Chicago & the FBI

I can’t shake this, but I also lack time to do the level of research to even make it a good working theory. So take this as the speculation it most certainly is:

Bathhouse John Coughlin.jpg
‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin, Alderman for 46 years. Good Irish boy, threw a hell of a party. Hey, what’s a little prostitution, gambling and racketeering among Paddies? It’s not like it’s your sons and daughters having their lives destroye – oh.

When looking at the history of Chicago for the last century or so, one thing is clear: it has been run by the Mob. Much of the time, such as under ‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin in the early 20th century or Fred Roti in latter part, the Mob’s running of the city was quite overt – these men were both well-known criminals and elected officials, and you crossed them at your very real peril.

Other times, the Chicago Outfit has been more subtle – not a lot more subtle, but at least the guys in charge weren’t widely known to be made men. But any way you slice it, Chicago politics has been Mob politics for generations now.

And it still seems to be. I’ve looked in vain for the reform moment, the point where somebody cleaned house, threw people in jail, and made a fresh start. Nope. When Fred Roti, a made man dying of cancer, was ‘caught’ by somebody wearing a wire – a wire that, oddly enough, never caught anybody else doing anything illegal – he went to jail in 1993 without too big a fuss, and left a ‘legacy’ of having launched the careers of dozens of current and former Chicago politicians.

At what point, then, did political control of Chicago pass from criminal hands? It never did seems to be the only viable answer.

I have friends and acquaintances who are proud Chicagoans. They seem to more or less consciously make the self-fulfilling assumption that all politicians are crooks. Certainly, nothing in their immediate experiences would prove them wrong. Therefore, all that really matters is that the crooks keep enough of a lid on their criminal activities so that it can plausibly be maintained that it isn’t *that* bad, and keep the pork rolling to the constituents.

You think this is too harsh, maybe? Consider the Boston Southies, who treated Whitey Bulger as a hero because a) he was one of them; and b) he sometimes played Robin Hood and threw around a little cash. His willingness to support his brother Billy Bulger’s political career was standing up for his brother, like any good Southie would do. Only when he was tried for murder as an old man did it seem to dawn on people that the guys getting murdered and the families left behind were most often ones of them, too. It might even have been them getting murdered or left widowed. But, like retractions in the New York Times, their changes of heart were relatively muted.

Coughlin and his partner and fellow alderman Michael ‘Hinky Dink’ Kenna were generally thought very kindly of by the people of Chicago. True, under their management the perhaps less lovable but vastly more, shall we say, efficient Italians took charge –  Johnny Torrio & Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, who in turn more or less handed off much of the leadership duties to the Roti clan.  Fred, the youngest Roti, seems to have handed off leadership to a committee. I suspect Rahm Emmanuel runs it now, or at least is the designated figurehead (although Rahm’s intelligence and ego would appear to make him a poor choice as a figurehead. Unlike a certain former president, who would seem to have the perfect skill set for the job. But I digress.)

Business as usual, in other words.

ball
Hinky Dink Kenna and a younger, more dapper Coughlin.

Back to Chicago. So, as I said, the only viable theory about Chicago politics is that it remains in the hands of the heirs of Fred Roti, his hitman father Bruno ‘the Bomber’ Roti, Al Capone,  Johnny Torrio, Big Jim Colosimo, Coughlin and Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna.

The Untouchables famously got Al Capone. While the Mob works hard and with considerable success at making sure it has control of local law enforcement, the FBI has, as in the case of Capone, proven on occasion more difficult. The FBI got Roti, but under conditions that make it pretty clear Fred was taking one for the team. I’m pretty sure – and here’s where I should stop and do some research, but I just don’t have time right now – that the FBI has been deeply involved in the endless stream of Chicago politicians and mobsters (but I repeat myself) who have been caught and convicted.

So here’s my little conspiracy theory: one of the goals of the Obama presidency was to reign in the FBI. Not that Obama himself would get involved in this – he seems to be the Warren G. Harding of this age, except without Harding’s self-awareness – but he brought essentially his entire team with him from Chicago to the White House. In that team were certainly people that the likes of Roti knew they could work with, as it were. A key guy here, an informant there, a guy in position to put the brakes on over there – and, voila! While you may not be able to stop the rank and file agents from doing their jobs, you can make sure nothing much comes of it.

All this is brought to mind, of course, by the items in the news describing how, shockingly, a number of people in the FBI seems to have their loyalties first to Obama and then Clinton, and only second, if at all, to their duties. This is exactly what I would have expected, and is one of the reasons for the clear panic that seems to have gripped many in Washington with the election of Trump. I’m guessing – and here, again, is mere speculation – that there’s a lot of agents with a lot of dirt, starting just below the head honchos.

I suppose we’ll see. Or, if the Outfit is still at the top of its game, maybe we won’t.

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A Triad & A Ponder

Here are two not-quite-complete yet compelling to me thoughts that haunt the windswept hallways of my head. Or something like that. When I consider history, especially the history of philosophy, it seems that certain ideas fall into stages: somebody forcefully, if not particularly logically, takes a position that sticks it to a particular concept of The Man. Then, thinkers come along who like the earlier forceful statement or its consequences, and they back-fill and scaffold it so that it can claim some respectability. Finally, the respectable-ish philosophical positions get reduced to slogans or New Think or something like that. Sets like this – old, forceful idea; philosophical back-fill; slogan – occur to me regularly. Of course, now that I sit down to type, I can only recall this one Triad. More later as events warrant.

I think that, for the people who believe them, these thoughts occupy the same strange emotional landscape, even if the logical connections are hidden (they’re there, but hidden).

Lot of drivel for a 3/4 baked idea. Anyway:

Triad. 

Post-Modern: You don’t understand because you aren’t woke.

Hegelian: The Spirit is not constrained by the rules of traditional logic.

Luther: Reason is a whore.

Ponder.  There really is a subset of people who get things done – leaders, we often call them – whose defining intellectual and emotional trait is defining and fixing on a goal, and then backing into the steps needed to achieve it. You see this, if it is the sort of thing you notice, at every level of life: the business and political worlds, certainly, but also the school meeting and church cleanup committee, and everywhere in between.

Many people, most people, it seems, rarely if ever notice what leaders are doing, but rather just notice who it is they’re following. They hear a heavily abstracted version of a goal – affordable health care, a great America (again) – and that’s all. Only a minority ask how, in detail, we are to achieve the goal, or even for a clear definition of what the goal is. All they do is decide which heavily abstracted vision they will accept.  It has taken me, a very small ‘l’ leader, a lifetime to understand this, and has caused me a lifetime of frustration – I want to explain, people don’t want an explanation. But they will follow.

Weird. I wouldn’t and don’t follow in that sense. Odd duck, me.

The constant regurgitation of Hillary’s popular vote ‘victory’ by her, I suppose, shell-shocked supporters is getting almost as pitiful as it is telling. They just don’t understand how Trump & his team would do what they obviously did: simply back into what steps were needed to win according to the rules in place at the time, and then execute the hell out of them. So, for a fraction of the money Hillary spent, they won. And Trump’s claim that, had the rules called for a popular vote victory instead, he’d have won that, too, ring true in light of the evidence at hand.

This state of things is, I think, simply inconceivable to a large number of people. They want to believe, and therefore do believe, there are essentially magical forces at work, forces that reward Right Thinking on the Right Side of History. These are the mental processes needed to be a socialist True Believer – the concepts break down at every step once you consider the real world so the true believer never considers the real world. Every failure is the fault of some other factor – not True Socialism; every success, however problematic upon examination, is conclusive. Sweden must be a paradise; Venezuela  is not Real Socialism.

What to do about the resistance of the real world to beautiful theory? We’ll just make New Soviet Men to replace the recalcitrant and unwieldy people we actually have, and everything will be wonderful! This seems practical and doable to certain people.

That such thinking is common would be even more panic-inducing if it weren’t for the mitigating grace that such thinkers don’t lead. On the flip side, it is terrifying to realize the people who do lead in this direction don’t think this way – they merely want power, which includes the power to eliminate those persistently recalcitrant and unwieldy people.

 

The Popcorn Guy

Many years ago, my wife worked at a law firm that employed a man I’ll call the Popcorn Guy as an office gofer. He was slovenly and grossly overweight, but laughed a lot, and so seemed to get along, more or less, with the staff. They even gave him so sort of employee award at some company dinner or other. Management had nice things to say about the Popcorn Guy’s cheerfulness as they awarded him.

Being nearly as low on the totem pole as the Popcorn Guy, my wife had a different perspective. To her eyes, the Popcorn Guy was always angry about something, had a very difficult time taking even basic instruction, and was all and all not a pleasant person. Once, they got some sort of office popcorn maker to which one added oil as well as popcorn (hot air evidently not having been invented yet). The Popcorn Guy asks – doesn’t look at the instructions, just asks – how much oil to put in. Several people say some tiny amount, along the lines of a tablespoon or two. Popcorn Guy proceeds to put in several times that amount of oil, pops a bowl and eats the greasy results with no fear anyone else will want any.

Management wanted him to be some sort of jolly fat guy, a colorful and lovable character, and so they pretended he was and failed to see he wasn’t.  A little while later, he was let go. Don’t know what precipitated his firing, but it seems management’s view of the Popcorn Guy caught up with the understanding of those who actually worked elbow to elbow with him.

No profound insights or anything here, just an observation: not only are we sorely tempted to see what we want to see, we tend to understand people’s behaviors against whatever slot we’ve put them in. We’re able to reinterpret away behavior that would otherwise contradict our pre-judgement. At least, until we can’t.

My own interpersonal skills and impulse control, while within ‘normal’ ranges for a 20th century man, are not particularly good, probably below the mean (pretending here that we could measure such things numerically in some non-farcical way. But you get the drift.). I seem to function OK. But I sometimes wonder if my role isn’t something like the child who points out the Emperor is naked, not because I have any superior insight, but just because a lot of the posturing goes right over my head. Or I’m just kidding myself – it would be hard for me to tell, wouldn’t it?

Saw that our president was catching flak over having misspelled “Philippines” in a tweet, complete with grave ponderings over what it means that such a careless person holds the reigns of power. As a somewhat spelling-challenged person, I’ll point out that Philippines is not only a tricky word to spell, but it’s one of those evil words that doesn’t look wrong when you misspell it. Anyway, I have a difficult time extrapolating from misspelled tweets to Apocalyptic Danger.  Spelling errors in informal communications don’t shake the foundations of my world, even when the president makes them.

This brings to mind Dubya’s constant mispronunciation of “nuclear”. For people who assumed, contrary to all evidence, that Bush the Younger was singularly stupid for a politician, this common mispronunciation was maddening proof – a moron stole the election from Gore the Brilliant!! Woe and Ruin!! I, not really caring much beyond being happy that with Bush as president, at least the arrogant hypocrite tool wasn’t (I take comfort where I can), saw an Old Money Blue Blood Yankee with elite Ivy education playing a calculated card: my supporters, for most part, either mispronounce “nuclear” themselves or have loved ones who do so. Therefore, it will make me seem more like them (along with the fake-ish Southern accent and cowboy boots). That it will only infuriate those who would never support me anyway is also a plus – makes my opponents look like petty weasels to my base. Win-win!

As far as intelligence – an admittedly hard to define idea – goes, seemed to me that, of the presidents during my adult life, Reagan and Dubya were similarly intelligent – pretty darn smart, Bush the Elder was a little smarter, Clinton was very, very smart – and Carter and Obama were clearly less smart. I say this based on their actual achievements and having heard them speak *off the cuff*.  Let’s take them one by one:

Carter seemed completely overwhelmed as president from day one, like all it would take is a well-timed ‘boo!’ or a stiff breeze to cause him to collapse in a heap. What came out of his mouth off-script was often sheer nonsense. We – I include my 18-yr old self, who voted for him – tended to overlook that because he seemed like a good man with his heart in the right place. But objectively? A muddle-headed do-gooder (a dangerous type to have in power!) who was way over his head as president. His post-president role with Habitat for Humanity seems much more suited to his skill level.

Reagan got his big breaks by being tall, good looking and having a super-sized dollop of ah-shucks boyish charm. The intelligence kicks in when he played that hand to stardom, presidency of the Screen Actor’s Guild, governor of California and then the Presidency. Because, frankly, that’s just not that good of a hand. Thousands of people who never made it in Hollywood had that hand, and more. Reagan was also able to express himself very well on or off script. He seemed to have a deep understanding of where he stood on things, and was able to get it across. That’s no mean skill.

People loved or hated Reagan because he consistently said the big ‘No’: No, this whole Progressive thing isn’t on the Right Side of History, but on the murdering, impoverishing, enslaving side – as history itself shows. And they knew, in their hearts, it was true. Can’t get any more heroic/hateful than that!  And then he went and succeeded, pretty much. And the Soviet Union fell.

So Reagan has his own wing on Mt. Olympus or bolgia in Hell – take your pick.

Bush the Elder is by all accounts a very smart man, and an honest to goodness war hero for which he will always have my respect. His big break was being born into the Bush family. At least early on, there seems to have been a strong kicked-out-of-the-nest go-do-something-with-your-life ethic in the Bush tribe, with of course the advantage of old money being able to kick down doors. Again, as in the case of Reagan, that’s a good start, but not enough, at least at the Bush family’s level of wealth. That’ll get you opportunities and maybe promotions, but won’t make you a lot richer or get you elected to Congress. Bush played the hand he was dealt quite well.

Unlike Reagan (or even, to some extent, his own son), H.W. doesn’t give the impression of a clear-headed True Believer. One always suspects he’s not saying what he really thinks. I think that’s part of the reason he seems to babble off-text. All in all, I have the least clear impression of Bush the Elder than of any other presidents on this list, except that he’s not stupid by any stretch.

Clinton is the clear intelligence winner on this list, it seems to me. Very smart man. I will here mention what should be obvious: intelligence doesn’t equal goodness, or in fact have all that much to do with it. I don’t like smart presidents any more than less smart ones for that fact alone. It’s just one item in a mix.

Clinton got few breaks aside from being very, very smart, and charming as all get out, which gifts he played to the hilt. He gets the Don King ‘dug myself out of the damn ground just to reach the starting line’ award here. Both his academic achievements and the way he managed his political career speak of one very sharp dude. Greedy, unscrupulous, dishonest, manipulative, self-destructive – sure. But way smart.

Dubya seems like a pretty typical Ivy dude trying hard to pass as a normal human being. As the ‘nuclear’ story illustrates, I think there’s a calculated side to him that his critics seems to always miss. You have to be pretty smart to carry that off convincingly enough to get elected president, which he did twice. Plus the stories about him assigning nicknames to everyone shows a man with a clear grasp of how one reinforces Alpha-male status. You are what he says you are, no matter how playfully it may seem. Frat bro trick.

As hinted at above, I think Dubya really truly believes – something. If he were clear-headed enough to allow the thought to crystalize, probably something along the lines that he and his kind really, really need to be in charge – for our own good. Nothing scares people accustomed to generational leadership and control more than the idea that we don’t actually need generational leadership and control. But I’m not sure how Bush understands this, just that he seems motivated by convictions of some sort.

Aside: politics comes from culture which comes from family, so nothing could be more natural than for an old family to suppose that they must be in control, since 1) they and their peers are families; and 2) they are cultured and carriers and transmitters of culture. But a good, solid culture coming from good solid families doesn’t need for some elite to be in control of politics generation after generation. Politics exists as an expression of the need to protect and promote family and the community life that results from family. Once personal rights got severed from family and community rights and duties, we were doomed. How we reestablish those connections, if they can be reestablished, is the big question. Onward:

If it weren’t for Trump, Obama would be the president with the widest chasm between what people think of him – project on him, really – and what he really seems to be. My take is tainted, perhaps, by having spent far too much time in and around colleges and schools. What I see, and saw the first time I watched O in action, was every star pupil, every teacher’s pet, I’d ever known rolled up into one.

What I see is the Warren G. Harding of this generation, except without Harding’s humble self-awareness. Harding, it seems, was aware on some level that he had no business being president, that his wife and friends and cronies had put him up to it because, frankly, he looked and sounded like a president:

Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865 - 1923) - Genealogy
He had a lovely and convincing speaking voice as well. Critics often pointed out that he said empty nonsense very beautifully.

Obama strikes me as what happens when a kid has been patted on the head his whole life and told what a smart boy he is. He comes to believe it. Coupled with his good looks, photogenic family and decent (wildly overrated, IMO) oratory skills, all he lacked was Harding’s big break –  somebody else to decide he’d make a good president. Good for that somebody else, at least.

O is no better than Dubya at speaking off script. It is very telling how Dubya’s mistakes off the cuff were reported as harbingers of the End Times, while O’s equally goofy mistakes were nothing to be alarmed at. If we were honest, we’d know it’s very, very difficult when speaking off the cuff to keep it clean and clear. Most of the time, such stumbles should carry little if any weight. It’s a rare gift to not stumble around when put on the spot like that. (Netanyahu seems to have it, or just rehearses very, very thoroughly. Small sample size.)

The praises heaped upon Obama’s oratory and brilliance have seemed wildly hyperbolic from the start. This is a brilliant man and orator for the ages? Truly, projection in the service of wish fulfillment has no bounds.

Nope, nothing in O’s history or performance suggests anything above a high-normal intelligence – right about where I’d place Dubya. He’s a smart man, but nothing special, EXCEPT he grew up in an academic world, with an academic for a mom and grandparents, and academic aspirations and expectations.

Just as Dubya’s family expected him to get through school – Ivy, of course – and then get out and get on with making something of himself, O’s family expected him to do well in school – Ivy, of course – and then aspire to something approved of by academics. So he became a professor, then, after the degenerate hopes and dreams of modern academia, a community organizer.

As mentioned above, I’ve spent a lot of time around academics, both as a student and socially (I even stepped in to co-teach a college class once. I should tell that story sometime.) Since I got out of highschool, I’ve routinely signed up for classes wherever I could – my transcripts look insane! I’ve gotten credits from at least 7 institutions (off the top of my head). Hung around with a Stanford crowd for a couple years – choir – including a number of elite professors. And:

Academics – and there are of course exceptions – are among the most hypersensitive egomaniacs I’ve ever run across. This is in inverse proportion to the ‘hardness’ of their specialties: Math professors are comfortable in their skins, accounting profs can be. They know that their positions depend on objectively verifiable and valuable expertise. Business ethicists? (Yes, I had to take that class.) My sample brooked NO challenges, while of course presenting as laid back, open-minded and above all FAIR. Comp Lit? Right. These types know that, really, there are a lot of people who could do the part of their job of any value, and that they got that job only due to luck or the fact that they gave the hiring committee the most boxes to check off.

And don’t even go there with various ‘studies’ professors. Yikes. They know deep inside that not only did they get their job to fill some quota, nothing they know or teach has any intrinsic value to anybody. That’s why they’re so loud – can’t give the small quiet voice any chance to be heard.

So: when I meet academics – and, let’s be clear, I tend to like academics, they’re often very interesting if you get them talking – I start wondering. I don’t immediately go to: this is a member of the intellectual elite, to whom I owe some obsequious bows. I think: here’s a guy who might know something interesting about some narrow field or other, and, to paraphrase Chesterton, was smart enough to get the degree and dull enough to want it.

So, back to O. I’m not impressed that he was a professor of constitutional law. Of all the areas of law, that’s the one closest to philosophy and farthest from real life. Thus, susceptible to conquest by posers. Show me something. Second, give me a guy who has run a corner store in a iffy neighborhood over a community organizer, if I want someone who understand the downtrodden. So, not impressed. O would not dominate the faculty lounge, nor could time in the ‘hood be expected to teach him anything – he expects to teach them.

But what O did do, like Harding, is attract the attention of ambitious people. The people who run Chicago. People who know how to get things done. People who know *ahem* how to get people elected. Unlike Harding, O seems to believe his own PR.

Finally, Trump sure polarizes people, so that folks like me, who don’t think he’s either some glorious savior nor the the new He Who Shall Not Be Named, have to explain, it seems, why we don’t love or hate him the proper amount. Because, ultimately, he’s just a guy? Who will be president for at most 8 years? Who has given no indication he has any plans for internment camps nor mass deportations? (Unlike Antifa, which has announced its deep hope for a chance to kill a few tens of millions like other good Communists. But I digress…)

Cunning is the word that springs to mind when considering Trump. He’s certainly no dummy, as he will happily tell you. I worry more that he’s a true believer – in Trump. As mentioned in other posts, he went from old school New York liberal to crusading conservative with whiplash-inducing suddenness. What gives me the most hope: his ultimate agenda seems to be to stick it to the people who pooh-poohed him – and, frankly, I’m on board with that. As also mentioned elsewhere here, he seems to make the right heads explode.

And, if we accept spite and vengeance as the operative premise, the dude is very, very cunning. As far as intelligence goes, there are many different flavors, and looking to the one Trump is working with here, he’s a genius. He wouldn’t, and doesn’t, get any respect in the faculty lounge, but as a wheeler-dealer street-brawler type huckster, he’s absolutely brilliant.

The above opinions are worth what you paid for them.

A Further Comment on the Previous Post

Identity Politics, with its substance being acts of division into Us and Them, would invite its victims to hate not only the mother and father that gave them birth and then betrayed them, but by extension the very idea of  Family. David Warren explains how the breakdown of the family gives rise to identity Politics, which then further undermines the family.

But why stop there? Unfortunately, even when family has been destroyed babies keep getting made, albeit with decreasing passion and increasing clinical detachment. The betrayed and lied to child, learning to hate as one only can when love is denigrated and despised, turns in his pain to the very act of fruitful coupling itself, and hates it.

Gender Theory appeals to people who hate the fact that their existence resulted from good old fashioned sex. To the damaged child, denied an identity as the son or daughter of a real and present father and mother (and as brother, sister, cousin, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt and so on), any and everything else sexual must be preferred to that which gave birth to their pain.

Rather than marvel at and eventually enjoy all that traditionally surrounded sex – courtship, weddings, babies, whole webs of relationships upon which culture is built and politics tamed – the damaged child is merely enraged by them. All those relationships, denied the child and thus the forcefully unacknowledged source of his pain, must be burnt to the ground. Gender Theory is the torch.

Man Was Not Meant to Think Alone

I’ve long been struck by the philosophical and theological sundering of man from other men that began in the 16th century. Since ideas matter, as Sola anything and Cartesian navel-gazing replaced living tradition and the Question method and, indeed, the very notion of a ‘school’ of thought, these bad ideas have also resulted in the physical separation of people from each other.

You need people, lots of people, for there to be traditions. You need people, generally a good number of people, to have a school of thought. Neither traditions nor schools of thought are created and maintained through correspondence or Twitter. Real, often obnoxious, people rubbing elbows make them and keep them alive. In the case of Sacred Traditions, those people included the Person of Jesus and His apostles and disciples, and their disciples down to the present day; schools of thought, at least until that fateful 16th century, were formed, developed and reinforced by actual scholars, often in actual physical proximity to each other in actual physical schools, arguing, yelling and occasionally knifing each other (1). It may not have always been pretty, but, boy, you can’t get any more human than that!

In the early 1500s, Luther declares his ‘Alones’ shifting the standard of religious study  from monasteries, which, despite the ‘mono’ in the name, were gatherings of men, to the lone plowboy reading the Bible all on his lonesome. Sure, that plowboy might benefit from talking with others, but in theory, all he needs for spiritual enlightenment is the Good Book and the ability to read it.

In 1630, Descartes goes to his room, pulls the curtains and writes his Meditations, shifting the process of philosophy from what men can figure out by interacting with the world around them – most particularly, interacting with the *people* around them – to what a man such as Descartes, Hume, Berkeley or Kant can figure out in the privacy of his own cranium. If that cranium can even be said to be known to exist.

Image result for school of athens
A gaggle of philosophers. That’s old school! That’s how you do it!

If we hold being Alone in our theology and philosophy to be the highest court above which no appeal can be made, how long will it take for us to assert that being alone in our personal judgements about, say, culture, government and my true self are likewise beyond appeal?

About 500 years, evidently.

Three things this day bring this to mind. First, this excellent essay by David Mills: The Bible’s not enough, which discusses the pervasiveness of Sola Scriptura even among Catholics. Second, a Twitter thread (so shoot me. I mean, think less of me.) where Morgon Newquist tells of her father, in a wheelchair at Disney World, offering to let a little girl sit in front of him to have a better view of a parade – and the parents react like he’s a child molestor. Finally, I’ve recently become part of the the RCIA team at our parish, and was given the task (and 10 minutes!) to explain how the Church reads Scripture.

We are so Alone. The ruins of go it alone theology and philosophy are everywhere. Rather than discovering ourselves in our relationships, we defiantly declare that only we alone can say who we are, depending solely on what we feel we are. We define *individual* rights, and deny they come from nature or nature’s God or even from our relationships to other people. Even the right to vote – especially the right to vote – is seen as definitive of *individual* worth, even if it is only practiced occasionally, and then as part of a large group for the purposes of the large group. It is an expression not of my role in society, but of my personal universe of truth. Thus, instead of seeing losing a vote as a worthy and acceptable outcome and motivation to try to change people’s hearts and minds, each loser is personally threatened, the victors seen as evil people trying to destroy his world.

Many seem to both want rights and want to be able to define them away from others. You must bake me a cake or give up your guns even if neither has any real effect on me, but I get to tell you who I am (and woe if you mess it up) and what world view you must adhere to so that I can feel good about my feelings. This trick is only possible for an more or less unconscious nihilist, who of course believes other’s worthiness depends on how well they support his view of himself, but also betrays how meaningless he feels his own feelings are.

The antidote is religious by definition. We must believe we are all in this together, that nobody can go it alone, in order to understand why the modernist nihilism won’t work. Or rather, why modernist nihilism should never be tried. We can try, doomed though the effort is, to believe in the unity of Mankind without believing in the God Who created that unity. But with or without God, the Brotherhood of Man is like the Equality of Man: nothing you can observe will support such beliefs unless you already believe them without evidence.

  1. Documents relate to “a student who attacked his professor with a sword” resulting in great damage being done to a lecture room – and to the lecturer himself.  From Medieval Students. Violence in medieval university towns was not uncommon.  I suspect there’s more than a bit of bias, both in the recording and interpretation of history – violent acts are memorable and judged noteworthy. A period of peace not so much. Read somewhere somebody saying that, by modern standards, the violence of the past was psychopathic. Of course, modern standards tend to overlook violence like firebombing cities, nuclear weapons, and the slaughter of a 100 million unarmed civilians by their own governments, so take that into consideration.

Brick Oven Blowout: Gearing Up

The last 3.5 posts have been like, heavy, man – death of God, Luther, bad Science!, even quoting Camille Paglia! Therefore, to keep the silly/light quotient adequately high:

Sunday, we’re going to go for a total Brick Oven/Summer’s Over Blowout. Should have the oven door completed by then, which opens up a whole new world of stuff you can bake. Going to fire up the oven around noon or even earlier, heat it for a good 3-4 hours, then, around 3:00 p.m., we’ll start in on pizzas. I’ve been researching recipes that use a brick oven, and have found plenty – not surprising for a 2,500+ year old technology. The goal, such as it is, is just to try stuff, see what works, and, in the process, get to know the oven better.

Been surfing the interwebs in search of ideas. In addition to pizzas, we’ll be trying:

  • Breads – at least pizza-dough style and some light rye, maybe sourdough and ciabatta.
  • Baked potatoes
  • Carrots – saw a roasted honey-glazed recipe that looked pretty good
  • Steaks – skirt steak, if I can find any
IMG_4476
Charcoal and ash from a 90 minute burn. Will be shooting for a minimum 4 hour burn. To do real Italian-style bread properly, would probably require a minimum 6 hour burn – need to very thoroughly heat all that brick, mortar and concrete so it will hold the temp long enough to bake the bread. But that’s what this whole experiment is about.

The key to many of the vegetable items is cast iron cookware, of which we have some. You preheat the cast iron pans/pots in the oven, then add stuff, then let it bake/fry.

Saw Alton Brown do skirt steaks by simply throwing them – very briefly – directly onto 1000F charcoal. Sounds like fun.

We’ve invited maybe 15-20 people over. I’ve got 10lbs of brisket normalizing (soaking in plain water to pull some of the salt back out and even things up) after 6 days of brining, to make fresh pastrami. So we’ll need some brick oven bread suitable for sandwiches. There will be homemade sauerkraut and olives (from homegrown olives) as well as a few fresh off the vine tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers (late in the season, didn’t have very good volume this year). Hatch green chile is in the local Safeway, roasted a few pounds, so there will be authentic New Mexico style green chile sauce. What does one put authentic New Mexico style green chile sauce on? Just about anything!

Hatch Green Chile
Hatch Green Chile, grown in and around Hatch, New Mexico, is only available fresh for a few weeks in the fall. In Santa Fe, a couple hour’s drive north of Hatch, people buy it in 40 lbs boxes at the local grocery stores. Guys will set up roasters – 50-gallon drums where much of the sides have been replaced by expanded metal, on a rotating spindle over a fire – in the parking lot. Throw them a few bucks, and they’ll dump your box of chile into the barrel, spin it over the flames for a few minutes, then dump it back into your box (lined with plastic – doesn’t seem to melt it). You take it home, wipe the charred skin off with a cloth, throw the chile into baggies, and toss the baggies into the freezer. You’re now set for all your green chile needs until next year – if you go easy on it, that is. 

In addition to making the door, I might make a little expanded metal grill-on-legs that one can put into the oven to suspend foods over the coals (some people seem to like that, others throw everything right on the hot bricks or coals) Also got a metal pizza peel with too short a handle for reaching breads toward the back – got a long wooden handle, which I’ll need to swap out.

Got some shopping to do. Should be fun.

On an entirely different and more serious note: my wife heard an interview on NPR (the CD player in the car was giving her trouble, turned on the radio and that’s what was on) wherein a reporter who wrote a book on the Trump campaign opined that denying the results of a Pew study, which Trump is said to have done, was the same as denying gravity – anti-Science! Oh no! Couldn’t find a transcript, just the audio of the interview – and haven’t the time nor stomach to listen through to get the exact quotation. Will try later, time permitting. Suffice it to say that anyone who thinks polling data demands anything like the agreement an honest man gives to the theory of gravity and all its beautiful and useful math is a helpless babe in the woods, to be lead wherever her betters choose to lead her.

And then she presumes to lead us. With a sneer. O dolour!

But the party will be fun!

Review: Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy

History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy by [Machiavelli, Niccolò]Written toward the end of a lifetime (1469 – 1527) spent as a diplomat and adviser, Machiavelli’s History of Florence and the Affairs of Italy is not the book of his most people read – that would be the Prince, the realpolitik described within it giving us the adjective Machiavellian.

Since I first read the Prince as a youth, I’ve belonged to the minority of non-Italian readers who think the amoral and murderous advice he gives is rather more a cautionary tale than advice per se – that Machiavelli, who pleads throughout for the particular prince to whom the book is dedicated to take action, is hoping to avoid, as much as possible, the violence he describes from copious historical examples. But that’s decidedly a minority opinion, outside of Italy.

Among Italians, I’ve been told, Machiavelli is viewed much more as an Italian patriot than as an advocate of Athens’ position in the Melian Dialogues (“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”). And so I wanted to read this, his history of the city and nation he so clearly loved.

The book opens with the Fall of Rome, giving what I assume is the 16th century Italian angle on the Vandals – Stilicho and his family – and Visigoths – Alaric and his – and the End of the World, as Lafferty would have it. By the 16th century, it is more than a little odd to talk about Italians as if they could be distinguished in a practical sense from the Germanic auxiliaries/invaders/settlers from which a huge percentage of the norther Italians were descended. Nonetheless, there’s a pro-Italian flavor to Machiavelli’s account I don’t see in Belloc’s or Lafferty’s.

Then comes Odoacer and about 6 centuries about which I know so little it is hard to follow. Turmoil is the main theme here, as it is for almost all history almost everywhere. Italy was shattered, eventually, after the Fall of Rome, and spent the next 1500 years trying to pull itself together.

One main thing gleaned from this period: with all the turmoil, all the ambition petty and grand, that resulted in the endless bloodshed and war and intrigue, it’s much more easy to find some sympathy for the  various popes and their bloodshed, wars and intrigue. Toward the end of the book, Machiavelli says that it’s best, when there’s a choice, not to make alliances with popes, as they don’t generally rule long and you never know what the next one will do. That, (I liberally paraphrase) and the pope might just have religious considerations that muck things up!

Not in any way attempting to excuse the often brutal and murderous behaviors of many of the popes especially starting in the 15th century, just pointing out that a pope back then actually needed armies and land if he didn’t want to spend his reign locked up in somebody’s closet. As bad as a pope might occasionally be, the secular princes could be counted on to be consistently worse.

Things picked up for me in the 13th century, as I started to see more familiar names and her more familiar stories, mostly familiar from having read Dante (he puts in a brief appearance) and art history.

Starting with the 13th century, the History gets to be much more detailed. As the 15th century starts, Machiavelli begins to go into much more detail, as the events were still in living memory when he was a boy. Finally, as 1500 approaches, he starts referring to the Florentines as ‘we’ – this is the history he lived through.

And what a troubled yet glorious time it was, with Lorenzo the Magnificent rising to power, surviving an assassination attempt that claimed his brother, attacked by both the King of Naples and the pope, deserted by allies in Milan and Venice, making a daring trip to Naples to seek reconciliation with the king, succeeding, and then sending ambassadors to the pope – and succeeding again! – riding out troubles at home, and coming out of all that as the most powerful man in Italy, pretty much.

While Machiavelli only touches lightly upon it, at the same time all this violence and insecurity were afflicting Florence, more great art was being produced in that one little corner of the world than anywhere else in such a small place any time in history, with the possible exception a couple of centuries in Athens. Truly amazing.

C. S. Lewis advises one to read an old book each time you’ve read a new one, or, if you must, after each two new ones. You could do much worse for an old book than the History of Florence.