Quote for the day

Death steals everything but our stories.

Jim Harrison

I became acquainted with the writing of Jim Harrison only recently, and I both regret and wonder why I didn’t know of him years ago. After all, he’s from Michigan and lived for years in the western Upper Peninsula.

If you’re interrogating your memory and trying to place the name, or think of a title, try this: Legends of the Fall.

It’s a wonderful line that briefly explains a lot. Essays date themselves; only philosophy undergrads can tell you where the line “I think, therefore I am” came from or why it’s important. But stories last forever, and their explanatory power is constantly refreshed; Gilgamesh — the oldest extant Western text, from about 2700 B.C. — is still around, and Ken Ham has built a theme park based on it.

What is more, the unhappy truth is that the majority of people guide their lives by stories. The Genesis story of the Fall is crazy, but simpletons find it, and incoherent anxieties about dark, mysterious forces, a lot more convincing than boring facts about physics and probability. Stories last.

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Dismal theology-related tweet for the day

Never forget: Y’all are no damn good.

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Insane tweets of the day

I am not kidding y’all: Trump is a corrupt madman, and he has no intention of leaving the White House except in a box.

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Quote for the day

He will do anything, we have to understand, to protect his psychic attachment to his own self-interest. Anything. I’ll repeat what I believe: He will not leave his office if he narrowly loses in 2020. He’ll fight — and rally his supporters to fight with him. He’s not Nixon. He’s Erdoğan. When, since becoming president, has Trump conceded anything?

A tyrant’s path to power is not a straight line, it’s dynamic. Each concession is instantly banked, past vices are turned into virtues, and then the ante is upped once again. The threat rises exponentially with time. If we can’t see this in front of our own eyes, and impeach this man now, even if he will not be convicted, we are flirting with the very stability of our political system. It is not impregnable. Why is Putin the only person who seems to grasp this?

Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan is mostly right, but wrong about this: Trump isn’t leaving office without a godawful fight whether he loses by a large or small margin in 2020; a sycophantic Republican Party, and a cultish, easily-manipulated base, have convinced him his grip on office is unassailable and accountable to only his own whims.

Every day that Congress refuses to do its plain duty, and remove him, the danger of gunfire for control of the White House increases.

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Michigan drops Flint prosecutions

The Michigan Attorney General has dropped charges against eight of the defendants in cases arising out of the Flint water supply screw-up.

Prosecutors stunned the city of Flint, Mich., on Thursday by dropping all pending charges against officials accused of ruining the community’s drinking water and ignoring signs of a crisis, casting doubt on what some residents had seen as a small but tangible step toward justice.

Fifteen state and local officials, including emergency managers who ran the city and a member of the governor’s cabinet, had been accused by state prosecutors of crimes as serious as involuntary manslaughter. Seven had already taken plea deals. Eight more, including most of the highest-ranking officials, were awaiting trial.

The wide net cast by prosecutors never did make any sense, so this is probably the right decision.

The Associated Press captured the exact instant when everything went wrong.

Nike Glasgow, the plant’s laboratory supervisor at the time, says he asked district engineer Mike Prysby of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality how often staffers would need to check the water for proper levels of phosphate, a chemical they intended to add to prevent lead corrosion from the pipes. Prysby’s response, according to Glasgow: “You don’t need to monitor phosphate because you’re not required to add it.”

Recalling the meeting Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press, Glasgow said he was taken aback by the state regulator’s instruction; treating drinking water with anti-corrosive additives was routine practice. Glasgow said his gaze shifted to a consulting firm engineer in attendance, who also looked surprised.

“Then,” Glasgow said, “we went on to the next question.”

That’s when everything went bad. The regulations require phosphate, and the actual circumstances required phosphate; the engineer and chemist both knew that and, instead of drawing light sabers and making a He-man fight out of it right then, they passively rolled over. That was a technical failure, and an ethical failure, and they must bear primary responsibility for everything that followed.

There has not been, yet, a very good public account of the cover-up that eventually followed, but I seriously doubt that high-level administrators and the governor’s office knew anything about it. Almost certainly, they shrugged and repeated the assurances they were getting from below:, e.g., “The chemist and the engineers tell me everything is fine.”

There probably was plenty of negligence, but criminal behavior? No. Almost certainly not.

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