Biggest sinner on the block

Roosh V was a nasty piece of work, but it’s all cool now

Rod Dreher distills the story of Daryush Valizadeh, a/k/a Roosh V, a red-pill manosphere pickup artist and social media personality who in 2019 stopped all that crap cold turkey, returned to Christianity and eventually (May 2021) entered the Russian Orthodox Church. Valizadeh is full of zeal and has found other men who are full of zeal as well — almost a baptized religious version of the manosphere but without the misogyny.

I found the tale sorta interesting, but found one thing creepily evocative about it: “I was the biggest sinner on the block” testimonies were tiresomely common in Evangelicalism, and this brought back those memories. Those big-sinner-who-got-born-again types seemed to turn into creeps of various sort with suspicious regularity. Part of it was that Evangelicalism just could not help itself; as soon as some celebrity announced getting born again, they’d thrust them in front of their congregations (later their cameras) in contradiction of scriptural warnings.

His history is what it is, and I don’t know how much the foregrounding of his sleazy history is his doing and how much is just thrust upon him by others. I hope it’s the latter and I wish they’d stop.

For Dreher, the tale evoked his own triumphalist zeal for Roman Catholicism — which zeal and faith he lost calamitously 16+ years ago covering the clergy sex abuse scandals as a journalist. Those were not fun, liberating times for Rod, and he cautions Valizadeh to be careful of triumphalism lest he face a similar crisis of faith when first he encounters an Orthodox scandal.

I guess Rod and I share a common theme of concern for Roosh, still a relative novice in a 2000-year-deep faith, that he gets formed well and isn’t exploited for his celebrity.

After lamenting how his personal story dissuades him from aggressively proselytizing for Orthodoxy, or even for Christianity generally, Rod concludes:

Still, there is a particular reason I recommended Orthodox books to the visionary writer Paul Kingsnorth when he first began to inquire about Christianity — and there is a reason he embraced Orthodoxy quickly. There is a reason why Dr. Iain McGilchrist, the author of The Master And His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, told me that he is not a believer, but if he were, he would be Orthodox, because of all forms of Christianity, it is the one that has … maintained the best balance between logical and intuitive modes of knowing). There is a reason why, after sixteen years (next month) of worshiping and praying as an Orthodox Christian, faith in Christ is sedimented into my bones in a way it never was before.

Rod Dreher. I am not surprised at McGilchrist’s observation, having fairly recently finished ‌The Master And His Emissary.

I have no reason to think Rod reads my blog, and there’s no way to comment on his Substack offerings, but I’d like to point out to him that it is difficult to speak eloquently, truthfully and adequately about Orthodox Christianity precisely because of the extent to which it relies on intuitive modes of knowing. Speech is largely a left-hemisphere creation that relies on logic and analysis to make its persuasive points, and intuition translates poorly into the left-brain’s dialect.

Or as Dr. McGilchrist notes in the book:

one feels so hopeless relying on the written [or spoken – Tipsy] word to convey meaning in humanly important and emotionally freighted situations.

and again

It is precisely its accuracy and definiteness that make speech unsuited for expressing what is too complex, changeful and ambiguous.

That, I think, emphasizes why the invitation “Come and see” is as important for making Orthodox Christians today as it was for making disciples at the beginning.

“What we believe” pages

I’ve been off Facebook for several years now (I’ve lost track).

I’m not bragging. I got on for honorable reasons (to reconnect with high school friends, who since I went to boarding school, were more important to me by far than college friends) and got off it for honorable reasons as well (I didn’t like Facebook turning some of my family members into trolls, nor did I like lining Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets).

But while I was on, I hurt somebody a bit. A high school fried was deeply involved in an Evangelical megachurch in a major city. I visited its website, found a page on “what we believe,” and found a roll-your-own substitute for the historic creeds of the Church. The net effect imbalanced if not heretical. I critiqued it without naming the church or why I’d visited the site.

Unfortunately, my friend figured it out and was wounded by what seemed like a gratuitous insult — even trolling her — the reason for which utterly escaped her.

That incident came back to me recently, and though I regret hurting my friend, I don’t regret calling out the arrogance of churches that think themselves entitled to create bespoke religions for their respective clienteles and call them all “Christian.”

Okay, that was a bit harsh. But consider:

  • First Baptist Church of Dallas (friend of Trump, and of Sean Hannity, it created a choral anthem Make America Great Again) is so big that they have both a “What We Believe” and a “Articles of Faith.”
  • Willow Creek Community Church, imitation of which was a major fad 25 years or so ago (I don’t know if it continues) has a Beliefs and Values page and a lengthy Elder Statements pdf.
  • Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston has, at least on paper, beliefs far less vacuous than what comes out of Osteen’s mouth every time he opens it.
  • The Wheaton Bible Church, where I was baptized about 55 years ago (and where my wife and I worshipped as newlyweds in the Chicago area), has become a full-blown megachurch, and it, too, has an “About” page.

I’m not going to stop to try to analyze and critique these. My point is they inherently confirm that there is no single “Evangelicalism.” Without a strong denominational identity, each local church must decide for itself, and publish, what it thinks the Bible clearly teaches.

The inability of denominations, let alone independent churches/fiefdoms, to agree on that clear (“perspicacious”) message is one of the things I saw one day, can never unsee, and made me forever non-Protestant.

Of course, my Church has a statement of faith, too, which we recite (oftener, sing) every Sunday Liturgy: The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, written not by us but by two Ecumenical Councils of the Church in the Fourth Century (when some heresies (Arianism, Apollinarianism, Macedonianism and Chiliasm) were riling the church and it was imperative to define the true faith in contrast with those heresies).

If you’d care to compare the Nicene Creed to these ersatz “What We Believe” statements, you’ll note that at least one thing in all the ersatz statements gets nary a mention by the historic Church. Can you spot it?

It’s sola scriptura (in today’s hyperbolic marketspeak, “we’re all about the Bible”) and its corollaries, the bedrock of Protestantism.

Interesting, huh? And yet somehow there remains one Orthodox Church and countless big and little churches, each marching to its own drum.

Anti-Promethean conservative

Americans have always had a thing for Prometheus — the Titan god in Greek mythology credited with (or blamed for) stealing fire and giving it to humanity … Today, those ambitions have moved to the private sector, with Promethean billionaire entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos working to make space travel far more commonplace … Is Promethean dynamism a good thing for human beings? … But which end is more compatible with happiness understood as human flourishing?

Damon Linker

One big dispositional difference between me and David French is that he applauds, enraptured, these Promethean stunts.

He needs to look more closely at what drives Jeff Bezos, and to re-read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Heck, finish the trilogy: read That Hideous Strength, too, David.

I may have just found the perfect label for my kind of conservatism: anti-Promethean.

[T]he fantasy that humans can somehow shift ‘offworld’ and recreate such systems on Mars or the Moon when we can’t or won’t live with Earth anymore, is just that: a fantasy, peddled as we saw in the last essay, by the likes of Jeff Bezos and his fellow techno-apostles.

Paul Kingsnorth.

Last acceptable bigotry is alive and well and living just about everywhere in the USA

Martin: Cries of anti-Catholicism are too frequent. Anti-Catholicism is nowhere near as prevalent as racism, homophobia, or anti-Semitism. Not every critique of the Church is an offense against religious liberty. And The New York Times is not anti-Catholic. But from time to time, it’s important to remind people that anti-Catholicism is not a myth.

Green: I wonder if there are instances where this has become politically complicated for you. For example, when now–Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was in her hearing for the Circuit Court of Appeals, Democratic senators questioned her about how her Catholic faith would affect her rulings on issues like abortion. Senator Dianne Feinstein famously told her, “The dogma lives loudly within you.”

A lot of people thought that was open anti-Catholic bigotry—a U.S. senator expressing fear that an accomplished legal scholar couldn’t be a fair judge because of her faith. Did you think they had a point?

Martin: Well, first of all, I thought that that phrase was inherently funny. The dogma lives loudly within you. It was just strange—almost nonsensical. But I think it was appropriate for Senator Feinstein to ask, “To what extent will your religious beliefs influence your legal decisions?” That’s not unreasonable.

Green: Do you think so? I mean, the Constitution says that no religious test should be required as a qualification for public office. It’s a founding principle of our country that Americans don’t consider religion when we vet people as public servants.

Martin: I think the difference is that Justice Barrett is well known as a devout Catholic. I didn’t think that was an offensive question. The way it was put was a little ham-handed.

Emma Green, Father Jim Martin on Anti-Catholic Prejudice (the springboard was an issue of the New York Times that “deferentially cover[ed] a language shift meant to show respect for Roma people but … also print[ed] a story that relished a film scene in which a holy Catholic object is defiled.”)

Not a fan of Fr. James Martin, so it’s tempting to add “In other words ….” But I’m going to resist the temptation. You can do your own critical reading (no paywall).

Standpoint

There is no greater barrier to understanding than the assumption that the standpoint which we happen to occupy is a universal one.

H. Richard Niebuhr via Lance Morrow

Which reminds me of “what you see depends on where you stand.”

Christian athletes

Soccer

[T]he future of Christianity is going to be black and brown — at least in the UK. The other day I was somewhere in this Central European region, can’t remember exactly where, and was talking to a group of fellow white Christians about migration to Europe. I asked them if they had to choose, would they prefer to live in a Europe that was predominantly black but faithfully Christian, or predominantly white, but atheist. Everyone agreed: black and Christian.

Black Christians, British Football – by Rod Dreher – Daily Dreher

Basketball

‌Giannis Antetokounmpo As An Orthodox Christian And Star Of The 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks.

Who knew? Or rather, who knew the first part?


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

My Grudges

Lafayette Journal & Courier in high dudgeon, January 11, 1997

Predators at Work

Sexual abuse at group home prompts questions about oversight

by Jason Shepard

January 18, 2007RSS

In 1998, when Walden Homes hired Gregory Ledbetter as a counselor for troubled boys at Spring House, a group foster home funded by Dane County taxpayers, he was already an experienced sexual predator.

Ledbetter had moved to Madison less than a year before, after escaping 43 charges of sexually molesting boys at a group home in Indiana. His new job afforded him fresh opportunities, and he took prompt advantage of them, as ‘Henry’ would soon find out.

Henry (a pseudonym, like all names of juveniles in this article) was 15 when he ended up at Spring House, on Madison’s near east side, in 1999. ‘Almost every night,’ Henry later told police, he went to Ledbetter’s apartment, where they would ‘smoke marijuana, play videogames and watch porno movies.’

Ledbetter manipulated Henry into sexual acts, as he had with many other boys before and after, according to hundreds of pages of police and court records reviewed by Isthmus. Sometimes Ledbetter would perform oral sex on the boys; other times it was anal sex. A camcorder next to Ledbetter’s bed recorded the encounters.

Then Ledbetter would return his victims to Spring House, where he was paid to make meals, lead group discussions and serve as a role model for boys who’d been abandoned and suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.

Ledbetter, 39, was convicted last year of molesting several Spring House residents, among other victims. His crimes were so heinous that a Dane County judge sentenced him to life in prison, rejecting Ledbetter’s offer to be castrated.

Strikingly, Ledbetter is not the only sexual predator hired in recent years by Walden Homes to support and nurture some of Dane County’s most vulnerable teenagers. Angela Kalscheur, 26, faces more than 40 years in prison on charges related to sexual acts with four boys at Spring House. She has admitted to the crimes and will likely strike a plea bargain to avoid trial, now set for Feb. 7.

Both cases highlight breakdowns in a system that is supposed to provide care for kids in government custody. Background checks obviously failed, since Walden hired Ledbetter despite a dangerous and troubled past. And staff supervision was so poor that both counselors were able to prey on multiple youths over many months.

The cases also reveal insufficient oversight of private facilities that operate with public money. Even after the fact, county and state officials failed to aggressively investigate how such crimes could have happened. County and state officials operated in isolation so extreme that county officials praise Walden for its oversight efforts while the state accuses Walden of malfeasance. And elected officials with oversight responsibilities were kept in the dark.

County officials stress the assurances they’ve received from state regulators that Walden is in compliance with licensing rules.

‘We have nothing to hide,’ says Lynn Green, Dane County’s director of human services. ‘I am going to stand behind the work we’ve done in this situation 100 percent.’

Adds Bob Lee, administrator for Dane County’s division of children, youth and family services: ‘We feel as badly or more badly than anyone that some kids did not have good experiences there. But the totality of the agency’s experiences with Walden Homes is what’s most important to us.’

That may not be good enough for local elected officials. County Supv. David Worzala, chair of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee, was ‘astounded’ to learn of the abuse from Isthmus last week. County Supv. Barb Vedder, the committee’s vice chair, also professed ignorance: ‘I am surprised we weren’t told about this.’ (Charges in both cases drew media attention, but some accounts did not mention Spring House by name.)

This week Worzala launched an investigation into oversight of Walden Homes, which continues to annually receive about a million dollars in county funding.

‘My conclusion is it’s outrageous that this has occurred in group homes in Dane County,’ says Worzala. ‘These kids are in our care. They’re vulnerable, and we need to provide a safe environment.’

Where is the oversight?

Worzala, a member of the Dane County Board since 2004, doesn’t like to criticize county government. He uses the word ‘we’ when referring to it, and says he’s a ‘big fan’ of Green and her department.

But Worzala is at a loss to explain why he first learned of these incidents from a reporter: ‘I don’t know what to say. However, I will say this: Now I know about it, and it will be addressed.’

Next Tuesday, Worzala plans to call officials from Dane County and the state Department of Health and Family Services to account for their actions before his committee.

‘These are horrific cases,’ he says. ‘The system’s broken. We need to look at it. Clearly county and state oversight needs to be reviewed and discussed. We need to do something to make sure this never happens again.’

Walden Homes Ltd. is a nonprofit corporation that continues to run three group homes in Dane County: Coventry Group Home on the north side, and Horizon House and Thoreau House on the isthmus.

Dane County taxpayers have paid Walden $4.7 million over the past five years to care for children ordered into its group foster homes. A tax filing for 2004 shows county taxpayers, at $910,882 that year, were by far Walden’s largest source of income; next in line was the state Department of Corrections, at $44,550. The money went in part to Walden’s longtime director, George Nestler, who received a salary of about $90,000.

Nestler did not return repeated calls seeking comment on this article.

According to the tax filing, Walden Homes aims to provide ‘a stable, highly supervised group foster home environment’ for adolescents. But that’s hardly what it did for nearly a dozen of Dane County’s most troubled teens, who were victimized by these two counselors.

Indeed, records suggest that Spring House, 511 S. Ingersoll St., was a deeply troubled operation. Police have been called to the group home 151 times since 2000, often in response to neighbor concerns. Police logs reviewed by Isthmus show complaints about disturbances, thefts, damaged property, liquor law violations and general juvenile complaints. Other calls involved battery, drugs and an overdose.

‘There were police over there all the time,’ says Scott Thornton, who lives nearby. Neighbors also complained to state regulators about lax supervision. (Walden’s corporate office is located at 1102 Spaight St., just around the corner from Spring House.)

But the decision to close Spring House in June 2006 purportedly had nothing to do with child molestation or complaints from neighbors. Rather, Walden told the state it wanted ‘to make better use of our resources.’ Agrees Dane County’s Green, ‘It was purely a financial decision on their need to fill beds.’

From Indiana to Wisconsin

On Oct. 15, 2005, after being tipped off by a neighbor that Ledbetter, then 38, was having sex with a 16-year-old boy, Madison police executed a search warrant on his apartment. They discovered a jackpot of evidence in his bedroom: 150 videotapes stashed in a locked dresser drawer and a safe. The tapes, spanning more than a decade, were meticulously labeled with the boys’ names, ages and dates.

In letters and testimony to Dane County Judge Dan Moeser, Ledbetter and his parents traced his predatory pedophilia to his troubled childhood. They said Ledbetter had a sexual relationship with an older man when he was a teen. And, when he was around 17, his best friend committed suicide with Ledbetter’s shotgun after announcing that he was gay and being rejected by his family.

‘He gave me an ultimatum about him killing himself, and I didn’t stop him,’ Ledbetter wrote. ‘I carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life.’

‘Greg was never the same after that,’ his parents wrote. Following his own suicide attempt around this time, Ledbetter was committed to a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., where his sister lived, but was released after a few months when the insurance money ran out. ‘We regret to this day not keeping him institutionalized.’

Court records say Ledbetter graduated from Purdue University with an education and fine arts degree and worked as a student teacher in an elementary school. At about age 26, he began working at the Cary Home for Children in Lafayette, Ind. He was there for two years.

In January 1996, prosecutors charged Ledbetter with 43 counts of child seduction based on allegations from two group home residents.

According to Indiana police reports obtained by Isthmus, one boy said he had dozens of sexual encounters with Ledbetter between December 1993 and May 1995, when he was 16 and 17. It began with oral sex at Ledbetter’s parents’ house and escalated to anal intercourse, with the use of marijuana almost always preceding the sex. A second group home boy, 17 at the time, reported having at least 35 sexual encounters with Ledbetter.

Indiana newspapers reported that the allegations against Ledbetter were the second sexual allegations against Cary Home staffers in two years, and local politicians called for the firing of the home’s director.

The arrest also captured local headlines because Jerry Ledbetter, Greg’s father, was a city councilman who supported a local ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The family said Ledbetter was arrested in retaliation for his father’s progressive politics, and spent $19,000 in legal fees fighting the charges.

In January 1997, prosecutors dropped the charges after Ledbetter’s defense attorney secured an affidavit from one of the boys, saying he made up the allegations.

Eight years later, Madison police would discover what Indiana police did not: videotapes of Ledbetter having sex with at least three boys from the Indiana group home.

From Spring House to prison

By 1998, Ledbetter had moved to Madison and was looking for a job. The Spring House group home had just opened, and it was hiring. Ledbetter’s first day was April 20, 1998.

Ledbetter had already spent at least five years preying on vulnerable boys in Indiana. Over the next 22 months, he was given regular access to troubled boys in Dane County’s care. He made the most of it.

Police reports and a detailed criminal complaint relate the accounts of several group home victims, including ‘Billy,’ who was 14 when the abuse began.

‘The situation has made things hard for me,’ he told a detective. ‘You know, it was hard to go on with my life.’

Henry, mentioned above, told police he once complained that Ledbetter would openly tell the boys in his care that he ‘loved to suck cock.’ Henry said Ledbetter let the residents ‘smoke dope and go wherever they wanted,’ for which he ‘expected something in return.’ Henry also said Ledbetter once showed him a .45 caliber handgun.

‘Jeff,’ who was 16 when he engaged in sexual encounters with Ledbetter at Spring House, told police he ‘felt obliged to do this with the defendant since the defendant was making their life at the group home fun.’

In February 2000, Ledbetter left Spring House. Over the next five years, records show he met other boys through his jobs at a Walgreen’s, a Blockbuster video store, a Marcus movie theater and a store in South Towne Mall.

One of these was a 16-year-old who, his mother told police, had brain damage stemming from childhood abuse and suffered from learning disabilities, cancer and cerebral palsy. Court documents offer a particularly disturbing summary of one videotaped encounter. The boy, who appeared to ‘act more like an 8-year-old than his own age,’ expressed ‘random thoughts regarding eating at Old Country Buffet and videogames and his mother and his curly hair’ during unprotected anal intercourse with Ledbetter.

Yet another boy told police that Ledbetter handcuffed him and used duct tape on his mouth before anally penetrating him.

It’s not clear from court documents and police reports how many boys Ledbetter molested during his eight years in Madison. Ultimately, Dane County prosecutors charged him with 92 felony counts of child sexual assault, enticement and sexploitation, relating to 10 boys.

In July 2006, Ledbetter was convicted following a plea agreement; he received a 90-year prison sentence. Under the state’s truth-in-sentencing law, he won’t be eligible for parole until he is 129 years old.

‘I am viewed more as someone who was over-punished and denied the right of rehabilitation as a sex offender,’ Ledbetter wrote to Judge Moeser in October from prison in Waupun. He now spends his days playing classical music on a piano, painting and drawing in his cell, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

‘There’s things I need’

Angela Kalscheur graduated from Mankato State University in Minnesota in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice, records show. She interned at a center for juvenile sex offenders before Walden Homes hired her in November 2004 to work at Spring House.

Like Ledbetter, Kalscheur worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift as an assistant counselor at Spring House. Her duties included preparing meals, supervising homework and leading group talks. And while she and Ledbetter likely never met, Kalscheur used many of the same strategies to entice boys into satisfying her sexual desires.

According to a criminal complaint, ‘Nick,’ then 15, arrived at the group home in March 2005 and quickly learned that Kalscheur was having sex with several boys; he later told police this was ‘common knowledge.’ Nick said he didn’t report Kalscheur because he used this information as leverage to extend his curfew and get an allowance without doing work. Once he walked in on Kalscheur having intercourse with ‘Joe,’ and was invited to participate.

Joe told police that within a week of arriving at Spring House in the spring of 2005, when he was 17, Kalscheur told him something to the effect of, ‘There’s things I need,’ then hugged him and put his hand down her pants. Joe estimated that he and Kalscheur had sexual contact about 35 times, including twice at her house.

A third boy, ‘Damon,’ told police that Kalscheur performed oral sex on him about five times, starting on his 16th birthday. He said he knew other residents were having sex with Kalscheur, and that she asked him not to tell because she could lose her job.

‘Just keep giving me head,’ Damon said he told her, ‘and you won’t need to worry about it.’

Kalscheur, the complaint says, regularly gave the boys alcohol and cigarettes. She also drove them to a location on the south side, where they bought marijuana. The boys would get high as Kalscheur returned to the group home.

In June 2005, another Spring House counselor had a chance meeting with a former resident, who told of sexual encounters with Kalscheur when he was at the home. The counselor reported the allegations to Walden Homes’ director Nestler, who, as required by law, reported the allegation to Dane County officials.

Kalscheur continued to work at Spring House for the next month, and was fired on July 27 on a matter unrelated to sexual abuse, county officials say.

On May 25, 2006, Madison police detective Dave Gouran spoke with Kalscheur at her home. After initially denying any wrongdoing, Kalscheur eventually admitted to having sexual contact with Joe, Nick and Damon, as well as other boys from the group home.

Kalscheur’s attorney, Eric Schulenburg, expects to reach a plea agreement in the near future, and will argue at sentencing that her crimes don’t merit prison.

‘To send her to prison is a crime, and there’s no need to make this two crimes,’ says Schulenburg, adding that he has trouble viewing the 16- and 17-year-old boys in this case as victims.

Appropriate action?

The unprecedented abuse at Spring House ‘ going back decades, county officials can’t remember another substantiated molestation case at a juvenile group home ‘ has local politicians worried.

‘Clearly, two makes a pattern,’ says Supv. Worzala. ‘The Ledbetter case is frightening. You’re talking about border hopping of predators. It’s unacceptable.’

But Dane County’s Bob Lee says that after learning of misconduct, local officials ‘did what was required’ and took ‘appropriate action.’ These actions included interviewing group home residents and attending Spring House staff meetings.

Regulating group homes, county officials stress, is the state’s responsibility. ‘The state is required to license and monitor. The onus is on them,’ says Marykay Wills, the county’s mental health and alternative care manager. ‘The state assured us that Walden did what they were supposed to do.’

But state officials and records provided to Isthmus undercut many of these claims and suggest that county officials either aren’t being forthcoming or remain uninformed as to the state’s apparently grave concerns about Walden Homes, both before and after these molestation cases came to light.

‘It is very likely that we would have taken the steps to revoke the license at Spring House if they had not voluntarily closed,’ says Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Family Services.

State officials accused Walden Homes of a ‘lack of cooperation with the department in its attempt to thoroughly investigate the allegations,’ according to a letter sent to Walden dated Oct. 25, 2006, written after Isthmus began making inquiries into the state and county’s handling of the matter.

That letter, and a follow-up (click HERE), allege that Walden staff members were told by a Walden supervisor and in a written memo not to cooperate with investigators. The letters criticized Walden’s management and accused Walden supervisors of overlooking complaints from other staff about Kalscheur’s behavior.

County officials are also apparently clueless as to the rules regarding background checks. Lee explains Ledbetter’s hire by saying ‘the state does not require out-of-state background checks. Now should they? Maybe. But they don’t.’

Marquis contradicts this, saying state law does indeed require out-of-state criminal background checks for any state in which an applicant may have lived in the past three years, information he or she is required to provide.

How Ledbetter passed his background check after being charged with 43 counts of child molestation at his last group home job may never be known. When state regulators sought to review Walden’s records, they discovered that ‘all terminated staff files and discharged resident files’ from Spring House had been destroyed by Walden’s director in December 2005. The destruction of these files occurred in the middle of police investigations into both the Ledbetter and Kalscheur cases.

State officials fined Walden $1,000 in the Kalscheur case, which Walden initially appealed. Walden dropped its appeal after it closed Spring House and moved its residents to Thoreau House, located around the corner in the same building as Walden Homes’ Spaight Street headquarters.

Walden Homes continues to reap county contracts for its three other group foster homes, into which troubled teens are regularly ordered. In 2006, Walden received $986,766 in county funding. Lynn Green, the county’s human services director, thinks the relationship is working well.

‘Walden has a long history of providing very good group home services in Dane County,’ she says. ‘They were one of the early group homes, and George Nestler has been with them 20-plus years. Hundreds if not thousands of Dane County kids have received excellent services from the Walden Homes system.’

(From Isthmus, a publication in Madison, Wisconsin)


I don’t hold a lot of grudges, but I hold a few related to this sorry case.

It’s not that “everyone knew” the Lafayette charges were true and that the local scribes were ignoring what everybody knew. I had spoken to one of the accusers professionally, and I wasn’t certain. One seldom is.

When the boys withdrew their accusations, I considered possible both that the charges had been false and that Defense counsel for Ledbetter had “gotten to” the accusers somehow. I wasn’t sure which.

My grudge is that the Journal & Courier didn’t know, either. Yet it wagged its corporate finger at everyone who believed (or dutifully investigated) the adolescent boys who accused Ledbetter, and turned a secret abuser into a martyred saint. Everyone should have had the Journal & Courier’s confidence that the charges were false, though the confidence was unwarranted and turned out to be false. I was at the very least adjacent to those the santimonious ink-stained wretches were excoriating.

My grudge also is that hiring an “out” homosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents (that’s the kind of facility that employed Ledbetter) of the same sex, whatever the written rules may have said, was recklessly in defiance of common sense — as it would have been reckless to hire a heterosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents of the opposite sex. This was not, in other words, a “freak accident.” It was completely foreseeable. More heads should have rolled than did (though Commissioner Nola Gentry’s replacement was a Marjorie Taylor Greene type, far inferior to Nola).

So my grudge, finally, is that not all “discrimination” is invidious (some is utterly sensible), and thus not all discrimination should be legally forbidden, as it increasingly is — and as the Journal & Courier supports.


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

The Equality Act

When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.

But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.

A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:

The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.

This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.

The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”

Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.

The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?

Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.

The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.

The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal – WSJ

Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.

NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.

Another curated collection

There’s another strange point that I would add, and maybe we’ll talk about this a little bit more because it does touch on broader issues, but it would be a strange doctrine indeed [if] every time the government takes over a new function and starts to contract about it, the scope of free exercise or free speech rights just automatically shrinks. Because that would mean that in order for the government essentially to do what it wants it just has to occupy the field on any particular field …
The growth of the administrative state has been putting a lot more pressure on the exercise of religion, and this would be a good example of that. And this came up in oral argument: Justice Barrett asked this question at one point, “well could the city just take over running all the hospitals and then say that ‘we’re going to contract it out and everybody has to agree with our terms’?”

Marc O. DeGirolami and Mark Movsesian, respectively, Legal Spirits Episode 028: Oral Argument in Fulton v. Philadelphia – LAW AND RELIGION FORUM, starting at about the 12:05 mark (hyperlink added).

Fulton is last Wednesday’s SCOTUS oral argument over Philadelphia taking over foster care and then banning Catholic Social Services because, had a hypothetical gay couple (or any unmarried couple) shown up seeking to foster or adopt, CSS would have referred them elsewhere. Oh, the horror!

It was a strange oral argument, though, as noted both by these two and by David French and Sarah Isgur last week on Advisory Opinions (starting at 49:00).


“There’s a lot of parallels between a community that’s 96% Hispanic and a community that’s 96% white,” said Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of nearby Roma[, Texas]. “Racism is not something that people deal with in Starr County because everybody’s brown. Climate change isn’t something they feel. They prefer bread on the table.”

Elizabeth Findell, How Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy – WSJ

This reminds me of my six weeks in Europe and the British Isles in 1968, touring with the Wheaton College Men’s Glee Club.

When we were in Belfast and Northern Ireland more generally, I (good Protestant boy though I was) was appalled at the anti-Catholic bigotry. I was not surprised when the Catholics started fighting back the next year — The Troubles.

Ireland to the south, in contrast, was tolerant of its Protestant minority.

Seeking some explanation other than intrinsic Catholic tolerance (an answer that I’d have found most uncongenial at that point in my life), I was told that it was pretty simple: Protestants were too few in Ireland to worry about, while Catholics were a very large part of Northern Ireland.

I guess our American polarization could be caused by either of two things:

  • No place is so nearly homogenous as Ireland; there’s no place where a dissident minority can be ignored; or
  • We don’t perceive the United States as a bunch of places, so any dissent from our views anywhere is a threat.

Maybe there are other options, or maybe I’m generalizing too hastily.


A great cry went up from Orthodox throats across the globe earlier this year when the Turkish government repurposed Hagia Sophia from museum to mosque. The cry was an echo of May 29, 1453, when the city of Constantinople fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. That day, and its pain, have remained an iconic tragedy of a lost world and an abiding sadness. No one dared ask that the Church be returned to use as a Church – better a museum than a mosque. In truth, even as a museum, the loss remains intense. What is lost is not real estate, a building. It is the right place of beauty in the Christian experience. That loss is repeated in museums across the Western world.

Years ago, as a young Anglican priest, I visited the art museum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC (my home town). With me was an Anglican monk. Together we made our way through a surprising collection of Italian Church art, and, at the time, one of the largest collections of Russian icons outside of the Soviet Union. Guards followed us carefully through the museum – not that we were perceived as potential thieves. Rather, I think, we were perceived as potential idolaters. That “Christian” museum was, in many ways, a parallel of Hagia Sophia.

The Russian icons at Bob Jones were originally created not just as exemplars of an abstract beauty, but as objects of veneration. They were (and are) “windows into heaven.” The Fathers said of icons that they “make present that which they represent.” They are a means of communion. In the museum-world of modernity, what is contemplated is our own feelings and thoughts. Beauty becomes “art,” serving only our self-gratification.

That which is made present in an icon is perceived only in the act of veneration. In that action, the one who sees also participates through the extension of the self towards that which is made present ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Museums, Churches, and My Back Yard – Glory to God for All Things (emphasis added).

The reminder that a lot of museum’s misappropriate stuff (legally) was chastening. And I can’t resist poking a bit at BJU given a legitimate opportunity.


I corrected a shocking omission in my education today by finally reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart:

The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media.) But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no true moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist or a newspaper have to his readers, or to his history — or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? It hardly ever happens because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist usually always gets away with it. One may — One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none — and none of them will ever be rectified; they will stay on in the readers’ memories. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification.

The press — The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.] A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary.

More:

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people giving their contribution to public life … There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people’s minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

Still more:

If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it.


I also read some less enduring stuff.

The American people can have confidence that this election was fundamentally fair, its integrity will be upheld, and its outcome is clear.

Former Republican President George W. Bush, in a statement congratulating Joe Biden for winning the presidency, quoted in Knowhere News

Only in the fevered mind of Donald Trump is this statement not admirable, but I’ll be surprised if Trump hasn’t mean-Tweeted it.


The fine print on the campaign’s website shows that 60 percent of contributions to Trump’s new “Election Defense Fund” will actually be diverted toward retiring his campaign’s debt, and Axios reported last night that the president plans to “hold campaign-style rallies … in an effort to prolong his fight against apparent insurmountable election results.”

The Morning Dispatch: Biden Calls for Unity


Did you even read past the first sentence? Or are you just purposely lying so you can talk tough? No one said give up. I literally said investigate every irregularity and use the courts. You’re a member of Congress now, Marjorie. Start acting like one.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw to Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who spouted some chest-thumping misrepresentation of Crenshaw on Twitter.

Thank you, Mr. Crenshaw.


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

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden


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

Nate White’s Bill of Particulars

Via Garrison Keillor, I quoted some of this earlier today, but it stuck with me until I tracked the whole thing down.

This is very stylish writing, but I suspect that this whole Bill of Particulars could be distilled as epiphenomena of extreme toxic narcissism, which remains my go-to distillation. Still, there’s more than a little value to setting it out in detail for the candid consideration of all fair-minded Americans:

Someone asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are. You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”

Nate White quoted here.

Any questions?

* * *

This is a bit of a pivot, but toward the end of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, Living in the Long Emergency, Kunstler lays out his conspiracy theory of the Russiagate matter, which I excerpt thus:

The nation’s so-called “intelligence community,” led by then CIA director John Brennan, geared up a scheme to spy on the Trump campaign; entrap some of its minor players (Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jr.) in cloak-and-dagger operations (that backfired); spin out a Russia collusion “narrative” that painted Mr. Trump as “an agent of Putin;” and engineer the appointment of a grand inquisitor, Mr. Mueller, to launch investigations that would prepare Congress with a grand brief for the president’s removal.

The dossier was used as the primary predicate document by the FBI in obtaining surveillance warrants against Mr. Trump’s associates. It was never properly vetted under the FBI regulation known as the “Woods procedure.” Emails and memoranda between the FBI and DOJ officials involved, made public since 2018, showed clearly that they knew the dossier was false but that they submitted it to the “special” FISA court judges—under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—regardless.

Ironically, the scheme amounted to the Clinton campaign, the FBI, and other government actors interfering in the 2016 presidential election, which was exactly what the same inquisitors had blamed Mr. Trump and the Russians for.

The catch was, in spite of the exertions to nail down the election for Mrs. Clinton, she lost. And once she lost, those US government players who “meddled” in the election on her behalf stood to be exposed for the simple reason that Mr. Trump would soon be in charge of the executive branch, would appoint his own people to run the agencies, and would be in a position to discover all that misconduct. It would be reasonable to suppose that Mr. Trump would be mighty angry about what has since been termed a “soft coup” against him by his own government. It was this fear of being exposed for sedition—a serious crime—that drove the hysteria among Mr. Trump’s antagonists.

It was basically a cover-your-ass operation, a smoke screen to divert attention from their own crimes.

It is already documented in testimony to House and Senate committees that the FBI and Department of Justice officials knew that the Steele Dossier was a fabrication, and that the agencies used it anyway to kick-start their campaign against Mr. Trump. Thus, the predicate for the Mueller investigation was knowingly dishonest.

I suppose you could say that if Nate White is right about Trump, everything Kunstler alleges about Trump’s adversaries (open and covert) was justified. (I omit some of the reasons I have trouble buying Kunstler’s theory and prescind that possibility as irrelevant to my decision. For all I know or care, it might be true.)

Or I suppose you could say that if Kunstler is right about the deep state and Democrat conspiracy against Trump, no defects of Trump are weightier than the need to stick it to his dishonorable foes. Kunstler mercifully does not argue that. He basically thinks were screwed no matter what, due to decisions made bi-partisanly, mostly since World War II. (Besides which, I’m starting to think that “Deep State” is nothing more than a slur against competent professionals who irritate politicians who want to do something slipshod or semi-suicidal. And that “sticking it to” his foes will produce a lot of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.)

The question we face in November is not whether the supposed conspirators against Trump should be rewarded, but about whether we need a more fully human human being in the White House starting Inauguration Day 2021.

I need not believe any theory of Russiagate, pro-Trump or pro-foe, to make my decision because I see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears the proof of Nate White’s Bill of Particulars, not one of which has anything to do with Russia, Ukraine, or things arcane.

* * * * *

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

Coronavirus (and the corruption of the pro-life movement)

Clipped from my reading today, but with a common theme — or very close to one.

Through this period, people often noted that the polarization of American political life had become corrosive and unhealthy. Everyone in Washington knew this, but no matter; it became an addiction. Every issue now defaults to the same petty level.

The greatest damage has been to the Democratic Party. Here a distinction is in order. By and large, the states are being capably led in their response to the coronavirus crisis by both Democratic and Republican governors. Apparently working below the radar of the national media is the antidote to political insanity.

Daniel Henninger


Seattle NPR member station KUOW has issued a statement to explain its editorial decision to refrain from broadcasting live daily briefings hosted by President Trump and including members of the White House coronavirus task force. “After airing the White House briefings live for two weeks, a pattern of false information and exaggeration increasingly had many at KUOW questioning whether these briefings were in the best service of our mission — to create and serve a more informed public,” notes the statement, posted Wednesday afternoon. “Of even greater concern was the potential impact of false information on the health and safety of our community.”

Eric Wemple


When you are poor—and when keeping yourself, your family, and your home clean is a matter of urgency—a laundromat is not a dispensable business. I live in Pennsylvania, one of the states taking strict measures to enforce social distancing and self-quarantining. Last week, the governor’s office released a list detailing which businesses were considered “life sustaining” and which would be subject to mandatory closure. Astonishingly, laundromats were on the shutdown list, at least at first. This was yet another reminder of how the coronavirus pandemic is widening the divide between the haves and have-nots.

Bobbi Dempsey, What’s Essential Depends on How Much Money You Have


[U]ntil at least Inauguration Day of January 2021, Donald Trump is the president we have. That’s just a fact. I’m thinking now of a conversation I had earlier this year, before the crisis, with a prominent journalist who is a total Trump hater. I don’t begrudge him his anger. I share a lot of it. But what was so strange about it was how consumed this man was with his spite for Trump. It seemed like a kind of black hole that warped the man’s perception of everything else. I recalled that conversation when I read Kyle Smith’s exhortation to the media to stop baiting Trump, and making him worse than he is. Smith writes:

… As far as I know, every member of the Washington press corps, even Jim Acosta, is a resident of Planet Earth. Why are they all acting as if they’re looking down from the Nebulon-235 system and not subject to everything that is happening?

We know that the president is unusually thin-skinned and capricious, that he is keenly and perhaps unhealthily focused on what the media are saying about him at any given nanosecond, that he has a short temper and a quick fuse. He goes through cabinet secretaries like a newborn goes through diapers. And pointing out his errors is the legitimate business of CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, the Washington Post, etc. But the way the media are trying to gin up a feud between Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci is disgraceful and disgusting.

Folks, and by “folks” I mean you absolute freaking Muppets, are you trying to get Fauci fired? Do we really want to start over with a new specialist in infectious diseases in the White House? Would you be happy if Omarosa were Trump’s chief adviser on epidemiology? Would you be more secure if Jared were the last man standing during the medical briefings?

Rod Dreher, Trump’s Eggshell Minefield

Yeah. I that’s right. I’ve been screaming about how Trump’s narcissism prevents his seeing the world accurately, but hatred of him can prevent accurate perception, too. This is, frankly, a risk for me personally, and I can see it, for instance, in yesterday’s NPR email: “One of the more unsettling byproducts of the growing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the rampant harassment of Asians and Asian Americans.”

“Rampant.” Really? (And of course it’s all because Trump trolled the press and the libs by calling it “Chinese virus” until someone got through to him.)

Dreher:

Be clear on what Smith is saying: not “don’t report critically on Trump” but rather “don’t exploit Trump’s weakness to make things worse for all of us.” … Do they really believe that Trump is going to resign, or be removed from office between now and the election? As Smith argues, it is in the interest of all of us that Trump do the best job of which he is capable. A big part of Trump’s problem in handling this crisis is that he treats it like it’s a reality show. But so do the media, when they try to blow things up between him and Fauci.

Along the same lines, this from Clarissa, a polyglot Ukrainian immigrant academic somewhere in Illinois:

The journalists at the virus press briefings make Pence, Fauci, Brix and even Trump look like serious, competent adults trying to pacify a roomful of pouty toddlers.

“How many deaths are acceptable?” asks one journalist. The question clearly isn’t trying to elicit any information that would be valuable to the public at such a difficult moment. The whole point of the question is to get a “gotcha, Trump” moment and garner a few thousand retweets.

Almost every journalist at the briefings is only interested in building a personal brand and is completely indifferent to the task of informing the public.


When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.

The qualities we most need in a president during this crisis are calmness, wisdom, and reassurance; a command of the facts and the ability to communicate them well; and the capacity to think about the medium and long term while carefully weighing competing options and conflicting needs. We need a leader who can persuade the public to act in ways that are difficult but necessary, who can focus like a laser beam on a problem for a sustained period of time, and who will listen to—and, when necessary, defer to—experts who know far more than he does. We need a president who can draw the nation together rather than drive it apart, who excels at the intricate work of governing, and who works well with elected officials at every level. We need a chief executive whose judgment is not just sound, but exceptional.

There are some 325 million people in America, and it’s hard to think of more than a handful who are more lacking in these qualities than Donald Trump.

… He can’t easily create another narrative, because he is often sharing the stage with scientists who will not lie on his behalf.

America will make it to the other side of this crisis, as it has after every other crisis. But the struggle will be a good deal harder, and the human cost a good deal higher, because we elected as president a man who is so damaged and so broken in so many ways.

Peter Wehner, The President is Trapped. I left out the most depressing parts.


Jonah Goldberg was on an absolute tear in yesterday’s Dispatch podcast about how horribly Donald Trump has led the coronavirus effort, particularly as regards his colleage David French’s opinion that TV really should cover the daily press briefings because if you really focus and pay attention you can get a lot of true and useful information from the people surrounding Trump, including gentle corrections of Trump’s misinformation from moments before.

On this one, I’m with Goldberg and the media who are refusing to let the President abuse free airtime for crypto-campaign speeches.

Also mentioned in passing, though it caught my ear as a former pro-life activist and one appalled by R.R. Reno’s recent blog, was Jonathan Last’s January 24 prediction that Trump would corrupt the pro-life movement. Because it was on The Bulwark, which I don’t visit regularly, I missed its excellence:

One of the ways the pro-life movement has changed people’s minds over the last 20 years is by having science on their side. Another way is that they were more than just anti-abortion.

Pro-lifers made smart, principled arguments about stem-cell research …

Pro-lifers led the opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Pro-lifers are the first people to speak up for the rights of the disabled and the inherent dignity of all persons.

They spread the gospel of the seamless garment of life and that’s how they attracted new people to their cause.

The more the pro-life movement narrows its focus to nothing but abortion, the less effective it will be at changing people’s minds on abortion. … Lasting progress comes from changing the culture.

Donald Trump is a recent convert on the cause of abortion … [but] Trump is one of the rare converts who came to oppose abortion without really having much truck with ideas about inherent human dignity.

Donald Trump may be opposed to abortion—and again, that’s great—but he clearly does not believe in any consistent life ethic. Which means that he is functionally opposed to much of the pro-life movement’s beliefs.

Should the pro-life movement be welcoming Trump at the March for Life? I don’t know. I’m not the boss of them.

But I would note that it is not uncommon for conservatives to dismiss entire causes or ideologies because of the presence of a bad actor. For instance, you may recall conservatives dismissing the Women’s March in 2017 because of the involvement of Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.

Why would outside observers not take the same attitude about the March for Life because of Trump?

Trumpism has corrupted every ideology and institution it has come into contact with. There is no reason to think that the pro-life movement will be excepted.

This is even better than Damon Linker’s column that same day (Trump’s scheduled appearance at the March for Life prompted both of them). Last more than Linker puts his finger on what I think was bothering me about Trump’s appearance, though I didn’t take time to sort through my thoughts and distill them (so far as I can recall).

The irony is that even before we could gauge how Trump’s appearance had hardened pro-abortion people in their position, and pushed fence-straddlers over to the pro-abortion side, Trump got supporters like Reno to take positions that undermine the principle of the sanctity of all human life.

Truly, Trumpism corrupts everything it touches.


There is, by the way, literally a playbook for pandemics, but Donald Trump wouldn’t follow it.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Montana’s Blaine Amendment case

I know I’ve written about this general topic before, maybe for my private journal or maybe published, so forgive me if this is plowing old ground.

Mark Movesian at the St. John’s Law School Center for Law and Religion blogs at the Law and Religion Forum that he thinks the petitioner will prevail in Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Revenue, a case wherein the Montana Blaine Amendment led the state Supreme Court to invalidate an entire, modest program of state aid to private schools, including religious schools, but (let us presume, as it appears to be true) “wholly as a result” of parents’ “genuine and independent choice” (two criteria of a prior Supreme Court precedent).

That’s a mouthful I know. Here’s a longer, more relaxed account.

Because the Supreme Court took the case, I think Movesian is correct about the outcome: if the court wasn’t inclined to overrrule the Montana Supreme Court, it could have just rejected the case.

I hope Movesian is correct that the decision will be a shot across the bow of states that retain Blaine Amendments, rather than a vehicle to invalidate all Blaine Amendments. I hope that because, in my mind, it would be “conservative” judicial activism to rule more broadly (more correctly, it would require a whole lot of ‘splainin’ why it wasn’t judicial activism to persuade me).

I’m a strong advocate of religious freedom in an expansive sense, including some instances where some people would contend that one’s religious freedom causes harm (usually, “dignitary” harm) to another. Consequently, I detest Blaine Amendments’ typical operations today.

But the outcome in Montana is that religious parents and parochial schools are not being treated any differently than “secular” parents and their private schools. If I was a Montana legislator, I might be mad at my Supreme Court for striking down the program, but were I a Montana judge, I might well have found it the best balancing of my state Blaine Amendment’s ban with federal equal protection requirement to strike down the whole law, just as Montana’s Supreme Court did.

The best argument I can see for petitioner Espinoza is that “but for” (a causal connection) the state Blaine Amendment, the whole program would have stood and dollars could be going to the religious school of my preference — an argument that, lacking a complaint of unequal treatment, I find too weak, given my current ignorance of the arguments in the briefs.

Maybe my hesitation means I’m, oh, I dunno, a temperamental conservative or something,

* * * * *

In the fearful day of judgment, O Lord, forgive my prissy efforts at purity.

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Punching down

More than 20 states have incorporated sexual orientation into their anti-discrimination statutes. As Charlotte Allen documents in “Punching Down,” this has empowered well-educated and well-paid gays to punish less educated, less wealthy neighbors who dare to refuse to bake a cake or make a bouquet for their weddings. At present, Colorado baker Jack Phillips has been targeted by yet another lawsuit, this time brought by a transgender Denver lawyer. The situation is exactly the opposite of the Montgomery bus boycott.

In certain circumstances it may be unjust to deny employment to a gay person. But this kind of discrimination, if it happens in our society (as surely it does), is not “invidious.” By any measure, discrimination against gays is uncommon. I am willing to bet a substantial sum that a fat person is far more likely to suffer employment discrimination than someone who engages in sodomy in the privacy of his home.

GLAAD set a goal: It wanted 10 percent of primetime TV characters to be LGBT. The organization recently reported that this goal was achieved. The new goal is 20 percent. Four percent of the population identifies as gay. In what universe does a group capable of compelling fivefold overrepresentation in the media require anti-discrimination protection?

R.R. Reno

* * * * *

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

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

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

Single standards

I commented just a bit earlier about the good news for religious freedom out of Michigan, courtesy of Masterpiece Cake Shop.

But now, I must quibble about my second encounter of the story:

For those who don’t recall, the Supreme Court ruled for Phillips [proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes] in large part because a commissioner of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission called Phillips’s claim that he enjoyed a religious-freedom right not to be forced to design a custom cake for a gay wedding a “despicable piece of rhetoric.” The commissioner also denigrated religious-liberty arguments as being used to justify slavery and the Holocaust.

While all agreed that it would have been preferable had the court simply ruled that creative professionals could not be required to produce art that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs, the question was whether Justice Anthony Kennedy’s strong condemnation of anti-religious bigotry would resonate beyond the specific facts of the case.

David A. French (italics added)

David French is a very good lawyer and a steadfast friend of both free speech and the free exercise of religion, but he blew this one (I suspect a bit of cerebral flatulence; I doubt that he would disagree with me if he caught wind of my existence).

I, too, know something about the law in this area and I do not agree that it would have been preferable to carve out special immunity for creative professionals with sincerely held beliefs. I wanted the court to rule “that creative professionals could not be required to produce art.” Period. Full stop.

Carving out a exemption only for sincere religious belief is a retreat from the sound principle of artistic freedom and would, I believe, perversely feed into the designer narrative that “religious freedom is just an excuse for bigotry.”

Yes: because nobody should be able to coerce an artist to produce something he doesn’t want to produce for whatever reason, spoken or unspoken, I want a creative professional to be able to say to me “I’m an ardent atheist, hater of all things and all peoples religious, and I won’t create art for Christians. If you don’t like it, put it where the sun don’t shine.”

He’d be smarter to “just say no, thank you,” but polite bigots don’t deserve special exemption from legal coercion.

I do not mean to imply that bigoted utterances are completely harmless. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can bruise feelings. But as a general rule I think the harm of disrespecting someone, even openly, is lesser than the harm of coercing artistic expression — and we need to make laws for general cases, not rare exceptions. Coerced expression, after all, profoundly disrespects the artist.

A fortiori, I’d support the atheist if, for instance, he was a florist and we wanted him to deliver flowers to our Church early every Sunday morning, designed to complement our liturgical calendar or the sermon themes the pastor phoned in. Or a baker, and we wanted a “Jesus Loves Me” inscribed sheet cake.

I wouldn’t even call him a bigot for that: How is an artist supposed to artistically express something he thinks is at best hocus pocus, likelier an opiate of the people?

No doubt some can do it (I suspect impiety in some composers of great 20th Century English language religious choral works, the art form I know best, for instance), and I’ll leave it to them to deal with qualms of conscience. But I don’t expect, let alone want the law to compel, artists to prostitute their art.

This hypothetical atheist florist is very, very close to a reverse mirror-image of Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman and other artisans who have been punished (in Stutzman’s case, obsessively pursued by an evil elected official) for refusing orders to adorn same-sex weddings — the lightning-rod du jour.

Phillips and Stutzman both served gays gladly, but drew a line at celebrating by tangible proxy a “wedding” they considered something on the lines of wicked, or impious mummery.

For what it’s worth, I doubt that the law would punish the atheist florist for declining weekly expressive bouquets to a church. There has been a double-standard that could well be dubbed “the LGBT distortion factor,” to go along with the “abortion distortion factor” (normal legal rules suspended in the presence of abortion) and the lesser know “creationist distortion factor” (any science teacher who both attends church and exposes evolution to critical examination loses and gets branded with a scarlet “C”).

I don’t like legal double-standards, which is precisely why I don’t like David French’s presumably inadvertent expression of what Jack Phillips’ partisans were hoping for in Masterpiece Cake Shop. I don’t doubt that there are some protections that free exercise of religion affords where free speech falls short, but compelled artistic expression surely isn’t one of them.

* * * * *

I sought to understand, but it was too hard for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.

(Psalm 72:15-17, Adapted from the Miles Coverdale Translation, from A Psalter for Prayer)

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

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

The GOP deathworks

What conservatives like [George] Will and I believe, and what we think Trump supporters either don’t understand or deny, is the destructive revolution in manners and mores that Donald Trump is ushering in, the enormous cultural and social blast radius of his presidency. Through his promiscuous lying and assault on demonstrable truths, his cruelty and crudity, his coarseness, bullying and dehumanization of his opponents, and his lawlessness and conspiracy-mongering—the whole corrupt, packaged deal—he has brought us into dark new realms.

There was a time when Republicans and conservatives more generally insisted that culture was upstream of politics and in many respects more important than politics; that leaders needed to take great care in cultivating and validating standards of decency, honor and integrity; and that a president who destroyed rather than defended cultural norms and high standards would do grave injury to America. But now Republicans are willing to sacrifice soul and culture for the sake of promised policy victories.

Peter Wehner, George Will Changes His Mind—But Stays True to His Convictions

That, I thought, is the most representative quote I can find on this, probably the most important and thoughtful thing I’ll read all day. It articulates far better than I’ve been able to do:

  • Why people like me leave the GOP because we’re conservative, not because we’ve become liberal.
  • How populism and representative government differ, and that populism isn’t “conservative.”
  • “Political leaders today seem to feel that their vocation is to arouse passions, not to temper and deflect and moderate them.”

I highly, highly, recommend it.

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

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