My blog runneth over

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

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

1

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

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

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

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

But a few points about my chosen pull quote:

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

2

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

David Warren.

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

3

Samplings from a column on learning kindness:

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

David Brooks.

4

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

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

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

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

5

More on Covington Catholic:

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Althouse Cohen (H/T Eugene Volokh).

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

Wall Street Journal.

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

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

Sir James Fitzjames Stephen

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

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

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

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

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

Wall Street Journal. I regret the paywall.

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

8

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

Ross Douthat

9

Speaking of frauds and humbugs:

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

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

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

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

Michael Gerson.

10

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

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

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

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

11

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

Garrison Keillor, The old indoorsman looks out at winter.

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Clippings and comment, 1/22/19 pm

1

David Brooks:

[I]n the age of social media [polarization is] almost entirely about social type. It’s about finding and spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own.

It’s about finding images that confirm your negative stereotypes about people you don’t know. It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

You don’t have to read social theory on this phenomenon; just look at the fracas surrounding the Covington Catholic High School boys.

… [I]t’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.

… The crucial thing is that the nation’s culture is now enmeshed in a new technology that we don’t yet know how to control.

It’s hard to believe that people are going to continue forever on platforms where they are so cruel to one another. It’s hard to believe that people are going to be content, year after year, to distort their own personalities in service to a platform, making themselves humorless, semi-blind, joyless and grim.

I want Brooks’ story to “be well placed” and Brooks “to be professionally rewarded” for his synthesis of the weekend incident and his framing of the problem it reveals.

2

[T]he vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision throwing out all state laws against same-sex marriage. Justice Alito saw a perilous future for those who still embraced the view Mr. Obama once claimed to hold. “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes,” he wrote, “but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

In the larger sense the faith-shaming of Mrs. Pence exposes an inversion of tropes. In history and literature, typically it has been the religious side that can’t tolerate the slightest disagreement from its dogma and behaves like outraged 17th-century Salemites when they think they have uncovered a witch.

Now look at the Immanuel Christian School. Those who run it know they and those who think like them are the big losers in America’s culture war. All they ask is to be allowed, within the confines of their community, to uphold 2,000 years of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality and the human person.

When Obergefell was decided, it was sold as live-and-let-live. But as Justice Alito foresaw, today some sweet mysteries of the universe are more equal than others. In other words, it isn’t enough for the victors to win; the new sense of justice requires that those who still don’t agree must be compelled to violate their deepest beliefs ….

William McGurn

3

A very good point:

But for the sake of arguing let us assume that the boys did just what the initial story alleged them to do. They went and harassed a Native American while that Indian made his protest. What then? Is what they did terrible? Yeah. Should they be punished? Absolutely. Should that punishment be that they are doxed, tarred as a racist, and casted out of respectable society for the rest of their lives? Once again, have you ever been 16? Or to put it another way do you want to be judged for the rest of your live by the worst thing you have ever done?

My point is that even if the initial story was correct this overreaction says a lot about what we have become. Do we really think that we should not forgive them? Criminals who break into our homes can get forgiven, but not 16 year old kids. Assault them? Dox them? Did people actually listen to what they are saying, or read what they are writing, when they decided to dehumanize these boys? Or did it just feel good to have a villain that we can treat like dirt?

[L]et us not let the elephant in the room go unnoticed. The boys made for convenient villains because they were wearing MAGA hats. They also white males who are likely heterosexual and Catholic. For certain groups in our society individuals with such characteristics should not have a place in our public square. Therefore, we are allowed to dehumanize individuals with these characteristics. There is a narrative whereby we should not be concern with “white tears.” After all even if whites are mistreated, it is nothing compared to how they have mistreated, and continue to mistreat, other right? This argument gives some people license to ignore any complaints from white Christian males.

4

While the petition now before us is based solely on the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, petitioner still has live claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 … Petitioner’s decision to rely primarily on his free speech claims as opposed to these alternative claims may be due to certain decisions of this Court.

In Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872 (1990), the Court drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause, and in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Hardison, 432 U. S. 63 (1977), the Court opined that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion does not require an employer to make any accommodation that imposes more than a de minimis burden. In this case, however, we have not been asked to revisit those decisions.

Statement of Justice Alito, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, respecting the denial of certiorari in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, 586 U.S. ____ (January 22, 2019). Eugene Volokh thinks this signals willingness of these justices to reconsider Employment Div. v. Smith, and

What’s more, Justice Breyer had earlier (in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997)) made clear that he thought Employment Division v. Smith was indeed wrongly decided and should be overruled.

Reading the two first-quoted paragraphs in context, I emphatically agree with Volokh about what they signal. So there may be a majority ready to restore a more robust free exercise clause, which I’ve supported ever since Employment Div. v. Smith emasculated (can one still say that?) free exercise (or at least lowered its testosterone level dramatically).

Unlike either of the stereotypes Volokh describes regarding who favored broad free exercise right in the past versus now, I have always favored them, with little concern for government efficiency (is that an oxymoron?). But I must admit that the people getting the short end of parsimonious free exercise rights these days are more like me (Christian, traditional on sexual behavior and marriage, etc. — see item 2, above) than free exercise claimants used to be, and that would make broadening particularly congenial.

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Potpourri, 12/17/18

1

Here’s the racket that you should have gone into. You’re selling something, a college diploma, that’s deemed a necessity. And you have total pricing power. Better than that: When you raise your prices, you not only don’t lose customers, you may actually attract new ones.

For lack of objective measures, people associate the sticker price with quality: If school A costs more than B, I guess it’s a better school. A third-party payer, the government, funds it all, so that the customer—that is, the student and the family—feels insulated against the cost. A perfect formula for complacency.

The acquisition of Kaplan was, as he puts it, a “matter of kismet.” Mr. Daniels was determined to enhance Purdue’s online educational offerings but frustrated by his inability to do so. “Every year, between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I write a little self-evaluation and give it to the board,” he says. “Three years in a row, the worst grade I gave myself was for online education.” Purdue faced a make-or-buy decision: “Should we invest and build an online presence internally, or should we try to acquire it?”

In early 2017, a common friend connected Mr. Daniels to Donald Graham, chairman of the Graham Holdings Co. , which had sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos in 2013 and still owned Kaplan University. “Don called me,” Mr. Daniels recalls, “and he said to me, ‘This will probably be the shortest call of your day, but I don’t suppose, by any chance, you want to buy Kaplan.’ ” Fifteen minutes later, “we had a deal.”

“The most innovative university president in America,” Mitch Daniels in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Interview, 12/15/18, College Bloat Meets “The Blade”.

I’m near the epicenter of Daniels’ doings, just across the Wabash, and it is stimulating.

2

A rather harsh assessment:

I’ve only been around Phil Anschutz a few times. My impressions on those occasions was that he was a run-of-the-mill arrogant billionaire. He was used to people courting him and he addressed them condescendingly from the lofty height of his own wealth.

I’ve never met Ryan McKibben, who runs part of Anschutz’s media group. But stories about him have circulated around Washington over the years. The stories suggest that he is an ordinary corporate bureaucrat — with all the petty vanities and the lack of interest in ideas that go with the type.

This week, Anschutz and McKibbin murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned. They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance.

John Podhoretz, one of the magazine’s founders, reports that they actively prevented potential buyers from coming in to take it over and keep it alive. They apparently wanted to hurt the employees and harvest the subscription list so they could make money off it. And Anschutz, being a professing Christian, decided to close the magazine at the height of the Christmas season, and so cause maximum pain to his former employees and their families.

David Brooks. If Brooks is right, I hope it stings Anschutz quite bitterly.

3

Don’t take our freedom of speech for granted.

“Australia is the only Western democracy without an explicit constitutional protection for freedom of speech,” Matt Collins, a defamation lawyer and the president of the Victorian Bar, told me. “People say that Sydney is the libel capital of the world,” he added.

The upshot: Not only is it easier for a plaintiff to win a defamation suit in Australia, but people are far less likely to blow the whistle on misconduct, knowing what the legal (and therefore financial) consequences might be.

“The use of defamation cases against women with sexual harassment complaints is having a huge chilling effect,” said Kate Jenkins, the Australian government’s sex discrimination commissioner. “Women I speak to all over the country are absolutely adamant that they cannot complain because it risks absolutely everything for them.”

An Australian filmmaker named Sophie Mathisen put it more bluntly: “The question in our current context is not, Do you want to come forward and speak on behalf of other women? The question is, Do you want to come forward and set yourself on fire publicly?”

Bari Weiss.

4

Megan McArdle, investigating a scientific taboo on research on intelligence, hits a wall and finds herself vilified for even asking questions. Along the way, she makes an interesting case that there are good reasons for the taboo:

There’s a history, I said, of scientists finding whatever they expect, from scientists insisting that humans had 48 chromosomes, even as their experiments kept showing 46, to the eugenics that fueled the Holocaust. One of Jussim’s own papers shows that left-leaning social psychologists have long been inadvertently biasing their research toward answers the left finds congenial.

Given flawed scientists and imperfect scientific methods, and given the fraught history of Western racism, isn’t the likelihood of getting it wrong just too high? And the potential cost of those particular errors simply too catastrophic to risk? All societies place some questions out of bounds because they’re too toxic; we don’t debate whether child molestation or spousal murder is acceptable.

Without hesitation, Jussim agreed. Carl wasn’t endorsing a link between race and IQ, Jussim pointed out, just starting a discussion about whether we should study it. “If we had that discussion,” he said, “I would personally advocate for a moratorium for all the reasons you just described.”

How the social science community built the wall she hit is an interesting story, too. It’s an example of ad hominem and guilt by association replacing refutation.

5

There’s an interesting Catholic/Orthodox dialogue going on, again between theologians. And some of them have agreed that basically they agree on so many things. They’re really the same. Leave out the political aspect of this, but even from the point of view of the average believer, if you spend ten minutes at the Divine Liturgy in an Orthodox church and ten minutes in a Roman Catholic mass, you understand these are totally different pieties. And whatever the theologians have decided is the same, the little old babushka who kisses the icon knows that what she does is different from the Catholics down the road. So I think in answer to your question, the denominational divisions basically define theology, and for most lay people, the theological distinctions are not terribly real.

Peter Berger H/T Rod Dreher, who elaborates a bit on the point, as do his readers.

6

I am pleased to report that my Advent/Christmas choral singing is complete, after four extra rehearsals and three concerts in two weeks with Lafayette Master Chorale and Lafayette Chamber Singers (on top of ordinary Church services). My 70-year-old vocal chords are ready for a rest.

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Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.