Friday, September 16
The Paul and I are on the radio at 3 (CDT), but I'm not sure what we do next Friday when I will have just finished cena in Siracusa.
Anyone catch Pat Robertson's words of wisdoms on why it is OK to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's because they are more or less dead anyway. Contrast this with a real Christian understanding of marriage, e.g. the law in SC that forbade a spouse from divorcing an insane partner because the he/she was incapable of making a moral decision of this type. Robertson's life time commitment to greed and self-aggrandizement has now reached a new peak. There's one wrinkle. If mentally impaired people count as dead, does that mean that all those people who watched his show and gave him money are zombies? "Ironically," the one man I know who gave them lots of money slipped into Alzheimer's a few years ago, but I always interpreted his support for Pat as a sign of senility. Some day remind me to tell the tale of my adventures at Virginia Beach with Pat, Ben, and a gorgeous Swedish co-host.
Thursday, September 15
When the President makes one of his typically egocentric statements, people wonder: "Who does he think he is?" Here is one possible answer:
"If you love me, ask Congress to pass my jobs bill."
"If you love me, feed my sheep."
Now, in implicitly comparing himself to Christ Mr. Obama probably does not think he is claiming to be God, because, in the world he grew up in, there is no god but what's his name and the child-molester in the turban in his prophet. But he probably does not even believe that. As I have said repeatedly, the only deity our leader worships is the face he sees in the mirror when he is not shaving.
People get angry when I show disrespect for the chump who happens to be president. "We have to obey the commander-in-chief, especially in war time." Wrong on both counts. We are not at war, and while the President is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he is not commander-in-chief of the United States and its citizens. If he were, he would be a military dictator.
Presidents are simply lying politicians elected by 30-35% of eligible voters. They don't have a mandate, and they command our respect only insofar as they do their best to carry out their constitutional responsibilities without usurping authority that does not belong to them. We should, out of respect for our national traditions, avoid trash talk and cheap slurs, but it is probably very unwholesome to shield the President from insult as if he were a divine monarch. At least a Hellenistic king or Julius Caesar or Napoleon had to kill their way to power. Our leaders--the leaders we deserve--are no more real leaders than a news anchorman is an independent journalist. Both are simply shills who get paid to recite the party line. Pay no attention.
"Well, what's wrong with imitating Christ? Isn't that what Christians are supposed to do?"
This is another canard. The Imitatio Christi is a spiritual and moral exercise in humility and charity, but it is ridiculous to ask, every time we are confronted with a decision, "What would Jesus do?" Suppose the bridge is out over the creek. Should we drive the long way around or try to get a boat. Well, what would Jesus do? He'd walk on water, that's what he'd do.
Or, say a crowd shows up unexpectedly for dinner and you're running out of food. "What would Jesus do?" Guess. Or your best friend just died. "What would Jesus do?" I think even the dimmest of wits would understand that that God, even in human form, has power and responsibilities the rest of us do not share. He also, when the wine runs out at the wedding, has a solution not available even to winemakers, and when His mother attempts to exercise maternal authority, He gives her an answer that few mothers would like to hear. Follow His teachings, by all means, and learn courage, humility, and charity from His example, but do not think you can walk in His shoes or imitate His actions in every case.
The "What would Jesus do" question is just one more example of the cynicism and ignorance of America's religious hucksters, and that fact that it is so often quoted is proof that Barnum was right.
Tuesday, September 13
I spent Sunday avoiding the revolting exercise in disaster nostalgia into which "the nation" was plunged by the government and its media. We came back from church, where our organist John Grune did a wonderful job on a Michael Haydn piece.
Johann Michael was, of course, Franz Josef's younger brother. His symphonic music was so in the vein of his brother and his brother's disciples that it cannot always be distinguished from them. When it was discovered that Michael composed all or most (critics believe Mozart wrote the slow movement) of Mozart's 37th symphony, the work was more or less dropped from the repertoire. This tells you a lot about the arts business, where branding is more important than the quality of the work itself. It is not that Michael Haydn was, as a composer of symphonies, in the same league as Mozart, but some of his stuff is better than a lot of early Mozart. The same can be said of their contemporary Carl Stamitz. Franz Josef said that his brother wrote better choral music than he did, and Mozart, by imitating him in his Requiem, must have agreed
I divided Sunday between Diodorus Siculus, concentrating on his accounts of Sicilian affairs in the tyranny of Dionysius I and his worthless son and a late Wodehouse novel, Ice in the Bedroom. Sad to say, I found Diodorus more entertaining than this rather artificial and Americanized Wodehouse. Feeling the old need to do something more, I worked through some fragments of early Greek poetry, mostly Corinna (dating is disputed) and Telesilla. I had intended to concentrate on Bacchylides' odes written for Hieron of Syracuse but remembered I was facing a deadline on the Chronicles fund-raising letter. Subscribers, beware!
At some point, I did catch an interview with my congressman, Don Manzullo. He is among the nicest guys in Congress, and he was telling the obtuse interviewer how he experienced the Big Day. Don expressed outrage over the attacks and carefully distinguished America's wars—always waged in retaliation for injustice and oppression—from the evil terrorists. He is, as I said, a very nice guy, and I will vote for him if he runs again, even though he once declared he would never again stand on the same platform with a defender of the South (me). But, really, how do we find people of his age so entirely ignorant of American history? What is really frightening is that Manzullo probably knows more than most of them, though he did once attribute "Taxation without representation is tyranny" to Thomas Jefferson. When called on it, he explained that when two men have said the same thing, he preferred to quote from the famous man rather than from someone completely unknown. Which is more ludicrous, the idea that Jefferson used the words of James Otis or that James Otis, once among the most famous men in American history for his resistance to the Stamp Act, is unknown? Otis was probably quoting an already popular slogan, but he was a great man in New England, as was his sister Mercy (gender mistake intended.)
Don is, however, a really nice guy—I hope you are paying attention—and it was charming to hear him tell how Dana Rohrbacher led them in the singing of "God Bless America." When the chips are down, a man turns to his religious faith. In Rohrbacher's case, this is not his much advertised Catholicism but an embarrassingly tacky song by a leftist Russian Jew, who ripped off white imitations of negro ragtime to degrade popular music permanently. I forget who made this observation in my childhood, but a wise man once attributed the degradation of American music to Irving Berlin. Now he is a national treasure. As another American national treasure (the Ukrainian Jew Yakov Smirnoff) used to say, "What a country."
I also heard a not so nice guy on NPR explaining that the people in the World Trade Center were killed simply for going to work. Really? That is what Osama told the world, he just hated people who went to work. I suppose that is the only motive it is safe to discuss on People's Radio. I also heard one of their announcers refer to a "fraught meeting." Not fraught with anxiety or anger, just fraught. I'd like to tell him to look the word up in a dictionary, but he probably does not own one or if he did would not be able to find fraught until someone explained it is arranged in alphabetical order.
We had our own commemoration here at the office on September 8. Srdja Trifkovic and I gave our usual optimistic estimates on the success of the War on Terror. About 75-80 people showed up to eat, drink, and listen. When I left, the linguist Peter Maher and Greek tamale-manufacturer Nick Petros were regaling the table with their zany pedantry. I thought of the Ritz Brothers.
More to come
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.