Category Archives: History

Impressions of “The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran,” by Christoph Luxenberg

Three centuries after Christ, a Syrian named Nestorius was horrified by those who denied that Christ was truly God. When he became the Patriarch of Constantinople, he ordered the burning of a monestary of Arian monks who believed that Christ was merely the Son of God. Soon, he would go farther and emphasize that Christ was so divine that Christ’s Godly person was not Christ’s human person.

Or that is what we recall.

From our perspective, these disagreements are bewildering. It’s hard to understand what caused such confusion between Arian Bishops, such as Ulfilas who wrote

I, Ulfila, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord;

I believe in one God
the Father,
the only unbegotten and invisible,
and in his only-begotten son,
our Lord and God,
the designer and maker of all creation,

having none other like him (so that one alone among all beings is God the Father, who is also the God of our God);

and in one Holy Spirit,
the illuminating and sanctifying power,

as Christ said after his resurrection to his apostles: “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and again “But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8); being neither God (the Father) nor our God (Christ), but the minister of Christ… subject and obedient in all things to the Son; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father… (whom) he ordained in the Holy Spirit through his Christ.

And Nestorius, who condemned Arius, Ulfilias, and others in this letter to Pope Celestine I:

Blind men! They do not remember the account of the holy fathers who openly contradict them:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
incarnate of the Holy Spirit
and the Virgin Mary.

For this statement is with the title which signifies each nature, Christ… is co-essential with the divinity of the Father. But the humanity born in these latter times is from the holy Virgin; on account of its conjunction with divinity, the humanity is worshipped by angels and humans together.

Whatever the motives behind these words, Nestorius was sent into exile, and the Church of the East was founded. This Church for a while was the largest branch of Christianity — a Bishop celebrated the eucharist in Beijing a millennia before Matteo Ricci reached China’s shores, and apostles to India baptized the “St. Thomas Christians” long before Norman Kings reigned in London.

And, if Christoph Luxenberg is correct, a Nestorian lectionary fell into the hand of an illiterate Arab living in an Aramaic town, and became the Holy Koran. In 2000, he published The Syrio-Aramaic Reading of the Koran.  He is still in hiding.

Luxenberg completely dismisses the hadiths and sunnah (sayings and stories of Muhammad) as either predating or postdating the Koran, and insists on a text only interpretation. Next, he argues the use of Old Poetic Arabic is inappropriate for understanding the vowel-less text of the Koran, and instead the constants shoudl be read as if they are Syrio-Aramaic words.

I am completely unable to judge the validity of this approach. But the results are striking

As Luxenberg translates the word “Koran” itself as Lectionary (a Christian book to guide church services), Surah 41:3, where the Koran describes itself

A Book whose signs have been made distinct as an Arabic Quran

becomes

A scripture that we have translated as an Arabic lectionary

And Surah 41:44

If We had made it a foreign Quran, they would have said: “Why are not its signs made distinct? Foreign and Arabic?”

becomes

If we had composed it as a lectionary in a foreign language, they would have said: “One ought to have translated its scripts!”

and Surah 12:1-2

These are the signs of the Book that is clear. Verily We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran; mayhap ye will understand.

should be

These are the signs of the elucidated Scripture. We have sent them down as an Arabic lectionary so that you may understand.

Numerous other examples are given as well, including re-translatiosn fo portions of the Koran promising “virgins” and “youths” in paradise as descriptions of a heavenly Wedding Feast

Surah 76:19

Round amongst them go boys of perpetual youth, whom when one sees, he thinks them pearls unstrung.

becomes

Iced fruits pass around them; to see them, you would think they were dispersed pearls.

A few of the shorter books of the Koran are retranslated entirely. The ending of of Surah 96, for instance, changes from

May he then call his clique. We shall call the henchmen.
No!
Prostrate yourself
and approach.

becomes

May he call on his idol. He will call on the transitory.
You ought not to heed him at all,
perform your divine service
and take part in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

(while the last time is notably longer in Luxenberg’s translation, the word being translated is “iqtarab”, which is still used to mean “celebrate the Eucharist” in Arabic-speaking churches).

There are may more of these examples, but you get the point. The Koran may not be what it is believed to be. Islam emerged from a world where Christianity in schism against itself, and like other splits (such as the Tai Ping or Lutheranism) may descend from a sincere attempt to get to the core of Christianity occulted by Catholic-Orthodox tradition.

Sadly, the book assumes a familiar with Arabic and Aramaic I do not have.  I cannot judge any of these claims.

If Islam did emerge from a Nestorian lectionary, Nestorius’s program backfired spectacularly.

Nestorius’ attempt to defend the divinity of Christ against the Arians has lead to the censor and destruction of countless Christianity communities. Arius, Nestorius, the Catholics and the Orthodox once said together, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.”

Such words will lead to your execution, in the world under what the Lectionary has become.

In 1915, the oldest surviving copy of any work by Patriarch Nestorius, The Bazaar of Heracleides — was destroyed by the Turks.

Impressions of “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation,” by Blake Harris

Recently I finished Console Wars, by Blake Harris. It is an extremely well written corporate history of the battle between Sega and Nintendo during the Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis era. I strongly recommend it.

Console Wars is nearly a novel, centering on Sega’s upstart executive leadership team. Console Wars helped me understand my home town better. It showed the cultural divide between Japanese and American businesses greatly impact those businesses, and also how the American media is easily manipulated. It’s a great book.

First, the book centers around Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske. He is written like a CEO version of Don Draper, and it’s very clear his goal is to sell Sega products, as opposed to originally develop them. But beginning with a weaker system, weaker intellectual property, and weaker games, Sega’s marketing eventually lead them to best Nintendo in home game console market share. CEO Kalinske was formerly at Mattel, and in his career had been responsible for the marketing of Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and the modern Barbie doll, when the focus moved from fashion to aspiration (“astronaut Barbie, teacher Barbie, and so on). It’s fascinating.

Second, I live the town that where Nintendo of America is still located. Unlike other “tech” companies near me, though, Nintendo employees are relatively cliquish, and disproportionately Japanese. This book helped explain some of the culture of my own town to me, giving me the corporate history and identify which made this “Nintendo” possible.

Third, a theme throughout the book was the cultural divide between the Japanese corporate centers and the American subsidiaries. While Nintendo of America, Sega of America, and the embryonic Sony Playstation team were competitors with each other, they shared exasperation at the behavior and mores of their Japanese overlords. I’m sure the frustration was mutual. While the western executives features worked insane hours and occasionally were rude in personal ways to each other, there clearly was a greater sense of understanding among them than up the corporate chain.

Fourth, its hilarious how effectively these companies manipulated the press, not just the gaming trades but even the national news. The economic rot that would eventually trigger the gamergate consumer revolt was already festering at this time. Similarly, certain behavior the press has been outraged over int he past week (as of the writing of this post) is quite well established indeed!

Last, this is the best corporate history I ever read. High Noon and American Icon are good hagiographies, is an impressionist marvel, and Steve Jobs is an amazing biography, but nothing I read described the highs and lows of an entire industry from the top like this one did. My enjoyment was greatly helped by Fred Berman, possibly the best nonfiction narrator I ever encountered.

The “Computer Historian” youtube channel posted an accurate description online, so I’ll include that here.

Console Wars is highly recommended. I listneed to it on unabriged Audible.

The Books of the Maccabees

Greek attack!

After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth.
1 Maccabees 1:1-2

The Books of the Maccabees are the most exciting books of the Bible since Joshua. We got elephants in the land!

They showed the elephants the juice of grapes and mulberries, to arouse them for battle. And they distributed the beasts among the phalanxes; with each elephant they stationed a thousand men armed with coats of mail, and with brass helmets on their heads; and five hundred picked horsemen were assigned to each beast. These took their position beforehand wherever the beast was; wherever it went they went with it, and they never left it. And upon the elephants were wooden towers, strong and covered; they were fastened upon each beast by special harness, and upon each were four armed men who fought from there, and also its Indian driver.
1 Maccabees 6:34-37

How to kill such a beast? A martyrdom operation: stab the elephant in the heart!

He got under the elephant, stabbed it from beneath, and killed it; but it fell to the ground upon him and there he died.
1 Maccabees 6:46

The Holy Spirit provides many roads to the Gospels, and these books are aimed at the same population as its literary twin, the Song of Songs. The post-apocalyptic Book of Baruch is morose.  Maccabees references this spirit, but what’s coming up is closer to Mad Max.

Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled;
she became a dwelling of strangers;
she became strange to her offspring,
and her children forsook her.
1 Maccabees 1:38

The Greeks have stupid sports, and they use them to corrupt even the holy ones

When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life. He set aside the existing royal concessions to the Jews, secured through John the father of Eupolemus, who went on the mission to establish friendship and alliance with the Romans; and he destroyed the lawful ways of living and introduced new customs contrary to the law. For with alacrity he founded a gymnasium right under the citadel, and he induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat. There was such an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign ways because of the surpassing wickedness of Jason, who was ungodly and no high priest, that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Despising the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena after the call to the discus, disdaining the honors prized by their fathers and putting the highest value upon Greek forms of prestige. For this reason heavy disaster overtook them, and those whose ways of living they admired and wished to imitate completely became their enemies and punished them. For it is no light thing to show irreverence to the divine laws—a fact which later events will make clear.
2 Maccabees 4:10-17

The Greeks attack the people

So they attacked them on the sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of a thousand persons.
1 Maccabees 2:38

They are desecrating the temples

Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Geri’zim the temple of Zeus the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwelt in that place.
2 Maccabees 6:1-2

And their will is law

And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city. Many of the people, every one who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53 they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.
1 Maccabees 1:50-53

The war is exciting. For instance, a once cruel king now lies dying, and comes to God…

Then it was that, broken in spirit, he began to lose much of his arrogance and to come to his senses under the scourge of God, for he was tortured with pain every moment. And when he could not endure his own stench, he uttered these words: “It is right to be subject to God, and no mortal should think that he is equal to God.”
2 Maccabees 9:11-12

But he’s style a king, and his letter is dark comedy:

But when his sufferings did not in any way abate, for the judgment of God had justly come upon him, he gave up all hope for himself and wrote to the Jews the following letter, in the form of a supplication. This was its content:

“To his worthy Jewish citizens, Antiochus their king and general sends hearty greetings and good wishes for their health and prosperity. If you and your children are well and your affairs are as you wish, I am glad. As my hope is in heaven, I remember with affection your esteem and good will. On my way back from the region of Persia I suffered an annoying illness, and I have deemed it necessary to take thought for the general security of all
2 Maccabees 9:18-21

And even fake news from a foreign power, designed to swing Jewish opinion

This is a copy of the letter which they sent to Onias: “Arius, king of the Spartans, to Onias the high priest, greeting. It has been found in writing concerning the Spartans and the Jews that they are brethren and are of the family of Abraham.
1 Maccabees 12:19-21

Though maybe there is more to this than it seems, that Greek and Jew might somehow be one…

The two books of Maccabees relate the Revolt against the Greeks from different perspectives. The First Book focuses on the heroism and zealotry of Judas Maccabeus and clan. His father saw the evils of the king in Jerusalem, gave a beautiful speech, and left to the countryside. The Maccabees burned with devotion to the law, and in a scene out of 300, begin their revolt after an emissary of the distant king journeys to their village

Then the king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Mode-in to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”

When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Mode-in, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar.
1 Maccabees 2:15-24

But the Second Book focuses on the lived atrocities of the Greeks. It was not — or perhaps not entirely — Judas’s poetic father who left Jerusalem in high mind protest, but Judas and his brothers who fled the murderous Hellenes

When this man arrived in Jerusalem, he pretended to be peaceably disposed and waited until the holy sabbath day; then, finding the Jews not at work, he ordered his men to parade under arms. He put to the sword all those who came out to see them, then rushed into the city with his armed men and killed great numbers of people.

But Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do; they continued to live on what grew wild, so that they might not share in the defilement.
2 Maccabees 5:25-27

In both cases the Maccabees led the revolt. The Jews were to be saved, and the gentiles terrorized

Then Judas and his brothers began to be feared, and terror fell upon the Gentiles round about them.
1 Maccabees 3:25

So now, O Sovereign of the heavens, send a good angel to carry terror and trembling before us.
2 Maccabees 15:23

Much has been written of the three Divinely-ordained offices of King, Priest, and Prophet. We know three figures in the Hebrew Bible who legitimately held two of these titles simultaneously: Melchizedek (King & Priest), Saul (King & Prophet), and Ezekiel (Prophet & Priest).

The Maccabees were definitely priests, from the tribe of Levi

In the one hundred and seventieth year the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel, and the people began to write in their documents and contracts, “In the first year of Simon the great high priest and commander and leader of the Jews.”
1 Maccabees 13:41-42

Yet they were careful to show they did not claim the titles, or even divination ability, of prophets,

And they thought it best to tear it down, lest it bring reproach upon them, for the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.
1 Maccabees 4:45-46

And likewise, the title “King” is notably missing from the Maccabees’ executive roles

Thus the [gentile] king honored him and enrolled him among his chief friends, and made him general and governor of the province.
1 Maccabees 10:65

The Maccabees are High Priests, albeit priests that have come not to bring peace, but a sword.

 

The Books of the Maccabees provide continuity between the world of the Torah and those of the Epistles. Sometimes this is explicit, like the parallelism in all three, Abraham’s tested faith in God was credited to him as righteousness

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:2-6

Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?
1 Maccabees 2:52

For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
Romans 4:3-5

Yet reading these books, of the brutal gentile persecution of the Jews and the equally ferocious response, we see a glimmer of something else. Between the clear love of the Maccabees

But they said to one another, “Let us repair the destruction of our people, and fight for our people and the sanctuary.”
1 Maccabees 3:43

and the humiliating ways they left their dead enemies outside Jerusalem

Then the Jews seized the spoils and the plunder, and they cut off Nicanor’s head and the right hand which he had so arrogantly stretched out, and brought them and displayed them just outside Jerusalem.
1 Maccabees 7:47

There is a sense something is missing. The Protestant Reformers who edited down the Bible, and excluded the Books of Maccabees, would answer that the errors demonstrate the Maccabees were not rightly guided, and these books are not Holy books.

How can circumcising the gentiles be righteous?

They forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel.
1 Maccabees 2:46

There is no historical doubt the Book of Deuteronomy was widely circulated at this time.  They seem to have missed some words

The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name. He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.
Deuteronomy 10:15-21

These priests spilled blood by the lakeful.

They took the city by the will of God, and slaughtered untold numbers, so that the adjoining lake, a quarter of a mile wide, appeared to be running over with blood.
2 Maccabees 12:16

But we remember the evils of the gentiles, even against innocent families

The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and cauldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’”
2 Maccabees 7:3-6

The gentiles are evil.  Perhaps it might take even more than a lake worth of blood to save them.

One could almost make a rosary out of the Books of the Maccabees. So much is here, but incomplete, or in the wrong order

The Savior of Israel, Blessed

When he saw that the army was strong, he prayed, saying, “Blessed art thou, O Savior of Israel, who didst crush the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of thy servant David, and didst give the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan, the son of Saul, and of the man who carried his armor.
1 Maccabees 4:30

In the Wilderness, in the Wilderness

But Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do; they continued to live on what grew wild, so that they might not share in the defilement.
2 Maccabees 5:26-27

The Jews, before the Romans

Yet for all this not one of them has put on a crown or worn purple as a mark of pride, 15 but they have built for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred and twenty senators constantly deliberate concerning the people, to govern them well. They trust one man each year to rule over them and to control all their land; they all heed the one man, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.
1 Maccabees 8:14-16

Tortured by the Gentiles

When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. And those who a little before had acted toward him with good will now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.”

So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
2 Maccabees 6:24-31

The Death of the Savior

“How is the mighty fallen,
the savior of Israel!”
1 Maccabees 9:19-21

The visit to Emmaus

And he said to those who were building houses, or were betrothed, or were planting vineyards, or were fainthearted, that each should return to his home, according to the law.

Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.
1 Maccabees 3:56-57

The Hastening after Pentecost

After the feast called Pentecost, they hastened against Gorgias, the governor of Idumea.
2 Maccabees 12:32

The Journey to Rome

They went to Rome, a very long journey; and they entered the senate chamber and spoke as follows: “Judas, who is also called Maccabeus, and his brothers and the people of the Jews have sent us to you to establish alliance and peace with you, that we may be enrolled as your allies and friends.”
1 Maccabees 8:19-20

But before we get carried away, we remember other things common in the Hebrew Bible, like the joy of weddings, and wedding parties

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Isaiah 61:10

and the Gospels

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:15

and see them go tragically wrong here

They raised their eyes and looked, and saw a tumultuous procession with much baggage; and the bridegroom came out with his friends and his brothers to meet them with tambourines and musicians and many weapons. Then they rushed upon them from the ambush and began killing them. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled to the mountain; and they took all their goods.
1 Maccabees 9:39-40

Theologically, the Books of the Maccabees are cited as precedent for prayers for the dead. Whatever the faults of the Maccabees clan, they agreed with a later High Priest that God is the God of the living, even those living in Sheol

On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchers of their fathers. Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead
2 Maccabees 12:39-44

Those dead would be joined by others. The Maccabees rule lasted for a little over the century. The last High Priest of the line, Aristobolus III, would be killed as a youth.

Contemporary law would view the crime of drowning High Priest Aristobolus as a child-killing.  He was 17 when he was murdered.

This would have been news to another man, who may well have been the same age as Aristobolus.  If so Joseph of Nazareth would have heard this news before his future Mary was born.  And in the decades to come, at the birth of his foster-son, Joseph certainly remembered the murder of the last Maccabbee, the High Priest Aristobolus, and the man who killed him.

Herod.

Review of “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry,” by Jaquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

To paraphrase a wise man ,Failure is a GPS: it tells you the distance between where you are and where you want to be. Previous failure I’ve read about — Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent — have been reborn in the form of Nokia. And success makes one fat and lazy. General Motors, the Google of its day, is a warning to anyone facing a lifetime of victories.

It is with this context that I read Losing the Signal: The Untold Story of the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry. Formerly named “Research in Motion,” the company made a portable paging and email device that created text-based communication on the go. It dominated the era of before phones and PDAs converged, dominating relatively niche players like US Robotics‘ “Palm” product and Microsoft’s PocketPC.

The end came quick — so quickly the story almost seems out of order. The world of battery-saving, highly secure, data-efficient devices was nuked from space by the Apple iPhone launch. Unlike Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who famously laughed the device off, co-CEO Mike Lazarids had personally disassembled an early iPhone and understood the qualitative difference between it and any other machine on the market.

The reason is that until the bitter end — until Blackberry abandoned what it once was and hopped first to QNX and then Android — it was a better phone. At least for the core scenarios that once dominated the market: long lasting battery, low data usage, high security. For developing countries with poor infrastructure these were required. Thus, the collapse of Research in Motion / Blackberry as a global enterprise was masked for a while by phenomenal success in large, developing countries.

Authors McNish and Silcoff weave this corporate history in with tales of the co-CEOs who once lead Research in Motion: Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. The “sales guy” and “engineering guy” respectively, the team behind the company’s explosive growth. For a book that seems to have had tremendous access to these two men, the portraits of them are not flattering. Balsillie seems like a bully and near-con, whose creaed hostile relationships with both suppliers and carriers that contributed to the company’s swift collapse. Lazaridis, by all accounts an excellent hardware engineer, had limited understand of software even years after overseeing the development of Blackberry’s OS, and bizarrely attempted to rewrite the entire software stack on QNX that had never worked in mobile before.

A last point, but an important one: the story of Blackberry intersects at several moments with the University of Waterloo, a large research university located nearby. During the Second World War, the university instituted an a repeating cycle of classes and outside work for students, initially to help with the war effort but rapidly used to bootstrap an educated engineering work force. It’s a great educational model, and one I wish Blackberry could have helped spread to the United States.

I listened to Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry on unabridged audible.

Review of “The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made,” by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas

The Wise Men is the massive professional biography of Jack McCloy, Chuck Bohlen, Dean Acheson, Bob Lovett, George Kennan, and Averell Harriman. Written largely as a series of episodes revolving around the Groton School, Yale University, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the book tells the story of the old American foreign police elite, and has relevant for current trends.

the-wise-men-isaacson-thomas

The history presented is detailed, ponderous, and heavily implies access to the personal journals of either these men, or of those around them. In the same way that Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs appeared to rely on personal access while not simply repeated what was said before, The Wise Men provided much more depth for the American foreign policy elite than I had before. I’ve read much more on the Chinese polite elite — Jie Chauzhu, Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai, Chiang Kai-shek, and so on, and The Wise Men gives me a frame to drape knowledge of elite events on the eastern side of the Pacific in that period.

Chiang_Kai_Shek_and_wife_with_Lieutenant_General_Stilwell

Which would bring me to a first criticism. Both the characters and the authors go out of their way to dismiss the Asian theater, both in the Second World War and the Cold War. China is viewed as a distracting, “land war in Asia” is an insult never given context, and it’s clear the wars in Asia are most regrettable because they placed US foreign policy on a backwards and irrelevant continent. “Republicans” and “isolationists” (always so called) who wanted to focus US foreign policy on protecting Asia from communism are the most two-dimensional characters in the book. At times this Eurocentric focus is plainly stated, but its never explained or contextualized beyond the superficial level.

It’s hard for me to understand these “Wise Men,” because their faults do not fit into neat categories. In many ways they are White Protestant nationalists, they look down on Jews and Catholics and Asians in equal order. McCloy in particular has a horrific involvement with the survival of the death camps in Germany and the construction of the internment camps in the U.S., and Harriman and the rest do not lose sleep over the crushing of central Europe or Asia. But this ethnocentrism does not seem to extend to any policy recommendations for the suppression of non White Protestant populations within the United States. Perhaps a comparison might be made of the Roman Senatorial elite, a small Italian nobility that magnanimously ruled over subject populations from the Iberians to the Jews. I don’t know, and this likewise is not explored.

slavery-in-ancient-rome

The final chapter of the book, “The Last Supper of the Wise Men,” tries to shoehorn an elegy for the old foreign policy elite. It falls flat (not the least because the combined efforts of the disdained Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administration would win the cold war months after the book was published!). But there’s something to this. Isaacson and Thomas note that even the “poorest” of the wise men had second homes and personal servants. Some of this is a function of the economic development of the time. But as well, The Wise Men is the story of an elite being swept away, as an elite is being swept away in our times.

churchill-harriman-and-stalin

I write this in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election. The last three years have seen three elite failures in the west: the gamergate revolt in hobbyist journalism, the Brexit polling debacle, the Republican primary prediction debacle, and the general election polling debacle. These are the results of the economic collapse of the old media elite, which had lead to hiring and publication decisions which encourage low-skill analysts and click-bait headlines.

The Wise Men describes a different elite — foreign policy instead of journalism — but at the dawn of the professional class. Men like Harriman had no need for income from their work. Instead, power was a hobby, for those rich enough to afford it. We are entering that world again — the Washington Post is a hobby of Amazon-founded Jeff Bezos, and for a time The New Republic was the toy of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. If these men allow their children to inherit vast wealth, the world of that generation will be the world of Averell Harriman.

It’s hard to recommend The Wise Men because it is a very slow read — It took me 14 months to muscle through it on unabridged Audible. But it’s a fascinating look at a world that once was, and may be again.

Impressions of “The Assembly of the Gods” by E. Theodore Mullen Jr.

tdaxp’s note. Over the weekend I read “The Assembly of Gods,” #24 in the Harvard Semitic Monographs series, by E. Theodore Mullen Jr. The book is brief scholarly, but for me provided a tremendous amount of context both in understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible as well as Robert Alter’s translations of it (The Former Prophets, The Wisdom Books, Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses, and others). This is not a review of that book, which you should read, but a thinking thru of the implications of it.

the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

For years I’ve heard, and have said, that the moral of Genesis 1-2 is that God created everything — that the lesson is that the moon, the sun, and the stars of the sky are simply creatures and not a special creation.

Well, even Ba’al agreed with that

Indeed, our creator is eternal
Indeed ageless is He who formed us
CTA 10.III.6-7

I’ve long been interested in what the earliest patriarchs actually believed. While Ba’al seemed like a generic demon worshiped by foreigners.

He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals.
1 Kings 18:18

The question of what is belief in God without a scripture puzzled me. It’s well enough to say that Enoch’s faith let him walk in good, and implied in the text that he was assumed into heaven like Mary, but why, and for what role?

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
Genesis 5:21-23

The Hebrew Bible is clear that there are at least two aspects (persons? hypostases?) of the One: God and The LORD. “God” is often the translation of “El” (which literally means “God”) or “Elohim” (literally gods, but meaning the Council of Gods). The relationship of the terms religious “El” and “Elohim” are like the relationship of the political terms “President of the United States” and “White House,” in America, or the terms “Chairman” and “Party Center” in communist countries. While one refers to an individual as such, and the other refers to a political organization run under the lawful dictatorship of that person, in practical terms it is a distinction without a difference.

Canaanite_God_El

El is God the Father, the “Father of Man” (CTA 14.I.35-43) to the Canaanites. In the Council of the Gods, God judges both men and gods (Psalms 82). The Heavenly Host serves and adores God. The stars themselves are his armies

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
CML 114-116

Not only is God the Creator, the ageless creator of the cosmos, and judge of all things, he is also kind. He hears prayers. He is compassionate. Threats and condemnations mean nothing because he cannot be threatened or condemned. Indeed, God, the Kindly One, listens to even bitterness as a father listens to his children

If you does not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will smash the doors of the netherworld,
I will place those above below,
I will raise up the dead eating and alive
So that the dead shall outnumber the living
VI 96-100

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,

What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
    that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
    test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
    let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
Job 7:17-19

But God, who inexplicably allowed the death of his children, in both cases had mercy. Ba’al was raised from the dead. And Job received a new family. Death cannot be erased. But life moves on.

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. There was One True God who was a Creator. Aside from him where merely creatures, weak and powerful, who may or may not be rightly placed or worthwhile. Before recorded time God the Father of Men had revealed himself to the people of Canaan. We at best have some memory of his early servants. But beyond that, nothing. Who were these men?

In their worship of God the Father of Men, their knowledge of his eternal rule and judgeship over the cosmos, his sometimes inexplicable actions and his endearing love for his children, the earliest patriarchs must have spread the true religion throughout ancient Canaan. Because this must have happened in a pre-literate society we have only the names of who we assume were the heroes of this great evangelization. But like St. Kilda, we have only their names.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan. After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.

When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel. After he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died.

When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared. After he became the father of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died.
Genesi 5:9-17

Ba’al Contends

gideon destroys the altar of baal

The Canaanites believed worship in Ba’al worked.  Dan’il, similar to Job, was struck by misfortunate. But instead of cursing God, Dan’il continued his worship, and successfully Ba’al pleaded with God on his behalf.

Then on the seventh day
Ba’al drew near with his supplication
“In need is Dan’il, man of Rapi,
Moanins it eh Hero, the Harnamite,
Who has no son in his house like his brothers,
Nor scion like his kindred,.
He has no son like his brothers,
Nor scion, like his kindred
He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Strikingly, Dan’el is specifically mentioned as a righteous gentile by the Prophet Ezekial, with Job himself and with Noah

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Dan’il and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

Like the Canaanites, the ancient Hebrews knew they had an advocate, a witness, and a redeemer in Heaven

I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:25a

But in spite of this, the Lord Ba’al is not the same person as the LORD. For continuing the above verse, Job knows he will see him in the flesh.

And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

Job asserts that God and the Redeemer are the same being, that he is both El and a man.  This is the LORD, this is Christ, but this is not Ba’al.

Ba’al was a created being. But he was a fighter. And it is from this strength, his independent ability to intervene in human affairs (granted to him by El), that the Canaanites thought he was a “god.” Gideon’s mockery of Ba’al makes sense because Ba’al does not move ineffably, does not have an inexplicable plan: the only reason to worship Ba’al is that he offers earthly protection

But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.”  So because Gideon broke down Baal’s altar, they gave him the name Jerub-Baal[ that day, saying, “Let Baal contend with him.”
Judges 6:31-32

Like Ba’al, Gideon was an earthly judge. Neither Ba’al nor Gideon created the world. Both theoretically received whatever wisdom they had from God. But in the here and now, Gideon destroyed Ba’al temple. So there’s no reason to worship Ba’al.

islamic state destroys temple of baal

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

wedding at cana

The Canaantes, like the ancient Hebrews and the early Christians, knew God in His compassion had human attributes. In a real and literal sense God is also man.

El sits enthroned in his shrine
El sits enthroned at his banquet
El drinks wine until satiated
New wine until inebriated
11.14-16

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground…. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
Genesis 18:10-2, 7-8

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
Luke 7:34

But what Canaanite religion lacked — the fatal flaw that lead to Ba’al worship instead of the LORD — was any willingness or desire on the part of El, Ba’al, or anyone to become man. El ate and drank, Ba’al interceded and advocated, but Ba’al is primarily concerned about building a better house than God

There’s another – perhaps more troubling difference – between Ba’al and the LORD. Ba’al destroyed Chaos, the great sea monster Yamm.

Sea collapsed! He fell to the earth!
His joints trembled, his frame collapsed
Ba’al destroyed and drank Sea!
He brought Judge River to an end!

To “gods” like Ba’al the sea monsters may be formidable. El keeps them around for fishing

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Job 41:1-2

destruction_of_leviathan1

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.

The ancient Hebrew religion, unlike the Canaanite religion, understand the LORD was God in human flesh. The early Christians, unlike the Canaanites, knew that the Intercessor and Redeemer was himself true God, and not simply a powerful extradimensional creature. But the Hebrews and Christians shared another belief, foreign to the Canaanites.

Holy_Spirit_Symbol_001

As Mullen writes on page 283:

One of the most unique aspects of Hebrew religion is the unparalleled phenomenon of the classical prophets. These men, called by the LORD, served as couriers of the decree of the assembly/the LORD. They pronounced thee judgment of the LORD with the formula “koh amar YHWH,” thus asserting that their message of authority was equal in power to that of the council itself. The usage of this formula, which we have been unable to treat fully in the present work, deserves a detailed investigation in light of the council background and messenger formula used in both Ugarit and in Israel. While the members of the Canaanite and Phoenician councils remained colorless minor deities, the hypostasis of the decree of the high god, in Israel the prophet was introduced as a participant in the heavenly assembly who then served as the courier of the judgment of the LORD. This development constitutes a radical break with all other council traditions in the ancient near East.

But later Mullen notes a qualification. The prophets often did not speak with the LORD himself, but with His Spirit.

In ancient Israel, unlike in their Canaanite neighbors the Spirit of God — who somehow proceeds from both El and the LORD — spoke thru the Prophets.

We believe in one God

Jesus-pilate44

The ancient Canaanites were, philosophically, monotheists. But pragmatically they were polytheists.  Worship was a technology and a machine to make life better. Ba’al was worshiped because he was effective. Many today worship power or money for the same reasons.

We worship God because He is our Creator and our Redeemer, not because he is a magician with a magic wand.

Princes may censor our words (Ecclesiastes 10:20). Money may be the answer for everything (Ecclesiastes 10:19). But it is not to be loved (1 Timothy 6).

Only God and Man — El and the LORD — Mary and Pontius Pilate — all the saints, and those most in need of salvation — should be loved.

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, originally Decorations Day, a day for the dead from both sides of the Civil War.

Thanks to my brother, who runs Geographic Travels, I know I have ancestors who died on both sides. The Virginian died the day after the Battle of Seven Pines. At the same time, the history of the town where our direct male line lived during the Civil War records numerous deaths in my family from the fighting.

The Civil War killed more Americans than any more in American history. Following the end of major combat operations and the subsequent military occupation and guerrilla war, the situation was similar to before it began: broad home rule for the South, and Union control of foreign and military policy. Slavery was ended, though “slave-like” conditions persisted, and civil rights would not be enforced in the South until the 1950s, then a far less bloody method was found.

May our leaders have the wisdom to know when to fight, and how to fight, and what the costs will be.

Optionality and Economic Change

The book America 3.0 (available for purchase from Amazon and Barnes & Noble) describes three long economic periods, based on agriculture, industry, and information, as driving profound social change.

America-3_0-480px

When we fought the Revolution against Britain, America’s economy was based on agriculture and the hydrological cycle. Along with the constants of soil and sun, water (where it fell, how it needed to be diverted, where it ran) determined American economic life. Know a man’s relationship to water, and you knew his realtionship to wealth.

american_rivers_map_md

Around the time of the Civil War against the southern rebels, sun, soil, and water were surprased by coal and rail as the foundation of power and privilege. The great rail network, centered around Chicago, enabled greater economies of scale than had ever been seen before in history. The story of the next century, from the racial strife of the 1860s to the racial strife of the 1960s, was the story of industrialization, scale, and how the benefits of coal would be shared.

american_railroads_md

We’re now changing again. “Information” appears to be valuable, and the economic giants of the day are information racketeers such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook. The world is becoming much less heavy, and manufacturing on demand (from computer-driven milling to 3D printing) may accelerate the acceleration the eclipse of coal by data.

american_cell_maps_md

We do not know what is next. The industrial age seemed to come to an apogee in the late 1940s, as economies around the world (the US, the UK, France, Germany, the USSR, China, Taiwan, both Koreas, and Japan) established bureaucratic-industrial welfare states managed by experts, with only quixotic variations based on national culture and ideology. But that was a false sunlight, as phony as the widespread popularity of the concentration camps (brought to the US by Franklin Delano Roosevelt) of the 1930s.

We know the world is changing. We know now what comes next.

In this environment, we should focus on giving learners many low cost opportunities and few high-cost high-risk paths. In other words, we should give students “optionality,” where they have many opportunities and few long-term costs. We’re not in an industrial age where we know economies of scale will rule the day, nor even in the long hydraulic age where water was the great idol. Students will have to find their own ways. We should help them.

To do this we should (except for core majors that are needed for national security — say science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) make much of the curriculum optional, and allow students “low-risk” trials in different career paths.

As Tren Griffen and Nassim Taleb posted:

If you ‘have optionality,’ you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells. For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself (some acts of omission) and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur. (The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)” Being able to make decisions which do not require correctly forecasting the future is a wonderful thing. Not one of the great value investors identified in the series of posts in this blog relies on macro forecasts of the future. Instead, value investors use the optionality of cash to buy after the outcome exists (i.e., a significant drop in intrinsic value). Regarding venture capital, Warren Buffett believes: “If significant risk exists in a single transaction, overall risk should be reduced by making that purchase one of many mutually- independent commitments. Thus, you may consciously purchase a risky investment – one that indeed has a significant possibility of causing loss or injury – if you believe that your gain, weighted for probabilities, considerably exceeds your loss, comparably weighted, and if you can commit to a number of similar, but unrelated opportunities. Most venture capitalists employ this strategy.

It is certainly evil to trick an 18 year old into non-bankruptable loans of tens of thousands of dollars on a worthless major. A 16 year old would be better off learning a trade than learning Shakespeare, especially if that student could learn Shakespeare later. An 18 year old would surely be better off selling drugs (say from a pharmacy, an alcohol ball, a tobacconist shop, or so on) and learning that part of the economy than borrowing money to study political science.

Help our students prepare for an uncertain future, for America’s next stage of economic development. Give them low-cost opportunity and easy failures. Not non-bankruptable student loans.

Review of “The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau” by Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood

There’s a chapter of my life, that began when I played Gabriel Knight 3 and read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that ended when I read this book. That game — and from that game, that book — were gateways too so much. My love of Dark Ages history (including great books of real history, like Before France and Germany, Mohammad and Charlemagne, and The Long-Haired Kings, an affection for the idea of the Mediterranean (I stayed in Italy for several weeks after high school), a consideration of how a conspiracy would actually have to be structured (my dream of secret war and a a book, and so on.

The part of my life ended with reading The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau.

But that’s the end. Here’s the beginning.

treasure_of_rennes_Le_chateau_book_cover

 

The facts as we know them: Around a hundred years ago, Father Berenger Sauniere in rural southern France became suspiciously wealthy, with a cumulative lifetime income estimated at a few million dollars (after accounting for inflation). He had a number of visitors at his house, was investigated by the local Bishop, and eventually lost his power to lead Mass at the local Church. He died before the ecclesiastical trial reached a resolution.

Plaque_tombe_abbe_sauniere

The story is much more interesting, because its also inarguable that there’s an actual conspiracy with actual forged documents, layered on top of this. Whether or not there is a treasure, there are documents that contain cyphers, references to ancient societies, and bizarre false clues and dead-ends.

What the world knows about Rennes le Chateau was primarily filtered thru Henry Lincoln, who encountered a real group (albeiet with a fraudulent history) that called itself the “Priory of Sion,” and which has an unusual fixation on the Merovingian Dynasty and King St. Dagobert II (feast day December 23) — a sainted boy king

18_Dagobert_II

Henry Lincoln also added a new layer to the mystery, much (apparently) to the bemusement of the actual conspiracy he nearly uncovered. Dusting off his early French, he translates “Sangraal” not as “San Graal” (Holy Grail) but “Sang Raal” (Royal Blood), and from there reconstructs an improbable chronology where the Dagobert II was a blood-descendent of Jesus Chrst, and that secrets to this extent were buried in southern rural France — the discovery of which by Priest Berenger Sauniere led to his millions. Lincoln also added some geometric interpretations, which lead themselves to a reconstruction of the history of the mile (among even less probably claims)

europe_pentagram

This stuff later spawned a pretty good video game…

gk3-13

And a film series you may have heard of. (Lincoln’s co-authors lost their lawsuit on The DaVinci Code.)

Putnam’s and Wood’s book is an exhaustive, well researched, extremely well document demolition of nearly every conspiracy theory associated with Rennes le Chateau, and the persuasive presentation of evidence of a more mundane conspiracy (Sauniere was illicitly selling masses, and may have engaged in some light grave-robbing.) Even elements which struck me as probable enough (such as the location of certain church-sites) are addressed, with everything from first-person research, to cryptographic analysis, to computer simulations of the probability of certain features appearing by chance.

800px-Rennes-le-Château

The number of myths the authors systematically demolish is impressive. Rennes-le-Chateau wasn’t the Visigothic cty of Rhedae. The placing of churches around Rennes doesn’t fit any sort of pattern, mundane or not. Berenger Sauniere supported his (real) generosity by scamming those seeking prayers for the dead. The inflection point of the entire story seems to have been a small remodeling task, which made the priest as power mad as one who is content in a small, remote town can be.

The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau is certainly not the first book you should read about this maze of facts and secrets. But if you’ve encountered any of it, and you are interested in any bit of bit, The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau is a must read.

The Civil Rights Perspective on Race

The facts of the recent case are now well known. Adding some inferences to it, a reasonable reconstruction of the events is as follows:

On February 26, 2013, Trayvon Martin in walking home after buying some candy and tea. He was observed by George Zimmerman, a volunteer who had recently talked with neighbors about black youths invading neighborhood homes. Zimmerman got out of his vehicle to talk to Martin. Martin, not knowing Zimmerman, and suspicious of “creepy ass crackers” (which I belies referred to gay homosexual white men), likewise acted in a way suspicious to Zimmerman. Shortly thereafter a fight broke out, and Martin got the better of Zimmerman, bashing his head against the cement. Zimmerman then used deadly force to protect himself, killing Martin.

A tragedy, and a sad one.

But why the effort to lynch Mr. Zimmerman? Why the great emotion in the case? What is behind it?

It is impossible to understand what happened without realizing that life is far worse for African-American men than could have been expected in 1973. (By “African-American” I refer to the ethnicity that was brought in chains to British colonies south of the Mason-Dixon line from Africa,primarily remained there as slaves until the Civil War, and then following Reconstruction lived as second-class citizens in the Jim Crow South until either emigrating to the north or experiencing the revolution of the Civil Rights Era).

  • There has never been an African-American President. (There is currently a President of African descent, Barack Obama, but he was born in Hawaii and on his father’s side is not a descendent of American slaves.)
  • There has been been a powerful African-American man in the Cabinet. (Secretary of State Colin Powell’s parents were from Jamaica. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is an African-American women.)
  • Structural changes in the economy have lead to a decline of marriage rates for African-American men, as their earning power has been exceeded by African-American women.
  • There has been no de facto progress on desegregation since the original Civil Rights efforts a lifetime ago.
  • The United States is engaged in a long-term project to import large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants, which not only further depresses wages of African-American men, it reduces African-Americans from being the “largest minority” to the second-largest minority.
  • The cultural battle over gay marriage reveals African-American powerless in the face of other members of the Democratic Party coalition. Not only cannot the Democratic Party realize African-American goals generally, or defend the relative position of African-Americans, it will actively work against African-American churches and social networks when white liberals disagree with African-American objectives.

Things are bad. They are getting worse. This is real pain.

In this horrible political situations, there are probably two rational responses

  1. A Fresh Start. A complete dismantling of the political work of a lifetime, an acceptance of the basic failure of the “Civil Rights” perspective on race, and an attempt to reboot nearly everything
  2. The Civil Rights Perspective on Race. The creation of an outrage which can unify the African-American community against their enemies, including white Democrats and hispanics.

The costs of (1) are so huge, and the uncertainty so great, that it is unlikely as anything other than a last desperate measure. We’re not there yet.

Option (2), on the other hand, requires simply a reply of the Civil Rights playbook, with some hapless patsy replacing Bull Connor, George Wallace, and other actual enemies of the past. The near-term results are a relative increase in power and sympathy for African-American males.

It is hard for anyone — especially a man — to live without pride. Imitating a Martyr provides some pride. Being politically organized enough to (nearly) lynch a hispanic provides some pride. Getting media attention gets some pride.

But more pride would come from having a functioning education system that prepared African-American men for the economy. Of earning enough to attract a mate. To not lose a job to harder-working lower-paid immigrants, to not have your sacred institutions tramped on, and so on.

Without a road-map for achieving this, we’ll get another Martin case in a few years, another outrage, another attempt to win some political favors and gain some pride through some dead person.

But dismantling the Civil Rights movement, abandoning the Civil Rights perspective on race, and starting over, is the smarter way to go.

Other groups have come from behind without this focus on manufactured outrage. Irish, Koreans, Chinese, Jamaicans, and many others recognized that social hostility can be battered, not thru the “Civil Rights” perspective on race, but through wealth accumulation.

As a friend recently told me, in America there are two colors of people — “Green” and “Red” — people with money, and people struggling paycheck to paycheck. Controlling wealth and the production of wealth is more important than leadership in a group of poor people.

This harsh reality, that the economic infrastructure matter more than political superstructure — that true political success comes from economic value — is much colder than talking about dreams and ideology.

Life can be cold.

But the Civil Rights Perspective on Race is a lie.