Hobbit Day 2022

I have it on reasonably good authority that today is Hobbit Day, and it turns out that Peter Jackson isn’t the only one to cash in on Hobbits.

Culture

How the Bobos Broke America — key excerpt

I tend to quote a lot of things without comment, but I’m going to say that the following strikes me as true, and so contrary to the recent history of the Democrat and Republican parties that it’s core to why I believe a major realignment is underway. Today’s Republican party is not the same Republican party I left in January 2005. For my taste, it’s worse, but that taste almost certainly is tainted by Orange Man. But I gradually came to see his appeal:

What causes psychic crisis are the whiffs of “smarter than” and “more enlightened than” and “more tolerant than” that the creative class gives off. People who feel that they have been rendered invisible will do anything to make themselves visible; people who feel humiliated will avenge their humiliation. Donald Trump didn’t win in 2016 because he had a fantastic health-care plan. He won because he made the white working class feel heard.

How the Bobos Broke America.

There’s no need to hold a pity party for me, but I’ve spent most of my life too Christian and too socially awkward to be comfortable with social elites, too elite to feel instinctively empathetic or entirely comfortable with the working class.

How unreality spreads

Wrong beliefs and wrong perceptions are contagious whether or not they are sincere, because dissidents tend to self-censor and act like believers. That is how entire societies, such as the Soviet Union, can be built on everyone’s publicly pretending to believe what many privately know to be false.

Jonathan Rauch, Echo Chambers and Confirmation Loops in The Constitution of Knowledge.

I think this has some contemporary relevance. I’ll say no more.

National Conservatism could be a boon for religious liberty lawyers

Here’s the national conservatism “Statement of Principles” on God and public religion, signed by dozens of leaders of the national conservatism movement:

No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God and fear of his judgment that are found in authentic religious tradition. For millennia, the Bible has been our surest guide, nourishing a fitting orientation toward God, to the political traditions of the nation, to public morals, to the defense of the weak, and to the recognition of things rightly regarded as sacred. The Bible should be read as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, and as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike. Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private. At the same time, Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions, in the free governance of their communal institutions, and in all matters pertaining to the rearing and education of their children. Adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes. (Emphasis added.)

This paragraph describes a form of religious supremacy that relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting Christianity a position of powerful public privilege.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into believing that the “moral vision” of the signatories broadly reflects the diversity of Christian belief and practice in the United States. After all, there are churches that host drag queen events, as well as churches that condemn drag queens. Both the Democratic and Republican parties are completely dependent on their Bible-believing, church-going base constituencies (white Evangelicals for Republicans and Black Protestants for Democrats).

Are national conservatives thus satisfied when either party wins, so long as a Christian (Joe Biden, for example) is at the helm?

Of course not. For the term “moral vision” to mean anything, it has to mean a particular version of professed Christian belief and practice.

David French

A polity that "relegates dissenting religious believers to the “private” sphere, while granting [a form of putative] Christianity a position of powerful public privilege" is inconsistent with current Supreme Court thinking, and I don’t think Trump’s nominees change that.

When did modernity begin?

For us, the real Middle Ages extend from the reign of Charlemagne to the opening of the fourteenth century, at which date a new decadence set in that has continued, through various phases and with gathering impetus, up to the present time. This date is the real starting-point of the modern crisis: it is the beginning of the disruption of Christendom, with which the Western civilization of the Middle Ages was essentially identified: at the same time, it marks the origin of the formation of ‘nations’ and the end of the feudal system, which was very closely linked with the existence of Christendom. The origin of the modern period must therefore be placed almost two centuries further back than is usual with historians…

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World.

What Putin lacks

[T]he death of Queen Elizabeth II and the wave of antique pageantry help illuminate one of the Russian president’s important weaknesses. He has been hobbled in his fight because his regime lacks the mystical quality we call legitimacy.

Ross Douthat, Why Queen Elizabeth’s Strength Is Putin’s Weakness

This takes “self-deprecating” too far

We sat and watched the committal service, we who threw all this away in the 18th century, all the costumery, ribbonry, and titlery and iconic disciplines and endless dignity, in favor of the mess we know all too well …

[A]fter a couple hours of admiring tradition and ceremony and everyone knowing which foot to put where, it dawns on me that this elevation of bureaucracy to an art form is what America fortunately escaped and thus was better able to give the world the phenomenal techno advances of my lifetime, the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines. These things were not created by platoons of people marching in place but by brilliant gamblers and entrepreneurs, nerds of many stripes. (We also gave the world the blues and rock ’n’ roll, but that’s another story.)

An English major in college, I looked down on IT students because they all dressed alike and carried plastic pocket protectors for their ballpoint pens. I saw them as dullards. As it turns out they were at work on data technology that led to the internet, which changed my life and yours too. Meanwhile, the English department and other humanities march along beside the hearse and the horsemen.

I wanted to be eccentric and got my wish but the engineers in my family are more engaged with the real world.

Garrison Keillor.

Once again, I’ll opine.

I like technology entirely too well, but “the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines” do nothing to fill the void in the human soul, and I deny that they are the “real world” in a meaningful sense. Maybe monarchy doesn’t fill the soul-void, either; I don’t know (at least in part) because I’ve never lived in a monarchy. But I think monarchy says something true about reality that all the tech in the world misses.

So maybe we and Great Britain are still joined symbiotically at the hip; they provide the meaning, we provide the toys and the parties.

Correlation

This sort of thing is why I’ll probably renew Jesse Singal’s Substack:

Missed it when it was fresh

[I]t is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.

Boris Johnson, mid-2018, on Burqas.

Shorts

Journalism

Two formerly solid journals seem to have picked their tribes, and now assiduously pitch to the worst tribal instincts.

The Decline of First Things

There are many occasions for exposing hypocrisy these days. In the aftermath of the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Florida home, we can point to Hillary Clinton’s private server. Asked to denounce Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, we can cite Stacey Abrams, who never accepted her defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia.

R.R. Reno opening his big monthly Editorial in First Things.

That is Whataboutism at 190 proof. I have no idea what he thinks the FBI (or someone) ought to have done about Hillary’s server 6-7 years ago, and he certainly doesn’t tell us. He just insinuates that what they didn’t do was hypocritical because of what they later did. As for Stacy Abrams, so far as I know she has dropped “they done me wrong” from her stump speeches, unlike Orange Man (who is dining out on it), even if she has never formally conceded defeat.

That was just the opener. Considering how the column continued, I’m inclined to think that Reno had a bad case of writer’s block, and so resorted to tendentious bullshit.

I am thus reminded why I still (barely, and decreasingly) consider First Things essential reading but have ceased giving its publishing corporation anything beyond the cost of my subscription.

Conservative Radicals

It’s interesting to see a tribe close ranks.

Ron DeSantis’ sending two planefuls of refugees to Martha’s Vineyard is morally indefensible trolling.

So how does his tribe defend it? By focusing on “why the Left went so bat-guano crazy” over it, and implying that DeSantis had effectively taken a chapter from Saul Alinsky:

Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

Apparently “ridicule” is now National Review’s term for instrumentalizing humans who are unpopular with the GOP.

With Kevin Williamson defecting to The Dispatch, I’m almost out of reasons (I can think of just two remaining) to glance at the National Review homepage any more.

Politics

Wrong kind of diversity

Liz Truss, Great Britain’s new Prime Minister, has completed her cabinet. There are no white men. None. But that’s not good enough for Britain’s Left:

“It’s a meritocratic advance for people who have done well in education, law and business,” Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that focuses on issues of immigration, integration and national identity, told CNN. “It’s not an advance on social class terms.”

This is an interesting criticism. “Meritocratic,” used here in a pejorative sense, means based on ability and achievement, earned through a combination of talent and hard work. Traditionally, merit served as the primary consideration in hiring, but some people today see the very systems that confer merit as rigged, especially against minorities. In an effort to rectify that imbalance and to diversify the work force, particularly for leadership positions, it has become common practice in hiring — in the business and nonprofit worlds, as in government — to make racial or ethnic diversity a more significant factor.

The trouble is that for many of the same people, ethnic and racial diversity count only when combined with a particular point of view …

The implication is that there’s only one way to authentically represent one’s race, ethnicity or sex — otherwise you’re a phony or a pawn.

Pamela Paul, When Diversity Isn’t the Right Kind of Diversity

War? Really?

“Even the people who are responsible for disseminating the laptop admit that, on a human level, what happened to Hunter is horrifying. ‘A lot of stuff I do, I don’t feel great about,’ says one of them, Steve Bannon. ‘But we’re in a war.’”

The Morning Dispatch, recommending a New York Magazine article on the Hunter Biden laptop saga.

Steve Bannon is a very intelligent but quite unprincipled. “War”? Baloney!

J.D. Vance ❤️ Donald J. Trump

Trump went off on a tangent about a New York Times story that said Vance’s campaign didn’t ask Trump to come here. “JD wants my support so bad. He’s kissing my ass.”

Andrew Tobias on Twitter

Is this why we’re to take Trump “seriously if not literally”? He certainly captured the essence of Vance’s metamorphosis.

A Moment of Pleasure

Seldom has a Democrat made me as happy as Letitia James made me on Wednesday.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced into shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Elevation of the Holy Cross (a/k/a 9/14/22)

Culture

Building on vice

As Augustine of Hippo noticed, what the Romans called virtue was really a vicious craving for glory, for the approval of others who think well of one. This vice helped prop up the Roman republic, because the political class could win glory by performing deeds of conspicuous benefit to the commonwealth. In this way, the vice of glory protected against other vices that were even worse. The problem was twofold.  First, this strategy worked only because some little bit of real virtue remained; otherwise, one might pursue glory by foul means rather than fair. Second, indulging the itch for glory gradually undermined that little bit of real virtue, so that one did use foul means, for example buying votes. At that point the entire motivational structure begins to collapse, as the political class comes to lust not after simple glory, but after wealth and power. The curtain fell on the republic.

… Our society has a version of the Roman strategy too, but in our case the vice that protects against still worse vices is the lust for wealth itself. As Adam Smith noticed, the sheer desire for acquisition, as though by an invisible hand, can motivate people to benefit others, not because they love them but because that is how they earn a profit. Just as in the Roman case, this strategy works only if there a little bit of virtue remains; otherwise, one might pursue wealth by fraud and by governmental favors rather instead of by making a better and cheaper product. Just as in the Roman case, indulging the itch for wealth eventually undermines that little bit of virtue; today our corporations compete by gaming the system of regulations and subsidies. And just as in the Roman case, at this point the whole motivational structure begins to collapse, and the elite classes begin to scratch far baser itches than simple desire for honest profit.

J Budziszewski, Why Do We Always Hit a Wall?

This has haunted me since I read it, in part because it haunted me maybe 55 years before I read it.

No, I wasn’t conscious that Roman “virtue” was built on vice, but I did know that our system was built on the desire for wealth, and that a system like that seemed unlikely to come to a good end.

The longer I live, the closer I come to internalizing a key truth: there are no “good ends.” That’s what it means to live in a “fallen world.” But another part of what a “fallen world” means is that we are drawn, (almost?) irresistibly, to shuffle the deck chairs as it all goes down.

See also Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden.

The demand to be political first

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before! A piece of pop culture has been announced, one with a diverse cast of characters and themes of female empowerment. Some conservative idiots lose their minds because they’re conservative idiots. Liberals respond by taking to the ramparts to defend the honor of the piece of pop culture against MAGA or whatever. Meanwhile, the actual artistic value of the pop culture in question is completely lost. Aesthetic concerns are buried beneath the demand to be political first. If you aren’t actively singing the praises of worthless shlock that’s vaguely associated with progressive politics, you’re one of them. My god, that She-Hulk show is f***ing dreadful, and its feminist politics are warmed-over Sheryl Sandberg tripe, but people are like “actually the CGI is supposed to look like dogshit, it’s artistic” because they think defending Disney’s latest blast of entertainment Soylent Green is the same as storming the Bastille. Conservatives freak about diversity, liberals defend art without any reference to artist, rinse and repeat. I could be talking about 2016’s Ghostbusters, or I could be talking about the upcoming Little Mermaid remake. Nothing ever changes, and it is all so, so tiresome.

Freddie deBoer, Why Are Identitarians Such Cheap Dates? (bowdlerization gently added). That opening paragraph was terrific, and the title of the posting makes it even better.

The special costs of being poor

Early in Nickel and Dimed, the great Barbara Ehrenreich offered up a blunt observation. “There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs,” she wrote. “If you can’t put up the two months’ rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week,” she explained. “If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can’t save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved in a convenience store.” For the poor this is no revelation, merely a description of daily life. For many others, though, it was something else, a glimpse into a world that could feel distant. Yet it was not so far away, as she understood: The poor were all around. They worked, they loved, they tried to make do. The poor carried America on their backs and debunked its self-mythologies. So, too, did Ehrenreich, who showed no patience for pretense. She always looked for the truth of a thing, and for decades, she shared her search with all of us.

Sarah Jones, Barbara Ehrenreich Knew There Was a Fight

The platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece

Maya Jasanoff’s idea that “The new king now has an opportunity to make a real historical impact by scaling back royal pomp and updating Britain’s monarchy to be more like those of Scandinavia” — because Colonialism! — is (a) the platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece and (b) a perfect illustration of Clement Atlee’s comment that “the intelligentsia … can be trusted to take the wrong view on any subject.” The pomp of the British monarchy is the point; the ceremony is the substance — for good reasons and bad. When the ceremony is discarded the monarchy will be too. And rightly so. 

Alan Jacobs

Sheer drudgery, with a dose of despair

Teaching has its own rewards, to be sure. But you’re a lot more likely to wax eloquent about the privilege of shaping the minds, hearts, and souls of our youth when you aren’t grading their papers.

Peter C. Meilaender, I Don’t Care If My Students Get Jobs

Not a promising review

[T]o their credit, the characters managed to exchange an endless series of ponderous aphorisms without giggling. So it was that we learned how ‘the wine is sweetest for those in whose bitter trials it has fermented’; how ‘the same wind that seeks to blow out a fire may also cause it to spread’; and, more pithily, how ‘there can be no trust between hammer and rock’.

Will you be able to get through the ponderous aphorisms without giggling? The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power reviewed | The Spectator

Political (after a fashion)

The difference between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers

The fundamental difference between Ukrainian soldiers, who are fighting for their country’s existence, and Russian soldiers, who are fighting for their salary, has finally begun to matter.

Anne Applebaum

Dance with the one what brung ya

In the post-Roe era, Ramesh Ponnuru argues, the pro-life movement should remember the approach that got them to to where they are today: incrementalism. “Passionate pro-lifers, in their impatience at what they recognize to be a grave injustice, are forgetting the need for patient persuasion of the public,” he writes for Bloomberg. “Some pro-lifers have made a point of claiming that abortion is never medically necessary. That’s because they don’t consider ending an ectopic pregnancy, for example, as a ‘direct abortion’—an intentional taking of human life. That’s needlessly confusing, and pro-lifers should simply say they’re for an exception in such cases. They should also broaden their agenda to include measures to aid parents of small children—such as the proposals of various Republican senators to expand the child tax credit and to finance paid leave. Promoting a culture of life includes fostering the economic conditions that help it thrive.”

The Morning Dispatch

Wordplay

Taking leave of senses

[I]f you have paid much attention to the conservative movement and conservative media, you’ve seen a few formerly sober-minded men take off the bow tie, put on the red cap, and bark at the moon.

Kevin F. Williamson, Steve Bannon Charges: Gravy Train Derailed

Truth Social

Truth Social: The media penal colony to which Twitter and Facebook sentenced Donald Trump.

Frank Bruni

Words failed them

The families and former FBI agent William Aldenberg say they have been confronted and harassed in person by [Alex] Jones’ followers because of the hoax conspiracy.

Associated Press story on a second civil trial against Jones arising from his claim that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. (Emphasis added)


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Friday, 7/29/22

R.I.P. William Jon Gray

William Jon Gray, undoubtedly the best Choral Conductor I ever sang under, has died at his home in New York state at age 66. I have the impression (from someone saying “You sung under him?!”) that he was widely known in American choral music circles.

That’s all I know about his death at this point, the news having just come to me Thursday through the (reliable) grapevine.

Bill was Artistic Director of the Bach Chorale Singers from 1994 to 2010. I re-joined the Chorale, after a very brief prior experience in the 1980s, in 1997. In addition to his formal education, Bill learned from the Master, Robert Shaw, having sung with him for some period of time. He forever followed what I understand was “Mr. Shaw’s” practice of meticulously marking scores before distributing them to his singers and, heaven help us, count-singing. His other accomplishments can be seen at the first link, above.

The pinnacles of my experience with Bill were, in no particular order:

  • performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers,
  • a professional recording of the Latin Organ and Choral Music of Zoltan Kodaly, with Organist Marilyn Keiser, on the Pro Organo label. One track unfailingly brings tears to my eyes, and
  • in retrospect, sitting a couple of feet from our Guest Tenor Soloist, Lawrence Brownlee, days after he had won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. (Bill said “Enjoy him. We’ll never be able to afford him again.”)

Signs of the Times

  • A handful of former Democratic and Republican officials announced Wednesday they are forming a new national political party—Forward—that they believe will appeal to voters frustrated with the United States’ current two-party system. The centrist party will be chaired by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and plans to gain ballot access in all 50 states in time for the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.
  • A new FBI search warrant claims the man who allegedly attempted to assassinate Justice Brett Kavanaugh last month was also planning to kill two other Supreme Court justices. The FBI alleges the man searched “assassin skills,” “most effective place to stab someone,” and “quietest semi auto rifle” online before he was arrested, and that he messaged unnamed users on Discord that he was going to “stop Roe v. Wade from being overturned” and that he would “remove some people from the Supreme Court.”

The Morning Dispatch, July 28.

Turning Point, USA?

I conducted dozens of focus groups of Trump 2020 voters in the 17 months between the storming of the Capitol on January 6 and when the hearings began in June. One measure was consistent: At least half of the respondents in each group wanted Trump to run again in 2024. The prevailing belief was that the 2020 election was stolen—or at least unfair in some way—and Trump should get another shot.

But since June, I’ve observed a shift. I’ve conducted nine focus groups during this period, and found that only 14 percent of Trump 2020 voters wanted him to run in 2024, with a few others on the fence. In four of the groups, zero people wanted Trump to run again. Their reasoning is clear: They’re now uncertain that Trump can win again.

[U]nlike the impeachment hearings, which in some ways made GOP voters more defensive of Trump, the accumulating drama of the January 6 hearings—which they can’t avoid in social-media feeds—seems to be facilitating not a wholesale collapse of support, but a soft permission to move on.

Sarah Longwell, The January 6 Hearings Are Changing Republicans’ Minds

In [Peter Thiel’s] view, much of what passes for “progress” is in truth more like “distraction”. As he puts it, “the iPhone that distracts us from our environment also distracts us from the ways our environment is unchanging and static.” And in this culture, economy and politics of chronic self-deception, as Thiel sees it, we tell ourselves that we’re advancing because “grandma gets an iPhone with a smooth surface,” but meanwhile she “gets to eat cat food because food prices have gone up.”

Mary Harrington, Peter Thiel on the dangers of progress.

One of many provocative observations in this long piece.

And yes, I’ve read accusations that he’s a fascist. I’m just saying he’s smart, not that he’s good.

Nothing pointless

Speaking of fascists …

Himmler quite aptly defined the SS member as the new type of man who under no circumstances will ever do “a thing for its own sake.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Church/State

Lifeway research suggests that as many as 2/3 of American churches incorporate patriotic music into their liturgy for public worship during the time around the 4th of July holiday.

So this is one piece of the problem: For many of our nation’s white evangelicals, their patriotic commitments as Americans are so intertwined with their Christian faith that it is very hard for them to imagine a scenario where Christian fidelity actually requires them to reject standard American ideas about identity, wealth, success, and so on.

Jake Meador, Defining “White Evangelical Crap”.

Was MLK antiracist? Barack Obama?

Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech would not meet Kendi’s definition of anti-racism, nor would the one Barack Obama made about there being too many fatherless Black families. Indeed, nearly everything that Americans have been taught about how to be anti-racist for the past several decades is, according to Kendi’s explicit definition, racist.

Bari Weiss, Stop Being Shocked

Flash!

This just in: With Russia at war in Ukraine, and Putin’s stench in American nostrils increasing, our 45th POTUS has declared himself an acolyte of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr now. al-Sadr’s followers are very special people.

(Pass it on.)

Note to Readers

I will be traveling for more than a week. I may or may not get a post scheduled for tomorrow or intermittently during travel, but I should be back sometime the week of August 7.

And I just realized that today is the 57th anniversary of my most serious accident, on a motorcycle at age 16.


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

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

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.

Saturday, 4/2/2022

The Ivies

Academic blinders

Fred Smith decided to step down as chief executive of FedEx, which he founded 50 years ago. Mr Smith came up with the idea of a logistics firm based around transport hubs in an economics paper when he was a student at Yale in 1965. The paper received a poor grade from his professor; FedEx is now a global giant with annual sales of $84bn.

Item in the Economist

Selling out

Kids say the darndest things:

Princeton sophomore: "I don’t want to sell out by doing something like going to McKinsey when I graduate."

Princeton senior (on her way to Goldman): "It won’t be selling out if you put a Black Lives Matter sign up on your lawn."

Robert P. George on Twitter

Ruso-Ukrainian war

End of History

Every time something dramatic happens in the world, someone feeling clever tweets “remember the end of history?” But the actual thesis of the book was that communism was the Final Boss of global ideology and that from there on out, the struggle for democracy would be just a fight against not-democracy — people who want to rig elections or crack down on opposition parties for squalid self-interested reasons — rather than against conflicting ideologies.

Matt Yglesias

What Putin is doing to Russia

Russia’s potential is being set back by decades; the young, educated and creative are leaving; and the hard men are ascendant. Once again, Russia has become a pariah spreading lies and death.

Reports from Russia, and from some friends I’ve reached, speak to a widespread dismay and shame among younger, educated, urban Russians …

A growing number of educated Russians began flowing out of Russia, some to Kyiv. When I visited there some years ago, I met several prominent Russian journalists who were, in effect, living in exile …

When the word spread that the invasion had begun, the brain drain became a rush for the doors. With flights to more than 30 countries now stopped, the twice-daily trains to Finland have been full, and many more Russians have being fleeing south to Georgia, where they don’t need a visa, or through Gulf States.

Serge Schmemann, ‌Putin Is Setting Back Russia’s Potential By Decades

134,499 smart young Russians emigrate

Reuters reported Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an order drafting 134,500 new conscripts into the Russian army, a move the Kremlin claimed was routine and unrelated to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. “Most military personnel will undergo professional training in training centers for three to five months,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. “Let me emphasize that recruits will not be sent to any hot spots.”

The Morning Dispatch

Exoneratring Ginni Thomas

This is unlike anything else I’ve read about the Ginni Thomas (Mrs. Justice Clarence Thomas) Tweets on on around January 6. 2020:

Ginni Thomas’ texts were bonkers, and not just Japanese game show bonkers. They were legitimately disturbing. But a lot of people seem to miss the point. There’s a lot of talk that she was part of a coup. And in one sense she obviously was. But a plain reading of the texts shows that she didn’t think she was. She thought—wrongly!—that she was on the side preventing a coup. You can argue—easily and persuasively—that she was duped. But where is the evidence that she didn’t believe what she was saying to Mark Meadows in private text exchanges? You gotta pick a theory: Was she a willing and knowing participant in an effort to illegally steal an election, or was she effectively brainwashed by the people trying to steal it? Both can’t be true. So far, all of the evidence points to the latter. After all, this is a woman who couldn’t understand why Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani had become liabilities for the cause. And almost as bizarre, she believed a conspiracy theorist’s report that the “Biden crime family” was being arrested for treason and heading to prison barges off the coast of Guantanamo. Again, she wasn’t saying this on TV, she was saying it privately.

Ginni Thomas is not Roger Stone. I think it’s obvious that Stone is a liar and fraud who deliberately spun bogus claims to help Trump steal the election. Ginni Thomas is simply guilty of thinking that Stone and his imitators were serious people. It doesn’t reflect well on her. But until new evidence is provided, I think she’s guilty of being a true believer, not a cynical plotter. This is important for all sorts of reasons, not least that all of the people going after her husband need her to be a knowing villain rather than a victim of the villains. Distinctions matter.

Jonah Goldberg

I intend for this to be my last blog post about Mrs. Thomas, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first, too.

Modern Monetary Theory lives in the hearts of its True Believers

Remember MMT? Modern Monetary Theory was the notion, advanced by a small but influential group of very smart people, that our government can just keep printing money, traditional concerns—deficits, inflation—be damned. This view was advanced by Bernie Sanders’s economic advisor and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, whose policy dreams required the government to print trillions of dollars for every social cause under the sun (Green New Deal! Medicare for All!) and by Goldman Sachs, which loved the idea of a hot economy and cheap money. Covid relief was to be the big tryout. The enemy was that old man Larry Summers, trying to ruin all the fun. The Times’s Ezra Klein slips a small mea culpa in this week in an interview with Summers: “There was a reason the Biden administration wanted to run the economy hot. . . .  It felt, finally, like we were reaching people on the margins,” Klein said. “We were putting a lot of firepower to do that,” he said. “And then for that to then turn into this horrifying inflation problem.”

One of MMT’s original economist proponents is now saying Biden did it wrong with the Covid spending and, therefore, true MMT has still never been tried.

Nellie Bowles. "X hasn’t failed; X hasn’t really, properly, been tried" is the last refuge of almost every ideologue.

A book I really need to read

[Julien] Benda introduced Treason with a story about Leo Tolstoy. When Tolstoy witnessed a fellow officer beat a man who fell out of marching ranks, he asked the officer if he had never heard of the gospels. The officer, in reply, asked if Tolstoy had never heard of the army regulations. For Benda, it was reasonable that the officer replied as he did, but it was nonetheless crucial that there be men like Tolstoy to protest. These men were the clercs—loosely translated, “scribes” with the hint of ecclesiastical status. “It is thanks to these scribes … that humanity did evil for two thousand years but nonetheless paid tribute to the good,” Benda wrote. “This contradiction was an honour to the human race, opening up the crack whereby civilisation could occasionally slip through.”

… For Benda, intellectuals should stand athwart history yelling “No” when they saw the “transcendental values” of truth, beauty, and justice traduced. Paradoxically, they fulfilled their role as intellectuals when they engaged in political protest. Benda cited several exemplary cases of such engagement: Émile Zola’s intervention in the Dreyfus affair; Voltaire’s defence of Jean Calas; Spinoza’s “ultimi barbarorum” following the lynching of the de Witt brothers. Benda thought thnat Treason was itself a paradigmatic case of intellectual responsibility.

Gustav Jönsson, Treason of the Intellectuals

It seems as if every serious writer I read has read and grappled with Julien Benda.

For what it’s worth

David French

David French increasingly has been getting called out for disloyalty to the Evangelical Tribe, as here for the latest known instance ("uncharitable about the defects of his fellow evangelicals, even as he basks in the approval of writers like [David] Brooks").

I follow French pretty closely, and whatever his shortcomings, I sense nothing but friendly disappointment and a (doomed) effort to see Evangelicals do better.

To say that’s not what he’s up to because he writes for Atlantic and, sometimes, the New York Times seems more insulting to Evangelicals tacitly (as is "soft bigotry of low expectations") than anything French says outright.

KBJ

Despite what hyper-partisan Linda Greenhouse says, I do not think there’s anything unusually vile, by post-Bork standards, about the behavior of Senate Republicans in the Ketanji Brown Jackson SCOTUS confirmation proceedings.

I wish it were otherwise, but the Democrats, led by Ted Kennedy, fired the first shots in the episode that gave us the term "Borked." Compared to that, nothing Republicans have asked or said is very noteworthy — unless one thinks that the focus on child pornography is consciously playing to the QAnon set.

I expect Jackson to be confirmed and there will be no asterisk by her name in history.

The Best Thing about retirement

Of all social media sites, LinkedIn is by far my least favourite, a prison of mindless platitudes and the worst kind of dreary corporate diversity+inclusion drivel. You can connect to me here — it will improve your career and life not a single bit, but please don’t contact me via LinkedIn. I’d rather you turned up unexpectedly at my front door, naked and screaming passages from the Bible.

So, asks Trung Phan on Substack, Why is LinkedIn so cringe?

Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman has the answer: in a book called The Presentation of Self in Every Day Life, Goffman posits that every person goes through life wearing many “masks”, like an actor in a theatre play. Most people are different personalities at work vs. home vs. happy hour. People wear these different masks to impress or avoid embarrassment with different audiences…

The setup forces everyone on the site to basically wear the professional “CV mask” of their personality. Bland. Buzzwords. Inoffensive. A little exaggeration. Self-promotional (but not too much). Desperate to impress.

It’s ghastly.

Ed West

One of the very best things about retirement was abandoning my neglected LinkedIn account.

Disunification Church

In Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity v. World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, Inc., (MD PA, March 30, 2022), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed on ecclesiastical abstention grounds a trademark dispute between the Unification Church (HSA), led by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s wife, and defendant Unification Sanctuary, an organization created by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s son to spread Rev. Moon’s teachings. At issue is the right of Sanctuary to use the trademarked Twelve Gates symbol. The court said in part:

While it is undisputed that the Twelve Gates symbol is registered with the USPTO in HSA’s name, Sanctuary contends that the Twelve Gates symbol is not entitled to trademark protection because the symbol has become generic as a universal religious symbol that represents Unificationism generally….

[T]he implicit question raised … is whether Sanctuary can be classified as a branch of the Unificationist church in light of the apparent fundamental disagreements between the parties relating to the beliefs and practice of this religion. Indeed, while Sanctuary classifies itself as a Unificationist church, HSA vehemently disputes this assertion…. [I]t is well-settled that the court cannot resolve church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice….

HSA’s registration of the Twelve Gates symbol with the USPTO constitutes prima facie evidence that it owns this trademark right….  However, Sanctuary has contested HSA’s ownership on inherently religious grounds. Specifically, Sanctuary has alleged that Sean Moon is the owner of all Unificationist property as the heir of Rev. Moon, and that he therefore owns the trademark to the Twelve Gates symbol since he controls the Unificationist Church, and by extension, HSA as a branch of same.

Plainly, this is a dispute that the court cannot resolve without venturing into issues of church leadership or organization—an area in which the Southern District of New York and the Second Circuit have already determined is inappropriate in a similar dispute presented by the same parties.

Religion Clause blog.

How delicious is it that the Unification Church has its own internal, familial schism? Couldn’t happen to a nicer novel, audacious cult.

Wordplay

Traditions are the answers to questions we forgot we had.

Nellie Bowles on the Good Faith Effort podcast


Finally, someone has defined "woman":

a mature female who can maintain her composure while being badgered on national television by posturing politicians.

Linda Greenhouse


Laptop Class: My favorite short-hand for the social class to which I admittedly belong, which class has characteristic blind spots and animosities.


Speaking of "classes" that divide us, I heard someone (maybe Os Guinness) suggest that the real divide in America is between those who think our important revolution was 1776 in America and those who think it was 1789 in France.

Being alive

I met a man who came up as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee so I poured him one. He was a soybean farmer who also raised sheep and we talked about that for a minute. Parenting is brief, he said, the lambs are weaned at two months and the rams have no parenting responsibility whatsoever, it’s just hit and run, and by thirteen months, the ewes are ready for breeding. He said that soybean farming is looking somewhat hopeful although a couple years ago he lost his whole crop to a hailstorm and almost had to sell the farm.

“So what is the fun in farming?” I said.

“Being outdoors on a beautiful day,” he said. “Knowing other people are shut up in offices and you’re on a tractor and it’s 75 and sunny and you can smell the vegetation and hear the sheep talking.”

“In other words, just being alive,” I said.

“That’s exactly right.”

Garrison Keillor


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.

Metaphysics and more

Metaphysics

Kicking God’s Tires

I believe that there are great philosophical questions that are opaque to our questioning. The book of Job raises the specter of the “problem of evil” and leaves it wrapped in the mystery of God Himself. I have yet to hear anyone offer an answer to the question that satisfies. I believe that there is a “shame of ignorance” that accompanies the question, a dynamic that explains why it so often produces anger. This very shame, however, is the raw edge of our own nakedness, a point where our existence as creature meets the silence of the Creator.

In my own life, I have stood at that point many times. More than that, I have stood beside others as the questions raged in their hearts. I have listened while God was compared to a heartless beast and torturer, the most evil of all. And the silence abides. My ignorance and my speechlessness are, however, a true part of me. They represent much of the powerlessness of my creaturely existence. “You cannot make one hair white or black,” Christ reminds us. (Matt. 5:36)

We have all largely been formed in a culture of consumerism. It is not surprising, therefore, that we approach God as consumers. We want to “kick His tires,” discuss His program, find out what makes Him tick and why He does what He does. Ignorance is the bane of a consumer’s existence. God, however, is not a product for consumption. He is rightly approached in a relationship of “offering.” He gives to us, and we give to Him. It is a different mode of existence.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

Mystical? Or mostly non-linear?

Orthodox theology is often described as “mystical.” I suspect that what is actually going on is that Orthodox theology is not “linear.” Rather, it is “everything at once.” This is actually how the world is. Things do not take place in a linear fashion, but together, and at once. History is not so polite as to “take turns,” waiting for one thing to lead to another. It is, undoubtedly the reason that all human plans fail in the end: we never “see coming” the train that hits us because we are too busy monitoring the linearity of our own expectations.

The Orthodox insight is that theology is “everything at once.” Although events may be described in a linear fashion, they are yet more fully understood when they are allowed to inform one another. The Annunciation is Pascha, if you have ears to hear. It is the descent of God into the depths of our humanity, in His self-emptying act of Incarnation. Orthodoxy struggles with this, often coining phrases such as “joyful sorrow” to describe the conjunction of God’s saving action in the world. St. Paul captures till somewhat in his statement that “all things work together for good.” It is not something that can be described in a linear fashion, but something that seeks to give voice to the full reality of God’s saving action. God has come among us not just some select people can go to heaven. He has come among us that He might “gather together in one all things in Christ Jesus.” That ingathering is everywhere, always, and at once.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The World as Grand Opera

Russian Conservative insight

[F]or Christian conservatives to want moral sobriety AND all the goodies that can be produced by liquid modernity is to want what never has been and probably never can be.

Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism

What were the odds?

“0.0001 led to you, my love.”

Christ the Eternal Tao

I began reading a book by that name last night. I mention it so my non-Orthodox Christian friends, mistaking this for syncretism, will intensify their prayers for me (although they might want to consult St. Clive’s Abolition of Man before any anathema).

Wordplay

the shallows of modernity

Andrew Sullivan. I’m not even sure that those four words in that order are original, but it jumped out at me in context of the “mesmerizing” allure of “reactionaryism.”


As I wrote last week, the Ukraine war has exposed certain limits to populist thinking generally: Organized as it is around the internal failures of Western and American elites, the populist response to a clear external threat has been a kind of anticipatory opposition, a critique of elite mistakes not yet in evidence.

Ross Douthat (italics added).


Every year the N.C.A.A. tournament draws us in and then spits us back out, and every year we come back for more. But why?

Jane Coaston

Miscellany

One Craftsman

A specialist in finishes, he is a journeyman in the original, literal sense. He goes wherever the furniture is, traveling by car because the airlines do not allow the chemicals he carries. He is at the very top of his profession, a conservator of multimillion-dollar pieces of furniture, and he makes a lot of money. He is essentially a forensic chemist; he speaks of particular oils, shellacs, acetones, and methylated spirits. He is also a cultural historian…

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

American exceptionalism at its worst

80% of cars sold in Europe have manual transmissions. Some car makers, including Audi, no longer offer manual transmissions in the U.S. market at all.

So why would anyone want one? Your car is less likely to get stolen, for one thing. Thieves prove as incapable of using a clutch as any other American. There have been multiple reports over the past year—in Cleveland, St. Louis, Detroit and Pleasantville, N.J.—of carjackers unable to drive away.

Faith Bottum, The Dying Art of Driving a Stick Shift

Splashes of reality

  • Whatever his or her claims of solidarity with the Third World, each American college graduate has had an education costing an amount five times greater than the median life income of half of humanity.
  • The largest institutions compete most fiercely for resources which are not listed in any inventory: the air, the ocean, silence, sunlight, and health.

Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

My pledge

I do not care that they have changed the dictionary. I will never use the word “literally” when I mean “figuratively” or “wow!”

BIPOC mothers, White birthing people

I am not making this up, and neither did Orwell:

The urgency of this moment is clear. Mortality rates of birthing people are too high, and babies born to Black and Puerto Rican mothers in this city are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to non-Hispanic White birthing people.

Dr. Michelle E. Morse, New York City’s chief medical officer (italics added for any slack-jawed readers) via Nellie Bowles

In a related vein, the World Health Organization, in the course of calling for abortion on demand for all nine months, world-wide, came up with this agnostic gem:

laws preventing abortion at any point during pregnancy risk violating the rights of ‘women, girls or other pregnant persons …’.

Via Wesley J. Smith. At least women and girls preceded the newly-obligatory “pregnant persons.”

Politics

As if on cue …

I mentioned last time that I had not voted for Indiana Senator Mike Braun. The GOP primary field the year he was elected consisted entirely of guys trying to outdo one another in Trumpiness, so I wouldn’t have voted for his primary opponents, either.

Since last time, he has astonishingly confirmed my judgment by suggesting that the Supreme Court should not have struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia (but should have left it to the states to repeal them — thanks for that small bone, Senator).

This sort of thing is a risk of sending a faux-populist businessman to Congress: a reflex that the Supreme Court should stay out of social issues unleavened by appreciation for the gravaman of the civil war amendments.

Well if you don’t like America, why don’t you move to _?

True colors: January 6 insurrectionist granted asylum in Belarus.

What is a woman?

It’s odd that none of the GOP Senators baiting Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her inability to define “woman” have offered her their definition to see if she agrees.

No, it’s really not odd. The questions are not made in entirely good faith nor entirely bad faith. Neither was her answer. Nobody covered themselves in glory on this one.

(A workable definition is “adult female human”, but then I looked that up.)

“Parks”

The houses are all in their respective income pods, the shopping is miles away from the houses, and the schools are separate from both the shopping and the dwellings. Work takes place in the office park—the word park being a semantic gimmick to persuade zoning boards that a bunch of concrete and glass boxes set among parking lots amounts to a rewarding environment—and manufacturing takes place in the industrial park—ditto. This has some interesting, and rather grave, ramifications.

James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere

Who are the real imperialists?

In an interview with Mandiner several weeks ago, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was asked what he thought the main characteristics could be of a Chinese-led international order. While those characteristics are as yet unclear, he said, “one thing is for sure: the Anglo-Saxons want the world to recognise their position as morally right. For them it’s not enough to accept the reality of power; they also need you to accept the things that they think are right. The Chinese have no such need.”

Gladden Pappin.

Hawley, Cruz and others dispel a notion

Although their roles as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are political rather than legal, Senators Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) got to play lawyers on TV at the Jackson confirmation hearings. And their performances won’t help dispel the notion that you don’t want Harvard and Yale Law grads as your advocates in the courtroom.

David Lat

Fact-checking the fact-checkers

[W]hen it really counts, the fact-checker’s role is not to investigate the truth but to uphold the credibility of official sources and their preferred narratives.

Jacob Siegel, ‌Invasion of the Fact-Checkers


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.

Ruso-Ukrainian War

I had collected so much on the current war that I decided to blog it separately.

Resisting Western cultural hegemony

Danilevsky concluded with words that continue to resonate today among Russian conservatives who want to resist the forces of globalism and what they see as Western cultural hegemony:

The danger consists not of the political domination of a single state, but of the cultural domination of one cultural-historical type … The issue is not whether there will be a universal state, either a republic or a monarchy, but whether one civilization, one culture, will dominate, since this would deprive humanity of one of the necessary conditions for success and perfection—the element of diversity.

Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism, Kindle page 82.

The collective mind of Russia, insofar as there is such a thing, likely matters at present less than the mind of Putin. Were it not so, Putin wouldn’t have smashed civil society at all critical or even inquisitive voices (see below).

But Russian conservatives have at centuries of discomfort with the West. Many of them were educated in the West, and they acknowledge and admire its accomplishments, but they want to keep it arm’s length. They want Russia to be Russian.

I have not yet read about Russian liberals.

Putin and Pushkin

“You have Putin’s Russia and Pushkin’s Russia,” Krielaars observed. To blame a whole culture, past and present, for a current political action implies that everything about that culture contributed to that action. If Germany succumbed to the Nazis, don’t listen to Beethoven; because of Mussolini, cancel Dante and Raphael; if you reject American actions in Vietnam, the Middle East, or anywhere else, no more Thoreau or Emily Dickinson. Could there be a better way to encourage national hatred than to treat a whole culture and its history as a unified whole, carrying, as if genetically, a hideous quality?

When I visited Soviet-dominated Poland in 1970, people understandably resented Russian rule. Ill-disposed to the forced consumption of Russian culture, some responded, as oppressed people often do, with the sort of blind hatred that prepares victims to be oppressors as soon as the tables are turned. As a character in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov observes, “it can be very pleasant to take offense.” One Pole I met proclaimed proudly: “I even hate Russian trees!” “You have something against birches?” I asked incredulously. But the more absurd his pronouncements were, the more righteous he felt.

Russian expert Michel Krielaars via Gary Saul Morson

Ukrainian Genocide

  • The International Court of Justice ruled 13-2 in favour of Ukraine, concluding that Russia’s allegations that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russian speakers in Donetsk and Luhansk were false. The ruling strips away the legal pretext that Mr Putin used for the invasion. The two dissenting judges were, unsurprisingly, from China and Russia.
  • In a menacing television appearance Mr Putin warned Russians to be aware of “fifth columnists”, urging them to “spit out like a midge that has flown into their mouths” those traitors whose minds had been captured by the West. The West’s ultimate aim, he said, was the destruction of Russia. Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova was clearly unpersuaded. Having been publicly critical of the war she quit the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet. She is the most famous Russian star to quit the country over the war.

The world in brief | The Economist, 3/17/22.

Allegations of Ukrainian genocide in Donetsk and Luhansk (eastern Ukrainian regions oriented strongly toward Russia rather than the West) seemed, apart from the possible hyperbole of “genocide,” plausible to me. I’m relieved that Russia was as bereft of evidence as was Trump in his grousing about the 2020 Election.

As for the claim that “[t]he West’s ultimate aim [is] the destruction of Russia,” there’s too much to it for me to summarily dismiss it.

We have made Russia our bête noire for my entire lifetime, with a brief pause around 1990 when we fancied we might turn it into a Western liberal democracy. But as it turns out, there’s a whole lot of historic and abiding Russian conservative resistance to liberal democracy, and since it’s always helpful for a regime to have an iconic enemy, we acquiesced in Russia remaining the Other.

Add to that widespread western Christian ambivalence about Orthodox Christianity (insofar as the West is aware of it at all) and the history of Russian Orthodox collaboration with successive illiberal regimes and — Why, yes! Now that you mention it we would find it reassuring if Russia as we know it were destroyed, by us, by it’s own overreach, or from internal forces.

Putin knows it, but his very knowing it, we fancy, means it’s false.

How might the Ukraine war scramble world Christianity?

Veteran Religion Beat reporter Richard Ostling does an outstanding, objective job in Beyond the Orthodox questions: How might the Ukraine war scramble world Christianity?. It’s heavily but not exclusively focused on potential scrambling in Christian Orthodoxy. Lots of links, too.

No hate speech except against the hateful people

The Russian government moved to designate Meta as an “extremist organisation”, after reports that the parent company of Facebook and Instagram would allow Ukrainians to call for violence against Russian soldiers on its sites. Meta said there was no change to its policies on hate speech “as far as the Russian people are concerned”. The row does raise questions about Meta’s role in selecting just when it thinks support for violence is suitable across its platforms.

Business | The Economist

Putin’s crackdown on his own people

For whatever reason these stories really brought home to me the enormity of Putin’s deceit and suppression.

Dissidents flee Russia

“The plane from Moscow to Yerevan was packed with people I knew,” he recalled. “Lots of young people — the future of Russia is leaving.”

“Collective blame is an easy way to channel rage,” Maria Stepanova, a prominent Russian poet, told me. But the impulse to punish Russians on the basis of national identity is a misguided one. Ms. Stepanova told me that many emigrants are driven by a feeling of pure moral indignation, a sense that emigration is the only remaining avenue for political protest. “They simply don’t want to breathe the air here,” she said. “They want to cut all ties with their country.… They’re willing to risk ruining their lives out of this feeling of disgust.”

Sophie Pinkham, Putin’s War in Ukraine Is Forcing Russian Dissidents to Flee. That title is underinclusive: intellectuals and potential conscriptees are fleeing, too. It was predicted and now it’s happening.

Remaining dissidents are like vermin

The idea behind the hounding of prominent figures in the arts is to reject Western influence as alien. One of the most public faces of this campaign is Margarita Simonyan, the boss of the state-run RT television station. As she said in one of her recent talk shows, “We must all consolidate, grip our will in our fists, establish exceptional order in education, culture and information, and rid the country of truants, idiots and traitors.” In a speech on March 16th, Vladimir Putin said such people would be “spat out”.

The Economist, ‌Russian propagandists turn on pro-Western “traitors”

Crushing Russian civil society

Wow. Strong opener:

Within the first days of the war, the Russian government smashed to pieces whatever remained of Russian civil society—including independent media, human rights organizations, and anybody who could still speak truth to power and to their fellow citizens. As the Kremlin adopted a new draconian speech law and cracked down on organization after organization—initiating or completing bogus legal procedures against them, shutting down their websites, and sending goons to physically harass them—the people staffing those organizations picked up and left the country. Within only about 72 hours, the entire institutional fabric of Russia’s civil society, painstakingly woven out of the post-Soviet institutional wasteland, was irreparably torn to shreds.

Izabella Tabarovsky, ‌Russia’s New Exiles.

Of all the stories I’ve seen on the new emigration of Russians, this (fairly long, but no paywall) was the most potent. The life of Russia intellectual, potential conscriptee, journalistic and dissident exiles is spartan and very hard; fleeing Russia didn’t “make it all better.”

When The Tablet is good, it’s very, very good.

Personal reversal

I’ve tended to buy the John Mearsheimer argument that we forced Putin’s hand (expanding NATO eastward threatened Russia — the idea is far from being a Mearsheimer exclusive), and this blog’s recent posts have almost certainly reflected that.

I’m no longer convinced of that. Ann Applebaum on Andrew Sullivan’s podcast was surprisingly persuasive, as have been a few others.

The most persuasive argument against the “pushing NATO too far” theory, to my mind, is that we always have nuclear-capable submarines close to Russia (as they have close to us). Although “NATO is purely defensive,” standing alone, wasn’t very persuasive, “NATO, which claims to be purely defensive, is a trivial threat to Russia compared to the U.S. and it’s submarines” packs a punch. Tell me why that’s wrong.

But the most persuasive observation is what Putin is doing within his own borders, and the stupid propaganda behind which he shields himself.

I’m still not sure what Putin is up to, but it should be born in mind that Putin’s intent is not Russia-at-large’s intent — else he wouldn’t crush truthful reporting, arrest protestors, ban civil society mediating structures and so forth.

That this war might bring down Putin is an outcome fervently to be hoped and prayed for, but we dare not directly promote it, and we should not be under any illusions that his fall would lead quickly to a liberal Western democratic Russia. There’s too much history and sentiment to the contrary. Russia and the West may learn to live together, but I don’t look for homogeneity.

Caveat: I have never repudiated my conscientious objection to war, so don’t think for one second that I’m some kind of military expert.


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

Sunday Potpourri, 3/13/22

I’m publishing this a bit later than most Sundays because I don’t want you to lose my points in morning worship or, worse, lose morning worship because you’re agitated about something I said.

Russophobia

I may be living dangerously by saying or citing some of these things. I really don’t know because I don’t get some of what’s going on, but there are questions that need to be asked, challenges that need to be made.

"My favorite (Russian) things

[P]eople can be excused for reacting viscerally to a powerful nation attacking a smaller, weaker neighbor, with all the human misery that entails. Still, there’s something especially insipid about today’s social-media-led, H.R.-department-backed anti-Russian drive. Yesterday, it was anti-maskers and Black Lives Matter skeptics getting un-personed; today it’s anyone and anything associated with the Bad Country.

Sohrab Ahmari, These Are a Few of My Favorite (Russian) Things.

Note that title, and read the whole thing for a reminder of Russian contributions to our musical, literary, philosophical and cinematic cultures.

I’m increasingly convinced, however (as I jumped the gun on Ahmari’s advice to learn more about Russian culture), that Russia and the modern West are always going to be at least somewhat adversarial. There is a deep vein of Russian conservatism (in contrast to a shallow vein in the West) that spurns our commercialization and our other unacknowledged and unflattering novelty values. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said in his epochal (I will not call it "notorious") Harvard Commencement address, "these worlds are not at all evolving toward each other and … neither one can be transformed into the other without violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side’s defects, too, and this can hardly suit anyone."

Russian teens

Ken Lima-Coelho is on the board of Canada’s Honens International Piano Competition, and he’s “proud” of the organization’s decision to ban Russian teenagers from the 2022 competition just for being Russian. Honens’s statement reads: “Honens abhors and condemns any form of violence and is deeply disturbed by the Russian government’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Such blatant acts of aggression and greed have no place in our world.” Are these bans of Russian artists motivated by principle or rather by anger at the fact that “aggression and greed” are inescapable parts of the world we live in, as Putin’s invasion shows, no matter how much we might like to deny it? I wonder.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock

Lima-Coelho explains and justifies nothing. I’m not sure he’s smart enough to suspect that acts of aggression and greed are inescapable, or whether he’s smart enough, but prefers that they remain concealed rather than "blatant."

Malicious and inconsistent, but the herd demands it

Boycott of all things Russian picks up pace: To paraphrase a joke, all the people who decried the lab leak theory as SO RACIST! are now doing something actually xenophobic: Boycotting anything and everything Russian they can find. They are boycotting Russian music and restaurants, never mind that these spots are often owned by Ukrainians, or that most of the musicians now banned from stage have decried the war. All Russians have to suffer for the sins of Putin. “Russian society is to blame” is an actual argument made quite often.

Some headlines for you:

Montreal Symphony Orchestra drops Russian piano prodigy from concerts amid backlash

Cardiff Philharmonic removes Tchaikovsky from programme in light of Russian invasion of Ukraine

War in Ukraine: Netflix shelves Tolstoy adaptation after criticism

Collective guilt is bad, un-American and it simply doesn’t help the cause of Ukraine to boycott Russian cats. Yes, the International Cat Federation actually did this.

Nellie Bowles

These are the signs that maybe, sometimes, "Democracy" needs to be unresponsive to the fickle and foolish will of the people.

Facebook’s supreme morality oligarch

Meanwhile, Facebook and Instagram have suspended their terms of service to allow calls for violence against Russian soldiers, though they claim this would not extend to prisoners of war. I’m no pacifist. I believe Ukrainian soldiers have a right to defend themselves violently. But I dislike this sort of elaborate tech puppetry. I dislike the implied presumption of control over which people groups we are allowed to hate. Since when did Mark Zuckerberg become our supreme morality oligarch? I missed that memo, just like I missed the memo that all things Russian have been suddenly and mysteriously tainted. Yet here we are, in a timeline where we will literally cancel Tchaikovsky before entertaining the possibility that perhaps all men are “tainted,” not just the ones who are part of the hated group du jour.

Bethel McGrew, Russians, who also links to (and quotes) a Wendell Berry poem from a time when writing sanely wouldn’t get you side-eyed by the neo-McCarthyites.

Declaring victory

Minute by minute the collapse of Russian capitalism is coming through in Telegram alerts. Apple leaves Russia, Netflix suspends operations, so has Louis Vuitton, brand after brand after brand pulling out until, even though my job is to analyse this stuff, I can barely make sense of the sanctions and capital controls that have cut Russia off from the world.

Ben Judah, ‌The Russia we have lost

This may sound cryptic, but it feels like an interesting hypothetical as I learn the Russian mind: With most of the American woke corporations pulling out of Russia, why doesn’t Putin could close the doors to their return, declare victory, withdraw from Ukraine, and win plaudits of tens of millions of a certain kind of Russian conservative?

(Don’t ask me the mechanics of how Putin could pull this off or even if he’d want to do it to his kleptocrat pals.)

If you want to get a taste of what I’m talking about, listen to this unusually riveting episode of the GetReligion podcast, where Terry Mattingly expatiates on ordinary Russians’ ambivalence about the West.

Conclusion

… canceling Russian culture only confirms Putin’s claim that the West despises not simply the Russian regime but Russia itself; targeted sanctions on Putin enablers could be more effective.

Gladden Pappin, ‌You Are Entering the American Sector

Other stuff

City Journal

The libertarian-leaning City Journal has lots of plaudits to its name, but its continued employment of Christopher Rufo, who wrote these brazen declarations of dishonest intent, made me skeptical:

I’m not a fan of cancel culture, but to my mind Rufo pissed away all credibility on CRT with those boasts, yet City Journal continues to publish his CRT stuff.

(Required disclaimer: I’ve got problems with what schools are doing with CRT-inspired concepts, probably overlapping with some of Rufo’s problems; misdirection only works if you’ve got a truthful core, after all.)

Now they published a hatchet-job on a New York Times deep dive into W.H. Auden’s poem ‌Musée des Beaux Arts.

It’s not that City Journal‘s Lee Siegel disagrees with New York Times‘ Elisa Gabbert about the poem; it’s that he blatantly misrepresents Gabbert’s wonderful (and wonderfully web-formatted) analysis.

In short, he lies, particularly when he makes claims like this:

Gabbert tells us that Auden’s poem is a straightforward exposure of people who let bad things happen …

I’ve given you the links should you want to check out my claim; just don’t be distracted by a few plausible but peripheral points Siegel makes toward the end.

Downsides

If I were still working, I think I’d love the opportunities for telecommuting that have been mainstreamed by Covidtide. But those opportunities can be used destructively:

North Georgia … was always something to behold. Small, narrow valleys defined by creeks and rich bottom land, low ridges rising a few hundred feet on either side. Old farms and barns dotting the tidy and loved landscape. …

The ridges filled in with outsized monstrosities for undersized households. Even then the farm valleys remained somehow inviolate, left in a hopeful time. Until inevitably, with land prices, property taxes, or death, and no ridges left to colonize, the valleys filled in with clusters of behemoths to accommodate the malignancy that is Atlanta.

… This economy at rising tide doesn’t lift communities; it washes over them, destroying countryside and culture in its wake. And when it ebbs, what remains is a fractured landscape instead of topsoil. A debris field of trash and eroded gullies where once flourished fields, crops, and a rural people.

The South Roane Agrarian, ‌Building on the Heights

"I know a guy …"

One of the problems with screaming “How could you be so stupid?” at people who behave stupidly is that we too often think of the question as rhetorical when it isn’t. Though vaccine hesitancy is often seen as purely political, that’s not necessarily the case. It also correlates to lack of health care, which means that when public-health officials urge the unvaccinated to consult their family doctors (on the assumption that they might be more persuasive than government agencies), they’re assuming facts not in evidence. If you can’t afford health insurance, you probably can’t afford a doctor either, and if this is how you’ve been living for the past decade, chances are good that surviving without sound medical advice has become part of your behavioral DNA. Your strategy will be much like my father’s: keep working, save what you can (not much) for the rainy day you know is coming, and hope for the best. Maybe you’ll get lucky and know a guy.

… He tells you where to go and what to do when you get there. He lets you in on the secret handshake. Knock three times. Tell them Jimmy sent you.

Richard Russo, ‌How I Found Sympathy for Covid Skeptics. Excellent, empathetic and humane.

Are we secularizing?

…if secularization is taken to refer to some kind of “decline of religion,” then we need to figure out what we mean by “religion.” “If one identifies this with the great historic faiths, or even with explicit belief in supernatural beings, then it seems to have declined. But if you include a wide range of spiritual and semi-spiritual beliefs; or if you cast your net even wider and think of someone’s religion as the shape of their ultimate concern, then indeed, one can make a case that religion is as present as ever”

James K.A. Smith, How (Not) to Be Secular

Material boy

What I needed was to touch the real world. I needed an antidote for the idiotic pixelated simulacrum we live in. We are not even materialists anymore. We are a post-materialistic society — whatever that means — where even materials are simulated and virtual. What I am going to do with this I do not know. What I do know is that it’s impossible for me to reenter the Machine.

Hephaestus. Ever wondered why a trade would have its own god? With blacksmithing I have come the closest to the Eye of Contemplation — or to what I think it is — I have ever been. Writing about it kills it, obviously. We, the Moderns and especially the Westerners write. We rationalize things by writing. We use words as sharp weapons that blind the Eye of Contemplation.

A friend of Rod Dreher, who lost his white collar job and took up apprenticeship with a blacksmith.

Algorithm failure

Readwise opined that "Based on your highlights, we think you’ll love this book recommendation …". Readwise is almost certainly wrong.

Heterodox Podcasts: the New NPR

William Deresiewicz apparently kept on listening to NPR long after I’d stopped, but ended up "hate-listening" to the new, cocksure and woke version. His ‌Escaping American tribalism tells the story, and how he discovered heterodox podcasts as an alternative to his unfaithful first love.

I was already listening to several of those podcasts; I’ll soon sample the others.

What I hadn’t done was to make the mental connection that podcasts like this were my unacknowledged substitute for an NPR that wasn’t yet even as bad as what Deresiewicz endured.

Wordplay

Ectopic: One kind of pregnancy the abortion of which would become a class A felony under a pending Bill in Missouri (see lines 14 & 15 on the first page).


Potlatch: a ceremonial feast of the American Indians of the northwest coast marked by the host’s lavish distribution of gifts or sometimes destruction of property to demonstrate wealth and generosity with the expectation of eventual reciprocation.

Use in a sentence: "Corporate cancellation culture has quickly become a type of potlatch." (Gladden Pappin)


Kinetic military action: The American-troops-over-Libya equivalent of Russian-troops-in-Ukraine’s "Special Military Operation."

Eternal stuff

Undue confidence

Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

It also can rationally object to confidence in the "diverse and far-ranging possibilities" of denying teleology.

Wisdom

The future in its entirety cannot give you so much as a kernel of good, unless it borrows it from Me.

The One born of the Virgin, speaking in Prayers by the Lake LVII


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.

Newsfasting

We Orthodox Christians have just started Lent yesterday, and I’m already irritable from not being able to stuff my face promiscuously! Or from something.

There are always dozens of reasons for irritation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ukraine

I find that some news just kind of splashes up onto my pants legs even when I’m limiting news consumption. Believe me that I’m limiting news:

  • Reading the Economist World in Brief and The Morning Dispatch for top news, but rarely click through the Economist.
  • Entirely skipping the Wall Street Journal.
  • Limiting New York Times to obituaries, religion (almost never anything good or even new there), a glance at the Opinions page, and maybe sports and travel.
  • Investigative reporting is higher-quality than regular news, but I still can’t do anything about most of what I see in The Intercept, ProPublica, and bellingcat, so I skip them most of the time.
  • When someone I respect recommends analysis by someone else that I respect, I’ll usually click through if the topic is of interest.

This is still a work in process. I may, at the risk of irritability, cut back further.

Ukraine sues Russia

Last week the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals, launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine. On Monday the International Court of Justice, which judges governments, hears allegations of genocide. But these are not accusations against Russia. Rather, Ukraine wants the court to rule that Russia’s own allegations of genocide against Ukraine in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are false and contrary to international law.

Russia accepts the authority of the ICJ (unlike that of the ICC). But Ukraine does not expect its neighbour to bow to the court’s verdict. Russia did not even turn up to the court on Monday (their defence was due on Tuesday). Instead, Ukraine hopes that a verdict in its favour would strip Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of any vestige of legal pretext for an invasion, which, he claims, was launched to stop the supposed genocide.

Economist World in Brief.

How interesting to ask a court to rule that your invader’s excuse for invasion is a lie — and the invader has no answer to your “put up or shut up” challenge.

How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia

Ross Douthat, How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia is a brilliant distillation of nuclear wisdom, it seems to me.

In short, our conventional forces are so vastly superior to those of Russia that if we directly engaged Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, we’d quickly put Putin’s back to the wall and he might, quite literally, go nuclear.

I guess not all problems are answerable with technology, huh? I’ll take a wise man over a technocrat (almost) any day.

Longfellow was right

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.”

George Will via the Morning Dispatch

Private Sanctions and Cancel Culture

The Bulwark chronicles how private companies and other non-government actors are punishing Russia for the Ukraine invasion.

I am not entirely amused because this sort of private war is also being waged against Wrongthink in America. For instance, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin and her husband have been banned from AirBNB for associating with Nick Fuentes, of whom AirBNB (and almost everyone else, including me) does not approve.

It may come to the point that making “exercise of free association or free speech rights” protected classes will be a better choice than letting cancel culture commit a kind of economic terrorism.

Fourth Generation War

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we face Fourth Generation war, not against state militaries similar to our own but non-state forces that fight very differently. While the next conservatism favors a strong defense, it should also question the hundreds of billions of dollars we pour annually into legacy forces and weapons suitable only for fighting other states. A strong defense requires military reform, not just heaps of money.

Andrew J. Bacevich, J. David Hoeveler, James Kurth, Dermot Quinn, Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, et al., The Essence of Conservatism

Russia may be about to experience this in Ukraine if they seek to occupy.

(I’ll bet William Lind wrote this item. He’s always talking about Fourth Generation warfare.)

Gallows humor?

Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that “anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.” But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.

Maria Varenikova, ‌Hate for Putin’s Russia Consumes Ukraine, H/T Claire Berlinski via The Morning Dispatch

Patriotism in its purest, loveliest form

After more than 24 years away, Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan finally returned to Odessa, the city where she and her parents were born. “Now that I’m finally here, I wish I wasn’t,” she writes in her dispatch from the coastal city, where she’s been able to reconnect with her 81-year-old great aunt, Baba Zina, who refused to evacuate. “When I asked why that was, she scolded me, telling me to not get distracted from driving. Then she explained that she was born in this city. It’s her home. She visited the United States four times. Four of her siblings moved there, but she returned to Odessa each time. There’s something about this city—with its roots back in imperial Russia, its classic architecture, its appreciation for artists and its Black Sea beaches—that make people romantic about it. Peak Odessa: The opera and ballet theater is the most fortified building in town, surrounded by a wall of sandbags. ‘I visited the Vienna opera house just to see how it compared to ours. Ours is better,’ Zina said as we drove by the theater. ‘I went to the one in Paris, too. It was nice, of course. But ours is nicer.’”

via The Morning Dispatch

Three items from Protestants

Choosing a story

I haven’t quoted Jake Meador in a while because I stopped following him because I was too busy wallowing in “news.” because reasons.

The core problem facing the western church today is that virtually everyone, including many of us, believes that the most basic, elemental right a person has is the right to self-designate. This means that, as we are cast adrift in the world, trying to make sense of who we are, where we are, and what we ought to do, we mostly do not turn outward and allow the need of neighbor and nature to answer our questions. We do not look to culture for guidance or to family or to faith. In the words of Hauerwas, *“we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story.” And so to answer the question of who we are, we look inward toward our own ambition and aspiration, desire and need. We act according to that, with scant attention paid to the costs such action will have for the world or for our neighbors.

Jake Meador, touting his new book, What Are Christians For?: Life Together at the End of the World (emphasis added).

You could do much worse than Jake Meador on the internet.

Put on the whole snappy comebacks of God

[W]e’re not really after understanding, I [] think, but rather the maintenance of a certain way of life which is sustained not necessarily through ordering affections and desires toward good ends, but rather simply through a kind of automated acquiescence to authority figures.

One gets the idea from a fair bit of Christian worldview literature (especially when some conference or course is being advertised) that a worldview is almost like a set of categories you can download, and then march out into the world equipped with the right answers and knowing in advance how to refute the wrong answers. But this is not how people learn—not how they learn real meaningful knowledge and wisdom at any rate. This kind of pre-packaged knowledge turns out to be awfully flimsy and brittle when confronted with the complexities of the real world.

Jake Meador again (quoting Brad Littlejohn), but a different blog post.

I’ve been around smart Evangelicals who thought “Worldview camps” and such were really good and really cutting edge. I had figured out pretty early on that they were pretty much as Brad Littlejohn says. Plus you can’t overcome the effects of six daily hours of public school and three daily hours of television with a one- or two-week camp.

Grokking ‘Sin’

It wasn’t until college that I ever really thought about the Christian doctrine of sin. I had grown up in a Baptist church hearing about how Jesus *“died for our sins,” but it seemed that sin was the breaking of certain rules — drinking too much, sleeping around, lying, murder and stealing …

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and *“under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval …

This is the slow dawning that I had about myself in college, and with it came liberation. Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Tish Harrison Warren

Seeing sin as mere rule-breaking is, in my personal experience, the worst thing about Christian fundamentalist taboos (smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards and secret societies) of the 50s and 60s, which my Evangelical boarding school aped. It certainly gave me a skewed view, which was harmful to me and others spiritually — even though 14-to-18 year-olds have no business smoking, drinking or joining oath-bound secret societies anyway.

Other stuff

SCOTUS Opposition failure

When Kevin Williamson, a bright guy, can do no better than this in opposing a Democrat SCOTUS nominee, you know you’ve got a pretty good nominee.

Summarizing:

  • She’s part of the meritocracy, the ruling class. (He’s convincing on that.)
  • Dick Durbin and his ilk insinuating that she’s got some hardscrabble backstory is bunk. (He’s got a point.)
  • She does not believe in the rule of law. (He doesn’t deliver one single iota of evidence for that. Not one. And that’s the only one he says should disqualify her.)

After watching one-after-another Republican-appointed justice disappoint, I’m done with making predictions about actual future performance of a nominee.

Truth in Journalism

The nonconformists over at The Postliberal Order set us straight on journalistic terminology:

  • Democracy and liberalism
  • The difference between American philanthropists and Russian Oligarchs
  • Fact-checks
  • The difference between military interventions and invasions
  • Propaganda in general

You’ll appreciate the next item even more if you read this one. It’s short.

This is not propaganda

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act

The Senate passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act by unanimous consent on Monday. Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to designate lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Morning Dispatch.

My immediate reaction was that lynching isn’t much of an issue today, and I think I was right, but there’s this so you can gauge the problem for yourself.

And if you think it’s enough that Ahmaud Arbery was “essentially” lynched, be advised that (a) you can’t prosecute for “essentially the same thing” and (b) his murderers got life without parole, which is longer than 30 years.

Buildings for nomads. This is how the late Sir Roger Scruton described “various financial district glass-pane shoeboxes—structures.” (H/T Anthony DiMauro). Some might consider that a commendation; I don’t.

Wordplay

United in diversity:

“The EU’s quite vapid motto.” (Ed West)

Ostpolitik

From the Economist:

Ostpolitik (noun): a decades-old strategy of dealing with Russia based in part on the hope that gas pipelines could promote mutual dependence and therefore peace. Read the full article.

Spelling bees

Congratulations to [Name], an [School] student, who is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., May 29 to June 3. [Name] won a 10-county regional bee Saturday at [Site] in [City]. His winning word: Archetype.

Spelling Bees aren’t what they used to be.

Simile of the day

One of the guests was a retired Hungarian art historian. She had the most delicate Old World accent. It was like listening to audible porcelain.

Rod Dreher

Mal mots

In a piece for National Review, John McCormack notes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has diminished America’s already fledgling neo-isolationist movement even further.

The Morning Dispatch (italics added).

Someone at the Dispatch misapprehends “fledgling.”

(And once again, I’m glad I don’t write for a living and to deadline.)

Servants of their servants

For all drunkards and gluttons I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

St. Nicholai of Zicha, Prayers by the Lake XXIX, via Fr. Stephen Freeman (italics added)

How we think

Intellect confuses intuition.
Piet Mondrian

The Economist World in Brief


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.

Ukraine and closer to home

Ruso-Ukrainian conflict

Historians losing the narrative battle

[P]ossession of scholarly credentials doesn’t automatically confer the authority to determine which claims about the past will be believed and which will not. On the contrary, fussy objections to the sweeping historical contentions deployed by powerful populist politicians frequently prove impotent in the face of grand narratives.

[F]or many (perhaps most) people, what makes one story about the past more persuasive than another isn’t the application of some set of standards approved by a professional guild of scholars but whether the story feels *right.

Damon Linker, ‌Putin, Trump, and the irresponsible wielding of history.

My daughter-in-law returned from a month in Russia very recently. She avoided political discussions because it quickly became all-too-obvious that Trump’s MAGA is matched or overmatched by Putin’s MRGA — make Russia the great thing it was in Putin’s telling — which tends to prove Linker’s point.

Shifting narratives, too

From the right, we were told that this was absolutely not going to happen. And now that it very much is happening, the argument from Steven Bannon and Co. is that the West deserves it because we are weak and decadent and unserious. More: American conservatives ought to support Russia, since that’s a country that doesn’t put up with LGBTCRT nonsense, he and his pal, the military contractor Erik Prince, said recently. “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use,” Prince said. (So do the Ukrainians, for what it’s worth.) Tucker Carlson asked Americans to consider why they hate Putin, anyway: “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

To the small but meaningful movement of the ethnonationalist right, Russia is the last great white, Christian nation with solid gender-norms and 19th-century race relations. If your vision of owning the libs means embracing authoritarian regimes that hate America and its people, you’ve lost the plot.

Nellie Bowles, Common Sense (emphasis added)

Not "put[ting] up with LGBTCRT nonsense" gets a favorable glance from me, but no more than a glance. That said:

I inserted all the necessary caveats in my columns, but I must admit I didn’t believe Putin would launch a full invasion. As a Russian, everything in me resisted the thought. War on Ukraine is the absolute worst thing Russia can engage in. It’s unforgivable, a Cain’s mark.

Leonid Bershidskiy on Twitter. Me, too, but I didn’t pretend to be an expert. I’m not even certain that I scoffed publicly at the American Intelligence Narrative (but I scoffed in my own head at least).

Meanwhile, Putin tries to control the internal narrative

Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications regulator, said it would restrict access to websites that refer to the war in Ukraine as an “attack, invasion, or a declaration of war”. It will also target publications that mention the shelling of Ukrainian cities and civilian casualties.

The Economist Daily Briefing

Future narrative

It takes balls to predict what comes next, but the Economist takes a stab at it:

[S]hould Mr Putin seize a large swathe of Ukraine, the gatherer of the lands will not stop to make peace at its borders. He may not invade the NATO countries that were once in the Soviet empire, at least not at first. But, bloated by victory, he will subject them to the cyber attacks and information warfare that fall short of the threshold of conflict.

Mr Putin will threaten NATO in this way, because he has come to believe that NATO threatens Russia and its people. Speaking earlier this week, he raged at the alliance’s eastward expansion. Later, he decried a fictitious “genocide” that he says the West is sponsoring in Ukraine. Mr Putin can’t tell his people that his army is fighting against their Ukrainian brothers and sisters who gained freedom. So he is telling them that Russia is at war with America, NATO and its proxies.

By the way: the Kremlin has an English-language translation of Putin’s February 27 speech/rant/tirade, but it repeatedly refused to load for me. Here’s a separate source. The speech is consequential, and our government and pundits are widely lazy, herd-minded or dishonest. I want my own copy of this speech.

Miss Peggy’s response to the new right "I don’t care" isolationists

Russia isn’t Upper Volta with a gas station; it’s Upper Volta with a gas station, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, and a furious owner. What he does may have repercussions. If you would lead, you don’t get not to care.

Peggy Noonan

Showing my cards

  • The Fog of War is upon us, and our government and media are speaking with unwarranted certainty.
  • The End of History is, ironically, over, history having resumed with a vengeance.
  • I haven’t yet read the entirety of Putin’s February 21 speech, which I suspect contains some preposterous lies and some truths that we can’t see because of a clash of worldviews.
  • An American expat in Russia who I tend to trust has blogged some things about Ukraine’s 2014 version of the color revolutions (i.e., that the legitimately-elected government, having begun looking eastward rather than westward, was overthrown by American proxies), and about Ukraine’s treatment of the Donbas region (e.g., that its citizens are denied voting because they might swing the country back eastward), both of which I’d like to explore a bit more. The net effect, if true, is that the democratic legitimacy of the current government is doubtful.
  • In short, I think Ukraine probably is deeply divided between westernizers and Rusophiles, and while I oppose Russia’s invasion, you’re just going to have to bear with me if I don’t yet cheer on the westernizer Ukrainians as zestfully as seems to be expected.

Not Ukraine

Agricultural specialists

Lacking any moral force or vision of its own, the “objective” expertise of the agriculture specialist points like a compass needle toward the greater good of the “agribusiness” corporations.

Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Reverse discrimination smacked down

Strict scrutiny applies, and racial balancing is not a compelling interest.

Tyler Cowen, Elite high school TJ will continue as it was (emphasis added).

I’m very glad to see some judicial skepticism toward Knowledge-Class insistence that their every latest great notion is a "compelling state interest." Too long the courts have bowed compliantly to the dubious demands of "diversity" and other disguises for racial reverse-discrimination.

Is it even worth it to shop for a new apartment in NYC?

Freddie deBoer is looking for a larger rental apartment in Brooklyn, and recently lost his pick when someone else offered $500 per month over the listing price before his contract was signed:

I would have enjoyed living there but I have a home, which is more than many can say, and we can still find something else if we want. The apartment would have been more than most people can afford even at the offered price. For me, the bigger issue is just that the situation provokes this New York City weariness that has afflicted me lately, this feeling that everything in this city is harder than it should be, and that everything you want can only be won through some tiring and expensive competition with somebody else. It’s wearing me out and further deepening my conflicted sense that 2023 is the year I move out of New York.

You’d like to look at a bunch of apartments and have time to think them over, weigh the pros and cons of each. But apartments constantly appear on the sites one day and are in contract the following day. People feel compelled to ask to sign at the open house, as awkward as that is in front of everyone, because if they don’t someone else surely well. And that’s the rental market. I harbor quotidian dreams of owning my own home someday, like many or most do. But though I am now in the top 5% of American earners, or thereabouts, I look at the prices of modest two-bedroom apartments in Brooklyn and there’s just no way. I do a little of the back-of-the-envelope math and it’s still a completely distant dream. And that’s to say nothing of the effort and the stress, the endless bidding wars, having to compete with all-cash offers, the innumerable hoops you have to jump through…. Buying a house isn’t exactly easy anywhere, but looking at listings for my hometown in Connecticut I see legitimately nice houses for a quarter of what these apartments cost and, wonder of wonders, properties that actually sit on the market for a little while so you can think it over.

It’s not just about housing costs, though. Obviously, you’re paying a premium for the restaurants and shows that make New York what it is, as well as high taxes. But it’s not even just affordability. It’s the broader sense that you need to hustle and never stop hustling to live here. That’s the subject of a thousand songs, after all, the New York hustle, and part of what’s so often romanticized about the place. But I don’t see much to recommend about that feeling of frantically scrambling just to hold on. Seems less than ideal!

Seems like a compatible pairing

(Motorcyclists become ethnographers of necessity, or rather rank stereotypers, for the same reason that cops do: they face risk. Stereotyping is efficient for snap judgments.)

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head (Parentheses in original)

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God


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.