Sell-by date expiring soon?

I don’t often post twice in a day, but it seems to me that Kevin McCarthy may find a piece of his soul that hasn’t been sold or mortgaged and thus win a Pyrrhic Speakership. These will be less relevant then.

But first:

Now, in ascending order of brilliance, commentary.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald has improbably begun “coding Right”:

It is an article of faith in liberal Democratic circles that the Republican Party and the American right is a cult, a cult of personality, in which reverence for Donald Trump is required, no dissent from party orthodoxy is permitted, and everyone mindlessly and obediently falls into line behind their leaders whenever they’re told, doing whatever they’re told, without questioning any of it.

That’s because American liberals are sophisticated. They’re well-educated and erudite, very rational, so, they know how to think for themselves. They love to flatter themselves by reciting the 1930’s Will Rogers’ quote: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat”. They’re just too thoughtful, too intellectually feisty to be controlled. They’re guided by science and the values of the Enlightenment. They’re profoundly individualistic and can’t be herded or controlled.

The Conservatives, they’re primitive. They barely have functioning brains. That’s why they go to two-year community college programs and learn how to fix cars, and are plumbers, or sell boats. They’re simple-minded, even religious. They love and worship authority, so they just do whatever they’re told. That’s why they all think and act alike.

All of this probably comes as a huge surprise to Congressman Kevin McCarthy ….

Glenn Greenwald, Right-Wing Populists Revolt: Trump Tax Returns, McCarthy’s Speaker Vote, & More

Kevin McCarthy

I relish his personal embarrassment for reasons explained here. No one in Congress save possibly Elise Stefanik has accommodated themselves to Trumpism in pursuit of power as cynically as McCarthy has. To watch him stymied and embarrassed repeatedly on the House floor by the Trump acolytes he courted at the brink of achieving his life’s ambition is justice too sweet for my weak prose to capture. We’d need a poet for the occasion.

Come to think of it, that poem has already been written.

Nick Cattogio.

She had me at the headline

It was the embodiment of the Twitter meme: “‘I never thought leopards would eat MY face,’ sobs woman who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”

By bowing first to Trump and then to Greene, all McCarthy has done is show other Republicans how much there is to gain from pushing him around. His downfall isn’t surprising: Almost no one who has sold his or her soul to Trump has come out ahead. (The jury is still out on the Republican conference chair Elise Stefanik.) The reason these deals with the devil always go bad, I suspect, isn’t metaphysical. It’s simply that Trump sycophants are ultimately undermined by their weak and flabby character.

McCarthy’s Republican opponents are right in surmising that he believes in nothing and will yield under pressure; the evidence is his inability to stand up to them. His mistake was convincing himself that a party obsessed with dominance would reward submission.

Michelle Goldberg.

Wow! Though Goldberg writes well, I rarely read her. But this time, she had me at the headline: Leopards Eat Kevin McCarthy’s Face and she delivered well beyond expectation.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 1/5/23

Culture

Words to live by

The larger point is that a rich and satisfying life involves checking a lot of boxes, not checking the same box over and over again until the combination of the ink and the pressure punches through the paper of your checklist. Moreover, some of these boxes require subordinating yourself to something greater than yourself. Virtually all meaningful institutions demand some sacrifice of yourself and your immediate wants to the greater good of the institution. The family is the first and most obvious example of this. You can’t be a good father or husband, mother or wife, if you expect your family to always put your needs first.

Jonah Goldberg, Something Short of Tragic

Why not wait and see if the odds are with you?

The best estimate, from studies starting in the 1970s, is that around 80% of gender-dysphoric children who are allowed to express themselves as they wish, but who do not socially transition—change their clothes, pronouns and the like to present as members of the opposite sex—will, as they grow up, become reconciled to their biological sex. Yet puberty blockers seem to prevent that reconciliation. In European clinics that report numbers, it happens with just 2-4% of children given the drugs. American clinics rarely publish figures, but anecdotally the picture is similar.

The Economist, Gender Medicine — Little Is Known About the Effects of Puberty Blockers. So far as I know, this is still true almost two years later, but the U.S. was charting its own ideologically-mad pursuit of a standard of care that said “block puberty at a minimum, no questions asked,” unlike any of our peer nations.

Self-own extraordinnaire.

I had no idea who Andrew Tate was, that he had a stable of cars, that he trolls Greta Thunberg, and that he now holds the world record for a self-own. But then someone shared this: Andrew Tate’s Arrested for Human Trafficking After Trolling Greta Thunberg.

What Purdue did in the Daniels Decade

We stood for excellence at scale. We did not accept that there’s a tradeoff when bringing education to more people – the original assignment of land grant universities like ours, to open the doors, widen the aperture to higher education. Many people, with some cause, said, Well, the bigger you grow, the lower the quality of the students you’ll have. Many of them will not succeed. We’ve challenged that. And in fact, we have grown 30%. The quality of our students, their performance, the graduation rates, everything has gone up, not down. As my successor will be happy to tell you, we’ve grown to one of the biggest engineering colleges anywhere. And at No. 4 in the national rankings, we are bigger than the top three put together. So you don’t have to trade that off, and I think we’re demonstrating that.

We said that in a world where outcomes are more and more determined by technology and science and the advance of those disciplines that we had an unusual opportunity, and very much a duty, to deliver to the nation more graduates skilled in those areas and more research that contributed the advanced knowledge in those areas. Ten years ago, 41% of the students at this university were in a STEM discipline – a high percentage. Today, it’s 68%, of a student body that is 30% bigger. We are producing for this nation, the kind of talents on which our future success so heavily depends.

Now former Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, via Based in Lafayette, a Substack that’s indispensible for local news as the local Gannett newspaper struggles.

I have my reservations about big research universities, but Purdue, and land-grant University, is a pretty good neighbor.

An Englishman on American Football

I see American Football as the sport that’s the obvious creation of a society based around hyperconsumption. It’s only about a dozen minutes of actual stuttering play stuffed into this capitalist packaging of hype and image, coming with hundreds of adverts for products you weren’t interested in and drowning in a wealth of the packing chips of instant replays and shots of players and officials loitering. I just can’t see the appeal.

Alastair Roberts He said that almost seven years ago. It wasn’t a prophecy of injuries or fatalities, but the appeal of the American spectacle should, but probably won’t, diminish after the Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest on field, triggered by the kind of hits fans pay to see. I’m skeptical that technology can make safe a game based on large people crashing into each other at high speed.

American Football eclipsed by World Football/Soccer is one of my hopes for progress.

David French to wed the grey lady

All things considered, I’m content.

David French will become a regular columnist for the New York Times on January 30 and will cease being a regular columnist for The Dispatch, which he helped to found. But (whew!) he’ll continue doing the Advisory Opinions podcast with Sara Isgur. That’s what mattered most to me.

And I subscribe to NYT, so I’ll read his relocated columns, too.

Maybe The Dispatch should try to wrest Michael Brendan Dougherty or Daniel McCarthy away from National Review now.

The Alzheimer’s Streetlight Effect

There’s an old joke about a drunk who lost his keys. It even has given a name to a cognitive error: The Streetlight effect.

I’m reminded again that it’s not always funny, as when scientists pursue theories that have been pretty well disproven, such as amaloid plaques as the cause of Alzheimer’s, simply because that’s where the grant money is.

On the other hand, that does tend to prove that scientists and humans, not gods, and as prone to venality as any preacher who tells his people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

British Mysteries

The Missus and I have been enjoying British mysteries on the BritBox streaming service, but we’ve reached the point where we agree that the writers riffing on G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, likely British secularists if not neo-pagans, have no idea what makes the protagonist Father Brown (beyond routinely telling the murderer to repent and confess to the police). The stock characters are no longer enough to sustain our interest.

They also have become less imaginative, more graphic (e.g., profuse blood flying in a knockout punch), and more sexual, the sort of pattern that turned us off other mysteries with attractive protagonists (like the Midsomer Murders).

Then, of course, there’s The Hidden Cost of Cheap TVs, too, but that’s been fairly obvious for a long time.

Stage Manager

My latest Mac OS update brought with it an annoying intruder named "Stage Manager," who keeps getting in the way of my own stage management.

I learned how to shut him off today, and now I find that I occasionally want him back on. In other words, he’s not all bad.

This is probably just me being a grumpy old man.

Politics (but smarter and less bitter than in the past)

GOP New Years Resolution: Live Not By Lies

I doubt that serial liar and fabulist George Santo deserves as much attention as he’s gotten, but at least it’s all been negative. He seems to be his only apologist.

Yet nobody with power to do anything is proposing to do it. Here’s an idea for them:

Kicking George Santos out of Congress is a job for the people of Long Island, one that they can do for themselves if they should happen to discover some particle of communal self-respect. But there are things that Republicans in Congress could and should do to set an example here: They could and should refuse to give him committee assignments; they could and should vote to censure him; they could and should expel him from the Republican Party. …

If the Republican Party would like to make a desperately needed New Year’s resolution, it should be this: that the GOP will cease being an organization dedicated to lies, based on lies, trafficking in lies, cultivating lies, and strategically reliant on lies. The Republicans should embark on a very modest course of self-improvement that begins with telling the truth. Of course, such a specimen as George Santos would have no place in such a party.

Neither would Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Mike Pence ….

Rachael Larimore

Is Trump now a moderate?

For the first time as a candidate, Trump might not be “the craziest son of a b-tch in the race.” That phrase comes from a memorable interview Rep. Thomas Massie gave in 2017 explaining why so many Ron Paul voters in the 2012 primaries ended up becoming Donald Trump supporters in 2016. An authoritarian candidate should struggle to attract libertarians, but Trump didn’t. Massie knew why.

“I went to Iowa twice and came back with [Ron Paul]. I was with him at every event for the last three days in Iowa,” Massie said. “From what I observed, not just in Iowa but also in Kentucky, up close with individuals, was that the people that voted for me in Kentucky, and the people who had voted for Rand Paul in Iowa several years before, were now voting for Trump. In fact, the people that voted for Rand in a primary in Kentucky were preferring Trump.”

“All this time,” Massie explained, “I thought they were voting for libertarian Republicans. But after some soul searching I realized when they voted for Rand and Ron and me in these primaries, they weren’t voting for libertarian ideas — they were voting for the craziest son of a b-tch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along.”

Nick Cattogio

What Everybody Knows

[E]ven if American institutions and rules make the U.S. system more unstable (under certain conditions) than those in other democracies, the events of January 6 depended on the introduction of an additional variable as a catalyst—and that is Donald Trump’s narcissism and malevolence. Trump simply couldn’t face his own loss—or rather, he couldn’t face admitting his own loss in public—and avoiding that humiliation was more important to him even than the fate of American self-government. If getting himself declared the winner required overturning the rule of law and liberal democracy in the United States, that was fine with him.

[A] number of prominent GOP candidates were extreme, badly informed, personally unappealing, and wildly inarticulate, and so performed poorly in the midterm’s general election contests. But how did these bum candidates end up competing in general elections in the first place? The answer, obviously, is that Republican voters chose them (often at Trump’s urging).

And that means it isn’t just Trump who’s responsible for January 6. It’s also all the voters who ended up doubting the trustworthiness of America’s electoral institutions across the board while simultaneously placing the entirety of their faith in the hands of a verified con artist out to protect his delicate ego from the painful truth of his failure to win an election.

It’s this consideration, among others, that keeps me from joining The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last in reversing position on the question of whether Trump should be prosecuted. Where Last has come around to the view that prosecution may well be the least-bad option, I continue to believe it would be less bad to allow Trump to continue fading in stature than to risk reviving his reputation among the mob of dittoheads who once revered him by turning him into an outlaw/folk-hero locked in a fight to the figurative death with the “Democrat Justice Department.”

Damon Linker, What Everybody Knows

Blaming the victim without regret

Even on issues where I am nominally on his side, I think he deserves all of the trouble he has invited upon himself …

I do not think Congress should make his tax returns public because I think punitively releasing tax returns is a bad practice, even when done against people I think have it coming.

Donald Trump lied over and over again about his tax returns. He said he’d release them, then didn’t, claiming he couldn’t because he was being audited. He probably lied about the audit; he certainly lied that being audited prevented him from releasing them. He broke all sorts of rules—admittedly informal rules, but rules nonetheless—and as we’ve seen over and over again, when one “side” breaks the rules, it gives the other “side” psychological permission to break other rules in response. Trump invited the predicament he’s in. He wants the rules to benefit him, never to bind him.

Jonah Goldberg, Something Short of Tragic

Congress and Trump’s Tax Returns

The actual point of the release is to embarrass Mr. Trump for refusing to release his returns. We criticized him for this, but it isn’t a legal requirement. Democrats needed a legislative purpose to pry private records from the IRS, and the best excuse they could manage was a desire to strengthen the agency’s presidential-audit policy. The weakness of that rationale was laid bare at the Dec. 20 meeting when Ways and Means approved the release.

Karen McAfee, Democrats’ top oversight staffer, couldn’t explain how releasing the returns would affect legislation. Pressed by GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, she sputtered that Democrats want a bill “to make sure that the audits start on time.” No word on how speeding up audits requires broadcasting Mr. Trump’s finances to the world.

The Trump Tax Return Precedent

Here’s another instance where someone did something unjust to Trump, but at the same time it’s true that he brought it on himself.

I doubt we’re heard the last of this. Trumpist Republicans will want payback, and they’ll not have trouble finding allies.

Just Desserts

McCarthy is getting exactly what he deserves. After January 6, he failed to lead. Instead, he swallowed what was left of his pride and traveled down to Mar-a-Lago to make amends with Donald Trump.

Yet he’s not being punished for that grotesque capitulation. Instead he’s facing yet another act of “burn it down” disruption from many of the same figures—including Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert—who’ve built their entire brands around trolling, rage, and rebellion.

It’s possible that GOP obstruction will yield a better speaker. One can hope. But a hope is not a plan, and it seems that the “plan” is to simply block McCarthy and see what happens.

While I don’t want to intrude too much on Nick’s populism beat, one of the tragedies of our time is that populists can often diagnose real maladies (elites have failed in many respects, and America faces real problems), yet they often decide to “solve” the problem with something  worse ….

David French

To hell with that

Wren: To hell with what?

Meijer: With the idea of running at this moment [against other Trumpist candidates]. What is required from a purity test standpoint — folks know they need his endorsement, and then what they end up doing to get that endorsement ends up being disqualifying.

Wren: This dynamic played out with your Republican primary opponent, John Gibbs, the far-right conspiracy theorist who criticized women’s right to vote and propagated the idea that Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta participated in satanic rituals. Yet you went to a unity rally with him. That surprised me.

Meijer: I was surprised at the media reaction to that. In my mind, not going to something like that is a sore loser move. The least I can do is wish him congratulations and best of luck. It’s funny there were a lot of kind of anti-Trump and Never Trump folks who trashed me for that. I was like, “Oh, do you want me to act the same way [Trump] did? Do you want me to deny that I lost? Do you want me to be a sore loser? Come on.”

Former Congressman Pete Meijer

Senator Sinema’s Independent prattling

… we are united in our … independence.

Kyrsten Sinema, putative Independent, via Lee Drutman, Kyrsten Sinema and the Myth of Political Independence

I fear that her personal declaration of independence will be the electoral kiss of death, as it was with another interesting political figure, Justin Amash.

Closing thought

Life doesn’t come with a trigger warning.

Poet/Activist Pádraig Ó Tuama, Interview with Krista Tippett


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

New Year’s Day 2023

Happy New Year!

I rarely go back and read things I wrote earlier in the life of this blog, but I did so recently and was pleased with, for instance, 50th Anniversary. Indeed, I’m a bit ashamed at how much thought I put into that compared to my current tendency to curate other people’s memorable passages.

I suspect that I’ve resorted to curation because I long ago blogged my big ideas and I’m under no pressure (financial, for instance) to generated new content on some schedule or other.

I’m hoping to publish more of my own thoughts in 2023, but we’ll see how that goes.

Evangelicals and Evangelicalism

I have written many a critical word about Evangelicals and Evangelicalism. I’m going to step back from that a bit.

First, it’s exceedingly difficult to define who is an Evangelical or what is Evangelicalism. I’ve tended to go with the term when my sources used it. That’s a problem when some of the press may over-apply the term.

But there’s a bigger reason than that for backing off a bit: what I have been calling “Evangelical” or “Evangelicalism” is almost entirely non-denominational Protestantism. With a few possible exceptions, Evangelical denominations (there are a few), especially those denominations wherein local churches aren’t entirely at liberty to do their own thing (unlike the Souther Baptist Convention, where they are entirely free to go astray), tend not to be the perpetrators of the stuff I criticize.

These thoughts came to me as I thought about the Religion News Association’s #9-ranked religion story of 2022:

Non-denominational Christian churches soar in growth, according to the newly released 2020 U.S. Religion Census, a decennial survey conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. There are now more non-denominational churches than any denominations’ churches but Southern Baptists, and their 21 million adherents outnumber every group but Catholics.

I also think it’s time for me to re-re-read Tom Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough. It’s not that I’m tempted to return to Evangelicalism; it’s that I tend to forget what Evangelicalism at its best can be (Howard’s childhood Evangelical home was idyllic), and that in a non-trivial sense, believing Evangelicals (as opposed to Trumpists who use Evangelical as a political identity), however misguided I think them, are fellow-Christians.

How capacious is “Christian”?

I was preparing something for publication a few days ago on the boundaries of the term “Christian.” Part of the question in mind was “can a sect hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian” because they follow the “Christ” of their skewed ideas?”

More specifically, “Do Mormons hold such a skewed idea of Christ that I need not credit their claims to be “Christian”?

Then I stumbled onto something I’d written on the topic earlier that was better than what I was in the process of writing. My bottom line: if a sect rejects the Christology of the first three or four ecumenical councils, I won’t acknowledge them as Christians. And the Mormons, for all their clean living, are dead wrong about Christ.

For those who think “Christian” is the equivalent of “nice guy,” this doubtless seems unkind, but we already have “nice guy” to describe nice guys, and “Christian” is not a synonym.

Caesaropapism

The Royal Court, grouped round the Imperial Chapel and, seized with theological fervour, sought to ensure the triumph of a novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. Pressure from the Frankish empire caused this strange teaching to triumph in the West. After resisting for a while, the Popes were in the end obliged to alter the traditional, sacred text of the Creed. From then on, schism from the Eastern Patriarchates became inevitable. (Byzantium, on the other hand, never experienced such an extreme case of Caesaropapism.)

Vladimir Lossky, Seven Days on the Roads of France: June 1940

The “novel teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit” was the filioque, the unilateral corruption of the Nicene Creed’s declaration that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” by changing it to “proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Human reasoning

Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos also noted the difference in process and perspective between Latin scholasticism and the patristic approach. He concluded that the emphasis on human reasoning led to the collapse of Western Christian theology.

Dr. Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox: Understanding and Acquiring the Orthodox Christian Mind

The more I understand the real-world limits of human reasoning, the truer this seems.

The Fall

There is a common mistaken notion about the fall (the sin of Adam and Eve). That mistake is to think that the fall somehow changed all of creation and human beings from a state of original innocence into an altered state of evil and corruption. This is not the teaching of the Scriptures or of the Tradition.

Occasionally you hear the term “fallen nature” which is another inaccurate term. “Nature,” in theological terms, is synonymous with “essence,” or “ousia.” It is the very “thing” that something is. What is understood, theologically, is that the fall has brought death into the world. What is different about human beings is not our nature, but our inability to actually fulfill our nature.The bondage that comes into our lives through death is what we term “sin.” But this is not our “nature” causing the problem.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Essential Goodness of All Things


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Thursday, 12/29/22

The $1.7 Trillion Electoral Count Act Reform

Then there’s the fortifying fact that Congress passed greatly needed reforms of the Electoral Count Act as part of the omnibus bill that currently awaits Biden’s signature. Those changes clarify the procedures Congress and the Vice President must follow in the event that a future president and/or state legislatures attempt to overturn the will of the voters in the way that President Trump encouraged them to do as part of his self-coup attempt in the days and weeks leading up to January 6, 2021.

Damon Linker.

We knew for 2 years that reforming that poorly-written law was extremely important. Was paying a $1.7 trillion boondoggle-enriched ransom the only way to get it done?

Seeing what we expect to see

Since what we select to attend to is guided by our expectations of what it is we are going to see, there is a circularity involved which means we experience more and more only what we already know.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Hope breaks through

The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer stops doom-scrolling Twitter and locking his eyes on cable news, and now sees some hopeful signs:

Back in March, Francis Fukuyama, a prophet of optimism, suggested that Ukraine’s example of resistance might help spiritually rally liberal democracies to defend themselves against internal threats. He called it a revival of the “spirit of 1989.”

That prediction, which I doubted when he issued it, has come to pass. Even if I can’t prove that the causation tracks with Fukuyama’s argument, the results are palpable. Since the start of the Ukraine war, Western democracies have voted to cast aside populist goons. Emmanuel Macron held off Marine Le Pen. In October, Brazilians disposed of Jair Bolsonaro. In the midterm elections, the United States roundly repudiated election-denying Republicans, evidence of Donald Trump’s waning influence.

Franklin Foer, The Cynic’s Dilemma

Is their increasing marginalization by saner spirits why paladins of the new Right raged so absurdly against Zelensky’s visit?

Another sign of hope: Is 2022 the Year We All Finally Got Over Narcissists?.

Popehat pontificates on fires in crowded theaters

Ken White, a/k/a Popehat, pontificates on the exceptions to first amendment free speech rights.

I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for maybe 55 years. In law school, I got the top grade, in a class of 100-or-so, on Introductory Constitutional Law.

Yet I still found Ken’s post illuminating and a wonderful distillation of why “the first amendment isn’t absolute” is analytically useless. I hope it’s one of his Substack posts that you can read in full even if you’re not a subscriber.

A reliable contrarian

I have affirmation from a pretty good source that Bari Weiss’s Substack publication, recently rebranded as The Free Press, is a reliable way to get news that mainstream press aren’t covering, such as the poor science behind government Covid policy (or science that even contradicts it), problems in the world of gender transitioning, and such.

Yeah, you can get contrarian stuff lots of other places, but is it journalism or is it lazy-ass opinionating? Bari has a business plan and some actual, serious journalists writing for her, and that’s consistent with her plan to be a real journal with real news.

Election2026 and Election2028

I can’t believe I’ve already created tags Election2026 and Election2028 for my Obsidian database!

Here’s what prompted it:

Republicans face a favorable Senate map in 2024, when Democrats will defend seats in Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. Neither party appears to have any comparably strong pickup opportunities in 2026 or 2028, so the odds favor a Republican majority in each of the three Congresses starting in 2025.

The source, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, was analyzing the partisan merits of a call in Vox for SCOTUS Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to retire now so Joe Biden can fill their seats: “Sotomayor and Kagan are only in their 60s, but the actuaries at Vox say it’s time for them to go” the subheadline summarizes.

I will be surprised if either of the Justices heeds the call, and I’ll be particularly disappointed if Kagan does, since she has an especially powerful combination of intelligence and personability that reportedly moderates the tendencies of her conservative colleagues.

(Sigh!) George Santos

Is there anything worse than worrying about future elections? Probably.

I tried to avoid even reading beneath the surface of the George Santos story, but it is such a parable that I finally relented:

At this point you might be thinking, “Are we sure he’s even gay?” A man willing to lie about anything and everything to spruce up his political appeal might reasonably conclude that identifying as gay is more of an asset than a liability in a state like New York, especially for a party that’s keen to be seen as more diverse. As chance would have it, it turns out that George Santos was married to a woman as recently as 2019

Trump proved that the modern right is willing to vest power in someone who’s comprehensively obnoxious. The defense of Santos is apt to prove that the right is willing to vest power in a total cipher. Who he really is, what’s true and what’s false, may be unclear even to him at this point. He’s barely discernible as a persona, just a series of lies stitched together. And so he’s a test case in how little character matters so long as one mouths the right talking points about being a fighter rather than a sucker. Can sheer pugnacity excuse anything? Will hardcore partisan right-wingers shill for a grotesque Tom-Ripley-style scam artist just to spite the left, because his seat is important and because he confounds Democrats’ expectations of identity politics?

I’m thinking yes.

I hope the House expels him anyway …

But they won’t do it. And if they don’t, I won’t complain. So much of this party’s elected leadership since 2015 has stooped to pretending to be things they’re not in order to gain power that it seems unjust to hold George Santos singularly culpable. By what right do reptiles like McCarthy and Elise Stefanik, who traded traditional Republicanism for Trumpism because that’s what it took to get ahead, sit in judgment of Santos for constructing his own identity to move up in the world? They’re all grifters. They deserve each other.

Nick Cattogio

Bah! Humbug!

The wishful public has been fed a diet of misinformation from a wishful news media that won’t tolerate anything but positive thinking about maintaining our current arrangements because imagining a different outcome is too depressing. This is not a malicious conspiracy by evil authorities so much as a neurotic defense mechanism in the face of the disturbing reality that the comforts and conveniences of recent decades may be drawing to a close.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Sunday reading, 12/25/22

Church History 101

Don’t lose the first part of that quote by getting caught up in the important end of the quote — and end that defies pop Christian history. A lot of interpretive problems become easier if you remember that followers of The Way were originally a sect within Judaism (until eventually Judaism expelled them).

Islanded Selves

In late Western modernity we have constructed an atomized, value-free, material model in which our islanded selves are ultimately disconnected from one another. T.S. Eliot put his finger on it in the Choruses from the Rock:

When the Stranger says ‘What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?’
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together
To make money from each other’? or ’this is a community’?

Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word

Three Maxims

  • I have never met a person that fasts faithfully who is at all more hypocritical or less virtuous than one who does not fast – not a single one … it is far more likely that the one who fasts is much more faithful.
  • Do not turn every virtue (like almsgiving or any “ministry”) into a program. This sort of administrative philosophy leads to despair.
  • Always remember that anger makes us temporarily energetic, but also stupid … I cannot think of one good thing I ever did or said in anger: but I can think of many regrets.

Father Jonathan Tobias, Second Terrace blog, January 29, 2018 (“Some maxims for the new wilderness”)

A Good Question

Rod Dreher, With the Bruderhof


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

Christmas Eve

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

Culture

Welcome to Dystopia

Welcome to Dystopia. Enjoy your ejection.

Crypto: Money without a purpose

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

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

Todd H. Baker, Crypto Is Money Without a Purpose

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

Return of the face-palm

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

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

That is soooo wrong on multiple levels!

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

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

Follow the incentives

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

Freddie deBoer, The Synecdoche Problem

Racial Ridicule and Hate Speech generally

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

The Four Dimensions of Military Power

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

(The Economist)

Cradle of Ponzi Schemes?

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

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

Patrick Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed

Politics

Diversionary tactics

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

TMD (emphasis added)

An unfamiliar pathogen

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

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

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

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

Nick Cattogio, Fashion Statement

Vacillating Rhythm

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

David Brooks.

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

Spare Us

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Selection at work

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

David French

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

A bright spot in Tampa Bay

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

TMD


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

American Christianity Today

Affiliation versus Faith

As Bullivant notes in his book, the fall of communism meant that “talk of ‘a final, all-out battle between communist atheism and Christianity’ was much less a part of the cultural background.” Now only the oldest millennials have the faintest recollection of what it meant to fear the destruction of our civilization at the hands of a hostile imperial aggressor.

Instead, millennials faced something else entirely. “Very soon,” writes Bullivant, “the most pressing geopolitical threat to baseball, Mom, and apple pie was not from those without religion but those with rather too much of the wrong kind of it.” The 9/11 attacks introduced Americans to Islamic fundamentalism, and “religious extremism, in the form of radical Islamic terrorists, usurped the place in American nightmares that communist infiltrators used to occupy.”

Where does this leave us? Bullivant’s book is a reminder that culture and context matter. While any given individual may resist the tides of the times, at scale religious affiliation is more malleable than we might think. The malleability of religious affiliation is one reason why it’s important to think of affiliation and faith as perhaps distinct and different concepts.

David French, mulling over what he’s read so far in Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America

Americanized religion

When I saw that Ross Douthat had written on The Americanization of Religion, I knew it would be good.

I was right.

By the way, The Americanization of Religion is not a good thing, just in case you were wondering.

Douthat’s column is so rich that I highlighted most of it and cannot find a satisfactory representative quote. Reading it will take you about 6 minutes if you don’t compulsively highlight and index it.

Religious “secularism”

Along the same lines:

On a daily basis, I have become increasingly aware of the “religious” nature of almost the whole of modern life. That might seem to be an odd observation when the culture in which we live largely describes itself as “secular.” That designation, however, only has meaning in saying that the culture does not give allegiance or preference to any particular, organized religious body. It is sadly the case, however, that this self-conception makes the culture particularly blind to just how “religious” it is in almost everything it does. I suspect that the more removed we are from true communion with God, the more “religious” we become.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Religious Nature of Modern Life

All of today’s observations echo one of the most illuminating books I’ve ever read, Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity. I can’t recommend it too highly if you have any interest in the history of religion — or if you think American popular religion is simply New Testament Christianity.


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Wednesday, 2/21/22

Welcome to Winter. We’re really in for it from at least the Great Lakes to the Great Plains.

Culture

To see ourselves as others see us

I ask Oizumi why he is so drawn to this country. “I like to go places where there are people with a real history. In Korea, that same tribe, that same culture has been there for a very long time.” “Well,” I say, “Europe has a long history too.” “No way! That place is frightening.” “Frightening?” “Yes. I went to Italy, Spain, Milan, Florence, and all the buildings were made from stone—the churches, the castle walls, and ramparts. Now, how did they make that? That would take a tremendous amount of energy. In those days there were no bulldozers. Everything was done by hand. A place with that many stone buildings would have needed some kind of slavery system to build them. When I saw that I thought, Wow, Asia was still relatively peaceful back in the olden days.

Andy Couterier, The Abundance of Less.

That kind of serendipitous blind-siding is why I try to keep from reading in a rut.

Solidarity — in peace as in war

When rationing ended in Britain in 1954, there were those who felt that something important had been lost. At one point, the Labour Party had argued for indefinite rationing. The commonality of shared suffering, it seemed, was a stronger bond than the commonality of shared prosperity. Interesting that.

No one was nostalgic for the war itself. The fighting, bombing and the certainty of death and injury were gladly left behind. But the common bond of a common effort remained a lively part of a generation’s memory. The stories only ended when they were laid to rest. The nostalgia, I think, was for the commonality, an experience that banished loneliness and gave meaning to even the smallest actions. The prosperity that followed was hollow. For what purpose do we now shop?

Fr. Stephen Freeman

Serving God or Truth, Beauty and Goodness

[A] look back at the archives of this newsletter in 2022 reminds me how much knowledge, both intellectual and spiritual, I gained from reading Iain McGilchrist, Hartmut Rosa, and so many others. The evil in the world can sometimes feel overwhelming, but there are so many good people trying to serve God, or at least serve Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, and pouring our their hearts and minds in that labor.

Rod Dreher, Lift Up Your Head to Receive the Light.

I like that: good people trying to serve God, or at least serve Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. That rings so true to me!

To Rod’s list, I’d add Andrew Sullivan (with one big gay marriage caveat), Bari Weiss (ditto, though she writes about it only rarely), Jesse Singal, Damon Linker and Freddie DeBoer, only one of them a Christian. I’ve benefitted from reading all of them, though a few seem to have started repeating themselves or churning out Substack posts without much real enthusiasm or fresh insight. That’s a hazard of writing to deadline for a living, it seems.

A word about Rod. I first encountered him decades ago (it only feels like decades) around 2010 in his book Crunchy Cons, and began following his doings. I’ve read each of his books since then, even the ones that made me cringe or scratch my head. I’ve attended a conference where he was a keynoter and chatted with him briefly there.

But I’ve stopped reading what he writes for American Conservative magazine; there, he makes bank on stirring up “conservative” contempt for progressive oddballs and attention-grabbing extreme gender nonconformists. I wish he’d quit. I don’t listen to his podcast (I even forgot it existed). And at the moment, I doubt that I’ll buy his newest book, because I fear he’s bitten off more (re-enchanting the imagination) than he can communicate. I only read his “Diary” on Substack.

2022 saw the end of his marriage, after (he now reveals) ten years of bad family turmoil. If you don’t follow him, I’d not particularly recommend that you start just now, as he tends still to obsess about that, as divorced people, with a keen sense of personal failure, tend to do.

But I also would caution against reading what anyone else writes about his divorce because there are apparently people making bank on sheer speculation, Rod and his wife having agreed not to discuss the details of what led to divorce beyond that neither was involved in extramarital relations. (Pro Tip: If you want to break into internet virality, try attaching yourself to someone further up the food chain and spreading slanderous rumors about them.) I’m enough of a sinner to have injected my imagination into their marriage and developed a little narrative of my own about how things went wrong and who was to blame, but thank God I’ve had the decency not to share it, and I try not to return to such speculation even privately.

In short, Rod’s a very flawed, and presently quite broken, person with a gift for writing. But I’ve followed him so long that I consider him a friend. In fact, we’re kin not only because he’s also Orthodox, but because we’re both flawed (DUH!). You need not do likewise, but don’t try to get me to criticize him harshly and in general.

Pro David Frenchism

As long as I’ve resorted to writing about people I read, let me touch on an emerging favorite: David French (he to whom the lesser-known Sohrab Ahmari attached himself, thus achieving virality). It’s a heck of an honor to be the illiberal right’s poster boy for classical liberalism — the guy they’d have tarred and feathered and “rode out of town on a rail” 150 years ago.

Counterfactuals always are dangerous, but I suspect I’d be a lot friendlier to post-liberalism/illiberalism today had I not kept on reading French (who writes in the same vein as David Bahnsen, below).

In other words, I’m broadly (if not fully) aware of the shortcomings of classical liberalism, but I see no better alternative for life in a pluralistic reality. If we decided that pluralism was the problem and succeeded in eliminating it, especially in favor of some version of “Christian America,” that could well mean eliminating me, because the dominant Christianities in this culture are so very different from Orthodoxy.

Indeed, were it not for his classical liberalism, I’d not want to live in a Christian America with French as tsar. I’ve begun turning away from his religious musings because they just don’t “speak to me,” and it’s hard to imagine that they once would have. But on politics and the intersection of religion/philosophy and governance, he’s been a boon.

Anger

Offered without comment:

Anger is less an emotion than an armor against feeling emotions. In most cases, we would be better off acknowledging the emotions from which anger seeks to protect us.

Damon Linker, citing Matt Yglesias

Politics

Why are they whistling a new tune?

[H]ow should those of us who, for years, have repeatedly warned Republicans about Trump view those who have finally done an about-face, in some cases mimicking the very criticisms that Never Trumpers have been making since the start of the Trump era?

We ought to welcome their turnabout. This is, after all, what many of us have been urging them to do. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should have the chance to correct those mistakes, including onetime Trump enthusiasts. Just as important, purging Trump from America’s political landscape can only happen if the Republican Party first purges him from its ranks. If people who once supported Trump are, at last, willing to cast him aside, that is all to the good.

But we shouldn’t see a moral awakening where there is none. The reason many longtime Trump supporters are deserting him is because they believe he is a loser, and an impediment to their quest for power.

Peter Wehner

Emotion blackmail as usual

Someone in the Indiana legislature is apparently planning to introduce what the press insists on calling a “Don’t Say Gay” Bill in January, when the legislature convenes.

I disclaim any knowledge of whether we have much or any problem in Indiana with age-inappropriate instruction on sexuality. And I’m aware of the argument that any instruction on sexuality in public schools usurps the role of parents. What this bill reportedly does is forbid any instruction in sexuality in K-3 and forbid any instruction that isn’t “age-appropriate” thereafter.

But what really gets to me is the all-too-predictable emotional blackmail that followed from Chris Paulsen, CEO of Indiana Youth Group:

“The damage even having the bill introduced will cause to young people is immeasurable,” Paulsen said. “We will see youth die by suicide because of this. I think it’s that dire and I’m sad that lawmakers don’t realize their actions have really bad consequences, even if the bill doesn’t pass.”

Indianapolis Star/USA TODAY NETWORK (emphasis added)

I call bullshit on the parts I emphasized.

Heckuva way to defend and uphold the Constitution

“I want to thank Judge Benitez. We have been saying all along that Texas’ anti-abortion law is outrageous. Judge Benitez just confirmed it is also unconstitutional,” Newsom said in a statement Monday. “The provision in California’s law that he struck down is a replica of what Texas did, and his explanation of why this part of SB 1327 unfairly blocks access to the courts applies equally to Texas’ SB 8.”

Politico

California Governor Gavin Newsom, thanking a federal judge for striking down a California gun law that mirrored a Texas abortion law, which gun law he supported.

Maybe I’m too literal-minded — no, make that “I’m often too literal-minded” (I have a hypotesis on what I am) — but it’s hard for me to see how Newsom’s support of a law he knew was unconstitutional isn’t a violation of his oath of office.

No option for rule by Angels

In a piece for National Review, frequent Remnant guest David Bahnsen pushes back on arguments made by First Things editor Rusty Reno against free markets and in favor of using political power to ensure virtue. “The cabal of new-right market skeptics are stuck with the age-old problem identified by the Founders, and yes, by 20th-century giants such as Friedman and Hayek: We have no option to be ruled by angels,” Bahnsen writes. “The doctrine of the Fall does not merely inform our understanding of the original sin plaguing individuals and families, but also and especially the state itself. That an individual left unchecked and free of moral enlightenment may suffer in weak discipline and low taste is both true and tragic. But that a civil magistrate granted the power Reno envisions for it represents a more potent and damaging fruit of original sin is, indeed, the testimony of history. On this point there can be no refutation. I prefer that the low-brow permeation of social-media obsession die a holy death, yet inviting the ghosts of 20th-century past to regulate consumer preferences strikes me as a ghastly trade-off.”

The Morning Dispatch


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Monday, 12/19/22

How we differ from traditional cultures

Choose ye this day

You can believe exactly what people in 1450 believed, but you cannot believe it in the same way they believed it because you have a choice.

Paraphrase of Carl Trueman, interviewed by Andrew Sullivan

This is a modern conundrum. I can say “I had no choice but to become Orthodox when I saw and learned what I did,” but of course I did have a choice. Choosing has been unavoidable for centuries now — at least in upper strata in Western Christendom (perhaps it’s one of those proverbial “first-world problems”).

Choosing to change religion is not even a costly choice here as it is still elsewhere in the world. Yet there is a toll to be paid, coming from banks of integrity, for not choosing what overwhelmingly commends itself.

(Sullivan/Trueman was a great interview, by the way, between very smart Oxbridge men with significant differences of opinion but an ability to converse civilly. Go thou and do likewise.)

East and West

Further:

To say that Orthodoxy is “Eastern” and that Catholic and Protestant Christianity are “Western” is not a poetic description or a mere matter of geography. The terms have long been employed to indicate real differences in historical experiences and thought—not simply the final conclusions but the process by which we arrive at those conclusions.

Eugenia Scarvelis Constantinou, Thinking Orthodox. I do not have, even by inheritance, the historical experience of the Eastern Church. My heritage is Western. So while I believe and practice Eastern Orthodoxy, I cannot believe and practice it in quite the way a devout “cradle Orthodox” would.

I like to think that converts like me bring something of value nonetheless, particularly where the faith may have tended toward a complacent cultural club or, as in my parish, where no single cultural group of Orthodox Christians coalesced to to support a church, and converts both added numbers and served as a catalyst for a new, more American (i.e., “pan-Orthodox”) parish. That my parish is in the relatively obscure Carpatho-Rusyn diocese may make it easier to avoid an ethnic identification — as in when people ask whether my Orthodoxy is Greek or Russian.

Traditional civilizations

In a traditional civilization it is almost inconceivable that a man should claim an idea as his own; and in any case, were he to do so, he would thereby deprive it of all credit and authority, reducing it to the level of a meaningless fantasy: if an idea is true, it belongs equally to all who are capable of understanding it; if it is false, there is no credit in having invented it.

René Guénon Guénon, The Crisis of the Modern World

Culture generally

Journalistic murmurations

I’ve heard, and find it plausible, that the New York Times tacitly decides what’s “news” worthy of mainstream attention.

I’m starting to think there is some similar organ on the Christian and Christianish Right, because (for instance) all of a sudden “everyone” (i.e., many on the Christian Right, from which orientation I gain much daily commentary — this, for instance) is writing about MAID, Medical Assistance in Dying, as implemented in Canada and increasingly “recommended” in heavy-handed ways.

It’s a worthwhile story, but I don’t think you’ll see it in the New York Times. It may have started with advance copies of The New Atlantis.

It occurs to me that this phenomenon is rather like a murmuration. (I hope that apt metaphor is original. I certainly am not conscious of having encountered it elsewhere.)

The Promise of Pluralism imperiled

In the seven years since Obergefell was decided, the American left has been on a mission to diminish the legal and practical foundations of the Constitution’s free-speech rights.

They argue that antidiscrimination laws should be recognized as more important and that the Supreme Court in Ms. Smith’s case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, should affirm this new reality. Colorado’s law lists the classes of discrimination as “race, color, disability, sex, sexual orientation (including transgender status), national origin/ancestry, creed, marital status.”

This Supreme Court is likely to decide in Ms. Smith’s favor, maintaining the prohibition established in 1943 by Justice Robert Jackson as the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation” that the government can’t compel, or coerce, an individual to adopt the majority’s opinion.

Still, this case is among the reasons you have been seeing a public assault on the high court’s conservative members. The left’s playbook, across politics, is to stigmatize its opposition as outside acceptable opinion.

Daniel Henninger, They Want to Shut You (and 303 Creative) Up.

I’ll be blunt: I think free speech rights trump antidiscrimination rights. The only issue is whether what the state is forbidding or commanding qualifies as “speech.” In the 303 Creative case, it so clearly was speech that Colorado admitted it.

Western Civ

The argument now that the spread of pop culture and consumer goods around the world represents the triumph of Western civilization trivializes Western culture. The essence of Western civilization is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Your periodic reminder

The shift from church power to state power is not the victory of peaceable reason over irrational religious violence. The more we tell ourselves it is, the more we are capable of ignoring the violence we do in the name of reason and freedom.

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

Questioning whether violence really is religious risks the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, but I’ve believed that violence doesn’t come from true Christianity for more than 50 years. I probably was guilty of scripture-twisting, but I cited James 4:1-4 as my prooftext.

My conviction, and the bloody wars provoked by non-Christian ideologies in the last century, gives me cause for grave concern as we arguably are abandoning a real, if flawed, Christian heritage now that our great atheist enemy is defunct.

Politics (sigh!)

Marshall Law

Here at The Dispatch, we are mostly anti-snark and anti-sneer, so I will try to consider this question earnestly: What does it say about our country that we are governed by illiterates?

One “Marshall Law” is a typo. Two is a trend. And the recently published trove of January 6-related texts is a testament to the illiteracy of the people who represent millions of Americans in Congress ….

Kevin D. Williamson

Ron DeSantis

I want two things out of the 2024 presidential cycle. One is the end of Donald Trump’s political career, whether in the primary or general election. I don’t care when or how it happens as long as it happens.

The other is a greater willingness among conservatives to criticize their leadership. We’ve spent seven years encased in a repulsive personality cult devoted to a repulsive personality. If the cult disbands in the next election, one obvious lesson in the aftermath is that it shouldn’t be replaced by a new one.

Nick Cattogio

Cattogio thinks the best way to end Trump’s political career is an incumbent Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (you may have heard of him).

I’m agnostic on what it will take to drive a stake through Trump’s blackened heart, but I’m tending negative on DeSantis.

He’s smart enough to know that some of the culture war laws he has backed are unconstitutional, but backed them anyway despite his oath to uphold the constitution. Maybe the Morning Dispatch’s satirical summary of the Bill of Rights is his for real:

On this day in 1791, the fledgling United States of America ratified its Bill of Rights, conferring on its citizens a host of fundamental freedoms that can only be infringed upon if doing so helps one’s political team win culture war fights.

That’s not my view of the Bill of Rights.

I can forgive Marjorie Taylor Green her illiterate outbursts before I forgive the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron DeSantis. All of them are better-educated and probably smarter than me, but they tend toward unprincipled pandering and willing to subvert the Constitution for political gain. For all I know, DeSantis seems better than the other two only because I’m less familiar with him.

The Coverup is the Crime

Remember that dad who got dragged out of a school board meeting in Loudon County, Virginia, after pressing school officials about in-school sexual assaults on girls by a cross-dressing boy? The idea of the problem being the dad fit a leftish narrative so well that Merrick Garland directed the FBI to investigate threats against teachers and school officials and people began viewing vocal parental involvement in Board meetings as terroristic.

Well, it turns out the dad may have been right and that school officials were criminally covering up the assaults.

Caveat: There are twists and turns in this story. The charges are mostly misdemeanors and potentially somewhat political. I doubt that the dust has settled enough for clarity. It’s now well-known that a cross-dressing male sexually assaulted two girls in two bathrooms, but those bathrooms apparently were not yet subject to a “come as the gender you feel today” policy.

Let the healing begin

Republicans actually turned out more voters than Democrats in November. They even won the national popular vote. But in races involving Trump’s candidates, many Republican voters split their tickets, punishing Trump favorites like Arizona’s Blake Masters and Kari Lake who questioned the 2020 results. It turns out that running against democracy is not a recipe for democratic success.

It’s sobering to realize that history can turn on the personal quirks of one person. But it’s also comforting, because as the 2022 midterm results suggest, some of the ugliest aspects of the Trump era aren’t inherent to our system or deeply embedded in our society. They are the downstream effects of one bad actor. Remove him and the pollution he caused will remain, but once disconnected from its source, it can slowly be cleansed, as we saw in this past election.

Yair Rosenberg, Deep Shtetl. The idea of a “national popular vote” in Congressional and Senate elections is quite bogus for most purposes, but it somehow feels instructive here.

Hard fact

You can’t fact-check a person out of hope and purpose. They’ll resent you even if you’re right.

David French

Just for fun

France can still pull it off if Mike Pence has the courage

@EricMGarcia


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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

Sunday before Nativity 2022

Antiquity envy

By Lingard’s day, the Church of England held the smug and self-affirming view that the old Anglo-Saxon Church—that is to say, Christianity in the British Isles prior to 1066—was in fact, proto-Protestant; concluding that Anglicanism was nothing more than English Christianity as it had always been before all those pesky Papists showed up and ruined things. From the actual historical record, to accomplish this, you must turn your head just right and squint at one isolated primary source, and then use 17th-century Protestant speculations as your guide for its interpretation. Lingard lays waste to such pretensions, but is always a slightly bemused gentleman in doing so.

Terry Cowan

Thus does Terry introduce the theme of what I’ll call “antiquity envy” in various 200-year-old sects. He even (blush!) gives me a shout-out as his favorite aggregator. What’s not to like?

Accommodating brute facts

In May 2021, a time when public gatherings in England were strictly limited because of the coronavirus pandemic, the British tabloids were caught off guard by a stealth celebrity wedding in London. Westminster Cathedral—the “mother church” of Roman Catholics in England and Wales—was abruptly closed on a Saturday afternoon. Soon the groom and bride arrived: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds, a Catholic and a former Conservative Party press officer with whom he had fathered a child the previous year. A priest duly presided over the marriage, despite the fact that the Catholic Church opposes divorce and sex outside marriage, and that Johnson had been married twice before and had taken up with Symonds before securing a divorce. It was an inadvertently vivid display of the Church’s efforts to accommodate its teachings to worldly circumstances.

Paul Elie, The Reinvention of the Catholic Church – The Atlantic (emphasis added)

I assume that accommodating Orthodoxy to worldly circumstances (which isn’t exactly changing its teachings, but may eventuate in that) is what Archbishop Elpidophoros of America was thinking at the ”First Greek Orthodox Baptism for Child of Gay Couple in Greece”

It is a fearful thing to be responsible for a multitude of human souls, as are priests and, a fortiori, Bishops, Archbishops and Patriarchs.

Deny baptism to the children “of” the gay couple and you’re mean or homophobic. Grant it and, among other problems, it is seen as “a sign of great progress in the Greek Orthodox Church in terms of acceptance of the LGBT community,” a not entirely salutary development. Do the wedding and you’re countenancing adultery and divorce; deny it and you’re promoting bastardy.

The only way I know of squaring the circle is that you consider stepping beyond the letter of the law only if you have reason to think that doing so will conduce to the salvation of one or more parties to the irregular circumstance, which in all the cases I can imagine will mean that there’s already some repentance for the circumstances they’ve created.

But then I’m not a Priest or a Bishop, am I?

Humble in theory, arrogant in fact

Over the last two centuries, an egalitarian culture has given rise to a diverse array of powerful religious leaders, whose humble origins and common touch seem strangely at odds with the authoritarian mantle that people allow them to assume.

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

I cannot help but think of a law school classmate’s description of leaving the Protestantism of southern Indiana for the Roman Catholic Church: he gave up untutored and pompadoured tyrants who denied any authority beyond expounding the Bible in exchange for priests who claimed to be God’s authoritative presence but who let him live his own life.

We’re all liberals now

The late conservative philosopher Roger Scruton once referred to conservatism as ‘a hesitation within liberalism’ rather than an alternative to it, and Deneen too believes that while left and right might want to liberate different things, they are both onboard with the overall project:

What is bemoaned by the the right is not due to the left but to the consequences of its own deepest commitments, especially to liberal economics. And what is bemoaned by the left is not due to the right but to the consequences of its own deepest commitments, especially to the dissolution of social norms, particularly those regarding sexual behaviour and identity. The ‘wedding’ between global corporations and this sexual agenda is one of the most revealing yet widely ignored manifestations of this deeper synergy.

Paul Kingsnorth, In This Free World


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

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

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

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

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

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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