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.

Culture Wars, Hot War

Canadian Truckers

Organized fear

Since politics exists to organize fears, a major question for people caught between these two camps is which kind of power seems more frightening. The power to shut down the heart of a major city, perhaps even with the sympathy of some of the police, or the power over money and information that the Trudeau government is relying upon in its response? The specter of an insurrection or the specter of a digital police state? A revolt of the disaffected middle or a revolt of the elites?

At the moment, judging by the Canadian polls, people are unhappy with Trudeau but seem to fear the disruptions and shutdowns more than the government response. A similar preference for a disliked elite over a chaotic and disreputable opposition is why Joe Biden is president rather than Donald Trump, and why Emmanuel Macron may yet be re-elected in France.

Ross Douthat, on the “Class War” between Canadian Truckers and Canadian Meritocracy (emphasis added).

Class War

The Canadian trucker protest was a class war, Ross Douthat writes in his latest column, between what N.S. Lyons described as the “virtuals” who live in the digital world and the “practicals” who work in the “mundane physical reality” upon which the virtual society depends. “The truckers have leveraged the imposing presence of their trucks and the sympathy of other Practicals—from tow-truck drivers to cops—to attack the physical underpinnings of the capital’s economy,” he writes. “The counterstrike, while it’s finally evolved to actual physical removal, has been strikingly virtual: first a PR blitz to encourage friendly media to brand all the truckers as racists and anti-Semites and Trump supporters, then the convenient hacking and ‘doxxing’ of donors to the convoy, and then an invocation of the Emergencies Act which lets the government attack the protesters via the digital realm, freezing bank accounts and even cryptocurrency funds connected to the protests.”

The Morning Dispatch.

Ross Douthat has the condensed version, but I read N.S. Lyons’ longer substack (Reality Honks Back), which is one of the best — and most ominous — things I’ve read in weeks. Synopsis follows.

The Physicals and the Virtuals

It’s my understanding that N.S. Lyons is a pseudonym, but I’ll put still say it: “N.S. Lyons is a very smart person.”

In the recent essay ‌Reality Honks Back, Lyons reflects on the Canadian trucker convoy/strike as pitting elites (“the Virtuals,” who trade in thinking and narrative-spinning, not physical reality; in fact, they think reality is socially constructed) against “the Physicals” who trade in actual physical stuff. (Think “deplorables.”)

When the parked trucks became too intolerable a reminder that the Virtuals are utterly dependent on the Physicals (socially construct your way out of that reality if you can!), the Virtuals, having spun a narrative of neo-nazis and other deplorables, played their trump card: they incited their co-conspirators to create a new caste of economic untouchables, cutting off GoFundMe, hacking another crowdfunding site (GiveSendGo) and Doxxing donors to the truckers’ cause, and threatening economic ruin and criminal prosecution against anyone who dared try help them again.

So the Virtuals won because we don’t recognize what they did as virtual violence, whereas the Physicals, this time at least, could have retaliated only by engaging in physical violence.

Something tells me that this is only round one.

Maybe I got some of the details wrong, but I highly recommend the whole piece, and particularly the suggestion that the enmity of the Virtuals toward the Physicals (and vice-versa) is maybe the top conflict driver extant today. (It’s a theory that rhymes with the theory that we’re over-producing and under-employing college-debt-ridden elites, too.)

Update: Justin Trudeau has decided that the emergency is over and the deplorables can have their money back.

Virtuals and Physicals in the USA

Of the nation’s total 3,143 counties, the number of super landslide counties — where a presidential candidate won at least 80% of the vote — has jumped from 6% in 2004 to 22% in 2020.

“Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the Greater South, Interior West, and Great Plains,” Sabato writes, “while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic nonwhite voters.”

Put another way, Biden won 85% of counties with a Whole Foods and only 32% of counties with a Cracker Barrel.

NPR

I thought this was an interesting tidbit until I started thinking “How many counties have both Cracker Barrel and Whole Foods? And then “Is this just a rough proxy for bigger cities versus smaller?

Paul Farmer, RIP

Paul Farmer proves that there are wonderful people doing wonderful work who for some reason never come into my field of vision until there are lamentations and obituaries at their departure. Here, here, here, here.

It’s difficult to find much discussion of religion in the life of this man whose self-sacrificial life had to be inspired by something. Get Religion calls those “God-shaped holes,” and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bill Gates all had huge ones. Even Alan Jacobs didn’t hit it head-on.

But Friends University’s Russel Arben Fox comes to the rescue:

Farmer was raised a Christian believer, but only became truly committed during his years of going back and forth between Harvard and Haiti: “The fact that any sort of religious faith was so disdained at Harvard and so important to the poor–not just in Haiti but elsewhere too–made me even more convinced that faith must be something good” [MBM, pg. 85]. He became a fierce advocate of that element of Catholic social justice teaching that emphasizes giving preference to the poor, or the “option for the poor.” For Farmer, this has meant liberation theology, and a thoroughgoing critique of the failures of the rich capitalist nations of the world to attend to the manifest and desperate needs of the poorest of the poor.

Hyperbolic outrage

I should have known better than to waste any time on Olga Khazan, The New Partisan Fight Over Schools‌. It meandered around teapots, and when it found this tempest I knew I was done reading:

The most explosive example of the Republican crackdown on schools occurred when a school district in a very conservative area of Tennessee removed the Pulitzer Prize–winning Holocaust book Maus from its eighth-grade curriculum because it contains eight swear words and a bit of cartoon nudity. “It looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language,” the McMinn County school-board member Mike Cochran said, according to meeting minutes. “You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in.” His view presumes that parents should monitor what their kids are learning.

When removing a glorified comic book from a curriculum is the most “explosive example” you’ve got, and you have to make it sound ominous-by-association that some deplorable thinks “parents should monitor what their kids are learning,” you’ve not got much.

Again, I prefer the lot of a blogger to the lot of a professional who must write even when there’s nothing much to say.

SSM and Creative Artistry

Another artisan is going to SCOTUS seeking exemption from providing creative services for same-sex “weddings”:

Tuesday’s order phrased the question before the court as “whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

Granting 303 Creative an exception “would necessarily relegate LGBT consumers to an inferior market because [Ms. Smith’s] unique services are, by definition, unavailable elsewhere,” a 2-1 panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver, said in July.

“The government doesn’t have the power to silence or compel creative expression under the threat of punishment. It’s shocking that the 10th Circuit would permit Colorado to punish artists whose speech isn’t in line with state-approved ideology,” said Kristen Waggoner, general counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious advocacy group that represents 303 Creative.

Supreme Court to Hear Case of Website Designer Who Won’t Do Same-Sex Weddings – WSJ‌ (emphasis added).

I’ve just seen reports of this case for the first time the day I wrote this item, but it seems to me that the 10th Circuit’s decision says the silent part out loud: it is willing to compel an artist of unique abilities to serve all state-sanctioned “weddings” if she serves any.

The way SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States in shorthand) frames the question is highly favorable to 303 Creative, but I get bogged down when I think of the ramifications of this being a declaratory judgment action, where 303 Creative is not in (but wants to expand into) the wedding website business. Thus, it is not currently being compelled to use its creativity contrary to the owner’s conscience.

But I’ve got to ask, in summary of a much earlier and longer blogpost: what kind of creep would want to compel an unwilling creative-type to create for them? What kind of idiot would assume that the resulting work will be as high-caliber as work the creative actually wants to perform?

Self-referentially absurd

After an epiphany of sorts, things came into focus for Paul Kingsnorth. Among other things,

I understood why a (white male) BBC editor would stand before an audience of mostly similarly pale-skinned people and explain that nobody wants to hear white men explaining things anymore..

Russia invading Ukraine

This would deserve top placement, perhaps, if I intended to say much about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — an invasion which I condemn but probably understand better than most Americans because I’ve been reading guys like Paul Robinson and Gilbert Doctorow as antidotes to mainstream press.

In the case of Robinson, no more:

February 23:

Regular readers will know that I have been decidedly sceptical of the idea that the Russian Federation is about to launch a full-fledged assault on the Ukraine. To be quite frank, I don’t want to believe it, as it would be an act of criminal folly – both criminal and folly, to be precise.

It would also be a humanitarian tragedy, as such an assault could not but result in a large amount of completely unnecessary death and destruction. Let us be quite clear, if it happens, I will condemn it totally and unreservedly. At that point, I will terminate this blog, as its mission to contribute to more rational discussion of both Russia and foreign policy in general will have failed absolutely and without any hope of redemption for many a year. It will be time to call an end to it all. Following a Russian invasion of Ukraine, no even remotely nuanced discussion of things Russian will be conceivable for quite possibly the rest of my life. It will be time for me to drop all punditry, cut all ties with Russia (including ending my relationship with RT), and return to being a historian safely digging in the archives of the past.

I have repeatedly condemned the West’s wars of aggression in recent years. A Russian war against Ukraine would be no worse than, for instance, the invasion of Iraq, but it would be equally criminal.

Let us hope that it doesn’t happen. If it does, you’ve seen the last of me.

(emphasis added)

February 24

In line with my last post, Irrussianality has ceased operation as of today.

God bless you all!

I think I’ll move up Robinson’s book, Russian Conservatism, on my reading list.


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.

Cantakerousness (and more)

Errata

Just because I’m infallible shouldn’t mean I don’t get to correct things. I’ll just correct other people.

Just about everyone on rube book-banners

To the best of my knowledge, Maus hasn’t been banned anywhere. I believe it was removed from the curriculum (not from the library even) of just one school district in Tennessee, for dubious or petty reasons (although there were pretty good ones, such as "graphic novels are comic books puttin’ on airs"). The "controversy" is mostly the prestige press and progressive trolls who just can’t get enough of mocking people in flyover country, with an assist from the author hinting that folks in McMinn County probably are Nazis ("I moved past total bafflement to try to be tolerant of people who may possibly not be Nazis, maybe ….")

I checked my memory with a DuckDuckGo search "What really happened in Tennessee with Maus?" and found that CNN (the top hit, actually) accurately reported the curricular nexus even in its headline while every other top hit save one (a pro-Trump "there go the libs hatin’ on normal folks again" gloat) falsely referred to "ban" in the headlines.

Doomsayers on civil war

I don’t really follow Jamelle Bouie, a young, black, progressive opinion columnist at the New York Times, but Tuesday’s column decidedly caught my eye: Why We Are Not Facing the Prospect of a Second Civil War‌. Like many in his introduction, I’ve been worrying that we are facing civil war (a prospect that renews my near-pacifism).

He describes "the inexorable syllogism of King Cotton", and how the 1850s and the election of Lincoln threatened it all:

[T]he American South produced nearly all the world’s usable raw cotton; this cotton fueled the industrial development of the North Atlantic; therefore, the advanced economies of France, the northern United States, and Great Britain were ruled, in effect, by southern planters.” The backlash to slavery — the effort to restrain its growth and contain its spread — was an existential threat to the Southern elite.

That people fervently hate each other today matters little. The key question is

whether that hate results from the irreconcilable social and economic interests of opposing groups within the society. If it must be one way or the other, then you might have a conflict on your hands.

All of our conflicts can be compromised. There are no existential threats to anyone — only LARPing about "the end of America as we know it." We can still split differences or agree to co-exist while disagreeing.

Glad I read it, and I recommend it. It’s too abbreviated to be overwhelmingly convincing, but the arguments that we are headed for civil war have mostly been abbreviated as well. For three other "no civil war" opinions, see here, here and here

Journalistic Credulity

It should be clear to any reporter that a national security source who whispers not only the alleged date of a coming invasion, but the number of days of aerial bombardment and the war’s expected level of horror and bloodiness, is either yanking your chain with a fairy tale, or using you, or both. Reporters on this beat nonetheless repeated this tale over and over, as if it were patriotic duty.

Matt Taibbi (my subscription to whom soon ends)

Is Putin Winning?

What Russia got by holding a gun to the head of Ukraine for the sake of raising its security concerns to top of mind among Western interlocutors was recognition from the United States as a major military force to be reckoned with in conventional as well as nuclear arms. And there were indications in the written U.S. response to the Russian draft treaties that significant agreements could be reached on limiting war games in Europe, on controlling or banning intermediate range nuclear capable missiles in Europe, on maintaining normal channels of communication open between the military and civilian leaders on both sides. The policy of isolation, denigration of Russia and dismissal of its security interests that dated from the Bush and Obama administrations, and in which Biden himself had participated as formulator and implementer, was now abandoned so long as Russia did not in fact invade Ukraine.

Gilbert Doctorow

Push-back

Reality+?

Reality Minus. It’s a bit rich for David Bentley Hart to note that someone else’s book is “a much, much longer book than it has any business being” and that its author fails to be “a concise expositor of ideas.” But Hart’s critique of David Chalmers’s arguments in Reality+—arguments that lead Chalmers to deem it sensible to want to “emigrate” from the physical world to some future virtual realm—is spot on: “To prefer the comfortable shelter of a simulated environment to the mysterious, wild, prodigal beauty and sublimity of life and mind — of psychē — that exist in vital nature, or even to be able calmly to contemplate absconding to the former in the aftermath of the latter’s eclipse, seems to me worse than pitiable.

Front Porch Republic (emphasis added)

It’s my strong feeling that the Metaverse is a dystopian horror, and it would be even if Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t into it commercially. But then I was shocked a few years ago to learn that a lot of college students thought (think?) Brave New World is a utopian novel.

Our foolish consistencies

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, brought to my mind Sunday by Ross Douthat, whose brief is more limited than Emerson’s: the foolish consistency that repeatedly plagues American law (and debases American culture), most recently in the explosion of commercial gambling and open storefront marijuana dealing.

No heart, no problem

The deep thinkers have figured a way around the unique Texas abortion law. Since it forbids abortion after a heartbeat is detected, it only applies if there’s a heart, whereas a six-week preborn child has only "a primitive tube of cardiac cells that emit electric pulses and pump blood."

So glad they explained that.

Pardon me or I’ll kill you, too

A Pakistani man sentenced to life in prison in 2019 for strangling his sister, a model on social media, was acquitted of murder Monday after his parents pardoned him under Islamic law. Waseem Azeem was arrested in 2016 after he confessed to killing Qandeel Baloch, 26, for posting what he called “shameful” pictures on Facebook. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison but his parents had sought his release. Islamic law in Pakistan allows a murder victim’s family to pardon a convicted killer.

Wire Report, page B1 of the Lafayette Journal & Courier, 2/15/22

Newsworthiness

According to mass communications theorists Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, the mass media is no good at telling people what to think but is stunningly good at telling them what to think about.

Alisa Miller, Media Makeover.

Arguably (I’m tempted to say "probably") the worst media bias is in what the media choose to report, not how they choose to report it.

No good reason to oppose this one

The only members in Congress who might not want to reform [the Electoral Count Act] are those planning its imminent exploitation to overturn the next presidential election.

J. Michael Luttig, retired U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge.

Miscellany

Cultural Relativity

I married very young.

Spoken by British philosopher Kathleen Stock, of her marriage at age 25 to a man she met at 19.

I guess I’m living on the wrong side of the tracks, where we marry insanely young, like 23 (me) and 21 (my wife). It seems to have worked out fairly well, though.

Self-reliance

The Census Bureau’s latest Business Formation Report found Americans are founding companies at an unprecedented rate, with the number of applications to start new businesses jumping 53 percent in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels.

The Morning Dispatch, 2/16/22.

Sympathetic to Distributist economics, I love capitalists so much that I want to see millions more of them.

Many of these new businesses will fail, no doubt, as new businesses tend to do. But I will count it as a silver lining if Covid disenthralled people of the idea that wage slavery is their only option.

R.I.P., P.J. O’Rourke

As soon as children discover that the world isn’t nice, they want to make it nicer. And wouldn’t a world where everybody shares everything be nice? Aw … kids are so tender-hearted.

"But kids are broke — so they want to make the world nicer with your money. And kids don’t have much control over things — so they want to make the world nicer through your effort. And kids are very busy being young — so it’s your time that has to be spent making the world nicer. For them. The greedy little bastards.

The late P.J. O’Rourke

How matters as much as what

Joining in the widespread hope that Roe v. Wade will be reversed this year, Hadley Arkes argues that how, and with what tropes, SCOTUS reverses will be quite important:

Imagine if the justices to were to uphold the Mississippi law and say something like the following:

The case has been amply made by now, in the settled findings of embryology, that the child in the womb has been human from its first moments, a distinct life, not merely a part of the mother’s body. The legislature in Mississippi is amply justified in extending the protections of the law over this small human being, residing for a long moment in her mother’s womb. It falls to the states to weigh the question of when it would be justified to take this human life, with the same standards of judgment that enter into gauging the justification for the taking of any other human life. And so this matter should be returned to the domain in which citizens and their legislatures are free to deliberate again on the question of how the taking of life here will be measured in their standing laws on homicide.

That reasoning is straightforward and simple. It is also strikingly different from sending the matter back to the states with these words of guidance:

The question of when human life begins, or what is to be regarded as a human life in any stage, has been a controversial matter, heatedly debated, eluding consensus, and inflaming our politics. The judges who form this Court have no clearer answer to those questions than the answers that may be supplied by the first nine names in any telephone directory. And as the locale shifts to cities and states, so too will the temper and “values” borne by those first nine names. We therefore send this matter back for people in the states to deliberate upon again—to make their own “value judgments” on when human life begins, and on when that developing life commands the obligation of the law to protect it.

Surely, these divergent approaches mark the most notable difference. The first approach invites the American people to deliberate seriously again on the question of what justifies the taking of an undeniably human life. The latter steers around any serious deliberation, for it is framed with the premise that there is no truth by which to gauge our judgments …

… The dictum “equal protection of the law” is built then into any rule of law, even if not made explicit. Some judges at the state level will construe the “equal protection of the laws” as a clear challenge to laws that place limits on abortion. For as the line will surely go: It is the most patent discrimination on the basis of sex to forbid this surgery, performed solely on women, and in certain cases desperately wanted by women.

We have seen the signs already that judges in the states will find this “right to abortion” to be implicit in their state constitutions. But the seed for a resistance may be planted if the Court sends the matter back to the states with this simple point recalled and put in place: The child in the womb has been nothing less than a human life from its first moments, and it has never been merely a part of its mother ….

I can only begin to imagine how the Blue Stack* would react to moral clarity, not procedural arcana, coming from the highest court in the land.

[* Zaid Jilani describes the "Blue Stack" thus: "The institutions successfully driving this push for ideological conformity across American life—progressive nonprofits, large portions of the news media, woke corporations, Democrats in government—can collectively be called the “blue stack,” which represents an enforcement mechanism for the ruling ideology to express hegemony over American democracy."]

The San Francisco precedent

As a matter of governance, Tuesday’s [San Francisco School Board] recall was an example of local citizens asserting local control.

As a matter of precedent, however, the recall had a greater meaning. It represented the triumph of reason over radicalism. It provided an example not of how the right can beat the left, but rather of how the left can regulate and reform the left—an example that can and should be emulated on the right.

David French

Blue Collar and White? That Changes Everything

Damon Linker penetrates to at least a somewhat deeper meaning of the Canadian truckers’ convoy. (When protests aren’t progressive‌)


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

So prolific I categorized it

Legalia

Satire must rhyme, too

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

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

Thumb on the Scale

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

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

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

David Lat, Original Jurisdiction

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

Against collusive secrecy

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

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

Mainstream Media

As close as they come to fresh Russia news

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

Gilbert Doctorow

When the "news" fails to inform

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

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

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

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

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

Miscellany

What’s the goal here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yassine Meskhout, ‌Three Little Pronouns Go To Court

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

Living in the free world after the end of history

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

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

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

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

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World

Unavoidably incomplete pictures

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

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

Rod Dreher

Grotesque?

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

Flannery O’Connor, via Plough

A trigger-warned recommendation

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

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

A creed for rogues

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

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

My pronouns

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

Covid

Safetyism on Parade

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

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

The Morning Dispatch.

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

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

Datapoint

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

The Morning Dispatch

Politics

Sore, sore loser, loser, loser

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Wehner, ‌Trump Is Obsessed With Being a Loser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provocations have consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MTG: Your 15 minutes of fame are up

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


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