Calling spades “spades”

Four snippets over the past few days (several of the articles are months old, though) from people who were taking no guff.

From New York Magazine last November, on turmoil at the New York Times:

Twitter presented innumerable headaches, with reporters having to be chastised for being overtly political, or simply for sounding un-Timesian in their pursuit of likes and retweets. “There’s a very sad need for validation,” one Times journalist who has tweeted tens of thousands of times told me.

Some of the trickiest jounalistic questions have centered on what the Times is or isn’t willing to say. After [James] Bennet’s ouster, [A.G.] Sulzberger met with a columnist for the “Opinion” section who had expressed consternation about the decision. Sulzberger promised the columnist that the Times would not shy away from publishing pieces to which the Times’ core audience might object. “We haven’t lost our nerve,” Sulzberger said.

“Yes, you have,” the columnist told Sulzberger. “You lost your nerve in the most explicit way I’ve ever seen anyone lose their nerve. You can say people are still gonna be able to do controversial work, but I’m not gonna be the first to try. You don’t know what you’ll be able to do, because you are not in charge of this publication — Twitter is. As long as Twitter is editing this bitch, you cannot promise me anything.”

Reeves Wiedeman, Inside the New York Times’ Heated Reckoning With Itself


I had forgotten this prophesy:

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

Maybe you hesitate. Is it a fact that if Trump loses, he will reject defeat, come what may? Do we know that? Technically, you feel obliged to point out, the proposition is framed in the future conditional, and prophecy is no man’s gift, and so forth. With all due respect, that is pettifoggery. We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend.

Barton Gellman, What if Trump Refuses to Concede?, September 23, 2020.


Successful Substack writers continues to evoke envy, which tends to get expressed (in writing inferior to the Substack average) as addlepated moral outrage. Marxist blogger-turned-Substacker Freddie de Boer has had lots of thoughts about that, culminating most recently in this:

I write tens of thousands of words on topics ranging from why everyone is actually exhausted to The Giving Tree to the Nation of Islam to Instagram feminism to the charter school scam to atheism after the New Atheists (coming Monday!). Don’t like it? Write better shit, man. Or get mad online. It’s up to you. My people will support me, and I earned that.

What are you, 12? There’s no “deserves”


I hadn’t thought about the implications of some prominent Federalist Society members being implicated in the January 6 insurrection. But David Lat had thought about it quite a lot in the two weeks after:

The Federalist Society is a nonpartisan organization that does not — and cannot, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit — endorse candidates for elective public office. It therefore has no official relationship with Donald Trump …

Unfortunately — and quite reprehensibly — several prominent FedSoc figures played roles in Trump’s baseless challenge to the 2020 election results, and therefore bear significant blame for the Capitol attack. Law professor John Eastman — chair of FedSoc’s Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group, and a frequent participant in Society events over the years — represented Trump in his (meritless and unsuccessful) attempt to get the Supreme Court to intervene in the election, urged Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results, and had a prominent speaking role at the rally that was the precursor to the riots. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), two members of what conservative law professor John O. McGinnis once dubbed “the Federalist Society caucus” … led the charge in the Senate against certification of the election results, just hours after the horrific Capitol attack. In light of all this, a reckoning at the Federalist Society is in order.

So what should FedSoc do in the wake of the Capitol riots? …

First, and most obviously, the Society should no longer allow John Eastman, a prominent promoter of poisonous conspiracy theories about the election, to remain in leadership, as chair of the Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group …

Second, the Society should no longer host events with Eastman, Hawley, and Cruz …

Third, as a more general matter, the Federalist Society should try harder to steer clear of partisan politics. It should be non-partisan not just in name, but in spirit.

Of course, the larger and longer-term issue, not just for the Federalist Society but for conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans, is how much of their principles they are willing to sacrifice for power.  Allying themselves with Donald Trump for four years got them tax reform, three Supreme Court seats, more than 200 lower-court judgeships, and all sorts of other goodies. But was it worth it?

… I am the last person to underestimate the importance of judges, but if you will allow me to close by paraphrasing Meatloaf, here is my bottom line:

“I would do anything for judges — but I won’t do that.”

David Lat, The Federalist Society And The Capitol Attack: What Is To Be Done?


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.

Clippings 1/6/19

1

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

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

David Montgomery, Conquerors of the Courts

2

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

Rod Dreher

3

This is the dumbest publishing platform on the web.

Text.fyi (H/T Alan Jacobs)

4

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

5

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

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

6

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

David VonDrehle

7

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

Alan Jacobs, Scruples

8

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

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

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

9

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

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

10

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

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

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

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

Kevin D. Williamson at National Review.

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

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