Oops! Waited too long to clear my clipboard!

Keeping things in perspective

Sometimes a bedraggled and barefoot concentration camp survivor plucked up his courage and knocked on the door of prewar friends to ask, “Excuse me, do you by any chance still have some of the stuff we left with you for safekeeping?” And the friends would say, “You must be mistaken, you didn’t leave anything with us, but come in anyway!” And they would seat him in their parlor where his carpet lay on the floor and pour herb tea into antique cups that had belonged to his grandmother. The survivor would thank them, sip his tea, and look at the walls where his paintings hung. He would say to himself, “What does it matter? As long as we’re alive? What does it matter?” At other times, it would not turn out so nicely. The prewar friends would not make tea, would not suggest any mistake. They would just laugh and say in astonishment, “Come on now, do you really believe we would store your stuff all through the war, exposing ourselves to all that risk just to give it back to you now?” And the survivor would laugh too, amazed at his own stupidity, would apologize politely and leave. Once downstairs he would laugh again, happily, because it was spring and the sun was shining down on him.

Heda Margolius Kovaly ‌Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968

The problem with “systemic racism”

A very interesting argument from Matt Lutz in Persuasion.

[P]rogress on racial equality can only advance once we’ve abandoned the outmoded teleological paradigm that’s come to dominate contemporary discussions of race. To dismantle the mechanisms that propagate racial disparities, it is not enough to know that they work, we must understand how they work. The concept of “systemic racism” impedes that vital work.

In a nutshell, the idea of “systemic racism” is too abstract to cash out in helpful policy changes or other actions. I highly recommend the article.

We all live by faith

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.

Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I do not recommend this book. I don’t even recommend Frank Schaeffer. But sometimes, even the most frenzied human hits the mark.

Red flags

[Mark] Andreessen starts with the replication crisis in scientific studies, especially in psychology—over half of studies can’t be replicated. I suggest “studies show” are the two most dangerous words in the English language. Mr. Andreessen quickly adds, “The corollary is ‘experts say.’”

90% of Everything Is . . . Take a Guess – WSJ

Is Matthew Crawford among the prophets?

If you were to regularly air-drop Cheetos over the entire territory of a game preserve, you would probably find that all the herbivores preferred them right away to whatever pathetic grubs and roots they had been eating before. A few years later, the lions would have decided that hunting is not only barbaric but, worse, inconvenient. The cheetahs would come around eventually—all that running!—and the savannah would be ruled by three-toed sloths. With orange fur.

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.

Regarding “orange fur,” note that the book came out in March of 2015.

Realities

From my local newspaper:

… Additional auditions coming up in Civic Theatre’s schedule include for ‘The Mountaintop,’ which follows a fictional telling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on Earth on the eve of his assassination. This play is set entirely in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, and is seeking actors for its two roles who fit the following guidelines:

Black, male-identifying actor, able to play late 30s/early 40s age range, must be willing to make changes to appearance to fit MLK Jr. Black, female-identifying actor, able to play 30/40s age range.

Not “black-identifying, male-identifying”? Race is real but sex is notional now, I guess. If it weren’t so sunny outside, I’d say this kind of reversal is ominous.

Huxley’s insidious dystopia

An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, then a Huxleyan. Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist the prison when the gates begin to close around us. We are not likely, for example, to be indifferent to the voices of the Sakharovs and the Timmermans and the Walesas. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Bacon, Voltaire, Göethe and Jefferson. But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusement. To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?

Neil Postman, The Huxleyan Warning, in Amusing Ourselves to Death

Crypto datapoint

Mozilla Stops Accepting Cryptocurrency, Wikipedia May be Next: Are Dominos Falling?” Brandon Vigliarolo reports on Jamie Zawinski, the co-founder of Mozilla, and his critiques of cryptocurrency: “As of this writing, a single transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain eats up the same amount of energy as the average US household in a 77.8-day, or roughly two and a half month, period. Ethereum, though nowhere near as large, still eats up the same amount of energy that a US household does in eight days.”

Jeffrey Bilbro, Front Porch Republic

Not to mention that in crypto-world, everyone is either a con or a mark. The GameStop bubble is rational in comparison.

Still, eternal vigilance

Some day, Zoom learning, which proved a real eye-opener for some parents who listened in on their kids’ lessons, may fade into memory. How then may parents hold schools accountable for indoctrination?

Public schools should have their curricula and lesson plans posted online. And no state public school funds should be spent on the equity industrial complex: defund equity consultants, DEI conferences and struggle sessions for either teachers or students. If teachers want to bone up on Judith Butler or Robin DiAngelo, they can do it on their own dime. If this sounds harsh, so be it. Critical theory should be treated more like creationism in public schools than scholarship: an unfalsifiable form of religion, preferably banned outright, but if not, always accompanied by Darwin.

Andrew Sullivan, ‌The Right’s Ugly War On Woke Schooling

Joe Rogan

I’m not a doctor, I’m a f—ing moron. … I’m not a respected source of information.

Joe Rogan, April 2021

I have no opinion on Joe Rogan except that he’s too foul-mouthed for me to listen to. Last time — and to the best of my recollection the only time — I tried to listen was when he was talking to Tulsi Gabbard, a show he front-loaded with tons of ads interspersed with F-bombs.

I made it maybe 20 minutes into the show. I don’t need any more incitement to my own potty-mouth.

But it seems to me that Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are on the side of the dark angels in this case:

I … worry about the continued fragmentation of society that attends the idea that everyone sharing a cultural space must align ideologically to coexist … What concerns me most about all this is the siloing of society into warring tribes.

Sonny Bunch, quoted in the Morning Dispatch

Never apologize?

[T]hese days, sincere apologies do not function as expressions of regret but as confessions of guilt.

Bari Weiss

Some men’s reach should not exceed their grasp

Last week the department duly charged 11 followers of a far-right militia called the Oath Keepers with “seditious conspiracy” to stop the transfer of power. By far the most serious charge yet levelled over the riot, it is a devastating rebuke to the revisionist Republican view of it as a legitimate protest that got out of hand.

‌Merrick Garland and his critics (emphasis added).

There is a ton of evidence that the Oath Keepers fully anticipated and intended armed confrontation. So the “revisionist Republican view” is deluded.

But what if these self-appointed militiamen get acquitted because the government cannot prove that they knew the election was valid (and therefore were trying to stop the peaceful and lawful transition of power rather than “stop the steal”)? That’s a real risk.

What then of the “devastating rebuke?” In the depths of Trumpland, it will be retold as “the whole thing was made up” rather than “the government came up short on one element of the seditious conspiracy.”

This is a case where a man’s reach should not exceed his grasp.

Brink of civil war?

I’m not prepared to say “all is well” (we’re kind of a hot steaming mess in many ways), but Musa al-Gharbi makes a convincing case that ‌America is not on the brink of a civil war.

What sticks with me:

  • A lot of the “crazy Republican” polls credulously report what Republicans say to troll the pollsters (especially when the poll is obviously biased).
  • If 2/3 of 74 million Trump voters really believed that Democrats stole the election, 1/6/21 would have been a whole lot bigger and uglier. (This may be relevant to my prior item on the charges against the Oath Keepers.)

Hell hath no fury …

I’ve long thought that Ann Coulter went from funny to deranged on 9/11/01, when her friend Barbara Olsen was one of the terrorists’ victims. But it’s interesting how she’s digging at her former hero:

When [Ann] Coulter turns, she does not go gently. Her critiques of Mr. Trump have included calling him “a shallow, lazy ignoramus,” “a complete moron,” “a blithering idiot” and “a lout.” She now considers his entire presidency a flop. “Trump accomplished everything he was ever going to accomplish at 2 a.m.” on election night in 2016, she emailed me last week. “The best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party (and the country) would have been for him to be vaporized at the moment he was announcing his victory. Pence would have been afraid to betray Trump’s supporters. Trump wasn’t!”

Ms. Coulter, it seems, has found a shiny new leader with whom to antagonize her former hero. “For months now, Trump’s been playing the aging silent film star Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to DeSantis’s younger, prettier Betty Schaefer,” she wrote in her column Wednesday, which closed with this punch to the throat: “Give voters a populist conservative who’s not a con man and a liar and they’ll be ‘Republicans’ again. No wonder Trump hates DeSantis.”

Michelle Cottle, ‌Ann Coulter Is Rooting for a Trump-DeSantis Throw-Down. She’s Not Alone.

Are the militarists winning their long game?

Six years ago, Barack Obama gave an interview to The Atlantic quashing Beltway militarists’ dreams of war in Ukraine:

The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-Nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do… This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.

Then as now, both blue and red propaganda outlets howled. The “core interest” of the Washington consensus is war. It isn’t just big business, but our biggest business, one of the last things we still make and export on a grand scale. The bulk of the people elected to congress and a lion’s share of the lobbyists, lawyers, and journalists who snuggle in a giant fornicating mass in the capital are dedicated to the upkeep of the war bureaucracy.

The truth is there’s nothing to be done at this point. We had our chance. Both Russia and Ukraine should have been economic and strategic allies. Instead, we repeatedly blew opportunities in both places by trying to flex more and more muscle in the region (including, ironically, via election meddling). Now there’s no winning move left. Conceding this means abandoning conventional wisdom, and the people we’re now relying on to see the light have shown little ability to do that.

Matt Taibbi, Let’s Not Have a War

The Metaverse is already here

The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker sends up quite a few examples of how we’re already living in a sort of metaverse — “a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work” — but one was particularly timely:

Amanda Gorman, the young woman who declaimed some stanzas of undergraduate verse at Mr. Biden’s inauguration a year ago and was instantly declared the new Sappho, wrote in the New York Times last week that she was terrified that she was going to be assassinated. Because, you know, angry white supremacists are itching to take out overrated poets.

Gorman did go ahead and read the verses, of course.

The LARPERs on the Right are the stop-the-steal trolls. If they really believed it, there’d have been hundreds of thousands of them in DC on 1/6/21. (See America is not on the brink of a civil war.)

Unheeded admonition

From the Annals of Unheeded Admonitions (a venerable publication I just made up):

We must stop being the stupid party … we must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and taglines for 30-second ads.

Bobby Jindal, 2013, to his fellow-Republicans.

Carville cuts crap

If Democrats are worried about voting rights and election integrity, then these [smaller races] are the sorts of races they should support and volunteer for, because this is where the action is and this is where things will be decided. … Republicans raised $33 million for secretary of state races around the country. The Democrats had until recently raised $1 million. I think it’s now up to $4 million. That’s the story, right there. That’s the difference, right there. Bitching about a Democratic senator in West Virginia is missing the damn plot …

James Carville via Andrew Sullivan


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Metrics, algorithms and more

Not politics

If you can’t measure it, it’s not "God’s Blessing"

I have been listening to Christianity Today’s podcast series The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which of necessity focuses on the doings of pastor Mark Driscoll. Episode 11, a really long one, is playing as I type.

I can’t decide if this is a complicated story or a really simple one:

  1. Much of Evangelicalism is congenitally more interested in numerical growth than in discipleship and true Christian growth.
  2. That propensity, combined with a narcissistic pastor who produced numerical growth for a number of years, completely broke down any pastoral accountability or Christlikeness.

Late in Episode 11, there was this quote:

If the goal is Church growth and not Church health, one way to do it is get a really charismatic, dynamic personality that attracts a large number of people and let him do whatever he wants. And then he’ll never leave. And the people will say "I go to so-and-so’s church. So-and-so is my pastor."
"Have you ever met him?"
"No, I never met him. He’s my pastor."

The speaker was Mark Driscoll, the disgraced Mars Hill pastor, himself.

A simple story, I think. And it’s being replayed, a bit more softly and in a lower register, throughout Evangelicalism today.

Because in much (most?) of Evangelicalism, numerical growth is per se "God’s blessing on pastor so-and-so’s ministry."

Just sayin’.

Thinking Locally

  • II. … Unless one is willing to be destructive on a very large scale, one cannot do something except locally, in a small place. Global thinking can only do to the globe what a space satellite does to it: reduce it, make a bauble of it. Look at one of those photographs of half the earth taken from outer space, and see if you recognize your neighborhood. …
  • VIII. The balance between city and countryside is destroyed by industrial machinery, "cheap" productivity in field and forest, and "cheap" transportation. Rome destroyed the balance with slave labor; we have destroyed it with "cheap" fossil fuel.
  • XII. Industrial procedures have been imposed on the countryside pretty much to the extent that country people have been seduced or forced into dependence on the money economy. By encouraging this dependence, corporations have increased their ability to rob the people of their property and their labor. The result is that a very small number of people now own all the usable property in the country, and workers are increasingly the hostages of their employers.
  • XVII. Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found. The abstractions of sustainability can ruin the world just as surely as the abstractions of industrial economics. Local life may be as much endangered by "saving the planet" as by "conquering the world." Such a project calls for abstract purposes and central powers that cannot know, and so will destroy, the integrity of local nature and local community.

Wendell Berry. This was written 1991, before the internet revolution, but I’m not sure he’d change a word of it today.

Guilt by free association

The only motivation for the invocation of Schlafly seems to be that, as [Linda] Greenhouse notes, she was the subject of a television mini-series in 2020, and that both were lawyers with large families. "Forty years later, more than a few people looked at Amy Coney Barrett and saw Phyllis Schlafly," Greenhouse writes, with no indication of who those people were. "And how could they not, given the similarity in the two women’s biographies?" This isn’t even guilt by association. It’s guilt by free association.

Noah Feldman, reviewing Linda Greenhouse’s new book, Justice on the Brink, via Josh Blackman.

Things one couldn’t say 30 years ago

I was and remain deeply indebted to Marx’s critique of the economic, social, and cultural order of capitalism and to the development of that critique by later Marxists.

Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue.

Caveat on the headline: the first edition of After Virtue was published in 1981. I don’t know if it included this acknowledgement. In my neck of the woods, acknowledging learning from Marx in 1981 would at least get you the side-eye. I personally didn’t learn from him until later, after Communism fell, and sensible people stopped obsessing about it.

It’s the algorithms, stupid!

I think it would be preposterous to deny that there are good things [about social media]. My favorite thing is people with rare diseases finding each other and being able to compare notes. That wasn’t possible before. But it has to be said that all of those good things could happen without this algorithmic overlord. You could have all of the good of the internet and all of the good we associate with social media, which is real, without this crazy-making business model. And that’s why I find a fallacy in a lot of thinking that’s like, well, we just have to deal with Facebook making the world darker and crazier because we need this or that. That’s not true at all.

Jaron Lanier on the Sway podcast.

It’s still the algorithm, stupid!

Readwise suggests something it thinks I might like to read at the end of each day’s review of things I have read. Friday’s suggestion was this:

Goddess worship, feminine values, and women’s power depend on the ubiquity of the image. God worship, masculine values, and men’s domination of women are bound to the written word. Word and image, like masculine and feminine, are complementary opposites. Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates. When the importance of the image supersedes the written word, feminine values and egalitarianism flourish.

(Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess)

Ummm, I don’t think so.

It probably is selling briskly in a niche market of which I’m not a part. But it reminds me of some crazy PhD. thesis in a world where a high proportion of sane ideas have been explored by prior doctoral candidates. After defense of the thesis, the newly-minted PhD will have become heavily, heavily invested in the thesis, howsoever absurd, and will carry it into the academy with him/her.

The most baneful effects of this pattern are in theology, where an original contribution to the literature will be very likely heretical.

Rant over.

Anything that fits the narrative will be accepted tout suite

The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.

We all get things wrong. What makes this more worrying is simply that all these false narratives just happen to favor the interests of the left and the Democratic party. And corrections, when they occur, take up a fraction of the space of the original falsehoods. These are not randos tweeting false rumors. They are the established press.

Andrew Sullivan, decrying the deceitfulness of mainstream media — to which media, nevertheless, sensible people have no good alternative.

(I increasingly think we do have a good alternative: tune out the news almost entirely. What good does it do me in Indiana, for instance, to have any opinion whatever about the interaction of Kentucky Catholic School boys and an older native American in DC?)

Politics of a sort

Summit for Democracy

Tensions are indeed rising between the U.S. and China, but that’s not primarily because the former is a democracy and the latter is authoritarian. It’s because America is a global hegemon that projects power into China’s near abroad, and China is a rapidly rising power seeking to expand its influence across East Asia. That places the two countries on a collision course, and whether they’ll prove able to avoid armed conflict will have very little to do either country’s form of government.

Damon Linker, The anachronistic vision behind Biden’s Summit for Democracy.

Biden’s vision may be anachronistic, but he’s not alone in that.

"Polite" has never been so flexible a term

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted out the 13 representatives’ office phone numbers and urged Americans to “politely say how they feel about these traitor Republicans voting to pass Joe Biden’s Communist agenda.”

Morning Dispatch, ‌Did ‘Republican Traitors’ Save the Filibuster?.

MTG’s "Politely address traitors who voted for Communism" does not pass the plausible deniability test when things like this were the response:

They did. “You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor,” one voter said in a voicemail left for GOP Rep. Fred Upton, vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. “I hope you f—ing die. I hope your f—ing family dies. I hope everybody in your f—ing staff dies, you f—ing piece of f—ing s—. Traitor!”

Even National Review, in a descent almost as steep as that of the Claremont Institute, was outraged at Republicans voting for the the infrastructure bill.

I. Don’t. Get. It.


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Smashing the Overton Window

I had a dream.

Sohrab Amari and Caitlin Johnstone were stripped down to skimpy little outfits and they were fighting like hell to shift the Overton Window, she left, he right. Finally, exhausted, they collapsed against the wall and it fell over, Overton Window and all.

When I woke up, and after my morning ablutions, I went down to the county jail to see if my friend Joe could tell me what it meant.

“Sure,” he said. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Amari and Johnstone are both illiberal, albeit in different ways. Amari is furious that conservative fusionism not only didn’t get the cultural conservatives what they wanted (he says “we,” but he’s late to the game at least as a Christian conservative), but they’ve lost the culture, too. He has declared all-out war to immanentize the eschaton, a damnfool utopian delusion, not least because, well, his side has lost the culture.”

“Johnstone is an über-progressive atheist or agnostic, but that doesn’t mean she’s without her ideals. Her ideal is perfect social justice, a damnfool utopian delusion, too, and she villifies anyone like, say, Nancy Pelosi who doesn’t think that’s quite exactly politically realistic, since there’s a slightly more conservative party that has a different idea of what politics should do. Further, the conscience-smitten cowards (that’s how Johnstone views realists) think that bravado of Johnstone’s sort, and that of The Squad, just might blow the election prospects for the side that is at least moving toward Johnstone’s perfection.”

“Everyone seems to assume that the Overton Window is what it is and is as big as it has always been and always will be. But knocking down the wall is the ultimate enlargement of the Overton Window, so instead of enjoying a modest window that favors your side, you get no window, just the wild, wild, polarized West, ranging from Stormfront on the Right to Antifa or worse on the Left.”

“But Joe,” I ask. “What’s wrong with seeking to immanentize the eschaton or to achieve metaphysically perfect social justice?”

“Have you ever heard the expression that ‘politics is the art of the possible’? It can be a bitter pill to swallow that the eschaton and perfect justice aren’t possible, but that’s the way it is. You can make yourself crazy acting otherwise.”

“Yeah, I’ve been feeling a bit deranged sometimes.”

“I know that feeling,” Joe sighed, “but I’ve had a lot of time to think about it in here. Sometimes, it’s not just the political perversity of your adversary, either. Sometimes, it’s the ineradicable passions of your fellow-humans — and you, too, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“F’rinstance, by all means punish the Harvey Weinsteins and Jeffrey Epsteins (if you can), but don’t kid yourself that you’ll ever put an end to sexual predation, and don’t allow the government to destroy everything else in pursuit of that impossible dream.”

“Thinking you can stop scary changes, not just manage and ameliorate them, is another instance. That was my big delusion.”

“Are you getting this?”

“I hope so, Joe. I get it at the moment, and it does seem kind of obvious, actually. And I don’t like this polarization. I think my project will be rebuilding the Overton Window just big enough to fit center-left to center-right. (Or maybe I’ll just give to GoFundMe for that.)”

“I’m not sure that’s possible, pal. But if you think so after sleeping on it a couple of nights, good luck. Or better luck than I had anyway.”

“Yeah. joe. I read your manifesto. See you next Visitor’s Day.”

* * * * *

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.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Clippings from 1/27/19

1

It just beggars belief that the same liberals who fret about “micro-aggressions” for 20-somethings were able to see 16-year-olds absorbing the worst racist garbage from religious bigots … and then express the desire to punch the kids in the face.

Our mainstream press has been poisoned by tribalism. My own trust in it is eroding. I’m far from the only one.

What was so depressing to me about the Covington incident was how so many liberals felt comfortable taking a random teenager and, purely because of his race and gender, projected onto him all their resentments and hatred of “white men” in general.

This is the abyss of hate versus hate, tribe versus tribe. This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become. Liberal democracy is being dismantled before our eyes — by all of us. This process is greater than one president. It is bottom-up as well as top-down. Tyranny, as Damon Linker reminded us this week, is not just political but psychological, and the tyrannical impulse, ratcheted up by social media, is in all of us. It infects the soul of the entire body politic. It destroys good people. It slowly strangles liberal democracy. This is the ongoing extinction level event.

Andrew Sullivan

2

That so much of the progressive-media discourse on the Covington episode consisted of the emotional revisitation of petty (and some unpetty) childhood traumas has given the whole project a Freudian odor, and, like the work of Sigmund Freud himself, it consists largely of intellectual fraud bolstered by manufactured or distorted evidence — claims of fact that are said to speak to a higher metaphysical truth no matter how frequently and how thoroughly they are debunked as claims of fact.

In the Covington fiasco, the very American progressives who boast so tirelessly and tediously that they are “for the People” have reclaimed an ancient prerogative of aristocracy: the whipping boy.

Kevin D. Williamson

3

One of the unexpected and very pleasant comments I heard over the weekend was on the excellent Left, Right & Center podcast, and I believe from Josh Barro, the podcast moderator (who never tires of the “full disclosure” that his “husband’s” emails were among those leaked by Wikileaks in the 2016 election runup). It went like this (not a direct quote):

Quite recently, we excused an inquisition into the decades-old high school acts of one Brett Kavanaugh. It was carefully explained that the justification was that his acts back then, if they were as alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, were seriously criminal, and he was seeking one of the highest offices in the land, with essentially life tenure.

There is no justification remotely approaching this for the inquisition against the Covington Catholic lads.

Thank you, Josh.

4

[Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo] recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

Frank Bruni

5

[T]here are several difficulties with the current briefs for impeachment, which suffice for now to keep a Pence presidency out of reach.

The first is the gulf between the democracy-subverting powers that the briefs ascribe to Trump and the actual extent of his influence …

Much of the case for “trampling” … is a case against Trump’s rhetoric. And one can acknowledge that rhetoric’s evils while doubting that the ranting of a president so hemmed in, unpopular and weak is meaningfully threatening the Constitution.

… [T]he second problem with the case for impeachment … might be summed up in a line from a poem that Trump often quoted in 2016: You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in. … [L]ittle about his rhetorical excess, his penchant for lies and insults or the seaminess of his courtiers was hidden from voters on the campaign trail in 2016, in an election that by the Constitution’s standards Trump legitimately won.

[Yoni] Appelbaum … analogizes Trump’s race-baiting to Andrew Johnson’s efforts to impede Reconstruction in the late-1860s South. But when he was impeached, Johnson was literally using his veto to abet the possible restoration of white supremacy. Whereas Trump is conspicuously losing a fight over some modest border fencing, and his last race-inflected policy move was … a criminal justice reform supported by many African-Americans. The president may be a bigot, but the policy stakes do not remotely resemble 1868.

Ross Douthat, 1/27/19 (emphasis added).

Take heed of this. Much as I detest Trump, I think all three points are valid, and the second one worries me most.

* * * * *

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Ready to move on?

1

We seem to be at the end of a process that is legitimately important but has been hyped, manipulated and sullied to even greater prominence. I have no doubt that Brett Kavanaugh will forever carry the metaphorical “asterisk next to his name” in the minds of many until the day he leaves the court.

But I’m sure ready to move on now.

2

Adam Gopnik displays some world-class non-sequitur and false confidence:

[Brett Kavanaugh] became disqualified for the Supreme Court the moment that he accepted the offer from Donald Trump. At this stage in his Presidency, Trump, already described in reports from his own aides as unfit for the office, implicated by his former lawyer as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony, and now alleged, according to the Times, to have benefitted from tax schemes that in some instances amounted to “outright fraud”—not to mention being a liar and a con artist—should not be allowed to appoint Justices for lifetime appointments.

Whatever the effect of this truth on vote-counting congressional Realpolitik, it is the moral ground upon which all subsequent argument has to begin. Trump’s purpose in appointing Kavanaugh to the Court was clearly to provide himself with a protective vote for whenever one issue or another arising from his misbehavior makes its way there ….

I don’t particularly disagree with anything Gopnik said about Trump, but his conclusions do not remotely follow, and to my mind they are the deranged fury of a liberal who thinks conservative justices are as outcome-oriented as progressive justices.

Be it noted, however, that not all spittle-flecked un-thought come from the left.

Most of us are relatively naïve, ready to believe what our news outlets put forth. We have open minds and were ready and willing to listen to Ford’s testimony and consider for ourselves if it was believable. It was not. Her testimony was obviously scripted, practiced, massaged, and fabricated out of whole cloth.

Patricial McCarthy at The American Thinker (which consistently fails to live up to its name).

I think a case could be made that McCarthy’s article actually gets worse from there.

3

I’ve faulted Rod Dreher’s recent preoccupations, mildly because I like him, but here he could be said to read my mind on the omens for Kavanaugh’s confirmation:

Of course I am relieved by this outcome — not so much that Brett Kavanaugh is going to the Supreme Court, but that a nominee was not brought down by unsubstantiated, last-minute accusations, and media bullying, and that logic, evidence, and due process won the day. Even so, I don’t feel triumphalistic …

I don’t think our country is going to be better off because of any of this, though. We will only be less worse off than we would have been had the Left won this clash by using these malicious tactics.

(“Here” in my lead-in excludes the matters I elided. That’s why I elided them.)

4

The U.S. Chamber is running political ads against Joe Donnelly’s re-election.

Oh! No! How could I have been so wrong!? They’re running educational ads asking us to call him and tell him to stop siding with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren by voting against middle-class tax cuts for Indiana’s “hard-working employers and families” and to support the the Permanent Tax Cuts for Americans Act (break out the band for a chorus of God Bless America).

I’m so ashamed of my mistake.

(Yes. That’s how the game is played. A lot of advocacy groups have decided that tendentious “education” is less hassle and more lucrative than maintaining a PAC, a Political Action Committee, for the purpose of explicit endorsements and financial support of candidates.)

5

Trump supporters who imagine that they’ve found a straight-talking champion who will drain the swamp while using his business acumen to make America great again have been suckered, bigly.

Paul Krugman, who I rarely quote (or even read, but who accurately summarizes the major New Yok Times exposé here, executive summary of sorts here, and podcast discussion here).

The Times does not, so far as I’ve seen or heard, dispute Trump’s boast of $10 billion net worth, but I frankly doubt that. To paraphrase Mary McCarthy’s characterization of Lillian Hellman, “Every word he utters is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

Were Trump not the boss of the boss of the IRS, he and his siblings might soon be paying tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and penalties on wealth swelled by tax fraud.

Grant me to accept with serenity the things I can’t change, Lord.

 

6

[I]f you apologize to a manipulator for something they will never, ever let you forget it and will bring it up any time you step out of line. For normal, empathetic people, apologies are a way to improve relations with each other and avoid hurting one another in the future; they’re a way of saying “I understand that I did a thing that hurt you, and I’ll try really hard not to do it again in the future.” Narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths and other chronic manipulators don’t see them that way, since they don’t care if they hurt other people and only care about getting what they want. For a manipulator, an apology is a weapon to use against the person making it, which is why you never see them making apologies of their own.

Caitlin Johnstone.

 

7

I cannot recall the last time I so thoroughly agreed with Peter Leithart (it’s probably more than 22 years ago):

God has given the United States over to divisive blindness and stupidity.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a soap opera.

As my friend Mike Bull said, the Spirit has departed, and we’re back to Babel, where no one can speak to his neighbor. God has delivered us to divisive blindness and stupidity, to the force René Girard identified as “Satan.”

It’s not as if he didn’t warn us. Paul writes that ungrateful idolaters become “futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Isaiah saw it happening in Judah: Idolaters “do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend” (Isa 44).

This doesn’t mean we’re helpless. Or, better, our helplessness can drive us to seek justice in a higher court. We can shatter the idols that bind and blind us, and turn to God in prayer ….

Deride it as “thoughts’n’prayers in its Sunday best” if you like, but I think you’re deluded if you fancy that only one of the major parties is at fault and we need only vote them out.

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Potpourri (mostly political) 9/25/18

1

I apologize if I’ve quoted this before, but I’m a retired lawyer, I’ve watched SCOTUS for decades, and I can’t stop mulling this over.

Here goes:

I can imagine two operative standards for a nominee in Kavanaugh’s shoes. One is what we might call the minimally convincing standard—which we can loosely define as a showing just powerful enough to align the few uncommitted Republicans with the already-declared Republicans and thus assure confirmation.

The other let’s call the no-asterisks standard—that is, a showing sufficiently powerful that a reasonable person will not spend the years of Kavanaugh’s service mentally doubting his integrity or fitness for the role he is playing. It is a showing sufficient for a reasonable pro-choice woman to believe it legitimate—if not desirable—for Kavanaugh to sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade, or for a sexual-assault victim, whatever she may think of his views, to believe it legitimate for him to hear her appeal.

Putting it all together, Kavanaugh’s task strikes me as an unenviable one. He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.

Benjamin Wittes in the Atlantic.

I have called this article “clarifying,” and I particularly had these passages in mind. But now I’m wondering.

We’re all aware of the high levels of polarization in the country. Democrat Senator Mazie Hirono says she disbelieves Kavanaugh’s denial of Dr. Ford’s accusation because she doesn’t like his ideology. On the other side, we have Donald Trump predicting he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it.

Consider Hirono and those blasé Times Square bystander archetypes. Where is the archetypal “reasonable person” (or “reasonable pro-choice woman”) who hasn’t already made up his or her mind on the Kavanaugh nomination, or whose opinion of his qualifications (not some political calculus) has materially changed because of the accusations against him?

If you were already inclined to trust Kavanaugh, the evidence against him is weak enough to justify rallying to his side. (“How dare these liberals engage in dirty tricks against this smart, decent family man who’s devoted his life to the law!”) But if you were already inclined to distrust him, the evidence against him is strong enough to justify feeling vindicated. (“You mean the guy who seems eager to gut women’s reproductive rights shows a pattern of misogyny and violence againéé women? No kidding!”)

Damon Linker.

Who thinks that they’ll watch Dr. Ford or Kavanaugh without a glimmer of confirmation bias?

Can any justice be confirmed in this toxic atmosphere without an asterisk by his or her name? (“Hey! I’m reasonable! I think he’s guilty as hell! He’s just the type!”)

Can any conservative man be confirmed without accusations of sexual improprieties? If it comes from an old acquaintance rather than a total stranger, won’t it always come packing an asterisk?

There’s an aphorism about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. It’s on my mind these days.

2

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray recently told an audience that there must be a way that cryptographers hadn’t thought of yet to securely guarantee that law enforcement could unlock encrypted devices. He proclaimed “We put a man on the moon” in trying to make the point that if mathematicians and scientists could do that, surely they could find a way to build a secure encryption backdoor. But after decades of research and debate, the experts overwhelmingly agree: trying to build a secure backdoor would be like asking NASA’s to safely land a human on the sun. It’s not possible.

Robyn Greene

3

If Trump fires Rosenstein, he gets rid of the guy who has been Robert Mueller’s main protector at Justice. Yet firing him on charges of insubordination means believing that the Fake News got the story about Rosenstein’s 25th Amendment musings right. This may be the ultimate Trumpian dilemma.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

4

The clear implication of the [ad’s] sumptuous red lipstick and the impossibly tall high-heel is that a woman’s womb, ovaries, and breasts are recreational equipment which it would be unthinkable to waste on nurturing a new human being. Maybe when these organs are older and starting not to work so well, they can be used for making and nourishing babies—after a few rounds of chemical fertility treatment, of course. But right now, it’s party time. It’s me time. It’s little black dress time.

Because sex is fun, right? And it’s even more fun when there’s an edge of risk in it, which is why we end up with “emergency contraception” ads in the Underground and an epidemic of STDs. But what’s the purpose of all these cocktails and clubbing? Why do people devote so much of their lives to finding someone with whom to rub bodies if they’re not interested in what body-rubbing was designed to create?

Or take for example this WebMD article about “emergency contraception,” which suggests a woman might want to use it if she had sex and “something went wrong.” Could you run that by me again? In what other instance do we describe body systems accomplishing their intended functions by saying “something went wrong”? ….

G. Shane Morris, If You Don’t Want Kids, Don’t Have Sex (or Get Married).

Caveat: Do not ever think that my quoting something from Shane Morris implies that I agree with him more than about half the time. Some day, I may even unload on him about something in the other half.

5

… I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough … Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.

Otherwise, you might say I’m his No. 1 fan.

Bret Stephens, in conversation with Gail Collins.

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Zombie Analysis

Zombie analysis of Supreme Court nominees is my topic today.

Iconic radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has often said that liberals “always let us know who they fear” through their unhinged attacks. Among all the potential nominees mentioned a little over a week ago, Amy Coney Barrett immediately attracted the most flak from the left.

And so, of course, the preferred nominee of Doug Mainwaring at brain-dead website LifeSiteNews.com, is Amy Coney Barrett. Not because dispassionate conservative analysis commends her (a topic entirely ignored), but because she triggers the enemy:

  • NARAL
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Seasoned Democrat politicians
  • Dick Durbin
  • Chuck Shumer
  • New York Times
  • MSNBC
  • Ruth Marcus
  • Chris Cillizza
  • Slate.com
  • Washington Post
  • Ivy League law school hegemony

I am not making this up or exaggerating. Literally the first ten reasons given for supporting her are the identies of ten opponents. The last two are my interpretations of less straightforwardly identified bogeymen.

The article, by the way, bears the unironic title “12 reasons Amy Coney Barrett should be on the Supreme Court.”

I have nothing against Amy Coney Barrett except that this kind of trolling is the commonest artument for her. That’s not her fault. It’s just the times we live in.

And it’s contemptible. It doesn’t even do justice to the qualifications of Judge Barrett, who is reduced to a piece of red meat.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

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