The Best, 1/27/23

Culture

Transhumanism

I find transhumanism repugnant, and I believe in the wisdom of repugnance because I believe that some truths are not susceptible of distillation to catchy slogans for the ADHD World we live in, and perhaps not possible to articulate directly at all.

But I was unaware that there was more to it than billionaire nerds asking “wouldn’t it be cool if we could upload our brains and live forever?” No, there’s another case, superficially more plausible:

If humanity’s technological progress can be compared to climbing a mountain, then the Anthropocene finds us perched on a crumbling ledge, uncertain how long we have until it collapses. The most obvious way out is to turn back and retrace our steps to an earlier stage of civilization, with fewer people using fewer resources. This would mean acknowledging that humanity is unequal to the task of shaping the world, that we can thrive only by living within the limits set by nature.

But this kind of voluntary turning back might be so contrary to our nature that it can never happen. It is far more plausible that the human journey was fated to end up in this dangerous spot ever since we first began to change the ecosystem with farming and fire. Such a view forms the basis of antihumanism, a system of thought that removes humans from their pedestal and contends that, given our penchant for destruction—not only of ourselves but also all other species—we are less deserving of existence than are animals, plants, rocks, water, or air. For antihumanists, the only way off the precipice is a fall, with the survivors left to pick up the pieces. And if there are no survivors, that wouldn’t be a tragedy; there will always be beings in the world, even if there are no human beings.

Australian philosopher Toby Ord uses the image of the crumbling ledge in his book The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity (2020). “Fueled by technological progress, our power has grown so great that for the first time in humanity’s long history, we have the capacity to destroy ourselves,” Ord writes. He believes that the odds of this happening in the next 100 years are about one in six, the same as in a game of Russian roulette. “Humanity lacks the maturity, coordination and foresight necessary to avoid making mistakes from which we could never recover,” he concludes.

Ord is not an antihumanist but rather a transhumanist, a research fellow at the world’s leading center for transhumanist thought, Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, which looks to scientific and technological advances as the only path forward. Transhumanists agree with antihumanists that human nature is morally and physically circumscribed in ways that make it impossible for us to get past the precipice. They likewise agree that Homo sapiens is doomed to disappear. But for transhumanists, this is a wonderful prospect because we will disappear by climbing instead of falling. As Ord writes, “Rising to our full potential for flourishing would likely involve us being transformed into something beyond the humanity of today.” That something will no longer be “us” in the strictest sense, but our posthuman successors will preserve what is best and most important about us. “I love humanity, not because we are Homo sapiens, but because of our capacity to flourish,” Ord writes.

Adam Kirsch, The End Is Only the Beginning (The American Scholar)

The appeal of that comes from its familiarity: We’ve been making problems with technology, then solving them with more technology, for a fairly long time now. Unless you stop to think about it, that seems normal.

(H/T Alan Jacobs)

Humanity without limits seems at best inhumane to me. Nonetheless, I recommend the American Scholar article, which pairs well with C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

White nationalism

The constant accusations of “white nationalism” remind me of preachers and other polemicists calling Playboy “hard-core pornography” 50 years or so ago. People are going to catch on fairly quickly when they see something white nationalist/hard-core and there’s no term left on the rhetorical spectrum to describe it.

Haute Couture

I don’t recall ever seeing a piece of haute couture that so vividly captures the intersection of aburdity and misogyny:

(H/T the Atlantic)Legal

Legalia – Brett Kavanaugh

Perhaps because of some new movie or something, Justice Brett Kavanaugh seems to be back in the news, and it set me thinking about his confirmation hearings again.

When I was becoming a lawyer, I had to sit for a personal interview with another lawyer (or two). One of the questions was “Have you ever broken the law?” My answer was that, starting around age 19, I had two alcoholic beverages, one on each of two occasions, contrary to law. He/They were amused at my candor.

Back to Justice Kavanaugh: the thing that bothered me most about his nomination was his long history of drinking to drunkenness, beginning in high school and continuing, apparently, nonstop to present. I supported him before I knew of this, waffling afterward (I’m a bad member of any tribe).

I expect greater respect for the law from highly-placed Judges. I am obviously not squeaky-clean in the underage drinking department, but I’m close, I admit that I broke the law, and I admit that I was wrong. Kavanaugh lied and tap-danced about his drinking.

“But are you serious that ‘the thing that bothered me most about his nomination was his long history of drinking to drunkenness’? Two women accused him of sexual assaults!”

Yes, I am serious. I was not convinced by those two female accusers. But the history of drinking made both charges more plausible than they would have been without that history. Drunken sexual encounters, voluntary, involuntary and borderline, are the bane of every major university, and both accusations fit fairly well into the “drunken frat boy/drink until you’re irresistible” pattern.

Had I been a Senator, I think I’d have voted to reject the nomination, not because I found those accusations likelier true than not, but because I don’t want an unrepentant, somewhat sanctimonious, drunk on the Supreme Court — a man against whom the accusations had some sting.

Politics

Red-pilling for power

Damon Linker does a pretty good job in The Red-Pill Pusher of explaining and rebutting Curtis Yarvin, a “neo-reactionary” (Linker’s term, but I doubt Yarvin would reject it), of whom I had heard, and probably could have placed as Right rather than Left figure. Beyond that, I was essentially ignorant of Yarvin’s particular spin on things — or how much influence it has built in formerly-reputable conservative circles like Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, whose Hillbilly Elegy marked him as someone with a background and a mind possibly suited to high office.

Yarvin gets a lot of facts right, a few more plausible. Yet my reaction against his conclusions is different than what Linker articulated (which probably was less than what he could have articulated).

Here’s my problem with Yarvin. He is hungry for power, and his obsession with power has already corrupted him. He has made it clear that among his first exercises of power would be sweeping, radical firings that would cripple government (and cause much misery to the newly-unemployed). Then he and his mostly-unnamed pals would amateurishly assume most or all of the vacated offices and try to impose their will on a country that’s about 50% of a different mind. It would make the Trump years a model of decorum and competence in comparison. I think it highly likely that there would be much bloodshed.

I have no reason to trust that their program would make the country better or make its citizens freer.

No thanks.

Signs of hope

I recently (like within the past half hour as I type) heard a preacher say that he has only seen one encouraging sign in public so far this year: a bunch of NFL players kneeling and praying around a teammate felled on the field by a heart attack.

It’s a tempting narrative: world; hell; handbasket. You can fill in the blanks.

Yet I see other signs — contemporaneous if not distinctly 2023.

  1. I found it encouraging that a high proportion of the worst emerging Republican jackasses were handed their heads by voters last November.
  2. I find it encouraging that honest liberals, and even one Marxist, keep saying things that get them labeled — oh, I don’t know; “white nationalists,” probably. Examples here and here.
  3. I find it almost as encouraging that most honest conservatives have no use for Donald Trump and say to in terms that gives aid and comfort to liberals. (A bold claim I know, but I can always fall back on the No True Scotsman fallacy if you find a counter-example.)
  4. Indeed, I find it encouraging to be reminded that center-left and center-right have an awful lot in common when compared to the alternatives.

The Quaker’s Mule Who Wouldn’t Plow

One of my favorite stories is about the Quaker whose mule refused to plow.

The Quaker tried to coax him every way he knew. Finally, he stepped around in front of the mule, took him gently by the ears, and stared into his eyes.

“Brother mule, thou knowest that I am a Quaker. Thou knowest I cannot beat thee. Thou knowest I cannot curse thee.

“With thou knowest not is is that I can sell thee to the Baptist down the road, and he can beat the living daylights out of thee.” 

Mitch Daniels, though Presbyterian rather than Quaker, ran no negative ads in his two successful runs for governor of Indiana, yet he won re-election in a year when Barack Obama memorably took Indiana’s electors in the presidential race. As President of Purdue (recently retired), he froze tuition for ten years.

It does my soul good cheers my sinful heart, then, to see that Mitch has supporters who are willing to respond to barbarians who are trying to keep him from running for the Senate seat Mike Braun will vacate next year to run for governor:

Then with a toxic blast of political rectal gas, [Representative Jim] Banks signaled he would enter the brewing 2024 U.S. Senate race. Teaming up with Club for Growth President David McIntosh, the pair did something we’ve never seen before: Running a preemptive TV ad designed to keep a rival — Mitch Daniels — out of the race.

… [I]n the eyes of Club for Growth, a PAC of billionaires, it said in the TV ad, “After 50 years in big government, big pharma and big academia, Mitch Daniels forgot how to fight. An old guard Republican clinging to the old ways of the bad old days.”

Long-time GOP operative Mark Lubbers responded to the Club for Growth TV ad, telling me, “These are the same people who cost us Republican control of the Senate. Sad to see that Banks has thrown in with them.”

… 

Donald J. Trump Jr. then tweeted on Jan. 13: “The establishment is trying to recruit weak RINO Mitch Daniels to run for U.S. Senate in Indiana. The same Mitch Daniels who agreed with Joe Biden that millions of MAGA Republicans are supposedly a danger to the country & trying to ‘subvert democracy.’ He would be Mitt Romney 2.0.”

This was the first time anyone had described Daniels as a “weak RINO.”

Lubbers responded to Trump the younger: “You think the progressive left needs to be fought; we think it needs to be BEATEN. That requires optimistic positive conservatism that builds majorities, wins elections & makes policy. Not just foaming at the mouth, counting tweets, and grifting contributions. Hit the road.”

(Brian Howey)

Thank you, Mark Lubbers. And I’m very disappointed with David McIntosh — though it’s possible that he’s who he always was but I’ve changed.

Freddie clears the bases

Freddie deBoer hits a grand-slam homerun. Excerpts:

When you think politically, … think of the most privileged person you have ever seen, and ask if your next act will be of any threat to him. I call this the Rich Uncle Pennybags test, after the guy from Monopoly. The question is, does your next proposed political action hurt Rich Uncle Pennybags? … I am saying that a left-wing movement that devotes most of its time, effort, and attention to actions that fail the test risks no longer being a left-wing movement at all. I’m saying that a left wing that constantly fails the Rich Uncle Pennybags test is precisely the kind of left-wing movement that establishment power would prefer to face – a movement about symbolism over substance, about the individual rather than the masses, about elevating minorities in the ranks of a corrupt system rather than ending that corruption, about personal antipathy rather than structural reality.

[P]olitics is about mass action at scale, and the ability of politics properly understood to address interpersonal bigotries is limited. What’s not limited is our ability to reduce economic and social inequalities between identity groups, if we engage in politics in the right spirit and with a healthy understanding of the need to achieve structural change instead of personal critique – the kind of structural change that Rich Uncle Pennybags can’t ignore.

That’s a really good understanding of politics, even if you’re on Uncle Pennybag’s side. But the best parts were (1) examples of pseudo-progressive obsessions that fail the test and may even strengthen Uncle Moneybags, and (2) things I read between the lines.

F’rinstance, Uncle Moneybags doesn’t mind DEI training. It may even help him. He probably doesn’t mind the rich kids of Antifa.

And just as the Right is full of people whose whole purpose in public life seems to be trolling and triggering the Left, so the Left is full of people whose whole purpose in public life, objectively, seems to be trolling and triggering the Right. They fail the Uncle Moneybags test and, along with their equally self-indulgent Right-wing co-conspirators, debase our visible political discourse and waste time that could be spent on consequential, not clickworthy, things.

A Pleasant Surprise

The Justice Department announced Tuesday two Florida residents had been indicted for allegedly vandalizing at least three pro-life pregnancy centers in Florida, spray-painting threats like “if abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” and “YOUR TIME IS UP!!” on the sides of the buildings. If convicted of the charges—which also included violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act—each defendant could face a maximum of 12 years in prison and fines up to $350,000. A number of crisis pregnancy centers around the country faced threats or violent attacks in the months leading up to and following last year’s Dobbs decision.

The Morning Dispatch

If forced to wager, I’d have wagered that Biden’s DOJ would never ferret out and prosecute the perpetrators of any attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. Since I didn’t wager, I’m pleased to have my mild bias disproven.

Nonconformists

Transgender woman with Mike Tyson face tattoo GUILTY of raping two vulnerable mums with “her penis”

Most of the press went along with the defendant’s post-arrest change from man to woman, as did the judge, calling him “she” throughout the trial.” The Sun, god bless ‘em, did not.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Saturday, 1/21/23

Culture

Journalism

If you think the decline in local newspapers is only an abstract story, or that Facebook posts can make up for local investigations, ladies and gentlemen, we give you New York’s Third Congressional District.

Peggy Noonan

(New York’s Third Congressional District is represented by a fellow who may be named George Santos.)

Enneagrams

I have heard or read many mentions of enneagrams, but only very recently did I look up the topic in the most authoritative source in the history of the cosmos.

It’s clear to me that my “characteristic role” is “reformer, perfectionist.” I also have a pretty good dose of “investigator, observer.” These tendencies correspond to particular besetting sins, of which I was well aware without the enneagram framework.

Beyond that, I’d feel as uncomfortable getting deeply into enneagrams as I would getting into QAnon. Maybe that’s unfair, but I’m not interested in wading into either enneagrams or QAnon to find out for myself.

David Crosby

If you care about such things, you’re probably aware that David Crosby died Wednesday night at age 81. It’s a gift to the rest of us that he lived so long despite the antics of his younger self.

I have a very soft spot for him, and I can identify three reasons without even breaking a sweat:

  1. The music. He was a great and creative folk-pop artist, and his music generally features great jazz-influenced harmonizations.
  2. The candor. Crosby appeared to be utterly candid about his self-inflicted injuries. Better that he’d not inflicted them in the first place, but afterward he certainly didn’t glamorize them.
  3. The sense of purpose. Marveling that he’d lived so long (see item 2), Crosby felt duty-bound to realize all the good music he had in him in his remaining days.

It’s my understanding that not all will be saved, but that I’m permitted to hope for the salvation of all. Requiescat in pacem; et lux perpetua dona eis domine. I’m not even going to spell-check that.

Why the Machine won’t win

I don’t think that the Machine will win … I don’t think it can. The drive to control is like the old lady who swallowed a fly. The solutions only exacerbate the problem. For the Machine, the problem is contingency: the sheer unpredictability of the world. To kill that fly, it swallowed the spider of hierarchy, the top-down view; but that was not enough. Centuries later, under mechanical influence, we cram down a T-Rex of lies just to convince ourselves that our social world makes sense. It doesn’t.

What do I mean by contingency? The living world is like a tree. Structures and shapes reappear at different scales. Look at a tree and it has pattern, form, wholeness. Look at a single leaf and, though only a tiny part of the tree, it too has pattern, form, wholeness. If your only interest in the tree is firewood, then the wholeness of the leaf doesn’t matter. If, though, you wish to understand a living tree, you get nowhere until you see the wholeness of the leaf. This is the source of contingency. What happens at leaf-level is almost infinitely variable, but reverberates up all the scales to the biggest. And this is the Machine’s great weakness. If its eyes were allowed to see the fractal subtlety of the leaf, then its mind could not devise a system for controlling the tree. It would be lost in contemplation. So it abstracts out the life. Leaves becomes Lego pieces and people become numbers. Rather than measure the world, the Machine always measures a proxy. This is how it will fail.

How do I know this? The Machine itself is an organism, although it does not know it, and organisms die.

It doesn’t matter whether you tear your empire to pieces in a frenzy of revolutions or allow it to slowly collapse under its own bureaucratic weight. Either way, it dies. It would be better to learn acceptance. The end of a civilisation is not the end of the world. It is not even the end of the human world. It is merely the end of the the culture of the cities: a passing phase that encloses even the most remote countryside now, but which is not all we have been or can be.

FFatalism, Against cyberpunk. For barbarism.

Law

Forensic lawyering

I don’t know that I’ve coined many phrases in my life, but I claim credit (after watching hired-gun “forensic witnesses”) for labeling the proverbial “world’s oldest profession” as “forensic dating.”

In that sense, our former President has long kept a stable of forensic lawyers — hired guns ready to file any damnfool nonsense to punish his critics.

But every lawyer is ethically obliged not knowingly to file lawsuits based on false facts or lacking any plausible legal theory in support. In other words, many of Trump’s lawsuits were unethical. But he and his lawyers never (or virtually never) got called on it. In my experience, a high proportion of lawsuits are unethical and should get sanctioned, but Trump is not alone; Judges tend be pretty lax on idiotic lawsuits from people who don’t pretend to be billionaires, too.

I was once a defendant in one of those idiotic lawsuits. The facts were roughly thus: Zoning ordinances forbade sexually-oriented businesses within X feet of residential neighborhoods (I think). Anyhow, someone set up a porn shop <X feet from whatever it was. I signed a petition asking My Fair City to enforce the zoning law.

So the city sued me, and everyone else who signed the petition, and the filthmonger, saying essentially “we don’t know what the ordinance requires us to do; let the people who annoy us fight it out with the filthmongers.

I knew the odds were against sanctions, so I just fought my way out of the suit and then glared even more than usual at the corrupt City Attorney who filed it.

So nobody could be happier than I that a judge has finally called Trump’s lawyers on an unethical lawsuit, and imposed big-dollar sanctions ($900,000+) on his lawyer and on him personally for a frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton (every silver lining must have a cloud) and others:

“This case should never have been brought,” U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks wrote in a 46-page ruling. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”

“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Judge Middlebrooks wrote. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions.”

Mr. Trump’s claims were “a hodgepodge of disconnected, often immaterial events, followed by an implausible conclusion,” the judge wrote, adding, “This is a deliberate attempt to harass; to tell a story without regard to facts.”

Michael S. Schmidt, Maggie Haberman, Judge Orders Trump and Lawyer to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Bogus Suit; see also Jonathan H. Adler, Trump Lawyers Sanctioned AGAIN for Frivolous Suit Against Political Opponents

Universal Principles

“NHL player Ivan Provorov shouldn’t have to wear a pride jersey for the same reason Colin Kaepernick shouldn’t have to stand for the anthem. … [T]he universal principle is free expression over compelled speech,” – Nicholas Grossman via Andrew Sullivan.

Complicating Grossman’s attractive categorical statement is that this is the NHL, not the government. But I like free speech culture, not just free speech law.

Politics

Manichean fanaticism, left and right

The right is not unique in conspiratorial delusion, of course. The refusal of many on the left to accept Tump’s legitimate victory in 2016 was real and widespread. Both Hillary Clinton and John Lewis declared Trump an illegitimate president. Remember the Diebold machines of 2004? Not far from the Dominion stuff today. And the intensity of the belief on the left in an unfalsifiable “white supremacist” America has a pseudo-religious fervor to it. The refusal of [Eric] Metaxas to allow any Republican to remain neutral or skeptical is mirrored by Ibram X. Kendi’s Manichean fanaticism on the far left.

But the long-established network of evangelical churches and pastors, and the unique power of an actual religion to overwhelm reason, gives the right an edge when it comes to total suspension of disbelief.

Andrew Sullivan, Christianism and Our Democracy

Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend

The far right thus fixates on whatever controversy is dominating politics at the time.

How America’s far right flits from issue to issue | The Economist

The Economist is generally sane and smart. But that block-quote amounts, doesn’t it, to “the far right engages whatever cause progressives have thrust onto center stage”?

Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend.

Davos

“It was, and is, a corrupt circle-jerk,” – Jill Abramson on Davos via Andrew Sullivan.

Wordplay

Economist’s Words of the week:

  • Reichsbürger, a German far-right extremist group that rejects the legitimacy of the federal republic in favour of the German Reich of 1871. Read the full story here.
  • Friendshoring, a kind of reverse offshoring in which supply chains are redirected to stable, ideally allied countries. Read the full story.

Economists’ Words of the Year:

Aridification: the long-term drying of a region; a term applied when “drought,” or even “megadrought,” are no longer sufficient.

Productivity paranoia: an affliction of home workers afraid of being seen as shirkers, and bosses afraid that home-workers are indeed shirking.

TWaT city: one where many commuters travel to the office only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Battery belt: a green-friendly revitalised form of America’s “Rust Belt” through investment in industries such as electric-car manufacturing and “gigafactories” that make batteries for electric cars.

Vertiport: where multirotor drones that are large enough to carry people, also known as flying cars, take off and land.

At war with decadent dictionaries

I will never relent! “Literally” means literally, not “virtually” or “damn straight!” If we let them get away with changing that meaning, 55 years of my life are in vain!


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Wednesday, 1/18/23

“Science”

Follow the scien(tists’ secret agendas)

Few areas of medicine have become as politically heated, and in need of cool-headed research, as treatment of transgender children. Neither side seems to be engaging in good faith. Some Democrats have misrepresented the medical consensus on how best to help children with gender-related distress, presenting this as a closed matter when there is no global scientific consensus. The cherry-picking of evidence by medical bodies such as the American Academy of Paediatrics helps explain why Republicans have become twice as likely as Democrats to believe scientists have agendas beyond the pursuit of scientific fact.

The Economist, 1/14/123

The Über-Agenda

More drugs and surgery for kids: The American Academy of Pediatrics this week came out with new recommendations: Obese children should be given weight loss drugs and surgery at ages as young as 12 and 13, respectively. Now, that is probably the right thing to do for severely obese children. But also: The new recommendations argue that “obesity is a chronic disease.” Obesity, in the new mindset, can never be about choices. It is not a lifestyle problem. 

The message is: body positivity and junk food are a-ok (can’t be shaming anyone!) until the American medical establishment can profit, and then it’s a sharp pivot to  hardcore drugs and surgery. It’s cheap, government-subsidized corn products shoveled into school lunches, then a series of expensive drugs for chemically imbalanced adolescents. There is no middle ground. 

One thing I noticed in the new pediatric guideline is they use the word overweight in a way I’d never seen. It goes: “youth with overweight and obesity.” As in: “This is the AAP’s first clinical practice guideline (CPG) outlining evidence-based evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with overweight and obesity.” Obesity and “overweight” is a disease you catch.

Nellie Bowles

Has anyone devised and deployed an effective incentive for doctors to learn about, and prescribe, good nutrition — patient-tailored if necessary?

Legalia

Notably off-narraative

Some LGBetc students sued to circumvent or invalidate exemptions for certain religious schools from certain nondiscrimination rules:

To recap, a coalition of students sued the Biden Department of Education, seeking to roll back religious liberty and place a high price on the autonomy of religious organizations, the Biden administration defended religious liberty, and a Clinton-appointed judge dismissed the case, relying in part on unanimous Supreme Court precedent decided by both Republican and Democratic-appointed justices.

This is not exactly the culture war narrative you hear on cable news.

David French, trying to inject a little anti-inflammatory into the culture war narrative.

(H/T Get Religion, critiquing the pathetic coverage of the story by RNS).

Covenants not to compete

For the record, I viscerally and strongly support the Biden FTC’s move to abolish Covenants Not to Compete. I do so because I have seen their abuse over and over again.

My state, Indiana, always greets lawsuits over these covenants with ritual incantations that they are viewed with disfavor. Then it always upholds them, no matter how ludicrous and unreasonable.

What I most hate about the Indiana approach is the perversity of this reasoning:

  1. Unless otherwise agreed, all employees are “at will.”
  2. It’s sad that you uprooted your family and moved X miles for a job with an employer who didn’t mention covenants not to compete, but when your new employer thrust the covenant before you on your first day and said “sign,” it was supported by adequate consideration because employer didn’t fire you then and there.
  3. Yes, the employer could still fire you without cause tomorrow. What is it about “at will” you don’t understand, dummy?

I suppose if you checked, you might find one or two covenants rejected by an Indiana appellate court, though I don’t recall one. So sue me.

And I suppose that the FTC probably lacks lawful power to abolish them. So sue it. I know someone will.

Politics

The difference between conservatives and Freedom Caucus

Some people have asked me, “How has the Trump era changed you?” For one thing, it has made me a lot more conservative — not in the Fox-and-talk sense, but in an older, Burkean one. Most of the radicalism in me has been snuffed out.

One of the GOP’s new congressmen, Madison Cawthorn, said, “I want a new generation of Americans to be radicals.”

Well, to hell with that.

Jay Nordlinger, Lies, Patriotism, and Consequences, January 11, 2021.

The populism that the press keeps styling as some sort of conservatism is still radical two year later, as shown by legislation that proposes wholesale to tear down systems and replace them with untried “conservative” alternatives. Florida Governor DeSantis is not exempt from this observation, as he loads up the Board of New College of Florida with populists like Christopher Rufo, who are in a hurry to demolish and rebuild.

One Simpson’s episode worth ten thousand words

As we approach the 30th anniversary of The Simpsonslegendary Monorail episode, Alan Siegel caught up with Conan O’Brien—a former writer for the show—on what it was like to pitch what is now considered one of the most timeless bits in sitcom history. “[“Marge vs. the Monorail”] warned the world about charismatic men selling foolishly grandiose solutions to problems that don’t need fixing,” Siegel writes for The Ringer. “References to the episode will never cease making O’Brien happy. While browsing the Rose Bowl flea market, his friend once noticed a framed travel poster showcasing Homer and the monorail. ‘It says, “Glides as smoothly as a cloud,’’’ O’Brien says. ‘I was like, “You have to buy that for me.” It wasn’t even that much. That’s hanging in my house, and I kind of smile every time I see it.’ Still, the fact that ‘Marge vs. the Monorail’ is seemingly brought up whenever a grifter dupes the public surprises O’Brien. After all, it was an idea that started very, very small.”

The Morning Dispatch

Gun control as culture war

[A]ttempts to ban ordinary weapons such as semiautomatic rifles and handguns are plainly unconstitutional, that they would be unlikely to do much to deter violent crime, and that they are at root intellectually dishonest: They are more genuinely a culture-war assault by progressive-leaning urbanites and suburbanites on gun owners as a demographic, one that is perceived (not entirely accurately) as being socially retrograde, white, male, rural, Southern, middle-aged—everything that communicates “Trump voter” to people living in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Kevin D. Williamson

Face the GOP Facts

[I]t’s long past time for well-meaning conservatives writing in good faith to face up to the facts: The GOP is not an economically populist party and shows no signs at all of becoming one. It’s a culturally populist party with a plutocratic economic agenda.

Damon Linker, The Right’s Economic Populism is Stillborn

Realistic Expectations

“The only reason for a Republican hopeful to put their own aspirations aside and back DeSantis in 2024 is because it would be good for the country for the GOP to finally rid itself of Trump,” Nick writes in Tuesday’s Boiling Frogs. “I doubt a single one will pass on the race for that reason.”

The Morning Dispatch

January 6

The Stanford historian David M. Kennedy has spent a career as an authority on American society and politics; winner of a Pulitzer Prize, he wrote one of the most popular textbooks on American history and has delved into a number of controversies and political movements. But he has struggled to come up with any analogue from the past for what he describes as the “insurrection” at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. “This is a unique moment,” he says, “where a degree of insanity and irrationality has infected a large enough sector of our body politic that we’re really sick. I think we are politically sick, and I use that word advisedly.”

Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna and Emily Cadei, The Education of Josh Hawley – POLITICO

Nonpartisan Gmail filters

The Federal Election Commission decided last week to dismiss a complaint brought by the Republican National Committee and other GOP campaign groups that alleged Gmail’s spam filter constituted “illegal, corporate in-kind contributions to the Biden campaign and Democrat[ic] candidates across the country.” Republicans cited a North Carolina State University study that found GOP campaign emails were sent to spam at a significantly higher rate than Democratic ones, but FEC officials found no evidence any disproportionate results were intentional and held that Google had “credibly supported its claim” that the spam filter exists for commercial purposes. As Sarah noted last year, Republican campaigns have a long history of overusing and sharing email lists, resulting in spam filters being triggered at a higher rate.

The Morning Dispatch

Quoted without concurrence

I doubtless suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, even after having watched with bemusement people with Bush or Obama derangements. By admitting this, I’m saying that I simply have never understood how Donald J. Trump could appeal to any upright adult human, let alone appeal as POTUS.

I know he does appeal to some such people, though, and is at least tolerable to many more. So I need periodically to let one of his defenders make the case:

When it comes to Donald J. Trump, people see what they wish to see. Much like with the audio debate a few years ago “Do you hear ‘Laurel’ or ‘Yanny’?,” what some perceive as an abrasive, scornful man bent on despotism, others see as a candid, resolute leader unflinchingly committed to America’s interests.

Kellyanne Conway, The Cases for and Against Trump

(Another thing I can’t understand is how vocal NeverTrumper George Conway and Kellyanne kept their marriage intact 2015-2020.)

Cited without any conviction that it really matters

Renato Mariatti makes the case that Biden’s retention of classified documents is nothing like Trump’s:

Based on what we know now, Biden’s sloppy retention of a smattering of classified documents looks more like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inadvertent retention of classified material on a private email server than former President Donald Trump’s stubborn refusal to return hundreds of classified documents to the DOJ despite repeated demands from federal officials.

Trump is under investigation for willful retention of classified records because he ignored direct requests from national archives officials, a grand jury subpoena and even a personal visit from DOJ’s top counterintelligence official. The FBI seized the documents pursuant to a search warrant only after they discovered that Trump’s attorneys lied to them and that documents had been moved inside Mar-a-Lago after their visit.

While the Biden investigation is at an early stage, and there may be key facts that are not yet public, Biden’s actions appear to have been sloppy and inadvertent rather than willful and obstructive. Most of the statutes that Trump is under investigation for violating wouldn’t apply to Biden’s conduct. The only statute that Hur would likely investigate is 18 U.S.C. 793(f)(1), which punishes the loss or removal of national defense information resulting from “gross negligence.”

Culture

Woke schoolmarms

[W]hy does wokeness … drive me crazy?

The beginning of an answer can be found in the fact that wokeness makes me feel like I’m attending Sunday school in a denomination and parish I never chose to join. I just turn on the radio or open the paper or scroll through Twitter — and the next thing I know, a finger-wagging do-gooder with institutional power behind him is delivering a sermon, showing me The Way, calling on me to repent, encouraging me to be born again in the moral light.

Damon Linker, Why does wokeness drive me crazy?

Too much of a good thing?

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law—a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security.

Walter M. Miller Jr. [A Canticle for Leibowitz]()

Faces and heels

Aaron Renn has a fascinating account of “heels” and “faces,” a dichotomy from the argot of professional wrestling that I’d not heard before, including this interesting take on the Trump phenomenon:

Playing the heel is not always a strategic failure. Some people can succeed in both using heel mode to benefit themselves, and having some strategic success as well.

The big example is Donald Trump. The party system, political finance structure, and media apparatus made it essentially impossible for any fundamental changes to or questioning of the system to gain traction. Trump, in a judo type move, was able to use the media’s desire for a conservative heel to draw immense media attention that catapulted him to the presidency. Most of the time, he was able to successfully parry media attacks using some variation of heel tactics.

Not only that, his candidacy and presidency shook up the system in a way that I don’t recall ever happening since the Reagan era. While ultimately it might be completely suppressed – every major institution in society, including the Republican Party establishment, is aligned with making that suppression happen – he certainly made an impact. And that would not have happened without using heel tactics.

Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump has not only spent decades in the media spotlight, he’s also in the pro wrestling hall of fame. He has a deep understanding of how these dynamics work and how to deploy them successfully.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Thursday, 1/12/23

Culture

Beware, lest the fate of Jordan Peterson befall thee

Now, no one who has followed [Jordan] Peterson—presumably including the higher-ups at the College of Psychologists of Ontario—seriously believes he would agree to such a request. He has confirmed as much on Twitter. (This is a guy who burst onto the scene in 2016 after refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns.) And Peterson is famous enough at this point to be inoculated against the financial consequences of refusing to submit, which the college must know.

The college’s statement, then, is not a message to Peterson, but a message to other would-be dissenters: Comply with our politics, or risk losing your livelihood.

[T]here is something about the [Jordan] Peterson story that is more chilling. It was not enough for the College to declare his comments offensive. It had to go one step further and imply that there was something about him that was unwell. By referring Peterson to a therapist for daring to speak his mind, the College of Psychologists of Ontario has pathologized dissent. It has made political disagreement into an illness.

Neeraja Deshpande, Will Jordan Peterson Lose His License for Wrongthink?

Moot Now

Stanford University has, mercifully, retreated from some seriously deranged and intellectually incoherent rules:

To mention but a single category of forbidden words, Stanford’s thirteen-page index prohibits terms that define people by just one of their characteristics.  “Prisoner,” for example, defines people by the characteristic of being, or having been, in prison.  Instead, Stanford says, one should say “person who is/was incarcerated.”  My first, uncharitable thought was that Stanford’s DEI experts hadn’t gone nearly far enough, for as you will see if you think deeply about it, the expression “person who is/was incarcerated” still identifies people according to just one of their characteristics, the characteristic of being incarcerated.

Another of the banned words on Stanford’s list is “prostitute.”  Anyone can see why.  Who wants to be called a prostitute?  The Stanford DEI administrators suggest substituting the phrase “person who engages in sex work,” which is considerate of them.  After thinking it over, however, I thought “Oho!  Does not this phrase too define people according to just one of their characteristics, the characteristic of engaging in sex work?”  Perhaps one might say “person who may, sometimes, perform sexual acts for money, as anyone might from time to time.”  But who is to say what counts as a sexual act these days?  So that’s out.  This is a tough one.  For now, the best substitute for “prostitute” I’ve been able to come up with is “political consultant.”

J Budziszewski, Sympathy for Stanford

An effective heuristic

One of my most vital convictions is summed up in this post: “Wondering how to decide what to read? Here’s a simple but effective heuristic to cut down the choices significantly. Ask yourself one question: Does this writer make bank when we hate one another? And if the answer is yes, don’t read that writer.” Americans have these wildly distorted views of people whom they perceive to be their political enemies because so many journalists and talking heads enrich themselves through stoking hatred. Those people should be utterly shunned.

I’m confident this originated with Alan Jacobs, though I don’t have a URL.

This admonition hasn’t been far from my mind since I first saw it. But I would refine it: “Does this writer, in this blog or publication, make bank when we hate one another?” I have to have that refinement or else Rod Dreher’s Chicken Little routine at The American Conservative would disqualify him even though his Substack, Rod Dreher’s Diary, is just fine — so intense that I want to avert my eyes sometimes, but not making bank on hate.

For Rod’s sake, I wish he’d find a way to dump his Chicken Little gig.

Populists, too, can march

Ron DeSantis has appointed a bunch of conservatives, even a rabble-rouser or two, to the Board of New College of Florida, the most liberal (in the political sense — i.e., “progressive”) of Florida’s state schools.

Michelle Goldberg refers to it as Christopher Rufo’s “long march through the institutions,” which strikes me as just about perfect, if you know the allusion.

The end of woke capital?

Is the politically active CEO poised to become a thing of the past? “Businesses waded into these once-taboo topics to begin with because they claimed they aligned with their corporate values, and—let’s be real—because they viewed it as good PR,” Beth Kowitt writes for Bloomberg. “[But] the era of widespread corporate outspokenness is ending. Part of the calculus for corporations is that they may be realizing they overestimated the goodwill their public stances generate. Research from Vanessa Burbano, a professor at Columbia Business School, has found that there is a ‘significant demotivating effect’ if an employer takes a stance an employee disagrees with, but no statistically motivating effect if the employee agrees. ‘The blowback you get is greater than the benefit,’ she told me. The reason, she says, is likely what’s called a ‘false consensus effect.’ People tend to assume that others share their values and are surprised and react more strongly when they find out that’s not the case.”

The Morning Dispatch.

I don’t know about the wider trends, but woke capital is still trying to tell Indiana’s legislature what to do. Maybe they’re doing that because they succeeded with Indiana RFRA in 2005 and there’s no reason to think they can’t succeed again, so highly do we value our image as business magnet.

Social Climbing

It’s not the sort of thing I’d usually read, but for some reason, this caught my eye: Xochitl Gonzalez, The New Case for Social Climbing. Recommended.

Ethnomasochism

The passing of the Queen became primarily an occasion for a recitation of the crimes of British imperialism, both real and imagined. This catechism, and those that follow the same template in other Western countries, ironically serves to provide a kind of cohesion — not of the nation, but of a post-national ruling class that regards itself as the civilized minority and defines itself against a backward majority.

Matthew B. Crawford, Love of one’s own. I just discovered that Crawford has a Substack. I’m in!

Uniqueness

It must surely be granted that whatever is unique defies definition. Definition then must depend on some kind of analogical relationship of a thing with other things, and this can mean only that definition is ultimately circular.

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

Politics

The January 6 Committee Report

The committee’s report documents starkly how Trump literally erased and stopped history from being recorded as he waited to see how the storming of the Capitol would unfold: He stopped the White House photographer from taking pictures between 1:30 and 4 pm, there are no official records—as there should be—of his telephone calls that afternoon despite his assistant saying “he was placing lots of calls,” and, “the President’s official Daily Diary contains no information for this afternoon between the hours of 1:19 pm and 4:03 pm, at the height of the worst attack on the seat of the United States Congress in over two centuries.” These are huge historical holes, as anyone who studies the presidency knows—the daily diary usually tracks every single interaction a president has to the minute, including who stepped into or out of what room when, when telephone calls were attempted, whether they were successful, etc. And we have these records from the darkest and most fraught moments of American history—the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Saturday Night Massacre, 9/11, and so on. Trump’s foresight to stop these records on January 6 is as solid evidence of a mens rea, a guilty mind, as you could imagine.

Garrett M. Graff, January 6 Report: 11 Details You May Have Missed | WIRED (emphasis added)

I got an email from a Florida Man today, saying the January 6 report is all LIES! LIES! LIES! and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, stupid people, send money to this grift I call a defense fund!

Those who haven’t figured out that this is a grift, funnelling money straight into his pocket, deserve to lose whatever they send.

Mitch McConnell ain’t afraid of Florida Man

In another sign that Republicans are really ready to ditch Trump, Mitch McConnell was brutal on the former president in a recent interview with NBC News: “Here’s what I think has changed: I think the former president’s political clout has diminished.” And then on losing the midterms: “We lost support that we needed among independents and moderate Republicans, primarily related to the view they had of us as a party—largely made by the former president—that we were sort of nasty and tended toward chaos.” Nasty and trending toward chaos is a pretty perfect way to describe the former president and his would-be political successors.

Nellie Bowles

Conservative versus Amateurish and Crazy

If the House was full of Dan Crenshaws, Mike Gallaghers, Steve Scalises, and Pete Meijers and purged of all the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Matt Gaetzes, it would be just as ideologically conservative if not more so, but it would be a lot less amateurish and crazy. And that would be good for the GOP, conservatism, and the country—because voters don’t just vote for individual candidates, they vote for which party they want to see in power. So of course, all things being equal, the “establishment” should err on the side of supporting candidates who make the party more attractive to voters generally.

Jonah Goldberg

Call us unreliable

[A]llies and rival powers alike know that a Republican winning the White House could portend foreign policy reversals on multiple fronts around the globe. That makes us a far less reliable partner and source of stability than we have been in the past.

Damon Linker, Foreign Policy and the Right

Social media carrying water for the Administration

Email exchanges between Rob Flaherty, the White House’s director of digital media, and social-media executives prove the companies put Covid censorship policies in place in response to relentless, coercive pressure from the White House—not voluntarily. The emails emerged Jan. 6 in the discovery phase of Missouri v. Biden, a free-speech case brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and four private plaintiffs represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

These emails establish a clear pattern: Mr. Flaherty, representing the White House, expresses anger at the companies’ failure to censor Covid-related content to his satisfaction. The companies change their policies to address his demands. As a result, thousands of Americans were silenced for questioning government-approved Covid narratives. Two of the Missouri plaintiffs, Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, are epidemiologists whom multiple social-media platforms censored at the government’s behest for expressing views that were scientifically well-founded but diverged from the government line—for instance, that children and adults with natural immunity from prior infection don’t need Covid vaccines.

Emails made public through earlier lawsuits, Freedom of Information Act requests and Elon Musk’s release of the Twitter Files had already exposed a sprawling censorship regime involving the White House as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. The government directed tech companies to remove certain types of material and even to censor specific posts and accounts. Again, these included truthful messages casting doubt on the efficacy of masks and challenging Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

Jenin Younes and Aaron Kheriaty, The White House Covid Censorship Machine

This story is significant because private actors can violate first amendment free speech rights if they are acting under government coercion to do so — as they apparently have been.

I have taken all recommended Covid vaccines and available boosters. I know that “do your own research” can easily lead one to quacks and deliberate liars, and a realistic assessment of my science literacy suggests I’d be susceptible to that. I don’t object to the government communicating its official position to citizens. But I draw the line at government censoring dissent — directly or by turning social media into its agents.


Tradition is a bulwark against the power of commerce and the dissolving acid of money, and by removing these, all revolutions in the modern period have ended up accelerating the commercial and technological shift towards the Machine.

Paul Kingsnorth

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.

Saturday, 1/7/23

Culture

Jordan Peterson

The Campaign to Re-Educate Jordan Peterson” reminds me of how little written about Peterson. That isn’t likely to change because I just can’t take the time to get more than a smattering of the Jordan Peterson content available, and I don’t want to write in ignorance.

I like what I’ve heard and read and seen, but I was making my bed before Jordan Peterson was out of diapers, and I don’t personally need his coaching on how to do life. If a lot of younger (mostly-)men find it beneficial, I’m sure they could do far worse than taking advice from him.

In recognition of his influence, though, I pray for him daily.

AI’s limits

I have been an AI skeptic, which extended to Chat GPT. Ezra Klein has a fantastic podcast on the topic, which I haven’t even finished yet.

My fundamental instinct was right: AI is closely akin to bullshit in the Harry G. Frankfurt sense that it bears no relationship to truth. What AI does — so far at least if not ever and always — is basically pastiche of things that it has read and stored in its memory banks.

But my skepticism overlooked the harm AI can do. To make a long story short, I don’t think I can ever trust the internet again for important research; it’s too easy for a single AI “clickfarms” to create a web of websites all pointing in the wrong direction, or pointing aimlessly, with alluring headlines and reciprocal hyperlinks to reinforce the bullshit.

And of course our enemies will be using AI in elections to make any Russian interference in the 2016 election negligible in comparison.

Conservatism and Woke Capital

When I see stories about how Indiana’s conservatism makes it hard to recruit and retain tech workers, I detect a PR campaign at work.

Big Business has been a solvent dissolving families and communities for at least a century, and the press increasingly is a lazy accomplice.

Launch credentials

Aaron Renn has moved to Substack, and The Masculinist is no more. I’m not shedding many tears over that, but I endorse this from #48:

I have a three-year-old, and my ambition for him is that he will not have to go to college. I hope that by the time he turns 18, there will be alternative paths for him to launch himself into life without having to spend the time and money that were previously expended to obtain these “launch” credentials.

Let’s be honest, for 95% of people, college is purely about vocational credentialing. They go to college so they can get a good job coming out of it. For most high paying positions today, a college degree is still the price of entry. In some professions, the amount of formal education required to practice is still going up.

But in others it’s changing in the opposite direction. And that change is a good thing, though we need a lot more of it.

Nellie Bowles excerpts

Red-letter day

I almost never agree with Josh Hawley since he re-invented himself as a populist pugilist, but he hit a right note here:

Standing with me is Josh Hawley, who this month encouraged young men to “log off the porn and go ask a real woman on a date.”

Nellie Bowles, TGIF. All subsequent Nellie Bowles excerpts from the same January 6 post.

Enforcing a dubious orthodoxy

A new law in California paves the way for doctors to lose their license for “dissemination of misinformation or disinformation related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.” That sort of behavior is now considered “unprofessional conduct.” 

Longtime TGIF readers know my stance, but for all the newcomers: Misinformation and disinformation are real phenomena. But most of the time these days the words are political terms applied to any information a ruling clique doesn’t like. Often, it’s used by progressive journalists who want to see various voices censored on social media. 

In the case of Covid, many, many very real facts were considered mis-and-disinfo. Like: The vaccine does not prevent transmission of Covid. That was considered fake news, verboten. Had this law been in place you would have lost your medical license for saying it. In that case, people saw with their own bodies that, although vaccinated, they were very much coughing. But thanks to this new law that muffles doctors, who knows what we won’t know going forward.

Pretendians

Another fantastically insane fake Native American: I’m beginning to think that any high profile Native American influencer should be assumed to be a white girl with a spray tan. The latest Pretendian, who is quite literally a white girl with a spray tan: Kay LeClaire. A major leader in the Indigenous movement, LeClaire has claimed Métis, Oneida, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Cuban and Jewish heritage. She was a co-owner of giige, a “Queer and Native American-owned tattoo shop and artist collective in Madison, WI.” She was a community leader-in-Residence at UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology and was part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. She has had copious speaking engagements, and she even led a name-change-mob, forcing the local music venue Winnebego to change its name for Indigenous sensitivity (it was named after its street). She sold crafts and clothes, all while pretending to be a Native American (that’s a federal crime, by the way). Obviously she also claims to be Two-Spirit, a sort of nonbinary identification long-practiced in Native cultures. 

She is in fact German, Swedish and French Canadian. An anonymous blogger identified the fraud.

On a related note, it’s a good time to read this article about how the official “Native American” population in the U.S. between the years 2010 and 2020 . . . doubled. Pretty soon every high school senior will be Native American. Little Harrison and Haisley will be touring the Princeton campus like, “why, yes, this is my ancestral feathered headdress, thanks for asking.”

Governors putting immigrants on buses to NYC

Wait . . . now Democrats are busing migrants to New York? Gov. Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, is busing migrants to New York City. And New York mayor Eric Adams is not happy about it, saying: “This is just unfair for local governments to have to take on this national obligation.”

Recall not three months ago, when busing migrants to New York was considered outrageous, potentially human trafficking, worthy of huge splashy headlines and endless features about the suffering these trips were causing. When the buses come from Colorado, surely the response will be the same? Of course not.

I just checked, and there is not a single story on The New York Times homepage right now. Polis describes his busing program to NYC versus the essentially identical Republican busing program to NYC as “night and day.” Because, Polis says: “We are respecting the agency and the desires of migrants who are passing through Colorado. We want to help them reach their final destination, wherever that is.”

You really should subscribe to the Free Press on Substack.

Politics

From earlier in the week:

Wise words

In 1992 [David Letterman] was famously passed over to succeed Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show” in favor of Jay Leno. Months passed, Mr. Leno’s ratings wobbled, NBC offered Mr. Letterman a second chance. And even though he was now fielding better offers from other networks and syndicators, he still had to have Carson—it was his dream from childhood to succeed that brilliant performer, have that show. He couldn’t give it up.

His advisers, in the crunch, told him a truth that is said to have released him from his idée fixe. There is no Johnny Carson show anymore, they said, it’s gone. It’s the Jay Leno show now, and you never wanted to inherit that.

Soon after, Mr. Letterman accepted the CBS show where he finally became what he wanted to be, No. 1 in late night.

Sometimes you have to realize a dream is a fixation, its object no longer achievable because it doesn’t exist.

Some of the [House Speaker election] spectacle connects in my mind to the fact that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a longtime idea that he must be speaker, and would do anything for it, and left his colleagues thinking eh, he just wants to be speaker—he’s two-faced, believes in little, blows with the wind. So they enjoyed torturing him. And in the end he made the kind of concessions that make a speakership hardly worth having.

This introduced an unusually white-hot Peggy Noonan column, and her no-holds barred take-down of the Freedom Caucus (“stupid,” “highly emotional,” “nihilis[ts],” no “historical depth”) is spot-on.

Remembering January 6

At 6:01 p.m. on January 6, with the day’s carnage behind him, Trump issued his last tweet of that day.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he wrote. “Go home with love & in peace.” Trump ended with this admonition: “Remember this day forever!”

We will, just not in the way Trump and his party want us to.

Peter Wehner

Hunter Biden

… The House inquiry into Hunter Biden damages him but not his father ….

One of Karl Rove’s predictions for 2023. I have no opinion on most of them, but this one’s spot on, and the obsession of the GOP Congress-in-Waiting (there is no Congress until a Speaker is elected, which hasn’t happened as I write) is contemptible.

Speaker Pelosi

I know Nancy Pelosi was (is?) almost as hated by Republicans as Hillary Clinton. In reaction, I was inclined to praise her effectiveness as Speaker of the House.

But I must admit that her effectiveness was purchased at the cost if further infantilizing our feckless Congress. Pelosi was effective at advancing Democratic goals not purely by management and persuasion. She tended to formulate massive omnibus bills in secret and then introduce them at the last minute before something dreadful like a government shutdown would arrive. Last year’s $1.7 trillion year-end bill was a classic example.

Her sobriquet probably should be “Take It or Leave It Nancy.”

And Kevin McCarthy’s complicity is why at least one House GOP member opposed him.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 12/29/22

The $1.7 Trillion Electoral Count Act Reform

Then there’s the fortifying fact that Congress passed greatly needed reforms of the Electoral Count Act as part of the omnibus bill that currently awaits Biden’s signature. Those changes clarify the procedures Congress and the Vice President must follow in the event that a future president and/or state legislatures attempt to overturn the will of the voters in the way that President Trump encouraged them to do as part of his self-coup attempt in the days and weeks leading up to January 6, 2021.

Damon Linker.

We knew for 2 years that reforming that poorly-written law was extremely important. Was paying a $1.7 trillion boondoggle-enriched ransom the only way to get it done?

Seeing what we expect to see

Since what we select to attend to is guided by our expectations of what it is we are going to see, there is a circularity involved which means we experience more and more only what we already know.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Hope breaks through

The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer stops doom-scrolling Twitter and locking his eyes on cable news, and now sees some hopeful signs:

Back in March, Francis Fukuyama, a prophet of optimism, suggested that Ukraine’s example of resistance might help spiritually rally liberal democracies to defend themselves against internal threats. He called it a revival of the “spirit of 1989.”

That prediction, which I doubted when he issued it, has come to pass. Even if I can’t prove that the causation tracks with Fukuyama’s argument, the results are palpable. Since the start of the Ukraine war, Western democracies have voted to cast aside populist goons. Emmanuel Macron held off Marine Le Pen. In October, Brazilians disposed of Jair Bolsonaro. In the midterm elections, the United States roundly repudiated election-denying Republicans, evidence of Donald Trump’s waning influence.

Franklin Foer, The Cynic’s Dilemma

Is their increasing marginalization by saner spirits why paladins of the new Right raged so absurdly against Zelensky’s visit?

Another sign of hope: Is 2022 the Year We All Finally Got Over Narcissists?.

Popehat pontificates on fires in crowded theaters

Ken White, a/k/a Popehat, pontificates on the exceptions to first amendment free speech rights.

I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for maybe 55 years. In law school, I got the top grade, in a class of 100-or-so, on Introductory Constitutional Law.

Yet I still found Ken’s post illuminating and a wonderful distillation of why “the first amendment isn’t absolute” is analytically useless. I hope it’s one of his Substack posts that you can read in full even if you’re not a subscriber.

A reliable contrarian

I have affirmation from a pretty good source that Bari Weiss’s Substack publication, recently rebranded as The Free Press, is a reliable way to get news that mainstream press aren’t covering, such as the poor science behind government Covid policy (or science that even contradicts it), problems in the world of gender transitioning, and such.

Yeah, you can get contrarian stuff lots of other places, but is it journalism or is it lazy-ass opinionating? Bari has a business plan and some actual, serious journalists writing for her, and that’s consistent with her plan to be a real journal with real news.

Election2026 and Election2028

I can’t believe I’ve already created tags Election2026 and Election2028 for my Obsidian database!

Here’s what prompted it:

Republicans face a favorable Senate map in 2024, when Democrats will defend seats in Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. Neither party appears to have any comparably strong pickup opportunities in 2026 or 2028, so the odds favor a Republican majority in each of the three Congresses starting in 2025.

The source, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, was analyzing the partisan merits of a call in Vox for SCOTUS Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to retire now so Joe Biden can fill their seats: “Sotomayor and Kagan are only in their 60s, but the actuaries at Vox say it’s time for them to go” the subheadline summarizes.

I will be surprised if either of the Justices heeds the call, and I’ll be particularly disappointed if Kagan does, since she has an especially powerful combination of intelligence and personability that reportedly moderates the tendencies of her conservative colleagues.

(Sigh!) George Santos

Is there anything worse than worrying about future elections? Probably.

I tried to avoid even reading beneath the surface of the George Santos story, but it is such a parable that I finally relented:

At this point you might be thinking, “Are we sure he’s even gay?” A man willing to lie about anything and everything to spruce up his political appeal might reasonably conclude that identifying as gay is more of an asset than a liability in a state like New York, especially for a party that’s keen to be seen as more diverse. As chance would have it, it turns out that George Santos was married to a woman as recently as 2019

Trump proved that the modern right is willing to vest power in someone who’s comprehensively obnoxious. The defense of Santos is apt to prove that the right is willing to vest power in a total cipher. Who he really is, what’s true and what’s false, may be unclear even to him at this point. He’s barely discernible as a persona, just a series of lies stitched together. And so he’s a test case in how little character matters so long as one mouths the right talking points about being a fighter rather than a sucker. Can sheer pugnacity excuse anything? Will hardcore partisan right-wingers shill for a grotesque Tom-Ripley-style scam artist just to spite the left, because his seat is important and because he confounds Democrats’ expectations of identity politics?

I’m thinking yes.

I hope the House expels him anyway …

But they won’t do it. And if they don’t, I won’t complain. So much of this party’s elected leadership since 2015 has stooped to pretending to be things they’re not in order to gain power that it seems unjust to hold George Santos singularly culpable. By what right do reptiles like McCarthy and Elise Stefanik, who traded traditional Republicanism for Trumpism because that’s what it took to get ahead, sit in judgment of Santos for constructing his own identity to move up in the world? They’re all grifters. They deserve each other.

Nick Cattogio

Bah! Humbug!

The wishful public has been fed a diet of misinformation from a wishful news media that won’t tolerate anything but positive thinking about maintaining our current arrangements because imagining a different outcome is too depressing. This is not a malicious conspiracy by evil authorities so much as a neurotic defense mechanism in the face of the disturbing reality that the comforts and conveniences of recent decades may be drawing to a close.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Christmas Eve

I have nothing Christmas-Evish to say, but I wanted to get these out.

Culture

Welcome to Dystopia

Welcome to Dystopia. Enjoy your ejection.

Crypto: Money without a purpose

Hip, hip, hooray! Finally, someone with credentials call out crypto for what it is:

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That’s why everyone in Washington seems to think that federal financial-services regulators are the natural overseers of crypto trading. This is wrong. Crypto trading should be regulated for what it is—a form of gambling that emulates finance—and not what its advocates tell you it is.

Todd H. Baker, Crypto Is Money Without a Purpose

My view is even more cynical than his. He thinks it’s risky like gambling. I think it’s oftener a Ponzi-like scheme that will inevitably collapse after the promoter has spent it most of it in riotous living. That’s worse than “a gamble.” Its opacity merely buys the crooks extra time.

Return of the face-palm

I heard a young reporter on local TV Tuesday Night reporting on the Respect for Marriage Act because a local couple was invited to the White House for the signing ceremony. It wasn’t going too badly until:

This ensures that the Supreme Court cannot overturn the same-sex marriage laws placed by the Obama Administration in 2015.

That is soooo wrong on multiple levels!

  1. The Supreme Court, not the Obama Administration, mandated recognition of same-sex marriage under constitutional pretexts.
  2. What the Supreme Court giveth, the Supreme Court can taketh away (though I’d wager a health amount at fairly long odds that it will not do so in my lifetime or, probably, the lifetime of the next generation).
  3. The Respect for Marriage Act assures, more or less, that if SCOTUS decides that the Constitution doesn’t require allowance of of SSM, such “marriages” already contracted will be recognized throughout the country. In exchange for that concession from SSM opponents, it assures against the most egregious infringements of their religious freedom.
  4. Had the Obama Administration done it, in no case would its action be referred to as “placing” SSM laws.

With that kind of misinformation in responsible legacy media, it’s no wonder that people are tempted to seek their news elsewhere and that the Supreme Court is viewed as a profoundly political branch, just like the legislative and the executive branches, of the national government.

Follow the incentives

[W]ithin the community of people who claim to speak on Black America’s behalf – professors, writers, think tankers, diversity consultants, etc – most of the incentives point towards more extreme stances. You will be tempted to think that I am speaking only about Black public intellectuals, but of course America’s most-read racism expert is a very wealthy white woman with a lucrative business taking white people’s money to tell white people they’re racist so that white companies can limit their liability if they should ever be sued by a non-white employee.

Freddie deBoer, The Synecdoche Problem

Racial Ridicule and Hate Speech generally

If you want to know why hate-speech laws are perverse, read FIRE’s and My Amicus Brief on Connecticut’s “Racial Ridicule” Law

The Four Dimensions of Military Power

When I read this again, it occurred to me that Russia is struggling (failing, one hopes) in Ukraine because of failing on the third dimension. Not for lack of perverse effort:

(The Economist)

Cradle of Ponzi Schemes?

Purdue University likes to call its football program “the cradle of quarterbacks,” the University overall “cradle of astronauts.”

Leaders of such educational institutions readily take credit for Rhodes and Fulbright scholars. What of those graduates who helped foster an environment of avarice and schemes of the get-rich-quick? Are we so assured that they did not learn exceedingly well the lessons that they learned in college?

Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

Politics

Diversionary tactics

The January 6th Select Committee released its 845-page final report last night, days before Republicans are set to take back the House and almost assuredly dissolve the panel. The report includes 11 recommendations to prevent a similar event from happening again, including reforms to the Electoral Count Act, additional oversight for Capitol Police, and harsher punishments for attempting to impede the transfer of power. House Republicans released a 141-page counter-report of their own earlier this week, focused primarily on security failures at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 rather than the reasons the U.S. Capitol required additional security in the first place.

TMD (emphasis added)

An unfamiliar pathogen

Some populists were up in arms that Ukraine’s President Zelensky didn’t wear a suit to the White House:

[T]he interest in Zelensky’s garb is curious, particularly since it’s plain as day that he would have been attacked by this same crowd of chuds if he had dressed finely for the occasion. Populists would have demanded to know how much of their hard-earned taxpayer money had gone toward buying natty new duds for “this grifting leech,” in Matt Walsh’s words, or for Zelensky’s better half. “We want nothing to do with you,” Candace Owens tweeted at Zelensky. “Stop stealing from our people while your wife drops tens of thousands of dollars shopping in Paris.” The claim that Mrs. Zelensky is living high on the hog in Paris is an inch thin, it turns out, but no matter.

It’s what Zelensky represents that irks them—competence, sacrifice, bravery, honor. … He could have whimpered. He could have fled. He fought.

And people whose political immune systems have been exposed to nothing but Trumpism since 2015 simply cannot handle it. Their reaction to an honorable figure at this point is almost immunological, inducing a sort of fever as they struggle to fight off an unfamiliar pathogen. That’s how they end up having a group conniption about someone not wearing a three-piece in the White House.

Nick Cattogio, Fashion Statement

Vacillating Rhythm

American policy has oscillated between a hubristic interventionism and a callous non-interventionism. “We overdo our foreign crusades, and then we overdo our retrenchments, never pausing in between, where an ordinary country would try to reach a fine balance,” George Packer wrote in The Atlantic recently. The result has been a crisis of national self-doubt: Can the world trust America to do what’s right? Can we believe in ourselves?

David Brooks.

One of the things that bothers me most about our political polarization is that the world cannot count on a new President keeping the commitments of a former President.

Spare Us

It is certain that Donald Trump will never again be president. The American people won’t have it …

He’s on the kind of losing strain that shows we’re at the ending of the story. Next summer it will be eight years since he went down the escalator. Time moves—what was crisp and new becomes frayed and soft. His polls continue their downward drift. He is under intense legal pressures. This week the Jan. 6 committee put more daggers in: Only the willfully blind see him as guiltless in the Capitol riot. He will be 78 in 2024 and is surrounded by naïfs, suck-ups, grifters and operators. That was always true but now they are fourth-rate, not second- or third-rate.

He has lost his touch. Remember when you couldn’t not watch him in 2015 and 2016? Now you hear his voice and give it a second before lowering the volume …

The party he’s left on the ground seems to be trying to regain its equipoise. November’s results will speed the process. The GOP in Congress is a mixed bag. There are more than a handful in the House who try to out-Trump Mr. Trump, and they will no doubt continue to batter the party’s reputation. In the Senate only two members really try to out-Trump Mr. Trump, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

Peggy Noonan, Spare Us a Trump-Biden Rematch (emphasis added just because I think we all need to remember those things).

Natural Selection at work

The fates of Republicans and Democrats began to diverge markedly after the introduction of vaccines in April of 2021. Between March 2020 and March 2021, excess death rates for Republicans were 1.6 percentage points higher than for Democrats. After April 2021, the gap widened to 10.6 percentage points.

David French

It hadn’t occurred to me that stupidity about Covid vaccines could have measurable effects on mortality. And bear in mind that vaccine resistance is not universal among Republicans, so a relative handful of dummies is really paying a price for their mantra of “do your own research.”

A bright spot in Tampa Bay

After losing his wife to illness and later rediscovering joy, Frantz Laroche—an Uber driver in St. Petersburg, Florida—is on a mission to bring off-the-charts levels of holiday cheer to each ride, Gabrielle Calise reports for the Tampa Bay Times. “He wears a festive headband and a glowing string of Christmas lights around his neck,” Calise writes. “His sleigh is a black Honda Odyssey complete with glossy leather seats. Each person who enters it during the holiday season will be quizzed on classic Christmas music as they zip through the streets of St. Pete.” Laroche plans to keep driving for the rest of his life. “Because of politics, because people hurt each other for no reason, somebody’s got to drive his butt all over Florida to spread the positivity to others,” Laroche told Calise. “You are among 30,000 passengers I’ve entertained just to put a smile on their face. And I intend to entertain 30,000 more.”

TMD


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 12/15/22

Politics

A foundation of liberal democracy

Liberal democracy requires some core attempt at least to understand the arguments of your opponents in order to rebut them. It requires a minimal level of fairness. Fox News is therefore part of the problem. But so are [John] Oliver and [Jon] Stewart. All start from tribal loyalty and then skew all the facts that back them up and erase all those that don’t. But the Oliver-Stewart disinformation campaigns are in some ways worse because they pretend to be honest observers, backed by “research,” and are still respected by elites. They are, in fact, Fox-style tribal propagandists — telling lies of omission and commission. If we want to rescue liberal democracy, we have to defeat this mentality, from whichever tribe it comes.

Andrew Sullivan, on alleged (I say alleged because I’ve essentially never watched either Stewart of Oliver) lies of the two comics about gender dysphoria in teenagers.

Conservatives, Reactionaries, Counter-revolutionaries

What makes someone a conservative? As the term implies, it describes a person who wants to conserve something about the present. It may not be the present as a whole but merely one embattled or enfeebled aspect of it that traces its roots back into the past. But whatever the case, the impulse is toward protecting something that exists so that it might persist and even thrive into the future. In that respect, conservatism isn’t a destructive impulse or even a reformist one. It wants to keep things in our world (or some specific things within that world) as they are.

In addition to differing from liberals, progressives, socialists, anarchists, communists, and others on the left, a conservative stands in sharp contrast to reactionaries situated further out on the right. A reactionary is someone who believes a specific and crucially important aspect of the world that traces its roots back into the past has already been corrupted or extinguished in our time through prior revolutionary change. The reactionary believes this precipitous decline requires a counter-revolutionary response.

I think it’s indisputably the case that there are far fewer conservatives on the American right today than there were 20 or 40 years ago, and far more reactionaries.

Damon Linker, Opening Our Eyes to the Right’s Rising Radicalism

This raised a question: what if one agrees with much or all of the reactionary diagnosis but by disposition, or pacifistic convictions, or raw distrust of the counter-revolution’s wannabe leaders, rejects the “counter-revolutionary response”? In other words, am I a conservative, a reactionary, or off that scale entirely?

Linker immediately takes a stab at an answer:

[R]eactionary impulses also come in a range of intensities. At the moderate end of the spectrum, there are aestheticized reactionaries who lament the loss of some element of culture and set about reviving it in how they dress or speak or in the habits they personally cultivate. This a lonely (and largely apolitical) kind of reactionary, fighting a mostly individual battle against the cultural tide.

That sounds like a good thesis for starting a discussion. But let’s continue it.

Tyler Cowan dissects the New Right — “from Curtis Yarvin to J.D. Vance to Adrian Vermeule to Sohrab Ahmari to Rod Dreher to Tucker Carlson” — very effectively.

Remembering that “dissects” is clinical, as opposed to “eviscerates,” you should read it carefully.

For me, the Amen! moments in Cowan’s piece were these:

I … do not see how the New Right stance avoids the risks from an extremely corrupt and self-seeking power elite. Let’s say the New Right description of the rottenness of elites were true – would we really solve that problem by electing more New Right-oriented individuals to government? Under a New Right worldview, there is all the more reason to be cynical about New Right leaders, no matter which ideological side they start on. If elites are so corrupt right now, the force corrupting elites are likely to be truly fundamental.

The point is that good or at least satisfactory elite performance is by no means entirely out of our reach. We then have to ask the question – which philosophy of governance is most likely to get us there next time around? I can see that some New Right ideas might contribute to useful reform, but it is not my number one wish to have New Right leaders firmly in charge or to have New Right ideology primary in our nation’s youth.

Finally, I worry about excess negativism in New Right thinking. Negative thoughts tend to breed further negative thoughts.

Think about the plausible New Right candidates for high office — Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and possibly J.D. Vance in the not-too-distant future. You can add your own.

Then ask, “aren’t they disproportionately weathervane grifters?” Or, if you prefer, barnacles. Darn right they are. I trust them less than I trust “establishment” figures.

This doesn’t mean I find their critiques of liberal democracy meritless. Far from it. For that matter, I find Marx’s critiques spot-on quite often — but I don’t trust Marxists to rule us well, either.

The political eschaton remains non-imminent. That’s why I can largely buy the reactionary diagnosis while rejecting its prescription.

Bret Stevens and I do a Mind-Meld

To me, the choice these days between Republicans and Democrats is about as appealing as a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lecter: either you get your heart cut out or your brain removed, and both get served with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.

… the Republican Party is pretty much irredeemable, while the Democrats are … just not the team I’m ever going to bat for.

Meet Kyrsten Sinema, Former Democrat of Arizona – The New York Times

A Defense of Christianish Trumpism

Given the existential threat to Christianity in the U.S., I cannot understand how men like Dreher can fail to fall behind Trump. These parlour-room Christians seem more concerned about social graces and etiquette which are accorded a greater weighting than any other quality a man can have. Combined with their Christian Buddhism, they would rather suffer under an urbane tyrant than fight with a righteous braggart.

The Social Pathologist.

I do not agree with this (for several reasons, starting with its “existential threat” premise) but found it, then and now, an unusually plausible defense of Christianish Trumpism.

Edge case – is it is or is it ain’t politics?

In Richmond, Virginia,

Metzger Bar and Butchery recently canceled a conservative Christian group’s event reservation after staff members raised concerns about the group’s opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights, according to Virginia Business.

“Many of our staff are women and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community. All of our staff are people with rights who deserve dignity and a safe work environment. We respect our staff’s established rights as humans and strive to create a work environment where they can do their jobs with dignity, comfort and safety,” the restaurant said in an Instagram post.

The Christian group, called the Family Foundation, later addressed the incident in a blog post titled, “We’ve been canceled! Again.”

“Welcome to the double standard of the left, where some believe (a Christian baker) must be forced to create a wedding cake as part of the celebration of a same-sex ceremony but any business should be able to deny basic goods and services to those who hold biblical values around marriage,” wrote Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, in the post.

In the blog post, Cobb also accused Metzger Bar and Butchery of engaging in the same type of discrimination that plagued Black communities around 70 years ago.

Can a restaurant refuse service to conservative customers? – Deseret News

The restaurant:

  • dignity, comfort and safety
  • rights as humans
  • a safe work environment

The Christian group:

  • the same type of discrimination that plagued Black communities around 70 years ago
  • biblical values
  • double standard of the left
  • canceled

The tired tropes of Selma Envy.

Not Politics

Onion readers react to Britney Griner’s release

  • Since they made her miss a whole season in the WNBA, Russia should really owe her $19 in lost wages as well.
  • Hopefully now she has learned her lesson about murdering people, or whatever crime of that magnitude she must have committed to be handed such a harsh sentence.

Americans React To Brittney Griner Returning Home From Russia

The entire earth is alive

When education only consists of what can be coded into written words and numbers, then we are at the apogee of left hemisphere processing and are indeed behaving somewhat like machines. But if a tool, let’s say a bass guitar, is used by the hands and heart until the point of becoming alive to us, has not real magic happened? Is not the inert reenchanted, and revivified? What happens to the musician which we overlook here in modernity, is a thing Dougald mentions regularly – that his Indigenous friends find so hard to tell him that we’re missing – because there are no words for it. It is how the water is for the fishes. The entire earth is alive, and everything in it.

Caroline Ross, The Now Time of the Hand

I’m unaware of any pernicious habit that shapes me more than dwelling in abstractions of things that “can be coded into words and numbers.”

Personality-driven hate-totem non-stories

Funny thing about the news: There is lots of it, which makes you wonder why so much so-called journalism in our time consists of tired political hacks trying to work up a good lather of outrage—I have seen 50-year-old men type "OMG" unironically—over whatever the personality-driven hate-totem non-story of the day is.

… There are basically two business models in modern digital journalism, those being 1.) the bigger-is-better mass-eyeball-commodification model, which works the magic of turning "You won’t believe!" clickbait headlines into erection-pill ad revenue, and 2.) subscriptions. We chose subscriptions here because the subscription-based model is a license to do good, interesting, honest, independent, original work. The nice thing about the subscription model is, we don’t need 40 million daily pageviews to make a buck. Our theory is that we can write smart stuff for smart people and make a decent profit doing so. I don’t expect Steve Hayes to end up in some future version of the Pandora Papers like that Pornhub guy, because there’s really only one business model that produces that kind of traffic, and it isn’t ours. But, as some of the media outlets that we do not wish to imitate have discovered, porn isn’t the only way to appeal to the baser instincts—there’s rage and hatred and titillation and mood-affiliation and bias-confirmation and a bunch of other stuff that may be good for something but that isn’t a part of good journalism.

Kevin D. Williamson, in an email promoting The Dispatch.

The Dispatch is definitely worth a try. It’s (mostly? I don’t know about their young hires) conservatives playing the news straight and commenting from the non-tribal center-right.

Some conservative corrolaries

… a certain skepticism is always appropriate when someone’s proposed system doesn’t have many existing models and the world as we know it tends the other way.

… a movement with utopian ambitions needs a recognition that it’s seeking a genuinely different society as well as a different set of laws.

Ross Douthat, Does American Society Need Abortion?

Today’s Chuckle


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Wednesday, 12/7/22

Today is my father’s 103rd birthday. I’m now officially past the "I wish he were still with us" stage (though he regularly appears in dreams), since he presumably would be pretty miserable if he were.

Yes, his 22nd birthday got quite a cloud over it.

Legalia

How long, O Lord?

How many times do Republican- and Trump-appointed federal judges have to totally smack down Team Trump arguments before the mainstream media stop insinuating that Republican judges uniquely cannot separate law and politics?

303 Creative

Cage Fighting comes to SCOTUS

I listened to about an hour of Supreme Court Oral Argument in Monday’s 303 Creative case.

I thought I was confused because I’m old and rusty, but two younger, un-rusty commentators, Sara Isgur and David French, flagged the argument as very low-caliber and peppered with lurid hypotheticals designed not to explore the the implications of each advocate’s position, but to make the advocates whose arguments they disfavored look monstrous.

In other words, it was more like a televised Senate hearing than an ordinary Oral Argument. (Pro tip: if you consistently defend free speech, you can be “hypoed” into defending really abhorrent speech. Get a backbone.)

I am relieved. I may be rusty, but it was a poor argument, courtesy of the Justices.

Look for very sharp dissents from the justices on the losing side, because both sides seemed pretty heavily-invested.

An academic frames the question

The question is whether civil rights protections properly include the suppression of speech that disagrees with legal norms, or compels speech that celebrates those norms. Alternatively: do artists (including web designers) have the freedom to depict what subjects they wish, and how—even if they take money for doing it, and even if their perspective is hurtful (to some people)?

Prof. Michael McConnell

Moore v. Harper

Prof. Akhil Amar’s oddly-compelling, low-tech podcast had a couple of podcasts (October 26 and followup episodes with Steven Calabresi) on the Independent State Legislature doctrine purportedly at issue in Wednesday’s Moore v. Harper SCOTUS oral argument.

For the first time, though, I’m now feeling misled by Prof. Amar. Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal features two pieces, one by the Editorial Board and one by lawyers, casting the controversy in terms that seem to make Prof. Amar’s argument peripheral if not irrelevant to the real issues.

Prof. Amar legitimately notes that each state legislature is created by that state’s constitution, and the boundaries of the “legislature” vary according to things like whether the governor has veto power, thus making him a part of the legislative process. This matters because elections are unusually entrusted not to the states generally, but specifically to their legislatures.

The Wall Street Journal pieces legitimately note that under no sane construal are state courts part of the legislative process. Thus, state courts have no role in overseeing federal elections, though federal courts may.

That is perhaps an over-simplification, but it struck me as a powerful point against the backdrop of state courts making up anti-gerrymander rules not found explicitly in their state constitutions, or overruling the legislature’s absentee ballot deadlines in favor of their own.

Maybe litigants took more extreme positions, justifying Prof. Amar’s characterization of ISL’s danger.

I expect SCOTUS, as I almost always do, to adopt narrow reasoning in Moore v. Harper — to deal with the case(s) at hand without sweeping pronouncements that they might regret later.

P.S.: I listened to a half-hour or so of arguments in the case Wednesday, and it seems that SCOTUS views the case more as does Wall Street Journal, less as does Akhil Reed Amar.

Trumpish

Snivelling cowards cool on Florida Man

He used us to win the White House. We had to close our mouths and eyes when he said things that horrified us.

Mike Evans, a former member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board, via Michelle Goldberg

You only had to close your mouth if you valued power and proximity over integrity. Don’t come snivelling to me now.

Pissing away Georgia — again

I’m gratified at the loss of Herschel Walker in the Georgia runoff for U.S. Senate.

I loved Walker as a football player. I probably could tolerate him as a former football player, bastard children and absentee fatherhood notwithstanding.

But his only claim to qualification for the U.S. Senate is that Florida Man endorsed him and encouraged him, despite patent unfitness intellectually. And when his sins found him out, his response was not that of a repentant Christian, but of someone with a sense of entitlement.

To drive a stake squarely through Florida Man’s heart, I only wish Walker had lost by more. He now has twice cost the GOP some national elective offices from Georgia that really should have been theirs:

All of this [context of Trump behavior] predictably helped make the runoff a fractal of the larger 2022 pattern: Under Trump’s influence, with Trump’s preferred candidates, the Republican Party first sacrificed a potential Senate majority and then sacrificed one more Senate seat for good measure.

Ross Douthat

Unrealistic, but instructive nonetheless

National Review’s Charlie Cooke would like a word with those arguing that, because Donald Trump’s call to suspend the Constitution won’t be heeded, it doesn’t really matter. “During the closing days of the 2020 election, I wrote repeatedly about the seriousness of Joe Biden’s refusal to reject his party’s growing demand to ‘pack’—i.e. destroy—the United States Supreme Court,” Cooke writes. “Not once did I receive an email from a Trump voter telling me that my alarm was misplaced on the grounds that, in all likelihood, Biden would not have the votes to do it. Back then—and rightly so—the mere fact that Biden was entertaining the idea was deemed instructive: ‘When people tell you what they want to do with power,’ my correspondents invariably opined, ‘you should believe them. Joe Biden cannot be trusted with power.’ Well, so it is with Donald Trump once again. … American patriots do not seek to overturn legitimate election results or recommend the suspension of the United States Constitution; they respect and defend both at all costs. Donald Trump is not a patriot. He is, in his heart of hearts, a tyrant. Take note, America.”

The Morning Dispatch


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Tuesday, 12/6/22

It’s been awfully long since I flushed the pipes.

Politicalish

A not-so-great realignment

Alex Jones: The Nazis were thugs.
Kanye West: "But they did good things too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."

@Rightwingwatch

So “Ye” is now to the right of Alex Jones?!

Viktor ticks me off

I know that Viktor Orbán isn’t running a liberal democracy. He says it’s an illiberal democracy. “If I could count on American post-liberals being as competent and honest as Orbán,” I thought, “I could tolerate illiberal democracy, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

But now he’s pulled a stunt that bothers me even more than some of the other ways he’s manipulated things to keep winning elections:

In December 2020, when Hungary’s health authority set up a website for citizens to register for covid-19 vaccinations, it included a tick-box for those who wanted to receive further information. Gabor Toka, a political-science professor, found it odd that the box did not specify that future communications should be about covid. To see what would happen, he ticked the box for his own registration but left it unticked for his mother’s. Some months later, when Hungary’s general-election campaign swung into gear, he found that he (but not his mother) started to get campaign emails from the ruling party, Fidesz.

Mr Toka was not the only one. A report published on December 1st by Human Rights Watch suggests that Fidesz seems to have gained access to state databases and used them to send campaign messages to voters. In addition to emails, people got phone calls and text messages from Fidesz candidates urging them to vote and reminding them what a wonderful job the government was doing.

How Hungary used citizens’ covid data to help the ruling party (The Economist)

Thesis Statement

I was just reminded of the excellent capacity of Readwise to share a quote as an eye-grabbing image. Expect to see more.

What authoritarianism does to decent people

Yesterday a friend messaged me to say that one passage from Monday’s newsletter had rung his bell. It had to do with motives. Perhaps some conservatives who’ve moved away from right-wing policies during the Trump era have done so, I wrote, because they’ve begun to doubt the good intentions of leaders who support those policies.

If the average Republican says the law should be harder on drug dealers, you and I might eagerly agree. If an aspiring strongman in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte says the same thing, you and I might worry instead about how a more draconian legal regime would eventually be abused.

Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.

All it took was a bare assertion without credible evidence that the election had been rigged against a right-wing president to flip Stewart Rhodes from freedom warrior to fascist goon.

Nick Cattagio

This is a remarkably thought-provoking piece. One more excerpt:

Years ago a fellow Never Trumper told me the great irony of the Tea Party era is that those of us who were viewed at the time as moderates and “RINOs” turned out to be the ones who took conservative principles seriously. We the squishes were told that conservatism was about X, Y, and Z, then suddenly Trump arrived and it wasn’t about those things anymore. So we left.

It was the firebreathing hyper-principled “true conservatives” and small-government radicals who were easily co-opted by a nationalist strongman. They simply adapted and carried on.

I’ve always taken pride in that. But it also feeds my insecurity that on a fundamental level I don’t understand how most people practice politics. I can cite chapter and verse on What Classical Liberalism means, but if 90 percent of those who used to—and maybe still—call themselves classical liberals are okay with an authoritarian personality cult so long as it’s advancing their interests by owning the libs, then how “real” is classical liberalism really?

Legalish

Balancing negative externalities

Free Speech

We still enjoy free speech in the U.S. partly because good people are willing to “sue the bastards” when the bastards try to punish or chill free speech. Eugene Volokh and F.I.R.E., for instance, are suing New York State (New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution)

One reason why I’m not a Ron DeSantis fan is that his popular (for the GOP’s Florida base, at least) “Stop Woke Act” also violates free speech norms of not the letter of the 1st Amendment (which I think it probably does; caveat: I haven’t thought about that a lot.).

Getting the Analogy Right

SCOTUS heard arguments Monday on another case that people will incline to call gay rights versus religious freedom, though it was argued on free speech grounds. As is so often the case, the questions from the Justices were probing.

Remarkably, a non-lawyer comment aptly summarizes a key point:

[T]he right analogy is crucial here, and correct distinctions are critical. In order to justify racial violence and oppression, white people in America and Europe essentially invented a novel theology, baptizing white supremacy. It was racism in search of an ethic. Sexual ethics, by contrast, are named and addressed in religious scriptures in specific terms. Unlike white supremacy, religious teachings regarding sex, including prohibitions on extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, lust and same-sex sexual activity have been part of the Christian faith from its earliest days. This is not an aberrant view rooted in bigotry but a sincere belief that flows from ancient texts and teaching shared by believers all over the world.

Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom

Culture

What I wouldn’t do if I had #1 billion

If you had $1 billion, what would you do with your life?

How about $190 billion?

The difference between those two seems academic to a middle-class schlub like me, as there’s not a lot one can do with $190 billion that one can’t do with $1 billion. Although if one of your highest ambitions is to make social media safe again for chuds with Pepe avatars, I suppose the distinction is meaningful.

I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing if my net worth surged to 10 figures. I wouldn’t be spending much time online.

And to the extent that I did, I wouldn’t be using it to sh-tpost.

Nick Cattogio, Kanye. Elon. Trump. (The Dispatch).

Academics and Intellectuals

An academic or a scholar is a specialist in one area of knowledge, whereas an intellectual is a “specialist in generalizations.” That’s a line from one of my intellectual heroes, the sociologist Daniel Bell, and I love it because it’s so delightfully paradoxical. An intellectual is someone who isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything but who reads widely in many subjects and grasps enough of the important aspects of specialized knowledge to render illuminating generalizations about lots of topics.

Another way to put it is to say that an intellectual is a bit of a dilettante or an amateur. I know a little bit about a lot of subjects, and I use that little bit of knowledge to try and understand what’s going on around me in an informed way. But I’m not a specialist in anything—not even the intellectual history and political theory I studied in graduate school, because I finished my studies 24 years ago and haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship.

Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything

This was an interesting installment from Linker, who also deftly fielded this final question:

I would love to get your opinion on what you think Ben Shapiro is up to. He seems to want to be both a conservative intellectual and a purveyor of sensationalist clickbait. And he seems to get a pass from most of the responsible conservative media.

Ben Shapiro interacts with and retweets me from time to time on Twitter. I suspect if you asked him, he’d say I’m one of the few sane and honest liberals around. Because of that, I don’t want to be mean to him here. But I will say that my view of him is precisely the one you sketch in your question. He’s obviously very smart, and the kind of conservatism (in policy terms) that he pushes is continuous with the Reagan-Bush 43 era. That’s not my thing these days, but it once was, and I respect smart people who advocate for those views, even today.

But in style, Shapiro is very much a child of Breitbart—and he appears not to recognize how corrosive that approach to engaging in politics ends up being for the very things he cares most about. If you spend all your days treating the opposition as evil and highlighting only the worst, most ridiculous arguments they make, you’re going to produce an audience that thinks the opposition is evil, stupid, and a threat to the country. And that might get members of this audience to elect someone who views the opposition with so much contempt that acting to overturn an election seems preferable to letting that opposition take power.

So I’d say Shapiro should spend some time re-watching episodes of the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Firing Line and remind himself of a better way—a way that seeks to elevate one’s own side rather than merely denigrate and demonize the other side. (Though it’s also true that this “better way” would probably generate considerably less revenue for The Daily Wire.)

Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?

Nellie Bowles’ crap detector failed her as she joined the world-wide mimetic soccer-flop about British Royal racism.

I didn’t think the exchange was very racist, but one reader knew some detailed backstory that casts it as even more benign:

Nellie, I think you need to do some more digging into the supposedly racist godmother of Prince William, Lady Susan Hussey. When someone shows up at a charity event in African garb and an African name on their nametag, it is neither racist nor offensive to ask about their birthplace.

When the querent is 83 years old, you answer the intent of her question politely: "I don’t know where in Africa my ancestors came from, because they were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but I myself was born in London."

Considering that Ngozi Fulani has made a career of race hustling, including accusing the Windsors of committing domestic violence against Meghan Markle, I can’t take her obnoxious failure to communicate with an elderly lady as anything but an effort to make trouble.

Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.

Liberal, but uncivilized

In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?

The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.

It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.

Ross Douthat

SBF, barbarian

I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.

Sam Bankman-Friedman, to writer Adam Friedman. (H/T L. M. Sacasas)

I hesitate to defend “SBF,” but I have read, or at least started to read, books that could, and perhaps should, have been a six-paragraph blog post. (Smarter people than me, though, aver that though one might convey the “facts” in six paragraphs, the nuances might warrant a full book.)

YouTube TV

I tried YouTube TV for about 15 hours, most of which I spent sleeping, singing, or otherwise not watching it. The low-definition images were annoying. That one must get in bed with Google again is really annoying. Trial ended.

Now maybe I need to figure out how to DVR late sports events on standard cable.

Just sayin’

If a team is going to beat a complete team with a lot of complemetary contributors like Purdue boasts, they’re going to have to catch the Boilermakers on the off-est of off days.

Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.

Trumpish

A Bad Trip

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769, rose to become a French military commander and emperor, and died on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. If I encounter a person on the street in Philadelphia in early December 2022 who insists he is this same Napoleon Bonaparte, I will be quite certain he is wrong about this, which means he is either lying or truly believes it and is insane.

How do I know this? Because I know history. Because I know when the actual Napoleon lived and died. Because I live in a social (intersubjective) world in which widely trusted cultural authorities will vouch for these truths.

But what if other people on the street believe this man and respond to his claim as if what he says about himself is true? What if another set of “experts” emerges to proclaim that, actually, this man is correct? And what if this is followed by the belief spreading further and large numbers of people throughout the country coming to believe it? Before long, newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons scream, “Napoleon Bonaparte Alive and Well in Philadelphia,” as I stand back and observe the spectacle in disbelief and mounting horror.

At what point does this man become sane and I become the madman?

This is a post about a feeling. And the feeling isn’t one in which the whole world, except for you, flips from affirming X to affirming not-X. It’s about the feeling of living in a world in which some of the people—not all of them, but also not just one or a small handful—begin to affirm an alternative reality from within our still-shared world. I’m convinced the emergence and widespread use of the word “gaslighting” during the Trump presidency was an effort to name this feeling of our social world being invaded by elements of psychosis. That feeling repeatedly surged while Trump was in office, and it reached a peak on January 6, when the madness actually burst into physical reality and briefly tried to remake the concrete political world in its image.

Damon Linker, The Week America’s Collective Bad Trip Resumed

The Red-letter Day that fizzled

This ought to be a red-letter day:

Donald Trump called for the “termination” of America’s constitution, in service to the lie that he won the presidential election of 2020. On his own social-media network he said that revoking “all rules” might be necessary to reinstall himself in the White House (notwithstanding his new electoral campaign).

The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.

I don’t know why I bother clipping these. He called for ignoring the freakin’ constitution and all it has gotten from GOP leaders is disapproving murmurs.

I guess it befalls me and those like me who do not covet public office to keep beating the drum: this man is not fit for Dog-Catcher.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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