Many and various thoughts 1/15/22

Seeking to destroy the liberal framework

Republican Sen. Mike Rounds, on a network news show, responded to a question about January 6 thusly:

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said, noting that none of the irregularities brought to his attention would’ve changed the outcome in any state. “The election was fair, as fair as we have seen. We simply did not win the election, as Republicans, for the presidency.”

45 did not appreciate that:

Trump, who in a statement Monday morning accused Rounds of going “woke” on the “fraudulent” 2020 election. “Is he crazy or just stupid? The numbers are conclusive, and the fraudulent and irregular votes are massive,” Trump continued, lying. “Even though his election will not be coming up for 5 years, I will never endorse this jerk again.”

The Morning Dispatch

I could not comprehend how any sensible person, whatever his grievances against our traditional political elites, can think that this vengeful narcissist is a suitable Presidential candidate. But Damon Linker has now explained it:

By the time Trump burst on the scene in the summer of 2015, the traditionalist right had nearly given in to outright despair, even in public, with many moving into a purely defensive position. No longer hoping to reverse the direction of the culture, they now hoped they might merely receive modest federal protection from persecution at the hands of emboldened secular liberals.

At first Trump’s campaign didn’t inspire much cause for optimism among disaffected traditionalist conservatives. He was, after all, a personal paragon of moral decadence. Yet once Trump seized the GOP nomination, and then the presidency itself, a rethinking began among the most pessimistic conservatives. Might his unexpected triumph open other, more radical options for the future? Could his aggressive, unapologetic hostility to liberal norms and institutions signal an openness among American voters to a fundamental rethinking of ideological premises, cultural limits, and the range of political possibilities?

For a series of pessimistic conservatives — especially the "integralist" Catholics (Adrian Vermeule, Gladden Pappin, Patrick Deneen, Sohrab Ahmari, Chad Pecknold) and the philosophically anti-liberal and anti-progressive writers at the Claremont Institute and the American Greatness website — Trump came to represent a new way to achieve old ends. Instead of encouraging Republican presidents to struggle within a liberal framework against the inexorable drift of the country, including its government and its culture, toward the secular left, conservatives could cheer on a political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself.

"A political and cultural demolition project that would seek to destroy the liberal framework itself." That’s fancy-talk for what I feared was the motivation in 2016 — "To hell with it! Let’s tear it all down!" — which is notably nihilistic rather than conservative.

These traditionalist Christian "conservatives" might justify that as desperate measures for desperate times (responding to an existential threat, another Flight 93 Election, but one mark of conservatism has been sober recognition that bountiful crops don’t grow in the scorched earth of revolution.

What a difference a day makes

My Friday reaction

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, has been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, authorities said Thursday.

Ten other people also were charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, when authorities said members of the extremist group came to Washington intent on stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

AP Report.

That’s close enough to a domestic terrorism charge to satisfy my curiosity (and desire for retribution) about why nobody had been charged with terrorism in the January 6 whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

My Saturday course correction

We have an adversarial legal system because there are often two plausible sides to a case.

Did the Oath Keepers commit seditious conspiracy? I thought so, and so did a law prof. An ex-prosecutor, who has actually convicted seditious conspirators, says not so fast, pal.

I’m with the second now. And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that the President of the United States sent them off to "stop the steal" — ritually disavowing violence but almost assuring it by his inflammatory "fight like hell" and "stop the steal" rhetoric. To those foolish enough to believe Trump, the notion that if we don’t stop the steal, we won’t have America any more is a potent incitement to "any means necessary."

This all matters because unless the prosecutors have filed multiple counts, including counts that don’t require proving that the Oath Keepers consciously were trying to overrule a legitimate election rather than gullibly trying to stop the nonexistent steal, they could well be acquitted. Since they are dangerous fiends or fools who need to be out of circulation for a good long time, both for safety and to deter others, I don’t want that.

Go for the easy single, guys, not the home run.

No particular place to be

I can take a virtual tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing, or of the deepest underwater caverns, nearly as easily as I glance across the room. Every foreign wonder, hidden place, and obscure subculture is immediately available to my idle curiosity; they are lumped together into a uniform distancelessness that revolves around me. But where am I? There doesn’t seem to be any nonarbitrary basis on which I can draw a horizon around myself—a zone of relevance—by which I might take my bearings and get oriented. When the axis of closer-to-me and farther-from-me is collapsed, I can be anywhere, and find that I am rarely in any place in particular.

Matthew B. Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

We’re all experts now

When Covid hit, we were knee-deep in spoofed phone numbers slamming our cellphones about fake car warranties. We were wading through emails trying to steal our identities. We were triangulating Yelp reviews and Consumer Reports summaries with testimonials and marketing research just to buy a new mattress or an air fryer. We were checking out our own purchases at the grocery store and waiting on hold to replace the credit card that got hacked for the umpteenth time. We were staring, bleary-eyed, into apps that promised less “friction” in our everyday lives if we would just consent to tracking — not that we had a clue as to what exactly we were consenting to. The tiny boxes to “sign up” are labeled “terms and conditions,” after all, and not “Here is how we are going to farm your personal data for profit.” And when we complained — to a manager, to a clerk, to our spouses, to the internet — someone was all too glad to tell us how we could have prevented all of this if we had just become an expert in everything.

It is no wonder that so many of us think that we can parse vaccine trial data, compare personal protective equipment, write school policy and call career scientists idiots on Facebook. We are know-it-alls because we are responsible for knowing everything. And God forbid we should not know something and get scammed. If that happens, it is definitely our fault.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, ‌We’re All ‘Experts’ Now. That’s Not a Good Thing.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, skipped vaccine and treated with Ivermectin and Hydrochloroquine when they contracted Covid.

I have friends who, based on doing their own research, are convinced that the CDC is sluggish and wimpy and that it’s vitally important that we get vaccinated, boosted, and put on our N95 masks and quarantine until the end of January.

I value my friends, but having fallen for pseudoscience more than once in my long life, I’m trying to trust the CDC directionally, titrating with common sense. I’m 73, and I’m going to die of something some day. Meanwhile, I don’t want to live in irrational fear or with irrational exuberance.

Trafficking in racial animosities

There are strong incentives to provoke the left on race, and that provocation can often take the form of rhetoric that looks a lot like outright racism. Take, for example, this comment from Tucker Carlson regarding immigration and the alleged Democratic effort to “replace” the American electorate with immigrants:

I know that the left and all the gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term replacement, if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World. But, they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.

Carlson says his comments have nothing to do with race—with the so-called Great Replacement theory (a white-supremacist theory that, in its current American incarnation, holds that Democrats—often led by Jews—are trying to replace white voters with nonwhite immigrants). “This is a voting-rights question,” says Carlson. “Every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter,” he claims.

David French, How the Right’s Rules of Rhetoric Create Racial Provocateurs . If you can show me a meaningful difference between "new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World" and "nonwhite immigrants," I’ll buy you a burger at your favorite burger joint.

Tucker Carlson is definitely trafficking in racial animosities.

Hospitalized with Covid or hospitalized because of Covid?

New data published by New York’s Department of Health show that, although the state’s topline COVID-19 hospitalization numbers are near record highs, 43 percent of COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized were admitted for another reason, and only tested positive for COVID-19 incidentally.

The Morning Dispatch, 1/1/22

Human motivations are rarely unmixed

"Admission changes to [Loudon County Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High] were driven by jealously infused xenophobia and racism against the Asian community,” says Mr. Jackson. “Most of the internal deliberations focused on a tailored solution to get just enough black and Hispanic kids in to open the floodgates for rich white affluent families, the primary beneficiaries."

William McGurn, quoting Harry Jackson, former president of the Thomas Jefferson PTA.

Worthy new center-left Substack

I believe it was on this blog that I solicited suggestions for left-leaning honest brokers on the internet, since so much of my reading has become, at least in popular parlance, right-leaning, Several of the writers still identify as liberals or even, in one case, communist — but their honest brokerage gets them branded otherwise. I read them more for the delight and reassurance that I and other conservatives aren’t the only ones who "get it."

Well, the center-right Dispatch recommended a new Substack from Josh Barro, Very Serious, just such a center-left figure, as a likely counterpart to the Dispatch. And the introduction is promising:

The conversation that gets erroneously called a “national conversation” — conducted among select journalists, operatives, activists and academics — is essentially a conversation by and for people who supported Elizabeth Warren. It reflects the values and preferences and linguistic quirks of one minority part of one political party’s coalition. And sure, I am contrarian in relation to that subculture, but not to our overall politics or society, within which I sit closer to the median than most other people you will hear from in the press.

Dissenting from and complaining about this subculture is not novel; it’s become a cliché to jump to Substack and complain about it. But my beef with this subculture isn’t quite the usual one, and that’s why this newsletter is going to be different. I don’t feel oppressed by the subculture. But I do think it has caused certain influential people to become badly misinformed in ways that have been damaging to the interests of both the press and the Democratic Party.

Josh Barro, in his introductory post in his new Very Serious.

(I believe his is a Substack blog — it certainly looks like one in the invitation to paid subscription — but the domain is Barro’s own, which presumably gives him control of the content should he ever leave Substack.)

Riddle solved

[T]here’s a simple solution to the seemingly complicated riddle of Hawley, Cruz and Pompeo. And Marche provides it: Right now their surest path to power, or firmest grip on it, involves the theatrical trashing of their own trappings, the reinvention of themselves as characters in a story other than their own. They haven’t had some post-Ivy moral or philosophical epiphany. Their makeovers are fundamentally commercial: They sized up the current marketplace and manufactured what sells best.

And for them — as for too many people in this age of runaway vanity — brand dictates belief.

Frank Bruni, ‌Trump’s pride goeth before our fall

Bait and switch

This week, the writer Colin Wright posed on Twitter the following question: “What rights do trans people currently not have but want that don’t involve replacing biological sex with one’s subjective ‘gender identity’?” And the response was, of course, crickets. The truth is: the 6-3 Bostock decision places trans people in every state under the protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It’s done. It’s built on the sturdy prohibition on sex discrimination. A Trump nominee wrote the ruling.

What the trans movement is now doing, after this comprehensive victory, is not about rights at all. It is about cultural revolution. It’s a much broader movement to dismantle the sex binary, to see biology as a function of power and not science, and thereby to deconstruct the family and even a fixed category such as homosexuality. You can support trans rights and oppose all of this. But they want you to believe you can’t. That’s the bait-and-switch. Don’t take it.

Andrew Sullivan, The Trans Movement Is Not About Rights Anymore

Sully on Biden

The appeal of Biden was that he understood the Senate, represented a moderate middle, and wouldn’t polarize the country with divisive, incendiary rhetoric, as his predecessor had. The reality of Biden is that he has lost the Senate’s trust, has been an enabler of the far left, and is now seeking to call all those who object to a Democratic wishlist of electoral reforms the modern equivalents of the KKK. The speech was disgusting. It will do nothing but further alienate the Senators he needs. It sure alienated me. It could have been written by a Vox intern on Adderall.

I’d wax more eloquently on this but don’t feel I can best either Jonah Goldberg or Peggy Noonan. I voted and supported Biden as the least worst option — in the primaries and general election. I favor an urgent reform of the Electoral Count Act — to avoid a 2020 scenario next time. I’d be open to some of the Democratic proposals. So I should be the kind of voter Biden is appealing to.

But Biden’s polarizing rhetoric, as McConnell made clear, has made compromise on any of this toxic.

Andrew Sullivan again (third topic by my count)

Getting the run-around

Alan Jacobs had a few questions on his University’s health insurance. Nobody would admit that they had answers:

It’s important to recognize that what I went through in both of the circumstances did not result from bugs in the systems, but from features — from purposeful design. The goal of all our contemporary Departments of Circumlocution is simply this: To make us give up. To bring us to the point of shrugging our shoulders and crossing our fingers in the hope that whatever illness we have will somehow get better; or to the point that we pay for medicine ourselves because we can’t figure out how to get the insurance we pay for to cover it, and don’t dare try to get by without it. The object of these systems is the generation of despair. Because if the systems make us despair then the companies that deploy them can boast of the money they have saved the organizations that purchase their services.

Wherein I brand myself

J Budziszewski chose an unusually provocative title: Novelists as Pimps. That I agree with him enthusiasticly no doubt brands me as some sort of comic caricature.

Pretty good book

I’m not going to oversell it, but this was a book I felt well warranted the time to read it:

The origins of this book lie in my curiosity about how and why a particular statement has come to be regarded as coherent and meaningful: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.”

To put it bluntly: we are all expressive individuals now. Just as some choose to identify themselves by their sexual orientation, so the religious person chooses to be a Christian or a Muslim. And this raises the question of why society finds some choices to be legitimate and others to be irrelevant or even unacceptable.

Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. If you are comprehensively familiar with Philip Rieff, you can skip it.

Worthy book, but I passed up a favorite annual conference this weekend even though Trueman was one of three keynoters.


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.

Miscellany, 1/8/2022

Fairly Political, but not in a partisan way

Politics of friendship, politics of enemies

[Y]ou can’t operate political systems without friendship, and what has been terrifying in the United States is the replacement of a politics of friends with a politics of enemies. And this then makes any possibility of legislative comity just impossible. That’s why one of my friends has talked about a civil war, because a civil war is a state where a politician across the other aisle regards you as an enemy who is about to destroy everything you value most, and must be resisted by all means, fair or foul. That culture of antagonism is extremely dangerous to the stability of democratic systems. I think we’re living through a very bad period.

I’m a historian, so let’s not set our hair on fire. We can remember periods in American history where, for example, one senator crossed the floor, picked up a stick and nearly beat another senator to death. Now, that was in the run up to the real Civil War. Let’s not forget, we’ve been there before, and we’ve walked it back. And I think we could walk it back again, but I fear that it’s going to take some calamity to wake us all up. And I thought, in fact, that January 6th and the invasion of the sacred precincts of the Congress would have been the calamity that would wake everybody up. But it doesn’t appear to have done so. That’s another sign that democracy in America is in a very, very serious place.

I don’t think there should be enemies in the American house. I don’t think there can be, except one kind of enemy who takes up arms against the system itself. The people who took up arms against Congress on the 6th of January are enemies; they have to be dealt with by the security forces. They have to be put in jail. But apart from that, there are no enemies.

Michael Ignatieff to Yasha Mounk

Whaddya gonna do with your enemies?

I rarely read New York Times Editorial Board opinions, but this one caught my eye (before I noticed its authorship):

[P]eel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election.

(Emphasis added, because it’s true and chilling)

January 6 was terrorism

January 6, 2021, was not a riot. It was not a protest, an insurrection, or a (failed) coup—at least, not exclusively so. None of those terms capture the exact nature of premeditated violence done for psychological effect to achieve political ends that characterized the violence at the U.S. Capitol that day. There is a better term, one that does precisely capture that mix: terrorism. January 6 was an attempted terrorist attack on the U.S. Congress. It is important that we call the attack by its rightful name to recognize the threat we face.

Terrorism is, under U.S. law, “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” There is no question the January 6 attack, in which hundreds of people violently broke into the Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying the presidential election, fits that definition.

Most of the protesters on the Mall were peaceful, and even a majority of those at the Capitol did not illegally enter the building. But that is a little like saying 9/11 was mostly peaceful because a majority of New Yorkers were not murdered that day. It somehow misses what was distinctive and noteworthy that morning. Most people act peacefully and lawfully most of the time. But we’re rightly interested in what is unique and unusual behavior—which will be, by definition, a minority of people in a small amount of time—that has outsized influence and does disproportionate damage to public safety and democratic norms.

Paul Miller, ‌Stop Calling It a Riot.

After I wrote this, someone (Matt Labash, I think) said January 6 was a bunch of LARPers who let things get out of hand. That seems too benign, but that "[t]here is no question the January 6 attack …fits that definition" invites the question "then why has nobody been charged with terrorism?" I think there’s an answer, but I’m going to let others develop it if they can.

Freudian slip

Sen. Ted Cruz is very, very, very sorry that he referred to January 6 as a “violent terrorist attack” earlier this week. Please forgive him, 2024 presidential primary voters, he’ll never do it again.

The Morning Dispatch

Never, ever, ever, talk or act as if "cancel culture" exists only on the Left.

Ted Cruz is not a stupid man (see below). That makes him all the more dangerous. But we’re blessed at the transparency of his demagoguery, and his profound personal offensiveness.

Sauce for the Goose

Proving that his political instincts remain just as sharp as ever, Sen. Ted Cruz on his podcast Friday sounded off on the question of whether Republicans will impeach President Biden if the GOP retakes the House. While Cruz’s assessment that House Republicans would be very likely to impeach Biden is quite right, the Texas senator shouldn’t be gassing about it. Cruz is universally known and mostly disliked across the political spectrum, so his comments will provide lots of fodder for Democrats to say that a vote for Republicans this fall is a vote for another impeachment. Cruz justified the idea even if it was not merited, saying “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” “That is not how impeachment is meant to work,” he said. “But I think the Democrats crossed that line." Adding to the miseries of Kevin McCarthy, Cruz even offered some guidance for the House GOP on how to proceed. Democrats will be trying to get Republicans to wade into impeachment issues right up to the election in hopes of forcing candidates to either scare moderates or anger radicals on their own side. This time, the fish jumped right in the boat for them.

‌Chris Stirewalt

Be mindful, folks, that this same Ted Cruz holds forth as the Real Christian®️ candidate.

Fiddling while the pyromaniacs are at work

At a moment when the highest value should be placed on rebuilding consensus around the conduct of elections and restoring confidence in results, both parties remain fixated on revving up their respective bases with boob bait.

Yuval Levin lays it out in his New York Times piece this week: “If we take both parties’ most high-minded arguments at face value, they are worried about problems that barely exist. It is easier than ever to vote: Registration has gotten simpler in recent decades, and most Americans have more time to vote and more ways to do so. Voter turnout is at historic highs, and Black and white voting rates now rise and fall together. These trends long predate the pandemic, and efforts to roll back some state Covid-era accommodations seem unlikely to meaningfully affect turnout. Meanwhile, voter fraud is vanishingly rare. The most thorough database of cases, maintained by one of the staunchest conservative defenders of election integrity, suggests a rate of fraud so low, it could not meaningfully affect outcomes.”

‌Chris Stirewalt again.

Slim pickin’s if you dumb along with dishonest

[A]las, though Cruz, Hawley, and DeSantis have proven plenty dishonest, they’re not that dumb. DeSantis went to Yale, then Harvard Law. Cruz went to Princeton, then Harvard Law. Hawley mixed things up a bit, going to Stanford, then Yale Law. You know, just like all honest-to-God populists do.

That’s why if you’re pulling for the dumb-and-dishonest ticket, you have to endorse someone like Lauren Boebert/Madison Cawthorn, the spiritual future of the party.

Matt Labash, Was January 6 an Inside Job?

Changing with the Times

Sometimes, a column’s title is so evocative that I don’t feel the need to read the column:

The G.O.P. Is Making ‘Critical Race Theory’ the New ‘Shariah Law’

(Charles Blow)

Not Political

Substack

One of my (few) favorite things about 2021 is the emergence of Substack, and that writers at hidebound prestige publications have been able to cast off their employers’ fetters and speak the truth as they see it. Some of them see it quite clearly.

Some, like Rod Dreher, have found in Substack a side gig — a place to write occasionally about concerns beyond quotidian politics. (I’m hoping Rod will break entirely from blogging for American Conservative, since his blogging there keeps setting his hair on fire.)

A few (at least) are finding it markedly more remunerative to write for Substack than, say, for the New York Times or New York magazine (I’m looking at you, Bari and Sully).

And at least one, who sabotaged his employment by a mental health flare-up, is getting almost all his income there.

Such is the left-liberal hegemony of prestige media that most of the fugitives tend to sound right-liberal. If you know of any interesting and honest left-liberal or hard-left Substackers, I’d love to know about them, too.

After I had substantially written this item, Bari Weiss kicked off the New Year asking her readers to tell her a bit about themselves. They obliged, and obliged, and obliged, more than 1500 (and counting) times. The responses are roughly what I would expect. The least common denominator, it seems to me, is a desire to be told, soberly, the truth. Many of us know these truths, but it’s a little disorienting, week after week after month after month, to see nothing but damnable denials in the mainstream media.

Parting shot: Since it is in my conscious working memory at the moment, I perhaps should note that a disproportionate share of my Substack subscriptions are Lesbian (Bari Weiss) or Gay (Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and David Lat. It will soon leave my working memory, unless writing it down cements it. Since I can think of no plausible explanation for it beyond coincidence, it’s not worth obsessing about.

On cancel culture, deeper than usual

Of course it’s stupid that [Patton] Oswald faced such condemnation for posting a meaningless photo [of himself with Dave Chappelle] in the first place. But come on, dude. Have some self-respect. More importantly, have a little strategic sense here: they’re not going to stop coming after you. They never stop. Apologizing is just blood in the water. You can’t be good enough to satisfy this particular kind of frenzy. What we could do is to advocate for both interpersonal charity and for the kind of moral humility that ancient religions counseled. But then, if you do that you can’t reap the benefits that Oswalt has from carrying the right water for the right people. Those moral forces which you unleash on other people you unleash on yourself, and thus we have Oswalt in a profoundly 21st century dilemma that resonates with lessons from antiquity.

Does anyone involved think that going after Patton Oswalt will materially benefit trans people in any real way? It’s one thing to find Chappelle’s words bigoted and offensive, a perfectly fair position. It’s another thing to think that the people ostensibly fighting against them here are actually motivated in good faith, given that this action can’t possibly help trans rights. Some people just love to rage out on the internet and find juicy targets, and they fall all over the political spectrum.

Social conservatism is essentially dead in American life, as crazy as that sounds; the church ladies and scolds of the right have ceded the ground to bizarre techno-reactionaries, conspiracy theorists, anti-politicians, and crypto-utopians. But there are still a lot of people out there who endorse a bitter and provincial moral vision carved out of folk Christianity and American exceptionalism. The issue is that those people have no presence whatsoever in our culture industries, certainly not in the mainstream media and increasingly little in the conservative media, which is increasingly made up of shmucks trying to get “Intellectual Dark Web” cred who don’t even pretend to care about Jesus.

You can’t be good enough. That’s the point of all of this, if this post is too long and complex for you. You can’t be good enough. They will come to you soon enough. Chappelle was once held up as an idol for the racial radicalism of his show by the people who now reject him. Louis CK was beloved of the woke, until… something happened. Amy Schumer was a hero until she wasn’t. There are others and there will be more. (Your heel turn is coming, Lil Nas X. I can feel it.) Offense is a market, and as long as there’s demand, there will be supply. We’re so desperate for targets of offense that they canceled Norman Mailer yesterday, and he’s been dead for 15 years.

Freddie deBoer, You Can’t Be Good Enough

Face-to-face versus Twitbook

Insightful anecdote from someone I follow on micro.blog:

Many people will write things online that they would never say face to face to someone. We human beings are not wired to see messages on a screen as coming from other full, complex people. I was communications director at a small, nonprofit organization sharply divided by a controversy. Different factions wanted to use the organization’s newsletter to supposedly advocate for their POV, but these "articles" were scorching condemnations of the other side. So I refused to publish them, not wanting to start a slow-motion flame war; which caused its own set of problems and endangered my job. The leadership made some rules: people must meet in person to talk about these things. Several meetings were set up to allow everyone who wanted to, to attend and say their piece. Leadership also announced they would not respond to emails or voice messages on the controversy; you had to come in person and discuss things face to face, with witnesses present. We got through this period only, I believe, because we did not allow the option of online communication. Some people left, but I believe it would have been far worse if the institution had endorsed debates in writing.

To be an American

This quote is not really representative of the long article from which it’s taken, but I think it nails something important:

To be an American is to inherit the gift of living with one foot in the present and one foot in the future, while the rest of humanity has one foot in the present and one foot in the past. Then, every 20 years or so, we trash whatever tenuous equilibriums we have cobbled together and leap off again into the unknown. So it is, and forever will be, until the oleanders bloom outside my door, and California tumbles into the sea—which might be any day now.

David Samuels, ‌The Happiest Place on Earth.

I watched an Amazon documentary on vineyards of Burgundy, and this "one foot in the present and one foot in the past" was vividly portrayed.

A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world.

I’ve written before about the value of moderation in consistency, of the need when cross-pressured by countering winds to tack back and forth. Similarly, there’s the need, when trying to understand one’s world, to alternate between specificity and generality. I do a lot better with specificity, because I have seen the ways that the embrace of a Big Theory tends to shut down people’s minds. But lately I have been feeling the absence, in my thinking, of a more general account of who we are, how we got here, and how we might navigate the prevailing winds of the future.

Or is that feeling merely a temptation? — Is the “general account” rather a snare and a delusion? …

[M]aybe a “general account” is not what is needed so much as equipment for acting wisely and lovingly — in a Christlike way — this day. A Franciscan-Daoist ethic for a surveillance-capitalist hate-media world. What that might look like is something I plan to think about a lot in the coming year. Please stay tuned.

Alan Jacobs, ‌the cross-pressured self

Oopsie! I guess we were evil after all!

Black eye for the Google and class action rackets:

Google Street View provides panoramic street-level pictures from across the world, which it obtained from special camera cars. Google: Whoops, our cars also took substantive info, like passwords, photos, and documents, transmitted over unencrypted Wi-Fi. Much litigation ensues. A class action covering 60 million people settles for $13 mil, with the money going to attorneys’ fees, various costs, and an assortment of nonprofits that promise to use the money "to promote the protection of Internet privacy"—and not a penny to the people whose privacy was violated. Ninth Circuit: That’s fine. Concurrence: It’s time for us to reconsider our precedent okaying monetary awards to third parties instead of damages for class members.

‌Short Circuit: A Roundup of Recent Federal Court Decisions

Crash diet

John Huey—former editor-in-chief of Time Inc.—has a surprising New Year’s resolution: Consume less news. “Having spent more than 40 years reporting, writing and editing the news, I am surprised to conclude that overconsumption of news, at least in the forms I’ve been gorging on it since 2016, is neither good for my emotional well-being nor essential to the health of the republic,” he writes in the Washington Post, arguing there isn’t enough going on to “fill the 24/7 maw” of cable, talk radio, and social media. “I don’t intend to stop fretting about my country. Nor will I give up reading the newspapers and magazines I deem essential to understanding the world around me. But I am planning a crash news diet. … If the news is big enough, it will find me.”

The Morning Dispatch

Not endorsed

If man is doomed to perish, then universal infertility is as painless a way as any. And there are, after all, personal compensations. For the last sixty years we have sycophantically pandered to the most ignorant, the most criminal and the most selfish section of society. Now, for the rest of our lives, we’re going to be spared the intrusive barbarism of the young, their noise, their pounding, repetitive, computer-produced so-called music, their violence, their egotism disguised as idealism.

P.D. James, in her dystopian The Children of Men.

Purdue Men’s Basketball

Having had a stellar (undefeated) non-conference start, Purdue men already have dropped conference games to Rutgers and Wisconsin. The Wisconsin loss, this week, was especially bad, as Purdue’s defensive inadequacies were on full, mortifying display while their offense went uncharacteristically cold.

The Boilermakers bounced back today against Penn State, coached by a first-year coach who assisted at Purdue long enough to know the current players, and Coach Matt Painter’s mind, very, very well.

Penn State gave me a scare by having their big guy attack our big guys on offense, getting both Zach Edey and Trevion Williams in such foul trouble that Purdue played ten minutes with neither of them on the court — doing better than I feared they would.

Penn State has demonstrated come-from-behind potential, and they made a late-game run at Purdue, who held them off 74-67.

It’s going to be a "prove your stuff" season for the Boilermakers, ranked #3 just a few weeks ago, but with any luck it will toughen them, show the players that Coach is right about their weaknesses, and get them peaking by March Madness time.

Love isn’t love (acid test)

The government doesn’t really believe that "love is love," and I’m glad of that: No Security Clearance for Employee Who Had Admitted to Downloading Child Pornography

What we can’t not know

Life is and will ever remain an equation incapable of solution, but it contains certain known factors.

Nikola Tesla


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.

Downers and uppers

Afghanistan

This week has been a real downer, but I can’t not mention Afghanistan. Rest assured that I picked four that don’t seem to be echo-chamber fare:

1

Back in 2001 and 2002, Pat Buchanan was warning against the Iraq War, and against nation-building in Afghanistan. He was marginalized as a heretic by the official gatekeepers of the Right. Because Pat Buchanan has objectionable opinions about some things — he was “far right,” in their estimation — he was not to be taken seriously in anything.

But Pat Buchanan was right. He was right about Iraq, and he was right about Afghanistan. The same people who denounced him as a heretic then are leading the chorus of denunciation against Viktor Orban and Hungary. And you know, maybe they’re right. I don’t think they are, but you can make up your own mind about that. I would just strongly urge you to keep an open mind about Hungary, because the anti-Buchananites are the same ones now fashioning themselves as anti-Orbanites. Are you sure you should trust their judgment? Are you sure you should trust their construal of what Hungary is like? Keep that in mind.

Rod Dreher, Andrew Sullivan Vs. Viktor Orban

2

[W]hen faced with a choice of a U.S. style democracy and medieval sharia state the local people chose a sharia state. It’s not like the U.S. didn’t try. Under effective U.S. rule the GDP of Afghanistan grew 500%, women’s rights were improved and vast amount of infrastructure was built. America was putting down the infrastructure to integrate Afghanistan into the globohomo system.

And remember, the U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years.

The speed and rapidity of the Taliban advance–most of the time with hardly any fighting at all–showed that American values had completely failed to "take" in Afghan society. The modern American way of life was an unwanted product. As it was in Vietnam.

The bottom line is that institutional America, homo secularis, was taking on the Taliban, homo religiosus and the Taliban won. The point here is that most men are motivated by more than dollars and cents and that sometimes the intangibles are far more important. But what’s also important to note here is that Islam reinforced identity. America was caught in a a rather interesting bind. To be tolerant, it had to allow Islam to flourish but Islam was opposed to America. There was a fundamental incompatibility that doomed the US project from the outset.

The Social Pathologist: Taliban 1: Woke Empire 0

"Globohomo" is not in my vocabulary, and I don’t plan to add it. It is such very short shorthand that I don’t know whether it even communicates much to peripheral members of the author’s tribe.

But it has been reported by at least semi-credible sources that our Embassy in Kabul was recently flying the rainbow flag in celebration of something-or-other, and it’s safe to assume that Afghans are broadly aware of what all it stands for. It’s not really surprising if Afghans chose the Taliban (they gave up awfully easily; maybe a better explanation than "willing surrender" is forthcoming) again over the cosmology of which that flag serves as a condensed symbol — which cosmology they have some reason to believe is the eventuality of liberal democracy.

3

The withdrawal plan always seemed abrupt and arbitrary. Why did the White House think the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was the right date for a pullout? What picture of America do they carry in their heads that told them that would be symbolically satisfying? It is as if they are governed by symbols with no understanding of what the symbols mean.

Peggy Noonan

4

Prophecy for a nation of wankers:

In the next few days, another girl foolish enough to think she can keep going to school will take another bullet to the head, and when that happens, the left is going to lose its mind. … Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Scott will go 12 rounds in Madison Square Garden to determine which one of them gets to fund girls’ education in Afghan refugee camps. The winner will fund beautiful schools — air-conditioned, STEM-centered schools. And there might even be time for the winner to private-jet herself to the Aspen Ideas Festival to explain the importance of girls’ education before those schools are blown up, along with the girls inside them …

Caitlin Flanagan.

Collect for the Feast of St. Jonathan Swift

A decade ago, when I thought things were getting bad — oh how naïve I was in those days — I wrote an essay “Against Stupidity” in which I argued for the canonization of St. Jonathan Swift and even wrote a collect for his feast day.

Gather around, friends … and let’s bow our heads and say together,

Almighty and most wrathful God, who hate nothing You have made but sometimes repent of having made Man; we thank you this day for the life and work of Your faithful servant Jonathan Swift, who constantly imitated and occasionally exceeded Your own anger at the folly of sin, and who in his works excoriated such folly with a passion that brought him nigh unto madness; and we pray that You may teach us to be imitators of him, so that the follies and stupidities of our own time may receive their proper chastisement; through Christ our Lord, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.

Alan Jacobs.

Politics as fashion

I’m frequently surprised that bog-standard lefty shit now attracts shock and pushback. The most obvious of these is free speech. I don’t support free speech despite being a leftist, I support free speech because I’m a leftist … I’m not interested in giving the pro-free speech case here, but I am asserting the simple fact that free speech has always been a leftist priority … But there has been little opportunity to fight for those values because people seem to have just sort of woken up one morning and decided free speech was out. When did we vote on that? Was there a meeting I missed? If we’re going to make massive changes to basic commitments, we better have a serious process of working that out. Instead free speech is out like mom jeans. It’s politics as fashion.

Same thing with deference to the establishment media. I criticize the NYT or other big-shot MSM property on Facebook and people react in horror. “Criticizing the media?!? Who are you, Tucker Carlson?” But distrust of the media has been a leftist stance since before I was born. The media is the propaganda arm of capitalism and empire. Yes, reporting serves a vital function, but commies like me have distrusted the corporate media for ages. If you think that should change, fine, then argue that. But don’t act like I’m the weird one for not suddenly adopting a dramatically different attitude towards the media out of fear of appearing to be a Republican.

Freddie deBoer, When Nothing is Worked Through, Nothing is Explained, Nothing is Understood

What crooked timber we are!

I think I first saw this nearly three weeks ago, but its weirdness lingers:

Something very strange has been happening in Missouri: A hospital in the state, Ozarks Healthcare, had to create a “private setting” for patients afraid of being seen getting vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video produced by the hospital, the physician Priscilla Frase says, “Several people come in to get vaccinated who have tried to sort of disguise their appearance and even went so far as to say, ‘Please, please, please don’t let anybody know that I got this vaccine.’” Although they want to protect themselves from the coronavirus and its variants, these patients are desperate to ensure that their vaccine-skeptical friends and family never find out what they have done.

Brooke Harrington, ‌Vaccine Refusers Don’t Want Blue America’s Respect

Degenerate natural law

When the Supreme Court announced a “right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, some thought it was rejecting the very idea of natural law. Really it was asserting a degenerate theory of natural law, one widely held in the culture—or at least in those parts of it which our controllers choose to recognize, such as law schools, abortion facilities, and liberal seminaries. It was propounding a universal moral right not to recognize the universal moral laws on which all rights depend. Such liberty has infinite length but zero depth.

J Budziszewski, What We Can’t Not Know

Hillsong just doesn’t cut it any more

I received an e-mail the other day from a longtime reader of my blog, a megachurch Protestant who quit going to his normal church when the congregation became defiantly committed to the idea that Covid is a hoax. He and his wife are both medically compromised, so they couldn’t take the risk of attending services there anymore. He wrote:

Based on your writings, I decided to give the Greek Orthodox Church a try.  I’ve been attending on and off for 8 months.  Now that we are vaccinated, I am also back at my old church, but after a service that opens a window to Heaven so the congregation can sing the Trisagion [“Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”] with the angels, Hillsong pop music falls flat.  Having seen the members participate in the last supper with the Lord, passing around a tray of sliced up pie crust to "commemorate" the event doesn’t cut it.  Bottom line, I’m likely on my way to Orthodoxy.

This is what “come and see” means.

Rod Dreher

Rinsing one book off with another

I am re-reading Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence. After reading Frances FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, I feel the need for something clean and wholesome.

Most of this book was about events during my lifetime. I caught the author in a few trivial factual mistakes and, as she warmed to the task of demolishing religious right leaders, unwarranted or even absurd interpretations and commentary.

But the arc of her account rings true, and she’s right far oftener than she’s wrong.

The big-name Religious Right leaders — Falwell, Robertson, Dobson particularly — loved the limelight (Robertson denied it) and eventually came to instantiate the folk-definition of a fanatic: one who, having forgotten his goal, redoubles his efforts. Such redoubling too often involved wild-ass hyperbole, apocalyptic predictions about Democrat rule, over-promising and, in general, neglect of the very religious precepts they were supposed to be defending.

In the end, their discreditable behavior discredited them, the GOP, the Conservative cause, and worst of all, the reputation of the Christian faith.

Fr. Maximos, a young but advanced Athonite monk ordered to go to a monastery on Cyprus, is nothing like that.

Food news

I’ve taste-tested it twice now and can confirm that the Strawberry Brie Burger at Bryant, just outside of West Lafayette, Indiana, is one of the best burgers on the face of the earth.

Get it medium-rare. Salty, sweet, creamy, unctuous and smoky. What more could you ask?


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Mother Nature winds up

I have a sinking feeling that Mother Nature is gearing up to show us, yet again, that it’s not nice to try to fool her or to abuse her. The toll could be billions.

I’m not just talking about climate change. I’m talking about the moving human pieces, and the pushing-back human pieces, too.

Like this: the global south gets hot first; its residents mass-migrate north; authoritarian personalities in the north are mightily alarmed. Mayhem ensues.

Did I just accidentally paraphrase Camp of the Saints? It’s not a rhetorical question. I think mass-migration is a key element of that profoundly racist (I’m relying on Rod Dreher for that characterization) book.

Instead of just wondering, I looked it up: Dreher says the feckless official response to mass-migration was a key plot element in Camp of the Saints, too, and I’m not sure that climate change was the migration’s impetus. But those are indifferent details, aren’t they?

We’ve got feckless governments galore, and our choices seem to be between authoritarian and feckless. And if we got the happy medium of resolute government blocking excessive immigration, the agent of death would be heat and famine — the poor dying for our sins again, but not so directly as by armed anti-immigrants. (I’m not hyperlinking to Camp of the Saints, by the way, because I only looked at it once on Amazon and now Amazon bombards me with unwanted offers of various right-wing books.)

We could use a deus ex machina about now, couldn’t we? Or ex anywhere.

I’d say I’m waiting to finish Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism for my final judgment, but I never reach certainty on such complex things.

Final Judgment isn’t mine, anyway. It’s, uh, “Mother Nature’s.”

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Our great death struggle

Don’t go anywhere near the New York Times OpEd page on the internet today if you think there absolutely, categorically, no relation between Donald Trump and domestic terrorism. Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Michelle Goldberg, David Leonhart, and Charles Blow all weigh in, and I thought only Blow blew it in the quotability category.

David Brooks is analytical. Do not dismiss all these shooters as “failsons”, pimple-faced denizens of their moms’ basements. They can have a pretty darned sophisticated worldview, akin to Jihadi terrorists, who also are trying to spark conflagration:

Many of today’s mass murderers write manifestoes. They are not killing only because they’ve been psychologically damaged by trauma. They’re not killing only because they are pathetically lonely and deeply pessimistic about their own lives. They are inspired to kill by a shared ideology, an ideology that they hope to spread through a wave of terror.

The clearest expression of that ideology was written by the man charged with a killing spree in Christchurch, New Zealand. His manifesto has been cited by other terrorists; the suspect in this weekend’s El Paso mass shooting cited it in his own manifesto.

It’s not entirely what you’d expect. At one point its author writes about his travels around the world: “Everywhere I travelled, barring a few small exceptions, I was treated wonderfully, often as a guest and even as a friend. The varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion, and I very much enjoyed nearly every moment I spent with them.”

The ideology he goes on to champion is highly racial, but it’s not classic xenophobia or white supremacy. It’s first feature is essentialism …

The second feature is separatism …

The third feature is racial Darwinism. Races are locked in a Darwinian struggle in which they try to out-reproduce their rivals. Currently, the black and brown races are stronger than the white race and are on the verge of obliterating it through invasion.

Immigrants, the Christchurch suspect wrote, come “from a culture with higher fertility rates, higher social trust and strong robust traditions that seek to occupy my peoples lands and ethnically replace my own people.”

If we allow them into our country, brown immigrants will overwhelm whites just as Europeans overwhelmed the Native Americans centuries ago. As the El Paso suspect put it, “The natives didn’t take the invasion of Europeans seriously, and now what’s left is just a shadow of what was.” Immigration is white replacement. Immigration is white genocide.

This is not an ideology that rises out of white self-confidence but rather white insecurity.

(Emphasis added)

Note the implied link: “Everywhere I travelled, barring a few small exceptions, I was treated wonderfully, often as a guest and even as a friend. The varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion, and I very much enjoyed nearly every moment I spent with them.” And they could do so (damn them!) because they have cultural self-confidence — high fertility, high social trust and robust traditions — that we lack.

They’re not entirely wrong about our relative lack of confidence. Try to get a copy of the Manifesto and you’ll find that mere possession of it is criminal in, for instance, New Zealand.

Brooks’ counter — a hymn to pluralism — sounds just a little too much like whistling past the graveyard, but I’ll give him credit for this introduction to his hymn:

The struggle between pluralism and antipluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.

(The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight It)

Michelle Goldberg is directly damning, and not just of Trump and Republicans:

A decade ago, Daryl Johnson, then a senior terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote a report about the growing danger of right-wing extremism in America. Citing economic dislocation, the election of the first African-American president and fury about immigration, he concluded that “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

When the report leaked, conservative political figures sputtered with outrage, indignant that their ideology was being linked to terrorism. The report warned, correctly, that right-wing radicals would try to recruit disgruntled military veterans, which conservatives saw as a slur on the troops. Homeland Security, cowed, withdrew the document. In May 2009, Johnson’s unit, the domestic terrorism team, was disbanded, and he left government the following year.

This past weekend, … a young man slaughtered shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. A manifesto he reportedly wrote echoed Trump’s language about an immigrant “invasion” and Democratic support for “open borders.” It even included the words “send them back.” He told investigators he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could.

Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter …

It’s true that the Obama White House, giving in to Republican intimidation, didn’t do enough to combat violent white supremacy. But Trump rolled back even his predecessor’s modest efforts, while bringing the language of white nationalism into mainstream politics. His administration canceled Obama-era grants to groups working to counter racist extremism. Dave Gomez, a former F.B.I. supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases, told The Washington Post that the agency hasn’t been as aggressive as it might be against the racist right because of political concerns. “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation for the F.B.I. agent or supervisor.”

(Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism) I had forgotten the Homeland Security débâcle.

David Leonhart turns the tables on a mostly-conservative trope:

[L]iberal America also has violent and deranged people, like the man who shot at Republican members of Congress playing softball in 2017. Some Democratic politicians have also occasionally lapsed into ugly, violent rhetoric and suggested they want to punch their political opponents.

But it’s folly to pretend that the problem is symmetrical. Mainstream conservative politicians use the rhetoric of physical violence much more often, starting with the current president of the United States. And right-wing extremists have a culture of violence unlike anything on the left. Its consequences are fatal, again and again.

Over the years, Republicans have sometimes called on Muslim leaders to ask themselves why their religion has produced a disproportionate share of the world’s terrorist attacks — and to do something about the situation. I’d urge those Republicans to take their own advice. Right-wing terrorism is killing far more Americans these days than Islamist terrorism.

(Conservatism Has a Violence Problem)

I thought Leonhart was a fitting ending, but as a reviewed this blog, I concluded that punchy and evocative (how else but by evocation does one write about nothingism — nihilism?) Ross Douthat needed to get the final penultimate word (reserving a final whimper for myself) because Douthat makes it clear why today’s Republican party cannot respond to Leonhart’s call:

There really is a dark psychic force generated by Trump’s political approach, which from its birther beginnings has consistently encouraged and fed on a fevered and paranoid form of right-wing politics, and dissolved quarantines around toxic and dehumanizing ideas. And the possibility that Trump’s zest for demonization can feed a demonic element in the wider culture is something the many religious people who voted for the president should be especially willing to consider.

But the connection between the president and the young men with guns extends beyond Trump’s race-baiting to encompass a more essential feature of his public self — which is not the rhetoric or ideology that he deploys, but the obvious moral vacuum, the profound spiritual black hole, that lies beneath his persona and career.

[T]his is what really links Trump to all these empty male killers, white nationalists and pornogrind singers alike. Like them he is a creature of our late-modern anti-culture, our internet-accelerated dissolution of normal human bonds. Like them he plainly believes in nothing but his ego, his vanity, his sense of spite and grievance, and the self he sees reflected in the mirror of television, mass media, online.

… It’s not as if you could carve away his race-baiting and discover a healthier populism instead, or analyze him the way you might analyze his more complex antecedents, a Richard Nixon or a Ross Perot. To analyze Trump is to discover only bottomless appetite and need, and to carve at him is like carving at an online troll: The only thing to discover is the void.

… [T]he dilemma that conservatives have to confront is that you can chase this cultural problem all the way down to its source in lonely egomania and alienated narcissism, and you’ll still find Donald Trump’s face staring back to you.

(The Nihilist in Chief)

The immediate Republican response to Leonhart should be denying Trump even the nomination for 2020 (maybe even joining the impeachment Democrats), but that’s not going to happen. The GOP has no Frodo willing to take on Saruman.

The struggle between pluralism and antipluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.

(Brooks, supra)

If I admit some ambivalence, so long as the antipluralism is rigorously nonviolent, both physically and rhetorically, will you think I’m a monster? Read Brooks’ hymn to pluralism (not quoted) and see if you find it completely satisfying.*

But why should the burden be on pluralism to justify itself? Any sudden swing to antipluralism would be, by virtue of the adjective “sudden,” an un-conservative and radical departure from the pluralism we’ve been aspiring to (and succeeding at to a degree). The conservative default is against fixing what isn’t broke, and fixing very carefully what may be.

I could probably go on tweaking this all day and all night, but I’m going to publish and then try to leave it alone.

* UPDATE: Damon Linker was as underwhelmed by Brooks’ hymn to pluralism as I was, but offers a via media between pluralism-as-overweaning-ideology and anti-pluralism-as-insurrection.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

White nationalist terrorism

I read news reports of mass shootings, and commentary about them, selectively. Few tell me anything vital I didn’t already know. The new twist is the 8chan angle, so I read a little about that.

I’m not saying “there’s nothing we can do about them.” Once seen, it’s hard to unsee that white nationalist terrorism has surpassed jihadi terrorism as a threat on our shores, and we should treat it as we treat jihad in law enforcement strategy.

But:

[L]aw enforcement isn’t enough. Targeted gun control isn’t enough. Culture matters …

Members of a radicalized underground often work diligently to introduce their themes and ideas into public discourse. They want to kill, yes, but they also want to change the culture. When national leaders use their rhetoric or adopt their themes, it is thrilling. It is energizing. It is inspiring to the movement. It tells them that they just might win.

Think of the thrills, energy, and inspiration they’ve experienced from the highest office in the land — and from parts of the most popular cable network in the land — since Trump came down the escalator in 2015.

Alt-right support for Trump wasn’t random. It wasn’t arbitrary. It was directly related to his rhetoric, and it was cultivated by his allies, and it was cultivated in part because it was a new way to fight, to punch back against the hated Left.

… [W]hen a nation experiences the wave of mass killings, threats, harassment, and radicalization we see now, it’s time for American leaders to respond with unequivocal, relentless messages not just of condemnation for racists but also with their own words of reconciliation and national unity …

… It’s worth saying 10,000 times: Fighting for your political values does not ever require you to abandon decency and respect. In fact, given the magnitude of the issues at stake, decency is even more urgent. It helps keep emotions under control.

… [O]ur nation’s leaders need to focus on reconciliation and unity, and if they are not up to that most basic and fundamental aspect of their job, then they must be replaced.

David French, Declare War on White-Nationalist Terrorism (emphasis added).

You know full well that Donald J. Trump is not up to that aspect of the job. He cannot convincingly utter conciliatory words.

But — and this is not a throw-away line — it remains to be decided whether his Democrat opponent next year will also be divisive. There are several prominent in the twenty-plus hopefuls who are licking their chops in anticipation of meting out pay-backs, though they may try to conceal it. I won’t name names, because I haven’t kept a scorecard to prove my case, but I form pretty accurate impressions.

It may come down to a matter of degree. Less divisive is better. Less blatantly divisive is better, too (I’ll bet Democrats are wistful about the days of “dog whistles”). The Democrat field offers a few candidates who can convincingly play the role of Reconciler-in-Chief.

But when it comes to degrees of divisiveness, platforms and policy agendas start to weigh more, too, as does the placement of the pale. I’m more than okay with white nationalists being beyond. I’m more than okay with Connor Betts being beyond. I’m not okay with orthodox Christians being beyond.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Edifying and unedifying

1

For some fairly obvious reasons, football has become lashed at the hip to the idea of American patriotism. This is no doubt in part to many a coach’s misguided use of war as an analog for the sport—and vice versa. Fighter jet flyovers and platoons of soldiers waving oversized flags on the field are de rigueur for NFL and college games alike. More troubling, though, is the near-ubiquitous effort across the football landscape to pay overt and uncritical tribute to the military—the annual circus to Honor the Troops.™

Such empty gestures are dangerous, and need to stop …

Americans have been browbeaten into fearful reverence of the military-industrial machine. Thanking military service members has gone from an odd pleasantry to a social requirement …

Even the Kaepernick kneeling controversy—as simultaneously immortal and threadbare as it’s become—has been attacked with the cudgel of “RESPECTING OUR VETERANS WHO DIED FER YEW!”Framing the issue as a crass affront to our beloved men and women who ”defend our freedom” is the simpleton’s trump card.

You’re disrespecting our soldiers who are defending our freedom against ISIS! Or the Taliban. Or somebody in Africa. We think. We’re pretty sure anyway. Honestly, we don’t even know or care who we’re fighting now or where, but man that Kaepernick guy really pisses. us. off.

The flaw in these rituals of adoration is that they give fans, players, and universities a cheap pass. They are an insidious placebo in the maintenance of our democracy—a democracy still struggling with the ramifications of fully voluntary military service and the social chasm it created. Honoring the troops with this sterilized, prepackaged, hot-dogs-and-apple-pie brand of reverence allows everyone involved to feel as though something meaningful has occurred. These displays of gratitude provide us the cheap comfort of believing we have both bridged the civil-military divide and come to some deeper understanding.

In reality, such spectacles only reinforce the notion that the military is part of the great “them”—that group of faceless citizens who exist far outside the sphere of our lives and who should be seen and heard only at arm’s length (and only for a few hours on a Saturday each fall). …

“GoForThree,” a pseudonymous 13-year Army veteran. I’m glad he/she said it.

Bonus: The article illustration is “patriotic” Purdue helmets. Are you listening, Mitch?

2

While we’re Honor[ing] the Troops™, here’s another helping of reality.

William S. Lind is at the rightmost edge of bloggers I follow, and I read him with caution because I’m aware that he’s pretty far “out there.”

But I can find little to fault in Get Out While We Can, and find the last paragraph especially chilling:

Afghanistan has a long history of being a place easy to get into but hard to get out of. Successful retreats are perhaps the most difficult of all military operations no matter where they are conducted. Conducting a successful retreat from Afghanistan is near the top of the list of daunting military tasks.

Everyone knows we have lost and will be leaving soon …

[W]hat we may face is a widespread realignment within Afghanistan in which everyone tries to get on the good side of the victor, i.e., the Taliban, with American forces still there. Afghan government soldiers and police will have a tempting opportunity to do that by turning their weapons on any nearby Americans. In that part of the world, “piling on” the loser is a time-honored way of changing sides to preserve your own neck …

What is needed most now is detailed planning by the Pentagon for a fighting withdrawal [from Afghanistan]. I am not saying we want to get out that way. It is contingency planning in case we have to. I fear that planning will not be done because it will be politically incorrect, since the military leadership still pretends we are winning. Subordinates will be afraid to initiate planning that contradicts their superiors’ public statements. But if we have to put a fighting withdrawal together on the fly, a difficult situation will become a great deal more hazardous. I hope some majors and lieutenant colonels are developing the necessary plan now, even if they can’t tell their bosses what they are doing.

3

I have no reason to doubt that the University of Oklahoma participates in the wretched excess, but here’s a story from there about something much more serious, and immune from the charge of giving anyone “a cheap pass”:

A course in the Great Books which was described by those teaching it as “the hardest course you’ll ever take” has received “sky high” enrollment as students rose to the challenge. Inspired by a syllabus taught at the University of Michigan in 1941 by the British poet, W. H. Auden, the course requires 6,000 pages of reading: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Horace, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Pascal, Racine, Blake, Goethe, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Rimbaud, Henry Adams, Melville, Rilke, Kafka and T. S. Eliot. And that’s not all. For good measure, the course also includes opera libretti from Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Bizet and Verdi.

Oklahoma is not entirely alone, but may be unique in the size of the host institution. Smaller programs exist at Wyoming Catholic College and Sequitur Classical Academy in Baton Rouge, where Rod Dreher’s kids attend, and which I believe is the institution alluded to in this:

The depth and breadth of learning that these students have achieved is evident in the depth and breadth of the topics that interest them. Here are a few of the topics chosen, each of which speaks for itself:

The Separation of Church and State: Good for Our Nation?

Church Music: Congregational and God-Centered

The Environment and the Extent of Man’s Moral Obligation

Love: How Objective and Subjective is it?

Individualism and Atomism: The Destruction of Family and Society

Discoveries in Genetics and the Flaws of Evolution

Medical Ethics: Treating Both Body and Soul

Technology: When Seeking Freedom Enslaves Man

Pretty impressive for high schoolers.

4

Education can only go so far, though. Ted Cruz is very well-educated and smart, but:

“All they can do is attack the president all day long on the scandal of the day,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who became an aficionado of the term [“Trump Derangement Syndrome.”].

This is the same Cruz who, in 2016, called Trump a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” a “narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen” and “a serial philanderer.” Perhaps the senator suffers from Trump Rearrangement Syndrome, a disorder common among Republicans who disown every criticism they ever offered of Trump so he’ll help them win reelection.

E.J. Dionne.

And prudence is needed, too. I applauded Chief Justice John Roberts’ rebuke of the guy in the White House. I was imprudent to do so.

We do have an independent judiciary. Judges are not beholden to any president, including the one who appoints them. The judiciary plays a key role in our system of checks and balances. “Trump judges” should rule against Trump when he is wrong. That is why it is so important for the chief justice stay above politics. Roberts is right that our “independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” Rolling around in the rhetorical mud with Trump is not just bad form; it also undermines the very judicial independence Roberts is seeking to uphold.

Marc Thiessen

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Potpourri 11/10/18

I indulged my urge to travel from October 29 through election day, with a long transcontinental flight back on Wednesday. Time didn’t permit keeping up with news, let alone commenting.

I’ve spent too much time trying to “catch up.” Aware, though, that much of what passes for news is noise and commercial solicitation, I deleted many items I initially had clipped for later reading.

Here are a few thing that survived.

1 Philosophy and Religion

In the name of mercy, some recent theologians have suggested that there are elements of good in some objectively wrong acts and relationships. For example, friendship is good, and there certainly is an element of friendship in an illicit sexual relationship.

The question should not be whether there are elements of value in sins, but whether there is anything valuable about sinning.

Consider: No one can love evil for its own sake. The only thing it is possible to will for its own sake is good. Thus, the only way it is even possible to will an evil is that something about it seems good to us.

But something seems good to us in every evil, because evil cannot exist in itself. The only way to get an evil at all is to take something good and distort it.

The upshot is that the fact that evil contains disordered elements of good doesn’t mean it isn’t evil. What this fact shows is why evil can be attractive.

J Budziszewski, The Underground Thomist (emphasis added).

Having been in the “elements of good” camp, I stand corrected.


The shallowness and poverty of Evangelical thought on sexuality will not be cured by repudiating I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Where’s the positive vision?

Abigaile Rine Favale elaborates.

I’m tempted to elaborate on my own. Nominalism. Realism. Natural Law. Chastity > Virginity. That kind of thing.

But I won’t.


The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters, notes that there are many ways for the government to provide contraceptives without forcing nuns to violate their beliefs.

An Unnecessary Culture War: The Little Sisters of the Poor finally get their religious exemption (WSJ, 11/10/18)

I love, and financially support, Becket Fund.

 

2 Politics

Pace Jonathan Haidt, liberals likely are not more “open” to “experience” in general than conservatives.


News from the birthplace of the free speech movement.

In a real sense, the most fascist people in America are young progressives.


Of all the ways in which Donald Trump’s presidency has made America worse, nothing epitomizes it quite so fully as the elevation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States. Intellectually honest conservatives — the six or seven who remain, at any rate — need to say this, loudly. His appointment represents an unprecedented assault on the integrity and reputation of the Justice Department, the advice and consent function of the Senate, and the rule of law in the United States.

Bret Stephens


The mystery of Donald Trump is what impels him to overturn the usual rules. Is it a dark sort of cunning or simple defects of character? Because the president’s critics tend to be educated and educated people tend to think that the only kind of smarts worth having is the kind they possess — superior powers of articulation combined with deep stores of knowledge — those critics generally assume the latter. He’s a bigot. He’s a con artist. His followers are dumb. They got lucky last time. They won’t be so lucky again.

Maybe this is even right. But as Trump’s presidency moves forward, it’s no longer smart to think it’s right. There’s more than one type of intelligence. Trump’s is feral. It strikes fast. It knows where to sink the fang into the vein.

Bret Stephens.

Having been recently in the offices of the Jerusalem Post, I was surprised to note that he was once its Editor-in-Chief, and Wikipedia confirms that he took that post when he was all of 29 years old.


Democratic leaders in the House … have the president at a disadvantage. He is a businessman who’s never had to answer to a board. His whole professional life it was him and his whims and his hunger and a series of organizations of which he was sole or principal owner. Democratic leaders should see themselves as his board. They’ve got a CEO they don’t like, but they’ve got some power and they’re using it to save the company. A united board can scare a CEO. Donald Trump up against a board will not be so sure-footed. He will agree to a lot of what you want.

Peggy Noonan.

I love this idea.


With his every utterance, Trump removes the moral guardrails that keep bigotry down.

… How does a conservative movement that is supposed to believe that every healthy society needs powerful moral guardrails give itself over to a president whose every other utterance cheerfully knocks those guardrails down?

The Trumpian defense is that no political leader can fairly be held accountable for the acts of followers like Sayoc, much less of avowed opponents like Bowers. Also, what about James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who shot Republican Representative Steve Scalise last year? But Sanders wasn’t instigating anyone to violence. He wasn’t calling on supporters at his rallies to “knock the crap out of” hecklers, or praising fellow members of Congress for body slamming a reporter.

… fanning one set of hatreds against immigrants has a way of fanning others, as it did for Bowers when he attacked the synagogue because he was enraged by its support for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Bret Stephens, Yes, the President Bears Blame for the Terror From the Right.

Inclined to agree though a bit unsure, I nevertheless thought this merited consideration. No, on second thought, I agree. Period. Full stop.


“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
― Theodore Dalrymple

Via Rod Dreher

Communism is dead, but pray for the humiliated souls of Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and all the other Trumpish sycophants who abase themselves with transparent lies for their boss.


 

It just occurred to me as I tagged and categorized this blog that “conservative” and “liberal” seemed to me to suffice for casual political talk. Then I decided that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” were maybe more precise, as both fit classic liberalism. Now, with illiberals in the alt-right and progressive left, I’m more convinced than ever that “right liberalism” and “left liberalism” are useful and important categories (though I’ll probably continue to use conservative and liberal from habit).

A coalition of classical liberals might be a really good idea, but I’m not sure that Trump, who looks alt-right in comparison to right-liberals, will allow it.

 

3 Europe

“We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America,” Mr. Macron said on French radio.

Europe is the “main victim,” Mr. Macron said, of Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That accord prohibits the use of intermediate- and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles.

“We will not protect the Europeans unless we decide to have a true European army,” Mr. Macron said.

Wall Street Journal.

This, of course, set Trump into foaming at the mouth.

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Friday, part II, 9/21/18

1

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

 

3

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

On a scale of zero to 10, about 0.1.

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

So that’s my quip quip.

Next question?

 

 

4

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

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

More from Sullivan:

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

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

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

 

5

Je suis Marine Le Pen.

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

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Parkland

A commitment to tell the truth doesn’t mean one must blurt out just any true thing that comes to mind. But we’re at risk, it seems to me, of unduly valorizing the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting, which does neither them nor our gun debates any favors.

Of course the Parkland survivors have suffered a real loss, and in terrifying circumstances. But of course they’re being aided, advised, even scripted (and possibly funded) by adult gun opponents. Both things can be true at the same time. There is no contradiction.

This isn’t a slam of the kids. It’s just a realistic assessment of what grieving high school students could and could not pull off without help from activist adults who are delighted, not at the deaths, but at the opportunity to thrust into the limelight some kids with the Victim’s Immunity from Criticism.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.