Curated for your reading pleasure

MYOB

Once, when Berlioz sobbed at a musical performance a sympathetic onlooker remarked: ‘You seem to be greatly affected, monsieur. Had you not better retire for a while?’ In response, Berlioz snapped: ‘Are you under the impression that I am here to enjoy myself?’

Via Iain Mcgilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

Contemptible hyperbole

Books are violence, so says the American Violencesellers Association.

Tweet included in this story

If so, there’s something wrong with the regime.

The reason why what Francis has done matters is because some day the kind of liberalism he embodies will come for you — for the simple, sweet thing you were doing that wasn’t bothering anyone else but, by its mere existence, was an existential threat to the governing regime. You are next.

The Pope’s merciless war against the Old Rite

Evangelical/QAnon overlap

I don’t really trust Vice News, but this is a reasonable answer (because Ryan Burge it both a pastor and a serious sociologist of religion) to a question (‘why the big overlap between QAnon believers and Evangelical believers?’) that may not be as urgent as appears (because the premise that 34% of America is "Evangelical" ignores that many identify as "Evangelical" because they’re conservative-leaning and not atheist or agnostic, though they rarely go to church; further, if I wanted to be mischievous, I could affirm that I’m "born again" in both this historic sense — I’ve been baptized — and the Evangelical sense — I once had an emotional experience of "inviting Jesus into my heart").

Caveats aside, this could be worth 6 minutes of your time. The prevalence of Dispensationalism was the major reason I left Evangelicalism 40+ years ago.

Deconstructing "America is back"

In his Friday G-File, Jonah riffs on the Biden administration’s incessant “America is back” declarations. “For Biden, it seems to have two meanings. One is his narrow argument that we are rejoining all of the multilateral partnerships and alliances that Trump pulled out of or denigrated,” he writes. “But there’s another meaning to ‘America is back.’ It’s an unsubtle dig at Trump and a subtle bit of liberal nostalgia all at once. It’s kind of a progressive version of ‘Make America Great Again.’ It rests on the assumption that one group of liberal politicians speaks for the real America, and now that those politicians are back in power, the real America is back, too. But the problem is, there is no one real America. There are some 330 million Americans and they, collectively and individually, cannot be shoe-horned into a single vision regardless of what labels you yoke to the effort.”

The Morning Dispatch, 7/19.

Good points, Jonah.

Huxley > Orwell

With the benefit of hindsight, I concluded for long ago that Huxley was more prophetic than Orwell:

“Hug me till you drug me, honey; Kiss me till I’m in a coma: Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny; Love’s as good as soma.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Yes! But …

Censorship Circumvention Tool Helps 1.4 Million Cubans Get Internet Access | World News | US News

"The Toronto-based company’s Psiphon Network receives U.S. government financial support."

I think this is great, but:

  • I would not be surprised if Psiphon allows the U.S. to spy on its users as a quid pro quo for financial support.
  • This sort of thing just begs for retaliation — like ransomware attacks, maybe.

A rare naughty

Those who confuse burro and burrow don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.

Spotted on Pinterest by the Missus.


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.

Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse

Why

This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship

Wherefore

In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).


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.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

Antipopes, Jackasses, Jennyasses, and more

Best Historical Analogy for Loser Trump?

[Antipope Benedict XIII] retain[ed] sufficient political capital to pressure heads of states to pick sides, bestowing benedictions and other benefits and if nothing else gumming up earnest efforts to allay divides. Weary, irritated leaders, both religious and royal, “said, ‘You’re out, you’re out, you’re out,’” … “and he said, ‘No, I’m in, I’m in, I’m in.’”

“Donald Trump’s not an ex-president—he’s a right-wing, nativist, revolutionary leader,” presidential historian Doug Brinkley told me recently. “He has a movement that is massive with global implications—that kind of revolutionary—and he took on the entire federal government of the United States. That kind of character doesn’t register as a typical ex-president.”

Across the Atlantic, some 600 years back, everybody said they wanted unity.

But unity was hard. “Comparing a pre-democratic system with a democratic system, there is kind of something odd,” Rollo-Koster said, offering a necessary caveat. “But behaviors remain constant throughout history regardless of the political system.” And unity was hard at that moment because of the whims and wants of leaders, because of ever-shifting protections and allegiances, and because people who had power didn’t want to give it up. “The schism,” wrote Barbara Tuchman in A Distant Mirror, “was a trap not easy to get out of.” It “lasted as long as it did,” as Rollo-Koster put it in her book, “because it benefited the private interests of many parties.”

Michael Kruse, The Antipope of Mar-a-Lago – POLITICO

GOP Hijinks

The Oregon GOP’s official position is that the assault on the Capitol was a false flag operation, mounted to “discredit” President Trump.

The infinitely flexible Nikki Haley asks not whether former President Trump attempted to steal the election, but how low the base would like her to sink. Appearing on the Laura Ingraham show, she offered up the expected persecution narrative: “They beat him up before he got into office. They are beating him up after he leaves office. I mean, at some point, I mean, give the man a break. I mean, move on.”

See how this works? It was Trump who was beaten, not Officer Sicknick.

Mona Charen, Republicans Make Me Proud I Voted for Biden – The Bulwark

You can’t make this stuff up, and there’s so much of it (read Charen’s full column) that it’s hard to pick an emblematic examples.

Charen continues:

Republicans are like toddlers encouraged to put on big boy underpants. They understand that it’s exciting to be a big boy. They want to. But they also know that if they put on big boy underpants, they will have responsibilities. They will have to act like big boys. So they retreat to the comfort of their diapers.


MTG

I “find it interesting” that Marjorie Taylor Greene finds interesting (i.e., makes up) a bunch of “speculation” that would warm the cockles of Nazi hearts.

What a coincidence! What are the odds that that a sane person would entertain such odd views?

H/T Jonathan Chait, GOP Congresswoman Blamed Wildfires on Secret Jewish Space Laser


[N]umerous liberal democracies have seen right-wing “populist” movements and parties emerge. So far, those that have risen to power have done so through liberal institutions — and despite moves to rig the systems in their own favor (most boldly in Hungary and Poland), nowhere has liberal government been fully overturned in favor of outright authoritarian rule or worse.

But the United States presents a distinctive, and potentially ominous, case.

Over the past three months, the Republican Party has proven itself to be a right-wing antiliberal party. Yes, this has been the culmination of a long process. Yes, it has antecedents in the American past. Yes, there are still some decent people in the party trying to oppose the trend from within. But despite all of these caveats, what we’ve recently witnessed in the GOP is something new — and newly alarming.

… [T]he Republican Party is now dominated by ideas and individuals who consider it acceptable to reject the legitimacy of democratic elections when they deliver a loss, and to encourage, affirm, and spread outright lies in order to gain and hold political power. That makes the Republican Party a great danger to liberal democratic government in the United States.

Damon Linker, Liberal democracy’s Achilles Heel


Over the years when national events have turned especially murky, I’ve asked [Senator Rob Portman’s] read on things, and what’s always struck me is his stubborn sense of reality: He doesn’t let his wishes get in the way of what he sees. In the geography of the Republican Party he’d be placed with figures like Mitch Daniels —the We Actually Know Things Caucus.

It really is something that we’re living in a time when ambitious people leave the U.S. Senate to get things done.

I asked about the comment of his former campaign manager Corry Bliss, published Tuesday in National Journal, on Portman’s decision not to run: “If you want to spend all your time on Fox and be an a—h—, there’s never been a better time to serve. But if you want to spend your time being thoughtful and getting s— done, there’s never been a worse time to serve.” Mr. Portman roared with laughter. “Did he say that?” He roared again. “Yeah, I won’t comment.”

Peggy Noonan, Rob Portman’s Exit Interview

Mitch McConnell’s Hijinks

Just as [Mitch McConnell] played Donald Trump for three Supreme Court justices and a tax cut, here he is convincing Democrats to let him have veto power over what happens in the upper chamber for years to come.

[T]he horrifying truth about American partisanship, the reason that the National Football League is vastly more entertaining than what goes on in Washington, D.C[. is that] almost no one there actually cares about winning. Holding on to office, getting the paychecks and the perks, receiving all the attention and adulation their parents and classmates apparently failed to shower upon them in their youth — these are what motivates most of our elected officials.

Which is why at the end of the day I am not hesitant to call McConnell the most effective Senate leader of the last half century, for the not very complicated reason that he not only cares about winning but does win more consistently than anyone else, regardless of the position in which he finds himself.

Mitch McConnell is the GOAT

GameStop Hijinks

The market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

John Maynard Keynes via Axios, Gamestop trading pits Wall Street’s powerful against the powerless

Insurrection after-effects

Acting D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III said this week that another police officer who was on duty during the January 6 Capitol attack, Jeffery Smith, died by suicide on January 15. Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood also died by suicide on January 9, three days after the riot, and Officer Brian Sicknick died after sustaining injuries during the insurrection. “Between USCP and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department, we have almost 140 officers injured,” Gus Papathanasiou, the chair of the Capitol Police Labor Committee said in a statement. “I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.”

The Morning Dispatch


If all we do as a nation is lock up some individual pelt-wearing yahoos and cringe in fear from holding a public man to account for a catastrophic abuse of leadership in public office — if we have one law against the common man, another for the elite — we will have failed to deliver that message. If you take this from an American national perspective rather than a narrowly partisan one, that ought to be obvious.

… What we witnessed on January 6 … requires a more vigorous, less timorous, response.

And one man above all others was responsible for inspiring it and setting it in motion.

It is hard to think of any abuse of high office, short of treason itself, that would have alarmed the Founding Fathers more than inspiring a mob to target the democratic transfer of power.

Did Trump do that? Unquestionably. I walked in detail through his speech that day, and asked:

> If you heard and believed every word of this speech, coming from the president of the United States . . . what would you do? Would you believe that the time had come to take up arms to save your country and democracy? A lot of Americans, people of good will, very well might.

Neither Davidson nor Domenech answers that question. Neither deals with the speech or its claims at length, falling back on generality and euphemism. Davidson says that my view “boils down to arguing that because people feel strongly about elections, Trump should have toned down his criticism of election fraud because some radicals in his party might get crazy ideas about storming the Capitol.” But in fact, as the president, he should not have said those things while setting a crowd in motion toward the Capitol with the aim of getting them to pressure Congress and the vice president in the midst of the counting process. You cannot extract Trump’s speech from the time, the place, and the context in which he chose to make it. Nor can you present it as some sort of generalized critique of election integrity, when it bluntly asserted that the stealing of an election was ongoing just down the block, and that Trump expected the crowd to participate in stopping it.

Trump Impeachment & Mob Rule — A Reply to the Federalist | National Review

This was a masterful reply to two of the heavier hitters at The Federalist (the now-Trumpist website I stopped reading, oh, around election day 2016, not the esteemed professional Society) who were engaging in sophistries against convicting Trump in the impeachment trial.

Media lowjinks

“Whatever the platform, the competitive advantage belongs to those who can best habituate consumers, which in the stunted, data-obsessed thinking of our time, means avoiding at almost any cost impinging on the reality so painstakingly built around them. As outlets have increasingly prioritized habituation over information, consumers have unsurprisingly become ever more sensitive to any interruption of their daily diet. … Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally.

Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News, in the Los Angeles Times via The Morning Dispatch (emphasis added)


The Deep Lie … does not merely mislead — it is a lie so deeply embedded in the media and political ecosystem that it distorts reality and shapes our political world. It is immune to evidence, to logic, or new information, and it is endlessly recycled until its shatters our sense of sanity.

It works this way. The lie (any lie) begins in the fever swamp—>social media —> Fox News/talkradio —> goes viral —> achieves critical mass —> politicians begin to “ask questions” because “people are saying” —> dominates political debate….and the loop continues until the lie shatters our polity.

Tucker Carlson and The Deep Lie – Morning Shots

Scott Alexander is back (and gives the skinny on the gender binary)!

Scott Alexander, late of SlateStarCodex, is back with AstralCodexTen on Substack. He stretches one’s brain.

They also have a category called “gender”. They say they included measures like “femininity” and “sex-stereotyped activities” in there – I can’t find more specifics. It has a CCFI of 0.42 with confidence interval including 0.5, so looks slightly more dimensional, but can’t quite rule out it being slightly more categorical. If anyone ever demands you have an opinion on the question “is binary gender real?”, I think the most scientifically-supported answer would be “it has a Comparative Curve Fit Index of 0.42 plus or minus 0.1, which means it trends towards dimensionality but taxonicity cannot be ruled out”.

Ontology Of Psychiatric Conditions: Taxometrics

Education Hijinks

Of all the stupid arguments the politically correct trot out to justify savaging reading lists, the idea that kids should see themselves in literature is the dumbest — but just about perfect for our narcissistic culture.

Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever.” Similarly, not to know, through books, worlds and peoples other than your own is to remain a child forever. It is to remain narrow, self-centered, and frightened of anything that is unfamiliar. I’m not the sort of person who is particularly interested in the life of a Norwegian farm woman of the Middle Ages, but Kristin Lavransdatter absolutely captivated me, because it transported me into a radically different world, but introduced me to people whose dreams and struggles seemed very human, and very relatable. What a poverty to hand a teenager some YA crap novel about alienated suburban teens cutting themselves and dreaming of changing their sex, when they could be reading Kristin Lavransdatter. What kind of culture does this to its kids?

Rod Dreher, A Door, Not A Mirror – Daily Dreher

Benediction

Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).

How to deal with two conservative problems

David Hines takes a stab at answering How Do You Solve a Problem Like QAnon? | The American Conservative, and it was one of the better things I’ve read today if only because it doesn’t suggest that Q adherents aren’t wicked racists or antisemites that just need to be made dead. Indeed, without sugar-coating the problem, has has what seems a sensible solution that wouldn’t even be all that difficult to implement:

Not to put too fine a point on it, Righties have a weakness for believing stupid shit.

We’re not the only ones … But nobody on the left is as enthusiastic as deeply or as long about stupid shit as are people on the Right. When Lefties do employ stupid shit, such as gleeful pee tape rumors, the origins are typically elite Lefty circles. Our stupid shit comes from the base, tends toward the wildly implausible, and of late tends to promise imminent glory on earth: the end of a story, in which we win.

This divide exists because Left and Right are different outlooks and different cultures. Accordingly, Lefties have a different failure mode than we do. The failure mode of right-wing is kook. The failure mode of left-wing is puritan …

The central fantasy of QAnon isn’t adrenochrome, or cannibal cults, or mole children, or any of the myriad lunacies of the outlandish dystopia it presents. The central fantasy is the idea that things will be better because somebody is going to do something.

Any attempt to rein in Righty conspiracy theorists and make them actually useful will have to consider their actual interests and aptitudes. And they have them. Many of them are backbone-of-America types: they have jobs, have family lives, and are actively engaged in their communities in various ways. They turn out to events and meetings. They’re genuinely enthusiastic. They’re hard workers. They’re curious about the world and passionate to make a difference in it. They are genuinely interested in learning about things that aren’t immediately obvious. It’s just that they learn them from random YouTube videos because they don’t know how to use PACER to find court records, or how to file FOIA applications to get government documents, or how to look up Form 990s to learn about how nonprofits are organized and funded.

The Righty base desperately wants to do something, but doesn’t know how. And that’s because the elites don’t want it to learn. The root of our real problem on the Right is that elites and the base want different things. So elites don’t train the base in how to actually produce change. QAnon is what you get when a naïve, untrained base tries to fill that vacuum. What they fill the vacuum with is a story where somebody is doing something, and the end of the story is a great big WE WIN.

… It’s often noted that the Right has a surfeit of pundits; what we lack are diggers, the dedicated researchers who do the boring work of poring through documents to find news. But maybe we’ve had them all along — they’re just naive and untrained. What if we trained them, empowered them, and turned them loose?

People turn to conspiracy theories to explain a world they can’t understand. Giving them the tools to explore the real world could keep them more grounded — and turn up some interesting things for the rest of us.


For the senators who will try the impeachment, a thought: It’s time to demystify Donald Trump. He leaves the presidency disgraced. He is a diminishing asset: postpresidential power always wanes, and will especially in this case …

In running in fear from him you are running from a corpse. And you’ll never be safe anyway. Something wild has been let loose. So be brave. The Democrats want you tied to Mr. Trump forever. Stop, now.

Peggy Noonan, Liz Cheney Shows What Leadership Looks Like – Peggy Noonan (January 14)


Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose

You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.

W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgements; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard.

G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (PDF)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here or join me and others on micro.blog. You won’t find me on Facebook any more, and I don’t post on Twitter (though I do have an account for occasional gawking).