Sunday, May 29, 2016

In this country CORPUS CHRISTI is celebrated today


See our post of last Thursday by David Pence.

"IC XC" -- Greek shorthand for Jesus Christ

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, May 28

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE FRANCIS ON EUROPE: His text on receiving Charlemagne Award. A controversial French interview afterwards. Do Islam and Christianity both have "an idea of conquest inherent to them"? Well, we are preaching the Kingdom of God and we are trying to spread it. We want freedom in the civic order so we can propose Christ to all nations, and men can give God the assent of love. We, too, seek to conquer. There is plenty in the pope’s interview we can object to as laymen involved in politics and international relations, but divorcing Christianity from conquest may not be the fight to pick.

CARDINAL SARAH ON AMERICA: Now there was a Catholic Prayer Breakfast! The cardinal from African Guinea and the Prefect of Divine Worship for the whole Church is one of the clearest voices in the Church today. He told Americans that the loss of God is at the root of the destructive gender ideology which is undermining civilization. He has given us a manly model of how Catholics should speak in our present American culture. Rather than harping on the procedural claim for ourselves of religious liberty we should employ the liberty we have to tell the truth about God, man, and woman. So let us not clamor for OUR RIGHTS, OUR RIGHTS for more liberty. We are not one more victim group being oppressed. Let us exercise the authority which we have -- clearly, consistently, persistently to give honor to God. Let us call God the Giver of Life and abortion a form of domestic violence which desecrates the feminine. Let us condemn sodomy as a desecration of brotherhood, and an abomination against Nature and Nature’s God. Why is it so easy for conservative Catholics to condemn Donald Trump with such gusto, and yet not call for impeachment against the judges who equated the abomination of sodomy with the sacrament of marriage? Cardinal Sarah elsewhere has called gender ideology and jihadist Islam the demonic forces of our day. To follow him is not to cry for freedom, but to speak with courage.
  To conservative critics of Pope Francis, the cardinal reminds them of filial piety - a virtue not well practiced in the anti-patriarchal West. "He is our father." More about Sarah at the Prayer Breakfast: Utopia and America without God will fail.

Cardinal Sarah, on prayer, has also called for a return to liturgical orientation during the Eucharistic prayer, the Gloria, and the penitential rite. This should begin at cathedral Masses and work its way from there into the parishes. Will our bishops take the lead?

POPE FRANCIS AND COMMISSION ON WOMEN DEACONESSES: Our own A. Joseph Lynch explains the history of the deaconess as rising out of gender distinctions within Christianity and aimed at women serving as women to the Church.

FROM NEW YORK'S FR. RUTLER: "The Charismatic Movement filled a spiritual void for many in the chaos following the Second Vatican Council, and was commended for that even by popes, but it had its risks. An isolated emphasis on the Holy Spirit could lead to Spiritualism, as such emphasis on the Father could become Deism, and an emphasis on the Son could become Humanism. Charismatic manifestations that emphasized gifts of the Spirit apart from fruits were faulted as far back as Eusebius and Augustine in their repudiation of Montanism... It is curious that when many people stopped praying in Latin, they began waving their hands to speak in faux-Aramaic."


THE MILITARIZATION OF AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY: A drone strike in Baluchistan of Pakistan displays the deep rift between the U.S. and Pakistan. There have been many drone strikes in Northwest Pakistan, but this is a new area and infuriates the Pakistan government which sees this as a breach of sovereignty. An opening to Vietnam in the form of arms sales - not quite beating those old swords into plowshares. Both acts trouble the waters with China.

LEBANON THE NEXT FRONT: Be ready to call Hezbollah an ally.

SOUTH AMERICA AND HER ARAB POLITICIANS: What a great boon for the notion of South America as a "source Church" if a new generation of South American leaders with Mideast roots could transcend the socialist/capitalist debate, and bring their Christian nations into the international arena as proponents of Christian realism.

NEW DEFENSE MINISTER IN ISRAEL TILTS TOWARD RUSSIA - JUST THE BEGINNING: The emerging relationship of Russia and Israel is going to disrupt a lot of the myopic foreign policy thinking in "think tank" Washington. The migration of Soviet Jews to Israel after the USSR played such a hostile role in the 1967 Six Days War was a wake-up call for many Soviet Jews. What is counter-intuitive is how the revival of Orthodox Christian Russia has led to a public warming to the Jews there. In Putin’s Russia the Jews as Jews are called to play an honored role as part of Russia’s multi-national history. The appointment of the Russian-speaking Lieberman as defense minister could be a game changer. Putin has deep personal ties to many Jews - an uncommon affinity. President Putin said the first Soviet government was 80-85 percent Jewish, and in the name of a false ideology harmed both Jews and Russian Orthodox. The Jewish library once seized by the anti-religious Soviets is now returned by the practicing Christian. It is becoming more and more clear to perceptive Israelis how deeply tied Putin is to Jews in his childhood and inner circle. All of this takes added import as one considers the new role of Russian-speaking Israelis. Russian is the third most common language in Israel; and Putin says he considers Israel to have a special relationship with Russia as part of the Russophonic world. Wikipedia on Russian-Israeli relations is full of facts most of us don’t know, but all of us will soon. Putin has also made Russia a safe haven for European Jews - but this Christian leader will not be embracing homosexuals any time soon.That confuses some secular Jews, but not Orthodox Jews or traditional Christians.



MR. TRUMP IN SPOKANE ON THE STUTTERING AMERICAN MALE: "If [Clinton] didn't play the women's card, she would have no chance, I mean zero, of winning," Trump said. "She's playing the women's card. She's going — " [here Trump's voice drips with sarcasm] "'Did you hear that Donald Trump raised his voice while speaking to a woman?' Oh, I'm sorry!" And then: "I mean. All of the men, we're petrified to speak to women anymore. We may raise our voice. You know what? The women get it better than we do, folks. They get it better than we do. If she didn't play that card, she has nothing." Women in the audience started cheering at this.

TRUMP AND TECUMSEHAmerican men off the reservation by Dr. Pence.


MEMORIAL DAY - MAY 30 - A DAY TO REMEMBER AND COMMIT: The religious and military bonds of a culture of life.


REMEMBER THE BOYS: Anthony Esolen on Boys to Men.

U.S. ARMY - PLEASE ASK AND WE WILL TELL: Eric Fanning, gay Secretary of the Army - no big deal?


Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday BookReview: "Crime and Punishment" (part 2)

[This is the concluding part of the essay by Professor Gary Saul Morson. 

The first part is here].

Why does Raskolnikov kill the old woman? Dostoevsky, who wrote an article on Edgar Allan Poe, loved to exploit the thrilling plots of mysteries while filling them with philosophical and psychological content. He turned the whodunit into a whydunit. He did so because he wanted us to ask not "who committed the crime?" but "what is crime?"

Looking back on the murder, Raskolnikov himself wonders why he committed it. As if anticipating a century of critics, he consider a series of possibilities. It is easy to reject the motive he gives when he turns himself in, the desire for money, since he immediately buries his plunder under a stone and forgets about it. Clearly, his theories had something to do with it, but the problem is, they contradict each other. The one denying that good and evil have any substance obviously runs counter to utilitarianism, which gives them a firm, if repugnant, foundation. In his article on crime, Raskolnikov has developed yet another theory, and Porfiry Petrovich taunts him with its implications.

Raskolnikov divides humanity into two groups, the “ordinary” and the “extraordinary.” In so doing, he takes to an extreme the intelligentsia’s presumption that they, as the enlightened ones, should govern society for its own good. No matter how other intelligentsia beliefs may shift, that presumption remains. Dostoevsky predicted how it would lead to what we have come to call totalitarianism, but even in softer forms it persists among progressives. After all, it is highly gratifying to belong to the elite of righteous people deserving all power. Whenever you hear that true democracy is to be achieved by an oligarchy from prestigious institutions, you are encountering the thinking Dostoevsky feared the most.

In Raskolnikov’s version, ordinary people work, breed, and keep society going. To fulfill this role, they must submit to the law and so are deluded into deeming it sacrosanct. Such people “are men conservative in temperament and law-abiding . . . it is their duty to be controlled.”

Everything important depends on the few extraordinary people, towering figures like Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Caesar, and above all Napoleon, who have the possibility, indeed the obligation, to say “a new word” and so advance the human race. They are inevitably criminals because “by virtue of the very fact that they make a new law they must transgress the old one.” It follows that “if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred or more men, Newton would have had the right, would have indeed been duty bound . . . to eliminate the dozen or the hundred men.” Ordinary people are their "material."

If “wading through blood” is allowable for the Napoleons, then it is proportionally also justifiable for those who are only “a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word.” Every intelligent, more or less, has the right to use ordinary people as material. Dostoevsky’s progressive readers must have squirmed.

“Excuse the natural anxiety of a practical law-abiding citizen,” Porfiry Petrovich teases, but couldn’t these extraordinary people “adopt a special uniform”? What if an ordinary person should get it into his dense head that he is extraordinary and “begins to ‘eliminate obstacles,’ as you so happily expressed it?” And set my mind at ease, he continues, “are there many people who have the right to kill others?” I don’t know how many, Raskolnikov replies, but there must be “some definite law” specifying a particular portion, because “it cannot be a matter of chance.” With his faith in a mathematical law, Raskolnikov has become a social scientist.

It is left to Raskolnikov’s sister to express the ordinary person’s moral response to this hideous theory: “what is really original in all this . . . to my horror, is that you sanction bloodshed in the name of conscience, and excuse my saying so, with such fanaticism.” A moral sanction for murder, she continues, is worse than any other.

Plainly, the Napoleonic theory contradicts the amoral one because it makes bloodshed a moral obligation, done “in the name of conscience.” It also contradicts the utilitarian principle that the happiness of each person is equal. Soon enough, Raskolnikov comes up with a fourth possibility: he didn’t kill because he thought he was a Napoleon but to find out whether he was a Napoleon. If so, he reasons, he failed the test, because Napoleon would not have felt a moment’s guilt; and that means, Raskolnikov tells himself, that he is “a louse like all the rest.”

So which explanation is correct? Which theory led to Raskolnikov’s choice to kill the old woman? The answer is none of them, because he did not “choose” at all, in the usual sense of that term. We typically assume that to act one must first choose to act, but that is psychologically naïve. Raskolnikov lives in a state of mind in which nothing is quite real and everything is hypothetical. Completely abstracted from his surroundings, he has long been “so completely absorbed in himself” that he has fallen into extreme slovenliness. He spends his time dreaming of theories and what it would be like to commit a crime based on them. Strictly speaking, it is not crime that fascinates him, but the possibility of it. The possible is what is most real to him.

As a rationalist, Raskolnikov believes he can plan the perfect crime that would be impossible to detect, but he never actually plans it, only plans to plan it. Even on the day of the murder he relies on chance to secure the murder weapon. As the novel opens, he attempts to conduct a trial run for the crime but loses himself in dreams, so that, as he soon reflects, “even his late trial run was simply a try at a trial run.”

Never choosing either to commit or not to commit the murder, he lives in an in-between realm in which he might commit it. This kind of might-be time is a special way in which people can experience temporality. Dostoevsky diagnoses it as a disease to which dreamers and theorists are especially subject. “We may note in passing one peculiarity in regard to all the final resolutions taken by him in the matter,” the narrator explains:

They had one strange characteristic. The more final they were, the more hideous and absurd they at once became in his eyes. In spite of all his agonizing inward struggle, he never for a single instant could believe in the carrying out of his plans.
And, indeed, if it had ever happened that everything to the least point could have been considered and finally settled, and no uncertainty of any kind had remained, he would, it seems, have renounced it all as something absurd, monstrous, and impossible. But a whole mass of unsettled points and uncertainties remained.
Raskolnikov leaves details unsettled in order to remain in uncertainty. In principle, he could live forever in this in-between state, except that he happens by sheer chance to learn that Lizaveta will be out at 7:00 PM and so the old woman will be home alone. Since he could never hope to acquire such information again, he must either act on his dream or give it up. But he postpones doing either. As 7:00 PM approaches and the territory between action and renunciation shrinks almost to a point, he loses track of time, falls asleep, and wakes up just a bit late to keep his appointment for murder.

Even when he stands before the old woman, removes the axe from the secret loop inside his coat, and holds it over her head, he still has not decided whether to swing it! As the narrator explains, throughout the scene he behaves “almost mechanically, as if someone had taken him by the hand and pulled him along irresistibly, blindly, with unnatural force, without objections. As if a piece of clothing had been caught in the cogs of a machine and he were dragged into it.” It turns out that even in his dreams it had vaguely occurred to him it would be like this, which is why he chose an axe, a weapon requiring no accuracy or presence of mind, rather than, let us say, a knife. Even in his dreams he imagined doing it dreamily.

She stands with her back to him, but he postpones acting until she is just about to turn around and his chance would be lost. When “he had not a minute to lose” he “pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, almost mechanically, he brought the blunt side down upon her head. He seemed not to use his own strength in this.”

Dostoevsky is at the height of his powers here. The hero commits a hideous, violent act without ever actually deciding to do it! It seems that the picture of human psychology familiar in legal thinking and social science is much too simplistic. Raskolnikov cannot understand why he chose to commit the crime because he did it without choosing.

Russia’s other great psychologist, Leo Tolstoy, was the first to grasp what Dostoevsky was doing here. Tolstoy asks: when did Raskolnikov live his true life and when was it decided that he would kill the old woman? It was decided not when he stood before her with axe in hand, Tolstoy explains, because then he was simply “discharging the cartridge with which he had long been loaded.” Neither was it decided when he made the loop in his overcoat by which the axe hung or while thinking any thoughts directly connected with the murder. No, he lived his true life leading to murder when he was just lying on his sofa, doing nothing but letting his mind wander. And in that state of mind “tiny alterations” of consciousness were taking place: “tiny, tiny alterations—but on them depend the most immense and terrible consequences . . . houses, riches, and people’s bodies may perish, but nothing more important can happen than what was hidden in the man’s consciousness. The limits of what can happen are set by consciousness.”

The crime emerged not from a specific decision but from a state of mind, resulting from his neglect of prosaic duties and kindnesses, and from his cherishing “bookish dreams.” Because he let himself sink into and persist in dreams where murder is a possibility, he is, without having chosen murder, still morally responsible for it. Every moment in which he fostered the theoretical state of mind, in which abstract considerations displaced common decency, made the crime more possible.

He lived his true life leading to murder when he was just lying on his sofa, doing nothing but letting his mind wander.

When one dreams of killing, whether individual homicide or the mass murder honored by the term “revolution,” one creates a field of possibilities in which killing is much more likely to happen, directly or indirectly. John Maynard Keynes famously observed that “madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” Dostoevsky would have added: a scribbler who may have been indulging in a play of bloody abstractions but who would himself never harm a fly. Would the Parisian Marxists with whom Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge colleagues studied actually have killed anybody? Do such scribblers ever accept responsibility for a theory’s consequences?

Like most critics, I have referred to a murder, but that way of speaking misses a key moral point. It isn’t a case of murder but of murders, because Lizaveta walks in on the crime and Raskolnikov winds up killing her, too. This murder, indeed, is even more mechanical than the first and so Dostoevsky gives the agency not to the killer but to the weapon, as if it committed the crime on its own initiative: “the blow landed directly on the skull, with the sharp edge, and immediately split the whole upper part of the forehead. She collapsed.”
Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan in Saint Petersburg

Dostoevsky’s point is that however theoretically justified or well-planned a crime may be, the unintended consequences include completely innocent victims. Later Raskolnikov will proclaim, “I killed a louse, not an old woman,” but even then he forgets the other victim and so repeats the thinking that caused her death. Revolutionaries typically excuse such crimes by pointing to all the innocent victims bound to suffer if the tyrannical monarchists or capitalists are left in power, and, indeed, the students Raskolnikov overhears voice just this argument. And so real lives are equated with hypothetical ones, and present people die for the sake of improvements that might never take place. Bystanders are so easy to forget! How often have you heard revolutionaries mention they will kill thousands of bystanders along with the capitalists?

All critics sooner or later must face the novel’s signal weakness, its epilogue. It is set in Siberia, where Raskolnikov is serving his term. The saintly Sonya, the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold who implored him to confess, has followed him. Epilogues are supposed to be set in a sort of after-time so they can trace the consequences of the crucial events already narrated. But this epilogue has real plot. I recall an old cartoon showing a sullen writer listening to a publisher: “Mr. Dostoevsky, we like your novel Crime and Punishment and Repentance, but we think you should cut it by about a third.” The book we have reads as if Dostoevsky complied and crammed “Repentance” into the epilogue.

To make matters worse, momentous events are narrated not realistically, like the rest of the book, but mythically, in a setting where shepherds tend their flocks just as they did “in the days of Abraham.” The conversion experience occurs in a dream, which works not psychologically but mythically. Raskolnikov dreams that a terrible intellectual plague has infected everyone with the delusion that he alone possesses the absolute truth. Armies battle until they disintegrate into fighting individuals. The dream is an obvious allegory for what happens when the spirit of the intelligentsia prevails.

Critics have spilled rivers of ink justifying the epilogue, but their very effort shows the need for it. How did Dostoevsky wind up with such an ending? The answer, I think, lies in a philosophical conflict he couldn’t resolve.

If ideology is the plague, what is the cure? This novel offers two distinct alternatives. I think of the first as Tolstoyan because it develops a line of thought found in his work, especially in War and Peace, which, as it happens, was being serialized in the same literary periodical at the very same time! Porfiry Petrovich actually mentions a scene from it. Readers got a lot for their money.

For Tolstoy, what makes life meaningful is not dramatic heroes but decent, prosaic people who (as George Eliot concluded Middlemarch) "lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." In both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace, Napoleon represents the dramatic view of life. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s friend Razumikhin, whose name means "the reasonable," represents the prosaic alternative. Here "reasonable" is opposed to "rational" the way common sense is opposed to abstract deductions.

Before the murder, whenever Raskolnikov is drawn to renounce his plan, he finds himself on his way to Razumikhin. He asks himself whether he could actually imagine a solution lies with his practical friend. It does, not so much in Razumikhin’s moderate political views as in his resourcefulness and hard work. When Raskolnikov lies brooding, he tells the servant who brings him soup that it isn’t worth working for small sums, which he equates with piecemeal solutions rather than destroying all evil at a blow. Razumikhin, by contrast, is always contriving some small job to make ends meet and as the novel ends, he sets up a publishing business. He is, perhaps, the only wholly positive portrait of an ethnically Russian businessman in Russian literature. Live right moment to moment, rely on common sense, work for small sums, and do a kindness whenever possible: that is the prosaic alternative to Raskolnikov’s grandiose theorizing.

But the novel also offers a religious answer. Sonya, whose name means "wisdom," and who reads the Gospel aloud to Raskolnikov, is so saintly, so free of Dostoevskian psychology, that she seems superhuman. Dostoevsky deliberately made her unrealistic as if to suggest that the truth is not of this world. Until the epilogue, he presents both alternatives, Razumikhin’s and Sonya’s, without choosing between them.

The epilogue fails, I think, because it relies wholly on the religious answer, as if the prosaic one, worked out so meticulously for so many pages, did not exist. Raskolnikov’s repentance follows not from the overwhelming portion of the book devoted to psychological realism but from the Gospel story Sonya reads aloud, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Raskolnikov too is raised. It is all a bit too neat.

The questions this masterpiece poses still haunt us, perhaps even more than when it first appeared. Revolution still attracts. "New atheists" and stale materialists advance arguments that were crude a hundred fifty years ago. Social scientists describe human decisions in absurdly simplistic terms. Our intelligentsia entertains theory after theory elevating them above the ordinary people they would control. Morality is explained away neurologically, sociobiologically, or as mere social convention.

In such a cultural milieu, we might recall what Raskolnikov learns so painfully: that people are more complex than any model; that basic decency is a better guide than theory; and that a crime—whatever else it may be—is a crime.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, May 21

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


POPE COMMISSION ON FEMALE DEACONS: A commission to study female deacons - who were they? It would be a very good idea to study how the ordained male clergy of deacon/priest/bishop has developed differently than the female tradition of service through religious orders. Cardinal Mueller of the CDF would be an excellent man to lead the study since he has already written an authoritative book on the diaconate and priesthood. Here is an interview with him on the deaconess in the Church.

This Carl Olsen article has lots of excellent quoted references, but is marred by his all too familiar badgering of the pope. The good sisters were hitting the pope from every side like he was "a goalie taking shots from every side." The town-hall meeting was in good spirit which the sisters very much appreciated. However the idea that a study of deaconesses in the early church means Francis is open to ordaining women is beyond absurd. This report shows that in no way has the pope requested a study about the "ordination of women" and it gives a link to actual interview. This is another example of the pope in loving conversation; the progressives deliberately misinterpret him and the "fastidious orthodox" amplify the falsehoods. How often does one need to see this movie before he recognizes and finally tires of his assigned role?

EUROPE - A CATHOLIC REVIVAL OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE? An interesting historical review showing why Protestant Britain was not part of the first union. Now when they are considering a Brexit, the pope and many bishops urge them to stay. But some British Catholics do not see the EU as a charitable way to welcome migrants, but as the chief instrument erasing Christianity from public life. An interview with Alan Fimister on his book about one of the Catholic founding fathers of Europe, Robert Schuman of France. A very interesting exploration of papal thinking, of Jaques Maritain’s notion of supranational democracy as the new Christendom, and of Schuman’s agreement with "the magisterium's demand that the final destination of Catholic political action must be the recognition by the civil order of the truth of the Faith, through conversion of a 'numerical preponderance' of the electorate." The supranational democracy that Maritain dreamed of has not come to a good end. This interview is a bracing reminder that even the best of Catholic social thought cannot shape the reality of history.  As Pope Francis says, "Reality is more important than ideas." Now, we all have to recognize the reality that this supranational organization(the European Union) shaped largely by Catholic thinkers has become an enemy of Christianity and the nations.


BEN RHODES INTERVIEW AND OBAMA VS FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENTGood dissection of the interviewer and reactions by Fred Kaplan.  A response from the author - David Samuels. From Jewish magazine FORWARD - a peek into the Byzantine world of Jewish journalists. The long narrative interviews with President Obama by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Ben Rhodes by David Samuels in the NYTimes magazine show a daring move by the President, Secretary of State Kerry and his communications aide to realign the Mideast and pull America from the Saudi/Pakistan-Sunni embrace that has made our foreign policy incoherent. They have not proposed this major alternative in public, so they too seem incoherent. These two articles are remarkable works of investigative and interpretive journalism. What seems very clear is that Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, and Robert Gates had roles in all of these machinations but they were not the drivers of policy and may have been figureheads inadvertently covering a policy not made by them. Those old white folks played a similar fig leaf role in the Obama administration that Secretary of State Colin Powell fulfilled in the Bush White House.

SPACE: PROTECTING OUR SATELLITES - U.S. POSSESSIONS 22,000 MILES AWAY: A front as crucial as the South China Sea and Baltics. Except out here we have real interests.

CHINA - U.S. MILITARY ANALYSIS: A good source on China on the US military analysis of what they are up to. An understandable Chinese reaction to the US report.

SURROUNDING RUSSIA - PRESIDENT OBAMA HOSTS THE NORDICS: A Nordic Alliance? Over-sell of Russian Arctic threat? Building arms on the East Front of NATO. Arms dealer in chief - the paradox of President Obama.


EARLY TEXTS OF ISRAEL: Democracy, no religion, race, or sex discrimination. The reappearance of Israel as a territorial nation is certainly one of the great providential acts of our century. But early Zionists did not talk that way.

CHINA, VIETNAM, AND THE PHILIPPINES - CLAIMS ON THE OCEAN: Some maps and definitions of overlapping claims.



AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES -- AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LEO AND HARVEY MANSFIELD: The indoctrination on campus and the futility of the humanist Western Civilization professor.

PARODY AS POLICY; IS BRUCE JENNER REALLY ROSA PARKS? A sweeping directive - not binding but a threat enclosed. The great moral error of the Obama administration has been to portray the demonic, unnatural, anti-creation goals of Gender Ideology as a civil rights movement. Sexual confusion is not the culmination of the Christian civil rights movement, but its betrayal.

BRAZIL - THE LADY FROM THE LEFT REPLACED BY AN OLDER MAN, AN ALL-MALE CABINET, AND A GORGEOUS YOUNGER WIFE: South America’s largest nation is playing out its own version of sexual politics.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Friday BookReview: CRIME & PUNISHMENT -- "Raskolnikov is mad for rationality"



"The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
  The deeper the grief, the closer is God!"

Fyodor Dostoevsky's tale of the ex-student Raskolnikov, who kills an elderly pawnbroker and her sister, was published in 1866. (This followed Dostoevsky's return from long exile in Siberia).

A number of years earlier, when he was about 33, he penned these words to the widow of one of the men arrested back at the time of the Decembrist Revolt of 1825:
I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple; here it is: I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper and more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Saviour. I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like him, but that there could be no one. I would even say more. If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth did really exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ, and not with truth.

Dostoevsky by David Levine

Who is the most insightful essayist on great literature? Hands down, it is a professor at Northwestern University: Gary Saul Morson.

Here are his thoughts on the motivation behind some of the horrendous crimes committed in the modern era. [Part 2 will appear next Friday].

One hundred and fifty years ago, when Dostoevsky published Crime and Punishment, Russia was seething with reform, idealism, and hatred. Four years earlier, the “tsar-liberator” Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) had at last abolished serfdom, a form of bondage making 90 percent of the population saleable property. New charters granted considerable autonomy to the universities as press censorship was relaxed. The court system, which even a famous Slavophile said made his hair stand on end and his skin frost over, was remodeled along Western lines. More was to come, including the beginnings of economic modernization. According to conventional wisdom, Russian history alternates between absolute stasis—“Russia should be frozen so it doesn’t rot,” one reactionary writer urged—and revolutionary change. Between Peter the Great (died 1725) and the revolutions of 1917, nothing compared with the reign of Alexander II.

And yet it was the tsar-liberator, not his rigid predecessor or successor, who was assassinated by revolutionary terrorists. The decade after he ascended the throne witnessed the birth of the “intelligentsia,” a word we get from Russian, where it meant not well-educated people but a group sharing a set of radical beliefs, including atheism, materialism, revolutionism, and some form of socialism. Intelligents (members of the intelligentsia) were expected to identify not as members of a profession or social class but with each other. They expressed disdain for everyday virtues and placed their faith entirely in one or another theory. Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin were typical intelligents, and the terrorists who killed the tsar were their predecessors.

The intelligentsia prided itself on ideas discrediting all traditional morality. Utilitarianism suggested that people do, and should do, nothing but maximize pleasure. Darwin’s Origin of Species, which took Russia by storm, seemed to reduce people to biological specimens. In 1862 the Russian neurologist Ivan Sechenov published his Reflexes of the Brain, which argued that all so-called free choice is merely “reflex movements in the strict sense of the word.” And it was common to quote the physiologist Jacob Moleschott’s remark that the mind secretes thought the way the liver secretes bile. These ideas all seemed to converge on revolutionary violence.

The intelligentsia prided itself on ideas discrediting all traditional morality.

The hero of Crime and Punishment, Rodion Raskolnikov, discusses disturbances then in progress, including the radicals’ revolutionary proclamations and a series of fires they may have set. But by nature he is no bloodthirsty killer. Quite the contrary, he has an immensely soft heart and is tortured by the sight of human suffering, which he cannot and refuses to get used to. “Man gets used to everything, the scoundrel!” he mutters, but then immediately embraces the opposite position: “And what if I’m wrong . . . what if man is not really a scoundrel . . . then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it’s all as it should be.” (All quotes from the text are taken from Constance Garnett’s Modern Library translation.) He means that man cannot be a “scoundrel” because that is a moral category, and morality is simply “artificial terrors” imposed by religion and sheer “prejudice.” There is only nature, and nature has causes, not moral purposes. It follows that all is as it should be because if moral concepts are illusions then things just are what they are.

As the novel begins, Raskolnikov alternates between horror at evil and assertions that evil does not exist. When he encounters a girl who has been made drunk and raped, and is being followed by another predator, he summons a policeman and gives his last kopecks to get the girl home. We know that Raskolnikov can’t pay his rent and eats only when the landlady’s servant brings him food at her own expense, yet he gives away the little he has to help a fellow creature. Nevertheless, a moment later Raskolnikov turns into a complete Darwinian amoralist: “let them devour each other alive.”

We wonder how Raskolnikov manages to hold such contradictory positions. Perhaps, as he surmises, he simply can’t shake the “dead weight of instinct” inculcated by religion in childhood. Or maybe his extreme sensitivity to suffering when he is powerless to alleviate it makes a doctrine denying evil’s existence attractive. From extreme moralism to absolute nihilism is but a step.

Raskolnikov asks: is there really any such thing as crime? He has in mind the sort of thinking familiar to us from Nobel Prize–winning economist Gary Becker and other “rational choice” theorists. In a classic article entitled “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,” Becker relates how he once found himself late for a meeting and wondered whether to park illegally. Multiplying the potential fine by the likelihood of being ticketed, he arrived at the “expected value” of the punishment, and concluded it was less than the potential benefit of timeliness. Then he reasoned: what if that is all there is to crime?

If so, there is no essential difference between illegal parking and murder. There are just different punishments. How many parking tickets equal a murder? Becker and Raskolnikov have decided, on “scientific” grounds, that there is no such thing as moral crime, just legal crime, however horrified benighted souls, clinging to nuns and religion, might be.

Even after confessing to murder, Raskolnikov does not think he did anything wrong: “Why does my action strike them as so horrible?” he asks himself. “Is it because it was a crime? What is meant by crime? My conscience is at rest. Of course, it was a legal crime, the letter of the law was broken and blood was shed. Well, punish me for the letter of the law . . . and that’s enough.”

Raskolnikov is mad for rationality. In addition to radical amoralism, he has also invoked another form of rationalism, then called utilitarianism, as a justification for the murder he plans to commit. His victim is to be an old pawnbroker, a greedy, cruel woman who not only preys upon her poor customers but also mistreats her kindly, simple-minded sister Lizaveta. Logic itself, he decides, prescribes her death.

According to utilitarianism, the fundamental criterion of morality is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. What if that entails murder? Sitting in a tavern, Raskolnikov overhears two students posing that very question. “On the one side,” one student explains, “we have a stupid, senseless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman, not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for and who will die in a day or two in any case. . . . On the other hand, fresh young lives thrown away for want of help by thousands.”

According to utilitarianism, the fundamental criterion of morality is the greatest happiness of the greatest number. What if that entails murder?

The conclusion is mathematically certain: “Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. . . . One death and a thousand lives in exchange—it’s simple arithmetic!” You can’t argue with arithmetic. For that matter, since the pawnbroker’s life is not just valueless but of negative value—she does positive harm—it would be moral to kill her even without using the money for a good purpose. Indeed, it is immoral not to kill her, since her death would increase society’s total utility.

Raskolnikov is struck by the coincidence that the students are discussing just what he is thinking, but Dostoevsky’s point is that these ideas are in the air. It is almost as if people don’t think ideas, but ideas use people to be thought. As Raskolnikov is aware, the city in which he lives is itself, as the first planned city ever built, an embodiment of abstract reason. Established in a swamp by order of Tsar Peter, and following the design of French utopian architects, the notoriously unhealthy Russian capital fostered the spirit of rationalism in its noxious air. That is why, on his way to murder, Raskolnikov finds himself considering a “totally irrelevant” thought about how city planning might improve the neighborhood.

Raskolnikov convinces himself that the murder he contemplates will occasion no guilt because it is not really a crime. Fifteen years later the revolutionaries who killed the tsar demanded amnesty because their crimes “were not crimes, but the fulfillment of social duty.” To think otherwise would be sheer “prejudice.”

Nevertheless, after the murder, Raskolnikov endures horrific pangs of conscience and an almost overwhelming desire to confess. Above all, he suffers from nightmares.

Nobody but Dostoevsky ever created such terrifying dreams. In one, Raskolnikov finds himself drawn to the pawnbroker’s flat, sees her seated with her back to him, and swings his axe onto her head to kill her again. But she doesn’t die. He swings again and again, and at last peers down into her face and discovers her suppressing her laughter. Evidently she has lured him to the crime in order to ruin him! He turns around only to find people pointing and laughing at him. Overcome with shame as well as guilt, he awakes in a fever.

The novel’s detective, one of Dostoevsky’s great creations, uses Raskolnikov’s feverish emotions to ensnare him. An apparent bumbler and a masterful psychologist—Peter Falk’s klutzy detective Columbo was loosely based on him—Porfiry Petrovich has read Raskolnikov’s article entitled, appropriately enough, “On Crime.” Connecting the evidence pointing to a “bookish” murder with Raskolnikov’s frantic desire to show he is not confessing, Porfiry Petrovich guesses who the murderer is. As adept a psychologist as his creator, he devises schemes to drive Raskolnikov to confess out of sheer overwrought nerves. As the murderer’s anxiety mounts, it almost seems as if author and detective are acting in concert against him, each setting traps and provoking terror.

One reason Porfiry Petrovich understands Raskolnikov so well is that he has once been like him. And so he gets inside his mind. At some moments he actually whispers to Raskolnikov the very words he is thinking as if he were a voice within. The supposed rationalist feels almost possessed. Strange to say, Porfiry Petrovich is arguably world literature’s most empathetic character.

Insanity threatens Raskolnikov, but it may have already overtaken the weird visitor who appears, almost supernaturally, in his room. Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov stands as another of Dostoevsky’s completely original characters, simultaneously terrifying and funny, cruel and generous, insane and rational. In fact, he is insane because he is so rational. Raskolnikov has already learned of him as a wealthy man trying to seduce his poor sister. To further his pursuit, Svidrigailov shrewdly takes advantage of accidental information proving Raskolnikov is the killer. But villainy is the least interesting part of his character.

Svidrigailov wholly accepts the complete amoralism Raskolnikov merely professes. Today he would be the perfect deconstructionist, one who realizes the full implications of his doctrine. Valuing nothing, he suffers from metaphysical boredom, and so has excited stronger and stronger sensations of whatever kind he can find. Sadism, gambling, debauchery, the seduction of a child, beating a servant to death: he has exhausted them all. And now he is haunted.

As Dante makes the punishments of hell appropriate to one’s sins, Dostoevsky has his madmen experience a hell appropriate to their philosophy. The ghosts who pay social calls on Svidrigailov are decorous, boring, and not the least bit otherworldly. In their triviality, they promise a world to come even more pointless than this one. “We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast!” Svidrigailov observes. “But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like an outhouse in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is?”

When Raskolnikov reproaches him with his monstrous crimes, Svidrigailov points to the oddity of a moralist murderer, but he is also ready with excuses. If, as the progressives argue, people are wholly the product of their environment, if free will is an illusion, and if crime derives solely from bad social conditions, then how, he asks, can I be personally responsible? “The question is, am I a monster or am I myself a victim?” Besides, he continues, even if I have grievously insulted others, well, “human beings in general greatly love to be insulted” because taking offense allows them to feel morally superior. Why, people even seek out ways to feel offended! My students, who know just what Svidrigailov has in mind, appreciate Dostoevsky’s relevance.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tecumseh and Trump: American Men off the Reservation

by Dr. David Pence

"I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak."
               (Hillary Clinton on CNN, April 2016)

 "I mean. All of the men were petrified to speak to women anymore. "
              (Donald Trump in Spokane, May 2016)


The great Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, was admired by friend and foe alike for his forthright speech and his vision of uniting different warring tribes into a single spiritual union of countrymen. He had seen how tribal divisions stoked all the wrong enmities, while the white establishment moved relentlessly westward and swallowed the land of the divided red men. His brother, "the Prophet," was the spiritual visionary while Tecumseh was the warrior leader who tried to put together a new configuration of alliances to save his country.  The hope for a spiritual revival to unite American Indians died at the Battle of Tippecanoe (1811) when the prophet was discredited. Tecumseh, however, had one more alliance to propose. He bonded with his British warrior compatriot Major-General Isaac Brock in the War of 1812. They defended Canada from American encroachment, but never established a free nation for the Indians west of the Great Lakes.

The Shawnee Prophet

Today, Sir Isaac Brock and Tecumseh are considered heroes of the Canadian nation. They both died in battle. There would never again be a serious threat of a united Indian front to stop the American drive west. It would be the white American men who would build larger and larger circles of countrymen under the Father in Heaven to unite as a single people. As the territory expanded and the centuries passed, their shared duty as countrymen was still masculine and territorial but no longer restricted by color.

Tecumseh has been honored by American patriots and fighting men since his death. Sports teams and certain kinds of political leaders admire the martial loyalties and bravery they know is necessary for a team to win and a nation to survive. Since the Irish Democrat John Kennedy, no American President has spoken in Tecumseh’s civic masculine language of "fellow countrymen." Not all leaders of tribe or nation speak in this tongue. The first two early presidents who spoke that way were Washington and Jackson. Intellectuals and party men who populated the early Republic loved Washington, but they despised Andrew Jackson. It takes a lot to get the bookish men to grant the warrior or builder his due. But men whose political loyalties have not been professionalized recognize the common call of male leaders. Andrew Jackson did not please the Washington establishment, but his electoral victories in 1928 and 1932 were landslides. The so-called "dog whistle" that a man can sound in the manner of his speech and walk is a primal call of the territorial patriot. In our day it should not be confused with racism, for it evokes a national brotherhood that is actually an antidote to racism and the answer to our urban problem of male socialization.
Statue of Old Hickory

The rich white squaw of the past chief -- she who tried eight years ago to prevent the first black man from winning the  presidential office -- is having a nightmare. She is recalling her last overreach. Donald Trump is not the "dog who couldn’t stay on the front porch" like her old chief.  She "had a lot of experience" handling that caricature of manhood.

Donald Trump is much more like that outsider man of 2008 who challenged her narrative of female entitlement. Once again a man and his many, many brothers are off the reservation.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Map on Monday: GIBRALTAR


By A. Joseph Lynch

The above image is a photograph of British-controlled Gibraltar, a small peninsula jutting out of Spain's southeast coast within the Mediterranean. The population of  30,000 is 80% Gibraltaran, 13% British, 3% Morroccan and 1% Spanish.  In a previous post we examined seven geostrategic choke points. One might be surprised that, given Gibraltar's past geostrategic importance to both Europe and the British Empire, it was not treated in this post. Most strategic analyses today, however, focus on Russia and therefore see the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles as the sole defense against keeping the Russian Black Sea Fleet at bay. Given that any North African, European, or Middle Eastern conflict could spill over into the Mediterranean, Gibraltar should remain an important geostrategic choke point. Anti-Russian bias must not allow us to overlook the continued importance of Gibraltar.

As the map to the left indicates, British-controlled Gibraltar is not located within the Strait of Gibraltar at the closest and central-most point between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Rather it is fixed at the strait's Mediterranean mouth with a strategic focus on the Mediterranean, more than the Atlantic.

Across the mouth immediately south is the Spanish-controlled peninsula adjacent to Morocco called Ceuta. The peaks found on British Gibraltar (known as the Rock of Gibraltar) and Spanish Ceuta together comprise the "Pillars of Hercules" as they were once called ("Gibraltar" is a name with Islamic origins).

Ceuta's history dates back to Roman times, was captured by Muslims in 740, then captured by the Portuguese in 1415 (the same year Henry V won his great victory over the French at Agincourt), and finally ceded to the Spanish in 1668. Although Ceurta has a population of about 80,000 mostly ethnic Spanish, the Moroccan government would like to have control of the Ceuta.

The British captured northern Gibraltar during of the War of Spanish Succession in 1704, and the Spanish ceded control of the peninsula in perpetuity to the British as part of the Treat of Utrecht in 1713. Given Spain's neutrality during World War II, British control of the peninsula played an important role in the battle for the Mediterranean. Spain, naturally, sees the importance of the peninsula and seeks to bring it back under Spanish control. As Britain decides on its place in the European Union, the Spanish have said they would retake Gibraltar if the British exit the EU.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, May 14

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


ARAB SUNNI MUSLIMS NEED A STATE - MUST IT BE TAKEN FROM THE SIDE OF ISRAEL? A short excellent video on Israel as the home of Jewish refugees from the Mideast. The Jewish refugees emptied out of the Arab countries in 1947 -- the same time many Palestinian Arabs were fleeing the new State of Israel. European allies of Israel are much more wedded to the two-state solution than Israelis. Much of the two-state rhetoric from the era of secular Arab states seems a bit yesterday. The childless bureaucrats of the EU may not be the best source of wisdom about religion, nations, and sustaining the long-term life of sovereign states.

PAKISTAN AND CHINA: The most dangerous country in South Asia is Pakistan. China has helped them with massive infrastructure projects (a very different approach than our alliance with Saudi Arabia built on arm sales). Pakistan has many internal forces turning it toward Salafist Islam. The alliance with China is not one of them. A crucial area for smart diplomacy.

THE STRONGEST MAN IN EUROPE IS A TURK WHO IS DE-SECULARIZING TURKEY: Free EU visas for Turks while 2.5 million Syrian refugees are in their land - Looking at Europe from Turkey. President Erdogan seems ascendant. The strongest US ally in his government has been demoted. This is part of a consolidation of authority by President Erdogan. A prediction here that a similar man in a similar niche in Saudi Arabia - Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef - will meet a similar fate as King Salman and his favorite son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, continue their consolidation of power.

SAUDIS, 9/11, AND BRUCE REIDEL: Mr. Reidel (30 years CIA, presently Director of Brookings Intelligence Project) was more involved in the response to September 11th attacks than I knew. I have praised him in the past and learned much from his talks. You can learn many facts from him, but the big strategic necessities with Saudi Arabia are not his forte. On the Saudis, he says there is not much smoke there. This is still a very clear  talk explaining the present players in a tottering Kingdom.

Here is a short video of Reidel commenting on Wahhabis and Saudis. He does see that the son of the new King is the instigator of the Yemen war which he compares to a friend driving drunk. What he has trouble seeing is that the war on Yemen is not about a threatened Sunni Kingdom defending from Iranian encroachment. This is a vicious air war meant to  eliminate the political independence of Yemen’s Houthi Shiites. Like almost all in official Washington think-tanks, he does not understand religion and its organization of loyalties as the ultimate truth. Like both foreign policy think tanks and Christian liberty advocates, there is no acknowledgment that the religious persecution of the Shiites is a fundamental component of the Wahhabi movement in Islam.


TILT TOWARD ASIA PROMOTES BRITISH AND AMERICAN DIPLOMATS: What are the odds that the two top men sent to China from the Anglo coalition that won WWII would both be getting married soon after their postings... and married to Chinese men at that. This should not be confused for fraternity amidst the nations. It should be a warning bell that homosexuality is a huge asset in careerism in the Democratic Party of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.

HARVARD FINDS THE ROOT OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE: All-male social clubs -- tightening the screws.

AUSTIN RUSE ON NEW CRITIQUE OF GLOBAL SEXUAL REVOLUTION: He reviews a book by German Gabrielle Kuby and adds his list of the best refutations of the gender ideologies. Ruse is president of C-FAM (Center for Family & Human Rights), a New York and Washington DC-based research institute focusing on international legal and social policy. He is one of a growing number of writers who understands the global manifestations and historical roots of the sexual revolution.


HISTORIAN PAUL JOHNSON ON TRUMP: If American Christians are fighting the citadels of political correctness to win back our country from the sexual revolutionaries and a great tornado hits some of the citadels -- it is no time to shirk from the fury of tornadoes. Learn to act and congregate in the new spaces created by the mayhem. Johnson on Trump.

CAMILLE PAGLIA ON HILLARY: It isn’t sexist to be against the bitter ones. Mrs. Clinton says she knows how to deal with men who go off the reservation and have tantrums: "I have a lot of experience dealing with men who sometimes get off the reservation in the way they behave and how they speak." Sounds like a call to the warpath may be in order. We have time to formulate the best response to this tell-tale remark from the queen bee.


BEN RHODES - OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR: A revealing interview with NY TIMES MAGAZINE. If one combines this with the recent Obama interview in the Atlantic, we see a real clash of President Obama with the received wisdom of the foreign policy think tanks and writers who he calls "the Blob." This is something the Trump foreign policy team should build on and learn from.

Some thematic excerpts from the interview:
Rhodes served as Hamilton’s staff member on the 9/11 Commission, where he met Denis McDonough, another Hamilton protégé, who had gone on to work for Tom Daschle in the Senate. Rhodes then became the chief note-taker for the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission that excoriated George Bush’s war in Iraq. He accompanied Hamilton and his Republican counterpart on the group, former secretary of state and Bush family intimate James Baker, to their meetings with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, David Petraeus and many others (Vice President Dick Cheney met with the group but didn’t say a word). According to both Hamilton and Edward Djerejian, Baker’s second on the I.S.G., Rhodes’s opinions were helpful in shaping the group’s conclusions — a scathing indictment of the policy makers responsible for invading Iraq. For Rhodes, who wrote much of the I.S.G. report, the Iraq war was proof, in black and white, not of the complexity of international affairs or the many perils attendant on political decision-making but of the fact that the decision-makers were morons. One result of this experience was that when Rhodes joined the Obama campaign in 2007, he arguably knew more about the Iraq war than the candidate himself, or any of his advisers. He had also developed a healthy contempt for the American foreign-policy establishment, including editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, who at first applauded the Iraq war and then sought to pin all the blame on Bush and his merry band of neocons when it quickly turned sour. If anything, that anger has grown fiercer during Rhodes’s time in the White House. He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East. 

The job he was hired to do, namely to help the president of the United States communicate with the public, was changing in equally significant ways, thanks to the impact of digital technologies that people in Washington were just beginning to wrap their minds around. It is hard for many to absorb the true magnitude of the change in the news business — 40 percent of newspaper-industry professionals have lost their jobs over the past decade — in part because readers can absorb all the news they want from social-media platforms Rhodes singled out a key example to me one day, laced with the brutal contempt that is a hallmark of his private utterances. “All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus,” he said. “Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.” 

Barack Obama is not a standard-issue liberal Democrat. He openly shares Rhodes’s contempt for the group-think of the American foreign-policy establishment and its hangers-on in the press. Yet one problem with the new script that Obama and Rhodes have written is that the Blob may have finally caught on.
What I (the interviewer, David Samuels) don’t understand is why, if America is getting out of the Middle East, we are apparently spending so much time and energy trying to strong-arm Syrian rebels into surrendering to the dictator who murdered their families, or why it is so important for Iran to maintain its supply lines to Hezbollah. He mutters something about John Kerry, and then goes off the record, to suggest, in effect, that the world of the Sunni Arabs that the American establishment built has collapsed. The buck stops with the establishment, not with Obama, who was left to clean up their mess. [AOA noteThis is an encouraging revelation that they understand the Salafist Sunni nature of the enemy. They see that our true present enemy has sprung from our oldest alliances  - this is what "the Blob" cannot clarify]

In Panetta’s telling, his own experience at the Pentagon under Obama sometimes resembled being installed in the driver’s seat of a car and finding that the steering wheel and brakes had been disconnected from the engine. Obama and his aides used political elders like him, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton as cover to end the Iraq war, and then decided to steer their own course, he suggests. While Panetta pointedly never mentions Rhodes’s name, it is clear whom he is talking about.

His days at the White House start with the president’s daily briefing, which usually includes the vice president, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Adviser Avril Haines and Homeland Security Adviser Lisa Monaco. 
Obama's Security Trinity: Susan Rice, Avril Haines, Lisa Monaco

Early on, what struck her (Samantha P) about Rhodes was how strategic he was. “He was leading quietly, initially, and mainly just through track changes, like what to accept and reject,” she says. When I ask her where Rhodes’s control over drafts of the candidate’s speeches came from, she immediately answers, “Obama,” but then qualifies her answer. “But it was Hobbesian,” she adds. “He had the pen. And he understood intuitively that having the pen gave him that control.” His judgment was superior to that of his rivals, and he refused to ever back down. “He was just defiant,” she recalls. “He was like: ‘No, I’m not. That’s bad. Obama wouldn’t want that.’ ”

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday BookReview: ALL THE KING'S MEN

From a recent review of Robert Penn Warren's 1946 novel:
Expecting to read a book about political corruption, I discovered  a story with penetrating insights into the human condition. When Warren was writing some 70 years ago, populist rhetoric was common in America. Our current political climate certainly suggests that everything old is new again in American politics... To my mind, the celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning novel reveals something important about who we all are. 
Warren’s brilliant story considers politics as a feature of human nature, and he leaves his reader with two options to consider: We are all corrupt and manipulative in the pursuit of self-interest, however noble and good our ends may appear to be; or, we can find (through spiritual regeneration) a new way of being in the world that transcends our fallen humanity. 
Protagonist Willie Stark, proletariat turned quintessential politician, comes to accept the former position, but his political goals are shaped by an aspiration to bring about a social condition that reflects that latter. The pervasiveness of depravity is met with the hope of redemption. This hope provides an alternative to nihilism, both political and existential. One episode in the novel is particularly revealing. 
When characters Adam Stanton and Jack Burden discuss the similar effects of a lobotomy and baptism, i.e., a new and transformed personality, Jack reveals that, despite his interest in the right things, he is unable to act in any meaningful way. Moreover, he cannot help being implicit in the corruption. In fact, his research uncovers information that leads to the death of his own father and the loss of his one true love. His desire for greater meaning in his life can only take shape in following a man like Willie Stark, because he cannot see the possibility of meaningfully engaging life and acting in the polis in any other way. As tends to be the case, his contributions ultimately lead to his redemption because he is forced to confront the horrific consequences of his actions. 
Warren provides his reader with a view of politics as an expression of our nature as social beings. Together, we act with deliberation in pursuit of the common good. He has in mind much more than we typically attribute to politics—so much so that we might to fail to recognize that Warren is not simply telling a tale about ambition and a corrupt politician. To reduce his work to a “political novel” is to lose sight of the world Warren depicts for us that reveals the extent to which we are bound up with one another in our everyday lives. 
Warren’s more important comment is about politics as contextualized, an artifact of culture and an expression of our community. Your decision about how to live your life affects me. It shapes the political landscape. The redemption of Jack through his mother is especially poignant. When she renounces her material wealth and exploitation of men to return to her former life of poverty and simplicity, Jack is finally able to be a real presence in the world, who gives authentic shape to his community and is no longer dependent on the system for his identity. Arguably, Jack learns to love when his mother accepts who she is. 
Warren’s story is one of love, family, honor, masculinity, the pitfalls and promise of modernity, and salvation. For Warren, something essential has been lost in society, and he reminds us that though we may not even recognize this loss, and even though we have been wounded by it, our hearts yearn for the infinite. All of our hearts—those of corrupt politicians as much as those of the daughters of honorable men. 
It seems undeniable that in response to this longing for all that is good, corruption infects even our most noble aspirations. Can we hope to bring about a proper and just ordering of society, a way of life that contributes to our ultimate salvation? Warren seems to suggest both that we can and we can’t—and that any accomplishments we achieve are not likely to take shape the way we expect or think that they should.The tragic narrator and protagonist, Jack Burden, whose life and career are thoroughly intertwined with the larger-than-life Willie Stark, reminds me of someone who gives expression to the exhortation to “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” This is truly the challenge for all of us, and even that pursuit is conditioned by our circumstances and experiences. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us: "No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone." Somehow, both are true. 
When it comes to politics, Warren’s novel encourages me to refrain from judgment. Even Willie Stark, for all his crooked ways, ruining of lives, exploitation of women, and countless foibles, desired and served the common good. He died as an idealist who lived in pursuit of one dream for something he created to be perfectly pure. Politics demands a reflection of our ourselves, our hopes and our dreams, our tattered nobility, and our conspicuous vice. A conversation about our leaders can never be separated from a conversation about ourselves. This is truly a novel about all the King’s men.

Painting of Mr. Warren by Conrad Albrizio, 1935

Robert Penn Warren on the differences between writing fiction and poetry:
"But to poetry — You have to be willing to waste time. When you start a poem, stay with it and suffer through it and just think about nothing, not even the poem. Just be there. It's more of a prayerful state than writing the novels is. A lot of the novel is in doing good works, as it were, not praying. And the prayerful state is just being passive with it, mumbling, being around there, lying on the grass, going swimming, you see. Even getting drunk. Get drunk prayerfully, though."

A few excerpts from the 'NY Times' review when the novel was first published:
It is as bumpy and uneven as a corduroy road... Nevertheless, Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men" is magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue spark... Here, my lords and ladies, is no book to curl up with in a hammock, but a book to read until 3 o'clock in the morning, a book to read on trains and subways... 
Through the eyes of his narrator, a corrupt and cynical newspaper man enrolled in the dictator's service, he sees Huey Long's career without illusions as to his personal faults, his "tomcatting all over the State," his use of bribery, blackmail and force, his contemptuous destruction of freedom and decency. But he magnifies the roads, schools, income taxes, etc., introduced in Huey's regime. "At least the Boss does something," says one of Mr. Warren's characters...  
[I]t is quite possible to argue with Mr. Warren about the meaning of his book and to hold reservations about several of his characters (Anne Stanton, the aristocrat whom Jack loves in his fashion and who becomes the Boss' mistress, is hard to imagine and harder to understand). But such matters in no way impair the superb effectiveness of Mr. Warren's story telling. Jack may be morally as blind as Willie Stark, the Boss, but Mr. Warren has endowed him with his own exuberant skill with words. 
"All the King's Men" is really a double story, that of Willie, the hick from the red-neck country who rose to power through eloquence, leadership and ruthless mastery of dirty politics, and that of three aristocrats drawn into Willie's orbit. Jack was one of them, and he betrayed everything he should have stood for. Anne's brother, Adam, was another, a distinguished surgeon whose conception of honor and whose desire to good could not be adjusted to the filthy world where men like Willie got results. And Anne was the third, a well-intentioned waverer between opposing systems. 
The two themes are woven together adroitly so that they cross, and recross, with flashbacks in time, with interpolated stories almost completely independent in themselves, with episodes of thundering melodrama. Willie Stark as a man and a politician is superbly well realized. Jack tells his story with a cynical humor, a raw vitality and an awed wonder that are immense. He is equally skillful in suggesting the futility of the old tradition when confronted with men like Willie, and, in poetic passages of pure atmosphere, rushing highways at night, old towns on the Gulf, the noisome aggregate of crawling, subhuman life around the great man...


UPDATE: This site gives some of the background of Huey Long. 

(What two men did Franklin Roosevelt consider the most dangerous in America? Senator Long and General MacArthur).

Here's a great clip of "The Kingfish" describing the difference between the Democrat and Republican parties.