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    What Is Praying?

    I have been too angry to write about the mass murder in Las Vegas, and too angry to write about the empty and reflexive offerings of "thoughts and prayers" that now follow every murder like it. But let me take this opportunity to talk about the question of what prayers are, and how they might be different from thoughts. America's general enthusiasm for religion masks deep, sometimes nearly bottomless religious differences, and so many, many people talk about praying, but use that word to mean very different things: sometimes contradictory things. What is praying, anyway?

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    Some People Are Not Duelable

    I'm not a big proponent of bringing back customs and manners from hundreds of years back. The centuries I study were much worse to live in than this one. But there is one concept from Ye Olden Days that (suitably retooled), I have always found pretty useful. That is the concept of people being "not duelable." I use it in my academic writing. I use it in my daily life. I occasionally teach it to graduate students. And it turns out to be a concept that both the Age of Twitter and the Age of Trump badly need.

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    Trump Does Not Care If People Get Hurt

    President Trump's impromptu press conference today was a shocking display of his moral depravity and his allegiance to bigotry. There are so many things wrong with it, in so many stunning ways, that everyone is trying to digest it and focusing on different parts. But one particularly scary thing has not yet gotten much attention: Trump shows a nearly complete lack of interest in preventing more bloodshed like this. That is unprecedented, and extremely dangerous.

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    The Three Myths of Reverse Racism in College Admissions

    Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting in the tiny teacher's room of the little parochial school where I taught, talking to a few other people about the news. The principal's administrative assistant said something about affirmative action letting unqualified black students into Harvard, and I asked her if she thought that was a real worry. She actually gasped. "Don't you?" she asked, in shocked disbelief that I could not be concerned, nay scandalized, about such a well-known social problem.

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    Presidential Pardons and Obstruction of Justice

    One thing is finally clear about the Russia investigation, thanks to Donald Trump, Jr.'s decision to tweet his incriminating e-mails: someone is going to prison over this. All three principals who took that meeting looking for Russian oppo research, Manafort, Kushner, and Trump, Jr., are likely in serious criminal jeopardy. Other figures (like Flynn, Sessions, and peripheral creeps Eric Prince, Carter Page, and Roger Stone) may be in danger of prison as well. But the Trump Tower Three certainly are.

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    Ask the Blue States about Terrorism

    Here are a few pictures from Copley Square in Boston, where the Boston Marathon ends:

     

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    About Julius Caesar

    So those literary geniuses, Fox News and Donald Trump, Jr., have decided to attack a "New York play" that they allege stages the assassination of Donald Trump. It is, of course, Shakespeare in the Park's production of Julius Caesar. And of course, Fox and Trump's loyal followers don't need to actually see the play to raise an enormous outcry, because denouncing people is too much fun for fact-checking.

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    How This White House Lies

    Donald Trump is both one of the most gifted liars in American politics, a genius of dishonesty, and at the same time hopelessly bad at lying. His lawless firing of FBI Director Comey shows the ineptitude. Trump led with a story so weak that no one could pretend to believe it and then, within forty-eight hours had abandoned that story for one that was actually more incriminating. A White House that keeps changing its story is in crisis. A White House that changes it story to something more damaging is out of its mind.

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    Today in Jedi Studies (Self-Promotion Edition)

    Yesterday, I had a small humor piece published by McSweeney's Internet Tendency.

    It's called "Questions for the Jedi Vice-Chair of Graduate Studies"

    Do I absolutely have to construct my own lightsaber to graduate?

    Will you accept 30 hours of transfer credit from the Dark Side?

    How will being at one with the Force prepare me for today’s job market?

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    The Moral Necessity of the Civil War

    So, Donald Trump said some stupid and ignorant things about the Civil War. Not much of that is worth discussing: the man says stupid and ignorant things because, well, he's stupid and ignorant, so there isn't much to analyze. The one part we should stop to think about is Trump's conviction that the Civil War should have been avoided. That's not an idea that he came up with on his own. He doesn't come up with ideas on his own. He picks them up from outside. This idea has been around a long time.

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    Brexit vs Breakfast: Food and Free Trade

    The United Kingdom officially triggered Article 50 today, meaning the two-year march to Brexit has begun. The UK is leaving the European Union, and leaving without any concessions, any deals, any accommodations. It's the "hard Brexit." There are many reasons this is a bad idea, but let's keep it simple: the United Kingdom cannot feed itself.
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    DC Spy Novel Roundup: March 4 Edition

    Do you ever feel like John Le Carre's writing a novel called "American Politics?" Because U.S. politics are looking seriously Le-Carre-ified right now. Let's try to catch up on the story so far, leading up to the President's Saturday-morning tweetstorm accusing Obama of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower. (Boy, does Jared Kushner have a surprise coming when he gets back on line tonight.) Okay, let's walk through the last few weeks of front-page counterespionage.

    1) Michael Flynn ousted as Nation Security Adviser after lying about meetings with Russian ambassador.

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    Take Action on the Muslim Ban: Stop Sessions

    The Administration has handcuffed legal American residents and detained them without charges as part of the President's pointless, lawless Muslim ban. It's a great moment to protest, an even better moment to donate to the ACLU and CAIR. But also be sure to call both your senators on Monday and demand that they make Jeff Sessions explain his position on this. If the President will not follow the Constitution or the law then we need an Attorney General who will.

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    Barack Obama, American Stoic

    If the Founding Fathers had a chance to meet Barack Obama, they would of course be shocked. Even the most enlightened of them were not prepared to imagine an African-American President. And what they would think about his policies is anyone's guess: the Founders' political philosophies were shaped by their political environments, and they wouldn't fit easily into today's debates.

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    Your Public Domain Update for 2017

    Happy New Year all! As every year, I'm writing a blog post for Public Domain Day, listing all of the old books, movies, pieces of music, and works of art that are leaving copyright to join the public domain today. And, as every year in the United States, that list contains nothing at all. Public Domain Day is for people in other countries.

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    In Defense of Ebeneezer Scrooge

    Oh, joy. The War on the War on Christmas is back. People are hollering that now that Trump has been elected, everyone is going to have to say "Merry Christmas" all the time and have "Merry Christmas" said to them all the time, whether they like it or not, and they don't like it, screw them anyway. What better way to express the meaning of Christmas? It's so very far from the spirit of Christian humility and love that I find myself, against all odds, ready to mount a defense of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

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    Having a Partisan Thanksgiving

    I hope you've all had a happy and relaxing Thanksgiving. I was lucky to host this year, with both my wife's family and mine traveling here to scenic Ohio, and I was also the lucky cook. (I took over turkey and gravy a few years ago, but this was my first year doing the whole meal, and -- since people had traveled to see us -- also feeding the crew on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.) And I was lucky enough to avoid political arguments at the table, because no one in my family voted for Trump. But political arguments on Thanksgiving are not the end of the world.

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    I'm Staying American. How About You?

    Because I love my country, Tuesday's election broke my heart. My fellow Americans -- less than half of us, but still too many -- turned their backs on what is best in our country to elect a man who has no love and no understanding of the things that make America great: freedom and equality.

    Somewhere between forty-seven and forty-eight percent of voters decided that they wanted a race-baiting authoritarian instead. Those voters turned out not to love the same country I do, not to love it for the reasons it is worth loving.

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    Vote for American Democracy. Vote Hillary.

    This Tuesday, I want to ask you to vote for something bigger than a person. I ask you to vote for the future of our country. I ask you to vote, as an American, for our democratic republic and for the constitutional political system that has preserved us from civil violence for the past hundred and fifty years. I ask you to keep faith with the American experiment. The best and only way to do that this year is to vote for Hillary Clinton.

    Vote for a country where we don't jail the loser of an election, or threaten to jail our political opponents.

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    Dylan's Nobel and the State of American Literature

    I was very pleased when Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize today. But I understand a number of people were not. Almost immediately upon the announcement my social media stream was full of disgruntled poets complaining that Dylan should not be eligible for the prize. (The silver lining was that one of the talented poets I know was immediately pushing back on this.) And by mid-afternoon the websites of major periodicals were full of think pieces, ready for tomorrow's print editions, about why Dylan should not have won.

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