Monday potpourri, 12/13/21

Wrongful convictions

“Sprinkle some junk science onto a faulty identification, and it’s the perfect recipe for a wrongful conviction,” Hammond said.

40-year-old Syracuse rape conviction at the heart of author Alice Sebold’s memoir is thrown out

It appears that Alice Seybold was honestly mistaken in her identification of the defendant. I’m surprised, though, that the conviction was overturned decades later without DNA evidence.

Collapse of the West

Who would believe that the whole Western world, in whose image, for better or for worse, all nations seemed to hurry to refashion themselves, would collapse, not battered from without, but sagging into lethargy and indifference and stupor from within?

Anthony M. Esolen, Out of the Ashes.

Inventing existential foes

Because Trumpians live in a state of perpetual war, they need to continually invent existential foes ….

David Brooks, who gives what I consider the best explanation to date on how American conservatism produced President Donald Trump. (The explanation is not hopeful for the GOP.)

Ignoring the Classics

Of course, the classics are neither progressive nor conservative—to argue that they are one or the other is to superimpose a useless framework on them, though Featherstone is right that conservative students are the ones usually defending them. This makes sense because conservatism has a coherent theory for why the past is valuable; progressivism less so, which is why contemporary progressivism has so thoroughly abandoned the classics, even if your old-school Marxist knew his Euripides as well as anyone.

But conservatives have turned from the classics, too. Your average attender of the Conservative Political Action Conference likely couldn’t hold a candle to a mid-century Burkean in terms of reading. Policy has become king on both sides of the aisle. A few notable exceptions aside, most conservative donors are more likely to give money to political campaigns, think tanks, and partisan publications than to programs in classical education or the humanities.

Micah Mattix, Prufrock (part of Spectator World) commenting on The Left Should Defend Classical Education

Kamala “Mindless Ramble” Harris

I trace [Vice President Kamala Harris’s] decline to when she went to Guatemala and Mexico in June for meetings on immigration. Near the end in what should have been a highly prepared meeting with the press, she launched into a sort of mindless ramble in which she kept saying we have to find out the “root causes” of illegal immigration. She said it over and over. “My trip . . . was about addressing the root causes. The stories that I heard and the interactions we had today reinforce the nature of these root causes. . . . So the work that we have to do is the work of addressing the cause—the root causes.”

There is no one in America, including immigrants, who doesn’t know the root causes of illegal immigration. They’re coming for a better life. America has jobs, a social safety net, public sympathy for the underdog. Something good might happen to you here. Nothing good was going to happen at home.

That’s why immigrants have always come. Studying “root causes” is a way of saying you want to look busy while you do nothing.

She seemed unprepared, unfocused—unserious.

Peggy Noonan, Kamala Harris Needs to Get Serious.

The paradox of diversity

It can be hard to know where to go on that if diversity is a key component of a well-rounded education but an indefensible burden on the very people representing the diversity.

The idea, again, is that there’s something offensive about a Black person being asked to arbitrate the Black view on a given issue — but what if white writers don’t ask? Isn’t their asking what we were hoping for?

John McWhorter, How Can Something Be Racist but Not Racist at the Same Time?

Higher Education

I was enthused by the announcement of the University of Austin, with President Pano Kanelos coming from St. Johns. But I’m also a bit burnt out on downright enthusiasm for universities and liberal arts colleges.

I had very high regard for Hillsdale College, for instance, only to watch it go Trumpist (Michael “Flight 93 Election” Anton on faculty) and now demagogic in its fundraising letters (most recently, surveying recipients on the socialist menace).

I think I’ll watch carefully before I dig into my wallet for UofA.

Loudon County Culture War

Since Trump came on the scene, Democrats have dominated the most affluent communities in America, winning all 13 of the richest congressional districts (mostly by wide margins) in 2018 and 41 of the top 50. Republicans as recently as 1992 regularly won over half of these districts. Lately, though, in places where voters have money and college educations, Republicanism has become a stigma on the order of bestiality or syphilis …

The Loudoun mess had a lot to do with race, but it was no simple sequel to old civil rights battles. This was a brand-new tale about multidimensional racial tensions, beginning perhaps with the impatience of affluent intellectuals toward a quiet immigrant community whose chief crime, as ham-handed as this sounds, was believing the American dream. For that offense, they were sentenced to the rudest of awakenings. Loudoun doubled as the ultimate media malpractice story, in which the public across years of salacious controversies was told everything but the most important bits.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Loudoun County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts

First-world problems

Normally, an internet-connected feeding machine dispenses kibble for them at noon, but the felines’ bowls were empty and clean. The gadget hadn’t worked because of an outage at Amazon[]’s … cloud-computing unit.

“We had to manually give them food like in ancient times,” said Mr. Lerner, a 29-year-old small-business owner who lives in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Amazon Outage Disrupts Lives, Surprising People About Their Cloud Dependency – WSJ

So obvious (now that he points it out)


[H]ypocrisy is too universal to be interesting …

Liel Leibovitz, ‌Treason of the Intellectuals


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.

Mostly tales of decline

Czech conservatives are worried about us

Rod Dreher speaking with Czech friends in Prague:

They all follow us closely. It is hard to overstate the prestige the US has long had here, because of our opposition to Soviet communism. My experience is only anecdotal, of course, but it was disconcerting to see the pained puzzlement in the faces of my Czech friends. They really do fear that America is tearing itself apart. What could I tell them? I think so too. The transgender thing, I find, is the most mystifying to Central Europeans. They struggle to understand it as a phenomenon, and really struggle to understand why a society like America’s would celebrate this disorder, and even privilege it.

… I was sharing this yesterday with a Czech friend back in the US, a man who hated Communism so much he fled to America when he was young. This man said, “We live an a patently evil world and at the end it was the US — not the USSR — who made it possible.”

If he were a standard leftist saying that, it would be one thing. But he’s not. He’s a fierce conservative and Christian who really did think America was a land of hope. He married and had kids in America. He is living through disillusionment now, but knows that he doesn’t have the luxury of despair. He is preparing for very hard times ahead, and reminds me from time to time that he’s actually more pessimistic than I am. It’s probably because he lived through Communism, knows what it’s like, and knows that the ideological madness that has America in its grip is going to play out in similar ways. In fact, he was a nominal Christian until the Great Awokening made him aware that the only way through what is here, and what is to come, is through a deeply committed, sacrificial relationship to God.

Weimar America

Strauss was himself a conservative revolutionary in his youth, supporting the antiliberal right during the era of Germany’s Weimar Republic. When the most extreme of the right-wing parties — Adolf Hitler’s virulently anti-Semitic National Socialists — rose to power, Strauss (a Jew) fled the country, first to France, then to England, and finally to the United States …

That is a lesson that Strauss’ devotees at the Claremont Institute, who delight in pouring rhetorical gasoline on the country’s many smoldering civic conflicts, have actively unlearned. Unless they failed to grasp the point in the first place. Either way, they’ve ended up where Strauss’s quest for wisdom began, knee-deep in the pestilential swamps of the radical right, as Laura Field’s masterful essay amply documents.

Damon Linker, commenting on Laura K. Field, What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute? (The Bulwark). The devolution of the Claremont Institute into a bunch of low-down, lying Trumpist trolls is really tragic, but with "conservative" intellectuals giving up on our system and vowing to smash it, we may not have seen the worst yet.

I initially wondered what the Bulwark would do with Trump voted out of office, but so many Trumpistas remain enthralled that I don’t think the folks there need to be sending out resumés.

Priorities

A majority of American fourth- and eighth-graders can’t read or do math at grade level, according to the Education Department. And that assessment is from 2019, before the learning losses from pandemic school closures.

Recently, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, announced that they had jumped on the bandwagon. At its annual meeting earlier this month, the NEA adopted a proposal stating that it is “reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.” More, the organization pledged to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric” and issue a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” There was no proposal vowing to improve math and reading test scores, alas.

Jason L. Riley, Critical Race Theory Is a Hustle

Culture war over fault for the culture wars

I channeled Andrew Sullivan claiming that the Left is more responsible for the culture wars than is the Right, but I have come to realize that it’s a complicated question — not that I (or Sullivan) was wrong (he is outstanding and you should read him), but that there’s more to it.

Thomas Edsall first cast the scales from my eyes. His column links to all four columns (Drum, Linker, Noonan and Sullivan) that had previously toyed masterfully with my confirmation bias.

Tim Miller of the Bulwark had me chuckling enough that I thought I was reading Jonah Goldberg, but Goldberg actually refuted Miller.

Your answer probably will depend in large part on whether you re-frame "who started the culture wars" as "who most zestfully prosecutes the culture wars?"

I’ve long known a witticism I should have recognized as the key from the beginning: Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend. Or as Goldberg puts it:

It’s called a culture war for a reason. Just as culture is about more than the aggregate opinions of voters, it’s also about more than the shenanigans of politicians. And I don’t think any reasonable observer of our culture can dispute that the majority of people and institutions that control the commanding heights of the culture are well to the left of the average American (and even the Democratic Party) … One reason Democrats seem more reasonable in their cultural warfare is precisely because they have the wind at their back. The media, academia, and Hollywood all provide cover for Democrats in myriad ways.

Burden of proof

In science you can be as perfunctory as you like as long as you are saying what everyone else is saying, but if you are saying something different, you need, reasonably enough, to be as explicit about your evidence and as empirically based as possible. That way you are open to challenge, and that is how science progresses.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Exploiters versus nurturers

The exploiter is a specialist, an expert; the nurturer is not. The standard of the exploiter is efficiency; the standard of the nurturer is care. . . . The exploiter wishes to earn as much as possible by as little work as possible; the nurturer expects, certainly, to have a decent living from his work, but his characteristic wish is to work as well as possible.

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

"Religion"

I am in the camp that sees fundamentally religious impulses behind ultimate commitments and even civic pieties. That means I don’t think it’s possible for a nation to be truly neutral unless it’s truly adrift, bereft of any sense of mission (and probably dying as a result).

As Marty uses it in this case, the term “religion” refers not to ritually putting one’s hand over one’s heart and reciting a pledge of allegiance to a piece of cloth endowed with totemic powers. The term religion applies only to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to do so. And yet the violence against the Jehovah’s Witnesses is exhibit A in Marty’s warning about the violent tendencies of religion.

William T. Kavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence

For the first 40 years of my life, opposing commies was more or less our national religion. I’ve faulted the Republicans for not finding any inspiring replacement for that, but the recent illiberal ejaculations from that party’s luminaries kind of makes me long for when they were adrift rather than powering toward crypto-fascist shores.

Adiaphora

Billionaires in Space

Just about the only thing I find cool about billionaires racing each other to "space" is that Purdue-trained astronauts — women, actually — were one-third of the actual astronauts for Richard Branson. The worst part is our inability to leave the billionaires up there.

Feckless conservatives: Aw Shucks versus Chest-beaters

Conservatives were handed a political gift they did not win and do not deserve—the disaster of the Left’s ascent. The activist Left’s policy agenda is widely disliked. Its positions veer between unreasonable (Defund the Police), unlivable (indulge looters, larcenists, and vandals), unsustainable (open the borders), and untenable (transwomen are women). Almost no one actually agrees with any of this. But rather than find common cause with moderates who would join the fight, Chest-Beating Conservatives would rather heap contempt on moderates, score points for Team Red, and sully themselves in rudeness.

The Aw Shucks Conservatives meet the Left reluctantly and meekly, praying like hell the other side will forfeit. (It won’t.) They allow themselves to be convinced that the current madness will burn itself out, or that they could not possibly respond to even the most outlandish of Woke claims—like whether biological men’s participation is healthy for women’s sports—without a PhD in kinesiology. They dream that America will come to its senses.

The Chest-Beating Conservatives at least do not underestimate the task at hand. But they lack discipline and restraint and occasionally even seem to revel in ignorance. They find their personification in Marjorie Taylor Greene, the greatest thing to happen to the Left since Roy Moore.

Abigail Schrier, Want to Save America? Don’t Act Like a Conservative

(She said it so well. I wish I could agree unequivocally.)

The Diversity Industry

Almost Four Decades After Its Birth, The Diversity Industry Thrives on Its Own Failures

With a title like that, I’m not altogether certain I need to read the article.

What 007’s creator thinks of him

“I have a rule of never looking back,” Ian Fleming said. “Otherwise I’d wonder, ‘How could I write such piffle?’”

The Failures That Made Ian Fleming via Arts & Letters Daily

Woke illusionists

Is is just me, or do the most woke corporations share the least common denominator of making their stuff with Chinese labor? D’ya think they’re trying to distract us?

"Human Infrastructure" sickens me

Apart from “human infrastructure” being a political coinage to make the Democrat/Progressive wish list more palatable, I find its implication that we mostly matter for economic production to about as pretty toxic as calling someone "a vegetable."

Oil

“Oil is the lifeblood of modern civilization.” I would like to rephrase that sentence to this: “Nothing about modern civilization is normal, ever, in human history, because it runs on oil.”

Joel Salatin, Folks, This Ain’t Normal

Stories

I had lunch today in Budapest with a visiting anthropologist who told me that the older he gets, the more he realizes how little that we can actually know — which is another way of saying how mysterious life is. He also said that he is increasingly frustrated by academic thought that believes it can pin everything down — and if something can’t be pinned down, it can’t be said to have existence. This is not true, said the anthropologist (who is not a religious man, he told me), but scientists and academics don’t have the humility to admit it.

In Prague, Kamila Bendova told me that she read Tolkien in communist times to her children, “because we knew that Mordor was real.” We should tell the story of the Golem of Prague because in the same sense, we know that golems — things we arrogantly create to serve us that end up seeking to destroy us — are real. Science won’t tell us that; myth will.

Rod Dreher, The Golem of Prague

Updates

  • A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.
  • I was reading along and nodding vigorously at Abigail Schrier’s latest (see above) when I realized that she wasn’t saying anything fundamentally different than Aaron Renn’s "liberals play to win and conservatives should, too." So I’ve re-subsubribed to Renn’s Masculinist podcast, making a mental note to suppress my annoyance with the way he presents some things — but also to keep my guard up.

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.

Potpourri, Solstice 2018

1

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

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

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

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

2

More:

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

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

3

They know better:

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

R.R. Reno.

4

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

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

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

R.R. Reno

5

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

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

Yoram Hazony, Conservative Democracy (emphasis added)

6

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

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

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

7

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

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

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

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

8

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

Michael Tracey

9

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

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

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

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

10

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

* * * * *

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New Year, not a moment too soon

  1. The 4th and 8th amendments are dead
  2. Obama DOJ kid-soft on hate-crime when hater is gay
  3. The Real Role of Diversity
  4. “Trump Democrats”
  5. Absurdity and Overreach
  6. Ted Cruz finds a new way to scare me
  7. Finally, something positive

I really am not going to miss 2015.
Continue reading “New Year, not a moment too soon”

Thursday, 10/29/15

  1. A matter of perspective
  2. Homogenous diversity
  3. Deconstructing diversity
  4. Theology white people like
  5. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
  6. Biggest Deal Ever
  7. Conservatism’s off-key mantra
  8. Do-gooder contempt

Continue reading “Thursday, 10/29/15”