The respectable voice

The Nation magazine has a pretty clear line about US policy towards Israel; it is whatever the Israeli Left, especially the Meretz Party, is calling for at any given moment.  Any number of influential groups in the USA are willing to speak up for whatever position the Israeli Right, especially the Likud, might take, so it’s useful to have a nationally circulated weekly with an impressive list of writers and editors that will provide that view to an American audience.  The magazine has a far less clear view about US policy towards the Arab states.  In fact, sometimes they are just muddled, as for example in this recent editorial about the violence that has been perpetrated ostensibly as an objection to some video a guy in California posted on YouTube.  There are some good remarks in it, like these:

While it is true that freedom of expression has not been as firmly established, either culturally or constitutionally, in the Muslim world as it has in the West, this is far from a clash of civilizations, and there’s much more behind the demonstrations than rage at one bigoted YouTube clip. For one thing, the video was first widely disseminated by Salafi media outlets, which called for the first protests at the US embassy in Cairo. And the Salafis, who preach a fundamentalist strain of Islam, are motivated as much by domestic politics as by US policy or obscure videos (for more, see Sharif Abdel Kouddous’s report “What’s Behind the US Embassy Protests in Egypt”). Among the many seismic reverberations set off by the more democratized politics of the Arab Awakening are fierce contests between Salafis and more moderate Islamists, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, to define political Islam. For the Salafis, the video was useful both to rally followers and as a wedge issue against Egypt’s vulnerable Brotherhood, which is torn between the desire to placate Washington and the IMF—which hold the purse strings to billions in desperately needed aid—and a domestic constituency fed up with decades of imperial manipulation and support for autocrats.

So far, so good.  The video may be obnoxious and stupid, but so are millions of other videos, including thousands that insult Muhammad and Islam.  No one can explain what quality this particular specimen of idiocy exhibits that elevates it above the general run of ignorant garbage that fills the internet.  It is patently the case that individuals engaged in power struggles within predominantly Muslim countries chose it at random as a tool with which to provoke a confrontation in which they would be able to present themselves as the defenders of Islam.  I think Kenan Malik put it more forcefully on his blog than The Nation puts it here:

It is true that Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude, bigoted diatribe against Islam. But the idea that this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till this month is the source of worldwide violence is equally risible. As in the Rushdie affair, what we are seeing is a political power struggle cloaked in religious garb. In Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, the crisis is being fostered by hardline Islamists in an attempt to gain the political initiative. In recent elections hardline Islamists lost out to more mainstream factions. Just as the Ayatollah Khomeini tried to use the fatwa to turn the tables on his opponents, so the hardliners are today trying to do the same by orchestrating the violence over Innocence of Muslims, tapping into the deep well of anti-Western sentiment that exists in many of these countries. The film is almost incidental to this.

Of course, that “deep well of anti-Western sentiment” is fed from the groundwater of imperial ventures like the recent war on Libya that brought down the Gadhafi regime and created a power vacuum that many groups are now jockeying to fill.  In Egypt also, the US has long been a violently intrusive presence in the country’s internal affairs.  As the Egyptian army’s 60-year grip on power weakens, a political space therefore opens in which anti-Western voices are likely to be heard.  And, as it is unclear who will emerge as Libya’s new leaders, so it is unclear who will rise to the head of affairs in Egypt.  One hears much about the Muslim Brotherhood, but of course the Brotherhood is not organized along lines of command and control like an army or the Communist Parties of the century gone by.  So even we knew that the Muslim Brotherhood would provide Egypt’s leadership, we would be very far from knowing who the members of that leadership would be or how they would relate to each other, to the population at large, or to Egypt’s neighbors abroad.  There is therefore much to play for in the politics of these countries, and it is hardly surprising that many political actors there are eager to establish themselves as the defenders of Islam.

The Nation‘s editors seem to agree with that assessment in the paragraph above, about the “Salafi media outlets” that were the first to pick the video up and publicize it.  Things get a little bit shaky in the next paragraph, however:

Indeed, the deepest wellsprings of resentment lie in US policy on the region. From backing dictatorships, to the strangulation by sanctions and eventual evisceration of Iraq, to drone strikes across the Muslim world, to steadfast support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine, now in its fifth decade—the list of grievances is long (see Adam Baron, “Yemen Inflamed,” for insight into the roots of the latest protests in one country). And Muslims are well aware of the Islamophobia permeating American society and government (for more, see our special issue “Islamophobia: Anatomy of an American Panic,” July 2/9). The video is just one particularly nasty example of a bigotry that has become pervasive throughout the Western world. Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama for “sympathizing” with those who attacked the US consulate in Benghazi was, of course, a grossly opportunistic slander. But [Mr. Romney’s] ridicule of those who would “apologize” for America reflected an all-too-common cultural insensitivity toward Muslims—a bigotry many would not tolerate if leveled against Christians or Jews.

The first sentences here are pretty good, if oddly selective- the most violent episodes have occurred in Egypt and Libya, so why not mention US interference in Egypt’s internal affairs and the recent war on Libya?  Why only mention specific US actions in Iraq, Palestine, and Yemen, waving a hand at every other country, including the two countries most affected, with general remarks about “backing dictatorships” and “drone strikes across the Muslim world”?  Surely the more information one provides about the harm that US policy has done to these countries under administrations past and present, the clearer it becomes that “the Islamophobia permeating American society and government” is a clear and present danger to the well-being of their inhabitants.   In that way, anti-Islamic sentiment in the USA is at present in a different category than “bigotry” that might from time to time be “leveled against Christians or Jews”; the USA is not, at least at the moment, waging war in multiple countries where the majority is associated with these religions.  The comparison at the end of the paragraph is therefore another example of odd selection of material.

Meanwhile, the president who has ordered the vast majority of the drone strikes the US has committed in majority-Muslim countries, who was the author of the war on Libya, and who has made clear time and again that he will continue all of the other policies that the paragraph opens by condemning figures in it only as the victim of a “grossly opportunistic slander” emitted by his chief opponent in the upcoming election.  I would say that this presentation of Mr O as a poor maligned statesman explains the other oddities of the paragraph.  The Nation is edited, written, underwritten, and read by people most of whom would very much like to support Mr O for a second term as president.  At the same time, the magazine’s whole purpose is to denounce unjust policies pursued by the US government and powerful interests associated with it.  This creates a bit of tension.  How can one be simultaneously an uncompromising opponent of US policy and a vigorous supporter of the US’ chief policymaker?  One way is to be loudest about expressing one’s opposition to policies that had run their course before he took office.  So, note the emphasis on the 1990-2003 sanctions against Iraq, sanctions that were imposed when Mr O was still in law school and that dissolved in an invasion staged when he was a not-very-senior member of the Illinois state legislature.  Another is to dilate on those aspects of policy that had been in place for decades when he took office and to leave out the fact that he has done nothing to change them.  So, “backing dictatorships,” “steadfast support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” etc, appear by themselves, not as verbs with subjects or agents, but as abstract noun constructions untethered to the action of any person.

There is also a weasel word in the last sentence of the paragraph.  That word is “many.”  Mr Romney is judged guilty of “a bigotry many would not tolerate if leveled against Christians or Jews.”  Who are these “many,” and what form would their intolerance take?  That vagueness becomes the more troubling as we turn to the next paragraph:

Washington’s support for the Arab Spring was too inconsistent and came too late to outweigh America’s troubled history in the region. The collapse of longstanding dictatorships has allowed antipathy against the United States to surface more visibly; it has also left weapons and money in the hands of Islamist radicals, many of them funded by the Persian Gulf monarchies. Indeed, Washington must finally confront the fact that our oldest regional ally, Saudi Arabia, happens to be controlled by Wahhabi fundamentalists who have spent billions spreading their ideology throughout the Muslim world. We should hardly be surprised when it blows back in our face.

This is the sort of thing one sees on the editorial page of The New York Times, or would see there if one were sufficiently masochistic to read the editorial page of The New York Times.  As in those columns, logical consistency is thrown to the winds and the empty slogans familiar in the corridors of power take the place of facts.  “Washington’s support for the Arab Spring” was too little and too late, apparently; yet “the collapse of longstanding dictatorships” which was the point of the Arab Spring “allowed antipathy against the United States to surface more visibly” and “left weapons and money in the hands of Islamist radicals.”  What possible Washington government could regret its tardiness to promote these outcomes?  Also, note the change of direction- earlier, the piece had explained that groups which it designates by the labels “Salafis” and “the Brotherhood” (a ridiculously simplistic taxonomy to be sure, but come on, they’re trying) are jockeying with each other for power and that their positions on the controversy regarding this preposterous YouTube clip are to some extent the product of this jockeying.  In the quote I gave from Mr Malik, I saw this same point taken much further.  Now, however, it seems that the “Islamist radicals” were already there, already in their present condition and posture, with nothing added except weapons and money.  Finally, notice the complaint about Saudi Arabia’s promotion of the ideology of “Wahhabi fundamentalists” abroad.  Given the fact that the paragraph starts with a lament that “Washington” (presumably not meaning President George Washington, whose administration ended in 1797, but his current successor, whatever his name might be) was not fast or aggressive about supporting the Arab Spring,* I can only assume that their preferred response to Saudi promotion of Wahhabist ideology is not learning from the example of that policy’s bad effects and refraining from official promotion of ideologies, but a contest in which the USA, led by the president who must not be named, will try to outdo the Saudis in the promotion abroad of an official US ideology.  What this ideology might be is too depressing to contemplate, given the dismal state of intellectual life and the political system in the United States.  I can’t stifle a suspicion that such a thing, were it ever announced, might make even Wahhabism look appealing by contrast.

The conclusion of the editorial is as follows:

The United States needs a radically new Middle East policy, based on respect for the democratic aspirations of Arabs and Muslims, with economic assistance focusing on jobs and justice, and an end to military solutions that seek control rather than cooperation. If we want a change in attitudes, we need a change in policy.

How about a radically new Middle East policy based on the fact that the USA is on the other side of the world from the Middle East, has a culture that is deeply discontinuous with the predominant cultures of most Middle Eastern societies, and has no business telling Middle Easterners what sort of “aspirations” they are allowed to have, or what economic policies “justice” permits them to adopt?  How about we start minding our own business and letting the rest of the people in the world mind theirs, in other words?  Don’t look for that proposal in this piece.  It sounds good to call for “an end to military solutions,” but to qualify that call with “that seek control rather than cooperation”- who’s kidding whom?  “Military solutions” is a euphemism for war.  As the saying goes, “War means fighting and fighting means killing.”  Replace “military solutions” with “killing,” and the editorial is calling for “an end to killing that seeks control rather than [killing that seeks] cooperation,” and you see what nonsense that expression is.  Killers can use the fear of death to control a population, but they can hardly expect cooperation.  In that nonsense, as in the rest of the New York Times editorial page-style sloganeering that crops up so often when Americans try to sound respectable, one finds a wish to be simultaneously known as a peacemaker and to be received respectfully among warmakers.  Before we can change the policies that sow such fear and anger in the Muslim world, the idea that these two wishes are compatible is the first attitude we must stamp out.

Elsewhere in the issue,  Eric Alterman notices that nobody with many interesting things to say is appearing on television in support of Mr Romney’s presidential campaign.  Apparently Mr Alterman takes this to mean that there are, really, no conservative intellectuals.  Indeed, the title of his column is “The Problem of Conservative ‘Intellectuals,'” and every time he mentions supporters of Mr Romney he calls them “conservative ‘intellectuals,'” with quotation marks suggesting that these two terms don’t go together.  Readers of this site know that I am continually reading and talking about conservative intellectuals; magazines like Chronicles and The American Conservative are written and edited by thinkers who are highly intellectual and, with some exceptions, very, very conservative.  Mr Alterman’s focus on Campaign 2012 may have misled him, as none of these intellectuals is at all enthusiastic about Mr Romney.  More contributors to The American Conservative will probably vote for third party candidates than for Mr Romney, and several contributors to Chronicles might demand that their states to secede from the Union if either he or the president wins in November.

Akiva Gottlieb reports from the Whitney Biennial’s 2012 exhibition of American cinema, and puts forth a sobering hypothesis: “from now until the final reel of celluloid is shot and projected, every film’s primary subject will be film itself.”  Arid as this prospect is, it gets worse.  Apparently film’s primary subject will be low-quality film stock, as Kodachrome and other excellent brands of film are no longer in production and projection equipment suited to them will soon be hard to find.  For some reason, the only film that can be produced during this period when digital is rising is film that is in no way way superior to digital.

*May I put scare quotes around the phrase “the Arab Spring”?  I would very much like to put scare quotes around the phrase “the Arab Spring.”  It is precisely the sort of phrase for which scare quotes were invented.

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Random words

The other day, Bruce Schneier posted a note about “Recent Developments in Password Cracking.”  At the end, he mentioned: “Finally, there are two basic schemes for choosing secure passwords: the Schneier scheme and the XKCD scheme.”  The xkcd scheme, as some of you will recall, is laid out in this cartoon:

Much of the discussion on Bruce Schneier’s blog has included expressions of doubt that many users of the xkcd scheme are actually choosing the words randomly.

I use the xkcd scheme sometimes.  Here’s how I try to ensure that I’m picking the words randomly.  I have a telephone directory; fortunately, they still print those where I live.  I go to Wordcount.org, a site which indexes the 86,800 most common words in the British National Corpus in numerical order by frequency.  I close my eyes, open the telephone directory, and put my finger down on the page.  I open my eyes and see the last four digits of the number nearest my finger.  I put that number into Wordcount’s “by rank” search box and find the corresponding word.  I repeat the process to come up with four random words.

So, for example, the number sequence 6841, 1131, 4508, 1967, yields this word sequence in Wordcount:

hatred interested lecture beneath

Say the word “hatred” makes me uncomfortable.  Sometimes you will come up with a word you dislike, such as a curse word or an ethnic slur, or with a word that is too long, or one that is difficult to remember.  Well, there are more numbers on the telephone directory; repeating the process, I come up with 4300.  The 4300th most common word in the British National Corpus is “bench.”  So, the password can be either:

bench interested lecture beneath

or

interested lecture beneath bench

My usual practice when one of the first four words is problematic in some way is to put its replacement at the end, but since “interested lecture beneath bench” sounds like a series of words that might possibly appear in some bit of writing somewhere, I would choose “benchinterestedlecturebeneath.”

There are other ways to have fun with Wordcount.org.  You can look for little bits of unintended poetry in the sequencing.  One of my favorites is the sequence of words from #5595 to #5598, “touching shallow charming fuck.”  That tells the whole story of a bittersweet romance.  Or #44631 to #44634, “uneaten reticulum, oxidative fungicide.”  I can’t say that sounds like an appealing meal. Or #5844 to #5848, “publish solar petitions hurried Gabriel.”  Or #50 through #56, “so no said who more about up.”  Punctuate it as “‘So, no,’ said who?  More about up!”  A familiar story is told succinctly from #85 to #88: “See first!  Well, after.”  Punctuation can make a great deal of #100 through #164: “Got much?  Think, work- between go years; er- many, being those before right, because through- yeah?  Good- three make us such.  Still, year must last, even take own, too.  Off here come both- does say ‘Oh, used, going “‘Erm- use government day, man!'”  Might same, under ‘yes,’ however, put world another want?  Thought, while life again, against Never, need old look home.  Something, Mr Long.”  I grant you, it doesn’t make sense, but it keeps sounding like it is about to mean something.  And several of the sub-sequences in there sound so good that it really is a shame they are gibberish.

Cartoon etymology

Thanks to Stan Carey, who introduced those of us who read his site to “Mysteries of Vernacular.”  “Mysteries of Vernacular” is a series of animated shorts exploring the etymology of a few English words.  Here’s the one for hearse.  I like the interactive graphic that they give you to browse the videos:

 

The other day, Zach Weiner’s Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal featured an explanation of the origin of the phrase “vanilla sex.”  The explanation:

The VAN- part comes from the Spanish “Vaina” from the Latin “Vagina.”  The -ILLA part is diminutive.  So, etymologically, “Vanilla Sex” refers to a little vaginal sex.

Each of the etymological claims in the explanation is basically true,* but the conclusion they allegedly support is ludicrous.  Which I’m sure is the point, the etymological information represents a pun of an unusual and elaborate form.

*Basically.  So Spanish vaina does come from the Latin vagina, but so does Spanish vagina.  In Latin, vagina meant either “vagina” or “sheath”; in Spanish, vagina means “vagina” and vaina means “sheath.”  So, etymologically, “vanilla” means “little sheath,” not “little vagina.”  If the people who coined the phrase “vanilla sex” were thinking about the etymology behind the word “vanilla,” the etymological meaning of the phrase would be “little sheath sex.” In that case, we would expect the first appearances of the phrase to have some association with condoms.  Perhaps with little condoms.  Though perhaps not; sometimes the Romans used diminutive endings the way we use them in English, as terms of endearment or as ways of sounding cutesy (like the -sy on the end of “cutesy,” or the -y on the end of “thingy.”)  So maybe “condom-y sex,” or “condomish sex” might be a more accurate rendering than “little condom sex” if the original formation of “vanilla” were in fact part of the history of the expression.

The Romney strategy

Earlier today, I posted two long comments at Secular RightOne was about philosopher Alvin Plantinga.   That one I’ll just leave there, as I doubt that anyone who reads this blog would be much interested in it.

The other was about US presidential candidate Willard M. “Mitt” Romney.  I’ll copy it below.  Mr Romney recently made news by saying this:

So, in what are obviously prepared remarks Mr Romney is declaring that “47, 48, 49%” of US voters will never support him under any conditions.  That wouldn’t seem to be a statement that a candidate who expects to win an election would make.  It has been widely reported as a gaffe, and on Secular Right blogger “David Hume” (alias Razib Khan) joins those who say that Mr Romney faces “a longer shot than he had one week ago.”

I’m not so sure.  I explained there (links added):

When you say that Mr Romney’s chances of winning the election are less than they were a week ago, I assume you’re thinking of his remarks about the “47, 48, 49%” of voters who will never support him because their household incomes are too low. If that is an incorrect assumption, please let me know.

I don’t know whether those remarks will hurt him in the end. What does seem clear is that they are part of a deliberate strategy on Mr Romney’s part. A few days before the release of this video, he had said that an annual household income of $100,000 was insufficient to qualify for the middle class, that it took at least $250,000 to be a middle-income family. And there have been so many other remarks of the same kind, from “Corporations are people, my friend” to his challenge to Rick Perry to a $10,000 wager, to “Some of my best friends are NASCAR team owners,” that it is clearly a strong pattern. Mr Romney is an extremely intelligent man, and is continually receiving high-quality market research about the voting public’s response to his statements. Therefore, it is unlikely that he would exhibit such a strong pattern unless he believed that it would help him achieve some goal.

What is that goal? I’d say the answer is in the “47, 48, 49%” formulation. The last survey I saw that asked Americans to rank themselves by the level of household income showed that something like 17% of them thought that they were in the top 1%. That survey is pretty old now, but I suspect that far fewer than 49% of Americans think of themselves as part of the poorest 49%. Those who do know that they are in the bottom half of the income distribution are certainly no less likely to vote for Mr Romney now than they were before these remarks were released; if anything, those voters with sub-median incomes who would consider voting Republican are likely to cheer when they hear a politician casting aspersions on those of their neighbors and coworkers who express concern about the future of public assistance programs.

In other words, I think that Mr Romney is trying to position his candidacy as a luxury brand. He knows that people like to feel rich, and that they sometimes choose luxury products or services because the act of buying them will give them that feeling. He is in fact betting his entire candidacy on this sort of luxury appeal.

Will this wager pay off? It seems very unlikely now. Mr Romney started running for president shortly after he was elected governor of Massachusetts, in George W. Bush’s first term. At that time, he evidently hoped that, in 2008, he would be the Republican Party’s nominee for president, that because of the Bush-Cheney record the Republican Party would be very popular, and that the economy would be booming. Under those conditions, a strategy like Mr Romney’s might very well have won a presidential election.

As it happened, Mr Romney was not nominated until 2012, the Bush-Cheney record made and continues to make the Republican Party unpopular, and the economy has not been truly strong for a good many years. So it would be surprise if his strategy were to succeed. What is not surprising is that he continues to pursue it. On the one hand, Mr Romney’s own personal history is such that he could prove his independence from the plutocracy only by advocating a genuinely populist economic policy. That, obviously, is something which he has absolutely no desire to do. On the other hand, the Republican Party in general has been moving towards a more frankly pro-rich posture in recent years. Look at all the talk from leading Republicans about “broadening the base” of the tax system, that is to say, raising taxes on the non-rich. If that is the direction they are going, the only asset the Republicans are going to have in future elections is their luxury appeal. So, slim as Mr Romney’s chances may be, his decision to base his campaign on the fact that he and his social circle are all very, very rich is in fact a rational one.

Good editing separates a sage from a provocateur

I’ve seen some good stuff on the internet lately.  There are people who read this blog who won’t like some of it.

1. Kenan Malik writes:

One thing should be clear. The violence across the Muslim world in response to an American anti-Islamic film has nothing to do with that film. Yes, The Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude diatribe against Islam. But this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till last week is no more the source of the current violence than God is the source of the Qur’an.

I don’t presume to know whether God is the source of the Qur’an, but Mr Malik is surely right to argue that these acts of violence spring from efforts by their perpetrators to present themselves as the champions of Islam.  As such, they are symptoms of the internal politics of the countries where they take place, politics which may well be shaped by military and other interventions from outside powers, but which must always be analyzed in terms of the interests and understandings of their actual participants.

2. An article about cartoonist R. Crumb in Vingt Paris Magazine lists many of Mr Crumb’s more unwholesome obsessions, then goes on:

I suppose the uncomfortable truth about Crumb’s reputation as a comic satirist is that he’s no good when he really needs to be. Unlike, say, Dick Gregory or even Randy Newman (whose song Rednecks is also written from a racist’s point of view), Crumb is too happy to wield irony like a sledgehammer when it comes to discussing race.

As a result of Mr Crumb’s lack of subtlety, his irony often collapses and his depictions of racist imagery are left without satiric point, as racism plain and simple.  Likewise, his sadomasochism-inspired sexual imagery rarely has much point beyond the confessional, and is merely disgusting.

Mr Crumb does not attempt to defend his work; last year, faced with the prospect of demonstrations against him, he canceled plans to appear at the Sydney Opera House, saying “‘I can’t explain why I drew all those crazy pictures’, he told the press. ‘I had to do it. Maybe I should have my pencils and pens taken away from me. I don’t know.'”  The author of the article mentions that Mr Crumb had given him the identical response when he’d asked him to justify his work some years previously, then remarks “It’s a stock response that’s so polished it shines. It makes you wonder if, one day, he might get bored of saying it and try for an answer instead.”

I would not defend the racial imagery in Mr Crumb’s work.  I still chuckle when I think of the moment in the 1994 documentary Crumb when one of his critics looks at a comic strip depicting the crudest possible African American stereotype and says “This is actually an attack on black people.”  What made me laugh then and now is the word “actually.”  As if it were apparently something else, but a close analysis by the most sophisticated methods available would show that it was actually an attack on black people.  It was so obviously an attack on black people that the existence of a debate about the question of whether it is such an attack is hilarious.

The article summarizes Mr Crumb’s attitude towards his subject matter thus:

Using racial stereotypes in his work is something that Crumb freely admits to, saying that ‘there’s a perverse part of me (that) likes to take the heat for all that stuff’. One of his most famous examples is here in the exhibition – a picture called Jive with Angel Food McSpade. It’s a drawing of a freakish, thick-lipped, bug-eyed woman, who seductively raises her leg and claims she was ‘Attacked in the mud because I was a SEXY TEASE’.

The arguments about drawings like Jive with Angel Food go like so: ‘He’s subverting those images and throwing our own racism back at us’. Or ‘he’s just trying to shock you, Liberal’. Or ‘he’s genuinely a racist. He’s not even being ironic’. And they play out like a game of rock, paper, scissors that nobody knows how to stop.

For his part, Crumb says the controversial stuff pours out of him because it’s wired into his brain, from all the pop-imagery he saw on television and in comics and magazines. He’s certainly not a racist, he says, but he’s even less of a censor – and if this kind of stuff is in there, then who is he to keep it in?

This strikes me as a fair statement, and a sad one.  At his best, as in his illustrated version of Genesis, Mr Crumb shows that the feverish, undigested contents of his psyche are unsettlingly similar to the feverish, undigested ideas at the heart of the most powerful ideologies in the modern world.  It is a shame that Mr Crumb has not been consistently subject to a stringent and demanding editor who fully understands his project and capabilities.  It is unreasonable to expect the same person to serve as author and editor of the same work; in that sense, Mr Crumb is quite right to ask “who is he to keep it in?”

3. Blogger Steve Sailer lists the following as the categories of Americans whose opinions about foreign policy are taken seriously in official Washington:

Today, the acceptable limits of foreign policy discourse in America are set by:
– The good old military-industrial complex
– Saudi bribery
– Liberal Democratic Zionists
– Right 2 Protect liberal crypto-imperialist/busybodies
– Angry Likudniks
– Quasi-CIA “democracy” endowments that organize color-coded revolutions
– Foreign policy thinktanks (who are more important the more activist the foreign policy)
– White guys who need to serve in the military so they can get affirmative action points to become firemen
– Yahoos who should be apprised that when football isn’t on TV, professional wrestling can always be found year-round, so there’s no need to watch the news
– Oil companies (who are left to quietly play the “Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King role)
They are all overseen by a national media that sometimes seems most concerned about the looming threat that an isolationist Father Coughlin could arise again.
So, the only feasible foreign policy alternative to stake out is: “The President’s foreign policy isn’t quite crazed enough!”

When Mr Sailer expresses his right-wing opinions about race or sex or economics, I can usually find good reasons to disagree with him.  I wish I could disagree with him here as well.

4. Via Arts & Letters Daily, here’s a sensational little essay about Ezra Pound by Luciano Mangiafico at Open Letters Monthly.  Mr Mangiafico presents the following as an “excerpt from Canto 81”:

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage…
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place…
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down…

These lines do appear in Pound’s Canto 81, but Mr Mangiafico has edited them heavily.  Here is how of the ending of the poem looks in the edition of the Cantos I read (New Directions, 1996):

What thou lovest well remains,

the rest is dross

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage

Whose world, or mine or theirs

or is it of none?

First came the seen, then thus the palpable

Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,

What thou lovest well is thy true heritage

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.

Pull down thy vanity, it is not man

Made courage, or made order, or made grace,

Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.

Learn of the green world what can be thy place

In scaled invention or true artistry,

Pull down thy vanity,

Paquin pull down!

The green casque has outdone your elegance.

“Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”-

Pull down thy vanity

Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,

A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,

Half black half white

Nor knowst’ou wing from tail

Pull down thy vanity

How mean thy hates

Fostered in falsity,

Pull down thy vanity,

Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,

Pull down thy vanity,

I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing

This is not vanity

To have, with decency, knocked

That a Blunt should open

To have gathered from the air a live tradition

or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame

This is not vanity.

Here error is all in the not done,

all in the diffidence that faltered…

Last night I read Pound’s original aloud to Mrs Acilius; it is undeniably thrilling, but just as undeniably Mr Mangiafico’s redaction, spare and direct, takes on a splendor that fades in Pound’s profusion of images and references.  And the first half of the poem is Pound’s usual, barely tolerable, complete with quotations from Theocritus and John Adams.  I only wonder why he neglected to tattoo it with Chinese characters.

Pound, like Mr Crumb, reminds me of the old story about the town with only two barbers.  One barber is faultlessly shaven, with a perfectly presented head of hair; the other wears stubble on half his face, and a shapeless mop of hair.  The discerning customer goes to the slovenly barber, since he is the one who cut the well-coiffed one’s hair.  Likewise, as an editor of poetry Pound made inestimable contributions to the works of T. S. Eliot and other eminences of the High Modern; it is our great loss that Pound found no one to do for his work what he did for theirs.

Paul Elmer More fans, take note!

Paul Elmer More (1864-1937) and Irving Babbitt (1865-1933) were the co-founders of a school of thought known as the “New Humanism” or “American Humanism.”  These literary scholars sought to establish that a particular set of propositions about morals and psychology could be found in the most respected books of many of the world’s great literatures.  Babbitt was an irreligious man, but he dutifully included the Bible on his list of Great Books; he took a serious academic interest in early Buddhist writings, and late in life began a study of Confucius.

While Babbitt included sacred texts in his studies in an attempt to show that there is a form of moralism that is compatible with many religions but dependent on none of them, More took a different approach.  He had a strong, though vague, religious leaning; after youthful studies of the Upanishads and other holy books from ancient India, he settled into Anglo-Catholicism.  By far the most popular of More’s books in his lifetime was The Sceptical Approach to Religion; I suspect its popularity is based solely on its title.  While the rest of his books are written in a remarkably clear, easy style, The Sceptical Approach to Religion is largely unreadable.  Intended as a work of apologetics, the book consists primarily of disavowals, qualifications, and backpedaling of every sort.  The Sceptical Approach to Religion appeared in 1934, the year after Irving Babbitt’s death.  I suspect that if the notoriously pugnacious Babbitt had been alive to give his opinion of the book, More would never have dared release such a mealy-mouthed production.

Although The Sceptical Approach to Religion presents readers with an extraordinarily murky version of More’s religious ideas, his most sustained scholarly work, the five-volume treatise known as The Greek Tradition, paints a clearer picture.  The full title of the series is The Greek Tradition from the Death of Socrates to the Council of Chalcedon (399 BC to 451 AD.)  Its thesis is that the development of ancient Greek philosophy beginning with Plato found its logical culmination in the debates at the Council of Chalcedon and the doctrines that emerged from those debates.  The study has its eccentric aspects certainly, and shows its age.  Nor can a nonbeliever quite take More’s thesis seriously.  Nonetheless, I can say that it has repaid me well every time I’ve read it, for all my skepticism.

Now we have a new book that apparently reflects a research program similar in scope, if not in theological purpose.  Marian Hillar, a professor of philosophy and biochemistry* at Texas Southern University, has published a book called From Logos to Trinity: The Evolution of Religious Beliefs from Pythagoras to Tertullian (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.)  A review of the book by Patricia Johnston of Brandeis University was recently sent to members of the Classical Association of the Midwest and South.  Professor Johnston writes:

In this sweeping review, Marian Hillar attempts to trace the development of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, from the early pre-Socratic philosophers to Tertullian, with a special focus on Philo (20 BCE–50 CE), Justin Martyr (115–165 CE), and Tertullian (160–225 CE).

Paul Elmer More would have been alarmed at that part; he objected to the doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that early Christians thought of the Holy Spirit as something on a par, not with God the Father and God the Son, but with the communion of the saints or other expressions that might very well name something of great religious importance, but that no one thought of as one of God’s Persons.  Still, More had some reservations about Justin Martyr’s orthodoxy and thought of Tertullian primarily as a notorious heretic, so he might not have found it too hard to believe that they were precursors of Trinitarianism.

*Professor Hillar was a medical doctor before earning his philosophy Ph.D.

Mournful tunes

Quite without meaning to, I’ve built up a liturgy of mournful tunes and made a habit of listening to them every year on the eleventh of September.  Three of them are from Tom Waits; I listened to both “The Fall of Troy” and “Yesterday is Here” on 11 September 2001, and was struck by how well lines like “There’s a world where nothing grows” (from “The Fall of Troy”) and “Today’s grey skies, tomorrow is tears,/ you’ll have to wait til yesterday is here” (from “Yesterday is Here”) fit the events of that day.  I also tried to listen to “Jersey Girl” that day, but it hit a bit too close to home; I still cry when I hear that song, but not so hard that I can’t hear it.

Two other songs I listened to that day have also become part of my annual liturgy.  One is by Phranc, the “all-American Jewish lesbian folk singer.”  It’s her remembrance of her brother Gary Gottlieb, who was murdered in 1997.  Another is “Deportee,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman, about a group of people who died in a plane crash in 1948 while being deported from the USA.  That day I played an old record I had of Guthrie himself singing it; I can’t find that recording online, but here’s a link to Joan Baez doing her version of the song.

Twice already on this site I’ve posted about Martin Espada’s poem “Alabanza,” a tribute to the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100 who died that morning after reporting to work at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center.    I still think it is the best 9/11 poem.  Since most of those 43 had Spanish names, the chorus of “Deportee” (“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,/ Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria “) reminds me of them, and of Mr Espada’s poem.

My favorite patriotic song, aside from “The Star Spangled Banner,” is “The House I Live In”; Paul Robeson’s recording of it usually helps me to remember that September 11, 2001 was a day when ordinary citizens rose to extraordinary challenges. That’s a lesson the USA’s political leaders, military officer class, and securocrats of various stripes have spent the last eleven years working feverishly to obscure, but the record of the day’s events is unequivocally clear.  American national treasure Rebecca Solnit and Tom Engelhardt wrote admirably succinct articles about this a few years ago, which I noted at the time and which repay reading today.

It may not qualify as patriotism, but it is at least stereotypically American to commemorate sad public events with a performance of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  I’m particularly fond of this recording of the piece, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

The Nation, 24 September 2012

A number of pieces this time argue that, contrary to news outlets that habitually equate the USA’s two major political parties, Republican leaders are demonstrably more likely to tell lies about public policy issues such as antipoverty spending than are their Democratic counterparts.  A piece on The Nation’s website expands on this theme, showing that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan had privately requested that funds from a federal program he publicly opposed be sent to the congressional district he represents, and that Mr Ryan and the Romney/ Ryan campaign have made a variety of statements explaining this request.  Mr Ryan at first denied that he had requested the funds, then “confessed” (that’s the word The Nation uses) that he had when he learned that a letter with his signature had been released.  The Romney/ Ryan campaign claimed that the funds Mr Ryan requested came from an older program that Mr Ryan had supported, a claim explicitly contradicted by the text of the letter.

Columnist Gary Younge agrees that the Republicans are trying to fool us, but is not as enthusiastic about the Democrats as are some other Nation contributors.  After documenting glaring examples of tokenism he saw while attending the Republican National Convention, Mr Younge writes:

There is nothing inherent in the Republicans’ support for rapacious free-market capitalism that insists on racism. Its role is not ideological but electoral. Racism is simply the means by which the GOP wins over a huge section of the white working class—who, in the absence of class politics, feels its whiteness is its sole privilege worth preserving. Racism may be central to the Republicans’ message but not to its meaning.

Equally, there is nothing in the promotion of a nonwhite politician that need pose a challenge to racism, so long as that person works within the existing racial hierarchies and is dedicated to maintaining them. It is clear what this kind of “progress” can do for Republicans. It’s far more difficult to see what’s in it for blacks and Latinos.

Such is the nature of “diversity” in the modern age—a shift from equal opportunities to photo opportunities that eviscerates the struggle against discrimination of their meaning until we are left with institutions that look different but operate in exactly the same way. A method that, like so many, has traveled seamlessly from the corporate to the political world.

Republicans are not alone in this. Obama’s rise was not consistent with a rise in the economic and political fortunes of African-Americans but, rather, aberrant to it. Under the nation’s first black president the economic gap between black and white Americans has grown. One might argue about the extent to which Obama is responsible for that—but one cannot argue about the fact of it.

The trouble with these symbolic advances is not that they are worthless but that in the absence of substantial advances, the symbolism is all too easily manipulated, misunderstood, discounted and disparaged. The result is stasis for those suffering discrimination, cynicism for those combating it and indifference from those trying to preserve it.

Mr Younge has in the past quoted the line about “diversity” as another word for “black faces in high places.”  That sort of diversity may be preferable to a system where black faces can be found only in low places, but if the system is such that the favored few join with their white colleagues to enforce policies that keep the majority of nonwhites down, it is hardly an inspiring model.   Mr Younge is surely right to argue that it is impossible to make real progress towards equality in either race or class without a politics that challenges both racial and class inequality simultaneously.

Lawrence Joseph offers a poem called “Syria,” about the war currently underway in the country of that name.  A few lines in the middle won’t leave me alone:

“You won’t believe what I have seen”—her voice
lowered almost to a whisper—“a decapitated
body with a dog’s head sewn on it, for example.”
Yes, I know, it’s much more complicated than that.

More complicated, of course, and worse, and worse, and likely to grow still worse.  Graham Usher expresses hopes that the war won’t spread to Lebanon, at least that’s something.
Mark Mazower is a talented writer and a well-informed observer of international affairs.  Readers with high standards will therefore be glad to know that the next time they have trouble falling asleep, an author worth reading has provided that unfailing cure for insomnia, an essay about the European Union.  May almighty Brussels grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.

Presidential Deathmatch

Blogger Geoff Micks has asked the question that has long been on everyone’s mind: “In a mass knife fight to the death between every US President, who would win and why?”   Considering this query, I decided that a truly well informed answer must consider six variables:

Coalition-Building Ability: Perhaps the most important criterion for determining survival in the early stages of the battle.  A very high standard here; we are talking about 43 of the most successful politicians in history.  Assuming that they retain their memories as they enter combat, we would have to give points to someone like Thomas Jefferson, whose personality dominated James Madison, James Monroe, and to some extent the Adamses.  Considering the strengths of those men, that would have been quite an intimidating combination.  George Washington, recognizing all of them, would likely have joined them at the outset; many of the others, all admirers of Washington, would likely have fallen in with his group.  Jefferson’s crew would thus dominate the early stages of the battle, giving Jefferson himself him an excellent opportunity to shape later stages for his own benefit.  It’s a knife fight, so a president who built powerful coalitions in politics wouldn’t get points if he built them over many years of intricate political maneuvering.  Only coalitions he builds instantly, by the sheer force of his personality, count.

Visual Inconspicuousness: Tall men like Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson would have little chance of surviving the early stages.  No accommodation for his disability would keep Franklin Roosevelt from being an obvious target; if his cousin Theodore came to Franklin’s aid, he too would likely be killed in the early stages.  Barack Obama’s skin color would not only make him conspicuous, but also would incite the hatred of several presidents, including some of the most lethal fighters.

Expertise in Hand-to-Hand Combat:  Important at every stage of the battle, probably the single most important criterion in determining who still has a chance in the later stages.  Some presidents grew up on the untamed frontier; some were professional soldiers and presumably received training in hand-to-hand combat; some were amateur athletes who pursued combat sports.  Some, notably James Monroe,  Andrew Jackson, and Zachary Taylor, were in more than one of these categories and deserve very high scores.

Badass Quotient: Demonstrated willingness actually to stick bits of metal into people.  Andrew Jackson is in a class by himself under this heading, although George Washington, James Monroe, Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman also have strong scores.  As a boy, Millard Fillmore walked away from a shop where he was an indentured servant.  He later explained that if he hadn’t left, he would have picked up an ax and chopped his boss to bits.  So he might be entitled to some points for homicidal rage.  Several of the generals and lawyers who look good under other headings fall down here.  For example, Ulysses Grant had a famous distaste for the sight of blood; Richard Nixon had a tremendous amount of difficulty telling people they were fired.  It’s hard to imagine that either of those men would act without hesitation when called upon to stab George Washington.

Physical Fitness: Mr Micks specifies in his hypothesis that the presidents will meet “in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.”  This criterion tends to favor early presidents.  Someone like James Madison, for example, never showed an inclination to athleticism, but would routinely ride a horse for many miles through conditions of near wilderness, simply because there was no other way to get around.

Spatial Awareness: Very important for judging the likely outcome of the later stages of the battle, when the field would be littered with corpses and slick with blood.  George Herbert Walker Bush qualified as a Navy fighter pilot in World War Two; presumably that reflected a high level of spatial awareness.  Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt could both take credit for notable achievements in architecture, earning them some points (but not telling us all that much about how they would do in an extremely fluid, spontaneous situation.)  Washington, Monroe, Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Taylor, Grant, James Garfield, and Truman all showed sufficient tactical ability as field commanders that we can safely say that they should be ranked no lower than the middle of this category.  Football players Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan should also receive fairly high scores here.  “Motor moron” Richard Nixon is among those who should receive the lowest rankings under this heading.

So, I whipped up a spreadsheet, rating each president on a 1 through 5 scale under each of those six headings.  The six lowest totals went to Grover Cleveland (8,) William Howard Taft (8,) Chester Arthur (9,) Richard Nixon (11,) and Barack Obama (11.)  The seven highest went to Abraham Lincoln (22,) James Garfield (22,) Harry Truman (22,) Theodore Roosevelt (23,) James Monroe (24,) Andrew Jackson (24), and William McKinley (24.)

Here’s the whole spreadsheet, for what it’s worth:

President Coalition Building Visual Inconspicuousness Hand to Hand BQ Physical Fitness Spatial Awareness Total
Washington 5 2 4 4 3 3 21
J Adams 2 5 1 2 4 2 16
Jefferson 5 2 1 2 5 4 19
Madison 2 5 1 1 4 2 15
Monroe 3 3 5 4 5 4 24
J Q Adams 3 3 1 2 5 3 17
Jackson 5 1 5 5 3 5 24
Van Buren 3 3 1 1 4 3 15
W Harrison 2 3 3 3 1 4 16
Tyler 1 3 1 2 5 3 15
Polk 1 4 1 2 1 3 12
Taylor 2 2 4 4 2 5 19
Fillmore 2 4 2 3 3 3 17
Pierce 2 2 1 2 3 3 13
Buchanan 2 4 1 1 2 3 13
Lincoln 5 1 5 4 4 3 22
A Johnson 2 3 4 3 3 3 18
Grant 3 4 3 3 4 4 21
Hayes 3 1 2 2 5 4 17
Garfield 4 3 3 3 5 4 22
Arthur 2 1 1 1 1 3 9
Cleveland 1 1 1 1 1 3 8
B Harrison 1 3 1 1 5 3 14
McKinley 3 4 4 4 4 5 24
T Roosevelt 4 1 5 4 5 4 23
Taft 1 1 1 1 1 3 8
Wilson 1 3 1 1 5 3 14
Harding 3 3 1 1 2 3 13
Coolidge 2 4 1 2 3 3 15
Hoover 3 4 1 1 5 5 19
F Roosevelt 3 1 3 3 1 4 15
Truman 2 3 3 4 5 5 22
Eisenhower 4 2 3 3 3 4 19
Kennedy 2 1 2 2 2 3 12
L Johnson 4 1 2 3 2 3 15
Nixon 1 3 1 1 4 1 11
Ford 3 2 3 3 5 4 20
Carter 1 3 2 2 5 5 18
Reagan 3 2 2 1 1 3 12
G H W Bush 2 2 2 3 4 5 18
Clinton 3 3 1 1 4 3 15
G W Bush 2 2 2 1 5 4 16
Obama 1 1 1 1 4 3 11

Highlights of some recent issues of The American Conservative

 It’s been a while since I’ve posted a “Periodicals Note” about my favorite “Old Right” read, The American Conservative.  So here are quick links to some good articles from the last four months.

Richard Gamble, author of the indispensable book The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, The Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nationwrites an appreciation of the anti-imperialist essays of William Graham Sumner.  The magazine’s website carries one of these, an 1896 piece called “The Fallacy of Territorial Expansion.”   Sumner was a pivotal figure in my early intellectual development, not superseded as an influence until I came upon the writings of Irving Babbitt.  I am glad to see that Professor Gamble, who has studied Babbitt deeply, also shares my admiration for Sumner.  Not that Babbitt and Sumner would have had much use for each other, I hasten to add.  Sumner (1840-1910) the sociologist was contemptuous of classics and philosophy, proposing that both subjects be removed from the curriculum at Yale, while Babbitt (1865-1933) the humanist was impatient with the nascent social sciences of his day and proposed that those students at Harvard who were fit to study nothing else should be released with a three-year baccalaureate, while the first-rate men who could handle the traditional humanities might stay for a fourth year.  Both were right-wing critics of militarism, but that was a common enough combination in the USA in the early decades of the twentieth century that the two professors would have been unlikely to see it as a source of kinship.

Ron Unz remembers the late Alexander Cockburn, whose name has been a familiar one on this site from its beginning.  Not only have we mentioned Cockburn more frequently here than virtually any other commentator; we have disagreed with him less frequently, and agreed with him more fervently, than perhaps any other.

Two pieces in the September issue remember another distinguished dissident, Gore Vidal.  Bill Kauffmann discusses his correspondence with the great man, and Noah Millman reviews the current Broadway revival of Vidal’s play The Best Man.

Samuel Goldman writes about meritocracy, arguing that elites who can believe themselves to have earned their positions are worse for everyone than are elites that know themselves to be the heirs of multigenerational systems of governance.  The first time this idea occurred to me was in 1988, when I was observing the US presidential campaign between George H. W. Bush, scion of an old New England dynasty, and Michael Dukakis, son of hardworking immigrants.  I was happy to vote for Mr Dukakis, but could understand a friend of mine who looked at a newspaper photo of him playing the trumpet, asked “Have you ever noticed that Dukakis can do everything?,” and went on to cast a ballot for Mr Bush.

In the August issue, Ron Unz wrote an important piece called “Race, IQ, and Wealth,” in which he argued that the work of scholars Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen presents data that directly contradicts Professors Lynn and Vanhanen’s thesis that differences in average IQ among various ethnic groups are unlikely to vary over time and are largely attributable to biological differences among those groups.   Mr Unz goes so far as to say that “an objective review of the Lynn/Vanhanen data almost completely discredits the Lynn/Vanhanen ‘Strong IQ Hypothesis.'”  Professor Lynn replied to Mr Unz here, and Mr Unz rebutted him here.

In that same issue, Michael Brendan Dougherty presented an article about conservatives who have supported and continue to support Barack Obama.  I am neither a conservative nor a backer of Mr O, but Mr Dougherty is always worth reading.

A third piece from the August issue that I would recommend is William Lind’s “America Goes Jousting,” about the remarkably tenuous relationship between US military spending and US security interests.  Mr Lind reports a conversation he once had when he was a senior congressional staffer dealing with the defense budget.  An Air Force general asked him what use he was supposed to have for 18 B-2 bombers.  Mr Lind suggested towing them to county fairs and charging admission.  Mr Lind declares that it is nuclear weapons that keep the peace, and that the Marine Corps is likely sufficient to defeat any enemies the USA might be so imprudent as fight on land. He brands the rest of the US military an elaborate show, useless for national defense, a mere vessel for funneling tax dollars to workers in favored congressional districts and to investors well-connected on Capitol Hill.

A fourth is Michael Brendan Dougherty’s “Faith in the Flesh,” about a German court’s decision to forbid Jews from circumcising their sons.  Mr Dougherty examines the “human rights” doctrines behind this astounding ruling and traces them back to a conception of religion specific to the German Anabaptist movement.  From the Anabaptists, the idea has become widespread among Protestants that religious affiliation ought to be the result of an intellectual decision by an adult to accept certain propositions as true.   This idea is unknown in most of the world’s religious traditions, and was unknown to Christians before the German Reformation.  Even today, it is accepted by only a minority of Christians.  For most of the world, religion is about connections to people first, and affirmations of verbal statements somewhere later on.  So of course one inherits one’s religion from one’s parents.  A disproportionate share of the politicians, jurists, and intellectuals who crafted the doctrines known as “human rights” come from Protestant backgrounds, and take this peculiar idea for granted.  That’s how it is possible that German judges, successors of the very men most thoroughly discredited by their participation in the Holocaust, can quite sincerely fail to see an ethical problem in a ruling that would prohibit Jews from practicing Judaism in Germany.

Back in July, Stephen B. Tippins wrote a column about Fisher Ames, one of the founders of the United States.  Mr Tippins opens with a conversation he had with a friend who was puzzled as to why he would write about Ames.  The friend wanted to know how writing about Ames would help elect Willard “Mitt” Romney as president of the United States.  Mr Tippins didn’t suppose it would advance such a goal.  His friend could imagine no other justification for political writing than the promotion of Mr Romney’s fortunes.  Mr Tippins spends the rest of the piece arguing that readers who develop a proper appreciation of Ames’ work will face no such difficulty, and that they will come to have a view of what politics is for that does not revolve around any one man or any one office.

 June’s issue also contained some interesting pieces.  Sean Scallon contrasts Mr Romney’s career as a private equity operator with his father’s career as an industrialist and finds an ominous indication of the direction American capitalism has taken.

Rod Dreher writes about the growth of Orthodox Christianity in the USA, arguing that this shows that Americans of a conservative bent have grown dissatisfied not only with mainline Protestantism, but with the Roman Catholic church as well.  Certainly, if one takes the word “conservative” literally, the churches of the East are the most conservative parts of Christendom.  So it is not surprising that in a time when the word has such a cachet, Orthodox churches are growing rapidly, albeit from a very small base.*  As Mr Dreher reports:

Whatever role Orthodox Christians in America have to play in this drama, it will certainly be as a minuscule minority. In worldwide Christianity, Orthodoxy is second only to Roman Catholicism in the number of adherents. But in the United States, a 2010 census conducted by U.S. Orthodox bishops found only 800,000 Orthodox believers in this country—roughly equivalent to the number of American Muslims or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Yet converts keep coming, and they bring with them a revivifying enthusiasm for the faith of Christian antiquity. One-third of Orthodox priests in the U.S. are converts—a number that skyrockets to 70 percent in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, a magnet for Evangelicals. In the Greek Orthodox Church, around one-third of parishioners are converts, while just over half the members of the Orthodox Church in America came through conversion. For traditionalist conservatives among that number, Orthodoxy provides an experience of worship and a way of seeing the world that resonates with their deepest intuitions, in a way they cannot find elsewhere in American Christianity.

Also in June, W. James Antle reported on Virgil Goode, a former congressman from Virginia who is challenging Mr Romney from the right as the Constitution Party’s candidate for president.  I confess to being rather mystified as to what is motivating Mr Goode to run, and the Constitution Party to support him.  His views do not seem to be far from Mr Romney’s on any of the major issues of the day.  As a congressman, he supported the Iraq War, the so-called USA-PATRIOT Act, and many other measures that third parties left and right tend to view as steps toward tyranny.   He has yet to renounce any of those positions, though in Mr Antle’s eyes it is “clear that Goode’s positions were evolving in the Constitution Party’s direction” when he became the party’s presidential nominee.

*If that rings a bell, maybe you’ve been looking at this cartoon.