The Flâneur's Archives

Archives from The Flâneur's Arcade (2007-2017)

Category: In the News

Bummer


Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, detail
(Hans Burgkmair, circa 1500)
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

from H. A. L. Fisher, A History of Europe, pp. 351-352
(Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1935)

Frederick III (1440-93), the first Emperor to show the famous Habsburg lip, and the last Emperor to be crowned in Rome, was as great a nullity as ever played an important part in history. Without any of the engaging gifts of Edward II of England, Frederick was just as little fitted as that unfortunate monarch for the dispatch of business… [This] dull obstinate bigot ruled in Vienna for more than fifty years, leaving no print of mind or will upon the conduct of affairs. The Turks conquered Constantinople and overran Hungary. The rôle of Austria as the chief remaining bulwark of Christianity against the Ottoman Turk became charged with a new significance, which could hardly escape the meanest intelligence. But no event, however, startling, could ruffle the placidity of Frederick, no problem however grave could excite his sluggish mind, or the most alarming prospect inflame his torpid imagination. Inertia was the principle of his life. The most important station in Europe at one of the most critical moments in her history was occupied by a blockhead.

Looking Back at Obama


Ex-President Obama’s last look at the White House
(Source: Pete Souza’s Instagram)

As Obama’s term ends, one cannot help reflect on the legacy of his presidency. While his approval ratings remain highest among exiting chief executives of the recent past, I’m afraid that the sober eye of history will cast a harsh judgment on what he did–or rather, did not do–during his watch. As the glitter of his celebrity tarnishes with time, the deficiencies of his feckless leadership will come to full relief, like that of “dull” and “sluggish” Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, who oversaw the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks (1453). When Europe is finally completely Islamized, and its democracies subjected to Sharia Law, its people will look back on Obama’s failures in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, the rise of the barbaric Islamic State and the mass migration of muslim refugees to Europe, and discover in his inscrutable inertia the root of its decline.


Afghanistan


Libya


Benghazi


ISIS


Syria


Iran


Russia


Ukraine


Europe


“No problem however grave could excite his sluggish mind”

Reversal of Fortune



Hillary Clinton campaigned on the appeal of being the first woman to run for the highest office in the United States, banking on the same identity politics that buoyed Barack Obama to power in 2008. But while it was true that many Americans were misty-eyed with the image of a first African-American president, Obama had many other gifts that Clinton sorely lacked. There was an ease about the Senator from Illinois, a nimbleness in speech, and the keenness to tap into the zeitgeist. He knew Americans wanted hope and change.

So it was with the confidence of repeating this feat of firsts, boosted by the favorable augury of the polls, that Clinton supporters gathered at the Javits Convention Center in New York. But the party soon turned into scenes of inconsolable wailing, as they watched blue state after blue state turn red.

While Clinton failed to make the case for electing the first woman president, Donald Trump is by no means a conventional choice. A Washington outsider, with no political experience, besting 16 other Republican candidates in the primaries, then going head to head against an establishment candidate backed by mainstream media and Wall Street money, and finally, pulling-off a stunning reversal of fortune on election night. He was outspent by Clinton 2:1, running a lean campaign by criss-crossing tirelessly around battleground states, and by his provocative use of social media, presenting his case directly to the people. (Let us not now forget who Citizens United and lobby money helped the most in this election.)

In some way, Trump’s win is also a first. He is the first reality TV candidate–raw and unfiltered, and prickly at the edges. He is also the first social media candidate, with an uncanny command of the medium. Marshall McLuhan said that radio created Hitler and television created JFK; this time, YouTube, Twitter, and the comment section created Donald Trump. The comment section, which Camille Paglia observes has become “a whole new genre” (Reason TV interview), is the anarchic countervailing medium to the composed article. In McLuhan’s terms, it is cool, participatory, and auditory, as opposed to the hot, linear, visual form of the article. Twitter has that same low-res, audile quality. This is where you hear the voices of dissent against the imposed narrative. Professional Internet troll Chuck Johnson gloats: “The trolls won,” and called this election, “the comment section against the article.” Surprising it was a candidate in his 70’s who seized upon the medium of the moment and understood its message.

Mainstream media’s inability to grasp the meaning of Trump’s victory is a signal of their decline and irrelevance. They continue to explain it in terms of absurd identity politics: those white working class voters in the Rust Belt must be racist, so it goes. But Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had not voted Republican since the 1980s. Did they just turn Aryan supremacist overnight? Even liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (who hails from Michigan) is incredulous of this narrative.

You have to accept that millions of people who voted for Barack Obama, some of them once, some of them twice, changed their minds this time. They’re not racist. They twice voted for a man whose middle name is Hussein. That’s the America you live in.

from The Daily Caller

Trump’s message “Make America Great Again” succinctly captured the thirst for upliftment in blighted manufacturing towns of the Midwest, while Clinton’s clunky slogan “Stronger Together” plastered on her jet plane never really took off. In her vision of inclusion, those who Trump addressed as the “forgotten man and woman” felt excluded. In a feat of firsts, it is the billionaire playboy and real estate mogul that put the traditionally Democrat base of working class Americans on the side of Republicans. It remains to be seen whether he can effect a reversal of their fortunes.

The Course of Empire


The Course of Empire: Desolation (1833-36, Thomas Cole)
“First freedom and then Glory–when that fails
Wealth, vice, corruption–barbarism at last” (Lord Byron)

from H. A. L. Fisher, A History of Europe
(Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1935)

The Western Empire, A. D. 476 (pp. 124-125)

From this moment, the germanization of the West steadily proceeded. Ostrogoths poured into the Balkan peninsula, creating by their restless and turbulent activities a problem similar to that which had taxed the resources of the Eastern Empire a century before. In Italy a succession of phantom and ephemeral emperors reached its close with a pathetic figure, named by the supreme irony of providence, Romulus Augustus, who was deposed by Odovacar, the East German master of the troops (476). Military revolutions were no novelty in the annals of the Roman Empire, and the act of Odovacar had many precedents… It is true that he deposed Romulus, but the lad was a usurper, unrecognized in Constantinople, and the deed condoned by the bestowal upon its author of the high imperial title of patrician. What was original in Odovacar’s action was not that it was revolutionary, but that it was conservative. He refused to appoint a successor to Romulus, calculating that he would have more elbowroom in a united Empire governed from Constantinople as in the days of Theodosius the Great. That unity was in fact and theory preserved until the coronation of Charlemagne as Emperor of the West in 800.


The Roman Empire at the time of Theodosius I,
Last Emperor to rule the Eastern and Western parts


Barbarian invasions of the 5th century

The Eastern (Byzantine) Empire, A. D. 1453 (pp. 418-419)

Constantine VI (1458-53), the last of the Caesars, though the nominee of Murad and his vassal, shines out in the final crisis of the Empire as a statesman and hero, prepared alike for compromise and for sacrifice. The Greek population of Constantinople, for whom the quarrels of monks were always more important than the clash of races, were unworthy of such a leader. While Mohammed’s artillery was battering at the walls, the public opinion of the capital was inflamed by denunciation of the Emperor who, in the desperate hope of winning the West to his side, had dared to recognize the Roman Church and to permit the celebration of Roman rites in the Church of Saint Sophia. To these wretched theological preoccupations we may perhaps ascribe the fact that the main part of the defence of the city was undertaken, not by the Greeks, but by Spaniards, Germans, and Italians. And as the defending force was not principally Greek, so the attacking army was not wholly Turkish. The levies of Mohammed were largely recruited from men of a Greek and Christian stock. So it happened that on May 29, 1453, by default of the Christians the great city was breached and stormed, the last of the Byzantine Emperors perishing honourably in the death agony of the Empire.


Left: The Sack of Rome by the Barbarians in 410
(1890, Joseph-Noël Sylvestre)
Right: The Entry of Mahomet II into Constantinople
(1876, Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant)

Marginal Notes:

Another example of Fisher’s gift for compression–a rendering of complex history vividly yet with great economy. While he describes the final fate of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires at a galloping pace, he does so in evocative language that attends to all that are remarkable and of consequence, and to the peculiar nature of personalities: the pathetic figure of Romulus, ironically named after the Empire’s mythical founder; the germanic military mensch, Odovacar, usurping power from the effete boy-king; the tragic Constantine XI (not VI), last emperor of Byzantium, protecting with his life a city that bickered against him.

While germanic barbarians whittled away at the Western Empire over a period of a hundred years, the Byzantine Empire slowly collapsed under its weight for another thousand years, until the Ottoman Turks finally captured Constantinople. Fisher dramatizes the immediate causes of the fall by describing how, even as Mohammed II’s army were banging at the walls, the Greek monks were busy publicly denouncing the Emperor for allowing Latin liturgy in an Orthodox church.

These epic historical moments were popular subjects of paintings in the 19th century, with Sylvestre depiciting in Academic mode the Sack of Rome by the Visigoths, while Benjamin-Constant employed the lush Orientalist style for Mohammed II’s triumphal entry into Constantinople. In Sylvestre’s painting, brutish barbarians, in their animal nakedness, scale the imposing statue of Caesar to topple it, while Alaric the Bold looked on. The stolid white marble of the Roman Forum, and the imperious demeanor of larger-than-life Caesar, adorned with laurels of victory and bearing a lion shield, contrast effectively with the sanguine beastliness of the German mob. In Benjamin-Constant’s painting, Mohammed II on his black Arabian stallion raises the green crescent flag as he tramples upon the dead Byzantines–patrician women and slaves, monks and knights, even Moors. Smoke billows from the burning Christian city, as a late afternoon light washes the stone archway with a tinge of saffron, the sun setting on the ruins of a once glorious Empire.

While such arcane theological debates that caused so much grief and bloodshed throughout Europe’s history seem quaint today, a new sort of religion has taken its place, especially among the secular Left in the West, in the form of PC activism. While ISIS razes the Middle East and Al-Qaida threaten Western civilization in Europe, the priests and prophets of Climate Change are preoccupied with theological sophistries (carbon emissions causing terrorism?) and persecution of its heretics (plotting civil suits against “deniers”?). Their long incubation in the comforts of civilization have detached them from the grim realities that prop up the conditions of their existence, and like the monks behind the walls of Constantinople, they have lost all sense of proportion.

Cities, however, are not defended by beliefs, but by will and material power. Had the Greeks been resolute and united, had the navies of Genoa and Venice been placed at the disposition of the Imperial Government, had there been among the Greek and Italian peoples a common will to save Constantinople, saved it would have been. (p. 418)

This flight from reality is symptomatic of a decadent exhaustion in the late phases of Empire. What fools they would seem when Europe is finally reduced to the rule of tribal despots and subjected to Sharia Law. The barbarian invasions of the 5th century forever changed the character of Europe; there is no reason it will not happen again.

But while the pagan German invaders converted to Christianity and schooled themselves in Latin culture, the Ottoman Turk did not. At the end of his account of the fall of Constantinople, Fisher writes this coda:

The conquerors were Asiatic nomads and so remained. Sir Charles Eliot, describing the interior of the house of a Turkish gentleman in the nineteenth century, observes that it contained no more furniture than could be carried off at a moment’s notice on a wagon to Asia. A certain dignity of bearing, coupled with a grave exterior polish and a sense of humor and irony, were noted by Western observers as favourable traits in the Turkish character… But the culture of the West was not valued. The Turk remained an alien in Europe, having no part in its traditions, and limited in his notions of imperial government to the philosophy of a slave-owning oligarchy in a world of potential slaves. (p. 419)

Be Patient


A young Syed Rizwan Farook, ISIS sympathizer
and San Bernardino, CA mass shooter
(Source: Daily Mail)

I kept telling him always: stay calm, be patient, in two years Israel will no longer exist,” the elder Farook told the newspaper. “Geopolitics is changing: Russia, China, America too, nobody wants the Jews there.

(Source: USA Today, “Dad: San Bernardino shooter agreed with ISIL, ‘obsessed with Israel'”)

This was the father’s admonition to his son when the latter expressed his allegiance to ISIS. Is it just me, or does this sound equally extremist–that one would bear a deep desire for the destruction of Israel?

What is worrisome is how these seemingly moderate, devout Muslims (the Farooks and the Tsarnaevs) had been easily converted to murderous fanatics. If part of their religious aspiration is for the eradication of an entire people, should we be shocked at the outcome?

We are America


Carlos Bulosan (1913-1956)

It is but fair to say that America is not a land of one race or one class of men. We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat. From the first Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino pea pickers. America is not bound by geographical latitudes. America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world. America is a prophecy of a new society of men: of a system that knows no sorrow or strife or suffering. America is a warning to those who would try to falsify the ideals of freemen.

America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling on a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities is closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated or illiterate–We are America!

(from America is in the Heart, p.188-189 )

Currently in a reading group working on Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart. This passage just resonates with me after the recent mass shooting by an Islamic radical couple (and ISIS sympathizers) which killed 14 in San Bernardino, CA.


A couple embraces following the shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed at least 14 people and wounded others at Inland Regional Center, a facility for people with developmental disabilities. (Source: MSNBC)