America’s Ruling Class

According to Angelo M. Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, power in America is held by a distinct ruling class,  comprised of both Democrats and Republicans, a political and social elite that uses the government to advance its interests against the two-thirds of ordinary Americans whom it rules with contempt.  This is not an economic class–just being wealthy won’t get you in–but rather it is a social aristocracy based not on birth but on a particular set of beliefs, social values, and class markers.  The article is long, it defies excerpt or paraphrase, and it is inflammatory.  You’ve got to read it:  The American Spectator : America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution.  Then talk about it here.

Feats of memory

Learn seven lines a day. . .

The steady degradation of our mental faculties as we age has been documented in depressing detail. If you’re over 30, you’re losing it—the only question is how fast.

So it’s nice when a study comes along suggesting that people post-50 are capable of remarkable mental feats. Take 74-year-old John Basinger. When he was 58, he decided on a lark to see if he could memorize Milton’s Paradise Lost. The whole thing. All 60,000-plus words. It took him nine years, but he pulled it off and has even recited it in public.

That takes three days. It’s a long poem.

Researchers wanted to discover Basinger’s secret and also how well he really knew the poem. Turns out, he memorized the poem in small segments—about seven lines a day (this is consistent with other research on what the immediate memory can hold). And it wasn’t just rote memorization: Basinger was attempting to comprehend the motivations of the characters, to gain a “deep, conceptual understanding of the poem.” He tried to connect with it emotionally.

The researchers tested his accuracy by prompting him with two lines from the poem and asking him to recite the next ten. They found that he made few errors and, when he did, they were usually errors of omission.

He’s not some memory superhero, though. Basinger has the same memory troubles that annoy most seniors (and plenty of us non-seniors, too). He forgets names, can’t find his keys, etc.  He’s pretty much normal for his age, except for the memorizing-all-of-Paradise-Lost thing.

via Memorizing Milton – Percolator – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Christendom

While I was in France and Germany, I was most struck by how in the cities and towns the center of the community is still, to this day, the cathedral or the church. This is true of both Strasbourg, France, with its Roman Catholic cathedral, and Heidelberg, Germany, with its Lutheran church. They dominate the central square. Around these churches and in their shadow are sidewalk cafes where people are talking and enjoying themselves; there are artists and musicians; people buying and selling, pursuing romance, and being part of a community. This makes a striking image of life in its abundance presided over by the Christian faith.

I am aware that many, if not most of the people gathered around the cathedral squares are no longer Christian believers. But still. It is surely significant that no one gathers around the modernist buildings that these towns also feature. In Cologne, a television tower with a spire that ascends to the heavens, the top of which features a revolving restaurant, which must have been quite impressive a few decades ago, though at the center of its own square, is all but abandoned and the restaurant has gone out of business. The civilization of Europe still, at least by habit, revolves around its Christian heritage. Even in the buildings around the squares, so old and quaint, often dating from the 17th century back into the medieval days, have a human scale and an aesthetic dimension quite lacking in modernist, postmodernists, and the commercial buildings of today.

This speaks of the concept of “Christendom,” a civilization informed by the Christian faith. There was a time when every citizen of the town would have been a member of the church. Everyone would have been baptized. In fact, even in secularist Europe today, most people when they were infants were baptized. Perhaps it is in theological traditions that practice infant baptism and that have served as “state churches”–Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, the Reformed–that have the most positive theologies of culture. At any rate, I am aware that some Christians today think the very notion of Christendom is impossible. Only individuals, they say, not cultures, can be Christians. The church is intrinsically alien from the world. The church that embraces the world or seeks to guide it becomes worldly. Some people think there can be a Christian society, but that only come from the church’s exercise of political power. This is the position of some Christians and, ironically, many secularists. Cultural influence, that of salt in food and light in dark places, is more elusive.

Do you think Christendom is possible, even as an ideal? Can there be a Christendom in which even non-Christians can find a haven, just as non-believers too prefer to gather in the shadow of gothic spires?

The Huguenot Cross

I learned that in France, Protestants–particularly Protestant women–can be identified by their wearing the Huguenot Cross. The Huguenots (the origins of the name are uncertain) were French followers of the Reformation. Sometimes they thrived, but other times they endured horrible persecution. In the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (August 24-October 3, 1572), as many as 25,000 were slaughtered. At any rate, this legacy has given them a certain defiant attitude. In Strasbourg, which has a strong Protestant heritage to this day, both Reformed and Lutheran, I noticed waitresses in cafes and others wearing this cross:

Huguenot Cross

As it was explained to me, the cross is Trinitarian.  The circle represents the Father; the cross represents the Son; and the dove is the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son.  It exists in different versions, with the French fleur de lis, as here, hearts, etc.  The cross itself is a Maltese Cross, which is the sign of the order of the Hospitillers, the Knights of Malta written about by Bo Giertz in the novel “The Knights of Rhodes” translated by our Bror Erickson.  (He’s got a new edition coming out!  More on that later!)  The reason is that the original patron of the Hugeuenots, King Henry IV, had a connection to that order.  I was told that it points to not just the crusading of that order but of their opening hospitals, and so it symbolizes works of mercy.  Actual Huguenots followed the theology of their fellow Frenchman Jean Calvin, but I saw Lutherans also wearing this cross.

At any rate, it’s a cool piece of jewelry.  I got my wife one.

One small step for a man

July 20 was the 41st anniversary of a human being landing on the moon.  The tiny spacecraft was guided by computers with far less capability than the one you are using to read this blog.  “One small step for a man,” said Neil Armstrong, “one giant leap for mankind.”   Was it really?  Watch the video of that dramatic 1969 telecast.  (If it isn’t appearing in your browser, click “comments.”)

Revealing the top secret industry

The Washington Post is running a three-part expose of America’s security industry, comprised of government agencies and a huge number of private contractors.  Here is the opening:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

The investigation’s other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

via A hidden world, growing beyond control | washingtonpost.com.

My thoughts:

(1)  The story, while fascinating, is irresponsible in revealing names and locations of top-secret facilities, to the point of including an on-line map.  (There is supposedly one in my home town!)

(2)  Conservatives predicted that the creation of yet another layer of Homeland Security would mean the growth of another vast federal bureaucracy, and this seems to be what has happened.

(3)  The main complaint of the story, though, is that all of these spooks and analysts are generating too much information for any one person to take in.  But one person doesn’t have to take it all in.  Agencies find information for those who need it.  Decentralized intelligence, as with much else, can be very effective.  The army unit of that Muslim shrink who killed all those people at Ft. Hood had an intelligence division.  Instead of writing reports about threat alerts and such, which is apparently what they did, they should have kept tabs on their own people.  The head of the CIA didn’t need to do that, but the army division intelligence office did need to.

(4)  What the series does say about what the private contractors do seems to prove their worth, against the thesis of the articles.  One of them invented a way to detect roadside bombs.  Others produce software to guide those drone aircraft that have become the scourge of Al Qaida.  No one can expect government intelligence employees to develop that kind of technology on their own.  Of course they need to use outside contractors.

(5)  That there is waste and redundancy I have no doubt, just as there is in the military.  But we owe all of these folks a lot for keeping us safe.  That’s the government’s major job, according to Romans 13.


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