Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I've Never Seen It This Bad!

Great Mississippi Flood of 1927
This is a common complaint of those who have not been watching long enough. Comments on the terrible Mississippi floods of this winter and spring have often included such thoughts. But, who is old enough to recall the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, "the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States." In fact, there is enough similarity between 2016 and 1927 to wonder if there was a strong El Niño going on back then, too; say, during 1925-26, "one of the most intense [el Niños] of the twentieth century."

Aftermath of Hurricane of 1938
We saw the same thing recently when "Superstorm Sandy" replicated the strength and path of the Hurricane of 1938 a/k/a "The Long Island Express" (they weren't given names back then). Sandy tracked a little bit farther west that the Express and its brush along the Jersey shore created more devastation on land, but this was only fortuitous.

Everything old is new again, as the song runs. But because we run on short-term memory, we lose perspective when the 24/7 news blender desperately hypes everything as unprecedented.

"[M]en are always powerfully affected by the immediate past: one might say that they are blinded by it." 
 -- Hillaire Belloc

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Some aggressions are so vicious and over the top, that it is not enough to light candles and hug one another and wear colored scarves in retaliation. We must run to our safe spaces.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Deus vult! Part I: The Preludes

"But before we become too certain of our rectitude and complacent about how far our society has advanced, we should remember that secular ideological violence -- "ethical" in the sense that it is employed on behalf of a religious or cultural or even pseudoscientific ideal that is considered by its adherents to be of universal importance -- has manifested itself recently in wars waged in the names of imperialism, nationalism, Marxism, fascism, anticolonialism, humanitarianism, and even liberal democracy."
-- Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam

The Stage Setting

Map from The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History: Trade Routes and Towns
The World of Late Antiquity was in serious decline. Global warming, with its longer growing seasons and more expansive agriculture, had ended and global cooling had set in. The bubonic plague had, well, plagued the Empire. Population had dropped 20% and cultivated land had contracted, esp. in North Africa, Rome's breadbasket after the wheat of Egypt had been diverted to Constantinople by the New World Order. Town life in Western Europe had virtually ceased even before the Germans crossed the frozen Rhine on the last day of AD 406.

The Empire itself was being called Romania by folks sensing that they were now all in the same lifeboat together. The Gauls had finally given up Gallic for Latin, and the Iberians likewise, though both spoke it with funny accents. Case endings were no longer being pronounced, though they were still being meticulously spelled. (Though odd spelling mistakes are creeping in as the new semi-literate elites have begun spelling things they way they sound.) The Latin demonstrative ille has been clipped to become il or le or even el in different dialects and the definite article has appeared as if by magic.

The Empire is a large agribusiness with luxury goods coming in from the east and bulk commodities circulating on the Mediterranean, the backbone and center of the classical world. Anyone much more than a day's cart ride from the sea coast is S.O.L. bulk shipment-wise, save for what can be raised locally. The grain grown in Egypt and Africa is destined for the welfare lines in the great cities. The peasants in the provinces live in poverty and oppression, and many have been placing themselves under the protection of local counts or (in the West) barbarian barons. (Outside the Empire, in Ireland, it is different: the farms are smaller, the peasants are independent, and they are well-armed.)

North of the Alps, the city lamps have gone out, but there are still four sizable metropolises around the Mediterranean, though only Constantinople is still growing. None of them exceed 125,000 people. Rome itself is only a shadow of its old imperial glory. Anybody who is anybody is headed for Constantinople to kiss imperial butt.

At the time of the map, all the territory shown in the map is Christian of one sort or another except for the North, where the Scandinavians, Saxons, Lombards, Slavs, etc. remain pagan, and the East, where the Persians practice Zoroastrianism. The Arabian peninsula is a mixture of pagans, Jews, and Christians; and there are additional Christians off the map in Ethiopia (Axum), India (Malabar Coast), and in Central Asia.

There are also Jews ruling Yemen, in the city-state of Yathrib (now Medina), and in the empire of the nomadic Khazars north of the Caucasus. Also, as agriculture contracts with the cooling climate, the pagan Berbers of the Sahara have begun raiding the Christian Berbers of the coast.

The Patriarchs

As the Church had grown, so had the need for some sort of organization.  Each of the four metropolises has become the seat of a Patriarch of the Church and under each is a set of local bishops. The idea is to keep the beliefs reasonably uniform. This network parallels roughly the organization of the Empire in which the Church found herself.Or did until trans-alpine Europe began to deflate.

1. First in dignity is Rome, the See of St. Peter, which has administrative authority over all the West, including North Africa as far as Tripolitania (Tunisia) and northern Europe as far as anyone dares go a-calling. About a hundred years before the map, Patrick chased snakes out of Ireland, and about a hundred years after it, Boniface will cut down the Donar Oak in Hesse. The bishop of Rome, who started calling himself "Pope" about a hundred and fifty years before the map, has a collegial doctrinal authority over the whole church. That is, when the others cannot agree on a troublesome matter, they would appeal to Rome.
2. Second in dignity is Alexandria, the See of St. Mark, whose Patriarch is also called "Pope", and who has administrative authority over All Africa east of the Libyan desert and south into Nubia and Ethiopia. It is a raucous and rowdy city, given since ancient times to frequent rioting over even the election of a patriarch.

3. Third, but disputing precedence with Alexandria from the get-go, is Antioch, the city where folks were first called "Christians." This See, too, was founded by Peter. It has authority over "all the East," including lands under Persian rule, on the Malabar coast of India, and even in China. Antioch is at the end of the Silk Road and the Spice Route and is known even to the Chinese (who call it Tai Ch'in (Daqin)). [The term actually refers to the whole Roman Empire, but the Chinese only knew it as the terminus of the Silk Road.]

Constantinople, with the Land Walls in the background
4. Finally, the bishop of Constantinople, the See of St. Andrew, has recently been raised by the Council of Chalcedon to the status of Patriarch over the objections of Antioch and Alexandria. But it's hard to say no when one of your parishioners is the Emperor of the Whole Freaking World. Well, of what is still being called the Roman Empire. This gives the Ecumenical Patriarch considerable throw-weight of metal, especially when that metal is carried by Gen. Belisarius and Gen. Narses who, shortly after the time of the map will bring all the cities shown (except the Persian ones) back into the "Roman" embrace. They will even bring in some of the uncitied regions: the remainder of North Africa, the southern third of Spain.

5. A fifth Patriarch, Jerusalem, the See of St. James, administers three provinces in Palestine; but this position is mostly honorary as being the Mother Church. Jerusalem at the time is nowheresville and was given the honor at the council of Chalcedon. Jews had been forbidden to live in Jerusalem by the pagan Romans after the failed revolt of Bar Kockba. This really frosted them and they are eager to return from Arabia and Persia.

Ctesiphon, what's left of it
6. Outside the system, a sixth patriarch is the Patriarch of Ctesiphon, in Iraq, near what is now Baghdad, and was then part of the Persian Empire. This is the center of the Ancient Church of the East and is not in communion with any of the other Patriarchal Sees. It achieved its status by being outside Roman control. The Nestorians expelled by the Empire after the Council of Ephesus had gone there. Their descendants are the Assyrian Christians currently being massacred and expelled by ISIS.

But all is not beer and skittles. (Except maybe in German lands, where there is at least beer. Come to think of it, they may also have played an early form of skittles. Who knows?)

Vandals behaving badly. Why are football teams named Vikings
and Pirates, but not Vandals and Visigoths?
Rome, away off in the mostly-rural West has her own problems. The Eternal City has proven not so eternal. She had been sacked (almost reverently) by Alaric's Visigoths (410) demanding their back pay as foederati, then by the Vandals (455) (who thereby gave us "vandalism"), and will shortly be besieged and wasted in the upcoming 10 Years War between Byzantium and the Ostrogothic kingdom shortly after the time of the above map. The Ostrogoths are trying to keep up appearances for the sake of the kids, but otherwise the Western Patriarchate consists of a gaggle of Germanic warlords, and their spiritual shepherd is more like a border collie. The situation around map-time is roughly this:

Clovis united the Franks into a single nation, and converted to Catholicism a generation or two before the map. But the Frankish custom of dividing the inheritance among all surviving male heirs means a) unified kingdoms split up in the next generation and b) the next generation starts killing one another. The Visigoths in Spain are about to switch from Arian to Catholic ca. 589, but the Ostrogoths in Italy will remain stubbornly Arian until the Byzantines arrive, kick their butts, and snuff out the lights in Rome.

Pope Dioscorus of Alexandria
is a saint in the Coptic Church
But the truly fatal flaws are in  the East, where religious tumult brews over Christological matters that seem rather obscure to Moderns. A succession of heresies -- Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and others in between -- have inflamed passions. Somehow.

In overreaction to Nestorianism, there had been a swing to the opposite extreme of Monophysitism. So a Council had been called at Chalcedon in 451 to settle things. This Council declared that Monophysites had cooties and deposed Patriarch Dioscorus from the See of Alexandria, installing Proterius in his place.

Pope Proterius of Alexandria is a
saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church
The non-Chalcedonians in Alexandria took offense at the deposition of Dioscorus and thought the pro-Chalcedonians looked too much like neo-Nestorians. In time-honored Alexandrian fashion, they settled the debate by mob violence. A mob attacked Proterius in the cathedral baptistery during Holy Week, dragged him through the streets behind a chariot, dismembered him, and burned his body, thus showing their displeasure in that very special Alexandrian way (cf. Arian Bishop George (361), philosopher Hypatia (415), and Prefect Callistus (422)). Thus began the line of Coptic Popes of Alexandria. Most of the Egyptians went with the non-Chalcedonians so this represents the majority, but an official (Chalcedonian/Orthodox) Patriarch continued to administer the church in the name of the emperor, and persecute the Copts, who began to look around for someone, anyone to liberate them from Greek oppression. The irony is that the non-Chalcedonians were not really Monophysites. The real problem was that the Greeks were in freaking charge and did not want anyone to forget it.

The situation in Antioch was similar, but instead of killing the Orthodox patriarch, the Syrians simply continued to recognize the deposed heretical one and after AD 518 Antioch wound up permanently with two Patriarchs. Again, much of this was rooted in Syrian resentment against heavy-handed Greek rule. Ironically, both the Egyptians and the Syrians also regarded genuine Monophysites as heretics and preferred to call themselves Miaphysites.
From our distant perspective, much of the problem seems to have stemmed from the difficulty of translating Greek philosophical terms into Syriac and Coptic. These were not only different languages, but were from different language families! Concepts that were distinct in Greek overlapped in Syriac. Discussions in 1984 between St. John Paul II and Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, the Patriarch of the Syriac Church, concluded the whole thing was a matter of "differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools to express the same matter."

In 525, shortly before the above map and off its southeast border, Dhu Nuwas, a pagan Yemeni convert to Judaism rebelled against the Ethiopian garrison and attempted to forcibly convert the Christian Arabs of Najran, throwing those who refused into a burning ditch. Survivors who escaped to Ethiopia secured a punitive expedition from Axum, which crossed into the Yemen and kicked Yemeni butt. The story of the Martyrs of Najran spread all over the Middle East.
The Relevant World in AD 600, on the Eve of the Byzanto-Sassanid Was
Last but not least, a new round (602-628) of the neverending war between the occupier of the Iranian Plateau and the occupier of the Anatolian Plateau -- a war that goes back to Achaemenid Persia vs. Lydia -- was being played out between the Sassanids and the Byzantines. The Persian Sassanids take advantage of a Roman Civil war, which we won't Phocas on, and invade Anatolia, Syria, and even Egypt. Woo-hoo. It's Cyrus the Great reborn! The Persians bring a force of Jews along with them and restore them to Jerusalem. Even more shades of Cyrus! The Jews then proceed to slaughter all the Christians in town. Bad tactical move.

The Persians think this is going a little too far and begin to suppress the Jews, who respond WTF? Fun and games in the early 7th century. Heraclius, the governor of Africa, overthrows Phocas and after a penalty flag for offsides, throws long and goes straight for the Persian heartland. The shah pulls all his troops out of the Empire to block him and gets himself assassinated by his brother, who sues for peace. He's like, Dude, what were you thinking?

Jerusalem is now back under Christian rule. The Jews are like uh-oh.

Shah and Emperor look around and realize that nearly thirty years of continuous war has seriously depleted their military resources. Oh well. We'll just take some time to patch things up and rebuild.

But they would not have time, because....

It's Jihad Time!

Monday, March 21, 2016

An Unmarked Anniversary

Fr. Hunwicke, a former Anglican priest who is now in the Anglican Ordinariate, reminds us that Monday in Holy Week, 1937, is the day when the Gestapo ransacked Catholic diocesan offices and presbyteries all over Germany. Why? Because Passion Sunday was the day when, the churches being packed, priests all over Germany read publicly the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge,the only encyclical ever written in German. (An English translation is here.)
"It had been smuggled into Germany in the Nuncio's Diplomatic Bag and secretly printed; secretly distributed by special couriers and proclaimed in every pulpit. And nobody leaked it; at least, not in time for the government to intervene. It burst upon the Fuehrer and his admirers as the most wonderful surprise. Not many people in the state apparatus will have had much sabbath rest that Sunday, as arrangements were frantically made to secure all copies for destruction. Rumour has it that in some places a copy was hidden in the Tabernacle...

According to some reports, it had been drafted by Cardinal Faulhaber, Fr Ratzinger's ordaining bishop, no 'leftie' but an old-style conservative German nationalist; and toughened up a little by Cardinal Pacelli. Sadly, since I am not a Germanist, I am reduced to reading it in an English translation. But it still strikes me as immensely moving: to hear the authentic voice of the Vicar of Christ roundly condemning the Zeitgeist in such ringing and unmistakable tones brings tears to my eyes. Those were the days! I commend it to you, if you have not read it recently, or at all. I wonder how we shall celebrate its 80th Anniversary next year?

It condemns the ideology of Race and of Blood, and of a Superman who mystically incarnates in his own person those dangerous myths. But in its essence, it condemns something that is still very much with us today despite any legislative proscriptions of Nazism: the attempt, any and every attempt, to set up a rival to Christ the King."
 Good thing we don't have that problem any more.  No one setting himself up as Dear Leader anymore. No one stirring up the masses against the outsiders. No one attacking the Church.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Reaping Whirlwinds

TOF understands that the fascist tactic of mobbing a speaker and shutting him or her down has traditionally been understood as a victory of free speech on college campuses, but the tactic has now seemed to have spilled over to the real world. There, some have discovered to their utter horror, that folks Out There, unlike their fellow collegians, will sometime fight back. Ironically, these blue collar workers, whose fathers and grandfathers fought the Battle of the Overpass in Detroit so long ago, would have been members of the very political party from whose ruins the protesters of today have emerged to cavort amidst the ruins of the other political party. But they had been driven hence by the mockery and sneers of their Besserwissers.

Naturally, the media spin is that the silenced speaker has brought this on himself. (Nor can this be entirely denied. There are two kinds of politicians: the kind whose every transgression will be downplayed and pooh-poohed and the kind whose every misstep and gaffe will be repeated and magnified.*) This spin will persist until a similar band of rowdies shut down a speech by someone of whom they approve, much as Occupy X was approved of (despite various crimes committed in their encampments) until some folks occupied a bird sanctuary in Oregon. In the off season. Then it will be the protesters at fault. Well we can't have the Wrong People doing the protesting, can we?

Of one thing the media has not reminded the public: this tactic of mobbing disapproved speaker venues is not new for the folks involved in the Chicago incident. (Nor is the rationale that freedom of speech applies only to the right sort of speech.) Instead, they will (in today's terms) Blame the Victim -- though they will not of course use that phrase for the candidate silenced. Good heavens.

When will people learn not to whittle the club with which others will eventually clobber them?

But if the Late Modern memory were not so dang-blasted short-term, one might recall with some unease another decadent era when political rallies were busted up by jeering opponents: the Weimar Republic in the 1920s when NSDAP would disrupt SOPADE rallies, and vice versa.

Postscript. It has become fashionable to compare Mr. Trump to a certain Adolph Hitler. The comparison is unfair. Trump does not rock a toothbrush mustache. Nor does he have those beady snake eyes. But he does bear a fascinating resemblance to Sgr. Mussolini. Watch the way he juts out his chin when he tilts his head back.

However, the closest match to Mussolini's Syndicates in recent years was Mrs. Clinton's "Health Care Alliances" proposed by her secret task force back during her husband's term in office. It's the thought that counts, not the fortuitous physical resemblances.

(*) It need not even be a gaffe. Recently, a political enemy of Mr. Trump, took him to task for asking his supporters to raise their right hands and promise to vote for him, much as witnesses in court raise their right hands to take an oath. The person contended with a straight face that this reminded him of a Hitler salute. This was treated as if it were news, rather than political propaganda! The show's hosts then asked Mr. Trump if he would cease doing it, and of course he said no, "because people like it." Even though it reminds some people of the Nazi salute? Goodness get the smelling salts. The show moved on the next story and the videotape showed Bernie Sander finishing a speech, which he ended with a flourish, right arm fully extended from the shoulder, straight as a rod, slightly elevated. It was far more the image of the fascist salute than Trump's weenie court oath gesture; but no one will ever point it out or ask Bernie to explain. There's nothing to explain -- in either case. Get a grip, people. I mean, really.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Among the Great States

TOF has begun on a whim a story entitled "The Journeyman: Among the Great States." Its opening scene runs as follows.

“Done hung around and sung around
This old town too long.”
– ancient proverb

A bird in the hand
Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand always woke quickly. It was what the men of the Great Grass called a “survival skill,” since those who did not often did not. In this case he awoke on satin pillows (which was unusual) even before the woman began to shake him (which was not).

“My husband!” she whispered. “He is home!”

“Will you introduce us?” Teodorq asked, for he had not yet mastered the differences in etiquette between the Great States and the lands in which he had hitherto journeyed.

“You fool!” she scolded him. “He is a master duelist! He has slain seven lovers of mine!”

Teo was a quick study and from this he gathered that a dalliance with the Lay Lisspeh dee Oundahfarm was not one with long-term prospects.

“I have some skills at dueling, too,” he promised, and showed her his rapier. She swatted his arm and said she was serious.

Lay Lisspeh, like all the folk of the Great States was green-skinned and smelled faintly of grass. This pleased Teo, who had grown up on the rolling prairies of the western continent and the scent of grass was perfume to his nostrils. She also possessed a frill or ruff around her neck which when aroused rose out like an parasol. He understood from the Wisdoms of this land that their ancient ancestors had in some unknown way “spliced” the power of plants into their bloodlines so they could supplement their diets by “drinking” sunlight.

Teodorq himself was a noble bronze and supplemented his diet by eating cows and drinking beer.

It was the work of a moment to don his kilts and boots and throw his cloak across his shoulders. It was not as though he had had no practice at swift departures.

But when he reached the doorway of the bedroom, a broad shouldered, elegantly-dressed man with a pointed beard stood there with an equally pointed rapier held at ground guard. Teo supposed this to be Lar Oundafarm. He smiled and raised his hand, palm out.

“Hi,” he said in the Plains style.

The man flourished his sword to sky guard. “You have to go through me to get out.”

“Sure,” said Teo, and decked him.

Perhaps the Lar had been expecting a more protracted conversation over the matter, but Teo saw no reason to stretch things out. He hated long good-byes.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More Politics!

How Deeply Does a Dhimmi Bow?

Eva Brunne, the Bishop of Stockholm for the government-controlled Church of Sweden, has called for the removal of the crosses from the cupolas of the Seamen's Church in Stockholm and the addition of markers to show the direction of Mecca in order to make the Church more attractive for muslims.

It does not seem to have occurred to the Bischöfin that muslims might find a lesbian bishop rather less attractive than a cross, so she stops short of calling for her own removal. There are some things that even in the Twilight of the Modern Age are still held more sacred than the desire to abase oneself.

The Director of the Seemen's Church is disinclined to comply on the wacky grounds that he is running a Christian church.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Notes from the Untergang

Last September, TOF reprinted the following observation by Dr. Boli:
In debating his opponents, Mr. Trump uses a particular style of argument that is enormously effective on the third-grade demographic:
OPPONENT. I believe you are mistaken in your inference.
TRUMP. You’re ugly.
OPPONENT. What I mean is that there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support my assertion that vaccines do not cause autism.
TRUMP. I mean, seriously, who puts a face like that on network TV?
Because it is not usually encountered outside the playground, this rhetorical figure does not have a common name. Dr. Boli will therefore give it one, and call it the argumentum ad vultum, the argument against the face or countenance. 
And added a reminiscence of the Marge:
Some years ago, when the Incomparable Marge took our daughter to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, she found herself two rows behind the Donald and his then-wife. They spent the performance necking and smooching and engaging in serious PDsA, pretty much ignoring the dancing on-stage until his daughter came out with the other children. 
You know what that means?

That's right, sports fans, it's Political Season once again! For those who supposed it had always been political season, 24/7/365, well, now it's Prime Time. OK, Primary Time. TOF will now share some random thoughts of golden wisdom, some of them his own, and some of which (not necessarily his own) he may agree with.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Happy Birthday to Her

The Incomparable Marge at her most incomparable
Yesterday was the birthday of the Incomparable Marge.

The Marge was born an undisclosed number of years ago in Tulsa OK, the descendant of ancestors older than the country. If TOF's family tree reflects the industrial immigrants on the railroads and in factories, Margie's tree bears the pioneer farmers with their covered wagons and muskets.

On her mother's side, the Hammontrees were in colonial Virginia, served in Washington's army (one died at Valley Forge), moved to the East Tennessee frontier with the Overmountain Men. An ancestor fought with Andy Jackson at Horseshoe Bend, another joined the Union Army and fought at Cumberland Gap, Chattanooga, Stone's River, Chickamauga, Nashville, and Resaca and after the war emigrated to Arkansas. His son lit out for the Territories. The Harrises, meanwhile, had started in Harlan Co KY the next farm over from Thomas Lincoln and his son Abraham. Greenberry Harris emigrated with them to Spencer Co IN, then proceeded to Polk Co MO when the Lincolns moved to Illinois. The Harrises later moved to Choctaw Nation, then moved up to Quinton in Cherokee Nation where they encountered the Hammontrees. Then the government built Oklahoma around them while they weren't looking. 
Still incomparable after all these years

On her father's side, Ransom White had also come out of Tennessee and George Washington White wound up in Bonham TX on the Red River across from Choctaw Nation. He and his family lived and farmed among the Choctaws on both sides of the river. When they sued for enrollment in the tribe, the tribal courts allowed it, but the white courts overturned the ruling. GW's son Jasper Moses White married Maggie Jam, who was half-Choctaw, and lived around Ft. Towson. The Incomparable Marge was named after her. 

So while TOF's ancestors were here before Ellis Island was built, Margie's were here before the country was built and in this case before the glaciers had fully melted.Be careful talking about immigrants around her.

When she was a child, the Incomparable Marge was literally rolling in money. The way this happened was this. Her father drove an armored car and the woman who owned the company allowed him to bring Little Margie with him. (Margie's mother had died and he was raising her alone.) She would sit in the back of the truck on the money bags, literally rolling in money. Try doing that today. 

Later, her dad taught her how to gut a fish and fire a rifle and they would go hunting and fishing together. On one occasion, she had a narrow escape from a rattlesnake that had taken up residence in the fishing boat. 

Forget the fine-tuning constants. Every single one of us is the result of a string of improbable coincidences. If a bullet at Resaca had been an inch the other way, or if Joel Harris had decided to go to Illinois instead of Mizzou, or if the snake had struck more quickly, the universe would have been deprived of something incomparable. We are all very lucky to have one another.

New Story from Michael F. Flynn

 Greetings All.    Mike (Dad) has a new story in the July/August edition of Analog . I know Analog is available on Kindle store and Analog ...