Saturday, 1/21/23

Culture

Journalism

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

Peggy Noonan

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

Enneagrams

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

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

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

David Crosby

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

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

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

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

Why the Machine won’t win

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

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

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

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

FFatalism, Against cyberpunk. For barbarism.

Law

Forensic lawyering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Universal Principles

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

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

Politics

Manichean fanaticism, left and right

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

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

Andrew Sullivan, Christianism and Our Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

Davos

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

Wordplay

Economist’s Words of the week:

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

Economists’ Words of the Year:

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

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

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

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

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

At war with decadent dictionaries

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


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

Paul Kingsnorth

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

Thursday, 1/12/23

Culture

Beware, lest the fate of Jordan Peterson befall thee

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

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

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

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

Moot Now

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

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

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

J Budziszewski, Sympathy for Stanford

An effective heuristic

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

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

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

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

Populists, too, can march

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

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

The end of woke capital?

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

The Morning Dispatch.

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

Social Climbing

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

Ethnomasochism

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

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

Uniqueness

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

Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences

Politics

The January 6 Committee Report

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

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

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

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

Mitch McConnell ain’t afraid of Florida Man

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

Nellie Bowles

Conservative versus Amateurish and Crazy

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

Jonah Goldberg

Call us unreliable

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

Damon Linker, Foreign Policy and the Right

Social media carrying water for the Administration

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Paul Kingsnorth

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

Saturday, 1/7/23

Culture

Jordan Peterson

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

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

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

AI’s limits

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

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

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

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

Conservatism and Woke Capital

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

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

Launch credentials

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

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

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

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

Nellie Bowles excerpts

Red-letter day

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

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

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

Enforcing a dubious orthodoxy

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

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

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

Pretendians

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

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

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

Governors putting immigrants on buses to NYC

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

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

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

You really should subscribe to the Free Press on Substack.

Politics

From earlier in the week:

Wise words

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering January 6

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

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

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

Peter Wehner

Hunter Biden

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

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

Speaker Pelosi

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

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

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

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


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 12/29/22

The $1.7 Trillion Electoral Count Act Reform

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

Damon Linker.

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

Seeing what we expect to see

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

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Hope breaks through

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

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

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

Franklin Foer, The Cynic’s Dilemma

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

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

Popehat pontificates on fires in crowded theaters

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

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

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

A reliable contrarian

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

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

Election2026 and Election2028

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

Here’s what prompted it:

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

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

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

(Sigh!) George Santos

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

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

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

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

I’m thinking yes.

I hope the House expels him anyway …

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

Nick Cattogio

Bah! Humbug!

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

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Wednesday, 12/7/22

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

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

Legalia

How long, O Lord?

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

303 Creative

Cage Fighting comes to SCOTUS

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

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

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

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

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

An academic frames the question

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

Prof. Michael McConnell

Moore v. Harper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trumpish

Snivelling cowards cool on Florida Man

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

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

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

Pissing away Georgia — again

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

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

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

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

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

Ross Douthat

Unrealistic, but instructive nonetheless

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

The Morning Dispatch


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Tuesday, 12/6/22

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

Politicalish

A not-so-great realignment

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

@Rightwingwatch

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

Viktor ticks me off

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

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

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

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

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

Thesis Statement

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

What authoritarianism does to decent people

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

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

Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.

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

Nick Cattagio

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

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

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

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

Legalish

Balancing negative externalities

Free Speech

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

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

Getting the Analogy Right

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

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

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

Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom

Culture

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

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

How about $190 billion?

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

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

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

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

Academics and Intellectuals

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

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

Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything

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

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

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

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

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

Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?

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

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

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

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

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

Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.

Liberal, but uncivilized

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

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

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

Ross Douthat

SBF, barbarian

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

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

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

YouTube TV

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

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

Just sayin’

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

Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.

Trumpish

A Bad Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red-letter Day that fizzled

This ought to be a red-letter day:

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

The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.

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

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


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Friday, 11/4/22

Culture

Doomed, but not gloomy

The Cult of the New rides forward victorious on nearly every front. So, this country I still love is, nevertheless, one that exasperates me. I have no shortage of ideas about just how we have arrived at our present juncture, as well as having some pretty settled notions about where it is all headed. And I do not think there is much we can do about it. Perhaps a different people could do so. Just not us. Things will chug along, until they don’t.

There’s no need to be gloomy about it, however. I agree with John Lukacs, who wrote: So living during the decline of the West—and being much aware of it—is not at all that hopeless and terrible. Indeed, what an exciting time to be alive today! But you have to turn much of the noise off to see this, I think. For example, I tend to avoid any headlines containing the words Arizona, Texas, Florida, Election, or Guns. It should be obvious; these are distractions that keep us from seeing the real story. Accordingly, I no longer worry that half of our citizenry have chosen to believe a fantasy. Over our history, incredibly, we’ve fallen for worse and larger ones. And who can tell what the other half believes, if anything.

Terry Cowan, Another Story to Tell: A Stone for Uncle Charles.

Terry starts roughly where I do, albeit with better academic credentials for doomsaying. For me, it’s less the “cult of the new” and more “how many warnings of divine judgment can we blow off?”, starting most explicitly with 9/11.

His tools for avoiding gloom are exemplary, even if I still indulge too much in ephemera.

Phobias

No … sexism, homophobia, transphobia ….

Some of the rules of a Social Medium I won’t be joining because this -phobia suffix is tribalist contempt disguised as psychological diagnosis. I’m not sure I belong to a tribe, but if I do, it’s not that one.

(It’s not easy running a social medium, though …)

Sells like hotcakes

Nothing sells so well as anger and resentment. Anger moved people to burn other people at the stake, whereas hope is the stuff of Get Well Soon cards that we pitch in the trash. Hope is a cup of chamomile tea; resentment is a double bourbon.

Garrison Keillor

Penguin Random House

You have, no doubt, read about the open letter published by employees of Penguin Random House urging the publisher to rescind its $2 million book contract with Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. The employees are “deeply concerned about free speech,” they write, but you can’t use free speech to “destroy . . . rights,” and killing children is an international human right, which makes people like Amy Coney Barrett oh so very bad. The letter has received over 600 signatures so far.

Micah Mattix.

Those 600 signatures include some smart people subscribing some very stupid ideas.

So far, Penguin Random House stands resolute.

Equal Rights for distaff assassins

The two attempted assassinations of Gerald Ford came only 17 days apart, and both would-be assassins were women. Perhaps we should for that reason consider September of 1975 the apex of American feminism, a fortnight and change in which American women finally proved that they had it in them to be as insane and violent as American men.

Kevin D. Williamson

Gaining clarity

I had some thoughts in the cave. Some things settled in me, others clarified themselves. It became clearer what path I was walking, and what it meant. It doesn’t take much time in the woods for clarity to emerge. I have always found this. The peace that passeth all understanding is always available there. The kingdom of God is within us, but the world – the human world – is designed to drown it out. The world and the Earth are not the same thing. God sings in every fibre of the Earth, but we build the world to face in the other direction. We have to die to the world to listen to the Earth. The peace is in the stream running, in the mist wreathing the crags, the growling of the rooks, the squirrel watching from the hazel bough. The voice is in the silence. The silence is easily washed away by what we think we want.

Paul Kingsnorth, having spent the night of his 50th birthday in the cave of a Celtic Saint.

Politics

The battleground of demons

In a piece for The Spectator, David Marcus urges his fellow travelers on the right to be better than unfounded Paul Pelosi conspiracy theories. “Some on the right say that promoting baseless speculation is just fighting fire with fire, that we need to play this game too. Nothing could play more completely into the hands of the far left,” he writes. “This is a battleground of progressives’ choosing. They want a news environment in which nothing is real, everything is partisan and you are free to ignore and even disdain the other side. If conservatives adopt these despicable tactics, they will lose the war for our culture and society before a shot is even fired. You beat conspiracy theories with truth and facts, not by inventing more and more disgusting conspiracy theories of your own.”

The Morning Dispatch.

I’m not onboard with the idea that shit-posting and conspiracy theories are the “battleground of progressives’ choosing.” I’d locate it as in demonic, not progressive, territory.

Our 44th White President

As Obama’s mother was white, it seems to me he has as much claim to being white as to being black. He could be the first black president, but he has equal claim to being the forty-fourth white one. Racial morphology does not matter. That is so nineteenth century. The most radical thing he can do is claim to be white. Or is it that he can only be an authentic black man but an inauthentic white one? What kind of racism is that? Are we still operating under the whites’ ‘one-drop’ rule, still living by the whites’ rules of what we are or what we can be? Why should I jump up and down about that?

Gerald Early in Hedgehog Review, on his response to a white friend who called him the day after President Obama’s election in 2008.

Celebrity losers

In the early 2000s, the Japanese racehorse Haru Urara became something of an international celebrity. This was not because of her prowess on the track. Just the opposite: Haru Urara had never won a race. She was famous not for winning but for losing. And the longer her losing streak stretched, the more famous she grew. She finished her career with a perversely pristine record: zero wins, 113 losses.

American politics doesn’t have anyone quite like Haru Urara. But it does have Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams. The two Democrats are among the country’s best known political figures, better known than almost any sitting governor or U.S. senator. And they have become so well known not by winning big elections but by losing them.

… Abrams and O’Rourke … are perhaps the two greatest exponents of a peculiar phenomenon in American politics: that of the superstar loser.

Jacob Stern, Democrats Keep Falling for ‘Superstar Losers’

Oopsy!

The White House deleted a tweet that attributed the increase in Social Security checks next year to President Biden’s leadership after critics pointed out that the cost-of-living adjustment, the highest in four decades, was a result of high inflation

Wall Street Journal on Twitter.

Barbarian Tribalism

I don’t want to live in a country where it’s normal to ask, even subconsciously, “Was the victim a Democrat?” before deciding whether to be angry, outraged, or compassionate.

Jonah Goldberg

You must vote for me; it’s the only democratic choice

With just days until the midterms, President Joe Biden delivered another speech last night about the state of American democracy, arguing its continuation is on the ballot next week. Josh Barro didn’t like it. “The message makes no sense on its face,” he writes in his latest newsletter. “When Democrats talk about ‘democracy,’ they’re talking about the importance of institutions that ensure the voters get a say among multiple choices and the one they most prefer gets to rule. But they are also saying voters do not get to do that in this election. The message is that there is only one party contesting this election that is committed to democracy—the Democrats—and therefore only one real choice available. If voters reject Democrats’ agenda or their record on issues including inflation, crime, and immigration (or abortion, for that matter), they have no recourse at the ballot box—they simply must vote for Democrats anyway, at least until such time as the Republican Party is run by the likes of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. This amounts to telling voters that they have already lost their democracy.”

The Morning Dispatch.

This is the sort of incoherence that arises when “democracy” is ill-defined. Mind you, I’m not unsympathetic to Republicans who think this is a year to presume voting Democrat. I’m not even unsympathetic to the idea that the GOP, with its calculated takeover of offices that supervise elections and its pushing the damnable and incoherent “Independent State Legislature” theory, is a genuine threat to Democracy.

I can recall no election in my 74 years when I was less enthused to vote at all.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Saturday 10/8/22

Personal

On a personal note, I am excited and optimistic about something, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Late Monday afternoon, a package arrived in the mail. I opened it, watched a YouTube video on getting started one more time, and attached a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to my upper left arm. Two hours later, after warming up, the monitor began sending information to my smart phone — and my life may have changed.

What I discovered starting with a snack Monday evening was that what I considered a fairly healthy snack or meal could produce alarming blood sugar spikes — spikes that had never shown up on a fasting blood panel and were much higher than the blood sugar levels reflected in my A1C. Such spikes promote responsive insulin spikes, fat storage, and more, in a vicious circle.

Tuesday and Wednesday were eye-openers, too.

Until recently, CGM has been associated mostly with controlling blood sugar levels for Type 1 diabetics and for Type 2 diabetics who have had unusually great difficulty controlling their blood sugar. But I’m neither of those. I am wearing CGM as part of a metabolic study.

But being part of that study is not what motivated me. I’m not altruistic enough for that. What motivated me is the knowledge that I have had metabolic syndrome for more than 30 years, I have been as much is 100 pounds overweight, and my septuagenarian body is starting to feel very vulnerable. My participation in the study, at my own not inconsiderable expense, is motivated by the desire to lose maybe 55 pounds (I’ll settle for 90 pounds!) from my current weight and otherwise to heal my metabolic system so as to slow the aging process.

Essentially every credible thing I have read about metabolic syndrome over the past 30 years has convinced me that uncontrolled spikes of serum glucose (blood sugar) is a root cause of many if not most of America’s chronic health problems, and that the medical profession’s ability to medicate my blood pressure, lipids, and blood sugar “successfully,” grateful as I am for it, is no assurance of true metabolic health. Much of what I have read also has convinced me that metabolism varies quite a bit between individuals, and that what my wife may eat safely may be quite bad for my health.

30 years ago, I lost 35 pounds on a very low carbohydrate diet, but that’s not a diet for a lifetime, and I gradually put it all back on — plus a 30 pound bonus.

But for the last 48 hours or so, I’ve kept my blood sugar in control — no big spikes — without elimination of carbs. Indeed, a favorite bread (Great Harvest’s Dakota Seed bread) is not a real disrupter. Blood sugar’s still too high, but at least it’s stable at “a little too high.” And a few pounds seem to have come off.

Seeing in real time what that food 30 minutes ago is doing to me now now is very empowering. Getting context-sensitive feedback on the app from the study sponsor (which knows my personal goals) multiplies that. I’m pumped!

Now onto the customary kvetching.

Culture

Not the ideology you think

People who think that leftist agitators for gender fluidity are driven by ideology are correct, but it’s probably not the ideology they think it is: it’s good old capitalism — capitalism extended into the deepest recesses of personal identity. We can create that for you wholesale.

Alan Jacobs.

Metaphysical capitalism at work.

Success looks like kin to slavery

Wendell Berry has a new book, The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice. My copy is on the way, but reviews precede it.

[Wendell] Berry reports on an 1820 exchange between the Southern apologist and politician John C. Calhoun and future President John Quincy Adams … During a walk together, Calhoun praised Adams’s principles regarding free labor as “just and noble.” However, he added, in “the Southern Country…they were always understood as applying only to white men.” Hard domestic and manual labor was reserved to black slaves, an approach that was actually “the best guarantee to equality among the whites.” Adams denounced “this confounding of the ideas of servitude and labor,” this “perverted sentiment…mistaking labor for slavery and dominion for Freedom,” as a terrible consequence of slavery.

Adams indirectly affirmed here the immense value to American democracy of the simple freemen who toiled for subsistence on their own family farms or in their own shops. Berry argues, though, that “Calhoun’s values” have in fact won out in America. Success today means to go to the university and so be lifted above the “mind numbing” work of the body and the hands, no matter who gets hurt by the individual’s climb upward. Bluntly put: “We all, black and white together, [now] want to be John C. Calhoun,” leaving the hard and essential work to lesser men and women.

Allan Carlson (emphasis added)

And as lesser the untermenschen do the hard and essential work, we can wank away at bullshit jobs.

Truths that dare not speak their names

An excerpt from Berry’s new book via Katherine Dalton’s review:

I have received a number of warnings of the retribution that will surely follow. But I wonder if they have considered well enough what they have asked of me, which amounts to a radical revision of my calling. They are not asking me for my most careful thoughts about what I have learned or experienced. They are asking me to lay aside my old effort to tell the truth, as it is given to me by my own knowledge and judgment, in order to take up another art, which is that of public relations.

How common such warnings are, and how priceless is Berry’s refusal to abandon the effort to tell the truth!

[T]he courage to ask for historical understanding, charity, and free political speech from a position that will very possibly be labeled “racist” is rare at the moment.

What will we do without Wendell Berry when the day comes? But I wonder, probably not often enough, whether reading and praising Wendell Berry is some kind of cheap grace for over-educated rich people who sense that all is not well but who act as if it’s good enough. People like me.

Superlatively poor medical performance

America’s superlatively poor performance cannot solely be blamed on either the Trump or Biden administrations, although both have made egregious errors. Rather, the new coronavirus exploited the country’s many failing systems: its overstuffed prisons and understaffed nursing homes; its chronically underfunded public-health system; its reliance on convoluted supply chains and a just-in-time economy; its for-profit health-care system, whose workers were already burned out; its decades-long project of unweaving social safety nets; and its legacy of racism and segregation that had already left Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color disproportionately burdened with health problems. Even in the pre-COVID years, the U.S. was still losing about 626,000 people more than expected for a nation of its size and resources. COVID simply toppled an edifice whose foundations were already rotten.

It would be nice to say that the pandemic revealed deep-seated problems that we had managed to avoid facing — but now we must face them! Nah. We mustn’t, and we probably won’t. It turns out that reality has limited power over an infinitely distractible and distracted society.

Alan Jacobs, block-quoting Ed Yong

First, they cheated at chess …

A cheating scandal has rocked the professional fishing world after two men competing in a tournament Friday were caught stuffing their fish with golf ball-sized weights and fish fillets to, er, tip the scales in their favor.

The Morning Dispatch

The world of Irish step dancing convulsed with cheating allegations after evidence surfaced this week that teachers have been fixing competitions for their students.

The Morning Dispatch

News and not

[T]he third openly transgender actor isn’t news.

Kevin D. Williamson

Award-Winning photo

I always enjoy Atlantic’s photo collections:

“On either side of a highway, gullies formed by rainwater erosion span out like a tree, in Tibet, an autonomous region in southwest China. To capture this image, photographer Li Ping slept alone in a roadside parking lot overnight before using a drone in the early morning hours.”

Politics

Involuntarily moderate

Last month The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published a fascinating interview with Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid. … “Everybody is stuck in this left-versus-right traditional dynamic,” he said. “But today, all over the world, it’s centrist versus extremist.”

I wanted to stand up and cheer. Now, to be clear, this is a strange position for me. I’ve always been conservative. In the left versus right context, I’ve always considered myself a man of the right—the Reagan right. But when the extremes grow more extreme, and the classical liberal structure of the American republic is under intellectual and legal attack, suddenly I’m an involuntary moderate.

… [O]utside of criminal law, it’s difficult to think of an exercise of state power more raw, immediate, and devastating than the use of state power to sever the bond between parent and child [as both California and Texas do on adolescents with gender identity issues].

David French.

“Involuntary moderates” indeed. Parents care more about their own kids than do California or Texas, to whom the kids are mere political pawns.

Hecklers, trying to veto SCOTUS

Justice Elena Kagan has warned repeatedly about the risk of courts becoming politicized, but others seem less concerned. “The court has always decided controversial cases, and decisions always have been subject to intense criticism, and that is entirely appropriate,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in September. “I don’t understand the connection between opinions that people disagree with and the legitimacy of the court.”

“A lot of the criticism of the court’s legitimacy is basically a heckler’s veto,” [Adam White of AEI] said. “You now have waves of Democrats and progressive activists denouncing the court as illegitimate and then pointing to complaints about the court’s legitimacy as proof of their own accusations.”

The Morning Dispatch

Nobody today is heckling louder than the New York Times:

Re-Christianizing America

You would think that the most controversial claim made at the recent National Conservatism Conference—that the re-Christianization of American culture is the greatest hope for preserving the republic for future generations—would have been made by a Christian.

It wasn’t. It came from Yoram Hazony, chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation, who argued that, despite being an Orthodox Jew, he believes Christianity to be the only force strong enough to defeat leftist authoritarianism in America.

Delano Squires, Drag Queen Conservatism Is the Real Threat to Religious Freedom.

Did you catch the meaning of that consequentialist opening: we should re-Christianize American not because Christianity is true but because it’s anti-woke. I do not wish to be governed by consequentialist pseudo-Christians, so I’m still in center-right classical liberal camp.

Why should we support the GOP?

Nobody on the right seems able to stop and ask: “Why? Why do we want a party whose leading lights are such figures as Donald Trump and Herschel Walker to control the Senate? Why would we want such figures as Lindsey Graham or Josh Hawley to control anything?”

Maybe there is a case for that. But I spend a lot of time around politicians, especially Republican politicians, taking copious notes on their emissions, and I have not heard a case for Republicans worth repeating in years—only a case against Democrats.

Democrats, for their part, are in essentially the same rhetorical position.

… Mitch McConnell, shrewd carnivore that he is, has tried to dissuade Republicans from producing any kind of legislative to-do list at all, and his argument for that—Why give the Democrats something to run against?—gives away the game: McConnell knows that Republicans are, at this curious political moment, entirely incapable of producing a positive agenda that is anything other than a net loss for them politically. …

The argument ends up being ridiculous for Republicans: Vote for Donald Trump so that he can snog with Kim Jong-un because Joe Biden is a … socialist? Communist? Fascist? Stalinist? Whatever. Trump was buddies with pretty much every extant Stalinist wielding real political power today, while Biden spends his days mumbling into his tapioca about the glories of the WPA.

Kevin D. Williamson

The tiresomeness of it all

There are times, I confess, when I decide to pass on writing another column on how degenerate the Republican Party is. What else is there to say? It’s not as if the entire media class isn’t saying it every hour of every day.

Andrew Sullivan

This was not a day when Sullivan or I could pass on that topic.

Georgia Senate

Noonan

[V]oters don’t expect much. They’ve had their own imperfect lives, and they long ago lost any assumption that political leaders were more upstanding than they. We are in the postheroic era of American politics. What voters want is someone who sees the major issues as they do. Conservatives especially see America’s deep cultural sickness and wonder if the country is cratering before our eyes. In such circumstances personal histories don’t count as once they did.

But I see the [Herschel] Walker story differently and expect a different outcome.

“The question going forward is how transactional is the average voter going to be?” If you’re sincerely pro-life, how does the Walker story reflect on the pro-life movement?

Peggy Noonan, quoting former DeKalb County GOP Chairman Lane Flynn. Noonan’s focus is not on Walker paying for an abortion, but for his failure to father any of his four (or more) children.

Power, with or without virtue

Conservative radio host Dana Loesch: “I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only, at this point. So I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles — I want control of the Senate.”

Sahil Kapur on Twitter (H/T The Morning Dispatch)

Well! That settles that! (What were we talking about again?)

At one time, science said that man came from apes, did it not? But if that’s true, why are there still apes? Think about it.

Herschel Walker, Republican Candidate for the Unites States Senate, via Andrew Sullivan

All Things 45

Writing for the Ages

Kevin D. Williamson’s Bye, Donald Trump — Witless Ape Rides Helicopter is writing for the ages, even if it is going on two years old:

Let me refresh your memory: On the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Republicans controlled not only the White House but both houses of Congress. They were in a historically strong position elsewhere as well, controlling both legislative chambers in 32 states. They pissed that away like they were midnight drunks karaoke-warbling that old Chumbawumba song: In 2021, they control approximately squat. The House is run by Nancy Pelosi. The Senate is run, as a practical matter, by Kamala Harris. And Joe Biden won the presidency, notwithstanding whatever the nut-cutlet guest-hosting for Dennis Prager this week has to say about it.

Donald Trump is, in fact, the first president since Herbert Hoover to lead his party to losing the presidency, the House, and the Senate all in a single term …

“But the judges!” you protest. Fair point: Trump’s absurd attempts to overturn the election through specious legal challenges were laughed out of court by the very men and women he appointed to the bench. Even his judges think he’s a joke.

Everybody has figured that out. Except you.

Seemingly a new point about Trump

Ms Haberman makes a particular contribution with this book by describing how the annealing interplay of politics and commerce in the New York of the 1970s and 1980s equipped Mr Trump with the low expectations and cynical convictions that would carry him so far: that racial politics is a zero-sum contest among tribes; that allies as well as enemies must be dominated; that everything in life can be treated as a transaction; that rapidly topping one lie or controversy with the next will tie the media in knots; that celebrity confers power; that not only politicians but even prosecutors are malleable.

Yet these same convictions would also carry Mr Trump only so far. They doomed his presidency. After Mr Trump was elected, James Comey, the FBI director, warned him that a dossier was circulating that alleged Mr Trump had compromised himself in Russia. New York had taught Mr Trump that damaging information was a means of leverage, and so he assumed Mr Comey was threatening him. “Comey was blind to the depths of Trump’s paranoia and to his long history of gamesmanship with government officials,” Ms Haberman writes. Mr Trump would later fire Mr Comey, with disastrous repercussions for himself. The first exchange “set the terms” for Mr Trump’s subsequent interactions with intelligence and law-enforcement officials, according to Ms Haberman.

What Donald Trump Understands, a review of Maggie Haberman’s new book The Confidence Man (emphasis added).

Eating crow

Hunter Baker voted for Trump in 2016.

A binary system dictates binary choices. The Democrats were out for me. Donald Trump was the alternative.

He privately despised the never-Trumpers:

My judgment of colleagues and of various conservatives who opposed Trump was privately severe. On the surface, I fully granted the strength of their concerns. But in the confines of my mind, I concluded that they were moral free riders.

He eventually came to his senses:

I don’t apologize for the votes I cast after careful (indeed, searching) consideration. However, I do have to apologize for my view of the never Trumpers whom I found to be histrionic and unrealistic. They saw further that there were significant risks involved with Donald Trump that could very well outweigh the policy outcomes. They were right about that, and they deserve an apology from me (and perhaps others who saw it the way I did) for not perceiving that their concerns were grounded in reality, not merely some idealistic moral fragility. They perceived a legitimate threat, which did come to significant fruition.

When Pragmatic Politics Goes Bad: An Apology to the Never-Trumpers

I probably haven’t said this in months, so consider this a reminder. I could, given time, come up with thousands of reasons why I can never vote for Donald Trump (if nothing else, I’d chronicle some of his tens of thousands of lies). But the bottom line for me, from the very beginning, was his narcissism along with his sociopathic abuse of people who crossed him. That narcissism sooner or later was going to lead him to dangerously misjudge reality, which does not revolve around him as the planets around the sun. Either he’s lying (again) or it did lead him to his inability to admit losing the 2020 Election.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Saturday, 10/1/22

Cursing Darkness

Drink ‘till he’s cute

Purdue University recently was found liable for retaliation against a co-ed for her 2017 complaint that a fraternity member had sex with her without her consent because she was too intoxicated to give real consent. The two female administrators involved remain in their offices with Purdue’s backing (Purdue thinks the jury blew it), and, of course, protests ensued.

Here’s what Purdue had to say about it:

We appreciate our students and their passion on this truly important issue. But we believe, because of the evidence presented, that this is not the correct case to use in advocating for it. This was a very rare case of discipline for making false statements in a sexual assault report. The undisputed facts overwhelmingly established that Roe chose the sexual encounter she later labeled a sexual assault. …

The jury, which in part exonerated university administrators, ruled on the narrow issue of whether Purdue, having conducted a thorough investigation, appropriately disciplined Roe based on its finding of false charges.

Purdue’s position in these matters has long been clear: we will not tolerate sexual harassment in any form, including and especially sexual violence. But neither will we tolerate lying or making false accusations that can have lifelong consequences.

As for our two outstanding administrators, Dr. Katie Sermersheim and Alysa Rollock, we absolutely stand behind them, and any suggestion that they resign is out of the question.

Based in Lafayette.

Here’s a representative protester:

“When you listen to campus tour guides walk by, what do you hear parents ask: ‘Is this campus safe? Can my daughter walk home at night?’” Grace Gochnauer, a Purdue junior, said. “If I was the tour guide, my answer would be no.”

Purdue isn’t Mayberry RFD, but it has no particular problem with stranger rape of co-eds walking home at night. You know what you don’t hear parents ask? “Can my daughter get willingly get blackout drunk at a party, have sex with her apparently enthusiastic consent, and then get a pound of flesh when she regrets it later?”

I once stayed in a girl’s dormitory when on campus for a summer recording session. When I turned out the lights at bedtime, I saw a glowing message on the wall, painted cunningly so it only showed up in the dark: “Drink ‘till he’s cute.” Read between those lines. A frat boy’s equivalent could be “Drink ‘till you’re irresistible.”

I wish Purdue hadn’t found it necessary to ignore the elephant in the room. Call me santimonious, but if campuses could stop binge-drinking, they’d stop maybe 95% of problematic sexual intercourse. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s unrepentant history of binge-drinking, even when under legal age, was a big reason that I thought the first allegation against him might be true — and why I remain agnostic about it still.

David French never said that!

Jake Meador, one of the good guys, writes about Alternatives to Culture War, but credulously alludes to a slander leveled against David French by tribalist culture warriors.

The slander, widely spread (and here and here ad infinitum), is that French thinks Drag Queen Story Hours are a “blessing of liberty.” Here’s Meador:

It was easier to be anti-culture war when our country still knew what marriage was and what men and women are. But as the SOGI landscape has shifted, culture war has started to look like a viable strategy, especially if the alternative is talking about drag queen story hour as a “blessing of liberty.”

The slander is so prevalent that searching “David French drag queen blessing of liberty” returned, for me at least, six or eight of the lies before it gave one link to the truth. What David French called a blessing of liberty was the absence of viewpoint discrimination in public spaces:

My position was simple — I don’t like drag queen reading hours, but I also want to preserve for all Americans the First Amendment-protected right of viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities when those facilities are opened up for public use. I don’t want the government dispensing access on the basis of its preferred messages or its preferred speakers. Handle bad speech with better speech. Counter bad speakers in the marketplace of ideas, not through the heavy hand of government censorship.

… Our present regime that broadly protects viewpoint neutrality in access to public facilities is the hard-won result of decades of litigation from free speech and religious liberty advocates, and it represents both a public good in its own right and a practical blessing for millions of American Christians. As our government continues to grow — including by creating an immense number of public facilities — it is quite simply just that taxpayers are able to have equal access to the facilities they paid to create.

Viewpoint Neutrality Protects Both Drag Queens and Millions of American Christians | National Review.

Anyone who won’t pause their Jihad long enough to notice the difference between “Drag Queen Story Hour is a blessing of liberty” and “viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities” is a blessing of liberty should stay home and shut up.

And if that’s culture war, so be it.

I’ve certainly flirted with the idea that liberalism has failed, and it’s therefore (almost by definition) time for some kind of post-liberalism. But I’ve yet to find any strange post-liberal devil I prefer to the liberal devils I already know. For that reason, I’m particularly keen to defend right-liberal David French from tendentious slanders by any and all far-right liars.

Conservatisms

If these populist, corporatist, nationalist, ultramontane, oh-so-European ideas succeed in replacing conservatism as we once knew it, they will be called conservatism. But as Friedrich Hayek argued, this conservatism will be “Old World conservatism,” because the conservative in America is necessarily a defender of the liberal tradition of the founding.

[T]he Heritage Foundation is, by any sane reckoning, an elite institution and it admits as much to donors. Second, this us-vs.-them framing implies that the “everyday people” of Italy have more in common with the “everyday people” of America, which is 31 flavors of nonsense for all sorts of reasons, not least that Italians aren’t Americans. Conservatives used to understand that the old Marxist idea that members of the working class were united against the ruling class regardless of nationality—“Workers of the world unite!”—was folly. But now, “Everyday people of the world unite!” is the rallying cry of a leading conservative think tank?

Now, I can’t put “conservative” in scare quotes the way I’d like to, because I think Heritage can still claim to be conservative. But let’s have no illusions: It’s not the same kind of conservative it used to be. Heritage used to champion American exceptionalism with gusto. As Heritage co-founder and longtime president Ed Feulner put it, “And while, in the heat of political battle, we naturally focus on the differences between liberals and conservatives, and their contrasting visions of our country’s future, it is important to remember that regardless of party or political philosophy, we are Americans, we love our country — and we are patriots.” In 2019, Heritage even founded the Feulner Institute for American Exceptionalism, which seems to have had as much impact as the Goldberg Institute for Healthy Living—neither organization even has a website.

Jonah Goldberg, Slouching Towards the Old World

Gotta stay in the limelight, no matter what

[P]erhaps the most revealing aspect of the book, to be published next week, is that Trump gave Maggie [Haberman], a Times reporter since 2015, three interviews for it. This is the same Trump who vilified her on Twitter, called her names and cast her as the personification of “fake news.” Maggie just pressed on, asking the right questions, getting the right people to answer them and seemingly trusting on some level that Trump would never wholly cut her off. She can recognize a performance when she sees one. And she can hear in a narcissist’s self-regarding soliloquies the aching need to babble on.

… Maggie (a friend of mine) and the other journalists whom he publicly insulted but privately indulged were, to him, reserves of precious attention, their discerning gazes trained on him, their busy thoughts dedicated to the puzzle of him, their notepads and audio recordings and television cameras a conduit to ever greater fame. There was danger in letting them in, peril in having them around, but the alternative was worse. They might give prime real estate on the evening’s newscast to some other circus act. They might write books about a lesser clown.

Frank Bruni, Donald can’t quit Maggie.

Lighting Candles

Journalistic bias, journalistic power

[T]he classic critique from the Right about [news] bias and the new critique from the Left about false equivalency often strike me as frivolous. They can often make sense on some particular item — Ouch, gotta admit, that’s a pretty good point — but cumulatively seem to miss the important point.

That point, in my view, is that the power of journalism does not principally flow from word choice. (Don’t call it a “misstatement” when it’s really a “lie.”) It does not flow from tonal presentation. (More than a half-century ago Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, said network commentators revealed their bias “by the expressions on their faces, the tone of their questions, the sarcasm of their responses.”) The point is that the power of journalism comes from the primacy of reporting — from telling their audiences things that people in power would prefer they not know.

John F. Harris, The Reporters Who Proved That Journalism Is More Powerful Than Trump

Emotional Safetyism

By the mid-1990s, the doctrine was being used to sue an employer who printed a Bible verse on paychecks (which a court found to be religious harassment of non-Christians). A university forced a graduate student to remove a photo of his bikini-clad wife from his desk, because someone filed a harassment complaint. A library worker was forced to remove a New Yorker cartoon from his work area after coworkers said it harassed them. The town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, removed a painting from a public exhibit in City Hall after a city employee filed a hostile-environment complaint about it. Those incidents and others like them should have been seen as flashing red lights, but weren’t.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge, on “emotional safetyism.”

Gestalt switch

[A]s we have already seen, normal science ultimately leads only to the recognition of anomalies and to crises. And these are terminated, not by deliberation and interpretation, but by a relatively sudden and unstructured event like the gestalt switch.

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutons

Counting one’s privilege

I highly recommend this Outliers, Revisited episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I won’t ruin it for you except that it involves a 40-30-20-10 “rule” that holds true in way too many fields.

Election Prep

Now might be a good time to refresh your memory on whether your congressperson, on January 6, 2021, voted for the United States of America or voted for the “Oathkeepers” and other insurrectionists. My congressman, normally a cipher, voted with the insurrectionists.

Gathering flowers

Bloggers and writers

I’m a blogger. Bloggers have different talents than writers.

We value writers for their prose and their insight. We value bloggers for their speed, their efficiency at curating news, and their ability to formulate strong political opinions—“takes,” we might more aptly call them—about literally anything that might turn up on the Drudge Report or in the average news junkie’s Twitter timeline.

Nick Catoggio at the Dispatch.

Quoted with approval.

The production of “childhood”

If there were no age-specific and obligatory learning institution, “childhood” would go out of production. The youth of rich nations would be liberated from its destructiveness, and poor nations would cease attempting to rival the childishness of the rich.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 9/29/22

Today marks the 24th anniversary of my father’s death and 40 days since the death of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a titan in Anglophone Eastern Orthodoxy.

I’m surprised at how much I’ve aggregated. It definitely was time to get it out of draft and onto the internet.

Rightward swings in the Western World

When Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders

Rapid mass migration, we now know, is arsenic to egalitarian social democracy.

But why turn to the former neo-Nazis? You won’t find an answer to that in woke-captured media either. The answer is similar to the reason Americans turned to Trump: for a very long time, no one in the mainstream parties or media would acknowledge the reality of the migrant crisis or do anything about it, except call those asking questions racists and fascists.

… In the immortal words of David Frum: if liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will.

Andrew Sullivan on the roots of Sweden’s political swing to the hard right.

Italy’s rightward swing

We’re left with a picture of a country in which the center-left is supported mainly by the educated, secular, and professional classes, while the right appeals to a cross-section of the rest of the country—the working class as well as the middle and upper-middle classes, along with the religiously pious and the large numbers of Italians who treat religion as a symbol or identity-marker without actually believing in or practicing it.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because similar things have been happening in many places over the past decade. The precise political results of these shifts have varied from country to country as they’ve interacted with different electoral systems, but the underlying trends in public opinion can be seen to a greater or lesser extent in France, Great Britain, the U.S., and other countries. In each case, the center-left has gone into decline with the center-right and anti-liberal populist right rising to take its place.

Until the center-left figures out a way to win back the working- and middle-class, as well as the nominally religious, it will continue to lose precious political ground to the populist and nationalist right.

Damon Linker

I’m quite impressed with Linker’s still-newish Substack. He’s been writing almost daily, but I don’t recall any total duds yet, and that’s a bit of a rarity even with writers whose schedules are more relaxed.

Angry Incoherence from the 5th Circuit

“I think passing this law was so much fun for these [Texas] legislators, and I think they might have expected it would get struck down, so the theater was the point.” But she also believes that there is likely some lack of understanding among those responsible for the law about just how extreme the First Amendment is in practice. “Most people don’t realize how much horrible speech is legal,” she said, arguing that historically, the constitutional right has confounded logic on both the political left and right. “These legislators think that they’re opening the door to some stuff that might offend liberals. But I don’t know if they realize they are also opening the door to barely legal child porn or pro-anorexia content and beheading videos. I don’t think they’ve understood how bad the bad is.

Daphne Keller, director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, via Charlie Warzel on NetChoice v. Paxton, a bizarre 5th Circuit opinion upholding a Texas law that, motivated by a perception of liberal bias in moderation, essentially forbade big internet platforms to moderate content — and forbade them from ceasing to do business in Texas to boot! Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.

Domestic Politics

Proxy or Leader?

The flow-with-the-go model of politics is baked into representative democracy. Or, rather, representative democracy invariably is shaped by the tension between the conception of representative-as-proxy—“I’m just here to represent the Will of the People!”—and representative-as-leader, a  role in which a representative will, from time to time, be obliged to ignore or overrule popular sentiment in service to prudence and justice. This is Edmund Burke 101: “Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgement; and he betrays you instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Kevin D. Williamson, Grift 2.0

Burke’s has been my view of representative democracy for longer than I can remember. And his examples of "Grift 2.0" ring true.

Comparative hate

I don’t know a statement more indicative of the character of our moment than this by J. D. Vance: “I think our people hate the right people.”

Alan Jacobs. Sadly, Vance is quite public about his Christian faith. That he should consider hate-promotion a feature, not a bug, is jarring.

Powered by Pure Spite

The cardinal virtue of modern conservative populism is spite. Whatever gambit a populist is pursuing, whatever agenda he or she might be advancing, the more it offends the enemy the more likely it is to be received by the right adoringly. Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt is an efficient example. It accomplished nothing meaningful yet observers on both sides agree that he helped his 2024 chances by pulling it off. He made the right people mad. That’s more important than thoughtful policy solutions.

Why spite has become so important to the right-wing populist ethic is hard to say, as it’s not symmetrical between the parties. The most prominent left-wing populist in Congress is probably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a politician who, despite her many faults, doesn’t want for policy ideas. Ask AOC what her top priority as a legislator is and she might say the Green New Deal or Medicare For All. The most prominent right-wing populist in Congress is likely Marjorie Taylor Greene. Ask Greene what she wants to do with her power as a legislator and she’s apt to say, “Impeach Joe Biden.”

“Impeach Joe Biden for what?” you might ask, as if that matters. …

Spite doesn’t need a reason.

Nick Catoggio (f/k/a Allahpundit), The Wild Ones

True Movements or Mostly Hype?

It is perfectly clear that there is a movement in America of people who call themselves evangelicals but have no properly theological commitments at all. But what’s not clear, to me anyway, is how many of them there are. Donald Trump can draw some big crowds, and those crowds often have a quasi-religious focus on him or anyway on what they believe he stands for — but those crowds are not large in the context of the entire American population. They’re very visible, because both Left and Right have reasons for wanting them to be visible, but how demographically significant are they really?

I have similar questions about, for instance, the “national conservatism” movement. Is this actually a movement? Or is it just a few guys who follow one another on Twitter and subscribe to one another’s Substacks?

Alan Jacobs

Culture

I dread our being too much dreaded

I must fairly say I dread our own power, and our own ambition; I dread our being too much dreaded. . . . We may say that we shall not abuse this astonishing, and hitherto unheard-of power. But every other nation will think we shall abuse it. It is impossible but that, sooner or later, this state of things must produce a combination against us which may end in our ruin.

Edmund Burke via Michael Brendan Dougherty, defending himself and Christopher Hitchens against charges of being Putin apologists for long opposing our policies in Ukraine, almost none of which charges are made in good faith.

Dougherty continues:

To [Peter] Hitchens, whom I have admired greatly for some time, I say now is the time to apply realism to the trolls and demagogues and even to many of the think-tankers and mandarins on the other side. Our case is that they are mishandling grave matters, that they are hubristic and deluded about their own nations and about grand strategy. We think they are casting themselves, absurdly, as great statesmen like Churchill. You and I, having read just a little more history than can fit into a two-hour movie, don’t even belong to that cult in the same way they do. Why, then, should we ever have expected them to treat their powerless critics fairly?

Realism means admitting that our leadership is unworthy, deluded, and stupid. Really they are unprepared, or unfit for their roles. They have led us from one disaster to the next for over two decades. But we may avoid the worst calamity in spite of their failures. We may be saved the miscalculation of others. Or our salvation may be that the huge treasury of power and advantage bequeathed to our nations by previous generations cannot be wasted entirely, even by foolish heirs like these. Or it may be by pure dumb luck, or the grace of God.

White Liberals

I love WL’s [White Liberals], love ’em to death. They’re on our side. But WL’s think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.

Paul Farmer via Alan Jacobs

Invisible infrastructure

Our immigration system is broken, and relies on the invisible infrastructure maintained by non-profits and religious groups.

Leah Libresco Sargeant (italics added).

I think everyone knows the system is broken, but I had not been award of the invisible infrastructure. Maybe Paul Farmer wasn’t completely right about white liberals.

Because I say so. That’s why.

Over two decades ago, when I was getting to know Eric [Metaxas], we had a friendly argument over something theological, as we walked around Manhattan. When I challenged something Eric said, he replied that God had told him it was the thing to do. “How do you know that?” I asked. Because he did. The argument went nowhere. I remember it so clearly because that was the first time I had ever had a conversation with someone who asserted that something was true not because God said it — all Christians must believe that, or throw out Scripture — but because God had said it to them personally.

Rod Dreher, What I Saw at the Jericho March (MAGA at prayer event a shocking display of apocalyptic faith and politics — and religious decadence)

Apple pulls back from China

Apple announced Monday it has already begun manufacturing its new iPhone 14 in India, just weeks after the updated product launched and months earlier than previously expected. Production of the company’s newest line of phones typically begins in Chinese factories because of existing supply-chain efficiencies, with some of it shifting to India after six to nine months. The move is likely indicative of Western companies’ newfound desire to limit reliance on China amid economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

The Morning Dispatch for Tuesday, 9/27/22

Battling Amazon in France

France introduces a delivery charge for books: The “minimum charge of €3 will help small independent booksellers struggling to compete with Amazon and other giant online retailers.”

Micah Mattix

The New Economy

Financialization itself, at the grand scale, was a racket—substituting swindles and frauds for the old economy of industrial production.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency

Journalism, traditional and new

Toxic News Swamp

[H]ow could MSNBC and CBS News have both purported to “independently confirm” a CNN bombshell that was completely false?

Glenn Greenwald, How Do Big Media Outlets So Often "Independently Confirm" Each Other’s Falsehoods?

Oases of Sanity

If you’re tired of tearing your hair out over political writing, Alan Jacobs has the cure: an array of sane writers who are not carrying water for anyone or any cause:

  • Leah Libresco Sargeant
  • Noah Millman
  • Damon Linker
  • Zeynep Tufecki
  • Yair Rosenberg
  • John McWhorter
  • Freddie deBoer
  • Jonathan Rauch
  • Jonathan Haidt
  • Jesse Singal
  • David French
  • Andrew Sullivan

Wordplay

Shameware

Software voluntarily installed on a smartphone to allow someone else to monitor, and challenge, one’s internet browsing. One group of Churches in particular is using it.

Similar to surveillance software like Bark or NetNanny, which is used to monitor children at home and school, “shameware” apps are lesser-known tools that are used to keep track of behaviors parents or religious organizations deem unhealthy or immoral. Fortify, for instance, was developed by the founder of an anti-pornography nonprofit called Fight the New Drug and tracks how often an individual masturbates in order to help them overcome “sexual compulsivity.” The app has been downloaded over 100,000 times and has thousands of reviews on the Google Play store.

Wired

My first reaction was “maybe some people really need this to straighten out.” But the security holes it creates are technically worrisome apart from spiritual or psychological concerns.

Mechanical Jacobins

Automobiles, in the lexicon of Russell Kirk

Fractally wrong

Techdirt founder Mike Masnick’s summary of the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholding Texas’ ban on big sites moderating content (see above). In greater detail…

made up of so many layers of wrongness that, in order to fully comprehend its significance, “you must understand the historical wrongness before the legal wrongness, before you can get to the technical wrongness.”

Via Charlie Warzel, Is This the Beginning of the End of the Internet?.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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