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Peter Hitchens On the Automobile

At The Lamp's blog, Hitchens has a great little essay on the wrong turning civilization took when almost everyone got a car. It starts as a personal matter with him. He just doesn't like cars, period:

Life would be a lot easier if I did not hate motor cars. But I just do hate them. I have tried not to. I even learned to drive at the age of thirty-one, a terrible surrender made as I sought to fit in with what felt increasingly like a compulsory faith. But I never really submitted, and have since drifted away from it....

I would be dishonest if I pretended to have this fine and unequivocal disdain for the thing. Like most Americans, I got my driver's license as soon as I possibly could when I turned sixteen. I was never exactly what one could call a car person, but there was a period of a couple of years in my teens when I read hot rod magazines and assembled plastic model cars. When Tom Wolfe published The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby I knew what the title referred to. I knew who Ed "Big Daddy" Roth was. I coveted a Jaguar XKE.

image from cdn.dealeraccelerate.com

I spent weekend nights riding around in the nearby towns, although what I was driving was hardly cool: a low-end 1959 Chevrolet with a 6-cylinder engine and a rusting body. It was not improved by the small fire I started in the back seat when I flipped a cigarette out the driver's window and into the open window behind me.

image from www.fritte.net(The one I drove was not decorated like this one.)

A friend of mine sometimes had the use of a T-Bird. My one-time girlfriend had a white Mustang. Those were about as close to cool as I ever got.

By the time I was nineteen or twenty that interest had vanished completely. For some while a sort of detached admiration for certain cars persisted. I recall seeing a dark green Mercedes on Sundays at my parish decades ago, and thinking it was nice looking, but I had no desire to own one. I've never owned a vehicle that would merit any interest or even respect from a person seriously interested in cars.

Even the mild appreciation that continued faintly into middle age dissipated altogether. The arrival of the so-called "sport utility vehicle" really killed it. Once upon a time the term had a connection to reality, but that's gone. I have an active disdain for the really big ones, the Tahoe and such, and the luxury ones, like Mercedes and BMW "SUV"s. Some Americans seem to look back at the big cars of the '50s and '60s and congratulate our modern selves on having better taste than the people of those days. One can argue about the aesthetics but there is absolutely no room for most contemporary Americans to look down on those of the 1950s for their love of the big powerful cushy automobile.

I now drive a 2010 Honda Civic and plan to continue driving it until either I die or it does. But I admit that I still like to drive under certain conditions, still enjoy a long drive on a highway with not too much traffic. So to that extent I am not on the same page as Hitchens.

It isn't just his personal dislike, though. He also hates what the automobile has done to English cities, towns, and countryside. And there I'm very much with him:

And, if you do not love automobiles for what they are, I think you are bound in the end to hate them for what they do. Look at the way they spoil every prospect. A line of garishly colored cars parked in a beautiful city square wrecks the proportions of the place. Their curious shapes, inhuman and flashy, clash violently with almost every style of architecture except the most brutal concrete modernism. The incessant noise and smell of them, the horrible danger they represent to soft human bodies, the space they take up, are all outrages against peace, beauty, and kindness. Near where I live, there are several roads where drivers are officially encouraged to park on the sidewalk, because if they parked on the narrow road, it would be impassable. The logic of this is inexorable, once you have assumed the supremacy of the car. But if you are a car heretic, the thing is a blood-boiling outrage. 

I probably have (if it's possible) an even more intense resentment on that point because of the scale on which America has done this. I doubt that England has as many of the 100% auto-age urban areas that we do. We have vast cityscapes that did not exist before 1950 or so. Some of these have arisen around an existing city of significant size, some have only a little town at their centers, surrounded by a sprawl many times larger. And all of it is built on the assumption that everyone has a car and will get into it and drive somewhere for any activity that does not take place in his own home.

I grew up fifteen miles or so from Huntsville, Alabama. At the beginning of World War II Huntsville was a small town of roughly 13,000 people. Because a military weapons development center was located there, the population grew during the war and was up to 20,000 or so by its end. After that the military installation was mainly devoted to the coming thing in weaponry, guided missiles, and then a major piece of NASA was located there. Its currently listed population of something over 200,000 doesn't tell the story of the growth of the area, as Huntsville and/or its suburbs now extend literally to the driveway of the house I spent most of my childhood in. The two smaller towns within commuting distance have also grown and sprawled so that the three have almost grown together. The connecting highways are clogged. Most of the area between my former home and the middle of the city, the old town square which is only a relic, is literally unrecognizable to me now. When I go there I find it difficult to stop complaining. 

Here is the link to the Hitchens piece again. It's called "The Great God Zil," and I'll leave it to you to discover what Zil is or was. And I'll add that his denunciation of the huge pompous belligerent motorcades that now move our rulers around is not the least important and savagely enjoyable part of the article.


Man Bites Nuclear Dog

Finland's Greens Now Fully Behind Nuclear Power

I don't think I've ever written a post about climate change here. I don't post all that much about political and social issues anyway, but still, it's mildly surprising that in all the years (eighteen!) I've had this blog  I've never written a post specifically about it, considering how much attention it gets. I've mentioned it here and there, but as far as I can tell only in passing. Part of the reason, the major part I guess, is that I don't take it all that seriously.

As a threat, I mean. I'm willing to believe that it's happening, and to believe that industrialism, the automobile, and so forth are causing it, or at least contributing to it. I'm willing to believe it because many people who know a lot about the climate tell me so. And I'm willing to believe that the rising temperature will or at least may cause problems. I say "may" because there is such a blatantly tendentious (to put it mildly) effort to link any problem, especially but not necessarily if it includes weather or any aspect of the natural world, to climate change. Maybe some of those are valid, maybe not, but the political intention is so obvious that it invites skepticism--practically requires it.

But I'm unwilling to believe that climate change is going to make the planet uninhabitable, or result in the deaths of some large percentage of the human population with the survivors becoming hunter-gatherers, or have any of the other world-ending or otherwise massively catastrophic consequences that are predicted. 

I don't mean just that I reserve judgment, or am somewhat skeptical, but that I actively disbelieve it. One reason is that these predictions, like the attribution of existing phenomena, have an obvious political motivation. Another is that many of them seem implausible, predicting consequences that seem far in excess of the predicted rises in temperature. But the biggest reason is that the environmentalists and others who are loudest in their alarms do not appear to truly believe what they are saying. Maybe they're purposely exaggerating for effect, as political crusaders generally do, not apparently having absorbed the lesson of the boy who cried wolf. 

It's not only because so many of the crusaders are hypocritical--owning multiple enormous homes, jetting to climate conferences, and all that. Yes, it's hypocritical, but hypocrites we will always have with us. The biggest reason is that for the most part they don't allow a place for nuclear power in mitigating the problem. Compared to fossil fuels, especially from the point of view of climate change concerns, nuclear power has some major benefits. I won't bother reproducing the arguments on that score, as they are easily found all over the net. 

Obviously it has significant dangers, too. But to rule it out entirely, and put all your hope on the unlikely prospect that wind and solar power can replace fossil fuels anytime soon, only indicates that you don't really believe that the danger is as great as you are saying. If there's an 18-wheeler coming straight at you, and your only alternatives are to go into the ditch or have a head-on collision which will certainly kill you, you don't say "The ditch is not an option. Much too dangerous."

It's good to see at least one environmentalist group be realistic on this point. I get the impression that a not-insignificant number of young people are being driven into terrified despair by the wild alarmism of many. Poor Greta Thunberg is blaming the wrong people for stealing her childhood. 

 


What's In These Names?

Just humor, I guess:

Allen Doss, Darron Tuff, Jan Fugg, Russell Fiery, Angelo Legend, Amy Haggis, Andreas Weeder, Jasen Foul, Adolfo Slaughter, Daron Matins, Seneca Zen, Curtis Isogloss, Curt Hubble, Shea Roo, Charles Heavy, Jamie Bovver, Brant Verve, Dominick Thrawn, Jayson Nil, Hassan Sass, Jamil Point, Doyle Dyke, Bennie Fleer, Moshe Fraud, Kimberly Waker, Martin Beth, Rex Pochard, Jeffery Croon, Louis Kauri, Kenneth Disc, Bryce Fedora, Scott Grocer, Marcus de Brief, Maurice Jar, Guillermo Balk, Andy Pitt, Sammy Gearing, Leon Brandish, Norman Purple, Harold Dazzle, Esteban Woolly, Jeremie Cue, Erwin Antics, Brent Clean, Brandon Fretsaw, Cristopher Homely, Paulo Sketch, Marlin Haymaker, Derik Cayman, Mickey Mustang, Loren Sequin, Jorge Pure

I've been trying out a writing tool called Scrivener. It includes a good set of word processing tools, but goes beyond that with tools for managing a book-length project. You can have lots of separate pieces of text, from a paragraph to a chapter or whatever, and move them around easily, and these components are not separate files but are all right at your fingertips. This is a bigger deal than you might think if you've never tried to write a book and had trouble organizing it. 

And there's much more. I think it's going to be a big help to me, but right now I'm still trying to adjust to it and figure out what it can do. Poking around in the menus, I found, several levels down, something called Name Generator. I looked at it and it's exactly what the name says:

ScrivenerNameGenerator

Of course I had to try it out, although I'm not writing a novel. And the names above are what I got. I couldn't understand why it would propose such weirdness for someone writing a novel. Then I realized that though I had set the first-name type to "Popular US Names (Male)," there is no corresponding list of surnames, so I checked "Potential  Dictionary Surnames." (There is a "Popular British Surnames" choice, and, oddly to an American, also "Popular London Surnames." I'll guess that it includes more non-English names.) I'm pretty sure no more than a third or so of these have ever existed in real life, though there is one that's only one letter off from that of someone I know. I suppose you might use some of them if you were writing some kind of Douglas Adams type thing. "Maurice Jar" seems un-randomly close to "Maurice Jarre". 

So if you ever come across a fictional character called Mickey Mustang, you can figure the writer used Scrivener. 


Listening to a Book Vs. Reading It

There's an interesting article by Art Edwards in (at?) Quillette about the difference between reading a book and hearing it read: Listening to Literature—What We Gain and Lose with Audiobooks. It's rather long for online reading, but worthwhile if you're interested. The author wonders whether listening to a book really counts:

The one constant of my reading life is that I always want to read more. If audiobooks offered me nothing else, they offered me that.

Or did they? Was I reading these books? I didn’t know. A search online revealed a piece on the subject quoting Daniel Willingham, a psychologist from the University of Virginia and author of 2017’s The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads: “What you find is very high correlations of reading comprehension and listening comprehension.” In other words, one’s ability to listen well to an audiobook corresponds directly to one’s ability to read well—the issue is largely a matter of personal preference.

And preference is strongly affected by, so to speak, competence. The writer does most of his listening while driving, some of it involving long and fairly demanding non-fiction, and feels that he has understood these more or less as he would have done if he had read them. I could not do that. Not only would I not absorb the book, I would find the whole process unpleasant. I've often suspected myself of having a mild case of attention deficit disorder, though I think that would be an overly dramatic way of saying simply that my powers of concentration are low. (I think I'll just put the question of basic intelligence aside.) When I read something very complex, I have to make a more or less continual effort to keep my mind on it, even if I'm sitting on the couch at home with nothing and no one to distract me, and frequently have to re-read a sentence or a paragraph. It's a problem even with less demanding fiction, such as murder mysteries. 

And while driving? No, impossible, not to be considered. Of course I would not read some of the stuff this guy reads anyway. Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty? On the face of it, unreadable in any case, even if it were not 800 pages long. But twenty-five hours on twenty CDs, while driving? I would only do it for a substantial hourly wage and on the condition that no one would ever ask me to demonstrate that I had understood it. 

I can't help wondering if this fellow is a hazard on the highway when listening to such things. I find that any driving conditions much more demanding than continuing straight on a rural interstate with light traffic disrupt my listening. It's strictly fiction for me when driving, and it can't be very densely written. Even under the best conditions, it happens fairly often that I realize I've missed something--or, possibly even stronger evidence of distraction, am not sure whether I missed something or not--and have to back up for half a minute or so. But then, as I say, I'm easily distracted. 

Just a couple of weeks ago I was making one of my fairly frequent drives to north Alabama and back, a 350-mile trip that takes at least five and a half hours (each way). I had borrowed two audio books from the local library, The Saint Zita Society by Ruth Rendell and Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman. The latter was meant as a sort of fallback, something I knew I would enjoy, in case the former was unsatisfactory in some way. And that turned out to be the case. I started the Rendell book. It opens with a gathering of people and immediately introduces a half-dozen or so characters. I was already somewhat distracted by having had several errands to run before I hit the road, and made the mistake of starting the book before I was out on I-65. I immediately had trouble getting the characters straight, and switched to the Hillerman (not his best, by the way, but I enjoyed it, as always).

But apart from my own limitations as to what can be enjoyably listened to I certainly agree with the author that listening to a well-performed book can actually be a richer experience than reading it. I mentioned one such last fall, Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair (see this post). There have been a number of others: Lewis's "space trilogy," Brideshead Revisited, several of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, various English mysteries. You'll note the common thread of Englishness in all these. I'm not sure whether it's the gifts of the actors doing the reading, their ability to voice characters differently and effectively, or just the fact that they aren't reading in the colorless voice which is what I get when I read them in print. Mostly the former, I think. I can't offhand think of any American books read by Americans that gave me quite the same  striking coming-alive sense as the English ones.

On the other hand, as the Quillette writer also notes, a reader you don't like can spoil or at least get in the way of your enjoyment of a book. There was an element of that in my reaction to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. And on another recent trip I listened to a thriller by Lee Child (Night School), and although I found the book entertaining enough for the most part, the reader had some mannerisms that I found annoying enough to discourage me from choosing anything else by that author read by that reader. Though now that I think of it, it was also this book that caused me to write a brief blog post complaining about cringey sex scenes in novels.


Le Spleen de Samsung?*

My DVD player is having problems so I started looking for a new one. Of course all sorts of stuff has changed since I bought this one--everything is Internet-enabled, etc. So, trying to figure out what I actually need and/or want, I was reading the users' questions and answers for one I'm interested in, and saw this:

Question:  Does it have app for MLB tv
Answer:     i’m not good with tech stuff - i don’t know what MLB means and i hate apps
By Brandy [name redacted] on March 5, 2019

I would almost sort of like to meet Brandy.

* (Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris: "The title of the work refers not to the abdominal organ (the spleen) but rather to the second, more literary meaning of the word, "melancholy with no apparent cause, characterised by a disgust with everything".)


More AI Nonsense

On stilts. At Vox: "Robot priests can bless you, advise you, and even perform your funeral".

I'm slightly surprised that the author is a former religion editor of The Atlantic. Sadly, I'm not at all surprised that a Catholic theologian--a Franciscan sister, no less--is on hand to add some extra touches of fatuousness. 

"So would I want a robot priest? Maybe!” she said. “A robot can be gender-neutral. It might be able to transcend some of those divides and be able to enhance community in a way that’s more liberating.”


Skynet Is Never Going To Become Self-Aware

For the benefit of those who have managed not to have seen the Terminator movies, or even to have picked up the pop culture lore that originated with them: Skynet is the computer system that initiated nuclear war on its own volition, and began to rule the world in its own interests--which were not those of its inventors. Never mind the rest of the plot, as you probably either know it or don't care. 

Today is the day (or rather the 22nd anniversary of the day) on which, in the movie, the catastrophe occurs:

The system goes online August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. (from IMDB)

Hardly a week goes by that I don't see some mention, either a "science" article in the news, or discussion of a movie or a TV show, which deals with some variation of the idea that artificial intelligence will at some point develop human consciousness, "self-awareness," an independent will, emotions, and interests, and so forth: in short, become a person. Sometimes this is presented as a bad thing, sometimes a good thing. 

If this worries you, or if you are eagerly anticipating it, I'm here to tell you: forget it. Don't worry about it. It is never going to happen. If you like stories that play with the idea, fine, have fun, though they're not usually to my taste. But don't concern yourself with the possibility that it might actually happen. 

How can I be so sure? Well, of course I can't say it with 100% certainty. But I'll commit to 99.999%. The reason is that I know how computers work. I am not a computer scientist, just a journeyman programmer, but I do know how the things work at the most fundamental level. And I also can see, as anyone who bothers to think about it can, that the idea that they can develop consciousness is based on a naturalistic assumption about the nature of consciousness--that it is, in us, an epiphenomenon of the brain, and therefore a probably inevitable development in computing machinery that mimics certain functions of the brain. This is a pure act of materialist faith. There is no evidence for it. No one can actually describe in detail how it can happen; it's simply postulated.

We speak of computers "knowing" things, and in a sense they do. But in the same sense it can be said that a light bulb "knows" when it should glow. It "knows" because you flipped a switch that supplied electricity to it. If you set up an array of 256,000,000,000 lights (very roughly the number of on-off switches in a 32 gigabyte computer memory), and rigged up an elaborate mechanism in which symbols representing letters and numbers were encoded as sets of lights that are either on or off, and could be manipulated so that the information represented by the symbols was constantly shifting in accordance with your instructions, do you think the array would somehow have the capacity to "know" what the symbols mean? 

The fact--I feel justified in calling it a fact--is that there is no reason to believe that consciousness is a by-product of any physical process. For dogmatic materialists, it's a necessary belief: consciousness exists, therefore physical processes produced it. To the rest of us it only sounds plausible and reasonable because we're so used to looking at the world through materialist assumptions, or at least prejudices. 

If you want to worry about the risks of artificial intelligence, worry about the extent to which it is able to simulate human mental processes by means of a combination of calculation and symbol manipulation, and thus do things which once required human intelligence. In combination with very advanced robotics, these machines can do an awful lot of jobs that are now, or were once, done by people. That's been going on for some time now, and it has serious social implications. But the machines aren't going to start conspiring against us.

The speech recognition and synthesis involved in, for instance, Apple's Siri, and the fact that the computer that does it can fit in your pocket, do seem almost miraculous compared to the technology of forty years ago when I first got involved with computers. But we all know Siri is not in fact a person. That's part of the reason why it can be amusing to ask "her" silly questions, give "her" impossible commands, and so forth. I think if you dug around you could find predictions made thirty or forty or fifty years ago that computers with the speed and capacity of your phone could and probably would develop true conscious intelligence. But that's no closer than it ever was. Or ever will be.

 


Machine vs Bugs

I logged in to Facebook and there was a link to a YouTube video from a band I "liked" (and like), Laki Mera. So I thought I'd listen to the song. It was good. Then I noticed on the YouTube sidebar a video called "Bothering Bald-faced hornets with an Action Drone AD-1". Why did YouTube connect that to the music video? I have no idea. But it caught my attention.

That looks interesting. No it doesn't. Liar. It's 13 minutes long. So what? Okay, I admit I'm curious. Of course--who wouldn't want to see a drone bothering a hornets' nest? But I don't want to take that much time. Seeing a drone bothering a hornets' nest is worth 13 minutes of your time. Yeah, but it's getting kind of late, I should do something more useful. I repeat, seeing a drone.... Okay, okay. You just have to take out the recycling, you have plenty of time for that.  OKAY.

So the voice in italics won and I watched it. You can, too. It is exactly what the title says--well, a bit more than "bothering"--it's a drone attacking a hornet's nest. And it is kind of fascinating. But I will warn you that at several points the hornets are flying so thick that it's creepy, and I'm a little concerned that it could give me a nightmare, so I'm going to get away from the computer for a while before I go to bed.

I suggest watching/listening to the Laki Mera video to help clear that out.

 


Sunday Night Journal, April 22, 2018

It seems I'm not the only person who thinks the most noticeable thing about Twitter is the amount and level of venom it seems to produce, very often in combination with stupidity. I freely admit that this is unfair on my part, because I'm not on Twitter, and so all I hear about for the most part is the controversies that spill out onto the Internet at large--the "Twitter mobs," as they are aptly called, which form and attack someone who has attracted their hostility. But the other day I saw a graphic associating various "social media" platforms with one of the seven deadly sins, and whoever composed it assigned Wrath to Twitter.

I know it isn't all bad. Much of it is harmless, and some of it is probably good. My wife the archivist occasionally mentions Twitter posts from archivists, or from museums or libraries, which contain interesting bits of lore. The Archbishop of Mobile uses it to tell the world that, for instance, he will be in Thomasville doing confirmations this weekend. I've seen jokes from Twitter that were actually funny.

But none of that changes my basic animosity toward it, which pre-dates any of the pathological phenomena. I was ill-disposed to it from the moment I heard of it, because of its name and because what one does with it is to "tweet." I took this as an open declaration that it was designed to be a vehicle for noisy, frequent, and trivial remarks. "Venomous" did not immediately occur to me as a likely possibility, though it probably should have; it's not as though the Internet was an altogether benign place before Twitter.

I had an instant conviction that it was not for me and that it was to be ignored, and I noticed with mild horror as it grew over the years and became one of that very small group of Internet platforms that, taken together, almost seem to define the net itself: Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. My disdain has even extended to a reluctance to refer to it at all, and a great resistance to beginning a sentence with "So-and-so tweeted that...." How can you possibly take seriously anything that follows those words? It's like saying "So-and-so yapped...." "So-and-so grunted...." "So-and-so belched..."

Never of course did it cross my mind that a duly-elected president of these tenuously-united states would use Twitter as his favored means of addressing the nation and its problems (to say nothing of his own personal grudges) and that he would do it every day, so that no day would pass without a news story beginning "The president tweeted that...."

I found myself unwilling to use the word "tweet," whether noun or verb, in a sentence, without putting it in quotation marks. To do otherwise seemed to give it some kind of legitimacy that it didn't deserve, to suggest that I was somehow approving of it as a means of rational conversation. But this week I've had a slight change of heart. Very slight. I'm giving up the quotation marks.

This change was catalyzed by a case you probably heard of: a nutty professor who took the occasion of Barbara Bush's death to tweet (there, I've done it) that the former First Lady was, among other bad bad things, an "amazing racist," and that her death was an occasion for joy. A great furor immediately erupted, of course, including, apparently, a length exchange of hostilities between the professor, Randa Jarrar of Fresno State University, and people who criticized her. If you have somehow managed to remain ignorant of it, this Washington Post story has the basics. And it struck me: why should I feel any need to find a word more serious than "tweet" for this sort of jibber-jabber? Tweeting is appropriate and pleasant from a goldfinch. Coming from a human being it's ridiculous. If people are going to use this medium which makes them appear bird-brained, why should I try to dignify their twittering with a less silly-sounding word? 

Almost as striking to me as the professor's charge of racism was the way she used the word "amazing." This is a verbal tic which I associate with teen-aged girls, who seem to use it as a sort of all-purpose positive hyperbole, the way they used to use "awesome" (maybe they still do). Anyone the teenager likes is "an amazing person." To enjoy oneself is to have "an amazing time." She just ate"an amazing apple." And so on. I think this is the first time I've heard it used in a negative sense, though I suppose the word itself is just as applicable to something amazingly bad as amazingly good. 

Actually, looking more closely at what the professor said, I'm not sure that she meant "amazing" as negative. Her words were "Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist." What exactly does "amazing" mean there? Positive, but ironic? But then, who cares? It was a tweet.

I can't say I was much surprised to learn that what the professor professes is creative writing. Maybe she can write. Who knows, and, again, who cares? I don't plan to find out. I was actually a little surprised to find that her title is in fact "professor." The news media tend to use that word for anyone who teaches at the university level, though it is in fact a specific title, coveted and respected.

Naturally there have been calls, loud calls, for her firing. Some conservatives have spoken against that and I think they're right. In truth Jarrar seems like a rather pathetic person, who would be more pitiable than anything else if she didn't have such a mean streak.

*

Here is Kevin Williamson's summary of the role of Twitter in his firing from The Atlantic.  

Where my writing appears is not a very important or interesting question. What matters more is the issue of how the rage-fueled tribalism of social media, especially Twitter, has infected the op-ed pages and, to some extent, the rest of journalism. Twitter is about offering markers of affiliation or markers of disaffiliation. The Left shouts RACIST!, and the Right shouts FAKE NEWS! There isn’t much that can be done about this other than treating social media with the low regard it deserves.

You may be able to read his side of the whole story here at The Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Grumpy for the link.) I found that from my phone that link was blocked as being subscriber-only, but from my laptop it wasn't.

*

Speaking of people shouting "RACIST!": a month or two ago I stepped briefly into a discussion on Facebook in which Rod Dreher was being taken to task for having a "race problem." This seems to be what you say when you want to call someone a racist but don't have enough evidence to justify that word and are not, as someone like the professor above is, willing to use it anyway. Dreher had linked, in one of his many, many columns, to an article in which a former Peace Corps volunteer who had once spent a year in Ethiopia talked about how much she had disliked it. The context was Trump's alleged remark about not wanting immigrants from "s**thole" countries; Dreher was thinking aloud, as he often does, about whether some countries are in fact very messed-up places whose emigrants might not be desirable.

I didn't think Dreher's link was evidence of racism, especially considering that Dreher has written often and sympathetically about the situation of black people, and said so, remarking that the charge of racism is becoming meaningless. That was immediately taken to mean that I was denying the existence of racism. I of course intended for "meaningless" to apply to the making of the charge, not to the existence of the thing itself. It rankled me that I was being misunderstood, but there were at least a couple of people in the conversation who seemed very eager to make the charge, and it looked to me like any attempt to clear things up would only result in my acquiring a "race problem," if in fact I hadn't already, if only because I was defending Dreher. So I made a sort of quick intuitive cost-benefit, risk-reward assessment and dropped out of the discussion.

In our current polemical environment, to attempt to defend yourself from a charge of racism is one of the dumbest things you can do. It's like blood in the water for the attackers, and you cannot win. The more you protest your innocence, the guiltier you will look to them. Best to just walk away.

Why am I even relating this little incident? Because it did rankle, and it gives me some sort of satisfaction to say publicly and clearly what I meant. Why didn't I say it then and there? Because of the factors I've already mentioned, and because it was Facebook, and I don't personally know any of the people involved. I have no reason to think any of them reads this blog, but if they want to argue with me here, I can require a level of respect and decorum that I can't on someone else's Facebook post. In all the years I've been blogging I don't think I've deleted more than two comments, but I like having the tool available. 

*

And speaking of Dreher: I have often criticized his overly-agitated approach, and in fact have for long periods not read him at all. Lately I've gotten into the habit of reading him regularly. That's not altogether a good thing, because he does focus on all the bad things that are happening, and specifically on the deteriorating situation of Christianity in this country and in Europe. But though those are not the whole story, they are happening, and it's well to keep an eye on What Is Actually Happening

*

I don't know whether this is referring to some of the German bishops or what.

PulverizePests