Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Wanna Be in the Cavalry

When my dad was in the Army he started as an infantryman and ended up as a tank commander. He said he was tired of walking.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Surrender at Appomattox

Surrender at Appomattox by Tom Lovell

Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia 150 years ago today. The terms of the surrender were drafted by Gen. Ely S. Parker, seen second from right in the painting above. Parker, a Seneca Indian and an attorney, served as an adjunct on General Grant's staff. The terms were those contained in this letter from the surrender correspondence between Grant and Lee:

April 9, 1865
General R. E. LEE:
In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th instant, I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate, one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged; and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery, and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officers appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by U. S. authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Saxon Easter

The Heliand was a 9th Century Saxon language poem retelling the Gospel narrative in a Germanic context. The following is from the Resurrection narrative in the Heliand as translated into English prose by G. Ronald Murphy S.J.
Warriors were picked from the Jewish battle-group for the guard. They set off with their weapons and went to the grave where they were to guard the grave of God's Son. The holy day of the Jews had now passed. The warriors sat on top of the grave on their watch during the dark starlit night. They waited under their shields until bright day came to mankind all over the middle world, bringing light to people.
It was not long then until: there was the spirit coming by God's power, by the holy breath, going under the hard stone to the corpse! Light was at that moment opened up, for the good of the sons of men; the many bolts on the doors of Hel (Hell) were unlocked; the road from this world up to heaven was built! Brilliantly radiating, God's Peace-Child rose up! He went about, wherever He pleased, in such a way that the guards, tough soldiers, were not at all aware of when He got up from death and arose from His rest.
Fr. Murphy's commentary points out a couple of interesting inculturation elements in this account. The grave is described as dug into the ground and covered by a stone upon which the guards sat. This style of grave is similar to the mound type burials familiar to the Saxons. Light emanating from the tomb creates a road to heaven. This is an allusion to the bifrost, the shimmering bridge that allowed the Germanic gods to travel between Earth and Asgard.

I like to read the Heliand and imagine Saxon warriors hearing its recitation in their mead halls. I hope you enjoyed the excerpt.

Happy Easter!
Christus Resurrexit!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I'm too tired/lazy to write a proper St. Patrick's Day post right now, but I encourage you to check out the excellent St. Patrick's Day linkfest at Lamentably Sane.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Law School at Notre Dame

I haven't been blogging much since I entered law school. These have been some of the highlights of my experience at Notre Dame.

The class of 2017 has around 200 students which is somewhat larger than many of us expected, but is certainly not too large. Our mandatory 1L classes fill up the lecture rooms but the students don't feel anonymous. It's actually rather nice to have a full classroom because it decreases the chances that any individual will get cold called by the professor.

The law school experience is quite different undergrad. The main classes on legal doctrine require only reading casebooks and taking notes during lectures before one final at the end of the semester graded on a curve. In undergrad, there were many assignments, tests, and quizzes throughout the semester, and finals were often not especially challenging nor did they form the basis for a student's entire grade. Law school is less stressful during the bulk of the semester but gets intense at the end as finals approach.

Law students are not however entirely free from assignments throughout the semester. Our first semester we were required to take a one credit Legal Research class and a two credit Legal Writing class. The former required easy but somewhat tedious weekly quizzes and the latter included a number of writing assignments including an Office Memo, and a Motion for Summary Judgement. The legal writing assignments were good confidence boosters. It is nice to see a real working document of the kind that we will be producing in our legal careers with your own name on it.

Our second semester was expected to be easier than the first, but a mere half-semester one credit class made it somewhat more stressful. For Legal Writing Part II, students team up with a partner to write an appellate brief and present an oral argument before a panel of judges. We finished last week. The research and writing took a while, but it was an important skill building exercise and was a cause for camaraderie as everyone worked through it together.

Law students are expected to plan for their future career from the first semester. Students are told that they should already have a good idea of the geographical location they would like to practice, if not the specific practice area. We send out applications for summer jobs from Christmas break through April, and hope to gain valuable work experience and contacts over the summer. There is less pressure to get the perfect job in our first summer than in our second. Law students hope to get their first real post-graduation job out of their 2L summer job.

The atmosphere is the law school is congenial. Students are not overly competitive and are happy to help each other. A feeling of fellowship extends beyond the law school, and many law students are enthusiastic participants in the broader university life. Sports is one unifying factor, and the law school is always well represented in the graduate student section at home football games. Going to law school at Notre Dame, one feels a sense of history, a connection to people such as Fr. Sorin and his band of Holy Cross priests who founded the university, and Knute Rockne the greatest football coach in history. A sense of gratitude to those who came before in the university's long history is shared by students and faculty alike.

Spiritual life is fairly strong at the law school. Daily masses at the law school chapel are well attended and the chapel is packed for Sunday mass. The mass is said reverently by Holy Cross priests who are often excellent homilists. The law school is better at maintaining a Catholic identity than much of the rest of Notre Dame, and law professors are often seen at mass with students. The faculty includes important defenders of Catholic life in the public sphere, most notably Gerard Bradley. If you have ever read an article about the Notre Dame administration making its latest accommodation to the enemies of the Faith, you have probably read professor Bradley quoted as the voice of opposition.

For all its faults, Notre Dame is a great place. The campus is beautiful, and a physical testament to the faith and success of American Catholics. I enjoy walking past the famous "Touchdown Jesus" mural everyday on my way to class and seeing the stained glass windows that mark the many chapels around campus.  At night, lights are shined on the golden dome of the administration building, and it is comforting to see the golden statute of Our Lady watching over campus. It is bittersweet to behold such great symbols of faith in a campus that continues to jettison its Catholic identity, but it inspires hope for the success of outposts of orthodoxy such as the Law School.

Notre Dame Ora Pro Nobis!

Go Irish!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sports Fans and Civilization

Lots of hipsterish and nerdy types like to make fun of sports fans for their devotion to teams that don't seem to have much real relation to the fans' lives.  Passion for any particular team seems arbitrary and silly to these critics.  For example, here is an ironic T-Shirt graphic from The Onion:

To be fair, this is kinda funny.

Those who mock sports enthusiasts for their loyalty may think they are simply having a bit of harmless fun at the expense of some proles.  Not so.  By condemning communities for their arbitrary nature, the ironists are striking at the heart of human civilization.  Just about every social arrangement that exists is arbitrary to one degree or another.  Even a strong family, seemingly a natural result of reproduction, involves many traditions and arrangements that do not obviously result from any "natural" process.  In the 18th Century, there were those who argued against organized religion on the grounds that it was an arbitrary institution.  A young Edmund Burke satirized the anti-religious in A Vindication of Natural Society, which carried the anti-arbitrariness argument to its natural conclusions and ended up condemning the entire government and society of England.  Sometimes people need to simply root for their king, their church, or their football team. 

You don't have to like sports.  You do however have to accept that for people to form communities around those who participate in athletics is good, even if it the formation of such communities is rather arbitrary.  Sports are  fundamentally good activities, as is the consumption of beer and guacamole while watching them.

Enjoy the Super Bowl!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Stille Nacht

100 years ago today, a truce between British and German troops on the Western Front briefly interrupted the butchery of the First World War.  The men celebrated together the Incarnation by which God became man for the salvation of those on both sides of no-man's-land.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pvt. Button

On Veterans Day we remember those who have served in our country's military.  One man I want to especially honor risked his life for his family and country though he never saw the enemy.  My ancestor, Montgomery Button, served as private in the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War.  The Mormon Battalion was the only officially religious unit in the history of the US military.  It was formed by Mormons who wished to prove their loyalty to their country while pioneering on the Western frontier.  From the website of the Mormon Battalion Association:
In July 1846 under the authority of U.S. Army Captain James Allen,  and with the encouragement of Mormon leader Brigham Young, the Mormon Battalion was mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory.  Allen was to take command of the unit as Lt. Colonel and appoint his staff. By the 16th of that month, over 500 men had enlisted in the Mormon Battalion.  The Mormon Battalion left Council Bluffs to begin the first leg of its historic journey to the traditional marching tune of American soldiers, "The Girl I left Behind Me."
Their orders were outlined in the following Letter of Instructions dated June 3, 1846 from William Learned Marcy (Below), Secretary of War to Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, commanding the United States forces at Fort Leavenworth:
“... It has been decided by the President to be of the greatest importance, in the pending war with Mexico, to take early possession of Upper California. An expedition, with that view, is hereby ordered, and you are designated to command it." .... "It is known that a large body of Mormon emigrants are enroute to California, for the purpose of settling in that country. You are desired to use all proper means to have a good understanding with them, to the end that the United States may have their cooperation in taking possession of and holding that country. It has been suggested here, that many of these Mormons would willingly enter into the service of the United States, and aid us in our expedition against California. You are hereby authorized to muster into service such as can be induced to volunteer, not, however to a number exceeding one-third of your entire force. Should they enter the service, they will be paid as other volunteers, and you can allow them to designate, as far as it can properly be done, the persons to act as their officers. It is understood that a considerable number of American citizens are now settled on the Sacramento River, near Sutter's establishment, called Nueva Helvetica .....”
Church and military leadership recruited for days to gather the necessary enlisted personnel.  Each individual, like so many before and after them, had to make a conscious decision to enter service for a war they likely misunderstood.  These individuals prayed for insight and strength in their decision to serve a government, which until now, had shunned and mistreated them.
The makeup of the command was unlike any other body of volunteers ever to serve into the U.S. Army.  Age requirements of 18 to 45, first specified by Lieutenant Colonel Allen, were shattered by a number of the volunteers.  The oldest soldier was 67 year old Samuel Gould.  The youngest recruit was Alfred Higgins, barely 14.  Also accompanying the battalion were approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses, and fifty-one children.  In all, about six hundred individuals started the journey to Fort Leavenworth.
The battalion marched from Council Bluffs on July 20, 1846, arriving on August 1, 1846 at Fort Leavenworth, where they were outfitted for their trek to Santa Fe. Battalion members drew their arms and equipment, including a clothing allowance of forty-two dollars each.  Battalion members took cash in lieu of uniforms, using the money to support their families and their church's move west. Consequently, they did not wear uniforms.
The march from Fort Leavenworth was delayed by the sudden illness of Lt. Colonel Allen; Capt. Jefferson Hunt (right) was instructed to begin the march to Santa Fe and received word en route that Colonel Allen was dead. Allen's death caused confusion regarding who should lead the battalion to Santa Fe. Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith was chosen the commanding officer by the vote of the regular army battalion officers. The volunteer officers and enlisted men were not consulted and this caused some confusion during the leadership transition.
Smith  and his accompanying surgeon, Dr. George B. Sanderson, have been described in Battalion member's journals as the "heaviest burdens" of the Battalion. Smith had a dictatorial leadership style and Dr. Sanderson's remedy for every ailment was a large dose of calomel or arsenic. The men soon learned that the supposed cure was invariably worse than the disease. The men often spewed out the medication when out of the doctor's sight.  Excessive heat, lack of food, and forced long-distance marches were additional plagues the unit suffered on its way to Santa Fe.
The Battalion arrived in the captured Mexican territory of New Mexico in October of 1846, and established camp in Santa Fe.  The Mormons then came under the command of Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, who would later become a noted cavalry tactician and the father in law of J.E.B. Stuart.  While there, the Mormons met the Western adventurer, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whose mother Sacagawea had brought him on the Lewis and Clark expedition when he was a baby.  Jean Baptiste joined the Mormon Battalion as a scout and would guide it to California.

Cooke wished to bring only fighting men on the march to California, so he created Company D, a "sick detachment" that would consist of soldiers who were ill or had brought their families with them.  Company D was ordered to march into Colorado and make camp at Pueblo.  Private Montgomery Button left Santa Fe with Company D with his wife Mary and his children James, Louisa, Samuel, and Jutson.  Jutson Button is my great-great-great-great-grandfather.  Company D traveled to Pueblo where they established a camp and braved the Rocky Mountain winter.  In May 1847, the Mormons in Pueblo left to join Brigham Young in Salt Lake where they were discharged from the army. (I learned about Company D from this site and this one)

Montgomery Button never encountered Mexican troops, but like many pioneers, he and his family endured the great hardships of the Western trails, and Montgomery did so while bearing arms in the service of his country.  As it happens, my ancestor is not the only Pvt. Button to serve in Colorado.  Ft. Carson sits less than an hour north of the old Mormon camp at Pueblo, where it serves as a base for the 4th Infantry Division.  My younger brother Nathaniel, who joined the army last summer, serves in the 4th Infantry.  Like his ancestor Montgomery, my brother defends flag and family.  I honor them both this Veterans Day.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cruz Confusion

Credit: Jeff Malet,
Ted Cruz recently said something so outrageously stupid and unjust that I felt the need to emerge from my law school exile and write a post about it.  As many of you may know, Cruz recently gave a speech to "In Defense of Christians," a Middle Eastern Christian organization, but left before finishing because some in the crowd booed in response to his assertion that "Christians have no greater ally than Israel."  Offended by the heckling, Cruz said "“If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews then I will not stand with you" and then left the stage.

Ted Cruz is either a cynical manipulator or a dangerously uninformed man.  Perhaps he is aware of the fact that Middle Eastern Christians don't tend to like Israel very much and wanted to be booed; it was a stunt meant to impress the more illiterate sections of his evangelical base.  If this is the case, he used Mid-East Christians in an immoral fashion for personal gain, and should not be trusted with power.  Alternatively, he really could have no idea that Mid-East Christians tend to identify more with their Muslim neighbors than with Israeli Jews, and that they have good reason for doing so.  Perhaps he really thinks that the people booing him were just a bunch of anti-Semitic lunatics who somehow got into a Christian event.  If so, he is an ignoramus who has no business filling any office that deals with foreign policy. 

If Cruz is merely ignorant, then he needs to be informed of an important truth.  Israel is not the greatest ally of Christians in the Middle East.  In the large majority of cases, the people whom Christians in that region rely on for support are Muslim.  In Kurdistan, Muslim Kurdish troops die to protect Chaldean Christians from the Islamic State.  In Jordan, Christians live in peace with their Muslim neighbors and can rely on the friendship and protection of King Abdullah II, one of the greatest of contemporary monarchs.  In Egypt, where Muslim Brotherhood supporters attack Coptic Christians, Muslims have on multiple occasions stood in protective rings around Coptic churches to defend them.  In Gaza, Christian and Muslim Palestinians pull each other out the rubble left by Israeli bombs, and curse the Jewish state together for what they perceive to be unjust aggression.

Mid-East Christians tend to dislike Israel.  This animosity results from a number of factors.  Perhaps most important is the simple desire to fit in with their Muslim neighbors.  Promoting secular nationalism side by side with Muslims makes Christians part of the political world around them and makes allies out of Muslims who could potentially be enemies.  The fact that Mid-East Christians would react negatively to Cruz's praise of Israel is entirely understandable.

Christian opposition to Israel may be wrong to one degree or another, but it doesn't really matter.  Cruz's statement that he would not stand with Christians unless they stood with Israel is disgusting.  Unless they are doing something truly monstrous like massacring Albanians, we must stand with our fellow Christians around the world, even if we disagree with them on minor points.  You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family.  Israeli Jews may be our friends, but Middle-Eastern Christians are our family, and we owe it to them to consider their problems and positions with the greatest of charity, even if we disagree.  If Ted Cruz wishes to act in a truly Christian manner, he needs to apologize to the Christians he insulted and instead of lecturing them about the ways of the world, he should shut up and listen to Mid-East Christians explain things to him.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Chaldeans are Being Destroyed

The Chaldeans are being destroyed and the West does nothing. The American invasion of 2003 created a power vacuum that would be filled by the Islamic State. We are responsible for what happens to these people, and so far Obama has done nothing. God have mercy.

 H/T: Rorate Caeli

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back in Action

I recently spent a week at Mises U in Auburn Alabama, where I may have inadvertently infected half of the Libertarian intelligentsia with a cold.  The lectures were great, but the highlight for me was the conversations with one of my best friends in which we hashed out a synthesis between the proprietary anarchism of Hans Herman Hoppe, the classical conservatism of Edmund Burke, and Church teaching.  Assuming I actually maintain that position (I'm 22, I change my mind all the time), I hope to one day write a book on the subject with the paradoxical title Anarcho-Statism.  Anyway, I'm back in the fast paced, high-paid world of blogging.  I am working on a short story, my first real attempt at fiction writing since 2nd Grade, which should be up soon.  Pax.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sidewalk Counseling at Thermopylae

Considering our recent Supreme Court victory, pro-lifers may well think that things are getting better for the pro-life cause.  In certain respects this is true, but as I explained in an editorial for "Informed Conscience," the Benedictine College pro-life newsletter, the nation is not really with us, and the political environment will only get worse for the unborn thanks to demographic shifts.  While I was writing that editorial earlier this year, I thought about what causes overly high levels of optimism in the pro-life movement.  I think it's women. 

Though the mini-Goebbels of the abortion lobby say that pro-lifers are a bunch of evil sexist male dude-bros, anyone who has ever actually encountered the pro-life movement in reality notices that it is led primarily by women.  The jackboots of patriarchy that the feminists fear are actually fashionable flats worn by old grandmothers, middle aged mothers, and incredibly cute 20-something female activists.  Instead of threatening people with hellfire, they speak gently with women outside abortion clinics, urging them to spare the life growing within them.  It is good that women are so prominent in the pro-life movement because they can empathize with other women in a way that men cannot.  It is, after all, women who have abortions.

Though women are a tremendous asset to the pro-life movement, I think that female pro-lifers are especially susceptible to false optimism.  This observation is entirely anecdotal, but hey, rigorous studies are for people who get paid to write.  It seems to me that women have a great desire to be on the winning team, because they feel especially affirmed by positivity.  In addition, women tend to receive more encouragement from the opinions of others.  When they see that half the country identifies itself as "pro-life" they will feel good about their cause.  When I see that statistic, I think "that can't be right."  Then I start muttering something about bad polling methodology into my glass of bourbon. (Ok, maybe that's just me.)  I think the simple fact that women respond to feelings of affirmation and solidarity means they will be more optimistic about movements to which they belong. 

Unlike women, men are made to fight, and find affirmation in battle, even against impossible odds.  It is for this reason that men so admire the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, or the men of the doomed Light Brigade in the Crimean War.  This is not to say that we think getting shot by Persian arrows or blasted by Russian cannon are good things, but the valor of men fighting for every inch of ground against an indomitable foe speaks to the primal warrior in all men.  We hope for victory, but we wish to do our best no matter how the battle is going.  Obviously men can get discouraged, but it is the  ability to fight through discouragement that shows the character of a man.

Pro-life men are themselves often caught up in the bubbly optimism of their female colleagues, girlfriends, or wives in the pro-life movement, but I think that they should be able to deal just fine with a more realistic assessment of the abortion situation.  In fact, I think it is very important to the pro-life cause that they face grim realities, for it is when the odds are against them that men can see most clearly the importance of their mission, and are inspired to fight ever harder.  So, men of the pro-life movement, quit congratulating yourself for being "the pro-life generation," put your game faces on, and go kick some ass.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Facebook Politics

Whenever I examine someone's facebook page for the first time I always check the "About" section so as to view his political and religious views.  In regards to the former, I find the common practice of inserting the name of a political party, usually Republican or Democrat, to be rather annoying.  This is not because I find the parties distasteful, though I certainly do, but rather because a political party is not a political philosophy.  If someone tells you that they are a member of a particular political party, you can make a good guess as to his policy preferences, but party membership says relatively little about core political views. 

This is because party platforms are not philosophical statements in any useful sense, but are rather a set of policy proposals that most party members wish to pursue for their own philosophical reasons.  There are of course exceptions to this; after all, if someone identifies himself as a member of a Communist party, it is entirely reasonable to assume that he is in fact a Communist.  For everyone who does not identify himself with a self-referentially complete party/philosophy such as Communism*, simple party affiliation does not offer a good representation of his true political views.

For example, Republicans, like most Americans, tend to be some kind of liberal.  They can be placed on the right side of the liberal spectrum.  However, important differences exist between say,  a neo-con, and a libertarian Republican, even if the two often favor some of the same policies.  Both of those factions have substantially different ideas about the purpose of the state.  Furthermore, there are even a few Burkean classical conservatives hiding in the ranks of the GOP, and they (or rather we) view government and society in very different terms than most Republicans.  Party affiliation or even general descriptors such as "conservative" are simply insufficient for delineating exactly where one falls on the political spectrum.  This is not to say that party labels are useless, but rather that they cannot be expected to substitute for a comprehensive political philosophy.

One might accuse me of asking far too much from a line or two on a facebook profile, and that accusation would certainly have merit.  The real problem I see is not facebook politics but rather that much political self-labeling does not advance beyond the level of facebook.  National democracy is rather absurd, but so long as everyone is allowed to vote, all voters have a responsibility to critically examine their political ideas and should be able to explain exactly what type of Republican, Democrat, Tory, or Labour supporter they actually are, rather than simply limiting their political identification to a party name.

*Yeah I know there are a gajillion different shades of Marxism.  I don't care.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ruckman's Revelation

My home state of Florida is host to a variety of weird flora and fauna but some of the people here are the most bizarre of all.  Pastor Peter Ruckman of the Pensacola Bible Institute is a prime specimen of Floridian weirdness.  He is one of the most extreme advocates of the King James Only movement, which considers the King James Version of the Bible to the be best available English translation of scripture.  Ruckmans departs from some of his saner colleagues, however, in his fantastic claim that the translation of the KJV constitutes divine revelation.  He calls it "the infallible English text."  It is profoundly odd that a Protestant would declare a bunch of 17th Century English dudes to be an extra-biblical source of divine revelation.  Weirder still, more than a few Independent Baptists seem to believe this nonsense.  Jack Chick, who is even crazier than you think, is a Ruckmanite.  Chick claims that God made English the universal language of the world (really) so that the infallible KJV could be read by everyone.  He says that the use of other translations by Protestants is due to the nefarious workings of Satan/Catholicism.  Between them, Ruckman and Chick spread this bizarre heresy to whomever is gullible enough to believe it.  I suppose we should be grateful that they aren't espousing Arianism or something.  Weird micro-heresies like this probably don't pose too much of a threat to anyone's soul, and at least they provide an entertaining diversion to the rest of us.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Inside the Utility Closet

Scott Alexander, who writes at Slate Star Codex, is a pretty swell guy as far as godless rationalists go, and he makes many careful and compelling arguments.  However, he fails to make a good case for one of his fundamental beliefs, namely, utilitarianism.  He advances his argument in The Consequentialism FAQ, a question and answer style discourse on the primacy of consequences to proper moral reasoning.

Alexander begins by arguing that any moral system must be grounded in moral intuitions.  He writes, "Moral intuitions are important because unless you are a very specific type of philosopher they are the only reason you believe morality exists at all."  When faced with competing intuitions, Alexander says that "We must reach a reflective equilibrium among our various moral intuitions, which may end up assigning some intuitions more or less weight than others, and debunking some of them entirely."  His justificiation for this equilibrium: "It's my moral intuition that we should. Isn't it yours?"

Alexander contrasts his intuition-based system with ethical philosophies grounded in metaphysics, which present absolute ethical principles that exist independent of intuitions.  He attempts a refutation of metaphysical ethics with a hypothetical story that is too long to reproduce in full, so I shall summarize it.

If a man acquired a mystical artifact that exempted him from any sort of transcendent metaphysical morality, he would still feel guilty about doing evil.  We are stuck with intuitions about morality regardless of metaphysical exemptions, so morality seems exactly the same with or without metaphysics.  Therefore, metaphysics should have nothing to do with morality.

Alexander really should have run this scenario by someone else before he decided to publish it as his entire argument against metaphysical ethics.  The problem with the scenario is that it is quite literally nonsense.  Metaphysical reality cannot be switched off for an individual.  Every major philosophy that I can think of that posits some essential transcendent morality also binds that morality to the metaphysical reality of man.  A person exempt from morality would thus also be exempt from existence.  A man not bound to metaphysical morality is just as absurd as a square triangle, and an argument against metaphysical morality based on such a man is as faulty as an argument against the omnipotence of God based on His inability to create such a triangle.

Alexander fails to defeat metaphysically grounded ethics, but he soldiers on and attempts to construct an ethical system based on intuition.  The offset paragraphs with the bolded headings are from the FAQ:
Why should we assign a nonzero value to other people?
I was kind of hoping this would be one of those basic moral intuitions that you'd already have. That to some degree, no matter how small, it matters whether other people live or die, are happy or sad, flourish or languish in misery.
Well, I suppose sociopaths are out of luck here, but that extreme exception aside, we are still with left the question of how exactly to apply our moral intuition that people have value.  Alexander attempts to address this.
Why might morality fail to assign value to other people?
Morality might fail to refer to other people if it only refers to itself, or if it refers to selfish motives like avoiding guilt, procuring “warm fuzzies", or signaling [showing off].
What do you mean by a desire to avoid guilt?
Suppose an evil king decides to do a twisted moral experiment on you. He tells you to kick a small child really hard, right in the face. If you do, he will end the experiment with no further damage. If you refuse, he will kick the child himself, and then execute that child plus a hundred innocent people.
The best solution is to somehow overthrow the king or escape the experiment. Assuming you can't, what do you do?
There are certain moral philosophers who would tell you to refuse. Sure, the child would get hurt and lots of innocent people would die, but it wouldn't, technically, be your fault. But if you kicked the child, well, that would be your fault, and then you'd have to feel bad about it.
But this excessive concern about whether something is your fault or not is a form of selfishness. If you sided with those philosophers, it wouldn't be out of a concern for the child's welfare - the child's getting kicked anyway, not to mention executed - it would be out of concern with whether you might feel bad about it later. The desire involved is the desire to avoid guilt, not the desire to help others.
I find it hard to believe that Alexander really thinks anyone would feel more guilt about kicking the child than they would about the death of all those people.  If anything, exclusive concern about guilt would lead people to kick the child.  We may reasonably say that the death of the innocents is not our fault, but human emotions do not work strictly according to reason, much as rationalists such as Alexander might wish they did.  Those who would consider themselves responsible for the child kicking but not the deaths would almost certainly feel guilty for the deaths anyway.  It is metaphysical morality that Alexander must truly grapple with, but he sets that aside in favor of a hypothetical person with a bizarre kind of scrupulosity.
What do you mean by “warm fuzzies"?
This term refers to the happy feeling your brain gives you when you've done the right thing. Think the diametric opposite of guilt.
But just as guilt is not a perfect signal, neither are warm fuzzies. As Eliezer puts it, you might well get more warm fuzzy feelings from volunteering for an afternoon at the local Shelter For Cute Kittens With Rare Diseasess than you would from developing a new anti-malarial drug, but that doesn't mean that playing with kittens is more important than curing malaria.
If all you're trying to do is get warm fuzzy feelings, then once again you're assigning value only to your own comfort and not to other people at all.
Here Alexander makes what is perhaps the best argument against his own position.  What exactly is the distinction between the supposedly selfish "warm fuzzies" and supposedly selfless moral intuitions?  To his credit Alexander recognizes this problem.
Are you sure it's ever possible to value other people? Maybe even when you think you are, you're valuing the happy feelings you get when you help other people, which is still sorta selfish if you think about it.

Even if that theory is correct, there's a big difference between promoting your own happiness by promoting the happiness of others, and promoting your own happiness instead of promoting the happiness of others.

People who use a guilt-reduction or signaling-based moral system will end up making harmful decisions: they will make choices that hurt other people in order to benefit themselves. People who try their best to help other people for fundamentally selfish reasons still help other people as much as possible, and this seems to deserve the label “altruistic" and the praise that goes with it as much as anything does.
Alexander may see the problem, but he fails to present a coherent solution, and instead is satisfied with shifting the goalposts.  He claims that there is a big difference between promoting one's own happiness and promoting the happiness of others in order to make oneself happy, but offers no evidence for this.  What exactly is the difference?  Sure, it makes a difference to someone else if I return the wallet he dropped or take it for myself, but a morality based entirely on intuitions has nothing to do about my potential beneficiary or victim and everything to do with me.  If I intuit my own need for some blackjack and hookers, and that intuition is stronger than my intuitions about the immorality of theft, then I should take that sucker's wallet.

The great moral philosopher Bender Bending Rodríguez

Alexander's FAQ concludes with a case for utilitarianism, which he considers to be the best way to achieve equilibrium of intuitions.  He writes,
Morality should be about improving the world. There are many definitions for “improving the world", but one which doesn't seem to have too many unpleasant implications is satisfying people's preferences. This leads to utilitarianism, the moral system of trying to satisfy as many people's preferences as possible.
He goes on to explore the different strains of utilitarian thought and their practical application, but his basic definition shall suffice for our purposes. 

Considering Alexander's argument as a whole, one must grant that it is logically valid.  His conclusion that utilitarianism is the ideal moral system follows from his premises.  However, his argument is entirely unsound.  The most generous thing that could be said for his argument is that several of the key premises might be true but that Alexander offers no significant support for them.  Most egregious are his failures to properly address metaphysically grounded morality, and to differentiate between "warm fuzzies" and moral intuitions.  Without these premises, Alexander's thesis fails. 

This post is intended not as an attack on Scott Alexander but as a critique of utilitarianism.  Alexander is not presenting his own home-brewed case for utilitarianism, but rather the standard argument for that moral system, and it is because he presents it so accurately and concisely that I picked his argument to criticize.  Every argument for utilitarianism of which I am aware runs into the same problems that Alexander does; problems that they also fail to overcome.  As for the rest of us, we should work to discern real morality, a morality that treats people as ends in themselves rather than bundles of preferences.