Saturday, January 31, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 31

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

                         THE KING IS DEAD -- WHO SUCCEEDS THE KING?

The Achilles heel of all monarchies is succession. Before he died, King Abdullah who ruled Saudi Arabia since 1995 appointed his next two successors. His 79 year old brother Salman is now king. His 69 year old half-brother Muqrin is crown prince; and Salman appointed his 55 year old nephew Mohammed bin Nayef deputy crown prince. Nayef is considered by many foreign observers, and apparently by the deceased king, as the ablest of the next generation. He was the architect of the expulsion from Saudi Arabia of Al Qaeda. King Salman, however, has also appointed his favorite son Prince Mohammed as defense minister.

                                                  U.S. PRESIDENTS AND SAUDI KINGS

The first meeting of an American President and a Saudi King was between the father of the current king and FDR on the President's return from the Yalta Conference (in Russian Crimea) in 1944. President Obama will meet with the new King and others in Saudi Arabia as he returns from an important face-to-face with Indian President Mohdi. Meeting personally with King Salman is important as well, since there are many conflicting reports about his aging and mental acuity.


King Abdullah was shrouded in a cloth and laid in a unmarked grave. His burial was testimony to the radical equality of all men before God at the time of death. Yet from the grave his authority to enforce the familial succession he has outlined may not hold. His death and the US Senate debate on authorization of force against ISIS may afford an honest and complete look at the deeply contradictory relationship of the US with the Saudi gentocracy. Russ Doutaht captured the contradiction at the heart of our Mideast policy. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. A true re-evaluation will let us look more honestly at the 28 redacted pages about Saudis in the 9/11 Report. It will let us see what is in plain sight: that the greatest source of funds for worldwide Jihad comes from Saudi Wahhabists.  This re-evaluation is essential to check the clamor for war against Iran. We must ask if, in a Shiite Iran vs Sunni Saudi Arabia conflict, should the US back the most Salafist of all Sunnis? Let's hope a full Senate debate includes that question.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cannon in warfare: a simple introduction

The Tsar Cannon -- 16th century bronze
(note the lion's head of the carriage.)
Cannon, in the same way as fireworks, were invented in China.

On Columbus' First Voyage, the 'Pinta' had a cannon on board. Amid shouts of "Tierra! tierra!", it was fired on that early morning of October 12th when land was finally sighted.

It was during this era of Columbus and the early explorers that "the art of casting greatly improved in Europe," resulting in lighter and more maneuverable artillery. Later in the 16th century the science of ballistics was born.

Was there much difference between cannon of 1600 and those of 1850? The range of shot was quite similar, but what changed in those centuries were the "mobility, organization, and tactics."

King Louis XIV "ordered 'Ultima ratio regum' (the final argument of kings) inscribed on all French cannons."

A description of smooth-bore cannon: 
"No other invention except the wheel was better-suited to its duty, and remained less changed in fundamental nature from its inception in the 15th century, to its final disappearance in the middle of the 19th. The shock power of this instrument, on land as well as on sea, cannot be overestimated. The cannon was first of bronze, then of cast iron as this cheaper material became available. It was simply a smooth bore, closed at one end, with a touch hole [vent] drilled to the surface of the breech. It projected solid shot of cast iron or stone... A shell was a hollow ball filled with powder and provided with a fuze that would be lighted when the shell was fired, sputtering as the shell flew, and finally setting off the powder, shattering the casing. This was purely an antipersonnel load. 
"To fire a cannon, the bore was first swabbed with water to extinguish any sparks that would make loading unsafe. A measured quantity of gunpowder was then poured into the bore, and rammed down behind a wad of some material. A small amount of powder was also poured down the touch hole. The load was then rammed onto the wad. The gun was set to bear, and a match (a glowing stick called a slow-match was popular) touched to the touch-hole. A flash, a boom, a cloud of smoke, and the load was sent on its way at the speed of sound. The gun recoiled, hurling its mass backwards against any restraint provided. A gun rigidly mounted had to be very well mounted indeed, to prevent destruction of its mount. By 1800, the match had been replaced by some kind of lock that ignited the powder in the touch hole (or other kind of fuse) by a spark when a lanyard was pulled. Also, the powder, wad, and load could be pre-measured and packed in bags or cartridges to make loading faster. 
"The phrase 'to spike a cannon' meant to disable it by driving a tapered wrought iron plug, or spike, down the touch hole with a hammer until it was level and firmly embedded. I suppose the spike could eventually be drilled out, but tools to do this were not readily available, and the process would take some time."
Six horses pulled the two-wheeled caisson with its ammunition boxes and the two-wheeled limber supporting the field gun.
"All movement of field artillery was done with limbers. Guns, caissons, battery forges and wagons were all fastened to a limber. None, under ordinary circumstances, moved independently. A limber was an ammunition box mounted on an axle between two wheels, with a forward projecting pole, to which the team was hitched."

Union 12-pounder Napoleon at Gettysburg.
The Napoleon was the standard field gun for both sides during the Civil War. It was a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading [front end of gun barrel] cannon. "By the end of the 19th century, the advent of rifling and breech-loading technologies brought the muzzle-loading era to a close."

[Take a look at this video as the men re-enact how Civil War cannoneers operated.]

The Union bombardment in 1862 of Fort Pulaski (outside of Savannah, Georgia) was a big turning point: "The range and accuracy of the [rifled cannon] startled the world." The seven-and-a-half-foot walls could never have been breached with smoothbores, but it was accomplished with the new weapon in little more than 24 hours.
[THIS MINUTE-LONG CLIP explains why rifling was such a big step forward.]
What was one of the few things that could withstand the pounding of a lengthy cannonade? Earthworks -- it afforded far better protection than even the thickest walls.

"Mud or dust seemed to plague every movement of troops. Of the two, mud was the greater problem for the artillery. Dust created great discomfort, but little more. While an artilleryman might find it difficult to breathe and intolerably itchy in the suffocating dust, the guns and caissons could still be moved. Mud, on the other hand, often made movement impossible. Sinking below their axles in holes full of clinging muck, guns and caissons could be moved only with superhuman effort, the men pushing at the wheels and extra horses pulling on the traces. Sometimes guns were simply abandoned to the mud."

Ypres in World War I

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: His Release and Our Bondage

by David Pence

The death of King Abdullah, and the request by President Obama for a Congressional authorization of force in dealing with ISIS, allows the U.S. Congress a full examination of our allies and enemies in this conflict. We have argued here at AOA that it is a fundamental strategic mistake in the war against a purification movement in Salafist Sunni Islam to make enemies of Shiite states and Shiite movements in repressive Sunni states.

All of this discussion hinges on our relationship with the Saudi monarchy. By light years, the best "death of the King" commentary examining the American Republic and the most repressive monarchy in the Mideast is Ross Douthat's column. We offer it in full, apologizing to the 'NYTimes' and her firewall and applauding them for allowing such clarity in print:
The Western response to the death of Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, king of Saudi Arabia and custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, followed two paths. Along one, various officials and luminaries offered the gestures — half-mast flags, public obsequies — expected when a great statesman enters the hereafter. John Kerry described the late monarch as “a man of wisdom and vision” and a “revered leader.” Tony Blair called him a “modernizer of his country” and a “staunch advocate of interfaith relations,” who was “loved by his people and will be deeply missed.” 
Along the other path, anyone outside Western officialdom was free to tell the fuller truth: that Abdullah presided over one of the world’s most wicked nonpariah states, whose domestic policies are almost cartoonishly repressive and whose international influence has been strikingly malign. His dynasty is founded on gangsterish control over a precious natural resource, sustained by an unholy alliance with a most cruel interpretation of Islam and protected by the United States and its allies out of fear of worse alternatives if it fell.  
Was he a “modernizer”? Well, there were gestures, like giving women the vote in elections that don’t particularly matter. But Abdullah’s most important recent legacy has been counterrevolutionary, in his attempts to rally a kind of axis of authoritarianism against the influence of the Arab Spring.  
Did he believe in “interfaith relations”? Sure, so long as the other faiths were safely outside Saudi territory, where religious uniformity is enforced by the police and by the lash.  
Will he be “deeply missed”? Well, not by dissidents, Shiites, non-Muslims, protestors in neighboring countries ... and for everyone else, only by comparison with the incompetence or chaos or still greater cruelty that might come next. 
But Americans should feel some limited sympathy for the late king, because our relationship with his kingdom has something in common with his own. Like so many despots, Abdullah was to some extent a prisoner of the system he inherited, interested in reform in theory but unable to find the room or take the risks required to see it through. And we in the United States are prisoners as well: handcuffed to Saudi Arabia, bound to its corruptions and repression, with no immediate possibility of escape. Much of America’s post-Cold War policy-making in the Middle East can be understood as a search for a way to slip those cuffs. Three consecutive presidents have tried to reshape the region so that alliances with despotic regimes will no longer seem so inevitable or necessary. And all of them have failed. 
For Bill Clinton, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was supposed to be the catalyst — in ways never quite elucidated — for reform and progress in the wider Arab world. For George W. Bush, or at least his ambitious advisers, the invasion of Iraq was supposed to create a brilliant alternative to our Saudi alliance — a new special Middle Eastern relationship, but with an oil-producing liberal democracy this time. 
For President Obama, there have been multiple ideas for how we might, as an administration official put it during our Libya campaign, “realign our interests and our values.” The president has tried rhetorical outreach to transcend (or at least obscure) our coziness with tyrants; he tried, in Libya and haltingly in Egypt, to put his administration on the side of the Arab Spring; he and Mr. Kerry have made efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; he has sought some kind of realigning deal with that other font of cruelty, the Islamic Republic of Iran. 
The Iran project is ongoing, but so far all these efforts either have led (in the case of our Libyan crusade) to outright chaos, or have seen things cycle back to the same old stalemates, the same morally corrosive status quo.  
Here Obama’s experiences are of a piece with Bush’s, albeit without the same cost in blood and treasure. From Saddam’s Iraq to Mubarak’s Egypt, from Libya to the West Bank, the last two presidents have repeatedly pulled the curtain back, or had it pulled back for them, on potential alternatives to the kind of realpolitik that binds us to the Saudis, and potential aftermaths to the dynasty’s eventual fall. So far, they’ve found nothing good.  
Meanwhile, the Saudis themselves are still there. And since much of what’s gone bad now surrounds them — the Islamic State very much in business in the north, Iranian-backed rebels seizing power in Yemen to the south — the American interest in the stability of their kingdom, the continuation of the royal family’s corrupt and wicked rule, is if anything even stronger than before. 
Whatever judgment King Abdullah finds himself facing now, he is at least free of his kingdom, his region and its nightmarish dilemmas.  
But not America. A king is dead, but our Saudi nightmare is a long way from being finished.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 24

by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


We have argued that the war against ISIS and radical Salafist Sunnis will be one of states against an armed religious movement. Our natural allies will be Christian nations, Israel, Shiite minorities, the Shiite nations (Iran and a truncated Syria and Iraq) and the Sunni nations. The cultivation of enemies from Iran to Russia to Assad's Syria, we have seen as a strategic error arising from a failure to more clearly define the religious character of our enemy and its natural enemies. Here is the best (but still inadequate) explanation of not calling the enemy "radical Islamists". There is good news that the Obama Administration has come to see that the Assad government is our ally, not a state to be overthrown. We should remember that this striking conceptual turnaround came from a John Kerry-Barack Obama axis which will prove considerably more advantageous to the U.S than the Hillary Clinton/John McCain approach of the last two years. How a reset on Iran and Russia will happen is not obvious at this juncture.

                                             WARNING: THEY ARE SHIITES

Houthi rebels overthrew the American-supported government of Yemen on January 20 just before the President's State of Union address. The rebels' main complaint against the government has been the ineffectiveness of the Sunni state to fight the radical Salafist Sunni of Al Qaeda of Arabia (AQAP). The Houthi of northern Yemen are Shiites.They are clearly the best fighters against Al Qaeda based in central Yemen. They have promised to work with the many Sunni tribes not affiliated with AQAP. This appears to be another country in which the fight against jihadist Sunnis is going to involve a serious alliance with Shiites. Here is Gregory Johnsen's take on the recent Houthi capture of the American-backed president of Yemen.


The assault on the Paris offices of French magazine 'Charlie Hebdo' on January 7 was directed by two Muslim French nationals: Saïd and Cherif Kouachi (ages 34 and 32). The children of Algerian immigrants, the brothers were orphaned at an early age. Whether these brothers were acting on direct orders of Al Qaeda or were homegrown Muslims outraged by the continual attacks on Islam and Mohammed by the magazine is not yet clear. The magazine described itself as secular and leftist. It holds a special place in the hearts of modern Frenchmen which some of us American Puritans may not fully appreciate. The magazine is well known and despised by Muslims throughout Europe who are shocked by the desacralizing cult of pornography employed against the human body and religious symbols. When libertine atheists meet the sword of Islam, the Christian citizen who is against pronography, blasphemy, and murder may not chant, "I am Charlie Hebdo." Here is a good recap of a debate between radio host Hugh Hewitt and Catholic Defense League's Bill Donahue.

Some thought President Obama should have been at the multi-nation solidarity march with the French. Others were glad he missed it. It is very good that John Kerry, who speaks French, did not leave his face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Modi of India. That would have been the triumph of a media reflex over national strategy. Consider the slaughter in Nigeria by Boko Haram compared to the "world event" in Paris. As we examine the Muslim problems in French culture quite apart from caliphate terrorism, we should remember the recent display of French suppression of cultural expression against a woman trying to attend the opera. She dressed a lot like the Catholic nuns who built the parish-based Catholic education system in religiously tolerant America. Finally, Peggy Noonan reminds Americans that this is no time to preach to the French but remember our deep ties to Lafyette and the great national soul of our first ally.

Speaking of France and Islam, a serious display of satire and free speech (unlike the anti-religious pornography of Charlie Hebdo) is the recently published novel Submission by Michel Houellebecq. The target of his pen is is not so much Islam as the emotional and spirtual decadence of the Enlightenment French elite. This review of a review by Rod Dreher is outstanding. The theme here is one close to the heart of Pope Francis: communal humanity needs nations with a religious foundation to overcome the libertine atheism of international finance (economic liberalism of the Right) and sexual anarchy (the denatured autonomy of the Left). The lesson of the Pope is that man must stop his war against nature (especially his own spiritual nature) and return to Christ and the Church and religiously-based national life as the only way to properly care for humanity. The lesson of the French satirist is that if Christendom does not fill the spiritual vacuum in France, Islam will.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday BookReview: COLUMBUS through the eyes of "the Harvard admiral"

"I cannot forget the eternal faith that sent this man forth, to the benefit of all future ages."                                                           (Professor Morison)

Martin Luther was a lad of 8 when his fellow Catholic, Christopher Columbus, sailed away from Europe... only to discover America.

Less than forty years later, the Virgin Mary made several appearances at Guadalupe, Mexico, to an Indian peasant -- which (in the words of the esteemed Jesuit, Fr. John Hardon) "opened the greatest missionary expansion of the Gospel since apostolic times."

[To go a bit further on the sixteenth-century timeline, consider that the Council of Trent met from 1545 to 1563.
That great meeting for renewal and "counter-Reformation" convened a year before Martin Luther's death, and closed a year before John Calvin's.]

Here is the fine little article by Maureen Mullarkey that directed me to Samuel Eliot Morison and the condensed version of his Pulitzer-winning Admiral of the Ocean Sea (published during WWII as he rose in the naval ranks).

The professor's comment on the few months between Columbus' first and second voyages to the New World:
 "After passing through Madrid and Toledo, he took the pilgrims' road to Guadalupe [halfway to Cáceres], passing through Trujillo, where a thirteen-year-old boy named Francisco Pizarro, the future conqueror of Peru, was then engaged in caring for his father's herd of swine. Columbus prayed long and fervently before the famous Virgin of Guadalupe, and the monks asked him to name an island after her shrine. En route to Seville, he passed through the little town of Medellín, where a small boy named Hernán Cortés must have seen him pass."


So, in late September 1493 the Second Voyage departed from Cadiz; they arrived three weeks later. Here is Admiral Morison's superb description:
"This outward passage must have been very close to a sailor's dream of the good life at sea. Sailing before the trades in a square-rigger is as near heaven as any seaman expects to be on the ocean. You settle down to the pleasant ritual, undisturbed by shifts of wind and changes of weather. There is a constant play of light and color on the bellying square sails (silver in moonlight, black in starlight, cloth-of-gold at sunset, white as the clouds themselves at noon), the gorgeous deep blue of the sea, flecked with whitecaps, the fascination of seeing new stars arise, the silver flash when a school of flying fish springs from the bow wave, the gold and green of leaping dolphins. And on this Second Voyage of Columbus there were seventeen ships in company, so that from the high-pooped flagship one could see white sails all around the horizon. Every day the faster vessels romped ahead, racing one another, but toward sundown, as the hour of singing the Salve Regina approached, all closed [round the flagship]... At eleven, at three and at seven o'clock the watch is changed. Just before the morning watch goes on, a priest on board the flagship celebrates what used to be called a 'dry Mass' -- going through all the motions but not actually consecrating the elements, lest the rolling of the ship cause them to be spilled or dropped. On the other vessels the men watch for the elevation of the host as the signal to kneel and cross themselves; then a hymn is sung, the glass is turned, the watch relieved, and everyone cracks on sail to race the others during the daylight hours."

It was on this Second Voyage that the first future US territory was discovered: St. Croix. Columbus called it Santa Cruz -- and it was there that "the Spaniards had their first fight with natives of America."
They also explored much of the southern coast of Cuba, including Guantánamo Bay (which the U.S. has controlled since 1903) and, very likely, the Bay of Pigs.

Let us jump back to the beginning.

Fr. Hardon says that Spain is "a country that for 700 years had suffered martyrdom under Islam, in defense of the Catholic Faith." It was only a matter of months between the time that the Moors were finally expelled, and the summer day when Columbus (thanks mostly to the Catholic queen Isabella) was able to launch his epochal First Voyage.

Columbus standing outside Minnesota Capitol

Cristoforo -- named for Saint Christopher -- was born and reared in Genoa, the republic that included Corsica. (Noble ancestors, indeed, to produce a pair of men such as Columbus and Napoleon!)

His father, Domenico Colombo, produced woolen cloth. "[Years later the son would name] the oldest city in the New World, Santo Domingo, after his father's patron saint."

In his mid-20s Columbus traveled to Portugal, "then the liveliest and most progressive country in Europe." He and his brother started a sea-chart business, and later joined the merchant marine -- "the finest and most far-ranging in the world." Christopher married into a prominent Portuguese family.

Unable to convince the King of Portugal (a nephew of Henry the Navigator who had founded the Portuguese empire) to underwrite his westward voyage, Columbus turned to Spain. 


On this First Voyage, Columbus "saw the first maize or Indian corn ever observed by a European, the first hammocks, woven from native cotton, and the first yams and sweet potatoes..."

The Indians on Cuba smoked cigars -- and through the Spaniards the use of tobacco "spread rapidly through Europe, Asia and Africa."
(Coconut palms and banana trees were among the items introduced to the Caribbean by the Spanish.)

Though some of the Indians wore small pendants of gold, Columbus' expedition found no gold on the assorted islands -- until they got to Haiti "which saved Columbus' reputation."

"They established a Spanish settlement, Navidad, on the north coast of the island of Hispaniola in what is now Haiti. That settlement was destroyed by the natives but Columbus on a later voyage established Isabela farther to the east on the north coast. The Spanish colony on the southern coast, Santo Domingo, became a staging point for later expeditions and provided supplies for the conquistadores in Mexico and elsewhere. The first administrator for Santo Domingo was a brother of Christopher Columbus. Spaniards were given estates on the island and the right to compel the labor of the natives."

(Haiti eventually became the first republic of people of African descent. Its revolution was a racial bloodletting. Haiti and the US, "were the only two countries which were not able to abolish slavery without the extensive bloodshed of civil war." The other side of Hispaniola would become the Dominican Republic. Both countries have populations of 9 million but the DR has 10 times the GDP, speaks Spanish, and looks to Spain for its heritage. Haiti speaks French and has cultivated a black African identity. These neighbors, so close, are often deeply set against each other culturally.)

The homeward passage "was a far greater test of Columbus' courage and seamanship and ability to handle men than anything he had hitherto experienced... The Admiral had to fight the elements and human weakness as never before or since."

That winter was so cold, the harbor of Genoa froze over!

(The caravel, used by Columbus and the early explorers, was an idea launched in Portugal. The small ship had the ability to "tack" into the wind. See this video, beginning at 5:45 mark.)

Once back in Spain, Columbus was derided by some of his own fellow travelers seeking their backpay from the King. His two sons, pages at the royal court, "were mortified by these wretches hooting at them and shouting, 'There go the sons of the Admiral of the Mosquitos, of him who discovered lands of vanity and delusion, the ruin and the grave of Castilian gentlemen!'"

Fourth Voyage

"Columbus' fourth and last voyage to America is in many respects the most interesting... He always referred to it, in the short span of life that remained to him, as El Alto Viaje, The High Voyage."
[It lasted two and a half years, including a year marooned in Jamaica.]

"[In the last days of 1502] the fleet put in at the present harbor of Cristóbal, Panama Canal Zone, and there kept Christmas and New Year's 1503, very miserably..."

They made it back across the Atlantic in November 1504. The Catholic Queen died later that month -- greatly to the Admiral's grief and loss. He would succumb to his own final illness a couple years later, at age 54:

"...[T]he Admiral, remembering the last words of his Lord and Saviour, murmured as his own, In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum -- 'Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit.'

"It was a poor enough deathbed for the Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy and Governor of the Islands and Mainlands in the Indies; and a poor enough funeral followed. No bishops or great dignitaries were present... "

As an Anglo reader, I was struck by some of the quixotic contradictions in the temperament of Spanish noblemen:
  1.  They were men of unflappable courage, but with an abhorrence of manual labor. (Morison: "Why these Spaniards and Genoese could not fish for themselves or plant their own cornfields has never been explained; it is clear that if the Indians had not fed them, they would have starved to death.")
  2. Spain was the most devout Catholic country, but three centuries after Columbus when Napoleon invaded, the Spanish guerilla fighters met every French atrocity with plenty of their own.
  3. There is a deep kinship of La Raza -- a bond between the men of Spain and the New World that extends through the centuries. Here is an old "BookNotes" interview with Georgie Anne Geyer, in which she talked of the surprising friendship of Generalissimo Franco and Castro. From her book on Fidel: "Both had roots in Galicia [the far northwest area of Spain]... and had been filled with admiration for each other for many years... They had yearned to meet, and when Franco died [in 1975], Castro decreed a full week of official mourning in Cuba."

Professor Morison says that "Columbus, even more than most sailors, was devoted to the Virgin Mary, protectress of mariners." His favorite prayer invoked (in Latin) the Holy Family to be with us on the way:
'Jesu cum Maria
sit nobis in via.' 

"Back in the fifteenth century, China sent ships on a voyage of exploration longer than that of Columbus, more than half a century before Columbus, and in ships more advanced than those in Europe at the time. Yet the Chinese rulers made a decision to discontinue such voyages and in fact to reduce China's contacts with the outside world. European rulers made the opposite decision and established world-wide empires, ultimately to the detriment of China..."
                            (Thomas Sowell)


UPDATE -- Pence had this comment on the Sowell quote: "When the Chinese found they had nothing to take or learn from the new lands, they went back home. The Spaniards were motivated by what they could claim... but, also, they brought a gift called eternal salvation to give their long-lost distant cousins descended from Adam. The mission entrusted to the fishermen at the Sea of Galilee was continued by the Admiral of the Ocean Sea."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The 'Alhambra' (in Granada) and 'El Escorial' (northwest of Madrid)

A century after the death of Muhammad, the famous battle of Tours occurred (732 in France); thus, the Islamic expansion into Europe was stopped. By that time, however, the Moors had achieved control over Spain; they would not relinquish their last southern stronghold there, Granada, until the early days of that famous year of 1492.
Madrid, not shown, is just NE of Toledo

One of the most recognizable Moorish palaces is the Alhambra. Many Americans were first introduced to it by Washington Irving in his Tales from the Alhambra -- he was our ambassador to Spain in the 1840s. (Among the biographies he penned was one about Columbus and another on Muhammad.)

After moving to Granada, Irving was allowed to live in the palace-fortress which Moorish poets described as "a pearl set in emeralds." He called his residence "my Moslem elysium."

An excerpt from his book:
“When the Moors held Granada... they thought only of love, music, and poetry... In those days, if anyone asked for bread, the reply was, make me a couplet; and the poorest beggar, if he begged in rhyme, would often be rewarded with a piece of gold.”  

The picture below is from this website with many excellent photos of the Alhambra.

In this short video, the guide illumines some of the mathematical proportions at the heart of the design.

It was in Alhambra's "Hall of the Ambassadors" (pictured below) that Columbus received the go-ahead from Ferdinand and Isabella for his first voyage.


A number of decades after the "Admiral of the Open Sea" and his two royal benefactors had gone to their eternal reward, the man ascended the throne who would preside over Spain's most glorious and powerful era: Philip II. 

(This was during the years of the Council of Trent, as Church leaders struggled to clean up corruption and renew evangelization in the face of the massive Protestant revolt.)

One of the most imposing structures that King Philip built -- with the aid of architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, who had studied in Rome -- was El Escorial. It was situated some 30 miles from Madrid, the city that Philip now designated as the national capital.

Which Spanish saint was the king honoring with the construction of El Escorial? Saint Lawrence -- one of the seven deacons of Rome killed in the year 258. The Spanish army had defeated a French force in 1557 on his feast day, August 10th. So, it was decided that the floor of the palace-monastery would be "laid out in the form of a gridiron, the means by which St. Lawrence was martyred."


(The reign of King Philip lasted more than four decades. The two biggest setbacks were when the Netherlands revolted, starting in 1566; and the defeat of the “Invincible Armada” in their 1588 quest to topple Queen Elizabeth for English interference in the Netherlands.

The Philippines -- today's third most populous Catholic nation behind Brazil and Mexico -- is the namesake of Philip of Spain.)


Check out this five-minute video of El Escorial.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pope Francis in Manila for feast of Santo Niño

"When sorrows like sea billows roll..."
The Holy Father comforted a 12-year-old girl, a former street child; and he challenged the Filipino people to evangelize the rest of Asia. Here is a news article with many photos of the papal visit.

This short essay explains the origin of the Santo Niño devotion -- with its feast day on the third Sunday of January -- as well as the tie-in with explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who was killed in the Philippines in 1521.
"The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,  
 Even so, it is well with my soul."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 17

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:
by David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch

                                                                        AND CHINA COULD CONVERT            
The nations of Europe will not find their true national identities until they ground themselves in a transcendental communal identity that can integrate their immigrants. The paradox is that only a return to the worldwide religion of Christianity will allow the European nations like France and Germany to regain their crucial civilizational roles on the world stage. George Friedman of Stratfor is too religiously tone-deaf to offer a solution, but he is eloquent in his description of the problem. Another author, a young Frenchman, argues just our point--that the way between militant Islam and libertine atheism is renewed Christianity--and he sees it happening in France. China, too, in President Xi JinPing's Chinese Dream is putting forth a transcendent view based more on Confucian cosmology and ethics than Hegel's dialectical materialism. This honest search for spiritual roots should remind Christians that the road to Chinese conversion may go through the Analects of Confucius.

                                         THE  SAUDIS AND THEIR FENCES

Our country has not yet gotten serious about building a fence on our two-thousand-mile border with Mexico, but the Saudis aren't messing around with the ISIL threat (on their 600-mile northern border with Iraq) as well as the southern boundary (a thousand miles) by Yemen. Saudi Arabia is fourth among top military spenders (behind the U.S., China, and Russia) -- almost ten percent of their GDP! It is the only nation that is on both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. And it is the world's largest country with no river. They have about 20 million Saudi nationals, plus 8 million foreigners. They are no longer the world's largest oil exporter; we passed them about a year ago. The First Saudi State began in 1744; the Second State ended in 1891. The current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia started in 1932 (the founding monarch, Ibn Saud, ruled for two decades.)


Pope Francis said it was an aberration to kill in the name of God, and added there are limits to free speech which is bound in principle to seeking the common good. By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane. "If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said, throwing a pretend punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday BookReview -- Tom Wolfe: betwixt pornography and feminism

(first published November 30, 2012)

Here is Doctor Pence’s reaction to the latest novel of Tom Wolfe (pictured here with his wife).  The story is set in Miami:

   I learned the lessons of life and manhood from my father and I loved him till he died. But once my daughters were older than thirteen, I kept them away from Grandpa’s house and his lewd uncensored remarks. One of those daughters sent me Tom Wolfe’s newest novel, knowing I would never make it to Christmas without buying and devouring Back to Blood. Tom Wolfe is like my dad—a great source of wisdom whom I can’t leave around the kids.

   Mr. Wolfe contains within himself a selection of trenchant insights about art, politics, manhood, physical force, status, virile language, and duplicitous reporting. He has created a peculiar literary form to nest those insights in the dialogue of characters he has composed from amongst the living whom he has so perceptively observed. He understands a good deal about sociobiology, so he always sets his writings in large geographic and historical institutional contexts. He has no religious instinct and thus his writing is unprotected by sacral boundaries. The dissipating influences of blasphemy and explicit sexual fantasy mitigate the force of his descriptive powers. His religiously impoverished view of the proper end of life has often prevented proper ends to his well-told stories. This book is an exception. His ending is complete and beautiful. But the telling of this tale is mired so deeply in the pornography he scorns, that more than teen-age girls must be protected and warned: “Don’t come too close.” Mr. Wolfe is not pure enough to be scarred, and so he might not understand how inaccessible this form is to many good readers. His spiritual state is the flip side of “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.”

   Tom Wolfe usually teaches about men, formality, cities, race, sex, and status codes. In this work he adds insights about medicine, the boundaries of humor and language skills, the neurophysiology of the pornified, and a revealing tribute to writers and journalists as real men too. TV reporters almost always enjoy a special kind of villainy in a Wolfean story, and their behavior in real life has always provided ample documentation that his genre is realism. In this tale an anonymous You Tube is the lying visual media, while a WASP newspaper reporter is a true good guy. More importantly, John Smith is -- in his own journalistic way -- a real man.

   There are four types of men: priests, warriors, workers, and scholars. Wolfe has always respected and championed the worker and warrior. This time the man of letters is also given his grudging due. For Mr. Wolfe, the priest is still a stranger.

   The book is a kind of ‘action comic’ with lots of guttural sounds minus word clouds and partitioning picture squares to enclose them. Its unifying theme is a detective story; its most telling trait a series of well-drawn character profiles; and its enduring wisdom—a set of Tom Wolfe insights smuggled neatly into the dialogue. I cannot endorse reading the X-rated text. But the embarrassed son is obligated to hand down the teachings.

                       LESSONS FROM TOM WOLFE

1) Doctors can’t get seriously rich as doctors. Pay abides in performing some service for a fee. No service, no fee. A rich man makes money on vacation. A cash register rings his cut when he is asleep. You want to be rich? You need a product.
2) Young males pay attention and shape their behavior to placate the strongest males or groups that threaten them. Most males do not need to be the top dog -- they need to be in proper relation to the top dog so they are not humiliated or physically harmed by him or his emissaries. If a city or nation does not offer young males a clear path to social recognition as a fellow man, other groups will fill the gap. Being a person is not “being a man,” but being a man for a young man is being a person.
3) Male identity is based on social recognition of one’s place in a communal group. To punish the male, harm him, humiliate him or ostracize him. One form of ostracizing is to withdraw social recognition. One becomes not an enemy but a non-person. It can be lethal if one does not find another social group offering another kind of social recognition.
4) The highest form of social recognition for a man is not to be famous or known by name but to be recognized socially as one bearing the authority of a man in full. It would be a greater honor for Tom Wolfe to go to a small island where the natives say, “There go great man,” than to enter a New York restaurant and have the patrons note, “That’s Tom Wolfe.”
5) The heroic terrain of protective American men exists between a degrading pornographic rutting street scene and the emasculated officialdom of feminist bureaucracy.
6) Men of action are continually at risk of being caught while doing something good which will look like something bad to people who do not act.
7) American men in space (before quotas altered their bond and a female Jonah doomed a ship) were the highest expression of the masculine courage and missionary nature of the American nation.  “Before every mission I told myself, ‘I’m going to die doing this.  I’m going to die this time but I’m dying for something bigger than myself.  I’m about to die for my country, my people, and for a righteous God.’ ”
8) The best way for men to overcome racism is to unite in some common duty of protection in which the best man rules the protective group. The best way to overcome racism between men and women is to fall in love – one couple at a time – and marry.
9) The heroes of this particular book are a black chief of police, a Cuban patrolman, and a WASP newspaper reporter. (In the real world, no one calls his friend an African-American, and in Florida there are no Latinos). The chief is a true leader of men and risks his own job and status to protect his subordinate, the Cuban cop. The Cuban policeman faces racial ostracism but does his duty with graceful prowess and stunning courage. The white newsman goes against white Russians and white Brahmins to do his craft. It is fidelity to his craft, not love of the downtrodden which unites him with other men of different blood.
10) Formalized male relations and honor codes are the only communal forms strong enough to trump blood rites.
11) It is more admirable to be a virgin, a wife, or a mother than a whore; but in the short run, the whores get the attention.
12) Art is a craft – it is the province of a skilled workingman. Art schools, critics, and the ignorant rich in pursuit of the new have abandoned “lines, perspective, modeling, color, harmony”—all that is too old and too difficult.
13) Doctors and nurses started their profession as men and women with a sacred oath to care for the sick. Now they measure their work by fees for service and negotiated wage/benefits.

   May Mr. Tom Wolfe submit his will to the Living God so he can be disciplined by the sacral boundaries of language which would allow him to teach in his own paternal voice to the public assembly. Until then, the Howard Sterns of porn and Betty Friedans of feminism still rule the discourse.        

UPDATE: Back to Blood, in paperback, is $13 at Amazon. But when I walked into Dollar Tree yesterday, there by the front door were a bunch of hardcover copies of the novel for only a dollar.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Map on Monday: BRAZIL

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing Brazil.

With 128 million Catholics (63% of the overall population), Brazil is the world's largest Catholic nation. The Iberian colonial empires of Portugal and Spain also left us with the other two largest Catholic nations: Mexico (98 million) and the Philippines (81 million). Brazil stands apart from the rest of South America not only for its size but also for its Portuguese language. The Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494 - only two years after Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic - created a boundary between Portuguese and Spanish colonial expansion, Despite the Portuguese inheriting a seemingly small piece of South America, Brazil's expansion eventually made it the largest nation on the continent. On September 7, 1822, Brazil declared its independence from Portugal and waged a two-year war to secure it. Portugal officially recognized Brazilian independence on August 29, 1825.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, January 10

Religion and Geopolitics this week includes:
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an extraordinary speech on New Year’s Day to Cairo’s Al-Azhar and the Awqaf Ministry calling for a long overdue virtual ecclesiastical revolution in Islam.

American foreign policy must come to terms with the religious ideological nature of our enemy as a jihadist Salafist-Sunni form of Islam. We must stop demonizing those who should be our allies. We must take a deep breath and ask that our senators and lawmakers learn the religious historical setting of the Arabic story in the Mideast. Our enemies are not the shrunken Shia nation-states of Assad's Syria and the American-generated Shia Iraq, nor the more robust Shia nation-state of Iran. These are natural allies. Our enemies are the radical Sunni jihadists and the monarchy tyrannies most responsible for their continued existence: Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We can start our education by releasing the full 9/11 report including the redacted parts about Saudi involvement. While we define more clearly the enemy, the Christian nations of the Americas and Europe must find a way to integrate Muslim men into the protective pacts of their new countries. This will be much easier for the United States than France, Germany, and England.

This analysis by Raul Gerecht of the Islamic attack in France explains the magnetic effect of the new ISIS caliphate on young Muslims in France and the subsequent development of independent cells and jihadist actors in Europe. His perceptive understanding of shared identities and the "charisma of the new ISIS base" help guide us in to the kind of discussion we will need for the war ahead. He also reminds us of the unique French asset of intelligence developed in that country's long, multi-war shared history with Algeria.

The establishment of civic order in Mexico will depend on a renewal of public protective citizenship and strong government action. For now in too many areas it appears the criminals have the populations in their hands despite the presence of federal troops and the witness of Catholic priests. We need to translate the eucharistic love of the Mass into the communal bonds of protective citizenship which (like the bonds of marriage) are natural fruits of the apostolic Church.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday BookReview: Andrew Roberts on NAPOLEON

The 'Washington Post' review of Mr. Roberts' take on the Corsican General:
"Ah, if it were only to be done over again!" sighed Napoleon Bonaparte about the Battle of Waterloo as he sailed into exile and imprisonment. He would have six years on the island of St. Helena to ponder his battles, his imperial reign in France, and his improbable rise from Corsican obscurity.
Napoleon was a whirling dynamo whose ceaseless energy led Talleyrand, that wily old cynic, to laconically lament, "What a pity the man wasn’t lazy." And the breathtaking arc of his career has attracted countless chroniclers since his death in 1821, aged just 51. He may be the most written-about human being in history. But perhaps none has taken to the task with greater zeal than Andrew Roberts, the much-garlanded British historian, whose admiration for his subject infuses and enlivens this brilliant new biography. And no charge of laziness would stick to Roberts, who devoted more time to research than Napoleon spent on Elba and St. Helena combined. In the course of that study, Roberts immersed himself in his subject’s 33,000 letters, visited 53 of the 60 Napoleonic battlefields and even sailed to that lonely South Atlantic rock where he ended his days.
Roberts embarks upon this enterprise by observing that much of the source material for previous biographies is suspect. The supposed memoirs and reminiscences of many in Napoleon’s entourage of rackety courtiers were often ghostwritten in an attempt to impugn his memory. And according to Roberts, these accounts have served as ammunition for those who would portray Napoleon as a sort of "proto-Hitler" whose rule laid the moral and intellectual groundwork for more terrible tyrannies to come.
Roberts will have none of that; to him, Napoleon was "the Enlightenment on horseback," swiftly bestowing the blessings of law and liberty upon the lands he conquered. The Code Napoleon was "a reasoned and harmonious body of laws that were to be the same across all territories administered by France," rendered "in prose so clear that Stendahl said he made it his daily reading." Of course, as Roberts concedes, Napoleon used authoritarian means to achieve liberal ends. Religious toleration came at the point of a bayonet. And freedom of expression was, to put it mildly, curtailed. But to Roberts, Napoleon’s replacement of the chaotic political and legal patchwork of Europe with uniformity and rationalism was a benign and civilizing act.
And despite his ruthlessness, Napoleon had a surprising streak of magnanimity. Relentlessly cuckolded by his wife, Josephine, as he campaigned in Egypt, the rising general forgave her and made her his empress. He pursued no vendetta against her somewhat hapless lover, perhaps slaking his thirst for vengeance by himself engaging in multiple affairs.
It’s good stuff, all that political and romantic intrigue, but most readers will doubtless be drawn by the whiff of grapeshot. For it was on the field of battle that Napoleon truly made his reputation, and here Roberts particularly shines. Having visited nearly all the places where 'le petit caporal' fought his enemies, Roberts vividly depicts the dispositions and movements of armies. One can almost hear the sounds of marching feet and booming cannon. And the dominant force in every "near-flawlessly executed battle" was the inspired leadership of Napoleon, who combined tremendous instincts with an almost superhuman capacity for hard work.
But like his subject, Roberts never slights the importance of luck, or as Napoleon often called it, "the goddess Fortune." All history is fluid and contingent — perhaps military history most of all. Tides of battle shift constantly; at Jena and Austerlitz and almost everywhere the Napoleonic hosts contended, the initiative could have been won or lost in an instant. As the general himself said after Marengo, "The decisive moment comes, a moral spark is lit, and the smallest reserve accomplishes victory."
For all his admiration, Roberts gives us his subject warts and all. Indeed, he can hardly contain his exasperation with Napoleon’s compulsion to exaggerate in dispatches and to stuff ballot boxes — such chicanery bred public cynicism and undermined his very real achievements. The atrocities that often attended Napoleon’s campaigns are presented matter-of-factly, though put into context (many people also suffered brutal treatment at the hands of Wellington’s armies). And sometimes his martial instincts failed him; according to Roberts, “Napoleon’s understanding of naval affairs was dismal,” and because of "torpor" and tactical errors he "very much deserved to lose" Waterloo.
And look at the butcher’s bill: Napoleon’s campaigns cost the lives of millions; his failed invasion of Russia alone left hundreds of thousands of French corpses strewn across the ghastly, blood-soaked winter landscape. It is ultimately for the reader to decide whether Napoleon was more hero or villain, and Roberts is scrupulous enough to present ample evidence for either judgment. American readers might quail at Napoleon’s authoritarianism and the carnage of his campaigns. But they should recall that it was the British — while simultaneously at war with France — who invaded the United States and burned the White House. And it was Napoleon who sold the Louisiana Territory to President Thomas Jefferson, doubling the size of the infant nation for less than four cents an acre.
So colossal are the life and career of Napoleon that the sheer scope of the story is overwhelming; he ruled sprawling territories and concerned himself with the minutest details of administration. Fortunately, Roberts is an uncommonly gifted writer, capable of synthesizing vast amounts of material and rendering it in clear, elegant prose. The result is a thrilling tale of military and political genius, and easily the finest one-volume biography of Napoleon in English.

UPDATE: The best documentary I've come across on the subject is "Napoleon the Great." It is in four parts, and narrated by David McCullough.

More than a decade ago, Andrew Roberts came out with his Napoleon and Wellington: The Battle of Waterloo. Here is an excerpt from Brian Lamb's interview with the historian.

In 1960 Dorothy Day wrote a biography of Therese of Lisieux. Here are a couple lines about the saint's father, Louis Martin:
"He had come from a family of military men and... would have preferred a military career, 'but now that Napoleon was dead, who was there for him to follow?' The desire for a leader is in us all, for a leader and a temporal cause, to match in grandeur the glimpses of the Absolute that come to us in rare flashes."

UPDATE: The other day Mr. Roberts was asked: why, exactly, did Napoleon enter into so many wars? He answered that, with a pair of exceptions, it was always the Old Regimes such as Austria -- fearing what might happen to the established reactionary order -- who attacked the French.
Napoleon, in two of his worst decisions, did indeed invade Spain (later termed by him as the "Spanish Ulcer") and, before that war ended, marched into Russia during the summer of 1812.

And from a review of P.L. Levin's book The Remarkable Education of John Quincy Adams:
"[In 1809] President James Madison appointed him minister to Russia at age 42. 'His abilty to provide deeply informed accounts of Napoleon’s wartime machinations and to interest a world power in America’s struggle with Great Britain were of undeniable value,' Levin observes, and those accounts also make fascinating reading, as in a letter he wrote to his mother describing Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1813 and noting that 'it has become a sort of by-word among the common people here that the two Russian generals who have conquered Napoleon and all his Marshalls are General Famine and General Frost.'"

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Supreme Court would have been stronger with Cuomo sitting next to Scalia

I had always hoped that President Clinton would appoint Mario Cuomo to the high court. Here is a little anecdote that he told about his father, Andrea, and his mother Immaculata Giordano.                                    

I asked Doc Pence what he thought of a few Mario quotes:

"The purpose of government is to make love real in a sinful world.” 

(I won't fight him there, since I believe there is a publicly-ordered love which government often serves.)

"You want calamities? What about the Ice Age? … God made this world, but didn't complete it."  

(A nice juxtaposition of the world of nature and the human story, showing Cuomo had a metaphysics.)

"The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus."

(A religiously-derived public morality can actually shape a new consensus. To limit public morality only to those values shared by public consensus pretty much eliminates the prophetic nature of political leadership. It is impossible to reconcile this statement with the struggle to end slavery in 1860, and Jim Crow a hundred years later. It is an attempted defense, however, of the governor's bowing to the popularity in New York of decriminalizing, then legalizing, and then funding abortion on demand. The governor was quite willing to impose his values against a very strong public consensus for capital punishment in his state. He vetoed 12 bills authorizing capital punishment. The bills passed both state houses, and were supported at various times by 60-75 percent of the people of New York.)

"That those values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as a part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either."

(The vox populi is not always the vox Dei. His talk of "values" grounds the discussion, not in the objective reality of acts, but the subjective opinion of people about the acts. Cuomo thought capital punishment was really wrong. He thought opposition to abortion was Church teaching. It was a kind of official policy. He obeyed that policy as a member of the tribe, but he never thought protecting life in the womb was moored in a physical reality which made claims on all.)

"... [T]here are those who say there is a simple answer to all these questions; they say that by history and practice of our people we were intended to be -- and should be -- a Christian country in law.
But where would that leave the non-believers? And whose Christianity would be law, yours or mine?
This 'Christian nation' argument should concern -- even frighten -- two groups: non-Christians and thinking Christians."

(A Christian country would leave the unbeliever safe from murder and stealing -- while free, though diminished, in his unbelief. For all his populism, Cuomo joined the elitists who welcomed him as a "thinking Catholic" which would differentiate him from the more pious working types like his parents, who learned their metaphysics of life from such feasts as the Immaculate Conception [Dec 8th] and the Annunciation [March 25].)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Map on Monday: INDIA

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Stratfor has developed an excellent series of short (~2-4 minute) videos which provide the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries. In the following video, they present the geographic challenges facing India.

India and Pakistan were part of the British Indian Empire which was partitioned into a Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan in 1947. East Pakistan broke from West Pakistan in 1971 as Bangladesh. Over ten million people were displaced in the bloody religious and ethnic partitioning of 1947, with more than 300,000 deaths from “communal violence.” Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. India is the second most populous nation on the planet, and at almost one billion Hindus, India is also the world's largest Hindu nation (only Nepal boasts a higher percentage of Hindus in its general population). India is also home to 172 million Muslims, who make up 14% of the population and comprise the second largest religion in the country. Christianity, which traces its historic roots in India to the preaching of the St. Thomas (the Apostle's tomb may be visited today in southern India), is the nation's third largest religion with 24 million adherents. While India was the birthplace of Buddhism, there are actually over twice as many Sikhs in India (1.9% of the population) as Buddhists (0.8% of the population).