The harbingers of civilizational collapse and impending apocalypse have become so very common as to encourage a serious case of the old ennui. There is little to generate surprise in the latest catastrophes and the daily litany of hopeless headlines. Yet once in a long while something can come along that compels even the most jaded fatalists among us to stop, back up, and say, “Mother of the Mother of God, what have we come to?”
The U.S. State Department has warned Americans abroad to steer clear of numerous sites in Italy that are apparently threatened by jihadist attacks. These include in particular the Vatican in Rome, and two sites in the city of Milan: the Duomo and La Scala opera house. The warning also mentions more general targets “such as churches, synagogues, restaurants, theatres, and hotels” in both Milan and Rome. Continue reading Bob Dylan Chooses Hired Guns Over Cancellations→
Marking Remembrance Day in Commonwealth nations, Canadian poet, songwriter and singer Leonard Cohen recites “In Flanders Fields,” a poem written in 1915 by John McCrae. (Below via YouTube, courtesy of Legion Magazine)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
It is in returning to that poem written during the “war to end all wars” that so many across the English-speaking world mark the sacrifices of soldiers not only in that war but in those that came after it, and those that keep coming. The 20th century was notable for the great technological progress made by humankind, and much of that progress was speedily employed to bring death on scales hitherto unheard of, both in the fields of war and in the realm of state tyranny. On reflection, we would realize it’s always been that way: people just got especially good at it in the 20th century. Is there any reason to think the 21st century will prove an exception to the trend?
Unfortunately, the evidence of human nature changing for the better seems a little hard to come by. And on the other hand the evidence for weapons of war of maximum lethality getting into the hands of those eager to employ them is all around, both in the headlines and between the lines of stories that get little attention.
McCrae’s poem, more resonant with each passing year, will continue to echo and frame new sorrows. There is something about what occurred in Word War I that foreshadowed later catastrophes. But the existence of such poetry reminds us that, as long as we can still seek worthy words to say, all is not lost.
Yours truly is not a particularly friendly guy, as his friends would readily attest. My dog, a fourteen pound mutt named Billie, is quite different: a friend to anyone who makes eye contact with her. She is also quite different in the level of concern she’s capable of showing to unknown passersby. Life in the big city involves walking past countless individuals in states of relative disrepair; these include the addicted, the mentally ill, the disabled, the genuinely homeless and those who (for whatever reason) find setting themselves up in a busy location with the right begging schtick to be a worthwhile occupation. Billie will greet anyone who greets her, and has taken time for some I’d certainly rather walk right by.
So there has been another act of nihilistic mass murder in America, this time at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where nine people were shot to death yesterday before the murderer himself was killed. And so there are many people crying, there are some people praying, and there are some taking sides in the political argument over gun control. Continue reading Paying God Back (in Oregon)→
It’s not easy for a nation to see itself in the mirror. And it’s even harder when the visage in the glass is as misshapen and horrific as this.
Forty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the practice of abortion was not merely permissible but was a fundamental right sitting somewhere between the lines of the Constitution, and one not to be restrained. The nation has lived with that since; some have been taking advantage of this right, some opposing it, with the larger portion of the body politic essentially turning their heads away. In the summer of 2015, we’ve had held before us a looking glass that shows us how far we’ve come, and it’s a lot like undraping the picture of Dorian Gray. Words are not remotely adequate for what we see, and I’ve personally been struggling to come up with any at all. Yet there could be no writing about anything else before giving expression to some kind of statement on this.
It’s been said many times and in many ways that a society ought to be judged by how it treats its weakest and most helpless. I think that’s true and fair. So this is how we in the United States of America treat our weakest, our most vulnerable and voiceless: We kill them before they’re able to scream. We decapitate them and ship their heads in boxes to be processed and used in laboratories, laughing at the thought of lab techs opening those boxes and seeing their little eyes still open. We cut through their faces while their hearts still beat in order to extract their brains at the most useful level of quality. We take care to crush these helpless babies to death either above or below their livers, so that those and other much-in-demand organs can be preserved and shipped off intact, to fetch the best prices. This we do to these weakest members of our society even while they rest in what is for any of us the safest and most comforting place that we can consciously or subconsciously conceive of. We can’t hear their screams as their place of ultimate nurture is violated by cold, sharp, killing instruments.
But it was said with authority long ago that the blood of an innocent who is murdered cries out from the very earth. Fifty-six million, and more every day. We not only enshrine the right to commit these acts in our law, and cherish it in our politics and our courts, but we help pay for it with the money we send to the Federal Treasury. Our dollar bills, splattered with “In God We Trust,” help keep these vile human abattoirs running.
We’ve known it, and yet these special revelations in the summer of 2015 of how far we’ve come are the greatest test of our complacency yet. And we’re failing again. It’s the complacency which has earned the condemnation.
There’s a difference between personal sin and national sin, isn’t there? The mothers coaxed into participating in this by our culture, absent the love and compassion that might have helped them in turn allow love and compassion to be provided to their babies: those mothers can repent and be forgiven, one by one. But what does the nation do to repent? It’s moot, because we’re not even close to that point. Yet the sin brings with it the seeds of the punishment. It doesn’t require a thunderbolt, and thunderbolts in any case would be far too kind. The punishment is playing out over time, albeit that the pace now seems to be quickening. A society that cherishes—that holds sweet and dear—the right to slice up living babies for convenience and profit has planted a deep sickness in its heart, and this nation is now caving in from all sides. Cherishing this obscene thing has corrupted our politics, our culture, our present and our future, in ways beyond measuring.
It’s very difficult for those who love America to face this. There’s so much that’s been great and good about this country and its people, and there is still so much goodness, side by side with the bad. But evil on this scale cannot go unanswered, and we should be most terrified if it did.
We’re guilty also of a particular kind of false deification in America, I think. We revere the founders, and the founding documents, sometimes as if those men were demigods and as if those papers were on the level of holy scripture. The men were in most respects admirable and intelligent figures, and they wrote relatively wise documents. But they did not create a perfect form of self-government, and in revering it too much we’ve fallen into a pit. A country founded in 1776 on the concept of human liberty compromised when it came to treating some people as being less than human, and that was a sin that reaped horrific retribution in the 1860s and the consequences of which still oppress us today. And a Declaration of Independence that declared “life” to be the first and most fundamental inalienable right endowed by our Creator has nonetheless allowed us to treat human life as if it is a product of our own making that we can dispose of and exploit for advantage and profit. We can blame the courts, but our system of government has given the Supreme Court that excessively lofty status, and our complacency has led us to ignore the consequences and avoid making the necessary correction.
Life goes on for the lucky, and there will continue to be things to celebrate (and write about), by the mercy still permitted to us. Yet, as much as we might love America, we’ve now, just in these past few months, received more than enough evidence that—while not negating any good that remains—America in 2015 is in a matter of unsurpassable importance an evil nation.
At this point, we don’t know their names, but four U.S. Marines were shot to death today in Chattanooga, Tennessee. From a news report:
After the shooting, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it was “enhancing the security posture at certain federal facilities, out of an abundance of caution.”
One of the pressing questions in the wake of this massacre is whether, out of an “abundance of caution,” the “security posture” of U.S. military installations will include the notion that these individuals who have volunteered to defend the nation, and on whom we depend to do so, will actually be permitted to carry firearms (because reports currently indicate that these murdered U.S. Marines were compelled by law to be defenseless). Continue reading Tennessee Blues→
Today while re-reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s great work The Prophets, I came across this passage which put me in a “nothing-ever-changes” frame of mind:
Assyria has often been called the most ruthless nation of antiquity. For ages she plundered all peoples within her reach, like a lion which “filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” (Nah. 2:12 [H. 2:13]). Her warfare abounded in atrocities; cutting off the heads of conquered peoples was a common procedure. The kings of Assyria boasted of towns destroyed, dismantled or burned, leveled as if by a hurricane or reduced to a heap of rubble. The victors took away everything they could carry. Upon capturing a city …
… the king’s throne would be set up before the gates of the city and the prisoners would be paraded before him, led by the monarch of the captured town, who would undergo the most agonizing torture, such as having his eyes put out or confinement in a cage […] Sargon had the defeated king of Damascus burned alive before his eyes. The wives and daughters … were destined for the Assyrian harems and those who were not of noble blood were condemned to slavery. Meanwhile the soldiery had been massacring the population, and brought the heads of their victims into the king’s presence, where they were counted up by the scribes.
(And there’s more on the famous neighborliness of the ancient Assyrians at this link.)
Heschel goes on:
A few decades later, after the downfall of Assyria, it was Babylonia whose might and splendor held many nations in her spell. A state of intoxication, a voluntary madness, overcame the world, eager to join and to aid the destroyer, accessories to aggression.
As someone once said, there’s nothing new under the sun. We think we’ve gotten far beyond the point where cutting off someone’s head and waving it around is an effective way to win friends and influence people, and yet here we are well into the 21st century, and it’s an approach that is earning dividends and disciples in the age of Twitter and Instagram.
Well, at least, in this ever-changing world, there are some things we can still rely upon.
Since when is racism the same as nihilism? He shot those people because they were black, it’s as simple as that. It has nothing to do with atheism or anything else you used to distract from that.
Well, I differ. Accounts indicate that Dylann Storm Roof was a depressed, messed up 21 year-old who previously had black friends, who had drifted into isolation, and had contemplated out loud the idea of attacking a college. I don’t find him to be a credible harbinger of a resurgence of old fashioned white supremacism. The white supremacist narrative was the channel his sickness took, but as evil as that is, it was not the root of the sickness. Continue reading Racism versus Nihilism→
It’s happened again—it happens every time, and there is no simple obvious solution that would prevent it from happening in the future, but it still needs to be said that the very worst thing that can be done in the aftermath of an act of horrific nihilistic violence such as occurred in Charleston, South Carolina a few days ago is to publish and propagate the “manifesto” of the perpetrator. This individual, a few moments before murdering these innocent people, had nothing but his own demented ramblings and photos of himself in his bedroom playing with a gun. By committing the mass murder, he has elevated this garbage in which he wallowed to the level of international news, for millions to peruse. How many similar sick souls are out there who are now encouraged all the more to take the same steps? We all should dread to think. Continue reading Manifestly Wrong: Charleston, the Media, and Nihilism→
It’s been said both within and without the Vatican that Pope Francis’ encyclical regarding the environment and climate change is an effort to show that the Roman Catholic Church is on the side of science this time, as opposed to when, in the 17th century, scientist Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy by the Inquisition for claiming that the Earth revolved around the Sun (and was forced to deny his own science and put under house arrest for the balance of his life).
I would suggest, however, that this misses a fundamental point when it comes to comparing these two scientific and societal controversies: i.e. the relationship of the Earth to the Sun in astronomical terms versus the contemporary science of global warming a.k.a. climate change (which curiously enough some actually believe might really be about the relationship of the Earth to the Sun in climatological terms).
The point being missed in the comparison is this: When Galileo put forth his astronomical theories, he was effectively on his own, with only his own scientific reasoning and evidence on his side. The scientific consensus of the time was as it always had been, that the Sun revolved around the Earth, which was the center of the Universe. This made it pretty easy for the Church to pick on Galileo. All of the other scientists knew which side their bread was buttered on, and were doubtless glad enough to see troublesome old G.G. get his comeuppance.
So much for the concept of consensus in science. We are consistently assured that well over 90 percent of scientists agree with the theory of anthropogenic climate change, as if there even is one solid undisputed theory, and as if this poll of scientists somehow establishes the actual facts in the heavens and here below.
The truth is that it only takes one scientist with a single fact that contradicts a theory in order to disprove that theory. By that standard of reckoning, in the case of anthropogenic global warming or “climate change,” the debate continues to rage on.
It is neither difficult nor courageous for the Vatican to throw its lot in with those who believe in a generalized theory of anthropogenic climate change that requires urgent correction (and who therefore by definition advocate a colder world). It is the favored point of view of all kinds of international intelligentsias and elites seeking to hold sway. Supporting this “consensus” is every bit as easy as beating up on Galileo was.
Supporting this “consensus” is every bit as easy as beating up on Galileo was.
If the Vatican were instead to single out a scientist who is standing against the “consensus,” with only his own scientific reasoning and evidence to support him, then it might well be said to be a fitting penance for the treatment meted out to Galileo Galilei.
I realize that this comes a bit late for the encyclical, but one such I would offer to Pope Francis for consideration would be William Soon, who theorizes (rather radically I guess) that it is variations in the Sun’s activity that are by far the greatest influence on the Earth’s climate (a climate which I think 100% of scientists would concede has never stopped changing). His is one of a variety of opinions competing with the comfortable consensus that appear in a recently published book called Climate Change: The Facts. Willie Soon, for his efforts, has been vilified and effectively branded a heretic and worse by that comfortable consensical crowd that the Roman Catholic Church now has thrown its moral weight behind. But what if he’s right and the Church only concedes it three hundred years from now after incalculable human suffering caused by the pro-global-cooling movement? How is the pope to know? How was he to know? That really is the point. The pope isn’t to know. He doesn’t actually have to take a position on this at all. He could instead concern himself with religious matters, and leave matters of science, economics and politics to those who are schooled in them, and who hopefully are also schooled in the spiritual (this would be where the Church could actually make a difference at a deeper level).
Pope Francis in his encyclical also comes out against what’s often called “consumerism.” How you define that word might vary (which is a problem common to any “-ism”). On this he is on significantly more solid ground, in the sense that a worship of things, of possessions, and an indulgence in material excess, is bad for an individual’s soul. No one who believes in God can sincerely argue with this. Pope Francis is known for his simplicity of lifestyle, and his frugality, and I for one have no hesitation in commending him on this; it’s a refreshing change for the man claiming to occupy the seat of St. Peter. (It arguably should never be otherwise.) But in crossing over from giving a prescription for the health of the soul of the individual to instead prescribing global economic policies, I think that Pope Francis errs, and tragically so.
Pope Francis is concerned about the poor, but is failing to understand the correlation between the buying of things and the growth of jobs. (He might want to talk a little to a fellow Christian like Monsieur Bono Vox about how to really help people trapped in deep poverty.) Again, no one should be devoted to things, but simply advocating that everyone buy less—however edifying it may seem—is not helpful to the poor on a macro-economic level. But then the pope is not an economist! Why should he be expected to understand this? (Why should he expect himself to understand this?)
And this goes back to “climate change,” because the pope, it seems to me, is unfortunately allying himself with those who do not really have the progress of the poor as a very high priority. In fact, the poor, in the sense of the teeming masses consuming things and trying to improve the lot of themselves and their families, are the nub of the problem in the worldview of the hardcore advocates for a colder world. The prescriptions for reversing a warming world all involve a reduction of “consumption” and a rationing of energy use (most simply achieved by reducing the human population of the Earth). Making energy more expensive is the route that dedicated cold Earth enthusiasts are generally pursuing, by way of costly, massive and inefficient wind farms and solar installations. Buying “boutique energy” may be affordable and self-gratifying for the wealthy. Yet imagine on the simplest level that one’s electric bill goes up by 75% (maybe you’re one of those who doesn’t have to merely imagine this). For the wealthy, this is a relatively insignificant increase in expense, perhaps equivalent to ordering an extra dessert at a fancy restaurant one evening. But for the poor, or those on the margins of such definitions, a large increase to an electric bill that must be paid has a huge impact, and takes money away from other areas that might advance the well being of one’s family (e.g. buying books for the children to read, or, at a deeper level of poverty, nutritious food and medical care). There is no help for the poor in penalizing the use of cheap and abundant sources of energy, despite how much better it might make wealthy elites feel about themselves and their Mother Earth.
The pope has problems: no one can argue about that. He is residing in a Europe that in the largest part has turned away not only from Catholicism but from any Judeo-Christian concept of God. Taking action on that front would seem to be a pressing matter. If he thinks that allying the Catholic Church with this cold Earth and fundamentally anti-human agenda is going to win converts, I’d suggest he’s badly mistaken, although those who advocate for that agenda will be very happy to now be able to list the Catholic Church as one of their sponsors.
Also perhaps a slight problem for this pope is the fact that during his reign Christians are being exterminated across the Middle East and increasingly in other parts of the world. And even in the comfortable and complacent Western world, Christian beliefs that have endured for millenia are now being bracketed with bigotry and incurring the penalty of law. This barely touches the number of issues specific to Catholicism and Christianity that are pressing on today’s planet Earth, and so the pope has a full plate, it would seem, and yet he chooses to venture into the troubled, confused and politicized waters of “climate change.”
Will he receive credit, three or four hundred years hence, for being absolutely correct on the science, or will he receive scorn for having squandered his brief moment of authority?
Following the revelation that private personnel data (including Social Security numbers) for 4 million federal employees was siphoned from government databases by hackers, the Director of the Federal Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta actually issued this statement:
Protecting our Federal employee data from malicious cyber incidents is of the highest priority at OPM. We take very seriously our responsibility to secure the information stored in our systems, and in coordination with our agency partners, our experienced team is constantly identifying opportunities to further protect the data with which we are entrusted.
Some female priests of the Church of England are reportedly advocating that liturgical texts ought to be changed to sometimes refer to God as “She,” instead of “He,” on the basis that God has no gender, and that to consistently refer to God as “He,” as has been traditional in Christianity, conveys the idea that maleness is somehow more divine, and that women are therefore lower on the spiritual ladder. Continue reading God: She, He, Or Gender Fluid?→
Bella Haig is eighty years of age, and has been a server at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles for fifty of those years. Early last Friday morning, she reportedly received the largest tip of her career, $150, from the lead singer of rock band U2. She didn’t know who he was when he came in with some friends after U2’s performance nearby, but when she approached to take their orders he asked her to recommend an appetizer. As she told CBS LA: Continue reading Advice on Tipping: Bono versus Les Moonves→
52° (F), raw and raining is what it is on this June 2nd; the same as it was on June 1st. Now there are places getting much worse weather, so this is not any cry for sympathy. However, this is a beginning to summer unlike any yours truly has experienced in the last couple of decades in New York. The season may not officially begin until June 21st, but the warm 70° and 80°+ weather had always settled in for the long haul by the start of June. The current chilly snap feels like yet one more tentacle of this past winter that did not want to die, reaching up from the cold grave when we thought it had finally truly gone. Continue reading I Like New York in June→
Researchers at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan have been investigating whether rats are helpful to one another in times of trouble, and to what extent it might be said that they possess powers of empathy. To that end, they performed a series of experiments with rats in cages separated by a door that the rats could learn to open with their paws. They demonstrated that, in ordinary circumstances, a rat would not open the door to enable entry for another rat in the separate area of the cage. However, if the other rat were in distress—specifically by virtue of struggling in a pool of water—the rat in the dry area would tend to figure out how to open the door and allow that distressed rat inside to safety. Continue reading A Rat in Need …→
Frank Sinatra passed away on May 14th, 1998. I recall thinking at the time that with Sinatra gone, all bets were off—anything might now happen in this sad old world. (And I think the record would show that my fears in that respect have been proved entirely correct.) Continue reading Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours→
Pew Research Center study just came out finding a decline in the percentage of Americans who say they follow an established religion, and an increase in the percentages who claim to be either atheist or agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
It would always be a great time to rediscover this wonderful treasure, but it’s especially apt now, in this, Frank Sinatra’s centenary year. On April 17th, 1973, Frank Sinatra performed at the White House, on the occasion of a state dinner in honor of Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy, with President Nixon, First Lady Pat and assorted dignitaries as his audience. It was a sterling show, and it was recorded, but never officially released. For my part I didn’t even know that a complete film of the evening even existed, although the audio has been released over the years in bootlegged form. (My first encounter with the concert was hearing the great Jonathan Schwartz play some extracts of it on New York’s old WQEW in the early 1990s, when I also happened to be in the first full flush of Sinatra fan-dom.)
Popping up in some news outlets today were remarks made by former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, in an interview with The Guardian, where he advocates the consumption of insects as a source (for humans) of animal protein. He says:
Insects have a very good conversion rate from feed to meat. They make up part of the diet of two billion people and are commonly eaten in many parts of the world. Eating insects is good for the environment and balanced diets.
This of-course is nothing new in the world of environmentalism. Satisfying one’s need (or desire) for animal protein with meat has long been considered inefficient and wasteful, due to the energy required to fatten cattle and the like, and the large tracts of land needed to support them and their families. At the opposite end of the scale, instead of raising a cow in order to have it convert grass into nice juicy hamburgers, it would be most efficient of you instead to simply eat the grass yourself. It cuts out so many middlemen and, as we know, it all ends up going the same place anyway.
These kinds of arguments (albeit less elegantly-made) have so far failed to convince very many people to do the right thing. So the campaign has advanced to moving people away from eating large animals and towards eating very small animals instead. Insects don’t require vast fields on which to roam and feed. In fact, as you may have noticed, you can pretty much feed an army of ants with just a splotch of spilled strawberry jam. Cockroaches will seemingly eat anything, even newspaper. And in any case you will rarely actually observe an insect sitting down and eating at all; it may well be that most of them simply live on air and sunlight. If so, then if we could ourselves eat insects, we could achieve our own long cherished dream of living on air and sunlight, albeit just one step removed.
These are weighty facts, and indeed all of the data, once you analyze it (as I have), is highly persuasive. We should be living on bugs. The thing is, unfortunately, that I’m not quite ready to eat insects myself. There are reasons for this that stem from a troubled childhood, and we really don’t need to get into all of that now. However, there’s no question in my mind but that it would be a good thing if everyone else switched to the insect diet, and so here are some recommendations for beginning on that path.
You must not, of-course, simply squash the nearest bug and put it in your mouth. This is because you really don’t know what the hell you’re doing. You might eat an insect that is needed for other purposes, or one that has a wife and kids at home, or one that once ingested will make you see strange shimmering colors and sing John Denver songs.
You need to be guided towards eating insects that have been properly selected, carefully raised, and humanely slaughtered. (Slaughtering insects humanely, I need hardly tell you, requires the proper instruments and superb eyesight.) Fortunately the answers are right here, and you can obtain all the environmentally-correct animal protein you need quickly and reliably via Amazon.com.
You can do no better than to begin with cricket flour. “Cricket contains twice as much protein as beef, as much calcium as milk, as much Vitamin B12 as salmon, and 17 amino acids, including Lysine.” You can begin by sprinkling your cricket flour on other less environmentally-correct foods, and then progress steadily towards removing those foods until you’re eating nothing but pure cricket. At the time of writing, it is priced at $12.97 for, well, just under a quarter of a pound, and … what a bargain, when you consider that it takes approximately 1,100 crickets to make up this little bag of “flour”! Can you imagine the labor involved in capturing and humanely slaughtering all of these little buggers beautiful creatures?
And no one said that saving the Earth would be cheap.
One thing, however: just a piece of advice to the manufacturers. If I personally were marketing cricket flour, I would probably tend towards a more generic kind of packaging. That is, I would put it in a bag that doesn’t feature a big picture of a bug with many legs and antennae and so on. Maybe I’m crazy.
On the other hand, if you prefer to know exactly what you’re eating and glory in it, then what you’ll be wanting are the Crispy Fried Achetas with Salt. Here you can revel in the gorgeous legs, the delicate antennae, and that unmistakable and satisfying crunch as it all goes down. Achetas are basically crickets from Thailand, and click the following link to enjoy a wonderful YouTube video of one in its natural environment. Gets your mouth watering, I bet.
Order through the helpful links here, and this site will earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. So, while you’re saving the Earth, you’ll be saving THE CINCH REVIEW too, and the reward for that in heaven will be boundless.