Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 8th, 2018

Problem: Sausage. Solution: Vegetables.

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I’m unsure the degree to which my Weight Watchers program is of interest to you, but it’s quite interesting to me. Each evening, I enter my meal plans for the next day to be sure points are under control.

Tonight’s dinner had a problem: I had 4 oz of pork sausage (14 points!) that I needed to use. (The breakfast bites (7 points) use 12 oz of pork sausage, so the sausage I had was left over from the pound.)

I was going to sauté onion, garlic, and kale, along with the sausage. But then it occurred to me: dilute the impact of the sausage by using a lot of zero-point foods to increase the number of servings.

From a 7-point dinner, I went to a 3-point (very tasty and filling) dinner with this recipe:

1 large uncooked red onion, chopped
1 1⁄2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (6 points)
2 Tbsp minced garlic
4 oz uncooked Italian pork sausage (14 points)
1 1/2 poached chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 pound broccolini, chopped
1 very small red cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, diced
1 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp freshly ground pepper
2 bunches red kale, leaves chopped and stems minced
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp Red Boa fish sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 cups store-bought chicken stock

Heat oil in large (e.g., 6-qt) pot, ideally wide-diameter (11″ or so). Cook onions until they turn translucent and soft, then add garlic and cook for a minute. Then add the sausage, broken up, chicken, black beans, broccolini, cabbage, carrot, salt, pepper, thyme, and paprika.

Sauté until sausage is almost done, then add kale and stir-fry the kale a while. Then add the remaining ingredients (lemon juice through chicken stock), stir well, and simmer at moderate heat for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Serving size is 1 cup and the pot holds at least 8 cups: 20 points divided by 8 servings = 2.5 points per serving—call it 3 points. One serving should be a meal, but even if you have two servings, that is only 6 points.

I’m actually enjoying this. And the food is very tasty and seems quite healthful. And you’ll notice that it is very low-carb.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 7:39 pm

Forget ‘Fire and Fury.’ Trump authored his own tell-all long ago.

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Michael Gerson, a Republican who was George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter, writes in a column in the Washington Post:

Because of President Trump’s absence of downward loyalty, his elevation of the morally impaired and his encouragement of staff factionalism, his administration will produce any number of damaging memoirs and leak-filled exposés. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” is the latest in this genre, but surely not the last.

Yet, what is most striking about Wolff’s book is its superfluity. We do not require a behind-the-scenes look at Trump’s instability, childishness and narcissism, because he provides revelations about his fragile state of mind nearly every day. Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

If many of the statements Trump has made publicly in the past few weeks were contained in a tell-all, we would suspect the author of malicious exaggeration. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,” attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken creditfor the lack of commercial airline crashes, urged “Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists, claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” reelection to keep up their ratings, displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health-care reform plan, claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming, boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un, tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book, and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

The intimacy of Twitter — providing daily and sometimes hourly updates on the state of Trump’s mind — encourages a question: Is the president reaching some kind of psychological breaking point? That is difficult to diagnose from afar. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

We have almost too much information in assessing Trump’s stability and fitness for high office. His combination of transgression and transparency is numbing. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick. Even the most easily alarmed among us have come to discount outlandish and offensive things.

But what if we took this seriously? What should we learn from the tell-all that Trump himself has authored?

The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation. He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate. The Chinese have made an art of this — ushering Trump toward regional irrelevance on a red carpet. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

In addition, Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,” he argues. Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned. Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired. Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

Trump’s defenders point to the absence of oppression as proof that these concerns are overblown. But protecting legal and political institutions from executive assault has been the constant vigil of the past year — as it will be for the next three. And we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

All this presents a particular problem for elected Republicans. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 7:00 pm

“How I let drinking take over my life”

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In the Guardian William Leith, after five years without alcohol, tries to understand the impacts of his drinking and how it happened:

I had my last drink five years ago, in the early hours of the morning on 1 January 2013. I think it might have been around 2am. I wouldn’t have described myself as drunk. I would have said I’d had a few drinks. But I was drunk. If I had tried to drive, or write, or give a talk in public, I’d have done these things badly. Feeling neither happy nor sad, I raised the glass and swallowed the booze. It was some kind of fruit punch.

At the time, I didn’t think this would be my last drink. I thought it would be my last drink until my birthday, on 30 April. For 10 years, I’d spent the first four months of every year as a teetotaler. There had been two exceptions. One year I started drinking on 27 April, because I was in a houseboat in a harbour and I was offered a glass of wine. I hated myself for those three days. Another year I did not quit until March, but punished myself for that lapse with eight months of sobriety instead of the usual four.

But maybe, I often thought, sobriety wasn’t exactly a punishment. I liked sobriety. I slept better. I lost weight. My skin became clearer. I definitely felt fitter. My concentration improved; I could buzz through a book in a few hours. My mind was sharper. I felt lighter, happier. I no longer turned up to appointments late, sweaty, reeking of alcohol. I had more time. I remember one conversation after 15 teetotal weeks; the guy I was talking to said he couldn’t believe how young I looked. He really meant it. Sobriety rejuvenates you like nothing else.

Then my birthday, my drinking day, would come around again. I’d have a sense of nervous anticipation, a queasy feeling that I didn’t want to start drinking again, combined with a queasy feeling that I did. In any case, I felt compelled to start drinking again; that was part of the deal I’d made with myself, because I really wanted to drink. I wanted to drink for precisely the same reason that I didn’t want to drink – because I had a drinking problem. Drink seemed to have a strange, brain-sucking power over me. On my birthday, I would wake up feeling the sort of anxiety you feel before a date or a party. I was going to start drinking again. Tonight, I would be in a different world.

When I try to explain my drinking problem, it goes like this: in my head, I was a moderate drinker, but after I’d had a drink, I wasn’t. The more I drank, the more I wanted to drink. Drinking increased my thirst. I wanted the second drink more than the first, and I wanted the fifth more than I’d wanted the fourth. My thirst always increased over the course of an evening. But it also increased, in a more subtle way, over the course of a month, a year, a decade. Drink added something, but it always seemed to subtract more than it added, and the only way I could get things back to normal was to drink more, and all this drinking began to wreck my mind. And then I’d stop, and I’d be sober for 120 days. Being sober felt great. So why did I always go back to drinking?

The first few days of sobriety provided a clue. On day one I’d wake up with a hangover. The next day I’d wake up with a phantom hangover. The day after that I’d wake up, and put my head under the duvet, waiting for the pain and the sickness. For a few seconds, my mind would be racing. What did I drink last night? How much did I get through? And then I’d remember: nothing. I drank nothing. And without the shroud of a hangover, my mind would feel strangely defenceless; any emotion could just barge in and march around for hours. In those moments, I understood something about why my drinking was a problem.

During the times I did not drink, I was not aware of wanting to drink. I did not crave it or sneak around and drink secretly. Being sober made me think of chainsmokers whose craving disappears on long-haul airline journeys. They know they can’t possibly smoke, so they just put the whole thing out of their minds.

Marc Lewis, a neuroscientist and addiction expert, told me it was the same thing as when you put a piece of meat in the fridge, and your dog paws at the door, whining and trying to force the door open. But if you convince the dog the door is locked, it will stop whining and walk away.

Every year, I stopped whining and walked away. I went to pubs and bars and drank fizzy water. In the evenings I drank tea. I saw that most people, almost everybody in fact, did not care whether or not I drank at their parties. Some people don’t even notice. I just said: “I’m off the drink.” People just said: “Cool.” On planes I was happy not to drink the little bottles of wine. I did not drink low-alcohol drinks. I did not have little nips of this or that. I knew I was not going to drink, and this knowledge made me not want to drink. I felt in control. I knew I would drink again on my birthday. I had a persistent fantasy that, the next time I started to drink, things would be better.

They never were. I could never drink in moderation. I could never have just the one, or just a couple. I always wanted more. I was never quite in control of the amount I drank, as if my brain had been damaged. Something felt wrong, and this feeling of wrongness would get worse as the year wore on – summer worse than spring, autumn worse than summer. During the times when I drank, I had another persistent fantasy, which would pop into my mind every so often: a big, fat, round tumbler of super-strength vodka, shimmering under a layer of ice, so strong it smelled like petrol. The perfect drink. That was my fantasy when I drank, and it was still my fantasy on the day I slugged my last drink, some kind of fruit punch, in the early hours of 1 January 2013. In just 120 days, I thought, that big fat vodka will be there, in some fancy minimalist bar, waiting for me.

In the five years since that moment, I have not touched a drink, and I have not wanted to. My drinking days seem far away, almost like a life lived by somebody else. Drink – the very idea of it – seems rather sickening. Quaffing sour or pungent liquids in order to make yourself dumber? Preposterous! I have the same feelings about alcohol that I had when I was 10. It’s dangerous; it’s disgusting; it causes cancer; it rots your liver and makes you look, and smell, like a much older and sicker person. Still, I’ve never stopped wondering why it grasped me so firmly, and for so long, why I allowed it to ruin parts of my life, parts I will never get back. What did drink offer me that was so much better than sobriety? What, exactly, was its magic?

t the beginning, I drank because I was anxious, and because I was at boarding school. That’s the story I tell myself, and the story I told Colin Drummond, a consultant psychiatrist at the National Addiction Centre, King’s College London. I went to see Drummond at the end of November 2017 because I wanted an informed opinion on my drinking. We were sitting in his office on the Denmark Hill campus of King’s College. He listened and took notes while I told him my story. At boarding school, I told him, you are supervised inconsistently; sometimes you can sneak off without anybody noticing. I drank from the age of 15. Extra-strong beer in cans; vodka in quarter bottles, hidden in lavatory cisterns; pub lager. I wanted to escape all the time. Drink was not a proper escape, but it was a sort of escape.

At school, I often felt trapped and vulnerable; drink could improve my mood for a while. A pattern was beginning to form in my brain, a sort of learning. Not the sort of learning you’re supposed to do in school, but learning nevertheless. Drink also made me feel bad – sick and headachy afterwards. But the good began to override the bad. I remember the malty taste of extra-strong lager, the feel of the can in my hand, the rush of bubbles in my nose, and I remember the golden colour of beer in pubs, how cold it was when I took that first gulp, how clean and cheering it felt as it went down. Once I was in a pub, aged 16, and I took a swig of lager from a pint glass, and it was perfect, and that perfection imprinted itself in my mind, and for decades I would buy pints of lager and swig them and sometimes feel a twitch on the thread connecting me to my younger self.

After a while, I told Drummond, a pattern emerged – a pattern I hadn’t noticed until now. My drinking came in fits and starts. A lot at school. Then quite a lot in my gap year. Not so much at university. Then I moved to London, to work as a freelance journalist, and started drinking more heavily. Three years later, when I moved out of London, I drank much less; six years after that, when I moved back again, I drank a lot more. My entire social network was being taken over by pubs, and bars, and people who liked to drink in pubs and bars, and people who liked to drink at home. Drink had woven itself into the fabric of my life. It felt as if I didn’t know anybody who didn’t drink. That was when I started trying to quit.

Talking to Drummond made me think about the pattern. There were three bouts of heavy drinking, each more serious than the last. In the first two bouts, in my teens and then in my mid-20s, I responded to stress – the stress of school, the stress of work – by drinking alcohol. In the third bout, when my drinking escalated dramatically, it was as if the alcohol itself had become a stressor.

Some people drink, and then they drink more, and at a certain point, they become obsessed with drink. I always used to notice bottles, the shapes of bottles, the labels and coloured glass. Just looking at the bottles would make me feel a rush of desire. I would know which pubs stocked the strongest beers and ciders, just in case. I loved walking around off-licences, and picking up bottles, and holding them. Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I’d go into an off-licence for a few minutes and talk about wine or whisky with the person behind the counter. For a year, I took a wine course, because wine seemed civilised. I sat in a classroom, one evening a week, talking about wine, and drinking wine, and taking notes. Afterwards, I’d go off with another member of the class, or perhaps two, for a couple more bottles of wine. There were always bottles in my life, bottles everywhere, more bottles than I could believe.

All this time I was in a relationship, and we both drank. I drank more than she did. Our friends drank. When friends visited, I would open the wine in the kitchen, and pour one bottle into four glasses. I’d take the first two glasses and give them to the guests. Then I’d go back into the kitchen and drink one of the glasses as quickly as I could. Working against the clock, I’d open a fresh bottle, refill my glass, and join the other three people, who would be tucking into their drinks. But drinking always increased my desire to drink, so I would finish my second glass before the others had finished their first. Then I’d go back into the kitchen for my first “official” refill. By the time everybody had had three drinks, four bottles would be gone. There was a solution, of course – to buy five bottles. With drink, there always seems to be a solution.

“It creeps up,” said Drummond. “It’s insidious. I don’t like to think it’s ever too late, but it becomes harder and harder to do something about it once it’s got a grip on people.”

Drummond asked me about my family. Was there alcoholism in my family? Sometimes it’s hard to know, because alcohol, its entire culture, emanates a cloud of secrecy. I thought about my family. My grandfather, my mother’s father, drank robustly, to say the least. My brother drinks robustly. My mother hardly drinks. A glass of wine here and there. Maybe two at a wedding. My father drank very little until late middle-age. Then he drank in small amounts. When he retired, he drank more. In his 40s, a very light drinker, he used to warn me about my drinking. By the time I quit, he was in his 80s, and drank every day. I never saw him drunk; he claimed never to have been drunk. But I worried about the brandy, the rum, the gin. Our roles had reversed; now I would warn him about alcohol. I had never heeded his warnings; I don’t suppose he heeded mine, either. When you drink, it can be impossible to think clearly about your drinking.

Alcohol was the drug of choice for both my 16-year-old self and my 86-year-old father: that says something. Drummond listed some of the reasons why alcohol is so attractive: “It makes you more relaxed, it makes you more gregarious, it makes you more confident in social situations, it relieves stress, it actually lifts you up sometimes when you’re feeling low, as an initial effect – so it’s got all these properties.” He thought about this for a while, and then said: “Chemically, it’s an all-rounder.”

How does alcohol do all the things it does? How did ethanol, when ingested, give me those perfect moments of escape? And why did my search for those perfect moments turn into a pernicious obsession? I asked Marc Lewis, a professor of neuroscience at the Radboud University in Nijmegen in Holland. Lewis has written, brilliantly, about his own experiences with alcohol, opiates and several other drugs in his book Memoirs of an Addicted Brain.

When the golden lager or shimmering vodka slipped down my throat and entered my brain, Lewis explained, it changed my mood by tampering with several neurotransmitters – the chemicals that enable neurons, or brain cells, to communicate with each other. When you have a thought, or an idea, or a feeling, it is because neurons in your brain are joining up and forming pathways, facilitated by neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters direct the brain’s traffic. Two of the most important ones are glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or Gaba. Glutamate promotes brain activity; Gaba inhibits it. Booze acts as a red light for glutamate and a green light for Gaba.

Think about that for a moment. Gaba hinders communication and glutamate helps it. Booze helps the hinderer and hinders the helper. In Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, Lewis describes what happened when he got drunk for the first time: “The sites of glutamate transmission become numbed and ineffective, so information flow is now sluggish, with big signals still getting through while small signals fade into static.” Furthermore: “It’s Gaba’s job to fine-tune thought and perception, to clarify things, but now things are clear to the point of caricature … In other words, I am thinking about very little, but I am thinking about it with magnificent clarity.”

Alcohol, then, stops you thinking too much. It slows down the hamster wheel of anxiety. It simplifies. It redacts. Of course, that’s not all it does. It also tampers with the brain’s reward circuit. When you drink, another neurotransmitter, dopamine, is sent all over the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of anticipation, of excitement, of wanting more. Dopamine floods your brain with a sort of excited hunger, the sensation of being in thrall to something. The American writer Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote a book about her addictions called More, Now, Again; this raw desire is a good description of how a surge of dopamine makes you feel. As the famous drinker Kingsley Amis once said, it’s not about being drunk, it’s about getting drunk. It’s about that magic moment of rapture on the way to somewhere else. The sweet spot – the exact moment when anticipation and reward are in perfect balance.

I began to notice something about the perfect balance. . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 11:29 am

Law-enforcement links from Radley Balko

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Here are some from this morning’s column:

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 11:06 am

When Congress Paid Its Interns

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Saahil Desai writes in the Washington Monthly:

When I met Kendall on a November Sunday afternoon in a downtown D.C. bar, she had just finished her shift serving appetizers and drinks for a catering company. An energetic Southern California native, Kendall splits her time between the serving job and the one she actually came to D.C. to pursue: an internship on Capitol Hill.

Kendall, who is being identified by her middle name so she can speak openly about her internship, is just the type of young person any congressional office should be eager to employ. She’s articulate, shrewd, and a voracious reader (when we first met, she was paging through a tattered copy of The Culture of Narcissism, by the late political theorist Christopher Lasch). Kendall—whose father sells orthopedic implants and whose mother is a babysitter—grew up in  La Verne, in far east Los Angeles County, excelled at school, and attended Pomona College with significant financial aid, graduating last May. The work she’s doing in Congress, for two California Democratic House members, is mostly clerical—compiling news clips, sorting mail, answering calls from constituents. But she has also been given some higher-order tasks that put her closer to the action. “It was really cool to see a press release go out with what I had written,” she said.

The internship, however, is unpaid, and because her parents can’t afford to bankroll her, she has had to make sacrifices to make her stint on the Hill viable. To cut down on expenses, Kendall takes a grinding hour-and-a-half commute, on two separate buses, from the Arlington, Virginia, apartment she shares with two roommates to the Rayburn House Office Building, where she works. She could take the Metro and zip to work in thirty minutes, but during rush hour that would cost $3.25 each way, while a weekly bus pass costs her just $17.50. On days when she works her second job, she might not get home before 11 p.m.

Her parents try to help out when they can, but still Kendall says that she spends just $25 per week on groceries—“I eat lots of pasta,” she said. And the requirement that she wear business attire every day has strained her thin budget even more. “For me, it was hard because I didn’t have much of a business wardrobe,” she said. “So I went to the thrift store and bought a blazer for $8. It didn’t fit me right, but it was the best I could find.”

Up to 40,000 interns flock to the nation’s capital annually, working temporary stints in government, journalism, think tanks, and lobbying. By far the highest concentration of interns is on Capitol Hill. Visit on a muggy summer day, and you’re sure to see “Hillterns” in their recognizable ill-fitting suits, struggling to find the nearest Metro station.

Nationwide, about half of all internships are unpaid, even as they are now a nearly mandatory credential for gaining an entry-level job in many white-collar professions. Congress is especially bad: in the House, only 8 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats compensate even one of their many interns, according to Pay Our Interns, an advocacy organization that tracks payment for interns on the Hill. The partisan difference is partly due to the fact that the GOP is in the majority and can allocate more funds to its members, but it’s still a bad look for liberal politicians who claim to stand for fair pay and higher wages. The situation is better in the Senate, though the disparity isn’t, at least not by much: fifty-one Republicans and thirty-one Democrats offer at least a stipend for at least one intern each year. Still, the great majority of Senate interns are unpaid, and among the minority who are paid, the level of compensation varies widely by office. Bernie Sanders admirably pays all his interns $15 an hour, while Republican Orrin Hatch pays half that, just $7.50 an hour.

Unpaid internships are burdensome anywhere, but especially so in Washington, D.C. For renters, D.C. ranks as the seventh most expensive city in the world. The total cost of a three-month unpaid internship in cities like D.C. and New York can inch toward $6,000 once you factor in such variables as rent, food, and transportation.

As a result, Capitol Hill internships are increasingly opportunities that only young people from affluent families can afford to take. This fact has not escaped Kendall’s notice; she talks about a fellow intern who goes out for lunch on his parents’ credit card while she eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at her desk.

Yet unpaid congressional interns have become so embedded into the fabric of the institution that the practice of not paying them is rarely questioned.

It wasn’t always this way. Paid internships were the norm on Capitol Hill until a few decades ago. This was back when congressional staffers earned competitive salaries and there were enough of them to make Congress function more or less effectively. Back then, paid internships were a pipeline that brought kids of modest means to the Hill and gave them the opportunity to learn up close how representative government works and allowed them, perhaps, to rise through the ranks as staffers, policymakers, or even politicians themselves. But the same institutional penny-pinching that has devastated congressional staff has all but wiped out paid internships, with pernicious consequences for Washington and for American democracy.

When Charles arrived on Capitol Hill as a wide-eyed intern in 1969, he was already a paragon of the American meritocracy. His father, Abe, ran a small exterminator business in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which provided a stable working-class income for Charles and his two siblings. “Our family always associated the smell of roach spray with love,” he would later say. Charles excelled at James Madison High School, and with a perfect SAT score he was soon on his way to Harvard, set on majoring in chemistry. Harvard then was still an enclave for the clean-cut WASP elite, and Charles—who is Jewish, and whose middle name, Ellis, pays homage to the immigrant gateway that millions passed through—wasn’t initially a natural fit at the university. “When I went to Harvard, everyone was either from very wealthy suburbs or from university towns,” he once said.

Charles’s interest in politics crystallized at Harvard, as the Vietnam War raged and college campuses nationwide were engulfed in protest. As a freshman, he went to New Hampshire to campaign for Eugene McCarthy, the antiestablishment senator challenging the incumbent Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 Democratic primary. Catching the political bug, he set off for Washington in 1969, interning for Representative Bert Podell, a New York Democrat. Luckily for him, he was paid—about $1,800 a month in today’s dollars, based on records from the era. Not a fortune, but enough for a short-term gig in D.C.

Charles graduated from Harvard in 1971—he wrote his senior thesis about the ways that Congress could function more efficiently—and three years later, at the age of twenty-three, he became one of the New York State Assembly’s youngest members since Theodore Roosevelt.

Charles, now sixty-seven years old and with graying hair and glasses that sit delicately at the tip of his nose,  is back in Washington. He’s Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

When internships boomed in Congress in the 1960s and ’70s, paid internships like the one that jump-started Schumer’s career weren’t limited to just a few generous offices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 10:05 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life

Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong

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David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox scholar of religion and a philosopher, writer, and cultural commentator, is a fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. He has just published a new translation of the New Testament and in Aeon has this comment:

This past year, I burdened the English-speaking world with my very own translation of the New Testament – a project that I undertook at the behest of my editor at Yale University Press, but that I agreed to almost in the instant that it was proposed. I had long contemplated attempting a ‘subversively literal’ rendering of the text. Over the years, I had become disenchanted with almost all the standard translations available, and especially with modern versions produced by large committees of scholars, many of whom (it seems to me) have been predisposed by inherited theological habits to see things in the text that are not really there, and to fail to notice other things that most definitely are. Committees are bland affairs, and tend to reinforce our expectations; but the world of late antiquity is so remote from our own that it is almost never what we expect.

Ask, for instance, the average American Christian – say, some genial Presbyterian who attends church regularly and owns a New International Version of the Bible – what gospel the Apostle Paul preached. The reply will fall along predictable lines: human beings, bearing the guilt of original sin and destined for eternal hell, cannot save themselves through good deeds, or make themselves acceptable to God; yet God, in his mercy, sent the eternal Son to offer himself up for our sins, and the righteousness of Christ has been graciously imputed or imparted to all who have faith.

Some details might vary, but not the basic story. And, admittedly, much of the tale’s language is reminiscent of terms used by Paul, at least as filtered through certain conventional translations; but it is a fantasy. It presumes elements of later Christian belief absent from Paul’s own writings. Some of these (like the idea that humans are born damnably guilty in God’s eyes, or that good deeds are not required for salvation) arise from a history of misleading translations. Others (like the concept of an eternal hell of conscious torment) are entirely imagined, attributed to Paul on the basis of some mistaken picture of what the New Testament as a whole teaches.

Paul’s actual teachings, however, as taken directly from the Greek of his letters, emphasise neither original guilt nor imputed righteousness (he believed in neither), but rather the overthrow of bad angels. A certain long history of misreadings – especially of the Letter to the Romans – has created an impression of Paul’s theological concerns so entirely alien to his conceptual world that the real Paul occupies scarcely any place at all in Christian memory. It is true that he addresses issues of ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’, and asserts that this is available to us only through the virtue of pistis– ‘faith’ or ‘trust’ or even ‘fidelity’. But for Paul, pistis largely consists in works of obedience to God and love of others. The only erga, ‘works’, which he is anxious to claim make no contribution to personal sanctity, are certain ‘ritual observances’ of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision or kosher dietary laws. This, though, means that the separation between Jews and gentiles has been annulled in Christ, opening salvation to all peoples; it does not mean (as Paul fears some might imagine) that God has abandoned his covenant with Israel.

Questions of law and righteousness, however, are secondary concerns. The essence of Paul’s theology is something far stranger, and unfolds on a far vaster scale. For Paul, the present world-age is rapidly passing, while another world-age differing from the former in every dimension – heavenly or terrestrial, spiritual or physical – is already dawning. The story of salvation concerns the entire cosmos; and it is a story of invasion, conquest, spoliation and triumph. For Paul, the cosmos has been enslaved to death, both by our sin and by the malign governance of those ‘angelic’ or ‘daemonian’ agencies who reign over the earth from the heavens, and who hold spirits in thrall below the earth. These angelic beings, these Archons, whom Paul calls Thrones and Powers and Dominations and Spiritual Forces of Evil in the High Places, are the gods of the nations. In the Letter to the Galatians, he even hints that the angel of the Lord who rules over Israel might be one of their number. Whether fallen, or mutinous, or merely incompetent, these beings stand intractably between us and God. But Christ has conquered them all.

In descending to Hades and ascending again through the heavens, Christ has vanquished all the Powers below and above that separate us from the love of God, taking them captive in a kind of triumphal procession. All that now remains is the final consummation of the present age, when Christ will appear in his full glory as cosmic conqueror, having ‘subordinated’ (hypetaxen) all the cosmic powers to himself – literally, having properly ‘ordered’ them ‘under’ himself – and will then return this whole reclaimed empire to his Father. God himself, rather than wicked or inept spiritual intermediaries, will rule the cosmos directly. Sometimes, Paul speaks as if some human beings will perish along with the present age, and sometimes as if all human beings will finally be saved. He never speaks of some hell for the torment of unregenerate souls.

The new age, moreover – when creation will be glorified and transformed into God’s kingdom – will be an age of ‘spirit’ rather than ‘flesh’. For Paul, these are two antithetical principles of creaturely existence, though most translations misrepresent the antithesis as a mere contrast between God’s ‘spirit’ and human perversity. But Paul is quite explicit: ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom.’ Neither can psychē, ‘soul’, the life-principle or anima that gives life to perishable flesh. In the age to come, the ‘psychical body’, the ‘ensouled’ or ‘animal’ way of life, will be replaced by a ‘spiritual body’, beyond the reach of death – though, again, conventional translations usually obscure this by speaking of the former, vaguely, as a ‘natural body’.

Paul’s voice, I hasten to add, is hardly an eccentric one. John’s Gospel too, for instance, tells of the divine saviour who comes ‘from above’, descending from God’s realm into this cosmos, overthrowing its reigning Archon, bringing God’s light into the darkness of our captivity, and ‘dragging’ everyone to himself. And, in varying registers, so do most of the texts of the New Testament. As I say, it is a conceptual world very remote from our own.

And yet it would be foolish to try to judge the gospel’s spiritual claims by how plausible we find the cosmology that accompanies them. For one thing, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 9:03 am

Posted in Books, Memes, Religion

Strong ‘n Scottish and a great shave with the iKon X3

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Strong ‘n Scottish is just as the name states, and it made a fine lather using the G.B. Kent BK4.

The iKon X3, here on a UFO handle, is by far the best twisted-blade slant for me: gentle and efficient and no need to be particularly conscious of pressure. Three passes to a smooth face, to which a applied a good splash of Barrister & Mann Fougère Classique.

Great way to start the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 January 2018 at 8:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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