An epic Christian novel

LaurusI’ve just finished Laurus, a novel by the Russian author Eugene Vodolazkin, an Orthodox Christian, and I’m still savoring the experience, which is one of being immersed in the medieval mind.

The novel is the story of Arseny, who as a lad is apprenticed to his grandfather, a physician.  Arseny has a gift of healing that goes beyond his expertise in herbal remedies.  A love story ensues, which sets him on a quest for atonement, both for himself and for the woman he caused to sin.  Arseny becomes a “holy fool.”  Then, accompanied by a western Catholic who has visions of the future, he sets off on a long and perilous pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Then he becomes a monk.  Then an anchorite.  And, overall, a kind of saint.

The book is “immersive”–that is, wholly involving, so that reading it creates the illusion of entering the mind of someone who inhabits 15th century Russia, an amalgam of earthiness, superstitions, visionary experiences, medieval lore, intimations of eternity, and open-hearted piety. [Read more…]

The future of “identity liberalism”

Union posterLiberals in politics have traditionally focused on issues of class, economics, and public policy.  But lately, liberalism has become obsessed with identity politics–that is, the interests of distinct groups (blacks, gays, Hispanics, single women, etc.).  Mark Lilla calls this “Identity Liberalism,” arguing in the New York Times that this pre-occupation needs to change if his fellow liberals expect to win elections again.

Predictably, he is being excoriated for his heresy.

Do you think a New Deal kind of liberalism, based on universal principles and addressing the common good, would do better than “Identity Liberalism”?  Or has the one led to the other, so that they can no longer be untangled?  Or are we talking about two distinct and irreconcilable ideologies?

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Fidel Castro is dead

CastroFidel Castro died at the age of 90, outlasting most of his Cold War adversaries.  But he lived to see Cuba achieving normalized relations with the United States, something he didn’t seem to completely approve of.  That was the doing of his brother Raul, to whom Fidel surrendered power ten years ago.

Fidel remains a romanticized and idealized figure for some on the left.  (See, for example, the recent case of 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s Castro T-shirt.)  But the Communist dictator was responsible for killing thousands of Cubans, including brutal repression of Christianity.

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Australian Lutherans: Wine and Confession

Hill_of_grace_wineyardIn the late 1830s, the British colonial government of Australia had a problem.  There was a continual stream of settlers–the ex-convicts who had served their time in the prison colonies–but they were nearly all from the city.  What was needed for Australia to become a self-sustaining colony was farmers.  Colonial officers heard of a group of skilled farmers from Germany who wanted to emigrate due to religious persecution.  These were “old Lutherans” who refused to go along with the liberal theology of the state church in Prussia and other principalities.  (Others went to North America where they founded the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.)

The colonial government offered these Lutheran immigrants good farmland along the Murray River in South Australia, in the country surrounding Adelaide, including the Barossa Valley.  These farmers soon realized that the soil and climate were just right for growing grapes.  Thus began the Australian wine industry.

Others too began making wine, and today big corporations are sending rivers of Australian wine throughout the world. But the best wines are made by small, family-run wineries, many of which are still made by Lutherans who go to churches that are sometimes built right next to the vineyards.  (As in this photo of Zion Lutheran Church next to the Hill of Grace vineyards.)  There are some 50 wineries in the Barossa Valley in an area of just 352 square miles, as well as some 550 vineyards that supply grapes for 170 other Australian wine companies.  Nearly all of the wineries are open to visitors and offer free samples.  (Check out this page on Lutheran winemakers and see some of the wines they make.  This organization, started by TV wine expert Tyson Seltzer, himself an active Lutheran, supports Lutheran congregations.) [Read more…]

Russian propaganda and the election

Putin_with_flag_of_RussiaThe Washington Post reports that “fake news” circulated before the election–such as reports of Hillary Clinton’s bad health, that the Clinton campaign paid anti-Trump protesters, and accounts of impending international crises–originated in Russia.  Along with the hacked e-mails of the Democratic national committee, the disinformation campaign was designed to spread cynicism about the American system of government and to help in the election of Donald Trump.

Russia tried similar operations during the Cold War, but this time its propaganda agencies have developed a sophisticated presence on the internet, allowing them to manipulate social media.  So says researchers at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

UPDATE:  But read this critique of the article.


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Recount in the rust-belt states?

128px-2008recountMNGreen Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is calling for a recount of the votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.  She says that some experts tell her that there may be evidence that voting machines were hacked.  Other experts dispute that claim.

As a candidate, Stein is entitled to request a recount, as long as she foots the bill.  She has raised $4.5 million via crowdsourcing.  A recount in Wisconsin would cost $2 million.  She would reportedly need $6-$7 million to contest all three states.  The deadline for recount requests in Wisconsin is Friday; Pennsylvania’s is Monday; and Michigan’s is Wednesday.  See this and this.

If the results in these states could be turned, that would prevent Donald Trump from taking office.

UPDATE:  Wisconsin will have a recount.  Trump won the state by 27,000 votes out of 3 million cast.  The recount, by law, must be completed by December 13.

UPDATE:  The Clinton campaign will participate in the recounts.

UPDATE:  Read this on why hacks and miscounts are unlikely.

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