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.

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.

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)

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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).

My blog runneth over

Our death-dealing cold in the Midwest (I expect deaths before this is published) is a good excuse to stay inside, imbibing coffee and bourbon, reading, and even thinking.

Okay, the bourbon is purely notional until the sun’s below the yardarm (somewhere).

1

There is a second source of this focus on the individual instead of the larger social structures. That source is in the heavy conservative Christian influence within today’s conservative movement. An important aspect of evangelical Christianity is the responsibility of the individual to accept Christ. We Christians are told again and again that our family, friends and country will not save us. Only we can gain salvation by accepting Christ ourselves. It is an individual choice that we all have to make. This is tied to the notion of freewill individualism that is a basic assumption within evangelicalism.

And as an evangelical, I agree with that idea. I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities. I can go into why I have that theological belief, but that is beyond the scope of my current topic. Needless to say I am quite comfortable with assigning personal responsibility as it concerns one’s spiritual faith. But what I will assert is that my priority on salvation for the individuals does not go into my understanding of political and social policy. For me the supernatural dimension is not a perfect replica of our current natural reality.

But I think that for many conservatives, there is a leap from this type of theological understanding to an application to our political circumstances.

George Yancey, What I don’t like about the right. A good column, to be followed next week by what he (a political scientist) dislikes about the left.

But a few points about my chosen pull quote:

  • “Conservative Christian” does not equal Evangelical. I could even argue that very few Evangelicals are “conservative,” properly speaking, but that disambiguation is for another day.
  • I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities is a straw man. No Christian tradition says otherwise. That salvation is communal, however, acknowledges that salvation is more than that magic moment when, under the influence of the Four Spiritual Laws, you take the once-saved-always-saved step of mouthing “the sinner’s prayer.” When I was a young Evangelical, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my Evangelical boarding school, fer cryin’ out loud, even prescribed a systematic theology text wherein salvation involved justification, sanctification and glorification. Today, Evangelical salvation = justification. Period. Full stop. If you think you’re going to get sanctified while voluntarily absenting yourself from Church, Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

2

The primary distinction I make, between Left and Right, could be put in this way. Going back to the French Revolution, the Left has always been fashionable, the Right unfashionable. If gentle reader should wish to be more fashionable, at the present day, he will have to swing Left — to the “we the people” side. (I consider Mr Trump to be left-liberal-progressive, for instance; Mrs Clinton was, too.) And as I assure my leftish friends, if they should wish to be less fashionable, they must swing Right, towards self-denying faith in God.

David Warren.

Therein, a glimmer of how the 81% of Evangelicals who voted for Trump (some of them, God forbid, enthusiastically) are not conservative, properly speaking, though I clipped it before I read George Yancey’s garbled equation.

3

Samplings from a column on learning kindness:

  • The all-purpose question. “Tell me about the challenges you are facing?” Use it when there seems to be nothing else to say.
  • Your narrative will never win. In many intractable conflicts, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, each side wants the other to adopt its narrative and admit it was wrong the whole time. This will never happen. Get over it. Find a new narrative.
  • Attune to the process. When you’re in the middle of an emotional disagreement, shift attention to the process of how you are having the conversation. In a neutral voice name the emotions people are feeling and the dynamic that is in play. Treat the hot emotions as cool, objective facts we all have to deal with. People can’t trust you if you don’t show them you’re aware of how you are contributing to the problem.
  • Reject either/or. The human mind has a tendency to reduce problems to either we do this or we do that. This is narrowcasting. There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet.
  • Presume the good. Any disagreement will go better if you assume the other person has good intentions and if you demonstrate how much you over all admire him or her. Fake this, in all but extreme cases.

David Brooks.

4

“Puff [Billy] Graham,” William Randolph Heast is reported to have said.

Things haven’t changed much, though I think Hearst has been replaced by HiveMind International, Inc., whose memo reads “Puff Kamala.”

This is more a function of media’s need for clicks than of Ms. Harris’ merits.

Pro-Tip: If you want your kid to get his or her 15 minutes of fame, give them a fanciful name, like Kamala or Tulsi or Beto.

5

More on Covington Catholic:

[T]his feels personal because it could so easily happen to any of us. The encounter was so mundane that you have to wonder what other non-events will be used to try to destroy you or me …

I also think about what will happen if I ever have a kid. Would my 16-year-old always stay on the right side of the face police? Or might he occasionally be awkward at that age? What if he had some kind of a mental or physical disability that caused him to have facial expressions or body movements that people took the wrong way? (I say “he” because so much of the vituperation that’s been directed at the Covington kids has been explicitly based on their gender.) …

In the past few days, I’ve been under the weather (getting better now, so don’t worry about me), and sometimes as I’ve stood around in a public place, I’ve stopped to think: hey, I might have had an inappropriate facial expression just now, because of a combination of feeling a little out of it and feeling physically uncomfortable. If someone were video-recording me, could they find one still that made it look like I was “disrespecting” the wrong person?

I want to say to some of these people joining virtual lynch mobs based on the latest viral video: Is that really who you are? Or are you too afraid to say what you really think? Or have you forgotten what you really think because you’re more focused on . . . looking just right?

Jonathan Althouse Cohen (H/T Eugene Volokh).

6

“It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions,” Ms. [Neomi] Rao wrote in the Yale Herald. “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We look forward to the same people who assailed Brett Kavanaugh for drinking too much beer finding fault with Ms. Rao’s sobriety.

Wall Street Journal.

It seems self-evident to all sane people, Ms. Rao, but we’re a minority now.

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

Sir James Fitzjames Stephen

7

Mr. [Peter] Boghossian—along with two confederates, neither of whom has an academic affiliation—set out to expose shoddy scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.” They concocted 20 pseudonymous “academic papers,” complete with fake data, and submitted them to leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in fields like “queer studies” and “fat studies.” The Journal’s Jillian Melchior discovered the deception last summer and broke the story in October, by which time seven of the phony papers had been accepted for publication and four published.

“It had to be done,” Mr. Boghossian tells me. “We saw what was happening in these fields, and we were horrified at the faulty epistemology that these people were using to credential themselves and teach others.” The effort drew praise from some well-known public intellectuals, including Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.

Mr. Boghossian said in October that he expected to face disciplinary action and maybe to lose his job …

More serious are the sanctions against Mr. Boghossian announced Dec. 21 on behalf of Portland State’s Institutional Review Board for conducting research on “human subjects” without submitting his research protocol to the IRB for review as required by the federal National Research Act of 1974. The “human subjects” in question were the editors and peer-reviewers of the duped journals. Portland State ordered Mr. Boghossian to undergo “human subjects research training,” and its letter warns that “further actions may be required,” with no elaboration.

Odd as it may sound, experts say Portland State seems to have a strong case against Mr. Boghossian: As a legal matter, he was doing research, and other professors were his subjects ….

Wall Street Journal. I regret the paywall.

Mr. Boghossian’s problem is that HHS has taken it upon itself, under color of a law enacted to prevent recurrence of things like the Tuskegee experiments, to forbid merry pranksters from tricking frauds and humbugs into unmasking themselves. They wouldn’t put it that way, of course, but it’s an unintended consequence.

8

This Trump [foreign policy], in practice, isn’t the isolationism that he sometimes promised on the campaign trail; nor is it the flailing bellicosity that many of his critics feared. It’s a doctrine of disentanglement, retrenchment and realignment, in which the United States tries to abandon its most idealistic hopes and unrealistic military commitments, narrow its list of potential enemies and consolidate its attempts at influence. The overarching goal isn’t to cede United States primacy or abandon American alliances, as Trump’s opponents often charge; rather, it’s to maintain American primacy on a more manageable footing, while focusing more energy and effort on containing the power and influence of China.

Ross Douthat

9

Speaking of frauds and humbugs:

The president was elected, in part, by giving his supporters an impression of business acumen. This was, in fact, the image carefully cultivated by book publishers and TV producers. And by Trump himself as a presidential candidate, who claimed to be a peerless negotiator, an unrivaled businessman and an excellent manager.

These claims can now be believed only by the ideologically addled.

The other branding claims made by Trump have become equally incredible. His reputation as a self-made billionaire lies in ruins. An extensive New York Times article on Trump’s wealth found a bassinet millionaire, consistently bailed out of bad bets, who dodged gift taxes, milked his empire for cash and cultivated a deceptive image of business brilliance. And special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation may reveal serious corruption and perjury in cataloguing Trump’s 30-year panting desire to sell his brand in Russia.

And who can take Trump seriously as a manager? He has a talent for weeding out the talented and responsible. He is a world-class nepotist. He is incapable of delegation or of taking conflicting advice. He is unreliable in dealing with his allies. He is capable of taking several conflicting policy views on the same topic — be it health care, or the “dreamers,” or gun control — in a matter of days or hours. He often has no clear goals. He has no attention span and is consistently ignorant of details. He is prone to vicious and public abuse of rivals and of employees. Try to put that profile up on LinkedIn.

Michael Gerson.

10

Who ya gonna believe: your President or your own lyin’ eyes?

GOP on Twitter, paraphrased (via some guy on Facebook). After that guy called this gaslighting and brazen lying, he got a comment, which quoted this “Answer I got from a faithful Trump/GOP supporter, when I asked how they tolerate the lies:

It’s not lying. It’s speaking what you want to be true so that eventually it becomes real. That’s why Trump has always been successful. It’s what highly successful, powerful people do!

Someone‘s been watching too damned much Joel Osteen, which means “any Joel Osteen.”

11

… Hundreds of poems have been written about standing on the beach and looking at the waves and I can’t remember a single one of them.

Garrison Keillor, The old indoorsman looks out at winter.

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Clippings and commentary, 12/1/18

1

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

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

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

2

In that light, Andrew Sullivan was on fire Friday.

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

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

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

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

This title piece is very strong.

3

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

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

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

4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5

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

WSJ Editorial Board, Democrats and Racial Division

6

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

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

In other words, don’t count on it.

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

Bret Stephens

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

7

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

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

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

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

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

R.I.P.

8

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

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

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

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

(enough with the “Cultural Marxism” already)

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

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

9

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

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

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

George Yancey, Being Destroyed from Within

10

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

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

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Hauerwasian “modernity” today

We disagree. In truth, we not only disagree about conclusions, we disagree about the facts, about how the facts are to be considered, what, indeed, constitutes a fact, what constitutes considering, and so on. We are a fragmented society whose fragmentation is becoming a major spiritual force in the lives of its people.

The fragmentation of the modern mind (even within itself) is just that – modern. Of course, a new consensus has been suggested: that we all agree that not agreeing is normal. Stanley Hauerwas places this at the very heart of the meaning of modernity:

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.” Wilderness Wanderings, 26

This is proving to be the most destructive aspect of the modern world. “To have a story” requires that someone else consent to the story – we do not live alone (even when we pretend that is our story). The only means of generating a consensus that has no basis other than “the story I choose,” is coercion. The social cohesion of consensus is being replaced by various versions of coerced agreement. We are angry.

This is not a game Christians can win, nor is it a game Christians should want to play. The Christian witness is not to a story we choose ….

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Consent to Reality.

Hauerwas’ definition of modernity (emphasis added) is priceless:

  1. It echoes or anticipates Justice Kennedy’s “Mystery Passage”: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
  2. It distills the essence of attacks on the sexual binary, whereby 50 or more fanciful and/or ineffable “genders” (with corresponding pronouns) have been invented.
  3. Our consent to the gender-multiplying gaslighting is indeed being coerced. We would, after all, be committing the ultimate dignitary assault, denying the storytellers’ very existence as they’d put it, were we allowed to say “That’s bullshit!” or even “Very nice, dearie. Run along now.”

I’ll try not to forget Hauerwas’ definition again.

UPDATE: Point 1 on Hauerwas’ definition of modernity included “I don’t know when Hauerwas first wrote it, but I’m 99% positive it was before the collection Fr. Stephen cites and I suspect it was before Planned Parenthood v. Casey (the source of Kennedy’s maudlin philosophizing).” I had seen the date of a second or subsequent addition of Wilderness Wanderings. The first edition, I now noticed, was 1998, and I suspect it was the first publication of that definition.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

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Don’t worry: There’s still a northern border

Trinity Western University “asks its faculty and students to observe traditional Christian teachings on marriage through a community covenant.” What happened when it wanted to open a law school with a unique specialty in charity law?

Everyone agreed that Trinity’s program met all the requirements and would train competent lawyers. But law societies across the country held public meetings during which Trinity’s students and faculty were called bigots and worse.

The Law Society of Upper Canada, the nation’s oldest and largest, told the high court in Ottawa during oral arguments on Nov. 30, 2017, that accrediting any “distinctly religious” organization would violate the Canadian Charter, which is similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights. It added that when the government licenses a private organization it adopts all its policies as its own. If these arguments had been accepted, they would have spelled the end of Canada’s nonprofit sector. In their zeal to root out the supposed bigotry of traditional religious believers, these lawyers were prepared to dynamite Canada’s entire civil society.

Thankfully the court passed over some of our opponents’ more extreme arguments. Instead, on June 15 it ruled that making Trinity’s faith-based community standards mandatory could harm the dignity of members of the LGBT community who attend Trinity. The majority of the court concluded that this potential dignitary harm to future LGBT law students was “concrete,” while the infringement on Trinity’s religious liberty from refusing to accredit its qualified law program was “minimal.”

Bob Kuhn, Canada Attacks Religious Freedom (emphasis added).

They used to sarcastically say about anti-anticommunism “Don’t worry: they’re still 90 miles away.”

It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.