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Monthly Archives: May 2012

More Madness on High

May 31st, 2012 - 7:20 am

The president is now portraying himself as a great expert on Judaism, but we know–as I wrote some years ago–that this is false.  He has demontsrated considerable misunderstanding of Judaism, including the significance of our holiest day, Yom Kippur.

But that does not stop him from lecturing twenty-odd rabbis on Judaism, nor claiming that no other president before him has understood it as well as he does.  So he tells the Jews what they really believe, and therefore what they should do.

In the coverage of his alleged role in personally selecting the targets of Hellfire missiles in the Middle East, it was claimed that he arrived at this remarkable decision after reading Sts. Aquinas and Augustine on “just war.”  Do you believe it?  Did any journalist think to ask for specifics?

In any event, it is a further case of the president telling Catholics what to believe, and therefore how to act.  We all know the other cases, which have led to an open revolt from American Catholic leaders against the president’s theology and his policies.

In his speech in Cairo–the one he addressed to the “Muslim World”–he made numerous false statements about Islam, including Muslim theology and history.  He spoke as if he did not realize that the Muslim Middle East is a failed culture (as numerous Muslim scholars have said).  Nonetheless, that did not prevent him from telling Muslims what they believed and therefore how they should act.

He probably told the Dalai Lama something similar, dontcha think?

In short, he’s not only commander-in-chief who thinks our soldiers serve him, not the nation and its Constitution, but the prophet-in-chief for all religions.

There are words for this sort of self-image, ranging from extreme narcissism to megalomania.  Combined with his insistence on keeping secret the most mundane aspects of his life, it suggests a desire to create a personal myth about himself, a myth that entitles him to speak ex cathedra to all men and women.

If he really were a great religious scholar and a deep philosophical thinker, I might be inclined to celebrate the world’s fortune in having a transcendant, world-historical figure in the White House.  But he isn’t.  He keeps getting the facts wrong from “Polish death camps” to “all 57 states,” from “Muslims invented printing” to “my Austrian isn’t very good,”, which is not the way of the prophets.

It’s nuts, actually.

Madness in High Places

May 30th, 2012 - 8:53 am

I am just back from a pilgrimage to Machiavelli’s town, San Casciano, and I’m happy to report that the sort of “virile Christianity” he favored is still alive and active in that lovely little town in the Pesa Valley.  On the walls of a small church I read an announcement of an upcoming celebration, and the text read “This is not folklore, it is a religious celebration.  The body of Christ will pass through the city…” and so on.

In other words, “get serious!”

Then I read the newspapers, and found that world leaders have taken leave of common sense.  Four items pretty much clinch the case:

Mugabe should be hung, not honored, and an organization that gives him a symbolic medal should be shut down in disgrace.  It’s long past time to throw the UN out of the U.S.  If they like Mugabe so much, let them rent space in Harare and let us rent out the buildings on the East River.  I have often referred to the UN as “the world’s greatest organized crime organization,” and the choice of the Zimbabwian criminal-in-chief provides further evidence (as if we needed any).

Monti, a man I have long admired and respected, let loose with a long diatribe against corruption, in the course of which he proposed shutting down the Italian soccer league for 2-3 years.  That’s political folly, and he was quickly turned into a laughing-stock.  If that’s the way to respond to scandal, the wags wrote, why not shut down the government?  Or, with reference to the “Vatileaks” scandal,  why not close all the churches?  Or all the banks?

You’d think an Italian prime minister had enough to do, without gratuitously angering the country’s soccer fans (that is, most Italians).  He does, but he, too, is a fan, so he thought he should do something. Wrong.  He should stick to his core business of saving the country, which has now become complicated by ongoing earthquakes very near my current location in the Florence suburbs.

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Iran Rules

May 28th, 2012 - 1:18 am

So we had important talks with the Iranian regime and reached an important agreement to have more important talks with them next month.  No one on our team seems the least bit embarrassed, nor do any of the pundits who predicted that some sort of nuke deal would be agreed on.  Indeed, most of the coverage had to do with Israel:  will they attack or not?

Now the dips are preparing for yet more talks, this time in sunny Moscow.  And although the Iranian leaders have stiffed the would-be inspectors from the UN’s Atomic Energy Agency, the gathering at Putin’s feet will no doubt come off…and yet again, with no real consequence.

On the basis of my mother’s dictum that repetition is the basis of all learning, let’s go through the basic principles again:

  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is not interested in a deal with the West unless it is clearly and unequivocally a total Western surrender that ends sanctions, confirms our retreat from the Middle East, and acknowledges Iran as the regional hegemon;
  • The current game–call it “around the world in 180 days”–provides the diplomats with good food, luxurious accommodations, and pictures in the papers, and it leaves the Iranians free to enrich uranium, build missiles and warheads, and kill us and anyone inclined to work with us. That is the Real War and no Western leader ever talks about it;
  • Sanctions will neither stop the Iranian nuclear program nor stop the Real War. Only a change in regime can accomplish that.  To that end, sanctions could be a positive force if they were combined with support for the Iranian opposition.  Just ask the Revolutionary Guards how serious the resistance is:  the RG just deployed an additional eight thousand soldiers—some in uniform, others in plain clothes–in the streets of Tehran.But no Western leader cares to help the Iranian opposition, even verbally.  When  those leaders say “no option is off the table,” they mean some day there might be a  military attack against Iran.  But  financial and tactical assistance to the Iranian people willing to actively fight for freedom is totally off any Western  strategic table;
  • Meanwhile, those seeking freedom in the region  are being sacrificed.  Their leading betrayers are Obama and his new pal French President Hollande (who just visited  Afghanistan to confirm a speedy retreat). The consequences are as heartbreaking as they are inevitable:  more than 500 Afghan women’s schools have been shut down since the beginning of the year.  None of our leaders or pundits seems much interested in such  things.The most dramatic current case is Syria,  where the “official” body count is over ten thousand, but more than  thirty  thousand additional persons are “missing.” The latest massacre has prompted calls for humanitarian intervention—perhaps even including arming the Syrian opposition. However, here, too, nobody seems to care to see the slaughter in context.  Since Syria is a virtual territory of Iran,  the fall of Assad would threaten the survival of Khamenei, but none of our  leaders seems to want the downfall of Khamenei and his murderous regime.  Ergo, Assad’s and Khamenei’s enemies don’t get help from the West, while the Syrian tyrant gets help from Tehran and  Moscow.
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Modern Times

May 26th, 2012 - 3:28 am


Odds are long that you never heard of a Tuscan town called Sansepolcro, let alone visited it.  And unless you took a course in the history of art, you probably never heard of Piero della Francesca, whose fresco of
The Resurrection is the symbol of the city, which recently celebrated its thousandth anniversary.  Pope Benedict attended, which suggests the importance of this beautiful little city, far off the usual tourist path, and at least on this sunny Friday in May, almost totally free of foreign visitors. Yes, there was a small group of Germans (you know, those old enough to have been active back when…), and a few French couples here and there, and even a handful of Americans, but for the most part it was locals.

The town can be walked in less than an hour, and you can do the diameter in about twenty minutes, but that would be wrong.  You don’t want to miss the lovely balance, the low medieval and early Renaissance buildings, the gently curving streets, and the tranquility of the place.  And you must, must, must see Piero della Francesca’s fresco, which, according to one of Aldous Huxley’s fictional characters, is the most beautiful painting in the world.

Aside from Barbara, I don’t believe there is such a thing as “the most beautiful,” but The Resurrection is quite wonderful, and it is surely one of the most beautifully displayed works of art I’ve ever seen.  It’s on a wall in the town’s museum, a palace built around the fresco, and you can see it through two glass doors that are reachable from the street via short staircases in an inverted “V.”  At night, the fresco is illuminated until midnight. Wow!

That “wow” goes for the masterpiece itself, which depicts Christ risen from the tomb, a lance-and-banner in his right hand.  Four Roman guards sound asleep below him.  This is a virile, physically powerful Christ, the sort you’d want leading your troops into battle, not a pale, cadaverous Christ about to vanish beyond the clouds.  If you look at it for a while, you will eventually wonder how della Francesca painted something so modern in the middle of the fifteenth century.  Go to the previous room in the museum and look at his hypermodern “Polittico della Misericordia” in which a Madonna who seems more likely to have come from an alternate universe on Star Trek than to have been the saintly Jewish mother of Jesus embraces the faithful in her long gown.

How does this happen?  That Madonna could have been painted by Salvador Dali.

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Friday we sailed around Capri and then across to the Bay of Salerno.  Very few boats around, and nary a one of the luxury yachts so common in those waters.  We went to a seaside restaurant, and were among a very few customers.  The owner said it was the worst season he’d seen since the 1960s.

The spring weather has been unusually unpleasant, which no doubt accounts for at least part  of the problem, but this lovely part of the world has long attracted lots of visitors regardless of the temperature.  Most of the merchants I talked to blame the Treasury Police, whose numbers have increased as the tourists’ have dropped.  The Guardia di Finanza have huge powers to snoop, and they have taken to boarding yachts and asking all manner of questions of those on board:  Do you own this?  If not, from whom did you rent it?  How much are you paying?  How are you paying?  Which credit card did you use (remember, you cannot pay in cash for anything more than a thousand euros)?  And so forth.  So when I hear European leaders carry on about stimulating “growth,” I’m not very sympathetic.  All over the continent, state organizations like the Guardia di Fiinanza are showing their citizens that the most important thing is tax collection, not freedom to create new wealth.

You hear stories every day that show how avid our governments are to get their hands on our money.  I was talking to an American friend who married an Italian about 40 years ago, stayed married, got dual citizenship, and is now being asked by the Italian government to tell all about what she owns in the U.S., and by the American government to tell all about what she owns in Italy.  We all know this is part of the scheme to get her money into the government coffers.  Two coffers in this case.

It’s discouraging to watch the states’ appetite, both because it shows their contempt for us — an old thought for the Italians, but a new one for most Americans, I believe — and because it shows how little they understand economics and human nature.  The normal human response to a state that enriches itself  unfairly and mean-spiritedly, all the while pretending to be doing the opposite, is to try to outwit it or change the nature of the state.  Our fall elections are all about changing it, and if that fails, we will see a sort of Italianization of America, complete with the creation of a black market for money, much as we’ve seen the creation of a black market for cigarettes.  Here in Italy, those markets (and similar ones for prostitution and drugs) are largely operated by the famous triad of organized crime, the Sicilian Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra, and the Calabrian N’Drangheta.

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Ragu Can Save You

May 17th, 2012 - 9:40 am

There’s a big international conference on “Advances in Nutrition and Cancer” starting in Naples tomorrow, and the headline story is that Ragu, properly prepared, is a terrific cancer fighter.  And there’s another story in the local Neapolitan press announcing that people who drink lots of coffee live longer than those who don’t.

So two of the staples of the Neapolitan diet are very good for you.  Add to that the beauty of the place, the wonders of the culture, and the generally nice weather, and you should be asking yourself what in the world you’re doing wherever else you are.  We’re drinking espresso and stuffing ourselves with maccheroni and ragu.

But you’ve got to do it right.  The high concentration of cancer-fighting antioxidants comes from prolonged cooking of tomatoes, and it doesn’t work with vegetable oil.  You’ve got to use extravirgin olive oil.  And you have to take your time, as I learned when I first starting studying Neapolitan cuisine.  A friend wangled a dinner invitation for me at the home of the president of the Neapolitan Culinary Academy, a tall skinny man (go figure) who has a day job as a professor of botany at the University of Naples.  As directed, I called him up to thank him for his generosity and to ask when and where I should show up.

“Well, dinner’s at 9 o’clock,” he replied, “but you should be here by 1 or 1:30.”

“Eight hours early?  How come.”

“Because it takes seven or eight hours to make a proper ragu, and we’ll do it together.  That way perhaps you will get a proper introduction to Neapolitan cuisine.”

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Off the Beaten Path in Italy

May 13th, 2012 - 8:07 am

Barbara and I have spent most of the last six weeks in Italy, our adopted second home.  We met in Rome in 1973, got married five months later in the big synagogue on the banks of the Tiber, lived there for several years, and have managed to get back every year for varying lengths of time.  This trip has been almost all in places most tourists don’t get to see, like rural Tuscany and Naples, and Campagna, and right now we are in Sorrento, looking across the bay at Naples and Vesuvius, which, as the vulcanologists will tell you, is overdue for its next eruption, which will devastate the whole region…so far, no sign of it this week though.

Naples is a doomed city, which mightily contributes to the unique creativity of its citizens, about which you’ve undoubtedly read by now in my Virgil’s Golden Egg and Other Neapolitan Miracles.  The image of people living at the foot of a great volcano can be applied to Italy in general nowadays, and indeed to Europe as a whole.  The European ecoomy is famously gasping for energy — with productive niches in Holland and Germany — and explosive forces are bubbling through the crust of the self-satisfied welfare state that’s been happily and irresponsibly taking care of Europeans’ every desire for decades.  Now that they’ve been caught spending much more than they ever had (and having most of their military needs covered by Uncle Sam), and suddenly being told to get serious, they’re blowing a lot of political steam.  Thus, the Greek riots.  Thus, the sprint to socialist fantasies in France.  Thus, the recent bombs set off at Italian welfare offices, and the kneecaping of a welfare official.

The “technicians” in charge of the Italian government nowadays started by cutting government spending and raising taxes.  I have long believed that it’s incoherent to raise taxes during a recession, and indeed the Italians are now talking about ways to stimulate “growth.”  But, rather like our own deep thinkers in Washington, the stimulation they’re talking about is all supposed to come from on high, from the state.  Which of course is the root cause of the crisis in the first place.  But the Europeans made a Faustian deal with their politicians–I’ll leave you alone if you take good care of me, and I’ll just indulge myself–and it’s hard for them to ask their failed leaders to get out of the way and let the people work their way out of the mess.

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Dishonor and War

May 6th, 2012 - 2:29 am

I wonder what the Atrocities Board would say about the dreadful betrayal of freedom in China.  Only kidding.  This Orwellian institution is surely designed to deal only with old horrors;  you know, those during the dark ages of Bushitlercheney. Or even in the days of Obama’s bête blanche, Bill Clinton, about whom the flagrantly hypocritical Samantha Power raged so piously righteous some years back for his failure to save Africans from slaughter.  Now that she sits in the White House, she joins the other organizers and activists who abandon those who share our national commitment to freedom, and embrace those tyrants who are crushing it as best they can.

To this grim gallery of rogues we can properly add Hillary, whose relationship with the president will some day entertain future students of the American presidency.  What’s it like for her to get security briefings that are reportedly denied to her Bill, for example?  But there is no reason to suspect that she’s any better on the big questions than the president, for whom she lies like the proverbial rug.  On her account, we’ve been heroically supporting dissidents in Iran and Syria, for example, even though none of the victims of the bloodthirsty regimes in Tehran and Damascus has seen any help.

Which brings  us back to the blind Mr. Chen, who somehow eluded house arrest and got into the American Embassy in Beijing.  One wonders  just how that happened, and the tyrants who rule China are no doubt wondering  too.  It’s hard to imagine that the Obama  administration had much to do with Chen’s escape;  they don’t give a damn about oppressed  freedom fighters and dissidents anywhere, let alone the People’s Republic of China.  As with Iran, North Korea, and  Syria, Obama wants “good relations,” and such regimes won’t give you any if you  insist on raising awkward subjects like freedom and democracy.

To be sure,  if you play by their rules, you don’t get those good relations  anyway.  You get contempt, and, in all likelihood, war as well. Churchill  said of Chamberlain that he had to choose between war and dishonor, chose dishonor,  and got war as well.

Obama and  his fellow conspirators should  know all  this by now, because he’s played by the tyrants’ rules and he’s quite obviously  held in contempt by regimes who detest and fear the United States.  These evil men know that, regardless of the  identity or desires of a given American president, those of their own people  who want to live freely will always be inspired by the American example.  The tyrants are thankful for Obama, but not for the reasons he had assumed. He  thought they’d like him because he is basically sympathetic to their cause.  He thinks their complaints about  America’s meddling in their affairs are legitimate, and he expected to be able  to negotiate a series of deals that would rest on a shared vision of the world.

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