Homage to Virtue

Maxim 218: Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue.

François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680)

This week’s featured post is “Rich Lowry’s False Choice“.

This week everybody was talking about Denny Hastert

I’ll let Orin Kerr summarize:

If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.

That last guy is Dennis Hastert. The only reason he became Speaker to begin with was that he had the squeaky-clean image the GOP needed to continue its witch-hunt against Bill Clinton.

and the Houston floods

Texans have decided to delay seceding from the Union until their federal disaster-relief checks clear. Two years ago, when Congress was voting on disaster relief in the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy, Ted Cruz said:

This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington—an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.

The Sandy funding bill wasn’t passed until a full three months after the storm. When disaster strikes Texas, though, Cruz stands strong

in support of the federal government fulfilling its statutory obligations and stepping in to respond to this natural disaster.

No concern about whether this might be “money we do not have”. You also gotta love Cruz’ reaction to the question of whether climate change had something to do with this:

At a time of tragedy, I think it’s wrong to try to politicize a natural disaster.

Pointing to causes and seeking solutions is “politicizing”. Of course, folks on the Right are fine with pointing to a cause like, say, God’s judgment against witchcraft and sodomy.

In addition to climate change, another real factor in the flooding is Houston’s lack of zoning and uncontrolled sprawl, i.e., the “Texas tradition of strong personal property and land use rights that mean fewer regulations.” A Texas A&M professor of urban planning says:

Think about every time you put in a road, a mall and you add concrete, you’ve lost the ability of rain to get into the soil and you’ve lost that permeability. It’s now impermeable. And therefore you get more runoff.

Anyway, I hope the congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey make merciless fun of Cruz … and then vote promptly for the disaster relief. Americans taking care of each other in hard times is part of our long socialist tradition.

but I was listening to talks


A full room makes a happy candidate.

Wednesday evening I saw Bernie Sanders in Portsmouth, NH. (I shot both pictures in this segment.) The crowd — maybe 700 by my back-of-the-envelope estimate — packed South Church, and people were standing in the back. It was an enthusiastic, jump-up-and-cheer group. And Sanders did not tiptoe around at all, using the taboo word oligarchy and making frequent references to “the billionaire class” that is buying our government and organizing the economy to suit itself.

This was a day after his 5000-person rally in his home city of Burlington, Vermont, which I suspect is the largest rally by any 2016 candidate so far. And this weekend, a crowd of more than a thousand greeted him in Iowa City.

Sanders is absolutely going to get outspent by the Clinton campaign, but in a small state like New Hampshire that might not matter. Enthusiasm means a lot in a primary, and Bernie has it working for him. I predict that Hillary isn’t going to be able to coast on her name recognition and money. And going negative — the chief thing money is good for — isn’t an attractive option, because she’ll want Sanders’ supporters to join her for the general election. If Clinton is going to win here, she’s going to have to raise enthusiasm of her own.

Maybe she will. I’m currently in the middle of a Hillary Reading Project, which you’ll hear about eventually. I’m reading her books in order, from It Takes a Village to Living History (which I’m reading now) to Hard Choices. Like a lot of writers, I read a lot into an author’s voice, and I’m finding Hillary surprisingly personable and likeable. The question I’m trying to answer is whether she has a set of core values we can count on, or if the Clintons only stand for political expediency. Conclusions are still pending.

The bizarre way the Sanders campaign is being covered is starting to draw attention. Jon Stewart ran a series of clips of pundits referring to Sanders as a “long shot” and a “loon” and then said: “Give me a taste of this crazy whacko cuckoo bird”, followed by clips of Sanders denouncing too-big-to-fail banks, calling for pay equity for women, endorsing campaign finance reform, and proposing that Social Security be expanded rather than cut. He comments:

What a rational, slightly left-of-center, mainstream politician.

And WaPo’s “The Fix” points out that Sanders has more supporters than many Republican candidates who are not instantly dismissed as long shots.

What’s going on here? It’s another example of the model I discussed in 2011 in “Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation“. Journalists are relegating Sanders’ candidacy to the “Sphere of Deviance”, where it can be dismissed without considering any of the points it raises.


Under the banner of the Earth.

Sunday, my church (First Parish in Bedford, Massachusetts) took advantage of Bill McKibben being in town for his mother’s 85th birthday, and invited him in to speak. He gave a more-or-less sermon-length talk during the regular worship service, and then stuck around to answer questions a bit later. (The picture is from the Q&A session.)

I’ll probably discuss his argument more in a future week, but here’s the gist of it: He focused on the importance of time. The shift away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy is happening, but the question is whether it will happen fast enough to avoid climate cataclysm. “If we had 30 years,” he said, “I’d be sanguine.”

The point of activism like protesting the Keystone Pipeline and pushing public institutions to divest from fossil fuel stocks is to accelerate the shift. He sees this era as the last gasp of large-scale fossil-fuel-industry projects like the pipeline. If we can delay them long enough, they will die and no one will revive them.

and I finally had to think about the Duggars

I avoided the topic all last week, because the Josh-molesting-his-younger-sisters story followed the usual energy-wasting pattern:

  • Liberals get their buttons pushed by sanctimonious religious hypocrisy.
  • They react with outrage.
  • That outrage makes religious conservatives circle their wagons around the offender.
  • The conservative defenses are, to put it mildly, ridiculous, which sets off more liberal outrage.
  • Eventually it all burns itself out and nobody on either side is better for it.

This week, the flood of links on my Facebook news feed continued, and I finally gave in. I will now try my best to pull something edifying out of the cesspool.

First is just the depth of that cesspool. The Duggars are part of the Quiverfull movement, which shows how far wrong fundamentalist Christianity can go. (You think you know, but you probably don’t. I didn’t.) Before marriage, a woman’s purpose in life is to serve her parents; after, it’s to give her husband as many children as possible. Sex within marriage is a duty, and if a wife isn’t in the mood after spending her day being pawed at by the dozen kids she’s already had, that reluctance is a manifestation of her sinful nature. If she gives in to that sinful nature and refuses sex, she needs to be disciplined. (The next time someone says they support “Biblical marriage“, ask them if this is what they mean. The Quiverfull people can chapter-and-verse you if it’s not.)

The deeper thing I noticed from reading the back-and-forth about the Duggar molestations is that two very different frames for morality are being applied. In one, morality is all about how humans relate to each other, and the reason certain actions are bad is that they damage people. In the other, morality revolves around an individual’s relationship to authority, and actions are bad because they break the rules that someone in authority — God, a religious leader, a parent — has laid down.

For very young children, you often have to rely on the second framing, because the cause-and-effect chain that connects their actions to someone else’s distress is too long and tenuous for them to grasp. The desire to pick the pretty flower fills the child’s whole mind, and the thought that some stranger planted it, cares for it, and will be sad to see it gone is too abstract. So parents substitute their own relationship with the child for the relationship-with-the-world that the child is not able to grasp yet: Not picking other people’s flowers is just a rule, and Mommy and Daddy will be disappointed in you if you break it.

That’s fine as far as it goes. But I believe that if you make it to adulthood and that’s still your frame for morality, with God taking the place of Mommy and Daddy, something has gone seriously wrong. That’s just not a mature basis for living a moral life.

And that’s what I see in the defenses of Josh Duggar. (I’m not alone. Even an orthodox Christian blogger like Joel Miller seems to be pointing to the same thing.) Duggar’s public statement (which Miller finds “galling”) contains one quick reference to hurting others, but otherwise it’s all about himself and authority figures. “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.” And the ultimate authority — Christ — has forgiven him, so that’s that and we should all just move on.

I found it enlightening to look at a case study from the Advanced Training Institute, whose fundamentalist family-training system the Duggars followed. The case the lesson discusses is earlier than Josh, but remarkably similar. The problem is framed as a conflict between the teen-age boy’s impure desires (to molest younger siblings) and God’s rules. Compassion for the siblings and appreciation of the long-term psychological damage they might suffer just doesn’t figure. So instead of focusing on causes (a lack of empathy and compassion), the case study focuses on triggers (the events that evoke the desires). For me, the lesson turns out to be a case study on how you end up blaming the victims and changing their behavior instead of the perpetrator’s. Because while a victim’s behavior may be blameless (i.e., young children running around naked after a shower), it does indeed trigger the forbidden desires.

Morality, as I conceive it, is about how we’re all going to live together on the Earth without making each other miserable. If you picture it instead as a private interaction between yourself and the Divine Lawmaker, I think you’ve still got some growing up to do.

and the Fox Effect hits close to home

I live in New Hampshire, but my church is across the border in Bedford, Massachusetts. This week Fox Boston decided to create a reverse-racism controversy at Bedford High, where I know several students, a bunch of parents, and some faculty.

Background: There’s a meme of “Shit White People Say”. Put that phrase into YouTube and you’ll get a bunch of hits. It’s about the clueless things whites say to non-whites, not out of any conscious hate or hostility, but just because the majority race doesn’t have to think too hard about minority life and so makes stereotypic assumptions. (I’ve done stuff that could show up in such a video. One morning at a hotel in D.C., I saw a well-dressed black man standing by the door and asked him about taxis, thinking he must be a hotel employee. He was an African diplomat.)

The most popular one is probably “Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls“, in which a black woman in a blond wig says a lot of clueless white-girl things. It has gotten over 11 million hits on YouTube, so I suspect a lot of Bedford High students have seen it.

Some BHS students made a video “Sh*t White People Say: BHS Edition“. In it, a black student in a blond wig goes up to other blacks and says the kinds of clueless things that I suspect the makers of the video have heard themselves. Like asking a black teacher if he’s a janitor, or assuming that a black student must be from the METCO program that brings students in from inner-city Boston, or that a METCO student must want to talk about whatever grisly inner-city crime was on the news. I thought it was a pretty good piece of work.

It got shown on the student-run closed-circuit TV show BHS Live, apparently without needing the approval of anybody in the administration. As a high-school-newspaper editor from the 1970s, my first thought was: “Cool. Students talking directly to other students.” (My faculty adviser occasionally saved me from doing something stupid, but also kept me from covering the school the way it actually was, rather than the way the administration wanted the community to see it. High-school papers in the 70s were all basically Pravda.)

But Fox Boston (Channel 25) heard about the video and reacted differently. They found one offended white parent to interview. The concerns that caused the students to make the video aren’t discussed, because the only kind of racism Fox can see is reverse-racism that offends whites. The interviewed parent thinks “somebody needs to lose their job” over the video.

The BHS administration is actually handling this reasonably well, all things considered. A letter to parents from the Superintendent says:

We believe that there is an important difference between hate speech or the accumulated racial slights that many of our students of color have unfortunately experienced on the one hand, and an attempt to educate others about racism that used stereotypes to make its point on the other.

In other words, they’re rejecting the whole reverse-racism frame, even as they try to placate the handful of whites who took offense.

But, predictably, it sounds like BHS Live is going to get more faculty oversight. I mean, we can’t have student journalists out there rocking the boat. They might turn into adult journalists who rock the boat.

and you also might be interested in …

So let’s trace the trajectory of events: A Muhammad cartoon contest was held in Texas specifically to enrage American Muslims. Two particularly unhinged young men went there with guns and got themselves killed, wounding a security guard but harming none of provocateurs. In response to that attempted attack — which had no apparent connection to Phoenix250 protesters, some armed, showed up outside a Muslim community center in Phoenix during Friday prayers, carrying signs like “FUCK ISLAM”. [Correction: The Texas attackers reportedly had attended the Phoenix mosque.]

Imagine if large numbers of armed Muslims showed up outside a Christian church with offensive signs, because some Christian attacked some event in another state specifically designed to incite Christian violence. Where’s this kind of provocation heading?

The week’s most surprising political news was that Nebraska eliminated capital punishment, with its Republican legislature overriding the veto of its Republican governor. What’s interesting is that there is now a conservative case against capital punishment: It leads to a long appeals process that ends up costing the state more than life in prison; a true small-government conservative shouldn’t want the government to have the power to kill people; and a right-to-life view is more consistent without the death penalty.

This raises the question of whether there are other issues where liberals and conservatives can unite on a result, even if they justify it differently. Lawrence Lessig has proposed campaign finance reform as such an issue. And when I asked Bill McKibben about such overlaps (see above) he pointed out that building the Keystone Pipeline involves letting a foreign company (TransCanada) use the eminent domain process to seize land from American owners. When you put it that way, conservatives don’t like it.

The biggest hobgoblin raised against same-sex marriage is the idea that conservative Christian ministers will be forced to perform them or arrested for speaking out against them. Well, the issue is leading to ministers being arrested, but not the ones you think.

Yesterday’s NYT discusses Hillary Clinton’s efforts to find the kind of big-money donors Republican candidates have. If I were her, I’d be trying to do the same thing, but at the same time it’s sad. In an era when “money is speech”, one $20 million donor speaks as loud as a million $20 donors. And if you’re just one $20 donor — and you’re not sure another 999,999 are going to back you up — maybe you start thinking you should leave politics to the oligarchs.

The next time some young woman tells you she’s not a feminist, send her this Katy Goodman song:

This comic from New Zealand is a good illustration of how privilege works little-by-little over an entire lifetime.

and let’s close with a look behind the scenes

You thought puppies just did all that stuff by instinct, didn’t you? Actually their moms teach them. Here a hidden camera captures the how-to-be-a-puppy-lessons a Siberian husky teaches her seven offspring.

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  • Abby hafer  On June 1, 2015 at 11:31 am

    I think that there are some other important contexts for the Duggars. The first is A) bad behavior, and what happens after it takes place, in different social structures. The second B) sex-negativity that really dis-empowers victims of abuse, and may actually increase bad behaviors in the first place.

    A) Bad behavior. It happens. I don’t think that there is any way of raising children, or having a society, that will totally eliminate it (even if there were broad social agreement on what constitute bad behavior in the first place). But in the context of a hierarchical, isolating and secretive structure like the Duggar’s, bad behavior by someone high up in the hierarchy is more likely to be swept under the rug, and therefore more likely to continue. For reference, think about the Catholic sex abuse scandal. If the girls had felt that they could talk to their parents, or a teacher, or someone at their church, or really any genuinely responsible grownup in a position of authority about what their brother was doing, it would have been stopped a lot sooner. But they were afraid to talk to their parents about it because of the rigid family hierarchy. They couldn’t talk to their teachers because they were homeschooled. They couldn’t talk to people in the church because their parents ran the church. They were completely isolated. So Josh kept abusing them. An initial bad behavior (of the kind that we will never fully eliminate) was allowed to continue because of this unhealthy social structure.

    B) Sex negativity. Imagine what would have happened if the Duggar kids had all received comprehensive sex education that looked upon sex and personal autonomy and healthy sexual exploration as healthy. The Duggar girls would have told Josh to stop as soon as he started abusing them. That by itself might have been enough to get him to stop. If he hadn’t stopped they would have reported him, and his parents would have punished him. That would probably been enough to get him to stop. He might well have been less interested in his little sisters if he had felt that he could masturbate, and when he was just a little older, pursue consensual healthy sexual exploration with girls his own age. But by having all sex outside of marriage seen as a sin (and even sex within marriage sinful unless used to make babies), then no moral difference is seen between masturbating, and abusing your sisters.

    • Kate  On June 1, 2015 at 6:30 pm

      Abby’s idea that sexual abuse like the Duggers has something to do with the conservative context from which they come is contradicted by the widespread clergy abuse in one of the most liberal religious groups, the Unitarian Universalists. Estimates are that a third to a half of their churches were served by sexually abusive clergy a at some time in the last four decades. It has received little public notice beyond their walls and little censure within that liberal denomination. Why? Because complaints about exploitative and even violent sexual behavior are seen to be “sex negative”, only the victims themselves can report to a disciplinary committee, and — in the few instances in which action is taken to combat sexual abuse it often amounts to counseling and leaving the perpetrator in place (because UU”s “stand on the side of love” and feel they should be forgiving of what they consider a minor peccadillo.) or, at worse, allowing them to resign quietly so they can obtain a position in a related field dealing with vulnerable populations. Critics of sexual abuse amongst clergy are marginalized and clergy critics are silenced and threatened with discipline for criticizing colleagues.

      • weeklysift  On June 2, 2015 at 6:46 am

        Is there some place I can read about this?

      • Anonymous  On June 6, 2015 at 1:26 pm

        I dunno, Kate. I was raised in the Unitarian church, and to me it sounds like you’re describing another planet…

      • Kate  On June 7, 2015 at 12:14 am

        weekly sift there are bits and pieces of this written about, but given the sanctions against coming forward, it is pretty much underground. Best resources for info are after pastors and long serving women ministers. There was a Berry Street Lecture on the topic. I have been a Unitarian Universalist since childhood and for the past fifty years have seen them minimize this issue and marginalize those who speak up. It is less common behavior than thirty years ago, but the response has not improved much. At a time when secular liberals have been vocal about a war on women and campus rape this “liberal” group is strangely quiet.

  • Tommy  On June 1, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    As a white cismale student at Bedford High I have a fair amount of privilege I simply don’t notice, regardless of how much I try. As the announcements and subsequently the video were playing, the other students and I in the class I was in were only paying half attention to them, if that. Because of this, I and many others in the class didn’t catch the beginning of the video, and so missed a fair number of the points. Additionally, the video was pulled right before it switched into from the “here’s stuff that happens” portion to the “be more aware” part. This left us with an incomplete story, as I imagine most students in the building were. Luckily for the students in our class, the creator of the video was present and the teacher was aware enough to allow the creator to show the entirety of the video to our class, and fill the rest of class with discussion regarding it. However, as we looked around the high honors classroom, all we saw were white kids. Our racial diversity in that class is a single half-asian half-white kid. Because of this, we didn’t have enough material to truly debate the message, and instead what got most of the focus in that class, and in my other classes throughout the day, was the delivery of the message. Whether or not it is appropriate for the video to be so provocative, and whether or not it was “reverse-racism,” which to me means that even among the best educated students in a great school there are those who fail to grasp the privilege they have and are instead focused on how it offends them. This isn’t the first time that a discussion like this has been had and marginalized. Our school had a panel of law enforcement officers, law teachers and a judge after the Brown case to discuss race and law enforcement. The panel went well and was a good discussion, but discussions later regarding the panel generally devolved into trying to convince those with privilege that they have it, which only gets them more defensive and vocal, than being productive discussions that forward what we want to see. One comment a white male student made that struck me the wrong way it has stuck with me was “As a kid, I didn’t realize there was a difference between white kids and black kids until someone told me.” To me this shows a failure in our education system that even in the topmost classes in a well-funded academically-focused high school we cannot have discussions about race that don’t end in some white person getting offended because of others pointing out the privilege they take for granted or how their actions are seen by others.

    • weeklysift  On June 2, 2015 at 7:04 am

      Thanks for this first-hand reporting. One of my hopes for this blog is that someday the commenting community will supply most of the value.

      On the privilege discussion: It’s worth having even if nobody seems to change their views. In my experience, this is an issue where people do change, but not by having their defenses beaten down. They/we get exposed to the threatening idea, dismiss it, and then start to notice things on their own.

      The best answer to the “I didn’t realize black and white were different” point is that in America only white people have that experience. You’d never get very far into a non-white life without being forced to realize you were different. The privilege of living a color-blind life is a white privilege.

      The almost-all-white honors class is a good case in point. It probably only gets noticed on rare occasions, when some topic like this calls attention to it. Otherwise it can be “color-blind”.

      Being in a group of white people never struck me as odd until I lived in a Chicago neighborhood where blacks were common. After I’d been there a while, I went out to the suburbs for a Dan Fogelberg concert. I looked around the arena and thought, “Wow. Did you ever see so many white people in your whole life?”

  • Roger Green  On June 1, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    In your otherwise excellent piece on the Duggars, you pluralize Duggar twice, in one paragraph:

    “And that’s what I see in the defenses of Josh Duggars…. (I’m not alone. Even an orthodox Christian blogger like Joel Miller seems to be pointing to the same thing.) Duggars’ public statement…”

    (The latter should be Duggar’s)

    PS – tried to email you, but it failed to go through.

  • Anonymous  On June 2, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    “Anyway, I hope the congressional delegations of New York and New Jersey make merciless fun of Cruz”

    I also hope that lots of people bring this up while he’s campaigning for president and ask him to explain it.

  • Chris Forsyth  On June 3, 2015 at 7:27 am

    Correction: the two gunmen killed at the cartoon contest in Texas were from Phoenix and allegedly had attended the mosque at which this week’s (idiotic) protest was being held.

  • Rocjard Drewna  On June 20, 2015 at 2:29 am

    Lol. Doug, next time you use a screen grab from a Google Books search result, you can click on the “clear search terms” to remove the yellow highlighting.


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