“B is for Beria (and Bering Strait)”

Gail Heriot on Instapundit:

On this day in 1953, LAVRENTIY BERIA met his end. Stalin himself had died nine months earlier, and his chief henchmen were turning against each other. Beria, Stalin’s chief of the secret police (NKVD), was arrested on charges of treason and tried in secret.  And then shot.

It’s not easy to work up sympathy for such a bloodthirsty killer. But the rest of the story is truly bizarre. Less than a month later, the Soviet Encyclopedia sent a notice to subscribers enclosing new pages.  In translation, it said the following:

The State Scientific Publishing House of the large Soviet Encyclopedia recommends that pages 21, 22, 23, and 24 be removed from Volume 5 as well as the portrait [of Beria] between pages 22 and 23 to replace which the pages of the new text are enclosed.

The aforementioned pages should be cut out with scissors or blade, leaving inside a margin on which the new pages can be pasted.

The substitute pages were an article on the otherwise obscure Friedrich Wilhelm von Bergholtz and pictures of the Bering Strait.

Subscribers dutifully cut Bering out of the encyclopedia.  Failing to do so would be dangerous.

Death in Australia

Something I just discovered: Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia from early 1966 until late 1967, disappeared while swimming near Melbourne on December 17, 1967. His body was never recovered, leading to a conspiracy theory that he was abducted by a Chinese submarine. John McEwan succeeded him as Prime Minister.

This is rather the opposite of another famous Australian death: the Tamam Shud case, for which there was a body, but no identity. An unidentified man was found dead on Somerton Beach near Adelaide on December 1, 1948. He carried nothing that revealed who he was, and even the tags on his clothing had been removed. An autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death. The mystery deepened when on January 14, 1949, a suitcase likely belonging to the man was recovered from the Adelaide railway station, which contained a number of things, none of which could help establish who he was. Shortly after that, a tiny piece of rolled-up paper was found in a fob pocket in the man’s trousers. It had been cut out of a book and bore the words “Tamam Shud” – Persian for “ended” or “finished,” the final words of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Following a public appeal, the edition from which the paper had been excised was found – along with indentations from handwriting on the inside of the back cover reading:

WRGOABABD
MLIAOI
WTBIMPANETP
MLIABOAIAQC
ITTMTSAMSTGAB

What this means has never been satisfactorily explained, and the identify of the Somerton Man and the circumstances of his death remain a mystery.

George Bush

(I refer to him as he was referred to at the time of his presidency. Having to insert “H.W.” as his middle initials is proleptic.)

In our culture, one does not speak ill of the dead, but public figures usually merit some sort of even-handed evaluation. However, most of the obituaries I have read about George Bush, 41st President of the United States (1989-1993), have been rather hagiographic in tone, praising Bush’s class, civility, and devotion to public service. This is, of course, a deliberate and pointed jab at the current administration, whose leader is the cultural antithesis of the patrician Bush, and who has made a lot of enemies through his abrasive boorishness. But by no means was Bush praised for his class when he was in office! Back then, he was the Skull and Bones son of privilege, out of touch with how ordinary Americans actually lived. I thought of this as recently as July, when during one of his rallies President Trump said:

You know all the rhetoric you see here, the “thousand points of light” – what the hell was that, by the way? The “thousand points of light.” What did that mean? Does anyone know? I know one thing: “Make America Great Again” we understand. “Thousand points of light” – I never quite got that one. What the hell is that? Has anyone ever figured that one out? Ay. And it was put out by a Republican.

Some earnest CNN talking heads took issue with that, saying that it was about volunteerism and civic mindedness, obviously, and who could have a problem with these most American of values? They were shocked that Trump would run down a fellow Republican and war hero. And I was reminded how, when in power, Republicans are evil incarnate, but when they’re no longer in power, they become respected elder statesmen. For I remember the “Thousand Points of Light,” and how, to Doonesbury at least, it was a disturbing abdication of responsibility. Since Republicans hate poor people, you see, they gut social programs and then offload the function to private charity, which is a weak substitute with no guarantee that anything will be delivered. But the CNN folks apparently forgot that critique.

(It’s obvious to me what Trump was doing: signaling that it’s not the Bushes’ party anymore! In addition to pointing out that his slogan is more straightforward, and thus more inspiring, than Bush’s “poetic” one, Trump was simply playing to the base that elected him, and that had been disaffected by establishment Republicanism, most notably over the issue of illegal immigration.)

So I must say that I appreciated this article on The Intercept, shared by a couple of Facebook friends, about Bush’s legacy, even if I disagree with some of it. For instance, I fail to comprehend what was so bad about the Willie Horton ad. But his actual role in the Iran-Contra scandal, his pardoning of some of the perpetrators, and the dishonest case his administration made for the war against Iraq, all deserved to be remembered. (Along with the ADA and NAFTA of course.)

I do like revisiting the time when he overcame the “wimp factor” with Dan Rather in 1988:

I want to talk about why I want to be president, why those 41% of the people are supporting me. And I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York. Would you like that? I have respect for you but I don’t have respect for what you’re doing here tonight.

But he wasn’t always so deadly with his words. Everyone knows about George W. Bush’s “they misunderestimated me” or “Is our children learning?”; people tend to forget that Bush himself committed a few verbal infelicities, e.g.:

“For seven and a half years I’ve worked alongside President Reagan. We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex – uh – setbacks.” —in 1988

“We’re enjoying sluggish times, and not enjoying them very much.” —in 1992

“I just am not one who – who flamboyantly believes in throwing a lot of words around.” —in 1990

“Please don’t ask me to do that which I’ve just said I’m not going to do, because you’re burning up time. The meter is running through the sand on you, and I am now filibustering.” —in 1989

“I put confidence in the American people, in their ability to sort through what is fair and what is unfair, what is ugly and what is unugly.” –in 1989

“You cannot be President of the United States if you don’t have faith. Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff. You can’t be. And we are blessed. So don’t feel sorry for – don’t cry for me, Argentina. Message: I care.” —speaking to employees of an insurance company during the 1992 New Hampshire primary

“I’m not the most articulate emotionalist.” –in 1989

“It has been said by some cynic, maybe it was a former president, ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.’ Well, we took them literally—that advice—as you know. But I didn’t need that because I have Barbara Bush.” —in 1989

“Please just don’t look at the part of the glass, the part that is only less than half full.” –in 1991

November 5

On November 5, 1605, the House of Lords was supposed to have been blown up by a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who were disappointed that the newly-crowned King James had not relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth. Had the plot succeeded, James would have been killed at the State Opening of Parliament, along with a good many other English grandees. But the plot was exposed, and the principal conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the House of Lords, were all arrested, convicted, and executed.

“A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot.” Wikipedia.

Since that time, the Fifth of November has been celebrated as a triumph of British Protestantism against the wicked forces of papistry. To this day, it serves an excuse to throw a stuffed “Guy” (or even a pope) onto a bonfire, or at least set off fireworks (I lived in London once, and can attest to this). I assume that the anti-Catholicism of the celebration has been downplayed in recent years, and that the fifth of November is simply the British equivalent of Hallowe’en – an occasion of autumn revelry.

“A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and Tresham.” Wikipedia.

I have always been curious why the Fifth of November fell out of favor in the American colonies. Why don’t we celebrate it here anymore? Why did the Irish custom of Hallowe’en take off in from the nineteenth century? Apparently George Washington found it embarrassing. As he wrote in 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Alas, such consideration was not enough to win the French colonists to the cause of Revolution (thus does Canada exist today!), but apparently it had a permanent effect.

But as I wrote before, the casting of Guy Fawkes as a sort of anarchist freedom fighter has been one of the more remarkable transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

Medievalism

In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, Amy S. Kaufman of the Public Medievalist blog writes in the Washington Post:

Chivalry isn’t dead. But it should be. The medieval defense of Brett Kavanaugh

Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has been fueled by deep rage among conservatives, who think his position in the American nobility guarantees his fitness for the job. Wayne Allyn Root, for instance, defended Kavanaugh as “a great man” by comparing their pedigrees: “Brett Kavanaugh graduated near the top of his class in his high school while starring in sports. I graduated number one in my high school while starring in sports. Then he went on to Yale. I went on to Columbia.” Kavanaugh himself dodged Sen. Mazie Hirono’s (D-Hawaii) questions about college drinking by responding, “I got into Yale Law School. That’s the number one law school in the country.”

Supporters not only pointed to Kavanaugh’s elite credentials to defend his nomination, they also have extolled his chivalry, from parading around the young girls he coaches to sharing support from women who knew him in his prep school days. Kavanaugh stressed his chastity and his care for women in an interview with Fox News: “Just ask the moms,” he said. Heather Mac Donald touted Kavanaugh’s “unblemished record of treating women with respect” to argue that even if the attack on accuser Christine Blasey Ford happened, it would be “feminist narcissism to put an uncharacteristic instance of adolescent, never-repeated sexual aggression ahead of a lifetime of achievement in the law.”

These medieval defenses of Kavanaugh’s nobility and chivalry seem out of place. After all, Americans pride themselves on their modern, meritocratic culture. Moreover, the notion of a chivalrous Kavanaugh seems tenuous: As accounts of hazing, sexual assault and drunken violence in his social circle keep emerging, we’re getting the picture of a man who exhibits anything but modesty, restraint and respect for women. And yet in that sense, very little has changed between the Middle Ages and today: Medieval chivalry also was a fiction that masked aristocratic violence.

Chivalry, which has always been more literary than real, has been called a “protection racket,” because it forces women to rely on men to protect them from other men. Even then, chivalry protects only certain women. The 12th-century poet Chrétien de Troyes, famous for his chivalric romances, explained that if a noblewoman or her lady in waiting traveled alone, a knight could “no more treat her with dishonor than cut his own throat.” But if he fought another knight for her and won, he could “do with her as he pleased.” Lower-class women didn’t warrant a mention in Troyes’s chivalric code.

Read the whole thing. (If you’ve run out of Washington Post articles for the month, just hit the “stop loading” button after the text has appeared but before the entire page is loaded – that should allow you to read it.)

Ms. Kaufman raises several points in this piece, many of which, I confess, I disagree with. It only makes sense that Kavanaugh would invoke his “chivalry” towards women, given that he was accused of attempted rape – he was trying to establish that his general attitude toward women was positive, not abusive – and I put chivalry in quotation marks because mentoring women law students and coaching girls’ sports is fundamentally different from the “protection racket” that medieval chivalry apparently was. Teaching women some (masculine) skill acknowledges their potential for independent action, something generally lacking from medieval romance. I suppose that Kaufman is suggesting that Christine Blasey Ford is playing the role of the lower-class woman who gets no mention in Chrétien’s code, although Ford went to a tonier prep school than Kavanaugh did, and for Kavanaugh to mess around with someone like that would have been playing with fire (one reason to be skeptical of the accusation leveled against him).

I wish that Kavanaugh had not invoked his Yale education to deflect stories about his high school social life, as in:

-Were you a party animal in high school?
-I was first in my class and got into Yale!

This does not answer the question, of course. It is perfectly possible to compartmentalize one’s hard work from one’s hard partying; I knew plenty of people like this. But I reject Kaufman’s designation of Kavanaugh’s educational career as a “pedigree” – or rather, I think that Kavanaugh’s hard work in high school to get into Yale is a perfect example of America’s “modern, meritocratic culture.” I reckon that there were plenty of people from Georgetown Prep who tried to get into Yale and didn’t, and plenty of Yalies who tried to get into YLS and didn’t, because their grades weren’t good enough.

But in defense of chivalry: that women must place themselves under the protection of men, whether their fathers, brothers, or husbands, who are then obliged to defend them, is not anything “medieval”; it is the human condition. Medieval chivalry, even if it was just a literary conceit, was an attempt at universalizing this protection. That women as such were entitled to knightly consideration, I would argue, was a step toward gender equality. (And Chretien de Troyes was not the only arbiter of chivalry – I am unaware of any other authors claiming that men could do whatever they wanted to the women they had “won”). Sure, maybe you had to be a classy lady before you could attract the service of a knight – but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good – one must start somewhere

On the contrary, if there’s anything medieval about the Kavanaugh hearings it’s the notion that we must believe all women unconditionally, that we are not allowed to subject their claims to critical scrutiny, that an accusation and a conviction are essentially the same thing. There’s some “chivalry” for you! Leap to it, white knights, and defend the honor of your lady! And insofar as the Middle Ages are cast as an irrational, pre-Enlightenment time, the #MeToo movement can certainly be seen as a return to this.

This is why l liked Lindsay Graham’s riposte to some protestors. When pressed why they weren’t demanding that Kavanaugh take a polygraph, the senator responded “You’ve humiliated this guy enough and there seems to be no bottom for some of you.” When the protesters continued to talk, Graham asked rhetorically: “Why don’t we dunk him in the water and see if he floats?”

Trial by ordeal! Something also putatively medieval.

New Names

• I only just noticed that Swaziland, since April, has officially been the “Kingdom of Eswatini.”

• The Republic of Macedonia, formerly the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, is voting today on whether to change its name to the “Republic of North Macedonia,” to end its dispute with Greece over the name. Greece insists that “Macedonia” is much larger than the RoM, and mostly possessed by Greece, as illustrated by this map:

Wikipedia.

Jon McNaughton

I first became aware of the artist Jon McNaughton in 2011, when on a summer road trip we ate lunch in a Christian-patriotic themed diner in Towanda, Pennsylvania. On the wall was a reproduction of McNaughton’s painting One Nation Under God. Please click the link to view the image as I do not want to violate copyright by reprinting it here. At the center of the action is a figure of Jesus… holding a copy of the Constitution of the United States! Behind him, our ancestors look down on us in judgment. To Jesus’ right, and facing him, are good, honest citizens – and to Jesus’ left, facing away from him, are such folks as a lawyer counting a pile of bills, a “liberal news reporter,” and a college professor clutching a copy of The Origin of Species to his breast, all under the inspiration of Satan. More details, and explanations, may be found at the One Nation Under God interactive page.

As I wrote at the time: all that is missing is a crying Statue of Liberty from The Onion.

I see that McNaughton’s work The Forgotten Man (2010) has earned itself a Wikipedia entry. I guess I can reprint this one:

As you can see, McNaughton is not just patriotic, but partisan. All presidents prior to Barack Obama are gathered on a lawn in front of the White House. The cooler ones are beseeching Obama to remember the “forgotten man,” who sits slumped over on a park bench in despair. The less cool ones (in particular, those who added substantially to the national debt) are applauding Obama – who himself is trampling the Constitution underfoot! (And see One Nation Under Socialism, in which he’s actually burning it.) Apparently this painting was inspired by the passage of the Affordable Care Act – unconstitutionally and at great expense, according to our artist – although you’d think the young man might be happy for some health care, at least.

The Forgotten Man also has an interactive page. It was roundly mocked by Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert around the time it was created, the reason for its appearance on Wikipedia.

As you can probably imagine, McNaughton is a big fan of Donald Trump, and his latest painting depicts Trump, his wife, daughter, and various cabinet officials, dressed in hunting camouflage, riding a boat through a swamp, and repelling alligators, all arranged like the figures in Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. This one was noticed by the Never Trump Weekly Standard, which called it “angry kitsch” and “pure id art.” I think it’s an interesting image but Trump does not seem to be draining the swamp, as he promised. And how much longer before this painting is out of date, rendered obsolete by a resignation or firing? (This is the trouble with all topical art, especially art that is essentially a political cartoon.)

It would be easy enough to condemn the lack of subtlety and sophistication of McNaughton’s oeuvre, and to take issue with his political bias, but I celebrate the originality of his vision and courage in sticking to it, even if I disagree – somewhat like the art of Jack T. Chick (third item). I do find his efforts at conflating church and state to be most interesting (not just Jesus and the Constitution, but Moses and the Supreme Court, and congressmen jeering Jesus out of the House of Representatives – even though the motto “In God We Trust” is clearly engraved on the entablature). Are Mormons especially susceptible to the idea that America is a new Israel, with a sacred covenant with God?

A Good One

From the University of Ulster’s Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) project, about attempts to find a compromise solution to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland (emphasis added):

Two attempts to set up devolved institutions were initiated by two Northern Ireland secretaries of state, Roy Mason and Humphrey Atkins [in 1977-78 and 1980]. Neither got to first base. They were opposed, for different reasons, by the SDLP and the UUP, but both simply petered out. As a measure of the cultural gap between the two sides, two bars were set up in Stormont during the Atkins talks of 1980, one serving only non-alcoholic beverages. Students of national stereotyping may guess which bar was designed for which political parties.

I find it odd to read a baseball metaphor in a description of Irish politics.

Politics, Irish

One final round of photos, a supplement to the previous post.

Some Historic Cartoons

Political Commemoration in the Republic of Ireland

Republican Jesus in Dingle.

At Kilmalkedar Church: the grave of Thomas Russell, Irish Volunteers.

Translation of the above.

Already featured: a memorial to Thomas Ashe (1885-1917), member of the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Irish Volunteers, and namesake of the Dingle GAA grounds. 

Heroes of 1916 on a building in Belfast.

A manhole cover featuring Eamonn Bulfin, participant in the Easter Rising and ambassador of the Irish Republic to Argentina.

Garden of Remembrance, O’Connell Street, Dublin.

Memorial to President Erskine Childers, son of the author and revolutionary Robert Erskine Childers, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Memorial to Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and first president of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The famous General Post Office in Dublin.

Amazingly, the building is still in use as a post office! (Although there is a display on the Easter Rising in the building.)

The Irish Republic flag does not fly over the GPO, but only that of the postal service (An Post).

Derry/Londonderry

“Hands Across the Divide” statue.

Peace mural, Bogside.

In the Bogside, Derry

The iconic image of Bloody Sunday, rendered as a mural. Fr. Edward Daly, future bishop of Derry, waves a blood-stained white handkerchief as a truce flag, in attempting to escort a mortally wounded protestor to safety.

“The Petrol Bomber,” depicting a participant in the Battle of the Bogside.

Civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin, with people wielding trash can lids (either as shields, or to bang on the ground to warn people of the arrival of police or army patrols).

“Free Derry Corner,” depicting the Republican Easter Lily (green, white, and orange) in memory of the Easter Rising, with “Free Tony Taylor” sign in the background.

Nelson Mandela and Bobby Sands, with “INLA” graffiti.

Civil Rights mural.

I don’t know who any of these people are.

Civil Rights material in the Museum of Free Derry.

Was “William” crossed out because the street was named after King William III? I wouldn’t rule it out!

Fountain Estate, Londonderry

The residents of the Fountain Estate, a small loyalist enclave near the Bogside, have their own propaganda.

Note the red, white, and blue kerbstones and lamp post, marking loyalist turf.

A new direction in murals – many of them aren’t painted, but made on a computer and printed out.

Falls Road, Belfast: a Catholic, Nationalist, and Republican Area

Probably the most famous mural of them all, Bobby Sands on the side of Sinn Fein headquarters.

Kieran Nugent, first “Blanket man.”

Séan MacDiarmada, executed for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Republican heroes past and present.

The Easter Rising, Constance Markievicz writing prison letters, Blanket Protestors, and the Hunger Strikers, including Frank Stagg, who died in England in 1976

There’s commentary on this one at Extramural Activity.

Commentary on this one can be found at thetroubles.omeka.net.

A reaction to the royal wedding? He didn’t listen!

Garden of Remembrance to the D Company, IRA Belfast Brigade.

Expressions of Common Cause on the Falls Road

From the Eileen Hickey Republican History Museum, Belfast

Republican pins.

Republican prisoners could occupy themselves by making models of Celtic crosses, round towers, and harps, some actually functional. The Free Derry Museum boasts one by Martin McGuinness himself.

Republican Plot, Milltown Cemetery, Falls Road, Belfast

Shankill, Belfast: A Protestant, Unionist, and Loyalist Area

If the republicans hearken back to the Easter Rising and War of Independence, loyalists remember their service in the First and Second World Wars. Poppies, not lilies, are the flowers in question.

The only “1916” celebrated on the Shankill Road is the Battle of the Somme.

Memorial to three important members of the Ulster Volunteer Force, its name a deliberate reference to the Ulster Volunteers of 1912, and the UVF’s associated “Red Hand Commando” unit.

I don’t know who exactly these people are and I don’t think I want to.

When marching in July, Protestants require music, usually provided by fife and drum corps.

A massive bonfire under construction, to be set on July 12.

Between the Two Communities

The Peace Wall.

Gate on the Peace Wall, still shut at night.

Unionist Propaganda from the Ulster Museum and Belfast City Hall Museum

The revolutionaries of 1916 were not the only ones to declare a provisional government: Ulster Volunteers threatened to do the same thing in 1913.

It’s interesting when unionists reach back into Irish history to find inspirational examples for themselves today. They claim that Ulster has always been culturally different from the rest of the island.  Apparently they admire St. Patrick too – he’s not just an Irish and Catholic figure.

This poster dates from before the reduction of “Ulster” from nine counties to six.

Poster against the proposed Council of Ireland, part of the failed Sunningdale Agreement (1974).

Wikipedia: “Ulster Says No was the name and slogan of a unionist mass protest campaign against the provisions of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement which gave the government of the Republic of Ireland an advisory role in the governance of Northern Ireland.”

Amusing personifications of the four countries of the United Kingdom, all standing against Home Rule.

Wikipedia: “The Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party (VUPP), informally known as Ulster Vanguard, was a unionist political party which existed in Northern Ireland between 1972 and 1978. Led by William Craig, the party emerged from a split in the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and was closely affiliated with several loyalist paramilitary groups.” William Craig was apparently no relation to James Craig.

Belfast Today

Titanic Belfast museum, which has so far escaped bombing.