The line between truth-telling and fear-mongering may be thinner than I'd like to believe.
I legitimately criticize most popular media outlets and others whose profits are driven by making people upset and afraid: I haven't seen such irresponsible journalism since the late 60's and early 70's. And yet I repeatedly write and share posts that I myself find frightening, because I think they highlight important information. If fear and panic are unhelpful, so are ignorance and denial. So I'll continue to publish information that I believe needs to be more widely known, trying not to be incendiary about it.
David Freiheit, my favorite Canadian lawyer/journalist, has given me gold mines of information about the legal aspects of current events. When I first began listening to his Viva Frei YouTube shows, one of the things that attracted me to him was his calm, balanced approach to events. I miss that. Now, after two years of pandemic stress, he's a bit edgier and angrier. But who can blame him? He lives in Montreal, where the provincial and federal governments continue to make unreasonable, unscientific, and inhumane intrusions into the lives of its people—far worse than anything we have had to endure. So please be patient with his anxiety; what he says is almost always eye-opening.
Below is a short clip from the full show that I will embed further on. This clip is only a minute and a half long, and if you don't find frightening both this use of children for propaganda purposes and what the children say with such enthusiasm, perhaps a study of 20th century history is in order. Or a reading of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Or a chat with someone who fled to the United States from a totalitarian country.
Here's the full video (12.5 minutes) of which the story of the children is just a sidebar. I've been referring to Florida as a "free state" given what I consider to be our relatively reasonable response to the pandemic, but this Miami judge proves that we are hardly monolithic in our actions and opinions. Note that the issue is not so much the judge's desire to insist that all potential jurors be vaccinated, nor even his insulting, demeaning, and incendiary language, but a legal problem: "These judges are rendering decisions based on evidence that has not been adduced and that is not how the court system works."
In case you don't watch the video but are curious about the "insulting, demeaning, and incendiary language," this is what the judge wrote in his ruling, which was on the face of it a simple postponement of a trial because the defense counsel did not want the jury pool limited by vaccination status.
It is the Court's belief that the vast majority of the unvaccinated adults are uninformed and irrational, or—less charitably—selfish and unpatriotic.
Even if you completely agree with the judge, the children, and the teacher, these stories should send shivers down your spine.
Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents by Rod Dreher (Sentinel, September 2020)
My previous book having been Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer, this book's 256 pages might have made it seem like a beach read.
Not by a long shot.
I was struck by how much Live Not by Lies reminded me of The Fall of Heaven, although they are two very different books with very different subjects. The latter details Iran at the time of the 1978 revolution, while this book is largely based on stories from the survivors of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. What do they have in common? The warning that it CAN happen here. America is not so far off from totalitarianism as we naïvely think.
There always is this fallacious belief: “It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible.” Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth. — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago
This was certainly the fallacy I believed in.
When I was a child, Nazi Germany was a very near memory for my parents, and the horrors of Communism an ever-present reality. But I knew for certain that it couldn't happen here and it couldn't happen now, because America was free and the democracies had grown beyond all that totalitarian stuff. True, I was forced in school to read 1984 and Brave New World, but such situations were as alien to me as the farthest galaxies. Ah, the optimism of youth.
Did I say youth? If you'd asked me five years ago I would have pretty much felt the same way. But the last few years have shown just how quickly radical change can happen.
Enter Live Not by Lies. Dreher was inspired by the stories and concerns of those who escaped totalitarian societies (largely from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union) only to see frighteningly similar patterns in present-day America. He is careful to distinguish what he calls "hard totalitarianism" with its secret police, gulags, and material deprivation, and the sneaky, but effective, "soft totalitarianism" that threatens us today. He comes down very hard on the Left, but neither does he spare the Right. Evil is most effective when it uses both halves of the nutcracker.
As indicated in the title, Live Not by Lies is written for Christians. But it would be a great mistake for others to pass it up for that reason. The most effective resistance to the hard totalitarianism of Nazism and Communism came from diverse coalitions of dissidents, and that's just as important now. These are dangers that affect us all.
It's not a totally satisfying book, the second half being less powerful than the first—at least if I judge by the relative number of passages I highlighted. I could include a great number of quotations in this review, but I'm not going to. Live Not by Lies is only $4.99 in Kindle form. Give up one fast food meal and get a book that just might open your eyes and strengthen your spine.
The following, rather long, excerpt from the introduction explains well the form and scope of the book.
Part one of this book makes the case that despite its superficial permissiveness, liberal democracy is degenerating into something resembling the totalitarianism over which it triumphed in the Cold War. It explores the sources of totalitarianism, revealing the troubling parallels between contemporary society and the ones that gave birth to twentieth-century totalitarianism. It will also examine two particular factors that define the rising soft totalitarianism: the ideology of “social justice,” which dominates academia and other major institutions, and surveillance technology, which has become ubiquitous not from government decree but through the persuasiveness of consumer capitalism. This section ends with a look at the key role intellectuals played in the Bolshevik Revolution and why we cannot afford to laugh off the ideological excesses of our own politically correct intelligentsia.
Part two examines in greater detail forms, methods, and sources of resistance to soft totalitarianism’s lies. Why is religion and the hope it gives at the core of effective resistance? What does the willingness to suffer have to do with living in truth? Why is the family the most important cell of opposition? How does faithful fellowship provide resilience in the face of persecution? How can we learn to recognize totalitarianism’s false messaging and fight its deceit?
How did these oppressed believers get through it? How did they protect themselves and their families? How did they keep their faith, their integrity, even their sanity? Why are they so anxious about the West’s future? Are we capable of hearing them, or will we continue to rest easy in the delusion that it can’t happen here?
A Soviet-born émigré who teaches in a university deep in the US heartland stresses the urgency of Americans taking people like her seriously. “You will not be able to predict what will be held against you tomorrow,” she warns. “You have no idea what completely normal thing you do today, or say today, will be used against you to destroy you. This is what people in the Soviet Union saw. We know how this works.”
On the other hand, my Czech émigré friend advised me not to waste time writing this book. “People will have to live through it first to understand,” he says cynically. “Any time I try to explain current events and their meaning to my friends or acquaintances, I am met with blank stares or downright nonsense.”
Maybe he is right. But for the sake of his children and mine, I wrote this book to prove him wrong. (pp. xiv-xvi)
I'll let Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn have the last word.
After the publication of his Gulag Archipelago exposed the rottenness of Soviet totalitarianism and made Solzhenitsyn a global hero, Moscow finally expelled him to the West. On the eve of his forced exile, Solzhenitsyn published a final message to the Russian people, titled “Live Not by Lies!” In the essay, Solzhenitsyn challenged the claim that the totalitarian system was so powerful that the ordinary man and woman cannot change it. Nonsense, he said. The foundation of totalitarianism is an ideology made of lies. The system depends for its existence on a people’s fear of challenging the lies. Said the writer, “Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!” You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe, but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, the writer said, then our response must be: “Let their rule hold not through me!” (pp. xii-xiv)
I'm not sure why my husband insists on sharing the news he reads from major media outlets (mostly BBC News, Orlando Sentinel, National Public Radio). Perhaps he (correctly) believes I need to be better informed. Maybe he just wants someone to commiserate, in which case, well, that's part of my job. :) On the other hand, he may just like providing me with blog fodder.
In any case, what I'm hearing is a lot more sound and fury and flame-throwing than is good for my mental health. You'd think we were facing the end of the world with this Omicron COVID variant. It's true that we're hearing about a lot more cases among our friends and family these days, due I suspect to both the greater contagiousness of Omicron and the fact that people are going about their lives more freely than they were before.
I know better than to panic just because those who profit from panic are fanning the flames, but I was intrigued enough to revisit the Johns Hopkins site to see how Florida is doing, by the numbers. Here's what I found. (Click images to enlarge.)
Positive cases, deaths, and hospitalizations over all time
Positive cases, deaths, and hospitalizations over the last 90 days
Hospital bed/ICU occupancy
If you look at just the case rate, you might think something terrible is happening. But looking at the corresponding death and hospitalization rates, and the availability of hospital services, I can't see it as anything other than great news. Bear in mind that my medical "expertise" comes only from being the computer geek in a pathology research lab, and from interacting with this world for nearly 70 years. In other words, it's just my opinion. But I'm convinced that an increasing number of mild cases means we're interacting with this disease in a more natural way that could encourage it to mutate into something we can live with.
Cases are up, but deaths are down, and hospitals have plenty of room. I can handle that.
Those who are smart and protecting themselves need to continue doing their best to protect themselves and their loved ones.
I found this in a comment on a friend's Facebook post. One advantage of information overload is that such comments quickly become "anonymized information" in my brain, protecting the innocent and the guilty alike.
What struck me about this statement, with which I heartily agree, is what it tells me about how much we are alike. We all want to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and most of us have opinions as to how best to do that.
It is in the means, not the ends, that we disagree.
Some people move to rural areas and learn to farm. Some organize and join unions. Some purchase and learn to use guns. Others choose to homeschool, or to take political action, or to stockpile food and other essentials. Some work hard to strengthen family and community ties, or to attend to their own physical fitness, or to build up a strong financial base. And some people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Many choose more than one of these paths.
The writer of the Facebook comment was specifically speaking of COVID-19 vaccination, which I certainly consider to be a valid way of choosing to protect oneself and one's family. Unfortunately, the context of the above quotation wasn't as reasonable.
I know this is callous, but those who are smart and protecting themselves need to continue doing their best to protect themselves and their loved ones. What happens to those who do not care, is no longer taking up my headspace.
Just as the excerpt epitomizes what we have in common, the context shows what is dividing us. Because by "those who do not care," the writer appears to mean those who choose not to follow his own particular choices. Possibly, he's expressing his willingness to leave them alone to make their own decisions. But the callousness, which he admits, contains the implication that he considers doing them harm to be a valid part of protecting himself.
That is very dangerous ground indeed. We can do better.
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I've always had a problem with headlines, which all too often distort or even contradict the content of the story they purport to summarize. It's similar to my frustration with book covers that make me wonder if the artist actually read the book itself. Even knowing this, it's all too easy to judge a book by its cover and to get our news from the screaming headlines. To get any useful information, we have to dig deeper.
On the other hand, it's possible that our State Department has simply gone mad.
One of Porter's travel websites led him to the handy(?) State Department website for its current travel advisories: a categorization of the world's countries into
- Level 1 Exercise normal precautions
- Level 2 Exercise increased caution
- Level 3 Reconsider travel
- Level 4 Do not travel
A glance at the associated map reveals that we consider the rest of the world to be a very, very dangerous place and should probably just stay within our own borders. There are thirteen places marked Level 1, the safest level, including Paraguay, Bhutan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Zambia, and Togo. Not exactly places high on my list of comfortable vacation destinations. Perhaps we should go back to The Gambia; our Gambian friends can take comfort in knowing that their country is one of those few getting our State Department's blessing, along with neighboring Senegal.
On the other hand, Switzerland is Level 4. Do. Not. Travel. More than 300 other countries are given this worst possible rating, include North Korea, Afghanistan, and the Central African Republic.
I am a lot happier that our daughter and her family are in Switzerland rather than North Korea, Afghanistan, or the Central African Republic. What do you think?
Fortunately, the website allows you to click on individual countries and get more detailed information about the advisories.
- Do not travel to North Korea due to COVID-19 and the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals.
- Do not travel to Afghanistan due to civil unrest, armed conflict, crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and COVID-19.
- Do not travel to the Central African Republic due to COVID-19, Embassy Bangui’s limited capacity to provide support to U.S. citizens, crime, civil unrest, and kidnapping.
- Do not travel to Switzerland due to COVID-19.
Methinks our State Department could do with a finer gradation of the Level 4 warning.
Here's another interesting anomaly: Liechtenstein has a travel advisory rating of Level 3. So if you can get there, you are considered safer than in neighboring Switzerland or Austria, each at Level 4. However, they make no suggestions as to how one might get to Liechtenstein without travelling through either Switzerland or Austria, given that Liechtenstein has no airport (though they do have a helipad). Perhaps one could parachute in, though that does introduce risks of its own.
It's been a month since I linked to a Viva Frei "Sidebar" video, more because there's been too much to choose from than than too little! This one is a two-hour long interview with Blake Masters. As with most of their Sidebar guests, I'd never heard of him, but if he wins in his attempt to become a U. S. senator from Arizona, I may learn more about him. Or if one of our grandchildren wins a Thiel Fellowship....
Blake Masters is president of the Thiel Foundation and the Fellowhip is their flagship program. He talks about it briefly during the interview, from about 32:32 to 41:56. The following video should start close to that point; you'll have to stop it yourself as a quick search did not show me an easy way to accomplish that automatically. The rest of the interview is also interesting, but who has two hours to listen to it?
Basically, the foundation believes that too many people are going to college, and funds efforts to do something productive without it. As Masters puts it, "We pay young people to drop out of college." About 10% of the fellowship recipients eventually go back to school, mostly for engineering degrees or other practical majors. MIT has even been known to hold students' places open for them.
Masters has some other good suggestions for taming the massive quagmire that higher education has become. One of them has long been a favorite of my husband's: find a way to make colleges have "skin in the game" of student loans. Right now they have every incentive to push students toward massive, unmanageable debt, and no incentive not to. (Professor friends, please don't stop the video in disgust when Viva suggests that college professors are the ones benefitting from the out-of-control costs—Masters immediately corrects him on that point.)
Masters has several other interesting things to say—the interview covers a lot—but nothing as easy to pull out separately as the above. If you have two hours you can spare to listen—there's no need to watch—go for it. Warning: the language is sometimes not what I would consider acceptable, though if I remember right the section about college is okay.
What was happening at the beginning of the 1960's?
I've long been a fan of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy books, so when I found the Kindle version of Randall Garrett: The Ultimate Collection for 99 cents, I leapt at the chance to read some of his other stories. Nothing so far has come close to the Lord Darcy books in quality, but they've mostly been fun to read.
Recently I read The Highest Treason. It's short, under 23,000 words, and was originally published in the January 1961 issue of the magazine Analog Science Fact and Fiction. You can find a public domain version at Project Gutenberg.
The Highest Treason deals with a subject familiar to me, one I first encountered in Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, first published in October 1961, in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That one is much shorter, only 2200 words, and can be found here in pdf form.
C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Proposes a Toast was next—and my favorite. You can read it here, in the December 19, 1959 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. I don't have a word count, but it is also quite short.
December 1959, January 1961, October 1961. Three stories written as the 1950's passed into the 1960's.
All three have as their premise the consequences of a culture of mediocrity, in which excellence in anything—beauty, art, sport, thinking, work, character—is abolished for the sake of making everyone "equal." There must have been something going on at that time period to make it a concern for at least three such varied authors.
What would they think today? From the demise of ability grouping in elementary schools, to "participation trophies," to branding as racist and unacceptable the idea that employment and leadership positions should be awarded on the basis of merit and accomplishment, we have come a long way down this path since 1960.
Here's hoping it doesn't take near-annihilation by space aliens—or the flames of hell—to wake us up.
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Recently I re-read The Light in the Forest, a book from my childhood, though I hardly needed to read the whole book to find the passage I quote below. I could almost have quoted it from the memory of my first reading some sixty years ago.
These are the words of an old slave, in colonial America, explaining how easy it is for those born free to lose their liberty.
Every day they drop another fine strap around you. Little by little they buckle you up so you don't feel it too much at one time. Sooner or later they have you all hitched up, but you've got so used to it by that time you hardly know it.
Point 1: What is the good of euphemisms? They enable us to express something without resorting to offensive words (whatever the offense may be). That's better for the ears and hearts of the listeners, certainly. But does it do anything for the speakers? If I say "darn" instead of "damn," what do I gain? Is the attitude of my heart any better for it? I think that's a good question to ponder.
Point 2: As I've said many times, of presidents from both parties: our chief executive deserves respectful treatment by virtue of the office he holds—not to mention as a human being. Chanting "F--- Joe Biden" like a football cheer is puerile at best. Moreover, it's probably worse than useless, venting people's frustrations without driving them to work toward changing the policies they hate. If I were President Biden, I would hear those chants and think, "As long as they're shouting and not actively working for my opponents, I'm okay with that."
That said, I have to admit that I find the whole "Let's Go, Brandon!" story hilarious. And maybe even a little useful.
Good humor can be an effective antidote to hate, and it's hard to say, "Let's Go, Brandon!" without smiling.
It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. — Revelation 13:16-17
College is a time for wide-ranging, speculative discussions, and among my fellow students in the early 1970's this Bible verse was a popular topic. We were hard-pressed to imagine a world in which people would consent to having marks imposed on their bodies: tattoos were so rare that most of us had never seen one, and the now-common practice of implanting informative microchips in pets was 15 years in the future. The microchip itself had barely made any impression on our lives—my choice when doing my physics homework was between long, laborious hand calculations and a long trek through the snow to a small room where half a dozen chunky, very basic calculators had been made available to students.
Even more puzzling was how having or not having this "mark of the beast" could be the gateway to commerce. The marketplace still ran on cash and checks.
How much can change in 50 years.
Suddenly, in Canada, in Australia, in Switzerland, and in parts of the United States, the marketplace and much more are now gated by vaccination status. Society has been divided as by a sharp sword between the haves and the have-nots; the clean and the unclean; the ones who are free to travel, attend school, eat at restaurants, and even hold their jobs, and those who are not.
I am not saying that the COVID-19 vaccine is the Mark of the Beast. It seems clear that the Mark will involve some form of blasphemy and idolatrous worship, and this does not—although, frankly, the efforts to invalidate religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have me wondering a bit about that.
However, it is now crystal clear is that what seemed impossibly fanciful back in my college days is not only possible, but can sweep over even a free and democratic country with little effective opposition. Whatever that Mark may be, we have opened the door.
I'm overwhelmed with all the news that begs comment and threatens to overwhelm the ordinary life events that I like to post for family and friends. This one pops to the top of the backlog because it is good news, and we can always do with some of that.
The story started in March 2020, when a 16-year-old high school student went on a trip with her band to Disney World in Florida. Nothing unusual about that: it happens evey year, from all over the country. Our kids did it with their band—though they didn't have so far to go. In fact, my siblings did the same thing, coming from Pennsylvania, some 40 years ago.
But this was early 2020, and a week after returning, the girl came down with symptoms that caused her doctors to believe she had COVID-19. She was hospitalized for a day or so, and posted to her friends, on Instagram, a photo of her with a breathing mask that said that she had beaten the coronavirus and that they should "stay home and be safe."
It is anyone's guess how and why this led to the police knocking on her door and demanding that she delete her post, under threats that included arrest for either her, her parents, or both. I'm guessing that the school got tired of fielding panicked calls from parents who feared for their own children and it snowballed from there, but who knows? The girl complied, removing her post, but subsequently filed a lawsuit on the grounds that her First Amendment rights to free speech had been violated.
Here's a 15-minute analysis with more detail.
It is indeed good news when the courts rule in favor of our Constitutional rights, even in a very small case, because small cases can set very big precedents. My only regret is that it takes so long for the judgement to come. Vital as such judgements are, they can't undo the harm done. In the 18 months since that fateful Instagram post was taken down, how much other damage was done? How much damage will continue to be done by those who disagree with this judge and believe they can get away with violating the Constitution, at least for long enough to accomplish their purposes?
President Biden's new vaccination mandate is blatantly unconstitutional, to use the most polite words I can think of at the moment. And it is becoming abundantly clear that this doesn't bother him. As with the eviction moratorium and several other recent Executive Branch actions, the courts will no doubt rule against it. But as with the others, by then the damage will already have been done. Even the courts can't unvaccinate someone, can't undo the stress of job loss, can't make up the losses of the small landlords who depend on regular rental income, and certainly can't fully restore the faith of small business owners who have discovered just how easily the government can take control of their lives.
Here is Canadian lawyer David Freiheit's nine-minute legal analysis of the situation.
The Constitution exists for a reason, and when our elected officials stop respecting the supremacy of the Constitution it is a big, big problem, and that is as much true for the United States as it is for Canada.
I don't care whether it's Prime Minister Trudeau, President Biden, President Trump, Governor Cuomo, Governor DeSantis, or the lowliest city mayor—I fear an increasingly powerful Executive at all levels.
I fear even more those who think this executive power is a good thing as long as they are in favor of whatever is being mandated.
Back in 2008, I first posted the clip that is pretty much all I remember from the movie, A Man for All Seasons. I brought it back again in 2012. I don't know if it says more about the State of the Union or my own mental state that the third, fourth, and fifth reprises are all in 2021.
What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide ... the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast ... and if you cut them down ... do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
I'm reminded of a story from an otherwise long-forgotten sermon of my experience: Martin Luther, we were told, was once asked by a member of his congregation, "Why do you preach justification by faith every week?" Luther replied, "Because you forget it every week."
For the record: I don't care—well, actually, I do care very much, so let me start again. Whatever the situation, whatever we may dislike or regret, Joe Biden is our duly-sworn-in president and as such must be accorded the respect due that office. Detest and decry his policies all you want, but speak with respect. And if you pray, pray for him!
Also for the record: This is a non-partisan stance. I said the same thing about Donald Trump. And our previous presidents.
When Saint Paul urged Christians to pay "respect to whom respect is due" he was talking about governing authorities, and he was writing to Romans in the time of the Emperor Nero. If he can say that about such an emperor (who later beheaded him), I think we can manage a little basic courtesy now.
Even if you think "refreshing politics" is an oxymoron, you may appreciate the following video as a break from the horrendous news from Afghanistan. I've mentioned before that David Freiheit is running for Parliament in Canada, and while I can't vote for him, or support him financially (Canadian election laws about funds from foreign countries), I loved this 12-minute video on his experiences going door-to-door and talking with fellow Canadians. It's positive and encouraging—something we all need right now.
How is it anything less than criminal to pull our troops out of Afghanistan without first making a concerted effort to get our own citizens and their families home? Granted, it would be wrong to force them to leave, and I know that here in Florida there is always a handful of people who refuse to evacuate even with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down upon them. But 15,000 people left behind? That's the NBC News estimate; others vary, but still put the number in the thousands.
We've had 20 years to plan for this exit. We've been telling everyone—friend and enemy—for months that we were going to leave, and this absolute disaster is the best we can manage?
Lord have mercy.