July 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 PM


Rancor at White House as Russia Story Refuses to Let the Page Turn (PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULY 11, 201, NY Times)

As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump's advisers huddled in a cabin helping to craft a statement for the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to give to The New York Times explaining why he met last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government. Participants on the plane and back in the United States debated about how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ultimately, the people said, the president signed off on a statement from Donald Trump Jr. for The Times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow-up statements, each more revealing than the last. It culminated on Tuesday with a release of emails making clear that Mr. Trump's son believed the Russian lawyer was seeking to meet with him to provide incriminating information about Hillary Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." [...]

The emails, which the younger Mr. Trump released after learning that The Times had obtained copies and was about to publish them, undercut the president's line of defense in the Russia inquiry. For months, Mr. Trump has dismissed suspicions of collusion between Russia and his team as "fake news" and a "total hoax." His eldest son, likewise, had previously asserted that talk of collusion was "disgusting" and "so phony." Donald Trump Jr. said in a Fox News interview that he would have done things differently in retrospect, but he maintained he had done nothing improper.

At a minimum, however, the emails show that the younger Mr. Trump was not only willing, but also eager, to accept help advertised as coming from the Russian government. "I love it," he wrote.

New details emerge on Moscow real estate deal that led to the Trump-Kremlin alliance (Michael Isikoff, 7/11/17, Yahoo News)

While in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in November 2013, Donald Trump entered into a formal business deal with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, to construct a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. He later assigned his son, Donald Trump Jr., to oversee the project, according to Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who arranged the controversial 2016 meeting between the younger Trump and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

Trump has dismissed the idea he had any business deals in Russia, saying at one point last October, "I have nothing to do with Russia."

But Goldstone's account, provided in an extensive interview in March in New York, offers new details of the proposed Trump project that appears to have been further along than most previous reports have suggested, and even included a trip by Ivanka Trump to Moscow to identify potential sites.

According to the publicist, the project -- structured as a licensing deal in which Agalarov would build the tower with Trump's name on it -- was only abandoned after the Russian economy floundered. The economic downturn resulted in part from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union following Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

Goldstone's version of events implies a possible explanation for Trump's interest in lifting sanctions on Russia -- a policy move his administration quietly pursued in its first few weeks until it ran into strong opposition from members of Congress and officials within the State Department.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Goldman Sachs: Oil prices could plunge below $40 (Matt Egan, July 11, 2017, CNN Money)

The oil market could be in trouble if OPEC doesn't come to the rescue with deeper production cuts soon.

Goldman Sachs warned on Tuesday that crude oil could plunge below $40 a barrel "soon" if the massive U.S. oil glut persists and OPEC fails to take further action.

"The market is now out of patience," Damien Courvalin, head of energy research at Goldman Sachs, wrote in a research report.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Five key facts about Donald Trump Jr.'s just-released explosive email exchange (Greg Sargent July 11, 2017, Washington Post)

At a minimum, we now know the Trump campaign was willing to collude with the Russia government. Top campaign lawyer Bob Bauer put it this way yesterday, well before these emails became public:

"It does not help their case that you have a very specific operational instance where the campaign decided it was prepared to welcome assistance from a Russian source," said Bauer, who has previously argued in a series of posts that the law prohibits cooperation with foreign nationals to influence a U.S. election. "You are not permitted to solicit or accept anything of value from a foreign national to influence an election. You cannot enter into a conspiracy with a foreign national to influence an election."

Today's news shows that it may be substantially worse than this. It isn't just that the Trump campaign was "prepared to welcome assistance from a Russian source." It was prepared to welcome assistance from the Russian government, after having been told that it was actively trying to swing the election to Trump. Remember, at the meeting were Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump's campaign chair at the moment, Paul Manafort.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Amid Defeats, ISIS Shifts Narrative From Invincibility to Victimization (Natalie Johnson, July 11, 2017, Free Beacon)

ISIS shifted rapidly from a narrative of resilience to victimization as it was squeezed out of Mosul, once its de facto capital in Iraq. Where the group previously touted battlefield victories, it began criticizing U.S.-led forces for killing civilians and destroying infrastructure.

On Friday, the ISIS-run Amaq news agency released a statement blaming coalition airstrikes for killing more than 100 civilians while wounding 220 others over a two-day span, according to SITE Intelligence Group.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


The 'end' of work (JORDAN J. BALLOR • July 11, 2017, Acton)

We each have a particular role to play, something unique to contribute to the common good. Leo avers that "social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition." Or as Kuyper puts it in relation to the cultural mandate: "Our human nature is placed in the nature that surrounds us, not in order to leave nature as it is, but to work on nature instinctively and irrepressibly, by means of art, to improve and perfect it."

All of this is why I find much of the discussion about the "end" (as in termination) of work overblown. That's not to say there aren't huge challenges, at both the macro and micro levels. But if we see the "end" (as in the goal) of work to be the productive service of human beings, then there never will be an end of good work to do, whether individually in our lives or collectively in our societies.

So part of rightly identifying what the challenges we face today really are and really require is in part definitional. If "work" is what you do for a paycheck, then there are already many people who do not work. But if work is what you do to serve others, as I think Lester DeKoster rightly identifies it, then what we are charged with, amidst transition and turmoil, is finding ever-new creative and productive ways to serve others and thereby make ourselves useful to God in this world. And that, in turn, places a great deal of emphasis on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial dynamism in the new, global economy.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Russian Dirt on Clinton? 'I Love It,' Donald Trump Jr. Said (JO BECKER, ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZOJULY 11, 2017, NY Times)

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father's former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents "would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father," read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

If the future president's elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material -- or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father's campaign -- he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a "Russian government attorney."

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would most likely bring along "Paul Manafort (campaign boss)" and "my brother-in-law," Jared Kushner, now one of the president's closest White House advisers.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Mike Pence scrambles to distance himself from the Donald Trump Jr. revelations (The Week, 7/11/17)
Vice President Mike Pence reacted to news that Donald Trump Jr. met knowingly with a Kremlin source for information about Hillary Clinton by distancing himself as much as possible. "The vice president is working every day to advance the president's agenda," the statement from the vice president's press secretary began. "He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign -- especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign."

Another good day for Nikki 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Rebels say they downed Syrian warplane near ceasefire zone (AFP, July 11, 2017)

Rebel groups shot down a Syrian government warplane on Tuesday near a ceasefire zone in the country's south, the factions and a monitoring group said. [...]

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor confirmed that the rebel groups had hit the plane near a village on the administrative border between the provinces of Rural Damascus and Sweida.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi killed, Syrian group confirms (AFP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, July 11, 2017)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the brutal Islamic State terror group, has been killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday afternoon, confirming reports earlier in the day in Iraqi media, and possibly bringing to a close a hunt for one of the most wanted men on the planet.

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


The Wall Begins to Crumble: Notes on Collusion (Benjamin Wittes, Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic, July 11, 2017, LawFare)

Ever since the first revelations of L'Affaire Russe, President Trump and his defenders have insisted that there's no evidence of "collusion" between Russian operatives and either the Trump campaign or the candidate himself.

This defense was always a highly qualified one that conceded a great deal, despite being often presented in bombastic terms--as when Trump himself repeatedly insisted he had "nothing to do" with Russia. It conceded, though inconsistently and sometimes quite grudgingly, that yes, the Russians had conducted an active measures campaign within the election designed to aid Trump. It also conceded a point on which the public record simply brooks no argument: that Trump took obsequiously out-of-the-mainstream positions during the campaign towards Russia and its strongman, Vladimir Putin, covered for their involvement in the hacking with a web of denials, and even at times openly encouraged the hacking. The "no collusion" defense, in other words, was always a modest one that did not really deny that the Trump campaign gleefully accepted Russian aid during the campaign and promised a different relationship with Russia in a hundred public statements; it denied only that the campaign did these things in secret collaboration with Russian state actors. The defense conceded that Trump benefited from Russia's actions, denying only that he or his people were parties to them in a covert fashion that went beyond the very visible encouragement Trump gave.

The problem with dwelling too much on the covert forms of collaboration, which we have come to call "collusion," is that doing so risks letting Trump at least a little bit off the hook for what is not meaningfully disputed: that the president publicly, knowingly, and repeatedly (if only tacitly) collaborated with a foreign power's intelligence effort to interfere in the presidential election of the country he now leads. Focusing on covert collusion risks putting the lines of propriety, acceptable candidate behavior, and even (let's be frank) patriotism in such a place where openly encouraging foreign dictators to hack your domestic opponent's emails falls on the tolerable side. It risks accepting that all is okay with the Trump-Russia relationship unless some secret or illegal additional element actually involves illicit contacts between the campaign and Russian operatives. Yet it's hard to imagine how any scandal of illegality could eclipse the scandal of legality which requires no investigation and has lain bare before our eyes for months.

But it is this very distinction, in which Trump's own defenders are so heavily invested, that now appears poised to crumble.

As Collusion Evidence Emerges, Obstruction Allegations Begin To Look More Damaging (Alex Whiting, July 11, 2017, JustSecurity)

The criminal investigations of the Trump administration seem largely to have followed two separate paths: on the one hand, whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interference with the election, and on the other hand whether President Trump obstructed justice. Commentary has alternated between these inquiries, but has not always connected the two. In part that is because of the piecemeal way the evidence has emerged. In part it is because the two inquiries have distinct legal elements and can, in fact, exist separately. However, at a moment when our attention is focused on the question of possible collusion, it is worth remembering this obvious point: the two investigations are, in fact, very much connected. As evidence mounts of one set of crimes (collusion), it also supports the other (obstruction). [...]

Regarding Trump, if it seemed that Trump was acting only to block the investigation and prosecution of Michael Flynn's individual acts of alleged wrongdoing, some of which themselves might raise questions about whether they warrant criminal charges, a prosecutor might hesitate (not to mention Congress, when considering the question of impeachment). Could the prosecutor persuade the jury that when Trump asked Comey to let the Flynn investigation go, Trump wasn't just trying, in his bumbling Trump sort of a way, to put in a good word for Flynn? Could the prosecutor persuade the jury that in firing Comey, Trump had not simply concluded that Comey was badly mishandling the Russia investigation and had to be replaced by a more effective Director?

Many might think that the evidence is already sufficient to overcome such defenses, but the point is that absent some indication of a larger, self-interested, cover-up, the ultimate factfinders - whether they be on a jury or in Congress - might be more likely to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, grabbing onto these explanations as a way to excuse Trump's conduct. And that is why the emerging collusion evidence could end up mattering so much to the obstruction inquiry. It has the potential to change everything. Suddenly, Trump's actions to stop the FBI's investigations, not to mention his incessant tweets and public statements about the Russia inquiries, feel much more sinister.

Now it appears that Trump may have in fact had something much larger to hide.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Russian lawyer says she was summoned to Trump Jr. meeting (Alayna Treene, 7/11/17, Axios)

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort last June said today that someone approached her about the meeting at Trump Tower, not the other way around.

In an exclusive interview with NBC's Keir Simmons, Natalia Veselnitskaya said she received a phone call and was asked whether she had information on the Clinton campaign's finances.

No cash, no cover.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


High Minimum Wage Has Losers and Winners : Seattle's experiment is evidence that forcing pay upward can reduce inequality but hurt the poor. (Michael R. Strain, 7/11/17, Bloomberg View)

Recall the 2014 analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of the effects of increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from $7.25, where it has been since 2009. The CBO found that the boost would increase the earnings of millions of workers by a total of $31 billion. It also found that the increase would reduce employment by hundreds of thousands of jobs, and that less than one dollar in every five of that $31 billion would go to households living in poverty.

In short, there are trade-offs. And so when thinking about whether minimum wage increases are good or bad, you have to think clearly about the social goal you are trying to achieve. If your goal is to help reduce income inequality and to increase the earnings of some middle-class households, then the minimum wage is not a crazy policy.

But if your goal is to help the least skilled, least experienced, most vulnerable members of society to get their feet on the first rung of the employment ladder and to start climbing, then the minimum wage is counterproductive. Its costs are concentrated among those vulnerable workers. It is an obstacle in their paths. It is bad policy.

Do you want an economy that produces more wealth or one that produces more equality?  

The fundamental thesis of the Third Way/compassionate conservatism/neoliberalism/etc. is that if you allow the economy to maximize wealth creation you can use the political system to distribute it more equitably after it is created.

A challenge to Piketty's theory about the future of work (Christopher Matthews, 7/11/17, Axios)

[Devesh Raval, an economist with the Federal Trade Commission,]  argues that the data don't corroborate Piketty's thesis. Automation, he argues, hasn't increased the interchangeability of humans with machines. Instead, what we have watched is the one-time effects of radical post-war globalization.

Radical globalization: Chinese investors can now bid up real estate prices, Raval notes, and American businessmen can easily source their wares from low-wage Vietnam, both changes that have hurt workers. The upside, he argues, is that many of these shifts are one-offs that won't continue to suppress workers' share of income.

Looking ahead: Although Raval says automation isn't causing labor's share of income to decline, he concedes that new technologies could drive down pay. Raval writes, "If Piketty's feared scenario comes to pass," in which machines can increasingly replace labor, and population growth continues to slow, standard economic models say the world "would experience unbounded growth," he said. In other words, the economy could grow while people contribute no new innovations.

The great "threat" of neoliberalism is indeed unbounded wealth creation without any labor input.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Trump supporters know Trump lies. They just don't care. (Brian Resnick,  Jul 10, 2017, Vox)

During the campaign -- and into his presidency -- Donald Trump repeatedly exaggerated and distorted crime statistics. "Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed," he asserted in his dark speech at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. But the data here is unambiguous: FBI statistics show crime has been going down for decades.

CNN's Jake Tapper confronted Trump's then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, right before the speech. "How can the Republicans make the argument that somehow it's more dangerous today, when the facts don't back that up?" Tapper asked.

"People don't feel safe in their neighborhoods," Manafort responded, and then dismissed the FBI as a credible source of data.

This type of exchange -- where a journalist fact-checks a powerful figure -- is an essential task of the news media. And for a long time, political scientists and psychologists have wondered: Do these fact checks matter in the minds of viewers, particularly those whose candidate is distorting the truth? Simple question. Not-so-simple answer.

In the past, the research has found that not only do facts fail to sway minds, but they can sometimes produce what's known as a "backfire effect," leaving people even more stubborn and sure of their preexisting belief.

But there's new evidence on this question that's a bit more hopeful. It finds backfiring is rarer than originally thought -- and that fact-checks can make an impression on even the most ardent of Trump supporters.

But there's still a big problem: Trump supporters know their candidate lies, but that doesn't change how they feel about him.

It's about feelings. They feel scared of Latinos and Muslims, and that suffices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Solidarity as Liberty in the Declaration of Independence (JAMES R. ROGERS, 7/10/17, Law & Liberty)

A significant part of the Declaration's argument against the government in London was that it undermined governance of and in the American colonies. Modern American readers often experience something of a jolt, expecting as they do complaints of government abuse against individuals, when they get to the first specific complaint advanced by the colonists against the King, "He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

As a matter of first importance, the colonists didn't complain about the King's actions, they complain about the King's inaction. To wit, the colonists wanted laws for themselves that the King wouldn't approve. The King, as it were, was not giving the colonists too much government, they complained, rather he was giving them too little government; he was giving them too little law. Hence, the "bite" of the statement in the perambulatory section that governments are established so "secure" inalienable rights. Too little government can threaten inalienable rights just as easily as too much government.  [...]

[P]erhaps the best known complaint, "for imposing taxes upon us without our consent," the complaint is not about taxes being too high, it's simply about the nonconsensual nature of the taxes. Even low taxes without consent would be objectionable; high taxes, as long as consented to by legislative representatives, would not be objectionable.

Today "liberty" is conceived almost exclusively along the dimension of the individual versus the state. And that dimension certainly existed at the time of the American founding as well. But that was not the sole dimension of liberty at the time of the Declaration. "Liberty" also included the idea of participating in a collective process by which the community rules and governs itself. Freedom meant freedom from the chaos of too little government as well as freedom from the tyranny of too much government.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign (MATT APUZZO, JO BECKER, ADAM GOLDMAN and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JULY 10, 2017, NY Times)

Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The Radical Origins of Christianity : Emmanuel Carrère's "The Kingdom" explores how a tiny sect became a global religion. (James Wood, 7/10/17, The New Yorker)

Kierkegaard relates a chilling parable in "The Sickness Unto Death." An emperor summons a poor day laborer. The man never dreamed that the emperor even knew of his existence. The emperor tells him that he wants to have him as his son-in-law, a bizarre announcement that must strike the man as something he would never dare tell the world, for fear of being mocked; it seems as if the emperor wanted only to make a fool of his subject. Now, Kierkegaard says, suppose that this event was never made a public fact; no evidence exists that the emperor ever summoned the laborer, so that his only recourse would be blind faith. How many would have the courage to believe? Christ's kingdom is like that, Kierkegaard says.

The French writer Emmanuel Carrère doesn't mention Kierkegaard in his latest book, "The Kingdom" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), but the Danish philosopher--the Danish Christian lunatic, one might say--hovers over the book as God's face is said to have hovered over the waters during the creation of the world. The Kierkegaard whose work is scarred by the great "offense" of Christianity, by its shocking challenge to reason and empirical evidence; who claimed that modern philosophy amounts to the premise "I think therefore I am," while Christianity equals the premise "I believe therefore I am"; who writes that the best proof that God exists is the circular proof one was offered as a child ("It is absolutely true, because my father told me so")--that brilliant, mutilated Christian is the unnamed patron of "The Kingdom." An amazingly various book, it narrates the author's crises of religious faith in the nineteen-nineties; combines conventional history and speculative reconstruction to describe the rise of early Christianity; deftly animates the first-century lives and journeys of Paul, Luke, and John; and attempts to explain how an unlikely cult, formed around the death and resurrection of an ascetic lyrical revolutionary, grew into the established Church we know today. "Can one believe that such things are still believed?" Nietzsche asked, scornfully. "And yet they are still believed," Carrère replies. [...]

Jesus was an event within Judaism; it was not especially scandalous that a young Jewish radical went about proclaiming himself the Messiah, ambiguously calling himself "the son of Man," and quarrelling with the rabbis about aspects of the law. But it was another thing entirely to claim--as Paul did--that Jesus came to earth to wash away an original sin contracted by humans in Eden; that this Jesus was crucified by the Romans, was buried, and rose from the dead; and that he would soon come again, in a rescue mission that would usher in a new eternal kingdom. In place of the intimate, familial struggle of the Jews and their God, Paul invokes a strict theology of sin and salvation. Kierkegaard, at his most Protestant-masochistic, says that Christianity's singularity lies in its understanding of sin; if that's true, it was Paul's singularity rather than Jesus'. The new theology transfers Judaism's healthy involvement in this life onto a palpitating anticipation of the next; the present becomes eternity's duller portal.

Paul was born Saul, in Tarsus (now in Turkey), perhaps a few years after the birth of Jesus, whom he never met. He was a devout student of Judaism, and was sent to Jerusalem for schooling with one of the most eminent rabbis of the age. Filled with piety, Saul became an eager persecutor of the early Christians, who were known at this time as "those who follow the Way." As Luke relates in Acts, Saul was on his way to Damascus, to arrest those blasphemers he could find and bring them back to stand trial in Jerusalem, when a light blinded him, and he fell to the ground. Jesus' voice asked him, "Why are you persecuting me?," and then told him to go into the city and await his orders. Paul's conversion was momentous. During the next twenty years, this incandescent missionary visited Christian churches and communities from Corinth to Antioch; and when he could not reach them he wrote to them, setting down the epistles that form (with the Gospels) the core of the New Testament. These letters are, as Carrère explains, the oldest Christian texts (they predate the Gospels by twenty or thirty years), and perhaps the most modern Biblical texts, "the only ones whose author is clearly identified and speaks in his own name."

I can feel my eyes glazing over--alas, I am back in school again--but suddenly the reader wakes up, because Monsieur Carrère, at the blackboard with his maps and dates, is shaking things up. Paul's letters, he says, are like those which Lenin wrote "to various factions of the Second International from Paris, Geneva, and Zurich before 1917." More interesting still, Monsieur Carrère has got hold of a detail in the Letter to the Galatians, in which Paul warns the congregants not to believe rival teachings by impostors: "Even if I came to preach something other than what I have preached, you shouldn't believe me." 
And suddenly the classroom is awake, because Monsieur Carrère is making early Christianity sound like . . . science fiction. In a sparkling, unexpected digression--there are many such in this book--he mentions Dick's fascination with the Stalinist show trials, in which the victims were forced to deny what they had believed their whole lives, and to denounce their earlier selves as unrecognizable monsters. And then he wheels back to Paul. This terror--of the split self, the self who has turned from one pole to its opposite--was largely unknown in the ancient world, Carrère maintains, until Paul's conversion. But because violent, sudden conversion had happened to Paul, "he must have dreaded, more or less consciously, that it could happen to him again." This, Carrère thinks, is the hidden fear behind Paul's admonition to the Galatians:

The person he once was had become a monster to him, and he had become a monster to the person he once was. If the two could have met, the person he once was would have cursed him. He would have prayed to God to let him die, the way the heroes of vampire movies make their friends swear they'll drive a stake through their hearts if they're ever bitten. But that's what they say before it happens. Once contaminated, their only thought is to bite others in turn, in particular those who come at them with a stake to make good the promise they made to the person who no longer exists. I think that Paul's nights must have been haunted by a nightmare of this kind.

Rampant speculation, outrageous psychologizing, insouciantly unscholarly behavior--but diabolically plausible. Carrère is not afraid of Paul's reconverting from Christianity to Judaism (what might be considered the orthodox anxiety) so much as fearful of conversion generally. We are hardly surprised when he adds what we have all been thinking: that he is really talking about himself. He quotes a friend, who tells him, "When you were a Christian, what you feared the most was becoming the skeptic that you're only too happy to be now. But who says you won't change again?" Once a convert, always convertible.

What makes "The Kingdom" so engrossing is this element of personal struggle, our sense that the agnostic author is looking over his shoulder at the armies of faith, as they pursue him to the wall of rationality. That struggle plays out here over the two scandals--the two great "offenses," to use Kierkegaard's favorite word--at the heart of the Christian message. The first is epistemological, and has to do with the claim that Jesus is God made flesh, and that he died and rose again from the dead. The notion of a fully human god, who shares human weaknesses and frailties without any diminution of divinity, is so outrageous that Christians anxiously police Christ's full humanity. Yes, he got angry, and he could be intolerant, enigmatic, even faltering in strength; he died, humanly, on the Cross. But don't for a moment suggest that he slept with Mary Magdalene, or that he spent his teen-age years--well, doing what other teen-age boys are known to do a great deal of. [...]

But, to the extent that Jesus' humanity is outrageous, then so is his divinity. For if Jesus is the Son of God, then God changed--you could say that God converted. The distant, unnameable, vengeful Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible becomes the approachable "Father" who washes away all our sins. As both Jack Miles and Harold Bloom have suggested, the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible cannot also be the father of Jesus Christ; either Christ represents an almost incomprehensible break with that world or Yahweh committed suicide on the Cross. And this Man-God, this impossible incarnation of Yahweh, died and was resurrected! Paul puts this amazing fact at the center of his teaching, and insists that if Christ was not raised from the dead "then empty, too, your faith. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all."