Archive for August, 2015

There is no Queen of England

August 30, 2015

One of my favorite movies is Megamind and this is my favorite scene from the movie.

 

The strange thing is that the statement made by Hal/Tighten, “There is no Queen of England” happens to be correct. There is, in fact, no such person as the Queen of England. She is as real as the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. If that is true than who is this woman?

Queen-Elizabeth-II-

That is Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well various former British colonies. England is, to be sure, part of the kingdom she reigns over, but England has not been an independent, sovereign nation since the Acts of Union in 1707. The United Kingdom is made up of three kingdoms, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and one principality, Wales united into one nation with a common government and Parliament.

England is the largest of the countries that make up the United Kingdom both in area and population and so has tended to dominate the kingdom to the point that British has largely become synonymous with English. It is the English language that is spoken throughout the British Isles while the various Celtic languages are either endangered or extinct. It is understandable, then, that the Queen of Great Britain should be referred to as simply the Queen of England.

The Kingdom of England that was united into the United Kingdom is generally held to begin with the Norman Conquest of 1066, though, of course British history stretches back to the Roman province of Britannia. Since the Conquest did mark a drastic shift in English history, culture and even language and every monarch since 1066 has been a descendant of William the Conqueror, so it seems fair enough to regard it as the establishment of the English nation as we know it today. The English language and people existed for many centuries before the coming of the Normans, however. It was the Angles and the Saxons who invaded Britain after the Romans withdrew in 410 who gave England its name and language. These Anglo-Saxon invaders either drove out or assimilated the Latin or Celtic speaking Romanized Britons. For some time, England was split into many, the traditional number is seven, petty kingdoms and subject to invasions by the Norsemen, but in the century before the Norman conquest began to be unified under the rule of Wessex, the one English kingdom that managed not to be conquered by the Vikings. The Norman Conquest unified England somewhat more firmly and while the Normans brought continental feudalism to England with its potential for disunity and English kings had some trouble keeping their barons in line, England remained a more unified state than France or Germany. In time, England grew strong enough to dominate the British Isles.

The English flag

The English flag

I referred to Wales as a principality, but that is not strictly accurate. Unlike the English and Scots, the Welsh never quite succeeded in coalescing into a unified, sovereign state and the country now known as Wales was divided into many small kingdoms or principalities after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. Although divided and apt to fight among themselves, the Welsh did manage to fend off the Anglo-Saxons, thus retaining their language and separate identity. There were various Welsh lords who were able to conquer much of Wales and receive the acknowledgement as overlord by other Welsh rulers, but such Welsh kingdoms never outlasted the lives of the first rulers.

The Normans had somewhat more success in subduing the Welsh. In 1216, the Welsh lords agreed to recognize Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd as their Paramount Lord and King John of England gave him the title of Prince of Wales. This Principality of Wales only extended to about two-thirds of the modern Wales and the Princes of Wales were vassals of the English crown and while largely autonomous were not entirely independent. Even this limited independence was ended when England annexed Wales to the English crown in 1284. The custom of giving the heir apparent the title of Prince of Wales began in 1301. There were a number of rebellions by descendants of Welsh leaders but such rebellions were unsuccessful, but ultimately the Welsh descended Tudor, Henry VII, became King of England in 1485. His son Henry VIII united the governments and legal codes of England and Wales in 1542. Welsh nationalism has not played as prominent role in the politics of Wales as Scottish nationalism has had and there is little support for Welsh independence from Britain. Wales was granted a National Assembly with limited powers in 1999.

Welsh Flag

The Welsh Flag

The beginnings of the Kingdom of Scotland are somewhat obscure. The Romans conquered the southern part of Scotland, the lowlands, but were never able to extend their empire into the highlands. The Romans referred to the peoples North of their border as Caladonians, a term derived from a Celtic language, or  Picti, meaning the painted or tattooed ones in Latin. After the Romans withdrew from Britain there was a period of confusion and it seems that there were a number of kingdoms or tribal federations in Scotland. The word Scot is derived from Scoti, a name given to Gaelish raiders and invaders from Ireland. These Scoti gradually displaced and intermingled with the Picts and their many petty kingdoms were eventually united into the Kingdom of Alba by Kenneth MacAlpin in the ninth century. There followed a period of struggle against the Northmen and fighting for the crown by branches of the MacAlpin dynasty, but by the time of the Norman Conquest, Scotland had emerged as a rival kingdom to England.

Scotland was a good deal poorer and less populated than England and so was never really a serious threat to its southern neighbor. The Scots could raid and harass England’s northern borderlands, however, and the existence of an enemy on the Island of Britain always meant that England could never exert its full force against the French in their frequent wars. Indeed, France and Scotland were often allied together against England in what was often called the Auld Alliance. For their part, the English could invade Scotland and even conquer large parts of the kingdom but discovered that occupying a country is far more difficult than invading it. Scotland’s rugged terrain and stubborn people; even Scottish kings had difficulty controlling their subjects, soon induced the English to withdraw.

In 1371,Robert II the first of the Stewart or Stuart dynasty became King of Scotland. Robert Stuart’s great-great grandson James IV married Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII, King of England in 1503, linking the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Their great grandson was King James VI of Scotland. As a descendant of Henry VII, James VI was the closest relative of Queen Elizabeth I of England and upon her death in 1603, James ascended to the English throne as King James I of England. Although the crowns of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland were united in the person of James VI and I in his person and in his heirs, the two kingdoms remained separate nations, each with its own Parliament, code of laws, and even state church.

The Scottish flag

The Scottish flag

The two kingdoms would have to wait a century before becoming united by the Acts of Union in 1707. Each kingdom had different reasons for desiring a united kingdom. The English were concerned that Scotland might choose a different monarch than England. James I’s grandson James II had been deposed the Glorious Revolution of 1685 by his daughter Mary I and her Dutch husband William III. William and Mary had no children and upon his death in 1702, Mary’s sister Anne became Queen. None of Queen Anne’s seventeen children survived to adulthood and since James II and his son James were Roman Catholic and so ineligible for the throne under English law, the next King of England after Anne would be George of Hanover, a great-grandson of James I. The Scottish parliament reserved the right to select its own King of Scotland so it was conceivable that the union of the two crowns could be ended as soon as Anne died. The English did not want that to happen. As for the Scots, union was desirable because Scotland had remained a poor and underdeveloped country compared to England. Since England and Scotland were separate nations the usual barriers to trade, like tariffs, were applied. Scottish nationals in England could be treated as aliens. Scottish merchants did not have full access to markets in England or England’s colonies in North America. Union with England was seen as a way to develop the Scottish economy and increase the standard of living to English levels.

Nevertheless, the Acts of Union were very unpopular in Scotland. It required clever parliamentary maneuvering, even outright bribery to get the Scottish Parliament to approve the Union. Scottish nationalism has continued to play an important part in Scottish politics. Jacobite pretenders from the Stuart family generally found considerable support in Scotland throughout the eighteenth century. More recently, there has been a growing Scottish National Party which is in favor of independence from the United Kingdom. Like Wales, Scotland was granted a Parliament with limited powers in 1999. The Scottish voters rejected independence from Great Britain in a referendum last year, but given that the Scottish National Party is the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament, it seems likely that the issue of independence will be revisited in the future. If Scotland were to become independent, they would probably retain the monarch, so the political situation in Britain would revert back to what it was before 1707, with Queen Elizabeth II of England becoming Elizabeth I of Scotland.

Last, there is the Kingdom of Ireland. Like the Welsh, the Irish never really cohered into a single kingdom. There was a High King of Ireland in the Early Middle Ages, but no high king really had much authority beyond his own realm. Such unity as existed in Ireland was destroyed after the tenth century by invading Vikings and later Normans from England. Henry II of England invaded Ireland in 1198 and made his son John Lord of Ireland. From that time the Kings of England also took the title of Lord of Ireland, whatever the Irish might have wanted, until 1542 when Henry VIII abolished the title of Lord of Ireland and proclaimed himself King of Ireland. Thus, the crowns of England and Ireland were united before the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, although the Crown of Ireland was an English creation. Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union of 1800, making it the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Crown and Parliament of Ireland were creations of England for the Protestant English and Scottish settlers in Ireland. The native Irish were Catholics and generally played no part in the government of Ireland before and after the Union. By the end of the nineteenth century, reforms in the British government restored many basic rights to the Catholics of Britain and Ireland, but many Irish began to want independence from Britain. After a long and bloody struggle, the United Kingdom granted Ireland Home Rule in 1920. In 1922, Ireland became a dominion of the British Commonwealth under the name of the Irish Free State and in 1937 the Irish voted in a referendum to become completely independent from Britain as the Republic of Ireland. The six northern counties of Ireland with a Protestant majority opted to remain in the United Kingdom in 1920 and now form the region of Northern Ireland. This decision was controversial at the time, particularly among Northern Irish Catholics and Irish nationalist who wanted an undivided Ireland and remains controversial to the present day, although the violence has declined. The strong majority of the people of Northern Ireland prefer to stay in the United Kingdom and there is little chance of Northern Ireland gaining independence or joining with the the rest of Ireland. Like Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has a parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, with limited powers.

Northern Irland

Northern Ireland

So, there is no Queen of England because there is no Kingdom of England. Next time you happen to meet the Queen be sure to refer to her by her proper title as Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

 

Flowers for Algernon

August 27, 2015

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes is one of those books which every literate person in America should be familiar with, at least to the extent of knowing the basic plot. It has been taught in schools, and has been challenged for being inappropriate. Flowers for Algernon has won awards and been adapted for the television, radio, and film. There aren’t many science fiction novels which have had the kind of influence that Flowers for Algernon has had.

flowers-for-algernon-book

The plot is straightforward enough. Charlie Gordon is a thirty-two year old retarded man who works in a bakery. All his life, he has desperately wanted to be smart. He gets his chance when he is selected to be the first human subject for an experimental technique for raising intelligence. This new procedure has already proved to be effective on a mouse named Algernon and the scientists have good reason to believe that it will be just as effective on a human being. The procedure is successful and soon Charlie is as far above average in IQ as he was below. Charlie discovers, however, that high intelligence is not without its own problems. He becomes bitter and anti-social when he learns that his “friends” at the bakery only liked him because they laughed at him and took advantage at him. The scientists he believed were geniuses turn out to be knowledgeable only in narrow fields. Charlie is as much as outsider with a genius level IQ as he was when he was retarded and this time he knows it. Worst of all, Charlie’s own research reveals that the success of the procedure is only temporary. He will lose his intelligence as quickly as he gained it. In the end, Charlie is back to the level he was at the start of the book, except perhaps a little wiser than he was even at his height. He can no longer understand the contribution he made to science but he at least regained the humanity he came near to losing, and he understands what it is to be smart a little better.

Daniel Keyes did a wonderful job conveying Charlie Gordon’s growth and decline through the medium of Charlie’s journals or progress reports that he is required to write as part of the experiment. The earliest entries show a naïve and simple Charlie with misspellings and grammatical mistakes. Charlie really doesn’t understand what is going on around him, yet he wants to be liked. People do like him, even his friends who laugh at him, because of his determination to learn as much as he can despite his limited intelligence. As Charlie gains in intelligence, his spelling and punctuation become more correct and he begins to use a more advanced vocabulary. He also begins to be less likable and more arrogant. As Charlie begins to revert to his earlier state, the language he uses in writing the progress reports also deteriorates. This last section of the book is heartbreaking and more than a little terrifying. There are few things that most people dread more than losing their minds. Even death is seen as preferable and fear of death is often really fear of oblivion or mindlessness. Keyes is very good at expressing Charlie’s dread and fear as he sinks back into subnormal intelligence.

Flowers for Algernon, then, is a book well worth rereading, or reading for the first time if you have somehow managed to avoid it all these years. The novel was published in 1966 and was an expansion of a short story Keyes wrote in 1958 so it may be somewhat dated. One hopes that people like Charlie Gordon are somewhat better treated today, though substitution intellectually challenged for retarded is not really an improvement if the people saying intellectually challenged still regard them as subhuman. These dated parts do not detract in the enjoyment of the book and are scarcely noticeable in a book surely to become a classic.

 

The Life and Death of Lenin

August 24, 2015

I am a fan of Isaac Asimov‘s science fiction stories, particularly of his Foundation series. In this series of books, a mathematician named Hari Seldon invents a way to predict the future through the mathematics of probability, which he calls Psychohistory.  It is not possible to predict the future actions of an individual person or even small groups of people. Psychohistory only works which large populations, entire worlds and nations. By using psychohistory Seldon learns  that the Galactic Empire, which has existed for thousands of years, is falling and the galaxy will enter into a dark age lasting for many millennia if nothing is done. It is too late to avert the fall of the Empire, but Seldon hopes to shorten the interregnum between the First and Second Galactic Empires to merely a thousand years by setting up two Foundations at opposite ends of the galaxy that will preserve the scientific knowledge that would otherwise be lost and to lead the way to the reunification of the galaxy.

Could there really be such a method of calculating the future as Isaac Asimov’s psychohistory? In order for something like that to work, history would have to be determined by great economic and social forces and the choices of individuals, even great generals and kings, would have to be inconsequential. Carlyle’s Great Man Theory would have to give way to Spencer’s theory that even great men are mere products of their environment.

For my part, I do not believe that psychohistory could really be possible. I think that great men, and women, really do alter the course of history. There are just so many ways in which history could have turned out very differently, if the personalities of the persons involved has been different. Imagine the American Revolution without George Washington or Germany after the First World War without a Hitler. Then too, there ware the completely unpredictable workings of nature. Climate change has had a greater effect on the rise and fall of empires than is generally recognized. Diseases like the Black Death can appear due to chance mutations of a virus or bacteria and kill half the population of a continent with little warning.

I could give many examples, but the one that I would like to consider is the life and death of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the founder of the Bolshevik Party and the first leader of the USSR. Before the Russian Revolutions of 1917, there were many socialist factions seeking reform or revolution in Russia, some Marxist, some not. Among all these parties, Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks were the most radically Marxist and the most given to violence and terrorism. Lenin and his lieutenants had no use for the kind of parliamentary reforms that more moderate groups wanted to bring to Russia, nor did he care for reforms to improve the conditions of the masses. Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted revolution.When the Czar was overthrown in February, 1917 and a republican Provisional  Government set up, the Bolsheviks played almost no role in the great affairs. Lenin was still in exile and wanted his party to have no part in bourgeoisie elections. The party would seize power in a Communist revolution.

It is important to understand that this decision to seize power was entirely Lenin’s. None of the other leading Bolsheviks thought it was a good idea and properly speaking, as good Marxists, the Bolsheviks ought not to have led a revolution at all. Marx has very definite ideas on how Communism was supposed to come about. He believed that every society moved through stages, from the primitive socialism of savages to the great slave states of the ancient world, to feudalism,  capitalism, socialism, and finally communism. Since Russia was still emerging from feudalism into capitalism, Lenin ought to have waited until capitalism was fully developed in Russia before leading the revolution. Lenin, however, realized that the Bolsheviks would never have a better chance for power than while the Russian government and economy were in a state of collapse.

Lenin

Lenin

Lenin’s rule as the first leader of the Soviet Union was a disaster for the Russian people. All of the totalitarian aspects of the communist regime that are usually attributed to Joseph Stalin’s tyranny had their beginnings with Lenin. Lenin was the one who setup the Checka, the secret police and it was Lenin who established the Gulags and the use of terror to subdue the population. Yet, despotic as Lenin was, Stalin was far worse and it was doubly unfortunate for the Russian people that Lenin’s premature death in 1924 led to the assumption of power by Stalin.

joseph-stalin-and-vladimir-lenin

In the year before his death, Lenin was increasingly uneasy over events in the Soviet Union. The great revolution did not seem to be leading to a communist utopia but had exchanged the tyranny of the Czar with the tyranny of the commissar. Lenin began to consider ways of making the Soviet state more representative of the workers it purported to serve. Lenin was also becoming aware that Stalin, while a good man to have around in a revolution, was wholly unsuited to wielding power after the revolution. Lenin decided that Stalin had to be relieved of his powerful position of Party General Secretary. If Lenin had lived a normal lifespan, it is likely that he would have succeeded in unseating Stalin.  It is less likely that he would have made the Soviet regime in any sense democratic. Lenin’s own autocratic personality prevented him from ever really seeing that the cause of the increasingly oppressive regime was his own reluctance to allow anyone outside the Communist Party from gaining any real independence from the rule of the Party. Still, if Lenin had not died, the rule of the Communist Party, while still despotic, would not have reached the insane level of repression as it did under Stalin. The history of the twentieth century might have been very different, depending on whether Lenin lived or died.

Lenin was only 53 when he died following a series of strokes over the previous year which progressively weakened him. After his death, an autopsy showed that he had advanced arteriosclerosis in his brain with some blood vessels completely calcified. The arteriosclerosis was far worse than might be expected in a man of Lenin’s age, especially as he had none of the risk factors that might be associated with the disease. Lenin did not smoke, was moderate in his diet, and exercised regularly. He was under a considerable amount of stress as leader of a nation in a civil war and which had to be rebuilt almost from the ground up. Still, such an advanced case of arteriosclerosis at Lenin’s age is unusual, particularly considering that the worst buildup of plaque was in the blood vessels of his brain. The blood vessels in the rest of Lenin’s body were no more afflicted by the disease than might be expected by a man of his age and habits. Something strange was going on.

Recently, researchers have discovered that a mutation in a single gene can cause a selective buildup of the plaque that causes arteriosclerosis in the legs. Could Lenin have suffered from a similar genetic disorder that caused such a buildup in the brain? Lenin’s father also suffered from cardiovascular disease, dying of heart disease at the age of 54. While it is not yet confirmed that Lenin himself suffered from a genetic defect that specifically targeted the blood vessels of the brain, it is clear that there was some sort of hereditary predisposition for cardiovascular disease.

Getting back to psychohistory, I do not see how any method of predicting the future could account for the life and death of Lenin. It would not be difficult to predict the fall of the Czar many years before it happened. It may not have been too difficult to predict that the most radical faction of the revolutionaries seeking the overthrow of the Czar would end up in control. Other revolutions have seen similar outcomes. But how could anyone predict that a small splinter faction would end up seizing power in a coup? Remember that Lenin was the only Bolshevik who thought such a coup had any chance of success. If Lenin had still been in exile, the October Revolution wouldn’t have happened and either some other Marxist faction would have gained power, or the Provisional Government would have had time to get things settled down enough to establish a more permanent government. Even if it were possible to account for the rise of the Bolsheviks, how could anyone predict in advance that their leader suffered from a genetic defect that would kill him prematurely and pave the way for a psychopath like Stalin to gain power?

I think that it is clear that it is individuals who make history, either by the decisions of the great ones, or the actions of millions of lesser people. The social and economic forces that historians like Spencer believe that drive the course of history are nothing more than the trillions of actions made by billions of people over time with considerable influence brought on by unpredictable natural events. Psychohistory will probably have to stay in the realm of fiction.

Treating Others with Respect

August 17, 2015

These days, most people consider the phase political correctness to have very negative connotations. The phrase evokes images of the Fascist Speech Police enforcing speech codes on college campuses and elsewhere and redefining innocent statements as the vilest hate speech, or of some officious bureaucrat insisting on the most evasive phrasings imaginable so as to avoid offending anyone by any words which might have any real meaning. You don’t have to look very far on the Internet to find examples and complaints about political correctness gone mad, such as banning the word blackboard for racism or referring to Christmas trees as Holiday trees, not to mention near parodies as differently abled instead or handicapped or disabled.

Yet the concept that it is actually possible to insist that everyone be able to go through life without offending anyone intentionally or being offended still has all too many defenders and there are even a few willing to defend the term of political correctness itself without using another, more politically correct term. Such a one is Byron Clark from New Zealand who was frustrated enough by all of the misrepresentations surrounding the words political correctness that he created an extension for Google Chrome which changes the words “political correctness” to “treating others with respect” in order to show the real reason that political correctness has become so reviled in many quarters. I found out about Mr. Clark’s efforts in an editorial in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette that a Facebook friend linked to.

The phrase “political correctness” has always grated because of the implication of the agenda that lies behind it. A newly unveiled Google Chrome extension has laid that agenda bare.

New Zealand resident Byron Clark reconfigured his Web browser so that the phrase “political correctness” automatically was replaced by the phrase “treating others with respect,” according to an article on Fusion.net. Now the extent of the agenda becomes clear.

Consider these reconfigured headlines cited in the Fusion article:

• “NC senator compares treating people with respect to Nazi book burnings”

• “Donald Trump: Treating people with respect is ‘big problem’ in US”

• “The real danger of treating people with respect”

Clark says his extension is free, but he would appreciate if those who download it contribute to a cause such as Black Lives Matter.

Well, that makes it all clear. There are just so many people out there who are opposed to treating others with respect. I suppose that the great majority of these benighted people are conservatives who are all racist, sexist, homophobic bigots who shouldn’t be allowed to state their bigoted opinions in public.

Of course this is just a rhetorical slight of hand by Byron Clark and the writer of this editorial. If political correctness were really matter of simply treating others with respect, the concept would be completely uncontroversial, at least in theory. In fact, if mutual respect were the only thing meant by the words political correctness, than the words political correctness wouldn’t be used in that context, since they imply some measure of coercion. It is the very element of coercion involved that led people to begin to refer to the efforts to impose speech codes and ban hate speech as political correctness. It is this whole idea of some self-righteous authoritarian telling everyone else what they can and cannot say and can and cannot think that is really grating and changing the words to treating others with respect does nothing to change that.

Beyond the matter of the coercion that is inevitably involved in what is called political correctness, another issue is that saying the proper, politically correct words is not the same as treating others with respect. The real core idea behind political correctness is the idea found all too often among people on the left, that virtue is shown not by virtuous acts but by saying the right words and thinking the right thoughts. Saying African-American instead of Black or developmentally disabled instead of retarded is regarded as a sign of superior virtue regardless of how one actually treats Blacks or the retarded. You can be a complete jerk to your employees, sexually harass every woman you meet, treat your Mexican gardener as subhuman, yet still be regarded as a good person provided you have the correct opinions on unions, feminism, or immigration. A murderer who makes the right sort of statements about America’s racist criminal justice statements has to be innocent, or at least his crimes can be forgiven. A terrorist and dictator is a hero, despite his crimes if he happens to be a revolutionary.

Political correctness, then, is not really any sort of real respect for others but a sort of play acting, of muttering the right words to impress others with how respectful you are, instead of really doing respectful actions from the heart. It is a sham, especially if it is something imposed from without. Political correctness is really an offense against truth and real respect and the sooner we can get over the whole thing and really start treating others with respect, and this may include telling them an unpleasant truth, the better.

Transcending Politics

August 13, 2015

I have to confess that I have been making fun of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. I do not have any particular animosity towards either him (He hasn’t had any surgery yet, not that that would really make a difference) or his choices in life. The reason I have found Caitlyn to be a legitimate target is because he is a celebrity in the public eye, and because of the inherent silliness of a sixty-five year old man claiming that he is now and always has been a woman, despite exterior appearances. Still, I ought not to be too harsh on Jenner. Except for his gender confusion and marriage into the Kardashian family, he does appear to have his head on straight. Consider this story I found posted at the Media Research Center.

Caitlyn Jenner, who famously came out as a Republican and a Christian, is now having his position as a spokesperson for the transgender community questioned after voicing criticism of the welfare state.

In a clip from last Sunday’s episode of “I am Cait,” Jenner stunned friends when discussing social welfare programs. In a conversation about providing entry-level jobs to struggling transgender people, Jenner asked, “Don’t a lot of times, they can make more [money] not working with social programs than they actually can with an entry-level job?”

“I’d say the great majority of people who are getting help, are getting help because they need help,” one of Jenner’s friends asserted.

“But you don’t want people to get totally dependent on it. That’s when they get in trouble. ‘Why should I work? I got a few bucks. I got my room paid for,’” Jenner responded.

These remarks made Jenner’s friends appear physically uncomfortable.

Jenny Boylan, a transgender activist, told the camera, “Now I am worried. Caitlyn has every right to be just as conservative as she chooses, but many transgender men and women need social programs to survive. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Living in the bubble is an impediment to understanding other people. If Cait’s going to be a spokesperson for the community, this is something she’s going to have to understand.”

I find it curious that there is an expectation that a person who is transgendered must also be a political liberal who supports the welfare state. Why? What possible connection could there be between the issues of gender identity and economic liberty? One would expect the same diversity of opinion on political issues among the transgendered as among any other particular group with varying economic circumstances and past experiences. The idea seems to be that if you belong to X group, you must have the same political outlook as everyone else in group X and usually this political outlook is assumed to be left-wing, or at least in support of the Democratic Party. Why is this? Thus, Blacks like Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell or women like Sarah Palin or LGBT like Caitlyn Jenner who identify as conservative are considered to be traitors to their race, sex, and sexual orientation respectively. Besides that, there is the expectation that lower income people who vote Republican are somehow voting against their own interests.

Why is this? One would expect as great a diversity of opinion within each of these, and similar, groups as there is in race, religion, gender, sexual orientation between them. Yet the expectation is that the members of each group must march in lockstep, all supporting the same sorts of policies that they perceive to be best for their particular group. It is as if each person is not really an individual with his or her unique thoughts and feelings but simply a representative of a particular group. Come to think of it, haven’t leftists and socialists always spoken of the masses or the workers and never of individual people. Marx believe you are what your class is. The Fascists said you are what your race is. The modern progressive seems to share this general viewpoint. If Caitlyn Jenner is transgendered, he must have the same thoughts as every other transgendered person.

Well, I am glad that Mr. Jenner has wandered off the reservation, though I am afraid that his credentials as a spokesperson for the transgendered community is in serious jeopardy. But then, perhaps we need fewer spokespersons and more thoughtful individuals.

The Demon Whisperer

August 10, 2015

They really don’t make popes like they used to. It is true that many of the Medieval and Renaissance Popes were very bad men and some were actually criminals. The Roman Catholic Church is fortunate that the general character of its popes seems to have improved considerably over the last few centuries. Modern popes may not be as interesting to read about as some of the more notorious popes of earlier ages, but they are perhaps more reliable in performing their pastoral and administrative duties. Still, if there are no remarkably bad popes in the present age, there are also no especially good popes either. Popes today are a rather bland lot compared to their predecessors. If there are no more Borgia Popes who assassinate their rivals or Great Schisms between rival popes, there are also no popes like Julius II who personally led armies into battle, Leo I who faced down Attila the Hun and convinced him not to sack Rome, or Gregory VII who made the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV stand in the snow for three days before granting him absolution. Popes were far tougher in the past.

The toughest of these medieval popes had to have been Pope Honorius III. He was not content to vanquish mere earthly foes but, according to legend, he actually summoned demons from Hell in order to battle with them and send them back. Even better, he wrote a book, or Grimoire, on summoning, controlling and banishing demons for the benefit of clergymen who might need such knowledge in their work.  Pope Honorius III was the Demon Whisperer, at least according to legend.

The Demon Whisperer

The Demon Whisperer

The sober facts about the life and papacy of Honorius III are impressive enough even without bringing in fantastic tales of his wrestling with demons to keep in spiritual shape. He was born Cencio Savelli in Rome in 1150. Savelli began his priestly career as canon of the Church of Sainta Maria Maggiore. In January 1188, he was made Camerlengo, or Chamberlain, of the Holy Roman Church. This post put Savelli in charge of Papal lands and finances and was perhaps a sign that he was considered honest and trustworthy. In February 1193, Savelli was made Cardinal Deacon of Santa Lucia and was acting Vice-Chancellor of the Holy Roman Church from 1194 until 1198. Savelli was dismissed from his post as Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church in 1198 and given the post of Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals, making him the treasurer of the College of Cardinals. In 1200, Pope Innocent III raiused Savelli to Cardinal Priest. Meanwhile, in 1197,  Savelli also managed to gain the post of tutor to the future Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.

On July 16, 1216, Savelli’s predecessor Innocent III died. Innocent III had been one of the most powerful and active popes of the Middle Ages and his reign would be a tough act to follow. Because of the unsettled political conditions in Italy, the College of Cardinals wanted to select a new pope quickly and they met only two days after the death of Innocent III, on July 18 at the city of Perugia. The College decided on Cencio Savelli as a compromise candidate acceptable to every faction and Savelli, somewhat reluctantly, was consecrated Pope Honorius III on July 24.

Honorius was a popular pope, at least in Rome where the Romans were pleased to have a local as pope. He was also known for his kindness and generosity which endeared him to the people of Rome. Like Innocent III, Honorius III was ambitious for the Papacy to play a leading role in European politics, but he proved to be less inclined to use coercion against the princes of Christendom, preferring to use persuasion. It may be that Honorius was too ambitious and tried to get too much done during his reign. He wanted to recover the Holy Land for Christendom and promoted the Fifth Crusade. This crusade involved a campaign against Egypt from 1218-1221 and ended in failure. Most of the rulers of Europe had their own difficulties at home and were not able or willing to leave their lands for any length of time. Honorius’s former pupil Frederick II became Holy Roman Emperor in 1220 and was an obvious choice to lead a crusade. Although he promised Honorius that he would go crusading in the Holy Land, Frederick II kept putting off and delaying his departure until after Honorius was dead.

In addition to promoting the crusades against the Infidel, Honorius also continued the French crusade against the Albigensians or Cathars begun by Innocent III. He supported the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors and missionary activity to convert the Baltic peoples, the last pagan holdouts in Europe. On a more positive note, Honorius endeavored to promote the spiritual reform of the Church. Honorius approved the Dominican, Franciscan and Carmelite orders and supported their reforming efforts. Honorius was a man of learning and strongly encouraged standards of education among the clergy, going so far as to dismiss illiterate bishops. He granted privileges to the Universities of Paris and Bologna and ordered arrangements made for talented young men who lived far from any universities to be taken to them and learn theology for the purpose of teaching in their own dioceses. Honorius himself wrote many books, including biographies of Popes Celestine III and Gregory VII as well as an guide to Papal finances. Even without the legends of wrestling with the supernatural, Honorius comes across as one of the more impressive figures to assume the Papal tiara.

Summoning Demons for Dummies

Summoning Demons for Dummies

It may have been Honorius III’s reputation as an author and scholar that gave rise to the legend that he wrote a grimoire and summoned demons in his spare time. Naturally, modern historians do not give any credence to such legends. The educated in our secular age reject outright any suggestion of the supernatural, especially stories of witchcraft and demon summoning and few are inclined to suppose there can be any truth to such legends. Aside from that, experts on the history and theology of the Roman Catholic Church point out that any work of witchcraft or magic, including the act of summoning demons, is and always has been strictly prohibited by canon law and it seems unlikely that a pope such as Honorius III, who was at pains to promote Catholic teachings would go against those teachings. Still, the idea of a pope relaxing by summoning demons and then sending them back to Hell is a strangely  appealing one, and I’d like to see one of these wimpy modern popes try to fight a demon.

One of Honorius's demons would chew him up and spit him out.

One of Honorius’s demons would chew him up and spit him out.

The Return of the King

August 6, 2015

By the end of the Return of the King, the quest of the Ring Bearer is completed. The One Ring is destroyed and the Realm of Sauron and all his works are destroyed. The King returns to the Reunited Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor and his rule is established throughout the West of Middle Earth. Good is victorious, yet the victory is bittersweet, for with the passing of Sauron, the end of the Third Age has come and the beginning of the Fourth Age and the dominion of Man. The Eldar, High Elves, have lost all interest in remaining in Middle Earth and will pass back into their home in the West. For a time the Hobbits will prosper in the Shire. The Dwarves will found a new colony in the caverns of Helm’s Deep and perhaps will reconquer their old home, Moria. The lesser wood Elves will remain in Mirkwood and Legolas will bring some of his people to the woods of Ithilien. But it will not last. The Hobbits and Dwarves will diminish in stature and numbers. The Elves will fade away to be forgotten to pass into the West. Even the works of Men may not last. While walking the streets of Minas Tirith, Legolas predicts that the works of men will outlast those of the Elves and Dwarves. To that, Gimli replies that they may come to nothing but might-have-beens. To that, according to Legolas, even the Elves know not the answer, and if the Elves do not know it, presumably no one does.

Elves_leaving_Middle-earth

The Return of the King, then, returns to the theme of loss, found in the first two volumes of the Lord of the Rings. Even in victory, the world will never return to what it was before the coming of Sauron and much that was fair and worthy in Middle Earth must forever pass away. Even the Hobbits are not unmarked by their experiences. Frodo is wounded and will not find healing in Middle Earth. The other Hobbits are not so unfortunate, but they have grown to become worthy of sitting with the mightiest heroes of Middle Earth. They are no longer the light-hearted, carefree Hobbits who set out with Frodo at the beginning of the quest.

Speaking of the Hobbits, once again, Tolkien shows that the small and the humble can do what the proud and the strong cannot. The armies of Rohan and Gondor can do no more than knock on the gates of Mordor while Frodo and Sam can creep through the defenses of Mordor undetected. The Dark Lord’s greatest captain, the Witch-King and Lord of the Nazgul cannot be defeated by the hand of man and even Gandalf feared encountering him, yet he was slain by a Hobbit and a woman who was little more than a girl. The proud Denethor and Saruman dare to look into the palantirs, knowing that Sauron dominates them with the palantir he has captured and Saruman is corrupted into serving Sauron while Denethor is driven mad with despair. Aragorn also dares to look into the palantir. As the heir of Elendil he has the right to use what belonged to Elendil, yet he acknowledges that he barely had the strength to wrest control from Sauron. Aragorn is among the powerful, yet he shows himself to be humble enough to understand his limits. The humble Faramir also understands his limits in a way his proud brother Boromir and his father Denethor do not. Faramir, at least, is not so proud that he imagines he can master the Ring and so he does not fall into the temptation that Boromir fell into.

Don't look into it!

Don’t look into it!

It is the weakest character of all that plays the pivotal role in the quest, through he could hardly be described as humble. He is Smeagol or Gollum. Smeagol is a pathetic figure throughout the Lord of the Rings. Sly, treacherous and murderous, he is completely dominated by the Ring. Smeagol is weak and wretched. He does not have a sword or any weapon but can only attack from behind and attempt to strangle his enemies. He cannot bear the light of the Sun or Moon or anything made by Elves. Yet without Smeagol’s guidance, the quest would have failed as soon as Frodo and Sam left the Fellowship. Smeagol guides them through the Dead Marshes to the Black Gate and then to Ithilen and Cirith Ungol. After he betrays Frodo and Sam, he makes his way through Mordor, following them without supplies. In the end, it is Smeagol who manages to destroy the Ring, albeit unintentionally and at the cost of his own life. In Smeagol, we see a character who intends evil, but ends up doing good.

The hero of the story

The hero of the story

In some ways, the Lord of the Rings is a pessimistic story because of the theme of loss found throughout the plot, especially towards the end. Yet it really isn’t. Certainly some things must be lost but the good is victorious in the end, even though a price must be paid for the victory. One of the greatest lessons of the Lord of the Rings is that we must not lose hope, even against odds that seem insurmountable. The Dark Lord’s victory seems inevitable and many of the men of Minas Tirith are certain that the fall of the city is at hand. For me, one of the most poignant scenes of the Return of the King is when Frodo and Sam are wandering about the fences of Mordor. While Frodo sleeps, Sam looks up into the sky and sees that through the smokes and clouds of Mordor, a single star can be seen. Sam realizes that no matter how powerful the Shadow might seem, in the end it is only small and passing thing. There is light and beauty forever beyond its reach. This is something to remember in our own dark days.

Deep Green Resistance

August 3, 2015

I had never heard of this extreme left-wing/environmentalist movement calling itself Deep Green Resistance until I saw this video that Tim Blair posted on his blog at the Telegraph.

 

All I can say is that I hope the FBI is monitoring this group and catches them before they manage to commit any violent acts aimed at destroying civilization. It does seem strange to me that a group dedicated to destroying technology and civilization should have a website and YouTube channel. Perhaps they have decided that they need to make some accommodation with modern technology at least long enough to get the message out about the necessity of destroying civilization and returning to the Stone Age.

So, who are the members of Deep Green Resistance and what do they really want? According to their website:

Deep Green Resistance is an analysis, a strategy, and the only organization of its kind. As an analysis, it reveals civilization as the institution that is destroying life on Earth. As a strategy, it offers a concrete plan for how to stop that destruction. As an organization, Deep Green Resistance is implementing that strategy.

The goal of DGR is to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. This is a vast undertaking but it needs to be said: it can be done. Industrial civilization can be stopped.

DGR is an aboveground organization that uses direct action in the fight to save our planet. We also argue for the necessity of an underground that can target the strategic infrastructure of industrialization. But these actions alone are never a sufficient strategy for achieving a just outcome. Any strategy aiming for a livable future must include a call to build direct democracies based on human rights and sustainable material cultures.

Which means that the different branches of a resistance movement must work in tandem:the aboveground and belowground, the militants and the nonviolent, the frontline activists and the cultural workers. We need it all.

And we need courage. The word “courage” comes from the same root as coeur, the French word for heart. We need all the courage of which the human heart is capable, forged into both weapon and shield to defend what is left of this planet. And the lifeblood of courage is, of course, love.

So while DGR is about fighting back, in the end this organization is about love. The songbirds and the salmon need your heart, no matter how weary, because even a broken heart is still made of love. They need your heart because they are disappearing, slipping into that longest night of extinction, and the resistance is nowhere in sight. We will have to build that resistance from whatever comes to hand: whispers and prayers, history and dreams, from our bravest words and braver actions. It will be hard, there will be a cost, and in too many implacable dawns it will seem impossible. But we will have to do it anyway. So gather your heart and join with every living being. With love as our First Cause, how can we fail?

Ignore the fact that modern technology and civilization has allowed millions of the poor to rise above a bare sustenance level of semi-starvation.  The next obvious question is, “wouldn’t the collapse of civilization kill millions of people?” Deep Green Resistance has that covered.

No matter what you do, your hands will be blood red. If you participate in the global economy, your hands are blood red because the global economy is murdering humans and non-humans the planet over. A half million children die every year as a direct result of so-called “debt repayment” from non-industrialized nations to industrialized nations. Sixty thousand people die every day from pollution. And what about all the people who are being forced off their land? There are a lot of people dying already. Failing to act in the face of atrocity is no answer.

The grim reality is that both energy descent and biotic collapse will be ever more severe the more the dominant culture continues to destroy the basis for life on this planet. And yet some people will say that those who propose dismantling civilization are, in fact, suggesting genocide on a mass scale.

Polar bears and coho salmon would disagree. Traditional indigenous peoples would disagree. The humans who inherit what is left of this world when the dominant culture finally comes down would disagree.

I disagree.

My definition of dismantling civilization is depriving the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and depriving the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. Nobody but a capitalist or a sociopath (insofar as there is a difference) could disagree with that.

I think that no one but a lunatic could consider the prospect of destroying millions of lives with so little concern.

I wonder if any of these people have actually tried to live as though they lived in nature or if they have actually talked to any of these indigenous peoples who might possible want a better life for themselves and their children. I had though of contacting Deep Green Resistance and suggesting that they actually live the primitive lifestyle for perhaps a year before setting about destroying civilization. This would involve eating only what they could reasonably be expected to hunt or gather. No grains. No plants or animals indigenous to the local area and perhaps no meat from domesticated animals. Only wear leather and furs, even natural fibers are a product of civilization. Turn off all utilities including electricity, water, sewage, etc. No medicines including prescription medicines. If they are diabetic, do without insulin. No spectacles or hearing aids and no dentistry. That woman who apparently has some sort of dental work should have it removed. It would have done no good to make the suggestion. They wouldn’t have paid any attention to me, and anyway it is a lot easier to make videos and websites condemning our industrial civilization than to actually live a life in complete accord with nature.

It is easier to romanticize a defeated for than an enemy who can still fight. The Romans held the Carthaginians, and especially Hannibal, to be noble adversaries, after Carthage was burned down. They felt differently when he was marching up and down Italy. We tend to revere the Native Americans for their courage and simple, natural lifestyle, when they have been defeated and placed on reservations. Our pioneer ancestors who live in fear of Indian attacks had a different opinion. So it is with nature. We can rhapsodize about the wonders of living with nature precisely because we do not live in nature. The tendency to revere and romanticize nature is in inverse proportion to the actual experience living in nature. We in the modern world have just about completely conquered nature and we have little to fear from it. Primitive peoples do not romanticize nature. They respect the power that nature has to destroy them, but they are not as sentimental about it as moderns. If the members of Deep Green Resistance actually had to live in primitive conditions instead of being pampered children of the modern West, they might have a whole different idea of the value of technology and civilization.

There is much more I could say on this subject, but why bother? These are not really rational people living in what we might call the real world. They are ignorant fools who have no idea how life was nasty, brutish and short before the development of civilization. They profess to want to help the world’s downtrodden, yet oppose the very thing, advancing technology, that would actually help the downtrodden. They are worse than useless.

I sure do hope the FBI is keeping an eye on these loons though.


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