Gateway Drugs to Country Music

Fair Warning: I don't think there is any actual country music in this post.



Congratulations to the dog, whose name is also Conan (Gaelic: "Little wolf"), on surviving to his first birthday.

Gigantic Melancholies

The other day AVI had a post on self-observation. AVI himself raised the issue that it can tie one in knots, and is 'no picnic.' Although he comes down in favor of self-observation and self-criticism, this comment by JM Smith stood out to me:
I'd add that self-examination has morbid and healthy forms.... Morbid self-examination is one form of what traditional psychology called melancholy. I'm innately melancholic and this has always been weakeneing.
Naturally this reminded me of the introduction Robert E. Howard wrote for his Conan:
Hither came Conan the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.

Conan too was weakened by his melancholies. As a literary figure, they provide us with the adagio moments that counterbalance the allegro and fortissimo aspects of the tales.  As a living being, however, they are not desirable moments to live out. 

It may also be that they aren't helpful. Joanne Jacobs, writing about educating the young, mentions that children are easily bogged down by being asked to reflect on negative feelings. This may account for some of the degredation of early education (along, of course, with the bad educational theories that have come to predominate). But she ends here, talking about adults:

By the way, at least for adults, dancing, jogging, yoga, lifting weights and aerobics are "as effective as cognitive behaviour therapy – one of the gold-standard treatments for depression," writes researcher  Michael Noetel on Conversation.

That, I think, is correct. Years ago, writing at BlackFive, I advised veterans with PTSD to take up horseback riding for its positive effects, one of which is making you stop thinking about the war and focus on the horse and the world around you. Getting out of your head and being in the moment is extremely healthy -- riding motorcycles also has this effect. 

Another of the helpful effects of horseback riding is learning to encounter and make peace with an entirely different kind of mind, which has the capacity to improve your ability to deal with people who are different from yourself as well. The self-mastery that is necessary to work with a horse often involves stopping thinking, stopping feeling, and focusing on the necessity of doing. Later, when you have time to think and feel again, you've done the things that needed doing in the moment. 

For those of us who are overly inclined to self-observation and criticism, these may be the most helpful things to learn. For those who are utterly not inclined to it, they may yet benefit from being taught to ask searching questions. If you are a man of gigantic melancholies, however, it may be helpful to lift more weights and ride more horses. 

Songs from my Father’s Atlanta

Dad moved to Atlanta in the early 1970s to work for Southern Bell after he got out of the Army. These are the kind of songs he would have heard there at that time. 


Just to illustrate the longetivity of this casting scheme, I'd like to tell a funny story that was told to me nearly thirty years ago by a professor of political science. 

He was a young man (at the time), and appropriately liberal for an academic in the social sciences. Naturally, he was supportive of one of Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns. Therefore he went to hear Jackson speak at Emory University while Jackson was in Atlanta to campaign. It is important to the story to note that the professor was white.

Now in that election cycle, the form of "white rural rage" that was in vogue was called "the angry white man," who was of course typically rural and archetypically Southern. 

Unfortunately for our protagonist, the night Jackson spoke our professor had a plane he had to catch, so he could only attend part of the speech. He listened raptly until his watch informed him that it was time to go if he was to get to the airport and catch his plane. 

Just as he checked his watch, though, by coincidence Jackson shifted into the part of the speech aimed at "the angry white man." Nervously our hero sat on the bench for a couple of minutes longer than he'd planned in the hope that the topic would change again, but it was clear that Jackson was settling in to deliver a long oratory on the subject.

And so, with intense embarrassment, our professor had to stand up and walk out of that speech -- a white Southern male, with all the hateful eyes of the congregation upon him.

Charged with being Guilty

I keep pointing out the Joe Bob Briggs lecture called "How the Rednecks Saved Hollywood," in which he explains that once you couldn't make cowboy-and-indian flicks because of guilty feelings and the Nazi war movies were getting old, Hollywood settled on rural white Americans as the designated villain for all of its stories. The reason I keep pointing this out is that the rest of the culture followed suit, and just keeps making the same movie over and over.
New book: White Rural Rage: the Threat to American Democracy.

Tom, we'll start with you: why are white rural voters a threat to American Democracy?

Tom: We lay out the four-fold threat...

1) They're the most racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-gay...
2) They're the most conspiracist group, Qanon support, election-denialism...
3) Anti-democratic sentiments; they don't believe in an independent press... white nationalist, Christian nationalist...
4) Most likely to excuse or justify violence as an acceptable alternative to peaceful...

In fairness the Native Americans had to endure decades of being the designated villians before anybody started making movies that attempted to treat them fairly or sympathetically (like 1948's Fort Apache or 1953's Hondo) and even longer before they began to enjoy being represented wholly positively (probably the 1960s with Little Big Man, but definitely it became the standard after 1990s Dances With Wolves -- ironically both named after the white character in the film). 

Likewise, just as Hollywood employs very few Southerners to play villanious Southerners -- the racist Texan sheriff in Smokey and the Bandit was played by Jackie Gleason of Brooklyn, New York -- a lot of the "Indians" in the old films were just white guys with painted faces. Hondo's Vittorio, the noble Apache leader, was played by an Australian of English descent. You not only can't expect fair representation, you can't expect representation.

All of these charges are tendentious formulations at best, but they're central casting's role for us. This is the only role we're going to be offered, and if we won't play it they'll find someone who will -- probably FBI agents dressed up like "white nationalists" with khakis and tiki torches, or "Christian nationalists" with bibles, or whatever name focus-groups well this cycle. 

UPDATE: Matt Taibbi finds that this trope is far older than I had realized.

Legislative versus Judicial

The Supreme Court's questioning on this 'bump stock' case suggests that they're getting bogged down on the question of whether there should be a law against bump stocks. That's not really the issue in the case, and it's not the Supreme Court's business to legislate. The issue in the case is whether the President or an executive agency can change the law by fiat without the bother of consulting the legislative branch.
Cargill’s attorneys emphasize that for nearly a decade, between 2008 and 2017, the federal government did not count later versions of the devices — without the internal spring — as machine guns. During that time, Americans bought 520,000 bump stocks.

President Donald Trump’s bump stock ban gave owners until March 2019 to destroy or turn over their devices. Gorsuch and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh expressed concern about the possibility that a half-million people could be prosecuted if they purchased the devices before the rules changed. But Fletcher sought to reassure them that ATF does not have the power to make something a crime that was not a crime before.

Well, indeed, and neither does the Court. 

The Court instead chose to question why someone would need a weapon that could fire 700-800 rounds a minute (the state originally misspoke and claimed they could fire '600 rounds a second'), which in fact they cannot do. 700-800 rounds per minute is the cyclical rate for the AR-15/M16 family of rifles, not a practical rate of fire that can actually be achieved or sustained. It's a theoretical calculation based on how fast the action can cycle; it doesn't take into account practical realities like the need to reload, or the fact that heat would melt your barrel. 

That's not the controversy at issue: the AR-15 is perfectly legal, and the M16/M4 is legal to own if you have the appropriate license. The question is whether the ATF or a president by bare executive order can change the status of a weapon from 'perfectly legal' to 'banned without a permit.' 

For the record, I think bump stocks are stupid. I would never put one on a weapon because they reduce accuracy even if they increase the rate of fire. Shot placement is what it's all about. I don't know if I'd even oppose a law designed to move bump stocks into the National Firearms Act.

However, I definitely oppose letting Federal agencies change the law without the bother of asking Congress. I'm not a big fan of Congress either, but it's their job to legislate if legislation has to be done.

Vice Falls Down

I used to enjoy Vice, back in the days when it was more like this:
For young people trying to break into TV, pitching to every other media outlet, from the BBC to Channel 4, felt like an endlessly demoralising grind. Patronising boomers would asphyxiate any remotely fun idea you dreamt up. Meanwhile, Vice was covering cannibal warlords in Liberia and sending reporters to see what it was like to do stand-up comedy on acid. It even had a dedicated drugs correspondent called Hamilton Morris!

... At its height, Vice was the most contrarian and unconventional publication out there. Much of this is owed to co-founder Gavin McInnes. He fell out with co-founder Shane Smith and left Vice in 2008, long before I was trying to become part of the cult. Still, it was undoubtedly Gavin’s irreverence that gave the magazine its unique flavour. When it launched its British edition in London in 2002, McInnes said: ‘We will have no taboos. Vice has never been about shocking people, we’re just shocking in nature.’

By the 2010s, that punk attitude forged by McInnes had attracted huge corporate interest. 
McInnes apparently went on to found the Proud Boys after he left Vice; the article thinks it was done as an ironic joke on his former employers' sudden twist to corporate-style wokeness. 

Was it the corporates' fault, though? Did they impose 'wokeness' on Vice, or did the audience come to demand it? Another article suggests the latter: it was the generational shift in what young people wanted that transformed Vice from a punk rock shop into a woke preacher, killed the fun and eventually the brand. 
The simple fact is that Vice, once an effective and witty member of the alternative media, ran up against an epochal change it was never destined to survive. The audience for alternative media still exists, but the progressive audience for alternative media does not. The dissident energy, for good or ill, has gone over to the right, where audiences, commentators and provocateurs from a wildly dissonant series of belief systems share a rather confused exile. Some dissident leftists forced out of their old niche simply go full tilt to the other extreme, some stand in proud isolation, most end up, uneasily, somewhere in the middle. But even the most principled progressive dissidents have woken up to a drastically changed audience, with very different interests and demands. Vice’s golden age of being offensive, effortlessly cool and still courted by legacy media is never coming back, and was never going to. 

The only punk rockers left are on the right.

Building the Motte

Apparently the new "white nationalism," which later became "white supremacy" (but not white supremacy the way the Klan understood it -- it just meant everything America normally does) is going to be "Christian Nationalism."  That's what we'll all be hearing about through the election, I suppose. 

Now these sorts of things are always motte and bailey attacks, so it's important to build a good motte. David French took this on in the pages of the NYT.
Anyone may disagree with Christian arguments around civil rights, immigration, abortion, religious liberty or any other point of political conflict. Christians disagree with one another on these topics all the time, but it is no more illegitimate or dangerous for a believer to bring her worldview into a public debate than it is for a secular person to bring his own secular moral reasoning into politics. In fact, I have learned from faiths other than my own, and our public square would be impoverished without access to the thoughts and ideas of Americans of faith.

The problem with Christian nationalism isn’t with Christian participation in politics but rather the belief that there should be Christian primacy in politics and law. It can manifest itself through ideology, identity and emotion. And if it were to take hold, it would both upend our Constitution and fracture our society.
So that nicely illustrates both the motte and the bailey. The highly defensible motte is that he's only talking about radicals who want to establish some sort of theocracy in the United States in place of the First Amendment. As far as I know, there is no group of significant size attempting to revoke the Constitution in favor of a theocratic form of government. Nor would there be: there's no large church I know of that is happy enough with its own leadership to want to import it to the Federal government.

The bailey is 'of course Christians are willing to bring their diverse, deeply-felt opinions to the public square' -- as long as they don't insist that Christianity's vision win in establishing anything like enforceable laws. Of course you can feel that way, as long as we agree that the law cannot reflect your vision. 

Thus, while we're defending the bailey, everything that Christianity has a fairly stable theological opinion about is off the table for US law. The First Amendment now means that nothing that happens to align with a Christian doctrine is allowed to be a law in the United States. If you disagree, you're a Christian Nationalist. 

Well, until someone experiences some success at pushing back on that, at which point they'll retreat to the motte. Of course we're only trying to preserve the Constitution against the theocracy that no one is actually trying to establish.

UPDATE: To whit
The fight for religious freedoms in the United States has become progressively more intense in the last three years, as the government has been chipping away at the Establishment Clause by catering to special interest groups that champion causes like child gender mutilation, sexual grooming of children, prohibition of public prayer, and more that are antithetical to many mainstream religious doctrines. The First Amendment is first for a reason, and Thomas Jefferson was clear on the topic. The wall between the Church and the State was not created to constrain religion, but rather to constrain the government. It protects us from the government creating laws demanding a single theology; but equally prevents the government from demanding the elimination of religious practices.
They got a rabbi to write this, which underlines that these standards are mere Christian without being merely Christian. Nevertheless, having laws on moral values that are basically in accordance with doctrine will be the bailey.

A Genuinely Festive Occasion

I don't know why Google Photos is bringing these photos forward now; I haven't seen them in years. This one is from a tribal compound near Mahmudiyah, and in spite of the body armor and barely-visible rifles it was a good time. They were a family led by three brothers, one of whom was US-educated, and we felt pretty welcome and secure there. Many of the "Sons of Iraq" were former insurgents, but their militia were tribal fighters who'd always loyal to the family.

Here we're dining on boiled sheep and Iraqi bread, rice and many other good things. 

On a couch in this house I once talked with a nephew or a cousin who had studied philosophy at the University of Paris. He barely spoke English and I barely speak French, but between the two of us we had a conversation about Jeffersonian democracy. It was the most hopeful moment of my time in Iraq.