Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Reminder

That the President of the United States has access to the finest intelligence gathering resources in the world, and to lawyers who can explain legal matters to him.

All I have is Google:

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday pardoned five ex-convicts facing deportation, including two whose families fled the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia four decades ago.

The pardons don't automatically stop deportation proceedings, but eliminate the state convictions federal authorities based their deportation decisions on. That gives the men's lawyers strong legal arguments before immigration judges to try to prevent the deportations.

"The pardon does provide enormous benefit to immigrants facing deportation," said Anoop Prasad, an immigration staff attorney at Asian Law Caucus.


Those pardoned Friday included Sokha Chhan and Phann Pheach, both of whom face deportation to Cambodia, a country ruled in the 1970s by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Chhan was convicted of two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2002 and served 364 days in jail.

Pheach was convicted of possessing drugs and obstructing a police officer in 2005 and served six months in jail. His wife said he is in federal custody.

Also pardoned was Daniel Maher, who was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm and served five years in prison. Maher is facing deportation to China.

Chhan, Pheach and Maher hold permanent U.S. residency but had exhausted all legal avenues to fight deportation, making Brown's pardons for them their last hope to stay in the U.S., Prasad said.

"This is a life-changing, enormous event," he said.

Also pardoned while facing deportation were Daniel Mena and Francisco Acevedo Alaniz, but their home countries were not immediately known. Mena was convicted in 2003 of possessing illegal drugs. Alaniz served five months in prison for a 1997 auto theft conviction.

Brown on Friday also commuted the sentences of 14 others convicted of crimes.

The governor is a former Jesuit seminarian and traditionally issues pardons close to major Christian holidays. Easter falls on Sunday.

Yes, it does, doesn't it?

But he wasn't through:

For a guy who screams about "fake news!" he sure does rely on it a lot; and generate it, too.  First, where does he get that number?  Not from the USPS:

The $1.50 figure comes from a Wall Street Journal op-ed, which cited a Citigroup analysis that the Postal Service loses $1.46 on each package it delivers for Amazon. But a Fortune Magazine report found that such a subsidy is due to congressional action that limits the postal service's ability to compete with companies like FedEx.

 A Wall Street Journal op-ed in July 2017 by Josh Sandbulte, a money manager who closely watches the shipping industry, also suggested the Postal Service is probably effectively subsidizing Amazon and other online retailers.

Sandbulte’s claim is based on how the Postal Service sets its prices. USPS is not allowed to set prices so low that it loses money on delivering packages. (If it could, it could undercut competitors like FedEx or UPS.) But the formula for how it sets its prices was created by Congress in 2006, and doesn’t account for the fact that packages are a much bigger share of the USPS’s business than they used to be.

Sandbulte drew his conclusions based on a Citigroup analysis that suggested the average USPS parcel should cost about $1.46 more per package across the board than it does right now. (Sandbulte works for a firm that owns FedEx stock.)

That discount, if it exists, exists for all USPS customers. It’s just that Amazon sends a lot of packages.

Two other points about what is actually a complicated subjected (USPS finances, that is):  contracts between USPS and entities like Amazon (it isn't the only one) are not made public, by law.  And package shipments are actually a money-maker for USPS, who is losing money on first-class mail largely because of e-mail and on-line financial transactions (like paying your bills without using a stamp).  So is that Citigroup analysis even accurate?  Nobody really knows except USPS, and they aren't talking.

Oh, by the way:

The president's Saturday morning tweets came as his motorcade left his Mar-a-Lago estate, about 8:45 a.m, heading to his nearby golf course. The president is staying in Florida for the holiday weekend.
That would be his 73rd or 74th time on the links in the 14 months of his Presidency; but who's counting? 

Holy Saturday 2018

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday 2018

Good Friday should be silent. The church should be shrouded, the altar stripped, funereal cloths draped, only prayers and whispers heard. No music; certainly there should be no music.

Good Friday should be silent. The world needs occasions to consider the values of silence.

"Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid."--John 19:41

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Holy Thursday 2018 Evening

"Only the BEST people!"

Renato Mariotti describes himself as a partner in Thompson Coburn and a former federal prosecutor.  He and I agree (though whether a judge would is always an open question):  the $1 million remedies provided in the agreement between Trump ("DD") and Daniels ("PP") are available only to Trump, and only as compensation for damages to his reputation if the story or documents covered by the Agreement are made public.  EC, the entity making the payment for the documents, can't recover under any legal theory for damages to Trump's reputation.  (This is pretty much hornbook law, as death stops an active libel case, since you can't libel the dead.  Libel is personal, in other words; even the estate of the recently departed can't prosecute a claim.)

Trump has succeeded by bullying, not by intelligence.  He hires stupid lawyers who terrorize people into submission (there is evidence Ms. Daniels was steered toward a Trump associated lawyer, and probably didn't have a lawyer of her own when this agreement was presented to her.).  He was literally born on third base and thinks he hit a triple; hell, he thinks he's the winner of the World Series, and its owner at the same time.

This would be amusing if it weren't real life, and a dark comedy if it were presented as fiction.  Speaking of which:

The revelation is that corporate America is built less on a formal system of laws and rules and norms than on an elaborate and expensive set of mechanisms for getting around that formal system.
That's the conclusion, or maybe more accurately the thesis, of an article by Dahlia Lithwick  and Mark Joseph Stern.  It sticks out because it's a sentence that could only be written by lawyers with no legal experience whatsoever.  I never practiced law beyond the confines of a small law firm or two in Austin, Texas, but even I learned from that experience that this is how businesses do business, and why they pay lawyers to help them do that business.  It's not cynicism to say that anybody who claims a knowledge of the law and doesn't know that business (not just corporate business) in America is run on "an elaborate and expensive set of mechanisms for getting around the formal system" is hopelessly naive, or has simply never worked on a contract matter or tried a contract dispute in court.

They don't pay lawyers to be policemen.  I'd have thought that was obvious.  That said, Trump is revealing exactly this:

In New York Real Estate Land, Multiple Divorce Land, and Repeated Bankruptcy Land, one can string together a lifetime’s worth of mandatory arbitration clauses, nondisclosure agreements, prenups, and frivolous lawsuits. The only legal system Trump can comprehend—and the only legal system the Cohens and the Kasowitzes are good at navigating—is one that consists entirely of loopholes and workarounds. That system, which runs on threats and intimidation and huge sums of cash, has made a lot of men who look and sound like Donald Trump obscenely wealthy. It is, like it or lump it, the American way.
And the only reason Stormy Daniels is talking to Anderson Cooper now is because she finally hired a real lawyer, rather than being intimidated by Trump's money.  After her, who will be intimidated by Trump's money?  A vanishingly small number of people, I'll wager.

This is not going to end the way Trump wants it to.  The rule of law, in some form or fashion, will prevail over bluster and braggadocio.  If it ends up being a civics lesson for the nation, that's just lagniappe.  Although I thought Nixon was going to be a civics lesson, too, so, there's that.

Tower of Babble

I know Chris Cuomo wants to imagine Corey Lewandowski is not just blithering nonsense in this exchange, but, come on:

“Let me ask you one more thing, Corey,” Cuomo began. ” You are interested in,  and I believe that the White House is interested in, stopping these shootings, right? We all want that as a joint enterprise, right? ”

“Of course, of course,” Lewandowski agreed.

“I don’t understand the energy that’s being exerted in putting up the boogeyman that one side wants to get rid of the 2nd amendment,” Cuomo continued. “That’s what this is about. The president tweeted the other day and it is now percolating up in the fringes of the right. Why push that when you know there is no meaningful effort to repeal the 2nd amendment — it seems like a tactic to keep the sides apart and not get any reasonable solutions working to this obvious problem? Why go this way?”

“I think the president’s tweet was probably in response to the op-ed penned by the former Supreme Court justice who recommended the repeal of the 2nd Amendment,” the Trump confidante suggested. “That is so  antithetical to everything our Constitution stand for.”

“We had a former Supreme Court justice who wrote an op-ed who said we should repeal the 2nd Amendment,” Lewandowski reiterated. “This is an individual who is on the highest court of the land, who is making decisions that affect every person in the United States, and now that they’ve left the court thinking repealing the 2nd Amendment is something we should consider.”

“But he made it sound like it’s a real threat, ” Cuomo parried. ” Do you think there is any real momentum anywhere with anyone who is a player in this situation to repeal the 2nd Amendment? ”

“Look, I think when you have a former Supreme Court justice who served on the highest court in the land recommending that, advocating that, potentially influencing his former colleagues,” Lewandowski insisted.

“Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) came out and said we don’t want this,” Cuomo replied. “One of the representatives of the kids group in Florida said we don’t want this. It’s not just Stevens — other people have written these op-eds as well. We both know there is no meaningful energy behind this cause, we know it is all but politically impossible for this to happen. so why push it? Nobody is asking to repeal any amendment, but you guys are using it as a boogeyman.”

“Somebody did ask to repeal it!” Lewandowski shot back.

“He is retired,” the CNN host lectured. “It’s a distraction, it keeps us apart. I just don’t get it.”

“This is a former member of the highest court,” Lewandowski repeated.

“I know who he is,” Cuomo retorted. “But he is not a player in this.”

“He is a player in this,” came the reply.

“He doesn’t lead an organization. He’s not an elected official and there is no momentum behind any call like this in Congress,” Cuomo explained to the increasingly agitated Lewandowski.

“He was a colleague of one of the nine individuals,” Lewandowski repeated. “He is trying to influence those people to make decisions based on a tragedy which took place in Parkland. Whether that issue ever comes to the Supreme Court, who knows. Is he trying to influence his colleagues to crack down on gun control? Of course he is.”

“Cracking down on gun control is very different than repealing the 2nd Amendment,” Cuomo patiently explained.

Again, slowly:  amendment of the Constitution, including repeal of an amendment, is a process that requires the votes of both the House and the Senate, and then votes in a super-majority of the states (let's not bog down in the details of this, eh?).  It cannot be done by the Supreme Court, even if they wanted to.

Stevens can't "influence" the Court to repeal the 2nd Amendment, even if there was a case on the court's docket right now directly related to the Parkland case, or even tangentially related.  The Court can't amend the Constitution; at best, it could overrule Heller, but there isn't even a case on their docket that would allow them to do that (if they somehow fell under Steven's "spell" and felt compelled to do so).

There's only one way to make sense of Lewandowski's argument, and that is that the Supreme Court can toss out provisions of the Constitution at will.

Trump surrounds himself with the best idiots.  They're his kind of people.  It's really beyond argument that they are completely stupid about this "government" thing.  Treating them as if they just don't have a good argument is a disservice to the public discourse.  They have no better an argument than Charles Murray and Sam Harris have on race; we don't need to save IQ from them to establish that.  We also don't need to take idiots like Lewandowski at more than their face value; or Trump anymore, for that matter.

Too much Diet Coke in his diet?

Funny, nobody at Trump's Twitter feed raised this question (or not funny, depending):  what else is the Post Office for?

USPS was suffering from declining revenues for years.  Amazon has been one solution, as it (of course) pays USPS to deliver packages (as opposed to paying UPS, FedEx, etc.; which it may well use, too.).

I mean, isn't USPS the "Delivery Boy" for the country?  I understand even Congress and the White House use them that way.

Holy Thursday 2018

'Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.

--William Blake

"I have a baptism to be baptized with, and what pressure I'm under until it is over!  Do you suppose that I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, on the contrary:  conflict.  As a result, from now on in any given house there will be five in conflict, three against two and two against three.  Father will be pitted against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."--Luke 12:50-53, SV

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

2nd Amendment, we hardly knew ye....

I agree with Cameron Kasky; although actually, I agree with John Paul Stevens.  Repeal of the 2nd Amendment is an excellent idea, whether it will ever happen or not.  It's a perilously bad piece of the Constitution no more viable or sensible than Prohibition or the 3/5ths clause, and I rise to remind the assembled that we changed both of those (eventually).  We can't change things without talking about them, after all.  The 2nd Amendment is not going to wither and fall from the tree one day, allowing healthier growth to thrive in its absence.

Law professor Adam Winkler thinks Stephens is all wet:

Well, yes, the NRA is the problem; but the backstop of the NRA is the 2nd Amendment, which some people think actually enshrines a right to own guns they were born with (why you weren't born with the right to own automatic weapons, or how you can lose that right by committing a felony, is never quite explained).  The politics of gun laws don't stem from the NRA, but from the 2nd Amendment.  Take that away and the gun laws in Texas and Georgia suddenly become a lot less tenable, because it is the screaming minority that gets those laws passed.  If they are overruled by the majority in a constitutional amendment that removes the 2nd (yes, it can be done; we've done it before), their voices suddenly become very small, indeed.  And note this curious argument in his twitter rant:
So Heller didn't have any effect, except it did:  it gave the NRA judicial approval of their argument, or at least the ability to argue they'd won, for the first time in American history, judicial approval of their argument.  As Stephens (a dissenter on the Heller opinion, which puts him a bit closer to the action than Winkler), wrote in his op-ed:

 That [Heller] decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.

A point Winkler can't really argue about, so he tries to wave it away; while keeping it because it accords so well with reality.  Yes, the NRA "was a huge political powerhouse before" Heller; but that power only extended by 31 years, to 1977.  That's when the "gun nuts" took over the organization, and we've seen the results of that to this day:

In particular, the NRA has been fueled by the belief that the Second Amendment is the one thing standing against a tyrannical government. Its core claim: Without an armed citizenry, the government will have an easier time suppressing people’s rights. It was not that the Second Amendment was there to let state governments maintain militias; it was that the Second Amendment was there to let the people stand against the government in general. In embracing and propagating this view, the NRA managed to tap into growing public distrust in government — fueled especially by Watergate and the failure of the Vietnam War.
When the 2nd Amendment is your entire raison d'être and the linchpin of your argument for gun ownership, especially as many guns as one person can possibly own, it rather stands to reason that a repudiation of that argument on a national scale by repealing the 2nd Amendment would not only remove the NRA's primary source document, but remove their claim to speak for the majority of America.

Seems to me, anyway.

Now, could this get done?  Charlie Pierce doesn't think so; but Charlie also points out that Dr. King had to use a "children's crusade" to get JFK off his ass and putting forward a Civil Rights Act that LBJ finally got through Congress.  It was a bold move even King wasn't comfortable with, but the sight of children facing dogs and water cannons in Alabama was enough to turn the tide some thought couldn't be turned.

And then there was the repeal of slavery, women getting the vote, the repeal of Prohibition, the anti-war movement that didn't end the war but certainly ended the draft; mixed-race marriage; gay marriage; abortion rights.

Never say "never."


As ever, the commentary on this is just that Trump said it.  But it's clear Trump thinks the Supreme Court might one day repeal the 2nd Amendment (why else must the GOP "ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court"?).  Which, of course, is not how this works; it's not how any of this works.

You really can't give the man any credit.  As ever, his words are empty.

Wednesday of Holy Week 2018

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
With foaming wine, well mixed;
God will pour a draught from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.

Psalm 75:8

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Persistence of Mismeasure

"I will state the obvious," writes Ezra Klein, and then he goes one to state what really should be obvious but is not to people like Sam Harris and Charles Murray (but it also obvious, given it's Sam Harris and Charles Murray, that they don't acknowledge it):

White people enslaved black people on this land before the United States was even a country. Our founding document counted African Americans as three-fifths of a person. If I drive a few minutes into Virginia, I will ride over a highway named for US senator and Confederate leader Jefferson Davis, who said, “We recognize the fact of the inferiority stamped upon that race of men by the Creator, and from the cradle to the grave, our Government, as a civil institution, marks that inferiority.” The current president of the United States has made defending the monuments of Davis and his compatriots a signature issue.
What Klein fails to state, or even address, in all his discussion of Harris, Murray, race in America, and "IQ," is that "IQ" is a bogus standard of measure that doesn't really measure anything except a narrow range of human function which we privilege above all others and which we still use the way Murray and Harris use the concept of race:  to establish hierarchies where we who can discern "IQ" to determine who is superior to those whose "IQ" we deem insufficient to demand.

First, what is "IQ"?  I am told it is measurable and quantifiable and reflects to some degree cognitive ability.  But then, what is "cognitive ability"?  The ability to think?  I heard a computer scientist go on for an hour yesterday about how algorithms do that, and even "learn."  He was using the terms so loosely they were actually metaphors, because for "think" he meant follow a mathematical formula which quantifies data and treats the results as "learning".  Like Netflix "learns" what I want to watch from what I've watched, and comes up (rarely, if at all) with more movies I would be interested in.  Or Google, which still tells me what the score of the last Astros game was, largely because I followed them in the World Series.  Thanks, but can the algorithm learn to leave me alone?

Children don't "learn" this way.  They don't acquire language by piling up data until they discover patterns for syntax and vocabulary and sentence structure and causal analysis and identification by nouns and adverbs and use of adjectives.  What the scientist was describing as "learning" was not learning as humans do it at all, but the metaphor was convenient to his argument so he conflated the metaphor with the object, and declared the unicorn discovered.  And I can't find a substantive difference between that error and the error that if "IQ" says someone is more likely to fail at a particular set of cognitive skills (say, math, or even reading) than someone else, then "IQ" is an adequate picture, even measure, of those cognitive abilities.  "IQ" describes this difference because we say it does, not because it actually reflects a measure present in the world like weight or volume or mass.  It is as valid a measure of intelligence or cognitive ability as a child's outstretched arms are a measure of her love for her mother.  (Indeed, why do we presume to measure cognitive abilities but not the ability to love, or feel empathy, or to make connections to others?)  The correlation between "IQ" and cognitive ability exists because we insist it does, because we insist that people who measure a low "IQ" also measure cognitive disabilities, or inabilities, that people with high "IQ" don't display.  But of course a person with greater cognitive ability is also a person more likely to be able to pass a test.  One might as well say a person who can play a piano by ear is superior to the trained pianist because they have a special skill the trained pianist lacks.  Does the "natural" player have a higher "PQ" (let's call it) than the trained pianist?  Or are their abilities simply different ones, stemming from different sources?  Does it even make sense to establish a hierarchy in this case?

And why do we do it for cognitive abilities?

That privileges come with "IQ" cannot be doubted, else why are Sam Harris and Charles Murray concerned with what races have better scores than other races?  If they were arguing about why white men can't jump, we'd all point and laugh.  If they were arguing that blacks are more emotional, and therefore more dangerous in a crisis (and so shooting them is not a bad thing for cops to do, when in doubt), we'd all be outraged.  But they argue that "IQ" is a determinant that must be argued, and we all engage in the argument.

Well, Ezra Klein does, anyway.

What is it about "IQ" that makes us want to argue about its proper application?  What are we preserving, and why?  We finally abandoned the measurements of cranial capacity (before and after death) to determine the superiority of races (back when races, as in some of Klein's examples, were actually considered species, not just variants in inherited physical characteristics).  Now we have shifted to "IQ," but the argument that Stephen Jay Gould called "The Mismeasure of Man [sic]" continues unabated.  Only the names have changed.

There really isn't any need to carefully separate "IQ" from the arguments of Harris and Murray, to separate the gold of the measurement of cognitive ability from the dross of Harris and Murray's racism.  The answer is simple:  "IQ" is a useless measure that tells us nothing about our fellow human beings and only allows us to continue to give an objective veneer to another false hierarchy which we should be abandoning rather than continuing.  If you have to argue any further with Harris and Murray than that they are simply racists, you are doing it wrong.  You are trying to hang on to the hierarchy they want to defend, except you think it is only a lesser version of it because your version, at least, is not racist.

Racism is not the only sin of human classification; it is not the only way we establish who is above, and who is below, and why "they" deserve to be separate from "us."

The Twa Corbies

'Expansive,' you say.  I don't think that word means what you think it means.

You know, the thing about science is that it's self-correcting.

So, it should be a simple case: There are lots of errors right on the surface, and there’s not really anyone defending the work. But, still, it took months of pushing and pushing and pushing for Anaya and Brown to get journals to admit there were problems. As Anaya explains, “If something is going to take several months, you might expect it to be a sufficient correction of the record, or at a minimum accurate. Unfortunately, we didn’t find either of those to be the case.”

My point here is not to go over the pizzagate story one more time. Anyone paying attention should now know not to trust the claims, published or otherwise, coming from Wansink’s lab. The point I want to make is how much effort was required by Anaya and Brown to get any changes at all, even in this easy case where there were actual and demonstrable untruths in the published papers. Not just questionable research practices, misinterpretation of statistics, overblown claims, etc. Those alone would be enough of a reason to disbelieve a published claim and enough of a reason for journals to post a correction. But in these cases, you have actual clear errors, and very minimal changes.

Sometimes.  Eventually.  If someone is obsessive enough.  And if someone finally listens.


The Slate article is about how important it is to be obsessive enough.  The author is interested in what he calls the "Javert Paradox":

The problem with Javert (played by Russell Crowe in the 2012 film adaptation, pictured above) was not that he was indefatigable in his pursuit. No, the problem was that he was indefatigable in his pursuit of a guy who stole a goddamn loaf of bread to feed his family.

And can I, a humanities student all my life, note the C.P. Snow "Twa Cultures" irony of an article about science that has to explain a famous character from literature in terms of a movie and an actor to be sure his audience gets the reference?


The Javert Paradox is what interests the author, but what interests me is this:

But … if they hadn’t been so thorough and careful—as Anaya puts it, “I know Wansink’s work better than he does, it’s depressing really”—then I suspect none of this exposure would’ve happened. Recall that the Wansink lab was called out five years ago on data problems, and the researchers just bobbed and weaved and never acknowledged any problems. And recall that, after the first batch of pizzagate errors came out (more than 150 wrong numbers in only four papers!), Cornell tried to dismiss the whole story. And then, of course, there are the journals that have required months of nagging to make even the smallest corrections.

Why is it so hard to reveal errors in science?  Theology and philosophy are nothing but battlegrounds where ideas are relentlessly subjected to criticism, skepticism, revision, and rejection.  It can be hard to get started with the simplest statement in theology or philosophy, knowing how it is going to be parsed and parceled and critically examined for error.  No one needs to pursue a theological or philosophical "error" like a Javert, because there is no resistance to correcting the "record."  Largely because in theology and philosophy there is no "record," only contention, only discussion, only argument.  This is as old as the "Socratic method" and Jewish midrash, at least; and probably much, much older.

But science?  Apparently if you produce a stack of numbers that everybody likes, those numbers become gospel and challenging them is akin to challenging the literality of scripture to a roomful of fundamentalists.  And the best recourse is to praise the obsessives that force the organs of science to occasionally, after great effort and tremendous diligence and sheer dogged stubborn persistence, to get them to consider that MAYBE something out to be changed.

Huh.  Who'da thunk it?

Tuesday of Holy Week 2018

"Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.  You have been born anew.

--1 Peter 1:22-23

It's time for Christians to call bull shit on Evangelism inc.

Jimmy Swaggart's wife? Really?

I think, considering what the students saw on Valentine's day "bandaid on cancer" is probably the most offensively inappropriate simile that could possibly be resorted to.

I think we need an active campaign to Christianize the evangelicals to win them over from the oligarchic corporate state religion of Mammon.

Robert Jeffress and Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Frances Swaggart remind us that obedience to truth is difficult, and that there is no shortcut to it.   Someone sent a question to Jimmy Carter for the interview on "1A" this morning, asking how we could recover the public compassion we once, as a country, displayed.  I thought about the question in terms of our political and religious leadership, and how many public religious figures are now proving themselves less interested in matters religious than they are in matters secular.  They are also the ones most likely to claim they have been "born anew," but their manner and words reflect that everything new is old again.

This "born again" language is not unique to Christianity.  The letter of Peter actually echoes the words of Ezekiel:

22Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. 23And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. 24For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 26A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. 28And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29I will also save you from all your uncleannesses: and I will call for the corn, and will increase it, and lay no famine upon you. 30And I will multiply the fruit of the tree, and the increase of the field, that ye shall receive no more reproach of famine among the heathen. 31Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. 32Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord GOD, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel.
--Ezekiel 36:22-32, KJV

The heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of flesh.  If you take that scripture seriously, it is humbling.  Do you know your heart is not stone, but flesh?  Are you sure?  Do you know if God's spirit is in you?  Are you sure?  No doubt the Israelites were sure of their hearts and their spirit even during the Exile, but Ezekiel told them not to be so sure.  If your soul is purified by obedience to the truth, is that because you know yourself so well?  Or does it result in genuine mutual love?  And is obedience to the truth a once in a lifetime event, or an ongoing effort?  My problem with the soteriology of the evangelical has always been that a cataclysmic event, a "conversion experience," was the sine qua non of Christian living, after which you have nothing to worry about because you are "saved."  The problem then is, you return to the world, rather than to obedience to the truth; the truth being far more than whether you have secured your place in heaven, or not.

Obedience, like former President Carter said about faith in the interview, is a verb.  And like faith, it is fundamental to Christian belief.

“Look for your inspiration to the victorious lobster..."

"I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."

I think of "intellectuals" as very intelligent people with very interesting, if not always sound (because "sound" is what the hearer agrees with) thoughts.  People like Reinhold Niebuhr and Noam Chomsky, or Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, even people like Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.  Not all intellectuals are publicly identifiable, but the term usually denotes a public, rather than publicly obscure, figure.

And then there are people like Jordan Peterson, someone I hadn't even heard of until his name came up at Thought Criminal, and now in an article at Vox.  TC convinced me that Peterson is somewhat of a Man To Be Reckoned With, if only because some bloggers with better than average credentials take his thought seriously.  Reading the Vox article, I'm not so sure about that anymore:

In the lecture, Peterson weaves together an incredibly broad set of topics — ranging from Soviet history to the biblical story of Cain and Abel to Nietzsche to lab experiments that involve feeding rats cocaine — to produce a kind of unified theory of modern politics. At base, he argues that that Soviet-style communism, and all the mass murder and suffering it created, is still a serious threat to Western civilization. But rather than working openly, it seeps into our politics under the guise of “postmodernism.”

Peterson’s argument starts with a vivid denunciation of Marxism. Human society, like all animal kingdoms, is in Peterson’s mind defined by certain biological truths — including the reality that some people are naturally more gifted than others, and that life will always involve suffering. Marxism, he believes, is rooted fundamentally in the hatred of people who succeed in a capitalist economy — and thus will always result in violence when one attempts to implement it.

“Are these Marxists motivated by love or hatred? Well, is it love or hatred that produces 100 million dead people?” he asks in the speech, rhetorically.

Peterson believes that the failure of Soviet communism has not actually deterred communism’s fans in the West, who still secretly cling to the old hateful beliefs. He argues that they do so under the guise of a school of thought he refers to as “postmodernism,” which he sees as his archenemy.

There's a whole lot of stupid swimming around in there, starting with Red Scare era anti-communism, and continuing through vapid denunciations of postmodernism.  Postmodernism is really just a term meant to demarcate literary and social categories in history.  The Romantic Era gave way to the Victorian writers, who, especially in American literature, gave way to the Realists and then the Naturalists, who gave way to the Surrealists (borrowing from the fine arts in Europe), who were part of the Modernists, the post-WWI group that included, among Americans, the "Lost Generation" of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and others (the name came later, from Edmund Wilson, IIRC).  Eventually modernism had to run its course (as Romanticism did, although like the Roman empire, although defunct, it continues to hold a powerful influence in the way we think about ourselves, history, philosophy, literature; all that "liberal arts" stuff) and scholars and professors soon noted "post-modernism," because they couldn't come up with a better name.  But blaming it for anything is rather like blaming an astrological sign for a bad economy, or a Chinese Zodiac year (valid, so far as I know, only on restaurant placemats) for bad weather.  It's a stupid, vacuous claim, in other words.  "Postmodernism" is not a school of thought, it's a convenient grouping of artistic (usually literary) work, as much responsible for content as "baby boomer" or "millennial" is controlling on the personalities of millions depending on their birth-year.

So why I need to take a guy like this seriously?  I might as well worry about Rick Warren's impact on the body politic (anybody remember him?).    Or James Dobson's, or Jerry Falwell, Jr., for that matter; or the preaching of Franklin Graham.  Billy Graham was supposed to be one of the most influential preachers in modern history:  name two of his sermons, or one of his ideas.  If you can get beyond a vague notion of some kind of Christian soteriology based on Jesus and your "heart," you remember more about him than most people do, or ever will.  No slight on Mr. Graham, but "influential" is a curiously ephemeral measure.  Reinhold Niebuhr was influential once, and deserves to be remembered more fully, but whether his work will remain vital or be as forgotten as that of Schopenhauer and Feuerbach remains to be seen.

Frankly, to even talk in the 21st century about "Marxists" as if they still exist and exert influence (even China isn't "Marxist" anymore) is to betray yourself as a Deeply Unserious Person (I'm going to try to make that phrase happen!).

“Western leftist intellectuals are [fundamentally complicit] in the horrors of the 21st century,” he says. “It’s not that they’ve learned anything since; they’ve just gone underground. And that’s what I see when I see postmodernism.”
And they stole his lunch money and beat him up after school, too!  "Western leftist intellectuals"?  Really?  And who would they be?  And when did they "go underground"?  Are they being pursued with arrest warrants or something?  And "horrors of the 21st century"?  It's only 17 years old; what "horrors" have we seen that "Western leftist intellectuals" were "fundamentally complicit" in?  9/11?  The invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S.?  The invasion of Iraq?  The collapse of the financial markets because of mortgage backed securities?  Lehman Brothers and Dick Cheney and John Bolton are "Western leftist intellectuals"?  Who knew?

Turns out "Western leftist intellectuals" are Foucault and Derrida, responsible for these "horrors" because they worked in the French philosophical tradition of language and rhetoric (the use of words).  How Foucault and Derrida influenced W. is not explained (or influenced anybody beyond a handful of literary theorists at the end of the 20th century), but it might as well be through radio waves beamed into his fillings.

It gets worse from there, with his popular books about 12 Rules for Life:  An Antidote for Chaos.  You can just imagine, although the description of it in Vox is interesting:

The book is a kind of bridge connecting his academic research on personality and his political punditry. In it, Peterson argues that the problem with society today is that too many people blame their lot in life on forces outside their control — the patriarchy, for example. By taking responsibility for yourself, and following his rules, he says, you can make your own life better.

For some reason it puts me in mind of the advice of Rick Santorum; although its certainly akin to Ayn Rand's objectivism, and about as foolish.

I'm sure this is all deeply influential because its on the best-seller list at Amazon; then again, students (and high schools!) have kept Ayn Rand in print for 75 years now, and the world is not markedly the worse for it.

Of course, it was clearly a better place when an Ayn Rand work was published in a pulp magazine alongside Kafka's most famous story.  Besides, the lobster is the cockroach of the sea......

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday of Holy Week 2018

I should spend the week here:

Mary brought in a pound of expensive lotion and anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair.  And the house was filled with the lotion's fragrance.--John 12:3, SV.

I could tell you how that story shows the influence of Luke's version (this is the only other story all four gospels share in some version; the other is the crucifixion.  Ponder that awhile.), shifting the anointing from the head to the feet, and the act of wiping them with a woman's hair.  Focus, instead, on the fragrance and let this, in place of ointment and aroma, be what spreads about you:

On what condition does goodness exist beyond all calculation? On the condition that goodness forget itself, that the movement be a movement of the gift that renounces itself, hence a movement of infinite love. Only infinite love can renounce itself and, in order to become finite, become incarnated in order to love the other, to love the other as a finite other. This gift of infinite love comes from someone and is addressed to someone; responsibility demands irreplaceable singularity.

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 50-51.

These conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your own cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you now know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

James 4:1-6

I am reading (Simone Weil's) essays as a part of my Lenten reading...She says that we "...must experience every day, both in the spirit and the flesh, the pains and humiliations of poverty...and further we must do something which is harder than enduring in poverty, we must renounce all compensations: in our contacts with the people around us we must sincerely practice the humility of a naturalized citizen in the country which has received us."

I keep reminding the young people who come to work with us that they are not naturalized citizens...They are not really poor. We are always foreigners to the poor. So we have to make up for it by "renouncing all compensations..."

Dorothy Day, from The Dorothy Day Book, p. 11.

Gutless Wonder Awards, Pt. II

The judges have decided another category has to be opened in the post-March For Our Lives awards.  So, alongside "The NRA Made Me Do It!", we have a new category:  "Madalyn Murray O'Hair and the Supreme Court Made Me Do It!".

First up, thanks to rustypickup, we have Pastor Robert Jeffress (no relation, at all, to your humble host):

“We don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” he said of the gun control march. “That’s great, but if we’re depending on legislation alone to solve the problem of gun violence, that’s like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer.”
“It doesn’t deal with the root problem,” Jeffress continued. “The root problem is we need to change people’s behavior and that can only happen with a change of heart, and we believe only the gospel of Christ can do that.”


“I would remind people that for the last 70 years there has been a crusade by secularists to remove any acknowledgment from God from the public square, including our schools, saying that we can be good without God,” Jeffress said Sunday. “Well, that’s been a dismal failure.”

He recalled the days when schoolchildren prayed, read scripture and memorized the Ten Commandments in schools, “including the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”

“I think we need to return to that,” Jeffress said. “Teaching people, starting with our children, that there is a God to whom they’re accountable is not the only thing we need to do to end gun violence, but it’s the first thing we need to do.”
Which doesn't explain why "godless" countries in Europe, or like Australia, don't have the gun violence America has.  But rather than put a judicial thumb on the scale, let us note that even the wives of disgraced evangelists can play this blame game:

“People have got to address the fact that kids today are being put in school where there’s no morals,” [television evangelist Frances Swaggart] announced. “Because we’ve taken God out of the school. And there’s no resistance then to anything that Satan throws these kids’ way.”
“Today’s gun control and confiscation rally was nothing new,” she added, reading from a paper provided by a fellow panelist. “Nazis and leftists have been using children for decades in their attempts to take guns away from law-abiding citizens.”


“Hitler’s regime took away guns from the people in Germany and then he herded all of those who did not like it into box cars and shipped them to concentration camps where they were enslaved, beaten, raped and murdered,” she said. “The victims didn’t fire a shot in self defense because their guns had been taken away. That’s a fact.”

“And that’s why evil people want to take the guns away from law-abiding citizens here in the United States of America,” the host opined. “Everybody says, ‘Let’s get rid of the guns.’ It’s the worst decisions that could be ever made. Get rid of the guns. No! No! No! Put God back into the schools.”

According to Swaggart, students who survived the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida are being used as “pawns” by liberal billionaires like George Soros.

“What happened with this last school and other schools that have shootings, this is going to happen,” she insisted. “And it causes the people to get upset and it causes the disturbances and then you have what we have had over the weekend.” 
Judges consider the violation of Godwin's Law to simply be a two-for.  And for the record, prayer in schools was banned in the 1960's.  Apparently it takes Satan at least 50 years to crank up and get something done.

Lines are open all week.  Operators are standing by.  Vote early and often.

Best Sign of the March

TC has it.

"Bring back that sunny day...."

So, I don't know Michael Cohen except from news reports, and don't know his legal work except from the dubious "agreement" he apparently drafted for Trump and Daniels (an agreement I still think a first-year contracts student could shred in court.  I have only hazy memories of contract law anymore, yet the legal analyses of the agreement I've read agree with me:  it's not worth the paper it's printed on).  But take this from Josh Marshall:

5. Finally, the big news. Who threatened Daniels? She made it very clear she could identify the person if she saw him again. If you know Cohen’s business associates and particularly his past in the Taxi medallion business – strongarming major magnates in that world – you don’t need to have any question about who sent that goon. This is how Cohen operates because it’s how Trump operates.

And connect it to this:

Daniels didn't identify who threatened her, but said she could if she ever saw him again.  Cohen's lawyer says she meant Cohen sent the guy, which only makes sense if Trump isn't the person named in the "agreement," but then why tell Daniels to "forget" Trump?  And if Daniels is lying, how is Cohen slandered when he isn't mentioned?  (Remember this threat came 5 years before the agreement was signed).  Indeed, it's not clear if Daniels knew Cohen in 2011.

And the best part is how determined they are to prove Michael Avenatti right, even though he said this on the "60 Minutes" broadcast:

ANDERSON COOPER: There are people who argue that this much ado about nothing, that if this was not a story about an adult film actress and the president of the United States, no one would pay attention.

MICHAEL AVENATTI: This is about the cover-up. This is about the extent that Mr. Cohen and the president have gone to intimidate this woman, to silence her, to threaten her, and to put her under their thumb. It is thuggish behavior from people in power. And it has no place in American democracy.*

Legal geniuses, these guys.

And besides, those grapes were sour anyway....

" or law firm will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country - " means he didn't need those lawyers anyway!  Right?

Oh, and his response to the "60 Minutes" interview:

Denial is not just a river in Egypt, as we used to say.

The Post-March for Our Lives Gutless Wonder Award

These people should have been taking CPR classes instead of petitioning their government

We have two candidates for the "Gutless Wonder" Award, given to the person so empty of soul and such a puppet of the NRA they repeat whatever the NRA wants them to say without thought to how it sounds to others.  Our first nominee, former Sen. Rick Santorum:

“This is the bottom line,” Santorum lectured. “Is this a political effort? Is this a political movement? It very well may be, and that’s fine, people certainly supported it.  But if it’s the Hollywood elites and the liberal billionaires who funded this, it’s all about politics. Or is is it about keeping our schools safe?”*

“If it’s about keeping schools safe, we need a broader discussion,” he then suggested. “How about kids taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations if there is violence?”

“They took action!” Keilar interrupted.

“Yeah, they took action to ask someone to pass a law, but they didn’t take action for how do I, as an individual, deal with this problem?” Santorum heatedly replied. “How am I going to stop bullying within my own community? What am I actually going to do to an issue? Those are the kinds of things you can take internally and say ‘Here’s how I’m going to deal with this and help the situation,’ instead of going and protesting and saying someone else needs to pass a law to protect me.”

CNN regular Van Jones pointed out that he has a child who will be attending high school next year, before adding, “I’m proud of these kids.”

“I’m’ proud of them too,” Santorum parried. “But ignoring the problems and saying some phony gun law is going to solve it — phony gun laws don’t solve these problems. That’s what we found out.”

We don' need no steenken' government!  A former U.S. Senator, ladies and gentleman.  And a sitting (so he won't be noticed) Senator, Sen. Marco Rubio:

“While I do not agree with all of the solutions they propose, I respect their views and recognize that many Americans support certain gun bans,” the senator said.

Those against gun bans “want to prevent mass shootings” too, Rubio continued, but they “view banning guns as an infringement on the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens that ultimately will not prevent these tragedies.”

It's a tough call.  Santorum is arguing CPR is the new "duck 'n' cover" (he's too young to catch that reference, I know).  Sen. "$1.05" Rubio is proving he's so bought and paid for by the NRA he actually thinks human life takes a back seat to the 2nd Amendment and so even does majority rule.  Besides, these tragedies are as natural as sunrise and we can't stop 'em.  Right, former Sen. Santorum?

You make the judgment.  Which one is truly the Gutless Wonder?  Lines are open; operators are standing by.  This is a free call.

*If you're wondering why that language sounds familiar.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"Every Word Is Like An Unnecessary Stain Upon Silence And Nothingness"

Emma Gonzales, high school student, reminded us all if the power of silence in a world that talks too much.  Under Beckett's admonition I have to add the silence the words of Merton.

"Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality."--Thomas Merton

Pastor as "cool"

So I noted this, and then moved on:

The New York Times reported last weekend on a surprising development out of Los Angeles: There is a pastor in that fair city who dresses not like Ward Cleaver, but like a Supreme model. His name is Chad Veach, and he is the founder and head pastor of the fast-growing Zoe Church—pronounced “zo-AY, like, be-yon-SAY,” as Veach likes to say. (Note: That is not, as far as I know, how you pronounce Beyoncé.)

Ruth Graham goes on to note this is a "trend" that dates back to at least 1896, though she skips lightly over the trend until it gets to 2007, where she provides quite a catalog of such announcements.  This leads her to conclude:

Is it news, then, when a pastor wears something other than pleated khakis in 2018? No. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to report on each successive wave of hipster pastors, particularly the successful ones. In between posting Instagram stories, Veach and his peers are attracting many thousands of young people each week to their churches. That’s not just a trend, it’s a movement.

But then I circled back because, well, I guess so:

Hybels led a congregation of 25,000 and the Willow Creek Association, based on his leadership, counts 11,000 churches worldwide as under its influence. He abruptly retired last year.

Hybels emerged as a “cool” youth pastor riding a Harley-Davidson and quickly grew his flock. Unlike many other non-denominational megachurches, Willow Creek elevated women to senior positions—but that allowed the former pastor to prey on ambitious young women, according to Nancy Beach, who came out of Willow Creek and is now a prominent evangelical thought leader.

“I feel so conflicted about the whole situation because I’m so protective of the reputation of the church, not just here but globally,” she told the Tribune. “But I have confidence that the truth matters. Even though he’s 66 years old, there are still young women in his path. I certainly wouldn’t want one of my daughters or anyone else to be in this kind of situation.. He changed my life. I wouldn’t have the opportunities I’ve had… But then there’s this other side.”

Willow Creek is pretty much a denomination unto itself, and Hybels is only a few years older than me, which means he was "cool" in about the '70's (I'm too lazy to do the accurate historical research). And now it turns out his "cool," like that of Jimmy Swaggart and many an "evangelist" gone by, was also a cover for, shall we say, sexual improprieties?

As I recall, the guy who started Mars Hill church was cool, too, until his sexual appetites became public fodder.  I also recall Mars Hill pretty much lost its luster after that.  Am I damning Christianity, or non-denominational pastors, or pastors who can't keep their pants zipped outside the marital home?  No, not broadly.  I'm just wondering when a trend truly becomes a movement, and what value that movement has in the long run.  The institutional church, represented by denominations, takes its licks, but it can't be said to be supplanted by "movements" which depend so much on individuals to keep them moving; especially when it becomes clear those individuals have been moving in the wrong direction for much of their pastoral careers.  What movement will members of Willow Creek associated churches follow now?  Because, I dunno:  it's either all lies, or it's gonna get mighty ugly:

“This has been a calculated and continual attack on our elders and on me for four long years,” [Hybels] told the Tribune. “I have a wife and kids and grandkids. My family has had enough and they want the record clear. And they feel strongly supportive of me saying what I have to say to protect my family and clear my family’s name as well.”
The fuller story is here.  I'm less interested in the details and the allegations, than in the nature of "cool" pastors who eventually return to earth to be human beings. That, and the nature of church "movements," which seem to depend so much on individuals, and yet seem to be endlessly appealing to modern Americans.

Something about being "cool," I guess.  It might even have something to do with evangelicals supporting Donald Trump, or even the poisonous cult of personality in general that allows us to see "our guy" as "one of the good ones," no matter what (the women who accused Hybels never felt the process that exonerated him was fair or just; since it was run by people selected by Hybels, how could it be?).

Something about being "cool," I guess; or ultimately, about being "yourself."  Funny thing is, people can tell you that you're doing it wrong.  It happens all the time.  Often, they're right.

I Have One Thing To Say

about "March for Our Lives," and it is this that gives me hope above all the wonderful signs and the crowds turning out around the world.

The common refrain among the children who started this is that they will vote.  They understand government in this country better than many of us, because they understand they have to vote.  Not voting is to allow somebody else's vote to count.  Not voting is to allow politicians to ignore you.  Not voting does not get hopeful candidates coming to your door (as happened to me during the Texas primary season).

Vote.  Vote.  Vote.  Vote early and often, but vote.  Not voting for Clinton because she didn't inspire you or you wanted another candidate or you didn't want to support her, got us Donald Trump.  Not voting allows the NRA to scare politicians into voting with them, those politicians they don't buy outright.  Money counts, but votes count more.  Greg Abbott poured millions into primary campaigns in the GOP in Texas trying to unseat people who had displeased him.  In almost every case, his money meant nothing.  It meant nothing, because people voted, and their votes weren't bought.

You've never heard of Pflugerville, now you're hearing from Pflugerville.

Vote.  It's the best reason to take hope from this day that there can be.

The Perils of Wandering on the Internet

This is why "evangelicals" are still supporting Trump.  And don't argue the point that society has a role; he will insist it's all a personal matter (which, yes, sounds like an atheist like Bill Maher, doesn't it?):

Which is pretty much antithetical to the notion of society, as well as the preachings of a man who only understood human beings as members of society, not as individuals living on their own virtual islands.  Jesus of Nazareth was not Margaret Thatcher:

 Interestingly, Falwell's twitter feed is not exactly sympathetic, as you can already tell:

But there's plenty of good stuff there, too.  I probably should have led with this, but it's just as well that I close with it:
And that goes for Jerry Falwell, Jr., too; much as I don't want to love him at all, I'll freely confess.

The Uses of Education

Which makes the Rockefeller Chapel on the UofC campus even more ironic.

It's a long read, but worth it, this article at Slate about "free speech" on the University of Chicago campus (a school I know mainly by reputation, through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and as the former home of Milton Friedman.  Neither is much of a recommendation, IMHO; then again, what do I know?).  What struck is how little times have really changed.

Boomers run the country now, undoubtedly, and yet as a group we act like our parents and the people running the world (slightly older than our parents, depending on when you were born in the Boomer generation; 'tis ever thus) when we were being born and growing up.  Activists and anti-war protestors and civil rights enthusiasts were denounced as leftists and ignorant and brainwashed and what have you back then, too.  Today, from reading this article, the cries come from wealthy donors and newspapers like the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal, places that tend to imagine college campuses are still hotbeds of liberalism that need the strong medicine of contrary viewpoints like those espoused by Richard Spencer or Steve Bannon.

Why Richard Spencer, whose every utterance is simply aimed at antagonizing people who don't already agree with him (following the shtick of Ann Coulter) or Steve Bannon:

... a man whose primary accomplishment has been his work elevating a reality television star to leadership of the free world. Whatever else is happening to the university administratively, Chicago is still an institution that employs some of the best professors, lecturers, researchers, and former professionals in the world. Bannon’s last conceptual heavy lift was devising a cockamamie conspiracy theory to defend a pedophile running for United States Senate.
Because the invitations to Spencer and Bannon are seen as intellectual bravery, even intellectual activity, by those with money to donate, or a megaphone to shout through:

“People I know really feel proud that Zimmer articulated those views so eloquently,” billionaire alumnus and donor Joe Mansueto—namesake of one of the university’s library buildings—told Crain’s Chicago Business last month. “These are bedrock principles for the University of Chicago.” After Ken Griffin announced a $125 million gift to the university in November, Quartz’s Oliver Staley reported that the hedge fund CEO made the donation in part “because the university has been outspoken in its resistance to safe spaces and trigger warnings, eschewing policies on other campuses which Griffin sees as threatening free speech. In September, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin advised readers against making contributions to any other elite university. “[T]hose wishing to support universities’ core missions can donate instead to institutions such as the University of Chicago,” he wrote, “whose president has stood firm against the social and political trends buffeting so many other elite campuses.”

Inviting someone like Spencer, wrote the Chicago Sun-Times in an editorial, is what:  “You might also call it an invitation: Join us in a thrilling, if not always comfortable, exchange of ideas.”  One wonders whether they often cheer this loudly for a white supremacist anti-semite.  Surely they don't regularly champion Mr. Spencer's ideas?  Or is it just the context of the "university" they think they are throwing stones at, and using the idea of "free speech" to do it?

Free speech, after all, is not simply about letting all voices be heard.  It is that in the abstract sense, on the public commons.  Spencer on a soap box at "Speaker's Corner" in Hyde Park might well be an excellent symbol of free speech, where all passersby are free to ignore him, although even there if the harangue became too obscene or too treasonous, it would undoubtedly soon cease to be "free."  But a university is a special space, and that special category has nothing to do with "safe spaces" or "social and political trends buffeting so many other elite campuses."  It has a lot to do, in fact, with what a university is for in the first place.

It is not a place to explore ideas society considers egregious and dangerous.  No classes should be offered in the virtues of the Nazis, or how the Holocaust was either false history or not such a bad idea after all.  Would those wealthy UC donors champion classes on eugenics, taking as their starting point Holmes dictum that "Three generations of imbeciles is enough!"?   Certainly there are ideas that don't need to be debated, much less encouraged.  The best response to Spencer in the article is from Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the U of C law school:  “From what I have seen of your views,” Stone replied, “they do not seem to me at add anything of value to serious and reasoned discourse, which is of course the central goal of a university.”  But the people supporting the idea of Richard Spencer or Steve Bannon on the UC campus (or any campus) aren't supporting Spencer or Bannon; they are supporting the idea of "sticking it to the man!"  Only, in this case, "the man" is a straw figure taking up space in their imaginations, one that exists only because "free speech" isn't allowed to drive him out into the sunlight, where the antiseptic nature of the UV rays will destroy him in a burst of flames.  They don't really care what Bannon or Spencer actually say; they just see them as the guy with the flamethrower, and fire is cleansing.

It's a poor commentary on intellectual life in these United States, but I don't know when it's ever been much better.  Aside from East Coast wealth which valued education as a marker of social status, making one akin to the European royalty who sent their children to elite institutions whether they could do the academic work or not (what did it matter, they were paying for it anyway), intellectualism in America was only ever valued in our brief history after World War II, and that because technology, in the shape of a single bomb powerful enough to end the war with Japan, fired the conviction that science (which takes education) was going to save us all.  Nutrition science changed the way we ate, teaching us to pay attention to what we put on the table and in our mouths.  Rocket science, once the standard of intellectual endeavor ("it ain't rocket science!"), put us in a "space race" with Russia, which we had to win among our children with the "new math" (and if you don't think that was a unifying national principle, you weren't alive to live through it).  "The Best and the Brightest" led Kennedy's administration into a future so bright we all had to buy shades.  Well, until it turned out we were being led by Robert McNamara, who never met a national issue he couldn't reduce to numbers, even as he couldn't figure out why the numbers refused to reflect reality (or why reality refused to believe his numbers).  It was a brief, glorious blaze, in which Albert Einstein was the smartest man alive and the living image of genius, if only because we knew somehow he was connected to the atomic bomb and the atomic age we'd all soon be living in thanks to human intelligence! (Still waiting for all the promises of that one; I, for one, will die very disappointed if I never get my flying car and electricity too cheap to meter!).  A blaze in which Reinhold Niebuhr could appear on the cover of Time Magazine because he was America's intellectual religious leader (soon to be replaced by Billy Graham, whom no one ever accused of being too smart).  Before the Vietnam War was over, the glow of the intelligentsia leading us to Paradise had long faded.

But then the intellectual leadership of America only really ever lasted as long as the stretch from Washington (known more as a general than a thinker) to Jackson (a span of only 6 Presidents and only 40 years.  I have minor personal possessions I've owned longer than that.).  What Americans have valued more than anything is argument, protest, harangue, and disagreement.  Do I overstate?  Consider the words of UChi President Zimmer and his university, used to close the Slate article:

“Part of the way we operate is that we’re a place where there’s constant open discourse, constant expression, constant argument,” he said. In a statement about the Bannon event, the university has declared it will uphold “the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.” 

Constant argument of the kind championed bt Spencer and Bannon is not really pedagogical.  And the argument is constant only so long as that argument favors the status quo, and pokes an eye in "political correctness" that might come down in favor of blacks, Hispanics, Latino/as, the poor, the marginalized, the non-male (or non-hetero), who are not and should not be part of the status quo, except to mind their place in it.  The more they assert their place at the table, the more we must allow the Spencers and the Bannons to counter them, however much we might not want the Spencers and Bannons at our dinner parties.  The issue really is a simple one, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with free speech or listening to all voices or even inviting argument and open discourse.

It has to do with making sure the right people always know their place.  All the right people, and all the right places.