September 5, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


'Destroying Democracy': Biden Doubles Down On 'MAGA Republican' Criticism In Labor Day Speech (Alison Durkee, 9/05/22, Forbes)

Speaking at a rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Biden criticized the "MAGA Republicans, the extreme right, the Trumpies," saying "MAGA Republicans in Congress have chosen to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division." [...]

19%. That's the share of U.S. adults who identify as "part of the MAGA movement," according to a CBS News poll conducted August 29-31.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


DeSantis, elections supervisors disagree over who determines voter eligibility (Evan Donovan, Sep 2, 2022, WFLA) 

Tampa Bay area supervisors of elections say the Florida Department of State informs them of voter eligibility, pushing back on recent comments from Gov. Ron DeSantis since he announced 20 arrests for voter fraud in the 2020 election by his new Office of Election Crimes and Security.

Meanwhile, several ex-felons arrested for voter fraud in Hillsborough County say they thought they were eligible to vote because they'd received voter registration cards or had been told they were eligible.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis said the responsibility for determining eligibility rests at the county level.

"They're the ones that are registering people," DeSantis said. "You go in your county and you register locally. You're not registering in Tallahassee at the state government. And so it's really their responsibility to ensure that their voting rolls are accurate."

But elections supervisors take issue with several parts of the governor's assertion.

Information voters enter when they register online in Florida "goes into the Florida voter registration system, maintained by the state," according to the Pinellas County elections office. "The information is then pushed to counties via the 'suspense queue' to the counties."

Additionally, while supervisors agree they are ultimately responsible for removing ineligible voters from the rolls, that information comes to them from the state, describing a process that is well-understood among elections supervisors and their staff and has been for years.

"No, it's not very confusing, it's pretty clear," said Lori Edwards, the Polk County supervisor of elections, when asked who is responsible for determining eligibility. "It's the state, and that's per Florida statute. Florida statute says the Florida Department of State Division of Elections is responsible for identifying that information, compiling the background information and supplying the county supervisor of elections with it."

Other Tampa Bay area elections supervisors pointed to Florida statutes as well, specifically F.S. 98.075, which begins by stating, "the department shall protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring the maintenance of accurate and current voter registration records." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:44 PM


Americans increasingly concerned about political violence -- CBS News poll (ANTHONY SALVANTO, SEPTEMBER 5, 2022, CBS NEWS

Against a backdrop of so much concern that democracy is under threat, Americans also see a rising potential for political violence: almost two-thirds think the coming years will bring an increase. And the percentage holding that view has itself been rising even higher, compared to 2021. 

Good work, Dark Brandon. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Socialism, Nationalism, and Tolkien: How an unfinished Lord of the Rings sequel gives insight into young radicals on the left and right. (Alec Dent, Sep 3/22, The Dispatch)

"Deep indeed run the roots of Evil, and the black sap is strong in them. That tree will never be slain. Let men hew it as often as they may, it will thrust up shoots again as soon as they turn aside."

It is with this depressing thought that Borlas begins his dialogue about the nature of evil with his interlocutor Saelon in The New Shadow, J.R.R. Tolkien's scrapped sequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The text is brief, just the beginning of a novel that was meant to show "the inevitable boredom of Men with the good." Amazon has brought attention to what occurred before the trilogy in its new series The Rings of Power, but it is worth examining the few pages Tolkien wrote in which he explored what came next. His understanding of human nature makes what little of The New Shadow that he wrote deeply insightful, and an unsettling warning about our own political climate. [...]

The storyline will sound familiar to anyone paying attention to the politics of millennials and Gen Zers today. In our time of unprecedented wealth and safety, the once-defeated foe of illiberalism has made a reappearence. Young leftists have increasingly positive views of socialism, while young right-wingers have increasingly positive views of nationalism. As Jonah Goldberg laid out in Suicide of the West, illiberal views in the West are due largely to a lack of appreciation for how good we have things right now, a lack of understanding of how we got here, and a lack of understanding of how a radical overhaul of society would alter the world as we know it. This is especially true of younger generations, who have little to no direct experience with the failures of illiberalism. Having not witnessed others try and fail, they're more open to limiting free speech, race-based nationalism, polyamory, and a whole host of other ideas that were long thought unacceptable in America.

Tolkien has a sharp understanding of this peace-time radical mindset, and in the little he wrote of The New Shadow he managed to capture not just how they think and are motivated, but how they operate in early stages as well. In The New Shadow, Saelon never outright says he's in the cult. He hints at it, and tries to draw out Borlas' view of it by using language and references that would be familiar to only those in the know. The radicals of today use the same strategies, using words that mean little to outside observers, but show a deeper, esoteric meaning to fellow travelers, like bringing up land acknowledgements to show that you're a true believer on the far left or casually dropping the white nationalist Sam Francis' name in conversation to show that you're a true believer on the far right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


Gasoline prices are expected to continue to fall after Labor Day and some states could see below $3 (Patti Domm, 9/05/22, CNBC)

Gasoline prices are expected to continue their more than two-month decline over the three-day holiday weekend, as Americans drive less and continue to conserve fuel.

Prices have been falling since the national average for unleaded gasoline peaked at just under $5.02 per gallon on June 14. The price at the pump Monday was $3.79 per gallon nationally, according to AAA.

"I think the good news is going to keep going for now," said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy. Gasoline prices should continue to decline into the fall, barring a refining disruption, he noted.

Keep them at $6 via gas taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


How Portland Stopped the Proud Boys: Portland, Oregon, witnessed early versions of the Proud Boys events that culminated in the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; years of anti-fascist organizing and the belated intervention of law enforcement halted their activities in the city (Robert Evans, September 5, 2022, New Lines)

This was the first summer since 2019 that I have not needed to don armor, strap on a gun or load up a first aid kit to go and report in downtown Portland, Oregon. Since 2017, the Rose City has hosted regular gatherings of far-right militant groups, like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, that degenerate into mass brawls with anti-fascist activists. Violence has been regular enough that some local left-wing activists refer to summer as the "fighting season." But this year, there were no protests or rallies of note.

While the Pacific Northwest, true to its reputation, has an assortment of bespoke local fascist groups, the Proud Boys, a far-right gang that has been labeled a "terrorist entity" in Canada and New Zealand, have been present at nearly every event.

Their absence from Portland this summer is noteworthy. The opposite has been true for much of the rest of the country. There are more Proud Boys chapters now in the United States than there were on Jan. 6, 2021. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project has tracked more than 200 of their public events around the country since they stormed the U.S. Capitol.

And these events have only grown more violent. In 2020, only 18% of Proud Boy-involved events ended in violence. In 2021, 25% ended in blood and beatings. The range of acceptable targets has broadened as far-right political violence has become normalized. The Proud Boys and other right-wing paramilitary groups have disrupted school board meetings in at least 12 states. They have crashed LGBTQ-oriented book readings at libraries and harassed pride rallies.

But in 2022, they didn't show up in Portland. It's worth looking into why. But if you want a quick answer, here it is: Portland fought back.

The Rose City has a long history as a hotbed of radical activism amid one of the most conservative parts of the country. Portland is the city where local police officers deputized for the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and that President George H.W. Bush nicknamed "Little Beirut" after intense protests against his visit following the Gulf War. In the 1990s, it was a breeding ground for fascist violence following the murder in 1988 of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant, by members of the White Aryan Resistance. Tom Metzger, the group's founder and a famous Nazi organizer from California, recruited heavily from disaffected young men in Portland. Anti-racist skinheads started organizing in opposition, and over the course of several bloody years, far-right groups were prevented from rallying openly in the city.

This started to change in 2016 with the founding of Patriot Prayer by Washington State native Joey Gibson. Gibson lived in Vancouver, Washington, which is across the river from Portland and effectively a suburb of the city. Like most of non-urban Oregon, it is extremely conservative. At first, Gibson claimed that his organization's purpose was to "liberate conservatives" from oppression in liberal-dominated cities by hosting prayer vigils, free speech marches and pro-Second Amendment rallies.

The first Patriot Prayer event was a rally in the wealthy neighborhood of Lake Oswego in March 2017. It followed a series of left-wing and liberal protests that were held on Inauguration Day and Presidents Day, which ended in police violence against demonstrators. The Oswego rally ended with lots of yelling but no violence. In April 2017, Gibson organized the "Rally for Trump and Freedom," attended by roughly 300 people. The Three Percenters, a right-wing militia that played a major role on Jan. 6, provided "security" for the conservatives in an early example of the sort of intergroup organizing that characterized the Capitol insurrection.

Fistfights and mass brawls became more common at every event that followed. When I've talked to anti-fascist activists in Portland, there's one fight from these days that comes up more than any other: the Aug. 6, 2017, mass brawl at the waterfront. Members of recognized Nazi groups fought alongside those from Patriot Prayer, and members of the Three Percenters again handled security as hundreds of people exchanged strikes with fists, batons and mace.

The left-wing response to these rallies escalated after May 2017, when former Patriot Prayer marcher and white supremacist Jeremy Christian stabbed two men to death on a train. The attack started with Christian hurling racial epithets at two teenage girls, one of whom was a Somali Muslim wearing a hijab.

To Portland's anti-fascists, the attack was evidence of everything they'd been saying for months: Patriot Prayer rallies were breeding grounds for racist violence. More people started donning black hoodies and crafting makeshift weapons. ("Black bloc," initially a tactic to protect activists' identity by wearing identical all-black outfits, became something of a uniform for Portland's anti-fascists.)

From the end of 2017, livestreams and tweeted video clips from Portland street fights became a reliable content stream for local journalists and right-wing media figures. Many people made an excellent living from simply filming violence and letting the money roll in from various crowdfunding sites. (By 2020, left-wing livestreamers grew more common as well.) The spectacle around these events was a draw for right-wing activists around the country. Portland "antifa" became the boogeymen of the right-wing media, and for some activists loyal to then President Donald Trump, it was de rigueur to be seen opposing them.

Nothing embodied this stage more clearly than an August 2019 Proud Boys rally. The city government decided to wall both sides off from each other using huge numbers of police officers. This effectively meant that the police acted as an escort while several hundred Proud Boys and their allies marched across a bridge. There were still several clashes that day, but it was less violent than past rallies. The whole mess cost the city of Portland at least $3 million. Joe Biggs, an influential leader of the Proud Boys, called the event a success and gloated about costing the city money. He threatened to hold follow-up events with the goal of eventually bankrupting Portland.

It was around this time that I moved to town. I'd attended a few of the earlier protests, but by late 2019, what struck me most was the fatalism so many of Portland's left-wing protesters seemed to feel. There was a strong belief that the national media was constantly on the lookout for evidence of "antifa" violence, which the police and the federal government would use as a pretext for a crackdown.

Black bloc anarchists, often filmed in direct combat with far-right brawlers, made the news. But Portland's anti-fascist community was much deeper than that. At their large rallies, between 10% and 15% of the crowd would be actively prepared, if not eager, for a fight. This core of militant activists was supported by a larger community that engaged in nonviolent organizing. There were people who showed up as medics, and others who brought food and water. Some activists would show up with bubble-wrap screens to block the cameras of livestreaming right-wingers. Others came with musical instruments, dressed as bananas or clowns to distract attention and drown out right-wing speakers on megaphones.

Portland protest moments constantly went viral, but one fact that never quite made it outside the local media bubble was how many anti-fascists were older -- parents, even grandparents. Several of my sources among the anti-fascists were former Republicans, frightened of what people like Biggs and Gibson might represent. In interview after interview people expressed variants of the same fear: They won't stop in Portland.

They didn't. Biggs was indicted for seditious conspiracy earlier this year, along with four other Proud Boys, for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Three out of five of the Proud Boys charged with sedition had attended multiple Portland protests and rallies. Before they tried to overturn a democratic election, they were fighting in downtown Portland next to Gibson.

Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine: Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work. (Adam Piore, September 5, 2022, MIT Technology Review)

[I]n early 2020, when covid-19 hit and he was soon to receive his degree, Cohen, Bjorkman, and other members of the lab set to engineering a universal covid vaccine--one that would provide protection not just against all its variants, but also against future illnesses caused by entirely new types of coronaviruses.

"We're definitely going to need something like this to fight covid-19 as new variants emerge," Cohen says. "But beyond that, the potential for new global outbreaks and pandemics caused by other coronaviruses is clear. We need something that can prevent new covid-19-like scenarios from happening again. And we need it as soon as possible."

Public health officials and scientists had long complained about a lack of funding--or a sense of urgency--to develop vaccines that would protect us against future pandemics. Prompted by covid-19, however, the US National Institutes of Health began doling out tens of millions of dollars to research groups pursuing universal coronavirus vaccines.

The stakes couldn't be higher. In January, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the development of universal coronavirus vaccines an "urgent need," noting that the emergence of covid-19 variants over the last two years hints at far larger long-term threats. He has since argued that even more resources are needed to continue the fight, and he has been publicly lobbying lawmakers to allocate them.

This new kind of custom-designed, bioengineered vaccine could be the answer we so desperately need to avoid future coronavirus pandemics.

"Scientific evidence and ecologic reality suggest that coronaviruses will emerge again in the future, potentially posing an existential threat," Fauci wrote in an article coauthored with two other infectious disease experts for the New England Journal of Medicine.

The key to meeting the challenge, groups like Bjorkman's are ¬≠showing, may lie in our ability to use the tools of synthetic biology to trick the microscopic weapons of the immune system--weapons that already exist in the human body.  The researchers are finding ways to supercharge these immune cells to provide remarkably general protection against invading microbes. If these approaches succeed, they could not only provide much more effective protection against covid but possibly revolutionize how we create new vaccines for complex viruses in general.

Having helped lead the way in developing these techniques, Cohen, Bjorkman, and their collaborators are now tantalizingly close to achieving their goal of manufacturing a vaccine that broadly triggers an immune response not just to covid and its variants but to a wider variety of coronaviruses.  

Their vaccine consists of a spherical protein core, studded in a soccer-ball-like pattern with the tips of "spike" proteins taken from the surface of eight varieties of coronaviruses--what the scientists call a mosaic nanoparticle. Remarkably, initial results showed that in a test tube, antibodies produced by this synthetic vaccine were able to identify and stick to not just all eight coronaviruses represented on the nanoparticle, but four additional coronaviruses not used in the vaccine. In March, the group reported that the vaccine appeared to protect mice and monkeys that had been exposed to an array of coronaviruses.

In July, they published results in Science, showing that their mosaic nanoparticle vaccine protected mice and nonhuman primates against the delta and beta covid-19 variants as well as the human viruses that caused the first SARS outbreak in 2003. The results are perhaps the most promising evidence yet that this new kind of custom-designed, bioengineered vaccine could be the answer we so desperately need to avoid future coronavirus pandemics.

The next step is to test the vaccine in humans. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations will provide as much as $30 million to begin human trials. Edinburgh-based biotech company Ingenza will manufacture the medicine.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Conservative media figures 'sick of having to defend' Trump, ready to move on (Katherine Doyle, September 05, 2022, Washington Examiner)

The New York Post argued in a recent editorial that focusing on Trump rather than the Democrats would hurt Republicans in the midterm elections. His rebound in 2024 polls of GOP primary voters could do the same in two years.

"But if the focus is on Trump instead, enraged Democrats will unite, pause their internecine warring while independents will abstain or vote against the GOP," the editorial board wrote.

"If Republicans want Americans to vote against Biden, they have to campaign against him, not against the FBI or the deep state or on whether Trump had the right to have boxes of classified documents in his closet," tweeted conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. "There is a reason Democrats are eager to keep Trump at the center of the conversation: half of independents say Trump is a major factor in their vote, and they're breaking 4-1 for the Democrats. Republicans shouldn't play that game. If they do, they're cruising for a bruising."

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, which previously condemned Trump for failing to act as the Capitol riot raged, this week urged readers to "ignore Mr. Trump's attacks" on Republican leadership.

The Mar-a-Lago raid is different from past controversies, a former senior Trump campaign operative said.

"He's been the Teflon Don and has been able to weather pretty much everything that's been thrown at him, but will he weather this? Is this the last straw? And if he's going to go down the rabbit hole, are you going with him?" this person said. "A lot of people are contemplating their futures and the future of the party and whether or not it needs to be in the image of Donald Trump or in the image of America First, which is a movement and not a man."

Last week, Fox News's Steve Doocy questioned why the former president kept top secret files at his residence after the Justice Department this week released a bombshell filing from prosecutors that included a photo of classified documents at Trump's Florida estate.

"Part of this is what they're calling a Trump fatigue, where privately, they're telling the president, 'We get it, you've been a target since Day One, all you wanted to do was govern the country, we like your policies, we're with you in spirit, we know you're getting screwed,'" the operative said. "But it's a cost-benefit analysis."

If the old white men who worship him give up their Identity and compromise on ideology there's nothing left of them.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Sustainable Battery has Biodegradable Electrolyte Made From Crab Shell (Advanced Batteries & Energy Storage Research, 9/05/22)
Batteries use an electrolyte to shuttle ions back and forth between positively and negatively charged terminals. An electrolyte can be a liquid, paste, or gel, and many batteries use flammable or corrosive chemicals for this function. This new battery, which could store power from large-scale wind and solar sources, uses a gel electrolyte made from a biological material called chitosan. For further information see the IDTechEx report on Advanced Li-ion and Beyond Lithium Batteries 2022-2032: Technologies, Players, Trends, Markets.

"Chitosan is a derivative product of chitin. Chitin has a lot of sources, including the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of crustaceans, and squid pens," says Hu. "The most abundant source of chitosan is the exoskeletons of crustaceans, including crabs, shrimps and lobsters, which can be easily obtained from seafood waste. You can find it on your table."
A biodegradable electrolyte means that about two thirds of the battery could be broken down by microbes--this chitosan electrolyte broke down completely within five months. This leaves behind the metal component, in this case zinc, rather than lead or lithium, which could be recycled.
"Zinc is more abundant in earth's crust than lithium," says Hu. "Generally speaking, well-developed zinc batteries are cheaper and safer." This zinc and chitosan battery has an energy efficiency of 99.7% after 1000 battery cycles, making it a viable option for storing energy generated by wind and solar for transfer to power grids.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Legal work-related immigration has fallen by a third since 2020, contributing to US labor shortages (Jose Ivan Rodriguez-Sanchez, 9/05/22, The Conversation)

With Americans having fewer children and the nation's labor force getting older, many employers in manufacturing, aviation and other industries are having trouble finding enough workers.

The gap between the demand for labor and its supply was already forming in 2017. By 2018, the U.S. economy had increasingly more job openings than unemployed workers. That gap has widened during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people have died, retired early or simply dropped out of the job market.

By July 2022, as the pandemic's effects on the workplace were easing, the U.S. had 11.2 million job openings but only 5.7 million unemployed workers who might fill them. [...]

An estimated 45 million people living in the United States, roughly 14% of the population, were born elsewhere. About one in six U.S. workers is an immigrant.

Some of these foreign-born workers are legally employed on a temporary basis with an array of visas that make it possible to obtain jobs that run the gamut from software designers to apple pickers.

In some cases, these employees can obtain legal permanent residency - often called "a green card." Some temporary work visas last longer than 12 months, so the number of workers with authorization is higher than the number of visas issued in that year. H-1B visas, which require a high level of education for fields like computer programming, last three years and can be renewed for another three.

The government issued a record 813,330 temporary employment-based visas in 2019. The total fell by about a third to 566,000 in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic got underway, and the numbers were basically flat in 2021 at 566,001 - the first year of Joe Biden's presidency.

Make immigration legal again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Biden Laid the Trap. Trump Walked Into It. (David Frum, Sep. 4th, 2022,  The Atlantic)

In 2016, Hillary Clinton warned that Donald Trump was a fool who could be baited with a tweet. This past Thursday night, in Philadelphia, Joe Biden upped the ante by asking, in effect: What idiot thing might the former president do if baited with a whole speech? On Saturday night, the world got its answer.

For the 2022 election cycle, smart Republicans had a clear and simple plan: Don't let the election be about Trump. Make it about gas prices, or crime, or the border, or race, or sex education, or anything--anything but Trump. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016. He lost control of the House in 2018. He lost the presidency in 2020. He lost both Senate seats in Georgia in 2021. Republicans had good reason to dread the havoc he'd create if he joined the fight in 2022.

So they pleaded with Trump to keep out of the 2022 race. A Republican lawmaker in a close contest told CNN on August 19, "I don't say his name, ever."

Maybe the pleas were always doomed to fail. Show Trump a spotlight, and he's going to step into it. But Republicans pinned their hopes on the chance that Trump might muster some self-discipline this one time, some regard for the interests and wishes of his partners and allies.

One of the purposes of Biden's Philadelphia attack on Trump's faction within the Republican Party was surely to goad Trump. It worked.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


A funhouse mirror of the soul: Belated thoughts on Frederick Buechner's saints (Lucas Thompson, 5 Sep 2022, ABC Religion & Ethics)

Let me begin by pointing out what Buechner's novels are not, lest I give the wrong impression right from the start. They are not conventional hagiographies, in which good deeds are held up for believers to imitate. They are not didactic parables of virtue triumphing over evil, nor pious models of godliness. As Buechner himself said, these novels are "not Sunday School stories with detachable morals at the end" and contain no easy lessons. There are no sanctimonious preachers scoring points against unbelievers in his fiction, or holier-than-thou types for whom real human concerns are only abstractions. His saints do not moralise or proselytise. Buechner knew as well as anyone that we are rightly wary of didacticism, and of novels masquerading as sermons. ("When I have the feeling the someone is trying to set me a good example", he once put it, "I start edging toward the door.") His saints are not plaster saints, they are not particularly decorous or polite, and are just as likely as the rest of us to fail themselves and others.

More surprising still, perhaps, is the fact that they offer little by way of comfort or reassurance -- instead, they unsettle and provoke. The popular conception of saints, as meek-and-mild types with their heads in the clouds, detached from ordinary human experience, is nowhere to be found. Nor are these novels edifying tales of triumphant faith. In Buechner's fiction, virtue is by no means always victorious. Though Buechner was himself an ordained Presbyterian minister (who studied at Union Theological Seminary under some of the giants of twentieth-century theology, including Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, and James Muilenburg), he went to great lengths to avoid using his novels as pulpits. "I lean over backwards not to preach or propagandize in my fiction", he told one interviewer. "I don't dream up plots and characters to illustrate some homiletic message." These novels do not seek to give fictional illustrations of Christian doctrine, nor to convert readers to the Christian faith.

Instead, Buechner saw saints as being simultaneously flawed and majestic, with the power to capture our imagination in a way that familiar religious language cannot. "In his holy flirtation with the world", he wrote, in a characteristically startling and mystical image, "God occasionally drops a pocket handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints." Saints, for Buechner, "are essentially life-givers. To be with them is to become more alive." Elsewhere, he expanded on this conception:

To be a saint is to live not with hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it; but it is to live with the hands stretched out both to give and receive with gladness. To be a saint is to work and weep for the broken and suffering of the world, but it is also to be strangely light of heart in the knowledge that there is something greater than the world that mends and renews. Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy.

It was precisely these kinds of saints that Buechner spent most of his life writing about.

There are two key precedents in twentieth-century literature for such a project: Albert Camus's The Plague, in which Meursault famously poses the question of whether one can "be a saint without God" as "the only concrete question that I know today"; and Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, in which the whiskey priest, on his deathbed, sees how his life could have been so much more than it was, with nothing more than a little "courage" and "self-restraint":

He was not at the moment afraid of damnation -- even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted -- to be a saint.

Buechner wrote movingly on both these texts, but the second played a particularly important role in shaping his own literary project. He said that The Power and the Glory was where he "learned that a saint is not what people normally think of -- a moral exemplar." Instead, he realised, saints "can be just as seedy and hopeless as the whiskey priest."

Buechner stumbled across his subject matter unexpectedly, recognising that, like Greene, he had unwittingly produced a flawed and "seedy" and "hopeless" saint in a quartet of novels on Leo Bebb, a religious charlatan who nonetheless lights up other people, giving them new life. Buechner called him "a religious crook" who is also "a bearer of grace." The Bebb novels are populated with hucksters and con-men, and are full of bawdy comedy, sexual exploits, exhibitionism, even infanticide. Yet somewhere in the writing of the novels' central character, Buechner realised that he had accidentally created a saint:

When I first began, I thought of Bebb as an Elmer Gantry figure whom I would expose in the process of writing about him. But I came to like him more and more and to see more clearly what was saintly about him.

From this point on, he resolved that he would only write about saints -- that he could only write about saints: "Saints with feet of clay are the only subjects that interest me now." For reasons mysterious even to him, Buechner believed that he was unable to bring any other kinds of characters to life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Over-the-counter hearing aids could bring lower prices and a burst of innovation (Robert Weisman, September 4, 2022, Boston Globe)

"I'm hopeful that we're going to see breakthroughs in technology and innovation," said Dr. Meaghan Reed, director of clinical audiology at Mass Eye and Ear in Boston. "If I am wearing something that looks more like a Bluetooth ear phone or an Apple Air Pod, that's going to remove the stigma of age... that some people associate with hearing aids."

Hip new designs won't come right away. When stores begin stocking hearing aids for the first time, thanks to a Food and Drug Administration ruling last month to allow retail sales, the big change will be price.

Most people currently pay between $2,000 and $3,000 for medical-grade devices prescribed by specialist physicians called audiologists, a price tag that typically includes multiple office visits for screenings, fittings, and adjustments. Starting in mid-October, the cost of consumer hearing aids purchased in stores or online, with self-operated volume controls, is expected to range from $300 to $500.

That could entice legions of hearing-challenged but budget-conscious adults who now "bluff their way through conversations" at the dinner table or a workplace conference room, Kelley said.