Senate Race 2018

30 years ago it would have been fair to call me a “single-issue voter,” and that issue was abortion. I was, and remain, strongly opposed to what the press style sheets now have settled on calling “abortion rights.”

For some reason, though, I refused to burn bridges to the party that supported what then was the most liberal abortion regime in the Western world.

Part of my reason was professional — my state Right to Life affiliate was a client of mine for a time, and I wanted to act professionally, not politically, in representing them. Indeed, I got them as a client because my predecessor had been too blatantly Republican for the tastes of the Right to Life group’s new state President. Back then, we had Democrats who were positive champions of the pro-life cause in the Indiana House and Senate, and we praised them publicly.

Another part of my reason was that abortion is an issue where the party platforms seem oddly reversed, with the Democrats abandoning the littlest of little guys and the Republicans stepping away from toxic libertarianism. I kept thinking the Democrats could be brought to their senses, and that opposition to abortion could once more be bipartisan. (In thinking that, I underestimated some of the unarticulated political shifts that were taking place. I think it was the late Joseph Sobran who called the Democrats the party of “Vote your vice,” which had a humorous sting — until one reflected that not all vice is sexual. But that’s a story for another day.)

But over 30 years, the Republicans, who had my vote quite reliably (if not my rhetoric), became more obviously insincere about their abortion opposition, fronting candidates who memorized the words but plainly could not carry the tune. I got furious at a Californian supporter of the Constitution Party who opined contemptuously in 2002 that the Republican were just playing pro-lifers, but I now think he was substantially right.

For that, but mostly for other reasons, I no longer consider myself a Republican, feeling with many others that the party has left conservatism and left me. I could no longer be a single-issue voter, and the reflex to vote Republican is diminishing.

Which brings me to Joe Donnelly, one of my two U.S. Senators, famously up for re-election this year.

The consensus seems to be that Donnelly is at serious risk of getting upset by Republican Mike Braun, who won the “Vichyer-than-thou” competition in May’s 3-way GOP primary, thumping two “names” whose hollowness had become manifest in their years of public self-service.

Maureen Groppe of the USA Today Network casts the risk to Donnelly thus:

“I am, and have been, disappointed in his continued failure to advocate for Hoosier women and families regarding issues of reproductive justice,” said Emily O’Brien, vice president of the Indiana National Organization for Women, which is pressuring Donnelly to reject Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Anti-abortion groups, however, are also critical of Donnelly while praising GOP challenger Mike Braun, who is “100 percent pro-life” – including opposing abortion in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the woman. Donnelly makes exceptions in all three cases.

“He waffles,” Sue Swayze Liebel, the Indiana state chair of the Susan B. Anthony List, said of Donnelly. “And babies don’t need wafflers. They need champions.”

So his position is too pro-life for the Democrats, too qualified for the anti-abortion groups that continue buying Republican baloney. Maybe I’ll write some day on the pipe dream of a democratically adopted anti-abortion law with no exceptions for “rape, incest and life of the mother.” For now, opposing those exceptions in law seems more like checking the right boxes than like a serious political position.

Meanwhile, my first campaign mailing from Braun included the anodyne “I am committed to my faith, my family, my business, and my fellow Hoosiers,” with no further mention of what his commitment to faith and family mean. There was no mention of abortion. Not one.

Apparently, his “100 percent pro-life” position is notional, consisting of boldly “hoping” (when pressed) that Roe v. Wade gets overturned (a position he staked out in the Groppe article). Meanwhile, he can claim his hands are tied (as they pretty much are) and let the hardline anti-abortion imagination take over for what a mighty warrior he’ll be when the eschaton arrives.

Mostly, Braun’s mailer trash-talked Donnelly in ways I recognize as implausible and, as are most politics today, dishonorable.

Overall, Braun strikes me as a hollow man, just too unfamiliar to have bred full-blown contempt yet.

And then there is the meta-issue:

The system is being burned down before our eyes by its own chief executive. Given the complete and utter moral collapse of the Vichy Republicans in Washington, the only hope for rescuing it is for the Democrats to gain control of either or both chambers of Congress.

Frank Rich. Rich echoes Michael Gerson, who hopes to save the GOP from Trump by clobbering them up side the head with a big loss in November:

President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice. What should they do?

They should vote Democratic in their House race, no matter who the Democrats put forward. And they should vote Republican in Senate races with mainstream candidates ….

I find Rich’s rationale more appealing. I also appreciate — make that “cherish” — the evocative “Vichy Republicans.”

Seth Godin suggests how to proceed with difficult decisions, especially when it feels like you’ve gotten a rotten deal, which is how I was bound to feel this month whether Trump or Clinton won in 2016. I haven’t fully worked through Godin’s protocol yet, and I’m not going to forget Trump’s judicial nominations or his defense of religious freedom (mostly for Christians, alas).

But Mike Braun has no presumption in his favor for this recovering Republican, and my heart, to return to where I started, is to protect the endangered species “Pro-life Democrat.”

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Trick shot

In November, many Republican leaners and independents will face a difficult decision. The national Democratic Party under Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer doesn’t share their views or values. But President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice. What should they do?

Michael Gerson, calling for voters to administer the only medicine that will save the GOP from Trump, a solid, strategic thumping in November:

They should vote Democratic in their House race, no matter who the Democrats put forward. And they should vote Republican in Senate races with mainstream candidates …

If Democrats gain control of the House but not the Senate, they will be a check on the president without becoming a threat to his best policies (from a Republican perspective) or able to enact their worst policies. The tax cut will stand. The Senate will still approve conservative judges. But the House will conduct real oversight hearings ….

I’ve tended to underestimate the value of a healthy two-party system, and I may be underestimating the health of our two major parties now. But I am inclined to let the GOP go to to hell with Trump and see how things sort themselves out, as they are doing before our eyes right now.

If I do vote for an unusual number of Democrats, it will be because desperate times call for desperate measures, but not to save the GOP through some triple bank-shot.

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Sunken into mendacity

“You know I’m from Alabama—the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that did important work in the South, vital work at a pivotal time,” the attorney general explained.

He admitted that “there were hate groups in the South I grew up in. They attacked the life, liberty, and the very worth of minority citizens.”

Sessions recalled working with the SPLC to secure the death penalty for a member of the Ku Klux Klan. “You may not know this, but I helped prosecute and secure the death penalty for a klansman who murdered a black teenager in my state. The resulting wrongful death suit led to a $7 million verdict and the bankruptcy of the Klu Klux Klan in the South. That case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said.

“But when I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a ‘hate group.’ Many in the media simply parroted it as fact,” the attorney general added. “Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.”

Sessions charged that the SPLC has “used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.”

He powerfully added, “They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.”

Then the attorney general addressed ADF directly. “You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group,” Sessions declared.

Then he made the case. “You have a 9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years—and that includes two of the most important cases of the last term,” the attorney general said. “Two of those nine cases were 7-2, one was per curiam, and one was 9-0. In the lower courts, you’ve won hundreds of free speech cases. That’s an impressive record. These are not fringe beliefs that you’re defending.”

Rather, “You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values.”

Tyler O’Neil, quoting Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

You’re right, Mr. Sessions, that I don’t agree with you on everything, but thank you for speaking the truth and sharing the “back-story.”

It irks me that NPR continues credulously to bring on “experts” from SPLC, one of its sponsors.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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Dear Christians, …

Dear Christians, thank you for feeding, housing, and caring for the poor, but unless you do it in the manner we prefer, advancing the worldview we prefer — even to the point of adopting the personnel policies we demand — we will use all the power of law and public shame to bring you into compliance. We’ll pass laws that violate your conscience. We’ll call you bigots or misogynists when you resist. And all the while, the fact that you actually do serve and sustain (physically and spiritually) millions of Americans will be lost and ignored.

And in response to each event, as Christians leave campus or adoption agencies close their doors, many of these same progressives will be puzzled. Why close? Why leave? Just change your policies. Can’t you provide Catholic care and contraception — and blame the state for making you do it?

But this fundamentally misunderstands the nature of serious faith ….

David French, describing an increasingly pervasive progressive attitude, instantiated by FiveThirtyEight here and here. (He also speculates on how cafeteria Christianity may have made the progressives think their demands reasonable.)

It is a silver lining in this wretched Administration that it has largely kept its promises to protect religious freedom. That ought not be an optional and partisan policy, but if the Democrats want to be evil and stupid, it’s their right, as it’s my right not to vote for them despite the horrid condition of the national GOP.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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

What’s not to like?

What’s not to like? Federalism vindicated and subsidiarity as national policy. Pretty soon, we might have a full-blown modus vivendi.

(Moi, hier)

The morning wasn’t over before I was thinking about what’s not to like: corporate power possibly becoming even more efficacious.

It is now routine for cities and states to bid against each other to attract corporate headquarters. It is becoming routine for hypocritical corporations and politicians to boycott states that exhibit some residue of sanity in their laws — you know, hypocrites like Apple (most of its manufacturing in China, which makes North Carolina look like the beatific vision), Paypal (business in countries where sodomy is a felony and the law is enforced) and Andrew Cuomo (boycotts North Carolina, visits Cuba).

I fear such corporate grandstanders, bullies and thieves might be even further emboldened by localist devolution, but then I’m not seeing the feds doing anything to stop them anyway.

On balance, it still seems like a good idea, but there is something on the other side of the balance beam.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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

The most radical guy in the race

I’m going to take the liberty (you can’t stop me) of pulling some quotes from David Brooks but re-arranging them.

  • Only 18 percent of Americans say the federal government does the right thing most or nearly all of the time. In July 2016, as Ronald Brownstein has pointed out, only 29 percent of Trump supporters and 23 percent of Clinton supporters thought that electing their candidate would actually lead to progress.
  • According to a 2015 Heartland Monitor poll, 66 percent of Americans believe that their local area is moving in the right direction.
  • To have a chance, [a] third-party candidate would have to emerge as the most radical person in the race. That person would have to argue that the Republicans and Democrats are just two sides of a Washington-centric power structure that has ground to a halt. That person would have to promise to radically redistribute power across American society.
  • All recent presidential candidates have run against Washington, but on the premise that they could change Washington. Today, a third-party candidate would have to run on creating different kinds of power structures at different levels.

David Brooks, who may have written a great column because of having read a great book (which I haven’t read yet).

When I look at the great New York Times 2016 electoral map, and ponder the eventuality of the populous cities being thwarted in Presidential elections by millions of square miles of geography in the heartland, lowering the stakes by making Washington, DC just one power structure among many, limited to things like national defense, is very attractive.

Caveat: Washington cannot directly devolve power to, say, Tippecanoe County, but it can devolve power to Indiana (sorry, Illinois, Connecticut and other states that have been mis-governed), and can jawbone for further devolution.

What’s not to like? Federalism vindicated and subsidiarity as national policy. Pretty soon, we might have a full-blown modus vivendi.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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

A lousy way to govern a hegemon

I listened yesterday to excerpts of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s testimony to Congress.

I appreciate when good people (I won’t name names so as not to hex them) are willing to serve under our terrible President for the sake of the nation, but that was really hard to listen to.

Congressmen (yes, I think all the questions I heard were from men) asked perfectly reasonable questions, particularly about the notorious optics in Helsinki, while Secretary Pompeo regurgitated talking points, usually as soon as the Congressman began asking a question.

I don’t often sympathize equally with both sides in an untenable situation, but condemnation of those sorry actors doesn’t seem apt.

Let me summarize the Secretary’s testimony:

You cannot believe a word this President says. There is no necessary connection between what he spews by mouth or Twitter and the actual policy of the United States.

But I dare not put that policy in my own words for you, beyond chronicling things we have done “on the record,” because my crackpot boss, whose intentions even I don’t understand, might take umbrage at something and fire me.

(Sotto voce) Do you really want the A Team to get fired so this President can fill positions with cronies or B-Teamers?

So Congress is kept in the dark, and governance lurches forward by some ineffable mash-up between this President’s obsessions and what some fairly competent people recognize as sound policy.

It beats the chaos of governance solely according to 45’s obsessions, but other than that, it’s a pretty lousy way to run the world’s de facto hegemon.

It’s enough to make one long for the good old days when Congress engaged in grandstanding, pocket-lining, and raising war chests for re-election, but we could actually read the Supreme Court decisions, Code of Federal Regulations and Executive Orders by which the country was actually governed. Now, in many cases, we don’t even have that.

* * * * *

Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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

Making a spectacle of yourself

When I was young, “making a spectacle of yourself” was discouraged. That was a very long time ago:

It’s difficult to understand the sheer rapidity of the culture’s shift toward supporting same-sex marriage without considering the intensification of the spectacular character of society—with the rise of social media and its amplification of the power of entertainment media.

A great deal of our political life and energy has migrated from concrete contexts to the realm of spectacle, in which politics becomes a continual management of our personal brand for our own and others’ consumption.

The result is a superficial and insubstantial—albeit highly animated—politics, preoccupied with symbolic battles, manufactured spectacles, and competitive self-branding (in electing a reality TV star to the presidency, Americans elected a man with experience).

Alastair Roberts

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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

Role call for the Seven Deadlies

The Washington Post has a fairly long feature story focused on a Southern Baptist Church in Alabama.

Because it’s a major paper, and the major papers almost invariably think that “religion don’t even real,” the focus is “what think ye of Donald Trump?” (Politics, you see, do real.)

From the introduction:

[M]any have acknowledged the awkwardness of being both self-proclaimed followers of Jesus and the No. 1 champions of a president whose character has been defined not just by alleged infidelity but accusations of sexual harassment, advancing conspiracy theories popular with white supremacists, using language that swaths of Americans find racist, routinely spreading falsehoods and an array of casual cruelties and immoderate behaviors that amount to a roll call of the seven deadly sins.

(Emphasis added.) It has been 21 years since I’ve been Evangelicalish (Christian Reformed) and 40+ since I’ve been unabashedly Evangelical. So take my opinion with a grain of salt.

That opinion is:

  1. The quoted introduction rings false in at least this Minor sense: Trump’s Baptist and other Evangelical supporters could not do a call roll for the seven deadly sins because there’s no single Bible pericope that lists them.
  2. Otherwise the story rings true, for both better and worse. It rings true when people say things like “I hate it … My wife and I talk about it all the time. We rationalize the immoral things away. We don’t like it, but we look at the alternative, and think it could be worse than this.” It rings true when these folk opine things about Hillary Clinton such as “She hates me … She has contempt for people like me … and people who love God and believe in the Second Amendment. I think if she had her way it would be a dangerous country for the likes of me.” And it rings true when someone says “Obama was acting at the behest of the Islamic nation … He carried a Koran and it was not for literary purposes ….”

These are not bien pensants, but they’re not idiots, either. They’re trying to make sense of things, tempted by tribal orthodoxies (as I’m tempted by “Never Trump” orthodoxies). I think it is worth reading if you have 10 or 15 minutes to spare.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

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

Trimmer callout

Daniel Henninger at the Wall Street Journal accurately describes the Donald Trump foreign policy modus operandi:

The controversy overflowing the banks of the press conference between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is a moment to step back and assess the nonstop maelstrom called the Trump presidency.

Mr. Trump’s famous modus operandi is the art of the deal. Keep everyone guessing and off balance. Decision first, details later. Drive events, stay on offense, force everyone to react. In this, Mr. Trump has succeeded.

No one—from the individuals who work daily in the White House to friends and enemies in foreign capitals—knows what he may do next. A high-ranking official from an Asian ally who visited the Journal’s offices recently was asked if his government has a clear idea of what Mr. Trump wants them to do on trade. “No,” he said, “we do not.”

The whole world is back on its heels, which is where, according to theory, the art-of-the-deal master wants them.

As I read, I thought “This is true, and it describes an autocracy because nobody, including his White House staff, knows what he will do next and nobody is stopping him.”

Frank Bruni of the New York Times observes that “when it comes to babysitting this president, the Republican Party is a lost cause.” Bruni’s remark would have come across as a fairly anodyne liberal New York Times talking point had I not been mulling over Trump as autocrat (setting aside all other attributes).

That observation ramifies. Stay tuned.

Although one might make the case that this level of autocracy is impeachable, it would be a mere academic exercise at this point. If his own party won’t buck him, this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man, in control of the imperial Presidency we’ve built, has it in his tiny hands, guided by his cribbed mind, to cause untold damage in the world — that is, in foreign policy.

Henninger gives Trump much credit for the booming economy and for his judicial nominees.

When Mr. Trump entered office amid a generalized panic among political elites, the first thing some of us noticed was that he was filling his government with first-rate people. To revive the economy, they included economic advisers Gary Cohn and Kevin Hassett, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney. On taxes, Paul Ryan and Kevin Brady provided a detailed template. The economy raced to full employment. The stock market boomed.

On the Supreme Court, the most astute minds in the conservative legal movement gave Mr. Trump a list of stellar options. He picked Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. More wins.

Mr. Trump has said that in Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis and John Bolton he has the foreign-policy team he always wanted. He also said he wanted to do one-on-ones with Messrs. Xi, Kim and Putin. He has done that. The moment has arrived to start listening less to America’s adversaries and more to his own good people. That, in his first year, was the art of the win.

On foreign policy, his competent people are themselves in the dark, and our Narcissist-in-Chief doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

Mr. Trump’s supporters say he deserves more time to negotiate wins on these big foreign-policy bets. It’s not going to get better.

(Henninger) Thus, it’s time for “show us the money.”

Trump’s ascendancy has highlighted the warranted discontent of those who’ve been left behind economically. Average is Not Over, and average America does not intend to go off to its Bantustan while the new plutocrats grow ever wealthier.

I think that message has been received. I hope it has been received, anyway, and I’m certainly trying to digest it. Our future is more populist. Restoration of the status quo ante will do average America few favors. This generally fits at least a few of my long-lived notions about course correction for America.

Moreover, the time probably has come (I’m ready at least, and have been ready since the anomalies came to my attention from reading smarter people) to re-examine NATO and our other trans-Atlantic alliances in light of nearly 30 years since the end of the Cold War. But I don’t want Trump-as-autocrat doing it by humiliating our historic allies and engaging in secretive tête-a-tête meetings with Vladimir Putin — and I say that as a Russophile. Rearranging treaties in light of changed facts on the ground needs to be an orderly process.

In 2016, Trump out-performed the polls. People lied or hid their true leanings (because supporting Trump would get you added to The Deplorables by the bien pensants). Having elected their secret favorite, a new tribe has tacitly enacted it own set of smelly tribal orthodoxies, starting with, in effect, “touch not God’s annointed autocrat.”

I’m hoping the current polls’ insane levels of support for Trump among Republicans are again off-base — that people are giving the approved tribal answers while secretly harboring doubts, deep doubts.

I see no reason to believe this except a disorderly and ever-weakening reflex that, under their tribal bluster, my countrymen are sane.

Bruni is calling for a blue wave in November if only to show quisling Republicans that not bucking Trump when appropriate is as dangerous as bucking him. I’m receptive to the idea that having rushed the cockpit of Flight 93 in 2016, wresting the controls from the establishment and putting them in Trump’s tiny hands, it’s time to rush it again and reverse our course.

No, make that “correct our course.” I don’t think there’s any simple going back. But I’m hoping for the emergence of tens of millions of Trimmers.

The ‘trimmer’ is one who disposes his weight so as to keep the ship upon an even keel. And our inspection of his conduct reveals certain general ideas at work … Being concerned to prevent politics from running to extremes, he believes that there is a time for everything and that everything has its time — not providentially, but empirically. He will be found facing in whatever direction the occasion seems to require if the boat is to go even.

May this tribe increase.

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