Mildly offensive to all

1

There has been a fair amount of terse commentary in my field of vision on the question of “Is R.R. Reno correct in this assessment?” By “this assessment, I assume the reference is to the conclusion, from which I’ll quote a great deal:

I’m willing to bet that hostility toward Kavanaugh increases proportionally with socio-economic status. It is an elite rage of law professors and management consultants. It’s the rage of the powerful, which is always more dangerous than the rage of the downtrodden. It finds articulate, well-placed leaders who can draw upon fully theorized narratives of oppression. They position themselves to speak for all who resent exclusion or exploitation, actual or perceived. They draw upon an intersectionality of rage.

For this reason, the decision by the Democrats to turn the Kavanaugh hearings into a theater of rage was a dangerous ploy. Perhaps I am even over-stating the element of calculation in the decision. Because this rage affects the powerful, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, and the others may themselves be animated by it—rage’s instruments, rather than its masters. If so, the situation for the Democrats is more perilous still.

Donald Trump raises the emotional stakes of political debate. This has been the key to his political success. But his success has come at a cost. Trump’s politics of rage unsettles establishment Republicans. Staid suburban voters who are moderate conservatives see Trump as a destabilizing figure in our body politic, putting a hard ceiling on his support.

In this context, Democrats have much to gain by presenting themselves as the responsible adults, the ego to Trump’s id. Dianne Feinstein and most other Democratic leaders are ultra-establishment figures with no interest in upheaval. Soon they will pivot back to playing the “responsible party” against Trump and Republican “extremism.” But the rage on display during the Kavanaugh hearings will not be easy to contain. It is fueling Leftist populism, which is on the rise. It highlights the Left’s own destabilizing politics of rage and destruction.

Ever since Trump’s ascent, the strongest arguments against him have focused on his temperamental unfitness for the presidency and his polarizing effect on our society. These are arguments for establishment competence and sobriety. In the aftermath of the rage-driven strategy to derail Kavanaugh’s appointment (quite different from the quiet, procedural tactics of Mitch McConnell, which derailed Merrick Garland’s appointment), these arguments are harder to make.

The Democrats may imagine that they, like Trump, will benefit from the politics of rage. But the Democrats’ power flows from their monopoly on the “responsible center.” The last season of leftwing rage came as the 1960s crashed to a close, and it did great harm to the Democratic Party. This time is different, in that both sides are drawing upon reservoirs of rage. But in my estimation, the Democrats will suffer more than the Republicans, because the Democrats have long been the establishment party. The politics of rage are far more likely to undermine than to renew the Ivy League–Goldman Sachs–Silicon Valley liberalism that has stood astride our politics since 1945, for rage always upsets the calculations by which establishments maintain their grip.

The analysis seems too varied to support a wager, so I’ll not play my chips. But I dread living in a country where the two major parties have become, basically, alt-right and antifa.

2

I can hear the “what about Merrick Garland” already:

Democrats file cloture on every nominee, which kicks off 30 hours of debate even if no Senator is opposed. They figure if they can’t defeat nominees they can delay and consume valuable time. Democrats have forced 117 cloture votes—versus 12 in Barack Obama’s first two years and four in George W. Bush’s.

Wall Street Journal. This is not “responsible center,” is it? Were I in Congress, I’d want to make sure there were as many adults around Trump as possible, unless my motive was letting him screw things up so badly that my odds of winning the next Presidential election reached the stratosphere.

3

Longtime readers will remember that three years ago, a reader told me his elderly mother, who spent years in a communist prison as a dissident, told him that the spirit overtaking our culture today reminds her of the years when communism came to her country.

Thinking that must be an exaggeration, I relayed that observation to a friend in the UK who defected with his wife in the 1960s from a communist country. He said that it was absolutely true. I asked him to explain that conclusion, because it made no sense to me. He said that it has to do with the willingness of people to try to destroy their opponents. With righteous mobs, aided and abetted by the media. Ideological hysteria. This was how the communist behaved. And these aging former dissidents, who don’t know each other, see the same thing happening in the liberal West.

(Rod Dreher, The Media & The Mob)

4

Oh, dear! At least one person is not fawning over Nikki Haley during her lame duck period:

But because she only advocates establishment-sanctioned mass murders (and perhaps partly because she wears the magical “Woman of Color” tiara), Haley can be painted as a sane, sensible adult-in-the-room by empire lackeys who are paid to normalize the brutality of the ruling class. While you still see Steve Bannon routinely decried as a monster despite his being absent from the Trump administration for over a year, far more dangerous and far more powerful ghouls are treated with respect and reverence because they know what to say in polite company and never smoked cigars with Milo Yiannopoulos. All it takes to be regarded as a decent person by establishment punditry is the willingness to avoid offending people; do that and you can murder as many children with explosives and butterfly bullets as your withered heart desires.

Haley will be departing with a disgusting 75 percent approval rating with Republicans and 55 percent approval with Democrats, because God is dead and everything is stupid. It is unknown who will replace her once she vacates her position (I’ve got my money on Reaper drone in a desk chair), but it’s a safe bet that it will be someone who espouses the same neoconservative imperialist foreign policy that this administration has been elevating since the beginning. Whoever it is should be watched closely, as should the bipartisan beltway propagandists whose job it is to humanize them.

Caitlin Johnstone, Empire Loyalists Grieve Resignation Of Moderate Psychopath Nikki Haley.

5

A non-trivial number of Evangelical women in Texas are supporting Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz. Two vignettes feature competing baby-centered narratives:

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Ms. Clarke, who sells candles poured by refugee women in Dallas, began to weep as she recalled visiting a migrant woman detained and separated from her daughter at the border.

Plenty of white evangelical women still support Mr. Cruz. Pam Brewer, who leads women’s ministries at Mr. Jeffress’s First Baptist Dallas, does because she wants to end legalized abortion and increase border security, to stop allowing “criminals to come kill our babies,” she said.

6

Justice Kavanaugh’s worst decision of the last month (it’s not even a close call, IMHO) was taking a victory lap with partisans Monday night. Everyone knew Trump would sully it.

Depth to which Republicans have not yet sunk: Trying to pack the court before they lost political power.

7

Reminder to the Democrats: There are good people who could actually vote for Democrats, but who don’t do so currently, because of your friends of feticide platform.

(Lurking background concern for some of us: your little-remarked transformation into the secularist party as the Republicans transformed into the Religious Right and then, mirabile dictu, the Trump party. But you’ll not cease friendship with feticide until that secularism moderates, and the GOP’s “religion” currently is so toxic, that this concern merely lurks.)

8

Noble is right to say that society sends me on a quest for authenticity. Wisdom sends me on a quest to know myself. They are utterly different adventures. Society wants me to be my true self, philosophy demands I be as I should be.

John Mark Reynolds in part of a series of comments on Alan Noble’s Disruptive Witness.

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News roundup

1

In July, Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the “constitutional originalist Federalist Society,” as RealClearPolitics phrased it, told Fox News:

“Any Supreme Court confirmation is transformative. This is a court that is often equally divided. At the end of the day, I think what’s really important to remember is that there’s been a movement on the court toward being more originalist and textualist. In other words, the idea that law means something, it has determinate meaning. And that’s the trend that I think this president wants to continue.”

But, when I think of originalism, I think this: Many of the founders owned slaves; in the Constitution they viewed black people as less than fully human; they didn’t want women or poor white men to vote. The founders, a bunch of rich, powerful white men, didn’t want true democracy in this country, and in fact were dreadfully afraid of it.

Now, a bunch of rich, powerful white men want to return us to this sensibility, wrapped in a populist “follow the Constitution” rallying cry and disguised as the ultimate form of patriotism.

Charles Blow, declaring scurrilous “war.”

Would it be entirely unfair to satirize this as “because the founders tended to own slaves, and because of the 3/5 clause (since abolished), we can ignore what they wrote and just make up whatever progressive shit we feel like?”

If it would be entirely unfair, I won’t do it. Nope. Never.

 

2

“Kavanaugh’s confirmation deepens country’s divide” (USA Today Headline 10/8/18, emphasis added).

I don’t believe it, and the story doesn’t support it. I would be just as skeptical if they said the confirmation laid the issue to rest.

The Wall Street Journal make it fairly clear what’s really at stake: both parties intend to milk this episode for all it’s worth in next month’s election. And both sides are saying the other overplayed its hand and face an electoral bloodbath.

Time will tell us whether and which.

Meanwhile, I’m sorry to report that there really are some conservatives I have heretofore respected who are converting from Never Trump to Trumpista just because he didn’t withdraw Kavanaugh (they mercifully haven’t praised him for trash-talking Dr. Ford). I’m not going to name names because some of them are not exactly public figures (e.g., a sharp law professor at a second-tier school who I happen to know, Tweeting his Trump re-assessment), but I initially thought such reports were a kind of semi-libel, a total straw man. Then I saw it with my own eyes, in my own Twitter feed (filtered to feature the more reliable sorts). #Sad #RepentanceLikelyInDueCourse

A putative conservative at the New York Times cautions against GOP gloating in a column I endorse (though I’m unfamiliar with the author, David Marcus):

Whatever one believes about the allegations leveled against Mr. Kavanaugh, it is clear that millions of Americans are in real pain. The widespread feeling that the voices of women are being ignored — once again — is leading to a rage that many on the left are increasingly embracing as the necessary counter to Trump-era conservatism.

The anger on both sides has already shut down communication and compromise among our politicians. Now it threatens the ability of average Americans to talk to each other.

The task for conservatives in the wake of these ugly two weeks is not to point and laugh, but to show care and compassion that may build trust in Mr. Kavanaugh and the court among those who so bitterly and sincerely opposed him. There is plenty of blame for the tribalism in our country to go around. Ending it, however, is a task best undertaken by the side that is winning.

 

3

A cultural division is illustrated by the difference between Wall Street Journal and New York Times most viewed stories: the former, “Friend of Dr. Ford Felt Pressure to Revisit Statement“; the latter, “Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father.”

I find both stories “interesting,” but the Times really busted its butt on its major investigative journalism piece fleshing out what I already suspected.

The Wall Street Journal responds with a column that is unmistakably in the category of sour grapes: Dogs Bite Men and Trumps Duck Taxes.

 

4

American political discourse gets worse by the day, a lesson we’ve seen first-hand again this weekend. The Twitter mob on the political left is claiming that our Saturday editorial headline, “Susan Collins Consents,” was intended as a sly “rape joke.”

The editorial praised Maine Senator Collins for her thoughtful speech on Friday explaining her support for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. We said her thorough consideration was an exemplary case of fulfilling the Senate’s “advice and consent” duty under the Constitution. Senators are supposed to offer their advice and then offer or withhold their consent for a presidential nominee. The editorial mentioned advice and consent no fewer than six times.

Yet for some on the political left the editorial wasn’t about the Senate’s constitutional duty or praising Sen. Collins. They said we were making fun of rape ….

Wall Street Journal

 

5

“We don’t work as Democrats or Republicans, and I think it’s a very unfortunate perception that the public might get from the confirmation process,” Chief Justice Roberts said at a New England Law-Boston event in 2016. The near party-line split on recent confirmations “increases the danger that whoever comes out if it will be viewed in those terms,” he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts

 

6

JUSTICE KAGAN: Starting with Justice O’Connor and continuing with Justice Kennedy, there has been a person who, er, found the center, who people couldn’t predict in that sort of way. … It’s not so clear that, you know, I think going forward, that sort of middle position — you know, it’s not so clear whether we’ll have it.

… [I]t’s rather revealing in this clip that Kagan never considers herself for the role of the unpredictable jurist — or Sonia Sotomayor, who’s sitting next to her and never bothers to interject either. Kagan’s argument is that it should always be conservative jurists who go towards Kagan’s wing of the court, and not the other direction. Why should that be the case? Why shouldn’t Kagan take her own advice?

It’s also amusing that Kagan almost explicitly assigns herself and the other three liberal justices to the roles of predictable jurist in this statement. It’s undeniably true, but one would expect a Supreme Court justice to at least argue that she’s independent. Give Kagan one cheer for honesty, I guess, and a half-cheer to Sotomayor for not objecting to it.

Ed Morrissey. Well played, sir!

7

Women Serving on Ships Face Higher Sex-Assault Risks

Women who serve on board U.S. Navy ships and young service members at large training bases were at the greatest risk of becoming victims of sexual assault, according to a study commissioned by the Pentagon.

Wall Street Journal

What would we do without commissioned studies?

8

The Internet Gave Us Great TV—Now Where’s Our Great TV Guide? (Wall Street Journal Personal Tech)

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Can a perv be a great leader?

Tanya Selvaratnam’s whole story of sexaul abuse by disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is creepy but feels timely.

For my money, though, these are the creepiest parts:

  • Three of my close friends told me to keep quiet because Eric’s work was so important to the progressive cause. “We need him,” one said.
  • The months since then have not been easy. I’ve dealt with rebukes from friends, family and strangers telling me I should have shut up or that it was my fault.

In a country where progressives rallied around Bill Clinton despite his predations, and where whit Evangelicals now variously accommodate or enthusiastically support Donald Trump, this kind of thing does not surprise me.

But it offends me.

It offends me partly because I remember how Schneiderman served the progressive cause: with lots of abusive lawsuits, jawboned in the limelight he so loved. Kamala Harris did the same thing on the other Left Coast, and how she’s obviously angling for the Presidency in 2020.

On the other side, Trump serves something-or-other (it’s nothing I’d call “conservative”) by nonstop lying and sociopathic cruelties, with a limelight-seeking narcissism that makes Schneiderman’s pale in comparison.

And it offends me, too, because I don’t think a pervert (“My bad, bad girl, Daddy’s going to rape you.”), constant liar or sociopath ultimately can be a fit executive, and I’m apparently a real outlier on that one, with few allies either Right or Left.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Disrupting Goëbbels’ lunch

I was a bystander to an internet conversation that Alan Jacobs opened thus:

A word to the people whose political views I despise: I don’t want you to lose your job, and I do want you to be able to enjoy a meal at a restaurant in peace. I just hope you change your mind about a few things — a few extremely important things.

To my surprise at least, others jumped in to disagree, or perhaps I should be more explicit: they disagreed that, e.g., Sarah Sanders should be able to dine out unmolested (because she’s “simply lying to the American People – each and every day”).

One of them brought me up short on my reflexive support of Jacobs with an argument that I’d characterize as “this is ‘literally Hitler’ in the 20s and 30s” and which I found pretty plausible. (If that kind of argument never gives you a “Niemöller moment,” if you always blow it off as “Godwin’s law,” there’s something wrong with you.)

I’m deliberately providing no hyperlinks. The ethos of the platform where the discussion occurred seems to run counter to intense controversy, so I try (not always successfully) to take my obnoxious stuff elsewhere, and Jacobs, too, seems to have dropped out and posted this instead:

Now, a question for people who support confronting and challenging politicians at restaurants and other public places. What is your goal? Is it simply punitive, or do you believe that by doing that kind of thing you can change a politician’s mind? …

And no sooner had I read that from my RSS feed than I tabbed over to this from Caitlin Johnstone, also in my RSS feed, who probably is further to the Left than Jacobs is to the Right:

A radical change in human behavior away from its patterns … will necessarily involve a drastic transformation in humanity’s relationship with thought. I’ve been saying this over and over again in different ways for a long time now, and yet I still get criticisms saying that I have useful insights but I don’t provide any plan of action.

The transformation in human consciousness is the plan of action. I really don’t know how to say it any clearer than that. And I will go so far as to say that that it is the only plan of action which will pull us out of our destructive patterns and into a healthy state of collaboration with each other …

I understand the criticism, though. When people read about [big, entrenched problems] … they don’t want to hear a bunch of stuff about mass ego death and spiritual enlightenment, they want to hear about nationwide demonstrations or organizing the working class or forming a new political party or cryptocurrencies or ending the Federal Reserve, or something along those lines depending on where they believe the problem is localized. In general, they want a fairy tale about people coming together to effect drastic, sweeping changes and turn the status quo on its head, which they will do because something something reasons, cough cough.

Seriously, why do people think revolution happens? Why do they believe their ideas have a chance of winning out over the existing paradigm? …

It doesn’t seem like many proponents of revolution and change have really thought about this very much. They have a good idea, and they can envision a world in which that idea is implemented, but getting from the idea to its manifestation seems like it’s often a jumbled mess in a lot of dissidents’ minds, not unlike the “Phase 1: Collect underpants / Phase 2: ??? / Phase 3: Profit” model of the Underpants Gnomes from South Park. Most dissident voices I see are primarily interested in Phase 1, and to a much lesser extent in Phase 3. Phase 2 is what I’m interested in, and in my opinion it necessarily involves a drastic shift in human consciousness. …

She might disagree, but her “transformation in humanity’s relationship with thought” and mocking of “turn the status quo on its head, which they will do because something something reasons, cough cough” seems clearly to amount to “we need to change people’s minds first.”

That’s utterly congruent with Jacobs and seems like a refreshingly conservative way of being progressive.

We should all, whatever our political discontents, try to focus on Phase 2.

And, focusing on Phase 2, the objection “this is ‘literally Hitler’ in the 20s and 30s” proves too much, because if we are absolutely convinced of that, we should be doing something more than fecklessly disrupting Goëbbels’ lunch.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Bearing reality

I anticipated reading in Monday’s newspapers some analysis of how Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s potential corroborating witnesses (those she said were at the party where Brett Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her) have all failed to corroborate anything about the party, including its existence, and that some even volunteered defenses of Kavanaugh.

That’s all true, and I wondered how the crypto-Resistant press would handle it.

But it was not to be. (Trigger warning for sexual assault):

Judge Kavanaugh’s prospects were further clouded on Sunday when The New Yorker reported on a new allegation of sexual impropriety: A woman who went to Yale with Judge Kavanaugh said that, during a drunken dormitory party their freshman year, he exposed himself to her, thrust his penis into her face and caused her to touch it without her consent.

In a statement, Judge Kavanaugh denied the allegation from the woman, Deborah Ramirez, and called it “a smear, plain and simple.” The New Yorker did not confirm with other eyewitnesses that Judge Kavanaugh was at the party.

The Times had interviewed several dozen people over the past week in an attempt to corroborate her story, and could find no one with firsthand knowledge. Ms. Ramirez herself contacted former Yale classmates asking if they recalled the incident and told some of them that she could not be certain Mr. Kavanaugh was the one who exposed himself.

New York Times. The New Yorker, though, makes the new allegation sound a bit more plausible.

I’ve had two simmering reactions to the whole picture, new allegation aside, lasting for a few days now, that I at first thought unsuitable for public consumption. They went in my personal journal today for that reason.

Standing alone, I suppose they are unfit for public consumption, in addition to or as a function of being cryptic, but I’m not going to let them stand alone:

  1. My oatmeal’s cold! I want the FBI to investigate!
  2. Hey, boys and girls! Aren’t drunken parties fun!?

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It’s my understanding that FBI investigations of nominees are focused on whether the nominee is a national security threat. It certainly is not the role of the FBI to investigate the truth or falsity of allegations of decades-old violations of state law just because partisans want to know more for purposes of a political fight. (Such skeletons presumably might come out in response to the question “Any skeletons in his closet?” as the FBI interviews old acquaintances.)

When politicians demand an FBI investigation in circumstances like those now present, they’re just buying time. That’s why the calls are all coming from Democrats currently. They are performing so strongly in election polls that they just might re-take both House and Senate in January and force Trump to nominate, say, Merrick Garland (that is, someone sufficiently moderate that he won’t plausibly be cast as the vehicle for a nefarious agenda, and who will allow both POTUS and the Senate avoid the onus of leaving a seat vacant for years).

The echoed calls of others, not in politics, for FBI investigations are, it seems to me, at least one of at least two things (that’s not a typo; it’s an acknowledgement that beyond that, imagination currently fails me):

  1. Partisan efforts to buy time, just like the Senate Democrats.
  2. Tacit admissions that all the unfounded he-said-she-said accusations flying around are disorienting, and we want some putative neutral expert to tell us what to believe.

The first point requires no elaboration beyond that such calls come from Democrats or progressives even if they’re not personally involved in politics because they’re savvy enough to know the strategy.

As for the second point, I’ve known for decades that we turn inappropriately to “experts” to resolve our vexing problems. I first noticed it when physicians were asked about “quality of life” in the context of medical treatment, nutrition and hydration for gravely ill or injured people — typically, survivors of drug overdoses, traumatic head injuries or dementia.

But quality of life is not a medical question, something about which physicians by experience and training have special knowledge. It’s existential (for the person being evaluated), philosophical for the rest of us. Vexing, yes, but not in the doctor’s bailiwick. (I believe that a few curmudgeonly or pro-life lawyers successfully excluded such testimony on the basis that physicians have no expert qualifications on the subject.)

Another approach to those same tragic situations was to let a proxy decisionmaker, typically a close family member, make the non-treatment decision in the name of patient autonomy. (Yes, the desired decision was non-treatment; if the proxy chose treatment, the search for another proxy who wasn’t an “extremist” or “vitalist” would continue.)

But “autonomy by proxy” is a blatant oxymoron.

The main virtue of letting doctors opine on “quality of life” or letting proxy decisionmakers exercise a patient’s autonomy to refuse further treatment, food or water, was that it spared the rest of us the wrestling with such issues and permitted us to evade what was really going on.

A final example of the phenomenon is conducting capital punishment covertly, so the rest of us can pretend it’s somehow quick and humane. Lethal injection even made it clinical (and we know how expert doctors are about everything).

Similarly, the main virtue of letting the FBI investigate decades-old questions, beyond delay for delay’s sake, is the hope that it will come up with a plausible declaration that the accusation is clearly true or clearly false.

That a professional law enforcement agency is not designed to do, but if they did, we’d be back close to square one asking “so now what?” If true, is it disqualifying?

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My second reaction (“Aren’t drunken parties fun!?”) is aimed at a social problem from which we’ve averted our gaze in a different way.

Instead of delegating amelioration or elimination of adolescent drinking to putative experts, we’ve just decided to ignore it. “Boys will be boys.” “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.” “Harmless fun so long as they don’t drive.”

Or as long as it doesn’t get sexy somehow without full and informed consent. (Or whatever next decade’s #MeToo Moment will be focused on.)

Dare I suggest that a history of binge drinking is itself a problem, or at least a big ole warning flag of problems?

For a change, I’m suggesting something without the need to say “Yes, I did so myself, but have repented.” I never have binge-drunk. When they asked me in my character and fitness examination (for admission to practice law) about past law-breaking, I confessed two occasions where I had one alcoholic beverage where I was not of legal age. The examiner, a cop-turned-lawyer, laughed out loud. At least I’m pretty sure. My memory is fuzzy. That may be my sole qualification for high office.

We know that kids drink, if for no other reason, to lower their inhibitions. In some cases, to lower them specifically to facilitate hooking up, an unchivalrous and predatory act by men and an unnatural act by women.

Are we really shocked by what those inhibitions were holding back? Truly, humankind cannnot bear very much reality.

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Here endeth my meditation, because I have no more expertise than your doctor to tell you what to think about all this. I’m mostly just cynical about our odds of resolving the factual questions.

For what it’s worth, I’m starting to think that Drunk Brett was or is different than Sober Brett, and that the difference may be revelatory. Your mileage may vary, as may your assessment of how that should affect confirmation.

My closest approach to a personal resolution for this whole saga came from reading this, published before the second accusation, which suggests a course of action for Sober Brett.

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Is (Liberal) Democracy Dying?

The Atlantic for October is a theme issue:

840

I can’t provide URLs because it’s still subscriber-only, but you get get to your favorite bookstore and pick up a copy. All of the following are from that issue, as was Anne Applebaum, A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, about which I blogged earlier.

1

It is much harder to struggle against irrelevance than against exploitation.

Yuval Noah Harari, Why Technology Favors Tyranny.

And a stunning microcosm:

On December 6, 2017, another crucial milestone was reached when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 had won a world computer chess championship in 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as decades of computer experience. By contrast, AlphaZero had not been taught any chess strategies by its human creators — not even standard openings. Rather, it used the latest machine-learning principles to teach itself chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of 100 games that the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won 28 and tied 72 — it didn’t lose once. Since AlphaZero had learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to the human eye. They could be described as creative, if not downright genius.

Can you guess how long AlphaZero spent learning chess from scratch, preparing for the match against Stockfish 8, and developing its genius instincts? Four hours.

(Emphasis added)

2

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

… One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.”

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Threat of Tribalism.

But wait! There’s more! It’s not tribalist without at least two tribes!

In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.”

I can’t pick which side is worse. Can you?

3

Jeffrey Rosen incited in me kindly feelings toward California:

Voters in several states are experimenting with alternative primary systems that might elect more moderate representatives. California and Washington State have adopted a “top two” system, in which candidates from both parties compete in a nonpartisan primary, and the two candidates who get the most votes run against each other in the general election — even if they’re from the same party. States, which Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy,” are proving to be the most effective way to encourage deliberation at a time when Congress acts only along party lines.

Madison and the Mob.

4

This author was shot, randomly, with a 22:

Knee-jerk calls for gun control didn’t resonate with me. Yet a reverence toward guns no longer felt right either.

I found my ambivalence unsettling. Everyone else seemed so sure about how to feel about guns—people on campus, on the internet, back home. Unlike most of them, I had made intimate acquaintance with gun violence. I should have had some special insight. If what had happened to me wasn’t fodder for clarity, I feared nothing ever would be.

As we drove, he asked me to remind him what I was writing about. I said some- thing lazy, offhanded: “What it was like getting shot in a place that loves guns.”

“It’s not love,” he said. We pulled into the parking lot of his store, which sits high on a hill. You can see almost all of Tuscaloosa from there. “It’s about necessity.” He mentioned rattlesnakes and coyotes. For people in rural areas — that’s more than 40 percent of Alabamians — guns are still a day-to-day defense against such animals. Yes, there is ample love for guns in Alabama. But to forget that they’re tools is to miss an important point.

Elaina Plott, The Bullet in My Arm.

Perhaps, but they’re not the kind of tools Our People use now, are they dear?

5

A 2018 U.S. Magazine asking whether democracy is dying might be suspected of a hit on 45, but it really was not. He did get more than passing mention in David Frum’s contribution, though:

[A] Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump …

When Trump refers to “my” generals or “my” intelligence agencies, he is teaching his supporters to rethink how the presidency should function. We are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s remark that he and his wife were but “the latest tenants in the People’s House.”

In 2016, Trump supporters openly brandished firearms near polling places. Since then, they’ve learned to rationalize clandestine election assistance from a hostile foreign government. The president pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court for violating civil rights in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Dinesh D’Souza, convicted of violating election-finance laws—sending an unmistakable message of support for attacks on the legal order. Where President Trump has led, millions of people who regard themselves as loyal Americans, believers in the Constitution, have ominously followed.

Building an Autocracy.

6

To stop the rot afflicting American government, Americans are going to have to get back in the habit of democracy.

[In the 19th Century] From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives.

Civic participation was thus the norm, not the exception.

Democracy had become the shared civic religion of a people who otherwise had little in common.

But the United States is no longer a nation of joiners. As the political scientist Robert Putnam famously demonstrated in Bowling Alone, participation in civic groups and organizations of all kinds declined precipitously in the last decades of the 20th century.

Trump turned the long-standing veneration of civic procedure on its head. He proclaimed that America is “rigged”; that “the insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.” The norms and practices of democratic governance, he insisted, had allowed elites to entrench themselves.

Trump secured the Republican nomination by speaking directly to those voters who had the least experience with democratic institutions. In April 2016, when the Republican field had narrowed from 17 candidates to three, a PRRI/The Atlantic survey found Trump enjoying a narrow lead over second-place Ted Cruz among Republican-leaning voters, 37 to 31 percent. But among those who seldom or never participated in community activities such as sports teams, book clubs, parent-teacher associations, or neighborhood associations, Trump led 50 to 24 percent. In fact, such civically disengaged voters accounted for a majority of his support.

Yoni Applebaum, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Any More.

7

And finally:

The cardinal fact always is the loss of contact with objective information. Public as well as private reason depends upon it. Not what somebody says, not what somebody wishes were true, but what is so beyond all our opining, constitutes the touchstone of our sanity. And a society which lives at second-hand will commit incredible follies and countenance inconceivable brutalities if that contact is intermittent and untrustworthy. Demagoguery is a parasite that flourishes where discrimination fails, and only those who are at grips with things themselves are impervious to it. For … the demagogue, whether of the Right or the Left, is, consciously or unconsciously an undetected liar.

Walter Lippman, November 1919 (before my father was born), quoted in a side-bar.

I’m venturing a guess that nobody born since 1970 will understand his use of “discrimination” unless they have a liberal arts college education.

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Friday, part II, 9/21/18

1

To be alive and online in our time is to feel at once incensed and stultified by the onrush of information, helpless against the rising tide of bad news and worse opinions.

Mark O’Connell, The Deliberate Awfulness of Social Media.

2

Is anyone really surprised by New York governor Andrew Cuomo saying, “We’re not going to make America great again. It was never that great.” The Left has been saying that, if not quite so bluntly, for decades. The only difference is that many more Americans now hold that view, including a disconcerting number of putative “conservatives.”

Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Governor Cuomo, added that President Donald Trump’s Bull Moose patriotism “ignores the pain so many endured and that we suffered from slavery, discrimination, segregation, sexism and marginalized women’s contributions.”

Yes, we’ve heard that before too, but the crescendo of hysteria is reaching fever pitch. The Left now asserts that Robert E. Lee’s soldiers in gray were proto-Nazis; that Ulysses S. Grant’s soldiers in blue were genocidal Indian-killers; that America’s women still struggle against a colonial, patriarchal legacy of plantation owners in powdered wigs who kept their wives in comfortable confinement and their slaves as exploitable chattel; and that President Trump, far from being “a very stable genius,” which should be pretty obvious to everyone by now, …

And that is where I stopped reading this Townhall “worse opinions” that the Imaginative Conservative beslimed itself by re-printing.

 

3

“How likely are you to recommend quip to a friend or colleague?”

On a scale of zero to 10, about 0.1.

I simply cannot recall a friend or colleague asking me for a toothbrush referral, and volunteering it would feel about like announcing to an elevator full of strangers that I’m wearing new socks (or one of these other choices).

So that’s my quip quip.

Next question?

 

 

4

For Ed Whelan — a former Supreme Court clerk, no less — to spout off on Twitter yesterday, actually naming some other dude who’s a middle-school teacher as the “real” assailant, because of a floor plan, is mind-bogglingly reckless and wicked. You first argue that no one should be accused of attempted rape without proof because it forever tarnishes his reputation — and then you go and actually name someone else as the culprit while simultaneously saying you can’t prove anything. This is how tribalism destroys minds.

Andrew Sullivan. Rod Dreher, too, was agog at Whelan.

More from Sullivan:

Mobs and tribes have always been with us, as the Founders well understood. But Haidt and Lukianoff suggest a variety of specific reasons for the sudden upsurge in toxicity. There is a serious disconnect between the winners and losers of globalization, and this has been exploited by demagogues. Social media has given massive virtual crowds instant mobilization, constant inflammation, and — above all — anonymity. Give a street mob masks, Haidt and Lukianoff note, so they can hide their identity and their capacity for violent and aggressive conduct suddenly soars.

… Our entire society, they argue, needs a good cognitive-behavioral therapy session, to get some kind of grip on our emotions — and not a constant ratcheting up of tribal fever.

Update: Mr. Whelan deleted those Tweets and apologized, apparently sincerely and what I’d call “profusely.”

 

5

Je suis Marine Le Pen.

Seriously: between a nationalist who posts photos of IS atrocities and authoritarian progressives who order her to a shrink therefor, I think I’d take the nationalist.

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Google bias

The reality is that progressives and left-leaning news outfits tend to build better sites. They do more customization and put more thought and energy into unique sites. They use less tracking and scripts.

So progressive sites play better in Google.

And this is largely a result of the progressive donor class versus the conservative donor class. A progressive donor does not want to make a profit on a left leaning news or activist site. That donor wants a return in public policy or politics.

Too many conservative donors want an actual return on investment in the form of monetary profit or they want a 501(c)(3) to give to so they can take a tax write off. A major progressive donor will gladly cut a $200,000.00 check to a for profit progressive news site knowing they’ll be funding the cause. It is hard to find those donors on the right.

Erick Erickson. I sort of suspected something like this. My WordPress site with free theme won’t rise high in Google — which is fine by me.

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Spleen ventings (and more)

1

Spleen venting #1: I’m pleased that the American Bar Association, which marginalized itself over decades, will now be denied its long preeminence in advising the Senate on federal judicial nominees.

I’m one of those who quit the ABA in 1992 when it endorsed abortion. I still say “to hell with ’em.”

They can line up with all the other conservative and liberal interest groups, as a liberal interest group is all they are these days.

2

Spleen venting #2:

This is what court evangelicals do. They tell the president to fire an Attorney General who rightly recused himself from the Mueller investigation. Falwell Jr. wants Sessions fired in the hopes that his replacement as Attorney General will end the investigation. In other words, Falwell Jr. wants to protect Trump against accusations that he is an adulterer, a liar, and a felon.

John Fea, Jerry Falwell Jr. Told Trump to Fire Sessions

This strikes me, a former Evangelical, viscerally, as I was enrolled for three semesters, during the Vietnam War, in a Christianish educational institution where support of that war was a litmus test.

I don’t think that educational mis-step of mine was why I left Evangelicalism; it certainly was not the proximate cause (the proximate cause was disenthrallment with Dispensationalism and discovery of Calvinism, which I also left decades later — see below). But I’ve never given a dime to that place after leaving.

Falwell, too, is making enemies of many of his growing number of former students.

And because all American Christians are judged disproportionately by the doings of “Rome” and Fundamentalists/Evangelicals, I’m feeling a bit slimed again.

(Hereditary Evangelical fiefdoms, by the way, are a scandal too rarely highlighted.)

3

Trump hates the media because he hates the news, and he hates the news because the news about him is bad. Unable to attack the news itself, he attacks those who report it. He isn’t the first president to attack the press, but he’s the first to label it “the enemy of the people” — a Stalinist term so odious that Nikita Khrushchev banned it. President Richard Nixon said, “The press is the enemy,” but at least he said it privately, as a means of venting, not on social media or to raucous crowds who prefer the Second Amendment to the First.

In his book The True Believer, Eric Hoffer wrote, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.” …

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that colleges were turning young people into sensitive snowflakes. Trump is the ultimate snowflake. He wants all of cyberspace to be his safe space.

As Harry Truman famously didn’t say, if you can’t stand the heat, complain about the heat, lie about the heat, and, if possible, ban ovens and stoves.

To find out what Truman really said, Google it.

Windsor Mann, Please be sensitive to our snowflake president’s need for safe space.

Gotta either laugh or cry. I try to choose laughter, even if derisive.

4

It’s interesting to consider, but the Protestants I’ve known who became Catholic were not angry at the church they left behind. They’re been simply grateful to have embraced what they consider to be a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith. The ex-Catholics I’ve known tend to be angry. In all honesty, I haven’t known many ex-Catholics who were Protestant or Orthodox. Almost all of the ex-Catholics I know ceased to practice any form of the Christian faith. It hadn’t occurred to me until this morning, but I think that’s interesting. Why might they leave Christianity entirely, instead of just become Episcopalian or Southern Baptist?

The answer, I believe, is that Catholicism is such a totalizing faith. That’s not a criticism at all …

I describe having lost the ability to believe in it anymore as like leaving a bad marriage. I wanted so bad for this “marriage” to work, but I realized one day that my bride didn’t love me, that she loved herself, and was going to do whatever she wanted to do, and to hell with me and the kids. Staying in this marriage meant putting up with her abusiveness. I couldn’t do it anymore ….

Believe it or not, one reason I write so often about this current Catholic scandal is that I want the Catholic Church to be healthy and holy. I may not be part of it anymore, but if she is sick unto death, then that affects the entire Body of Christ. If I had no Christian faith at all, I would still want the Church to be healthy, because as that scintillating atheist Camille Paglia has said in the past, the Church is a pillar of our civilization. No church, and we descend into barbarism.

Rod Dreher, reflecting, musing broadly on Damon Linker’s leaving the Roman Church (bold in original, italics added — though italics seem to disappear in this stylesheet).

I may have mis-gauged how coherent this excerpt would be without the elided material. It’s another powerful way of expressing the sense of loss Rod felt and still feels. I hope Linker feels it too, and finds Christ too compelling to forsake His Church (a very loaded term in this context) entirely.

For what it’s worth, my experience echoes Rod’s in this regard: I left Evangelicalism for Calvinism, pretty bitter about what I perceived as its pervasive Dispensational Premillennialism (it dawned on me later that I did not get that from my parents, but from my Christian Boarding School — proof, had I noticed it, that nondispensationist Evangelicalism was possible), but left Calvinism for Orthodoxy “simply grateful to have embraced … a more truthful, richer form of the Christian faith.” I still consider Calvinism a pretty good place to come from, and I don’t think that would change even if my wife had followed me from Calvinism to Orthodoxy.

5

Consider recent state and local actions punishing those who decline to use an individual’s pronouns of choice. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation last year threatening jail time for health-care professionals who “willfully and repeatedly” refuse to use a patient’s preferred pronouns. Under guidelines issued in 2015 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, employers, landlords and business owners who intentionally use the wrong pronoun with transgender workers and tenants face potential fines of as much as $250,000.

… For those with a religious conviction that sex is both biological and binary, God’s purposeful creation, denial of this involves sacrilege no less than bowing to idols in the town square. When the state compels such denial among religious people, it clobbers the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, lending government power to a contemporary variant on forced conversion.

[I]ndividuals need not be religious to believe that one person can never be a “they”; compelled speech is no less unconstitutional for those who refuse an utterance based on a different viewpoint, as the Supreme Court held in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Upholding students’ right to refuse to salute an American flag even on nonreligious grounds, Justice Robert H. Jackson declared: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” This is precisely what forced reference to someone else as “ze,” “sie,” “hir,” “co,” “ev,” “xe,” “thon” or “they” entails. When the state employs coercive power to compel an utterance, what might otherwise be a courtesy quickly becomes a plank walk.

Abigail Shrier, The Transgender Language War (emphasis added)

6

Socialism moves human goods outside of market relationships and currency exchange. Most of the programs people now describe as socialism simply entail a more muscular welfare state liberalism. It must be repeated over and over again: “the government pays for stuff” is not socialism. And from my vantage, much of the [Democratic Socialists of America]’s national platform is precisely “the government pays for stuff.”

Fredrik De Boer, hyperlink added.

7

[W]hen people ask me why I didn’t try life among the Trads instead of leaving for Orthodoxy, the answer is right here in this tweet. Some of the best Catholic friends I have, and those I most admire, are Trads, but my general experience with Trads is that too often an intense bitterness, a hardness of heart, and barely-banked anger prevails among them. Our Lord told of the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep to go after the one who is lost. Far too many Trads would deride that lost sheep a weakling and a quitter.

Rod Dreher, reflecting on this pharisaic Tweet:

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Sunday Tidbits 8/26/18

1

Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review takes seriously two kinds of critics of “liberalism”:

  • That political liberalism makes false promises, holding out the possibility of liberty and pluralism but ultimately demanding conformism.
  • That it’s past time to give up arguing for our claims under natural law. Instead, we should make our claims unabashedly for the social kingship of Christ.

(Paraphrased)

But he “gently suggest[s] that the integralist critics of liberalism may be focusing too much on the theory of liberalism and not enough on the condition of their Church.”

And what’s that condition?

See how the Reverend John I. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame University, took several contradictory positions on the contraception mandate. His school became a plaintiff, arguing against it, as an infringement of religious liberty, in the highest courts in America. But, faced with dissension among professors, he reversed himself.

This level of dissension on matters of moral doctrine is everywhere in Catholic institutions, not just in universities but on the boards of Catholic health-care and charitable organizations and in diocesan secondary and primary schools. Such dissension characterizes the whole Church in America, a country where the second-largest reported religious affiliation is “ex-Catholic.” Catholic birth and divorce rates have, respectively, moved toward Protestant norms. In their catechisms, many Protestant denominations have accepted abortion and homosexuality as moral goods. And many prominent Catholic personalities — even those with imprimaturs of Catholic bishops — are urging Catholics to do likewise.

Dougherty, too, should be taken seriously.

2

Gallagher is implicitly rehashing here the old saw that “postmodernism brings a level playing field,” when in fact it relieves the rulers of the obligation to level that field. Under the ancien regime of liberalism people needed to come up with reasons for dismissing religious positions, and typically did so, even when the reasons were very badly formed indeed; now the reasons are unnecessary. “You’re a bigot” does the job just fine. As I once heard Richard Rorty say, “The theists can talk, but we don’t have to listen.” There may be, and indeed I think there are, good reasons to abandon fusionism, but the idea that in our current order integralist and other post-fusionism arguments will have greater purchase than fusionism did is, I fear, a fantasy.

There is no reason whatsoever to think that Catholic particularism will have any more “credibility” to the society at large than Catholic fusionism did. “The Catholic tradition must be prepared to speak in its own voice” not because that will be more credible or effective but because it is the Catholic tradition’s own voice. Calculations of political effectiveness are misplaced in a social environment where all substantive (and hence exclusive) religious stances are indistinguishable from the grossest bigotry. The dogma living loudly within you won’t win many friends or influence many people. But it ought to live loudly within you anyway.

Alan Jacobs, After Catholic Fusioisn, What? (hyperlink added).

3

In the gospels it was the devils who first recognized Christ and the evangelists didn’t censor this information. They apparently thought it was pretty good witness. It scandalizes us when we see the same thing in modern dress only because we have this defensive attitude toward the faith. (1963)

Flannery O’Connor via Eric Mador, Flannery O’Connor’s Christian Realism.

4

It is not homophobia in the least to point out that a heterosexual man will not have multiple sexual relationships with adult males and also pursue boys sexually when there are plenty of women around ….

Erin Manning

5

A new micro.blog acquaintance makes his own case, and cites another, for prayer using historic prayer books (in his case, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer).

6

Hello [Tipsy],

You’ve now completed at least six hours each night on sleep therapy for 21 out of the last 30 days.

Well done. You’ve earned yourself the GOLD badge!

If you log in to myAir now you can see your progress, and you might want to share your accomplishment with family and friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Sleep well!

The myAir Team

Next to my Notary Certificate, this myAir “GOLD badge!” is one of my great accomplishments in life.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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