Belmont Club

The Field of Miracles

In the other Western hemisphere state of the union speech, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro,  while acknowledging that his government had no money, nevertheless promised to provide more “free” services for everyone.  Free school stipends, free housing. No cutbacks to social welfare. How would the bankrupt state pay for it?  He said , that while “oil will never cost $100 again but God will provide. Venezuela will never do without.”

“God will provide.” Which only goes to show that Marxists aren’t really what people evolve into after they lose their religion. On the contrary religion is what Marxists get after they lose their shirt. But never mind the shirt. There’s a bright future ahead for everyone – and all of it paid for with other people’s money. Free! free! free!

The president turned his annual report into an electoral campaign pitch. During his almost three-hour speech, he attacked his adversaries and claimed to be the victim of a plot that seeks to topple his government and take advantage of dejected … voters during this election year. …

Starting February 1, the government will increase the minimum wage and pensions by 15 percent. It also plans to more than double the meager scholarships university students receive. … also promised to build 400,000 public housing units. The measures fall under the government’s social investment program.

Lest one think this all Third World nonsense, note the Europeans have also entered the Age of Miracles. In Greece, the Far Left anti-austerity party Syriza has swept the field on the promise of more government spending. Like Venezuela, Greece is also bust; completely out of “other people’s money”, but its new politicians don’t  have to go as far as God to procure more Loaves and Fishes, for they descry distant herds of “other people”  placidly grazing in the meadows of Germany and the UK, waiting only for EU bureaucrats to skip over to tax them.

The Age of Miracles is not past. Miracles — or radical solutions as they are called in politics — are now the only game in town. Breitbart describes the comprehensive annihilation of the Greek political center, the wholesale dismissal of anyone who dares think there is no free lunch, in favor of groups promising a worker’s paradise or world domination.

The BBC reports, using Greek government statistics, that … Syriza decisively defeated the only party to pose a real challenge against them– the incumbent center-right New Democracy–which received 28.1% of the vote. One would expect that, given the enormous victory for the nation’s most prominent leftist party, that the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), the largest center-left party in the country, would have come in third.

They did not. Golden Dawn, a neo-Nazi party whose leadership is almost entirely behind bars, took third place.

Nor did Pasok make fourth place– that went to “The River,” a populist leftist experiment starved out of the competition by the growth of Syriza.

Pasok was not in fifth place. That went to the Greek Communist Party.

The Guardian thinks an anti-austerity wave may hit Europe and and points to the rising crest of the Spanish Syriza-like party, “Podemos” (meaning ‘yes we can’) which is building up speed like a tsunami. “Few followed the elections in Greece as closely as Spaniards, many of whom saw in the electoral race a preview of looming elections in their country. As news broke on Sunday that Syriza had ousted the establishment to become the first anti-austerity party to gain power in the eurozone the leader of the far-left Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, revelled in the news.”

Portents and heavenly auguries are back, if not in its traditional forms, then in its new ones. The Al-monitor explains that many Iranians believe we are entering the End Times. “Some Shiite scholars think … that Abdullah’s death will mark the beginning of a chain of great events that will shock the world.”

According to Shiite hadiths, after the death of a king named Abdullah in the Hijaz — a western region of present-day Saudi Arabia — no successor to the throne would be accepted, and disagreements would escalate and persist until the rise of Imam Mahdi.

The Shiites believe that divine Imams are heirs to the political and religious Ummah, or Islamic nation. These 12 imams are successors to the Prophet Muhammad and to the head of the caliphate, with Mahdi being the final Imam who disappeared, or went into occultation. Mahdi will be revealed only in the end-times, along with Jesus, to deliver peace to the world.

According to the book “250 Signs Until the Appearance of Imam Mahdi,” Prophet Muhammad said: “On doomsday, a man who is carrying the name of an animal ascends to the throne, after which a man named Abdullah comes to the power. Whoever informs me of his death, I will inform him of the rise [of Mahdi]. After Abdullah passes away, for several days and months, the government will appear.”

A seminary teacher based in Qom told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The animal-named man can be King Fahd because one meaning of Fahd’s [name] is rapacious animal and cheetah, which matches what Prophet Muhammad said.”

The Bahar al-Anvar, a book of hadiths, quotes the sixth Shiite Imam Sadegh as saying: “When Abdullah dies, people will agree on no one, and this issue will be kept alive till the rise of Imam [Mahdi]. An age of a hundred-year reign comes to an end, and an age of a [kingdom lasting] a few days and months arrives.”

Laugh if you like. But when magic is all whole societies have left, then Messiahs are a serious business. Pakistan is reeling under an acute shortage of motor fuel and attacks to its power grid that have left 80% of the country in darkness.  It would be a serious mistake to think that building more power plants and power lines should occur to their leaders.  The far better solution is to demand power as a “right” and wait for “someone” to supply it.

Pakistan’s spasms this week are a reminder that energy shortages can present almost as big a risk to government stability as higher-profile threats like terrorists, even as chronic blackouts and sputtering factories are themselves a deadweight on the economy that make it harder for the government to defuse popular unrest and radicalization. Other countries in the region, including Iraq, Yemen, and Egypt, have also grappled with the consequences of energy shortages that exacerbate pre-existing economic and social challenges.

The Muslim world, which rose to modern power on the back of the energy industry, is collapsing from the lack of it. God — or Allah or Germany — must be wroth with them, because fuel is currently in short supply.  So why not appease Allah by flying airplanes into buildings in New York City or cutting off somebody’s head? This ethos is fueling the rise of the fantasy parties, all of whom preach, with variations, the doctrine of something for nothing. Whether it is Syriza opening other people’s wallets, or Pegida invoking the spirit of Adolf Hitler, or people waiting around for the Shi’ite end times, all around us it is evident that nothing sells as well as the Apocalypse.

Unless of course we count Lotos-eating, which is doing a land office trade also. For as we are told by an author interviewed by Dylan Matthews of Vox “Ignore the headlines. The world is getting safer all the time.”

It’s easy to feel like the world is becoming a scarier place. ISIS has established a foothold in Syria and Iraq. Russia is taking territory from Ukraine. North Korea (allegedly) attacked a major US movie studio. And, most recently, terrorists stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve. Policymakers certainly seem to think things are getting worse; in 2013, even before any of those developments, Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Gen. Martin Dempsey declared that the world was “more dangerous than it has ever been.”

But if you take a broader view, Dempsey is completely, utterly wrong. If anything, the world is safer than it’s ever been.

Why is it safer? Because we’re more enlightened now. Because Barack Obama is president now, and because “terrorism works through our reaction to it”, and therefore if there is no reaction there will be no terrorism. Because if we ignore it maybe it will go away. Yet even the outward modernism of the argument cannot conceal its inner Oriental fatalism. We have to believe that the world is safer than at any time in the past because to think otherwise would open the floodgates to a whole host of unwelcome thoughts.  Like the necessity of having to do something about it.

Better to clasp our hands tighter in the Church of Political Correctness, even if doubts persist. Suppose the Obama strategy is a sham? Or worse, as a friend has just put it, suppose “there really is no way to preserve the status quo any more, it’s going to burn no matter what we do.”  Then Obama is going to see King Salman not because it will make the slightest difference, but because there is nothing else he can do.

Insha’Allah. One of the interesting aspects of the Japanese hostage crisis in Syria is how each hostage represents a current archetype of acceptance in the larger world. Both are embodiments of the notion that “God will provide” but in the different ways. The actions of the two men seem to mirror our near term choices. The Yukawas of the world will dream themselves into the quicksand, leaving the Gotos to hope — but no more than hope — they can find a way to get them out.

The surviving hostage, Kenji Goto, 47, is a respected journalist who knew his way around conflict zones after having spent more than two decades covering them as a freelance television cameraman and the author of five books. …

The other man, Haruna Yukawa, 42, was a lost soul who had attempted suicide in 2008 and seemed to become unhinged by a string of setbacks in life, including bankruptcy and the death of his wife. Convinced that he was the reincarnation of a celebrated World War II-era female spy, he wandered into Syria in search of a fresh start in life. On his blog, he fantasized about gaining enough combat experience against the Taliban and Al Qaeda to one day work as a security adviser for Japanese companies in dangerous areas. …

After the militants captured Mr. Yukawa, Mr. Goto tried to win his freedom by making a highly risky trip into territory controlled by the Islamic State …

Mr. Goto’s calm resolve and strong sense of purpose are consistent with the details of him that emerge on the website of his tiny news agency, Independent Press. The agency that he started 19 years ago, and which sells news stories to television programs, says its mission is to cover “conflicts, refugees, poverty, AIDS and children.” In an interview last year on a religious website, he said he had converted to Christianity — uncommon in predominantly Buddhist Japan — because he was afraid of dying alone in a distant war zone.

Because what it really comes down to is that magic-men of the world are depending on the ordinary man to bail them out. And the ordinary man is left with only the faint hope that he can effect a rescue. The extreme left, the Islamists, the today Germany, tomorrow the world crowd are alike counting on those they revile to burst through the door and save then with the cowardly sniper’s bullet or supply the loaf of bread they scorn to bake or walk into the lions den to talk their captors  out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves in.

The greatest miracle of all is that the ordinary man should still try to do this after all the folly these ingrates have done, to tidy up the mess they’ve made and rebuild the cities after the magic-men have burned them down to raise their dreams. Why, who can say? Perhaps the biggest marvel is that the world keeps turning over, in which case faith really consists in what Frodo said: I will bear the Ring though I do not know the way.

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