Monday, September 29, 2008

At Least Herbert Hoover Was a Dog Lover

Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives customarily knock each other over and then crawl over their colleagues’ bodies to be identified with their self-proclaimed political godfather, Ronald Wilson Reagan. But on Monday, September 29, 2008 those same “Reagan” Republicans abandoned their affinity for one Republican president in favor of another who usually never gets mentioned in the GOP Presidential Pantheon of Greatness. Today they emulated Herbert Clark Hoover by rejecting the financial rescue plan.

It doesn’t really matter if the real culprits were Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats. It doesn’t matter that Barack Obama has offered inspired leadership the equivalent to a “present” vote. Republicans will be blamed for this neo-Hooverism, lack of leadership and failure to take control of the hemorrhaging on Wall Street. What good was all the handwringing about the potential costs of the “bailout” reaching as high as $700 billion when there’s an actual one-day evaporation of over $1 trillion in market value right after the bill goes down? John McCain’s courageous gambit last week now looks meek and enfeebled.

Will we look back this week as the week Barack Obama won the presidency? The conventional wisdom has been, like with Reagan in 1980, Obama has to reassure America that he is ready to be president and that he is not too risky to be given the power of the presidency. Who knew that the Republicans would deliver that verdict to Obama by default through their own demonstrated lack of seriousness and statesmanship?

CRITIQUE & REVIEW: American Catholics in the Public Square Explained in Denver Archbishop’s “Render unto Caesar"

Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput has done a great service to Catholics and non-Catholics alike in his important and very readable “Render unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life.” Archbishop Chaput does a great job of explaining the Catholic worldview and how Catholics are expected to live their faith. As a Catholic, I appriciated the clear, comprehensive discussion of the true meaning of Vatican II. For non-Catholics, this short book will give them a better understanding of the 2,000 year-old tradition of the Church and its interaction with the state from Constantine's conversion to today's abortion debate.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CRITIQUE & REVIEW: “Case Against Barack Obama” Fair, Necessary Counterbalance to Fawning Press Coverage

The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate” by the National Review’s David Freddoso is a valuable critical examination of Barack Obama’s thin public record and habit of questionable associations. Freddoso does a laudable job in making his points without degenerating into the paranoid conspiracy theory fever swamps of the full-mooners on the Right. What comes out in this book is a deep suspicion and profound worry about the kind of leader Barack Obama will be if elected president. However, it’s not a breathless screed that places the Democratic nominee somewhere between Caligula and Josef Stalin in its estimation of Barack's character and judgment. It is critical (it’s titled “The Case Against Barack Obama…” after all) but not unfair or hyperbolic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to balance out the gushing crush coverage Obama has been afforded by our “objective” mainstream press.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

CRITIQUE & REVIEW: William Rosen’s “Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire” valuable to understanding our history

William Rosen’s “Justinian's Flea: The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire” is a very interesting and ambitious effort to explain how the outbreak of plague in the 6th Century was the historical pivot which turned the story of the West toward the creation of the Europe we recognize today. A sprawling narrative detailing such diverse topics as politics, military conquest, biology, architecture, religion, trade, demography, evolution and genetics, Rosen does a fair job of weaving all of these developments into a compelling story of what happened and why it might have happened to create our world.

In a nutshell, Rosen's thesis is the
AD 542 outbreak of plague in the Roman Empire of Justinian (reign 527-565) and the wider world of Late Antiquity so weakened the West/Rome that it allowed for the destruction of the ancient empire of Persia and pruning of the Roman Empire by the Arabs a century later. The depopulation of Justinian's Mediterranean empire and the Sassanid Persians left them open to conquest by the Arabs who dodged the plague. Justinian's dream of a re-established Roman Empire centered on the Mediterranean Sea failed after wave after wave of plague every 15 years wiped out about half of the empire's population over the 6th Century. The corresponding weakening of military and economic strength of Rome freed the fledgling barbarian kingdoms in western Europe to establish their staying power free of Roman authority and orientation. Europe's axis of power and culture moved north to the Frankish empire that found its fruition in the reign of Charlemange and his establishment of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire bore the brunt of Arab attacks losing its rich North African, Egyptian and Syrian provinces to the new faith of Islam. Though continuing to call themselves "Roman", the Constantinople regime became more and more Greek and within two generations of Justinian's reign, they were fighting for their very existence. The world empire of Rome had become a regional power later called the Byzantine Empire by historians. The Frank, Goth and Saxon barbarian tribes solidified into the European nation-states we see today.

The plague's depopulation also set off an agricultural revolution in Europe that set the stage for the population explosion of the High Middle Ages.

Rosen's book is a easy read though the author sometimes assumes his readers might know more than the do about all of the different subjects he discusses. For instance, the geometry of the architectural sections on the Hagia Sophia lost me. But I'm not a math guy.

Overall, this book will give the reader a good bridge in the story of the West from the Classical Age to the Middle Ages. The so-called "Dark Ages" were not so dark and deserve more study and understanding. Justinian's Flea is a good place to start for the average reader of history.