Monday, April 20, 2015

Say my name

You have been told over and over again – and by some awfully important and powerful folks – that the gruesome outrages committed more or less daily by ISIS and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab – and, most recently, some random Muslim refugees in a boat – are “not about Islam.” Some fairly well-informed and studious people seem to disagree with that. But, I get it. We live in an age where it’s much more comfortable to discuss workplace violence instead of terrorism – even when we’re talking about the same event. (Indeed, some folks, like Ben Affleck, are so disinclined to engage uncomfortable facts that their passionate denial about the roots of the terrorism is exceeded only by their desperation to deny their own personal roots.)






So let’s spare ourselves the whole mess about what is Islam and what isn't. Let’s not talk about whether ISIS, or Boko Haram, or Al Shabaab, or Hezbollah, or Al Qaeda – or some random Muslim refugees in a boat – were motivated by Islam to act as they did. Let’s put the perpetrators’ motives aside and focus merely upon the identity of the victims.

Those random Muslim refugees in the Mediterranean tossed overboard and drowned those who, as terrified as they were, called out to God and prayed with their hands folded. Al Shabaab, at the Westgate Mall and at Garissa University College, employed the simple expediency of asking potential victims if they were Christian or not. Boko Haram saves itself the trouble of even asking by simply attacking Christians at worship. ISIS on the Libyan beach expressly warned that beheading was the fate all Christians will face if they do not convert.

So if we cannot say these scores and scores of brutal, terror-filled, agonizing deaths have got to do with Islam, can we acknowledge  – for pity’s sake can we at least say out loud – that they incontrovertibly have got to do with Christianity?*

And more than say it in this space, can we hear it from the one fellow from whom we most need to hear it? Here is the Administration statement from last night, issued by Bernadette Meehan, the spokesperson for the National Security Council.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder purportedly of Ethiopian Christians by ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya.  We express our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Ethiopian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens.  That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality.  This atrocity once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya to empower a unified Libyan rejection of terrorist groups.
Even as terrorists attempt through their unconscionable acts to sow discord among religious communities, we recall that people of various faiths have coexisted as neighbors for centuries in the Middle East and Africa.  With the force of this shared history behind them, people across all faiths will remain united in the face of the terrorists’ barbarity.  The United States stands with them.  While these dehumanizing acts of terror aim to test the world's resolve – as groups throughout history have – none have the power to vanquish the powerful core of moral decency which binds humanity and which will ultimately prove the terrorists' undoing.
That’s not nothing, I suppose.** As best I can tell, by acknowledging even barely that the victims were Christian, and were victims because they were Christian, it's a first of sorts. But it is not enough by miles.

Because I have to wonder. The President, in an act of staggering sophistry, used the occasion of the recent National Prayer Breakfast to state: “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”*** Now, as the death toll of Christians killed for being Christians mounts around the world, can't he simply say their name?****



* Yes. I know. ISIS and its ilk kill many, many Muslims as well. The killers in those cases would tell you in no uncertain terms that those killings are all about Islam, that as takfiri, they are condemning and justly punishing apostate traitors to Islam. But just for now, just for this space, since so few folks seem to want to, we’re going to talk about Christians.

** I’m sure Bernadette Meehan is a fine and important person.

*** Let’s be clear: He hardly needed to reach back 900 years for some awful behavior by Christians. On the most fundamental level possible, Christianity is about people so sinful, vile and evil that they all are damned to hell – except for the Grace of Jesus. And even those who claim Him and have received that Grace are, necessarily, sinners in the present tense.

That sin is not theoretical. It’s entirely too real, and all too often it’s even associated with the faith itself. That Midwestern gang of homophobic thugs who like to picket soldiers’ funerals and have the words “Baptist” and “church” right there in their name. Pedophile clerics are likely to go after the convenient lambs in their own flocks. No Christian deserves praise or even deference merely for being a Christian. Any Christian who would expect that hasn't really paid attention to his own theology.

**** It is rare -- in fact, I think unprecedented -- for this blog directly to criticize the President, I find the greatest danger is that some reader might imagine I support those who oppose him.

Remember, please Robert's Rule of Binary American Politics: Team R versus Team D is really just an intra-squad scrimmage by players from the same team, staged to distract the cheering fans from noticing that the stadium is on fire and their cars are being stolen from the parking lot.




Friday, April 17, 2015

Battle Road

As the rising sun pierced the billowing gun smoke that April morning 240 years ago this Sunday, I suspect the British regulars were thinking something along the lines of “Well, that’s for them.” The truth is that the “Shot Heard Round the World” echoed over an inauspicious field abandoned by a beaten militia in full flight. The only would-be rebels who remained on the Green did so because they were dead or dying.


So British Colonel Francis Smith might well have thought that, with one lot of traitors shown conclusively who was master, well begun was half done and the day portended well for King George III. It must have been with more than a little confidence that Smith turned his troops down the road toward Concord, where Tories and spies had reported the nascent rebellion had a large cache of weapons.

But neither Smith nor his executive officer, Major John Pitcairn – much less King George – had heard American Captain John Parker addressing his militiamen just before dawn. The rebels had waited through the night to see if the British foray into the countryside was just another reconnoiter in force, or something more sinister. Paul Revere and his fellow riders assured them the regulars were on their way intent on disarming the budding rebellion.  As the British entered the green, the militiamen assembled from Buckman Tavern and elsewhere to face them. Parker reminded them that while their foremost purpose was to merely demonstrate their resolve, more than that might well be demanded of them. 

“Stand your ground and do not fire unless fired upon,” Parker ordered. “But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”*

Faced off across a space no larger than a football field, Parker and Pitcairn each commanded their respective forces not to fire. Pitcairn had every reason to expect to be obeyed; British regulars did as they were ordered and Pitcairn’s force of elite light infantry were some of the best troops of the best professional army in the world. Parker, commanding farmers, merchants – and a slave named Prince Estabrook – likewise expected to be obeyed, if for no other reason than because his men had families close at hand, some watching from just off the field.  Greek governmental theories, philosophical abstractions and offenses such as the Intolerable Acts may have driven rabble-rousers like Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty. But for the militiamen on Lexington Green, their homes and farms and livelihoods were all too tangible realities, all too close at hand.

So no one was meant to fire a shot, but as it as has time and again throughout the years, the shot nevertheless was fired** and then everyone on the field let loose. It was over in minutes and the outcome, with many rebels killed or wounded, and only one of his own men hurt, couldn't have surprised Pitcairn, who couldn't have had much doubt about how the rest of the day would go.

But it was only dawn. And he hadn't heard Parker.

Pitcairn couldn't have understood at that moment that he hadn't just been a part of a police action or some noisy civil disturbance. Because he hadn't heard Parker, because he didn't know who these Patriots really were, Pitcairn didn't know then that he’d really been a participant in the first skirmish of a remorseless war. But he was soon to learn.



By the end of that very day, after the desperate running fight down the Battle Road, as the blood ran from the North Bridge to stain the Concord River, Pitcairn could not help but to have had a better understanding of what war with real Americans would mean: All told the rebels had lost 88 men killed and wounded. The butcher’s bill for the most feared and powerful military force in the world was nearly twice that, at 147. By the very next morning – without the aid of Facebook or a single cell phone –  15,000 men of what would eventually*** become a victorious Continental Army were outside of Boston.  

This nation was born of blood and smoke and outrage and an abiding sense that "Enough is enough, damn it." It was born when a secure and prosperous people finally decided that their liberties were more dear to them than their comforts. I am convinced that Americans -- or, at the very least, enough Americans -- still fear blood and smoke less, and love liberty more, than they love their comfort. I believe that Americans still know their way to the Battle Road. I believe this, I confess, in part because I must believe it, or else despair.




* Indeed, many of the militiamen may not have heard Parker, either. Her suffered from tuberculosis and had trouble mustering enough breath to speak.

**Theories vary wildly about who fired first. The best evidence, I think, suggests that it was one of the spectators, townsmen arrayed around the green, but not under Parker’s command.

*** "Eventually" in spades. In the eight years, four months and 15 days from that day to the Treaty of Paris, there would be some 150,000 casualties, suffered overwhelmingly by the Americans and their families, fighting on their own doorsteps.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

United States Senator Chris Murphy (Team D. - Connecticut) is afraid. What, you ask, in a world wracked by terrorist attacks, unbalanced by a resurgent Russia, alternately frozen by polar vortices and simmered by global warming frightens Sen. Murphy? Of whom, you wonder, in a world populated with the likes of Donald Sterling, Abu Bakr al-Bahgdadi, and  Kanye West is Sen. Murphy afraid?



Well you might ask. Because the answer, if you happen to own a full-sized pistol manufactured in the past 80 years* or so, turns out to be . . . you.

I know this because The Hill reports that, after what we must assume was careful and objective analysis (i.e., asking a couple of anti-gun lobbyists what they thought), Sen. Murphy is throwing his support behind the push for a new federal law banning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds because, he says

. . . he has not met “a single hunter or a single person who hunts for sport” who needs more than 10 rounds [and] those who wanted high-capacity magazines were more interested in “arming against the government.”

Now, I'm not going to engage in a political assessment of the bill's chances for passage. (Which are, in the words of Dean Wormer, zero-point-zero.) Rather, let's address this notion that the reason folks want to own modern firearms is to take arms against the government.

Because, now that you mention it, Sen. Murphy . . .  um . . . yeah. Sorta. If you insist.

I've pointed out before that when it comes to the founding philosophy of this nation, there are some absolutely essential bits that get all too conveniently forgotten -- or intentionally ignored -- by the fellows who consider themselves to be in charge nowadays. Because a belief that men have God-given rights that other men cannot take is a fine and a true and a worthwhile thing. But what it isn't, in and of itself, is any sort of justification for even a punch in the nose, let alone bloody revolution against one's duly emplaced leaders. Not by a long shot. If you want to wage war against your own government -- precisely what the Founders did for eight and a half deadly years -- you're going to need something more. You're going to need to to keep reading:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
That was the justification upon which Americans committed what most viewed as a grave sin and abolished their until-then-lawful government. And if it ever becomes necessary to do so again, the justification for such an awful event will be precisely the same.

The Founders knew that to be true. And, having just thrown off one tyrant, they did not imagine for a moment that there were no tyrants left.  Indeed, they recognized in themselves and in each other the human inclination to tyranny -- what Frederic Bastiat calls "A Fatal Tendency of Mankind" -- and they were determined to guard against it. That's why the Constitution creates three co-equal branches of government. And that is at least one reason why, when they set out the Bill of Rights, they put the Second Amendment second.




* I make a distinction here between revolvers and pistols, and I arbitrarily picked 80 years because that is the year John Moses Browning's second most-famous pistol made its appearance, seven years after his death, but incorporating important improvements he wanted to make to his more famous 1911. The Browning Hi Power -- or P35 for its first year of manufacture -- had a magazine capacity of 13 rounds in 9mm and set the trend, still followed today, for pistols to carry as many rounds as conveniently fit, given the grip size and caliber.



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Construction

Let's establish at the outset that I am no fan of Ted Cruz. I think he's a buffoon and, as a key player on Team R, instrumental in the most dangerous intramural scrimmage ever played. But it turns out I am even less of a fan of sanctimony and race-baiting and the tyranny of orthodoxy -- equally so the left-handed variety as the right.



Race, certainly, and even ethnicity are, to a large degree, just social constructs. If you tell 50 people in a room to stand up and arrange themselves from darkest to lightest, you'll get some pretty funny looks* but you also get to observe an interesting phenomenon: Reduce someone's literal place to the single signifier of his skin color, and the light begins to dawn about how much more complex the concept of race really is. Just as interesting -- especially in the United States -- is to ask someone about his ethnicity and listen to the second order algebraic equation that follows. 
There's nothing wrong with this, so long as you let people do it for themselves. Our own idea of our race and ethnicity helps us to fix ourselves in the great, centuries-long parade of human kind. It gives us a context and place from which to view the world. It gives a list of foods we really like. 
Now, I cannot speak in detail to the race or ethnicity of Amy Louise Bardach, who recently posited that Ted Cruz doesn't get to call himself Hispanic because of his politics. But Bardach doesn't sound** especially Latino, and neither -- if that happens to be a married name -- does Amy Louise.*** So I am left to wonder: Where does she get the nerve?
This kind of reductive, aggressive, third-party imposition of identity is beyond offensive. It is the worst variety of the Theory of Ubiquitous Polarity. It is just another stripe of telling people what they are allowed to believe and, in the hands of a powerful institution like The New York Times, or the federal government, or the Central Committee, or the Gestapo****, or any other tyrant, it's damned dangerous.

My wife is white (well, really this kind of amazing cafe con leche color) but clearly Latina. ("Latino" versus "Hispanic" is another discussion.) My boys are white (well, one's sort of tanish-white and the other is a little more beige) and medio-latino. I'm white (well, OK, sorta ruddy, blotchy, freckly white) and half Irish, half German (albeit I was raised in an entirely Czech family, and so identify there as well). None of that changes depending on how any of us vote, anymore than it does if one of my sons suddenly decided he didn't like beans and rice.***** And no editorial writer gets to tell us - or Ted Cruz, for that matter - otherwise.
Doubt me? Here's a simple exercise. Imagine a Wall Street Journal editorial positing that Barack Obama is not really black.

But maybe, before you try that thought experiment, you'd better put on a hard hat.



* I know because I have done exactly that, rather to make this very point to a classroom full of folks who were -- because of another social construct -- largely inclined to do as I asked.

** Como el único gringo en una familia de 150 cubanos, y como residente de 25 años de una de las ciudades más latino en los Estados Unidos, me siento que puedo hablar con experiencia, si no con la autoridad perfecta, sobre el tema. Pero cualquiera que sea mi conjeturo, yo soy de ninguna manera que sugieren que podría o debería imponer una etnia a la Sra Bardach, ni privarlo de su derecho a reclamar lo que uno - o los - ella afirma . De esa manera, somos muy diferentes.

*** And in any event, if it seems offensive to you that I'd speculate at all about her ethnicity, maybe go ahead and check your irony meter for full function.

**** What good is to have Godwin's Law if we cannot break it from time to time?

***** Consider it an argument ad absurdim.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Terrifying

Let’s be clear about one thing from the start. Hillary Clinton is not  running for President. Rather she is engaged in the simple exercise of capitalism, putting on a massive tour to flog her new bookSo don’t get the idea that her recent appearance at a CNN “Town Hall” was about running for President. I mean it. Do not get that idea. Do not dare even to hold that thought in your head. Because, as Ms. Clinton made clear when asked about her support for a new “assault weapon” ban, the mere holding of an idea in your head can be an act of terror.





 For example, if you happen not to support a new “assault weapon” ban, even if you keep your opposition to yourself, you are little better than those fellows who flew those planes into those buildings. (You still remember those fellows, right?) Ms. Clinton helpfully explained:

“I believe that we need a more thoughtful conversation, we cannot let a minority of people — and that’s what it is, it is a minority ofpeople — hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people.”

I submit that the enormity of that sentence is too great to absorb in just a single breath, so I’ll give you thirty seconds to take it in.


OK. Ready to go on?

Let’s break this sentence down from back to front. We learn that a “viewpoint” can terrorize – at least at the exact moment of this writing  – 159,133,793 people.* Not an action to vindicate a viewpoint. Not a violent or even peaceful demonstration in support of a viewpoint.  Not even the plain expression of the viewpoint. Rather, the mere holding of a viewpoint – well, at least of a viewpoint with which Ms. Clinton disagrees – is an act of terror.

Fortunately, however, Ms. Clinton offers hope that we might someday rest easy in our beds, unterrorized by viewpoints. Because as we work our way toward the front of the sentence, we learn that Ms. Clinton is determined that such viewpoints simply are not going to be permitted. We cannot, she declaims, let (read “allow” or “permit”) a minority of people hold  this terrible, terrifying point of view. In other words, some beliefs are too dangerous to be believed.**

From there, Ms. Clinton is a little short on detail. She fails to explain precisely how she plans to prohibit the holding of this viewpoint and, presumably, other viewpoints that ought not be held. And this determination to eliminate terrible viewpoints really does want some detail. After all, Medgar Evers – who, it would sadly turn out, had best reason to know – observed that “you can kill a man, but you cannot kill an idea.” Viewpoints, one supposes, are equally robust and thus their eradication seems likely to be equally messy.

But perhaps it is churlish of me to press Ms. Clinton for her plan – after all, it's not like she is running for President.





Because that would be terrifying



This assumes Clinton meant a majority of the people in the United States. If she meant that a viewpoint is capable of terrorizing the majority of ALL the people, then we’re talking somewhere north of three and a half billion trembling victims of a viewpoint.

** Pay close attention to the terms “majority” and “minority” in Ms. Clinton’s statement. She is here espousing an idea that actually is terrifying, a brand of tyranny called democracy, best characterized by events like one actually called the Great Terror

Friday, December 6, 2013

Long walk ended

I am sorry to have to inform you, but the world is a complex place, full of contradiction and nuance, populated by human beings who are the corporeal embodiment of that complexity



Those vilifying Nelson Mandela in these days following his death – and there are plenty of them – ignore certain essential facts about his later life, of which I will mention only a salient two: He more or less singlehandedly averted a national convulsion of bloodletting and racial war by embracing the notion that even those who participated in decades of brutal oppression ought to have a place and a voice in South Africa, and that even those who opposed that oppression ought to answer in truth for their own crimes. And – in the public act for which he ought to be most highly praised – having attained more or less complete power, and being positioned to keep and wield it so long as ever he wished, Mandela instead relinquished it – soon, peaceably and willingly. Compare that to nearly any other post-colonial revolutionary leader on that continent.

Those lionizing Mandela – and there are many more of them – do no better. He was in younger years a proponent of systemic violence, and when he was arrested his house was filled with tens of thousands of weapons designed to wield that violence in the most indiscriminate fashion. To ignore that is to ignore conduct that he himself later repudiated, not only in others, but in himself. And while he may not have chosen himself to become a dictator, he supported and embraced brutal dictators – quite literally so – along with leftist policies that almost no American of any political stripe would endorse upon close examination.

This duality – plurality, really – in a single man is the furthest thing from being unique. It is our essential nature. Whitman said it best: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Mandela the man contained just these multitudes. The evolving legacy of a post-apartheid South Africa is more complex still. (And, by all present indications, not headed toward a future Mandela would have wanted to see.) It is easier and more comfortable to feed our confirmation bias and assuage our cognitive dissonance by imagining that he or it was or is all one thing or all another. Easier, more comfortable, but false.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hold these truths

Everybody knows this part:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.



Ah, but its the the next bit that makes the difference. It's the next bit that justified a bloody war that had already been raging for 14 months by the time it was written and would drag on for nearly eight and a half years. It's the next bit that sanctified the 50,000 American casualties -- a quarter of the rebels who took up arms. It's the next brilliant sentence by which a band of highly educated traitors justified their treason. And it's the next bit that tyrants and their willing subjects are so apt to forget:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Most folks today -- certainly nearly all the folks actually in the government -- somehow imagine that, having been true throughout human history, this stopped being true after the late 18th Century. Or they believe that the rules were magically changed on this continent, or don't apply in countries where people appear to vote, or have been superseded by technology. But some things -- like the rights God gives man -- do not change. Not ever. Not anywhere.

I really want to ask those smug, sanctimonious fellows, "just what part of 'alter or abolish' don't you understand?" King George and his ministers never imagined they could be altered or abolished, either, and look how that worked out for them. You cannot really be as arrogant as someone who thought his reign was ordained by God. Can you?

Alter or abolish. Shove that through your Prism. Feed that to your Carnivore. Crunch that in your algorithm.

As for you, as you celebrate Independence Day, I want to encourage you to post or tweet or email that third sentence of the Declaration of Independence. Maybe read it during a cellphone call -- an international call would be best. If you are travelling, perhaps you can share it with your companion while you wait in line at the TSA checkpoint.

Because let's face it: You can grill all the hot dogs, bake all the apple pie, light all the fireworks and wave all the flags you want to. But if you're not on somebody's watch list, you can hardly count yourself a patriot these days.