Tuesday, 12/6/22

It’s been awfully long since I flushed the pipes.

Politicalish

A not-so-great realignment

Alex Jones: The Nazis were thugs.
Kanye West: "But they did good things too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."

@Rightwingwatch

So “Ye” is now to the right of Alex Jones?!

Viktor ticks me off

I know that Viktor Orbán isn’t running a liberal democracy. He says it’s an illiberal democracy. “If I could count on American post-liberals being as competent and honest as Orbán,” I thought, “I could tolerate illiberal democracy, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

But now he’s pulled a stunt that bothers me even more than some of the other ways he’s manipulated things to keep winning elections:

In December 2020, when Hungary’s health authority set up a website for citizens to register for covid-19 vaccinations, it included a tick-box for those who wanted to receive further information. Gabor Toka, a political-science professor, found it odd that the box did not specify that future communications should be about covid. To see what would happen, he ticked the box for his own registration but left it unticked for his mother’s. Some months later, when Hungary’s general-election campaign swung into gear, he found that he (but not his mother) started to get campaign emails from the ruling party, Fidesz.

Mr Toka was not the only one. A report published on December 1st by Human Rights Watch suggests that Fidesz seems to have gained access to state databases and used them to send campaign messages to voters. In addition to emails, people got phone calls and text messages from Fidesz candidates urging them to vote and reminding them what a wonderful job the government was doing.

How Hungary used citizens’ covid data to help the ruling party (The Economist)

Thesis Statement

I was just reminded of the excellent capacity of Readwise to share a quote as an eye-grabbing image. Expect to see more.

What authoritarianism does to decent people

Yesterday a friend messaged me to say that one passage from Monday’s newsletter had rung his bell. It had to do with motives. Perhaps some conservatives who’ve moved away from right-wing policies during the Trump era have done so, I wrote, because they’ve begun to doubt the good intentions of leaders who support those policies.

If the average Republican says the law should be harder on drug dealers, you and I might eagerly agree. If an aspiring strongman in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte says the same thing, you and I might worry instead about how a more draconian legal regime would eventually be abused.

Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.

All it took was a bare assertion without credible evidence that the election had been rigged against a right-wing president to flip Stewart Rhodes from freedom warrior to fascist goon.

Nick Cattagio

This is a remarkably thought-provoking piece. One more excerpt:

Years ago a fellow Never Trumper told me the great irony of the Tea Party era is that those of us who were viewed at the time as moderates and “RINOs” turned out to be the ones who took conservative principles seriously. We the squishes were told that conservatism was about X, Y, and Z, then suddenly Trump arrived and it wasn’t about those things anymore. So we left.

It was the firebreathing hyper-principled “true conservatives” and small-government radicals who were easily co-opted by a nationalist strongman. They simply adapted and carried on.

I’ve always taken pride in that. But it also feeds my insecurity that on a fundamental level I don’t understand how most people practice politics. I can cite chapter and verse on What Classical Liberalism means, but if 90 percent of those who used to—and maybe still—call themselves classical liberals are okay with an authoritarian personality cult so long as it’s advancing their interests by owning the libs, then how “real” is classical liberalism really?

Legalish

Balancing negative externalities

Free Speech

We still enjoy free speech in the U.S. partly because good people are willing to “sue the bastards” when the bastards try to punish or chill free speech. Eugene Volokh and F.I.R.E., for instance, are suing New York State (New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution)

One reason why I’m not a Ron DeSantis fan is that his popular (for the GOP’s Florida base, at least) “Stop Woke Act” also violates free speech norms of not the letter of the 1st Amendment (which I think it probably does; caveat: I haven’t thought about that a lot.).

Getting the Analogy Right

SCOTUS heard arguments Monday on another case that people will incline to call gay rights versus religious freedom, though it was argued on free speech grounds. As is so often the case, the questions from the Justices were probing.

Remarkably, a non-lawyer comment aptly summarizes a key point:

[T]he right analogy is crucial here, and correct distinctions are critical. In order to justify racial violence and oppression, white people in America and Europe essentially invented a novel theology, baptizing white supremacy. It was racism in search of an ethic. Sexual ethics, by contrast, are named and addressed in religious scriptures in specific terms. Unlike white supremacy, religious teachings regarding sex, including prohibitions on extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, lust and same-sex sexual activity have been part of the Christian faith from its earliest days. This is not an aberrant view rooted in bigotry but a sincere belief that flows from ancient texts and teaching shared by believers all over the world.

Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom

Culture

What I wouldn’t do if I had #1 billion

If you had $1 billion, what would you do with your life?

How about $190 billion?

The difference between those two seems academic to a middle-class schlub like me, as there’s not a lot one can do with $190 billion that one can’t do with $1 billion. Although if one of your highest ambitions is to make social media safe again for chuds with Pepe avatars, I suppose the distinction is meaningful.

I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing if my net worth surged to 10 figures. I wouldn’t be spending much time online.

And to the extent that I did, I wouldn’t be using it to sh-tpost.

Nick Cattogio, Kanye. Elon. Trump. (The Dispatch).

Academics and Intellectuals

An academic or a scholar is a specialist in one area of knowledge, whereas an intellectual is a “specialist in generalizations.” That’s a line from one of my intellectual heroes, the sociologist Daniel Bell, and I love it because it’s so delightfully paradoxical. An intellectual is someone who isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything but who reads widely in many subjects and grasps enough of the important aspects of specialized knowledge to render illuminating generalizations about lots of topics.

Another way to put it is to say that an intellectual is a bit of a dilettante or an amateur. I know a little bit about a lot of subjects, and I use that little bit of knowledge to try and understand what’s going on around me in an informed way. But I’m not a specialist in anything—not even the intellectual history and political theory I studied in graduate school, because I finished my studies 24 years ago and haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship.

Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything

This was an interesting installment from Linker, who also deftly fielded this final question:

I would love to get your opinion on what you think Ben Shapiro is up to. He seems to want to be both a conservative intellectual and a purveyor of sensationalist clickbait. And he seems to get a pass from most of the responsible conservative media.

Ben Shapiro interacts with and retweets me from time to time on Twitter. I suspect if you asked him, he’d say I’m one of the few sane and honest liberals around. Because of that, I don’t want to be mean to him here. But I will say that my view of him is precisely the one you sketch in your question. He’s obviously very smart, and the kind of conservatism (in policy terms) that he pushes is continuous with the Reagan-Bush 43 era. That’s not my thing these days, but it once was, and I respect smart people who advocate for those views, even today.

But in style, Shapiro is very much a child of Breitbart—and he appears not to recognize how corrosive that approach to engaging in politics ends up being for the very things he cares most about. If you spend all your days treating the opposition as evil and highlighting only the worst, most ridiculous arguments they make, you’re going to produce an audience that thinks the opposition is evil, stupid, and a threat to the country. And that might get members of this audience to elect someone who views the opposition with so much contempt that acting to overturn an election seems preferable to letting that opposition take power.

So I’d say Shapiro should spend some time re-watching episodes of the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Firing Line and remind himself of a better way—a way that seeks to elevate one’s own side rather than merely denigrate and demonize the other side. (Though it’s also true that this “better way” would probably generate considerably less revenue for The Daily Wire.)

Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?

Nellie Bowles’ crap detector failed her as she joined the world-wide mimetic soccer-flop about British Royal racism.

I didn’t think the exchange was very racist, but one reader knew some detailed backstory that casts it as even more benign:

Nellie, I think you need to do some more digging into the supposedly racist godmother of Prince William, Lady Susan Hussey. When someone shows up at a charity event in African garb and an African name on their nametag, it is neither racist nor offensive to ask about their birthplace.

When the querent is 83 years old, you answer the intent of her question politely: "I don’t know where in Africa my ancestors came from, because they were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but I myself was born in London."

Considering that Ngozi Fulani has made a career of race hustling, including accusing the Windsors of committing domestic violence against Meghan Markle, I can’t take her obnoxious failure to communicate with an elderly lady as anything but an effort to make trouble.

Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.

Liberal, but uncivilized

In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?

The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.

It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.

Ross Douthat

SBF, barbarian

I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.

Sam Bankman-Friedman, to writer Adam Friedman. (H/T L. M. Sacasas)

I hesitate to defend “SBF,” but I have read, or at least started to read, books that could, and perhaps should, have been a six-paragraph blog post. (Smarter people than me, though, aver that though one might convey the “facts” in six paragraphs, the nuances might warrant a full book.)

YouTube TV

I tried YouTube TV for about 15 hours, most of which I spent sleeping, singing, or otherwise not watching it. The low-definition images were annoying. That one must get in bed with Google again is really annoying. Trial ended.

Now maybe I need to figure out how to DVR late sports events on standard cable.

Just sayin’

If a team is going to beat a complete team with a lot of complemetary contributors like Purdue boasts, they’re going to have to catch the Boilermakers on the off-est of off days.

Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.

Trumpish

A Bad Trip

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769, rose to become a French military commander and emperor, and died on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. If I encounter a person on the street in Philadelphia in early December 2022 who insists he is this same Napoleon Bonaparte, I will be quite certain he is wrong about this, which means he is either lying or truly believes it and is insane.

How do I know this? Because I know history. Because I know when the actual Napoleon lived and died. Because I live in a social (intersubjective) world in which widely trusted cultural authorities will vouch for these truths.

But what if other people on the street believe this man and respond to his claim as if what he says about himself is true? What if another set of “experts” emerges to proclaim that, actually, this man is correct? And what if this is followed by the belief spreading further and large numbers of people throughout the country coming to believe it? Before long, newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons scream, “Napoleon Bonaparte Alive and Well in Philadelphia,” as I stand back and observe the spectacle in disbelief and mounting horror.

At what point does this man become sane and I become the madman?

This is a post about a feeling. And the feeling isn’t one in which the whole world, except for you, flips from affirming X to affirming not-X. It’s about the feeling of living in a world in which some of the people—not all of them, but also not just one or a small handful—begin to affirm an alternative reality from within our still-shared world. I’m convinced the emergence and widespread use of the word “gaslighting” during the Trump presidency was an effort to name this feeling of our social world being invaded by elements of psychosis. That feeling repeatedly surged while Trump was in office, and it reached a peak on January 6, when the madness actually burst into physical reality and briefly tried to remake the concrete political world in its image.

Damon Linker, The Week America’s Collective Bad Trip Resumed

The Red-letter Day that fizzled

This ought to be a red-letter day:

Donald Trump called for the “termination” of America’s constitution, in service to the lie that he won the presidential election of 2020. On his own social-media network he said that revoking “all rules” might be necessary to reinstall himself in the White House (notwithstanding his new electoral campaign).

The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.

I don’t know why I bother clipping these. He called for ignoring the freakin’ constitution and all it has gotten from GOP leaders is disapproving murmurs.

I guess it befalls me and those like me who do not covet public office to keep beating the drum: this man is not fit for Dog-Catcher.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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.

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.

Friday, 8/19/22, political

I’ve collected so much that I’m breaking it in two. Herewith, the political, writ large and smaller. The rest will come in the morniing.

Politics Writ Large

The point of these items is not partisan, but rather a view of the political field “from 30,000 feet.”

Conservatism

Three outstanding paragraphs:

I shuddered when, within a matter of months following the Obergefell decision, I began to hear activists from (otherwise obsolete?) gay-rights organizations talking about the need to push transgender issues as the next front on the leftward side of the culture war. These activists weren’t just calling for legal protections from discrimination, which wouldn’t have been especially controversial. They were demanding that the country at large give up on “the gender binary” and reject belief in any kind of biological component of sexual identity.

In its place, people were now expected to embrace an ideology of absolute gender fluidity. Boys could be girls, girls could be boys, requests on the part of children to physically change from one to the other using a range of sometimes quite radical medical interventions needed to be respected and heeded, and any and all resistance to this agenda was henceforth declared to be an expression of rank bigotry. The change even extended to pronoun usage, which went in the matter of a couple of years from something perfectly obvious and unworthy of thought for native speakers of American English to a highly fraught matter of social propriety and potential insult.

Can anyone really be surprised that this push for dramatic sociocultural change, with much of it focused on minors, coincided with a surge of support for right-wing populism, which promised to fight the left with greater ferocity than ever before?

Damon Linker, On Being a Conservative Liberal

One of my favorite sayings used to be Cet animal est très méchant. Quand on l’attaque, il se défend. It was my (conservative) response to progressive aggressors who found conservatives très méchant.

“Back in the day”, 20-30 years ago, it was invariably the progressives who aggressed, the conservatives who defended. I cannot say that categorically any more. Death threats and death plots against progressive-to-center-right public figures, by the far right, caution me against that. But Linker reminds me that the Left remains an aggressor.

Dave Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, told The Dispatch last month that “the definition of conservatism has changed a bit in the Trump years.”

“What counts as being a true conservative has become more about cultural issues and more about fidelity to Trump himself than it’s been about size of government,” he said.

Price St. Clair, Wyoming Voters Deal Lopsided Loss to Cheney

Another of my favorite sayings (very loosely paraphrased from memory) comes from the late William F. Buckley: "The problem with most liberals is that they cannot begin to describe the world in which they’d say ‘enough!’ and become conservatives." That certainly is the case with those who, having totally triumphed on homosexuality, thought they could put one over on us with gender theory, thus keeping their little sinecures intact.

No American Oakeshottians

Back to Damon Linker’s rewarding essay of Friday, On Being a Conservative Liberal:

The great British conservative Michael Oakeshott has a lovely essay titled “On Being Conservative” that does a fabulous job of summarizing the impulse to resist change. Here is that essay’s most famous passage: “To be conservative … is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, … the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

Those sentiments speak to me on a very personal level … Deep into adulthood, the announcement of an unanticipated change in plans would provoke intense anxiety that manifested itself in anger, as my brain short-circuited and I did everything I could to repress an instinct to panic.

No wonder I ended up a conservative—though of a peculiar kind … I had no real attraction to the surging, striving form of American conservatism that leads some to lament decadence and stagnation or to propose schemes that might inspire greater economic and cultural dynamism. It placed me miles away from Ronald Reagan’s endorsement of Thomas Paine’s line about how it’s possible and desirable to “begin the world over again.” (That quintessentially American sentiment has always struck me as delusional and potentially dangerous.)

There are, it seems, no American Oakeshottians.

Except, perhaps, in a certain underpopulated corner of the Democratic Party—the corner in which I’ve found a de facto political home for the past two decades.

This is probably the best argument I’ve read on why a conservative “of a peculiar kind” might end up voting Democrat.

Epistemic humility

As the leader of a country that within living memory had wiped out six million Jews, she was understandably anxious not to appear prescriptive about what might constitute European identity.

Tom Holland, Dominion, distilling a lot of history and shame to 190-proof.

Religion and Politics

“I was thinking about that Marx quote that religion is the opium of the people,” Elizabeth Oldfield, the former director of the Christian think tank Theos, told me. “I think what we’ve got now is [that] politics is the amphetamines of the people.”

Helen Lewis, How Social Justice Became a New Religion

Politics Writ Smaller

New policies, maybe; barbarian behavior, no

Cheney and Romney (and Adam Kinzinger and Peter Meijer and other dissenting Republicans) are defending the party. They’re upholding its ideals. And to understand why, we have to understand the core argument of the Trump right. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It has two parts:

First, it’s time to end the old ways. As a policy matter, Reagan Republicanism is dead. We need more government intervention in the market, fewer military entanglements abroad, and the greater use of state power to enforce conservative moral norms. A new “workers’ party” or “parents’ party” is going to be more progressive economically and more conservative socially than Reagan’s party. We appreciate The Gipper, but he was a man of his time, and that time has passed.

Second, it’s not just the old policies we reject. We reject the old rules of behavior. The left punches hard. We’ll punch harder. We tried nominating “good” people—like Mitt—and the left painted them as racist and misogynist. We didn’t make the new rules, but we’ll play by those rules, and the new rules tell us to fight fire with fire. Never back down. Never apologize. If cruelty works, be cruel. If lies work, then lie. Support for classical liberalism and the rule of law are luxury beliefs for a protected elite that doesn’t understand the present emergency. The existence of the nation is at stake. Act like it.

As times change, policies will change. The Republican Party wasn’t going to remain the anti-slavery party when slavery ended, just as it wasn’t going to remain the Cold War party when the Soviet Union fell. Ideological fights and ideological change are normal and healthy. Not every economic problem can be fixed with a tax cut, and not every foreign challenge can be met with military power.

And so the first paragraph of the case for the new Trump right isn’t particularly alarming …

It’s the second paragraph that represents the threat. It’s the second paragraph that triggers the crisis. It’s the abandonment of truth, character, and respect for the institutions of our pluralistic republic that places our entire democratic experiment at risk ….

David French, Who Is a True ‘Turncoat’?

A rant against “normal” Republicans

Oh, my! Too much good stuff for me to quote in good conscience (since it’s copyrighted and the author makes his living writing). Excerpts to whet your appetite:

What the “Team Normal” Republicans would like is the arrangement they had before 2015 — they would like Trump to help stir up their own voters and generate “energy,” but they don’t want to have to defend his unpopular actions and characteristics to swing voters who have a negative view of him and they also don’t want to have intraparty fights with the candidates he supports.

That your party is led by an inept, impulsive, criminally inclined man, who is viewed negatively by most voters, who cares very little about whether your party wins elections or achieves policy goals, and who keeps causing the party to nominate his unappealing weirdo personal friends in otherwise-winnable Senate races, is your problem — one largely of your own making. No self-respecting set of political opponents would respond to this in any other way than by putting the screws to you as hard as is possible.

Josh Barro, A Rant: ‘Team Normal’ Republicans, Stop Whining That Democrats Won’t Help You

How to irk Trump and live to win again

Not all those who have irked Mr Trump have been purged from the party’s ranks. Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, and its secretary of state (chief elections officer), Brad Raffensperger, both helped thwart Mr Trump’s attempts at post-election cheating. Despite efforts to unseat them, Georgia’s primary voters made them the party’s nominees in May. But the price of self-preservation was silence. “I’ve never said a bad word about [Mr Trump’s] administration and I don’t plan on doing that,” Mr Kemp said.

The election of the Trump-appointed slate means that the “rule of law is teetering” in Arizona, according to Bill Gates (not that one), a Republican member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. In other times a man like Mr Gates, a Harvard-educated lawyer and businessman who supports tighter voter-identification laws and low rates of taxation, might have aspired to statewide office, too. But with openness to electoral nullification a new litmus test for such candidates he counts himself out. He says his party has a tumour which is metastasising, and that its nature has changed fundamentally. “We’ve become a European far-right party.”

Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is unquestionable (The Economist)

Trump as Ransomware must might have legs

Republicans weren’t able to uninstall the Trump ransomware this year, Chris argues in this week’s Stirewaltisms (🔒). “In a midterm election that party leaders had hoped would unite the right and focus on an unpopular sitting president and grinding inflation, Republicans in their primaries showed almost no ability to set aside their own civil war,” he writes. “Nor is there any question about which side came out ahead.”

The Morning Dispatch, 8/19/22

Trump loves to be loved. He loves to be hated. He hates to be ignored.

The press loves looks and clicks.

The Trumpist Right loves trolling and demolition.

Ain’t a chance in hell that we’re going to get relief from all the Trump-related news any time soon, Nellie. They’ll cover him even if it means his notoriety gets him elected again.

Epiphenomenon

The term “post-truth” was declared the Oxford Dictionaries’ “Word of the Year” in 2016. Post-truth is an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Michael Ward, After Humanity.

Liz Cheney’s 2024

“Of course she doesn’t win,” Bill Kristol, the longtime strategist who has become one of Trump’s fiercest conservative critics, told me. But, he added, if Cheney “makes the point over and over again” that Trump represents a unique threat to American democracy and “forces the other candidates to come to grips” with that argument, she “could have a pretty significant effect” on Trump’s chances.

Ronald Brownstein, Liz Cheney Already Has a 2024 Strategy

Creepy is not the same as illegal

I still have no use for Alabama’s cornpone former Chief Justice Roy Moore, but let the record reflect that certain of his detractors have gotten an $8.2 million slapdown.


"The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness …." (G.K. Chesterton)

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.

Summer Solstice ’22

Prosecute Trump?

So far, there has only been circumstantial evidence that Trump knew he lost the 2020 Election, so news that he admitted his loss theoretically could be huge.

However, if you have access to the New York Times, do yourself a favor and read Prosecute Trump? Put Yourself in Merrick Garland’s Shoes. I think I’d call it a day at step two of the analysis: the unlikelihood of a unanimous guilty verdict in a country where so many worship the guy. Not even in the very liberal District of Columbia.

If I made it to step three, I’d again hit a wall: Do we really want that disgraceful and disgraced humbug to star as Johnny Depp with the prosecution as Amber Heard?

So I say "no prosecution." Our best outcome will be if the current Congressional hearings sufficiently disgrace him, even to those who voted for him, that he’s politically dead and buried.

Kudos to the Dispatch

Your membership allows us to do this kind of high-quality, in-depth journalism rather than chase clicks or attempt to monetize the latest outrage. Thank you.

The Morning Dispatch, touting its multi-part report on How the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act Became Law.

I’ve subscribed been a member from the beginning, and the Dispatch has consistently made good on not chasing clicks or attempting to monetize the latest outrage. Its voice is unique: clearly not Trumpist, yet not obsessively anti-Trump like The Bulwark. It is one of my most valued news and commentary sources (though Jonah Goldberg alone talks and writes more than I can find time to listen and read).

Consider joining and enjoying a play-it-straight source in this tribalist historic hiatus.

Summer Kwaanza?

Juneteenth—the annual observance celebrating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865—is a holiday that many Americans haven’t heard of until recently. That has caused some to wonder if it’s just some new “woke” holiday invented by Marxist academics, the creators of the historically inaccurate 1619 Project, or some other group on the left.

It is not.

Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866, mostly by Black Americans; yet it’s a day that’s worthy of celebration by every American, as it represents a critical turning point in American history, not just Black history. It is the day that we as a people finally began to live up to one of the greatest principles we professed: a nation devoted to liberty for all.

Kay Cole James

Yes, I was among those world-weary folks who assumed Juneteenth was a summer Kwaanza. My bad.

How should we celebrate this newest national holiday?

Second-hand reading list

  • American Rhyd Wildermuth is writing about his new life in Luxembourg, discovering the complexity of European culture from the perspective of a recovering US ‘progressive’. His observations about the mapping of a simplistic American race narrative onto the old and ever-shifting cultures and ethnicities of Europe is spot-on, I think. I have long felt that the language in which British and some European cultural elites now talk about race – dividing the world artificially into ‘whites’ and ‘people of colour’, for example – is a form of American colonialism which both obscures the reality of European culture and history, and increases or introduces racial tension. Rhyd writes about this sensitively and sharply.
  • If ‘the modern world is a hell’ seems like overkill to you, this recent Guardian interview with transhumanist author Elise Bohan may wake you up, for Bohan is quite clear about where it is leading, and she can’t wait. The aim of transhumanism, she explains, is to allow us to move beyond the ‘ape-brained meat sack’ otherwise known as the human body, so that we can beat death, remake humanity, perfect nature and ultimately, in her own words ‘build God’ anew. Bohan, of course, like her interviewer, doesn’t believe in God. If she did, she might recognise that the argument she is making is precisely the same one that was made by the serpent in the Garden of Eden – which is to say that, as I suggested in my last essay, it is literally Satanic.
  • What is the alternative to this future? Neuroscientist Erik Hoel, in a long and interesting essay on his own Substack, suggests that the answer might lie in Shakespeare. Humanity is messy. Nature is complex, and not under our control. The likes of Bohan, who are designing our future, can’t cope with this mess, just as they can’t cope with loss, death, humility, the unknown, the transcendent or anything else they can’t turn into an equation or replicate in a lab. The ‘coming inhuman future’, as Hoel calls it, can only be fought with a defence of the irrational, messy, dark, light and mysterious complexity of nature, which includes our human nature. Arm yourselves.

Paul Kingsnorth, Intermission: Reading and Writing – by Paul Kingsnorth. Kingsnorth recommended some others, too, but these are what I’m going to read.

A quick, partial critique of liberalism

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 continue to struggle: I want classical liberalism to work, but I am conversant with powerful critiques, including from sorta-scary guys like Vermeule. Monday, I finally ordered a primary source for its defense: Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man, having read quite a bit about it over the past few days.


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.

Like a pinball, bouncing all over

Pursuit of truth generally

Expertise

Oliver Traldi helps answer “How are those without expertise to determine who has it?”:

Yet another problem for our experts is that the source, nature, and relevance of their expertise is often ill-defined. A degreed professional like First Lady Jill Biden might want to be called “Doctor,” but even those who accede will struggle to articulate just what kind of knowledge she has that the rest of us lack. What is the knowledge-how or knowledge-that accompanying a doctorate degree in educational leadership? Or take the world’s most famous diversity consultant, Robin DiAngelo, Ph.D., whose degree is in “Multicultural Education” and whose “area of research” is “Whiteness Studies and Critical Discourse Analysis.” On what field of propositions would we expect her to be an authoritative source and ask the typical non-expert to defer, setting aside his own judgment for hers?

Even when expertise is genuine, disciplines and professions, along with their practitioners, seem determined to overextend its breadth for purposes of laundering their personal, non-expert opinions under their expert brand. In the summer of 2020, over a thousand public-health researchers signed a letter expressing their support for mass public protests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as they insisted that in all other contexts the COVID-19 threat weighed against such gatherings. In The Atlantic, under the headline “Public Health Experts are Not Hypocrites,” Harvard Medical School professor Julia Marcus and Yale School of Public Health professor and MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner Gregg Gonsalves proposed that “systemic racism” was itself “a pervasive and long-standing public-health crisis.” By expanding the reach of the term “health,” the authors seemed to think they could also expand, as though by linguistic fiat, the breadth of their knowledge about the world, and demand new deference on matters of morality and politics. The signatories were public health experts, and systemic racism was a public health crisis, ergo the signatories were systemic racism experts.

Of course, such justification by stipulation is no justification at all. Marcus and Gonsalves never managed to explain what special insight a public health expert might have on the benefits of nationwide protests, or why anyone should defer to their conclusion that “the health implications of maintaining the status quo of white supremacy are too great to ignore, even with the potential for an increase in coronavirus transmission from the protest.” Making matters worse, they warned that even asking, “How many new infections from the protests will public health experts tolerate?” is an impermissible “call to color blindness, to stop seeing the health effects of systemic racism as something worthy of attention during the pandemic.” Now they were self-declared moral experts in two ways: qualified to adjudicate a divisive political debate, and further qualified to scold those who might question that initial qualification. They didn’t just know better than us; they were better than us.

Oliver Traldi, With All Due Respect to the Experts. Brilliant and very worth reading.

Handy heuristic

Here is a quick and generally reliable rule to follow. 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

Misinformation Tech

In keeping with their field’s tolerance for acronyms, they called it AMITT (Adversarial Misinformation and Influence Tactics and Techniques). They’ve identified more than 60 techniques so far, mapping them onto the phases of an attack. Technique 49 is flooding, using bots or trolls to overtake a conversation by posting so much material it drowns out other ideas. Technique 18 is paid targeted ads. Technique 54 is amplification by Twitter bots. But the database is just getting started.

Wired.com, ‌One Data Scientist’s Quest to Quash Misinformation

There’s gold in that there discourse!

Freddie deBoer finally said what I’ve wanted to say, and says it at length, with appropriate contempt, and with contemporary illustrations that I couldn’t have produced because I’m now culturally illiterate as to anything in popular culture. F’rinstance:

[S]ome of the most successful self-marketers of the 21st century are white men. They are, in fact, Good White Men.

These are the guys who put their pronouns in their bios in hopes that doing so might get them a little pussy. These are the guys who will harangue you about how white dudes do this and white dudes do that, speaking to you from their blameless white dude mouths in their righteous white dude faces. These are the guys who look at the discourse about white supremacy and patriarchy and see market opportunity.

… Good White Males think whiteness and maleness are problems to be solved. The trouble here is twofold. First, simply by nature of being Good White Men, by the very act of endlessly talking about the sinful nature of other white men, the Good White Men exonerate themselves from the very critique they advance. Constantly complaining about the evil done by white men inherently and invariably functions to contrast themselves with other, worse white men. Being the white man who talks about the poor character of most white men cannot help but shine your own character. No matter how reflexively you chant that you realize that you yourself are part of the problem, no matter how insistently you say that you’re included in your own critique, you aren’t. You can’t be. To be the one who makes the critique inevitably elevates you above it.

He who humbleth himself wishes to be exalted.

Second, standing up and demanding that everyone pay attention to someone else sure is a good way to monopolize attention for yourself. If you go on your podcast, blog, cable news show, or social network as a white man and tell other white men they need to shut up and listen, you are definitionally not shutting up and listening – and, of course, doing so in such a way as to receive credit for doing it. Put another way, Good White Men constantly tell other men and white people to step back and listen but absolutely never shut the fuck up themselves. Each of these guys could walk the talk by just unplugging and no longer filling the airwaves with their opinions, and in so doing cede space to POC and women and whoever else. That they don’t is the most damning indictment of their project.

Freddie deBoer, The Good White Man Roster

Politics and our common life

Liberalism according to Frank Fukuyama

N.S. Lyons: when he/she is good, he/she is very, very good. The latest is a review essay, mostly of Francis Fukuyama’s Liberalism and its Discontents, but with a quarter or so on Conservatism: A Rediscovery, by Yoram Hazony.

This is a long read. The tl;dr is that Fukuyama’s modest introductory definition of liberalism is tacitly abandoned for most of the rest of the book. I think Lyons is in the camp that liberalism (i.e., classical liberalism, which comes in left and right flavors) is incoherent — and that today’s conservatism is really right liberalism and therefore also incoherent. Hazony’s thicker conservatism fares better.

The preceding paragraph is my next-day-from-memory summary. Your mileage may vary.

Motivated reasoning

Republicans are gloating over the Maya Flores winning election to Congress in a blue Latino pocket in Texas:

The most recent margin in Texas’s 34th congressional district was five points for the Democrats. Flores beat Sanchez by eight points. That’s a 13-point swing toward the Republican Party. And the Texas special election followed similar elections in California and Alaska where Republicans also over-performed.

National Review. Their point is that the GOP is going to slaughter the Democrats in the Fall mid-terms.

That may be true, but Maya Flores isn’t really a good sign of it, as I’ve learned from the Dispatch’s Sara Isgur and nowhere else:

  • This was a special election to fill a vacancy; Flores will serve only until January unless elected again in the Fall.
  • Flores raised something like $700,000; her Democrat opponent more like $46,000.
  • I’m not even sure the Democrat spent all his money; Flores winning doesn’t shift the balance of Congress and is only for about 7 months.
  • A congressional district now has more than 700,000 people in it. Only something like 14,000 voted in Tuesday’s election.

If Flores wins in the Fall, that will be a bigger deal. Meanwhile, the Republicans really aren’t delusional about Latino gains.

(If “Latino” is not currently the preferred word, sorry/not sorry. I can’t keep up. I originally said “hispanic,” but that didn’t sound au courant.)

Structural disadvantage

Monisms are tweetable and retweetable, compressible into soundbites; pluralisms are not. Therefore in our current media environment, all versions of pluralism are structurally disadvantaged.

Alan Jacobs, Ten Theses on Monism and Pluralism, Plus a Quotation

How conspiracy theorists go wrong

What distinguishes conspiracy theorists from the rest of us is their inability or unwillingness to believe that big consequences can flow from small, accidental, disorganized, even ludicrous causes.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Voters Elected the Jan. 6 Donald Trump

Democrat do-over

I believe Democrats know they should have nominated Senator Amy Klobuchar in 2020, and they’ll figure out a way to do it for 2024.

Andrew C. McCarthy, Liz Cheney Is Winning the January 6 Committee.

All I will say is I think that would be very good for the country.

I take that back: we also should consider electoral reforms (ranked-choice voting? open primaries?) that give saner candidates a better chance.

January 6

Side shows and main events

As I have argued at some length, the invasion of the Capitol and the vandalism and violence associated with it were a sideshow, and should be understood as such. The main event was Donald Trump’s attempt to find some legal or procedural fig leaf for invalidating the 2020 presidential election, and by that means to remain in power — a coup d’état under color of law …

The fact that Republicans have cynical, self-serving reasons for not taking the Democrats seriously does not erase the fact that there are excellent reasons for not taking the Democrats seriously — contempt for what the Democratic Party embodies and stands for is in fact a moral necessity.

Kevin D. Williamson, January 6 Hearings: Story without a Hero

Disarming the case against political violence

On both sides of the aisle, there is increasing acceptance of the idea that our political institutions are illegitimate, which while it isn’t in itself a call to violence effectively disarms the strongest argument against violence. This is most obvious on the Republican side, something the ongoing January 6th hearings have provided a powerful reminder of. A huge percentage of the GOP rank and file believe that the last election was stolen and therefore that the current government is illegitimate, and while only a tiny minority participated in violence in response on that fatal day, it’s difficult in practice to convincingly disavow that response without forcefully rejecting the premise that justified it.

Noah Millman, Do We Need To Worry About Violence Against the Court?

Desperate times, desperate measures?

As he sheltered with Mike Pence from the January 6 rioters, Pence’s legal counsel Greg Jacob

emailed constitutional law professor John Eastman, architect of the plan for Pence to reject the electoral votes Congress certified. “Thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege,” he wrote.

“The siege is because you and your boss did not do what was necessary,” Eastman replied.

Throughout the day yesterday, witnesses—including Jacob—eviscerated the legal arguments underpinning Eastman’s plan, while lawmakers laid out evidence that Eastman and other Trump allies knew full well the flaws in their strategy—but forged ahead with a pressure campaign urging Pence to go along anyway. After the riot, Eastman was so fearful of legal consequences he emailed Rudy Giuliani that he’d “decided that [he] should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works.” Trump never gave him one, and according to committee members, he’s pleaded the Fifth Amendment 100 times in his testimony before them.

The Morning Dispatch

Some wit put John Eastman’s pardon plea in Haiku:

(received through the grapevine).

Sexualia

“Soft Totalitarianism” captures something no other term seems to

I know some good people who scoff that “soft totalitarianism” is an oxymoron, but I haven’t seen a better term for this kind of just-making-shit-up coordinated suppression of unfashionable ideas truths while tolerating truly vile behavior by preferred ideologies:

Not to be outdone, this week, PayPal and Etsy shut down the accounts of biological realist and writer Colin Wright for his persistence in arguing that there are only two sexes. Etsy permanently disabled Wright’s account – where he sold his “Reality’s Last Stand” merch promoting his newsletter – on the grounds that Wright “glorif[ied] hatred or violence toward protected groups.” That’s a lie; Wright never did.

Wright is a biologist who made the grievous error of knowing a thing or two about biology and refusing to genuflect before the Torquemadas who insist he parrot their phony gender science. But of course, while Wright pays this price for his harmless (and, honestly, inoffensive) t-shirts and mugs, Etsy continues to list for sale stickers and pins and other bric-a-brac emblazoned with messages like “Fuck TERFs,” “TERFs can choke,” and “Shut the Fuck up TERF” with an anime creature pointing a semiautomatic handgun at its presumably female interlocutor.

Abigail Shrier

NSFW

The salacious details can’t really be avoided if I want to illustrate how transgender ideology is intruding on the most intimate realms (and I do):

A natal female who had sex with three women using a specially-made prosthetic has been convicted of assault. Tarjit Singh, born Hannah Walters, met women via online dating, and kept clothes on during intimacy in the dark to avoid being revealed as a natal female. It was only several months into one relationship, on discovery of the prosthetic, that Singh’s natal sex was revealed.

This story reads very differently depending on where you’re standing. Is it a case of sexual assault, with a victim tricked into intimate contact she wouldn’t have accepted if she’d known the sex of the individual she was dating? Or is it evidence of our transphobic society, where stigma forced “Tarjit Singh” first to conceal “his” true self only subsequently to be punished for this with the full force of the law?

Mary Harrington, ‌Landmark trans cases show who the men really are

Similar cases are happening and, dare I suggest, increasing;

A recent US case, with similarities to that of ‘Tarjit Singh’, resulted in murder …
Ismiemen Etute, a Virginia college athlete, beat Jerry Smith to death after discovering he’d posed as “Angie Renee” online to obtain sexual contact with Etute.

Lesbians are being called transphobes for wanting sexual contact only with natal real women. Sexual louts like Etute commit murder when tricked by a man pretending to be a horny woman.

It appears that sexual liberation has not produced utopia, no?

Old man led by zealots

Nevertheless, our President thinks we need more of what ails us — the veritable definition of insanity:

Biden has never seemed more like an old man being led by zealots than on the topic of medical interventions for gender dysphoric children, where he is deeply radical. Biden this week is signing an executive order banning any federal funds from “conversion therapy,” which is what activists call it when teen girls go to a therapist for a couple visits before getting a mastectomy. His policies are putting America’s approach to this complex topic far to the left of European nations (some of which are pulling away from under-18 medical interventions altogether) and far to the left even of where many trans leaders think we should be. 

Nellie Bowles (italics added).

Antidote

A Psalm for anxiety over “cancel culture,” “soft tyranny” and some other insanities.

Miscellany

Time-wasters

Although federal, state, and local fair housing laws generally permit discrimination in selecting roommates or housemates, they still prohibit advertisers from mentioning their discriminatory preferences, except for specifying gender. The result is that persons who place classified ads for roommates waste their time, as well as the time of many of those who respond to their ads, by inviting and dealing with inquiries from persons who fail to meet the actual “discriminatory” criteria.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!

New podcast, familiar podcasters

If you liked the All the President’s Lawyers podcast, you are almost certain to like Serious Trouble.

Potty Humor

As long as I’m (uncharacteristically) embedding images, this favorite from the nation of Georgia. There was much, much beauty there, but this gritty, grimy vista along the road from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda was unique:


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.

Faith Issues, Roe (and more)

Faith matters

Theology vs. Academic Theology

Theologians, like all academics, have to keep coming up with original things to say. If you just kept repeating the words you received from your old professors, it would get you nowhere. What you need is fresh, even daring, new material. And that means theology will always be in flux.

A venerable Catholic theologian once told me, with great irritation, “Lay people don’t understand what theology is!” They think it’s set in stone, he said, but it’s always evolving and progressing. He seemed to think that theology was something lay people could never hope to keep up with. Their meddling was annoying. They should get out of the way, and wait for the professionals to tell them what the new thinking is.

Theology has a completely different basis in Orthodoxy. It doesn’t change, because it is the faith taught by the Apostles themselves; Orthodoxy is the unbroken continuation of the Church founded by Christ, and carried by the Apostles into the world. We do keep repeating the words we received from our teachers and elders in Christ. Orthodoxy doesn’t need updating, because it provides everything a person needs to be saturated with the presence of God (a process called “theosis”). It fits the needs of every human being like water and air do, no matter what culture or time.

Frederica Matthewes-Green in a letter to Rod Dreher.

Do take note of that first paragraph. Heresy is baked right into the cake of academic theology as presently structured. And that’s an insight that is baked pretty deeply into my bones now. Calling a theological writing “novel” is generally a powerful insult in Orthodoxy.

Not following which faith?

People often talk to me about their adult children who are not following the Lord. I think they want to introduce them to me, as if my brand of wacky Miss Frizzle theologian would inspire them to follow Jesus (reader, I am not that compelling). I have started to ask these folks, which faith do you think your children are longer following? Tell me about it. Was it perhaps one that promised that Jesus would be primarily a place where they got their psychological needs met? Did you raise them to believe that middle-class respectability and good religious feelings were the goal of following Christ? Did you teach them how to suffer?

To the Shire

Classical Liberalism or Postliberalism?

Over a busy weekend (my final choral concert of the Spring), I almost forgot to share two very civil and worthwhile (opening?) arguments on how conservative Christians should behave in 2022:

Apart from the response’s resonance with my lifelong habits of thought, I think the response convincingly shows that the opening volley’s premise that we’ve recently entered “negative world” (cultural hostility to Christianity, which the coiner of the term thinks follows a long stretch of American approbation of Christianity and a few decades of neutrality) is dubious if not mythical. The folks who are more openly hostile now were just subtler before. I fear I greeted the original “negative world” theory with a lot of confirmation bias.

And of course, this debate, nominally about Tim Keller’s approach to politics, is a microcosm of the much larger argument, widely contested among self-identified Christians, about classical liberalism (French) versus some manner of postliberalism (Wood). Don’t cabin this argument.

Update: Rod Dreher weighs in against French, failing badly if he was trying to cover himself in glory instead of just waving the tribal flag. I wonder if American Conservative would give him a sabbatical while he works through a few things? I wonder if it would really make things better if they did.

The impending “reversal of Roe

The salutary political consequences

Peggy Noonan goes a bit meta on the consequences if SCOTUS “reverses Roe“:

[Roe] left both parties less healthy. The Democrats locked into abortion as party orthodoxy, let dissenters know they were unwelcome, pushed ever more extreme measures to please their activists, and survived on huge campaign donations from the abortion industry itself. Republican politicians were often insincere on the issue, and when sincere almost never tried to explain their thinking and persuade anyone. They took for granted and secretly disrespected their pro-life groups, which consultants regularly shook down for campaign cash. They ticked off the “I’m pro-life” box in speeches, got applause and went on to talk about the deficit. They were forgiven a great deal because of their so-called stand, and this contributed, the past 25 years, to the party’s drift.

Abortion distorted both parties.

Advice now, especially for Republican men, if Roe indeed is struck down: Do not be your ignorant selves. Do not, as large dumb misogynists, start waxing on about how if a woman gets an illegal abortion she can be jailed. Don’t fail to embrace compromise because you can make money on keeping the abortion issue alive. I want to say “Just shut your mouths,” but my assignment is more rigorous. It is to have a heart. Use the moment to come forward as human beings who care about women and want to give families the help they need. Align with national legislation that helps single mothers to survive. Support women, including with child-care credits that come in cash and don’t immediately go to child care, to help mothers stay at home with babies. Shelters, classes in parenting skills and life skills. All these exist in various forms: make them better, broader, bigger.

This is an opportunity to change your party’s reputation.

Democrats too. You have been given a gift and don’t know it. You think, “Yes, we get a hot new issue for 2022!” But you always aggress more than you think. The gift is that if, as a national matter, the abortion issue is removed, you could be a normal party again. You have no idea, because you don’t respect outsiders, how many people would feel free to join your party with the poison cloud dispersed. You could be something like the party you were before Roe: liberal on spending and taxation, self-consciously the champion of working men and women, for peace and not war. As you were in 1970.

Or, absent the emotionally cohering issue of abortion, you can choose to further align with extremes within the culture, and remain abnormal.

But the end of Roe could be a historic gift for both parties, a chance to become their better selves.

How will the court “reverse Roe“?

Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast persuaded me, without saying it in so many words, that Alito’s first draft won’t be his last. He has a bit of a needle to thread (the needle is oxymoronically named “Substantive Due Process”) and the first draft doesn’t persuasively thread it.

The main article in Friday’s Morning Dispatch also covers the question of unenumerated rights that might theoretically be at risk if the opinion doesn’t get the reasoning right.

My own opinion (caveat: I’m retired and rusty on legal analysis, and my opinion has been clarified only recently by thinking harder than before about stare decisis) is that:

  • almost all the cases recognizing unenumerated rights over the last 60 years have been bogus, the right to marry across lines of “race” (Loving v. Virginia) being the only exception I can think of readily;
  • of the remaining bogus decisions (Griswold, Lawrence, Obergefell) I can think of none that require reversal under the considerations that come into play in stare decisis. That’s another way of saying that “wrongly decided” (or “bogus”) doesn’t necessarily imply “should be reversed”; it’s more complicated than that.

Concise

The latest theme on the political left is that the Supreme Court Justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade are at war with democracy. It’s a strange argument, since overturning Roe would merely return abortion policy to the states for political debate in elections and legislatures. That’s the definition of democracy.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Most Editorial Board editorials aren’t worth reading, but that first paragraph was at least concise. The rest of the editorial? Meh.

American progressives, and some on the right, have convinced themselves that legal abortion will disappear the moment the Supreme Court reverses its Roe v. Wade precedent. Since the Court is contemplating this, readers might appreciate examples from democracies that have grappled with this difficult issue without nine Justices to tell them what to do.

We mean Europe, where abortion is legal in most countries, usually with limits that are more strict than America’s and generally as a result of democratic choice.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board separately.

Worth your time

Overruling Roe Would Extinguish A Judicially Created Right, But Would Restore The People’s “Precious Right To Govern Themselves”

The other stuff

An artefact of sensible times

For those curious, the Fifth Circuit [U.S. Court of Appeals] is holding its conference in Nashville because, apparently, there are no facilities large enough in Mississippi to host this confab.

Update: I have since been reliably informed that judicial conferences are not held in Mississippi for another reason: all of the hotels large enough in the state are attached to casinos, and some rule prohibits holding judicial functions in places attached to casinos. As a result, several hotels in Mississippi are large enough, but due to the casinos, none are not suitable.

Josh Blackman

An interesting rule from the days when people were smart enough to know that casinos are disreputable. They still are — as is commercial gambling on sports.

But we’ve decided to monetize vice, often with the promise that the revenue will fund schools. Monetizing vice does indeed “school” children, but not in any good way.

Surviving big cultural disasters

Having an inner life is how we can survive if the world falls apart … It’s how people have endured and thrived living under authoritarian regimes … If a populist regime … is in the cards, it’s time to become bird-watchers and hikers and readers of classics and take care of our friends and children and ignore the ignorance and cruelty afar.

Garrison Keillor, with some historic particulars elided. Some of the elisions may leave the impression that Keillor is opposed to all populism, though I don’t know that. I’d like to think there could be a populism that isn’t ignorant and cruel, though I see few signs of one yet.

Facing the end of life

I realize that we are all circling around the Airport of Death, but it just seems to me that if you take that step [moving to a retirement community] it means that you are entering your landing pattern. I think that I will rather just live until I die.

Terry Cowan.

At 73, I think I’ve fairly realistically reckoned with my mortality at last.

But that can be dangerous; you mustn’t just sit and wait for the grim reaper when getting up and moving could keep him away a bit longer. Sloth is a sin even for oldsters. And even if moving hurts a bit.

Wordplay

  • the right place to be is surely in the woods, or in a monastery. Or in a monastery in the woods.

Paul Kingsnorth

  • All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.

G. K. Chesterton


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

So prolific I categorized it

Legalia

Satire must rhyme, too

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

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

Thumb on the Scale

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

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

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

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

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

Against collusive secrecy

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

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

Mainstream Media

As close as they come to fresh Russia news

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

Gilbert Doctorow

When the "news" fails to inform

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellany

What’s the goal here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yassine Meskhout, ‌Three Little Pronouns Go To Court

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

Living in the free world after the end of history

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

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

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

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

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World

Unavoidably incomplete pictures

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

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

Rod Dreher

Grotesque?

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

Flannery O’Connor, via Plough

A trigger-warned recommendation

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

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

A creed for rogues

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

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

My pronouns

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

Covid

Safetyism on Parade

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

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

The Morning Dispatch.

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

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

Datapoint

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

The Morning Dispatch

Politics

Sore, sore loser, loser, loser

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Wehner, ‌Trump Is Obsessed With Being a Loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provocations have consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTG: Your 15 minutes of fame are up

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


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

Riding the emotional roller-coaster

It pains me to see the wave of puritanism in the arts, arts organizations competing to see who can write the most militant mission statements declaring their dedication to Equality and Inclusivity and Anti-Elitism, which tells me clearly that the end is near. Art is elitist because some people are better singers than almost anyone else and some plays astonish and others only fill the time, and if equality is now the goal, then where do we go to experience the extraordinary? Art then becomes ideology, and for astonishment we must wait for the next blizzard or thunderstorm. A Manhattan thunderstorm is worth waiting for, but still.

We have a long haul ahead of us, people. Children dressed up as malevolent beings for Halloween: is this a good thing? I doubt it. November is a miserable month, with elections at which old people will outvote the young and timid school boards will be elected who’ll cut out any remaining art or music education and require history teachers to offer opposing points of view as to the legitimacy of the 2020 election ….

Garrison Keillor

That an aging lefty can call bullshit on the illiberal left and the trendier-than-thou institutions is a sign of hope. That "requiring history teachers to offer opposing points of view as to the legitimacy of the 2020 election" doesn’t sound too far-fetched is the antidote to that hope.

I read a Damon Linker column yesterday that instantly reminded me of Micael Anton’s then-pseudonymous Flight 93 Election of 2016. The form of both was "if you really believe that [the other party] is an existential threat, you’d be [doing more]." In Anton’s case, doing more was voting for a debauched, orange, and questionably sane poseur (since we certainly would die if Hillary got into the cockpit). In Linker’s case, doing more is "prioritizing election reform" by things like, "at the very least, overhauling the poorly drafted and dangerously ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887" or keeping Republicans from "rig[ging] the system so that Democrats can never win power again."

I don’t mean to suggest a simple "to hell with both parties." The Republicans were lying or hysterical when they said HRC was an existential threat. She was a crook and the bearer of bad policy, and not much more. The Democrats are stone-cold right about the Republicans threatening liberal democracy, which is why it truly is baffling that they’re farting around with progressivist megaspending proposals instead of protecting democracy.

Have I mentioned lately that if the center-left and center-right cannot find a way to win elections (and retention), I don’t see how this country isn’t doomed.


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

Potpourri 9/4/21

Opening insights

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

Front Porch Republic

Faire de la merde

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

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

Priorities today

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

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

Then, contrary to script, it turned really bad …

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you want it bad you get it bad.

Peggy Noonan (emphasis added)

More united than they’d prefer

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

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

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

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

A cure for despair

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

Rod Dreher, My Verona

Corporate "virtue"

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

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

Why people come to church for the wrong reasons

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

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens


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

Some thoughts 5/1/21

What the wrath of God looks like

I was nurtured on stories as a child that contrasted Christ’s “non-judging” (“Jesus, meek and mild”) with Christ the coming Judge (at His dread Second Coming). I was told that His second coming would be very unlike His first. There was a sense that Jesus, meek and mild, was something of a pretender, revealing His true and eternal character only later as the avenging Judge.

This, of course, is both distortion and heresy. The judgment of God is revealed in Holy Week. The crucified Christ is the fullness of the revelation of God. There is no further revelation to be made known, no unveiling of a wrath to come. The crucified Christ is what the wrath of God looks like.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Bridegroom and Judgment

Why Jordan Peterson thrives

Contempt for the “working class” by North America’s “liberal educated elite,” is a major reason for his popularity, he says. “There aren’t very many people with an encouraging voice,”[Jordan] Peterson says. “Most of the things you read by intellectuals—not all, but it’s a failing of intellectuals—most of it is criticism. Look what you’re doing to the planet. What a detestable bunch of wretches you are, with your rapacious structures and your endless appetite and your desire for power. . . . Look at what your ambition has done to the planet. How dare you!”

Mr. Peterson doesn’t directly challenge the substance of these dreary criticisms. Rather he protests that they’re unnatural and unhealthy. “The proper attitude toward young people is encouragement,” he says—“their ambitions, their strivings, their desire to be competent, their deep wish for a trustworthy guiding hand. I think our culture is so cynical that it’s impossible, especially for the established intellectual chattering critics, to even imagine that encouragement is possible.”

When I ask what he thinks is driving the effort to destroy him and others who hold heterodox views, he diagnoses his persecutors as though they’re exactly the sort of young people who wander into his lectures or buy his books looking for structure and purpose. His admirers and his fiercest detractors are, in his mind, not so different from each other.

Barton Swaim, The Man They Couldn’t Cancel

From an essay on atheism with lots of insights:

I can’t tell you how often … commenters on liberal blogs would preface a denunciation of Richard Dawkins by reassuring everyone that they themselves were agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated. “Of course Christianity isn’t literally true,” they would always say before excoriating arrogant atheists. What they never seemed to understand is that the “of course” was a more grievous insult to sincere Christians than Christopher Hitchens could ever come up with. What the atheists felt they needed to prove, the anti-atheists simply assumed away. They took as given that traditionally religious claims about the world were so ridiculous that they could dismiss them with a footnote. The difference is stark. Angry atheists think religion is wrong. Anti-angry atheist liberals think religion is not even wrong.

Since I begin writing about this topic – that is, since the very beginning, as the first thing I wrote online that more than a dozen people read was about being a certain kind of atheist – I have been known by religious people as a nice atheist, a respectful atheist. I am never sure how to feel about this condition. I still define my orientation the same way: that to come to atheism honestly and constructively you must come to it in loss and pain. You don’t accept atheism, when it is genuine. You surrender to it. Either way, I am an atheist. I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false. I think religion on balance has been a detriment to human life and human flourishing. And I think the gradual attrition of believers into nonbelievers, through apathy and distraction more than anything else, would be good for the world.

Freddie deBoer, ‌What Became of Atheism, Part One

"I think all metaphysical claims of religious are false" is a sentence that may be worth my returning to some day, as the metaphysical content deBoer describes elsewhere in his essay is not true of all religion, and not (very) true of Orthodox Christianity. If I were being flippant, I could say "well, I don’t believe in that God, either."

Stake in the ground: Two sexes

Here’s what the science says: there are only two human sexes. That’s because there are only two types of gamete (the sex cells — egg and sperm). Humans (like all mammals) can develop along one of two pathways: towards making eggs (female) and towards making sperm (male). If anyone ever finds a third sex it would be a discovery on a par with finding a new continent — with a guaranteed Nobel prize. Until you see those headlines, you can rest assured there are exactly two sexes.

Biological sex exists and it matters — most obviously because the existence of the human race depends on it. You can’t make a human baby without a male and a female — yet the sex-denialists hardly ever mention reproduction. Which is odd since that’s precisely why sex exists.

Nathan Williams, Sex deniers are the new flat earthers

How our press covers Hungary

“You are sitting next to the Fifth Avenue of Budapest,” he said, referring to nearby Andrassy Avenue. “The only people Western journalists ever seem to talk to live within a two-mile radius of this street.”

Later, as I was headed home from work, I thought about how someone could stand on Andrassy holding a sign saying, “Viktor Orban, Go To Hell,” and nothing would happen to them. What do you think would happen to someone standing on the corner of Fifth and 45th in Manhattan, holding up a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter Sucks,” or “Homosexuality Is A Sin”? …

But remember your catechism: countries like Hungary are the real illiberal democracies.

Rod Dreher

Surprise Orthodox Anglicans

There has been talk in my neck of the internet about Prince Philip having reconnected with his Orthodox Christian roots, and here’s a sign, which I’m surprised hadn’t surfaced earlier, that he had:

There was one clear sign of this complex heritage during the funeral. Prince Philip had requested that, just before his body was lowered into the Royal Vault, the choir sing the famous Kiev setting of the Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed.

"Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints: where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting," the singers chanted. "Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of man: and we are mortal formed from the dust of the earth. … All we go down to the dust; and weeping o’er the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."

Terry Mattingly, Wish for the ‘Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed’ — A Hint at Prince Philip’s Complex Faith History

Note, too, this:

Prince Charles also has frequented Mount Athos. One Athonite monk told The Guardian newspaper that there is "no question" that Charles is "Orthodox in his heart. Sadly, he is very constrained by his position." The Prince of Wales has maintained ties to the Vatopedi Monastery and, like his father, to the Friends of Mount Athos.

Id.

Western civilization

The older I get, and the more I learn about history, the more convinced I am that Western civilization committed suicide with World War I. The rubble is still bouncing from that unparalleled catastrophe.

Rod Dreher

Contrariness

The function that herbivores play, for example, in stimulating biomass accumulation is both powerful and real. Chickens have historically converted kitchen scraps into eggs. Pigs have historically scavenged domestic waste products as varied as whey, offal, forest mast, and spoiled grain. That a large percentage of landfilled material is animal-edible food waste should strike us as criminal. Rather than showering landfill administrators with greenie awards for injecting pipes into the anaerobic swill to collect biogas, we should be cycling all that edible waste through chickens and pigs so that it never goes to the landfill in the first place.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal


Food safety is completely subjective. I don’t think for a minute that most of what’s in the supermarket is safe. But it’s been deemed safe because it only kills you slowly. While thousands of people die due to unnatural food and nutrient-deprived food, the food police go after a cottage-industry cheesemaker because two people got diarrhea.

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Why I (sorta) miss the New York Times

Chauvin Was Convicted. Something Is Still Very Wrong reminds me that I not only miss much of what Ross Douthat and David Brooks write these days by dropping the New York Times, but I also miss Elizabeth Bruenig (and Frank Bruni).

It’s tough when an institution is the pinnacle of professional ambition in a field yet has become boycottably corrupt.


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