Monday, September 25, 2006

The Dramatic Reconquista

Wretchard notes over at The Belmont Club:
One of the more curious gaps in popular history is the lack of a first rate account of the Spanish Reconquista, the name given to the 800 year campaign by Christian kingdoms in Spain to expel Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. Writing a dramatic history of the Reconquista is hard because it went on for so long. So long, in fact, that both sides had changed character over the intervening 8 centuries, one side morphing from the tribal Visigoths to the kingly state of Ferdinand and Isabella and the other going through a succession of Islamic regimes.
There is, of course the The Poem of the Cid which I haven't read, and the movie El Cid which I have seen. However, the most exciting and dramatic fictionalization of the Reconquista I have encountered is The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. I wait eagerly for the movie version.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The "Come to Jesus" Story

Back in the late 1980s, there was a fascinating political indicator. It became very easy to tell which Republicans had presidential ambitions by listening to their "Come to Jesus" stories.

What I mean is, everybody on the Republican bench was going around Lions and Kiwanis meetings giving much the same old rubber-chicken speeches of yesteryear, but adding a section where they described the moment they had become "born again." It was startling to read transcripts of Bob Dole, Alexander Haig, and many more telling how they had (figuratively) walked down that sawdust trail.

Well, what is old in new again. John Kerry has trotted out his redemption story, and he's not alone:
Kerry is the third high-profile Democrat to give a reflective, deeply personal speech on religion and politics in recent weeks, following Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Robert P. Casey Jr., the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.

The addresses fit into a broader effort by liberal religious groups and Democratic candidates to appeal to religiously motivated voters in November's midterm elections.
I welcome this new thread of discussion to American politics. I only hope that none of these men develop a facial tic from frantically winking to their secularist supporters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Specter of the Theocracy, Part VIII

Mirror of Justice, provides a snippet of an outtake of a review of Damon Linker's book " The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege."
...If I follow Linker's story—stripped, that is, of its bombast—it goes rather like this: There is a group of articulate and influential thinkers in America who believe firmly in liberal democracy and free markets and things of that sort, but who also believe that the principles underlying modern democratic order are derived from a long history of European Christian thought regarding human authority. They are, moreover, convinced that the notion of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being is grounded in something older than liberal tradition. They also think that an impermeable "wall of separation" between public policy and private faith is an extra-constitutional and misguided principle. They believe that the lives of the unborn ought to be protected in law, and that the Supreme Court's decisions pronouncing abortion a constitutional right are a collection of willful jurisprudential fictions. They regard the traditional family as a desirable institution, believe marriage to be the union of a man and a woman, and are somewhat anxious concerning the drift of modern culture towards an ever greater coarseness and ever more pronounced indifference to innocent life.

Now, whether one agrees or not, none of these convictions is, by any sane measure, "extreme"; they all fall well within one of the broad main currents of American political and social thought. Nor are any of the historical claims involved particularly fantastic (though Linker knows too little of the history of ideas to see this). Nor, surely, is it any secret that persons holding such views have supported George Bush in both of his presidential campaigns, and that some of them continue to offer him advice. Nor, as far as I can tell, has anyone among the "theocons" made any attempt to keep it a secret. If these men are in fact "radicals," they are far and away the most unadventurous radicals ever to have appeared on our political horizon...

When Linker actually describes the methods employed by the theocon conspiracy, it turns out that they consist principally in encouraging Christians to vote for conservative politicians who will use legislation, referenda, constitutional amendments, and court appointments to frustrate the secularist agenda. Moreover, though Linker speaks of the decade 1984–1994 as the period of the theocons "stealth campaign" to seize power, he can only report that they advanced their cause in those years by founding magazines and think tanks, seeking funding for both, associating with conservative forces within the Catholic Church, and forging ties between conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals.

This is all very cunning, I expect, but I believe the customary term for such methods is "democratic politics" (though I am prepared to be corrected on this)...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bizarro World

I don't think I am alone in feeling that I have become trapped in some kind of Bizarro World. Three items:
  • Grand Mufti Sheik Mohammed Rashid Kabbani: "The pope's remarks emanated either from ignorance and lack of knowledge or were deliberately intended to distort Islam. Reason is the substance of Islam and its teachings ... Islam prohibited violence in human life."
Maybe the Grand Mufti Sheik could spend a few moments to condemn his co-religionists from murdering helpless women.

I really don't think that this kind of behavior can be accomodated. I don't think that you can blame the rest of the world for the loony, murderous acts of these people.

We must condemn it. We must not excuse it. We must not say that it is in any way justified.

Friday, September 15, 2006


I'm having to mediate a dispute between Blogger Beta and the corporate firewall. So here are some blog posts that have been langushing.

The Work of Optimism

Of the anniversary of 9/11, James Lileks writes about the upcoming movie The Path to 9/11:
Just so you know: 9/11 reset the clock for me. All hands went to midnight. I'm interested in what people did after that date, and if the movie shows that before the attack one side lacked feck and the other was feck-deficient, I don't worry about it. It's like revisiting Congressional debates about Hawaiian harbor security in November 1941. Y'all get a pass. The Etch-A-Sketch's turned over. Now: what have you said lately?
And on pessimism in our culture:
The news is never good. If the economy's up, there's an expert on hand from the Institute of the Possible Downside warning about unforseen pressure on the bond market, softening housing, hardening tensions, turgid wage growth, and explosive release of inflationary pressures. Have a cigarette. Was it bad for you?

TV news gives me the same impression, which is why I avoid it. All those earnest faces. Good evening, we're deeply concerned, and powerless to do anything about it. Although we hope you infer from our brows the need to contact someone, and urge action on this issue. Now here's a baby giraffe.

The formulation seems simple: The continued existence of problems at this late date in human history implies that we're regressing. We're screwing up, we've lost it, and we wander confused amongst the morass of the malaise and vice versa. Hard times, brother. Hard times. I'm not saying they should pretend we live in the Republic of Happy Bunnies Who Pee Champagne, but for God's sake, sometimes you'd think the bread lines snaked from the Hoovervilles to the soup kitchens again. I'm probably confusing the sugar-coated recollections of early youth with actual history, but I grew up with a sense of optimism and confidence in the country. That really makes me sound like Mr. McFartus shakin' a whittlin' stick at the jaunty-hatted younguns, I know. But the icons in my dim early youth, either by absence or presence, were JFK and Humphrey. They weren't defeatists, and they didn't give off that rank stink of anger.

Of course, someone who's angry about different things is always unbalanced, right? I'm sure I'm regarded as a delusional tool because I worry more about Islamicists than global warming. But it comes back again to that theme I blathered about a few weeks ago, the idea of the eternal adolescent strain in American culture; to the adolescent, the cynic is the truth-teller. The optimists are the fools. (It takes an adolescent to think that people who believe in nothing are the best judges of those who believe in something.) It's all a pose, for the most part, but after a while it feeds on itself. Pessimism produces its own coal, stokes its own furnaces. Optimism is harder. Optimism takes work. You have to roll your own.

People don't seem to remember the gloom of the late 1970's when it seemed that we were trapped in "stagflation," suffering from malaise, and waiting for Japan to eat our economic lunch (cf. the book and movie Rising Sun.)

Into that gloom came Ronald Reagan. Admirers and critics alike recognized his sunny optimism. And that optimism carried him into two terms in the White House. Are there any Democrats lining up for 2008 who are optimistic? Heck, are there any optimistic Republicans?

Not Imperial Enough?

Wretchard comments on some re-thinking of the War on Terror:
The genuine tone of amazement in the WSJ is a reminder of how poorly understood the military role of the War on Terror has been, especially in Iraq... The point is that from the beginning the Administration's War on Terror was never primarily military; it was always -- even from the days of the First Fallujah campaign -- fundamentally a political war and continues to be to this day, as the continued existence of Moqtada al-Sadr illustrates.

...The military's prosecution of a politico/military campaign can be viewed as an attempt to compensate for the failure of other aspects of American power (diplomatic, development and informational) to project themselves into the field. It's a Band-Aid to compensate for the absence of institutions which America, if it were truly an imperial power, would have had. But America will never have a BBC, which was itself the evolutionary product of Imperial Britain. Yet America has its own sources of strength, including media industries which enabled it to dominate the popular culture of the world. The most serious question posed by the WSJ article is not whether the politico/military approach is the correct approach, but whether such a broad campaign can be prosecuted by so limited an agency as the US military without the rest of America's "soft power" behind it.
Perhaps we need to do is to go full-out Imperial and appoint some aristocracy. Hillary Clinton for Duchess of Bagdad?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Oh, Jeeze...

Via Day at a Glance:
Anglican dean compares terrorist bombers to the 'violent passion' of Jesus

The Anglican Communion - seen by many Christians as being a sort of Huffington Post of Christendom - apparently has added another clerical eccentric to its ranks. After a series of well-publicized rifts, including some led by bishops who deny the Resurrection and at least one who is a practicing homosexual, the latest controversial pronouncement comes from the Rev. Canon Philip Gray, chaplain to the Bishop of Blackburn, who compared the actions of the London tube bombers to Jesus:
We cannot simply ignore the violent passion of Jesus cleansing the temple with whips. We are never told of the collateral damage possibly resulting from his actions. In the Christian tradition we rejoice over the passionate commitment and bloody deaths of numerous martyrs.

We need to consider deeply the fact that the same religious passion and spiritual single-mindedness lies at the heart of a London bomber and a Christian crusader.

According to the Yorkshire Post, Gray's remarks appeared in the Blackburn diocesan newsletter.
It seems that there is no end of professing "Christians" who are eager to trivialize their own beliefs and the suffering of people.

I mean really. "Collateral damage?"

Proximate Causes

The Constant Reader will know that I trace the decline of the Democratic Party to 1968. However, the recent crack-up of the party has a more proximate cause.

The declining trend in the Democratic Party from 1968 to 1998 forced a crisis. The result of that crisis was the election of George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000, the Republican gain in Congressional seats in 2002, and the re-election of G.W.B. over John Kerry in 2004. The trend led to the crisis; the crisis led into the crack-up.

So what were the trend, the crisis, and the crack-up?

The trend was the Democrats gradualy slipping from being the majority party. The crisis was the collapse of the Clinton Presidency. The crack-up was the descent of the left-wing of the Democratic Party into conspriacy theory paranoia.

David Limbaugh's new book, Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today's Democratic Party, Mr. Limbaugh dissects the decline of the Democratic Party and discusses the trend, the crisis, and the crack-up. He is interviewed at National Review Online:
It's hard to pinpoint an exact date, but I think the party sold its soul during the Clinton years, when it circled the wagons around a felonious president instead of doing the honorable thing. It embraced, rather than repudiated, a thoroughly corrupt president in exchange for holding on to political power. It seems that the party's electoral successes were tied to Clinton's cult of personality. He was able to keep them afloat temporarily, but ultimately it was their dependence on him that sunk the Democrats.
Note: I am completely convinced that had Al Gore in 1999 made a "more in sorrow than in anger" speech where he distanced himself from Clinton's behavior while embracing Clintonian centrism, he would have taken the presidency by a 7-10 percent margin. His unqualified embracing of Clinton ("our greatest president") exposed his shallowness and opportunism.
The party is not about the centrism Clinton pretended to champion. It is about advancing a far-left agenda. Poll after poll reveals that liberalism is a minority position in this country today — not the equal portion of a 50/50 nation that liberals still pray it is. As I discuss in the closing pages of my book, even James Carville has virtually reconciled himself to the reality that for now, at least, the Democratic party is a minority party.

Herein lies the key to answering your question. The party's unmitigated angst is largely tied to its loss of power. It simply cannot abide having lost control of the legislative branch it ruthlessly dominated for four decades. But even more, it cannot accept consistently losing the executive branch, especially after Clinton's eight years gave them reason for such optimism. Their conviction of their majority status and their entitlement to the executive branch gave way to collective shock and disbelief after the 2000 election results. How could they possibly have lost given Clinton's reputed record of peace and prosperity?

The Democrats rejected the loss in 2000 and put the country through hell trying to manufacture reasons to discredit the results in Florida, and thus the national results. In the process, which I meticulously document, they further debased themselves. In their utter failure to steal the 2000 election and to vindicate themselves finally in 2004, they have become completely embittered. Today they are driven not by an alternative policy agenda, but on a singular, myopic hatred for George W. Bush. I have retraced the unfolding of these events, including highlights of their unforgivable behavior in 2000, not to refight old battles, but to provide some insight into what has driven this party to utter distraction and aimlessness when it comes to policy.
So what will the Democrats do in 2008? Could they possibly try to "run against Bush?" Well, it's said that generals always fight the last war. Democrats need to shake off the netroots and not run the presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2004 over again.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Belief and Non-belief

As a follow-up to the story about the kidnapped journalists being freed, Mark Steyn muses on the importance of the conversion itself:
It's striking how, for all this alleged multiculti sensitivity, we're mostly entirely insensitive to other cultures: We find it all but impossible to imagine how differently they view the world. Go back to that video in which Fox's Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig announced their conversion to Islam. The moment the men were released, the Western media and their colleagues wrote off the scene as a stunt, a cunning ruse, of no more consequence than yelling "Behind you! He's got a gun!" and then kicking your distracted kidnapper in the teeth. Indeed, a few Web sites seemed to see the Islamic conversion routine as a useful get-out-of-jail-free card.

...for the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled, go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.

But that's not how the al-Jazeera audience sees it. If you're a Muslim, the video is anything but meaningless. Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to trade...
Mrs. Islander and I were talking about this subject the other day. Knowing that the terrorists would never release a video of my unbowed head--that without explanation my body would be found dumped by the side of some dusty road--that there would be no monument nor rememberence in this world to my defiance--would I stand firm?

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