Today’s ramble, 2/14/19

1

Robert E. Lee was a Southerner. So was Martin Luther King Jr. Eugene Debs was an American. So was Whittaker Chambers. Angela Davis? American. So too Phyllis Schlafly. All of them were part of all of us, makers of our own perspective. There’s something sentimental in me that wants to claim them all. When I look at a Confederate statue, I don’t think, “I am so offended by this monument to a man who fought for slavery that I believe it should be erased from public memory.” I think, “You poor bastard, you thought you were fighting for what was right and honorable, but you were blind. You were my ancestor. You are part of me — your story is a chapter in our story — and I am blind like you were, I just don’t know it yet.”

Rod Dreher, reflecting on What Does it Mean to Love America? I know I quote Rod quite a lot, lately to disagree with the course he seemed to be setting, but this one paragraph moved me.

2

New York Times Contributing Opinion Writer Linda Greenhouse makes a plausible case for why Justice John Roberts voted to reinstate the injunction against the Louisiana abortion law while litigation proceeds in the lower courts:

The chief justice voted to grant the stay, in my estimation, because to have silently let the Louisiana law take effect without Supreme Court intervention would have been to reward the defiance that I’ve described here.

The “defiance” she described was the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals engaging in what can plausibly be called conservative judicial activism, to-wit: defying a binding Supreme Court precedent on a materially indistinguishable Texas law.

Lower courts are supposed to follow precedent from higher courts even when they think the higher court was wrong and even when they think they’ve got fair winds and following seas for setting a different course.

Although the 5th Circuit was correct that different facts can justify a different outcome, the differences must be material. It’s not enough, for instance, that “Austin” is a much different city name than “Baton Rouge.”

Greenhouse, an ardent Friend of Feticide, gives very short shrift to the materiality of the factual difference the 5th Circuit described (and engages in a lot of ad hominem), and I’m giving them short shrift as well just because I don’t care to shoot my whole day on this observation: When the statutes are very similar and the trial court spent six days hearing the factual basis for injunction, plus many pages “finding” those facts, it’s a tough legal sell to second guess its findings to strike down its injunction.

(First published on my micro.blog)

3

No doubt when skeptics raised questions about the efficacy of bleeding patients to cure their cholera or of burning witches to halt crop failures, someone was standing there with their head cocked at a righteous angle, saying, “Oh no? Well, what’s your plan, then?” Unfortunately, there is no law of universal symmetry by which the recognition of a problem automatically creates a feasible solution.

But as it happens, I do have a plan …

[Z]eroing out U.S. emissions and moving the whole country into yurts wouldn’t prevent the climate from warming, because Americans are not the biggest problem anymore. The problem is the more than 6 billion people who aren’t living in the rich world.

No matter what rich-world economies do about their energy consumption, or what “moral leadership” they exert, people in the non-rich world are going to want … to do and own all the things that make modern rich-world lives so safe and pleasant.

… The solution isn’t figuring out how to subsidize or mandate green alternatives; it’s figuring out how to make them cheaper than the carbon-intensive versions.

There are a number of possible paths to that outcome ….

Megan McArdle

McArdle “confess[es] upfront that I’m far from sure my plan will work. I can only protest that it’s more likely to work than the myopic austerity of the enviro-socialists”:

[M]assive regulatory programs to marginally improve the energy efficiency of American buildings and appliances; subsidizing high-speed rail and public transit in a country almost entirely devoid of the population densities needed to make them feasible; larding green initiatives with ideological wish lists that will do nothing to prevent climate change but will do a lot to polarize the country on the most important policy priority of the 21st century.

Meanwhile, as others mock, an earnest young genius earnestly defends the Green New Deal:

It has taken years of agricultural policy to get us into this mess. Getting out of it is a question not of whether lawmaking also produces economic policy and jobs, but of what kind.

Jedediah S. Britton-Purdy, The Green New Deal Is What Realistic Environmental Policy Looks Like. “Genius” is not sarcasm: I believe Jedediah Purdy has been on my radar for a decade or so. “Genius” also is not servile endorsement of just any ole piffle he might come up with on a bad day.

Still more on GND:

The [Green New Deal] has no practical importance but much significance. First, it underscores the rise of the politics of gestures that are as flamboyant as they are empty: President Trump has his wall, the left has its GND. Second, it reprises the progressive desire to militarize everything but the military … Third, … progressives’ embrace of Trump’s political style, a stew of frivolity and mendacity.

George Will.

This column was a delight for its style, quite apart from its substance.

4

I don’t know if you knew this — but your fluid intelligence declines linearly from the age of 20 onward. It’s a pretty vicious curve, and it hits zero, by the way, when you die.

But your crystallized intelligence, which is a measure of how much wisdom you’ve accumulated, how much knowledge, rises. But it doesn’t rise as much as your fluid intelligence declines.

Jordan Peterson

5

One of the most haunting books I ever read was apparently, and I’d now say improvidently, discarded after a change of Christian conviction led me to detest the Crystal Ball style of reading Bible prophecy.

The book was titled The United States in Prophecy, and I picked it up (literally, then proprietarily) at the Moody Book Store on LaSalle Street in Chicago.From my memory of the cover and the publication date, I think this is it, and I just paid Amazon $5 to get it again on Kindle.

I thought it was going to be an idolatrous celebration of the United States, but it was very far from that.

The thesis was that the United States is Babylon the Great in (many?) Bible prophecies:

I no longer believe we can decipher from prophecy tomorrow’s newspaper headlines. That’s damned near (and I use that advisedly) an occult, soothsaying take on the Bible.

But just as Johah went and warned Nineveh, so the prophets warn not of the details of woes, but of their certainty absent a change of course.

And even if the United States is not Babylon the Great, we could eavesdrop and adjust our behavior accordingly. Prophecy, like history, rhymes, and echoes.

6

COWEN: What should we learn from Tolkien?

PETERSON: Go out and confront your dragons.

COWEN: What should we learn from Harry Potter?

PETERSON: Voluntary death and rebirth redeems.

Tyler Cowen and Jordan Peterson

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Clippings and Comment, 2/6/19

1

Ms. Devi publicly defended Mr. Fryer. Since then, she says she’s struggled to find research collaborators and has lost nearly every female friend at Harvard: “Suddenly, I would find that my emails were going unanswered. People would avert their gaze from me walking down the hall. There was this culture of guilty until proven innocent and, if you’re defending him, guilt by association.”

Ms. Devi adds that every one of her remaining friends has advised her not to defend Mr. Fryer. One told her that “at a place like this, which is extremely progressive, it will only have a cost—it will have no benefit.” Ms. Devi says she knows of others who also wanted to defend Mr. Fryer but “don’t want to go against the social-media mob.”

An immigrant from India, Ms. Devi fears her outspokenness will limit her job prospects in the U.S. “It’s very, very high-risk to identify myself and defend an accused person,” Ms. Devi says. “Everyone protects the identity of the accuser. She gets to hide under the mask of anonymity, and we have to destroy our futures.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Title IX’s Witness Intimidation, Wall Street Journal.

This is the kind of toxic culture against which Betsy DeVos’s regulatory legal changes are powerless.

2

It’s nice to be Trump. His bragging is unencumbered by his past. His self-satisfaction crowds out any self-examination. What he needs isn’t a fact check. It’s a reality check, because his worst fictions aren’t statistical. They’re spiritual.

The State of the Union address was a herky-jerky testament to that. I say herky-jerky because it was six or eight or maybe 10 speeches in one, caroming without warning from a plea for unity to a tirade about the border; from some boast about American glory under Trump to some reverie about American glory before Trump (yes, it existed!); from a hurried legislative wish list to a final stretch of ersatz poetry that read like lines from a batch of defective or remaindered Hallmark cards. As much as Trump needed modesty, his paragraphs needed transitions.

“Don’t sit yet,” he told them when he feared that they would end their celebration too soon, before his next great pronouncement. “You’re going to like this.”

Even the newly, briefly, falsely sensitive version of Trump couldn’t lose his bossy streak — or stop hungering for, and predicting, the next round of applause.

Frank Bruni.

3

I’m tempted to write “Democrats are reduced to pointless obstructionism,” but “obstructionism” implies the ability to obstruct. Senate Democrats lack that ability, having done away with the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominations when they were in control. Thus they are reduced even further, to “pointless mudslinging.”

Yet “pointless” doesn’t mean “harmless.” The Democratic senators’ juvenile tactics will not stop Rao’s confirmation, but they are lowering the already debased national discourse.

Rao is now 45 years old, solidly middle-aged. To reach middle age, one must first pass through an earlier stage of simultaneously knowing very little about the world while believing oneself to understand it completely. Youthful folly is particularly unfortunate in budding writers, who inevitably commit their stupidity to the page. If they write for publication — rather than privately composing the worst novel ever written in the English language, as I did at that age — their silliness will linger for posterity to sample.

… [F]rankly, Rao’s college writing wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. It wasn’t even as bad as I expected from early media coverage.

Megan McArdle

4

[F]rom the moment he announced his run for the presidency, I believed that Trump was intellectually, temperamentally, and psychologically unfit to be president. Indeed, I warned the GOP about Trump back in 2011, when I wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal decrying his claim that Barack Obama was not born in America. From time to time, people emerge who are peddlers of paranoia and who violate unwritten codes that are vital to a self-governing society, I wrote, adding, “They delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, focusing attention on absurdities rather than substantive issues, and stirring up mistrust among citizens. When they do, those they claim to represent should speak out forcefully against them.”

Today I see the Republican Party through the clarifying prism of Donald Trump, who consistently appealed to the ugliest instincts and attitudes of the GOP base—in 2011, when he entered the political stage by promoting a racist conspiracy theory, and in 2016, when he won the GOP nomination. He’s done the same time and time again during his presidency—his attacks on the intelligence of black politicians, black journalists, and black athletes; his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his closing argument during the midterm elections, when he retweeted a racist ad that even Fox News would not run.

Peter Wehner, on why he left the GOP and what he has gained thereby.

Apart from my having left the party earlier than Wehner, he captures my feelings very well.

5

What is the statute of limitations for being a jerk-goofball-hellraiser? asks Kathleen Parker of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam:

In 1983, just before winning a third term as Louisiana’s governor, Edwin Edwards famously said that the only way he could lose the race was “if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

Presumably, no one checked his yearbook.

Parker must have tenure, a large 401k, and a looming retirement, because it is now forbidden, on pain of professional death, to forgive youth and foolishness.

6

Had you heard about Liam Neeson making terrible, racist comments? Did your source bother quoting what he actually said, in context, or was your source someone like the preening Peacock Piers Morgan (“so full of shit his breath makes acid rain,” as Bruce Cockburn sang of someone else), who tells you what to think before he tells you what Neeson said?

We have created a culture that despises repentance, and condemns grace.

If you can’t multiply examples of that during the past week, you weren’t paying attention.

7

Of late, I’ve found a term for my political temperament: “trimmer” (second listed meaning). So I am today declaring myself a centrist non-candidate for POTUS. The toxicity of Left and Right, sampled above, have become intolerable.

8

My Church is the best Church because it never interferes with a man’s politics or his religion.

Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy, via John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture, page 136.

Uncle Toby is Andrew Cuomo’s patron saint.

9

Because I find his droning, vulgar cadences intolerable, I did not listen to even to that portion of the President’s State of the Union address that may have been continuing as I left a musical rehearsal.

But it sounds as if I may have missed something even worse than the usual vulgarity: I may have missed a scripted approximation of normalcy, which would make the return to vulgar reality even more agonizing.

I’m too old for roller coasters, even if they’re just emotional.

10

A Canadian cryptocurrency exchange says about $140 million worth of customers’ holdings are stuck in an electronic vault because the company’s founder, and sole employee, died without sharing the password.

But two independent researchers say publicly available transaction records associated with QuadrigaCX suggest the money may be gone, not trapped.

They say it appears Quadriga transferred customer funds to other cryptocurrency exchanges, although it isn’t clear what might have happened to the money from there.

Paul Vigna, Wall Street Journal.

My avoidance of cryptocurrencies is vindicated.

11

In a reflection on the Nashville Statement written a few years ago, I wrote:

Like me, Justin grew up Southern Baptist. Sometimes, someone will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. However, the question actually rests on a misunderstanding. I did not “hold onto” the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage.

When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with. Many of his arguments are modified versions of the arguments which I heard to rationalize divorce and contraception in the Southern Baptist congregation I grew up in.

And because of the obvious prejudice of so many conservative Christians toward gay people, it’s easy for him to dismiss conservative exegesis as Pharisaical legalism.

You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church,first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church.

Ron Belgau. This “alternate universe” argument, where one says “If I believed X, I would eventually come to believe Y,” is one that I have made, if only when arguing with myself about what I would believe today had I remained in the Christian Reformed Church.

12

Oh, how we miss the trolley problem .

There’s a runaway trolley plunging toward a widow and five orphans, but if you pull the lever to divert it, you’ll hit Elon Musk. Which do you choose?

This is a problem?!. Quick! Where’s that lever?!

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How Conservatives are deviant

1

Conservatives React Differently to Disgusting Pictures

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

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

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

Alan Jacobs.

2

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 8.54.44 AM

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

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 8.50.36 AM

3

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

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

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

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

4

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

Kari Jenson Gold

5

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

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

Richard Cohen.

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

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

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

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

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When SCOTUS reverses Roe

Michael Gerson ponders “The Trumpification of the pro-life movement” and how it “exacts a price”:

[I]f the overturn or revision of Roe comes, it will almost certainly return greater flexibility to states regarding the regulation of abortion. This will kindle dozens of debates across the country and become a contest of persuasion and organization.

It is then that the Trumpification of the pro-life movement will exact a price. There is a serious cost when a movement that regards itself as pro-woman associates with misogyny. There is a serious cost when a movement that claims to be expanding the circle of social inclusion associates itself with nativism and racism. There is a serious cost when a movement that needs to be seen as charitable and reasonable associates itself with the politics of abuse and cruelty.

This turns out to be a particularly pure test of transactional, single-issue politics. Would you trade a major political gain for a large chunk of your moral reputation?

I don’t want to argue that such a choice is easy. Maybe gaining two justices is worth it. But I am skeptical ….

This is exactly right.

The Supreme Court is not going to outlaw abortion, though there is a little-known legal theory that correlates the roughly contemporaneous (a) enactment of early anti-abortion statutes under the influence of physicians who were becoming aware of the facts of embryology and (b) the post Civil War amendments, concluding that the unborn were and are thereafter constitutional persons with constitutional protection.

Back to practical reality. At most, the Court will remove some or all of the fanciful constitutional barriers to anti-abortion laws it has erected over nearly five decades.

Then, in most states, it will be necessary to fight for re-instatement of pro-life laws that were docilely taken “off the books” following Roe v. Wade (it’s “most states” because a few left there laws on the books in anticipation of Roe‘s eventual demise).

In those legislative debates, which are already beginning in states friendly to feticide and which anticipate reversal of Roe (see this New York Times editorial goading on “blue states … locking down reproductive rights”), the credibility of the pro-life movement will matter a lot, and its alignment with Trump’s person, his policies, and his Twitter ejaculations, will have proven to erode that credibility.

In short, it will come down for many to whether they can stomach voting in sync with those misogynistic, nativist, Trumpified pro-lifers.

Just. You. Damn. Watch.

This is among the reasons I’ve basically ceased financial contributions to the political side of the pro-life cause. Fate—or they themselves—has dealt them a very dubious hand, and I judge that my charitable dollars are better spent elsewhere.

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Thoughts on The Court

1

Monday’s New York Times “The Daily” podcast was uncharacteristically obtuse and irritating.

Topic: “What the last few weeks mean for the future of the Supreme Court.”

How about “What the last few weeks mean for the future of the United States Senate,” since nothing has happened that delegitimatizes the court, but a lot has happened since 2016 to make people despise the Senate for treating Justices as partisan political actors, a role the Justices themselves shun.

Let me put it another way: I don’t think that Democrat Presidents get vote pledges or even winks and nods from their court nominees. Neither do Republicans. I prefer Republican nominees from the expectation (which has been frustrated more than once) that they hold a judicial (not political) philosophy that will produce decisions I prefer (and think closer to the Constitution’s true meaning) as compared to those likely from Democrat nominees.

For me, the court is presumed to be Teflon to Senatorial misbehavior. Senators can beslime a nominee, but swearing in washes right off from the nominee all the Senate’s slime. Senators can beslime themselves, too, and that lingers..

2

Democrats and/or progressives reportedly are concerned about whether they can get a fair shake now from Justice Kavanaugh.

I suspect they will, though it’s possible that Justice Kavanaugh feels, and will continue to feel, the equivalent of what Clarence Thomas reportedly said upon learning that he head been confirmed: “Whoopty-damn-do. Now where do I go to get my reputation back? It wasn’t worth it.”

If they can’t get a fair shake because of the last few weeks, it will be a shame. It will also be an illustration of what trial lawyers say about cross-examining sympathetic witnesses: “If you wound, you’d better kill.

3

Unrelated to the Times podcast, it’s ironic that progressives/Democrats were saying Kavanaugh will overturn Roe” with conservatives/Republicans replying “no he won’t.”

4

UPDATE: I wish Justice Kavanaugh, already sworn in, had talked The Donald out of that Monday evening dog-and-pony-show “shadow swearing in,” the slime of which linger a bit longer because … Trump.

UPDATE 2: Here’s a more thorough scrutiny of Monday’s night’s unseemly events:

Though ceremonial swearings-in like the one Mr. Kavanaugh received are not unheard-of, President Barack Obama’s two court picks, Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, wisely eschewed such spectacles after they were confirmed, asserting their independence from the president who chose them. Mr. Kavanaugh, unwisely, did not follow their example, dragging his fellow justices to an event that at times felt like a Trump victory lap. “The White House ceremony, which included cocktails and a band, in some ways felt like a cross between a campaign rally and a wedding reception,” The Post’s Ashley Parker and John Wagner reported. Also in attendance were Fox News’s poisonous conservative provocateur Laura Ingraham and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

In my mind, Justice Kavanaugh damaged himself more by not following the Kagan and Sotomayor approach than he ever did in the confirmation hearings.

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No peace I find

1

[O]ur brains did not evolve to understand the world but to survive it. Reality is software that doesn’t run well on our mental hardware, unless the display resolution is minimized. We therefore seek out stories, not because they are true, but because they reduce the incomprehensible into that which is comprehensible, giving us a counterfeit of truth whose elegant simplicity makes it seem truer than actual, authentic truth.

Gurwinder Bhogal.

 

2

I spent days laconically poking at this blog, trying to get to the bottom of Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. But I can’t come up with a story (see item 1) that persists for more than 24 hours.

I wouldn’t call my experience “oscillating wildly,” but “oscillating around equipoise” would be fair.

Under the circumstances, it would be presumptuous and vain beyond the usual measure to confide my present conviction, as it seems likely to be swayed yet again. Because my current conviction is related to a recurring “even if” conviction I’ve had about this matter, I may have finally found a resting place, but I’m not at all sure. I’ve stripped out some quotations that now seem beside the point.

Yes, I do think that the Kavanaugh matter in some ways is “signal,” not “noise.” It involves two (or more) looming varieties of damage to one of our nation’s most important governing institutions, and that seems to matter legitimately to citizens even if I could once and for all dismiss it sub specie aeternitatis.

 

3

“Tell me again why we shouldn’t confront Republicans where they eat, where they sleep, and where they work until they stop being complicit in the destruction of our democracy,” tweeted Ian Millhiser, justice editor at ThinkProgress.

“Because it is both wrong & supremely dangerous,” replied Georgetown Law professor Randy Barnett. “When one side denies the legitimacy of good faith disagreement over policy — as well as over constitutional principle — the other side will eventually reciprocate. Neither a constitutional republic nor a democracy can survive that.”

Hugh Hewitt

4

Donald Trump doesn’t understand George H.W. Bush’s “thousand points of light,” and that may be his most telling vulgarity. Barack Obama didn’t get it, either.

There was never a time that I didn’t get it.

As has been pretty well documented, though, those points of light have been vanishing since Tocqueville commented on them and even during my own (soon) 70 years. And that may be part of our death sentence as a free people.

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Tangential Miscellany

1

Riveted by the proceedings, I felt at times I should have looked away rather than play voyeur to the humiliation of two fine people — stripped of dignity and emotionally exposed before the world.

Kathleen Parker.

This was a predictable response of decent people. Unlike political pundits, I had no obligation to watch, so I didn’t. That limits how much I can comment with integrity.

* * *

I didn’t watch Thursday’s hearing because I didn’t expect to come any closer to warranted belief by watching (and I expected to be slimed — see above). I think I called that right. Except that most Kavanaugh backers found Ford a powerful witness, Thursday seemed to function as Rorschach Test.

* * *

I’m pretty disgusted with both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times coverage. The Times is more blatantly partisan, dishing up wave upon wave of shockingly tendentious commentary and “news,” but I also have trouble crediting most of the Journal’s arguments for Kavanaugh.

* * *

Lindsey Graham’s display of rage seems a bit amnesiac. Despicable power grabs in confirmation context started with the proto-Borking, but the penultimate power grab was the GOP’s grab and tabling of Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing. The GOP brought a pen knife, the Democrats brought an AK-47, but it’s the same street fight.

2

Regarding Presidential politics more generally:

I just don’t understand it. Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the President’s behavior? … I am left to conclude from these opinions that our greatest problem is not in the Oval Office. It is with the people of this land! We have lost our ability to discern the difference between right and wrong.

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

… Nothing short of a spiritual renewal will save us.

Dr. James Dobson.

Those words are as true now as they were when Dr. Dobson first wrote them — about Bill Clinton, of course. Surely you didn’t think that an Evangelical® would say such a thing about Donald Trump, God’s anointed!

3

When you strip away the blind, fawning hero worship of his supporters and the shrieking, garment-rending hysteria of his opponents, instead examining the actual behavior of this administration, the sitting president looks an awful lot like a fairly conventional Republican scumbag with about as many differences from Obama as Obama had from Bush.

And, to be clear, that is a bad thing. Both Trump supporters and Trump haters get upset whenever I say that this president is not significantly different from his predecessors in any meaningful way outside of rhetoric and narrative, Trump supporters because they believe he is a populist hero and Democrats because I’m disputing the narrative that he’s Literally Hitler. But I don’t say this because I like upsetting everyone, I say it because it’s extremely important to be absolutely clear about what is happening here if we ever want to turn things around for the fate of our species. Trump’s election did not represent the arrival of a new Hitler-like monster, the monster was already here. The call is coming from inside the house..

I’m getting used to Caitlin Johnstone, and trying to figure out the (seeming) conspiracy theory she believes — as I think she’s also doing. Sometimes, Donald Trump appears as one of the plutocrats who’s controlling this all; other times, he’s beholden to those plutocrats.

But she does rack up a lot of points as she careens about the pinball table.

4

If journalism is the first draft of history, history editors have pretty good job security well into the future — assuming we have a future and that people there will want to read history instead of just consulting their feelings.

5

Today is the 20th anniversary of my Father’s repose in the Lord. He was one of the most level-headed people I know, or at least he created that impression by not blathering.

That obviously is a recessive trait, or perhaps one acquired on mine sweepers in the South Pacific and not hereditable.

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Potpourri (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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Monday 9/17/18

1

David French is much more sensible than Damon Linker on the current status of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. Linker’s approach gives veto power to accusers whose lurid accusations are likelier false than true (by which I’m not pre-judging the current accusations — I’m talking about his rationale).

Neither would approve a Thursday vote, though.

2

I believe it was Ross Douthat who coined “if you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait ’till you see the irreligious right.” That’s panning out — though the “irreligion” is just one facet of communal breakdown:

[T]he different groups make about the same amount of money, which cuts against strict economic-anxiety explanations for Trumpism. But the churchgoers and nonchurchgoers differ more in social capital: The irreligious are less likely to have college degrees, less likely to be married and more likely to be divorced; they’re also less civically engaged, less satisfied with their neighborhoods and communities, and less trusting and optimistic in general.

This seems to support the argument, advanced by Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner among others, that support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics.

… only about a third of Trump’s 2016 voters are in church on a typical Sunday, and almost half attend seldom or not at all.

Ross Douthat

3

[T]he Deep State now feels confident enough to say … openly: the Deep State wants international conflict. The op-ed includes a bald-faced declaration to that effect:

Take foreign policy: in public and private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un . . .

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly. . .

The op-ed goes on to talk approvingly about how the Deep State has punished Russia against the President’s wishes, to the point of boasting about it:

He (President Trump) complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country . . .

But his national security team knew better – such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

Here is the significance of the op-ed, not in what it reveals about President Trump but what it says about the Deep State itself, namely that it thrives on unnecessary and strategically counterproductive international conflicts. Those conflicts justify the trillion dollar “national security” budget off which the Deep State feeds, they provide the arenas in which the “national security team” builds its careers and power and they distract the public from our sorry military performance against the real threat, the threat of Fourth Generation war and the entities that wage it. They are, in short, bread for the Establishment and circuses for the citizens.

William S. Lind, The Deep State Speaks (emphasis added).

4

First, now that being censored on social media is a surefire way to win conservative clicks, it’s fair to assume that claims of censorship will proliferate, and not all of them will be true. Second, that doesn’t mean they’re all false, either. When it comes to the right, Silicon Valley almost certainly suffers from what the Valley used to call “epistemic closure” before the Valley embraced it. In that climate, “Sorry, mistake” isn’t likely to mollify anyone.

So the right has good reason for its suspicion, and no way to get good evidence that might rebut it. To see if Alex Jones had indeed been turned into Voldemort, I had to put my Facebook account — and a bit of my reputation — at risk. And even then, the fact that my account stayed up might simply show that the censors saw it as a trap that they were smart enough to avoid.

Bottom line: conservative concern about platform bias will continue to grow, and only radical transparency about platform standards and due process is likely to address that concern.

Stewart Baker (emphasis added), who tested reports that linking to Infowars from Facebook could get you suspended from the latter.

My personal “line I won’t cross” is somewhere between Breitbart and Infowars. I’ll occasionally visit the former, never knowingly visit the latter as if I might learn anything except how odious it is.

Where’s Facebook’s? Okay to link to Richard Spencer? Daily Stormer?

5

The McCarrick outcry is fading, it would appear, because his victims are adult men. Apparently sexual abuse of young men by an older man who is their ecclesiastical superior isn’t that big a deal.

Adult men make less instantly sympathetic victims than children, and the alleged incidents involving McCarrick are less headline-grabbingly horrifying than the episodes revealed by Pennsylvania’s recent grand jury report. But the church has more than a duty to ensure that minors aren’t victimized and should be sensitive to the fact that, where religious authority is exploited, the effects of sexual abuse can be especially devastating, as in Reading’s case.

Terry Mattingly, commenting on some fine reporting by Elizabeth Breunig under the Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith” rubric.

Yeah. Right. Winnowing out men who don’t want the priesthood so much that they’ll tolerate hanky-panky is a swell way of making sure you get lots of gay or sexually ambivalent priests who value the prestige of priesthood more than the truth of dogma and moral teaching.

6

Seriously, folks, if you are planning to withhold your regular tithe to your diocese for the time being, why not redirect it to the Norcia monks, who are the real deal? They are a light for the whole world. Please think about making a donation — or sign up for regular donations. You know how much I care about them, and esteem them. If you want to give confidently to help build a Catholic future you can believe in, the Monks of Norcia need your help.

Rod Dreher.

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Saturday, 9/8/18

1

07stephensWeb-superJumbo

Where do I buy the hat on the left?

Bret Stephens continues his open letter to big-bucks politial donor targets:

The next time you meet a candidate asking for your money, start the conversation with two questions. First: “When did you last change your mind on a significant political, economic or social issue, and why?” Second (if the candidate is already in politics): “When did you vote with the other side?”

In person, many of you are nuanced, balanced and sane in your overall political outlook, irrespective of whether you lean left or right. The problem is that you tend to care mainly about specific policy outcomes — killing the Iran deal, say, or acting on climate — and you’re willing to swallow your misgivings about the other stuff, like Donald Trump’s character or the Democrats’ Sandernista tendencies.

Sacrificed in the bargain is much concern about the tone of campaigns, the rules of politics, the process of policymaking, and ordinary considerations of collegiality and respect.

Let me ask you to think hard about the increasing cost of that bargain. A president who rages like King Lear on the heath because an op-ed in The Times was mean to him. Senate Democrats who cheerfully turn a Supreme Court confirmation hearing into a carnival show while they audition for the Democratic nomination. The collapse of regular order. The vanishing filibuster. The constant threat of government shutdowns. The ceaseless campaign that always comes at the expense of governance. The administrative state on which we increasingly rely to run things because elected officials can’t. The rush to the exits by the more honorable public servants.

This is the politics of maximum polarization and total paralysis, waged with the intensity of the Battle of the Somme and yielding about as much ground. Right now, you’re contributing to this. Stop.

There’s an alternative. Split more of your money between the parties. Fund candidates with proven or potential cross-party appeal. Help out politicians with scores below 100 percent from the N.R.A. or the Sierra Club. Set up a PAC — call it SanePAC or NotNutsPAC — to help candidates facing primary challenges from the further-right or further-left. Expand the reach of purple America at the expense of deep red or deep blue.

I, a Trimmer, endorse this message. I’d add that part of “the cost of the bargain” is bullshit “gotcha” attempts that make the Newspaper of Record look crypto-Resistant.

2

Almost all the excellent reporting of the last year and a half has also been fed by constant distress signals from within the White House, where grown-ups have had to contend with a psychologically disturbed, delusional, and hugely ignorant president, who has no capacity or willingness to learn.

Sometimes I think it’s useful to think of this presidency as a hostage-taking situation. We have a president holding liberal democracy hostage, empowered by a cult following. The goal is to get through this without killing any hostages, i.e., without irreparable breaches in our democratic system. Come at him too directly and you might provoke the very thing you are trying to avoid. Somehow, we have to get the nut job to put the gun down and let the hostages go, without giving in to any of his demands. From the moment Trump took office, we were in this emergency. All that we now know, in a way we didn’t, say, a year ago, is that the chances of a successful resolution are close to zero.

Andrew Sullivan

I can’t endorse much of what Sullivan wrote this week beyond these snippets.

3

Conservatives have long derided “activist” judges who, they argued, issued sweeping social policy without a popular mandate or widespread support. Such protestations helped propel a movement. They might do well to heed their own warnings.

Joshua Zeitz, concluding Why Conservatives Should Beware a Roe v. Wade Repeal. I only came across this because John Fea, who I’ve been following for a month or so, fell for it.

First, any “lack of popular mandate or widespread support” has little if nothing to do with conservative laments about liberal judicial activism. That is a straw man, pure and simple.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

As for the rest, maybe I’m jaded by having spent too much time “in the trenches,” but it strikes me as targeted at a squishy and ignorant set of fence-straddlers. Zeitz’s con goes like this:

  • The pro-abortion side won the battle in Roe v. Wade but suffered the grievous wound of overreach (which is true).
  • Public sentiment is somewhat more pro-abortion now than in 1973 (which I’ll take as true for sake of argument).
  • If conservatives overreach, they, too, could suffer the wound of overreach (which is garbled in its elaboration).

John Fea actually fell for the fallacy that reversal or overruling (not “repeal,” as in Zeitz’s title) of Roe would make abortion virtually illegal (“one can only imagine the strength of the counter-reaction should a conservative court all but criminalize …”).

Reversal of Roe would, in the overwhelmingly likeliest case, return the abortion issue to state legislatures, where the response would vary from complete bans on abortion (which would be widely ignored in “hard cases” after the signing photos were taken) to complete legality with public funding (can you say “California”?).

A vanishly unlikely theory would actually read an abortion ban into the 14th Amendment. The theory argues, in effect, that exploding understanding of fetal development and our early criminal abortion laws were contemporaneous with the 14th Amendment; so contemporaries, if asked, would have said “Why yes, now that you mention it, I guess fetuses are constitutional ‘persons’.” I’m not sure whether anyone is actually advancing this theory in any legal cases. I became aware of it from a third-tier law journal. I hope it’s recognized as “a bridge too far” invitation to conservative judicial activism.

Since neither Roe nor Planned Parenthood v. Casey was well-reasoned or highly principled (Casey effectively replaced Roe with a rationale that is even more patently mockable), I would be personally gratified by the restoration of some constitutional equilibrium through reversing that line of cases.

That reversal would, indeed, be followed by something approaching 50 fierce state legislative debates. The results in most states would be compromises that neither side liked. But that’s where the issue belongs, I believe.

Now: all that having been said, I have been persuaded that a likelier result than any reversal of Roe/Casey is continued chipping away.

It is, after all, not really within the control of “conservatives” — or of Donald Trump, despite campaign bloviating about what his nominees would do — whether bad “progressive” precedents from 45 years back stand or fall.

The Supreme Court, in whose control it is, does not disregard factors like a bad precedent having nevertheless become woven into the social fabric, or a reversal, howsoever well-reasoned, reinforcing the lamentable perception that the Courts are really just super-legislatures.

I’m betting nothing I can’t afford to lose on overruling of Roe in my lifetime.

4

Congressional G.O.P. Agenda Quietly Falls Into Place Even as Trump Steals the Spotlight. Very misleading headline if one thinks an agenda for Congress is more than confirming POTUS’s judicial nominees. There is no GOP congressional agenda revealed in this story.

5

Perhaps most concerning, Judge Kavanaugh seems to have trouble remembering certain important facts about his years of service to Republican administrations. More than once this week, he testified in a way that appeared to directly contradict evidence in the record.

For example, he testified that Roe v. Wade is “settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court.” But he said essentially the opposite in a 2003 email leaked to The Times. “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” he wrote then.

Judge Kavanaugh’s backers in the Senate brushed this off by pointing out that his 2003 statement was factually correct. They’re right, which means that his testimony this week was both disingenuous and meaningless.

If the New York Times submitted this drivel as part of a resumé for a “Fact-Checking” position, I wouldn’t give them an interview.

6

Here’s a quote, via the Telegraph, from the prosecutor in the trial where Karen White admitted two indecent assaults against female prisoners:

“The defendant would stand very close to [the victim], touch her arm and wink at her. Her penis was erect and sticking out of the top of her trousers.”

I swear, I wasn’t going to pass along Rod Dreher’s story of tragic stupidity in the Anglosphere, but the Prosecutor’s remark toward the end was irresistibly classic trans gibberish.

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