Clippings and Comment, 2/6/19

1

Ms. Devi publicly defended Mr. Fryer. Since then, she says she’s struggled to find research collaborators and has lost nearly every female friend at Harvard: “Suddenly, I would find that my emails were going unanswered. People would avert their gaze from me walking down the hall. There was this culture of guilty until proven innocent and, if you’re defending him, guilt by association.”

Ms. Devi adds that every one of her remaining friends has advised her not to defend Mr. Fryer. One told her that “at a place like this, which is extremely progressive, it will only have a cost—it will have no benefit.” Ms. Devi says she knows of others who also wanted to defend Mr. Fryer but “don’t want to go against the social-media mob.”

An immigrant from India, Ms. Devi fears her outspokenness will limit her job prospects in the U.S. “It’s very, very high-risk to identify myself and defend an accused person,” Ms. Devi says. “Everyone protects the identity of the accuser. She gets to hide under the mask of anonymity, and we have to destroy our futures.”

Jillian Kay Melchior, Title IX’s Witness Intimidation, Wall Street Journal.

This is the kind of toxic culture against which Betsy DeVos’s regulatory legal changes are powerless.

2

It’s nice to be Trump. His bragging is unencumbered by his past. His self-satisfaction crowds out any self-examination. What he needs isn’t a fact check. It’s a reality check, because his worst fictions aren’t statistical. They’re spiritual.

The State of the Union address was a herky-jerky testament to that. I say herky-jerky because it was six or eight or maybe 10 speeches in one, caroming without warning from a plea for unity to a tirade about the border; from some boast about American glory under Trump to some reverie about American glory before Trump (yes, it existed!); from a hurried legislative wish list to a final stretch of ersatz poetry that read like lines from a batch of defective or remaindered Hallmark cards. As much as Trump needed modesty, his paragraphs needed transitions.

“Don’t sit yet,” he told them when he feared that they would end their celebration too soon, before his next great pronouncement. “You’re going to like this.”

Even the newly, briefly, falsely sensitive version of Trump couldn’t lose his bossy streak — or stop hungering for, and predicting, the next round of applause.

Frank Bruni.

3

I’m tempted to write “Democrats are reduced to pointless obstructionism,” but “obstructionism” implies the ability to obstruct. Senate Democrats lack that ability, having done away with the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominations when they were in control. Thus they are reduced even further, to “pointless mudslinging.”

Yet “pointless” doesn’t mean “harmless.” The Democratic senators’ juvenile tactics will not stop Rao’s confirmation, but they are lowering the already debased national discourse.

Rao is now 45 years old, solidly middle-aged. To reach middle age, one must first pass through an earlier stage of simultaneously knowing very little about the world while believing oneself to understand it completely. Youthful folly is particularly unfortunate in budding writers, who inevitably commit their stupidity to the page. If they write for publication — rather than privately composing the worst novel ever written in the English language, as I did at that age — their silliness will linger for posterity to sample.

… [F]rankly, Rao’s college writing wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. It wasn’t even as bad as I expected from early media coverage.

Megan McArdle

4

[F]rom the moment he announced his run for the presidency, I believed that Trump was intellectually, temperamentally, and psychologically unfit to be president. Indeed, I warned the GOP about Trump back in 2011, when I wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal decrying his claim that Barack Obama was not born in America. From time to time, people emerge who are peddlers of paranoia and who violate unwritten codes that are vital to a self-governing society, I wrote, adding, “They delight in making our public discourse more childish and freakish, focusing attention on absurdities rather than substantive issues, and stirring up mistrust among citizens. When they do, those they claim to represent should speak out forcefully against them.”

Today I see the Republican Party through the clarifying prism of Donald Trump, who consistently appealed to the ugliest instincts and attitudes of the GOP base—in 2011, when he entered the political stage by promoting a racist conspiracy theory, and in 2016, when he won the GOP nomination. He’s done the same time and time again during his presidency—his attacks on the intelligence of black politicians, black journalists, and black athletes; his response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his closing argument during the midterm elections, when he retweeted a racist ad that even Fox News would not run.

Peter Wehner, on why he left the GOP and what he has gained thereby.

Apart from my having left the party earlier than Wehner, he captures my feelings very well.

5

What is the statute of limitations for being a jerk-goofball-hellraiser? asks Kathleen Parker of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam:

In 1983, just before winning a third term as Louisiana’s governor, Edwin Edwards famously said that the only way he could lose the race was “if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy.”

Presumably, no one checked his yearbook.

Parker must have tenure, a large 401k, and a looming retirement, because it is now forbidden, on pain of professional death, to forgive youth and foolishness.

6

Had you heard about Liam Neeson making terrible, racist comments? Did your source bother quoting what he actually said, in context, or was your source someone like the preening Peacock Piers Morgan (“so full of shit his breath makes acid rain,” as Bruce Cockburn sang of someone else), who tells you what to think before he tells you what Neeson said?

We have created a culture that despises repentance, and condemns grace.

If you can’t multiply examples of that during the past week, you weren’t paying attention.

7

Of late, I’ve found a term for my political temperament: “trimmer” (second listed meaning). So I am today declaring myself a centrist non-candidate for POTUS. The toxicity of Left and Right, sampled above, have become intolerable.

8

My Church is the best Church because it never interferes with a man’s politics or his religion.

Uncle Toby in Tristram Shandy, via John Senior, The Death of Christian Culture, page 136.

Uncle Toby is Andrew Cuomo’s patron saint.

9

Because I find his droning, vulgar cadences intolerable, I did not listen to even to that portion of the President’s State of the Union address that may have been continuing as I left a musical rehearsal.

But it sounds as if I may have missed something even worse than the usual vulgarity: I may have missed a scripted approximation of normalcy, which would make the return to vulgar reality even more agonizing.

I’m too old for roller coasters, even if they’re just emotional.

10

A Canadian cryptocurrency exchange says about $140 million worth of customers’ holdings are stuck in an electronic vault because the company’s founder, and sole employee, died without sharing the password.

But two independent researchers say publicly available transaction records associated with QuadrigaCX suggest the money may be gone, not trapped.

They say it appears Quadriga transferred customer funds to other cryptocurrency exchanges, although it isn’t clear what might have happened to the money from there.

Paul Vigna, Wall Street Journal.

My avoidance of cryptocurrencies is vindicated.

11

In a reflection on the Nashville Statement written a few years ago, I wrote:

Like me, Justin grew up Southern Baptist. Sometimes, someone will ask me why I think Justin “changed his theology” to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology. However, the question actually rests on a misunderstanding. I did not “hold onto” the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage.

When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with. Many of his arguments are modified versions of the arguments which I heard to rationalize divorce and contraception in the Southern Baptist congregation I grew up in.

And because of the obvious prejudice of so many conservative Christians toward gay people, it’s easy for him to dismiss conservative exegesis as Pharisaical legalism.

You might say that I “backed” my way into the Catholic Church,first by recognizing the link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex marriage, and only later recognizing the flaws of the “slow motion sexual revolutionaries” I grew up with in the Southern Baptist Church.

Ron Belgau. This “alternate universe” argument, where one says “If I believed X, I would eventually come to believe Y,” is one that I have made, if only when arguing with myself about what I would believe today had I remained in the Christian Reformed Church.

12

Oh, how we miss the trolley problem .

There’s a runaway trolley plunging toward a widow and five orphans, but if you pull the lever to divert it, you’ll hit Elon Musk. Which do you choose?

This is a problem?!. Quick! Where’s that lever?!

* * * * *

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Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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Bearing reality

I anticipated reading in Monday’s newspapers some analysis of how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s potential corroborating witnesses (those she said were at the party where Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her) have all failed to corroborate anything about the party, including its existence, and that some even volunteered defenses of Kavanaugh.

That’s all true, and I wondered how the crypto-Resistant press would handle it.

But it was not to be. (Trigger warning for sexual assault):

Judge Kavanaugh’s prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it “a smear, plain and simple.” The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party.

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

New York Times. The New Yorker, though, makes the new allegation sound a bit more plausible.

I’ve had two simmering reactions to the whole picture, new allegation aside, lasting for a few days now, that I at first thought unsuitable for public consumption. They went in my personal journal today for that reason.

Standing alone, I suppose they are unfit for public consumption, in addition to or as a function of being cryptic, but I’m not going to let them stand alone:

  1. My oatmeal’s cold! I want the FBI to investigate!
  2. Hey, boys and girls! Aren’t drunken parties fun!?

* * *

It’s my understanding that FBI investigations of nominees are focused on whether the nominee is a national security threat. It certainly is not the role of the FBI to investigate the truth or falsity of allegations of decades-old violations of state law just because partisans want to know more for purposes of a political fight. (Such skeletons presumably might come out in response to the question “Any skeletons in his closet?” as the FBI interviews old acquaintances.)

When politicians demand an FBI investigation in circumstances like those now present, they’re just buying time. That’s why the calls are all coming from Democrats currently. They are performing so strongly in election polls that they just might re-take both House and Senate in January and force Trump to nominate, say, Merrick Garland (that is, someone sufficiently moderate that he won’t plausibly be cast as the vehicle for a nefarious agenda, and who will allow both POTUS and the Senate avoid the onus of leaving a seat vacant for years).

The echoed calls of others, not in politics, for FBI investigations are, it seems to me, at least one of at least two things (that’s not a typo; it’s an acknowledgement that beyond that, imagination currently fails me):

  1. Partisan efforts to buy time, just like the Senate Democrats.
  2. Tacit admissions that all the unfounded he-said-she-said accusations flying around are disorienting, and we want some putative neutral expert to tell us what to believe.

The first point requires no elaboration beyond that such calls come from Democrats or progressives even if they’re not personally involved in politics because they’re savvy enough to know the strategy.

As for the second point, I’ve known for decades that we turn inappropriately to “experts” to resolve our vexing problems. I first noticed it when physicians were asked about “quality of life” in the context of medical treatment, nutrition and hydration for gravely ill or injured people — typically, survivors of drug overdoses, traumatic head injuries or dementia.

But quality of life is not a medical question, something about which physicians by experience and training have special knowledge. It’s existential (for the person being evaluated), philosophical for the rest of us. Vexing, yes, but not in the doctor’s bailiwick. (I believe that a few curmudgeonly or pro-life lawyers successfully excluded such testimony on the basis that physicians have no expert qualifications on the subject.)

Another approach to those same tragic situations was to let a proxy decisionmaker, typically a close family member, make the non-treatment decision in the name of patient autonomy. (Yes, the desired decision was non-treatment; if the proxy chose treatment, the search for another proxy who wasn’t an “extremist” or “vitalist” would continue.)

But “autonomy by proxy” is a blatant oxymoron.

The main virtue of letting doctors opine on “quality of life” or letting proxy decisionmakers exercise a patient’s autonomy to refuse further treatment, food or water, was that it spared the rest of us the wrestling with such issues and permitted us to evade what was really going on.

A final example of the phenomenon is conducting capital punishment covertly, so the rest of us can pretend it’s somehow quick and humane. Lethal injection even made it clinical (and we know how expert doctors are about everything).

Similarly, the main virtue of letting the FBI investigate decades-old questions, beyond delay for delay’s sake, is the hope that it will come up with a plausible declaration that the accusation is clearly true or clearly false.

That a professional law enforcement agency is not designed to do, but if they did, we’d be back close to square one asking “so now what?” If true, is it disqualifying?

* * *

My second reaction (“Aren’t drunken parties fun!?”) is aimed at a social problem from which we’ve averted our gaze in a different way.

Instead of delegating amelioration or elimination of adolescent drinking to putative experts, we’ve just decided to ignore it. “Boys will be boys.” “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.” “Harmless fun so long as they don’t drive.”

Or as long as it doesn’t get sexy somehow without full and informed consent. (Or whatever next decade’s #MeToo Moment will be focused on.)

Dare I suggest that a history of binge drinking is itself a problem, or at least a big ole warning flag of problems?

For a change, I’m suggesting something without the need to say “Yes, I did so myself, but have repented.” I never have binge-drunk. When they asked me in my character and fitness examination (for admission to practice law) about past law-breaking, I confessed two occasions where I had one alcoholic beverage where I was not of legal age. The examiner, a cop-turned-lawyer, laughed out loud. At least I’m pretty sure. My memory is fuzzy. That may be my sole qualification for high office.

We know that kids drink, if for no other reason, to lower their inhibitions. In some cases, to lower them specifically to facilitate hooking up, an unchivalrous and predatory act by men and an unnatural act by women.

Are we really shocked by what those inhibitions were holding back? Truly, humankind cannnot bear very much reality.

* * *

Here endeth my meditation, because I have no more expertise than your doctor to tell you what to think about all this. I’m mostly just cynical about our odds of resolving the factual questions.

For what it’s worth, I’m starting to think that Drunk Brett was or is different than Sober Brett, and that the difference may be revelatory. Your mileage may vary, as may your assessment of how that should affect confirmation.

My closest approach to a personal resolution for this whole saga came from reading this, published before the second accusation, which suggests a course of action for Sober Brett.

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Is (Liberal) Democracy Dying?

The Atlantic for October is a theme issue:

840

I can’t provide URLs because it’s still subscriber-only, but you get get to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. All of the following are from that issue, as was Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, about which I blogged earlier.

1

It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

Yuval Noah Harari, Why Technology Favors Tyranny.

And a stunning microcosm:

On December 6, 2017, another crucial milestone was reached when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 had won a world computer chess championship in 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience. By contrast, AlphaZero had not been taught any chess strategies by its human creators — not even standard openings. Rather, it used the latest machine-learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of 100 games that the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won 28 and tied 72 — it didn’t lose once. Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to the human eye. They could be described as creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long AlphaZero spent learning chess from scratch, preparing for the match against Stockfish 8, and developing its genius instincts? Four hours.

(Emphasis added)

2

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

… One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.”

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Threat of Tribalism.

But wait! There’s more! It’s not tribalist without at least two tribes!

In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

I can’t pick which side is worse. Can you?

3

Jeffrey Rosen incited in me kindly feelings toward California:

Voters in several states are experimenting with alternative primary systems that might elect more moderate representatives. California and Washington State have adopted a “top two” system, in which candidates from both parties compete in a nonpartisan primary, and the two candidates who get the most votes run against each other in the general election — even if they’re from the same party. States, which Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy,” are proving to be the most effective way to encourage deliberation at a time when Congress acts only along party lines.

Madison and the Mob.

4

This author was shot, randomly, with a 22:

Knee-jerk calls for gun control didn’t resonate with me. Yet a reverence toward guns no longer felt right either.

I found my ambivalence unsettling. Everyone else seemed so sure about how to feel about guns—people on campus, on the internet, back home. Unlike most of them, I had made intimate acquaintance with gun violence. I should have had some special insight. If what had happened to me wasn’t fodder for clarity, I feared nothing ever would be.

As we drove, he asked me to remind him what I was writing about. I said some- thing lazy, offhanded: “What it was like getting shot in a place that loves guns.”

“It’s not love,” he said. We pulled into the parking lot of his store, which sits high on a hill. You can see almost all of Tuscaloosa from there. “It’s about necessity.” He mentioned rattlesnakes and coyotes. For people in rural areas — that’s more than 40 percent of Alabamians — guns are still a day-to-day defense against such animals. Yes, there is ample love for guns in Alabama. But to forget that they’re tools is to miss an important point.

Elaina Plott, The Bullet in My Arm.

Perhaps, but they’re not the kind of tools Our People use now, are they dear?

5

A 2018 U.S. Magazine asking whether democracy is dying might be suspected of a hit on 45, but it really was not. He did get more than passing mention in David Frum’s contribution, though:

[A] Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump …

When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”

In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.

Building an Autocracy.

6

To stop the rot afflicting American government, Americans are going to have to get back in the habit of democracy.

[In the 19th Century] From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives.

Civic participation was thus the norm, not the exception.

Democracy had become the shared civic religion of a people who otherwise had little in common.

But the United States is no longer a nation of joiners. As the political scientist Robert Putnam famously demonstrated in Bowling Alone, participation in civic groups and organizations of all kinds declined precipitously in the last decades of the 20th century.

Trump turned the long-standing veneration of civic procedure on its head. He proclaimed that America is “rigged”; that “the insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.” The norms and practices of democratic governance, he insisted, had allowed elites to entrench themselves.

Trump secured the Republican nomination by speaking directly to those voters who had the least experience with democratic institutions. In April 2016, when the Republican field had narrowed from 17 candidates to three, a PRRI/The Atlantic survey found Trump enjoying a narrow lead over second-place Ted Cruz among Republican-leaning voters, 37 to 31 percent. But among those who seldom or never participated in community activities such as sports teams, book clubs, parent-teacher associations, or neighborhood associations, Trump led 50 to 24 percent. In fact, such civically disengaged voters accounted for a majority of his support.

Yoni Applebaum, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Any More.

7

And finally:

The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For … the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.

Walter Lippman, November 1919 (before my father was born), quoted in a side-bar.

I’m venturing a guess that nobody born since 1970 will understand his use of “discrimination” unless they have a liberal arts college education.

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Brett Kavanaugh

All opinions herein expressed are subject to revision — probably the opinions of my sources as well as my own — but I’m not going to wait any longer.

That things like what is described in Ford’s letter “happened all the time” is, I’m sure, true. That it’s “all too consistent with stories” that people heard and their lived experience is also, I’m sure, true. But the questions is whether Brett Kavanaugh did something like this. Evidence that stuff like what he’s accused of happened to many people, or that prep-school guys like him always get away with things like this, is not evidence against Brett Kavanaugh. It is more like a cultural script in search of players to be cast in their respective roles later.

Evidence may yet be presented that incriminates Kavanaugh, and it may shift this conversation away from people generalizing from their own experiences. But until then, it is a dangerous thing to proceed toward a judgment, even a political judgment, based on prejudices such as “this thing happens all the time” and “it’s consistent with stories we know.” The sensation of finding archetypal victimizers and victims is what made false stories about Duke’s lacrosse players and the University of Virginia’s fraternity brothers go viral across the culture.

And this “he’s the type” style of accusation will not be used only on privileged men like Kavanaugh. It can, it has, and it will be used on anyone. Of course they’ll deny it. They always do.

Michael Brendan Dougherty. There’s also a counter-narrative that women use sex to get what they want and then leverage it to get even more as victims.  I know this to be true because I heard it from a woman, who believed it vigorously.


I’ve always been dissatisfied with the declaration, “Women don’t lie about rape.” Sure, some small number of women do affirmatively lie, but as a general matter, the word “lie” is an odd fit for a real world where perceptions differ and memories are malleable. And, by the way, this isn’t “right-wing denialism,” it’s just scientific fact.

… [I]f there isn’t any corroboration or external evidence outside of Christine Ford’s three-decades-old recollections, that’s simply not sufficient basis for derailing the nomination of an outstanding jurist — no matter how fiercely they’re believed.

David French.


I am in favor of withholding judgment on Kavanaugh and his accuser, and I was in favor of that even before it became moot (because he now would lose a forced vote on Thursday).

We’re going to hear the accuser and the accused, and that’s as it must be.

But as I think several steps forward, I can’t imagine any plausible good resolution. Brett Kavanaugh probably can’t disprove the accusations conclusively, but neither can the Democrats disprove the plausible suspicions about the “late hit”:

Unfortunately, with the midterms almost upon us, there is now no path to an outcome that both sides see as legitimate. Democrats can insist that the revelation of Ford’s story was not exquisitely timed to exactly the moment when it became impossible to confirm a different nominee before the elections. But they are in essentially the same position as Kavanaugh: Even if they are telling the truth, they have no way to provide convincing proof.

Megan McArdle (emphasis added).

I suspect that years from now we’ll still be divided into “I fiercely believed her” versus “I fiercely believed him” camps on this as on Anita Hill versus Clarence Thomas.

The hardest thing may be avoiding toxic presumptions or forcing the story into archetypes (see Michael Brendan Dougherty, above).

Rod Dreher, finishing a book tour in Italy, wrote a long blog while at the airport for his return flight. It’s not his best work, but he alluded to getting attacked on Twitter

for suggesting that the way people behave in high school, especially under the influence of drugs or alcohol, should not be a determinative factor in taking public office decades later. Someone said, “I hope you don’t have a daughter.”

I do have a daughter, [but] I also have sons, and I shudder to think what a teenage drunken encounter gone bad might do to their lives over three decades later, if somebody dredged it up. Or what a mere uncorroborated allegation of an unwanted sexual encounter might do to them ….

Just so. I know men are all monsters — a bias I find it all too easy to share — but too easy really is too easy.

Pre-publication update: An old Evangelical friend, (who at least used to be) a good man, is foaming at the mouth on Facebook with “let him who is without sin …” and a Facebook friend replies with lurid innuendo about the accuser.

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Monday 9/17/18

1

David French is much more sensible than Damon Linker on the current status of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination. Linker’s approach gives veto power to accusers whose lurid accusations are likelier false than true (by which I’m not pre-judging the current accusations — I’m talking about his rationale).

Neither would approve a Thursday vote, though.

2

I believe it was Ross Douthat who coined “if you don’t like the Religious Right, just wait ’till you see the irreligious right.” That’s panning out — though the “irreligion” is just one facet of communal breakdown:

[T]he different groups make about the same amount of money, which cuts against strict economic-anxiety explanations for Trumpism. But the churchgoers and nonchurchgoers differ more in social capital: The irreligious are less likely to have college degrees, less likely to be married and more likely to be divorced; they’re also less civically engaged, less satisfied with their neighborhoods and communities, and less trusting and optimistic in general.

This seems to support the argument, advanced by Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner among others, that support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics.

… only about a third of Trump’s 2016 voters are in church on a typical Sunday, and almost half attend seldom or not at all.

Ross Douthat

3

[T]he Deep State now feels confident enough to say … openly: the Deep State wants international conflict. The op-ed includes a bald-faced declaration to that effect:

Take foreign policy: in public and private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un . . .

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly. . .

The op-ed goes on to talk approvingly about how the Deep State has punished Russia against the President’s wishes, to the point of boasting about it:

He (President Trump) complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country . . .

But his national security team knew better – such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

Here is the significance of the op-ed, not in what it reveals about President Trump but what it says about the Deep State itself, namely that it thrives on unnecessary and strategically counterproductive international conflicts. Those conflicts justify the trillion dollar “national security” budget off which the Deep State feeds, they provide the arenas in which the “national security team” builds its careers and power and they distract the public from our sorry military performance against the real threat, the threat of Fourth Generation war and the entities that wage it. They are, in short, bread for the Establishment and circuses for the citizens.

William S. Lind, The Deep State Speaks (emphasis added).

4

First, now that being censored on social media is a surefire way to win conservative clicks, it’s fair to assume that claims of censorship will proliferate, and not all of them will be true. Second, that doesn’t mean they’re all false, either. When it comes to the right, Silicon Valley almost certainly suffers from what the Valley used to call “epistemic closure” before the Valley embraced it. In that climate, “Sorry, mistake” isn’t likely to mollify anyone.

So the right has good reason for its suspicion, and no way to get good evidence that might rebut it. To see if Alex Jones had indeed been turned into Voldemort, I had to put my Facebook account — and a bit of my reputation — at risk. And even then, the fact that my account stayed up might simply show that the censors saw it as a trap that they were smart enough to avoid.

Bottom line: conservative concern about platform bias will continue to grow, and only radical transparency about platform standards and due process is likely to address that concern.

Stewart Baker (emphasis added), who tested reports that linking to Infowars from Facebook could get you suspended from the latter.

My personal “line I won’t cross” is somewhere between Breitbart and Infowars. I’ll occasionally visit the former, never knowingly visit the latter as if I might learn anything except how odious it is.

Where’s Facebook’s? Okay to link to Richard Spencer? Daily Stormer?

5

The McCarrick outcry is fading, it would appear, because his victims are adult men. Apparently sexual abuse of young men by an older man who is their ecclesiastical superior isn’t that big a deal.

Adult men make less instantly sympathetic victims than children, and the alleged incidents involving McCarrick are less headline-grabbingly horrifying than the episodes revealed by Pennsylvania’s recent grand jury report. But the church has more than a duty to ensure that minors aren’t victimized and should be sensitive to the fact that, where religious authority is exploited, the effects of sexual abuse can be especially devastating, as in Reading’s case.

Terry Mattingly, commenting on some fine reporting by Elizabeth Breunig under the Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith” rubric.

Yeah. Right. Winnowing out men who don’t want the priesthood so much that they’ll tolerate hanky-panky is a swell way of making sure you get lots of gay or sexually ambivalent priests who value the prestige of priesthood more than the truth of dogma and moral teaching.

6

Seriously, folks, if you are planning to withhold your regular tithe to your diocese for the time being, why not redirect it to the Norcia monks, who are the real deal? They are a light for the whole world. Please think about making a donation — or sign up for regular donations. You know how much I care about them, and esteem them. If you want to give confidently to help build a Catholic future you can believe in, the Monks of Norcia need your help.

Rod Dreher.

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Calming the discord

Impatient with the three branches of government established at the nation’s founding, the left routinely takes its politics to the streets now to demand remedies for “inequality” or “injustice.” Yet these inchoate demands have become so disconnected from the normal mechanisms of politics that no Congress, representing 535 elections, could possibly turn them into legislation.

Shortly after the Obergefell decision, something else of cultural and political significance happened. Within months, the left began to agitate for transgender rights, another moral claim whose substantive meaning is a mystery to most Americans.

Liberals remain incredulous at Mr. Trump’s election. But nearly half the electorate voted for him, and among the reasons is that today a lot of people—across all income classes—feel they are really being jammed by the culture. Progressive jurisprudence had a lot to do with this. Liberals won their share of court decisions, but at a price: The courts in America became an agent of social discord.

It would be good for the country’s stability if a Kavanaugh Court disincentivized the left from using the courts to push the far edges of the social envelope. This is not about turning back the clock. It is about how best to resolve bitter social and cultural disputes in the future. It is about no longer using the courts to make triumphal moral claims against the majority.

In the Kavanaugh Court, extending rights claims beyond their already elastic status is going to require more rigor than appeals to a judge’s personal sensibilities or a theory of social organization developed in law journals.

Advocates for social change involving race, gender, identity and such will have to convince representative majorities, elected by voters, to agree with their point of view. Unlike in the past four decades, the high court will more often weigh in after, not before, the political process has happened.

The United States needs to settle down politically ….

Daniel Henninger (emphasis added, paywall)

I’m less convinced than Henninger that the Roe v. Wade line of cases can survive a court that shows rigorous respect for the Constitution. Here’s why.

Not too long ago, I got into an internet dust-up with an progressive ignoramus who claimed that the purpose of the Constitution was to establish “rights.” I tried to correct him, and was treated as a monster for denying his dogma.

He was wrong, but he’s far from alone. It’s widely overlooked these days (though probably not widely ignored when mentioned) that the Bill of Rights are ten amendments to the constitution, the core purpose of which was to set up the rules for governing a new nation (duh!).

Among those rules were separation of the national government into three branches, with checks and balances among them, and with limitation on their overall power because states and the people would retain all powers not delegated to the national government.

So when an overreaching court seizes an issue from the States, although the Constitution left that issue to the states, that seizure is no less a violation of the constitution than when Congress makes a law, say, respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The Supreme Court Justices swear to uphold the Constitution, and take no oath to advance rights claims without Constitutional roots. Doesn’t that oath oblige justices to undue the mistake of a prior court that improperly wrested an issue away from those to whom the Constitution left it?

It’s pretty well known among legal scholars that the constitutional underpinnings of our abortion jurisprudence are somewhere between shaky and fanciful. There was a veritable cottage industry of attempts on the legal left to re-write the defective Roe v.. Wade opinion in law journal articles from 1973 to 1992, when Justice Kennedy replaced all the trimester crap and other Roe detritus with the equally risible “mystery passage” and invocation of stare decisis to avoid a “jurisprudence of doubt.” (“Shut up,” he explained.)

Perhaps a “Kavanaugh Court” would demur from overruling the Roe line of cases because frank overruling would increase an already-dangerous level of political discord. I suppose that could be justified on a “lesser Constitutional evil” theory (e.g., “If we honor federalism and return abortion laws to the states, where they belong, the whole Constitutional edifice could be toppled in the aftermath”).

In an era of Constitutional outrages, I don’t think that would be at the top of the outrage list, but I could fairly easily see it going the other way, too, especially if our political discord dies down before an appropriate case reaches the court.

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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)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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Spitting in the soup

That people associated with a university would invite a hateful mythmonger like Richard Spencer to campus is a tragedy; but it’s a greater tragedy that someone like Spencer is a public figure at all. That’s not something that even the best university administration can fix.

I might add that when people say that they want conservative ideas to be represented on campus and then invite Ann Coulter or Milo or Richard Spencer to speak, they have zero interest in ideas. They just want to spit in their neighbor’s soup.

(Alan Jacobs, part of his delayed reaction to the New Atlantis article I recently alluded to)

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Where I glean stuff.

Toxins and antidotes

I encountered one of this quotes before and may have shared it, but now I’ve read the whole article:

When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a Utilitarian or a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any one situation. But nowadays, students who major in departments that prioritize social justice over the disinterested pursuit of truth are given just one lens—power—and told to apply it to all situations. Everything is about power. Every situation is to be analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult, a fundamentalist religion, a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety, and intellectual impotence.

Now that I have thoroughly depressed you, let me end with a few rays of hope and some thoughts about what can be done. I began this lecture with a discussion of the fine-tuned liberal democracy, which is the hypothesis that human beings are unsuited for life in large diverse secular democracies, unless we can get certain settings finely adjusted. I think this hypothesis is true, and I have tried to show that we have stumbled into some very bad settings. I am pessimistic about our future, but let me state clearly that I have low confidence in my pessimism. It has always been wrong to bet against America, and it is probably wrong to do so now …

[I]f you want more hope, let me tell you why I think things are going to start to improve on university campuses, beginning in the fall of 2018: because as things get worse on campus, more people are beginning to stand up, and more people are searching for solutions. Some college presidents are starting to stand up. They all know they are sitting on a powder keg, and they want to defuse it. Also, they are generally liberal scholars, deeply opposed to illiberalism …

Professors are starting to stand up, too. At Heterodox Academy, we started with 25 members two years ago; now we have over 1,400, evenly balanced between left and right. We got a big surge of members after the violence at Middlebury because that was a tipping point. Professors are overwhelmingly on the left, but they are mostly liberal Left, not illiberal. My field—social psychology—for example, is quite sane. I have been raising the alarm about political imbalance and orthodoxy since 2011, and so far nothing bad has happened to me …

And most importantly, some students are beginning to stand up. At Reed College, one of the most politically orthodox schools in the country, social-justice activists had been protesting and disrupting the first-year humanities course for more than a year. They called the course an act of white supremacy because it focused on dead white authors. They said the course was traumatizing to non-white students. They brought their signs and chants into the classroom every day, making it hard for professors to teach or for students to learn. Many Reed students and professors objected, but none dared to do so publicly, lest they be called racist themselves. Finally, this fall, several Asian students stood up, criticized the protesters, and asked them to stop interfering with their education. Once these students stood up, support for the protesters collapsed. Many people had been going along out of fear, rather than conviction.

(Jonathan Haidt) This edited transcript of Haidt’s Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, delivered on November 15 has much more of worth than I have quoted, including analysis of how we got so polarized. A hint: I left the GOP in 2005, but there was handwriting on the walls ten years earlier (which I did not notice.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.