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Knights, Not Lackeys

            Two U. S. Supreme Court decisions of this past week have generated some of the most hysterical rhetorical hyperbole ever heard and seen. It almost makes one long for the halcyon late 1960s and early ‘70s. Some of the milder descriptions of the Court’s opinions were to the effect of them producing political, legal, and a social earthquake. The Dobbs opinion that declared the issue of whether abortion is to be legal, regulated, or banned was for each state to decide and overruled the 49 year old Roe v. Wade case. Abortion, being one of, if not the most, divisive issues of the last half century, Dobbs set the wires, airwaves, and cyberspace on the most fire.

            Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen took up the issue of the New York law that prohibited individuals from carrying a handgun outside their home also had serious Constitutional significance.  The New York law made licensing individuals to carry a handgun outside their home to be at the discretion of a public official and only if the individual could demonstrate a “special need” to the official’s satisfaction. The Court said the Constitutional right protected by the Second Amendment could not be subject to the whim of the government.

            Subordinate in the public consciousness but not entirely ignored was what happened to the lawyers who prevailed in Bruen.

            Paul Clement and Erin Murphy were told by their law firm Kirkland & Ellis that they could not represent any more clients in gun rights cases or would have to leave the firm to do so. Apparently, Kirkland, a “white shoe” Wall Street and D.C. firm was afraid of offending their “progressive” big business clients. Clement and Murphy did not hesitate; they left, and reportedly intend to form their own independent practice. It is worth quoting their stated reasons:

“There was only one choice: We couldn’t abandon our clients simply because their positions are unpopular in some circles.

“Some may find this notion strange or quaint. Many businesses drop clients or change suppliers as convenience dictates. To others, the firm’s decision will seem like one more instance of acceding to the demands of the woke. But law firms aren’t supposed to operate like ordinary businesses. Lawyers owe a duty of loyalty to their clients.

“A lawyer can withdraw from a representation for good reason, like a newly discovered conflict of interest [or not getting paid, if that was a condition of representation from the start]. But defending unpopular clients is what we do. The rare individuals and companies lucky enough to be universally popular (for the time being) have less need for lawyers. And the least popular clients are most in need of representation, from the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre to the defendant in the Boston Marathon bombing.”

The primary duty of a lawyer is to zealously represent the client within the bounds of the law. That is not to say that lawyers must represent or advocate a position they find repugnant or frivolous, and they may not suborn perjury, whether by the client or another witness. There are rules promulgated by the judiciaries of the several states and the federal courts as to how lawyers must conduct themselves. It’s also been said that a lawyer should be careful in choosing his clients. But once chosen, a duty of loyalty attaches, and to some degree, like keeping client confidentiality, remains even after the representation ends.

A one-time client, who was also a lawyer and had been an appellate judge, expressed to me his ideal that lawyers should strive to knights, not lackeys. That ideal is why the wannabe socialist dictator Jack Cade’s henchman Dick the Butcher proposed to first kill all of the lawyers. Henry VI, part 2; Act 4, Scene 2.

  Asides

Paul Clement represented the National Rife Association in McDonald v. City of Chicago,  561 U.S. 742 (2010), where the Supreme Court ruled that the right of an individual to “keep and bear arms”, as protected under the Second Amendment, is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is thereby enforceable against the states.

Historically, the term “white-shoe” conveyed class envy and a ridicule of the Ivy League educated effete. The wealthy could afford special shoes for boating, tennis, and other genteel pursuits, and in the summer they wore white bucks—perhaps with a bow tie and a seersucker suit—to the exclusive Wall Street firms where they worked. School connections played a central role in maintaining the boundaries of the white-shoe class. In 1962, more than 70 percent of the lawyers in Wall Street law firms had graduated from Harvard, Columbia, or Yale. See Elizabeth Chambliss, The Shoe Still Fits, Legal Affairs September/ October 2005 . See httphttps://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/September-October-2005/toa_sepoct05.msps://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/September-October-2005/toa_sepoct05.msp

Clement successfully argued Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 570 U.S. 637 (2013). This was a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States that righted a terrible wrong visited upon a child and adoptive family. In Baby Girl, the Court ruled that several sections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) do not apply to Amerindian biological fathers who are not custodians of an Amerindian child. The court held that the procedures required by the ICWA to end parental rights do not apply when the child has never lived with the father. Additionally, the requirement to make extra efforts to preserve the Amerindian family also does not apply, nor is the preferred placement of the child in another Amerindian family required when no other party has formally sought to adopt the child.

Given the number of women who have entered the legal profession, perhaps the “knight” appellation is not strictly appropriate. In Great Britain and many Commonwealth nations, the title “Dame” is the female equivalent for Knight. Numerous prominent and accomplished women have been so recognized by the Queen. Here in the U.S., unfortunately, that word has served, in some parts of the country, as generic slang, not exactly offensive but not complementary, for any female.

For the lawyers and judges, as well as informed layperson, who may be reading, I wonder if the Dobbs opinion to the extent it overruled Roe v. Wade was an obiter dictum, legal speak for a court’s statement that is not necessary to decide the case, and thus not binding precedent. Chief Justice Roberts’ concurring opinion deems to indicate it might be. Perhaps more grist for the judicial mill.

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78 & Counting

On this June 6, its is again appropriate to repeat an essay I wrote and published almost a decade ago (with an update). Here goes.

The pleasant town of Bayeux in northern France is famous for its eponymous tapestry depicting the events leading to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Across from the railway station there is a café that serves cold beer and the apple cider the region is also famous for. That establishment bears a sign in English “Welcome to our liberators.” The sign might appear to be incongruous to some of us, except that ten kilometers to the northwest is a bluff overlooking a sandy expanse along the English Channel that for the past seventy-five years has been known to the world as Omaha Beach.

Many words will be written and spoken on this 77th anniversary of D-Day, the beginning of what General Eisenhower called the “Great Crusade” to end the Nazi occupation of Europe, and ultimately win World War II. Today, the word “crusade” is politically incorrect in some circles as being offensive to those who have vowed to kill us and actually have achieved some success in doing so. And we have become accustomed to euphemisms, direct and to the point speech being too harsh for our sensitive ears. That is just as well. The loudest, and most eloquent, statements to be made come from the 10,000 American graves at the top of the cliff and the sound of the waves below.

When visiting the beach even this long after the fact, it is not difficult to picture the horror and chaos experienced by the soldiers and sailors who stormed ashore that day. The Germans had fortified nearly the entire coastline of France, as well as the coasts of other occupied countries, into what was called the Atlantic Wall. Various barriers and obstacles had been placed in the water offshore to prevent landing craft from reaching dry land, and to channel invaders into killing zones covered by machine gun bunkers dug into the 100 feet high cliffs above. This required the assault to be made at low tide, leaving a 300 yard open expanse of sand to traverse before the slightest natural cover could be reached. Above the high tide line is another 50 yard stretch of loose sand. Walking unencumbered on loose sand can be difficult; running with 60 pounds of weaponry and equipment, all the while facing withering small arms and artillery fire, has to have been a nearly superhuman feat. Many of the invaders did not make it; that so many did is a credit to the quality of the military training and preparation, as well as the fortitude and power of the survival instinct of the troops. The actual film footage in the Normandy episode of the Victory at Sea documentary demonstrated some of the difficulty, but the bloodiest parts had to have been edited to make it suitable for a 1950s home audience. The fictional first 24 minutes of the film Saving Private Ryan might more accurately portray the horror and difficulty of the assault, but still may be an understatement.

Eisenhower said in his address to the American, British, and Canadian service members who were about to land on the beaches: Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. They were about to discover that he got that right.

It could have been worse. A major part of the plan was to deceive the defenders as to where and when the attack would be made. As previously mentioned, the entire coast-line was fortified. The defending German army was battle-hardened, and exceptionally well-led by Field Marshals Gerd von Runstedt and Erwin Rommel. Their main problem was manpower and munitions. Five years of war, and the continuing demands of the Russian front in the east made critical to the defenders the knowledge of the place and time of the landings. The deception, with some cooperation from the weather, worked. The German defenders were caught off guard at Normandy, and were unable to bring the full weight of their forces to bear until a beachhead was established. But in spite of the withering fire and the obstructions, even Omaha Beach was taken by day’s end. The Americans didn’t get much farther that day, though, and the casualties were huge. This beachhead, established by those soldiers, whose ranks are now thinning day by day, made it possible to end the war in Europe. Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered eleven months and two days after D-Day. Those few that are left, and those who passed before them, merit the gratitude of us all.

For every victor there is a vanquished. So it must be added that within five years of the victory, the United States, and to some degree Great Britain and France, have become allies, if not friends with Germany during forty years of Cold War, and beyond. There was no doubt then, or today, that the German Army was fighting on behalf of evil masters and a bad cause. Soldiers, most of whom in World War II were not fighting because they wanted to, can nevertheless fight honorably for an ignoble cause (or dishonorably for a good cause, for that matter). Soldiers know this, and once the fighting is over, they are often more inclined than the civilians far from the horrors to let bygones be bygones.

A poignant story related in a British history magazine relates the ordeal of two soldiers, an American and a German defender who shot him at Omaha Beach. Both survived the war. Heinrich Severloh manned a machinegun in a bunker in the cliff. He estimated that he fired over 12,000 rounds before he ran out of ammunition for it, and then picked up his carbine to continue shooting at the attacking Americans. Three of Severloh’s rounds hit David Silva, as he and other GIs were scrambling for cover on the beach. The German was later captured and held in a POW camp until some time after the end of the war. He was repatriated in 1946 and took up farming. After reading Cornelius Ryan’s book The Longest Day, published in 1959, Severloh learned that he was the one shot Silva. In 1963, the two former adversaries met each other in Germany. Silva, by that time had taken Holy Orders as a Catholic priest. The two formed a friendship, as former soldiers who fought honorably for opposing sides are often known to do, and corresponded for many years. They both suffered of the circumstances that attend the fog and maelstrom of war.

But the story of Severloh and Silva’s later relationship is only an aside. The honor today goes to Silva and his fellow servicemen who stormed the beaches on the fateful day. They we salute.

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Guns and the Global Village

I have been a member of the National Rifle Association for decades and have supported most of their policies regarding Second Amendment rights. I still do. The right of individuals to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, but like other fundamental rights protected by our Constitution, limitations must be more than reasonable. They must address a compelling governmental interest. And even more, they must be narrowly tailored to further that interest.

Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan recently said something to the effect that we did not ban airplanes after 9/11, so why should we ban guns after miscreants misuse them. Most analogies break down if pushed too far, and I’m not sure Mr. Jordan’s is completely on point. I do believe, however, that some measures should be taken by Texas to reduce the likelihood that firearms will not get into the wrong hands.

Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins last week wrote a column in which he suggested that social media could consider developing algorithms to flag extremist and violent threats, and provide them to law enforcement, and perhaps other public services. This would not be probable cause for arrest or the basis for disarming certain individuals that make threats, of make other intemperate remarks but law enforcement could pay them a visit and interview them, and alert possible targets. This might be worth considering. If such individuals are aware that there being looked at — known to the police — it might have some deterrent effect.

One aspect of the Uvalde perpetrator’s obtaining his weapons from a licensed dealer should be examined. This guy purchased two AR-15 platform rifles, one of which retails for more than $1800. No AR retails for less than around $1000. Ammunition is also expensive. Buying them off the street would not have cost much less, if not more. Where did a 18-year-old unemployed school dropout obtain that kind of money? Did he steal it, perhaps from his grandmother, who he shot? Anyway, legal or not, a licensed dealer should have recognized, and use some discretion, or at least expedited notification of the sale of multiple firearms to one person. If this transaction was not a red flag, there’s no cows in Texas.

Another possible measure could be to raise the age requirement for firearms purchase or unsupervised possession to 21. Though the age of adulthood has been 18 for the past half-century or so, alcoholic beverages cannot be purchased until age 21. That is not to say that underage individuals would not be able to obtain weapons — they certainly do obtain alcohol. Nevertheless, it would give law enforcement another tool.

Speaking of law enforcement, police at all levels have been compromised by the perception perpetrated by the political left that use of force is always suspect. No doubt there has been some overreaction by law officers, including the ones in the notorious 2020 Minneapolis situation, but they all involved individuals who were committing a crime, egregiously disturbing the peace, or resisting arrest. None of the so-called victims of police brutality could have been described as model citizens. The net effect has been reluctant for police to be proactive in attempting to prevent crime. When law enforcement breaks down, vigilantism is bound to take over. No sane person would want that.

As for the proliferation of firearms, it will continue. There are gun shows in this state several times each month. If there is one this weekend, it probably would be necessary to park in a ZIP Code away from the location to attend. The shows always have signs nominating prominent a number of public personas for gun salesman of the year — I understand Joe Biden is the current front runner. (Perhaps it should be pointed out that there is no “gun show loophole” in the identification and background checks by attending dealers. Individual private sales, whether by those attending, either there or elsewhere on the street occur on a daily basis. Anyway, selling a firearm to an individual who is ineligible to buy or possess one, is a crime whether one is a licensed dealer or not.)

Many of those supporting severe restrictions on purchase and possession of guns, or types of guns and accessories, try to compare the United States with other nations. They often bring up Great Britain and Australia. This is not helpful. No other country in the world has a multiplicity of cultures and demographics that the United States has. Australia banned most firearms after a particularly horrible mass shooting. It is pointed out that there had been one in that country since. What is not typically pointed out is that Australia did not have very much violence, and hardly any mass shootings, prior to enacting that measure. Perhaps a more useful comparison might be with the Czech Republic where restrictions on firearms and the number of owners is comparable to the U.S. There is very little violence involving firearms in that country. It, of course, is culturally homogenous.

The increase of violence, with or without the use of firearms, here in the United States over the past several decades is doubtless a result of many factors. The proliferation of guns in the hands of ordinary citizens is more the effect of these causes, rather than the other way around. One possible culprit to be examined, though little can be done about it, is social media itself. That phenomenon has all of the drawbacks of living in a village, without the benefits. In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan wrote extensively about media, which he called the extensions of man. McLuhan was observing broadcast radio and television, as well as refinement of all telecommunications. He didn’t foresee the half of it. McLuhan also coined the term “global village” to describe what was coming. Advantages of living in a village or small town include social and economic cooperation, and informal mores and folkways that make for a pleasant quality of life. One of the drawbacks of living in such a place is that everybody knows everybody else’s private business. Nags and busybodies rule the roost. Those whose activities, expressed opinions, or even thoughts are disfavored or ostracized. Eccentricity, no matter if plainly harmless, is not tolerated. The ultimate sanction, of course, is shunning.

An observation made after one of the previous school shootings was that a small number of human beings are insane. There’s really nothing to be done. The “do something” cry is as insipid as the “thoughts and prayers” mantra. Not sure how this will shake out, but it has been in the making for a long time.

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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.