Actual ruminations

I’m aware of my tendency to blog like a mere aggregator or curator, but today, for whatever reason, I slowed down and thought.

Living consciously within limits

On the 15th of each month, a reminder pops up to read my maxims (they actually come from two American Orthodox Priests, one living, one reposed). Sometimes I don’t get around to it until, say, the 17th.

As I read them today, it occurred to me that they give a decent idea of how an Orthodox mindset should cash out in “practical” life (if only we weren’t always missing the mark).

I do try to live by them (that’s why I review them monthly). Even falling short, it’s a much saner way to live than not trying at all.

On a closely-related note, I read an article just now (as I write) that I thought good enough to save and index: Dedication: In Praise of the Long-Haulers. It uses the term "stickers," in contrast to "boomers," a contrast I’d seen before.

But this time, in conjunction with indexing, I decided to make "sticker" a tag in my system and to look for like articles. My system was crawling with them. For instance:

Granted, my system (a kind of database) is kind of young, after a computer crash garbled its predecessor. So I may have just been on a "making-a-virtue-of-Covidtide-necessity" binge of rootedness ruminations. But I think these really are the kinds of people I most admire, and that I’m gradually become more stickerlike myself.

Maybe this just means I’m getting too old to fight or rally in the streets.

Abortion back on the docket

The [U.S. Supreme] court said Monday it would review next term whether all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional. The court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade declared that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in the first six months of her pregnancy when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb.

The test case is from Mississippi, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, blocked enforcement of the law, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions.

NPR

The news, you may have noticed, is often over-hyped. This story really isn’t, whatever the ultimate outcome, because SCOTUS took the case even though there is no "Circuit split."

There is no Circuit split (inconsistent results from different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal) because under existing precedent, laws like Mississippi’s are clearly unconstitutional as unduly burdensome on the (court-created) right to abortion. The Supreme Court seldom takes discretionary review of issues on which all the Circuit Courts are agreed, and when it does, it’s thought to be likely that the court itself is doubting its precedents (or universal Circuit Court interpretation of those precedents).

So this case, more than any other since Planned Parenthood v. Casey thirty years ago, really could be the Big One. And if you think that a major change in the Supreme Court’s view on abortion would not be a bit deal, you haven’t thought it through or you have a crazy-high threshold for "big deal."

For more detail, including the already-diminished relevance of Roe v. Wade, see The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday or listen to Monday’s Advisory Opinions podcast.

While we’re on the topic, this item:

During a congressional hearing last week, … Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, repeatedly denied the existence of a federal ban on barbaric partial-birth abortions that has been law for 18 years …

… In his confirmation hearings, Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion, deflecting with repeated claims that he would “follow the law” as head of HHS. Now Becerra outright denies the existence of a statute that has been around for nearly two decades.

… Becerra can hardly plead ignorance on this topic. As a freshman congressman, he voted against the ban

National Reviews (incendiary partisanship elided)

So what’s with Becerra’s denial? Is he just hair-splitting because he doesn’t like the "partial-birth abortion" label? The author anticipated that:

As for Becerra’s parroting of the abortion lobby talking point that partial-birth abortion “is not a medical term,” neither is a heart attack, but almost everyone understands what one is.

An entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment

Mr. Sanders has become the chief obstacle to his party leaders’ hopes of restoring the full federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, known as SALT, capped at $10,000 by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco calls the loss of that deduction “devastating.” Likewise New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who vowed that “one of the first things” he would do as majority leader would be to see that the SALT cap is “dead, gone and buried.”

But not Bernie. Asked directly on “Axios on HBO” last week whether he supports this effort, Mr. Sanders proudly raised his progressive colors: “You can’t be on the side of the wealthy and powerful if you are going to really fight for working families.”

It’s making for an entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment, with two opposing camps—low-tax Republicans and the leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing—finding themselves in the same foxhole. Each wants to keep the SALT cap, but for very different reasons.

WSJ

I had forgotten the delightful colloquialism "bootleggers-and-Baptists" moment.

Congresslechers and Cicadas

Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector with strong ties to Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to federal crimes including sex trafficking a minor. The New York Times reported last month that Gaetz himself is under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking crimes.

The Morning Dispatch. Joel Greenburg "pleaded guilty" and agreed to cooperate. If Matt Gaetz is guilty and not too sociopathic to know it, he should be getting very, very uncomfortable.

But if his goal is getting laid by as many undiscriminating women as possible, he’s had a relatively good run — as has Garrison Keillor:

[C]ompared to the male cicada who, after seventeen years underground, has one sexual experience, dies, and never gets to see his progeny, my life is a fairy tale.

The cicadas are out for survival of their species — survival is victory. Father David touched on this in his homily on Sunday and quoted the verse in 2nd Corinthians: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. “Struck down but not destroyed” describes cicada existence pretty well. As for being “persecuted,” we Episcopalians have it pretty easy. Flocks of cicadas are carried by the wind over Manhattan and a few land in Central Park and some in flower pots on terraces and our persecution, believe me, is minimal.

Then I went forward for Communion and saw slight movement on Father David’s vestment sleeve as he held out the wafer to me and said, “The body of our Lord,” and I saw an insect on his extended thumb, perhaps a dying male, and he said, “Hang on,” which he’s never said before during Communion and I flicked the cicada away. “Thank you,” he said. “And also to you,” I said.

At my age, I no longer worry about Noah and the Ark and all those folks knocking on the door begging to be let in. I haven’t read Job in years. The city is noisy, the numerosity is staggering, crazy people yell at you, I don’t belong here but then neither do most of the others. And there have been times on the uptown C train, packed into a car with people on all sides standing within inches of each other and still not touching, avoiding eye contact, when I’ve thought, “We are all one in God and He loves us dearly,” and known it is true. It’s hard to explain this to Midwesterners. You have to be there.

Garrison Keillor, The impending crisis of exploding cicada data

And one clip without comment

Top Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors blasted fellow Republicans pushing additional audits of the 2020 election results as conspiracy theorists and grifters. “We ran a bipartisan, fair election. That’s every piece of evidence that I’ve ever seen put in front of us,” said Clint Hickman, a Republican supervisor. “We are operating on facts and evidence presented to this board.” The county’s top election official, Stephen Richer, also a Republican, called new claims of irregularities from former President Donald Trump “unhinged.”

The Morning Dispatch


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

A banquet of tasty morsels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Goldberg, Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism


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

Rod Dreher, Why Does God Show Us Evil?

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

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

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


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

Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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


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

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

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

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

Wendell Berry again.


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

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

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


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

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

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Local Culture, Christopher Lasch

I’ve frequented the Front Porch Republic website since its introduction. A few years ago, the front porchers started a magazine, Local Culture, which has ranged from very good to excellent.

Some selections from Volume 2, Number 2, devoted to Christopher Lasch:


When an interviewer in 1973 asked him about the widespread emergence of “intentional communities,” [Wendell] Berry cut to the quick. “I’m much more interested in the results of accidental communities that have formed by fate and fortune and circumstance. The intentional community seems to me a rather escapist idea, sort of a new version of the white citizen’s council. I thought that’s what we were trying to get away from.” Clearly he had no intention of making sure his counterculture bona fides were up to date. “No community is suitable,” he added. “There’s plenty wrong with them all. I could construct an airtight argument for not settling in my own community. The fact is that I’m spending my life constructing an argument for being here.”

Eric Miller, A Better Stand, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)

Chew on that wonder for a while. Only after I did so did I see that “cut to the quick” (not Berry’s phrase) was probably not a mis-used figure of speech, but more like “went to the root of the question.”


The neighborhood is more truly cosmopolitan than the superficial cosmopolitanism of the like-minded.

Christopher Lasch, quoted in Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2).


After having his views attacked from all sides, it was occurring to him that, despite their fierce competition, the most influential thinkers on the left and the right shared a deep and fatal flaw, one baked into the logic of liberal modernity. Though they argued about means, both left and right presumed the eventual inevitability of a manmade happy ending.

David Bosworth, Revolt of the Elite, Revenge of the Resentful (Christopher Lasch in 2020) Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


Veering blindly between “wistful pessimism” and “fatalistic optimism,” Americans tended to celebrate the false prophets, those who saw a sunny future flowing ineluctably from capitalism’s sanctioning of “insatiable desire.”

Eric Miller, A Better Stand, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


The tragedy of so-called Trumpian “populism” may well place that worthy word on the shelf for a long time. But no matter: If the way of Lasch and Berry gains ground, its members will give it the names it needs.

Eric Miller, A Better Stand, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


Let’s begin by considering the sentence “We must follow the science.” It is one we have heard, in various forms, repeatedly since about the middle of March 2020 via the various propaganda platforms that saturate our lives: the electronic billboards, the websites, the TV ads, the Tweets and Instagram posts. No sentence better captures the core convictions and commitments of our well-educated, well-heeled, and well-regarded.

Think of the parallel commands never heard. No one who is today in a position of cultural authority ever says, “We must follow our guts.” No one says, “We must follow tradition.” No one says, “We must follow our religious leaders.” No one says, “We must follow the poets.” No one says, “We must follow what the majority decides.” No one says, “We must follow those who have displayed wisdom.”

Importantly, no one in a position of cultural authority even says, “We must follow no one but ourselves. No one can legitimately set limits on our behavior!”

No, the widely held, seemingly unchallengeable cultural belief is: We must follow the science.

Jeremy Beer, Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technology, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


Liberal technocrats deal with this contradiction by the simple, and surprisingly successful, expedient of giving every injunction, taboo, and prohibition the name of freedom. As we shall see, this ironic and disguised posture makes our dilemma difficult to overcome.

Jeremy Beer, Limits, Risk Aversion, and Technology, Local Culture:A Journal of the Front Porch Republic (Volume 2, Number 2)


The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

Explaining myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

and

You shall love your crooked neighbour

“With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden

* * * * *

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

Miscellany

Surveillance capitalism creeps me out.

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

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

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

Nor Echo frames.

* * *

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

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

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

Notice I said “gentle,” not “bitter.”

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

 

* * * * *

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

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

Book Report 2019

My total book reading for 2019 was 39 books. Highlights include three “classics”:

The Abolition of Man and Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power are always highlights, and I re-read both regularly.

I just completed book 39, and it was another highlight: Charles L. Marohn, Jr., Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. It might even merit re-reading, though its “timeless” wisdom is of a different timelessness than Lewis or Pieper.

Some excerpts from Marohn:

Let me summarize: in exchange for 26 years of tax relief, the community was able to get an out-of-town franchise restaurant to abandon their old building and move three blocks up the street where they tore down a block of buildings and replaced them with a development that is 44% less valuable than the development pattern of what was removed. By any financial measure, this is a bad investment, yet cities everywhere routinely do this exact kind of transaction.

(Page 134)

Middle-class housing subsidies and transportation spending are the bread and circuses of modern America. Americans express a preference for single-family homes on large lots along cul-de-sacs because that’s the lifestyle we subsidize. We’ve been willing to bankrupt our cities and draw down the wealth prior generations built, in order to provide that subsidy. It can’t go on forever.

(Page 145)

Planners like to describe neighborhoods with both homes and neighborhood-friendly businesses as “mixed use.” Our ancestors would simply have called them “neighborhoods.”

(Page 163)

[After noting that local governments not infrequently mistake insolvency for a mere cash flow problem.] A local government must be obsessively intentional, organized and disciplined to discern it true financial status.

I gave a presentation to a group of bond analyst from one of the large ratings agencies. I showed them how public balance sheet didn’t reflect the extent of municipal liability, that cities had under-reported amounts of maintenance obligations totaling many times the reported pension shortfalls. The analysts were stunned, professed this was new to them, and asked a lot of good questions. Then they informed for me that it wouldn’t change anything about how they rated bonds because cities don’t default on their debt – they have not defaulted en masse since the Great Depression – and that track record superseded all other considerations.

(Page 190-91)

At the national level, I tend to be libertarian. Let’s do a few things and do them very competently.

At the state level, I tend to be a Minnesota version of conservative Republican. Let’s devolve power, use market and feedback where it drives good outcomes, and let’s do limited state interventions when we have a broad consensus that things would be better by doing it. Let’s measure outcomes and hold ourselves to a high standard.

At the regional level, I tend to favor a more progressive approach. Let’s cooperate in ways that improve everyone’s lives. Let’s work together to make the world more just.

At the city level, I’m fairly progressive. What do we need to do to make this place work for everyone? Let’s raise our taxes, and put sensible regulations in place, to make that a reality.

At the neighborhood level, I’m pretty much a socialist. If there’s something I have that you need, it’s yours. All that I ask is that you do the same in return for me and my family.

At the family level, I’m completely communal. Without hesitation, I’ll give everything I have so my family has lives that are secure, happy, and prosperous. I expect nothing in return.

(Page 210)

We’re all Detroit, just a couple of decades behind. Then we’re back to living humanly — that is, making small bets, winning or losing small, learning from both wins and losses, and in general building antifragility, like we (other than Detroit) had until the postwar suburban sprawl was thrust upon us.

Next year I hope actually to hit 52 books, my unattained goal for this year. I think the news in 2020 will be so distressing, dominated as it will be by Presidential politics, that ignoring it more, in favor of books that might make me wise, will be relatively easy.

To that end I’ve recently discovered a podcast and an alternate view of the digital New York Times that expedite getting the necessary news, the latter by letting me focus on the real news of the day without digging through NYT’s “most viewed” and otherwise boosted stories day after day after day.

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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

Adult fiction

I used to say that an “adult movie” was one where the lights went out after the kiss because adults knew what would happen next. I wish I had thought it up on my own, but its source, forgotten, was not my own creativity.

Wendell Berry is similarly discreet:

Billy perches himself in the branches of a box elder that stands above the car’s mysterious hideout. When the car arrives this time, Billy watches as the man takes the back seat out of the car and sits on it with his lady friend. The only way to describe what happens next is by quoting the narrator: “What followed Billy had seen enacted by cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, dogs, housecats, chickens, and, by great good fortune he was sure, a pair of snakes. And so he was not surprised but only astonished to be confirmed in his suspicion that the same ceremony could be performed by humans.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, of Wendell Berry’s new short story The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to be Told.

There’s much more to the story than that, of course, this being Wendell Berry after all. The “more” is hinted at by the part of the title after the colon.

The good folks at Front Porch Republic, of which Bilbro is a part, also have a new Journal, Local Culture,  the premier issue of which I began last night. It’s very good, providing if nothing else a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent, our current “urgent” exercising all-too-tyrannical a hold over my attention most of the time.

* * * * *

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

(Psalm 98:1, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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

Life goes on — and maybe gets better

I have been enjoying Jake Meador and the other young folks who write for Mere Orthodoxy for several years now, as it accelerates its publishing pace and the breadth of its author pool.

I can’t say for sure I’ve encountered Bart Gingerich more than once before, and that one encounter was at Mere Orthodoxy, too. Now I’m recommending another article from him, this time for orthodox Christians who are feeling anxious about their future in a world where the new civic religion, Pride, forces itself on one and all for the full month of June, and where woke capital guard against excessive virtue the remaining 11 months as well.

Young Gingerich’s message is twofold:

  1. We’ve lost on the sexual revolution, humanly speaking, for an indeterminate future. Get over it. We have plenty of rot in our own church environs to occupy us for the duration.
  2. We are not helpless economically against the predations of woke capital. There are things we can and should do.

Excerpts:

Be Holy

In a certain sense, our current “post-Obergefell moment” presents an opportunity to take stock of ourselves as American Christians. With such an important battle for sexual morality lost, now is a time to turn our focus and attention to things matters of holiness afflicting the Church. In being so focused on the homosexuality issue and the political fights that took place in legislatures and court rooms, I fear many Christians have ignored other pressing matters of holiness that are just as deleterious to the Church and to the nation at large.

Having a fulsome Christian sexual ethic that is enforced consistently across the board in our ecclesiastical contexts makes our teaching on LGBT issues credible to up-and-coming generations. But the main motivating factor for us to pursue sexual holiness corporately is because it pleases the Lord. So let us not waste our Obergefell; let us recommit ourselves to holiness.

Be Strong for Others

This is an old maxim from the days of chivalry: might for right. In this case, I have economic might in mind. I beseech those in the Church who are talented and enterprising: consider bulking up to provide shelter to the brethren …

This is not to say that enterprising Christians should not pursue old stand-bys: the trades, contracting, real estate, farming, and more. The goal, as Pastor Chris Wiley says in his excellent little book Man of the House, is to acquire productive property …

This is part of what it means to be strong for others … [W]ith ownership comes liberty. This is why political concerns still matter. Lawsuits against Christian bakers, photographers, and more will have a big effect on other Christian business owners. But many decisions on this front have been encouraging, making self-employment and ownership of productive property a desirable alternative to laboring for a progressive institution.

… [A]cross the board, this is likely going to involve making households productive again. No longer will households be simply centers of recreation, which is where we find ourselves today thanks to the Industrial Revolution and other shifts. The homeplace will once again be the workplace, and that will be a good thing …

Be Anxious for Nothing: Love One Another

At the heart of the previous section and this one is this: no one is going to starve. Plenty of vitriol in Christian reactions to the LGBT+ agenda has been fueled by disgust for homosexual and transsexual promiscuity and its effect on our families, communities, nation, and world. But there is also a desperation apparent in the rhetoric and activism that springs from a fear for survival, both materially in terms of livelihood and spiritually in terms of the Church’s continued existence in the United States. I would like to tackle the former fear first: no one is going to starve.

… If things continue on their current trajectory in the United States (and that is a big “if,” for history if full of surprises), the individualism and isolation that has become so typical of the American Church is going to come to an end due to necessity.

Bart Gingerich, Traditional Christians in America Post-Obergefell: Now What?

This is serious analysis. I’d paraphrase part of his “Be Strong for Others” as “stop thinking about jobs and start thinking about vocations.” And I’d also note that this vision for economic well-being at a more intimate scale than that of the progressive corporations is essentially Distributist.

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

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

How Conservatives are deviant

1

Conservatives React Differently to Disgusting Pictures

Differently that who? Differently than normal people? Isn’t “normalcy” an invidiously discriminatory concept?

No! That kink of question brands me an enemy of the people — not Donald Trump’s people, but the ones who really matter:

In social science and popular writing about social science, liberal views are always the norm and conservative views are always deviations from that norm, deviations in need of explanation. Liberal views don’t need to be explained — after all, they’re so obviously correct.

Alan Jacobs.

2

They aren’t smearing Tulsi Gabbard as a Kremlin asset because they don’t want her to be president … [T]hey fear … allowing her anti-interventionist ideas to take hold within the mainstream consciousness of a nation whose nonstop military interventionism is the glue that holds the empire together.

Let’s stop allowing the mass psychosis of these paranoid cold war feeding frenzies to be the new normal, please. If we keep going this way it’s only going to get worse for everyone.

Caitlyn Johnstone. I don’t know whether there really is a concerted effort to brand Gabbard a Kremlin asset or if this is just a tempest in blogger Johnstone’s teapot. But I love her illustrations:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 8.54.44 AM

That one was an animated GIF. This one really captures the mentality of some of these people:

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 8.50.36 AM

3

Our politicians reliably fetishize two constituents of American life: the middle class and small business. The Democrats used to talk a bit more about the poor before they became the Harvard party — poor people are lousy donors, as it turns out — and the Republicans used to be a lot warmer toward Big Business before the GOP became a right-wing farmer-labor party and Big Business came to mean Howard Schultz, Mark Zuckerberg, and Lloyd Blankfein.

Kevin D. Williamson. That’s a pretty good snapshot of our current stage of political realignment.

The rest of the column is in praise of Big Business, debunking Small Is Beautiful mythology.

I can’t deny Williamson’s numbers, but I deny that numbers tell a plausibly “whole story”. The reflexive premise that they do is part of what is deeply wrong with movement conservatism (for lack of a better term; “conservatism” without adjectival modifiers is totally useless). Here’s another part of the story: a community that works to live (and pray) rather than living to work.

4

As the Epiphany season draws to a close, one is forced to conclude that the “woke” Episcopal Church of 2019 stands firmly with Team Herod.

Kari Jenson Gold

5

If bigotry is repugnant, why not demand the resignation of Vice President Pence for his ugly views on homosexuality? And while they’re at it, why not insist that Pence’s wife Karen resign her position at a school that discriminates against gays and lesbians?

Pence has long been criticized as being hostile toward LGBTQ issues. He has linked same-sex couples to a “societal collapse” and even once seemed to support conversion therapy, which is a form of torture.

Richard Cohen.

The second paragraph is the entirety of Cohen’s evidence that Pence has ugly views on homosexuality. Read it slowly and shudder.

Cohen needs no evidence, as all the bien pensants agree with him.

I was not thinking of this sort of thing — at least not consciously — when I signaled several days in a row my incredulity at the calls for Virginia’s Governor to resign over a 35-year-old yearbook picture. Perhaps it was in the back of my mind, though: The callout culture is really toxic, and orthodox Christianity is now worse than faux pas.

Further, although I though I do not consider Cohen’s question bona fide, a sufficient answer were it bona fide would be that the voters knew when voting for him that Mike Pence triggers people like Cohen, and that his alleged sexual atavism is the ostensible reason, whereas the Governor’s secret was, well, secret.

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