Public Affairs, 11/19/22

I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately, blogging daily. That’s not a goal, but I’ve just stumbled into it.

I’m going to try to separate any blogging about Florida Man into separate posts. If we are lucky, he’ll continue fading from memory and relevance anyway. Today is not a day when I write about him.

My (Other) Man Mitch

I’ve long been an admirer of outgoing Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who adopted Dubya’s praise of “my man Mitch” and made it his own when he ran for Governor of Indiana.

But I also respect the heck out of Mitch McConnell, and am pleased that Senate Republicans spared no time re-electing him as their leader over a Trumpier challenger.

McConnell is shrewd, stable, and flexible. He cooperated with Trump a lot without becoming a sycophant. He also criticized Trump without becoming an unhinged never-Trumper, and that even in the face of Trump’s racist attacks on his asian wife. He carefully assesses electability when parsing out dollars to candidates from funds he effectively controls, and I have little doubt that the Republicans would have a majority in the Senate come January if primary voters had picked his preferred candidates over Trump’s parade of grotesques.

In other words, he’s a grown-up in a city of petulant, limelight-seeking adolescent Republicans and soccer-flopping progressives.

Democrats like to demonize McConnell as Republicans demonize Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but we’d put an end to the “do-nothing Congress” if we had more Senators and Representatives of his temperament and experience.

What does he know, anyway?

Reacting to an uncommonly silly pronouncement from Peter Thiel:

Wait. What? The three options for the liberal democracies of Western Europe are Sharia law, “Chinese communist AI,” and some kind of green energy state? And there are “no other doors?” The only thing that separates that comment from a light-night, weed-infused dorm room bull session is his few billion dollars. That’s the person who should reshape the GOP? 

I’ve come to your inbox less to condemn the gurus (though people who commit fraud should pay the price), but to ask a different question. Why do we fall for them time and again?

I’m not someone who tells celebrities to “shut up and sing” or athletes to “shut up and dribble.” And I’d never tell Elon Musk to “shut up and get to Mars” or tell Peter Thiel, “shut up and facilitate cashless transactions.” I like the marketplace of ideas. I’m open to interesting thoughts from unlikely sources. 

But I object to the presumption of insight from famous or successful people. I object to the hero worship (or greed) I’ve seen with my own eyes, where sycophants and fans won’t tell the wealthy and famous obvious truths because they hope to bask in their reflected glory or benefit from their largesse.

David French, America, Can We Talk About Our Guru Problem?

It used to be stars and starlots on whose every oracular word we waited. Now it’s billionaires, more than one of whose bubbles could turn them into mere millionaires by tomorrow.

Blake Masters

Speaking of Peter Thiel, the George Soros of the Right (and neither of those two is as dumb or evil as their detractors think), one of his boys, Blake Masters, lost in Arizona.

I don’t need to have, and don’t have, an overall impression of Masters. But I’ve got some litmus tests and one of them is “if a candidate quotes the late Sam Francis without caveats, don’t vote for him.”

Francis was brilliant, atheist, and deeply racist. I appreciated his brilliance until his racism became undeniable, and it is why he should be “consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Federalist Society at a Crossroad

Peter Cannelos thinks the Federalist Society was all about reversing Roe v. Wade and is adrift now. (“You get your white whale and what do you do? What’s the next thing?”)

“Not so fast,” say David French and Sarah Isgur on Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast. That was never the purpose of the Society and its actual purpose remains vital. The real question is whether the Society will stand by its principles when populist Republicans, not liberals or progressives, are the ones trampling on the Constitution, as the Society has become closely identified with the GOP and the GOP has become performatively populist at the state level in particular.

David and Sarah seem to think FedSoc will stand by its principles initially, but that losing its “conservative” friends when it does so will intensify long-term pressure to forsake principle for politics. It’s the nature of those long-term pressures that make Cannelos’s piece worth reading. And he’s not necessarily wrong that abortion is what FedSoc was about in public impression.

Begin listening at 46:33.

EA

Although SBF and the collapse of FTX have cast a pall over EA, that’s unwarranted.

(If you find the prior paragraph undecipherable, congratulations: you’re more immune to ephemera than I am.)

We really should think about how much our charitable giving actually helps, not about how virtuous it makes us feel. That doesn’t mean we all should suddenly start giving only to deploy mosquito nets against malaria, but:

Aw, heck! I wrote most of the preceding before Ross Douthat weighed in. He touched on some of the same themes but added other good stuff. This link is supposed to get you through the New York Times paywall to read his take.

Michael Gerson, RIP

Still, Gerson deserves high marks for his criticism of Donald Trump and, above all, for his readiness to call out fellow evangelicals for their abject obeisance. The day after the assault on the Capitol, he wrote a column holding them more responsible than anyone else for “unleashing insurrectionists and domestic terrorists.”

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Nor did he hesitate to name names: Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Penny Nance.

Mark Silk, Two cheers for Michael Gerson

Gerson’s reasons for coming back to evangelicals in the Trumposene were closely akin to my reasons.

For what it’s worth, I don’t share Silk’s condemnation of him for his role in selling the Iraq war. I voted for Bush’s “humbler foreign policy” in 2000, but I understood on 9/11 that the pressure for a strong military response against someone-or-other was going to prevail, and better people than I backed it at the time. I don’t think I ever supported the war (God forgive me if I did), but relentless resistance was futile.

Remembering our collective sins

He asked me if I had been to Auschwitz, in Poland. I hadn’t. “Don’t go there,” he said, shaking his head. “People are all with their phones. It should be prevented. And they go”—he raised his hand a few feet from his face and looked at his palm, emulating someone taking a selfie—“ ‘Me in front of the crematorium.’ ‘Me in front of the ramp.’ I mean, it’s so obscene.”

In the United States there are 41 million Black people; we make up 12.5 percent of the population. In Germany, there are approximately 120,000 Jewish people, out of a population of more than 80 million. They represent less than a quarter of 1 percent of the population. More Jewish people live in Boston than in all of Germany. (Today, many Jews in Germany are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants.) Lots of Germans do not personally know a Jewish person.

This is part of the reason, Steiner believes, that Germany is able to make Holocaust remembrance a prominent part of national life; Jewish people are a historical abstraction more than they are actual people. In the United States, there are still millions of Black people. You cannot simply build some monuments, lay down some wreaths each year, and apologize for what happened without seeing the manifestation of those past actions in the inequality between Black and white people all around you.

Steiner also believes that the small number of Jewish people who do reside in Germany exist in the collective imagination less as people, and more as empty canvases upon which Germans can paint their repentance.

Clint Smith, How Germany Remembers the Holocaust

The story was so long that I almost didn’t read it, despite some trusted person’s recommendation. I’m glad I did. It brought tears to my eyes in places.

The explicit challenge is “how will America remember its sins?”, but that feels like an afterthought, to add a touch of “relevance,” and few answers are suggested.

Superwoman

“I would just like to announce that I am in my third trimester and I am an absolute powerhouse that can create human life. I can do ANYTHING … except sit or stand or lie down or recline,” – Mary Katharine Ham. (Via Andrew Sullivan).

New Category!

Today, I’m introducing a new category, “soccer-flopping.” All honor to David French for introducing me to the metaphor. The bad news is that “grievance mongering” may fall into disuse


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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.

Wednesday, 7/20/22

You didn’t miss anything. I didn’t publish yesterday because I just didn’t have enough material. That’s likely to recur, as I’m gradually correcting my incorrigible habit of poring over news that seems especially shareable.

Polling

The survey also found that 32% of Latino Catholics said their religious faith dictates their views on abortion, compared to 73% of white evangelical Protestants.

A new survey found Latino Catholics overwhelmingly support abortion rights. Here’s why.

I would be a pollster’s nightmare, as I find so many polling questions unanswerable if not unintelligible.

Orthodox Christianity is opposed to abortion, but I was anti-abortion before I became Orthodox, and (heaven help me, for this may mean that I’m an American individualist) I would affirm that at no time in my life has my religious faith "dictated my views" on abortion.

I have difficulty getting into the mind of anyone who would listen to that polling question, note the import of "dictate," and then answer in the affirmative. Thus the question is a — what? litmus test? ink blot test? I certainly don’t see useful information coming from it.

I don’t consider myself a rebel against my Church. I don’t think it has ever said what an Orthodox political position on abortion should be, though in my parish we especially pray regularly for an end to abortion through changed hearts.

My religious faith does "dictate" some things — say, my rejection of monothelitism and monoenergism and suchlike — important Christological questions of import on which the Church’s position is longstanding and plausibly reasoned (e.g., those teachings effectively denied the full humanity of Christ by saying that He had no human will or energy). Countermanding what the Church says about such theological nuances is above my pay grade and, unlike David Bentley Hart, I’m not arrogant enough to "go there." (I was a Protestant for two-thirds of my life and don’t care to try it again.)

But abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Eugenics? I can’t help but form my own opinions on those, informed by the Church but not dictated to.

Notes from a roving raconteur

I beat myself up because I’m an old fundamentalist and self-mortification is our specialty. And I’ve been having too much fun lately, which confuses me, doing shows in red states to crowds that include a good many Republicans who voted for the landslide winner in 2020 but nonetheless were warm and receptive to me who voted for the thief. In blue states, audiences are listening to make sure you check the boxes of Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism. These are people who don’t mind that many theaters refuse to do “Our Town” because the “Our” does not acknowledge that Grover’s Corners was stolen from indigenous people. I use the possessive pronoun in singing “My country, ’tis of thee,” which audiences in red states enjoy singing with me, and also our national anthem, ignoring the fact that Francis Scott Key did own slaves.

Back in the Sixties, when I was in my twenties, we sang “We Shall Overcome” and clearly we did not overcome, we only created new hairstyles. So we pass the torch to the young, some of whom feel the word “person” shows gender bias and want to change it to perself. To which I say, “Good luck with dat.”

Garrison Keillor, national treasure.

Vignettes

There’s no apparent common theme to this two vignettes, but I thought each of them was interesting in different ways:

  • A young Hungarian academic I dined with last evening told me how jarring it was to get his master’s degree at a western European university, and to be congratulated by fellow grad students on how lucky he was to have grown up in a country that had been blessed by Marxist government. His own family had had everything taken from them by the Communists, yet these privileged nitwits could only imagine that life had been glorious under Communism. This has something to do with the fact that he’s living back in Hungary now, though he could make a lot more money working in the West. He can’t bear to deal with such ignorant people.
  • [A correspondent was one of] a bunch of very conservative Catholics who wanted to live rurally, and went out and bought land in the same area. This reader said he has been mostly grateful for having had the chance to live there and raise his kids there, but he’s not sure he would do it again if he had the chance. The reason, he said, is that he was too optimistic about how life would be there. He says he had not counted on the fact that the kind of Catholics who would make such a radical choice — strong-willed Catholics like himself, as he conceded — would find it unusually hard to get along. The reader told me that there were frequent disputes within the community over purity — not strictly sexual purity, but over whether or not it was licit to do things like let your daughters wear pants, or keep them in skirts and dresses. He said it got to be exhausting, dealing with these communal neuroses.

Rod Dreher’s Diary, Sisi, Queen Of The Magyars

Indestructible lies

… There in Boston is a monument to the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah, no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years ….

Mark Twain via Alan Jacobs

When Wystan met Hannah

“I met Auden late in his life and mine—at an age when the easy, knowledgeable intimacy of friendships formed in one’s youth can no longer be attained, because not enough life is left, or expected to be left, to share with another. Thus, we were very good friends but not intimate friends.”

Hannah Arendt, explaining (it seems) her refusal of a marriage proposal by the poet and friend W. H. Auden (via L. M. Sacasas). I was unaware of that episode, which rather complicates my recollection that Auden eventually gave up trying to resist his homosexuality.

Sacasas continues on other topics:

The examples I have in mind of this receding of materiality arise, not surprisingly, from the most prosaic quarters of daily life. As a bookish person, for example, I think about how the distinct material shape of the book not only encodes a text but also becomes a reservoir of my personal history. I remember where I was when I read it. Or I recall who gave it to me or to whom I have lent it. In other words, the presence of the book on a shelf recalls its contents to mind at a glance and also intertwines an assortment of memories into the backdrop of my day-to-day life. At the very least, it becomes an always available potential portal into my past. I don’t mean to be romantic about any of this. In fact, I think this is all decidedly unromantic, having to do chiefly with the meaning and significance of the stuff that daily surrounds us.

The digitized book by contrast may have its own advantages, but by being the single undifferentiated interface for every book it loses its function as a mooring for the self. It’s not that the e-reader has no materiality of its own—of course it does. Perhaps the best way of conceptualizing this is to say that the device over-consolidates the materiality of reading in a way that smooths out the texture of our experience. Consider how this pattern of over-consolidation and subsequent smoothing of the texture of material culture recurs throughout digital society. The smartphone is a good example. An array of distinct physical objects—cash, maps, analog music players, cameras, calendars, etc.—become one thing. The texture of our experience is flattened out as a result.

He’s not wrong about this (insider joke to one of my readers). Yet, because of the Readwise service, I’m developing a preferential option for eBooks. That and my shelves having filled to overflowing with regular books several times.

It’s helpful to be reminded of what’s lost, though. I hope Warren Farha of the world’s greatest brick and mortar bookstore, Eighth Day Books in Wichita, will forgive my my opinion if he’s reading this.

Awkward

Barton and WallBuilders argue that Jefferson and the Founders, outside of some exceptions, meant for the “wall of protection” to operate in one direction. It also, the group and its founder suggested, applies mostly to the federal government, not the states.

Jack Jenkins, The activist behind opposition to the separation of church and state

Well! This is awkward! I have a bad impression of David Barton, who I’ve understood as a grifter, dining out on "America is a Christian Nation."

But Barton is almost completely correct in what I first quoted. What Thomas Jefferson called a "wall of separation" was meant to protect the churches (I’d prefer "religion," though both terms have shortcomings in this context) from the state; and it was, at the time the First Amendment was ratified, intended to apply only to the federal government ("Congress shall make no law …"). Heck, Massachusetts had an established Congregational Church for 30 more years after Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, and that letter was well after the Bill of Rights!

Where Barton may be wrong is in in the report that he thinks that amendment "applies" rather than "applied" mostly to the Federal Government. The First Amendment has been incorporated in the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the states. Thus Saith the Courts.

Thus, it seems to me, Barton may be telling half-truths to embolden crypto-theocrats by whose concepts of Christianity I have no desire to be governed — unless the alternative is the Wokeworld religion. I would almost certainly pick the Bartonites in that contest.

Like I said: awkward.

Is the tide turning?

… there is something undeniably more powerful about reading critiques of contemporary sexual morality that arise not from traditional religious spaces, but from within secular feminism and and from elite media. That’s when you know the tide might be turning.

I bring this up because in every single argument and controversy under the sun, reality gets a vote. Culture wars are ultimately won or lost not by online arguments but through their real-world consequences, and the position that leads to greater human misery tends to lose.

To connect with the issues at the start of this piece, when speaking about the wave of intolerance that’s swept the academy, philanthropy, Hollywood, and much of mainstream media, I’ve told conservative friends that they have no idea how miserable it was making most of the people in those organizations. Something had to give, and the immiserated majority is going to be intimidated by the motivated minority for only so long.

When speaking of the reality of porn-influenced consent culture, there’s a similar dynamic in play. It’s immiserating people by the millions.

David French, in an encouraging column: we seem to have hit bottom and started back up in several ways. At least that’s what French thinks.

Imagine my arse

Comments such as these convince me that John Lennon captured a common liberal dream in his haunting song “Imagine.” Imagine if there were no countries, and no religion too. If we could just erase the borders and boundaries that divide us, then the world would “be as one.” It’s a vision of heaven for liberals, but conservatives believe it would quickly descend into hell. I think conservatives are on to something.

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind.

I absolutely hate that song, and I was glad to learn I’m not alone.


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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.

Proving the rule (and more)

Proving the rule

I have long said that when a denomination forms a committee to study whether they’ve been wrong about something that puts them at odds with the culture (and in recent years that almost always involves homosexuality), it invariably leads the denomination to capitulate to the culture.

I was wrong. Wrong about "invariably." Such studies are usually charades, but not, apparently, always.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (the denomination in which I was an Elder until I left to become Orthodox, and in which my wife so far remains) studied sexuality from 2016 until last week. Then it "voted Wednesday at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith."

The vote, after two long days of debate, approves a list of what the denomination calls sexual immorality it won’t tolerate, including “adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex.”

Christianity Today, Christian Reformed Church Brings LGBT Stance Into Faith Statement.

Note that homosexual sex is not singled out, though it leaps out on its own to everyone who knows what specific sexuality triggered the six-year study.

The reactions from the dissenters so far have run along predictable lines, which I resist critiquing except to say "It is not compassionate to affirm people’s sins." If you think "homosexual sex" is not a sin, and should be affirmed, then we do not agree.

(I do not mean by "sin" what most western people mean by "sin." Sin is "missing the mark." Deciding on the eternal consequences of particular sins, including the sin of the dissenters from the CRC synod’s decision, is infinitely above my pay-grade.)

The heaviest price the CRC will pay will almost certainly be at its highly-regarded Calvin University, a third of whose faculty publicly voiced opposition to the report from which the synod’s decision flowed:

What’s going to happen to Calvin? It’s going to lose its rock star faculty. But it’s probably going to remain Christian. These liberal faculty are going to go on to greater things, professionally, and be able to dine out on how they were badly treated by the homo-hating fundagelicals at Calvin. But the CRC has taken a brave and unpopular stand for the Gospel. God sees.

Rod Dreher. Most gay-affirming faculty will leave because they will no longer be able to subscribe (literally, as in "sign below" — I signed something analogous as an Elder) the denomination’s fortified faith statement; it would mark them as not among the cool kids to relent now by subscribing The Loathsome Thing, especially if they earlier subscribed the pre-emptive dissent.

Rod’s reader Andrew S. comments:

The momentary rush of conservative enthusiasm for this move will please Rod’s readers, but the fury of the left will be in full force over the next several weeks and months. Any university board contemplating a similar move better should study what will likely happen, and plan accordingly for a media siege of their institution. Watch for the following:

  1. a sudden drop in college rankings, unattributable to any objective criterion currently used by the major ranking media;

  2. a tsunami of requests, using already existing anonymous online reporting portals, for Biden’s Department of Education to open Title IX investigations at the universities in question;

  3. calls by social media talking heads to blacklist graduates of the schools;

  4. a sudden mysterious dearth of available federal and private grant money for faculty at these schools, along with the denial of conference platforms for faculty members.

Financial pressures are such that many if not most religiously-affiliated schools will quickly develop new “insights” into the Bible that permit them to cave in to the left, if they haven’t already. Board members sticking to Christian principles better raise prodigious sums of cash to plow into their endowments and strengthen ties with allied Christian schools to bolster their financial self-sufficiency. Woke winter is coming, and Calvin will provide an example of what other colleges should expect.

Do you doubt this? This manifests the "soft tyranny" that a few on the center-right ridicule, but which I take quite seriously, as recently as Tuesday morning:

It has now become indisputable that the liberal order not only uses a variety of quasi coercive legal instruments such as bureaucratic guidances, selective funding of NGOs, and so forth, but it also exploits the liberal version of the public-private distinction to full advantage. It deploys selective enforcement of the law against “private violence” and takes political advantage of background conditions of economic necessity (“the market”) and of the radical conformity of public opinion under liberalism, instigated by the media. It controls its subjects with mobs both virtual and real, threats of ostracism, loss of employment, and a sort of reputational death (the dreaded state of being “out of the mainstream,” enforced politically by a cordon sanitaire).

Adrian Vermeule.

I have said at least once before and will say it again: the Christian Reformed Church was a very good place from which to come to Orthodoxy. It never dove into the zaniness of broader evangelicalism (thought many parishes and individuals have dipped their toes, or even waded in up to the knees). Rather, from my earliest arrival struck me as sober and serious-minded.

Yet I expected it to cave in, because I do not trust Protestantism over the long haul to interpret their touchstone, their scriptures, in any seriously countercultural way.

I’m heartened that this was not the CRC’s year to swallow the zeitgeist. And they set such a firm precedent that it will be hard to backslide very soon. By then, the zeitgeist may have moved on, as zeitgeists are wont to do.

Why the rule remains generally valid

We are not in a post-Christian age, but in a post-Enlightenment age. The reason why these Christianities are collapsing is that they were rationalized.

Fr. Hans Jacobse on the WAWTAR podcast.

Calvinism ("the Reformed faith") is surely among the most rationalized. Its system fails, in my opinion, not for lack of rationality, but for lack of humanity: it’s hard to see daylight between Reformed predestination and simple fatalism, hard to see room for meaningful human agency.

Denialisms

I can have an argument with you about what to do about climate change. I can even accept somebody making an argument that, based on what I know about human nature, it’s too late to do anything serious about this—the Chinese aren’t going to do it, the Indians aren’t going to do it—and that the best we can do is adapt. I disagree with that, but I accept that it’s a coherent argument. I don’t know what to say if you simply say, “This is a hoax that the liberals have cooked up, and the scientists are cooking the books. And that footage of glaciers dropping off the shelves of Antarctica and Greenland are all phony.” Where do I start trying to figure out where to do something?

Jeffrey Goldberg, Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy – The Atlantic.

You can swap "climate change" with a lot of other issues, most famously Alex Jones’ claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, the bereaved parents "crisis actors." On second thought, "the Democrats stole the 2020 Election" may be more famous.

Hard words

A. G. Sertillanges wrote in The Intellectual Life: “The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading, it is made gradually incapable of reflection and concentration, and therefore of production…. Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence.”

Kit Wilson, Reading Ourselves to Death.

Another excellent article read, on the perils of too much reading.

Babylon, not Israel

[S]ome see America as a new Israel, God’s chosen country that’s now being taken over by His enemies, rather than a new Babylon in which Jesus-followers are mixed in with many others.

Marvin Olasky, The Sixty Years’ War: Evangelical Christianity in the Age of Trump.

The oldest lie of all is the denial of death.

The cities lie. Their radical chic is stretched tight over the bare lust for money. Their cosmopolitan diversity hides the uniformity of clawing ambition. Their youth is stolen from elsewhere, used for a time, and discarded when its looks and gullibility begin to fade. They grow little food and make fewer objects every year. They offer only services no one needs and knowledge no one believes. A blustering businessman sinks deeper into debt; but, risking it all again and again, he’ll keep up his pretence until the bailiffs arrive. That is the soul of the city.

FFatalism, The dishonest land The whole short posting was excellent in a bleak sort of way.

And, God help me, I love cities anyway.‌

Dad theory

My kids—if I can even use the possessive—are a part of me, but I cannot see them if I reduce them to my own reflection. Parenthood entails limitless closeness; all parents see more of their very young children than their kids can see of themselves. Being a dad, though, means perceiving this intimacy from a distance and working to make it outwardly manifest through awkward, conscious effort. This dialectical relationship resembles good thinking, which brings us to the first moment of Dad Theory. Dads guard against losing themselves in particularity, on one hand, and losing themselves in abstraction, on the other. Being a dad means being neither too attached to one’s own concerns to see things clearly, nor too impressed by speculation to see the messiness of real life. To practice Dad Theory is to negotiate with the known unknowns—and to trust that love is a stable point you can use to navigate through ambiguity to reach something solid and sure.

Matt Dinan, ‌It’s Time for Some Dad Theory, via Leah Libresco Sargeant, Dads Choosing to be Dependable

When is a coup too stupid to be a coup?

The American Conservative‘s Peter Van Buren looks at January 6 and concludes that the coup attempt was so stupid and so deficient in his post-hoc markers of coup attempts (he sets a remarkably high bar) that it couldn’t possibly have been a coup attempt at all.

I’m so glad he cleared that up. It will be a relief when my subscription expires and I no longer feel duty-bound to rummage through such garbage in search of nourishment.

Word of the day:

Portent. Since portents don’t come with Divinely-inscribed subtitles, I’ll leave it to you to decide what this means.

But if you want to call it "mere coincidence," note that your case is no stronger than mine for "portent."


To the woke, discernment is discrimination and boundaries are oppression.

Richard Abbot, who I don’t know from Adam but who responded to this.

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.

Sunday Sustenance

The creeds are not the faith

I realized that during the long years I had spent studying Christianity to see whether or not I found it credible, I was missing the point. The creeds of the Church do not contain the Christian truth that Christ said would set us free. They were formalized and written down in response to challenges from outside, when the Church was forced to defend itself by using the language of philosophy to define its dogma.

Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul

I don’t necessarily agree with everything I quote here, but I definitely agree with Peter France about that..

Searching for Sublimity

I didn’t become an environmental activist so I could talk about carbon emissions; I became an activist because I wanted to protect the places that contained the sublimity I had read about in Wordsworth. It was so obvious to me that the preservation of these sacred places was a need of the human soul and that we’ve got a culture that just trashes it. And who cares about carbon emissions really? That’s not the issue.

In more recent years, I’ve come to see it quite explicitly as a spiritual crisis. I think it’s not about politics or culture or economics. Those are all aspects of it, but deeper than that, it’s a spiritual crisis. It’s about who we are and what the world is and what our relationship to it is.

We’ve created this society which even when it looks at a forest or a sunset or an ocean, can’t look at it through Wordsworth’s eyes. It looks at it like a machine or a calculator or an economist. And we look out at the ocean and we think how much wind power there is that we could harvest, or we look at the desert and think about the sunlight. None of this is the point. I think most activists know that as well. But we all get sucked into this mechanistic way of speaking and seeing. And we’re all taught that, of course, this is what the grownups do and we have to leave behind all the silly Wordsworthian stuff. It’s a particular kind of cold rationalism that this society presents as maturity, but it’s not: it’s a kind of spiritual infantilization.

Once you decide this fragmentation is an acceptable way of seeing the world (which is pretty much the Western way of seeing), you’re inevitably on the path toward the Matrix or some form of Brave New World. There’s a reason science fiction writers have been putting out these prophetic warnings for over a hundred years.

[T]he funny thing is some people say, “Oh, you converted to Christianity. That’s a weird thing to do. How did you do that?” And from the outside, it seems very strange and I would never have imagined it happening, but from the inside, it sort of seems like a natural progression. It doesn’t feel like I suddenly adopted a strange worldview for no reason. It feels like I came home to something I felt anyway, but I would never have understood it in that way, through that sense. And I realized that a lot of my values and understandings and attitudes turned out to be Christian anyway. That’s true of a lot of us in the West, probably all of us really. Whether we know it or not, that’s our culture, that’s our inheritance.

Paul Kingsnorth, interviewed by Plough

Guns / Butter = Autonomy / Care

People’s biggest fear is that there is not enough care to go around. Pregnancy makes babies dependent on their mothers and mothers dependent on everyone around them. A culture that takes autonomy as the norm will neglect both mother and child. Thus, it can feel like any care for a child comes at the mother’s expense since we do not trust each other or our policymakers to respond justly to her need.

Ask yourself: If I were complicit in a grave, widespread evil, what would I need to be able to recognize that, repent and avoid despair? Try to give your friends the welcome and patience you would require in order to so profoundly change your life.

Leah Libresco Sargent, ‌A better abortion debate is possible. Here’s where we can start.

Do the right thing. Period. Full stop.

In a letter written to a friend in 1959, Flannery O’Connor lamented that some members of the clergy, when arguing in favor of Catholic teaching on procreation, felt the need to assuage concerns about overpopulation. “I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion,” she wrote. “I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may.”

Matthew Walther in the New York Times, of all places.

One must wonder whether the Twitter mob that’s now the de facto editor of the Times will demand the head of the figurehead editor again for the "aggression" of allowing this to be published.

(Be it noted that I’m not exemplary on this particular topic, and it’s too late to do anything about it.)

How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church

A powerful and somehow particularly disheartening article at the Atlantic this week: ‌How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church. It’s getting quite a bit of discussion. But it is a pretty long read.

Dull, flat and lifeless

If you feel like the content is going flat, pick a fight. That always brings life to a magazine of ideas.

The late Midge Decter to First Things‘ R.R. Reno. I think First Things has followed her advice, yet it seems increasingly flat to me. And that is very sad. I was a fan from the very beginning, but can’t much recommend it today.

Update: No sooner do I diss First Things than I open a new issue and find a once-or-twice-per-year gem that probably makes the subscription price worth it: Ross Douthat, A Gentler Christendom, with a response and then further reply by Douthat. (Douthat also is part of the reason I read the New York Times.)

Broken

I so hate the brokenness of the world, the world of which we are a part. I look forward to the day in Paradise in which we are both made whole again, and can greet each other with pure love.

Rod Dreher of his impending divorce by his wife

I think that’s about the best attitude one can have when a marriage is truly "broken" (a contested characterization, at least within memory) and nine years of efforts to mend it have failed.

But I do wish Rod could take a sabbatical. He’s writing too high a proportion of cringeworthy stuff the last few troubled weeks. (I cannot rule out the possibility that I have shifted, but ….)


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.

Midweek meanderings

Plain speaking

I commented the other day on Freddie deBoer not mincing words. Neither, here, does J Peters:

We’re Lesbians on the Autism Spectrum. Stop Telling Us to Become Men

I thought of her essay as I read Abigail Shrier’s latest, a take-down of Jen Psaki and the Biden Administration’s policies on supposedly transgender teens — maybe the wickedest and stupidest Biden policy yet.

But the wicked, stupid Biden policy fits a current brain-dead ideology. Andrew Sullivan goes after it at length, from his particular concern about what it does to homosexual kids. A taste:

[N]o one is LGBTQIA++. It’s literally impossible. And the difference between the gay and trans experience is vast, especially when it comes to biological sex.

Maybe the only unique contribution Sullivan makes on this is to embed some teacher training videos that give the lie to the establishment’s charge that concerns over subversive teaching is a made-up, astroturf matter.

Student Loan policy

In his latest Bloomberg column, Matthew Yglesias points out the inflationary effects of the Biden administration’s renewal of the student loan repayment moratorium—while noting it won’t even benefit that many people. “The economy no longer needs stimulus—in fact, it needs to restrain demand,” he writes, noting the non-collection of student loans has the “opposite” effect. “A majority of the public, meanwhile, has $0 in student debt. If you limit your analysis to people under 30, the median student loan balance is still $0. For African-Americans, it’s $0. Most people do not go to college and do not incur student loan debt, and those non-debtors have lower incomes on average than the people who do go to college and do have debt. Restarting student debt collections would restrain inflation at the expense of a disproportionately high-income minority of the population. Broad debt cancellation, by contrast, would boost inflation.”

The Morning Dispatch

(This topic is a pet peeve of mine.)

The spade and the keyboard

The spade and the keyboard are two very different tools, but one thing they have in common is their ability to break the human body.

… Both may give you sore arms, but there is a difference between a keyboard and a spade. A spade can still be made fairly simply. It doesn’t need constant energy to keep going. It can last a long time, if you treat it well, rather like your body. A keyboard and a spade are both products of an industrial economy, but not to the same extent, and they do not have the same purpose. One can exist independently, the other cannot. This might be a matter of degrees, but the degrees matter – and so does the intent.

There’s another point too, though, and perhaps it is a more important one: nobody ever got addicted to a spade ….

Paul Kingsnorth, Planting Trees in the Anthropocene

"News"

Every morning, there it is, waiting for me on my phone. The bullshit. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as “knowledgeable sources” and “experts differ,” what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin. It does impart information, strictly speaking, but not always information about our world. Or not good information, because it’s so often wrong, particularly on matters of great import and invariably to the advantage of the same interests, which suggests it should be presumed wrong as a rule.

I’m stipulating these points, I’m not debating them, so log off if you find them too extreme. Go read more bullshit. Immerse yourself in news of Russian plots to counterfeit presidential children’s laptops, viruses spawned in Wuhan market stalls, vast secret legions of domestic terrorists flashing one another the OK sign in shadowy parking lots behind Bass Pro Shops experiencing “temporary” inflation, and patriotic tech conglomerates purging the commons of untruths. Comfort yourself with the thoughts that the same fortunes engaged in the building of amusement parks, the production and distribution of TV comedies, and the provision of computing services to the defense and intelligence establishments, have allied to protect your family’s health, advance the causes of equity and justice, and safeguard our democratic institutions. Dismiss as cynical the notion that you, the reader, are not their client but their product. Your data for their bullshit, that’s the deal. And Build Back Better. That’s the sermon.

Pious bullshit, unceasing. But what to do?

One option, more popular each day, is to retreat to the anti-bullshit universe of alternative media sources. These are the podcasts, videos, Twitter threads, newsletters, and Facebook pages that regularly vanish from circulation for violating “community standards” and other ineffable codes of conduct, oft-times after failing “fact-checks” by the friendly people at Good Thoughtkeeping. Some of these rebel outfits are engrossing, some dull and churchy, many quite bizarre, and some, despite small staffs and tiny budgets, remarkably good and getting better. Some are Substack pages owned by writers who severed ties with established publications, drawing charges of being Russian agents, crypto-anarchists, or free-speech “absolutists.”

Walter Kirn, The Bullshit

Delights

New news models

This seems a good time for an uplifting word. Our local newspaper is pretty much what Kirn (preceding item) describes, but a recently-retired, not-yet-really-old, inkstained wretch has started a Substack that regular reports (5-6 days per week) local developments that actually matter. Like Purdue University planning 1200+ new dormitory beds because freshman enrollment topped 10,000 this year, and the total enrollment almost 50,000. There’s tons of off-campus housing, but maybe not enough, and President Mitch Daniels reports that students in dorms perform better than those off campus.

And he is recruiting some of his former colleagues as contributors. There’s high-class fairly unobtrusive advertisements, but that keeps the subscription cost a bit lower.

Now that is an Angel!

A cyber-friend of mine publishes a newsletter that introduced me to this wonderful painting and its author, Henry Osawa Tanner:

The subject (and title) is Annunciation. I much prefer that intense pillar of light to any anthropomorphic depiction of angels I’ve seen — if only because confronted by this, one might need to hear "fear not," while the anthropomorphic depictions elicit no fear at all.

Sundry observations

Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.

Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age


Cosmopolitans cannot escape the limits of Dunbar’s Number. Thus, cosmopolitanism is just a special case of parochialism — one with a curated, international parish.

And they’re not even nicer than the frankly parochial parochials; cosmopolitans microaggress parochials in flyover country nonstop from their high coastal thrones.

(H/T to Jonah Goldberg and Megan McArdle on Jonah’s The Remnant podcast.)


If we are wounded by an ugly idea, we must count it as part of the cost of freedom.

Kurt Vonnegut via the Economist Daily Briefing


If Christianity is the one, true religion, is it that much of a stretch to believe that there is one, true expression of Christianity?

Carlton, Clark, The Way, 1998 Edition

Disgraces

Tom Cotton

Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed, but we should remember who disgraced themselves in opposition:

To lambast [Supreme Court Justice] Jackson because she claimed that the accused terrorists she represented were ‘totally innocent’ — yes, even if she was simply copying and pasting objections — is to make a mockery of the rule of law. Perhaps aware of this, Cotton made sure to acknowledge that ‘it’s true that you shouldn’t judge a lawyer for being willing to take on an unpopular case.’ But that’s what he did, over and over and over again.

Charles C.W. Cooke, on lawyer Tom Cotton, via Andrew Sullivan

Groomer-talkers

I think if we call all of them groomers and pedophiles, we are no better than they are, and conservatives have a long-standing issue with the left using ‘racist’ for everything thereby devaluing what actual racism is. I don’t want the word ‘racism’ devalued and I don’t want to devalue what it means to actually groom a child for abuse.

Erick Erickson, via Andrew Sullivan

CRT Provocateurs

[C]onservative alarm wasn’t simply organic. Opportunistic activists like James Lindsay and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo intentionally and explicitly redefined CRT. Here’s Rufo in a tweet thread with Lindsay:

We have successfully frozen their brand—“critical race theory—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

He proceeded to be as good as his word, and now the right-wing conversation about CRT is all but useless.

David French. This was an uncommonly good post by French, responding to Astroturf alarmism over Critical Race Theory.

I would invite French to consider the possibility, however, that James Lindsay is not an opportunistic activist, but a critic of shoddy scholarship in several "critial theories".

Boston Athletic Association

Historical parallels often spring to mind when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the brutality and megalomania of Vladimir Putin, many are reminded of Adolf Hitler. In the soaring rhetoric and heroic defiance of Volodymyr Zelensky, others hear echoes of Winston Churchill. In the moral outrage but relatively cautious policies of Joe Biden, there’s a touch of George — Wouldn’t Be Prudent — H.W. Bush.

And in Wednesday’s decision by the Boston Athletic Association to prohibit runners from Russia and Belarus from competing in this year’s Boston Marathon, we recall the words of Otter, one of the frat house characters from “National Lampoon’s Animal House”: “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.”

Bret Stephens. Having reached that punchline, I didn’t finish the Op-Ed.

Menno Simons

Another Radical Reformation theologian set forth a Christology that said the Son of God became man not “of the womb” of Mary, but rather simply “in the womb” (Menno Simons), which means that Jesus’ humanity is a new creation, not an assumption of the humanity created in Adam. Mary becomes a kind of surrogate mother, and Jesus is not truly a member of our race. (See the painting of the Annunciation, above, too.)

Father Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy

I heard something like this on WMBI, the radio network of Evangelicalism’s Moody Bible Institute: a woman show host breathlessly sharing how Jesus came down to earth from heaven through Mary like water through a pipe. I’m inclined to think it was extemporaneous blather, but it was pernicious blather.

I’m not sure there is an agreed Evangelical account of Mary’s role in salvation history, but if there were, and if it were sound, they wouldn’t be giving her the short shrift they give her now.

Fundamentalists

The 1960s and early 1970s—the so-called Long Sixties—saw the election of the first Catholic president, the Supreme Court decision banning prayer and Bible reading in the schools, the civil rights movement, the protests against the Vietnam War, and the Roe v. Wade decision. Surprisingly, only the fundamentalists objected to all of them.

Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals

Close, but no banana. Few fundamentalists objected to Roe v. Wade initially. How they came to object, in my uninvestigated opinion (though I lived through those times), is bound up with the rise of the Religious Right and its need for wedge issues. (This does not imply that opposition was wrong. Of the crooked timber of humanity, nothing straight was ever made.)

Wordplay

We define ourselves now by what we are not. And what we are not is everything we used to be.

Paul Kingsnorth


The only time I ever feel ashamed of being gay is on Gay Pride Day.

Bruce Bawer via Jonathan Rausch


Le véritable voyage de découverte ne consiste pas à chercher de nouveaux paysages, mais à avoir de nouveaux yeux.
(The real journey of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.)

Marcel Proust via Nicolas Crose on Micro.blog.

I almost feel as if Proust were dissing my wanderlust.


Denouncement: An ersatz "denunciation" from the Dispatch. Denouncement appears to be in the dictionary, but old men get to grouse about things anyway, and I hates it! The only excuse I can see for it is to make English easier for ESL folk, which also impoverishes it sometimes.


Périphérique: (or “La France périphérique”), a term to describe parts of France left behind by high-speed trains and breezy ambition—where voters are now being desperately courted by presidential candidates.

The Economist. I assume these are Marine LePen’s base, and that Macron ignores them at his peril.


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.

Did the world as we know it really end this week?

Capitalists are not friends of the Good, True and Beautiful

Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who (to his own surprise) became an Orthodox Christian a year or so ago, has continued writing on what he calls "The Machine."

Why would transnational capital be parrotting slogans drawn from a leftist framework which claims to be anti-capitalist? Why would the middle classes be further to the ‘left’ than the workers? If the left was what it claims to be – a bottom-up movement for popular justice – this would not be the case. If capitalism was what it is assumed to be – a rapacious, non-ideological engine of profit-maximisation – then this would not be the case either.

But what if both of them were something else? What if the ideology of the corporate world and the ideology of the ‘progressive’ left had not forged an inexplicable marriage of convenience, but had grown all along from the same rootstock? What if the left and global capitalism are, at base, the same thing: engines for destroying customary ways of living and replacing them with the new world of the Machine?

… Who doesn’t want to be free?

The question that quickly arises, of course, is ‘free from what?’ A key term, found everywhere in current leftist discourse, is ‘emancipatory.’ To be ‘progressive’ is to emancipate. What is it that is to be emancipated? The individual. What are they to be emancipated from? All societal structures. And what is the best instrument for achieving this emancipation? Uncomfortably for both Rousseauvian primitivists and old-school leftists, who have seen large-scale experiments in socialist economics go up in flames time and time again, the answer appears to be: global capitalism. No other system in history has ever been as effective in breaking the chains of time, place and culture as the global empire of corporate power.

Those of us who remember the halcyon era in which ‘right’ and ‘left’ seemed to mean something might find all this confusing, but if we step back for a broader view we can see that the economics of capitalism and the politics of progressivism are both manifestations of what Jacques Ellul called technique: the technocratic essence of Machine modernity. Today’s left is no threat to technique: on the contrary, it is its vanguard. If you have ever asked yourself what kind of ‘revolution’ would be sponsored by Nike, promoted by BP, propagandised for by Hollywood and Netflix and policed by Facebook and Youtube, then the answer is here.

Paul Kingsnorth, Down the River

World’s most tone-deaf political slogan?

[T]here was no “tight spot” for Orbán—and if Western observers cannot understand why, they will continue to waste money and effort on changing the political culture of central Europe. The leader of the combined opposition, Péter Márki-Zay, closed his campaign with the slogan “Let’s bring Europe here, to Hungary.” An implausible slogan even in marginally liberal Budapest—but an insane slogan for a small-town mayor to carry into the Hungarian countryside. The results show how it was received: outside of Budapest, the entire country was bathed in the deep orange of Fidesz. The opposition’s rhetoric was designed to play well on anglophone Twitter, but the Western commentariat are not voters in this election.

Gladden Pappin

Freddie the headline-writer

One of the things I like about Freddie deBoer is when he stops mincing words, as in his title on Tuesday:

It Would Be Cool If You Would Refrain From Just Making Shit Up About Me and Trans Issues

The BLM con

Black Lives Matter Secretly Bought a $6 Million House.

It’s long past time for sensible people to stop giving to this organization. (The right time was as soon as BLM posted their broader radical agenda on their website — since toned down) Black lives do matter, but gullibly giving to a bunch of scammers doesn’t make them matter any more.

Yes, political and charitable organizations of all stripes can fall prey to the iron law of institutions (if they’re not conscious scams from the start), and if you have a "whatabout" about conservative scammers, you’re welcome to bring it on.

After I had written this, Nellie Bowles weighed in:

BLM may be the biggest nonprofit scam of our generation: For a while, the Black Lives Matter organization and its allies were very good at getting people to do their bidding. They could bully journalists into ignoring the organization’s issues (being called racist is terrifying and not worth the scoop). They could convince social media companies to happily block critical commentary and reporting on the organization’s financial improprieties.

Now, slowly, the truth is leaking out.

We already know BLM used funds to buy an $6.3 million party house in Toronto, called Wildseed Centre for Art and Activism, which lists no public events. This week, thanks to a dogged freelance investigative reporter named Sean Kevin Campbell, we now know that Black Lives Matter also used nearly $6 million in donated money to buy a Los Angeles mansion. That’s Part One of the scam.

Part Two, broken by the New York Post: They bought it from a friend who paid $3.1 million for it six days earlier. So they got themselves a party house with donated funds and kicked nearly $3 million of donor funds to a buddy. Who knows how the fat thereafter was split up.

From the house, they posted a video of the leadership crew having fancy outdoor brunches. One founder, Patrisse Cullors, began a YouTube cooking show in the expansive kitchen. (After the story on their property came out, they took both videos down.) They called the holding company used to buy the house 3726 Laurel Canyon LLC, an address that can be shared since it was bought with tax-deductible charitable dollars.

Patrisse Cullors took to Instagram to slam Sean Kevin Campbell, who is black, and to slam the outlet that published his reporting, New York Magazine, calling the piece a “despicable abuse of a platform.” She added: “Journalism is supposed to mitigate harm and inform our communities.” She said the house, which has a pool and a sound stage, “was purchased to be a safe space for Black people in the community.”

It’s important not to forget how BLM leaders like Cullors raised these tens of millions: It was by chanting the names and showing the photos of dead black children. The donated money came from kind, well-intentioned people who desperately wanted to help.

Prerequisites for argument

This isn’t new, but it resurfaced this morning:

The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.

Hence, it’s not an argument. You can’t argue with people who have their own separate made-up set of facts. You can’t have an argument with people who are deranged by the euphoric rage of what Erich Fromm called group narcissism — the thoughtless roar of those who believe their superior group is being polluted by alien groups.

It’s a pure power struggle. The weapons in this struggle are intimidation, verbal assault, death threats and violence, real and rhetorical. The fantasyland mobbists have an advantage because they relish using these weapons, while their fellow Christians just want to lead their lives.

The problem is, how do you go about reattaching people to reality?

David Brooks, Trump Ignites a War Within the Church

Political lows

Todd Rokita

What kind of Attorney General needs this kind of recruiting?

Is this not a sign that something is amiss in Todd Rokita’s stewardship of the Indiana Attorney General’s office? Might it be that he’s not a steward, but rather treats the AG’s office as a platform for his ego?

I repeat: I have never voted for Todd Rokita. He told a whopper of a lie in his very first campaign (don’t ask me the details; I don’t remember), and has a nonstop smirk on his face that tells me he has no respect for those who do vote for him.

Presidential Pandering, Biden agenda

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday his administration would extend the pause on federal student loan repayments—first put in place by the Trump administration in March 2020—until August 31. Biden had already prolonged the moratorium in August 2021 (which he claimed at the time would be the final extension) and in December 2021. The Department of Education said yesterday it would also allow those with paused loans to receive a “fresh start” on repayment by “eliminating the impact of delinquency and default and allowing them to reenter repayment in good standing.”

The Morning Dispatch. I would bet a modest amount that "the pause" will be extended beyond August 31 to beyond the November elections.

This is on a continuum with Student Loan forgiveness, a policy so regressive as to put its proponents in the elitist category and further accelerating the re-alignment of party boundaries, with Democrats the party of the laptop class, Republicans the party of the working class.

Who’s to blame for KBJ?

To be clear, I’m not upset by the Senate confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Elections have consequences, and America elected a Democrat as President in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal wants us to remember that Georgia improbably elected two Democrats to the Senate in a 2021 runoff, too:

Republicans shouldn’t forget who is to blame for their predicament. If President Trump hadn’t been preoccupied with imagined fraud conspiracies after the 2020 election, Republicans probably would have retained two Senate seats in the January 2021 Georgia runoff elections. Without Democratic Senate control, President Biden might have been forced to choose a more moderate nominee than Judge Jackson, or possibly a jurist older than age 51, with a shorter prospective Supreme Court career.

Conservatives could spend the next 30 years ruing Justice Jackson’s decisions. Spare a thought for how Mr. Trump helped it happen.

Wall Street Journal Editorial

We’re not going to return to civility in SCOTUS confirmation hearings if the soberest, greyest conservatish newspaper in the land accepts it as good that a narrowly Republican-controlled Senate would reject a qualified Democrat nominee, but that’s where we are.

France rhymes America

Mr Macron also faces a problem that responsible politicians always face when running against populists. He offers policies boringly grounded in reality. They say whatever will stir up voters, whether or not it is true.

The Economist

Piss in omnibus illis!

Florida absurdly recapitulates

Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law has tons of popularity with ordinary folks despite being dishonestly labeled by both the Left ("Don’t Say Gay law") and the Right (anti-Grooming law):

And now the darker turn: The right, which won this round definitively, can’t seem to take the win. They are using the opportunity to give the left a taste of their own medicine. ‘You’ve spent years calling us racists and transphobes. Fine. No problem. If you even criticize the law we’ll call you groomers.’

For days now, that ugly word with a dark history has been everywhere I’ve looked. And it’s being used to refer not just to opponents of the law but increasingly as short-hand for gay people. Gurgling up to join in the fun are QAnon fans, who argue that the American left is hiding a massive pedophilia ring. I suspect this backlash is just beginning.

Over the years, various people I know in my real life have gotten mad at me as I’ve argued generally for moderation and for the practical over the radical. I’m wary of sudden movements. The BLM protests and the urban burnings were cathartic and thrilling—it probably felt good yelling “abolish!”—but in the end it was pretty useless if the goal was majorly improving policing and prisons.

So too with the kids and trans issues. Right now, the progressive movement has made it an all-or-nothing conversation. Anyone who might urge caution when it comes to transitioning children, for example, is smeared as a transphobe and has been for years now. It’s 0-60, and you better get on. Women are menstruators, biological males are in the pool crushing your daughter’s race, teenagers know best if they should be sterilized, story hour better as hell be a drag show, fraysexual is part of the rainbow, and if you screw up a they/them conjugation, well, sir, you’re fired.

You would be foolish not to see that once you’ve gutted terms like racist and transphobic of any meaning, you might see horrible racism and horrible transphobia and be left with no words to describe it ….

Nellie Bowles

Still vile and evil, actually

What we’re witnessing is the continued moral devolution of a movement. Where once it was “vile” or “evil” to make frivolous claims of grotesque sexual misconduct, it is now considered “weakness” or “surrender” in some quarters not to “fight” with the most inflammatory language and the most inflammatory charges.

David French, Against the "Groomer" Smear

More vile and evil

On Fox News over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz criticized Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for her work as a public defender, arguing people go into that line of work because “their heart is with the murderers, the criminals, and that’s who they’re rooting for.” Cruz—an Ivy League-educated lawyer who clerked on the Supreme Court—should know that charge is ridiculous. “If we are to have a legal system that allows people, institutions, and governments to defend themselves against charges of illegal conduct—and we should have that system—then we are going to have lawyers who defend their clients to the best of their ability,” Charlie Cooke writes for National Review. “It doesn’t matter whether the defendant is popular, whether the institution is sympathetic, or whether the law is a good one—none of that is the point. The point is that an adversarial legal system requires advocates who will relentlessly press their case, and, in so doing, force the other side to prove its brief to a high standard. There is nothing wrong with … people who are willing to become public defenders and defend clients they suspect are guilty, and to suggest otherwise betrays an unthinking and opportunistic illiberalism.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Charlie Cooke is wrong about "unthinking and opportunistic illiberalism." It is calculatedly opportunistic illiberalism, of the sort that is becoming far too common among ambitious younger Republicans.

One man’s eschaton is another’s apocalypse

As I write, CBS it running a big, free advertisement for Joe Biden, who is celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as if it were the inauguration of the eschaton. "She’s historic! She’s black! She’s a woman! She’s a black woman! She’s a historic black woman! Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace!"

The Right seems to see her as the inauguration of the apocalypse, though they’ve had to lie like dogs to make the case. "Soft on pedophiles! You know: like the pervs at Comet Ping-Pong! She’d defend Eichman! We don’t want the kind of person who defended accused criminals! Dies irae! Dies illa! Solvet saeclum in favilla! Teste David cum Sybilla!"

Piss in omnibus illis!


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.

Many and various thoughts 1/15/22

Seeking to destroy the liberal framework

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, on a network news show, responded to a question about January 6 thusly:

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said, noting that none of the irregularities brought to his attention would’ve changed the outcome in any state. “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

45 did not appreciate that:

Trump, who in a statement Monday morning accused Rounds of going “woke” on the “fraudulent” 2020 election. “Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump continued, lying. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”

The Morning Dispatch

I could not comprehend how any sensible person, whatever his grievances against our traditional political elites, can think that this vengeful narcissist is a suitable Presidential candidate. But Damon Linker has now explained it:

By the time Trump burst on the scene in the summer of 2015, the traditionalist right had nearly given in to outright despair, even in public, with many moving into a purely defensive position. No longer hoping to reverse the direction of the culture, they now hoped they might merely receive modest federal protection from persecution at the hands of emboldened secular liberals.

At first Trump’s campaign didn’t inspire much cause for optimism among disaffected traditionalist conservatives. He was, after all, a personal paragon of moral decadence. Yet once Trump seized the GOP nomination, and then the presidency itself, a rethinking began among the most pessimistic conservatives. Might his unexpected triumph open other, more radical options for the future? Could his aggressive, unapologetic hostility to liberal norms and institutions signal an openness among American voters to a fundamental rethinking of ideological premises, cultural limits, and the range of political possibilities?

For a series of pessimistic conservatives — especially the "integralist" Catholics (Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin, Patrick Deneen, Sohrab Ahmari, Chad Pecknold) and the philosophically anti-liberal and anti-progressive writers at the Claremont Institute and the American Greatness website — Trump came to represent a new way to achieve old ends. Instead of encouraging Republican presidents to struggle within a liberal framework against the inexorable drift of the country, including its government and its culture, toward the secular left, conservatives could cheer on a political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself.

"A political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself." That’s fancy-talk for what I feared was the motivation in 2016 — "To hell with it! Let’s tear it all down!" — which is notably nihilistic rather than conservative.

These traditionalist Christian "conservatives" might justify that as desperate measures for desperate times (responding to an existential threat, another Flight 93 Election, but one mark of conservatism has been sober recognition that bountiful crops don’t grow in the scorched earth of revolution.

What a difference a day makes

My Friday reaction

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Ten other people also were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group came to Washington intent on stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

AP Report.

That’s close enough to a domestic terrorism charge to satisfy my curiosity (and desire for retribution) about why nobody had been charged with terrorism in the January 6 whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

My Saturday course correction

We have an adversarial legal system because there are often two plausible sides to a case.

Did the Oath Keepers commit seditious conspiracy? I thought so, and so did a law prof. An ex-prosecutor, who has actually convicted seditious conspirators, says not so fast, pal.

I’m with the second now. And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that the President of the United States sent them off to "stop the steal" — ritually disavowing violence but almost assuring it by his inflammatory "fight like hell" and "stop the steal" rhetoric. To those foolish enough to believe Trump, the notion that if we don’t stop the steal, we won’t have America any more is a potent incitement to "any means necessary."

This all matters because unless the prosecutors have filed multiple counts, including counts that don’t require proving that the Oath Keepers consciously were trying to overrule a legitimate election rather than gullibly trying to stop the nonexistent steal, they could well be acquitted. Since they are dangerous fiends or fools who need to be out of circulation for a good long time, both for safety and to deter others, I don’t want that.

Go for the easy single, guys, not the home run.

No particular place to be

I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me. But where am I? There doesn’t seem to be any nonarbitrary basis on which I can draw a horizon around myself—a zone of relevance—by which I might take my bearings and get oriented. When the axis of closer-to-me and farther-from-me is collapsed, I can be anywhere, and find that I am rarely in any place in particular.

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

We’re all experts now

When Covid hit, we were knee-deep in spoofed phone numbers slamming our cellphones about fake car warranties. We were wading through emails trying to steal our identities. We were triangulating Yelp reviews and Consumer Reports summaries with testimonials and marketing research just to buy a new mattress or an air fryer. We were checking out our own purchases at the grocery store and waiting on hold to replace the credit card that got hacked for the umpteenth time. We were staring, bleary-eyed, into apps that promised less “friction” in our everyday lives if we would just consent to tracking — not that we had a clue as to what exactly we were consenting to. The tiny boxes to “sign up” are labeled “terms and conditions,” after all, and not “Here is how we are going to farm your personal data for profit.” And when we complained — to a manager, to a clerk, to our spouses, to the internet — someone was all too glad to tell us how we could have prevented all of this if we had just become an expert in everything.

It is no wonder that so many of us think that we can parse vaccine trial data, compare personal protective equipment, write school policy and call career scientists idiots on Facebook. We are know-it-alls because we are responsible for knowing everything. And God forbid we should not know something and get scammed. If that happens, it is definitely our fault.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, ‌We’re All ‘Experts’ Now. That’s Not a Good Thing.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, skipped vaccine and treated with Ivermectin and Hydrochloroquine when they contracted Covid.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, are convinced that the CDC is sluggish and wimpy and that it’s vitally important that we get vaccinated, boosted, and put on our N95 masks and quarantine until the end of January.

I value my friends, but having fallen for pseudoscience more than once in my long life, I’m trying to trust the CDC directionally, titrating with common sense. I’m 73, and I’m going to die of something some day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to live in irrational fear or with irrational exuberance.

Trafficking in racial animosities

There are strong incentives to provoke the left on race, and that provocation can often take the form of rhetoric that looks a lot like outright racism. Take, for example, this comment from Tucker Carlson regarding immigration and the alleged Democratic effort to “replace” the American electorate with immigrants:

I know that the left and all the gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term replacement, if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World. But, they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.

Carlson says his comments have nothing to do with race—with the so-called Great Replacement theory (a white-supremacist theory that, in its current American incarnation, holds that Democrats—often led by Jews—are trying to replace white voters with nonwhite immigrants). “This is a voting-rights question,” says Carlson. “Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter,” he claims.

David French, How the Right’s Rules of Rhetoric Create Racial Provocateurs . If you can show me a meaningful difference between "new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World" and "nonwhite immigrants," I’ll buy you a burger at your favorite burger joint.

Tucker Carlson is definitely trafficking in racial animosities.

Hospitalized with Covid or hospitalized because of Covid?

New data published by New York’s Department of Health show that, although the state’s topline COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are near record highs, 43 percent of COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized were admitted for another reason, and only tested positive for COVID-19 incidentally.

The Morning Dispatch, 1/1/22

Human motivations are rarely unmixed

"Admission changes to [Loudon County Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High] were driven by jealously infused xenophobia and racism against the Asian community,” says Mr. Jackson. “Most of the internal deliberations focused on a tailored solution to get just enough black and Hispanic kids in to open the floodgates for rich white affluent families, the primary beneficiaries."

William McGurn, quoting Harry Jackson, former president of the Thomas Jefferson PTA.

Worthy new center-left Substack

I believe it was on this blog that I solicited suggestions for left-leaning honest brokers on the internet, since so much of my reading has become, at least in popular parlance, right-leaning, Several of the writers still identify as liberals or even, in one case, communist — but their honest brokerage gets them branded otherwise. I read them more for the delight and reassurance that I and other conservatives aren’t the only ones who "get it."

Well, the center-right Dispatch recommended a new Substack from Josh Barro, Very Serious, just such a center-left figure, as a likely counterpart to the Dispatch. And the introduction is promising:

The conversation that gets erroneously called a “national conversation” — conducted among select journalists, operatives, activists and academics — is essentially a conversation by and for people who supported Elizabeth Warren. It reflects the values and preferences and linguistic quirks of one minority part of one political party’s coalition. And sure, I am contrarian in relation to that subculture, but not to our overall politics or society, within which I sit closer to the median than most other people you will hear from in the press.

Dissenting from and complaining about this subculture is not novel; it’s become a cliché to jump to Substack and complain about it. But my beef with this subculture isn’t quite the usual one, and that’s why this newsletter is going to be different. I don’t feel oppressed by the subculture. But I do think it has caused certain influential people to become badly misinformed in ways that have been damaging to the interests of both the press and the Democratic Party.

Josh Barro, in his introductory post in his new Very Serious.

(I believe his is a Substack blog — it certainly looks like one in the invitation to paid subscription — but the domain is Barro’s own, which presumably gives him control of the content should he ever leave Substack.)

Riddle solved

[T]here’s a simple solution to the seemingly complicated riddle of Hawley, Cruz and Pompeo. And Marche provides it: Right now their surest path to power, or firmest grip on it, involves the theatrical trashing of their own trappings, the reinvention of themselves as characters in a story other than their own. They haven’t had some post-Ivy moral or philosophical epiphany. Their makeovers are fundamentally commercial: They sized up the current marketplace and manufactured what sells best.

And for them — as for too many people in this age of runaway vanity — brand dictates belief.

Frank Bruni, ‌Trump’s pride goeth before our fall

Bait and switch

This week, the writer Colin Wright posed on Twitter the following question: “What rights do trans people currently not have but want that don’t involve replacing biological sex with one’s subjective ‘gender identity’?” And the response was, of course, crickets. The truth is: the 6-3 Bostock decision places trans people in every state under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s done. It’s built on the sturdy prohibition on sex discrimination. A Trump nominee wrote the ruling.

What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.

Andrew Sullivan, The Trans Movement Is Not About Rights Anymore

Sully on Biden

The appeal of Biden was that he understood the Senate, represented a moderate middle, and wouldn’t polarize the country with divisive, incendiary rhetoric, as his predecessor had. The reality of Biden is that he has lost the Senate’s trust, has been an enabler of the far left, and is now seeking to call all those who object to a Democratic wishlist of electoral reforms the modern equivalents of the KKK. The speech was disgusting. It will do nothing but further alienate the Senators he needs. It sure alienated me. It could have been written by a Vox intern on Adderall.

I’d wax more eloquently on this but don’t feel I can best either Jonah Goldberg or Peggy Noonan. I voted and supported Biden as the least worst option — in the primaries and general election. I favor an urgent reform of the Electoral Count Act — to avoid a 2020 scenario next time. I’d be open to some of the Democratic proposals. So I should be the kind of voter Biden is appealing to.

But Biden’s polarizing rhetoric, as McConnell made clear, has made compromise on any of this toxic.

Andrew Sullivan again (third topic by my count)

Getting the run-around

Alan Jacobs had a few questions on his University’s health insurance. Nobody would admit that they had answers:

It’s important to recognize that what I went through in both of the circumstances did not result from bugs in the systems, but from features — from purposeful design. The goal of all our contemporary Departments of Circumlocution is simply this: To make us give up. To bring us to the point of shrugging our shoulders and crossing our fingers in the hope that whatever illness we have will somehow get better; or to the point that we pay for medicine ourselves because we can’t figure out how to get the insurance we pay for to cover it, and don’t dare try to get by without it. The object of these systems is the generation of despair. Because if the systems make us despair then the companies that deploy them can boast of the money they have saved the organizations that purchase their services.

Wherein I brand myself

J Budziszewski chose an unusually provocative title: Novelists as Pimps. That I agree with him enthusiasticly no doubt brands me as some sort of comic caricature.

Pretty good book

I’m not going to oversell it, but this was a book I felt well warranted the time to read it:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

To put it bluntly: we are all expressive individuals now. Just as some choose to identify themselves by their sexual orientation, so the religious person chooses to be a Christian or a Muslim. And this raises the question of why society finds some choices to be legitimate and others to be irrelevant or even unacceptable.

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. If you are comprehensively familiar with Philip Rieff, you can skip it.

Worthy book, but I passed up a favorite annual conference this weekend even though Trueman was one of three keynoters.


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.

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


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.