a helpful reminder of the way we were

Imagine if this happened today: Hundreds of young Americans—white, black, and Hispanic—disappear from their everyday lives and secretly form urban guerrilla groups. Dedicated to confronting the government and righting society’s wrongs, they smuggle bombs into skyscrapers and federal buildings and detonate them from coast to coast. They strike inside the Pentagon, inside the U.S. Capitol, at a courthouse in Boston, at dozens of multinational corporations, at a Wall Street restaurant packed with lunchtime diners. People die. They rob banks, dozens of them, launch raids on National Guard arsenals, and assassinate policemen, in New York, in San Francisco, in Atlanta. There are deadly shoot-outs and daring jailbreaks, illegal government break-ins and a scandal in Washington….

In fact, the most startling thing about the 1970s-era underground is how thoroughly it has been forgotten. “People always ask why I did what I did, and I tell them I was a soldier in a war,” recalls a heralded black militant named Sekou Odinga, who remained underground from 1969 until his capture in 1981. “And they always say, ‘What war?’”…

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States,” notes a retired FBI agent, Max Noel. “People don’t want to listen to that. They can’t believe it. One bombing now and everyone gets excited. In 1972? It was every day. Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace.”

— Bryan Burrough, Days of Rage

Did you ever feel that there was a net cast over us and we were all held in this net by a hegemony of spiders as yet unidentified?

— R. A. Lafferty, Fourth Mansions 

no pleasant harmony

Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flash of every unfulfilled present.… That we do not reconcile ourselves, that there is no pleasant harmony between us and reality, is due to our unquenchable hope. This hope keeps man unreconciled, until the great day of the fulfillment of all the promises of God. It keeps him in statu viatoris, in that unresolved openness to world questions which has its origin in the promise of God in the resurrection of Christ and can therefore be resolved only when the same God fulfills his promise. This hope makes the Christian Church a constant disturbance in human society, seeking as the latter does to stabilize itself into a “continuing city.” It makes the Church the source of continual new impulses towards the realization of righteousness, freedom and humanity here in the light of the promised future that is to come.

— Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope


Kruse: Michael, in your book, and other places, too, he has talked about how much he enjoys fighting. And he certainly fought a lot of people throughout the campaign, and he hasn’t stopped fighting. From Meryl Streep to the intelligence community, he’s still picking fights. Do you think he is going to pick fights with leaders of other countries? In other words, is there any indication that he would be able to separate the interests of the country now from his own personal pique?

Blair: Zero.

O’Brien: Absolutely not. There will be no divide there.

— From an interview with Trump biographers in Politico. This seems incontestably true to me, and the most worrisome of the hundred or so worrisome things about Trump. As with toddlers — and Trump is emotionally a toddler — it’s difficult to know in advance what will trigger his rage. And as Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently, this temperament in Trump comes accompanied by a fascination with nuclear weapons.

Of all the American Presidents so far, Donald Trump is, beyond question, the least qualified to hold the office. Indeed, he possesses not one single qualifying trait. But it is his inability to control his temper when personally affronted that most clearly marks his utter unfitness.

Most of the people I hear from who are as hostile to the Trump presidency as I am want to make frontal attacks on him, and want their political representatives and other leaders to do so as well. I think that’s a bit like poking a sleeping skunk with a stick. (A skunk with access to nuclear codes.) I am hoping that Trump’s more powerful enemies and critics will show more emotional discipline than he does, and will realize the futility of playing his game by his rules. I am hoping for the creation of fences and funnels, relatively soft nudges of the new President away from danger and temptation.

But I don’t know who’s going to create those fences and funnels. My sense is that the GOP leaders like being in power so much that they’re more likely to imitate Trump than resist him — witness Rance Priebus not-so-subtly threatening a government ethics official for doing his job. That’s a page right out of the Donald’s book. Meanwhile, the left is continuing with its old traditions of preferring symbolic gestures and ideological purity tests to meaningful action. Together the left and right are doing their best to ensure that we’ll have eight years of Trump rather than four.

So where can I place my hope? I actually think there’s a good chance that Trump won’t want more than four years of the straitjacket of the Presidency. I can see — I am even tempted to predict — that three years into his term Trump will declare that he has set America firmly on the path to renewed greatness and is ready to turn the reins over to his trusty sidekick Mike Pence.

A Lover’s Question

One of the wonderful things about the music of the late 1950s is the way that it can blend the genres and cultures we’re used to. Elvis’s debt to black music is the most-often-given example, but there’s also Buddy Holly, who famously was thought to “sound black.”

To me, though, the best example of this mixing of genres is one of the very finest songs of the decade, “A Lover’s Question,” written by the great Brook Benton and sung by the equally great Clyde McPhatter:

What is this song? It’s mostly R&B, it’s almost doo-wop, and there are strong elements of country music in it — indeed, with some relatively minor changes in arrangement it could’e been sung by Hank Snow or Ferlin Husky. For people like me who grew up in the deep South, this kind of cultural mixing is deeply meaningful and endlessly fascinating, and our Bible is David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, especially the fourth part.

But hey, even if you don’t care about any of that, “A Lover’s Question” is indubitably a great, great song. You’ll give it a listen if you know what’s good for you.

If you say that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency is an existential threat to this nation, or at least to the more vulnerable within it, and that women in particular must stand up against this misogynistic buffoon, but you refuse to allow pro-life women to join your march — then how worried are you really?

fake news, 1902 edition 

A doctored photo claiming to show the moment that the campanile of St. Mark’s in Venice collapsed. Reproduced all over the world.

soccer Saturday

I’m looking forward to the Gunners’ inevitable draw with Swansea this morning (presumably with a Giroud equalizer in extra time). I don’t know how I became an Arsenal supporter, which may help explain why I don’t know how to stop, but I often wish I could stop, given the peculiar frustrations of Arsenal fandom: no club raises hopes in order to dash them with quite the style that Arsenal manages every. single. season.

When I first started following the Premier League I decided that, since I am from Birmingham, Alabama, I should support Birmingham, England’s Aston Villa. Somehow that just didn’t stick. And looking at how things have turned out for Villa fans in the past few years, maybe being an Arsenal supporter isn’t the worst thing.

mea maxima culpa

I spent a bit of time and energy trying to convince my Catholic friends that Pope Francis’s apparent pastoral relaxation of the rules for admission to Communion in Amoris laetitia was possibly salutary and in any case not that big a deal. But I did not anticipate this. I am so, so sorry. 



Everything is political” = “Everything is political when people whose politics I dislike try to talk about something other than politics, but have you seen my kitty video?”

“You may not have said it, but you implied it” = “I continue to insist that you believe this nasty thing even though I have no evidence in support of my insistence.”

The Tree

Wistman’s Wood

In the last chapter, Fowles relates a trip to Wistman’s Wood, an ancient scrap of oak forest on Dartmoor. He finds himself struck dumb: “Fairy-like, self-involved, rich in secrets … such inturned peace, such profound harmlessness, otherness, such unusing … all words miss, I know I cannot describe it.” It’s both moving and humbling to watch so great a writer labour at the outer reaches of language. I went there myself this September, even locating what I thought might be the same “patriarchal gnome-oak” that had sheltered Fowles as he racked his brains. I sat down, too, wondering if I was feeling what he had felt. Only now do I realise my mistake. Next time, I’ll put the book away and listen for what no human voice – not even John Fowles’s – can tell me.

Peter Beech

a thought on Endo’s Silence

(a comment on this post by Adam Roberts)

… let me just offer one thought about Silence (the novel — like you, I haven’t seen the movie)…. Rodrigues had always thought of himself as a Sidney Carton kind of hero, and had in a sense prepared himself for Cartonesque acts — but not for the choices he ended up facing. The key to his character, I think, is that he had always (Endo makes this clear) believed that it’s not wrong for the poor native Christians, weak as they are, to trample the fumie, but it’s wrong for him because he is a priest of God, a missionary, one presumably equipped for every challenge. It almost doesn’t matter whether he ends up trampling on the fumie or not, because his entire self-understanding is (I’m using the word advisedly) crucified by the mere fact that he has no idea what the right thing to do is. Is that really Christ telling him to trample? If so, then Christian faithfulness is not what Rodrigues always thought it was. Is it a false Christ, an apparition of his tormented mind giving him a way out? If so, then Rodrigues is not the Christian he always thought he was. The shift at the end to third-person narration is (to borrow your term) a withdrawal, but perhaps of a different kind: perhaps a gracious and compassionate turning away from the utter destruction of this man’s whole self-image.

For what it’s worth, I always think of Rodrigues in contrast to Isabella in Measure for Measure, who is given by Angelo a very similar choice: Do this thing you believe wrong or someone you care about will die. And Isabella never for a moment hesitates: “More than our brother is our chastity.“ Rodrigues may be (indeed is, in several ways) a miserable failure, but I’d rather be Rodrigues than Isabella.

And I think the plight of these two characters sheds some light on another question you raise, though in a complicating rather than simplifying way: When you learn that the choices you make for the sake of your own soul have profound consequences for other people, does that place you in a position of power? Or rather of a particularly miserable sort of powerlessness?


John Jesse Barker after a design by William Mason (active 1822–1860), Horizontorium, 1832. Lithograph.

— Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton (via John Overholt on Twitter).

the circle

how to find

catalog card 

rosie roses


Mask House

Mask House, via WOJR

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