Holiday Ingathering

You can’t patent, trademark, or copyright routine

Yesterday morning we were reading around the fire and started chatting about pastors and the emphasis in the Protestant church on feelings and niche theology. It is sometimes held that if one feels a certain way or espouses certain esoteric ideas, then one is a “mature” Christian. This, of course, is great for Christian publishers and pastors, who produce books and create experiences that promise to lead people to the holy land of Christian maturity, where a select few live with a sense of satisfying superiority. Gnosticism is alive and well.

But isn’t action essential for holiness—especially repetitive action, like regularly taking the sacraments and doing a daily office? It’s harder (though not impossible) to build a marketable brand on these things, which is perhaps why there are so few celebrity pastors in churches that emphasize routine.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock for December 23 (emphasis added)


Donald Jr.

Emissary to MAGA world

Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.

There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power …

And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go.

Decency is for suckers.

He believes, as his father does, that politics should be practiced ruthlessly, mercilessly, and vengefully. The ends justify the means. Norms and guardrails need to be smashed. Morality and lawfulness must always be subordinated to the pursuit of power and self-interest. That is the Trumpian ethic.

Peter Wehner, ‌The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.

And the assembled hoards at Turning Point USA ate it up.

If the GOP wants to be the party of normals

The Republican visage of the Janus-faced Hulk is investing in stupid as if it were Bitcoin … I’m enjoying the political beclowning of wokeness on the left, but the right’s embrace of jackassery is legitimately bumming me out, because it’s driven by people trying to claim the conservative label.

Consider AmericaFest. For several days now, I’ve been subjected to clips from Charlie Kirk’s confab. If stupid were chocolate, he’d be Willy Wonka, albeit with a revival tent vibe.  Whether it’s his comparison of Kyle Rittenhouse to Jesus or his claim that their election “audit updates” come from a “biblical framework,” he’s peddling snake-oil-flavored everlasting gobstoppers of idiocy.

Before you get offended at me mocking people for declaring their Christian faith, consider that what I’m really mocking is their understanding of Christianity. Here’s Donald Trump Jr.:

““We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference,  I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing, … It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”

My favorite part is the “sort of.” “Turn the other cheek” is “sort of” a biblical reference? What other kind of reference could it be other than some obscure instruction from a photographer to some butt model or what a tattooist says when he’s done with the left side?

… Donnie thinks a core tenet of Christianity needs to go if it doesn’t yield political power (for him). It should not fall to a guy named Goldberg to point this out, but from what I know about Christianity, this is pretty frick’n Roman.

But it’s not just the religion stuff. Sarah Palin, without a hint of irony, says she’ll get vaccinated “over my dead body.” (“Your terms are acceptable”—COVID.) … Madison Cawthorn, who makes Watters seems like Aristotle, told a group of mostly college students (at an event that makes its living feeding off of college students) that most of them should drop out of college. And, of course, Tucker Carlson doled out the usual boob-bait about the Capitol riot.

… I could go on. But the point is that if the GOP wants to be the party of normals, it can’t just take advantage of Democratic abnormalcy. It actually has to be, well, normal.

Jonah Goldberg


Dysfunction-making habits

Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.

Mary Eberstadt, Men Are at War with God


Suffering for the common good

[I]t does strike me as odd that many American liberals seem ideologically committed to being miserable all the time. But this is also understandable in light of prevailing moods. Feeling like you’re a victim even if you’re not is the dominant cultural sensibility of the day.

Anthropologically, the need for an “anchor” or “pivot” (to use the Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper’s term) is something that all humans appear to need across space and time …

This innate disposition can cause problems when denied its natural outlets. If a particular segment of the population, on average, is less likely to believe in God, belong to an organized religion, have children, or be married, then they will, on average, need to look elsewhere for anchors and pivots. And we know that meaning can be derived from panic, fear, and even illness, particularly if you believe your suffering is in the service of the common good.

Shadi Hamid, Omicron Panic and Liberal Hysteria


Is the essence of conspiracy theorizing denial of Occam’s Razor?

A group of unvaccinated people who attended a huge conspiracy conference in Dallas earlier this month all became sick in the days after the event with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. Instead of blaming the global COVID pandemic, however, the conspiracy theorists think they were attacked with anthrax.

This far-right conspiracy claim began after a dozen people spent time together in a confined space at the ReAwaken America tour event in Dallas over the weekend of Dec. 10. And the fact that this was likely a COVID outbreak and superspreader event has been almost entirely ignored.

David Gilbert, People Got Sick at a Conspiracy Conference. They’re Sure It’s Anthrax..


… rituals of ideological one-upmanship

The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least speak, about the common good. In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship.

Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal


Frolicking in 2022

A Facebook name change? A colossal global chip shortage? Digital art selling for millions? No crystal ball could have shown us what 2021 in tech would look like.

Opening paragraph to Tech That Will Change Your Life in 2022 – WSJ

To give them credit, the authors’ very next thought was that their annual prognostications are very much a lark.


Ambivalence

I couldn’t bear much more than the first five minutes of Netflix’s Emily in Paris (which I set out to watch because … Paris, of course), but maybe I had it all wrong:

[M]any of the haters were also fans. A tweet by the comedian Phillip Henry summed up the dynamic: “1) Emily In Paris is one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. 2) I finished it in one sitting.”

Netflix’s ‘Emily in Paris’ Is the Last Guilty Pleasure – The Atlantic

I went back and endured 15 minutes. I guess I’m not a very masochistic personality, because that’s enough and more than enough.


Long on emotion, short on facts

I predict mass communication technology and theory will be further weaponized to the point where increasing numbers of people suffer from a Matrix-like existence; “fake news” leading the way, long on emotion, short on facts.

James Howard Kunstler, Living in the Long Emergency.

"Long on emotion, short on facts" describes a lot of what I find frustrating about even the more balanced, non-ideological news these days. For just one instance, I think we all now know that hospitalizations has become a better Covid metric than new cases, but you’ll be lucky to find hospitalization numbers in most daily Covid updates. It’s mostly "new cases up; feel bad" or "new cases down; chill a little — until we whipsaw you again."


People who changed their minds in 2021

Because the personal has become political, and because politics has swallowed everything, to change is to risk betrayal: of your people, your culture, your tribe. It is to make yourself suspicious. If you change your mind on something, can you still sit with those friends in the endless high school cafeteria that is modern life? Often, the answer is no.

A year ago, I still believed very much that the best use of my energy was to try to work to shore up the old institutions from the inside. I was wrong. My readers know: This newsletter would not exist if I hadn’t changed my mind.

And once I changed my mind, once I stopped trying to repair a decayed thing from within and set out to build something new, I was suddenly waking up peppy at 5 a.m., no alarm needed. I think that’s because changing your mind is a hopeful act. It means you think there’s a better path forward. It means you’re not done becoming.

Bari Weiss, who proceeds to share some very short essays from people who’ve changed or changed their minds recently.


Shorts

Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.

Marcus Tullius Cicero


A sentence that would have been gibberish twenty years ago (and isn’t much better today):

Tesla has agreed to modify software in its cars to prevent drivers and passengers from playing video games on the dashboard screens while vehicle are in motion, a federal safety regulator said on Thursday.


None of the Civil War amendments established a right to be free from private-sector discrimination.

David Bernstein, You Can’t Say That!


A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

The Price is Right, on the tube for 60+ years now, must be the most cynical show on television.


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.

Politically homeless (and more)

Where is my political home?

David French was at the top of his game as a socio-legal pundit Sunday. It’s hard to know what to excerpt, and you really should read it all.

But excerpt I feel I must.

After registering his concerns with the new Texas abortion law, he turns "meta":

I don’t think most Americans appreciate how much the debate over abortion has changed in the last thirty years of American life. Two changes are particularly important. One is profoundly negative, and the other is extraordinarily positive.

First, the legal and political debate over abortion has become purely partisan at exactly the time when our nation’s profound polarization means that party affiliation is becoming central to millions of Americans’ personal identities.

Thirty years ago there was a robust pro-life wing of the Democratic Party. Even 15 years ago, when I moved back to Tennessee, my congressman was a proudly pro-life Democrat. My heavily Republican district voted him out in 2010. It preferred a “pro-life” candidate who faced evidence that he tried to pressure a girlfriend to abort their child and supported his ex-wife’s two abortions.

And now? Elected pro-life Democrats are very, very hard to find. Even worse, as the parties move away from each other on a host of important political issues—and as the GOP continues to embrace Donald Trump and his ethos and contains an ever-expanding coalition of cranks and radicals—it is increasingly difficult to ask Democrats to lend any aid and comfort to a party that they find unmoored from even basic decency, integrity, and truth itself.

Or, as I’ve heard so many believers from many faiths say: “I’m pro-life, and I want the law to protect the unborn. I welcome refugees. I want to address the contemporary reality and persistent legacy of racism. I want politicians to be people of good character and fundamental integrity. Where do I go? Where is my home?

(Emphasis added) Abortion was not my personal breaking point with the GOP, but I spent at least a decade politically homeless, and my new home is a third party (and ipso facto quixotic).

Third Commandment?! Is that old thing still around!?

My plea to my fellow Christians: If you insist on refusing the vaccine, that is your right. But please do not bring God into it. Doing so is the very definition of violating the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

Curtis Chang, Christian Exemptions to Vaccine Mandates Lack Sound Basis – The New York Times

The reader, the author, and the young traveler

I had meant to live like a tramp or a pilgrim or a wandering scholar, sleeping in ditches and ricks and only consorting with birds of the same feather. But recently I had been strolling from castle to castle, sipping Tokay out of cut-glass goblets and smoking pipes a yard long with archdukes instead of halving gaspers with tramps. These deviations could hardly be condemned as climbing: this suggests the dignity of toil, and these unplanned changes of level had come about with the effortlessness of ballooning.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water, which recounts one leg of his walk across Europe — this time, central Europe — in the 1930s, before storm clouds of war were mounting.

The passages describing his sojourns among the patricians of Middle Europe are among the happiest in the book, but among the saddest too: for we know, as the author knows, but as the young traveller never did, that all that happy, reckless and cultivated society, which answered his knocks at the door with such instant generosity, was doomed. Within Paddy’s own lifetime, it would be eliminated.

(Introduction to the book)

Unintended Consequences

Spotted:

Did Texas Hand Biden a Lifeline?
By Matthew Continetti The unpredictable politics of abortion in 2022 and 2024.

Good question. Since I let my National Review subscription lapse, I don’t know Continetti’s answer for certain. But Afghanistan was a blow to Biden, until our amnesiac press decided that the quirkey-to-the-Nth-degree Texas abortion law would sell more papers, get more clicks.

I’m no longer privy to high-level pro-life litigation strategy as I once was, but I very much doubt that any law like Texas’ was a part of it. This was Texas being contrary, independent Texas!.

Another possible unintended consequence of the Texas heartbeat law: if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week in its upcoming Dobbs case (which would put us in line with Western Europe), the result may be hard to portray as extreme.

Takes a village

Not the village I’ve seen …

I have seen the village, and it don’t want it raising my child.

Spotted by my wife on Pinterest

… and sure as hell not Los Angeles!

It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”

Cecily Myart-Cruz, head of United Teachers Los Angeles

Astonishingly, the reporter on this story, Jason McGahan, said of this woman

the following:

She doesn’t look much like a firebrand. Short and stout, with sparkling brown eyes, brightly painted pink lips, and copper-red, shoulder-length hair, she’s a Central Casting version of a kindly, cuddly school teacher.

McGahan must have gone to a really tough school. She looks to me like a Central Casting version of a villainous (villainess?) woman pro rassler.

Fundamentalism then and now

I am thinking about moving to Texas so that I can be in open disagreement with the powers that be and express this freely, instead of living in colonies of liberal progressives where I must put tape over my mouth except when among close personal friends. Freedom of speech is watched closely where I live and we all know it. “What exactly is it you want to say that you can’t?” you wonder. It is something that, were I to say it, I’d be kicked out of the Democratic Party and my library card would be confiscated and I’d be barred from Amazon and Starbucks and the Episcopal church would make me sit in the Penitents’ Corner. So I’ll keep it to myself.

I grew up fundamentalist so I’m familiar with the drill. We couldn’t join marching band because we believed that rhythmic movement would lead to dancing, which then led to fornication. We never sang uptempo hymns, only dirges. Women kept silent in church because the sound of their voices would lead men to think impure thoughts. So the rigidity of progressive righteousness is familiar to me. I can live with it. I know which friends can be trusted and which cannot.

Garrison Keillor.

I’m not so sure, Gary. Merely acknowledging that today’s progressives are every bit as prim and uptight as yesterday’s fundamentalists might get you cancelled.

Trump redux

I sure hope I’ll be able to drop the subject if the Orange One rules out a 2024 run, but meantime some reminders are in order:

Inglorious Bastards

The Bulwark is a website (news and commentary — mostly the latter) that arose to oppose Trump from a conservative (neocon, it seems to me) perspective. On January 4, Mona Charen (who I’ve loved for decades) righteously ripped into the Wall Street Journal for its record during the Trump years:

In the Trump era, the Journal’s editorial board has betrayed its readers. It has trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime. Every now and then—usually on textbook economic matters like tariffs—the board has issued stern rebukes of the president’s policies. But rarely. For the most part, it has retreated into anti-anti-Trumpism, averting its gaze from the president and focusing disproportionately on his opponents.

Today, the Journal concedes, “too many Republicans refuse to accept Mr. Trump’s defeat.” They note that the Senators who have agreed to contest the Electoral College count this week cite no evidence of fraud, “Instead they cite ‘allegations of fraud and irregularities’ that feed ‘deep distrust’ of the results—distrust they and the President are feeding.” So far, so good. But then, in a typical misfire, the editors caution that “this is a . . . lousy political strategy for returning to power.” Ah. So that’s the main issue then?

The president of the United States is attempting to subvert the democratic process. He is calling on his followers to swarm Washington, D.C., on January 6. For what conceivable purpose?

I particularly loved "trimmed and hemmed and to-be-sured its way through the most sustained assault on truth and the American political order of our lifetime", which is pitch-perfect.

But the main point is that no good ever could ever have come from "calling on [Trump’s] followers to swarm Washington, D.C., on January 6" and the Wall Street Journal covered itself with feckless shame for not saying so.

Dehumanizer to the core

What is it that I want from government, exactly?

The answer my brain keeps coming back to is in reference to something my guy Jeb Bush used to say about education. He wanted every child to have the opportunity to live a life of purpose and meaning. And that’s basically what I want from our government and society.

Donald Trump created a party that didn’t even pretend to care about dignity and purpose.

Trump saw Republican voters as customers who needed to be attracted to his brand. And if his customers wanted a brand identified with being as cruel as possible to other humans, then it was cruelty he would sell. Banning people from entry into the country if they are Muslim does not have a pro-human dignity side to the argument. Neither does separating parents from their children at the border. Or cheering on killer cops. Or grabbing women by the pussy against their will. Or trying to cancel the votes of people who live in a city with a lot of blacks.

Trump’s entire essence is in direct conflict with the notion that people have dignity. He is a dehumanizer to his core.

Tim Miller at The Bulwark

Gore Vidal redux

I was a young fan of Bill Buckley’s polysyllabic erudition, and cheered when Buckley threatened to “sock [Gore Vidal] in the goddam mouth.” But is Vidal’s later conspiracy theorizing looking prescient?


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.

Martinet pronouns (and much more)

Best thing I read Monday: Are We Still Thinking?.

There’s a lot more to it than this, one of my favorite quotes of an American Founder:

In the 1780’s, John Adams wrote:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

I have a reminder set to re-read the article. It’s that good.


Bari Weiss turned most of her column over to the lament of a Romanian-born mathematician:

Sergiu wrote me in an email that the situation in his field reminds him of this line from Thomas Sowell: “Ours may become the first civilization destroyed, not by the power of enemies, but by the ignorance of our teachers and the dangerous nonsense they are teaching our children. In an age of artificial intelligence, they are creating artificial stupidity.”

Bari Weiss, introducing There Is No Such Thing as "White" Math – Common Sense with Bari Weiss

The centerpiece of Sergiu’s complaint is an 83-page piece of idiocy that proves, if nothing else, that its funding source, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, does not have perfect pitch.


Legal writing guru Bryan Garner puts a pin in the "what are your pronouns?" bullshit:

What’s new isn’t the generic pronoun but the referential pronoun: the one that refers to a known person (Bill, John, Krys, or Emily). People are deciding for themselves how they want to be referred to behind their backs — in the third person. If you were addressing them directly, of course, you’d simply use you and your. A social movement is behind the idea that people get to decide how references to them should sound when they’re absent.

Bryan Garner, Pronominal Strife – Los Angeles Review of Books (emphasis added)


"Legislating by letterhead" belongs in our lexicon, though I think I recall conservatives doing the same sort of thing as this:

The precursor to the hearing was a revealing letter sent Monday by two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney. The duo demanded the CEOs of a dozen cable, satellite and broadband providers explain what “response” they intended to take to the “right-wing media ecosystem” that is spreading “lies” and “disinformation” that enable “insurrection” and provokes “non-compliance with public health guidelines.” Specifically they asked each CEO: “Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax and OANN . . .? If so, why?”

When Republican members of the committee and outside groups shouted censorship, Ms. Eshoo shrugged. “The First Amendment, my friends, starts with four words: Congress shall make no laws,” and she, Anna Eshoo, had no intention of enacting a law to shut down conservatives. She was merely asking “strong, important questions”—i.e., whether private regulated companies understand that (if they know what’s good for them) they’ll do the dirty work for her, thereby saving her the hassle of complying with the Constitution. She was just asking.

“Right now, the greatest threat to free speech in this country is not any law passed by the government—the First Amendment stands as a bulwark,” says Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. “The threat comes in the form of legislating by letterhead.

Kim Strassel, ‘Just Asking’ for Censorship – WSJ


After a long absence, Garrison Keillor assaulted my RSS aggregator yesterday with multiple postings. I have no explanation for this delightful onslaught or for the preceding absence.

I’ll be selective, minimizing politics.

I married a pro-vaxxer, which is good to know after all these years — we never discussed vaccines during courtship — and in addition to her respect for science, she has the patience to track down clinics online and spend time on Hold and so now I am vaccinated …

I was not asked for a credit card at any point, or a Medicare card, so evidently the country is slipping into socialism, as Republicans predicted, but I am too old to argue, I obey. Young people wearing badges told me which line to get in and I did. A young woman who said she was a nurse gave the shot and I didn’t ask to see her license. Nor did I ask for assurance that the vaccine did not contain a hallucinogen that would make me accept the Fake News: I already accept that Joe Biden was elected president and that Trump supporters invaded the Capitol on January 6. It’s too laborious to believe otherwise. This is Occam’s Razor, the principle they taught in high school science: the simpler theory tends to be true. You’d have to devote weeks to working up a new theory of massive electoral fraud by Venezuelans and Antifans buying thousands of MAGA hats to storm the Capitol, and at 78 I don’t have the time for that. The vaccine may extend my lifetime but there are no guarantees.

The old scout stands in line at the clinic | Garrison Keillor

The joy at the heart of the lockdown in the pandemic is the daily reassurance that you married the right person. A funny person with her own life who is never at a loss for words and so is good company and who reads the news for me and passes along the good stuff.

She read me a story in the Times last week about the hellish life in the skinny skinny new skyscrapers of Manhattan. Developers have taken tiny lots and thrown up a 90-story needle and sold apartments for vast amounts to people who want to look down on the rest of us but meanwhile high winds cause the needle to sway dramatically, which often snaps water pipes and causes major leaks and brings elevators to a stop and causes eerie whining sounds. It gave us joy, to think that architects and developers have found a way to earn big profits from torturing oligarchs from authoritarian countries who have way too much money.

The pandemic: one man’s appreciation | Garrison Keillor

In the Fifties, they tore down sixteen acres of tenements in Hell’s Kitchen and under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller brothers they built a symphony hall, an opera house, a theater, and a dance theater around a plaza with a fountain. Republicans were behind it and Lincoln’s name is on it and when you attend events here, you brush elbows with a good many moguls and grande dames who probably miss Ronald Reagan keenly and you go in to watch performers, 95 percent of them Democrats, some to the left of Bernie Sanders, but the conflicting views between the stage and the box seats are forgotten in the glory of “Der Rosenkavalier” or Beethoven or “Les Sylphides.” If your heart is open to the gifts of genius, you will walk across the plaza afterward, past the fountain, and feel transformed.

I first saw the U.S. Capitol in 1962, heading for Baltimore to attend a wedding, got lost, saw a lighted dome and realized I was in Washington. I parked and walked up the steps and in the door, past one policeman sitting on a folding chair in the foyer, and walked in under the great dome and looked at the statues and murals, and saw only a couple of cops relaxing in a hallway, not paying much attention to anybody.

When I tell people about that night, it feels like ancient history. Those days will never return. Even at the opera, security men wand you as you come through the turnstile. After the Capitol insurrection of January 6, security will be iron-tight forever to come, metal detectors will beep at every steel zipper, uniformed men with assault weapons will watch your every move. Walking into the Capitol of 1962, the openness of it told you that we are a civilized society with a high level of mutual trust. I don’t care to ever visit Washington again and see our government on wartime alert for attacks by our fellow Americans. Too painful.

A night outside, eating with friends | Garrison Keillor

Will Hollywood rise from the dead when the pandemic ends? It must. Truly. I decided it was my duty to sit down and write a screenplay for a movie to hold a theater of young people transfixed for a hundred and ten minutes, but it’s no use, I’m too old and comfortable, too well-married. I live with a woman who sits across from me at the breakfast table and reads the paper and tells me what I need to know from it, which takes her five minutes, and leaves me free to think my own thoughts. I spend less time worrying about our democracy than I do trying to remember Natalie Wood’s costar in “Splendor In The Grass.” (Warren Beatty.) William Inge wrote that movie and he felt entitled to torture beautiful Natalie and throw her into a loony bin because he was an alcoholic gay male suffering from depression. I don’t have that privilege, having had a happy childhood. I write a scene and it’s two people remembering their childhoods. No drama. Dishes need to be thrown, tables overturned.

The end of the worst, bring on the better | Garrison Keillor


Micah Mattix respects Christopher Lasch, but thinks Robert Penn Warren is needed as a corrective. He starts showing where Lasch over-sold his case:

For Lasch, the unbounded pursuit of capital has led to the commodification of nearly all of life. The decline in American manufacturing has made it difficult for working-class families to live on a single salary. The result, often, is both parents work full-time and outsource child-rearing to “professionals.” Small stores and local hangouts, where people of different classes might interact, have been replaced by big box stores and impersonal chain restaurants in pursuit of greater margins. The result is that informal conversations between groups has ceased. The wealthy go to private cocktail parties and exclusive clubs while the plebs stare at TV screens in Chili’s. The “decline of participatory democracy,” Lasch writes, may be directly related to the disappearance of these “third places.” Education has abandoned moral formation in favor of creating efficient workers while, at the same time, nourishing a sense of entitlement though victimhood narratives that postpone adulthood. Math and science—the golden tools of the market—are funded while history and English are either cut or repurposed to teach “soft skills.” Doing right is replaced with feeling good in homes and churches. The list goes on.

But this has been going on for much longer than 25 years. I am reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, which was first published in 1952 and which can be read as a commentary on post-WW II life in the South. It’s set in the fictional Taulkinham—a town of shops and movie theaters. “No one was paying any attention to the sky,” O’Connor writes. “The stores . . . stayed open on Thursday nights so that people could have an extra opportunity to see what was for sale.” In one scene, a man sets up “an altar” to sell a new kind of potato peeler. All everyone does in Taulkinham is shop and go to the movies. There are no two-parent families in the novel. Young men are either unemployed or work menial jobs. And the only religion that anyone shows any interest in is Hoover Shoat’s prosperity gospel, where, he tells the townsfolk “You don’t have to believe nothing you don’t understand and approve of.”

Warren’s corrective, distilled:

Warren’s argument for role of poetry in a democracy reminds us not only of the importance of taking the long view but also of the centrality of excellence for a good society. This is Lasch’s concern, too, but it cannot be recovered through economic reforms alone.

Micah Mattix, Saving the American Experiment – Law & Liberty


Of the Golden Trump at CPAC 2021:

“It’s definitely not an idol,” Mr. Zegan insisted. (“I was a youth pastor for 18 years,” he noted.) “An idol is something somebody worships and bows down to. This is a sculpture. It’s two different things.”

At CPAC, a Reverence for Trump – The New York Times

"Trust me; I’m a former youth pastor" is a nonsequitur right out of the gate, but "an idol is something somebody worships and bows down to" is a particularly risible affirmation coming from within a Christianish tradition whose dumbed-down "worship" of God almost certainly includes no bowing.


CPAC was full of Trumpists saying they’re conservative, not Republican. I have no taste to vote for saving the Republican Party from their ilk, but I hate to see the term "conservative" debased.


Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

I John 3:2


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.

Attention Economy (and more)

Michael Goldhaber, the Cassandra of the Internet Age is one of the more thought-provoking things I’ve read in the past few weeks, and I’ve been reading a lot of thought-provoking things. It’s your introduction to “the attention economy” and it’s worth burning a freebie at the New York Times’ metered paywall.

  • Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.
  • “We struggle to attune ourselves to groups of people who feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve, and we ought to get better at sensing that feeling earlier,” he said. “Because it’s a powerful, dangerous feeling.”

Yesterday, in an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, [Liz Cheney] went further. Trump “does not have a role as the leader of our party going forward,” she asserted, making a public case—to viewers of Trump’s onetime favorite network—that expanded on the one she delivered in the House GOP Conference meeting on Wednesday.

Cheney isn’t alone. Late last week, it became clear that Sen. Ben Sasse was headed toward another censure from the Nebraska Republican Party. Among his supposed offenses: accusing Trump of “pouring gasoline on these fires of division” that led to a riot at the U.S. Capitol and “persistently engag[ing] in public acts of ridicule and calumny” against the former president.

Sasse—who was just elected to a second six-year term—did not shy away from the confrontation, instead cutting a five-minute video response to the Nebraska GOP’s State Central Committee. “You are welcome to censure me again,” he said, “but let’s be clear about why: It’s because I still believe (as you used to) that politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

At the end of the message, Sasse, like Cheney, pointed to the future. “We’re gonna have to choose between conservatism and madness,” he said, “between just railing about who we’re mad at, versus actually trying to persuade rising generations of Americans again. That’s where I’m focused. And I sincerely hope that many of you will join in celebrating these big, worthy causes for freedom.”

[Shout-outs to Sen. Pat Toomey, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and Rep. Peter Meijer omitted.]

… Only 21 percent of Republicans in a recent Echelon Insights poll strongly or somewhat supported impeaching and convicting President Trump.

But the same poll also found Trump’s stranglehold on the party’s voters loosening. In December, according to the survey, 61 percent of GOP voters said they hoped Trump would continue to be “the leading voice” for Republicans going forward. By January, that number had dropped to just 41 percent. After the events of January 6, only 45 percent of Republican voters said they wanted Trump to run for president again in 2024, down from 65 percent the month prior.

The Morning Dispatch

How these sane people live in the same party with Matt Gaetz, MTG and other contemptible clowns is an open question, but I can understand them not wanting to cede the party of Lincoln to limelight-loving loons.


I was shocked that OAN would run Mike Lindell’s 3-hour Absolute Proof conspiracy video, considering reports that it repeats defamatory claims OAN already had retracted under threat of lawsuit. But this extraordinary disclaimer helps me understand.

I won’t watch the video because:

  1. People I trust and respect have already debunked the major “stolen election” evidence — some of which is fabricated, some of which is third-hand hearsay, and some of which may be honest misunderstandings of the significance of first-hand observation (e.g., “when I went to bed, Trump was ahead but when I woke up Biden was pulling away” — a red crest/blue wave that was long predicted and easily understood, but that Trump consciously exploited with his premature victory announcement).
  2. I’m not so sophisticated about election mechanics that I can, on my own and in real time, dismiss all the claims that might be made in a 3-hour video. So watching it would only produce confusion — probably unwarranted (see my appeal to authority in the preceding point) — or require hours and hours more to regain a working clarity.
  3. I do not apologize for trusting analyses of people I’ve found trustworthy. Everyone does it. Everybody budgets how much time to spend on various things, and most people budget little time for seemingly-quixotic quests, If others find a cocaine-addled domestic abuser, conspiracy theorist and TV pitchman more plausible than seasoned political observers, all I can say is “bless their hearts.”

Timothy Wilks, 20, is shot and killed outside of Nashville’s Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park. Police told reporters that Wilks was trying to create a viral video of himself staging a fake robbery prank for his YouTube channel. Apparently unaware of the hilarity of having a stranger run at you and your friends with butcher knives, one of Wilks’ intended foils drew a pistol and shot him dead.

The Dangers of the Derp State – The Dispatch

Well, bless his heart, he was just trying to gain the attention to which he’s entitled.


The state of Victoria in Australia … just passed a bill that will considerably intensify the conflict between religious freedom, individual choice, and identity politics. And it might well become a model for laws elsewhere in the democratic world.

The legislation that just passed is the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 …

The law defines a change or suppression practice as follows:

“a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and for the purpose of changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

But the really important part of the bill from a religious perspective is its list of “change or suppression practices.” This includes: “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer-based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism.”

In short, if someone asks a pastor, a priest, or a Christian friend to pray for them that their sexual desires or gender dysphoria might be changed, that pastor, priest, or friend runs the risk of committing a criminal offense. Presumably this also applies to parents praying for their children—or perhaps even parents teaching their children that untrammeled expressions of sexual desire (at least within the canons of contemporary bourgeois taste) are inappropriate.

The legislation also demonstrates one of the oddest results of the modern emphasis on the radical freedom of the individual. In such a world, all must theoretically be allowed to have their own narratives of identity. But because some narratives of identity inevitably stand in opposition to others, some identities must therefore be privileged with legitimate status and others treated as cultural cancers. And that means that, in an ironic twist, the individual ceases to be sovereign and the government has to step in as enforcer. The lobby group of the day then decides who is in and who is out, with the result that, in this instance, the gay or trans person who wants to become straight or “cis” (to use the pretentious jargon), cannot be tolerated. His narrative calls into question that of others. We might say that his very existence is a threat. To grant any degree of legitimacy to his desire is to challenge the normative status of the desires of others.

And so prayer for such heretics must be prohibited, even if they specifically ask for it. This is not so much because it harms the people for whom it is being offered, but simply because it witnesses to the fact that not all people—not even all gay and trans people—buy into the current confections of the politics of sexual identity.

Perhaps that is encouraging. Perhaps at long last Western societies are beginning to wake up to the fact that Christianity at its very core witnesses to the fact that the world is not as it should be ….

Prohibiting Prayer in Australia | Carl R. Trueman | First Things


A Los Angeles Times opinion column is firing up the Internet after Virginia Heffernan wrote about her anguish in not knowing how to respond to neighbors cleared the snow on her driveway. They problem is that they also voted for former President Donald Trump. The column entitled “What can you do about the Trumpites next door?” explores her struggle with how to respond while comparing all Trump supporters to Nazis and Hezbollah. It is unfortunately hardly surprising to see such unhinged hateful comparisons in today’s age of rage. What was surprising is need to publish such a column containing gratuitous attacks on over 70 million voters as compared to genocidal murders or terrorists.

Thank You For Shoveling My Driveway . . . You Nazi? LA Times Runs Bizarre Column Revealing Liberal Angst And Anger – JONATHAN TURLEY


I never thought the end of the world would be so funny.

Jonathan Pageau, Q&A at Seattle Conference – Oct. 2017 – The Symbolic World

Trumpist alternative facts don’t lead me where they want me to go

Let’s take Trump’s claims seriously, just for the sake of argument. I don’t think my conclusion is his conclusion.

As I understand it, in this alternate world, Team Biden:

  • secretly organized a huge, multi-state conspiracy,
  • consisting of Republicans, Democrats, virtually every pollster and presumably a few Libertarians and independents,
  • including Governors, Secretaries of State, County and City officials, volunteers who help with elections, and
  • including federal and state judges at trial and appellate levels,
  • including Trump appointees, both trial and appellate (who Trump boasted would reliably do his will),
  • without any leaks or defections, and
  • without leaving a trace of articulable evidence (other than statistical sophistry that competent authorities demolish).

Whew!

Team Trump, in contrast, succeeded in four years at:

  • picking names off a list of prime judicial nominees handed to him by the Federalist Society and then letting Cocaine Mitch work his bright magic
  • mis-managing a pandemic response at the cost of scores- or hundreds-of-thousands of lives
  • implementing a “no good deed goes unpunished” policy for officials who take too seriously their oaths to uphold the law and Constitution
  • mean-Tweeting one or two gross of power-hungry Republican dipwads at the federal level into repeatedly and vigorously humping Trump’s leg.

I don’t want to minimize the feral cunning it takes to reduce a lot of ambitious manicured and razor-cut Republican hotshots to abject sycophancy, but apparently all that takes is demonically tireless mean-Tweeting (or threatening to mean-Tweet).

Team Biden’s exploit, in contrast, ipso facto proves that they are prepared to unite and govern a diverse and complicated country, including things that must be done without fanfare or even in secrecy.

It also proves that peaceful resistance to election of Biden is futile, and I’ll be damned (literally) if I’m stupid and evil enough to take up arms for the Orange Toxin.

He’s not known for coherence, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what Team Trump wants me to conclude.

(Reminder: This was an exercise in the eventuality of “alternate facts.” And remember that Conspiracy Theories Are Incompatible With Conservatism.)

Too interesting times

I’m starting light. I’ll end very heavy.

1

What is this? Pronoun pickiness run amok?

2

Signs of wretched excess: Pumpkins Spice in August.

Some pleasures are just meant to be seasonal.

(H/T Smokey Ardisson on micro.blog)

3

I’m sincerely hoping, and strongly suspect as I’ve not read of this elsewhere, that this is a small eddy in an already-small fetid swamp of AlexJonesish conspiracy theorists:

McCain conspiracists say his brain cancer was a hoax

4

Brett Kavanaugh Is a Mensch: When Bethesda, Maryland went NIMBY on a Synagogue, Kavanaugh pitched into the defense of the Synagogue.

5

Within 45 minutes of Ronald Reagan’s announcement that Robert Bork was his pick to replace the retiring Justice Lewis Powell on the high court, Kennedy introduced him to America this way:

“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Now compare this, for sheer style, with the attempt by Elizabeth Warren, current occupant of the seat once held by Kennedy, to do the same for Mr. Trump’s nominee:

“Judge Kavanaugh is part of a movement to twist the Constitution in ways that are deeply hostile to the rights of everyone but those at the top. He’s been a part of that movement for the majority of his professional life, both before and after he became a judge. And now, he has a record of 12 years of judicial decisions that demonstrate his loyalty to that radical ideology.”

Here’s some bad news for Sen. Warren. I remember Ted Kennedy. I watched when Ted Kennedy turned Robert Bork’s name into a nasty verb. And I say this to the woman who now holds the late senator’s seat: Ms. Warren, you are no Ted Kennedy.

After so many years of crying Bork, Democrats have forgotten an essential in politics: count your votes. Brett Kavanaugh will take his seat on the Supreme Court in the end. And yours truly is betting it will be with the votes of at least two Democratic senators.

William McGurn

6

Well, at Least Sheriff Joe Isn’t Going to Congress

Most heartening headline of the day

Cast aside and left to wallow in the knowledge that his moment has passed, he has a fitting end to the public life of a true American villain.

I’ll forgive Mike Pence the praise he lavished on this villain if he repents publicly and convincingly. That was a moment when I understood why many of my fellow Hoosiers contemned a man I felt was too great a cipher to warrant contempt.

7

President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, announced Tuesday that the administration is “taking a look” at regulating Google’s conduct, given Trump’s complaints earlier in the day that the company’s search results suppress conservative views. Kudlow’s statement raises First Amendment concerns of the highest magnitude.

Floyd Abrams. Click that link to “taking a look.” That’s pure, venomous effort to chill a free press and its modern adjunct, the search engine.

What is potentially dangerous is the assertion in the president’s tweets that “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” and Kudlow’s intimation that a regulatory response was actually being considered. Of course, Trump and Kudlow may not mean it. Or they may mean it and will not pursue it further. But one cannot tell, and so when such statements are made, it is worth responding immediately ….

And when Floyd Abrams responds this way on a First Amendment matter, it is a warranted shot across the bow of would-be tyrants. Don’t you think for a minute that Brett Kavanaugh will be so grateful to Trump that such nuances will be lost on him.

8

I close with sad but notable news.

I first became aware of Damon Linker when he was at First Things magazine around 16-18 years ago. “First Things” is pervasively Roman Catholic in its staffing, though not in what it publishes, so I sort of assumed that Linker was Catholic. I had no idea he was a new convert when he arrived.

Now he’s leaving. Although I’m skipping most news of American Clergy Abuse Scandal II, personal stories are likely exceptions. I’ve distilled what I find most compelling in Linker’s story:

The core of the church’s problem isn’t personal immorality, or institutional corruption, or hypocrisy. The core of the problem is ugliness.

People too often fail to appreciate the role of beauty in religion …

The singular importance of beauty or nobility to the most profound moral and religious experience was noted centuries before Christ in the dialogues of Plato, where the character of Socrates frequently asks his interlocutors searching questions about elevation. What do we admire? What acts stir us and move us to tears? Often it is those acts involving self-sacrifice, devotion to something loftier, something purportedly higher …

When I converted to the Catholic Church 18 years ago, I did so in large part because I was deeply moved by the act of self-sacrifice that the church places at its heart …

If I didn’t really believe in all of the theological precepts taught by the church, at least I wanted to — because I considered them beautiful, and because I wanted to be a part of the beauty, to elevate myself by assimilating myself to it.

That impulse seems very far away from me now. It began to fade in the church scandals that broke less than two years after I entered the church. The crisis deepened by working for a devout priest who responded to the scandals by circling the wagons against the secular press and its impertinent reporters looking to harm the church with their pesky attachment to uncovering the truth.

[T]o wade through the toxic sludge of the grand jury report; to follow the story of Theodore McCarrick’s loathsome character and career; to confront the allegations piled up in Viganò’s memo — it is to come face to face with monstrous, grotesque ugliness. It is to see the Catholic Church as a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.

No thanks. I’m done.

And I bet I’ll have a lot of company headed for the door.

The “devout priest” he worked for was the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, himself a convert, who I thought very highly of — and still do. But “circling the wagons” and whanging on people like Rod Dreher (“‘Shut up’, he explained”) was both wrong and ugly.

I don’t know if Linker is leaving Rome for another Christian tradition or if his entire faith is crushed, but his brokenness is a sad, sad commentary.

Millstone. Neck. Sea. Kyrie eleison!

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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