Reading the newspaper summary of the life of Joseph Lemm—who was killed with five other American troops in Afghanistan two days ago—makes for a devastating reminder that the people we lose on these battlefields and outposts thousands of miles from home are the very best of us. We have no right to expect such people to be given to us in the first place; we certainly have no right to believe they will always be there to lay down their lives for our safety. And so we also have a duty (in which we are failing) to take care that their sacrifices are for causes that we truly cherish and will continue to defend. Continue reading Sacrifice in Afghanistan
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 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 has shadowed and anticipated later catastrophes. But the existence of such poetry at least reminds us that as long as we have words to say, all is never 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 shtick 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.
However, the truly remarkable thing is that her capacity for concern can go beyond those who actually greet her. Continue reading The Concern of a Canine
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)
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. Continue reading Crime and Punishment
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
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). Continue reading Pope Getting It Wrong on Galileo (Again)
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.
So it is “of the highest priority,” and a responsibility taken “very seriously,” to do exactly what they utterly failed to do, and they are “constantly identifying opportunities” to do more of the same. Continue reading A Hacked World and the Chinese Takeaway