I’m aware of my tendency to blog like a mere aggregator or curator, but today, for whatever reason, I slowed down and thought.
Living consciously within limits
On the 15th of each month, a reminder pops up to read my maxims (they actually come from two American Orthodox Priests, one living, one reposed). Sometimes I don’t get around to it until, say, the 17th.
As I read them today, it occurred to me that they give a decent idea of how an Orthodox mindset should cash out in “practical” life (if only we weren’t always missing the mark).
I do try to live by them (that’s why I review them monthly). Even falling short, it’s a much saner way to live than not trying at all.
On a closely-related note, I read an article just now (as I write) that I thought good enough to save and index: Dedication: In Praise of the Long-Haulers. It uses the term "stickers," in contrast to "boomers," a contrast I’d seen before.
But this time, in conjunction with indexing, I decided to make "sticker" a tag in my system and to look for like articles. My system was crawling with them. For instance:
Granted, my system (a kind of database) is kind of young, after a computer crash garbled its predecessor. So I may have just been on a "making-a-virtue-of-Covidtide-necessity" binge of rootedness ruminations. But I think these really are the kinds of people I most admire, and that I’m gradually become more stickerlike myself.
Maybe this just means I’m getting too old to fight or rally in the streets.
Abortion back on the docket
The [U.S. Supreme] court said Monday it would review next term whether all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional. The court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade declared that a woman has a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in the first six months of her pregnancy when the fetus is incapable of surviving outside the womb.
The test case is from Mississippi, which bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, blocked enforcement of the law, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions.
The news, you may have noticed, is often over-hyped. This story really isn’t, whatever the ultimate outcome, because SCOTUS took the case even though there is no "Circuit split."
There is no Circuit split (inconsistent results from different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal) because under existing precedent, laws like Mississippi’s are clearly unconstitutional as unduly burdensome on the (court-created) right to abortion. The Supreme Court seldom takes discretionary review of issues on which all the Circuit Courts are agreed, and when it does, it’s thought to be likely that the court itself is doubting its precedents (or universal Circuit Court interpretation of those precedents).
So this case, more than any other since Planned Parenthood v. Casey thirty years ago, really could be the Big One. And if you think that a major change in the Supreme Court’s view on abortion would not be a bit deal, you haven’t thought it through or you have a crazy-high threshold for "big deal."
During a congressional hearing last week, … Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, repeatedly denied the existence of a federal ban on barbaric partial-birth abortions that has been law for 18 years …
… In his confirmation hearings, Becerra dodged questions about his stance on partial-birth abortion, deflecting with repeated claims that he would “follow the law” as head of HHS. Now Becerra outright denies the existence of a statute that has been around for nearly two decades.
… Becerra can hardly plead ignorance on this topic. As a freshman congressman, he voted against the ban …
So what’s with Becerra’s denial? Is he just hair-splitting because he doesn’t like the "partial-birth abortion" label? The author anticipated that:
As for Becerra’s parroting of the abortion lobby talking point that partial-birth abortion “is not a medical term,” neither is a heart attack, but almost everyone understands what one is.
An entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment
Mr. Sanders has become the chief obstacle to his party leaders’ hopes of restoring the full federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, known as SALT, capped at $10,000 by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco calls the loss of that deduction “devastating.” Likewise New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who vowed that “one of the first things” he would do as majority leader would be to see that the SALT cap is “dead, gone and buried.”
But not Bernie. Asked directly on “Axios on HBO” last week whether he supports this effort, Mr. Sanders proudly raised his progressive colors: “You can’t be on the side of the wealthy and powerful if you are going to really fight for working families.”
It’s making for an entertaining bootleggers-and-Baptists moment, with two opposing camps—low-tax Republicans and the leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing—finding themselves in the same foxhole. Each wants to keep the SALT cap, but for very different reasons.
I had forgotten the delightful colloquialism "bootleggers-and-Baptists" moment.
Congresslechers and Cicadas
Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector with strong ties to Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, pleaded guilty Monday to federal crimes including sex trafficking a minor. The New York Timesreported last month that Gaetz himself is under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking crimes.
The Morning Dispatch. Joel Greenburg "pleaded guilty" and agreed to cooperate. If Matt Gaetz is guilty and not too sociopathic to know it, he should be getting very, very uncomfortable.
But if his goal is getting laid by as many undiscriminating women as possible, he’s had a relatively good run — as has Garrison Keillor:
[C]ompared to the male cicada who, after seventeen years underground, has one sexual experience, dies, and never gets to see his progeny, my life is a fairy tale.
The cicadas are out for survival of their species — survival is victory. Father David touched on this in his homily on Sunday and quoted the verse in 2nd Corinthians: We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. “Struck down but not destroyed” describes cicada existence pretty well. As for being “persecuted,” we Episcopalians have it pretty easy. Flocks of cicadas are carried by the wind over Manhattan and a few land in Central Park and some in flower pots on terraces and our persecution, believe me, is minimal.
Then I went forward for Communion and saw slight movement on Father David’s vestment sleeve as he held out the wafer to me and said, “The body of our Lord,” and I saw an insect on his extended thumb, perhaps a dying male, and he said, “Hang on,” which he’s never said before during Communion and I flicked the cicada away. “Thank you,” he said. “And also to you,” I said.
At my age, I no longer worry about Noah and the Ark and all those folks knocking on the door begging to be let in. I haven’t read Job in years. The city is noisy, the numerosity is staggering, crazy people yell at you, I don’t belong here but then neither do most of the others. And there have been times on the uptown C train, packed into a car with people on all sides standing within inches of each other and still not touching, avoiding eye contact, when I’ve thought, “We are all one in God and He loves us dearly,” and known it is true. It’s hard to explain this to Midwesterners. You have to be there.
Top Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors blasted fellow Republicans pushing additional audits of the 2020 election results as conspiracy theorists and grifters. “We ran a bipartisan, fair election. That’s every piece of evidence that I’ve ever seen put in front of us,” said Clint Hickman, a Republican supervisor. “We are operating on facts and evidence presented to this board.” The county’s top election official, Stephen Richer, also a Republican, called new claims of irregularities from former President Donald Trump “unhinged.”
I understand Bitcoin a bit better now. Still won’t go there.
I haven’t been willing to invest the time to gain pop-culture literacy, but the way Alan Jacobs uses Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement, I kinda wish I knew more about Breaking Bad.
> I think I better understand the Republican capitulation to Donald Trump when I think of their decision to nominate him as the GOP Presidential candidate in 2016 as the equivalent of Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement.
> I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time — it seemed like the only real option. But then, once you have him in the basement, what do you do with him? Until you decide, you are as much his prisoner as he is yours.
I’m still not going to pursue pop-culture literacy, though. My pop-culture literacy pretty much ceased when my son went off to college (though before that, I did listen to some Meatloaf, whence today’s title).
Something the New York Times won’t do
First, Bari Weiss, now Elizabeth Bruenig. It’s not good enough to be a center-left same-sex married bisexual (though Weiss shuns sexuality labels) or a progressive Catholic; if you’re not totally, unequivocally committed to the successor ideology, you’re not welcome in the trenches of the newspaper of record.
What will it take for New York Times’ management to wrest control back from the toxic Jacobins in the newsroom?
Artistic Directors are gods
One of two choirs I sing in, Lafayette Master Chorale, is announcing on Thursday our return and our concert schedule for 2021-22 — after abruptly ceasing rehearsals and concerts 14 months ago. We’ve missed singing. We believe and hope that our patrons have missed us.
> I dont know why I’m frightened
> I know my way around here
> The cardboard trees, the painted seas, the sound here
> Yes, a world to rediscover
> But I’m not in any hurry
> And I need a moment
> The whispered conversations
> In overcrowded hallways
> The atmosphere as thrilling here as always
> Feel the early morning madness
> Feel the magic in the making
> Why, everything’s as if we never said goodbye
> I’ve spent so many mornings
> Just trying to resist you
> I’m trembling now, you can’t know how I’ve missed you
> Missed the fairy tale adventures
> In this ever-spinning playground
> We were young together
> I’m coming out of makeup
> The lights already burning
> Not long until the cameras will start turning
> And the early morning madness
> And the magic in the making
> Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye
> I don’t want to be alone
> That’s all in the past
> This world’s waited long enough
> I’ve come home at last
> And this time will be bigger
> And brighter than we knew it
> So watch me fly, we all know I can do it
> Could I stop my hand from shaking?
> Has there ever been a moment with so much to live for?
> The whispered conversations
> In overcrowded hallways
> So much to say, not just today, but always
> We’ll have early morning madness
> We’ll have magic in the making
> Yes, everything’s as if we never said goodbye
The conjunction is kinda magical.
> What is to become of the Republican Party? It will either break up or hold together. If the latter, it will require time to work through divisions; there will be state fights and losses as the party stumbles through cycle to cycle. But in time one side or general tendency will win and define the party. Splits get resolved when somebody wins big and nationally. Eisenhower’s landslides in 1952 and ’56 announced to the party that it was moderate. Reagan’s in 1980 and ’84 revealed it was conservative. The different factions get the message and follow the winner like metal filings to a magnet.
> The future, according to this space, is and should be economically populist and socially conservative.
> The future GOP, and the current one for that matter, is a party of conservatism with important Trumpian inflections. The great outstanding question: Will those inflections be those of attitude—wildness, garish personalities and conspiracy-mindedness? If so, the party will often lose. Or will the inflections be those of actual policy, in which case they will often win?
> One of the scoops of the Cheney drama was when the Washington Post reported that in a briefing at an April GOP retreat the National Republican Congressional Committee hid from its members polling information on battleground districts. That information showed Mr. Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones: “Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one.” Bad numbers had been covered up before. Ms. Cheney concluded party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid acknowledging the damage Trump could do to Republican candidates.
Peggy Noonan (UPDATE: Link switched from WSJ to her blog, which doesn’t have a paywall.)
How the GOP Could, In A Parallel Universe, Deserve to Win
> The Tories now have a 15-point lead over Labour in the polls. Blair noted Boris Johnson’s achievement: “The Conservative parties of Western politics have adapted and adjusted. But by and large they’re finding a new economic and cultural coalition.”
> This too is in the GOP’s grasp. The party did much better in the last election than anyone thought in the House and would have held the Senate without Trump’s antics in Georgia.
> And here’s how you get that to stick with Trump voters. Credit him for bringing some newly potent issues to the fore — mass immigration, trade, the culturally left-behind, woke authoritarianism, non-interventionism in foreign policy, new wariness of China. Thank him, but stress the need to move forward. The truth is: Trump may have been helpful in creating a new Republican politics, but he did so entirely in service to his own vainglory. There is, in fact, no future path forward for Trumpism if Trump sticks around. Absorbed entirely into one man’s ego, the GOP is simply a backward-looking grievance and conspiracy machine, driven not by policy but by Trump’s own psychological inability to concede defeat.
Andrew Sullivan (emphasis added). I had not thought about it, but it is becoming received wisdom among anti-Trump and NeverTrump Republicans that his undermining of the integrity of the electoral system suppressed Republican voting in Georgia enough to cost them the two Senate seats. Considering how close both races were, that’s very plausible.
And the GOP clings to him still.
“When Cheney’s liberal critics place her support for democracy alongside her other positions, they implicitly endorse the same calculation made by her conservative opponents: that the rule of law is just another issue,” – Jon Chait.
“According to the Club For Growth, which has the gold standard of scorecards in Washington for measuring conservatism, Ilhan Omar has a better score for fiscal conservatism than Elisa Stefanik,” – Erick Erickson.
“We did not immigrate to this country for our children to be taught in taxpayer-funded schools that punctuality and hard work are white values,” – an anonymous father quoted by Erika Sanzi, the director of outreach at Parents Defending Education.
> Here’s what this really comes down to. Cheney’s ouster is about one thing, and one thing only: Liddle Donny Trump’s feelings. Liddle Donny couldn’t take the fact that “Sleepy Joe” wiped the floor with him in November … Liddly Donny is throwing a tantrum down in South Florida, and all of his butt boys in Congress are rushing to coddle him.
> DENVER – A Colorado man suspected in the death of his wife, who disappeared on Mother’s Day 2020, is also accused of submitting a fraudulent vote on her behalf for Donald Trump in November’s presidential election, newly released court documents show. Barry Morphew told investigators he mailed the ballot on behalf of his wife, Suzanne Morphew, to help Trump win, saying “all these other guys are cheating,” and that he thought his wife would have voted for Trump, anyway, according to an arrest warrant affidavit signed Thursday.
Wire Reports in the Lafayette Journal & Courier, May 15.
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.
Many years ago, I met a woman who had had the kind of experience you ordinarily only find in fiction. As a young adult, she was in a serious car accident, resulting in a head injury. She suffered a period of total amnesia, followed by months of convalescence. When she recovered, she was never the same: Her family relationships weakened; she cut out former friends and found new ones; she moved halfway across the world; her interests and tastes changed; she became more outgoing and less self-conscious; she no longer cared much what other people thought about her.
Her parents always attributed these major character changes to her “bump on the head.” But she told me no—the injury had nothing to do with it. Rather, it was the recovery time, away from ordinary routines, that created a punctuation mark in the long sentence of her life. She had a unique opportunity to assess her priorities. She vowed to take nothing in her former life as given. She tore her beliefs and values down to the studs, and rebuilt them. And in so doing, she said, she became happy for the first time in her life.
This intriguing opening led me into an okay essay — an essay that might profitably be expanded.
I agree with the author that the pandemic had given a lot of us a chance for introspection, and even more broadly that Brookes undertakes.
Among the less imaginative "takes" on the pandemic are (1) how essentially nobody could self-quarantine for months in the last pandemic because "remote work" wasn’t feasible; (2) how scientific knowledge facilitated development of vaccines with astonishing rapidity, further lessening the effect of the pandemic.
What I think remains under-covered in the pandemic is about how the truly essential workers in our economy are those who must show up in person, including not only nurses (who have gotten a reasonable amount of good press), but grocery store cashiers, shelf-stockers (is that the gender-neutral term?), bus drivers, police, fire, paramedics. A lot of these people not only must show up in person, but must do so for a second full-time or part-time job to make ends meet.
Economists, especially of the Austrian school, will hate this, but I’ll say it anyway: a lot of these people are underpaid for the risks they took.
I think Kavanaugh got treated very badly on the supposed sexual misbehavior and that it was a mere understandable human lapse, poor form but not disqualifying, for him to have lost his cool at the end of all that indignity.
But his adolescent aspiration to become alcoholic got treated too gently. I avoided underage drinking (three or four lapses between 18 and 21, zero drunkenness) because it was illegal (kind of a litmus test for a future lawyer/judge, don’t you think?), and I’m pretty scornful of a guy who upholds the law for everyone but himself.
Doing real good versus limelight-grabbing
I recently started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. When he’s good, he’s very good.
My Little Hundred Million, is very, very good. Just listening to it is instructive, but you could spend a lot of time thinking about other applications of the insights (Gladwell gives several).
I resist bonding with fellow liberals because it gets to feeling too comfy, sitting and murmuring in unison about Mitch McConnell and how devious and evil he is, so I say, quietly, “The real problem is that he’s smarter than the others. There is an art to obstruction and he is an artist.” So they start unloading on Trump and I listen and then I put my oar in: “ Donald Trump is an original, nobody like him before or since. All the others, either party, are variants of a type, but Trump came along, boasting, wearing his contempt proudly, and enough people loved him for that to elect him. Other presidents took the job very seriously but he was more like a sultan or an emir. And here he is, the most admired man in America. Democrats approve of Biden; Republicans adore Trump. No comparison.”
This statement lets some air into the conversation. You sit around on a terrace with your fellow liberals and the conversation turns choral and my job is to soloize, offer dissent in a minor key ….
I now turn toward political matters. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Not worth the powder to blow them up
I would feel differently if NRO was a religious journal, especially if it were explicitly Roman Catholic, but somehow it smells exceedingly fishy when political journal National Review Online is constantly meddling in whether President Biden should be denied communion (Thursday’s installment) because of his support of legal abortion.
This is doubly so because "pro-life" Republicans haven’t really done a damn thing for the unborn beyond (a) confirming judges thought to be hostile to abortion, (b) proposing that Catholic Democrats be excommunicated. They’ve been playing pro-life voters for suckers. I wish I could remember the guy who first threw that in my face in 2002 so I could apologize for my hostile reaction. (They’ve been playing all social conservatives for suckers on all issues. Remember you heard it here first.)
Perhaps if the GOP truly does "permanently become the Party of the Working Class" (see below) that will change, but I wouldn’t bet on it considering its odd idea of who is "working class."
Trump > truth
The calculation was pretty straightforward: The need to stay on the good side of Trump voters and donors—which necessarily means staying on the good side of Trump—was greater than the need to tell the truth about January 6, the “big lie,” or Trump generally.
Staying on the good side of Trump is more important than truth-telling? You know what I say about that? Die, GOP, die!
Working Class Republicans
I have seen it suggested that most of the country doesn’t know who Liz Cheney is and that in a few months, nobody will remember or care about her ouster. There may be some truth in that. Heck, there may be a lot of truth in that.
I also recall confidently announcing that Election 2016 meant that some major political realignment was underway, and by that I meant
working-class voters migrating to the GOP
suburban soccer moms migrating to the Democrats and
other things beyond my imagination at that point (sort of implied by "major realignment").
Well, Kevin McCarthy wants the GOP to "permanently become the Party of the Working Class." (If you don’t know Liz Cheney or Kevin McCarthy, why are you reading?) That was kind of predictable, as one of the big stories of 2016 was how many had come on their own.
So the GOP got a real working man running for governor of Virginia (he typed with a smirk on his face). Read all about it in the first of three items here.
The ambiguous adjective 45 has earned, fair and square
I have never wavered on whether 45 (he who shall not be named) was a suitable President of the United States (or candidate, for that matter). But I think, considering his continued reach and inexplicable popularity, that I must allow him the ambiguous adjective "consequential."
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.
In 1998, when Walden Homes hired Gregory Ledbetter as a counselor for troubled boys at Spring House, a group foster home funded by Dane County taxpayers, he was already an experienced sexual predator.
Ledbetter had moved to Madison less than a year before, after escaping 43 charges of sexually molesting boys at a group home in Indiana. His new job afforded him fresh opportunities, and he took prompt advantage of them, as ‘Henry’ would soon find out.
Henry (a pseudonym, like all names of juveniles in this article) was 15 when he ended up at Spring House, on Madison’s near east side, in 1999. ‘Almost every night,’ Henry later told police, he went to Ledbetter’s apartment, where they would ‘smoke marijuana, play videogames and watch porno movies.’
Ledbetter manipulated Henry into sexual acts, as he had with many other boys before and after, according to hundreds of pages of police and court records reviewed by Isthmus. Sometimes Ledbetter would perform oral sex on the boys; other times it was anal sex. A camcorder next to Ledbetter’s bed recorded the encounters.
Then Ledbetter would return his victims to Spring House, where he was paid to make meals, lead group discussions and serve as a role model for boys who’d been abandoned and suffered from emotional and behavioral problems.
Ledbetter, 39, was convicted last year of molesting several Spring House residents, among other victims. His crimes were so heinous that a Dane County judge sentenced him to life in prison, rejecting Ledbetter’s offer to be castrated.
Strikingly, Ledbetter is not the only sexual predator hired in recent years by Walden Homes to support and nurture some of Dane County’s most vulnerable teenagers. Angela Kalscheur, 26, faces more than 40 years in prison on charges related to sexual acts with four boys at Spring House. She has admitted to the crimes and will likely strike a plea bargain to avoid trial, now set for Feb. 7.
Both cases highlight breakdowns in a system that is supposed to provide care for kids in government custody. Background checks obviously failed, since Walden hired Ledbetter despite a dangerous and troubled past. And staff supervision was so poor that both counselors were able to prey on multiple youths over many months.
The cases also reveal insufficient oversight of private facilities that operate with public money. Even after the fact, county and state officials failed to aggressively investigate how such crimes could have happened. County and state officials operated in isolation so extreme that county officials praise Walden for its oversight efforts while the state accuses Walden of malfeasance. And elected officials with oversight responsibilities were kept in the dark.
County officials stress the assurances they’ve received from state regulators that Walden is in compliance with licensing rules.
‘We have nothing to hide,’ says Lynn Green, Dane County’s director of human services. ‘I am going to stand behind the work we’ve done in this situation 100 percent.’
Adds Bob Lee, administrator for Dane County’s division of children, youth and family services: ‘We feel as badly or more badly than anyone that some kids did not have good experiences there. But the totality of the agency’s experiences with Walden Homes is what’s most important to us.’
That may not be good enough for local elected officials. County Supv. David Worzala, chair of the county’s Health and Human Needs Committee, was ‘astounded’ to learn of the abuse from Isthmus last week. County Supv. Barb Vedder, the committee’s vice chair, also professed ignorance: ‘I am surprised we weren’t told about this.’ (Charges in both cases drew media attention, but some accounts did not mention Spring House by name.)
This week Worzala launched an investigation into oversight of Walden Homes, which continues to annually receive about a million dollars in county funding.
‘My conclusion is it’s outrageous that this has occurred in group homes in Dane County,’ says Worzala. ‘These kids are in our care. They’re vulnerable, and we need to provide a safe environment.’
Where is the oversight?
Worzala, a member of the Dane County Board since 2004, doesn’t like to criticize county government. He uses the word ‘we’ when referring to it, and says he’s a ‘big fan’ of Green and her department.
But Worzala is at a loss to explain why he first learned of these incidents from a reporter: ‘I don’t know what to say. However, I will say this: Now I know about it, and it will be addressed.’
Next Tuesday, Worzala plans to call officials from Dane County and the state Department of Health and Family Services to account for their actions before his committee.
‘These are horrific cases,’ he says. ‘The system’s broken. We need to look at it. Clearly county and state oversight needs to be reviewed and discussed. We need to do something to make sure this never happens again.’
Walden Homes Ltd. is a nonprofit corporation that continues to run three group homes in Dane County: Coventry Group Home on the north side, and Horizon House and Thoreau House on the isthmus.
Dane County taxpayers have paid Walden $4.7 million over the past five years to care for children ordered into its group foster homes. A tax filing for 2004 shows county taxpayers, at $910,882 that year, were by far Walden’s largest source of income; next in line was the state Department of Corrections, at $44,550. The money went in part to Walden’s longtime director, George Nestler, who received a salary of about $90,000.
Nestler did not return repeated calls seeking comment on this article.
According to the tax filing, Walden Homes aims to provide ‘a stable, highly supervised group foster home environment’ for adolescents. But that’s hardly what it did for nearly a dozen of Dane County’s most troubled teens, who were victimized by these two counselors.
Indeed, records suggest that Spring House, 511 S. Ingersoll St., was a deeply troubled operation. Police have been called to the group home 151 times since 2000, often in response to neighbor concerns. Police logs reviewed by Isthmus show complaints about disturbances, thefts, damaged property, liquor law violations and general juvenile complaints. Other calls involved battery, drugs and an overdose.
‘There were police over there all the time,’ says Scott Thornton, who lives nearby. Neighbors also complained to state regulators about lax supervision. (Walden’s corporate office is located at 1102 Spaight St., just around the corner from Spring House.)
But the decision to close Spring House in June 2006 purportedly had nothing to do with child molestation or complaints from neighbors. Rather, Walden told the state it wanted ‘to make better use of our resources.’ Agrees Dane County’s Green, ‘It was purely a financial decision on their need to fill beds.’
From Indiana to Wisconsin
On Oct. 15, 2005, after being tipped off by a neighbor that Ledbetter, then 38, was having sex with a 16-year-old boy, Madison police executed a search warrant on his apartment. They discovered a jackpot of evidence in his bedroom: 150 videotapes stashed in a locked dresser drawer and a safe. The tapes, spanning more than a decade, were meticulously labeled with the boys’ names, ages and dates.
In letters and testimony to Dane County Judge Dan Moeser, Ledbetter and his parents traced his predatory pedophilia to his troubled childhood. They said Ledbetter had a sexual relationship with an older man when he was a teen. And, when he was around 17, his best friend committed suicide with Ledbetter’s shotgun after announcing that he was gay and being rejected by his family.
‘He gave me an ultimatum about him killing himself, and I didn’t stop him,’ Ledbetter wrote. ‘I carry that guilt with me for the rest of my life.’
‘Greg was never the same after that,’ his parents wrote. Following his own suicide attempt around this time, Ledbetter was committed to a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., where his sister lived, but was released after a few months when the insurance money ran out. ‘We regret to this day not keeping him institutionalized.’
Court records say Ledbetter graduated from Purdue University with an education and fine arts degree and worked as a student teacher in an elementary school. At about age 26, he began working at the Cary Home for Children in Lafayette, Ind. He was there for two years.
In January 1996, prosecutors charged Ledbetter with 43 counts of child seduction based on allegations from two group home residents.
According to Indiana police reports obtained by Isthmus, one boy said he had dozens of sexual encounters with Ledbetter between December 1993 and May 1995, when he was 16 and 17. It began with oral sex at Ledbetter’s parents’ house and escalated to anal intercourse, with the use of marijuana almost always preceding the sex. A second group home boy, 17 at the time, reported having at least 35 sexual encounters with Ledbetter.
Indiana newspapers reported that the allegations against Ledbetter were the second sexual allegations against Cary Home staffers in two years, and local politicians called for the firing of the home’s director.
The arrest also captured local headlines because Jerry Ledbetter, Greg’s father, was a city councilman who supported a local ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The family said Ledbetter was arrested in retaliation for his father’s progressive politics, and spent $19,000 in legal fees fighting the charges.
In January 1997, prosecutors dropped the charges after Ledbetter’s defense attorney secured an affidavit from one of the boys, saying he made up the allegations.
Eight years later, Madison police would discover what Indiana police did not: videotapes of Ledbetter having sex with at least three boys from the Indiana group home.
From Spring House to prison
By 1998, Ledbetter had moved to Madison and was looking for a job. The Spring House group home had just opened, and it was hiring. Ledbetter’s first day was April 20, 1998.
Ledbetter had already spent at least five years preying on vulnerable boys in Indiana. Over the next 22 months, he was given regular access to troubled boys in Dane County’s care. He made the most of it.
Police reports and a detailed criminal complaint relate the accounts of several group home victims, including ‘Billy,’ who was 14 when the abuse began.
‘The situation has made things hard for me,’ he told a detective. ‘You know, it was hard to go on with my life.’
Henry, mentioned above, told police he once complained that Ledbetter would openly tell the boys in his care that he ‘loved to suck cock.’ Henry said Ledbetter let the residents ‘smoke dope and go wherever they wanted,’ for which he ‘expected something in return.’ Henry also said Ledbetter once showed him a .45 caliber handgun.
‘Jeff,’ who was 16 when he engaged in sexual encounters with Ledbetter at Spring House, told police he ‘felt obliged to do this with the defendant since the defendant was making their life at the group home fun.’
In February 2000, Ledbetter left Spring House. Over the next five years, records show he met other boys through his jobs at a Walgreen’s, a Blockbuster video store, a Marcus movie theater and a store in South Towne Mall.
One of these was a 16-year-old who, his mother told police, had brain damage stemming from childhood abuse and suffered from learning disabilities, cancer and cerebral palsy. Court documents offer a particularly disturbing summary of one videotaped encounter. The boy, who appeared to ‘act more like an 8-year-old than his own age,’ expressed ‘random thoughts regarding eating at Old Country Buffet and videogames and his mother and his curly hair’ during unprotected anal intercourse with Ledbetter.
Yet another boy told police that Ledbetter handcuffed him and used duct tape on his mouth before anally penetrating him.
It’s not clear from court documents and police reports how many boys Ledbetter molested during his eight years in Madison. Ultimately, Dane County prosecutors charged him with 92 felony counts of child sexual assault, enticement and sexploitation, relating to 10 boys.
In July 2006, Ledbetter was convicted following a plea agreement; he received a 90-year prison sentence. Under the state’s truth-in-sentencing law, he won’t be eligible for parole until he is 129 years old.
‘I am viewed more as someone who was over-punished and denied the right of rehabilitation as a sex offender,’ Ledbetter wrote to Judge Moeser in October from prison in Waupun. He now spends his days playing classical music on a piano, painting and drawing in his cell, and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
‘There’s things I need’
Angela Kalscheur graduated from Mankato State University in Minnesota in 2004 with a degree in criminal justice, records show. She interned at a center for juvenile sex offenders before Walden Homes hired her in November 2004 to work at Spring House.
Like Ledbetter, Kalscheur worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift as an assistant counselor at Spring House. Her duties included preparing meals, supervising homework and leading group talks. And while she and Ledbetter likely never met, Kalscheur used many of the same strategies to entice boys into satisfying her sexual desires.
According to a criminal complaint, ‘Nick,’ then 15, arrived at the group home in March 2005 and quickly learned that Kalscheur was having sex with several boys; he later told police this was ‘common knowledge.’ Nick said he didn’t report Kalscheur because he used this information as leverage to extend his curfew and get an allowance without doing work. Once he walked in on Kalscheur having intercourse with ‘Joe,’ and was invited to participate.
Joe told police that within a week of arriving at Spring House in the spring of 2005, when he was 17, Kalscheur told him something to the effect of, ‘There’s things I need,’ then hugged him and put his hand down her pants. Joe estimated that he and Kalscheur had sexual contact about 35 times, including twice at her house.
A third boy, ‘Damon,’ told police that Kalscheur performed oral sex on him about five times, starting on his 16th birthday. He said he knew other residents were having sex with Kalscheur, and that she asked him not to tell because she could lose her job.
‘Just keep giving me head,’ Damon said he told her, ‘and you won’t need to worry about it.’
Kalscheur, the complaint says, regularly gave the boys alcohol and cigarettes. She also drove them to a location on the south side, where they bought marijuana. The boys would get high as Kalscheur returned to the group home.
In June 2005, another Spring House counselor had a chance meeting with a former resident, who told of sexual encounters with Kalscheur when he was at the home. The counselor reported the allegations to Walden Homes’ director Nestler, who, as required by law, reported the allegation to Dane County officials.
Kalscheur continued to work at Spring House for the next month, and was fired on July 27 on a matter unrelated to sexual abuse, county officials say.
On May 25, 2006, Madison police detective Dave Gouran spoke with Kalscheur at her home. After initially denying any wrongdoing, Kalscheur eventually admitted to having sexual contact with Joe, Nick and Damon, as well as other boys from the group home.
Kalscheur’s attorney, Eric Schulenburg, expects to reach a plea agreement in the near future, and will argue at sentencing that her crimes don’t merit prison.
‘To send her to prison is a crime, and there’s no need to make this two crimes,’ says Schulenburg, adding that he has trouble viewing the 16- and 17-year-old boys in this case as victims.
The unprecedented abuse at Spring House ‘ going back decades, county officials can’t remember another substantiated molestation case at a juvenile group home ‘ has local politicians worried.
‘Clearly, two makes a pattern,’ says Supv. Worzala. ‘The Ledbetter case is frightening. You’re talking about border hopping of predators. It’s unacceptable.’
But Dane County’s Bob Lee says that after learning of misconduct, local officials ‘did what was required’ and took ‘appropriate action.’ These actions included interviewing group home residents and attending Spring House staff meetings.
Regulating group homes, county officials stress, is the state’s responsibility. ‘The state is required to license and monitor. The onus is on them,’ says Marykay Wills, the county’s mental health and alternative care manager. ‘The state assured us that Walden did what they were supposed to do.’
But state officials and records provided to Isthmus undercut many of these claims and suggest that county officials either aren’t being forthcoming or remain uninformed as to the state’s apparently grave concerns about Walden Homes, both before and after these molestation cases came to light.
‘It is very likely that we would have taken the steps to revoke the license at Spring House if they had not voluntarily closed,’ says Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Family Services.
State officials accused Walden Homes of a ‘lack of cooperation with the department in its attempt to thoroughly investigate the allegations,’ according to a letter sent to Walden dated Oct. 25, 2006, written after Isthmus began making inquiries into the state and county’s handling of the matter.
That letter, and a follow-up (click HERE), allege that Walden staff members were told by a Walden supervisor and in a written memo not to cooperate with investigators. The letters criticized Walden’s management and accused Walden supervisors of overlooking complaints from other staff about Kalscheur’s behavior.
County officials are also apparently clueless as to the rules regarding background checks. Lee explains Ledbetter’s hire by saying ‘the state does not require out-of-state background checks. Now should they? Maybe. But they don’t.’
Marquis contradicts this, saying state law does indeed require out-of-state criminal background checks for any state in which an applicant may have lived in the past three years, information he or she is required to provide.
How Ledbetter passed his background check after being charged with 43 counts of child molestation at his last group home job may never be known. When state regulators sought to review Walden’s records, they discovered that ‘all terminated staff files and discharged resident files’ from Spring House had been destroyed by Walden’s director in December 2005. The destruction of these files occurred in the middle of police investigations into both the Ledbetter and Kalscheur cases.
State officials fined Walden $1,000 in the Kalscheur case, which Walden initially appealed. Walden dropped its appeal after it closed Spring House and moved its residents to Thoreau House, located around the corner in the same building as Walden Homes’ Spaight Street headquarters.
Walden Homes continues to reap county contracts for its three other group foster homes, into which troubled teens are regularly ordered. In 2006, Walden received $986,766 in county funding. Lynn Green, the county’s human services director, thinks the relationship is working well.
‘Walden has a long history of providing very good group home services in Dane County,’ she says. ‘They were one of the early group homes, and George Nestler has been with them 20-plus years. Hundreds if not thousands of Dane County kids have received excellent services from the Walden Homes system.’
I don’t hold a lot of grudges, but I hold a few related to this sorry case.
It’s not that “everyone knew” the Lafayette charges were true and that the local scribes were ignoring what everybody knew. I had spoken to one of the accusers professionally, and I wasn’t certain. One seldom is.
When the boys withdrew their accusations, I considered possible both that the charges had been false and that Defense counsel for Ledbetter had “gotten to” the accusers somehow. I wasn’t sure which.
My grudge is that the Journal & Courier didn’t know, either. Yet it wagged its corporate finger at everyone who believed (or dutifully investigated) the adolescent boys who accused Ledbetter, and turned a secret abuser into a martyred saint. Everyone should have had the Journal & Courier’s confidence that the charges were false, though the confidence was unwarranted and turned out to be false. I was at the very least adjacent to those the santimonious ink-stained wretches were excoriating.
My grudge also is that hiring an “out” homosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents (that’s the kind of facility that employed Ledbetter) of the same sex, whatever the written rules may have said, was recklessly in defiance of common sense — as it would have been reckless to hire a heterosexual to have unmonitored supervisory access to troubled adolescents of the opposite sex. This was not, in other words, a “freak accident.” It was completely foreseeable. More heads should have rolled than did (though Commissioner Nola Gentry’s replacement was a Marjorie Taylor Greene type, far inferior to Nola).
So my grudge, finally, is that not all “discrimination” is invidious (some is utterly sensible), and thus not all discrimination should be legally forbidden, as it increasingly is — and as the Journal & Courier supports.
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.
Michael Elkohen, born Elk, has been holding forth for a decade or so as an Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi in Israel, all the while intending to lead Jews to his conception of Christianity.
He apparently was a fairly persuasive humbug, as he had many followers and was entrusted with circumcisions, copying Talmud scrolls and such. (On the other hand, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copland and Joel Osteen have plenty of followers, implausible though they be. Go figure and caveat emptor.)
Persuasive Elk/Elkohen has, however, been pretty persuasively unmasked, though he denies the accusations — sort of (He says something along the lines of "Yeah, I was doing that but I repented.") If you read the stories, though, I think you’ll discern that they’ve nailed him. Here are three very overlapping accounts:
So much for the basic story. Here’s what fascinates me, though: Elk/Elkohen may not be unequivocally fake, even if the exposés are true.
Michael Elk came from the marriage of a non-observant Methodist and a non-observant Mennonite. (Rod Dreher wrote of his own youth something very like this, which my memory dishes up: "We didn’t go to church much, and the church we didn’t go to was Methodist.") Elk "got religion" around age 17 and went off to an evangelical college. By the time he graduated, he was living as a Messianic Jew and claiming that both of his parents were Jewish.
> Elk’s path to Judaism appears to have begun around the time of his graduation. By that time, he was in a serious relationship with Crystal Tracy, whom he had met at Eastern University.
> At the time, she told the JC, Elk was attending a ‘Messianic synagogue’ (for Jews who follow Jesus) called Beth Yeshua, in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.
> He also worshipped at a charismatic evangelical church called Vineyard. Yet he was dressing like an Orthodox Jew, always wearing a white shirt, black trousers and kippah.
He convinced Ms. Terry that he’d discovered her Jewish ancestry, too, so they could be married — in a wedding with some Jewish accoutrements. He apparently did something similar with his second wife, after Ms. Terry woke up and dumped him (he’d lost a job over accusations of flim-flammery with the time clock). Then off he went to Israel with wife two, where they were fruitful, and multiplied, and filled the earth with five little Elkohens.
So what I thought was going to be the story of a very bright guy who had undergone extensive spy-like training starts to look like a story of a guy who got deluded fairly young and stayed deluded for the long haul — perhaps even up until now. It’s no less interesting a story for that, but press coverage seems to favor the humbug theory even while reporting the tidbits that make me suspect delusion. (Some of the Israel-based stories don’t seem very conversant with the countless Protestant groups around. One referred to the simple cross on the tombstone of Elk’s father as a "crucifix.")
Arguing against the delusion theory, though, is a 2011 MorningStar Ministries TV appearance:
> In the interview, he openly praised Jesus and prayed together with other Christian devotees. The Jews, he said, needed to be “stirred to jealousy” until they followed Christ.
(Id.) But overall, I get the impression that he was a Christian Judaizer, syncretistically blending Jewish ritual with Christian doctrine. (That’s why I suggest that he’s not unequivocally fake.) Or as one of the stories put it, perhaps not knowing that there are Christian Judaizers:
> The idea of these messianic groups is to blur distinctions in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist the Christian message.
A version of such distinction-blurring was repudiated at the very first Council of the Christian Church, in Jerusalem, where the Church held that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised, as a substantial party of Jewish Christians argued they must be. Later, Paul harshly and thoroughly warned the Galatians about such Judaizing in the Epistle to the Galatians, chapters 3 and 4.
Moreover, MorningStar Ministries, allegedly his sponsoring missionary agency, bears a distinctive mark of dispensational premillennialism, a second heresy but one that tends to go along with evangelical Judaizing:
> As time went on, Ms Tracy said, Elk became more and more committed to the group. Elk considered going to their ministry school, she said, and was “very, very devoted” to their teachings.
> “He carried on with MorningStar after the divorce,” she recalled. “They are very much about converting the Jews to bring on the end times. I heard this all the time.”
So sincere or not, a conscious deceiver or a deluded heretic, "Rabbi" Michael Elkohen deserves adherence neither by Jews nor Gentile Christians who recognize heresies.
And he reportedly is not the only covert Christian Missionary working in Israel.
Restless Natives In Judeo-Christendom
> [A]dministrators made it clear to me that members of certain religious groups were overrepresented on campus. This was why the college wanted to get rid of chaplaincy programs. I suddenly realized what was at stake in the move from the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, or Thomas Chatterton Williams, for example, to the antiracism of Ibram Kendi or Robin DiAngelo. Telling me that the “number one priority of the college is antiracism,” my supervisor in Student Life explained:
>> And because of the colleges’ commitment to antiracism and equity the question finally becomes, Is chaplaincy sustainable? Our Jewish community has the support of its alumni donor. How do we manage that? And Roman Catholic students and others interested in Catholicism can apply for grants from an endowed fund for Roman Catholic Studies. And in order to be antiracist we have to have equal resources for Hindu students, Muslim students, Buddhist students, or we need to do away with Spiritual Life groups all together.
> My supervisor was echoing Ibram X. Kendi, who writes, “If discrimination is creating equity then it is antiracist.” Inequity, in this case, means any difference between ethnic groups that isn’t reflected in the racial demographics of the United States. How does this relate to religion? I didn’t think that it did. But here this administrator decided that because Jews, being a tiny percentage of the US population are overrepresented in higher education generally, and at the college where I worked in particular, antiracism in this instance required that the number of Jewish students be reduced. Moreover, because there were 60 students at Shabbat and only a handful of Muslim students on campus, the Jewish group should not exist.
> I found a Christianity that had retained its ancient heart—a faith with living saints and a central ritual of deep and inexplicable power. I found a faith that, unlike the one I had seen as a boy, was not a dusty moral template but a mystical path, an ancient and rooted thing, pointing to a world in which the divine is not absent but everywhere present, moving in the mountains and the waters. The story I had heard a thousand times turned out to be a story I had never heard at all.
I appreciate that Kingsnorth is open about his conversion, but also that he’s wise enough not to be argumentative about it ("None of this is rationally explicable, and there is no point in arguing with me about it. There is no point in my arguing with myself about it: I gave up after a while."). That’s better than how I did it.
The Averted Gaze
I recently watched the Netflix documentary on Operation Varsity Blues and would summarize it as timorous.
Wealthy clients of Rick Singer spent in the high six-figures or more to get their failsons and boopsies into elite schools, making it likelier that they would graduate from merely "wealthy" to "upper-class," just one step down from fully "elite" (see Aaron M. Renn, Rediscovering E. Digby Baltzell’s Sociology of Elites (American Affairs Journal).
But that’s only part of the story. Liberal ameliorative legislation like Title IX and the ADA set the stage for some of Singer’s trickery (while not actually creating "legal loopholes").
> The water polo angle may give the scandal a WASPy flavor but that’s a red herring …
> In fact, if the water polo angle signifies anything, it’s the crucial importance of liberal policies in making Singer’s schemes possible. The reason schools have so many recruitment slots in boutique sports like women’s crew is Title IX, which forced colleges to equalize spending on men’s and women’s athletics. “Institutions with football programs can have upwards of 100 men on those teams,” Unacceptable explains. “To maintain equitable opportunity, they may have built really, really big women’s rowing programs.”
> The biggest silent revolution in education today is the proliferation of diagnosed disabilities among affluent students. In the last ten years, elite parents discovered that getting their kid labeled with ADHD or anxiety allows them to request special accommodations on tests, like extra time or a private room. Singer encouraged clients to get bogus diagnoses so he could channel their kids to special testing sites and put his designated proctor in the room with them to correct their answers.
> Students with special accommodations used to have asterisks next to their SAT scores when the College Board sent them out. In 2003, those asterisks were removed — not because wealthy parents flexed their influence, but because of a civil rights lawsuit brought by a disability advocacy group. Eliminating the “scarlet asterisk” would protect disabled students from discrimination, they said. Instead it enabled canny operators like Singer to commit fraud on a large scale.
> Because of Title IX gender equity rules, colleges are far more likely to have a women’s crew team than a men’s squad. Athletic departments use women’s crew teams to balance out male sports like football and wrestling. Unlike men’s rowing, women’s crew is an official NCAA sport with a sanctioned championship. Women’s Division I rowing teams are allowed to hand out the equivalent of 20 full scholarships, more than any other women’s sport.
Reporting on bad behavior by rich celebrities is easy, but for me, the untold parts of the story, the parts too hot to handle, include (1) the insidious corruption of education by sports and (2) the insidious corruptibility of ameliorative legislation.
Is the Sum of Evangelical Parachurch Ministries Called "Christendom"?
> The Evangelical analogue to the state religious establishments of years past — the “Christendom” that all-too-often redefined the faith as a kind of cultural and legal conformity, a rote adherence to external religious dictates — is the creation of a series of extraordinarily wealthy, powerful, and influential institutions that not only reach and influence Americans by the tens of millions, but also shape the course and conduct of the domestic and foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.
I’m unconvinced that the Evangelical institutions are as powerful and influential as French thinks. I’m even less convinced that they’re a plausible analogy to "Christendom" as traditionally understood.
But I’ve lamented that when Americans hear "Christian" they probably think of Evangelicals, or perhaps Roman Catholics in a few instances, and that neither tradition remotely represents me. So maybe those Evangelical institutions have a bigger "Christendom-like" footprint than I’m appreciating.
A local grade school principal challenged her students to collect 1000 cereal boxes in a week, promising that if they did, she’d let them duct-tape her to the wall. They did and she did.
In completely unrelated news, schoolchildren reportedly have problems with disrespecting their teachers and administrators.
> "Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient," he explains. "There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning."
What the House Republican conference is doing, probably today, is contemptible, but let it be conceded that there is a market for it in the recently-revolutionized Republican base. So I turn to politics, holding non-political items for later.
Today, we stand on the precipice of the House Republican conference ratifying this attempt to subvert American democracy. They are poised to punish Liz Cheney for saying this simple truth: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” In her place, they will elevate Iago in heels, Elise Stefanik, whose claim to leadership consists entirely of her operatic Trump followership.
Let’s be clear: The substitution of Stefanik for Cheney is a tocsin, signaling that the Republican party will no longer be bound by law or custom. In 2020, many Republican office holders, including the otherwise invertebrate Pence, held the line. They did not submit false slates of electors. They did not decertify votes. They did not “find” phantom fraud. But the party has been schooled since then. It has learned that the base—which is deluded by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin—believes the lies and demands that Republicans fight. As my colleague Amanda Carpenter put it, the 2024 mantra is going to be “Steal It Back.”
If Cheney must be axed because she will not lie, then what will happen if Republicans take control of Congress in 2022 and are called upon to certify the Electoral College in 2024? How many Raffenspergers will there be? How many will insist, as Pence did, that they must do what the Constitution demands? How many will preserve any semblance of the rule of law and the primacy of truth?
With this sabotage of Cheney, House Republicans are figuratively joining the January 6 mob.
Here’s the problem that is obvious to voters: If GOP leaders in both chambers were doing a better job containing Trump, Cheney wouldn’t need to comment. Their pleas of “but we need a conference chair to speak for the conference” argument or “see, we replaced a woman with a woman” (albeit one who is more ideologically moderate and won’t challenge Trump’s lies) won’t connect beyond the Always Trump echo chamber. In 2022 races, these dogs won’t hunt, especially with suburban female voters.
The meaning is obvious. Trump matters more than truth. The post of GOP conference chair is now a third-party validator for CNN and Vox. “With Cheney’s impending ouster, the GOP chooses Trump over principle,” CNN writes. “The Big Lie is the GOP’s one and only truth,” according to Vox.
The problem for the GOP is conservative outlets like the Wall Street Journal opinion section and National Review are making the same argument, and they are right.
In its piece, “Liz Cheney is Not the Problem,” NRO dismantles the Always Trump case: “The problem isn’t that Cheney is making controversial statements; the problem is that Republicans consider her obviously true statements to be controversial.”
… Be careful about trying to put people in their place, particularly when they are motivated by principle, patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution.
Don’t miss the people who responded by pretending to not understand his point.
One reason why we spend so much time thinking and talking about elites is that we often hope and pray that a better elite can bring significant, rapid change—to yank the right out of its current malaise sooner rather than later. At present, however, there is no obvious path for speedy, top-down change. There simply isn’t an active market for the necessary message.
If you follow this blog, you likely have noticed a lot of content from the Dispatch (including essentially anything I quote from David French). Although I’m starting to figure out that David’s entertainment tastes are, um, not at all like mine, I think the Dispatch is doing a very good job at delivering on what they say they’re about, and is worth the price for any non-destitute conservative (or liberal who wants to avoid captivity to a bubble).
The Soviet occupiers subdued religious hierarchies, he said, making sure that the senior leaders — bishops and such — were collaborators. Bishop Istvan remarked that what he sees happening in liberalizing Protestant churches in the West reminds him of this process. The idea, he explained, is that they have been colonized by utopian idealists who believe they have found the truth. Said the bishop, “The Bolsheviks imposed this in a harsh, brutal way, but in the Western countries today, it is happening in a soft way.”
… The bishop went on to say that every society needs an enemy in mind. After the end of the Cold War, the West lacked for an obvious enemy. Now, he said, the elites have decided that the enemy is traditional Christians.
“It’s not a Cold War, but a Cold Civil War, happening in the US, in Germany, everywhere,” he said.
I suspect, based on my observations of how societies behave, that the Bishop is right: every society needs an enemy in mind. Even if he’s not,
It gives us an idea why Viktor Orban demonizes George Soros; and
It should make us reflect on why we demonize Putin, Orban and others.
“We are not good survivors of Communism,” said Bishop Istvan, of his generation. “If you read the Book of Exodus, you will see that it took forty years of wandering in the desert for the Israelites to prepare to enter the Promised Land. Many of them wanted to go back to Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they could have a few material things guaranteed for them. I feel like my generation has been told by God that we can’t enter the Promised Land.
“But I ask myself,” he continued, “which Promised Land should I want to enter? Should it be the West? The problem is, there is no fruit there. There is no milk, there is no honey.”
That resonated deeply with me, this point of Bishop Istvan’s. Something similar has been front to mind for me since I first arrived here three weeks ago. There is something about putting distance between oneself and America, and looking at America from a non-woke country, that highlights the true insanity of what’s happening in our nation.
“Believing that everything will be better if only we gather more information,” blogger Michael Sacasas recently wrote, “commits us to endless searching and casting about, to one more swipe of the screen in the hope that the elusive bit of data, which will make everything clear, will suddenly present itself.” …
… There is nothing of real import happening in the world for which Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is the best source of information.
In the old Dark Ages, it was impossible to persuade the feudal chiefs that it was more worth while to grow medicinal herbs in a small garden than to lay waste the province of an empire; that it was better to decorate the corner of a manuscript with gold-leaf than to heap up treasuries and wear crowns of gold. These men were men of action; they were hustlers; they were full of vim and pep and snap and zip. In other words, they were deaf and blind and partly mad, and rather like American millionaires. And because they were men of action, and men of the moment, all that they did has vanished from the earth like a vapour; and nothing remains out of all that period but the little pictures and the little gardens made by the pottering little monks.
Now to be fair to Kudlow (who, be it remembered, was supposed to be one of the super-smart guys on Team ) also said "this kind of thinking is stupid." Since he’s super-smart, I assume he was referring to his own thinking.
I assume you have heard by now that Liz Cheney is in imminent danger of being ousted from GOP leadership because of her keen bullshit detector and the loud sirens attached to it:
If Cheney is ousted, McCarthy will be the feckless House Republican leader who acted as the toady enforcer of ’s dangerous election lies. Every Democrat can say, with a straight face, that in Kevin’s House, lying is a litmus test for leadership.
The media and the Democrats understandably want to make this all about her brave truth-telling about “the Big Lie” and the “insurrection.” But the real issue for Cheney—I believe—is only incidentally about all of that. Again, I’m not saying she doesn’t believe what she’s saying, but her real goal is to free the GOP from the Trumpian captivity and the ideological and political corruptions that stem from it. And she’s losing that effort, at least in the short run.
It says a lot, and none of it good, that Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney are unwelcome in today’s GOP while Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are in good standing.
Education versus Job Skills
Whole universities are now devoted to churning out skilled laborers—even if that means cutting entire humanity departments. Job skills and upward mobility seem to be more important than profound people, able to feel and think well about the mysteries of life.
A major problem, though, is that the liberal arts themselves have been instrumentalized toward the market. They are pitched primarily as leading to employment. Why the liberal arts? For more effective communication. Writing skills for memos. Teamwork and collaboration. Critical thinking, etc. The liberal arts are good because they make students marketable to industry.
I’m on the Board of a very small Classical Christian School, which really should be bigger. I’d like to attribute our struggles to a spirit (among potential patrons) akin to the instrumentalizing of liberal arts in colleges and universities: "It’s not enough to produce great souls, who love truth, beauty and virtue. No. You’ve got to show us how greatness of soul, and loving truth, beauty and virtue ‘cash out’."
And as a product of postwar 20th-Century America, I cannot deny that I’m tempted to tell them how I think it cashes out, though you shouldn’t justify primary goods by how they facilitate secondary goods.
Twitter Truth is now an actual criterion for newsworthiness that many journalists live by. If they didn’t, how do you explain an article like this? Or all the other instances of Twitter nonsense getting written up as though it means anything or has inherent value, without any fact-checking? If something is Twitter True, it now warrants coverage and credulous amplification. And this from a tribe — my tribe — that endlessly, and rightfully, mocked Donald Trump for his “people are saying” innuendo.
I couldn’t figure out how to embed a tweet in Markdown, which is what I use to write my blogs until the last phases. Here is the link. It is visual.
The Point of Life
I remain baffled at how many adults seem to think that the point of life is to enjoy the meaningless mild approval of armies of strangers rather than to build a tight little network of friends and family who are passionately invested in you. But even if you don’t share my values, perhaps you can admit that treating personal animus like it’s politically meaningful is unhelpful. If you think I’m an a**hole, just say I’m an a**hole. If you don’t like someone, just say so. That doesn’t mean you don’t write about politics. You just drop the phony f**king holier-than-thou routine and acknowledge that you’re motivated by animal spirits more than anything else, like everyone else. For years I have played a simple game: when I meet someone in person who says they don’t like my writing, I challenge them to name an issue on which we disagree. They fail over and over again. Like literally they can’t name anything. The truth is they don’t like me, who I am, as a person, but for whatever reason they feel compelled to pretend that it’s deeper than that. It isn’t and that’s fine. If we can’t actually grow up, maybe we can be mature enough to admit that we are immature, and that all of this is a child’s game.
I disagree with Freddie on the point of life, but prefer his version to the alternative that baffles him.
To donors, business leaders, trade association heads, operatives, commentators, and other powers-that-be in GOP circles:
Don’t just call me to commiserate and lament.
Call them. Call the Republican members of Congress you’ve supported. Call the National Republican Congressional Committee. Call your fellow donors.
And tell them: “No. No more support. If you’re going to purge Liz, we’re gone. Really. For this entire cycle. A party that purges a truth-teller isn’t one I will support. And I’ll say this publicly and I’ll rally my fellow donors to follow my lead.”
And I’d add, to GOP-supporting conservative writers: No more angst.
Say the truth loudly and clearly. Say that the behavior of Republicans is a danger and a disgrace. If all you can muster is concern about how purging Cheney for telling the truth might “diminish” the GOP and hurt its chances with swing voters—if you lack the fortitude to do anything other than play for triple bank shots with an eye toward preserving your place—well, better not to write anything at all.
So, to GOP donors and conservative elites: Enough with the comfortable posture of learned helplessness. Enough with the ineffectual finger wagging. Just Say No.
Alas, the Republican donors and the conservative elites are unlikely to say No. Learned helplessness is a balm for people who would rather avoid taking an uncomfortable stance.
And so they stand athwart history, clucking their tongues and wringing their hands.
The refrigerator-magnet-poetry word-jumble method of inquiry
Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage, continues defending her book against hysteria. She asks "Has Censorship Become Our Baseline Expectation?" and recites several incidents of news stories implying that Amazon is an intransigent bad-actor for not banning her book as it earlier banned Ryan Anderson’s provocatively-titled When Harry Became Sally.
For every one of these publications, the baseline assumption is censorship. It is Amazon that “won’t stop selling,” or “overrules employees” or “refuses to stop selling” or “will not remove”—Amazon whose actions strike today’s journalists as significant and surprising. Amazon the intransigent bookseller, stubbornly insisting on continuing to sell books. Standing up to the calls for censorship is now what surprises us. The numberless calls for book banning no longer do.
I told Ms. Long that the book contains not a word of hate—almost verbatim what the Economist wrote when it named mine a Best Book of 2020: “Predictably controversial—yet there is not a drop of animosity in the book.” Though the book discusses “gender dysphoria,” a diagnosis recognized in the DSM-5, it never equates transgender status with a mental illness because, put simply, I don’t believe that it is.
Well, she replied, I see ‘contagion,’ ‘epidemic,’ don’t you think that tends to diagnose?
“Are you seriously going to pull out random words from my book?” I asked her.
“They aren’t random,” she said. “They’re from chapter headings.”
I explained that the words “contagion” and “epidemic” often refer to social phenomena, like peer-to-peer fads or trends, as the dictionary bears out and is obviously the case in Irreversible Damage. But in all of this explaining, I was the witness in the hot seat, under cross-examination. I was the one who had to explain myself before this refrigerator-magnet-poetry word-jumble method of inquiry.
I would oppose banning this book (and almost all others) even if it did ineffably "endanger transgender youth" because it does far, far more to protect them from ill-considered irreversible bodily mutilation at the hands of ideologues or medical profiteers.
I would point out, however, that there is not really a baseline expectation of censorship — except in the case of books that in some sense take a conservative or traditional stance on matters of sexuality and gender, especially the transgender social contagion.
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.
Front page of my local newspaper, above the fold, is the news that "Racist post on County GOP Facebook elicits backlash."
The post was genuinely and frankly racist — no mere dog-whistle. And my former party is entirely too hospitable toward yahoos and atavists. But the County was Brown County, in Southern Indiana, roughly two hours from us. And it was a Facebook page, fer cryin’ out loud, where presumably any jackass, including enemies, can post.
This story’s placement was partly a function of the steep decline of my local paper and its increasing reliance on stories from other Gannett newspapers in Indiana (and from Gannett Corporate HQ). But we form our impression of the world from, well, glimpses and impressions left by things we generally have no time to analyze and blog about.
Politics can make people crazy, especially these days. For the latest evidence, consider its insidious spread to “Jeopardy!,” the game show heretofore loved by millions.
Last week Jeopardy! contestant Kelly Donohue put his index finger and thumb together in an “OK” sign, with three fingers extended, during the show’s introduction. Uh oh.
It seems some progressives are on constant watch for this gesture as a signal of white supremacy because it has allegedly been adopted by some extremist groups. Within a few days, hundreds of former Jeopardy! contestants signed an open letter explaining that Mr. Donohue’s gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.”
Mr. Donohue said he had signaled the number three because he had won the show three days in a row. He clarified his meaning in a Facebook post, but he apparently didn’t abase himself sufficiently in the view of the concerned game-show participants. “Most problematic to us as a contestant community,” they wrote, “is the fact that Kelly has not publicly apologized for the ramifications of the gesture he made.”
Mr. Donohue then posted a statement “regret[ting] this terrible misunderstanding” and condemning racism in all its forms. We hope, for his sake, that the latter declaration appeases the troubled sensibilities of the, uh, contestant community.
I have read that one of Jordan Peterson’s maxims in his new book is "Don’t apologize if you’ve done nothing wrong."
Keep em’ guessing
I have purchased a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in the full expectation that I’ll find much worthwhile in it (anyone who got an acknowledgment from Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities can’t be all bad), despite the book’s bugbear status, alongside "George Soros," among the Right.
A line in the sand
I understand that language evolves. I reluctantly admit that usage (eventually) makes proper.
But—usage be damned—I will never, ever, accept that "literally" means "I’m about to engage in wild hyperbole because I feel strongly about this."
Cancel culture and the GOP
There are huge divides within the GOP over whether or not cancel culture is a problem government has any role in solving.
J.D. Vance—the author and venture capitalist who is likely to enter Ohio’s U.S. Senate race in the coming weeks—urged Republicans to retaliate against businesses whose leaders met to coordinate responses to Republican-led efforts to change voting laws in states across the country. “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons. We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing,” said Vance, who declined to be interviewed for Declan’s story. “At this very moment there are companies (big and small) paying good wages to American workers, investing in their communities, and making it easier for American families. Cut their taxes. No more subsidies to the anti-American business class.”
Rep. Peter Meijer, a freshman Republican from Michigan, grew animated when presented with Vance’s comments. “How is that conservative? Where is there a fidelity to an underlying set of beliefs or principles other than just taking cues from the left and being inherently reactive?” he scoffed. “If you’re using the government to compel something you like, you’re setting the precedent for the government to be compelling something you don’t like. And the non-hypocritical approach is to just not have the government be a coercive entity towards those ends.”
Meijer agreed that Republicans have work to do on this issue, but not necessarily in statehouses or the Capitol. “The Overton window has kind of shifted to where the narrative that ‘Republicans are evil’ is not just unquestioned in many elements on the left, but in corporate America, too. And to me the broader challenge is how do we regain that credibility,” he said. “We’ve lost some credibility to be viewed as serious participants in larger cultural clashes. And if all we’re doing is talking to a Newsmax and OANN crowd, we’re not flexing those persuasive muscles to be able to win over voters in the center.
I have been consistently impressed by Peter Meijer so far a worthy successor to Justin Amash (and that’s saying a lot), while J.D. Vance sinks ever-lower in my estimation (he started mildly positive, because of Hillbilly Elegy). If the Republicans can come up with any effective, popular, constitutional legislation on cancel culture, you literally can knock me over with a feather I will be astonished.
Certified bleak — in a hopeful sort of way
We take it as our great privilege to enter an age wherein no stone remains on another. There is much to be gained amidst the dark ruins of a shattered word: Brokenness and desolation, so hopeless in the eyes of some, are invisibly pregnant with promise in the eyes of others. As we kick the opiate of material comforts, exit the temple of broken idols, and come to acknowledge that our culture is one of loud and benumbing noise, we finally stand on the threshold of encountering Truth. If one is not seduced back to numbness by the influence of contemporary life, this threshold positions one to apprehend truly (and even transcend almost completely) our dying world’s scaffolding – its logic, appearances, gross phenomena – and come to know by experience the spiritual, otherworldly life. Thus, when one loses all that is of apparent worth and modern society’s ugly face is unmasked, a search for the new, authentic life begins.
[D]espite the happy talk in front of the cameras, some members of the conference say behind closed doors that ’s chokehold over the conference is poisoning the GOP from within. “ talked a big game about unifying the party so we can win the majority back, and all he’s done is divide the party,” said one House GOP member who did not vote to impeach the former president, and who spoke to The Dispatch anonymously in fear of retribution from House leadership. “And what he’s doing by attacking Republicans who don’t think and act like him is going to ensure that we lose the majority. … The fight is not in here—should not be in here within our conference—it’s out there with people that want to reshape our nation into socialist countries. In order to get the majority back, we have to win blue districts, we have to win purple seats.”
[I]f I were a Republican, I’d be terrified by the incoherence of the response. Yes, Tim Scott is appealing and effectively disarms the white supremacist image the GOP has become associated with (as well it might). But there was no real theme in his speech, no discernible strategy, no credible opposition to massive new spending. You could see what happens when a party becomes a vehicle for a personality cult, provided no platform in its recent convention, and lives off the fumes of cable television’s clown car.
“Any prohibition on menthol and flavored tobacco products promises continued over-criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color,” the American Civil Liberties Union warned last year. “Banning menthol is now pitched as a social justice issue,” Jacob Grier argues in Reason. “But if we take the stated preferences of menthol smokers seriously, the racial politics cut the other way. White smokers would remain free to purchase the unflavored cigarettes that most of them currently consume, while black smokers would be paternalistically forbidden from exercising their own desires and subjected to policing of illicit markets if they try to fulfill them.”
Laws being turned on black people from their intended targets? Nah! Never happened here, never will.
I’ve taken to working on computer mostly in Markdown, including a plugin that downloads web pages as Markdown — which plugin showed me a bit of how to use metadata in Markdown files.
Some publications, I discover, tags their own web pages in metadata. The Wall Street Journal‘s tags are voluminous and essentially useless to me; The Atlantic is a little bit better. But the amusing thing to me is that The Week tags the same commentator, Damon Linker, as conservative or liberal according, I guess, to how the guy (or gal) doing the tagging feels about the treatment of the column’s topic, or even the topic itself.
Another curiosity: nobody tags in a way I can use in Obsidian (no spaces within a tag but only as delimiters) without first editing.
The pandemic provided the perfect opportunity for the Amazon Prime elite. It allowed people to feel virtuous for staying home. Watching Netflix was noble. Being anti-social was virtuous. Ordering DoorDash was saving the world. The pandemic ending takes away that easy virtue.
And people like being able to shame others. Catching people unmasked at the beach, spreading their photos, and talking about how bad that is — well that was a satisfying hobby for many this year. This group doesn’t want to go back to offices. They don’t seem to care if synagogue and church come back. That’s fine — they prefer to live mediated by screens, and they can live that life. But don’t let them force it on you.
There is no virtue in being permanently masked. There is no virtue in demanding zero risk. If there is, we wouldn’t never jump in a swimming pool or get into a car. Get vaccinated, and then get used to wearing hard pants, brushing your hair (and teeth) and meeting friends outside of Zoom.
[M]any millions of Americans spent the  era deeply loyal to  not because of policy arguments or political debate, but in large part because “prophets” told them he was specifically and specially anointed by God for this moment. These Americans were resistant to the election outcome because they were told—again and again—by voices they trusted that God promised  would win.
David French, Making Prophecy Great Again. Unfortunately, French seems to think that "prophetic standards" promulgated by a couple of guys will rein in the "prophetic" charlatans and grifters.
Good luck with that, David. You’ve got roughly the odds placekicker Charlie Brown has of Lucy VanPelt holding the ball properly.
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.