Where is comfort?

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There’s no doubt, my friends, that we live in unsettling times. The ending of the Cold War was hailed by some as the ‘end of history'; we wish! We can wish we did not live in such times as we now see, but as Gandalf says in ‘Lord of the Rings’, so do all who live in them; but it is not given to us to order the days of our lives. An historical perspective soon makes us grateful: that we are not in Rome when Alaric’s armies sacked it; or in Roman Britain facing the Angles and the Saxons as they marauded; neither are we in Constantinople in 1453 when it fell to the Ottomans. But we might understand more, now, how people felt as the world with they were familiar began to seem under threat.

It isn’t simply the, as yet for us, distant threat of ISIS (though we should not think it that far when we have in our midst those who might seek to harm us), it is the dislocation of the times. It is, in some ways, more comforting to think of President Obama as some kind of Manchurian Candidate than as what he is – a well-meaning man up against the hard fact that what he believes in and the real world don’t mix. Our sense that it is a ‘plague on all their houses’ when it comes to politics, derives from a feeling that none of them have answers to the problems which face us. There is, Adam Smith once wrote, ‘a lot of ruin in a nation’ – perhaps we shall see just how much it takes?

But the eternal verities stand where they always did. If you have too much regulation and too many taxes, things don’t work – and soon people don’t either. Welfare is a Christian duty, but when there are more taking out than putting in, it won’t work. When people depend on people, it generates good morale; when they depend on Government, it generates dependency. Power still tends to corrupt, and absolute power to do so absolutely. If something seems too good to be true, it isn’t. Power without responsibility is the prerogative of the harlot down the ages, and Government is best when it sticks to doing as little as possible. JFK was right – ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for it.

When politics becomes a ‘profession’ it attracts too many of the wrong sort; term limits should be there for all elected office. Ten years is enough, not least in the pressure of modern politics. All leaders go sort of mad after too long; it’s a service to them to save them from themselves. We need to be more involved too. In the end, if we care about freedom, it will thrive; if not we can have bread and circuses, till the wheat runs out and we find ourselves in the Coliseum. Naught for our comfort then? Aye, naught but this – that we are the children of the Living God and through Jesus, we are saved. If that is so, what have we to fear save fear itself?

“We’re Americans, we act”

Iraqi Christian

In his Presidential Address President Obama said that America would do whatever needed to protect its own people, and ‘we cannot just look away .. we are Americans and we lead’, he said. This is not the time for point scoring about Benghazi or anything else. ‘There’s a country called America which cares for them too’, the President said in relation to the Yezidis; thank God for the USA, is all I can say.

There is no other country in the world which could do what needs to be done here. The President is, of course, correct, and America can’t bring a military solution to the situation in northern Iraq, but what she can do is what no one else in the world can – which is to bring relief to those who suffer, and to check, decisively, the forces of evil who would destroy them on the way to creating a universal Islamic caliphate. ISIS now control more than 17 Iraqi cities. and they control oil reserves and production worth billions of dollars; if left, they will grow. Yes, of course, you can say why did we let this happen, and what on earth are the Iraqi politicians doing? They are doing what they do best, arguing over who should have power and spoils – they will be doing it on the last ‘copter out of Baghdad is no one stops ISIS. The latter has benefitted from the way the al-Maliki government has alienated the Sunnis, and clearly, unless he either changes his ways or is removed, then the uneasy coalition that is ISIS will be buoyed up by the elixir of success and the money – and women – it brings in its.

This being so, even the most war-weary American must realise that these people hate us, and they will do whatever they can to destroy our way of life. They sought to intimidate us on 9/11 with the warning that unless we stayed out of their world, they would inflict harm on us. We can choose, a decade on, to obey that warning, or we can, as the President proposes, play a wiser game this time.

There are, on the ground in the Kurdish territories, those who, if properly armed, will fight ISIS and have shown they have the will to resist or die in the attempt. ISIS may well have been betting on America being so tired of Iraq that it would do nothing – but as the President said: ‘that is not who we are’. The President is not, whatever political polemic believes, a fool, not are those advising him. In June he sent in 800 military advisers to Iraq to try to create a ‘platform’ for action if the worst should happen; it has happened, and sooner than anyone could have predicted. Iraq stands on the brink of descending into a civil war and an ISIS triumph.

The blogger, Cranmer, has declared, in echoes of Churchill, that:

Right across the Arab-Muslim world, from the coastal plains of the Maghreb to the Himalayan peaks of Pakistan, a Quranic Curtain is descending.

We cannot, in our interests and in the interests of all civilization, allow that curtain to descend. A moment has come when the civilized world has to say ‘I am an American’ and this is not what we allow to happen. In the name of all that is good about mankind, these savages must be picked up and planted on the trash-heap of history.

[I would like to thank my blogging companion, Chalcedon 451 for his help here]

 

Here comes the Cavalry?

christians-eradicated-in-iraq It seems like the only thing worse that the US being the world’s policeman is it not being. The word ‘genocide’ should not be used lightly, but when used properly, as in the instance of the ISIS slaughter of the Yazidis of northern Iraq, it has a power to move more than hearts. The news that President Obama has approved limited air-strikes to help the Christian and Yazidi refugees is most welcome; more welcome to them would be the news that it was happening now. With so much attention on Gaza, the world seemed, until yesterday, rather blind to what was happening in Iraq. The Christians were driven out of Mosul last month, but much of the MSM ignored it – Jews and Arabs was a much more familiar story. But was there something else?

Any responsibility American has for what is happening in Israel is remote; it was not US policy which created the problem, and she is, as usual, doing her best pull the chestnuts of others out of the fire. To those, rightly, concentrating on the deaths of children, all one can say is that if Hamas was not, as it has this morning, launching rockets at Israel, the Israelis would not be retaliating. Iraq is another matter. America and Britain broke it, and they have not fixed it. The intricate and complex ethnic and religious mix of that artificial state (created by the British at the end of the Great War) always made it problematic to govern, and only the brutal regime of Saddam seemed to be keeping a lid on it; but, as with Assad in Syria later, and the Shah in Iran before, Western public opinion does not like brutal dictators; naively, it does not inquire why they are brutal; naively it assumes that their removal and he presence of ‘democracy’ will wave a kind of magic wand. It wants these things to be so, and its Governments seem to act on the belief, not uncommon with politicians, that saying it will be so will make it so; but this ain’t Star Trek; indeed, to quote ‘Bones’ – it’s life Jim, but not as we know it.

Removing Saddam was only the first part of what ought to have been a delicate and carefully managed process; we were not careful or delicate, and we had no process. Some of our soldiers have paid the price; we, as tax-payers have paid a huge cost, but the heaviest penalties have been exacted on those in the country. The Malaki government has been so sectarian that the other minorities in the country have become utterly disaffected, and easy meat, in some cases, for the radicals across the artificial border with Syria. Some of the ISIS guys killing Christians and Yazidis are those fighting Assad; we almost gave them and their friends arms last year; indeed we probably did, but no one is telling us officially. ISIS aims to create an Islamic caliphate. It is busy destroying Syriac and other manuscripts which reveal that its idea of Islam is nothing like the mainstream historic version. Yes, surely, there have been times in history when Muslim conquerors have behaved with barbarism; our own record, historically, isn’t so great we can stand on a high hill and pontificate. If we lump all Muslims with these savages, we have done their work for them; they thrive on division and hatred and sectarianism. Where, as in the picture at the head of this post, Christians and Muslims pray together, ISIS is already on the way to defeat. Let us make no mistake: the refugees desperately need the humanitarian assistance being delivered (finally); they also need someone to hit ISIS hard, to demonstrate to them, and to the whole region, that we won’t let these savages win; but the road to a lasting peace is through tackling the sectarianism which unleashes these forces. Can we do that? No, we can’t, the Iraqis have to do it for themselves, but if we are sending in the cavalry again, let’s get it right this time.

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Three years of NEO!

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Three years ago this week Nebraskaenergyobserver made its debut on the Internet. So first, congratulations to my dearest friend Neo. Blogs are like Gibbon’s description of empires – they rise and fall and the sands of history cover them and their place knows them no more. It is, as I know myself, easy enough to start up a blog – it is the maintaining it which is the hard part. So, I think three years is something to celebrate.

Neo’s blog is a window on the world. He is part of an America which many of us admire, but which many foreigners (and quite a few Americans) never visit – the ‘fly-over States’. I spent a year in the mid-West twenty years ago, and retain a fondness for it and all it represents; this is one of the reasons I am fond of this place. It is redolent of American virtues: self-reliance; a sense of personal responsibility; but a willingness to do the right thing to help others, even at personal cost. You might say these are human virtues, and I would agree; but they are exemplified by the America which, at great cost, sustained the free world during the Cold War Years, ensuring that the gains from the defeat of Fascism were not lost. Neo, like many of his readers, has an admiration for the ‘greatest generation’ and a keen sense of patriotism. He is proud of America for what it has done and for what it represents. Other countries are countries – America is a dream.

That is why for him, and for so many, the past few years have been ones of grim realisation: realisation that, to use a Churchill quotation, our leaders have failed to ‘rise to the level of events'; we have great events and small men; nor is that a partisan political point; since Reagan and Thatcher the ‘free world’ has wanted a figure of stature.

As we look out from the prairie, the aspect is dark: the ‘Arab spring’ has given way to a winter of discontent, as the whole region is buffeted by the storms of radical Islam, a phenomenon which our secular, liberal elites fail to grasp; yes, these people really do believe women should be neither seen nor heard, they do believe in stoning homosexuals, and they will chop your head off. In Israel, the one democracy in the region is in a permanent state of siege, with only the US really supporting her; and across Europe, the complacency of a political elite is being rudely shattered by the realisation that President Putin is up to something and will not be stopped by being told he is being naughty. Super Powers may want to retire, but when they try, they may find themselves draw back from the plow.

In the meantime, America itself changes, and values which were once universal are relativised; social cohesion, always a difficult thing to achieve, is threatened; and faith in the rule of law is challenged by the rule of lawyers, in whom few place any confidence: the difference between a confidence trickster and a politician is that they both take your money, but only the latter demands you like him for it.

All of these trends Neo covers, but he also provides us with a great historical perspective, good company, good music and great movies, as well as a wry sense of humour which says that even if the world is going to hell in a handcart, it’s five o’clock somewhere – hence the clip – so join me in raising a glass to our friend Neo :)

What’s in a name?

Jessica wrote this post last year around Mother’s Day for us, and I think it to be timeless. It tells us much that we know but maybe only subconsciously about how important our mothers are to all of us, and how very important they are to our development. Think about this, Jess lost her mother when she was seven and yet, from accounts by those who know, she is a great deal like her mother. Last week, I reblogged a post that talked about the things we owe our mother, it was a humorous piece but it struck a nerve with me simply because the sayings contained there could easily have been said (and were) by my mother as well. Some thing are timeless in a society, and the role of mothers is paramount amongst them. Here is Jess. Neo

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When I was little, I would sometimes hear my father say that something or other was ‘like mom and apple pie’ – it was a synonym for everything good in life, and the clear implication was that mom had baked the apple pie. I don’t hear it much nowadays. Being a Mom is not, I think, much argued as a career option for girls, nor valued by teachers, and home baking (not chez Jess) not in fashion either. Here in the UK we are having an argument about how many children a child minder can care for, with all parties arguing the case for it because we need more women out there in the work place. I have several female friends who work and whose entire salary goes on paying for the nanny or the child minder. All the latter are female, but there is a class thing going on there; it is OK for women who couldn’t have a career in, say TV or whatever to mind children; educated middle class women like myself should get out there and have that career; if we get pregnant then we farm the little one out as soon as we can.

That left me thinking about who, then, will do what my mother did in my case, which was pass on values and moral teaching. I don’t recall being taught right from wrong – it was my mother did that for me when I wasn’t looking. It was my mother who took me to church, and, like countless mothers before her, helped pass on the values she had inherited. She had a career, she used to say – CEO the house and family. My Daddy was a determined sort of man, fond of getting his own way; he used to say he wasn’t always right but was never wrong. On the farm, his word was law – in the house, however, he would leave it to my mother – that was her realm. I am sure I did not get my own obsessive tidiness and love of cleaning from Daddy, who used to infuriate my mother by strolling in in muddy boots and leaving his ‘clutter’ everywhere. She gave me those things, and more. My sister (who is really my half sister) said recently, after I had persuaded a workman to do something she wanted done that it was like watching my mother at work. I asked what she meant. She explained that my mother had been an expert at persuading our father to do things in just the way I had. It set me to thinking what else of my mother’s I had absorbed without knowing it?

My mother died when I was seven, and my memories of her are fairly dim. Daddy was my great hero, and I never met a man yet who lived up to him. My sister says I am a man’s woman, and I do prefer male company. But I am my mother’s daughter in more ways than I know, and I am glad she made me part of her career. So, for all those mothers who have passed on so much to so many if us, thanks mom.

Mothers' Day Cake crop

Mothers’ Day Cake crop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you spend much time around Jess,  you’ll find that she runs every man in her orbit as well. On her blog she is in the mind of us all at all times, and we’ll do nearly anything to avoid displeasing her. And you know what? It feels completely right and proper to us all, who are mostly twice her age, and some (not me) are quite distinguished in life as well. And that is a part of the reason we love her so. Neo

Happy Mother’s Day

from us both

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Saint John Paul II

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So, today we get that rare thing – two canonizations – John XXIII and John Paul II. A lot of hot air will be generated about Vatican II, child abuse and the whole business of having saints, but if we were looking here simply at the idea of a ‘great man’, then I don’t see how there would be any controversy over John Paul II. Great men don’t have to be perfect, indeed, no less an authority than Lord Acton once said that most great men were bad men; but John Paul II was one of a trio of great figures who helped end the Cold War – President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher being the other two.

We have had quite a bit here about the President and the Prime Minister, but less about the Pope. He was already Pope when I was born, and until is death, I knew no other, and I guess that he will always be the measure against which I will judge his successors.

Now we are on our third non-Italian Pope in succession, it is hard to remember the frisson of surprise when John Paul became Pope – the first non-Italian since the Middle Ages. He became Pope when the Cold War seemed an entrenched part of the world order; not one of those well-paid Kremlinologists or Sovietologists foresaw what was to come. Stalin had famously asked how many divisions the Pope had, meaning it as a symbol of worldly power and domination as against the Church which, in his view, had none. But the world was to see a lesson in the reality of power.

Not even the Kremlin could stop John Paul going to Poland, and once he did, the power that would end Soviet rule was unleashed – the power of people wanting to be free and believing that it could yet be possible. It was a long and a hard road for the Poles, but they did not let their hand drop from the plough or turn aside. Even the attempt to kill the Pope failed, and provided John Paul with a chance to show the true spirit of Christ in forgiving the would-be assassin.

The Soviet regime had no weapons which could prevail against this spirit. President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher matched them with the weapons of this world, and made it clear to the Soviets that they had the determination to resist them; but John Paul II brought something beyond that. Unbowed, himself, by the sufferings he had been through, knowing, from the experience, the nature of the Godless regime which faced Him, John Paul posited against it the Spirit of Hope that comes from Christ.

The spirit of freedom, once kindled, proved unextinguishable.

John Paul II is, like every great man, a figure about whom strong opinions are held. The secular media never quite understood him. They loved his charisma and his openness, but they could not understand how such a man could also abide faithfully by Catholic teaching on the things which this world wants. They almost seemed surprised that he would not approve of contraception, abortion and easy divorce; goodness, the Pope was a Catholic; we see it again now with Pope Francis.

But this was an essential part of John Paul II. He knew what the eternal verities were. Truth was the Risen Christ. There was no compromise with the kingdom of this world. Those who approved of his stand against communism could not, sometimes, understand his opposition to those elements of liberal capitalism which stood against the values of the Church He stood not for the age, but for all ages, and his values were not just those of his time, but for all time. He belongs to the ages now. All of us, Catholic or not, can stand back at this special moment and say: ‘There was a man!”

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