Twenty Years

It has been twenty years since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I was listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon Walmart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way, I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discuss the business at hand. Instead, we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

It sickens me, even more, to have an alleged president turn tail and run from the kind of terrorists who committed this atrocity, abandoning Americans in Afghanistan, or to have political leaders more eager to fight their fellow Americans than the enemies of our country, but so it is.

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Nightfall

A couple of months ago, I discovered the science fiction/horror classic The Nightland by William Hope Hodgson. The Night is a poignant story of love and adventure set in a dying world millions of years in the future. In the Nightland the Sun has long ago gone out and the world is shrouded in an eternal night without even the Moon or stars to relieve the darkness of the night sky. The surface of the Earth is frozen and uninhabitable and life is only possible at the bottom of a canyon hundreds of miles deep where there is still some warmth from the Earth’s cooling core. There the last remnant of humanity survives in a gigantic pyramid-shaped Last Redoubt besieged by monsters and eldritch forces of evil. There is no chance for humanity to break the siege or defeat the evil forces arrayed against it. They can only wait until the Earth Current which powers the defenses of the Last Redoubt fail at last and the evil forces destroy them.

This story has made quite an impression on me and lately, I find myself thinking about endings. Maybe it is because I am getting older and can see the end coming, Maybe current events seem to be pointing towards the decline and fall of the American Empire as we watch. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking about the end of all things.

The Nightland was written in 1912 and so the science in the book is more than a little dated. We now know that the Sun is powered by nuclear fusion, not by gravitational collapse, and is going to continue burning for billions rather than millions of years. We also know that the Sun will grow hotter and brighter as it exhausts its hydrogen, that it will become a red giant and will swallow Mercury, Venus, and probably Earth before settling down to become a white dwarf slowly cooling down to become a black dwarf. The Earth, assuming it survives, will have long since become uninhabitable, and the human race, unless we have colonized other star systems, will be extinct.

But what about the universe as a whole? Assuming we have learned to travel the vast distances between the stars and made new homes on other planets, how long can we expect to survive. How long will the universe last? Will the world in fire or ice, as the poet said?

Well, the universe certainly began in fire, according to current scientific theory. To be less poetic, the universe began in a state of extreme temperature and density being very much smaller than it is at present, perhaps even beginning as a singularity of infinite density and infinitesimal size. From this point, the big bang, the universe began to expand very rapidly in the process, creating the matter that currently makes up the universe.

Since the big bang, the universe has continued to expand, becoming ever larger and cooler. The question of whether the universe will end in fire or ice depends on whether that expansion will continue forever or whether at some point it will stop and the universe will begin contracting back to a hotter, denser state, perhaps all the way back into a singularity. Maybe the history of the universe is a never-ending cycle of expansion and contraction. Maybe the universe will end in fire to rise again from its own ashes like the phoenix

That doesn’t seem to be the case, though. The does not seem to be enough matter in the universe to slow its expansion and in fact, the rate of expansion seems to be accelerating due to a mysterious force scientists call. dark energy. If current theories are true, the universe will end in ice. We are living in a universe that will grow ever larger, colder, darker, and emptier without any definite end. The stars will die out as they exhaust their nuclear fuel and after some time there will not be not hydrogen gas in space to create new stars. The galaxies will be filled with the corpses of stars, bodies of degenerate matter such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.

Over the limitless eons, the black holes will attract most of the matter in the universe to themselves with their immense gravitational pull, and eventually, the universe will consist almost entirely of black holes.

This is not quite the end, though. Black Holes do not last forever. According to Stephen Hawking, black holes are not entirely black. For complicated reasons having to do with quantum mechanics, black holes actually emit a small amount of thermal or black body radiation. As they emit this radiation, black holes slowly lose mass, until eventually a black hole is unable to hold itself together with its gravity and it explodes. Paradoxically, larger black holes emit less such radiation than smaller ones. At present, a black hole will take in far more matter and radiation than it could possibly lose through Hawking radiation, but as the universe grows cooler and emptier, black holes will begin to lose mass. This will only happen in the far, distant future and the process of black hole evaporation will take an inconceivably long time, but we are talking about such immense stretches of time that all the thirteen billion years from the big bang to the present is just an eyeblink.

The last events that anyone will observe, if any observers exist, will be the very occasional, perhaps once every billion years, death of a black hole. After the last black hole is gone then night will fall and the universe will be shrouded in darkness, eternal and inescapable. Even matter itself, as we know it will no longer exist if protons decay, as some theories suggest.

Or, maybe not. All of this assumes that our current understanding of the laws of nature over the long eons is correct. It may not be. In fact, it is more than a little presumptuous to imagine that we can know what is really going to happen in the distant future. The universe is full of surprises. In particular, not very much is known about the mysterious dark energy that is accelerating the expansion of the universe. The term dark energy seems to me to be a sort of place holder, a short way of saying we don’t know what it is, or anything about it. For all anyone knows, dark energy could reverse itself and cause the universe to contract. Even if our ideas about the future of the universe are correct, they may not be complete. There may be emergent properties in the universe, yet to develop.

To understand what I mean, imagine some form of intelligence arising in the seconds after the big bang. These beings might consider the future of the universe as growing ever colder and darker over such unimaginable lengths of time as days, years, or centuries. They could have no conception that such objects as stars or planets, or even atoms might develop, filling the universe with light and life. In like fashion, it is possible that new forms of matter and energy might develop in the extremely distant future. There could be lifeforms spanning thousands of light-years living for eons who look back on our time as simply the last stage of the big bang, never imagining that anything could live in the dense, hot universe of the past. Perhaps night will not fall, but the universe will continue to be filled with life in forms we cannot imagine.

Maybe the universe will end in fire, maybe in ice, or maybe there will never be an end, just a continual evolution into new and very different forms. Perhaps we will never know.

 

Unscientific American

Scientific American used to be a respectable magazine that reported on the latest scientific discoveries for a popular audience. Sadly, that no longer appears to be the case. Take, for example, this interview with “forensic psychologist” Bandy X Lee, in which she discusses the “shared psychosis”: of President Donald Trump and his followers and how best to wean his followers away from their shared delusions. It used to be regarded as highly unethical, in the psychiatric profession to offer a diagnosis of a person the professional has not interviewed and in fact, the American Psychiatric Association has the Goldwater Rule in its ethical guidelines. This rule states:

On occasion, psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement

Ms. Lee brushes this objection aside in the interview.

In doing so, Lee and her colleagues strongly rejected the American Psychiatric Association’s modification of a 1970s-era guideline, known as the Goldwater Rule, that discouraged psychiatrists from giving a professional opinion about public figures who they have not examined in person. “Whenever the Goldwater rule is mentioned, we should refer back to the Declaration of Geneva, which mandates that physicians speak up against destructive governments,” Lee says. “This declaration was created in response to the experience of Nazism.”

How precisely Trump’s government could be considered “destructive” is not mentioned. The usual reason given by leftists is that Trump has been undermining our constitutional and democratic norms. In fact, it is the leftists who have been undermining the norms to get Trump. They have corrupted and politized our intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies to supple falsified information concerning Russian collusion. They have incited riots and unrest in our major cities. They have imposed censorship in social media to influence the election. They have rigged that election to ensure Trump’s defeat. Ms. Lee herself has abandoned longstanding ethical guidelines to engage in a political attack. I would say that the complaints about Trump undermining norms are prime examples of leftist projection. Ms. Lee’s comparison of Trump to Nazism says much about her own delusions. Ms. Lee might also want to consider the history of Soviet misuse of psychiatry to define dissidents as mentally ill. Her own suggested treatment of allegedly delusional Trump supporters comes dangerously close to Soviet standards. There is a reason why the Goldwater rule exists.

Consider what she has to say when asked what motivates Trump supporters.

The reasons are multiple and varied, but in my recent public-service book, Profile of a Nation, I have outlined two major emotional drives: narcissistic symbiosis and shared psychosis. Narcissistic symbiosis refers to the developmental wounds that make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. When such wounded individuals are given positions of power, they arouse similar pathology in the population that creates a “lock and key” relationship.

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In Profile of a Nation, I outline the many causes that create his followership. But there is important psychological injury that arises from relative—not absolute—socioeconomic deprivation. Yes, there is great injury, anger and redirectable energy for hatred, which Trump harnessed and stoked for his manipulation and use. The emotional bonds he has created facilitate shared psychosis at a massive scale. It is a natural consequence of the conditions we have set up.

For healing, I usually recommend three steps: (1) Removal of the offending agent (the influential person with severe symptoms). (2) Dismantling systems of thought control—common in advertising but now also heavily adopted by politics. And (3) fixing the socioeconomic conditions that give rise to poor collective mental health in the first place.

I wonder if Ms. Lee has actually spoken to any Trump supporter. She might consider that many of them have real grievances that have been unaddressed by any national figure before Trump ran for president. She might also try to understand that many of Trump’s supporters have benefited from his policies. There is a reason why more people voted for Trump in 2020 than in 2016 and why the Democrats had to hype up the COVID-19 threat and then resort to fraud to defeat Trump.

Scientific American had no business publishing this interview with Bandy X Lee. She has acted in violation of ethical guidelines. She has not met or interviewed Donald Trump and is therefore not qualified to submit any psychiatric diagnoses. She is entitled to her opinion about Trump, and other public figures, but such opinions belong in a political opinion journal, not in a publication devoted to scientific matters. The decision by the editors of Scientific American to publish this interview is an indication of the sad decline of any institution taken over by the left. Leftists infiltrate formerly respectable institutions, “wokeify” them, and leave a sort of husk divested of its former virtues. The left is like a sort of parasitical fungus I once read about that eats away at an insect from the inside out leaving only its carapace intact to lure more victims. Such is the fate of the formerly Scientific American.

The Nativity According to John

Like Mark, John does not include a narrative of the nativity. Instead, John chooses to go all the way back to the beginning.

 1.In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)

“The Word” is the usual translation of the Greek word λογος (logos) but logos means more than just “word” Logos means something like speech or discourse or reason. Hence the word logic is derived from logos, as well as “ology” as in geology or biology. The Stoic philosophers used the word logos to refer to the divine Reason in their pantheistic belief system while the Hellenistic Jews identified logos with the wisdom or spirit of God. John follows the Jewish view by identifying the logos with God. Notice he also identifies light and life with God this is a theme found throughout his gospel and in the first letter of John.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8)

John the Baptist was not the Word. He was only a messenger.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

The Word became flesh. But who was the Word or the Son?

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:15-18)

The Word made flesh was Jesus Christ. Of the four gospels, John most emphasizes the divine nature of Jesus, even to the point of omitting incidents that show any weakness on the part of Jesus. John does not mention Jesus’s temptation in the desert by the Devil after being baptized by John the Baptist nor does he show Jesus’s agony at the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no cry of despair from the cross. Jesus is always shown as being calm and in control of events.

It may be that John wanted to emphasize the divinity of Jesus as a rebuttal to those who either believed that Jesus, while the Messiah was merely human and those who held that Jesus was born human but had been adopted as the Son at his baptism or at some other time. John states that Jesus has existed since before time began as the eternal Word of God. At the same time, John firmly rejects the other extreme that Jesus did not really have a body made of matter but only seemed to be flesh. This idea was held by many Gnostics who taught that physical matter was an inferior substance to the spiritual realm, created by an inferior, and perhaps evil, deity. Jesus Christ, being an emissary from the higher God could not have a body made of mere flesh. John asserts that the Word was made flesh and that really did have a body and really did eat and sleep.

Curiously, both these heresies are still found today, clothed in modern garb. Many liberal theologians cannot believe in the divinity of Jesus and insist that he was merely a great moral teacher. Some Atheists insist that Jesus never really existed in the physical realm but only as a myth. Maybe there really is nothing new under the Sun.

 

The Nativity According to Mark

The Gospel of Mark does not include a narrative of Jesus’s birth. Instead, Mark gets right to business with John the Baptist.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:1-8)

Then Jesus makes his first appearance, fully grown and ready to begin His public ministry.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

(Mark 1:9-15)

English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ
English: John the Baptist baptizing Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark’s gospel was probably the first gospel written. It is the shortest of the four gospels and seems to have been intended as a sort of FAQ for Christians wanting to know more about the central figure of their faith. Mark doesn’t include a lot of details about Jesus’s life and teachings. He just gives the basic facts about Jesus’s ministry, his miracles, and his death on the cross.

The earliest Christians weren’t really interested in the details of Jesus’s birth or His early life. Even His teachings were of secondary importance. For the early Christians, the most important fact about Jesus was that he was crucified, died, and then came back to life, defeating death and sin and redeeming the whole world. Paul, whose letters are some of the earliest Christian writings hardly mentions any details of Jesus’s life. He was surely not ignorant. Both he and the recipients of his letters already knew the information found in the Gospels. For both Paul and the people he wrote to, the most important thing was the death and resurrection. For the earliest Christians Easter, not Christmas, was the most important day of the year. Indeed, the birth of Christ may not have been celebrated by Christians until the third or fourth century.

There is a lot of talk, these days, about the War on Christmas, and I have written posts about the Secular Christmas Grinches who seem determined to ruin Christmas for everyone, or at least strip it of all meaning until it is a generic “Holiday”. As Christians, we should remember the importance of Christmas and should fight against the increasing marginalization of the Judeo-Christian worldview that this nation was founded upon. Still, we should also remember that Christ’s death and resurrection was the reason he came into the world. If Jesus is the reason for Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are the reason for Jesus. We should remember Christ on the cross as well as baby Jesus in the manger.

The Decline and Fall of the Empire of Lies

In 1979, it looked as if the Soviet Union was winning the Cold War. Communism seemed to be on the march everywhere. The Soviets held Eastern Europe in an iron grip and had client states on almost every continent. The Soviet nuclear arsenal was numerically superior to America’s and the Soviet military seemed invincible. By contrast, America and the West were clearly in decline. The United States was still shell-shocked by its loss in Vietnam, its military was in disarray, its economy seemingly locked in a permanent recession coupled with high inflation, its population demoralized. It seemed only a matter of time before the Soviet Union became the dominant power in the world. If someone had predicted that in only a decade the Soviets would withdraw from Eastern Europe and that two years later the Soviet Union would collapse, leaving a resurgent America as the world’s sole superpower, he would not have been taken seriously. Anyone could see that the Soviet Union was here to stay. 

In hindsight, the weaknesses of the Soviet Union were obvious. Its economy was stagnant and inefficient, Its vaunted military might was a shambles with outdated equipment and filled with reluctant conscripts. Its citizens were demoralized and cynical. For most Marxism-Leninism was simply a set of empty platitudes one parroted to get ahead, No one believed in the official ideology. No one believed anything the government had to say. The whole system just needed a push to come tumbling down. Ronald Reagan provided that push.

 Often, longlasting states and institutions appear to be at their strongest right before their collapse, They seem to be a permanent part of the scene until they aren’t. Their weaknesses become obvious only in hindsight. The Roman Empire seemed to be as strong as ever as late as AD 400. No one could have predicted that in only five years its borders would be irreparably breached by the barbarians, in ten years Rome itself would be sacked and by AD 476 the last Western Emperor, a child, and a puppet would be unceremoniously deposed by a German warlord. The Empire was there, then it wasn’t. It is only in hindsight we see how weak the Roman Empire was. The barbarians provided the push that caused the whole structure of the empire to fall down. 

These institutions are rather like a majestic oak tree that has stood for a century and looks to be able to stand for a century more, but in fact, is rotten and ready to fall in the next storm. The oak needs just a push to come falling down. I believe that the left, what Andrew Klavan calls the Empire of Lies, is in the same position as the Soviet Union or the Roman Empire before they collapsed. They seem all-powerful, controlling our culture and every important institution, academia, primary and secondary education, our news and entertainment media, the federal bureaucracy, most of our large corporations, yet I believe they are primed for a collapse. All the Empire of Lies needs is a push to come tumbling down. 

Donald Trump provided that push. In just four years Trump managed to discredit all of the institutions held by the left. To be more precise, he has allowed them to discredit themselves. One after another, these institutions have been revealed to be corrupt, crassly partisan, and altogether ineffective at fulfilling what is expected of them. Higher education has become an expensive joke. No one can believe a word the mainstream news media says. Hollywood churns out crap. Woke businesses go broke. Federal law enforcement is more concerned with investigating imaginary hate crimes than corruption and real crimes. Worst of all, Donald Trump’s policy successes, both foreign and domestic, have revealed just how inept and out of touch our alleged political elite actually is. No wonder they hate him so much, 

Think of it this way. For four years the left has thrown everything they have had at Donald Trump. They have called him a racist, a fascist, a White Supremacist who is the worst person in the world. They have spread false stories of Russian collusion and have impeached him. Their cronies in the government have blocked him at every turn. Yet, despite their every effort to discredit Trump and make him odious in the eyes of the people, they still had to cheat, using unprecedented levels of outright fraud to “win” the election. Does that sound like a movement that is confident of victory? Consider the increasingly desperate attempts by the mainstream media to convince us that all is well, the desperate attempt of the social media oligarchs to silence us, the hatred and fear that so many on the left exhibit in all their actions. They are beginning to lose their grip and they know it. 

They look all-powerful now. So did Germany right before it lost both world wars. In 1918 the Germans knew that they were losing the war so they mounted the Spring Offensive. Likewise, during the winter of 1944-1945, the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge. In both battles, the Germans used their last available reserves to make the allies believe they were still capable of putting up a fight. That is just what the left is doing with the stolen election of 2020. They want us to believe we are beaten and can only make the best of a bad situation. We have to prove them wrong. 

This is not to say we don’t have a hard fight ahead of us. As Winston Churchill put it, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”. Trump has given the left a hard push, but we need to keep on pushing. There is no time to despair. The enemy looks strong but inside they are rotten to the core. We represent the cause of freedom and the future belongs to freedom. They can only offer the failed solutions of the past. Their economics are from the nineteenth century. In race relations, they still think its the 1950s. We base our ideas on eternal truths. They based their policies on the whims of the moment. We offer freedom. They offer tribalism to divide us and serfdom as our lot. So, let’s get out there and fight for freedom. 

I am the Emperor and I Want Dumplings.

That title is a famous quote from Ferdinand I Emperor of Austria from 1835 to 1848. Ferdinand, I was not a particularly good emperor. This wasn’t his fault. Thanks to his Hapsburg ancestors’ predilection for inbreeding (his own parents were double first cousins sharing all four grandparents.) Ferdinand had inherited a number of physical and neurological issues. He was not as afflicted as the unfortunate Charles II of Spain, but Ferdinand did suffer from hydrocephalus, severe epilepsy, and a speech impediment. Ferdinand was not mentally retarded, as many in his court assumed, but his almost continuous seizures (as many as twenty pet day) made it impossible for him to attend to affairs of state or even to sire an heir.

One day, Ferdinand asked his cook to make him apricot dumplings. The cook replied that because apricots were not in season he could not possibly fulfill the Emperor’s wish. The Emperor, who was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, who was used to having every wish immediately gratified could not have a favorite dish because the ingredient was not available. The mighty emperor could only shout in frustration, ‘I am the Emperor and I want dumpings’.

He didn’t get his dumplings.

If you happen to be a resident in the United States of America or any other reasonably developed country and you desired apricot dumplings at any time of the year, all you need to do is go to the nearest grocery store and but apricots and the other ingredients. The store is sure to have apricots even if they are out of season at your location. Just think about that for a minute. You, an ordinary person has access to whatever treats you might want at any time of the year, regardless of what might be in or out of season. You have a better chance of having whatever cravings you might have than the most powerful people in the world only two centuries ago. You also have far better access to medical care than Emperor Ferdinand had. Any ordinary person with the sort of physical problems that afflicted Ferinand would have a fair chance of having his condition alleviated and of living a more normal life than poor Ferdinand ever could have, for all his power and wealth.

You would think that in a free country in which everyone had access to apple dumplings whenever they wanted, people would be happy, or at least content, but that is not the case. Instead, we see people protesting against the poverty and injustice they are living under. Yet, if we were to bring an ordinary worker or peasant from Ferdinand’s time to our own, he would believe that he had entered a utopia of plenty. He would be astonished that everyone had enough to eat, even too much. He certainly wouldn’t be used to seeing so many obese people. He would be mystified as Antifa protesters complained to him of the poverty and injustice they are suffering under.

America is by no means a perfect country. Our treatment of our Black citizens is surely the most egregious example of how we have failed to live up to our ideals. Is the left then correct in portraying America as a country beset with systemic, structural racism in need of a fundamental transformation, even a revolution? Well, despite every effort, Blacks are still not entirely equal to Whites, and yet, discrimination based on race has been illegal since 1964 and it has been the official policy of every level of government, along with academia and most corporations to do everything possible to uplift the African-American community. One might have doubts about the efficacy of many of the policies adopted, but there is little question that the intent is to help, not to oppress. Moreover, public opinion has swung decisively against any public expression of racism. Even a mildly racist remark is sufficient to destroy a career. Despite the Democrats’ characterization of President Trump as a racist and an open White Supremacist, the fact is that If Trump were the slightest bit racist, he wouldn’t have gotten two percent of the vote.

Our friends from nineteenth-century Austria, Emperor Ferdinand, and his humble subject would be used to life in a truly racist country. In the Austrian Empire, your ethnicity determined your entire life. German Austrians were at the top, Hungarians and some favored Slavs in the middle, most Slavs at the bottom, and the Jews even below the Slavs. Even people of the same race were not equals. The nobility expected and got deference from their inferiors. The idea that all men should be treated as equals, imperfectly realized as it is in our time, would seem unimaginable both to the Emperor and the worker.

Actually, this sort of ethnic hierarchy has been the rule in every multi-national state or empire, even our own republic until very recently. What some seem to regard as an evil unique to the United State is the norm in human history. What is not the norm is for the group on top to extend the promise of equality and aid to the formerly oppressed without the threat of a violent revolution. The United States is far from perfect on racial matters, but the progress we have made in recent decades is almost unique in human history and there is no reason to suppose that progress will continue to be made, without any need for riots or the threat of violence.

I do not want to come across as some sort of Pangloss, blithely assuming that everything is wonderful here in the United States. I know that we many problems here in the United States, yet life in twenty-first-century America is better than at any other time and place in history. We live in a remarkably successful country with a long history of dealing with its problems peacefully and without revolution. It seems to be madness for anyone to throw it all away to implement the ideology of a nineteenth-century crackpot. Maybe they don’t teach history anymore.

Nineteen Years

It has been nineteen years since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I was listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon Walmart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way, I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discuss the business at hand. Instead, we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

Al Jolson

I remember going through an old record collection, when I was a child, and seeing an album cover with the picture of a man with what appeared to be a very dirty face. His face was black, except around the eyes and mouth, as if he had just emerged from a coal mine or had rubbed his face with black mud. I had never heard of entertainers performing in blackface and since the man has caucasian features and his makeup did not resemble any natural skin tone, I did not know what this was all about until I turned the album over and read the description on the back. The man was Al Jolson, the entertainer who was famous in the early twentieth century for performing in blackface.

What are we to do with Al Jolson today? His performances are undoubtedly offensive to today’s more racially aware audiences. Perhaps his present-day obscurity is deserved. Maybe Al Jolson ought to disappear down the memory hole along with so much of our shameful past. Then again, maybe not. I am not a fan of airbrushing away historical figures just because they offend contemporary sensibilities. I think the past ought to be remembered.  Al Jolson was the most famous entertainer of his time. He definitely had talent. Moreover, his relationship with the African-American community was not as straightforward as we might expect.

Al Jolson

Who was Al Jolson anyway? Al Jolson was born to a Jewish family as Asa Yeolson, on June 8, 1886, in the village of Srednike in Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire. Yeolson’s father, Moses Rubin Yeoson, was a rabbi and cantor or Hazzan who immigrated to New York in 1891. In 1894 he was able to bring his family to the United States and they settled in Washington DC, where the elder Yeolson found work as a cantor. Young Asa seemed to have inherited his father’s singing voice, and he and his brother Hirsch begin singing on street corners for money in 1897, using the names, Al and Harry. Asa Jeolson began working in show business in 1902, with his name anglicized to Al Jolson. After a somewhat fitful start. Jolson’s career in vaudeville and musicals took off, particularly after he started performing in blackface in 1904. By the 1920s, Al Jolson was one of the most successful entertainers in the United States.

Al Jolson in blackface

In 1927, Al Jolson began acting in movies, starring in The Jazz Singer, generally regarded as the first talkie. Jolson went on to star in a number of successful movies. His career and personal life went into something of a slump in the late 1930s but after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Jolson was the first star to entertain for the troops, before the USO had even been organized. He was praised for the service he provided for American soldiers fighting overseas, but Jolson also contracted malaria and had to have a lung removed. Jolson was also the first entertainer to perform for the soldiers fighting in the Korean War. Al Jolson’s service in Korea proved to be exhausting for him and he died of a heart attack in San Francisco on October 23, 1950

This biographical sketch might give the impression that Al Jolson was the worst sort of racist who made his fortune exploiting the most degrading negative Black stereotypes. What else are we to think of a man who was most famous for performing in blackface? Should Al Jolson be relegated to obscurity as a forgotten relic of America’s racist past? Not quite. As is often the case, the truth is not what it seems at first glance. The fact is that Al Jolson used his position as America’s highest-paid entertainer to fight against discrimination against Blacks. He insisted on equal treatment for his Black co-stars and consistently stood up for the rights of Blacks at a time when this was, by no means, a popular position to take.

So, how do we resolve this paradox? Al Jolson was an entertainer who made millions by wearing blackface and demeaning African Americans, yet was an undoubted benefactor of the Black race. How do we reconcile these two very different sides of this man?

I would suggest that Al Jolson did not put on blackface to insult or demean Blacks. Al Jolson had many Black friends in his youth and later and it is hard to imagine that we would have knowingly done something that they might have found insulting. Blackface was an accepted genre of entertainment at the time, and not necessarily seen as degrading to Blacks. I suspect that Al Jolson might have believed that his blackface performances were a sort of tribute to his Black colleagues. He might have found something in African-American culture that was lacking in his own Jewish-Russian heritage and putting on blackface might have been his way of celebrating the culture of his Black friends. In fact, if you think about it, the practice of White performers blackening their faces and pretending to be Black was a sort of backhanded compliment to Blacks. Yes, these performers disseminated demeaning stereotypes about Blacks, yet they had to believe something was appealing about African American culture for them to pretend to emulate it. We ought to look on Al Jolson’s performances, and perhaps those of other entertainers in blackface as celebrations of African American culture rather than deliberate insults.

Now the reason I am writing this, aside from the fact that  I find Al Jolson’s life and career to be interesting, is that I have found it helpful to try to impute the best possible motives for the actions of the people I run into. That is to say, rather than assuming they are acting from rudeness or malice, I try to think of good reasons for why people do what they do. I cannot say that I am very accomplished in this way of thinking. It seems to run against human nature. It is natural for us to make excuses for our own actions while judging others more harshly. I am trying to reverse this natural tendency by trying to make excuses for others while judging myself more harshly, or at any rate more honestly. Some might say that if I succeed in this endeavor I might become something of a Pollyanna, but I think that it would be worth risking becoming more naive to become more tolerant and charitable in my thinking. I might manage to make myself a genuinely good person.

I think that our country as a whole might be better off, especially in racial matters, if we applied this method to each other. What if, instead of seeking out evidence of racism everywhere, we focus on the real progress in racial relations we have made over the last decades? What if instead of canceling people for a bad joke or unfortunate remark made years ago, we accept that they made a mistake and have moved on? What if, in other words, instead of believing the worst of our fellow Americans, that we are a people seething with systemic racism, we assume the best, that we are human beings and like all human beings we make mistakes but we are trying to do better? We might actually make this country a better place.

To Open or Not to Open

To open or not to open, that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler to suffer to open up

And suffer the slings and arrows of COVID-19

Or shelter in place against a sea of viruses

And by opposing end them.

Okay, so I am no William Shakespeare. Still, the question remains, how long must this quarantine and sheltering in place last? We cannot remain closed down indefinitely. Small businesses and the people who they employ are suffering badly. Before too much longer, they will not be able to reopen. Every day that we remain closed down presents a greater risk of a recession or even a depression occurring later in the year. Yet, if we open everything too soon before the pandemic has run its course, we run the risk of suffering a second wave of coronavirus resulting in more sickness and deaths. Shutting the economy down again late this summer could do more damage to the economy than keeping things shut down a little longer this spring. This is not an easy decision, no matter what some people who are not in the position to make the actual decisions and be responsible for the consequences might believe. I wouldn’t want to be the person who has to decide.

Hamlet pondering on whether to reopen Denmark after the coronavirus pandemic

You wouldn’t think that responses to the coronavirus epidemic would be along partisan lines, but then what isn’t along partisan lines these days? I have noticed that Democrats and leftists generally seem to be in favor of extending the lockdowns for as long as possible and seem to favor stricter guidelines for social distancing, while Republicans and conservatives generally seem to want the lockdowns to end as soon as possible. Perhaps the Democrats tend to be more concerned with the population’s health while the Republicans are more concerned with the nation’s economy. Or maybe Republicans have actual jobs and would like to get back to the business of providing for themselves and their families. I think everyone not on the fringes is starting to get a little frustrated.

Out on the fringes, the lunatic right seems to believe that the Wuhan virus is some sort of false flag operation by the government to impose socialist tyranny on the country. All of the lockdowns and shelter in place orders are just to prepare the sheeple to follow the government’s orders no matter how negatively they affect their lives and circumstances. When the blue-helmeted UN ‘peacekeepers’ arrive in their black helicopters after the disputed election of 2020, most people will be conditioned to do as their told and offer no resistance to the invaders. I wish I were making all of this up.

On the other hand, the idiot left does seem to be taking advantage of the disruptions in everyday life to push their agenda. Now is the perfect time for work stoppages, rent strikes, gun safety measures, freer access to abortion, a wealth tax, open borders, and who knows what else. None of this has anything to do with the pandemic, though I imagine that a country in the sort of economic collapse that would ensue if the left’s policies were adopted might find it more difficult to protect its citizens from disease.

Some governors, especially in the Blue States seem to be enjoying the power which the crisis has given them. They seem to relish having the power to decide which jobs and businesses are essential and telling people how they can interact with one another, setting up snitch lines, getting the police to note the license plates of people who have dared to attend religious services, threatening the Jews, etc. I wonder if these governors will ever reopen their states. They seem to be having too much fun unleashing their inner authoritarians. Besides, if we end up in a Greater Depression, it might cause Trump to be defeated in the upcoming election. Tens of millions of Americans permanently out of work and without hope is a small price to pay for defeating the bad orange man, and it is a lot easier to set up the new socialist America if people have to depend on the government for every necessity. We can’t have a free people who rely on themselves. That’s racist or something.

For my part, I think there has been a lot of overreaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chinese coronavirus just doesn’t seem deadly enough to justify the lockdowns and the general panic. Still, better safe than sorry and I would prefer to err on the side of doing too much than too little. After all, when this crisis started, we had no way of knowing how bad it might get. The Chinese government has not been too helpful in providing the information we needed. I think we need to start opening things up now, not just because of the economy, but because I sense the American people are getting impatient and frustrated. I think the nation’s governors are going to have to plan to start opening things up right now before people start simply ignoring them and opening up on their own. Already we read of protests. That’s the signal for our leaders to get out and lead, or we’ll just start leading ourselves.