Pray For India; Wordless Wednesday

Our hearts and prayers are with India that The God Who Is will bring a speedy end to the suffering of its people.

2021-05-12 Wordless Wednesday Pray for India
Multiple funeral pyres of Indian victims of COVID-19 burn in a New Delhi area converted for mass cremation on April 24.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/may/pray-for-india-christians-covid-19-virus-oxygen-cremation.html

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Will Vaccine Passports Control Your Daily Life?

Former Clinton Adviser: Mandatory Vaccine Passport Could Lead to ‘End of Human Liberty in the West’ – by Jack Phillips  March 29, 2021

Former Clinton adviser Naomi Wolf said that mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passports that have been proposed in recent days would be the “end of human liberty in the West if this plan unfolds as planned.”

“‘Vaccine passport’ sounds like a fine thing if you don’t understand what those platforms can do. I’m [the] CEO of a tech company, I understand what this platform does,” Wolf, who’s also an author, told Fox News on March 28. “It is not about the vaccine, it’s not about the virus, it’s about your data. Once this rolls out, you don’t have a choice about being part of the system. What people have to understand is that any other functionality can be loaded onto that platform with no problem at all.”

Wolf said such data can be “merged with your Paypal account, with your digital currency,” adding that “Microsoft is already talking about merging it with payment plans.”

Wolf noted that it happened in Israel, “and six months later, we’re hearing from activists that it’s a two-tiered society and that basically, activists are ostracized and surveilled continually. It is the end of civil society, and they are trying to roll it out around the world.”

“It is absolutely so much more than a vaccine pass, it is — I can not stress enough that it has the power to turn off your life, or to turn on your life, to let you engage in society or be marginalized.”

Going a step further, Wolf likened such plans to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) surveillance of its population and promotion of a “social credit score.”

2021-04-02 Vaccine PassportsA handout image shows the Excelsior Pass, a platform that lets New Yorkers present proof of COVID-19 vaccination at events. (Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo)

“How does [the CCP] keep a billion people under the thumb of a totalitarian regime?” she asked. “The CCP can find any dissident within five minutes, and that can happen here literally within months.”

Wolf referred to reports about Biden administration officials proposing the idea. The Washington Post and CNN — citing anonymous, unconfirmed sources — have suggested that the administration is working toward developing a national vaccine passport standard. New York state has proposed its own “Excelsior Pass” that would be used in large-scale venues such as Madison Square Garden. The plan has been lambasted by civil liberties groups and proponents.

On March 29, White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the claims, saying the administration doesn’t see a federal mandate for vaccine passports. “We believe it will be driven by the private sector,” she told reporters.

In other countries, such passports have already been created. Israel set one up in February to grant people access to gyms and hotels, Iceland now uses a passport to allow foreign travel, and Saudi Arabia has an app-based passport for people who are inoculated.

“The thing underpinning all of this is, what are you going to use it for?” said Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Is it for international travel? Is it for getting a job? Is it for buying milk?”

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Science, Politics, and COVID: Will Truth Prevail?

This is a rather lengthy guest blog, over 3000 words, compared to my usual blogs of about 1000, but Dr. Atlas is well worth a little extra time to read.
by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on February 18, 2021, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona.

Corona VirusThe COVID pandemic has been a tragedy, no doubt. But it has exposed profound issues in America that threaten the principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted.

First, I have been shocked at the unprecedented exertion of power by the government since last March — issuing unilateral decrees, ordering the closure of businesses, churches, and schools, restricting personal movement, mandating behavior, and suspending indefinitely basic freedoms. Second, I was and remain stunned — almost frightened — at the acquiescence of the American people to such destructive, arbitrary, and wholly unscientific rules, restrictions, and mandates.

The pandemic also brought to the forefront things we have known existed and have tolerated for years: media bias, the decline of academic freedom on campuses, the heavy hand of Big Tech, and — now more obviously than ever — the politicization of science. Ultimately, the freedom of Americans to seek and state what they believe to be the truth is at risk.

Let me say at the outset that I, like all of us, acknowledge that the consequences of the COVID pandemic and its management have been enormous. Over 500,000 American deaths have been attributed to the virus; more will follow. Even after almost a year, the pandemic still paralyzes our country. And despite all efforts, there has been an undeniable failure to stop cases from escalating and to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

But there is also an unacknowledged reality: almost every state and major city in the U.S., with a handful of exceptions, have implemented severe restrictions for many months, including closures of businesses and in-person schools, mobility restrictions and curfews, quarantines, limits on group gatherings, and mask mandates dating back to at least last summer. And despite any myths to the contrary, social mobility tracking of Americans and data from Gallup, YouGov, the COVID-19 Consortium, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all shown significant reductions of movement as well as a consistently high percentage of mask-wearing since the late summer, similar to the extent seen in Western Europe and approaching the extent seen in Asia.

With what results?
All legitimate policy scholars today should be reexamining the policies that have severely harmed America’s children and families, while failing to save the elderly. Numerous studies, including one from Stanford University’s infectious disease scientists and epidemiologists Benavid, Oh, Bhattacharya, and Ioannides have shown that the mitigating impact of the extraordinary measures used in almost every state was small at best — and usually harmful. President Biden himself openly admitted the lack of efficacy of these measures in his January 22 speech to the nation: “There is nothing we can do,” he said, “to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”

Bizarrely, though, many want to blame those who opposed lockdowns and mandates for the failure of the very lockdowns and mandates that were widely implemented.

Besides their limited value in containing the virus, lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful. The harms to children of suspending in-person schooling are dramatic, including poor learning, school dropouts, social isolation, and suicidal ideation, most of which are far worse for lower income groups. A recent study confirms that up to 78 percent of cancers were never detected due to missed screening over a three-month period. If one extrapolates to the entire country, 750,000 to over a million new cancer cases over a nine-month period will have gone undetected. That health disaster adds to missed critical surgeries, delayed presentations of pediatric illnesses, heart attack and stroke patients too afraid to go to the hospital, and others — all well documented.

Beyond hospital care, the CDC reported four-fold increases in depression, three-fold increases in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicidal ideation, particularly among young adults after the first few months of lockdowns, echoing American Medical Association reports of drug overdoses and suicides. Domestic and child abuse have been skyrocketing due to the isolation and loss of jobs. Given that many schools have been closed, hundreds of thousands of abuse cases have gone unreported, since schools are commonly where abuse is noticed. Finally, the unemployment shock from lockdowns, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, will generate a three percent increase in the mortality rate and a 0.5 percent drop in life expectancy over the next 15 years, disproportionately affecting African-Americans and women. That translates into what the study refers to as a “staggering” 890,000 additional U.S. deaths.

We know we have not yet seen the full extent of the damage from the lockdowns, because the effects will continue to be felt for decades. Perhaps that is why lockdowns were not recommended in previous pandemic response analyses, even for diseases with far higher death rates.

To determine the best path forward, shouldn’t policymakers objectively consider the impact both of the virus and of anti-virus policies to date? This points to the importance of health policy, my own particular field, which requires a broader scope than that of epidemiologists and basic scientists. In the case of COVID, it requires taking into account the fact that lockdowns and other significant restrictions on individuals have been extraordinarily harmful — even deadly — especially for the working class and the poor.

“There is a land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.” — Mad Hatter
Optimistically, we should be seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel with the rollout of vaccines, now being administered at a rate of one million to 1.5 million per day. On the other hand, using logic that would appeal to Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter, in many states the vaccines were initially administered more frequently to healthier and younger people than to those at greatest risk from the virus. The argument was made that children should be among the first to be vaccinated, although children are at extremely low risk from the virus and are proven not to be significant spreaders to adults. Likewise, we heard the Kafka-esque idea promoted that teachers must be vaccinated before teaching in person, when schools are one of the lowest risk environments and the vast majority of teachers are not high risk.

Worse, we hear so-called experts on TV warning that social distancing, masks, and other restrictions will still be necessary after people are vaccinated! All indications are that those in power have no intention of allowing Americans to live normally — which for Americans means to live freely — again.

And sadly, just as in Galileo’s time, the root of our problem lies in “the experts” and vested academic interests. At many universities — which are supposed to be America’s centers for critical thinking — those with views contrary to those of “the experts” currently in power find themselves intimidated. Many have become afraid to speak up.

But the suppression of academic freedom is not the extent of the problem on America’s campuses.

To take Stanford, where I work, as an example, some professors have resorted to toxic smears in opinion pieces and organized rebukes aimed at those of us who criticized the failed health policies of the past year and who dared to serve our country under a president they despised — the latter apparently being the ultimate transgression.

Defamatory attacks with malicious intent based on straw-man arguments and out-of-context distortions are not acceptable in American society, let alone in our universities. There has been an attempt to intimidate and discredit me using falsifications and misrepresentations. This violates Stanford’s Code of Conduct, damages the Stanford name, and abuses the trust that parents and society place in educators.

It is understandable that most Stanford professors are not experts in the field of health policy and are ignorant of the data about the COVID pandemic. But that does not excuse the fact that some called recommendations that I made “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” That was a lie, and no matter how often lies are repeated by politically-driven accusers, and regardless of how often those lies are echoed in biased media, lies will never be true.

We all must pray to God that the infamous claim attributed to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels — “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” — never becomes operative in the United States of America.

All of the policies I recommended to President Trump were designed to reduce both the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable and the economic, health, and social harms of anti-COVID policies for those impacted the most — small businesses, the working class, and the poor. I was one of the first to push for increasing protections for those most at risk, particularly the elderly. At the same time, almost a year ago, I recognized that we must also consider the enormous harms to physical and mental health, as well as the deaths attributable to the draconian policies implemented to contain the infection. That is the goal of public health policy — to minimize all harms, not simply to stop a virus at all costs.

The claim in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) opinion piece by three Stanford professors that “nearly all public health experts were concerned that [Scott Atlas’s] recommendations could lead to tens of thousands (or more) of unnecessary deaths in the U.S. alone” is patently false and absurd on its face. As pointed out by Dr. Joel Zinberg in National Review, the Great Barrington Declaration — a proposal co-authored by medical scientists and epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford — “is closer to the one condemned in the JAMA article than anything Atlas said.” Yet the Great Barrington Declaration has already been signed by over 50,000 medical and public health practitioners.

When critics display such ignorance about the scope of views held by experts, it exposes their bias and disqualifies their authority on these issues. Indeed, it is almost beyond parody that these same critics wrote that “professionalism demands honesty about what [experts] know and do not know.”

I have explained the fact that younger people have little risk from this infection, and I have explained the biological fact of herd immunity — just like Harvard epidemiologist Katherine Yih did. That is very different from proposing that people be deliberately exposed and infected — which I have never suggested, although I have been accused of doing so.

I have also been accused of “argu[ing] that many public health orders aimed at increasing social distancing could be forgone without ill effects.” To the contrary, I have repeatedly called for mitigation measures, including extra sanitization, social distancing, masks, group limits, testing, and other increased protections to limit the spread and damage from the coronavirus. I explicitly called for augmenting protection of those at risk—in dozens of on-the-record presentations, interviews, and written pieces.

My accusers have ignored my explicit, emphatic public denials about supporting the spread of the infection unchecked to achieve herd immunity — denials quoted widely in the media. Perhaps this is because my views are not the real object of their criticism. Perhaps it is because their true motive is to “cancel” anyone who accepted the call to serve America in the Trump administration.

For many months, I have been vilified after calling for opening in-person schools — in line with Harvard Professors Martin Kulldorf and Katherine Yih and Stanford Professor Jay Bhattacharya — but my policy recommendation has been corroborated repeatedly by the literature. The compelling case to open schools is now admitted even in publications like The Atlantic, which has noted: “Research from around the world has, since the beginning of the pandemic, indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die.” The subhead of the article was even clearer: “We’ve known for months that young children are less susceptible to serious infection and less likely to transmit the coronavirus.”

When the JAMA accusers wrote that I “disputed the need for masks,” they misrepresented my words. My advice on mask usage has been consistent: “Wear a mask when you cannot socially distance.” At the time, this matched the published recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). This past December, the WHO modified its recommendation: “In areas where the virus is circulating, masks should be worn when you’re in crowded settings, where you can’t be at least one meter [roughly three feet] from others, and in rooms with poor or unknown ventilation”—in other words, not at all times by everyone. This also matches the recommendation of the National Institutes of Health document Prevention and Prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 Infection: “When consistent distancing is not possible, face coverings may further reduce the spread of infectious droplets from individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to others.”

Regarding universal masks, 38 states have implemented mask mandates, most of them since at least the summer, with almost all the rest having mandates in their major cities. Widespread, general population mask usage has shown little empirical utility in terms of preventing cases, even though citing or describing evidence against their utility has been censored. Denmark also performed a randomized controlled study that showed that widespread mask usage had only minimal impact.

This is the reality.
Those who insist that universal mask usage has absolutely proven effective at controlling the spread of the COVID virus and is universally recommended according to “the science” are deliberately ignoring the evidence to the contrary. It is they who are propagating false and misleading information.

Those who say it is unethical, even dangerous, to question broad population mask mandates must also explain why many top infectious disease scientists and public health organizations question the efficacy of general population masking. Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, for instance, wrote that “despite two decades of pandemic preparedness, there is considerable uncertainty as to the value of wearing masks.” Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta says there is no need for masks unless one is elderly or high risk. Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya has said that “mask mandates are not supported by the scientific data. . . . There is no scientific evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease.”

Throughout this pandemic, the WHO’s “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19” has included the following statement: “At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.” The CDC, in a review of influenza pandemics in May 2020, “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.” And until the WHO removed it on October 21, 2020 — soon after Twitter censored a tweet of mine highlighting the quote — the WHO had published the fact that “the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”

My advice on masks all along has been based on scientific data and matched the advice of many of the top scientists and public health organizations throughout the world.

The Politicization of the Search For Truth
At this point, one could make a reasonable case that those who continue to push societal restrictions without acknowledging their failures and the serious harms they caused are themselves putting forth dangerous misinformation. Despite that, I will not call for their official rebuke or punishment. I will not try to cancel them. I will not try to extinguish their opinions. And I will not lie to distort their words and defame them. To do so would repeat the shameful stifling of discourse that is critical to educating the public and arriving at the scientific truths we desperately need.

If this shameful behavior continues, university mottos like Harvard’s “Truth, Stanford’s “The Winds of Freedom Blow,” and Yale’s “Light and Truth” will need major revision.

Big Tech has piled on with its own heavy hand to help eliminate discussion of conflicting evidence. Without permitting open debate and admission of errors, we might never be able to respond effectively to any future crisis. Indeed, open debate should be more than permitted — it should be encouraged.

As a health policy scholar for over 15 years and as a professor at elite universities for 30 years, I am shocked and dismayed that so many faculty members at these universities are now dangerously intolerant of opinions contrary to their favored narrative. Some even go further, distorting and misrepresenting words to delegitimize and even punish those of us willing to serve the country in the administration of a president they loathe. It is their own behavior, to quote the Stanford professors who have attacked me, that “violates the core values of [Stanford] faculty and the expectations under the Stanford Code of Conduct, which states that we all ‘are responsible for sustaining the high ethical standards of this institution.’” In addition to violating standards of ethical behavior among colleagues, this behavior falls short of simple human decency.

If academic leaders fail to renounce such unethical conduct, increasing numbers of academics will be unwilling to serve their country in contentious times. As educators, as parents, as fellow citizens, that would be the worst possible legacy to leave to our children.

I also fear that the idea of science as a search for truth — a search utilizing the empirical scientific method — has been seriously damaged. Even the world’s leading scientific journals — The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, Science, and Nature — have been contaminated by politics. What is more concerning, many in the public and in the scientific community have become fatigued by the arguments — and fatigue will allow fallacy to triumph over truth.

With social media acting as the arbiter of allowable discussion, and with continued censorship and cancellation of those with views challenging the “accepted narrative,” the United States is on the verge of losing its cherished freedoms. It is not at all clear whether our democratic republic will survive — but it is clear it will not survive unless more people begin to step up in defense of freedom of thought and speech.
____________________________

2021-03-09 Dr. Scott AtlasScott W. Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He previously served for 14 years as professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center. He earned his B.S. from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and his M.D. from the University of Chicago School of Medicine. An ad hoc member of the Nominating Committee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology, he was a senior health care advisor to a number of presidential candidates in 2008, 2012, and 2016. From July to December 2020, he served as Special Advisor to President Trump and as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He is the editor of Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, now in its fifth edition, and is the author of several books, including Restoring Quality Health Care.

CCP Virus Vaccines

2021-03-06 CCP VaccineI had a good blog planned for today and was writing it in my head a couple nights earlier in the week.  Then came Thursday. 

Anita and I had bypassed our opportunity for the Pfizer vaccines as I am one of “those skeptics.”  Using a new process for vaccination (mRNA) would suggest prudence in waiting for the dust to settle and see that there are no long-term effects in others more willing to venture into the unknown.  Add that the government pushed so hard and so fast . . . I am still of Ronald Reagan’s mind: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” (August 12, 1986)  I can just wear a mask and stay six feet away from anyone without one.

However, when we discovered an Ensemble 2 Clinical Trial for the Janssen (J&J) vaccine to be conducted at UK (University of Kentucky, not the real UK under the Queen’s domain 😉), I immediately wanted to be one of the 200 recruited here to participate. 
One: The Ensemble 1 Phase 3 CT had over 45,000 participants with not one life-threatening adverse event, and only two minor adverse events, which were quickly resolved.  This follows that the Janssen vaccine employs tried-and-true old technology of vaccine preparation, utilizing an adenovirus that causes common colds, modified to produce the coronavirus “spikes” without the coronavirus.
Two: There is no special sub-freezing temperature required.  I have seen too many mistakes in simple lab procedures to trust the huge roll-out of -80⁰C (-112⁰F) storage and shipment of vaccines.  Now, they claim Pfizer does not need those extremes for short terms, but that was not the story a week ago.  A vaccine that requires only normal refrigeration just looks safer to me.
Three: The protection, while lower than the Pfizer and Moderna double-dose vaccines, is close enough to single-dosages of those.  And the Ensemble 2 CT is going to test the idea that may bring the Janssen vaccine in line with the double-dosed results of Pfizer and Moderna.  We will be given two injections several weeks apart.

So Thursday, March 4, Anita and I went through all the paperwork and consent forms to participate and were given double-blinded injections. (Blind participation means the participant does not know if they are getting a treatment or placebo, but the researcher knows; double-blind means neither the participant nor the researcher knows if they are receiving the treatment or placebo.)  We both received injections and went to bed fine that night.  But on Friday I could feel every muscle in my body and some I did not even know I had!  Every joint was painful to move, not severely, but enough that we figured I either got the “real McCoy” in the trial, or was having a reeeealy significant “placebo effect” reaction.  Very slight elevation of temperature (for me: 98.3⁰F; usually 97⁰ or lower) and a mild headache.  My wife says I am a really cool guy, and usually give headaches rather than get them. 😏

Fatigue plagued me quite a bit yesterday when I usually work up this blog, and I spent a lot of time in bed, as I would usually do if I had a cold.  So today, no philosophy, no theology, no living advice and no recipes.  Just a brief report on why I am posting a boring blog instead of my usual brilliance. 🙄

Did Anita get the vaccine or placebo?  She usually handles colds much better than me, and Dr. Greenberg, the excellent primary investigator at UK, says 25% of people so far who received the Ensemble 1 vaccine did not have any reactions.  If the decision is made by Janssen to ‘unblind’ the study, and she finds out that she only received the placebo, she can go back for the Emergency Use Authorized vaccine.

If you want to know more about the Janssen vaccine, try this website here for information without lots of “medical technologese.”  And just for the record, I do not have any affiliate connections to anything I ever recommend in my blogs.

Stay safe, stay warm and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Petr Svab; Experts’ Warning

This is a rather long piece compared to my usual blogs of ~1000 words, but well worth reading.  C.S. Lewis once wrote: “A tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.  The robber baron’s cruelty may sometime be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment without end for they do so with the approval of their conscience[s].”  Read on and pray for the USA.  This article has minor formatting and grammatical edits from the original.

Ideological Alignment Pushing America Toward Totalitarianism

2021-01-21 Intermezzo Blog by Petr Svah
The US Flag at half-mast in front of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.

Concerns about the nexus of big tech, big media, and big government.
By Petr Svab  January 20, 2021; Updated: January 21, 2021

The formation of a totalitarian state is just about complete in America as the most powerful public and private sector actors unify behind the idea that actions to stamp out dissent can be justified, according to several experts on modern totalitarian ideologies.

While many have warned about the rise of fascism or socialism in “the land of the free,” the ideas have largely been vague or fragmented, focusing on individual events or actors.  Recent events, however, indicate that seemingly unconnected pieces of the oppression puzzle are fitting together to form a comprehensive system, according to Michael Rectenwald, a retired liberal arts professor at New York University.

But many Americans, it appears, have been caught off guard or are not even aware of the newly forming regime, as the idea of elected officials, government bureaucrats, large corporations, the establishment academia, think tanks and nonprofits, the legacy media, and even seemingly grassroot movements all working in concert toward some evil purpose seems preposterous.  Is a large portion of the country in on a conspiracy?

The reality now emerges that no massive conspiracy was in fact needed — merely an ideological alignment and some informal coordination, Rectenwald argues.  “Despite the lack of formal overarching organization, the American socialist regime is indeed totalitarian, as the root of its ideology requires politically motivated coercion,” he told The Epoch Times.  The power of the regime is not yet absolute, but it is becoming increasingly effective as it erodes the values, checks, and balances against tyranny established by traditional beliefs and enshrined in the American founding.

The effects can be seen throughout society. Americans, regardless of their income, demographics, or social stature are being fired from jobs, getting stripped of access to basic services such as banking and social media, or having their businesses crippled for voicing political opinions and belonging to a designated political underclass.  Access to sources of information unsanctioned by the regime is becoming increasingly difficult.  Some figures of power and influence are sketching the next step, labelling large segments of society as “extremists” and potential terrorists who need to be “deprogrammed.”

While the onset of the regime appears tied to events of recent years — the presidency of Donald Trump, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, the Capitol intrusion of January  6 — its roots go back decades.

Is It Really Totalitarian?
Totalitarian regimes are commonly understood as constituting a government headed by a dictator that regiments the economy, censors the media, and quells dissent by force.  That is not the case in America, but it is also a misunderstanding of how such regimes function, literature on totalitarianism indicates.

To claim power, the regimes do not initially need to control every aspect of society through government.  Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist Workers Party in Nazi Germany, used various means to control the economy, including gaining compliance of industry leaders voluntarily, or through intimidation, or through replacing the executives with party loyalists.

Similarly, the regime rearing its head in America relies on corporate executives to implement its agenda voluntarily but also through intimidation by online brigades of activists and journalists who take initiative to launch negative PR campaigns and boycotts to progress their preferred societal structure.

Also, Hitler initially did not control the spread of information via government censorship but rather through his brigades of street thugs, the “brown shirts,” who would intimidate and physically prevent his opponents from speaking publicly.  The tactic parallels the often successful efforts to “cancel” and “shut down” public speakers by activists and violent actors, such as Antifa.  Dissenting media in America have not been silenced by the government directly as of yet. 

But they are stymied in other ways.  In the digital age, media largely rely on reaching and growing their audience through social media and web search engines, which are dominated by Facebook and Google.  Both companies have in place mechanisms to crack down on dissenting media.  Google gives preference in its search results to sources it deems “authoritative.”  Search results indicate the company tends to consider media ideologically close to it to be more authoritative.  Such media can then produce hit pieces on their competitors, giving Google justification to slash the “authoritativeness” of the dissenters.  Facebook employs third-party fact checkers who have the discretion to label content as “false” and thus reduce the audience on its platform.  Virtually all the fact checkers focused on American content are ideologically aligned with Facebook.

Attempts to set up alternative social media have run into yet more fundamental obstacles, as demonstrated by Parler, whose mobile app was terminated by Google and Apple, while the company was kicked off Amazon’s servers.

To the degree that a totalitarian regime requires a police state, there is as yet no law in America targeting dissenters explicitly.  But there are troubling signs of selective, politically motivated enforcement.  Indicators go back to the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party groups or the difference in treatment received by former Trump adviser Lt. Gen Michael Flynn and former FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe — both allegedly lying to investigators but only one getting prosecuted.  The situation may get still worse as the restrictions tied to the CCP virus see broad swaths of ordinary human behavior being considered “illegal,” opening the door to nearly universal political targeting.

“I think the means by which a police state is being set up is the demonization of Trump supporters and the likely use of medical passports to institute the effective equivalent of social credit scores,” Rectenwald said.  While loyalty to the government and to a specific political party plays a major role, it is the allegiance to the ideological root of totalitarianism that gives it its foot soldiers, literature on the subject indicates.

Totalitarian Ideology
The element “that holds totalitarianism together as a composite of intellectual elements” is the ambition of fundamentally reimagining society — “the intention to create a ‘New Man,’” explained author Richard Shorten in Modernism and Totalitarianism: Rethinking the Intellectual Sources of Nazism and Stalinism, 1945 to the Present.

Various ideologies have framed the ambition differently, based on what they posited as the key to the transformation.  Karl Marx, co-author of the Communist Manifesto, viewed the control of the economy as primary, describing socialism as “socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature,” in Das Kapital.

Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist Workers Party in Nazi Germany, viewed race as primary.  People would become “socialized” — that is transformed and perfected — by removing Jews and other supposedly “lesser” races from society, he claimed.

The most dominant among the current ideologies stem from the so-called “critical theories,” where the perfected society is defined by “equity,” meaning elimination of differences in outcomes for people in demographic categories deemed historically marginalized.  The goal is to be achieved by eliminating the ever-present “white supremacy,” however the ideologues currently define it.

While such ideologies commonly prescribe collectivism, calling for national or even international unification behind their agenda, they are elitist and dictatorial in practice as they find mankind never “woke” enough to follow their agenda voluntarily.  In Marx’s prophecies, the revolution was supposed to occur spontaneously.  Yet it never did, leading Vladimir Lenin, the first head of the Soviet Union, to conclude that the revolution will need leadership after all.

“The idea is that you have some enlightened party … who understand the problem of the proletariat better than the proletariat does and is going to shepherd them through the revolution that they need to have for the greater good,” explained James Lindsay, author of Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why This Harms Everybody.”

Elements of this intellectual foundation can be found in ideologies of many current political forces, from neo-nazis and anarcho-communists, through to progressives and to some extent even neoliberals and neoconservatives, Lindsay acknowledged.  “This is why you see so many people today saying that the only possible answers are a full return to classical liberalism or a complete rejection of liberalism entirely as fatally disposed to create progressivism, neoliberalism, etc.,” he said.

That is not to say these ideologies are openly advocating totalitarianism but rather that they inevitably lead to it.  The roadmap could be summarized as follows:

  1. There is something fundamentally and intolerably wrong with current reality.
  2. There is a plan to fix it requiring a whole society buy-in.
  3. People opposing the plan need to be educated about the plan so they accept it.
  4. People who resist the persuasion need to be reeducated, even against their will.
  5. People who will not accept the plan no matter what need to be removed from society.

“I think that is the general thrust,” Lindsay said. “We can make the world the way we want it to be if we all just get on the same page and same project. It is a disaster, frankly.”

Points Four and Five Now Appear To Be In Progress.
Former Facebook executive Alex Stamos recently labeled the widespread questioning of the 2020 election results as “violent extremism,” which social media companies should eradicate the same way they countered online recruitment content from the ISIS terrorist group.  The “core issue,” he said, “is that we have given a lot of leeway, both in traditional media and on social media, to people to have a very broad range of political views” and this has led to the emergence of “more and more radical” alternative media like OAN and Newsmax.

Stamos then mused about how to reform Americans who have tuned into the dissenters.  “How do you bring those people back into the mainstream of fact-based reporting and try to get us all back into the same consensus reality?” he asked in a CNN interview.
“And can you? Is that possible?” CNN host Brian Stelter added.

The logic goes as follows: Trump claimed the election was stolen through fraud and other illegalities.  That has not been proven in court and is thus false.  People who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 and managed to break inside and disrupt the electoral vote counting did so because they believed the election was stolen.  Therefore, anybody who questions the legitimacy of the election results is an extremist and potentially a terrorist.

With tens of thousands of troops assembled to guard the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) recently told CNN that all guard members who voted for Trump belong to a “suspect group” that “might want to do something,” alluding to past leaders of other countries who were “killed by their own people.”

Former FBI Director James Comey recently said the Republican party needs to be “burned down or changed.”

“They want a one party state,” commented conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza in a recent podcast.  “That is not to say they do not want an opposition.  They want a token opposition.  They want Republicans where they get to say what kind of Republican is okay.”

Just as Marx blamed the ills of the world on capitalists and Hitler on Jews, the current regime tends to blame various permutations of “white supremacy.”

“Expel the Republican members of Congress who incited the white supremacist attempted coup,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) in a recent tweet, garnering some 300,000 likes.  She was referring to the Republican lawmakers who raised objections on Jan. 6 to election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.  Their objections were voted down.

“Can U.S. Spy Agencies Stop White Terror?” Daily Beast’s Jeff Stein asked in a recent headline, concluding that a call for “secret police” to sniff out “extremist” Americans “may well get renewed attention.”  Under the regime, allegations of election fraud — de facto questioning the legitimacy of the leader — have become incitement of terrorism.  YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook, and Twitter have either banned content that claims the election was rigged or are furnishing it with warning labels.  Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey was recently recorded as saying that banning the president’s account was just the beginning.  This approach closely mirrors that of the Chinese communist regime, which commonly targets dissidents for “subverting” the state or “spreading rumors.”

What Is The Alternative?
If calls for radically reorganizing the world are inherently totalitarian, how is the world to avoid them?  The question appears to be its own answer.  If totalitarianism inherently requires allegiance to its ideology, it cannot exist in a society with a lack of such allegiance.

The United States were founded on the idea that individual rights are God-given and unalienable.  The idea, rooted in traditional beliefs that human morality is of divine origin, stands a bulwark against any attempt to assail people’s rights even for their own good.

“If you are not a believer in actual God, you can posit a God’s ideal on the matter … We have to posit some arbiter who is above and beyond our own prejudices and biases in order to ensure these kinds of rights. … Because otherwise you have this infinitely malleable situation in which people with power and coercive potential can eliminate and rationalize the elimination of rights willy-nilly,” Rectenwald said.

Guest Blog: Dennis Prager: I Now Understand the “Good” German

2021-01-09 Guest Blog Dennis Pragerby Dennis Prager, January 5, 2021

As my listeners and readers can hopefully attest, I have been on a lifelong quest to understand human nature and human behavior.  I am sad to report that I have learned more in the last few years, particularly in 2020, than in any equivalent period of time.

2021-01-09 Good Germans

One of the biggest revelations concerns a question that has always plagued me: How does one explain the “good German,” the term used to describe the average, presumably decent German, who did nothing to hurt Jews but also did nothing to help them and did nothing to undermine the Nazi regime?  The same question could be asked about the average Frenchman during the Vichy era, the average Russian under Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev and their successors, and the millions of others who did nothing to help their fellow citizens under oppressive dictatorships.

These past few years have taught me not to so quickly judge the quiet German, Russian, etc.  Of course, I still judge Germans who helped the Nazis and Germans who in any way hurt Jews. But the Germans who did nothing? Not so fast.

What has changed my thinking has been watching what is happening in America (and Canada and Australia and elsewhere, for that matter).  The ease with which tens of millions of Americans have accepted irrational, unconstitutional and unprecedented police state-type restrictions on their freedoms, including even the freedom to make a living, has been, to understate the case, sobering.

The same holds true for the acceptance by most Americans of the rampant censorship on Twitter and all other major social media platforms.  Even physicians and other scientists are deprived of freedom of speech if, for example, they offer scientific support for hydroxychloroquine along with zinc to treat covid-19 in the early stages.  Board-certified physician Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, who has saved hundreds of covid-19 patients from suffering and/or death, has been banned from Twitter for publicizing his lifesaving hydroxychloroquine and zinc protocol.

Half of America, the non-left half, is afraid to speak their minds at virtually every university, movie studio and large corporation — indeed, at virtually every place of work.  Professors who say anything that offends the left fear being ostracized if they have tenure and being fired if they do not.  People are socially ostracized, publicly shamed and/or fired for differing with Black Lives Matter, as America-hating and white-hating a group as has ever existed.  And few Americans speak up.  On the contrary, when BLM protestors demand that diners outside of restaurants raise their fists to show their support of BLM, nearly every diner does.

So, then, who are we to condemn the average German who faced the Gestapo if he didn’t salute Hitler or the average Russian who faced the NKVD (the secret police and intelligence agency that preceded the KGB) if he didn’t demonstrate sufficient enthusiasm for Stalin?  Americans face the left’s cancel culture, but not left-wing secret police or reeducation camps.  (At least not yet — I have little doubt the left would send outspoken conservatives to reeducation camps if they could.)

I have come to understand the average German living under Nazism and the average Russian living under communism for another reason: the power of the media to brainwash.

As a student of totalitarianism since my graduate studies at the Russian Institute of Columbia University’s School of International Affairs (as it was then known), I have always believed that only in a dictatorship could a society be brainwashed.  I was wrong.  I now understand that mass brainwashing can take place in a nominally free society.  The incessant left-wing drumbeat of The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and almost every other major newspaper, plus The Atlantic, The New Yorker, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, NPR, all of Hollywood and almost every school from kindergarten through graduate school, has brainwashed at least half of America every bit as effectively as the German, Soviet and Chinese communist press did (and in the latter case, still does).  That thousands of schools will teach the lie that is the New York Times’ “1619 Project” is one of countless examples. 

Prior to the lockdowns, I flew almost every week of the year, so I was approached by people who recognized me on a regular basis.  Increasingly, I noticed that people would look around to see if anyone was within earshot and then tell me in almost a whisper: “I support Trump” or, “I’m a conservative.”  The last time people looked around and whispered things to me was when I used to visit the Soviet Union.

In Quebec this past weekend, as one can see on a viral video, a family was fined and members arrested because six — yes, six — people gathered to celebrate the new year.  A neighbor snitched on them, and the celebrants were duly arrested.  The Quebec government lauded the snitches and asked for more public “collaboration.”

Snitches are likewise lauded and encouraged in some Democrat-run states and cities in America (Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in March: “Snitches get rewards”) and by left-wing governments in Australia.  Plenty of Americans, Canadians and Australians are only too happy to snitch on people who refuse to lock down their lives.  All this is taking place without concentration camps, without a Gestapo, without a KGB and without Maoist reeducation camps.

That’s why I no longer judge the average German as easily as I used to.  Apathy in the face of tyranny turns out not to be a German or Russian characteristic.  I just never thought it could happen in America.
Dennis Prager

c.a.’s note:  Additionally, there are some serious questions that need to be answered about who broke into the Capitol.  You will not find this reported on CNN, CNBC, MSN or other major news outlets . . . yet.   Pro-Trumpers did enter, but they were not the ones initiating the illegal actions.  There are many Pro-Trumpers who are at the far-right fringe that did wrong things, and these will be and should be prosecuted, but even those crimes pale in comparison to riots in our cities last summer.
https://www.theepochtimes.com/mkt_app/video-trump-supporters-stop-antifa-from-breaking-into-capitol_3649380.html

January 2 – An Upside Down Cake for An Upside Down World

IMG_1722January 2 finds us anticipating virus vaccines across the US and a finalization to our November 3rd presidential and vice-presidential elections in just four days.  What ever happens, we hope it is finally over!  However, based on the last four years, it is unlikely politics will slip away into the background for a couple years the way it used to after elections.  Mid-term balloting is “only” two years away when Americans will go back to the polls to choose lawmakers for whichever Senators are coming to the end of their six-year terms, and all the Representatives, who serve two-year terms.

And no one expects a reprieve from presidential hopefuls.  Vote for ME in 2024!  I’ll give you bigger stimulus checks than the other guy and unite the country around my partisan positions on abortion, immigrant rights, LGBTQ, the environment, what to call people who gender identify, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israel and Social Security.  Okay, on Social Security almost everyone actually agrees.  But otherwise the parties and the national factions are poles apart, whatever the polls say.

So I decided to make an upside down cake to celebrate our upside down world.  Variation on a theme, I made a Pineapple Almond Upside Down Cake that actually came out pretty easy to do.  Hey, if I can do it, YOU can! 🙂

It is always safest with any recipe to assemble all your ingredients before beginning.  It would be a shame to make the caramel for the bottom/top and then find out you did not have cornstarch . . . course, at that point you could always claim you wanted to make caramel!  Actually, guess no downside there! 😉

So get together the following for your Ingredients:
Topping (which will go in the bottom of the cake pan):
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (salted/unsalted does not matter)
Pineapple slices, one 20oz can or enough fresh to cover the bottom of your cake pan
Cake Mix:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 cup ground almonds
(I like leaving some small chunks for crunch: I just don’t grind too finely.)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter (soften to room temperature)
1 teaspoon almond extract (If you are afraid of too much almond, you can substitute vanilla extract here.)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
Pan – 8″ x 11.5″ x 2″

Generously grease the pan with butter.  You can use the stick you have for the topping, but make sure you reeeeally cover the corners and the sides up to the rim!  This butter greasing will make your cake smoothly come out of the pan when you flip it at the end.
Melt the butter at medium heat in a small saucepan and add the brown sugar, stirring until it dissolves. But after the sugar melts, STOP stirring, and let it simmer until the mixture just begins to bubble.
Pour the mixture into the pan and level it out. 
Next add the pineapple slices, arranged in a single layer to cover as much as you can of the caramel mixture.  As you can see my slices were not very pretty like the canned ones, but I was using a fresh pineapple and had not planned on the cake when I cut it up.

While making the cake mix, preheat your oven to 325⁰F.

To make the cake batter, whisk all the dry ingredients except the sugar in a large mixing bowl: flour, corn starch, almonds, baking powder and salt. 
In another mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter and flavoring (almond or vanilla).  Use the larger bowl for this, not like I did with a small mixing bowl.  Add one egg at a time and beat each one before adding the next.
Add about half the dry mixture and mix into the butter mix, followed by half the sour cream.  Repeat this step with the remainder of the dry mixture and sour cream.  This process it to ensure smooth blending of the batter without overbeating the eggs. 
Once you have a consistent texture throughout the batter, pour it over the pineapple and caramel; smooth it out so that it is fairly uniform on top.

Bake at 325⁰F for about one hour until a tester (e.g. butter knife) comes out clean.  If you have a baking thermometer the center of the cake should reach 205⁰F.  If you stop before the tester comes out clean the center of your cake will be mushy; tastes good, but not great presentation.
Allow the cake to cool in its pan for five minutes, off any source of heat; i.e. out of the oven and not on a hot rack.
Carefully flip the cake smoothly onto a platter.  If some of the topping that was on the bottom of the pan sticks to it, start over and butter the pan more generously! 🙂  Not really.  Just scoop it out and patch it onto the top of the now Upside Down Cake.

If you use canned pineapple or cut your fresh stuff into pretty rings, you can dress it up with cherries in the center of the rings for decoration.  The cake can be served still warm from the oven or cooled.
With the fruit on top, I recommend refrigeration after cooling to room temperature unless you are eating it all within 24 hours.
Next time I am going to try overbeating the eggs.  It is delicious as it is, with the texture of a pound cake, but I think overbeating the eggs before adding the dry mixture will make it lighter.

Bon appétit or maybe Nanea i kāu pāʻina!
And to end the year, one of the most spectacular Christmas musical renditions I have ever heard; the caption says it all: It Will Give You Chills!

 


Intermezzo: Coming New Year’s Day

2020-12-29 New Years Day Coming SoonWell, it’s almost that day of the year when we turn over a new leaf (or snowflake if you’re lucky enough to live far enough north to enjoy the miraculous white powder).

In any case, lots of leaves have been turned over this year that many of us did not expect!  Job losses, especially in the service and food sectors, mandates from new czars formerly known as governors, isolation from nursing homes and hospital patients, mistreatment or murder of citizens based on the color of their skin, Marxist style riots dubiously based on claims of racial profiling, conflicts of electoral processes with questions of electoral integrity, a Supreme Court confirmation liberals detested, deaths of dear friends or relatives with the Wuhan Virus (I am NOT racist against Chinese – I MARRIED one! Wuhan was simply where the virus started.)  Yes, lots of changes none of us could have predicted.

So now there is another “leaf” to turn over.  We pray that things will begin to return to “normal” with the virus vaccine roll-outs from Pfizer and Moderna promising that we may see a flattening of the pandemic curve after a year of spikes and information overload that reported too quickly on social media what would best be left for biologists to work out over a couple years. 

The election should be finalized January 6th with Congress certifying the results of the electoral college, and we may have a politician for president who used to be a good compromiser with opponents in the Senate.  We’ll see if he is as good at getting compromises from extremists in his own party or in getting concessions from conservatives who think the election was stolen.

Conspiracy theories filled the “fake news” on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide.  They rivaled Hilary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy,” but put the blame on her camp this time round with the Democracy-Alliance attempting to overthrow the next mid-term elections.  “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” = “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” 

2020-12-29Anita and I walked around our neighborhood and enjoyed the Christmas decorations, especially those that acknowledge Jesus’ real purpose in coming to earth.  He was uniquely born to die, not as an accident of activity or disease.  His express reason for creating a body inside Mary, using her DNA, was so that He could go to the cross and pay a penalty for our sin and selfishness, giving of Himself freely to redeem us into eternal life.  So now, though the outward man perishes the inner man can be renewed day by day until we pass from this vaporous short-term existence into the Real Life that Jesus initiated for us by rising from the dead.

2020-12-29 LuminariaOur subdivision, Copperfield, put out Luminaria by providing everyone in our 433 houses with paper bags, sand and tea lights.  Though slightly sparse (only five per house), it gave a sense of community to our neighborhood that has been missed this year with no Clubhouse activities and restricted pool use.  The display turned out very effectively to show we are all responsible for the light we shine.

2020-12-29 Christmas TreeOur Christmas tree has so many ornaments collected on our travels that we only use a few of the usual generic bulbs.  The tree that went up just before Thanxgiving Day will probably stay up through January.  Christmas is not even celebrated in some places until January 7, and Candlemas, the celebration of the traditional view of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple is not until February 1.  Besides, the lighted tree with all its memorial embellishments makes the dark wintry nights feel just a little brighter as the days begin to slowly lengthen since the winter solstice is past.  A friend in Johnston, Rhode Island used to leave their Christmas tree up all year long, just covering it with a sheet to keep dust off . . . unless someone came to visit; then they would reveal the tree in all its glory whether the month was May or July!  Here are a few of our “annual” ornaments.

So now another year ends and another begins, as we count the years.  (We have not always counted this way, and even now, other cultures . . . count differently.)  Several people have asked me what I do in my days now that I have officially retired.  These days, memberships, subscriptions, and a dizzying array of content to watch and listen to abound.  In fact, I still have not begun to clean my basement (now my excuse is that it is too cold 🙂 ).  Enjoy your time with your family.  Stay safe and healthy into the New Year, and we will see what Father has planned for us in 2021.

Intermezzo: Election Embroilments Endure a Little Longer

2020-12-09 Intermezzo Election Embroilments

“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”  Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, whose father was Jewish.

In these troubled times, it is disconcerting that there is so much confusion over the news outlets that are supposed to inform us.  Mark Twain once remarked, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”  How much more so when a president accuses media of fomenting fake news, and then the media cooperates by declaring an “official” winner in a disputed election, as if the Associated Press or CNN or Fox News had the prerogative to make claims that are the exclusive domain of the Electoral College.  Fortunately this will all be over soon as far as the election is concerned.  January 20, which is the only certain deadline in the Constitution, is barely over a month away.

2020-12-09 Biden vs Trump

But I fear for our Democratic Republic that the troubles that plagued Trump’s summer of 2020 will not go away whether Biden or Trump prevail by January 20, 2021.  “Trumpers” will likely not riot en masse in response to a Biden win as some of the pundits are predicting.  Conservatives tend to be more conservative than that.  Sporadic and short-lived eruptions of fringe-right groups may occur, but even most conservatives will condemn them.

On the other hand, groups of Biden’s supporters are expecting big allowances and favored treatment if he wins.  If Biden does not acquiesce, but instead attempts to “reach across the aisle” as he has in the past as a senator, even he will inflame riotous antagonism to his attempts to unify the nation.  If Trump pulls a rabbit out of the hat and wins, all hell will break loose with almost civil war arising from the factions that supported Biden.  If Biden finally prevails some on the left are calling for a “scorched earth policy” for anyone who even considered supporting Trump.

My encouragement to Christ-followers is to recognize that Father will decide which of the contenders will be sworn in as president on January 20, 2021.  Daniel said explicitly that He removes kings [presidents] and sets up kings [presidents].”  Paul reaffirmed this perspective to the Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

We might ask incredulously, “Really? Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Xi, Putin, Bush, Obama, Trump?”  Let’s address this more fully after 2021 has begun, but suffice it to say for now, the Bible is explicit: “There is NO authority except from God.”

In spite of the troubling news about Smartmatic, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Dominion Voting Systems, when we think are in control, or they think “they” are in control, there is actually a Sovereign Ruler who can override any of our apparent tricks or decisions.  Even that democratic defender of  deterrence, the ever-honest-1/164th-Native-American Elizabeth Warren worried about the electronic voting systems as recently as December, 2019.  But she and her colleagues did not have to worry.  The international intrigue that surround the electronic voting systems will in the end only fulfill Father’s decision.

In the 18th century, Joseph de Maistre said “Democracies get the leaders they deserve.”  So it is that Jimmy Carter was our last really honest and Godly president, and he only lasted one term because of his commitment to do what really was best for the nation as a whole, instead of pandering to selfish special interest groups, as each subsequent president has increasingly done.

As long as we constantly look for our own personal advantage, for our own political goals and our own financial security we will miss what God intends for us: lives of peace, security, and blessing, but not blessing to sit back and enjoy, and let the rest of the world go to hell.  His blessings are always for the sharing of His Good News with others who are in need.

So while the election winds down to its conclusion, the pandemic keeps us from loved ones at the holidays, and wildfires burn up California while internationally alarmists warn of even greater so-called “climate-change crises,” remember Who is really in control.  And remember His love, even for His enemies, which at one time included you . . . and ME!  And follow in His steps.

Guest Blog: The Night Before and After Christmas

The Night after Christmas, It Was Still Dark
How the story of the shepherds changes our view of suffering.
by Jeff Peabody – November 27, 2020 – Good reading in Christianity Today.

The little Palestinian town of Beit Sahour is believed to sit atop the site where “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night” (Luke 2:8).  Two churches claim to mark the spot of the angelic visitation.  But that is just geography.  This year I find myself less interested in the where of the fields because I am more concerned with the when — the “at night” Luke briefly mentions.  The shepherds’ experience of darkness, both before and after their trip to the manger, holds special relevance for a Christmas arriving in the waning hours of 2020.

It has been a pretty dark year.  In the midst of already dire global conditions, the pandemic has plunged the world into what has seemed like an endless metaphorical nighttime.  It calls to mind when God brought the plague of darkness on Egypt, describing it to Moses as “darkness that can be felt” (Exodus 10:21).  Once again, something palpable seems to have blanketed the world with all the unknowns, fears, and uncertainties nightfall brings.  And as with most nights, we are weary.

Merry Christmas, right?

Maybe the sentiment is not as incongruous as it feels. Maybe the season of joy is right at home in these conditions. “Advent always begins in the dark,” writes Fleming Rutledge.

For most of my years as a pastor, it has felt as though I have been shepherding at night, in the dark.  No grand visions.  No mapped-out growth strategy.  I have prayed regularly for the light-up-the-sky kind of illumination realized by the Bethlehem shepherds.  Just show me what to do, God, and I will do it.  But my eyes have never been able to focus very far ahead.

That blindness became amplified by all that happened this year, like moving from twilight to midnight.  Suddenly, I could not see two steps in front of me.  Staring into a camera week after week to deliver sermons, I could not even see the flock, let alone the fields.  Each new crisis in the world begged for a response I did not have.  Big decisions and future planning became increasingly difficult, even as the need for them intensified.

The Old Testament book of Joel recounts a disastrous pestilence that wreaked havoc on God’s people.  It brought widespread, horrific destruction. In reflecting on those events, Eugene Peterson observed, “There is a sense in which catastrophe doesn’t introduce anything new into our lives. It simply exposes the moral or spiritual reality that already exists but was hidden beneath an overlay of routine, self-preoccupation, and business as usual.”

The virus we are facing may be novel, but the distress we are experiencing is not.  The preexisting darkness has simply grown thicker, making it more difficult to move.  But immobility is not always bad.  When we cannot go anywhere, we are left with sitting and waiting. And if we are still for any length of time, we are more likely to notice what we would have missed otherwise.

Such as those two little words: “at night.”

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness. There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.  “The shepherds returned,” Luke says, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).  After everything they saw, they returned to the place they had started.  In other words, they went back to that dark night.

All the brilliant, phosphorescent glory that lit up the entire sky did not end their experience of darkness.  It was still there, waiting for them on the far side of the manger.  And that was to be expected.  The angels had not visited the shepherds to bring a miraculous halt to the rotation of the earth.  They were not there to banish the night.  Glory displayed for one purpose only: to provide the irresistible prompt to seek out Jesus.  A flash of light showed the way to a greater light.

This, I have realized, is where I have often gotten hung up.  I have been praying for a light that will eradicate the dark altogether and get me out of it. I am looking — aching, at times — for clear, confident revelation that will end my confusion for good.  I have been waiting for God to solve life for me.  But honestly, that is more escapism than seeking God’s leading.  And that is not why he gives us light.  He shines his beams of revelation to show us the path to Jesus, the light of the world.

We can learn to reframe our questions from “Lord, when will this darkness be over?” to “What is pointing me toward Christ?” As we do, we may find there is significantly more light in the room than we realized.

The angel’s message began with the reassurance that there was no need to be afraid because God’s rescue plan was in motion.  It encompassed everything (offering joy for all people) and missed nothing (down to the details of how Jesus was bundled).  God’s grasp of history and his utter command of the situation were fully evident.  The birth of Christ happened before the angels arrived, during the unlit hours of the night.  The angelic announcement may have shattered the gloom with its brightness, but the miraculous arrival of Jesus occurred much like his resurrection: “while it was still dark” (John 20:1).

God is at work before we see him, absolutely unhindered.  Our blindness is not His.  “Even the darkness will not be dark to you,” the psalmist says (Psalm 139:12).  He is not intimidated by all the unknowns of night that stop us in our tracks.

That first Christmas night created a watershed between epochs of darkness.  There is pre-manger darkness and post-manger darkness.

Up until then, no one had ever lived in a world where the Son of God had dwelt among us as a fellow human being.  Prior to the Incarnation, God had not fully revealed himself.  As the shepherds sat out in those fields, they were living in a world that could see no more than the outlines of God’s redemption plan.  The veil had not been torn yet.

But then, as Isaiah predicted, a light dawned on the people sitting in that pre-manger darkness.  The birth of Christ changed everything.  Suddenly, there was physical evidence of spiritual action.  The hopes of endless ages were no longer abstract wishes.  They were about to be fulfilled within the lifespan of a real live person.

It was the reality of Jesus — not the light of the angels — that stuck with the shepherds.  As glorious as the heavenly choir had looked and sounded out in the field, it paled in comparison to the staggering truth the Christ child embodied.  Even as they were filled with wonder, the shepherds were given only the smallest glimpse of what was coming.  Their understanding was limited to whatever promise they could imagine from a newborn baby.  They did not know he would literally calm storms.  They did not see him heal the sick or raise the dead or feed the crowds.  They knew nothing of the Cross, let alone the Resurrection.  God did not show them the Holy Spirit’s work at Pentecost, the inclusion of the nations, or how the gospel would advance tirelessly around the globe for the next 2,000 years.  Yet the shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.

Sometimes we act as though what we are going through is pre-manger darkness.  When God seems silent, when we are bewildered by our inability to figure out a way forward, we make up a greater void than is truly there.  Because in truth, a staggering amount of light has been shed on Jesus since the shepherds.  History continues to provide both evidence and explanation.

I do not mean to minimize or trivialize anyone’s “dark night of the soul.”  When you are in one, it is painful and disorienting, often to the point of despair.  But as believers, our darkness is always post-manger.  Our darkness is forever against the backdrop of the light of Christ.  What has been shown of him cannot be unrevealed.  And Jesus never leaves our side through each season of darkness.  It is those who love us best who stay with us through our worst.  You know love is real when it shows up in the middle of the night.

Someday, morning will come.  Night never lasts forever.  In the meantime, we have Immanuel, God right here with us.  And that means we can return to the dark again and again, rejoicing and praising God for the light we have and the One who loves us enough to remain.  We can heed the angel’s call to not be afraid of this present darkness or any other.  The one born to us that night is still good news of great joy.

Jeff Peabody is a writer and lead pastor of New Day Church in Northeast Tacoma, Washington.

Angels We Have Hear On High – Pentatonix