Newsfasting

We Orthodox Christians have just started Lent yesterday, and I’m already irritable from not being able to stuff my face promiscuously! Or from something.

There are always dozens of reasons for irritation.

Res Ipsa Loquitur

Ukraine

I find that some news just kind of splashes up onto my pants legs even when I’m limiting news consumption. Believe me that I’m limiting news:

  • Reading the Economist World in Brief and The Morning Dispatch for top news, but rarely click through the Economist.
  • Entirely skipping the Wall Street Journal.
  • Limiting New York Times to obituaries, religion (almost never anything good or even new there), a glance at the Opinions page, and maybe sports and travel.
  • Investigative reporting is higher-quality than regular news, but I still can’t do anything about most of what I see in The Intercept, ProPublica, and bellingcat, so I skip them most of the time.
  • When someone I respect recommends analysis by someone else that I respect, I’ll usually click through if the topic is of interest.

This is still a work in process. I may, at the risk of irritability, cut back further.

Ukraine sues Russia

Last week the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes individuals, launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine. On Monday the International Court of Justice, which judges governments, hears allegations of genocide. But these are not accusations against Russia. Rather, Ukraine wants the court to rule that Russia’s own allegations of genocide against Ukraine in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk are false and contrary to international law.

Russia accepts the authority of the ICJ (unlike that of the ICC). But Ukraine does not expect its neighbour to bow to the court’s verdict. Russia did not even turn up to the court on Monday (their defence was due on Tuesday). Instead, Ukraine hopes that a verdict in its favour would strip Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, of any vestige of legal pretext for an invasion, which, he claims, was launched to stop the supposed genocide.

Economist World in Brief.

How interesting to ask a court to rule that your invader’s excuse for invasion is a lie — and the invader has no answer to your “put up or shut up” challenge.

How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia

Ross Douthat, How to Avoid Nuclear War With Russia is a brilliant distillation of nuclear wisdom, it seems to me.

In short, our conventional forces are so vastly superior to those of Russia that if we directly engaged Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, we’d quickly put Putin’s back to the wall and he might, quite literally, go nuclear.

I guess not all problems are answerable with technology, huh? I’ll take a wise man over a technocrat (almost) any day.

Longfellow was right

A European war is unhelpful for Trump because it reminds voters that Longfellow was right: Life is real, life is earnest. Trump’s strut through presidential politics was made possible by an American reverie; war in Europe has reminded people that politics is serious.”

George Will via the Morning Dispatch

Private Sanctions and Cancel Culture

The Bulwark chronicles how private companies and other non-government actors are punishing Russia for the Ukraine invasion.

I am not entirely amused because this sort of private war is also being waged against Wrongthink in America. For instance, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin and her husband have been banned from AirBNB for associating with Nick Fuentes, of whom AirBNB (and almost everyone else, including me) does not approve.

It may come to the point that making “exercise of free association or free speech rights” protected classes will be a better choice than letting cancel culture commit a kind of economic terrorism.

Fourth Generation War

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, we face Fourth Generation war, not against state militaries similar to our own but non-state forces that fight very differently. While the next conservatism favors a strong defense, it should also question the hundreds of billions of dollars we pour annually into legacy forces and weapons suitable only for fighting other states. A strong defense requires military reform, not just heaps of money.

Andrew J. Bacevich, J. David Hoeveler, James Kurth, Dermot Quinn, Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, et al., The Essence of Conservatism

Russia may be about to experience this in Ukraine if they seek to occupy.

(I’ll bet William Lind wrote this item. He’s always talking about Fourth Generation warfare.)

Gallows humor?

Olha Koba, a psychologist in Kyiv, said that “anger and hate in this situation is a normal reaction and important to validate.” But it is important to channel it into something useful, she said, such as making incendiary bombs out of empty bottles.

Maria Varenikova, ‌Hate for Putin’s Russia Consumes Ukraine, H/T Claire Berlinski via The Morning Dispatch

Patriotism in its purest, loveliest form

After more than 24 years away, Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan finally returned to Odessa, the city where she and her parents were born. “Now that I’m finally here, I wish I wasn’t,” she writes in her dispatch from the coastal city, where she’s been able to reconnect with her 81-year-old great aunt, Baba Zina, who refused to evacuate. “When I asked why that was, she scolded me, telling me to not get distracted from driving. Then she explained that she was born in this city. It’s her home. She visited the United States four times. Four of her siblings moved there, but she returned to Odessa each time. There’s something about this city—with its roots back in imperial Russia, its classic architecture, its appreciation for artists and its Black Sea beaches—that make people romantic about it. Peak Odessa: The opera and ballet theater is the most fortified building in town, surrounded by a wall of sandbags. ‘I visited the Vienna opera house just to see how it compared to ours. Ours is better,’ Zina said as we drove by the theater. ‘I went to the one in Paris, too. It was nice, of course. But ours is nicer.’”

via The Morning Dispatch

Three items from Protestants

Choosing a story

I haven’t quoted Jake Meador in a while because I stopped following him because I was too busy wallowing in “news.” because reasons.

The core problem facing the western church today is that virtually everyone, including many of us, believes that the most basic, elemental right a person has is the right to self-designate. This means that, as we are cast adrift in the world, trying to make sense of who we are, where we are, and what we ought to do, we mostly do not turn outward and allow the need of neighbor and nature to answer our questions. We do not look to culture for guidance or to family or to faith. In the words of Hauerwas, *“we have no story except the story we chose when we had no story.” And so to answer the question of who we are, we look inward toward our own ambition and aspiration, desire and need. We act according to that, with scant attention paid to the costs such action will have for the world or for our neighbors.

Jake Meador, touting his new book, What Are Christians For?: Life Together at the End of the World (emphasis added).

You could do much worse than Jake Meador on the internet.

Put on the whole snappy comebacks of God

[W]e’re not really after understanding, I [] think, but rather the maintenance of a certain way of life which is sustained not necessarily through ordering affections and desires toward good ends, but rather simply through a kind of automated acquiescence to authority figures.

One gets the idea from a fair bit of Christian worldview literature (especially when some conference or course is being advertised) that a worldview is almost like a set of categories you can download, and then march out into the world equipped with the right answers and knowing in advance how to refute the wrong answers. But this is not how people learn—not how they learn real meaningful knowledge and wisdom at any rate. This kind of pre-packaged knowledge turns out to be awfully flimsy and brittle when confronted with the complexities of the real world.

Jake Meador again (quoting Brad Littlejohn), but a different blog post.

I’ve been around smart Evangelicals who thought “Worldview camps” and such were really good and really cutting edge. I had figured out pretty early on that they were pretty much as Brad Littlejohn says. Plus you can’t overcome the effects of six daily hours of public school and three daily hours of television with a one- or two-week camp.

Grokking ‘Sin’

It wasn’t until college that I ever really thought about the Christian doctrine of sin. I had grown up in a Baptist church hearing about how Jesus *“died for our sins,” but it seemed that sin was the breaking of certain rules — drinking too much, sleeping around, lying, murder and stealing …

In college, through a string of failed relationships and theological questioning, I came to understand sin as something more fundamental than rule breaking, more subtle and *“under the hood” of my consciousness. It was the ways I would casually manipulate people to get my way. It was a hidden but obnoxious need for approval …

This is the slow dawning that I had about myself in college, and with it came liberation. Far from being a crushing blow of self-hatred, the realization of my actual, non-theoretical sinfulness came with something like a recognition of grace. I saw that I was worse than I’d thought I was, and that truth knocked me off the eternal treadmill of trying to be better and do better and get it all right. It allowed me to slowly (and continually) learn to receive love, atonement, forgiveness and mercy.

Tish Harrison Warren

Seeing sin as mere rule-breaking is, in my personal experience, the worst thing about Christian fundamentalist taboos (smoking, drinking, dancing, playing cards and secret societies) of the 50s and 60s, which my Evangelical boarding school aped. It certainly gave me a skewed view, which was harmful to me and others spiritually — even though 14-to-18 year-olds have no business smoking, drinking or joining oath-bound secret societies anyway.

Other stuff

SCOTUS Opposition failure

When Kevin Williamson, a bright guy, can do no better than this in opposing a Democrat SCOTUS nominee, you know you’ve got a pretty good nominee.

Summarizing:

  • She’s part of the meritocracy, the ruling class. (He’s convincing on that.)
  • Dick Durbin and his ilk insinuating that she’s got some hardscrabble backstory is bunk. (He’s got a point.)
  • She does not believe in the rule of law. (He doesn’t deliver one single iota of evidence for that. Not one. And that’s the only one he says should disqualify her.)

After watching one-after-another Republican-appointed justice disappoint, I’m done with making predictions about actual future performance of a nominee.

Truth in Journalism

The nonconformists over at The Postliberal Order set us straight on journalistic terminology:

  • Democracy and liberalism
  • The difference between American philanthropists and Russian Oligarchs
  • Fact-checks
  • The difference between military interventions and invasions
  • Propaganda in general

You’ll appreciate the next item even more if you read this one. It’s short.

This is not propaganda

The Emmett Till Antilynching Act

The Senate passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act by unanimous consent on Monday. Once signed into law by President Biden, the legislation will amend the U.S. Criminal Code to designate lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

The Morning Dispatch.

My immediate reaction was that lynching isn’t much of an issue today, and I think I was right, but there’s this so you can gauge the problem for yourself.

And if you think it’s enough that Ahmaud Arbery was “essentially” lynched, be advised that (a) you can’t prosecute for “essentially the same thing” and (b) his murderers got life without parole, which is longer than 30 years.

Buildings for nomads. This is how the late Sir Roger Scruton described “various financial district glass-pane shoeboxes—structures.” (H/T Anthony DiMauro). Some might consider that a commendation; I don’t.

Wordplay

United in diversity:

“The EU’s quite vapid motto.” (Ed West)

Ostpolitik

From the Economist:

Ostpolitik (noun): a decades-old strategy of dealing with Russia based in part on the hope that gas pipelines could promote mutual dependence and therefore peace. Read the full article.

Spelling bees

Congratulations to [Name], an [School] student, who is heading to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., May 29 to June 3. [Name] won a 10-county regional bee Saturday at [Site] in [City]. His winning word: Archetype.

Spelling Bees aren’t what they used to be.

Simile of the day

One of the guests was a retired Hungarian art historian. She had the most delicate Old World accent. It was like listening to audible porcelain.

Rod Dreher

Mal mots

In a piece for National Review, John McCormack notes how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has diminished America’s already fledgling neo-isolationist movement even further.

The Morning Dispatch (italics added).

Someone at the Dispatch misapprehends “fledgling.”

(And once again, I’m glad I don’t write for a living and to deadline.)

Servants of their servants

For all drunkards and gluttons I weep and sigh, for they have become servants of their servants.

St. Nicholai of Zicha, Prayers by the Lake XXIX, via Fr. Stephen Freeman (italics added)

How we think

Intellect confuses intuition.
Piet Mondrian

The Economist World in Brief


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.