Friday, 7/29/22

R.I.P. William Jon Gray

William Jon Gray, undoubtedly the best Choral Conductor I ever sang under, has died at his home in New York state at age 66. I have the impression (from someone saying “You sung under him?!”) that he was widely known in American choral music circles.

That’s all I know about his death at this point, the news having just come to me Thursday through the (reliable) grapevine.

Bill was Artistic Director of the Bach Chorale Singers from 1994 to 2010. I re-joined the Chorale, after a very brief prior experience in the 1980s, in 1997. In addition to his formal education, Bill learned from the Master, Robert Shaw, having sung with him for some period of time. He forever followed what I understand was “Mr. Shaw’s” practice of meticulously marking scores before distributing them to his singers and, heaven help us, count-singing. His other accomplishments can be seen at the first link, above.

The pinnacles of my experience with Bill were, in no particular order:

  • performance of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers,
  • a professional recording of the Latin Organ and Choral Music of Zoltan Kodaly, with Organist Marilyn Keiser, on the Pro Organo label. One track unfailingly brings tears to my eyes, and
  • in retrospect, sitting a couple of feet from our Guest Tenor Soloist, Lawrence Brownlee, days after he had won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions. (Bill said “Enjoy him. We’ll never be able to afford him again.”)

Signs of the Times

  • A handful of former Democratic and Republican officials announced Wednesday they are forming a new national political party—Forward—that they believe will appeal to voters frustrated with the United States’ current two-party system. The centrist party will be chaired by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and plans to gain ballot access in all 50 states in time for the 2024 presidential and congressional elections.
  • A new FBI search warrant claims the man who allegedly attempted to assassinate Justice Brett Kavanaugh last month was also planning to kill two other Supreme Court justices. The FBI alleges the man searched “assassin skills,” “most effective place to stab someone,” and “quietest semi auto rifle” online before he was arrested, and that he messaged unnamed users on Discord that he was going to “stop Roe v. Wade from being overturned” and that he would “remove some people from the Supreme Court.”

The Morning Dispatch, July 28.

Turning Point, USA?

I conducted dozens of focus groups of Trump 2020 voters in the 17 months between the storming of the Capitol on January 6 and when the hearings began in June. One measure was consistent: At least half of the respondents in each group wanted Trump to run again in 2024. The prevailing belief was that the 2020 election was stolen—or at least unfair in some way—and Trump should get another shot.

But since June, I’ve observed a shift. I’ve conducted nine focus groups during this period, and found that only 14 percent of Trump 2020 voters wanted him to run in 2024, with a few others on the fence. In four of the groups, zero people wanted Trump to run again. Their reasoning is clear: They’re now uncertain that Trump can win again.

[U]nlike the impeachment hearings, which in some ways made GOP voters more defensive of Trump, the accumulating drama of the January 6 hearings—which they can’t avoid in social-media feeds—seems to be facilitating not a wholesale collapse of support, but a soft permission to move on.

Sarah Longwell, The January 6 Hearings Are Changing Republicans’ Minds

In [Peter Thiel’s] view, much of what passes for “progress” is in truth more like “distraction”. As he puts it, “the iPhone that distracts us from our environment also distracts us from the ways our environment is unchanging and static.” And in this culture, economy and politics of chronic self-deception, as Thiel sees it, we tell ourselves that we’re advancing because “grandma gets an iPhone with a smooth surface,” but meanwhile she “gets to eat cat food because food prices have gone up.”

Mary Harrington, Peter Thiel on the dangers of progress.

One of many provocative observations in this long piece.

And yes, I’ve read accusations that he’s a fascist. I’m just saying he’s smart, not that he’s good.

Nothing pointless

Speaking of fascists …

Himmler quite aptly defined the SS member as the new type of man who under no circumstances will ever do “a thing for its own sake.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Church/State

Lifeway research suggests that as many as 2/3 of American churches incorporate patriotic music into their liturgy for public worship during the time around the 4th of July holiday.

So this is one piece of the problem: For many of our nation’s white evangelicals, their patriotic commitments as Americans are so intertwined with their Christian faith that it is very hard for them to imagine a scenario where Christian fidelity actually requires them to reject standard American ideas about identity, wealth, success, and so on.

Jake Meador, Defining “White Evangelical Crap”.

Was MLK antiracist? Barack Obama?

Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech would not meet Kendi’s definition of anti-racism, nor would the one Barack Obama made about there being too many fatherless Black families. Indeed, nearly everything that Americans have been taught about how to be anti-racist for the past several decades is, according to Kendi’s explicit definition, racist.

Bari Weiss, Stop Being Shocked

Flash!

This just in: With Russia at war in Ukraine, and Putin’s stench in American nostrils increasing, our 45th POTUS has declared himself an acolyte of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr now. al-Sadr’s followers are very special people.

(Pass it on.)

Note to Readers

I will be traveling for more than a week. I may or may not get a post scheduled for tomorrow or intermittently during travel, but I should be back sometime the week of August 7.

And I just realized that today is the 57th anniversary of my most serious accident, on a motorcycle at age 16.


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 7/28/22

Polarized Politics

What would Archie say?

For all his faults, Archie [Bunker] loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.

Norman Lear, in the New York Times on Wednesday, his hundredth birthday.

Perverse polarization

Republican presidential campaigns in 2024 are going to look a whole lot different than they did in 2016: They (think they) have no use for the mainstream press. “I just don’t even see what the point is anymore,’ an adviser to one likely GOP presidential aspirant told New York Magazine’s David Freedlander. “We know reporters always disagreed with the Republican Party, but it used to be you thought you could get a fair shake. Now every reporter, and every outlet, is just chasing resistance rage-clicks.” The result? “Sitting down with the mainstream press has come to be seen by Republican primary voters as consorting with the enemy, and approval by the enemy is the political kiss of death,” Freedlander writes. “Dave Carney, a longtime GOP strategist, said that, according to his team’s research, getting endorsed by a newspaper editorial board, even a local one, hurts Republicans in primaries rather than helps them. ‘No one gives a f— what the New York Times writes,’ he said. ‘In fact, it would be good if you criticize us so that we can say that even the liberal New York Times hates us.’”

The Morning Dispatch, 7/27/22

These are the kinds of Republicans who benefit from false-flag Democrat support attacking them as too extreme, too cozy with Orange Man, in order to boost them in the primaries.

Un-Disappearing Act

Adjust your picture of press corruption. It’s not so much the lies they tell as the truths they withhold. Let Mr. Biden threaten to become an albatross to progressive and Democratic hopes in 2024, and the Hunter story will un-disappear in a hurry.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Hunter and Joe Biden Need Trump

A bit cynical, but only a bit.

Felix culpa

Speaking of Hunter’s laptop and grifting, it sickens me to think that the electoral margin of Joe Biden over Donald Trump could have been lost if American intelligence authorities hadn’t lyingly called Hunter Biden’s laptop “Russian disinformation.”

According to one survey, one out of six Biden voters said that had they known about Hunter’s laptop in time, they wouldn’t have voted for his father.

Lee Smith, The National Tragedy of Hunter Biden’s Laptop.

45’s authoritarian tendencies

[T]he 45th president had numerous authoritarian tendencies and instincts. He believed in personal loyalty, not loyalty to the office he held or to the Constitution. He despised the free press and encouraged popular hatred toward journalists. He treated as a traitor any American who didn’t support him. And then, of course, there were his words and deeds after the 2020 election, which incited an insurrectionary assault on the national legislature in order to keep himself in power despite his failure to win the electoral contest. If that isn’t a tyrannical act, it’s hard to imagine what would be.

Both the frequency of Trump’s lies and exaggerations and the obviousness of their mendacity are what make them fasc-ish. There’s a reason why the term “gaslighting” came into regular usage during the Trump administration: Living in the United States through those years often felt like enduring a sadistic psychological experiment in which we were constantly challenged about whether we would believe our own eyes and minds or the would-be dictator in the Oval Office spouting transparent nonsense. The fascist playbook often involves using precisely this kind of epistemic confusion—a thoroughly polluted information space—as an occasion or opportunity to seize or secure power.

Then there was Trump’s enthusiasm for any extremist group that gave him support. This led him to express ambivalence about the neo-Nazis who marched through and provoked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. And to offer periodic kind words for far-right groups and figures, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, and various heavily armed militias.

Damon Linker, Thinking About Fascism—Part 2.

This is one of the best collections I can recall of the outward manifestations of Trump’s narcissism and worse.

Electoral Count Act Reform

Watch your Step!

“Somehow they’ve come out of the kitchen with something that actually looks as if it is correctly prepared in almost every respect,” said Walter Olsen, senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies. “Now I’m just holding my breath that someone doesn’t trip and spill the tray.”

Morning Dispatch, Bipartisan Senate Group Unveils Electoral Count Act Reform. See also William A. Galston, Surprise: A Divided Congress Is Making Bipartisan Progress.

The bad news is that some Democrats want to turn this urgently-needed Bill into a Christmas Tree. The good news is that they seem to want it half-heartedly.

Stop Screwing Around

I want to begin with a question I’ve asked before. What if Mike Pence had said yes? What if the history of January 6 was very different, Pence had agreed with the John Eastman memos arguing that he enjoyed a tremendous amount of discretion in counting electoral college votes, and he either declared Trump the winner outright, throwing the election into the House of Representatives, or sent it back to the states for the state legislatures to decide which electors were valid?

America probably would have survived that moment, but the key word there is probably. Does Trump leave the White House? If the Supreme Court intervenes, does he care? Do we see a situation in which Chief Justice Roberts swears in Joe Biden while a MAGA judge swears in Trump for his “second term”? What do state governors do? Does federal law enforcement intervene? What about the military?

Mike Pence saved us from all this chaos, and he deserves our gratitude. But he never should have been put in that position, and we have an opportunity to fix the prime legal reason why he was. The primary blame, of course, rests with the depraved corruption of Donald Trump and his cadre of loyalists. The secondary blame, however, rests with the Electoral Count Act, an absolute mess of a statute.

David French, Stop Screwing Around and Pass the Electoral Count Reform Act

In my opinion, reforming the Electoral Count Act has been Job #1 since January 6, 2021. It’s quite a bit more important than the January 6 Committee, which has been more potent than I foresaw but clearly has not dissuade all Trump supporters.

But I was reminded very recently that we should be looking for, and closing, other loopholes that could be exploited to “elect” someone the voters (yes, allowing for the Electoral College’s “electoral majorities” that differ from the raw national vote majority) rejected. And I don’t think the Democrats’ absurd allegations that, for instance, requiring Voter ID is “worse than Jim Crow” comes anywhere close to meeting the need.

What do you call this?

Voters in Tunisia affirmed a new constitution for their country that would roll back many of the reforms that once made it look like the Arab Spring’s sole survivor. Some 95% of voters opted for the new constitution, but less than one-third of eligible voters turned out. The opposition, which boycotted the poll, said the results were “not credible”. Kais Saied, the president, had pressed for the referendum to transform the young democracy into another strongman system.

The world in brief | The Economist

It seems somehow facile or crypto-imperialist to suggest that a 95% vote for something is not democratic.

Other stuff

Martyrdom and Suicide

Drawing on G. K. Chesterton, we might say that martyrdom and suicide, however similar they might seem on the surface, are diametrically opposed to each other: martyrdom occurs in the recognition of a goodness that is greater than the self, a goodness that is at the source of all things, so that one gives up one’s self in the ecstasy of affirmation; suicide is the absolute negation of all things through the negation of the self: “A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin: the other wants everything to end.”

D.C. Schindler, Social Media Is Hate Speech: A Platonic Reflection on Contemporary Misology

A little sensible perspective on CRT

The CRT debate is just the latest squall in a tempest brewing and building for five years or so. And, yes, some of the liberal critiques of a Fox News hyped campaign are well taken. Is this a wedge issue for the GOP? Of course it is. Are they using the term “critical race theory” as a cynical, marketing boogeyman? Of course they are. Are some dog whistles involved? A few. Are crude bans on public servants’ speech dangerous? Absolutely. Do many of the alarmists know who Derrick Bell was? Of course not.

But does that mean there isn’t a real issue here? Of course it doesn’t.

Andrew Sullivan, What Happened To You? The radicalization of the American elite against liberalism

It will be a long time, if ever, before I’ll trust Christopher Rufo precisely because of his cynical comment about “freezing the brand” of CRT and then loading it up with extraneous things conservatives don’t like.

Title IX Run Amok

The provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 which bar sex discrimination apply to “any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”. In Buettner-Hartsoe v. Baltimore Lutheran High School Association, (D MD, July 21, 2022), a Maryland federal district court held that a §501(c)(3) tax exemption for a religiously-affiliated high school constitutes federal financial assistance so that the school is subject to Title IX. The court added that also in its view, schools that discriminate on the basis of sex, just like those that discriminate on the basis of race, are not entitled to federal tax exemptions. The court’s opinion applies to cases brought by 5 women who are former students at the high school who allege sexual assault and verbal sexual harassment by male students at the school. JDSupra reports on the decision.

Religion Clause Blog (emphasis added).

I don’t have deep expertise on this, but I don’t think the District Court decision will (or should) survive appellate review. If tax exemption is federal financial assistance, things are going to get pretty ugly pretty fast.

We need an apocalypse

In modern terms, “apocalypse” has come to mean “the cataclysmic end of everything”. But this is a long way from the ancient Greek understanding: to uncover, to disclose or lay bare. From this perspective, apocalypse isn’t the end of the world. Or at least, not just the end of the world. Rather, it’s the end of a worldview: discoveries that mean a previous way of looking at things is no longer tenable.

In our case, it’s no longer just cranks and prophets coming to the reluctant realisation that our current way of life can’t continue. This suspicion is percolating into the mainstream — along with a raft of increasingly unhinged responses ….

Mary Harrington, Why we need the apocalypse

Unintended second-order effects

I jokingly asked my wife to go back to work.

It’s not the money. It’s that her retirement in May has left me, for the first time in my adult life, unable readily to identify what day of the week it is.

Written May 12, 1944

So Many Blood-Lakes
(written May 12, 1944)

We have now won two world-wars, neither of which concerned us, we were
slipped in. We have levelled the powers
Of Europe, that were the powers of the world, into rubble and
dependence. We have won two wars and a third is coming.

This one–will not be so easy. We were at ease while the powers of the
world were split into factions: we’ve changed that.
We have enjoyed fine dreams; we have dreamed of unifying the world; we
are unifying it–against us.

Two wars, and they breed a third. Now guard the beaches, watch the
north, trust not the dawns. Probe every cloud.
Build power. Fortress America may yet for a long time stand, between the
east and the west, like Byzantium.

–As for me: laugh at me. I agree with you. It is a foolish business to
see the future and screech at it.
One should watch and not speak. And patriotism has run the world through
so many blood-lakes: and we always fall in.

(Robinson Jeffers)


“The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness ….” (G.K. Chesterton)

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Friday, 7/22/22

France has a culture, and cares about it

The French, however, are more culturist than racist in any strict sense. They have accepted black Africans who speak perfect French in their legislature but they do not accept Muslim girls who wear headscarves in their schools. In 1990, 76 percent of the French public thought there were too many Arabs in France, 46 percent too many blacks, 40 percent too many Asians, and 24 percent too many Jews.

Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

I ignored this important book for maybe 20 years. Then it sat unread in my Kindle for years after I bought it.

Don’t be like me. Huntington’s theory explains a lot.

How Shakespeare transformed tragedy

In Shakespeare, tragedy is no longer the result of a fatal flaw or error: time and again it lies in a clash between two ways of being in the world or looking at the world, neither of which has to be mistaken. In Shakespeare tragedy is in fact the result of the coming together of opposites.

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, Kindle Location 9415.

I bought and read this book soon after hearing of it. McGilchrist writes well enough to sort out left brain versus right brain and to complicate the simplistic versions I’d heard. I guess it’s sort of brain science meets Jonathan Haidt.

Resolved:

If Joe Biden’s approval ratings weren’t in the tank, nobody would have jumped on Jill Biden for her anodyne-if-goofy tacos quip.

Students today

What I say to students is, you are not unhealthy people in a normal world, despite these statistics that show how anxious, lonely, and depressed young adults are. What you are is normal people in an unhealthy world. It’s not healthy to be anxious, lonely, and depressed, but it is a natural response to a world that is not asking you to become anything, and is not giving you confidence that you can overcome difficulty — one that’s dissociating the different parts of you, compelling you to spend a good part of your time with your body disengaged and your mind occupied. It’s totally understandable that our young people are experiencing such distress, because the world we’re asking them to live in — this world of easy everywhere — this world of superpowers, is not good for them. It would be very odd if, in this world, people were doing just fine. It’s not at all surprising that they’re struggling and feeling disconnected.

Andy Crouch via Alan Jacobs.

Professor Jacobs adds his postscript:

You can be almost certain that people who sneer with ready contempt at today’s college students don’t spend much time around them. Our young people have been given a raw deal, and most of them play it better than we have any right to expect. And the ones who don’t? They’re twenty years old. How put-together were you at age twenty?

They were wrong

The New York Times asked eight columnists to fess up and reflect on when and how they’d been wrong. (Yeah, yeah, yeah; some conservatives think the Times is all wrong, all the time. I get it.) I excerpt a few.

… about Capitalism

In the early 1990s, The [Wall Street] Journal sent me on many reporting trips to the U.S.S.R. and, later, Russia, and everything that was uncool in New York was cool in Moscow, so to be a right-wing editorial writer was to be cutting-edge and hip. I paid close attention to all the privatization plans that were floating around. If state property could be distributed to the masses, then a new capitalist Russia could be born.

I saw but did not see the enormous amount of corruption that was going on. I saw but did not see that property rights alone do not spontaneously make a decent society. The primary problem in all societies is order — moral, legal and social order. It took me a while to see that what Russia really needed was not privatization first, but law and order first.

By the time I came to this [New York Times] job, in 2003, I was having qualms about the free-market education I’d received — but not fast enough. It took me a while to see that the postindustrial capitalism machine — while innovative, dynamic and wonderful in many respects — had some fundamental flaws. The most educated Americans were amassing more and more wealth, dominating the best living areas, pouring advantages into their kids. A highly unequal caste system was forming. …

David Brooks, I Was Wrong About Capitalism

… about Mitt Romney

The campaign was extremely boring, and I really did have to stretch to find some fun ways to approach it …

The story about the dog on the roof came from a Boston Globe profile in which his son told a reporter about the time their pet pooped from his perch and messed up the car’s rear window.

Romney is now in the Senate, where he was the only Republican who voted to remove Trump from office during both of his impeachments and, recently, was the only Republican to vote against repealing Joe Biden’s mask mandate.

He also, of course, supports Mitch McConnell and his party’s agenda. If you don’t agree with that, it’s hard to get all that nostalgic about what might have been. But the one lesson I take away from my Seamus period is that there are some things that are way worse than boring.

Gail Collins, I Was Wrong About Mitt Romney (and His Dog)

… about Trump voters, 2016

What Trump’s supporters saw was a candidate whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo.

I was blind to this … I belonged to a social class that my friend Peggy Noonan called “the protected.” My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges.

Trump’s appeal, according to Noonan, was largely to people she called “the unprotected.” Their neighborhoods weren’t so safe and pleasant. Their schools weren’t so excellent. Their livelihoods weren’t so secure. Their experience of America was often one of cultural and economic decline, sometimes felt in the most personal of ways.

It was an experience compounded by the insult of being treated as losers and racists —clinging, in Obama’s notorious 2008 phrase, to “guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

No wonder they were angry.

Bret Stephens, I Was Wrong About Trump Voters

Wordplay

  1. TQIA++ nutters — (From Andrew Sullivan)

This appears to refer to people who can’t seem to help noticing the differences between LGB and the ever-expanding suffix.

Katie Herzog tacitly recognizes the the reflex to conflate different, um, sexual minorities:

“I heard on NPR that monkeypox is disproportionately impacting the ‘LGBTQ community’ but I’m pretty sure the population of lesbians who frequent bathhouses is approximately zero. … just as we are for all STIs besides bed death,” – Katie Herzog.

I’d never heard of "bed death." Turns out she’s alluding to this:

  1. Lesbian Bed Death (or LBD) is altogether more pedestrian than it first seems. Originally coined by sexologists Pepper Schwartz and Phillip Blumstein in their 1983 book American Couples, it boils down to the idea that lesbians and queer womxn in monogamous, longterm relationships are basically friends without the benefits and are having less sex than any other type of couple.

Hannah Ewens, Daisy Jones, Lesbian Bed Death: What Is It and Does It Even Exist? (all idiosyncratic spellings in original)

  1. The reflex to conflate incommensurables as "the LGBTQ community" reminds me of my former Calvinist denomination, whose magazine referred to individuals who weren’t standard-issue Dutch or Dutch descendants as "multi-ethnic" even if they were, to use the trope, black as the ace of spades.

Inability to distinguish the easily-distinguishable is sad.

  1. As much as Paris stimulated him, he always dreaded his return to Berlin, that ‘dancing carnivalesque necropolis’.

Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (emphasis added)

  1. Word of the Week: post-quantum cryptography, new encryption mathematics that outpaces the capabilities even of quantum computers. Read the full article. (From the Economist)

If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Sundries, 2/12/22

Uprisings

Taibbi compares Justin Trudeau to Nicolae Ceaușescu

Ceaușescu’s balcony will forever be a symbol of elite cluelessness. Even in the face of the gravest danger, a certain kind of ruler will never be able to see the last salvo coming, if doing so requires any self-examination. The neoliberal political establishment in most of the Western world, the subject of repeat populist revolts of rising intensity in recent years, seems to suffer from the same disability.

There may be no real-world comparison between a blood-soaked monster like Ceaușescu and a bumbling ball-scratcher like Joe Biden, or an honorarium-gobbling technocrat like Hillary Clinton, or a Handsome Dan investment banker like Emmanuel Macron, or an effete pseudo-intellectual like Justin Trudeau. Still, the ongoing inability of these leaders to see the math of populist uprisings absolutely recalls that infamous scene in Bucharest. From Brexit to the election of Donald Trump to, now, the descent of thousands of Canadian truckers upon the capital city of Ottawa to confront Trudeau, a consistent theme has been the refusal to admit — not even to us, but to themselves — the numerical truth of what they’re dealing with.

Trudeau is becoming the ultimate example. Truckers last month began protesting a January 22nd rule that required the production of vaccine passports before crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. Canadian truckers are reportedly 90% vaccinated, above the country’s 78% total, a key detail that’s been brazenly ignored by media in both countries determined to depict these more as “anti-vax” than “anti-mandate” protests (which seem to be about many things at once, but that’s another story). When an angry convoy descended upon the capital, Trudeau dismissed them in a soliloquy that can only be described as inspired political arson:

The small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa, who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing, do not represent the views of Canadians…who know that following the science and stepping up to protect each other is the best way to ensure our rights, our freedoms, our values as a country.

A near-exact repeat of the “basket of deplorables” episode, Trudeau’s imperious description of “unacceptable” views instantly became a rallying cry, with people across the country lining the streets to cheer truckers while self-identifying as the “small fringe minority.” Everyone from high school kids to farmers and teachers and random marchers carrying jerrycans of fuel joined in as Trudeau’s own words were used to massively accelerate his troubles.

Trudeau fled the city, removing his family to what aides called a “secret location” for “security reasons,” a politically disastrous move denounced by just about everyone with a microphone or a Twitter account, including members of his own party. Liberal MP Joël Lightbound took things a step further. He ripped Trudeau’s politics as divisive, saying his government needs to recognize people have “legitimate concerns” while adding, acidly, “Not everyone can earn a living on a MacBook at a cottage.” This has been a theme in the States, too, where the people most dickishly insistent on the necessity of lockdowns or mandates have tended to be Zoomer professionals spending the pandemic in pajamas.

Matt Taibbi, ‌Justin Trudeau’s Ceauşescu Moment.

King Louis Phillipe of France dismissively said that the French don’t do revolutions in the Winter. They forced him to abdicate on February 24, 1848.

I’m finished with Covid Theater

The vaccines have been freely available to all who want them for a year now. Omicron is a negligible death risk to people who got the vaccine. There are no other technical breakthroughs predicted. It’s time to get back to (the new) normal of living life with excess deaths from Covid being the fault of those who refused the vaccine (and probably stopped cowering behind masks months ago if ever they cowered at all).

Lockdowns and border closures would end. Ditto for social distancing. Masking would be optional except among the vulnerable. Workplaces would reopen. Schools would stay open. At least for the vaccinated, COVID testing would be deployed only to diagnose symptoms and avoid particularly risky situations, not as a way to screen the population or decide about joining friends for dinner. Self-isolation for people with COVID could be encouraged but not required, except for special cases like health-care and eldercare workers.

Jonathan Rauch, How to Live with Covid

[S]ignificant numbers of individuals (especially Democrats) continue to assess risk in a way that leads them to refrain from normal activities, keeping the public life of our country frozen in a state of suspension between lockdown and liberation.

[T]he incidence of death last October and November from COVID-19 for someone vaxxed and boosted was about 0.1 per 100,000 infections — or about 1 out of a million.

*But who is dying of the virus? Overwhelmingly adults who choose to be unvaccinated.

Damon Linker.

Freudian Slips

When Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams apologized this week for having taken off her mask during a campaign stop at an elementary school, she came across as a penitent not for hypocrisy but for failing to set a good example for the children “that we wear masks whenever possible.” Worse, she said that she had removed her mask in the first place because she said she “wanted all of them to hear me.” Just imagine how that sounds to students and teachers who have been struggling to understand and be understood for years under mask rules. But Abrams is obliged to support the restrictions because core Democratic constituencies still refuse to budge on what is increasingly security theater. If she were thinking of a general election audience, Abrams would have commiserated with students about how hard it is to wear masks in a classroom setting and how she hoped the restriction would soon end. But that is not an answer that, say, the Georgia Educators Association would like to hear. 

Democrats in many deep blue states are dropping indoor mask requirements or allowing them to expire in the coming weeks. But they are still struggling with the question of schools, which says a lot about the power of teachers’ unions inside the party. But it also speaks to the larger problem Democrats have in emerging from the pandemic, even as voters continue to send powerful signals about their frustrations. Some Democrats imagine that the movement against restrictions is driven by right-wing crazies. That is a delusion that could lead to a wipeout for the blue team this fall.

Here’s Yascha Mounk writing in The Atlantic: “Accepting restrictions that weaken our social ties when they seemed temporary was one thing. Putting up with them indefinitely is quite another. For many, the sense that we will live in pandemic purgatory for months or years to come now poses a heavy psychological burden.

Stirewaltisms: Democrats Have Issues About COVID Restrictions

Prestige progressive media

Misinformation versus fake news

Someone close to me just closed an email with the sort of “postscript” that people on the internet seem to have adopted:

“Misinformation” is the new word for “It’s not part of the approved narrative."

The point is true enough, but rather pointless standing alone. The Right has its own version. “Fake news” is how the Right dismisses truths that are not part of its approved narrative, just as “misinformation” is more characteristic of the left-leaning elite.

There’s another difference I should note, too, for the sake of avoiding mindless bothsiderism: to the best of my knowledge, it is overwhelmingly the left-leaning elite that’s trying to de-platform or otherwise quasi-censor things they find disagreeable. The Right influencers just contemn them.

Legalia

American law has created a system that renders deadly gun battles between innocent American citizens and police officers exercising their lawful duties a near certainty.

… [Y]ou have a system that grants police broad leeway to enter homes without knocking, leeway to make mistakes, and leeway to use deadly force when making those mistakes. And all of it is lawful, blessed by the Supreme Court.

Now, let’s get back to the Second Amendment. The one thing that is currently clear about the constitutional law of gun ownership is that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep a firearm in the home for self-defense. State statutes and other lower-court rulings may expand that right to include, for example, the right to carry weapons outside the home, but in every state in the union, the government must, at least, protect the right to defend your home with a gun.

It does not take a rocket scientist, a policy wonk, or a legal scholar to see the inevitable collisions that result when the courts empower the state to enter your home without warning while also protecting your right to protect your home with deadly force. One result is legal gun battles between police and citizens.

Yes, legal.

David French.

Alabama Congressional Districts

Blue World is lamenting that the Supreme Court is, for just one instance, “Gutting Voting Rights by Shadow Docket.”

Don’t you believe it.

As is so often the case, Sarah Isgur and David French explain the decision ably on the Advisory Opinions podcast, including the “shadow docket” stuff. February really is too close to Alabama’s May primary elections, with early voting starting late March, to mess with the redistricting this election cycle, because of all the steps that would have to be jammed into seven weeks.

It appears, thus, unfortunately true that almost “any challenge to any new … state districting map cannot be heard until at least one election cycle has taken place under the … maps.”

Politics

Right on schedule

If you thought partisanship was making us stupid, just wait till you see how Republicans respond to Democrats lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

There are numerous signs this week that Democrats are ready to do precisely that. But will Republicans applaud, cheering on a belated embrace of something they’ve been advocating for the better part of two years? Not on your life. After endless months of hitting Democrats for upholding masking requirements and attempting to enforce vaccine mandates, Republicans are getting ready to hit them again, this time for lifting pandemic restrictions on the grounds that late is really no better than never.

The line we’ll likely hear is this: Your polling must really be in the tank if you’re conceding we were right all along!

Damon Linker, The pathological politics of leaving the pandemic behind, February 9

The polls must be bad: Though none of the science around masking is changing, Democrats have started saying that the science around masking is changing. Some are enraged that it took so long. We get it. But also: we’re thrilled. 

The ritual of wearing a face covering to talk to a maitre d’ and walk to your table before eating in a crowded restaurant turns out to be mostly about power and control and symbolism—and not at all about health. Across the country—in California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois, New York and New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island—mask mandates are falling. Showing vaccine cards at the door is ending too. What happened? The politicians hired special groups to figure out what voters are thinking. And voters are very done with all this.

Nellie Bowles, ‌Champagne for Socialists, Masks for Kids, and Meth Pipes for All February 11 (emphasis in original)

But here’s the thing: that it was predictable doesn’t mean it’s false. I see it in my two worlds: daily and church life versus musical performing arts life.

RNC Geniuses

Summary of one segment of the Dispatch Podcast: the RNC wanted everyone to stop talking about January 6, so they censured two Republicans for cooperating with Democrats in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” Now every Republican, high and low, is forced to answer questions about whether they agree with the RNC that breaking into the capital, chanting for the hanging of the Vice President, and smearing feces on the walls is “legitimate political discourse.”

Brilliant!

The RNC’s fallback position is that they’re talking about the “legitimate political discourse” of six members of the RNC who have been subpoenaed by the Committee but weren’t even in DC! Apparently, they were back home preparing fraudulent slates of electors to muddy the waters.

Oh.

It’s a repeat of 2020, when all the Democrats had to do to sweep the elections was “not act crazy,” and they couldn’t do it! Now it’s the Republicans’ turn.

Wordplay

Existential

A Boston Globe columnist wrote last summer, “Philosophers have struggled for millennia to answer the existential question: Why did the chicken cross the road?” Here’s my question: Why are writers and politicians today trying so hard to shoehorn the word existential into sentences?

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the other day that “climate change is the existential threat of our time.” The New York Times editorialized that Donald Trump and his supporters pose an “existential threat” to the Republic. Scientific American declared that wildfires are putting giant sequoias at “existential risk.” A Barron’s headline read, “Bitcoin is facing an existential crisis.” Bloomberg Law wrote, “Wall Street ends crazy year with existential angst.”

Axios reports there are “existential stakes” in the debate over voting rights. Then, too, Axios tells us that Covid “has presented an existential challenge to live music.”

Peter Funt, ‌Roll Over, Kierkegaard, It’s All ‘Existential’

Imminent

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday the Biden administration is no longer using the word “imminent” to describe a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. “It sent a message we weren’t intending to send, which was that we knew that President Putin had made a decision,” she said, adding that it’s “still true” Putin “could invade at any time.”

The Morning Dispatch

My wife took a very popular course in International Relations taught by a learned Hungarian expat 50+ years ago. “Diplomatic language” is not just a euphemism for euphemisms, and even today, she recognizes that “imminent” was a diplomatic no-no for the Russia-Ukraine situation.

But Biden was propagandizing us, not speaking to Putin. He’s backing off because “imminent” becomes transparently bogus when you’ve been shouting it for three months.

Shibboleth

After two years in which masks and closures became powerful shibboleths for the American left, letting go is proving very challenging.

Chris Stirewalt, ‌Democrats Have Issues About COVID Restrictions. I’ve been seeing what Stirewalt sees, but the word shibboleth eluded me. It’s perfect.

Beclowning

See my item, above, on the RNC Geniuses. This sort of thing is why I cherish whoever invented the the expression, the infinitive of which is “to beclown oneself.”

Bon mots

Dégagisme (noun): the French keenness to evict any leader they vote into office.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Happy Accession Day

70 years ago today, Queen Elizabeth took the throne. There’s some festivities planned, though the big affair will be the anniversary of her coronation.

Would “Voldemorting” suit you?

Freddie deBoer is a bit put out that the armies of the Successor Ideology reject every label for them, so he suggests “Voldemorting”:

Voldemorting has an obvious political purpose: that which you cannot name is made that much harder to discuss, and that which is harder to discuss is harder to criticize. That they would hide within these discursive tricks does not say good things about the content of their politics or their ability to defend them. What’s more, the people who act this way seem to think that there is no reason to give their faction a name because what they want isn’t politics, it’s just “the moral arc of the universe,” just progress, just the way things ought to be. There’s no need to talk about what they want because their politics are just right.

Whatever term [you allow for your ideology] – come out into the light and fight like the rest of us have to fight. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to.

Downgrading the forecast

As of Friday the 4th, Russia’s “imminent” invasion of Ukraine had been downgraded to “planning to fabricate a pretext to invade.”

Your sins will find you out

CNN President Jeff Zucker appeared to close a messy chapter in the cable news network’s history in December when he fired anchor Chris Cuomo after an investigation into his efforts to help his brother, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, respond to allegations of sexual harassment.

The drama was far from over.

Mr. Cuomo’s legal team then contacted the cable news network to collect severance he feels he is owed, people familiar with the matter said. In the course of those talks, Mr. Cuomo’s legal team said they believed CNN was applying its policies inconsistently, citing that Mr. Zucker hadn’t disclosed a relationship he was having with a top aide, the people said.

Wall Street Journal.

I’ve found fortification though life in the out-of-context warning “be sure your sins will find you out.” That’s exponentially truer if your sins are know to thugs like the Cuomos.

Go, Sarah!

It takes a lot to get me to root for Sarah Palin.

But consider the 2017 New York Times editorial, falsely and ghoulishly insinuating that the 2017 shooting of Steve Scalise and other Republican lawmakers was the logical eventuality of Sarah Palin’s (nonexistent) 2011 incitement of violence against Gabby Gifford (I’m giving you the gist of the NYT screed, which appeared immediately after the 2017 shooting).

That has done the trick.

I wish Palin well in her libel suit, going to trial this week. I’m not altogether happy with the prospect of eroding the New York Times v. Sullivan libel standard, but now as then hard cases make bad law.

Best outcome: Palin wins, but jury decides her reputation was already too low to be damaged much. Nominal damages of $1.

Cheap slurs

Speaking of the New York Times, its columnist Michelle Goldberg can’t even defend suspended Georgetown law professor Ilya Shapiro without misrepresenting the gist of what he said:

A libertarian constitutional law scholar named Ilya Shapiro sent out some ugly tweets last week. Shapiro, who’d recently been hired by Georgetown University’s law school, criticized Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Indian-born judge Sri Srinivasan was “objectively” the “best pick.” But Srinivasan, wrote Shapiro, “alas doesn’t fit into latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman.” He claimed that if Biden considered only Black women, whoever he chose would always have an “asterisk attached.”

Many people were rightly incensed by Shapiro’s suggestion that a Black woman — any Black woman — would necessarily be “lesser.” … Shapiro’s tweets implied disdain not for a specific nominee, but for the entire universe of Black female jurists.

… Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association started a petition demanding his firing; as of Thursday morning it had more than 1,000 signatures. “Shapiro’s racist rhetoric and continued association with the university sends the visceral message that even if Black women attend the best law schools, hold the highest clerkships and serve on the most prestigious courts, they still are not good enough,” it said.

I wouldn’t argue with anyone who interprets Shapiro’s insulting tweets that way.

(Emphasis added)

I call bullshit.

Nobody was “rightly incensed,” and Shapiro didn’t disdain anybody.

It is impeccably logical that if Sri Srinivasan is “objectively” the “best pick,” any other pick will indeed necessarily be “lesser.”

It’s also nevertheless true that Ketanji Brown Jackson is very well-qualified, and would be on any Democrat President’s short list. I’d bet a modest amount that Shapiro would agree with that. He was just arguing for someone he thought better.

Shapiro’s full phrase, “lesser black woman,” was admittedly a groaner, for which Shapiro has apologized.

As Mark Twain once wrote, “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Shapiro could have stopped after his praise of Srinivasan, but nobody with an active Twitter life has entirely avoided infelicitous short-hand to fit the 280-character limit (or to fill it with just one more point).

Twitter groaners don’t “incense” healthy people in a healthy society, but it feels at times as if the Times wants to keep us sickly and polarized.

Hungary the besieged

At the moment, Hungary is facing persecution by the European Union because of a law it passed last summer that restricts media information about LGBT aimed at minors. It is perfectly normal for any country to restrict what information is available to children. Did you know that Sweden bans advertising that targets children?

What the Hungarians banned, or at least restricted, was advertising and other forms of information aimed at propagandizing children and minors for a permissive, left-wing take on LGBT. … The problem for the EU, of course, is that the Hungarians hold traditional views about sexuality and gender. If Budapest wanted to restrict ads selling candy and soft drinks to minors, nobody in Europe would mind, but when Budapest wants to restrict selling gender ideology to children, then it’s the most wicked thing in the world ….

Rod Dreher, ‌Hungary & American Conservatives

History Rhymes

What we are witnessing today on the international stage is more than a re-run of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 with the roles of the United States and Russia reversed. It is an intentional reversal of roles and language up and down the line on Russia’s part. Nebenzya’s brazen denial that his country is intimidating Ukraine by moving its armed forces around on its own territory was intentionally serving up to the USA and NATO the tripe that has been served up to Russia these past 25 years: that NATO is a purely defensive alliance which does not threaten Russia in any way when it holds massive war exercises at Russia’s borders or stages a mock recapture of the Kaliningrad enclave.

… Russia is in a ‘gotcha’ position if things go to extremis, that it probably has a first strike capability, meaning it could so destroy the United States war-making capabilities on a first strike as to preclude an effective riposte. This is the so-called ‘window of opportunity’ that Russia has created for itself by developing and deploying hypersonic missiles and other cutting edge strategic weapons over the past twenty years while the United States poured its military budget into bloody wars on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Gilbert Doctorow

It ain’t the 60s any more, kids

When Neil Young and Joni Mitchell saw an injustice, they used to attack it by writing protest songs, taking on racism in the “Southern Man” and the Vietnam war in “The Fiddle and the Drum”. Today, the two musicians prefer to speak out by pressing the mute button.

The Economist

Who are the real democrats?

Ben Rhodes at the Atlantic says one major political party (the Republicans) no longer accepts democracy. “Not so fast, pal,” says Ross Douthat. “It kind of depends on how you look at ‘democracy’.”

I think I’d lay low a while if I were Ben Rhodes.

Not that the Republicans aren’t deviants, mind you.

The RNC censured Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger on Friday, including this jaw-dropper:

Representatives Cheney and Kinzinger are participating in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse….

Another point on Trump, which reflects poorly on the GOP:

So a prime minister who won a landslide victory only a couple of years ago may well be defenestrated by his own party in the near future — because he broke Covid rules and said something disgraceful about an opponent. Now imagine the GOP doing that to Trump. Inconceivable. The man instigated a mob attack on the Congress, for Pete’s sake. He has regularly lied about opponents — and no one in the GOP gave a shit. Johnson did indeed have a populist cult of personality, like Trump. But the British Tories never went so far as to worship the man, like a golden calf, and merge their entire identity in his image.

Andrew Sullivan

(I am neither Republican nor Democrat.)

Covid deaths

I noted recently that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky couldn’t say how many Americans of the then-reported 836,000 Covid deaths have died from Covid as opposed to with Covid. That made me suspect that deaths from Covid have been over-reported (as they have in at least a few case).

The Economist, however, watches the reality-checking statistic of excess deaths, and thinks we’ve under-counted. The Economist thinks our real Covid toll is 1,001,190.

It also has data on much of the world, though it appears at a glance to be weak on sub-Saharan Africa.

Quick take

There’s nothing like censorship to quell conspiracy theories.

Caitlin Flanagan on the US surgeon general suggesting that the government and corporations use their power to censor citizens like Joe Rogan. Via Andrew Sullivan

Liquid Modernity versus the Counterculture of Commitment

[Pete] Davis opens [Dedicated: The Case for Commitment in an Age of Infinite Browsing] by asking us if we’ve ever felt the despondency of “infinite browsing mode”: unable to decide on a Netflix show, say, paralyzed by the desire to keep options open. Fear of making the wrong choice, coupled with an infinite amount of options, may make us lackadaisical. But many have also experienced anxiety resulting from our gig economy’s lack of job stability or employee loyalty, or hurt resulting from friends and loved ones who weren’t faithful to us. Infinite browsing mode tempts us, but it also pains us.

Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman refers to this state, Davis explains, as liquid modernity: “We can’t rely on any job or role, idea or cause, group or institution to stick around in the same form for long—and they can’t rely on us to do so, either,” Davis writes. “That’s liquid modernity: It’s Infinite Browsing Mode, but for everything in our lives.”

Davis compares this with what he calls “a Counterculture of Commitment,” and considers a diverse array of people—Fred Rogers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, piano and school teachers, and more—who “took the same radical act of making commitments to particular things—to particular places and communities, to particular causes and crafts, and to particular institutions and people.”

Gracy Olmstead, ‌The Day of Small Things

Discerning the truth

Not unrelated to Infinite Browsing Mode, one of the most pressing challenges of our age is winnowing falsehoods out of truth. Nobody wants to commit to a lie, but we simply don’t have time to exhaustively investigate every claim that, if true, might well change our course in life.

So we all develop heuristics. I intend to write soon about mine. Meanwhile, I’d be interested to hear yours — both of you, all of you — heck, I don’t even pay attention to the statistics any more.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Potpourri 10/28/21

Misguided, yes, but not criminals

Insofar as Attorney General Merrick Garland has sicced the FBI on parent-protesters at school board meetings, I’m glad Mitch McConnell stonewalled his Supreme Court nomination.

On the other hand, see the first item here. I have thoughts, too, about how parents are in some instances shooting themselves in the foot (feet?) by extremely weird efforts to style teaching of our racial history as "CRT."

Dying for the state?

On the one hand, the democratic state modestly claims to be a mere means toward an end. On the other hand, the same state needs to convince its citizens that it can give them a meaningful identity because the state is the only means of achieving the common good. Dying for this state, as Alasdair MacIntyre has said, is “like being asked to die for the telephone company”

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Conservative low and high "churches"

[L]ow church conservatism retains the anti-clericalism of its religious counterpart. This entails a pervasive anti-elitism. For the low church conservative, a popular broadcaster such as Rush Limbaugh possesses greater authority than a scholar such as Russell Kirk. The former derives his position from (or has it affirmed by) the congregation—his listeners. A Kirk, on the other hand, appears all too priestly.

Becevich, Hoeveler, Kurth, Quinn, Weyrich and Lind, The Essence of Conservatism

Democracy’s currently degraded form

[I]t is hardly clear that American democracy even in its currently degraded form will survive much longer. It thus seems unduly optimistic to make calculations about the second- or third-order side effects of a judicial ruling on future electoral outcomes, when those elections may well be decided by the fiat of conspiracy-theory-believing Trumparatchiks ….

Michael C. Dorf

I disagree strenuously with Dorf on the supposed constitutional right to abortion, but other than that, these musings on ‌Will the SB8 Case Allow SCOTUS to Appear Moderate? If So, What Follows? are interesting, and the pull-quote above is not really wrong.

But as of this writing, I’m worried, too, about the frivolity of our democracy: two items in this morning’s news involve (a) bestowing a Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously on a fine young Marine from not far from my home who got killed in the botched Afghan air lift, and (b) some sort of honor for Prince.


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.

CRT! (and some other stuff)

I’m trying out a new theme for the appearance of this blog. I often want to do quotes-within-quotes, and my current theme not only doesn’t do that (at least with Markdown files as the source), but makes the attempt look amateurish. I hope the new theme does better.

Mediocrities everywhere!

The 1984 film, Amadeus, tells the story of the child genius, Mozart. IMdB describes it in this manner:

The life, success and troubles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as told by Antonio Salieri, the contemporaneous composer who was insanely jealous of Mozart’s talent and claimed to have murdered him…

Mozart’s genius is so profound that it is little more than a toy in the hands of a very spoiled and immature boy/man. Salieri feels that, in Mozart’s existence, God is mocking him. He has dedicated his life to his work, even “to the glory of God,” and nothing he produces can be compared to the slightest trifle of Mozart’s irreverent gift. In the last scene of the film, Salieri, now confined to a mental institution (from where he is relating the tale) blesses the world:

“Mediocrities everywhere! I absolve you!”

Salieri implicates the whole of the world in his crime, describing himself as the “patron saint of mediocrities.” It is one of the most deeply affecting scenes I have ever encountered.

His crime is driven by envy. It is a story that brilliantly exposes the reality that envy is the product of shame and our inability, or unwillingness, to bear it …

[M]ost of the time throughout history, there is a slow and steadfast persistence of grace that, on the one hand, sustains us in our existence, and, on the other, constantly makes the fruit of our lives exceed the quality of our work. We offer him what is mediocre, at best, and He yields back to us thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred. Indeed, we fail to understand that what some might judge to be “mediocre” is itself a work of grace.

… We are beloved mediocrities who have been commanded to become gods (by grace).

Fr. Stephen Freeman, ‌Mediocrity, Envy, and Grace

CRT! CRT! CRT!

CRT is far from the most important topic in this blog installment (see above for something far more important), but it seems to be click-baity.

Seriously, I’m trying for more than click-bait here. We have too much of that on this topic.

The “zero-sum” race mistake

Virulent racists and anti-racist activists would seem to have little in common, but in fact they tend to agree on one mistaken premise: Race relations are a zero-sum game. If whites are doing well, it’s at the expense of members of other races. If members of other races are doing well, it’s at the expense of whites.

On the racist (or “white nationalist”) side, this assumption means that members of other groups need to be subordinated so that whites can thrive. For anti-racists, this means that since whites have benefited at the expense of other groups, whites will now have to give up their “privilege” and reduce their own standard of living to allow other groups to thrive.

In fact, whites, as a group, don’t benefit from discrimination against, or oppression of, other groups, except perhaps psychologically if such discrimination and oppression make them feel superior and such feelings of superiority make them happy. But from a purely economic perspective, wealth comes from gains from trade, and the wealthier your trading partners, the more wealth you can accrue.

David Bernstein, Racists and (Many) Anti-Racists Make the Same “Zero Sum” Mistake – Reason.com

Stumbling over their own anti-CRT feet

I think my point is clear at this point. The defenses of anti-CRT laws are time and again running aground on the rocky shoals of … the actual anti-CRT laws. Welcome to the incredible difficulty of drafting speech codes. For decades, some of the smartest minds in higher education, Big Tech, and elsewhere have been trying hard to draft laws that ban the ideas they don’t like without sweeping too broadly or creating unintended consequences.

The allure is obvious. If we have the power to ban harmful speech, why not ban harmful speech? But the execution is always clumsy and dangerous if it’s broad, and narrow to the point of irrelevance if it’s precise. Another National Review pal, Ramesh Ponnuru, put things well in his own contribution to the debate in Bloomberg. “But regulation can be defensible in principle,” he says, “without a particular regulation being wise in practice. Some of the provisions in these bills are vague and sweeping.”

Yes, yes they are. But then Ramesh makes this vital point: “The more precisely these laws are written, though, the less they will proscribe and the easier they will be to evade.”

Yup. And that’s exactly why I circle back to my proposal—better curriculums and civil rights litigation. Thus you give teachers the confidence to teach something concrete and real without creating a fear that even their own course materials might suddenly be illegal …

David French, Even the Defenses of Anti-CRT Speech Codes Show the Problems With Anti-CRT Speech Codes

What’s really inflaming the CRT fights?

Again, I want to start with what the new progressivism is interested in changing. One change involves increasingly familiar terms like “structural” and “systemic” racism, and the attempt to teach about race in a way that emphasizes not just explicitly racist laws and attitudes, but also how America’s racist past still influences inequalities today.

In theory, this shift is supposed to enable debates that avoid using “racist” as a personal accusation — since the point is that a culture can sustain persistent racial inequalities even if most white people aren’t bigoted or biased.

… [T]he basic claim that structural racism exists has strong evidence behind it, and the idea that schools should teach about it in some way is probably a winning argument for progressives. (Almost half of college Republicans, in a recent poll, supported teaching about how “patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other institutions.”) Especially since not every application of the structural-racist diagnosis implies left-wing policy conclusions: The pro-life and school choice movements, for instance, regularly invoke the impact of past progressive racism on disproportionately high African-American abortion rates and underperforming public schools.

What’s really inflaming today’s fights, though, is that the structural-racist diagnosis isn’t being offered on its own. Instead it’s yoked to two sweeping theories about how to fight the problem it describes.

First, there is a novel theory of moral education, according to which the best way to deal with systemic inequality is to confront its white beneficiaries with their privileges and encourage them to wrestle with their sins.

Second, there is a Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or antiracist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect “equity” may be a form of structural racism itself.

The first idea is associated with Robin DiAngelo, the second with Ibram X. Kendi, and they converge in places like the work of Tema Okun, whose presentations train educators to see “white-supremacy culture” at work in traditional measures of academic attainment.

Ross Douthat, ‌The Excesses of Antiracist Education (bold added)

CRT dissent

I don’t even think the far left’s attempt to dismantle liberal democracy through critical race theory has been entirely a bad thing. It has revealed a consensus too: that we need to do better in telling the brutal truth about our white supremacist past. It’s been encouraging that even Republicans now agree that the Tulsa Massacre, one of the darkest moments in American history, should be taught without any attempt to disguise its evil. If this helps historians — and not critical race theorists — to uncover more of this shame, and to reckon with it, we will be a stronger country for it. It’s a real gain to have bipartisan support for a new federal holiday celebrating Juneteenth. And it’s also clear that the stealth campaign to indoctrinate children in the methods of CRT has begun to meet a real obstacle: parents of all races and backgrounds appalled by its racism.

Andrew Sullivan, Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part III. This one was near the top for me personally: Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media – Axios

Angels on the head of a pin

A glib speaker in the Brains Trust once entertained his audience (and reduced the late Charles Williams to helpless rage) by asserting that in the Middle Ages it was a matter of faith to know how many archangels could dance on the point of a needle. I need not say, I hope, that it never was a “matter of faith”; it was simply a debating exercise, whose set subject was the nature of angelic substance: were angels material, and if so, did they occupy space?

Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning

Elusive expression

The humanists felt that literature was closer to life, that it provided a better lens onto the moral and spiritual life of man. In short, they elevated imagination to its rightful place alongside faith or reason as one of the fundamental faculties of human nature. Erasmus often vented his frustration when his comic and satirical works were attacked and misunderstood. Those “whose ears are only open to propositions, conclusions, and corollaries” are deaf to the more subtle literary techniques of irony and ambiguity.

Gregory Wolfe, Beauty Will Save the World

Propositional truth, once a hallmark of evangelicalism, is making way for more elusive means of expression, such as narrative, image, and symbol.

Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation

Trump’s legacy

Wehner: What do you think is the most important legacy that Trump will leave?

Rauch: In the world I’m thinking and writing about, it’s that he has modeled for all time to come how to apply Russian-style disinformation in U.S. politics. And although he may have particular genius at doing that, this is an art that lots of people can practice. The KGB practiced it very successfully for a long time, not because they were geniuses, but because they had technicians who knew how to do it.

So it’s not just Trump anymore. I think he’s transformed the Republican Party into an institutionalized propaganda outlet; I think he’s had the same effect on conservative media, and that’s very hard to pull back in. Because once people start doing that, and they know it works, they continue to do it. And also the Republican base is in on it. They like it.

Disinformation is a participatory sport, not a spectator sport. It’s fun to tell yourselves narratives about how you really won; the other side cheated; you’re heroically taking back democracy; you’re in an existential fight against evil; you’re saving the country. This is way more fun than the boring truth. So the base now has picked up this style of spinning conspiracy tales, telling them to itself, acting on it; and the base is now leading the politicians. I don’t know how you put that genie back in the bottle. I think that’s maybe his most important contribution.

Peter Wehner, Jonathan Rauch on America’s Competing Totalistic Ideologies

Politics of loneliness

Work more often involves analysis of symbols (ideas and numbers) and takes place mostly within our own heads, mediated by technology, with remote work also becoming more common in recent years.

Damon Linker, ‌The politics of loneliness is totalitarian.

Linker lists several likely culprits for the surge of friendlessness over the past 30 years, but this one converged (I think) with other reading I’m currently doing.

Giving up on prohibition

Michael Pollan, whose writing about food I’ve admired, is turning to the “D” in FDA these days, advocating (with some nuance) for legalization of may currently illicit drugs. He’s especially fascinated by hallucinogenics, but hasn’t overlooked opioids:

Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom — of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress. As the geography of the opioid and meth crises suggests, one’s environment and economic prospects play a large role in the likelihood of becoming addicted; just look at where these deaths of despair tend to cluster or the places where addiction to crack cocaine proliferated.

Two findings underscore this point, both described in Johann Hari’s 2015 book on drug addiction, “Chasing the Scream.” Much of what we know, or believe we know, about drug addiction is based on experiments with rats. Put a rat in a cage with two levers, one giving it heroin or cocaine, the other sugar water, and the rat will reliably opt for the drug until it is addicted or dead. These classic experiments seemed to prove that addiction is the inevitable result of exposure to addictive drugs, a simple matter of biology. But something very different happens when that experimental rat is sprung from solitary confinement and moved to a larger, more pleasant cage outfitted with toys, good food and companions to play and have sex with. This is the so-called rat park experiment, devised by a Canadian psychologist named Bruce Alexander in the 1970s. He and his colleagues found that in this enriched environment, rats will sample the morphine on offer but will consume a small fraction of the amount consumed by rats living in isolation, in some cases five milligrams a day instead of 25. Dr. Alexander came to see that drug abuse isn’t a disease; it’s an adaptation to one’s environment and circumstance — to the condition of one’s cage.

The second phenomenon Mr. Hari recounts took place at the end of the Vietnam War. Some 20 percent of U.S. troops became addicted to heroin while in-country. With the war coming to an end, experts worried about tens of thousands of addicts flooding America’s streets. But something unexpected happened when the addicted service members got home: Ninety-five percent of them simply stopped using. It made no difference whether or not they received drug treatment. This is not to minimize the harm done by heroin to those who couldn’t quit; it is only to suggest that there is much more to addiction than exposure to an addictive drug

Michael Pollan, How Should We Do Drugs Now? (The New York Times)

I think Pollan is right that legalization of a lot of drugs is where the country is headed. I’m far from convinced that it’s a good trend, but am leaning toward “opposed but not distraught”.

Pollan:

We shouldn’t forget that two of the most destructive drugs in use today — alcohol and tobacco — have long been perfectly legal. Having wisely given up on prohibition, we’ve worked hard as a society to regulate their use, deploying both laws and customs. Recognizing the dangers of tobacco, we’ve desocialized its use over the past 50 years, devising rules and taboos about when and where one may smoke. Along with high taxes, these expressions of cultural disapproval have substantially reduced tobacco use …

There’s enough libertarian in me for that to sound pretty good, and that’s without getting into how enforcement of drug laws disparately affects some minority groups — part of the “systemic racism” that’s hard to deny.

New construct: “Luxury Surveillance”

I am not without sin when it comes to Luxury Surveillance, the willingness, if not eagerness, to adorn oneself and one’s life with tools of surveillance capitalism.

On the good side, I shut off the microphone on my Amazon Echo so Alexa can’t listen in on daily life. (A lot of people say Amazon started sending ads for things that had been discussed in Alexa’s hearing.) On the bad side, I was drooling over Apple Watch this week — an itch I ended up scratching with a $30 Casio dumb watch.

But really, read the article Luxury Surveillance and see if you want to play in this game. Or if you can’t change your life without getting furious, you can read ‌Delete Your Amazon Prime Account. Now..

Debriefing Covid

The last thing I would say is sort of a core failure is Zoom. I think many people think Zoom is what liberated us—were it not for Zoom, how bad would this pandemic have been? But my counterfactual is different. Zoom allowed a lot of upper-middle-class white-collar people the ability to work and make money and not lose their jobs, and to exclude themselves from society. That fundamentally changed the pandemic. If you went back 15 years ago, and you didn’t have Zoom, you would be facing unprecedented layoffs of wealthy, upper-middle-class people. I think a lot of businesses would have had staggered schedules and improved ventilation. Schools would have pushed to reopen. Amazon Prime and Zoom and all these things in our lives allowed a certain class of people to be spared the pains of COVID-19, taking them out of the game, and making them silent on many of the issues that affected other communities.

The closing of those schools doesn’t have a relationship to the spread of the virus, or the hospitalizations, or the deaths. It’s only really related to the political valence of the town, and the strength of the teachers union. Strong union towns that are left-leaning were far more likely to be closed than right-of-center places that have weaker unions. What sense does that make? That’s certainly not a virus driving that decision. It’s a policy decision. It’s playing politics with kids.

Vinay Prasad, associate professor in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, interviewed (along with others) by Emily Yoffe in ‌What We Got Wrong (and Right) About COVID-19

Orbital obliquity

SciTech Daily:

Planets which are tilted on their axis, like Earth, are more capable of evolving complex life. This finding will help scientists refine the search for more advanced life on exoplanets. […]

“The most interesting result came when we modeled ‘orbital obliquity’ — in other words how the planet tilts as it circles around its star,” explained Megan Barnett, a University of Chicago graduate student involved with the study. She continued, “Greater tilting increased photosynthetic oxygen production in the ocean in our model, in part by increasing the efficiency with which biological ingredients are recycled. The effect was similar to doubling the amount of nutrients that sustain life.”

“Orbital obliquity” is one of those scientific terms — like “persistence of vision” and “angle of repose” — that just cries out for metaphorical application.

All of the writers and thinkers I trust most are characterized by orbital obliquity. They are never quite perpendicular; they approach the world at a slight angle. As a result their minds evolve complex life.

(Alan Jacobs, orbital obliquity – Snakes and Ladders)

Weary of hearing what he has never heard

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


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.

“Legal Technicalities” (and much more)

Legal technicalities

I need periodic reminders that I’m a human, not a rational computing machine. My feelings about the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s reversal of Bill Cosby’s rape conviction is the latest reminder.

Never has the unmasking of a sexual predator disconcerted me more than the unmasking of Bill Cosby. It seemed impossible that he could be a serial rapist. I could hardly bear his conviction even though the unmasking seemed complete and convincing (more from press coverage of the context than from trial testimony about the particular case).

Sarah Isgur of the Advisory Opinions podcast is vehement that his release from prison is not based on a “technicality,” because freedom from self-incrimination is fundamental, not technical. I still call it a “technicality” as a reminder to myself that the “evidence” against Cos (in a sense broader than what improperly was admitted in court) seems convincing — bitterly, disappointingly, convincing.

If you want to hear more about this twist in the Cosby case, check out Why Bill Cosby is a Free Man – by David French and Sarah Isgur – Advisory Opinions‌. Spoiler Alert: The prosecutor of Cosby dunnit.

CRT redux

I mentioned recently an exchange with an old friend on Critical Race Theory. I wouldn’t change a word of that.

But my friend sent me a link (he reads this blog) and an implied invitation to further discussion.

So I set about collecting some articles on CRT and I now expand my comments.

My suspicion that there’s no agreed definition of Critical Race theory was confirmed. I think the author of the article he sent me implied a straw man definition of CRT. My knowledge that some on The Right are creating and exploiting confusion in waging culture war was confirmed.

The confusion makes it hard to say “what I think about CRT” in much the same way I hesitate to say I’m “conservative” these days: “conservative” by whose definition? “CRT” by whose definition?

But I’ll cobble together a “steel man” definition from two sources: Alan Jacobs of Baylor (and formerly of Wheaton) and an anonymous lefty reader of Rod Dreher’s blog:

Critical theory (of which CRT is a subset) is a discipline based on the conviction that the ways we think about our humanistic subjects are not self-evidently correct and require investigation, reflection, and in some cases correction. Critical Race Theory is a tendency to make race the central device in such investigation, reflection, and correction.

I have no problem with “Critical theory” as I’ve defined it. Far from it. Quite a bit of what I write here tacitly adopts it, albeit in a relatively undisciplined way.

But it is dangerous to pursue Critical Race Theory if that means that race is the sole, or even the primary, device for analysis. It’s dangerous because it’s imbalanced, but I also oppose it because I still aspire to “color-blind, melting pot” America, and racializing everything impedes that. Anyone using CRT should be prepared to code-switch before they get way out on a limb of implausibly racial explanations of injustices or social anomalies that have plausible non-racial explanations.

Convergences

I’ve Heard people talking about “convergences“ quite a bit lately, and I have to say I am experiencing a lot of convergence myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a very spritely blogging, because the convergence I’m getting points toward the important things in life being right hemisphere, and sometimes ineffable without a kind of violence.

I’ve been reading ‌The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World and the last line of this stanza keeps coming back to me:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.

(From Wordsworth, The Tables Turned.) “Murdering to dissect” is the gist of what the left hemisphere sometimes does to comprehend the right hemiphere’s more holistic apprehensions.

BLM

Freddie de Boer caught fire. I quote extensively to give the context of his concluding indictments:

[W]hen people are asked to contribute to a cause a natural and indeed necessary instinct is to ask about the honesty of the do-gooder in question and the efficacy of their program. Otherwise there’s no point, there’s no progress. Why would we bother to empower people to fix things if we hadn’t asked whether they were honest and effective?

Those absolutely basic requirements of positive change have been completely evacuated from the public discussion of social justice politics, due to the fact that most people are afraid of the consequences of engaging in adult discrimination about these politics and also because they don’t really respect the people who espouse them … [N]one of us have (sic) any … reason to trust the people panhandling for money, clout, and fame through the auspices of social justice … We are all being told, by progressive consensus, that we have to mindlessly donate, ask no questions, never wonder about motives, and never, ever consider the efficacy of their efforts. We either blindly fall in line when they say to give them whatever they want, including the adoption of extremely contentious policies in a polarized democratic country, or we’re on the other side, the bad side, and we have to live with the black mark of being “part of the problem.”

Nowhere is this dynamic more obvious than concerning BlackLivesMatter.

There is no mainstream media criticism of BlackLivesMatter. There isn’t. There’s explicitly conservative criticism and “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff …

When a politician comes out with a tax plan, journalists and analysts look at it and say, “does this tax plan add up? Does it have the markings of an effective tax plan?” They’ll poke holes in it – yes, if it’s from the other party, but also if it’s from their own. Because they know we need tested and robust tax plans. But when Ibram Kendi says, “all of my vague recriminations and radical-sounding racialist woowoo is the solution to racism,” every journalist and analyst you know scratches their beard and says, “ah yes, indeed,” and they don’t even say that very loudly. But where’s the proof that any of Kendi’s rhetoric actually leads to any action at all? That such action does/could prompt positive change? Who is checking his work? What has Ibram Kendi’s ideology accomplished, beyond enriching Ibram Kendi? Can we point to, like, a graph that shows the outcome of his good works? It certainly seems that we can’t. Since this is the case, why does 95% of the journalism that references Kendi make literally no mention of the basic concept of efficacy?

Media and academia are controlled by white liberals and white liberals live their lives in absolute petrifying fear of being called racist. Or transphobic or ableist … But … talking about honesty and efficacy is how you make sure progress is happening. If you actually care about any political movement, you dedicate yourself to the task of critical engagement. The way adults do for other adults … That’s what love requires. What respect requires. The policy on lefty Twitter is that you never ask hard questions about #BlackLivesMatter, ever, and most people in establishment media write for the approval of lefty Twitter above and beyond any other motivation. $10.6 billion dollars1 were sucked up into a vague and amorphous social movement that has no defined boundaries or parent organization, and yet many of the biggest players in the media haven’t once asked where it went!

The most obvious fact about this horseshit “great awokening” we’re going through than that it’s all powered by condescension … You know why the immense numbers of white liberal journalists on Twitter who cheered on the movement last year and put “BLM” in their Tinder profiles never ask hard questions about the movement and whether it was using its political capital and economic resources wisely? Because they think Black people are the [expletive deleted] junior varsity of politics. Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity. Supporters ask questions and make criticisms. And it is the media’s job to investigate all notable political movements, even if its members are fundamentally supporters of those movements. That responsibility has been almost totally abdicated in regards to BLM.

Where did that $10.6 billion go? If the mainstream media has any credibility at all – and if anyone involved has any respect for the goals of BlackLivesMatter, rather than fear of appearing to oppose them – they’d perform a major, critical, skeptical, hard-nosed investigation. The public interest demands it … [C]heck this fact: BlackLivesMatter has existed for seven years and it’s resulted in more new houses for Patrisse Cullors than pieces of national legislation. Media, do your [expletive deleted] job. Prove me wrong.

Something tells me they won’t!

Accountability is a Prerequisite of Respect (likely paywall)

If you admire his courage, consider subscribing. He “nails it” like this quite regularly, and is followed by smart prominent thinkers left, right and center. “Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity.” That alone is worth an annual subscription!

Performance-enhancing drugs

U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has been suspended for one month after testing positive for marijuana, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday morning.

(USA Today network)

Some social media acquaintances, quoting Robin Williams, helped me pin down what’s annoying about this: marijuana is a performance-enhancing drug only if there’s a Hershey bar waiting at the finish line.

Masculinizing

Aaron Renn, a veteran researcher and writer, began relatively recently, to publish a newsletter (The Masculinist) and then added a podcast by the same name. (See here.)

I moderately enjoyed the newsletter and greatly enjoyed the podcast — until the past two weeks, when Renn seems to have lost some coherence and has resorted to insider chit-chat about North American Evangelicalism (like most Evangelical commentators, he reflexively equates that to “the Church”). I stand so far outside Evangelicalism these days that I barely recognize the players’ names, let alone Renn’s allusions to what they’ve been up to lately.

He may become one of the few paid subscriptions I drop.

Getting Trumpy

From here to the end, it’s witty and insightful, but all Trump-related, should you wish to abstain.

Trump’s legacy

It went on like that for the whole interview. Romney knew the infrastructure bill in detail. He praised President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He differed with Democrats about social spending and taxes. He stated unequivocally that the election was free and fair. In short, he was completely out of step with modern “conservatism” and the Republican party.

Some said that the permanent change Trump would effect in the Republican party would be a heightened attention to the needs of the working class. That may or may not materialize. Some Republicans are making noises about being a “worker’s party,” but there doesn’t appear to be anything concrete there yet.

No, the biggest post-Trump change is the eager embrace of indecency …

Do you remember—eons or five years ago—when it was considered beneath contempt to attack a politician’s family? Bring the heat for the man in the arena, but by all that is holy, leave his wife and kids out of it? It seems antique now. When one of the Biden family dogs passed away a couple of weeks ago, a National Review writer tweeted, “Champ Dies. Major lives on. The Biden family tragedy in miniature.”

Mocking a family when they’ve lost a beloved pet, which was the way some on Twitter interpreted this, would have been tasteless and cruel. But this was much more sinister. The implication was that Biden’s “good son,” Beau, had died while his brother Hunter lived on. Who does that? And especially those who call themselves conservative and constantly rant about threats to civilization. How can they not see that undermining basic civility and decency is itself an attack on civilization?

Well, at least we have Romney, and a few more, to remind Republicans of what they once were and could be again.

Mona Charen, Decency, R.I.P.

The indictment

Everybody seems to agree that prosecuting his CFO is prosecutors’ way of trying to flip him and get to Trump. But what do they think Trump did?

A grand-jury indictment of Donald Trump’s business and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, unsealed this afternoon in New York, alleges tax evasion arising from an attempt to pay Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives extra money “off the books.” Prosecutors charge that Weisselberg and others received rent payments and other benefits without paying the appropriate taxes on them. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have said they will plead not guilty.

So far, the danger is to Trump’s friends and his business, not the former president himself. But the danger could spiral, because Trump knew only so many tricks. If Trump’s company was bypassing relatively moderate amounts of tax on the income flows to Trump’s friends, what was it doing with the much larger income flows to Trump and his own family? Even without personal testimony, finances leave a trail. There is always a debit and a credit, and a check issued to the IRS or not.

David Frum

The Big Steal in a nutcase – ummm, nutshell

In our country today, a considerable minority of our fellow citizens believe that the 2020 election was stolen in plain sight by left-wing mathematicians in Venezuela who devised algorithms to rig voting machines to overturn a landslide Republican victory and elect a senile Democrat and his communistic base to run the government who want to confiscate your guns and make everyone ride bicycles and live on tofu and kale and who invented a fake Chinese influenza so they could force immunization with a vaccine that makes people passive and accepting of state control, which allows vampires to move freely and drink the blood of small children, but in August, when the rightful president is reinstated and our borders are secure, we can breathe freely again and make America great.

I take no position on that. Strange things happen every day. I am only an observer; I don’t make the rules. As I have said on so many occasions, “You kids work it out among yourselves.”

The truth of the Fourth: a minority report | Garrison Keillor

January 6 distilled

I’m not sure I’ve heard a better summary of the events of January 6 than a text early that afternoon from my younger brother – the text that first alerted me that something big had happened: “It’s official. Trump has turned us into 3rd World shithole.”


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.

Seven shorts

Front Page News Today

Front page of my local newspaper, above the fold, is the news that "Racist post on County GOP Facebook elicits backlash."

The post was genuinely and frankly racist — no mere dog-whistle. And my former party is entirely too hospitable toward yahoos and atavists. But the County was Brown County, in Southern Indiana, roughly two hours from us. And it was a Facebook page, fer cryin’ out loud, where presumably any jackass, including enemies, can post.

This story’s placement was partly a function of the steep decline of my local paper and its increasing reliance on stories from other Gannett newspapers in Indiana (and from Gannett Corporate HQ). But we form our impression of the world from, well, glimpses and impressions left by things we generally have no time to analyze and blog about.

Do better, Journal & Courier.

I’m not sure EWTN sees what I see in this swag:

That’s all I’m going to say. (Source)

More Rules for Life

Politics can make people crazy, especially these days. For the latest evidence, consider its insidious spread to “Jeopardy!,” the game show heretofore loved by millions.

Last week Jeopardy! contestant Kelly Donohue put his index finger and thumb together in an “OK” sign, with three fingers extended, during the show’s introduction. Uh oh.

It seems some progressives are on constant watch for this gesture as a signal of white supremacy because it has allegedly been adopted by some extremist groups. Within a few days, hundreds of former Jeopardy! contestants signed an open letter explaining that Mr. Donohue’s gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.”

Mr. Donohue said he had signaled the number three because he had won the show three days in a row. He clarified his meaning in a Facebook post, but he apparently didn’t abase himself sufficiently in the view of the concerned game-show participants. “Most problematic to us as a contestant community,” they wrote, “is the fact that Kelly has not publicly apologized for the ramifications of the gesture he made.”

Mr. Donohue then posted a statement “regret[ting] this terrible misunderstanding” and condemning racism in all its forms. We hope, for his sake, that the latter declaration appeases the troubled sensibilities of the, uh, contestant community.

Mass Hysteria for $2,000

I have read that one of Jordan Peterson’s maxims in his new book is "Don’t apologize if you’ve done nothing wrong."

Keep em’ guessing

I have purchased a copy of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals in the full expectation that I’ll find much worthwhile in it (anyone who got an acknowledgment from Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities can’t be all bad), despite the book’s bugbear status, alongside "George Soros," among the Right.

A line in the sand

I understand that language evolves. I reluctantly admit that usage (eventually) makes proper.

Generally.

But—usage be damned—I will never, ever, accept that "literally" means "I’m about to engage in wild hyperbole because I feel strongly about this."

Thank you.

Cancel culture and the GOP

There are huge divides within the GOP over whether or not cancel culture is a problem government has any role in solving.

J.D. Vance—the author and venture capitalist who is likely to enter Ohio’s U.S. Senate race in the coming weeks—urged Republicans to retaliate against businesses whose leaders met to coordinate responses to Republican-led efforts to change voting laws in states across the country. “Raise their taxes and do whatever else is necessary to fight these goons. We can have an American Republic or a global oligarchy, and it’s time for choosing,” said Vance, who declined to be interviewed for Declan’s story. “At this very moment there are companies (big and small) paying good wages to American workers, investing in their communities, and making it easier for American families. Cut their taxes. No more subsidies to the anti-American business class.”

Rep. Peter Meijer, a freshman Republican from Michigan, grew animated when presented with Vance’s comments. “How is that conservative? Where is there a fidelity to an underlying set of beliefs or principles other than just taking cues from the left and being inherently reactive?” he scoffed. “If you’re using the government to compel something you like, you’re setting the precedent for the government to be compelling something you don’t like. And the non-hypocritical approach is to just not have the government be a coercive entity towards those ends.”

Meijer agreed that Republicans have work to do on this issue, but not necessarily in statehouses or the Capitol. “The Overton window has kind of shifted to where the narrative that ‘Republicans are evil’ is not just unquestioned in many elements on the left, but in corporate America, too. And to me the broader challenge is how do we regain that credibility,” he said. “We’ve lost some credibility to be viewed as serious participants in larger cultural clashes. And if all we’re doing is talking to a Newsmax and OANN crowd, we’re not flexing those persuasive muscles to be able to win over voters in the center.

Declan Garvey, ‘How is that Conservative?’.

I have been consistently impressed by Peter Meijer so far a worthy successor to Justin Amash (and that’s saying a lot), while J.D. Vance sinks ever-lower in my estimation (he started mildly positive, because of Hillbilly Elegy). If the Republicans can come up with any effective, popular, constitutional legislation on cancel culture, you literally can knock me over with a feather I will be astonished.

Certified bleak — in a hopeful sort of way

We take it as our great privilege to enter an age wherein no stone remains on another. There is much to be gained amidst the dark ruins of a shattered word: Brokenness and desolation, so hopeless in the eyes of some, are invisibly pregnant with promise in the eyes of others. As we kick the opiate of material comforts, exit the temple of broken idols, and come to acknowledge that our culture is one of loud and benumbing noise, we finally stand on the threshold of encountering Truth. If one is not seduced back to numbness by the influence of contemporary life, this threshold positions one to apprehend truly (and even transcend almost completely) our dying world’s scaffolding – its logic, appearances, gross phenomena – and come to know by experience the spiritual, otherworldly life. Thus, when one loses all that is of apparent worth and modern society’s ugly face is unmasked, a search for the new, authentic life begins.

2020 Vision: From Blindness to Sight in the Age of Collapse, via Paul Kingsnorth.


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.