Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Man of the century - 16th

One of the primary reasons I started this blog was to write about people who deserve to be better known or have been forgotten. I haven't gotten back to that in a while - so, this is about a forgotten theologian who has a good deal to do with the development of religious toleration in the west.

Who would you name man of the 16th century?  I realize you don't really care. Humor me.

I'm going to rule out Toyotomi Hideyoshi or the Shogun from Japan (there were three that century in a progression) for many reasons. That leaves us, outside of western Europe, with Suleiman I of the Ottoman Empire, who, though he looked funny in that big hat he has on in  paintings, conquered huge swaths of land, including in Europe, and unified much of the Muslim world in such a manner that it would last for centuries. Mere conquerors are rarely going to compete for my man of the century. But, Suleiman was much more than that and his reign has been called a "golden age" with success in architecture, poetry (including his own), agriculture and law. What he created was by far a greater empire than any created in Europe, rivaling or surpassing Spain, which still controlled much of the new world. But still, not enough to win here.

DaVinci has to be up there. I don't have to list his accomplishments as they are so well known. Michaelangelo, the better artist of the two in my view - maybe the greatest artist in history, was though not as much a "renaissance man" as Leonardo. I suppose you could definitely make an argument for Copernicus. I wouldn't. Definitely not Magellan (some other sailor would have done what Magellan did soon after).

Some would say Martin Luther, whose 95 theses and refusal to knuckle under to the Catholic Church changed the West forever. Fewer would choose his even more prickly French counterpart, John Calvin (Jehan Cauvin), who followed Luther and was probably the greater force outside, but for every good reason, he will not get the nod either.

No, I would go with a contemporary of Luther's and Calvin's, one who had to live the latter part of his life in poverty and secrecy, mostly because of Calvin. Even today, outside of a small group of theologians and historians, his name is barely ever mentioned; his accomplishments almost never recognized. And though you can find a number of articles on the web about him, it is hard to find published works about him or written by him.

His name was Sebastian Castellio (some would write Castellion or many other variations). I wrote about him briefly here before once, but felt I had more to say about him. Unless you are  unusually interested in the 16th century, it is very unlikely you've heard of him before either. His work placed him both outside the protection of the Catholic and Protestant churches, who together controlled almost all territory in Europe. He directly challenged Calvin, who crushed him, as he did most everyone who even disagreed with Calvin, even over petty matters.

Despite that, Castellio, a prophet of religious toleration long before Roger Williams or John Locke or Baruch Spinoza, won the longer war, even if it was well after his death and he never knew.  Because Christianity, inseparable from the history of Europe up to the 1700s, became a far more tolerant religion after Castellio - and that include Calvinists, who are no more deadly than the rest. More, I think I can show you how there is more of a link between this scholarly theologian and your political rights than you might have guessed. That's right, some of the freedom we accept as natural or normal today is owed to this pious Frenchman almost no one ever heard about it. It's not that he ever had any power or even a congregation - far from it - but his influence trickled down to other thinkers and eventually, the powerful acceded to it and we undoubtedly benefit from it.  

But before we get to Castellio and how he influenced our own lives, in order to understand his place, we have to briefly talk about the aforementioned Martin Luther, John Calvin and also a martyr to freedom of conscience, Michael Servetus, in order to make sense of what Castellio wrote and did.

A caveat. One thing you learn reading history, no one was really first in just about anything. Or, as it was put in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun,. Virtually everyone we think started something had predecessors, one way or another. Sometimes revolutionary figures know it themselves and pattern themselves after their intellectual forefathers and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they learn about them only later.

Such was the case with Luther, who was certainly an original thinker, but was hardly the first to come up with his revolutionary concepts. And though before him came many, like Wycliff (England) and Hus (Bohemia) and numerous "heresies," he was not aware of them. Though his movement would have happened without them, it might have been delayed a long while without Luther. You could argue that the Catholic humanist Erasmus, not really a revolutionary himself, but certainly an innovator, was a predecessor in some ways as well (and though he remained a Catholic, was blamed by many of his fellows for Protestantism), though I'm sure Luther would argue the point voraciously as they debated the issue of free will vigorously in print. But, many reform movements either sputtered out or were driven out, whereas upon Luther's refusal to knuckle under from Papal pressure, Protestantism began to take off and eventually even had an impact on the Catholic Church (the counter-Reformation). But, I believe ultimately, Castellio had a bigger impact on both.

There are many books about Luther, who was a dynamic and really entertaining figure. You can go to Wikipedia and read about him. For my purposes, this is what was important about him -

- He successfully challenged the Catholic Church on theological grounds, though he was mainly able to do so safely because he had the support of local secular authorities, one in particular, who were able to physically protect him.

- He helped establish that men were free to interpret the Bible themselves (sort of) and the priority of the text over the opinions of the leaders of the church.

- He helped establish the idea of a separation between church and state (sort of).

Stop there. Like I said, there is much more to him and many books have been written on it. John Calvin came after Luther. He established another Protestant church known as the Reformed church or faith, usually called Calvinism today, which still exists and has many millions of worldwide followers. Though Calvin too had his predecessors, notably Zwingli, the Reformed church was undoubtedly influenced by Luther and his sidekick, Melanchthon. Calvin himself was a highly competent and persuasive man, but his dark side was great. Whereas Luther saw the state and church having separate spheres, Calvin established in Geneva the first modern theocracy. Protestantism naturally leads to thoughts of freedom of conscience, but, both Lutheranism and Calvinism quickly established their own dogmas and became as rigid and deadly as the Catholic Church that persecuted them at the time. They differed from one another in debating points that would not be very important to most Americans, and though they made an effort to come to agreement - particularly Calvin and Melanchthon, their successors would bitterly quarrel for a long time. Now, of course, they are all peaceful Castellionists, though, apparently, no one would use that word.

Both the Catholic Church and the protestant churches persecuted heretics. Both Luther (eventually) and Calvin thought that death was an appropriate punishment for them.

Which brings us to Michael Servetus. Servetus was a medical doctor with a deep interest in theology. He wrote a book arguing against the trinity - that is, the father, the son and the holy ghost being one (although, many of us would have difficulty discerning the differences today), which was unacceptable to Calvin. Nevertheless, Servetus, was a bit of a character himself, brilliant (more so as a doctor) and though gentle by nature, to some degree obnoxious, as well as an opinionated fellow. He corresponded with and attempted to engage Calvin in an intellectual debate on the trinity. He managed to gain Calvin's enmity and Calvin conspired to have him arrested. Servetus escaped and, for reasons that are hard to understand except that he might have had a death wish, traveled incognito to Geneva and actually went to Calvin's church. He was recognized and arrested. Much could be said about his trial and defenses, but, he was eventually convicted and put to death by fire. Though Calvin argued that he be beheaded instead, as Servetus requested, it is hard to defend Calvin, who undoubtedly was the primary force behind Servetus' horrid death for the crime of stating his opinion over theological fine points.

Which brings us to Castellio. Castellio was, like Calvin, a Frenchman who discovered both the humanities and the church. He mastered Greek, Latin and Hebrew and later German. He was actually a friend of Calvin's, whom he met in Strasbourg the year before Calvin returned to Geneva, and stayed at a hostel run by Calvin's family for a while (I think only a week, but a while sounds better). Upon establishing himself in Geneva, Calvin soon called for his friend and made him rector of the College of Geneva. While there, Castellio wrote a book of dialogues meant to help children learn language and the Bible. The book, retelling bible stories as dialogues in French and Latin was actually his greatest success from a publishing standpoint, being reprinted many times. In it was contained a germ of his thought - "The friend of the truth obeys not the multitude, but the truth." As he would soon learn, it was one thing to opine it, another to practice it in Calvin's Geneva.

For friendship with Calvin was not possible for someone of independent scholarly curiosity and though Castellio showed remarkable courage tending the sick during the plague (Calvin and other ordained ministers did not) his disagreement with Calvin over what seems to us the rather trivial opinions - the interpretation of Solomon's Song of Songs (Castellio's interpretation is much more standard today) and of Christ's descent into hell - was too much for Calvin to bear and he squashed his friend's expected ordination. Castellio also seemed to recognize Calvin's need to rule before Calvin even recognized it, and this no doubt hurt Calvin, who likely thought Castellio owed him everything. And, certainly, professionally, he owed him a lot. Jealousy also likely played a role. Voltaire later wrote - "We can measure the virulence of this tyranny by the persecution to which Castellio was exposed at Calvin's instance—although Castellio was a far greater scholar than Calvin, whose jealousy drove him out of Geneva."

This seems too true. Having finished his French translation of the Bible, Castellio called upon Calvin to approve it, as such was necessary in Geneva. Calvin wrote to a friend - ""Just listen to Sebastian's preposterous scheme, which makes me smile, and at the same time angers me. Three days ago he called on me, to ask permission for the publication of his translation of the New Testament." What Castellio may either not have realized or had the cheek to think unimportant, was that Calvin had had a hand in a prior French translation. But, in fairness to Calvin, he did not reject his work out of hand, but insisted on being the first to read and make corrections he thought appropriate. Of course, that would have made it as much Calvin's work as Castellio. Castellio offered to read it to him and debate it, but Calvin would have nothing of it. ""I told him that even if he promised me a hundred crowns I should never be prepared to pledge myself to discussions at a particular moment, and then, perhaps, to wrangle for two hours over a single word. Thereupon he departed much mortified."

It could not have worked, of course, for whereas Calvin had certainty in his beliefs, as related by him to the world in his famous Institutes, Castellio was full of doubt. He acknowledged that he did not understand all of the Bible (no one could, of course) and warned the reader that it was his interpretation with which they might differ. Very protestant of him, actually.  One has to be reminded of Bertrand Russell's statement - "The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubt."

For the world, Calvin's treatment of Castellio was perhaps fortuitous, as Castellio, who clearly did not belong in dogmatic Geneva, went to Basel (or Basle), Switzerland, not all that far away but with a somewhat more lenient attitude, being a place where even the more controversial and independent theologian, Sebastian Franck, had been able to live in peace for a while and where Calvin himself had published his first edition of the institutes there a few years before his triumphant return to Geneva. There Castellio lived a life in poverty with his family, often engaging in menial labor to survive, while finishing his translations. Achievement aside, Castellio's Latin translation was also remarkable for his dedication to the young king of England. Edward VI. Of the few commentaries I find on this dedication, most seem unaware that Little Eddie's tutor, John Cheke, and Castellio admired one another and other Englishmen even supported Castellio to be invited to England to fill an empty chair at Cambridge. The dedication was very un-Calvinist - that is, advocating freedom of conscience and recognizing human free will (something which, by the way, neither Luther nor Calvin believed in (not to mention some modern philosophers).

Though Calvin had written Castellio a letter of recommendation when he left, stating that other than Castellio's two wrong opinions, Castellio would have been ordained, when Castellio left Geneva for Basel, his attitude soon turned to one more typical of him - venomous hatred.

But, it was after Servetus was burned that Castellio truly earned Calvin's enmity. Calvin had written a defense of the execution and Castellio responded with a book on heretics which, though as plain as its basic points could be to us, was completely revolutionary for a book in print at the time, putting forth a view of Christianity that was the opposite of which Calvin was promulgating throughout Europe.

It is very hard to find anything written by Castellio today. I have read his de haeriticis et sint persequendi, with which he challenged Calvin, which has been translated into English and edited by my favorite writer on religious liberty, Ronald Bainton, and which I was lucky to find at a university library. I can't say it is riveting reading today, or that you should go out and buy it (even if the cost wasn't exorbitant) because the principles of tolerance he extolled are so well known today that it makes for dull reading. But, in its day, it was incendiary and provocative. After the preface, it is really a collection from religious figures who Castellio claimed supported his view. The collection included both Luther and Calvin, which points out that they changed once they became powerful themselves. Castellio quotes Calvin - "It is unchristian to use arms against those who have been expelled from the Church, and to deny them rights common to all mankind."  This was hardly true any longer - that is, at the time Castellio wrote it Calvin had clearly changed his mind, but it was written by Calvin back when he himself was in danger from the Catholic Church. Castellio cherry picked his chosen statements and made no effort to take a balanced approach. Thus it was quite easy for one of Calvin's followers, Theodore Beza, to write a book refuting him. Though Castellio wrote a response to Beza, Contra Libellum Calvini, it was not published in his lifetime. Though you can even find the Latin original online, I have been unable to find it in English. 

Castellio did not write his de haeriticis in his own name either, as that would have been even more dangerous, but everyone who knew him well, so knew well who wrote it. Including, of course, Calvin. The following is a letter from Calvin to a friend, who also supported Castellio, and is quite typical of Calvin, if seemingly to us, a little schizophrenic:

"Although we seek the same goal we are different more than I should like in temperament and      character. I know what you think, and what you sometimes say, about me. I am not so fond of       myself as not to dislike some of the shortcomings which you reprove. . . . But others I would not alter. We differ not only in temperament, but I deliberately pursue a different course. Mildness suits you and to it I am also not averse. If I seem to you too severe, believe me I have adopted the role only because I must. You do not consider how the Church is endangered by your latitude, which gives unrestricted license to evil doers, which confuses virtue and vice and makes no distinction between black and white. For example, take Castellio, whom you would like to see appointed at Lausanne, were it not for your fear that there might be disturbance because of the "squabbles" which I had with him. This does not so much hurt me as it violates the sacred name of God and vilifies all truth and religion. This good man would destroy the fundamentals of our salvation and is not ashamed to break into detestable blasphemies. He says that "the God of Calvin is a liar, a hypocrite, two-faced, the author of all evil, the enemy of justice, and worse than the devil." Have I not a right to complain that you treat me unkindly? I know that you are far from approving of the stinking detestable dung of this obscene dog. I should prefer that the earth swallow me up a hundred times than that I should not listen to what the Spirit of God dictates and prescribes for me by the mouth of the prophet in the words: "The reproaches of them that reproached Thee have fallen upon me"(Ps. 69:9). And now when I defend the faith which I cannot desert without treachery and perfidy, do you say that I "squabble"? Would that this rash word, of which I am ashamed as unworthy of a Christian, had never escaped you. If we have a spark of piety, such an indignity as that of Castellio should enflame us to the highest indignation. As for me I would rather rave than not be angry. You had better consider how you will answer before the Supreme Judge.  . . .

I see what a bitter letter I have written, and I almost tore it into a hundred pieces, but it is not   my way to conceal what presses on my heart, nor would you wish it. Otherwise I could not have   written at all. I cannot lie and flatter. I have been made more irritable by a load of work, and I    am afraid I have been inconsiderate enough to trouble you when you are nearly crushed with       the weariness of cares and labors."

See what fun these guys were. Of course, when you consider how much more peaceful and rational and Christ-like the voice of Castellio was it becomes harder to understand why Calvin is still a household name and Castellio a buried treasure:

"[Y]ou should allow everyone who believes in Christ to do so in his own way." 

"It is preposterous to assert that those who are forced to profess a belief really believe what they profess."

"[Opinions are] almost as numerous as men, nevertheless there is hadly any sect which does not condemn all others and desire to reign alone."

"When I reflect on what a heretic really is, I can find no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views."

"Let not the Jews or Turks condemn the Christians, nor let the Christians condemn the Jews or Turks, but rather teach and win them by true religion and justice. "

 [Advice to France laid waste -1562]  [Sedition arose] "from the attempt to force and kill heretics rather than from leaving them alone, because tyranny engenders sedition."  

"Either the victim resists, and you murder his body, or he yields and speaks against his conscience, and you murder his soul."

Castellio also wrote a book on doubt - what we would call skepticism. Although he hardly invented doubt or skepticism, again, for his time and place it was a remarkable thing to have written. The idea that man must be uncertain is commonplace to those thoroughly familiar with science, but, at the time, most religious figures and even philosophers were filled with certainty. For his time and place, particularly in the religious world, it was a very necessary and dangerous thing to be said and I believe he was at least one important flowering of the idea which led to more modern philosophers. To write a book on it was almost inviting the flames.

However, despite being modern compared to Calvin or Luther, and almost everyone else at the time, in his views on dissent to accepted religious views, Castellio was not from the future either, and it has to be understood that his views were a radical change, but not contemporary modern 21st century thought either. He claimed, for example, to hate heretics himself and thought some punishment was appropriate. Nor did he approve of atheists at all. It was not that any of these were beliefs acceptable to him, but he felt, as we do now, that they should be persuaded by reason, not by fire or sword. "To kill a man," he wrote, "is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man." Sounds pretty obvious to us - but . . . .

Castellio argued that if men could argue these points over hundreds of years without any resolution, how could it be resolved by force? But what probably infuriated Calvin and others most, was that Castellio based his arguments on the New Testament, arguing that Christ would never approve of such behavior. And, so it is believed today. Nevertheless, if they did not have reason, Calvin and Luther had much of history on their side.

But, all this is history. I said at the beginning I would link it to our own beloved freedoms and I will. For, no doubt, Castellio is an almost completely forgotten man today. There have been biographies, but I can find no biography on him in English that I could and would buy. Bainton wrote one which is out of print. The only one I could find online, by Guggisberg and Gordon, is available on Amazon for $116.10.  $116.10!!! My dedication to learning does know some bounds. Whatever the limit is, $116.10 for a book far surpasses it. Not surprisingly, there are no reviews of their bio on Amazon and I would love to know if any person actually bought the book. 

But, leave bios aside. In my local library, I checked the two reference encyclopedias they have dedicated to religion, one which is multi-volumed and contains just about anything and anyone you can imagine. Both encyclopedias refer to many very minor figures and topics in Christian history, but neither - Castellio.  Yet, I knew this was going to be the case when I picked them up and would have been surprised if the opposite was true. Today I went to a bookstore that had a large and interesting philosophy section. I found several books right away that dealt with the reformation - even Servetus's burning and yet - each one completely ignored the major protest from Castellio. And I just received in the mail from Amazon a volume on the history of skepticism, which mentions Calvin and Spinoza and even Noam Chomsky, for crying out loud. But, no Castellio.

I first came across Castellio in Will Durant's volume on the Reformation in his great eleven volume history and then in Bainton's books on Luther and others. Of course, Bainton's own edition of de haereticis, and other books by him considers him extensively. But, no one is buying them these days either. The same is true of the books by the noted German author, Stefan Zweig, who wrote Castellio against Calvin, which is fortunately available online. Ironically, because of the availability of scholarly articles on the web and e-publishing books no one reads anymore, it is much easier to read about him there and you can even find a decent Wikipedia article about him (like most articles - taken from many other sources). You might say this is just due to the technological changes towards digital these days, but, you can easily find paper books on Calvin or Luther or many other religious figures. It is that Castellio is so rarely thought about nowadays that you cannot find relatively inexpensive paper books about him in print and he is ignored by most scholars.

But, though not well known today, in his own century Castellio was well known and debated - if not hated - by many others. He was not the only person who believed in religious tolerance, but was, of course, greatly outnumbered by those of a more contentious and even violent temperament. Many great thinkers knew and wrote of him - Montaigne, slightly following Castellio in time, did and so did Voltaire in the 18th century.

But, the most important Castellio reader we have for our purposes is John Locke, who for many stands as an immediate and perhaps the most important inspiration for our founders, our revolution and system of government, though he was long dead before it took place.  Probably most of the important literate founders had some Locke under their belt. Certainly Jefferson and Madison, who are most closely associated with our freedom of conscience, did.*

*Generally, I have little use for Jefferson. I do not think much of his character and believe he was a bad governor (Va.), president and vice president - possibly an okay secretary of state save his proxy war through newspapers with Hamilton - though I haven't focused on him in that role much and can't say for certain yet. But, I do believe he was genuine in his belief in religious toleration, particularly as he himself was either an atheist or at most a deist. It does not excuse his other behavior, but I can be thankful for that aspect of him at least.

Locke was also born and raised in a very intolerant time and place - 17th century England, where Catholicism and Protestantism were also at war. The link between Locke and Castellio is undoubted as we know that he had some of Castellio's work in Dutch (Locke spent years in Holland while unwelcome in England). But, we have more. In Locke's correspondence we find him discussing the possibility of publishing Castellio's complete works in English. Keep in mind, Castellio was dead at that point for 130 years, and publication was a major undertaking and also sometimes a dangerous one.

And, we can take it even further. It is interesting to note that there were only three authors up to Locke's death who wrote books on both the subjects of knowledge (or epistemology) and religious toleration. Two, as Bainton noted, were Castellio then Locke. The third, surprisingly forgotten by Bainton, was Spinoza, but his epistemology does not closely resemble Castellio's and Locke's does fairly closely. Indeed, one of the major aspects of Locke's theology was that religion could be understood through reason - but that it did not need to be - uncertainty about religious matters, outside of a few areas (which which Castellio would agree) was necessary.   

Locke's famed letter on religious toleration was published by the friend he addressed it to apparently without Locke's knowledge.  But for a few points, the letter could have probably been written by Castellio himself, including the lesser tolerance for atheists.

You might find Locke's ownership of some works by Castellio and a discussion about publishing them in English slim reeds by which to give him any indirect credit of inspiration for our own laws and customs. I do not, particularly when coupled with the similarity of their epistemology and theology. Sometimes things like this are all we have to go on and entire books have been written on far  more slender threads than this. In fact, it is accepted by everyone that Locke influenced the founders and I don't think there is any more proof of that than that Castellio influenced Locke.  More, there were no Amazon.coms or Barnes & Noble to get books from. Ownership of books was difficult to arrange and it usually meant something significant when someone owned a copy of someone's works. In fact, for a long time, Locke even had trouble getting hold of his own work left back in England.

But, in any event, knowing that Locke read and admired Castellio enough to want to have all his works published in English, we can proceed across the ocean. One of the founding documents on religious liberty in America is Jefferson's A Bill for Establishing Religious Liberty in Virginia. Not only do we know that Jefferson owned and read Locke, but the bill itself is somewhat of an interpretation of Locke's letter. In fact, it has been known for over a century that in Jefferson's own writings are pages of notes on Locke's letter. There's some debate on what Jefferson used them for, but this is history, not physics, and there will always be some debate. However, that there is a link established and some influence on his landmark bill is without doubt.

Also, it is known that Locke read and was influenced by a writer known as Acontius, a former Catholic convert to Protestantism who almost certainly knew and was influenced by Castellio in Basel, through which Acontius passed on his way to live in England. . At least, scholars take it for granted that the connection is there. I cannot go further than them. Acontius wrote Darkness Discovered or the Stratagems of Satan, decrying religious dogma.

But, if we allow only slight speculation, it seems apparent that Castellio was an inspiration among many of the slightly later religious figures of the 16th century, when these ideas were first germinating, to argue for toleration. One the other strands of religious freedom comes through Benedictus (sometimes Baruch) Spinoza him. I cannot show that he read Castellio or not. But, given that Locke had him in Dutch while in Holland, it seems hard to believe that Spinoza, who always lived there, did not have access to him as well, given that religious toleration and epistemology were major concerns for him.

Others include Bayles, Socinus, Arminius, Coonhert and Coolhaes among many others.  Admittedly, I do not have the time, inclination, language skills or research tools to take this further and there is just not enough written on these gentleman, at least in English, to easily go further for the purposes of a blog post. As I've learned, at some point you have to press "post" or you never will.

Before I end I'll address some argument I might expect. You can always point to Castellio's less than completely modern views - particularly his dislike of atheists and those he considered heretics, but, the same is true of virtually all historical figures, including Locke and Jefferson and Madison and Lincoln, etc. Future generations will look back on people we think heroes today and say - yes, but he/she also ate meat or didn't eat meat or was pro-choice/life, etc. In fact, in Europe, it was virtually impossible to find anyone in 16th century Europe who had religious toleration the way we do.  

You could also point to the many contributions others have made to freedom of religion and ask what is so special about Castellio, but, I would argue this does not water down his contribution at all, but probably increases it, as most all of them followed him in time and none published a book on it before him.

And certainly many other writers other than Locke (and indirectly Castellio) influenced Jefferson directly in his religious views, as we can be sure Sozzini or Socinus, Roger Williams, Joseph Priestly, Viscount Bolingbroke and even Tom Paine did. But, they get recognition. Castellio does not.

While everything is debatable, it seems clear enough to me that Castellio's contribution to religious freedom, so rarely mentioned outside of philosophical or religious circles (as opposed to Locke) is far less than it should be.  And while you might argue that an actual martyr who was burned at the stake - like Servetus - might be a better example, Castellio was essentially hounded to death at a relatively young age - 48. For Calvin and co. had long sought his prosecution in Basel. The first time they tried he was not found at fault and when he was finally brought to trial in 1563, he died. Maybe lucky for him.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014


SOAB (Son of a bitch!). I thought I posted a couple of weeks ago until Bear asked me today if I stopped blogging. It's a little dated by now, particularly the football stuff which I had started writing a few weeks earlier. But, regardless, here it is:

I can't believe how little I've blogged in the last few months. I must be busy between work and vacation.
I did fix the last post's photo problem and managed (the tedious way) to get the photos directly on it, so you don't have to use the link. I'm just so hi-tech.
Today is a potpourri day here-a little of this, a little of that, so as to ease my way back into it.
I started writing this weeks ago, before the two Super Bowl teams faced off in the new regular season - Denver and Seattle. I wrote: "If Denver beats Seattle, it will feel like the underdog beating the bully and many people will feel good about it. Me too. Seattle has so much to lose. Not only will their SB victory be partially revenged but they will be 1-2. That would be some turn around. If Seattle wins, they will both be 2-1.  I am betting on Seattle again. Wait, no, Denver. I don't know."
So, Seattle won, and now 5 games deep, they do still seem like the best team in the league.
David Wilson put on an all around show Monday night showing why he is at the top of his game, between his legs and his arm. He only seems to throw smart passes. Even when he is scrambling, he doesn't throw into coverage. And he is a Fran Tarkentonesque escape artist. Becoming a bigger fan than I was last year. He also seems to be a genuinely nice guy. But, most of them do.
On the other hand, even Seattle seems a step down from last year. There is not a single standout team right now nor a single player who is dominating the league. There is always some team that people want to leap frog to the front, and they fold. Carolina may be the latest one. People were very high on Carolina a few weeks ago and the Chiefs until last week. The undefeated teams have all come crashing down to earth. Now Dallas, The Giants, SF and NE are all on the upswing. San Diego (predicted by the world's most sinister blog commenter, Bear) may be the real deal.
But still, my favorite teams are SF and NE and despite rough starts, they are both, to my relief, playing better. I've picked them for the Super Bowl, though they are clearly not the best teams. I root for them anyway (sort of) so why not pick them?
I have to admit though, SF's QB, Kaepernick, who seemed like one of the biggest threats in the league the last two years, but this year he appears to have lost confidence or concentration or both. Tom Brady is still Brady. As bad as his stats are, like last year, many commentators notice how he seems to manage to make more out of situations with little talent around him than anyone else. He got blocking though this Sunday and they trounced their opponents.
One thing I've concluded. Regardless of what an amazing quarterback Peyton Manning is, he is possibly he worst actor I've ever seen - and I've suffered through second graders putting on a play. It's a free country. He can make commercials. I wish he won't. As he said to Papa John recently on one of them - "Brutal."

More football
But, leave that all aside - what the hell is going on in the NFL?  They've so joined the legion of the politically correct that they are acting more like the National Football Investigative League. Other than one maniac I know (no names here, but he lived in Montana for a while and occasionally comments), everyone seems to think Ray Rice went way overboard in knocking out his wife and a prosecution would be appropriate. I do too. Clearly he snapped. But, we know she came across the elevator towards him and we do not know - because it is not on video - what the last 6 months have been like for them? I'm not saying she went after him over and over. How would I know? But, no one in the media seems interested in it. To go by the media, everyone is in agreement that all is as should be now only we need more suspensions and codes of civility in the NFL.
The fear of losing revenue - and please don't think this is about anything else, has led Roger Goodell to make a press conference and call for an investigation as if he himself slugged his wife. Stop apologizing.
These are my concerns or questions -
-Why isn't important what led up to that moment?
-Does she too deserve to be prosecuted?
-Since that incident, she married him and has stood by his side. Who is the NFL to question her wisdom? Their friends say it was a one time thing (again, I wouldn't know) and that it is unfair to judge him by one incident (although, it really was really disturbing to watch). Does anyone remember what happened with Warren Moon? His wife basically rescinded and blamed herself. They still prosecuted him and he was acquitted.
-Why would they want to impair Rice's wife's life by denying her husband a livelihood?
--Most important, doesn't the possible destruction of Rice's career - and that is what some in the media and watchdog groups are calling for, mean that NFL wives will decide to keep their mouths shut if they are abused or risk losing all they have? This is the real problem I see. As usual, the road to hell. . . .
Really, whatever the Rice's problems are, this is out of control. Sure, it would be great if so many NFL players weren't testosterone high-octane young multi-millionaires who have been spoiled and pampered much of their lives involved in a violent sport, but they are. But, I don't think most fans want the NFL to carry on like a government agency, not even their female fans. And, according to the statisticians at the NY Times (the 538 blog), NFL players have not only a lower incident of crime, but a lower incident of domestic abuse than the general public for men in their age group (though it is by far their biggest problem). So, why are they pretending it is a problem? Oh, right, money.
The United Kingdom (phew!)
Personally, I thought it was a better idea for Scotland to stay put. This was not a question of their living under tyranny. For security purposes, for financial purposes and for our own selfish reasons, it was better to stay than go.

Just a thought. Scotland has been somewhat united with England since 1603 (when James VI of Scotland became James I - the James of the King James Bible) and formally since 1707. Britain gave them an opportunity to secede from the union of three or four hundred years. We (the U.S.) may have wanted them to stay in that union for our own purposes, but no one in our government disapproved of there being a vote.

Imagine then if Texas or Alaska (the usual suspects) decided to leave the union? Would we allow a vote? Of course not. But, Texas has been part of the union for a little more than a century and a half rather than three or four. and Alaska has been a state only a few months more than I've been alive. Not that their citizens would vote yes either. But, why is it that we would not consider letting them, or any state go when Britain can risk letting a huge chunk of their nation separate?

You can make legal argument.  A ridiculous case, Texas v. White (actually fought over U.S. bonds) held a few years after our civil war that states had no right to unilaterally secede from the union. Actually, there is really no constitutional text which requires a state to stay put. And while I'm not sure that we'd be sending troops into Texas to stop them at this point in history (maybe Delaware), but, I can't imagine we'd put up with it like our cousins across the pond.
I'm not a guest - I'm a customer
Someone at my bagel store (well, not really mine) called me a guest the other day. Personally, I don't like it when businesses refer to me as a "guest." Maybe it's okay when you are on their website just wandering around. But, when you buy something, you are a customer, not a guest, which to me implies some kind of relationship where you do not have to pay for kindnesses. 
I know, I know, it's PR bologna, but, the truth is, I'm not sure anyone who is a customer is ever going to buy more or be happier because they are called a "guest." It's like when businesses take someone who could be working and make them greet everyone at the door; the idea being that you'll appreciate it if they personally welcome you? But, if that's the case, you are already inside - why would you care?  Maybe it works with some people if they are walking by their place of businesses. For some reason sex establishments like strip clubs seem to think this is a good idea. Some restaurants too. It has never made me want to go inside. Actually, I feel a little put off by it and cringe that they are going to speak to me. I could be wrong as it is a nutty world, and maybe it does work with some people, but, generally speaking, people I talk to seem to all feel the same way about it. Just do a good job and stop being so obsequious to us.
Uh, oh, not you Sweden
When I used to travel more often, particularly in Europe, I met some Swedes. I liked every single one I ever met. They just seemed uniformly nice, not to mention the best looking group of people I could imagine. They have a more socialist model than most states and have not done bad economically (they have their issues, like every country). Part of their success I think is due to the level of homogeneity they have - one language, one group of people (not so many immigrants people fighting to get into near arctic climates, though they have some) and very little in the way of defense spending (though comparable to many other countries). They spend about a third of what we do for defense as a percentage of gdp and even a little more than half of that which Britain and France spends (again, as a % of gdp).
But, what bothered me was their recent decision to recognize Palestine as a state.
It's not that I don't want Palestine to be independent someday and soon. In fact, though generally pro-Israeli, because they are far more enlightened in their behavior than their neighbors and are our ally, I wish Israel would unilaterally recognize Palestine and throw it on the world to make it work, reserving the right to defend themselves indiscriminately and without concern for international opinion. But, if it happened right now, Palestine would already be a failed state. It has no currency, no defense, no single government and is occupied and controlled by Israel. Recognition is not going to change that. If anything it will make it harder.  I guess Sweden thinks if a bunch of states recognize it as independent (though, who rules - the PLO or Hamas?) something will happen. It is not realistic while Hamas still controls Gaza.
What I'd really like is the world to treat Hamas like they are treating ISIS.
Dear Abby
I mean John Adams' late wife, Abigail, not the late advice columnist. Abigail really was a fascinating person in her own right and it is worthwhile to spend a little time reading their correspondence or a biography of her or them together. I occasionally read some Adams' family correspondence and it never fails to please me. One thing she would do that at least surprises me is quote from poetry verbatim in her letters. You can tell (scholars I should say - I'm not paying that much attention) she's not copying it because she makes mistakes here and there. It's all from memory.
In 1775 the Adams' friend, Joseph Warren, a medical doctor and now rather forgotten revolutionary war hero who died in battle at only 34 years old. Warren was active in Boston revolutionary politics, and it was actually him who sent off Revere and Dawes to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock of the British raid to capture him.  Though a newly commissioned general, he fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill as a private and died there. You could probably read an awful lot of revolutionary war books and still never have heard of him, but he was quite well known at the time and after he died counties and towns throughout the original states were named for him (if you ever pass through a Warren or Warrensburg, etc., that's him). Anyway, though this really isn't about him, his death was a big deal to the Adams family, who knew him personally.
When informing her husband of her death, Abigail wrote that his death reminded him of a poem by William Collins entitled Ode Written in the Beginning of the Year 1746, which actually commemorated British troops fallen in battle in Scotland during a Jacobite rising some 30 years earlier. Collins is another 18th century figure who we never hear or read about anymore but was a big deal back then. Here's the poem:

How sleep the brave who sink to rest
By all their country’s wishes blest!
When Spring, with dewy fingers cold,
Returns to deck their hallowed mold,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy’s feet have ever trod.
By fairy hands their knell is rung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honor comes, a pilgrim gray,
To bless the turf that wraps their clay,
And Freedom shall awhile repair,
To dwell a weeping hermit there!
I admit it.  I often like poems that rhyme better than others. So shoot me.
The poem must have been on her mind that year (Collins was long dead) as she taught it to their son, John Quincy, and when he was an old man (he was a child during the Revolutionary War) more than 75 year later, he mentioned she taught it to him right then and was still able to quote it from memory in a letter to a friend. 
There's no overarching point here. I just liked the poem and its importance to the Adams family. 
Sam Spade meets Fatty Arbuckle
When I was in San Francisco this summer I sent the girls shopping and walked around a bit on my own. I passed by John's Grill, which probably wouldn't even be open anymore were it not immortalized in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, where Spade stopped for a bite (you can still get the same meal - pork chops and some sides I think). It got me thinking of Hammett and his longtime girlfriend, the writer Lillian Hellman (not that he wasn't married). I loved Hammett's five novels and rank them thus:
The Glass Key
The Maltese Falcon
The Thin Man
The Dain Curse
Red Harvest
Yes, TGK better than TMF, but they were all great. He really started something. Even Raymond Chandler said he owed a lot to him. But Dash was a drunk and not a nice one either. The truth is, it is hard to like him, though he had his moments too. He got his knowledge about being a detective from the time he was a Pinkerton detective. While he was one, they were helping out Fatty Arbuckle, the movie star accused of rape and manslaughter. Talk about forgotten. Arbuckle was the discoverer of both Buster Keaton and Bob Hope and both a friend of Chaplin and a world famous comedian in his own right. He had three trials, the first two being hung juries and the third in which he was acquitted him by the jury (who actually wrote him a letter of apology). The Pinkerton's were working for him and thought him innocent too (I have no idea if he was or not), but I love this playful squib written by Hammett at the time:
"I sat in the lobby of the Plaza, in San Francisco. It was the day before the opening of the second absurd attempt to convict Roscoe Arbuckle of something. He came into the lobby. He looked at me and I at him. His eyes were the eyes of a man who expected to be regarded as a monster but was not yet inured to it. I made my gaze as contemptuous as I could. He glared at me, went on to the elevator still glaring. It was amusing. I was working for his attorneys at the time, gathering information for his defence."
Secrets of the Secret Service
The Pinkertons are a nice segue into the Secret Service. Pinkerton himself, the original American detective, helped save Lincoln as he made his way to Washington, D.C.  The formation of the Service was actually on Lincoln's desk when he died. But, it didn't protect the president until after McKinney's assassination (apparently, the assassination of Lincoln and Garfield not being a sufficient hint that something should be done).
My major feeling about the Service right now is shock and disappointment. Here I was, a very cynical guy, who is constantly saying that almost everything in this world operates incompetently. But, even after the prostitute scandal just about a couple of years ago, I thought that was about ethics and not competence. But, maybe it was a big clue.
I don't know what is going on with them. Forget the number of people who have crossed over onto the White House lawn, fired shots at it, or gotten onto an elevator with the president (seriously?), this last debacle needs a stronger word than incompetent to describe it.
The most amazing part to me is not that he actually made it to the house itself, though that is amazing, but that he overpowered the ONE guard at the door. One guard!
A few things came to mind.
First, was the guard on a cell phone or tablet? Why would I think a thing like that? Maybe because every time I am in a building now where they have security guards, they spend the same amount of time doing that as just about everyone else.
Second, is everyone picturing every group of terrorists in the world having conversations like - "What if instead of sending one man, we send a dozen?"
What would they do? Are we even remotely prepared for this?
The disgraced former director of the agency, Julia Pierson, said she wanted the agency to seem like Disneyland to the public. Words fail.
The biggest dispute about the most famous terrorist group in the world seems to be whether to call them ISIS, ISIL, IS or IL. I like ISIS and am sticking with it.
Leaving aside that I am disgusted with both the president and the congress for ignoring the constitution and not dealing with this issue (the first is the president's fault, the second congress's), I really think we should be involved. I admit I am a little of a hawk, but the kind that doesn't want to build nests. Do what we have to do, help out who we strongly feel shares our political values and go home.  I just think we should be in the business, not of chasing monsters, but killing people who cut the throats of our citizens and those of our allies, and then make sure the video gets circulated.
I remember reading Theodore Roosevelt, who would now be considered a terrible racist and a bit of a nut job by many people, that once we lose our martial ardor, we are done as a country. I really don't even want to hit anyone myself, never mind shoot anyone, but that's probably typical and he may be right. This isn't about empire. It's not about oil. It costs us money to do this. What fighting ISIS is about is having a world where we can all do business and interact without getting our throats slit. Isn't that good enough reason? If it is not, why should our enemies not think it is a good idea?
That's enough for today. See you folks in church.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

West is best

I have had the good fortune to travel out west a few times - I'm thinking 7 - Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Washington and Montana. While the east, where I have spent most of my life, is beautiful too, for dramatic natural beauty I can't think of anywhere I've been with so many Wow! moments. I took a couple of thousand photos in two weeks. Ten thousand photos wouldn't be enough. But here's a little more than 50. You can have even too many pictures of natural beauty. I'd put them right here on this post, but I can't figure out how (even though it seems like you can just click the photo button and upload - I can't do it). Damn you modern technology!

9/19/14 update.  Okay, so that was a total failure. But, I figured out how to tediously put all the pictures below.





















Photo  Photo

Photo  Photo












Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hero of the Lord of the Rings

By most reasonable standards, Sam Gamgee should be the recognized hero of the Lord of the Rings.
Think about it:

Where Frodo (and before him Bilbo) were reluctant, Sam was less so. He might have been threatened by Gandalf, but, it did not appear he was really afraid of him.

Sam went with the best of motives, to care for his friend and "master" (in the very English way) Frodo. Frodo repeatedly tried to give the ring away.

Sam never flagged in his courage, though he was wise enough to be cautious.
- He followed Frodo, whose burden the ring was, in the face of the terrifying black riders.

- He tried to protect him from the much larger Strider, who turned out to be Aragorn.

- He tried to protect him from the sneaky and powerful Gollum.

- He protected him from the terrifying Shelob.

- He attacked ferocious orcs for Frodo's sake.

- He tried to follow Frodo into a river out of loyalty though he could not swim.

Despite his demeanor, Sam was wiser than Frodo.

-He understood Gollum's true nature, whereas Frodo was foolhardy.

-Frodo was easily fooled by Gollum and if not for Sam's undying loyalty, would have lost him.

-He understood the ring and what it did to Frodo better than Frodo did.

Sam was at least as compassionate than Frodo.

-Frodo was worried about Gollum and did understand what his sacrifice would mean to the world. But Sam seemed to worry about the whole world too and also understand their decisions would have a tremendous impact on everyone. He did not have the burden lay upon him. But he took it up all the same.

Sam was more useful than Frodo.

-He could cook. Without him Frodo would have died just from hunger.

-He could throw a rock with great accuracy.

-He was an agriculturist who could recognize the herb kingsfoil and helped save Frodo's life.

Sam had more to do with the success of the quest than Frodo. Without him

-Frodo might have died from the Witch King's sword thrust.

-Frodo would have died from hunger.

-Frodo would have died from Shelob or Gollum.

-Frodo would have failed to make it to Mount Doom.

-The orcs would have taken the ring to Sauron.

-And, of course, at the end, Frodo tried to keep the ring. He failed.

Sam was more resistant to the ring than Frodo.

-Other than the magical being, Tom Bombadil,  no one else was as resistant to the ring as Sam.
-He took it and resisted it' power where even Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel knew they were not

  up to it.

Even the ring knew better than to choose Sam.

-The ring had a consciousness of sorts. It chose those it thought weak enough to surrender
 their will to him. It chose the Baggins family, not the Gamgee family. It chose bearers like Isildor,  
 SmeĆ”gol/Gollum and Frodo - upon all of whom it worked its will?

So why is Frodo considered the hero?  For one reason, religious symbolism.  Frodo is a Christ figure (as were others in the story) even if not precisely so.  Frodo also has some mystical connection with the angel like creatures, elves, or actual angels, like Gandalf, who were fading from Middle Earth.  This is why he left Middle Earth too. Another reason is that Frodo and Bilbo before him were gentlemen of a sort and Sam a laborer. While Tolkien extolled Sam's virtues, he still believed in the typical British natural nobility. Frodo had it. Sam did not.

Yes, I know. Frodo had the burden of the ring and its exhausting and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Did you read what I wrote? The ring chose Frodo because it had no power over Sam.

Let me change topics.

Tolkien thought the eagles a dangerous creation. Others have noted that it would have been a lot easier if the eagles had just flown the fellowship to Mount Doom and it that didn't happen only because it would have ruined the story. Many have pointed this out.

I don't buy it. While it is not quite definitively established by Tolkien just what these giant eagles are, it seems pretty obvious they are not just birds. After all, they are intelligent and aid men when they see fit, even fighting their battles.

There are lots of reasons the eagles might not have participated other than it would shorten the story. The most obvious reason is that like Gandalf, who was restricted in how he could help men, the eagles had spiritual guidelines. They might be able to turn the tide of a battle, but they could not start them or act so that man could avoid them.   Nor could they solve the ultimate problem that would end one age and start another. Why is that so hard to figure out? It seems the answer to the problem.

A secondary reason is that they didn't care all that much. Think of the eagles as America. Would it have been so hard for Tolkien to think of the Eagle as representing America? I know he was deeply engaged in his medieval mindset, but, on the other hand, he lived through WWI and II. He saw America participate in the first (even if late to the game) and come to the rescue of the old world - his world, in the second. But, the U.S. didn't just jump in when Hitler made a move. We had to wait until we had good enough reason (which, would be Pearl Harbor, of course). That's the way it might be with eagles too. They are interested, but they are not delivery birds and need a good enough reason to join in. Even today, many people throughout the world look to us to save them or solve their problems (well, not me or readers of this blog, but, heroic people). This is a stretch and I doubt that Tolkien really meant that the eagles to represent America (although, of course, the eagle is actually America's symbol). Besides, he said he cordially disliked allegory and that would have been a big one.

My point is that Tolkienistas debate this like they discovered the great red spot on Jupiter and its some insolvable puzzle or wink, wink, we know he couldn't write himself out of this one thingee. Really, it was no big deal at all.

In the end, I hope he didn't lose any sleep over it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Worst President III?

This is a continuation of my series on why President Obama is the worst president in my lifetime (hard to believe worse than Nixon, who was undoubtedly a criminal, but he is). For an intro go back a few weeks to the first posting on it.

7) Foreign Policy - I knew from his campaigning that President Obama was going to be a disaster in domestic policy. There are few things I can agree with him on there. But, in his first year or so, I thought his foreign policy was not going to be so bad. I do not doubt his patriotism or his firmness of will once he makes up his mind. It's that he believed his press clippings that he could be humble with foreign leaders and countries which would get behind him and watch the waters recede.

His so-called apology tour getting that label is really not off the mark though it is probably overstated by many. It is hard to understand, for example, a President of the United States telling France that we have been arrogant and dismissive - even derisive. Of course, there have to be Americans who are all these things, and no one argues but that we have by far the most powerful military on earth. It's hard to understand him giving a long speech to an audience in Cairo (not an entirely bad speech) which seemed to say - we are just culturally different, but morally and in other ways the same. Given the treatment of women alone (he did not even mention the ubiquitous horror of female genital mutilation practiced in Egypt and elsewhere - and no, not the same as male circumcision. And his reluctance to talk about American exceptionalism would humble and admirable on a personal level, but not for the president talking about the country he was elected to lead. I think he may have realized his error as his second term heads downhill.

It was a sentence here and there, but they were pregnant sentences and bound to get media coverage.

Robert Gibbs, his former press secretary said his confessing our sins changed our image around the world. He may be right, but, if anything, it changed it for the worse.

It may be appealing to President Obama and perhaps it is personally appealing of him as a person, not to lord it over others and show humility (though, in the rough and tumble of politics that has not always been the case). But, our country is actually based on something, and it is not just the right to vote, but that things like capitalism and freedom work. Sure, we have sins, and I don't have a problem with discussing them, even in other countries, but let's mostly talk about now - not centuries ago.

That may make a foreign audience feel good about itself, but its not going to help anyone, particularly oppressed women and minorities or help us in the world.

What he was looking for in Cairo was reset, just as with Russia. Well, he got both and it hasn't done us much good either.

The truth is, since then, our foreign policy has failed virtually everywhere in the world. It's not that I expect America to be able to control the world or dictate to any particular country. It's that there seem to be NO successes in his administration. All failures.

Russia - it sneers at us and the so-called reset was just made Putin more popular at home. Obama told Putin he'd have more flexibility to work with him after the election (read, I'm not going to be entirely honest with the American people), but Putin has run rings around him, particularly in . . .

Syria - Assad was on the run for a while. But, after the use of chemical weapons (which, along with very few other voices, I claim was not a violation of any international treaty, regardless of what SecState Kerry said or how horrendous it was), and with supposedly Russia's help, we forced Assad to give up his weapons - and in doing so, practically guaranteed his survival, as we needed him to do it. I heard Robert Gates, Bush and Obamas SecDef state this himself only a few days ago. The reversal of Assad's fortunes was almost immediate. 

Egypt - in his Cairo speech, Pres. Obama said we respect democratic elections but winners could not then rule by coercion and pick on minorities. That, of course, is exactly what Egypt's elected prime minister did and it ended up in a military dictatorship which we opposed because Morsi was elected - even though the takeover by Sisi (and his subsequent election) was better for Egypt, better for us, better for our allies in every way.

Iraq and Afghanistan - Well, in his Cairo speech, Pres. Obama explained how we wanted nothing from Afghanistan and Iraq and would not force our type of government on them. Fine, we should not take their property or their land. But, we should have insisted on a certain type of government. We did not and look where it got us. Iraq is being torn apart. Afghanistan appears to be little better off.  I'm not going to suggest that Obama is worse than Bush in his handling of these two countries. You couldn't be. But, he may be as bad. I'm not going to suggest we force our ways on other countries either. But, we can insist on it in exchange for the "blood and treasure," can't we?

Perhaps he learned his lesson. He stated that he would only help Iraq now if they agreed to be inclusive. On the other hand, maybe not. Our actual help seems tied to nothing at all. I do want us to help the Kurds and stop genocide if we can. Groups like ISIS(L) can't be defeated fast enough. If they take Baghdad, there will be worldwide ramifications. But, at the same time, I want us to stop with the United Iraq nonsense. It is a fantasy we chase that does them and us no good. Help those who want an open and free society. Do not help the others. At the same time, we are now bombing ISIS. Do you think we will not kill more innocents? It is almost inevitable in war. Ironically, we demand Israel stop defending itself when it kills, against its intentions, innocent people in Gaza. Which brings us to -

Israel - all presidents in my lifetime have struggled with our relations with Israel. Pres. Reagan, who is touted by conservatives as having had the best relation with them had his U.N. ambassador vote to condemned Israel in the U.N.  But, there can be no doubt that our relations with Israel are at their low point ever right now.  Pres. Obama has deliberately snubbed Israel and Netanyahu time and again. Sure, he went there while campaigning in 2008 because it was good politics, and I do not disagree with him that Israel must stop building in disputed areas. On the other hand, we are prolonging the pain of the Gazan people by forcing Israel to stop its destruction of Hamas. Do you notice that Hizbollah has not attacked Israel in 8 years. Despite the cries of knuckleheads in the media that Israel lost, Hizbollah took a terrible beating it does not want repeated. I cannot even understand Hamas, which seems to have an endless capacity to sacrifice its people, though, they do have guts. That's all I will give them. But, we allow (and more than us - Europe) an unfair double standard where we can defend ourselves however we want and make mistakes despite our best intentions and Israel cannot. I feel horrible for the Gazans, but I feel more lives will be saved if Israel can destroy Hamas. I have much more to say about this problem, but it would take over the post and I want to move on to -

Iran - our so-called breakthrough in negotiations has gotten us nowhere. There is no success.

Libya - Not only did Pres. Obama further weaken congress and constitutional law by not only eradicating Art. 1, sec. 8, cl. 11 (congress's war power) but he ignored the War Powers Act by determining our aerial assault in Libya wasn't a war. Since our help, of course, we had the debacle in Benghazi and now have completely fled the country, which is in great disarray. Again, he can't be blamed for the problems of these countries - but he just has no successes.

China - our relations with China are worse than ever since before Nixon went there.  Moreover, China grows more powerful in the pacific with a growing navy and growing confidence in pressuring its neighbors over disputed islands. China is a country which has no moral restraints on who it does business with and who it supports. It is almost always on the wrong side. But, how are we better off since 2008 in respect to China? We are not.

North Korea - the most we can possibly ever hope for during my expected lifetime with respect to this pathetic and sad country led by madmen is that they keep quiet. But, there is certainly no success here.

Germany - one of our allies and they are barely speaking to us over the Ed Snowden revelations. They recently expelled our CIA chief.

Brazil - ditto. Bad medicine all around.

Argentina - since at least last year, we are barely considered allies.

Colombia - at least we can say, he didn't screw up here. Thanks largely to our aid in helping Colombia conquer some of its narco-terror problems, relations have been improving - but for a long time, at least back to Pres. Bush's terms. There is nothing different.  This is probably the closest  Obama can do. But,

I could go on, but, if you think we have a success, tell me - with what country and how? And please don't say, we are not at war with Canada and Mexico.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .