Potpourri 9/4/21

Opening insights

  • The Bitter Truth: There’s Still No Rhyme or Reason to COVID-19.” Charles C. W. Cooke has a refreshingly sane analysis of which policies help mitigate COVID-19: “There’s no rhyme or reason to this pandemic. Vaccines help a great deal. That much we know. Beyond that, though, the coverage of the virus has mostly been partisanship and witchcraft.”
  • Don’t Quit Twitter Yet. You Might Have a Moral Duty to Stay.” Tish Harrison Warren names a real and intractable problem: “Our implicit requirement of emerging leaders for copious social media engagement is like requiring all of America’s young cardiologists to take up smoking. The means necessary to have a public voice in our culture is precisely that which undoes the kind of deep thinking, nuance, creativity, humility, and compassion we desperately need from leaders of any sort.”

Front Porch Republic

Faire de la merde

[R]ead Noah Feldman’s new column. He writes that the Court "made a point that is incorrect in my view, but that is legally plausible." Why was it incorrect? Feldman explains, "The better view is that the court should have been creative and found a way to block the law anyway." And why should the Court have gotten creative? Feldman writes, "if the underlying law is unconstitutional and injures basic rights, the courts must have the power to block its operation." If there is a really bad law, the usual rules of jurisdiction can be ignored, because the court "must" be able to do something about it. I always appreciate Feldman’s candor. He says aloud what others are thinking. Unfortunately, telling courts to be "creative" is to tell courts to–pardon my French–"make shit up."

Joshua Blackman, New Op-Ed in Newsweek: The Supreme Court Could Not “Block” Texas’s Fetal Heartbeat Law – Reason.com (The heading of this item is from Google translate, and my colloquial French is too poor to know whether the French have any such colloquialism.)

Priorities today

  • Classical liberals conceded that your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins. Today’s progressives argue that your freedom to express your opinions stops where my feelings begin.
  • Scotland, a cradle of the Enlightenment, abolished the crime of blasphemy in March. At the same time, however, it reintroduced it by creating new offences such as “stirring up hatred” and “abusive speech”—punishable by up to seven years in prison.

‌Left-wing activists are using old tactics in a new assault on liberalism (The Economist)

Then, contrary to script, it turned really bad …

So far, I remain grateful that Joe Biden rather than Donald Trump is our President. I voted for "neither of the above" because neither of them is really suitable and my fair state was not "in play"; it was going for Trump. Having gotten the lesser evil, I’m not going to spend four years berating him.

But his inept handling of Afghanistan led to his grandfatherly, compassionate mask coming off briefly.

The enlisted men and women of the U.S. military are the most respected professionals in America. They can break your heart with their greatness, as they did at Hamid Karzai International Airport when 13 of them gave their lives to help desperate people escape. But the top brass? Something’s wrong there, something that August revealed. They are all so media-savvy, so smooth and sound-bitey after a generation at war, and in some new way they too seem obsessed with perceptions and how things play, as opposed to reality and how things are.

A longtime friend of his once told me Mr. Biden’s weakness is that he always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. I asked if the rooms are usually small, and the friend didn’t bristle, he laughed. I suspect Mr. Biden was thinking he was going to be the guy who finally cut through, who stopped the nonsense, admitted reality, who wasn’t like the others driven by fear of looking weak or incompetent. He was going to look with eyes made cool by experience and do what needed doing—cut this cord, end this thing, not another American dead.

History would see what he’d done. It would be his legacy. And for once he’d get his due—he’s not some ice-cream-eating mediocrity, not a mere palate-cleanser after the heavy meal of Trump, not a placeholder while America got its act together. He would finally be seen as what he is—a serious man. Un homme sérieux, as diplomats used to say.

And then, when it turned so bad so quick, his pride and anger shifted in, and the defiant, defensive, self-referential speeches. Do they not see my wisdom?

When you want it bad you get it bad.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added)

More united than they’d prefer

European decision makers have never lacked the ambition for [ambitious pan-European military] projects. (In 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President Jacques Chirac of France issued a portentous “Saint-Malo declaration” calling for an autonomous European strike force.) What they have lacked is a popular consensus for them. Creating an army befitting a superpower is a colossal expense. It makes sense to use the American one as long as it is on offer, rather than bankrupting Europe on a (perhaps quixotic) quest to duplicate it.

… Over the past 20 years, Europeans have watched as the United States first led Europe into wars Europe did not want to fight, and then succumbed to a passionate anti-elite politics that culminated in the election of Donald Trump. Frustration is to be expected. The Afghanistan collapse will surely sharpen it.

But the European Union is going to find it difficult to place itself at the center of Western defense arrangements, largely because it, too, has generated among its citizenry a distrust for elites as intense as the one that put the United States on its present path. In this respect, at least, Western countries are united, more united perhaps than they would wish to be.

Christopher Caldwell, ‌What the Afghanistan Withdrawal Means for Europe’s Future

A cure for despair

I found myself gape-mouthed that humanity was ever capable of producing urban spaces like this. We are far richer than the Veronese were at the height of their powers, but we can only produce mediocrity, or worse, ugliness. Verona is a palimpsest of Roman, medieval, Renaissance, and early modern architecture, all of it harmonizing in a gorgeous polyphony that ravishes the senses and elevates the spirit. If you despair of humanity, go to Verona, and see what we can be.

Rod Dreher, My Verona

Corporate "virtue"

Lyft wants me to know that it is "Defending drivers and women’s access to healthcare" by setting up a defense fund in case any of its drivers get sued for aiding and abetting an abortion under the now-famous Texas law. The tell is the domain from which they notified me: @marketing.lyftmail.com›. (Also they invited me to contribute to their defense fund.)

I’m unimpressed. I’m also unoffended by the substance of the action. But were I offended, Uber and Lyft are still the only ride-share services I know, and Uber is mostly smoke and mirrors.

Why people come to church for the wrong reasons

Undoubtedly, people come to church for a host of wrong reasons. But the pastor is able to help them find the words to acknowledge, sometimes to their own surprise, that they are here because God has willed them to be here, despite all their wrong reasons.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Irresistible forces and immovable objects

Two serious blogs in one day is unusual, but here’s the second.

Liberalism versus the Successor Ideology

Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. [The Successor Ideology] will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Look how far the left’s war on liberalism has gone.

Due process? If you’re a male on campus, gone. Privacy? Stripped away — by anonymous rape accusations, exposure of private emails, violence against people’s private homes, screaming at folks in restaurants, sordid exposés of sexual encounters, eagerly published by woke mags. Non-violence? Exceptions are available if you want to “punch a fascist.” Free speech? Only if you don’t mind being fired and ostracized as a righteous consequence. Free association? You’ve got to be kidding. Religious freedom? Illegitimate bigotry. Equality? Only group equity counts now, and individuals of the wrong identity can and must be discriminated against. Color-blindness? Another word for racism. Mercy? Not for oppressors. Intent? Irrelevant. Objectivity? A racist lie. Science? A manifestation of white supremacy. Biological sex? Replaced by socially constructed gender so that women have penises and men have periods. The rule of law? Not for migrants or looters. Borders? Racist. Viewpoint diversity? A form of violence against the oppressed.

[Ibram X] Kendi, feted across the establishment, favors amending the Constitution to appoint an unelected and unaccountable committee of “experts” that has the power to coerce and punish any individual or group anywhere in the country deemed practicing racism. Intent does not matter. And the decisions are final. An advocate for unaccountable, totalitarian control of our society is the darling of every single elite institution in America, and is routinely given platforms where no tough questioning of him is allowed.  He is as dumb as Obama is smart; as crude as Obama is nuanced; as authoritarian as Obama is liberal.

We are going through the greatest radicalization of the elites since the 1960s. This isn’t coming from the ground up. It’s being imposed ruthlessly from above, marshaled with a fusillade of constant MSM propaganda, and its victims are often the poor and the black and the brown. It nearly lost the Democrats the last election. Only Biden’s seeming moderation, the wisdom of black Democratic primary voters, and the profound ugliness of Trump wrested the presidency from a vicious demagogue, whose contempt for our system of government appears ever greater the more we find out about his term in office.

… one reason to fight for liberalism against the successor ideology is that its extremes are quite obviously fomenting and facilitating and inspiring ever-rising fanaticism in response. I fear the successor ideology’s Kulturkampf is already making the 2022 midterms a landslide for a cultish, unmoored GOP. In fighting S.I., we are also fighting Trump.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?. I’m marking this as a favorite. It’s just devastatingly effective demonstrating that the Left is the aggressor in the current Culture Wars, and just how damaging those wars are (the Left just might give us Trump 2024).

And, by the way, Trump’s baaaaaaack (at CPAC)!

Why “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for the Successor Ideology

[The New York Times] is the media hub of the “social justice movement.” And the core point of that movement, its essential point, is that liberalism is no longer enough. Not just not enough, but itself a means to perpetuate “white supremacy,” designed to oppress, harm and terrorize minorities and women, and in dire need of dismantling. That’s a huge deal. And it explains a lot.

The reason “critical race theory” is a decent approximation for this new orthodoxy is that it was precisely this exasperation with liberalism’s seeming inability to end racial inequality in a generation that prompted Derrick Bell et al. to come up with the term in the first place, and Kimberlé Crenshaw to subsequently universalize it beyond race to every other possible dimension of human identity (“intersectionality”).

A specter of invisible and unfalsifiable “systems” and “structures” and “internal biases” arrived to hover over the world. Some of this critique was specific and helpful: the legacy of redlining, the depth of the wealth gap. But much was tendentious post-modern theorizing.

Again, Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?. This felt worth extracting from his general discussion of successor ideology radicalization because it gives the “critical race theory” moniker its due.

J.D. Vance finds his inner Winston Smith

“It was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Donald Trump,” – Robby Soave, on J.D. Vance’s volte-face over Trump now that he’s seeking the cult leader’s endorsement for the Ohio Senate race.

Via Andrew Sullivan, ‌What Happened To You?.

The cardinal problem

C. S. Lewis describes the premodern view as one in which “the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.” According to the modern view—unwittingly set in motion by Bacon, Descartes, and others—”the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.” And there is no reality—no truth of things—to order our wishes.

Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

This book is at least 19 years old, and I think the original publication is further back than that. And up it pops in Readwise with another insight that converges on what I’m currently focusing on. (I needn’t posit divine intervention: what you’re thinking about and looking for shapes what you see.)

Conservatives are the counterculture now

Because the larger culture has drifted away from the traditional norms of family life, for instance, mere persistence in those norms is becoming a countercultural statement—and a community consciously built around them becomes, almost by default, a subculture with a moral life of its own, provided it is given the freedom to try.

Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic.

Is Levin’s premise true? Upperclass liberals live boringly conventional and bourgoise marital lives.

MAGA Anger Explained

Sometimes, I’m surprised how long it takes for gossip to reach me. This time, it was 5 days.

Last Thursday, a Twitterstorm began issuing shortly before noon, from one @MartyrMade. I missed it because I’m utterly neglecting my Twitter account.

That night, Tucker Carlson took 7 minutes to read it on air. I missed it because life is too short to fit in Tucker Carlson.

Donald Trump read from it during his 90-minute CPAC therapy session (I think that was Sunday). Need I explain that I don’t follow CPAC?

@MartyrMade’s Twitter account surged from 7,000 followers to 70,000. Good for him. But crickets were all I heard.

But today, Glen Greenwald turned over his Substack to @MartyrMade, a/k/a Darryl Cooper, “to elaborate on his influential thread, with a focus on what led him to these observations ….” The observations were a sharp and plausible “general theory” about why so many Trump supporters distrust the 2020 Election.

Spoiler alert: they distrust the Election because they’ve come to distrust many of our major institutions, and not without reason.

Here’s one of Cooper’s many observations, to my mind one of the best:

GOP propaganda still has many conservatives thinking in terms of partisan binaries. Even the dreaded RINO (Republican-In-Name-Only) slur serves the purposes of the party, because it implies that the Democrats represent an irreconcilable opposition. But many Trump supporters see clearly that the Regime is not partisan. They know that the same institutions would have taken opposite sides if it had been a Tulsi Gabbard vs. Jeb Bush election. It’s hard to describe to people on the Left, who are used to thinking of American government as a conspiracy and are weaned on stories about Watergate, COINTELPRO, and Saddam’s WMD, how shocking and disillusioning this was for people who encouraged their sons and daughters to go fight for their country when George W. Bush declared war on Iraq.

They could have managed the shock if it only involved the government. But the behavior of the press is what radicalized them. Trump supporters have more contempt for journalists than they have for any politician or government official, because they feel most betrayed by them. The idea that the corporate press is driven by ratings and sensationalism has become untenable over the last several years. If that were true, there’d be a microphone in the face of every executive branch official demanding to know what the former Secretary of Labor meant when he said that Jeffrey Epstein “belonged to intelligence.” The corporate press is the propaganda arm of the Regime these people are now seeing in outline. Nothing anyone says will ever make them unsee that, period.

‌Author of the Mega-Viral Thread on MAGA Voters, Darryl Cooper, Explains His Thinking

Pointing out what may be obvious

I didn’t set out to follow a common theme, but I seem at least halfway to have found one.

  • The successor ideology is totalizing
  • MAGA American doesn’t want to be totalized by anyone but Donald Trump
  • MAGA America, famously if formally leaning Evangelical, isn’t all that faithful in Church attendance, and they’re not letting some preacher totalize them with knowledge, exhortations to self-discipline and virtue. No, they’re going to try to subdue reality to their wishes.
  • This is not a formula for healthy civic life. Left-liberals, center-liberals and right-liberals need to make common cause against the toxic extremes.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The Equality Act

When I listen to news, I listen to NPR. I’m aware of its liberal bias, which manifests in how it covers news but also — and this is too rarely appreciated — what it considers "newsworthy" in the first place.

But NPR really dropped the ball on the Equality Act, which comes up for vote in the U.S. House today. Its story doesn’t even mention opposition based on the certain (not speculative) effect of requiring that male-to-female transgender persons be permitted to compete in athletic events against biological women.

A guest opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal identifies other problems besides the Act’s adverse effect on religious and conscience rights:

The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.

This isn’t hyperbole. Similar state laws have already resulted in such harm. In California, Catholic hospitals have faced lawsuits for declining to perform life-altering “gender affirmation” surgery in September 2016. In Connecticut, two biologically male athletes won a combined 15 girls state championship races, allegedly taking opportunities for further competition and scholarships from female runners in June 2019. Alaska’s Equal Rights Commission opened an investigation into a women’s shelter after it turned away a biological male in September 2019. H.R. 5 would impose the most extreme form of these laws on the whole country.

The bill is so broad that even some who support the measure in principle have called for Congress to carve out exceptions. Writing in the Washington Post in 2019, tennis legend and activist Martina Navratilova asked Congress to exempt athletic competitions. “The reality,” Ms. Navratilova wrote, “is that putting male- and female-bodied athletes together is co-ed or open sport. And in open sport, females lose.”

Women forced to compete against male athletes risk not only losing competitions, but also serious injury. Ask Tamikka Brents, whose orbital bone was fractured by transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in the latter’s first professional fight as a woman. Ms. Brents said she felt “overwhelmed” by the fight.

The reason that some contexts require separation of the sexes is obvious: Women have unique physical vulnerabilities. Female inmates are kept separate from male inmates for just this reason. How can we possibly reduce the number of sex crimes against women if the law refuses to recognize such basic differences?

Under the guise of fairness, the Equality Act would forbid policy makers from ever taking into consideration the differences between men and women that are necessary in order to guarantee safety and equality of the sexes.

The Equality Act isn’t about protecting people from discrimination; it’s about compelling adherence to gender ideology. Don’t let its name fool you.

The Equality Act Makes Women Unequal – WSJ

Religious freedom was once held in such high esteem that Congress was almost unanimous on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act less than 30 years ago, and Bill Clinton supported it and signed it. Today, it generally appears in scare quotes, often with intensifiers (e.g., "so-called ‘religious freedom’"), and is to the cultural left a bugaboo like saying "George Soros" to the cultural right.

NPR mis-reported the primary objections to The Equality Act, a bit of liberal groin piety analogous to tax cuts on the right, and I can’t help but suspect that they did so to "poison the well." Selma envy is alive and well as a prime motivation of today’s progressivism.

Present obsessions

Coronavirus seems to dominate the news and now is beginning to dominate our tribal animosities, but don’t forget Michael Flynn.

1

Some fascinating insights by one of Rod Dreher’s readers:

[B]ecause conservatives aren’t interested in environmental policy, public health, etc., they cede those fields to progressives, which means those institutions develop progressive biases, which both repels potential conservative workers and makes it harder for them to advance, which increases progressive bias, and so on. And when conservatives DO get the chance to helm these organizations–and this is where Trump infuriates me more than almost anything else–instead of putting serious thinkers with a body of work and experience into those positions, they put in grifters or people who intentionally dislike the institution and want to weaken it. In some areas, this is an understandable if sad dynamic. But public health has been viewed as part of the magistrate’s job for as long as war and courts. Governments have been quarantining infectious disease since well before the United States existed. It is a CRUCIAL field, and it has to function, and conservatives cannot just bitch about how “well it’s full of liberals and has a liberal bias.” Yeah, public health will institutionally be biased a bit towards statist, central action. It will be skeptical of religious institutions as partners. But your county health department is as vital to your community as your local school district or police, and by ceding fields like public health to the progressives, conservatives have basically lost all institutional knowledge about things like public health. There is no viable conservative alternative to public health in this crisis–the entirety of it is “bunch of libs doing lib stuff! No to that!”

Masks As Condensed Symbols | The American Conservative (emphasis added).

I’ve been repeatedly encountering lately reminders of how we abstract fairly concrete things so we can analyze them, and a portion of what Rod’s reader said was one of those reminders.

This was one of the best things I read today inasmuch as it acknowledges institutional liberalism but indicts conservatives as co-conspirators — and reminds us to “get real.”

2

First Things is much in the news as Editor in Chief R.R. Reno becomes increasingly strident, populist and Trumpist in general, and had a downright nasty Tweetstorm this week about coronavirus “cowards.” His outburst accelerated comments on the magazine’s decline — a fairly long slide, arguably dating to the arrival of Reno.

My own contribution:

Performative: I threw my June/July First Things in the trash, unopened.

Substantive #1: I already skimmed, “clipped” and annotated it digitally.

Substantive #2: skimming, clipping and annotating is a relatively trivial job these (waning?) days of the Rusty Reno reign.


Jonathan V. Last of the Bulwark has come onto my radar recently.  He’s had several good insights.

Not one of the (conflicting) coronavirus conspiracy theories finds any basis for faulting the guy where the buck is supposed to stop. That’s the big tell that, taken literally, every one of the conspiracy-mongers is bullshitting. That’s my distillation of part of one essay.

But:

We have a “don’t wear masks” movement that overlaps almost entirely with the “reopen immediately” movement.

There are only two possible explanations for why this might be. The first is that people are dumber than a bag of hammers.

The second is that when people tell you what they think about “reopening” and “masks,” they aren’t actually talking about the coronavirus. They’re telling a story about how they see themselves and their place in the world.

… [T]here is a non-trivial number of Americans—maybe it’s 1-in–10, maybe it’s 1-in–4—who … view the pandemic as … opportunity to posture and perform.

In part, this is an artifact of how successful the mitigation measures have been: Because the death toll has been held to the scores of thousands, many people have the luxury of talking and acting however they like without facing real-world consequences …

As America’s decadence has increased over the last 30 or so years and we have become—just objectively speaking—a less serious country, one of the stories we have told ourselves was that we could become a serious people again if we faced a big enough shock or a stern enough test. That the steely, strong, serious America of the last century—the America that survived the Depression and crushed the Nazis and put men on the moon—was still somewhere within us, just waiting to be awakened. That our true, best selves just needed a call to action, a grave, existential summons.

The reaction of this vocal and sizable minority to the pandemic suggests that this story might not be true, either.

Jonathan V. Last, The Curious Case of the People Who Want to “Reopen” America—But Not Wear Masks. Well, that kinda got dark at the end, didn’t it?


Rod Dreher, too, laments First Things, but pivots:

It should also be said that from my point of view, the Christian Left is completely bankrupt. What is its point at all? It is so besotted with LGBT activism and identity politics that it is impossible to discern anything distinctly Christian about it. I mean, if it is true that far too much of the Religious Right has subordinated itself to offering theological justifications for right-wing politics, this is, if anything, more true of the Religious Left, with progressive causes. Name one thing that any significant Religious Left figure stands for that opposes secular left-wing politics …

But that’s their problem. We on the Christian Right have our own to work out. What I regret is that First Things still has a unique position of being able to offer that leadership, but is squandering it. It was a mistake for Reno to endorse Donald Trump publicly, and to thereby tie the magazine to the Trump project. I don’t object to the magazine running piece sympathetic to Trump, but it would have been far, far more prudent to have kept the magazine uncommitted. And now, in the Covid–19 crisis, the magazine has not been a place for thoughtful, challenging theological and cultural analyses of the pandemic phenomenon, but has become known for Reno’s descent into bizarro crankishness.

Rod Dreher, First Things & The Future Of Religious Conservatism | The American Conservative.


Alan Jacobs had a long history with them, but now asks what to say about First Things? at his Snakes and Ladders blog. After editor Jim Neuchterlein left, universal acceptance of Jacobs’ manuscripts became universal rejection:

It was, and still is, hard for me to know how much I had changed and how much they had.

Not, for a long time, being willing to give up altogether, I managed to get a handful of things in the magazine, but it was obvious that my relationship with it was never going to be the same. And then things started getting more generally strange. A kind of … I’m not quite sure what the word is, but I think I want to say a pugilistic culture began to dominate the magazine. When I submitted a piece to an editor, another editor wrote me an angry email demanding to know why I hadn’t submitted it to him; whenever I disagreed with Rusty Reno about something, he would, with such regularity that I felt it had to be intentional, accuse me of having said things I never said; once, when I made a comment on Twitter about the importance of Christians who share Nicene orthodoxy working together, another editor quickly informed me that I’m not a Nicene Christian. (Presumably because, since I’m not a Roman Catholic, I don’t really believe in “the holy Catholic church.”)

I suspect all these folks would tell a different story than the one I’m telling, so take all this as one person’s point of view, but more and more when I looked at First Things I found myself thinking: What the hell is going on here? Sometimes the whole magazine seemed to be about picking fights, and often enough what struck me as wholly unnecessary and counterproductive fights. (Exhibit A: the Mortara kerfuffle.) So I stopped submitting, and then I stopped subscribing, and then for the most part I stopped reading.

I fear Jacobs isn’t alone, but he concludes with a reminder that all is not lost:

Rod Dreher is correct to say, in a follow-up to the post I linked to at the top of this piece, that no other magazine of religion and public life, or religion and intellectual life, has the reach of First Things. But I think the decision by the editors of FT to occupy the rather … distinctive position in the intellectual landscape that they’ve dug into for the past few years has left room for a thousand flowers to bloom in the places that FT is no longer interested in cultivating. I have gotten more and more involved with Comment; they’re publishing some outstanding work at Plough Quarterly; even an endeavor like The Point, not specifically religious at all, makes room for religious voices ….

3

I think I’ve reached a conclusion that Judge Emmet Sullivan is acting properly seeking amici in the Department of Justice’s bizarre motion to dismiss charges against Michael Flynn. Randall D. Eliason convinced me:

[W]hat makes the Flynn case different, and so unusual, is that Flynn has already pleaded guilty. Once the court has gone through the solemn process of accepting a guilty plea, the balance of interests changes. Executive branch decisions about whether and how to prosecute are no longer implicated, because those decisions have already been made. The prosecution is largely over, the defendant stands convicted, and all that remains is sentencing — which is the prerogative of the judge. At that point, the court has a greater role to play in determining how the case proceeds.

The cases largely relied upon by Flynn and his supporters — including the most frequently cited, United States v. Fokker Services, B.V. — are cases involving prosecutorial decisions where there has been no guilty plea. That’s a crucial distinction. No one is pointing to cases in which the government has moved to completely drop a prosecution after a guilty plea because, frankly, no one can think of another example.

At the very least, because the government’s request is so unusual, it raises complex issues concerning how the court should proceed and what legal standards apply. With the Justice Department now in bed with Flynn, neither is going to present the other side of those issues to help Sullivan determine what to do next, and that makes it appropriate for a judge to invite outside experts to provide advice.

The judge in the Michael Flynn case has taken some unusual steps. Here’s why they’re appropriate.

4

“I found out with both Bush and Clinton, their childhood heroes were Willie Mays,” Shea said. “Bush told me that he didn’t want to be a president, he wanted to be Willie Mays.”

Willie Mays at 89: ‘My Thing Is Keep Talking and Keep Moving’ – The New York Times

That makes three of us.

5

Three new unnamed articles on race from the Immanent Frame. I’ve named them:

  1. How the social construct of race got constructed
  2. Race explored in poetry
  3. “Doing” religion and race together

I found the third easier to take if I imagined it as a spoof.

6

I’ve never quite understood what American Exceptionalism is. It seems to shape-shift so that you contest it at your own risk.

Is this it?

7

Having established the principle that each department must “pull its weight” financially, Liberty University abolishes all departments to focus on Division I major sports.

(#Satire #PleaseDoNotSueMeJerry)

8

Peggy Noonan seems a fitting bookend, as she comments the class warfare aspects of our coronavirus contentiousness: Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown.

I think we’re going to open up the economy again, but in a vulnerable age group and without a compelling need to go out, I’ll merge back into life slowly. Meanwhile, others had darned well better behave themselves lest we do finally push hospitals beyond their limits.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

“L’état, c’est moi” does not translate well into English

This is basically an aggregation with little comment.


From FiveThirtyEight.com, two very useful ‘splainers:

H/T The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


Experts Reject Trump Claim

(Charlie Savage)

I suppose it’s necessary to consult experts since it’s POTUS who said it, and his acolytes will believe him over Charlie Savage.

But Savage’s experts will be dismissed as Deep-State opponents of Trump.

You can’t win this game. It’s like Calvinball.


It’s no excuse for Trump that he’s not a lawyer, and that, as conservative commentator Andrew C. McCarthy put it, Trump “frequently gets out over his skis when he discusses constitutional law” — that, indeed, he “mangles” it. Trump took a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. After his years in the job, he ought to know something about that document.

But it’s not just federalism that Trump misapprehends. It’s grade-school-level civics that the president carries out laws, not his whims or desires, however laudatory or popular they might be. The very Article II that he has claimed gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president,” actually says something quite different: not only that “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” but also that, if he needs authority to do something for the good of the country, he should go to Congress, “and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Faithfully executing the law means not only enforcing it but also abiding by it — including its limitations.

George T. Conway III


It has indeed been galling to watch many within the press corps repeatedly ask Trump why he has declined to preempt gubernatorial decisions or shut down grocery stores when he does not enjoy the power to do either. It was galling, too, to watch many of those same voices erupt in indignation when, eventually, he began to talk as if he does … To hear the words “the authority is total” pass the lips of our chief executive was jarring, unwelcome, and dangerous. Now, as ever, “L’état, c’est moi” does not translate well into English.

NRO Editors

I wanted to just quote the last two sentences, but the first two were worthy, too.


A remarkable thing happened Monday: The New York Times executive editor, Dean Baquet, actually had to answer questions about his paper’s very different coverage of sexual-assault allegations against Joe Biden and Brett Kavanaugh. It did not go well. It is simply impossible to read the interview and the Times coverage of the two cases and come away believing that the Times acted in good faith or, frankly, that it even expects anyone to believe its explanations. The paper’s motto, at this point, may as well be “All the News You’re Willing to Buy.”

Dan McLaughlin

I completely agree with this. What I do not agree with, though, is the conservative trolling line that they’re treating Tara Reade’s Biden accusations too dismissively. Rather, they should have treated Christine Blasey Ford’s Kavanaugh accusations more dismissively, because they were more remote and less corrobotated.

Let’s not repeat Mutually Assured Destruction. Especially as to decades-old accusations, remember why were have statutes of limitation.


[The U.S. now has] a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.3 percent (the true mortality rate is difficult to calculate due to incomplete testing regimens) …

The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


President Trump announced the United States is placing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization due to the organization’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?

WHO can get back in Trump’s good graces by conspicuously declaring an investigation of Hunter Biden as an asymptomatic Cootie Carrier.


State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses – The Washington Post

It would be easy to misapply this either of two ways:

  1. Covid-19 is caused by a Chinese-engineered bioweapon. (One reactionary blogger I follow keeps insinuating such by emphasizing the China nexus.)
  2. The Trump administration should have known that something like Covid-19 was coming and prepared for it. (True, but much, muchlater, and not based on this scuttlebutt.)

H/T The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


New York, New York, a helluva town! In many senses, and not just during this pandemic.

Rich and Healthy vs. Poor and Dead | The American Conservative


I chalk a lot of this up to social dynamics and the ever-useful Iron Law of Institutions, which posits that individuals act in a manner designed to increase their standing within their group, rather than in a manner designed to increase the probability that their group will accomplish its external goals. A certain type of performative, over-the-top radicalism is very ‘in’ online, as is clear to anyone who spends too much time on Twitter. Never was this more apparent than in the way the most online segment of the left treated Elizabeth Warren, who if elected president would have marked a major step forward for the American left on almost every conceivable front: as a corrupt neoliberal shill light years away from Sanders, ideologically. You get points for this sort of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or advances the goals of your tribe — it makes you cooler within the tribe.

It Was Self-Defeating For The Democratic Socialists Of America To Announce They Wouldn’t Endorse Joe Biden – Singal-Minded.

I’ll quote no more as this is subscriber-only content. I’ve admired Singal for his courage in bucking his tribe by raising impolitic questions about Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria in adolescent girls (what brought him to my attention, and a subject he seems to have abandoned, but that probably is for lack of anything new to say about it just yet).

He makes his living at independent journalism, and he’s pretty good at it — and pretty independent.


“Progressive” United Methodists in the U.S. have always lagged behind the culture, but then have spun comforting myth about what prophetic leaders they were and are. Today is no different.

Far from being countercultural, the United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies have too often functioned like cultural chameleons, changing their values and practices to fit in with the dominant culture. They have not operated with a strong sense of identity grounded in Scripture and tradition, and thus have not been able to face off the unpredictable and changing winds of cultural pressure and change.

And it the culture goes off the rails, American Methodism will follow. “The argument based on the myth of Methodist progress on slavery and race, then the ordination of women, and now same-sex marriage, is … bad history.”

Kevin Watson, Methodism Dividing at First Things (may not be out from behind the paywall yet) should you care to read a little skeptical history. Not surprisingly, Watson has a book should you care to read a lot of skeptical history.


12-Year-Old “Politically Vocal Boy” Loses Libel Claim Against Newsweek – Reason.com

Put on your big girl panties and get oveer it.

If you can’t stand the heat, bunky, get out of the kitchen.

If you want to dish it out, you’d better learn to take it.

Have I missed a cliché?


Tara Reade is the farce that launched a thousand trolls, but using Biden’s own words against him seems fair. Joe Biden’s Campaign Exhibits Double Standard On Due Process

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Illusions of clarity and autonomy

The Washington Post has an Op-Ed exhorting Want to help save hospitals from being overwhelmed? Fill out that medical directive now. I expected to hate it more than I did.

So why did I hate it at all?

1. The clear message is that the some of us really should be willing to die for the rest of us.

There is little or no guilt-tripping manipulation in the column beyond that tacit message, but it goes out into a culture amply primed to understand. ‘Nuff said.

2. You’re not as clear as you think.

“[I]t is vital for physicians to know, and to honor, every patient’s explicit wishes,” the authors say, but “explicit wishes” carries a crushing burden there.

I practiced law for almost 40 years, with a lot of estate planning included. I was avocationaly involved in promotion of appropriate medical treatment for all, such as a symposium on physician-assisted suicide at Stanford in 1988, beginning before “Living Wills” became a fad. (Ever since then, by the way, I’ve been convinced that, for better or worse, we are going to get a single-payer system of some sort. I’m surprised it has taken so long.) And apart from the parents of a childhood friend, I don’t think I ever heard or was able to tease out of a client any “explicit” wishes.

My friend’s parents, though not very old, were tired of living and wanted no medical measures to sustain life.

Me: You mean that if you collapsed on the floor in front of me right now, you wouldn’t want me to call 911?

Them: Yes.

Now that was clear. I helped them doument their wish as strongly as possible, and somewhat to my surprise, they both were dead within five years.

Most of what I got from clients was vague but heartfelt pleas amounting to “I don’t want to die, but don’t let me end up like Karen Quinlan!” Understandable from the standpoint of empathy (nobody wants to “end up like Karen Quinlan”), but not as a concrete decision.

And then I had to try to fit the best I could tease out of them into something “substantially” in a legislatively-prescribed format that by itself was just more of the same vagueness. Efforts at adding clarity or nuance threatened to make it not in substantially the required form.

I couldn’t know because there was no caselaw. And there was no caselaw because …

3. Some doctor you’ve never met before will drive a Mack Truck through your ambiguities.

I can imagine clear advance directives by people who have candidly spoken with their physician about the expected course of a specific terminal condition that has been diagnosed. That’s what P.O.S.T. laws are about.

But because advance directives other that P.O.S.T. orders are (almost – see above) always vague, physicians pretty much do what they think is reasonable.

Maybe you’re okay with your long-time physician doing that, but if you’re in the hospital, it’s likely to be a physician you never met before.

4. Once you’re incapacitated, you’re no longer autonomous.

Early in court disputes over medical decisionmaking for incapacitated people (see Karen Quinlan or Indiana’s Sue Ann Lawrence), judges were groping around for a rationale to keep the courts from being flooded with such cases. They frequently lit upon the notion of “autonomy,” a rationale so transparently bogus as to drive a philosopher mad, and I was too philosophical to suffer such foolishness gladly.

The rationale was absurd and perverse because the cases invariably involved incapacitated people.

If not incapacitated, patients make their own decisions, and are bound (in theory) by no limitations on their deciding. Want to make a bizarre and lethal decision to forego an antibiotic for an easily-treated staph infection? No problem. Injecting you would be malpractice and criminal battery if you refuse it.

But how about if you’re incapacitated? May a judge reason that your life — maybe lifelong disability, or mild to moderate dementia — is so wretched that a reasonable person in that position would prefer to die needlessly of staph rather than to continue living?

My answer was and is “no.” But (admittedly in more dire circumstances) many judges were saying “yes” and justifying it as “autonomy.”

I once challenged a court of appeals judge, sitting on a panel of presenters at a continuing legal education seminar, that “autonomy-by-proxy” was an oxymoron, implying that they needed a better rationale. So obviously true was my observation that her only “out” was to deny that that was what they were doing. (So of course she ended up life-tenured on a Federal court.)

But that is what they were doing. The autonomy belonged to the patient and was only autonomous when exercised by the patient. The judges were exercising counterfeit “autonomy” in the name of the patient.

5. Be a burden to your family.

You can’t get around that by appointing a friend or family member either. Insofar as you’ve lost capacity, you’ve lost control. Nobody, appointed by you or elected by fellow-citizens, can be autonomous for you. Get over it.

So what do I recommend? Proxies, like a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and/or an Appointment of Representative for Healthcare. (The titles and details tend to be state-specific.)

In other words, giving someone you trust (and ideal who loves you) the power to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated isn’t properly autonomous, but it’s the best of a bad lot of choices — by a wide margin, too, in my opinion.

And then talk to them about your values and vague wishes before you are incapacitated.

I only had one client reject that offer, on the basis that he didn’t want to burden his family — and it turned out that he was secretly such a monster — driven by ideology, I think — that most in his family would have grieved little were he dead.

Don’t be like him.

* * * * *

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Trade-offs of pluralism

I’m still bereft of worthy, fresh ideas for blogging since blogging for me is part of an iterative search for truth and I don’t have a good enough handle on coronavirus to say a whole lot confidently and truthily.

Except maybe this: If you think the coronavirus is a hoax and not very serious, pull your head out of those nether-regions where the sun don’t shine (i.e., shut off Limbaugh, Hannity and their ilk), get a few basic facts, and think about how many Chinese, Italian and Spanish people died, how many international organizations sounded alarms, in this elaborate hoax to dethrone King Donald. Does that sound plausible?

Lacking something fresh, I found another incomplete draft, from September 9, took it and dusted it off. Enjoy!

* * *

Sohrab Ahmari and David French finally faced off live at Catholic University of America Thursday evening [September 5?], moderated by Ross Douthat.

In debating terms, it was no contest: French cleaned up. In fairness to Ahmari, his wife had a child on Wednesday, so he had things on his mind more important than a mere livestreamed national debate of sorts.

But again and again, French, in good Evangelical style, spoke of the freedom to preach the Gospel in a content-neutral public square, to lead drag queens to Jesus, and such. That’s pretty consistent with the forward-facing values of ADF, the Evangelical-leaning public-interest law firm for or with whom he formerly worked.

It started to sound as obsessive as Ahmari’s concern over Drag Queen Story Hour. So I was glad to see Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy argue for something a bit thicker than mere neutrality:

For most of the … campus ministries at Nebraska, …universities were convenient social institutions because they rounded up a large number of demographically similar young people into a single place where they would have broadly identical routines, all of which made it very easy to evangelize them. Many of these groups did not think anything of taking their students away from campus regularly on retreats, heavily programming their weeks (thereby cutting into their time to give to their studies), and even sometimes suggesting that their academic work was of mostly incidental importance. The real life happened in Bible studies and when you prayed and over coffee with your discipler or disciplee. College, much like one’s eventual career, was mostly a necessary evil that simply secured material goods for you.

While watching the French-Ahmari debate last night it occurred to me that French seems to have a fairly similar vision of the nation—it’s an incidental good that is useful for advancing certain strictly material goods but it pales in significance when set next to the work of the church …

The point is not necessarily that French should endorse some species of integralism, although it is worth noting that in his handling of rights and the nature of religious doctrine as it relates to public life French is far closer to the Baptists than he is the traditional views of the reformed tradition to which he belongs. But that point aside, French could preserve many of the rights he cares about preserving while anchoring his account of the political in something more real than the pragmatic adjudication of disputes within a pluralistic society.

… That the government could be something more than a mere arbiter who threatens to hit you in the head with a brick if you don’t play nicely with your neighbor seems to be unimaginable ….

There’s much more Jake wrote, but you can go read it yourself readily enough.

By lifelong mental habit and eventual initiation into the solemn mysteries of “thinking like a lawyer,” I don’t suppose I’ll ever be able to leave the camp of classical procedural liberalism, but the Ahmaris and Meadors of the world at least drive home that there are trade-offs in our pluralistic experiment.

One of the trade-offs is the risky one of declaring, a priori, that we must never agree on just what is the “common good” because we know that there’s no such thing as human nature, just humans with various and sundry natures, each, probably, as unique as a snowflake. I disagree with both dogmas, but for the foreseeable future, I’m a loser. It will take some undeniable anthropological catastrophe, the equivalent of COVID-19, to turn those tables.

* * * * *

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Punching down

More than 20 states have incorporated sexual orientation into their anti-discrimination statutes. As Charlotte Allen documents in “Punching Down,” this has empowered well-educated and well-paid gays to punish less educated, less wealthy neighbors who dare to refuse to bake a cake or make a bouquet for their weddings. At present, Colorado baker Jack Phillips has been targeted by yet another lawsuit, this time brought by a transgender Denver lawyer. The situation is exactly the opposite of the Montgomery bus boycott.

In certain circumstances it may be unjust to deny employment to a gay person. But this kind of discrimination, if it happens in our society (as surely it does), is not “invidious.” By any measure, discrimination against gays is uncommon. I am willing to bet a substantial sum that a fat person is far more likely to suffer employment discrimination than someone who engages in sodomy in the privacy of his home.

GLAAD set a goal: It wanted 10 percent of primetime TV characters to be LGBT. The organization recently reported that this goal was achieved. The new goal is 20 percent. Four percent of the population identifies as gay. In what universe does a group capable of compelling fivefold overrepresentation in the media require anti-discrimination protection?

R.R. Reno

* * * * *

Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For thou art the lover of mankind.

(From A Psalter for Prayer)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Trade-offs of pluralism

Sohrab Ahmari and David French finally faced off live at Catholic University of America Thursday evening, moderated by Ross Douthat.

In debating terms, it was no contest: French cleaned up. In fairness to Ahmari, his wife had a child on Wednesday, so he had things on his mind more important than a mere livestreamed national debate of sorts.

But again and again, French, in good Evangelical style, spoke of the freedom to preach the Gospel in a content-neutral public square, to lead drag queens to Jesus, and such. That’s pretty consistent with the forward-facing values of ADF, the Evangelical-leaning public-interest law firm for or with whom he formerly worked.

It started to sound as obsessive as Ahmari’s concern over Drag Queen Story Hour. So I was glad to see Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy argue for something a bit thicker than mere neutrality:

For most of the … campus ministries at Nebraska, …universities were convenient social institutions because they rounded up a large number of demographically similar young people into a single place where they would have broadly identical routines, all of which made it very easy to evangelize them. Many of these groups did not think anything of taking their students away from campus regularly on retreats, heavily programming their weeks (thereby cutting into their time to give to their studies), and even sometimes suggesting that their academic work was of mostly incidental importance. The real life happened in Bible studies and when you prayed and over coffee with your discipler or disciplee. College, much like one’s eventual career, was mostly a necessary evil that simply secured material goods for you.

While watching the French-Ahmari debate last night it occurred to me that French seems to have a fairly similar vision of the nation—it’s an incidental good that is useful for advancing certain strictly material goods but it pales in significance when set next to the work of the church …

The point is not necessarily that French should endorse some species of integralism, although it is worth noting that in his handling of rights and the nature of religious doctrine as it relates to public life French is far closer to the Baptists than he is the traditional views of the reformed tradition to which he belongs. But that point aside, French could preserve many of the rights he cares about preserving while anchoring his account of the political in something more real than the pragmatic adjudication of disputes within a pluralistic society.

… That the government could be something more than a mere arbiter who threatens to hit you in the head with a brick if you don’t play nicely with your neighbor seems to be unimaginable ….

There’s much more Jake wrote, but you can go read it yourself readily enough.

By lifelong habit and inititating into the solemn mysteries of “thinking like a lawyer,” I don’t suppose I’ll ever be able to leave the camp of classical procedural liberalism, but the Ahmaris and Meadors of the world at least drive home that there are trade-offs in our pluralistic experiment.

* * * * *

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

The GOP deathworks

What conservatives like [George] Will and I believe, and what we think Trump supporters either don’t understand or deny, is the destructive revolution in manners and mores that Donald Trump is ushering in, the enormous cultural and social blast radius of his presidency. Through his promiscuous lying and assault on demonstrable truths, his cruelty and crudity, his coarseness, bullying and dehumanization of his opponents, and his lawlessness and conspiracy-mongering—the whole corrupt, packaged deal—he has brought us into dark new realms.

There was a time when Republicans and conservatives more generally insisted that culture was upstream of politics and in many respects more important than politics; that leaders needed to take great care in cultivating and validating standards of decency, honor and integrity; and that a president who destroyed rather than defended cultural norms and high standards would do grave injury to America. But now Republicans are willing to sacrifice soul and culture for the sake of promised policy victories.

Peter Wehner, George Will Changes His Mind—But Stays True to His Convictions

That, I thought, is the most representative quote I can find on this, probably the most important and thoughtful thing I’ll read all day. It articulates far better than I’ve been able to do:

  • Why people like me leave the GOP because we’re conservative, not because we’ve become liberal.
  • How populism and representative government differ, and that populism isn’t “conservative.”
  • “Political leaders today seem to feel that their vocation is to arouse passions, not to temper and deflect and moderate them.”

I highly, highly, recommend it.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).