Guard your imagination!

She was still in her innocence. No evil intention had been formed in her mind. But if her will was uncorrupted, half her imagination was already filled with bright, poisonous shapes.

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Chapter 10.

In any sustained battle between the imagination and the will, the imagination eventually wins.

That, too, in almost a direct quote, is Lewis (retrieved from my memory).

Weston’s (actually, the UnMan’s) grinding away at The Lady, which I remembered as tedious from my long-ago reading, brilliantly illustrates both the power of “narrative” and the ingenuity with which the evil one seduces us. Sophistry having failed, the UnMan turned to stories of heroic feminine boldness – dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories.

Ransom saw that they were having their effect, and acted accordingly.

We must, must, must guard our imaginations!

* * * * *

I’d prefer no orchestration, but the striking Georgian harmony comes through (and I’m pretty sure the Church exterior is Samtavra, not the Tblisi Cathedral).

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Timeless, ever-timely

I got inspired by a teaser for a Washington Post guest column April 11:

Their churches will be closed on Easter. Here’s what they would have said.

Featured were nine “faith leaders”:

You can judge their uneven offerings for yourself.

As we are never earlier in our Orthodox Christian Paschal celebration, and generally one to five weeks later than western Christendom, and are largely invisible in North America, no Orthodox clergy were included. But that’s okay.

It’s okay because I can tell you exactly “what they would have said” (give or take countless languages) every single one of them, this April 19, 2020, and many of them right around now, 1:30 in the morning (give or take 24 time zones).

It would have made no special mention of the current pandemic, and yet …

Well, here’s what they’d have said:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom, delivered in the fourth or very early fifth century, which I submit has never been surpassed. It’s our tradition throughout Orthodoxy to read it verbatim, each Pascha. Because it’s timeless, it’s ever-timely.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

“L’état, c’est moi” does not translate well into English

This is basically an aggregation with little comment.


From FiveThirtyEight.com, two very useful ‘splainers:

H/T The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


Experts Reject Trump Claim

(Charlie Savage)

I suppose it’s necessary to consult experts since it’s POTUS who said it, and his acolytes will believe him over Charlie Savage.

But Savage’s experts will be dismissed as Deep-State opponents of Trump.

You can’t win this game. It’s like Calvinball.


It’s no excuse for Trump that he’s not a lawyer, and that, as conservative commentator Andrew C. McCarthy put it, Trump “frequently gets out over his skis when he discusses constitutional law” — that, indeed, he “mangles” it. Trump took a solemn oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. After his years in the job, he ought to know something about that document.

But it’s not just federalism that Trump misapprehends. It’s grade-school-level civics that the president carries out laws, not his whims or desires, however laudatory or popular they might be. The very Article II that he has claimed gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president,” actually says something quite different: not only that “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” but also that, if he needs authority to do something for the good of the country, he should go to Congress, “and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Faithfully executing the law means not only enforcing it but also abiding by it — including its limitations.

George T. Conway III


It has indeed been galling to watch many within the press corps repeatedly ask Trump why he has declined to preempt gubernatorial decisions or shut down grocery stores when he does not enjoy the power to do either. It was galling, too, to watch many of those same voices erupt in indignation when, eventually, he began to talk as if he does … To hear the words “the authority is total” pass the lips of our chief executive was jarring, unwelcome, and dangerous. Now, as ever, “L’état, c’est moi” does not translate well into English.

NRO Editors

I wanted to just quote the last two sentences, but the first two were worthy, too.


A remarkable thing happened Monday: The New York Times executive editor, Dean Baquet, actually had to answer questions about his paper’s very different coverage of sexual-assault allegations against Joe Biden and Brett Kavanaugh. It did not go well. It is simply impossible to read the interview and the Times coverage of the two cases and come away believing that the Times acted in good faith or, frankly, that it even expects anyone to believe its explanations. The paper’s motto, at this point, may as well be “All the News You’re Willing to Buy.”

Dan McLaughlin

I completely agree with this. What I do not agree with, though, is the conservative trolling line that they’re treating Tara Reade’s Biden accusations too dismissively. Rather, they should have treated Christine Blasey Ford’s Kavanaugh accusations more dismissively, because they were more remote and less corrobotated.

Let’s not repeat Mutually Assured Destruction. Especially as to decades-old accusations, remember why were have statutes of limitation.


[The U.S. now has] a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 4.3 percent (the true mortality rate is difficult to calculate due to incomplete testing regimens) …

The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


President Trump announced the United States is placing a hold on funding for the World Health Organization due to the organization’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?

WHO can get back in Trump’s good graces by conspicuously declaring an investigation of Hunter Biden as an asymptomatic Cootie Carrier.


State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses – The Washington Post

It would be easy to misapply this either of two ways:

  1. Covid-19 is caused by a Chinese-engineered bioweapon. (One reactionary blogger I follow keeps insinuating such by emphasizing the China nexus.)
  2. The Trump administration should have known that something like Covid-19 was coming and prepared for it. (True, but much, muchlater, and not based on this scuttlebutt.)

H/T The Morning Dispatch: How Much Longer?


New York, New York, a helluva town! In many senses, and not just during this pandemic.

Rich and Healthy vs. Poor and Dead | The American Conservative


I chalk a lot of this up to social dynamics and the ever-useful Iron Law of Institutions, which posits that individuals act in a manner designed to increase their standing within their group, rather than in a manner designed to increase the probability that their group will accomplish its external goals. A certain type of performative, over-the-top radicalism is very ‘in’ online, as is clear to anyone who spends too much time on Twitter. Never was this more apparent than in the way the most online segment of the left treated Elizabeth Warren, who if elected president would have marked a major step forward for the American left on almost every conceivable front: as a corrupt neoliberal shill light years away from Sanders, ideologically. You get points for this sort of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or advances the goals of your tribe — it makes you cooler within the tribe.

It Was Self-Defeating For The Democratic Socialists Of America To Announce They Wouldn’t Endorse Joe Biden – Singal-Minded.

I’ll quote no more as this is subscriber-only content. I’ve admired Singal for his courage in bucking his tribe by raising impolitic questions about Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria in adolescent girls (what brought him to my attention, and a subject he seems to have abandoned, but that probably is for lack of anything new to say about it just yet).

He makes his living at independent journalism, and he’s pretty good at it — and pretty independent.


“Progressive” United Methodists in the U.S. have always lagged behind the culture, but then have spun comforting myth about what prophetic leaders they were and are. Today is no different.

Far from being countercultural, the United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies have too often functioned like cultural chameleons, changing their values and practices to fit in with the dominant culture. They have not operated with a strong sense of identity grounded in Scripture and tradition, and thus have not been able to face off the unpredictable and changing winds of cultural pressure and change.

And it the culture goes off the rails, American Methodism will follow. “The argument based on the myth of Methodist progress on slavery and race, then the ordination of women, and now same-sex marriage, is … bad history.”

Kevin Watson, Methodism Dividing at First Things (may not be out from behind the paywall yet) should you care to read a little skeptical history. Not surprisingly, Watson has a book should you care to read a lot of skeptical history.


12-Year-Old “Politically Vocal Boy” Loses Libel Claim Against Newsweek – Reason.com

Put on your big girl panties and get oveer it.

If you can’t stand the heat, bunky, get out of the kitchen.

If you want to dish it out, you’d better learn to take it.

Have I missed a cliché?


Tara Reade is the farce that launched a thousand trolls, but using Biden’s own words against him seems fair. Joe Biden’s Campaign Exhibits Double Standard On Due Process

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Miscellany

From the official U.S. Department of Justice account:

During this sacred week for many Americans, AG Barr is monitoring govt regulation of religious services. While social distancing policies are appropriate during this emergency, they must be applied evenhandedly & not single out religious orgs. Expect action from DOJ next week!

— KerriKupecDOJ (@KerriKupecDOJ) April 12, 2020

Donald Trump has led by example. The example is to announce trivia by Tweet and to put exclamation points at the end.

This is why we can’t have nice things!


Wall Street Journal story headline:

Your Favorite Celebrity Will See You Now

If I cannot think of a “favorite celebrity,” does that make me a bad person?


Cyrus Habib had a good chance of becoming Governor of Washington before age 40, with higher offices likely to come. But he glimpsed his his metastasizing ego and is taking the cure.


Memo to Max Boot:

“President Trump and his loudmouth media enablers” ≠ conservatives.


There has never been an American president as spiritually impoverished as Donald Trump …

Trump is a spiritual black hole. He has no ability to transcend himself by so much as an emotional nanometer. Even narcissists, we are told by psychologists, have the occasional dark night of the soul. They can recognize how they are perceived by others, and they will at least pretend to seek forgiveness and show contrition as a way of gaining the affection they need. They are capable of infrequent moments of reflection, even if only to adjust strategies for survival.

Trump’s spiritual poverty is beyond all this. He represents the ultimate triumph of a materialist mindset. He has no ability to understand anything that is not an immediate tactile or visual experience, no sense of continuity with other human beings, and no imperatives more important than soothing the barrage of signals emanating from his constantly panicked and confused autonomic system.

The humorist Alexandra Petri once likened Trump to a goldfish, a purely reactive animal lost in a “pastless, futureless, contextless void.” This is an apt comparison, with one major flaw: Goldfish are not malevolent …

… With cable news constantly covering the pandemic, he seems to be going through withdrawal. He needs an outlet for his political glossolalia, or his constantly replenishing reservoir of grievance and insecurity will burst its seams.

… Trump begins every one of these disastrous briefings by hypnotically reading high-minded phrases to which he shows no connection. These texts are exercises in futility, but they at least show some sense of what a typical person with friends and a family might want to sound like during a national crisis. Once he finishes stumbling through these robotic recitations, he’s back to his grievances.

… Each of these presidential therapy sessions corrodes us until the moment when the president finally shambles away in a fog of muttered slogans and paranoid sentence fragments.

Daily, Trump’s opponents are enraged by yet another assault on the truth and basic human decency. His followers are delighted by yet more vulgar attacks on the media and the Democrats. And all of us, angry or pleased, become more like Trump, because just like the president, we end up thinking about only Trump, instead of our families, our fellow citizens, our health-care workers, or the future of our country. We are all forced to take sides every day, and those two sides are always “Trump” and “everyone else.”

… As Jennifer Melfi, the psychotherapist for HBO’s fictional mob boss Tony Soprano, realized at the end of the series, when she finally threw him out of her office, counseling someone incapable of reflection or remorse is pointless; it makes the counselor into a worse person for enduring such long exposure to the patient.

Likewise, Trump’s spiritual poverty is making all of us into worse people.

Tom Nichols

And you can repeat such insights only at the cost of still further making it all about Trump.


When I was young, I confess that I didn’t care much about Easter. I mean, I appreciated it. In the semi-abstract way that many young people who’ve been brought up in the church appreciate the resurrection. You believe in it. You don’t really comprehend it. Belief in the resurrection is one of those boxes you check. Virgin birth? Yup. Sinless in life? Sure. Blameless in death? Absolutely. Resurrection? Of course. I’m a Christian, and that’s what Christians believe.

David French

This is exactly where I was when on the cusp of my 20th birthday. How I came out of it is so different than how French came out of it that I can barely relate to his version.

Part of it is intramural: Orthodox Christians versus Reformed Christians (though in musical tastes, French is much more like a mainstream Evangelical than like the Reformed I knew) who used to be Charismatic Christians.On the other hand, my initial “how I came out of it” was into Evangelicalism, and I remember it pretty well. It wasn’t like what French describes.

Part of it is that French seems to have decided to call “resurrection power” any life that changes suddenly and dramatically for the better. Such changes are wonderful, of course, but that’s turning resurrection into something way too metaphoric for my tastes.


75 years ago, FDR died and a nobody became President of the United States. He had no Twitter followers. He’d never even heard of Reality TV. But he was a nobody who understood politics, and took responsibility:

[C]ompare Roosevelt and Truman, hailing, it seems, from different planets. Roosevelt was a New York aristocrat whose forebears owned a chunk of an island called Manhattan, land on which the Empire State Building rose. Reared in mansions, educated at Groton and Harvard, Roosevelt married a favorite niece of a U.S. president, who gave her away at the altar. And here was Truman, a Missouri farm boy, schooled mainly by the stacks of a small-town library. He moved into the White House having never even owned his own home. Mrs. Roosevelt required 20 trucks to vacate the premises; the Truman family just one to move in their belongings.

What the men shared was politics. It’s a dirty word today, as we look for leaders on social media and reality television. Politics isn’t perfect; it smells of swamps and tycoons, elites and establishments, corruption and compromise. Roosevelt and Truman had both inhaled these odors on the way up (for human nature never loses its distinctive scents). They navigated a world dominated by urban political bosses, teaching them that special interests, inside traders, patronage hunters, double-dealers, hypocrites, weaklings and bullies all feature regularly in the public’s business. A leader says no to most but yes to some — enough to make measurable progress for the community.

Politics taught, above all, accountability. Bosses and their candidates made promises before Election Day, then tried to keep enough to be reelected. They sought and embraced responsibility, whether it was Roosevelt saying, during hisfirst inaugural address, that he would shoulder extraordinary risks to confront the Great Depression, or Truman promising that all the world’s buck-passing would end at his desk. Responsibility created a record; a record made for a future.

Not everyone knew it on that stunning April day, but Truman’s leadership had been tested repeatedly during the decades before “the moon, the stars, and all the planets” fell on him, as the new president described his sudden responsibilities. His entry to politics had come thanks to his performance as a captain in World War I; an admiring junior officer was the nephew of the Kansas City boss. Truman’s record of delivering roads on time and below budget boosted him to the Senate. His case to be vice president was helped by his senatorial reputation as the scourge of war profiteers.

Full disclosure: I am a volunteer board member of the foundation that supports Truman’s presidential library. I concur with history’s high opinion of him. But marking this date when his record was yet to be written, I emphasize his pragmatic preparation. Look around: The world is reminding us that politics have consequences and results genuinely matter. A nation run by people without records, who take no responsibility, who claim to be better than politics, is destined to be in a world of trouble.

David Von Drehle


Maritain believed that these challenges needed to be faced with moral clarity and intellectual energy because, at the moment when he was speaking, and on all political sides, education was assuming what he believed to be an unnaturally and inappropriately central role:

As a result of the present disintegration of family life, of a crisis in morality and the break between religion and life, and finally of a crisis in the political state and the civic conscience, and the necessity for democratic states to rebuild themselves according to new patterns, there is a tendency, everywhere, to burden education with remedying all these deficiencies.

In a properly functioning society, those other institutions (family, church, politics broadly conceived) play a role in forming persons for service to the community and for their own inner flourishing. But those institutions had been gravely damaged by those anarchic and despotic forces that he sees as enemies to true personhood. It is surely unfair to expect education to heal such vast and complex afflictions, especially since the very attempt “involves a risk of warping educational work”; moreover, as we have seen, Maritain believed that “the saints and martyrs are the true educators of mankind.” But in these exceptional circumstances “extraneous burdens superadded to the normal task of education must be accepted for the sake of the general welfare.”

It is, however, vital not to accept these “extraneous burdens” on behalf of the state and its interests: “the state would summon education to make up for all that is lacking in the surrounding order in the matter of common political inspiration, stable customs and traditions, common inherited standards, moral unity and unanimity.” But if education is recruited by the state “to compensate for all the deficiencies in civil society,” then “education would become . . . uniquely dependent on the management of the state,” and as a direct consequence “both the essence and the freedom of education would be ruined.” The well-educated person will always and necessarily, in an age afflicted by both anarchic and despotic tendencies, be in tension with the surrounding society: “The freedom enjoyed by education . . . will not be a quiet and easygoing, peacefully expanding freedom, but a tense and fighting one.” There will be, especially in the years following the war, a danger of shaping people not in a “truly human” way, but rather making them merely into “the organ of a technocratic society.” …

The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis pp. 129-30


Why am I soooo loving The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis?

Partly because I don’t know enough about Maritain, Eliot, Auden and Weil as Christian humanists.

But it surely is partly, as well, because the fundamental issues that we’re dealing with are not all that different, and their insights matter.

Finally, it’s because that era was unlike ours in that there were still Christian Public Intellectuals who were respected. Would that it were still so! (And that, gentle reader, is an appropriate use of an exclamation point.)

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Nate White’s Bill of Particulars

Via Garrison Keillor, I quoted some of this earlier today, but it stuck with me until I tracked the whole thing down.

This is very stylish writing, but I suspect that this whole Bill of Particulars could be distilled as epiphenomena of extreme toxic narcissism, which remains my go-to distillation. Still, there’s more than a little value to setting it out in detail for the candid consideration of all fair-minded Americans:

Someone asked “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?”

Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England, wrote this magnificent response:

“A few things spring to mind.

Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem.

For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed.

So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever.

I don’t say that rhetorically, I mean it quite literally: not once, not ever. And that fact is particularly disturbing to the British sensibility – for us, to lack humour is almost inhuman.

But with Trump, it’s a fact. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

Trump is a troll. And like all trolls, he is never funny and he never laughs; he only crows or jeers.

And scarily, he doesn’t just talk in crude, witless insults – he actually thinks in them. His mind is a simple bot-like algorithm of petty prejudices and knee-jerk nastiness.

There is never any under-layer of irony, complexity, nuance or depth. It’s all surface.

Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront.

Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

And in Britain we traditionally side with David, not Goliath. All our heroes are plucky underdogs: Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Oliver Twist.

Trump is neither plucky, nor an underdog. He is the exact opposite of that.

He’s not even a spoiled rich-boy, or a greedy fat-cat.

He’s more a fat white slug. A Jabba the Hutt of privilege.

And worse, he is that most unforgivable of all things to the British: a bully.

That is, except when he is among bullies; then he suddenly transforms into a snivelling sidekick instead.

There are unspoken rules to this stuff – the Queensberry rules of basic decency – and he breaks them all. He punches downwards – which a gentleman should, would, could never do – and every blow he aims is below the belt. He particularly likes to kick the vulnerable or voiceless – and he kicks them when they are down.

So the fact that a significant minority – perhaps a third – of Americans look at what he does, listen to what he says, and then think ‘Yeah, he seems like my kind of guy’ is a matter of some confusion and no little distress to British people, given that Americans are supposed to be nicer than us, and mostly are. You don’t need a particularly keen eye for detail to spot a few flaws in the man.

This last point is what especially confuses and dismays British people, and many other people too; his faults seem pretty bloody hard to miss.

After all, it’s impossible to read a single tweet, or hear him speak a sentence or two, without staring deep into the abyss. He turns being artless into an art form; he is a Picasso of pettiness; a Shakespeare of shit. His faults are fractal: even his flaws have flaws, and so on ad infinitum.

God knows there have always been stupid people in the world, and plenty of nasty people too. But rarely has stupidity been so nasty, or nastiness so stupid.

He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart.

In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

And a remorseful Doctor Frankenstein would clutch out big clumpfuls of hair and scream in anguish:

‘My God… what… have… I… created?

If being a twat was a TV show, Trump would be the boxed set.”

Nate White quoted here.

Any questions?

* * *

This is a bit of a pivot, but toward the end of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, Living in the Long Emergency, Kunstler lays out his conspiracy theory of the Russiagate matter, which I excerpt thus:

The nation’s so-called “intelligence community,” led by then CIA director John Brennan, geared up a scheme to spy on the Trump campaign; entrap some of its minor players (Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jr.) in cloak-and-dagger operations (that backfired); spin out a Russia collusion “narrative” that painted Mr. Trump as “an agent of Putin;” and engineer the appointment of a grand inquisitor, Mr. Mueller, to launch investigations that would prepare Congress with a grand brief for the president’s removal.

The dossier was used as the primary predicate document by the FBI in obtaining surveillance warrants against Mr. Trump’s associates. It was never properly vetted under the FBI regulation known as the “Woods procedure.” Emails and memoranda between the FBI and DOJ officials involved, made public since 2018, showed clearly that they knew the dossier was false but that they submitted it to the “special” FISA court judges—under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—regardless.

Ironically, the scheme amounted to the Clinton campaign, the FBI, and other government actors interfering in the 2016 presidential election, which was exactly what the same inquisitors had blamed Mr. Trump and the Russians for.

The catch was, in spite of the exertions to nail down the election for Mrs. Clinton, she lost. And once she lost, those US government players who “meddled” in the election on her behalf stood to be exposed for the simple reason that Mr. Trump would soon be in charge of the executive branch, would appoint his own people to run the agencies, and would be in a position to discover all that misconduct. It would be reasonable to suppose that Mr. Trump would be mighty angry about what has since been termed a “soft coup” against him by his own government. It was this fear of being exposed for sedition—a serious crime—that drove the hysteria among Mr. Trump’s antagonists.

It was basically a cover-your-ass operation, a smoke screen to divert attention from their own crimes.

It is already documented in testimony to House and Senate committees that the FBI and Department of Justice officials knew that the Steele Dossier was a fabrication, and that the agencies used it anyway to kick-start their campaign against Mr. Trump. Thus, the predicate for the Mueller investigation was knowingly dishonest.

I suppose you could say that if Nate White is right about Trump, everything Kunstler alleges about Trump’s adversaries (open and covert) was justified. (I omit some of the reasons I have trouble buying Kunstler’s theory and prescind that possibility as irrelevant to my decision. For all I know or care, it might be true.)

Or I suppose you could say that if Kunstler is right about the deep state and Democrat conspiracy against Trump, no defects of Trump are weightier than the need to stick it to his dishonorable foes. Kunstler mercifully does not argue that. He basically thinks were screwed no matter what, due to decisions made bi-partisanly, mostly since World War II. (Besides which, I’m starting to think that “Deep State” is nothing more than a slur against competent professionals who irritate politicians who want to do something slipshod or semi-suicidal. And that “sticking it to” his foes will produce a lot of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.)

The question we face in November is not whether the supposed conspirators against Trump should be rewarded, but about whether we need a more fully human human being in the White House starting Inauguration Day 2021.

I need not believe any theory of Russiagate, pro-Trump or pro-foe, to make my decision because I see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears the proof of Nate White’s Bill of Particulars, not one of which has anything to do with Russia, Ukraine, or things arcane.

* * * * *

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Our very stable and successful shadow-Czar for COVID-19

[O]n Thursday Americans were treated to a press conference appearance by Jared Kushner where he criticized states for wanting to access the federal stockpile of equipment to aid in the handling of a pandemic. His statement contradicted information on the Health and Human Services website about the mission of the federal stockpile, and by Friday the website had been changed.

The Dispatch

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.

Undeterred, he has now arrogated to himself a major role in fighting the epochal health crisis that’s brought America to its knees. “Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday. This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The journalist Andrea Bernstein looked closely at Kushner’s business record for her recent book “American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power,” speaking to people on all sides of his real estate deals as well as those who worked with him at The New York Observer, the weekly newspaper he bought in 2006.

Kushner, Bernstein told me, “really sees himself as a disrupter.” Again and again, she said, people who’d dealt with Kushner told her that whatever he did, he “believed he could do it better than anybody else, and he had supreme confidence in his own abilities and his own judgment even when he didn’t know what he was talking about.”

It’s hard to overstate the extent to which this confidence is unearned. Kushner was a reportedly mediocre student whose billionaire father appears to have bought him a place at Harvard. Taking over the family real estate company after his father was sent to prison, Kushner paid $1.8 billion — a record, at the time — for a Manhattan skyscraper at the very top of the real estate market in 2007. The debt from that project became a crushing burden for the family business. (Kushner was able to restructure the debt in 2011, and in 2018 the project was bailed out by a Canadian asset management company with links to the government of Qatar.) He gutted the once-great New York Observer, then made a failed attempt to create a national network of local politics websites.

His forays into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — for which he boasted of reading a whole 25 books — have left the dream of a two-state solution on life support. Michael Koplow of the centrist Israel Policy Forum described Kushner’s plan for the Palestinian economy as “the Monty Python version of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Michelle Goldberg, Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness

Add a fourth success: he gets to re-write government websites to spread disinformation.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Un-learning

I recall from my late high school days a presentation by Moody Bible Institute about its school for missionary aviators in Tennessee. It has stuck with me for something like 55 years now that applicants who already had pilots licenses were not ahead of the game: “We have to un-teach them everything they’ve learned.”

Moody was quintessentially Evangelical, so it’s a bit ironic that Evangelicals must now unlearn what they’ve been taught in order to become better, more historically-rooted Christians.

Take conversion, for instance (a topic I began last night, not knowing I’d be continuing).

“Saints are made by good conversions.” In this challenging and provocative book, Gordon T. Smith contends that a chief cause of spiritual immaturity in the evangelical church is an inadequate theology of conversion. Conversion, he says, involves more than a release from the consequences of sin–the goal is spiritual transformation. But there is little transformation without a complete and authentic conversion. The key is beginning well. In this age of false starts and stunted growth, maturing Christians need help reflecting on and interpreting their own religious experience. Christian leaders need to rethink the way that conversions happen. Beginning Well is a catalyst toward this end. Surveying Scripture, spiritual autobiographies and a broad range of theologies of conversion (Protestant and Catholic, Reformed and Wesleyan), the author seeks to foster in the Christian community a dynamic language of conversion that leads to spiritual transformation and mature Christian living. In the process he moves us from a short-sighted “minimalist” view to one that recognizes seven elements necessary for good conversions. This book–a stirring call to rethink the relationship between conversion and transformation–is a must read for pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors, seminary professors and others who are concerned about the nurture and development of Christian converts, and the nature of authentic religious experience.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic Transformation.

Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on conversion. But what about life after conversion and beyond justification?
Desperately needed is a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with the means of formation and transformation. In Called to Be Saints, Gordon Smith draws on a distinguished lifetime of reflecting on these themes to offer us a theologically rich account of our participation in the life of Christ.
Both profound and practical, this book is a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and sanctification, both union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others and enjoy rightly ordered affections.
If holiness is the ongoing journey of becoming mature in Christ, then there is no better guide than Smith. Christians in every walk of life will find this a rich resource for learning what it means to “grow up in every way . . . into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, which was Evangelical enough to win a book award from Christianity Today.

This volume offers much-needed theological reflection on the phenomenon of conversion and transformation. Gordon Smith provides a robust evaluation that covers the broad range of thinking about conversion across Christian traditions and addresses global contexts. Smith contends that both in the church and in discussions about contemporary mission, the language of conversion inherited from revivalism is inadequate in helping to navigate the questions that shape how we do church, how we approach faith formation, how evangelism is integrated into congregational life, and how we witness to the faith in non-Christian environments. We must rethink the nature of the church in light of how people actually come to faith in Christ. After drawing on ancient and pre-revivalist wisdom on conversion, Smith delineates the contours of conversion and Christian initiation for today’s church. He concludes by discussing the art of spiritual autobiography and what it means to be a congregation.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation.

Next, they really need to unlearn the heresy of chiliasm/millenialism in all its forms, not just the novel and particularly virulent dispensational premillennialism.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.
Continue reading “Un-learning”

Shattering a Shibboleth

I have increasingly come to respect the Evangelical Regent College (Eeeewwwww! I almost linked to Pat Robertson’s Regent “University”!) as a place of genuine learning (or that at least aspires to it). [Author’s note: there remains something called “Evangelicalism” that is a novel Christian sect rather than The Republican Party at Prayer. I was raised and educated in it.]

One of my favorite Protestants, Hans Boersma, was at Regent for a while until he left for the Anglican Nashota House. I stumbled across its podcast somehow a few months ago. Despite the giggliness of the hosts, many of the podcasts are quite good. But one that I just finished listening to made me exclaim “Glory to Jesus Christ!”

How do we understand a Christian conversion? Is it a static moment or is it a journey? Does our personal conversion experience match the experiences of our favourite Bible characters? In this episode, Gordon T. Smith, who by the way wrote 2 books and did a doctoral dissertation on this topic, challenges our concepts of conversion and tells us where all of our evangelical confusion around conversion started. You cannot miss this episode.

The notion of a “punctiliar” conversion (a new coinage, so far as I know, and not mine) — praying the Sinner’s Prayer, asking Jesus into your heart, etc. — was seemingly a sina qua non of evangelicalism as I grew up. If you couldn’t give the date when you so “got saved” you were highly suspect. The idea of just growing into the Christian faith was scorned.

But on this podcast, Gordon Smith challenges that head-on, tells its sorry history (which like most Evangelical errors is rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries — rarely even the late 18th century) and for my money demolishes it.

Smith’s understanding is not yet Orthodox, but freeing his mind, and those of his Regent College students, from a major Evangelical shibboleth* is huge.

May his tribe increase!

* I am aware that etymologically, a shibboleth is not something to be freed from or shattered, but I think it has evolved in usage to where both are apt.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Illusions of clarity and autonomy

The Washington Post has an Op-Ed exhorting Want to help save hospitals from being overwhelmed? Fill out that medical directive now. I expected to hate it more than I did.

So why did I hate it at all?

1. The clear message is that the some of us really should be willing to die for the rest of us.

There is little or no guilt-tripping manipulation in the column beyond that tacit message, but it goes out into a culture amply primed to understand. ‘Nuff said.

2. You’re not as clear as you think.

“[I]t is vital for physicians to know, and to honor, every patient’s explicit wishes,” the authors say, but “explicit wishes” carries a crushing burden there.

I practiced law for almost 40 years, with a lot of estate planning included. I was avocationaly involved in promotion of appropriate medical treatment for all, such as a symposium on physician-assisted suicide at Stanford in 1988, beginning before “Living Wills” became a fad. (Ever since then, by the way, I’ve been convinced that, for better or worse, we are going to get a single-payer system of some sort. I’m surprised it has taken so long.) And apart from the parents of a childhood friend, I don’t think I ever heard or was able to tease out of a client any “explicit” wishes.

My friend’s parents, though not very old, were tired of living and wanted no medical measures to sustain life.

Me: You mean that if you collapsed on the floor in front of me right now, you wouldn’t want me to call 911?

Them: Yes.

Now that was clear. I helped them doument their wish as strongly as possible, and somewhat to my surprise, they both were dead within five years.

Most of what I got from clients was vague but heartfelt pleas amounting to “I don’t want to die, but don’t let me end up like Karen Quinlan!” Understandable from the standpoint of empathy (nobody wants to “end up like Karen Quinlan”), but not as a concrete decision.

And then I had to try to fit the best I could tease out of them into something “substantially” in a legislatively-prescribed format that by itself was just more of the same vagueness. Efforts at adding clarity or nuance threatened to make it not in substantially the required form.

I couldn’t know because there was no caselaw. And there was no caselaw because …

3. Some doctor you’ve never met before will drive a Mack Truck through your ambiguities.

I can imagine clear advance directives by people who have candidly spoken with their physician about the expected course of a specific terminal condition that has been diagnosed. That’s what P.O.S.T. laws are about.

But because advance directives other that P.O.S.T. orders are (almost – see above) always vague, physicians pretty much do what they think is reasonable.

Maybe you’re okay with your long-time physician doing that, but if you’re in the hospital, it’s likely to be a physician you never met before.

4. Once you’re incapacitated, you’re no longer autonomous.

Early in court disputes over medical decisionmaking for incapacitated people (see Karen Quinlan or Indiana’s Sue Ann Lawrence), judges were groping around for a rationale to keep the courts from being flooded with such cases. They frequently lit upon the notion of “autonomy,” a rationale so transparently bogus as to drive a philosopher mad, and I was too philosophical to suffer such foolishness gladly.

The rationale was absurd and perverse because the cases invariably involved incapacitated people.

If not incapacitated, patients make their own decisions, and are bound (in theory) by no limitations on their deciding. Want to make a bizarre and lethal decision to forego an antibiotic for an easily-treated staph infection? No problem. Injecting you would be malpractice and criminal battery if you refuse it.

But how about if you’re incapacitated? May a judge reason that your life — maybe lifelong disability, or mild to moderate dementia — is so wretched that a reasonable person in that position would prefer to die needlessly of staph rather than to continue living?

My answer was and is “no.” But (admittedly in more dire circumstances) many judges were saying “yes” and justifying it as “autonomy.”

I once challenged a court of appeals judge, sitting on a panel of presenters at a continuing legal education seminar, that “autonomy-by-proxy” was an oxymoron, implying that they needed a better rationale. So obviously true was my observation that her only “out” was to deny that that was what they were doing. (So of course she ended up life-tenured on a Federal court.)

But that is what they were doing. The autonomy belonged to the patient and was only autonomous when exercised by the patient. The judges were exercising counterfeit “autonomy” in the name of the patient.

5. Be a burden to your family.

You can’t get around that by appointing a friend or family member either. Insofar as you’ve lost capacity, you’ve lost control. Nobody, appointed by you or elected by fellow-citizens, can be autonomous for you. Get over it.

So what do I recommend? Proxies, like a Power of Attorney for Healthcare and/or an Appointment of Representative for Healthcare. (The titles and details tend to be state-specific.)

In other words, giving someone you trust (and ideal who loves you) the power to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated isn’t properly autonomous, but it’s the best of a bad lot of choices — by a wide margin, too, in my opinion.

And then talk to them about your values and vague wishes before you are incapacitated.

I only had one client reject that offer, on the basis that he didn’t want to burden his family — and it turned out that he was secretly such a monster — driven by ideology, I think — that most in his family would have grieved little were he dead.

Don’t be like him.

* * * * *

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.