Bless their hearts

Neo-Manicheans

Ten years ago, let’s say fifteen to be safe, if you saw an essay titled “Consequences are Good, Actually,” you might naturally assume that it came from the political right. Conservatives, after all, believe in law and order, retributive justice, and the God of the Old Testament. But nowadays, it’s liberals who constantly call for consequences, liberals who sneer at the concept of forgiveness, liberals who stand for a Manichean worldview that permits no deviation from white-hat/black-hat morality …

We’ve spent the past two years with the left-of-center world debating, and largely endorsing, quite radical ideas about ending policing and prisons. This would seem to suggest a certain predisposition to forgiveness and equanimity in human affairs, a communal understanding that life is complicated, all of us are sinners, and there but for the grace of God go we. But as the various groans about the New York piece show, the urge to defund the police etc. is really much less about a particular ethic of caring and much more about simply nominating a communally-approved target for progressive anger. It happens that the abstract category “the cops” is a good thing for people to target, but the broader point is that most liberal criminal justice reform energy isn’t derived at all from a desire to be more compassionate and understanding but simply to have a new designated hate object ….

Freddie deBoer, Ah, Carceral Liberalism

Also from that piece:

Pie chart showing the number of people locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in March 2022.

1.9 million people incarcerated in a nation of (roughly) 340 million. This is an extremely high rate in comparison to other nations.

What the heck is wrong with us? Are we more lawless? More punitive? Both?

Mencken Memorializes Machen

I’d never seen this before — an excerpt from H.L. Mencken’s obituary for J. Gresham Machen:

There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, “education,” or osteopathy.

That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again — in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed — but he was undoubtedly right.

H/T Alan Jacobs

Uvalde

The only thing worse, for a community, than what Radley Balko has famously called the “warrior cop” is a bunch of people who are cosplaying warrior cops.

Alan Jacobs. The whole thing is brief and worth reading.

Wordplay

Providence-washing

My very own coinage for baffling, bad or wicked decisions being justified, post hoc, by some good thing coming from it. Example: "Why did prissy Mike Pence ever agree to run with Donald Trump?" Answer: "Maybe God had January 6 in mind."


Phrase of the era: Gish-Galloping

The term “Gish Gallop” was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. The phrase refers to a debate tactic that was a favorite of Duane Gish, a young-Earth creationist who was also a highly skilled debater.

The Gish Gallop is the tactic of snowing your opponent under a mountain of supposed “pieces of evidence” or “problem cases” and claiming that the opponent’s inability to respond to this pile of evidence shows that your side is right. This tactic counts as a fallacy because its effectiveness doesn’t depend on presenting arguments that are right or even well-supported. Quantity is offered as a substitute for quality.

(Pseudo-)Science Blog » Gish Gallop (fallacy of the day)

Used in contemporary news:

As the January 6 hearings restarted today after the long weekend, I was thinking about the weird, psychotic fear that has overtaken millions of Americans. I include in those millions people who are near and dear to me, friends I have known for years who now seem to speak a different language, a kind of Fox-infused, Gish Galloping, “what-about” patois that makes no sense even if you slow it down or add punctuation.

Tom Nichols, What Are Trump Supporters So Afraid Of?

High marks to Nichols for applying "Gish Galloping" to the Trumpian patois. I was getting weary of "flooding the zone with shit," which really should be in the Urban Dictionary as a synonym for Gish-Galloping.


Conundrum of the week

May a baptismal regnerationist who never had a "born again experience" represent that he or she is born again for purposes of an Evangelical School requirement that teachers be "Born Again Christians"? (See, e.g., Carson v. Malkin, Breyer, J, dissenting) After all, the very essence of baptismal regnerationism is the belief that a proper baptism is how one actually gets born again.

How about a baptismal regnerationist who (like me) did have a childhood "born again experience" but no longer believes that such experience actually regenerated him or her? (I do not consider my experience worthless, however.)

I’m inclined to say "no" in both cases because, bless their hearts, those schools just don’t really know how one gets regenerate, and they’re using "born again" as a term of Evangelical art.

Did I remember to say "Bless their hearts"?

Breaking Religious News

The Presbyterian Church in America is withdrawing from the National Association of Evangelicals. The essential reason appears to be NAE’s political involvements in general and one political position in particular.

Had I remained in Dallas, I would have become a PCA Presbyterian because our "Independent Presbyterian" church (dear to us even though "Independent Presbyterian" is an oxymoron) was in the process of affiliating when we left.


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.

Memorial Day Commentary Dump

Politics

Contemporary American Populism

It has slowly dawned on me that behind all the distracting and constant confabulations and shitpostings, the populists are onto something. I might well have noticed earlier had I not been distracted by said confabulations and shitpostings, but I won’t try to prove that self-congratulatory speculation.

Nevertheless I cannot imagine myself voting for a confabulator or shitposter, so I remain resolutely Never Trump (who I also consider a humbug). Must more serious populists establish their street cred by emulating him?

And I’ll note for the record my suspicion that if we brought back all those offshored jobs, and put them back in Youngstown (a synecdoche), it would lower the standard of living of the currently-ascendent and, perhaps, of the nation overall.

I’m not particularly troubled by that prospect since it bodes to raise the standard of living of the overlooked millions so drawn to populism. Further, it seems to me that we’re not all that happy a nation right now, despite the mind-bending wealth of the ascendent, and that a bit less inequality might just improve that.

The party of us

As the conservative pundit Erick Erickson, a Georgia Republican himself, puts it, “Georgia Republicans do like Trump, but they’re tired of his bullshit and want to move on.” Of course, Georgia may be a special case. This was the state that in 2020 witnessed more directly than any other state Trump’s preference for personal vendettas and loyalty over policy or party unity or anything, actually. But this is also the core truth about Trump — and if more widely believed in other states, it could begin to take a real toll. Chris Christie has honed a good line on this:

What we have to decide is: do we want to be the party of me or the party of us? What Donald Trump has advocated is for us to be the ‘party of me,’ that everything has to be about him and about his grievances.

And I can’t see how even many Trump voters would be able to disagree with that. Henry Olson notes:

An NBC News poll conducted in October 2020 showed that a majority of GOP voters said they supported Trump first over the party. Its May poll shows the situation reversed, with 58 percent saying they back the party first.

Trump once benefited from Americans’ short attention spans; but his continuing ego-driven fixation on 2020 hurts him now for the same reason. He’s become a total bore, a crank looking back, not forward, barely ever mentioning policy, in a way that only underlines his prickly, grudge-driven narcissism.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌Can A Cult Become A Movement?

Sophistication

If I’m a white guy in the middle of Georgia, the ad I see is him fighting for small businesses. If you’re a black farmer in South Georgia, the ad is him fighting the Department of Agriculture over historic racism. If you’re a gay man in Atlanta, the ad you see is Raphael Warnock fighting for civil rights. It’s the most impressive advertising campaign I’ve ever seen of a candidate.

Eric Erickson on the Dispatch Podcast (emphasis added). He still thinks football legend Herschel Walker is likely to win, though Warnock is "the superior candidate."

Warnock’s Republican opponent does, I’ll admit, have a bit less finesse:

Neither party represents America on abortion: Republicans are now saying their real opinions on abortion, and those opinions are to the right of most Americans. Herschel Walker, running for Senate in Georgia, wants a total ban on abortion with no exceptions.

Nellie Bowles.

This item is newsworthy, but not, I believe, because "Republicans are now saying their real opinions on abortion."

I have decades of experience watching Republicans, especially Republican men, singing the pro-life songbook way off key and with smirks on their faces. So I’m cynical at comments like Herschel Walker’s (who as a candidate makes a pretty good fullback). I think the "no exception" position is either an opening gambit in anticipation of post-Dobbs negotiations or, likelier, performative chest-thumping (which may turn off more voters than it fires up).

(Be it remembered, by the way, that Raphael Warnock owes his Senate seat to Donald Trump, who effectively said to Georgia Republicans in the 2020-21 election wind-down "Your election system is utterly corrupt. Why even bother voting in those Senate runoffs?" But Warnock apparently isn’t giving that seat up without a very sophisticated fight.)

Guns

Senators headed home for a 10-day recess on Thursday, but signaled early optimism that a deal could be reached on some narrow pieces of gun-safety legislation when they return. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said he’d be willing to accept a more incrementalist approach than he has previously, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he encouraged GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to spearhead bipartisan negotiations on legislation “directly related to the problem.” A bipartisan group of nine senators met in the Capitol on Thursday, and Murphy said he is now “perfectly willing to let the good prevail over the perfect.”

The Morning Dispatch. But before you get your hopes up too high, remember this ancient wisdom:

There are two parties in Washington: the stupid party and the evil party. When they get together and do something stupid and evil, the press calls it "bipartisan."

(Attributed to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.)

Immigration

Nellie Bowles notes that our Vice-President seems to have shed immigration from her portfolio:

Kamala Harris is quietly sloughing off the hard part of her job—all immigration-related activity has disappeared from her public schedule.  I don’t blame her! First because jobs are exhausting (I write TGIF barefoot from my kitchen and then I take a nap). Also your only option to remain a good progressive is shouting “open borders!” and running away. Otherwise handling immigration requires diving into a quagmire of issues whose solutions demand (at best) cold pragmatism. It’s an especially unpleasant task when the same detention practices that were a five-alarm-fire under Trump are now considered totally normal and humane, never to be discussed, under Biden. And so, Vice President Harris has looked at the issue long and hard, studied the maps, spoken to the experts, and she has decided: Thanks but no thanks.

Open Arms

Hmmmm. Is it possible that Putin so badly misread things that he expected Ukrainians to open Russian soldiers with open arms? (H/T N.S. Lyons)

Not our politics, exactly — but Ouch! anyway

“[Boris] Johnson believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligations which bind everyone else,” – a school report card in 1982 on the degenerate prime minister who would personally break every Covid rule he set for others.

The Tablet via Andrew Sullivan

The fallacy of Boromir

When people justify their voting choice by its outcome, I always think of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien emphasizes repeatedly that we cannot make decisions based on the hoped-for result. We can only control the means. If we validate our choice of voting for someone that may not be a good person in the hopes that he or she will use his power to our advantage, we succumb to the fallacy of Boromir, who assumed he too would use the Ring of Power for good. Power cannot be controlled; it enslaves you. To act freely is to acknowledge your limits, to see the journey as a long road that includes dozens of future elections, and to fight against the temptation for power.

What ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Can Teach Us About U.S. Politics, Christianity and Power

Retraction

I now retract my gratuitous comment about never wanting to live in any district in which Marjorie Taylor Green won her primary. I should have been more attentive to the possibility that such a crazy outcome is not the whole story.

Apparently, there were four or five guys splitting the remainder of the primary vote, some of them in pursuit of utterly lost causes.

That’s a very material fact. It’s not easy to find any place in American these days where some idiot cannot win an election if enough other idiots crowd the field.

Hall of Shame

Rep. Paul Gosar and Candace Owens go into my Hall of Shame for this stuff that I’ve tagged #jackasses #know-it-alls and #shitposters.

Not politics

Paris whimsy

Montparnasse Tower This sadly out-of-place 59-story superscraper has one virtue: If you can’t make it up the Eiffel Tower, the sensational views from this tower are cheaper, far easier to access, and make for a fair consolation prize. Come early in the day for clearest skies and shortest lines, and be treated to views from a comfortable interior and from up on the rooftop (consider their €5 breakfast with a view). Sunset is great but views are disappointing after dark. Some say it’s the very best view in Paris, as you can see the Eiffel Tower clearly…and you can’t see the Montparnasse Tower at all.

Rick Steves

Bill Maher on Kids

“Gender fluid? Kids are fluid about everything. If kids knew what they wanted to be at age 8, the world would be filled with cowboys and princesses. I wanted to be a pirate. Thank God nobody took me seriously and scheduled me for eye removal and peg leg surgery,” –

Bill Maher via Andrew Sullivan

Saying the silent part out loud

My crap detector seemed to be particularly sensitive Sunday morning. A National Review sub-headline:

The latest account of police actions [in the Uvalde, Texas shooting]should leave every parent in the country filled with disbelief and rage.

Note:

  1. Every parent in the country, wherever they’re located or whatever else their circumstances, should be filled with rage. (Really? If I’m not, am I a bad person?)
  2. Because NR is "conservative," that rage should be against feckless police, not against gun violence.
  3. Ginning up rage, and justifying it, it part of most journalistic business strategies.

Or, as Ross Douthat put it:

Like many people, the mass shooting of children in Uvalde, Texas, is basically the only thing I’ve read about for days. But as I’ve marinated in the horror — and, increasingly, in rage at the police response — I’ve also been aware of the way our media experience works today, how we are constantly cycled from one crisis to another, each one seemingly existential and yet seemingly forgotten when the wheel turns, the headlines change.

Climate change, systemic racism, toxic masculinity, online disinformation, gun violence, police violence, the next Trump coup, the latest Covid variant, the death of democracy, climate change again. This is the liberal crisis list; the conservative list is different. But for everyone there are relatively few opportunities to take a breath and acknowledge when anything actually gets better.

A good argument for a news approach like Alan Jacobs’, who ordinarily gets all his week’s news through the Economist on Friday or Saturday.

Guns (but from the culture side)

I’m actually grateful that I no longer have a job where I must find some angle from which to write or edit a piece, because I think this leads to a lot of bad writing and thinking, especially in the wake of a catastrophe.

Jesse Singal, Three Quick Thoughts On Guns.

Yes, there has been a lot of bad writing and thinking in the wake of Uvalde — almost everything I’ve read or heard, in fact.

Singal’s three quick thoughts, each one of which he elaborates briefly:

  • The Vast Majority Of Shootings Aren’t In Schools, Aren’t “Mass,” And Don’t Get Much Attention
  • If Significant Gun Reduction Is Off The Table, Nothing Is Likely To Make A Meaningful Dent In Gun Violence
  • There Are Dead-Serious Trade-offs Between “Doing Something About Gun Violence” And A Major Progressive Policy Priority: Criminal Justice Reform

Is the SBC clergy sex abuse scandal the same pattern as the Catholic scandal?

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote a rather balanced commentary on the Southern Baptists’ clergy sexual abuse problem, in which he saw "the same pattern" as that in his own Roman Catholic Church.

Well, yes and no.

The Southern Baptist Convention had, and took advantage of, a defense rooted in its "church polity" or form of governance: Every Southern Baptist Church is independent, self-governing. The Convention has no authority over them except to admit them or disfellowship them. When they got a complaint, they turned it over to their lawyers, who played that church polity to the hilt, thus shielding the Convention from legal liability while wreaking moral havoc. This was a defense utterly unavailable to the Roman Catholic hierarchy because it’s, well, a hierarchy.

I owe the insight in the preceding paragraph to David French on the Advisory Opinions podcast of May 27, which is worth listening to especially if you’re in an independent Evangelical Church, because I see interesting ramifications for the Evangelical World.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant body in the land, but they’re probably outnumbered by the combined memberships of tens of thousands of independent Evangelical Churches. If you doubt that sexual abuse is occurring in those independent churches, you’re not very ight-bray.

But unlike Southern Baptist churches, many or most of them are not remotely answerable to any higher body, not even a "convention" of independent Churches. That means there’s no way for a victim of sexual abuse in those churches to go over the heads of their pastors and local elders (or deacons, or whatever their church calls them). That makes it less likely that the churches will face any day of reckoning collectively. There is no collective.

Instead, there will be occasional yellow-journalism exposes, probably of megachurches (big enough to give the journalists some bragging rights) while tens of thousands of little spiritual fiefdoms continue, too independent to have peers for accountability, too small to attract media attention, their founding pastors exercising an astonishing degree of control.

I had a very pious Uncle, a key figure in our family’s religious life, who at one point decided that denominational structures inevitably drag their denominations into religious liberalism, and that independent churches were the way to safety.

There is no way to safety. The devil is seeking whom he may devour wherever he finds them. Maybe he devours by liberalism when he finds, say, a United Methodist, but devours amid grunts and groans on the pastor’s office floor in Southern Baptist (or Plymouth Brethren, or Calvary Chapel, or "Bible Church") churches.

There’s not even safety in the Orthodox Church. So far as I know, we’ve done pretty well with regard to clergy sexual abuse; the last time I checked, an Orthodox #MeToo site ascribed virtually every act of abuse to fake Orthodox, like defrocked clergy who set up shop on their own or under schismatics. But "Orthodox fundamentalism" claimed one of our families (and then broke that family to pieces), and an unknown number of young white men seem to think we’re the natural home for White Christian Nationalism. (I’d be interested in whether they’re still around after 3 years, and whether they’ve shed most of their racism if they are.) The list of harms from that roaring lion probably could go on.

Our little parish had a three friends who formed a little "byzantine bluegrass" band. The refrain of their song Long Road cautions that going it alone is the unsafest option of all:

It’s a long way to Heaven dear Lord, it’s a hard row to hoe
And I don’t know if I’ll make it dear Lord but I sure won’t make it alone.

Massive Hubris

As a feminist, I can come up with only one reason to stay in the Catholic Church: to try to change it

Rosemary Radford Ruether, who died May 21. Her hubris is manifest in the quote.

Science and faith

Fixing a machine with found parts is an example of human ingenuity. Making a cheese is too, but it is also something more. It is an example of faith, of placing trust in forces that we do not fully understand. Cheesemakers should know the science, but say a prayer to Saint Brigid anyway.

Flat Hats and Fatalism, ‌Lost cheeses and impersonal cruelty

Wordplay

Mispronouning: failing to use an individuals preferred nonsensical or ungrammatical pronoun. A school district in Wisconsin "appears to believe that once a student announces different pronouns to others, any subsequent use of the biologically and grammatically correct pronouns—even when not directed to the student—may be punishable as sexual harassment under Title IX." (WSJ).

The Journal describes the counties in the district as "deep red," so I’d wager a modest amount that the only heads that will roll will be those of woke administrators.

Revenge travel. As in, "I’m fed up and I’m not going to stay put any more!" Dare I suggest that this may contribute to the stunning price I just paid to fly to and from a Pacific-Northwest port for Alaska Cruising?

‌Paradoxical counterproductivity: a dynamic that takes hold “whenever the use of an institution paradoxically takes away from society those things the institution was designed to provide.” It appears to be a coinage of Ivan Illich. Though Illich was a man of the left, a lot of his insights resonate on the right, too:

Anyone who has taught will be familiar with the type of student who hasn’t the slightest interest in the subject matter but an intense concern with how to get an A. Whatever their other faults, such students are proceeding from a realistic view of the institution they are operating within, which has replaced learning with artificial signs of it.


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.

Bloodlust and other diversions

Bloodlust over principle

One of the bewildering things about being a conservative in a populist age is the sheer speed at which populists will shift their opinions, including on allegedly bedrock constitutional values, to satisfy the popular bloodlust of the moment.

David French, Why Ron DeSantis’s Disney Attacks Threaten the First Amendment.

True, but I don’t imagine it feels a whole lot different than to a center-left figure watching the further-left. What is progressive cancel culture if not bloodlust?

Majority Minority?

Yascha Mounk, America Won’t Ever Be Majority Minority could be a good conversation topic:

Most developed democracies will never become “majority minority” in any meaningful sense. It is highly premature to assume that the politics of the future will neatly pit “whites” against “people of color.” And anybody who wants diverse democracies like the United States to succeed actually has reason to celebrate the fact that demography, despite the belief that so many parts of both left and right now share, is not destiny.

When the United States Census Bureau projected that the country would become majority minority sometime in the 2040s, its demographic model was presented as an exercise in science, giving the prediction an air of unassailable fact. But this conceals the extent to which the categories used by the Census Bureau to classify Americans as white or non-white rely on highly questionable assumptions about how they identify now—and even more questionable ones about how they will do so in future.

Does the child of two white immigrants from Spain count as white or Hispanic? (According to the United States Census Bureau, the answer is: Hispanic.) Will the child of a white father and a Chinese mother identify as white or Asian? (Asian.) And is someone who has seven white great-grandparents and one black great-grandparent white or black? (Black.) Seemingly scientific, the projections of the Census Bureau assume that all Americans who have either a drop of non-white blood or some distant cultural heritage connecting them to a Spanish-speaking country will be “people of color.”

Put it that way and the "majority minority" notion seems not only dubious but eccentrically race-essentialist, with white being normal and anything less than pure white being a mutation (with the mutants in solidarity agains the normies).

Maybe keeping us at odds among ourselves while the meritocrats carry on running things is the whole point.

Two+ of these things are not like the others

Nellie Bowles

This isn’t an idle observation:

  • LGB rights are pretty secure in the US now and for the foreseeable future.
  • Valorization of TQ+ identification has become a social contagion, leading a non-trivial number of young people to permanently mutilate or sterilize their bodies, only to find later that they really were fighting against admitting that they were L or G (mostly L; boys seem less susceptible to this contagion).
  • TQ+ ideology subverts the gender binary to where L, G, and B lose their meaning.

A common-sense probing of "common good" talk

The next time someone lectures you about the common good, try this experiment: Ask them to name four or five circumstances in which their own political positions are at odds with the public interest and explain how they would go about subordinating them to that public interest. What you will learn in practically every case is that everyone thinks the public interest is identical to his own desires and priorities, which is why discussions along those lines have gone nowhere for the past 200 years or so in any reasonably developed society with more cultural and religious diversity than Denmark.

Kevin D. Williamson, ‌Public School Debate: Value-Neutral Education Doesn’t Exist

World-weary crypto-provincials

Solzhenitsyn identified in Western intellectual circles the same smug narrow-mindedness that he had discovered in liberal Russian intellectuals before the revolution. The core moment in these volumes occurs when, as Solzhenitsyn writes,

a leading [Canadian] television commentator lectured me that I presumed to judge the experience of the world from the viewpoint of my own limited Soviet and prison-camp experience. Indeed, how true! Life and death, imprisonment and hunger, the cultivation of the soul despite the captivity of the body: how very limited that is compared to the bright world of political parties, yesterday’s numbers on the stock exchange, amusements without end, and exotic foreign travel!

Gary Saul Morson. H/T Alan Jacobs

Of President Biden

Here are some difficulties when he speaks.

> When he stands at a podium and reads from a teleprompter, his mind seems to wander quickly from the meaning of what he’s saying to the impression he’s making. You can sort of see this, that he’s always wondering how he’s coming across. When he catches himself he tends to compensate by enacting emotion.

But the emotion he seems most publicly comfortable with is indignation. An example is his answer to a reporter’s question in November about the administration’s plans to compensate illegal-immigrant parents who’d been separated from their children at the border. Suddenly he was angry-faced; he raised his voice, increased his tempo, and started jabbing the air. “You lost your child. It’s gone! You deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstances.” Then, catching himself, he added mildly, “What that will be, I have no idea.” He was trying to show presentness, engagement. But there’s often an “angry old man yelling at clouds” aspect to this.

Peggy Noonan

My concurrence with this is not partisan. To avoid Orange Man, we elected a rather pale one wraith. May God have mercy on us in our dilemmas.

Brain-hackers

[I]f there was no pornography on the internet, I think maybe 10%-15% of current internet porn addicts would have found some other outlet for their illicit desires, and the rest would have just kept it in their pants. The existence of a multibillion-dollar industry bent on cultivating the very worst desires in people used the free flow of information to create addicts out of otherwise non-addicted people by hacking the susceptible parts of our brains (and souls). Practically no one truly wants to spend hours of their time looking at soul-destroying trash, but the tidal wave of liquid modernity has exploited their freedom, saying “You’re always free to choose differently!” and laughing all the way to the bank.

Matthew Loftus, ‌the liberal order and its haters

I still spend too much time online, but I long ago, and fairly suddenly (as if it were an epiphany), realized the horrible spiritual damage of wallowing in porn. I’m more gradually realizing the the (lesser, I think) social and spiritual damage of wallowing in subtler brain-hacks.

Yes, Mama. Thank you, Mama. Please go away now, Mama.

This week in Silicon Valley bias: Google is planning to tell enterprise users of its word processor that words like "motherboard" and "landlord" are insufficiently inclusive for use in polite company. We won’t actually be forbidden to use those words. Yet. Though that future has apparently already arrived in Mountain View, where at least one source says that "mainboard" is the only acceptable term for the electronics that used to honor the women who raised us. In another blow for freedom, as it’s now defined in the Valley, Twitter will suppress all climate talk that contradicts the views a panel of government-appointed scientist-politicos. Apparently suppressing talk that contradicted CDC scientist-politicians worked so well that Twitter is rushing to double down ….

Teaser for Episode 404 of the Cyberlaw Podcast

Wordplay

A university that turns itself into an asylum from controversy has ceased to be a university; it has just become an asylum.

Eleventh Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus


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

The Blame Game

I blame Star Wars and Harry Potter

American political commentary has for some time been dominated by pop culture references, in particular those two great modern fables, Star Wars and Harry Potter, which have replaced the classics as the source of communal knowledge. I’m not convinced that children’s books or films aimed at selling toys, enjoyable though they are, have that much to offer in the way of deep wisdom, compared to more ancient texts; I may be a declinist, but it is not commented on enough that America’s most-praised public intellectual didn’t know who St Augustine was.

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time

I blame Trump (look what he made these nice people do!)

After Trump’s election, many commentators expressed anxiety that his followers would plunge the country into far-right authoritarianism. Instead, it is the class of college-educated Democrats that now openly argues for the value of blind submission to authority and the elimination of personal freedoms. The trend [Christopher] Lasch wrote about in the 1990s has metastasized. It no longer poses a mere threat to democracy—it has become a full-fledged attack on basic democratic principles. Far from upholding civil liberties, the self-proclaimed “resistance” to Trumpism has itself exhibited many hallmarks of authoritarianism: suppression of dissent, demand for unquestioning obedience, and tight control over the flow of information. While scapegoating Trump supporters, a nexus of billionaires, woke corporations, public intellectuals, and Democratic officials have sparked the very descent into authoritarianism they claimed would emerge from the populist right.

This is not simply a matter of hypocrisy. It is only by painting themselves as victims fighting against their oppressors that college-educated professionals can rationalize their own authoritarianism. The cult of victimhood conjures the specter of fascism, misogyny, or white nationalism in order to justify blatantly repressive measures.

Alex Gutentag, ‌The New Authoritarians

Another take on the pivot after Election 2016:

If you go back to the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution there was generally a sense of triumphalism. Back then, the CEO of Twitter said that we are the free speech wing of the free speech party. That’s how Silicon Valley saw itself. Ten years later, you have the widespread view that Silicon Valley needs to restrict and regulate disinformation and prevent free speech on its platform. You’d have to say that the turning point was 2016, when Trump got elected against the wishes of pretty much everyone in Silicon Valley. That was a little too much populism for them. And they saw social media as being complicit in Trump’s election.

[Trump’s populist voters had sent] a message they very much didn’t want to hear. So they began to believe that the message was somehow inauthentic. That it was engineered by Russian disinformation, and that their platforms had contributed to it and that they needed to crack down and restrict free speech so that it never happened again.

David Sacks, ‌How Big Tech Is Strangling Your Freedom

I blame the Internet

Maybe this is obvious. Maybe I knew it "in the back of my mind." But Bari Weiss and Peter Robinson collectively (as Robinson interviewed Weiss on his Uncommon Knowledge podcast) put their finger on a major driver of media change: the migration of advertising from newsprint to the internet.

Loss of ad revenue means greater dependence on subscription revenue. Greater dependence on subscription revenue necessitates cultivating a large and loyal readership. Cultivating a large and loyal readership necessitates picking your target audience and pandering to them shamelessly.

Nobody in print has done this better than the New York Times. But "audience capture" is a threat in Substackworld, too. Some of the best podcasts have no sponsors, or sponsors so marginal as to be an embarrassment. I’m especially thinking of Advisory Opinions‘ David French reading an advertiser’s innumerate puffery that "the average user saved up to $794" and, in the same ad, that "20,000 users had saved a total of over $1 million" (or maybe it was 200,000 saving $10 million – same $50/person average).

Listen to it all on Bari’s Honestly podcast, which incorporates the Uncommon Knowledge episode.

Neo-aphorisms

  • Wokeness flattens everything, dividing all into oppressed and oppressor.
  • Everything great gets built by people who are dissatisfied with the options they see around them.

Bari Weiss who, I learn, has greater ambitions than just making a decent living away from the New York Times.

I blame Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has restored democracy’s image and its mojo. How? The answer is that Putin’s blundering and brutal behavior has accidentally highlighted democracy’s greatest superpower: the trait that insures that, for all of democracy’s flaws, it will triumph over autocracies in the long run. Democratic virtues like the supremacy of law, independent courts, and the protection of human rights are all important. But Russia’s debacle in Ukraine underscores the fact that democracy’s guarantee that leaders are regularly replaced is actually the system’s most important advantage. It turns out that our power to throw the bums out could end up saving not just the West, but the world.

Jonathan Tepperman, How Putin Just Revealed Democracy’s Secret Superpower – The Octavian Report

Democracies

Current political ideology update: I support democracy, but I’m open on the adjectival modifier. This is not a fixed identity, but it’s one around which I’ve been circling for a while. I read (and sometimes listen) to defenders of both liberal and illiberal democracy.

Reminder: Sunday April 3 is election day in Hungary. There is a large and improbable coalition (politics made very strange bedfellows) vying to oust Viktor Orbán, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have strengthened the hand of the leader of Hungary’s acknowledged illiberal democracy.

Plus ça change …

[H]e … returned to Washington, in time for the new session of Congress, only to find himself exhausted by just sitting and listening. He could neither work nor abide the whole “vileness and vulgarity” of the capital. When in late December he left again, he felt better almost at once. Still, he tried returning to Washington several times, but to no avail.

David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, of Senator Charles Sumner in December 1857 after his beating on the Senate floor and some recovery in Paris.

Wordplay

My local TV newscast reports that Purdue University has developed a drug to treat prostate cancer, the second-leading cancer among men.

I don’t mean to be picky, but shouldn’t that be "men and other prostate-havers"?


QAnon — an offshoot of evangelical Protestantism that’s been cross-pollinated with Glenn-Beck-style hyper-rationalism to produce an unfalsifiable belief system about hidden networks of pedophiles and behind-the-scenes efforts to thwart them led by prominent Republicans, including Trump.

Damon Linker


This tweet …  attracted much amusing scorn … It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in cringe

Ed West, ‌Empires v nations: a battle as old as time (italics added)


Thy mouth hath embroidered evil, and thy lips have woven lies.

Psalm 49:19 (Orthodox numbering; 50:19 in Western Bibles), adapted from Miles Coverdale translation of the Psalms.


I decided not to read the article about the takes about the memes about the exhaustion about the memes about the takes about the Thing That Happened.

Alan Jacobs


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.

Sundries, 2/12/22

Uprisings

Taibbi compares Justin Trudeau to Nicolae Ceaușescu

Ceaușescu’s balcony will forever be a symbol of elite cluelessness. Even in the face of the gravest danger, a certain kind of ruler will never be able to see the last salvo coming, if doing so requires any self-examination. The neoliberal political establishment in most of the Western world, the subject of repeat populist revolts of rising intensity in recent years, seems to suffer from the same disability.

There may be no real-world comparison between a blood-soaked monster like Ceaușescu and a bumbling ball-scratcher like Joe Biden, or an honorarium-gobbling technocrat like Hillary Clinton, or a Handsome Dan investment banker like Emmanuel Macron, or an effete pseudo-intellectual like Justin Trudeau. Still, the ongoing inability of these leaders to see the math of populist uprisings absolutely recalls that infamous scene in Bucharest. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump to, now, the descent of thousands of Canadian truckers upon the capital city of Ottawa to confront Trudeau, a consistent theme has been the refusal to admit — not even to us, but to themselves — the numerical truth of what they’re dealing with.

Trudeau is becoming the ultimate example. Truckers last month began protesting a January 22nd rule that required the production of vaccine passports before crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Canadian truckers are reportedly 90% vaccinated, above the country’s 78% total, a key detail that’s been brazenly ignored by media in both countries determined to depict these more as “anti-vax” than “anti-mandate” protests (which seem to be about many things at once, but that’s another story). When an angry convoy descended upon the capital, Trudeau dismissed them in a soliloquy that can only be described as inspired political arson:

The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians…who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to ensure our rights, our freedoms, our values as a country.

A near-exact repeat of the “basket of deplorables” episode, Trudeau’s imperious description of “unacceptable” views instantly became a rallying cry, with people across the country lining the streets to cheer truckers while self-identifying as the “small fringe minority.” Everyone from high school kids to farmers and teachers and random marchers carrying jerrycans of fuel joined in as Trudeau’s own words were used to massively accelerate his troubles.

Trudeau fled the city, removing his family to what aides called a “secret location” for “security reasons,” a politically disastrous move denounced by just about everyone with a microphone or a Twitter account, including members of his own party. Liberal MP Joël Lightbound took things a step further. He ripped Trudeau’s politics as divisive, saying his government needs to recognize people have “legitimate concerns” while adding, acidly, “Not everyone can earn a living on a MacBook at a cottage.” This has been a theme in the States, too, where the people most dickishly insistent on the necessity of lockdowns or mandates have tended to be Zoomer professionals spending the pandemic in pajamas.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Justin Trudeau’s Ceauşescu Moment.

King Louis Phillipe of France dismissively said that the French don’t do revolutions in the Winter. They forced him to abdicate on February 24, 1848.

I’m finished with Covid Theater

The vaccines have been freely available to all who want them for a year now. Omicron is a negligible death risk to people who got the vaccine. There are no other technical breakthroughs predicted. It’s time to get back to (the new) normal of living life with excess deaths from Covid being the fault of those who refused the vaccine (and probably stopped cowering behind masks months ago if ever they cowered at all).

Lockdowns and border closures would end. Ditto for social distancing. Masking would be optional except among the vulnerable. Workplaces would reopen. Schools would stay open. At least for the vaccinated, COVID testing would be deployed only to diagnose symptoms and avoid particularly risky situations, not as a way to screen the population or decide about joining friends for dinner. Self-isolation for people with COVID could be encouraged but not required, except for special cases like health-care and eldercare workers.

Jonathan Rauch, How to Live with Covid

[S]ignificant numbers of individuals (especially Democrats) continue to assess risk in a way that leads them to refrain from normal activities, keeping the public life of our country frozen in a state of suspension between lockdown and liberation.

[T]he incidence of death last October and November from COVID-19 for someone vaxxed and boosted was about 0.1 per 100,000 infections — or about 1 out of a million.

*But who is dying of the virus? Overwhelmingly adults who choose to be unvaccinated.

Damon Linker.

Freudian Slips

When Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams apologized this week for having taken off her mask during a campaign stop at an elementary school, she came across as a penitent not for hypocrisy but for failing to set a good example for the children “that we wear masks whenever possible.” Worse, she said that she had removed her mask in the first place because she said she “wanted all of them to hear me.” Just imagine how that sounds to students and teachers who have been struggling to understand and be understood for years under mask rules. But Abrams is obliged to support the restrictions because core Democratic constituencies still refuse to budge on what is increasingly security theater. If she were thinking of a general election audience, Abrams would have commiserated with students about how hard it is to wear masks in a classroom setting and how she hoped the restriction would soon end. But that is not an answer that, say, the Georgia Educators Association would like to hear. 

Democrats in many deep blue states are dropping indoor mask requirements or allowing them to expire in the coming weeks. But they are still struggling with the question of schools, which says a lot about the power of teachers’ unions inside the party. But it also speaks to the larger problem Democrats have in emerging from the pandemic, even as voters continue to send powerful signals about their frustrations. Some Democrats imagine that the movement against restrictions is driven by right-wing crazies. That is a delusion that could lead to a wipeout for the blue team this fall.

Here’s Yascha Mounk writing in The Atlantic: “Accepting restrictions that weaken our social ties when they seemed temporary was one thing. Putting up with them indefinitely is quite another. For many, the sense that we will live in pandemic purgatory for months or years to come now poses a heavy psychological burden.

Stirewaltisms: Democrats Have Issues About COVID Restrictions

Prestige progressive media

Misinformation versus fake news

Someone close to me just closed an email with the sort of “postscript” that people on the internet seem to have adopted:

“Misinformation” is the new word for “It’s not part of the approved narrative."

The point is true enough, but rather pointless standing alone. The Right has its own version. “Fake news” is how the Right dismisses truths that are not part of its approved narrative, just as “misinformation” is more characteristic of the left-leaning elite.

There’s another difference I should note, too, for the sake of avoiding mindless bothsiderism: to the best of my knowledge, it is overwhelmingly the left-leaning elite that’s trying to de-platform or otherwise quasi-censor things they find disagreeable. The Right influencers just contemn them.

Legalia

American law has created a system that renders deadly gun battles between innocent American citizens and police officers exercising their lawful duties a near certainty.

… [Y]ou have a system that grants police broad leeway to enter homes without knocking, leeway to make mistakes, and leeway to use deadly force when making those mistakes. And all of it is lawful, blessed by the Supreme Court.

Now, let’s get back to the Second Amendment. The one thing that is currently clear about the constitutional law of gun ownership is that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. State statutes and other lower-court rulings may expand that right to include, for example, the right to carry weapons outside the home, but in every state in the union, the government must, at least, protect the right to defend your home with a gun.

It does not take a rocket scientist, a policy wonk, or a legal scholar to see the inevitable collisions that result when the courts empower the state to enter your home without warning while also protecting your right to protect your home with deadly force. One result is legal gun battles between police and citizens.

Yes, legal.

David French.

Alabama Congressional Districts

Blue World is lamenting that the Supreme Court is, for just one instance, “Gutting Voting Rights by Shadow Docket.”

Don’t you believe it.

As is so often the case, Sarah Isgur and David French explain the decision ably on the Advisory Opinions podcast, including the “shadow docket” stuff. February really is too close to Alabama’s May primary elections, with early voting starting late March, to mess with the redistricting this election cycle, because of all the steps that would have to be jammed into seven weeks.

It appears, thus, unfortunately true that almost “any challenge to any new … state districting map cannot be heard until at least one election cycle has taken place under the … maps.”

Politics

Right on schedule

If you thought partisanship was making us stupid, just wait till you see how Republicans respond to Democrats lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

There are numerous signs this week that Democrats are ready to do precisely that. But will Republicans applaud, cheering on a belated embrace of something they’ve been advocating for the better part of two years? Not on your life. After endless months of hitting Democrats for upholding masking requirements and attempting to enforce vaccine mandates, Republicans are getting ready to hit them again, this time for lifting pandemic restrictions on the grounds that late is really no better than never.

The line we’ll likely hear is this: Your polling must really be in the tank if you’re conceding we were right all along!

Damon Linker, The pathological politics of leaving the pandemic behind, February 9

The polls must be bad: Though none of the science around masking is changing, Democrats have started saying that the science around masking is changing. Some are enraged that it took so long. We get it. But also: we’re thrilled. 

The ritual of wearing a face covering to talk to a maitre d’ and walk to your table before eating in a crowded restaurant turns out to be mostly about power and control and symbolism—and not at all about health. Across the country—in California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois, New York and New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island—mask mandates are falling. Showing vaccine cards at the door is ending too. What happened? The politicians hired special groups to figure out what voters are thinking. And voters are very done with all this.

Nellie Bowles, ‌Champagne for Socialists, Masks for Kids, and Meth Pipes for All February 11 (emphasis in original)

But here’s the thing: that it was predictable doesn’t mean it’s false. I see it in my two worlds: daily and church life versus musical performing arts life.

RNC Geniuses

Summary of one segment of the Dispatch Podcast: the RNC wanted everyone to stop talking about January 6, so they censured two Republicans for cooperating with Democrats in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Now every Republican, high and low, is forced to answer questions about whether they agree with the RNC that breaking into the capital, chanting for the hanging of the Vice President, and smearing feces on the walls is “legitimate political discourse.”

Brilliant!

The RNC’s fallback position is that they’re talking about the “legitimate political discourse” of six members of the RNC who have been subpoenaed by the Committee but weren’t even in DC! Apparently, they were back home preparing fraudulent slates of electors to muddy the waters.

Oh.

It’s a repeat of 2020, when all the Democrats had to do to sweep the elections was “not act crazy,” and they couldn’t do it! Now it’s the Republicans’ turn.

Wordplay

Existential

A Boston Globe columnist wrote last summer, “Philosophers have struggled for millennia to answer the existential question: Why did the chicken cross the road?” Here’s my question: Why are writers and politicians today trying so hard to shoehorn the word existential into sentences?

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the other day that “climate change is the existential threat of our time.” The New York Times editorialized that Donald Trump and his supporters pose an “existential threat” to the Republic. Scientific American declared that wildfires are putting giant sequoias at “existential risk.” A Barron’s headline read, “Bitcoin is facing an existential crisis.” Bloomberg Law wrote, “Wall Street ends crazy year with existential angst.”

Axios reports there are “existential stakes” in the debate over voting rights. Then, too, Axios tells us that Covid “has presented an existential challenge to live music.”

Peter Funt, ‌Roll Over, Kierkegaard, It’s All ‘Existential’

Imminent

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday the Biden administration is no longer using the word “imminent” to describe a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It sent a message we weren’t intending to send, which was that we knew that President Putin had made a decision,” she said, adding that it’s “still true” Putin “could invade at any time.”

The Morning Dispatch

My wife took a very popular course in International Relations taught by a learned Hungarian expat 50+ years ago. “Diplomatic language” is not just a euphemism for euphemisms, and even today, she recognizes that “imminent” was a diplomatic no-no for the Russia-Ukraine situation.

But Biden was propagandizing us, not speaking to Putin. He’s backing off because “imminent” becomes transparently bogus when you’ve been shouting it for three months.

Shibboleth

After two years in which masks and closures became powerful shibboleths for the American left, letting go is proving very challenging.

Chris Stirewalt, ‌Democrats Have Issues About COVID Restrictions. I’ve been seeing what Stirewalt sees, but the word shibboleth eluded me. It’s perfect.

Beclowning

See my item, above, on the RNC Geniuses. This sort of thing is why I cherish whoever invented the the expression, the infinitive of which is “to beclown oneself.”

Bon mots

Dégagisme (noun): the French keenness to evict any leader they vote into office.


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.

Potpourri 2/3/22

Socked in by our biggest blizzard since 2007. It’s kind of nice, at least for me and mine. A really bad time to be homeless, though.

A Return to Sanity?

Several members of the West Lafayette (Indiana) City Council are pushing an ordinance to ban "conversion therapy," with fines of up to $1,000 per day. The Mayor, a very liberal Republican, says he’ll veto it. You can read some pretty good coverage of the jockeying here.

But this was what most surprised and heartened me:

And a national group devoted to advocating for LGBTQ rights and counseling gay, lesbian and transgender teens to accept who they are has been lobbying city council members in recent weeks to reject the ordinance, calling it clumsy and vague and saying it could do more harm than good.

Good for them. Now where are the conservatives willing to repudiate clumsy, vague, harmful bans on "Critical Race Theory" or "divisive concepts"? There are some, but far too many play to the peanut gallery.

Crotchety Old Icons

Only in stereotype are the elderly sweet and meek, at least other than when hulked over by someone disturbingly youthful and vigorous. Judge Richard Posner in his book on aging and human nature noted that older people, less dependent on “transacting with others,” actually have less reason than younger people to conceal their obnoxiousness. How much more so two superstars approaching their 80s with a lifetime of royalties in the bank.

Holman Jenkins, Jr. on l’affaire Rogan, Young, and Mitchell.

Jenkins continues:

Audiences seek controversy not just to open their minds, not just to annoy their betters, but because to hear impertinent, unapproved talk feels like freedom.

It’s worth a whole other column, and unfortunately a lengthy one, to disentangle the magical thinking of Covid ideology, which got Mr. Rogan in trouble in the first place. Let’s be satisfied with an example. All through Monday evening’s show, National Public Radio teased a segment about school parents who—get this—are both pro-vaccine and anti-mask. Heads explode, as if masks and vaccines aren’t different tools with different uses. Somehow they have to be regarded as ideological totems and embraced as a package.

The flight of liberal writers to Substack and other non-mainstream venues in the Covid era is often misinterpreted: It’s not because they’ve had a conservative awakening. They are simply repulsed by such NPR-style stupidity.

(Emphasis added) I used to listen to NPR because it made me feel smarter, in contrast to most news. If I had to commute today, and ran out of smart podcasts, I probably still would prefer it to the alternatives. But I can understand those who won’t.

Flores v. NFL

I don’t exactly "follow" the NFL (when I watch, it’s with a guilty conscience about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), but it seems that one Brian Flores has filed a lawsuit alleging that the NFL discriminated against him and other Black coaches in their hiring practices.

I thought "good luck proving that," but then I saw this:

Stunning details in Brian Flores lawsuit: in texts, Bill Belichick thought he was texting Brian Daboll (not Brian Flores) and congratulated him on getting the Giants head coach job days before Flores was set to interview for the gig.

Hmmmm. That’s pretty bad.

I’m not rooting for or against Flores, but knowledgeable people seem to be taking the lawsuit seriously, and not just people who traffic in controversy.

What’s different about our civilization

There has always been, and probably always will be, economic inequality, but few civilizations appear to have so extensively perfected the separation of winners from losers or created such a massive apparatus to winnow those who will succeed from those who will fail.

Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

"When elected, I’ll nominate a [whatever] to the Supreme Court"

There’s a lot of grumbling about President Biden’s declared intention of nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court. A letters-to-the-Editor writer in the Wall Street Journal, for instance, sees an "inference that Mr. Biden needs to eliminate almost all the competition for them to be considered."

I see no reason for such an inference, even if Sri Srinivasan is better-qualified (as Ilya Shapiro infelicitously argued). The three women getting most of the mention are all well-qualified nominees independent of race and sex. At least one of them would be on any Democrat President’s short-list, and all of them are thought to be to the right of Justice Sotomayor — roughly in the neighborhood of Justice Kagan.

On balance, though, it adds no glory to the perception of judicial independence for any President to promise and pick candidates for their appeal to particular parts of his base. (On that, I’ll give Reagan credit: promising to nominate a woman was not pandering to any part of his base, but trying to reassure moderates that he wasn’t part of the <anachronism> cis-hetero-Christo-patriarchy<\anachronism>).

Side note: The smear campaign against anyone who dares to question the wisdom of Biden’s commitment to nominate a black woman to SCOTUS does, of course, include Adam Serwer, the Atlantic’s most consistently dishonest and partisan hack.

Life in 2022

As I drove Tuesday night from Church (where I sang a Liturgy unmasked — as was everyone else) to a newly-resumed Chamber singer rehearsal (where we all wore masks and some even then won’t come to rehearsal yet), I realized that the pandemic has made me an accomplished code-switcher.

Fill in the blanks

In another entry, Shirer noted that a joke had begun making its way around the more cynical quarters of Berlin: “An airplane carrying Hitler, Göring and Goebbels crashes. All three are killed. Who is saved?” Answer: “The German People.”

Eric Larsen, The Splendid and the Vile

This kind of sets my mind to thinking who I’d nominate for that plane ride today.

Adiaphora

That embarrassing moment when the tendentious quote you Tweet-attributed to Voltaire is traced instead to a neo-Nazi in the 1990s.

("Half the quotes attributed to me on the internet are not true." – Benjamin Franklin)


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

Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

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

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

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

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

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

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

Decency is for suckers.

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

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

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

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

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

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

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

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

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

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


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

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

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

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


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

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

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

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

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

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


Ambivalence

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

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

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

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


Long on emotion, short on facts

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

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

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


People who changed their minds in 2021

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

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

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

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


Shorts

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

Marcus Tullius Cicero


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

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


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

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


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

Oscar Wilde

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


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

Monday meanderings

(No, I didn’t collect all these today, but my queue was getting pretty full.)

Sex, sport, and hard truths

Scientists are generally "uncomfortable with black-and-white statements, because science is all about nuance." But in the case of sex and sport, "there are some hard truths that deserve to be trumpeted." There is a significant performance difference between males and females from puberty onward. Testosterone is the primary driver of that difference. There is a wide gap, no overlap, between the male and female T ranges. Sex may not be binary for all people or for all purposes. But for sport, what most of us mean when we say "sex" is actually what matters, and that sex is undeniably binary: you either have testes and functional androgen receptors, or you don’t. "Full stop."

On average, even in the elite athlete population, males have 30 times more T than females. This includes both transgender women and girls starting from the onset of puberty, and 46-XY males with the two differences of sex development (DSDs) that are most relevant for sport: 5ARD (alpha-reductase deficiency) and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity). The Gold, Silver, and Bronze medalists in the women’s 800 meters in Rio—Caster Semenya, Francine Nyonsaba, and Margaret Wambui—are all suspected of having the former condition. They are not "hyperandrogenic females." The latter are represented on the figure as 46-XX females with PCOS (polycystic ovaries) and CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia).

… Pick your body part, your geography, and your socioeconomic status and do your comparative homework. Starting in puberty there will always be boys who can beat the best girls and men who can beat the best women.

Doriane Coleman, ‌On the Biology of Sex, Sex Differentiation, and the Performance Gap.

This is the first substantive article in a very recent guest series at Volokh Conspiracy.


Brace yourself for more rainbow flags and diversity trainings

A tornado outbreak tore through the midwest on December 10, killing more than 80 people. Many are still missing. Some factory and warehouse workers in the region say their bosses threatened to fire them if they left their posts to go home. In the last decade, corporations have been able to placate the American left with rainbow flags and diversity trainings. It would be interesting if this tornado—and the reports from inside a candle factory and Amazon warehouse—reignites something of the old, real labor movement. We hope so. The candle factory workers have filed suit.

Nellie Bowles‌.

Amazon’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is also good.


Hygiene theater

So why are our authorities catering to neurosis and fear rather than explaining the truth: that the virus is never going away, and the way to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated and boosted. Why isn’t that the only message?

I am a naturally pro-social person. I wear a mask when required. I get tested when required. I try to accommodate and respect people’s differing risk preferences. But I’m very privileged when it comes to COVID; doing these things is easy for me. I don’t have little kids in school. I work from home. None of the extant restrictions materially impact my life.

Yet even I feel myself being radicalized, starting to think: maybe it’s not enough to make reasoned arguments against rules that are little more than hygiene theater. Maybe it’s time to break them.

And if I’m feeling that way, how on earth must normal people feel?

Noah Millman, ‌The radicalization of a COVID moderate

I’ve read one fairly powerful series on why vaccine hesitancy might be warranted even if the vaccines are safe. I won’t try to summarize except to say that the storyline goes "so if most of us get vaccinated, what happens then, and then even later — and cui bono?" It’s here, here and here, though there’s a likely paywall.

Again, I’m vaccinated and boosted, preferring the possibly false assurances of my government to the dark hints of resisters. I’ve not been persuaded that I made a bad call, even if eventualities may eventuate. They always do, and it’s shocking how much I instinctively avoid reckoning with that most of the time.


Too old

We need also to be frank about Biden. He’s too old to be president, and most people sense this. He was elected because he was someone clearly not as toxic to the electorate as most of the other more radical Dems. But in office, this has been shown to be a chimera. There is nothing to distinguish him in policy from the far left.

His administration has embraced race and sex discrimination in every part of the federal government; he has endorsed the subordination of biological sex to gender identity in the law; his goal in immigration policy is to enable mass migration, not stop it. His administration routinely deploys the hideous acronyms of woke language — “equity,” “Latinx,” “BIPOC,” “LGBTQIA+” — and any return to plain English and common sense violates their commitment to “social justice.” Just watch Biden repeat the nonsense word “LatinX” in public. It’s pitiable.

Just yesterday it was reported that his administration will offer bonuses to Medicare doctors who “create and implement an anti-racism plan.” An “anti-racism plan” means doctors must now view “systemic racism” as a health issue, and deny any biological differences in health between human genetic sub-populations. This is ideology, not science. Biden views people as groups first, individuals second. That’s why he decided on the racial and gender identity of his vice-president and his top Supreme Court nominee before he even considered the individual pick.

Andrew Sullivan.


Red-pilled

Harvard College Suspends Standardized Testing Requirement for Next Four Years | News | The Harvard Crimson

Freddie deBoer summarizes what this boils down to in the real world: "[G]etting rid of the SATs is just another way for them to consolidate total and unfettered privilege to choose whoever is going to make their pockets even heavier, and that they are and will always be in the business of nominating an aristocracy that will deepen inequality and intensify exploitation …."

More:

You can’t make college admissions fair by getting rid of the SAT because colleges admissions can’t be “fair.” College admissions exist to serve the schools. Period. End of story. They always have, they always will. College admissions departments functioned as one big anti-Semitic conspiracy for decades because that was in the best interest of the institution. Guys who the schools know will never graduate but who run a 4.5 40 jump the line because admissions serves the institution. Absolute … dullards whose parents can pay – and listen, guys, it’s cute that you think legacies are somehow the extent of that dynamic, like they won’t let in the idiot son of a wealthy guy who didn’t go there – get in because admissions serves the institution. Some cornfed doofus from Wyoming with a so-so application gets in over a far more qualified kid from Connecticut because the marketing department gets to say they have students from 44 states in the incoming class instead of 43 that way, because admissions serves the institution. How do you people look at this world and conclude that the problem is the SAT?

And what just drives me crazy, what I find so bizarre, is that all these PMC liberals in media and academia think they’re so endlessly disillusioned and over it and jaded, but they imagine that it was the SAT standing in the way of these schools admitting a bunch of poor Black kids. What … do you think has been happening, exactly? They’re standing around, looking at all these brilliant kids from Harlem and saying “oh God, if only we could let in these kids. We need to save them from the streets! But we can’t get past that dastardly SAT.” They decide who to let in, and they always have! They can let in whoever they want! Why on earth would you put the onus on the test instead of the schools? You think, what, they would prefer to admit kids whose parents can’t possibly donate? The whole selection process for elite schools is to skim a band of truly gifted students from the top, then admit a bunch of kids with identical resumes whose parents will collectively buy the crew team a new boathouse, and then you find a kid whose parents moved to the states from Nigeria two years before he was born and whose family owns a mining company and you call that affirmative action. And if you look at all this, and you take to Twitter to complain about the SAT instead of identifying the root corruption at the schools themselves, you’re a … mark, a patsy. You’ve been worked, you’ve been took. You’re doing the bidding of some of the wealthiest, most elitist, most despicable institutions on earth. You think Harvard [cares] about poor Black teenagers? Are you out of your … minds?

It was in their best interest to use the SAT before, so they used it. Now it’s in their best interest to have even more leeway to select the bumbling doofus children of the affluent, and you’re applauding them for it in the name of “equity.” Brilliant.

It’s all corrupt. All of it. From the top to the bottom. It is so insane that all of these people who are ostensibly so cynical about institutions, who will tell you that capitalism is inherently a rigged game, who think meritocracy is a joke, who say that they think these hierarchies are all just privilege, will then turn around and say “ah yes, the SAT is gone, now fairness and egalitarianism will reign.”

(Expletives deleted (that’s what most of the ellipses are) — and they were numerous).


My missing moral foundation

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at today’s political tribalism, having experienced something similar.

I was a conservative "culture warrior" for decades. My reasons for ceasing aren’t entirely clear even to me, because most of my convictions remain much the same today. Part of it probably has to do with getting over the conceit that people with opposite convictions are necessarily moral monsters who must be publicly anathematized and sent into exile.

But I was never advise of the tacit requirement that I support just about any tomfoolery that any fellow-warrior might come up with. I apparently was, as I learned when a conservative fellow-warrier decided to call for a newspaper boycott over it running Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse comic strip even after (gasp!) it introduce a gay middle-school boy character.

For my money, that strip, gay character or not, was one of the loveliest on the whole comic page — and I said so, loudly, probably in a letter to the editor (remember those? Good times!).

At the time, I was the newspaper’s lawyer, but that didn’t influence me (it just wasn’t all that lucrative). Nevertheless, my fellow-warrior’s mother called me and lambasted me about "30 pieces of silver" and yadda, yadda, yadda. I was reminded of this little chapter when I recently saw the mother’s obituary. She had apologized in the meantime.

I don’t recall other specific incidents when I broke from some tribe I’d never consciously joined, but I have the impression that the For Better or Worse chapter was not the only one, even if it was particularly vivid.

Another time, I returned from vacation to find my firm fairly far into litigation against a quirky acquaintance with whom I’d shared some lunches over a mutual interest. When I heard the allegations, I thought "I hate to say it, but that sounds like something he’d do," so I joined the team working on it.

I later took Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire, discovering that my score on "Loyalty/betrayal" was shockingly low for a conservative. All I can say in defense is that I try to be faithful to principle. And I still suffer qualms about that second incident.

Maybe this was why my Evangelical/Fundamentalist schools forbade membership in "oath-bound secret societies" like fraternities, lodges and such: don’t take an oath that might require you to betray principle for the sake of the tribe. If so, it’s not entirely bogus.


Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died ten years ago, and there’s been a little burst of "Boy! We could sure use Hitch now!" articles. The most recent thought we could use him because he was fearless and the rest of us (including the author) are scared to death of getting cancelled.

I enjoyed much that Hitch wrote, the best of which has aged well. But I think that God, in his great mercy, gave us all the Hitch we really needed, and I wish for no more.


Pro-tip

Ignorance has been an excellent strategy for me. I could listen to Fox and it’d make me furious, but I don’t and I save a lot of time that I’d spend chewing the carpet.

Garrison Keillor


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.

November 16

Not political

Amish demurrals

My apologies if I’ve quoted this before:

These observations dismiss the popular belief that the Amish reject all new technologies. So what’s really going on here? The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

Quantitative metrics – meh!

Please don’t email me about my position on the Substack leaderboards. 100% of such emails have been in the way of encouragement and congratulations, so of course I’m not mad about it. But I saw those when I first set up this newsletter and said “nope nope nope.” I’ve never intentionally checked the leaderboard since, though I’ve blundered into it a couple times. It’s just exactly the kind of quantitative metric I don’t want to care about. I want to pay the bills and write for a passionate audience, not climb some status ladder. You can reference it in comments if it’s germane to your conversation, but in general please let me stay in the dark.

Freddie deBoer. By "writ[ing] for a passionate audience, not climb[ing] some status ladder," deBoer has created a Substack some very smart people are calling names like "indispensible" — and I welcome them to Freddie fandom.

Godless Middle Earth?

Musing about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and its lack of religion, priests, and such:

For the Extremely Online Discourse Police, the sole purpose of language is to declare allegiances and repudiations, and you can’t do that effectively if you “tell the truth but tell it slant.” The good news is that this moment will not last, and (again) in the long run Dickinson is exactly right to say that “Success in Circuit lies.”

Alan Jacobs

Valorizing a loser

I’ll have to take David French’s word that Kyle Rittenhouse is not just defended, but valorized in significant parts of the Right, because I don’t watch or read them even for purposes of vigilance.

But I agree with French that valorizing Rittenhouse will produce copy-cats. He should be left to live with his folly and shame, but bad actors will try to put him in the limelight for their own profit or dubious ends.

Political

"The Progressives made us do it"

Of J.D. Vance’s transformation as an Ohio Senate Candidate:

Progressives who lament the loss of another “genteel” conservative ought to ask themselves whether their own uncompromising politics have played a role.

Sean Speer, ‌What elite commentary gets wrong about J.D. Vance

This is sort of interesting, because it makes explicit the sort of "the other guys are an existential threat and must be defeated by any means necessary" that is tearing our country apart.

David French is the bane of the new right for good reasons. One reason is he’s not having any of the macho bullshit that passes for masculinity today, and neither did wise voice of an earlier era, like Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise …

It may indeed be impossible to reconcile the hard, progressive left and the allegedly white nationalist right, but even in the aggregate they’re not a majority in the country. The problem is, the extremes are riled up, active, colorful and "newsworthy." The majority is none of those.

Not mutually exclusive

In Friday’s G-File, Jonah uses the latest developments regarding the Steele dossier to make a point about both-sides-ism. “Going by what we know, the Steele dossier was a travesty. It was an outrageous, indefensible, dirty trick,” he writes. But on “the other side of the ledger,” Donald Trump openly called on the Russian government to meddle in the 2016 election, his campaign held a meeting with a Russian woman promising to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, gave internal polling data to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik. “Now you can make as much or as little about all of this as you want—and many people have, in both pro- and anti-Trump tribes,” Jonah concludes. “My only point is that just because Team A misbehaved, that doesn’t mean Team B’s misbehavior didn’t exist.”

The Morning Dispatch, 11/15/21

And they did both misbehave, which reinforces my unwillingness to pledge myself to either of them.

It’s 1968 again

Of Steve Bannon’s Contempt of Congress indictment, David Frum says Bannon knows exactly what he’s doing:

It’s a political strategy, intended, like the Chicago Seven’s strategy in Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom all those years ago, to discredit a legal and constitutional system that the pro-Trump partisans despise.

The Trump partisans start with huge advantages that the Chicago Seven lacked: They have a large and growing segment of the voting public in their corner, and they are backed by this country’s most powerful media institutions, including the para-media of Facebook and other social platforms.

Thanks to that advantage, the Trump partisans don’t need to convince much of anybody of much of anything. It won’t bother the Trump partisans that their excuses are a mess of contradictions. They say that nothing happened, and that it was totally justified; that Trump did nothing, and that Trump was totally entitled to do it. Their argument doesn’t have to make sense, because their constituency doesn’t care about it making sense. Their constituency cares about being given permission to disregard and despise the legal rules that once bound U.S. society. That’s the game, and that’s how Bannon & Co. will play the game.

Gerrymandering

When I was young and ignorant, I had the same dumb opinion about gerrymandering as almost everybody else does: I was shocked by it. The process was politicized, and I was scandalized. As a veteran state legislator in Texas explained it to me, redistricting isn’t politicized — it is political per se, “the most political thing a legislature does,” as he put it. It does not have to be politicized because it is political by nature, and to “depoliticize” it, as some self-serving Democrats and a few callow idealists suggest, would be to change its nature and its character. The Democrats who lecture us about the will of the people would, in this matter, deprive the people’s elected representatives of one of their natural powers.

The gerrymander — like the filibuster, the earmark, the debt ceiling, and other procedural instruments of power — is something that people complain about only when it is being used against them. The Democrats were perfectly happy with gerrymandering for the better part of 200 years, understanding it to be an utterly normal part of the political process. They began to object to it when Republicans got good at it. And, in a refreshing bit of candor, their argument against partisan redistricting is that Republicans are too good at it.

Seriously — that is the Democrats’ argument: that gerrymandering was all good and fine until Republicans figured out how to make the most of it. Republicans, in clear violation of the ancient Republican Party tradition, embraced cutting-edge technology and availed themselves of the best experts’ help in order to methodically and intelligently conduct a long-term program of serious and profitable political action. “Never before have party strategists been armed with sophisticated computer software that can help them carve districts down to the individual street and home,” Hedrick Smith wailed in a 2015 essay.

Detail-oriented Republicans with an attention span exceeding that of a meth-addicted goldfish — angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

Go look at an old district map of Texas during that state’s 130 years of Democratic legislative control, and what you will see is not exactly a hard-edged display of Euclidean regularity. Democrats made the most of their redistricting power in the Texas legislature and — bear this in mind, Republicans — it wasn’t enough to save them. Not nearly enough. Once Texans decided they were no longer buying what Democrats were selling, there was no procedural shenanigan that was going to save the[m].

… in spite of Republican manipulation of House districts, the Democrats quickly rebuilt their congressional majorities with the assistance of Donald Trump.

Kevin D. Williamson

Sometimes I just post stuff, but I substantially agree with this. "Agree with" does not mean "exult in"; I haven’t considered myself a Republican since January 2005.