The Flâneur's Archives

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

Category: Politics

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)

Anoxia


Giant jellyfish spotted in the Adriatic for first time since Second World War
(www.telegraph.co.uk)

“Climate change caused by human activity could damage biological and social systems,” declares a paper in PLOS Biology cited as authority in Wikipedia. Why is climate change always predicted to have dire consequences? Isn’t there one single benefit to a warmer climate? And what’s more: Isn’t there a single scientific model out there that predicts positive effects, or at least no effect? Why do they all converge to ruinous, apocalyptic ends? The first suspect in scientific crap detection is systematic bias. But in the virtually untestable world of climate modeling, bias is often not in methodology but in ideology. Note the loaded language: caused by human activity. Does this imply that climate change not caused by humans must not be damaging? This is ridiculous on it’s face. There have been several mass extinction events before humans arrived on the scene that nature managed on its own. Does this imply then that humans direct at least the contemporary global climate? Think about it: Our collective hand can dial up (or down–“mitigation” in IPCC bureaucratese) the global thermostat. That’s a tall order. I wonder if any climate change scientist will put his money on how much mitigation it will take to make it rain here in Southern California. Will forcing everyone to drive a Prius help?

Instead we get vague projections from models: “Our results suggest that the entire world’s ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity.” Anoxia, or complete oxygen depletion, is one of the dire consequences of warming trends. It is announced by jellyfish invasions. It makes sense to anyone who took Chemistry 101–the solubility of gases decrease with increasing temperature. That’s why warm soda pop turns flat. But guess what, the ocean is much more complex than a soda can, and I am not an oceanographer.

Our findings demonstrate that contemporary anoxic zone of the [eastern tropical northern Pacific] is currently not larger than it has been in the past 150 years, and thus cast doubt on the view that the recent expansion of the tropical Pacific [oxygen minimum zones] is a reflection of global ocean deoxygenation driven by climate warming. This expansion coincides with a period of surface cooling and thermocline shoaling in the eastern tropical Pacific that runs counter to the prevailing climate-warming trend and partly accounts for the hiatus in global surface warming. It is therefore a likely manifestation of the ocean’s pervasive low-frequency variability, rather than a response to rising greenhouse gases.

(C. Deutsch, et al, Science 2014, 345(6197), p. 667)

What is interesting is the time horizon of the study: the Industrial Revolution, driven by burning fossil fuels, and all other “human activities” thereafter (e.g., big corporations, mass consumerism, population growth) indicted as culprits of global warming had not made a dent on the extent of oxygen-depleted zones. But for the Left, climate change has got to have a human cause, otherwise, there is no moral case. This collective guilt trip is a residue of the Marxist critique of capitalist abuses during the Industrial Revolution mixed with New England Protestant temperance. It keeps everyone in check, like white guilt for the WASP Left, and motivates climate change policy. But times have changed since coal mines and textile factories in Manchester employed child labor. The West has been enjoying the highest standard of living in history. People are living longer. It’s just too good to be true; something must be wrong, somewhere. Bam! Global warming! Jellyfish invasions! A new trendy cause for moral outrage for the couch activist.

There is at least one critter that’s ambivalent to all this anoxia brouhaha:


Vampire squid loves to eat shit.
(news.nationalgeographic.com)

The vampire squid thrives in anoxic zones where it eats “dead plankton, algae, fecal matter, goo, shells shed by tiny crustaceans, and other detritus.” Unfortunately, contrary to guilt trippers, anoxia has not been found to be tied to climate change because this could have been one of its merits.

Impossible Dream

My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant
(by Jose Antonio Vargas, NY Times)

The debates over “illegal aliens” intensified my anxieties. In 1994, only a year after my flight from the Philippines, Gov. Pete Wilson was re-elected in part because of his support for Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending public school and accessing other services. (A federal court later found the law unconstitutional.) After my encounter at the D.M.V. in 1997, I grew more aware of anti-immigrant sentiments and stereotypes: they don’t want to assimilate, they are a drain on society. They’re not talking about me, I would tell myself. I have something to contribute.

Why did The Post deport Jose Antonio Vargas’s story?
(by Patrick B. Pexton, Washington Post)

[Executive Editor Marcus] Brauchli said in an interview with me and in other public statements that he prefers not to discuss internal Post deliberations about news judgment. “We made a judgment not to run the piece,” he said. Fair enough. Few editors go on the record about internal deliberations over a published news story, unless the story later results in accolades and awards.

And, I, too, see cautionary notes about Vargas that might have led to Brauchli’s decision. He left behind a reputation in The Post’s newsroom for being tenacious and talented but also for being a relentless self-promoter whom many colleagues didn’t trust. Editors said that he needed direction, coaching and constant watching.

It’s also disturbing that Vargas has formed a nonprofit group to advocate for immigration reform. He has crossed the line from journalist to advocate.

I’m uneasy with immigration advocates who conflate anti-immigration with anti-illegal immigration. There is a world of difference between the two, foremost of which is the law. Americans who disdain illegal immigration are not necessarily anti-immigrant (I found most, even in the South, very welcoming), and it is devious of Vargas to represent them that way. He is in fact also perpetuating certain stereotypes. Vargas deflects the legal issue by also putting “illegal” under quotes or by replacing it by the softer, less problematic term “undocumented”. It only serves to evade the sticky issue of what to do with people like himself who has in fact immigrated illegally, but has integrated successfully in American society. Can a path to legal status be opened up without short circuiting current laws and thus incentivizing further illegal immigration? Without being unfair and, yes, unjust to those who did proceed through the legal routes? There are compelling reasons people oppose the DREAM Act, not just because they have an irrational fear of immigrants.

There is nothing unusual about sovereign nations protecting their borders against encroachment. The Philippine coast guard deport illegal Chinese fishing boats at the contested Spratly Islands all the time. Unfortunately, these immigration barriers also often oppose the entropic diffusion of populations that even out economic gradients. That is why visas are required of Third World citizens for travel to the First World, not vice versa. This then becomes a more profound question of justice that only something like an eschatological inversion can set right.