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Debacle

Tesla and PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted:

“I hereby challenge [Vladimir Putin] to single combat,” Musk wrote, using Putin’s Russian name.

“He added, “Stakes are [Ukraine],” using the Ukrainian spelling for Ukraine.

“In Cyrillic script and tagging the Kremlin’s official account, Musk asked, “Do you agree to this fight?”

Absurd? Probably, but it seems like a good idea. Putin likes to portray himself as muscular and accomplished in the martial arts. Don’t know about Musk, but he’s quite a bit taller than Putin.

Emile Zola, in his novel about the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), aptly titled (in French) Le Débâcle, portrayed a soldier on his way to the battlefield musing thus:

“If Badinguet [satirical sobriquet for Napoleon III] and Bismarck have a quarrel, let them go to work with their fists and fight it out and not involve some hundreds of thousands of men who don’t even know each other by sight and have not the slightest desire to fight.” — Zola: The Downfall, chap. ii. (1892)(translated by E. P. Robins)

Wonder how the Russian soldiers taking this. Ukrainians are fighting for their existence. Either way the war ends, it will be a debacle for both.

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Winning a Rock

“A victory? What have we won? We’ve won a rock in the middle of a wasteland, on the shores of a poisoned sea.” — General Lucis Flavis Silva (attributed in the 1981 TV miniseries Masada, based on the historical novel The Antigonists, by Ernest K. Gann)

Silva was speaking of the Roman final conquest of the Jewish Zealots’ redoubt Masada on a mountain above the Dead Sea in 75 A.D. The defenders, except for a few women were all dead when the surrounding wall was breached after a lengthy seige.

This quote, apocryphal though it probably is, may signal the result of Vladimir Putin’s conquest of Ukraine, assuming he succeeds. It appears he will win only a wasteland, and maybe a poisoned one at that.

The siege of Masada by the Roman army was described by Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus during the Jewish-Roman War. The siege occurred between 73 and 74 after the fall of Jerusalem, destruction of the Temple, and the subsequent diaspora.

Another quote, probably a paraphrase, that the Russians and our leaders should take note of: “Not sure how World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

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“We Want Them Broken”

“DID YOU REALLY THINK THAT WE WANT THOSE LAWS TO BE Observed? We Want Them Broken. You better get it straight that it is not a bunch of boy scouts you are up against — then you’ll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We’re after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you had better get wise to it. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted — and you create a nation of lawbreakers — and then you cash in on guilt. Now that is the system, that is the game, once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.” Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957, 25th Anniversary Ed. 1992) p. 411).

Piracy, smuggling, counterfeiting, and treason are the only federal crimes mentioned in the United States Constitution. How many federal crimes has Congress created?

The Saturday (January 22, 2022) Wall Street Journal published an editorial that stated: “In the 2019 United States Code, [the Heritage Foundation and George Mason University’s Mercatus Center] found 1,510 criminal sections. By examining some of those sections at random, they estimated that they encompass 5,199 crimes in total. The Heritage Foundation report notes that ‘there is no single place where any citizen can go to learn’ all federal criminal laws, and even if there were, some ‘are so vague that . . . no reasonable person could understand what they mean.’

* * *

“But even when it comes to conduct everyone agrees should be criminal, the inexorable expansion of the Code has serious consequences for justice and federalism. The Constitution envisioned that most lawbreaking would be handled by state governments, while the federal government’s jurisdiction would be narrower.

* * *

“Both political parties should recognize the risks of an ever-expanding roster of federal crimes, which invites abuse by prosecutors. How about a commitment by Congress to re-examine the necessity of an existing crime for every new one it creates?”

The Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus Center appear to have done a large part of the job for identifying obscure criminal statutes. But what about the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)? The offices of U. S. Representatives and Senators have become, for most members, a sinecure; that is, a position of being paid for status, rather doing productive work. Congress has delegated broad powers in making regulations, even powers to criminalize conduct, to the various boards, commissions, and agencies created by a myriad of statutes. The so-called experts that run those organizations can declare citizens to become felons, without express Congressional approval, by criminalizing conduct of which they disapprove.

Much of the current abuses of federal criminal law involve the regulatory offenses that have no mens rea (criminal intent, knowledge, or recklessness) element. This appears to be against fundamental fairness and due process, but so far courts have been reluctant to rule the lack of such mens rea is fatal to a prosecution for violation of many of those regulatory offenses. There may be hope as the present composition of the Supreme Court seems to be in favor of reining in administrative fiat and executive ukase.

This writer believes There are two measures that would go a long way to ameliorate this situation. (1) Rewrite the Federal Criminal Code and put EVERY violation that calls for a fine or imprisonment in Title 18 of the United States Code, the present criminal code, where everyone can see and read it. If it is not in Title 18, it cannot be a crime. (2) Enact a statute (might take a Constitutional Amendment, but that is political heavy lifting), that makes it clear that NO criminal offense can be created by administrative fiat or executive order. Write (OK, email) you view to your Representative and Senator.

Note: for additional reading on this issue, recommend Three Felonies a Day by Harvey Silverglate (2009). Mr. Silverglate is a lawyer based in Massachusetts, who has extensive “white collar” criminal defense experience. Silverglate, along with University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors, founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.thefire.org), and organization that advocates for and defends students, faculty members, and other employees in free speech and expression issues (on both sides of the political spectrum).

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Recent significant news.

If there was any doubt that the Democratic Party, at least in Arizona and probably in the rest of the country, is today led by fools, there is now proof. Thet Party censured Senator Krysten Sinema for not following its national leadership in getting rid of the filibuster — the requirement that it takes 60 Senators to bring a bill to the floor for a vote. They thus converted Sinema from a party pariah into a martyr.

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Russian Epiphany

The end of the Christmas season in the Western Christian traditions occurs on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the day the Magi from the East visited the recently born Jesus. The eve is often celebrated as Twelfth Night. For Eastern Christians, who include Russian Orthodox Church, Christmas is celebrated according to the Julian calendar; that is, on the West’s January 7. This difference makes the Russian Epiphany January 19, today. (Note 1)

      Over a decade ago columnist David Ignatius recommended then President Obama to prepare for a visit to Russia by reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s great work The Brothers Karamazov. As a vehicle for understanding the Russian psyche, Ignatius had a point, and I refer those interested to his Washington Post column. (Note 2) I now suggest that the current President would benefit from reading at least “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter of that novel, not primarily to understand Russia, but the United States of America.

Like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who some consider his 20th Century literary counterpart, Dostoevsky had been an army officer who was stripped of his rank and imprisoned in Siberia for allegedly seditious behavior.  While in prison, the only book he was allowed was the Bible, and he became profoundly familiar with it by the time he was released.  It was from the perspective of an Orthodox Christian that he wrote his great novels, including his last,  The Brothers Karamazov. “The Grand Inquisitor” (Book V, Chapter 5) is a story within a story.  While it is integral to the theme of this novel, it can be read by itself. It is a parable that is a profound explication of the three temptations Satan presented Jesus with during his desert sojourn (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:2-12 (KJV)). This passage is a commentary on the human condition that cuts to the heart of the continuing tension between freedom and security. It is at once the boldest justification for authoritarian power and a simple refutation of that justification. “The Grand Inquisitor” is thus no less than a guide for selecting our leaders according to their vision, and a vision of what direction our country should take. “For in those three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is . . . brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature.”

      The occasion of Dostoevsky’s tale is a meeting between two of the four brothers. These two are the point and counterpoint of the novel. Alexei (sometimes called Alyosha) is a committed Orthodox Christian and novice monk. Ivan, an intellectual and journalist, is a declared atheist. Despite their diametrically opposite beliefs the brothers have great affection toward each other. Ivan has written that without God, without immortality, everything is permissible. (That belief becomes the justification for the murder of their father by one of the brothers, and is one of the most often quoted lines from the novel.) He composes a parable to explain to Alyosha why in such a state of being, man craves authority and security. Ivan’s story is set in Fifteenth Century Seville in Spain at the time in the Inquisition was at its height. The Grand Inquisitor, an aged cardinal of the Roman Church, probably drawn from the real life Inquisitor General Tomas Torquemada, and his minions are busy rooting out heretics, burning them at the stake in great numbers. After a particularly busy auto de fe in which more than two hundred heretics were burned, Jesus appears in the town among the people, not in the expected glory of His Second Coming, but as He was in His ministry fifteen centuries before. The Grand Inquisitor arrests and imprisons Jesus. Later the old cardinal comes to see Him and explains how Jesus misjudged human nature, and did not help, but confused humanity by giving men freedom, when that is the last thing most human beings really want. “Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that gift of freedom,” the right with which he is created that only he, willingly, can alienate, and so often does just that.

      The Inquisitor then explains the meaning of the temptations and Jesus’ rejection of them.  These are, first: the suggestion that Jesus turn the stones in the desert into bread to feed himself – that is, His human nature – after a lengthy fast; the second: the proposition that Jesus awe men by leaping from the top of the temple and have angels rescue him, thus demonstrating his divine powers; and the third: that He assume temporal domination over all the realms of the earth, and create a universal state. Jesus rejects all. Jesus does not want humankind to be fed, entertained, and dominated. He wants men to be free to obtain bread, circuses, and security, if they will. Some will fail and some will not; some will sin and some will not. They are free to chose between the good and the evil; that is the terrifying prospect.

      When faced with a choice between freedom and security, the Grand Inquisitor avers, the vast majority of mankind will choose the latter every time. Security brings man happiness; freedom brings man angst and unhappiness. Life ends; liberty brings insecurity and uncertainty; the pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand. Jesus is the most dangerous threat to his Church (as it was constituted in 15th Century Europe, when Papal corruption was at its height) of all because he brought humankind the offer of freedom. But the masses to whom He offered that freedom will join the Grand Inquisitor in burning Him who comes to hinder the Church’s work in providing security and happiness.  “For if anyone has ever deserved our fires,” says the Grand Inquisitor, “it is Thou. Tomorrow I shall burn Thee. I have spoken.” Jesus is not to be burnt, however. Not having spoken a word – all Revelation was given to the Church of old and “Thou has no right to add anything,” according to the Inquisitor – Jesus merely approaches the Grand Inquisitor, and as he did to Judas in the Garden, kisses him on his “bloodless aged lips.” Shaken to his core by  Jesus’s silent act, the Grand Inquisitor says “‘Go, and come no more . . . come not at all, never, never!’ And he let Him out into the dark alleys of the town.”

      What can we make of this parable?  How is it relevant to the current political landscape?  Dostoevsky’s perspective was that of a devout Orthodox Christian who viewed the Roman Church of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, not the Catholic Church of today, as the paradigm of authoritarianism. The Church’s Pope and princes were really atheists displaying the facade of Christianity. Substitute the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Enlightenment philosophers – Bacon, Newton, Locke, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine – for Jesus, and Communism, National Socialism, or Orwell’s Oligarchical Collectivism, for the Inquisitor, and the story is the same.  Most human beings will give up liberty in exchange for security every time, and with inevitably horrendous results.

      We today must ask what is the price for bread and circuses, sustenance and security. Those now attempting some serious extensions of the role of our national government are not explicitly saying these will given in exchange for freedom, but that is what they mean.  The subtle – and in the long run, more persuasive – inducement is not a promise of safety and security, but that it will save millions of creatures the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making free decisions. That offer’s implicit promise is that it will bestow the economic bounty on everyone equally. The exceptions, those who will have a surfeit of that bounty, of course will be the few who will rule over the masses, George Orwell’s Inner Party, if you will. Continuing the 1984 allusion, the elite will have the burden of regimenting the functionaries – the Outer Party – who run the day to day operations with varying degrees of inefficiency. The great mass of the people – Orwell’s Proles – do not care, so long as they are fed, entertained, and provided with a modicum of perceived safety and security. They will rather suffer equally so long as they do not have to take a chance on the possibility of prospering or perhaps suffering alone.

      Those who preceded the current policymakers have not been much different. The main distinction is that influential elements embraced St. Paul’s authoritarian message for Jesus’s more subtle message of freedom. In that respect, their attitude is not too distinct from the pre-reformation Roman Church. This is most characterized by the emphasis on orthodoxy in thought, legalistic rationalizations for public policy (rather than sound public policy reasons for laws –  the tail wagging the dog syndrome), and insistence on coercive enforcement of private behavior standards. Where our society historically had it right, however, has been its emphasis on economic freedom, without which personal freedom is meaningless or impossible. 

      Dostoevsky’s theology aside, there is a nugget of understanding in his parable relevant to us today. Jesus rejects the temptations with an affirmation of freedom. The Grand Inquisitor is free to believe what he will. “The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.”  As Dostoevsky saw it, the Grand Inquisitor’s Church is not a religion at all, but an authoritarian society which rejects freedom for altruism, the supposed love of, but in reality, contempt for mankind. The Enlightenment affirmed freedom and rejected authoritarianism. America is the Nation of the Enlightenment; the only nation in history founded on ideas and ideals, rather than blood kinship or geographical happenstance. The central idea of the Enlightenment was liberty.  It would reject the faux Christianity of the Grand Inquisitor, and perhaps embody the message of Jesus better than the established churches ever did. We must not surrender our freedom for bread, circuses, or the illusion of security.  When we choose our leaders, it is liberty that must be our lodestar. We must nevertheless remember to reject those who would offer the illusion of certainty and sustenance, not by condemning them, but by leaving them to their ancient, bloodless notions.

(Note 1): The Russian translates as “Theophany” a visible manifestation to humankind of God.

(Note 2): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/01/AR2009070103025.html

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Merry Christmas

Some say that ever again that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated
The bird of dawning sings all night long
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; the no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch has power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene 1

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 (Handel’s Messiah, Part the First, sung in chorus)

Without question, Christmas is the premier holiday (and holy day for many) in our country, and elsewhere in most of the world, as there few places in the world where Christians, of one stripe or another, do not exist and reside. Even so, Christmas is a secular and national holiday for many of different religious traditions, and even atheists and agnostics.

All of this is for good reasons, all of which do not have to be analyzed today. Suffice to say that no individual has had the profound impact on the world of Jesus of Nazareth. Even after 2,000 years his birth that day (whichever the exact date was) is celebrated.

God bless us, every one.

— Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas to all.

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Update on 12/9 Post

For those interested, Annabelle Corboy, who ran in the first Dallas Marathon in 1971, finished the half-marathon on Sunday with a time of 2:46:01. Not bad for a 74 year-old.

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A few Items of Interest

This Sunday, December 12, is the 50th running of the Dallas Marathon (formerly known as the White Rock Marathon). The first was in 1971. Because our neighborhood is inside the route, we are pretty much trapped on Marathon Sunday morning. It may be a small inconvenience for some, but we look forward to watching. Some of our extended family members have participated.

One noteworthy participant this time will be Annabelle Corboy. She ran in the first one. Only two women participated that year; Ms. Corboy finished, the other one did not. She will be running again this year at age 74, though probably in the half-marathon (13.2 miles). That feat in 1971 — finishing a marathon— was a nevertheless a milestone. Before, and even for a while after 1971, if one saw a woman running outside wearing what is acceptable for today’s sport’s attire, their first thought would have been that she is in her underwear and being pursued by an assailant! Today, from my observations at White Rock Lake’s trail, more than half of the runners are female.

See Annabelle Corboy runs again

Like Ms. Corboy, I was inspired by Dr. Ken Cooper, the aerobics pioneer, and took up running for fitness and health that same year. Never ran a marathon, though — longest was 15 kilometers (@9.32 miles) and not close to the best time. Today, I’m a bicycle rider who shares the paths with runners, walkers, and roller-blades (and dogs, poop and all).

Reaction to the Covid-19 panic caused the Marathon to be cancelled last year. Doesn’t appear that the Omicron variant will affect this year’s running. Speaking of Omicron (the Greek short “o” appears the same as its English or Roman equivalent), there appears to be some controversy how it is pronounced. See here. Other Greek letters naming the Covid viruses’ variants have been passed over, some for fear of political incorrectness. I’m just waiting for the Omega (Ώ). The last.

Former Republican Senator and World War II veteran died last Sunday. He was laying in state in the Capitol Rotunda Thursday. Lieutenant Dole was severely wounded when he was with the 10th Mountain Division in Italy during the war in 1943. He lost the use of his right arm. Maybe he has it back. RIP.

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A Terrible Resolve – 80 Years Later

Have not posted for a while, but I could not let the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor go without notice. There are only a small number of survivors of the attack left, and all are in their late 90s or even over 100 years old, and they deserve recognition. As only a minority of Americans, me included, were alive at that time, it really is history.

What is interesting is how things change and realign. Japan and Germany, fierce adversaries in the most destructive war ever, are now our allies. Both have been economic power houses since not too long after that war ended, but have not again troubled the world. China, under Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, was an ally, but is now United States’ chief adversary. The Soviet Union has been gone for 30 years, but Russia is still, well, Russia. The Soviet era was only a change in style, not in purpose. Tsar Vladimir (who perhaps not so secretly would like to be styled if he could get away with it) is quintessentially in the Russian tradition.

Most importantly for today, remember those who died and were injured in the Pearl Harbor attack eight decades ago. Most importantly, remember, and honor those still around, who were part of the sleeping giant that was aroused and filled with a terrible resolve. They saved us all.

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Note: The “sleeping giant” is attributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and is perhaps apocryphal, not that it matters.

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Indigenous or Insane

Last month, the Dallas City Council, with a majority of whose members who wish to signal their supposed virtue, approved a paid holiday for city employees for what they decided would be called Indigenous People’s Day. It’s actually to be commemorated on October 11, a Monday, rather than the traditional October 12, which is the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus made landfall on an island in the Bahamas. When a city employee those many years ago, I suppose would have been grateful for a another paid holiday, but as a non-employee taxpayer, am now less enthusiastic. Even so, because I regard myself as indigenous, having been born in this country and hemisphere, and also recognize the heroism of the man to venture into the unknown, I observe the day, and encourage all other fellow indigenous persons to do so, along with our immigrants who have come here lawfully.

As a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, and the efforts of a number of prominent Italian-Americans, including the colorful Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno, Congress requested President Franklin Roosevelt to proclaim October 12 as a day in which the people of the United States are invited to observe the anniversary of the discovery of America. Columbus Day was made federal holiday in 1966. Such observance has recently been criticized, sometimes violently, by the left-wing in the United States.

I have posted several essays regarding the recent trashing of Christopher Columbus and various monuments to him in recent years his sin being the inauguration of European colonization and the subsequent globalization of trade, industrialization, and Western Civilization. Those interested can read the posts at these links. https://bobreagan13.com/2020/10/12/celebrate-columbus-day/

Last year’s post mentioned one Richard Taylor, an adjunct professor of history at St. John’s College in Queens, one of New York City’s boroughs. Taylor was disciplined and ultimately fired for opening a discussion in his class as to whether the benefits outweighed some of the negatives of the globalization that Columbus’ voyages of discovery began. The professor was accused of all kinds of supposed heinousness, which amounted to being politically incorrect in a university where some students with nothing better to do denounced him and whose administration is terrified of being non-woke. Taylor is fighting back. One Ronald Russo, a partner in a prominent New York City law firm, is representing Taylor pro bono, and with the backing of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have sued the college and several of its administrators individually. See https://www.thefire.org/taylor-v-st-johns-february-4-2021/

The FIRE has had remarkable success in defending students, faculty, and in some cases, administrators and employees of universities and colleges whose ability to examine controversial idea and academic freedom have been violated. Of course, private institutions are not necessarily held to Constitutional rights standards as are state-supported and sponsored ones. Nevertheless, a private university or college is held to the same laws concerning defamation, contract duties, and employment practices is anyone else. One hopes that Taylor is successful and St. John’s is held to its publicly stated mission of free inquiry.

Note: This writer is a donor to and supporter of The FIRE, but not otherwise affiliated with the organization.

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Fantasia or Brave New World?

Someone opined recently that Joe Biden is either the Beatles “Nowhere Man” (siting in his nowhere land) or “The Fool on the Hill”(which could also apply to numerous members of Congress). Gerard Baker, a regular Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist came up with a even more apt characterization. “Mr. Biden is Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Walt Disney’s brilliant, nightmarish “Fantasia.” He’s seized the magician’s big hat and now everything he touches becomes a cascading waterfall of destruction.” Baker continues “The Biden presidency is a metastasizing shambles, a real-world case study in the perils of progressive impossibilism: open borders; fiscal incontinence; naive strategic idealism; mask-wielding, mandate-waving, dissent-canceling, authoritarian collectivism.”1 Amen to that.

Pres. J. Biden (with sincere apologies to Mickey and the late Walt Disney)

1. Wall Street Journal Tuesday October 5, 2021, p.17 (print edition)