Sunday, May 27, 2018

Does the wake drive the boat?

In one of his talks, the late Wayne Dyer, a famous motivational speaker, declared: "The wake does not drive the boat." What he meant was that, as we age, we develop narratives about how the misfortunes of our pasts limit our present and future choices. He says these narratives are false excuses since our pasts are merely trailing phenomena like wakes (the water pushed out behind sailing ships) and cannot control where we are going. After all, the wake does not drive the boat, and our pasts don't control where we go. In this video, begin at about 15:45, listen for a minute, and you'll hear his claim.

I was immediately afflicted with the goosebumps I get when I am skeptically curious. Is that true? The wake doesn't drive the boat?

I thought of a question that appeared at the end of James Carroll's recent novel The Cloister. "You are towing a large barge on a hawser...Your main engine suddenly fails. What is the greatest danger?" The character, taking the boating licensing examination, answered: "Obviously, 'The tow will overrun tug.' Ten thousand gross tons of barge weight crushing the engineless tugboat—there's the danger."

We know that this happens with cars and trucks, too. I once witnessed a similar kind of accident. A truck driving in front of me had a mechanical failure in which its trailer detached from the cab. The driver may or may not have noticed it, but in any case would have had no way to stop the trailer, which continued rolling along with its own momentum, at roughly the same direction and speed it had had at the time of the detachment, until the road curved slightly and the trailer was stopped by its collision with a utility pole. But, I wonder, for boats specifically, is this behavior simply due to the law of inertia — an object in motion stays in motion, unless you can brake — or, in boating, does the water wake provide an additional push to the boat?

If it does not, how, then, does the sport of "wakesurfing" work? The Wikipedia page for wakesurfing includes this video of a surfer following behind a boat by riding the wake without holding on to any rope.

In 2013, Peter Lynch wrote "The science behind the ripples and wakes in water." In 2014, Simen Ådnøy Ellingsen said that "[a]bout half of the fuel burned by a ship goes to making these wave patterns," energy that is typically wasted, and that there is "resistance caused by the wake." Resistance, not assistance, and not zero impact, either. Similar topics were discussed on Stack Exchange in 2015, "Water waves in the wake of a boat." These articles and diagrams may contain the answer, but they are difficult for me to interpret.

Do you know the answer? Was Wayne Dyer's analogy correct? Post a comment!

At the top of this post: Public domain photo of the wake from a U.S. Naval Special Warfare Combatant Craft retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

We regret to inform you that the world may have to be destroyed (on Trump's cancellation of June 2018 talks with North Korea)

Soon after news broke the morning of May 24 that President Trump was canceling peace talks with North Korea, Trump tweeted out the letter he wrote to Kim. It reads like a letter written by a businessman, not a diplomat.

Like a business letter about the possible destruction of the planet.

Like a business letter released to the public via a tweet that misspelled his enemy's name as "Kim Jung Un." (He reissued the same tweet an hour later with the corrected spelling "Kim Jong Un" and then deleted the previous tweet that contained the error.)

Three sentences in particular are alarming:

“Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place. You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.

I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialogue that matters.”

The first and third sentences suggest that Trump and Kim should primarily be concerned about themselves. Canceling talks, Trump claims, is, at this time, "for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world". How can something that is to the detriment of the entire world be considered "good" for the leaders of two nations at the center of the crisis? The explanation seems to be that "it is only that dialogue [between Trump and Kim] that matters". Oh, silly me, I thought the issue at hand that really mattered in the final analysis was avoiding nuclear war. No, it turns out it's really about having a formal summit with a commemorative coin. The secondary issue of nuclear war is addressed in the second sentence, where the man who has the U.S. nuclear codes, the one who decides whether the world can be destroyed, says "I pray to God" that he will never "have" to drop those bombs. Admittedly, that represents an improvement over a man who reportedly asked shortly before his election, "If we have nuclear weapons why can't we use them?" At least now he recognizes that we should not want to use them. However, I do not feel at all comforted that he is asking God for advice or prophecy on the matter. He isn't even particularly religious, a position I'm not sure whether or not to find reassuring given that he now thinks the God with Whom he isn't on regular speaking terms is an expert on the coming nuclear holocaust implied in his gentleman's threat. I am also worried about what Trump thinks would constitute his "having" to launch nukes, given that the tweet to which he attached the business letter says he felt "forced" to cancel the peace talks merely because Kim had made "statements" of "anger" and "hostility." Would he intentionally trigger the deaths of hundreds of millions of people simply because he was annoyed or embarrassed by something a dictator said? Hopefully there is a much higher threshold of launching a nuclear war. An impossibly high threshold, ideally — even according to people who believe in God.

I pray to no-God that the president learns to make an effort to correctly spell the names of his most significant political contacts in major public statements when he is supposedly trying to talk them down out of their "tremendous anger and open hostility" and presumably not trying to kindle it further. If he knows he sometimes spells or types poorly, he could have a White House employee who is a good speller type or proofread critical statements for him. Showing basic courtesy through spelling would be the tiniest possible first step here. And also a step that we're extremely unlikely ever to see taken. Improbability is what is typically expressed through the phrase "I'll pray for that."

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The moral hazard of working for a corrupt administration

Those who work for a corrupt political administration can expect to have their own careers damaged. There were many warnings about this prior to Trump's inauguration. One of the early casualties was campaign manager Paul Manafort, who resigned several months before the election over concerns about his connections to Russia and, two years later, remains under increasing legal pressure.

Upon Trump's inauguration in January 2017, Republican commentator and former Bush speechwriter David Frum identified four personal risks of associating with the new administration: exposure to Trump's "finances...including tax and corruption investigations"; to his "clandestine contacts with hostile foreign governments"; to enabling his lies, especially if they become illegal, such as when he speaks to Congress or speaks under oath; and to his general disregard for the law.

"A law-abiding person will want to stay as far as possible from the personal service of President Trump. As demonstrated by the sad example of Press Secretary Sean Spicer spouting glaring lies on his first day on the job, this president will demand that his aides do improper things — and the low standards of integrity in Trump's entourage create a culture of conformity to those demands.

* * *

Good people can do the right thing even under pressure. But be aware: The pressure to do the wrong thing can be intense — and the closer one approaches to the center of presidential power and prestige, the more intense the pressure becomes. It's easy to imagine that you’d emulate Walters when reading the book he wrote four decades after the fact. But in the moment? In the Oval Office? Face to face with the president of the United States?

So maybe the very first thing to consider, if the invitation comes, is this: How well do you know yourself? How sure are you that you indeed would say no?

And then humbly consider this second troubling question: If the Trump administration were as convinced as you are that you would do the right thing — would they have asked you in the first place?

Reflecting on a first week in office that included "big splashy pronouncements such as announcing a wall that he would force Mexico to pay for, even as the Mexican foreign minister held talks with American officials in Washington" and "quiet, but no less dangerous bureaucratic orders, such as kicking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of meetings of the Principals’ Committee, the senior foreign-policy decision-making group below the president, while inserting his chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, into them," Eliot A. Cohen wrote: "In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations."

He added that the president embodies the opposite of "reverence for the truth" and "sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness."

He said:

"Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have."

He cautioned:

"To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. ... To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction."

Eliot Cohen also warned professional conservatives: "Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it." Indeed: "Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character." He predicts that this president will "fail" because: "With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends."

Traditionally, Senate-confirmed officials submit resignation letters when a new president takes office, with the expectation that nonpartisan people will be kept on board, since "[o]nly career officials have the decades of institutional knowledge required to keep the nation’s agencies running," Ronan Farrow wrote in War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence. Foreign Service officers must eventually have a presidentially-appointed job or, eventually, be forced to retire. Not being given a job means the same thing as being fired. One diplomat said she was informed: "Your assignments are broken. Who knows if you have your next job, maybe you don’t. It’s utter chaos. And it’s out of the blue. No reason." Many dismissals happened around the time of Rex Tillerson's Feb. 1, 2017 confirmation as Secretary of State; Tillerson would later claim not to have been aware of some of these dismissals. Farrow wrote: “In the first days of 2018, when I asked Tillerson about Countryman and the wave of forced retirements, the secretary of state stared at me, unblinking, then said: 'I’m not familiar with that one.' A little over a month later, Tillerson was gone too: another casualty of a fickle president and a State Department in disarray.”

In May 2018, addressing the Virginia Military Institute, Tillerson said: "If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom." On Dec. 6, 2018, interviewed publicly by a journalist during a cancer treatment fundraising event in Houston, Tillerson recalled: "So often, the president would say 'Here's what I want to do, and here's how I want to do it,' and I would have to say to him, 'Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can't do it that way. It violates the law.'" He also described Trump as "a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, 'This is what I believe.'" Trump responded by tweeting the following afternoon that Tillerson was "dumb as a rock" and "lazy as hell," that he lacked the "mental capacity" to run the State Department, and that the State Department was finally thriving under Tillerson's successor Mike Pompeo.

In February 2017, Paul Waldman said of the President that "the idea of him having a coherent ideology is absurd" and that what he has instead is "a remarkable lack of human virtues and an even more remarkable set of character flaws". If there were a terrorist attack,

"he won't try to calm people down or remind them of how safe we are. He'll do exactly the opposite: ramp up people's fear and anger, using the attack (now matter how minor it might have been) as justification for a range of policy moves. He said during the campaign that he wanted to put mosques under surveillance; that could be just the start of a range of harsh actions directed at American Muslims. ... And given his regular, personal attacks on judges that don't rule as he'd like, there's a genuine question of whether he'd obey lawful court orders that restrained him in a situation where he felt he had the advantage. ...there will be some kind of attack eventually, and Trump will try to exploit it. The more we understand that now, the better prepared we'll be to push back when the time comes."

Allan J. Lichtman wrote in his book The Case for Impeachment, published in April 2017:

"Even early in his presidency, Donald Trump exhibits the same tendencies that led Nixon to violate the most basic standards of morality and threaten the foundations of our democracy. Both Nixon and Trump exhibited a determination to never quit, to win at all costs, to attack and never back down, and to flout conventional rules and restraints. But as ambitious and headstrong as they were, they also shared a compulsion to deflect blame, and they were riddled with insecurities. They exploited the resentments of white working class Americans and split the world into enemies and loyalists. In the first month of his presidency Trump talked more about ‘enemies’ than any other president in history. Neither man allowed the law, the truth, the free press, or the potential for collateral damage to others to impede their personal agendas. They cared little about ideology but very much about adulation and power. They had little use for checks and balances and stretched the reach of presidential authority to its outer limits. They obsessed over secrecy and thirsted for control without dissent."

Frank Rich wrote “Watching the Downfall of a Presidency in Real Time” for New York Magazine on July 12, 2017:

"A furrowed brow is still what passes for bravery among Republican politicians these days.

They can run from reality and reporters, but they can’t hide indefinitely. As I’ve written before, the closer we get to the 2018 midterms, the faster Republicans in the House — and some of those up for reelection in the Senate — will scramble for the lifeboats. But by the time they wake up and see the looming iceberg, it may be too late to save their careers."

Ryan Lizza wrote in October 2017:

"Working for Trump means that one’s credibility is likely to be damaged, so there is a kind of moral calculation that any Trump supporter must make: Does working for him serve some higher purpose that outweighs the price of reputational loss?

There is a hierarchy of justifications for backing Trump. At the bottom are the spokespeople and purely political officials who are almost instantly discredited, because they are forced to defend the statements of a President who routinely lies and manufactures nonsensical versions of events. Sean Spicer learned this on his first day on the job, when Trump sent him into the White House briefing room to tell the press lies about Inauguration-crowd sizes. He never recovered. But there was also no higher purpose for which Spicer could claim he was serving Trump, except that he was a political-communications official, and being the White House spokesman is the top prize in that profession. Republicans in Congress are a little farther up the pyramid. ... They justify their support by noting that Trump will implement the core Republican agenda, and that alone is worth the price of a person at least some of them believe is unfit to be President.

* * *

The tougher cases are at the top of the pyramid. The government needs to be staffed, and, especially in positions of national security, it’s hard to argue against anyone taking a senior position at the Pentagon, the State Department, or the National Security Council to insure that Trump’s worst instincts are contained."

An alarming number of departures have indeed steadily come to pass. Elizabeth Shackelford, a political officer for the U.S. State Department's mission to Somalia, wrote a resignation letter on Nov. 7, 2017 to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that the damage to the U.S. reputation under the Trump administration "is visible every day in Mission Somalia, my current post, where State’s diplomatic influence, on the country and within our own interagency, is waning." Noting that other diplomats have left the agency, she asked Tillerson to "stem the bleeding" or else "follow me out the door.” Tillerson was fired the following March; there were many reports that he learned that he was fired at the same moment the rest of the nation did, that is, when Trump tweeted it.

In November 2017, Michelle Goldberg published this opinion in the New York Times:

"Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that it was a mistake to infer that what we’ve seen so far of the Trump administration will be 'as bad as it gets.' As time goes on, he wrote, 'Trump will find people who will empower him, instead of trying to contain him. Some of these will be junior officials who gain experience. Others may be opportunists who see a chance to gain high office by pledging to be more of a loyalist than the current cabinet.'"

Some of the people closest to him have been broken by their association with him. A Fox News video on Dec. 1, 2017 was headlined "Sources: Flynn broken financially and emotionally" with the description "Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with Russians." By January, Paul Manafort was suing Robert Mueller.

In losing so many people, the president isolates himself. Sam Levine wrote on Jan. 3, 2018:

"Trump has now turned on two of the men who helped him win the White House — Bannon and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — and they are returning the favor.

Bannon, whom Trump called a "tough and smart new voice" four months ago, is now a man who wants to “burn down the country.” Flynn, a "terrific guy” in 2016, is now a "liar," because he is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

Under pressure from law enforcement, the Trump administration is cracking up."

That same day, Trump issued a statement after parts of Steve Bannon's book were leaked.

Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (published Jan. 5, 2018) had several things to say about not surviving the Trump administration. Dina Powell, for example, had worked for George W. Bush and returned to work for Trump, and she also had a corporate career. Wolff notes how she worried that working for Trump could sully her: “Powell’s carefully cultivated reputation, her brand (and she was one of those people who thought intently about their personal brand), could become inextricably tied to the Trump brand. Worse, she could become part of what might easily turn into historical calamity.” Her colleagues thought her decision to work for Trump “indicated either recklessness or seriously bad judgment.” As another example, an email that circulated in early 2017, “purporting to represent the views of Gary Cohn,” said: “Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family.” And “[Sean] Spicer, hesitant to take the job, kept anxiously posing the question to colleagues in the Washington swamp: ‘If I do this, will I ever be able to work again?’ There were conflicting answers.”

A year after the inauguration, on the morning of Jan. 29, 2018, David Frum once again had dim expectations for the State of the Union to be given that night. "Look, if President Trump gets through the hour without putting a fork in somebody’s eye he will be praised as the most presidential president since the most presidential president," he said. He went on to say: "We all know what he is, we all know why he’s president, and what got him into that job. So, I think the question for all of us is how do we protect the country during the remainder of the presidency. There are no serious questions left about what kind of person he is.”

White House communications director Hope Hicks resigned on Feb. 28, 2018, having served in the role since July 2017. "Her resignation comes one day after her eight-hour testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. According to reports, Hicks admitted during her testimony that Trump sometimes required her to tell 'white lies.'"

Chris Cillizza wrote for CNN on March 19, 2018:

There's a sentence in Olivia Nuzzi's terrific profile of Hope Hicks in New York magazine that tells you absolutely everything you need to know about not only President Donald Trump but also the group of people who orbit him.

It's this one:

"No matter how dead any of the eccentrics or maniacs or divas appeared to be, how far away from the president their status as fired or resigned or never-hired-in-the-first-place should have logically rendered them, nobody was ever truly gone."

* * *

No one is ever truly "dead" to Donald Trump. The only thing he loves more than conflict between and among those who work for him is a reconciliation among those people.

Remember, always, that Trump was reality TV before reality TV. He is in the business, even now, of keeping eyeballs on him. That means drama, conflict and resolution. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

(After the House Judiciary Committee requested documents from Hope Hicks relating to her time at the White House, Trump ordered her in June 2019 not to provide the documents. Trump's order may be valid, insofar as he can claim "executive privilege." However, executive privilege would not provide an excuse for Hicks not to provide documents related to the 2016 presidential campaign.)

John Feeley, ambassador to Panama, retired in March 2018, and told The New Yorker in May that the president is "like a velociraptor. He has to be boss, and if you don’t show him deference he kills you.”

There have been at least 29 "high-profile" departures as of May 2018. CNN keeps an updated list. The Brookings Institution keeps statistics on this, and the New York Times cited Brookings when reporting on Dec. 10, 2018 that George W. Bush had 33 percent senior staff turnover after two full years in office, Obama had 24 percent, and Trump so far has 62 percent without having yet finished his second year. Those who work for this president are learning their lessons.

In June 2018, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post that, after Kirstjen Nielsen was extensively criticized by Trump in front of other Cabinet members,

Nielsen, according to some sources, momentarily thought about resigning. Sometimes your first thought is the best one.

Though Nielsen was described as uncomfortable with the policy of family separation, she displayed her loyalty by becoming its public face. She denied it was intended as a deterrent — “Why would I ever create a policy that purposely does that?” — as other senior administration officials were affirming its usefulness as a deterrent. She declared, “We will not apologize for doing our job,” just before Trump backed down and abandoned the job she was doing. A public servant who probably would not have supported child separation in another administration is now permanently identified with this act of shocking state-sponsored cruelty.

This is Trump’s leadership legacy: Because he continues to push the boundaries of decency in rhetoric and action, those around him must prove their dedication by parting with their integrity and moral judgment. The least reluctance is taken as betrayal.

Nielsen was eventually fired in April 2019, making her the 11th Trump administration official — by CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza's count — to be fired after saying "no" to Trump.

The president's choice in June 2018 for deputy chief of staff (following the departure of the predecessor, Hope Hicks) indicates a new level of loyalty and toughness that will be required, according to Gabriel Sherman in Vanity Fair.

Trump’s decision to tap [Bill] Shine as deputy chief of staff signals that the West Wing is entering a new era, one in which the last redoubts of internal rebellion are stamped out. “Shine is very tough,” a former Shine colleague told me. “You could pull a gun on him and he’d be like, ‘Son, put the gun away.’”

* * *

“This guy is up to eyeballs in shit,” a Republican close to the White House said. In a normal West Wing, Shine’s baggage would be disqualifying.

Shine had left Fox the previous year

"in part because of his role enabling sexual harassment (Shine denied knowledge of [Roger] Ailes’s behavior). ...Shine played a central role in facilitating Ailes's sexual and psychologically abusive relationship with former Fox executive Laurie Luhn. ... Luhn told me that Shine summoned her from Washington to meet with Ailes in New York. Shine monitored Luhn’s e-mails to make sure she wan’t talking about Ailes, Luhn told me. Shine also arranged for Luhn to see a psychiatrist after she suffered an emotional breakdown." Furthermore: "In his role at Fox, he rarely granted interviews, having imbibed Ailes’s worldview that reporters were the enemy. ... Two sources told me Shine was also aware of Ailes’s use of private investigators to harass and intimidate journalists."

(In March 2019, eight months after assuming the job, Shine stepped down from his position to join the Trump 2020 presidential campaign.)

In September 2018, Bob Woodward published Fear. He explained the process by which White House insiders burned through their political capital and edged closer to the door:

"As a general rule, in relations with Trump, the closer you were, the further away you got. You started with 100 points. You couldn’t get more. Kelly had started with 100 points in his jar, and they’d gone down. Being close to Trump, especially in the chief of staff role, meant going down in points. It meant you paid. The most important part of Trump’s world was the ring right outside of the bull’s-eye: the people that Trump thought perhaps he should have hired, or who had worked for him and he’d gotten rid of and now thought, Maybe I shouldn’t have. It was the people who were either there or should have been there, or associates or acquaintances that owed nothing to him and were around him but didn’t come in for anything. It was that outside circle that had the most power, not the people on the inside."

After the departure of two Chiefs of Staff — Reince Priebus and John F. Kelly — Trump reportedly dressed down his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in front of congressional leaders during a January 2019 meeting. Mulvaney had been on the job less than two weeks. Trump reportedly interrupted Mulvaney and told him, "You just fucked it all up, Mick."

While attention-seekers may congregate around any politician in power, Michelle Goldberg wrote in November 2018 that

"Trump is unique as a magnet for grifters, climbers and self-promoters, in part because decent people won’t associate with him. With the exception of national security professionals sticking around to stop Trump from blowing up the world, there are two kinds of people in the president’s orbit — the immoral and the amoral. There are sincere nativists, like Bannon and senior adviser Stephen Miller, and people of almost incomprehensible insincerity.

In many ways, the insincere Trumpists are the most frustrating. Because they don’t really believe in Trump’s belligerent nationalism and racist conspiracy theories, we keep expecting them to feel shame or remorse. But they’re not insincere because they believe in something better than Trumpism. Rather, they believe in very little. They are transactional in a way that makes no psychological sense to those of us who see politics as a moral drama; they might as well all be wearing jackets saying, 'I really don’t care, do u?'"

See follow-up blog post on Disruptive Dissertation: On public shaming of, and service denial to, political officials


"Advice for Those Weighing Jobs in the Trump Administration: Assessing the risks of service." David Frum, The Atlantic, Jan. 28, 2017.

"A Clarifying Moment in American History." Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic, Jan. 29, 2017.

"Beware Trump's Reichstag fire," Paul Waldman, The Week, Feb. 7, 2017.

Allan J. Lichtman. The Case for Impeachment. Dey Street Books, April 18, 2017. p. 21.

"John Kelly and the Dangerous Moral Calculus of Working for Trump", Ryan Lizza, New Yorker, October 20, 2017.

Ex-Bush speechwriter sets low bar for Trump’s SOTU: ‘As long as he doesn’t poke someone in the eye with a fork,’ Sarah K. Burris, Raw Story, Jan. 29, 2018.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Scott Lively's candidacy for governor of Massachusetts: On LGBT issues

Scott Lively is a Christian pastor and will be a gubernatorial candidate on the Massachusetts Republican primary ballot on Sept. 4, 2018. I encourage Massachusetts voters especially to pay attention to his personal record on LGBT issues. Here's some of his views as he currently represents them on his own campaign website (accessed May 12, 2018).

On his homepage, he says that society must support the "primacy" of the "natural family" (which he defines by "life-long" monogamous heterosexual marriage and the getting of children "through birth or adoption") and should practice "tolerance for those who choose to live discretely [sic] outside the mainstream." (This is on his campaign homepage under "Seven Issues that Define My Campaign and My Life," Item 3, "Devotion to Family.") He does not define what it would mean for someone to live discreetly (i.e. unobtrusively to others), why that request does not infringe upon someone's dignity and right to free expression, and exactly what kind of intolerance he is threatening against them if he should notice their gay existence.

On his Issues page, under "My Position on LGBT Issues," he refers to "the LGBT movement" as "the anti-church". He wants to see "a new legal doctrine creating the 'Separation of LGBT and State'," meaning that the government would not be able to fund any organization that promoted "LGBT ideology" and that government officials would not be able to march in Pride parades. He says that so-called "Sexual Orientation Regulations" often have been used "as a sword to attack religious freedom and freedom of speech," though he gives no examples or references on this webpage, and that Massachusetts should have a policy that these "sexual orientation regulations" shall never "supersede the First Amendment rights of individuals, churches and religious organizations to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion," though he gives no indication of why he believes that such conflicts (if they exist) can be resolved on the level of Massachusetts policy and are not rather a matter of how the U.S. Supreme Court interprets First Amendment and anti-discrimination laws.

He thinks such a restriction would be equivalent to the "separation of church and state" (hence why he names it "separation of LGBT and state"), yet he does not cut out theism from his own speech in the same way that he wants other people to cut out their beliefs about human sexuality. He says that government officials should not be able to lend their speech to a Pride parade, but he doesn't square this with why he, as candidate for governor, is entitled to write on his campaign homepage: "I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and the best source of guidance in every aspect of human life...God will prove Himself to every person who honestly seeks Him."

His Issues page also says: "I will work to pass a law following the Russian model of banning the promotion of non-traditional lifestyles to minors, a law for which I advocated while in Russia and the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007." Indeed, in 2013, Russia passed a law against distributing LGBT-normalizing "propaganda" to minors, meaning that it may be dangerous for anyone in Russia to simply acknowledge the existence of gay people in front of a child under 18 since they could be accused of promoting LGBT ideology. Lively wrote an open letter to Putin congratulating him for passing the law.

He was also involved with Uganda's "anti-homosexuality act," a bill that originally called for the death penalty for same-sex relations, which you can learn about on the Wikipedia page for Scott Lively.

Lively's campaign homepage also identifies him as a Trump supporter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

War is still about power, not truth

President George W. Bush told the nation in his 2003 State of the Union that Iraq tried to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when no weapons stockpiles had been found, the head of the Iraq Survey Group testified that it "turns out we were all wrong." President Bush had to admit this in Summer 2003, and he used the line "we were all wrong" in his memoir, Decision Points, in 2010 after he’d left office and while the war was still ongoing.

Americans, then and now, rationalized the national error by compounding it, insisting on an additional mistaken belief that Iraq somehow contributed to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A majority of Americans believed it at the time, and even today in 2018 the narrative still has traction.

In reality: None of the hijackers were Iraqi. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz “was not able to justify his belief that Iraq was behind 9/11” but had the idea of “using” outrage over the terrorist attack “to deal with the Iraq problem,” as the 9/11 Commission cited the memory of Secretary of State Colin Powell. In September 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he’d “not seen any indication” and President Bush said “we have no evidence” of Saddam’s involvement in that plot.

The extremely regrettable takeaway is that the US can start, and maintain, a decade-long, trillion-dollar war that was originally based on wrong information. I don't think the US as a nation ever fully internalized the great shame of this error. Maybe in intelligence circles, but not in the public consciousness.

Truth — our access to hear it, our ability to grasp it, our acceptance of what it means to ourselves and others, our willingness to pass it on — is something we should all care about. It should be a universal value. We need it for science, for journalism, for making the most of the lives we are given. We need it for multilingual, interracial, and interfaith understanding.

Our reactions to error — our own personal errors and those of our nations — do, however, differ. The way in which I feel embarrassment or shame about mistakes, and the way in which I recover from and correct problems, carries for me a bit of religious feeling if anything still does for me these days. Acknowledging fallibility feels tied to reverence, at least in my personal constitution. For me, the wow feeling that some call "spiritual" often means: Look how much we don’t understand. Look what we still have to learn.

I feel the shame of colossal error in my bones, and so I ask: What have we collectively learned about how to speak truthfully about weapons inspections over the last fifteen years since the invasion of Iraq? To judge by this week’s results — the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal, an impressive and deeply serious work of diplomacy — we have learned less than nothing.

Major diplomatic agreements are intended to endure through multiple administrations. They are not designed to be exited when a newly elected leader finds them inconvenient. Pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as the U.S. president did yesterday, weakens the nation’s credibility in making long-term deals with any country going forward. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that the US “doesn't respect international agreements” and “has officially undermined its commitment to an international treaty”; he intends to renegotiate the deal with the other signatories (the UK, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, and China). The US has simply isolated itself.

The deal had provided assurance that Iran would be unable to begin developing a nuclear weapon for at least the ten years’ duration of the agreement. If the deal collapses, there is no assurance that Iran will not begin developing a bomb immediately. Today, the US has no leverage within the tatters of the 2015 deal and no credibility with which to secure a new deal in the future. So much for the real estate mogul who was elected to the U.S. presidency touting his dealmaking skills.

The claim by the U.S. president today that Iran isn’t complying with the nuclear deal is worse in at least one way than the 2003 claim that Iraq had illicit weapons of mass destruction: This time around, the lie is more profound.

UN weapons inspectors say that Iran is in compliance. No significant faction of the U.S. intelligence community promotes the opposite claim. Journalists and think tanks everywhere rip this thin claim of noncompliance to shreds. Accordingly, no information-based argument of Iran’s noncompliance has even managed to be successfully sold to the American public or the world. “The [U.S.] president’s decision is a wholly baseless rejection of the conclusion of our closest allies’ military and intelligence services, international nuclear experts and his own Secretary of Defense that the agreement is working,” as a J Street statement put it.

But truth-assessments don’t stop this president from saying what he wants to say and doing what he wants to do. Since his inauguration, he has made thousands of false and misleading statements, an average of six per day, according to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” department; he manages this prolific output despite having essentially abandoned the presidential tradition of giving formal press conferences. In disputing news reports, he doesn’t use the word “false” so much as he uses the word “fake,” a term he applies to dismiss anything that is unflattering to him. He drew this equivalence the very next day after announcing his withdrawal from the nuclear deal by referring to “News about me [that] is negative (Fake).” For him, the fake is the negative — not the untrue. Why, then, should anyone believe anything he said about Iran the previous day, or at any time about anything, for that matter? The hard lesson we continue to learn here is that war is still about power, not truth. The so-called Information Age has done nothing to change that, U.S. democracy hasn't been able to put the brakes on it, and the Nuclear Age makes the potential consequences ever more frightening.

Politically, we are not in the Information Age, but the Post-Truth Age. Post-truth means employing falsehoods to gain power, which, says Lee McIntyre, is “the first step towards authoritarian rule.” There is a long, grim tradition of this. "Speaking truth to power" can make a difference only as long as power cares about truth. Today in the United States, it does not.

Monday, May 7, 2018

On Abelard and Heloïse

James Carroll's 2018 novel The Cloister retells the story of Abelard and Heloïse as seen by a fictional Jewish scholar who died in the Holocaust. This article focuses only on the fictionalized retelling of the 12th-century history and not of the 20th-century story. The newer part of the story picks up on Abelard's defense of Jews that was rejected by Catholic hierarchy and resumes with an imagined 20th-century Jewish scholar's attempt to revive it, receiving similar pushback from Catholic academics, resulting in scholarly eradication.

"Only eunuchs would think they [romance and theology] are unrelated."

Peter Abelard was the son of a knight. As a teenager, he was expected to fight in Baldwin's army in Pope Urban’s war for Jerusalem, but instead he became a tonsured monk. He maintained an unpopular position: that Jews do not go to hell. This made him foes with the White Monk, Bernard of Clairvaux. What he is more famous for, however, is falling in love with his pupil Heloïse, which came to light because Heloïse became pregnant.

In the novel, Heloïse says she fears that the baby will be deformed as a punishment. “If the child is whole," she warns, "the Church will seize him as its slave. Filius nullius. The son of one tonsured is the ‘son of no one.’ He will be a thrall, and you’ve seen even here how such poor bastards are treated.” In this novel, Canon Fulbert often takes his personal thrall to bed "for the fondling he was taught to perform as a very young boy," and this unfortunate servant is the one who will exact punishment on Abelard:

“Of the several figures closing on him, one carried himself in a familiar stoop — Fulbert’s thrall. Peter Abelard’s half-aware mind failed to register the intruders as his mortal enemies until too late, when they had pinned his arms and legs to the frame of the pallet. He never saw the blade with which, in one cut, his penis and scrotum were severed from his body. The pain was as brief as it was intense, because he lost consciousness. With blood rushing out of the gash between his legs, he began to die.”

He survived. Thus, his famous letters to Heloïse. Heloïse, too, was forced to become a nun, eventually being elected Prioress. The letters were sent in Latin. (They likely spoke Old French.) In the novel, a character explains: “These letters show a great contest between two people, but also a contest of the two people against the whole rest of their age. They are humanists. The first humanists. But also mystics. The two things feed each other.”

Theobald, a former student of Abelard and heir to the House of Blois, saw Abelard carried to the physician after his injury. Theobald would, later, be in a position to offer asylum to Abelard. Years later, Abelard admitted, “I wear underwear, needing it," unlike women, "more than once a month," for his incontinence.

Though Heloïse was separated from Abelard and out of contact with him for years, she never fell out of love with him. When she finally saw him again, many years later...

"The door frame made him stoop. She had always imagined seeing him at this moment as if he were young, his expression glad with the fervor of their just-finished play. But his mouth was unhappily clenched, his skin was blotched, and the dust of an unforgiving conscience, like an unkind wind upon the sea, shuddered across the pool of his eyes. ... His brow was lined, and the dark stain of weariness made hollows of his eye sockets. Time had touched him roughly."

Because of his castration, Abelard could no longer see himself as belonging affectionately to Heloïse. He told her it was "God’s just punishment. I was torn asunder so that our marriage would be torn. Our marriage was false. It was a sin." Heloïse said she disagrees.

”Peter turned his face to the wall. ‘But, living, I am punished in the offending part. I am disqualified now from being yours, a fate that is meet and just.’

’The only fate meet and just is what befell my villain uncle’s henchmen.’

’Ah, so now my own lads have joined in the evil. Eye for eye, blade for blade. Manhood for manhood.’


"Peter was speaking out of an abyss of despair. 'Have you troubled to take notice of my condition? I am a eunuch now.'

'Not to me! Never to me!'"

Then he says, “You should have let me die,” and faced the wall.

Heloïse was only attentive to his castration in the symbolic sense as it applied to the intellect. When Abelard said, “I am accused of preferring thought to faith — and of that I am guilty. I presume to contradict the great Anselm, who has become holy writ. But I must do it from afar,” Heloïse was disappointed with his timidity, thinking, “The great man of her youth — still emasculated?”

At age 61, he was excommunicated as a heretic by Pope Innocent II. He took refuge in Cluny and died within the year of illness.


James Carroll. The Cloister. Nan A. Talese, March 6, 2018.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Crotilda, disguised as a eunuch, in 'The Fatal Contract' (1639)

The publisher's dedication says that this 1654 book was a posthumous publication. It was originally written c. 1639 according to this plot summary. Previously it had been circulating in "private Transcripts, where it past through many hands".

As the Blogging the Renaissance plot summary explains, "one of [Queen Fredigond's] sons (Clotair) raped the fair Crotilda, and one of Crotilda's family killed the queen's brother (Clodimir) by mistake." Thus begins a dark tragicomedy of errors in which everyone is mad at everyone. Crotilda is in disguise as a dark-skinned, villainous eunuch for the entire play. This is known to the reader at the very beginning, as "Crotilda, by the name of Castrato, as an Eunuch" is named in the character list, but it probably would not have been obvious to an audience when the play was performed.

In his first appearance, the eunuch (Crotilda) summons two soldiers, her relatives (who for some reason do not recognize her), to the Queen. Disguised as the queen's eunuch, he hands them bags of gold and a letter and walks offstage with no words exchanged. One soldier says to the other, "It was the Eunuch." The other replies: "That needs no deciding." The soldiers correctly perceive that the Queen is extending a false olive branch and she intends to punish them for crimes of their parents against her brother.

Next, the queen, alone with her eunuch, contemplating her revenge against the soldiers, says:

“Hark, hark Castrato, the musick of the Sphæres,
O ravishing touch, hark how the others voice
Ecchoes the Lute, is’t not a divine softnesse?"

The eunuch replies:

Eu. Oh were I but a man as others are,
As kind and open-handed nature made me,
With Organs apt and fit for womans service.
Qu. What if thou wert?
Eu. What if I were great Queene?
I'd search the Deserts, Mountaines, Vallies, Plaines,
Till I had met Chrotilda, whom by force
I'd make to mingle with these sootie limbs,
Till I had got on her one like to me,
Whom I would nourish for the Dumaine line;
That time to come might story to the world,
They had the Devil to their Grand-father.
Qu. I find thee Eunuch apt for my imployments,
Therefore I will unclaspe my soul to thee.
I've alwaies found thee trusty, and I love thee.
Eu. With thanks I ever must acknowledge it,
And lay my life at my great Mistress feet,     Kneels.
To spend it when she pleases.
Qu. We need it not
As yet Castrato, but we may hereafter.

The queen begins to detail the physical punishment she'd like to mete out. The eunuch praises her: "You are the Goddess of invention." The queen then announces her attraction to him:

Now by this light I'm taken strangely with thee,
Come kiss me, kiss me sirra, tremble not.     (Queene kisses him.)
Fie, what a January lip thou hast,
A paire of Iscicles, sure thou hast bought
A paire of cast lips of the chast Diana's,
Thy blood's meere snow-broth, kiss me again:     (again)

The two soldiers are brought into the presence of the queen and the young king Clotair, and the queen immediately and discreetly poisons the king, planning to blame it on the soldiers.

Eu. Madam, is't done?
Qu. I my black Genius, such a fatal dram
I have administred, will wing his soul
With expedition to the other world...

In this passage, the queen is referring to her eunuch as a "black Genius" (as in, "Aye, my black Genius," a spelling that is used later in the play when Clotair says "I Dumain" to Dumain).

She then asks the eunuch: "See'st thou not death thron'd in his hollow eye, / Great tyrant over Nature?" It is a little unclear whether she is referring to the king or the eunuch as a "tyrant over Nature" (a king is more likely to be described as a tyrant, but a eunuch is more likely to be described as unnatural).

In a following scene, the eunuch, carrying a candle, leads Aphelia to Clotair, assuring her that the Clotair will not advance sexually on her. Clotair, however, threatens violence against her if she does not submit to him. The eunuch acknowledges his own villainy in the play's violent intrigues: "Thus on all sides the Eunuch will play foul, / And as his face is black he'll have his soul."

In a following scene, the eunuch comments: "The venom'd poyson of a womans tongue / Is more sublim'd than Mercurie." The queen spars verbally with Clotair, and the eunuch comments again:

How cunningly she spits her poyson forth!
I know her soul is light, she's glad he's dead,
And joyes in the opportuntie to curse the killer,
For which she gaines the name of pious mother;
Here's pretty woman-villany and dissimulation.

The queen asks, "Eunuch is our bed ready?" suggesting that bedchamber arrangement was an expected duty of his. She then invites her lover Landry to bed. The eunuch says to himself: "to cover my discoverie / I'll set on fire the Queens Bed-chamber". He also says he'll warn King Clotair to send help to rescue his mother. "About it then, this is a happie night, / The more it works their woe more's my delight."

Clotair, still dying from poison, says, "Castrato stay, / And with they Counsell cure they dying Prince; / Thou art my bosome, Eunuch, and to thee / I dare unclasp my soul..." The eunuch tells him he saw Landrey, a former page, in his mother's bed. He also tells him that Landrey and the Queen wanted to kill Aphelia so she would not become queen.

The queen then wonders aloud, to the eunuch, how she could have been found out. The eunuch says: "This is strange, / Some comick Devil crosses our designes..." She conspires with the eunuch, telling him, "My dul Æthiope, I will instruct thy blacknesse," that she intends to hide with Landrey in a secret chamber. "Excellent mistris, I applaud your brain," he replies. She asks him to inform Landrey of the plan. He anticipates her request for him to kill either Aphelia or the young king, and she replies:

Thou hast a brain which doth ingender thoughts
As regall as our own, which do beget
A race of rare events; what pitty 'tis
Thy body should be sterril, since thy mind
Is of so pregnant and a fruitful kind;
Farewell, remember me.

The eunuch says to himself: "Learn ye that pamper up your flesh for lust, / The Eunuch in his wickedness is just." He brings Landry and the queen poisoned food, first saying, "You'll let me tast it for you, will you not?" Then, after they have eaten, he laughs: "Ha, ha, ha, y'have both eat and drunk abominable poyson," adding, "The poyson's sure, I did prepare it for ye, / And have my self taken an Antidote". He taunts Landry: "You are our cushion, and i'l sit on you. / I am not very heavie, am I sir? / I do not altogether weigh a man." The queen calls him a "Villanous Traytor," and he responds: "So perish all that love Adulterie."

The eunuch's next mischief is to tell Clotair that his wife Aphelia is pregnant by another, unnamed man. Aphelia denies it, and Clotair calls a torturer with hot irons and threatens to destroy her breasts so she cannot "suckle lawless issue". Clotair, despairing of his overall situation, then asks the eunuch to shoot him with a pistol that he'd previously intended for Landrey. One of the soldiers who was originally selected by the Queen to be framed for the poisoning of her son asked the "Hel-hound Eunuch" to "tell us who ha's done these fatall deeds." The eunuch responds, "Chrotilda and a woman." To the disbelieving soldier, Clotair supports Chrotilda's reveal, and says that even the Queen didn't know the truth: "no Eunuch she; / No sun-burnt vagabond of Æthiope, / Though entertain'd for such by Fredigond." The revealed Chrotilda says, "I should have kill'd thee King, and had put on / A masculine spirit to perform the deed," but claims she was prevented by "A womans weakness".

It is free on Google or can be bought printed on demand.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Can the president use social media to promote other people's books?

Ainsley Earhardt is a Fox anchor. She co-hosts "Fox & Friends," has a Hannity segment called "Ainsley Across America," and expresses support for President Trump. Her book, The Light Within Me: An Inspirational Memoir is referred to by publisher HarperCollins as "a powerful, uplifting look at her life and her spiritual journey, reflecting on her family, her faith, and her successful career." The book includes an interview with First Lady Melania Trump. President Trump tweeted on May 2 that consumers should "bring it to number one."

"Number one" on what list, we aren't sure. Presumably not the standard-bearer, the New York Times, which the president claims to hate. Perhaps Amazon (where, as of the morning of May 3, the new release was placing first in one category: Hardcovers in "Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Television Performers." OK.

And never mind that he misspelled Earhardt's name in this advertisement. She probably doesn't care too much.

The bigger problem here is that the president is using his office to advertise a product. It was not OK when Kellyanne Conway gave a "free commercial" for Ivanka's fashion line in February 2017. As the White House did not "take any meaningful disciplinary action against her," according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, when she was promoting the financial interests of the president's family, it seems even less likely that the White House cares if the president promotes the financial interests of someone outside his family.

It does, however, still seem contrary to the law. "Use of public office for private gain," 5 C.F.R. § 2635.702, stipulates: "An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity...An employee shall not use or permit the use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise...

Earlier the same day, the president promoted The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme to Clear Hillary Clinton and Frame Donald Trump by another Fox anchor, Gregg Jarrett. Not only would Jarrett profit from sales of the book, but the content of this book clearly is meant to buttress Trump's political power.

As of May 3, these tweets did not appear on the official @POTUS Twitter account, but it doesn't matter much what account he used. His tweets are presidential records regardless.


He repeated the book recommendation at the end of the month, this time clarifying that it still had not yet been released (and we may presume that he had not read it when he recommended it the first time):


What do you think about this use of social media by the government?