain of having your country invaded by a warmongering dictator.

This isn’t about us. Stop making it about us.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, ‌Stop Trying To Make Ukraine About Your Culture War

Civil Religion versus Political Gnosticism

From a longish, provocative, 30,000-foot view of the tensions between Russia and the West, these passages haunt me. Maybe they make sense only in context (which I invite you to read, but only when you have time to really wrestle with it):

[E]ven were Soviet communism defeated, the Russian roots in a more modern form of Civil Religion would remain. It would need to be combatted, but on a different footing and understanding.

[T]oday the old and new “neo-cons” are the newest incarnation of “right gnostics,” right liberals who are comfortable with a slower liberal revolution, yet always listing leftward in their accommodation to the “blessings of liberty.” They are the pawns of the “messianic gnostics …”.

Patrick Deneen, Russia, America, and the Danger of Political Gnosticism

(This is the kind of commentary that likely will carry over as the blog changes.)

A Truism

It is a truism in moral reasoning: To will the end is to will the means. One cannot have a duty to perform an act one lacks the capacity fulfill. Can Ukraine prevail without more direct military support from the West? It’s possible, but most analysts consider it very unlikely. Would Ukraine prevail with full NATO backing? Almost certainly. That implies NATO must be prepared to take up arms on Ukraine’s side, to ensure the supposed moral commandment is fulfilled. To hold otherwise — to claim the West should stop short of joining the fight, when that might be the only thing compatible with fulfilling the commandment — sounds appalling.

Damon Linker.

Us versus them

… a country fast turning totalitarian, one where a law which allows a 15-year-jail sentence for “spreading fake news about the actions of the Russian armed forces” will soon be rubber-stamped by parliament …

The Economist. If keeping a nation’s people in the propagandistic dark is your metric of totalitarianism, I can’t deny it’s a decent metric.

We in the USA have enough confidence that I can still read RT, Al Jazeera, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, Pro Publica, Bellingcat, Gilbert Doctorow and the like as a check on mainstream media’s lazy repetition of our government’s line. But it’s very time-consuming (another reason not to read the government’s line in MSM in the first place — see above), and I don’t have a very reliable heuristic on who’s closer to the truth.

Learning in War Time

The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

C.S. Lewis, Learning in War Time, an essay in The Weight of Glory. The essay also appears to be available from several sources on the web.

Collateral Damage

Russia House—a D.C. restaurant—was targeted by vandals last week who smashed windows, broke a door, and tagged walls with anti-Russian rhetoric. The restaurant’s owners are American and Lithuanian.

The Morning Dispatch

Paul Kingsnorth continues to deliver

I started really paying attention to Paul Kingsnorth last Summer or Fall when I learned that, to his own immense surprise, he had left Paganism (his last waystation) and become not just a Christian but an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I’ve appreciated him a lot since then, though he was on my radar even before that.

Baptized into Progress

  • I was about a quarter of the way into What Technology Wants before I realised I was reading a religious text. It was quite a revelation. What Technology Wants is a book published a few years back ago by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine and a significant spokesman for what we might call the Silicon Valley Mindset. It takes us on a journey through the historical development of technology and into a future in which, Kelly believes, technology will be living force which controls our destiny.
  • Techno-utopianism is a subset of the contemporary religion of Progress, into which we are all baptised at birth. If Progress is God, technology is the messiah come to do His will on Earth.

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene. This predates Kingsnorth’s conversion, by the way.

Tell me the new old story

[I]t hasn’t escaped my attention that all my writing, in whatever form, is basically just a reiteration of the same story, which seems to be the only one I’m capable of telling: human-scale life versus the Machine culture that is overwhelming it.

Paul Kingsnorth

"In science", as Joseph Needham put it, "a man is a machine, or if he is not, then he is nothing …."

Philip Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature: Modern Science and the Dehumanization of Man

Other stuff

H.L. Mencken, Prophet

A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

H.L. Mencken, quoted by Garrison Keillor.

Important people

Manually laboring drudges might work long hours without sacrificing productivity, but businessman could not. Their work required imagination, thought, calculation.

Americans, [Andrew Carnegie] remarked to his cousin, “were the saddest-looking race … Life is so terribly earnest here. Ambition spurs us all on, from him who handles the spade to him who employs thousands. We know no rest. … I hope Americans will find some day more time for play, like their wiser brethren upon the other side.

‌David Nasaw via The Octavian Report

Sounds as if Carnegie (Rockefeller, too) made a virtue out of what Marx saw as capitalism’s central defect.

Charmed lives

Playwright Tom Stoppard made some extended remarks recently at an awards presentation, including acknowledging his charmed life:

[I]f politics is not about giving everybody a life as charmed as mine, it’s not about anything much.

Tom Stoppard, H/T Alan Jacobs. More:

Perhaps you will recall that in the summer of 1968, England had its dissidents, too. Thousands of young people of student age, egged on by not a few of their seniors including some of my friends, occupied buildings and took to the barricades to overthrow the existing order. The disdain of the revolutionaries for bourgeois democracy, aka "fascism", was as nothing compared to my disdain for the revolutionaries. They were living in the same England, as a birthright, as I was living in as an accident of history.

(italics added)

I’m seemingly a pessimist. I rarely see myself in the mirror without something that looks like a scowl. My morning prayers have a fairly long list of American sins that I keep trying to leave in God’s hands (and then keep taking them back).

So it’s good for me to be reminded, especially as beautifully as Stoppard does, of just how much freedom we have, and of how much millions in the world would love to be here — and surely it’s possible to remember that without becoming some kind of jingoist.

Neo-Manicheanism

Discussing race relations in the South during the Civil Rights Movement, Walker Percy once told William F. Buckley that “From a moral point of view, it’s very simple. It’s either right or wrong, and there was a lot wrong. From a novelist’s point of view, human relations are much more complex than saying the white racist is wrong and the black protestors are correct.”

What does it tell us about our appetite for ambiguity that Walker Percy could not say that today without being chased out of his local public television studio.

Prufrock 3/3/22

Republic of the People

We took the United States Capital. We are the Republic of the People.

Guy Reffitt, January 6 insurrectionist, texting his family exultantly on 1/6/21.

Reffit has now pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy. As explained by former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review, it’s going to be tough case to prove all elements of that crime at trial, so don’t be surprised if there are few such guilty pleas or even if there are acquittals at trial.

What science "allegedly" shows

Science allegedly showed trans women had larger hands and feet, bigger hearts and greater bone density and lung capacity.

Sports Illustrated, writing about Lia Thomas, quoted incredulously by Nellie Bowles.

I’d cross-index this under "you don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing."

SOTU response

Rashida Tlaib, speaking for the Working Families Party, delivered the left’s response, and even she was relatively muted. She pushed back on Biden’s calls for more police funding and called, as usual, for canceling all student debt.

Nellie Bowles.

There is no regressive policy among Democrats quite so blatant as the call for blanket cancellation of student debt. I have no doubt that many students got in over their heads, but wiping out the student debt of those (by definition) lucky enough to go to college or beyond show how little the Democrats care for people less fortunate.


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.

Culture Wars, Hot War

Canadian Truckers

Organized fear

Since politics exists to organize fears, a major question for people caught between these two camps is which kind of power seems more frightening. The power to shut down the heart of a major city, perhaps even with the sympathy of some of the police, or the power over money and information that the Trudeau government is relying upon in its response? The specter of an insurrection or the specter of a digital police state? A revolt of the disaffected middle or a revolt of the elites?

At the moment, judging by the Canadian polls, people are unhappy with Trudeau but seem to fear the disruptions and shutdowns more than the government response. A similar preference for a disliked elite over a chaotic and disreputable opposition is why Joe Biden is president rather than Donald Trump, and why Emmanuel Macron may yet be re-elected in France.

Ross Douthat, on the “Class War” between Canadian Truckers and Canadian Meritocracy (emphasis added).

Class War

The Canadian trucker protest was a class war, Ross Douthat writes in his latest column, between what N.S. Lyons described as the “virtuals” who live in the digital world and the “practicals” who work in the “mundane physical reality” upon which the virtual society depends. “The truckers have leveraged the imposing presence of their trucks and the sympathy of other Practicals—from tow-truck drivers to cops—to attack the physical underpinnings of the capital’s economy,” he writes. “The counterstrike, while it’s finally evolved to actual physical removal, has been strikingly virtual: first a PR blitz to encourage friendly media to brand all the truckers as racists and anti-Semites and Trump supporters, then the convenient hacking and ‘doxxing’ of donors to the convoy, and then an invocation of the Emergencies Act which lets the government attack the protesters via the digital realm, freezing bank accounts and even cryptocurrency funds connected to the protests.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Ross Douthat has the condensed version, but I read N.S. Lyons’ longer substack (Reality Honks Back), which is one of the best — and most ominous — things I’ve read in weeks. Synopsis follows.

The Physicals and the Virtuals

It’s my understanding that N.S. Lyons is a pseudonym, but I’ll put still say it: “N.S. Lyons is a very smart person.”

In the recent essay ‌Reality Honks Back, Lyons reflects on the Canadian trucker convoy/strike as pitting elites (“the Virtuals,” who trade in thinking and narrative-spinning, not physical reality; in fact, they think reality is socially constructed) against “the Physicals” who trade in actual physical stuff. (Think “deplorables.”)

When the parked trucks became too intolerable a reminder that the Virtuals are utterly dependent on the Physicals (socially construct your way out of that reality if you can!), the Virtuals, having spun a narrative of neo-nazis and other deplorables, played their trump card: they incited their co-conspirators to create a new caste of economic untouchables, cutting off GoFundMe, hacking another crowdfunding site (GiveSendGo) and Doxxing donors to the truckers’ cause, and threatening economic ruin and criminal prosecution against anyone who dared try help them again.

So the Virtuals won because we don’t recognize what they did as virtual violence, whereas the Physicals, this time at least, could have retaliated only by engaging in physical violence.

Something tells me that this is only round one.

Maybe I got some of the details wrong, but I highly recommend the whole piece, and particularly the suggestion that the enmity of the Virtuals toward the Physicals (and vice-versa) is maybe the top conflict driver extant today. (It’s a theory that rhymes with the theory that we’re over-producing and under-employing college-debt-ridden elites, too.)

Update: Justin Trudeau has decided that the emergency is over and the deplorables can have their money back.

Virtuals and Physicals in the USA

Of the nation’s total 3,143 counties, the number of super landslide counties — where a presidential candidate won at least 80% of the vote — has jumped from 6% in 2004 to 22% in 2020.

“Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the Greater South, Interior West, and Great Plains,” Sabato writes, “while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters.”

Put another way, Biden won 85% of counties with a Whole Foods and only 32% of counties with a Cracker Barrel.

NPR

I thought this was an interesting tidbit until I started thinking “How many counties have both Cracker Barrel and Whole Foods? And then “Is this just a rough proxy for bigger cities versus smaller?

Paul Farmer, RIP

Paul Farmer proves that there are wonderful people doing wonderful work who for some reason never come into my field of vision until there are lamentations and obituaries at their departure. Here, here, here, here.

It’s difficult to find much discussion of religion in the life of this man whose self-sacrificial life had to be inspired by something. Get Religion calls those “God-shaped holes,” and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bill Gates all had huge ones. Even Alan Jacobs didn’t hit it head-on.

But Friends University’s Russel Arben Fox comes to the rescue:

Farmer was raised a Christian believer, but only became truly committed during his years of going back and forth between Harvard and Haiti: “The fact that any sort of religious faith was so disdained at Harvard and so important to the poor–not just in Haiti but elsewhere too–made me even more convinced that faith must be something good” [MBM, pg. 85]. He became a fierce advocate of that element of Catholic social justice teaching that emphasizes giving preference to the poor, or the “option for the poor.” For Farmer, this has meant liberation theology, and a thoroughgoing critique of the failures of the rich capitalist nations of the world to attend to the manifest and desperate needs of the poorest of the poor.

Hyperbolic outrage

I should have known better than to waste any time on Olga Khazan, The New Partisan Fight Over Schools‌. It meandered around teapots, and when it found this tempest I knew I was done reading:

The most explosive example of the Republican crackdown on schools occurred when a school district in a very conservative area of Tennessee removed the Pulitzer Prize–winning Holocaust book Maus from its eighth-grade curriculum because it contains eight swear words and a bit of cartoon nudity. “It looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language,” the McMinn County school-board member Mike Cochran said, according to meeting minutes. “You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in.” His view presumes that parents should monitor what their kids are learning.

When removing a glorified comic book from a curriculum is the most “explosive example” you’ve got, and you have to make it sound ominous-by-association that some deplorable thinks “parents should monitor what their kids are learning,” you’ve not got much.

Again, I prefer the lot of a blogger to the lot of a professional who must write even when there’s nothing much to say.

SSM and Creative Artistry

Another artisan is going to SCOTUS seeking exemption from providing creative services for same-sex “weddings”:

Tuesday’s order phrased the question before the court as “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

Granting 303 Creative an exception “would necessarily relegate LGBT consumers to an inferior market because [Ms. Smith’s] unique services are, by definition, unavailable elsewhere,” a 2-1 panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver, said in July.

“The government doesn’t have the power to silence or compel creative expression under the threat of punishment. It’s shocking that the 10th Circuit would permit Colorado to punish artists whose speech isn’t in line with state-approved ideology,” said Kristen Waggoner, general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious advocacy group that represents 303 Creative.

Supreme Court to Hear Case of Website Designer Who Won’t Do Same-Sex Weddings – WSJ‌ (emphasis added).

I’ve just seen reports of this case for the first time the day I wrote this item, but it seems to me that the 10th Circuit’s decision says the silent part out loud: it is willing to compel an artist of unique abilities to serve all state-sanctioned “weddings” if she serves any.

The way SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States in shorthand) frames the question is highly favorable to 303 Creative, but I get bogged down when I think of the ramifications of this being a declaratory judgment action, where 303 Creative is not in (but wants to expand into) the wedding website business. Thus, it is not currently being compelled to use its creativity contrary to the owner’s conscience.

But I’ve got to ask, in summary of a much earlier and longer blogpost: what kind of creep would want to compel an unwilling creative-type to create for them? What kind of idiot would assume that the resulting work will be as high-caliber as work the creative actually wants to perform?

Self-referentially absurd

After an epiphany of sorts, things came into focus for Paul Kingsnorth. Among other things,

I understood why a (white male) BBC editor would stand before an audience of mostly similarly pale-skinned people and explain that nobody wants to hear white men explaining things anymore..

Russia invading Ukraine

This would deserve top placement, perhaps, if I intended to say much about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — an invasion which I condemn but probably understand better than most Americans because I’ve been reading guys like Paul Robinson and Gilbert Doctorow as antidotes to mainstream press.

In the case of Robinson, no more:

February 23:

Regular readers will know that I have been decidedly sceptical of the idea that the Russian Federation is about to launch a full-fledged assault on the Ukraine. To be quite frank, I don’t want to believe it, as it would be an act of criminal folly – both criminal and folly, to be precise.

It would also be a humanitarian tragedy, as such an assault could not but result in a large amount of completely unnecessary death and destruction. Let us be quite clear, if it happens, I will condemn it totally and unreservedly. At that point, I will terminate this blog, as its mission to contribute to more rational discussion of both Russia and foreign policy in general will have failed absolutely and without any hope of redemption for many a year. It will be time to call an end to it all. Following a Russian invasion of Ukraine, no even remotely nuanced discussion of things Russian will be conceivable for quite possibly the rest of my life. It will be time for me to drop all punditry, cut all ties with Russia (including ending my relationship with RT), and return to being a historian safely digging in the archives of the past.

I have repeatedly condemned the West’s wars of aggression in recent years. A Russian war against Ukraine would be no worse than, for instance, the invasion of Iraq, but it would be equally criminal.

Let us hope that it doesn’t happen. If it does, you’ve seen the last of me.

(emphasis added)

February 24

In line with my last post, Irrussianality has ceased operation as of today.

God bless you all!

I think I’ll move up Robinson’s book, Russian Conservatism, on my reading list.


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.

Sunday Sundries

The Real Stuff of Life

In the pre-modern era in the West, as in much of the world today still, there was no such thing as ‘religion’. The Christian story was the basis of peoples’ understanding of reality itself: it was widely assumed that it represented the truth about existence, and that no part of life could therefore be outside of it. There was no ‘religion’, because there was no notion that this truth was somehow optional or partial, any more than we today might assume that gravity or the roundness of the Earth were facts we could choose to engage with only on Sunday mornings.

The religious wars which raged for more than a century after the Reformation changed all this. They shattered faith in the church and in the Christian story, which in turn led to the Enlightenment experiment with ‘secularism’: a new type of society, first pioneered by the seventeenth century Dutch, in which the state would guarantee freedom of and from religion. In practice, this meant guaranteeing the right to practice one of the many different flavours of Christianity on offer, and sometimes Judaism too, but as time went on and society changed, all and any ‘religious’ practice was taken under the protective umbrella of the state. Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, atheism, Norse Heathenism or the worship of Richard Dawkins: anything goes in the Kingdom of Whatever. The unspoken bargain is that religion is fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the real stuff of life.

That real stuff was, increasingly, commerce.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Migration of the Holy

Managing the World

[I]t’s worth thinking about the Church (Orthodox) as an ark of salvation and safety. It is an ancient image of the Church, a place where God gathers those who are being rescued. The ark is not an instrument of flood management, however. It is a raft. Modernity imagines itself as the manager of the world and its historical processes. It is an idea that is itself part of the destructive flood of our time.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Riding the Tsunami

Elusive Interiority

For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity—this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model—is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God

History Rhymes (probably my favorite heading)

Must I be the only one to fight under the Holy Cross and must I see others, calling themselves Christians, all unite with the Crescent to fight Christianity?

Tsar Nicholas, after much of Europe turned against Russia (and toward Turkey) after the Russians destroyed a squadron of Ottoman frigates at the port of Sinope early in the Crimean War.

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin Donald Trump

Had evangelical leaders and journalists known more about the Southern Baptist Convention than simply the reputation that followed from its being southern or trusting in Jesus, they would have seen that Carter, despite the southern accent, had more affinities to the tolerant and do-good orientation of mainline Protestants than the restrain-evil-and-promote-righteousness resolve of fundamentalists and evangelicals.

D.G. Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.

Can a book title ever become anachronistic?

The subtitle of Hart’s book was "Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism," but in 2011 (the publication date) we hadn’t "seen the half of it."

Hauerwas Rocks

When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Before I could even post this, other Hauerwas/Resident Aliens quotes popped up:

  • The seminaries have produced clergy who are agents of modernity, experts in the art of congregational adaptation to the cultural status quo, enlightened facilitators whose years of education have trained them to enable believers to detach themselves from the insights, habits, stories, and structures that make the church the church.
  • As Alasdair Maclntyre has noted (in The Religious Significance of Atheism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1969], p. 24), we Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve!

Catechized into Nothing

I had a lot of resentment against people like the priest and the nun who first instructed me in the faith. They were the quintessential Boomer “spirit of Vatican II” Catholics. I went through two months of instruction with my RCIA class at the LSU Catholic Student Center (though I had graduated, I had this naive idea that instruction there would be more intellectually challenging), without learning a thing about doctrine, or church history, or anything other than how to massage my emotions. If I had written a just-the-facts account of those classes and published it somewhere, people would have shaken their heads over how decadent the Church had become. I quit after I realized that all of us would be received into the Church without knowing anything that was required of us as Catholics.

Rod Dreher, Religion, From Youth To Middle Age

The Kingdoms of the World

The Last Temptation is perhaps the greatest, and the one that most torments our modern thoughts. Christ is offered the “kingdoms of this world” if only He will worship the tempter. It is the temptation of power. What if you had all power? What wonderfully good things could you do?

One place where such an inner dialog takes place is in the purchase of a lottery ticket. Powerball approaches half-a-billion dollars and the ticket is only a couple of bucks. The purchase is made (why not? there’s no commandment against it) and sits quietly in our pocket. The thoughts begin. You know that the odds are ridiculously against you, but you can’t help imagining what life might be like if you won. “If I were a rich man…” I have been told any number of times, “If I win the lottery, I’ll give the money for a new church building.” Of course. We keep only a small portion, say some tens of millions for ourselves. With the rest, we will build a better world, maybe create a charitable foundation (like a Bill Gates). On and on we muse.

Modernity’s mantra, “make the world a better place,” is invoked repeatedly in one guise or another. Every invocation promises that with money and power, we could really make a difference. The myth (or lie) that this perpetuates is that the only thing standing between us and a better world is lack of resources. The truth is that, at the present time in our modern age, there is no lack of resources, no lack of wealth. The abundance of the world is overflowing. People are hungry and starve, etc., for lack of goodness. It has been observed by some that every famine in our modern time has had politics as its primary cause. We are not the victims of nature – but of one another.

It is, of course, ironic that Satan should offer Christ “all the kingdoms of this world.” How do you offer the Lord of All anything that is not already His? He refuses them (at least when offered on the devil’s terms). The way of Christ is the way of God – it is the way revealed in the Cross. The world will be saved in the mystery of the Cross, the self-emptying love of God. Not only is the world saved in that manner, but, those who are being saved are invited to join in that salvation – to empty themselves in self-sacrificing love. That is the proper description of the Church, though it is frequently refused and replaced with an effort to be a “helping” organization, a religious adjunct to the build-a-better-world project of modernity.

Father Stephen Freeman


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 2/3/22

Socked in by our biggest blizzard since 2007. It’s kind of nice, at least for me and mine. A really bad time to be homeless, though.

A Return to Sanity?

Several members of the West Lafayette (Indiana) City Council are pushing an ordinance to ban "conversion therapy," with fines of up to $1,000 per day. The Mayor, a very liberal Republican, says he’ll veto it. You can read some pretty good coverage of the jockeying here.

But this was what most surprised and heartened me:

And a national group devoted to advocating for LGBTQ rights and counseling gay, lesbian and transgender teens to accept who they are has been lobbying city council members in recent weeks to reject the ordinance, calling it clumsy and vague and saying it could do more harm than good.

Good for them. Now where are the conservatives willing to repudiate clumsy, vague, harmful bans on "Critical Race Theory" or "divisive concepts"? There are some, but far too many play to the peanut gallery.

Crotchety Old Icons

Only in stereotype are the elderly sweet and meek, at least other than when hulked over by someone disturbingly youthful and vigorous. Judge Richard Posner in his book on aging and human nature noted that older people, less dependent on “transacting with others,” actually have less reason than younger people to conceal their obnoxiousness. How much more so two superstars approaching their 80s with a lifetime of royalties in the bank.

Holman Jenkins, Jr. on l’affaire Rogan, Young, and Mitchell.

Jenkins continues:

Audiences seek controversy not just to open their minds, not just to annoy their betters, but because to hear impertinent, unapproved talk feels like freedom.

It’s worth a whole other column, and unfortunately a lengthy one, to disentangle the magical thinking of Covid ideology, which got Mr. Rogan in trouble in the first place. Let’s be satisfied with an example. All through Monday evening’s show, National Public Radio teased a segment about school parents who—get this—are both pro-vaccine and anti-mask. Heads explode, as if masks and vaccines aren’t different tools with different uses. Somehow they have to be regarded as ideological totems and embraced as a package.

The flight of liberal writers to Substack and other non-mainstream venues in the Covid era is often misinterpreted: It’s not because they’ve had a conservative awakening. They are simply repulsed by such NPR-style stupidity.

(Emphasis added) I used to listen to NPR because it made me feel smarter, in contrast to most news. If I had to commute today, and ran out of smart podcasts, I probably still would prefer it to the alternatives. But I can understand those who won’t.

Flores v. NFL

I don’t exactly "follow" the NFL (when I watch, it’s with a guilty conscience about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), but it seems that one Brian Flores has filed a lawsuit alleging that the NFL discriminated against him and other Black coaches in their hiring practices.

I thought "good luck proving that," but then I saw this:

Stunning details in Brian Flores lawsuit: in texts, Bill Belichick thought he was texting Brian Daboll (not Brian Flores) and congratulated him on getting the Giants head coach job days before Flores was set to interview for the gig.

Hmmmm. That’s pretty bad.

I’m not rooting for or against Flores, but knowledgeable people seem to be taking the lawsuit seriously, and not just people who traffic in controversy.

What’s different about our civilization

There has always been, and probably always will be, economic inequality, but few civilizations appear to have so extensively perfected the separation of winners from losers or created such a massive apparatus to winnow those who will succeed from those who will fail.

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

"When elected, I’ll nominate a [whatever] to the Supreme Court"

There’s a lot of grumbling about President Biden’s declared intention of nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court. A letters-to-the-Editor writer in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, sees an "inference that Mr. Biden needs to eliminate almost all the competition for them to be considered."

I see no reason for such an inference, even if Sri Srinivasan is better-qualified (as Ilya Shapiro infelicitously argued). The three women getting most of the mention are all well-qualified nominees independent of race and sex. At least one of them would be on any Democrat President’s short-list, and all of them are thought to be to the right of Justice Sotomayor — roughly in the neighborhood of Justice Kagan.

On balance, though, it adds no glory to the perception of judicial independence for any President to promise and pick candidates for their appeal to particular parts of his base. (On that, I’ll give Reagan credit: promising to nominate a woman was not pandering to any part of his base, but trying to reassure moderates that he wasn’t part of the <anachronism> cis-hetero-Christo-patriarchy<\anachronism>).

Side note: The smear campaign against anyone who dares to question the wisdom of Biden’s commitment to nominate a black woman to SCOTUS does, of course, include Adam Serwer, the Atlantic’s most consistently dishonest and partisan hack.

Life in 2022

As I drove Tuesday night from Church (where I sang a Liturgy unmasked — as was everyone else) to a newly-resumed Chamber singer rehearsal (where we all wore masks and some even then won’t come to rehearsal yet), I realized that the pandemic has made me an accomplished code-switcher.

Fill in the blanks

In another entry, Shirer noted that a joke had begun making its way around the more cynical quarters of Berlin: “An airplane carrying Hitler, Göring and Goebbels crashes. All three are killed. Who is saved?” Answer: “The German People.”

Eric Larsen, The Splendid and the Vile

This kind of sets my mind to thinking who I’d nominate for that plane ride today.

Adiaphora

That embarrassing moment when the tendentious quote you Tweet-attributed to Voltaire is traced instead to a neo-Nazi in the 1990s.

("Half the quotes attributed to me on the internet are not true." – Benjamin Franklin)


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.

Oops! Waited too long to clear my clipboard!

Keeping things in perspective

Sometimes a bedraggled and barefoot concentration camp survivor plucked up his courage and knocked on the door of prewar friends to ask, “Excuse me, do you by any chance still have some of the stuff we left with you for safekeeping?” And the friends would say, “You must be mistaken, you didn’t leave anything with us, but come in anyway!” And they would seat him in their parlor where his carpet lay on the floor and pour herb tea into antique cups that had belonged to his grandmother. The survivor would thank them, sip his tea, and look at the walls where his paintings hung. He would say to himself, “What does it matter? As long as we’re alive? What does it matter?” At other times, it would not turn out so nicely. The prewar friends would not make tea, would not suggest any mistake. They would just laugh and say in astonishment, “Come on now, do you really believe we would store your stuff all through the war, exposing ourselves to all that risk just to give it back to you now?” And the survivor would laugh too, amazed at his own stupidity, would apologize politely and leave. Once downstairs he would laugh again, happily, because it was spring and the sun was shining down on him.

Heda Margolius Kovaly ‌Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968

The problem with “systemic racism”

A very interesting argument from Matt Lutz in Persuasion.

[P]rogress on racial equality can only advance once we’ve abandoned the outmoded teleological paradigm that’s come to dominate contemporary discussions of race. To dismantle the mechanisms that propagate racial disparities, it is not enough to know that they work, we must understand how they work. The concept of “systemic racism” impedes that vital work.

In a nutshell, the idea of “systemic racism” is too abstract to cash out in helpful policy changes or other actions. I highly recommend the article.

We all live by faith

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I do not recommend this book. I don’t even recommend Frank Schaeffer. But sometimes, even the most frenzied human hits the mark.

Red flags

[Mark] Andreessen starts with the replication crisis in scientific studies, especially in psychology—over half of studies can’t be replicated. I suggest “studies show” are the two most dangerous words in the English language. Mr. Andreessen quickly adds, “The corollary is ‘experts say.’”

90% of Everything Is . . . Take a Guess – WSJ

Is Matthew Crawford among the prophets?

If you were to regularly air-drop Cheetos over the entire territory of a game preserve, you would probably find that all the herbivores preferred them right away to whatever pathetic grubs and roots they had been eating before. A few years later, the lions would have decided that hunting is not only barbaric but, worse, inconvenient. The cheetahs would come around eventually—all that running!—and the savannah would be ruled by three-toed sloths. With orange fur.

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

Regarding “orange fur,” note that the book came out in March of 2015.

Realities

From my local newspaper:

… Additional auditions coming up in Civic Theatre’s schedule include for ‘The Mountaintop,’ which follows a fictional telling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on Earth on the eve of his assassination. This play is set entirely in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, and is seeking actors for its two roles who fit the following guidelines:

Black, male-identifying actor, able to play late 30s/early 40s age range, must be willing to make changes to appearance to fit MLK Jr. Black, female-identifying actor, able to play 30/40s age range.

Not “black-identifying, male-identifying”? Race is real but sex is notional now, I guess. If it weren’t so sunny outside, I’d say this kind of reversal is ominous.

Huxley’s insidious dystopia

An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, then a Huxleyan. Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist the prison when the gates begin to close around us. We are not likely, for example, to be indifferent to the voices of the Sakharovs and the Timmermans and the Walesas. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Bacon, Voltaire, Göethe and Jefferson. But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusement. To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?

Neil Postman, The Huxleyan Warning, in Amusing Ourselves to Death

Crypto datapoint

Mozilla Stops Accepting Cryptocurrency, Wikipedia May be Next: Are Dominos Falling?” Brandon Vigliarolo reports on Jamie Zawinski, the co-founder of Mozilla, and his critiques of cryptocurrency: “As of this writing, a single transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain eats up the same amount of energy as the average US household in a 77.8-day, or roughly two and a half month, period. Ethereum, though nowhere near as large, still eats up the same amount of energy that a US household does in eight days.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, Front Porch Republic

Not to mention that in crypto-world, everyone is either a con or a mark. The GameStop bubble is rational in comparison.

Still, eternal vigilance

Some day, Zoom learning, which proved a real eye-opener for some parents who listened in on their kids’ lessons, may fade into memory. How then may parents hold schools accountable for indoctrination?

Public schools should have their curricula and lesson plans posted online. And no state public school funds should be spent on the equity industrial complex: defund equity consultants, DEI conferences and struggle sessions for either teachers or students. If teachers want to bone up on Judith Butler or Robin DiAngelo, they can do it on their own dime. If this sounds harsh, so be it. Critical theory should be treated more like creationism in public schools than scholarship: an unfalsifiable form of religion, preferably banned outright, but if not, always accompanied by Darwin.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌The Right’s Ugly War On Woke Schooling

Joe Rogan

I’m not a doctor, I’m a f—ing moron. … I’m not a respected source of information.

Joe Rogan, April 2021

I have no opinion on Joe Rogan except that he’s too foul-mouthed for me to listen to. Last time — and to the best of my recollection the only time — I tried to listen was when he was talking to Tulsi Gabbard, a show he front-loaded with tons of ads interspersed with F-bombs.

I made it maybe 20 minutes into the show. I don’t need any more incitement to my own potty-mouth.

But it seems to me that Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are on the side of the dark angels in this case:

I … worry about the continued fragmentation of society that attends the idea that everyone sharing a cultural space must align ideologically to coexist … What concerns me most about all this is the siloing of society into warring tribes.

Sonny Bunch, quoted in the Morning Dispatch

Never apologize?

[T]hese days, sincere apologies do not function as expressions of regret but as confessions of guilt.

Bari Weiss

Some men’s reach should not exceed their grasp

Last week the department duly charged 11 followers of a far-right militia called the Oath Keepers with “seditious conspiracy” to stop the transfer of power. By far the most serious charge yet levelled over the riot, it is a devastating rebuke to the revisionist Republican view of it as a legitimate protest that got out of hand.

‌Merrick Garland and his critics (emphasis added).

There is a ton of evidence that the Oath Keepers fully anticipated and intended armed confrontation. So the “revisionist Republican view” is deluded.

But what if these self-appointed militiamen get acquitted because the government cannot prove that they knew the election was valid (and therefore were trying to stop the peaceful and lawful transition of power rather than “stop the steal”)? That’s a real risk.

What then of the “devastating rebuke?” In the depths of Trumpland, it will be retold as “the whole thing was made up” rather than “the government came up short on one element of the seditious conspiracy.”

This is a case where a man’s reach should not exceed his grasp.

Brink of civil war?

I’m not prepared to say “all is well” (we’re kind of a hot steaming mess in many ways), but Musa al-Gharbi makes a convincing case that ‌America is not on the brink of a civil war.

What sticks with me:

  • A lot of the “crazy Republican” polls credulously report what Republicans say to troll the pollsters (especially when the poll is obviously biased).
  • If 2/3 of 74 million Trump voters really believed that Democrats stole the election, 1/6/21 would have been a whole lot bigger and uglier. (This may be relevant to my prior item on the charges against the Oath Keepers.)

Hell hath no fury …

I’ve long thought that Ann Coulter went from funny to deranged on 9/11/01, when her friend Barbara Olsen was one of the terrorists’ victims. But it’s interesting how she’s digging at her former hero:

When [Ann] Coulter turns, she does not go gently. Her critiques of Mr. Trump have included calling him “a shallow, lazy ignoramus,” “a complete moron,” “a blithering idiot” and “a lout.” She now considers his entire presidency a flop. “Trump accomplished everything he was ever going to accomplish at 2 a.m.” on election night in 2016, she emailed me last week. “The best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party (and the country) would have been for him to be vaporized at the moment he was announcing his victory. Pence would have been afraid to betray Trump’s supporters. Trump wasn’t!”

Ms. Coulter, it seems, has found a shiny new leader with whom to antagonize her former hero. “For months now, Trump’s been playing the aging silent film star Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to DeSantis’s younger, prettier Betty Schaefer,” she wrote in her column Wednesday, which closed with this punch to the throat: “Give voters a populist conservative who’s not a con man and a liar and they’ll be ‘Republicans’ again. No wonder Trump hates DeSantis.”

Michelle Cottle, ‌Ann Coulter Is Rooting for a Trump-DeSantis Throw-Down. She’s Not Alone.

Are the militarists winning their long game?

Six years ago, Barack Obama gave an interview to The Atlantic quashing Beltway militarists’ dreams of war in Ukraine:

The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-Nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do… This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.

Then as now, both blue and red propaganda outlets howled. The “core interest” of the Washington consensus is war. It isn’t just big business, but our biggest business, one of the last things we still make and export on a grand scale. The bulk of the people elected to congress and a lion’s share of the lobbyists, lawyers, and journalists who snuggle in a giant fornicating mass in the capital are dedicated to the upkeep of the war bureaucracy.

The truth is there’s nothing to be done at this point. We had our chance. Both Russia and Ukraine should have been economic and strategic allies. Instead, we repeatedly blew opportunities in both places by trying to flex more and more muscle in the region (including, ironically, via election meddling). Now there’s no winning move left. Conceding this means abandoning conventional wisdom, and the people we’re now relying on to see the light have shown little ability to do that.

Matt Taibbi, Let’s Not Have a War

The Metaverse is already here

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker sends up quite a few examples of how we’re already living in a sort of metaverse — “a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work” — but one was particularly timely:

Amanda Gorman, the young woman who declaimed some stanzas of undergraduate verse at Mr. Biden’s inauguration a year ago and was instantly declared the new Sappho, wrote in the New York Times last week that she was terrified that she was going to be assassinated. Because, you know, angry white supremacists are itching to take out overrated poets.

Gorman did go ahead and read the verses, of course.

The LARPERs on the Right are the stop-the-steal trolls. If they really believed it, there’d have been hundreds of thousands of them in DC on 1/6/21. (See America is not on the brink of a civil war.)

Unheeded admonition

From the Annals of Unheeded Admonitions (a venerable publication I just made up):

We must stop being the stupid party … we must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and taglines for 30-second ads.

Bobby Jindal, 2013, to his fellow-Republicans.

Carville cuts crap

If Democrats are worried about voting rights and election integrity, then these [smaller races] are the sorts of races they should support and volunteer for, because this is where the action is and this is where things will be decided. … Republicans raised $33 million for secretary of state races around the country. The Democrats had until recently raised $1 million. I think it’s now up to $4 million. That’s the story, right there. That’s the difference, right there. Bitching about a Democratic senator in West Virginia is missing the damn plot …

James Carville via Andrew Sullivan


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.