Current Affairs Feed

If this doesn't give you the creeps...

...it probably should. This of course is from the Department of Homeland Security.

KeepAnEyeOnYourNeighbors

I cringed when the Bush administration created DHS. Apart from its ominous name, it seemed an admission that the Department of Defense is not primarily about defense, and that the existing law enforcement and intelligence agencies weren't up to the job. Now that the Washington establishment, with help from some Trump followers, is trying to make the case that right-wing "extremists" pose a major threat to the nation, this kind of thing is more unsettling than ever. Even parents yelling at school boards, when the complainers are on the wrong political side, are now open to some very unwelcome attention from the FBI.

I'm sure there are some violent right-wingers out there, but the FBI and others managed to keep the Klan, the Weathermen, and other domestic outlaws in check back in the '60s and '70s. More, and more politicized, federal surveillance and policing are not comforting thoughts now. You could hardly ask for a better definition of mission creep, or a better example of the tendency of any government department to expand indefinitely, than the DHS Focus page, which lists climate change and COVID-19 as "part of the department's mission." Meanwhile, the southern border is porous, to say the least. 

I hope that guy doesn't live in my neighborhood. If I see him I'm going to report him. He makes me feel unsafe. 


Remembering 9/11--Or Not

I don't really have anything interesting to add to the reminiscences that are appearing everywhere. I wrote about the event fifteen years ago, in a Sunday Night Journal post called "Eventually, Like Napoleon: My 9/11 Column." On re-reading it, I see a sentiment that would get me labelled as a xenophobe now, and probably would have then if the people who like to use the word had happened to read the piece: I proposed as one possible response that we (the country) could begin being really, really careful about immigration from mostly or officially Muslim countries.

But on this anniversary I'm aware of one element of some of these reminiscences that I don't recall seeing before: prefatory remarks along the lines of "For those old enough to remember..." That was startling to me. Can it really have been long enough since September 2001 that there are people young enough not to remember it?

Well, yes, of course, it can and it is. Most people under twenty-five or so will have little or no memory, and since we persist, in spite of evidence to the contrary, in treating anyone over twenty-one as an adult, this comes to a fair number of adults. And what memory they do have will be those of a child who had no idea what was really going on. And many of those under thirty won't have a great deal more than that. 

This reminds me of a similarly startling realization that hit me some thirty years ago. At work one day several of us were standing around talking, the way people do in offices (unless someone prevents them), and the question came up, as it sometimes does among people old enough to remember it: where were you when you heard that JFK had been shot? A couple of people gave their answers (I was in 10th grade biology class). Then one young woman, having heard these, piped up: "I don't have any idea where I was because I was only two years old." And yet there she was, one of us, the grown-up people doing grown-up jobs. I think the rest of us were a bit stunned; I know I was. How could there be a functioning adult who did not remember the Kennedy assassination? (The first one, I mean. The second one never had the same effect.)

I just can't get used to this time thing. 


Henry James On Rich Progressives

I'm reading The Portrait of a Lady (for the first time, and have no idea what is going to become of the heroine, so please don't put spoilers in the comments) and very much enjoying it. This passage has a striking contemporary relevance. Isabel Archer, the lady of the title, has come from America to visit her uncle, Mr. Touchett, an American who has spent much of his life acquiring a fortune in England. Since Mr. Touchett is portrayed as a pretty wise old fellow, I don't think it's too much to suppose that James agrees with him here. He's speaking to Isabel about the professed radical political views of a local aristocrat, Lord Warburton, and others like him.

"You see, when you come to the point it wouldn’t suit them to be taken at their word.”

“Of whom are you speaking?”

“Well, I mean Lord Warburton and his friends—the radicals of the upper class. Of course I only know the way it strikes me. They talk about the changes, but I don’t think they quite realise. You and I, you know, we know what it is to have lived under democratic institutions: I always thought them very comfortable, but I was used to them from the first. And then I ain’t a lord; you’re a lady, my dear, but I ain’t a lord. Now over here I don’t think it quite comes home to them. It’s a matter of every day and every hour, and I don’t think many of them would find it as pleasant as what they’ve got. Of course if they want to try, it’s their own business; but I expect they won’t try very hard.”

“Don’t you think they’re sincere?” Isabel asked.

“Well, they want to feel earnest,” Mr. Touchett allowed; “but it seems as if they took it out in theories mostly. Their radical views are a kind of amusement; they’ve got to have some amusement, and they might have coarser tastes than that. You see they’re very luxurious, and these progressive ideas are about their biggest luxury. They make them feel moral and yet don’t damage their position. They think a great deal of their position; don’t let one of them ever persuade you he doesn’t, for if you were to proceed on that basis you’d be pulled up very short.”


Now Is the Acceptable Time

I've forgotten how I wound up reading something at onepeterfive.com earlier today. It's not a site I normally visit. What I've seen and heard of it indicates that it focuses very much on the crisis of the Church, and I decided a few years ago that I just wasn't going to pay much attention to that anymore. I can say that it was a rational decision based on the fact that there's nothing I can do about this or that bad thing coming out of the Vatican or the USCCB. But the strongest reason was more elemental: I was sick of it.

Nevertheless, I'm glad I read this piece by Hilary White, which discusses our response not so much to the crisis of the Church as to that of the world. You don't have to go quite as far as she does in believing that the pandemic is being manipulated. I mean, you don't have to agree that the manipulation is as extensive and focused as it is, but I don't think there's any question that the situation has been successfully manipulated for purposes which were not in the general interest. I am not suggesting that the disease is not real and really dangerous, only that it has been exploited. 

No, you don't have to go very far at all in doom-and-gloom and paranoia to see that there is something really bad going on in the world, and that Christians in particular may in the not-too-distant future have a really bad time of it. At the very least, we're going to be marginalized and despised by the people who hold most of the power and influence, and by those who support them.

I've never been one to engage in end-of-the-world speculation. Every period in history has been more or less disastrous. And I don't like the kind of paranoia that sees the active hand of Satan in every bad idea or trend. I don't look for signs of the end, or of the Antichrist. Nevertheless, whether or not the prophesied individual by that name is among us or soon to be among us, there is such a thing, a vaguer thing, as the spirit of Antichrist. And it's here, right now. It is the spirit that teaches that there is no God, that any "salvation" available to us is of this world only, and that we can achieve it by our own efforts. I think it's fair to say that that spirit is more widespread and powerful than it ever has been, for the very straightforward reason that over the past century and a half or so we have in fact done astonishing things to improve the material lot of mankind, things never before seen in human history. To many, the attainment of some sort of earthly paradise seems possible, maybe even imminent: if only those who refuse to join in the effort would cooperate.

What to do? Well, these words from Hilary White's piece seem to be where we should start. They're especially appropriate for Lent.

The last year – with much of our time spent restricted in space and greatly reduced in powers – has taught us, perhaps, to look to the interior for the things we really can affect to the good [emphasis in the original]. We still have the power to create a change in ourselves. I want the world to be different, but I’m lazy and selfish and I want other people to make it better so I can have an easier time. I don’t want to change myself to want material security less. I don’t want to increase my courage or my trust in God. That’s all difficult work that requires efforts that won’t produce immediate material results – or any material results at all. But these are the concerns of children, and of people who are determined to stay children forever.

What if, letting go of that hope that someone else will fix things to make it so I don’t have to change myself, I did the much, much harder thing and made the effort to change myself?

 


How Biden Plans to Unify the Country

Many years ago I was sitting in a restaurant with a four-year-old boy. Like many or most four-year-old boys, he was intensely interested in vehicles of all sorts, especially the larger and louder ones. So when I heard a siren and saw something with flashing red lights go by, I said, "Look, there goes an ambulance."

He was already looking, naturally, and said "That's not an ambulance, it's a rescue truck."

In retrospect, I realized that it was stupid of me to argue with a four-year-old, but I was young and naive, and I persisted.

"No, it's an ambulance."

"No, it's a rescue truck."

"Are you sure? It looked like an ambulance to me."

He gave me a dark look and said "You have to compromise."

Surprised that he was using such a big and abstract word, I said "What does that mean?"

He gave me an even darker look.

"That means it was a rescue truck."


Politics and Pretty Boy Floyd

As through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men
Some will rob you with a six-gun
And some with a fountain pen

I've found myself thinking of that verse from Woody Guthrie's song "Pretty Boy Floyd" off and on for the past few days, since the Trump-inspired debacle of the 6th. (How sickening that it occurred on Epiphany.) Obviously there's a great deal to say about that, and many are having their say, but I don't have much interest in doing so, except to note that my gloomy view of where the country is headed is now significantly gloomier.

I've done a certain amount of retrospection about How We Got Here, and I keep coming back to that verse. Which is worse, the outlaw or the banker? Pretty Boy Floyd was an outlaw: a Robin Hood sort, according to the song; not exactly, according to Wikipedia. And Trump is a sort of outlaw (setting aside the question of whether he has actually broken any laws). He doesn't care much about the principles of the Constitution and pretty clearly would, to say the very least, be willing to disregard them in some situations.

The Democrats, on the other hand, don't really care much about those principles, either, but are extremely good at working within the structures of the system to do things that undermine or contradict the principles. Which is worse? At the moment Trump is spectacularly worse, but looking at the larger picture and the longer term, he may not be. 

In any case, as Michael Brendan Dougherty says today in National Review, "Anything that was good in Trump or Trumpism will be overshadowed by this disgrace." And if there is any national renewal, any regaining of some degree of unity, in our future I sure don't see it.

Anyway, here's the song. 




From The Hedgehog Review

Several years ago someone recommended Hedgehog here. I had seen ads for it and bits of essays and thought it was worth a try, so I subscribed. It's a little expensive, and I probably wouldn't have ventured if I hadn't gotten some kind of promotional discount offer.
 
I was somewhat disappointed, not because the work wasn't good but because most of it just wasn't that relevant or interesting to me. Issues accumulated without my doing more than glancing at them. One, for instance, was devoted to our relationship to animals, another to our relationship to food ("our" being, I think, Americans). The Summer 2020 edition is called "Monsters" and seems to be concerned with the presence of same in popular culture, although I'm not sure because I haven't read it. These things are certainly worth studying, and the writing and research seem to be of very high quality, as is the physical production. But I myself am not interested enough in them to spend much time reading about them.
 
I wouldn't have renewed for a second year, but they offered it to me at a steep discount, so I gave it another year, with more or less the same result. I had decided definitely not to renew for a third year, until the most recent issue arrived. It's called "America On the Brink," and it concerns, as you would suppose, our political and cultural situation. I've only read the first essay, "Dissent and Solidarity," by James Davison Hunter. It alone has me thinking of renewing my subscription after all. He includes this quotation from Martin Luther King:
The question, What is man? is one of the most important questions confronting any generation. The whole political, social, and economic structure of society is largely determined by its answer to this pressing question. Indeed, the conflict which we witness in the world today between totalitarianism and democracy is at bottom a conflict over the question, What is man?
That question, I submit, is at the root of the division. I don't think I'll try, in a blog post, to summarize the answers given by the two factions, especially as they are not as a rule clearly articulated, except in the case of orthodox Christians. Neither does Hunter, but he makes this observation:
Fault lines already well established between elites and the general public and between the left and the right became open cleavages through the 1970s and 1980s. Those cleavages deepened even more after 1989. With the end of the Cold War, there was no longer a common enemy against which to define shared national identity. With no external enemy, collective identities were formed against the enemy within America itself.
The emphasis is mine. This is the state of things: the factions regard each other not as fellow citizens with whom they disagree, but as enemies. For the most part they offer different answers for King's question. And that is another way of saying that the conflict is a religious one. You can read the whole essay here. It's faintly hopeful. 

Trump: Yes, No, Maybe

Three writers at National Review give their opinions on voting for him, or not. I hope these links work. They may be subscriber-only.

Yes: Andrew McCarthy

No: Ramesh Ponnuru

Maybe: Charles Cooke

Of the three, I'm most nearly in agreement with Cooke. However, unless something dramatic happens between now and November 3--and I can't imagine what that could be--I'm going to "vote for Trump." That is, I'm going to vote against Biden/Harris. 

It's a Scylla and Charybdis choice. As I may have said here in a comment a while back, I had been thinking of that analogy, but in a mistaken way. I was thinking that Ulysses somehow steered between them, and that our position is worse because we have to choose one or the other. But I was misremembering. Ulysses chose to steer closer to Scylla (monster), who would inevitably eat some of his sailors, rather than to Charybdis (whirlpool), which would result in the loss of the entire ship. 

So the analogy is actually precise. I think the damage that will almost inevitably be done by Trump is less than that which the Democrats actively intend.

It's not that I think Trump is a better man than Biden (I think they're both pretty sorry, actually). My great-grandfather was active in Pennsylvania politics as a Democrat, and his daughter, my great-aunt Ann, once told me that he advised her to forget the conventional counsel that one should vote for the man and not the party. On the contrary, he said, voting for (or against) the party is more important, because individual politicians come and go but the party persists and, at least in theory, shares your political principles, at least the most important ones. Here again it's a question of voting against: I don't want the Republican Party's principles, such as they are (whatever they are), to prevail, but I believe the Democrats as a party no longer believe in our form of government, but want to "fundamentally transform" it. I don't. That's a bigger problem and a deeper disagreement than anything involving specific policies. 

As Cooke says:

If the Democrats were sensible, I would likely sit this one out. But the Democrats are not sensible. The Democrats are threatening to blow up the American constitutional order in ways that would make President Trump’s execrable excesses seem quaint. 


This Is Why I Keep Warning People

And part of the reason why the press is doing so much harm by making Trump seem even worse than he is, which is bad enough. (Not that anybody much is listening to me. This blog has an audience numbered in the dozens at best.) But I'll say it again: sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Anyone who doesn't believe that serious left-vs-right violence can't happen here understands neither human nature nor this country nor the real-world effects of spiritual evils such as hatred. And anyone who thinks the evil is all or even mostly on the other side is willfully blind.

Americans Increasingly Believe Violence is Justified If the Other Side Wins.


Remarkable Insight On My Part

A quick post from Fairhope Brewing, where they are actually encouraging people to come in and use their Wi-Fi, even opening in the mornings just for that purpose. Thank you, FBC.

I have a new computer, and have taken the occasion to go through a lot of old files and discard, organize, etc. In the process I ran across a draft of this post from ten years ago, "Firemen and the Gnostic Economy." The last few paragraphs seem, if I may say so, somewhat prescient about the conditions which could produce a phenomenon like Donald Trump.

There is a practical disdain in the upper reaches of our society for anybody so slow-witted and naïve as to make a living with the actual work of his hands, a disdain that is independent of political categories. (If anything the active disdain is stronger in the “liberal” camp, which may give more lip service to the lower-class laborer but doesn’t actually think very highly of him—but that’s a topic for another day.)