The Middle Ages were brilliant

One of the standard paradigms of modern Western culture is that the Middle Ages were a dark, primitive time.  While that’s true for the era between Rome’s fall and about 1,000 A.D., after 1,000 A.D. Europe enjoyed an explosive, intellectually vibrant time.  (To understand the groundwork for this intellectual explosion, I highly recommend Thomas Cahill’s completely delightful How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, which tells how Irish monks, by preserving and spreading Christianity, set the West on its path to modernity.)

Interior Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Interior Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Recognizing that the Middle Ages were a splendid, dynamic isn’t just a matter of setting the historical record straight.  Every PC-educated school child will tell you that Islam is good because, during the Middle Ages, when the West was mired in filth and ignorance, the Islamic world was a paradise of tolerance, beauty and learning.  I’m not going to denigrate the medieval Islamic world.  Certain parts of the medieval Islamic world were indeed places were Jews and Christians, although second class citizens, were able to thrive intellectually and economically; the art and architecture were beautiful (one word:  Alhambra); and the culture was sophisticated and rich.  The medieval Muslim world should be accorded recognition for its achievements.

Alhambra, Spain

Alhambra, Spain

The problem is that PC education, to ensure Islam its proper place in the scheme of things, then dishonestly paints the Middle Ages as a primitive, ugly, antisemitic, misanthropic world.  This is true, but such a fragmented part of the truth that it distorts the whole.  The fact is that medieval Europe was different from, but just as bad as — and just as good as — medieval Islam.  Both were worlds of explosive intellectual growth, celebrations of God and nature, travel and conquest, artistic beauty, misogyny and antisemitism, religious bullying, and all the other stuff that makes medieval cultures fascinating and frustrating, enticing and off-putting.  The crucial difference is that the European Middle Ages were a springboard, whereas the Islamic Middle Ages were an apex.

With that as a brief and scrambled intro, you might enjoy this short video about the brilliant Middle Ages.

The Mayan Apocalypse and the end of the world . . . as we know it

Mayan Apocalypse

According to the much sneered at, and much feared, Mayan Apocalypse, tomorrow marks the end of the world.  I’m inclined to believe this is true.  I don’t, however, expect the earth to explode into a giant ball of cosmic dust or some plague rivaling the Black Death.  What I do see, however, is change on a massive scale, greater even than that which occurred when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The changes we’ll see began four years ago and will now accelerate.  They relate directly to Barack Obama and the three defining characteristics of his presidency:  fiscal irresponsibility, weak world leadership, and a realignment of American interests in Europe and the Middle East.

Going out of business

On the economic front, what we can expect in the future is continued American decline, with Americans expecting and accepting a constantly lower standard of living.  The Progressives have us on the road to regression:  little houses; little, unsafe cars; empty store fronts; increased homelessness; product shortages; and, of course, the social unrest the inevitably follows upon economic instability or decline.  In other words, the end of the American world as we know it.

Chinese military

Around the world, Russia, although declining in population and plagued internally by corruption and want, will do what it always does when things are bad:  attack.  It will continue to flex its muscles by making mischief.  It doesn’t care if it goes down, provided that America’s might precedes it.

China, for all its woes (unbalanced population growth, corruption, killer pollution, etc.) will continue its quest to be the world military power.  The world should fear this.  America used its dominant military power to spread individual freedom as much as possible; China’s power will be more imperialist in nature.

The EU, which was touted just a decade ago as the wave of the future, will collapse.  European states will begin feuding with each other over resources.  While that might feel like “same old, same old,” since Europeans have feuded for thousands of years, this go round will be different:  each state will have within it a Fifth Column that unites to bring all of Europe down and re-shape it into a new model.

And now, a brief, but important digression:

Karl Marx

One of the things Marx believed was that the great worker’s revolution he foresaw would transcend national borders.  Remember the slogan “Workers of the world, unite”?  Marx was certain that, within the industrialized nations, the workers would abandon national fealty and join with each other against their capitalist overlords.

Had Marx been correct, World War I would have been the worker’s moment.  Even as the great powers declared war against each other, the workers ought to have laid down their arms and embraced each other across the battle field.  This didn’t happen.  German, English, and French workers put nationalism ahead of everything.

The workers’ revolution Marx expected to sweep the industrial world happened instead in backwards, agrarian Russia.  Stalin then had to retrofit the supposedly “inevitable” industrial revolution by starving his independent peasant class to death, but that’s another story….

And now, back to the point of this post:

Muslim women London

While Marx was wrong about the 19th and early-20th century workers’ allegiance to their nation versus their allegiance, he was correct to envision a group that has loyalty to its unique identity separate from the nations in which its members reside.  This group, of course, is Muslims.

Over the past few decades, all of the European nations have invited tens of thousands of Muslims into their borders.  These Muslims have refused to integrate, living, instead, in segregated enclaves that have often become laws unto themselves.  Within these enclosed communities, the Imam’s preach jihad:  the violent overthrow of all world governments, followed by a Sharia world.

When the European pact disintegrates, the powers that be will discover that, even as Germany feuds with France over resources, the Muslims within both those nations form an allegiance that sees them turn against their host countries.  The result will be ugly and there won’t be a strong America to stop it.

Obama's bitch is Egyptian dictator

And then there are Barack Obama’s profound alignment shifts.  Both by inclination and calculation, Obama has decided that the old world order, the one that’s been in place pretty much since the end of WWII, isn’t correct.  America shouldn’t be palling around with Western nations, which he believes are responsible for Third World oppression.  Instead, Obama looks to the Muslim world as the wave of the future.  He cultivates increasingly Islamist Turkey; encourages the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt; is assiduously neutral towards Iran, to the point of cooperation with its nuclear aspirations; and has cold-shouldered and isolated westernized, democratic Israel.

This is a volte face of staggering proportions and implications.  America has now become a prop for the worst kind of dictatorships.  Moreover, these are the dictatorships that will fund the Muslim Fifth Column in Europe.  Now that Obama has more flexibility, he will accelerate this trend.

Obama’s desire to nominate Chuck Hagel as the Secretary of Defense, although that seems to have stalled for now, perfectly reflects Obama’s New World Order, one that sees a weak America mistreating Israel and cozying up to Muslim dictatorships.

All of which leads me to say that the Mayan Apocalypse is on our doorstep.  We just didn’t have the wit or foresight to imagine what it would look like.

End of the world

To a hammer, everything is a nail; and to an identity politics fanatic, everything is racism

My father, alev ha-shalom,  had forgotten more about English — his third language — than most people will ever know.  In addition to reading novels and non-fiction for pleasure, he would amuse himself reading dictionaries, grammar books, and stories about the English language.  (In that last genre, my favorite was one called Word Origins and Their Amazing Stories, a book that, sadly, is no longer in print.)

One of my father’s pet peeves, going back to the 1970s, was the way the word niggardly had been banished from most vocabularies, because people assumed that it had the same root as a vulgar and disrespectful word for black people.  In fact, niggardly, which means miserly, or stingy, has an honest Anglo-Saxon etymology:

Origin:
1325–75; Middle English nyggard,  equivalent to nig  niggard (< Scandinavian;  compare dialectal Swedish nygg;  akin to Old English hnēaw  stingy)

This honestly rooted English word even shows up in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales:

We all desiren, if it mighte be,
To han husbandes hardy, wise, and free,
And secret, and no niggard, ne no fool,
Ne him that is aghast of every tool,
Ne none avaunter, by that God above!

Having now proven the word’s bona fides, let me step down from the soap box.  Given the two words’ auditory and spelling similarity, despite one being an Olde English word calling someone stingy, and the other a rude bastardization of a Latin word for the color “black,” I’m more forgiving than my father was when people express discomfort upon hearing the word niggardly.  It just looks and sounds wrong.

The question remains, though, how far a culture should go to challenge honorable traditions that coincidentally run afoul of modern sensitivities.  In Sweden, for example, modern sensibilities are chipping away at the traditional Santa Lucia celebration, which has seen children, since forever, parade around dressed up as stars, gnomes, Santa Lucia, or gingerbread men.  The politically correct brigade is now worried about those gingerbread men.  You and I think of them as tasty, spicy cookies that all sensible people love; the PC crowd knows that they have a darker symbolism (pun intended):

Schoolchildren in Sweden have been banned from dressing up as gingerbread men for a Christmas parade because their teachers fear the costumes could be considered racist.

[snip]

[H]eartbroken 10-year-old Mio Simiv was told he could not wear his gingerbread man costume to the celebration because it might be seen as ‘offensive’.

Angry mum Jenny Simic told local media: ‘I thought he had to have got it wrong so I called the school and they said people might find a brown gingerbread character offensive.

Mrs. Simic also went on to make a larger point, which is that the other costumes, when taken out of context, can be forced into equally ugly interpretations.  You see, those gnome costumes really don’t stand up to close scrutiny ….

‘I said, well then my son won’t participate. He won’t support some Ku Klux Klan procession – because that’s what the little Lucias look like when they all come in with white hoods and white dresses.’

Also, I’ve heard that gnomes are vertically challenged, so it won’t be long before the Little People start voicing their objections.  (I feel I have a say in this one, as I just learned that my statuesque 5 feet tall is a mere two inches above official Little People status.  Funnily enough, I’ve never felt short, and most people who know my are surprised to learn what my actual height is.  As one man told me, to my great delight, “You have the most beautiful posture I’ve ever seen.  You carry yourself like a queen.”  But back to my post….)

The Swedish school tried to backtrack by claiming the absence of gingerbread came down to student allergies, but I’ve yet to hear of someone being allergic to a gingerbread man costume:

In my experience, one of the best ways to get past differences between people is to stop focusing on them so obsessively — or at the very least, to stop focusing on the marginal things that irritate petty people, so that you have energy and credibility to deal with the things that really matter. Aesop knew that crying wolf is counterproductive.  After decades of backing down in the face of the Leftist war cry of “racist,” more and more people are looking in their hearts, recognizing that they’re not racists, and fighting back.  That’s the good thing.  The bad thing is that, in this swirling sea of “racist” caterwauls, the real racists will suddenly find themselves able to blend in with the crowd so that they can spread their poison.

Next time a European person scolds you for being a racist or “ugly” American, show that person this one

I’m finding some wonderful gems hidden in my inbox.  This one goes back to April, but is too good not to share now.  It’s a news story about the way in which the Swedish cultural elite — including the Minister of Culture — celebrate.  Here’s a hint about what you’ll see at the link:  even the KKK might have found this one a little bit over the top.

Greece will be Greece; or why the Germans shouldn’t bother bailing out the Greeks

Yesterday, I wrote that, given the Arab propensity for warfare, it doesn’t seem as if peace in the Middle East is likely any time soon.  Today, I looked over a post I wrote last summer while in Greece, and concluded that Germany would be foolish to throw good German money after bad.  Greece will be Greece:

Throughout our visit to Greece, there was a nationwide taxi strike taking place.  The air in Athens was unusually clear, thanks to the decreased traffic.  Transportation was slightly more difficult than it would have been with taxis, but certainly not impossible.  Everyone on the cruise ship seemed to manage fine using Hop On Hop Off buses (in Athens), private buses, private tours, cruise tours, and public transportation.  In other words, the missing taxis were inconvenient, but not an insurmountable problem.

As best I was able to understand, the taxi drivers were protesting the fact that the Greek government, in an effort to expand employment opportunities, was making taxi licenses more readily available.  In order to show their disdain for this maneuver, the taxi drivers stopped working during peak tourist season.  Let me rephrase that:  During a total economic collapse in their country, the taxi drivers walked away from the money.

[snip]

I know that, despite acting foolish, neither the Italians nor the Greeks are actually fools.  Instead, they are citizens of welfare states.  They know that, no matter how much or how little they work, they’ll still have medical care, housing, food, education, free museum admissions, retirement care, etc.  The money earned for work is gilding-the-lily money.  It’s nice, but one can survive without it.  In theory, this freedom from want (want of health care, want of shelter, want of food, etc.) is a wonderful thing.  In fact, though, it is a disincentive to productivity which, inevitably, creates less productivity.  The downward spiral keeps on going.  Less productivity means less government revenue.  Less government revenue means the government has less ability to provide the health care, housing, food, education, free museum admissions and so on.  Suddenly, you end up like Greece or England:  no money, no benefits, and a citizenry that’s forgotten how to work.

Yes, I recognize that these are overarching generalizations, and that causation and correlation are not the same thing.  Nevertheless, it does seem to me that there’s a pattern here of walking away from economic opportunities because there’s no risk.  Oh, wait!  That’s wrong.  The risk is that the economic opportunities won’t come back.

More on the European fairy tale, both at home and abroad

Yesterday, I wrote about European fairy tales versus American fairy tales.  Of the former, I said:

That’s the theme in the majority of fairy tales that originated in the old world:  be good, be passive, and some deus ex machina figure, usually magical, will come and rescue you.  Passivity is the name of the game.  In one fairy tale after another, the lead character, usually the youngest child of at least three siblings, prevails by virtue of being nice.

My own words popped into my head when I read David Pryce-Jones’ description of the way in which European leaders are coping with the EU’s economic collapse:

The level of unreality created by the masters of Europe is reaching new heights. It is like hallucinating to observe the politicians driving in expensive cars to meet one another, inspecting guards of honor, arranging for ministerial get-togethers, and all the while the construct that put them into office is collapsing all around them. These same politicians chatter extensively about saving the euro and the European Union, about bailouts and firewalls and fiscal pacts, as though words were deeds. No satirist could do justice to the sight of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and newly elected French President François Hollande shaking hands and vowing to work together to save the union and its currency. Insofar as this pair has any coherent ideas, they disagree. All they have in common is the precariousness of their position. Just trounced in local elections, Mrs. Merkel and her party are well on the way to joining the gathering crowd of electoral rejects. As for Hollande, he believes that growth comes from higher taxes and hundreds of thousands more state jobs, and all in arch-protectionist France. It can’t be long before such socialist illusion comes back to haunt that country.

Off they go, those little European fairy tale characters, being “nice” (leading parades, making speeches), all the while clearly hoping that some deus ex machina will come along and save them.  America actually did save them twice (three times if you count the Cold War as WWIII), but America now has a president who is also in thrall to the European fairy tale world view.  He’s waiting too.

Mitt Romney isn’t Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, or even Weems’ George Washington, but I think he has a much better grasp of the American fairy tale (stand tall and fight your own battles) than do the actual Europeans abroad or the faux European in the White House.

The savagery of Europe *UPDATED*

Americans, especially Leftist Americans, will invariably assure you that Europeans are more civilized than Americans are.  When pressed for details, they’ll cite art, music, architecture, skinny French women, and gun control.  By those standards, I have to agree that the Europeans are indeed more civilized.  I’ll go even further:  when it comes to art, music, and architecture, Europeans, from the Greeks forward, are the most civilized beings who have ever walked the earth.

However, if you have a slightly richer definition of what constitutes “civilization,” I’m sorry to say that the Europeans are just as savage as anyone else — and maybe more so because, when they burst their “civilized” banks, they tend to do so with a peculiar vengeance.  Just off the top of my head, the Europeans have blessed history books with a series of wars that left death and destruction in their wake on a scale unimaginable on our comparatively peaceful American continent:

  • The Hundred Years War
  • St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre
  • The Thirty Years War
  • The Napoleonic War
  • The Slave Trade
  • The Colonial Occupations of Africa and Latin America
  • World War I
  • World War II

Our own Civil War, while undeniably bloody, was amateur hour compared to the games the Europeans have played.

Even when the Europeans aren’t at war, it turns out that their blood lust still needs to be slaked.  Bruce Kesler directed me to a book called Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, that doesn’t just examine the murderous years of WWII, but also examines the carnage Hitler and Stalin wrought during the 1930s, in the lead-up to WWII.  Bruce explains why this book is a “must read” — and it has certainly moved up to the top of my reading list.

Another book that reminds us that little but a gloss of art separates Europeans from their savage Darwinian roots is Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II.  The carnage in the World War II’s aftermath is actually unsurprising:  millions of people uprooted, brutalized by six years of war, and scrabbling for incredibly scarce resources.  I doubt any culture would respond well to those circumstances — and the Europeans certainly didn’t.  The Russian soldiers, especially, didn’t.  Although the Russian attack on German civilians doesn’t have a memorable name, a la the dreadful “Rape of Nanking,” it was certainly comparable in terms of ferocity and misogyny.  You can learn more about Savage Continent here.

UPDATE:  Two things:  First, Danny Lemieux’s comment is correct, insofar as it reminds that I forget to include socialized medicine in my list of things that Leftists find civilized about Europe.  He’s also correct that it worked only because America essentially paid for it during the Cold War.  Second, Eugene Podrazik, who blogs at Elkhorn Creek Lodge, saw The Hunger Games and, as I read his post, found it remarkably reminiscent of what Europe will be in a decade or so and what we will be in a few decades, if we follow Europe.

A) Government promiseth, B) Government taketh away!

This article that just appeared in Bloomberg.com, regarding Stockton-writ-California-writ-USA-writ-large’s pending bankruptcy, is just so absolutely jaw-dropping crazy…uh, no, wait….it isn’t really so crazy after all. Never mind.

If Stockton Is Broke, Why Isn’t San Diego?: Steven Greenhut

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-02/if-stockton-is-broke-then-why-isn-t-san-diego-steven-greenhut.html

Here’s the money take-away: referencing the fact that, for the past 20 years, city employees could earn full lifetime health benefits (employee and spouse) after working only one month, Stockton City Manager Bob Deis noted…

“There was no money set aside to fund those commitments.”

And that’s the rub with our national, state and local governments, isn’t it? They can promise anything to get peoples’ votes, but there is no obligation to deliver. All they can do is make empty promises. And so, like moths to a flame, do we the people incinerate our futures and our freedoms on the soaring promises of hopey-change utopians. We once-proud, free, self reliant Americans have shown ourselves to be all too willing to give up our freedoms in exchange for promised government benefits…i.e., retirement pensions, health care, security, education…with not even a guarantee that the government will or can deliver.

You see, the government can never guarantee such promises, because (as our European cousins have so amply demonstrated) these are promises that government never could deliver. Government can’t deliver because a) government itself cannot create those benefits and b) because, inevitably, in the end, there is never enough money to pay for other people to provide those benefits.

The only thing the government can guarantee is that a) once surrendered, you won’t get your freedom, retirement, health care, security, or money back and b) the only way that it can even pretend to deliver on its promises is by taking away even more of your freedoms and money. Flame – moth – destruction.

 

What does Europe’s coming collapse mean when it comes to the Muslim immigrants?

For years at this blog (and others) when we’ve written about Europe’s problems, we’ve focused primarily, not on the economy, but on those Muslim immigrants.  One of the things that we talked about a lot was the fact that these same Muslim immigrants subsisted largely on public benefits.

This little tidbit emerged with force during the riots in France, when we first learned that the banlieues that housed the rioters were welfare cities.  The European paradigm was for Muslims to show up, from Pakistan, from Turkey, from North Africa, and to be showered with the European’s post-colonial guilt payments.

So I have a question for you:  What’s going to happen with all those Muslim immigrants now that Europe is broke?  Riots?  Civil War?  Quiet retreats back to their home countries?

Idle EU thoughts that lead inevitably (in my mind) to government sanctioned tribalism

A few years ago, those in the know were telling us in no uncertain terms that the EU model was the future — and that America had better get used to playing second fiddle to the economic giant that a united Europe presented.  I found it hard to imagine that Europe would ever be able to overcome rivalries and tribal allegiances that span centuries, even millennia.  I also did not believe that the socialist model, which might work in a small, homogenous culture, would be able to sustain a vast economic federalism.  Watching what is happening in Europe now tells me that my common sense was infinitely more valuable than anything scholars and economists had to offer.

The whole EU collapse has gotten me thinking about tribalism.  One of America’s greatest strengths, right up there with the Constitution and the continent’s natural bounty — is that tribalism didn’t take hold here as it did in Europe.  From the beginning, we were too fluid a society.  As soon as we got a good hate going against one immigrant group (the Irish, for example), two things happened:  First, America’s lack of a class system, economic flexibility, and geographic mobility, resulted in significant numbers of the hated group leveraging themselves up into the middle and working class.  Second, a new hated class invariably came on board (e.g., Jews or Italians or Puerto Ricans or Asians), restarting the same cycle.

This malleable system, with hatreds that couldn’t last long enough to become entrenched, was aided by our participation in two popular 20th century World Wars.  (I use the word “popular” to distinguish them from the Korean War, which was greeted with exhaustion, and the Vietnam War and Iraq, which the Left used to create social divisions.)  As Israel proves daily, boot camp is the best melting pot of them all.  During the World Wars, the Brooklyn Jew and the Minnesota Swedish farm boy might not have liked each other, but they came into contact in structured environment, and fought for the same cause.

One of the most poisonous things the Left has done to America in the past 40 years is to create institutional tribalism.  Instead of a distant government that kept grinding on, whether old immigrants hated the Irish or the Jews or the Italians or the whatever, the Left got the government involved in designating victims.  Suddenly, the government is focusing like a laser on blacks and gays and differently-abled and whoever else is the Leftists’ victim célèbre.  We now have a government that doesn’t discriminate against blacks, it discriminate for them (and for all the other designated victim classes, women included), with equally heinous results.  Government should be above the tribal fray, not creating it.

Before anyone calls me on it, I know perfectly well that our Constitution, as originally written, did get involved in tribalism by treating Southern blacks as a separate class.  I don’t think I need to remind anyone, though, what a horrible outcome that official discrimination had.  Both the early Constitution and the Jim Crow era (when the South decided to perpetuate the Founders’ original mistake) are perfect illustrations of the disasters resulting from allowing governments to pick one tribe and discriminate against another.

As an aside, the only reason women haven’t been destroyed by this government discrimination is because of kids.  Children have needs that, so far, our government isn’t meeting, so Mom still has to act like a responsible grown-up.

Tribalism is dangerous.  Legislated tribalism is disastrous.

European surrender

I noted when I was in London that the City was filled with obvious Muslims (by which I mean burqa-ed and hijab-ed women, and their male escorts).  London, though, still felt like a modern western city.  Not so other cities in Europe.  Andrew McCarthy explains why, and warns us that the Obama administration is trying to take us down the same ideological road that led to sharia-only enclaves dotting Europe.

Some interesting images from our Europe trip

We have hundreds of pictures of beautiful views, art work, and historic sites.  They are fairly generic, though, so I won’t bother sharing them here.  If you go to Flickr and type in Tower of London, for example, you’ll see exactly the same photos.

There were some things, though, that did catch my eye, because they weren’t what I expected.

First, in London and in Rome, there are people who remember Gilad Shalit.  Maybe one of the things that happens is that, if you’re closer to the front lines of antisemitism, these things are more important than in America, where we can pretend that such things don’t exist:

A taxi in London

 

A plaza in Rome

Gilad Shalit is not the only one who isn’t forgotten.  I saw this bit of graffiti in Rome, at the Circus Maximus:

Bin Laden graffiti in Rome

The kids were amused by this bus advertisement, which someone told us is the real deal — there is indeed a Gay Village residential community somewhere near Rome and, yes, it caters to the GLBT population.

Gay Village ad in Rome

And finally, what passes for an art show in a small coastal town Italy, the name of which utterly escapes me right now:

Art in Italy