Saturday, October 7, 2017

God and Las Vegas

Out of the whirlwind:

Some people have been asking how, in a world they say is governed wholly by me, Stephen Paddock was able to shoot hundreds of people this week, killing dozens. They seem to think I was AWOL. Some accused me of actual dereliction of duty, saying that yes, I was present, but simply didn't bother to intervene. I saw everything that happened as it happened, they say. In fact, I knew what would happen even before it happened. When Paddock bought the first rifle of dozens, I already knew what he would do with them.

And yet I did nothing but watch, uninterested.

This is far from the first time such accusations have been made against me. You sing in praise of me that I sit on the throne of heaven, yet you seem to call me to the dock more often than you approach me on the throne. I get indicted every day. I have known church people who accused me in their hearts of unfaithfulness to them because I didn't fix the Powerball lottery so they'd win tens of millions of dollars. I have had high school seniors accuse me of uncaring dereliction when they didn't get accepted to their first college choice. Or grown men when they get fired from their job or even when they don't get a coveted promotion.

Let me get something straight with you: I am not your fixer. Yes, I want to have a personal relationship with you but I want it to go both ways. I already have such a relationship with you on my end, but believe me, I know what being kept at arm's length is like. 

You need to understand something: I am not your buddy, I am not your pal. I am your God, your Creator, your redeemer, your savior and your judge. As I have said before, my ways are not your ways, my thoughts are not your thoughts.

Let me put this bluntly: I operate on a different level than you do. I have a longer view of the horizon than you. I have been around a lot longer than you. So: what have I done to you? How exactly, have I wearied you? I would like an answer.

I don't recall that you were around when I big-banged the universe into existence. Nor were you there to advise me when I set the earth on its course, set the limits of the sea and the moon in your sky. I gave the hawks and eagles their flight. I gave the lion his power and invented how nature renews and reproduces itself. The seasons come, the seasons go because that is the way I set it up. Where were you when I did that? Your world supports your life and the lives of innumerable creatures. Do you think I had nothing to do with that? I set up life itself. It is in me that you live and breathe and have your very being.

But you tell me that I do not know what I am doing.

Very well, let us reason together. Get a backbone and listen. You want to know why I did not intervene in Las Vegas. And my answer is: I did. I did intervene, countless times and in countless years.

I have told you, O mortal, what is good and what I require of you. It is very simple: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with me. You seem to scoff at my moral commandments. You think you can order your lives and societies better than I can. You acknowledge me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. You worship me on your holy days and the next day treat your workers, or customers, or partners, or family members - the list is endless - with scorn or dishonesty. You divide yourselves into tribes or identity groups or political parties, all of them at war with one another. You reject my rules but you cannot live rule-free, so you make up your own.

How has that worked out for you?

Listen closely. Memorize this. Take it to heart, make it your daily ethic. An expert in my commandments once asked my Son what the greatest of all my commandments is. And my Son, being my begotten one, of course knew the answer. He didn't make it up on the spot. I had revealed it centuries before. My Son said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself."

Is that complicated? No. Is it obscure? No. It is simple. It is direct. Why is it so difficult for you? I know the answer of course. It is because to obey me you must disobey yourselves, and it is in disobeying yourselves that you think obeying me is hard. But believe me, it's not hard to obey me. My yoke is easy. My burden is light. I liberate, not confine. I bring peace, not turmoil.

My teachings have been in your hands for millennia. Millennia! And yet today you ask why I was not on the job in Las Vegas. Where have you been for the last few thousand years?

Oh, believe me, I was at Las Vegas. It was a bitter night for me. But I was there.

There were a man and a woman listening to the concert when the shooting started. They did not know one another. They dived under a table. He was hit, yet he lay across the woman, shielding her with his wounded body.

A young man led 30 people to safety. He was shot doing so. There are many, many other examples. And thousands of people waited for hours on end to give blood.

Oh, you say, that's just human nature. We do not know whether those heroes and heroines even believe in a God. So? Where do you think human nature comes from? Why do you think my grace cannot operate preveniently even in the hearts of those who know me not? I am always leading every event of the world toward the good. But there are many other influences, too, such as the hardness of your hearts and the will to evil, the imperfection of your understanding, the finitude of possibilities in a world of limited resources and capabilities. Yet my will wins through more often than you know.

But why does Las Vegas prove my dereliction? Funny how no one accuses me of indifference over the murder toll in Chicago. But even that is not necessary. Just one child dying of hunger in any remote corner of the world serves just as well. (Although I might argue that it proves your dereliction more than mine.)

So before you interrogate me in the dock for not managing the world the way you think I should, I will suggest you are not actually thinking about it at all.

Shall I answer affirmatively to every prayer? Should everyone who ask me to give them the lottery win? Should every person who prays for me to heal a loved one of auto-accident injuries be granted?

Shall I prevent every illness? Every injury? Why stop there? So much of the harm you suffer comes from your own vanity, your own injustices, your own incapabilities and frankly, your own stupidities. Where do you want me to intervene?

Not long ago a young man atop a tourist center in the Alps was walking and texting. He walked right off the side of the mountain, fell 250 meters and of course did not survive. Could I have intervened? I suppose so; I could have suspended gravity and floated him gently through the air back to the platform. Or I could have made him just bounce at the bottom with no ill effect. Or I could have made it impossible for human beings to walk while texting. One or the other, never both. Or I could have just made sure that smart phones were never invented to begin with.

Here's the thing: You do not get to choose. You are not God. You have no power for miracles so you don't get to tell me how to work them or when or how.

Imagine, really try to imagine, a world in which no one ever makes a bad decision, no one ever gets a cold, no one ever suffers want or need, no relationships are ever broken or even unhappy, no woman ever turns down a marriage proposal, or no man as the case may be, no employee is ever denied a raise or promotion, no business ever fails, no inventions with potential harmful effects are ever conceived, no student ever fails, no one ever suffers harm, injury or for that matter death - or if they do die, no one mourns or grieves or feels devastated by the loss. So there are no hospitals, doctors, no medical science, no funeral homes. There are no criminals, no aggressions, no evil. But there are no doers of good deeds, either, and no charity, no compassion, no kindnesses. There is no despair but no triumph. There are no losers so there are no winners. No one has too little money in retirement because I compel everyone to invest in retirement funds from the first dollar they earn - and the market never falls, unemployment never rises, wages never fall, and I decide what everyone's occupation is, not you. After all, I am the only actually-capable central planner that there ever can be. And that means there are no dictators, no monarchs, no oligarchies, and no democracy, no elections and no politicians to elect anyway because you have no self government. I make all your decisions because I know you cannot possibly decide anything - Any. Thing. - better than I can.

What kind of world is that? That world is Hell, all of humanity living in The Truman Show. If you sometimes don't see the point of this present world, you would never see the point of that one. And neither would I, because the fundamental reality of the universe is love, and love is an act of free will and decision, not robot programming.

More than anything right now, I urge you to understand this: You and all your have constructed is under my judgment. But that has always been so. Two thousand years ago I begot the Second Person of my Trinity as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem. Sure, celebrate it with parties and cantatas and gifts, fine. But remember that his birth was an act of judgment upon the world. Why would a Savior be born if the world did not need saving?

Here is my judgment: that I so loved the world that I gave my only Son, and that anyone who accepts and follows him as the guarantor of life now and for eternity, will never perish. That is my judgment, that my Light has come into your world of darkness, but you love the darkness rather than the Light.

Even so, I will never stop loving you, never stop reaching to you, never stop being who I am. I am your Creator, your Sustainer, your Redeemer, your Savior. And all of these things are my judgment upon you, for I adjudge you in love to be in my image, I adjudge you in love to be adopted as my sons and daughters, I adjudge you to be able to spend eternity in my company, I adjudge you to be able to love me and one another both in this life and the next, I adjudge that you can do all things good and holy through my strength. I adjudge that you are both loved and love-worthy, and I adjudge that you can live with a peace that you will always enjoy even if never fully understand.

I will never redact this, never revoke it, never turn my back on you, never change my mind. And remember, I have a fuller knowledge of what "never" means than you do.

But when necessary to drive a point home, remember this, too: The severest judgment I ever lay upon you is simply to let you have what you want. That never works out well for you.

I have told you, O mortal, what is good and what I require of you: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with me. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.

The triumph of human life is that it really is so simple as that. The tragedy of human life is that even the simple things can be very difficult.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Confederate monuments: part 2, the myth of "noble Lincolnism"

In part one of this series I offered a reflection on the significance of Confederate monuments past and present, and perhaps some insight into why they have become such a flash point today. I wrote that perhaps, 
... we can assess both the war and its memorials with some dispassion – although higher passion seem to be the order of the day now.

First, let us dispense with all the “Lost Cause” nonsense Southern apologists invented after the war.
But there is another shoe to drop. I think I'll call it "noble Lincolnism," the idea that Abraham Lincoln and by extension the Union cause were morally pure and wholly admirable. In fact, Abraham Lincoln was a racist bigot and it is by no means unfair to say he was a white supremacist through and through. So:

Second, let us dispense with all the nonsense that Lincoln and the Union army were moral paragons who fought to free the slaves. 

Why do we consider this man great?
In her book, Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln's presidency, Doris Kearns Goodwin made a most astonishing claim: 
"Armies of scholars, meticulously investigating every aspect of [Lincoln’s] life, have failed to find a single act of racial bigotry on his part." -- Doris Kearns-Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, p. 207. 
Some armies of scholars they must have been to have overlooked what Lincoln said in 1858:
"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people . . . . I as much as any man am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race." -- Abraham Lincoln, First Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Ottawa, Illinois, Sept. 18, 1858, in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln vol.3, pp. 145-146.
That Lincoln deeply opposed slavery cannot be gainsaid. It is laughable that he thought African Americans (they could truly be called that, then) should or even could gain legal, social or moral equality with whites. However, that did not distinguish him from about 99 percent of American whites, North or South, of his day. It was chattel slavery Lincoln opposed bitterly. He never made the leap that freed slaves should be equal citizens of the Republic. He did not think they could and did not think they should. 

In fact, in his first inaugural address, Lincoln endorsed the a proposed 13th amendment to the Constitution, called the Corwin Amendment after Ohio Republican Thomas Corwin. This amendment, which was never ratified, specifically forbade altering the Constitution in any manner that would enable the Congress to interfere with slavery "within any state." The Corwin amendment's wording was ridiculous, but its intent was clear: slavery was to be enshrined in the Constitution forever. Here is what Lincoln said:

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution--which amendment, however, I have not seen--has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.
Observed John A. Lupton, Associate Director and Associate Editor for The Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project, 
By tacitly supporting Corwin's amendment, Lincoln hoped to convince the South that he would not move to abolish slavery and, at the minimum, keep the border states of Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina from seceding.
The amendment obviously never proceeded, but why would Lincoln endorse such a measure? He uttered the answer plainly:
The Union must be preserved, and hence all indispensable means must be employed.
Preserving the Union was more than Lincoln's policy goal. It was his fetish, a religious-type quest. The South's argument in favor of its secession was based on a contract view of the Constitution. The Constitutional contract, they claimed, had been broken, hence they could withdraw from the Union if they wished. Lincoln's theoretical foundation for destroying the Southern states to compel them to stay within the union was based on his elevation of the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents above the Constitution. Lincoln said this explicitly in his first inaugural address:
The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union." 
But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is 'less' perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.
The Union, he held, was a binding covenant between the states, not a contract, and that covenant could neither be negated nor nullified.

There is no doubt that for Lincoln preserving the Union was vastly more important than the rights of blacks, including their liberation. In his first inaugural, Lincoln endorsed enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, which as I explained in part one was a contributing cause for the South's secession because several free states refused to enforce it. In the first inaugural:
One section of our country believes slavery is 'right' and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is 'wrong' and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases 'after' the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.
Every Civil War historian knows that Lincoln did not commit the US Army to battle against the Southern states to free the slaves. Freeing the slaves was of little consequence in his mind. Writing to influential New York editor Horace Greeley in August 1862, Lincoln explained why (Lincoln's italics):
As to the policy I "seem to be pursuing" as you say, I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. 
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
What about the Emancipation Proclamation? 

There were actually two proclamations. The first was issued in September 1862, the second on Jan. 1, 1863. It is the second one that historians usually refer to as "the" proclamation. Here is the National Archives' explanation of the scope of the order:
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."  Despite this expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.  Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war. ...
It did indeed transform the character of the war. Even so, the idea that Lincoln changed the emphasis of the war from preserving the Union intact to freeing the slaves because of elevated ideals is highly problematic - in fact, rebutted using Lincoln's own writings.

Here is the timeline:
  • July 1862 -- the first draft of the first emancipation proclamation is written. Lincoln's cabinet advises him that he must wait to release it until the Union army has won a significant victory, else the issuance will be seen as a desperate act to shore up support for the war amidst fading fortunes on the battlefield. The proclamation is shelved, awaiting such a victory. 
  • August 1862 -- Lincoln writes in his own hand the letter to Horace Greeley, quoted above, stating that freeing the slaves is a matter of indifference to him.\
  • September 1862 -- On the 17th, Union and Confederate forces fight near Antietam creek, Md. It was the bloodiest one-day battle of the War with almost 23,000 soldiers of both sides killed, wounded or missing. Lee turned his army back toward Virginia. Despite the spectacular ineptitude of Union Gen. George B. McClellan in allowing Lee's army to escape, Lincoln decides that the outcome is sufficient to issue the proclamation drafted in July, and he does so on the 22nd. 
The September proclamation was not one of action. It was a warning to the seceded states that he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January 1, 1863. None did, so in January Lincoln issued what basically amounted to an "execute" order of the September proclamation.

The relevant part of the September proclamation to this discussion is that it specifically said that the purpose of abolishing slavery was to restore the Union. In it, the federal government promised to help states pay for the "gradual abolishment of slavery within such State or States---that the object is to practically restore, thenceforward to be maintain[ed], the constitutional relation between the general government, and each, and all the states ..." (link).

Lincoln was politically compelled to change the focus of the war effort to emancipation because Northern support for the war was melting away. Its costs in lives, treasure and time was magnitudes more than anyone ever imagined. By the end of 1862 there was an active peace movement in the North that grew stronger even after the Proclamation was issued.

There was serious (though ultimately unfounded) concern in Washington that Britain would openly side with the South because of the Union blockade of Southern ports cut off Southern cotton to the backbone of England's economy, textiles. Jeff Davis's government made the same miscalculation, but at the time both North and South thought the threat was very possible.

Issuing the Proclamation was a mainly political act that was first of all intended to signal Great Britain that to side with the CSA was to ally with a slavery state and take sides against the slaves' proclaimed, but not yet accomplished, liberation. This Britain would never have done (and economically did not need to do anyway).

The second thing the Proclamation did was turn the North's casus belli from political to holy. Lincoln did not become an abolitionist until he understood that the the North would never suffer the abattoir of the Civil War merely to preserve the Union, but it would bleed profusely "to make men free," as Julia Ward Howe's hymn urged.

Remember, Lincoln wrote his letter to Horace Greeley after the first proclamation had been written, which spins it somewhat differently than Lincoln the great humanitarian liberator. Clearly, considering both the first proclamation and the letter to Greeley, written so close together, Lincoln saw abolition as a means to achieve his never-changed goal: the Union of states must be preserved. Abolition was never an end in itself. It was not abolition for the sake of abolition nor even for the sake of slaves!

In the movie Gods and Generals, there is a scene where Union Col. Joshua Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) tells his brother, also a Union officer, that if they both have to die to free the slaves, then so be it, even though abolition was not an original aim of the war.

It is the Northerners kind of war that Americans have waged more utterly than any other. As military historian T. R. Fehrenbach wrote in This Kind of War, "Wars fought for a higher purpose must always be the most hideous of all." War is such an awful thing that it must be entered into for only the most transcendental purposes. Hence, any war - as opposed to a punitive expedition, such as Panama, 1989 - that Americans engage in must be a crusade, because only crusades can justify the costs and the suffering. War is to be waged only reluctantly, even sadly, but waged ferociously.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "In war there can be no substitute for victory," because when war is entered into for supreme purposes, to stop short of victory is to betray that purpose. In American Holy War, the political end is secondary to the military victory. Political structures are imposed by Holy War's victorious conclusion, they do not determine the conclusion. The role of politics is to pick up the pieces when total victory has been won.

This was Lincoln's insight: that absent a morally transcendent cause, the North would not continue the war. He provided the cause, but to him it was all smoke and mirrors, indeed it was politically-calculated trickery. There was indeed a powerful, morally-centered abolitionist movement in the northern states. But their cause was never Lincoln's cause.

And so he led the American nation deeper into an abyss of bloodshed that ultimately took the lives of two percent of its population, the equivalent of 6,460,000 dead today. Why anything about the Civil War is glorified or memorialized is quite beyond me, and I find it utterly incomprehensible that Abraham Lincoln is considered a great president.

Update: Joel W. emails,
I think you were too harsh on Abraham Lincoln. He was a great president: He kept the Union together, which was his main goal. The United States today would not be the country it is if the country had split during the Civil War. I believe that the United States, for all its faults, is the greatest country in the world, and possibly in history. If we had become two countries, we would not be as great.

Although I had not done as much research as you, I realized long ago that Lincoln's main goal was the preservation of the Union, not the emancipation of the slaves, and certainly not the elevation of the former slaves as full citizens.

One point you did not mention was that until he was assassinated, he was hated by many - in the North. (And most of the South, of course). Once he was killed, he became a martyr - and was elevated to the high status that many see him in today. If John Wilkes Booth had not done his work, it is possible that Lincoln could have ended up being impeached, rather than Andrew Johnson.Who knows? Johnson, a Democrat, had much harsher views of the ex-slaves than even Lincoln did.
I do not take much issue with any of Joel's points. Lincoln was a complex man. But for perspective, would we expend 6.5 million American lives today to keep California in the Union, or any other set of secession-minded states there is?

Lincoln was more than willing to see no end of bloodshed to preserve the Union, he said it and proved it. In his second inaugural, Lincoln pointed out, accurately, "Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained." Then he claimed that the war and the Union cause was God's will! And so the war must be continued unabated:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
These are not the words of a moderate man. Of course he could not foresee in April 1861 the slaughterhouse that the war would become. But in March 1865, he said that did not matter, that even if he had seen clearly the ocean of blood to be spilled, he would have spilled it anyway, God's will be done!

How can we possibly ascribe a moral cause to a president who --
  • firmly declared the inferiority of black Americans, 
  • stated he was indifferent and unconcerned whether they remained slaves or not,
  • as president spoke in favor the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act,
  • as president spoke in support of a Constitutional amendment that would have forbidden any kind of federal interference in slavery by the states,
  • issued an impotent emancipation proclamation only when it was clear that Northern support for the war merely to reunify the states would not last,
  • stated at the inception of his second term that he would never be dissuaded from his goal no matter the cost in human suffering, dying and physical destruction of American territory?
The Civil War ended legalized chattel slavery in the United States. But that was not why the North went to war. Abolitionists, a growing domestic peace movement, and Union generals in the field forced Lincoln's hand to declare abolition a war aim. It did not spring from his moral compass.

I would say that the North accomplished a mission, abolition, that it did not really set out to do but failed to accomplish the mission, reunify the country, that it did set out to do. Can anyone look at our country today and honestly say that "The Union has been preserved"?

Slavery could not have survived as an institution in the South. Alternative histories are always highly speculative, but a lot of prominent Southern figures realized this beginning as early as 1850 simply by assessing the economic realities of the slave trade and cotton production. For example, many Southerners pointed out that the South grew cotton, shipped it to the North where it was milled and made into clothing, and then the South bought the clothing to wear. As one Southern industrialist (there were not many) tried to explain, the South sold raw cotton to the North at a nickel a pound and then bought it back at double or more! (Lowell, Mass., had more looms than the entire South.) Many tried to diversify the South's economy but they were silenced by the pro-slavery PC codes of the day.

Britain's economy was at the time based heavily on its textiles industry, which was the most advanced in the world - so advanced the design of its machines were actually state secrets. Before the War, this industry was heavily reliant on Southern raw cotton. Both Lincoln's and Davis's governments thought that Britain's loss of supply of Southern cotton would be so severe that Britain would have to take active measures to restore the supply.

But Britain had not become the pre-eminent economic power in the world because it was run by fools. Britain's industrialists and government were much more aware of the weakness of their supply chain, and well before the Civil War. They started large cotton production operations of Egypt and India before the Civil War. By 1861, the quantity and quality of this cotton, especially Egyptian cotton, were so high that Britain managed the reduction of Southern cotton imports well.

Economically, in 1861 the South's problem was not wealth. It was actually far wealthier than the North. Its problem was getting capital because the South's wealth was highly illiquid. More than three-fourths of the South's Net Asset Value was in land and slaves; some historians say as high as 90 percent. Neither land nor slaves could be sold for cash quickly. This was a major impediment to industrializing the South and improving its infrastructure, although the South did make devoted attempts to do both in the 1850s and achieved great increases. But the North did more.

King Cotton turned out to be a tyrant monarch. At the end of the 1840s raw cotton prices had plunged to less than 5 cents per pound. But the next decade saw prices surge to almost 11 cents per pound. Profits from slave-labor cotton and sugar (where the South led also) convinced almost all Southerners that they could never face a financial threat. The 1850s was the era of King Cotton for the South, but for all the money being made, almost none was invested in materiel that could ensure the seceded states could ensure their success by force of arms.

In short, the South never actually prepared for secession even though it had been a popular topic for many years. The South imagined that secession would inevitably be successful and peaceful.

I do not encourage Gone With the Wind-ism, but this is not a bad half-minute summary:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Confederate monuments: So what? Now What?

Part one of a series on this topic

So what? Now what?

One of the bishops of The United Methodist Church has told of his son’s soccer coach. If one of his players made an outstanding play and then unduly celebrated, the coach would rejoin, “So what? Now what?”

Meaning, now that you’ve done that, what do you do next?

Workers remove a monument dedicated to the Confederate Women of Maryland
early Wednesday, after it was taken down in Baltimore.
Photo by Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun via AP
In his book The Martian Chronicles, written in the height of the Jim Crow era, Ray Bradbury tells of a day on earth when all the black people board rockets that they’ve had built in secret. They are going to move to Mars. The white people don’t find out until liftoff day. The main character is a white man named Teece. He watches the stream of people heading toward the launch site with dismay and impotence, cursing at them and dismissing them in turns. And then (profanity snipped),

Far down the empty street a bicycle came.
“I’ll be [snip]. Teece, here comes your Silly now.”
The bicycle pulled up before the porch, a seventeen-year-old colored boy on it, all arms and feet and long legs and round watermelon head. He looked up at Samuel Teece and smiled.
“So you got a guilty conscience and came back,” said Teece.
“No, sir, I just brought the bicycle.”
“What’s wrong, couldn’t get it on the rocket?”
“That wasn’t it, sir.”
“Don’t tell me what it was! Get off, you’re not goin’ to steal my property!” He gave the boy a push. The bicycle fell. “Get inside and start cleaning the brass.” …
“You still standin’ there!” Teece glared.
“Mr. Teece, you don’t mind I take the day off,” he said apologetically.
“And tomorrow and day after tomorrow and the day after the day after that,” said Teece.
“I’m afraid so, sir.” “We got to leave now, Mr. Teece.”
Teece laughed. “You got one named Swing Low, and another named Sweet Chariot?”
The car started up. “Good-by, Mr. Teece.”
“You got one named Roll Dem Bones?”
“Good-by, mister!”
“And another called Over Jordan! Ha! Well, tote that rocket, boy, lift that rocket, boy, go on, get blown up, see if I care!”
The car churned off into the dust. The boy rose and cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted one last time at Teece: “Mr. Teece, Mr. Teece, what you goin’ to do nights from now on? What you goin’ to do nights, Mr. Teece?”
Silence. The car faded down the road. It was gone. “What in [snip] did he mean?” mused Teece.
“What am I goin’ to do nights?”
He watched the dust settle, and it suddenly came to him.
He remembered nights when men drove to his house, their knees sticking up sharp and their shotguns sticking up sharper, like a carful of cranes under the night trees of summer, their eyes mean. Honking the horn and him slamming his door, a gun in his hand, laughing to himself, his heart racing like a ten-year-old’s, driving off down the summer-night road, a ring of hemp rope coiled on the car floor, fresh shell boxes making every man’s coat look bunchy. How many nights over the years, how many nights of the wind rushing in the car, flopping their hair over their mean eyes, roaring, as they picked a tree, a good strong tree, and rapped on a shanty door!
“So that’s what the [snip] meant?” Teece leaped out into the sunlight. “Come back, you [snip]! What am I goin’ to do nights? Why, that lousy, insolent son of a . . .”
It was a good question. He sickened and was empty. Yes. What will we do nights? he thought. Now they’re gone, what? He was absolutely empty and numb.
Bradbury’s story continues, but the question remains: “Now they’re gone, what?”

Let us suppose every public statue or monument to the Confederacy is removed as fast as their opponents want. “So what? Now what?” Who exactly will be better off? Black unemployment will be unchanged. The risk of horrific war with North Korea will not be lowered. The near-total breakdown of civility in our political life will not be improved. The inability, indeed, unwillingness, of the parties in Washington to come together to govern well will not increase. Obamacare will continue to fail and there will continue to be nothing on the docket to replace or repair it. Al Qaeda will still attempt to carry out the attacks it recently promised against mass-transportation means in the United States.

What difference will it make, exactly?

It may be answered that deleting the monuments is a worthy thing in its own right. It may be that an “afterward” plan is not necessary to do a thing inherently good and desirable in itself. The presence of such statues and monuments has a meaning much diminished now from what their erectors intended. Black Americans, still living with the after-effects of 200 years or so of slavery in America, are constantly reminded by the monuments’ continuing presence that their status as Americans remains somewhat provisional as long as those statues remain.

In this I will not argue contrary. Practically none of the statuary concerned dates to just after the Civil War. Almost all were erected from the 1890s – 1940s, most completed well before World War II. The main objective in them was to comfort and reassure aging Civil War veterans (of both South and North) that their sacrifices were real, they were remembered, but they were not going to determine the future of a United States. In their day, the monuments served as implements of peaceful reconciliation – and it took decades of time and veterans’ old age before even that could occur.

Of course, no Civil War veterans are alive today and even Boomers like me are five generations removed from their Civil War ancestors. I had lineal ancestors who fought on both sides. A multi-great uncle of the CSA’s 11th Tennessee was KIA at Stones River and another g3-uncle of the 45th Pennsylvania lost both his legs at Chancellorsville. Another of my g2-grandfathers has the distinction of being the only American POW in history ever to be broken out of POW camp by his wife, a woman who personally brained a Union soldier who attempted to rape her in her Nashville home.

So, for me there is a personal connection, at least of sorts, to the War and to its monuments today. It is not a strong one. The great majority of Americans today, descended from immigrants arriving after the Civil War, have no personal connection to the War or to the monuments that memorialize it.

But black men, women and children in the country do have a personal connection to the war because they continue to live now with its consequences and legacies, regardless of whether they are descended from persons living in either North or South before or during the war.

Perhaps, though, with both whites and black people more emotionally distant from both the War and its aftermath, we can assess both the war and its memorials with some dispassion – although higher passion seem to be the order of the day now.

First, let us dispense with all the “Lost Cause” nonsense Southern apologists invented after the war.

There are some hard truths about the CSA. I am a Nashville native and grew up here. My family's roots in Middle Tenn. go back to just after the Revolutionary War. I have mentioned my ancestral-family members who fought (and some died) for the CSA on both my mom's and dad's side (also for the Union on my dad's). Alexander Stephens, vice president of the CSA, was my wife's great-great grandfather's brother.

I take no back seat to anyone for Southern heritage and upbringing.

Like probably most native Southerners of my generation, I was raised being taught that the real reasons for the Southern states' secession was to preserve states’ rights and that the northern economic lobby was choking the South's economy with high tariffs on Southern goods.

Slavery? Well, it was in the mix somewhere, but slavery was not the real reason for secession.

It is a lie, pure and simple.

The states’ rights and tariffs arguments are entirely absent from Southern apologia until after the Civil War. In 1860 and before, no one in the South was using those topics to justify secession. Furthermore, in 1860 federal tariffs on Southern goods were lower than they had been since 1816.

It was the Southern politicians who had actually attacked the concept of federalism and state rights when, some years before the Civil War, some non-slave states defied the Fugitive Slave Act and declared that when slaves were brought into those states by the masters, they could be declared legally manumitted by state law. Southern politicians fought that tooth and nail and applauded the Dred Scott decision of the US Supreme Court, which denied Dred Scott, a black man, the right to sue for his freedom in US courts even if he resided in a free state. (Seven of the Supreme Court's judges in the case had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents from the South. Five of the seven were from slave-holding families.)

Nor was the North's industrial power significant at all in the secessionists' decisions. In 1860, Southern goods accounted for 75 percent of all American exports' dollar value ("King Cotton" being the main export) and the market value of the slaves across the South was greater than the entire Net Asset Value of the combined industrial base of the North.

The North's industrial revolution had begun in the 1840s, but was hardly in full speed in 1860. The war great accelerated it, leaving the North economically ascendant afterward, but before the war the South was the dominant economic section of the country (and it was economically wrecked by 1865).

Why did the Southern states secede? To protect slavery, period.

Read the 11 seceded states' actual acts of secession, beginning with South Carolina's, and you will see that slavery was the sole reason for secession. South Carolina's act makes this very unambiguous: protection of slavery was the only topic presented as driving secession. Same with Mississippi. And the others.

There were four sections of S.C.'s secession act. The opening section claims and justifies the right of the state to secede in the first place. Then:
The next section asserts that the government of the United States and of states within that government had failed to uphold their obligations to South Carolina. The specific issue stated was the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and clauses in the U.S. Constitution protecting slavery and the federal government's perceived role in attempting to abolish slavery.
 The next section states that while these problems had existed for twenty-five years, the situation had recently become unacceptable due to the election of a President (this was Abraham Lincoln although he is not mentioned by name) who was planning to outlaw slavery. The declaration states the primary reasoning behind South Carolina's declaring of secession from the Union, which is described as: 
... increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery ...
Then  the final section was simply the declaration of secession. There are no issues presented to justify secession except slavery. Note the contempt of "states right" in the secession act, in its denunciation of "... the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act... ." The other 10 seceded states' enactments are not significantly different.

The Confederate States of America was founded to do one thing only: to preserve the power of one class of people to literally own as chattel property another class of people. There is no other reason the CSA existed.

That would be bad enough on its own. But it's worse. David Goldman, an economist (Ph.D., London School of Economics), has some facts and thoughts (read the whole essay):
Southern slaveholders were rapists. We know this because only 73% of the DNA of African-Americans is African; the rest is Caucasian with a small fraction of Native American. Most of the admixture of DNA, a McGill University study concludes, occurred before the Civil War, that is, when slaveholders and their white employees could use female slaves at will. Keep that in mind the next time Foghorn Leghorn sounds off about the honor of Southern womanhood. To own slaves is wicked; to rape female slaves and sell one's children by them is disgusting in the extreme. Yet that is what the Old South did, and the DNA evidence proves it.

That is the "heritage" that CSA flag defenders are really defending; I hope, truly, that most of them do not know that.

Southerners must not defend the indefensible

To defend the Confederate States of America is to side with the abjectly, morally indefensible. To use the CSA's battle flag or national colors as a symbol of Southern pride should be deeply, deeply offensive to modern Southerners, who are the most racially harmonious people in the nation (by no means has the year of Jubilee arrived, but jeepers, just compare to practically any Union-states- heritage city).

Have Southerners nothing to display as an emblem of regional heritage and pride but the flag of a irredeemably corrupt and thankfully temporary regime?

God save us.


1. You can read all of Bradbury's chapter here. Be advised that there is rough language and that the book, written in 1950, envisions no change in race relations between 1950 and the year of its setting, 2003. But then, the narrative is not really about 2003 or Mars at all. 

 2. The number of Southerners who display the Confederate flag in any way is vanishingly small. So why we are letting this particular issue practically control the national public agenda sort of escapes me. That we have a president who practices public buffoonery, and a media apparatus that long ago went full ideologue, does not help matters. 

Next installment: "The issue isn't the issue." "the myth of 'noble Lincolnism'."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

We become what we focus on

The severest punishment God ever lays upon us is to let us have what we want.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
Proverbs 29.18, King James Version

This is probably the most well known rendering of that short verse, but it poorly communicates what the verse is trying to say. The KJV was done in the very early 1600s and for today, it just is not a good translation.

"Vision" refers to spiritual sight, more properly, spiritual insight. The verse, properly understood in its context and intention, is actually one of the most important warnings and assurances in the entire Bible.

Try this: When the people lose sight of God’s will, they go astray, but they prosper when they keep God’s law.

"The people" in the verse does not refer just to a worshiping congregation, but in the context of its time, a national people, the people of ancient Israel. The verse is talking about national consequences of ignoring God and the benefits of cleaving to God's commandments.

Bible Gateway has a long list of different translations and renderings. The ERV's translation is probably the best: "If a nation is not guided by God, the people will lose self-control, but the nation that obeys God’s law will be happy."

One Hebrew word study I read said that the real thrust of the verse is that when the nation loses sight of godliness, it descends into anarchy. We become what we focus on. When we lose sight of God and God's will for our lives, we become ungodly. That never ends well, either for individuals, churches or nations.

Here is a key point: God commandments were revealed to humanity. We did not make them up. We are so far removed from their revelation that we think that morality, as we understand it, is the natural way that people live together. In fact, the societies around the ancient Jews and early Christians were brutal. The Romans considered mercy, charity and forgiveness to be vices, not virtues. Roman parents beat their children for the showing weakness of mercy. Human morality absent divine commandment is base and as Proverbs says, descends finally into anarchy. We will either rule our passions or be ruled by them. As St Paul put it, "God can't be disregarded" -- note well, not "should not be" or "must not be," but cannot be disregarded; it is not possible. He continued, "You will harvest what you plant."

Morally, our capacities are weighted toward the negative side of the scale. People intend greater good than they achieve. Treaties, alliances, aid organizations, political parties, civic groups, even churches – all begun for good reasons to accomplish good things, and all fall short of what their founders intended.

 Hence the necessity of God giving the moral law. My friend and former co-author Rabbi Daniel Jackson wrote, "There are obvious logical elements of the Law of Sinai that might be deduced logically (or rationally). Yet, much of the Scriptures is based on directives and rules that [we] would not have known if the Scriptures did not tell [us] so."

God's Law frees us from the baser demons of our being so that we may discover the better angels of our nature. Every choice to depart from God's Law chips away at our integrity as persons belonging to Jesus. Integrity matters!

During his time as a rancher, Theodore Roosevelt and one of his cowpunchers lassoed a maverick steer, lit a fire, and put a branding iron in it to heat. The part of the range they were on was actually owned by Gregor Lang, one of Roosevelt's neighbors. According to the cattleman's rule, the steer therefore belonged to Lang. Roosevelt saw his employee, the cowboy, raise the glowing branding iron toward the steer, but it was Roosevelt's brand. "Wait, it should be Lang's brand," he said.

"That's all right, boss," said the cowboy. "Lang will never know."

"Drop that iron," Roosevelt demanded, "go back to the ranch, get your things and get out." Roosevelt later explained, "A man who will steal for me will steal from me."

Integrity, says Webster's, is "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty." And that takes the willingness and ability to cleave to a standard, whether you call it the law or a code or something else. Choices matter, and the choices we make are not isolated from one another.

The issue is more acute for young people than for me or those older than me. It sounds trite to say but it's nonetheless true that we grew up in a different time than you. The advice to "do your own thing" was unknown to us and we would never have even thought of agreeing that something may be right for you and wrong for me, or vice-versa, depending on our own inclinations, points of view and what we simply want to believe.

The problem is that to be a modern man or woman is to believe in nothing. Or more accurately, to believe in nothing in particular. Americans have come to prize personal autonomy so much that the spirit of this age gleefully embraces that nothing underlies fundamental reality, making, in the words of David Hart, "a fertile void in which all things are [claimed] possible, from which arises no impediment" to our desires and therefore we may decide for ourselves what is right or wrong and what we choose.

Which is to say that modern America as a whole no longer believes that there are objective criteria by which to judge our choices because being able to choose in the first place is the highest good there is. Therefore, all judgment, whether divine or human, infringes on choosing – and being able to choose according to one's own standards exercises "an almost mystical supremacy over all other concerns."

This is a purely modern idea. In centuries past, even before Jesus was born, true human freedom was understood as liberation "from whatever constrains us from living a life of rational virtue" and that led to our intellectual and spiritual flourishing. Freedom was the ability to overcome "our willful surrender to momentary impulses, [including] our own foolish or wicked choices."
"In this view of things [said Hart], we are free when we achieve that end toward which our inmost nature is oriented ... and whatever separates us from that end -- even if it comes from our own wills -- is a form of bondage. We are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well."
For to choose poorly is to enslave ourselves to the impermanent, the irrational and eventually the destructive. Simply choosing, unconnected from divine guidance and godly standards, is to choose ultimately to reject freedom and to be enslaved to what Paul called the body of death and finally to choose to perish rather than attain everlasting life.

God's law enables human beings to be freed from the shackles of spiritual and mental bondage that prevent us from being saved in this life and the next. Paul's advice of Romans 12 holds true: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Even Jesus understood that a life of choosing rightly is not easy. "Enter through the narrow gate," he said, "for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

What to do and how? Paul tells us that in Philippians 4:8: “… Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

It's not easy to live rightly to remain free. It is bondage to death and sin that is easy. But we can break those chains if we keep focused on God. Then we will be free indeed.

See also, "How Jesus invented individual liberty."

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How we perish in Paradise

From Wrath of Gnon:

Richard Fernandez:

... words and history have surprisingly little force. They convince people headed for the cliff not in the least. People only believe in consequences when it happens to them. Then remorse kicks in piteously and it is "Oh God save me and I will never do it again." ...

That's why the stories in the Bible have a depressing sameness. They always involve idiots who mess up and persecute every prophet sent to warn them until disaster strikes and then it's "help! Help!" We honor the prophets only after we bury them. Before that they're too busy making a getaway from us.

The story of mankind is the tale of someone who wakes up in Paradise and decides to burn it down. Happens every time. It doesn't matter that the survivors wrote it all down for our edification, because we'll just stop reading the Bible and watch some 'reality' TV show. ...

Each time mankind gets up from catastrophe it says "mebbe this time, maybe next time." Maybe never.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, ""We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." This is true, but incomplete. Why do we not learn from history? Perhaps this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is a clue:
The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
We burn down paradise over and over because we cannot tolerate it in fact, only in wishing. But now I am not confident that we even yearn for it. I see the state of the 2016, North American church and I realize that we have not moved a tick on the chart closer to embodying the Kingdom of God than our ancestors of 1916. Or 1816. Or 1416. And the record of the ancient Jews shows that they never did, either.

If civilizations are never murdered but commit suicide, we are well underway. I would call upon the North American Church to re-fulfill its calling, but this assumes that it ever did fulfill it to begin with and that our failures are of recent vintage. Of the former I cannot recite much evidence and of the latter I cite the 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he lamented,

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, or often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But I am trying to discern an historical time when this was not the case and I cannot.

Plato and Moses alike would be stunned (or maybe not) that the human race has learned nothing in the last few thousand years. Neither the ancient Jews nor Christians of the last 2,000 years have been reliably faithful to their Covenants. Our  histories are of occasional faithfulness to our Covenants and then usually-prolonged abandonment of them. The main difference is that the Jews understood themselves better than we Christians have. Over and over we have had to learn what St. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: "God can't be disregarded. You will harvest what you plant."

Brothers and sisters, the harvest is coming in. It is coming in good and hard. For the severest punishment God ever lays on us is to let us have what we want.

Update: Near the end of his life, John Wesley, principal founder of the Methodist movement, understood that the "people called Methodist" would not disappear after his death, but he nonetheless was filled with some foreboding:

1. I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
But he foretold what would happen only a few paragraphs later:
9. It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

10. How, then, is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay-tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently, they increase in goods. Hence they proportionably increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.
And what is the UMC today? Only formally the United Methodist Church, for in habit and thinking more and more Upper Middle Class (of whom I include myself, so I throw no darts that do not boomerang back to me).

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stunning movement of the Lord in Iraq

Despite threat from ISIS, 100 children receive First Communion in Iraq

The first communion Mass in Alqosh was an historic moment for a “frontier town” that has been under threat from the militants of the Islamic State (IS) for a long time. Now it can “hope for peace and normalcy” around these hundred children, said Mgr Basil Yaldo, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and close associate of the Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako.
The Chaldean primate presided over the ceremony that was attended by “all the priests of the city, the nuns and more than 700 people. The faithful were excited because for the first time, the patriarch celebrated communions in the community.” 
Like many other towns in Iraqi Kurdistan, Alqosh too welcomed scores of refugees.
“Life in the area is almost back to normal,” said the vicar of Baghdad. “We hope that soon the whole plain [of Nineveh] can be liberated from the jihadists, and that refugees can return to their villages.” 
The work to secure the area, he added, has “already started and for the past two days Iraqi troops have launched the battle to liberate the villages surrounding Mosul.” 
…Addressing the boys and girls who received the first communion, Patriarch Sako urged them not to abandon their land, the city of Alqosh, but to stay and help in the reconstruction “because there is a (Christian) heritage to be preserved. ” 
The Chaldean primate, Mgr Yaldo noted, also called on young people to “be stronger, come to church and participate in the life of the Christian community as one participates in the life of a family.” 
After the service, the children asked Patriarch Sako some questions. One of them, Mgr Yaldo noted, said that when he “grows up he wants to become a priest to serve the poor and the needy.” 
The patriarch could not hold back his emotion after listening to such words, adding that “it is important to support and share the suffering.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Honey, sorry I am going to have you blown to smithereens."

Saw this on one of my FB feeds and it brought back some memories.

Under the nets are 155mm self-propelled howitzers taking part in the REturn of FORces to GERmany (hence, REFORGER) exercises that took place by US Army Europe from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. This is from the 1986 exercise; I do not know which unit.

The one in 1984 took place in the severest winter Germany had experienced since WW2. I froze my kundingi off. I was a battery commander  in 2d Battalion, 3d Field Artillery, 3d Armored Division. My battalion was stationed in the town of Butzbach, West Germany, about 55 km north of Frankfurt.

At the time, my wife and I lived in a very nice, govt.-contracted duplex in Dorf-Guell, near Giessen, pinned here in this screen grab from Google Earth:

This was a northern Reforger (they alternated north and south in the country), so the town was in the thick of the action. During the exercise one day I pulled into a phone booth to call Cathy. She told me that an aviation unit had set up field operations in the very large fields behind our house. I already knew that was "enemy" territory.

So, artilleryman that I was, I apologized to her that I was going to have her blown to bits. Then I grabbed the grids off my map sets and sent it with target description to 3AD Division Artillery's operations center. From there it got handed off to V Corps Artillery, which moonscaped the field (in an exercise-y sort of way) with 8-inch artillery. Darn shame about my wife, though.

Later I learned that Divarty had actually credited her by name as the target-intel source, though, so she had that going for her at least.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

American generations

Here is a summary of the prevailing characteristics of each American generation born starting in 1900 and ending with the generation born since 2001: "The Six Living Generations In America."

This author, though, says that generational characteristics are not sharp between generations, and hence "here is a 'fuzzy' consensus on the characteristics of each generation" X, Y and Z.

The American Management Association offers its own summaries of the generations related to the workplace, "Leading the Four Generations at Work."

This is a brief summary of "Members of each generation: perceived characteristics."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus does not endorse your candidate

Earlier this month, columnist Richard Fernandez wrote,
The problem may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive the modern world, but whether the modern world can survive without Christianity. The naive assumption of 19th century Marxists was that after belief was abolished, what was essentially a Christian morality would continue to guide the world though without its religious overtones.

They thought that even without God men would not kill or steal or lie or covet their neighbor's wives. Through the operation of some sort of "decency" things would go on much as before, but with electricity and central planning. They thought this because they had lived in an immersive religious system for so long they were no more aware of it than fish notice water.

But as it turned out "decency" was much more fragile than they thought. If the 20th century showed that man unfettered could create monstrous totalitarian belief systems, the 21st is rapidly demonstrating that rather than accept an inner vacuum millions would rather fill it with strange gods if the gods of their fathers were no longer on offer.

Fish may not notice water when it is there. But they do notice it when it is gone.

Perhaps the major challenge of the 21st century is to reinvent Christianity or something like it. Man does not live by bread alone and if that hunger will not be met by God it will be sated by the spirit of darkness.
And so, in a different context than Richard wrote, we come to this year's presidential election. The problem, to paraphrase Richard a little, may turn out to be not whether Christianity can survive modern America, but whether modern America can survive without Christianity. 

There is no "Christian" candidate

The naive assumption of many religionists on both side of the American political aisle seems to be that their only one candidate, but not the other, can sustain Christian morality in the national polity.

It beggars words to describe how foolish - indeed, how un-Christian - this belief is. I find it impossible to affirm even in the smallest way that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump care a fig about the Christian religion at all, no matter what they claim, and at least Trump has the forthrightness not to claim any particular religion at all. Trump's religion is Trump. There is almost nothing I have seen about his platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. I am dismayed that so many prominent Christian figures have endorsed his candidacy. It is more than merely distressing to observe what even conservative commentators are calling, "The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party." 

That said, exactly what is the actual evidence, not rhetoric, but evidence, that Hillary Clinton cares a fig about Christian religion herself? Sure, she claims Methodist affiliation, but exactly what does that mean when examining her truly dismal, spectacularly failing record as a public official? Claiming a religious affiliation does not confer competence, and even MSNBC's in-the-tank hosts were forced to admit one day that they could think of nothing of note that she had ever accomplished. This is a woman whom FBI Director James Comey, under oath before a Congressional committee, confirmed repeatedly had lied over and over and over about handling highly classified material but just wasn't "sophisticated enough" to know the severity of her actions. So yeah, sure, that plus Methodism qualifies her for the presidency, of course. Hillary Clinton's religion is Clintonism. There is almost nothing I have seen about her platform that bears the imprimatur of orthodox Christianity or its inheritors. As one commentator said, Hillary's real objective is inauguration day. She has no goal beyond then. 

All that said, I will emphasize that in fact a presidential candidate's religion is a matter of low importance to me. I want a president who is a Constitutional originalist, religious denomination irrelevant. But we pretty much gave that up a century ago when we elected the proto-progressive Woodrow Wilson. And so here we are:

The dens of thieves that run our country

Now that I've got past that rant, let me ask, "What would Jesus do with national American politics?" Probably this:
Jesus at the Republican National Convention, or maybe the Democrat one. 
Hard to tell since they are both dens of thieves.
How bad has political thievery become? James Bessen of Boston University Law School says it is so deep that political lobbying is now the second-largest influence on profits for America's large companies. 

Government gets bigger and more powerful, which lures companies into viewing Washington as a profit center, which then leads to more policies that expand the size and power of the federal government, which leads to further opportunities for rent-seeking behavior. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That's 4.5 billion of your dollars and mine. This is why Elon Musk's company, Tesla, never has to sell even one electric car at profit and he still becomes wealthier and wealthier. Our taxes pay his profit. This is crony capitalism at it worst (or best, if your name is Elon Musk). 

What kind of national economic model is this? Tom Wolfe once observed that, "The dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe." Yet Wolfe surely knows that before fascism was anything else, it was a national economic regime. Its features were not exactly original; what was novel was the inclusion of Marxism and whole-country integration by its modern originator and premier practitioner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In 1932, Mussolini wrote this definition of fascism:
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. The conception of the Liberal State is not that of a directing force, guiding the play and development, both material and spiritual, of a collective body, but merely a force limited to the function of recording results: on the other hand, the Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality -- thus it may be called the "ethic" State.... ..The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ... .
It was further explained in 2010 by the "Classic Liberal" blog
A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was, “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). I recall this expression frequently as I observe the state’s far-reaching penetration of my own society.

What of any consequence remains beyond the state’s reach in the United States today? Not wages, working conditions, or labor-management relations; not health care; not money, banking, or financial services; not personal privacy; not transportation or communication; not education or scientific research; not farming or food supply; not nutrition or food quality; not marriage or divorce; not child care; not provision for retirement; not recreation; not insurance of any kind; not smoking or drinking; not gambling; not political campaign funding or publicity; not real estate development, house construction, or housing finance; not international travel, trade, or finance; not a thousand other areas and aspects of social life. ...
Feel familiar? It ought to: this has been the economic policy of both parties for at least the last 50 years, with different emphases by one party or the other. American federal polity long ago became centrally located on a less-lethal version of Lenin's question, "Who? Whom?" For Lenin, the question was about who would die and who would live. But for both the Republicans and the Democrats it is about money and power:
  • Who will receive the largess they will use tax dollars to provide?
  • Whom will be the class they plunder to get it? 
  • And how will they spend it to suborn, corrupt or crush so they can keep power?
That is not merely the primary principle of American federal governance today, it is almost the only principle there is. Bernie Sanders notwithstanding, the American Left is not socialist at all; it is fascist, which began in and never departed from Leftism. (Mussolini had been an active member of the Communist International before resigning to start the Fascisti party.) The Republicans are fascist, too, just not as much. But give them 15-20 years and they'll catch up.

How to vote

So to my fellow Christians who will vote this November I say: Vote for the candidate of your choice. Vote your conscience. Vote your convictions.

But do not pretend for one second that it is even possible to vote the Gospel this November. 

John Wesley had some excellent advice:

Fellow clergy, please: 

Your presidential candidate is not going to inaugurate the eschaton. Not even the Millennium. Not even a decent mimic of anything Jesus imagined the Kingdom of God to be, nor even the faintest shadow. There is no divine endorsement - none whatever - of even a single word in the platforms of either the DNC or RNC.

I am not so dismayed that millions of American, Christian laypersons may think this. I do not think that all do, perhaps not even most, anyway. But I am dismayed that there are a large number of Christian clergy, especially of my own United Methodist denomination, who (to judge by their own online posts) actually seem to think that Christian discipleship actually equates with voting for one party and necessarily excludes ever voting for the other. In fact, one of my UM colleagues told me bluntly before the 2000 election (so this has been going on awhile) that is was not possible for a Christian to vote for any Republican candidate and that voting for a Republican was certain proof that the voter was not Christian.

Whenever someone claims that supporting this candidate or that one is based on Christian imperatives, that person instantly loses credibility with me. Zip, gone, vamoose, nada. Because what is really being said is that corrupted political ideology (which is all of them) suborns Christianity and that the work of Christ necessarily is done through the corrupt organs  (which is all of them) of a corrupt political party (which is all of them). And never is this more so than this year and this year's candidates.

I neither demand nor expect that any American political party will ever base its platform on the Sermon on the Mount. It cannot be done anyway. But I long for a day when Americans will awaken again to the supremacy of Christ over the self.

I pray our polity this year is not a bellwether of the years to come. If so, we as a people are too very close to losing our goodness. God help us.