31 December 2006

It's a small world after all. . .

So I'm talking to the Orthodox chaplain yesterday, and I mention that my home parish is in Austin, and he asks which one. I say, "Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox," and he says, "Father Jordan Brown?"

Turns out they went to school together, so this sets off a round of 'do you know this person and that person and. . . " Since he was at Holy Trinity in Dallas when Fr. Jordan was there, and his spiritual father is the priest (whose name I cannot for the life of me remember) who is the recently retired priest there.

I love this sort of thing.

I had a "Be Prepared To" mission at 0200 this morning so it looked like I wasn't going to be able to attend liturgy at all. Fr. John (or Lt. Cdr. (CH) Kalantzis, if we were to be all official) decided to do a liturgy yesterday. Totally unscheduled, and I was the only one there. It was too cool, especially since we used the Greek tones and did some of the hymns in Greek. I think Greek just rocks, as a language. Personal preference, but there it is.

Then at midnight, the mission is cancelled, and I get to go to liturgy. Again.

God works these things out this way, if you let Him. When I was freaking out about this stupid mission that was going to make me miss the service, it was insurmountable. As soon as I stopped stressing and put it in God's hands, everything fell into place.

I'm working on carpentry during they day. I'm essentially turning a QUADCON (shipping container) into a customized gun cabinet to get all our sensitive items to Ft. Hood.

Oh, and my Beloved freakin' rocks. I'm loving the books she bought me for Christmas.

28 December 2006

Christmas, Coin Hoards, and Chaplains

"When Augustus ruled alone upon the earth,
the many kingdoms of men came to an end,
and when You were made man of the pure Virgin,
the many gods of idolatry were destroyed.
The cities of the world passed under one single rule,
and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead.
The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar,
and we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead,
When You, our God, were made man.
Great is Your mercy, O Lord, glory to You!"

I bet Jen guessed that was my favorite Christmas hymn right off the bat. :)

I didn't post anything for Christmas, because Christmas was kind of hard to explain. I wasn't happy because I wasn't where I wanted to be, but I was content to be where God was.

There's also a huge element of anticipation, of 'next year, in Texas, with the family'. There's a term used a lot in connection with Lent, 'bright sadness'. It's a temporary sadness that carries inherent in it the possible of indescribable joy. That's kind of what I had on Christmas.

"Why is all nature so mysteriously smiling in the days of the feasts?
Why then is our soul so light and joyous?
Why does the air in the temple seem so bright?
It is all because of the flow of Thy grace, because of the reflection of the light of Tabor.
Heaven and earth are then singing together a laudable song: Alleluia!"

My current book is Origins of the European Economy, by Michael McCormick. It's a collection and analysis of the surviving evidence for travel in Europe between 300 and 900. Not much speculation, just this number of accounts and that number of coin hoards and some really good stuff. I can get way, way too in to this, and then the hard part is not babbling about it to Jen at way, way more length than she really wants to know about.

It has raised some questions that I'd like to research further. Epidemology and health history are two of the areas touched on peripherally that I'd love to get further into. What diseases, where, and why? Demographic impact? Who did they impact? So on and so forth. In the chapter about the collapse of the sea trade in the Med, McCormick suggests that because bubonic plague is tied to rats and hence to ships, shipping, and seaports, one of the side effects was to devastate the skilled communities of sailors, naviagators, shipwrights, and shipyard craftsmen. This is the bubonic plague that started in the 540s and ran for 200 years, not the much better documented and studied 14th century outbreak.

I'm only a couple hundred pages into the book, will likely mention it further later.

Only a few more days, and there will be an Orthodox chaplain out here. He's got a liturgy scheduled on the 31st, presuming his flight doesn't get cancelled for bad weather or some other such nonsense. I can't wait.

23 December 2006

If you're going to make an analogy, this is how you do it.


For the record, I don't always agree with Card. I happen to have little interest in his books, which leave me cold the umpteen times I tried to read them. "It's a Science Fiction Classic. . . "

Yeah, whatever.

On general principle, I despise analogies to the "Fall of the Roman Empire," especially those made by Fundamentalist Protestants who wish to attribute it to moral degeneracy. (For the record, the high point for moral degeneracy was the first century or two AD, before Christianity had any influence, and that was the most stable and peaceful era in history).

In general, folks who make big sweeping statements about the Fall of the Roman Empire know nothing more than that it "fell" a long time ago.

OSC is not that stupid. The statements he makes regarding the Western Roman Empire are correct--and the trade issue and collapse of civilized (meaning "centered on cities") life in the West are the major factors in the collapse, and the causes he discusses are broadly accurate.

I'm tracking the analogy to the modern situation. I don't know enough about economics in the 21st century (or, really, any century after the 17th) to be able to intelligently argue for or against his main argument. On the face of it, it sounds plausible to me

19 December 2006

Assorted Stuff

Nota Bene that I have comment moderation, so fear not if your comments do not publish with a quickness. I do not always have a chance to moderate daily.

In case that last comment raised any red flags, do not worry about my mental health, I'm OK.

We got a draft redeployment OPORD, and there are some things in there that make me giggle with glee. I saw the list of stuff our replacing unit wants us to leave for them. I would be DELIGHTED to leave that much of my property book. Fewer things for me to pack. I'm going to be doing cheetah flips the last week or two anyway, since most of my stuff isn't going to be able to be packed up that early.

Oh, and for the record: WOTC is smoking crack. Spears do not require both hands to use. Silly rabbits! Even though most pike-wielding troops used both hands to grip the weapon, the Macedonian sarissa was used by troops who also carried shields. And yes, I do houserule pikes in as double-reach weapons (threaten 3 squares out, cannot threaten closer than that).

18 December 2006


So, even though I don't have the reasearch materials handy, I've started my New Project. . . which will be loosely set in the 5th century AD in Britain. There's a lot of questions I don't have answers for, but I'm acquiring the resources slowly. Still, plot and character development are the real challenges in fiction and not so dependant on details of social and economic structure. Or, well, some of them are. Never mind.

Don't get me started on the work I've having to do to tone down D&D 3.5 ed to the level I want it to be for this setting. Going after the rulebooks with a flamethrower.

Finish Lord Jim. Love the book. Really, really outstanding story. Can't recommend it highly enough. It's a pity Conrad isn't taught more in school. Of course, the values of Conrad's character might not be in keeping with the fluffy bunny crap the liberals running the teacher's unions believe in.

My morale is considerably improved. I got the package from my grandmother with the divinity and the home made fudge. Neener, neener, neener.

16 December 2006

Swiming in Quicksand

Not a great deal happening out here. I mean, I'm sure things are happening Out There, in downtown Ramadi, but I'm feeling really insulated from all of it. I'm finding myself more and more uninterested in discussing politics or the war or whatever, because what needs to be said, has been said. The vast majority of people discussing these topics are unconvincible because they have made up their minds and nothing is going to change them.

I'm reading Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad. Great book, and I love Conrad's command and use of the English language.

I'm eagerly anticipating some Amazon orders so I can get on with the serious research for my next writing project. As long as I have something entertaining to do which engages my mind, I'm happy. Right now, I'm badly bored.

14 December 2006

Saudi are going to do what?

So the Saudis have said that if the United States leaves, then they will begin openly funding the Sunni insurgents.


They can't lift a single ever-so-aristocratic finger to help Iraq, possibly by forgiving the huge amount of debt that they hold from the 1980s. But they can help stir up the situation and keep it chaotic.

The problem is that the Saudis believe they can do this with impunity, and the violence will not spill over to Saudi soil. The Iranians will not strike Saudi assets in the Gulf, nor arm the Saudi Shia minority to the level that they could cause problems for the Sauds, nor will Iranian armies take a hike around Kuwait and actually invade Saudi Arabia.

They believe that this magical immunity is because the United States can't afford to let anything really bad happen to them.

Does anyone with a grip on US domestic politics actually believe that, having withdrawn from Iraq, we would deploy so much as a rowboat to help the Saudis? Might be good for them to get kicked in the teeth, hard, by the Iranians.

As for me, I'm going to start hoarding oil.

10 December 2006

Talabani is cranky!

And well he should be.

The Iraq Study Group report lays a great deal of the blame for the insurgency at the feet of the current Iraqi government, saying over and over again that the leadership is focused on purely sectarian concerns and that without an embrace of the Sunnis, there will be no successful end to the insurgency in Iraq.

"He singled out the report's call for the approval of a de-Baathification law that could allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein's ousted Baath party to return to their jobs."

Not, of course, that some of those officials are also the best educated folks in the country.

"The Kurdish leader also criticized the call for increasing the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis from 3,000 to 4,000 currently to 10,000 to 20,000."
"'It is not respecting the desire of the Iraqi people to control its army and to be able to rearm and train Iraqi forces under the leadership of the Iraqi government,' he said."

Grow up. If your army didn't suck rocks through bendy straws, we'd already have left. If your sovreignty was held up by anything but American rifles, you wouldn't be so pissy about the suggestion that we pack up and leave.

The Iraqi Army is the closest thing to a bright spot we have, but they need a lot of help. Money, equipment, and leadership are all lacking. If the Iraqi government could provide the leadership that they needed, they would have done so.

The United States armed forces have done things in Iraq that are nothing short of amazing. There is, however, a sharp limit to what we can achieve without the Iraqis themselves.

We could (theoretically) shoot this country up to the point that everyone would be beaten down into submission. As step one, we'd have to throw the press out of the country for a year or two. And when we were done tearing this country apart brick by brick, it would take 20 years for Iraq to recover enough for self-government. We'd have to maintain direct rule of Iraq for at least that long, like we're some sort of 19th century Englishmen.

Assuming there is not support for this course of action (I think that's a safe assumption) then the process of standing up an indigenous government protected by an indigenous army and police force requires that these indigs actually take some responsibility.

The Iraqi government is reacting strongly to the idea that the United States is going to present them with two unpalatable options, as the Iraq Study Group suggests.

1) Actually start ruling your country in a non-sectarian manner,


2) Do without the American money, equipment, and troops which are protecting your regime right now.

Both of these are uncomfortable choices for the Kurds and Shia to make. But they are the only choices which are in America's best interests.

The United States has bought at immense cost in blood and treasure and given to the Iraqi people a republic, if they can keep it. Without the military operations as they have been conducted in the past four years, no positive future was possible for Iraq. We bought them breathing space and held their country together long enough to begin establishing what they need to hold it themselves.

The Iraq Study Group suggests it is time to take the training wheels off. We'll keep a hand on the back of the bike seat, at least at first. But training wheels aren't intended to be permanent.

The ISG suggests withdrawing most of the American forces and leaving enough for four missions.

1) Continue to fight al-Qaeda with Special Operations forces. That's pretty much self-explanatory.

2) Advise the Iraqi Army. Covered above.

3) Be 'on call' to support the Iraqi government if the situation suddenly worsens.

4) Deter Iran and Syria from interfering. That would be one of those 'disincentive' things I discussed earlier.

Missions 3 and 4 don't require three division HQs and 140,000 troops spread out over the entire country. Hell, we could probably perform those missions with three brigades parked in Kuwait.

That's what we are going to look like by the beginning of 2009 regardless due to American political situation. We need to start transitioning to that stance soon as a gradual process, or we will be leaving the Iraqis in a lurch.

More Iraq Study Group

The ISG had a huge amount to say on the subject of the Ministry of the Interior. In short, the whole thing is corrupt, incompetent, and subversive.

They suggest that the MoI needs serious 'institutional transformation' and from what I have seen, the Iraqis both respect and trust the IA far more than they do the IPs. The ISG's assesment of the IPs is spot-on.

They have a number of seemingly minor changes which have far broader implications than you might think.

They suggest bringing the Border police and the Iraqi National Police commandos under the Ministry of Defense, which is appropriate as they deal with more paramilitary than Law Enforcement missions. The MoD is also less corrupt and more competent, and capable of providing better support to these two organizations.

They also suggest bringing the Facilities Protection Service under the MoI. The FPS has been treated almost as feudal retainers by the ministers under which the various branches are organized (There is an FPS branch under each ministry other than MoD and MoI). This has led to them being riddled with militia members. For instance, al-Sadr's political wing control Ministry of Health and two others. MoH FPS members are nearly all Mahdi Militia members. And so on and so forth. Centralizing them and professionalizing them would cut that out.

The Iraqi Police Service is the local cops, and they pretty much suck. They need more and better gear, a serious anti-corruption drive, and so on and so forth. Read the report, it's all in there. The most important issue the group raises is the question of advisors for the IPS. The IPS has been a low priority for American advisors because there aren't many qualified advisors to assign to them. I mean, what does a Marine Infantry officer or an Army armor NCO have to tell the cops? We can train and advise paramilitary commando organizations like the INP, but beat cops?

We need FBI agents, police chiefs and commisioners, and sheriffs and sheriff deputies. We need them assigned to and integrated with the IPs, and we need to support them with finance and equipment sufficient for the task in front of them. The Iraqi Police do not conduct criminal investigations and do not know how. Much of the "Insurgency" is thugs and common criminals. There's a quote in the report about how if there were foreign troops in New Jersey, Tony Soprano would be an "insurgent". They kidnap and rob for profit and kill in the course of their criminal operations. They don't shoot it out with American troops any more than the Mafia goes around shooting at cops just for kicks in the US. They won't be rooted out without real police work, done by real cops, and that's something we aren't really building because we, as Soldiers, don't really know how.

The most important change needed in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior would be for the Iraqi cops to start acting like Iraqi police rather than officially sanctioned Shia paramilitaries. Again, that's something the Iraqis have to do themselves.

09 December 2006

Iraq Study Group and National Reconcilliation

This portion of the report is actually the most important to no-kidding victory.

For the record, victory is defined as an Iraq that can "govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself." What the Prez means by that (and the ISG agrees) is an Iraq that has a broadly representative government, has maintained its territorial integrity, is at peace with its neighbors, denies terrorism a sanctuary, and doesn't brutalize its own people.

The biggest element to this is that 'broadly representative government'. This HAS to include the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds and all the minorities--Assyrians and Chaldeans and Mandeans and Turkmen and Jews etc.

Therefore, National Reconcilliation has to be top priority. And the thing is, nothing along those lines can be done by the United States. Iraq has to be able to govern itself, and the Iraqi government must stop thinking in sectarian terms rather than considering itself the government of all Iraqis.

As long as the Shia go out of their way to marginalize the Sunni minority, that minority will continue to feel as if they have no stake in Iraq and no incentive to curb their own who wish to continue fighting. What does that mean?

The Shia have to get serious about shutting down the militias. We can't pretend, as some in the blogosphere are, that this is all al-Sadr, and if the United States goes after the Mahdi Militia then we'll magically solve the militia problem. For one thing the Mahdi Militia has a large number of its members in the Facilities Protection Service (more about that later). For another, like it or not, al-Sadr has a significant support base. If we want to have a broadly representative government, he'll have to be a part of it, or someone like him. But SCIRI's Badr Brigade has to shut down also, and all the rest of the Shia militias, or just taking out or talking down the Mahdi Militia will not solve the problem.

Ending the Shia Militias is the critical piece. If the Sunni are less threatened by genocide and ethnic cleansing (and make no mistake, that is their fate if we fail or withdraw) then they have an incentive to peacefully engage.

Oh, and the idea of the United States trying to shut down the militias isn't going to fly. That's something the Iraqis are going to have to do for themselves.

There's a lot more. There needs to be an end to deBaathification. It is a club used to beat up on the Sunnis, and besides it is keeping a lot of qualified professional experts out of posts where their expertise is needed to rebuild Iraq. Everyone who was ambitious joined the Ba'ath Party. It's like joining the Nazi Party in Germany in 1938, or the Communist Party in the old Soviet Union. Doesn't mean you personally were in favor of smoking 6 million Jews, just means you want a job that pays more than minimum wage.

Other clubs the Shia use to beat on the Sunni include the politicized process of registering NGOs, and the issue of oil sharing. If the Sunni are deprived of a population-based share in the oil revenues, what possible carrot are you going to use to get them in?

Oh, and the Constitution needs review. The Sunni bought into it on the grounds that it would be amended and that promise hasn't been kept.

Let me throw one out that's really unpopular.


That's right folks, even Joe Haji out here in ar-Ramadi needs an incentive to come in from the cold, and amnesty is eventually going to happen. We aren't going to hunt down and kill every ex-insurgent in Iraq. We didn't hunt down and jail every schmuck who carried a rifle for Nazi Germany, did we? Just the concentration camp guards. We wish to reintegrate the insurgents into Iraqi civil life, give them a reason to set down their rifles and start playing normal politics, then the Iraqi government will eventually have to offer amnesty. That idea got floated once, and American domestic politics shot it down. We need to butt the hell out. If it gets the insurgents off the streets, then it is the right thing to do.

We need to encourage talks between everyone. The government, the militias, al-Sadr, the insurgents, anyone who will sit down at a table. And we need to have the withdrawl of American troops on the table at these talks. Jaw-jaw is better than war-war, as the poet once said. If the insurgents will lay down their arms contingent on the disarmament of the militias and the withdrawl of American combat units, then that's everyone's goal anyway, right? I mean, we don't want to have half our combat power sitting around policing Iraq indefinitely.

All wars end in negotiation, with a few exceptions. We aren't going to nuke the bad guys, and it is counterproductive to pretend that, short of exterminating all vertebrate life in from Morocco to India, we are going to wipe out everyone who supports our enemies. So eventually we will have to figure out a way to stop killing each other. The object of war is a more perfect peace, not conflict unending.

How do we get the Shia to buy off on this? Put American withdrawal on the table. Right now, they don't want us to leave. We need to establish realistic milestones with calendar dates, and hold them to them. If they drag their little feet and stall, we threaten (and then follow through on the threat if necessary) to cut them out. At some point the Shia need to be told point-blank that they are NOT the United States's only priority when it comes to use of our military power, and that we will not be held hostage to their petty bullshit. We are leaving Iraq eventually. They can work with us, and hence have some influence over the process, and when we leave they will be in a fairly good situation. Or they can keep doing business the way they do business now, and get left in the lurch.

And if it doesn't work, there's always the option of exterminating all vertebrate life from Morocco to India.

Finishing up the Diplomatic Advice of the ISG

OK, besides the Iranians, the ISG also recommended getting the Syrians to stop offering safe haven and weapons to the Sunnis. I'm less warm and fuzzy about negotiating with Syria because we have fewer disincentives and fewer incentives. They are also Arabs.

ISG wants us to get the Gulf States and Saudi in on this. That should be easier. It will only have a small payoff, but any payoff is worth doing. What do we have a striped-pants brigade for if not negotiating their butts off? Won't cost anything, might pay off. The biggest issue is that they hold huge chunks of Iraqi debt and aren't in a forgiving mood. That's bad.

The issue of Palestine comes up again. Well, on this I can't entirely sign off on the ISG's proposals. Let's be real: To Joe Iraqi, these conflicts do not look linked. To anyone we would realistically negotiate with, these conflicts don't look linked.

Solving the Palestinian question requires one thing. The Israelis have agreed to the basic principle on which a solution rests, that is to say the trade of territory for peace. What is required is a Palestinian authority with the ability to control the militants and an inclination to offer peace for land. Hamas's core guiding principle is the murder of another six million Jews. You can't negotiate. What do you offer them? "OK, we'll let you kill one million Jews if you leave the rest alone" is not a useful stance. Yet that's more or less the only thing they want. As long as the Palestinian people continue to democratically elect thugs and terrorists on a platform of violence over negotiations, the Palestinian people will be treated as enemies of Israel. And that's pretty much all she wrote.


1) Real Diplomacy implies a willingness to actually apply disincentives rather than merely talk about them. The United States has not done this with Iran.

2) Real Diplomacy recognizes that sometimes, in order to get the other guy to give you what you want, you need to make concessions. I'm suggesting making a huge concession, to wit the recognition that Iran has a nuclear program are there is nothing we can do about it short of nuking Iran ourselves. We have alternated asking Iran nicely to shut it down and blustering meaningless threats that if Iran doesn't shut it down, we'll do something unspecific and bad.

3) There is a reason I'm in the Army, not the State Department. If you let me sit down with a buck sergeant in the Iranian Army, we'd settle this in an afternoon. And probably still have time for a barbeque.

4) I've read a lot of blogger opinions. Anyone who can't tell the difference between SCIRI and al-Sadr and correctly identify which one is pro-Iranian, you shouldn't bother reading.

08 December 2006

Iraq Study Group, Part One

Having read the whole thing, I can now make comments.

I presume that anyone with an interest can and will download the silly thing themselves. I will not summarize the document, there is too much summarizing going on in the debate on Iraq already. That's part of my peeve with the American people--I can spend a year in Iraq, but your average civillian won't take two hours to read a report on the subject. Feh.

Part One: Ummm, OK. The situation in Iraq sucks rocks. We're tracking. While this section is pessimistic, it is realistic and more or less accurate. I have not seen anything that contradicts this assesment of the strengths and weaknesses of the US approach in Iraq, the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi Security Forces.

I think I just excommunicated myself from the War Hawk Blogger Coalition, because I'm willing to admit that the situation in Iraq is not all roses and flowers. It's not an unrecoverable catastrophe, and those in the antiwar crowd who pretend it is are bonkers, cowards, and need a boot up the butt. Some of the faults of the IA/IP are unavoidable. Some of them are just part of the startup process. Some of them aren't. Some of the stresses in Iraqi society are unavoidable. Some aren't.

Part Two, the recommendations.

I'm just going to address the initial set of recommendations, for the diplomatic side of the house.

What some folks are up in arms over is the idea of negotiating with Iran and Syria. Iran and Syria are the enemy, blahblahblah, appeasement blahblahblah, Chamberlain blahblahblah Danegeld.

Have I summarized the objections of the folks who are sitting in a nice comfy chair in their living rooms adequately?

Let's look at a couple things. Diplomacy isn't just asking someone nicely to do what you want them to do, and the panty-waisted effeminate Europeans who think that is diplomacy have the Iron Duke spinning in his grave. Diplomacy is finding acceptable compromises, and sometimes it is communicating blunt threats that if compromise is not reached, countries will be smacked upside the head.

That's Point Number One. Negotiating with Arabs cannot be politely asking them something, because they will stall and avoid saying no, while doing precisely as they please. The Persians are considerably more civilized, but they are a real culture, not some hopped-up desert bandits.

We have Bad Things we can do to Iran and Syria. Diplomats call them "disincentives" and they range all the way up to making Damascus disappear in a puff of radioactive smoke.

On the other hand, we also have incentives. Normalized diplomatic relations, economic relations, etc.

The way intelligent people negotiate runs something like this, "If you, Mr. Amenawhatever, continue to act the fool and inconvenience the United States, we will apply these disincentives. If, however, you stop acting the fool, we are prepared to offer these incentives."

What are Iran's national objectives?
Can these objectives be met in such a way that the United States can live with them?
Are the incentives we can offer significant enough to entice Iran to change their behavior?
Are the disincentives significant enough to deter Iran from continuing their current course of action?

And most importantly:

Will Iran negotiate in good faith and live up to their negotiated commitments?

Now, negotiating with Iran is going to be a radical departure from the United State's current stance, which is a hard-line commitment to severed diplomatic relations and rhetoric in favor of regime change.

Disincentives: Actual regime change. Bombing raids. Arming of minority groups inside Iran. Nuclear strikes.

Incentives: Normalized relations. Trade relations. Tolerance of Iranian nuclear power program. Just treating Iran like they are a real country would be a step up for them.

We want Iran to stop sponsoring militias in Iraq and Lebanon and other terrorists. They want us to stop calling for regime change. If we are willing to do the one, are they willing to do the other? Has anyone ever freakin' asked them?

Now, there is also the question of Iranian nuclear status. Perhaps it is time to make realism the guiding light here. Nuclear bombs can be built by crappy little countries run by goofy-looking degenerates who can't even manage to get a decent haircut. It is unrealistic to expect that we can keep them out of the hands of determined countries. What we can do is make the consequences clear to Iran--that with the power will come a certain level of responsibility to control their nuclear power, and also that the United States will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if forced to a direct confrontation with another nuclear power.

The United States can posture all we like about the Axis of Evil and war to the death with Iran. It's not realistic, and if we meant it, we'd be working a lot harder for regime change. Hence abandoning a rhetorical stance that serves no one and means nothing in favor of a no kidding offer of substantive negotiations in good faith (an approach not yet tried in dealing with Iran) costs us nothing but has the prospect of huge payoff. Maybe it is time to realize that the Shah fell the year after I was born, and nothing is going to put him back. We can't have a puppet government in Iran, but maybe we can have one we can get along with. After all, the French are just as hostile and George isn't calling for regime change in Paris.

And heck, let's get real honest. If they don't play ball, we can always nuke them into glass.

But the Persians were a civilized people when our ancestors were painting themselves blue and running around naked. Treating them like they are defined by a handful of religious nutjobs doesn't get us anywhere.

We are more likely to cause Iran to evolve in positive directions (secular, democratic, free) by having contact with America and Americans through diplomacy, trade, even tourism than we are by ranting in their direction while they rant at us. We can support economic and human rights reforms more effectively within the framework of normalized relations than we can from the otherside of a self-imposed moat.

And George Bush is the perfect person to restart relations with Iran. After all, there is an old Vulcan proverb: "Only Nixon could go to China."

I'm tired and going to go curl up in bed. Let me know what you think, folks.

07 December 2006

Nothing much to write about

Commemoration of St. Ambrose of Milan

Jen was asking why I havn't updated as often.

Well, I really don't have much to write about. I went to a memorial service this morning for someone who name didn't ring a bell when I first heard about his death, but when I saw his photo, I realized that yes, I did know him slightly. On the way back, some idiot shot at us with an RPG that didn't come within 10 meters of any of our trucks and didn't detonate when it did land.

Yesterday, a popular and highly respected officer from Brigade headquarters was killed, along with the new Brigade PAO and the gunner on the vehicle they were in.

There's lots of foofraw about the Iraq Study Group Report. I've downloaded it and will actually read the entire thing before commenting on it. Anyone who had "analysis" the same day it was released did nothing more than read the Executive Summary and either praise it or pan it depending on how it linked up with the preconcieved nothings. Already most of the criticism I've read is that it neither said, "Withdraw now" nor provided a Magic Bullet to make things perfect overnight. Boo-frickin-hoo.

It's getting harder, at least for myself, to stay motivated when every bit of news I can see from the US is a constant drumbeat of "Iraq is hopeless, our troops are wasting their time and dying for nothing, civil war, the insurgents are right, blahblahblah". So I'm pretty much ignoring most of the news.

At the rate things are going, the Antiwar Movement can hold their 3K casualty parties sometime next month.

I feel like I should post something fascinating and "obscure" about St. Ambrose of Milan, since he's one of the few Westerners who really 'got it' but my heart's just not in it this morning.

04 December 2006

Iconoclasm, St. John of Damascus, and I

4 December, 2006
Commemoration of St. John of Damascus, Great Martyr Barbara, and Hieromartyr Alexander Hotovitzky

I have been asked a couple of times about the story of my conversion to Holy Orthodoxy. It’s a long, convoluted journey which took about four years and which was, from one point of view, nearly complete by the time I actually entered an Orthodox Church. From another point of view, I struggle and fail and repent and struggle some more.

Even summarizing this journey would be way outside the scope of a blog entry, but let me describe a portion.

You see, my entrepont into Orthodoxy was the history of the Roman Empire. Now, historians, whether Western or Eastern in birth and education, have some difficulty adequately describing the Iconoclastic Controversy.

In summary, Leo, an able general whose career began under Justinian II the Slit-Nosed and continued until Anastasius II placed him in command of the Anatolikon theme and thus one of the largest field armies in the Roman state. Leo and Artabasdus, the strategus of the Armeniakon theme, joined in a revolt against the feeble and incompetent Theodosius who surrendered, was tonsured a monk, and retreated to a monastery in Ephesus. On 25 March 717, Leo was crowned Leo III. In 726, Leo III made his iconoclast sympathies known by ordering an officer to remove the icon of Christ over the Bronze Gate of the Imperial Palace. Over the next years he openly spoke against the icons, and on 17 January 730 he assembled a group of secular and ecclesiastical and presented to them an Imperial edict forbidding and condemning the use of icons. The Patriarch Germanus refused to subscribe to it, and was deposed on the spot in favor of his former syncellus Anastasius who ascended to the patriarchal throne 5 days later after he made it perfectly clear that he would be properly compliant.

Thus began a crisis within the Empire of the Romans which would have grave consequences. Several revolts, the first in 726/7 by the theme of Hellas, were caused or aggravated by the official Iconoclasm of the dynasty which Leo III founded. It also further damaged relations between the Empire and the Papacy, which repudiated in the strongest possible terms this latest politically motivated heresy. The Icons would not be restored until the sole rule of the Empress Irene, which began on 15 August 797 when she had her reckless, perfidious, and cruel son Constantine VI blinded in the Purple Room in which he had been born. When, in 813 Leo V deposed Michael I he reinstituted official iconoclasm, but the movement’s power had been spent and it died out by the end of the reign of Theophilus, though persecution of prominent spokesmen of the Orthodox party continued, including the strange punishment of the brothers Theodore and Theophanes from Palestine, monks who were known for writing verses in praise of the Holy Icons. They had iconoclast verses branded into their foreheads with hot irons, and hence were afterwards known as the “graptoi” or “written upon”. When Theophilius died, his son and heir Michael III was only three years old and his mother Theodora was called upon to serve as regent. The council of regency had John Grammaticus (who ordered the branding of the two monks) deposed from the Patriarchal throne and arranged his replacement by Methodius. A synod was convened in March 843 to restore the icons, which council is commemorated annually on the first Sunday of Lent as the Feast of Orthodoxy.

Anyway, when I as a Prod was reading these descriptions (and I have barely scratched the surface of the things that were done to defenders of the icons) of this controversy, I was baffled. Arians, Nestorians, Monophysites, these controversies I could comprehend. They were directly theological and concerned the very question of who Christ is and the meaning of the Trinity. This passionate fight over what appeared to be a quite trivial issue, I could not understand.

Then I discovered a small book entitled “Byzantine Theology”. I would describe it as a historical approach to theology. It covered the great Christological heresies, iconoclasm, Byzantine soteriology and theology of man, and eschatology. Very fascinating stuff and approached as much from a historical as from a theological standpoint. I had no idea at the time that John Meyendorf (sp?) was Fr. John, a highly respected Orthodox theologian. I was interested in it as a historian. Yet, as I read the discussion of the Iconoclastic controversy, I could not help but be fascinated. The implications of iconoclasm were deeply theological, Christological, and thus ultimately soteriological. Fr. John quoted a figure mentioned peripherally in the histories, a monk from Syria known only as John of Damascus. It’s rather nearly impossible to discuss the topic without quoting him, as his writings, produced out of the reach of the Iconoclastic Emperors, were the intellectual basis of the Orthodox opposition to iconoclasm.

At that point, I did not know what I was. I knew what I was not. But from the time I acceded to the Orthodox position on the veneration of Holy Icons, whether I realized it or not, I was firmly set on the path that would lead me home, to the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Thus, as St. John of Damascus was used by the Holy Spirit to deeply influence my journey, I venerate him as the saint whose name I bear.

I offer a few fragments from part I of the Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images, with convenient citations for scriptural quotes and allusions. Note also that ‘lateria’ is sometimes left untranslated, but is also the word translated adoration. The more general term worship is ‘proskynesis’.

“In this way God spoke of old to the patriarchs through the prophets, and lastly, through His only-begotten Son, on whose account He made the ages. He says, "This is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou didst send." (Jn 17.3) I believe in one God, the source of all things, without beginning, uncreated, immortal, everlasting, incomprehensible, bodiless, invisible, uncircumscribed, without form. I believe in one supersubstantial being, one divine Godhead in three entities, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and I adore Him alone with the worship of latreia. I adore one God, one Godhead but three Persons, God the Father, God the Son made flesh, and God the Holy Ghost, one God. I do not adore creation more than the Creator, but I adore the creature created as I am, adopting creation freely and spontaneously that He might elevate our nature and make us partakers of His divine nature. Together with my Lord and King I worship Him clothed in the flesh, not as if it were a garment or He constituted a fourth person of the Trinity--God forbid. That flesh is divine, and endures after its assumption. Human nature was not lost in the Godhead, but just as the Word made flesh remained the Word, so flesh became the Word remaining flesh, becoming, rather, one with the Word through union. Therefore I venture to draw an image of the invisible God, not as invisible, but as having become visible for our sakes through flesh and blood. I do not draw an image of the immortal Godhead. I paint the visible flesh of God, for it is impossible to represent a spirit, how much more God who gives breath to the spirit.”

“Speaking theologically, it is given to us to avoid superstitious error, to be with God in the knowledge of the truth, to worship God alone, to enjoy the fullness of His knowledge. We have passed the stage of infancy, and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God, and know what may be imaged and what may not. The Scripture says, "You have not seen the likeness of Him." (Ex. 33.20) What wisdom in the law-giver. How depict the invisible? How picture the inconceivable? How give expression to the limitless, the immeasurable, the invisible? How give a form to immensity? How paint immortality? How localise mystery? It is clear that when you contemplate God, who is a pure spirit, becoming man for your sake, you will be able to clothe Him with the human form. When the Invisible One becomes visible to flesh, you may then draw a likeness of His form. When He who is a pure spirit, without form or limit, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing as God, takes upon Himself the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and a body of flesh, then you may draw His likeness, and show it to anyone willing to contemplate it. Depict His ineffable condescension, His virginal birth, His baptism in the Jordan, His transfiguration on Thabor, His all-powerful sufferings, His death and miracles, the proofs of His Godhead, the deeds which He worked in the flesh through divine power, His saving Cross, His Sepulchre, and resurrection, and ascent into heaven. Give to it all the endurance of engraving and colour. Have no fear or anxiety; worship is not all of the same kind. Abraham worshipped the sons of Emmor, impious men in ignorance of God, when he bought the double cave for a tomb. (Gen. 23.7; Acts 7.16) Jacob worshipped his brother Esau and Pharao, the Egyptian, but on the point of his staff. (Gen 33.3) He worshipped, he did not adore. Josue and Daniel worshipped an angel of God; (Jos. 5.14) they did not adore him. The worship of latreia is one thing, and the worship which is given to merit another. Now, as we are talking of images and worship, let us analyse the exact meaning of each. An image is a likeness of the original with a certain difference, for it is not an exact reproduction of the original."

“Holy Scripture clothes in figure God and the angels, and the same holy man explains why. When sensible things sufficiently render what is beyond sense, and give a form to what is intangible, a medium would be reckoned imperfect according to our standard, if it did not fully represent material vision, or if it required effort of mind. If, therefore, Holy Scripture, providing for our need, ever putting before us what is intangible, clothes it in flesh, does it not make an image of what is thus invested with our nature, and brought to the level of our desires, yet invisible? A certain conception through the senses thus takes place in the brain, which was not there before, and is transmitted to the judicial faculty, and added to the mental store. Gregory, who is so eloquent about God, says that the mind, which is set upon getting beyond corporeal things, is incapable of doing it. For the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are made visible through images. (Rom. 1.20) We see images in creation which remind us faintly of God, as when, for instance, we speak of the holy and adorable Trinity, imaged by the sun, or light, or burning rays, or by a running fountain, or a full river, or by the mind, speech, or the spirit within us, or by a rose tree, or a sprouting flower, or a sweet fragrance.”

“Worship is the symbol of veneration and of honor. Let us understand that there are different degrees of worship. First of all the worship of latreia, which we show to God, who alone by nature is worthy of worship. When, for the sake of God who is worshipful by nature, we honor His saints and servants, as Joshua and Daniel worshipped an angel, and David His holy places, when be says, "Let us go to the place where His feet have stood." (Ps. 132.7) Again, in His tabernacles, as when all the people of Israel adored in the tent, and standing round the temple in Jerusalem, fixing their gaze upon it from all sides, and worshipping from that day to this, or in the rulers established by Him, as Jacob rendered homage to Esau, his elder brother, (Gen. 33.3) and to Pharaoh, the divinely established ruler. (Gen. 47.7) Joseph was worshipped by his brothers. (Gen. 50.18) I am aware that worship was based on honor, as in the case of Abraham and the sons of Emmor. (Gen. 23.7) Either, then, do away with worship, or receive it altogether according to its proper measure.”

“Of old, God the incorporeal and uncircumscribed was never depicted. Now, however, when God is seen clothed in flesh, and conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God's body is God by union, it is immutable. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is quickened by a logical and reasoning soul. I honor all matter besides, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was not the thrice happy and thrice blessed wood of the Cross matter? Was not the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Sepulcher, the source of our resurrection: was it not matter? Is not the most holy book of the Gospels matter? Is not the blessed table matter which gives us the Bread of Life? Are not the gold and silver matter, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either do away with the veneration and worship due to all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the worship of images, honoring God and His friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is that which God has made. This is the Manichean heresy. That alone is despicable which does not come from God, but is our own invention, the spontaneous choice of will to disregard the natural law,--that is to say, sin. If, therefore, you dishonor and give up images, because they are produced by matter, consider what the Scripture says: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Behold I have called by name Beseleel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Juda. And I have filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom and understanding, and knowledge in all manner of work. To devise whatsoever may be artificially made of gold, and silver, and brass, of marble and precious stones, and variety of wood. And I have given him for his companion, Ooliab, the son of Achisamech, of the tribe of Dan. And I have put wisdom in the heart of every skilful man, that they may make all things which I have commanded thee." (Ex. 31.1-6) And again: "Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying: Set aside with you first fruits to the Lord. Let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord, gold, and silver, and brass, violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goat's hair, and ram's skins died red and violet, colored skins, selim-wood, and oil to maintain lights and to make ointment, and most sweet incense, onyx stones, and precious stones for the adorning of the ephod and the rational. Whosoever of you is wise, let him come, and make that which the Lord hath commanded." (Ex. 35.4-10) See you here the glorification of matter which you make inglorious. What is more insignificant than goat's hair or colors? Are not scarlet and purple and hyacinth colors? Now, consider the handiwork of man becoming the likeness of the cherubim. How, then, can you make the law a pretence for giving up what it orders? If you invoke it against images, you should keep the Sabbath, and practice circumcision. It is certain that "if you observe the law, Christ will not profit you. You who are justified in the law, you are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5.2-4) Israel of old did not see God, but "we see the Lord's glory face to face." (II Cor. 3.18)”

“We depict Christ as our King and Lord, and do not deprive Him of His army. The saints constitute the Lord's army. Let the earthly king dismiss his army before he gives up his King and Lord. Let him put off the purple before he takes honor away from his most valiant men who have conquered their passions. For if the saints are heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ, (Rom. 8.17) they will be also partakers of the divine glory of sovereignty. If the friends of God have had a part in the sufferings of Christ, how shall they not receive a share of His glory even on earth? "I call you not servants," our Lord says, "you are my friends." (Jn. 15.15) Should we then deprive them of the honor given to them by the Church? What audacity! What boldness of mind, to fight God and His commands! You, who refuse to worship images, would not worship the Son of God, the Living Image of the invisible God, (Col. 1.15) and His unchanging form. I worship the image of Christ as the Incarnate God; that of Our Lady, the Mother of us all, as the Mother of God's Son; that of the saints as the friends of God. They have withstood sin unto blood, and followed Christ in shedding their blood for Him, who shed His blood for them. I put on record the excellencies and the sufferings of those who have walked in His footsteps, that I may sanctify myself, and be fired with the zeal of imitation. St Basil says, "Honoring the image leads to the prototype." If you raise churches to the saints of God, raise also their trophies. The temple of old was not built in the name of any man. The death of the just was a cause of tears, not of feasting. A man who touched a corpse was considered unclean, (Num. 19.11) even if the corpse was Moses himself. But now the memories of the saints are kept with rejoicings. The dead body of Jacob was wept over, whilst there is joy over the death of Stephen. Therefore, either give up the solemn commemorations of the saints, which are not according to the old law, or accept images which are also against it, as you say. But it is impossible not to keep with rejoicing the memories of the saints. The Holy Apostles and Fathers are at one in enjoining them. From the time that God the Word became flesh He is as we are in everything except sin, and of our nature, without confusion. He has deified our flesh for ever, and we are in very deed sanctified through His Godhead and the union of His flesh with it. And from the time that God, the Son of God, impassible by reason of His Godhead, chose to suffer voluntarily He wiped out our debt, also paying for us a most full and noble ransom. We are truly free through the sacred blood of the Son pleading for us with the Father. And we are indeed delivered from corruption since He descended into hell to the souls detained there through centuries (I Pet. 3.19) and gave the captives their freedom, sight to the blind, (Mt. 12.29) and chaining the strong one. He rose in the plenitude of His power, keeping the flesh of immortality which He had taken for us. And since we have been born again of water and the Spirit, we are truly sons and heirs of God. Hence St Paul calls the faithful holy; (I Cor. 1.2) hence we do not grieve but rejoice over the death of the saints. We are then no longer under grace, (Rom. 6.14) being justified through faith, (Rom. 5.1) and knowing the one true God. The just man is not bound by the law. (I. Tim. 1.9) We are not held by the letter of the law, nor do we serve as children, (Gal. 4.1) but grown into the perfect estate of man we are fed on solid food, not on that which conduces to idolatry. The law is good as a light shining in a dark place until the day breaks. Your hearts have already been illuminated, the living water of God's knowledge has run over the tempestuous seas of heathendom, and we may all know God. The old creation has passed away, and all things are renovated. The holy Apostle Paul said to St Peter, the chief of the Apostles: "If you, being a Jew, live as a heathen and not a Jew, how will you persuade heathens to do as Jews do?" (Gal. 2.14) And to the Galatians: "I will bear witness to every circumcised man that it is salutary to fulfil the whole law." (Gal. 5.3)”

Thou wast a holy instrument
And a tuneful harp of Godliness.
Thy teachings shone forth to the ends of the world, O righteous John.
We pray thee to entreat Christ our God to grant us his great mercy.

Let us praise the illustrious hymnographer John
Teacher of the Church and champion against her enemies.
For armed with the weapons of the Lord’s Cross,
He has banished the errors of heresy.
He fervently intercedes with God who grants forgiveness to all.

03 December 2006

Trade Routes in the Late Roman Empire

Alternate history has got to be the hardest form of fiction to write well.

I mean, any idiot can write bad alternate history. Very simple, just change an inconvenient fact or three and wham, alternate history.

What is mind-bleedingly difficult is figuring out the implications of your one or two facts a few centuries down the road. You need to be a sociologist, economist, and a couple other -ists.

Which leads me to a book called Charlemagne, Mohammed, and the Making of Europe. It's a look at the Pirienne Hypothesis in the light of archaeological evidence, primarily pothserds and numismatics. P was a Belgian historian who hypothesized that the Germanic invaders of the Western half of the Roman Empire really didn't change a great deal when it came to societal and commercial patterns, and that only the severe dislocations caused in the Eastern Med by Islam sufficed to bring about the Carolingian world a century and a half later.

Not so much so, but in the interests of exploring what did happen, some interesting things are brought to light. This book is hard to summarize, but it manages to show the outlines of trade routes which stretched from China and Burma all the way to England and explains why Chinese silk is found in a Viking's grave in Sweden. Also explains why the upswing of Viking raids happened in the 820-830 time frame. There was civil war in the Caliphate, and that disrupted global trade patterns, impoverishing folks who got used to making quite a profit. Of note is the fact that the actual money (Arabic dinars) was of little value to the Norse except as decoration, but of great value to the Franks who melted it down and minted the denir, the French penny, in almost exactally the same size and weight.

Post-Roman Western Europe has never been one of my main interests, as it generally is too depressing to get into heavily (smelly barbarians running about hitting each other with axes, mostly), but this is good stuff.

02 December 2006

Depressing Thoughts

So, let's say we do pull out.

Let's suppose, not unreasonably, that should we do so, Iraq devolves into a really fun faction fight.

Sadr vs. pro-Iran Shia vs. Ba'athist/Nationalist Sunnis vs. Al-Qaeda vs. Kurds vs. Mixed Moderates vs. blahblahblahblahblah.

Let's suppose, like in Afghanistan after the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime (five minutes after the last Russian left Afghanistan), the winner is not (shockingly enough) someone who is Into peace, love, fluffy bunnys, and the Will of the Iraqi People.

Let's take a look around the Middle East and make the easy bet that the winner will be someone who is really ruthless and amoral and willing to shove people into wood chippers if it scares enough of their relatives into shutting up. I mean, that describes pretty much the history of Iraq since the time of the Assyrians.

So, here's my question. We ignored Afghanistan and said to ourself, "Hey, if they want to murder and rape and pillage each other, it isn't our problem, is it?" And that lasted for about a decade, and then we had to Do Something About It.

So if we pull out next year, does that mean that in 2017, after I hit 18 years in the Army and build the Dream House and have four kids running around underfoot and am putting together my job search stuff to find a cushy civillian gig, instead of going ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) and picking up an AC/RC slot in Austin or ROTC advisor at UT-Austin (after sending my Branch Manager's civilian secretary flowers, chocolate, a pile of small unmarked bills, and Jack Daniels by the quart) I'm going to have to come back to this desolate hell-hole with a whole friggin' platoon (or, God Forbid, a company) to worry about?

Popes and Patriarchs, oh my!

chHey, since I seem to have started a trend of topic suggestions, let's write about the Bishop of Old Rome visiting the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His All Holiness Bartholomew.

There isn't much info out there. Lots and lots of press coverage of Pope Benedict XVI making nice to that Mufti and showing how much he 'respects' Islam (although I don't buy it) in the Blue Mosque, which is your typical Muslim inferiority complex in stone and tile (and still doesn't hold a candle to the Hagia Sophia).

AP does say this:

"The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world," the pope said after joining Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to mark the feast day of St. Andrew, who preached across Asia Minor and who, tradition says, ordained the first bishop of Constantinople.

Reuters gives the quote as continuing "and an obstacle to the proclamation of the gospel."

There were apparently a series of events intended to rebuild ties. This is a good thing in my opinion. Notice that while the Pope's show of Politically Correct respect to Islam has been trumpted world-wide, there is, buried in the bottom paragraphs of the story, just a little bit about how he would really like it if Turkey would ease restrictions on religious minorities, most especially the Orthodox community which looks to the Patriarch.

Or, from the joint declaration of both the Pope and Patriarch,

"4. We have viewed positively the process that has led to the formation of the European Union. Those engaged in this great project should not fail to take into consideration all aspects affecting the inalienable rights of the human person, especially religious freedom, a witness and guarantor of respect for all other freedoms. In every step towards unification, minorities must be protected, with their cultural traditions and the distinguishing features of their religion. In Europe, while remaining open to other religions and to their cultural contributions, we must unite our efforts to preserve Christian roots, traditions and values, to ensure respect for history, and thus to contribute to the European culture of the future and to the quality of human relations at every level. In this context, how could we not evoke the very ancient witnesses and the illustrious Christian heritage of the land in which our meeting is taking place, beginning with what the Acts of the Apostles tells us concerning the figure of Saint Paul, Apostle of the Gentiles? In this land, the Gospel message and the ancient cultural tradition met. This link, which has contributed so much to the Christian heritage that we share, remains timely and will bear more fruit in the future for evangelization and for our unity."

Translation: You Turks forget that Anatolia has always been a part of Europe because of the Christians living there. Stop abusing them. They were here first.

His Holiness Benedict XVI is apparently looking to heal the rift between the East and West on his watch. I'm not sure how that can be done short of a full, proper Ecumenical Council. Certaintly rump Councils consisting of Western bishops and a handful of Eastern delegates under heavy pressure to achieve unity have been tried in the past. Unfortunately, they tended to be held under conditions such that there was no debate, and the result was essentially a demand that the Orthodox Church meekly knuckle under to the Bishop of Old Rome. The pseudo-unions were rejected out of hand by the vast majority of the faithful, the monastic communities, and a majority of the hierarchy of the time and have as their only legacies further bitterness on both sides and a tiny community of Uniates who get static from both sides.

What would be required? First, a full council would have several hundred delegates from both sides. You couldn't have a handful of theologians sitting around making these decisions. You'd need a broad base of support for the Council's decisions.

The theological talks that are laying a basis for this Council have recently resumed.

"In treating the topic “Conciliarity and Authority in the Church” at local, regional and universal levels, the Commission undertook a phase of study on the ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church. This will permit us to address some of the principal questions that are still unresolved. "

Let me be blunt--as His All Holiness is far to diplomatic to be. The question of authority underlies every single issue between East and West and must be addressed. When a mutually satisfactory formula which soothes the Papal ego yet permits the East to retain our autocephaly as it has been historically understood and practiced, and which reconfirmed the principal of conciliarity as the final arbiter of disputes (vice the Latin practice of trusting in the 'infallible' authority of one bishop), then all other differences in practice can be settled in (relatively) short order. By this I mean, no more than a generation or two. Anyone betting on reuninion in my lifetime is making a sucker bet.

Anyone wanting to read the official statements and declarations in full can wander on over to The Patriarchal website (of COURSE His All Holiness can be found at www.patriarchate.org. I love the 21st Century) where the speeches of welcome are the featured presentation, but the good bit is the Common Declaration at the top of the "Orthodox-Catholic Relations" category.

01 December 2006

What's the real story on Rangel?

I will admit to knowing diddly-squat about Rangel before reading the quote I referenced in my post, other than hearing a bit about his idiotic draft idea a little while ago.

Now, having read his biography off his own website, we've got more questions than answer.

Rangel has had one honest job in his life, when he was in the United States Army from 1948-1952. His official bio doesn't give many details on that time period other than to state that he was awarded a Bronze Star.

After this, he goes to New York University School of Commerce, graduating in 1957 and St. John’s Law School, graduating with a law degree in 1960. According to his own website, he doesn't work another day in his life, entering politics immediately (or as the website euphemizes, 'public service'). He's been in Congress since 1970.

According to the Bographical Directory of the United States Congress, he does do three years in private practice. I guess that counts as "public service", right? Or maybe one of those two sites is mistaken. Whatever.

He spent four years in the Army, so I assume he voluntarily enlisted rather than being drafted. I can't find a source one way or the other, but my understanding was that draftees were not kept in for four years. In 1948, so he probably assumed he'd do some nice, cushy garrison duty for a couple years in exchange for veteran's benefits. After, no "bright young man" would join to actually fight for bonuses and educational benefits, right?

Either he's an idiot then, or he's an idiot now, but that's just my call.

So he goes to Korea, gets into a sticky situation (anyone got a link to an actual copy of the citation? I can't seem to find it) and does well enough to get noticed by an officer who bothered to write it up. Also manages to stop some shrapnel or a bullet (no details available, that I can find, though one website refers to it as a 'near death experience').

Fastforward 54 years. That's a long time. Did Chuckie forget what it is like? Or is his just prostituting himself for the benefit of his political masters? Or maybe all those years hanging out with other rich liberal lawyers has readjusted his mindset to one in keeping with the "progressive" stance.

Or, quite possibly, Rangel was one of those whiny, annoying know-it-all joes who joined the Army "for the College money" without having the thought occur that maybe, just maybe he might have to earn it. We don't have any of those anymore, but they were fairly common prior to 2001. While, unlike my previous supposition, it appears that when faced with a real situation he did creditably, that sort of attitude looks like it continues to this very day.