Friday 10/12/18

1

There is nothing new about disinformation. Unlike ordinary lies and propaganda, which try to make you believe something, disinformation tries to make you disbelieve everything. It scatters so much bad information, and casts so many aspersions on so many sources of information, that people throw up their hands and say, “They’re all a pack of liars.” As Steve Bannon, a former Trump aide and former leader of Breitbart News, succinctly put it in an interview with Bloomberg, “[T]he way to deal with [the media] is to flood the zone with shit.”

Although disinformation is old, it has recently cross-pollinated with the internet to produce something new: the decentralized, swarm-based version of disinformation that has come to be known as trolling. Trolls attack real news; they attack the sources of real news; they disseminate fake news; and they create artificial copies of themselves to disseminate even more fake news. By unleashing great quantities of lies and half-truths, and then piling on and swarming, they achieve hive-mind coordination. Because trolling need not bother with persuasion or anything more than very superficial plausibility, it can concern itself with being addictively outrageous. Epistemically, it is anarchistic, giving no valence to truth at all; like a virus, all it cares about is replicating and spreading.

… By being willing to say anything, they exploit shock and outrage to seize attention and hijack the public conversation.

That last tactic is especially insidious. The constitution of knowledge is organized around an epistemic honor code: Objective truth exists; efforts to find it should be impersonal; credentials matter; what hasn’t been tested isn’t knowledge; and so on. Trolls violate all those norms: They mock truth, sling mud, trash credentials, ridicule testing, and all the rest.

Jonathan Rausch. Donald Trump is our Troll-In-Chief.

How do you balance:

  1. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and slowing of regulatory assaults on orthodox Christians; against
  2. The daily tacit denial from Trump and Sarah Sanders that there exists any such thing as objective truth and reality — “flooding the zone with shit”?

Something tells me that the long-term costs of #2 — and not just in terms of damaging the credibility of Christianity (of which Evangelicals have dubiously made themselves avatars) — outweigh and perhaps vastly outweigh the benefits of #1. I can’t yet put my finger on it; maybe it’s ineffable or self-evident.

We’ve gone from agreeing that there is “Truth” (even if we disagreed about its content), to referring to “your truth” versus “my truth,” and now we hover on the edge of the Emperor’s truth being the only truth, with the Emperor smirking as he mocks us by changing that “truth” at will.

2

Purdue University,”mother” to an astonishing proportion of early astronauts and now sporting a rather new, large and prominent Neil Armstrong engineering building and archive, is atwitter over the release of “First Man” and should be (pardon the expression) over the moon at Joe Morgenstern’s Wall Street Journal review.

Speaking of which, our local TV news, which regularly interjects inadvertent comic relief into the news, covered the Armstrong archive last night with a comment about it housing “N pieces of his life,” reminding me of Mitt Romney’s “binders of women.”

3

Pushing back against talk about Texas Evangelical women pushing Beto O’Rourke past Ted Cruz in the Senate race:

“I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice, and I just think Cruz is a liar,” my sister said in a text message.

Bobby Ross, Jr.

It’s good that this is in print, because one can read it categorically or presumptively (had it been spoken, the inflection likely would have disambiguated it):

  • I can’t support Beto  — because he’s pro-choice ….
  • I can’t support Beto because he’s pro-choice ….

I believe the moral law would permit Ross’s sister, for sufficient cause, to vote for Beto despite his being pro-choice, but never because he’s pro-choice.

The decisive question is the sufficiency of Cruz’s cynicism and lying. His cynicism stinks to the heavens, but I haven’t kept a scorecard on his lying. Texans probably have a better reading on that.

4

Be it remembered that Jeff Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters for the Presidency but Trump is getting ready to replace him because he won’t corrupt the Justice Department by conducting show trials against Trump’s enemies or by firing Robert Mueller.

This is the treatment Evangelicals can expect if they ever reach a “we must obey God, not Caesar” moment. Whether they have the integrity to reach that moment is an open question.

Add this to item #1 as a reason why Trump should be voted out either in the 2020 Republican primaries or against many potential Democrat nominees in the General Election.

Since we’re apparently slow learners, though, God may ordain that 2020 be a repeat of Trump versus Hillary or maybe even Trump versus Beelzebub.

5

Be it noted, too, that Atifa, at least in Portland, has itself become a fascistic mob, just as I figured would happen in this world where every evil has a euphemistic name.

At the beginning, they came out only when conservatives, including trolls like Milo or Ann Coulter, came to town. Now they call protests, take over the streets, redirect traffic, and threaten anyone who doesn’t comply.

That’s why I say “fascistic.”

6

Consider two recent surveys released before the Senate voted Saturday to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. After the riveting Judiciary Committee hearing on Sept. 27, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked: “If there is still a doubt about whether the charges are true, do you think Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed?” Respondents said no by 52% to 40%.

A Harvard-Harris poll released Oct. 1 asked: “If the FBI review of these allegations finds no corroboration of the accusation of sexual assault, should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed?” Sixty percent said yes and 40% no, with 86% of Republicans, 58% of independents and even 40% of Democrats supporting confirmation.

The 20-point swing between these two survey questions shows public opinion is malleable ….

Karl Rove.

I doubt that we’ll really know until November 7, if then, which way the Kavanaugh hearings cut politically.

7

I’ve periodically mentioned and lamented that “Christianity” in the U.S. Seems to have just two avatars, Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism.

Roman Catholicism got that status by being huge and by claiming that it is The Church uniquely (a claim attenuated since Vitican II). Its claim had purchase in the West, which knew little of the four patriarchs from whom the proto-Popes went into schism (and which now are known as “Eastern Orthodox”). You were either Catholic or ex-Catholic via the Reformation. Those were the mental options.

I just realized, though, that I had that bit of history or Evangelicalism stored away that perhaps not everyone is aware of it.

Evangelicals got their status differently. I don’t discount the Great Black Swan, Billy Graham, and the boost William Randolph Hearst decided to give him, nor the sizzle of the Moral Majority and the rest of the Religious Right (which finally brought Evangelicalism into what the press thinks of as “reality”: contentious politics).

But it started earlier. Some evangelical visionaries early on saw the evangelistic potential of radio and, later, television. They scarfed up hundreds or thousands of FCC broadcast licenses in order to preach their version of the Gospel. Try to find a “Christian” radio station that isn’t Evangelical.

Go ahead. I’ll wait. (Crickets)

Domination of the airwaves had a big influence on perceptions of non-Catholic Christianity.

I don’t think Evangelicals set out to eliminate other voices from the airwaves, or otherwise to delegitimize those voices. It was more positive than that: spread the Gospel. The rest is epiphenomenal.

And the chaotic internet, where licenses aren’t yet required (but see next item) will perhaps diminish Evangelicalism’s place aside Rome in the Western Christian oligarchy.

8

Late Thursday, Facebook and Twitter began what appears to be a coordinated purge of accounts trafficking in real news our masters would prefer we not know and opinions that no bien pensant should entertain. Caitlin Johnstone, aware that “censorship” proper is a government act, thinks nonetheless that the rise of corporate power and the thin line between corporate and government power make this effectively censorship in our new media age.

I’m likely to have more to say about this, but for now, Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin will suffice.

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Saturday, 9/8/18

1

07stephensWeb-superJumbo

Where do I buy the hat on the left?

Bret Stephens continues his open letter to big-bucks politial donor targets:

The next time you meet a candidate asking for your money, start the conversation with two questions. First: “When did you last change your mind on a significant political, economic or social issue, and why?” Second (if the candidate is already in politics): “When did you vote with the other side?”

In person, many of you are nuanced, balanced and sane in your overall political outlook, irrespective of whether you lean left or right. The problem is that you tend to care mainly about specific policy outcomes — killing the Iran deal, say, or acting on climate — and you’re willing to swallow your misgivings about the other stuff, like Donald Trump’s character or the Democrats’ Sandernista tendencies.

Sacrificed in the bargain is much concern about the tone of campaigns, the rules of politics, the process of policymaking, and ordinary considerations of collegiality and respect.

Let me ask you to think hard about the increasing cost of that bargain. A president who rages like King Lear on the heath because an op-ed in The Times was mean to him. Senate Democrats who cheerfully turn a Supreme Court confirmation hearing into a carnival show while they audition for the Democratic nomination. The collapse of regular order. The vanishing filibuster. The constant threat of government shutdowns. The ceaseless campaign that always comes at the expense of governance. The administrative state on which we increasingly rely to run things because elected officials can’t. The rush to the exits by the more honorable public servants.

This is the politics of maximum polarization and total paralysis, waged with the intensity of the Battle of the Somme and yielding about as much ground. Right now, you’re contributing to this. Stop.

There’s an alternative. Split more of your money between the parties. Fund candidates with proven or potential cross-party appeal. Help out politicians with scores below 100 percent from the N.R.A. or the Sierra Club. Set up a PAC — call it SanePAC or NotNutsPAC — to help candidates facing primary challenges from the further-right or further-left. Expand the reach of purple America at the expense of deep red or deep blue.

I, a Trimmer, endorse this message. I’d add that part of “the cost of the bargain” is bullshit “gotcha” attempts that make the Newspaper of Record look crypto-Resistant.

2

Almost all the excellent reporting of the last year and a half has also been fed by constant distress signals from within the White House, where grown-ups have had to contend with a psychologically disturbed, delusional, and hugely ignorant president, who has no capacity or willingness to learn.

Sometimes I think it’s useful to think of this presidency as a hostage-taking situation. We have a president holding liberal democracy hostage, empowered by a cult following. The goal is to get through this without killing any hostages, i.e., without irreparable breaches in our democratic system. Come at him too directly and you might provoke the very thing you are trying to avoid. Somehow, we have to get the nut job to put the gun down and let the hostages go, without giving in to any of his demands. From the moment Trump took office, we were in this emergency. All that we now know, in a way we didn’t, say, a year ago, is that the chances of a successful resolution are close to zero.

Andrew Sullivan

I can’t endorse much of what Sullivan wrote this week beyond these snippets.

3

Conservatives have long derided “activist” judges who, they argued, issued sweeping social policy without a popular mandate or widespread support. Such protestations helped propel a movement. They might do well to heed their own warnings.

Joshua Zeitz, concluding Why Conservatives Should Beware a Roe v. Wade Repeal. I only came across this because John Fea, who I’ve been following for a month or so, fell for it.

First, any “lack of popular mandate or widespread support” has little if nothing to do with conservative laments about liberal judicial activism. That is a straw man, pure and simple.

Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

As for the rest, maybe I’m jaded by having spent too much time “in the trenches,” but it strikes me as targeted at a squishy and ignorant set of fence-straddlers. Zeitz’s con goes like this:

  • The pro-abortion side won the battle in Roe v. Wade but suffered the grievous wound of overreach (which is true).
  • Public sentiment is somewhat more pro-abortion now than in 1973 (which I’ll take as true for sake of argument).
  • If conservatives overreach, they, too, could suffer the wound of overreach (which is garbled in its elaboration).

John Fea actually fell for the fallacy that reversal or overruling (not “repeal,” as in Zeitz’s title) of Roe would make abortion virtually illegal (“one can only imagine the strength of the counter-reaction should a conservative court all but criminalize …”).

Reversal of Roe would, in the overwhelmingly likeliest case, return the abortion issue to state legislatures, where the response would vary from complete bans on abortion (which would be widely ignored in “hard cases” after the signing photos were taken) to complete legality with public funding (can you say “California”?).

A vanishly unlikely theory would actually read an abortion ban into the 14th Amendment. The theory argues, in effect, that exploding understanding of fetal development and our early criminal abortion laws were contemporaneous with the 14th Amendment; so contemporaries, if asked, would have said “Why yes, now that you mention it, I guess fetuses are constitutional ‘persons’.” I’m not sure whether anyone is actually advancing this theory in any legal cases. I became aware of it from a third-tier law journal. I hope it’s recognized as “a bridge too far” invitation to conservative judicial activism.

Since neither Roe nor Planned Parenthood v. Casey was well-reasoned or highly principled (Casey effectively replaced Roe with a rationale that is even more patently mockable), I would be personally gratified by the restoration of some constitutional equilibrium through reversing that line of cases.

That reversal would, indeed, be followed by something approaching 50 fierce state legislative debates. The results in most states would be compromises that neither side liked. But that’s where the issue belongs, I believe.

Now: all that having been said, I have been persuaded that a likelier result than any reversal of Roe/Casey is continued chipping away.

It is, after all, not really within the control of “conservatives” — or of Donald Trump, despite campaign bloviating about what his nominees would do — whether bad “progressive” precedents from 45 years back stand or fall.

The Supreme Court, in whose control it is, does not disregard factors like a bad precedent having nevertheless become woven into the social fabric, or a reversal, howsoever well-reasoned, reinforcing the lamentable perception that the Courts are really just super-legislatures.

I’m betting nothing I can’t afford to lose on overruling of Roe in my lifetime.

4

Congressional G.O.P. Agenda Quietly Falls Into Place Even as Trump Steals the Spotlight. Very misleading headline if one thinks an agenda for Congress is more than confirming POTUS’s judicial nominees. There is no GOP congressional agenda revealed in this story.

5

Perhaps most concerning, Judge Kavanaugh seems to have trouble remembering certain important facts about his years of service to Republican administrations. More than once this week, he testified in a way that appeared to directly contradict evidence in the record.

For example, he testified that Roe v. Wade is “settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court.” But he said essentially the opposite in a 2003 email leaked to The Times. “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” he wrote then.

Judge Kavanaugh’s backers in the Senate brushed this off by pointing out that his 2003 statement was factually correct. They’re right, which means that his testimony this week was both disingenuous and meaningless.

If the New York Times submitted this drivel as part of a resumé for a “Fact-Checking” position, I wouldn’t give them an interview.

6

Here’s a quote, via the Telegraph, from the prosecutor in the trial where Karen White admitted two indecent assaults against female prisoners:

“The defendant would stand very close to [the victim], touch her arm and wink at her. Her penis was erect and sticking out of the top of her trousers.”

I swear, I wasn’t going to pass along Rod Dreher’s story of tragic stupidity in the Anglosphere, but the Prosecutor’s remark toward the end was irresistibly classic trans gibberish.

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Senate Race 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is the meta-issue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vigilance or flippancy?

William McGurn, one of the Wall Street Journal writers whose basic worldview seems to be in line with mine, did not cover himself with glory today. Though he had some valid points, …

Let us stipulate that Donald Trump is unique … Mr. Trump tramples on the expected norms for a president.

Some detect in Mr. Trump’s brand of vituperation an assault on the values and virtues that democracy requires to thrive. In this line of thinking, Mr. Trump is morally unfit for the Oval Office. Some speak even more darkly …

There is, however, a flip side to Mr. Trump’s speech and behavior. It has to do with the willingness of those who know better (or ought to know better) to look the other way so long as Mr. Trump is the target …

… he also sounded this false note:

Meanwhile, week after week, the same people who accuse Mr. Trump of lacking depth and nuance toss off allusions to Hilter, Stalin and a parade of murderous dictators ….

It is no doubt possible to “toss off allusions” flippantly or as mere tribal talking points. But don’t be hasty with that accusation. As Father Patrick Henry Reardon said in a recent homily,

I must tell you that the Shoah — I regard the Shoah as the major human experience of my lifetime.

I understand all the Russians and Germans and Poles killed in war. I understand that. This was not “killed in war.” This was something very different.

In my opinion, we have hardly even begun to understand the significance of the Shoah. Maybe in a hundred years. But I fear we’re largely forgetting it already. One must not forget it … The Holocaust should haunt the modern mind ….

Insofar as tossed off allusions trivialize or just wear out the listeners, they are deplorable. But insofar as McGurn is calling genuine concern, informed concern, “toss[ed] off allusions,” or assuming that “it can’t happen here,” shame on him.

If we want to avoid an American Hitler, we must be vigilant, even hyper-vigilant. It can happen here. And anyone who doesn’t see Donald Trump (whatever the legitimate grievances that brought him to office) as the likeliest North American perpetrator is operating on an entirely difference frequency band than I am.

Michael Gerson provides immediate illustration, even a foreshadowing, essentially casting ICE as Trump’s jackbooted thugs:

The attitude of President Trump toward federal law enforcement is, to put it mildly, mixed. The FBI refused to bend to his will. So the special counsel team is composed of “hardened Democrats” engaged in a “WITCH HUNT.” …

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement has passed the loyalty test. ICE’s enforcement surge “is merely the keeping of my campaign promise,” the president tweeted. Referring to ICE acting director Thomas Homan, Trump said, “Somebody said the other day, they saw him on television. . . . ‘He looks very nasty, he looks very mean.’ I said, ‘That’s what I’m looking for!’”

This is territory more familiar in political systems of personal rule. The agency that defies the ruler must be discredited. The agency that does his bidding is viewed as a kind of Praetorian Guard.

Most of the professionals working in ICE would surely deny this characterization, pointing to an important legal role independent from any individual president. But they need to understand that their work is now being conflated with Trump’s nativism.

ICE is not an agency famous for its care and discernment. In releasing an immigration activist detained by ICE early this year, U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest said, “It ought not to be — and it has never before been — that those who have lived without incident in this country for years are subjected to treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust. . . . We are not that country.”

Accusations of abuse in ICE custody are numerous and serious, and they preexisted the Trump era. An investigation by ProPublica and the Philadelphia Inquirer reported cases of racial profiling, fabricated evidence and warrantless searches — all given little scrutiny by overwhelmed immigration courts. During the past few years, there have been hundreds of accusations of sexual abuse, racial slurs, abusive strip searches and verbal harassment in ICE jails, prisons and detention centers. For an institution that claims “zero tolerance” for such practices, it seems to get a lot of serious complaints. One asylum seeker, Gretta Soto Moreno, has called the facilities worse than normal prisons because ICE “feels like it can treat immigrants any kind of way.”

This is the bitter fruit of dehumanization — in a facility, in a system, in a country. It is unclear whether Trump would even regard such a reputation as undesirable. He has effectively given permission for bullying.

(Emphasis added)

Fr. Reardon has some recommendations of Holocaust literature for those who don’t want to forget. Start where the podcast countdown timer reads about -14:16 if you don’t have time for the whole thing, most of which has nothing directly to say about the Shoah. I’m buying three (skipping Primo Levi because Fr. Reardon didn’t call out just one or two or Levi’s large corpus).

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Primaries

I’ve got my absentee GOP ballot to complete before travel, but the choices this season seem harder than usual.

For Prosecutor, maybe I’m rationalizing, but the challenger appears to have made one promise of substance: to file charges anytime the police have worked up a plausible case.

Sounds great until you reckon with how the system actually works. Resources are limited. Exercise of discretion not to charge preserves resources.

But I have a bigger personal issue related to resources. Neither the prosecutor’s office nor the courts can take all those extra cases to trial. Most of them are going to be plea bargained. And therein lies a personal bugaboo.

Some of those defendants are going to be innocent. “Innocent” as in “didn’t do it,” not “could wiggle out of it.” For instance, setting aside police corruption and laziness (which do occur — visit the Innocence Project for a while if you doubt me), some cases are built of circumstantial evidence which can make an innocent-but-unlucky person look pretty guilty.

So imagine when (not whether; it will happen) an innocent person is charge with something that, if they’re convicted, is likely to land them in prison for 25 years. The prosecutor offers to let them plead to a lesser offense — perhaps negligent homicide instead of murder — with only a five-year sentence, only one year to be served according to the plea offer. Defendant has a family, and children. So why not take the deal? If he’s guilty, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

But for the innocent defendant, pleading guilty means committing perjury because, at least in my fair state, the defendant will be required to testify under oath that he committed each and every element of the lesser offense, which, in the case of an innocent defendant, will be be perjurious.

No, he won’t get charged with perjury, but he’ll be guilty in God’s eyes, won’t he? (I finally gave up the ambiguity about the sex of the defendant; it likely will be a guy.)

I’d much rather not have a Prosecutor who got elected by promising to file plausible circumstantial cases against even innocent defendants.

So my vote in the Prosecutor’s race goes to the incumbent, the considerable opposition to whom I don’t understand (although I know he can be a hard-ass and can forsake justice to please vindictive police at times).

Now for the harder case.

All three primary candidates for U.S. Senate promise to be loyal foot-soldiers in the Trump army, which is a turnoff since the only Trump agenda I know for sure is racial and religious demonization and demagoguery.

Do I vote for the Congressman who most seems equivocal, perhaps even insincere, in his promise, who the others accuse of being a liberal (and who seemed to have some troubles with John Barleycorn in his twenties)? Or do I vote for the one who’s an outsider, a successful businessman, with some state legislative experience but several lawsuits against his company alleging underpayment of workers in several state business outposts? (I definitely will not vote for my current Congressman, who lied like an S.O.B. In his first Congressional race, hasn’t stopped since, and even sports a smirk suggesting that he considers the voters rubes.)

I can tell you this much: whoever I vote for in the Senate primary cannot bank on my vote in the general election. This is one of the extremely rare times where there’s a Democrat I could vote for in good conscience, who has bucked his feticidal party on abortion extremism.

Speaking of which, I’m aware of my state’s shortcomings, but it warms my heart to hear the shared GOP mantra “pro-life conservative.”

Yeah, fool me ((2016-1973)/2) times, shame on you. Fool me ((2018-1973)/2) times, shame on me. I’ve figured out that the GOP is mostly talk on abortion, but if hypocrisy is the tribute paid to virtue by vice, it’s nice to know we’ve got a bit of cockeyed, arguably naïve virtue in our electorate.

That’s all I have to say, and don’t bet that I won’t change my mind. I’m not mailing my ballot until May 1, just in case more merde hits the air-mover.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Neither Nor

Neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, I nevertheless pay a lot of attention to both, because they are where the culturally significant religious action is in my homeland.

Likewise, I pay attention to doings in the Republican and Democrat parties. The sicknesses of those parties is also part of the sickness of my homeland. Politically, I’m not as settled in my American Solidarity Party affiliation as I am in Orthodoxy religiously.

I never was a partisan activist for either party, though I considered myself a Republican until January 20, 2005. GOP insanities bother me more than Democrat insanities because I never hoped for much from the Democrats (though it earlier seemed an inversion of the characteristic party tendencies when Democrats became the party of war on the defenseless unborn while Republicans nominally rose to their defense; I now recognize that the Democrat “party of the ordinary man” is dead).

I think Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, still considers herself Republican, and she, too, focuses more on GOP shortcomings. If you can get through the paywall, her April 13 Wall Street Journal column will reward you:

Mr. Trump came from the chaos, he didn’t cause it. He just makes it worse each day by adding his own special incoherence … He happened after 20 years of carelessness and the rise of the enraged intersectional left. He … can’t capitalize on this moment—he can’t help what is formless to find form—because he’s not a serious man.

Republicans will have to figure it out on their own. After they lose the House, they will have time!

Here’s what they should do: They should start to think not like economists but like artists.

The thing about artists is that they try to see the real shape of things. They don’t get lost in factoids and facets of problems, they try to see the thing whole. They try to capture reality. They’re creative, intuitive; they make leaps, study human nature …

If an artist of Reagan’s era were looking around America in 2018, what would she or he see? Marvels, miracles and wonders. A church the other day noted on Twitter that all of us now download data from a cloud onto tablets, like Moses.

But think what would startle the artist unhappily. She or he would see broad swaths of the American middle and working class addicted and lethargic …

A Reagan-era artist would be shocked by our culture, by its knuckle dragging nihilism … The artist would be shocked that “the American dream” has been transmuted from something aspirational and lighted by an egalitarian spirit to something weirdly flat—a house, a car, possessions—and weirdly abstract.

And think twice about your saviors. Those NeverTrump folks trying to take back authority within the party—having apparently decided recently not to start a third one—are the very people who made the current mess. They bought into open-borders ideology. They cooked up Iraq. They allied with big donors. They invented Sarah Palin, who as much as anyone ushered in the age of Trump. They detached the Republican Party from the people.

I also listened to a fascinating podcast last night on a late drive back from a meeting in Indianapolis.

Historian Michael Doran from the Hudson Institute traces The Theological Roots of Foreign Policy, American foreign policy in particular. He starts with Andrew Jackson and traces the “Jacksonian tendency” through the manufacture of dispensational premillenialism with its Zionist obsessions, William Jennings Bryan, Harry Truman and to Donald Trump (in a party jump that’s part of our ongoing realignment — my comment, not his).

Then he traces the competing “progressivist tendency” from mainline missionaries (who substituted imperialist-tinged foreign aid for the mandate to preach, baptize, and teach the Christian faith) through its descendants — John D. Rockefeller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, William Sloan Coffin and others less familiar and memorable to me because they’s not my religious kin as are the Jacksonians.

If you’re looking for a satisfactory wrap-up, it’s not here. Once again, I’m neither-nor.

UPDATE: Doran’s article appears in print, close to verbatim from his speech so far as I can tell. By June 1, it should be free.

* * * * *

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

(Philip K. Dick)

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

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The misgovernance we deserve

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that I reversed the roles of House and Senate in impeachment. I won’t try to parse how that changes my analysis of the odds of removal of Trump by impeachment except that it would seem to increase the heat on Senate Republicans.

My belief in major realignment remains unshaken though this was a singularly bad illustration.

Related question: How do you spell “seppuku”?

* * * * *

Donald Trump’s incessant attacks on Robert S. Mueller are shameful, but he cannot fire Mueller. That’s why he salts his attacks on Mueller with attacks on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Russia investigation because of Jeff Sessions’ recusal, and who can fire Mueller.

Trump’s corruption of our system calls for impeachment, but there’s no serious chance of that.

Though the House of Representatives will probably fall to the Democrats in the Fall, I don’t think the GOP will lose the Senate. A Democrat House would gladly convict if only the Senate would impeach as it should. But Trump’s hold on Republican voters has the Senate too scared to act.

With one voice, Republicans in Congress have made it clear that if the president takes this extreme step, they will not be afraid to defy him by appearing on a cable news channel and saying something noncommittal. As they are doing right now. For instance, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “If he tried to do that [fire Mueller], that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.” Beware, President Trump! If you continue down your present course, there is every reason to believe that Graham may even go so far as to write a memoir where he calls this “a dark, dark moment for this country, when people should have spoken up.”

(Alexandra Petri, If Trump fires Mueller, Republicans will be, like, really disappointed)

This is part of a massive realignment, typified in Illinois this very day, where Hillary’s minions are trying to purge Daniel Lipinski, a vanishingly-rare pro-life Democrat, while Jeanne Ives mounts a suprisingly strong, if underfunded, attack on Governor Bruce Rauner for his disappointing laxity on abortion.

Meanwhile, we’re continuing to experience the misgovernance we deserve.

* * * * *

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Cold comfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. – paywall)

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

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Shelby Steele on NFL & BLM

Stanford Historian and Hoover Institute Fellow Shelby Steele has a powerful essay in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, behind a pay wall, about the feckless NFL “take the knee” protests. He also touches on Black Lives Matter. You probably can get a copy of the Journal at Barnes & Noble or another news stand if you move quickly. Or there’s always your local library.

I’m going to quote his core claim and, what I find a most powerful illustration, and his reasoning on why protests continue:

The oppression of black people is over with. This is politically incorrect news, but it is true nonetheless. We blacks are, today, a free people. It is as if freedom sneaked up and caught us by surprise.

Of course this does not mean there is no racism left in American life. Racism is endemic to the human condition, just as stupidity is. We will always have to be on guard against it. But now it is recognized as a scourge, as the crowning immorality of our age and our history.

Protest always tries to make a point. But what happens when that point already has been made—when, in this case, racism has become anathema and freedom has expanded?

To hear … that more than 4,000 people were shot in Chicago in 2016 embarrasses us because this level of largely black-on-black crime cannot be blamed simply on white racism.

We can say that past oppression left us unprepared for freedom. This is certainly true. But it is no consolation. Freedom is just freedom. It is a condition, not an agent of change. It does not develop or uplift those who win it. Freedom holds us accountable no matter the disadvantages we inherit from the past. The tragedy in Chicago—rightly or wrongly—reflects on black America.

That’s why, in the face of freedom’s unsparing judgmentalism, we reflexively claim that freedom is a lie. We conjure elaborate narratives that give white racism new life in the present ….

I tried to comment on this, but that only made it weaker.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Blessing or Curse?

I almost didn’t click the New York Times Opinion headline “Is Trump a Blessing or Curse for Religious Conservatives?” But since it was by “OpEd Contributors” rather than the Editorial Board (from which I would have expected disingenuous concern trolling had they adopted such a headline), I clicked, and found Ross Douthat, a Never-Trumper, interviewing Never-Trumper David French (Evangelical/Calvinist) and Trump Supporter John Zmirak (a Crisis Magazine type Catholic). It is outstanding and well worth using one of your free looks at New York Times pieces should you not be a subscriber.

The views of French and Zmirak are starkly opposed to one another, but the disagreement remains polite. Zmirak (whose articles at Crisis were sometimes off-putting when I followed Crisis) skillfully and unexpectedly pushes some of my buttons:

Were Christians scandalized by the spectacle of George W. Bush leaving Iraqi Christians to face jihadi violence? They should have been. It was far worse than anything Trump has done. I must confess that I am deeply embittered by the callousness that George W. Bush displayed toward the lives and liberties of religious minorities in Iraq — when as U.S. commander in chief, he had essentially absolute power over that occupied country. Of about one million Christians, some 900,000 were ethnically cleansed, most of them while our troops still occupied the country. I can put up with Donald Trump’s old Howard Stern tapes all day long, compared with that.

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I was scandalized. And embittered. That is closely related to why I declared my break with the GOP, and why Ted Cruz turned my stomach and earned my hostility with his calculated provocation of folks at an In Defense of Christians conference.

Zmirak almost had me with the seductive “skeptical prudence” until French weighed back in:

Douthat: So when we see polls showing a wild swing between the 1990s and the present in the share of evangelicals who think character matters in a politician, John, you think evangelicals are actually coming around to a more sensible view than they held in the Clinton era?

Zmirak: Yes. Just as evangelicals are coming around to using Natural Law (philosophical) arguments — rather than biblical proof-texts for their political positions, I think they are moving closer to the skeptical prudence that always marked Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican political thinking. Read what the Family Research Council, or National Organization for Marriage, publish on social issues. They’re not thumping the Bible. They’re citing Cicero and Aristotle.

French: I’m sorry, but the transformation of the evangelical public from the American segment most willing to hold leaders to a high moral standard to the segment now least likely smacks of pure, primitive partisanship, not high theological principle. Evangelicals aren’t coming around to using Natural Law at all. It’s pure instrumentalism. They’ve made an alliance of convenience. They haven’t made some sort of thoughtful intellectual shift.

The interview goes beyond political ramifications and also discusses such things as how Trump relates to the surge of “nones.” There, too, there’s a point-counterpoint that is skillful and make some sorting out and critical analysis necessary to decide.

Here’s my sorting: Zmirak is riding an a wave of kept promises by Trump. I consider that wave welcome, but entirely unexpected.

Before November 8, 2016, I had no reason to expect Trump, a man of extraordinarily base character and a world-class bullshitter, to keep a single promise to Christian supporters. All I felt fairly confident of was that on religious freedom, his fickleness would be preferable to Hillary’s hostility to orthodox Christians who want to live openly as such. But that one issue was not sufficient to outweigh what has proven to be epic narcissism (I knew it was severe narcissism, possibly sociopathy, but events have proven it worse than I feared) that drives him to irrational and counter-productive behavior.

Zmirak has at least one more notable comment:

I have this from pastors who met with Trump for many hours: He genuinely listens to them. They’re the kind of people most playboys from Queens never encounter. He connected with some of them personally. He saw their concern for his soul. And he took and takes their concerns seriously.

Trump sees that the church is a big part of what made America great, and he sees that the state persecution that President Obama began hurts the country. I hope that he sees more, sees Christ as his savior. But in his role as Caesar, protecting our rights is quite enough.

If I had known this from credible sources before the election, it would have impressed me somewhat that narcissist Trump is actually capable of listening for longer than it takes to compose a Tweet. But such was the sycophancy on display from Trump-friendly pastors that it would have been hard to persuade me that such a report was credible.

So in the end, though I’m closer kin to Zmirak religiously than to French, I’m with the latter, for reasons this can serve to summarize:

I belong to the camp of Christians who are grateful when Trump makes good decisions but also quite mindful that our political witness is inseparable from our Christian witness. Thus, we have no option but to condemn his worst impulses and work to counteract his toxic influence on our larger culture. While policy positions are important (though Trump’s real impact is often vastly overblown), a nation is ultimately shaped far more by its culture than its policies, and we can never forsake the greater power for the lesser win.

Where Christians once demanded honesty, they rationalized lies. Where Christians once sought evidence of ideological consistency, they accepted incoherence.

Many of us, however, looked at these accommodations and asked a simple question. Where is your faith? Christians were acting as if not just the nation — but the church itself — was in peril based on the outcome of a single election. Yet is God not sovereign over all the nations, including our own? Doesn’t scripture repeatedly condemn the exact kinds of moral compromises that so many Christians made? Don’t we believe those scriptures?

There is nothing more dangerous to the church than a lack of faith. I don’t at all mind it when Christians cheer the good things that Donald Trump has done. I join them. I do mind when they rationalize and excuse bad acts out of a completely misguided and faithless sense of cultural and political necessity.

(Emphasis added)

It is possible that in 20 years, I’ll say “God in his providence used this most improbable Caesar to good end,” but I don’t think I’ll ever regret my write-in vote, which was based on what I knew then. That God can use evil men, or turn evil to good, never justifies voting for evil men or evil policies.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.