Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two News

There are two news stories tonight that, in my mind at least, are tenuously linked. The first is the attempted launch of the North Korean rocket, and the other is remembrance of the tragedy of the space shuttle Challenger.

North Korea is the most pathetic, monstrous, absurd and criminal government on the face of the Earth. It is a socialist throwback to the worst days of Stalinist and Maoist communism, and of Mussolini and Hitler fascism, which, as I have said before, were essentially the same thing. The government of North Korea is nothing but a gang of thugs and lunatics in possession of a national cult of worship and obedience. The people of North Korea, poor souls that they are, have been victimized, hypnotized, and cowed into a submission that outstrips the worst days of Russian serfdom and American slavery.

Yesterday, North Korea attempted to launch a multistage rocket (which is a precursor to an ICBM that it would have sold on the terrorist market), ostensibly to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the founder of that pseudo-state, and, by extension, the ascension to hegemony of its new twenty-seven year old leader, whose only qualification for office is the bed in which he was conceived. North Korea has become the personal fiefdom of the Kim family, just as Cuba has become the property of the Castro family, and Syria that of the Assad family, passed from father to son (or brother) in the same shameful way that medieval kingdoms were passed from one generation of a family to another. This is an archaic model of governance that should have long gone the way of astrology and alchemy, but which somehow remains a tottering and tragic anachronism in our own time.

The North Korean launch, apparently, has failed. And as I watch the gloating reports of the failure, I cannot but reflect that people will be shot in the aftermath of this public humiliation of the Mafia-style clique that controls that starving and benighted country. By this time tomorrow, servile scientists will have been singled out for prison, torture and death because of this technological fiasco. They will die in the wake of their coerced service to the brutes who masquerade as the leaders of North Korea.

And then I watch reports, provoked by the failure, of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. I learned of the tragedy while I was in Belgium, pursuing a lead in my research into the assassination of President Kennedy. The people with whom I was staying woke me with the news, communicated to me in French, that "le Challenger s'est explose." I recall being uncertain at first how to respond, preoccupied as I was with the central mystery of American history in the twentieth century.

It was only later, when I had had time to read about and reflect on the tragedy, that it began to become clear to me that, whatever had happened to the Challenger in the air, those astronauts were probably still alive when the command module hit the water. And that they may have remained alive as it sank into the depths of the Atlantic. To quote from the conclusions of the investigative panel summarized in its report::
The findings are inconclusive. The impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was so violent that evidence of damage occurring in the seconds which followed the disintegration was masked. Our final conclusions are:
the cause of death of the Challenger astronauts cannot be positively determined;
the forces to which the crew were exposed during Orbiter breakup were probably not sufficient to cause death or serious injury; and
the crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following Orbiter breakup due to in-flight loss of crew module pressure.

Though there is clear evidence that at least some of the crew were still alive and operating the controls, it is likely that the concussion with the ocean surface killed the astronauts. But what if it did not? Yet, apparently, nothing was done to try to recover them as they lay strapped inside their vessel at the bottom of the ocean. They may simply have been allowed to die.

To this day I remain haunted by the possibility of those seven people strapped in their seats at the bottom of the ocean, waiting in vain for their government to save them. And that such is the fate of all of those who put their faith in government.

To my mind, these two news stories are overlapping phenomena of what government is and has always been and will always be: stupid, cowardly, brutish, self-serving and complacent. Willing to sacrifice others for the sake of its own survival. Ready to lie about or let die those whose lives, for one reason or another, threaten its bloated existence.

This is the nature of government, about which our Founding Fathers warned us. This is the monster of government which they sought to restrain even as they imposed it upon us. And this is the government which too many of us now worship and have confidence in and invite into our lives for the sake of a phony idea of fairness, which is nothing but the watchword of tyranny.

A post script: Writing this post has caused me to reflect:

Government is the enemy of free people. If you would retain your liberty, you must restrain your government. That was the message of the Founders, and that is the idea, and the ideal, which is being strangled to death by those currently in power in this country.

Recognizing government as a necessary evil in people's lives, the Founders struggled mightily to devise a form of it that would remain limited in its powers, and check itself with internal balances. Their goal, clearly, was to create for Americans the smallest government necessary to maintain social order and the national defense. How one extrapolates from that intent to, for example, confiscatory taxes, trillions of dollars of national debt, government subsidized contraception, a constitutional right to abortion, and federally mandated health insurance is beyond my understanding.

During the recent debt ceiling crisis, the president announced with characteristically studied impassiveness that if the government were to shut down, over 70 million government checks might not be issued. I was stunned by this bland assertion. That amounts to about one in four Americans receiving checks from the federal government.

Governor Christie's recent warning that we are becoming a nation of people sitting on our couches and waiting for the next government check is apt. I have never in my life received a check from the government, unless it was a tax refund in my early years, which amounted to nothing more than repayment of a yearlong interest-free loan that I had made to the government against my will. Yet now nearly twenty-five percent of Americans are the recipients of government largesse, while forty-nine percent pay no taxes at all. And the liberals talk about "fairness"? Where is the fairness in that?

No, it must stop. While those of us who still work and pay taxes and struggle for our families remain in the majority - a majority that is shrinking with every passing day - we must do something. And what we must do, it seems to me, is clear.

We must turn out of office every incumbent running this year. We must impose term limits at every level of government. We must cut government spending - and by that I mean real cuts, not the reduction in the growth of spending which the pols routinely pass off as cuts. We must cap the rate of growth of the federal government. And we must finally pass a balanced budget amendment to force the Congress to live within its means.

Removing the professional politicians and cutting off the unlimited flow of tax dollars to the government are essential to recovering control of our debt and of the reins of power in our nation. If we fail to do so, starting with this year's election, I fear that we will drown in debt even amid the assurances of the politicians and the press that things are getting better, and so business may go on as usual.

That, it seems to me, is a recipe for the demise of the Republic which the Founders created for us as our legacy to the future of the world.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Italian Concerto

On the way home from the gym I was listening to a recording of Bach's keyboard work, The Italian Concerto, and I thought again what I remarked to someone the last time I heard it -- that this is as close to perfection as one will ever experience on the Earth.

Every idea is clear and original and wonderfully phrased, every note is exactly what and where it should be, and the tone of the piece is exultant, exuberant, but never excessive. The piece moves and is constructed the way Nature moves and makes - organically, concisely, lucidly, without an effort at show, though with results of such beauty and grace as make the concept of "show" have meaning. Taken together with the English and French Suites, the Italian Concerto is like the essential elements of Nature, lacking only an overt fire, which would diminish the effect. (Though fire there is, but glowing and subdued rather than out-flaming.)

The experience only reinforced me in my opinion that Bach is the greatest artist of our civilization. (If there is anyone to match him in another civilization, I would very much like to know who it is.)

As I drove home up toward the San Gabriel Mountains, the weather was rolling in on flat clouds of slate gray, and the temperature was dropping. It is expected to rain tomorrow, and since any storm gathers first over the mountains, I have the luxury of seeing it coming. Only this replaces the anticipation of the seasons, which are two only here: wet and dry. We are now at the end of the rainy season, before the indecision of May and the dull of June, and the full sear of summer set in.

It was nearly seven o'clock and still light out, which is for me always a cheering sign. I am one of those souls who suffers from what is called seasonal affective disorder, with its ironically appropriate acronym, SAD. This means that the long, dark, cold, dreary months of winter drain from me such spirit as I have. I am getting older, and every symptom in my body and, increasingly, in my mind reminds me of the fact.

I intend one of these days to write about the experience of aging, which I observe with a good deal of curiosity and bemusement, in the changes it is wreaking in me. It is an odd prospect -- it seems that I was young for so long and with such surety that this process, though inevitable, has no place in my life. But in my gait and memory and mood and muscles it is always there now, and there seems little I can do about it but chronicle it. It is strange, but as Hamlet said: As a stranger give it welcome.

All of these reflections were under the spell of the Bach, which was intricately played by Glenn Gould, that most exacting and eccentric of pianists. And it provoked the further reflection that, if the Mayans were right, and the world will end this December, I would just as soon be listening to The Italian Concerto when the end comes as to anything else. Except, perhaps, my children's voices telling me that everything will be all right after all.

Pres Declares War on Court!

"President Declares War On Supreme Court
Implies Justices lack authority to overturn law
Warns against 'unprecedented' action"

Had a Republican been in office last week, and made the statement which Barack Obama made regarding the Supreme Court and his healthcare law, this would have been the headline and sub-head in most major newspapers.

And the network news organizations would have trumpeted the statement as "The most serious challenge to the Constitution since Nixon and Watergate."

Instead, I watched as the mainstream media worked furiously to minimize the president's extraordinary concatenation of lies and anti-historical claims.

He stated that Obamacare passed Congress by a large majority. This was not true. It passed by a mere seven votes in the House, and in neither chamber did it receive a single Republican vote. How did he think he was going to get away with this phoney claim?

He stated that a decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the law would be "unprecedented." In fact, the Court has been ruling acts of Congress unconstitutional since 1803, and doing so is, in effect, its only job. How did he expect to get away with this blatant distortion of American history?

He implied that the Court had no authority to overturn an act of Congress passed by a substantial majority. This flies in the face of American Constitutional history, and represents a challenge to the very structure of our government, which embraces a clear separation of powers. Now, Mr. Obama is reputed to be a constitutional scholar and a former professor of constitutional law. He must know better. He has to know that the implication of his statement was fallacious, and even dangerous. Yet he made it nonetheless. How did he expect to get away with that?

The answer is simple: The mainstream press is dedicated to the proposition that Barack Obama must be re-elected. And it will do anything - mask any lie, distort any story, slant any report - to achieve that.

Yet, if George Bush or Ronald Reagan or any Republican had made such false and anti-historical assertions, he would have been hounded out of office by the very same mainstream press that touts objectivity on the one hand, but evinces such bias and hypocrisy on the other.

The spectacle of news anchors, commentators and analysts attempting to minimize and rationalize Mr. Obama's stunning statement was shameful. And that of press secretary Jay Carney, that milquetoast huckster for the administration, to alternately deny that he said it, claim that it was factually accurate, insist that it was misinterpreted, and talk down to reporters who demanded an explanation was disgraceful.

The truth is that Mr. Obama's statement, made with many pauses for reflection and careful phrasing, was a rare candid admission that he intends precisely what he stated during the campaign: a fundamental restructuring of American society. The healthcare law proves it, the unapproved appointment of 'czars' proves it, the sheltering of those who intimidate voters and who sell guns to drug cartels proves it, the imposition of taxes under the guise of administrative fees proves it, the war on capital proves it, the attempt to replace individualism with collectivism proves it.

Ironically, when he referred to the Ryan budget as an effort to radically alter American society, Mr. Obama inadvertently described his own political program. It is Mr. Obama who is the radical, and if a mere matter of constitutional history gets in his way, he cannot refrain from warning those who would insist on the Constitution that they have no authority to defy him.

This is a dangerous president, one whose policies are failing and threatening the nation with bankruptcy, and who must be removed in November. It is not a question of the choice we will have: We have no other choice.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Occam and Easter

My nine-year-old was asking me about Easter yesterday, and I found myself speculating once again about its meaning.

Some years ago I attended the parents' visiting day at my girls' Catholic high-school. It was near Easter, and in theology class, in which the resurrection was being discussed, I asked the girls the following question: Jesus was crucified naked or nearly naked, but the next time his disciples saw him, he was fully clothed. Where did he get the clothes?

It was, of course, a facetious question, but one intended to start them thinking about the resurrection in a practical way. A practical way: That is always the hardest sort of thinking to apply to matters of faith, yet how important and illuminating it is. In the case of the resurrection, if we accept that Jesus was crucified and died, then we are left with two possibilities: Either he managed to resuscitate himself (or be resuscitated by some other power) and return from the dead through a miracle of both physiology and spirituality or... the body was simply removed from the tomb during the night.

Now, faced with those choices, any reasonable person, that is, anyone not imbued with dogma, would have to choose the latter. It is the law of Occam's razor: The simplest solution is usually correct.

Disposing of the bodies of rebels and malcontents is hardly a rare phenomenon. We did as much with the corpses of John Wilkes Booth and Osama bin Laden, in order to prevent their graves from becoming rallying points for their fanatical followers. Certainly the Romans, having executed the rebel Jesus, would have been wise to dispose of his body as quickly as possible. Assuming that they did so, then when the disciples arrived at the tomb on Monday (not Sunday) and found it empty, they may have interpreted it as a sign that Jesus had returned to life; or, perhaps, taken advantage of the fact of his disappearance to claim that he had.

The forty days that he is supposed to have spent among them are scarcely chronicled, though one would think they would have been the most important six weeks of his time on Earth. But, of course, the number forty, like the number three, is a powerful symbol in Hebrew mythology and numerology. That of this postmortem period nearly nothing is said is stunning. The one human being in history who defies death and returns to his friends, and nothing is revealed about the afterlife, the experience of death, and the transformation of a resurrected soul? Impossible.

The idea of the resurrection of Jesus, or of any man, seems a fatuous one on even brief reflection. Try to imagine the actual event: What would it have looked like? How was it done? Was there some blinding radiation, as the Turin Shroud advocates claim? And of what did this radiation consist? How was life returned to the corpse of Jesus? How did he experience it? How did he feel? The notion defies everything we know about life and death.

No, I am inclined to take a rather pragmatic view of this event, and suggest that it was invented by the followers of Jesus, who could not accept the fact of his death, just as those of L. Ron Hubbard and Elvis Presley cannot accept theirs. If Jesus was dead and gone, then they were finished. But if he could be presented as being still alive, then their movement, too, was still alive. And the hope which he represented for them had not died, but had been reborn immortal. The resurrection of Jesus was not a historical fact; it was a historical necessity.