Monday, November 17, 2014

Pondering Beheadings

Since I watched a news clip this morning with a statement from Peter Kassig's parents, and my head is still in sufficient proximity to my hand, I have been scratching it in wonder.  Certainly Peter's service is something to be admired, and his death to be lamented.  Then there is the grief of Peter's parents, which I can certainly empathize with.   

What puzzled me were the statements regarding faith that came from Peter's parents:  "The world is broken, but it will be healed in the end.  And good will prevail as the one God of many names will prevail."  May God grant them peace.  Yet at the same time, I am not accustomed to referring to God as "the one God of many names", since this isn't from the Bible.  Nor does the Bible teach that the world will be healed, but rather says that it will be destroyed.  Good will prevail, but only through the authority of Jesus Christ manifested during his second coming.  Another article referred to the statement having being given at Epworth United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.  Checking the web site, there is no statement of faith as Christian churches normally provide, which shouldn't be too surprising, since this is a United Methodist religious group.  But to their credit, they don't have a formal declaration of salvation by total depravity as many of their sister churches do, and I believe there are a few Christian clergy and churches among the United Methodists.  I just can't tell what religion this church is.

Another puzzling statement from the news article reads: "He also married and quickly divorced.  And he felt stirrings of a higher calling even then."  My reaction could certainly change if I knew more about the circumstances, but it seems that being a good husband is a higher calling.  Or at least it was until a generation ago.  

Then there is this from a conservative article regarding Peter Kassig:  "It suggests that he denied his murderers the pleasure of a kneeled submission."  This wouldn't bother me, except that Peter also converted to Islam while in prison.  So which act is the greater one of submission?  To bow to your executioner?  Or to bow to the religion of your executioner?  But then again, Peter was raised Methodist, so perhaps there was nothing to lose in the conversion?  

I don't intend to answer any of those above questions, while I suppose many more could be asked.  And if I misunderstood, given that what I have learned has come through fallible sources, I will be happy to be corrected.  The main thing that stands out in all this is the clear thinking of ISIS, Jihadi John, and the caliphate, which contrasts with the total confusion of western thinking.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Childhood by Tolstoy

This is the prequel to the previous post on Boyhood, featuring the same characters, and almost certainly written first.  Behind the stories of the children there is the nature of serfdom which I must wonder at, having never experienced anything of the sort.  An example of this relates to a young lady who had been in the service of the grandfather, and sought to marry a young man who was also a servant:

"At last she ventured to go and ask my grandfather if she might marry Foka, but her master took the request in bad part, flew into a passion, and punished poor Natashka by exiling her to a farm which he owned in a remote quarter of the Steppes. At length, when she had been gone six months and nobody could be found to replace her, she was recalled to her former duties. Returned, and with her dress in rags, she fell at Grandpapa's feet, and besought him to restore her his favour and kindness, and to forget the folly of which she had been guilty--folly which, she assured him, should never recur again. And she kept her word."

Natashka returns and is a simple, loyal, and single servant for life.  As a practical matter, she is a slave, but her entire being is wrapped up in the taking care of the household, including the children and grandchildren.  This has me wanting to compare these circumstances with the experience of American slavery, but that will need to wait.  Thankfully the serf system was done away with in Russia about the same time the US put an end to slavery.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boyhood, by Tolstoy

The order of reading Tolstoy's works should have been Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, but the mp3 player brought them up in alphabetical order.  Boyhood is the story of the antics, imaginations and trials of a boy as he transitions from 14 to 16 years old.  The boy being a younger son of an aristocratic family in 19th century Russia.  Education is accomplished by private tutors in this family, which should induce all the Asian tiger moms in my neighborhood to be consumed with jealousy if they had only known that such an education was possible.  The second tutor for this boy is a Frenchman, who the young lad didn't get along with.  This dislike rapidly transmorgified into hate, followed by a long, slow thaw.  I had presumed this story was about Tolstoy himself, but if so, it would only loosely be the case.  Much of what I enjoyed were the philosophical ponderings that he attributes to this young man.  One senses a Christian background, but the consciousness of God that I had growing up is largely absent from Tolstoy's discourse.  There really is just this remark after a well-earned punishment:

"The the idea of God occurred to me, and I asked Him boldly why He had punished me thus, seeing that I had never forgotten to say my prayers, either morning or evening.  Indeed, I can positively declare that it was during that hour in the store-room that I took the first step towards the religious doubt which afterwards assailed me during my youth (not that mere misfortune could arouse me to infidelity and murmuring, but that, at moments of utter contrition and solitude, the idea of the injustice of Providence took root in me as readily as bad seed takes toot in land well soaked with rain)."

The idea that the punishment could have come from God as a blessing seems to have been completely missed from our aspiring young philosopher.  Getting back to the French tutor we have a gem of a quote:

"Judging coolly of the man at this time of day, I find that he was a true Frenchman, but a Frenchman in the better acceptation of the term.  He was fairly well educated, and fulfilled his duties to us conscientiously, but he had the peculiar features of fickle egotism, boastfulness, impertinence, and ignorant self-assurance which are common to all his countrymen, as well as entirely opposed to the Russian character."

Having worked for a French company for a few years, there is part of me that wants to agree with this.  Yet I also enjoyed this time and had not felt particularly bothered by those traits.  And at the same time, I have found the Russians I had worked with sharing many of the same characteristics of being loud and overconfident, although seemingly managing this without exuding the "me-ness".  Anyway, if I were to proceed further in judging this matter, I should undoubtedly exceed both the Russians and the French in hypocrisy, so I will merely note that this topic was commented on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

End of the Swimming Season.

Well, not quite.  The Shadow Cliffs lake temperature is now in the upper 50's Fahrenheit, which means that we are a bit colder than the San Francisco Bay at the moment.  The water level is more than 6 feet below normal, but there is still sufficient for swimming.  Today was the last day when my mid-week swimming partner would be there until April.  He said good bye to the park attendants and I put in a last 2 kilometer swim.  From now on, when I swim I must stay in the swim lanes, which is much more tedious than a loop around the lake.

This time of year the early morning workout gets challenging.  There is nowhere to get warm and the end of the swim is a cold outdoor shower to get cleaned up before heading to work.  The showers will continue for another month until the first good freeze.  Then they will shut down the shower for a few months.  Perhaps I should sign up for the winter Alcatraz swim again.  We shall see how far will power can go in the struggle with hypothermia.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Bethink Yourselves, by Tolstoy: Christian Pacifism?

"Then I saw and the lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, 'Come.'  I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer." - Revelation 6:1-2

Tolstoy had seen enough of war up close to earn a hearing.  This is his response to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 that ended badly for the Russians.  To a large extent it is a religious work also providing his view on religion and what he sees as perhaps a path to hope.  In this he finds that Jesus provides the answer, that we are to love one another.  So far so good, but let's hear Tolstoy in his own words:

"If we indeed love our enemies, if even now we began to love our enemies, the Japanese, we would have no enemy."

Um, really?  Didn't Jesus say that the whole world would hate us?  But perhaps the notion of enemy is strictly an existential one that exists only in ourselves, so that even though others might plot evil against us, we can still declare that they are not our enemy.  Then there is the smarty in me who wants to suggest that if we didn't have any enemies, we couldn't fulfill the command to love them, thus, perhaps we should work to have more enemies so that we have more opportunities to love them!

But Tolstoy gives us something more:

"To love the yellow people, whom we call our foes, means, not to teach them under the name of Christianity absurd superstitions about the fall of man, redemption, resurrection, etc., not to teach them the art of deceiving and killing others, but to teach them justice, unselfishness, compassion, love--and that not by words, but by the example of our own good life."

This a clear profession that Tolstoy's religion is Modern-anity.  i.e., it is a selective rendering of a few of the teachings of Jesus out of context, mixed in with a complete rejection of everything that Jesus did.  War will always be with us, because man is fallen.  Without a resurrection, there is no judgment, and with no judgment, it is meaningless to speak against war and to command love.  Tolstoy rejects the sacraments of the church, apparently in ignorance that they are emblems of the love Jesus showed us by dying for us.  At the same time, Tolstoy sees "religion" as the answer and rejects "science", which in this context means the scientistic pretentions of the intellectuals.  He also implies that Buddhism has the same lofty principles as Christianity, apparently ignorant that Buddhism has no principles of any consequence.

The end of the Japanese Russian war was a major defeat for Russia and Japan was empowered to continue its brutal conquest into Korea, China and beyond.  The timing of this work is also striking, since it appears that the social revolutionaries used a phony call to pacifism to further their ruthless aims.   And so fanatics will keep on going out conquering and to conquer.  May Christians find ways to offer relief.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk by Leon Trotsky, Conclusion

This work ends with Trotsky's apology for the Brest Litovsk treaty that conceded large portions of the Russian Empire to Germany along with reparations and brings Russia's participation in World War 1 to an end.  Trotsky's explanation is that Russia was too weak industrially and militarily to resist.  Germany's goal that Trotsky mentions is that of splitting off as many people groups from the Russian Empire as possible into separate nations.  The other goal that Trotsky didn't mention was to free up German soldiers for the Western front.  He portrays things almost exclusively as an effort to placate a power crazed imperial Germany, without recognizing Germany's problems beyond mentioning a strike.

That Russia's military and economy were too weak seems true, but there is something missing:  Before the October Revolution started, Russia's factories and military were already thoroughly compromised by social revolutionaries and anarchists, as Trotsky informs us.  So we are left to wonder whether the failure of the Russian military-industrial complex was the inevitable result of an incompetent Tsar and a costly war, or was it the result of deliberate sabotage by the social revolutionaries, or some combination?  From the later histories of Trotsky, we see that his pacifist rhetoric in this work is replaced by a ruthless use of military power.

A final observation is the fury that is directed towards the fellow social revolutionaries who share ideology, but not necessarily methods and power structures.  In spite of the rhetoric of a government by the working classes, it is clear that only His government of the working classes is acceptable.  Compromised be damned.  Literally.  The end of this work is some hope in the future.  The inefficiencies resulting from duplicate production will be removed, and a central planned economy will determine what is to be produced and who will get what.  The proletariat of the imperial burgoie powers will rise up and overthrow the tyrants.  The future is full of hope.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk, by Trotsky (continued)

Since I just listened to an earlier Russian history, my impression is that the Russian revolution is simply a repeat of the earlier episodes in Russian history where a disputed monarchy resulted in lots of princes appealing to the masses and then leading armies to stake their claim.  It was always "for the people", whether it be a leader from a thousand years ago or a modern leftist politician who spends his time on the golf course and hobnobbing with billionaires.  So the Proletariat leadership were all from the Bourgeoisie.  Since this work was written in 1919, Trotsky is still sticking clearly to the "for the people" text.  To do otherwise would not have been possible at that time.

There is some awkwardness to the "for the people" slogan that should be noted.  Trotsky proclaims that the Soviets were the only legitimate democratic institutions since they were most connected to the masses.  Of course democracy was never their intent, and the entire episode of this book is dedicated to the crushing of a more pluralistic system.  Trotsky gives us this little treat: "We issued our first decree, abolishing the death penalty ..."  Which sounds like one thing on the surface, but perhaps the real meaning was that they abolished the legal proceedings on the death penalty, thus, eliminating an annoyance regarding carrying the death penalty out.  We can ask the descendants of the Tsar if there is any doubt on this matter.  He whines a bit about the efforts of the Bolsheviks being sabotaged, as if that hadn't been exactly what the Bolsheviks were doing to the central government.  The "Bourgeois Press" is forever criticized for stating that the Bolsheviks were for armed overthrow, as if this wasn't what they were for.  So Trotsky continues: "In civil war, more than in any other, victory can be insured only by a determined and persistent course.  There must be no vacillation.  To engage in parleys is dangerous; merely to mark time is suicidal.  ...  And only by these means of aggressive charges can victory be achieved ..."  That probably gets closer to Trotsky's true sentiments.

As an American, I generally admire our procedure to independence.  We declared independence.  We fought the war.  When things finally settled down, we established the government in a more calm and thoughtful atmosphere.  The Russian revolution of 1917 was entirely to the opposite.  In the middle of a war with economic collapse, the Bolsheviks determined that their bloody minded course of action was the only one that was acceptable.  The part that I wonder about still is the manner in which the Bourgeois Bolshevik leadership managed to communicate with the peasants and persuade them to give them their souls.  Trotsky presents it as a spontaneous uprising, which I don't believe.  In the US, the education system along with much of the media and half the clergy are dedicated to feeding this propaganda to the masses.

And so I will conclude with this:  "The vigilance of the Red Guards was beyond all praise.  They stood on watch about small camp fires, rifle in hand, hours at a time.  The sight of these young armed workmen by the camp fires in the snow was the best symbol of the proletarian revolution."  What did they think they were fighting for?  And how did they come to believe it?  Trotsky provides us no answers to the most important questions.  According to my Google stats, there are a number of Russian and Ukrainian observers to this blog.  I am wondering if any of them might be able to provide anymore insight.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk: Remedial Work

The discussion of late 19th century / early 20th century socialist movements involves numerous characters, technical terms, events, and publications so that having a working knowledge would take quite a time investment.  Trotsky mentions the Zimmerwald Conference, which I had never heard of, so this became the starting point.  Ostensibly, this was to oppose World War 1, and their conference resulted in the Zimmerwald Manifesto.  WW1 was certainly a good starting point, since even, I after looking at the history multiple times, view it as an utterly pointless war for the sake of having a war.  There weren't even any implausible pretexts.  So here is the evaluation of the cause per the socialists:

"The ruling forces of Capitalist society, in whose hands were the destinies of the nations, the monarchical and the Republican Governments, secret diplomacy, the vast employers' organizations, the middle-class parties, the Capitalist Press, the Church - all these forces must bear the full weight of responsibility for this war, which has been produced by the social order nourishing them and protecting them and which is being carried on for the sake of their interests."

Blame everybody.  The workers alone remain untainted in this, which is where the problem lies:  How many tradesman were at the Zimmerwald Conference?  Almost certainly zero.  (Peter the Great was the only Russian tradesman to have achieved power.)  And what do the socialists have on offer to replace the list of evil institutions above?  Democracy as a means to social unity had already lost its luster due to the challenges of reality.  With economic collapse and despair on offer, the socialist apparently just offered up Revolution! as the final answer.  Just throw out the bums, and we will give you "hope and change".  What this fails to recognize is that whoever ends up in power after the revolution is just the next tyrant, and he will not be able to govern without establishing a new ruling class.

Another elephant in the Zimmerwald room was that of nationalities.  The Ukrainians being a typical example.  As long as social revolution was in its pre-revolt position, appealing to tribal instincts was in their interest.  As soon as power was achieved, the opposite sentiment took hold, culminating in the Ukrainian famine.  Which brings us to the point of recognizing that the socialists aren't any different then what went before.  They just exploited the gullibility of the uneducated classes.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Mojave Sunrise

Yes, I was there.  It makes the news a little more real.


Friday, October 31, 2014

From October to Brest Litovsk, by Leon Trotsky

And suddenly we jump from the Crimean War (1855) to the Communist takeover of Russia (1917).  I pulled out the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) to help fill in missing details.  After the Crimean War, there was a brief period of reform, which was quashed under Alexander II, Alexander III and Nicolas II.  A policy of Russianization was promoted across the empire, while conquests of new territories continued.  The Revolution of 1905 came along in which another attempt was forced onto Nicolas II to establish a constitutional republic.  Efforts to establish a legislature (the Duma), however, failed due to the fact that every bonkers opinion of Western Europe was being promoted and nothing sensible could possibly result.  What isn't in the EB article due to when it was written is a description of World War I and its consequences on the economy and morale of Russia.

With that as a context, Trotsky provides an analysis of events from 1917 to 1918.  Being a communist, the article is full of techno-babble worthy of a Star Trek script, which makes this a little challenging to follow and will always leave me somewhat in doubt as to whether or not I understand what it is that he thinks he understands, or at least that I understand the message that he intends for me to understand.  Or maybe it is his intent that I misunderstand what it is that he understands.  One can never quite be sure with communists.

In the beginning of this book, Trotsky discusses how the collapse of the czarist regime is accompanied by various middle class educated types being looked to for guidance by army units and soviets.  The EB article, however, maintains that there was no real "middle class".  Trotsky portrays his movement as being against that of "Bourgeois Liberalism", which I understand to be classic Liberalism, which is what we would label Reactionary Tea Party Conservatism today.  As is clear from EB article, this never really ever got a foothold in Russia, so we have the classic leftist reaction against a fictitious hegemony that is supposedly ruling, but in fact never existed.  The czarist regime's bureaucracy is denounced, while the educated middle class is deemed incompetent, and thus the only hope Trotsky sees remaining is leadership and authority coming from the oppressed serfs.  As if the uneducated serfs might spontaneously produce a profound and workable concept of empire governance out of a vacuum.  

So this work is just starting on my play list.  I doubt that I can begin to grasp this period sensibly from one book.  It remains a great wonder that a people who were utterly exasperated at universal slavery under a hereditary nobility should have embraced a promise of freedom, only to find themselves under a new system of universal slavery under a communist thugocracy.  This thugocracy remained until recently when Russia finally embraced "Bourgeois Liberalism", not as BL was intended, but as the communist intellectuals misrepresented it.  So let's listen to more of Trotsky's blathering.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sevastopol, by Tolstoy

Since I haven't gotten enough of Russia yet, I thought this work by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) would be a good follow on.  It is a story of the Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War told through the eyes of soldiers.  Since Tolstoy was an officer during this war, he is perhaps one of the best to tell this kind of story.  My main sense is how the thoughts and feelings have some resemblance to what I would expect.  On the other hand, the Christian view of death is everywhere along with a fear of cowardice, which I would not consider to be so universal today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Empire Of Russia: Peter The Great through the Crimean War

I had to drive for many hours on a trip, and the story of the Empire of Russia was too gripping to let go.  So Poland had a great empire, followed by Sweden, but Peter the Great brought this to an end.  Catherine II was the next truly outstanding leader, but there were also czars who nearly did as much damage as these greater ones achieved.  The fear of anarchy was always in the back of the mind.

Something that stood out to me was the diplomacy of the Napoleonic wars given primarily from the Russian and French perspectives.  Then there was the back and forth wavering of Russia between the various European powers.  In spite of all the persistent efforts of some of the czars to modernize, however, we see that the Russian military is still quite backwards compared to the rest of Europe, which persists from the time of Peter the Great through the Battle of Jena.  The weaponry advanced while the Russian soldier is brave, but training and tactics seem always on the side of Western Europeans.

This book finishes with the Crimean War where the British and French unite with the Turks in an effort to humiliate Russia.  Russia was justifying their actions based on the goal of freeing the Greek Orthodox church, although the expansionist tendencies of Russia were also prominently on display.  Of course the British and French weren't exactly any better, while the Ottomans refrained from conquering only because they were too weak.

I should probably come up with a rating scheme.  If I had one, then this book would likely get a four and a half loons out of five.  The main deficiency being that I can't really know where the original sources were.  But then again, I am not sure I would want to hear large quantities of footnotes read out loud in my audio book.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Got Water?

Today I was driving from Northern California to the Mojave Desert and decided to take a peek at the San Luis Reservoir water level.  You can see my picture below.  We are nearing the end of our annual dry season and the level is 20% of capacity according to the state statistics.  I would have guessed that it was less than 10% from viewing the lake.  This lake controls the flow of irrigation water to much of the central valley and the water is used for agriculture.  San Luis reservoir mostly gets its water pumped in from elsewhere by the California Aqueduct.


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Empire of Russia: From Ivan III

My previous observation that Russia had not had a single constructive interaction with the West changes with the Pope sending the Greek princess Sophia to marry Ivan III.  What happens over the next several decades is a gradual transformation of Russia into a united kingdom with laws.  Under Ivan IV, siege is given to the Mohammedan Tatars of Kazan who are defeated (1552).  According to Dr. Wiki, the Tatars were immediately slaughtered.  According to this history, Ivan tried hard to make peace, but the spiritual need to commit terror caused the population to continually engage in war, thus, he was eventually compelled to convert them, expel them, or let them fight to the death.  Further terror raids would continue for more than a century from other Tatar hordes, thus, leaving much of the adjacent regions of Russia as depopulated wastelands for hundreds of miles.  The success against Kazan, however, allows Russia to expand all the way to the Pacific Ocean, since there wasn't any significant population in Siberia.

For a time it appeared that the Mongols were settling (early 1,300's), becoming civilized, and embracing Christianity.  But then they converted to Islam en masse, and renewed the practice of seeking out any settlement to burn, kill and capture victims for the slave market, which continued into the 18th century.  Eventually Russia gets enough strength to slaughter much of the horde by the Caucasus.  Shortly afterwards, this horde together with the Turks manages to take Moscow, which they pillage, burn and then kill 150,000 or so civilians.  This last episode they termed "revenge", as if this had been some sort of tit for tat fight all along.  The Cossacks make their appearance during this phase as militarized bands who wander the unsettled areas of Russia that were periodically swept by the Tatars.  Their allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Church would make them a natural enemy of the Tatars.

During this period, Russia is anxious to bring in learning from the West and various craftsmen and artisans were enticed to come to Russia to further this aim.  Trade and friendly relations begin with England and Holland, although clashes with Poland and Sweden are the norm.  Considering the propaganda I was taught growing up, the distinctive here is that all the learning that arrives in Russia is from the West, and it is to the West that Russia turns when it seeks learning.  Another contrasting item is the relatively constructive role of the Russian church.  I suspect that one of the reasons is the rules regarding married clergy in the Russian church.  Whatever the cause, it seems that the Russian clergy were constructively leading their flocks during periods where the Roman clergy were sexually abusing and robbing those who were put into their care.  This is likely the reason that the Reformation was a Western European phenomenon.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Diwali 2014

My wife and I like to take a walk each night.  The lights and candles scattered throughout the neighborhood reminded me of this annual celebration, and checking the net, I see that today is the day.  At least one in ten houses in my neighborhood celebrate this, although it seems to have merged with Halloween decorations in a few cases.  My wife was wondering why the Indian neighbors were so enthusiastic to get Christmas lights going so early.  All is clear now.

The only question in my mind:  Is the arrival of the goddess of wealth and prosperity a blessing or curse in this wealthy land?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

California: Number One For Poverty?

Clearly we are not looking at the world wide rankings.  Only the US ones.  Keeping that in mind, the poverty rate per the census bureau's "supplemental measure" is 23.8%, which is the highest in the nation.  We also have about 12% of the population, given that California is the largest state, meaning that we are a major contributor to the overall US poverty rate.

The reason for the supplemental measure is that the original method for measuring poverty focussed on food only, while the new measure takes into account additional costs.  Medical marijuana?  Anyway, the initial reaction is to wonder how the most pure social justice government in America could manage this.  And even more puzzling, this is a complete non-issue in the upcoming election.  To make things even more fun, the gap between rich and poor as ranked by the Gini index has California at the 7th largest gap, beating out Texas.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Getting back into the Swim

Sickness was my normal state for 6 weeks beginning about September 1st.  The last two weeks have allowed me to get back to a "normal" swim distance, which now is a bit less than 3 kilometers, but will increase to 4.5 kilometers next week.  The park opens at 6:30AM, which allows for a fairly dark start using the stars as guides.  The lake temperature has dropped to 67 degrees, which unfortunately is a level where something is happening in the water that makes me itchy.  This should go away once the lake gets a little cooler, giving me an incentive to look forward to the winter lake with its cleaner water.  My warm weather partners all tell me they will stop mid-week swimming on November 1st.  Thus, I may switch my swims to Lake Del Valle since I can swim where I want with no restrictions there, except that I need to respect the limits of hypothermia.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Empire of Russia: Facing the Horde

The period of two and a half centuries that the Russians faced the Tatars and Mongolians is something that I vaguely know happened, but there are few details.  Listening to the story in more detail is something that makes for a transformation in thinking.  It is a bit like growing up in America and learning only about Patton, D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, thinking that these were the key events of World War II in Europe, only to learn that more Russians died in the Battle of Moscow than all the American casualties during the entire war.

So there were these trivial skirmishes called the Crusades, but they were as nothing compared to what the Russians experienced from the Horde.  Even the 30 Years War seems tame compared to what Russia went through.  During this time, the Papists were as helpful as could be expected:

"The grand duchy of Lithuania, bordering on Poland, was spread over a region of sixty thousand square miles.  The grand duke, Jaghellon, a burly pagan, had married Hedwige, Queen of Poland, promising, as one of the conditions of this marriage which would unite Lithuania and Poland, to embrace Christianity.  He was married and baptized at Cracow, receiving the Christian name of Ladislaus.  He then ordered the adoption of Christianity throughout Lithuania, and the universal baptism of his subjects.   ...   These converts were received, not into the Greek church, which was dominant in Russia, but to the Romish church, which prevailed in Poland.  Jaghellon became immediately the inveterate foe of the Russians whom he called heretics, ..."  - The Empire of Russia, by John Abbott

Dr. Wiki says that Jaghellon introduced Christianity gradually, which is not what this history says.  Perhaps it would be good to read first sources, but this will need to wait.  After reading listening through 5 centuries of Russian history, it seems that the only constructive dealing with a foreign country was with the Greeks in Constantinople, but Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, so they are all alone now.  The reign of Ivan III (Ivan the Great) is next.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Empire of Russia: Greek Christianity

The history tells of a ruler named Vlademer (958-1015AD) who invites Christianity into his empire by the strangest stratagem.  As a pagan, he sends his army to send an army to threaten Constantinople.  In the suing for peace, a Christian princess is reluctantly sent to marry Vlademer, who then announces his acceptance of Christianity while receiving a gift of distinguished clergy.  "The ceremony of baptism was immediately performed in the church of St. Basil, in the city of Cherson, and then, at the same hour, the marriage rites with the princess were solemnized.  Vlademer ordered a large church to be built at Cherson in memory of his visit.  He then returned to Kief, taking with him some preachers of distinction ..."  Christians are so easy to fool.

The Greek influence is thus what started Christianity in Russia, but things were not to remain so simple:  "Nearly all the pastors of the churches were Greeks from Constantinople, and Yaroslaf, apprehensive that the Greeks might acquire too much influence in the empire, made great efforts to raise up Russian ecclesiastics, and to place them in the most important posts."  It looks like the Russian Orthodox church is having its foundations laid.

At this point the Russians are twice removed from the Popery of Rome, but Rome finds a pretext through the woes of a ambition crazed prince whose schemes have backfired:  "The banished prince thus disappointed, turned his steps to Rome, and implored the aid of Gregory VII, that renowned pontiff, who was ambitious of universal sovereignty, and who had assumed the title of King of kings.  Ysiaslaf, in his humiliation, was ready to renounce his fidelity to the Greek church, and also the dignity of an independent prince.  He promised, in consideration of the support of the pope, to recognize not only the spiritual power of Rome, but also the temporal authority of the pontiff".  Ysiaslaf (1024-1078) raises another army and gets himself killed.

Having spurned Papism for the moment, I was struck by the Mariolatry, as another genocidal madman, Mstislaf, attacks the city of Novgorod (113x?AD) which was in no mood to surrender themselves to a brutal execution.  To aid in the coming battle, the following event is recorded: "The clergy in procession, bearing the image of the Virgin in their arms, traversed the fortifications of the city, and with prayers, hymns and the most imposing Christian rites, inspired the soldiers with religious enthusiasm".  God granted victory to the city, and the attacking horde perished as it retreated 200 miles back through the desert wasteland they had created.  Which leaves me wondering what image we would carry about our modern fortifications if The Army of Doom were at our borders.  And who would be our honored clergy?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Empire of Russia: Exploring my Russian Roots.

Yes, Russia is part of me.  It is all due to being in the band in high school.  We had to practice Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture until it became part of our genetic makeup.  Thus, I have long had a need to read a history of Russia and this was provided with Librivox's recording of The Empire of Russia from the Remotest Periods to the Present Time, by John Abbott (1805-1877).  I am only about 10% of the way into this work.

What I have learned so far is that my path to becoming Russian is much less brutal than what the Russian people experienced.  The challenge for the ruler of this nation was to be both cunning and ruthless in dealing with the threats that were constantly falling onto the nation, yet tender and wise in managing the people through good Christian leadership.  A short coming in the first area would result in a short reign, while a short coming in the second would be a catastrophe for the people.  Sadly few leaders were able to accomplish this impossible mix.  But it perhaps reflects a bit on Putin and his position as a Russian leader, which is considerably less severe than his ancestors.

And so we have a ruler early on named Sviatoslaf whose mother encouraged him to be a Christian, but he refused until later in life.  His goal was to conquer.  Thus, it says of him:  "He accustomed his body, Spartan-like, to all the fatigues and exposures of war.  He indulged in no luxury of tents or carriages, and ate the flesh of horses and wild beats, which he roasted himself, over the coals.  In his campaigns the ground was his bed, the sky his curtain, his horse blanket his covering, and the saddle his pillow; and he seemed equally regardless of both heat and cold."  Ah, the good old days, when leaders led by example.

For amusement, here is a link to a youth band doing Marche Slave.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Beowulf: Something Light?

Admittedly it is a bit of a struggle for me to listen to poetry.  Add in the older English constructions, and Beowulf is quite a challenge, especially since I am listening to the audio version while I am driving and can't really slow down listening or re-read a few lines.  It is a story of warriors and heroes of old fighting monsters and comes down to us as the oldest work of English literature from a mysterious older time.  Then there is a reference to Middle Earth.  Tolkien wrote an essay on the work and it seems that Beowulf was very much influential for his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, especially in the naming conventions.  

There isn't much remarkable for me to comment on in this work.  It is a fantasy from an earlier time, with some of the language reflecting Christian themes regarding the Creator and Hell, yet the story is set in a pre-Christian era.  There is an honoring of heroes, along with the funeral rites that provide some peculiar imagery for us today.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Economics: Learning from Etymology

Something I learned from Greek is that Economics is a compound words made of of Oikos = House, and Nomika = Rule.  Thus, Aristotle in his Economics begins his study by considering the house, and from there how it builds into a nation.  An orderly management of the home is presumed to be a foundation for the orderly management of the state.

This reminds me of Paul's instruction on elders:

"But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?" - 1 Timothy 3:5

Thus, the elder must be able to manage the oikos, although the Greek word for manage is not nomika here.

For our local situation, the latest news is that the local school board was forced to abandon an introduction to pornographic lifestyles textbook, otherwise known as "sex education", which was to be given to all high school freshmen.  The irony here is that the opposition of the conservative Christians was rejected, but the noise from the Indian and Muslim immigrants seems to have forced a reversal.

In terms of the upcoming election, I am still primarily screening those who I vote for as to whether or not they have any regard for the oikos, or whether or not they think an oikos to be less valuable to society than an immoral tryst.  For the Democrats, this question is automatically answered.  Republicans should be clear on this matter, but for whatever reason they are quick to abandon their principals.  

So for California Controller, we have Ashley Swearengin running.  Checking around at her positions, it seems that she views that the oikos is completely and utterly worthless.  This makes the choice easy.

Lieutenant Governor candidate Ron Nehring looks more promising and he is up against Gavin Newsom who has quite a reputation in these matters.  The Secretary of State position has Pete Peterson, who seems somewhat promising to me on many areas.  He is also he only Republican that seems to have a chance of winning in the statewide elections.

Monday, September 29, 2014

In California, Yes means Yes. Maybe. You Decide.

Having seen some headlines on this latest law out of Sacramento, I decided to take a look at the actual text.   This also references a federal law which is here.  As I understand it, the law is intended to govern what happens when someone passes out during a party with drinking and drugs that almost certainly had sex on the agenda.  It also governs the appropriate behavior for a young fornicating couple that sleeps together regularly.  The law seems to be well written, in that it can involve n-participants of any gender, thus covering most potential relations short of bestiality.  What remains undefined is "sexual activity", "sexual assault", "dating violence" and "stalking".  Perhaps Bill Clinton could be hired as a consultant to refine the text?

The bill doesn't directly cover such behaviors, but only states that four types of California Institutions, independent universities, the community colleges, the California State Universities and the University of California, must provide regulations and procedures that address the specified topics.  Good thinking, since the feminist professors in these institutions are the experts.

What makes this fun is that my wife and I are covered under these same sexual behavior regulations, since I am taking a class with a Christian seminary that has a California branch. Thus, a domestic dispute of a married couple must now be given the same sort of solemn judicial consideration by the school faculty as would formerly have been given only to someone who serially and randomly abducted and raped students walking home from school at night.  Another feature of the college tribunals is that "innocent until proved guilty" is replaced with "guilty until proved innocent" in the academic context.  Since the new campus culture is something that I don't understand, I won't try to make any judgments as to whether males, females or alternative genders are more culpable.  But if the lives of modernist professors are filled with mandatory listening to the petty disputes of the hyper-promiscuous along with a flood of false claims, it will be well deserved.  This is the utopia that they fought for.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

California "Drought" Update

Many of the yards are brown now, like the surrounding hills.  Of course the hills turn brown every year during the dry season, so the normal climate reality is gradually seeping into the life style of the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley rich.  Thankfully the large Fremont public park and golf course are still green, which means that there is plenty of feed for the geese and ducks.

The Alameda Country Water District sent me a mild threat. Actually my water usage is about as low as it can get, given that my yard is a rock garden and I take many showers elsewhere.  The only families more exemplary than us have an empty house and live elsewhere.  Yet the note contained a warning that those using more than certain thresholds would be assessed increased penalties on the added use.  Thus, a larger or extended family would likely be slapped.  Per the usual rules, any solution is worthy of consideration as long as it doesn't involve free market mechanisms.

This article has some of the proposals from elsewhere in our state.    The note I enjoy the most is this:  "In Santa Monica, the City Council passed a first-reading in August of an ordinance that would apply an indoor water allocation of 68 gallons per-person-per-capita for every single-family home with four people, said Gilbert Borboa, water resources manager for the city of Santa Monica".  Wow.  Let's get specific, but ignore the outside water usage.  But apparently in Santa Monica there are multiple per-persons per-capita, or perhaps that is multiple per-capitas per person.  Of maybe per-capita refers to pets?  Or is that cars?  And if a car is washed outside, is it a different water allocation than washing it inside?  What if I take my showers outside?  Fortunately Santa Monica has many lawyers who can assist in sorting this out.  And Hollywood is nearby, so there is no shortage of creative thinking.

California's legal crops seem to be taking a hit.  What would be helpful is to get a read on the number of hectares of marijuana that are under cultivation, and whether that is increasing or decreasing relative to last year.  Then there is the fish happiness index which undoubtedly relates to the amount of water that is flowing from the dams into the Sacramento Delta.  Thus, it is still hard to get a complete read on the impact of the "drought".

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A History of American Christianity: Slavery, etc.

How slavery came about in the US is rather perplexing to me, so it is nice to see some other opinions on this subject.  According to Leonard Bacon, slavery had been opposed on religious grounds from the beginning, but through the conniving of slave traders and other non-religious types, the opposite course of action had been achieved.  There is this note about the beginnings of Georgia:

"The trustees of the charitable colony of Georgia, consciously laying the foundations of many generations, endeavored to provide for the welfare of the nascent State by forbidding at once the importation of negro slaves and of spirituous liquors; but the salutary interdict was soon nullified in the interest of the crops and of the trade with the Indians."

Bacon asserts that up until the year 1833, not a single Christian voice can be found defending slavery in the US, while condemnation after condemnation is the norm.  But then there was a sudden transformation in the south, which became complete beyond anything sensible:

"It was less perilous to hold Protestant opinions in Spain or Austria than to hold, in Carolina or Alabama, the opinions which had but lately been commended to universal acceptance by the unanimous voice of great religious bodies, and proclaimed as undisputed principles by leading statesmen."

and

"How came the Christian public throughout the slave-holding States, which so short a time before had ben unanimous in finding in the Bible the condemnation of their slavery, to find all at once in the Bible the divine sanction and defense of it as a wise, righteous, and permanent institution?"

The answer Bacon gives relates to the value of the slaves, the fear of uprising, and then the issue of Christians being unable to break fellowship with slave owners, particularly when they knew or believed them to be humane and honorable.  The US was thus launched off onto a period of madness that would leave a big chunk of the population dead and much of the economy destroyed.  A consequence of this:

"Of course the antislavery societies which, under various names, had existed in the South by hundreds were suddenly extinguished, and manumissions, which had been going on at the rate of thousands in a year, almost entirely ceased."

One wonders how Christians who risked extermination for their beliefs in earlier times should now have been so easily bullied into exactly reversing their opinions.  This reminds me of the current wave of madness going over much of what had formerly been known as Christian sects in the name of understanding towards depravity.

An earlier shameful episode happened in the south with the Cherokee Indians.  Christians had for generations reached out to proclaim the gospel to them, resulting in a peaceful, civilized and educated population.  This was all overturned by populists and opportunists:

"Missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia courts and hung by Georgia executioners."

A place where I had enjoyed riding my bicycle when I was young was Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee.  This was the site of a major civil war battle that opened the path into Georgia.  What I did not know about this ridge is included here:

"Thirty years later, when in the battle of Missionary Ridge the chivalry of Georgia went down before the army that represented justice and freedom and the authority of national law, the vanquished and retreating soldiers of a lost cause could not be accused of superstition if they remembered that the scene of their humiliating defeat had received its name for the martyrdom of Christian missionaries at the hands of their fathers."

The current popular story is that the Christians were the ones responsible for all these woes, while the forefathers of the modernists were the ones to lead the opposition.  Bacon's view seems to be that Christians were rarely in a sufficiently numerous position to accomplish their aims in a society that was mainly made up of unbelievers.