Member Post

 

Today, my favorite person is celebrating her day. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to assign an individual such an unequivocal spot in the hierarchy of all humanity, but the thing about Miss (the name I’ll use for writing about her on the internet) is that she’s not an ordinary person. She’s special. Miss was […]

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Ayatollah Air Power

 

If push comes to shove, could American air power lay waste to the Iranian regime in a cake walk, a turkey shoot? Consider what we know, publicly, of Iranian military capabilities in the air. They have aircraft from the pre-stealth era, drones, and extensive surface-to-air missile defenses. Perhaps, however, their best “air” assets are computer coding and diplomatic shuttle flights.

RQ-170
Photo by Gene Blevins/LA DailyNews

It was not big news when fairly rag-tag forces shot down a low and slow flying armed MQ-9 Reaper drone. After all, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has a wing dedicated to advising foreign forces, including the Yemeni forces fighting other Yemeni forces backed by Saudi Arabia. This is not secret, so the U.S. Central Command was willing to claim Iranian participation in the June 2019 shoot-down:

Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen shot down a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone at an altitude that U.S. Central Command said Sunday shows improved capability and likely assistance by Iran.

When (probably) the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down an advanced U.S. reconnaissance drone in June of 2019, this was not the first U.S. drone lost while gathering intelligence information on Iran. In 2011, a stealthy RQ-170 drone, possibly operated by the CIA, went down deep inside Iranian territory:

Iran said over the weekend that it had recovered the RQ-170, the same drone deployed over Osama bin Laden’s compound before he was killed in May. Senior intelligence officials were disturbed that the drone was publicly discussed in the coverage of the Bin Laden raid, in part because of the fear of exposing its use over Iran.

A statement Sunday from the American-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said Iran might have recovered an “unarmed reconnaissance aircraft” lost while “flying a mission over western Afghanistan.” But several experts noted that the stealth technology of the RQ-170 — which greatly reduces the chances that the drone can be detected by radar — had little use in western Afghanistan, because the Taliban have no radar to detect flights.

Iranian officials have said that the aircraft was detected near the town of Kashmar, 140 miles from the Afghan border, and that it was shot down or crashed because its control systems were hacked by the Iranian military. American officials say that those stories are fanciful, and that the drone was lost because of a malfunction.

Malfunction, hack or missile strike? All three are possible. The RQ-170 looks similar to a B-2 bomber, but is much smaller. It was apparently being flown out of Afghanistan. Fly enough hours, since the late 1990s, and you will get a major malfunction in at least one flight. Operate a system by remote control and you are inherently vulnerable to someone interfering with that control, through jamming of some sort or through a network computer coding hack. Operate a subsonic aircraft and you are vulnerable to at least air-to-air shoot-down.

But the aircraft is all stealthy! True, but it does not have a cloaking device. Surely the Iranians have ground observers with cell phones near airbases in the region. Report the time it took off and which direction it was headed. Knowing the approximate performance parameters, you can go back to WWII dead-reckoning to get the arrival window. Now you can alert ground spotters and put aircraft up between sensitive sites and the direction in which the drone will likely approach.

It certainly helps that we supplied the Shah of Iran with F-14 Tomcats, an outstanding air-superiority fighter. The Khomeinist ayatollahs’ air force apparently is still managing to operate these aircraft four decades later, through an underground parts supply system and possibly local fabrication.

And it’s not for no reason that Tehran would keep trying to supply its Tomcats. In recent years the United States has stepped up its efforts to spy on Iran, deploying drone aircraft including the secretive, stealthy RQ-170 to the Middle East apparently to surveil Iranian nuclear facilities. An RQ-170 crashed in Iranian territory in 2011.

Tomcats have led the effort to intercept these drones. In the early 2000s, the Iranian air force stationed an F-14 squadron in Bushehr, the site of Iran’s first nuclear reactor. That squadron eventually disbanded as its Tomcats fell into disrepair, but other F-14 squadrons maintained vigil over Bushehr and two other atomic facilities as U.S. spy flights continued to probe the sites, trying to glean intelligence on Iran’s nuclear efforts.

Can these first generation F-14s, with whatever local or illicit upgrades the Iranians have managed, stand against even F-15Es flown by U.S. pilots? We know the approximate answer from decades of practice engagements, showing the importance of pilot training, and from the fact that the Iranian air force could not dominate the Iraqi air force, equipped with older Soviet fighter aircraft:

“We knew without a doubt that this…F-14A fighter force would not give Iran total air superiority over Iraq,” says Hashemi. He says the strategy was to use the prized F-14s sparingly to keep them safe from Iraqi surface-to-air missiles but to have them ready for any strike force that invaded Iranian airspace.

F-14 pilots might, deep in their own territory, shoot down one or more U.S. aircraft, but the real threat to U.S. manned aircraft would come from multiple belts of surface-to-air missiles. If you have to worry about fighter opposition, then you have to have your own aircraft in sufficient numbers and in the right formations to counter that threat. The Iranian commanders, if minimally competent or if advised properly, might then array surface-to-air missile systems to inflict the most damage possible.

If Iran lacks a way to meaningfully challenge the US Air Force on the sky, does it have any means at all of securing its airspace against an American offensive? As it stands, the closest that the IRIAF can come to credibly threatening American airpower is the S-300 missile system. The S-300PMU-2, the latest S-300 variant, and popular import choice boasts a range of up to 150 kilometers and can track six enemy aircraft simultaneously. Assuming– and it’s important to highlight that this remains an assumption– that Iran is, in fact, able to deploy S-300 systems, the IRIAF is still unlikely to overcome the USAF, but can at least raise the costs of American victory with an effective anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) campaign.

That is, the Ayatollahs’ air force can raise the cost of any manned U.S. strike, limiting American forces to long range cruise missiles if leaders want to avoid any U.S. aircrew being shot down, possibly captured, over Iran. At the same time, Iranian-built drones are limited in size and sophistication, but provide the basic scouting and artillery spotting function that the earliest World War I aircraft provided.

Iranian drones scouting for targets in Syria have proven all too lethal to the innocent civilians and rebels whom they help target. Witnesses there often report the presence of Mohajers and Ababils directing more accurate rocket and artillery fire onto their positions, filling in for Syria’s beleaguered air force.

As the U.S. Defense Department’s annual report on Iran’s military power points out, unmanned technology is a relative bright spot for the Iranian air force, which struggles to maintain its manned fighters amid sanctions.

The Iranian regime has limited but significant defenses against manned air attack, and against subsonic cruise missiles. They have some capability of inflicting casualties on large targets within missile or rocket artillery range, possibly assisted by simple drone video data. All of this, though is really most effective as a moderate deterrent, making diplomatic concessions or continued talk seem preferable. To this end, the ayatollahs have been encouraged both by European and Asian trade partners, and by disloyal opposition from Americans actively seeking to preserve Obama’s deal and to undercut President Trump. Consider the Washington Post blaming President Trump for Iranian attacks in the Persian Gulf:

The Post’s claim that Trump bears any responsibility for Iran’s attacks because of his hostile posture towards the regime is based on nothing more than hatred of the president. At a certain point in his presidency, Barack Obama had imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. If Iran had responded by attacking ships in the Persian Gulf, would the Post have blamed Obama? Of course not.

It won’t do to respond that Obama was always willing to negotiate with Iran. Trump too has said he wants to talk with the regime. Iran has ruled out such negotiations, as the Post editorial acknowledges.

The most interesting question here is what Iran hopes to gain from its aggression in the Persian Gulf. The Post doesn’t address that question. Doing so would be beside the point for an organ focused singlemindedly on attacking Trump.

The New York Post points out Obama administration connections to American defenses of Iranian actions [emphasis added]:

The Trump administration, quick to blame the Islamic Republic for the attacks, has produced a video and photos of an Iranian navy boat removing evidence of an unexploded mine attached to the hull of the Japanese-owned oil tanker. None of which stopped Obama-era echo-chamberists like Ben Rhodes from calling for international investigations into the matter, intimating that the attacks might be a “false flag” operation by some other nation.

Why would the Iranians do something so foolish, they ask? It doesn’t make sense.

Well, it’s simple, really. First, this is the brand of terrorism that Iran — either directly or through its numerous proxies — has employed, without any real repercussions, for the past 40 years. Last year, the Revolutionary Guard commander, Ismail Kowsari, in fact, explicitly promised his forces would ignite havoc in the Gulf if the United States sanctioned Iranian oil sales.

[…]

Perhaps Iranian leadership has been emboldened after listening to former Obama administration officials like John Kerry tell them to wait out the president.

The Khomeinists have a weak hand, relative to the full power of all the instruments of national power being played by President Trump. Yet, they hope to avoid going all-in and busting before President Trump has to leave the table and return to private life. The Iranian ayatollahs seem to be trying to draw President Trump into a larger military response, creating the American election campaign narrative of breaking his word and entangling America in another “endless” war. On the other hand, if they keep inflicting smaller damage and insults, they help Democrats blame President Trump while also claiming he is really weak and ineffective. President Trump must recognize the players and their hands, and play for the 2020 electoral win, not letting the Democrats and theocrats play their hands together for the win.

Human Defense Mechanisms: Rain Dances and Faith

 

We are afraid.

We are afraid of change, and so we are afraid of choices themselves. We are afraid of the dark. We are afraid of what we do not know – which is, once you think about it, quite a lot!

Countless psychological studies have shown that people fear risk much more than they value reward. Wallowing in misery is so much more predictable, safe than taking risks that could lead to wildly different and unpredictable outcomes. This is why engineers manage risk but not reward. Irrational fear explains why a key metric for stocks is their volatility: people fear volatility, even though a volatile stock merely swings around more but often does, on average, produce higher returns.

We even fear success and happiness and good times, instinctively hiding behind superstition (like voiding the evil eye) so as to not appear to be doing well.

So how does mankind deal with this fear? In a lot of ways, most of which defy reason.

Take, for example, the Rain Dance.

It sounds stupid, right? The weather has been dry. You need rain. So you do this big dance to ask some deity in the sky to make it rain. There is lots of preparation and energy expended. You show your commitment by really getting into it. You might sacrifice a goat or even a child. It is a big investment.

What happens?

It rains; of course it does. Because sooner or later, any inhabited place gets some rain. It is churlish to even ask whether the rain dance was the cause: how can you prove that it was not the cause?!

Today, of course, we live in Modern Times. We don’t have rain dances, that is silly stone-age paganism, the quaint practice of ignorant savages. Nor do we make offerings to the Forces of Nature as the Indians did. It is not as if we inconvenience ourselves every day by, say, taking time to sort out our garbage to show our obsequious devotion to some pagan life force deity like The Environment.

Oh, wait.

Lest you think I am just picking on ordinary citizens who worship at the altar of Sustainability, blind and deaf to whether or not rinsing out a tuna fish can will make any actual difference to whether the Rain Gods will strike us all with Climate Change, let me assure you that I am committed to being an Equal Opportunity Critic.

My own co-religionists have their own version of the Rain Dance: I call it Rain Dance Judaism. It comes from the belief that what G-d really wants, more than anything, is blind and unthinking and slavish attention to every possible tittle and jot of every law, custom, and stringency in our entire, millennia-old, databank of laws, customs, and stringencies. And that, if we do it just right, then G-d will, in His way, Make It Rain. If, somehow, we are not blessed in return, then we obviously have failed by error or omission. We must redouble our efforts!

Why? Because we fear the unknown. We fear the realization that G-d is not there to be bribed; that he does not want sacrifices or rain dances or even blessings for His own sake: he wants us to internalize them, to improve and change ourselves and the world around us. He wants us to embrace life and living, complete with all its unknowns and fears, to reject the cocooning belief that if we slavishly go through the motions just so that All Will Be Well.

I don’t have to only pick on Judaism, of course. There is an element of the Rain Dance in most people, found whenever rituals become ends in themselves, instead of means to a higher and holier end.

In the greater culture, I see a wide range of similar Rain Dance defense mechanisms against the unknown, against risks and good times, against being happy. These defense mechanisms are ways to seemingly insulate ourselves from risks, by somehow pre-emptively choosing to limit ourselves and suffer instead of having fear thrust upon us. And we somehow always acquiesce to the madness of these devotees, even – especially – when we are the afflicted.

I think this is a deep, instinctive human instinct in response to uncertainty. I think these fears are at the root of all kinds of good things, like marriage and family and community, and faith.

But the response to uncertainty is also the driving force behind a lot of bad things, too, like political and regional and dress tribalism as well as a range of self-limiting behaviors from crazy diets to faddish alternative medicines to all the aforementioned irrational nature-worshipping paganism that is now almost taken for granted in American society.

Our desire to be insulated from the Unknown throws up all kinds of defense mechanisms. People instinctively reject outsiders in a wide variety of ways, from labeling to openly dehumanizing The Other. Racism and Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism all keep coming back, attracted by enormous forces within the human psyche.

We are seeing it in today’s incredibly polarized political debate, where friends and families have been torn asunder merely because one person supports or rejects Trump and cannot handle anyone who has a different position. That, too, is a defense mechanism born from fear.

People love to revert to instinct. Associating with the herd provides safety. Anyone who disagrees with the herd deserves being righteously trampled by that same herd, protecting its own. Facebook’s witch hunts are reminiscent of villagers with pitchforks, the mindless mob seeking to crush the outsider (there is a reason the Torah tells us so many times to love the stranger).

There are all kinds of herds: they may have different beliefs, but the ways in which they defend themselves are invariably the same. Blacks or whites or Muslims may defend their own. But so do atheists, who reject faith out of hand, blind to their own irrational faith in Reason. The color of the spots may be different, but the instinctive and reflexive defense mechanisms against outsiders and their ideas are no different.

Religious people have their own defense mechanisms: we use faith not merely as a spur to personal growth, but we also use it as a defense against the things they cannot explain. In this form of pushing away our fears, everything that is not explainable becomes rolled into the “We Are Not Meant to Know” category, practiced by the devout. And that, too, is a way to find solace in the face of uncertainty.

It sounds very nice and pious: “God has a plan.” But if we don’t know what that plan is, then why does invoking the mantra somehow serve as an excuse for inaction? After all, who is to say that we are not meant to be actors or counteractors in that very same plan?! And yet, “God has a plan” invariably is like waiting for Superman or the Messiah to come in and save the day, while we applaud from the bleachers instead of taking the field.

“We cannot know” is itself a form of a Rain Dance: we express our devotion and faith (but no actual useful action), and leave the rest up to external forces. We have done our part by expressing our faith – our faith not truly rooted in G-d’s omniscience, but instead a deep and unshakeable faith in our surety that we are ignorant and helpless. In other words, this mantra is a drug that inspires nothing more than passivity.

A key challenge in building relationships with other people or with our Creator is that we have to step outside our comfort zone, we have to be willing to endure the fear of the unknown, accept that while we may not know the outcome, we are not free to simply stand aside and wait for someone else to do something. In other words, caring about other people requires us to accept risk. We must rise above our insulated thinking and actions, just as we must be willing to fight the instinctive tribalism in our hearts that tells us to reject other people because they are different than we are.

But it is more than this: deciding that We Cannot Know is actually an excuse to stop thinking. When we hide behind blind faith and belief in The Divine Plan, then we use it as an excuse to not think about the hard questions, the challenging and frightening questions that open doors into the dark.

If We Cannot Know, then there is no point in asking the question, and all potential answers are never more than empty speculation. Such thinking leads to theological sloth and then slumber.

I am not opposed to ritual – not at all. I follow the commandments, and I try to be a strictly observant Jew. But I do it knowing that the purpose of the Laws of the Torah and Moses are really to provide the STRUCTURE that allows us to grow. To the extent that the routine and ritual and structure helps us grow, then we are freed up to do beautiful and creative things. But when those rituals become their own purpose, then we have entered Rain Dance territory.

Praying in the morning kicks off my day, and everything works better with the rituals that I engage in throughout my working and Sabbath days. The ongoing rituals frame and allow for freedom and creativity everywhere else. BUT when those commandments become an obsession in themselves, then they can go too far, and suck out our lives rather than nurturing them.

So we can believe that G-d Has a Plan. And that belief is not necessarily bad in itself, as long as it does not become an excuse for becoming a spectator instead of G-d’s own agent in this world. As an agent, I can consider myself part of G-d’s plan. But as a spectator, I have made myself irrelevant and useless to our creator.

The Torah describes early mankind as being either evil or merely directionless. The world was not improving. And while there were occasionally righteous people, they had a very limited impact on the world around them.

Maybe G-d gave us the Torah after He realized that we do not function without the skeleton of commandments, within which we can be productive and creative. So that would mean that early man, lacking those rituals and structures, were aimless and wasted – which is exactly what the Flood Generation was, as well as Avraham’s contemporaries.

This may be why G-d went through the trouble of giving us the Torah, of giving us commandments. We need ritual, we need those structures that allow us to learn how to deal with the fear of the unknown. We need commandments that remind us of the importance of loving each other and seeking a relationship with G-d – and the rituals that help keep us on track, with our eyes on the ball.

There can be no argument with the historical accomplishment of the Torah: it is the single most foundational text for all of Western Civilization. But I do not think its work is done even these thousands of years later, because we keep instinctively seeking to avoid fear and uncertainty and risk, seeking refuge in rain dance ritual observance or groupthink that shields us from engaging emotionally and spiritually and intellectually.

Member Post

 

Last week, Terry @kaladin and I met up in Layton, UT with Randy Weivoda @randyweivoda (and his lovely wife, Sarah), Katie Koppelman @katiekoppelman, OmegaPaladin @omegapaladin, and Rupert err.. Ruder err.. Rooster err.. Rudert @jasonrudert. Most of us were attending SpikeCon, which was a collection of several different nerd conventions all rolled into one delightful convention. […]

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AOC accuses Pelosi of racial discrimination

 

This is really getting interesting. The Democrat party, known for both its odd amalgam of special interest groups and its remarkable ability to coordinate these different groups into lockstep support of ever-increasing leftism, seems to be coming apart. I’m sure Donald Trump and some others would like to take credit for this, but it appears to be more of an attempted suicide than an attempted murder. It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

The accusation of racism is pretty much the most vicious attack one can wage against someone in modern America, and for one leftist to attack another leftist in that way really is ruthless. And extremely unusual. I doubt that AOC understands the irony of her accusation, considering the racist background of the Democrat party in the not-too-distant past, but Pelosi probably does. I’m trying to feel sorry for Pelosi, or at least avert my eyes from this humiliating spectacle, but I just can’t. A few years ago, I thought Bernie Sanders was an entertaining old crackpot. But look what he hath wrought! What do you think? Can Pelosi hang on? Or is the Democrat party about to be officially renamed the American Socialist Party?

For the record, I’m not sure how much this matters. The Democrat party has been going as far left as it could for decades, and that line keeps moving further and further left. I’m sure that it will continue to do so, no matter how this turns out. But perhaps I’m wrong – this could be serious. What do you think?

Shakespeare’s Ethic

 

Too much attention is paid to Shakespeare’s talent and too little to his outstanding work ethic.

It is not the number of works which testifies most strongly to his careful determination; it is his originality. His innovations are too regular to be accidental. When I Googled “words and phrases coined by”, Shakespeare’s name was, of course, suggested first by the search algorithm. The breadth of his legacy in this regard is widely known, though most of us are content with snippets.

Like many writers and artists, I am lazy. There is a constant temptation to settle for the first pleasing idea. Time and attention are limited, so “sufficient” can be acceptable. And sometimes great ideas do burst into being suddenly, well-formed. But our most precious gifts tend to be stolen from the refiner’s fire, once or repeatedly.

Editing non-fiction is, in my experience, a simpler exercise. An essay must be refined more for clarity and pace than for originality. The central argument must be new — or else reconstructed in a fresh delivery — to interest readers. But the purpose of altering grammar or words is, foremost, precision.

Fiction is more artful. And art is a damnable wisp of an idea. The thinker is not studying a fixed reality while recasting it in deductive arguments. The idea in focus is rather a thing yet unborn.

A dream sputters in the dreamer’s mind like ever-shifting clouds while he desperately tries to capture it, whole and in fine detail. A hiccup in recording leaves the artist fumbling to recall what the last bit was he saw or heard while miserably correcting the earlier part. Editing while dreaming, often as not, means losing some of the dreams; if not its characters, then its colors.

Beethoven said it best:

The true artist is not proud: he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal, and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun.

Art is a chase. Legendary artists like Shakespeare and Beethoven were its most dogged pursuers. They were not extraordinary because they alone could hear the angels singing. They were extraordinary because they kept listening when the body tired when distractions knocked, and when companions praised their first attempts. They fought hard to perfect every detail, returning to old battles and discarding easy victories.

Maybe I’m wrong. We can’t watch them at work. We can’t speak to them. Only centuries-old letters and hearsay inform their biographies today.

But as regularly as modern writers rely on such inheritance as common words and phrases without substantially building upon the great works we have received, it seems to me that Shakespeare made a deliberate effort to sidestep obvious expressions so to paint the human heart as no one had before.

We should not aspire to be mere professionals. We should aspire to touch Heaven and here deliver those stolen treats.

If we desire better art, better fiction, better music, then a terrible price must be paid. We have to work at it!

Member Post

 

I had to learn how to “Chill Out.” When I first became a mother, I felt like I had a grip on things. Our little son was so mellow, and got along great, was adorable and sweet. So, we decided to have #2. She was NOT mellow. However, I insisted for quite a few years […]

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Member Post

 

It is a bipartisan article of faith within the American foreign affairs establishment that Vladimir Putin is our implacable foe, and that the Russia-China axis is a natural alliance of two powerful, like-minded despotisms set on global domination. This axiom – a toxic byproduct of our recent domestic political meltdown – is as unquestionable as […]

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Silver Screen? Or Distant Mirror?

 

Half a century ago, as the final year of the Sixties unfolded, Hollywood studios looked at the youthful trends of the previous year and loaded themselves up with inexpensive campus political dramas, left-wing fare that would be ready for release in the spring and summer of 1970. “The Strawberry Statement”, “The Revolutionary”, “Revolutions Per Minute” and “Zabriskie Point” were one-sided bets on what audiences at the dawn of the Seventies would be eager to pay for—sympathetic, appealing violent dramas and coarse comedies about campus rioters who sleep around and curse a lot. To the chagrin of Hollywood planners, who were usually stuck with two-year lead times on feature film projects, they bet wrong. There will always be an audience for violent drama and coarse comedy; it was the “rioters” aspect, the anti-police violence as entertainment that proved to be an astoundingly tin-eared wrong step on Hollywood’s part. It would cause an enduring, decades-long counter-reaction that at the time was dismissed as a transient “backlash”.

The Vietnam War was still near its height as springtime ’70 brought on the protesting season, as it’s been in much of western Europe since the 1830s or thereabout. The first Earth Day was planned for April 22, and would be the most peaceful of the year’s mass demonstrations. The campuses were already primed to explode. Mine literally did in March, when a homemade bomb killed its radical builder and leveled a Greenwich Village townhouse. When President Nixon announced an incursion into Cambodia—okay, raids, an invasion, let’s not be too fussy—the semester was nearly over anyway and many campuses, although non-violent, were also non-functional. When four students were killed at Kent State University on May 4th, school ground to a halt all over the country.

On May 8, on New York’s Wall Street, a flash mob of union workers in construction and other trades attacked a peaceful high school antiwar march protesting the Kent State shooting, finally reaching, and beating up a core of college-aged kids, many of who, it turned out, rode in from Pennsylvania on a church bus. It wasn’t “fight back”; it was blue collar antifa. But at a time when all of the street violence came from the other side, even unfairly hitting the wrong target at least felt like hitting, for some people.

The Hard Hat Riots were swiftly worked into the promotion of the now forgotten “Joe”, (7/15/70) with Peter Boyle as a murderous rifleman who hated hippies. The new poster art shows Joe cradling a gun, wearing a hard hat with an American flag on it. He’s also holding a flag in one hand and a target in the other. The slogan was “Keep America Beautiful”. You could put that 1970 poster up in Brooklyn today and people would instantly claim to recognize it as depicting a Trump supporter.

Fox’s long-in-the-making “Patton” would reach theaters in rapidly changing times that, it was said, had different attitudes towards war. Fox considered retitling it “Patton: Salute to a Rebel”. The studio had next to no expectations for another of its war films, the cheaply made M.A.S.H., which became an unexpected hit that spring. A cynical, mildly dirty-mouthed Korean War service comedy whose most memorable moments are the humiliation of uptight, by-the-book characters, it became pressed into service as an anti-war movie.

In this nervous atmosphere, “Kelly’s Heroes” suffered more than most from marketing indecision. It was hastily recut to try to make it more of an anti-war satire, with an ironic, whimsical, non-heroic theme song and a new ad campaign, eschewing WWII images in favor of a sort of Peter Max-drawn hero sandwich with tank treads. “They Had a Message for the Army: Up the Brass!”

But something unexpected happened: “Patton” struck a nerve. The bold style of leading off with a giant American flag got spontaneous cheers even on jaded Broadway; I saw it myself. It not only made a ton of money but it kindled an earnest national debate about the sometime necessity of war and the need for gifted, imperfect men to lead us in it. It was touted as Richard Nixon’s favorite movie. The revised “Kelly’s Heroes” straining-to-be-hip poster art and ad campaign were hastily revised yet again for its September opening. Now it showed a conventional war movie illustration of a line of four tall tough G.I.s facing down a German tank, with the new slogan, “They Started Out to Rob a Bank…And Damn Near Won a War!”

The tumult of 1970 was deeply, lastingly counterproductive for the American Left. Everything they did boosted the poll numbers of the loathed, despised Nixon, who they felt had won 1968 on a fluke, backed by the country’s haters. They expected 1972 to be a pushover, yet they could see the country was slipping away. The angry reaction of middle class and lower class whites to pretty much everything since riots and crime started spiking in the Sixties was now too visible to ignore.

One of the first signs of it was meant to be a comedy takedown of the growing movement, “All in the Family”, first airing January 1971. Archie Bunker was the new image of the WWII-age veteran: paunchy, casually racist, crudely ignorant. A figure of fun, and of scorn. But partly because the writers did toss him a point or two, the show became a hit. The creators of the show were bemused that they’d inadvertently made Archie a hero for tens of millions. Of course, I don’t mean “hero” literally; nearly everybody knew that Archie went too far. Working class white-wise, he was closer to our id than our conscience. But we liked him for telling it like it is, no matter if our betters disapproved.

Crime in the streets and on the campus was violent and physical. It stirred anger for many years to come. Clint Eastwood made a cultish success for himself in Italian made “spaghetti westerns”, but the huge hit that would shape his image in the public mind was 1971’s “Dirty Harry”, a crowd-pleasing hero who was bracingly politically incorrect, to use a term that was still fifteen years in the future. We were tired of “Dragnet”-style polite, businesslike cops. We were ready for badasses who’d throw away the rule book to clean up the streets. The Dirty Harry character didn’t endorse vigilantes—in fact, he hunts them down—but audiences did. In time, the SWAT era would go too far. But in its day, anything that redressed the balance between police and criminals was welcome. 

About those World War II guys. By 1973, Jack Lemmon’s garment industry executive in “Save the Tiger” (directed by John Avildsen, who also directed “Joe” and later, “Rocky”) was another update of the image of the WWII vet, truer in parts, more positive, still stereotyped to some degree. It was recognized that courage in wartime wasn’t easy. But there was still a lingering trace of false guilt for lack of social consciousness—”look what I’ve come to, the nice home, the wife, the business I fight to keep going. What a sellout I am”. This caricature wasn’t the fault of Baby Boomers, by the way; next to none of them had entered the industry yet.

Icon, Part 11a: The Theotokos

 

During this long break of the Paschal season, which ends with the Ascension, I thought I would turn to another iconographic theme post, similar to my essay on why we have icons in the first place, and specifically of Christ, and discuss what may be the most popular icon type (in terms of numbers of icons): The Theotokos, Mary, the mother of Jesus. Next to Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, no other person is so highly venerated within Orthodox or Catholic churches. Due to the length of this subject, this essay will be in two parts. In the first part, I discuss why she is so highly esteemed, from both historical / traditional reasons, and from experiential reasons. In the second part I will present a sampling of the major forms her icons take, and by what names they are called.

At the outset it bears noting that, outside of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, Mary is rather a controversial figure. Within the Protestant churches, aside from the more liturgical Lutherans and Anglican / Episcopalians, Mary is rarely mentioned aside from Christmas, and traditional understandings of Mary (that she had herself no further children, that she was far younger than Joseph, and that she was taken up bodily like Enoch) are disputed. This is somewhat surprising as both Martin Luther and John Calvin esteemed her greatly, and for all else over which they broke with Rome, on these they remained in agreement. For inquirers into either Orthodoxy or Catholicism, the veneration of Mary remains stumbling block – not just for the imagery all over the churches, but for the liturgical prayers and entire feast days dedicated to Mary. For anyone coming from a church where In Christ Alone is a popular praise song, encountering Mary face to face is jarring, and may feel heretical or bordering on pagan. This need not be the case.

As a note of explanation, throughout what follows in this essay, and in part 2, the reader will encounter the term “Theotokos” in reference to Mary. Mary is the Theotokos, a Greek term which literally translates as “the birth giver (or bearer) of God”. But so embedded in the Orthodox consciousness is the term, that it is rarely translated, so even in a fully English-language service, one will always see Mary called “The Theotokos”.

The Veneration of Mary – The History

The Orthodox Church dedicates 4 great feasts to Mary herself (I’ve discussed three so far in this series: Her Nativity, Her Presentation, The Annunciation; her Dormition will be discussed in due course). Mary is present and a major figure at three others (The Nativity of Christ, The Presentation of Christ, Ascension), and was also at Pentecost. And the liturgical year begins with Mary’s nativity, and ends with her Dormition. During the course of the Divine Liturgy, Mary is specifically honored in hymns several times and in most of the prayer litanies, while in the Orthros (Matins) service that precedes the Liturgy she is honored in a longer hymn sung while the church is censed. Even during the various Hours services (usually only sung in full by monastics), the Magnificat (a short prayer honoring Mary) is chanted at several points. Why is Mary so prominent?

If we see Mary as simply She Who Bore Christ as a virgin, we are already partly missing why Mary matters, and so we need to go back to the Annunciation and recognize Mary’s agency, her assent to bearing the Incarnation despite how that would appear, and how that would reflect on her or her betrothed, Joseph. But even taking those into account does not explain the full import of Mary. Mary, we should remember, was present with Jesus throughout much, if not all of His earthly ministry, and had been active from the start.  

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” His mother *said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”⁠1 John 2: 1-5 (NASB)

The Wedding at Cana not only shows that Mary was present with Jesus at a time when he had already gathered disciples, but that she advised him. Fr. Stephen de Young has written at length about how Mary’s role paralleled the role, and indeed the office of the Mother of the King as instituted centuries before by Solomon (see 1 Kings, 2:19), to be the chief advisor to the king. Jesus had come to usher in a new kingdom, and in such Mary served as his chief advisor.

For a faithful believer in the God of Israel in the first century AD, religious expectation was focused in the coming of the Messiah, and the beginning of the Messianic age. It would, therefore, have been natural when such a person heard the apostolic proclamation that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ who has come, to ask the name of his mother. It would have been a natural expectation, based in the scriptures and traditions of the Jewish people, to expect that his mother would have this role, at his right hand, as closest advisor and queen. The New Testament authors take great pains to correct popular misunderstandings related to the Messiah, particularly the idea that he would be a political leader in this world, and would come to establish an Israel in this world free from Roman domination. At no point, however, do these authors seek to correct this expectation as it pertains to Christ’s mother. 

Mary traveled with Jesus too, and was present at the Crucifixion.  

But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He *said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.⁠2

Even near the moment of his death, Jesus thought of his mother, and entrusted her care to the disciple John, and it is said in tradition that John saw after Mary’s care until her own death some years later. Mary was present with the Apostles after the Ascension (see Acts, chapter 1), and so would have been with them at Pentecost too, and so on. While after Acts Mary is no longer mentioned, the various traditions of the Church and the early post-apostolic fathers assume her continuing presence until her death* some years later. As de Young concludes:

Repeatedly, throughout the scriptures of the New Testament, these expectations are reinforced through the importance of the Theotokos not only in the ministry of Christ, but in the early community of the church as described in the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. As just one example, there is a clear parallel between the interaction between Bathsheba and Solomon in 1 Kings 2, and that between the Theotokos and Christ at the wedding at Cana (John 2), though the Theotokos shows herself a wiser and more holy woman than her ancient ancestor.

It is this understanding which has led, since the beginning of the Christian faith, to the special role given to the Theotokos among the saints in glory. It is she who stands at the right hand of Christ the king, and among the intercessors with whom Christ shares his rule and reign, she has a special status of honor. She stands as the fulfillment not only of queen motherhood, but of motherhood itself (Gen 3:15), and even, we may see, of womanhood.

The Theotokos Today

Perhaps the chief divide, besides the veneration of Mary, between the Orthodox and Catholics on the one hand, and Protestants on the other hand, is over the matter of the veneration of the saints. This divide is not inconsequential, and is over the question of whether those who have died in Christ, who have (as is so often said in the Epistles) “fallen asleep in the Lord”, are truly and fully separated from us, or whether they in fact are still with us. I will save that discussion for another essay in this series where I will aim to discuss the iconography of the saints on their own terms, but it is important to discussing the veneration of the Theotokos to make the point now: both the Orthodox and the Catholics believe that the saints are, in fact, very much alive, and are still doing the Lord’s work. The Theotokos above all continues to intercede and to aid those in need.

And it seems everyone either has a story, or knows 2-3 people who do (among both Orthodox and Catholic believers). There was the deacon who saw a seemingly new stained glass icon of the Theotokos during a special service, only to see that the window was plain afterwards. There was the girl who had been suffering from an untreatable skin condition that left her in great pain, who was healed and spoke of a beautiful and kind lady who visited her. There are the miracles at Lourdes. In a book I reviewed recently (Everyday Miracles), Father Oleksa tells of a women he knows who was visited in a dream and received healing from great personal trauma. There are more besides.

The Theotokos is the most beloved saint in the Orthodox church for good reason. The design of the typical Orthodox church has remained more or less fixed for well more than a millenia now, and on the iconostasis – a wall or screen that separates the nave from the sanctuary – you will see flanking the royal doors in the center of that screen an icon of Christ on your right, and of Mary on your left. In this manner, Mary is forever present at the right hand of Jesus her son, just as the mothers of the kings of Judah were always seated at their sons’ right hands. In that role, she continues to serve. Mary was and is, in essence, the very first Christian. Her intercessions are continually sought. She is was who contained the Uncontainable within her womb.

It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos
Who are ever blessed and all blameless,
And the Mother of our God.
More Honorable than the Cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim
Truly Theotokos, we magnify Thee.

Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of they womb
For thou hast borne the savior of our souls.


*Regarding the death of Mary, I’ll say more when it comes time to discuss The Dormition. The Catholic church teaches that she did not die, but was taken bodily up to Heaven just before the moment of her death, and the Orthodox position is that she was taken bodily up to Heaven just after her physical death.

anImage_2.tiff

1 The Lockman Foundation. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Kindle Locations 33752-33756). The Lockman Foundation. Kindle Edition.

2 The Lockman Foundation. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible (NASB) (Kindle Locations 34568-34571). The Lockman Foundation. Kindle Edition.

https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/21/queen-and-mother/

Maximovitch, John (Rose, Seraphim, Translator), The Orthodox Veneration of Mary, The Birthgiver of God, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1978

Matthews-Green, Frederica, The Open Door, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, 2004

 

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Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, tells it like it is. (If you need a hammer, now you know where to buy it.) “I woke up this morning thinking it was going to be another great day. I’ve been celebrating with friends, family and the community since I turned 90. I’ve told you about the […]

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I recently urged “Don’t Say You Want a Revolution,” reviewing the sad and terrible consequences of American presidents talking up “regime change” or “revolution” in other countries. As the people of 1956 Hungary and 1991 Iraq discovered, the United States does not back up such talk with our own blood and treasure, even when local […]

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Adam Schiff just got some serious competition for his 2020 reelection campaign.  Eric Early is a high powered Beverly Hills Attorney who ran for California Attorney General in 2018 and received almost a million votes, which for a Republican in CA is very good. Now he’s set his sites on beating shifty Schiff in CA-28. […]

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The Line From Slick Willie to The Donald

 

This is an expansion of a comment made in another post.

It’s been an interesting ride. The line from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump is drawn with anything but a straight line.

Decisions made in the moment, often for short term gain, sets a precedent that is more often than not difficult to step away from. It has ramifications far down the line that proponents of the original action tend to regret. And yet, often times those same people would be happy to repeat the mistake. Such was the decision to save Bill Clinton from the Monica Lewinsky mess.

It was, of course, a mess of his own making. He was elected with a history of “bimbo eruptions” and allegations of criminal sexual misconduct. Most likely, his supporters expected him to comport himself differently in the Oval Office than he had in the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock. They were wrong. And he could not extract himself so the entire weight of the Democratic/Media Complex was brought to bear.

The circle-the-wagons and do anything movement to save Bill would eventually lead to MoveOn.org and their mantra, “It’s only sex.”

And while I absolutely despise “alternative history” narratives, these questions deserve to be asked:

Had the Democrats pulled the plug on Bill, Albert Gore, Jr. would have become the 43rd President of the United States and faced George W. Bush as the incumbent in 2000. Does he win? Who knows, but the dynamic would have changed. 

Would Hillary have divorced Bill to remain politically viable? Or would she have finally come to the conclusion that there was no viability outside of the New York Senate seat?

If Gore had won in 2000, that would have put W. in the dustbin. Does Obama still rise in ‘08? Or is that left up to America’s first Jewish Vice-President, Joe Lieberman? 

And what of the GOP fortunes? McCain in ‘04? 

Whatever the answers to all these questions, what it does mean is that there is no MoveOn.GOP, that cadre of voters who no longer care about sexual dalliances from their nominee. Without the effort to save Bill Clinton, there is never, ever a Donald Trump.

And we have been living this scenario in reverse these past three years. Opponents of the Trump presidency have been throwing massive amounts of (stuff) at the wall, or should I say, at the bar to see what sticks. We’ve witnessed employees of the Federal Government in open revolt trying to subvert the Administration and, in some cases, trying to bring it down. In the end, any successful attempt would set another precedent, another short term “win” with some nasty long term implications.

It is the ultimate “be careful what you wish for” moment that is only seen best in the rear view mirror.

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When we are discussing the Iranians or others in the Middle East, I understand their dismissing the Holocaust as a real event. It goes with the territory, so-to-speak. But when I heard that a Boca Raton, FL principal wrote in a 2018 email to a parent that “not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” my jaw […]

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Remembering the Ross Perot Moment

 

Establishment politicians and those invested in business as usual use “Ross Perot” as a bogeyman, a warning not to stray from whatever candidate they shovel up and tell us we must give money, time, and our vote. Except that it was Perot who was the most electable candidate until the skulduggery or head fake or whatever rattled him around his daughter’s personal life. He had taken the lead in the polls but never recovered after showing weakness or indecision for that week or so.

He was a successful entrepreneur who criticized the self-licking ice cream cone of American CEOs, who (with their think tank and pundit platoons) insisted that American workers absorb the hit of global wage and employment competition while not subjecting their own gilded packages to critical comparison with the then ascendant Japanese executives. “If you want to make a million dollars, become a rock (music) star!” Ross Perot was not engaging in class warfare. Rather, he was using the contradictory narratives of wage competition and executive compensation to point to larger misaligned priorities in U.S. corporate policy, underwritten by U.S. government policy and muscle. Hence his early criticism of NAFTA as it was being negotiated.

He treated the American voters like corporate customers, with charts, facts, and figures rather than campaign puffery. Had he won, he would have been pinned down to perform by his charts, rather than explaining away or evading soaring rhetoric and slogans as Bush had.

He seemed more likely to actually address the fundamental problems of government spending than the two establishment party candidates who only differed on how much government cheese should be served up to whom. Perot’s successful unconventional rescue of two employees from Iranian prison in the late days of the Shah stood in marked contrast to the disgraceful failure of squabbling career military professionals in the Iranian desert a year or so later. Both parties were busy squabbling over how to distribute the “peace dividend” among their supporters, with no one saying no to spending other people’s money.

Consider the context, the competition, the choices. President George H.W. Bush had spit in our faces and told us it was sunshine. He squandered eight years of good will created by President Ronald Reagan. Bush had attacked Reagan’s economic ideas as “voodoo economics” in the 1980 primaries. He kept his mouth shut and road the Reagan revolution as vice president. Then he lied to our faces to get elected and used his inaugural address to backhand the man to whom he owed his presidency. Bush posed, like so many TruCons today, as morally superior, preparing to preside over a “kinder, gentler” politics. Kinder and gentler than Reagan with his “voodoo economics,” of course.

Yet, Bush had not burnt his bridges to the Reagan electoral coalition when serious Democrats were making decisions about running. Governor Bill Clinton emerged out of a relatively weak field because the supposedly strongest candidates chose not to risk the reputational damage of a general election loss to Bush. One of my sisters characterizes Clinton as that sleazy guy at the end of the bar ready with a scuzzy come-on line. When the Democrats with the best pedigrees did not show up, Clinton was ready to slide down the bar and offer voters a drink.

It was in this context that Ross Perot stepped into the presidential political arena. I was serving in Washington state. Heading to my voting location after the duty day, I heard the early returns from back east. It looked like Clinton was threatening to win. I decided to vote strategically, putting my mark next to Bush to stop Clinton. I understand my father made much the same calculation. That is how badly Bush had damaged the Republican brand, and that is the context for the nearest thing to a third party presidential win.

Oh, and Admiral James Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate, was head and shoulders above any vice president we have ever had. Period. And he was mocked, casually, mercilessly. Here is the short version of what we chose not to choose:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while senior naval officer in the Prisoner of War camps of North Vietnam. Recognized by his captors as the leader in the Prisoners’ of War resistance to interrogation and in their refusal to participate in propaganda exploitation, Rear Adm. Stockdale was singled out for interrogation and attendant torture after he was detected in a covert communications attempt. Sensing the start of another purge, and aware that his earlier efforts at self-disfiguration to dissuade his captors from exploiting him for propaganda purposes had resulted in cruel and agonizing punishment, Rear Adm. Stockdale resolved to make himself a symbol of resistance regardless of personal sacrifice. He deliberately inflicted a near-mortal wound to his person in order to convince his captors of his willingness to give up his life rather than capitulate. He was subsequently discovered and revived by the North Vietnamese who, convinced of his indomitable spirit, abated in their employment of excessive harassment and torture toward all of the Prisoners of War. By his heroic action, at great peril to himself, he earned the everlasting gratitude of his fellow prisoners and of his country. Rear Adm. Stockdale’s valiant leadership and extraordinary courage in a hostile environment sustain and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Dennis Miller said it best, but is entirely non-CoC, so look it up on YouTube.

Did The First Debate Prove Russia’s Already Hacked The Election?

 

You mean to tell me that the Democratic candidates are going to campaign on kitchen table issues like forced busing, reparations, open borders and banning private health insurance and that Putin has nothing to do with it?

I know the counterargument: America’s election can’t be hacked by a second rate country whose chief exports are vodka, brides and performance-enhancing drugs. To that, I have a two-word response: Marianne Williamson.

Imagine the Democratic pollsters (if any) charged with dusting off 45-year old polling data on busing. I know it’s a crowded primary and non-entities like Kirsten Gillibrand need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. But Kamala Harris? My sense is that the California senator’s attack on Biden had less to do with his position on busing than to remind voters that he was a fixture in Washington during the Mesozoic era. And for those primary voters too dense to get the point, t-shirts depicting Harris as a five-year-old were ready for launch quicker than Eric Swalwell folded his campaign. 

Forced busing should be one of the tools at our disposal? Really? Clearly, Harris is taking the John “Bluto” Blutarski approach to the issues: “Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!

Then there’s healthcare. It depends on the time of day you pose her the question, of course, but one iteration of Harris’ positions is that private insurance should be made a thing of the past with the exception of things like cosmetic surgery. If you can think of something more Democrat than kicking millions of Americans off their health insurance by design while leaving an exemption for celebrities to get their nose jobs, I’d like to hear it. 

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans find the news ever more befuddling, as corporations like Nike and Gillette seem hellbent on out-woking one another in the name of profit. The Betsy Ross flag can no longer be displayed in polite company? A man clad in lingerie is removed from a plane for wearing a MAGA hat? How does The Onion even stay in business? 

If Russia’s not meddling in the primary, how do you explain Beto choosing to answer the first question posed to him in Spanish? I felt like the car lot attendant in Ferris Buhler’s Day Off: “What country do you think this is?” Trump is no more admirable with the way he panders to his base by speaking English… 

Then, of course, there’s the issue of what to do with the children at the border. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Virginia Governor Ralph Northam propose keeping them comfortable while their mothers consult with doctors on how to proceed. 

As for the eagerly-anticipated Sanders-Warren showdown, the only substantive difference between the two is that Bernie hates capitalism and Warren hates capitalists. They’ll probably they’ll pull the party so far left on fiscal issues that every candidate will eagerly raise his hand in support of national debt forgiveness. 

At the end of the day, the safe money is that Democrats will end up nominating a candidate who’s never lost an election: Stacy Abrams. 

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You Have Been Served! As we know, your state name, Washington, is named after George Washington, a slaveholder from Virginia during the Colonial era. He raped his slaves, statistically, even though he spent many years away from his farm (also illegally acquired from local indigenous peoples) traveling throughout the eastern United States shooting indigenous people […]

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For those of us who are pretty independent and don’t like anyone telling us what to do (I assume that is at least 75% of the people who follow Ricochet!), the idea of a Sabbath might be unattractive, to say the least, and distasteful at worst. But over the last couple of years, I’ve come […]

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Does America Mean Freedom to be a Jerk?  Yes!

 

I thought it was a mistake to react to Colin Kaepernick’s antics. He is a moron but is treated as a serious person by many due in part to his critics’ over-reaction. similarly, I am largely indifferent to the ever-so-five-minutes-ago angry-lesbian-progressive shtick of Megan Rapinoe that has upset so many.

The fact is, unless and until you infringe on somebody else’s rights, you can be an ignorant moron in America. Unlike sex, race or IQ, acting like a buffoon is a choice and the Bill of Rights is all about those kinds of choices.

The downside of this, the Golden Age of Self-Expression is that none of us knew beforehand that there would a test and that the state of our knowledge would be so ruthlessly exposed so often. There was a time not so long ago, when one could be ignorant in many areas, quietly rely on respected persons or friends for guidance and never be called out. How many morons got to be on national TV or global social media in 1850? How many people were urged to endorse utterly stupid memes or fads back then? It was simpler to be a moron in the old days.

Granted, the nation would be better off with fewer morons but let’s not pretend they are all that rare. They can be seen on the big screen and on Broadway. Many of those who bring us bring us our news are only a red nose and a pair of big shoes away from living their true nature. Nutballs start religious cults, bogus health fads and/or fear being re-probed by aliens. Hell, we elect overt morons to all levels of public office.

It is a tribute to our generosity and confidence as a people that someone who is blissfully ignorant of history, culture, past and present politics, science, math, logic and good manners can act out without fear of formal sanction.

If a thousand African-Americans averaging several million dollars per year in the NBA/MLB/NFL think America is a racist hell hole, if like AOC, the “equal pay” soccer crowd is really not good at math and finance and if Jim Acosta somehow thinks himself competent and courageous, we should remind them all to be grateful that nobody requires them to be well-informed, self-aware or even normal. There are no competency pre-reqs for using First Amendment rights.

Keep perspective, my friends. What this nation lacks is a much larger volume of laughter at the human comedy that unfolds all around us. All we need a new word that means “I celebrate your right to be a buffoon, you buffoon.”

Cheers.

Icon, Part 11b: Icon Types of the Theotokos

 
Hodegetria icon on the iconostasis of my own church

In Part A I gave an overview of just why Mary is so highly venerated in the Orthodox Church. In this second part I will show some of the major examples of her icon types, and what they each represent. This will not be exhaustive, of course, for styles and types have changed over the centuries, and some nations and regions have seen the emergence of different themes that have not gained as much traction in the wider Orthodox world. Each major type has a different message to convey about both the Theotokos and Christ (for her importance is a reflection of Christ), and so each will be found in a different context within either church or home.

There are certain common elements to how the Theotokos is depicted in all of her different icons. The first thing any viewer should note is that Mary always has three stars (or star-like flowers) on her cloak: one on her forehead, and one on each shoulder. The origin of this theme is so old that it is unclear, being even seen in early Christian frescos in catacombs. On these early pre-iconographic depictions a great amount of what is shown is symbolic in ways that later icons would not do – this was done at a time when Christianity was still persecuted, and was moreover spreading through people whose only prior religious knowledge was of the Roman pantheon. Keeping the artwork symbolic and somewhat abstracted both aided in its teaching, and in evading scrutiny when caught. In these early works, for instance, one will often see Christ depicted as “the Good Shepherd”, a beardless young man tending or carrying sheep. The three stars on Mary are likely a holdover from that time. These stars represent her past, present, and ever-virginity.

Mary’s cloak is usually red, and is covering over a blue tunic and kerchief. The blue garment is a sign of her humanity, while the red cloak shows that she has partaken of divinity through her carrying Christ, the God-Man, in her womb. Her cloak often has fringe or tassels on the sleeves, indicating royal status. This is in constrast to how Christ is usually shown, wearing a blue cloak over a red tunic – in this case showing how He has become man, but is still divine. Lastly Mary will usually have a nimbus around her face, just like all other saints, but instead of seeing a saint’s name written about her you will see the Greek letter “ΜΡ” and “ΘΥ” (an abridgment of “Mother of God”).  

Nearly all icons of Mary show her in relation to Christ. She is either holding Him as a young child, He is an adult. In icons where Mary is carrying the Christ-Child, He is often depicted holding a scroll of wisdom. It is rare that Christ is depicted as an infant, usually instead being somewhat older, and sometimes with an almost adult face. This is because Christ is God-incarnate and possessing wisdom and authority at even a young age. In the other icons, Mary will be seen usually gesturing towards Christ. Always our attention in these icons should be drawn to Christ. There are some icons that do not have Christ present, but He is always implied.

Note: While I give the Greek names for these icon types, the words in quotations afterwards are not always literal translations so much as more common names or approximations.

Platytera, or “More Spacious than the Heavens”

Platytera at Sts. Peter and Paul Chapel, at Antiochian Village

If you enter a very large Orthodox church, this may well be the first icon you even notice. Here is the Theotokos looking directly back at the congregation, with her arms spread wide in the old gesture of prayer called “Orans” (you can see an example of this in catacomb paintings*, and many Orthodox still use something of the gesture during certain prayers, especially the Lord’s Prayer). Hovering in her center you will see an icon of Christ, but neither as an infant or as an adult, holding a scroll in His left hand, and making a sign of benediction (blessing) with His left. The icon represents how Mary, a mortal, contained within her womb the uncontainable God, a cosmic paradox. God is greater than His creation, and yet Mary bore Him for a time. This is perhaps my favorite Marian theme for all that it conveys, and for the serenity of Mary. A warden at the largest church in our area also rather fondly describes it as an overtly missionary icon, for in the wide sweep of her arms in prayer she also welcomes all who enter. This is also sometimes called “Our Lady of the Sign”.

Russian Platytera at Museum of Russian Icons, MA
Platytera icon, painted by Mother Alexdra at Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA

 

 

Hodegetria, or “She Who Shows The Way”

Hodegetria at Antiochian Village

This icon type show the Theotokos holding the Christ child, either on her left or her right side, and gesturing towards Him with her hand. Though Mary is always the larger figure in this icon form, she is always directing the focus of attention to Christ. Christ meanwhile is usually again holding a scroll, but rather than making a sign of benediction He is gesturing with 2 fingers, indicating that He is both fully God and fully Man. Mary’s gesturing to Christ is to say “He is the way,” just as Christ himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This icon type is very common on the iconostasis because of this apt message. Very often you will also see the phrase “Quick to Hear” written on the icon as well. If you recall from part A, and Mary’s ongoing ministry for Christians everywhere, the Orthodox frequently pray for intercessions from Mary, for as the Mother of God she is indeed quick to hear prayers.

Eleousa, or “Tenderness”

Late Byzantine icon at Museum of Russian Icons

In this type, Mary holding the Christ Child to her cheek in a motherly embrace, while the child is stroking or touching Mary’s own cheek. This is a much-beloved type frequently found on its own, and less frequently on an iconostasis. Very often Mary appears mournful in these icons as if she already has awareness of the coming crucifixion. Perhaps the most famous (and quite touching) example of this type is the Virgin of Vladimir. If you look closely, you’ll see Christ’s small hand on the back of her neck, reciprocating the tender embrace. This is an iconic style very often seen in homes, for this style is especially resonant with mothers. It is a very human portrayal.

At St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Ohio

Deesis, or “At the Cross”

Deesis at Antiochian Village, 16th century

In the Deesis icons, Mary is gesturing towards the crucified Christ on the cross, and she is visibly mourning. The Deesis is one of the few iconographic depictions of Mary where she is sometimes featured alone. It is not uncommon, especially on large iconostases, to see Mary in Deesis as but one panel among several in one of the upper tiers of saints, gesturing towards Christ at the center.

Panachranta, or “The All Immaculate”

This type is very similar to the Platytera in form, except that Mary’s is seated on a throne and holding the Christ child, instead of reaching her arms out in prayer. The message of the icon is otherwise much the same as the Platytera type, conveying that Mary contained the Uncontainable God.

Panachranta at Mt. Sinai, 5th or 6th century

The Burning Bush

“The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.” (Exodus 3:2) (NASB) (Kindle Locations 1882-1884). The Lockman Foundation. 

As with the Platytera icon above, this is another expression of the marvel at how Mary, a normal mortal human female, could contain the Uncontainable God within her womb, and yet not be destroyed. As with the famous Burning Bush of Exodus, in which the Angel of the Lord appeared to Moses without the bush itself being consumed by fire, so Mary is frequently likened. This icon is frequently shown very stylized, instead of an actual burning bush, with two overlapping diamonds – red for the fire, and green for the bush – and Mary, holding Christ, at the center. Within the points of the red diamond, sometimes one may see the ancient symbols for the four gospel authors – a man for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke, and an eagle for John (these come from Revelation). Prophets may be represented in the green points, and the design can become very complicated in its depictions. 

Burning bush, from Museum of Russian Icons

Skepi, or “The Protection”

This last icon type differs from the others in that it depicts a major event that occurred centuries after Mary’s life. In the mid 10th century, Saint Andrew, the Fool for Christ (holy fools are something of a subject unto themselves), along with Saint Epiphanius, his disciple, in a prayer vigil in the Blachernae church in Constantinople (where, since the 5th century, Mary’s actual cloak and veil had been kept), witnessed the Theotokos open and descend through the dome of church, mystically spreading her veil over the entire city in a sign of her protection. Shortly after this, the city was saved from an invading Rus fleet. Since that time, Mary’s protection has been sought many times during invasions and wars. Today both St. Andrew’s vision, and a refusal by Greece to capitulate to the Axis in WWII, are celebrated in October, though on different dates.  

The icon shows Mary above the Blachernae church and holding her veil over her arms, with St. Andrew (usually just covered in a cloak, or wrapped in a sheet – fools often going nearly naked) and St. Epiphanius below. She is sometimes attended by the hosts of Heaven, including angels, and other scenes may be depicted below. Sometimes Mary is depicted alone too – this icon type can have a great number of variations.

Conclusion

As I said at the outset, this list is not exhaustive. Some of the types not discussed above were already covered in earlier essays (in particular the Nativity and the Annunciation). There are types, particularly in the 17th-19th century Russia, that I have not covered here – these tend to be more florid and imaginative due to Renaissance influence (I’ll put a few examples in the comments). Some of the Russian styles remain quite popular there, but have not necessarily been taken up by the rest of the Orthodox world with as much enthusiasm. The types discussed in this essay are the most common and ancient of themes.

Sources

At Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA

DeYoung, Stephen, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/21/queen-and-mother/

Kimball, Virginia, Discovering the Way of Joy in Icons of the Mother of Christ, Joy in God Press, Westford, MA, Rev 2.031719

Maximovitch, John (Rose, Seraphim, Translator), The Orthodox Veneration of Mary, The Birthgiver of God, St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1978

Matthews-Green, Frederica, The Open Door, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, 2004

Matthews-Green, Frederica, Mary As the Early Christians Knew Her, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, Fourth Printing, 2017

Nouwen, Henri, Behold the Beauty o the Lord: Praying with Icons, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2007

Vassilaki, Maria (editor), Images of the Mother of God, Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, VT, 2005

The Lockman Foundation. Holy Bible: New American Standard Bible (NASB), Kindle Edition

At Museum of Russian Icons

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hodegetria

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theotokos

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catacomb_of_Priscilla

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blachernitissa

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_the_Sign

https://orthodoxwiki.org/Panagia_Hodegetria

https://sttikhonsmonastery.org/stm11.html

https://orthodoxwiki.org/Theotokos_the_Unburnt_Bush_icon

https://orthodoxwiki.org/Protection_of_the_Mother_of_God

http://www.ec-patr.org/afieroma/churches/show.php?lang=en&id=02

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intercession_of_the_Theotokos

http://www.saintsophiadc.com/2013/10/agia-skepi-ohi-day-and-the-people-of-greece/

A woman praying, in the Pricilla Catacombs, 2nd or 3rd century

Human Misery and the American Model

 

The nature of our national founding has been under constant attack for what now has become more than a century. We are now closer than we have ever been to losing that struggle and becoming something entirely foreign to the basic concepts which have been the pillars supporting the single most successful and beneficial secular endeavor mankind has yet launched.

The crisis inflicted by illegal immigration is only one example of a many-pronged assault. It is only a piece in a mosaic but is certainly a destructive one. Like all the other pieces it strikes at some key values central to our success as a self-governing republic. One of these is, of course, culture. Another is the very necessary respect for rule of law.

The question of illegal immigration is also an example of a long-standing technique of the left to push their agenda while both distracting from the actual central issue involved and placing any opposition on the defensive. Many leftist arguments stir a false compassion presenting their ideology as an answer to some human misery. It certainly cannot be denied that there are millions upon millions all over the world who would benefit from living in a cleaner, safer and more prosperous United States. Everyone who looks into the face of a desperate, hungry and fearful child wants to do something for them, wants them to be fed, clean and safe.

And there are several ways that we can, as individuals, play a hand in such things.

But I will say that if the people of those other nations are to be helped as a group, their nations have to adopt some form of what I will call the American Model. The “magic” factor for these nations is not some form of international welfare or to take their poorest off of their hands. That factor is liberty.

Through a few thousand years of history, the vast majority of human beings on Earth have lived in poverty and under tyranny. It is only recently that vast amounts of wealth and across-the-board leaps in the standard of living for all has become common. The advances have been explosive and have pretty well been in proportion to how deeply rooted a nation or society is in this “American Model”.

Many of the components of this American Model were hardly invented by America. It was just in America that they were more fully planted in a soil of liberty and allowed to function more fully than any other place in history. It is a collection of man’s experiences, lessons, hopes and continual exploration of his own existence. It is the trial and error process of securing each person’s liberty and protecting him from tyranny, regardless of its form. It was here that those threads of man’s experiences were woven together into a system built around the vital elements of human liberty.

So what are the vital elements of this model? In the simplest form, it is to grow those things which enhance individual liberty and limit as much as possible those that grow tyranny. A small as possible, limited government as part of a federal system, a market of free exchange with secure, protected property rights for individuals, a commitment to natural rights, a moral grounding in Judeo-Christian civilization and a commitment to freedom of conscience, and a focus on the rights and responsibilities of the individual are all on the list.

But, for now, I will devote the rest of this space to the element which allowed all those threads to come together to form an American fabric whose pattern could be shared with the rest of mankind for its benefit. That is the “soil” which allowed those collected ideas and ideals from centuries to sprout. That soil is culture, a culture of liberty. A culture of individual liberty. Almost left alone on the eastern seaboard of a new continent, those small groups of scattered pioneers breathed life into those concepts far from the hand of kings, lords and even centralized clergy. Each area had its own distinct character, habits, and personalities but they revealed in their independence and the challenges it brought. Settlements grew into cities, all different from the others but united in the traits of independent souls.

All of those regions of the “old world” which contributed threads to this new fabric failed to complete the job. The Greeks, Romans, English and more all were a part of the traditions blended into this culture which could “sniff tyranny on every tainted breeze.” But none of these became what America would make of itself.

One of the great myths of so-called progressivism is the greedy, selfish image of a capitalist free market. This economic model has not just produced the wealthiest of nations in the United States. It has created the fuel for the most expansive humanitarian outreach the world has yet seen. We all are aware of the flood of American government funds which are sent around the world for various reasons, real and imagined. But few also realize that the humanitarian funds from private American donations far exceed the governmental foreign aid. And in almost every case they are far more effective in the real lives of those who need them most.

It should come as no surprise that far too much of the government-to-government “aid” is lost as it moves through one bureaucratic filter and then another.

The same is true of private “charity” within the United States itself. We are by far the most generous nation in the world, past or present.

But, still, one of the left’s constant ruses is to weaponized compassion and paint any notion competing with theirs as cruel and uncompassionate.

The cruelest thing we could do to the disadvantaged trapped in “the rest of the world” would be to lose our culture of liberty. I am afraid we are dangerously close to losing in among our own “home grown” people. Those who are allowed to join this “national family” have to be motivated by a true desire to “breathe free” as a part of that distinctive American culture and not merely better themselves.

This American model can fit into any corner of the world. Just as some parts of it may vary from state to state or town to town, so can it vary some from country to country. It is about the individual. Therefore, it can be personalized to its setting. This why it is so important that we do not lose our own distinctive culture of liberty. The world will lose its model, its clearest example. This is also why, in order to keep it for ourselves, we must decentralize so much of what has grown in the last century and return to the original vision of local powers.

When people are left to innovate they prosper. Hong Kong is now in a struggle to keep their self-control from the mainland Chinese. But they have been a shining example of how a tiny dot without any real resources except the drive and their own people can prosper beyond any expectations. They did so mainly because the British allowed them to during the time of “the lease”. They seized the chance and realized the rewards of economic liberty. The American Model is not just a Western thing or a “white man’s” greedy path. It is for all who realize that individual freedom is responsibility with consequences and are unafraid to plunge in. Perhaps Collin Kaepernick doesn’t grasp that, but Fredrick Douglass certainly did, just read his “Self-Made Men” speech. And then read it again – every week. It is a priceless statement about independent individual liberty. You might mail Collin a copy but due to some of his recent tweets I am not sure he reads Douglass any better than he did double zones in nickel coverage.

Individual liberty cannot survive where it is not understood. It cannot survive without the rule of law and a limited government. Centralized power is always a great threat to that liberty and government is the worst system for handling human relationships.

The most humane way for a strong America to help the oppressed of the world is not to water down the essential elements of its own success. Its most valuable export is the example of what a culture of individual liberty under the law can do when it is embraced, fought for and implemented by a population determined to manage its own affairs. To best help the world’s oppressed, you do not remake America. You reinforce it and its founding principles.

Mother Teresa certainly saw poverty at its worst during her life of service. But she observed that “the most miserable thing about poverty is the feeling of not being anyone, without personal worth.” That personal worth can best be expressed in this secular world by being able to live out the individual rights extended to us all by a divine hand.

Men’s Hockey Coach’s Speech Goes Viral

 

“When you put on that jersey, you represent yourself and your teammates. And the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back! Get that through your heads!” 

It seems that there is a video of a present-day hockey coach’s speech to his players that is going viral.

For now, the coach is anonymous (as of my last reading), but I doubt that will be the case much longer. I do pray for him. In our hypersensitive, PC world of lightning-fast offense taking, this type of straight talk is as verboten as the wrong books in Hitler’s Germany. Someone is just waiting to dox him.

“We’re Not Women’s Soccer, We’re Not the NFL!” ….

Well, I applaud this coach. Unfortunately, the behavior of the USWNT and many NFL footballers has forced this issue. There was a day when it did not need to be imposed on any athletic team. But the hyper-sensitivity and hyper-arrogance of the individuals playing sports these days places the most importance on the name on the back of the jersey, rather than the front. Sad.

This coach just took a page out of Coach Herb Brooks’ playbook … Again!

Well done Coach. This Bud’s For You!

Hand Grenade with a Bad Haircut: Ross Perot Dead at 89

 

H. Ross Perot, the man who could have been America’s first Independent President, died today at age 89. When he ran in 1992 against the incumbent George H.W. Bush and the Democratic Party nominee Bill Clinton he received 19% of the popular vote, the highest since Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose bid in 1912.

An Annapolis graduate, he was a pioneer in computer data systems, twice building companies and twice selling them to make his fortune. And he was generous with his money while being appalled at the government’s generosity with the money of taxpayers. A special cause of his was the medical care of veterans. He personally funded the research of Dr. Robert Haley at UT Southwestern that showed that many vets of the first Gulf War did, indeed, suffer from a chemical-induced toxin syndrome.

He will be remembered for his first presidential run which he announced on Larry King’s talk show on CNN. Talking about the nation’s problems in a folksy manner, particularly the deficit and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), he promised to run if supporters would self-mobilize and get his name on the ballot in all 50 states, which they did.

By June he was leading in the polls with 39%. (Bush was at 31% and Clinton at 25%.) Then he abruptly quit, claiming that Bush’s dirty tricks operatives were trying to disrupt his daughter’s wedding. He returned in October but it damaged his chances greatly. He would win no electoral votes and the best showing he had was 2nd place in Maine.

His lasting legacy from that race is adding the phrase “giant sucking sound” to the political lexicon. In the second presidential debate with Bush and Clinton, he was the only candidate opposed to NAFTA.

“We have got to stop sending jobs overseas,” he warned. “It’s pretty simple: If you’re paying $12, $13, $14 an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, … have no health care—that’s the most expensive single element in making a car— have no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement, and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.

“… when [Mexico’s] jobs come up from a dollar an hour to six dollars an hour, and ours go down to six dollars an hour, and then it’s leveled again. But in the meantime, you’ve wrecked the country with these kinds of deals.”

If he had won that race, many of President Trump’s problems may have paled in comparison. He would have been completely alone with absolute zero of the party support structure that presidents of all stripes lean on. He would probably have leaned heavily on his business organization which would have opened him up to even more criticism.

During that race in 1992, Rush Limbaugh tagged him with the nickname of “A Hand Grenade with a Bad Haircut” and loved to regale his audience with tales of Perot’s eccentricities. One particular favorite surrounded the true story of Perot buying his childhood home in Texarkana. He was disappointed that a subsequent owner had painted the bricks white and that an attempt to sandblast the paint off was ineffective because of the porous nature of the material. He then paid to have every brick chiseled out of the walls, turned paint-side in and re-cemented in place.

Among his other eccentricities, he literally buried his father. When Ross was in the Navy his father suffered a heart attack and Perot was given leave to go home. When the elder Perot passed, Ross picked up a shovel and went down to the cemetery and dug the plot out himself and filled it in after the funeral service. He explained years later to The New York Times, “I buried him myself ’cause that’s the last thing I could do for him.”

He was an American character. Ferociously patriotic, he believed in the America of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. And he lived it out to the fullest.

Quote of the Day: Abraham Lincoln and his Religiosity

 

Lincoln grew into an intensely religious man, although we rarely hear him described in those terms nowadays. His religious faith became fundamental to his thinking and decision-making during the Civil War; we rarely hear that either. When he assumed the enormous burden of the presidency with war approaching, his faith grew deeper. When his beloved young son Willie died in early 1862, it deepened again—and seemed to continue growing deeper until his death. In the end Lincoln should almost certainly be remembered as the most important religious figure America has ever produced. I don’t mean he was a theologian. But Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah weren’t theologians either.

– David Gelernter, The Fourth Great Western Religion

In the beginning of his book, David Gelernter asks what it means to “believe” in America. He believes that the Puritans used their religion to plant the seeds for faith-based ideals such as liberty, equality and democratic governance.

More than ever, the performance of Abraham Lincoln has come up for criticism. In terms of actions he made that defied federal law, he believed that the times demanded these decisions. He was also a deeply religious man, enduring many losses both personal and political, and although people have questioned his Christianity (because he was not a regular church-goer), he relied on his faith and especially the Old Testament to guide him.

How well do we live our faiths, even when we embrace them? How often are we called to compromise our ideals? How well do we resist those pressures?