Potpourri, 12/11/18

1

The most common explanation for France’s gilets jaunes protests against fuel-tax hikes is that they arise from too little democracy … The opposite is true. The protests are happening because France has too much democracy. What it’s lacking is politics.

Mr. Macron’s political movement was born of the notion that France needed to become more democratic …

As Economist correspondent Sophie Pedder notes in her illuminating biography of the president, the premise is that as a numerical matter there are enough actual or potential winners from economic reform and globalization that a leader could cull those voters from the old parties and unite them under a new banner. It would then be possible to steamroll minority opposition.

[T]he widespread rioting in France shows the dangers of allowing a healthy dose of democracy to transmogrify into a brutal majoritarianism. Majority rule has its place, but it’s no way to knit together a diverse society

… A center-right Republican Party under its failed 2017 candidate, François Fillon, would have effected some labor-law and civil-service reforms for which there is now broad support, but that party’s rural base would have precluded the green-energy follies that are sinking Mr. Macron.

The other word for this is “politics,” whose practitioners delicately trade interests and strike compromises to make majority rule more palatable to the minority.

Joseph Sternberg, Macron’s Warning to America’s Ascendant Left (WSJ, hyperlink and emphasis added)

This does, however, cut both ways. Trump and his supporters are playing a very dangerous game trying to force their kind of (invidious adjectives omitted) change with less than a “democratic” majority in 2016 and even a smaller minority now. (GOP offenses against good civic manners appear to have enough “legs” that I’m adding the category “democracy” today.)

Those coastal elites could punish the heartland, too, and not just politically. The heartland is lucky they haven’t figured out how to live without the food the breadbasket provides. (The GOP is misbehaving even worse in the states.)

It’s time for our incoming divided Congress to stop sheer pissing on each other and engage in frustrating, productive politics. (But I don’t know of a magic bullet for all the states except to hope for some constitutional theory to void the worst of the high-handedness.)

2

Cognate commentary:

Let us stipulate it’s foolish to pretend the market is without its costs. A 57-year-old General Motors worker in Ohio who will be laid off as his company expands production in Mexico may understandably balk at the argument that, in the larger scheme of things, it’s all for the best.

Yet the recent protests across France ought to remind us that market decisions aren’t the only ones that can make life difficult for those trying to get by on their paychecks …

Today, however, the crisis of good intentions is manifested most dramatically in the green movement, particularly in California … California now has the highest overall poverty rate in the nation … and suffers from a level of inequality “closer to that of Central American banana republics.”

… [T]he upward mobility of any family that isn’t part of Hollywood or Silicon Valley or doesn’t already own their own home is being killed by the state’s climate regime.

So maybe what’s going on in France isn’t as foreign as it may seem. When a once-thriving manufacturing town loses jobs to China, we hear all about the crisis of capitalism. But when progressives squeeze the American worker with high taxes, green agendas and failed government programs, where are the headlines about the crisis of good intentions?

William McGurn, The Crisis of Good Intentions (WSJ)

3

[T]he elite globalist consensus [is] that China can be China and India can be India but Europe can be turned into a repository for anyone in the world who can get there ….

Scott McConnell.

The elite consensus is personified by George Soros and his Open Society Foundations, with “open society” including open borders. It is against this vision that elite media’s villain du jour, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, pushes back. My sympathies, guardedly (I have no crystal ball, after all), are with Orban, though I do not see Soros as consciously evil, as some seem to.

I’m actually more sympathetic with the anti-immigration right in Europe than I am with the anti-immigration American right.

The common factor is wealthy destinations who need (some) immigrants to replace the children they’re not bearing, in order to maintain a simulacrum of normalcy as their traditional populations die off.

But while the people coming north to North America are mostly Christians of some sort, those coming north to Europe include many Muslims, who will be harder to assimilate than Christian refugees.

Plus, our idiotic American subversion of (or warfare against) middle east “strong men” leaders has contributed mightily to the breakdown of public order that facilitates persecution of Christians by their Muslim neighbors, driving them northward.

Will Europe die for our sins?

4

After agreeing that religious arguments should not be front and center in debates about transgenderism, a caution for those who think science is unequivocally on the side of the sexual binary:

There are solid scientific reasons to resist the claim that biological males and females who consider themselves to be of the other gender, and who demand that everyone else recognize that, should be accommodated. Unfortunately, science itself is being coopted by the cultural revolution. The authoritative science magazine Nature published an editorial in October strongly denouncing a reported initiative by the Department of HHS to define male and female by biological characteristics. The editorial takes the line that people ought to be defined by the gender they choose. Nature is a very big deal.

We should by no means assume that science is immune from politicization. In the Soviet Union, as in our own materialist order, Science is considered to be the greatest authority. Science was corrupted by the communists as a matter of course, made to serve the revolution’s ends. The same thing is happening here.

Rod Dreher.

5

[T]here are good Catholics and bad Catholics and … the [New York] Times team gets to decide who is who.

Terry Mattingly, Tale of two New York Times stories: Seeking links in ultimate anti-Pope Francis conspiracy (Get Religion)

6

Now, a story you may not want to know about. I’ll introduce it elliptically, since this is a family blog (or something):

“My dad asked me if I were allowed to wear pants, if I would do it. I said, ‘I don’t know’ — as a kid you’re terrified — I don’t know. He said, ‘Because you can’t tell me right now, that means you are not a Christian. You are not going to heaven because a Christian would never hesitate at that question.’ ”

— Leah Elliott, Indiana

“I was nursing, but the pastor outlawed nursing. No women were allowed to nurse because it kept them from church. I went to the bathroom to cry, and I’m getting engorged — you have to nurse, you get in a lot of pain if you don’t. I’m in the bathroom, and the nursery worker came into the stall with me. I think I was just grabbing toilet paper to blow my nose, she barged in and said, ‘The devil wants you to miss this sermon that’s happening right now. You get back in there.’ ”

— Kara Blocker, Oregon

“I have so few memories of my cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles that it scares me. We were allowed to see them about once a year, until the church decided that the ‘good church members’ shouldn’t fellowship with their non-believing relatives. We were pretty much cut off after that. My grandparents still don’t understand why we were withheld from them.”

— Anonymous, Ohio

Former independent fundamental Baptists share their stories, part of a Fort Worth Star-Telegram series on clergy sexual (mostly) abuse in “Independent Fundamental Baptist” churches.

As I was growing up, some fundamentalist (who probably knew my father from the Gideons) made sure that our family always had a subscription to Sword of the Lord, a very explicitly and unapologetically fundamentalist tabloid out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. My parents were unenthusiastic about it, but didn’t seem to think it fit only for the bottom of the bird cage. As a teenager and college student, I generally read each issue for entertainment.

Pastor Jack Hybels of Hammond, Indiana was one of Publisher John R. Rice‘s favorites, and he fits prominently in this hot-off-the-presses series both as the father of one of the chief IFB perverts, Dave Hybels, and as proprietor of a reliable refuge (his Hammond Church) for IFB pastors who needed to be—ahem!—rotated out of their current role due to—ahem! again—accusations by some of the many brazen 14-year-old tarts that kept seducing defenseless IFB pastors.

When I was a young Evangelical, I was quite obsessed with cults — you know, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, (Herbert W. Armstrong’s) Worldwide Church of God, maybe even the Seventh Day Adventists. Though I knew from the Sword of the Lord that these IFB-types were fundamentalists and thus disreputable (they thought we were to be shunned, too; it was reciprocal), I never would have though of Independent Fundamental Baptists as a cult that would shelter perverts in the pulpit.

My bad. The problem is too widespread in this denomination-in-disguise to pretend that “Independent” is more than a legal fiction, that the unthinkability of police reports isn’t symptomatic of a sick system, or that the pastoral reassignments are not all too familiar.

I must henceforth think of IFB churches as cults.

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Clippings and commentary, 12/1/18

1

For a couple of months now, I’ve asked myself a question as I begin to blog on this platform:

Since Alan Jacobs and Caitlin Johnstone are right, what’s really worth blogging today? How about the practical outworkings of their respective insights?

I think that has been helpful, but the two mostly articulate what I knew in my bones already—not that I’ve known it all that long, but a couple of years at least. So I’m not sure that all that much has changed.

2

In that light, Andrew Sullivan was on fire Friday.

His weekly contribution to New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer typically is in three unrelated parts, and often his second or third part drops off into something regarding his (homo)sexuality. Those often bore me.

But this week he had three strong parts, the first on The Right’s Climate Change Shame:

I honestly can’t see how the science of this can be right or left. It’s either our best working hypothesis or not. And absolutely, we can have a debate about how to best counter it: massive investment in new green technology; a carbon tax; cap and trade; private-sector innovation of the kind that has helped restrain emissions in the U.S. already. And this debate could be had on right-left lines. But we cannot even have the debate because American conservatism has ruled it out of bounds.

Then there is the final, classic Republican nonargument: “I don’t see it.” When nothing else works, just subjectively deny all objective reality.

This title piece is very strong.

3

True to form, the second part is about sex, but he’s very stimulating:

Does the fact that less than one percent of humans feel psychologically at odds with their biological sex mean that biological sex really doesn’t exist and needs to be defined away entirely? Or does it underline just how deep the connection between sex and gender almost always is?

… the fact that this society is run overwhelmingly on heterosexual lines makes sense to me, given their overwhelming majority. As long as the government does not actively persecute or enable the persecution of a minority, who cares? An intersex person is as deeply human as anyone else. So is a gay or transgender person. It’s stupid to pretend they are entirely normal, because it gives the concept of normality too much power over us ….

4

Finally, he gets into his own sexuality but in context of a delightful reductio ad absurdum of intersectionality:

[A]n oppressor can also be identified in multiple, intersectional ways. I spend my days oppressing marginalized people and women, because, according to social-justice ideology, I am not just male, but also white and cisgendered. My sin — like the virtue of the oppressed — is multifaceted. So multifaceted, in fact, that being gay must surely be included. Also: HIV-positive. Come to think of it: immigrant. And an English Catholic — which makes me a victim in my childhood and adolescence. Suddenly, I’m a little more complicated, aren’t I? But wait! As a Catholic, I am also an oppressive enabler of a misogynist institution, and at the same time, as a gay Catholic, I’m a marginalized member of an oppressed “LGBTQ” community, as well as sustaining an institution that oppresses other gays.

It can get very complicated very fast. I remain confident that I remain an oppressor because my sex, gender, and race — let alone my belief in liberal constitutionalism and limited government — probably trump all my victim points. But that is a pretty arbitrary line, is it not? Think of the recent leftist discourse around white women. One minute, they are the vanguard of the fight against patriarchy; the next minute, they are quislings devoted to white supremacy and saturated with false consciousness.

And that’s why I favor more intersectionality, not less. Let’s push this to its logical conclusion. Let’s pile on identity after identity for any individual person; place her in multiple, overlapping oppression dynamics, victim and victimizer, oppressor and oppressed; map her class, race, region, religion, marital status, politics, nationality, language, disability, attractiveness, body weight, and any other form of identity you can. After a while, with any individual’s multifaceted past, present, and future, you will end up in this multicultural world with countless unique combinations of endless identities in a near-infinite loop of victim and victimizer. You will, in fact, end up with … an individual human being!

In the end, all totalizing ideologies disappear up their own assholes. With intersectionality, we have now entered the lower colon.

In saying that, he probably has made himself an Enemy of the People—the kind of creeps who don’t just tweet insults, but who show up at your home en masse, beating on the door and threatening imminent harm.

For the rest of us, Sullivan provided some material to save the world (or rebuild after collapse).

5

For two years, Democrats have denounced President Trump’s rhetoric as divisive, and sometimes they’ve been right. Yet they’re also only too happy to polarize the electorate along racial lines, insinuating that Republicans steal elections and pick judges who nurse old bigotries.

WSJ Editorial Board, Democrats and Racial Division

6

Garry Kasparov, the chess champion and chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative (with which I’m associated), has an excellent suggestion for how to respond immediately to Russia’s attack Sunday on three Ukrainian naval ships operating in their own territorial waters: Send a flotilla of U.S. and NATO warships through the narrow Kerch Strait to pay a port call to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov.

The move would be Trumanesque, recalling the Berlin airlift of 1948. It would symbolize the West’s solidarity with our embattled Ukrainian ally, our rejection of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, and our defiance of the Kremlin’s arrogant, violent, lawless behavior. And it would serve as powerful evidence that, when it comes to standing up for the free world, Donald Trump is not, after all, Vladimir Putin’s poodle.

In other words, don’t count on it.

Where’s Sean Hannity when you need him to be embarrassed for his country?

Bret Stephens

Russia is our whipping boy (the Republicans’ after the cold war, now the Democrats’ and the elites’), and my reflex at new accusations against it is skepticism. But darned if that bridge over the Kerch Straits isn’t deliberately too low for big ships. Sometimes the accusations may be true.

7

Mr. Bush came to the Oval Office under the towering, sharply defined shadow of Ronald Reagan, a onetime rival for whom he had served as vice president.

No president before had arrived with his breadth of experience: decorated Navy pilot, successful oil executive, congressman, United Nations delegate, Republican Party chairman, envoy to Beijing, director of Central Intelligence.

Over the course of a single term that began on Jan. 20, 1989, Mr. Bush found himself at the helm of the world’s only remaining superpower. The Berlin Wall fell; the Soviet Union ceased to exist; the communist bloc in Eastern Europe broke up; the Cold War ended.

His firm, restrained diplomatic sense helped assure the harmony and peace with which these world-shaking events played out, one after the other.

Karen Tumulty, Washington Post. In other words, his greatest accommplishment may have been the war on falling Russia that did not happen.

R.I.P.

8

Alan Jacobs has been far less obsessive about debunking “cultural Marxism” as a useful category than various bloggers have been in accusing people of it.

Jacobs’ latest, starting with the definition of someone who thinks the term is useful:

So what is cultural Marxism? In brief, it is a belief that cultural productions (books, institutions, etc.) and ideas are emanations of underlying power structures, so we must scrutinize and judge all culture and ideas based on their relation to power.

The problem here, put as succinctly as I can put it, is that you can take this view of culture without being a Marxist, and you can be a Marxist without taking this view of culture.

(enough with the “Cultural Marxism” already)

I hope I’ve never personally used the term here, but if I have, I repent in sackcloth and ashes. The internet neighborhoods I frequent tend to be populated by people who use the term (no, they are not notably anti-Semitic), so it may have made its way into a quotation.

Maybe I should use its use as a categorical diqualification to join my Feedly stream—not as a litmus test for anti-Semitism, but as a litmus test for loose thinking.

9

I think the most powerful argument I have for my fellow Christians is that supporting Trump is destructive to the way we represent Christ. Some Christians talked about trying to guide Trump through our support and help him be a better man. Maybe they actually believe that would happen, but the opposite has happened. Evangelicals have become worse rather than Trump becoming better. Evangelicals once believed that our sexual morals mattered in leadership but no more. The defense of Trump by some evangelicals reaches the height of hypocrisy. I have Christian contacts who were very hard on Trump during the primaries and were disgusted with Trump in the general election. If they did vote for Trump, they held their nose while they did it. Today, to my dismay, some of those same Christians have turned into some of his biggest supporters. Christians did not save Trump. Trump corrupted them.

And none of this is to ignore that by supporting Trump, Christians have tied themselves to his race baiting, sexism, lying and incompetence. I know that many of my Christian friends hated that argument when I used it. They pointed out that just because they voted for Trump does not mean they agree with him on everything. I understand that logically. But in reality people are going to associate a vote with Trump as an affirmation of all the characteristics linked to him. It does not matter that you voted for Trump because you did not like Clinton; when you vote Trump you get the whole package. All the lying, race-baiting, sexism and the rest is something you will be seen as endorsing. So that 81 percent of white evangelicals number will continue to plague evangelicalism for some time to come.

It is better to stand for something, even if that something is rejected by the larger society, than to show oneself as willing to compromise one’s own morals to achieve political victories ….

George Yancey, Being Destroyed from Within

10

There is no level of fraudulence, falsity, and charlatanism that our elites will not eat up on the subject of “education,” because the subject itself is empty of content (hey-hey-ho-ho Western-Civ-has-got-to-go led to the most appalling vacuum) and thus all of the grifters, shakedown artists, hucksters, frauds, and the like have come flooding in to fill the void.

Matt in VA, quoted in Rod Dreher’s story on a fraudulent Louisiana alternative school.

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More clippings, 11/24/18

1

“I can virtually guarantee you that if Hillary Clinton had won the White House, you would not see these same law firms filing numerous lawsuits against her administration in the name of the rule of law,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation ….

Annie Coreal, New York Times. Yes, Big Law’s motives in challenging Trump on immigration are mixed, but “defending the rule of law” is part of the mix.

2

Alan Jacobs is going to write a book about the importance of reading old books, but Ben Sasse probably won’t read it. I may.

3

[F]or all the people who are exasperated by Friston’s impenetrability, there are nearly as many who feel he has unlocked something huge, an idea every bit as expansive as Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Shaun Raviv, The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI (Wired)

Does this mean “circular, but evocative”?

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Potpourri, 11/15/18

1

I never really kissed dating goodbye as a teenager in the mid-2000s — to be honest, I was pretty late in kissing it hello. But like many who were brought up in contact with evangelical culture, I absorbed its tenets almost by osmosis even though I never even read the whole book. Falling in love means sharing a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back. Sex is a slippery slope, generally with disaster at the bottom. Hard decisions could be boiled down to one rule: Keep it chaste. Do things right, though, and you’ll get the reward you deserve. Follow the instructions: results guaranteed.

Christine Emba.

It’s the promise of a fairy tale ending that offends me. Evangelicals lack any tragic sense of life. (Just “pray away the gay,” for instance.)

Or maybe that absence of tragic sense is a besetting American sin. More Emba:

In essence, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and its (inevitable, if you think about it) fall represent a mind-set prominent in evangelical culture, but also in American society more broadly.

We insist that meritocracy works and combine it with a valorization of hard work (which itself stems from our country’s majority-Protestant roots). To maintain the story that success is accessible to all, we’ve developed a tendency to seek out and elevate simplistic formulas that we hope come with guarantees. Stay pure until marriage, and your marriage will flourish. Follow the “success sequence,” and you’ll never be poor. Go to the right school, and all career doors will open. Elect the right candidate, and America will be great once more.

But the dark side of all this is that when the formulas fail — as they so often do — it’s you who must have done something wrong. And then it’s up to you to fix it on your own. Bad marriage? You must have screwed around as a teen. Still in public housing? Should have gotten a better job. The if/then mind-set doesn’t take into account how much is actually out of our personal control, or the systemic forces — race, class, family history — that might hold someone back.

It is difficult to counter such an ingrained — and easy — habit of thought. But give him credit: In reevaluating “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Harris is modeling one way of doing so — he’s admitting to complexity and engaging directly with others, rather than sending down recommendations from above. Alas, even this admirable attempt won’t undo the harms that his formula caused in the first place.

But let the implosion of a cultural touchstone like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” serve as a lesson, or at least a warning. The next time we’re tempted toward too-formulaic thinking, we’ll know to take it with a grain of salt. After all, life is rarely so pure.

2

Once upon a time, Protestant congregations had pulpits. This was a form of church furniture, a glorified lectern as it where, behind which pastors read the text for their sermon and preached it to boot. Today, contemporary design of church buildings makes little of fixed places for anyone participating in worship, except for the drummer who may be quarantined in a drum shield.

… as ministers of God’s word, pastors’ actions, including their feet, while communicating a message of such great moment should encourage the idea of permanence. That is one reason for having a pulpit with serious heft. It symbolizes that what goes on in this space is of great significance and enduring value (though some look so permanent that even the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth will not unsettle them).

The permanence of the word preached is also a reason for ministers to stay in the pocket behind the pulpit and not move around. At best, happy feet is a distraction that calls more attention to the man than his message. At worst, they invite liturgical dance. So if the argument from permanence does not help, maybe the thought of overweight men and women in leotards will assist pastors (some on the rotund side themselves) keep both feet firmly planted behind their congregation’s ample pulpit.

D.G. Hart

3

[S]cientists are … making declarations ex cathedra — as a direct result of intellectual movements that began in humanities scholarship twenty-five years ago.

So for those of you who think that the humanities are marginal and irrelevant, put that in your mental pipe and contemplatively smoke it for a while.

Many years ago the great American poet Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called “Shame,” in which he imagined “a cramped little state with no foreign policy, / Save to be thought inoffensive.”

Sheep are the national product. The faint inscription
Over the city gates may perhaps be rendered,
“I’m afraid you won’t find much of interest here.”

The people of this nation could not be more overt in their humility, their irrelevance, their powerlessness. But …

Their complete negligence is reserved, however,
For the hoped-for invasion, at which time the happy people
(Sniggering, ruddily naked, and shamelessly drunk)
Will stun the foe by their overwhelming submission,
Corrupt the generals, infiltrate the staff,
Usurp the throne, proclaim themselves to be sun-gods,
And bring about the collapse of the whole empire.

Alan Jacobs, the imminent collapse of an empire

4

[W]hen you are told endlessly that there is no meaning to existence, then guess what? You actually start to think that way. And then everything loses its flavor. Everything starts to taste like rice cakes.

… [Y]ou cannot have it both ways. You cannot bleach divinity and Transcendence out of the cosmos and tell everyone that the whole affair is just an aimless and pointless accident, and then turn around and talk to us about the “moral necessity” of this or that urgent social cause.

Larry Chapp via Rod Dreher.

5

From before the election, but when I was otherwise occupied:

Trumpism … is the new normal. It is not going away. And there is no going back. The challenge for the center-right and center-left across the West is to accommodate this new normal in ways that do not empower authoritarianism, provoke constitutional unraveling, or incite civil unrest. And it seems to me that the lesson of the last two years is that the Republican Party is unable and unwilling to perform that function. It has turned itself into a cult behind a figure hostile to liberal democratic norms, responsible government, and any notion of moderation. It is less a political party than a mass movement sustained by shame-free, mendacious propaganda around a man whose articulated values place him more in the company of Putin and Duterte than Merkel and Macron.

The GOP cannot be talked out of their surrender to this strongman. With each rhetorical or policy atrocity, they have attached themselves more firmly to him. The dissenters are leaving; the new members of Congress will be even Trumpier than the old. They have abandoned any serious oversight role. Their singular achievement has been supplying judicial ranks who will not stand in the way of executive power. That was the real issue in the Kavanaugh nomination, as Newt Gingrich blurted out last week. A subpoena for the president from the special counsel would be fought, he promised, all the way to the Supreme Court, which is when we would see “whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it.” This is a party bent on enabling authoritarianism, not restraining it.

That’s why I will vote Democrat next Tuesday. I have many issues with the Democrats, as regular readers well know. None of that matters compared with this emergency. I don’t care, in this instance, what their policies are. I am going to vote for them. I can’t stand most of their leaders and fear their radical fringe. I am going to vote for them anyway. Because it is the only responsible thing there is to do.

The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do.

Andrew Sullivan.

Or as William Blake put it:

what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I’m not at all certain that “judicial ranks … will not stand in the way of executive power” or that such was the aim of confirming them, but Sullivan otherwise is right about the abasement of the GOP, and the House has indeed flipped to the Democrats.

I wrote last week that the midterms would finally tell us what this country now is. And with a remarkable turnout — a 50-year high for a non- presidential election, no less — we did indeed learn something solid and eye-opening. We learned that the American public as a whole has reacted to the first two years of an unfit, delusional, mendacious, malevolent, incompetent authoritarian as president … with relative equanimity. The net backlash is milder than it was against Clinton or Obama (and both of them went on to win reelection).

What I take from this is that Trump really does have a cultlike grip on a whole new population of voters, as well as the reliable Republican voters of the past. That’s not just 42 percent of the country (to use Trump’s approval rating); it’s a motivated 42 percent. And what Trump has successfully done, by corralling right-wing media, tweeting incessantly, dominating the discourse, tending so diligently to his base, and holding rally after rally, is keep that engagement going. Most presidents are interested in governing and sometimes take their eye off the ball politically. Trump is all politics and all salesmanship all the time. And it works. If he can demonstrate this in the midterms, imagine what his reelection campaign will be like.

I’ve been razzed a little for using the term “existential threat” to describe Trump two and a half years ago. But I used it in a specific context: He was and remains such a threat to liberal democracy. Not democracy as a whole. Strongmen can win election after election with big majorities without rigging the vote. A single political party can co-opt the judiciary, or capture the Senate, by democratic means, for illiberal ends. I mean by liberal democracy one in which pluralism is celebrated, power is widely distributed, justice is dispensed without regard to politics, the press is free and respected, minorities protected, and where an opposition has a chance to win real, governing power. The space for this in America has significantly shrunk these past two years and this election has only consolidated that new status quo.

Andrew Sullivan

I’ve detested the Republican party long enough now that my reflex to cringe at Democrat victories passes very quickly, replaced by a resigned feeling of “we are soooooo screwed!” — no matter which major party wins.

6

When you obsess about a problem, you have less energy and passion to pursue solutions. When you fret over every outrage, you elevate those outrages. Stories trend because consumers engage with them, clicking and sharing them, not because the news media dictates that they trend.

I think it would be a solid and beneficial step for us all to simply come to the realizations: Trump is going to Trump. He’s going to lie. He’s going to wink at the racists and Nazis. He’s going to demean women. He’s going to embarrass this country. It’s all going to happen.

Nevertheless, we can take this stand unequivocally: It is all unacceptable and we stand in opposition to it. It is not normal and must never be met as such.

But we must also focus on the future.

Charles Blow

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Brief collection 9/13/18

1

Pope Francis has called a global meeting of Catholic bishops to discuss how to prevent sex abuse …

The Vatican statement said the topic of the gathering, scheduled for Feb. 21-24, would be the “prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.” It wasn’t clear whether the agenda would also include the disciplining of abusive clergy and of bishops who cover up or neglect abuse by priests under their authority.

Wall Street Journal

I think the Roman Church has had a fairly good idea how to reduce pedophilic child abuse since the report 14 years ago in the wake on the 2002 scandal.

But I don’t see much sign that it has made progress on homosexual predation on adolescents, seminarians and priests, or any progress at all at dropping the hammer on high-ranking enablers.

 

2

What will the Supreme Court look like when neither side has to walk on eggs to win the favor of the one in the middle? It will be a more conservative court, for sure, and maybe a more honest one. Justices may feel more free to say what they really think, and the public will ultimately judge the result by expressing itself in electoral politics. History does not stop in 2018.

Linda Greenhouse

Greenhouse is often outrageously biased even in her news reporting, not just in opinion pieces, but this one’s worth reading — with a grain of salt.

 

3

Public health experts dismiss [Critical Reviews in Toxicology, and Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology] as unreliable vanity journals. “These two journals exist to manufacture and disseminate scientific doubt,” says David Michaels, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and the author of “Doubt Is Their Product,” a book about product defense science. “They provide the appearance of peer review and credibility to ‘product defense’ science — mercenary studies not designed to contribute to the scientific enterprise but to forestall public health and environmental protections and to defeat litigation. Corporations opposing public health or environmental regulations enter the rigged studies and questionable analyses published in these mercenary journals into regulatory proceedings or lawsuits to manufacture scientific uncertainty.”

Then, Michaels says, companies can say, “Look, the studies have conflicting conclusions, so there is too much scientific uncertainty to issue regulations to protect the public or to compensate victims.” ….

Paul D. Thacker, Scientists know plastics are dangerous. Why won’t the government say so?

I had no idea. The industry didn’t want me to have any idea. The “forensic” scientists (as in “‘forensic dating’ is the world’s oldest profession”) did their dirty duty.

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The mind that dare not speak its name

I have a healthy respect for Albert Mohler, but sooner or later a Southern Baptist and an Orthodox Christian will disagree. Mohler:

Christians need to remember that the sufficiency of scripture gives us a comprehensive worldview that equips us to wrestle with even the most challenging ethical dilemmas of our time.

Responding to the Transgender Moment (around 56:31)

That claim was part of his postscript to an interview with Roman Catholic Ryan T. Anderson, who relies heavily on natural law. Mohler’s last three guests have been Catholics. And he had just recommended Anderson’s book When Harry Became Sally, for Christians, saying “this book is a very good source, a very good place, to begin thinking through some of these issues.”

Methinks Mohler is a bit double-minded about “the sufficiency of scripture” — and the mind that dare not speak its name at a Southern Baptist Seminary is the mind that gives me my healthy respect for Mohler. (If all he was going to do was stretch scripture, pretending that it is the source of the worldview he has gained by reading and thinking more widely, he wouldn’t be worth bothering with.)

I do wish, however, that Mohler and Anderson had discussed how actual birth anomalies — objectively present and testable, the exceptions that test the rule of sexual dimorphism — would play out in these debates.

I do not think those “hard cases” are where the action is on trasgenderism, but their existence is often an effective rhetorical tool, and with only 24 hours in a day, and with other issues than sexuality to interest me, I haven’t yet nailed down the fallacy in their invocation.

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The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Simpler than “as simple as possible”

We are back to Paul Valéry’s maxim: “Everything simple is false. Everything complex is unusable.” In the world of computer modeling, this is known as Bonini’s paradox: The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

(Kevin D. Williamson)

Of course, Williamson has examples, including from “inferior writing about politics” from two of our premier national newspapers.

UPDATE: Immediately after writing the above, I turned to another article which, if true, is rather terrifying in light of the more obvious truths Williamson notes.

The leader of the free world still begins his day by binge-watching cable news until 11 a.m.; still spends official meetings nattering on about anything other than the subject at hand (even when said subject is how to ensure that this year’s hurricane season does not result in mass death this time around); and, most critically, still cannot be bothered to learn the pertinent facts about a given situation, before dictating a policy response to it.

One of the president’s chief complaints about H.R. McMaster was (reportedly) that the former national security adviser had the temerity to brief him with “a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text” — rather than “simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline.” White House aides have grown so desperate to get the commander-in-chief to ingest the most remedial information about the geopolitical affairs he’s mindlessly disrupting, they’ve whittled the bullet points in his briefing book down to “basically slogans,” one administration source told Axios.

(Eric Levitz, Trump’s Briefing Book Includes ‘Screen Grabs of Cable-News Chyrons’, New Yorker)

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I also blog short items at Micro.blog.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Religious tribalism

As a prefatory matter, I have long believed that one’s guiding philosophy is functionally religious. That has ramifications beyond what follows, but those are for another day. For now, think of it as “atheist Stephen Hawking had a religion of sorts.” It’s the sort of thing “scientism” was coined for.

In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.

Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:

We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.

Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.

The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.

I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.

Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”

If there is a defining problem with a certain brand of reformed evangelicalism, it is that we care more about winning—winning debates, winning political campaigns, winning institutional battles—than we do about simply pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful.

(Jake Meador, The Tedium of Worldview Analysis at Mere Orthodoxy)

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It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Darwin Trolls

Anyone who has been involved in higher education knows this truth: people are often decent in private, listen, and give interesting ideas about heretical ideas such as intelligent design. They fulminate in public, because they must or risk dealing with the trolls for Darwin. I have heard world class thinkers (not theists) laugh at Internet atheists who misunderstand philosophy of science, but who would never go public, because they do not want the abuse.

(John Mark Reynolds)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.