Clippings and Commentary 2/8/19

1

The Commonwealth of Virginia … prides itself on being the mother of presidents (eight so far) and a place of profound political decorum. But suddenly we’re living in Dogpatch … How can we continue looking down on Arkansas and Mississippi with this sort of stuff going on?

David Shiflett

Report: West Virginia Feeling Pretty Smug Right About Now

2

[T]he laws of physics override the bright ideas of politicians. America has been … promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter.

For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.

  • Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
  • Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
  • Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
  • Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
  • Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….

James Howard Kunstler

I suspect, after Citizens United, that public financing of elections to the exclusion of private contributions is unconstitutional. Other than that, I’m just trying to keep my head down while peeking regularly to see how this plays out.

Well, not really. I’m rooting for Tulsi Gabbard for her party’s nomination because she favors religious freedom and opposes stupid, counterproductive wars that make war criminals of us.

3

Both parties are beholden to extreme partisans in their bases. But President Trump has his base onside. The conventional wisdom in 2016 was that the Republicans had nominated someone so extreme that he couldn’t possibly win. Yet he did. You watch: the Democrats are going to nominate someone so extreme on economics and culture that they’re going to ensure Trump’s re-election.

I lack Rod Dreher’s fear of Democrat faux socialism (or maybe I just don’t understand what he’s talking about since “socialism” is pretty equivocal these days), but I suspect I’m an outlier on that.

4

“This is a fight that doesn’t need to happen. The status quo is, there’s a diversity of agencies. And it doesn’t make anything more available to close down religious agencies because they have the wrong beliefs. It just takes away an option,” said Mark Rienzi, the president of the Becket Fund. The law firm, which focuses on religious liberty, advocates for the faith-based agencies. “Sometimes the presentation of this issue can suggest that the religious agencies are stopping people from being adoptive and foster parents. It’s just not true. There are lots of agencies. There really is an easy live-and-let-live solution.”

And this kind of sober focus on religious freedom is why I’ve developed a preference for Becket Fund over the better-known (but less focused on religious freedom per se) Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

5

It’s no accident that some of the most homophobic societies, like Iran, for example, are big proponents of sex-reassignment surgery for gender-nonconforming kids and adults (the government even pays for it) while being homosexual warrants the death penalty. Assuming that a non-stereotypical kid is trans rather than gay is, in fact, dangerously close to this worldview.

Andrew Sullivan, reflecting on the appearance of radical feminist TERFs (“Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” — women who recognized that calling men with gender dysphoria “women” isn’t a mere matter of good manners) on a Heritage Foundation panel.

6

I think Andrew Sullivan should have led with his third item last Friday:

If you’ve been waiting for the U.S. Senate to exercise its constitutional prerogatives in the era of Trump, you need wait no longer. A big bipartisan majority has finally stood up to Trump … by voting to advance an amendment in favor of continuing the 18-year occupation of Afghanistan and the ongoing intervention in Syria!

Mitch McConnell actually went on the Senate floor to argue that Trump’s proposed exit from Afghanistan, where no serious progress has been made for almost two decades, would be far too sudden. “The precipitous withdrawal of United States forces from either [Syria or Afghanistan] could put at risk hard-won gains and United States national security,” he argued. “I believe the threats remain.” Precipitous!

In fact, the vote was — at 68-to-23 — veto-proof. Sure, 2,000 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan, and 20,000 seriously wounded or injured. But they’re all volunteers! ….

So go right ahead and hold me in Contempt of Congress — and all other minions of the military-industrial-journalistic complex. I can’t even make an exception for my own Senator any more.

7

During the Berlin airlift, thought at the time to be the height of the Cold War, Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who’d been Army chief of staff during World War II, was asked how worried he was. “I’ve seen worse,” he replied. He had. No one around this president has seen worse. When Jim Mattis, John Kelly and H.R. McMaster left the administration, a cumulative 123 years of military and diplomatic experience left with them.

Peggy Noonan, Can Trump Handle a Foreign Crisis? (Spoiler Alert: We have absolutely no reason to think he can.)

8

On a drive back from Indianapolis last night, I listened to (among others) a podcast post-mortem of Trump’s SOTU.

Toward the end, they played a fairly extended clip of the tail-end of SOTU, that “sounded deeply weird” to the host (beginning at 21:26):

You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii, from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona, from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California ….

I agreed that it sounded deeply weird, but I was a little bit disappointed that neither Rich Lowry nor Elizabeth Breunig put their finger on it: there is no way that Donald Trump in a million years would say anything so poetic on his own. Monkeys banging on typewriters would stumble into the Corpus Shakespeareanis before that.

What torture it must be to serve as a speech-writer for a man whose native tongue is so base as to be unworthy of any solemn occasion! You can’t even take pleasure in the sheer craft of making some moderately lofty sentiment sound natural as it issues forth from the boss.

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Guilty of being accused (and more)

1

I’m obliged to the Wall Street Journal for its pointer to a very powerful Christopher Caldwell piece at The Weekly Standard.

Here’s what WSJ thought “Notable and Quotable“:

The grounds for rejecting Kavanaugh have shifted steadily. … Finally, it was whether his outburst at the committee showed a partisanship that was evidence he lacked the “judicial temperament” to serve on the Court. … The question is not “whether he’s innocent or guilty,” said Cory Booker. … This amounted to saying that Brett Kavanaugh lacks a “judicial temperament” because he objected to being summarily executed following a show trial. If you permit the criteria of culpability to shift, then you have the circular logic typical of totalitarian regimes. Just as there are people famous-for-being-famous, now there are people guilty-of-being-accused.

But in a column almost every word of which was notable and quotable, my selection would be this (because I’m less beholden to polite opinion than the Journal is):

[T]he Kavanaugh nomination shows what American politics is, at heart, about. It is about “rights” and the entire system that arose in our lifetimes to confer them not through legislation but through court decisions: Roe v. Wade in 1973 (abortion), Regents v. Bakke in 1979 (affirmative action), Plyler v. Doe in 1982 (immigrant rights), and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 (gay marriage). The Democrats are the party of rights. As such, they are the party of the Supreme Court. You can see why Ted Kennedy claimed in a 1987 diatribe that the Yale law professor Robert Bork would turn the United States into a police state. For Democrats, an unfriendly Supreme Court is a threat to everything.

That means the country itself. The general Democratic view that has hardened since the 1960s is the one expressed on many occasions by Barack Obama. The United States is not a country bound by a common history or a common ethnicity—it is a set of values. That is an open, welcoming thing to build a country around. But it has a dark side, and we have seen the dark side during the hearings. If a country is only a set of values, then the person who does not share what elites “know” to be the country’s values is not really a member of the national community and is not deserving of its basic protections, nice guy though he might otherwise be. Such people “belong” to the country in the way some think illegal immigrants do—provisionally.

(Emphasis added)

I’m one of those who questions the idea of a nation being a set of values. It would be futile to say “there’s no precedent for that” because those who hold that view are a step ahead by acknowledging that this feature is what’s unprecedented and precious about America. (But there’s no precedent for that anyway.)

The insight that people like me are “not really … member[s] of the national community” explains why I and others feel alienated: we are alienated, and that’s an active verb, not passive, in this context. It’s not something we did to ourselves.

I guess I could undo it by “believing” (or at least vehemently professing) what I do not believe, but that way lies madness.

Those of us who don’t “share what elites ‘know’ to be the country’s values” are not homogeneous, and there’s very little I find appealing in America’s anti-liberalism, alt-right and white nationalism. So again I’m alienated, this time from the other alienated folks.

The elites from which I’m alienated are doubtless alienated by Donald Trump, perhaps even more than I am (at least in the active-verb sense; Trump, as I say, doesn’t hate me and mine). They are not accustomed to being alienated. That’s why we call them “elites,” and that’s why we hear anguished howls from places like the New York Times Editorial Board, which weekly seems to plunge to new nadirs.

(I’m prescinding the question of whether all of us are under then thumb of the Rothschilds or something, so that all this distinction is trivial.)

Fortunately, there’s more to life than ideologies, because my life would be pretty wretched if I isolated myself from everyone who doesn’t share my views of good public policy. But I do keep my mouth shut about politics around people whose company I enjoy for non-political reasons, and that’s truer today than ever.

2

Consider two recent stories in the New York Times. The first was a more-than-13,000-word dissection of Donald Trump’s financial history that revealed long-standing habits of deception and corruption. It was newspaper journalism at its best — a serious investment of talent and resources to expand the sum of public knowledge.

Compare this with the Times’s exposé on a bar fight 33 years ago , in which Brett M. Kavanaugh allegedly threw ice at another patron. Apparently there was no editor willing to say, “What you have turned up is trivial. Try harder.” And there was no editor who was sufficiently bothered that one name on the byline, Emily Bazelon, was a partisan who had argued on Twitter that Kavanaugh would “harm the democratic process & prevent a more equal society.”

Let me state this as clearly as I can. It is President Trump’s fondest goal to make his supporters conflate the first sort of story with the second sort of story

… Some argue that all journalism involves bias, either hidden or revealed. But it is one thing to say that objectivity and fairness are ultimately unreachable. It is another to cease grasping for them. That would be a world of purely private truths, in which the boldest liars and demagogues would thrive.

Michael Gerson (emphasis added)

 

3

Peter Beinart dissents from the view that America or the Senate “hit rock bottom” last week. As usual, Beinart is worth reading.

 

4

Astonishing to normal people:

The 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report—which Fr. Bochanski, a Philadelphia priest, should have read—offers this example of how the Archdiocese rationalized keeping an abusive priest in ministry:

According to one of Fr. [Stanley] Gana’s victims, who had been forced to have oral and anal sex with the priest beginning when he was 13 years old, Secretary for Clergy [Msgr. William] Lynn asked him to understand that the Archdiocese would have taken steps to remove Fr. Gana from the priesthood had he been diagnosed as a pedophile. But Fr. Gana was not only having sex with children and teenage minors, Msgr. Lynn explained; he had also slept with women, abused alcohol, and stolen money from parish churches. That is why he remained, with Cardinal Bevilacqua’s blessing, a priest in active ministry. “You see . . .” said Msgr. Lynn, “he’s not a pure pedophile.” (pp. 45-46)

Ron Belgau, explaining to Rod Dreher part of how a Priest/child molester kept getting returned to ministry.

 

5

Did Cold War II break out last week while no one was watching? As the Kavanaugh confirmation battle raged, many Americans missed what looks like the biggest shift in U.S.-China relations since Henry Kissinger’s 1971 visit to Beijing.

The Trump administration’s China policy swam into view, and it’s a humdinger. Vice President Mike Pence … denounced China’s suppression of the Tibetans and Uighurs, its “Made in China 2025” plan for tech dominance, and its “debt diplomacy” through the Belt and Road initiative. … Mr. Pence also detailed an integrated, cross-government strategy to counter what the administration considers Chinese military, economic, political and ideological aggression.

In the same week as the vice president’s speech, Navy plans for greatly intensified patrols in and around Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea were leaked to the press. Moreover, the recently-entered trilateral U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was revealed to have a clause discouraging trade agreements between member countries and China. The administration indicated it would seek similar clauses in other trade agreements. Also last week, Congress approved the Build Act, a $60 billion development-financing program designed to counter China’s Belt and Road strategy in Africa and Asia. Finally, the White House issued a report highlighting the danger that foreign-based supply chains pose to U.S. military capabilities in the event they are cut off during a conflict.

Any one of these steps would have rated banner headlines in normal times; in the Age of Trump, all of them together barely registered. But this is a major shift in American foreign policy ….

Walter Russell Mead. Maybe the biggest threat from Trump is that his antics draw attention away from stuff like this and like his personal enrichment via the new dark money of booking Trump hotels and resorts to win his favor.

 

6

The Wall Street Journal coverage of the dog-and-pony-show “ceremonial swearing in” (a narcissistic Trump innovation, I think) of Justice Kavanaugh Monday night refers to the expectation that he will “provide a consistent vote to implement the conservative movement’s legal agenda in a range of areas where the Supreme Court has failed to produce ideologically consistent results.”

I dislike the phrase “implement the conservative movement’s legal agenda,” both hoping and believing that it is substantially misleading to impute an ideological “agenda” to top conservative jurists. Their judicial philosophy presumably will produce different results from that of, say, Charles Blow (who openly contemns the written constitution), and that’s why SCOTUS vacancies are contentious.

But since the Supreme Court gets to pick many or most of its cases through granting or denying writs of certiorari (there are a few cases it cannot avoid taking, but nothing makes them say more than “affirmed” or “reversed”), there’s grain of truth to the notion of an agenda in the sense of “what cases do these guys think are important enough to hear?” — just as the most important media bias and opportunity for pot-stirring is in the selection of what is “newsworthy.”

 

7

In 2015 I came out strongly against the candidacy of Donald Trump on facebook and in several articles at the conservative website – The Stream. It was not a political decision as no one at that time knew what his true political values were (I think we still don’t). But his willingness to ridicule others and his calls for violence against protesters concerned me. Yes his sexism and race-baiting was disturbing as well. But it was the overall package of playing to the worst instincts of ethnocentrism and fear in Americans that drove much of my hostility towards him.

I decided that Clinton would probably be a better president, but she has her own issues. So I could not support her. Eventually I decided to, for the first time in my life, vote third party and supported the American Solidarity Party. I think for the first time in my life I did not vote for the “lesser of two evils” and it felt good.

Yes, George Yancey, it did feel good. (Yancey goes on to explain why he won’t be voting this year, but if he explained why he won’t even go cast protest votes for third-party candidates, it eluded me.)

 

8

I see that Janet Jackson is nominated to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. I was never a fan, and the once or twice per year I hear of her, I think only of this song by perhaps the world’s only Anglophone British Muslim Natural Law folk singer.

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Politics, I’m sad to say

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Politics drove me halfway to the Slough of Despond yesterday. Two examples:

  • An old Evangelical friend posted about Brett Kavanaugh “let him who is without sin ….” If that weren’t bad enough, a friend of his jumped in with a litany of lurid innuendo about the accuser. I asked for citations and he snottily referred me to a QAnon YouTube (which I couldn’t find).
  • Then, on the Orthodox side, a priest trolled a sensible friend of mine, trying to change the topic from the patent deficiencies of Trump to the unreliability of Bob Woodward putting flesh on the bones we all can see with our own two (no doubt lyin’) eyes.

So I’m not feeling all that swell about the political swill I have to share today, but some of it is my own reflection, which was already written (at least in draft) to clarify my thinking, so here it is.

 

2

The current Atlantic asks “Is Democracy Dying?,” by which I think it means, at least in part, is classical liberalism dying? A lot of smart people think it is, apart from the Atlantic crew. Indeed, at American Affairs, they’ve been critiquing Patrick Deneen’s eulogy to liberalism.

Adrian Vermeule was one of the critics — a churl, in his own words. He is a very bright fellow — Harvard-Law-School-Prof bright. He’s also a Catholic convert and an Integralist — a non-liberal or illiberal political theory that I’d probably mangle if I tried to describe it myself.

Wikipedia introduces it thus:

Integralism or integrism is used in the context of Catholicism to refer to an organization of the state which rejects “the separation of politics from concern with the end of human life, holding that political rule must order man to his final goal.” Though less commonly referred to in modern theology, integralism defines the social order of medieval Christendom and is part of the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

(Footnotes and hyperlinks omitted) Suffice that Integralism is to my right, but not so far to my right that I scorn it reflexively.

Most days, you see, I find persuasive Patrick Deneen’s theory that liberalism has shot its wad, is going away, and good riddance! Integralism’s appeal is that in an illiberal regime, I’d rather have friends in control than enemies.

So I wish I could find plausible Vermeule’s scenario of a bunch of well-formed Christian Josephs and Daniels and Mordecais and Esthers taking charge of the apparatus of the liberal state from inside and putting that apparatus to holy use.

But with Alan Jacobs (through whom I learned of Vermeule’s article — I had neglected my American Affairs subscription), I think we’ve got a good generation of Benedict-Option style Christian formation to do or else we’ll get a takeover by illiberal Christianoids (or illiberal anti-Christians).

Jacobs:

If you need people who are sufficiently skilled in negotiating the liberal order to work effectively within it, but also committed to its transformation, and who can sustain that difficult balance over decades, you have to figure out how to form such people. And it is just this that the churches of the West – all the churches of the West — have neglected to do, have neglected even to attempt. With the (in retrospect quite obvious) result: the accelerating collapse across the board of participation in church life.

What is required, in the face of a general culture that through its command of every communications medium catechizes so effectively, is the construction of a powerful counter-catechesis. Who will do that, and how will they do it? The likely answer, it seems to me, brings us back to the very localism that Deneen and Dreher advocate and that Vermeule rejects. Though I also might reject certain elements and emphases of the communities that Deneen and Dreher advocate, I don’t see a likely instrument other than highly dedicated, counter-cultural communities of faith for the Josephs and Mordecais and Esthers and Daniels to be formed. Those who do see other means of such rigorous formation need to step up and explain how their models work. Otherwise we will be looking in vain for the people capable of carrying out Vermeule’s beautiful vision.

From where I sit, that’s pretty obvious, but not everyone has my perspective. So later, in a micro.blog “conversation” (uncertain how or whether that link will work if you don’t have a micro.blog account), Jacobs responded to a sincere inquiry whether “People who are deeply grounded in and deeply committed to their faith tradition who are also capable of rising to high levels of influence in government and education” doesn’t “describe a solid majority of U.S. elected representatives”:

… I have no doubt that such people are very sincere in their faith, but they aren’t especially well formed by it. You wouldn’t have to be all that well-versed in the Bible and Christian history to know that Jews and Christians have often suffered to the point of martyrdom because they wouldn’t worship the emperor or the gods of the State — and yet many of these professedly evangelical churches hold Make America Great Again rallies and destroy Nike shoes from the pulpit because NFL players “disrespect the flag.” Leading evangelicals say that it’s okay that Trump has done a lot of bad things because “King David was a sinner too” — without noticing that David repented of his sins, whereas Trump has said that he doesn’t repent because he doesn’t do many things wrong. So what we’re seeing here is people who have a sincere profession of faith but don’t know the basic grammar of their religion. It is the civic religion of America, rather, that they are formed by ….

And that’s why I tend to think on other days that liberalism, infirm though it may be, is the least bad option available in a fallen world, and we need to rejuvenate it.

It’s mostly the illiberal comprehensive theories liberalism keeps sneaking in the back door that give me pause, suspecting that the rhetorics of “democracy” and “liberalism” are just secular opiates of the people.

 

3

Why aren’t Western Christians better formed? Here, my imagination took flight.

Isn’t Forensic Justification — basically, that God declares us righteous without making us righteous (or even caring all that much about righteousness) — the perfect doctrine for consoling those who’ve been catechized in the ways of Babylon but want to call themselves Christian?

 

4

Liberty University is an accredited, actual institution of higher education. It’s a real place. People pay real money to go there, receive degrees bearing the school’s name, and take those degrees out into the world, proclaiming their association with it. People take out thousands of dollars in student loans for the privilege of doing that. Really … The average cost of Liberty University, after financial aid, is $24,000 a year.

Fred Clark, The Slactivist. But $24,000 is a bargain, because you get to be forever associated with “firefighter prophet” Mark Taylor, who has gone from extreme to batshit crazy. See here, here, here, here, and here. They’re associated with him because Liberty is making “The Trump Prophecy” based on him.

If I cared about Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University, I would explain “sunk costs” to them and urge them to quit digging (to mix metaphors).

 

5

 

There are two unfair and irrational ways to look at this allegation. One, of course, is simply to decide that because you already opposed or supported Kavanaugh, that should determine whether you think the charge is true (or useful). That’s the partisan route, and it treats individuals caught up in political fights as fungible and disposable parts.

The other is to decide that, because the allegations remind you vaguely of some charge in the past that turned out to be true, or false, or because you want accusers to generally be believed, you should just decide the same has to be true here regardless of the particular facts.

Dan Maclaughlin

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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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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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Zombie Reaganism lives

Everyone I’ve read has been conceding that Trump was right about the need for NATO Countries in Europe to spend more on their own defense. It sure made sense to me.

But have we thought this through, especially those of us who appreciate that the Cold War is over?

The president’s antagonism at last week’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit was similarly destructive. Mr. Trump called out German Chancellor Angela Merkel for free-riding on the U.S. military. But NATO was formed to defend the West from the Soviets, and Mr. Trump currently is trying to make Russia an ally. While our rapproachement with Russia is long overdue, if Russia is going to become an ally somehow why should NATO increase its military spending? Shouldn’t we be talking about a peace dividend instead?

Germany spends about 1.2% of gross domestic product on defense, less than the 2% target NATO adopted in 2006 and far below the 4% Mr. Trump wants. But Germany’s puny spending level is owing in part to its self-conscious decision after World War II to keep its armed forces small. Does the U.S. really want to change that? NATO’s first secretary general described the purpose of the alliance as keeping the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down. Mr. Trump and his supporters should seek to uphold that mission.

F.H. Buckley. Shouldn’t that be on the table, especially since part of the growning populist/nationalist dissatisfaction with the EU is the perception of growing German hegemony in Europe?

I’ve noted under Trump a reduction of what I (following others) call Zombie Reaganism in economics. But the reflex for a robust, heavily-armed NATO qualifies, too.

Reagan was right for his historic moment. He’s not right for all ages.

Mr. Buckley’s larger point, reformatted:

  • Mr. Trump’s statements and actions often are not admirable.
  • Honest commentary is especially needed now on the right.

Honest commentary on the right might include something stronger than “not admirable,” but Mr. Buckley, author of the forthcoming The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed, got a lot right. (The telltale colon in the middle of that title marks the author as a lawyer.)

* * * * *

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

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.

Masterpiece Cakeshop

Some fairly preliminary thoughts on today’s Supreme Court decision.

Religious liberty advocates got the opinion they wanted. Unfortunately, it was a concurrence by Justice Thomas with Justice Gorsuch joining. More on that in a moment.

Justice Kennedy’s much narrower majority opinion is a disappointment not only because it’s not what my side (or the other) was hoping for but because it dodged the core issues with some hand-waving that I view as disingenuous.

The free speech aspect of this case is difficult, for few persons who have seen a beautiful wedding cake might have thought of its creation as an exercise of protected speech.

That’s uncommonly stupid even for Anthony Kennedy. Few people who watch a Irish ethnic pride parade in Boston, or people watching a lewd dance, or people watching flag-burning, or any number of other things, will think they’re watching exercises of free speech. So what?

One of the difficulties in this case is that the parties disagree as to the extent of the baker’s refusal to provide service.

It’s true that the parties disagreed, but their disagreement was about nuances that needn’t be resolved as the core issue was resolved. As justice Thomas points out in his concurrence, the Colorado Courts resolved that question sufficiently to permit a ringing decision on free speech grounds:

The Court does not address this claim because it has some uncertainties about the record.  See  ante, at 2.  Specifically, the parties dispute whether Phillips refused to create a custom wedding cake for the individual respondents, or whether he refused to sell them any wedding cake (includ­ing a premade one). But the Colorado Court of Appeals resolved this factual dispute in Phillips’ favor.  The court described his conduct as a refusal to “design and create a cake to celebrate [a] same-sex wedding

Even after describing his conduct this way, the Court of Appeals concluded that Phillips’ conduct was not expres­sive and was not protected speech. It reasoned that an outside observer would think that Phillips was merely complying with Colorado’s public-accommodations law, not expressing a message, and that Phillips could post a disclaimer to that effect.  This reasoning flouts bedrock prin­ciples of our free-speech jurisprudence and would justify virtually any law that compels individuals to speak. It should not pass without comment.

(Emphasis added) And comment he does.

Of course, conduct does not qualify as protected speech simply because “the person engaging in [it] intends thereby to express an idea.” United States v. O’Brien, 391 U. S. 367, 376 (1968). To determine whether conduct is suffi­ciently expressive, the Court asks whether it was “intended to be communicative” and, “in context, would reasonably be understood by the viewer to be communicative.” Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U. S. 288, 294 (1984). But a “ ‘particularized message’ ” is not required, or else the freedom of speech “would never reach the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schöenberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll.” Hurley, 515 U. S., at 569.

The conduct that the Colorado Court of Appeals ascribed to Phillips—creating and designing custom wedding cakes—is expressive. Phillips considers himself an artist. The logo for Masterpiece Cakeshop is an artist’s paint palate with a paintbrush and baker’s whisk. Behind the counter Phillips has a picture that depicts him as an artist painting on a canvas. Phillips takes exceptional care with each cake that he creates—sketching the design out on paper, choosing the color scheme, creating the frosting and decorations, baking and sculpting the cake, decorating it, and delivering it to the wedding. Examples of his crea­tions can be seen on Masterpiece’s website. See http://masterpiececakes.com/wedding-cakes (as last visited June 1, 2018).
Phillips is an active participant in the wedding celebra­tion. He sits down with each couple for a consultation before he creates their custom wedding cake. He discusses their preferences, their personalities, and the details of their wedding to ensure that each cake reflects the couple who ordered it. In addition to creating and delivering the cake—a focal point of the wedding celebration—Phillips sometimes stays and interacts with the guests at the wedding. And the guests often recognize his creations and seek his bakery out afterward. Phillips also sees the inherent symbolism in wedding cakes. To him, a wedding cake inherently communicates that “a wedding has oc­curred, a marriage has begun, and the couple should be celebrated.” App. 162. Wedding cakes do, in fact, communicate this message. A tradition from Victorian England that made its way to America after the Civil War, “[w]edding cakes are so packed with symbolism that it is hard to know where to begin.” M. Krondl, Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert 321 (2011 (Krondl); see also ibid. (explaining the symbol­ism behind the color, texture, flavor, and cutting of the cake). If an average person walked into a room and saw a white, multi-tiered cake, he would immediately know that he had stumbled upon a wedding. The cake is “so stand­ardised and inevitable a part of getting married that few ever think to question it.” Charsley, Interpretation and Custom: The Case of the Wedding Cake, 22 Man 93, 95 (1987). Almost no wedding, no matter how spartan, is missing the cake. See id., at 98. “A whole series of events expected in the context of a wedding would be impossible without it: an essential photograph, the cutting, the toast, and the distribution of both cake and favours at the wed­ding and afterwards.” Ibid. Although the cake is eventu­ally eaten, that is not its primary purpose. See id., at 95 (“It is not unusual to hear people declaring that they do not like wedding cake, meaning that they do not like to eat it. This includes people who are, without question, having such cakes for their weddings”); id., at 97 (“Nothing is made of the eating itself ”); Krondl 320–321 (explaining that wedding cakes have long been described as “inedi­ble”). The cake’s purpose is to mark the beginning of a new marriage and to celebrate the couple.

Ac­cording to the individual respondents, Colorado can com­pel Phillips’ speech to prevent him from “ ‘denigrat[ing] the dignity’ ” of same-sex couples, “ ‘assert[ing] [their] inferiority,’ ” and subjecting them to “ ‘humiliation, frustration, and embarrassment.’” Brief for Respondents Craig et al. 39 (quoting J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U. S. 127, 142 (1994); Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U. S. 241, 292 (1964) (Goldberg, J., concurring)). These justifications are completely foreign to our free-speech jurisprudence.

(Emphasis added)

That the court could not muster a 5-4 majority for such an opinion, but relied on a couple of technicalities (so to speak — nobody thought the fairness of the proceedings was the core issue in the case) I fear as a bad omen.

But omen’s are just omens. I thankfully could be wrong. David French is more upbeat.

Both sides surely will be mining the opinions in the abstract and, all too soon, in the context of another case akin to this. I only hope they will leave Jack Phillips alone now, but the way this was decided, he’s at risk of targeting as soon as he resumes offering wedding cakes to those who are actually entering into real marriages.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Cold comfort

I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to find this reassuring:

The American electorate may not tolerate draconian (by U.S. standards) restrictions on guns, but it will tolerate a fair amount of surveillance. License-plate readers track our travels. Cellphone towers can triangulate our location. Face recognition is increasingly deployed in conjunction with security and traffic cameras; in China, police officers have it built into their spectacles. Not to mention the stupendous amounts of personal data we willingly hand over to businesses.

Now take all the red flags raised by Nikolas Cruz : He posted on social media pictures of himself with weapons and small animals he had apparently tortured. His fascination and exhibitionism with guns was broadcast to one and all. Teachers were warned to take action if he was seen approaching the school with a backpack; he later was expelled.

He was widely regarded as a menace. His mother, neighbors and school officials had repeatedly sought police intervention. He posted a YouTube comment under his own name in which he declared a desire to become a “professional school shooter,” one of two warnings passed on to the FBI.

Big data may not be better than psychologists at predicting who will commit a mass shooting a year or two from now, but it can help us know who might be planning one next week: Who got kicked out of school, failed to show up for a court-assigned counseling session, made a big purchase at a gun store, posted a deranged or threatening message on social media, prompted an uptick in alarmed social-media chatter by friends and acquaintances.

Especially since the young already conduct their social existence mostly online. Information technology is taking over our lives. It will not be uninvented. In another few years, unless you cut yourself off from the network (which will arouse its own suspicions), you will be findable in seconds. A police drone overhead will be able to focus its cameras on you or the vehicle or building in which you are to be found. Indeed, London cops caused a furor by innocently posting on Twitter the visage of a TV comedian snapped by an overhead camera looking down on the masses in Leicester Square. If it can’t already, soon this technology will be able to sound an alarm if a specific person on a list approaches a school or other sensitive site.

(Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. – paywall)

In fairness, though, this is likely to be more efficacious than the nostrums of the gun control lobby or the anodyne “thoughts and prayers” promised by Congressmen.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Meticulous truth-tellers

Alastair Roberts, a smart fellow, has a smart take on the viral video of BBC’s Kathy Newman beclowning herself in an interview with Jordan Peterson.

I’ll assume you’ve watched the video and thus will omit most of Roberts’ summaries of Jordan’s message:

Peterson’s message is that men need to grow up because the world needs powerful men, and because women need powerful men. Men’s power is something that they have to offer the world and also something in which they should find meaning and dignity. And men’s power is good for women too.

Just how counter-cultural this message is merits reflection, not least as an indication of part of what is wrong with our world. Within society today, men are increasingly taught that their power is toxic and problematic, that they need to step back to let women advance. The sort of male spaces in which men develop and play to their strengths are closed down and the sexes integrated. The suggestion that the male sex rather needs to step up and play to its strengths, and not just function as meek, compliant, and deferential allies to women, is one that instinctively appalls many. ‘Powerful man’ is seldom heard as anything but a pejorative expression.

While Newman and others like her tend to perceive gender relations primarily in terms of the frame of competitive and largely zero-sum relations between individuals in a gender-neutralized economy, where male strength will almost unavoidably function as an obstacle and frustration to women and their advancement, Peterson asks the crucial question: ‘What sort of partner do you want?’

Just how threatening the development of powerful men is to our society and how invested our society has become in stifling men and discouraging their strength is illuminating, and the responses to Peterson are often telling here—both the instinctive resistance of many women to the prospect of more powerful men and the immense hunger of young men for a maturity they feel they lack.

A society that needs its men to be weak will ultimately prove to be frustrating for both sexes. Here the interpersonal dynamics of the interview are illuminating. Newman seems to be expecting to deal with another man-child who is acting out against the matriarchal forces in society, some puerile provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos, perhaps. Encountering a manly adult male instead, she seems to be wrong-footed. By the end, she appears to be charmed by Peterson, despite herself.

(Emphasis added)

Elsewhere, Roberts and Rod Dreher noted Peterson’s commitment to truth-telling and his meticulous care with his words.

The first time I consciously noted that there are meticulous truth-tellers in the world, and that they stand out from the pack of logorrheic guys-at-the-bar, professional blatherskites, “puerile provocateurs” and televangelists, was when I read Dag Hammarskjöld‘s Markings (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

We need more meticulous truth-telling, and Peterson is getting some reward, in the coin of the age (celebrity) for modeling it.

* * * * *

We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.