Clippings 1/6/19

1

My admittedly unscientific sample of a dozen Federalists’ personal stories — backed up by political scientists’ more systematic research into the question — suggests that each individual Federalist is akin to an excited synapse in a sprawling hive mind with no one actually in charge.

The society itself lobbies for no policies; it never signs amicus briefs or represents clients in cases. No one at Federalist Society headquarters in Washington dictated Barnett’s moves or told him how to advocate for what positions. It’s just that at a few gatherings made possible by the Federalist Society that Barnett happened to attend, synapses fired, a corner of the hive mind engaged, and Barnett took it from there. Multiply that chemistry tens of thousands of times over the past 36 years and you have the Federalist Society’s true source of power.

David Montgomery, Conquerors of the Courts

2

It’s clear why it’s disturbing that a teenager amputates his penis. It is less clear why it is not disturbing, but in fact a wonderful thing, that a surgeon amputates a healthy teenager’s penis. In the first case, it’s a sign of mental illness; in the second case, it’s “gender confirmation.”

Rod Dreher

3

This is the dumbest publishing platform on the web.

Text.fyi (H/T Alan Jacobs)

4

Trump’s Terrible Record on Property Rights. That a sleazy land developer should think stealing from widows and orphans is a great idea comes as no surprise.

5

“I realize that homosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is,” he said, “but then, of course, heterosexuality is a serious problem for anyone who is, too. And being a man is a serious problem and being a woman is, too. Lots of things are problems.”

Robert Gottlieb, quoting Artist/Illustrator Edward Gorey in a review of Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey. The story caught my attention because of a 1973 photo of Gorey, and I’m glad it did. A very unusual man, whose opening art on Masterpiece Theater I did remember.

6

Love or hate him (or anything in between), no reasonable person can deny that Trump is a textbook example of narcissistic personality disorder. Reading the list of symptoms on the Mayo Clinic’s website is like scrolling through the president’s Twitter: “Require constant, excessive admiration,” “exaggerate achievements and talents,” “be preoccupied with . . . brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate,” “monopolize conversations and belittle . . . people,” “expect special favors and unquestioning compliance,” “have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”

David VonDrehle

7

Auden once wrote, “The same rules apply to self-examination as apply to auricular confession: Be brief, be blunt, be gone. The scrupuland is a nasty specimen.” I would amend that to say that the scrupuland — the overly scrupulous person — is a tired specimen. Nothing is more exhausting than ceaseless self-examination, self-reflection, self-criticism.

Alan Jacobs, Scruples

8

Unitarianism—that urbane form of the Arian heresy that denies the divinity of Christ, the existence of the Holy Spirit, and the need for sacraments and liturgy … A turn-of-the-century, moralistic, therapeutic, Deism, it espoused a rationalistic religion in which Jesus Christ was a good moral teacher and the Christian story provided a robust ethic of good works, good manners, good hygiene, good contacts, and respectability.

Dwight Longenecker, T.S. Eliot’s Magical Journey

My impression of our local Unitarian-Universalist Church, sharpened by weekly rehearsals of éy chamber choir as its guests, is that it has lost much of that cachet, though it is striving to be a welcoming community — universally welcoming, of course.

9

If we are stressed, we can talk ourselves into believing we are relaxed, but our jaw may be tight and our brow heavy. In the same way we sometimes mistake ‘correct doctrine’ for love, and wonder why we feel so angry when our doctrines are attacked. In the image, the little figures are ‘every man’ and ‘every woman’. They are lost in the present moment, and the only government is the beauty of the silent tree around which, with all their hearts, they dance.

Artist/Illustrator Linda Richardson, as part of commentary on an illustration for poet Malcolm Guite’s Waiting for the Word.

10

Conde Nast has tried slipping a morality clause into contract with writers:

granting Condé Nast, the New Yorker’s corporate overlord, “sole authority” to terminate writers’ contracts in the event they become the focus of a social-media mob, “the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals.” The morality clauses are now regular features of writers’ contracts at Condé Nast.

… Two things are almost always misunderstood about these campaigns: One is that the Twitter mobs are mostly camouflage for internal corporate politics — ABC is not making multi-million-dollar programming decisions based on the tweets of Caitlyn the Rage-Monkey on Twitter, but public outcries can provide plausible pretexts to internal plotters. Second, the institutions themselves — corporations, publications, government agencies — are the real target, not the writers or other contributors. The point of the Bret Stephens mob wasn’t to silence Bret Stephens, who has any number of places he can publish that will give him an audience comparable in size and prestige to that of the New York Times; the point of the Bret Stephens mob was for status-anxious and resentful nobodies to get a momentary jolt out of telling the New York Times “Dance, monkey!” and seeing its editors begin to tap their feet and sway.

One wonders what kind of magazine writer is not involved in public disputes, and what use he could be.

Kevin D. Williamson at National Review.

I’m pleased to report that Masha Gessen, who gives Camille Paglia a run for the heterodox money, declined to sign. Look for her soon in pages other than Condé Nasté.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Clippings, 1/4/19

1

A reminder that not all “Evangelical” Trump supporters are merely self-described Evangelicals who do not actually go to church:

You and other white evangelical leaders have strongly supported President Trump. What about him exemplifies Christianity and earns him your support?

What earns him my support is his business acumen. Our country was so deep in debt and so mismanaged by career politicians that we needed someone who was not a career politician, but someone who’d been successful in business to run the country like a business. That’s the reason I supported him.

Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?

No.

That’s the shortest answer we’ve had so far.

Only because I know that he only wants what’s best for this country, and I know anything he does, it may not be ideologically “conservative,” but it’s going to be what’s best for this country, and I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.

Washington Post interview with Jerry Fallwell Jr..

Don’t lose sight of the credulity amidst that idolatry. Jerry Fallwell Jr. actually believes that Trump is a successful businessman, not conman and tax fraudster who played a successful businessman on Reality TV.

I bow deeply to young, über-progressive Godbeat reporter Elizabeth Breunig for her synopsis:

Jerry Falwell Jr. is once again spreading his uniquely modern, American version of a business philosophy roughly based on the religion known as Christianity.

He seems … to have been reasoning backward, trying to explain in Christian terms why he holds the conclusions he does, rather than beginning from the religion and following it to its own conclusions ….

Breunig is not doing the usual cherry picking of progressive or secularist “clobber passages.” She reminds me instead of the conservative American Christian who went to Europe, found people who shared his religious convictions, but was stunned to find that they considered themselves socialists.

2

[T]he problem is the emergence, over the course of a century, of a fourth branch of government neither conceived by nor desired by the framers of the Constitution: a network of administrative agencies that combine legislative, executive and judicial powers and therefore threaten the integrity of the constitutional framework and the basic rights of the American people …

But conservatives often misdiagnose the process by which the administrative state has arisen. We emphasize the hyperactivity of the executive and judicial branches, and these are certainly part of the problem. But hiding in plain sight is a deeper cause: the willful underactivity of the legislative branch. In an effort to avoid hard choices and shirk responsibility, Congress enacts vague statutes that express broad goals, empower executive agencies to fill in the practical details, and leave courts to clean up the ensuing mess. The result can look like executive overreach and judicial activism, but the root of the problem is legislative dereliction.

Yuval Levin, reviewing Judicial Fortitude by Peter Wallison.

Exactly. Thank you.

More:

[A] certain kind of judicial activism is actually a necessary precondition to judicial restraint and to any form of originalism: Judges must make sure that each branch of government does no more but also no less than the job the Constitution assigns it. “If Congress were permitted to delegate its exclusive legislative authority to the administrative agencies in the executive branch,” he writes, “the separation of powers would be a nullity and the dangers to liberty envisioned by the Framers could become a reality.” To avoid that, judges must insist that Congress engage in actual legislating by preventing it from handing over its power to regulatory agencies.

I very much like this idea. I’m tempted to buy the book to see how Wallison elaborates on “statutes that express broad goals, [and] empower executive agencies to fill in the practical details.” Is it just laziness, or is it fear of dark money ads ominously saying that “Congressman Schmoe voted against the Apple Pie, Motherhood and the Flag Act.”

3

I haven’t kept a scorecard, but I’ve been watching Kamala Harris since her days as California Attorney General, and she is toxic and hostile to people like me. Her treatment of Catholic judicial nominee Brian Buescher is not an uncharacteristic break in a record of tolerance, but just another mark of her progressive totalitarianism, her intent to use the levers of government to silence religious conservatives.

She is a very dangerous woman. And she’s generating a lot of buzz as the 2020 Democrat Presidential nominee.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Miscellany

1

Headlines of 2019: Let’s Get It Over With (Christopher Buckley)

2

There are now over a dozen investigations into Trump’s various scandals. If we lived in a healthy society, the ensuing indictments would be handled in a serious way — somber congressional hearings, dispassionate court proceedings. Everybody would step back and be sobered by the fact that our very system of law is at stake.

But we don’t live in a healthy society and we don’t have a healthy president.

Trump doesn’t recognize, understand or respect institutional authority. He only understands personal power. He sees every conflict as a personal conflict in which he destroys or gets destroyed.

When the indictments come down, Trump won’t play by the rules. He’ll seek to delegitimize those rules. He’ll seek to delegitimize our legal institutions. He’ll personalize every indictment, slander every prosecutor. He’ll seek to destroy the edifice of law in order to save himself.

We know the language he’ll use. It will be the anti-establishment, anti-institutional language that has been coursing through the left and right for the past few decades: The establishment is corrupt, the game is rigged, the elites are out to get you.

At that point congressional leaders will face the defining choice of their careers: Where does their ultimate loyalty lie, to the Constitution or to their party?

David Brooks

3

The era of limited government is emphatically over in the only political party where it once had some appeal. The GOP’s nonnegotiable demand is now a monumental public works project … A proposal that may eventually cost $40 billion (in an estimate by MIT engineers) has been shaped more by the president’s political instincts than by serious study of alternatives. Agents in the field overwhelmingly request better technology and more personnel rather than longer and higher border barriers.

Michael Gerson. Make that “a massive public works project with an East German vibe.”

4

(Trigger warning: This is from Garrison Keillor, on whom I have not given up as a writer. Your mileage may vary.)

As inauguration approached, a story went around about Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room performing (alleged) bodily functions on his person as recorded by (so it was said) the KGB, all of which was leaked to the media, and suddenly people were passing puns like water and referring to the Republican potty — the story made a big splash, very amusing to an Episcopalian like me. Apparently, if you’re in Moscow, it’s not like Peoria. Scantily clad girls kneel over you, doing their business, saying: “You’re not just a man, you’re a nation.”

At a news conference, the Man denied all, of course, standing at a podium the size of a urinal with the sign “Office of the President Elect” on it. President-elect is not an office; it is a person waiting to take office. The sign belongs in the Smithsonian along with Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help 5¢.” He looked as if he still couldn’t quite believe that he was Number One.

Garrison Keillor

5

Goodness knows I have a confirmation bias for lurid stories about Evangelicals, but this seems pretty over-the-top.

“Get ready to king in our future lives,” he tells his followers. “Christian believers will — soon, I hope — become the consummate, perfect governing authorities!”

Ralph Drollinger, Trump White House spiritual insider, quoted in an uneven-quality article by Katherine Stewart. I’m unclear on whether this quote is prophecy porn or anticipates temporal power in the current “dispensation.”

More:

I have attended dozens of Christian nationalist conferences and events over the past two years. And while I have heard plenty of comments casting doubt on the more questionable aspects of Mr. Trump’s character, the gist of the proceedings almost always comes down to the belief that he is a miracle sent straight from heaven to bring the nation back to the Lord. I have also learned that resistance to Mr. Trump is tantamount to resistance to God.

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.

They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

I would fault Ms. Stewart for a deficit of Christian charity, but:

  • I don’t know if she purports to be Christian.
  • I’m far less than 100% certain that she’s exaggerating.
  • I don’t know whether these personnages are mainstream or fringe, so far is Evangelicalism behind me.
  • I have heard Evangelicals say that resistance to (Republican) presidents is resistance to God since Richard Nixon.
  • I have an old Evangelical friend who told me angrily in email in 2016 that Trump was the finest candidate she’d ever had the privilege of voting for (and she had been voting since Nixon). She also used the King Cyrus trope.

That’s Evangelicalism that’s behind me, note well; I am still Christian and deny the equation of Evangelical therewith.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

How big is Trump’s amygdala?

It has been a long time since I tried to write a book review, and I’m not sure I ever really knew how.

New Year’s Eve’s eve, I undertook to read Frank Buckley’s The Republican Workers Party, which my son thoughtfully bought for me, intuiting that I might like it because it was my wish list.

Clever lad. Good amygdala.

I wanted to read it because Buckley (no known relation to William F.) is a smart guy, not an elected hack, and I thought I might gain more insight into how Trump got elected, and why “it was just what we needed,” as the subtitle has it.

I finished it the next day, mission accomplished.

The book struck me as uneven, and as mostly a platform for Buckley to advance his pet theories, with Trump as a convenient if implausible icon of his impending triumph.

Nevertheless, I was impressed by a couple of what I considered key insights:

First, what everyone knows but tends to forget as Trump makes his own oafishness so prominent: Trump was not Hillary Clinton.

I thought that Hillary Clinton was vastly more mean-spirited and less principled than Obama, and more vindictive than Richard Nixon; that as president she would happily use all the tools at her disposal to silence dissent, and that the progressive media would cheer her on as she did so.

Page 10. That is exactly right. Had my state been in play, I feared I would need to vote for the corrupt but stable Hillary, with exactly such consequences when she won (as she surely would, right?).

The social conservative awakening that helped elect Trump came when voters realize that the liberal agenda amounted to something more than a shield to protect sexual minorities. It was also a sword to be used against social conservatives. The trump voters might have grumbled about the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell decision that recognized the right to same-sex marriage. But that didn’t pick anyone’s pocket and no great political protest followed. It was a different story when homosexual activists employed there newly one right to put religious believers out of business.

Page 57 (italics added). Here, I hope he’s right. We could really use a backlash in this area, and Hillary would have resisted that backlash.

In our culture wars, in Hillary’s condemnation of the deplorables, the religious voter experience to reverse Sally Fields moment: “You dislike me! You really dislike me!“

Page 58. Again, pitch perfect. I took some solace in the perception after the election that at least Trump did not hate people like me, and that he had enough supporters of a sort for which he likely would mistake me, that I would remain Not A Target in a Trump regime. So far, so good on that.

While Hillary Clinton ignored Catholics, Trump went out of his way to court them. It didn’t happen overnight. Early in the campaign he picked a stupid quarrel with Pope Francis. But by the end he was persuaded to grant a lengthy interview to the Catholic EWTN television network and to tweet his happiness at the canonization of mother Theresa. The mainstream media didn’t notice any of this, but Catholics dead. They were seven-plus for Trump, and white Catholics were +23 for him, providing him with the winning margin in the crucial rust belt states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. And that was the election.

Add a dinner party, I told all this to a New York Times reporter. “What’s EWTN?” he asked me.

Page 59. Insularity is not a flyover country exclusive. Or as Jonathan Haidt has noted, conservatives grok liberals better than vice-versa.

Second, social immobility has become a real problem. Chapter 6, Where Did the Dream Go?, focuses on our loss of social mobility in the United States, both absolute and relative to other nations. Canada vastly outstrips us in social mobility, and people will suffer a lot of deprivation stoically until they think their children will have it no better.

Immobility matters more to us than inequality. Only three things will last to the end of time, God‘s promise to Abraham; the Church; and the selfish gene.

P 44. Very nice line.

The American dream isn’t dead; it just migrated to Canada, and the other countries that are more mobile than us. In what we wrongly take to be the land of opportunity, a bicoastal aristocracy, smug, self congratulatory and disdainful of the Trump deplorables in the heartland, has cleaved itself off. Because of this we are living in what Marxists call an objectively revolutionary society.

Page 45. This is a severe problem, even if putative billionaire Trump, who got his money by a mixture of gift, inheritance and tax fraud, is a dubious avatar of renewed social mobility.

Third, in chapter 8, Nationalism, the author compares the Republican Workers Party to the Christian Democrats of Europe. If I could buy that, it could be very welcome news, and I sort of half buy it.

Before you laugh derisively, remember that he’s describing the Republican Workers Party, not your father’s Republican party, and that we’re in the midst of a big political realignment. Allow me—a notional member (my state doesn’t register party affiliation) of the American Solidarity Party, which is pretty explicitly Christian Democrat—at least to be hopeful.

On nationalism versus “white nationalism,” a nice quip at page 68:

There isn’t much room for white nationalism in American culture. For alongside baseball and apple pie, it includes Langston Hughes and Amy Tan, Tex-Mex food and Norah Jones. You can be an American if you don’t enjoy them, but you might be a wee bit more American if you do.

Fourth, Chapter 9, How to Bring Back Our Mojo, includes an discussion of the importance of school choice, which Trump supposedly made central to his campaign. I don’t recall that and I haven’t seen Betsy DeVos do anything about it.

There will be many roadblocks and lawsuits if DeVos tries to reform primary and secondary education, and I’m not sure how well we (as opposed to nations who’ve long enjoyed school choice) would execute school choice after having a substantial monopoly by government schools for so long.

But the educational statistics are horrible. Let’s just say that America is #1 only in unearned self-esteem, and in the teens or lower far too often. And the excuses are lamer than Buckley at his lamest.

Speaking of which, Chapter 9 is also one of Buckley’s most deeply uncharitable chapters, imputing to the New Class (his derisive term) all kinds of nasty, self-serving motives, reminding me of the John Birchers who thought that every misstep was ipso facto part of a conscious Communist conspiracy. He makes many solid points about educational choice and about the folly of our immigration laws, but to me they were sullied by those sleazy and demagogic imputations.

Shame on him. The points could have stood without creepy theories about his ideological adversaries, and probably would have been more forceful.

Fifth, Chapter 11, Draining the Swamp, includes a proposal for a truly radical slashing away at regulations, through appointment of a Commission to eliminate duplicate or anti-competitive regulations, cutting the Code of Federal Regulations by something more than 50% (I think it was closer to 90%). He cites a Napoleonic project along those lines.

Though this vastly ambitious idea has some appeal, I don’t trust any administration to do it without checks, even if the APA itself might be too cumbersome a check. Verdict: not remotely ready for Prime Time.

Chapter 11 also includes the author’s most disingenuous point, among several, that taxing large college endowments “would serve to focus them on their educational mission.” Surely he knows better, and after his book went to press, it emerged that this proposal, now enacted, will cause collateral damage to religious friends of the administration. Insofar as they supported the tax as a way to punish liberal educational foundations, I’m feelin’ the schadenfreude burn.

Buckley is not entirely unaware of Trump’s shortcomings, and takes at least token notice of a few:

At the White House, we’ve been treated to a succession of feckless amateurs, flaming egomaniacs and shady hustlers.

Page 4.

Every time things have turned his way, Trump has made an equal and opposite gaffe. Firmness and prudence, energy and tact, were not given to him in equal measure, and the man who wrote The Art of the Deal now finds himself obliged to deal with people who can scarcely hide their contempt for him.

Page 4.

In the passage that I thought was most counterproductive to the author’s aims, he discusses a theory that the amygdala correlates to empathy. He seems to assume that Donald Trump is empathetic, but he left me wondering:

  • How big is Trump’s amygdala?
  • What’s his cunning/empathy ratio?

At its worst, which worst spanned several chapters, Buckley’s “argument” reminded me of the opening anecdote in Tucker Carlson‘s early Politico piece about Trump:

About 15 years ago, I said something nasty on CNN about Donald Trump’s hair. I can’t now remember the context, assuming there was one.

In any case, Trump saw it and left a message the next day. “It’s true you have better hair than I do,” Trump said matter-of-factly. “But I get more pussy than you do.” Click.

At the time, I’d never met Trump and I remember feeling amused but also surprised he’d say something like that. Now the pattern seems entirely familiar. The message had all the hallmarks of a Trump attack: shocking, vulgar and indisputably true.

Trump’s response wasn’t much beneath Carlson’s original snarky remark. But “We won, so suck it up” (i.e., “I get more pussy than you do”), even if tacit, really isn’t really an satisfactory response to many (or most) of the criticisms of Trump.

Yet that was Buckley’s tone, I thought, as he made a number of implausible and pro forma arguments about how Trump does this or intends that. See, for instance, “amygdala,” above.

Verdict: Worth reading, especially if you are still baffled and disoriented about how Trump could happen, but keep your critical thinking at about Defcon 2.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

The Vincentian Canon

I long ago committed to memory — in Latin, no less — quod semper, quod ubique, et quod ab omnibus creditum est. I also made sure I knew the English meaning, since I don’t speak Latin (and nobody has set that to music so could sing it).

I probably was introduced to it by C.S. Lewis, but just learned today that this distillation leaves out an important premise: the scopes of semper, ubique, and omnibus.

The noble intention of C.S. Lewis’s famous book Mere Christianity was to defend not this sect or that sect, but rather those teachings which had been held by almost all Christians in almost all times and places.

Though Lewis himself proceeded differently, the idea itself goes back to a criterion of orthodoxy proposed by St. Vincent of Lerins in his famous Commonitory. Here are St. Vincent’s own words:

“I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity; and I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or anyone else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

“But here someone perhaps will ask, ”Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?” For this reason — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

“Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.”

J. Budziszewski (emphasis shifted).

“Catholic,” of course, does not exclude Orthodox in this context. St. Vincent was born more than 600 years before the Great Schism, and is venerated by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican alike. He was untainted by the Reformation solas, but tacitly allows (in theory) much of the premises of sola scriptura:

… the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything …

But then he takes back with his reality hand what he’d given with his theoretical hand:

… owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.

Surely this is an undeniable empirical fact, is it not? I don’t want to bear false witness, but I’m pretty sure that more than 10,000 denominations have been counted, and I frequently hear multiples of that number. Luther had barely put his hammer away after his visit to the Wittenburg Door when he was forced to fight against Anabaptists, and the beat goes on, and on, and on.

That being so, the Protestant notion of perspicacity of scripture seems empirically false. The only alternative to that, I think, is that hundreds of millions are interpreting the perspicacious scriptures in bad faith. It really is necessary to read “in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.”

Moreover, the tacit principle of antiquity absolves me for disbelieving Roman Catholic innovations since the Great Schism, conventionally dated 1054 — which innovations particularly multiplied in the 19th Century (for reasons I may some day apprehend; I’m assuming it arose from something putting particular pressure on the Roman Church).

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Countless unseen worshipers …

I was walking along Buckingham Palace Road, close to Victoria Station in central London, when I passed a nineteenth-century Gothic church, large and somewhat dilapidated, that I had never noticed before. There was no proper notice-board outside it — public relations have never been the strong point of Orthodoxy in the Western world! — but I recall that there was a brass plate which simply said “Russian Church.”As I entered St Philip’s — for that was the name of the church — at first I thought that it was entirely empty. Outside in the street there had been brilliant sunshine, but inside it was cool, cavernous and dark. As my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, the first thing that caught my attention was an absence. There were no pews, no chairs in neat rows; in front of me stretched a wide and vacant expanse of polished floor.Then I realized that the church was not altogether empty. Scattered in the nave and aisles there were a few worshipers, most of them elderly. Along the walls there were icons, with flickering lamps in front of them, and at the east end there were burning candles in front of the icon screen. Somewhere out of sight a choir was singing. After a while a deacon came out from the sanctuary and went round the church censing the icons and the people, and I noticed that his brocade vestment was old and slightly torn. My initial impression of an absence was now replaced, with a sudden rush, by an overwhelming sense of presence. I felt that the church, so far from being empty, was full — full of countless unseen worshipers, surrounding me on every side. Intuitively I realized that we, the visible congregation, were part of a much larger whole, and that as we prayed we were being taken up into an action far greater than ourselves, into an undivided, all-embracing celebration that united time and eternity, things below with things above….

… Before the service had ended, I left the church; and as I emerged I was struck by two things. First, I found that I had no idea how long I had been inside. It might have been only twenty minutes, it might have been two hours; I could not say. I had been existing on a level at which clock-time was unimportant. Secondly, as I stepped out on the pavement the roar of the London traffic engulfed me all at once like a huge wave. The sound must have been audible within the church, but I had not noticed it. I had been in another world where time and traffic had no meaning; a world that was more real — I would almost say more solid — than that of twentieth-century London to which I now abruptly returned.

Everything at the Vigil Service was in Slavonic, and so with my conscious brain I could understand not a single word. Yet, as I left the church, I said to myself with a clear sense of conviction: This is where I belong; I have come home. Sometimes it happens — is it not curious? — that, before we have learnt anything in detail about a person, place or subject, we know with certainty: This is the person that I shall love, this is the place where I need to go, this is the subject that, above all others, I must spend my life exploring. From the moment of attending that service at St Philip’s, Buckingham Palace Road, I felt deep in my heart that I was marked out for the Orthodox Church.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware via Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Doors of the Heart.

Merry Christmas!

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Sunday Potpourri, 12/23/18

1

Faith is not the supposition that something might be true, but the assurance that someone is there.

Bishop Kallistos Ware

2

“Unless you like stats / just skip the begats,” wrote Jeanne and William Steig in their “Old Testament Made Easy.” But before he gets to the angels and the wise men Matthew gives us 39 of them, from the famous names (“Abraham begat Isaac … David begat Solomon”) to the rather more esoteric, like Jechoniah, the father of Shealtiel.

If you only know the Bible vaguely, this litany of names probably sounds a bit pompous, an attempt to elevate the infant Jesus by linking him to great patriarchs and noble kings. But the truth is roughly the opposite: The more you know about Genesis or Chronicles or Kings, the more remarkable it is that Matthew announced the birth of the son of God by linking him to a pack of egregious sinners.

The case for remaining Catholic in this moment, then, is basically that all this has happened before and will happen again — in what G.K. Chesterton once called the “five deaths of the faith,” the moments across two thousand years when every human probability pointed to the church of Rome passing into history, becoming one with Nineveh and Tyre.

For American Catholics at least, this era feels understandably like another death — in which the saints seem hidden, the would-be prophets don’t agree with one another, the reformers keep losing. And it is all-too-understandable that people would choose to leave a dying church.

But it is the season’s promise, and in the long run its testable hypothesis, that those who stay and pray and fight will see it improbably reborn.

Ross Douthat. Our homily this morning, in my Orthodox parish, similarly was on the disreputable ancestors of Christ, the source of His humanity.

But to appropriate those prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, deceivers and such to support “all this has happened before and will happen again” seems unlikely to assuage the doubts of those for whom Rome’s claim to be the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church have become simply implausible.

3

The Defiance of Mariah’s Lambs: Maria Carey means Christmas to most of us, and much more to some of us.

Rich Juzwiak at the New York Times.

“Maria Carey means Christmas to most of us”? Seriously?

4

Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France, crowned himself emperor, defeated four European coalitions against him, invaded Russia, lost, was defeated and exiled, returned, and was defeated and exiled a second time, all in less time than the United States has spent trying to turn Afghanistan into a stable country.

Tucker Carlson in the January-February American Conservative

5

I would give myself too much credit were I to imply that my early opposition to our national policy of endless war (which just might possibly be coming to an end) was born of my own insight, but it’s remarkable how uniformly bereft of such opposition are the major newspapers of the nation.

For sanity on war policy (let’s stop calling it the Department of Defense while we’re at it), one must look to the cranky opinion journals and blogs of the disreputable Left and the Right.

That they are disreputable shows the negligible value of reputation.

6

All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.

Dr. John Arbuthnot, quoted by Aram Bakshian Jr. in the January-February American Conservative

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri, 12/22/18

1

Senate Unanimously Passes Bill Making Lynching a Federal Crime” says the headline. A photo caption describes the pressing need:

“More than 4,700 people were lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968, according to one estimate, and over 70 percent of the victims were black.”

Am I wrong to think “A day late, a dollar short”? Tell me more:

“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror,” Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “Today, we have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”

Okay. I had been lying awake at night worried that people weren’t recognizing that lynching is a stain on our country’s history. But then I’m WEIRD.

That addition is largely symbolic, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Yeah, I had kind of figured that out.

Frank Pezzella, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the bill’s passage also carries a message of deterrence …

So, while they’re at it, could they please pass a law deterring elephants from invading my living room?

“It was taken for granted in the South that whites could use force against any African-Americans who became overbearing,” he said. “How do we connect that with hate crimes in the present? Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place.”

“Hate offenders really want to kind of go back to that place”? Seriously? That‘s how we connect an evil history to this present virtue signalling? Well, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, I guess. Will we pass a law against the Senate’s own progressive McCarthyism in 2068?

Just about the only thing they got right was a definition of “lynching” that limits it to killing someone because of their race or religion, which at least arguably brings it into the legitimate constitutional powers of the national government.

But note that it was unanimous. I must be missing something about the pressing need for banning lynching as a government shutdown loomed.

2

Jerry Taylor, of the relatively new Niskanen Center:

Reason, as David Hume famously noted, is a slave of the passions, and libertarian passions point in one direction and one direction only: hostility to government. This passion is a powerful engine of motivated cognition, which invariably leads to weak policy analysis and dogmatism.

That was not at the top of my list of reasons for keeping libertarianism at arms’ length, but it’s a valid point. More:

  • Wherever we look around the world, when we see inconsequential governments with limited power, as libertarians would prefer, we see “failed states.” How much liberty and human dignity can be found there? Very little.
  • [A]ll libertarians agree that there are exceptions to their ethically-driven opposition to the use of government coercion and force. If there were not, there would be no libertarians; there would only be anarchists. But what are the scale and scope of those exceptions?
  • Factionalism within the libertarian world is rife and irresolvable because the principles themselves say less than you might think about what public policy ought to be (a point made with great force by my colleague Will Wilkinson).
  • Without some means of sorting through the reams of information coming at us every day, we would be overwhelmed and incapable of considered thought or action … Yet any set of beliefs, if they are coherent, are the wet clay of ideology. Hence, the best we can do is to police our inner ideologue with a studied, skeptical outlook, a mindful appreciation of our own fallibility, and an open, inquisitive mind.

3

Unable to make the case for his own virtues, Trump must aver that his vices are commonplace and inconsequential … When all this evidence is stitched together in a narrative — as Mueller’s report will certainly do — the sum will be greater than the sleaze of its parts. Russian intelligence officials invested in an innovative strategy to support the election of a corrupt U.S. businessman with suspicious ties to Russian oligarchs. The candidate and his campaign welcomed that intervention in public and private. And the whole scheme seems to have paid off for both sides … The United States seems to have gone from zero to banana republic in no seconds flat. But whether this transformation has been illegal, it must be impeachable — or else impeachment has no meaning.

Michael Gerson

4

In fact, over the years, as the locations for duels became more picturesque and the pistols more finely manufactured, the best-bred men proved willing to defend their honor over lesser and lesser offenses. So while dueling may have begun as a response to high crimes—to treachery, treason, and adultery—by 1900 it had tiptoed down the stairs of reason, until they were being fought over the tilt of a hat, the duration of a glance, or the placement of a comma.

In the old and well-established code of dueling, it is understood that the number of paces the offender and offended take before shooting should be in inverse proportion to the magnitude of the insult. That is, the most reprehensible affront should be resolved by a duel of the fewest paces, to ensure that one of the two men will not leave the field of honor alive. Well, if that was the case, concluded the Count, then in the new era, the duels should have been fought at no less than ten thousand paces. In fact, having thrown down the gauntlet, appointed seconds, and chosen weapons, the offender should board a steamer bound for America as the offended boards another for Japan where, upon arrival, the two men could don their finest coats, descend their gangplanks, turn on the docks, and fire.

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow, Kindle locations 750-53.

5

Planned Parenthood Is Accused of Mistreating Pregnant Employees, says the headline.

In interviews and legal documents, women at Planned Parenthood and other organizations with a feminist bent described discrimination that violated federal or state laws — managers considering pregnancy in hiring decisions, for example, or denying rest breaks recommended by a doctor.

In other cases, the bias was more subtle. Many women said they were afraid to announce a pregnancy at work, sensing they would be seen as abandoning their colleagues.

Some of those employers saw accommodating expecting mothers as expensive and inconvenient. Others were unsympathetic to workers seeking special treatment.

At Mehri & Skalet, a progressive law firm suing Walmart for pregnancy discrimination, three lawyers have accused a founding partner, Cyrus Mehri, of mistreatment. Heidi Burakiewicz said Mr. Mehri pressured her to return early from maternity leave. Sandi Farrell was told to participate in a performance review during her leave, and when she asked to postpone it she was fired. Taryn Wilgus Null said Mr. Mehri questioned her child care arrangements in a performance review after she returned from leave.

And at Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive services, managers in some locations declined to hire pregnant job candidates, refused requests by expecting mothers to take breaks and in some cases pushed them out of their jobs after they gave birth, according to current and former employees in California, Texas, North Carolina and New York.

My antipathy toward Planned Parenthood is probably in the middle of the pro-life pack, but I’ll just let the story speak for itself, pausing only to congratulate the New York Times, which has zero antipathy toward PP, for reporting it.

6

In an even marginally sane world, the fact that a nation’s armed forces are engaged in daily military violence would be cause for shock and alarm, and pulling those forces out of that situation would be viewed as a return to normalcy. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite. In an even marginally sane world, congressional oversight would be required to send the US military to invade countries and commit acts of war, because that act, not withdrawing them, is what’s abnormal. Instead we are seeing the exact opposite.

Caitlin Johnstone

7

 

Though I’m now a retired attorney, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever serve on a jury, partly because one of the two contending attorneys won’t want someone highly skeptical of bloodstain analysis and other pseudo-scientific tricks of the sophists’ trade.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri, Solstice 2018

1

Recent budgets show that the federal government spends around $160 billion in loans, tax credits, and grants that help pay for college—the province of the top third of ­society—while allocating $20 billion for vocational and job training. The supposedly progressive idea of “free college for all” is a give-away to that top third of society. This epitomizes our problem. Andrew Carnegie built libraries in small towns throughout the country. Today’s billionaires shovel their wealth into colleges and universities that serve those at the top. Whether measured in moral prestige, cultural status, or economic rewards, over the last two generations there has been a perverse fulfillment of Jesus’s words: To them that have, more shall be given.

A few years ago, I reviewed Our Kids, Robert Putnam’s book about the fraying social contract in America (“Success Is Not Dignity,” May 2015). I noted that our ruling class fixates on upward mobility, as if the deepest problem in our society is that a few super-talented kids from difficult backgrounds are being denied opportunities to go to places like Harvard ….

R.R. Reno This is a very good “Public Square” contribution, which should be free of the paywall at least by January 20 or so.

Bit by bit I’m starting to understand how we wound up with President Donald J. Trump, and how I’m so much a part of that top third that it’s hard, in this political way, to relate to those who aren’t.

2

More:

Diversity is a shibboleth that shifts attention from the substantive question of whether our elites serve the nation’s interests to the cosmetic question of whether or not the rich and powerful “look like America.”

R.R. Reno. Chew on that one a while.

3

They know better:

Highly paid software engineers and tech executives aren’t stupid. Although they may not have read Patricia Snow’s profound analysis of the spiritual damage done by our addiction to smart phones (“Look At Me,” May 2016), they know that what they’re delivering to the world is harmful. For the last thirty years, educators have foolishly pressed for computers in classrooms and laptops or tablets for all children. Techno-activists call for high-speed Internet access for everyone. Meanwhile, those captaining the technology juggernaut send their kids to expensive private schools that have “no screen” policies. In Silicon Valley, it’s common for the rich to have nannies sign “no screen” clauses in their employment contracts. This is meant to prevent them from using their phones in front of the kids. Chamath Palihapitiya made hundreds of ­millions of dollars as an early Facebook executive. He has imposed a “no screen time whatsoever” rule on his three children, ages six through ten. By the way, Facebook recently launched the Messenger Kids app to increase usage by children.

R.R. Reno.

4

Heather Mac Donald has been an indispensable voice of sanity in the frenzied debates about sex on campus. She recently commented on the hysterical reaction of feminist organizations to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s revisions of the Obama-era rule for campus tribunals adjudicating charges of rape and sexual abuse (“Feminists’ Undue Process”). The new guidelines tilt in the direction of a stronger commitment to due process. Mac Donald notes that a fierce regulatory approach to sex among college students is not at odds with sexual liberation. It is in fact a predictable concomitant.

The solution to what is called campus rape is a change of culture from one of entitled promiscuity to one of personal responsibility. In the absence of such norms as prudence, restraint, and respect, the bureaucracy, extending all the way up to the federal government, has happily rushed in to fill the void. The weirdest aspect of the campus sex scene is this bureaucratization of coitus, which once nominally rebellious students now self-righteously demand.

Mac Donald describes what Alexis de Tocqueville feared might become the trajectory of the democratic age. Shorn of traditional cultural norms, atomized men and women are unable to organize their lives in sustainable ways. In their vulnerability, they beg for interventions by “an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.”

R.R. Reno

5

In the United States, for example, some 40 percent of children are today born outside of marriage. The overall fertility rate has fallen to 1.76 children per woman. American children for the most part receive twelve years of public schooling that is scrubbed clean of God and Scripture. And it is now possible to lose one’s livelihood or even to be prosecuted for maintaining traditional Christian or Jewish views on various subjects.

Add to this the fact that the principal project of European and American political elites for decades now has been the establishment of a “liberal international order” whose aim is to export American norms and values to other nations, and you have a stunning picture of what the United States has become—a picture that in certain respects resembles that of Napoleonic France: an ideologically anti-religious, anti-traditionalist universalist power seeking to bring its version of the Enlightenment to the nations of the world, if necessary by force.

Yoram Hazony, Conservative Democracy (emphasis added)

6

[T]he essential fact of Russian tinkering with 2016 is that it represents an attempt to undermine democracy by manipulating and subverting what voters think about their choices. Russia, of course, had no right to engage in that kind of subterfuge — and neither does anyone else. Unfortunately, U.S. elections are already rife with similar efforts made on behalf of powerful domestic interests with their own hostility toward fair and free democracy.

… [I]t’s important to see Russia’s electoral tampering as part of a broader landscape of American democracy in decline — one that won’t be solved even if every member of the Trump campaign eventually winds up in a prison cell. American elections haven’t been fair for a very long time. Now is as good a time as any to start trying to reverse that.

Elizabeth Breunig. I’m not quite sure how we start trying to reverse Citizens United, the focus of Breunig’s wrath, but I’ve got a soft spot for the young lefty, and we, from Donald Trump to Elizabeth Warren, do seem to have a lot of distrust of the system.

7

The underlying story isn’t brand new, but it’s my favorite recent news (in the sense that ya’ gotta laugh or you’ll cry) from the gang that couldn’t shoot straight:

“Twitter allowed someone to invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message,” an alarmed Giuliani tweeted a few weeks ago, calling Twitter “card-carrying anti-Trumpers.” In fact, Giuliani had accidentally sabotaged his own tweet with a punctuation error — “G-20.In” — that automatically created a hyperlink to an Indian Web address. A clever observer quickly bought the domain and created a page that said “Donald Trump is a traitor.” Giuliani’s errant accusation was all the funnier because he’s also Trump’s “cybersecurity adviser.”

I had the fairly strong impression that Giuliani was quite a good mayor of New York City, but do not underestimate The Peter Principle.

G-20.in now has a list of links to anti-Trump news since Giuliani’s original SNAFU.

8

Syria is not a “gift” that can be “given” to Putin, despite the blinkered American political climate which places everything in that asinine context. It’s a country over which the United States has no legal authority, and never did, despite years of casualties and billions spent

Michael Tracey

9

I am an adjunct Lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). I’m an expert in clinical epidemiology, particularly in systematic review methods, epidemiologic bias and evidence quality assessment. As a researcher at UCSF, I managed the Cochrane HIV/AIDS Group for over a decade and on several occasions served as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) in their HIV guideline development processes.

For about 13 years, I also masqueraded “as a woman,” taking medical measures which suggest, shall we say, that I was completely committed to that lifestyle. Most men would have recoiled from this, but in my estrogen-drug-soaked stupor it seemed like a good idea. In 2013 I stopped taking estrogen for health reasons and very rapidly came back to my senses. I ceased all effort to convey the impression that I was a woman and carried on with life.

As you may imagine, I have a lot of anger at transgenderism and its enablers, as well as an “inward bruise” (as Melville called it). I am not a happy camper. I have been badly harmed ….

Hacsi Horváth, The Theatre of the Body: A detransitioned epidemiologist examines suicidality, affirmation, and transgender identity. This is a long piece, and I’ll admit finding it too depressingly familiar to read in full.

10

OMG! If Trump has lost Ann Coulter, then he’s lost … er, I dunno. Something.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Rediscovering imaginary Mary

It’s Advent, drawing nigh to Christmas, so religion writers turn in desperation for new angles, giving this fan of the old angles an occasional case of the heebie-jeebies.

For instance, there’s something weird and a little creepy about Evangelicals trying to turn the Theotokos into some kind of Che Guevara figure when they stumble onto the continuation of the Magnificat after the first lines they’ve known. Here and here are examples. I first encountered both within the last 24 hours.

Fifty years ago, that sort of thing was scorned by Evangelicals as Liberation Theology, so I guess Evangelicals are on roughly their usual time-lag for adopting fads, turning Mary into a revolutionaryvehicle for Jesus,” on a long Uber drive from Heaven to Bethlehem, with some zesty direct action planned (politics is what it’s all about, right?) after she drops off her fare.

Bah! Humbug! Have these people no capacity for mystery?

GABRIEL

When Eve, in love with her own will,
Denied the will of Love and fell,
She turned the flesh Love knew so well
To knowledge of her love until
Both love and knowledge were of sin.
What her negation wounded, may
Your affirmation heal today;
Love’s will requires your own, that in
The flesh whose love you do not know,
Loves knowledge into flesh may grow.

MARY

My flesh in terror and fire
Rejoices that the Word
Who unites the world out of nothing,
As a pledge of His word to love her
Against her will, and to turn
Her desperate longing to love,
Should ask to wear me,
From now until their wedding day,
For an engagement ring.

GABRIEL

Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
To-day the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.

W.H. Auden, For the Time Being.

Now that is truly radical.

* * *

While we’re on a Christmas theme, let me praise this little benediction snippet, attributed to the Church of Ireland and set to glorious, sappy music by Philip W.J. Stopford:

May Christ, who by His incarnation gathered into one all things earthly, all things heavenly, … fill you with joy and peace.

We Tenors get to sing that, and it usually kind of chokes me up.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.