Sunday, 1/8/23

Orthodoxy

Two from Constantinou

  • Orthodoxy holds that the fullness of the Faith was revealed to the Church at Pentecost, once and for all. The Greek Fathers utilized their education in the service of the Church to explain doctrine, not to find new truths, since the fullness of the truth was received at Pentecost.
  • Ultimately, theology is not a set of definitions or theories. Theology is mystery since it transcends the rational mind and attempts to express the inexpressible. In schools of theology and seminaries, theology is indeed an academic subject and, as such, it requires accuracy and embraces a certain “intellectual rigour,” as Met. Kallistos remarks. This does not conflict with Orthodoxy, since “we do not serve the Kingdom of God through vagueness, muddle and lazy thinking.” But he also notes that in other sciences or areas of investigation, the personal sanctity of the scientist or inquirer is irrelevant. This is not the case with theology, which requires metanoia (repentance), catharsis (purification), and askesis (spiritual struggle).

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind (emphasis added)

Both of these observations point out true Orthodox distinctives in comparison to Western Christendom, don’t they?

How to Live (temporally)

Within this longer blog post is a priceless bullet-list on “how to live.” I review it regularly.

Though I blog a lot about politics, it’s been a long time since I argued politics. The difference in outcomes between policy A and policy B are usually less important to me than the potential for personal alienation. So my political blogs are mixtures of “this is my opinion; yours may vary” and “here’s something thought-provoking or very well written.”

I guess that confirms that I’m temperamentally in David French’s “hope and freedom” camp versus the camp of “anger and power.”

Other

A Reminder of Where We Were Two Years Ago

Certainly, the bulk of Pentecostal-charismatics who follow the prophets are in for a shock when Biden gets inaugurated Jan. 20. Rather than admit their error, Brown says some prophets have already concocted a scenario where Trump will be inaugurated “in heaven” and that God will replace Biden with Trump sometime this spring.

Julia Duin, Charismatics are at war with each other over failed prophecies of Trump victory

The whole story is well worth reading, Julia Duin being a “Religion Beat” pro in the press.

Homeless

I am thinking of a Black Southern Baptist–trained pastor who could not stomach taking his kids to church within his denomination anymore because of his fellow church members’ reluctance to talk about racism. A longtime staffer at a major American archdiocese who feels daily rage at the Catholic Church’s inability to address the clergy sexual-abuse crisis. A young woman fired from her job at a conservative Christian advocacy organization because she spoke out against President Trump. A Catholic professor who bitterly wishes the Democratic Party had room for his pro-life views. These are all examples from the world of religion and politics, but they speak to a deep and expansive truth: In many parts of American life, people feel the institutions that were supposed to guide their lives have failed, and that there is no space for people like them.

Emma Green, The American ‘way of life’ is unsustainable for so many. Is it time to build radical forms of community?

Seeing this excerpt surface in Readwise, I’m reminded that I haven’t seem much from Emma Green lately, and I miss her.

A baffling, frustrating, near-Saint

Did the 20th century produce anyone more baffling than Simone Weil? Christ at the Assembly Line

Russia and Ukraine

It’s a useful skill to be able to hold two truths in mind at the same time.

Truth #1 is that Russia is unjustified in invading Ukraine.

Truth #2 is that, discounting all the bullshit about “de-Nazification” or “Russki Mir,” Russia is right that the West is decadent, particularly in the area of sex and gender (with the U.S. leading the way), and that Ukraine is worrisomely trending westward in many areas of culture.

I literally pray every day that God will thwart our meddling in traditional cultures, and I generally have sexual perversity in mind as the distinctive way we meddle these days. I also pray that God will turn back all manner of attacks on Ukraine. So I’m rooting for Ukraine to win against Russia in the hot war, but also that it will reject some of our ways as it grows closer to the West.

Nota Bene

No Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on January 6 or 7. All Orthodox Christians observe Christmas on December 25.

You read that right.

The thing is, December 25 on the Julian calendar (which much of world Orthodoxy follows liturgically) is January 7 on the Gregorian Calendar, the “civil calendar,” which some Orthodox (including my parish) follow for every Christian feast except Easter/Pascha.

Religion News Service summarizes plausibly enough, given its Gregorian Calendar premises:

While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate [Epiphany/Theophany] on Jan. 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 19, as their Christmas falls on Jan. 7.

It is not disputed that the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate astronomically.

I won’t get into the intra-Orthodox disputes over the “calendar issue,” which I personally shunted aside decades ago. Those arguments do nothing to edify.


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.

Christmas Eve

I have nothing Christmas-Evish to say, but I wanted to get these out.

Culture

Welcome to Dystopia

Welcome to Dystopia. Enjoy your ejection.

Crypto: Money without a purpose

Hip, hip, hooray! Finally, someone with credentials call out crypto for what it is:

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That’s why everyone in Washington seems to think that federal financial-services regulators are the natural overseers of crypto trading. This is wrong. Crypto trading should be regulated for what it is—a form of gambling that emulates finance—and not what its advocates tell you it is.

Todd H. Baker, Crypto Is Money Without a Purpose

My view is even more cynical than his. He thinks it’s risky like gambling. I think it’s oftener a Ponzi-like scheme that will inevitably collapse after the promoter has spent it most of it in riotous living. That’s worse than “a gamble.” Its opacity merely buys the crooks extra time.

Return of the face-palm

I heard a young reporter on local TV Tuesday Night reporting on the Respect for Marriage Act because a local couple was invited to the White House for the signing ceremony. It wasn’t going too badly until:

This ensures that the Supreme Court cannot overturn the same-sex marriage laws placed by the Obama Administration in 2015.

That is soooo wrong on multiple levels!

  1. The Supreme Court, not the Obama Administration, mandated recognition of same-sex marriage under constitutional pretexts.
  2. What the Supreme Court giveth, the Supreme Court can taketh away (though I’d wager a health amount at fairly long odds that it will not do so in my lifetime or, probably, the lifetime of the next generation).
  3. The Respect for Marriage Act assures, more or less, that if SCOTUS decides that the Constitution doesn’t require allowance of of SSM, such “marriages” already contracted will be recognized throughout the country. In exchange for that concession from SSM opponents, it assures against the most egregious infringements of their religious freedom.
  4. Had the Obama Administration done it, in no case would its action be referred to as “placing” SSM laws.

With that kind of misinformation in responsible legacy media, it’s no wonder that people are tempted to seek their news elsewhere and that the Supreme Court is viewed as a profoundly political branch, just like the legislative and the executive branches, of the national government.

Follow the incentives

[W]ithin the community of people who claim to speak on Black America’s behalf – professors, writers, think tankers, diversity consultants, etc – most of the incentives point towards more extreme stances. You will be tempted to think that I am speaking only about Black public intellectuals, but of course America’s most-read racism expert is a very wealthy white woman with a lucrative business taking white people’s money to tell white people they’re racist so that white companies can limit their liability if they should ever be sued by a non-white employee.

Freddie deBoer, The Synecdoche Problem

Racial Ridicule and Hate Speech generally

If you want to know why hate-speech laws are perverse, read FIRE’s and My Amicus Brief on Connecticut’s “Racial Ridicule” Law

The Four Dimensions of Military Power

When I read this again, it occurred to me that Russia is struggling (failing, one hopes) in Ukraine because of failing on the third dimension. Not for lack of perverse effort:

(The Economist)

Cradle of Ponzi Schemes?

Purdue University likes to call its football program “the cradle of quarterbacks,” the University overall “cradle of astronauts.”

Leaders of such educational institutions readily take credit for Rhodes and Fulbright scholars. What of those graduates who helped foster an environment of avarice and schemes of the get-rich-quick? Are we so assured that they did not learn exceedingly well the lessons that they learned in college?

Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

Politics

Diversionary tactics

The January 6th Select Committee released its 845-page final report last night, days before Republicans are set to take back the House and almost assuredly dissolve the panel. The report includes 11 recommendations to prevent a similar event from happening again, including reforms to the Electoral Count Act, additional oversight for Capitol Police, and harsher punishments for attempting to impede the transfer of power. House Republicans released a 141-page counter-report of their own earlier this week, focused primarily on security failures at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 rather than the reasons the U.S. Capitol required additional security in the first place.

TMD (emphasis added)

An unfamiliar pathogen

Some populists were up in arms that Ukraine’s President Zelensky didn’t wear a suit to the White House:

[T]he interest in Zelensky’s garb is curious, particularly since it’s plain as day that he would have been attacked by this same crowd of chuds if he had dressed finely for the occasion. Populists would have demanded to know how much of their hard-earned taxpayer money had gone toward buying natty new duds for “this grifting leech,” in Matt Walsh’s words, or for Zelensky’s better half. “We want nothing to do with you,” Candace Owens tweeted at Zelensky. “Stop stealing from our people while your wife drops tens of thousands of dollars shopping in Paris.” The claim that Mrs. Zelensky is living high on the hog in Paris is an inch thin, it turns out, but no matter.

It’s what Zelensky represents that irks them—competence, sacrifice, bravery, honor. … He could have whimpered. He could have fled. He fought.

And people whose political immune systems have been exposed to nothing but Trumpism since 2015 simply cannot handle it. Their reaction to an honorable figure at this point is almost immunological, inducing a sort of fever as they struggle to fight off an unfamiliar pathogen. That’s how they end up having a group conniption about someone not wearing a three-piece in the White House.

Nick Cattogio, Fashion Statement

Vacillating Rhythm

American policy has oscillated between a hubristic interventionism and a callous non-interventionism. “We overdo our foreign crusades, and then we overdo our retrenchments, never pausing in between, where an ordinary country would try to reach a fine balance,” George Packer wrote in The Atlantic recently. The result has been a crisis of national self-doubt: Can the world trust America to do what’s right? Can we believe in ourselves?

David Brooks.

One of the things that bothers me most about our political polarization is that the world cannot count on a new President keeping the commitments of a former President.

Spare Us

It is certain that Donald Trump will never again be president. The American people won’t have it …

He’s on the kind of losing strain that shows we’re at the ending of the story. Next summer it will be eight years since he went down the escalator. Time moves—what was crisp and new becomes frayed and soft. His polls continue their downward drift. He is under intense legal pressures. This week the Jan. 6 committee put more daggers in: Only the willfully blind see him as guiltless in the Capitol riot. He will be 78 in 2024 and is surrounded by naïfs, suck-ups, grifters and operators. That was always true but now they are fourth-rate, not second- or third-rate.

He has lost his touch. Remember when you couldn’t not watch him in 2015 and 2016? Now you hear his voice and give it a second before lowering the volume …

The party he’s left on the ground seems to be trying to regain its equipoise. November’s results will speed the process. The GOP in Congress is a mixed bag. There are more than a handful in the House who try to out-Trump Mr. Trump, and they will no doubt continue to batter the party’s reputation. In the Senate only two members really try to out-Trump Mr. Trump, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz.

Peggy Noonan, Spare Us a Trump-Biden Rematch (emphasis added just because I think we all need to remember those things).

Natural Selection at work

The fates of Republicans and Democrats began to diverge markedly after the introduction of vaccines in April of 2021. Between March 2020 and March 2021, excess death rates for Republicans were 1.6 percentage points higher than for Democrats. After April 2021, the gap widened to 10.6 percentage points.

David French

It hadn’t occurred to me that stupidity about Covid vaccines could have measurable effects on mortality. And bear in mind that vaccine resistance is not universal among Republicans, so a relative handful of dummies is really paying a price for their mantra of “do your own research.”

A bright spot in Tampa Bay

After losing his wife to illness and later rediscovering joy, Frantz Laroche—an Uber driver in St. Petersburg, Florida—is on a mission to bring off-the-charts levels of holiday cheer to each ride, Gabrielle Calise reports for the Tampa Bay Times. “He wears a festive headband and a glowing string of Christmas lights around his neck,” Calise writes. “His sleigh is a black Honda Odyssey complete with glossy leather seats. Each person who enters it during the holiday season will be quizzed on classic Christmas music as they zip through the streets of St. Pete.” Laroche plans to keep driving for the rest of his life. “Because of politics, because people hurt each other for no reason, somebody’s got to drive his butt all over Florida to spread the positivity to others,” Laroche told Calise. “You are among 30,000 passengers I’ve entertained just to put a smile on their face. And I intend to entertain 30,000 more.”

TMD


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

November 1, 2022

Pilgrimage

I’m almost fully readjusted to my home time zone after almost two weeks 7 hours to the East.

My overall “secular” impression of my past two weeks in the Holy Land: if you really want to see a lot of authentic sites, important to the historic (i.e., pre-Reformation) Church, bring good shoes, socks (a pair of Ecco walkers and a second of Mephistos, worn with Wright Socks, kept me blister-free, but didn’t prevent mildly turned ankles), walking stick, and be prepared to walk over a lot of very uneven rubble and pavers that have heaved over 1500-2000 years. Even the Church of Anastasis (a/k/a Holy Sepulchre) isn’t entirely safe for those, like me, of unsteady gait and poor balance.

Also, don’t miss the sacred sites in current Jordan, which astonished me in how successful it has been chasing Mammon. (It feels surprisingly like the U.S., especially in Amman.)

Oh yeah: everybody seems to smoke almost everywhere.

And I’m ready to eat me more pig.

As for the religious impression, words fail me. I got on this trip a strenuous Christian pilgrimage. “Pilgrimage” sadly was not my experience on a prior trip, which had a much different emphasis than vereration of holy places. In contrast, we had an appropriate Gospel reading at site after site. We attended a very early-morning Orthodox Christian liturgy a few feet away from the birthplace of Christ in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and a Sunday liturgy at the Tomb of the Theotokos. I venerated the place where Christ’s body lay for three days before He rose from the dead at the Church of the Resurrection (a/k/a Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

An unexpected stunner was an exhibition on the Shroud of Turin. I followed the Shroud just enough to have come around to a presumption that it was authentic. But someone took all the marks on the shroud, showing the multiple flogging/flaying wounds on He whom it had wrapped, and created a bronze figure:


If someone can find words adequate to that, they are better wordsmiths than I am.

I’m glad I went, but I fear that age has caught up with me to the point that I’ll not go again.

I’ll probably post more pictures when I get them sorted out.

Sensible change

England’s National Health Service outlined a new clinical approach earlier this month, issuing an interim service specification that says most pre-pubescent children experiencing gender incongruence—feeling their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex—are experiencing a phase that “does not persist into adolescence.” The NHS announced plans to close the United Kingdom’s only gender-identity clinic dedicated to children this summer after an independent review found problems including insufficient record-keeping and an “unquestioning affirmative approach.” It will stand up regional centers instead, but reportedly will take a more cautious tack when treating minors’ gender dysphoria and ban the use of puberty blockers in minors outside of clinical trials.

The Morning Dispatch

Attacking with whatever’s handy at the moment

I will first go back to before the Ukrainian crisis to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as an example of what I mean. Many people recall John McCain saying, “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.” President Barack Obama, in his last press conference as President, said Russia could not “change or significantly weaken the U.S..” He said compared to the U.S., “Russia is a smaller and weaker country.” He continued that Russia doesn’t produce anything anyone wants except gas, oil, and arms.

These kinds of statements were what one typically heard about Russia in those days. Russia’s economy was said to be no bigger than that of the state of Texas, and its GDP was miniscule.

Yet, after Donald Trump was elected President, we were told, “Russia did it.” It was as if Putin directed the election of the president of the United States from his Kremlin office. How does a man whom they had said runs a small, weak, “gas station” kind of country control the results of the election of someone to the highest office in the country that claims to be the most powerful on earth? Now, the Mueller Report indicated there was no proof that Russia interfered, but my point is that we had been hearing how weak, small, and economically insignificant Russia was, and then almost all of the mainstream press quickly turned and joined the politicians who said Russia had covertly changed the course of American history. If one holds to both those understandings of Russia some explanation is definitely needed. Otherwise, this is cognitive dissonance on a national level.

Hal Freeman, lightly reformatted.

A marriage that cannot last

[T]here is a fundamental incoherence in an alliance that requires affirmation of the gender binary in the L, the G, and the B whilst emphatically denying it in the T and Q.

Carl Trueman

Affirmative action

The old-style defenders of racial double standards still say they aren’t racist.  Since racial double standards are by definition racist, that’s been a hard line to peddle.  The new line is that they are racist, but in a good way:  Because only racism against whites can remedy the effects of past racism against blacks.

Since this view is relentlessly drummed into the ears of the young – and since few of them have ever been taught the ancient doctrine that justice is giving to each person what is due to him, or the sacred principle that we may never do evil for the sake of good results — perhaps it is not surprising that many of my students find the theory of good racism plausible.

J Budziszewski

Marriage in America

Gay marriage is a luxury good in our society, largely the province of professional men and women. Meanwhile, among Americans without college degrees, marriage is collapsing.

Public health officials scratch their heads, trying to explain the extraordinary decline in life expectancy in the United States, a shocking trend for a country so rich. Their captivity to progressive ideology makes them invincibly ignorant. They cannot acknowledge the obvious truth, which is that isolated, disoriented individuals deprived of the norms that would guide them toward marriage and family have dim prospects. They are more likely to stumble through life and engage in self-destructive behavior.

R.R. Reno

Intelligence, thoughtfulness, and the career they foreclose

The woke takeover of the establishment is so complete that “if you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or silent movie star.” Every thought on the left is scripted, monitored, and policed. As Lyons observes, “In contrast with this oppressive decadence . . . the dialectic of the countercultural Right crackles with irreverence and intellectual possibility.”

N.S. Lyons Lyons citing Michael Lind and quoted by R.R. Reno


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Tuesday, 10/11/22

Come out from among them and be ye separate

Between two worlds

The people here were heart-broken over the shelling going on in the Donbass. I saw a video posted by an American in Ukraine showing a march of parents in Donetsk carrying photos of their children who had been killed as a result of the shelling. I had tears in my eyes watching. We all knew it was the U.S. that blocked efforts to implement the Minsk Accords set forth by France and Germany which called for the cessation of the shelling. The people in the Donbass are essentially Russians living in Ukraine. I’ve stated several times that Ukraine refused them independence after the coup removing the democratically elected president of Ukraine. The residents were not allowed to speak Russian, their native language, or, in some cases, even to worship in the Russian Orthodox church. Yet it is still a practical requirement that journalists refer to Russian troops going into Ukraine as an “unprovoked invasion.”

Hal Freeman, an Orthodox American expatriate living in Russia. He is probably too credulous about Russian news of the war, as are most Americans about the American-flavored version, but I consider his blog that of an honest Christian living between two worlds. He’s especially valuable for things like reminding Americans that the U.S., through proxies, subverted and overthrew a democratically-elected Ukrainian government we considered too pro-Russia — things our press will rarely remember.

His final paragraph, as he updates his personal status (his younger Russian wife died leaving him an aging widower with young children) is worth chewing on:

I have had some family members in America encourage me to come back there. But I still think it would be too disruptive to the children. And, furthermore, the U.S. does not look like an attractive place to live anymore. It continues on a trajectory that I do not want to move my children back to. I wish it were not so. I would love to see my family there and have not given up the dream that my toes will be in the South Carolina sand when we hopefully can visit next summer.

(emphasis added)

Why Conservatism failed

The modern conservative project failed because it didn’t take into account the revolutionary principle of technology, and its intrinsic connection to the telos of sheer profit. Decrying left-wing revolutionary politics and postmodern anarchy, conservatives missed that the real moral relativism was to believe that one could change the material form of society without directly affecting its substance or its ends.

In between great-books seminars, conservatives have decried any interference in what technologies the all-knowing market chooses to build, while taking no stance on what technologies we ought to build and accepting with equanimity massive research investment from the private economy and military-industrial complex, at most wringing their hands about the speed and direction of social change (while accepting its inevitability). Not for nothing did the Canadian philosopher George Grant, in an essay on “the impossibility of conservatism as a theoretical stance in the technological society,” describe them as “those who accept the orientation to the future in the modern but who want to stop the movement of modernity at points which touch their special interests.”

Geoff Shullenberger, Why Conservatism Failed.

Shullenberger adds more weight to the argument that to live conservatively is deeply counter-cultural and might even require substantial withdrawal from society — maybe as Hal Freeman has. But even Hal has American Social Security.

We’re all complicit even when we’re not guilty.

Anaxios!

Of the Georgia Senate race:

We don’t know if Reverend Warnock himself has ever personally facilitated an abortion, but we do know he will do everything in his power to keep facilitating them for countless women he will never know. And this is supposed to give him the moral high ground? An old Norm Macdonald line comes to mind, from the scene in Comedians With Cars Getting Coffee where he’s discussing Bill Cosby with Jerry Seinfeld. “The worst part is the hypocrisy,” Seinfeld says earnestly. “Huh,” Norm goes, poker-faced. “I kinda thought it was the rape.”

So, in the end, neither candidate can hide behind a veneer of moral respectability here. This is a choice between two evils. And yet, many voters who share my convictions remain convinced that they must choose …

… My concern is those earnest voters who have still constructed such a consequentialist frame around their vote that there truly seems to be nothing that would cause them to withhold it from a Republican, provided the Democrat was always worse.

I hate to bring him up, but Trump obviously hovers behind all this. Cards on the table, I didn’t vote for him in 2016 or 2020. Many people didn’t vote for him in 2016 but decided to do so in 2020. Now, in the wake of Dobbs, they feel vindicated …

I have seen this presented as a “conundrum” for the conservative voter, something that has to be reckoned and wrestled with. This might have an effect on some people, but I’ve always been singularly immune to this sort of challenge once my mind is firmly made up. I cheered the fall of Roe as loudly as any Trump voter. Yet, in my own mind, I remain quite happy not to have cast a vote for Trump in either year. Because a vote, to me, is more than a utilitarian ticking of a box. It’s more than getting the right warm body in the right seat so that he can vote the right way. To me, a vote is a statement: This candidate is worthy.

When the game is this cynical, we are under no obligation to keep playing. What happens next, whatever happens, is not on us. It is on the people who forgot what it means to be worthy.

Bethel McGrew, Notes from a Christian Humanist (emphasis added)

The mystic among us

Community life loves to flog mystic.

Martin Shaw, commenting on the Inuit story The Moon Palace.

This is my favorite Martin Shaw podcast yet.

Working with What We’ve Got

In stark contrast to the impulse to withdraw for Christian or conservative integrity is the impulse to seize control. There are Christian people who aren’t stupid or notably power-hungry who advocate that option.

Return of the Strong Gods

The way we do education in America results in the “overproduction of elites,” [Patrick] Deneen declared. “There need to be fewer people like me, with jobs like mine.” When I laughed at this, he smiled and said: “I mean, gosh! Just try getting someone to do brick work on your house.”

“So instead of stripping society down to atomized individuals in a ‘state of nature’ and then building up Lockean rights,” I asked Deneen clumsily, “you’re starting with the family, and then society grows out of that?”

“That’s exactly right,” Deneen told me. “It’s conceptually and anthropologically different from liberal assumptions. If you begin by building from that point and you think about the ways that those institutions are under threat from a variety of sources in modern society… to the extent that you can strengthen those institutions, you do the things that someone like David French wants, which is to track a lot of the attention away from the role of central government. One of the reasons liberalism has failed in the thing it claims to do—which is limiting central government—is precisely because it is so fundamentally individualistic that radically individuated selves end up needing and turning to central governments for support and assistance.”

[C]itizens, [R.R.] Reno argues, will not tolerate a society of “pure negation” for long. The strong gods always return. Public life requires a shared mythos and a higher vision of the common good—what Richard Weaver called a “metaphysical dream.” Human beings long to coalesce around shared loves and loyalties.

Jordan Alexander Hill, Return of the Strong Gods: Understanding the New Right. I apparently read this before it was paywalled.

We must pass a law — many laws!

J Budziszewski replies to an anguished postliberal, who’s ready to take some real action against the perceived existential threat of secularism and bad religion. This strikes me, with my long interest in religious freedom law, as a key part of the reply:

It is one thing to say that moralistic monotheism should enjoy some special recognition or privilege over and above the protections that all systems of belief receive through the Free Speech and Assembly Clauses.  It is quite another to say that systems of belief outside of it should be denied freedom of speech and assembly, or that we should round up their adherents and put them in jail.

I would add that I always thought “we must pass a law!” was an anti-conservative impulse.

Five proposed Constitutional Amendments

National Constitution Center Project Offers Constitutional Amendment Proposals with Broad Cross-Ideological Support

Miscellany

NYC

Anarchy is in the water here, like fluoride, and toilet alligators.

Jason Gay, ‘Anarchy’ Is Not a New York City Crisis. It’s a Lifestyle.

Pandemic apocalypse

The pandemic has illustrated all too vividly the meaning of terms like systemic racism and structural inequality in a way anyone can grasp: “Oh, you mean black people are at greater risk from Covid-19 because they’re more likely to be working in supermarkets or other essential jobs, and to use public transportation, and to live in housing that doesn’t allow for social distancing? And their mortality rate is higher because they’re more likely to have pre-existing health conditions?”

Black Lives Matter and the Church: An Interview with Eugene F. Rivers III and Jacqueline Rivers

Wordplay

It isn’t only Hart’s view of the world that has been consistent. It’s also his style. Clause follows clause like the folds in a voluminous garment, every noun set off by beguiling and unusual modifiers (plus some of his old favorites, like “beguiling”). In one way, at least, he is the least American of writers, in that adjectives and adverbs do not give him that twinge of guilt that so many of us have picked up from Hemingway and Twain, the suspicion that we are using them to distract the reader from our failure to describe some particular action or detail—some verb or noun—precisely enough.

Written of David Bentley Hart by Phil Christman, via Front Porch Republic.

I feel that twinge of guilt, but so far as I know, I picked it up by precept from Strunk & White, not by example from Twain and Hemingway.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Sunday, 10/2/22

Wordview

Well, do tell! I had no idea that anyone had put the popular Christian idea of “worldview” under a microscope and dissected it. What’s So Bad About “Worldview”? – The Davenant Institute.

What he says rings true about the people I know who’ve been through Christian “worldview camps.”

The author commends wisdom over worldview, but that would only fly if wisdom were as easy to get as an off-the-rack “worldview.”

Getting what you want or wanting what you need?

I think still, in sort of a modernist worldview, people look at this conversation and think, “This will help me get what I want,” instead of understanding that this will change what you want.

Paul VanderKlay

Banning politicians from Communion

[A] direct attempt at a communion ban [of President Biden] will inevitably be interpreted as a partisan intervention, at a time when the partisan captivity of conservative Christianity, Protestant and Catholic alike, is a serious problem for the witness of the church.

By this I mean that however reasonable the bishops’ focus on abortion as a pre-eminent issue, in a polarized nation it’s created a situation where Republicans can seemingly get away with a vast accumulation of un-Catholic acts and policies and simple lies — many of them on display in Donald Trump’s administration, which was amply staffed with Catholics — and be perpetually forgiven because the Democrats support Roe. v. Wade.

Ross Douthat, The Bishops, Biden and the Brave New World

A stain

Russian soldiers who die in the line of duty in Ukraine have all of their sins forgiven, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed in a sermon ….

Religion News Service

Remembering not only lurid versions of what Islamic Jihadists are promised if they die in jihad, but that Popes also said such things to Crusaders, always appalls me. That Patriarch Kirill says it now to Russia’s rag-tag conscripts is a stain on my Church, but let my readers be aware that he stands alone, and is widely criticized by Orthodox laity and leaders outside Russia.

Judging from the Loyalty/Betrayal axis of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations test, I likely suffer from a deficit of patriotism, at least in comparison to a typical conservative. So statements like the patriarch’s particularly grate on me.

I would feel the same if a Bishop of the Ukrainian Church promised forgiveness of all sins to soldiers dying in defense of the homeland.

It’s a fearful thing to be a clergyman. Orthodoxy holds that Priests, Bishops and Patriarchs will be judged by God for misleading the faithful. Does Patriarch Kirill really believe that?

Paul vs. James

Martin Luther had “issues” with Saint James’ Epistle, and reportedly wanted to kick it out of the Bible. Calvinists aren’t too crazy about it, either. The response isn’t that complicated once you see it:

Saint James’s Epistle is unique on several levels. While the Pauline Epistles speak of Christ primarily theologically, explaining the significance of who Christ is and what Christ has accomplished in the Cross and the Resurrection, St. James teaches in a way that is redolent with the teachings of Christ in His earthly ministry.

Fr. Stephen De Young, Religion of the Apostles

Mind and body

Over the course of his long book, Haidt builds up a case file of evidence from neuroscience, psychology and other fields to demonstrate that the objective, rational mind, magically divorced from the clumsy, emotional physical body, is a fiction. One of the founding myths of modernity has no basis in reality. Haidt compares the relationship between intuition and reason to the relationship between the US president and his press spokesman. The spokesman’s job is to explain to the world what the president has already decided to do; to rationalise it and to justify it, however unjustifiable it may sometimes be.

Paul Kingsnorth, In the Black Chamber

Toxic Shame

I have noted through the years, that some people (including some priests) are convinced that a soul can only be saved with disciplinary slaps and corrections from time to time. If there are such corrections needed in a human life, then it is likely only God who has the wisdom to know when and how such correction should take place. My experience as a priest and confessor is that I simply need to be consistent in sharing God’s love and be patient with what might be a process of healing that takes years. I would add that, in my experience, spiritual abuse is almost always a case of manipulating toxic shame against someone. If that happens, we are not asked to tolerate it.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, When Shame Becomes Toxic

Liberation theology for white people

For the social-gospel-oriented left wing, Christianity exists to build a social order in step with the upward progress of humanity. For the Christian nationalist right wing, Christianity exists to build a social order in step with national or ethnic identity. The gospel is the means for a forward-looking utopianism in the one case and a backward-looking nostalgia in the other. Christian nationalism is a liberation theology for white people.

Russell Moore (H/T John Brady)

Compel yourself to love

When you accuse someone of being judgmental, you’re doing the same thing.

Practice at all times compassion for those you disagree with. Try to understand their reasoning, which is different from yours. Perhaps they have had life experiences that you have not had.

Never distort what they are saying in order to make it sound more outrageous. That’s a form of lying. Deal with what they are actually saying, not a parody of it.

With a contentious issue, the goal is to persuade those on the other side. Judging and denouncing does not persuade. No one was ever humiliated into changing their opinion.

We live in a paradoxical time when condemning and judging is severely condemned and judged. It seems like an effective way to stay on the right side of correct opinion is to identify people saying the wrong things, and denounce them. This is not love.

For your own sake, compel yourself to love your opponents (they are not your enemies; we have only one Enemy). Compel yourself to love, for your soul’s sake.

Frederica Mathewes-Green (emphasis in original)


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Hobbit Day 2022

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

Culture

How the Bobos Broke America — key excerpt

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

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

How the Bobos Broke America.

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

How unreality spreads

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

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

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

National Conservatism could be a boon for religious liberty lawyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

David French

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

When did modernity begin?

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

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World.

What Putin lacks

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

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

This takes “self-deprecating” too far

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

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

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

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

Garrison Keillor.

Once again, I’ll opine.

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

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

Correlation

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

Missed it when it was fresh

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

Boris Johnson, mid-2018, on Burqas.

Shorts

Journalism

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

The Decline of First Things

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

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

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

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

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

Conservative Radicals

It’s interesting to see a tribe close ranks.

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

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

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

Ridicule Is Man’s Most Potent Weapon

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

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

Politics

Wrong kind of diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

War? Really?

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

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

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

J.D. Vance ❤️ Donald J. Trump

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

Andrew Tobias on Twitter

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

A Moment of Pleasure

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


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

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

Culture

Building on vice

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

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

J Budziszewski, Why Do We Always Hit a Wall?

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

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

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

See also Jack Leahy, Cloud-Hidden.

The demand to be political first

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

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

The special costs of being poor

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

Sarah Jones, Barbara Ehrenreich Knew There Was a Fight

The platonic ideal of an NYT opinion piece

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

Alan Jacobs

Sheer drudgery, with a dose of despair

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

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

Not a promising review

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

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

Political (after a fashion)

The difference between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers

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

Anne Applebaum

Dance with the one what brung ya

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

The Morning Dispatch

Wordplay

Taking leave of senses

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

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

Truth Social

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

Frank Bruni

Words failed them

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

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


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Friday, 7/29/22

R.I.P. William Jon Gray

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

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

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

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

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

Signs of the Times

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

The Morning Dispatch, July 28.

Turning Point, USA?

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Harrington, Peter Thiel on the dangers of progress.

One of many provocative observations in this long piece.

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

Nothing pointless

Speaking of fascists …

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

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Church/State

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

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

Jake Meador, Defining “White Evangelical Crap”.

Was MLK antiracist? Barack Obama?

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

Bari Weiss, Stop Being Shocked

Flash!

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

(Pass it on.)

Note to Readers

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

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


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

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

Memorial Day Commentary Dump

Politics

Contemporary American Populism

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

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

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

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

The party of us

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

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

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

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

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

Andrew Sullivan, ‌Can A Cult Become A Movement?

Sophistication

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

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

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

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

Nellie Bowles.

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

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

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

Guns

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

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

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

(Attributed to Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.)

Immigration

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

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

Open Arms

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

Not our politics, exactly — but Ouch! anyway

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

The Tablet via Andrew Sullivan

The fallacy of Boromir

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

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

Retraction

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

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

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

Hall of Shame

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

Not politics

Paris whimsy

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

Rick Steves

Bill Maher on Kids

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

Bill Maher via Andrew Sullivan

Saying the silent part out loud

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

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

Note:

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

Or, as Ross Douthat put it:

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

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

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

Guns (but from the culture side)

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

Jesse Singal, Three Quick Thoughts On Guns.

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yes and no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massive Hubris

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

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

Science and faith

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

Flat Hats and Fatalism, ‌Lost cheeses and impersonal cruelty

Wordplay

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, 4/2/2022

The Ivies

Academic blinders

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

Item in the Economist

Selling out

Kids say the darndest things:

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

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

Robert P. George on Twitter

Ruso-Ukrainian war

End of History

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

Matt Yglesias

What Putin is doing to Russia

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

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

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

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

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

134,499 smart young Russians emigrate

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

The Morning Dispatch

Exoneratring Ginni Thomas

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

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

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

Jonah Goldberg

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

Modern Monetary Theory lives in the hearts of its True Believers

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

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

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

A book I really need to read

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

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

Gustav Jönsson, Treason of the Intellectuals

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

For what it’s worth

David French

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

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

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

KBJ

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

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

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

The Best Thing about retirement

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

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

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

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

It’s ghastly.

Ed West

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

Disunification Church

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

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

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

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

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

Religion Clause blog.

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

Wordplay

Traditions are the answers to questions we forgot we had.

Nellie Bowles on the Good Faith Effort podcast


Finally, someone has defined "woman":

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

Linda Greenhouse


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


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

Being alive

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

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

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

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

“That’s exactly right.”

Garrison Keillor


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