Note to R—-, about Trump and DeSantis

Fenster writes, to R—- ,

You ask about Trump’s new NFP deal. It is ludicrous. Damaging? Dunno. The Dems and the anti-Trump Rs will do anything to keep him out and so we can expect all kinds of caterwauling, even from Rs, over how this or that thing goes too far and he is finally kaput. You and I even get caught up in it. Did he really step in it this time? Is he finally a goner?

Truth is I sure don’t know. The problem with our current state of affairs is that mere citizens are kept in a permanent state of not being able to know anything for sure. When the main sources of information you have relied on in a mass technological society to give you your bearings on most everything have been corrupted what do you do? You have to rely more on your own instincts, analysis and alternative sources but that is itself dicey. You end up having to piece things through by looking at this and that anomaly and considering what the disjointedness means.

Take the polling issue. It makes no sense that we would see two polls so very different relative to whether Rs favor T or D. What does that mean? Could be bad polling. More likely one is fake. Which one? Perhaps one should ask cui bono?

Consider these elements.

  1. There is no question AT ALL that T has commanded the support of the base for a while now. And that his supporters have been notorious for sticking with him.
  2. The poll saying D has a big lead seems to rely on the parts of the new R tent that are not in control— the wealthier and more educated Rs that have seen their party go working class and don’t like it. Why should this resentful anti-T minority suddenly emerge as the dominant group of voters?
  3. By contrast the poll showing T in the lead seems more explicable— it is in keeping with past consistent support and it represents the views of a sample that probably was more balanced in terms of middle American, rather than country club, support.
  4. Anti-Trump = Establishment = Deep State. These guys have shown they gave the superior means and will to do bad things like cook poll results. So, all else being equal, if one of the polls was cooked it was the one showing T support dropping and D surging.

Tentative conclusion : T still commands the base and the D poll is just the first of many 2024 psy-ops intended to break T.

No question D is getting his financial support from big money and T from small donors. That prompts T people to smell a rat — “D is just a Deep State shill”.

I think it is more complicated than that. As Robert Barnes says, D has the fingerprints of a candidate that was cultivated for years. That’s what they do, and it is how our political class may talk populism but always do as they are told. Look at D’s background and you can see suggestions of that.

But Barnes also says that that does not mean D is a patsy. If the only candidates we get are manufactured a great man will have to arise from those smelly roots. T was the exception of course , and the fact that he was not groomed and is unreliable is why they now hate him, after decades of safe and idiosyncratic celebrity.

But T is an outlier. Any senior politico who takes populism seriously will have had to opt to bite the hand that fed him. Barnes seems to think that is possible with D—that he is a smart and aggressive working class kid who rose in the conventional way but who may opt (like Putin) look to revive a weakened system of government to push back on oligarchic control.

That is a nice thought. I hope it is the case, since I would like both T and D to be my kind of candidate and let the best man win.

Besides, Barnes also thinks that the big money backing D doesn’t want him to win. They only want a war that damages both T and D, such that Pompeo or Haley or Pence can swoop in and save the day. I find that extremely credible. But if there is any truth to it for sure T and D both know the Regime wants both of them gone, especially if (as has been happening) D increasingly gets tough about his populist positions.

My guess is D is saying this:

“OK rich donors I will take your money even though I know what you are up to. You want me to kamikaze T. You don’t want me as president. But keep giving me money. That’s fine. I will use it to take positions at least as bold as Trump’s. I will do it with more force and clarity and drive than T himself (who, truth be told, is a flake and getting stale). So I will not flinch—I will run a race on Trumpian themes and think I can win that way. And if I win you will have to hope I will still be your boy. I may not. So you decide: keep backing me as a way to indirectly promote the anti-Trump crowd who at the moment have zero support. Or drop your support of me if you see me as a sincere populist, and try to find some other way to defang populism and install a Deep State shill in the presidency”.

If so, smart, and Putin-like, too. If that is what he is doing I could go for it.

I have hung with a highly flawed T as the devil I know. But he is honestly such a goofball. The Deep State doesn’t like him because he is erratic but he is erratic for me too.

He got suckered in on vaccines and made it all about China, not the corruption of public health on his own watch. And he still won’t acknowledge it. “We got these things to market in record time!” Meanwhile D is more and more taking on the public health demon within, and that is a good thing.

Let me step back and take the long view.

My earliest political inklings came during JFK, and his killing ushered in an entirely new era, from the Beatles, to America as world leader, to the Me Decade, to endless interventions. Interesting as the ride has been, I think my whole life has paralleled the slow destruction of self government in favor of good times under a managed state.

Those who insisted on the sovereignty of the people, or even that any kind of government should be supreme over private interests and the hidden levers of power that are beholden to them, were eliminated.

JFK was turning against an intelligence function just in its strapping adolescence when he was killed by it. RFK too. And King.

And even Nixon. Biggest landslide victory ever and out on his ass a couple of short years later. Watergate was essentially another establishment contrivance.

And Trump of course.

These guys are no longer strapping adolescents. They are mature adults now, and unscrupulous ones.

I think all of that is true, even if the media didn’t tell me so and I have had to piece it together. I just don’t want to have endless discussions anymore with my progressive friends who think we are still back in 1964 and it is all about fat Republican bankers who hate black people. This is the situation we live in now.

But if you get past all the bullshit and see the situation for what it is you are-alas-forced to confront new questions that your prior bickering kept from your view.

  1. Are we at a point in history where self government cannot do what is expected of it? Is it inevitable that we would have seen the triumph of the professional and managerial classes and the institutions they control? Is it maybe even desirable? Are we becoming more like China for a reason — that all advanced technological societies will sooner rather than later resemble one another in terms of social control, lack of formal popular sovereignty, technological super-powers and transhuman tendencies?
  2. Or are all the powerful forces at work unstable and brittle underneath? Will they fall despite their great powers, as the Martians were destroyed by viruses in the War of the Worlds? Our betters are no longer strapping adolescents but are they strong and powerful adults or are they rotting from within, already weakened codgers with big guns?
  3. Or maybe it is not an either/or but a kind of both/and. Let’s say it is inevitable that the world has changed, that the republic envisioned by the Constitution is not feasible, that the professional and managerial classes have the upper hand for a reason, that they will if left unchecked stamp out any remaining self-government in an attempt to create a new authoritarian approach more akin to China, and that they will attempt to outrun any popular pushback by giving the people what they seem to want and urging them to let the good times roll on.

But alongside that it may also that they may end up failing to persuade people they are delivering good times. People may eventually . . . ummm . . . notice that their wealth has evaporated, their public works are in disarray, that government is by and for the oligarchs, that they do not like no border, no gender distinctions, no identity.

In this #3 alternative we will need to square the obvious inadequacy of our corrupted form of government and our dissatisfaction with what it produces with the clear strength and power of the new tools transforming the world. We cannot wish away the world transforming abilities of AI, robotics, genetic engineering, social credit scores, and the surveillance state. Madison’s three branches of government, pitted against one another, and his presumption of the cleansing powers of a free press, may not be a workable tool for future use.

We invented a Constitution from scratch to deal with new problems. We may have to do something like that again. A document aiming to cultivate habits of liberty and a modicum of legitimacy and sovereignty in an age where we unavoidably have to deal with entirely new problems. Unless “the people”—whatever that means—get serious about the new world they live in the tools used to fashion that world will be owned by an oligarchic class.

We need some kind of new Constitution or, barring that, at least new modes of thinking and discussion aimed at a reassertion of popular sovereignty and a takedown of those who feel entitled to rule over us in an unaccountable fashion.

Is that possible? Probably not in one step. History works like rock-paper-scissors. Experience suggests that democracies descend to oligarchies that descend to tyrants that ascend — if you are lucky—to self government. I think we may need a detour to a tyrant before we can come back to self government.

I am not endorsing that but I am predicting it.

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Back by popular demand. Limited engagement only!

Fenster writes:

Fairhaven, a town just across the harbor from the old whaling port of New Bedford, is one of my favorite places in New England. Like the still relatively undiscovered Newburyport and Bristol RI it has been spared both the pessimist’s child urban renewal and the optimist’s darling gentrification.

It was the second largest port early on, only later eclipsed by New Bedford, at which time it became a center for seafaring support and a close in suburb for the wealthier class. Melville has the Pequot setting sail from Fairhaven in Moby Dick.

The “downtown” area is lovely but raises questions. The architecture is stunning — a gargantuan town hall

a public library

and various public buildings and churches, some more monumental

and some stripped down New England.

And a few blocks from town hall, a massive and ornate high school.

But there are disconnects. First, where is the village center? The significant public and religious buildings are clustered but that is that. Given the grand scale of these buildings and their appeal you might expect some commercial activity. There is very little to be found. The impression is that of an imposing grouping of buildings dropped into a 19th century neighborhood.

Fairhaven is and was a town —16,000 souls today and less than 3,000 in the time of whaling. Quite small for such architecture.

The town describes the town hall:

The interior features quartered oak paneling, solid brass fixtures and leaded, stained glass windows. The tower houses a four-faced clock. The magnificent auditorium on the second floor, restored in the 1990s, has been the site of many town meetings, dances, concerts, plays and theatrical performances. Humorist Mark Twain, a close friend of Rogers, appeared on stage here on February 22, 1894, as the keynote speaker at the building’s dedication ceremony.

But in discussing its current functions:

Among the services that visitors to Fairhaven might need from the Town Hall are:
        • Shellfishing Permits
        • Boat Stickers
        • Notary

Further, it is not the case that the buildings showcase the town at its whaling prime. Whaling started its decline in the 1860s while the grand architecture came later, around the turn of the century. So they cannot be evidence of the extreme wealth of New Bedford across the harbor, for a time the richest city in the world.

The answer is to be found in that curious class of elites, the WASP aristocracy. Turns out one of Rockefeller’s oil boys, Henry H. Rogers, was a local, and on his own dime built the grand structures and gave them to the town (along with a water system and other improvements).

So it seems that the sense of place is not really related to the industry we associate with the area. It is not an illusion exactly but it is not exactly organic either.

Used to be philanthropy had a good name and for the most part it earned it. Nowadays it is about 1) put my name on it for status or, far worse and far more common at extreme levels of “giving” 2) let us change the world in very specific ways to my liking. It is not so much about supporting a worthy endeavor than about me.

Too bad the prudence and restraint of our forbears was so easily hacked.

Following the tour of Fairhaven my wife and I made our way to our favorite Portuguese restaurant, Antonio’s, a neighborhood joint in New Bedford. The kind of place where in Portuguese style they figure glasses of liquids, including wine, are meant to be filled up.

And where $18.99 buys you enough pork, clams, shrimp and fried potatoes in a garlic paprika sauce to feed an army.

My concerns about philanthropy old and new vanished for a couple of hours.

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Damn Yankees

Fenster wrote:

Fenster has a good friend, a doppelganger, really, who is on the board of a non-profit farm in upstate New York. The farm is situated in the heart of what has come to be known as the burned-over district, that section of Western New York roughly in the Rochester area, that burned very hot with religious enthusiasms in the first half of the 19th century.

The burned-over district refers to the western and central regions of New York in the early 19th century, where religious revivals and the formation of new religious movements of the Second Great Awakening took place.

The term was coined by Charles Grandison Finney, who in his 1876 book Autobiography of Charles G. Finney, referred to a “burnt district” to denote an area in central and western New York State during the Second Great Awakening. He felt that the area had been so heavily evangelized as to have no “fuel” (unconverted population) left over to “burn” (convert).

In references where the religious revival is related to reform movements of the period, such as abolitionwomen’s rights, and utopian social experiments, the region is expanded to include those areas of central New York that were important to these movements.

The burned-over period, being part of the so-called Second Great Awakening, is often understood in religious terms. But it was not only religion itself that burned hot. The passions of the age, while connected deeply to religion given the central role of religion in American life in the early 1800s, were very much social in character as well. The fires that burned upstate were often explicitly about abolition, women’s rights and a host of other progressive social causes.

The farm Fenster’s pal is associated with was scorched not once but twice. It was for a time the setting for a Shaker Community. That group was highly successful business-wise given its natural industriousness. It eventually would have had the problems of all Shaker communities–lucky in work unlucky in love, as it were. The Shakers had a good business model that, while possibly scalable, was not really reproducible. The community, fearing the bad sorts that a proposed canal from Lake Ontario to the Erie Canal might bring to the area, moved further west, and faded there.

Within a few years the property was sold to yet another utopian enterprise–the Fourierists. In some ways the Fourierists were the opposite of the Shakers–lucky in love unlucky at work. While the formal tenets of Fourieriesm as developed in Europe called for order and hierarchy in a planned community the fires burning in America gave Fourierism a different edge, one that emphasized a radical individualism and a permissive attitude towards personal growth via freedom. Unlike the Shakers the Fourierists were open about marriage and sexuality, but they could not manage a farm, run a seed business, or make nice furniture. The community cratered soon after opening, somewhat in the manner of the unstable hippie communes of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Doesn’t it seem odd that as the prim Shakers were leaving by the back door the freewheeling Fourierists were coming in the front? Yes the Shakers were ending their run around this time, having spread from English religious enthusiasms of the late 1700s. But the two quite different groups nearly overlapped. Not to mention the patriarchal but somewhat irregular Mormons, sprung to life by Joseph Smith in the nearby town of Palymyra. And the very permissive Oneida Community some 50 miles away.

Lawrence Foster describes what unites these disparate threads in his book Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, The Mormons and The Oneida Community.


Several things stand out about this. First, a lot of people seem to have had it with traditional marriage. The answer might be a chaste polygamy, a super-chaste regime of no sex, or a permissive regime of a kind of open marriage. But the status quo won’t do.

Second, a lot of this ferment can be tracked back to those perennial troublmakers and archtypal virtue signalers–the universalist-oriented descendants of the New England Puritans. As Albion’s Seed makes clear when the morally zealous New Englanders headed west their first stop was in upstate New York. Indeed, as a result of various historical and political circumstances New Englanders in search of new horizons skipped over the Mohawk River valley and Syracuse ended up being the main settlers of the Rochester region west.

Third, it is interesting that when you peel back religion, or other high-minded matters, you come so quickly to the carnal, or at least that disputed area where the carnal and high-minded meet. Is that so odd? Consider Michael Tracey’s excellent dissection of the quasi-religious mania on current display. The response to George Floyd’s death went well past the demands of current day abolitionism and slipped quite quickly into a supercharged outburst over, of all things, trans rights. Black trans, to be sure, given the intersectional way of things, but trans nonetheless.

We appear to have another first class mania on our hands, once again fixated on sex. But who are the maniacs? As Tracey points out they appear to be white, educated and privileged. They may not be direct descendants of the Puritans heading west from New England. But I strongly suspect that Yankees comprise some of the holiest of the holy. And even if some of the current maniacs are from sections of the country that were not settled by the Puritans many are likely to have been educated in woke institutions that trace their values and ideas to Puritan origin. Damn Yankees.

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Note to B—-: Science and Religion

Fenster writes:


We have been discussing Science and Religion: Are They Compatible, a 2003 collection of essays edited by Paul Kurtz. You ask what I make of it.

My overall response was very much in tune with Razib Khan’s thoughts on religion. Do you know Razib? He is a whirling dervish in a way: a Pakistani immigrant atheist polymath autodidact, especially in the realm of genetics. All traits are heritable to greater or lesser degrees in his view, with spirituality no exception.

But if that is what science tells you how do you integrate that into your life? Does not a conumdrum result? In particular, despite the fact that ideas present themselves to us in our heads as “ours”, as taking place in our individual noggins, the confluence of biology and culture suggests that our ideas are to a large extent social ideas–formed by cultural evolution and with some kind of adaptive purpose historically.

Our “reason” tells us this is not the case. No, by Jove, my ideas are my ideas! I use my reason!

If that is so what does that mean for us, in our individual heads, as we reflect on our seemingly individual ideas? It’s all kind of “meta”–but to me boils down to accepting a modest view as regards my own heroic ability to reason things through. I think this conundrum is what Robert Frost was getting at in Mending Wall.

As Razib writes here:

Religion is not the purview of technically oriented nerds, and technically oriented nerds just don’t “get” it intuitively. This is something that is relevant to me personally, because I am myself a technically oriented nerd, and I just don’t “get” religion.

A few years ago I was asking a co-worker whey he believed in ghosts, and he stated: “because I’m human.” This is actually a good response. . . .

My realization that I was an atheist occurred when I was eight, as I thought for a few moments about the idea that God might not exist. At that moment I realized I did not think God existed, and, I also realized I hadn’t really thought about it before because religion was simply something I never really gave much thought to. . . .

Between 1995 and 2005 I went through a “Richard Dawkins” phase. . . .

But (a) reading program convinced me ultimately that I had “got it all wrong.” I had recreated religion in my own image, rather than understanding what it was in its own terms. I had turned the beliefs of illiterate and unintellectual masses of people into contingency tables and model logic! Rather than understand religion, I ended up arguing with something I could comprehend on a deep level.

He asks “what is religion?” and answers that it is “many things.” Mystical experiences, revelation, dogma, creed, social control and on and on and on.

(M)ysticism, collective rituals, and the communal identity which emerges out of that, is the raison d’etre of religion, and why religions are universal and share broad family resemblances. What about theology? What about the details of scripture? These are things religious professionals care about, but religious professionals are a function of complex stratified societies that emerged over the last several thousand years. Martin Luther was historically important, but his theological obsessions were really not.

Religious professionals though are the individuals that technically oriented nerds often go to to “understand” religion. This gives us a skewed and misleading view, and it means we misunderstand large aspects of history.

Like Razib I don’t have much by way of the “God gene.” And while I never went through a Dawkins phase I admit to a sense of near certitude for a while in the godless view of things. But I am in my own way a nerd like Razib and over time I came to see that it was kind of silly, really, to take potshots at the view of religion that I had constructed in my own head.

While the essays in the book are hardly uniform the fact that they are assembled by a skeptic and come mainly from that angle they do seem to partake a bit too much of the problem Razib cites. The authors protest too much. Jeez if atheism is a sure thing why is it so dang important to prove religion “wrong”? It seems to reveal more about the character complaining than it does about the thing complained about.

I suppose you can argue that it is important to skewer religion since if you don’t the ignorant religious masses will burn you at the stake. Maybe that argument held a little water in the 90s, when the essays were published. But now? It no longer takes bravery to take on religion–it takes a brave man to defend its claims. Show me the last time religion–especially Christianity, especially Catholicism–was taken seriously in the mainstream culture. When it was not openly mocked? So the argument “I had to take it down since it was after me” does not hold up. In fact, beating up on religion risks bully-boy behavior more than the opposite.

Setting that justification aside what do you have in terms of actual argument? I am not impressed. The main problem is that the critics seem to luxuriate in taking pot shots at assertions about history that do not seem reasonable–the Virgin Birth and all that. OK, take your shot. But it just feels like a weak straw man argument–make fun of the silly historical claims. But what of the mystical revelation that powered it all up? What about the intense social bonds that were generated from the power of the idea as it spread from person to person? Taking issue with historical accuracy is thin gruel.

And beyond even that how do the critics deal with the biological and cultural arguments that are presented by actual . . . science?

Stipulate that most humans are endowed with a spiritual capacity, and that the predisposition is in some significant measure genetic in origin. Is the correct response on the part of those not so endowed to push a buzzer–WRONG!! Might that tendency also betray one’s own default make-up? You don’t have the God Gene but then presume that your Superior Reasoning is an attribute that it is without its own genetic support–that you are somehow mysteriously capable of “seeing through it all” and coming to a Rational Conclusion that the universe is godless? That by making an argument criticizing intelligent design that somehow you can see into the inner workings of the universe, and can vouch that there is nothing there but the void?

Who is the true believer here? Moreover, who is the one ignoring science?

Of course not that many in the book showed this kind of intellectual arrogance. But it was in there, especially from the editor, who on more than one occasion seems to delight in making fun of the lower orders who are mired in belief. To my mind you have only to read the body language embedded in his prose to see him as having a catechism of his own, and a chip on his shoulder to boot.

All humans seem to have a need to organize the chaos of existence into a kind of order, continually folding and dicing and slicing and re-arranging so that in the end it all rolls up into an intelligible system. Call it God or call it No God. We yearn for wholeness, even in the void.

Me too. I will always push that rock up the hill like Sisyphus. But I know the rock is going to come down too. If a kind of double consciousness results so be it. No one made me God. I may not believe in ghosts but I am also, like Razib’s friend, only human.

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Watching Freedom of Speech Speed Atrophy in Real Time

Fenster writes:

It is a good thing we have free speech embedded in the Constitution since it is damn near impossible to amend the thing. Further, hypocrisy being the tribute vice pays to virtue, there is as of yet no real support to get rid of the idea, as there is with the Second Amendment. Even those who oppose free speech . . . er . . . support it.

In some ways it is better to force fights to the surface. We all know what we are talking about when it is matter of eliminating the right to own a gun. The problem with fights imbued with excess hypocrisy is that evasion and subterfuge make it harder to allow for necessary conflict between the real issues at stake.

But for now we will have “free speech”. But will we have “free speech” without the scare quotes? Will we have, if you will, free speech? That is not so clear.

I have argued often here that since I don’t believe in absolutes I am not a free speech absolutist. No idea occupies Platonic space since the that space does not exist. But I am as close to absolutism on this issue as pragmatism allows. I recognize that speech cannot be, in the words of Frank Zappa, absolutely free.

Prevailing interpretation of the First Amendment allows for very robust speech. That’s a good thing. But of course there a limits and caveats. Mostly this means that the categories of speech that are in the domain of the Amendment do not enjoy protection in the utterance of “fighting words”, narrowly understood to mean just what those two words suggest.

Beyond interpretation of intent, I will also acknowledge that free speech under real not simulated conditions may not have its much vaunted cleansing efffect if it is allowed to roam too freely under conditions of chaos, or intense factional disagreement. Free speech is alleged to help work through disagreements. Most of the time yes. Sometimes no.

Factional disagreement may get so hot that it will be tough to manage even with a fighting words doctrine. But things get even more complicated when a great many of those subject to the Amendment’s reach simply do not agree with the current interpretation, or when cultural differences result in too little consensus on what is reasonable and what not.

If reasonable men cannot agree on what “reasonbleness” means, reasonably speaking, then the “reasonable man” function, central to the law’s operations, will short-circuit. Or worse, get hacked. All the more reason to support an order that encourages free speech to flourish, and to be mindful that culture matters.

There are of course no fixed boundaries where interpetation is concerned, and whether the Court will remain a firm supporter of the current view is uncertain.

For one, someone has to sue, the Court has to take the case and then resolve it in a way the makes things at least temporarily clearer going foward, until the next case bollixes everything up again.

In the meantime, meaning right now, there are a lot of things happening–actual actions by people and institutions– that appear at odds with the Constitution. They are free to continue unless the Court makes it clear they cannot. At present: come and get me copper!

When and if a nice, ripe case makes its way to the Court how will the Court handle it? The law is often rightly accused of relating itself too directly to public opinion — but what is public opinion on this issue at present? Where is the deep shift that might prompt a Justice to take account of it, and to treat it as a troublesome yet worthy consideration in a Constitutional review?

No, if rollbacks gain traction it won’t be on the basis of clearly evolving standards, as was the case with certain matters involving race and sex. The pressure will come from the assertion of one faction about the need for another faction to shape up. In this case that means that well before we get to a court of law the leading institutions will articulate new standards as a fact, well before any cultural consensus will have taken shape on its own. This is what we call leadership.

These new standards will suddenly show up everywhere. This will be described as evidence, of course–evidence of the deep cultural consensus the new standards reflect. Effect before cause, probably–but we will get there in due time.

So the next time “fighting words” comes up at the Supeme Court we will have legal briefs asserting words are a form of violence. Scholars like George Lakoff will present the science backing up the notion that actual harm can be caused by an offensive comment.

It will be argued that “fighting words” must be adapted for our new 21st century scientific understandings of vioence and harm, and that if, Your Honor, you do not find the science argument persuasive we have a whole stack of justifications in here in this briefcase.

And then we will have the commentariat, too, free of the need to cloak their views in legalese, and taking the issue into the political square. Ta-Nehisi Coates will assert that that only a white man could imagine words cannot do harm. He will be lionized for his bravery.

Those things will come in time. Now, the battlefield must be prepared.

A lot has changed since January 6. I’m not a conspiracy addict but I must say it is as though someone flipped a switch on that date.

On this issue, as on many others it seems, there is before January 6 and after January 6.

Take Inside Higher Education. It is the accessible, shorter-form and digital counterpart to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A brief journey through the archives since 2005 reveals pretty much what you’d expect. Free speech is generally the good guy, sometime sharing the stage with a worthy challenger but always with its eloquent defenders.

But now comes the post-January 6 world, where everything is fraught. It’s fraught I tell you! Fraught! The lead article in the current Inside Higher Ed even puts it just that way: handing free speech is A Fraught Balancing Act.

You remember balancing acts, right? They are often used in formal legal review, with the Justices balancing one set of arguments against another, often rendering their opinion on the basis of a balance test analysis.

Yet the Supreme Court’s current views on free speech already incorporate balance. The result is what is called the law, which is supposed to be obeyed, not made subject to another amateur hour balancing test at Bennington College.

But let us not question the folk process. All the right folk are in favor of change and we little folk will be expected to dance to the music by-and-by. Take that balancing act, prole!

Here is the opening to the article. Keep in mind this is not in the journal’s opinion section but appears to be news.

In the aftermath of the attacks on the United States Capitol by supporters of President Trump, college leaders are being asked to confront dangerous and offensive speech by students and faculty and staff members that promote false claims about the 2020 election and support the violence that occurred last week as a result of the spread of such claims.

The calls for administrators to rid their colleges of those who hold such views, and to examine how their institutions combat misinformation, is often complicated by First Amendment protections. Colleges and universities, after all, are meant to be forums for students to voice, debate and defend arguments founded in truth, experts on political expression said.

I submit you would not have found the blithe but dangerous assumptions on display here in an article at ICE from ten years ago, and probably not even in an article a few months ago. The new baseline assumptions embedded in this article are breathtaking in scope and sudden in appearance.

I am not going to parse the assumptions in those short paragraphs. The paradigm shift ought to be blazingly apparent.

I think it all reprehensible. But there it is, in all the innocence of its infancy. The New Mandatory Consensus.

In the moment so pure and tender. The rhetoric so caring and deep. But the dang thing cries a lot, and I worry that as they gets older the crying will continue, in deeper registers.

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Fenster Carlson writes:

Tucker Carlson: Good evening and welcome to Tucker Carlson Tonight. The events that unfolded in dramatic fashion on January 6 were terrible. It is terrible that we saw violence take place in the one building that most symbolizes our frayed republic and the values that are necsessary to sustain it. It is terrible that some Trump supporters, a small number to be sure, engaged in acts that are reprehensible. They should be brought to justce. But make no mistake: that is not the end of the terribleness.

The rest of the monologue, along with the introduction of his first guest, here.

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Note to K—-, on the morning of January 6


You write that perhaps Pence can simply not open some of the envelopes. I am not so sure about that one.

I have not heard the argument that Pence can decline to open an envelope. And I don’t see that idea lurking in the penumbra of the passage you cited.

The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.

The language, especiallly “shall”, appears to me to direct the VP to open the envelopes. And I think the Electoral Count Act, which may or may not be constitional, directs him to open “all”.

As I understand it the ambiguity turns on the discretion he has after the votes are on view, including the votes from states where there are two slates sent in.

Giuiliani says one argument for wide discretion comes from the election of 1800, where VP Jefferson, as President of the Senate, decided the dispute in his own favor and beat Burr. That was a total mess, and the constitutional framework at the time was quite different. So I am not sure you can easily draw from that the conclusion that Pence can open the envelopes and decide on his own to reject some, or choose one over the other.

I haven’t studied it because it seems to get murky pretty quickly in terms of history and precedent but I am still failing to grasp the source of the assertion, put bluntly by Trump yesterday, that “the Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.” Is the argument here that Pence can on his own determine electors were chosen in a fraudulent way?

There is massive evidence of fraud and I believe the election was stolen. But as with any legal process you need to put the facts into the meat grinder and see what comes out. The states have had ample opportunity to weigh the arguments for fraud and have gone ahead and certified. That is pathetic but if the Constitutional process has been followed who is Pence to make the call? You can also make the argument that the judicial branch should step in and override the state processes on other grounds found in the Constitution and related to the evidence that the election was fraudulent.

The Court appears to favor the view that the resolution ought to be in the sphere of messy politics and seems reluctant to jump in and short circuit the political working through by invoking due process or some other constitutional concept. That’s pretty pathetic too.

So the system seems to have embedded in it a moral hazard that invites stealing big. A huge and obvious theft creates the grounds for its own success: the more massive the corruption the more both legislatures and the courts are invited to blind themselves to the obvious. Theft on a massive scale is then a way to hack the system.

You might think the framers would have thought it all through with their rock-paper-scissors logic and said “gee, in that case we need to have the buck stop with the President of the Senate. She can stop an out of control hack that slid through our best laid plans for a legitimate election.” But did the framers do that? If not maybe we have to accept that that the system has been hacked.

There’s the overlay of the Electoral Count Act of 1877, which may or may not be constitutional. At that my eyes glaze over. But whether the processes in that Act are constitutional or not I am still not seeing the source of the VP’s discretion in the moment to not open envelopes or do deem the election fraudulent on the basis of the the “regularly given” language or anything else.

It may be that there are limits to using an ordered lens at this point. There may be just too much chaos in the system, and it will have to be worked through chaotically. That’s one meaning of the word “crisis”. The illusions we create for ourselves that all is not flux work most of the time but then sometimes fail, and we look into the abyss. State legislatures, governors, Congress and Supreme Court justices seem willing to fall in. What about the executive branch?

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Notes on Barbara and Night Train to Lisbon

Fenster writes:

Two movies on the personal and the political.

Barbara and Night Train to Lisbon. Is the personal the political? And if it is should it be?

Sure sure history is a human enterprises driven by people, so politics and the personal are theoretically seamless from the get-go. But there’s a tendency in a two hour film given the vocabulary to which we have been accustomed to simplify the peculiar characteristics of groups over time down to matters of morality that fit inside the individual human brain (the audience member reverberating with the protagonist) or melodramatic romances that use pretty backdrops (the audience member desiring Lena Olin against the backdrop of tanks in Prague).

Barbara and Night Train to Lisbon are a step up IMHO. Both grapple with how real people struggle and are shaped by larger forces. In turn it becomes apparent that too heavy a dose of “the personal is the political” is often less to be celebrated than regretted.

Barbara is a doctor in 1980 East Germany coming to grips with what it means to be stuck in “this shit of a country.”

I thought Night Train to Lisbon was going to be a moody piece about a lonely old guy coming to love late in life. While it had those elements they were skillfully interwoven with a story about others, late in their own lives, coming to grips with the roles they played in the downfall of Portugal’s dictatorship in the 1970s. There are lessons in both movies but the lessons cut both ways, and in neither case are the lessons preachy.

We are built to experience morality from the inside out, as a done deal, and film takes advantage of that human feature. But morality (IMHO) is just another work in progress. It derives from and is constantly fed by knockabout experience. So the lessons individuals learn about good, bad, love and hate come from the actions of those individuals in a world that is far more complex than one person, a world that by its essence holds ambiguous lessons for us poor individuals seeking entertainment or yearning for answers.

Both films feature a doctor who is chastized for treating a bad guy: a communist apparatchik in one and a fascist thug in the other. Not that that makes too much difference. What we are talking about here is not communism or fascism per se. We are talking about the claims of the state (or the group, or the community) over the individual. The personal and the political are in a permanent tension, and we in the Free World are hardly immunized from that tension, despite the Aquarian call for no boundaries a few decades ago, during the good times.

In that regard both films (and especially Barbara) provide some hazy lessons for the US. What happens when the tools available to the few can operate with little restraint to convert a citizenry into a managed population? Sure, it can be done and no one can really stop it. . . but in East Germany’s case since the system was too strong to be overthrown it just ended up collapsing from within, after enough frustrated people decided it was a shit country that nothing could be done about.

Our rulers in the Free World now have tools that would be unimaginable to the Stasi, and that would have turned them green with envy. And it’s only going to get better and better and better for our betters! Even now it is clear they have taken the bait, and for sure they will indulge themselves with more and more efficient tools for control going forward. After all, they’re human too, at least for now.

What I don’t know is whether at some point a breakthrough technology will allow control over a longer run, outpacing any plebian pushback for a very long time or, effectively, forever. The new tools on offer have the benefit of being more gentle than cruder modes of control while at the same time being more, perhaps infinitely more, intrusive.

Perhaps we will find ourselves in entirely new terrain in which the past few centuries of historical experience are no longer ready guides. If control is sufficiently gentle and intrusive at what point does control simply morph into the way culture does business? Cultural institutions are always in tension with our inner selves and maybe advanced control will make for fewer such tensions.

On the other hand we may find ourselves moored to the ambiguities of history as we have come to know it, and new modes of control will just hasten the day when all but a very few realize we’ve become a shit country. What then?

I for one think the managed populations movement is likely to suffer the same fate in the 21st century as command economies did in the 20th. A few people cannot outwit the many on what to hold dear just as they could not outwit the many on what to buy and sell. We should be wary of any attempt to fuse the personal with the political just as culture ought to remain suitable upstream from politics.

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Is Culture Stuck?

Fenster writes:

The Revolver news aggregator, the self-proclaimed new Drudge, leads with a link to a story called “Is Culture Stuck.”

Interesting that this is the lead in this highly politicized moment on this mostly political site. Interesting, too, that the article appears less than what it seems: mostly a blog-style rumination, long on guesses and short on deep insights. I know that game.

While I don’t really resonate with the author’s conclusions about why culture is stuck it does appear to have been stuck in some important ways. Certainly that seems to have been the case until the recent past. But is it fair to say not much is happening at present?

As Steve Sailer and others have argued persusasively a distinct process of unmooring got underway in serious fashion around 2013, with the emergence of The Great Awokening. It is hard to say it’s still Kansas today. The old forms may remain–the look and feel of advertising is not much different today than it was a few decades ago. But the cultural messaging is quite different.

I don’t think the new cultural messaging is that manifest yet in our daily lives. Even in the ultra-blue progressive city in which I live relationships, clothing, and social forms are not radically different from the past, and do not mirror the apparent Woke consensus visible in the culture we consume. But in the long run you are what you eat, no?

Are the Great Awokening and its follow-on companion piece The Great Reset just fake, crap ideas superimposed from on high onto a culture that would be happy enough to roll on undistubed? For sure our real culture seems way more conservative than the new one on offer in advertisements and in Time Magazine.

But might it be the case that even the underlying, more conservative culture has a sense that it is beyond its sell-by date? Zombies, apoocalyses, conspiracies–the stories we tell ourselves thinking they are just stories and have no connection to our hopes and fears. If we are in a Fourth Turning–and I think we are–I think we all play a part in the shenanigans.



Here is an article by Murray Rothbard in which he envisions World War 1 less as a tragic miscalculation and more as “fulfillment.”

In contrast to older historians who regarded World War I as the destruction of progressive reform, I am convinced that the war came to the United States as the “fulfillment,” the culmination, the veritable apotheosis of progressivism in American life.

He focuses attention on the intellectuals, “secondhand dealers in ideas”.

 Most of these intellectuals, of whatever strand or occupation, were either dedicated, messianic postmillennial pietists or else former pietists, born in a deeply pietist home, who, though now secularized, still possessed an intense messianic belief in national and world salvation through Big Government. But, in addition, oddly but characteristically, most combined in their thought and agitation messianic moral or religious fervor with an empirical, allegedly “value-free,” and strictly “scientific” devotion to social science. Whether it be the medical profession’s combined scientific and moralistic devotion to stamping out sin or a similar position among economists or philosophers, this blend is typical of progressive intellectuals.

In this paper, I will be dealing with various examples of individual or groups of progressive intellectuals, exulting in the triumph of their creed and their own place in it, as a result of America’s entry into World War I.

We’re all in this together.

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You Can Never Be Too Thin, Too Rich or Too Woke

Fenster writes:

According to that arbiter of all matters cultural, Teen Vogue, Asian-Americans Need to Go Beyond Apoloigizing for Anti-Black Racism.

Asian Americans–the loud ones anyway–are quick to declare solidarity with blacks Blacks. A little too quick if you ask me.

This mostly looks like apologizing. These usually take the form of indulgent, long-winded aggrandizements from non-Black people that mostly just read as a desperate plea to not be seen as racist. These apologies usually stretch paragraphs when they could just be two words: “I’m sorry.”

One problem with the idea of “confronting anti-Blackness” is that it means everything and nothing at once. . . .

Guilt won’t change the world, but care, willfulness, and action can. As ChangeLab’s Jung said: “Do not bench yourself. We need you.”

Or, as Steve Bannon remarked in a somewhat different context “Action! Action! Action!”

Enough with this “model minority” business. It’s just a way of infantilizing Asian Americans, giving them, as the article argues, “a little more respect” as a way of shutting them up and then shutting them down.

The fact that Asians Americans are cajoled to avoid action is apparent, too, in our crime statistics. The racist “model minority” myth has fostered inaction by Asian Americans even in the face of quite obvious dangers. For instance in 2018 blacks Blacks violently victimized Asian Americans 275+ times as often as Asian Americans violently victimized blacks Blacks. And yet we hear nothing of this astonishing statistic.

In fact the absolute number of Asian American victimizers of blacks Blacks was so low that in 2019 the Trump Administration’s Department of Justice just dropped the category of Asian Americans from its victimization survey altogether, this on the bogus grounds that since the absolute number was so low there was a problem of statistical significance.

What a joke. This suggests that if the number were zero there would be all the more reason not to mention it on the grounds of good statistics.

Obviously this is a Trump Administration cover-up designed to perpetuate the model minority business.

It is quite clear Asian Americans are being throttled. But you can only hold someone down for so long–a fact made clear by the shift by blacks Blacks from victim to victimizer Culture Hero. I suspect that by-and-by, and maybe real soon now, Asian Americans will have it up to here with the dainty image foisted on them by Orange Man and the Deplorables, and will form their own rock group.

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