Stuck on Stupid
Villainous speech, immigrant busloads, and torquing the news to fit a script.
Dear Reader (particularly those of you looking for a light, bloggy “news”letter of debatable value),
Still, I do want to pick up on one thing I wrote in Wednesday’s “news”letter. I opened with a simple observation: “What an amazingly stupid time this is.” One could conclude from what followed that I was saying that the stupidity of this moment is manifested entirely by the ridiculous things people are saying about the search, the FBI, the regime, etc. Or one might infer that I believe that the MAGA right has a monopoly on inanity.
Why, just look around.
Let’s start with the fact that there are not one, but two different American Quidditch leagues. Quidditch, if you’re unaware, is the sport inspired by the Harry Potter books where large groups of pale people run around looking like they're riding the pony. This is from the Wikipedia entry on the fictional game:
Quidditch /ˈkwɪdɪtʃ/ is a fictional sport invented by author J.K. Rowling for her fantasy book series Harry Potter. It first appeared in the novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997). It is a dangerous but popular sport played by witches and wizards riding flying broomsticks.
Matches are played on a large oval pitch with three ring-shaped goals of different heights on each side, between two opposing teams of seven players each: three Chasers, two Beaters, the Keeper, and the Seeker. The Chasers and the Keeper respectively score with and defend the goals against the Quaffle; the two Beaters bat the Bludgers away from their teammates and towards their opponents; and the Seeker locates and catches the Golden Snitch, whose capture simultaneously wins the Seeker's team 150 points and ends the game. The team with the most points at the end wins.
Harry Potter plays as Seeker for his house team at Hogwarts. Regional and international Quidditch competitions are mentioned throughout the series. Aspects of the sport's history are revealed in Quidditch Through the Ages, published by Rowling in 2001 to benefit Comic Relief.
I only included this lengthy excerpt to set up what Wikipedia tell us next:
A real-life version of the game has been created, in which the players use brooms, but run instead of flying.
Oh, they don’t use actual flying broomsticks?
Anyway, both U.S. Quidditch and Major League Quidditch—which I assumed were the physical fitness arms of the Society For Mainstreaming Adult Virginity—have announced they will change the name of the game to Quadball, partly to disassociate themselves from the “anti-trans” views of J.K. Rowling.
I’m not going to get into a big transgender thing here. Like a quidditch broom, I want to keep it light. But via Madeline Kearns, I did learn that the folks at Buzzfeed think Rowling is one of “17 Famous People Who Started Out As Heroes But Lived Long Enough To Become Major Villains.”
That’s right: She belongs alongside mass-murderer cult leader Jim Jones, retail murderer OJ Simpson, Nazi collaborator Philippe Petain, et al. because she holds a view that the kids at Buzzfeed don’t like.
Now, I think Rowling’s views on transgenderism are defensible. But even if they weren’t, they would still be … views. In other words, Buzzfeed thinks holding beliefs it doesn’t like is just as villainous as rounding up Jews for Auschwitz or forcing nearly 1,000 people to drink poison, including more than 300 children.
That’s stupid. In fact, I could write another thousand words on how it’s dangerously, shamefully stupid. The false equivalence of “villainous” ideas with actual villainy is one of the animating asininities of our age. As if to illustrate the point, Steve Hayes just texted me this report that Salman Rushdie was brutally attacked today for his views while preparing to give a lecture in New York (this is of particular interest to me as I will be speaking to the same group next week).
Doesn’t anybody know how to play this game?
But since at least some of you come here for politics, let’s move on. Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, is very annoyed with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Specifically, Adams is vexed by the busloads of illegal immigrants Abbott is sending to New York. Now, I don’t necessarily love these stunts either, and I can certainly understand why they would annoy Adams and other New Yorkers. Then again, I can also understand why Abbott and other Texans are even more annoyed by far more illegal immigrants showing up in Texan cities.
But Adams isn’t content with merely complaining. He’s threatening to send busloads of New Yorkers to Texas to campaign for Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the governor’s race. There’s no word on whether these New Yorkers will be riding Quidditch brooms when they go door knocking for O’Rourke. But they might as well bring them. After all, you have to ask what these missionaries from the Big Apple are going to say to Texans otherwise inclined to vote for Abbott. Such canvassers might be welcome in Austin and other blue islands in Texas, but those voters are already in O’Rourke’s camp. For this threat to have any teeth, liberal activists from Brooklyn and Queens will have to knock on doors of persuadable voters and say…what? “Excuse me, sir, do you realize how much it sucks to have lots of poor, undocumented immigrants shoved into your social service budget?”
The whole thing is like the political equivalent of the old Pace Picante Sauce commercial:
Just flip the scenario around. Instead of Big Applers for Beto, think about how much Adams would love it if Abbott sent a bunch of conservative Texans to campaign against him in Park Slope.
A person of a more cynical or conspiratorial bent might suspect that Abbott is paying Adams to help him with his reelection. I’m reminded of a story about LBJ from when he was a liberal member of Congress for a less-than-liberal district. When he got word that the New Republic was going to profile him positively along with other influential New Deal congressmen, he got nervous. He called a friend at the International Labor Organization and begged her: “You must have some friend in the labor movement. Can’t you call him and have him denounce me? [If] they put out that … I’m a liberal hero up here, I’ll get killed. You’ve got to find somebody to denounce me!”
Here come the revenuers, and you have to like it.
Let’s move on. The Inflation Reduction Act, if passed, will pay for tens of thousands of new IRS employees. Lots of dumb things have been said about this, on the left and right. But the other day, in a short Twitter thread, I focused on a very specific, very insipid argument that was running like a plate of bad clams through the stewed bowels of the Twitterverse. A lot of people were saying that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you should have no problem with being audited.
As someone who has been audited, this sounded to me like saying, “If you’ve done nothing to annoy your alien captors, you should have no objection to some vigorous involuntary anal probing.”
But that undersells the point, because while there are probably some folks who’d be down for such an extraterrestrial encounter, literally no one enjoys being audited.
Anyway, people lost their minds attacking me. Often, when I say something controversial, I will do a gut check. Maybe I misspoke? Maybe I overlooked an important point? But on this, I’m not giving an inch.
Unlike normal law enforcement, the IRS doesn’t require probable cause to investigate you. It can choose people at random or investigate people based on a theory or a hunch—often sanitized by saying it was the algorithm that made the call. Even if you did nothing wrong, the process itself is punishing and often expensive. One of the bedrocks of our constitutional order, most obviously enshrined in the Fourth Amendment, is the idea that citizens should not be subjected to unreasonable searches without probable cause. Stop and frisk was canceled because it was seen as an outrageous and demeaning affront to civil liberties. I’m conflicted on that. But I certainly get the objections, and I would never say, “If you did nothing wrong, you have no reason to complain about being frisked.” Well, an audit is a forensic frisking of virtually everything you did for a year. What did you spend money on? Where did you spend it? How did you get the money? Show us your receipts. Prove you’re not guilty.
Again, the IRS needs to be able to audit people. It may indeed be understaffed. Those are reasonable positions to hold. What was really unreasonable and downright weird was how so many people were morally outraged by what they thought I said or what they wanted to claim I was saying.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but I see this dynamic more and more these days. People are so hyped up and so torqued out by politics or inflation or COVID or the Italian captivity of Trieste that they wildly over-interpret statements and events to fit their scripts. Not to revisit the Mar-a-Lago stuff, but a whole lot of people seemed to want the search to be a casus belli for a civil war before they had any idea what the relevant facts were.
I think this may be a bigger driver of the stupidity of this age than almost anything else. If you go through life having already determined that you’re gonna be pissed off by whatever happens to you, your listening and thinking skills are going to atrophy. If the slightest provocation is going to make you say, “This means war” because you want war, you’re going to declare war for a stupid reason.
“Things no one ever said for 1,000,” Alex.
I’ll give you one example of what I’m talking about. I just spotted this. It’s an excerpt over at Politico from Ali Vitali’s forthcoming book Electable: Why America Hasn’t Put a Woman in the White House … Yet. There’s some interesting stuff in it, and I’m entirely open to the argument that women face all sorts of double standards in politics. The attention paid to hair and wardrobe for women alone is like a tax on female candidates.
Anyway, the piece ends with a conversation with Elizabeth Warren, right after she lost the Iowa Caucuses:
We’d talked about the dynamics of Iowa, her competitors and the pressure she put on herself not “to screw this up.” But here and now she offered her plainest view of the landscape yet: “Everyone comes up to me and says, ‘I would vote for you, if you had a penis.’” (Emphasis mine)
Here’s the thing: I would wager good money that literally no one has ever said that to Elizabeth Warren. But we can be generous. She’s probably being figurative or ironic, summarizing different things people said and translating the subtext or common theme of their comments as perceived by her. I mean, “everyone” is an easily falsifiable amount of people. For instance, I met Elizabeth Warren once. I didn’t say that to her (and not just because I wouldn’t vote for her if she did have a penis, but because almost no one talks like that).
So let’s give her the benefit of the doubt; she thinks this is the upshot of what a non-trivial number of people are telling her. It’s sort of like if I said, “Everyone tells me to stop tapping my pen on my glass eye.”
Assuming I’m right, what’s interesting to me is that she talks to a lot of people who say political stuff to her, including perhaps why they won’t vote for her, and all she hears is, “It is solely your lack of a penis that keeps me from voting for you”—or words to that effect.
But here’s the question: Is that actually an accurate or fair interpretation of what people are really saying to her (and not just run of the mill people, but Democratic primary voters)? Or is she the feminist equivalent of Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo, who thinks every slight and problem in his life is the result of antisemitism? When Leo is served a hamburger cooked medium despite asking for medium rare, he assumes the cook must be an antisemite. “They don’t just overcook a hamburger, Jerry.” Maybe when voters come up to her and say, “I like you but I think your proposed wealth tax wouldn’t work and might be unconstitutional,” she hears, “I’d vote for you if you had a penis.”
In other words, I think this might be evidence that Warren has made up her mind on a lot of questions that have nothing to do with her lack of certain dangly bits. But she assumes she’s so obviously right on policy that any expressed concern over, say, the budget deficit is really just code for concern about a penile deficit.
If you look for it, this kind of thinking is everywhere. Bill Barr tells the president there was no election fraud and his boss replies, “You must hate Trump.” I say audits are unpleasant, and people scream at me that I hate poor people or three legged dogs.
Again, it’s a very stupid time.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: Oh, the canines are happy. I’m in Maine, just across the border from New Hampshire. The first couple days were unbearably hot, but now it’s just lovely and the dogs are spending their days hanging out with the humans, contemplating eternity, chasing varmints and lots of balls, lying in the sun or shade as the mood suits, and going swimming in much cleaner water than they are accustomed to (although Pippa was very displeased with low tide this morning). The other day, at one of my favorite dog parks in the whole country—Peirce Island in Portsmouth—Zoë met Merlin, a young Aussie who instantly fell in love with her. Pippa was more standoffish; she has to be persuaded that canine strangers aren’t mean dogs. But she came around, too.
We got a little bored for a couple days because the Fair Jessica led a group up to Bar Harbor and took the car with her. The first morning they were gone, Zoë and Pip were all jazzed to head to the park or the beach as per our usual routine. I opened the front door of the house and they ran out to get in the car only to realize it wasn’t there. I wish I’d taken a video of Zoë because she was outraged. “What the hell? Where’s my ride?” For those asking, yes, Gracie will be joining us. My daughter is back in D.C. for a couple days and my wife has to head back, too. When they return, they will bring Her Majesty with them.
And now, the weird stuff