So much sadness

I have nothing to say about mass shootings. Maybe some other day.

Faith Matters

Woe!

The Southern Baptist Convention, single-minded champions of “evangelism” and defenders of “church autonomy,” didn’t want to be distracted from its evangelistic mission by widespread credible reports of clergy sexual abuse within the convention.

As I read their evangelistic rationalizations, I couldn’t help but think of a worthy epitaph:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

(Matthew 23:15)

A church that doesn’t follow its “evangelism” with disciple-making (including churches where every sermon is predominately evangelistic), and that doesn’t hold its clergy accountable for bad behavior, is a spiritual Ponzi scheme. People get hurt when Ponzi schemes collapse.

Pas d’ennemis à droight?

[T]he next time you’re tempted to say that American Christians today experience hostility unprecedented in our nation’s history, and can escape condemnation only if they bow their knee to the dominant cultural norms; that it didn’t used to be like that, that decades ago no American Christian had to be hesitant about affirming the most elementary truths of the Christian faith — the next time you’re tempted to say all that, please, before you speak, remember Julius Scott.

Alan Jacobs, A Story.

Cultural illiteracy at NPR

Cordileone notified members of the archdiocese in a letter on Friday that Pelosi must publicly repudiate her support for abortion rights in order to take Holy Communion — a ritual practiced in Catholic churches to memorialize the death of Christ, in part by consuming a symbolic meal of bread and wine.

GetReligion passed along that NPR groaner.

Church of the Stilted Euphemism

Is it a sign of bad faith when your local Episcopal Priestx publish a joint open letter that refers to “reproductive healthcare” when they clearly mean “abortion”?

Culture more generally

Adrift

Our pursuit of understanding is often an uneasy admixture of the desire to know and the desire to be known as one who knows by those we admire.

The enchanted world, in Taylor’s view, yielded the experience of a porous, and thus vulnerable self. The disenchanted world yielded an experience of a buffered self, which was sealed off, as the term implies, from beneficent and malignant forces beyond its ken.

If we are, in fact, inhabiting a media ecosystem that, through sheer scale and ubiquity, heightens our awareness of all that is wrong with the world and overwhelms pre-digital habits of sense-making and crisis-management, then meta-positioning might be more charitably framed as a survival mechanism.

There is a picture that is informing my thinking here. It is the picture of being adrift in the middle of the ocean with no way to get our bearings. Under these circumstances the best we can ever do is navigate away from some imminent danger, but we can never purposefully aim at a destination.

L. M. Sacasas, ‌The Meta-Positioning Habit of Mind. Sacasas (a pseudonym, as I recall) is not the originator of all this text, but distinguishing his sources was beyond my scope.

This is an article I’ve flagged to re-read.

Visiting Russia

I woke up on Saturday to the news that my name was on a list of 963 Americans barred for life by the Russian Foreign Ministry from visiting Mother Russia. Which is about as upsetting as waking up to a call from your doctor who says, “It isn’t cancer” or a message from an ex that reads, “I was wrong about everything.”

Bret Stephens.

Up until about, oh, February 23, I hoped to visit Russia some day. Although I’m not a persona non grata, I very much doubt it (not despair of it, mind you).

Now they tell me

When she was an editor at Basic Books, a publishing house, in the 1970s, a manuscript came in. It was a fancy-pants work of high intellectual argle-bargle, and her boss at the time was inclined to reject it. “Don’t you dare,” she said. “It’s utter nonsense and it will sell a billion copies.” That book was called Godel Escher Bach: The Eternal Golden Braid. It won the Pulitzer. It is still in print 43 years later. It is utter nonsense. It has sold, if not a billion copies, then a million copies or more.

John Podhoretz, in his eulogy for his mother, Midge Decter.

Now they tell me. The book was acclaimed. The book proved impenetrable. I blamed my own inadequacies and chalked up the effort as part of my program of self-improvement (I always felt a bit guilty about abandoning a liberal arts degree, especially since I ended up breaking up with the young woman I intended to support through a more “practical” degree). Apparently it was a waste of both time and money.

Maybe someone, some day, will admit the same about David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite. Mr. Hart: Je t’accuse!

Controversy

Let’s get real

A progressive law professor explains how the logic of the draft opinion could be extended to withdraw a right to contraception from constitutional precedent.

Assuming she’s theoretically right (at least in what she says if not in her ignoring of countervailing arguments), so what? Or “let’s get real.”

In 2022, does access to contraception depend on a constitutional right to contraception? Is there any state in the union with a political movement to outlaw contraception? Can anyone (Margaret Atwood and her acolytes excluded) even imagine such a movement arising? Assuming that someone ginned up legislation against IUDs and the morning-after pill on the ground that they’re abortifacient, do you really think it could pass? Or that they’d include other contraceptives? Without such legislation, who could even bring a lawsuit challenging Griswold v. Connecticut‘s contraception conclusions, or even Eisenstadt v. Baird‘s?

Straight talk

Do not miss Bill Maher channeling Abigail Shrier when you have 9:21 to spare.

Primaries

I kinda like Texas, but it saddens me that Texas Republicans chose crooked grifter Ken Paxton in the primary election for Attorney General.

And I categorically wouldn’t want to live in any Congressional District that thinks Marjorie Taylor Green is a keeper.


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

“Pro-Abortion” is now official (more)

Blogging the ineffable

It occurred to me recently that my blog is an odd project because, increasingly, the things that matter most to me are ineffable.

I’ve read at least one book that “effed the ineffable” by going on and on, shifting to reflect from varying angles. I actually thought it was pretty effective, but you had to be keenly interested in the topic to wade through so much overlapping, kaleidescopic quasi-repetition. (I did find that 24 years of immersing myself in Orthodox Christian worship, as my Parish’s cantor — and not just the Sunday Liturgy — had “communicated” the same things.)

I’ve taken a stab at poetry occasionally, but rarely have thought it remotely successful. Anyway, I once heard it said that the person who becomes a poet to say something is less poetic than someone who becomes a poet because he/she likes messing around with words.

I guess the reason I keep blogging may be that I, too, am going on and on, in prose, shifting to reflect from varying angles — just not between the covers of a single book and without an explicit Master Goal. But in a lot of ways, my blog is a very large commonplace book, but an online friend (we’ve narrowly missed meeting IRL) already took that in his blog (now Substack) title.

Anyway, I actually looked briefly at what WordPress says about my blog (something I rarely do since I’m not writing to be popular), and apparently it’s emailed to 350 addresses, and I assume that some others get the RSS feed. I’m pretty sure that some of the emails are bogus, created for god-knows-what purpose. But a heartening number probably are real people, and to them I say thank you for your indulgence.

A partisan scold as arbiter of “Disinformation”

The preoccupation with “misinformation” and “disinformation” on the part of America’s enlightened influencers last month reached the level of comedy. The Department of Homeland Security chose a partisan scold, Nina Jankowicz, to head its new Disinformation Governance Board despite her history of promoting false stories and repudiating valid ones—the sort of scenario only a team of bumblers or a gifted satirist could produce.

Barton Swaim, How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’ (Wall Street Journal)

Janus-faces

There is something so disingenuous about critical theorists both arguing that they are revealing the real truth about the world in order to change it, and then claiming that they’re just offering an alternative take of history within a liberal context. You can see this intellectually dishonest bait-and-switch in the 1619 Project. It claims something truly radical — that the real founding of America was in 1619 because the core meaning of America is white supremacy, not liberal democracy — and then, when called on it, turns around and says no, silly, we’re just engaging in a thought-experiment to explain how racism has affected all of us, and to provoke debate. Well: which is it? In theory, they tell you it is all compatible with liberalism; in practice, they prove and believe the opposite.

Andrew Sullivan, Don’t Fight CRT. Expose It.

Dobbsian thoughts

Well, then: I’ll be glad to say “pro-abortion”

From an official Planned Parenthood website, an about-face that reveals a lot:

Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed. At least one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion during their lives, and they should be supported and celebrated. It’s time to retire the phrase “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” for good.

Maia Baker, What’s wrong with choice?: Why we need to go beyond choice language when we’re talking about abortion.

I heard a youngish woman recently describe her long-ago long bus trip to a D.C. “pro-choice” rally. Older women were talking of abortion as if it were good, not a lesser evil. One even bragged that she’d had 6 abortions, and it was her primary birth control.

The youngish woman emerged from the bus pro-life.

Amnesiac même advocacy

From a supplemental Andrew Sullivan substack May 13:

[Sullivan’s critic1]: You’re conveniently forgetting that five of the nine justices (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett) were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote.
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: That is completely irrelevant. But even it it weren’t, both of Bush’s appointees were picked during his second term, after he won the popular vote against Kerry.

[Sullivan’s critic2]: Currently, several state legislatures have big GOP majorities that in no way reflect the number of votes each party received in the preceding election. My guess is that one or more of these legislatures will act quickly this summer, after Roe is overturned, to outlaw abortion. Will that be an instance of democracy working well?
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: Yes, it absolutely will. And voters can vote again in November. Again: is it the pro-choice position that no states be allowed to legislate on abortion because gerrymandering exists? What else are they barred from voting on?

[Sullivan’s critic3]: While I am certain there are women who would never have an abortion — and they cannot imagine allowing any other woman to have an abortion — the majority you refer to as “pro-life” is deeply affected by another condition: religion. The majority of the pro-life women you speak of, through their faith, surrendered any sense of having power that isn’t subjected to the approval of the church or their husbands! They have no distinct awareness or appreciation of the fullness of their own free will — their liberty — or their innate freedom to make decisions on their own, entirely independent of their faith. 
[Sullivan’s rejoinder]: I’m afraid this completely misunderstands Catholic teaching on this. Women are not supposed to submit their moral views to their husbands’ approval. And the thinly veiled contempt for religious people — they don’t have any autonomy or agency — is a form of bigotry, in my view.

On that last point, see Eugene Volokh’s contemptuous response to that kind of motivated reasoning, which he no doubt hears a couple of times each week if not each day.

Talk less, Smile more.

Now when Chief Justice Roberts speaks of the Court as an “institution,” he approaches that concept from a PR perspective–5-4 decisions are bad, incoherent 9-0 decisions are good. Thomas could not care what final votes are. Rather, he worries about attacks on the Court by the political branches, and more recently, from within.

Unlike Justice Ginsburg, no one knows where Chief Justice Roberts is. To quote Aaron Burr, “Talk less, Smile more, Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” NFIB v. Sebelius may have saved the ACA, but the controlling opinion destroyed the Supreme Court as we know it. The anonymous conservative told Politico:

“There is a price to be paid for what he did. Everybody remembers it,”

Roberts won the battle, but lost the war. Now Thomas is making this point explicitly.

Josh Blackman (emphasis added)

Selective non-enforcement

Of the laxity of law enforcement in protests at Justices’ homes:

When it comes to the contrast to Jan. 6, what stands out to me is actually a similarity: a large protest gathered on Capitol Hill and authorities responded with much too little force to disperse it — including after it got way out of hand. Where things differ has been the aftermath, with federal prosecutors now aggressively prosecuting people who merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside. That seems like overreach in the opposite direction — discretion erring on the side of undue harshness. We should absolutely be throwing the book at everyone who ransacked the building and sought to commit acts of violence against members of Congress or the vice president in order to overturn the election. But that likely doesn’t describe everyone, or even most of the people, present at the protests that day.

Damon Linker (who, should it not be clear, favors discretionary non-prosecution of smallish, non-menacing demonstrations at the Justices’ homes).

I’m acquainted with someone who “merely wandered into the building after the most violent and aggressive perpetrators had pushed their way inside” the capitol on 1/6/21, but is being prosecuted nonetheless. The Feds have lost at least one such case at trial, and I’m hoping they’ll now relent on the others.

Point is: I’m willing to extend the same grace I want for him to wrong-headed people who peacefully protest at justices’ homes – even if there’s a federal law that facially makes that illegal.

Overturning nature

[T]he lawn signs in university towns announce, “Hate has no home here.” This sentiment amounts to reversing the fall of man and proclaiming the kingdom of God. And as I have argued, today’s progressive cultural politics seeks to overturn the authority of nature. Thus we have at once widespread resignation—and God-like ambition.

It’s really very strange. One hundred thousand people die of opioid overdoses in a single year, and elites throw up their hands and do nothing. Meanwhile, they put untold millions into transgender activism and insist that the fullest resources of the medical-industrial complex must be employed to attain its goals.

R.R. Reno.

I generally don’t like arguments in the form of “Why are you writing/worrying about X?! You should be writing/worrying about Y!” But I can’t help but suspect that elites have noticed that the people dying of opioid overdoses are mostly deplorables, not real people.

Oh: And that the trans cause is stylishly pseudo-transgressive.

Words to live by

We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.

French writer Charles Péguy via R.R. Reno. I’m not sure that Reno is seeing what he’s seeing, but he’s seeing one of the right problems.


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

Compelled to write

The barbarians are at the gates (again), so this old man feels a compulsion to write.

Nuance on abortion law

It’s probably obvious to regular readers that I’m the kind of guy who would be highly sympathetic to the reasoning of Justice Alito in the leaked abortion opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. But I think my reasons are out of the pro-life mainstream.

Take Roe as shorthand for "the basic Supreme Court abortion framework constructed by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey." I want Roe reversed because it’s bad law.

It’s bad law, first, because it’s poorly reasoned. If you doubt that, read Alito’s draft (as I have not, though I’ve read and heard about it), where he cites liberal scholar after liberal scholar who admit that the original Roe is poorly reasoned. Side note: Many liberal scholars tried to remedy that deficiency in law journal articles, Laurence Tribe multiple times with different rationales. Then SCOTUS, concerned that overturning the original Roe would reflect poorly on the court, came up with it’s own alternative rationale, including the risible "mystery passage":

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

It’s bad law, second, because among the rights protected by the constitution is a democratic form of government, so when the court declares democratically-enacted laws out-of-bounds, it shrinks the realm of our right to govern ourselves through democratically-elected legislatures.

That’s the court’s duty when the constitution requires it. But it’s the court’s duty not to overrule the democratic outcome when the constitution does not require it, elite opinion be damned.

That has been my primary concern with Roe ever since, during law school, I got conservative-woke on the abortion issue. And I think it’s out of the pro-life mainstream, especially as it ramifies below.

As has been noted by sentient reports of this week’s kerfuffle (not all reports have been sentient), the result of Justice Alito’s draft, if it indeed becomes the court’s Opinion in the case, will be to return the abortion issue to the legislative processes, mostly within the states.

If and when that happens, I will support quite strict restrictions on abortion legislatively. But even if I lose, and my state (astonishingly) mirrors the abortion enthusiasm of California and some other blue states, those laws will have a constitutional legitimacy that that Roe lacks.

I’m confident that this concession will make me look monstrous to some pro-lifers. But I’m also confident that it’s right. (And I’m moderately confident that pro-choicers are whistling past the cemetery when they talk about Alito’s draft in terms of its defying popular opinion on abortion; they wouldn’t be so worked up if all that was happening was a move of permissive abortion law from SCOTUS to Bismark.)

I’m aware of the argument of (most recently) John Finnis that the 14th Amendment requires that abortion be banned. I wasn’t persuaded of that basic argument 30-40 years ago when it was first floated, though it was clever and thought-provoking, and Finnis’ resurrected version didn’t persuade me, either.

But if you give me 2-to-1 odds, I’ll bet a modest amount that Clarence Thomas is going to demur from any Alito-like opinion to argue that Finnis was right. (I owe that intriguing speculation to David French, who stunned and silenced Sarah Isgur with it.)

Singing Truth, Screaming Lies

I am an enthusiastic and fairly skilled chorister, in addition be being Cantor in my parish. My longest non-church choral relationship is with a pretty good community chorus, with admission by audition and some paid staff including the Artistic Director.

Not surprisingly, most of our concerts are from the canon of western sacred music, almost exclusively Christian — masses, oratorios, Lessons & Carols, and such. It’s far and away the largest body of first-rate choral music in Western Christendom. We’ve even sung Russian Orthodox masterpieces twice.

The audience for that kind of music is aging and dying, which you’d probably guess if you thought about it.

So we occasionally shake things up with a pop concert (e.g., Bernstein’s Candide), some in collaboration with the local professional symphony, or even show tunes á la "show choir" under a guest conductor.

We did one of the latter quite recently. Reflecting on it afterward, two things hit me.

First, the show was too heavy on loud band accompaniment and loud songs and it really took a toll on my vocal chords — and my nervous system.

More important, I’ve been reflecting on the themes of some of the songs we sang (excluding consideration of what our guest soloist from Broadway sang, most of the words of which I couldn’t even understand; not that she mumbled, but the amplification is directed toward the audience, not toward the stage).

The themes are, in my considered judgment from 70+ years on planet earth, lies:

Come alive, come alive! Go and light your light Let it burn so bright! Reachin’ up to the sky, And it’s open wide You’re electrified!

And the world becomes a fantasy ‘Cuz you’re more than you could ever be … And you know you can’t go back again to the world that you were livin’ in ‘Cuz you’re living with your eyes wide open.

I’m flying high! I’m defying gravity! … And soon I’ll pass them in renown. And nobody in all of Oz, No wizard that there is or was Is ever gonna bring me down!

There’s nothing wrong with positivity (though it’s not my thing), but those lyrics are delusional. The first one even contradicts itself by promising that coming alive will make the world a fantasy, but you can’t go back because your eyes are now wide open. Huh?!

I don’t think such songs of limitless options and rejection of authority are wholesome. They may get the adrenaline going and may become an ear worm, but they set people up for disappointment — even emotional and spiritual shipwreck.

The contrast with our general repertoire is stark. Most of the sacred canon we sing is fundamentally true. This stuff, though, is toxic once you get under the glittery surface. How that toxicity feeds current cultural toxicity is beyond my scope, at least today.

I don’t think I can do this pop stuff any more.

Mourning

Beyond the confines of party politics, the broader left is mourning a narrative: a story about the once and forever conquest of good over evil. It is most visible in the elite hysterics that are derided as ‘woke’. …

… A story about the inevitable triumph of socially liberal values has been deeply entrenched in the minds of the comfortable classes since at least the 1960’s, a simple story about the victory of good over evil. Everyone now knows it was only a story. It never was prophesy. It was, though, a story that helped to structure many middle-class lives, and its passing is genuinely felt, with all the attendant denial and rage. I don’t mourn it. It was never my story. But those that oppose ‘wokery’ without seeing it is a grief-reaction are making the same mistake as those they think are their enemies. They’re clinging on to the wrong story. We are not living through a cinematic battle between good and evil. We are living through a tragedy. Scene by scene, hubris takes from us the very things that we define ourselves by.

The political right at its best, the right of Oakeshott or Chesterton, understood mourning. It had a wistful reverence for what was lost. The right is no longer at its best, and has not been for a long time. The tragedy of our era takes from every player the very thing that they clutch closest to their heart. While it took from the left their faith in the future, it took from the right their faith in the past.

And so we have a Tory party that believes only in Thatcherism; but dare not say so, in case the voters hear. They do not remember that Thatcherism was a betrayal of their party and country. They dare not remember anything at all. They are the very epitome of mourning as denial; and so, amnesiac, they no longer know the land they rule. Their sense of England is no deeper than a photoshoot with a pint glass, and the rest of the Union seldom troubles what is left of their flickering consciousness at all.

Every era is a time of mourning, but this era is a time of senseless mourning. The political mourning I have been describing is not the same as the mourning that is quietly embedded in place names and dry stone walls. It is uprooted and lost ….

‌This is a time of senseless mourning, from my favorite new Substack.

The Boromir Fallacy

When people justify their voting choice by its outcome, I always think of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien emphasizes repeatedly that we cannot make decisions based on the hoped-for result. We can only control the means. If we validate our choice of voting for someone that may not be a good person in the hopes that he or she will use his power to our advantage, we succumb to the fallacy of Boromir, who assumed he too would use the Ring of Power for good. Power cannot be controlled; it enslaves you. To act freely is to acknowledge your limits, to see the journey as a long road that includes dozens of future elections, and to fight against the temptation for power.

Jessica Hooten Wilson, What ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Can Teach Us About U.S. Politics, Christianity and Power

A little sympathy

I have little sympathy for Derek Chauvin, but it seems to me that his cumulative sentences (styling his murder as a federal civil rights offense, too, is likely to add years served) are much higher than would be expected in comparable cases.

Is he being punished more not because of his depravity, but because his murder of George Floyd provoked widespread rioting and exposed the hypocrisy of the government’s selective Covid policies (in effect "Church bad, Riots good", say government epidemiologists)?


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

The impending reversal of Roe (and more)

On the impending reversal of Roe

Will Congress enshrine abortion in federal law?

Democrats are talking about using the nuclear option (abolishing the filibuster) to enshrine Roe into federal law over Republican objections. I’m not sure they’ll hold Joe Manchin either on abolishing the filibuster or on abortion if they do, but let’s set that aside.

If they succeed, I suspect the law will meet the fate of RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: held unconstitutional as a restriction on states’ “police powers.”

A similar outcome on abortion would leave abortion enshrined on military bases, federal women’s uterus-havers prisons and some other federal domains, but at the very political high cost of turning the Senate into a more democratic and less deliberative institution.

What a contrast!

I made it a point to listen to a top liberal legal podcast on the leaked SCOTUS opinion.

As I suspected would be the case, these three law professors offered no substantive defense of Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey. None. Because they’re too smart to think it’s defensible in any terms of conventional constitutional reasoning. It was all mockery (Justices Alito and Thomas, Thomas’s wife, etc.), F-bombs and other vulgarities, unintelligible in-group code, posturing and dark speculation about what other “rights” the conservative majority wants to destroy.

It heightens my appreciation for the excellence and sophistication of Advisory Opinions — where I learned, by the way, of the existence of the other legal podcast.

Delegitimizing the Court

Speculating on possible reasons for the leak:

[F]inally, to the extent that a leak like this has some delegitimizing effect no matter what, that might be an end unto itself: If the court is going to be conservative, then let it have no mystique whatsoever.

This last place is where most liberals will end up, I’m sure, should the draft ruling turn out to be the final one. But there is an irony here, of course, because a key implication of Alito’s draft — and of arguments marshaled for generations by Roe’s critics — is that treating the judiciary as the main arbiter of our gravest moral debates was always a mistake, one that could lead only to exactly the kind of delegitimization that we see before us now.

Regardless of whether the draft becomes the final decision, then, its leak has already vindicated one of its key premises: that trying to remove an issue like abortion from normal democratic politics was always likely to end very badly for the court.

Ross Douthat. I’m glad Douthat pointed that out. I hadn’t thought how the delegitimization of the court started 49 years ago with Roe.

Roll out the protest signs!

Meanwhile, Substacker Rhyd Wildermuth envisions the less-than-punchy woke protest signs that should, for woke consistency’s sake, be forthcoming:

  • Protect a pregnant uterus-haver’s right to choose
  • Trans-women, cis-men, and assigned-male-at-birth non-binary people should not be allowed to make decisions on what trans-men, assigned-female-at-birth non-binary people, and cis-women do with their bodies.

Everything else

Doom’n’gloom

[T]hough I will never condemn those ‘dead white men’, neither can I stand up and ‘defend the West’ in some uncomplicated fashion. The West is my home – but the West has also eaten my home. Should I stand up to save it from itself? How would that happen? What would I be fighting for?

The French esoteric philosopher René Guénon, who dedicated his life to studying the metaphysical decay of the West, called this the ‘crisis of the modern world’, and he saw it as an explicitly spiritual matter. In his 1945 book The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, Guénon, a French convert to Sufi Islam who lived much of his life in Egypt, argued that the modern West’s decisive turn away from the spiritual life towards the purely material realm had plunged us into an era he called the ‘Reign of Quantity’. He referred to this turn as ‘the modern deviation’, or sometimes ‘the Western deviation.’

Guénon believed that the world’s old religious traditions all contained the same ‘universal character’ and could lead towards the same truth. The modern West, however, had unilaterally turned away from the pursuit of any higher truth, and the result had been the Reign of Quantity, which was now overcoming the world at Western hands. ‘Western domination’, he wrote, ‘is itself no more than an expression of the “reign of quantity.”’

All of this brings us back to where we began – the culture wars of the age of hyperreality. Guénon concluded his dense and sometimes difficult study by suggesting that we are living in a ‘great parody’: an age of ‘inverted spirituality’ and ‘counter-tradition’ in which even institutions which claimed to be transmitting the spiritual traditions – most churches, for example – were shells of the real thing. To Guenon, this was a manifestation of an actual spiritual war. He agreed with St Paul that ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.’ Some dark spiritual force was inhabiting the shell of our culture, he said, and driving us ever downwards.

Paul Kingsnorth

How Not To Write An Obituary

Terry Cowan gives some overdue advice on writing an obituary. I hope it was as cathartic for him to write it as it was for me to read it, because (I predict, for no better reason than general pessimism about humanity) that it won’t change a thing.

Setting aside “soulmate” and “love-of-her/his-life,” this advice is my favorite:

Finally, do not try to preach your loved one into Heaven by way of their obituary. There is no need to go on and on about what a fine Christian Gloria Kay was, or expanding on how much she “loved the Lord.” Frankly, it is not as if the Office of Admissions in Heaven is keeping a file of clippings, and this obituary will be one more document in your favor. Just say “Gloria Kay was a faithful Christian, a member of fill-in-the-blank Church.” Also, go-slow on stating what your loved one will be doing in Heaven now. That is always just so much broad evangelical wishful thinking. It is important to remember that we are actually not in control here, and it may be presumptuous to assert that Homer is now face to face with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When I see an obituary that says something like “Wilma adored her precious children and grandchildren but her greatest joy was telling others about Jesus,” well, that just describes the type of person you would duck down another aisle if you saw them across the way in the grocery store.

The only missing thing I can think of “earned his angel wings.”

Sen. J.D. Vance

In the Fall of 2016, I traveled from Indiana to St. Gregory Palamas Monastery in eastern Ohio for a brief personal retreat. Running low on gas, I pulled off the four-lane road and traveled a few miles to a small town gas station.

That small town almost certainly had more Trump signs than homes, with at least one sign in every yard and not a single Hillary Clinton sign.

I don’t think of myself as especially insular, but I was shocked.

Over almost six subsequent years since, I’ve begun (or perhaps more than begun) to understand why (for what reasons or interests other than perverse nihilism or lib-trolling) people like rural Ohioans voted for Trump. They’ve been passed over, and they’re not accepting the idea that they deserve it because they’re of less value than coastal Americans.

Fair point. Weighty, even.

I still detest Trump personally (for reasons I summarize as “toxic narcissism” because writing a Bill of Particulars could consume my whole remaining life), and I regret that a Republican populist must kiss his hind-parts and get his endorsement to win a primary.

So Tuesday’s Ohio primary victory of J.D. Vance Tuesday, after he finally got Trump’s endorsement, isn’t much of a surprise, nor will his victory in the Fall be a surprise.

I hope he can become his own man again after the abasement of his campaign. He’s a bright guy who could elevate the debate if he wants to.


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

Roe, Twitter and more

Roe

After the Politico leak of a draft SCOTUS opinion "overturning Roe":

Where the public stands is tricky to divine. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans would object to the court overturning Roe. But others show that most people want limits on abortions that Roe does not permit.

The Economist, Why abortion rights are under threat in America.

Neither the people nor most of the press understands Roe, which (by the way) was substantially overruled in and replaced by Planned Parenthood v. Casey 30 years ago. The Economist is to be commended for at least contextualizing the myth of popular support for "Roe."

I was for a time an anti-abortion activist and third-string litigator. I still remain an anti-abortion voter (though the multiplication of supposedly pro-life politicians who are fundamentally jackasses has disabused me of single-issue voting) and a supporter of a local pregnancy resource center that provides women alternatives to abortion.

But I don’t expect to read the leaked draft opinion. Que sera sera.

Neither do I intend to try to explain yet again that "overturning Roe" is not the same as banning abortion.

Where to go when you have nowhere left to go

British author Paul Kingsnorth describes his becoming an Orthodox Christian from, most recently, Wicca (from The Symbolic World episode 158, starting at about the 17-minute mark, paraphrased by me except for quotations):

He definitely was led to Christianity, because he didn’t want it. He didn’t like Christianity or Christians and he didn’t want to be a Christian. He was an eco-Pagan.

Many environmentalists recognize that matters of the spirit are fundamental to the problem of environmental degradation, so they go looking for a spiritual path — of which there are almost none left in the western world.

He tried Zen starting about ten years ago, and there was a lot to like, but it was missing something (which turned out to be God). He tried other mythical paths, including Wicca, but it’s an ersatz assembly of old pieces that doesn’t quite work. Father Seraphim Rose is popular with Orthodox converts, perhaps, because he, too, tried all kinds of different things.

A lot of that wandering around and trying exotic things is from a feeling that "we have nowhere to go," which in turn is a result of the Western Church being for so long tied up with power, tied up with the institutions that were crushing people and destroying the earth, and from the Genesis command to " Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" being interpreted as a command for domination. It’s just not attractive, especially since the 60s re-ordered what we value.

But he began having dreams, and visions. Christians started popping out of the woodwork left and right, emailing and talking about his books for no apparent reason. Finally couldn’t ignore it. And the more he read about Christianity, especially Eastern Christianity, the more he thought:

This isn’t the story I thought it was. I thought Christianity was a bunch or moral lessons. I thought it was a bunch of things you were supposed to do so you went to heaven instead of hell, and you have to be good and do certain things, and I thought "Well why would I need a guy from two thousand years ago to tell me that?" And I don’t believe it anyway.

But the more I realized what was actually going on, the more I realized that this is a mystical path. It’s a path to God. It’s a path of stripping back and renunciation. And the more I found Orthodoxy — I had a couple of friends who turned out to be Orthodox Christians, which I hadn’t really known before — and then I started reading the Desert Fathers and the Philokalia and I thought "Wow! This is really powerful stuff! This beats anything that the Buddhists have got to offer." Or at least it’s actually very similar in some ways in terms of the depth of the mystery.

And I thought "Yeah, this Church thing (that I thought I knew about) is not what I thought it was. And here’s a powerful path."

And then of course you start reading the Gospels and you think … there is nothing that’s more radical, actually, than the teaching of Christ.

And then once you start separating it out from the many hideous things people have done with it over the centuries, you think "Well this is just as relevant as it ever was … This is radical humility, and if we had practiced this, we wouldn’t be in this situation."

I would not disagree with any of his description, though I never wandered around in Zen, Wicca or other exotic territory and cannot affirm from personal experience that people detest Western Christianity for the reasons he gives, though those reasons ring true to me.

Brooks nails it

David Brooks offers Seven Lessons Democrats Need to Learn — Fast:

  • It is possible to overstimulate the economy
  • Law and order is not just a racist dog whistle
  • Don’t politicize everything
  • Border security is not just a Republican talking point
  • “People of color” is not a thing
  • Deficits do matter
  • The New Deal happened once

Such a simple idea, so well-executed.

Wise excerpts

  • Your growth as a conscious being is measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.
  • Half the skill of being educated is learning what you can ignore.
  • 90% of everything is crap. If you think you don’t like opera, romance novels, TikTok, country music, vegan food, NFTs, keep trying to see if you can find the 10% that is not crap.
  • You cant reason someone out of a notion that they didn’t reason themselves into.
  • Dont believe everything you think you believe.

Kevin Kelly, 103 Bits of Advice I wish I’d known.

(I doubt that any NFTs are not crap.)

Social media

Are you virtuous enough for Twitter?

Twitter is the only social media platform I use, and I’ve long characterized my use of it as a devil’s bargain. The platform has benefitted me in certain ways, but this has come at a cost. The benefits and costs are what you would expect. I’ve made good connections through the platform, my writing has garnered a bit more of an audience, and I’ve encountered the good work of others. On the other hand, I’ve given it too much of my time and energy, and I’m pretty sure my thinking and my writing have, on the whole, suffered as a consequence. Assuming I’m right in my self-assessment, that’s too high of a price, is it not? The problem, as I’ve suggested before, is that the machine requires too much virtue to operate, and, frankly, I’m not always up to the task.

During the fidget spinner craze a few years back, a thought came to mind: “Social media are the fidget spinners of the soul.” Maybe this is one of the so-called darlings I’d do best to kill, but, I don’t know, I still think it works. It’s another way of capturing the relationship between social media and sloth or acedia. The self is in disarray, agitated, unsettled, directionless, and the best it can do is fidget with the platforms to keep the unease at bay.

L.M. Sacasas (emphasis added). All-in-all, a stimulating set of brief reflections injected into what has been a stultifying feeding frenzy of coverage and hand-wringing.

A truly social medium

Alan Jacobs posts a brief introduction to micro.blog for the benefit of the millions (just kidding) of refugees fleeing thence from Twitter since Elon’s invasion.

He concludes with the centralmost distinction:

On micro.blog, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.

And that’s why it’s great.

So if you’re coming over from Twitter, please try to leave your Twitter habits and reflexes behind. They won’t help you at micro.blog. ### Hall of Shame nominee:

The Biden Administration’s Orwellian new Disinformation Governance Board (DGB), whose mission, sensible people fear, will creep beyond its initial modest mandate of “countering misinformation related to homeland security, focused specifically on irregular migration and Russia.”

Epistemic status

One of the lessons I still need to learn in life, in my 74th year, is that warranted absolute certainty is vanishingly rare. I am reminded of that in many ways, but one of the nicest is when Scott Alexander starts a blog post with "Epistemic status" of what follows, as here.

Shorts

You have to be educated into cant; it is a kind of stupidity that surpasses the capacity of unaided Nature to confer.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

The Washington Post put more effort into exposing @libsoftiktok’s name and address than they did investigating Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Greg Price, via Andrew Sullivan

People believe Twitter is the real world. They therefore believe that Elon Musk is buying the world.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary via The Morning Dispatch

“Disinformation” just means anything that the Left doesn’t want you to say out loud.

James Howard Kunstler

Wordplay

"Parochial cosmopolitan."

A Cosmopolitan who cannot imagine any reason for more conservative opinions. Used in a sentence: "You may believe that the Hungarian law went too far, but only a parochial cosmopolitan can believe that the only reason people wouldn’t want their children propagandized to embrace transgressive sexual and gender roles is plain bigotry." (Rod Dreher, DeSantis, Magyar Of The Sunshine State?)


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

Mixed bags

Public Affairs

Public Intellectuals

If you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or a silent movie star.

Michael Lind. An arresting thesis, elaborated to a fair degree, beginning with:

That’s because, in the third decade of the 21st century, intellectual life on the American center left is dead. Debate has been replaced by compulsory assent and ideas have been replaced by slogans that can be recited but not questioned: Black Lives Matter, Green Transition, Trans Women Are Women, 1619, Defund the Police. The space to the left-of-center that was once filled with magazines and organizations devoted to what Diana Trilling called the “life of significant contention” is now filled by the ritualized gobbledygook of foundation-funded, single-issue nonprofits like a pond choked by weeds.

He eventually recounts how the same thing happened to conservatism shortly after the collapse of Communism, concluding on a hopeful note:

What survives of intellectual politics in the United States today consists of a growing number of exiles from establishment wokeness on Substack and an assortment of dissident leftists, conservatives, and populists, some of whom have come together in new publications like American Affairs, Compact, and The Bellows, and in quirkier couture shops like Tablet.

John Henry Ramirez

One SCOTUS case we all seemed to agree on (except for Justice Thomas) was that involving John Henry Ramirez, who wanted his clergyman in the death chamber, praying aloud with hands laid on John Henry. Texas said “no” (Texas is a very mixed bag), but it lost.

But there’s now a strage twist:

When a judge in South Texas signed an order this past week setting an execution date of Oct. 5 for John Henry Ramirez, it seemed like the end of the road.

Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a convenience store worker, a crime he has acknowledged committing. He was sentenced to death and appealed his case to the Supreme Court — not to stop his execution, but to prepare for it. He asked to have his Baptist pastor pray out loud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber, a request that brought his case national notoriety. Last month, the court ruled in his favor, clearing the path for his execution to proceed as long as the state of Texas complied with his request.

But in a surprise turn of events on Thursday, District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County filed a motion withdrawing the death warrant for Mr. Ramirez, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” His own office had requested the execution date just days earlier, but Mr. Gonzalez, a Democrat, wrote in his motion that an employee in his office had done so without consulting him.

In a broadcast from his office on Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gonzalez, whose district includes Corpus Christi, where the crime occurred, explained his decision.

“For a while now, I’ve said that I don’t believe in the death penalty,” he said. “My office is not going to seek the death penalty anymore.” He said he would be a hypocrite if he advanced Mr. Ramirez’s execution even as he instructs his office not to pursue the death penalty in new cases. Mr. Gonzalez and his office did not respond to requests for comment.

New York Times (emphasis added).

It just goes to show you never can tell.

Gender nonconformities

Why the surge?

After I scanned New York Times Opinions yesterday morning, Ross Douthat dropped a bombshell analysis of what’s going on with the surge in self-reported cases of various gender nonconformities (and a few related things). It came to my attention via Alan Jacobs’ succinct response.

If it’s not already clear, I fall in Douthat’s third “possible reading” of Gallup polling on the surge:

This trend is bad news. What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.

Add to the surge the readiness of many doctors to hormonally and surgically “confirm” kids’ brand-new-but-vehement genders and it’s a real mess.

Douthat closes thus:

I will make a prediction: Within not too short a span of time, not only conservatives but most liberals will recognize that we have been running an experiment on trans-identifying youth without good or certain evidence, inspired by ideological motives rather than scientific rigor, in a way that future generations will regard as a grave medical-political scandal.**

Which means that if you are a liberal who believes as much already, but you don’t feel comfortable saying it, your silence will eventually become your regret.

Jacobs doesn’t entirely agree:

I think this prediction will partly, but not wholly, come true. I do believe that there will be a change of direction, but for the most part it will be a silent one, an unspoken course correction; and on the rare occasions that anyone is called to account for their recklessness, they’ll say, as a different group of enthusiasts did some decades ago, “We only did what we thought was best. We only believed the children.” But they won’t have to say it often, because the Ministry of Amnesia will perform its usual erasures ….

I took the bait and followed his links on “believing the children” and the “Ministry of Amnesia,” and I’m glad I did. I intend to add “children’s crusades” and “Ministry of Amnesia” to my rhetorical armory, thought the first seems more perfect that the second:

One clever little specialty of adult humans works like this: You very carefully (and, if you’re smart, very subtly) instruct children in the moral stances you’d like them to hold. Then, when they start to repeat what you’ve taught them, you cry “Out of the mouths of babes! And a little child shall lead them!” And you very delicately maneuver the children to the front of your procession, so that they appear to be leading it — but of course you make sure all along that you’re steering them in the way that they should go. It’s a social strategy with a very long history.

So, for instance, when you hear this:

“It’s the children who are now leading us,” said Diane Ehrensaft, the director of mental health for the clinic. “They’re coming in and telling us, ‘I’m no gender.’ Or they’re saying, ‘I identify as gender nonbinary.’ Or ‘I’m a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m a unique gender, I’m transgender. I’m a rainbow kid, I’m boy-girl, I’m everything.’”

— certain alarms should ring. No child came up with the phrase “I identify as gender nonbinary.” It is a faithful echo of an adult’s words.

Alan Jacobs, children’s crusades

Raccoon gender vibe

Even as the Biden admin goes hard on pushing for medical interventions for gender dysphoric teenagers (green-lighting double mastectomies and the like), the mainstream media is finally listening to trans clinicians and trans adults who have been sounding an alarm: The teenage transitions are out of control. 

Here’s a profile in the Los Angeles Times this week of the brave Erica Anderson, a clinician and trans woman (Abigail Shrier quoted her in her groundbreaking Common Sense story last year). Anderson lets the LA Times reporter sit in on a session with a kid who is not sure about their gender and who talks about how their friends identify as things like raccoon gender vibe: “One friend says that their gender is the same vibe as a raccoon. They’re saying that their gender has the same, like, chaotic, dumpster vibes as raccoons.” 

Also this week, adult trans woman Corinna Cohn wrote a heartbreaking essay for the Washington Post about sex reassignment surgery and what it has been like to never have experienced orgasm, warning young people not to do this so quickly, not to give up that part of life so quickly. “From the day of my surgery, I became a medical patient and will remain one for the rest of my life,” she writes. And: “I chose an irreversible change before I’d even begun to understand my sexuality.”

And in a third vibe shift this week: JK Rowling hosted a boozy lunch with England’s greatest old world feminists. Critics call these women TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) because they do not want mixed-sex prisons or sports. The TERFs may have been hounded out of jobs and polite liberal society, but they are having fun.

Nellie Bowles, ‌But the dam has broken on trans issues in her weekly newsletter.

Ultimate things

Just, merciful, humble … and smooth

It occurs to me that over the last 30 years or so, I’ve been repeatedly exposed to Evangelical Protestant types who center their public expressions of faith on Micah 6:8.

Now that’s is a perfectly lovely verse:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

But it is part of the Old Testament, and the immediate context is God wanting justice, mercy and humility rather than empty sacrifices:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

I suspect, knowing some of the Micahphiles, that this verse is a kind of virtue-signaling, a way of saying “We’re not fundamentalists or Religious Right crypto-Theocrats.

But it’s getting a little bit old. Might I commend a substitute: Genesis 27:11?

You’re judging me?

I was in Jerusalem, and in the morning I was at the Holy Liturgy in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am not a good friend of the early morning, but it was very early. There were Russians, Greeks, Romanians, Muslims, Catholics, Copts, and all the people in there. And I was judging God: if we are the right faith, the right confession, why couldn’t you give to us this sacred place? One of the consequences of my conversion was that I was becoming very strict. God told me, in the same way as the first time, ‘I’ve been struggling for many years to bring them together, and you’re judging me?’ I realized it was the only place on earth where everybody is in there together around God, even if they’re fighting each other, they are there with God.

Father Chyrsostom, a Romanian Monk, to Rod Dreher

Sholasticism versus Orthodoxy

Orthodox often feel that Latin scholastic theology makes too much use of legal concepts, and relies too heavily on rational categories and syllogistic argumentation, while the Latins for their part have frequently found the more mystical approach of Orthodoxy too vague and ill-defined.

Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church.

I encountered this distinction long ago, when I was investigating what the Orthodox Church was, and I’ve found it very durable and fruitful. However, I recently encountered a possible caveat:

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. …

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Putting things in perspective

The Elder Cleopa from the Sihastria monastery, who is now in the process of canonization, had the habit of recommending patience as the greatest virtue. He would say, “Patience! Patience!” harder and harder, many times.

People would say, “But Father Cleopa, how long?” He would say, “Not so long — just until the grave.” After that, you will see beauty that eye hasn’t seen and ear hasn’t heard, and your heart has never felt. Those beauties are eternal.

Via Rod Dreher


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

So prolific I categorized it

Legalia

Satire must rhyme, too

David Lat, author of the legal blog Original Jurisdiction, on Sunday named Ilya Shapiro his "Lawyer of the Week," with Michael Avennati and David Freydin as "lesser white men" Runners-Up.

If I have to explain it, it won’t be funny any more.

Thumb on the Scale

I know that Wikipedia isn’t perfect, but it’s disappointing that a partisan can slip in and edit the articles on his preferred candidate for SCOTUS and the articles on the two most prominent other contenders:

Meanwhile, on the SCOTUS nomination front, one top contender, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.C. Cir.), issued her first appellate opinion. It earned high scores from legal writing guru Ross Guberman and high scores from progressives, with Mark Joseph Stern of Slate declaring it “an unqualified win to union rights.” This will only strengthen Judge Jackson’s status as the favored pick of progressives, many of whom have raised concerns about her main competitors, Justice Leondra Kruger (California Supreme Court) and Judge J. Michelle Childs (D.S.C.).

What are those concerns? Maybe check out the Wikipedia pages for Justice Kruger and Judge Childs—which a former Jackson clerk helpfully edited to make the two sound less appealing to the left, while simultaneously editing Judge Jackson’s entry to make her appear more palatable to progressives.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Maybe this can take the heat off Ilya Shapiro. Less logical things have happened.

Against collusive secrecy

A UCLA First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic student and I were just appointed by a District Court as amicus to file a brief supporting the right of public access and opposing sealing of certain documents. The parties had both agreed to sealing, but "courts are duty-bound to protect public access to judicial proceedings and records," even as to "stipulated sealings … where the parties agree." And appointing an amicus curiae to represent the no-sealing position will help give the court an adversary presentation on the matter.

Eugene Volokh. I did not know, and am happy to learn, that courts are duty-bound to protect public access to judicial proceedings and records. If the parties want to keep everything under wraps, they should go to private arbitration. I don’t want my taxes paying for secret, possibly collusive court proceedings.

Mainstream Media

As close as they come to fresh Russia news

[A] substantial part of the added value I seek to bring to reporting and analysis is derived from my following the Russian-language electronic and print media closely, whereas the vast majority of commentators who populate Western television news and op-ed pages only offer up synthetic, rearranged factoids and unsubstantiated claims from the reports and analysis of their peers. Investigative reporting does not exist among mainstream. Reprinting handouts from anonymous sources in high places of the Pentagon and State Department is the closest they come to daily fresh “news.”

Gilbert Doctorow

When the "news" fails to inform

So Joe Rogan "used a racial slur," "the N-word," on his podcast. It is a shame that we can’t even talk about whether he was using it as a racial slur, or whether he was quoting some historic literature, or whether the word qua word was the being discussed (as I’m discussing it now).

Well, that was my reaction to the Wall Street Journal’s cryptic telling of the tale. The Morning Dispatch comes helpfully much closer:

Rogan apologized over the weekend for repeatedly saying the N-word in older podcasts—he said he used to think it was acceptable to use in context ….

It has been a long time since a white man could say [Voldemort] repeatedly, even in context, without giving offense. Rogan should have (and probably did) know better.

I hope I don’t need to write any more about Rogan, but the censors are still probing getting him kicked off Spotify.

Miscellany

What’s the goal here?

On that side, a professionally-dressed young woman introduced herself as a social worker to her client. On the other, a disheveled-looking white guy with dirty hair and open sores on his face sat down, and by any measure he presented as male. After introducing herself, the first question she asked was "What are your pronouns?". What followed was this excruciating attempt to explain the very concept of pronouns. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but here are some snippets:

"No, no, I don’t mean your name. I mean your pronouns."

"A pronoun is a way for someone else to refer to you"

"No, I already know your name, I’m asking about your pronouns"

"So for example, my pronouns are ‘sheehurr‘*, so yours would be….?"

"That’s your middle name, which I already know, I’m asking about what word someone else would refer to you, like if they were talking about you to someone else…"

*[I’m trying to be mindful of how "she/her" would sound spoken out loud to someone completely ignorant of the concept.]

And so forth. This went on for about five minutes until my own client showed up and I had to close the door. It’s fair to say that the other guy did not give a fuck about pronouns, nor would it be anywhere near the top 100 of his priorities given his circumstances at the time. And perhaps most maddening of all, pronouns are completely irrelevant in a conversation with only two parties. He’s in jail, and this is what state resources dedicated to indigent defendants were being diverted to accomplishing. Scott Greenfield had already written about this potential trend on perverted prioritization way back in 2017.

No matter what you discuss in Law and Critical Deviant Sexuality class at Yale Law School, you’re given a few minutes to gather the information necessary to save a client’s life, to get the client bail or know whether to take the plea offer. You can spend those few minutes on things that you feel deeply about or things that they feel deeply about, like beating the rap.

And here’s the kicker: most of the people you will represent will be minority, poor, male and, yes, guilty, to some greater or lesser extent. Like me, they too are not woke. Even if they are, they don’t give a damn about it at the moment, and want you to be a tough lawyer focused only on what they need rather than your feminist agenda or transsexual sensitivity.

Yassine Meskhout, ‌Three Little Pronouns Go To Court

Be it remembered that a fanatic is one who, having lost sight of the goal, redoubles xyrs efforts.

Living in the free world after the end of history

Once, I thought I lived in the free world. The liberal West was supposed to be the point on which the arc of history converged. But nobody talks like that any more. History has started up again, and we are all just holding tight.

… [W]hat happened when the [Berlin] wall fell was not the triumph of freedom over oppression so much as the defeat of one Western ideology by another. The one that came through was the oldest, subtlest and longest-lasting, one which disguised itself so well that we didn’t know it was an ideology at all: liberalism.

… Each … upheaval[], whether in Jacobin France, Marxist Russia or Nazi Germany, failed to create the promised utopias but did have the effect of clearing away the the traditional structures of the pre-modern era. Into the void created by this process rushed the Machine – the ‘monster that grows in deserts’ – with its sensibility of control, measurement, utility and profit.

In this new world, the three poles of culture would no longer be people, place and prayer, but individual, market and state.

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World

Unavoidably incomplete pictures

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle teaches us that if you isolate a particle, you have to stop the flow of the wave. The key concept here is not that isolating the particle gives you a false picture of reality, but rather that isolating the particle gives you an unavoidably incomplete picture of reality. The mistake is to think that by isolating and pinning down the particle (so to speak), we have made it possible to know the full story.

Think of the famous line of Wordsworth: “We murder to dissect.” We have to remove a living creature from the flow of life in order to dismember it to study it. This is fine, but we must not be under the illusion that life is merely a combination of discrete parts. To think this way, though, is to see the world as a madman does.

Rod Dreher

Grotesque?

  • "Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."
  • “When you have to assume that [your audience is not Christian], then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” Her audience assumed, in its midcentury optimism, that everything was OK. But everything is not OK. There is something wrong with humanity. There is something unnatural in nature.

Flannery O’Connor, via Plough

A trigger-warned recommendation

I recommend Abigail Shrier’s ‌Child Custody’s Gender Gauntlet only if you have a strong stomach and have not been feeling despair over the culture’s direction. (It’s also available here.) It upset me about as much as anything I’ve read in the last month or so.

Consider that (a) a recommendation and (b) a trigger warning.

A creed for rogues

Man is the measure of all things, but man has no fixed nature. Man measures all things by his words, but words have no fixed meanings. Language is not an instrument for finding truth, but for changing it. Those who can master it, master all. It is a good creed for rogues, and commends itself to tyrants in every age.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

My pronouns

I’ve got a presumption against making nice with people who solemnly pronounce their pronouns, let alone people who waste precious time on the topic, but I’ve been dreaming of getting back to Paris, so I just updated one social medium profile to specify my pronouns as il/son/lui-même.

Covid

Safetyism on Parade

I probably could have put this under politics, but since I take a swipe at Dubya along with the quoted swipe at Buttigieg, I think it belongs here.

In a recent Department of Transportation report, Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote that “zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways.” Although that sounds nice, it’s obviously not true, George Will argues in his latest Washington Post column, and it’s irresponsible to pretend it is. “The phrase ‘zero tolerance’ (of a virus, or violence, or something) is favored by people who are allergic to making judgments and distinctions: i.e., thinking,” he writes. “There must … be limits to prophylactic measures against even clear and present dangers. Otherwise, public health officials will meet no resistance to the primal urge of all government agencies: the urge to maximize their missions. … When Buttigieg identifies as ‘the only acceptable’ social outcome something that is unattainable, we see how government forfeits the public’s trust. Americans are hitting the mute button on government that calls life’s elemental realities and painful trade-offs unacceptable.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Be it remembered that I "hit the mute button" on the GOP in January 2005, when Dubya declared as national policy eradication of tyranny from the world.

That "There must … be limits to prophylactic measures against even clear and present dangers" is a message many progressive friends in the arts aren’t willing to hear yet when it comes to Covid. I’m ready to treat Covid like the flu unless another particularly deadly variant emerges, but if I want to make music outside of Church, I still must wear a mask, it seems.

Datapoint

Last week, despite daily COVID-19 cases at record highs, Denmark decided to do away with all its pandemic restrictions. No more mask mandates, no more vaccine obligations, no more isolation requirements. To better understand the rationale for the move—which Sweden, Norway, and Spain have since echoed—Derek Thompson spoke with Danish researcher Michael Bang Petersen. “Our hospitals are not being overwhelmed,” Petersen told The Atlantic. “We have a lot of people in hospitals with positive tests, but most of them are testing positive with COVID rather than being there because of COVID. They’re also in the hospital for a much shorter duration than previous waves. The number of people being treated for pneumonia is a critical indicator, and that’s going down as well. … It’s important to be clear that waiting to remove restrictions is not a cost-free decision. A pandemic is not just a public-health disaster. It affects all parts of society. It has consequences for economic activity, for people’s well-being, and for their sense of freedom. Pandemic restrictions put on pause fundamental democratic rights. If there’s a critical threat, that pause might be legitimate. But there is an obligation to remove those restrictions quickly when the threat is no longer critical.”

The Morning Dispatch

Politics

Sore, sore loser, loser, loser

Almost every public comment Trump makes these days is focused on the election … He also warned that he would incite unrest if prosecutors who are investigating him and his businesses took action against him.

Trump’s mind has no room to entertain any other thoughts, at least not for long. His defeat is his obsession; it has pulled him into a deep, dark place. He wants to pull the rest of us into it as well.

I discuss Trump in psychological terms because I have said for a half-dozen years—and previously in these pages—that the most important thing to understand about Trump is his disordered personality; it’s the only way to even begin to think about how to deal with him. (I’m not the only person to think that.)

A wise conservative friend of mine who is a critic of the left recently told me, “At the elite level, the Republican Party is much worse than the Democratic Party when it comes to the health of American democracy. It is led by, and defined by, Trump, who wants to attack our institutions at every level.”

So he does, and so he has. Trump was dangerous, his mind disordered, before; he’s more dangerous, his mind more disordered, now. He’s obsessed and enraged, consumed by vengeance, and moving us closer to political violence. His behavior needs attention not because of the past but because of the future. A second Trump term would make the first one look like a walk in the park.

Peter Wehner, ‌Trump Is Obsessed With Being a Loser

Indeed he is: obsessed; a loser; dominated by a narcissistic personality disorder. I, like Wehner, recognized the very dangerous narcissism well before he was elected.

In a June 2016 essay for The Atlantic, Northwestern University psychology professor Dan P. McAdams diagnosed (from a distance) the then-candidate similarly, writing in part:

"People with strong narcissistic needs want to love themselves, and they desperately want others to love them too—or at least admire them, see them as brilliant and powerful and beautiful, even just see them, period. The fundamental life goal is to promote the greatness of the self, for all to see."

And Jennifer Senior, writing in The New York Times in 2019, put it this way:

"A number of Donald Trump’s critics have reached a consensus: We are being governed by a man with a narcissistic personality disorder, almost certainly of the malignant variety, and it’s time to call it by name."

According to DSM-5, the seminal guide to mental disorders and illness, a person with narcissistic personality disorder demonstrates "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy."

Chris Cillizza, Paul Ryan was convinced Donald Trump had narcissistic personality disorder

Provocations have consequences

[A]s conservatives tub-thump for NATO expansion in Europe and hawkishness elsewhere, they seem clueless as to what these things entail: the integration of evermore geographic space into the same socioeconomic order they find so oppressive at home.

Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Deneen and Gladden Pappin, ‌Hawks Are Standing in the Way of a New Republican Party

The authors characterize themselves and post-liberals, signifying that they think classical liberalism has failed (Deneen wrote a whole book on that premise) and they’re ready to move on.

I tend to agree with their assessment of liberalism, but I’m suffering from a preference for the devil I know over the one I don’t — and a conservative appreciation that revolutions generally make things worse.

Meanwhile, the three of them have enough heft to elicit several push-backs, like here and here.

RNC: Who needs friends when you and your fellow-combatants can have such fun?

As the old saying widely attributed to Ronald Reagan goes, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor.”

But the legitimacy of the democratic process is a heck of a 20 percent to disagree about …

“The Republican National Committee hereby formally censures Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and shall immediately cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party.”

… Cheney and Kinzinger’s transgressions? Supporting Democratic efforts to “destroy President Trump” more than they support “winning back a Republican majority in 2022,” and “participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”

After the language of the censure resolution was made public, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel quickly sought to clarify that the RNC viewed stolen election claims and efforts to overturn said election as “legitimate political discourse,” not the violence at the Capitol. But the message came through loud and clear: Any effort to draw attention to January 6 rather than sweep it under the rug is not welcome at the Republican National Committee.

The Morning Dispatch: Republicans Choose Their Corners in the January 6 Brawl

Ronna McDaniel’s clarification was patent bullshit: the January Sixers who were engaged in "legitimate political discourse" (the ones who didn’t smash their way into the Capital, some of them calling for hanging Mike Pence, in case you’re really dim-witted) are not being prosecuted, let alone persecuted (with the possible exception of the Orange God King in Exile, who incited the riot, and whose successful prosecution for something therefore has some allure).

MTG: Your 15 minutes of fame are up

"Now we have Nancy Pelosi’s Gazpacho Police, spying on members of Congress …." Congresscreature Marjorie Taylor Greene.


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

Potpourri 2/3/22

Socked in by our biggest blizzard since 2007. It’s kind of nice, at least for me and mine. A really bad time to be homeless, though.

A Return to Sanity?

Several members of the West Lafayette (Indiana) City Council are pushing an ordinance to ban "conversion therapy," with fines of up to $1,000 per day. The Mayor, a very liberal Republican, says he’ll veto it. You can read some pretty good coverage of the jockeying here.

But this was what most surprised and heartened me:

And a national group devoted to advocating for LGBTQ rights and counseling gay, lesbian and transgender teens to accept who they are has been lobbying city council members in recent weeks to reject the ordinance, calling it clumsy and vague and saying it could do more harm than good.

Good for them. Now where are the conservatives willing to repudiate clumsy, vague, harmful bans on "Critical Race Theory" or "divisive concepts"? There are some, but far too many play to the peanut gallery.

Crotchety Old Icons

Only in stereotype are the elderly sweet and meek, at least other than when hulked over by someone disturbingly youthful and vigorous. Judge Richard Posner in his book on aging and human nature noted that older people, less dependent on “transacting with others,” actually have less reason than younger people to conceal their obnoxiousness. How much more so two superstars approaching their 80s with a lifetime of royalties in the bank.

Holman Jenkins, Jr. on l’affaire Rogan, Young, and Mitchell.

Jenkins continues:

Audiences seek controversy not just to open their minds, not just to annoy their betters, but because to hear impertinent, unapproved talk feels like freedom.

It’s worth a whole other column, and unfortunately a lengthy one, to disentangle the magical thinking of Covid ideology, which got Mr. Rogan in trouble in the first place. Let’s be satisfied with an example. All through Monday evening’s show, National Public Radio teased a segment about school parents who—get this—are both pro-vaccine and anti-mask. Heads explode, as if masks and vaccines aren’t different tools with different uses. Somehow they have to be regarded as ideological totems and embraced as a package.

The flight of liberal writers to Substack and other non-mainstream venues in the Covid era is often misinterpreted: It’s not because they’ve had a conservative awakening. They are simply repulsed by such NPR-style stupidity.

(Emphasis added) I used to listen to NPR because it made me feel smarter, in contrast to most news. If I had to commute today, and ran out of smart podcasts, I probably still would prefer it to the alternatives. But I can understand those who won’t.

Flores v. NFL

I don’t exactly "follow" the NFL (when I watch, it’s with a guilty conscience about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), but it seems that one Brian Flores has filed a lawsuit alleging that the NFL discriminated against him and other Black coaches in their hiring practices.

I thought "good luck proving that," but then I saw this:

Stunning details in Brian Flores lawsuit: in texts, Bill Belichick thought he was texting Brian Daboll (not Brian Flores) and congratulated him on getting the Giants head coach job days before Flores was set to interview for the gig.

Hmmmm. That’s pretty bad.

I’m not rooting for or against Flores, but knowledgeable people seem to be taking the lawsuit seriously, and not just people who traffic in controversy.

What’s different about our civilization

There has always been, and probably always will be, economic inequality, but few civilizations appear to have so extensively perfected the separation of winners from losers or created such a massive apparatus to winnow those who will succeed from those who will fail.

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

"When elected, I’ll nominate a [whatever] to the Supreme Court"

There’s a lot of grumbling about President Biden’s declared intention of nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court. A letters-to-the-Editor writer in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, sees an "inference that Mr. Biden needs to eliminate almost all the competition for them to be considered."

I see no reason for such an inference, even if Sri Srinivasan is better-qualified (as Ilya Shapiro infelicitously argued). The three women getting most of the mention are all well-qualified nominees independent of race and sex. At least one of them would be on any Democrat President’s short-list, and all of them are thought to be to the right of Justice Sotomayor — roughly in the neighborhood of Justice Kagan.

On balance, though, it adds no glory to the perception of judicial independence for any President to promise and pick candidates for their appeal to particular parts of his base. (On that, I’ll give Reagan credit: promising to nominate a woman was not pandering to any part of his base, but trying to reassure moderates that he wasn’t part of the <anachronism> cis-hetero-Christo-patriarchy<\anachronism>).

Side note: The smear campaign against anyone who dares to question the wisdom of Biden’s commitment to nominate a black woman to SCOTUS does, of course, include Adam Serwer, the Atlantic’s most consistently dishonest and partisan hack.

Life in 2022

As I drove Tuesday night from Church (where I sang a Liturgy unmasked — as was everyone else) to a newly-resumed Chamber singer rehearsal (where we all wore masks and some even then won’t come to rehearsal yet), I realized that the pandemic has made me an accomplished code-switcher.

Fill in the blanks

In another entry, Shirer noted that a joke had begun making its way around the more cynical quarters of Berlin: “An airplane carrying Hitler, Göring and Goebbels crashes. All three are killed. Who is saved?” Answer: “The German People.”

Eric Larsen, The Splendid and the Vile

This kind of sets my mind to thinking who I’d nominate for that plane ride today.

Adiaphora

That embarrassing moment when the tendentious quote you Tweet-attributed to Voltaire is traced instead to a neo-Nazi in the 1990s.

("Half the quotes attributed to me on the internet are not true." – Benjamin Franklin)


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

Abortion law, the Performative Jackass Caucus, Race, and more

Abortion Law

Politicization of the Supreme Court

In an exchange with Scott Stewart, the Mississippi solicitor general defending the state’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Justice Sotomayor had this to say:

Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible.

Here’s what one reader of mine had to say about Justice Sotomayor’s “stench” comment:

Whoever smelt it, dealt it. Sotomayor and Alito are the two most partisan, results-oriented members of the Court. It’s pretty rich of her, of all the justices, to be complaining about politics stinking up SCOTUS—in a soundbite that was clearly crafted to fire up the left.

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

Abortion and adoption

The last thing we should take from our nation’s debates about abortion is that adoption is a problem.

… the very idea that poverty—in this nation, of all places—could be the factor that causes a mother to part with her child is and should be a clarion call for action, both private and public, designed to facilitate family formation.

David French, Don’t Denigrate Adoption to Defend Roe

Politics, briefly

A guy can dream, can’t he?

GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California is resigning from Congress at the end of the month to become CEO of former President Trump’s new social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group. First elected in 2002, Nunes served as chair of the House Intelligence Committee from 2015 to 2019, and would have been a contender to lead the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans recapture the chamber next year.

The Morning Dispatch

This seems like an epic bad career move, but given my opinion of Devin Nunes, he’s certainly welcome to it.

I wonder if Trump can get Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and the rest of the GOP Performative Jackass Caucus to come work for him, too?

When the only meaningful correlation involves racial ambivalence

After January 6, a team led by Robert A. Pape, head of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Threats, scoured the profiles of the capital insurgents:

Only one meaningful correlation emerged. Other things being equal, insurgents were much more likely to come from a county where the white share of the population was in decline. For every one-point drop in a county’s percentage of non-Hispanic whites from 2015 to 2019, the likelihood of an insurgent hailing from that county increased by 25 percent. This was a strong link, and it held up in every state.

Trump and some of his most vocal allies, Tucker Carlson of Fox News notably among them, had taught supporters to fear that Black and brown people were coming to replace them. According to the latest census projections, white Americans will become a minority, nationally, in 2045. The insurgents could see their majority status slipping before their eyes.

Barton Gelman, January 6 Was Practice.

This is a (the?) major article in a brand-new issue of the Atlantic largely devoted to the threat posed by the Trumpist Republican party. Recommended.

I apparently lead a sheltered life. I genuinely thought that frank racism (white people are better than darker people) had faded close to extinction, though I thought it likely that stereotypes remained (e.g., that black English did its speakers no favors in the job and other "markets").

Then came Barack Obama, and with it, birtherism and other unreasoning opposition.

Now, the "replacement theory" and the terrors it incites.

I’ve got to think this stuff was latent all along — just not obviously among my usual circle of mostly-Christian acquaintances.

Other

Root causes

Mark Bauerlein and Tim Perry discuss the deterioration of Christian burial practices, for which Perry finds startling roots:

Bauerlein: You link this deterioration to a bigger conceptual trend, and that is what happened with eschatology in the 20th Century. What went on there?
Perry: I think it’s a twofold story and it’s a little bit ironic. On the one hand, the Church lost its eschatological vocabulary. In the mainstream Protestant Churches and perhaps in the Catholic Church, more immediate concerns came to the fore: keeping the machine going in the days of decreasing revenues, decreasing membership rolls. In the churches that I’ve been shaped in as a child, I think we became a little bit embarrassed at our eschatological excesses, where we stopped talking about the traditional last things — death, judgment, hell and heaven — and started talking instead about secret rapture, great tribulation, who’s the antichrist, what’s the mark of the beast. I think evangelicals have, perhaps rightly, become a little embarrassed at that kind of speech. But instead of going back to the far richer and far more important language of the traditional last things, we’ve just stopped talking about eschatology altogether.

First Things Podcast, A Proper Christian Burial.

Well, I guess if you’re coy about death, judgment, hell and heaven, and allergic to orderly "liturgies," you’ve got little but novelties and pabulum to preach at funerals.

God will never forsake chosen America

This occurs to me so rarely, but seems so fitting when it does, that I thought I should capture it this time: a lot of support for Donald Trump, particularly but not exclusively among Evangelicals, results from fear that Democrats are an existential threat to the country, so they should vote Republican because God would never so forsake (or judge) America that we are left with shitty and unsuitable candidates in both major parties. That simply is unthinkable, since America supposedly is some kind of new chosen people.

I disagree — so much that I’m tempted to cease voting for Democrats or Republicans. That would mean I sit out many individual races. It should send at least a teensie-weensie signal of discontent that some voter in my precinct voted American Solidarity Party in the Presidential race, Libertarian or some other third party where ASP has no candidate, and not a single D or R.

Verbal tics

“Look, I’m an up-front guy,” Bear Hobart said. “I have to be honest with you—” Here it comes, Dylan thought. He was pretty convinced that you didn’t ever have to be honest with someone; maybe you should, and maybe you wanted to, but “I have to be honest with you” was a self-defeating sentence, since it was never true.

Eve Tushnet, Amends

There’s a kindred verbal tic: "Do you realize that you just [e.g., accused all the teachers in this school district of being sexual perverts]?", addressed to one who asks unwelcome questions. The italicized portion is a signal that the speaker is going to twist words beyond recognition in order to paint the initial speaker as some kind of crazy.

Modernity’s faith

“[F]aith in progress is just as basic to modernity as the Second Coming was to Christianity.”

Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies

Recently-acquired aphorisms

  • A memory is what is left when something happens and does not completely unhappen. —Edward de Bono, The Mechanism of Mind
  • I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers. —Ursula K. Le Guin, Dancing at the Edge of the World

Via Philip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell.

I recommend this memoir (about which I wrote earlier), but read it to understand Yancey’s inner life, not to lay out a timeline of events in U.S. and American church history, which Yancey confuses or conflates at times.


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.

Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

If you can’t measure it, it’s not "God’s Blessing"

I have been listening to Christianity Today’s podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which of necessity focuses on the doings of pastor Mark Driscoll. Episode 11, a really long one, is playing as I type.

I can’t decide if this is a complicated story or a really simple one:

  1. Much of Evangelicalism is congenitally more interested in numerical growth than in discipleship and true Christian growth.
  2. That propensity, combined with a narcissistic pastor who produced numerical growth for a number of years, completely broke down any pastoral accountability or Christlikeness.

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

If the goal is Church growth and not Church health, one way to do it is get a really charismatic, dynamic personality that attracts a large number of people and let him do whatever he wants. And then he’ll never leave. And the people will say "I go to so-and-so’s church. So-and-so is my pastor."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, I never met him. He’s my pastor."

The speaker was Mark Driscoll, the disgraced Mars Hill pastor, himself.

A simple story, I think. And it’s being replayed, a bit more softly and in a lower register, throughout Evangelicalism today.

Because in much (most?) of Evangelicalism, numerical growth is per se "God’s blessing on pastor so-and-so’s ministry."

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

  • II. … Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. …
  • VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.
  • XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
  • XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.

Wendell Berry. This was written 1991, before the internet revolution, but I’m not sure he’d change a word of it today.

Guilt by free association

The only motivation for the invocation of Schlafly seems to be that, as [Linda] Greenhouse notes, she was the subject of a television mini-series in 2020, and that both were lawyers with large families. "Forty years later, more than a few people looked at Amy Coney Barrett and saw Phyllis Schlafly," Greenhouse writes, with no indication of who those people were. "And how could they not, given the similarity in the two women’s biographies?" This isn’t even guilt by association. It’s guilt by free association.

Noah Feldman, reviewing Linda Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink, via Josh Blackman.

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

I was and remain deeply indebted to Marx’s critique of the economic, social, and cultural order of capitalism and to the development of that critique by later Marxists.

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

Caveat on the headline: the first edition of After Virtue was published in 1981. I don’t know if it included this acknowledgement. In my neck of the woods, acknowledging learning from Marx in 1981 would at least get you the side-eye. I personally didn’t learn from him until later, after Communism fell, and sensible people stopped obsessing about it.

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

I think it would be preposterous to deny that there are good things [about social media]. My favorite thing is people with rare diseases finding each other and being able to compare notes. That wasn’t possible before. But it has to be said that all of those good things could happen without this algorithmic overlord. You could have all of the good of the internet and all of the good we associate with social media, which is real, without this crazy-making business model. And that’s why I find a fallacy in a lot of thinking that’s like, well, we just have to deal with Facebook making the world darker and crazier because we need this or that. That’s not true at all.

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

Readwise suggests something it thinks I might like to read at the end of each day’s review of things I have read. Friday’s suggestion was this:

Goddess worship, feminine values, and women’s power depend on the ubiquity of the image. God worship, masculine values, and men’s domination of women are bound to the written word. Word and image, like masculine and feminine, are complementary opposites. Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

It probably is selling briskly in a niche market of which I’m not a part. But it reminds me of some crazy PhD. thesis in a world where a high proportion of sane ideas have been explored by prior doctoral candidates. After defense of the thesis, the newly-minted PhD will have become heavily, heavily invested in the thesis, howsoever absurd, and will carry it into the academy with him/her.

The most baneful effects of this pattern are in theology, where an original contribution to the literature will be very likely heretical.

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

We all get things wrong. What makes this more worrying is simply that all these false narratives just happen to favor the interests of the left and the Democratic party. And corrections, when they occur, take up a fraction of the space of the original falsehoods. These are not randos tweeting false rumors. They are the established press.

Andrew Sullivan, decrying the deceitfulness of mainstream media — to which media, nevertheless, sensible people have no good alternative.

(I increasingly think we do have a good alternative: tune out the news almost entirely. What good does it do me in Indiana, for instance, to have any opinion whatever about the interaction of Kentucky Catholic School boys and an older native American in DC?)

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

Tensions are indeed rising between the U.S. and China, but that’s not primarily because the former is a democracy and the latter is authoritarian. It’s because America is a global hegemon that projects power into China’s near abroad, and China is a rapidly rising power seeking to expand its influence across East Asia. That places the two countries on a collision course, and whether they’ll prove able to avoid armed conflict will have very little to do either country’s form of government.

Damon Linker, The anachronistic vision behind Biden’s Summit for Democracy.

Biden’s vision may be anachronistic, but he’s not alone in that.

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out the 13 representatives’ office phone numbers and urged Americans to “politely say how they feel about these traitor Republicans voting to pass Joe Biden’s Communist agenda.”

Morning Dispatch, ‌Did ‘Republican Traitors’ Save the Filibuster?.

MTG’s "Politely address traitors who voted for Communism" does not pass the plausible deniability test when things like this were the response:

They did. “You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor,” one voter said in a voicemail left for GOP Rep. Fred Upton, vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope you f—ing die. I hope your f—ing family dies. I hope everybody in your f—ing staff dies, you f—ing piece of f—ing s—. Traitor!”

Even National Review, in a descent almost as steep as that of the Claremont Institute, was outraged at Republicans voting for the the infrastructure bill.

I. Don’t. Get. 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.