Books, Uncategorized

Book Summary: Rigged by David Shimer

Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference by David Shimer

This book is powerful, engaging, incredibly well researched and scary. If you’ve read the blurbs, you know the thesis: It’s a look at the US and Russia’s engagement in covert electoral interference around the world, and then focuses on the Russian activity in the 2016 US Presidential election. Finally, it lays out the risks that still remain in the 2020 system and proposes the changes that are needed to secure the American electoral process, while also reminding us that competitive elections are never totally secure.

For people who don’t believe that Russia interfered with American elections in 2016, this is a helpful read. The story is not partisan, but matter-of-fact, and the 90 pages of notes and references from the author’s interviews with 26 former Obama administration officials, former Stasi officials, State Dept officials, CIA and FBI officials.. the list goes on. As the Mueller Report identified, clearly the Russian state meddled with the US elections, and specifically chose to support the Trump candidacy, but this book like Mueller makes no claims that Trump was personally directing any of this. Rather, Putin saw a Trump candidacy which was run as a chaos candidacy as a way to destabilize American society.

David Shimer proposes four core arguments:

  1. “The story of electoral interference is, above all, a story of Washington and Moscow.” It’s an extension of the Cold War, with ebbs and flows in priority and interest. But with Putin’s rise, the Russian interest in electoral interference is profound. Meanwhile, the US has reduced (it may say stopped, but..) its electoral interference since 1991, and after 9/11/2001, American intelligence has focused on counter terrorism and lost focus on Russian electoral spywork.
  2. American operations to interfere in elections are comparable to Russian efforts but not identical. Both systems have supported friendly candidates and targeted unfriendly candidates. American interference has intended (though perhaps not succeeded) to strengthen foreign democracies. The Russian approach to covert electoral interference has also been to destabilize democracies in order to prove internally that democracy is an untenable governing philosophy.
  3. “Russian interference in the 2016 election marked a direct continuation of old ideas… continuing two forms: changing ballots and changing minds.” Digital access has allowed for broader reach and access.
  4. Even more so, “the digital age has irrevocably enhanced the weapon of covert electoral interference.” Where person-to-person covert interference had a high cost with high risk and moderate reward, digital interference is low-cost, high-reward. And because the Obama administration chose not to counteract Putin’s interference before the 2016 election and Trump has openly courted it, there is minimal risk to ongoing Russian interference, while the US has taken a defensive role in some sectors.

I think every US citizen interested in politics, spycraft, electioneering, Russia and Putin should read this in order to understand why the system has become as frail as it is, and to look ahead to what will clearly be a bump 2020 election and beyond.

This review was originally posted to GoodReads.


Summarizing Ian Bradley, Following the Celtic Way

This is a summary and commentary on Ian Bradley’s recently published book, Following the Celtic Way: A New Assessment of Celtic Christianity.

Part 2: Exploring the Way

21 themes, all P:

Marks of the Church

Attributes of God

Appropriate Human Responses

Ways to Follow

Marks of the Church and Expressions of Faith

  1. Prayerful. “Monastic life is prayer-soaked.” “While the monks were called to undertake three labors – prayer, manual work and reading – there was a clear sense in which prayer dominated and also permeated the others.” Prayer arose spontaneously and included a prolific folk culture.
  2. Psalm-centered. Irish monks chanted the psalms more ofte than Benedictine monks. Psalms show up in the classic texts.Communal chanting.Nature imagery.
  3. Poetic.  From exposure to the psalms,  but matching nature imagery.  Also consider the druids and bards, and bardic culture.  Strong Welsh influence.
  4. Puritanical perfectionism.  Some of this is hagiography.  Note that these sources are coming from monastic documents, not folk. But desert spirituality influenced the desire for asceticism.
  5. Physical. Physically ascetic prayer. Physical elements of nature. physical locality, to tribe, king, neighbor.  Overlap between spiritual (warfare) and physical.  Physical landscape.
  6. Provisionality (this life is fleeting).  Provisionality in the building structure of the church. Temporariness rather than legacy. Journey and “pilgriamge” but really peregrination
  7. Patterned (spirals and knots, but).. rhythm of life, rhythm of prayer.  Diamond lozenge. Ringed with purple and gold; majesty.

Attributes of God

Appropriate Human Responses

Ways to Follow

  1. Pastoral presence.
  2. Peace making.
  3. Pilgrimage (but really peregrinatio).

A Christian Society

I recently ran into this quote from one of Thomas Merton’s lesser-known books:

“A Christian society? Such a society is not one that is run by priests, not even necessarily one in which everybody has to go to Church: it is one in which work is for production and not for profit, and production is not for its own sake, not merely for the sake of those who own the means of production, but for all who contribute in a constructive way to the process of production. A Christian society is one in which men give their share of labor and intelligence and receive their share of the fruits of the labor of all, and in which all this is seen in relation to a transcendental purpose, the “history of salvation,” the Kingdom of God, a society centered upon the divine truth and the divine mercy.”
Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

What Merton seems to be saying to his readers, and to us some 50 years later (published first in 1968) is that a Christian society, a Christian Nation, is not one in which the Right Party is in rulership, or the legal system is in alignment with Right Theology.. but one in which everybody participates AND receives the benefits of their participation, for the benefit of each other.  Not for the benefit of the priests, the rulers, the businesses… but for the benefit of each other.

This is worth fighting for, and being an active activist for.