Hopeful in bad times

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
“And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
–from Howard Zinn (1922-2010), American historian, playwright, and social activist
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Saving Liberalism

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The best antidote to populism is unpopularism

(personal noteLearning from Europe)

From Reuters by John Foley, 12/28/16

Like democracy and the Cold War, European populism after the financial crisis had its origins in Greece. The leftist Syriza party swept to victory in January 2015 promising to dismantle the elite, thumb its nose at European creditors and restore prosperity through radically worker-friendly policies.

Yet less than two years later Syriza has become part of the problem. It has failed to revive employment or growth: half of all young Greeks are still out of work, and GDP is expected to have flatlined in 2016. The centre-right New Democracy party, which Syriza ousted, is more than 15 percentage points ahead in the polls. Once associated with cronyism, it has reinvented itself under leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis as a pro-reform and moderate alternative. If Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras holds an election in 2017, he will probably lose.

For liberal politicians facing radical insurgents elsewhere in Europe, this tale has an encouraging silver lining. It suggests parties that make promises they cannot keep will face consequences. Continue reading

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Coming to Newark Archdiocese – A Different Kind of Cardinal

from The New York Times – 12/22/16 – Sharon Otterman

INDIANAPOLIS — For about a year, the guys at the gym just called him Joe. He lifted weights in the early mornings wearing a skull-printed do-rag. He worked out on the elliptical, wiping it down when he was done.

Then one day Shaun Yeary, a salesman at a landscape supply company, asked him in the locker room what he did for a living. “I used to be a priest,” Joe recalled telling him. “And now,” he said, his voice growing quieter so as not to scare anyone in earshot, “I’m the archbishop of Indianapolis.”

I was like, for real?” Mr. Yeary recalled. “This guy is benching two and a quarter!” — gymspeak for 225 pounds.

Joe, also known as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, recently became one of the 120 men in the world who will choose the next pope. But he wants to be judged by his actions, not his lofty position in the Roman Catholic Church.

Though he has led the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2012, a status that usually comes with perks like a driver, he drives himself around in a Chevy Tahoe and helps with the dishes after lunch meetings. He introduces himself simply as Padre José to the children at a local Catholic school. He showers and shaves at the Community Healthplex gym like any other member, and calls his workout buddies his Band of Brothers. Continue reading

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Donald Trump and Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga once talked about the doubters in an interview: “They would say, ‘This is too racy, too dance-oriented, too underground. It’s not marketable.’ And I would say, ‘My name is Lady Gaga, I’ve been on the music scene for years, and I’m telling you, this is what’s next.’ And look . . . I was right.”

Who does that sound like?

In “The Art of the Deal,” Donald Trump described what he was up to: “I play to people’s fantasies.”

Donald Trump treats the truth as only one of several props he’s willing to use to achieve an effect. Truth sits on his workbench alongside hyperbole, sentimentality, bluster and just kidding. Use as needed.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal 12/6/16

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Watch out for moral certainty

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.” -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic

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Political Islam and Modernity

— excerpt adapted from September/October 2016 Foreign Affairs review essay · “Mosque and State” by Malise Ruthven, author Islam in the World.

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/mosque-and-state )

The Islamic world could not follow only the European path toward Enlightenment and modernity by way of reformation. Even Christianity and, more broadly, we in the West, didn’t really follow that path–“at least as it is often portrayed.”

“The Enlightenment was the outcome not only of the Reformation but also of centuries of violent religious conflict, after which sensible people concluded that they were not improving their lots by killing one another in the name of God.

“That is the grim lesson that Muslims in the contemporary Middle East may yet find themselves learning from European history.”

What the West was not spared on the way to Enlightenment the Muslim world is not being spared. History, including our own, has lessons to teach us all. Certainly, historically, we in the West have not been superior to what the Middle East is going through.

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Led through snares and dangers

From the novel Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry

If you could do it, I suppose it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.

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The garden and the sword

Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to remember, it takes another kind of strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

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What Diplomacy Needs

Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – “US Diplomacy: Realism and Reality” – New York Review of Books 8/18/16

How is a statesman to advance his nation’s interests? For as long as states have existed, diplomats have grappled with this question. And among US diplomats, Henry Kissinger is most associated with the realpolitik approach, arguing that the job of the statesman is to manage relationships—with allies and adversaries alike—to maximize his nation’s security, prosperity, and power.

In Kissinger’s view, America’s tragic flaw has been believing that our principles are universal principles, and seeking to extend human rights far beyond our nation’s borders. This “messianic” belief, as he has characterized it, has repeatedly led American statesmen to make decisions that have undermined our interests and weakened our standing in the world—from pursuing costly humanitarian interventions to abandoning leaders who, while perhaps repressive, helped safeguard our security.

“No nation,” Kissinger wrote in Diplomacy,

has ever imposed the moral demands on itself that America has. And no country has so tormented itself over the gap between its moral values, which are by definition absolute, and the imperfection inherent in the concrete situations to which they must be applied.

Continue reading

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