Nate White’s Bill of Particulars

Via Garrison Keillor, I quoted some of this earlier today, but it stuck with me until I tracked the whole thing down.

This is very stylish writing, but I suspect that this whole Bill of Particulars could be distilled as epiphenomena of extreme toxic narcissism, which remains my go-to distillation. Still, there’s more than a little value to setting it out in detail for the candid consideration of all fair-minded Americans:

Someone asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are. You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”

Nate White quoted here.

Any questions?

* * *

This is a bit of a pivot, but toward the end of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, Living in the Long Emergency, Kunstler lays out his conspiracy theory of the Russiagate matter, which I excerpt thus:

The nation’s so-called “intelligence community,” led by then CIA director John Brennan, geared up a scheme to spy on the Trump campaign; entrap some of its minor players (Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jr.) in cloak-and-dagger operations (that backfired); spin out a Russia collusion “narrative” that painted Mr. Trump as “an agent of Putin;” and engineer the appointment of a grand inquisitor, Mr. Mueller, to launch investigations that would prepare Congress with a grand brief for the president’s removal.

The dossier was used as the primary predicate document by the FBI in obtaining surveillance warrants against Mr. Trump’s associates. It was never properly vetted under the FBI regulation known as the “Woods procedure.” Emails and memoranda between the FBI and DOJ officials involved, made public since 2018, showed clearly that they knew the dossier was false but that they submitted it to the “special” FISA court judges—under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—regardless.

Ironically, the scheme amounted to the Clinton campaign, the FBI, and other government actors interfering in the 2016 presidential election, which was exactly what the same inquisitors had blamed Mr. Trump and the Russians for.

The catch was, in spite of the exertions to nail down the election for Mrs. Clinton, she lost. And once she lost, those US government players who “meddled” in the election on her behalf stood to be exposed for the simple reason that Mr. Trump would soon be in charge of the executive branch, would appoint his own people to run the agencies, and would be in a position to discover all that misconduct. It would be reasonable to suppose that Mr. Trump would be mighty angry about what has since been termed a “soft coup” against him by his own government. It was this fear of being exposed for sedition—a serious crime—that drove the hysteria among Mr. Trump’s antagonists.

It was basically a cover-your-ass operation, a smoke screen to divert attention from their own crimes.

It is already documented in testimony to House and Senate committees that the FBI and Department of Justice officials knew that the Steele Dossier was a fabrication, and that the agencies used it anyway to kick-start their campaign against Mr. Trump. Thus, the predicate for the Mueller investigation was knowingly dishonest.

I suppose you could say that if Nate White is right about Trump, everything Kunstler alleges about Trump’s adversaries (open and covert) was justified. (I omit some of the reasons I have trouble buying Kunstler’s theory and prescind that possibility as irrelevant to my decision. For all I know or care, it might be true.)

Or I suppose you could say that if Kunstler is right about the deep state and Democrat conspiracy against Trump, no defects of Trump are weightier than the need to stick it to his dishonorable foes. Kunstler mercifully does not argue that. He basically thinks were screwed no matter what, due to decisions made bi-partisanly, mostly since World War II. (Besides which, I’m starting to think that “Deep State” is nothing more than a slur against competent professionals who irritate politicians who want to do something slipshod or semi-suicidal. And that “sticking it to” his foes will produce a lot of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.)

The question we face in November is not whether the supposed conspirators against Trump should be rewarded, but about whether we need a more fully human human being in the White House starting Inauguration Day 2021.

I need not believe any theory of Russiagate, pro-Trump or pro-foe, to make my decision because I see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears the proof of Nate White’s Bill of Particulars, not one of which has anything to do with Russia, Ukraine, or things arcane.

* * * * *

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

Posted in deathworks, Dignitary harm, Political Matters, Russia | Tagged ,

Our very stable and successful shadow-Czar for COVID-19

[O]n Thursday Americans were treated to a press conference appearance by Jared Kushner where he criticized states for wanting to access the federal stockpile of equipment to aid in the handling of a pandemic. His statement contradicted information on the Health and Human Services website about the mission of the federal stockpile, and by Friday the website had been changed.

The Dispatch

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.

Undeterred, he has now arrogated to himself a major role in fighting the epochal health crisis that’s brought America to its knees. “Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday. This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The journalist Andrea Bernstein looked closely at Kushner’s business record for her recent book “American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power,” speaking to people on all sides of his real estate deals as well as those who worked with him at The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper he bought in 2006.

Kushner, Bernstein told me, “really sees himself as a disrupter.” Again and again, she said, people who’d dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he “believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.”

It’s hard to overstate the extent to which this confidence is unearned. Kushner was a reportedly mediocre student whose billionaire father appears to have bought him a place at Harvard. Taking over the family real estate company after his father was sent to prison, Kushner paid $1.8 billion — a record, at the time — for a Manhattan skyscraper at the very top of the real estate market in 2007. The debt from that project became a crushing burden for the family business. (Kushner was able to restructure the debt in 2011, and in 2018 the project was bailed out by a Canadian asset management company with links to the government of Qatar.) He gutted the once-great New York Observer, then made a failed attempt to create a national network of local politics websites.

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books — have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support. Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Michelle Goldberg, Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness

Add a fourth success: he gets to re-write government websites to spread disinformation.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in deathworks

Un-learning

I recall from my late high school days a presentation by Moody Bible Institute about its school for missionary aviators in Tennessee. It has stuck with me for something like 55 years now that applicants who already had pilots licenses were not ahead of the game: “We have to un-teach them everything they’ve learned.”

Moody was quintessentially Evangelical, so it’s a bit ironic that Evangelicals must now unlearn what they’ve been taught in order to become better, more historically-rooted Christians.

Take conversion, for instance (a topic I began last night, not knowing I’d be continuing).

“Saints are made by good conversions.” In this challenging and provocative book, Gordon T. Smith contends that a chief cause of spiritual immaturity in the evangelical church is an inadequate theology of conversion. Conversion, he says, involves more than a release from the consequences of sin–the goal is spiritual transformation. But there is little transformation without a complete and authentic conversion. The key is beginning well. In this age of false starts and stunted growth, maturing Christians need help reflecting on and interpreting their own religious experience. Christian leaders need to rethink the way that conversions happen. Beginning Well is a catalyst toward this end. Surveying Scripture, spiritual autobiographies and a broad range of theologies of conversion (Protestant and Catholic, Reformed and Wesleyan), the author seeks to foster in the Christian community a dynamic language of conversion that leads to spiritual transformation and mature Christian living. In the process he moves us from a short-sighted “minimalist” view to one that recognizes seven elements necessary for good conversions. This book–a stirring call to rethink the relationship between conversion and transformation–is a must read for pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors, seminary professors and others who are concerned about the nurture and development of Christian converts, and the nature of authentic religious experience.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic Transformation.

Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on conversion. But what about life after conversion and beyond justification?
Desperately needed is a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with the means of formation and transformation. In Called to Be Saints, Gordon Smith draws on a distinguished lifetime of reflecting on these themes to offer us a theologically rich account of our participation in the life of Christ.
Both profound and practical, this book is a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and sanctification, both union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others and enjoy rightly ordered affections.
If holiness is the ongoing journey of becoming mature in Christ, then there is no better guide than Smith. Christians in every walk of life will find this a rich resource for learning what it means to “grow up in every way . . . into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, which was Evangelical enough to win a book award from Christianity Today.

This volume offers much-needed theological reflection on the phenomenon of conversion and transformation. Gordon Smith provides a robust evaluation that covers the broad range of thinking about conversion across Christian traditions and addresses global contexts. Smith contends that both in the church and in discussions about contemporary mission, the language of conversion inherited from revivalism is inadequate in helping to navigate the questions that shape how we do church, how we approach faith formation, how evangelism is integrated into congregational life, and how we witness to the faith in non-Christian environments. We must rethink the nature of the church in light of how people actually come to faith in Christ. After drawing on ancient and pre-revivalist wisdom on conversion, Smith delineates the contours of conversion and Christian initiation for today’s church. He concludes by discussing the art of spiritual autobiography and what it means to be a congregation.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation.

Next, they really need to unlearn the heresy of chiliasm/millenialism in all its forms, not just the novel and particularly virulent dispensational premillennialism.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in American Folk Religion, Christianity generally, Dispensationalism, Evangelicalism, lifeworks, Prophetic Hysterical Complex

Shattering a Shibboleth

I have increasingly come to respect the Evangelical Regent College (Eeeewwwww! I almost linked to Pat Robertson’s Regent “University”!) as a place of genuine learning (or that at least aspires to it). [Author’s note: there remains something called “Evangelicalism” that is a novel Christian sect rather than The Republican Party at Prayer. I was raised and educated in it.]

One of my favorite Protestants, Hans Boersma, was at Regent for a while until he left for the Anglican Nashota House. I stumbled across its podcast somehow a few months ago. Despite the giggliness of the hosts, many of the podcasts are quite good. But one that I just finished listening to made me exclaim “Glory to Jesus Christ!”

How do we understand a Christian conversion? Is it a static moment or is it a journey? Does our personal conversion experience match the experiences of our favourite Bible characters? In this episode, Gordon T. Smith, who by the way wrote 2 books and did a doctoral dissertation on this topic, challenges our concepts of conversion and tells us where all of our evangelical confusion around conversion started. You cannot miss this episode.

The notion of a “punctiliar” conversion (a new coinage, so far as I know, and not mine) — praying the Sinner’s Prayer, asking Jesus into your heart, etc. — was seemingly a sina qua non of evangelicalism as I grew up. If you couldn’t give the date when you so “got saved” you were highly suspect. The idea of just growing into the Christian faith was scorned.

But on this podcast, Gordon Smith challenges that head-on, tells its sorry history (which like most Evangelical errors is rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries — rarely even the late 18th century) and for my money demolishes it.

Smith’s understanding is not yet Orthodox, but freeing his mind, and those of his Regent College students, from a major Evangelical shibboleth* is huge.

May his tribe increase!

* I am aware that etymologically, a shibboleth is not something to be freed from or shattered, but I think it has evolved in usage to where both are apt.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in American Folk Religion, Christianity generally, Evangelicalism, lifeworks

Illusions of clarity and autonomy

The Washington Post has an Op-Ed exhorting Want to help save hospitals from being overwhelmed? Fill out that medical directive now. I expected to hate it more than I did.

So why did I hate it at all?

1. The clear message is that the some of us really should be willing to die for the rest of us.

There is little or no guilt-tripping manipulation in the column beyond that tacit message, but it goes out into a culture amply primed to understand. ‘Nuff said.

2. You’re not as clear as you think.

“[I]t is vital for physicians to know, and to honor, every patient’s explicit wishes,” the authors say, but “explicit wishes” carries a crushing burden there.

I practiced law for almost 40 years, with a lot of estate planning included. I was avocationaly involved in promotion of appropriate medical treatment for all, such as a symposium on physician-assisted suicide at Stanford in 1988, beginning before “Living Wills” became a fad. (Ever since then, by the way, I’ve been convinced that, for better or worse, we are going to get a single-payer system of some sort. I’m surprised it has taken so long.) And apart from the parents of a childhood friend, I don’t think I ever heard or was able to tease out of a client any “explicit” wishes.

My friend’s parents, though not very old, were tired of living and wanted no medical measures to sustain life.

Me: You mean that if you collapsed on the floor in front of me right now, you wouldn’t want me to call 911?

Them: Yes.

Now that was clear. I helped them doument their wish as strongly as possible, and somewhat to my surprise, they both were dead within five years.

Most of what I got from clients was vague but heartfelt pleas amounting to “I don’t want to die, but don’t let me end up like Karen Quinlan!” Understandable from the standpoint of empathy (nobody wants to “end up like Karen Quinlan”), but not as a concrete decision.

And then I had to try to fit the best I could tease out of them into something “substantially” in a legislatively-prescribed format that by itself was just more of the same vagueness. Efforts at adding clarity or nuance threatened to make it not in substantially the required form.

I couldn’t know because there was no caselaw. And there was no caselaw because …

3. Some doctor you’ve never met before will drive a Mack Truck through your ambiguities.

I can imagine clear advance directives by people who have candidly spoken with their physician about the expected course of a specific terminal condition that has been diagnosed. That’s what P.O.S.T. laws are about.

But because advance directives other that P.O.S.T. orders are (almost – see above) always vague, physicians pretty much do what they think is reasonable.

Maybe you’re okay with your long-time physician doing that, but if you’re in the hospital, it’s likely to be a physician you never met before.

4. Once you’re incapacitated, you’re no longer autonomous.

Early in court disputes over medical decisionmaking for incapacitated people (see Karen Quinlan or Indiana’s Sue Ann Lawrence), judges were groping around for a rationale to keep the courts from being flooded with such cases. They frequently lit upon the notion of “autonomy,” a rationale so transparently bogus as to drive a philosopher mad, and I was too philosophical to suffer such foolishness gladly.

The rationale was absurd and perverse because the cases invariably involved incapacitated people.

If not incapacitated, patients make their own decisions, and are bound (in theory) by no limitations on their deciding. Want to make a bizarre and lethal decision to forego an antibiotic for an easily-treated staph infection? No problem. Injecting you would be malpractice and criminal battery if you refuse it.

But how about if you’re incapacitated? May a judge reason that your life — maybe lifelong disability, or mild to moderate dementia — is so wretched that a reasonable person in that position would prefer to die needlessly of staph rather than to continue living?

My answer was and is “no.” But (admittedly in more dire circumstances) many judges were saying “yes” and justifying it as “autonomy.”

I once challenged a court of appeals judge, sitting on a panel of presenters at a continuing legal education seminar, that “autonomy-by-proxy” was an oxymoron, implying that they needed a better rationale. So obviously true was my observation that her only “out” was to deny that that was what they were doing. (So of course she ended up life-tenured on a Federal court.)

But that is what they were doing. The autonomy belonged to the patient and was only autonomous when exercised by the patient. The judges were exercising counterfeit “autonomy” in the name of the patient.

5. Be a burden to your family.

You can’t get around that by appointing a friend or family member either. Insofar as you’ve lost capacity, you’ve lost control. Nobody, appointed by you or elected by fellow-citizens, can be autonomous for you. Get over it.

So what do I recommend? Proxies, like a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and/or an Appointment of Representative for Healthcare. (The titles and details tend to be state-specific.)

In other words, giving someone you trust (and ideal who loves you) the power to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated isn’t properly autonomous, but it’s the best of a bad lot of choices — by a wide margin, too, in my opinion.

And then talk to them about your values and vague wishes before you are incapacitated.

I only had one client reject that offer, on the basis that he didn’t want to burden his family — and it turned out that he was secretly such a monster — driven by ideology, I think — that most in his family would have grieved little were he dead.

Don’t be like him.

* * * * *

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in death, Health care, Legalia, Life political issues, lifeworks, Rights Talk

Organized Chaos

 

L’affaire Reno

My friend Damon Linker has posted a column that denounces me as a toady for Randian libertarianism. But Linker’s reasoning (which is widespread these days) fails to recognize the distinction between killing and letting die. A woman choosing an abortion and the doctor performing it directly intend the death of the child, and they adopt lethal means to realize that intention. The same is true for euthanasia, when the doctor intends and causes the death of the ill or suffering person. As the literature in medical ethics makes clear, killing is very different from refraining from heroic interventions to save a life.

In the Catholic tradition of medical ethics, heroic efforts to save lives must meet two tests. They must have a good probability of success, and they must not be excessively burdensome. In my estimation, we have embarked on a society-wide, heroic effort that fails not just the second test, but the first as well.

At the present moment, we are compelling millions of hourly wage earners to give up their livelihoods. And we are on a trajectory that may have unknown political, social, and spiritual costs. Where will our political system end up? I’m anguished by the fear that so many feel, most unnecessarily.

This is not an argument against the present “shelter in place” policies. Perhaps they are the wisest course of action. But it is not morally serious to suggest that our present policies are obligatory—and that if one dissents, one is a moral monster.

R.R. Reno (emphasis added)

The more I read, the more I think Linker was right. Reno’s treatment of heroic efforts is shockingly superficial — mere hand-waving.


Rod Dreher, like many of my friends, has adopted the view that pro-life Christians are obligated to preserve life at any cost. This requires one to hold, as a matter of principle, that physical death is the greatest evil, since preventing death is the highest good. No ancient philosophers held such a view. Nor did the Old Testament prophets. Jesus certainly didn’t.

R.R. Reno, who has no answer for his critics and thus is reduced to lying about them.

Rod is not impeccable, but this simply wasn’t and isn’t his position.

In his own rejoinder to Reno, Dreher pointedly skewers Reno:

Look at what’s happening to New York City’s hospitals now, and try to maintain with a straight face that being told you can’t have a small dinner party amounts to the state making geldings of magazine editors. It’s just perverse.

But he still calls Reno a friend and professes fondness for contrarians.


When the facts get in the way of the narrative, print the narrative.

Alan Jacobs, criticizing, not exhorting.


Some will protest that there won’t be hundreds of thousands of deaths, and anyone who says so is a fear-monger. My hope too is that the death toll will be relatively low, but if so, it will only be because we listened to the so-called “fear-mongers” or because we got incredibly lucky. The vast majority of the epidemiological data points to a grim scenario in the absence of dramatic intervention. To be sure, models are sometimes wrong and experts are not omniscient, but we rarely hesitate to cut our beach vacations short when a major hurricane—something far less predictable than an epidemic curve—is on its way, so it’s hard to see the rational ground for blithely ignoring the threats of this other force of nature—infinitesimally smaller, perhaps, but far more deadly.

Traditionally, Christians have taught that the sixth commandment imposes on us not merely an obligation not to kill but to do whatever we reasonably can to preserve life: “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 135)

Among … non-negotiables, it seems to me, should be honor and respect for the aged. Utilitarianism says that these people have the least time left to live anyway, so they are the most expendable. The Judeo-Christian heritage says that the aged are priceless repositories of wisdom, that they gave us life and wealth and left us forever in their debt, that they demand our honor and respect. They do not deserve to die alone at home or in an overflowing hospital hallway, gasping for breath.

At the root of our protest that “the cure is worse than the disease,” I suspect, is a fear that our own way of life may have to change. Comforts that we once took for granted might turn out to be luxuries. Luxuries that we once aspired to may have to be shelved for another decade or two. Freedoms that we thought were our birthright, we will be forced to realize, were in fact simply the lucky blessing of having been born at the right time. For every generation in human history before those now living, “the economy” lived in a state of constant fragility, subject to forces of nature large and small. Epidemics and quarantines were facts of life. The freedom to live under your own vine and fig tree without interference was an eschatological hope rather than a political given.

Bradford Littlejohn, “No Wealth but Life”: Moral Reasoning in a Pandemic at Mere Orthodoxy (which, be it remembered, is Reformed, not Orthodox; that’s why he cites Westminster).

I’m very glad for that last paragraph, which gives voice to something I’ve been thinking. Yeah, it’s fairly easy for me to think that way, which is part of why I hadn’t said it, but that’s no reason to dismiss it with a wave of the hand or a derisive snort.

This is the best thing I’ve read yet about some of the rash, performative “faith” or “hard-headedness” I’ve been seeing.

Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them.

Unintentional killing is not morally imputable. But one is not exonerated from grave offense if, without proportionate reasons, he has acted in a way that brings about someone’s death, even without the intention to do so.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2269, interjected by me because Reno is conspicuously Roman Catholic.


Coronavirus

Trump is not making an argument that the DPA would be counterproductive. Tonight on Hannity, Trump said that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for all those ventilators!

Rod Dreher

And Donald “No Quid Pro Quo” Trump demands a quid pro quo for saving, e.g., New Yorkers’ lives.


To be sacrilegious requires some recognition of what is actually sacred — a type of knowledge Trump has never displayed. To him, choosing Easter must have been like selecting Independence Day or Arbor Day or Groundhog Day — a useful date on which to hang a ploy.

… At a time when American cities remain on the rising side of the coronavirus infection curve, Trump is preaching recklessness and selling the idea that coronavirus pessimists are engaged in a plot against him. This is not normal partisanship. It is not normal, period. Trump is not only proposing a celebration of the Resurrection that would fill graves. He is implying that one way to “own the libs” is by further exposing the elderly to a cruel illness. He is urging his “pro-life” followers to increase their tolerance for death.

This represents a different kind of sickness — a moral sickness that took hold in Trump long ago. His immediate, selfish interest is the cause — the only cause — to which he has dedicated his life.

Michael Gerson. Gerson, a Protestant (for so I consider Anglicans), does not share a very Orthodox view of Easter, but this is mostly very solid.


I guess one of the reasons I’m so furious about Donald Trump’s bungling of the coronavirus pandemic (and it’s still bungled; many who get tested don’t get timely test results, like both Ross Douthat and Peggy Noonan) is that I first learned of the virus from Rod Dreher morre than two months ago and he had the gist of its rapid spread and mortality rates, which both bode pandemic.

Rod freakin’ Dreher, of Baton Rouge, LA. Blogger and author on social matters, not scientific. But the Trump administration couldn’t figure out that we needed to get ready?!

This is not Fauci’s faullt. It’s not the fault of our “intelligence community” in their national security work.

It’s pig-headed Donald Trump’s fault, and history will not judge him kindly.


This particular plague hits us at exactly the spots where we are weakest and exposes exactly those ills we had lazily come to tolerate. We’re already a divided nation, and the plague makes us distance from one another. We define ourselves too much by our careers, and the plague threatens to sweep them away. We’re a morally inarticulate culture, and now the fundamental moral questions apply.

In this way the plague demands that we address our problems in ways we weren’t forced to before. The plague brings forth our creativity. It’s during economic and social depressions that the great organizations of the future are spawned.

David Brooks


Eight days in I entered the living hell of attempting to find my results through websites and patient portals. I downloaded unnavigable apps, was pressed for passwords I’d not been given, followed dead-end prompts. The whole system is built to winnow out the weak, to make you stop bothering them. This is what it’s like, in a robot voice: “How to get out of the forest: There will be trees. If you aren’t rescued in three to seven days, please try screaming into the void.”

Peggy Noonan, who still doesn’t have her March 17 coronavirus test results. Her fever, though, seems to have broken after 21 days.


One reason many people are deeply skeptical of climate change is that a lot of the stuff progressives propose to fight it are things they want to do anyway. And often, the stuff they want to do in the name of fighting climate change has nothing to do with climate change. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s original proposal for a Green New Deal includes trillions in funding for Medicare for All but nothing for nuclear power. The former would do zilch to reduce CO2 emissions; the latter would do a lot.

During the debate over the economic-rescue package last week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn said this crisis offers a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” The House version of the bill was full of gratuitous nonessentials such as regulations for forced diversity hiring. (The bill included 32 instances of the word “diversity.”) The final version has $25 million in funding for the Kennedy Center.

If you want to persuade normal Americans to take a crisis seriously, you have a moral obligation to act as if you take it seriously, too. Using it as an opportunity to get things you couldn’t successfully argue for before the crisis tells people you’re not as serious as you expect them to be. And that is a sure-fire way to sow precisely the sort of partisan distrust you decry.

Jonah Goldberg


Mistaken identities

Katherine Stewart apparently has decided that the term “evangelical” should be usd indiscriminately, as “fundamentalist” has been used for decades. Most of the people she names in The Road to Coronavirus Hell Was Paved by Evangelicals, insofar as I recognized them or tracked them down, are dubious candidates for the Evangelical label. They’re Presbyterians, Reformed, Charismatic, Seventh Day Adventist — not unequivocally evangelical.

It’s not my fight to fight. Evangelicals can mount their own defense if and as they like. But if they say “these guys aren’t ours,” I’ll be inclined to believe them.


Max Boot angrily left the GOP during the Trump era, and it’s easy for me to understand why he did. He’s taken a lot of shots at the party since then.

But today’s column takes a counterproductive shot at “the ‘pro-life’ movement” which, in Boot’s evil eye, is too willing to sacrifice born lives to the virus to spare the economy.

There’s just one problem: few of the examples he cites are plausibly from the pro-life movement. They are conservative officials, pundits, celebrities and provocateurs:

  • Ann Coulter
  • Laura Ingraham
  • Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
  • Brit Hume
  • Dennis Prager
  • Glenn Beck
  • R.R. Reno
  • The Federalist

Of that list, I think Reno and probably Prager have been reliably pro-life, though franky I so rarely read Prager that I’m not sure.

The others have used abortion as a wedge issue, and to secure an important part of the Republican base, but they have never exhibited the seamless-web tendencies of actual movement pro-lifers.

Instead of preaching to the liberal choir, Boot should have said “Dear Movement Pro-Lifers: Look at the creeps you’ve idolized and elected. Care to reconsider your knee-jerk fealty to the GOP?”


Inessentials  & Miscellany

In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich has decreed that priests may not perform emergency baptisms without permission, despite the fact that canon law gives every Catholic—even a layman—the right to baptize in case of emergency.

Because of coronavirus, my wife and I baptized our infant son with only the godparents and the clergyman present. The parish at which it would have been logical to baptize him turned us away. But another said it would accommodate us. Hand sanitizer had been placed at the entrance. We refrained from shaking the cleric’s hand. The only audience for the ceremony was a man at the far end of the church, kneeling alone in a pew. I was grateful that the church showed concern for us physically. And more grateful still that it did not abandon us spiritually.

Matthew Schmitz


We have to learn to love our crooked neighbors, with our crooked hearts. What else is there?

Rod Dreher

* * * * *

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

Posted in Calvinism, Consumerism, death, deathworks, Evangelicalism, Free-range Christians, Intricate malice, Journalism, Libertarianism, Political Matters, Survey, Uncategorized

Coronavirus (and the corruption of the pro-life movement)

Clipped from my reading today, but with a common theme — or very close to one.

Through this period, people often noted that the polarization of American political life had become corrosive and unhealthy. Everyone in Washington knew this, but no matter; it became an addiction. Every issue now defaults to the same petty level.

The greatest damage has been to the Democratic Party. Here a distinction is in order. By and large, the states are being capably led in their response to the coronavirus crisis by both Democratic and Republican governors. Apparently working below the radar of the national media is the antidote to political insanity.

Daniel Henninger


Seattle NPR member station KUOW has issued a statement to explain its editorial decision to refrain from broadcasting live daily briefings hosted by President Trump and including members of the White House coronavirus task force. “After airing the White House briefings live for two weeks, a pattern of false information and exaggeration increasingly had many at KUOW questioning whether these briefings were in the best service of our mission — to create and serve a more informed public,” notes the statement, posted Wednesday afternoon. “Of even greater concern was the potential impact of false information on the health and safety of our community.”

Eric Wemple


When you are poor—and when keeping yourself, your family, and your home clean is a matter of urgency—a laundromat is not a dispensable business. I live in Pennsylvania, one of the states taking strict measures to enforce social distancing and self-quarantining. Last week, the governor’s office released a list detailing which businesses were considered “life sustaining” and which would be subject to mandatory closure. Astonishingly, laundromats were on the shutdown list, at least at first. This was yet another reminder of how the coronavirus pandemic is widening the divide between the haves and have-nots.

Bobbi Dempsey, What’s Essential Depends on How Much Money You Have


[U]ntil at least Inauguration Day of January 2021, Donald Trump is the president we have. That’s just a fact. I’m thinking now of a conversation I had earlier this year, before the crisis, with a prominent journalist who is a total Trump hater. I don’t begrudge him his anger. I share a lot of it. But what was so strange about it was how consumed this man was with his spite for Trump. It seemed like a kind of black hole that warped the man’s perception of everything else. I recalled that conversation when I read Kyle Smith’s exhortation to the media to stop baiting Trump, and making him worse than he is. Smith writes:

… As far as I know, every member of the Washington press corps, even Jim Acosta, is a resident of Planet Earth. Why are they all acting as if they’re looking down from the Nebulon-235 system and not subject to everything that is happening?

We know that the president is unusually thin-skinned and capricious, that he is keenly and perhaps unhealthily focused on what the media are saying about him at any given nanosecond, that he has a short temper and a quick fuse. He goes through cabinet secretaries like a newborn goes through diapers. And pointing out his errors is the legitimate business of CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, the Washington Post, etc. But the way the media are trying to gin up a feud between Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci is disgraceful and disgusting.

Folks, and by “folks” I mean you absolute freaking Muppets, are you trying to get Fauci fired? Do we really want to start over with a new specialist in infectious diseases in the White House? Would you be happy if Omarosa were Trump’s chief adviser on epidemiology? Would you be more secure if Jared were the last man standing during the medical briefings?

Rod Dreher, Trump’s Eggshell Minefield

Yeah. I that’s right. I’ve been screaming about how Trump’s narcissism prevents his seeing the world accurately, but hatred of him can prevent accurate perception, too. This is, frankly, a risk for me personally, and I can see it, for instance, in yesterday’s NPR email: “One of the more unsettling byproducts of the growing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the rampant harassment of Asians and Asian Americans.”

“Rampant.” Really? (And of course it’s all because Trump trolled the press and the libs by calling it “Chinese virus” until someone got through to him.)

Dreher:

Be clear on what Smith is saying: not “don’t report critically on Trump” but rather “don’t exploit Trump’s weakness to make things worse for all of us.” … Do they really believe that Trump is going to resign, or be removed from office between now and the election? As Smith argues, it is in the interest of all of us that Trump do the best job of which he is capable. A big part of Trump’s problem in handling this crisis is that he treats it like it’s a reality show. But so do the media, when they try to blow things up between him and Fauci.

Along the same lines, this from Clarissa, a polyglot Ukrainian immigrant academic somewhere in Illinois:

The journalists at the virus press briefings make Pence, Fauci, Brix and even Trump look like serious, competent adults trying to pacify a roomful of pouty toddlers.

“How many deaths are acceptable?” asks one journalist. The question clearly isn’t trying to elicit any information that would be valuable to the public at such a difficult moment. The whole point of the question is to get a “gotcha, Trump” moment and garner a few thousand retweets.

Almost every journalist at the briefings is only interested in building a personal brand and is completely indifferent to the task of informing the public.


When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.

The qualities we most need in a president during this crisis are calmness, wisdom, and reassurance; a command of the facts and the ability to communicate them well; and the capacity to think about the medium and long term while carefully weighing competing options and conflicting needs. We need a leader who can persuade the public to act in ways that are difficult but necessary, who can focus like a laser beam on a problem for a sustained period of time, and who will listen to—and, when necessary, defer to—experts who know far more than he does. We need a president who can draw the nation together rather than drive it apart, who excels at the intricate work of governing, and who works well with elected officials at every level. We need a chief executive whose judgment is not just sound, but exceptional.

There are some 325 million people in America, and it’s hard to think of more than a handful who are more lacking in these qualities than Donald Trump.

… He can’t easily create another narrative, because he is often sharing the stage with scientists who will not lie on his behalf.

America will make it to the other side of this crisis, as it has after every other crisis. But the struggle will be a good deal harder, and the human cost a good deal higher, because we elected as president a man who is so damaged and so broken in so many ways.

Peter Wehner, The President is Trapped. I left out the most depressing parts.


Jonah Goldberg was on an absolute tear in yesterday’s Dispatch podcast about how horribly Donald Trump has led the coronavirus effort, particularly as regards his colleage David French’s opinion that TV really should cover the daily press briefings because if you really focus and pay attention you can get a lot of true and useful information from the people surrounding Trump, including gentle corrections of Trump’s misinformation from moments before.

On this one, I’m with Goldberg and the media who are refusing to let the President abuse free airtime for crypto-campaign speeches.

Also mentioned in passing, though it caught my ear as a former pro-life activist and one appalled by R.R. Reno’s recent blog, was Jonathan Last’s January 24 prediction that Trump would corrupt the pro-life movement. Because it was on The Bulwark, which I don’t visit regularly, I missed its excellence:

One of the ways the pro-life movement has changed people’s minds over the last 20 years is by having science on their side. Another way is that they were more than just anti-abortion.

Pro-lifers made smart, principled arguments about stem-cell research …

Pro-lifers led the opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

Pro-lifers are the first people to speak up for the rights of the disabled and the inherent dignity of all persons.

They spread the gospel of the seamless garment of life and that’s how they attracted new people to their cause.

The more the pro-life movement narrows its focus to nothing but abortion, the less effective it will be at changing people’s minds on abortion. … Lasting progress comes from changing the culture.

Donald Trump is a recent convert on the cause of abortion … [but] Trump is one of the rare converts who came to oppose abortion without really having much truck with ideas about inherent human dignity.

Donald Trump may be opposed to abortion—and again, that’s great—but he clearly does not believe in any consistent life ethic. Which means that he is functionally opposed to much of the pro-life movement’s beliefs.

Should the pro-life movement be welcoming Trump at the March for Life? I don’t know. I’m not the boss of them.

But I would note that it is not uncommon for conservatives to dismiss entire causes or ideologies because of the presence of a bad actor. For instance, you may recall conservatives dismissing the Women’s March in 2017 because of the involvement of Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory.

Why would outside observers not take the same attitude about the March for Life because of Trump?

Trumpism has corrupted every ideology and institution it has come into contact with. There is no reason to think that the pro-life movement will be excepted.

This is even better than Damon Linker’s column that same day (Trump’s scheduled appearance at the March for Life prompted both of them). Last more than Linker puts his finger on what I think was bothering me about Trump’s appearance, though I didn’t take time to sort through my thoughts and distill them (so far as I can recall).

The irony is that even before we could gauge how Trump’s appearance had hardened pro-abortion people in their position, and pushed fence-straddlers over to the pro-abortion side, Trump got supporters like Reno to take positions that undermine the principle of the sanctity of all human life.

Truly, Trumpism corrupts everything it touches.


There is, by the way, literally a playbook for pandemics, but Donald Trump wouldn’t follow it.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in Abortion distortion factor, Dignitary harm, Jeremiad, Journalism | Tagged

More miscellany, 3/25/20

Some argue that Christianophobia, which is an unreasonable hatred or anger towards Christians, does not exist but rather Christians are merely losing their privilege and being treated like everyone else. But given that the evidence that in academia individuals feel free to support anti-Christian occupational discrimination, it is hard to say that being denied a job due to religious bigotry is merely a loss of privilege.

… I found that 29.9% of all Americans have anti-Christian hostility. This is a bit higher than the 16.4% of the population who are anti-Muslim according to these same techniques.

George Yancey


Of course, I don’t know for sure that I have covid-19, because there is no testing where I live. People talk about testing on TV all day long. Usually, I’m listening through a scrim of fitful sleep. It’s like being stuck in the Loch Ness Monster programming on basic cable. There is no Nessie and no testing, but the talk goes on and on and on.

… Seven days into the waves of fever, I was drifting half in and half out of sleep. I was wearing a down jacket with the hood cinched around my head. I was buried under the covers, teeth chattering. A week like that is a very long time. (Nine days, and counting, is still longer.)

David Von Drehle. These are called “mild to moderate” symptoms. Yech!


Though the Erik Wemple Blog is no great booster of cable-news programming, we’ll take it any day over a rambling and lying President Trump. CNN and MSNBC, in fact, need to be more aggressive in cutting off the president in these briefings. There’s no reason their staffers can’t scour the briefing, produce a package with the newsworthy highlights and air it moments after the session concludes. If ever there were a time when Americans can wait for a few minutes, coronavirus is it.

Eric Wemple

I was grateful when my local 6 pm News interrupted Trump’s crypto-campaigning to give us actual news. Wemple is right.

But Team Trump pretends otherwise:

In an email to the Erik Wemple Blog, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denounced the truncated airing of the briefing:

The President has gone to the briefing room every day, along with many experts in various fields in an effort to inform the American public. He and the group are very generous with their time and take many questions from the press. It is astonishing to me that the media is now in the business of deciding what the American people should hear from their President — that’s not their job. It is also the height of hypocrisy for the complaint to now be that the briefings are “too long.” In addition to the most updated information for the health and safety of the country, the President will continue to deliver a message of hope, because that is what a true leader does.

(Emphasis added)


The Senate appeared ready to pass this vital legislation Sunday — until suddenly Democrats balked. They attacked the stabilization program as a “slush fund” and started to issue demands that the relief bill include a host of left-wing priorities that had nothing to do with the coronavirus. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House minority whip, told fellow Democrats in a conference call over the weekend that the relief bill was “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduced competing legislation that included elements of Democrats’ Green New Deal, including a requirement that airlines fully offset their carbon emissions and list their greenhouse gas emissions from every flight. It includes a requirement that any company receiving loans must report on pay equity and corporate board diversity, and adds other extraneous items such as guaranteed collective bargaining for all federal workers, a bailout for the U.S. Postal Service and requirements that all states allow early voting and same-day voter registration. With the backing of the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Joe Biden, Democrats have also demanded that any relief bill include a minimum of $10,000 per person in forgiveness for federal student loans, despite the fact that President Trump already waived interest on those loans for 60 days starting March 13 and gave student borrowers the option to request a 60-day forbearance on repayments.

Marc Thiesen


Reno, who’s a friend of mine, is passing harsh judgment on priests who are not serving mass to congregations today, accusing them of a lack of faith, and of moral courage. This is so, so wrong. Nobody — not those priests, not the faithful — wants to be away from church now. We do it not out of fear, but as a temporary sacrifice to save lives. You really can communicate the virus to others by your presence.

Rod Dreher


As if his idiocy might not be idiotic enough otherwise, our President insists on Tweeting in ALL CAPS!


If, on March 31, Trump declares “mission accomplished” and tweets that America should be open for business again, each and every governor could simply say no. They could go their own way.

David French

Could and should.


We have multiple things to worry about every day, but Anthony Fauci has been worrying about something like the coronavirus for a long time. An Intelligence Matters podcast from September 2018 that is more timely than ever.


When the Catholic editor of the leading conservative Christian magazine allows the fanatically pro-abortion Andrew Cuomo to outflank him on the issue of the sanctity of human life, well, we have a problem.

Rod Dreher, on R.R. Reno’s perverse column.

Unfortunately, Rod doesn’t stop there:

I have been saying on Twitter this week that I believe the Democrats would be wise to find a way to ease Joe Biden out of the presidential race, and nominate Cuomo. This would be a terrible thing for religious and social conservatives. As I said, Cuomo is a hardcore progressive, spiter of social and religious conservatives, and personally ruthless. He has also been quite good in this crisis. As with Rudy Giuliani after 9/11, he might be an SOB, but an SOB is what we needed at that time.

Yeah, right. Elect a known SOB because he seems to be just what the moment calls for. That worked out so well in 2016.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in Faith & Ideology, federalism, Roman Catholicism, Senate | Tagged , , , , ,

Miscellany

I’ve been reading and clipping less news because it’s all coronavirus and I got reasonably up to speed on that early. By reading less news, I have less to pop off about. But here’s (most of) what a wrote in my Common Place book today:


Both of my choirs have cancelled concerts and rehearsals. But since you’ll not hear us this Spring, here’s some second best:


If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.

Halting Virus Will Require Harsh Steps, Experts Say


I’m not positive of this, but I believe the media have been treating “it’s going to disappear; one day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear” as a lie. I think it’s scarier than that, and that it (conveniently) “confirms my priors.”

Of course Trump was wrong. Of course he was spinning a fantasy. But what if he believed it?

I think it’s very likely that he did because, as I’ve been saying for rather a long time now (years, not weeks or months) his narcissism is so profound that he cannot perceive the world accurately. That presents us with greater danger than him being an habitual liar (though I think he’s that, too; the two are not mutually exclusive.)


It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Rand Paul, “libertarian,” is just an arrogant, selfish a**hole.


[T]he mortality rate suffered by Americans in World War II is modest when compared to their enemies (including those of all ages who died under the rain of bombs dropped on Tokyo and Dresden) and most of their allies. Two thirds of males born in the Soviet Union in 1923 were dead by 1945, with a 7.2 percent death rate for Soviet soldiers of all nationalities. And it wasn’t just the Germans who killed Soviets: the Red Army executed 217,000 of its own men for desertion, over half the number of total U.S. combat deaths throughout the entire war. (“It takes a brave man to be a coward in the Red Army,” Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov observed.)

So while no one is underestimating the potential human tragedy we are facing with the coronavirus (in which, by some estimates, many more Americans will die than in all of our wars combined), it seems unlikely to come anywhere close to the 26 million dead (counting civilians) of the Soviet Union in the four years from 1941 to 1945, or the approximately 75 million dead of all nationalities, as grim a reaping as any in human history.

Mark Perry


There are a thousand coronavirus-related things you can legitimately fault Donald Trump for, but two people in Arizona eating fish tank cleaner because the president said that a legitimate drug that sounds like the active agent in the aquarium powder might show promise against coronavirus — that’s not one of them.

Rod Dreher


One acquaintance, in a position to know, once said of another “Watch out. He’s not as he pretends.”

I’ve never been able to shake that, though I’ve seen no sign that it’s true.

True or toxic? If toxic, the toxins are still nasty years later. Watch what you say.


His well-known shortcomings — his disdain for expert advice and evidence, his penchant for grievance, his narcissism and self-congratulation— are problematic in the best of times. During this pandemic, those characteristics are positively dangerous to the country he leads.

A growing number of journalists are calling on news and broadcast networks to quit showing Trump’s briefings live — arguing that public safety is best-served by fact-checking the president’s statements before reporting them out to the broader public.

“Even this far into his term, it is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that the single most potent force for misinforming the American public is the current president of the United States,” NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote over the weekend. “On everything that involves the coronavirus Donald Trump’s public statements have been unreliable.”

Joel Mathis, The worst possible president for this crisis


I’m not sure I can bear to renew First Things after Reno’s latest screed. And I’d bet a modest amount that David French’s sensible Sunday column is what set him off (remember: Reno is the guy who published Sohrab Ahmari’s unprovoked attack on French).

It is, for me, the equivalent of The End of Democracy: Our Judicial Oligarchy, which led to resignations from the First Things Board.


David Warren’s (On living dangerously) is subversive in a gentle, irenic way — sharp contrast to R.R. Reno’s rage-monkey:

… The most restless society since the invention of restlessness cannot cope with “downtime.” … Without the “events” which help to distinguish one day from another, we will need to start a war.

Had we books, and to have developed the habit of using them, we might read history instead; and even a bit of poetry on the side. But now, at loose ends, we are inspired to do something. Also, please note, the doctrine of original sin. I’m a big fan.

My political dogma has surely been established by now. I am against “doing” anything. Fight for a world in which nothing exciting happens, other than the pursuit of beauty, goodness, and truth. Fight relentlessly — by example.

The victory of Body over Spirit is confirmed in the Church. A correspondent forwarded a particularly obnoxious, but catatonically glib, remark by one influential ecclesiastical hierarch. He and others say that “keeping people safe” is their “highest priority.”

As another priest explained — this one a believing Catholic, unlikely ever to suffer advancement — the hierarch in question probably didn’t think he was uttering Catholic doctrine, just mindlessly repeating what he had learnt by rote. If quizzed meticulously, he would probably realize that Christ was not a gym instructor; and that the salvation of souls is in many ways unlike a public health operation. He was just going with the flow, as the trivial consequence of being an idiot.

For the record: Catholicism does not keep people safe. Verily, Christianity is dangerous …

By all means follow their pandemic instructions, until you get bored and have to start a war. But the most dangerous life is not licking doorknobs. It is trying to become a saint.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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

Posted in Uncategorized

A lot to contemplate

The Greeks – Aristotle no less than Plato – as well as the great medieval thinkers, held that not only the physical, sensuous perception, but equally man’s spiritual and intellectual knowledge, included an element of pure, receptive contemplation, or as Heraclitus says, “listening to the essence of things“.

The Middle Ages drew a distinction between the understanding as ratio and the understanding as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive, logical thought, of searching and of examination, of abstraction, of definition and drawing conclusions. Intellectus, on the other hand, is the name for the understanding in so far as it is the capacity of simplex intellectus, of that simple vision to which truth offers itself like a landscape to the eye. The faculty of mind, man’s knowledge, is both of these things in one, according to antiquity and the Middle Ages, simultaneously ratio and intellectus; and the process of knowing is the action of the two together.

There is no need to waste words showing that not everything is useless which cannot be brought under the definition of the useful …

In the Middle Ages, [this] view prevailed. “It is necessary for the perfection of human society“, Aquinas writes, “that there should be men who devote their lives to contemplation“ – nota bene, necessary not only for the good of the individual who so devotes himself, but for the good of human society. No one thinking in terms of “intellectual worker“ could have said that.

[L]eisure does not exist for the sake of work – however much strength it may give a man to work; the point of leisure is not to be a restorative, a pick-me-up, whether mental or physical, and though it gives new strength, mentally and physically, and spiritually to, that is not the point.

The point and the justification of leisure or not that the functionary should function faultlessly and without a breakdown, but that the functionary should continue to be a man – and that means that he should not be wholly absorbed in the clear-cut milieu of his strictly limited function; the point is also that he should retain the faculty of grasping the world as a whole and realizing his full potentialities as an entity meant to reach Wholeness.

Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, pages 28, 40-41, 49-50.

Use your “social distancing” time to get the house spic’n’span, to watch some worthy movies, to read some worthy books. But it’s Lent: fast a little, pray more, give time and/or money to those in greater need — and don’t forget to take some time for sheer contemplation. There’s a lot to contemplate.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

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Posted in "Spiritual" (maybe Religious), Faith & Ideology, lifeworks, Miscellany