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Belmont Club

The Danger of Symmetry

July 2nd, 2014 - 8:28 pm

News that Quinnipiac poll finds president Obama is the “worst president since World War II” was greeted with amusement. New York Magazine counseled its readers not to take the poll too seriously, saying it’s all explained by the ‘availability heuristic’. That’s a complicated term for asserting that people are too silly to know what’s bad for them, so sophisticates can still continue to think Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

That sounds fancy, but it simply means that we are biased by how easy it is to summon an example of something in our heads. So when a right-leaning person is asked to think of a bad president, the shadow of Obama looms large over them. To a certain extent, many people who picked Obama weren’t carefully weighing how they viewed him versus other presidents — do you remember how crazy Bill Clinton drove conservatives? — but were swayed by how quickly and loudly Barry O seized their brains once the question was asked.

One of the former prerogatives of the liberal press was its ability to frame the narrative. In the past they could — and did — tell the public what to take seriously and who to laugh at.  We were routinely told not to take the warning from Hamas that it will “open the gates of hell” seriously. Such threats — like the vow of ISIS to expand the Caliphate to include parts of Europe, or vows to behead infidels — were dismissed out of hand as either the posturing of simpletons or the justifiable wrath of the Poor and Downtrodden.

What was taken seriously in every case, however, was any sign of lawlessness by the White Man, including the Jews. Now reports suggest that someone may have broken the law; engaged in a revenge killing for the Hamas-ordered execution of three teenagers on the West Bank is front-page news. The New York Times reports, “Secretary of State John Kerry, in a statement, strongly condemned what he called “the despicable and senseless abduction and murder” of Muhammad [an Arab teenager]. He added, ‘Those who undertake acts of vengeance only destabilize an already explosive and emotional situation.’”

The Times of London writes:

Israeli leaders and rabbis were told yesterday that inflammatory rhetoric risked inciting revenge killings and public disorder after a Palestinian boy was lynched following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers.

And it’s not just the Israelis.  The arrival of thousands of aliens at the US southern border has heretofore been depicted, not as an act of invasion, but somehow America’s fault. But to the Californians blocking the movement of these people into their state these arrivals are simply trespassers. Surely if Californians were descending on Mexico they would be so regarded by the Mexicans. Their crime is to think and act as the Mexicans would think. A CNN story shows what the narrative was meant to be.

“It is deplorable that people espousing anti-immigrant hate language created unnecessary tension and fear for immigrant mothers and their children,” Pedro Rios, a community representative of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, said in a statement. “Even more concerning is that elected officials in the City of Murrieta instigated this tension. Mothers and their children on these buses have suffered through enough trauma.”

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Ex Oriente

July 1st, 2014 - 4:57 am

The most interesting overnight news is that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been “held for questioning” by police investigating allegations that he tried to influence a judge investigating a illegal contributions to his campaign. Under French law a person can be “held” for up to 48 hours without being charged. “This is thought to be the first time a French former head of state has been held in police custody.”  It’s not the first time a French president has been in legal trouble. Jacques Chirac was actually convicted of embezzlement, but they suspended the sentence and let the grand lad go free.

The judges were looking into alleged illegal campaign contributions from Muhammar Khadaffy – the former Duck of Death. In order to obtain possible proof that Sarkozy was trying to pull strings investigators resorted to the tried and tested method of wiretapping.

Mr Sarkozy is alleged to have been helped to victory in 2007 with up to €50 million provided by Colonel Gaddafi and envelopes stuffed with cash from France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. …

It was in connection with [the Khadaffy investigation] that the judges last year obtained the unprecedented authorization to tap the phones of a former president. After four fruitless months they discovered that Mr Sarkozy had a secret phone registered under an assumed name and it was conversations with Mr Herzog recorded on that device that triggered the investigation.

Leaked excerpts suggest Mr Sarkozy got a friendly judge to try to influence the outcome of confidential legal deliberations related to the Bettencourt case in return for support in securing a lucrative post in Monaco.

Now they are questioning Sarkozy to determine whether what he said on his secret phone. Alas, the Duck is not available for comment. Khadaffy was toppled in NATO operation led by Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. He was caught in an attempt to escape and was killed in still mysterious circumstances. The known account of his demise is found in Wikipedia.

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When Gerald Ford remarked that “a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have,” he might have been commenting on the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision which ruled 5-4, as the Washington Post reports: “(T)he arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for four types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs.”

Walter Russell Mead gets what is at issue. Beyond the narrow facts of the decision, the case itself underlines the unpleasantly large scope that government regulation now covers. Government, to which everything has been referred, has enrolled one and all in a zero-sum game. Now everything A does affects B; and everything B does affects A. In so doing the giant state has become the mortal foe of diversity. Writing in the American Interest, professor Mead says:

As the United States becomes more and more culturally pluralistic we will see more disagreement in all areas of society — including over what the federal government deems “essential health benefits.” Here, as elsewhere, promoting decentralized and individualized decision-making can tamp down conflict and respect everyone’s freedom to live according to their principles. An employer-provided system can pit employers and employees against each other; a fully nationalized system can likewise ignite culture wars over taxpayer funding for this or that objectionable health care benefit.

“Why,” liberals well ask, “is government deciding what a woman can or can’t do with her body?” The answer unfortunately is “because government previously decided to make someone else pay for it.”  The “personal has become political” and wow, is that what it means?

Eugene Volokh, summarizing the decision for the layman in plain English at the Washington Post, notes that the whole legal dispute is rooted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which ironically was enacted by a Democratically controlled Congress (Robert Byrd heading the Senate and Tom Foley the House). The bill was actually introduced by Chuck Schumer. RFRA was as blue as could be.

The premise seemed harmless enough. It provided, as Eugene Volokh notes, that “that religious objectors may go to court to demand religious exemptions from federal laws.” But Murphy entered the picture in a classic case of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Now liberals find that having put government in charge of a private space, they will find things sometimes go against them, which was not how it was supposed to work.

The phrase “the personal is political” sounded good, until it backfired.

The unrelenting liberal drive to expand the powers of the state unintentionally leads to “winner take all” effect. The more power liberals get the more they must keep control, not just of that individual power but of the whole system of powers.

Every power grab represents at least as much danger to the grabber as to the grabbee. Obama, who attempted to seize control of one-sixth of the U.S. economy via Obamacare, finds he must retain control of health decisions for his political life. Anyone who creates Deep State instruments of political power cannot relinquish what he’s created lest it be turned against him. Having conjured up state demons from the vasty deep, they must on no account be ceded to Republican sorcerers.

Thus he becomes the slave, not the master of his own creation. Liberty is practical only while government remains powerless in some things. Once government becomes powerful in all things then it becomes just as much a menace to Sandra Fluke as to Hobby Lobby — though she hasn’t realized that yet.

Every student of military history will recall that if you try to take Moscow you risk Berlin. Hitler forgot that. So alas, have liberals. Obama assumed he could stay in charge of Obamacare; amend or delay it as he would. But he never anticipated he would be paid back in his own coin. He was all for steering wheels until he got handed the plastic steering wheel.

Naturally his response has been volcanic. In a measure of his rage, Time reports that Obama has decided to give Congress the chance of working with him to upend the Supreme Court decision:

The White House denounced the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow for-profit companies to refuse payment for certain employee birth control insurance coverage because of religious objections. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But Earnest quickly added that President Obama, who has been touring the country promoting his ability to work around Congress, plans no immediate executive actions to remedy the situation created by the Hobby Lobby ruling. “The Supreme Court was ruling on the application of a specific law that was passed by Congress,” Earnest said. “So what we’d like is for Congress to take action to pass another law that would address this problem.”

It is a boon Obama does not grant lightly. In other matters he has lost patience. Reuters reports that in the matter of immigration, he’ll act without Congress. “President Barack Obama said on Monday he would take executive action to reform the U.S. immigration system after hopes of passing legislation in Congress officially died.”

What could go wrong? 

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The Raven

June 29th, 2014 - 7:56 pm

The New York Times reports that Russian advisers and jets have arrived in Iraq to help the Maliki government stave off the advances of ISIS.

BAGHDAD — Iraqi government officials said Sunday that Russian experts had arrived in Iraq to help the army get 12 new Russian warplanes into the fight against Sunni extremists, while the extremists declared their leader the caliph, or absolute ruler, of all jihadi organizations worldwide.

The Russian move was at least an implicit rebuke to the United States, which the Iraqis believe has been too slow to supply American F-16s and attack helicopters — although the United States is now in the process of providing both.

They will find American and Iranian special forces there to keep them company — a bizarre gathering, like a sort of Mos Eisely cantina along the Euphrates. “Last week, President Obama ordered 300 American military advisers into the country, and the Iranians have reportedly sent advisers from their Republican Guards’ Quds Force.”  The Business Insider called it a “bizarre alliance”.

But nothing is now too strange for the Administration’s foreign policy. Like Yogi Berra it has come to a crossroads and taken it, going both ways at once. Haaretz says that the “Iraq crisis pushing Obama toward alliance with Syria and Iran”.  But at the same time Obama has not neglected his alliance with their arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia.

Two days ago John Kerry met with Saudi Arabia “to help roll back the Islamic State of Iraq and al- Sham, an extremist group that controls wide swaths of territory in Syria and this month seized cities and towns across northern Iraq.” Saudi Arabia has a kind of schizophrenic relationship with ISIS.  On the one hand they are its principal target. But on the other, they are its principal enablers. You might almost say the same about the Obama administration.

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Waiting for America

June 29th, 2014 - 1:32 am

Robert Zubrin writes, in a National Review article, about a secret meeting between Western national socialist parties and the agent of Vladimir Putin. The venue is what you would expect: a James Bond like setting with mysterious billionaires in attendance.

The chairman and financier of the meeting was Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, the multibillionaire owner of the Moscow-based Marshall Capital. Malofeev, who has direct access to the Russian dictator, is known as “Putin’s Soros” for his role in financing movements and initiatives supporting the Russian fascist cause….

Malofeev was the producer and director of the event, but the star of the show was Aleksandr Dugin, the prime author of the “Eurasianist” totalitarian doctrine, which is serving its intended purpose as the ideological basis for the Putin regime’s transformation of Russia into an expansionist fascist state, as well as for its creation of a Moscow-controlled fascist international for the purpose of subverting other countries on behalf of the new empire.

Gathered to receive tutelage from Dugin and instructions from Malofeev in preparation for their potential supporting roles as the Pétains and Quislings of the Eurasian Reich was an impressive array of leaders of nominally “conservative” but actually radical national-socialist European parties.

This bunch is squaring off against a transnational Europe, with its informal presence in the Ukraine in the person of the real George Soros through his various foundations and advocacy groups. The EU has signed the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as part of the drive East. “The DCFTA will be part of a future Association Agreement, which will replace the present Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Ukraine (which dates from 1998).”

Events in Eastern Europe have assumed something of the character of attack and counterattack. Radio Free Europe explains that “Brussels had originally planned to sign the political and trade accords with Kyiv in November at a summit in Vilnius but was jilted by Viktor Yanukovych, then Ukraine’s president, when he came under heavy Russian opposition to the deal.”

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The Lost Airliner

June 28th, 2014 - 3:36 am

Perhaps the single most comprehensive summary of developments — or lack thereof — in the MH370 mystery is by Bruce Drum of World Airline News.  It lays out the state of knowledge about what happen to missing Malaysian Airlines jet and where the search may go from here.  Australia has drilled a dry hole in it’s last best guess area which it is scouring with the autonomous underwater vehicle called the Bluefin-21. “The Bluefin-21 will be redeployed in this new area. The exact new area is still being determined.”

The new phase “will be a major undertaking … The equipment used for the search will likely include a towed sonar, an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle with mounted sonar, and optical imaging equipment. We expect the search to begin in several months and take up to 12 months to complete.”  The very fact they didn’t find anything in the first search underscores how uncertain the knowledge is. Plan A failed, it’s now on to Plan B.

Why are they looking in the the new area? It’s one of the other possibilities suggested by the satellite signalling system which is all they’ve got to go on after the last reliable radar data.

Following the loss of primary radar, the only available information was from satellite signalling messages, also referred to as ‘handshakes’, between the ground station, the satellite and the aircraft’s satellite communication system. For each transmission to the aircraft, the ground station recorded the burst timing offset (BTO) and the burst frequency offset (BFO). …

The meaning of the BTO is straightforward. It defines the “arcs” along which the plane might be found. These rings describe the famous ‘arcs’ that were used to determine the “northern” and “southern” routes which formed the set of possible locations for MH370. “There were 7 handshakes between the ground station and the aircraft after the loss of primary radar data. The location rings calculated from the recorded BTO values are shown in figure 4. … The 00:19 signalling message (7th arc) was a logon request from the aircraft. This is consistent with the satellite communication equipment on the aircraft powering up following a power interruption. The interruption in electrical supply may have been caused by fuel exhaustion.”

The BTO is a measure of the time taken for a transmission round trip (ground station to satellite to aircraft and back) and allows a calculation of the distance between the satellite and the aircraft. Based on this measure, a possible location ring can be mapped on the surface of the earth (Figure 3). An analysis of SATCOM system parameters showed that the accuracy of the rings was ± 10 km. This analysis was validated using recorded BTO values from the initial stage of the flight when the aircraft’s position was known.

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What Do You Mean We, Kemo Sabe?

June 26th, 2014 - 3:48 pm

It’s a scene straight out of fiction. Refugees from North Africa, packed like sardines in small boats are streaming in droves across the Med to Italy. “According to Italian interior ministry figures given to the Guardian, 59,880 migrants and refugees have landed on the country’s coast this year – almost as many as in the whole of 2011, which holds the record. The situation is unprecedented. Sicily, which has received more than 53,000 of the new arrivals, is bearing the brunt and struggling to cope. And summer – historically the peak time for boat landings – has only just begun.”  This flood is only a trickle compared to what’s coming tomorrow.

To those only familiar with the American southern border crisis the story has eerie similarities. Children are showing up at the border, unaccompanied, with NGOs pressing governments for a solution: to speedily resettle or process these most vulnerable of arrivals.

According to Save the Children, around 5,840 unaccompanied minors have arrived on the Italian coast this year. Not all of them decide to stay in the system. At a soup kitchen opposite Catania station run by the Catholic charity Caritas, manager Valentina Calí explains that among the people who have called on its services have been “many minors who don’t want to be identified. They avoid being fingerprinted so they don’t have to request asylum in Sicily. They’re running away.”

The watchword is “compassion” and besides, everyone knows the West is rich and has lots to give away. But the numbers speak for themselves. These are not refugee streams any more, they are whole populations. The number of people on the move is at a post-World War 2 high. “The number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people has surged to more than 50 million people, the first time since the post-World War II period.”

Once inside Europe, these migrants replicate their homelands, sometimes right down to the quarrels that split their countries in the first place. The New York Times recently covered a case which has riveted France, the beating of a gypsy boy by “migrants” who wanted to teach him a lesson for stealing.  The Roma boy was beaten to a literal pulp, dumped in a supermarket trolley and left as trash to be collected.

PIERREFITTE-SUR-SEINE, France — With its bleak concrete apartment blocks and clutches of bored, jobless young men, the Cité des Poètes housing project defies its idyllic name.

It was here this month in this poor, largely immigrant suburb north of Paris that a 17-year-old Roma boy, Gheorghe, known as Darius, was beaten unconscious by a gang of as many as 20 young men wielding wooden and metal sticks, according to prosecutors. His limp body was dumped in a shopping cart, and his swollen face frozen into a mask of pain.

Darius, a Romanian citizen, remains in a coma in critical condition. Nearly two weeks after the attack, no arrests have been made in a crime whose sheer brutality has shocked France, drawing condemnation from President François Hollande, who called it “beyond words and unjustifiable.”

Prosecutors and witnesses say the attack was carried out in retribution for the young man’s suspected thievery from the nearby housing project. While they have not characterized the attack as racially motivated, prosecutors said it was no ordinary crime, but a veritable lynching on the outskirts of Paris in an increasingly inhospitable climate for minority groups, here and across Europe, particularly for the Roma.

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The Sad Life of Sergeant Franklin Rock

June 25th, 2014 - 4:50 pm

The classic comic book hero Sgt. Franklin John Rock eventually died, according to the canon, in the European Theater of Operation “on the last day of the war by the last enemy bullet fired”. He was not invincible, in fact the miracle was that he lasted that long.

Sgt Rock was doomed by the “curse of competence”, which all of us know. Jamie Tinker defines it as “when a person is talented, recognized as a great performer [he is] rewarded with… more work.” In Franklin Rock’s case the reward for being good at taking out one Nazi machine gun pillbox was to be assigned to take the next one, and the next, and the next … That grave was waiting for him. It was a miracle Rock made it to VE Day Minus One.

The metaphorical Sergeant Rock lived somewhat longer. Victor Davis Hanson describes his almost superhuman struggle: “we forget that since World War II, the global order has largely been determined by U.S. engagement. The historically rare state of prosperity and peace that defined the postwar world were due to past U.S. vigilance and sacrifice.” This geopolitical master sergeant has been taking one pillbox after the other since World War II.

America — as Sergeant Rock — reformed Germany, created modern Europe, set the stage for the Pacific peace.  It created the modern world.

Germany in the last 150 years has been at the center of three European wars, winning one, losing another, and destroying much of Europe and itself in the third. Yet present-day Germany has the largest economy in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It is a global leader in high technology and industrial craftsmanship. For seventy years Germany, even after its second historic unification in 1989, has not translated such economic preeminence into military power, much less aggression. In fact, the strategic status quo of postwar Europe—with Britain and France, and their relatively smaller and weaker economies, as the continent’s two sole nuclear powers—remains mostly unquestioned.

That strange fact is due almost entirely to the U.S.-led NATO’s determination to protect the Eastern flank of Europe from potential enemies, to reassure Germany that it need not rearm to enjoy pan-European influence, and to quietly support the European nuclear monopolies of Britain and France. While the U.S. has always talked up the American-inspired United Nations, its first allegiance has always been to assure liberal democratic states in Europe of unshakeable American support. Any weakening of the latter might send Europe back into the tumultuous twentieth century.

A similar paradox exists in Asia. Pakistan and North Korea are two of the weakest economies and most unstable political systems in the region. Yet both nations are nuclear—despite rather than because of U.S.-led efforts at nonproliferation. In comparison, by any logical measure, far wealthier and more sophisticated states like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and perhaps the Philippines should all be nuclear, given their expertise, dangerous locales, and the looming shadows of three proud, and sometime aggressive nations—China, India, and Russia—in their midst. Yet none have. That fact too is largely because of American security guarantees.

And as recompense they gave him one pillbox after the other. But now he’s dead. He died on the last day of the Pax Americana. By his headstone stands Private Gomer Obama, the new squad leader.

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Our Ruling Class

June 24th, 2014 - 4:39 pm

There are two sorts of stock human dramas that play out in every age of history. The first concerns people who were once rich but are now discovering they are poor. The second is their opposite: people who were once poor who suddenly realize they are rich.

Years ago there were riveting accounts in a Manila newspaper about a man, whose surname was a byword for inherited wealth, pathetically resisting eviction from his ancestral home. The man — who gave his occupation as artist — sat disconsolate in the driveway of his former home, surrounded by his books, records and memorabilia, refusing the court order to leave until hunger and the elements forced him out into the street.

The second was represented in my mind by the story of a Chinese businessman who one day found a clan delegation in the shoddy warehouse where he lived, slept and held office despite his great wealth. They implored him to redeem the family honor by not riding around in a jalopy, an act which they claimed reflected badly on the clan’s status.  ”Honorable patriarch,” they begged, “could you not purchase a suitable limousine commensurate to your true wealth?”

The old man was nonplussed. He liked sleeping on packing crates, had no interest in fancy clothes, and was rather fond of his jalopy. But deferring to duty he acceded:

“Oh, alright. One of you please go and find the minimum quality luxury car suitable for the purpose. And remember now, the minimum quality! Not a penny more than necessary.”

That was my archetype of the accession to wealth story until I read about Chelsea Clinton, who recently told Fast Company in an interview how she gritted her teeth and took on lucrative gigs before deciding to join her family’s philanthropic foundation because, “I was curious if I could care about (money) on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t.”  She decided making money bored her after all and decided to pursue her true Clinton calling, which was telling people what to do.

In Chelsea the Clintons had finally become true aristocrats, finally left their Little Rock roots. Chelsea had joined that elite group which has had money for so long it bores them. She, as the British well knew of the upper classes, finally accepted her duty to rule, shouldered the burden and paid the sad price for a life cursed with luxury and privilege.

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Sword and Sorcery

June 23rd, 2014 - 4:33 pm

Historians commonly date the birth of Western civilization from the Greek development of mathematics.  Greek mathematics was the first point of view able to regard the world as potentially comprehensible. While computational methods to solve practical problems existed as far back as the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations they were always ad hoc; a way of solving problems rather than of understanding the universe.

The Western revolution was based on the semi (and often frankly) religious goal of understanding the universe. From  that world view flowed the ‘how’ as a byproduct — the technology we often mistake for the spirit of inquiry itself  – of the quest for truth.   The great empires of the time did not trouble themselves with the Western world view, with the source of the Fire, content with appropriating the results. They could simply keep their own cultural context and still use the borrowed fruit.

The Romans, the Hellenistic world and later the Arabs were content to simply adopt the technology. They copied mathematical results and physics and with it learned enough to slay and conquer — even the Greeks — an incident encapsulated in the death of Archimedes at the hands of a Roman soldier, who finding the  deaf old abstracted man in his path solving a problem in the sand, stabbed the philosopher where he sat.

Not that the world has changed since. The Boko Haram’s AK-47s; al-Qaeda’s hijacked airliners, the humvees of ISIS, and perhaps the dirty nuclear bomb of some Jihadi militant — are objects put to creative use by people none of whom can build them from first principles. But they’ve concluded as did the Romans and Caliphs before them, that they don’t need to understand these objects in principle.  They can regard these marvels as placed in their path by some magical agency. Why they work isn’t as important as knowing how they can be used to kill.

But possibly the most dangerous barbarians live in the West. These, by being born there, assume they are Westerners by inheritance or osmosis. They also regard Western civilization as “found”, its goodies a stash waiting to be used or distributed. Nor do they trouble themselves as to its provenance, for there has always been plenty more where the stash came from.

For these barbarians Western civilization and its associated quest for God or Truth are a bothersome impediment, a “white man’s culture”, a hundred year old relic ideology nobody bothers with, some irksomely judgmental superfluity that gets in the way of fun and spreading the fruits to arrivals at the border and various victim groups.

For the barbarian the only reality is appearances. Cargo cultists, for instance, believe that function comes from form. If they build something which resembles an airport then gift giving airplanes will arrive there to bring goodies.  The 21st century barbarian completely lacks the attitude of Roger Bacon, who lived in the 13th century.  Bacon knew that the truth was not a “white man’s” culture — in fact in his day nearly all learning came from the East — but believed the truth was nature’s culture; baked into reality;  another word for what used to be called God. Of barbarian ignorance Bacon wrote:

Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical. … The empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her.

In today’s post-Western environment, we’ve forgotten Bacon’s adage.

But this ignorance has now been transformed into cool. Elliot Abrams captured the cultural shift in his recent article describing the administration’s misadventures abroad: “The Man Who Broke the Middle East”.  Abrams talks about the most magic moment in modern history; the time Barack Obama spoke in Cairo. In Cairo Obama stood on a stage with a glass panel before him, upon which glowing words scrolled from which he intoned, offering nothing concrete beyond the assertion that he would succeed because he was he.  Abrams writes:

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