Rod Dreher

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‘Les Murray Is Australia’

The other day I was in Sydney, thinking about this Alan Jacobs post about the recently deceased Australian poet Les Murray, and this 2015 essay by Jacobs about Les Murray. In it, Jacobs wrote:

The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has argued that France produces, from time to time, a peculiar kind of figure whom he calls the “consecrated heretic.” Voltaire is one example; Rousseau another; Sartre a third. The consecrated heretic is an artist or intellectual who plants his feet firmly in the riverbed and faces the social current upstream, refusing to be carried along by it. He mocks conventional wisdom; he scandalizes ordinary people by what he believes, what he says, how he acts. Of course, many people do this, but only a tiny handful are celebrated for it, are seen as indispensable threads in the social fabric. The passionate earnestness of these few is acknowledged; they are clearly dedicated in their own perverse way to the common good. Eventually the nation’s major institutions seek to bestow high honors on such heretics, who of course turn aside disdainfully, which makes them treasured all the more. Les Murray is the chief consecrated heretic of Australia.

One thing that made Les Murray a heretic in Australia is that he was a convert to Catholicism, a real believer who dedicated most of his books “To the glory of God.”

Alan put up this old Australian tourist ad featuring Les Murray. It’s really something; it consists of lines from one of his most well-known poems, “The Dream Of Wearing Shorts Forever”:

So, I went to a big bookstore in Sydney looking for a volume of Les Murray poems so I could see what the big deal was. They had nothing — I’m guessing because Murray died last month, and they sold out.

This morning having coffee with some new friends in Melbourne, I mentioned how much I had hoped to buy a book of Les Murray poems while here. One of them — I believe it was one of them, but I’ve talked about Murray with several people these past days — said to me, “Les Murray is Australia.” Tonight, one of those friends delivered to me a hardback copy of the Collected Poems of Les Murray, the cover of which is above. I was so grateful, and so touched. It’s hard for me to overstate how much I like Australians, who are exactly what you expect: bold, big-hearted, and kind.

Tonight in the Uber returning from dinner, I was talking with my Australian friend Paul about the big book, which I held in my lap like a treasure chest. He said that his favorite Les Murray poem is called “The Last Hellos.” He explained that Murray had a complicated and painful relationship with his father. Here is the poem. It is a thing of rough beauty.


Don’t die, Dad —
but they die.
This last year he was wandery:
took off a new chainsaw blade
and cobbled a spare from bits.
Perhaps if I lay down
my head’ll come better again.
His left shoulder kept rising
higher in his cardigan.
He could see death in a face.
Family used to call him in
to look at sick ones and say.
At his own time, he was told.
The knob found in his head
was duck-egg size. Never hurt.
Two to six months, Cecil.
I’ll be right, he boomed
to his poor sister on the phone
I’ll do that when I finish dyin.

Don’t die, Cecil.
But they do.
Going for last drives
in the bush, odd massive
board-slotted stumps bony white
in whipstick second growth.
I could chop all day.
I could always cash
a cheque, in Sydney or anywhere.

Any of the shops.
Eating, still at the head
of the table, he now missed
food on his knife side.
Sorry, Dad, but like
have you forgiven your enemies?
Your father and all of them?

All his lifetime of hurt.
I must have (grin). I don’t
think about that now.


People can’t say goodbye
any more. They say last hellos.
Going fast, over Christmas,
he’d still stumble out
of his room, where his photos
hang over the other furniture,
and play host to his mourners.
The courage of his bluster
firm big voice of his confusion.
Two last days in the hospital:
his long forearms were still
red mahogany. His hands
gripped steel frame. I’m dyin.
On the second day:
You’re bustin to talk but
I’m too busy dyin.


Grief ended when he died,
the widower like soldiers who
won’t live life their mates missed.
Good boy Cecil! No more Bluey dog.
No more cowtime. No more stories.
We’re still using your imagination,
it was stronger than all ours.
Your grave’s got littler
somehow, in the three months.
More pointy as the clay’s shrivelled,
like a stuck zip in a coat.
Your cricket boots are in
the State museum! Odd letters
still come. Two more’s died since you:
Annie, and Stewart. Old Stewart.
On your day there was a good crowd,
family, and people from away.
But of course a lot had gone
to their own funerals first.
Snobs mind us off religion
nowadays, if they can.
Fuck thém. I wish you God.

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View From Your Table

Melbourne, Australia

Sushi and sashimi and Kirin Ichiban by the Yarra River.

By the way, this is as close as I got to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (see in the distance). I was too afraid that the Melbourne crickets would be as poisonous and as aggressive as the Sydney funnel web spiders, so naturally I kept away. I hope I did the right thing. Eh?

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American Abortion

As you know, I’ve been in Australia for the past week, and have not been on the Internet much. The Alabama abortion law came to pass while I was away, and I haven’t been able to follow the discussion much, owing to my schedule here. This comment from a reader on another thread struck me, though:

I’ve been genuinely surprised by [the Left’s] reaction on the issue of legal elective abortion. It’s qualitatively different. Any threat to “we can destroy this child/organism/thing at any stage of development until birth” (and “heartbeat” laws are a very big threat) and the reaction is extraordinary. The entertainment industry takes a break from, well, entertaining or being funny and launches into angry sermonizing. So this is their red line in the cultural landscape, the hill on which they will burn with epithymia. I’ve been stunned by what some public figures are saying on social media. Statements that are way past “here’s a reasonable and rational point of view with which someone might disagree”. I’m seeing some seriously unhinged, out of touch with reality statements. The writer of the film Juno said of pro-life fans “I hate all of you”.

What is going on in the psyche of people such that they go far beyond “I disagree strongly with you” to “you are the enemy whom I hate and you need to be crushed”?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sizable portion of the social-cultural left lose its collective mind like this. I honestly didn’t understand until now that legal elective abortion (up to and sometimes including killing the child immediately after birth) is the center of their moral and ideological universe.

If I can figure out how and why I will understand what drives the social-cultural left.

I would differ slightly on that. I think sexual autonomy is at the center of their moral universe; maintaining legal abortion is part of that.

What are you pro-life readers seeing and hearing? Fill in this out-of-touch American. I’ll be heading back home on Wednesday.

By the way,  I just read Ramesh Ponnuru’s column on the new pro-life legislation. Nobody can doubt Ponnuru’s pro-life bona fides, but I think he makes a strong point about the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that the pro-life movement has miscalculated by rejecting incrementalism at this stage. Not sure that he’s right — again, I’ve been out of the country, and not following the debate, but it sounds spot on. Excerpt:

But incrementalism doesn’t have to be a universally correct strategy, for all political movements at all times, to be the right one for the pro-life movement today. Among the circumstances we confront are these: We have a radically unjust legal regime on abortion which can in principle be made less unjust by degrees; many millions of Americans are ambivalent — for example, favoring legal abortion in the case of rape while opposing it in the second and third trimesters; those on the other side of the debate are, partly as a result, demonstrably more eager to discuss abortions after rape than abortions late in pregnancy; many politicians allied to the pro-life movement are not especially adept at navigating the politics of the issue; and while our sense of where the Supreme Court justices are is imprecise, we have reason to think that one or more of them have misgivings both about Roe and about overruling it. These circumstances all argue in favor of incrementalism.

Finally, many critics suggested, often using forceful rhetoric, that an incrementalist strategy does not fit the moral urgency of the cause. The evil of abortion must be combated insistently, they say — and I agree. But our moral obligation is to combat it as effectively and intelligently as we know how. It is not to pass a law that gets struck down in court rapidly while alienating Americans in the middle of the debate.

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Sadism, Ours And Theirs

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, from the tweet of actor Jim Carrey

Not much shocks the conscience these days. This did:

Carrey, the comic actor, delights in the prospect of murdering a Republican politician, and makes funny out of the details of abortion (e.g., vacuuming an unborn child’s skull to pieces). You can imagine what would have happened had a conservative actor (James Woods, say) posted a cartoon of a dead Iraqi child, shot by an American soldier, with the caption, “I think if you’re going to kill a jihadi, it should be done sometime before they get old enough to carry a gun.” That would be the end of that actor. Carrey gets away with it. They always do.

But the theoretical sadistic actor of my story would no doubt be a hero for some on the Right. I say that because President Trump is reportedly considering pardoning an accused war criminal who did exactly what I theorize above. Look:

Stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death. Picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost. Indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.

Navy SEAL commandos from Team 7’s Alpha Platoon said they had seen their highly decorated platoon chief commit shocking acts in Iraq. And they had spoken up, repeatedly. But their frustration grew as months passed and they saw no sign of official action.

Tired of being brushed off, seven members of the platoon called a private meeting with their troop commander in March 2018 at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. According to a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by The New York Times, they gave him the bloody details and asked for a formal investigation.

But instead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander and his senior enlisted aide — both longtime comrades of the accused platoon leader, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report.

The clear message, one of the seven told investigators, was “Stop talking about it.”

The platoon members eventually forced the referral of their concerns to authorities outside the SEALs, and Chief Gallagher now faces a court-martial, with his trial set to begin May 28.

But the account of the March 2018 meeting and myriad other details in the 439-page report paint a disturbing picture of a subculture within the SEALs that prized aggression, even when it crossed the line, and that protected wrongdoers.

Please read the whole thing to learn the details of what Gallagher is charged with having done. Gallagher is unquestionably a brave man … but he is also pretty obviously a sadist:

Two SEAL snipers told investigators that one day, from his sniper nest, Chief Gallagher shot a girl in a flower-print hijab who was walking with other girls on the riverbank. One of those snipers said he watched through his scope as she dropped, clutching her stomach, and the other girls dragged her away.

Another day, two other snipers said, the chief shot an unarmed man in a white robe with a wispy white beard. They said the man fell, a red blotch spreading on his back.

Notice it was other SEALs who turned him in.

Gallagher deserves a fair trial. But there are some conservatives who would not care one bit if he were found guilty — they would not want to see him punished.

TAC’s Mark Perry has a good, detailed piece on the case. Excerpts:

The case against Gallagher, a 19-year Navy veteran (14 of them as a SEAL) and father of three, is straightforward and summarized in a three-page charge sheet that details the case against him. While deployed with his unit in Mosul on May 3, a wounded enemy fighter was brought in for treatment. When he was told that the teenager was with ISIS, Gallagher turned to his platoon. “Nobody touch him,” he allegedly instructed. “He’s mine.” At that point, Gallagher took out his knife, stooped over the injured fighter, cut into his pants in an apparent attempt to treat him—then stabbed him in his lower neck and chest, leaving his fellow platoon members stunned. Gallagher then (allegedly) posed for pictures while holding up the corpse’s head and conducted a macabre reenlistment ceremony over him.

Later, according to prosecutors, Gallagher texted a photo of himself next to the corpse to a fellow SEAL with the message: “I got him with my hunting knife.”

Gallagher’s platoon members have told Navy investigators that Gallagher’s actions both before and after the May 3 incident had convinced them that their chief had “gone off the rails,” a senior Navy officer involved in the case said. Several told Navy investigators that Gallagher shot Iraqi civilians with his sniper rifle, bragged about his “kills” (while pledging that he would beat super-sniper Chris Kyle’s “body count”), and, when told that he would be reported for what he’d done, intimidated his accusers and set members of his platoon against them.

The Navy’s case is sobering. During a two-day preliminary hearing held last November, military prosecutors and NCIS investigators presented evidence against Gallagher that included a helmet-cam video of the wounded ISIS fighter, footage of Gallagher’s “reenlistment ceremony,” photographs of Gallagher holding the knife over the corpse, pictures of SEALs posing with the body, and 1,000 pages of documents, interviews, and backup evidence. (The case has been the subject of a series of detailed investigative pieces written by Carl Prine that have appeared in the Navy Times.)

We close our eyes to inhumanity for tribalist reasons. Think of all the pro-abortion liberals who said nothing about Kermit Gosnell, or who rationalized (and do rationalize) the gruesome work of Planned Parenthood. Human life becomes an abstraction. Real war, the kind that gets people (unborn children, innocent Iraqi old men and children) killed, becomes nothing but an extension of the culture war. Ha ha! Don’t you wish someone had sucked the skull of Alabama’s governor dry before she was born? 


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Progressive Colonialism, Southern Discomfort

‘If I can’t abort my baby, I’m going to pack up and go back to Brooklyn’ (Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock)

I’m so sorry. Really, just very sorry. Here entitled Yankees like the NYT’s Ginia Bellafante thought the American South existed to give Millennial Brooklynites a place to reproduce Park Slope, but more affordably, and now we’ve gone and ruined it for them with our deplorable social and religious views. Bellafante writes about how pro-life legislators are screwing things up for these expats:

“The New South’’ was a term conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War to suggest a set of aspirations of some southern elites who hoped to rebuild a backward and devastated place into a world better aligned with Northern urban values.

Over the many decades, it has acquired various layers of nuance, but today it tends to call to mind a string of cities from Charlotte, N.C., to Austin, Tex., that have essentially been Brooklynized by way of a progressive social culture and a tweaked fidelity to some of the South’s more marketable traditions.


How will these new abortion laws affect the redistribution of talent to places whose economies prosper from that talent? Under the current conditions, I wondered if women like Tess and her friends, many of whom moved from New York or Los Angeles, would have chosen to relocate to the Deep South. I asked some of them, and they told me that they were not sure.

One, Allison Gourlay, arrived in New Orleans a few years ago from a studio in Greenwich Village she could barely afford. At first she had a hard time finding work and questioned her decision.

“I was talking to a friend one day when I wasn’t sure and she said, ‘Stay, this place is about to blow up. It’s on the cusp of something big, can’t you feel it?’ This is cheesy, but I got goose bumps. New Orleans is really a place to establish work-life balance but I’m getting ready to start a family and it scares me,” she said.

“When you meet all these young people moving here who are so passionate and intelligent and changing the rules and making the city what it is, it is so inspiring. But it really worries me that it could no longer be that place.”

She’s getting ready to start a family, but the possibility that the Louisiana legislature might make it harder for her to exterminate her unborn child makes her think about abandoning the city where things are otherwise pretty great for her?

Read the whole thing, if you can stomach it.

How many stories do you see in the New York Times about the city and state’s extremely progressive social legislation, and how it stands to hurt the city economically and culturally? Are there migrants — from the American South, or from more socially conservative overseas cultures — who are unsettled by the recent pro-abortion fanaticism of the New York legislature? Kathleen Parker comments:

The question of craziness, meanwhile, depends upon one’s definition of crazy. Is Alabama crazier than New York, where some protections for babies “born” alive during an abortion were recently eliminated, making it easier to end their life if desired by the abortion-seeker?

We know how much economically significant talent is driven away from NYC because of the cost of living — that’s one of the foundations of Bellafante’s piece. Well, how much economically meaningful talent is driven away from NYC (or declines to relocate there) because the city can impose ruinous fines on employers who refuse to use whatever pronoun an employee wants? Are there young newcomers to NYC who want to start families, but who are now thinking that it might not be a good idea to settle down in a city whose public school system appears to be run by flat-out racists who despise whites, in ways that are approved by progressives?

I concede that it’s interesting to talk to progressive Northerners who moved South, thinking that the Grand March of Progress would inevitably make the benighted (but cheap) metropolises of Dixie into non-deplorable locales — but who are learning that they, in fact, live in the South.

What chaps my butt about the piece is the assumption by the author (and those she writes about) that the South ought to assimilate to the dominant progressive culture. The message of this piece is, If you Christianist troglodytes don’t let us progressives have our abortions, we’re not going to move there and contribute to your economies. 

I have an idea! All y’all could pack up your progressive colonialism ethic and go the hell back home.

I have friends who are pro-choice Southern liberals. I believe they’re wrong about that, but this is their home, and I’ve got no problem with them speaking their minds, and advocating for the kinds of laws they would like to see. But you’d better believe I have a big problem with these people who come down to take what’s good out of the South, but the moment Southerners — who are in general more socially conservative — express through their democratically elected legislators opinions that run counter to the sensibilities of Williamsburg, these people are thinking of leaving? Go. Just, go. The South has been very nice to you, but it doesn’t need to be lectured on how if it knows what’s good for it, it will kill its unborn children like the enlightened of the Empire State.

I’ll never read it in the NYT, but I’d be curious to know if any of you readers left a progressive city or state to move to the South (or at least the Midwest) for cultural reasons — specifically, to seek a more socially conservative milieu in which to raise your kids.


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View From Your Table

Melbourne, Australia

A quick Korean dinner after we arrived in Melbourne. That’s a chive pancake, and the last pork and kimchi dumpling. Unfortunately the street view wasn’t much to look at from the angle. I tried to take a reverse selfie VFYT, with not much success — but the street was brighter. Look:

Lookahere Melbourne folks, I’m going to be in conversation with journalist Greg Sheridan on Monday night, and you are invited. I’m not sure if there are any seats left, but drop a note to Yvette Nehme and see if it’s possible. 

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Shock: Conservatives Win Australia

Australian PM Scott Morrison holds on to office in jaw-dropping victory (ABC News Australia screenshot)

All week I’ve been hearing from Australians — conservative voters — that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was going to win today’s national election. Even tonight at my speech in Sydney, voters were downcast about the expected results. And then we all went home and turned on the TV, and learned that the conservative Coalition incumbents led by PM Scott Morrison had pulled off an upset. (N.B., the Liberal Party is the conservative party in Australia). Read this report from The Australian:

The Coalition’s bombshell triumph comes after repeated polls placed the ALP ahead of the Morrison Government, and the Prime Minister’s demise appeared assured.

Swings to the Coalition in Queensland turned the election on its head as early figures suggested the Government could hold on.

Labor scrutineers told older voters have punished the party for its higher-taxing agenda. States where the economy is not thriving – such as Queensland, WA and country areas – have backed the Liberals’ agenda focused on the economy and jobs.

“A bold agenda is now dead forever in Australia,” a Labor scrutineer says as it became clear the election was turning against [Labor leader Bill] Shorten.

As the votes came in confidence began to grown among Liberal supporters. At the official Liberal Party function in Sydney exuberant young Liberal supporters were heard chanting that the Liberals were “an election winning machine”.

“Labor used to be party for the workers, now it’s a party for people who don’t work,” one said.

Great line.

It will be interesting to see if the social conservative/religious vote will have been decisive, given the controversy this week over Israel Folau, the Aussie rugby player sacked by the league for posting to Instagram a Bible quote that offended gays. A few days back, Bill Shorten, the Labor standard bearer, attacked opponent Scott Morrison for not condemning Folau unambiguously. And on Friday, the rugby league formally ended Folau’s career, causing a lot of anger among Australians who believe he was robbed of his livelihood because of his Christian belief.

There could be no doubt that a Labor victory would have been bad for religious liberty in this country. Alex Deagon, a law professor, wrote in The Age this week:

Rugby Australia’s verdict on its punishment for Israel Folau, due on Friday,  will highlight broader religious freedom implications – and these may have an impact on the federal election this weekend. Folau’s case will likely end up in court, but this saga goes far beyond the career of an individual player and his attempt to assert his right to call for sinners to repent.

Most significantly, Labor has pledged to remove the religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act, which allow religious schools to directly “discriminate” against staff and students in the process of upholding a religious ethos.

Senior Labor figures have attempted to reassure religious schools that they will still be able to maintain their ethos through the indirect discrimination exemptions. The religious schools sector remains sceptical – for good reason.


Simply removing the direct discrimination exemptions fails to adequately protect the religious freedom of schools. First, schools will only be able to generally regulate student conduct if it is “reasonable in the circumstances”. However, this gives secular courts effective theological power to determine if a particular school policy based in religion is reasonable.

This is an unwise intrusion of the state in the church – and it is worth remembering that the idea of “separation of church and state” was originally designed to protect the church from the state.

Read the whole thing. 

I hope that in-depth election analysis reveals that the nasty anti-religious views of Labor and progressives in general played a measurable role in the left’s shocking defeat in Australia.

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View From Your Table

Sydney, Australia

Election returns with a room service burger and steamed vegetables dressed with — ta-dah! — chicken salt. What a shocking (but oh so satisfying) win for the conservative coalition tonight. Everybody thought Labor was going to win handily. But Queensland said HA! That’s former PM John Howard being interviewed above.

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A Ben Op Afternoon In Sydney

Self, Chong Shao, and Dan Shih

Just got back from a wonderful couple of hours spent with new friends who are readers of this blog, and the Benedict Option. They are Presbyterian Christians living here in Sydney. Without a doubt the best thing about this book and the places it has taken me is meeting people like Chong and Dan.

At the end of our conversation, we talked briefly about the West as a civilization, and why it matters. It’s about our shared faith, certainly, but also things like the sense of justice and mercy that emerged in the West. How marvelous that these men, these Christian men, and I stand together as believers in the Christian faith — a global faith, one that began in the Near East — but also as heirs to and believers in a particular civilization, that of the West.

I have to say too that even though we just met, they know me well. Look what they brought me as a souvenir of Australia. Never heard of this stuff, but I can tell you for sure that my family and I will be excited to have it and eat it:

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IVF & Alabama Abortion

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey — a woman, note well — signs state’s strong pro-life law (MSNBC Screenshot)

The state of Alabama passed its abortion law this week, while I was in Australia. I have had no time to study the issue at all, so I’m not going to offer an opinion on it until I get back home next week. But this bit of Andrew Sullivan’s column jumped out at me:

It’s astonishing to me, for example, that the Alabama law actually exempts fetuses used in IVF procedures. They don’t need to be protected, it appears. “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant,” explained a state senator in the debate. This is an enormous gift to pro-choicers. It really does prove that for some, this is not about human life. It’s about controlling women’s bodies. If that is revealed in a post-Roe era, the momentum will be with legal abortion.

I don’t think this is quite right, but it’s mostly right. I don’t think the inconsistency of the Alabama law can be honestly chalked up to a desire to “control women’s bodies.” I think it’s because IVF is widely used by Christians, and a consistent, logical pro-life position would outlaw it. If life begins at conception, then all those embryonic lives created in the laboratory and later discarded are human beings. This is something many Christians do not want to face.

There is no moral difference between men and women creating and destroying embryonic human life in the laboratory, and men and women doing the same in women’s wombs. Except for the matter of class — IVF in the US usually costs between $12,000 and $15,000. 

I’m not in favor of making the perfect the enemy of the good enough. But allowing a de facto abortion procedure used by middle and upper middle class people while is pretty ugly.

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