Clippings 1/6/19

1

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

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

David Montgomery, Conquerors of the Courts

2

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

Rod Dreher

3

This is the dumbest publishing platform on the web.

Text.fyi (H/T Alan Jacobs)

4

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

5

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

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

6

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

David VonDrehle

7

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

Alan Jacobs, Scruples

8

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

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

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

9

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

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

10

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

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

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

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

Kevin D. Williamson at National Review.

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

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Clippings, 12/3/18

1

[T]he whole Trump operation, now lying exposed on Mueller’s table — the shady business empire, the constant practice of deceit, the dim-bulb hangers-on — screams corruption in a way that few politicians’ circles do. With Trump there is no pretense of respectability or rectitude. There is only the open, shrugging grift.

This shrug makes it hard for his critics to fathom how the Trump campaign ever persuaded anyone that its candidate would actually “drain the swamp.” Some of the liberal fixation with fake news reflects an attempt to explain Trump’s anti-corruption pitch as just a fraud that voters swallowed (or were force-fed by the Russians). And indeed, a portion of Trump’s supporters choose to live the fantasy worlds of Pizzagate and QAnon, where the most impeachable of presidents is as a white knight taking on a fictive ring of pedophiles.

… [T]here is one odd way in which Trump’s supporters have gotten what they wanted. Trump isn’t draining the swamp himself, but the shock of his ascent has created swamp-draining conditions — in which other corruptions have suddenly been exposed, and there have been many deserved falls from grace.

… [I]n many cases the newly-exposed scandals were open secrets, known to those in the know, and in some cases they were as baroquely grotesque as any Reddit fantasy. (Like, what if Harvey Weinstein’s whole movie empire was just a procurement agency, and what if he hired ex-Mossad agents to stalk one of the stars of “Charmed” … ?)

The story of rich-guy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, just written up in exhaustive detail by The Miami Herald, is a perfect example — a pedophilia scandal hidden in plain sight, in which a wealthy abuser got off with a slap on the wrist because he had a bipartisan group of allies and there was an incentive not to embarrass the powerful people who might have frequented his parties or taken rides on his plane. A crucial player, the prosecutor who let Epstein slide, is now the Trump administration’s labor secretary — but instead of being a seedy Trumpworld figure, Alexander Acosta is an eminently respectable, big-law figure. Not a grifter; just an exemplar of the American elite.

As, of course, is Epstein’s pal Bill Clinton, who hasn’t been exposed in the Trump era so much as finally acknowledged, by a growing number of liberals, as a sexual predator who survived impeachment because the establishment went into a panic about the specter of puritanism and either smeared or ignored the women credibly accusing him. Not a grifter, the ex-president; just a pillar of the establishment who happened to have a plausible rape accusation lying there in plain sight all the time.

In fact our elite is rotten and deserves judgment, yet Trump’s mix of kleptocracy and kakistocracy is worse. So the question of how you replace a bad elite with a better one, not just with something more corrupt, is what both left and right should be pondering while this particular purgation runs its course.

Ross Douthat

2

“What scares me the most is Hillary’s smug certainty of her own virtue as she has become greedy and how typical that is of so many chic liberals who seem unaware of their own greed,” Charlie Peters, the legendary liberal former editor of The Washington Monthly, told me. “They don’t really face the complicity of what’s happened to the world, how selfish we’ve become and the horrible damage of screwing the workers and causing this resentment that the Republicans found a way of tapping into.” He ruefully worries about the Obamas in this regard, too.

Indeed, in the era of Trump, greed is not only good. It’s grand. The stock market is our highest value. Mammonism rules.

But watching the Clintons hash over their well-worn tale of falling in love at Yale Law School, I realize that it’s not only about the money.

Some in Clintonworld say Hillary fully intends to be the nominee ….

Maureen Dowd. Hillary and Bill can’t fill an auditorium any more. They’re toast.

3

In talking about the death of Christianity in Europe, Murray — an atheist who calls himself a “cultural Christian” — says that Christianity was Europe’s “founding myth,” and that without it, Europe doesn’t know what it believes or what it’s for. “Human rights” is weak tea without some sort of transcendent source. Murray also talks about how difficult it is for Europeans to believe in anything, having lost their religion and made a ruin of themselves with political substitutes. And, on the immigration question — which is truly an existential one for Europe — the continent’s elites have across the board lied for decades to the people. I was somewhat aware of this prior to coming to Murray’s book, but to read the details gathered in one place like this was genuinely shocking. The startling thing is not that there are riots in the streets of Paris, but that it took them so long.

Rod Dreher, What Happens When Trump Falls?. I had read the Douthat and Dowd columns nearly 12 hours before I saw this blog commenting on them, but I was unaware of Douglas Murray or his book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.

Dreher suggests that “America is not (yet) Europe in terms of losing our religion,” but just yesterday he aptly noted that the residuum of Christianity in Europe tends to be far more thoughtful than that of the U.S.:

Lilla talks about the meaning of the massive La Manif pour Tousmovement to block same-sex marriage, on the grounds that every child needs a father and a mother. Though we American Christians are supposed to be so much more religious than Europeans, nothing remotely like La Manif happened in America.

Maybe you can understand why I feel so much more at home when I’m in Europe with Christian intellectuals like these people than I do anywhere among American conservatives ….

See this, too.

I, too, think I’d prefer French-style Christian Nationalism over naïve “America is a Christian nation” chest-thumping, thank you, in part because the chest-thumpers are disconnected from authentic, historic (versus notional, post-enlightenment) Christian roots.

Dreher concludes:

What I’m getting at is asking what comes politically when most Americans lose faith in the ability of our elites to make things better? I fear that on the Right, we’re going to have to deal with the myth that Trump would have succeeded had the swamp not stabbed him in the back.

Oh, dear! That sounds all too plausible!

Do you see a path to expanding the subjects on which there’s a working majority about the common good when we split over stuff like this?

4

Writing in the New York Times, Parker Malloy offers the pristinely Orwellian argument that the prohibition of speech is a necessary condition for free speech: “Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.” I am not quite sure those sentences mean what Malloy means (reject the legitimacy, I think), and things get worse from there. Deadnaming and misgendering, Malloy writes, are a way to force the trans advocate into “a debate over my own existence. I know many trans people who feel the same. If this isn’t harassment, I don’t know what is. Aside from the harm it does to trans people, it also impedes the free flow of ideas and debate, in the same way that conservatives often accuse student protesters of shutting down speech on college campuses.”

If we could for a moment tighten up and focus on the question of what words actually mean, this is a group of common English words put into an order that doesn’t add up to anything sensible: Nobody is denying that Parker Malloy exists. Nobody, to my knowledge, is denying that trans people exist. We are once again ill served by an excess of metaphor and a refusal to look at the thing itself.

“I’d like to henceforth be known as Chelsea rather than Bradley, and to be socially accepted as a woman,” is a sentiment that demands universal tolerance; “I’m not so sure about that,” is a crime against humanity. That is not a sentiment that deserves to be taken seriously. It is not, I suspect, one that is taken seriously: But people can be terrorized into accepting it as a matter of social self-defense.

Kevin D. Williamson (hyperlink and boldface added).

A wretched “excess of metaphor” is at work every single time a person with gender dysphoria poisons the well with an accusation that “looking at the thing itself” denies their existence. My immediate reaction to that sort if thing is that I’m dealing with an hysteric and had best walk away (but not capitulate).

5

On a recent episode of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, sci-fi author Andrew Duncan argued that the depiction of the orcs in Lord of the Rings is racist and will have “dire consequences . . . for society.”

“It’s hard to miss the repeated notion in Tolkien that some races are just worse than others, or that some peoples are just worse than others,” Duncan said. “And this seems to me — in the long term, if you embrace this too much — it has dire consequences for yourself and for society.”

First of all, I think that it is important to point out that orcs are A) not people and B) not real, so starting some sort of social-justice movement over their treatment is probably the biggest, most idiotic waste of time that I’ve ever seen — and this is coming from an adult woman who spends time playing a game called “Pet Shop” on her phone.

Katherine Timpf. You can’t make this stuff up.

6

It used to be that people would marry across party lines – people with very different political views – but would almost always marry someone who shared their faith. Now, almost 40 percent of marriages are to someone of a different faith tradition, but only around 23 percent of people who are getting married, or even cohabiting with someone, are doing so with someone of a different political party. In many ways, political affiliation is now seen as somehow more intrinsic to our identities than our faith commitments.

Baker, Harder, & Wear, The New Morality Dilemma (H/T Alan Jacobs). This insanity is becoming common knowledge.

7

For what it’s worth. My confirmation bias is so strong that I dasn’t say a word more.

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