26 November 2006

My readings for the future

[This was posted on another blog by an alter-ego but I thought I would put it here too, slightly altered and updated]

This month so far I've only read a few books for class, a lot of stuff on the internet, and my own writings. I have just gotten back from the library, however, and have received a box from Amazon and this is what I have to look forward to reading.

The Trojan War, by Barry Strauss. I've finished this one. It's actually a retelling of the Iliad using the latest archaeological finds. Didn't much care for it. A lot of talk about characters who are fictional, from a written account some 500 years after they may have existed. Not much factual in that aspect of it. Felt I should read it anyway after plowing through Dan Simmon's Ilium, a sci-fi version of the Iliad and a whole lot more (like "Prospero's Books" and "Forbidden Planet" for starters).

The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-European Worldby JP Mallory and DQ Adams. A lot of fun if you enjoy racing through the dictionary, but it will probably sit on my shelf as a reference for my chariot warfare project. Mallory is well known in the field of Indo-European studies and his summary of the latest theories about the PIE (Proto-Indo-European) homeland was almost worth the price by itself.

Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest, by Adrian Murdoch. "Varus! Give me back my legions!"

Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World, by Paul Cartledge. Cartledge is one of the best of the new military historians. Not sure that I buy his thesis, but then I will have to read the book to be sure.

Barbarians, by Terry Jones (yes, that Terry Jones, the one partly* responsible for 'Spam Spam Spam Spam' and "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"). Went along with a TV series. There is a picture of a particularly puckish Jones backed by a squad of samurai which seems to include at least one elf archer from LOTR (no moose though, as far as I can tell**).

What Paul Meant, by Garry Wills. I've started it and it looks very good, especially since most Christians seem to act as if they already know what this most difficult and contentious of early Christians was talking about. But I will set it aside for now since my book club has decided to read this one for January.

Murder in Amersterdam by Ian Buruma. Not a murder mystery, but one Dutchman's attempt to make sense of modern Holland and its Islamic immigrants. Fascinating as a comparison to the US and immigration.

In the Beginning; The Story of the King James Bible and How It Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture, by Alister McGrath. Wins the prize for longest title. It's great fun and I am almost finished with it. We are reading it for the Episcopal Book Club.

And, as a special nod to Claw of the Conciliator himself, all by Gene Wolfe:

The Sword of the Lictor
The Citadel of the Autarch
The Urth of the New Sun

Have no idea when I will have time to read these. And I have not yet gotten around to writing up my reaction to the first two novels of the series.

So I've got a lot of reading on my hands. It will make lovely procrastination material while I do all my grading. But I've still got Gibbons, vol. III on my hands, and The Historian - the one about Dracula by Elizabeth Kostova- that I'm reading at the office.

* along with a team of crackerjack medievalists, btw.
** although one of the horses on the cover could be a llama.

Another word on Immigration

The Washington Post has an article today about John Tanton, a man I'd never heard of, whom it claims is the mastermind behind the anti-immigration movement. It's worth a read, if for no other reason than to see how the WaPo writer sets it up as a puff piece, and then lets quotes of others cut the subject to pieces. Also notice how casually Tanton assumes that Mexico City is not part of the first world. At any rate, worth a read.

24 November 2006

What to make of Bush - a rejoinder

Kip has posted a longish reaction to my longish post on George Bush. I am off to the store with Carmen so don't have time to say much now, other than to say I still hold to everything I wrote in the original post. There is, however, an article on The Wall Street Journal that might be of interest. I can't figure out if it supports Kip's view or undermines it since it seems to start with the assumption that the War in Iraq has gone very bad indeed, but that the Bush Doctrine needs to be upheld. It also, I believe, misrepresents what the midterm elections meant, but a lot of people are doing that. Nevertheless, its a good read so here it is. Any opinions?

23 November 2006

The Democrats and Hispanics...

... the ones at home, that is. I have pointed out the problem Republicans are having maintaining their gains in the hearts and minds of Hispanic voters here in the US, but Democrats are shaping up for their own version of this: Free trade.

The incoming Demos want to role back the tide of free trade treaties with Latin America. They have a constituency that has been hurt by jobs leaking out of the US to Latin America, or at least such is the perception. This will cause all kinds of problems for friendly governments there, many of which have staked the economic health of their societies on close ties with the US. If that collapses these governments will be discredited and Hugo Chavez and his ilk will reap the benefits.

If we want to put an end to unrestrained immigration from the south, one way to do it is to help beef up the economies, and jobs, down Mexico way and points south. If economies collapse or retrench, more people will be headed our way.

What to make of Bush?

I have mixed feelings about Bush. He is not the clown or doofus that he sometimes appears to be, and certainly not the fiction his enemies picture him as. He is, however, a seriously flawed individual, but then, so was Churchill. The millionaire son of a millionaire's son, a dry drunk, probably a drug user, certainly a shirker in his first war. Except for the millionaire part, hardly unheard of in his generation. Yet he pulled himself together and up from the depths with the help of a good woman and the direct intervention of his Lord Jesus Christ. Or so he firmly believes and I am not the man to deny it. For him this gives his life meaning and dignity no matter what.

He is not stupid by any means – but he is intellectually incurious and detached, sometimes to a puzzling, even frightening, degree. Yet the faith and fundamental goodness is real. It simply stops at the edge of the world he knows and probes no further. I meet and get to like at least a dozen students every year who share these traits.

His instincts on the illegal immigration problem are fundamentally correct, I believe, from a moral, political, and practical viewpoint, though perhaps not from a strict interpretation of Legalism. On this one issue, when compared to the short sighted and parochial proposals of some of his fellow Republicans, which sometimes stop just this side of race baiting (and sometimes don't stop), seem positively statesmanlike.

One thing his opponents should always keep in mind: he was right to invade Afghanistan. It was ruled by a government that clearly aided and abetted the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. The efforts of those opposed to that war, to insist that there was no sure connection, to call for diplomatic moves in the face of a clear act of war, and worst of all, to portray the Taliban as all but invincible in their mountains, did nothing but make Bush's achievement loom larger, to take on the aura of preternatural wisdom and character that it should not have had. The Left, and the pacifists, and the others should never forget this. Their opposition to what even the Pope saw as a ‘Just War' was a major factor in his growing popularity among Americans matched by a growing contempt to those calling for peace and negotiations on all fronts. If Bush had stopped after Afghanistan, we would be dealing with a different presidency and, I honestly believe, a different America.

But, of course, he didn't stop there. We didn't stop there. There is something else that his opponents never learned and his erstwhile supporters and collaborators are busy forgetting. When he went into Iraq he had the American people behind him and, until in an act of pride both pardonable and understandable boasted that the Mission was accomplished, he and the neocons were right. The destruction of the Baath regime was a miracle of speed and skill. The first great Iraqi vote was simple: we will not fight and die for this regime. The Iraqi army walked away. And our troops were cheered and greeted with flowers. For a brief while it looked as if once again Bush was right, the naysayers wrong.

But, of course, it did not remain that way. Now the war's dwindling supporters are reduced to blaming it on Bush and his White House, or on Rumsfield, or Rice, or someone else. The execution of the war was all wrong. Or most maddingly of all, snarling that no one could have done any better, Iraq was simply too big a problem in the first place, so don't blame us for its failure. Which, if you didn't notice, concedes the whole argument to those who opposed the war in the first place.

I am not an historian of the modern world and even in my own field I can make foolish mistakes. Yet I have read a lot of history of every sort from the time I learned to read until now. I have even written my own small contributions to the stream of western historical thought. I am certain of this: the Bush administration is going to go down in history as one of the worst in American history.

So what do we do now?

Oh the poor lobbiest!

The Washington Post details the upheaval in the wonderful world of Washington power politics. Here's my favorite paragraph:

The Democrats' takeover of Congress this month has turned official Washington upside down. Labor and environmental representatives, once also-rans in congressional influence, are meeting frequently with Capitol Hill's incoming Democratic leaders. Corporations that once boasted about their Republican ties are busily hiring Democratic lobbyists. And industries worried about reprisals from the new Democrats-in-charge, especially the pharmaceutical industry, are sending out woe-is-me memos and hoping their GOP connections will protect them in the crunch.

If schadenfreude were one of the seven deadly sins, and it should be, all I can say is I hope Satan can hold up his end of a conversation and serves good port.

But this following observation insulates me a bit from that danger.

In fact, lobbying overall is likely to increase. "With a closely divided Congress, you're going to have both sides spending more," said Kent Cooper of PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan research group. "It will be like an arms race."

In other words, the Democrats will now start feeding at the same trough.

Religion in Medieval England

Last night I was in my favorite pizzeria reading Speculum, a Medieval Studies rag, when I came across this observation in a review of Church and Society in England, 1000-1500 by Andrew Brown.
Less familiar to the general reading audience is the reason why Continental
heresies did not appear in England. Brown makes a convincing argument for
lay influence on the growth of the English church and the challenge presented by
Lollardy. The English clergy, forced by financial necessity and
upper-class pressures, was responsive earlier to the concerns of the laity, and
consequently there was less dissatisfaction with the church. If his
premise is correct, this allows for new questions to be raised concerning the
English experience of the Reformation, which unfortunately falls outside this
work's scope.
This is talking about the deep roots of Anglicanism, which was born out of something deeper that the marriage plans of an English king thwarted by the political needs of a Roman pope. There are also implications for the state of any church, but particularly the Catholic Church, of today.

22 November 2006

A New Immigrant Group!

It should come as no surprise to anyone that one of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the country is highly educated Indians - and some not so highly educated, legal and otherwise. That is certainly evident here in Lykesboro, a very sleepy, rural place in the shadow of the Blue Ridge. If you go to the hospital, you likely will meet one or two on the medical staff. If you go over to the galactic headquarters of Lykes Widgetstores Inc (our economic claim to fame, after the Chicken Factory), you will find dozens of them in the IT department. For a while there was even a family of Indians, mom, dad and daughter, working the same shift at McDonalds. For awhile a very nice, though painfully shy, young man from India attended our Episcopal Church even though he is not a Christian. He stopped attending when he brought his Hindu bride to Lykesboro and started a family. Needless to say, he was a computer wiz working for Widgetstores.

For the most part these are fine folks who make significant contributions to our community. But compared to the Hispanics who are here in even larger numbers (about 1/10 of the county's population) they receive almost no notice. In fact, they are almost invisable! It was startling when I found a large group of Indian men playing cricket in one of our parks. It was the last thing I would have expected in a town like Lykesboro. Cricket!

And that is very interesting. What is it about Hispanics that worrys us Anglos so much more than any issue of, say, the Indic population? Is it simply numbers? That they are better educated? More legal? (I am not so sure about this as a fact) That they fly in at airports rather than walk? Religion?! It is a curious thing to me. I must admit that despite my interest in history, India is probably the part of the world I know least about, and therefore the least about its societies and peoples.

18 November 2006

Hispanics, Bush, and Sisyphus

I am most sympathetic to George and Jeb Bush when I listen to them on immigration, particularly when dealing with Hispanics. They both have personal reasons for being sensitive on this issue. Joey Sobrino and I have some of the same reasons and have been carrying on a conversation on Joey's blog about the impact of the Hispanic vote in the last election. Some of the points we were discussing are discussed in a Washington Post article today. Here are some of its key findings.

Pollsters generally agree that the same voters abandoned the president's party in droves during last week's elections, with Latinos giving the GOP only 30 percent of their vote as strident House immigration legislation inspired by Republicans and tough-talking campaign ads by conservative candidates roiled the community. It was a 10-point drop from the lowest estimated Latino vote percentage two years ago, and a 14-point drop from the highest.

Depending on who did the counting, pollsters said in 2004 that Latinos handed GOP candidates between 40 percent and 44 percent of their vote -- a historic Republican windfall -- as the Bush brothers appealed to their socially conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Keep in mind that a large percentage of that 30% who remained loyal are Cuban-Americans who have been solidly Republican for some time.

But the Repubs have a plan to regain this loss! And his name is Mel Martinez, a Cuban-American from Florida who happens to be, uh, out of work and at loose ends. He has just been named to head the Republican National Committee. Repubs think this will show how Hispanic friendly they are.

"Martinez would give the party tremendous legitimacy among the growing Hispanic voter base," said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). "He's an absolute rock star in the Hispanic community."

Of course, to believe this you have to believe there actually is such a thing as an 'Hispanic community' in this country. To do this you have to believe that a Mexican and a Cuban share exactly the same culture. Judging from life here in Lykesboro, this is simply not true.

But, my favorite Repub response to these statistics is this one by Rosemary Jenks of Numbers USA, which opposes increased immigration:

"The election had absolutely nothing to do with immigration," she said. "It was about George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. I think the public has made it very clear where they stand on immigration."

Christians and Politics

It's always hard to know where to draw the line. No one should expect politicians, or anyone else, to check their religious feelings at the caucus door, nor should liberals forget that the Civil Rights movement was very much a religiously inspired movement, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King. Nevertheless, I have a feeling this guy went too far. Politicking and proselytizing probably ought to be kept distinct.

Republican candidate, Rae Hart Anderson, who lost his race for a seat in the Minnesota Senate to a Democratic Hindu sent his opponent a concession e-mail. It said, in part:

The race of your life is more important than this one--and it is my sincere wish that you'll get to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He died for the sins of the world, yours and mine--and especially for those who accept His forgiveness. His kingdom will come and His will be done--on earth as it is in heaven. There's more....I love belonging to the family of God. Jesus is the way, the truth and offers His life to you and each human being. Pay attention...this is very important, Satveer. Have you noticed Jesus for yourself...at some moment in time, yet??? ...

Jesus Christ lives in His earth family by His Spirit. He said He'd be back, and He said it first. You could invite Him to make the race of your life 'eternal'. God waits to be gracious to each person that knows they need to be forgiven. Do you? I think you do.

Well, there goes the Jewish vote.

I might also point out that Minnesota just sent the nation's first Muslim to Washington to help with the business of the Republic. And Minnesota in some ways is the most Christian place I've ever lived.

(I got the above from Andrew Sullivan)

17 November 2006

Kay-Lo at NRO v an angry Brit (now American)

Kathryn-Jean Lopez, a conservative columnist and a contributor to Nat'l Rev's blog The Corner, has gone nuts. Or, perhaps, she always was. Any way, Andrew Sullivan takes her apart on one of her nuttier contributions here. He has all the appropriate links to follow her back to the original post. I remember when she came out with it - at the time I thought it was her general melt down over Rick Santorum's defeat, an event she had confidently predicted would never happen.

She then promptly redeemed herself by predicting that Santorum would make a great Secretary of Defense once Bush got rid of Rummy.

[any spelling mistakes herein are not spelling mistakes. They are the result of my adopting Canadian spellings for all words I can't remember how to spell]

Baron Cohen on Borat

Baron Cohen (what a great name), the man behind Borat, has briefly come out of character to explain something about the plucky, but disgusting, Kazakh journalist. You can read it here.

It has something to do with the Holocaust. For some reason Andrew Sullivan, from whom I got the link, wishes Baron Cohen had kept his mouth shut.

If any of you have seen the movie, let me know what you thought of it. Young Clovis loved it, which does not bode well. The young these days, they have such a cruel sense of humor.

[btw - I am thinking of adopting Canadian spellings. That way when I lard up these posts with typos and misspellings, I'll just claim that's the way it's spelled in Canada (and probably the rest of the Anglosphere) ]

I took this little quiz you see... and this is what I get!!!

You are 61% Canuck!

Good for you! You make me sorta proud. Yeah, sorta proud, not really proud, but sorta proud. You show potential and that is something to be sorta proud of. If you actually did well, then I could be really proud, but you didn't so I'm sorta proud.

How Canadian Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

14 November 2006

Immigration and the Republican Party

Some time ago I commented that the Republicans were busy destroying the great start Bush had made in getting Hispanics to vote Republican. In some ways it would be a natural match, and not just for Cuban Americans. But, I said, the anti illegal immigrant talk was too often couched in terms of anti-immigrant talk, or worse, anti-Hispanic talk. Josh Marshall has this comment on the same topic. Take a look at it and see what you think.

Now that Democrats control Congress, it is possible that Bush may be able to pass his idea of immigration reform, which has been anathema to some conservatives. That would be one positive outcome of the elections.

11 November 2006


“In just a few months of divisive campaigning and ill-considered strategy, President Bush and Karl Rove managed to dismantle the Republican party’s governing majority by appealing to only the most conservative elements of its base. The returns reveal that the neo-conservatives/radical agenda drove off voting blocks that turned to the Democrats,” said John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress.

Can both parties just get back to the Center, and play nice now? Or am I going to have to come up there again with my belt off?*

*Sorry, just channeling my dad.

More SBB Post Mortems III

Who ever suspected that Grover Norquist had a sense of irony?

Although some glitz has come off Mr Rove, Republicans have been more eager to blame botched campaigns and individual ethics scandals. “Bob Sherwood’s seat [in Pennsylvania] would have been overwhelmingly ours, if his mistress hadn’t whined about being throttled,” said Mr Norquist. Any lessons from the campaign? “Yes. The lesson should be, don’t throttle mistresses.”
Who ever thought that the American political class would sink to this?

Well, ok, we all did.

08 November 2006

The Spirit of Ball's Bluff election post mortem II

On the Wall Street Journal page has a column by John Ellis, a former columnist and current member of a venture-capital firm. He points out that politicians just spent $1 billion to convince you that politicians are no good. A key paragraph reads:
The net effect of this constant and unrelenting assault on politicians and the political process is voter resignation and ultimately a kind of doomed acceptance. It must be true. They must all be hypocrites, fools, thieves and scoundrels. They're talking about themselves, after all. It's $1 billion of self-portraiture.

His conclusion is what the Spirit of Ball's Bluff is all about.
Ultimately, the reaction to this ceaseless negative barrage, if it continues unchecked, will be the rejection of both major political parties. As more and more people are repulsed by the political process, their number will at some point reach a critical mass.

The American voters in this election, I believe, sent clear signs that they are moving in this direction. Republicans should take a tip from Kipling and correct course. Democrats should take heed and determine a new course or 2008 will simply be a replay.

The Spirit of Ball's Bluff election post mortem I

Some incumbants survived. Mostly Democrats. They will be next up if they don't understand one central fact about this election.

Nobody voted for the Democrats.

They voted against Republicans, the war, Bush, etc. Some truisms are actually true. This time around the voting "against" urge was so strong politicians need to accept one central truth: the American public is thoroughly disgusted with the entire American political class and their stipendiary pundits.

It may be, oddly enough, that Conservatives are the first to realize this. For instance, here is Marshall Wittman (the "famous Beltway Moose") on NRO giving his post mortems:

The Republicans suffered a massive defeat because the voters rejected their politics of polarization and mismanagement of the war. Republican leadership in Washington became ossified and corrupt. And this time the old politics of wedge issues did not work for the GOP.

This election was a tale of two cities: New Orleans and Baghdad. Republicans failed in both places. Indeed, this election was more about competence than ideology.

Indeed, it is not about ideology or message. It is about frustration with a failed system of two political parties representing nothing more significant than beating the other party each can stay in power.

First US Muslim lawmaker

Muslims are here to stay and a great many of them are homegrown. We now have an American Muslim congressman (from my own state of Minnesota): Keith Ellison.
Ellison, a criminal defense attorney who converted to Islam as a college student, denounced Farrakhan and won the endorsement of a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper.

Honesty and realism -- no less!

David Frum in his blog on National Review Online quotes a poem by Kipling that sums up the elections.

Nov. 07, 2006: Kipling on the 06 Result

LET us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.
Not on a single issue, or in one direction or twain,
But conclusively, comprehensively, and several times and again,
Were all our most holy illusions knocked higher than Gilderoy’s kite.
We have had a jolly good lesson, and it serves us jolly well right!


It was our fault, and our very great fault—and now we must turn it to use.
We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.

- "The Lesson."

As for the other folks over at the Corner, I only have one word - Schadenfreude!!

07 November 2006

The fault for our fiasco in Iraq, if you were wondering.

Apparently, its US - as in citizens of the U.S. At least according to at least one unhinged reader of the National Review Online. Here is his conclusion:
As for the last 3 years [in Iraq], that is the result of loss of OUR national will. We’ve never made it OK to put overwhelming force on the ground. Maybe if Bush has won with 65% of the vote in 2004, or his approval numbers were 70%...
Check me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it Rumsfield and his generals who set the troop levels, back in the days when no one dare criticize him?

I knew voters were angry but....

I didn't know poll workers were so volatile. I really could not make this up.

The Crusades

Remember el Prez' gaffe about the use of the word 'Crusade?' I am afraid I thought there was an overreaction to the overreaction to it. We simply don't use the word in American English the way other people in the world might.

For a nice overview of what the Crusades really were, and how they fit into world history, check this out.

I've been gone!

In fact I went to Washington DC, the Georgetown part, for a conference on medieval history. It was a lot of fun to be back in Georgetown. Met my old college roommates and drove over to Alexandria for Sunday brunch. All of these are places I used to visit with my family a lot in the 60s, especially when we lived in McLean. On the way home on I-66 we got stuck in the obligatory traffic accident jam. It was a good trip, though I seem to enjoy the actual conference a bit less as I grow less young. Still, I heard some good papers, especially one on the Gesta consulum Andegavorum's description of Angevin participation in the Crusades and one about art in the Norman kingdoms of England and Sicily.

While I was listening to papers on medieval history my wife went over to the Library of Congress to view the St John's Bible, a remarkable work of modern calligraphy and manuscript illumination. Parts of it are touring the country before it settles into its permanent home at St John's Abbey in the middle of Minnesota, not far from Lake Woebegone. If it comes anywhere near where you are, treat yourself with a visit.

But it kept me away from my blogs, so there has been a brief lacuna in the posts.