Thursday, August 28, 2014

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now

The Boy Emperor is reported to be on the verge of doing what would, not long ago, have been unthinkable: bypassing the procedures written in the Constitution, so as to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. They will, of course, be followed by millions more under our demented "anchor baby" and "family reunification" laws. 

The Washington Post, being the Washington Post, sees the pending action in purely electoral terms -- how it will affect November's shuffling of membership in the now almost irrelevant Congress.
In the past few days, Democratic candidates in nearly every closely fought Senate race have criticized the idea of aggressive action by Obama. Some strategists say privately that it would signal that he has written off the Democrats’ prospects for retaining control of the chamber, deciding to focus on securing his legacy instead.
His legacy will be something other than what he imagines. He will be the man who lit the fuse of political dynamite that blew up our republic. The dissolution of the United States or the firm establishment of tyranny will follow, probably sooner rather than later.

There is going too far, and there is going past the point of no return. 

The Monster From the Ego believes he has the power to take us beyond the point of no return. We will measure the consequences in tears.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The man wearing black is looking at you

The cultural Marxist "narrative," like James Foley, is dead. The Islamic State doesn't consist of "extremists," "insurgents," or "militants." It's a regional Murder Inc.

The Islamic State has made its intentions plain as can be. The Daily Mail reports:
Foley's beheading comes just one day after ISIS militants threatened to attack U.S. targets 'in any place' in a chilling YouTube video showing a blood-spattered American flag and the message in English: 'We will drown all of you in blood'.
In another video it showed -- graphically, we are told -- Mr. Foley's beheading.

The Obama mob and its running dogs in the mainstream media have to be reeling at this development. All the tired old formulas have suddenly become irrelevant. There is no way for two sides to "work out their differences." If any country or group of countries were to react "proportionally," they would have to be as barbaric as the I.S.

Obama can send John Kerry on the next plane to advocate a cease fire and peace process. I'd be afraid to be in the same room with the I.S. if I were him. In any case there can be no peace process with those for whom the words carry only the meaning, "worldwide caliphate."

On Fox TV news, the Reverend Franklin Graham said, "ISIS jihadists are crucifying and beheading Christians in Iraq and Syria --'people are dying for their faith'--and added that he has heard of 'incidences where entire families have been buried alive because they refused to convert to Islam.'"

Naturally, in a typical reflex, all the King's horses and all the King's women controllers tried to put the narrative together again. From the Washington Times:
Interrupting his two-week vacation at Martha’s Vineyard yet again to address the growing threat posed by the “nihilistic” and morally “bankrupt” Islamic State terrorist group — formerly known as ISIL or ISIS — the president said the organization’s hateful ideology must be rejected. He also vowed justice in response for the brutal killing, shown to the world via a video posted to YouTube on Tuesday.
Brought to justice. Put on trial in New York. Yeah, right. 
“The United States of America will continue to do what we must do to protect our people. We will be vigilant and we will be relentless. When people harm Americans anywhere, we do what’s necessary to see justice is done,” Mr. Obama said. “From governments and peoples across the Middle East, there has to be a common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread. There has to be a clear rejection of these kinds of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”
Unfortunately, he is mistaken. Groups like I.S. are very much of the 21st century, enabled by Western countries with no strategy and reactions to events made up minute-by-minute. I.S. aren't villains, just a disease that can strike if you don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. We can operate on it, as long as governments and people across the Middle East make a common effort.

While Foley's relatives deserve our sympathy and whatever comfort we can provide in this awful time for them, I'm afraid I can't offer his mother much respect as she sings the give-peace-a-chance aria.
"We have never been prouder of our son Jim," writes Foley, noting, "he gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people." Foley calls for the Islamic State terrorists to show mercy upon those abducted that may yet still be alive, particularly the American captives who, she notes, have no control over U.S. foreign policy.
He gave his life? No, his life was taken from him by a band of evil fanatics. And now she's asking these same savages to "show mercy" on other captives? As if they had thought James Foley was in charge of foreign policy?

When will a parent whose son or daughter has been killed by these ideological hoodlums stand up and say, "God damn them, they took a member of my family from me and from decent society and I want them cut into little pieces"?


Old attitudes die hard. But those we've been operating by lately no longer make any sense, if they ever did, and the game has changed in one important way if we want it to. In our 13 years of life coaching inhabitants of the Middle East, we've always been leery of defeating the enemy because we couldn't define who the enemy was. We were at war with extremists, not a nation. 

Well, State is the official term for country in United Nations-speak. We now have an attacker, the Islamic State, who qualifies under old-fashioned diplomatic rules. We also have an old tradition of dealing with enemies: destroy them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mind (the gap)

The mind has two fundamentally different functions. For the sake of simplicity, let's say we have two minds. (This is about mind; nothing to do with the "left brain-right brain" split.) Rarely do the two meet. Sometimes people never connect with one of their minds at all, at least, not consciously while awake.

The other mind we all know about. It is an ambassador to the brain. It deals with sense impressions captured by the organs of perception, thought, and memory. Today most world views are based on this mind, whether or not the individual thinks about it or just accepts the going cultural ontology.

All these sense perceptions can be dazzling to the mind, or at the least attention-grabbing. The almost incredible pull exerted by the senses, especially moving images, is shown by the absorption of so much of the population so much of the time in entertainment. The film critic Stanley Kauffmann once pointed out that if you put a TV screen showing a program in a store window, lots of people would stop to goggle at it -- half a century after TV made a commercial breakthrough, and when almost everyone had one set or more at home.

When you add thinking and memory (most of it based on senses raining on the mind), it's easy to see how the mind (one mind, in our metaphor) could be filled to the brim. What could be left over for anything else?

But the mind, in total, that we each possess is potentially capable of two entirely different processes. A crude analogy might be a garment designed to be turned inside out so it is in effect two items of clothing in one.

So what is this other mind, or other use of the mind?

With sufficient practice or training, and in a few people as a natural gift, it receives impressions from non-material, ordinarily imperceptible states of being. People with such capabilities have been known throughout history, described by many different terms: oracles, mystics, psychics, clairvoyants, and mediums are maybe the most common. That isn't to say that their abilities are the same or work the same way: the more you learn about them, the more you're tempted to say each is unique, like snowflakes. Their one thing in common is that they are in touch with non-material beings (spirits) or realms unavailable to those who are purely sense-driven.

Most people with psychic gifts maintain that we are all able to develop such talents, albeit not necessarily to the same degree, if we work at it. The best method of development varies by individual. Most, however, involve shutting down the sense-enamored mind and concentrating on one particular thing or idea to the exclusion of normal daily consciousness. It's kind of like switching channels.
The formula for, literally, changing one's mind generally goes by the name of concentration or meditation. (Some teachers of the psychic and spiritual arts insist they are not the same, but despite my best efforts to understand what they're on about, it seems to me a distinction without a difference.)

As a meditator for several decades, I can assure you it has not been easy-peasy, and I think the same will be so for many practitioners. There have been occasional moments (sometimes quite isolated in time, occasionally frequent for a short while) when I believe I experienced a state qualitatively different from any other, and with a touch of ecstasy about it. Mostly, though, it's frustrating, tedious, or seems impossible.

Probably the trouble is that we're trying to use the mind in a totally different way from what we're used to during every waking hour. (Sleep is a special state of mind, but I'll cop to being still confused about how it works.) The "other mind" keeps trying to step in and take over. You can't force it to back off. You have to learn not to pay attention to it.
Should you wish to explore the "other mind," be prepared for a bout of learning that's like becoming an expert in any skill. (If you happen to be one of those "naturally gifted" ones I mentioned earlier, it may develop more quickly and easily -- some say that's because there are people who made considerable progress in earlier lives -- or you are already doing some form of psychic activity.)

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, they say. Two minds, perhaps an even greater waste.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brideshead Revisited, revisited

The 2008 theatrical film version of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited has enough in it that's good to make it worth watching; enough not so good that it's frustrating.

Many people thought that the celebrated miniseries broadcast in 1981 (Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Quick, Laurence Olivier et al.) was so definitive that condensing the new script into two and a quarter hours was bound to come up short, in both senses. I had my doubts and stayed away from the DVD until last week. But that was presuming too much. No movie is definitive, although some have a lot of audience identification a remake has to overcome to succeed.

It's said that comparisons are odious, and you should look at the work itself. It's good advice and almost impossible to follow sometimes, but I'll try to as much as I can here.

All right; what's good in the latter-day Brideshead? Foremost is Emma Thompson as Lady Marchmain. (Anybody interested in this posting is probably familiar with the story, either from the previous video incarnation or the book, but if not you can easily find a plot description on the Web.) Thompson steals the show. It would not surprise me if she, like most in the theatrical profession, is a leftist who despises the English aristocracy. But she gives the matriarch her due. There is no condescension, no easy caricature: Lady Marchmain is portrayed as reserved but not cruel, with her Catholicism honest rather than conventional.

I believe many English Catholics are still defensive in what was until recently a strongly Protestant country; they haven't forgotten the destruction of the monasteries and persecution in the time of Henry VIII.  Moreover, Lady Marchmain has been through the disheartening experience of being left by her husband, Lord Marchmain, who some years earlier headed to Venice, shucked off his Catholicism, and is living with a mistress.

Speaking of Lord Marchmain, the role has gone this time to Michael Gambon, and as usual he has an almost hypnotic power. I think a lot of that is down to his voice, which is like the lower notes of a cello. Listening to it, you can imagine it as music.

The three central characters are Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), the Marchmains' son; Julia (Hayley Atwell), their daughter; and Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode), who meets Sebastian at Oxford, befriends him, is invited to Brideshead, the stately country house (played by Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the same location used for the TV series), and becomes thoroughly involved with Sebastian's family. What shall I say about the performers, whose work necessarily sets the tone for the whole story?

They all have fine acting technique. No doubt they studied the book and script scrupulously and did everything they could to internalize the characters. But they lack the weight to deliver the picture. They're watchable, occasionally involving, but for me mostly distant, on the other side of a window or gauze curtain. Your mileage may differ.

Another problem is the filmmakers' overall concept, which just doesn't connect with much of the depth, the seriousness, of -- here comes an odious comparison -- Waugh's novel. I'm not complaining about scenes and characters left out or passed over quickly, which a film adaptation has to do. But the focus has been changed. The Catholicism theme is reasonably well captured (although I think Lord Marchmain's deathbed conversion, or readoption, scene is botched), but too much psychological complexity has gone missing.

A presentation of this length had to drastically cut the World War II prelude and postlude when Ryder as an army officer finds himself with a unit that has taken over Brideshead for the duration. But that diffuses the poignancy of time's stab during the "revisiting."

A decision was taken to have Wishaw play Sebastian as overtly homosexual. He practically camps it up in the early sequences. The friendship (attraction?) between him and Charles is less, not more, dramatically effective as a result. A viewer isn't asked to bother his poor little head about any ambiguity. By the way, the wonderful scene in the book where the young men are boozing it up and devising fanciful descriptions of the wines they sample feels routine here, as though it had to be included because so many people would expect it.

Production values are first class, the marble coldness as well as the rich artistry of the house's decor immaculately captured, the exteriors nicely framed, costumes attractive. Director Julian Jarrold keeps things moving along but also knows when to linger. If only ... but maybe it's no use wishing for more. We live in an if-only world.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

All's well with Orwell

It's too bad that George Orwell is known by many just as the author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. The first is, of course, an almost supernatural preview (published in 1949) of how totalitarian states would come to control the thoughts of their subjects while convincing them that they never had it so good, among other ways by corrupting the language so that there is no way to think straight. I've never read Animal Farm, partly because I suspect that its much-quoted aphorism sums it up perfectly: "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."

I too have delved only sporadically in Orwell's other writings, and not at all into his fiction besides Nineteen Eighty-Four, until lately. I bought a paperback collection of some of his essays -- the anthology published in 1954 and whose cover art reflects that era -- at a library book sale for two bits, maybe the best 25 cents I ever spent. And in reading it, I was gobsmacked by its brilliance on many subjects. 

It would be a mistake to take Orwell only as a perceptive observer of the many books, people, and places he experienced ... although he was that. But anyone sensitive to writing style is bound to be equally amazed at that side of him as shown in these pieces from the 1930s and 1940s.

The language can be colorful, even poetic at times. But you don't get the feeling he is straining to be "literary." He sees, he thinks, he conveys what he sees and thinks. Every word is the right word for the idea, every sentence fits into the paragraph like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, every paragraph flows from the previous one and lures you into the next. 

When Orwell was a British colonial official in Burma, an elephant broke its chain under the influence of must ("a state of frenzied sexual excitement in the males of certain large mammals, esp elephants, associated with discharge from a gland between the ear and eye" -- World English Dictionary). The animal threatened to go on a rampage. 

The villagers expected Orwell, as the senior colonial officer, to shoot the creature. Orwell was anti-colonialist, but understood his job as a representative of the Crown -- he could not be seen as unequal to the situation.
A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching a my heels, and then to trail freely away, having done nothing -- no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him.
Nevertheless, Orwell braced himself and fired the rifle. His description of what happened next is factual and descriptive, but the tone is compassionate in a way that doesn't sound self-righteous.
[The elephant] neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time -- it might have been five seconds, I dare say -- he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. ...

I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skywards like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time.
In 1946, as a sort of forerunner to Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell wrote a piece called "Politics and the English Language." He said, "When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer." He was particularly hard on the kind of wordy, opaque phrasing that had already become common at the time, probably because the huge growth of government bureaucracies in a world fighting a war.
... If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. ... This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain.

He offers several rules for avoiding common usages that deaden writing:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. [RD note: I would delete "always."]

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I don't believe anyone can observe all these without slipping from time to time, but Orwell is a remarkable guide to one way of written excellence.