Potpourri, 8/21/18

 

1

“Scared stiff,” “weak,” not a “real attorney general”? He has been called worse in his time. It would seem to be the case that he has intuited something that most of his colleagues — to say nothing of the American people — have not: namely, that it is sometimes, indeed frequently, a good idea not to take the president seriously.

Sessions is the most devoted of our emperor’s servants precisely because he has nothing in common with the rest of them. He is neither a scheming amoral hanger-on like so many members of this administration, current and former, or a stolidly disinterested public servant like James Mattis, the defense secretary whom one could imagine resigning in the face of serious policy disagreements — to say nothing of insults to his personal honor along the lines of those to which Sessions has been repeatedly subjected. The attorney general is a true believer.

As long as he is at liberty to wage a renewed drug war and implement the schemes for restricting immigration of which he and his former deputy Stephen Miller have so long dreamed, Sessions will remain in this White House, brushing the dirt from his shoulders without so much as a smirk.

Matthew Walther on Jeff Sessions.

I’m reflexively suspicious of Sessions because, unlike with Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Harrison Scott Key and other southern writers, I can actually hear his drawl, and it triggers my own micro-version of PTSD from my discordant sojourn of three semesters in a third-tier southern Christianish educational institution (which I was invited to leave for the sin of being an “out” conscientious objector in the Vietnam era — an invitation that made too much sense to refuse).

But there is something about stoic Sessions, starting with his trail-blazingly early support of Trump, that sets him apart from both (a) the cynical climbers and (b) the kenotic, clenched-teeth-reluctant patriots in the Trump White House.

2

Before I talk about the ways in which the closet may have contributed to a culture of cover-up and abuse, let me say that most talk of “root causes” is premature and comes across as using other people’s rape as a weapon in a culture war.

This is the only part of Eve Tushet’s column, A Closeted Subculture, with which I’m pretty sure I disagree, almost vehemently. There have been plenty of people thinking about this abuse scandal for at least 16 years, since the “long lent,” and complaining that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church refused to identify the pervasive (not universal) homosexual nexus in abuse cases.

“Please, God! Not another study!”, I can hear faithful Catholics saying if they’ve not had blinders on since 2002 — but yet another study (or other stalling tactic) is the eventuality of the position that it’s premature to identify “root causes.”

More from Tushnet::

There are three basic roles I suspect the closet plays in parts of our Church. First, where people greatly fear being considered gay, it will be especially hard for boys or men to report sexual assault and coercion. Regardless of whether or not they’re gay themselves, they will fear that they’ll be told they were responsible for their abuse or welcomed it, and they will fear (for example) being made to leave the seminary or being outed to their family. Similarly, even if you weren’t assaulted yourself, if an abuser knows you’re gay then he has a secret to hold over your head, which you may fear that he’ll reveal if you report his abuse (or your suspicions of him).

Second, young people struggling with their sexuality are especially vulnerable where being gay is especially stigmatized. They may confide in an older man, perhaps someone who has cultivated their trust because he senses their vulnerability. He may even have shared his own secret homosexuality with them, precisely in order to win their trust; which he will then go on to abuse. His secret creates a powerful bond between them, even a sense that the victim has a responsibility to protect the abuser. Secrets can create a false intimacy, an environment in which manipulation is especially easy.

And third, the fear and secrecy of the closet distort people’s self-understandings, their ability to surrender their lives to Christ, and therefore their ability to regulate their behavior. What you can’t even admit to yourself, you can’t surrender to God: This may be part of what’s going on with men who rail against gay people, while they themselves were abusing men for sex ….

There’s quite a lot more there. Tushnet’s bottom line is that celibate gay men who are healthy enough to come out of the closet, and who will affirm and teach all that the Church itself teaches, should be ordained, and that gay priest bans will fail spectacularly. It’s an argument I had intuited but hesitated to spell out because (obligatory caveat) it’s not my Church; I’m just affected by its woes as are all Christians in the West.

Overall, I think Tushnet — a lesbian convert to Catholicism from atheism, a celibate, and a recovering alcoholic — can see more clearly than Andrew Sullivan, a gay Catholic in a same-sex marriage, whose disobedience of the Church regarding chastity seems to have clouded his vision.

I especially appreciate Tushnet articulating those three ill-effects of the closet, which merit a bit more reflection, really, than I’ve given so far.

3

Jasmyn Fleik, 27, of the Madison LGBTQ Dogma Defense Alliance, rejected the bishop’s claim that homosexual priests were the problem.

“Just because 80 percent of the victims of clerical sex abuse are boys, and just because most of the abusing priests were known to be sexually active gay men, that doesn’t at all mean homosexuality has anything to do with this crisis!” Fleik insisted, to coughs and rolling of eyes from bystanders.

“I mean, like, use your brain for once,” she added.

Eric Mader at Clay Testament, mixing fact with fact (mainstream media’s disinterest, presumably because of people like the presumably fictitious Ms. Fleik).

4

Jerry Falwell Jr. is becoming a self-parody again. See Jay Cost, a little vignette about him from Matthew Walther in the middle of a piece about Jeff Sessions, and World magazine’s story about his university’s journalism department and school newspaper.

There ought to be a parable about the perils of sycophancy over Trump.

Oh, wait! There is: “Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas.”

(The Jerry Fallwells, too, trigger my micro-PTSD.)

5

[Dear Tipsy],

Across North America, cities and towns are betting big on megaprojects like stadiums and shopping malls, in hopes that just one more big win will put their city back in the black.

It’s pretty tempting, right? One last gamble, then you’re out. One more risk, and you’ll be set for life (or at least until the next election cycle).

The only problem with this thinking? Cities who do it haven’t asked themselves what it really means for a city to win.

Today, my colleague Chuck Marohn is proposing something that shouldn’t be radical, but very much is: the only way that cities can “win” for their citizens is to stop putting them at enormous risk of losing it all.

That doesn’t mean risking nothing, of course. It doesn’t even mean we can’t be brave.

It means the opposite: having the courage to stand up to a dominant culture that’s bankrupting our towns and making our communities worse places to live. And having the courage to stand up for something so much better.

How will you help?

-Kea and the rest of the Strong Towns Team

Email August 20 from the estimable Small Towns, referring to this article.

Not all corporate welfare comes from the Feds. Cities, Counties and States give away billions annually, bidding for the attention of corporations that will bully them further (“you need to pass this kind of law; you need to repeal that kind of law”) in the process.

“How will you help?” Well, I scanned my check register and found that I have not given commensurate to Small Towns’ growth and influenceit has been three years since I gave even a pittance.

Time flies. Secure websites can cure such an oversight almost instantly.

6

The Agenda That Dare Not Speak Its Name

MATTHEW CONTINETTI

The reason Democrats seek power in 2018 is to obstruct President Trump wholly and without exception, to tie down his administration using the subpoena powers of a dozen committees, and ultimately to lay the groundwork for his impeachment.

It’s tempting to say “Yeah? You got a problem with that?”

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Escape from ennui

[A]s James Baldwin put it, Americans were “afflicted by the world’s highest standard of living and what is probably the world’s most bewilderingly empty way of life.”

(Pankaj Mishra, America, From Exceptionalism to Nihilism) That quote was new to me, though the thought was not. My “standing advice” at the end of each blog episode includes these:

The consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness. Lord Jonathon Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain.

I think a great many of us are haunted by the feeling that our society, and by ours I don’t mean just the United States or Europe, but our whole world-wide technological civilisation, whether officially labelled capitalist, socialist or communist, is going to go smash, and probably deserves to. W.H. Auden, 1966.

Then I also read this today:

While the news waves groan with stories about “America’s Opioid Epidemic” you may discern that there is little effort to actually understand what’s behind it, namely, the fact that life in the United States has become unspeakably depressing, empty, and purposeless for a large class of citizens.

… None of the news reports or “studies” done about opioid addiction will challenge or even mention the deadly logic of Wal Mart and operations like it that systematically destroyed local retail economies (and the lives entailed in them.) The news media would have you believe that we still value “bargain shopping” above all other social dynamics. In the end, we don’t know what we’re talking about.

(James Howard Kunstler)

But one of the odd blogs I find irresistible is Granola Shotgun. “Johnny” populates his blog with loads of photos and sparse commentary. Most recent:

At the end of my first year at university I was approached by an engineering student who asked if he could be my room mate next year. We didn’t know each other particularly well and didn’t have much in common, but he seemed harmless enough. I shrugged. Sure. We went our separate ways over the summer and in September he appeared at my door. After a few months of successfully sharing accommodations I asked him why he came to me when most guys in his situation would have gone in a very different direction. He explained.

The average college freshman tends to have an adolescent understanding of what a good independent life might be like. Young men are motivated by peculiar impulses and the siren song of the frat house calls. Beer. Parties. Girls. Sports cars. The prestige of hanging out with rich kids, athletes, and really popular older guys. He said that was usually a big mistake. The furniture is made of plastic milk crates. The place smells like a locker room. People eat ramen and cold day old pizza out of the box. They wear flip flops in the shower because no one has ever cleaned the bathroom. Ever. And when you bring a girl home there are a dozen bigger richer guys with fancier cars than you hovering around. You sit there trying to get your romance on with posters of naked women taped to the walls next to a collection of empty bottles. And you pay extra for all this… It’s just not a great situation.

Then he made a sweeping motion with his hand indicating our apartment. A pleasing mixture of antiques and modern pieces. Smells like lemons. When he brings a girl home I’m in the kitchen cooking brisket and home made bread. Soft lighting. Ella Fitzgerald is playing in the background. No competition. And it’s cheaper. For him, doing the unorthodox and socially uncomfortable thing was just… rational. [Yup. That sounds like an engineer’s approach to the world. Tipsy]

Back to Springfield. Steve [and Liz Shultis] took a version of the same strategy. He and his family live in a gracious four story French Second Empire mansion. The place is huge and everywhere you look there’s a level of detail and quality you can’t find in any home built today. There’s a legal apartment on the lower level that they use as a guest suite.  I looked up the address on a real estate listing site and he paid less for this house than many people spend on their cars. His family has a quality of life and a degree of financial freedom that none of his suburban piers (sic) can comprehend.

Most people load themselves up with massive amounts of debt in order to live the way they believe they’re supposed to. You wouldn’t want to put your kids in a substandard urban school with the wrong element. You wouldn’t want to buy a house that never appreciated in value. You wouldn’t want to have to explain to your friends, family, and co-workers that you live in a slum with poor black people and Puerto Ricans. And where do you park?! It’s so much “better” to soak yourself in debt to buy your way in to the thing you believe you can’t live without.

Pretty dry without the pictures, I’ll admit. But go check the original, The Springfield Strategy. That four story French Second Empire mansion is pretty amazing. Sample:

From their own blog, it appears that Steve & Liz (perhaps Steve and his ex) actually did raise children, now adults, in that urban environment, though the children are not visible or mentioned in Johnny’s story.

I don’t want to romanticize, let alone make a panacea of, a good, walkable and sociable living environment, but it appears (scroll on down the long page) that the urban dwellers of Springfield, Massachusetts may have escaped some aspects of the “bewilderingly empty way of life.”

* * * * *

Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Thursday 1/9/14

  1. The Last Acceptable Bigotry
  2. Coming between a woman and her doctor
  3. If terrorism is the enemy, why must we feed it?
  4. …But liars can figure
  5. Downfall of the Republic?
  6. 2,734,000
  7. Pope Francis’ economics in historic context

Continue reading “Thursday 1/9/14”