John Darnielle: Universal Harvester
Terry Eagleton: Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate

Now You Can Be Notified of New Posts By Email

I finally got it onto the sidebar. Or I guess at the bottom if you're looking at it on a phone. See, right there below the search box. It's provided by the service. Just enter an email address and click "Subscribe." And read this for more information about what happens after that. 

I've wanted to do this for a long time, and even more since I quite doing the Sunday Night Journal and posting became more irregular. Too bad I didn't have it back before Facebook and Twitter took the place that blogs had for a while early in this century.


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Is this different from the other thing?


No, same thing exactly. I just finally got the widget fixed up and put on the sidebar.

FB has killed the email discussions that my circle of friends used to have. We used to send each other articles and comments and have energetic back-and-forths, but that's all but died, especially for those of us who are not on FB. Hardly anyone sends articles around anymore, and when they are sent they almost never prompt discussions of any substance. Very sad.

Not to mention BBSs and LISTSERVs.

I think the web itself mostly killed those before Facebook happened.

I haven't made any attempt to analyze it, though I'm sure people have, but although Facebook encourages discussion it also somehow encourages a hurried and kind of shallow discussion. I don't mean "encourages" explicitly but somehow in the way it works.

And as far as explicit pushing is concerned, it's becoming more and more heavy-handed about flagging conservative content as questionable or dangerous. It's so one-sided that it's ludicrous, and their canned "Independent fact-checkers have questioned this" flags so one-sided as to be preposterous. A day or two ago I saw a "meme" which blamed Biden for rising gas prices flagged in that way. Similar negative but debatable assertions made against Republicans are perfectly ok. This is all done in the name of stopping the spread of "misinformation." It's very plainly a giant lie or a giant delusion, or some mix of both, and it's perfectly ok with the left.

I am wondering how the whole Covid thing would have progressed without social media. Would everyone have just listened to (or read!) the news, and then gone and gotten vaccinated? I think about how simple the Sabine vaccine distribution was.


I have been rereading The Aviator for book club next week, and today, I came across this passage:

Because of my father, [who was murdered] I thought about the nature of historical calamities--revolutions, wars, and the like. Their primary horror is not in the shooting. And not even in famine. It is that the basest of human fervors are liberated. What is in a person that was previously suppressed by laws comes into the open. Because for many people only external laws exist. And they have no internal laws.

I was thinking that social media liberates those fervors. My NextDoor group and the Facebook group from the closest town horrify me. It makes me want to avoid people I see in the grocery store, because they might be those people.


I’m not at home and may say more tonight when I am. But in a word, yes. All in all I think social media is a cultural poison.

It's an open question whether the poison of social media outweighs the benefits of the internet.

I signed up for last week. I wonder why it didn't send me an email notifying me of this post?

Spoke too soon. The notification just came.

I was going to say it probably would, but to let me know if it didn't. If you haven't done it already, you might log in to and change the settings from one email per 24 hours (the default--all posts during that period) to an email per post. Since I don't post multiple times a day, you won't get any more emails, but I think they tend to arrive more quickly. Use the username/password in your confirmation email to log in.

Janet, that's pretty sad about your Next Door and local Facebook pages. I've heard others say similar things, but haven't really seen it myself. My NextDoor posts are 99% lost or found pets, and down to earth things like "please recommend someone to fix my sink". The local Fb groups are mostly that way, too. People get snarky about various local things ("why don't they fix that bump at x and y?") but it really doesn't get into political/cultural meanness very often at all. It helps that the groups are moderated, apparently by sensible people.

But at this point it's indubitable that social media in general has brought out some really bad stuff and is having a major impact on the polarization of the country. If someone you don't see very often in person or maybe have never even met is politically obnoxious, that tends to define the person for you, and he or she becomes The Enemy, or at least on the side of The Enemy. I'm afraid some people now think I'm some sort of Trumpazoid (heard that from my sister-in-law, not sure if it's original with her) because I tried to make the case that distorted and outright false versions of things he said were making him seem (even) worse than he is.

"It is that the basest of human fervors are liberated. What is in a person that was previously suppressed by laws comes into the open."

I've seen reviews of a couple of books describing what went on in Germany and other parts of Europe in the 5 years or so immediately after WWII, and apparently there were a lot of horrors that Americans in general didn't know about. I sort of didn't want to look any closer. And of course during any war that happens--the monsters are loosed. Not just among the people doing the fighting.

There is a really good article in the current First Things that reflects on the mob action against neighbors who are "undesirable" because they aren't the same "class." It is called "Class Acts" and is by
Casey Chalk.

My wife, perhaps because she is the “right kind” of neighbor, was included in a group-text chat regarding the offending family. The primary complainant noted that “the board” had been trying for months to “figure out a solution.” (It wasn’t stated whether the solution was to the smoking or the smokers.) Finally, after consulting a lawyer, the board determined that the smokers could be accused of violating a community bylaw that forbids “interfer[ing] with the rights, comforts, and conveniences of other unit owners.” The violation would be second-hand smoke.

There was more to the group chat. One participant shared several surreptitiously taken photographs of the wife smoking out of her third-floor window, wearing a halter top that brought to mind P. G. Wodehouse’s comment about a woman who looked as if she had been poured into her dress and forgot to say when. “It makes me sick,” the furtive photographer noted. “Ugh, terrible,” someone responded. One participant complained that her “view” every morning was of the husband, in his pajamas, smoking outside his house. Another noted, “The wife flicks the ashes into a coke bottle . . . class act.” Another lamented, “I can’t imagine what those kids are dealing with. ­Parents of the year.”

Perhaps social media has increased our aversion to face-to-face confrontation. That might seem counterintuitive, given that online platforms are often nothing but conflict. But it’s easier to curse and malign someone through the contrived community of digital technology. Social media not only facilitates the curation of pseudo-identities, but encourages us to view others as artificial. A few years ago, an acquaintance said some uncharitable things about me on social media without provocation. When I confronted her in person, she was surprised and defensive. It was as if she considered Facebook a screen for her bad behavior. In the anonymity of website comboxes, we find even more egregious examples of the trend toward unrestrained malice.

He ends by noting that the tendency for the upper-middle class to use social media to denigrate and punish the working class has contributed to the rise of populism and Trumpism.

I don't know if anyone who doesn't have a subscription can access it, but here is the link, for what its worth.

It is available to non-subscribers if they haven’t used all their three monthly freebies. However, there’s a mistake in your URL—the period should not be included. I can’t fix it right now bc I’m on my phone, but if you copy and paste the URL without the period it works.

And yes that kind of stuff has been a huge part of the Trump phenomenon.

I put a whole lot of responsibility on Rush Limbaugh for “liberating” those “basest of human fervors.” I remember listening to him early on after reading about how popular his radio show was and being shocked by the hatefulness and cynicism of what he was saying.

Oops. Sorry.

Actually, now that I think about it, the url was automatically generated by the blog software. They are the ones who included the period.

My first reaction to your comment, Marianne, is "you must have you led a sheltered life." Pretty much everything that we deplore about those base fervors was very much in evidence on the left in the '60s. I mean, part of what we're seeing now is the triumph of the '60s left mentality that exalted the instinctive and primitive. That's when the f-word was liberated and put to work in political slogans. Leftists have been crudely vilifying their opponents for almost as long as I can remember. Nixon was Hitler before Reagan was Hitler before Bush was Hitler before Trump was Hitler. Base fervors, to say the least.

I tried re-reading Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" a few years ago, as a sort of research for the memoir I was writing, and didn't get very far. He thought the situation of desperate heartbroken parents searching for their runaway children on the streets of New York in the late '60s was funny, and that they more or less deserved whatever they got for being middle-class pigs. I couldn't read any further.

Pre-web, in the '80s, the internet forum called Usenet was chock full of just the sort of vituperation (from both sides) which the web has further facilitated. That was before Limbaugh had a national audience.

My second reaction was to think of Woody Guthrie's song "Pretty Boy Floyd":

"Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen"

It's true Limbaugh was sort of a bomb-thrower. He was the guy with the six-gun. But a big part of his appeal was that he was willing to challenge the guys who "stole"--lied--with a fountain pen--the guys who suavely painted a substantially false picture of the world. I tired of him pretty quickly, but for a while it was refreshing to hear him speak without regard for the conventional falsehoods and cant: to openly make fun of people like Al Sharpton and the leadership of NOW, who were sacred cows for the rest of the media.

I've fixed that URL now. Yes, it probably was the blog software. If you put a period at the end, contiguous with the URL, it wouldn't know that the period was not part of it, as it's a legal character in a URL. If you put the URL on a line by itself it won't have that problem.

Related to the Casey Chalk piece, there's this one by Matthew Schmitz, about class and abortion:

As I've said about a jillion times, I think Trump was pretty much a train wreck. But I was a little surprised, sometimes a lot, by middle-of-the-road middle-class people whose main objection to him seemed to be fundamentally more or less class-based--that he was just so tacky. The instinctive disgust at his tackiness seemed to be the foundation of their other objections to him. Which doesn't mean their other objections were wrong.

Marianne, a further thought on Limbaugh: it is true that his success represented a breakthrough in its combination of abrasive pugnacity and wide success. Did you ever hear Joe Pyne? He was sort of the original of that type, and he died in 1970. But he was never anywhere near as popular and influential as Limbaugh.

So I can agree that Limbaugh was a new thing, and all in all not a healthy one. Where I disagree is in holding him *especially* responsible for the "base fervors," which as I said were already very much in the air.

To some extent this is a question of taste, too. When I listened to him I found most of his pugnacity to be within the bounds of decency, and he could be quite funny. I don't think his parodies of liberal figures were any meaner than some of Saturday Night Live's lampoons of conservative ones. He definitely crossed over at times, though. The one thing I remember in that respect was his making fun of Chelsea Clinton's looks. That was contemptible.

I think he, Trump, and Fox News all represent an unhappy but inevitable reaction to liberal/progressive cultural dominance. Many reasonable conservative views, such as the anti-abortion one, were for the most part frozen out of decent company as defined and policed by dominant media and other institutions. So those three tapped into the frustration felt by those whose views were ignored. Class was/is an important part of the policing, as Robert says, and the voices of those three were/are pitched at a cruder and...let's face it, lower-class level than those of the more sophisticated.

I was a part of one of those "Next Door" groups while living in Mobile. It was as you say, all about lost animals for the most part. I used to read them thinking, "what is it with these people who can't keep track of their dogs??" I recall one lady making a post about a black man seen walking into people's back yards - the poor lady was crucified online! I felt bad for her. But mostly it was friendly and non-confrontational.

I think the internet and mainly social media has turned out to be a pretty upsetting experiment. The only reason I'm on Facebook is to keep up with musicians - it is really great for that - and old friends back in South Florida and elsewhere that I may never see again. I pretty much never get into anything politically there, but then I do notice that this sort of thing is kind of gone from Facebook lately, or at least I don't see it.

Speaking of weird political things. A good friend of mine down in NM is off Facebook because he spent too much time arguing with people; he is very right-wing conspiracy theory-esque. I called him yesterday and he spent a while telling me about Bill Gates and George Soros and some theory that the vaccines are making them rich while doing nothing for anyone. I replied how I always do, by mildly mocking him but not wanting to fight about nonsense. He may not be on social media but he is certainly doing a deep dive into weird parts of the internet!

I stay on Fb for similar reasons. For instance, there's a guy who graduated from my high school and who maintains a page devoted to it in the 1950s and '60s. It's all old photos, reminiscences, and milestones: birthdays, anniversaries, obituaries. He has a strict policy against political and religious discussions. Very enjoyable and not at all connected with any controversy.

I also have noticed that the frequency of political-religious argument on Fb has gone *way* down. Good that your friend had the wisdom to get off, if he can't resist that stuff.

I must say I don't really get the anti-vaccine stuff, except for people who think all vaccines are bad. I mean, I think they're wrong but they're not fixated on this one vaccine for obscure reasons. Some percentage of it is knee-jerk. When Trump was still in office, there were some prominent Democrats who said they would never take a vaccine developed under Trump. Seems like Chuck Schumer was one. I think a lot of right-wing anti-vaccine people are basically doing the same thing: Democrats are telling me to do it, so I'm not going to, they must have some sinister reason for it.

By the way, I was a little skeptical of it, too, not for any political reason but concern that it was being rushed and might be harmful. I had it anyway and experienced zero ill effects.

I know people who are hesitant to get the vaccine because the FDA has not approved of any of the ones that are in current use I can understand that hesitancy, although I got the vaccine myself.

I also know people who won't get it because they have had bad reactions to other vaccines and don't want to go through that again. I'm also sympathetic with them.

I think that a lot of people who found Limbaugh to be a "hater" and such simply didn't get his schtick. If you listened to him long enough you eventually figured out that he was by-and-large a satirist, which is why he always said that you had to listen to him for at least six weeks before you could "get" what he was doing. I'd surmise that many liberals never gave him six hours, let alone six weeks. Granted, his satire was very one-sided, which is why it tended to get old, and he did occasionally cross the line, but it was seldom really vicious or hateful. As you said, no worse than mainstream comedy's satire against conservatives and religious people.

Jon Stewart?

I only saw Jon Stewart a few times, but my impression was that his major talent was smirking. Which is related to the class hostility we're talking about. Hold up a picture of some overweight badly dressed clod at WalMart and smirk, and you'll get a laugh from people of your class.

Regarding the vaccine thing: Those instances you mention, Robert, are understandable. There seems to be a stronger opposition that views it as something evil. I'm not sure why, and that's just an impression, I haven't talked to anyone who thinks that way. Well, except for one person who I think actually has a mental problem and seems to believe that the vaccine enables the government (or somebody) to control your mind.

"When Trump was still in office, there were some prominent Democrats who said they would never take a vaccine developed under Trump. Seems like Chuck Schumer was one."

This is funny considering that the vaccine WAS developed under Trump. I think one can make the case that had the vaccine been announced as successful a few days before the election rather than a few days after Trump may have very well been re-elected. And it wouldn't surprise me one bit to learn that Pfizer delayed the announcement on purpose for that reason.

I wondered at the time what they had in mind, because it was certainly no secret that the vaccine was being developed. Did they assume it would not be ready for a long time and that when Biden took office they could play some game involving pretending to start over? Well, that's probably not even worth thinking about--more likely it was just some garbage sound bite, just another way of saying "I hate Trump."

No, that wouldn't surprise me at all. Nor that the media would have downplayed it. I'm reasonably certain that Trump would have won if covid had not happened, and that the media/Democrats consciously worked to ramp up and exploit the fear.

Pfizer just can't win. Its CEO is also being used to fuel anti-vaccine madness:

"Antisemitism has been an ongoing theme since the pandemic began, with conspiracies alleging that Jews are behind the coronavirus and are using it as a tool to expand global influence and derive profit. As countries begin administering the vaccine, Jews are once again the target of antisemitic conspiracies, mostly aimed at dissuading people from being vaccinated.

Much of the antisemitic messaging around the vaccine highlights Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s Jewish heritage. This fact provides antisemites with 'evidence' that the widespread vaccine effort is part of a calculated, long-term Jewish plot to institute a 'Global Jew Government,' a new iteration of the age-old canard of international Jewish control."

Wow. I find it hard to believe that very many people go for that stuff. I hope I'm not wrong. My experience obviously doesn't count for much, but the only person I've encountered who's embraced anti-vaccine views for reasons that go beyond concerns about safety, which may be excessive but aren't crazy, is the one I mentioned above. And she really is unbalanced, at best.

Some interesting and maybe surprising data about the unvaccinated in this piece--scroll down to "America's Unvaccinated Big Cities"

All of the anti-vaxxers I know personally are left-libertarian, vaguely anarchist types except for my sister and bro-in-law. The latter are not really anti-vax, in that they're not preachy about it, they just don't trust it for health reasons.

The anti-Semitic twist is strange; I must admit that I have never once seen or heard that idea come up either in personal conversation, or in the various conservative outlets that I follow.

It's like with Soros. The vast majority of conservatives that I know were anti-Soros long before it ever became common knowledge that he was Jewish. But the supposed anti-Semitism of the Soros critique was blown all out of proportion by the liberal-left in order to discredit it. It wouldn't surprise me that a similar thing would be going on with the vaccine.

That kind of thing is a bit of machinery that automatically engages when anyone on the right criticizes a person on the left who's a member of an officially protected class. It's shabby, to put it mildly, and frustrating, but I guess within many circles it works.

What I've encountered more than once about Soros is not that he's part of a Jewish conspiracy but that he's a Jew who somehow collaborated with the Nazis. I'm pretty sure that's been debunked.

By "anti-vaxxers" in your first sentence, do you mean those who are opposed to all vaccinations or just the covid ones? I don't personally know any of the former.

My experience is the opposite of Rob's - all of the anti-vaxxers (Covid specifically, but some are all vaccinations) would classify themselves as conservatives and vote Republican. Most of these people are in my family, but others not. All of my liberal friends are vaccinated, think the anti-vaxxers are nuts, and would be happy for the government to create more restrictions for the un-vaccinated, believing that due to them this pandemic continues.

I should have said "that I know" in that first sentence.

Yes, I meant COVID, not vaccines in general. I don't know anyone who is against all vaccines either.

I don't really know or spend time with any Fox-type conservatives or Trump supporters, so that's most likely the difference between my and Stu's experience. I have a couple friends that are mildly pro-Trump but as far as I know they've been vaccinated.

I can't say anything useful in the way of a generalization, because there are only a couple of people I know who very definitely refuse the vaccine, and one of them is that person I've mentioned, who I think truly has some mental "issues."

I blame the government, especially the CDC, and the media for a lot of the paranoia. They've made it pretty obvious that political considerations have been very important in their handling of the whole thing. It may have been something of a turning point when some group of "health professionals" said that BLM protests were ok, but other gatherings were not. They've lost the trust of much of the public, and that's a good environment for crazy or borderline crazy stuff to flourish in.

The medical establishment also pretended to a greater certainty about many things than was actually justfied. Humility would have been more effective.

Not long after I posted the above comment I looked in on Facebook and saw that someone has posed on a local group the question "If you haven't had the vaccine, why not?" Quite a few replies, and although none are explicitly political you can sort of read some political views between the lines. The good thing is that it's pretty civil. I haven't seen anything that struck me as loony fringe on either side. The anti-vax people mostly are just afraid that it isn't really safe and/or isn't really effective.

The one thing I hear over and over from people left and right who have some measure of doubt about the vaccine or COVID policy in general is that the large amount of conflicting information floating around makes it impossible to know who to trust. This is pretty much where I've been since last summer. When it comes to COVID I take nothing I hear from anyone without a grain of salt. When it comes to the government, the CDC, etc., I'm very much in "trust but verify" mode.

Yes, that's the heart of the problem. The media have in general made themselves totally untrustworthy, as have many of the politicians, so it's often not even easy to know what the government actually says. You have to get past that before you even get to the actual conflicting information.

Related, here's a piece about the role of Biden, Harris, and other Democrats in propagating vaccine skepticism before the election, and the current denial by "fact-checkers" that they did it:

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