My Brother’s Passing, Twenty Years Out

As I said at the start of the year, it’s a year of commemorating anniversaries.  Today is the twentieth anniversary of my brother’s passing; he was 41 when he stepped into eternity.

It’s still difficult to really write about this.  And it’s not because I’m “blaming God” either.  Most of the disasters that befell my family were of purely human invention and considered blaming anyone else for anything to be whining.

Fortunately I’ve dealt with things about the last year of his life elsewhere; you can read about them here:

An Aggie Throwback: Answer Coffeehouse Rehearsal, Forty Years Out

Another milestone on the blog: the fortieth anniversary of the recording of the Answer Coffeehouse Rehearsal in College Station, Texas.  It’s primitive in many ways but for those of us who were involved in it it’s the only recording out there.  There aren’t many Christian coffee-house recordings from the day around in general; this is one of them.

The post gives the explanation of the recordings.  It still features what is, IMHO, the best musical rendition of Isaiah 40:31 out there.

As we start yet another season in the SEC, the fruit of that ministry and others remains the best part of being an Aggie.

When Your Metairie is Wiped Out: My First Post After Hurricane Katrina

This weekend is the tenth anniversary of the Gulf Coast landing of Hurricane Katrina, which wrought so much destruction in both Louisiana and Mississippi.  I had started the predecessor format of this blog earlier that year.  Given ancestral and business interests, a disaster of this size made an impact on me, especially after visiting the place the following year.

My focus at the time was on the eternal, and that’s never a bad thing.  But the aftermath of Katrina, and the relief effort that followed, highlighted two things.  The first was the total inability of our governmental agencies to act effectively in response to this disaster.  Most of the media blame was centred on George W. Bush.  But to err is human; for a real disaster, you need a bipartisan effort, and Louisiana in particular supplied the Democrats to round things out.  The only state or federal executive to have his or her reputation come out enhanced was Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

The second was the response of the church.  In many ways, Katrina was the church’s finest hour since 9/11.  The speed at which churches and parachurch organisations responded and organised relief of all kinds amazed even those of us who were familiar with its charitable arm.  Ministries such as Operation Blessing, Operation Compassion, Mercy Chefs, God’s Pit Crew, the Southern Baptist efforts and many others rose to the occasion and, within the limitations of their resources, filled in the many gaps left by government.

People who blithely call for the revocation of churches’ tax exempt status, saying the government can take care of such things, have conveniently forgotten the lessons of Katrina.  If they succeed, they will soon see the fulfilment of their prophet Karl Marx’ dictum that history repeats itself: the first time as a tragedy, the second as a farce.  How funny the next round of victims sees that is another story…

Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, and taken a good deal of the New Orleans area with it. There’s a lesson from this that dates back to the time New Orleans was founded. In Matthew we read the following parable:

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” he said, “may be compared to a king who gave a banquet in honor of his son’s wedding. He sent his servants to call those who had been invited to the banquet, but they were unwilling to come. A second time he sent some servants, with orders to say to those who had been invited ‘I have prepared my breakfast, my cattle and fat beasts are killed and everything is ready; come to the banquet.’ They, however, took no notice, but went off, one to his farm, another to his business; While the rest, seizing his servants, ill-treated them and killed them. The king, in anger, sent his troops, put those murderers to death, and set their city on fire. Then he said to his servants ‘The banquet is prepared, but those who were invited were not worthy. So go to the cross-roads, and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ (Mt. 22:1-9)

In his classic Meditations on the Gospel, the French bishop Jaques Bénigne Bossuet translated the term “farm” (v. 5) with the term métairie. Residents of southern Louisiana are all too familiar with this term: today the city of Metairie, the suburb in Jefferson Parish immediately west of New Orleans, is underwater, victim of Hurricane Katrina and a broken levee. The immensity of the tragedy is beyond words.

The term métairie refers to a form of sharecropping that was practiced in New France, and the estates where it was practiced. When New Orleans was founded in 1718—just a few short years after Bossuet wrote his Meditations in old France—it was concentrated in what is now called the Vieux Carré, the French Quarter. The land surrounding it, in what is now Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, became estates to farm the rich alluvial soil.

Bossuet’s use of the term métairie is interesting, because most translations give the impression that the man who refused the invitation was going out to till his own soil. Bossuet—preacher most of his career to kings and aristocrats—takes the idea to a new level, portraying a man who will leave the hard physical labour to others while he takes in the profits.

New Orleans has always led a precarious existence. Its physical location makes for an excellent port, but the low elevation of the place—which only got worse as it expanded from the Vieux Carré, except for the area up near Lake Ponchartrain—made water removal a constant trial. Inadequate levees have been a part of the city’s woes from its founding. Tropical diseases took their tool as well. Moreover New France didn’t provide the proper hinterland to feed the city and port economically; it wasn’t until the Spanish took the city after the Seven Years’ War that this took place, and things really got going when New Orleans entered the US in 1803.

This strange combination of alternating wealth and poverty—and the uncertainty that goes with it—is what developed New Orleans’ carefree attitude towards life. The “Big Easy” was born in adversity, and many of its residents have contented themselves with drowning their cares in rum old fashioneds since the days when Bossuet’s patrons, the Kings of France, ruled the place.

Today, as then, we have may people who have ignored the invitation of God for eternal life and have gone off to their métairie or whatever other concern that they have. Between trying to keep that going they have immersed themselves in whatever pleasure—and that includes intoxicating substances a lot more potent that rum old fashioneds—that might come their way. But neither business nor pleasure can be taken into eternity, and both can be taken away in a hurry, as the residents of Metairie are being reminded of the hard way.

This life has a great deal of uncertainty. That uncertainty looks a lot different when we can view it from the perspective of eternal life. That’s especially important at times when your métairie—and Metairie itself—are wiped out.

For more on this eternal life, click here.

Why I’m In No Hurry to Back a Republican Presidential Candidate

We’re about a year out from the Republican National Convention, and already we’re off to the races with one debate.  Iowa and New Hampshire are already awash in visits, paid media and free media.  The heat’s on for Republicans to make up their minds about whom they plan to support.

Let’s start with the Republican part: I am one of those odd people who has roots both in the “country club” side and the “religious right” side of the GOP, although I’ve become more libertarian of late because expanding the power of the state only empowers our opponents and increases the likelihood that more people in the land of the free and home of the brave will end up in jail.  To be honest I think we’d be better off with a parliamentary system with multiple parties and coalition governments; the varieties of public opinion would be better represented in such a system.  But in a country where moving a county line is considered secular blasphemy, we’re more likely to end up with a dictatorship than something like that.

So now we must play the cards we’re dealt…we certainly have a full deck this time, it took two debates just to grill the field.  But at this point I think that most of us would be well advised to “keep our powder dry” until things move down the road a bit.

Part of that is purely practical: most of us don’t live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or any of the early primary or caucus states.   By the time this road show gets to where we’re at, many of the people on stage now won’t be there.  It’s a tiresome business to continually switch your allegiance–especially if you’re active in the party–when people keep dropping out of the race.  I frankly think that our system of nominating candidates is stupid (having a few small states determine the course of the nominating process doesn’t strike me as good democratic process) but we’re stuck with it.

Some mention of Donald Trump, who is currently leading the pack, is in order.  As a Palm Beacher, someone who puts Jews and Gentiles in the same club isn’t to be dismissed out of hand.  His success is a combination of two things.  The first is that he’s saying things that people are thinking but cannot easily verbalise in the current climate.  The second is that he lives in a country where people are still, to some extent, aspirational, and will not dismiss the thoughts of a billionaire just because they are not.

But the political class is like a trade union: they don’t like “scab” labour coming in and doing the work that people in the “bargaining unit” are supposed to do.  So they fight Trump, hoping to get him off the political stage before he makes an impact.  They try to tell everyone he’s “unfit to be President” when in fact no one is fit to govern the ungovernable country that the United States has become.  (I don’t think the idea behind the Presidency is for it to be the centre of power in the nation, but that’s what people think).

But there’s a more profound reason why I’m no hurry to back a candidate, and that goes to a more profound problem than talking points or position papers.  The large number of candidates in the field indicates one thing: Republicans still believe in the power of the electoral process to change things substantially.  That assertion itself needs to be challenged, and it is the central problem behind any attempt to seriously change the course of the United States.

The centralisation of wealth and the growth of government (which in turn further centralises power) have shifted the dynamic in this country from a bottom-up to a top-down business.  To a large extent the whole electoral process, to say nothing of the endless “movements” we see, are window dressing to conceal the anti-democratic nature of our society.  Coupled with a society with no independent moral compass and one which has shifted from a society of owners to a society of renters (actual or de facto) the central task of our elites is to gin up public opinion for their own benefit.

Those elites, especially since the Boomers took the reins with Bill Clinton, have two central objectives in life: to get laid and to get high or drunk.  The former explains their fanatical stand on issues such as abortion and same-sex civil marriage; the latter hasn’t quite gotten as far, but it’s moving forward.  Having diffused this ethic throughout our society and generationally forward, they realise that the people in society either can’t (because of educational deficiencies) or won’t do the work for them, so they make it an imperative to import a new work force (and also a new electorate).  Thus we have an immigration issue in this country.

We also have an elite that is highly credentialist in nature.  For the most part they go to the same schools, live in the same places and believe the same things.  They may be “diverse” in some senses but in others, as Steve Taylor would say, they want to be a clone.  True to the trade union mentality, they intensely dislike the idea that the restructuring of society would dislodge them from their perch.  They’ve seen enough chaos wrought by technology and other changes and have no stomach for more of the same.

The Republicans, collectively and individually, don’t have an alternative to this.  Part of the problem is that Republican politics are driven by the aspirational ethic of the base.  They want to get to the top as it currently exists, even though the results of that are antithetical to their political and personal ideal.  But another problem is that there is no constitutional way to change the current power structure, least of all through the electoral process.  The current power holders are simply too well embedded in their position to be dislodged by one or more election cycles.  Their position is buttressed by the carte blanche that Congress gives the executive branch with almost every law it passes.  Barack Obama has taken advantage of that with his executive orders, all of the complaints about “unconstitutional” notwithstanding.

The Republicans have a candidate–Scott Walker–who built his reputation as a union buster, but there seems to be little incentive to get rid of the “trade union” that really runs this place. Many Republicans are part of the problem, or want to be part of the problem.  And until that changes, there’s no reason to be in a hurry to back a certain candidate.

And the Democrats?  Their “weak bench” problem is more than evident as Hillary slogs through yet another round of scandals and no really strong alternative emerges.  There’s a lot of speculation as to why their bench is so weak, but the reason is simple: budding Democrats see the way up through the bureaucracy, NGO’s etc., rather than the electoral process.  That leads to a weak electoral bench; the “best and the brightest” are elsewhere.

Ultimately, in this interconnected world we live in, what we’re about to find out is whether or not the “best and the brightest” are even in the United States.

The Ottoman Tales XI: They’d Rather Die Christian

This ends a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

If there’s one thing to be learned about studying the Ottomans, it’s that there are many strange stories to tell.  What makes up “strange” depends upon one’s frame of reference.  In his book on Palm Beach, Laurence Leamer characterised the town’s social system as madness, but for those of us who are a product of same, is there any other way to do it?  That’s a stretch, but this last tale from the Sultan’s palace is in a league of its own.

A few years before the French Revolution,  the Algerians, the pirates par excellence of the western Mediterranean, presented the Sultan with an unusual gift: a French noblewoman by the name of Aimée Dubcuq de Rivery, whom they had captured and made a slave.  She went from the convent in France to the harem in Constantinople.

That culture shock was just the beginning of a wild ride, as only the Ottomans could offer.

Her stock went up soon when she gave birth to her son Mahmud by Sultan Abdul Hamid I, who was fond of her.  The Sultan died in 1789, succeeded by his nephew Selim.  Selim and Aimée were also fond of each other, but the world they were about to be catapulted into was anything but placid.  Back home in France the Bastille was stormed in July, igniting the French Revolution.  Faced with his own problems at home with the Janissaries, Selim organised a new army (Napoleon Bonaparte volunteered as a military adviser, but was turned down, going on to bigger things while marrying Aimée’s cousin Joséphine) and Aimée promoted things French in old Constantinople.  But Napoleon invaded Ottoman Egypt, forcing Selim to turn to the British.

The Janissaries, true to form, overthrew Selim in 1807, putting Mahmud’s half-brother Mustafa on the throne.  Bairactar Pasha revolted, and the result was that Aimée’s son Mahmud ended up as Sultan.  The Janissaries extracted concessions out of Mahmud but mother and son were secure for the moment.

With his mother’s help, Mahmud turned out to be a reformer, bringing in Western (mostly French) institutions and people in trying to modernise the country.  In the meanwhile there were successes and failures.  Mahmud, with the help of a Turkish officer named “Black Hell” managed to massacre the Janissaries and end their meddling ways.  On the other hand the Russians continued to nibble away at Ottoman territory, and Greece won its independence.

But the time came for Aimée to leave this life.  She had lived at the power centre of Islam and exercised that power when she could as the consort, friend and mother of the Caliph, the leader of Islam (well, Sunni Islam at least).  But with life slipping away, in spite of all of the Islam surrounding her (or perhaps because of it) she demanded of her son that she be given Christian last rites and die in the grace of Jesus Christ.

The highest Muslim he was, but Mahmud acceded to his mother’s request. He summoned a Greek Orthodox priest, who came to the palace and, in Mahmud’s presence he heard her confession, gave her absolution, and died in the Christian faith she was baptised in.

Today, in many of the same territories that Mahmud ruled over, we see Christians confess Jesus Christ and be martyred for that confession.  The circumstances of their passing are far different than Aimée’s, and the new caliph is not in the same league as the Ottoman sultans.  But the idea is the same: when the time for eternity comes, the real Christian wants to enter into the presence of his or her Lord and Saviour.

And this will fulfil my earnest expectation and hope that I shall have no cause for shame, but that, with unfailing courage, now as hitherto, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by my life or by my death, For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. But what if the life here in the body–if this brings me fruit from my labors? Then which to choose I cannot tell! I am sorely perplexed either way! My own desire is to depart and be with Christ, for this would be far better. But, for your sakes, it may be more needful that I should still remain here in the body. (Philippians 1:20-24)

So what about you?  Where (and with whom) do you plan to step into eternity when the time comes?

If you don’t know, or want to do better, click here

The Ottoman Tales X: An Officer and a Gentleman

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

I’ve mentioned earlier that the Ottomans were capable of adjusting their MO to suit non-Turkish public opinion when the situation called for it.  This story–which comes long after the last Sultan abdicated and the Empire came to an end–shows that the Turks are willing to go to great lengths to make a good image to others, even when the others didn’t expect it.

This story comes from a relative of my wife’s who was in the U.S. Navy in the 1960’s; the story dates from the mid-1950’s, and I have not been able to verify it from another source.  I would be grateful if any of you could shed some light on it.

Turkey was and is a member of NATO, and as a result is accorded all the privileges that come with that alliance.  One of those is for naval vessels to visit ports of call in the U.S., and a Turkish warship was doing just that in Norfolk, VA.  A couple of the crewmen (at least one of which was an officer) got drunk and stole a Renault Dauphine.  They were caught and returned to the ship; Americans then and now know that drunken sailors aren’t the greatest threat to the Republic.

The Turkish ship’s captain had other ideas.  He went to U.S. Navy officials and asked for some gallows.  His request was refused.  He then untied the lines, shoved off, and headed past the three-mile limit, which was then and for many years afterwards the beginning of international waters.  The miscreants were hung and their bodies dumped at sea.  The ship then returned to port in Norfolk and resumed its visit.

Ever since the Sultan received the U.S.S. Essex in the early years of the Republic, when the Stars and Stripes first flew over the Bosporus, the relationship between Turk and American has been a good one, World War I excepted.  But I’m sure that the Turkish way to insure the good behaviour of an officer and a gentleman made an impression on our people which has lasted for a long, long time.

The Ottoman Tales IX: Seated at the Right Hand

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

As I’ve noted earlier, the Ottoman Empire’s lurch towards representative government was one of fits and starts, mostly fits.  The first Ottoman parliament opened in March 1877, in (of all places) the Sultan’s own Dolmabache Palace (soon to be abandoned by Abdul Hamid for the labyrinthine Yilditz one).  Representatives came from all over the empire, some in sheepskins.  The MP’s “in the know” wanted to sit at the Sultan’s right hand, because they believed that this was the side of power.

Many centuries before, another group of budding Middle Eastern careerists had the same idea, only they wanted to cover both positions:

James and John, the two sons of Zebediah, went to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Grant us this,” they answered, “to sit, one on your right, and the other on your left, when you come in glory.” “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup that I am to drink? or receive the baptism that I am to receive?” “Yes,” they answered, “we can.” “You shall indeed drink the cup that I am to drink,” Jesus said, “and receive the baptism that I am to receive, But as to a seat at my right or at my left–that is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:35-40 TCNT)

Our Lord used their cultural importunity to make an important point about leadership:

On hearing of this, the ten others were at first very indignant about James and John. But Jesus called the ten to him, and said: “Those who are regarded as ruling among the Gentiles lord it over them, as you know, and their great men oppress them. But among you it is not so. No, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, And whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all; For even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45 TCNT)

It is doubtful that few if any of the representatives gathered at the Dolmabache Palace–and many other such gatherings before or since–had servant leadership in mind.

And as far as being at God the Father’s right hand, the place of authority, and how he got there:

Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 TCNT)

The Ottoman Tales VIII: Christians, Keep Your Promises

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans was a process written in blood, as was their inclusion in the Sultan’s realm.  The Romanian count who is known as Dracula fought to keep up the independence of his people from Ottoman rule, and did so with cruelty he probably learned from the Turks themselves while held hostage.  By the late 1870’s, the largest realm in the Balkans still entirely under Turkish rule was Bulgaria, and as was the case elsewhere the Turks spared no means in their attempt to keep the land under their control.

But the world was changing; now mass communications media and the expansion of democratic process in Europe meant that public opinion mattered more than ever before.  British opinion in particular was horrified at the Turkish massacres, putting their own government–which was trying to stall the end of the “sick man of Europe”–in a particular bind.  It was a boost to the Russians, who decided that the time was right to make their big move on Constantinople.  In 1877 the Russians declared war on the Turks, who responded by raising the Banner Named Barack.

The Russians invaded Bulgaria.  The time seemed perfect: the Turks were in their usual desultory state, and the British were caught between their outraged public and their strategic interests.  It seemed like the Russian red, white and blue (basically the same flag the Russian federation has now) would soon be flying over the Bosporus.

But the Turks didn’t become the dread of Europe for nothing.  The Turkish general Osman Pasha decided to dig in at the Bulgarian town of Plevna and block the Russian invaders.  In doing so he had learned a few lessons from the American Civil War (in places like Petersburg) and of course the idiotic British Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea, that a well-entrenched force with the then-modern weaponry was formidable against attack.  (Kemal Ataturk repeated the same feat at Gallipoli).

When the Russian force finally arrived at Plevna, Osman and his Turks were ready.  The Turks repulsed the first Russian offensive on 19 July 1877.  The Russians then called in Romanian reinforcements, but through August and September they were unable to break Osman’s fortifications.  They were able to cut his supply line by taking the town of Lovech, and the battle of Plevna became a siege.

Osman realised that he could not hold out indefinitely without more supplies and reinforcements.  For both he appealed to Sultan Abdul Hamid II.  Unfortunately, for all the gaudy rhetoric, the latter did not back up his words with action, and when he did send a sorry excuse of a relief force the Russians dispatched it.  Moreover Osman’s superiors blocked his requests to abandon the town, which gave the Russians and Romanians time to completely encircle it.

Osman had managed to gain some goodwill in Plevna itself by executing Turkish soldiers for looting.  Up against it, he attempted a break-out in early December.  Unable to take the Turkish wounded with him, and knowing the local custom, he gathered the local hierarchy of the Bulgarian Orthodox church and made them swear on the Bible that they would not harm the Turks he left.

Osman’s break-out attempt almost succeeded.  “Almost” turned into defeat on 10 December when Osman and his Turks surrendered to the Russians, who treated the officers honourably.  The prisoners of war, however, were allowed to freeze in the cold, and the Bulgarians broke their oath and massacred the wounded they had promised to protect.

Although a loss, Plevna stalled the Russians’ march to Constantinople, and turned public opinion in Europe back the Turks’ way.  The British sent the Royal Navy to Constantinople, and the Russians decided to quit while they were ahead at the Congress of Berlin. Bulgaria became an independent nation again, but the Bosporus would stay in Turkish hands.

There are Christian traditions which take the following to the letter:

 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never break your oath, but give to the Lord what you swore in an oath to give him.’  But I tell you don’t swear an oath at all. Don’t swear an oath by heaven, which is God’s throne,  or by the earth, which is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, which is the city of the great King. (Matthew 5:33-35 GW)

Others interpret it a little more broadly:

As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, so we judge that Christian religion doth not prohibit but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet’s teaching in justice, judgement, and truth. (Articles of Religion XXXIX)

Irrespective of this, the Christian should learn to keep his or her promises, not only as a witness but also (in this case) to stop the cycle of bloodshed which was all too common in Ottoman times and which has not stopped at present.

The Ottoman Tales VII: Sick Man of Europe, Sick Man of North America

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

Most students of European history, especially those who focus on the nineteenth century, know the Ottoman Empire as “the sick man of Europe”.  People today don’t get the impact of that moniker: then what it meant was that the “sick man” was about to assume room temperature and then the question was “how to dispose of the corpse”?

How did the Ottoman Empire, which at its height turned the Mediterranean into an Ottoman lake and controlled a vast territory from Algiers to Tabriz, end up in this state?  The first answer is simple: a long term of very poor leadership, i.e., weak sultans. And of course the Ottomans had a long list of enemies, both within the Islāmic world (Persia, the Arabs) and outside (almost every European power).  As the Ottoman Grand Vizier Fuad Pasha put it:

Our state is the strongest state.  For you are trying to cause its collapse from the outside, and we from the inside, but still it does not collapse.

Internally the Ottoman system itself was often inhuman, but it worked, and compensated for some very weak sultans and those who hung around them, especially the harem and the Janissaries.  Externally, the situation is more interesting.  As the powers of Europe, especially the UK and France, surveyed the situation in the Middle East, they realised that the collapse of the Empire would create a power vacuüm into which other powers, especially the Russians, could come in and threaten their links to Asia, Australia and East Africa.  The Russians were the biggest threat; not only was control of the Bosporus central to expanding their naval footprint, but also their pan-Slavic and pan-Orthodox appeal in the Balkans gave them a leg up over, say, the Austrians.  So these powers found themselves at times nibbling away at the Empire (Greece, Cyprus) but much of the time propping it up to keep the Russians out (thus the Crimean War).  In this way the “sick man” was kept alive longer that he normally would have expected to live.

It’s common to compare the course of the United States with that of the Roman Empire, but what about the Ottoman?  The key weakness of the U.S. at this point in history is weak leadership that doesn’t live in reality, something the Ottomans were well familiar with.  But are we being propped up?

The answer to that is “to some extent”.  Let’s consider our situation with the Chinese.  Back in the last decade, when we were borrowing so much and importing the stuff they made, people would say that they’re going to “call the note” and take us over.  That idea was ridiculous because a) their trading partner would hit the wall, crashing their exports and b) it would take the main reserve currency with it.  Both of these would make repayment of the debt impossible.  Currently the Chinese are using their new-found financial power to expand themselves throughout the world.

But there’s another thing to consider, one that is more important now than before: if they do crash the place,  who’ll pick up the pieces?  The world has become a more prosperous place overall; our shrinking part of the world pie is not only because we are less prosperous, but because others are more.

But our retreat, like that of the Ottomans, leaves a power vacuüm.  A gradual retreat is easier to manage, not only for us but for everyone else, because it enables various global systems to transition more smoothly and makes the resolution of the power vacuüm that results much easier.  Getting back to the Chinese, their digital incursions show that they are in a position to crash the place.  But a gradual American retreat, I think, better suits their purpose; it makes it easier to deal with other potential competitors along the way.  (One of those is, of course, Russia; the current warm relation between Moscow and Beijing is metastable, as anyone familiar with its history knows).

So we lumber on.  At some point things are going to come to a head.  The process is reversible, but until we boot our sybaritic and egotistical elites that reversal isn’t going to happen.  Short of that we continue to be the sick man of North America, and we’d do well to take some lessons from the last one across the pond, even though we, as Fuad Pasha said about his own country, are the “strongest state”.

The Ottoman Tales VI: Not Much for Victory, but the Eats Were Good

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

As Sultan Abdul Hamid raised the Banner Named Barack, his armies had one distinguishing feature:

In one, and only one thing, the Turkish soldier is not cheated. He is well fed, and gets his full allowance of the rations allowed him. The reasons for this are—first, because the contractors for food are almost invariably Moslems, who, whatever their faults may be, do not prey upon the Government in the same manner as do the foreigners, the Jews, and the native Christians of Constantinople. The second reason is, that seeing he is kept months in arrear with his pay, and when he wants a little ready money has to borrow from the regimental ” Svraff,” or paymaster, at the rate of ten per cent, per month—the authorities take care that the line must be drawn somewhere ; and they draw it at the food. Of this he gets his, or rather the Government’s, money’s worth. The contractors for it are nearly always provincials, and these are certainly more honest and honourable in their dealings than their fellow-countrymen on the Bosphorus. The Turkish soldiers, therefore, in ordinary times, are with few exceptions well fed. But to do the Turks justice, it must be said of them, that when by any chance—in a campaign, for instance—their food is not forthcoming, they neither growl nor grumble, but bear their misfortunes like men and soldiers. (H.M. Hozier, The Russo-Turkish War)

At the College of Engineering and Computer Science, our current Interim Dean is the Turkish Dr. Neslihan Alp, who has always kept the morale of the people under her up with food events.  Now we know, it’s the great Ottoman tradition.

Living in this country, she’s also had to deal with Americans who like to “growl and grumble”.  For someone like myself who was born and raised in this country, that’s an embarrassment.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

%d bloggers like this: