Crazy From On High

A Reading Of High Delusion

A few weeks ago I reviewed a posting on Evolution News. It’s a site sponsored by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, and the posting was by somebody not readily identified. Whoever they are, the topic was Dennis Venema’s book Adam and the Genome, and the matter of Francis Collins came up regarding his book The Language of God.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts.

As promised, I obtained copies of both books and have finished reading the Collins book. Considering the author’s obvious deep intellect, I can only remark, “What a load of warmed over drivel!” Thank you, Dr. Collins. Now for a brief dissection.

First the book is well written. If Francis Collins ever comes to the point he can no longer find work saving the human race through science and medicine, he has a future as a writer. There are very few unintentional mistakes of fact. This one caught my attention.

William Paley’s parable of finding a watch on the moor—which would cause any of us to deduce the existence of a watchmaker—resonated with many readers in the seventeenth century, and continues to resonate with many people today. Life appears designed, so there must be a designer.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 148). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

It is unclear where the reference to the 17th century comes from, but earlier in the book Collins mentions the Blind Watchmaker theme was published in 1802.

THE “ARGUMENT FROM DESIGN” dates back at least to Cicero. It was put forward with particular effectiveness by William Paley in 1802 in a highly influential book, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearance of Nature.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 86). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Beyond all that, this is an argument for God by a person who grew to maturity absent any push in that direction, becoming committed to non-belief well into adulthood. His rise to greatness in human endeavors left him unfulfilled, but he could not reconcile the richness of the human spirit and the beauty of natural wonders with strictly natural explanations. There must be more. He became convinced of the existence of God:

I had started this journey of intellectual exploration to confirm my atheism. That now lay in ruins as the argument from the Moral Law (and many other issues) forced me to admit the plausibility of the God hypothesis. Agnosticism, which had seemed like a safe second-place haven, now loomed like the great cop-out it often is. Faith in God now seemed more rational than disbelief.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 30). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

That should have been satisfactory, and that  should have been the end of the book. Unfortunately Collins feels the need to rationalize, and it is in this effort he stumbles badly. Some citations are in order. Consider what he accepts as true in an effort to shore up his faith. Here is an example:

All religions include a belief in certain miracles. The crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea, led by Moses and accompanied by the drowning of Pharaoh’s men, is a powerful story, told in the book of Exodus, of God’s providence in preventing the imminent destruction of His people. Similarly, when Joshua asked God to prolong the daylight in order for a particular battle to be successfully carried out, the sun was said to stand still in a way that could only be described as miraculous.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 48). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

It would be generous to allow that these are put up to illustrate what is deemed to be miraculous and no more. The problem is there is little doubt left by the context that he believes these miracles occurred. Elsewhere, his interpretation of reality goes askew, as with his reference to “Mother Teresa.”

Mother Teresa has consistently ranked as one of the most admired individuals of the current age, though her self-imposed poverty and selfless giving to the sick and dying of Calcutta is in drastic contrast to the materialistic lifestyle that dominates our current culture.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (pp. 25-26). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

The cold fact is that Mother Teresa never seemed to have given physical aid and comfort to the “sick and dying.” Collins seeks to illustrate the benefit of religion by pointing to the good works done by famous religious leaders.

As just one example, consider how religious leaders have worked to relieve people from oppression, from Moses’ leading the Israelites out of bondage to William Wilberforce’s ultimate victory in convincing the English Parliament to oppose the practice of slavery…

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 40). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to include the martyrdom of Martin Luther King. The obvious problem with this line of argument is that Moses is a fictional character. No such person ever led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Religion (and by this I assume his favored blend) Collins asserts is essential to answer the matter of Moral Law. An actual scientist, he believes we came about by biological evolution, but that does not explain the existence of Moral Law, an innate morality, traces of which are found in all Earth’s people, regardless of region, culture, or religious environment. God must be the answer, and religion must be the vehicle. How then does Collins explain the evil committed by religious people. No problem for Collins. Here’s how:

But the second answer brings us back to the Moral Law, and to the fact that all of us as human beings have fallen short of it. The church is made up of fallen people. The pure, clean water of spiritual truth is placed in rusty containers, and the subsequent failings of the church down through the centuries should not be projected onto the faith itself, as if the water had been the problem.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 40). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

He invokes the “rusty container” at multiple points in the book, and that, in itself, is a crock of poop. In various instances the origin of the universe is attributed to God, and people are the special creation of a caring and loving God, one for whom human well-being is held dear. How then does one explain how an omniscient, all-caring God fails to show himself (itself) in times of great human suffering? May I never eat another chocolate ice cream bar, but Collins invokes the principle of “stress makes strength.”

This notion that God can work through adversity is not an easy concept, and can find firm anchor only in a worldview that embraces a spiritual perspective. The principle of growth through suffering is, in fact, nearly universal in the world’s great faiths.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (pp. 46-47). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Yes. Yes! I’ve seen that before.

It is also told to me the following was found scratched into a cell wall in some Nazi death camp: “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” I also note an incident recounted by Richard Dawkins:

This grotesque piece of reasoning, so damningly typical of the theological mind, reminds me of an occasion when I was on a television panel with Swinburne, and also with our Oxford colleague Professor Peter Atkins. Swinburne at one point attempted to justify the Holocaust on the grounds it gave the Jews a wonderful opportunity to be courageous and noble. Atkins splendidly growled, “May you rot in hell.”

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion (p. 64). Houghton Mifflin Company.

Dawkins is one of Collins’ least favored atheists. Collins considers Dawkins to be doing harm to the atheist cause due to the stridency of his attacks on religion (see above).

Even stronger words have emanated from Richard Dawkins. In a series of books beginning with The Selfish Gene and extending through The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, and A Devil’s Chaplain, Dawkins outlines with compelling analogies and rhetorical flourishes the consequences of variation and natural selection. Standing on this Darwinian foundation, Dawkins then extends his conclusions to religion in highly aggressive terms: “It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, ‘mad cow’ disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”3

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 163). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

If you can get past Collins’ inexplicable acceptance of the supernatural, you will find a scientist unwilling to accept the absurdities of religious apologetics. His debunking of creationists of the first and second kind is just short of scathing. Particularly the young Earth creationists (YEC) are called out as a disgrace to the Christian faith.

Assisted by Henry Morris and colleagues, Young Earth Creationism has in the last half century attempted to provide alternative explanations for the wealth of observations about the natural world that seem to contradict the YEC position. But the fundamentals of so-called scientific Creationism are hopelessly flawed.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 176). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Collins’ diagnosis of the Intelligent Design movement is practically complete.  Collins properly characterizes ID as a God-in-the-gaps argument, all the while laying out the history and the substance.

ID’s founder is Phillip Johnson, a Christian lawyer at the University of California at Berkeley, whose book Darwin on trial first laid out the ID position. Those arguments have been further expanded by others, especially Michael Behe, a biology professor whose book Darwin’s Black Box elaborated the concept of irreducible complexity. More recently, William Dembski, a mathematician trained in information theory, has taken up a leading role as expositor of the ID movement.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (p. 183). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

The exception I take to the foregoing is the reference to Dembski as being trained in information theory. No evidence of that appears in his c.v. Also, not mentioned is Dembski’s severance from Intelligent Design, which came about recently.

Besides all that, this book provides a first rate read of how studies of genetics point to the common ancestry of life on Earth. Particularly explored is the close relationship between humans and chimpanzees and the relationship between those and the other apes. There is an appendix, which I did not read, but the book’s closing lines come off as a special pleading for giving religion a place at the table.

It is time to call a truce in the escalating war between science and spirit. The war was never really necessary. Like so many earthly wars, this one has been initiated and intensified by extremists on both sides, sounding alarms that predict imminent ruin unless the other side is vanquished. Science is not threatened by God; it is enhanced. God is most certainly not threatened by science; He made it all possible. So let us together seek to reclaim the solid ground of an intellectually and spiritually satisfying synthesis of all great truths. That ancient motherland of reason and worship was never in danger of crumbling. It never will be. It beckons all sincere seekers of truth to come and take up residence there. Answer that call. Abandon the battlements. Our hopes, joys, and the future of our world depend on it.

Collins, Francis S.. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (pp. 233-234). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

A truce? Never. We continue to lie in witness to The Years of Living Stupidly.

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The Years of Living Stupidly

Time to start a new series.

A fellow skeptic keeps posting stuff from Evolution News, and my Facebook feed picks it up. Evolution News is the blog of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an enterprise started up by creationist Stephen C. Meyer in 1996, and he is currently the director. I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years trying to  ignore output from the Discovery Institute, but something about this post brought me back. Here’s what it’s about:

Adam and the Genome and Human-Ape Genetic Similarity

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC January 18, 2018, 7:54 AM

In Adam and the Genome, Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema covers many other subjects besides what you might expect from the book’s title. We have been reviewing this material by the prominent theistic evolutionist and BioLogos author; find the series so far here.

Thus, Venema cites the high degree of genetic similarities between insulin genes in humans and other mammals as evidence for our common ancestry. He writes:

[W]e can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past … What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

(Adam and the Genome, p. 30)

Yes, it appears Evolution News is having a go at biologist Dennis Venema’s new book (2017) Adam and the Genome. What the Discovery Institute wants to convince us is that life forms and all we see about us could not have come about by natural processes. A creator, an intelligent entity of some sort, must be behind it. That’s what’s going on here. Here Evolution News is digging at Venema’s evolutionary explanation for the similarity between the human genome and that of some of our close relations. Venema is using the origin of languages to make a comparison. I have the Kindle edition of the book, which allows me to provide the context of the above:

In looking at the sequences above, we can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past, just as “butter, bread, and green cheese” and “bûter, brea, en griene tsiis” do. The principle is the same: they are far more similar to each other than they are functionally required to be. In principle, any words could stand for these concepts in either English or West Frisian; similarly, any matched pair of hormone and receptor could function to regulate blood sugar levels in humans or dogs. Yet what we observe strongly suggests, in both cases, that the present-day sequences are the modified descendants of what was once a common sequence.

Now that we understand the redundancy of the codon code, we can see that for genes this rabbit hole goes even deeper. Many of the amino acids in insulin can be coded for by alternate codons. For example, “Leu” in the diagram indicates the amino acid leucine, for which there are six possible codons. This short snippet of the insulin gene codes for nine leucines, and eight of them use exactly the same codon in dogs and humans (and the ninth differs by only one letter). For these nine codons, there are 96 (= 531,441) possible combinations that will correctly code for just these nine leucines, to say nothing of the other 101 amino acids found in insulin, most of which can be encoded for by multiple codons. Is it merely by chance that what we observe in these two species is only one letter different for these nine codons? A simpler, more reasonable explanation (or what a scientist would call a more “parsimonious” explanation) is that these sequences come from a common ancestral population and have been slightly modified along the way.

Of course, scientists have sequenced the genomes of many other species, so we can test this hypothesis by looking at a larger data set. Humans are not thought to have shared a common ancestral population with dogs for a very long time; other species are thought to be our much closer relatives due to other shared features, such as anatomy. When the pre-Darwin biologist Carl Linnaeus (1707– 78) drew up his taxonomy of animal life (i.e., a system that organized life into categories), he famously placed humans and great apes in a category he called “primate,” from the Latin indicating “prime” or “first.” While he was certainly not thinking about common ancestry, he naturally recognized that these species (such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) have a closer anatomical affinity to humans than other animals. In light of such an affinity, evolutionary theory predicts that these species share a more recent common ancestral population with humans than nonprimate species, such as dogs, do. Therefore, their gene sequences should be a closer match to human sequences than what we observe in dogs. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what we observe. Let’s return to our example of the insulin gene and extend our comparison of the same short stretch to include three great apes (fig. 2.6).

What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30-31). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the portions the author reprinted from the original. Use of this partial excerpt is legitimate, since it does not change Venema’s original meaning and intent. What is to be found in the complete text is a fuller explanation, plus a tie-in to Venema’s language analogy.

The history of languages makes for an interesting study, and for English readers there is particular significance. The book The Story of English, by Robert MacNeilRobert McCrum, and William Cran is a companion book to the PBS television series of the same name. I have a similar book, The Stories of English, by David Crystal. It rehashes the history of English in much the same way:

We can note both of these processes happening for the Germanic group of languages during the period. In the late second century, the Goths moved into Europe from southern Scandinavia, eventually arriving in the Mediterranean region. During the fourth century, Bishop Wulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic. The language had changed so much during this short time that scholars now consider it to be a distinct, eastern branch of the Germanic family. On the other hand, the westward movement of peoples along the north European coast and into England resulted in a group of languages which had much greater similarities. English and Frisian, indeed, were so close that they would probably have been mutually intelligible for many centuries, especially in Kent. Even today, though mutual intelligibility has long since gone, English people listening to modern Frisian sense a familiarity with its expression which is not present in the case of Dutch or German. Genetic anthropologists have discovered a significant Y-chromosome identity, too (p. 31). 3

Crystal, David. The Stories of English (pp. 20-21). The Overlook Press. Kindle Edition.

I once visited the northwest coast of the European continent and was struck by the similarity. At a company cafeteria I picked up a coupon good for two desserts and had no trouble reading it, even though it was written in the local  language.

Anyhow, the background is fascinating, but the intent of Evolution News is to demonstrate that Venema is wrong—genetic similarity does not indicate common descent. Evolution News sometime ago quit identifying authors, but whoever posted this item failed to get the message. Traditionally, Intelligent Design, a concoction of the Discovery Institute, does not rule out common ancestry. These people tend to allow for that, but they also want us to know that natural, and especially random, process are not at work. The whole line of descent process was managed by an intelligent entity, yet unnamed. With some exceptions:

If the Associated Press writer confused a challenge to common descent with “Intelligent Design,” it could be because Intelligent Design proponents with the CSC on occasion do challenge common descent. For example, Ray Bohlin is a CSC fellow and supposedly a spokesman for Intelligent Design. At the Texas Faith Network conference in Dallas on 3 November 2003 Bohlin addressed a large room full of people and stated that common descent was true for all life forms, except humans. You can imagine the confusion of all in attendance.

Retired law professor Phillip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design  movement. At a symposium titled “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference,” held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in March 199, .I had a chance to talk with Johnson and get his views firsthand. He expressed some surprising points for an opponent of evolution:

n 1992 Johnson attended the conference on “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The conference was inspired by Jon Buell, a local creationist. Buell’s Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) published the book Pandas and People, an early work pushing Intelligent Design. At the conference the departure from young-Earth creationism was stark. Johnson and Buell were standing together when I asked them the question. Their answer was significant. Yes, the Earth and the universe really are billions of years old, and yes, present life forms share a common ancestry. These were not your grandfather’s creationists.

Here is a copy of the proceedings.

Anyhow, Evolution News is now having none of that. Continuing from the post:

The obvious answer to this argument is common design — that humans, gorillas, and orangutans were designed based upon a common blueprint. This would explain genetic similarity between humans and other species quite well.

Then the author presents an additional excerpt and promptly goes off the rails with this:

There he goes again, telling God what he can and cannot do. It’s a bit of chutzpah, don’t you think? He’s also telling God what God must intend when he does certain things. In particular, Venema is telling God that if he designs two species to be similar then God must thereby intend to tell us that those species are related through common ancestry. And if those species aren’t really related, then Venema tells God that he is being deceitful.

But what if Venema is putting thoughts into God’s head that aren’t there? What if God could have entirely different purposes for designing two species as similar — purposes that have nothing to do with trying to communicate some message to humans about relatedness or unrelatedness?

Oh, Jesus! You gave away the store. Intelligent Design is not supposed to be about God. It’s supposed to be science, real science, well-researched science, science that reveals there is a Designer, not identified and definitely not identified as G*d. G*d is the word that keeps Intelligent Design out of public classrooms, which is where its proponents, despite much public posturing, in their heart of hearts want it to be. Possibly we are now seeing the offshoot of all those years of living stupidly.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts. Also, and free on Amazon, is Intelligent Design the Final Proof of God. Go for it. Kindle readers are free for tablets and computers.

Media Research Center

Number 5 in a series

I’ve mentioned Media Research Center before. I’m going to mention them some more. They are a hoot. Their running theme is that mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias. Surprise! The real world swims in liberal concepts, one such being straight-up telling things like they happened. Anyhow, the MRC is committed to providing a counterweight to  liberal bias, and they have an interesting way of going about it. I receive their daily mailings, today’s which I figure to unload on my readers.

Let’s start with the item numbered 1:

1. Networks Stuff Shows With Over 2 Hours of Wolff Gossip Book Insults

The Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) networks engaged in a feeding frenzy over Michael Wolff’s gossip-filled book, as they ate up the salacious details in Fire and Fury. From January 3 through January 9, the networks stuffed their evening and morning programs with over two hours of coverage of the Wolff book and the subsequent fallout for former Donald Trump aide Stephen Bannon.

“The networks stuffed their evening and morning programs with over two hours of coverage of the Wolff book?” Really? Only two hours. Geeze, people. I logged onto  Amazon and purchased the Kindle the minute it became available. And the nets only allocated two hours? Wimps.

“The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero,” said an astonished and derisive Bannon, not long after the meeting was revealed. “The three senior guys in the campaign,” an incredulous Bannon went on, “thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the twenty-fifth floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 255). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, this is the language that got Bannon on the outs with the Trump administration and subsequently on the outs with the rich and powerful Mercers and out the door at Breitbart News. And the nets only gave it two hours? And MRC is calling them out? Let that sink in.

2. ‘Morning Joe’ Portrays Trump as Doddering Old Schizophrenic Who Listens to ‘Voices in His Head’

On Wednesday’s Morning Joe, reacting to President Trump’s comments during an open door meeting with top members of Congress about DACA and immigration reform, co-host Joe Scarborough argued that Trump’s performance was indicative of his supposedly deteriorating mental state and even stooped to mocking Trump as a doddering, forgetful, and schizophrenic old man who listens to “voices in his head” for political advice.

Wait. Wait! President Trump really is a doddering old schizo who listens to voices in his head. Anybody who has not noticed should come in for a head check.

3. ‘Be an Apple, Don’t Be a Banana’: Conway Schools Cuomo on Drug Trafficking

Sparks flew during Wednesday’s edition of CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time when White House adviser Kellyanne Conway sparred with rude and demeaning host Chris Cuomo as they discussed the news of the day. But during one section, in particular, Conway took Cuomo to task for twisting the facts about the administration’s response to the opioid crisis and the border wall’s effectiveness on drug trafficking.

“Conway took Conway to task for twisting the facts?” That is a twist.

On CNN, though, her phrasing was a bit more fraught. “I’m not Inspector Gadget,” she said. “I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign.”

“However,” she continued, “I’m not in the job of having evidence…”

[Emphasis added]

And she said more. Over the past year and more Conway has established the benchmark for “fact-deprived.”

4. Sour Grapes: MSNBC Upset Trump Only Called on ‘Conservative Outlets’ for Questions

MSNBC flashed some bitterness on Wednesday afternoon following President Trump’s first joint press conference of 2018, complaining that Trump only called on “conservative outlets”Washington Examiner and the Fox News Channel with only the latter one offering “a challenging question.”

In this case MRC is dead on. What were those clowns at MSNBC thinking? That Donald Trump was going to  call on an actual for-business news outlet” And this all the while Fox News was standing by with the tough questions of the day? Tough questions such as, “What wonderful things have you accomplished since nine this morning, Mr. President?”

This, people, is why I check my MRC feed first thing each morning. There’s more to come. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Fire and Fury

The Start of a New Series

The monkey spit has certainly hit the fan, and on-lookers are choking with joy. Especially am I in another level of Heaven. The book went on sale at 8:00 a.m. Central Time Friday, and at 8:00 a.m. plus a second or more I hit the button on Amazon and pulled down a Kindle edition, $14.99 plus tax. Let the fun begin. Images are screen shots from ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, streaming on Hulu this morning.

Of course the President of the United States had some objections.

“Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past …” People, your President is totally irony-deficient. Being a world authority on these matters, he is definitely one to spot lies, misrepresentations, and sources that don’t exist when he sees them. And, to be sure, many reviewers have spotted such in the book.

The author is Michael Wolff, who wrote from a few month’s history with the Trump presidential campaign and also from inside the first year of the Trump White House. Wolff apparently draws most of his material second hand from  sources close to the President. For example:

Trump, observed Walsh, had a set of beliefs and impulses, much of them on his mind for many years, some of them fairly contradictory, and little of them fitting legislative or political conventions or form. Hence, she and everyone else was translating a set of desires and urges into a program, a process that required a lot of guess work. It was, said Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 113). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The author is seen on ABC saying, “They all say he is like a child,” citing what staffers have told him about the President. “Walsh” is Katie Walsh:

Katie E. Walsh (born November 2, 1984) is an American Republican political operative who briefly served as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. She is currently working with the Trump-aligned 501(c)(4) America First Policies.

Wolff talks of the President’s need for “immediate gratification.”

But it wasn’t Bannon versus everybody else so much as it was Bannon Trump versus non-Bannon Trump. If Trump, in his dark, determined, and aggressive mood, could represent Bannon and his views, he could just as easily represent nothing at all—or represent solely his own need for instant gratification. That’s what the non-Bannon people understood about Trump.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 174). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

“It’s all about him,” Wolff says, again from close sources. He drills down, using terms like “moron” and “idiot.”

In early October, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s fate was sealed—if his obvious ambivalence toward the president had not already sealed it—by the revelation that he had called the president “a fucking moron.”

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 304). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

From a White House email:

Purporting to represent the views of Gary Cohn and quite succinctly summarizing the appalled sense in much of the White House, the email read:

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family. I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 186). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

We see Wolff stating, “This is a man who does not read, does not listen.”

But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 114). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The president did not truly listen to anybody. The more you talked, the less he listened. “But Steve is careful about what he says, and there is something, a timbre in his voice and his energy and excitement, that the president can really hone in on, blocking everything else out,” said Walsh.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 182). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Others have noted this:

In early August, less than a month after Ailes had been ousted from Fox News, Trump asked his old friend to take over the management of his calamitous campaign. Ailes, knowing Trump’s disinclination to take advice, or even listen to it, turned him down. This was the job Bannon [took] a week later.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 3). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Wolff notes Donald Trump’s unsettling repetition. From ABC News, “Wolff paints a portrait of a mentally unstable man, saying the President often repeats the same story every three minutes.”

The president’s advisers felt he shouldn’t put himself in a position where he would be compared with Bannon. The worry among staffers—all of them concerned that Trump’s rambling and his alarming repetitions (the same sentences delivered with the same expressions minutes apart) had significantly increased, and that his ability to stay focused, never great, had notably declined—was that he was likely to suffer by such a comparison. Instead, the interview with Trump was offered to Sean Hannity—with a preview of the questions.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 309). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

At Mar-a-Lago recently the President failed to recognize life-long friends ABC News reports, although my copy of the book does not appear to recount this episode.

Of course, President Trump is slinging back.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reminds us how ridiculous these accusations are. From the video:

It’s disgraceful and laughable. If he was [sic] unfit, he probably wouldn’t sitting there. … This is a strong and great leader.”

And that, readers, has to be one for the history books. Being unfit did not prevent Donald Trump from becoming President. He became President through the intervention of a mass of American voters who, themselves, may be unfit. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers. “A strong and great leader,” completely defining the meaning of the terms “strong” and “great,” with “leader” thrown in for good measure.

The scene from the White House news briefing closes with a view of Sanders’ backside as she exits stage left. Hey! How would you like to have that job?

President Trump weighs in, saying he never spoke to Wolff for the book. Sanders has conceded Wolff did interview Donald Trump, and Wolff says it was for the book, regardless of what Trump thought.

ABC White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega delivers the coup de grace.

… This is a West Wing used to dealing with crisis, David. As one senior White House official told us, quote, “People expect us to be running around with our hair on fire, but it’s hard to do that when it’s already been burned off.”

There is going to be much more of this. I have not had so much fun since cousin Elroy stuck the dynamite down the outhouse. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

In September 1937 Shirer began a series of radio broadcasts for CBS from Europe. Up to this point Hitler was confining his reign of terror to Germany. As 1937 drew to a close, events leading up to Armageddon were developing in Germany. This episode covers Shirer’s notes from 5 September to the end of the year.

BERLIN, September 5

Did my trial broadcast this Sabbath day. Just before it began I was very nervous, thinking of what was at stake and that all depended upon what a silly little microphone and an amplifier and the ether between Berlin and New York did to my voice. Kept thinking also of all those CBS vice-presidents sniffing at what they heard.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 81). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

By this time Shirer’s wife Tess was pregnant, and the family was preparing for the birth in Europe. Shirer’s trial broadcast was well-received back home, and his position became “permanent.”

NUREMBERG, September 13

Murrow called and said I’m hired. Start October 1. Wired Tess. Celebrated a little tonight, I fear, on the very potent local Franconian wine. Prentiss Gilbert, our counsellor of Embassy, has been here, the first American diplomat to attend a Nazi Party Congress.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 82). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this period Hitler’s campaign of oppression began to be everywhere manifest:

BERLIN, September 27

Tess back, feeling fine, and we’re packing. We are to make our headquarters in Vienna, a neutral and central spot for me to work from. Most of our old friends have left— the Gunthers, the Whit Burnetts— but it is always that way in this game. Go to London next week, then Paris, Geneva, and Rome to meet the radio people, renew contacts with the newspaper offices, and, in Rome, to find out if the Pope is really dying, as reported. We are glad to be leaving Berlin.

To sum up these three years: Personally, they have not been unhappy ones, though the shadow of Nazi fanaticism, sadism, persecution, regimentation, terror, brutality, suppression, militarism, and preparation for war has hung over all our lives, like a dark, brooding cloud that never clears. Often we have tried to segregate ourselves from it all. We have found three refuges: Ourselves and our books; the “foreign colony,” small, limited, somewhat narrow, but normal, and containing our friends— the Barneses, the Robsons, the Ebbuttses, the Dodds, the Deuels, the Oechsners, Gordon Young, Doug Miller, Sigrid Schultz, Leverich, Jake Beam, and others; thirdly, the lakes and woods around Berlin, where you could romp and play and sail and swim, forgetting so much. The theatre has remained good when it has stuck to the classics or pre-Nazi plays, and the opera and the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, despite the purging of the Jews and the year’s disciplining of Fuertwängler (who has now made his peace with Satan), have given us the best music we’ve ever heard outside of New York and Vienna. Personally too there was the excitement of working here, the “Saturday surprises,” the deeper story of this great land in evil ferment.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 83-84). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The note from 27 September contains additional indications that Germany was at the time girding for war.

But Germany is stronger than her enemies realize. True, it is a poor country in raw materials and agriculture; but it is making up for this poverty in aggressiveness of spirit, ruthless state planning, concentrated direction of effort, and the building up of a mighty military machine with which it can back up its aggressive spirit. True, too, that this past winter we have seen long lines of sullen people before the food shops, that there is a shortage of meat and butter and fruit and fats, that whipped cream is verboten, that men’s suits and women’s dresses are increasingly being made out of wood pulp, gasoline out of coal, rubber out of coal and lime; that there is no gold coverage for the Reichsmark or for anything else, not even for vital imports. Weaknesses, most of them, certainly, and in our dispatches we have advertised them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 84-85). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Much of what is going on and will go on could be learned by the outside world from Mein Kampf, the Bible and Koran together of the Third Reich. But— amazingly— there is no decent translation of it in English or French, and Hitler will not allow one to be made, which is understandable, for it would shock many in the West. How many visiting butter-and-egg men have I told that the Nazi goal is domination! They laughed. But Hitler frankly admits it. He says in Mein Kampf: “A state which in an age of racial pollution devotes itself to cultivation of its best racial elements must some day become master of the earth…. We all sense that in a far future mankind may face problems which can be surmounted only by a supreme Master Race supported by the means and resources of the entire globe.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 85-86). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He says in Mein Kampf: “A state which in an age of racial pollution devotes itself to cultivation of its best racial elements must some day become master of the earth…. We all sense that in a far future mankind may face problems which can be surmounted only by a supreme Master Race supported by the means and resources of the entire globe.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 85-86). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this time the Shirers left Nazi Germany for what they thought would be the safety of Austria.

I leave Germany in this autumn of 1937 with the words of a Nazi marching song still dinning in my ears:

Today we own Germany, Tomorrow the whole world.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 87). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Christmas day is the final entry in the diary for 1937:

VIENNA, December 25

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 89). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

VIENNA, December 25 Christmased this afternoon with the Wileys; John our chargé d’affaires here now. Walter Duranty there, as always, the Fodors, etc. Chip Bohlan, on leave from the Moscow Embassy, came with me to the studio of the Austrian Broadcasting Company to help me shepherd the youngsters of the American colony through a Christmas broadcast. A childish job and one that I do not like, being too much interested in the political situation at present.

We are nicely installed in an apartment in the Ploesslgasse, next door to the Rothschild palace. The owners, being Jewish, have removed themselves to Czechoslovakia for greater safety, though Schuschnigg seems to have the situation fairly well in hand here. Vienna, though, is terribly poor and depressing compared to our last sojourn here, from 1929 to 1932. The workers are sullen, even those who have jobs, and one sees beggars on every street corner. A few people have money and splash it at the night-clubs and a few fashionable restaurants such as the Drei Husaren and Am Franziskanerplatz. The contrast is sickening and the regime is resented by the masses, who are either reverting to their old Socialist Party, which is fairly strong underground, or going over to Nazism. The great mistake of this clerical dictatorship is not to have a social program. Hitler and Mussolini have not made that mistake. Still, there is more to eat here than in Germany, and the dictatorship is much milder— the difference between Prussians and Austrians! Next to Paris I love this town, even now, more than any other in Europe, the Gemütlichkeit, charm, and intelligence of its people, the baroque of its architecture, the good taste, the love of art and life, the softness of the accent, the very mild quality of the whole atmosphere. A great deal of anti-Semitism here, which plays nicely into the hands of the Nazis, but then there always was— ever since the days of Mayor Karl Lueger, Hitler’s first mentor on the subject when he was down and out in this city. Have had much good talk with Duranty, who is living here for a few months; the Fodors, she lovable as before, he a walking dictionary on central Europe and generous in telling what he knows; Emil Vadnai of the New York Times, a Hungarian of great charm, knowledge, and intelligence. Had Duranty broadcast the other day, though New York was afraid his voice was too high. Came a cable the same evening from Chicago: “… your clear, bell-like voice…” signed by Mary Garden, who ought to know.

We wait for the baby, due in seven weeks now, arguing the while over names.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 89-91). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 5 in a Series

If there remains any doubt regarding the underpinnings of Intelligent Design, one only has to review the day-to-day endeavors of its key proponents. Stephen C. Meyer founded and currently heads up the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the principal organization supporting this attempt to cloak religious creationism and disguise it as cutting-edge science. The above image is a screen shot from  Does God Exist, a video series hosted by Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, an organization whose purpose is the promotion of a conservative Christian viewpoint.

This is a continuation of my review of  Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. It draws on a an item posted to the Evolution News blog. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed three of these excerpts. Here are the remaining two:

Intelligent agents can generate new structural (epigenetic) information and construct functionally integrated and hierarchically organized layers of information as we see in animal body plans:

The cited text being:

The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce. Indeed, based on our experience, we know that intelligent human agents have the capacity to generate complex and functionally specified arrangements of matter— that is, to generate specified complexity or specified information. Further, human agents often design information-rich hierarchies, in which both individual modules and the arrangement of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity— specified information as defined in Chapter 8. Individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors in an integrated circuit exhibit considerable complexity and specificity of design. Yet at a higher level of organization, the specific arrangement and connection of these components within an integrated circuit requires additional information and reflects further design (see Fig. 14.2).

Conscious and rational agents have, as part of their powers of purposive intelligence, the capacity to design information-rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems and hierarchies.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 366). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some analysis will be helpful. Take the first two sentences: “The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce.” Meyer insists that examination of the lowest level of structure of living organisms suggests the work of an outside living agent. Here he is appealing to intuition without providing a factual basis. He compares the functional organization of living organisms to the construction of intricate systems devised by people. By implication, he wants the reader to consider that an entity with human-like qualities is behind the development of living organisms.

Finally:

Meyer concludes that “both the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their pattern of appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them” (p. 379) He summarizes his argument as follows:

Here is the text from the book:

When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer— based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles— that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top-down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 381). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Again some analysis. Take the initial sentence: “When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” Standing alone in the book this would seem to be a bald proclamation of fact. It will be interesting to peruse the remainder of the book and see whether Meyer has, indeed, demonstrated that “invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” I suspect this phrasing represents considerable overreach on the part of the author. In following posts I will examine the arguments Meyer makes in the book, and I will keep coming back to this matter of conclusions well-jumped. Keep reading.

Stronger Than Dirt

Restating the obvious – 5

The One, the True, the Pure

This is a continuation of my response to a reader named Reece. I previously posted a number of objections to biblical truth, and he suggested I follow a couple of links and get my facts in line. I did, and I will continue for a few additional installments. See the link above for the background. Here are the links provided by Reece.

https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/scripture-index/

http://defendinginerrancy.com/bible-difficulties/

The first one links to a page by Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationist group headed up by Ken Ham. I will take another of AiG’s challenges and do some analysis. Here is what AiG posted:

Did Moses make an error when he called a bat a bird?

Here is the pertinent biblical  passage:

Leviticus 11:13-19 King James Version (KJV)

13 And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray,

14 And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;

15 Every raven after his kind;

16 And the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind,

17 And the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl,

18 And the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle,

19 And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

[Emphasis added]

Here is what AiG posted for Leviticus 11:13-19:

Leviticus 11:13–19
These are the birds [05775 Pwe ‘owph] you are to detest and not eat because they are detestable: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.

So the text from Bible Gateway does not jibe with AiG’s copy of the Bible, but Bible Gateway says “fowls,” definitely not to include bats, regardless of whether it means “birds.” Bats are not birds, and the mythical  person Moses got it wrong. AiG attempts to explain this away, stating:

The Hebrew word for bird is actually owph which means “fowl/winged creature.”1 The word owph simply means “to fly” or “has a wing.” So, the word includes birds, bats, and even flying insects. The alleged problem appears due to translation of owph as bird. Birds are included in the word owph, but owph is not limited to birds. This shows that translators aren’t always perfect when handling the inerrant Word of God.

It is nice that the Hebrew word for bird also fits the definition for bats, but the King James version, which is the most thumped by Christian fundamentalists in this country, says fowls, meaning birds. Mistranslations are part and parcel to biblical error.

Deconstructing D’Souza

Chapter 2

I spent the previous post analyzing Chapter One of Dinesh D’Souza’s book (see above). The chapter is titled “Return of the Nazis,” and it makes a go at demonstrating that “progressives” (liberals, Democrats) are the real racists. Yeah, that didn’t wash.

I’m taking the book a chapter at a time, and Chapter Two has the title “Falsifying History.” Here I have to admit my eyes glazed over following D’Souza’s analysis of the roots and the development of Fascists states, salient being Nazi Germany under Hitler and Fascist Italy under Mussolini. Where he loses me is his deep discourse on Fascist theorist Giovanni Gentile. My thanks go out to D’Souza for educating me, for I had not heard of Gentile before. Here is a short blurb from Wikipedia:

Giovanni Gentile (30 May 1875 – 15 April 1944) was an Italian neo-Hegelian idealist philosopher, educator, and fascist politician, and a peer of Benedetto Croce. The self-styled “philosopher of Fascism“, he was influential in providing an intellectual foundation for Italian Fascist thought, and ghostwrote part of The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) with Benito Mussolini. He was involved in the resurgence of Hegelian idealism in Italian philosophy and also devised his own system of thought, which he called “actual idealism” or “actualism“, and which has been described as “the subjective extreme of the idealist tradition”.

That done, D’Souza overworks theoretical versus applied Fascism and is eager to demonstrate that modern progressivism (liberalism) is thinly disguised Fascism. It’s a stretch, but readers do need to be aware that D’Souza is point-on regarding some issues. Particularly, he illustrates the socialistic nature of Nazism and its godfather, Fascism. Both Mussolini and Hitler invoked nationalization of significant industries, but D’Souza goes beyond that to remind us this is what progressive candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want.

As mentioned, that latter assertion is beyond convincing, but D’Souza uses the pair’s positions on financial institutions to leverage his argument.

If you read the Nazi platform without knowing its source, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were reading the 2016 platform of the Democratic Party. Or at least a Democratic platform drafted jointly by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Sure, some of the language is out of date. The Democrats can’t talk about “usury” these days; they’d have to substitute “Wall Street greed.” But otherwise, it’s all there. All you have to do is cross out the word “Nazi” and write in the word “Democrat.”

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 1093-1098). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

And that seems to be the prime argument of Chapter Two. A push by progressives to exert government oversight upon large banks and other financial institutions translates into  government control, which translates into Nazism and Fascism and all the horrors that went with them before they were defeated by military force.

Not addressed in this chapter are the actual crimes committed by people who were running these institutions ten years ago. Government oversight was supposed to be in place to prevent, among other transgressions, falsification of portfolios offered for sale. Oversight was lax, and the result was a collapse of major markets, for which the response of a Republican president was to initiate government action to ameliorate the damage and the subsequent action by a Democratic president to see these policies through. D’Souza may dislike government intervention in American business, but the history of this time was a dramatic loss in market value, followed by a long slow climb to unprecedented levels, due to aggressive government intervention. Socialism in action? It will be interesting to see if D’Souza has anything to say about these events in the remaining chapters.

Coming up next, Chapter Three, “Mussolini’s Journey.” I can hardly wait.

Deconstructing D’Souza

This writer has been popping up on my Facebook feed and other places for several years. He is a prolific publisher, always seeming to be a bit off-kilter. Since a lot of people take him seriously, he is worth some analysis. Here is a blurb from Wikipedia, slightly edited:

Dinesh Joseph D’Souza; born April 25, 1961) is an Indian American conservative political commentator, author and filmmaker. From 2010 to 2012, he was president of The King’s College, a Christian school in New York City.

Born in Bombay, D’Souza came to the United States as an exchange student and graduated from Dartmouth College. He became a naturalized citizen in 1991. He is the author of several New York Times best-selling books, including titles on Christian apologetics. D’Souza has been critical of New Atheism. In 2012, D’Souza released his film 2016: Obama’s America, an anti-Obama polemic based on D’Souza’s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage; the film is the highest-grossing conservative documentary film produced in the United States.

On May 20, 2014, D’Souza pleaded guilty in federal court to one charge of using a “straw donor” to make an illegal campaign contribution to a 2012 United States Senate campaign, a felony. On September 23, he was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house near his home in San Diego, five years probation, and a $30,000 fine.

So, a quick read leaves the impression of a person passionate about an ideal to the extent that other ideals must go on the block.

Regarding the New Atheism, to which D’Souza seems much opposed, it is a recent movement holding that “superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever their influence arises in government, education, and politics.” In the spirit of full disclosure, I adhere to the New Atheism. Additionally I am going to be opposed to much of D’Souza’s thinking, or, if not his thinking, then what he is saying about what he is thinking and what he wants people to believe. That said, this is not going to be a kind and gentle review of his most recent book, The Big Lie.

I was off on vacation earlier this month when the book came up in an on-line conversation, and I purchased the Kindle edition, on which this review is based. As I began to plow through the author’s rhetoric I started highlighting significant passages—you can do that with Kindle—intending to come to them subsequently in a review. I quickly realized I was highlighting something on about every page, so I made the decision early on to take this book one chapter at a time. It’s going to make the whole thing more digestible. Let’s see how it goes. Start with Chapter One, “Return of the Nazis.”

As advertised on the cover, this book is going to convince us the American Left (however that’s defined) has Nazi roots. How does it start? It starts by demonstrating that The Left has victims and further that The Left attempts to absolve itself of blame (blame for this victimization) by blaming the people it victimizes. After an opening paragraph that discusses Sigmund Freud’s theory of transference he gets off into how he sees that Adolf (remember the Nazis) used this mechanism. He quotes from Hitler’s book, which I quote here more completely:

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true in itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large- scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf (p. 203). Prabhat Prakashan. Kindle Edition.

So, that’s the scheme of The Left. They will accuse their opponents of the big lie, much as Hitler (the Nazis) employed the tactic in the rise to power:

Hitler, however, is not referring to his own big lies. Rather, he is referring to the lies allegedly promulgated by the Jews. The Jews, Hitler says, are masters of the big lie. Now recognize that Mein Kampf is a tireless recitation of libels and calumnies against the Jews. The Jews are accused of everything from being capitalists to being Bolsheviks, from being impotent to lusting after Nordic women, from being culturally insignificant to being seekers of world domination. The charges are contradictory; they cannot simultaneously be true.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 68-73). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully the stage is now set for understanding the argument that’s going to run the length of the book. I hope. At this point I have read the first two chapters, and there are nine. Reading the first two gives me to consider I may not be able to distill D’Souza’s central argument, partly because his argument has the appearance of being whatever he needs to say to convince readers that The Left is a collection of Fascists, Nazis, liars. Hence the title.

I will pick a few choice quotes from each chapter and give readers an idea of where D’Souza is going wrong. Here is one tactic that I have covered before:

Even my most incriminating allegations proved invulnerable. I noted that, in 1860, the year before the Civil War, no Republican owned a slave; all the four million slaves at the time were owned by Democrats.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 114-116). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

You have to understand the assumed association. Left = Democrat = the Democratic Party. The statement about only Democrats owning slaves almost has to be true by definition. In 1860 the Republican party, newly created, had abolition its principal platform. While it would be a stretch to say  “All the four million slaves at the time were owned by Democrats,” it would not be much of a stretch to say that no Republicans owned slaves. We have to think that if you were a Republican, then you had already signed up to abolish slavery. Here D’Souza goes out on a limb to state only Democrats owned slaves in 1860. The reason this is not necessarily so is there was never any compelling reason for slave owners to join the Democratic party. D’Souza is guessing, and his readers are not expected to realize that.

D’Souza is playing the game that has become known as “Quick History Lesson.” Here is the link from four years ago:

Facebook again. Somebody posted this on their Facebook feed. It’s supposed to be a history lesson. In fact, it’s title is “Quick History Lesson.” It is quick. Here’s what it says:

And here’s the meme that got the discussion going:

The argument being made then, as D’Souza is attempting to make now, is that Democratic Party = Left = liberal = racist. Follow the link and see how that approach leads nowhere. My observation from four years ago hints at D’Souza’s fallacy:

Strom Thurmond is one of those Democrats who deserted the Party when it started becoming too liberal in 1964.

James Strom Thurmond (December 5, 1902 – June 26, 2003) was an American politician who served for 48 years as a United States Senator. He ran for president in 1948 as the States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes. Thurmond represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 until 2003, at first as a Democrat and, after 1964, as a Republican. He switched because of his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, disaffection with the liberalism of the national party, and his support for the conservatism and opposition to the Civil Rights bill of the Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater. He left office as the only senator to reach the age of 100 while still in office and as the oldest-serving and longest-serving senator in U.S. history (although he was later surpassed in length of service by Robert Byrd and Daniel Inouye). Thurmond holds the record at 14 years as the longest-serving Dean of the United States Senate in U.S. history.

A Democratic (not all that liberal) president ended racial discrimination in the United States Military services. More recently, liberals, principally of the Democratic Party, have championed laws forbidding hiring discrimination against homosexuals. A liberal Democratic president has ordered a halt to anti-homosexual bias in the military services. These have been liberal initiatives with little or no support from the conservative faction.

I state without further elaboration that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and similar civil rights legislation would not exist today if the conservatives presently representing the Tea Party coalition had their way.

The “Quick History Lesson” theme carried through multiple subsequent posts, including one with the following observation:

Smith is right. It was the Republican Party that abolished slavery 150 years ago, and it was the Democratic Party in the Old South that continued to support suppression of black citizens for nearly a hundred years until… Until Franklin Roosevelt was elected as a very liberal president in 1932, and Democratic President Harry Truman desegregated the United States armed services. The kicker came in the presidential election of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was nominated, and movie actor Ronald Reagan explained to Republicans at the nominating convention how bad and nonconservative had been the policies of Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In that year conservatives began to see the light and to make their shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. This day the Confederate flag never waves at a Democratic Party function, and the Old South is nearly wall to wall Republican.

If Carl Smith is concerned about the welfare of the KKK he can put his mind at ease. The KKK still has a small place in the hearts of some people, and he never had to look very far from his podium at the March CPAC to find that place.

Yes, D’Souza is going to need to stretch the truth mightily to lay racism at the feet of today’s Democratic Party or to link it to what he calls the American Left.

Some more:

Even after the election, it’s now harder, as a consequence of the book and movie, for Democrats to play the race card. They tried, briefly, in attempting to halt the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Trump’s attorney general. Decades ago, the charge went, he said some racist things. Yes, but what about Democrat Robert Byrd, “conscience of the Senate”? Decades ago, he had been a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet the Clintons and Obama eulogized him when he died in 2010. The Democrats discovered, to their dismay, that their race card had become a dud. It no longer worked. Sessions sailed through.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 128-132). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Yes, the new Attorney General was found by Democrats (and liberals) to be unfavorable, and they did lean on his previous positions on racially-sensitive issues to push for his defeat. Subsequent developments show a mixture. Here are some citations from Wikipedia:

On April 10, 2017, Sessions disbanded the National Commission on Forensic Science and ended the Department’s review of the forensic accuracy in closed cases.

On April 3, 2017, Sessions announced that he was going to review consent decrees in which local law enforcement agencies had agreed to Department oversight. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar then denied Sessions’s request to delay a new consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department.

On May 12, 2017, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to begin seeking the greatest criminal charges possible. The new guidelines rescinded a memo by Attorney General Eric Holder that had sought to reduce mass incarceration by avoiding mandatory sentencing.

On October 4, 2017, Sessions released a Department of Justice (DoJ) memo interpreting Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, stating that Title VII “is ordinarily defined to mean biologically male or female,” but it “does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se.” The memo was written to withdraw an earlier DoJ memorandum issued by Eric Holder on December 15, 2014, which aligned the DoJ with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on interpreting Title VII to include gender identity or transgender status as a protected class. At that time, DoJ had already stopped opposing claims of discrimination brought by federal transgender employees.[141] Devin O’Malley, representing the DoJ, stated “the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle [that the Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided], which necessitated today’s action.” Sharon McGowan, a lawyer with Lambda Legal who previously served in the Civil Rights division of DoJ, rejected that argument, saying “this memo [issued by Sessions] is not actually a reflection of the law as it is — it’s a reflection of what the DOJ wishes the law were” and “[t]he Justice Department is actually getting back in the business of making anti-transgender law in court.”

However:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.

Regarding D’Souza’s claim that Sessions’ confirmation “sailed through” indicates a considerable variance from reality. The fact is that Sessions was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 47 in the Senate, with all Republicans voting for confirmation in addition to one Democrat. There was one abstention, and 45 Democrats voted against in addition to the two Independent senators. I look forward to sailing through my next medical exam.

D’Souza spends much of Chapter One defining the terms Nazi and Fascist. The goal appears to be that if you parse the right definitions you can pin these disagreeable terms on Democrats and on liberals in general. For the record, official Fascism began in Italy post World War One with the rise of Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler so admired Mussolini’s approach he adopted the concept in his nascent Nazi (National Socialist) party. In only this manner are the two closely associated. A more scholarly definition of Fascism is found in Wikipedia:

Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalismMarxism and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.

Ignoring that definition, D’Souza wants to place Fascism to the left of center.

This is a topic I have not written about before. On two occasions, once in 1976 and again in 1980, Reagan offhandedly linked the Democratic Party with fascism.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 86-87). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

But that was Ronald Regan, dead over ten years. Come forward to 2017, and D’Souza wants to deny Fascism is right wing:

In this case, the story that we had accepted, like suckers, was the idea that fascism and Nazism are inherently “right wing.”

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 94-96). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

And he goes on from there. He rightly gets into the tactics of the anti-fascist (AntiFa) people. They are disrupting, often with violence, conservative speakers and events. The publication date on the book states it came out in 2017, and it is likely so that publication preceded some significant events:

The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally) was a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, from August 11–12, 2017. Its stated goal was to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, which itself had been renamed by City Council from ”Lee Park” two months earlier. Protesters included white supremacistswhite nationalistsneo-Confederatesneo-Nazis, and various militias. Some of the marchers chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, carried semi-automatic riflesswastikasConfederate battle flagsanti-Muslimand antisemitic banners, and “Trump/Pence” signs.

[Skip some material]

After the aborted rally, at around 1:45 p.m., a man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors, hitting several and slamming into a stopped sedan, which hit a stopped minivan that was in front of it. The impact of the crash pushed the sedan and the minivan further into the crowd. One person was killed and 19 others were injured in what police have called a deliberate attack. The man then reversed the car through the crowd and fled the scene.

If you have missed any signs that Dinesh D’Souza is all for Donald Trump, then it is because I have not brought the matter up until now. Yes, Dinesh D’Souza goes full-court to defend Donald Trump against his detractors.

Start with this. In previous postings I have noted that a particularly odorous crowd seems attracted to Trump and cannot be found anywhere cheering for Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama).

Obviously, the question still remains: why do these guys like Trump if Trump isn’t a racist like them? One possible answer is that these are jobless guys, losers in society, some of them total imbeciles. Whatever they call themselves—fascists or something else—frankly I don’t believe they are fascists or know much about fascism. Hitler would have sent most of them straight to the gas chambers. (Let’s recall that one of the earliest categories of people Hitler euthanized were the so-called “imbeciles.”) It’s quite possible that these guys voted for Trump because they expect him to bring back unskilled jobs. So even if Trump is not a racist, it’s still possible that racists would like him for reasons that have nothing to do with racism.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 714-720). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

That reasoning is a neat piece of work. Why are (the people I mentioned) attracted to Trump? D’Souza grasps for an answer. Apparently any answer. These people are jobless (desperate). Or maybe merely losers. Else they could be imbeciles. Yes, I could agree with the last. D’Souza plunges on from there—for whatever reason I cannot discern. Yes, if they are imbeciles, then they are the kind that Nazis would not like—the Nazis would euthanize them. So, why would they support Trump if Trump were a Nazi? Makes sense.

D’Souza goes to tremendous length to winnow out the definition of Nazi and Fascist, and I am not going to follow that thread to its conclusion. I will close by dropping some quotes I found interesting.

Trump’s statements about Muslims cannot be termed racist for the simple reason that Islam is a religion, not a race. Can they, however, be termed xenophobic or anti -Muslim?

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 724-725). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Have fun with that one while I go on to the next.

It follows, therefore, that civil rights belong only to citizens. Aliens who are not part of the American social compact don’t have any constitutional rights. Again, Trump’s denial that illegal aliens have a constitutional right to be here is in the mainstream of the liberal tradition.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 735-738). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

D’Souza is a naturalized citizen from India, so he must have taken a civics course as part of the process. Apparently he slept through the class describing a constitutional amendment that guarantees everybody due process of the law. To put it briefly, non-citizens, legally here or not, have constitutional rights. An illegal alien cannot be arrested and convicted for a crime without a trail and all that goes with it.

Finally, let’s hear it for President Trump.

He got himself elected, and now he’s handling the most extreme opposition with aplomb.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 785-786). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Please try not to laugh.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment covers the period 10 May to 20 August 1937, 80 years ago. There are few entries, but some are telling. In May Shirer completed the first draft of what he called “the Indian novel.” A short search does not turn up any such published work. In subsequent weeks German involvement in the Spanish Civil War escalated, and his journal entries dwelt on significant events:

BERLIN, May 30

I have rarely seen such indignation in the Wilhelmstrasse as today. Every official I saw was fuming. The Spanish republicans yesterday bombed the pocket-battleship Deutschland at Ibitza with good result, killing, according to the Germans, some twenty officers and men and wounding eighty. One informant tells me Hitler has been screaming with rage all day and wants to declare war on Spain. The army and navy are trying to restrain him.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 950-954). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

BERLIN, May 31

I feel like screaming with rage myself. The Germans this day have done a typical thing. They have bombarded the Spanish town of Almería with their warships as reprisal for the bombing of the Deutschland. Thus Hitler has his cheap revenge and a few more Spanish women and children are dead. The Wilhelmstrasse also announced Germany’s (and Italy’s) withdrawal from the Spanish naval patrol and from the non-intervention talks. Dr. Aschmann called us to the Foreign Office about ten a.m. to give us the news. He was very pious about it all. I was too outraged to ask questions, but Enderis and Lochner asked a few. Perhaps today’s action will end the farce of “non-intervention,” a trick by which Britain and France, for some strange reason, are allowing Hitler and Mussolini to triumph in Spain.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 954-961). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The following month brought home the grim realities of Nazi rule, a portent of much to come:

BERLIN, June 4

Helmut Hirsch, a Jewish youth of twenty who was technically an American citizen though he had never been to America, was axed at dawn this morning. Ambassador Dodd fought for a month to save his life, but to no avail. It was a sad case, a typical tragedy of these days. He was convicted by the dreaded People’s Court, a court of inquisition set up by the Nazis a couple of years ago, of planning to murder Julius Streicher, the Nuremberger Jew-baiter. What kind of trial it was— no American or outside representatives were present— can only be imagined. I’ve seen a few trials before this court, though most of them are in camera, and a man scarcely has a chance, four of the five judges being Nazi party boys (the fifth is a regular judge) who do what they’re expected to do.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 961-967). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s surmise was that Hirsch was entrapped, provided with bomb materials and guns, then arrested when he crossed the border into Germany. Neat people, those Nazis.

There was church opposition to Hitler and the Nazis, and there were notorious repercussions:

BERLIN, June 15

Five more Protestant pastors arrested yesterday, including Jacobi from the big Gedächtniskirche. Hardly keep up with the church war any more since they arrested my informant, a young pastor; have no wish to endanger the life of another one.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 983-985). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In July Shirer began to entertain prospects of new job opportunities. Jay Allen with the Chicago Tribune (“Chicago Daily News”) gave him Edward R. Murrow‘s card. Murrow was director of European operations for CBS. On 14 August Shirer’s position became tenuous:

BERLIN, August 14

Universal Service has folded after all. Hearst is cutting his losses. I am to remain here with INS, but as second man, which I do not like.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 1002-1003). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Difficulties reporting from Nazi Germany escalated as the Nazi’s played power games with foreign correspondents:

BERLIN, August 16

Norman Ebbutt of the London Times, by far the best correspondent here, left this evening. He was expelled, following British action in kicking out two or three Nazi correspondents in London, the Nazis seizing the opportunity to get rid of a man they’ve hated and feared for years because of his exhaustive knowledge of this country and of what was going on behind the scenes. The Times, which has played along with the pro-Nazi Cliveden set, never gave him much support and published only half of what he wrote, and indeed is leaving Ebbutt’s assistant, Jimmy Holburn, to continue with the office here.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 1004-1008). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shortly thereafter Shirer lost his job due to cutbacks in the International News Service European staff. He then began his career with CBS, on the path that would shortly take him to international notoriety.

BERLIN, August 20

I have a job. I am to go to work for the Columbia Broadcasting System. That is, if…. And what an if it is! It is this way: It is crazy. I have the job if my voice is all right. That’s the catch. Who ever heard of an adult with no pretentions to being a singer or any other kind of artist being dependent for a good, interesting job on his voice? And mine is terrible. I’m positive of it. But that’s my situation tonight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 1027-1031). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Future posts will chronicle Shirer’s radio news postings with CBS in collaboration with Ed Morrow. The world was about to view the onset of another world war in nearly real time. It was a first for this planet.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Tuesday again and another reminder it’s not just Jesus who coaxes believers to their deaths. Here I present the sad story of Timo Degen:

Timo Degen, a 31-year-old kindergarten teacher from Munich, died in March 1997 after reading about Greve’s quasi-mysticism and the “liberation from the drudgery of food and drink” on one of her many internet sites. On day 12 of his diet he reported having visual problems and a week later he slipped into a coma. A hospital spokesman said Degen had suffered “an almost total circulatory system collapse” and looked as though “he’d been in a concentration camp”; after four weeks on intravenous drips he recovered, only to fall over and die from a head injury.

Well, that’s bad enough. The story from Cult Education Institute follows up with additional enlightment:

Greve’s followers have been unrepentant, and the German new age magazine Esotera announced that “one death in 5,000 is not too high a price to pay to fight world hunger”.

Greve is, of course, Ellen Greve, also known as Jasmuheen. I recently reviewed her book Pranic Nourishment, which is a revised edition of her earlier Living on Light. In it she echoes the sentiments of the Esoteria writer:

Through introducing the idea and method of fine-tuning it is our intention to aid in the elimination of world hunger through pranic nourishment which will also then benefit the environment and create a more sustainable future for the planet.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2769-2771). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Believe what you want, but I am thinking Greve’s teachings will most quickly eliminate world hunger by eliminating people.

The Comfort Delusion

Creationist Ray Comfort, part 3

This is a continuing discussion of Ray Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. What it seems to be about is the author’s argument for the existence of the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus plus what goes along with that. His argument I will summarize with an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

To be an atheist is to play Russian roulette with all barrels loaded. An atheist can’t win. Of course, he feels and acts like a big player, until the trigger is pulled.

The issue isn’t the existence of God. If the atheist is wrong and there is a Creator, then he was wrong. He gambled and he lost. No big deal. The real gamble is that there’s no hell. That’s what makes the player sweat just a little. “What if?” is the deep and nagging doubt. He believes it’s worth the excitement of the game. Yet atheism isn’t a mind game; it is intellectual suicide.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 87-91). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

I found it difficult to digest Comfort’s entire presentation at once, so I’m breaking out topics to discuss. This discussion is going to be about illicit sex.

By now everybody knows about sex. There are close to 7.5 billion people on this planet, and all but a very few got here by means of sexual copulation between males and females. Obviously this is going to be a topic of interest to all but a few.

As an outsider looking in, what I find most interesting is Ray Comfort’s fascination with sex and his ideas about illicit versus perfectly all right sex. Despite the title of the book (leading atheists to water and so forth) he spends a lot of the book’s available space dwelling on the difference between two brands of sex. For example:

But the justice of Almighty God is so thorough He will see to it that thieves, liars, fornicators, blasphemers, adulterers, and all who have transgressed the moral Law (the Ten Commandments) will get equity—that which is due to them.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 116-118). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Fornicators (read the book) are people who engage in sexual intercourse with people (even of the opposite sex) with whom they do not have a binding that has been sanctioned by a holy person or at least by a designated public official. People who do this are lumped together with thieves and liars. Notice Comfort also mentions blasphemers and adulterers. Adulterers are really fornicators, because there is no aforementioned binding covering their transgression. This so much interests Ray Comfort that he mentions fornication in one use of the word or another no fewer than 15 times.

And that’s about it. To hear Comfort tell it, sexual copulation is a human activity of such a special nature that it needs to be set aside from others and given a place of interest to an imaginary person conjured up by Bronze Age tribes people something like 3000 years ago. Some analysis is due.

What’s wrong with fornication? Let us concede that the process by which all of us came to be has consequences in modern society. Besides sexually-transmitted disease, there is the hazard of unintended procreation. Of course, these two are also possible consequences of sexual copulation within the scope of a recognized binding (marriage). Maybe what is needed is an injunction against social irresponsibility, and that would really cover nearly everything, including lying and stealing.

But what this is about is Comfort’s manifest fascination with sex, especially fornication. To be clear, here are the remaining references from the book:

That means he is free to embark on his sexual prowls, because it is nothing but a basic instinct to do so. It’s his procreative nature to fornicate, and therefore therefore not a sin. For the atheist, this is a hill to die on.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 389-391). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Another accusation often leveled at us is that the Seventh Commandment is about “adultery,” not fornication (sex before marriage). That’s not true.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 840-841). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

true. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 makes clear that the Commandment not only includes fornicators, but it also includes homosexuals.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 841-842). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

However, God is so good He will also punish thieves, liars, fornicators, adulterers, blasphemers, and everyone who has violated His perfect and holy Law.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1013-1014). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Rapists, murderers, thieves, liars, blasphemers, adulterers, fornicators, etc., will get exactly what they deserve, and if I die in my sins, being Jewish will not save me from the justice of a holy God.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1047-1049). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He has seen your lust (see Matthew 5:27-28), fornication, lies, anger, blasphemy, and rebellion.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1179-1180). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

It is His Law that you have violated with your lust, lying, stealing, hatred, fornication, and blasphemy, etc.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Location 1186). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

As each of us grows from childhood, we have the potential to be a fornicator, a liar, a thief, an adulterer, a pervert, a homosexual, a drunkard, a murderer, a rapist, or a pedophile.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1263-1264). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor coveters, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists will inherit the kingdom of God.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1269-1270). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

[Quoted from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11]

Upon my repentance and faith in Jesus, my guilt will disappear. All of it. Not for lust only, but for all of my sins—for ingratitude, rebellion, greed, unbelief, lying, stealing, fornication, etc. All the guilt disappears upon repentance and faith in Jesus. Oprah can’t do that.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1543-1545). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

It’s also for those who are happily enjoying their fornication and pornography. It’s for both rich and poor, top rockers and rock bottomers, happy and sad—all of us need

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1655-1656). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He will not only punish adulterers and fornicators, but His just wrath will also fall on all those who have lusted after another person, lied, stolen, hated, blasphemed, etc.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1838-1839). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Let’s look at your moral judgments for a moment. Do you think homosexuality is morally wrong? Of course you don’t (I’m guessing). How about fornication? Adultery? Murder? Rape? Lying and stealing?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1856-1857). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

If society says that fornication (sex outside of marriage) is okay, then you agree. Then if society says that it’s morally right to exterminate Jews, then you must say that it’s okay, because you have no moral absolutes. The thought of you ending up in

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1859-1861). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

I think I picked up on all references. That last one is interesting. Ray Comfort, besides leveling fornication with genocide, wants to make the case against societal norms. Genocide would not be condoned under God’s law (except that it appears to be), so if morality is determined by society, then a society that condones fornication can also condone genocide. Except that God’s law, as interpreted by Ray Comfort, is really a codification of societal norms from those ancient times. Comfort can believe to his distress that his moral code has divine inspiration, but the hard fact is the Bible, the alleged source of his moral code, was written by people. It is straight out of the human brain.

Our Bronze Age ancestors had reasons for wanting to orchestrate standards for sexual conduct, among other forms of activity, and they invoked an imaginary person in order to give these standards additional authority, said additional authority being strictly manufactured. A well-ordered life remains an asset in modern society, but the solution is enlightened example and not reliance on unbalanced doctrinaires. Ray Comfort has enough demonstrated personal baggage to render him a questionable source of how to conduct our lives. It is doubtful he will ever come around to abandoning his slipshod thinking and gain credibility with a thinking society.

Whole Cloth

I was looking for a title—something to call this. Help was on the way:

For example, a cotton shirt cannot be made until the cotton has been sown as seeds, then grown, harvested and woven, and from this fabric many types of garments can be made. Our baseline is like the cloth, a weave that runs through all.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 4248-4250). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

And that’s about the substance of this book. It has all the appearance of being cut from whole cloth—meaning it’s made up.

What got me onto this was something we covered 15 years ago for The North Texas Skeptics:

Before we get on to Wiley Brooks we need to talk about Ellen Greve. Greve is a former Australian business woman who now calls herself Jasmuheen. She is a New Age guru promoting avoidance of food. Her cult is said to have a following of 5000 world wide. At least one wiseacre has conjectured these may not be the same followers from one year to the next. Her followers tend to be claimants of the famous Darwin Awards.

Australian follower Verity Linn succumbed while attempting to follow Jasmuheen’s guidelines near Cam Loch in Scotland in September 1999. Prior to that in the summer of 1998 Lani Morris of Melbourne breathed herself to death, and Timo Degen, a German kindergarten teacher, did the same in 1997.

Yeah, people were dying under the false belief that, properly conditioned, a person can live without food. Interest in the subject picked up recently, and Greve updated her book. The previous title was Living on Light. You can still get a copy from Amazon from $1044 (paperback). The new edition is Pranic Nourishment, and I have the Kindle edition ($7.77). The much revised edition acknowledges the danger of actually practicing what Greve preaches.

March 2006 with Jasmuheen:

I feel guided to add additional points regarding caregivers …

At the end of the nineties an Australian women, Lani Morris, died in Brisbane Australia. Her caregiver said that she was experiencing many difficulties but refused to stop and that on day 7 she drank 1.5 litres of pure orange juice, consequently she collapsed into a coma and was later taken off life support. Her caregiver Jim Pesnak and his wife – a couple who were in their 70’s who I had never met – were arrested and charged with manslaughter and jailed. The court said that it was their duty to stop this woman from proceeding as soon as they noticed she had difficulty. At the time they felt that as a responsible adult it was her choice whether to go on or stop.

Personally I feel that the only caregiver we need is the Divine One Within and as I keep stressing, if its guidance and voice is not 100% clear and trusted by you then the 21-day process is not for you.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2389-2397). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Obviously Greve does not completely shoulder responsibility for the multiple deaths of people attempting to follow her advice. We are  left to believe fault lies with the caregivers.

Make no mistake. The principles of chemistry and physics still hold. Greve’s wacko ideas have no basis in fact and seem to have been  pulled straight out of a fevered brain or drawn from half-baked New Ageisms. Without digging into the book’s narrative, I  will just illustrate with some excerpts. Start here, first paragraph:

I have come to understand that the process that I – and many others – have undergone to allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis. Rather than take the energy from the sun as plants do we have developed the ability to tap into and absorb the Universal Life force or ‘chi’ energy directly into our cells. This occurs via mind mastery where command and expectation utilizes the Universal Law of Resonance where like attracts like. Because I expect the pranic forces to nourish and sustain me having undergone the 21-day process as outlined in the latter chapters, it does.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 206-211). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Greve means that literally, “allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis.” No. There is no evidence anything like that has ever happened or can happen. The hard, cold fact is that Greve is a fraud. The signature attempt by her to demonstrate her philosophy ended catastrophically:

In 1998, she appeared in her first film, a six-part direct to video documentary called The Legend of Atlantis: Return of the Lightmasters. The Australian television programme 60 Minutes challenged Jasmuheen to demonstrate how she could live without food and water. The supervising medical professional Dr Beres Wenck found that, after 48 hours, Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, and high blood pressure. Jasmuheen claimed that this was a result of “polluted air”. On the third day, she was moved to a mountainside retreat about 15 miles from the city, where she was filmed enjoying the fresh air, claiming she could now successfully practice Inedia. But as filming progressed, Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she lost over a stone (6 kg or 14 lb) in weight. After four days, she acknowledged that she had lost weight, but stated that she felt fine. Dr. Wenck stated: “You are now quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%.” The doctor continued: “Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risk if she goes any further is kidney failure.” Jasmuheen’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly due to acute dehydration, despite her contrary insistence. Dr Wenck concluded that continuing the experiment would ultimately prove fatal. The film crew agreed with this assessment and stopped filming.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Greve continues with the nonsense to this day, as evidenced by the book. Fact is, a hot book (I purchased a copy) is strong motivation.

It’s also a hilarious display of the codswallop devoured by a sizable chunk of 21st century society. Examples abound:

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra in his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, every atom is more than 99.9% empty space and the subatomic particles moving at great speed through this space are bundles of vibrating energy which carry information and unique codings. He calls this “thinking non-stuff” as it cannot be seen by physical eyes.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 222-225). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

First of all note the reference to the equally delusional Deepak Chopra. If we accuse Greve of making all this stuff up, she can fall back on pointing out she is merely quoting another authority, disregarding that the other authority is just as whacked out as she is. More:

When a Being is vibrating at a lower frequency, it permits many other forms of energies to mix and mingle with its pool of energy and its cycles. When this happens, the thoughts have a tendency to get confused which causes a being to experience frustration.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 315-317). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

This is excerpted from a more expansive paragraph, yet it is significant. “Lower frequency?” Where does she get this stuff? Assume it’s not Deepak Chopra. There are no facts relating to “beings” (people?), vibrational frequencies, “energy cycles” that back this up. She’s pulling stuff out of the air. It’s the very definition of “whole cloth.”

There are said to be seven cosmic planes – physical, astral, mental, Buddhic, atmic, monadic and Logoic.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 339-340). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Don’t you just love it when a writer puts down, “there is said to be…?” Gives you a lot of confidence in what you’re reading. No, it doesn’t. It gives you confidence that stuff is being pulled out of the air.

This is an interesting concept and one well explored by the Theosophists among others. The exact midpoint between the in and out breath is said to be in the year 2012, this date is the last date of the Mayan calendar and is foretold by the Hopi Indians and many other civilisations. This year marks a time of wondrous change with multitudes awakening to their true divinity.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 344-346). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully it won’t be necessary for me to post any more clips from the book. Evidence is that Greve is making stuff up.

I can’t leave off this topic without opening a look into a remarkable bit of self-delusion—something revealing. Items of this sort are dropped, almost randomly, through the book.

So since June 1993, I have existed on tea and water, then for pleasure tasted ‘white’ food (a potato phase due to boredom and lack of mind mastery) or the odd mouthful of chocolate and regardless of these indulgences I know that the only thing that nourishes and sustains me is Light.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1453-1455). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

I began to exchange my pure fruit juice preference for the odd cappuccino or the odd mouthful of chocolate just because I felt like the flavour of something sweet but I also learnt to transmute these things.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2657-2659). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

For me, as an absolute food purist for some 20 years, the process was extremely liberating! To be nourished from pranic energy and then be free to have a stage of tasting chocolate, or to have a potato scallop now and then through winter just for fun was fun!

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2659-2661). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

And more. The woman is eating. Is there another way to spell fraud? Let’s go further. Her claims about food intake are demonstrably false.

Since June 1993 I have existed on an average of 300 calories per day which covers the calorie content of sugar and milk in my tea.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Location 1473). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Hard information has it that an adult human cannot subsist on that daily energy intake:

“The basal metabolic rate of a human is about 1,300-1,500 kcal/day for an adult female and 1,600-1,800 kcal/day for an adult male.”

Now it’s time for me to pull stuff out of the air and make statements without citing any references. The above figures are likely for an active person. Walking, talking, grocery shopping. If you slow down, do nothing, lie on your back, look at the ceiling, you can survive on maybe 900 calories per day. The history of war prisoners held by the Japanese in World War Two bears out that an active person cannot survive on 900 calories per day.

Greve can claim to tone her metabolism to 100% efficiency, but there are some physical facts that cannot be ignored. A grown person, merely living, dissipates energy at 100 watts. That’s 8,640,000 joules per day. At 4184 joules per Calorie, that’s 2965 Calories per day, in conflict with the numbers referenced above. That means my estimate of 100 Watts is too high, but not by that much. In order for Greve to turn down her thermostat and only put out 300 Calories of heat per day, she’s going to have to be stone cold. She is definitely at odds with some basic physics in her wild-ass claims.

Bottom line, whack job of a book, a few people dead, money in Greve’s pocket, 21st century public not much better off than their ancestors from 1000 years back. That’s progress.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Some readers complain… Actually, I don’t receive a bunch of complaints about this series, including nobody complaining when I blame Jesus. So, people must be cool with blaming Jesus on a bunch of untimely deaths. The facts being, Jesus is more often not to blame. Stupidity in the form of false belief is alive and well without the benefit of Jesus, as evidenced by the Breatharians:

Prior to her death Verity Linn had announced her intent to follow the Breatharian quest, and a copy of Jasmuheen’s book was found near her body. However, it is not apparent the notorious demise of Jasmuheen’s followers resulted in major hit on her popularity. Besides “Living on Light,” she has two other books, “In Resonance” and “Our Camelot,” listed on Amazon.

The book mentioned, “Living on  Light,” is now in its fourth edition and retitled Pranic Nourishment, with the subtitle “Nutrition for the New Millennium.” I just now purchased a Kindle edition, and you should be looking for a review (possibly not favorable) in the near future.

As mentioned in the referenced item from The North Texas Skeptic:

[Ellen] Greve is a former Australian business woman who now calls herself Jasmuheen. She is a New Age guru promoting avoidance of food. Her cult is said to have a following of 5000 world wide. At least one wiseacre has conjectured these may not be the same followers from one year to the next. Her followers tend to be claimants of the famous Darwin Awards.

The Wikipedia entry for Jasmuheen contains detail of additional interest:

Jasmuheen developed financial and business management skills working full-time in the finance industry. In 1992 she began combining her experience in business and finance with meditation, selling access to workshops and seminars on the topic and, by deed poll changed her name to Jasmuheen.

In 1998, she appeared in her first film, a six-part direct to video documentary called The Legend of Atlantis: Return of the Lightmasters. The Australian television programme 60 Minutes challenged Jasmuheen to demonstrate how she could live without food and water. The supervising medical professional Dr Beres Wenck found that, after 48 hours, Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, and high blood pressure. Jasmuheen claimed that this was a result of “polluted air”. On the third day, she was moved to a mountainside retreat about 15 miles from the city, where she was filmed enjoying the fresh air, claiming she could now successfully practice Inedia. But as filming progressed, Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she lost over a stone (6 kg or 14 lb) in weight. After four days, she acknowledged that she had lost weight, but stated that she felt fine. Dr. Wenck stated: “You are now quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%.” The doctor continued: “Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risk if she goes any further is kidney failure.” Jasmuheen’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly due to acute dehydration, despite her contrary insistence. Dr Wenck concluded that continuing the experiment would ultimately prove fatal. The film crew agreed with this assessment and stopped filming.

Sadly, there are additional deaths due to people following Jasmuheen’s eternal wisdom. So, who needs Jesus?

I will profile additional such deaths in future posts. And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

Literature again. It’s time to see who’s been  doing their summer reading.

A number of literary works begin with a significant sentence or phrase. Here are some. Identify the author, and for extra credit, identify the work.

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
  2. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
  3. In the second century of the Christian æra [This opening is so critical that a man used the words to name his children.]
  4. It was a pleasure to burn.
  5. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  6. Call me Ishmael.
  7. These are the times that try men’s souls.
  8. Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.

No fair running to Google. There is a page that lists many famous opening lines. Post your answer as a comment below. Best score wins.

Update and Answers

  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – First sentence in Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  2. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. – First sentence in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Written originally in Spanish.
  3. In the second century of the Christian æra [This opening is so critical that a man used the words to name his children.]- Opening words of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire  by Edward Gibbon.
  4. It was a pleasure to burn. – First sentence in Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  5. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – First sentence in 1984 by George Orwell (Eric Blair)
  6. Call me Ishmael. – First sentence in Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.
  7. These are the times that try men’s souls. – First sentence in The American  Crisis by Thomas Paine.
  8. Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. – First sentence in The Stranger by Albert Camus. Originally in French. Tania should have known that one, because she gave me a copy, although in French.

Is too late for me to get my money back?

Excursion into the absurd

It happened that yesterday I was preparing a post on a running theme I call “Industrial Strength Irony,” and my case study was mega-church pastor Dr. Robert Jeffreys. What was ironic was his “now you say you do, and now you don’t” posture on political civility:

That’s from the Lyrics On Demand, and it’s about sin in No Name City, but let’s pretend the subject is irony. Then here it is, I mean here it is:

This appalling act of violence highlights the fact that the unrelenting demonization of our legitimately elected political leaders could lead to tragedy, and I refer particularly to the mainstream media, our universities, and to Hollywood.

Now is the time to tone it all down, embrace real tolerance, report objectively, and stop provoking our nation to conflict.

And I could see this was so ironic when juxtaposed against his previous attempts at civility. An exemplar of this were the remarks made in a book he published a few years ago. I purchased a copy, a few dollars plus tax, and obtained the quote. And that was done. Then came today, and I have the book, in Kindle edition, on a terabyte computer drive and also on a flash memory card. And  there it sits. Maybe I should read it. I mean, read the entire book and not just the crazy parts. Came lunch today, and I had my soup and my cheese crackers and soda and my Samsung tablet. I decided to start with the first chapter. The title is “Why Study Bible Prophecy.” And I started reading. I read the first paragraph:

Have you ever read the novel Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan by Morgan Robertson? The novella tells the story of a magnificent ocean liner named the Titan that strikes an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York and sinks in the middle of the ocean. You are probably thinking, “This sure does sound like the real story of the Titanic.” Yet Robertson’s novel differs from the actual event in several ways. The ship in Futility was 1,800 feet long while the real Titanic was 1,882 feet long. The Titan was able to displace 66,000 tons of water, while the Titanic was able to displace 70,000 tons of water. Yet both ships were triple-screw ocean liners that could travel up to twenty-five knots per hour and transport three thousand passengers.

Robert, Jeffress. Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today (Kindle Locations 45-51). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

And I stopped right there. The part about Titanic being able to transport three thousand passengers is true, if you include the crew. A lot of the rest is not. The real Titanic was 882 feet (and nine inches). It displaced 53,210 tons. And knots per hour is not a meaningful combination of Roman typeface.

Is it too late for me to get my money back?

Given that I purchased the book originally to  obtain the quote in question, and given that this is a book by a writer who believes in a magical person in  the sky and that the “end times” are coming, and people will be teleported away, but only if they truly believe that the magical person  (MP) created people and  instilled in them a made up sin and then sought to punish them for this sin by drowning all but a select family and then impregnated a teenage girl with himself as the zygote and subsequently had himself tortured and killed to absolve all people of the supposed sin he had, himself, invented, after which he came alive again and walked and talked for 40 days before ascending into the sky, and given the remainder of the book is going to be full of this nonsense—should I finish reading it, or should I attempt to return it and get my money back?

I will allow readers to make the decision. I’m posting a link to this on Facebook, and I’m asking readers to let me know by voting on Facebook or in  the comment section below whether I should pay for the sins I inflicted during 76 years on this planet and read the remainder of this book and write a review. My fate is in your hands, readers. Do your worst.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Race To The Bottom

It was long ago, maybe 150 years, they started calling it. The United States of America had seen 15, and  then with the death of Abraham Lincoln 16, presidents come and go. Some outstanding, many mediocre. George Washington seemed to be everybody’s favorite. For some reason Andrew Jackson scored highly. Millard Fillmore was tops in mediocrity. But 150 years ago one stood out. James Buchanan ranked the lowest. Absolutely the worst president of all.

Until this year.

Reporter and author Garry Boulard published The Worst President in 2015, prior to the ascendancy of Donald Trump. To summarize, James Buchanan politicked 40 years to acquire the presidency and then took another four to destroy the office. What James Buchanan accomplished in four years, President Donald Trump put to shade within his first 100 days. We are going to hope Trump’s is a record that will stand for a thousand years.

Boulard’s dissection of the 15th president is neat and nearly surgical. He recounts Buchanan’s early years and his rise to prominence and then catalogs the fumble upon fumble that marked his term in office. And that’s all I’m going to do. There is some interesting stuff about Buchanan’s early times, and then I will sketch four highlights of his presidency.

To start:

When Buchanan was born, George Washington had been president for only 24 months. The U.S. Supreme Court had convened for the very first time the year before. There was no telegraph, no train, no Library of Congress, no Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Texas or California. There wasn’t even a New York Times.

But there was Pennsylvania, celebrating its third year as a state when Buchanan came to life in the tiny, forested Cove Gap, near the Maryland border, on April 23, 1791.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 447-451). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Tragedy struck early for young James. He became engaged to Anne Coleman, of a wealthy family, but after a friend suggested the proposed marriage was driven by money, she saw no honorable way out, and she killed herself. Buchanan never married, the only president who never did. Already in politics, he clawed his way up, always seeming to be in the know of the people who counted. Some of his rise was actually based on merit:

But his bachelorhood in a country that revered family never really hurt him as he rose in the ranks, mostly out of public view, serving as Andrew Jackson’s Minister to Russia in the early 1830s, James Polk’s Secretary of State in the mid-1840s and Franklin Pierce’s Minister to Great Britain in the mid-1850s.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 286-289). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Compared to other presidents of the time, his foreign policy experience was possibly unmatched. His term in office, however, was marked by episodes without compare up to that point. Here are six:

Kansas

Slavery was the big issue of those years preceding the Civil War. The United States, seemingly founded on human liberty, codified human slavery within its constitution. It quickly developed that the Southern economy depended on the cheap (free?) labor of slaves, and that drove the politics of the region. As new states were added to  the Union, especially states that could pass as southern, it was important for southerners to maintain a balance of power in Congress by admitting these states as “slave states.” Slavery would be legal in those states. Kansas was the flash point.

Blood had already been shed in the Kansas Territory when Buchanan came to power, a Democrat and a proponent of legal slavery. His solution to the Kansas problem was ambiguous to say the least. He proposed the people of Kansas should determine for themselves whether it would be a slave state,  then he worked the machinery to ensure it would be.

First he appointed his old friend Robert J. Walker, to be the territorial governor during the admission process. This was after much cajoling, because Walker did not want the job and declined multiple entreaties from Buchanan, some in writing. The problem was, once Walker became ensconced in the position, he proceeded to carry out Buchanan’s promise of impartiality. Buchanan immediately came under pressure from slavery advocates and caved with great public notice:

Whatever doubts Buchanan may still have had regarding Walker were probably finally resolved eight days later when his long-time trusted adviser Robert Tyler bluntly urged him to remove Walker “without hesitation.”

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 941-942). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Dred Scott

Scott was an escaped slave who sued in court for his freedom. The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that slavery was, in fact, legal, and Scott’s petition was denied. President Buchanan gained additional notoriety by interfering with the process:

Bumptiously inserting himself into the preliminary deliberations of the court, Buchanan had not only corresponded with Catron on the matter, but also Associate Justice Robert Grier, pushing him to join the Southern majority. Grier, of Pennsylvania, was uncomfortable going against the wishes of the president-elect of his own state and may have felt additional pressure recalling that he held his seat primarily because Buchanan had declined an earlier nomination from President Polk to the

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 808-811). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Cuba

The United States was not to acquire the island of Cuba for another 50 years, but expansionist elements already had an eye in that direction. There were plans to purchase Cuba from mother Spain, plans which did not involve what is commonly considered to be a purchase:

The task of advancing the President’s Cuban proposal in the Senate fell to the durable John Slidell, a long-standing devotee of invading the island nation. Brandishing charts and maps, Slidell, beginning in January 1859, championed legislation that would give Buchanan $30 million to be used in the acquisition of Cuba. Slidell imaginatively argued that the purchase of Cuba was a natural outgrowth of American expansionism. The “law of our national existence is a growth we cannot disobey,” he exclaimed, telling his colleagues that as Britain was in India, and France was in Africa, the U.S. should be in Cuba.

It wasn’t just Slidell who swung into action on this one. To Buchanan’s pleasure, his pals came out of the woodwork in favor of his proposal.

“If Spain be indisposed to sell, I would seize Cuba,” Mississippi Senator Aaron Brown told an enthusiastic gathering of Tammany Hall Democrats in New York. Brown went on to note that the U.S. had tried to negotiate before with Spanish officials over Cuba—always unsuccessfully. “I have grown weary of this thing, of having young, proud, glorious America knocking at the door of Spain and asking for admission. It is our policy not to ask justice, but to demand it, because it is our right.”

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1099-1109). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

L’affaire Sickles

This was a nasty bit of business:

Sickles’ victim was Philip Barton Key, the District Attorney of Washington and son of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Sickles accused Key of having an affair with his attractive 22 year-old wife Teresa. He shot him three times, resulting in the District Attorney’s instant death and Sickles’ arrest later that afternoon. Buchanan was told of the shooting within minutes by a breathless White House page named John Bonitz who witnessed the killing.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1138-1142). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

The President of the United States gave this witness, John Bonitz, a bundle of money and advice to get out of town. This was doubly mysterious, since there were numerous other eye witnesses who came forward and testified against Sickles, a very good friend of the President’s. With the President’s additional meddling, along with the code of honor prevailing in those days, Sickles got off and served his country many years following.

The Crittenden Proposal

Perhaps no motion more dipped in human depravity ever came before the United States Government than the so-called Crittenden Proposal. The Democratic Party of those days was the party of slavery, and the newly launched Republican Party had in its plank the elimination of slavery. As the election of 1860 approached, it became evident the Republicans had the odds on at winning the presidency, with Abraham Lincoln, an acknowledged opponent of slavery, at the helm. Southerners saw no recourse but to secede from the Union in that event, and Buchanan saw the need to forestall secession. His solution involved throwing human rights to the wolves, and the Crittenden Proposal was emblematic:

No stranger to tackling thorny challenges, the 73 year-old Crittenden had served as President Millard Fillmore’s attorney general, painstakingly helping to broker the famous Compromise of 1850 which recognized Southern slavery, admitted California as a free state and organized the Utah and New Mexico territories with no restrictions on slavery. Now Crittenden visited the White House and told Buchanan that he thought he could make magic happen again, a magic that would rob secession of its purpose through the adoption of a series of amendments to the Constitution.

Those amendments would primarily prevent Congress from abolishing slavery where it existed; require that slave owners be compensated whenever fugitive slaves were harbored by abolitionists; prohibit slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line and protect slavery in territories south of that line. A final Crittenden proposal would lock it all in by declaring that none of the above amendments could be changed by subsequent amendment.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 2113-2120). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

The Civil War

Buchanan is best noted for his inability, or his unwillingness, to avoid civil war. A pronouncement of his is one that will live in infamy:

On December 3, drawing heavily on Black’s opinion, Buchanan declared in his annual message to Congress that while it was certainly unconstitutional for any state to leave the union, if one did, there really wasn’t much he could do about it.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 91-93). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

This followed the secession of South Carolina and came a few months preceding the onset of armed conflict. The result was 785,000–1,000,000+ dead within the following  four and a half years. We can only hope that President Trump succeeds only in continuing to make himself and the rest of us look foolish and will keep his finger off the launch button.

This is the place where I point out curiosities found in my edition. Emphasis added:

  • Multiple ways of spelling Buchanan. It’s Buchannan in three places.
  • That he now claimed to have summarily rejected the offer, and even went so far as to call it an insult, rang hallow.

    Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1536-1537). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

  • When, on the next day, that move was was completed,

    Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Location 1982). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Fundamental Apocalypse

The word in the title, “apocalypse,” has slipped its original meaning. It has come to  mean “dire circumstances.” And that’s what this movie is all about.

Hulu has produced a TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, from 31 years ago, and it’s right up there with any zombie apocalypse flick you care to see, made more treacherous by skillful understatement. It’s a tale of modern society gone horribly wrong. It’s about the people living through the fundamental apocalypse. Where have we seen this before?

What has happened is the Unite States government has been overthrown in a well-crafted coup d’état, carried out by a fundamentalist Christian movement. The coup is swift and decisive. The national government is decapitated in a single strike, eliminating all leaders of the national government, all leaders, that is, except perhaps some of the movement already in power. The coup is blamed on external forces, a monstrous false flag operation, necessitating the suspension of all civil rights. This is followed, of course, by the instigation of an authoritative and self-perpetuating rule and a state named Gilead. American law and American  society will now be based on biblical literalism. Almost to the letter.

Opening scenes show a family, husband, wife, daughter, from Boston, attempting to escape north across the Canadian border. They don’t make it. The husband stays by their stalled car while the wife and child dash through the woods toward the border, two miles away. Guardians, heavily-armed religious police, overtake the mother and daughter and carry the child away. Gunfire in the distance indicates the husband has been killed. The fate of the mother is worse.

The title derives from Genesis 16:

16 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

And that is about the sum total of the handmaid’s tale. Catalyst to the coup were multiple failures of modern society, one of which was a precipitous decline in human fertility. Genesis 16 was to counter this calamity. Fertile women were to be pressed into breading service, in almost exact accordance with the biblical passage. The wife, now given the name Offred (from Of Fred), undergoes a brutal program of indoctrination that renders her totally submissive and in perpetual dread of unpleasant death, at least superficially. She is placed in the home of a high level Commander, her only tasks consisting of daily grocery shopping and, once each month, spreading her legs so the Commander can penetrate and impregnate her. It is not a private affair. The Commander’s wife sits behind Offred and restrains her hands. Other members of the household observe. There is not a lot of love lost.

The first crack of the plot brings to mind Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100, previously reviewed. Recall from that tale (“If This Goes On”), the country has devolved into a repressive theocracy, and desirable young women are pressed into service as concubines for the priests. Other similarities exist. Heinlein’s story incorporates secret police keeping watch on everybody, and also an underground movement to oppose and overturn the theocracy. There are also shades of 1984, with eavesdropping cameras all about and sudden disappearances of those only suspected of apostasy. A black van may come to a stop next to the curb on a busy street and a pedestrian scooped inside, never to be seen again.

Another scene recalls The Stepford Wives. The handmaids shop in pairs, each keeping an eye on the other. They move among the supermarket aisles like grown up dolls on trolley wheels, the hems of their frocks almost brushing the floor. Faces devoid of expression.

As Offred and her shopping partner Ofglen (Of Glen) return to their respective prison houses, they often pass alongside the river, where authorities have on display the latest reminders of what resistance brings. Homosexuals and Catholic priests are equally served.

The book is presented as a narrative, recorded by a woman giving only her handmaid’s name, Offred, in what may have been a safe house along the escape route to Canada. An epilogue is presented as a symposium on the history of the Gileadean.

Being a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies, held as part of the International Historical Association Convention, held at the University of Denay, Nunavit, on June 25, 2195.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 299). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The presenter describes the finding of a collection of audio cassettes, inside a container in a house, in no particular order. The book has apparently been constructed by compiling and assembling transcripts of the tapes. Atwood’s book is meant to recreate the haphazard nature of the narrative, moving, jumping forward and backward in time, as the woman calls to mind her experiences in Gilead and her life before.

In the book, her narrative ends precipitously. There is a ceremony featuring the execution by hanging of three people, followed by the unmasking of revolutionary elements within the ranks of the handmaids. The wife of Offred’s Commander reveals her knowledge of Offred’s perfidy, a sexual fling with the Commander, and Offred is sent to her room to await her fate. When the black van arrives to  take her away the Guardians inside are revealed to be rescuers with the rebellion, come to help Offred escape. Offred’s narrative ends at that point.

There is ample in  the book to make a reader’s blood run cold, but Hulu has added more. I am up to episode 6 in the TV series, and the creators have already introduced disturbing sub-plots. One episode features a visit by a trade delegation from Mexico. The trade ambassador is a woman, a complete repudiation of Gileadean culture. On arriving she quizzes Offred about her situation, in the presence of the Commander and his household. Offred is meek to the core, telling the ambassador the is satisfied. At a later, private, meeting Offred is candid. She is a prisoner, raped monthly in a vain effort to produce a child, doomed to death at the end of her tenure. The Mexican ambassador says she cannot help Offred. Mexico has the same fertility crisis, and the Mexicans are prepared to trade chocolate for some of Gilead’s handmaids.

Contrary to the book, Hulu shows Offred’s husband, Luke, having escaped to Canada and receiving a note from Offred, smuggled to him by the Mexican delegation. It is unknown to me how much further along this tangent Hulu will carry the story. Is there going to be a counter revolution? Will Offred (revealed by Hulu as June) ever see her daughter alive again? Or Luke?

Some Skeptical Analysis is in order. Here are a few points of note:

The inception of Gilead by means of a surgical coup d’état is uncharacteristic. The creation of a totalitarian theocracy out of the United States is too quick and too precise. Historical precedent is contrary. The Soviet Union developed with breath-taking speed from the Russian Empire, but there was merely one framework of suppression and brutality exchanged for another. Additionally, Russia’s abject military failures were a necessary caustic agent. Nazi Germany grew remorselessly out of a German monarchy that suffered humiliating losses in a war of its own making. And it was not overnight. Chinese communism and the current state of Cuba are additional examples. Look to Venezuela to see a modern state collapsing into oligarchy. Neither the book nor the movie display such a run-up to dystopia.

Gilead’s economy is failing, and it is not difficult to see why. With one half of the work force standing as armed guard over the other half, who is doing productive work? The book does tell of Colonies, where slave labor is producing food and maybe other products of the economy, but shortages are rife in both renditions of the story.

A core theme is modern society’s plummeting birth rate. Gilead attempts to remedy this through the handmaids, and readers (viewers, as well) recognize this as a reliance on scripture to solve a real world problem and also a mechanism that only contributes to it. It is obvious to the the casual observer that Gilead, perhaps the remainder of human society, is doomed to extinction from aging within two or three generations. Only the religious fanatics can fail to recognize this.

Yes, I can see a society that rides theocracy into its grave. We have only to look at:

  • North Korea—yes it is a theocracy.
  • The Taliban

These societies, and others so organized, cannot exist in a modern world without an infusion from the world they detest.

Watching, also reading, one wonders whether this is the vision we could expect under today’s theocratic politicians. How much power would it be required for them to have to bend modern society along these lines? We may be experiencing a small taste. Is the experiment already underway?

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment will cover the year 1937 up through 7 May, 80 years ago. The first part of 1937 has few entries for Berlin Diary, the first one being 8 April:

BERLIN, April 8, 1937

April here and no Hitler surprise this spring yet. This may be a year of Nazi consolidation, building up the armed forces, assuring Franco victory in Spain, cementing relations with Italy (support for the Duce in Spain and the Mediterranean in return for his giving Germany a free hand in Austria and the Balkans), and giving the nerves of the German people a little rest.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 911-914). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And that was to be the case. During 1937 Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War intensified. Shirer left Universal Services and joined forces with Edward R. Murrow in reporting the early weeks of the coming war.

BERLIN, May 3

Gordon Young of Reuter’s and I ran into Lord Lothian about midnight in the lobby of the Adlon. He arrived here suddenly yesterday to confer with Nazi leaders. Young asked him why he had come. “Oh, Göring asked me to,” he replied. He is probably the most intelligent of the Tories taken in by Hitler, Göring, and Ribbentrop. We wanted to ask him since when he was under orders from Göring, but refrained.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 926-930). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Lord Lothian will be an unfamiliar figure to all but historians. Here’s from his Wikipedia entry:

Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, KT CH PC DL (18 April 1882 – 12 December 1940), known as Philip Kerr until 1930, was a British politician, diplomat and newspaper editor. He was private secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd George between 1916 and 1921. He played a major role in the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and was responsible for including the War Guilt Clause which he later felt was a bad mistake. After succeeding a cousin in the marquessate in 1930, he held minor office from 1931 to 1932 in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. In the late 1930s, he was a leading advocate of appeasement of Germany, emphasizing the harshness of the Versailles Treaty and the dangers of Stalin’s communism. From 1939 until his death in December 1940 he was Ambassador to the United States, Proving highly successful in winning Americans support for the British war effort, most notably the Lend Lease program, which passed Congress after his death.

By this time German President Paul von Hindenburg had been dead for over two years. On this day, 80 years ago, the great airship named after him came to a fiery end:

BERLIN, May 7

Hillman awakened me with a phone call from London about four a.m. today to inform me that the Zeppelin Hindenburg had crashed at Lakehurst with the loss of several lives. I immediately phoned one of the men who designed it, at Friedrichshafen. He refused to believe my words. I telephoned London and gave them a little story for the late editions. I had hardly gone back to sleep when Claire Trask of the Columbia Broadcasting System phoned to ask me to do a broadcast on the German reaction to the disaster. I was a bit ill-tempered, I’m afraid, at being awakened so early. I told her I couldn’t do it and suggested two or three other correspondents. About ten she called back again and insisted I do it. I finally agreed, though I had never broadcast in my life.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 930-936). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s tenure with Universal Service was to come to an end later in the year, as the Hearst conglomerate folded its operations to cut its losses.

From this point forward I will post on the 80th anniversary of a related entry. Entries are sparse for 1937, but from 1938 going forward events in Europe were coming to a boil. Shirer’s first-hand look has been hard to duplicate. Juxtaposed against the official history, it often provides chilling insight.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

This installment will cover the year 1936. That year saw the continued territorial solidification of Nazi Germany, with the re-militarization of the Rhineland. Imposition of capital punishment for those opposing the Nazis became a harsh reality. The Nazis began to extend their reach beyond national borders as Germany and Italy threw their weight on the side of the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. The year opened ominously and from there deteriorated without remorse.

BERLIN, January 4, 1936

The afternoon press, especially the Börsen Zeitung and the Angriff, very angry at Roosevelt’s denunciation of dictatorships and aggression, obviously directed mostly against Mussolini, but also meant for Berlin. Incidentally, an item I forgot to record: X of the Börsen Zeitung is not to be executed. His death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. His offence: he occasionally saw that some of us received copies of Goebbels’s secret daily orders to the press. They made rich reading, ordering daily suppression of this truth and the substitution of that lie. He was given away, I hear, by a Polish diplomat, a fellow I never trusted. The German people, unless they can read foreign newspapers (the London Times has an immense circulation here now), are terribly cut off from events in the outside world and of course are told nothing of what is happening behind the scenes in their own country. For a while they stormed the news-stands to buy the Baseler Nachrichten, a Swiss German-language paper, which sold more copies in Germany than it did in Switzerland. But that paper has now been banned.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 567-576). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Börsen Zeitung is not to be confused with the current publication, founded in 1952. Der Angriff (the Attack) was a propaganda sheet established by Joseph Goebbels. That somebody could receive the death sentence for disclosing manipulation of the press is telling of the Nazis’ need to strangle free information and also of their ruthless approach to the suppression of all opposition. Shirer’s continued conflict with Nazi repression was indicative:

BERLIN, January 23

An unpleasant day. A telephone call awakened me this morning— I work late and sleep late— and it turned out to be Wilfred Bade, a fanatical Nazi careerist at the moment in charge of the Foreign Press in the Propaganda Ministry. He began: “Have you been in Garmisch recently?” I said: “No.” Then he began to shout: “I see, you haven’t been there and yet you have the dishonesty to write a fake story about the Jews there….” “Wait a minute,” I said, “you can’t call me dishonest…” but he had hung up.

At noon Tess turned on the radio for the news just in time for us to hear a ringing personal attack on me, implying that I was a dirty Jew and was trying to torpedo the winter Olympic Games at Garmisch (which begin in a few days) with false stories about the Jews and Nazi officials there. When I got to the office after lunch, the front pages of the afternoon papers were full of typically hysterical Nazi denunciations of me. The Germans at the office expected the Gestapo to come to get me at any moment. Actually, I had written in a mail series, some time ago, that the Nazis at Garmisch had pulled down all the signs saying that Jews were unwanted (they’re all over Germany) and that the Olympic visitors would thus be spared any signs of the kind of treatment meted out to Jews in this country. I had also remarked, in passing, that Nazi officials had taken all the good hotels for themselves and had put the press in inconvenient pensions, which was true.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 576-588). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There follows Shirer’s account of his confrontation with Propaganda Minister Wilfrid Bade. That a nation would have the office of Propaganda Ministry is startling, and that it would be called the Propaganda Ministry is more so. Bade was scooped up by the Soviets at the conclusion of the European war in 1945 and died in one of their prisons later that year.

It should be noted that not all the Nazis were on the same side of the English Channel:

BERLIN, February 25

Learn that Lord Londonderry was here around the first of the month, saw Hitler, Göring, and most of the others. He is an all-out pro-Nazi. Fear he has not been up to any good.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 619-621). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

About this time the French, with the aim at hemming in Nazi Germany, concluded a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union, and the Nazis reacted in typical, scripted, fashion:

BERLIN, February 28

The French Chamber has approved the Soviet pact by a big majority. Much indignation in the Wilhelmstrasse. Fred Oechsner says that when he and Roy Howard saw Hitler day before yesterday, he seemed to be very preoccupied about something.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 622-624). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Stirrings became apparent within Nazi Germany as surreptitious plans for re-militarization of the Rhineland were conducted, even as denials flew:

BERLIN, March 6, midnight

This has been a day of the wildest rumours. Definite, however, is that Hitler has convoked the Reichstag for noon tomorrow and summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy, and Belgium for tomorrow morning. Since these are the four Locarno powers, it is obvious from that and from what little information I could pry out of party circles that Hitler intends to denounce the Locarno Treaty, which only a year ago this month he said Germany would “scrupulously respect.” My guess too, based on what I’ve heard today, is that Hitler will also make an end of the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland, though the Wilhelmstrasse savagely denies this. Whether he will send the Reichswehr in is not sure. This seems too big a risk in view of the fact that the French army could easily drive it out.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 627-633). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Rhineland is a German region adjacent to the border with France, and it had been decreed a military-free zone under terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The movement of German troops into this region was Hitler’s riskiest gamble at the time, and the lack of action by France and other Allied factions set the course for the coming of another world war.

BERLIN, March 7

A little on the careful side is right! Hitler on this day has torn up the Locarno Treaty and sent in the Reichswehr to occupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland! A few diplomats on the pessimistic side think it means war. Most think he will get by with it. The important thing is that the French army has not budged. Tonight for the first time since 1870 grey-clad German soldiers and blue-clad French troops face each other across the upper Rhine. But I talked to Karlsruhe on the phone an hour ago; there have been no shots. I’ve had our Paris office on the line all evening, filing my dispatch. They say the French are not mobilizing— yet, at least— though the Cabinet is in session with the General Staff. London— as a year ago— seems to be holding back. The Reichswehr generals are still nervous, but not so nervous as they were this morning.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 641-647). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day, Shirer assesses Hitler’s commitment to sincerity:

The quality of Hitler’s sincerity may be measured by his proposal to demilitarize both sides of the frontiers, thus forcing France to scrap her Maginot Line, now her last protection against a German attack.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 664-666). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Discussing Hitler:

He cleverly tried to reassure Poland in his speech today. His words were: “I wish the German people to understand that although it affects us painfully that an access to the sea for a nation of thirty-five million people should cut through German territory, it is unreasonable to deny such a great nation that access.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 699-701). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

To say that the German military command was nervous at this risky move is an understatement. This kind of action was counter to all good military experience, of which there was a considerable amount being wasted. The former corporal, in naive brashness, had successfully gone where the generals feared to tread. Shirer recalls observing Werner von Blomberg, commander of German armed forces:

After lunch I took a stroll alone through the Tiergarten to collect my thoughts. Near the Skagerakplatz I ran into General von Blomberg walking along with two dogs on the leash. His face was still white, his cheeks twitching. “Has anything gone wrong?” I wondered. Then to the office, where I pounded my head off all afternoon, stopping to telephone to Paris my story every time I had three or four hundred words. Remembered it was Saturday when New York came through by cable hollering for early copy for the Sunday morningers. Saturday is Hitler’s day all right: the blood purge, conscription, today— all Saturday affairs.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 702-706). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day:

Our Cologne correspondent phoned several times to give a description of the occupation. According to him, the German troops have been given delirious receptions everywhere, the women strewing their line of march with flowers. He says the air force landed bombers and fighters at the Düsseldorf airdrome and several other fields. How many troops the Germans have sent into the Rhineland today nobody knows. François Poncet (the French Ambassador) told a friend of mine tonight that he had been lied to three times by the German Foreign Office on the subject in the course of the day. The Germans first announced 2,000 troops, then later 9,500 with “thirteen detachments of artillery.” My information is that they’ve sent in four divisions— about 50,000 men.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 709-715). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer relates the apparent success of Hitler’s audacious move. What was possibly the last great opportunity to stop Hitler has been forfeited:

BERLIN, March 8

Hitler has got away with it! France is not marching. Instead it is appealing to the League! No wonder the faces of Hitler and Göring and Blomberg and Fritsch were all smiles this noon as they sat in the royal box at the State Opera and for the second time in two years celebrated in a most military fashion Heroes Memorial Day, which is supposed to mark the memory of the two million Germans slain in the last war.

Oh, the stupidity (or is it paralysis?) of the French! I learned today on absolute authority that the German troops which marched into the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland yesterday had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if the French army opposed them in any way. They were not prepared or equipped to fight a regular army. That probably explains Blomberg’s white face yesterday. Apparently Fritsch (commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr) and most of the generals opposed the move, but Blomberg, who has a blind faith in the Führer and his judgment, talked them into it. It may be that Fritsch, who loves neither Hitler nor the Nazi regime, consented to go along on the theory that if the coup failed, that would be the end of Hitler; if it succeeded, then one of his main military problems was solved.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 722-731). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day:

LATER.— Dosch-Fleurot had an interesting story tonight from the Rhineland, where he’s been watching the German occupation. He reports that Catholic priests met the German troops at the Rhine bridges and conferred blessings on them. In Cologne Cathedral Cardinal Schulte, he says, praised Hitler for “sending back our army.” Quickly forgotten is the Nazi persecution of the church. Dosch says the Rhine wine is flowing freely down there tonight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 756-759). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer analyses the aftermath of the rearmament of the Rhineland:

KARLSRUHE, March 13

Here, within artillery range of the Maginot Line, Hitler made his first “election” speech tonight. Special trains poured in all day from surrounding towns, bringing the faithful and those ordered to come. The meeting was held in a huge tent and the atmosphere was so suffocating that I left before Hitler arrived, returning to my hotel, where over a good dinner and a bottle of wine, with most of the other correspondents, I listened to the speech by radio. Nothing new in it, though he drummed away nicely about his desire for friendship with France. Certainly these Rhinelanders don’t want another war with France, but this reoccupation by German troops has inculcated them with the Nazi bug. They’re as hysterical as the rest of the Germans. Later went out to a Kneipe with a taxi-driver who had driven me around during the day and had a few Schnaps. He turned out to be a Communist, waxed bitter about the Nazis, and predicted their early collapse. It was a relief to find one German here against the regime. He said there are a lot of others, but I sometimes wonder.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 763-771). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

No part of public life was left untouched by the growing power of the dictatorship. Vis, the matter of Dr. Hugo Eckener:

March 29

The new Zeppelin— to be called the Hindenburg— soared gracefully over our office yesterday. I was down to Friedrichshafen the other day to inspect it and it’s a marvel of German engineering genius. Yesterday it was doing “election” propaganda, dropping leaflets exhorting the populace to vote “Ja.” Dr. Hugo Eckener, who is getting it ready for its maiden flight to Brazil, strenuously objected to putting it in the air this week-end on the ground it was not yet The new Zeppelin— to be called the Hindenburg— soared gracefully over our office yesterday. I was down to Friedrichshafen the other day to inspect it and it’s a marvel of German engineering genius. Yesterday it was doing “election” propaganda, dropping leaflets exhorting the populace to vote “Ja.” Dr. Hugo Eckener, who is getting it ready for its maiden flight to Brazil, strenuously objected to putting it in the air this week-end on the ground it was not yet

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 772-781). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Then, later in April:

Goebbels has forbidden the press to mention Eckener’s name.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 788). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Hindenburg exploded in flames while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the following year, killing 36 people.

Civil war erupted in Spain, where Shirer and his wife had spent the year 1933. Germany and Italy were to intervene, and the conclusion was eventually to affect disastrously the fortunes of the Axis powers:

BERLIN, July 18

Trouble in Spain. A right-wing revolt. Fighting in Madrid, Barcelona, and other places.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 820-821). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Charles Lindbergh became America’s hero in 1927 with his solo flight from New York to Le Borget in France, where Shirer covered the landing. Lindbergh’s fame allowed him to wander into international politics, and his favorable slant toward the Nazis took much of the luster off his former glory:

BERLIN, July 23

The Lindberghs are here, and the Nazis, led by Göring, are making a great play for them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 822-823). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In 1936 Germany and Italy threw their full support behind Spain’s General Francisco Franco, sealing the doom of the Monarchists and ushering in a period of political oppression in Spain that was to last until Franco’s death in 1975.

BERLIN, November 18 The Wilhelmstrasse announced today that Germany (with Italy) has recognized Franco. General Faupel, who has done good work for Germany in South America and Spain, is to be Hitler’s Ambassador to Salamanca. Apparently today’s decision was timed to offset Franco’s failure to take Madrid just as he seemed to have it in his grasp. At first, I’m told, recognition was to coincide with Franco’s entry into Madrid, which the Germans expected ten days ago. Dodd tells me our consulate in Hamburg reported this week the departure from there of three German ships loaded with arms for Spain. In the meantime the comedy of “non-intervention” goes on in London. For two years now the policies of London and Paris have ceased making sense to me, judged by their own vital interests. They did nothing on March 16, 1935 and on March 7 this year, and they’re doing nothing about Spain now. Is my judgment becoming warped after two years in this hysterical Nazi land? Is it absurd or isn’t it absurd to conclude that

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 891-898). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

As the year 1936 drew down, the bizarre nature of a modern dictatorship continued to unfold.

BERLIN, November 25

We were summoned to the Propaganda Ministry today for an “important” announcement. Wondered what Hitler was up to, but it turned out to be merely the signing of an anti-Comintern pact between Germany and Japan. Ribbentrop, who signed for Germany, strutted in and harangued us for a quarter of an hour about the pact’s meaning, if any. He said it meant, among other things, that Germany and Japan had joined together to defend “Western civilization.” This was such a novel idea, for Japan at least, that at the end of his talk one of the British correspondents asked him if he had understood him correctly. Ribbentrop, who has no sense of humour, then repeated the silly statement, without batting an eye. It seems obvious that Japan and Germany have drawn up at the same time a secret military treaty calling for joint action against Russia should one of them get involved in war with the Soviets.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 899-906). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If I have not mentioned Joachim von Ribbentrop previously, be advised here is one of Nazism’s most interesting characters. He rose to prominence through a curious route, as a wine merchant introduced to Hitler. He offered to work as a go between for Hitler with Franz von Papen, then Chancellor or Germany, later to be succeeded by Hitler. Ribbentrop became Nazi Germany’s foreign minister and was instrumental in many of the regime’s international intrigues. Winston Churchill, in his book World War II, recounts Ribbentrop’s lack of diplomacy, typical of Nazi diplomatic dealings:

However, Herr von Ribbentrop and his wife did not seem at all conscious of this atmosphere. On the contrary, they tarried for nearly half an hour engaging their host and hostess in voluble conversation. At one moment I came in contact with Frau von Ribbentrop, and in a valedictory vein I said, “I hope England and Germany will preserve their friendship.” “Be careful you don’t spoil it,” was her graceful rejoinder. I am sure they both knew perfectly well what had happened, but thought it was a good manœuvre to keep the Prime Minister away from his work and the telephone. At length Mr. Chamberlain said to the Ambassador, “I am sorry I have to go now to attend to urgent business,” and without more ado he left the room. The Ribbentrops lingered on, so that most of us made our excuses and our way home. Eventually I suppose they left. This was the last time I saw Herr von Ribbentrop before he was hanged.

Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 4169-4176). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

1936 concluded with holiday celebrations and Germany’s further lurch into foreign militarism:

BERLIN, December 25

A pleasant Christmas dinner, and American at that, even to mince pie, with Ralph and Esther Barnes and their children. Ralph and I had to get up in the middle of it, though, to check on queries from New York about a sensational A.P. report that the Germans had landed a large body of troops in Morocco to help Franco. There was no one in the Wilhelmstrasse, as all officials are out of town over the holidays, so we were unable to get a confirmation or denial. Sounds like a fake, though.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 907-911). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Starting with 1937, once I get caught up, posts will appear on the 80th anniversary of Shirer’s diary entries. 1937 marked the beginning of the tumult that was to become another world war.