August 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 PM


Trump at a precarious moment in his presidency: Privately brooding and publicly roaring (Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, August 4, 2018, Washington Post)

[T]rump has latched onto Giuliani's talking point that "collusion is not a crime," believing it is catchy and brilliantly simplistic, according to people with knowledge of internal talks.

Still, Trump has confided to friends and advisers that he is worried the Mueller probe could destroy the lives of what he calls "innocent and decent people" -- namely Trump Jr., who is under scrutiny by Mueller for his role organizing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. As one adviser described the president's thinking, he does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal ­jeopardy.

The true-believers are the only ones left pretending he's not guilty.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


GOP consultants say Kobach campaign has white nationalists on payroll (Sherman Smith, Aug 3, 2018,  The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kris Kobach's gubernatorial campaign employs three men identified as members of a white nationalist group by two political consultants who have worked with Republicans in Kansas. [...]

The consultants in early July independently named the three men, all in their early 20s, as members of American Heritage Initiative, a splinter of Identity Evropa, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as as a campus-based white supremacy group that builds community from shared racial identity.

Kurtis Engel, Collin Gustin and Michael Pyles received $1,250 to $3,100 in payments from Kobach's campaign between June 8 and July 26, according to expense reports made public this week. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM

IF THE GAME IS FIXED, I'M NOT A LOSER! (profanity alert):

Trump Fans Are Suckers and QAnon Is Perfect for Them: And aggrieved, and paranoid, and thrilled to have "An Answer" that explains everything about the world they hate and tells them Trump is great and they're pretty good, too. (Rick Wilson, 08.03.18, dAILY bEAST)

Some people need a single, grand unifying theory of why the world refuses to line up with their expectations. When difficult realities confront people without the intellectual horsepower to understand and accept the truth, some turn to conspiracy theories to paper over the holes in their worldview. No matter how absurd, baroque, and improbable, conspiracies grow on their own like mental kudzu where inconsistencies aren't signs of illogical conclusions, but of another, deeper layer of some hidden truth, some skein of powerful forces holding the world in its grip.

After Donald Trump's rally in Tampa this week, the notorious QAnon scam became America's conspiracy of the moment. And why not? In the face of Trump's daily meltdowns, mood swings, and unmedicated rage episodes in which he lashes out at every target in reach, his base is desperately looking for a version of reality that gives them some comfort and stability.

This Q conspiracy is filling the political bloodstream of the Trumpentariat and has been bubbling up inside the right for the last few months, and while Will Sommer and others have covered the story, there seemed to be a media shock moment after the Qbots showed up at Trump's Tampa rally.

Conspiracies--this one in particular--give their devotees a sense of coherence that is lacking in everything Trump does. QAnon presents Trump as the character he plays on TV; bold, commanding, strategic, and opposed to the real Donald Trump, who displays the dignity, intelligence, and honesty of a strip-club tout with tertiary syphilis.

In Q's world, Donald Trump is courageously leading an effort to round up and punish--I'm not exaggerating--tens of thousands of child predators who occupy the highest reaches of government.  Q and Don, side by side, doling out the secret knowledge to the new elite. Instead of getting a clearance, all you need to do is check out 4chan, Reddit, or YouTube.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


The Accidental Universe : Science's crisis of faith (Alan Lightman, December 2011, Harper's)

The scientists most distressed by Weinberg's "fork in the road" are theoretical physicists. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion. Experimental scientists occupy themselves with observing and measuring the cosmos, finding out what stuff exists, no matter how strange that stuff may be. Theoretical physicists, on the other hand, are not satisfied with observing the universe. They want to know why. They want to explain all the properties of the universe in terms of a few fundamental principles and parameters. These fundamental principles, in turn, lead to the "laws of nature," which govern the behavior of all matter and energy. An example of a fundamental principle in physics, first proposed by Galileo in 1632 and extended by Einstein in 1905, is the following: All observers traveling at constant velocity relative to one another should witness identical laws of nature. From this principle, Einstein derived his theory of special relativity. An example of a fundamental parameter is the mass of an electron, considered one of the two dozen or so "elementary" particles of nature. As far as physicists are concerned, the fewer the fundamental principles and parameters, the better. The underlying hope and belief of this enterprise has always been that these basic principles are so restrictive that only one, self-consistent universe is possible, like a crossword puzzle with only one solution. That one universe would be, of course, the universe we live in. Theoretical physicists are Platonists. Until the past few years, they agreed that the entire universe, the one universe, is generated from a few mathematical truths and principles of symmetry, perhaps throwing in a handful of parameters like the mass of the electron. It seemed that we were closing in on a vision of our universe in which everything could be calculated, predicted, and understood.

However, two theories in physics, eternal inflation and string theory, now suggest that the same fundamental principles from which the laws of nature derive may lead to many different self-consistent universes, with many different properties. It is as if you walked into a shoe store, had your feet measured, and found that a size 5 would fit you, a size 8 would also fit, and a size 12 would fit equally well. Such wishy-washy results make theoretical physicists extremely unhappy. Evidently, the fundamental laws of nature do not pin down a single and unique universe. According to the current thinking of many physicists, we are living in one of a vast number of universes. We are living in an accidental universe. We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s," says Alan Guth, "the feeling was that we were so smart, we almost had everything figured out." What physicists had figured out were very accurate theories of three of the four fundamental forces of nature: the strong nuclear force that binds atomic nuclei together, the weak force that is responsible for some forms of radioactive decay, and the electromagnetic force between electrically charged particles. And there were prospects for merging the theory known as quantum physics with Einstein's theory of the fourth force, gravity, and thus pulling all of them into the fold of what physicists called the Theory of Everything, or the Final Theory. These theories of the 1970s and 1980s required the specification of a couple dozen parameters corresponding to the masses of the elementary particles, and another half dozen or so parameters corresponding to the strengths of the fundamental forces. The next step would then have been to derive most of the elementary particle masses in terms of one or two fundamental masses and define the strengths of all the fundamental forces in terms of a single fundamental force.

There were good reasons to think that physicists were poised to take this next step. Indeed, since the time of Galileo, physics has been extremely successful in discovering principles and laws that have fewer and fewer free parameters and that are also in close agreement with the observed facts of the world. For example, the observed rotation of the ellipse of the orbit of Mercury, 0.012 degrees per century, was successfully calculated using the theory of general relativity, and the observed magnetic strength of an electron, 2.002319 magnetons, was derived using the theory of quantum electrodynamics. More than any other science, physics brims with highly accurate agreements between theory and experiment.

Guth started his physics career in this sunny scientific world. Now sixty-four years old and a professor at MIT, he was in his early thirties when he proposed a major revision to the Big Bang theory, something called inflation. We now have a great deal of evidence suggesting that our universe began as a nugget of extremely high density and temperature about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding, thinning out, and cooling ever since. The theory of inflation proposes that when our universe was only about a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, a peculiar type of energy caused the cosmos to expand very rapidly. A tiny fraction of a second later, the universe returned to the more leisurely rate of expansion of the standard Big Bang model. Inflation solved a number of outstanding problems in cosmology, such as why the universe appears so homogeneous on large scales.

When I visited Guth in his third-floor office at MIT one cool day in May, I could barely see him above the stacks of paper and empty Diet Coke bottles on his desk. More piles of paper and dozens of magazines littered the floor. In fact, a few years ago Guth won a contest sponsored by the Boston Globe for the messiest office in the city. The prize was the services of a professional organizer for one day. "She was actually more a nuisance than a help. She took piles of envelopes from the floor and began sorting them according to size." He wears aviator-style eyeglasses, keeps his hair long, and chain-drinks Diet Cokes. "The reason I went into theoretical physics," Guth tells me, "is that I liked the idea that we could understand everything--i.e., the universe--in terms of mathematics and logic." He gives a bitter laugh. We have been talking about the multiverse.

While challenging the Platonic dream of theoretical physicists, the multiverse idea does explain one aspect of our universe that has unsettled some scientists for years: according to various calculations, if the values of some of the fundamental parameters of our universe were a little larger or a little smaller, life could not have arisen. For example, if the nuclear force were a few percentage points stronger than it actually is, then all the hydrogen atoms in the infant universe would have fused with other hydrogen atoms to make helium, and there would be no hydrogen left. No hydrogen means no water. Although we are far from certain about what conditions are necessary for life, most biologists believe that water is necessary. On the other hand, if the nuclear force were substantially weaker than what it actually is, then the complex atoms needed for biology could not hold together. As another example, if the relationship between the strengths of the gravitational force and the electromagnetic force were not close to what it is, then the cosmos would not harbor any stars that explode and spew out life-supporting chemical elements into space or any other stars that form planets. Both kinds of stars are required for the emergence of life. The strengths of the basic forces and certain other fundamental parameters in our universe appear to be "fine-tuned" to allow the existence of life. The recognition of this fine­tuning led British physicist Brandon Carter to articulate what he called the anthropic principle, which states that the universe must have the parameters it does because we are here to observe it. Actually, the word anthropic, from the Greek for "man," is a misnomer: if these fundamental parameters were much different from what they are, it is not only human beings who would not exist. No life of any kind would exist.

If such conclusions are correct, the great question, of course, is why these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life. Does the universe care about life? Intelligent design is one answer. Indeed, a fair number of theologians, philosophers, and even some scientists have used fine-tuning and the anthropic principle as evidence of the existence of God. For example, at the 2011 Christian Scholars' Conference at Pepperdine University, Francis Collins, a leading geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health, said, "To get our universe, with all of its potential for complexities or any kind of potential for any kind of life-form, everything has to be precisely defined on this knife edge of improbability.... [Y]ou have to see the hands of a creator who set the parameters to be just so because the creator was interested in something a little more complicated than random particles."

Intelligent design, however, is an answer to fine-tuning that does not appeal to most scientists. The multiverse offers another explanation. If there are countless different universes with different properties--for example, some with nuclear forces much stronger than in our universe and some with nuclear forces much weaker--then some of those universes will allow the emergence of life and some will not. Some of those universes will be dead, lifeless hulks of matter and energy, and others will permit the emergence of cells, plants and animals, minds. From the huge range of possible universes predicted by the theories, the fraction of universes with life is undoubtedly small. But that doesn't matter. We live in one of the universes that permits life because otherwise we wouldn't be here to ask the question.

The explanation is similar to the explanation of why we happen to live on a planet that has so many nice things for our comfortable existence: oxygen, water, a temperature between the freezing and boiling points of water, and so on. Is this happy coincidence just good luck, or an act of Providence, or what? No, it is simply that we could not live on planets without such properties. Many other planets exist that are not so hospitable to life, such as Uranus, where the temperature is -371 degrees Fahrenheit, and Venus, where it rains sulfuric acid.

The multiverse offers an explanation to the fine-tuning conundrum that does not require the presence of a Designer. As Steven Weinberg says: "Over many centuries science has weakened the hold of religion, not by disproving the existence of God but by invalidating arguments for God based on what we observe in the natural world. The multiverse idea offers an explanation of why we find ourselves in a universe favorable to life that does not rely on the benevolence of a creator, and so if correct will leave still less support for religion."

Some physicists remain skeptical of the anthropic principle and the reliance on multiple universes to explain the values of the fundamental parameters of physics. Others, such as Weinberg and Guth, have reluctantly accepted the anthropic principle and the multiverse idea as together providing the best possible explanation for the observed facts.

Because every finding in physics confirms Design, those who oppose God have been forced to invent a theory for which there is no evidence.

Thus Robert Griffiths's line : "If we need an atheist for a debate, we go to the philosophy department. The physics department isn't much use."

[originally posted: 2/25/17]

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Horseman, Pass By: Glory, grief, and the race for the Triple Crown (John Jeremiah Sullivan, October 2002, Harper's)

My only real awareness of the Kentucky Derby, growing up across the river from Louisville, lay in noticing the new commemorative glass that appeared in the cupboard each May, to be dropped and broken, as often as not by me, before the next one arrived. Although my father attended the race every year for more than a decade, occasionally taking my older brother along, he never said anything to me about it apart from to ask, when I got old enough, which horse I would like him to bet on with my allotted two dollars. His position, in general, was that to talk about work was the same as being at work, and there was already plenty of that.

A sportswriter gets used to people coming up to him in restaurants or at PTA meetings and taking issue with something he said in a column or on some call-in show. And my father was sensitive to the slightest criticism --really the slightest mention--of his writing, almost to the point of wincing, which may have stemmed from his having come to the job somewhat backward. As opposed to the typical sportswriter, who has a passion for the subject and can put together a sentence, my father's ambition had been to Write (poetry, no less), and sports were what he knew, so he sort of stumbled onto making his living that way. When the alternative weekly paper in Columbus, Ohio--where we moved when I was twelve so he could take a job writing for the Columbus Dispatch--started running a regular column entitled "The Sully," in which they would select and expand upon what they felt to be my father's most bizarre sentence from the previous week (e.g., "'Second base is still an undefined area that we haven't wrapped our arms around,' Tribe general manager John Hart said, sounding very much like a man about to have his face savagely bitten"), we were amazed by his pained reaction. The compliment behind the teasing would have been plain to anyone else, but he would not have the thing in the house.

Two years ago, in May, I sat with him in his hospital room at Riverside Methodist, in Columbus. He was in recovery from what was supposed to have been a quintuple bypass operation but became, on the surgeon's actually seeing the heart, a sextuple bypass. There had, in the preceding year, already been the aneurysm surgery, then the surgery (unsuccessful) to repair the hernia caused by the aneurysm surgery. "My succession of infirmities," as he put it to me in a letter, "has tended finally to confront me with blunt intimations of mortality." Otherwise it was not a morbid scene. The last operation had gone well, and he seemed to be feeling better than he had any right to. The waning sedative and, I suppose, twenty-four hours without cigarettes had left him edgy, but he was happy to talk, which we did in whispers, because the old man with whom he was sharing a room that night had already gone to sleep.

I asked him to tell me what he remembered from all those years of writing about sports, for he had seen some things in his time: Michael Jordan at North Carolina, a teenage John McEnroe, Bear Bryant, the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. This is what he told me:

I was at Secretariat's Derby, in '73, the year before you were born-l don't guess you were even conceived yet. That was...just beauty, you know? He started in last place, which he tended to do. I was covering the second-place horse, which wound up being Sham. It looked like Sham's race going into the last turn, I think. The thing you have to understand is that Sham was fast, a beautiful horse. He would have had the Triple Crown in another year. And it just didn't seem like there could be anything faster than that. Everybody was watching him. It was over, more or less. And all of a sudden there was, just a disruption in the comer of your eye, in your peripheral vision. And then before you could make out what it was, here Secretariat came. And then Secretariat had passed him. No one had ever seen anything run like that--a lot of the old guys said the same thing. It was like he was some other animal out there...

I wrote that down when I got back to my father's apartment, where my younger sister and I were staying the night. He lived two more months, but that was the last time I saw him alive. [...]

My trip to the September yearling sale was only the second time I had been back to Lexington since we had buried my father there a year before. On the evening of the twelfth, after the last hip number had been called and most of the buyers had been driven to the airport, I pulled away from Keeneland under an almost radioactive violet sky that had the first tinge of fall in it, passing a skinny, bald-headed man who was walking shirtless along the side of the road, listlessly waving an American flag. The car was pointed toward my grandmother's house, where I was staying, but I veered at the last minute toward the cemetery.

His grave is at Calvary, a Catholic cemetery that lies directly across the road from Lexington Cemetery, site, as it happens, of the first racetrack in town and the place where all of my Episcopalian family on my mother's side are buried. The two graveyards, starkly separated from each other by the road and the traffic and the fences, seemed at the time to sum up rather neatly how opposite my parents were in almost every way: he Catholic, she Protestant; she Old Lexington, he a grandson of Irish immigrants, brought up in White Plains, New York, who moved to Lexington only as a teenager when his father, a construction supervisor, got a job overseeing the building of an IBM plant outside of town; she a former boarding-school cheerleader, he a former Memphis hippie (the freakiest of the hippies, as any survivor can tell you); and the list is long. It is a riddle how they stayed together for twenty years

The headstone was not on the grave yet, the grass had not come in. No one else was around. I had no flowers or anything else to leave and felt slightly awkward, as if I were trespassing.

One of the most difficult things in dealing with my father's death--for many of the people he left behind, I think--is how totally inappropriate grief and mourning seem beside any memory of the man himself. He was a deeply funny person, a collector and disseminator of bawdy jokes and carefully clipped page 10 stories about insane trailer park crimes. He had inherited some variant of that dark and antic strain of Irish humor that runs through Synge and Flann O'Brien, by which the worst imaginable scenarios, the worst outbursts of temper, would flower in a joke that made everything bearable. It was a quality not without its regrettable side, for he used it to keep our concern over his health at bay. I have a letter from him, written less than a month before he died, in response to my having asked him about an exercise regimen that his doctor had him on. In typically epithetic style (it was his weakness), he wrote, "Three days ago didst I most stylishly drive these plucky limbs once around the 1.2-mile girth of Antrim Lake--and wasn't it a lark watching the repellently 'buff' exercise cultists scatter and cower in fear as I gunned the Toyota around the tight turns!"

For all the joking, his disappointments and sadnesses never quit him. His own father had died when he was only nineteen, dropping dead in harness, as it were, on the job at a construction site. "Four men came up to my mother at the funeral," my father told me once, "and claimed to be the one who caught him, which is how she knew that no one did." He was devastated; he had worshiped the man. He dropped out of college, utterly lost for a while. I see now that he was always, in some sense, a son. In one of his journals are plans for a book that would tell his father's story, the story of "a great and unknown man." But he never wrote it. His temperament was not suited for the long commitment, for the artist's obliviousness to competing responsibilities, which necessitates a certain cruelty, let us admit. So he accepted his defeat, with dignity, and with a total lack of self-pity. He wrote his newspaper stories, and wrote them well, downstairs at his vast green-leather-topped desk, on his creaking chair, in a haze of smoke. The desk was accidentally lost during the settlement of his estate. It is in a Salvation Army somewhere in Louisville, or at the dump.

The night he died I went back to his bachelor apartment in the dismal complex and sat down at the old desk, among his few things. In the drawers were his "quitting journals," as he called them, special notebooks, set apart from the others, filled with his rapid, loopy script. He would start a clean one with each new attempt to kick cigarettes. I had glanced at them once or twice, without permission, when he was alive. Now they belonged to me, along with all of his "creative work," under the terms of the will. They were largely self-excoriations, full of dark thoughts, efforts to locate and take hold of his own willpower. How badly he wanted co change. Worse than any of us could want that for him. I remember a notecard on the table by the bed, written during a brief period when he was attending a support group: "Reasons to quit: I} It worries my children."

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Kobach promised cities help. It cost them millions -- and powered his political rise (HUNTER WOODALL, JESSICA HUSEMAN, BRYAN LOWRY AND BLAKE PATERSON, August 01, 2018, Kansas City Star)

Kris Kobach likes to tout his work for Valley Park, Mo. He has boasted on cable TV about crafting and defending the town's hard-line anti-immigration ordinance. He discussed his "victory" there at length on his old radio show. He still lists it on his resume.

But "victory" isn't the word most Valley Park residents would use to describe the results of Kobach's work. With his help, the town of 7,000 passed an ordinance in 2006 that punished employers for hiring illegal immigrants and landlords for renting to them.

After two years of litigation and nearly $300,000 in expenses, the ordinance was largely gutted. Now, it is illegal only to "knowingly" hire illegal immigrants there -- something that was already illegal under federal law. The town's attorney can't recall a single case brought under the ordinance.

"Ambulance chasing" is how Grant Young, a former mayor of Valley Park, describes Kobach's role. Young characterized Kobach's attitude as, "Let's find a town that's got some issues or pretends to have some issues, let's drum up an immigration problem and maybe I can advance my political position, my political thinking and maybe make some money at the same time."

Kobach used his work in Valley Park to attract other clients, with sometimes disastrous effects on the municipalities. The towns -- some with budgets in the single-digit-millions -- ran up hefty legal costs after hiring him to defend similar ordinances.

Farmers Branch, Texas, wound up owing $7 million in legal bills. Hazleton, Pa., took on debt to pay $1.4 million and eventually had to file for a state bailout. Fremont, Neb., raised property taxes to pay for Kobach's services. None of the towns is currently enforcing an ordinance he helped craft.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


The Devil's Party?: Why we love Lucifer--and why Milton might have, too (Edwin M. Yoder Jr.,  July 31, 2018, American Scholar)

The paramount issue, since John Milton's great poem Paradise Lost first appeared in 1667, is that his magnificent articulation of the myth of the Fall of Man should, for many readers, make a hero of the archangel Lucifer, the leader of the celestial rebellion that precipitates the legend. For attentive readers, notably William Blake, Satan overshadows the Almighty, in color if not in virtue. Whether or not Milton was the Devil's unconscious partisan, Satan's distinction in the poem remains controversial.

We are assured by the formidable critic and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis that it is a misreading of the poem to find Satan a more attractive figure than the God against whom he leads the rebel angels. But a recent rereading leaves me with the persistent impression that the issue is less easily resolved than Lewis supposed. [...]

Milton installs Adam and Eve as innocents in a paradise of flower and fruit. Their enjoyment is circumscribed by a single rule: They may eat all the fruit in the Garden except that from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This exception is obviously significant, since Milton's epic appeared at a time when certain forms of knowledge were dangerous in and of themselves. The temptation and fall, and its consequences, are preceded in the poem by the rebellion of a third of the angelic host. Satan's followers are cast out of Heaven in a celestial war in which the divine son volunteers to rally the loyal angels. Satan's expulsion, to the fiery waters and "darkness visible" of Hell, becomes one of the spectacular scenes of the epic:

Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.
Nine times the space that measures day and night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquished, rolling in the fiery gulf, ...
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes ...

The description of Satan's expulsion is a vivid example of Milton's masterly interplay of vowels and consonants, offering an auditory sensation of falling; and the plunge is earth-shaking--or would be, had our world existed then. That comes later in time, if not poetic sequence. Milton's God excites Satan's envy by creating a new and favored being, Adam, and sets him up in Paradise. The Creator stipulates a unique test of fidelity: the tree laden with forbidden fruit, deathly to the touch. God dispatches Raphael and other angelic messengers to counsel Adam and Eve about the penalties of disobedience--indeed, these angels harp upon the dangers of certain kinds of inquiry. The First Parents are admonished to content themselves with information of a more practical and earthly kind:

And thus the godlike Angel answered ...
Such commission from above
I have received, to answer thy desire
Of knowledge within bounds; beyond abstain
To ask, nor let thine own inventions hope
Things not revealed, which the invisible King,
Only omniscient, hath suppressed in night,
To none communicable in Earth or Heaven:
Enough is left besides to search and know.
But knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her temperance over appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with surfeit, and soon turns
Wisdom to folly, as nourishment to wind. ...

Thus the perils of excessive learning! And here lies the heart of the mystery, for me, as for others before me.

Milton's inventive power is nowhere more dramatic than in the sequence in which Satan, stealing into Eden as a toad and then a serpent, spies Eve at a distance and is smitten by her beauty. His malicious resolve briefly falters. The temptation of Eve is open to a suspicion of misogyny; during the first of Milton's three marriages, his young Royalist wife fled his household at the outbreak of civil conflict, returning only when the parliamentary side was clearly winning. Eve pleads with her distrustful lord and master Adam to be permitted to work alone one morning, and Adam reluctantly grants permission--till lunchtime. So "hapless Eve" is pictured as easy prey for Satan's sophistries:

Her graceful innocence, her every air
Of gesture or least action overawed
His malice, and with rapine sweet bereaved
His fierceness of the fierce intent it brought.
That space the Evil One abstracted stood
From his own evil, and for the time remained
Stupidly good of enmity disarmed,
Of guile, of hate, of envy, of revenge,
But the hot Hell that always in him burns,
Though in mid Heaven, soon ended his delight,
And tortures him now more, the more he sees
Of pleasure not for him ordained; then soon
Fierce hate he recollects.

Satan offers arguments that, we are to assume, Adam would have seen through and dismissed. The serpent leads her to the tree of knowledge, and boastfully plucks and eats without the penalty of death. The benefits are lavish:

"O sacred, wise, and wisdom-giving Plant,
Mother of science, now I feel thy power
Within me clear, not only to discern
Things in their causes, but to trace the ways
Of highest agents, deemed however wise.
Queen of this Universe, do not believe
Those rigid threats of death; ye shall not die: ...
Shall that be shut to man, which to the beast
Is open? or will God incense his ire
For such a petty trespass, and not praise
Rather your dauntless virtue ... ?

The grievance, absorbed and echoed by Eve, is that humankind should enjoy at least the same privileges as the beasts. Eve elaborates her own fallacious rationalization:

How dies the Serpent? He hath eaten and lives,
And knows, and speaks, and reasons, and discerns,
Irrational till then. For us alone
Was death invented? or to us denied
This intellectual food, for beasts reserved?

And so Eve falls, with cosmic effect, as the poet returns to the universal calamity in third-person narration:

... in evil hour
Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat,
Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost. Back to the thicket slunk
The guilty Serpent, and well might, for Eve
Intent now wholly on her taste, nought else
Regarded ...
Greedily she ingorged without restraint,
And knew not eating death. Satiate at length,
And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon ...

Disobedience, as promised, brings death into the fallen world, but the effect is not immediate. Adam, dismayed by Eve's lapse, administers a husbandly tongue-lashing but then chivalrously joins in her death sentence. The immediate consequence is an abrupt surge of sexual lust and self-conscious nakedness.

Despite the warnings of C. S. Lewis and others, I am left echoing Eve's question: if the beasts, why not man? Why, having armed his new creatures with intellectual curiosity, should their thirst for intellectual adventure become the paramount sin and its exercise a cosmic catastrophe? This prohibition seems especially odd because it contradicts what we know of Milton the lifelong scholar and polymath.

The warning communicated by angelic messengers is so categorical that it trivializes the original evil. Myths of overweening curiosity--forbidden knowledge--are plentiful; they neither began nor ended with Faust. But God's ban in this case seems to call for an elaboration that the archangels don't provide. Because God said so, is what it amounts to--the eternal edict of parent to child.

The extravagance of our punishment for simply being true to our nature is why He is equally extravagant with His love after sinning Himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Cracks appear in 'invincible' Xi Jinping's authority over China: Intellectuals voice criticism as analysts point to disharmony in the Communist party (Lily Kuo, 4 Aug 2018, The Guardian)

This week, an essay by a law professor at Tsinghua University, one of the country's top schools, made the rounds on Chinese social media. The essay - Our dread now and our hopes - by Xu Zhangrun offered one of the most direct criticisms of the Chinese government under Xi's direction.

Referring to Xi only as "that official", Xu accused him of reversing years of reforms, effectively returning China to an era of totalitarian politics and a style of dictatorship last seen under Mao Zedong.

"After 40 years of reform, overnight we're back to the ancien régime," he wrote, calling for the return of term limits, abolished under Xi earlier this year, the rehabilitation of those punished for the 4 June pro-democracy protests crushed by the government and an end to the cult of personality surrounding Xi.

"The party is going to great lengths to create a new idol, and in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as modern totalitarianism," he wrote.

Xu is one among several intellectuals voicing dissent. Zi Zhongyun, an international politics scholar, blamed the US-China trade war on the Xi administration's failure to implement reforms in an article in June. Wenguang Sun, a retired professor at Shandong University published an essay in July urging Xi to stop spending money abroad on projects such as the Belt and Road initiative, and spend it at home instead.

"For the first time since Xi Jinping gained power in 2012, he is facing a pushback from within the party, from liberal intellectuals and so forth," said Willy Lam, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation and adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The pushback is also emerging in other ways. A group of alumni from Tsinghua published an open letter on Wednesday calling for the sacking of a professor over his claims China had emerged as the world's top superpower.

Hu Angang, who claimed in a series of speeches that China had surpassed the US in economic strength and technological know-how, is one of many who have echoed Xi's claims that China has entered a new era of power on the world stage, reversing his predecessors' more muted global aspirations.

"[Hu] misleads government policy, confuses the public, causes other countries to be overly cautious about China and for neighbours to be afraid of China. Overall, it does harm to the country and its people," the former students said, according to images of the letter posted online.

Such criticism is an indirect rebuke of Xi's more assertive foreign policy, and comes as his opponents use economic troubles and failed trade negotiations with the US as pretext to question him, according to analysts.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


On the Constant Hunt for Fresh Outrage (JONAH GOLDBERG, August 3, 2018, National Review)

We live in a time when partisan affiliation and ideological worldviews serve as substitute religions. And if we've learned anything from the last few years, the capacity for outrage on the left and right is near infinite. There's nothing wrong with forcefully expressing disagreement, but the constant hunt for scalps will leave everyone bald and bloodied.

Newspapers, magazines, and other businesses have every right to hire and fire whomever they want, but if they do hire someone, they should stand by their decision until the new employee does something worthy of firing while employed by them, not because a mob chooses to weaponize something they said in the past. And even then, they should make the decision on the merits, not simply to appease jackals. Obviously this can't be an inflexible law, but it should be the rule of thumb.

At the same time, people shouldn't tweet -- or say -- indefensibly stupid, racist, or dumb things on the assumption that only "their people" will see it, hear it, or process it in precisely the way the author intended. The Internet has made it impossible for such "narrowcasting" to stay narrow. As Jeong has learned, we all live in one "general audience" now. Again, it can't be law: People shouldn't hold themselves hostage to the most excitable and humorless among us. But it's a worthy principle.

And so is this: We should all save our outrage for when it's really needed.

Everything offensive is not comedy, but all comedy is offensive. And ideologues are, necessarily, offended by every challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


New polls show Ted Cruz could really lose in 2018 (Tara Golshan, Aug 3, 2018, Vox)

Democrat Rep. Beto O'Rourke is within single digits of beating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, two recent polls find -- a development that has pushed the Cook Political Report to change the state's partisan rating from "Likely Republican" to "Lean Republican."

A new poll from Quinnipiac University released Wednesday put O'Rourke just 6 points behind Cruz. Cruz drew the support of 49 percent of registered Texas voters; 43 percent of registered voters backed O'Rourke. The poll, which has a 3.5-point margin of error, shows the Texas Senate race tightening since an earlier poll in May when O'Rourke was 11 points behind Cruz.

Another poll from Texas Lyceum, with a slightly smaller sample size, had Cruz up by just 2 points -- a statistical dead heat. Cruz had the support of 36 percent of registered voters, and O'Rourke had the support of 34 percent. The Real Clear Politics polling average has Beto behind by 6.5 points.

Put simply: It's becoming a very real possibility that Cruz could lose reelection to a Democrat -- an upset that would seriously imperil Republicans' hold on the Senate majority. Texas has not had a Democratic senator in more than 20 years. [...]

O'Rourke notably underperformed in the Texas primaries; he won the primary and avoided a runoff but still lost some crucial border counties to a complete political unknown, Sema Hernandez. In March, it was a sign that O'Rourke didn't have name recognition. Now, in July, the Quinnipiac poll finds 43 percent of voters still haven't heard enough about O'Rourke to form an opinion about him. Only 7 percent of voters said the same of Cruz. [...]

Some things are clearer. O'Rourke has a lot of money, and voters who do know him overwhelmingly like him. The Quinnipiac poll shows black, Hispanic, and women voters prefer him to Cruz.

Who needs them?

Democrats Don't Need to Win Texas--But They Just Might, Anyway (TIM MURPHY, SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017, Mother Jones)

O'Rourke's politics, forged in one of the largest border communities on Earth, are in many ways the antithesis of President Donald Trump's; he supports single-payer health care and marijuana legalization, hates the wall, and loves Mexico. Trump's platform was all but designed in a lab to devastate predominantly Hispanic ports of entry like El Paso. But in Texas, a state gripped by one-party rule, anemic turnout, and a photo ID law that makes voting disproportionately harder for college students and people of color, O'Rourke believes the same frustration that ushered in Trumpism can also be harnessed to thwart it. A year ago, running against Cruz might have looked like a suicide mission--maybe it still is. But something is happening in Texas.

After Election Day, when the Democrats' fabled Great Lakes "blue wall" crumbled, party leaders descended on white working-class enclaves of the Rust Belt intent on finding the path back. Sen. Bernie Sanders huddled with miners in West Virginia. Joe Biden reflected on what went wrong in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Mark Zuckerberg put on his pith helmet and parachuted into Ohio. "We've gotta find a way to get them back in," said Rep. Tim Ryan, whose Youngstown district was ground zero for blue-collar anthropology, "and that starts with a message that resonates in the flyover states."

But there is another way of looking at what happened. The Trump wave masked a riptide. Hillary Clinton made huge gains across the Sun Belt, in such bastions of Republicanism as Orange County, California, and the suburbs of Houston and Dallas. Texas was closer than Iowa. Arizona was closer than Ohio. The white women and energized Hispanic voters Clinton was counting on really did exist--they just didn't live where she thought they did.

Now the dilemma facing party leaders is this: In 2016 the Democratic presidential nominee received 43 percent of the vote in two states. The first state is 80 percent white. Its population is stagnant and graying. Democrats have performed successively worse there in the last two presidential elections, and the last Democrat to run for governor lost by 30 points. The second state is 44 percent white. A majority of the population is 34 or younger. Democrats are coming off their best presidential showing in 20 years. Maybe you still think Ohio is more winnable than Texas--but would you bet your party's future on it?

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


There's a virus in Trumpland (Philip Bump, August 3, 2018, Washington Post)

At Thursday's rally, though, it's certainly the case that there were more overt supporters of QAnon than there were of Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner or Senate candidate Lou Barletta -- who was ostensibly the reason for Trump's visit. One guy with a "Lou" sticker didn't want to talk; one woman in a Scott Wagner shirt explained that it was her only political shirt. She also called him "Scott Walker."

QAnon fans were both more numerous and generally better able to explain their support. Explanations of what Q was and what he stood for were varied but, then, so were the explanations of what Trump was doing and had achieved among his mainstream supporters.

Mark Emmett, 55, said he was at the Trump rally because he likes the president's focus on making things in the United States. We spoke after he finished signing a petition in support of Brett M. Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court.

"I'm in manufacturing," Emmett said. "You can't build your military if you don't manufacture your own steel. You fire up the steel mills, you're going to fire up not just the mills, you're going to fire up the mines."

He added: "Everything we buy says 'Made in China.' So hopefully everything we buy in the next 20 years will say 'Made in America.' "

His son Colton, 18, suddenly took off his Make America Great Again hat.

"This is 'Made in China!' " he said.

He does seem to be actively promoting mine fires.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


DACA Ruling Puts Republicans on the Defensive Approaching the Midterms (David Atkins, August 4, 2018, Washington Monthly)

But voters haven't forgotten. DACA remains incredibly popular, with upwards of 80% or even 90% support depending on the poll. That means support for DACA cuts into even Trump's most hardcore supporters. This is not a fight Republicans want front and center as November approaches.

But it looks like it's going to be:

The ruling sets up potentially conflicting DACA orders from federal judges by the end of the month.

The decision comes less than a week before a hearing in a related case in Texas. In that case, Texas and other states are suing to have DACA ended entirely, and the judge is expected to side with them based on his prior rulings.
Previous court rulings in California and New York have already prevented the administration from ending DACA, but they only ordered the government to continue renewing existing applications. Bates' ruling would go further and order the program reopened in its entirety. The earlier decisions are pending before appeals courts.

The administration has two choices here: do the decent and honorable thing, abiding by the agreement while facing the temporary wrath of Ann Coulter, Mickey Kaus and the merry racists at Breitbart-or use the conflicting to appeal this fight as far as necessary, prolonging the political damage.

A normal administration would simply take the loss and move on. But that's not Trump's style or his instinct. Trump's first gut reaction is to eliminate whatever Obama did before him, and cater to the most stridently deplorable racists from among his supporters.

It's the campaign they deserve.

GOP grumbles as Donald Trump reshapes midterm campaigns (LISA LERER and KEN THOMAS, 8/04/18, AP)

The president is casting himself as the star of the midterms, eagerly inserting himself into hotly contested primaries, headlining rallies in pivotal swing states and increasing his fundraising efforts for Republicans. Last week, Trump agreed to donate a portion of his reelection fund to 100 GOP candidates running in competitive House and Senate races.

He's expected to be even more aggressive in the fall. White House officials say he's reserving time on his schedule for midterm travel and fundraising likely to surpass that of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

"This is now about Donald Trump," said Al Cardenas, a former Florida Republican chairman. "It's a high-risk, high-stakes proposition."

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Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicts the media -- on bogus, Trumped-up charges (Aaron Blake, August 3, 2018, Washington Post)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has taken to the briefing room podium twice this week. Both times, she has come loaded for bear with a list of grievances.

Recognizing the moment is charged because of the verbal abuse CNN reporter Jim Acosta received at a Trump rally this week -- and knowing she was likely be asked about Ivanka Trump disagreeing with her father having labeled the news media the "enemy of the American people" -- Sanders wanted to be ready. Rather than dealing with the issues at hand, she instead read from prepared statements and listed the media's sins.

The problem: Her arguments showed exactly why the media is so hard on the Trump White House -- and rightfully so.

On Wednesday, it was an allegation that the media effectively damaged the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s, by disclosing classified information about his use of a satellite phone. Except that claim had long ago been debunked -- and the media didn't even disclose that it was being used for surveilling the al-Qaeda leader.

On Thursday, with Acosta pressing Sanders on whether she thinks the media is the American people's foe, she opted to list the cases in which she personally has been allegedly wronged by the media. Except, again, her evidence was lacking.

The one thing she seems to have learned from her boss is how to wallow in self-pity.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


The Americanization of James Iredell (M.E. Bradford, 8/02/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Before he undertook to shape its meaning, James Iredell paid a great price for his American citizenship. He was disowned by a wealthy uncle in the West Indies--an uncle whose heir he had been. Also he lost his powerful patrons in England and Ireland. Moreover, he was cut off from his closest relations, left for many years with only a tenuous connection through the mails. Finally, he was separated from a total culture which, as he wrote the King in 1777, he continued to cherish, feeling, even in self-imposed exile, "a strong attachment to my native country." Edenton, his family and friends there, the regard for him which they expressed, made good Iredell's losses, and transformed the young attorney, as he participated fully in the public life of North Carolina, into one of the representative Southerners of his time.

Iredell's careful apologia for the American cause--a teaching which he developed in a series of essays and public letters written from 1773-1778--clearly contains a foreshadowing of what he thought should be in a constitution for the United States. In response to the Declaratory Act (1766), the Coercive Act (1774), and the "Declaration for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition" (1775), the young lawyer from Edenton backed slowly toward the conclusion that Crown and Parliament would never agree to any restraint upon their powers of supervision over the colonies and that therefore they had forfeited all the authority over Americans they had once enjoyed.

And while he was withdrawing from the King's no-longer-paternal protection, the entire Tidewater section of North Carolina, a very conservative community, was inwardly, often unknowingly, quietly, doing the same. As Professor Don Higginbotham has maintained, James Iredell wrote originally of his politics in the hope of preserving a connection with Great Britain, and also the liberty of his neighbors under the British constitution. In his "Essay on the Law Court Controversy," his "To the Inhabitants of Great Britain," "The Principles of an American Whig," "Causes of the American Revolution," "To His Majesty George the Third, King of Great Britain," and "To the Commissioners of the King of Great Britain for Restoring Peace, etc...," he envisaged an empire of equal parts, like what came later with the British Commonwealth of Nations. Only a small change in the colonial pattern before 1763 was needed, but no less would serve. As early as September 1773 he had written, "I have always been taught and, till I am better informed, will continue to believe, that the Constitution of this country [North Carolina] is founded on the Provincial Charter, which may be considered the original contract between King and inhabitants." In the same spirit, looking back on relations between colonies and mother country since the first English settlement on this continent, he later informed King George III (as he withdrew his allegiance from that prince) that there would have been no Revolution "if your Majesty had disliked innovation as much as we did."

The great failing of the British system, according to James Iredell, was that it did not include a judiciary powerful enough to protect its constitution from the abusive acts of Crown and Parliament. Divided sovereignty, enforced by a judiciary speaking for an antecedent (and truly sovereign) fundamental law, provided a formula for preserving both liberty and civil order. Such an argument Iredell may have learned from his friend William Hooper, who in 1774 wrote to the young immigrant from Bristol of a hope for setting up on these shores "a British constitution purged of its impurities." But whatever its source, it is in keeping with the point of view which he affirmed throughout his public life. For well before most Americans, James Iredell came to believe that what we now call judicial review is essential to any hope for a government of laws. Functioning as a private attorney, he established the doctrine in North Carolina in the 1787 case of Baynard v. Singleton, and affirmed it again at every opportunity.

Looking back on a war fought more against the "700 or 800 Tyrants" of the House of Commons than the despotism of a monarch, Iredell in "An Address to the Public" wrote:

We had not only been sickened and disgusted for years with the high and almost impious language from Great Britain, of the omnipotent power of the British Parliament, but had severely smarted under the effects. We felt, in all its rigor, the mischiefs of an absolute and unbounded authority, claimed by so weak a creature as man, and should have been guilty of the basest breach of trust, as well as the grossest folly, if in the same moment, when we spumed at the insolent despotism of Great Britain, we had established a despotic power among ourselves.

Because of what he had learned as an Englishman in America, he wished no system of legislative supremacy on these shores. Instead, even with respect to North Carolina, he insisted that "it has ever been my opinion that an act inconsistent with the [state] Constitution was void, and that the judges, consistently with their duties, could not carry it into effect. The Constitution appears to me to be a fundamental law, limiting the powers of the legislature, and with which every exercise of those powers must, necessarily, be compared." In 1783 he observed, "In a Republic... the Law is superior to any or all Individuals, and the Constitution superior even to the Legislature, of which the Judges are the guardians and protectors." Legislative supremacy was an idea of democratic, doctrinaire egalitarians. And Iredell was assuredly not of that company.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


"The Brothers Karamazov" and the Power of Memory (Robert Stacey, 8/04/18, Imaginative Conservative)

On my desk sits a small, clear acrylic cube. Inside that cube rests an old baseball. On the surface of that baseball is printed the swashbuckling emblem of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Surrounding that emblem and covering the rest of the ball are a number of signatures in ink--signatures of the men who constituted the starting line-up of the 1979 World Series Champions.

To a memorabilia collector, that baseball would likely have some monetary value. To a Pirates fan (like myself), that baseball might have some sentimental value, as it commemorates the last time the team won a World Series.

But that baseball has an entirely different value in my eyes, one that could not really be shared by anyone else.

You see, when I was about ten years old, my grandfather took me to Three Rivers Stadium, a couple hours' drive from my home, to see my first ever professional baseball game. He bought me that baseball at the game as a memento of our special trip. I can still remember driving in the car together, sitting with him in the impossibly large stadium, and holding his enormous hand as we navigated the biggest crowd I had ever seen in my young life.

Oddly enough, I remember very little of the actual ball game. What I remember most is the certain knowledge that my grandfather loved me and that we shared a wonderful day together.

Every time I look at that baseball, a whole set of beautiful memories rushes back to me. I don't think of athletic heroes like Willie Stargell or Phil Garner. I don't recall championships or victories. I simply remember my grandfather's love and our special day. My grandfather passed away nearly twenty-five years ago now, but I never grow tired of looking at that baseball!