Friday, February 24, 2006

Book Recommendation
Today I am recommending David M. Potter's seminal study of the crises and conflicts which prefaced the years before the Civil War, The Impending Crisis. The reason I think other, non-historians, would benefit from this book is very simple. Potter is perhaps one of the most gifted historians I have come across in terms of boiling down incredibly complex political actions and conflicts to their essentials, without losing their messiness. On top of that Potter writes in a very readable, logical, and clear style that will be very refreshing to all historians and non-historians alike. If you ever wanted to know the real deal about the end of the Mexican-American War, the election of Zachary Taylor, the crisis over organizing the Mexican cession, the Compromise of 1850, the demise of the Whig party, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the formation of the Republican party, the Dred-Scott case, John Brown and Harper's Ferry, the inefficacy of James Buchanan, and the election of Abraham Lincoln and the events of the secession winter (1860-1861) which led to the attack by Confederate South Carolinians on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, then this is the best one-volume book on this whole period that has yet been written.

Friday, February 17, 2006

So Much For Good Wars

As you may have heard, the student leaders at the University of Washington have refused to authorize the building of a memorial for deceased alumnus Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, one of the top American fighter aces of World War II. It has oft been said by all sorts of people, from liberal newsman Tom Brokaw to liberal historians like Steven Ambrose, that World War II was a good war fought by the alleged "greatest" generation of Americans. Not so to those currently in charge of memorials at the University of Washington, for them there is no such thing as a good war, to them Boyington's heroics boil down to him being just some guy who killed a lot of people (he had 26 confirmed kills).

The students attempted to justify this injustice in any number of ways, one claiming that a member of the marine corps was not what the University of Washington was looking to produce. Yet another claimed the University of Washington had already erected enough monuments to "rich white men." Even those not ultimately hostile to a Boyington monument wanted him recognized for his "sacrifice" and "service" as opposed to his positive achievement of destroying a great number of enemy planes, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor, or enduring the final 20 months of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese. Even the ultimate "good" war, turns out to be just as bad as every war, because people were killed. This context dropping and disintegrated thinking is alarming and sad. The Japanese attacked us, Hitler declared war on us, we defended ourselves and in the process individuals distiguished themselves heroically defending their country against some of the gravest totalitarians of the 20th century.

The pantheon of these heroes makes for a long list, just some of the names on that list include, Audie Murphy, Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Stewart, Joe Kennedy Jr., Chester Nimitz, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and Pappy Boyington. We celebrate these heroes, not just because they excelled at killing enemy soldiers and out-maneuvering enemy generals (though they did this), but because without their heoric efforts our country may not have prevailed. Thus we come to the actual reason for refusing a monument to one of these heroes. They don't want American to win. They don't want America to prevail. To them America is perhaps the biggest mistake in the world. It is America that is responsible for 1) Indian holocaust, 2) racism and slavery, 3) Puritanism, 4) worker exploitation, 5) environmental rape, 6) the mass extinction of animals, 7) global warming, 8) dropping two atom bombs, 9) invading countries for oil, 10) stealing the southwest from Mexico, 11) using "free trade" to expropriate the wealth of developing countries, 12) oppressing women, 13) oppessing chickens, 14) having too big a gap between richest and poorest, 15) not taxing rich people enough, 16) taxing poor people too much, 17) not nationalizing companies, 18) paying companies too many subsidies, 19) supporting the world bank and IMF and making loans to poor countries, 20) requiring poor countries to pay back loans, 21) giving money to autocratic governments in Africa, 22) not giving enough money to autocratic governments in Africa for AIDS, this list could go on forever. Clearly America is, as one enemy has deemed, "the Great Satan." Honoring anyone who allowed such a country to go on existing would be perverse.

The students at the University of Washington are hopeless, mired in so much PC mental garbage that any of them climbing out of it will be a truly heroic act. But I wouldn't count on it. I suspect Boyington would prefer no monument until the students understand and appreciate why they are building it and why Boyington risked his life in the skies over the Pacific.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hooray for Mocking Religion

With the entire muslim world in an uproar over some goofy drawings of Muhammed, threatening to kill those responsible for the cartoons as well as some ill-defined retaliation against the governments who "let" such atrocities occur, now is as good a time as ever to cheer on those who mock religions and their adherents. Given that the big three religions (Judaeism, Chrisitianity, Islam, not to mention the hilarious religions of the rest of the world) posit ridiculous moral codes upon their adherents and demand that they believe, respectively, that an old geiser climbed a mountain and was given stone tablets from a god that only he could see, that an insiginificant Jewish peasant walked on water and came back to life after death in non-zombie form, and that a tribal conquerer hefted a humongous boulder (which no one is allowed to see) from Medina to Mecca single-handedly, the only amazing thing is that they are not made fun of more often and in much more cutting fashion than these rather lame drawings.

Thomas Jefferson once called the absurdity of the virgin birth of Jesus a fable of "the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" and he was being kind since the Greco-Roman myths are far more valuable and entertaining when read without any mystical attachment, unlike their Judeo-Christian-Islamic successors. Religions have two main parts; a ridiculous mythology which serves to provide examples of the other part, a mystical/revelation/altruism philosophy. Despite the efforts of those, like Jefferson, to get rid of the insupportable baggage of the first part in favor of just appreciating the second, the two are inextricably intertwined. There is no more rational support for the idiotic and ridiculous utterances of Jesus ("Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, Give unto God that which is God's") than there is for his turning water into wine or popping out of a virgin womb (Who was Mary's PR person?). Christianity holds no monopoly on mystical irrationality. Islam, like any other religion, is built on it. Turning a conqueror like Muhammed into a prophet of some god is as great an achievement as turning a complete loser like Jesus into one, except we would have remembered Muhammed as a conqueror, religion or no religion, whereas Jesus would have been forgotten with every other crazy Jewish peasant in Judea in the time of Augustus and Tiberius.

So some people in Denmark had the guts to draw some funny pictures of Muhammed? Good for them. Instead of at the very least, being neutral with respect to the taste or lack thereof of these drawings, the United States government has sided with the religious nutjobs out there in saying the cartoons are offensive. The reasoning cited for this move of striking brilliance is that America was founded by religious dissidents who wanted to worship freely. How can those in charge of the government be so ignorant of that government's history?

One colony, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by dissenters, a group of Puritans so radical that the English Puritans wanted nothing to do with them. They set up a society in which they, and only they, could worship "freely." If anyone dissented, they were kicked out, hence Rhode Island was setup by a dissident of the dissidents, Roger Williams. Add to that the fact that anyone accused of being a witch by any group of teenage brats would be hung unless they admitted that they were indeed a minion of Satan, or somehow proved their innocence (the only way to do that seemingly was to be married to the Governor of the colony). Pennsylvania was established by tolerant Quakers, while Maryland was a haven of those hated religionists of the colonial and early republic years, Roman Catholics. Virginia established the church of england, which stayed established into the early years of the republic (thanks to Patrick Henry, not one of his better moments), but was under assault from those who actually founded the United States, i.e. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others. No one, including me, is saying or could say reasonably, that religion had no effect or role among the founders, but more important to them (as I would hope for us as well) was eliminating religion from the government as one of the principal sources of strife, warfare, and hostility among the peoples of Europe and America for hundreds of years.

This is true today of the Western world, where Israel stands out as having a state religion, but not true of the muslim world. It should be instructive that the West is defined by a geographical direction as opposed to a religion whereas what might be called the East (or more optimistically part of the West) is defined by a religious faith. All governments in the muslim world swear fealty to Islam as some source of their laws and legitimacy (the constitution of Saudi Arabia is the Koran, but don't let that fool you, the house of Saud rules by its own whim). If and unless that changes, what should be the pastime of all rational folk around the world, ridiculing the religious and mocking their crazy stories and idols, will be met (in the case of Islam) with crazy people in the streets threatening to kill others for their ideas and drawings as opposed to just turning to the next page in a newspaper or not reading it at all.

By the way, we should all be proud that among the governments in the muslim world complaining of this "outrage" is Iraq. That is turning out just swell.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Ultimate Achievement: Kissing Bono's Ass

That great cultural hero, U2 lead singer "Bono" [Bah - no], author of such classic and poetic passages like the following from "Mysterious Ways,"

Johnny toke a walk/With your sister the moon/Let her pale light in/To fill up your room/You’ve been living underground/Eating from a can/You’ve been running away/From what you don’t understand/She’s slippy/Your’re sliding down/She’ll be there/When you hit the ground/It’s alright...it’s alright...it’s alright/She moves in mysterious ways/It’s alright...it’s alright...it’s alright/She moves in mysterious ways,

and of course what might possibly be the greatest thing ever written from the song "If God Will Send His Angels,"

Nobody else here baby/No one here to blame/No one to point the finger/It’s just you and me and the rain/Nobody made you do it/No one put words in your mouth/Nobody here taking orders/When love took a train heading south/It’s the blind leading the blond/It’s the stuff, it’s the stuff of country songs/Hey if God will send his angels/And if God will send a sign/And if God will send his angels/Would everything be alright/God has got his phone off the hook, babe/Would he even pick up if he could/It’s been a while since we saw that child/Hanging ’round this neighbourhood/You see his mother dealing in a doorway/See father christmas with a begging bowl/Jesus sister’s eyes are a blister/The high street never looked so low/It’s the blind leading the blond/It’s the cops collecting for the cons/So where is the hope and where is the faith/And the love...what’s that you say to me/Does love...light up your christmas tree/The next minute you’re blowing a fuse/And the cartoon network turns into the news/If God will send his angels/And if God will send a sign/And if God will send his angels/Where do we go/Where do we go/Jesus never let me down/You know jesus used to show me the score/Then they put jesus in show business/Now it’s hard to get in the door/It’s the stuff, it’s the stuff of country songs/But I guess it was something to go on

is a surprisingly effective and modernly irritating "do-gooder."

It should be quite obvious to everyone why "Bono" is the darling of world leaders and able to brow-beat governments around the world to relieve the debts of corrupt African governments and to fork over money for aids drugs, and the patents to those drugs so that they can be produced without those pesky property rights getting in the way. I mean, when you are dealing with an artistic mind that could produce the above passages, among numerous others, it is easy to understand why everyone would be intimidated.

Seriously though, Bono's continued presence on the scene beyond his extremely limited musical capacity is perhaps one of the most annoying and aggravating developments in recent times. It's no mystery why, he meets so many requirements for media attention. 1) He's already famous, 2) He's a big-time altruist, 3) He's a politically correct, mentally vacuous liberal and 4) He's more vocal than bandmate "The Edge" [the crackerjack box where these idiots picked up their names has got to be worth a fortune]. So when he turned up this morning at the equally dubious cold war relic and mystically inspired "National Prayer Breakfast," with numerous senators, congressmen, and the President I was, to say the least, disgusted. At times like this I begin to lose my last vestiges of hope.