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.

Saturday, 8/20/22 (no politics)

Following up my last post, the non-political portion of the stuff I’d collected.

RIP

More on Beuchner

Again, with the caveat that I never read any Beuchner:

His first novel was a great success. After his second, he came to faith. He was attending a church service in New York where the pastor was talking about how Jesus is crowned amid confession, tears and great laughter. “At the phrase great laughter, for reasons that I have never satisfactorily understood, the great wall of China crumbled and Atlantis rose up out of the sea, and on Madison Avenue, at 73rd Street, tears leapt from my eyes as though I had been struck across the face.”

He spent the rest of his life as a border-stalker, too literary for many Christians and too Christian for the literary set. His faith was personal, unpretentious and accessible. “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward.” It is sensing a presence, not buying an argument.

David Brooks, The Man Who Found His Inner Depths

“Too literary for many Christians” means “not sufficiently neat, tidy and pious.”

Norah Vincent

Another author I’ve heard of but not read. (You can learn a fair amount by reading New York Times obituaries.)

In her year and a half living as Ned, Ms. Vincent put him in a number of stereotypical, hypermasculine situations. He joined a blue-collar bowling league, though he was a terrible bowler. (His teammates were kind and cheered him on; they thought he was gay, Ms. Vincent learned later, because they thought he bowled like a girl.)

He spent weeks in a monastery with cloistered monks. He went to strip clubs and dated women, though he was rebuffed more often than not in singles bars. He worked in sales, hustling coupon books and other low-margin products door-to-door with fellow salesmen who, with their cartoon bravado, seemed drawn from the 1983 David Mamet play “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Finally, at an Iron John retreat, a therapeutic masculinity workshop — think drum circles and hero archetypes — modeled on the work of the men’s movement author Robert Bly, Ned began to lose it. Being Ned had worn Ms. Vincent down; she felt alienated and disassociated, and after the retreat she checked herself into a hospital for depression.

She was suffering, she wrote, for the same reason that many of the men she met were suffering: Their assigned gender roles, she found, were suffocating them and alienating them from themselves.

“Manhood is a leaden mythology riding on the shoulders of every man,” she wrote, and they needed help: “If men are still really in power, then it benefits us all considerably to heal the dyspeptic at the wheel.”

Norah Vincent, Who Chronicled Passing as a Man, Is Dead at 53 – The New York Times. The book alluded to is Self-Made Man.

Science and sciencey

Big Bang?

Another one bites the dust.

Science is tentative, reformable. And so it’s too early conclusively to bid adieu to the Big Bang hypothesis. But stay tuned.

Total dudes, or at least dude-adjacent

I’m glad the hospital produced these videos. They ought to be open about what they’re doing to children. And I’m glad these doctors are talking about their diagnoses of toddlers who dare to play with the wrong color toys or teen girls who hate their bodies. It’s then extremely fair to simply disagree and say, hey this isn’t good. As a former toddler who played with trucks, I’m glad I’ve managed to keep my uterus as long as I have.

Nellie Bowles, Last Hurrah Before the Baby!.

Nellie played with trucks. She’s lesbian, not male, not trans. And she’s having a baby (from her womb, not from her “wife” or a surrogate). I firmly believe that some girls who play with trucks are straight.

The most infuriating part of the trans mania to me is that it takes the most simplistic stereotypes of gender-appropriate behavior and turns deviation from them as evidence of transgender identity. Far likelier that it’s non-conclusive evidence (i.e., a hint) of homosexuality.

The second most infuriating part is of pseudo-science like trans medicine (also from Nellie):

In the new gender belief system, female-ness and male-ness are feelings, removed from the physical body. So what is femaleness, then? It is a sense of weakness, receptivity, softness, and submission. Duh.

And so it makes sense that a powerful, dominant uterus-haver in, say, 15th-century France, could not possibly have identified as a woman, not if she (they?) knew what we know now. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is putting on a play about the life of Joan of Arc, and in it she is not a she at all. How could she be? Joan is strong and independent! So Joan is recast as a nonbinary hero and goes by they/them. From the Globe’s website announcing the show:  “Joan finds their power and their belief spreads like fire.” (Spreads like fire . . . you see Joan was burned at the stake, so they’re doing a metaphor with that.)

You know who else was nonbinary, according to the new academic experts? Elizabeth I! Yes, all through history powerful people who thought they were women were, in fact, total dudes or at least dude-adjacent. All of them, from Cleopatra to Sojourner Truth—they were never women. That was just us imposing the gender-binary on all these super awesome people of indeterminate identity.

The way to know that this is sexism is to imagine something similar being done to a historical man. Like: this historical man was really submissive and quiet, so our play now re-imagines him as a woman, which we think he was.

Legalia

Now that you’ve joined our sleeper cell …

here are some guidelines for staying below the enemy’s radar.

Creepy posts like this will certainly not do anything to attract emotionally healthy people who are reticent about integralism or other postliberal legal approaches.

1000 words

Unusually good KAL cartoon this week in the Economist:

Originalism

Originalism has become, as Richard Primus of the University of Michigan Law School says, a “surname of a family of approaches to constitutional law” that might not recognise one another around the dinner table.

America tussles over a newly fashionable constitutional theory (The Economist)

I’m growing increasingly convinced that originalism is the correct way to analyze constitutional questions, but Professor Primus isn’t totally wrong, either. Inter-originalism tussles will, I hope, resolve to a shared method.

How could there be multiple members of the “originalism” family that don’t recognize one another? Well, for instance, an originalism that reflexively looks only to first founding and averts its eyes from the post-Civil War amendments is missing the mark:

Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Centre, a law firm and advocacy organisation, is not waiting for liberals to take hold of the court. She finds powerful originalist sources for progressive causes—especially in the Reconstruction Amendments. These provisions, which ended slavery and guaranteed equal rights for formerly enslaved people, “reflect broad conceptions of equality, inclusion and liberty”. For true originalists, Ms Wydra says, “the 14th Amendment should matter just as much to you as the Second Amendment.”

This doesn’t mean I’ll agree with Ms. Wydra’s conclusions on cases, but she’s right that the nation had a “second founding” 160 years ago, and that, too, affects “original meaning.”


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Monday, 7/25/22

Trump, Trump, Trump

If you’ve already heard enough, I’ll take no offense if you skip this section. But the first three of these Trump-related items all involve a bit of my own thinking and analogizing, not just quotes without comment.

Flight 93 Indictments

People continue to make the case that what Donald Trump did — here, there, everywhere — was criminal and that he should be charged. I’ll stipulate for sake of argument that every one of those arguments, even the weakest of them, is correct.

Some convictions, I believe (don’t bet anything you can’t afford to lose), would disqualify him from running in 2024.

But can we get convictions? When did Trump’s lawyers ever allow any case against him to go forward expeditiously? When did they not throw up every conceivable preliminary motion to put a spanner in the works?

And with his astonishing continued levels of support (at least as reported to pollsters; I can’t rule out mischievous responses), can we really expect unanimous jury verdicts of "guilty" anywhere in this country?

An acquittal, even if the jury voted 11-1 for conviction, might well strengthen him and his narrative of "all the poopy-heads hate me."

Michael Anton infamously argued in the 2016 Election cycle that it was either Donald Trump or the end of America as we know it. It was like flight 93: storm the cockpit and we just might live.

Let’s not repeat Anton’s mistake in reverse: "if we indict him, we just might get a conviction that will disqualify him from running again; whereas if we don’t, he’ll run again, win, and it will be the end of America as we know it."

I do think that Trump 2024 could be the end of America as we know it, and the January 6 Committee hearings have put at least slightly reinforced that in my mind (I was very anti-Trump before January 6 and before the hearings). They may even have had a net-positive effect on the electorate, swaying more against Trump than toward him in false sympathy for him as victim. But I think that beating him at the polls with a reformed Electoral Count Act to thwart shenanigans is a sounder strategy than trying to disqualify him with a felony conviction.

(David French’s argument in Friday’s Atlantic tends toward indictment despite unnamed risks — because (as I interpret it) we must show that nobody is above the law.)

I confess to TDS

I laughed at Democrats suffering Bush Derangement Syndrome. I laughed at Republicans suffering Obama Derangement Syndrome, but also shook my head at their frequent racist dog-whistles. I was above all that.

Then Donald Trump actually got the Republican nomination, and if someone wanted to call my reaction Trump Derangement Syndrome, I’d understand. My main defense is that I was right: his narcissism eventually so distorted his reality field that he put the nation at grave and unnecessary risk beginning Election Day 2020.

Conspiracy or Tragedy?

It is a sign of the committee Democrats’ love of country that they have allowed the hearings to proceed this way. They are crafting a story about Jan. 6 as a battle between Republican heroism and Republican villainy. It seems intended to create a permission structure for Trump supporters to move on without having to disavow everything they loved about his presidency, or to admit that Jan. 6 was the logical culmination of his sadistic politics.

If you believe, as I do, that Trump’s sociopathy makes him a unique threat to this country’s future, it makes sense to try to lure Republicans away from him rather than damn them for their complicity. There is a difference, however, between a smart narrative and an accurate one. In truth, you can’t cleave Trump and his most shameless antidemocratic enablers off from the rest of the Republican Party, because the party has been remade in his image. Plenty of ex-Trump officials have come off well in the hearings, including the former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, the former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and, in video testimony, the former White House counsel Pat Cipollone. That shouldn’t erase the ignominy of having served Trump in the first place.

Michelle Goldberg, The Myth of the Good Trump Official.

Goldberg had me in the first paragraph but substantially lost me in the second. My TDS doesn’t make me condemn everyone who served in the Trump administration. For many of them, their service was a sign of their love of country, for which they willingly put their reputations and political futures permanently at risk to be among the adults in the room.

I know, I know: Many of them ended up as infantilized sycophants, but I don’t think that’s how they, or at least most of them, went in.

The difference between Goldberg and me on this topic is that she seemingly views the Trump years mostly as a conspiracy of bad actors against the country whereas I see it more as a tragedy, whereby a malign leader seduced a lot of benign-to-neutral followers — my paradigm being Mark Studdock in C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength.

If you insist on Mephistopheles and a bunch of Fausts, I’d insist back at you that they didn’t think they were Fausts when they initially said "yes." They thought of themselves as the alternative to cronies and crazies who ended up being named Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone, Sydney Powell, Michael Eastman, Mike Lindell and such.

And although I recognized grave danger in Trump’s narcissism, I did not foresee his seductiveness — though his ability to seduce an electoral majority of voters should have warned me.

Why I still read the New York Times

By insisting that he was cheated out of victory, Trump fashioned himself into a king-in-exile rather than a loser — an Arthur betrayed by the Mordreds of his own party, waiting in the Avalon of Mar-a-Lago to make his prophesied return.

As with many forms of dark Trumpian brilliance, though, the former president is not exactly in conscious control of this strategy. He intuited rather than calculated his way to its effectiveness, and he seems too invested in its central conceit — the absolute righteousness of his “Stop the Steal” campaign — to modulate when it begins to reap diminishing returns.

While Ron DeSantis, his strongest potential rival, has been throwing himself in front of almost every issue that Republican primary voters care about, Trump has marinated in grievance, narrowed his inner circle, and continued to badger Republican officials about undoing the last election. While DeSantis has been selling himself as the scourge of liberalism, the former president has been selling himself mostly as the scourge of Brian Kemp, Liz Cheney and Mike Pence.

A counterargument, raised on Friday by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, is that so long as those lukewarm supporters still believe the 2020 election was unfair, Trump will have a trump card over any rival — because if you believe a steal happened, “you are perfectly rational to select a candidate who will acknowledge the crime and do everything to prevent it from reoccurring.”

But it seems just as possible for the lukewarm supporter to decide that if Trump’s response to being robbed was to first just let it happen and then ask his vice president to wave a magic wand on his behalf, then maybe he’s not the right guy to take on the Democratic machine next time.

There is more than one way, in other words, for Republican voters to decide that the former president is a loser ….

Ross Douthat in the New York Times.

Once again, it’s Trump’s narcissism: it’s all about him and to hell with everything else.

Not Trump

The Great EV Scam

Regulators everywhere are structuring their electric-vehicle industries on the Norway model, based on subsidies from less-affluent people who continue to buy gas-powered cars. A zombie business or industry, in today’s parlance, is one sustained less by creative destruction than by a combination of government bailout, regulation and hidden subsidies. This is what the global auto sector is becoming. Germany, having saddled its domestic makers with mandates for diesel and then electric vehicles, has repeatedly had to scarf together hidden rescues when the mandated investments didn’t pay off. Don’t think it can’t happen here. In fact, the history of the U.S. auto sector since the Chrysler bailout of 1980 has been of more or less continuous open and crypto-bailouts.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., The Upside-Down Logic of Electric SUVs

America, Abortionmonger to the World

A foreign policy pushing for abortion abroad is also a strategic blunder with long-term consequences. Many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have strict limits on abortion, and even most of the free world is closer to Dobbs than to Roe.

Some Western politicians, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, and the European Parliament have joined Mr. Biden in denouncing Dobbs. But their statements reflect more the global solidarity of pro-abortion politicians than diplomatic prudence or even their own nations’ laws and practices.

Jakub Grygiel and Rebeccah Heinrichs, Biden’s Abortion Politics Will Undermine America’s World Standing.

Note that the characterization of the free world in the first paragraph is true only in the sense that Western Europe largely leaves abortion to political processes, as does Dobbs not constitutionalizing it s did Roe. It’s false insofar as it implies that Dobbs sets a national policy of, say, legal abortion in the first trimester, which is roughly where Western Europe tends to be, as compared to Roe‘s much more radically permissive regime.

SCOTUS legitimacy: two views

For three decades, Casey was precedent on precedent. But that is not the only conception of legitimacy.

On Thursday, Justice Kagan spoke to the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference. She was careful to avoid talking about Dobbs directly, but she clearly alluded to the case. And, according to the Washington Post–I’ve not yet found video of the event–she invoked the concept of "legitimacy" as defined by Casey. That is, the Court’s "legitimacy" is linked to public perception …

The Dobbs Court emphatically repealed and replaced that notion of legitimacy. Now, legitimacy is defined by following written law, without regard to public perception. Linda Greenhouse’s column laments that shift:

. . .  Justice Alito actually had the gall to write that "we do not pretend to know how our political system or society will respond to today’s decision." Polls conducted before the opinion’s release showing that upward of two-thirds of Americans wanted to retain a right to abortion offered a hint and were perhaps what led to Justice Alito’s self-righteous declaration: "We cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work."

Dobbs overruled Casey‘s undue burden framework, but also overruled the precedent on precedent. Justice Scalia would often joke that the Constitution is dead, dead, dead. We should say the same for Casey‘s precedent on precedent. It’s dead, dead, dead.

Josh Blackman at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Medical miracles

What they’re doing with vagus nerve stimulation is fascinating. I got tipped off by the Wall Street Journal, but here’s a solid link sans paywall

The other book-banners

We hear constantly about conservative efforts to "ban books," which accusation sometimes amounts to nothing more than taking a book out of a curriculum while leaving it readily available in the school library. But that’s not the whole story:

Last year, when the American Booksellers Association included Abigail Shrier’s book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” in a mailing to member booksellers, a number of booksellers publicly castigated the group for promoting a book they considered transphobic. The association issued a lengthy apology and subsequently promised to revise its practices. The group’s board then backed away from its traditional support of free expression, emphasizing the importance of avoiding “harmful speech.”

A recent overview in Publishers Weekly about the state of free expression in the industry noted, “Many longtime book people have said what makes the present unprecedented is a new impetus to censor — and self-censor — coming from the left.” When the reporter asked a half dozen influential figures at the largest publishing houses to comment, only one would talk — and only on condition of anonymity. “This is the censorship that, as the phrase goes, dare not speak its name,” the reporter wrote.

Pamela Paul, There’s More Than One Way to Ban a Book


It’s a long way to Heaven dear Lord,
it’s a hard row to hoe
And I don’t know if I’ll make it dear Lord
but I sure won’t make it alone.

SmallTown Heroes, Long Road, from their one-and-so-far-only "byzantine bluegrass" album Lo, the Hard Times.

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, 7/5/22

There sure as heck was a crack in Leonard …

… yet, oddly, that seems to be how some of the light got in.

Even while living it all out, Cohen felt—and documented—the emptiness of the sexual revolution. His most apocalyptic, almost Ginsberg-like commentary on the world he and his fellow revolutionaries had created was the 1992 song and album, The Future, which ended with these verses:

Give me back the Berlin wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another fetus now
We don’t like children anyhow
I’ve seen the future, baby
It is murder

Leonard Cohen lived long enough to see the freedom of the sixties turn into something else—something that, despite his enthusiastic personal participation, was poisonous, especially for the vulnerable.

Jonathon Van Maren, Leonard Cohen’s Lost Children.

I discovered Leonard Cohen quite late in my life (and his). I enjoyed his lyrics so much that I bought a volume of his poetry, only to find that volume full of adolescent sexual obsessions and hints (or more) of promiscuity. I won’t again make the mistake of straying beyond his music.

Punish the hated standards!

A lesbian law student in Idaho, offended by the sexual standards of the Christian Legal Society chapter and its sponsor, got the university to issue no-contact orders against them. The targets of those orders sued and, it should go without saying, won:

In a footnote, commenting on a faculty member’s statement that religious beliefs are not an excuse to deprive others of their rights, the court said:

Phrases such as this have taken root in recent years and paint an overtly negative picture of religious liberty. The assumption such phrases implicate is that people use their religion to mask discriminatory conduct and then try to “hide” from any legal consequences by invoking religious protection. The Court will not dissect why this assumption is a shallow look at religion, and fails to provide any substance to numerous individual constitutional rights. Suffice it to say, in a pluralistic society, people should honor differing viewpoints and build bridges of understanding instead of arguing that opposing viewpoints are inherently discriminatory and must be punished or excluded from the public square.

Religion Clause: University’s No-Contact Orders To 3 Christian Students Violate Free Speech Rights

The route to the Celestial City

If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.

— Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow

Via Alan Jacobs.

I’ve got to read about my doppelgänger, Jayber Crow, sooner rather than later.

Pax Anglo-Saxonica

For European officials and politicians, a great fear gnaws at the back of their minds when they look at the ongoing war in Ukraine: What happens if the United States loses interest?

Despite the war being in Europe, involving European powers, with largely European consequences, America remains the essential partner for Ukraine. For most of Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, and Britain, in particular, the reality that Ukraine would likely already be lost were it not for American military support has only proved the intrinsic value of living in an American world order. For others, including the French, such dependence is now a source not only of shame, but of long-term vulnerability. America might care enough to supply Ukraine today, but with Donald Trump limbering up for his second shot at the presidency, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture a time when this is no longer the case.

And as French President Emmanuel Macron has warned, whichever American president is in office when this is finally all over, Russia will remain, its preoccupations, fears, interests, and myths the same as before.

Tom McTague, America’s Necessary Myth for the World.

I feel that I have one foot in in Orthodox civilization. (I don’t know a metaphor for less than the half implied by "one foot." If I did, I’d use it.) I have read enough about Russia that I was starting to think I understood it.

Then Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine, and my conceit went away.

But McTague is writing about us, not Russia, and this is clearly his central point:

The great paradox in the world today is that the “dumb simplicity” of America’s self-perception, as one senior European government adviser put it to me, is both obviously bogus and fundamentally true. The story that America tells about itself is both the source of many of its foreign-policy disasters and the necessary myth without which much of the world would be a more brutal place.

[As a] government adviser put it to me, “show me a foreign minister in the West who really wants less America.”

The dumb simplicity of America’s interventions is often infuriating and obtuse, or even disastrously naive and destructive. It exists in people like Neal and Holbrooke, Bush and Biden. And yet if America stops believing in its myth, if it scurries back into the safety of its continental bunker, having decided it is now just another normal nation, then a cold wind might start to blow in places that have become complacent in their security. When the dumb simplicity is removed, the complexities of the world start growing back.

This is what Ukraine fears and others in Europe expect. In the end, though, what really matters is which story America believes, and for how long.

I wish we had enough internal stability that our allies could feel confident that the next President wasn’t just going to repudiate all foreign alliances, and in fact would do nothing that was both substantial and abrupt.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Independence Day 2022

I have no flag-waving enthusiasm for you, but nothing too dark, either.

Trying to post daily isn’t a habit that comes easily. I’m dropping this one Monday morning, whereas my intent is to put a bow on my posts the prior evening.

Politics

From the Department of I Wish I’d Written That

I’ve been thinking about the weird intense hatred many conservatives feel for people like David French and Liz Cheney — for anyone they think isn’t “fighting.” Here’s my conclusion: The conservative movement has too many sheepdogs and not enough shepherds.

Sheepdogs do two things: they snap at members of the herd whom they believe to be straying from their proper place, and they bark viciously at wolves and other intruders. Sheepdogs are good at identifying potential predators and scaring them off with noisy aggression. (Often they suspect innocent passers-by of being wolves, but that just comes with the job description. Better to err on the side of caution, etc.)

What sheepdogs are useless at is caring for the sheep. They can’t feed the sheep, or inspect them for injury or illness, or give them medicine. All they can do is bark when they see someone who might be a predator. And that’s fine, except for this: the sheepdogs of the conservative movement think that everyone who is not a sheepdog – everyone who is not angrily barking — is a wolf. So they try to frighten away even the faithful shepherds. If they succeed, eventually the whole herd will die, from starvation or disease. And as that happens, the sheepdogs won’t even notice. They will stand there with their backs to the dying herd and bark their fool heads off.

Alan Jacobs

When abortion wasn’t a partisan issue

Abortion was not always a partisan issue:

Both before and immediately after the Roe v. Wade decision, many prominent Republicans, such as First Lady Betty Ford and New York Gov. and later Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, supported abortion rights.

At the same time, some liberal Democrats spoke out against abortion rights, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver and his wife Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.

The anti-abortion movement was strongest in the heavily Catholic, reliably Democratic states of the Northeast, and its supporters believed that their campaign for the rights of the unborn accorded well with the liberal principles of the Democratic Party.

By the time the Supreme Court reversed Roe, the anti-abortion movement had become so thoroughly allied with conservative Republican politics that it was difficult to imagine a time when liberal Democrats who supported an expanded welfare state were leaders in the movement.

Daniel K. Williams, Before Roe, anti-abortion activism included liberals inspired by Catholic social teaching. In that ellipsis lies some interesting stuff, so read the whole thing.

It always puzzled me that abortion had become so partisan an issue. And gradually, it horrified me that abortion opponents felt obligated to vote for the creepiest, most implausible Republicans as long as they said they’d work to overturn Roe. Some of them plainly had not internalized the meaning of "pro-life."

I suppose there was an analogous process on the side of abortion supporters. Lord knows, the Democrats have some creepy people in high places.

We’ll see how, or whether, Dobbs changes that. The liberal Democrats who oppose abortion and haven’t died off should find the American Solidarity Party most congenial.

Jonah discerns a bit of hypocrisy

Definitions vary, but I think we can all agree that giving voters and their representatives power to make decisions is part of any serious understanding of democracy. I know that totalitarian and authoritarian countries like to call themselves democracies too. But such claims are what you might call “deceptive advertising” or “false branding” or “lies.”

As the English setter said when making a big fuss about a quail, here’s what I’m getting at: A lot of people described the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade as a blow to “our democracy.”

But let’s move on.

Nach maga, kommen wir.

There’s one area where I agree with Democrats about the threat to “our democracy.” All of the hardcore MAGA candidates championing the stolen election lie are a real threat to democracy. I may not agree with progressives about the scope or scale of the threat (I suspect our democracy can survive the election of a bunch of Trumpian Mini-Mes). But that, too, is beside the point. You don’t have to buy the argument that these bozos, grifters, useful idiots, and poltroons pose an existential threat to democracy to still think they pose a serious threat.

More importantly, I’m not the one saying they pose an existential threat. Last November, leaders of 58 of the most influential progressive groups wrote an open letter to Congress saying that, “Our democracy faces an existential threat—the very real possibility that the outcome of an election could be ignored and the will of the people overturned by hyperpartisan actors.”

So what have Democrats—who often echo this rhetoric—done to thwart these hyperpartisan democracy assassins?

Fund them to the hilt!

Jonah Goldberg, Democrats Have a Funny Way of Expressing Concern About ‘Our Democracy’

Legalia – Waffling on Coach Kennedy

As I’ve said, I’m not all that impressed by Coach Kennedy, the 50-yardline-post-game-prayer guy who won in the Supreme Court last week. In fact, I would have been okay with it if he had lost on the theory that his prayers, in the total context of his history of post-game prayers, was excessively (if subtly) coercive (which is more or less what the dissent argues).

Now, Prof. Josh Blackman (No Offense, But It’s Just A Prayer) has given me second thoughts about whether there ought to be any cause of action for "coercion" so subjective as the facts here shown.

Naturally, Mr. Kennedy’s proposal to pray quietly by himself on the field would have meant some people would have seen his religious exercise. Those close at hand might have heard him too. But learning how to tolerate speech or prayer of all kinds is "part of learning how to live in a pluralistic society," a trait of character essential to "a tolerant citizenry." Lee. This Court has long recognized as well that "secondary school students are mature enough … to understand that a school does not endorse," let alone coerce them to participate in, "speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis." Mergens. Of course, some will take offense to certain forms of speech or prayer they are sure to encounter in a society where those activities enjoy such robust constitutional protection. But "[o]ffense … does not equate to coercion." Town of Greece.

Justice Gorsuch in Kennedy v. Bremerton (emphasis added).

Sometimes, I just need a good whack up side-o-the-head.

(I am not friendly, by the way, to what I take to be the Coach’s version of Christianity; that is almost invariably true of religious freedom cases in the U.S. because the U.S. has, in Ross Douthat’s words, so much Bad Religion. So don’t give me the "How’d ya like it if he was praying a Muslim prayer, huh?!" bit.)

Miscellany

Funning

I was told some decades back that the word "fun" has no real equivalent in other languages/cultures. That possibility was so much fun that I didn’t risk spoiling it by checking out the claim.

I also couldn’t define "fun." Now, at the end of his guest post The Holy Anarchy of Fun at Bari Weiss’s Common Sense, Walter Kirn gives it a shot:

Fun is abandonment. “Don’t think. Do.” It’s a form of forgetting, of looseness and imbalance, which is why it can’t be planned and why it threatens those who plan things for us. Fun is minor chaos enjoyed in safety and most genuine when it comes as a surprise, when water from hidden nozzles hits your face or when the class hamster, that poor imprisoned creature, has finally had enough and flees its cage.

I can’t say I find Kirn’s elliptical definition anything better than evocative, but now that he puts fun under my nose again, I find that feel less censorious toward it than I once did.

We spend too much time in the left hemisphere, "murdering to dissect" as Wordsworth put it. "Fun" could be at least a waystation on the way to

… a heart
That watches and receives.

Eine Kleine Structural Racism

Here is an example, not necessarily huge, of "structural racism": Brian Sawers, What Lies Behind That ‘No Trespass’ Sign – The Atlantic. It’s also an interesting historical story even apart from its ongoing effects. Suffice that keeping freed slaves in a deeply subordinate position was a substantial part of the motivation for closing formerly open lands.

For a few years in my childhood, my Dad owned maybe ten acres of country land, mostly woods. The idea was we’d build a custom home there some day. Dad posted "No Trespassing" signs, which found themselves peppered full of 22 caliber bullet holes. We even caught a squirrel hunter in flagrante delicto one time. It never occurred to me until now that maybe Dad shouldn’t have posted those signs, but should have expected hunters to visit, which really did him no harm. (This was an era where a landowner wouldn’t get sued if someone invited himself in a got hurt accidentlally.)

I don’t suppose there’s be a lot of people opting for a subsistence diet of squirrels, rabbits and more exotic critters, hunted on open lands, so I don’t know how lingering is the oppressive effect of these laws. But suffice that lands were legally open, and trespassing wasn’t a thing, until slaves got legally emancipated.

Both sides

There are some really crazy ideas out there, and not just on the QAnon Right:

Someday I will do this long-form and with a lot of sources and such, but I’m writing at the moment out of considerable annoyance. In short, I am so sick and tired of being told by leftists that our mental illness problems (my mental illness problem) are the fault of capitalism, or perhaps some such vague and useless thing as “the system.” Sometimes they say this specifically about suicide as well. I would like to ask compassionate people to stop doing this, and I have the following questions and complaints.

Freddie deBoer, My Brief Brief Against "Mental Illness is Just Capitalism, Man, the System".

Because what Freddie is responding to seems so outlandish to me, I’ll leave you with that teaser and link rather than quote more.

On B1G "stealing" USC and UCLA

College sports are so shameless that when anyone else does anything shameless in the world, they have to pay college sports a sizable royalty.

Jason Gay, My Big Ten Welcome to…USC and UCLA.

I talked to a sports fanatic at Church coffee hour yesterday. This move portends a lot more than I realized.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.