A Moment Significant of Either Something Important or Nothing In Particular

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

There is this, from Jacob Hamburger for L.A. Review of Books

What exactly are the ideas that have made people like Weinstein, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Christina Hoff Sommers into what a recent New York Times profile described as intellectual “renegades”? According to the Times writer Bari Weiss, most emphasize the biological differences between men and women, a feeling that free speech is “under siege,” and a fear that “identity politics” is a threat to the United States’s social fabric.

A listener of Harris’s podcast might add to the list a vociferous defense of the validity of genetic explanations for IQ differences between racial groups, a follower of Peterson’s videos might insist on the nefarious influence of “postmodern neo-Marxism” on college campuses, and a fan of Ben Shapiro might contribute a skepticism toward the reality of “transgenderism.”

The movement sees itself as an alliance that defies established political categories in order to defend these ideas against the creeping influence of thought control. This leads us to another important meaning of the term intellectual dark web, the suggestion that its ideas are not only controversial, but particularly innovative in our political moment. If the dark web arouses the anger of certain commentators in the media or the academy, it is for the same reasons that new technologies in the internet age are “disruptive.”

It would take a short memory, however, not to notice that these sorts of polemics over political correctness are anything but novel: they have been around for at least 30 years, ever since a strikingly similar set of media debates centered around college campuses took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Toward the end of the Reagan years, political correctness became a favorite bugbear of conservative intellectuals, who believed that college professors had latched onto illiberal or totalitarian notions of equality, and were indoctrinating their students with a subversive view of American society. Today’s “dark web” provocateurs rarely mention these predecessors, who not too long ago occupied a similar place in national media debates. Detail of cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 July 2018.But the comparison suggests that the “iconoclastic” ideas of these figures are actually a well-established institution in American discourse: an institution whose home is on the political right.

—and what stands out is that we really ought not be surprised. To the one, the general point is nothing new; to the other, what is the significance of this particular discussion getting this press at this time?


Image note: Top — Detail of Lucifer, by Franz von Stuck, 1890.  Bottom — Detail of cartoon by Jen Sorensen, via The Nib, 17 July 2018.

Hamburger, Jacob. “The ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ Is Nothing New”. Los Angeles Review of Books. 18 July 2018.

A Note on Impetus

#SomethingTerrific | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A portion of the U.S. Capitol dome. (Detail of photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images, 2013)

There is always this:

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican freshman from Louisiana, said yesterday that he likes the idea of turning health care over to the states—the core rationale behind the pending Graham-Cassidy proposal—but he’s not entirely comfortable with the direction some blue states might take.

“If you give California and New York a big chunk of money, they’re gonna set up a single-payer system,” the GOP senator said. “And I wanna prevent that.”

It’s curious. Republicans only seem to like turning over authority to states and local governments when they’re confident states and local governments will govern in a conservative way.


Perhaps a bit more directly:

Perhaps the oddest thing about the last-ditch Republican plan to repeal Obamacare is that it is being sold not as a repeal of Obamacare—which is popular—but instead as a rebuke to a law that does not yet exist. “If you want a single-payer health-care system, this is your worst nightmare,” Lindsey Graham has boasted of his plan. “Hell no to Berniecare.” Graham’s weird promise that his plan “ends single-payer health care” has somehow taken hold, to the point where Republicans appear to believe it would foreclose even public debate on left-wing alternatives. The bill “stops us from having conversation in the future about Medicare for all,” claims Senator Tim Scott.



An Obvious Question (Illinois Ignominy)

D City Rock: Detail of frame from "Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt", 'Help! We Are Angels', by TeddyLoin featuring Debra Zeer.

This is … what, traditional family values?

According to a proposed bill filed last week by two Republican Illinois state lawmakers, if a father is not listed on a newborn’s birth certificate, the birth certificate will not be issued and any future financial assistance will be denied.

The proposed bill HB6064 by Representative John Cavaletto and Representative Keith Wheeler would amend the Illinois Vital Records Act to require that unwed mothers either name a father on the birth certificate or within 30 days go to court and have another family member sign the birth certificate and agree to accept financial responsibility for the child ....

.... If a single mother fails to name the father or identify another guardian, the child will not be issued a birth certificate and the family will be permanently banned from public assistance. The bill makes no exception for rape or incest victims. Under current law, an unmarried father is not named on the birth certificate unless he signs a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.


You know, something useful is supposed to go here, but in truth I am uncertain what that is. More specifically, I’m still stuck on the obvious question.

What the hell is wrong with these people?


Tesfaye, Sophia. “Illinois Republicans target single mothers and their babies: GOP bill would ban birth certificates, financial aid if father is not named”. Salon. 25 February 2016.

An Obvious Question (Mix A Mat)

Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.

There comes a point when we really must revisit Mark Joseph Stern’s point last week for Slate:

More and more, it’s beginning to look like the Liberty Counsel is taking Davis for a ride, using her doomed case to promote itself and its extremist principles. Davis has certainly humiliated and degraded the gay couples whom she turned away. But I wonder if, on some level, she isn’t a victim, too.

Think of it this way: Mat Staver has been on an eleven year losing streak. Think about that for a moment; his old claim to fame is a Pledge of Allegiance case, but in the question of Christians having the right to decide who else gets rights, he has been exactly the loser he sounds like for over a decade. Something about track record goes here.

We might also recall, more recently, Mr. Staver’s pledge to defend marriage, which was rooted in the same assertion of religious supremacism and comparisons to historical victims we hear now. Of late, though, he has ratcheted up the hatred:

With Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis jailed for refusing to follow the orders of U.S. District Judge David Bunning, her deputies issued a marriage license to James Yates and William Smith on Friday. The couple had previously been denied five times.Liberty Counsel

However, Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel which represents Davis, said he believes Friday’s licenses are invalid because they were not issued with her approval. Davis’ name does not appear on the licenses.

“They are not worth the paper they are printed on,” Staver said, standing in front of the Grayson, Kentucky, detention center where Davis is being held. He added she had no intention of resigning as clerk.


At this point, it seems a pretty straightforward question: Is Mr. Staver really so cruel and desperately determined to disrupt and denigrate other people’s marriages, or is he just that bad of a lawyer?

Sigh. Nothing says it can’t be both.

Think about it, though; not only does he assert that his client need not follow the law, now he claims she can prevent others from following the law.

This is what “family values” culture comes to?


Bittenbender, Steve. “Kentucky clerk’s office ends ban on same-sex marriage licenses”. Reuters. 4 September 2015.

Holland, Gina. “Court declines gay marriage case”. The Herald-Tribune. 29 November 2004.

Michelson, Noah. “Kim Davis’ Attorney Compares Her To Jews Living In Nazi Germany, Invokes Images Of Gas Chambers”. The Huffington Post. 5 September 2015.

Stern, Mark Joseph. “Is Kentucky’s Infamous Anti-Gay Clerk Getting Taken for a Ride by Her Lawyers?” Slate. 31 August 2015.

Pretty Much Required Reading

The context is actually, unfortunate, especially since it seems strange the discourse is only getting around to this part, this prominently, at this time, but, still―

… marriages haven’t always involved a man and a woman and certainly haven’t required religious beliefs to be considered valid. Claiming that marriage is a static institution that hasn’t continued to evolve in extreme ways over time or that the type of marriage defended by people like Brown is the only kind of marriage that has existed throughout history is just wrong.

Noah Michelson and Sara Boboltz of Huffington Post dive into Stephanie Coontz’s 2005 book, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. 'Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage' - Detail of cover art from book by Stephanie Coontz (Viking, 2005) This book really should have been required reading for everyone taking part in the marriage equality debate, though it is true some have greater need than others―Yes! I’m looking in your direction, “traditionalists”!

Still, though, it really is worth reading if you think you have a stake in the marriage discourse. And, yes, Michelson and Boboltz offer a convenient and enlightening glimpse into Dr. Coontz’s fine historical review.


Image note: Detail of cover art for Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz (New York: Viking, 2005).

Michelson, Noah and Sara Boboltz. “Here Is All You Need To Prove Bigots Wrong About ‘Traditional Marriage'”. The Huffington Post. 3 September 2015.

The Point: Supremacy ≠ Equality

Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis shows emotion as she is cheered by a gathering of supporters during a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, Saturday, 22 August 2015. Davis spoke at the rally organized by The Family Foundation of Kentucky. The crowd of a few thousand included churchgoers from around the state. Davis has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for denying marriage licenses to gay couples. She says her Christian faith prohibits her from signing licenses for same-sex couples. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Yesterday, Brian Beutler laid out a case for why Kim Davis should face jail for contempt of court; the article for The New Republic recalled:

What was rendered as a call for pluralism, though, was really a counterbid to keep the old formula: when disputes arise between same-sex couples and religious people like ourselves, the state should side with us.

Today, Ms. Davis, the Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, was ordered to jail by U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning; Steve Benen reminds, for msnbc:

Just so news consumers are clear, if you hear that Davis was jailed for her opposition to marriage equality, this is incorrect. She was taken into custody because she deliberately, brazenly ignored a court order. Davis was bound, not only to perform her official duties, but also to follow the law. She refused and is now in contempt of court.

This is important. But what neither Beutler nor Benen ever quite cut to―indeed, the larger discourse seems to avoid―is the basic functional reality. And perhaps there is a reason for this, but it comes down to something like we shouldn’t have to spell it out so simply, which is clearly insufficient since this really is the moment, and really is the argument.

Equality is equality. Functionally speaking, what Ms. Davis demands is that her “equality” requires her “superiority” and others’ “inferiority”. In theology, one of the practical limitations of God is inherent contradiction; even the Almighty cannot, by the classic example, fashion a square circle.

By definition, supremacy is not equality.

The functional reality that these Christian conservatives need to deal with is that equality is equality. This has been going on for a long time. As we have considered of Ms. Davis, the underlying device is the same as the library book argument. It’s also the same one we heard about pop music in the 1980s; the one that brought us the little black and white warning labels on heavy metal and rap albums. It is a traditional plea of the privileged, that another’s rights stop at the convenience or inconvenience of the privileged; one’s rights are violated as long as another’s are intact.

This is the functional reality: All Ms. Davis is asking is that her equality allow her supremacy.

So whatever one might say in rejoinder to Mr. Benen’s reminder, Mr. Beutler’s recollection of recent history is accurate:

Back before the Supreme Court found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, when it became clear that same-sex marriage would one day be the law of the land in most, if not all states, conservative culture warriors abruptly changed tacks. After organizing for years around the notion that states and the federal government should refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, they decided the time had come for everyone to be accommodating to one another—as if liberals were suddenly making unfair demands.

But liberals were doing no such thing. For generations, when disputes rooted in discrimination against gays and lesbians arose between parties, governments would generally side with discriminators. Liberals were simply demanding that moving forward, the presumption should be turned on its head—beginning with the states themselves, a great many of which refused to recognize same-sex marriages.

Conservatives responded by issuing pleas for mercy, and embraced the concept of pluralism, to wield as a cudgel against gay rights activists. Same-sex marriage might prevail legally and politically, but opponents should not thenceforth be treated like bigots or pariahs or scofflaws.

What was rendered as a call for pluralism, though, was really a counterbid to keep the old formula: when disputes arise between same-sex couples and religious people like ourselves, the state should side with us.

Thus it is worth reminding explicitly: What he is describing is the old formula of supremacism: In order to be equal, Ms. Davis and other Christians should be able to demand and enforce inequality unto others.

Whatever anyone else tells you about freedom and conscience, simply remember that functionally speaking, supremacy and equality simply are not the same, and cannot be reconciled as such. Kim Davis is about to become a martyr and legend; let us always remember why.


Image note: Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis shows emotion as she is cheered by a gathering of supporters during a rally on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, Saturday, 22 August 2015. Davis spoke at the rally organized by The Family Foundation of Kentucky. The crowd of a few thousand included churchgoers from around the state. Davis has been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for denying marriage licenses to gay couples. She says her Christian faith prohibits her from signing licenses for same-sex couples. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Benen, Steve. “Kentucky’s Kim Davis jailed, held in contempt”. msnbc. 3 September 2015.

Beutler, Brian. “Throw Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis in Jail”. The New Republic. 2 September 2015.

A Meandering Consideration of Absolutism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, 3 March 2015.  (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Maybe it’s an unfortunate hallmark of contemporary conservative thought?”

Steve Benen

Over at Slate, Fred Kaplan offers an interesting consideration:

It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

SlateIf current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists—mainly AIPAC—are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu—and for Israel—had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been.

There is, of course, much more to Kaplan’s consideration, including the implications of current Congressional momentum and the widening gap between the credibility of favoring and opposing arguments. Toward the latter, he notes, “Most criticisms of the deal actually have nothing to do with the deal”, and that’s about as least unfavorable as his critique of the criticism gets.


The Price: Shira Banki Is Dead

Shira Banki, 16, wounded in the 31 July 2015 terror attack against Jerusalem Gay Pride, succumbed to her injuries and died 2 August 2015.

“Bad things happen to good people, and a very bad thing happened to our amazing girl.”

Banki family

Shira Banki, 16, has died from wounds sustained in a terror attack against the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem on 30 July.

Three days after being critically wounded by an ultra-Orthodox man that went on a stabbing rampage at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade, Shira Banki, a 16-year-old Israeli teen succumbed to her wounds Sunday afternoon. Five other people were wounded in the attack.

Police confirmed that the suspected stabber is Yishai Schlissel, a Haredi man from Modiin Ilit who stabbed three participants in the 2005 Gay Pride march. He was recently released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence.

Banki was a high-school student from Jerusalem, studying at the Hebrew University High School. She took part in Thursday’s parade to show solidarity with her LGBT friends. She is survived by her parents and three siblings; her family decided to donate her organs.

In a statement issued Sunday, her family said: “Our magical Shira was murdered because she was a happy 16-year-old – full of life and love – who came to express her support for her friends’ rights to live as they choose. For no good reason and because of evil, stupidity and negligence, the life of our beautiful flower was cut short. Bad things happen to good people, and a very bad thing happened to our amazing girl. The family expresses hope for a less hatred and more tolerance.” The family requests the public respect their privacy as they grieve.


This is the price of conscience and tradition and privilege. There are those who would covet your body and soul alike, and this is what it is worth to them.


Image note: Shira Banki died 2 August 2015 from wounds sustained in a 30 July terror attack against the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.

Kubovich, Yaniv. “16 Year Old Stabbed in Jerusalem Pride Parade Succumbs to Wounds”. Haaretz. 2 August 2015.

A Brief Thought in the Wake of Inevitability

Detail of frame from FLCL episode 5, 'Brittle Bullet'.

This is our thought for the day:

A California judge has ruled against a proposed ballot initiative authorizing the execution of gay and lesbian people, calling the suggested measure “unconstitutional on its face.”


This is news. Really, that’s the thought for the day. No, the problem is not that it is reported as news. The problem is neither the judge’s decision nor Attorney General Harris’ request.

The outcome itself is pretty obvious; the three-page judgment is two pages paperwork and one page actual court ruling.

It really is unclear why attorney Matt McLaughlin filed the ballot petition; even in the context of simply making a statement all he has managed to do is embarrass himself and denigrate the “traditionalism” homosexuals already recognize as bigotry. One might reasonably wonder if Mr. McLaughlin is a closet provocateur aiming to discredit traditionalists. Even as such, there is nothing of use or even mere dignity about his tantrum. The problem, in the end, is that the news exists at all.


Reilly, Mollie. “California Judge Throws Out Ballot Initiative Calling For Execution Of Gay People”. The Huffington Post. 23 June 2015.

Cadei, Raymond M. “Default Judgment by Court in Favor of Plaintiff”. Superior Court of the State of California County of Sacramento. 22 June 2015.


Avery Jackson, 7, confidently explains the world in her own unique way. (YouTube, 6 May 2015)

Hello, Avery!

With her first “Avery Chat” video, Avery Jackson shared the story of her transition. In the video, she explains how she knew that she was a girl, the fear she had about telling her parents about her transgender identity, and then how she eventually shared her identity with her parents. In a four-minute video, Avery shares a personal story that echoes the pride she has in who she is. Viewers will be swept away by the bravery and wisdom that this little girl displays.

† † †

Despite the fact that Debi Jackson, Avery’s mother, had never heard of the term “transgender” before a Google search, she and her husband, Tom, have supported their daughter throughout her transition. They took Avery to a child psychologist when Avery announced her gender identity and then took the psychologist’s advice: Let her be a girl.

Their love and support has been unwavering toward their daughter and because of it they’ve lost friends and family members, but have made lasting friendships with people across six continents and have done so much for other trans children by just supporting and loving their own.


There is that part of us that looks across at Texas with a smirk of satisfaction: Oh, the generation that rises!

Those who disapprove have no idea who they’re dealing with.

But that is for another day, and maybe we can put it to rest for Avery and all her young brothers and sisters. You know, we can’t pin all our hopes on future generations.

But for now, yes: And we are so amazed.

Thank you, Avery! The world needs a bit of your sunshine right now.

And a note to Tom and Debi Jackson: Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Really, words fail. But thank you for standing by Avery, and thank you so much for sharing your experience with the rest of us.



Image note: Avery Jackson, 7, confidently explains the world in her own unique way. (YouTube, 6 May 2015).

Temblador, Alex. “Why We Love 7-Year-Old Transgender Activist, Avery Jackson, And Her Incredible Family”. The Huffington Post. 21 May 2015.