The Daily Parker

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Theocratic rumblings in America

Two stories that bear connecting. First: the Southern Baptist Convention found in an internal investigation that its leaders had covered up sexual assaults and other bad behavior throughout the hierarchy:

The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, by far. It is the nation’s most powerful and influential evangelical denomination, by far. Its 14 million members help define the culture and ethos of American evangelicalism.

Last June delegates, called “messengers,” to the SBC’s annual convention responded to proliferating reports of inadequate or corrupt responses to sex-abuse allegations by voting overwhelmingly to commission an external review of their own leaders. The executive committee hired a firm called Guidepost to conduct the investigation.

The report is a calamity. My friend Russell Moore, a former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called it an “apocalypse.” The report says that “for almost two decades, survivors of abuse and other concerned Southern Baptists” contacted its executive committee “to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff.”

Page after grim page reveals crushing scandal after crushing scandal. One abuse survivor, a woman named Christa Brown, said that an executive-committee member turned his back to her when she addressed the committee in 2007. Another member allegedly chortled at her.

I highlight reports of abuse in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, in one of its largest Christian camps, in one of its largest Christian universities, and in its most prominent apologetics ministry because it is past time to recognize that the culture of American evangelicalism is broken at a fundamental level. How many times must evangelicals watch powerful institutions promote and protect sexual predators before we acknowledge the obvious crisis?

Meanwhile, these same religionists have slowly but surely imposed their (need I bother to say hypocritical?) version of morality on the majority of Americans who disagree with it, culminating, we all expect, in the reversal of a secular view of abortion that has been law for 49 years:

In deciding Roe, the court made its commitment to secularism explicit. It had to. The question of when human life began and the exact status of a fetus were essentially religious questions. Different religious groups took divergent positions on abortion. Taking a stance within the dispute would involve the court in a religious debate, which it was loath to do because such a decision would violate the separation of church and state that it had earlier proclaimed.

[C]onservatives...became aggressively hostile to the ideal of secular legislation and to the notion that the state has any role in protecting the individual from religious groups. In recent years, the conservatives on the court have used the notion of religious freedom to carve out larger and larger institutions in American life — including for-profit corporations — that are able to make religious determinations limiting the choices of others. In doing so, they have helped unleash the religious authority that the court tried to contain in the 1960s and early 1970s.

With this history before us, the next steps may be easier to see. The invalidation of Roe, and of women’s right to an abortion, is not really an end but a beginning. Just as the court’s original decision in Roe v. Wade represented the apotheosis of a secular order through the privatization of religious sentiment, the court’s coming decision to overturn Roe represents a straightforward attack on the American secular ideal. It will probably be the first of many developments, as the wall of separation crumbles and as conservative religious authority floods American life.

You don't need a Ph.D. in psychology to understand why, either. The Christianist mindset is authoritarian, teaching that there is only one correct answer to any question. I'm not even sure that the abortion "debate" really matters to Christianist leaders except that they don't want anyone to challenge the authority they believe comes to them from their imaginary sky friend.

The end of Roe may wake up a few more people to the creeping Christianism coming from the Right, but maybe not. The revanchists will lose, but it may take a long time.

More Dobbs reactions

A day and a half after the unprecedented leak of Justice Alito's (R) draft opinion in Dobbs v Jackson, everyone and her dog has a reaction piece:

  • David Von Drehle in the Post warns that Alito's arguments in Dobbs, if accepted as the final majority opinion, would imperil many other rights based on privacy law: "[S]hould Alito’s draft opinion be affirmed by the court’s majority, there will be little to prevent states from enacting limits [on contraception] if they wish. Women will have only as much guaranteed autonomy over their childbearing as they had in 1868. Alito’s draft recognizes the rights of an hour-old zygote, but not of a 12-year-old impregnated by a rapist."
  • Jennifer Rubin concurs, saying the Court's "religion-driven mission" puts other settled law like Griswold v Connecticut and Lawrence v Texas in the crosshairs: "At its core, this Supreme Court’s right-wing majority seems eager to cast aside the restraints of precedent, making good on their supporters’ agenda rooted in Christian nationalism. In assuming life begins at conception (thereby giving the states unfettered leeway to ban abortion), Alito and his right-wing colleagues would impose a faith-based regimen shredding a half-century of legal and social change."
  • Josh Marshall calls bullshit on Alito's long-professed "originalism:" "Alito recognizes that there are interpretive frameworks that address new issues not explicitly referenced in the constitution. That’s in this decision. But he keeps coming back to “history and tradition” as what really seems like a separate basis of authority. Basically old school values. And lots of rights won’t make that cut."
  • Alex Shephard calls bullshit on Republicans trying to blame the leak for the Court's loss of legitimacy when, really, the activist Republican justices killed it: "There is a long tradition in conservative circles of finding every opportunity to claim victimhood. ... [But] the court’s legitimacy problems can, frankly be traced back to Bush v. Gore, if not earlier, when five Republican-appointed justices decided a presidential election based on their own partisan affiliations; this paved the way for President George W. Bush to appoint Samuel Alito."
  • Law professor and former Federal prosecutor Joyce Vance concurs, saying "Reversing Roe, particularly in the manner Alito does, condescending, patronizing, forcing an end to women’s full participation as equals in society, will forever change the belief that the court is above politics and the public’s confidence in the Court."
  • Adam Liptak of the Times agrees, hinting that Alito or one of his clerks might have leaked the draft as away of pressuring Justices Kavanaugh (R) or Gorsuch (R) to stay in the majority.
  • George Will, fresh from his local dispensary, says the end of Roe gives everyone a chance to start over. Everyone, I suppose, except the women whose lives will be ruined or lost because of unwanted or unsafe pregnancies.
  • Stephen Colbert Tweets, "I can’t believe how gullible Susan Collins is. But Susan Collins can." But Eric Garland reports on some aspects of Collins' history that paint a much worse picture of the Senator.
  • Julia Ioffe reminds us that five of six of the Republican justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

But, hey, guys? Please keep covering the other stories of the day. Like, for example, the corruption of Justice Thomas (R) and his wife.

It's 5pm somewhere

Actually, it's 5pm here. And I have a few stories queued up:

Finally, author John Scalzi puts Rogue One in third place on his ranked list of Star Wars films, with some good reasons.

Earth to Warren...come in, Warren...

One hundred years ago today, President Warren Harding installed a "Radio Phone" in his White House office. As the Tribune reported, "Navy radio experts commenced work to-day installing the latest scientific means of communication."

Flash forward to now:

  • Margaret Talbot argues that Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom nobody ever elected to public office, is playing a long game to bring her right-wing Catholic ideology into the mainstream—or, at least, to enshrine it in the law.
  • Times columnist Margaret Renkl, writing from Nashville, argues that Tennessee has bigger problems than just one school board banning Maus.
  • Ultra-low-cost airlines Spirit and Frontier have merged, after years of dating and several previous feints toward the altar.
  • The oldest pub in the United Kingdom will close because of lost revenue during the pandemic, according to its current proprietor. The landlord hopes the pub, first opened in 793 CE, reopens soon.

And finally, Max Boot asks, why does anyone care what Ben, Jerry, Whoopi, or Joe have to say? In my conversation just now with the reader who sent me the link, I pointed out that people have had about the same reaction to every new communications technology back to the printing press. (Probably back to the stone tablet, if you really think about it.)

Spicy poké

I swear, the local poké place used three shots of chili oil instead of one today. Whew. (Not that I'm complaining, of course.)

While my mouth slowly incinerates, I'm reading these:

On that last point, comedians Jimmy Carr and Emil Wakim lay down epic burns against anti-vaxxers:

Nice fall you've got there

While running errands this morning I had the same thought I've had for the past three or so weeks: the trees look great this autumn. Whatever combination of heat, precipitation, and the gradual cooling we've had since the beginning of October, the trees refuse to give up their leaves yet, giving us cathedrals of yellow, orange, and red over our streets.

And then I come home to a bunch of news stories that also remind me everything changes:

  • Like most sentient humans, Adam Serwer feels no surprise (but plenty of disgust) that a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse: "This is the legal regime that a powerful minority of gun-rights advocates have built—one in which Americans are encouraged to settle their differences with lethal force, preferably leaving as few witnesses capable of testimony as possible."
  • Charles Blow worries about the follow-on effectsi.e., vigilantism. Says Blow, "Right-wing gun culture is not unlike the wellness industry, in that it requires the cultivation of a sustained insecurity in its audience, in order to facilitate the endless purchase of its products."
  • Dan Friedman finds Rittenhouse's acquittal terrifying: "[M]ost reasonable people would agree that armed vigilantes facing off with armed protesters, or rioters—while police hide blocks away in armored vehicles—is, by and large, bad. But in Kenosha, and much the country, it is legal. And it is becoming normal. ... [T]he biggest failure was that the events of the trial, and the public perception of it, will not deter the kind of conduct that led to it. It seems sure to cause more right-wing vigilantism, more armed confrontations, and more political violence in the streets."

Outside of Kenosha:

Finally, Israel's government has loosened the certification process for Kashrut inspectors, to the outrage (do they express any other emotion?) of the Haredim. One possible factor? "The head of the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut division was indicted on bribery charges in 2020 after being videotaped allegedly accepting envelopes of cash from food importers." Oy gevalt!

Taliban victory

Religious extremists, emboldened by lucky tactical and political successes over the past few years despite declining popular support, today won a major victory in their campaign to return women to a state of subjugation that they had only recently escaped. Supporters and allies of the religious leaders imposing the harsh new laws against women celebrated, driving around in pickup trucks while displaying traditional symbols of oppression.

Afghanistan? Iran? Saudi Arabia?

Nope. Texas:

[T]he Supreme Court on Wednesday confirmed what it had previously only implied through its failure to act the night before: The court rejected a request to block enforcement of the law, which abortion providers say will bar at least 85% of abortions in the state and will likely cause many clinics to close, while a challenge to its constitutionality is litigated in the lower courts. The vote was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal justices – Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – in dissent.

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, had come to the court on an emergency basis on Monday, with a group of abortion providers asking the justices to intervene. It was the first major test on abortion rights for the Roberts court since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020, and Ginsburg’s replacement by the conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett was likely decisive in the outcome.

The court’s inaction on Tuesday night that allowed the Texas law to go into effect and its brief order on Wednesday night denying any relief to the abortion providers unquestionably represented a victory for abortion foes, but the five-justice majority emphasized (and Roberts in his dissent reiterated) that the court was not endorsing the constitutionality of the law. The ruling also revealed a court that is deeply divided, not only on the merits of the case but also on the procedures that the court uses to resolve these kinds of emergency appeals.

Justice Sotomayor pulled no punches:

The Court’s order is stunning. Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. Last night, the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents. Today, the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention.

[T]he Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.

The Court's two conservative justices (Roberts and Breyer) joined with the Court's two liberals (Kagan and Sotomayor) but could not overcome the five Republican justices demonstrating their true loyalties.

The immediate effect of the Court's shadow-docket lawmaking is that about half of all abortion services in Texas have closed as of this afternoon.

The pandemic is still making us crazy

I read three things to reinforce this today. First, National Geographic acknowledges the global mental health crisis, and how we're procrastinating more as a result:

People don’t necessarily procrastinate because they are lazy. Procrastination has roots in our evolutionary development, with two key parts of the brain vying for control.

“Procrastination is an emotion-focused coping strategy,” says Tim Pychyl, a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. “It is not a time-management problem; it is an emotion-management problem.”

Experts who study procrastination define it as the voluntary delay of an intended act despite the fact that you can expect to be worse off in the long run by putting off the task. We know the task doesn’t go away, but sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us. Our “present self” calls the shots, and our “future self” suffers because of it.

Neuroscientists have found that procrastination is a battle between an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system and a relatively younger part known as the prefrontal cortex.

However, when strong emotions such as anxiety and fear become overwhelming, the impulsive limbic system can still win out.

Paul Krugman today describes another form of insanity, in which the states of Texas and Mississippi (34th and 46th in public education rankings, respectively) have consigned a non-zero number of people to death because of the politics of masks:

Wearing a mask in public, like holding it in for a few minutes, is slightly inconvenient, but hardly a major burden. And the case for imposing that mild burden in a pandemic is overwhelming. The coronavirus variants that cause Covid-19 are spread largely by airborne droplets, and wearing masks drastically reduces the variants’ spread.

So not wearing a mask is an act of reckless endangerment, not so much of yourself — although masks appear to provide some protection to the wearer — as of other people. Covering our faces while the pandemic lasts would appear to be simple good citizenship, not to mention an act of basic human decency.

Refusing to wear a mask has become a badge of political identity, a barefaced declaration that you reject liberal values like civic responsibility and belief in science. (Those didn’t used to be liberal values, but that’s what they are in America 2021.)

I don’t know how many people will die unnecessarily because the governor of Texas has decided that ignoring the science and ending the mask requirement is a good way to own the libs. But the number won’t be zero.

Finally, I got a lengthy email today that someone sent through Weather Now, for some reason, warning me of the dangers of vaccination:

I was praying and fasting, regarding the Covid-19 vaccine during the time I’ve received this dream:

In my dream, God took me into the near future of America. I was overlooking America (like a birds eye view), and I looked to my right of America (the Eastside) and was overlooking New York State as well.. And I saw millions of people in America, had received the Covid-19 vaccine.

And also throughout America, I could see 5G towers monitoring VERY closely the covid-19 vaccinated individuals (victims).

When I saw this, I immediately asked God, “How are they completely connected to these 5G towers and the towers to them?” Right after I asked God this, He took me to a hospital in New York. There, I saw a doctor giving a patient, the covid-19 vaccine. (The doctor and patient couldn’t see me.)

But while the doctor was injecting into the patient’s arm, the covid-19 vaccine shot.. I saw hundreds/thousands of little specs of microchips, [nanobots] INSIDE the covid-19 vaccine, flowing through the shot, and into that individual.

The email went on like this for five pages. I selected only the most coherent bits for this message. I should point out, however, that the IP address from which the message originated is in Vietnam, so I'm not too worried there's an unhinged fundamentalist trying to save my soul through a weather application's feedback page. I am worried that fear leads to stupidity (a crucial step Yoda forgot to mention) and stupidity leads to people believing crazy things.

Craziness usually follows plagues. Let's hope we get through our crazy period as rationally as we can.

Mixed news on Tuesday morning

Today's news stories comprise a mixed bag:

Finally, a little sweetness for a cold December day: Whisky Advocate has a recipe for bourbon balls that I hope someone will try and share with me. I'll even supply the bourbon.