Review: NATO and the United States: An Enduring Alliance

Kaplan, Lawrence. NATO and the United States: The Enduring Alliance (Boston: Twaine Publishers, 1988), 237 pages.

The only thing better suited to sell a book than talent is timing. For Lawrence Kaplan, of the Lyman L. Lemnitzer Center for NATO Studies at Kent State University, these two conditions collided in a perfectly-placed accretion of historical experience and perspective in 1988. His examination of The Enduring Alliance in no way anticipated the climactic fall of the Soviet Union, but was in fact the freshest and most authoritative account of NATO history in print when it collapsed. Did Kaplan have it wrong? Did he miss something? And how does the organization which emerged compare (or contrast) with the NATO Kaplan knew, let alone the one he envisioned? Better reasons than these to read his book include his very detailed narrative fluidity, which transports the reader into the sinews of decades of intricate diplomatic exchange whose causal nuances can not be translated into summary form; his staggering subject mastery of those different eras; and last but not least, his merciful brevity. It is for these reasons and many others that Kaplan’s work is to be reliably discovered in the bibliographic indices of all credible authors who followed in the discipline, to include House, Peterson, and Sloan.

The US NATO Debate: A Review

Magnus Peterson is at once a historian, a political scientist, and a sociologist. If he added to these the role of autobiographer, he would surely tabulate these former positions for the convenience of the reader. In a threadbare analysis of speeches and policy statements by NATO officials, the Obama Administration, Congress, and the so-called ‘media/think-tank environment’ concerning the role of American leadership during the period in NATO’s history as bookended by the Libyan War (2011) and the Ukrainian Crisis (2012), Peterson attempts to make the claim that there is (was) a debate being waged on this subject, though by his own admission, no one with whom he consulted on this matter seems to agree with him. What Peterson describes instead is a sort of soft dissonance in the views and statements originating from the three major headings under which he has organized his sources. Therefore, the truth, which may be summed up in just a half dozen words or so (there is and was no debate), would do a great disservice to Peterson’s efforts. If only he had added the subtitle: Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and dispensed with the cocktail-napkin forward in which he negates his own premise, his book might have been a best seller. At least he might have gotten the typical chapter-by-chapter recap which has been the protocol in this review series. Instead, it is necessary to provide a point-by-point refutation of his concept, methodology, and conclusion.

Permanent Alliance: The NATO Debate from Libya to Ukraine, A Review

Reviewed: Sloan, Stanley R. Permanent Alliance: NATO and the TransAtlantic Bargain from Truman to Obama. (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010) 317 pages.

When in 2016 the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, suggested walking away from NATO, perhaps it wasn’t Trump that was letting the nation down, but the nation failing itself. Historians will lament, whichever way the tide crashes, that at this moment America did not immediately halt in mid-mechination for a sober and conscious reflection on A) the merits and mandates of the NATO construct, B) the quids and quos of American hegemony within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and C) the present pulse of the nation’s sentimentality in matters of interventionism, collectivism, and so forth. For those frenzied, scrutinizing souls clawing in the dark for some comprehension of these and other critical concerns, sans any hope for a productive or even informative national discourse, there is refuge in Stanley Sloan’s professorial (and prophetic) exploration of these very themes.

Review: NATO, In Search of a Vision.

Reviewed: Aybet, Gulnar, and Rebecca M. Moore. Eds. NATO: In Search of a Vision, (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. 2010) 272 pages.

Helen Keller said that the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision. Gandhi said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Somewhere in the continuum between these two ideological axioms, we struggle to understand one of the most critical and powerful socio-political-military institutions in all of human history. The North-Atlantic Treaty Organization is at once predicated upon the failed-concept of retaliation as deterrent, and bound by the inestimable limitations of human patience and understanding. As such, it would be dangerous if it lacked the viscosity which otherwise prevents it from being volatile. In practise, its potency at any given time is inversely proportional to its capacity for bureaucratic complexity. While it lords a hostile array of nuclear armaments over any and everyone it perceives as enemy, through most of its history it has operated with a perfect commitment not to use them. But with time, the mission begins to creep, as it always does. Like any good bureaucracy, its operatives yearn for organic growth, which creates a paradox. As NATO’s ambitious peace keeping and collaboration efforts proceed, ideally, those once marked in the enemy's column are gradually brought over into the allied camp, while other relationships with neutrals and collaborators evolve. All the while, the identity of the thing changes, and so too its concept of enemy, and of other. And so it casts a long diurnal shadow, in perpetual motion across the surface of the modern geopolitical sphere. As has been seen by all, the transition from the Communist to the Islamist front has not been seamless. Nor will be the coming procession from Islamism to Cyber war. But what then? And, perhaps more importantly, what else? To elucidate this foggy subject, dozens of professors and officials from around the world have collaborated in this thrifty, if dated, volume; each attempting to carve out a unique view of the implications of NATO expansion, opposition, cohesion, collaboration, innovation, and change. Together, they have assembled in narrow strokes a path of guideposts to aid the rest of us, supposedly the democratic bodies in being, to whom the mission of NATO is itself dedicated, however ambiguous its genuine allegiances may someday become.

Review: A Military History of the Cold War 1944-1962

House, Jonathan M. A Military History of the Cold War 1944-1962, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012. 546 pages.

There is something kind of nefarious about NATO. But whatever that something is can be as elusive as the benevolently proverbial white rabbit himself. How does one (beholden and domestic to the modern western security apparatus) begin to articulate the faintest criticism or concern with an organization credited with “keeping the peace” (at least by its own self, that is) for nearly seventy years? Should such an argument even be made? Perhaps. But one must concede that such an argument must be a kind of tertiary one, neither mainstream or counter-cultural. It must be built upon a foundation which itself is laid upon bedrock. Such bedrock is rarely seen, jutting up at the sky and at Time itself, through the dense and deep sediment and topsoil that is the modern military historicity. Jonathan House offers just such a cornerstone work in this herculean survey of two of the most politicized, polarizing, and pivotal decades in all of global history, leading up to and through the day the whole world almost went away.

Consumerism and the Social Institutions

The post-industrial world is the world of the consumer. In the main, consumerism marks the demise and extinction of the hunter/gatherer society, even as the basic habits and structures of the latter are preserved in the former. The process of consumption is not visibly different from hunting and gathering in the sense that one still leaves the shelter setting, interacts with the environment, searches for resources, acquires them, and returns. It is also similar to the next order of society, which is horticulture. Simply put, modern consumption allows for the gathering and cultivation of resources to produce new resources. In this mode, consumption even invites the lay-consumer toward the replication of even higher social orders of agrarianism and industry. One can buy tractors, land, seeds, professionals, and laborers and live a life not altogether different in character from ones's predecessors in former centuries. In essence, consumption represents not only a departure from the traditional sociological hierarchy of existential methodologies, but also a sort of fractal-reflection of all of them at once. After this fashion, the process of consumption has overtly contributed to the very fabric of the social institutions themselves. In places where consumerism exists in its most advanced states of evolution, it can be seen permeating every aspect of society: economy, education, kinship, polity, and religion.

Cathedrals of Consumption: A review of the proposed federal budget for 2017

Reviewed: The President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2017,

When George Ritzer (2010) explored modernity in commercial settings, he observed what he dubbed “Cathedrals of Consumption,” or the massive super-structures like Disneyland and the Bellagio and Walmart, where the material needs and wants of entire communities are daily served by highly rationalized, but often curiously attractive and satisfying corporate labor and distribution systems. While Ritzer listed many kinds of these cathedrals, from franchises like Mcdonalds to cruise ships and casino-hotels, he neglected the mother-ship! For economic scope and scale, as well as mystery and methodology, neither Walt Disney, Sam Walton, nor Ray Kroc could hold a candle to the Federal Government of the United States! As evidence, consider budget for 2017, as submitted by President Barrack Obama. Here, almost all of Ritzer's principles converge in one spectacular display of fiscal-phantasmagoria! The setting is the imagination of the sitting chief executive; the consumer is the entire mass of indifferent American tax-payers, businesses, and institutions; and the qualities of “Rationalization, Enchantment, and Disenchantment” (p. 73) can be observed, by turns, in their fullest and most highly-evolved expressions.

Opposing the Oppositional Culture Theory and its Opposition

Reviewed: Downey, Douglas B., “Black/White Differences in School performance: The Oppositional Culture Explanation,” Annual Review of Sociology, (9 April, 2008)

Vol. 34:107-1-6.

In the twenty-first century, the terms majority and minority have become hyper-sensitive trigger words whose very utterance resonate deeply emotional and personal tones among all the octaves of society. It has become impossible to elude or evade the consequences and implications of inequality, whether the roots of it be structurally natural and organic or socially imposed and artificial. One of these consequences is the emerging tendency to view natural outcomes through the lens of conspiracy, assuming ill intentions and malevolent traditions are the principle causes of this adversity. Another consequence is the damaging influence of good intentions on the natural order. Douglas Downey's (2008) reproof of John Ogbu's Oppositional Culture Theory is an example of just such a consequence. Downey makes a common mistake assuming that “eliminating the black/white gap would go along way toward reducing racial stratification.” (p. 108) He fails to consider the implications of his target outcome, which belies the broader trending (and fallacious) instincts of modern scholars who themselves are tasked with solving complex social riddles without surrendering their objectivity. His examination is fascinating, and his careful handling of the delicate subject matter is certainly beyond reproach, but somewhere in the minutia he misses the central flaw in his own perception, ironically similar to the plank he observes in Ogbu's eye: he associates the neutral concept of change with the value-driven concept of improvement. And thus, at the end of his journey he winds up exactly where he expects to be, and so fails to advance any further, which in turn prevents him from comprehending the horrifying consequences which would follow a practical application of his solution.

Effort and Achievement: the Merits of Traditional Methodology

Educational achievement is an elusive concept. Everyone seems to agree that it is a valuable commodity and as such, more is better. From there, however, opinions and approaches are as divergent as can be. Do we want more people to graduate? Do we want higher test scores? To both, a resounding 'sure, why not.' but do we want more school? Do we want harder classes? From most quarters, a hushed and hesitant 'meh...' The easy answer is that we can have more of the first group at the expense of the second group, and common sense suggests that more of the second group will adversely affect the first group. A functional relationship emerges like a brick wall for us to bang our heads against. Higher test scores and better rates of attrition would certainly follow if we made the classes easier and less frequent. Conversely, lower test scores and less graduates would seem to follow making the tests harder and the classes longer. The only real proven way to increase educational achievement is to reduce the class size. Standardized testing only measures progress, allowing educators to evaluate the existing institution. It plays no role in increasing achievement beyond that of a canary in coal-mine; it just indicates whether or not there is a deficiency in the first place. Increasing the "extended learning opportunities" is essentially just the equivalent of class reduction, in that more educators' time and space is applied to the perceived problem. And making the classes harder is just a surefire way to reduce achievement. (This is why senior and grad level classes are very small, compared to freshman classes)

Micro-consumerism and the looming cultural paradox

So we all understand money is fake, right? It's just paper with no intrinsic value beyond our ubiquitous acceptance of its role as currency. So what happens when our goods and services finally assume that same, immaterial quality that money possesses? Well strap in folks, because we are almost there, and the implications are terrifying (or foggy, at least).

Challenging the Assumptions: Application of Standardized Tests and Technology in Education

In Caddo parish, there are less than ten thousand educators serving over forty thousand students. (Goree, 2015) This ratio may seem high by proportion, but readers are reminded that the number includes teachers, their assistants, administrators, cafeteria and janitorial service, bus drivers, and numerous other support-roles provided by occupations which don't come to mind when thinking of education. In fact, according to one source, actual teachers only occupy about 2500, or a little over a quarter of the whole pie. This brings the literal teacher/student ratio to about 16:1 average. If the widely criticized achievement gap still exists after a certain period under these conditions, it becomes necessary to look beyond reducing class sizes for solutions. In so doing, educators should look to successful systems for new strategies, because differentiation is always occurring, but evolution requires adaption and replication of those successful strategies in order to function. However, educators should also be cautious of their own enthusiasm for new concepts and approaches, so that the critical focus remains upon student achievement and is not lost in theory and abstraction, while keeping grounded firmly in the practical.

Divergent Institutions: Kinship and Education

The overt trends towards liberalization in modern American democracy have drawn the ire of religious groups and conservative politicians in recent years as our post-industrial society drifts further and further away from its agrarian traditions and into a more secularized bureaucracy. These groups are often vocal advocates of specific religious or cultural norms, but quite often they are just individuals who mourn the relentless marginalization of roles and responsibilities which used to belong to the institution of kinship. Though sociologist Jonathan Turner (2008) has suggested that “...historically, the more fundamental relationships among [sociological] institutions has... remained the same,” the evolution of the relationship between education and kinship, as social institutions go, could not have been more divergent. The difference between the roles of kinship in education, then and now, is pronounced. Turner's own work reinforces this assertion.

Legitimacy and Polity: The Bilderberg Group

Welcome to the world's most high-profile low-profile global management social club! This prestigious and controversial conglomerate of investors and policy makers convenes in a different city every year. Attendance is invitation only, and the guest-list is a who's who of international (and multinational) executives from every sociological center. The annual guest list includes heads of state and/or their representatives, C.E.O.s, bankers and finance ministers, former generals and intelligence operatives, Ivy-League professors, top-tier media and news officials, economists...literally the global community's thin, golden, flaky upper-crust. As such, it is a Grand Council Assembly of polity, law, education, and economy (and one assumes at least a plurality of these attendants are in some way religious). But ironically, the single public face of this sprawling web of consolidated elitism is a minimalist website, , which features no imagery or branding at all and very few words. Add to this absence of transparency the fact that the meetings and guest lists are announced only a few days in advance, journalists and reporters are not invited, and the governments of the host countries provide full security for this event, and the absurd claim that the organization itself and the meetings they conduct do not produce policies, and its easy to see how this has become one of the most controversial groups in human history.

Bayou Economy

     An Exploration of Bayou-Generated and Bayou-Sustaining Industries

To those who have not drifted lazily along a glistening mud-bank, sprawled across the flat-bottom keel of a Jon-boat beneath a magnificent canopy of reaching Cypress boughs, illuminated by the fiery oranges and blinding-whites of fractals of shattered light piercing through long-needled Pines, the value of the Louisiana bayou cannot be explained in articulable terms. Likewise, the magnitude of its contribution to the health and prosperity of the state and its inhabitants cannot be measured in dollars or in miles, for neither abstraction can readily accommodate the scale necessary to describe the bountiful abundance which has, so silently, and for so long, sheltered and nourished and sustained its inhabitants.

Tenants of the Hermitage

     Louisiana's transition from Whig Republican to Confederate Democrat during the Jacksonian Era.

According to the Library of Congress, “the history of the New York Stock Exchange begins with the signing of the Buttonwood agreement by twenty-four New York Stock holders and Merchants on May 17, 1792.”1 Presently, and consistently throughout the nation's history, that city remains one of the world's most potent economic powerhouses. Arguably, this success is largely to be attributed, in some fair measure, to the success of the Exchange. What is perhaps less known is that throughout much of American History Louisiana was New York's most persistent competitor for national economic dominance. Specifically, the city of New Orleans, for all its diversity and charm, was the most able rival, and the longest standing. At the time of this writing, however, the economic disparity between the two cities is striking. The population of the city of New York is twice that of the state of Louisiana, which itself holds, in total, more than ten times the present population of New Orleans.2 This gulf can be explained in many ways, but the roots of the matter must be traced all the way back to a very early period, when either city could have confidently asserted its rightful claim to an inevitably prosperous future.

The Mystery of Vanishing Dissent

The Mystery of Vanishing Dissent, Vol I. Chapter 1: Hubris

On 16 January, 2016, the Louisiana State University of Shreveport hosted a symposium honoring participants in a top-secret and unprecedented international air strike against the forces of Saddam Hussein in 1991. Present were pilots and technicians who had been stationed operated in Barksdale Air Force Base, as well as scholars, photographers, journalists, and family members.

Today I observed a modern marvel of supreme superficiality. A meager convention of portly, aged men, mostly wasps, gathered in a self-congratulatory "symposium" to celebrate their achievements (as stated) in a small college theater. The men, dozens of them, were predominantly air force retirees who wore green shirts to designate their role in the opening volleys of an historic exercise in global air assault, 16 January, 1991, against 35 of 39 targets in Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein.

Three Steps Forward: Why Russia is Winning the Cold War

In October of 1961,[1] Russia took a significant lead in the Cold War. In the long shadows of descending arctic winter, Khrushchev dropped the bomb to end all bombs. It was the Tsar Bomba, the King of Bombs[2], a ringing designation that persists through decades of foggy history like the first rays of light in the east at dawn, piercing the air and the night and signifying diurnal change, but only dimly so. It was the most powerful explosion in all of human history, and one hopes it will remain so for many years to come, but it killed exactly zero people. To many earnest scholars, the event is little more than a footnote in history. To many it was a terrifying but shallow display, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. In the grand scheme of the Cold War, it signified only a blustery show of strength made in desperation by a despotic regime clinging to a failed philosophy. No hill was gained, no flag was planted, and no hand was forced. In that sense, some historians treat the fifty mega-ton thermo-nuclear explosion[3] over Mityushika Bay[4] as a hastily produced and gratuitously expensive act of propaganda. So far as the last few generations have thought it through, consensus seems to be that the outcome of the bomb was the historic Partial Test Ban Treaty,[5] and aside from the novelty of the bomb itself, the bomb is not often discussed as having had a meaningful or lasting impact on the broader course of events. However, when one tugs on this one historical thread hard enough to pull it lose, the constructed tapestry of Cold War historicity begins to unravel. It is the contention of this historian that the significance of Tsar Bomba, in the “greater scheme of things,” has been long neglected by an endless succession of worthy scholars.

One Day in the LIfe of Ivan Deenisovich: A Review,204,203,200_.jpg

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. trans. H. T. Willets, New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2005, 182 pages.

The greatest conflict within human nature is the struggle for compromise between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community. Science and education are no sure hedge against a perilous loss of balance between the two, but the willing capacity for empathy, called humanity, has long been regarded as the key ingredient to stability and decency. When those characteristics are absent in either man or nation, neither may continue to exist with surety. Against the greatest adversity, all beliefs and convictions are tested. The question emerges, does the man live in the community? Or does the community live in the man? One novel way to explore such a question is to spend One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, where all the pretenses of comfort and civilization have been ripped away with extreme prejudice, leaving only hopeless, desperate, and broken wretches, gun-shy, hungry, and cold. It is the story of a man among such men in whom all the noblest virtues still abide, though the hearts of so many men have frozen around him. When everything else is taken away, what is left but the man? Indeed, it is perhaps only then that the community can be truly seen.

US Policy Towards the Muslim World: A Review,204,203,200_.jpg

Kidwai, Salim. US Policy Towards the Muslim World: Focus on the 9/11 Period. Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 2010, 309 pages.

Two major challenges which confront Americans in the twenty-first century are the failure to understand the causes and conditions which led to the U.S. entrenchment in the modern Middle Eastern conflagration of endless conflict, and the failure to consider how the rest of the world perceives this involvement. Saleem Kidwai has compiled a series of fourteen essays written by professors at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, which attempt to explain the roots of US foreign policy in the region, as well as the various and highly varied relationships between the U.S and such states as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and India. These authors attempt to trace the historicity of these relationships to their origins in twentieth century war and trade, define the successes, failures, and mistakes of successive American administrations, and offer suggestions intended to aid U.S. policy makers in future decisions about diplomatic objectives in the region. As a side effect, the book is highly informative and very enjoyable to lay-readers and students of the subject, but there are some significant drawbacks to purchasing this edition.

Don't Hide the TV Outside

How does an atheist teach a kid about Easter? Simple. Hide the TV.
The functional elements of the Easter Tradition for American kids, the infamous Easter egg hunt, have their roots in the deepest recesses of the human psyche. The act of hiding eggs and finding eggs is a lesson in humanity, derived from hardwired hunt-and-gather instincts, that though largely symbolic in modern culture, evokes a formative experience in human development. The most basic requirement for the survival of any organism is the ability to find food. To do so requires luck, skill, and patience, with persistence and efficiency typically rewarded. Virtue itself precedes from these very fundamental adaptions in the human condition. Linguistically, the words themselves could just as predictably be found in reviews of epic English poetry or on the backs of block-busting Disney hard-covers. From virtue, they transcend archetypal components of cultural heroism into rational questions of character when exposed to their counterparts: fate, ineptitude, haste, apathy, and waste. The hunt itself can be elaborate or simple, but the object is the same. Go and Find. The evolutionary advantage of the habit is self-evident. Any organism which can seek out its own resources will naturally suffer if that ability is repressed or restricted.

Donald Hickey and the War of 1812

The nation’s foremost authority on the War of 1812, Donald Hickory, gave a lecture to a select gathering of scholars and students of history at Louisiana State University of Shreveport in March 2015. He discussed the causes, course, and consequences of that often overlooked conflict, and presented a thoughtful and well-studied argument that the event deserved as much attention from modern audiences as a historical milestone in America’s birth story as does Washington’s crossing of the Delaware and the storming of Normandy. He swiftly guided the audience through a dazzling array of cultural, political, and military legacies with which modern audiences are readily familiar, but might be surprised to learn how little they knew about. The title of his presentation is “Legacy of the War, Forgotten Conflict: Why the War of 1812 Matters Today.”

The Real State of the Union

"Our music no longer has substance because substance no longer sells. Our TV screens sell us twisted perversions of ourselves. All of our models have been distorted, and all our optimism aborted. We struggle and endless struggle just to struggle to afford it."

We are broken. That's what I'll tell you that they won't. This isn't about politics or policy. It is about our culture, about who we have become and to whom we have surrendered. It isn't about China or Putin, or about ISIS or oil or even our proverbial "way of life" we hear the politicians convince themselves we are defending. It is about what J.K. Rowling called a casual vacancy. It is about an absence of values and bearing that hints at a full-scale reversal of all the spoils of the Great Enlightenment. It is about a permissiveness that has become pervasiveness. It is about decadence that has transcended the realm of decision into destiny. We have committed suicide at the level of collective consciousness. The flakes and gurus and mystics use to sell that stuff in the eighties and early nineties. We were all going to be of one mind and join hands as a species and all that bleeding heart bullshit we used to get stoned and tell ourselves. The TV used to tell us it was all going to work out. One need not channel surf very far anymore to understand that our TV has evolved a completely new outlook concerning the quality and condition of the human character, and we have completely accepted it, seemingly with little to no dissent whatsoever.

Doubt: A Review

Three themes in the movie Doubt are the contradictory roles of faith in modern society, the embattled credibility of the Catholic Church, and the generational rift between staunch conservatism and rebellious liberalism. Sister Aloysius combines inconclusive rumors with a handful of loosely circumstantial evidence to conclude the worst about Father Flynn, and her assumptions of his character are reinforced by the generally accepted associations of the priesthood with pedophilia. As a result, she hangs all of her personal objections to Father Flynn's less-than-orthodox style upon a negative appraisal of his character, and her suspicion of him becomes her own unshakable gospel.
Religious faith requires a belief in the impossible, and therefore, the irrational.

Chicago: A Review

Three main themes in the hit movie Chicago are the sexualization of women as a form of empowerment, the transformation of identity as a solution to practical needs, and the male domination of society. In the film, the main character Roxie Hart desires a life of self-determination that is more fulfilling than her modest, cookie cutter existence as a struggling housewife. She perceives an ersatz vision of this life in Velma Kelly, who wears scant clothing and dances and sings on stage for the entertainment of men. Early on, she holds an unrealistic view of Kelly's sense of empowerment as projected on stage, failing to comprehend that during Kelly's saucy and spirited first musical number, her life is actually crumbling.

In the Beginning...

If Plato, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein were challenged to conspire to create a”Universal Theory of Everything,” encompassing the broad spectrum of natural and cosmic history, the realities of the present as they face mankind, and the obvious deductive trajectories of the ever elusive “future,” then these three old ghosts might return in just moments, very clear and calm, and having used most of their deliberative moment choosing which would speak, the winner would concisely report: “We are all going to die.”

EveryDay Stalinism: A Review

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism, Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930's. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 288 pages. Reviewed by Steven Harkness.

For every perceived error of communism, there is an obvious historical equivalent within western democracy. To truly understand this reality, however, one must search beyond the military histories, which deal in belligerent atrocity for land acquisition, beyond the political histories, which deal in intrigue-driven bloodthirsty power struggles, and beyond the religious histories, which impose fantasy and superstition on the natural relationships between cause and effect. To see the grand hypocrisy inherent in the ubiquitous twentieth century ideological feud that was the Cold War, one must stand on the streets of Smolensk, Kiev, Leningrad, and try to sleep in a crowded kitchen corner with no heat or food, and hear the endless confrontations between neighbors, families, local authorities, and even children, as the old wedge of utopian liberalism inspired some, and terrified others. For this, the modern student of history is well-served by Sheila FitzPatrick's Everyday Stalinism. Her thoughtful and in-depth approach to Ordinary Life In Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930's takes that elusive “street view” of the real outcomes of mankind's best and worst intentions, as measured by the only true sociological test of an idea, the people themselves. The result is a hauntingly familiar narrative of misguided optimism, nationalist bravado, and unintended consequences, that bridges the gap between the world's foremost revolutionary peoples, who happen to be still suffering the symptoms of each nation's most debilitating xenophobic ailment: mutual enmity, suspicion, and, in the worst of times, free-wheeling antagonism.

Empire of Ideas: A Review

Hart, Justin. Empire of Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, 279 pages.
Reviewed by Steven Harkness

For general audiences, Empire of Ideas might seem like a tough sell. On the surface, it is the story of some boring old politicians creating dozens of obscure government offices whose mission statements were as vague as they were verbose. During the period examined, certainly more exciting stories were being written of young boys, ages 16 to 22, strapping into wooden gliders without props or lights, being hitched to English planes in the dark of night, to be towed across the English channel and released against large walls Hitler had constructed against just such wild impossibilities. For stories like this, the casual reader may be better suited with Stephen Ambrose's D-Day, June 6,1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. For “chutzpah”, Empire of Ideas might seem wanting. But for the passionate students of history, and for Cold War connoisseurs especially, Justin Hart's definitive exploration of US Public Diplomacy during the Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower administrations offers a clean, well polished, and razor sharp thrill-ride through the most mysterious and poorly understood annals of American History.

Welcome to the Universe

Image Source:
There are six principle components of reality that may be considered eternal. They are Dust, Gas, Ice, Fire, Light, and Darkness. Our entire reality is formed from these ingredients. The highest order  of these are Light and Darkness, which both religious and scientific authorities agree must have existed first, In The Beginning. These are followed by the three practical states of matter: Solids, Liquids, and Gases. In space, which is not darkness, but the area in the midst of both Darkness and Light, the most base form of solid is particulate, and Dust obscures vast portions of visible light in the universe, effectively producing darkness. Gases also abound, but in the case of liquids, without a land mass of some kind to contain it, and a moderate heat source that won't boil it away, the default state of liquid is Ice. Therefore, in universal terms, the three natural states of matter are dust, gas, and ice. The sixth component of reality is Fire. Fire is a force of life and destruction alike for humans, and for all life. The earliest forms of life emerged in warm water, around geothermal hot spots. The earth is warmed by fire from within and without. The star that carries us through space isn't even half as hot as stars get. Fire also destroys, burns, ignites, consumes, and erases.

The Arab Side of the Jewish Question

The best explanation for the persistent hostility between Arabs and Israelis, in painfully cynical terms, is the absence of a powerful Arab lobby in the history of the American political machine. The academic answer is far more complex, but it is arguably this peculiar distinction that must be credited, not with the origin of the Arab/Israeli conflict, but certainly for the tragically resilient blood feud narrative into which the conflict grew, and the international conspiracy which not only sustains the crisis, but literally thrives upon it. The declaration of Israeli Independence on 14 May, 1948, condemned generations of Jews and Arabs to a life of violence and brutality. The powerful irony, however, is that the Zionist movement, upon which this new state was formed, began as an altruistic attempt to save a seemingly doomed race of mercilessly embattled European Jews from inhuman atrocities committed by and/or under the unconcerned eyes of their neighbors, police, soldiers and rulers, who mostly viewed the Jews as Christ-killers, and worth little more consideration than that.

Modernization and the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire is famous for its size, scope, and influence upon the histories of nearly every major European country. Why then, did the concurrent attempts at modernization seem to fail for Turks, where the Egyptians succeeded? In short, the Turks, who wielded so much power and authority, failed to solidify their gains. One argument, and a strong one, is that they bit off more than they can chew. Another argument, equally compelling, is that they were simply beaten into bankruptcy. And yet another argument contends that reforms failed for Ottomans because of an insurmountable surge of internal resistance, from basically every direction.

The Contemporary Crucible: A Stage Review

 Shreveport Little Theater and Heather Hooper teamed up to bring Arthur Miller's frustratingly resonant McCarthy Era masterpiece to life in a brilliant, on-stage production that only the deep south can truly deliver to form. Though at-times high-school-esque in cue and oration, local performers quickly descended from their traditionally contemporary sets and yoga-panted characters into an immersive frenzy of intrigue, confusion, and madness. Needing little artistic license to recreate the dialects and scenic commonalities of religious social influence, Hooper's cast takes conservative advantage of that stereotypical southern twang so often characterized as a bane to artistic and intellectual culture, and delivers a powerful (and disturbingly familiar) rendition of an age-old American theme: Persecution.

The Empire Fights Back

In the 19th century, the so-called “balance of power” which western nations sought after the atrocities of an unrestrained Napoleon finally began to shift, from Ottoman, to European favor. Having been stopped twice at the gates of Vienna centuries prior, the Islamic tide slowed to a trickle as the unification of Russia and Germany began to solidify resistance to Ottoman control. As the Ottomans struggled to respond to a rapidly changing set of enemies, Persians and Egyptians endured their own internal changes as well. Together, these three centuries-old Islamic players on the world-stage would suffer the intense stranglehold imposed by British, Russian, and French imperialism. The consequences would forever change the middle eastern perception of its own security forces, and would, in many cases, undermine internal diplomacy as sweeping attempts at reform drew the ire of tribal and religious conflict. The result for Egypt was a strong nationalist dynasty that would persist into the mid-twentieth century. For Persians in Iran, it was the beginning of a long history of proxy wars and shaky alliances forged more often out of necessity than opportunity. For the Turks, however, these Christian thrusts into the “Islamic Heartlands” posed an existential threat to the already-withering Ottoman Empire.

Saints, Martyrs, and Marxisms

Though Karl Marx's indictment of the Christian religion in Social Principles reflected the irreverent indignation of a seemingly oppressed dissident, both angry and tinged with callous cynicism, it is difficult to relegate his commentary to mockery. Marx writes with great passion about the unfavorable outcome of what he treats as kind of a grand, eighteen hundred year long experiment. The great irony in the western religious and political rejection that walled off what became a semi-Marxist empire and a dominant global socioeconomic force is that beneath his rebellious tone, what Marx suggests about mainstream institutional religion only echos the cries of many so scholars, prophets, and reformers which precede him. What links Marx with the most fervently radical religious fire-and-brimstone preacher, with the most prolific humanitarian saints, and with the most successful church reformers is the courage to hold what is arguably the world's most important governing authority to its own standard. From this vantage, Marx is greatly humanized by the retrospective concession that he himself was not completely to blame for the conclusions he drew from what he observed of history. To treat Marx fairly, therefore, is to grant the possibility that had the church evolved into a less contentious, more edifying presence in Marx's world, he might have embraced it for its many virtues. Instead, Marx lived in the long consistorial shadow of a much more invasive and authoritarian animal, whose ravishings were visibly inconsistent with the Christian message of peace, comfort, redemption, and faith.
In any setting which finds bureaucracy governing matters of morality and thought, as when there is no boundary between church and state, the two become indistinguishable. The “double-wings” which provide “in-exhaustible life” in Marx's metaphoric treatment of the Prussian eagle, did so on the strength and sweat of a severely disenfranchised population, and did so for the advancement of hostile, alienating forces. If the premise of Christianity is that God is in control, how else could a mind like Marx interpret the world he saw? When he writes “One third of the nation has no land for its subsistence...[with] another third in decline” his complaint would fall silent on the ears of God and Holy Roman Emperor alike. In his view, the failure of the one through centuries implies, if not guarantees, the failure of the temporal models of the other, which predicate themselves upon theology.
When Marx describes Prussian Consistorial Councilors as having “imaginary blanks checks, drawn on God, the Father, and the Company,” it is not difficult to see how he draws the line from “justification of slavery in antiquity,” through the “[glorification] of medieval serfdom” to the “defense of oppression of the proletariat” in his own time. While for many historians, the past is a long and intricate series of battles, intrigues, and expeditions, Marx took the furthest step back and painted the last few thousand years with the broad stroke of admonition, for both the takers who thrived on the broken backs of the poor, and for the sublimated minds of the chattel which whinnied on, generation after generation, toting the cannibal dwarves on their giant shoulders.
Marx observes what, in his view, represents the greatest human tragedy perpetuated by the cruelest of schizophrenic rationalizations: that this servitude of dehumanizing guilt and blatant exploitation is eternally imposed upon this race of men as either “just punishment or suffering for the redeemed.” Marx is often treated by critics as a proponent of violence, which is a distinction often used to mark the disparity between the messages of Martin Luther King and Malcom X in the American rights movement era. This characterization fails to objectively acknowledge the urgency and sincerity of Marx's perspective. His was not the world of idle philosophical musings in suburban comfort. That Prussian Eagle would ultimately become a casualty of ideological world war between well entrenched members of an inbred family of divine right rulers operating and expanding in tandem with their faith traditions. Soldiers were followed by missionaries or sects of dissident refugees, who, in turn, were followed by new governments, rapidly modernizing security forces, producing new soldiers, from which inevitably proceeded more refugees, dissidents, and always, new governments. Everywhere in 19th century Europe, the erased identity was a common theme. Entire cultures were weighed against bullets and gravestones. And all the while, soft voices whispered, “relax, everything is under control, there is a plan, His plan.” What even Marx struggled to articulate was that ALL humans are bound by their own imperative, either to resist or be subdued. Slavery is a condition of the mind, and not of the shackle or whip. To turn the other cheek enough times, as Ghandi famously did, in Marx's view was to effectively teach the abuser that one condones the abuse.
While Absolutists may defer to Ghandi's example, Marx addresses the much more typical result, with which he equates the outcome of the whole Christian experiment: a world in which humanity is defined by “cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, and submission.” Where the faithful are content to ask only for their daily bread, Marx places greater value on “self-respect, pride, and a sense of independence.” With this principle, even the staunchest of cold-war hawks and apocalyptic evangelists might have found common ground in the age of democratization and Manifest Destiny.

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Stood Up by Jesus

To understand Ellen White's Great Controversy concerning the Sabbath, it is necessary to first discuss the Day-Age Theory which inspired the Millerite movement, in which followers of William Miller assembled a series of scriptural passages which they maintained, when decoded, revealed what they believed would be the year of the rapture. White elaborates extensively on a careful examination of passages from Daniel, Ezra, and Mark with the assumption that the references to day, or days, should be translated as years instead, as extrapolated from associative references in Numbers and Ezekial, and set against a timeline of known biblical events. Drawing on Miller's equation of the word sanctuary with the earth and the word cleanse with the second coming of Christ, White demonstrates how the passage from Daniel could be interpreted to support Miller's famous claim that the world would end (or change profoundly) in 1844.

Falwell Rising

In short, the ubiquitous evil corrupting the Great American consciousness, in the words of '70s fundamentalist evangelical radio star Jerry Falwell, is a product of a society in which “missing is the mighty man...who will call sin by its right name.” As Adam's first divine mandate was to name things, Falwell graces his audience with a neatly ordered laundry list of social iniquity, authoritatively assuming the character role of his own absent protagonist. Among those perpetrating such damnable social degradations Falwell enumerates homosexuals, welfare recipients, women who speak out of turn, and, apparently, “humanists” in general. He issues a call to the “silent majority” on behalf of God, with strong nationalist overtones, to seek renewal of God's law and scriptural morality. From the inauguration of Ronald Reagan to the time of this writing, those who listened and heeded his call have been an inextricable force in American politics, and have arguably influenced the entire course of human history by virtue of that leverage.

On Religious Pluralism

In Problems with Religious Pluralism, John Hick presents the problem of absolutism in plural societies as one stemming from “tribal loyalties” which inhibit the universal path and weaken the connection to what he refers to as the “ultimate” or the common experience of God through different cultural identities. Hick borrows a term he attributes to Rosemary Reuthers: “Eclesiatal-Ethnicity,” which he defines as unique “religious traditions passed down from generation to generation” as opposed to acquisition via “deliberate comparative judgment and choice.” Among a diverse history of contributors to Christian thought, Hick stands out for his novel approach. In an organization fractured by endless forays into logical debate by rigidly uncompromising proponents of wildly divergent interpretations, Hick promotes a kind of universal concilliarism, underwritten by an arguably well reasoned set of premises, and supported by lucid observations of modern trends away from absolutism.

1001 Nights of Revelation

The most central component of Islam, and subsequently, the most critical historical component, is Allah. The Penguin Selection of famous tales, composed during the Abbasid dynasty of ambitious Arab Khalifas, in the eighth and ninth century C.E., begins, as all great works do, with a dedication. This one reads “Praise be to Allah Lord of the Creation, and blessing and peace eternal upon the Prince of Apostles, our master Mohammed.” This meandering anthology, Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, chronicles the adventures and misfortunes of a most fascinating race of men, strong and willful, yet compassionate and compromising. These curious tales reveal a depth of imagination, culture, and wisdom arguably unrivaled by western literature, presumably until Dante himself set out to embark on the greatest adventure of all: the quest to meet God.

An Open Letter to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins

Greetings, fellow scholars.

I am writing to you to ask for your approval and support for a worthy cause. Like yourselves, I have struggled with the irrationality of faith and superstition for the better part of my life. As a child, growing up in the deep south, I was indoctrinated into Christianity at a very impressionable age. While I fondly remember many outdoor picnics and holiday celebrations with family and friends, I never managed to fully embrace the Christian worldview. My tenacious curiosity often led me down the most confusing paths, because those elders to whom I looked for understanding were so helplessly steeped in myth and dogmatic traditionalism that they were seldom able to satiate my inquisitive nature with answers or ideas I could accept.

Under the Shadow of Devils

When Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq contrasted the “famous Janissaries, whose approach inspires terror everywhere” with the debilitating condition of their vulnerability for alcohol, which they rarely (and perhaps correctly) consumed, he was probably not being dismissive of the notorious “infantry of the royal guard” (Ghiselin). His observant attention to detail in his account of the Janissaries reflects the priority of his mission, which was to “assess the military and economic potential”  of this terrifying force of foreigners who had beaten a bloody path from Iran to the feet of young and deeply embattled Charles V. Of all the threats faced by the Hapsburg dynasty, none is more poignantly summarized than the Ottoman tenacity in Ghisilen's symbolic metaphor: “if they taste a drop of wine, they must needs indulge in a regular debauch.”
While Protestants marched (or burned, or both) in protest in the west, and with Constantinople long lost to the unstoppable Janissary thrusts in the East, and with a tenuous and fragile relationship with with papacy, set against an all-out death feud with volatile (Imperial) France, Charles' decision to abdicate and split the Holy Roman Empire was a move that shaped history, and Ghisilen's notes provide a unique glimpse into the sixteenth century Hapsburg perspective.

The Diaspora Seal

Islam grew a long shadow in a short period of time. Within twenty years of the death of the last prophet, the faith-based conquests had reached Khurasan to the east, and Armenia and Georgia to the north. In another three decades, Uthman added all of northern Africa, from Egypt to Morrocco, to the fledgling empire. In time, military campaigns would be halted as far as Tours in France, and Merv, at the battle of Talain, where the Chinese were able to adequately defend against the invading Arabs. To speak of society in this period is to stop the heavens in motion and simply begin describing what one sees in free form.

Elizabethan Gender Perception in Shakespeare

Though Elizabethan rule in England was novel, it was not unprecedented, nor was it the frail and timid administration of a weaker sex. Unlike her father, who shifted from his defense of papal doctrine against the heretical Martin Luther, full-swing across the continuum into absolving England of all fealty to the Roman Catholic church, Elizabeth used her authority to marginalize the radical elements on both sides of a religious civil war in favor of all the normal, more tolerant people in the middle. Bards like William Shakespeare, with a keen eye on the dispositions and tendencies of the human character, from prince to pauper, would have been very well attuned to this counter-intuitive shift in the winds of social change.