Category Archives: General

crime pays

No victims of the ballistic attacks, according to US forces or Iraqi news, but about eighty victims according to Iranian news. It seems that the Iraqi government was informed before the attack, which means that the US might also have been told about it and had the technology, in any case, to see what was coming. This demonstration of force seems to have been meant to calm the Iranian enormous outpouring of emotion and for their government to derive a much needed feeling of unity from it. The choice of targets (one in Sunni territory, Al Asad, west of Baghdad, and the other in Kurdistan, at Erbil) doesn’t make immediate sense to me, nor does it to Juan Cole’s article in his Informed Comment site today. The proclaimed Iranian primary goal is still to get rid of all US presence in the whole area. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn eventually, however, that the assassination of Suleimani not only was encouraged but partly organized by the Saudis as one important way to slow down the rise of Iran. The Saudi government would cover its responsibility in the assassination by pretending that they were willing to lower the tensions between Iran and themselves. Perhaps there has even been something of a partial strategy behind the political murder. Now that ISIS is under control, partly thanks to Iran and Suleimani, the US, Saudis, and Turkey can share the goal(s) of getting rid of annoying, dangerous allies of circumstance, namely the Kurdish forces in NE Syria for Turkey, general Suleimani and its foreign military policy for the Saudis and the US. And it doesn’t hurt that it allows Trump, Pompeo, or Pence to put on masks of messianic gravitas, while being a convenient distraction from impeachment. Israel and Palestine are disputed footnotes in all of this. Both are shamelessly used by the main adversaries, the US and Iran. Yet, in this context of post-Cold War calculations driven by greed and pride, I don’t think it is going too far to remember and ponder that Israel’s presently weak, destructive prime minister, Netanyahu, also owes his power and career to the politically successful assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir.

Carrel and Lindbergh

The BBC today carried a story about Alexis Carrel who got the 1912 Nobel Prize in medicine for his development of vascular grafting and tissue culture. It mentions in passing the island of St. Gildas which Carrel bought sometime after the end of WW I, I think, together with the house on it. It is in Port-Blanc, about 2 miles from the respective farms where Jean Hamel and Marie Gourhant lived. I got my name from it or rather from the Welsh saint that we imagine had lived on it. I would learn later that he lived in the sixth century and wrote in Latin the first book on the history of Britain, his De excidio et conquestu britanniae. My mother liked to reminisce on the occasional presence of Carrel at the church in Penvenan, nearby. Did she think, perhaps with her mother who was unusually educated for a farmer’s wife—she had her brevet—, that he was a miscreant tempted by the Catholic version of the faith, somewhat à la Paul Claudel behind his Notre Dame pillar? She gave me his book, L’homme cet inconnu, when I was fourteen. To bring that book back to the small seminary and have the “préfet” of discipline authorize its reading was a cinch (we had to submit all of our own books to his vigilance. The story of Tristan and Iseult was not authorized, but that is another story). No objection anywhere. Only a few years later (3 or 4?), did I finally realize that Carrel was or had long been a eugenist and was concerned, like Hitler, with the survival of a very narrowly defined, racist, western civilization. I was naïve enough not to realize what he was doing in that long-lost book. Aside from his racism, or rather along with it, he dreamt that modern science could bring immortality. Lindbergh is also featured in the BBC story because he became a friend of Carrel and lived on a close-by island with a small strip where he could land his plane. He and his wife lived on that island for barely one year. Lindbergh and the famous doctor were figures of fame that occasionally surfaced in our local conversations. Carrel is unfortunately not the only one whose skill with a scalpel got to his head and heart.

baseball liturgy

Children and grand-children made me realize that I need not fear losing the wonder that the Catholic liturgy of my childhood brought every Sunday. It is alive, albeit in different colors, in the grand liturgy of American baseball. It was wonderful, while the sabbath rang slowly / In the pebbles of the holy streams, to contemplate these perfectly raked paths, the players decked in impeccable altarboys’ and -girls’ outfits, the green open to the unbound horizon, the pitcher on the mound, and the division of the faithful into two theological camps.

mediocre middle

Democrats are being encouraged by the media and political or financial interests (including Obama or Bloomberg, ex-mayor of New York) to find the mythic center of their big blue tent. It is clear to many voters that we need many changes or “recalibrations:” a universal health plan, a more rational foreign and military policy, a return to progressive taxation (without having to go to the 1945 to 1970 level of payments for WW II, Korea, and Vietnam, or the extraordinary expenses of the cold war), an infrastructure program, a rational regulation policy, resumption of an anti-monopolistic economy, a courageous and enlightened climate policy, and finally a steady, clear, and fair immigration policy. That is a long list of things that are needed to steer our modern capitalist economy towards less troubled times. It means that our system of winner-takes-all economy will have to be put under some control and regulation. We are not talking about socialism but about a mixed economy in which profits are shared more universally because we urgently need to fund infrastructure—including bodies and souls—so that all have a fair chance of living in dignity and freedom. The US have many advantages that haven’t disappeared yet in culture, education, inventiveness, trust, and generally speaking, ethical values. These are being eroded over time, and the list of changes above would go a long way towards shoring up the crumbling foundations. A new start is needed and for that we look to elect a truly brave Democrat, not a middle of the road, mediocre one. Not a sugar substitute or ersatz. I agree with this comment I found this morning in the NYT:

Please stop describing the ideal “electable” Democrat as “moderate.” Moderate really means “status quo” or “business as usual.” Moderate means acquiescence to the longstanding Republican agenda of helping the wealthiest persons (individual and corporate) acquire more wealth, while leaving everyone else ever further behind. Income inequality is not a problem, but a feature of how they believe our economy should function. Moderate means reinforcing a medical-industrial complex devoted to wealth care for its executives and shareholders. Health care for patients is “medical loss,” and we pay billions of dollars for their ceaseless efforts to reduce it. People who get sick, die, or go bankrupt because they can’t afford health care are mere externalities, burdens those CEOs have successfully imposed on someone else. Moderate means dismantling regulation that burdens greed. Boeing can regulate itself, so the 737Max can start creating shareholder value as soon as possible. If people die because of corner-cutting, that’s just another externality. Thoughts and prayers don’t cost shareholders anything. Moderate means continuing to plunder and pollute the planet, so that the executives and shareholders of extractive industries can expand their wealth until there is no more to plunder. Moderate is what big-money donors want in a candidate, as it means protecting and serving their interests. But based on 2016 and 2018, voters are entirely fed up with “moderate.”

Oz

According to an article in the New Yorker, Amos Oz thought that the written word was fragile and limited in its ability to reproduce the fullness of being. I take it that this limitation is part of that fullness. Children at play experiment with the creativity that poets also seek, the illumination or miraculous ability not only to point to the world as a whole and in part, but to see itself as part of a creation accomplished with the most fragile of means, an articulation of breath, a streaking of the brush and ink, or blades of grass and sticks over a stream of water.

Rerum novarum

Capitalism is in worse shape than I thought if people like Barr at Notre-Dame’s law school three weeks ago or Marco Rubio this week at the Catholic University of America feel that they need to have recourse to dubious moral philosophy or nineteenth-century Catholic encyclicals in their hot pursuit of moral rearmament at the individual or government level (Barr) and in boardrooms and union shops (Rubio). As Catholics, they could simply begin by rereading the story of the Samaritan businessman in the gospel of Luke… It is an impossible task to defend capitalism when it has long been clear that it destroys community and the public good in general. Its sharing, as in the sharing economy, has become an obscenity. Oh, it does depend upon individual freedoms alright (remember the “go shopping” of GW Bush after 2001?), but it ends up gnawing at human dignity and freedom from deep inside our souls. Marcus Aurelius is of no help when the gospel is turned into a farcical prosperity revival. Politicians who shamelessly insist on yawing and tacking between Trump and some form of unregulated capitalism had better read Leviathan.

fascinum

Bullying constitutes the whole being of the current US president. The group of 20 is meeting in Japan today and none of the chiefs of state is ready to go public and take on a paper tiger who would collapse immediately if unanimously or near unanimously confronted. He doesn’t attack Putin or other dictators, understandably, as they are also calculating bullies who have no moral status fit to be brought down. The whole exercise is about seeing how low heads of state and US representatives can stoop. We the reality-show viewers and media readers are playing the frantic or phallically-fascinated crowd. This red-tie or fascinus doesn’t protect against envy or evil eye, it multiplies it. It might not be enough in 2020 or 2024 to ban the memory of this era with some form of damnatio memoriae because our capacity to exercise moral judgment will have already sunk so low.

war again

The United States government has been provoking Iran and the Shi‘a world since last year. War is becoming a distinct possibility, and US authorities are taking steps to make sure it happens. Bolton et al have unfinished business. Their destruction of Iraq propped up Iran as the default regional power. Iraq didn’t become a miraculous democracy that could keep Iran in check again. So, bombs away is the cry, once more. The saber rattling began a year ago with the withdrawal from the treaty signed by Obama and European powers over the development of nuclear fuel in Iran. It continued with the US blacklisting over a month ago of the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. Worse, economic war has been resumed regarding oil and any industrial contract by threatening financial retaliation against any nation continuing to trade with Iran. This was mostly directed at China, in practice, as China has been signing large contracts with Iran. But it seems that the US—and this is another provocation against Iran—has arranged for a thirty-year prospection and development contract in southern Iraq oil fields by Exxon and Petrochina. Smaller provocations followed this week: sending of a naval group into the Gulf; declarations that 120,000 troups could be sent to the area, a so-called impromptu visit last week (Monday) by Secretary of State Pompeo to Iraq (a mostly shi`a government) probably wielding carrot (see above) and stick; visit yesterday to Russia, which is a temporary ally of Iran… There are also indirect provocations, such as the deliberate shameless support of the Saudi Arabia leadership in their repression of alternative voices and especially support of their war against the Houthi in Yemen. And no recognition of course that the fight against ISIS (DAESH) was led in great part by Iraqi Shiites supported by Iran, as well as no recognition that Iranian leaders are no friends of the Talibans in Afghanistan.