Jan 6 • 1HR 24M

Nick Miroff On The Fentanyl And Border Crises

The star reporter returns to update us on the dismal state of affairs.

 
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Unafraid conversations about anything

Back for a second pod appearance, Nick is a reporter at the Washington Post covering immigration and DHS, and before that he was a foreign correspondent based in Mexico City and Havana. This time we discuss not just the unending border crisis but the spiraling fentanyl emergency, which Nick and his colleagues just covered in a must-read seven-part investigation. I know few people as honest and transparent as Nick on what’s actually happening at the border.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on how the Biden administration is erasing the meaning of asylum, and how fentanyl should be seen foremost as a poison — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: the overwhelmed court system, Title 42, the polarized and paralyzed Congress, the thankless role of Mayorkas, Obama’s record on immigration, Trump’s damage, the ineptitude of Kamala Harris, the effect of social media on migrants, many mind-blowing facts about fentanyl, its contamination in other drugs, Big Pharma, and what parents should tell their children.

Check out the full Dishcast archive here. Many listeners enjoyed our most recent episode:

Your conversation with Carl Trueman was excellent. I am now fully convinced that gay marriage has nothing to do with the broader decline of stable families, and that it is pretty much all down to birth control technology and divorce laws. Can’t put that genie back in the bottle!

Your continued reference to nature and evolution as a sort of defense of homosexuality is persuasive. However, if we look to nature, you will notice we NEVER see babies raised without mothers (though often without involved fathers). By your own argument then, is it not unnatural for two men to raise a baby together?

For Dishheads interested in the evolutionary biology and the history of the mother-child relationship, I strongly recommend Mother Nature by Sarah Hardy. It’s also interesting in light of the continued policy conversations about abortion.

You talk a lot about how natural promiscuity is for men, but pair-bonding and monogamy are also very natural. I think we are a flexible species.

Yes, human males are conflicted between their desire to fuck anything that moves and a deeper desire for family and stable offspring. We’re a mildly monogamous species. But my point was mainly about the difference between men and women on this front. As to nature and child-rearing, I agree that both sexes need to be involved. Two dads can facilitate this, as can two moms. In heterosexual parenting, fatherhood has often been downplayed as well — generations can speak of absent fathers. So yes, nature urges us to rear kids with two sexes as role models. But it is also flexible enough to include countless variables: grandparents, wider family units, friends and neighbors.

From a “faithful Dish listener and reader for a number of years”:

The conversation with Carl Trueman was, as most Dishcasts, interesting and thought provoking, but I want to comment for now on just one thing: “sexual mechanics,” so to speak.

I am familiar with Christian theology teaching in the area of sex and sexuality, so I can appreciate a great “wrong hole” remark from your school teacher. But I thought of another possibility: would the mouth be “a wrong receptacle”?

Yes, it’s useless for procreation purposes, but the mouth gives participants (at least one, but hopefully both) pleasure — and a way to express their feelings of love. What is morally wrong in such an act, even from a traditional Christian point of view (unless you still believe in “wasted semen,” as in the Old Testament)? Would Dr. Trueman insist that as a matter of principle, it’s still wrong — even for hetero married couples? I think that would be a very lively discussion.

Absolutely. Think of the human tongue. What is it naturally for? Guiding nutrition to the throat? Speaking? Kissing? Licking? Blowjobs? The human body — because it is a function of Darwinian selection — has no single what-for. And a human male who produces trillions of sperm in his lifetime cannot be expected to restrict every single one to an act of legit procreation. Impossible. Yes, we are all sodomites now. And always have been.

Another listener:

I realize that, like Trueman, you buy into the God delusion, but at least you tried to explain to him that he “just can’t” reject Darwin. But a man who admits to not understanding how doors work (and doesn’t care to) has no problem rejecting Darwin. Note that he claimed that nature itself could “misbehave,” and that explains homosexual behavior in non-human animals. Yes, nature is behaving poorly if observed facts don’t match your interpretation of the alleged opinions of an imaginary sky god. That makes lots of sense. 

A quick dissent against me:

Quite an illuminating episode, but I must take issue with your conflating Muslim marriage with “arranged marriage” in such a throwaway manner. That was simply unfair and rather careless. There are arranged marriages in many religions — in fact, they are mainly cultural practices passed down generations for a variety of purposes (land, money, tribal alliances etc.) and rarely religious in nature.

Point taken. Another listener invokes the plural marriages of Muslims — and others:

Mr. Trueman holds that the unerring word of the Bible suggests that God mandates that marriage be between one man and one woman. I must then question the wisdom of his god’s father — his god being the Son of God, if I have that correctly.  God the Father, he of the Old Testament, seemed to have no such scruples about the numbers of women that a man, a patriarch at that, could have. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her co-conspirators had much to say about that in The Women's Bible.)

The other followers of the old God, the Islamics, also seem to find support in the Koran for plural marriages. And needless to say our own homegrown followers of Jesus — the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints — have it that Joe Smith and Brigham Young held that Jesus okay-ed their plural marriage to such an extent that Young was said to have at least 55 wives, perhaps more.

It is hard to know which is right.

Back to the sodomy:

When you two were discussing “the wrong hole,” Trueman made a comment about what our bodies are designed to do. Even when not preceded by “intelligent,” the word design in that context should raise suspicions that the speaker misunderstands biology. Design implies intent. Humans design cars, websites, clothes, et cetera. A designer starts with an objective and builds and tweaks to that objective. But evolution is a more reactive process, arguably more akin to trial and error.

Being fair to Trueman, it’s easy to make the mistake. When we look at a body (phenotype), we see sexual organs that clearly enable genes to be replicated and thus successful. So it’s not hard to infer that there’s a way they’re intended to be used. However, that sexual animals developed penises and vaginas doesn’t mean those animals can’t also have developed periodic characteristics that results in one lacking the impulse to fulfill that sexual purpose — a characteristic like being attracted to the same sex, for example.

Trueman demurred at notions of gayness being tied to genes, as many conservatives do, and you rightly pointed out there’s no conclusive line to be drawn from Gene A to Behavior Z. However, as you also noted, scholars have noticed homosexuality in nature going back to at least Aquinas. And today, we don’t have to guess: It’s pretty clear there’s at least some genetic influence on homosexuality. You might want to check out the article “Genetics may explain up to 25% of same-sex behavior, giant analysis reveals.”

Put succinctly, pieces of genetic code can generate contradictions to what we might intuit looking at the human body. Yes, most men will have a penis and want to have sex with women. And one can easily infer that from looking at the human body. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be true 100% of the time for 100% of men with penises, and there’s zero reason to infer any intent or purpose once we look at the level of genes.

There is no single “gay gene,” of course, just as there’s no single gene for height. (Here’s yet another plug for Paige Harden as a pod guest, as she uses the genes for height as an example in The Genetic Lottery.) But virtually every aspect of our being — sexuality, height, raw intellect, et cetera — has some genetic component. And in this case, Trueman is either unaware or ignoring that people’s genes might both give them the tools to reproduce sexually — and not a lick of the desire to use those tools in that way.

Nicely put. Another listener floats a theory:

At around the 50-minute mark, you observe that homosexuality is “part of the given order” but that its “continued existence … is a mystery” (based upon evolutionary biology). I offer an explanation that recognizes our nature as social animals that are linked in ways not yet fully discovered/understood: homosexuals perhaps exist to serve as “replacement parents” for the offspring of predicted deceased/absent older siblings — a trait perhaps more needed in humans’ more violent past.

Consider this from the Wiki page for fraternal birth order and male sexual orientation: “a significant volume of research find[s] that the more older brothers a male has from the same mother, the greater the probability he will have a homosexual orientation … The mechanism is thought to be a maternal immune response to male fetuses, whereby antibodies neutralize male Y-proteins thought to play a role in sexual differentiation during development.” (For more there’s this article on The Conversation.)

It appears that a similar phenomenon exists for female offspring: “Compared to heterosexual males, homosexual males had a significant preponderance of older brothers and homosexual females had a significant preponderance of older sisters.”

In cases where a first (or early in birth-order) boy is born gay, the mother may have experienced prior miscarriages of boys that supplied her with the exposure to the relevant antigen — or she has a genetic variation/mutation that has “tricked” her body into thinking a “replacement future-father” is going to be needed among her offspring (or perhaps even among her larger network/clan).

If this is the case, homosexuality is actually both IN nature and OF nature.

Another listener wades into intelligent design:

I was very impressed by your open-mindedness in podcasting with Carl Trueman on the topics of sexuality, morals, etc. He highlighted some good points you made and you highlighted some good points he made, and it was certainly a good example of how to have a respectful and even enjoyable conversation on an area of disagreement.

I know mine is currently a minority position among American elites, but I suppose being in a minority did not deter you in your advocacy of same-sex marriage beginning 30 years ago. It seems plain to me that it takes more “blind faith” to believe in evolution of all species from a common ancestor by means of natural selection on random mutations than to believe in an Intelligent Designer who had the capacity to enact “something” where there had been “nothing.” Darwinism violates so many observable scientific laws including “life begets life; non-life cannot beget life,” “disorder in a closed system is always increasing,” “genetic information degrades over time,” and even from Origin of Species where Darwin wrote: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.”

If you concluded that the Bible is historically accurate in its account of human origins, then you would be able to better trust that Genesis 3 also is a reliable explanation of why the human soul can be so dysfunctional. I think that would help to clarify why our natural impulses are not always trustworthy, so that you can deduce your conclusions about morality not primarily from personal experiences but from God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible and in the life of Jesus. In doing that, I think you will feel your intellectual integrity is invigorated too.

Another Christian:

When I listened to your discussion about the reality of different bodies having different desires, I thought of a piece of scripture:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

When I am confronted by something immoral I want to do (it’s frequent, alas), sometimes it helps me to consider this scripture — to remember that in the eternal scheme of things I’m a little child and need to trust the direction I’ve received from the Father who loves me, even if I don’t always understand the reasons for that direction.

From a former Catholic:

Thank you for the illuminating interview with Mr. Trueman (I’m being sarcastic). I got halfway through the episode and gagged when you said “God can’t be incompatible with truth.” Like you I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, spent 20 years as an Anglican layman and (gender) transitioner, went back to Rome again … but that journey was well and truly torpedoed by the publication of Male and Female He Made Them, published under the name of Cardinal Versaldi head of the Vatican Education Dicastery.

It’s a disgraceful, snide, condescending piece of work: vile reference to “the utopia of the neuter” and other references clearly indicating the attitude of the Roman church. The document purports to call for an “authentic anthropology of gender” then immediately proceeds to state the “authentic” traditional, essentialist position that disenfranchises intersex, trans and non-binary people — as well as by implication, same-sex attracted people. Current demographics indicate that would amount to approximately 3% of the human population.

I’m philosophically a materialist, but I’m not an atheist on the grounds that the absence of proof (that god does not exist) is not proof of absence. I keep an open mind as to whether god actually exists. Modern theoretical physics shows how very bizarre and unexpectedly complex and confounding is the apparent nature of the cosmos.

I am attracted to the ideas of the late great Protestant theologian Karl Bath and his concept of the complete otherness of god. I struggle with the notion that if god does exist, why does god need to be a person, or even male? Personhood and maleness (and femaleness) are human characteristics associated with biological reproduction. With whom and with what is god going to impregnate?   

As to the “why” one is same-sex attracted or trans: Why can’t same-sex attraction be merely a naturally occurring variation? Aside from a cultural priority for survival of the group — always problematic and fraught with risk — why does sex always need to be reproductive? The human species has extended the process that began with our primate forebears of freeing reproduction tied to the female oestrus cycle. Non-reproductive sex is clearly a design feature of our species and is probably tied to reinforcing pair bonds when humans have such a long developmental process. The survival interest of the group and maturation of offspring is clearly supported by this.

“Recreational promiscuity” is probably yet another mechanism promoting genetic diversity at a time when our hominid forebears could only travel by walking, thus restricted to a small geographic range and associated problems of genetic endogamy (inbreeding).

Another listener has a recommendation:

“Darwin has simply replaced Aquinas.” You should check out Thomistic Evolution by Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist and bioethicist. He’d make for an interesting guest, in light of desire to think through both Catholic theology and bioethics in light of modern science. He’s erudite, with practical experience in both cutting-edge science and traditional scholasticism.

Lastly, “a long-time Dishhead (since 2007)” looks to a possible future episode on a different subject:

I’m curious if you could do a Dishcast on psychedelics. It has been decriminalized in DC for almost a year now. I am wondering if you have taken advantage of this at all. As a resident of Pennsylvania that had no access and a daughter that lives in DC, I have finally been able to safely source mushrooms for my own wellbeing. I have been micro-dosing for the past three months and have been absolutely gobsmacked at the progress I’ve made by using this plant medicine with intent.

I have felt much less of an urge to reach for alcohol, cannabis, caffeine or any other substance when anxious/bored, etc. I have also found it much easier to have compassion for my co-workers and to think through problems as they arise at work. Personally, I feel more connected to nature and to my family and more present in general.

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. It has brought up a lot of difficult things that I have been suppressing for many many years that I have been able to slowly process.

I do not believe that plants should be illegal. What an odd thing it is to make naturally existing organic matter against the law! The War on Drugs was wrong from the start and should be halted immediately.

Anyway, this is a long and roundabout way of saying I would absolutely love to hear you do a series of discussions or writing on this topic as I believe it could help many fellow Dishheads and is one of the most important topics of the future for our planet. Getting your personal experience and spin on this topic would been fascinating and fun I think.

I do have experience with psilocybin — and hope to have more. I wrote about it here — an essay in the Out On A Limb collection.


While we’re at it, here’s some ongoing reader commentary on the grinding war in Ukraine. The first of several dissents:

You worried that we are adding risk after risk to a confrontation with a nuclear power. What I don’t understand about your position is why on Earth you would think that your path (apparently either a retraction of US support and/or a quick settlement that concedes Ukrainian land to Russia) is not itself an “addition of risk” to a later “confrontation with a nuclear power.” If Russia is rewarded for its brutal aggression and disruption of world order, it will only incentivize Russia and other authoritarians to attack relatively weak neighbors in the future (e.g. China vs. Taiwan). This is a much more realistic risk, and with much more dire consequences.

Sure, a quick resolution would be nice — but it would be deceivingly convenient. Recall that Putin was rewarded with his 2014 annexation of Crimea when the West chose not to push back, and that set the stage for the recent, far more bloody and ambitious attack.

The costs of the current war make this different. No one can plausibly argue any more that if you don’t stop Putin in Ukraine, he’ll be in Poland soon. Because Putin cannot even hold down parts of Ukraine, let alone a NATO country. He’s a busted flush.

Another dissent:

I don’t think Russia has the ability to “turn Kyiv into Grozny,” as you claim. And in any case, the Ukrainians are apparently prepared to fight on as long as necessary.  They certainly seem to understand that there’s no potential peace agreement with Russia that can be relied on — after resting and refitting, the Russians will be back as soon as they think they can win. So I’m happy to continue helping them, and “deferring to them on war aims.” I think the potential benefits of continuing to help Ukraine degrade and destroy Russian military capabilities far outweigh the risks to us, at least for now.

Another reader wants a formal military alliance with Ukraine:

I feel the elephant in the room is Ukrainian membership in NATO — this is the only true solution to the war and should be our ultimate goal. NATO membership is a deterrent to invasion, and there has never been a NATO member attacked by another country. Russian forces would be running for their lives out of Ukraine if it joined NATO. The Russians are already failing at beating Ukrainian troops now and they would be terrified of fighting an alliance the size of NATO.  

Yes, Putin is threatening to use nuclear weapons, but we mustn’t appease him out of fear of nuclear attacks. Otherwise, he will keep using that tactic.

Another reader:

Thank you for an honest perspective on the conflict in Ukraine. But I have one wish for future assessments: Is it not time to give Boris and the Brexiters more credit? Chained down by a cross-border regulatory system, the malaise in Europe — specifically as it attempts to break from Russian oil dependency — seems to me a product of the Union itself. While the world needs a united Europe in the broader fight against Russian and totalitarianism, the best cure may not be a politically linked continent after all. 

Good point. One more writes, “You asked for your readers opinions on US strategy in Ukraine, so here goes”:

As I understand it, our current strategy is to give Ukraine enough help to make sure they don’t lose, but not enough to win — by which I mean expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian territory and restoring effective Ukrainian sovereignty to its internationally recognized borders, and forcing Russian to cease hostilities once those facts are on the ground. The Biden administration’s hope, I think, is that over time sanctions will bite hard enough to induce Russia to produce a peace proposal that Ukraine is likely to accept.  In the meantime it’s enough to just prevent an outright Russian victory.    

By hitting Ukrainian energy infrastructure hard in the last couple of months, Russia has significantly increased the cost of  the current US strategy. Russia now has a more realistic hope that either Ukraine or its allies will fold and consent to a ceasefire on the current frontlines. Which based on previous experience, is likely to harden into a de facto border, until such time as Russia feels ready to try to take another bite — so a significant win for Putin, as he understands winning.  Then he will probably consent to resume gas shipments to Europe, in return for sanctions relief.

I think going that route would be a mistake. It will simply store up trouble for the future in Europe, and it will send a signal to China that as long as they’re willing to take a temporary hit, it’s safe for them to make a run at Taiwan.   

I would suggest a change in strategy. Give Ukraine what they need to win the war in 2023, meaning everything they’ve asked for, and maybe more. At the very least give them long-range rocket artillery to cut Russian supply lines to southern Ukraine and Crimea, and to hit rail bridges, supply dumps and other high-value targets in that area. This will make Russian forces in that area less effective and force them to choose between withdrawal or eventual defeat, as was recently done in Northern Kherson. Plus tanks, infantry-fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, humvees, trucks, and light fast vehicles to support an offensive towards the sea of Azov, which would effectively encircle all Russian forces in southern Ukraine and Crimea. Once those territories are under Ukrainian control, Ukraine could ask for a ceasefire.

The United States has fought numerous proxy wars against Russia. Russia and the US have always tried to avoid direct engagement between their respective armed forces. At the same time, both have always fought to win, providing their proxies with all suitable and necessary aid to do so. Stalin not only provided MIGs to North Korea, he also provided Russian pilots to fly them. He also provided tanks and an abundance of heavy and light weaponry. And of course the Chinese army fought the US directly.

Vietnam was no different. The Russians and the Chinese provided immense amounts of military equipment and aid, including tanks, artillery, SAM systems, and where necessary trainers and personnel to operate them. Again, apart from avoidance of direct conflict, very few limits were observed. Nixon rattled the nuclear sabre quite a bit, let it be known that he was a bit mad. The Russian and Vietnamese were undeterred.   

Russia lacks good options for escalation. They could very well win the current limited one-sided war against Ukraine, one in which they have numerous weapons, targets and strategies available to them which are not currently available to Ukraine due to Biden administration caution. But they can’t win a conventional war against NATO. Their army is bogged down Ukraine and they have no trained forces available for new offensives against NATO.  They probably could not even prevent a NATO invasion of Kaliningrad. Their air force is not even a match for the tiny Ukrainian Air Force, so I can’t imagine they’d last long against the US.

Ditto for the navy. Russian has an unknown number of advanced cruise and hypersonic missiles available, but they’ve probably already used most of what they have. War with NATO would a disaster for Russia.

Russia does have the option of launching nuclear war. But I don’t think that's a credible threat. You can’t win a war, or any kind of menacing confrontation, with a nuclear power, unless you are willing to run some risk of a nuclear war. Otherwise anytime your opponent decides to play madman, make nuclear threats, then you have to capitulate.  

Thanks as always for the superb commentary — you can send yours to dish@andrewsullivan.com.