Saturday, November 23, 2013

How a presidency unravels

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy
For concision and precision in describing Barack Obama’s suddenly ambivalent relationship with his singular — actually, his single — achievement, the laurels go to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
After Obama’s semi-demi-apology for millions of canceled insurance policies — an intended and predictable consequence of his crusade to liberate Americans from their childish choices of “substandard” policies sold by “bad apple” insurers — Scalise said Obama is like someone who burns down your house. Then shows up with an empty water bucket. Then lectures you about how defective the house was.
What is now inexplicably called Obama’s “fix” for the chaos he has created is surreal. He gives you permission to reoccupy your house — if you can get someone to rebuild it — but for only another year.
At least he has banished boredom from millions of lives. Although probably not from his.
The place to begin understanding the unraveling of his presidency is page 274 of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.” The author, David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, quotes Valerie Jarrett, perhaps Obama’s closest and longest-serving adviser, on her hero’s amazingness:
“He knows exactly how smart he is. . . . I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. . . . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do. He would never be satisfied with what ordinary people do.”
Leave aside the question of whether someone so smitten can be in any meaningful sense an adviser. About what can such a paragon as Obama need advice? (Although he did recently say, “What we’re also discovering is that insurance is complicated to buy.” Just to buy.) It is, however, fair to note that what ordinary people ordinarily do is their jobs, competently. Obama’s inability to be satisfied with anything so banal has plunged him into Jimmy Carter territory.
Carter’s presidency crumbled when people decided they still liked his character but had no confidence in his competence. Obamacare’s misadventures, and Obama’s response to them, have caused people to doubt both his character and his competence.
The White House, disoriented by adoration — including the self-adoration — of its principal occupant, sits in a city that has become addicted to its own adrenaline. It is in a perpetual swivet stoked by media for which every inter-institutional dust-up is a crisis.
This year began with the “fiscal cliff” crisis. (You may have forgotten, there having been so many supposedly epochal events to keep track of: All the Bush tax cuts were set to expire; the “crisis” ended when only those cuts for the wealthy were allowed to lapse.)
Then came spring and the “sequester crisis,” meaning discretionary spending “slashed” by “draconian” cuts of . . . 2.3 percent. Autumn brought the crisis of the shutdown of (part of) the government and the crisis surrounding the inevitable raising of the debt ceiling. The ostensible crisis was that the Obama administration might choose to default on the nation’s debt even though government revenues were 10 times larger than required to service the debt.
Good grief. The 1854 passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was a crisis. As was the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the Great Depression and Pearl Harbor. But as for 2013’s blizzard of supposed crises: Arguments between the houses of Congress, or between the executive and legislative branches, about money should not be called crises; they should be called politics. The separation of powers that is the essence of the constitutional system assumes rivalrous institutions. When, however, the conflict is not about money but about the nation’s constitutional architecture, perhaps the language of crisis is apposite.
The New York Times reports that last March Henry Chao of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which superintended creation of the Web site, told a conference that he had worries: “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience.” When such an embarrassing experience occurred, Obama responded like a ruler of a banana republic unfettered by constitutionalism and the rule of law. Although no president has even a line-item veto power (which 44 governors have), this president asserts the power to revise the language of laws by “enforcement discretion,” and suggests no limiting principle.
But even this is a crisis only if Congress makes it so by supine acquiescence. Congressional Democrats are White House poodles. They also are progressives and therefore disposed to favor unfettered executive power. Republicans are supposed to be different.
Read more from George F. Will’s archive or follow him on Facebook.

Today's Tune: Waylon Jennings - Me and Bobby McGee

C.S. Lewis, Hot Off the Presses

By Jeremy Lott
November 22, 2013

When C.S. Lewis died 50 years ago today, he thought his works were likewise not long for this world.
The famous professor, who had graced the cover of Time magazine and delivered radio broadcasts heard by most Britons (the original title of Mere Christianity was Broadcast Talks), thought popular memory of him would linger for five years, give or take. Then he would belong to the specialists.
Book critic Michael Dirda joked of this comically pessimistic assessment, "Lewis was clearly no prophet." However, give Lewis this much: it would be hard even for a drunken optimist to foresee the success that he has enjoyed since his passing.
All of Lewis's books are still available, sold to and read by millions of people around the globe. His life and writings are the subject of serious study by scholars and laymen. Movies based on his Chronicles of Narniaseries have grossed about $1.6 billion.
In fact, Lewis is not only still in print 50 years later, but still publishing new works.
Every year or two, the literary arm of the C.S. Lewis estate, overseen by his onetime secretary Walter Hooper, finds some scrap or translation by Lewis that has not yet been collected and releases it to the world.
As I was reminded yesterday when I opened the mailbox.
A brand new Lewis book tumbled out.
I wasn't altogether sure what Image and Imagination was when I ordered it. Some sort of a collection, I thought. That turned out to be an underestimation of Lewisian proportions.
Image and Imagination, which I am still working my way through, has 40-plus book reviews by Lewis, never before collected elsewhere; introductions and papers that are not always easy to find; brand new, never-before-published essays including the one that gives the book its title; and his take on France (on the French Enlightenment: "This France to some degree I consider my enemy, but she is a noble enemy.").
This new book gives us several Lewis essays on J.R.R. Tolkien's elfin epic; Lewis on The Odyssey, Aristotle, and Boethius; Lewis on Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh and -- most surprisingly -- Harold Bloom.
Reviews aimed at diverse audiences are collected in these pages. Some will prove more accessible than others, but everything I've paged through shows off Lewis's characteristic intelligence and his deceptively straightforward prose, punctuated by wit.
To wit, the Sunday Telegraph sought out Lewis to review Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Odyssey, aimed at an American audience. Lewis cautions readers he might not be quite up to the task: "I know some Greek, but I know very little American."
Lewis knew American a little better than he let on -- after all, he married one -- but enough with the pedantry. I plan to mark his death by reading Image and Imagination, and wondering what the professor will publish next.
Jeremy Lott is editor-at-large of RealClearPolitics and author, most recently, of William F. Buckley.

Knockouts High and Low

Without self-restraint, we slip toward barbarism. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the day President John F. Kennedy was shot

It was the week the nation gathered around television sets to watch the tragic story of JFK’s assassination unfold — the same medium that helped vault the dynamic young leader to the presidency less than three years ago.

By Mike Lupica
November 22, 2013

dnp; atx;


Letting go of his mother's hand, John F. Kennedy Jr. salutes his father's flag-draped casket as it passes on Nov. 25, 1963, the boy's third birthday. Behind JFK's son is Robert Kennedy; Ted Kennedy is on the other side of Jackie, behind young Caroline, who was about to turn six.

In the early afternoon our teacher, a nun named Sister Hortense, walked out of the classroom and came back in a couple of minutes later and told us that President Kennedy had been shot, and that we were being dismissed from school early. But before we left, she told us, we would all put our heads down on our desks and say a silent prayer for the President.

So many remember exactly where they were when they got the news, remember vividly that day and the days to come. I remember my head pressed against the cool surface of that desk.

This was Oneida, N.Y., on Nov. 22, 1963, and what I remember next about the day was the short walk home and not seeing a single person other than my classmates on the streets and not one car, because already the country was gathered around television sets in a way it never had before.

It was television that had helped elect John F. Kennedy as much as anything else, because of the way he looked in that first debate against Richard Nixon in 1960, as though America was being introduced to his youth and good looks and great charm for the first time.

Now it was television that began to tell us the story, in real time, of what had happened in Dallas that afternoon, hour by hour, through the weekend until we were having lunch on Sunday and watched as Jack Ruby walked up and shot Lee Harvey Oswald because we had moved our small black-and-white set into the kitchen, because this was the weekend when we could not look away.

The other day I asked my father, who flew in B-24s over Europe in World War II and loved Jack Kennedy for his own service to his country on his PT boat in the South Pacific, PT-109, what he remembered best about that weekend 50 years ago and he didn’t hesitate.

“I remember that we were afraid to leave the TV set,” he said.

Mario Cuomo, a young Queens lawyer at the time with small children, one of whom would grow up to hold the same job he once held, governor of this state, was talking about all of this on Thursday afternoon.

“The way we were all attracted to the television on 9/11,” Mario Cuomo said, “that was the way it was that day, maybe for the first time.”

This was before we would see all the images on television of the funeral, the image of John F. Kennedy Jr., known as John-John then, saluting his father’s coffin, that picture captured as well by a great old Daily News photographer named Dan Farrell as it was captured anywhere; I have a framed copy of that photograph, signed by Danny, on the wall above me as I write this.

Read more:

Remembering Stanley Ann Dunham Obama

November 22, 2013
Remember President Barack Obama's mother? Though the airwaves currently echo with his vow "If you like your plan . . ." I keep remembering Obama's account of his mother being denied coverage by her insurance company as she lay dying of cancer.
The moving and infuriating story was a staple on the 2008 campaign trail. His mother had insurance, he explained, but when she came down with cancer, her insurance company claimed her disease was a "pre-existing condition" and refused to pay for her treatment. In a debate with Sen. John McCain, Obama said: "For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that."
There would be, if it had been true. But when New York Times reporter Janny Scott researched the issue for her biography of the president's mother, she discovered letters proving beyond doubt that Cigna never denied Stanley Ann Dunham coverage for her disease. The dispute was over a disability plan that would have paid some of her other expenses.
The White House did not deny Scott's account, but shrugged it off as something that had happened long ago. Not so long that it couldn't be milked one last time though, for a 2012 campaign film. In "The Road We've Traveled," the message remained unchanged -- a greedy insurance company had cut off Obama's mother at her moment of maximum vulnerability, and it cost Dunham her life.
If someone comes to you and asks for financial aid to cope with a family member who is gravely ill, and you comply, how are you going to feel when you learn there is no sick relative?
It's different in politics, explained Michael Cohen in the New York Daily News. The American people want too many contradictory things. "Seemingly, the only path to change is telling voters what they want to hear."
Doubtless that's what Obama tells himself to justify his deceptions. It's a form of "lying for justice." If your goals are noble enough, truth is an acceptable casualty.
Obama's propensity to lie is finally widely acknowledged, but it hasn't gone far enough. It isn't just that the pledge about keeping your plan was a noble lie -- the whole law is based upon lies.
The Dunham tale was meant to personify the hundreds of thousands -- or millions -- of Americans who were "dumped" by insurance companies when they became sick. This is an invented tale, and might have been rebutted by the insurance industry if they hadn't gotten into bed with Obama in 2010 in return for millions of coerced new customers. As the Washington Free Beacon reported, academic studies have estimated that policies were dropped in only four-tenths of one percent of cases in the individual market.
In a 2010 radio address, Obama said one carrier was "systematically dropping the coverage of women diagnosed with breast cancer." The CEO of WellPoint, which had reason to believe the president was referring to her company, responded that they had provided coverage in the previous year to 200,000 breast cancer patients and had canceled just four policies for fraud or misrepresentation.
If there had been a true epidemic of wrongly canceled policies, wouldn't there have been a slew of lawsuits and an outcry?
The notion that the nation faced a "crisis" of "46 million uninsured" was also dishonest. Pre-Obamacare health care in America was hardly nirvana, but the truth about the uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office, was that 71 percent were without insurance for a year or less. Only about 16 percent were uninsured for two or more years. More than 9 million of those counted among the uninsured were not citizens. Another 6 million who said they were without insurance actually were signed up with Medicaid, and 4 million more were eligible for Medicaid but had failed to enroll.
The true number of uninsured individuals was closer to 15 million (5 million of whom were young, single adults). There were many possible solutions for them that didn't require tearing down the entire system. In any case, the CBO estimates that even if Obamacare were fully implemented and worked smoothly, the number of uninsured Americans in 2023 would be, drumroll please, 30 million.
Obamacare was never about the uninsured or justice for those badly treated by insurance companies. It was always about power -- gaining it and keeping it for the Democratic Party and the central government. It was based on lies about the preceding system and sold on lies about its consequences.

C. S. Lewis: Why All the Fuss?

Christian apologist, novelist, public intellectual — Lewis spoke to his own time and ours in many voices. 

Nearly 50 years ago, not long after C. S. Lewis’s death on that horrific November 22, 1963, I first beheld his name. It was in Jeffrey Hart’s “The Rebirth of Christ,” published in National Review. Four years thereafter I helped found the New York C. S. Lewis Society (the oldest and still the largest of such societies), the midwife for which, as it happens, was National Review itself. Linda Bridges, then a summer intern at the magazine, received a letter to the editor asking if there was any interest in forming such a group and passed it on to Mr. Buckley, who, being a Lewis reader, included it in his Notes & Asides column. I mention this now not merely for the sheer pleasure of closing the circle, but also to lend some perspective to the tiresome question that I’m still sometimes asked, “Why all the fuss?” Even now there remains puzzlement over Lewis’s popularity, and many who are not puzzled persist in misconstruing the man.

For example, 20 years ago Christopher Hewetson, the vicar of what for three decades had been C. S. Lewis’s parish church in Headington Quarry, Oxford, seemed to sum up the English attitude toward the great man perfectly. He told his congregation that, yes, perhaps the time had come to improve their “connection with C. S. Lewis.” He said, “When I came here three and a half years ago . . . there was a certain ‘yes but.’ I found it difficult to get a well-known preacher to . . . the dedication of the Narnia window. Since then his rating has increased. [My emphasis.] . . . He was a very committed Christian, a man of great prayer. . . . We must be proud of our connection with him and learn from it.” Yet by the time Father Hewetson made his concession, Lewis for most of the century had been the most famous Christian apologist writing in English: His voice was among the most recognizable on the BBC during World War II, his picture had been on the cover of Time magazine, and his books were widely translated and selling in the millions.

Now we have this, from the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has published The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia. In it this good man (but not good literary critic, I think) allows that Lewis “help[s] us rinse out what is stale in our thinking about Christianity.” Fine. But then Archbishop Williams frets about Lewis’s presumed “orientalism” and lingers over the simplistic notion that Susan Pevensie never returns to Narnia because she began to wear lipstick, whereas the actual reason is her denial of the very existence of Narnia and her claim that the adventures there were mere children’s stories invented by her and her siblings.

Any writer’s reputation has its vicissitudes. At his death Lewis’s fell so sharply that many of his books went out of print, until (owing in part to the founding of the New York Society) it pivoted. In the event, however, there is now a memorial to Lewis in Westminster Abbey, and I say it’s about time the Brits played some catchup. For it is we Americans who (for several decades) have made the most fuss. And here is why.

First, there is the man himself — an amply published (if minor) poet of considerable metrical and narrative skill; a philosopher (that is, academically trained as such), whose first university appointment was in philosophy and whose admonitory Abolition of Man (1943) is proving frighteningly prescient); a public intellectual whose book reviews and topical essays, such as “On Living in an Atomic Age” (“Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs”) and “The Dangers of National Repentance” (“you can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition”), settled much hash; a first-person novelist (Till We Have Faces, 1956) the equal of Nabokov in technical proficiency and psychological depth; a writer, with some peers but no betters, of speculative fiction (the “Ransom Trilogy,” 1938–1945) and of fantasy (The Chronicles of Narnia, 1950–1956), works dense with ideas; a religious thinker whose sermons and essays, such as “Transposition,” “Membership,” and “Meditation in a Toolshed,” have knocked down many a straw man and clarified opaque doctrine; a fearsome debater (e.g., at the Oxford Socratic Club, of which he was president from 1941 to 1954); a Christian apologist who still invites attack as well as aspirants to be the “next C. S. Lewis”; and a prose stylist whose gifts of wit, analogy, imagery, economy, rhythmical dexterity, and rhetorical adroitness should place him in any canon worthy of study by anyone who claims to know — let alone to teach — the literature of English-speaking peoples.

Lewis, of course, was just such a teacher: a lecturer, literary critic, and historian whose achievements are the bedrock of his professional reputation. With the anomalous exception of the anti-Leavisite An Experiment in Criticism (1961), these works were greeted enthusiastically and continue to ping here and there, if only among the few professional scholars who perform their due diligence. (The Allegory of Love, 1936, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century: Excluding Drama, 1954, remain touchstones of literary history.)

On the surface, the quotidian man was the familiar beer drinker and pipe smoker; the compulsive reader, writer, and talker; the long-distance walker; the scholar, tutor, and lecturer; the Inkling among like-minded friends without whom we might not have The Lord of the Rings; and the famously unrelenting Christian convert. He was a wounded veteran of the Great War who had taken prisoners and argued against pacifism but said that though he would willingly die for his country he would not willingly live for it; and he was a man who doubted the wisdom of space exploration, given its potential for exploiting cognizant beings out there just as we had exploited and subjugated black people down here (under the guise, yet, of evangelization), and who excoriated Hitler in 1933 as “imbecilic” for insulting the Jews. But along the way, and for a chuckle, he pulled off a (to him costly) prank on Oxford University by contriving the election of the non-poet Adam Fox as its Professor of Poetry.

He knew he was out of sync with the zeitgeist — and relished the stance (as we see in his Cambridge University inaugural lecture as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, 1954, in which he refers to himself as a dinosaur). Even in “Membership,” pronouncedly not a work of lit. crit., he could not help himself, writing, “I mean the pestilent notion (one sees it in literary criticism) that each of us starts with a treasure called ‘Personality.’” Having no “school,” he was free to toss off epochal ideas — the Renaissance never happened, Aristotle’s Poetics is a bad book, tragedy is a “phantom concept” — and not bother to elaborate upon them, let alone to defend them. Just so would he lift ideas and expressions from others (especially Richard Hooker) without acknowledgment — although, to be fair to Lewis-the-medievalist, also without any claim to originality, which he thought vastly overrated. He would say a thoroughly Christian society would probably approximate a socialist one and that it would be better to have sex without marrying than to break the marriage vow. He was a Christian apologist whose conception of church is the theological equivalent of one of Heisenberg’s uncertain quantum particles.

And the plot thickens. He could remember virtually everything he read but (as we see in the manuscript of The Screwtape Letters, 1942) could not confidently spell “rivet.” He was a man so inept at balancing his checkbook (he was at first rejected by Oxford for having failed a simple algebra test, a requirement later waived owing to his voluntary service in World War I) that he thought he would go broke. Nevertheless, he was possessed of enormous personal generosity, giving out of pocket to any vagabond who came his way (“I don’t care if he’s going to drink it up, Tollers [Tolkien]; that’s exactly what I was going to do with it”) and continuously out of his bank account to the tune of nearly 70 per cent of his income. His closest friends intuited some buried layers in Lewis: Even his devoted brother, Warren (his best friend), said of his conversion that it was not a conversion as such but rather a recovery from “a long mental illness.” Indeed, the more deeply we look at him the more personally unsettled he seems. As a boy he suffered early parental loss and, for the rest of his life, all its hallmark consequences; in particular, he eventually came to terms with his mother’s death but never got over it.

Then there was his second “mother,” Mrs. Janie King Moore (the mother of a comrade-in-arms who was killed in the Great War), about whose presence in his life he was false enough in his 20s (while a “blaspheming atheist” — Lewis’s own words) to lie continuously to his father. We learn from letters he exchanged 25 years later — in Latin — with an Italian priest who is now St. Giovanni Calabria that he remained sufficiently riven by guilt over this early mendacity to wonder if his sins had been forgiven: this, after writing, but not himself publishing, an essay (“On Forgiveness”) in which he affirmed that with the proper satisfaction of certain requirements a person would be grievously sinning if still uncertain of forgiveness. (He would recover his good sense shortly before Mrs. Moore’s death in January of 1951 but after her departure to a nursing home.) Finally, and in the opinion of some who would know, he was a wonderful friend but given to new, unbounded enthusiasms — we will never fully understand his involvement with the American writer Joy Davidman or his secrecy about his marriage to her. Moreover, these enthusiasms might even compromise old friendships, as his enthusiasm for Davidman did his friendship with Tolkien.

Now, if none of that invites studied consideration, there is more still: the Ulsterman who had a strain of anti-Catholic bigotry but who once was suspected of having “poped,” in part because of certain Catholic practices and beliefs — e.g., frequent auricular confession and taking of the Eucharist, prayers for the dead, belief in purgatory (ironically, the possibility of his brother’s converting to Rome horrified him); the very busy man who more than anything else wanted to be left alone but who answered every letter — and there were thousands — that he received; the spiritual seeker who, in his late 40s (before the effusion that is Narnia), so accused himself of accidia that he truly believed he would never write another word and seriously welcomed the prospect, so tempting to pride was the praise he was receiving. “Lord of the narrow gate and needle’s eye / Take from me all my trumpery lest I die,” he wrote in a poem published only after his death. He would remain thoroughly conflicted over rhetoric — its power and his mastery of it — his whole life.

Nevertheless, it is owing to that rhetorical mastery that his personal impact upon millions of readers has famously reached even to the point of religious conversion. He could summarize an argument with an epigram as crisp as a Communion host: “I believe in Christianity,” he writes in the sermon “The Weight of Glory,” “the way I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” His imagery — “one day we will ride bareback, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses” — is often irresistible, conveying his pre-eminent concept of Sehnsucht (what he called Joy), the desire for Heaven and the occasion for hope, the hallmark of his apologetics. In Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) he describes the afterglow of his hero’s transcendent experience of Joy: “It seemed to him that a mist which hung at the far end of the wood had parted for a moment, and through the rift he had seen a calm sea, and in the sea an island. . . . Presently he went home, with a sad excitement upon him, repeating to himself a thousand times, ‘I know now what I want.’” Thirty years later he would tell us, in Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer (the last book he would see through to publication), that “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”

Yet I wonder if that last Lewis — the romantic proselytizer and avuncular oracle — takes up so much reputational oxygen that it obscures the whole man’s broad cultural influence. For each of his personae has its voice: the religious thinker and fantasist as well as the public philosopher, the literary artist, the penetrating critic, and the unrelenting letter writer. For it is all of those voices together that sing us to intellectual clarity and coherence, to visionary joy, and to spiritual hope, and that lift us finally to the brink of Heaven.

At the end of the day, that is why all the fuss.

— James Como is professor emeritus of rhetoric and public communication, York College (CUNY). His most recent book is Why I Believe in Narnia: 33 Reviews and Essays on the Life & Work of C. S. Lewis. He can be reached at


Jack the Giant-Killer

That Hideous State

Today's Tune: Solomon Burke - You're The Kind Of Trouble

Thursday, November 21, 2013

CS Lewis's literary legacy: 'dodgy and unpleasant' or 'exceptionally good'?

It's 50 years since CS Lewis died. His legacy encompasses far more than just Narnia – Rowan Williams, AS Byatt, Philip Pullman and others give their thoughts on his body of work
"Aslan is on the move." That phrase, three decades after I first read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, still has the power to tickle the hairs on my neck. It testifies to the enduring power of CS Lewis's recasting of the Christian myth that I'm far from alone. If this were all there were to him, it would still be pretty remarkable that, 50 years after his death, this tweedy old Oxford don should occupy such an exalted place in our cultural life.
All this week on Radio 4, Simon Russell Beale has been reading The Screwtape Letters – Lewis's perceptive inquiry into temptation cast as a series of witty letters between a demon and his apprentice. This Friday, his reputation will be crowned with a plaque in his honour, between John Betjeman and William Blake, in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.
The tribute might have pleased him, but it's an odd one: as a poet, Lewis is usually regarded as pretty useless. "He hated all poets because he was a failed poet," says his biographer AN Wilson. "He hated TS Eliot. He hated Louis MacNeice. There's a very bad 'poem' by Lewis about reading The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, and it just shows how stupid he was about modern poetry."
Lewis has much more than poetry to offer, though. Almost too much: his posthumous reputation is disconcertingly various. As well as a children's writer, he was novelist, memoirist, essayist, critic, broadcaster and apologist. But the two Lewises that command the biggest followings are the author of the Narnia stories, and (in something of an overlap) the writer of Christian apologetics.
In the latter department, Lewis's work teams a direct, companionable style with sinewy reasoning: an appeal to the heart by way of the head. Mere Christianity – a book based on a series of BBC radio talks Lewis gave during the second world war – sells in vast quantities in the US and is regarded as "almost a sort of summa theologica of the Protestant world", says Wilson. "Wheaton College in Illinois [a Christian arts college] bought his wardrobe and, even though it's a non-smoking campus, they bought his pipes, to be kept in a sort of reliquary."
According to Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lewis "is coming up the agenda again". He says the last five years have seen Lewis given "serious academic attention – and attention from people who are not just in the evangelical camp".
Lewis's great gift as a writer about Christianity was not as an academic theologian, says Williams, but "in what you might call pastoral theology: as an interpreter of people's moral and spiritual crises; as somebody who is a brilliant diagnostician of self-deception; and somebody who, in his own book on bereavement after his wife's death, really pushes the envelope – giving permission, I suppose, to people to articulate their anger and resentment about a God who apparently takes your loved ones away from you."
Opinion varies starkly on the value of the Narnia stories. Many, including Lewis's friend JRR Tolkien, found them incoherent, sentimental and unsatisfactory. The twin taints of racism and sexism attach to them – as they do to other Lewis works. Notoriously, at the end of the Narnia stories, Susan appears to be punished for entering adolescence and developing an interest in lipstick by exclusion from what in the Narnia mythos passes for heaven.
And the Calormenes are, says Williams, described as "dark skinned and a bit peculiar. I think the racism is very difficult to acquit Lewis on. It's part of an unthinking cultural set of attitudes which pretty well every writer of the period would have affected: a pseudo-medieval crusaders-and-saracens sort of thing. The Others have scimitars and pointy helmets and talk peculiarly in an Arabian Nights style. There's no way round that."
Philip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials trilogy presents as a sort of anti-Narnia, regards Lewis's religious writings as "bullying, hectoring and dishonest in all kinds of ways", and the Narnia books as actually "wicked". He says: "I find them very dodgy and unpleasant – dodgy in the dishonest rhetoric way – and unpleasant because they seem to embody a world view that takes for granted things like racism, misogyny and a profound cultural conservatism that is utterly unexamined."
Among Pullman's charges ("other little things that just occur in passing") is that "he pours scorn on little girls with fat legs. And, as one commentator said, among Lewis's readers will be some little girls with fat legs who find themselves utterly bewildered by this slur on something they can't help and are embarrassed and upset by already. It's the position, as this commentator said, of the teacher who curries favour with the bullies in the class by bullying the weak children with them."
Yet, bolstered by successful Hollywood films, they retain a colossal popular appeal. As Williams says, "In a peculiar way, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is quite a tribute to Lewis – because, although Philip loathes the Narnia stories, he clearly recognises that there is enough imaginative bounce and energy in them to demand a serious response."
But Lewis also speaks profoundly to grown-ups as a memoirist. Surprised By Joy, which appeared in 1955 and described his early life and conversion to Christianity as an adult, has an enduring constituency, even among those who do not share his faith. Zadie Smith has talked of recognising the "inexplicable feeling of gratitude" to which Lewis's title alludes: "It comes over you sometimes. And particularly if you are unreligious, you don't know what to do with it." A Grief Observed, written near the end of his life about the death of his wife and originally published pseudonymously, continues to reach a wide public with its tenderness and the candour of its anguish.
The picture is complicated by Lewis's personal life having itself entered into myth. For a long time, his relationship with Tolkien – an intense friendship that played a large part in his conversion to Christianity – attracted fascination, alongside stories of their literary group the Inklings meeting, in a fug of tobacco and warm beer, in the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford. Then the 1993 film Shadowlands told a romanticised version of the story of Lewis's marriage late in life to an American fan, Joy Davidson (the title of Surprised By Joy, published much earlier, started to look prescient). It both increased, and somewhat distorted, his reputation.
The problem, says Wilson, is that "almost none of it is true. There's only one stepson, not two stepsons, and so on. Anthony Hopkins, a brilliant actor, is immaculately clad in a dark suit, while Lewis was a filthy old man dripping beer and tobacco everywhere. But apart from all that, it makes out that this big thing in Lewis's life was the marriage – and in fact it was just a little thing that happened at the end. For 33 years, he shared his life with the woman he called Minto, Jane Moore [the mother of one of Lewis's boyhood friends]. She was the love of his life – she was the main thing. I want to write a screenplay for Helen Mirren to play Minto."
Finally – at the end of this rather long list of Lewises – there was the day job. Lewis was a Professor of English literature – the author inter alia of a thunderously argumentative Preface to Paradise Lost; transformative works on medieval literature, The Allegory of Love and The Discarded Image; and a compendious introduction to English Literature in the Sixteenth Century. He was, says Williams, "an exceptionally good literary critic, and I think that will be a very widely shared judgment". Pullman, too, has respect for Lewis the critic. Just as in his religious writings he spoke to ordinary churchgoers more than theologians, Lewis's literary work was concerned with sympathetic leaps of the imagination.
AS Byatt – who hated the Narnia books even as a child, regarding them as "Christian armtwisting" – has the highest regard for Lewis's work as a critic, particularly The Allegory of Love. She recalls approaching him after a lecture and offering to continue its work. "He was quite keen. He said, 'You will of course have to learn Greek.' And I went to graduate school in America and I tried to learn Greek, but the central heating was so hot that I just leaned my face on the desk all the time and didn't hear the Greek.
"I did have the feeling that he was a very clever schoolboy who had never grown up. He was sheltered. I didn't feel he knew anything about the world I was in, with babies and nappies and money problems. I think he didn't like women. There was a terrifying moment in The Screwtape Letters where the devil is trying to tempt somebody into thinking milk is disgusting because it comes from somewhere in the cow quite close to excrement. I think that was a personal thing of Lewis's. I think he didn't like milk because he didn't like females."
According to AN Wilson, "he was very well read, but he was not a scholar. The thing that all the other English dons didn't like is that he never corrected anything. He never read a scholarly text; he just read old Everyman versions. Many of the texts he cites in his 16th-century book are bad texts, and therefore the things he says when he's close-reading a poem are all wrong." Nevertheless, adds Wilson, in a book such as The Discarded Image, Lewis used the texts as a way to try to understand "what a medieval person saw when they looked at the world, when they looked at the sky, what they thought about nature, what they thought about faith. It's a brilliant book."
That ability to help a reader to inhabit a world, or a worldview, could be said to be what unites all those different Lewises. The fact that so many are still inhabiting Lewis's own worldview – for better and for worse – speaks strongly of his success.

The New Proof of the KGB’s Hand in JFK’s Assassination

Posted By Ion Mihai Pacepa On November 20, 2013 @ 12:00 pm In Conspiracy Theories,Disinformation | 3 Comments

Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination
It has been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and most of the world still wrongly believes that the culprit was the CIA, or the FBI, or the mafia, or right-wing American businessmen. It has been also 50 years since the Kremlin started an intense, worldwide disinformation operation, codenamed “Dragon,” aimed at diverting attention away from the KGB’s connection with Lee Harvey Oswald. Not unrelated are the facts that Oswald was an American Marine who defected to Moscow, returned to the United States three years later with a Russian wife, killed President Kennedy, and was arrested before being able to carry out his  plan to escape back to Moscow. In a letter dated July 1, 1963, Oswald asked the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., to grant his wife an immediate entrance visa to the Soviet Union, and to grant another one to him,separtably (misspelling and emphasis as in the original).

The Kremlin’s “Dragon” operation is described in my book Programmed to Kill: Moscow’s Responsibility for Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In 2010, this book was presented at a conference of the Organization of American Historians together with a review by Prof. Stan Weber (McNeese State University). He described the book as “a superb new paradigmatic work on the death of President Kennedy” and a “must read for everyone interested in the assassination.”[i]

Programmed to Kill is a factual analysis of that KGB crime of the century committed during the Khrushchev era. In those days, the former chief KGB adviser in Romania had become the head of the almighty Soviet foreign espionage service and pushed me up to the top levels of the Soviet bloc intelligence clique. My book also contains a factual presentation of Khrushchev’s frantic efforts to cover his backside. Recalling that the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian terrorist Gavrilo Princip had set off the First World War, Khrushchev was afraid that, if America should learn about the KGB’s involvement with Oswald, it might ignite the first nuclear war. Khrushchev’s interests happened to coincide with those of Lyndon Johnson, the new U.S. president, who was facing elections in less than a year, and any conclusion implicating the Soviet Union in the assassination would have forced Johnson to take undesired political or even military action, adding to his already widely unpopular stance on the war in Vietnam.

According to new KGB documents, which became available after Programmed to Kill was published, the Soviet effort to deflect attention away from the KGB regarding the Kennedy assassination began on November 23, 1963—the very day after Kennedy was killed—and it was introduced by a memo to the Kremlin signed by KGB chairman Vladimir Semichastny. He asked the Kremlin immediately to publish an article in a “progressive paper in one of the Western countries …exposing the attempt by reactionary circles in the USA to remove the responsibility for the murder of Kennedy from the real criminals, [i.e.,] the racists and ultra-right elements guilty of the spread and growth of violence and terror in the United States.”

The Kremlin complied. Two months later, R. Palme Dutt, the editor of a communist-controlled British journal called Labour Monthly, signed an article that raised the specter of CIA involvement without offering a scintilla of evidence. “[M]ost commentators,” Dutt wrote, “have surmised a coup of the Ultra-Right or racialists of Dallas . . . [that], with the manifest complicity necessary of a very wide range of authorities, bears all the hallmarks of a CIA job.” Semichastny’s super secret letter and Dutt’s subsequent article were revealed by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin in his book The Struggle for Russia, published 32 years after the Kennedy assassination.

No wonder Yeltsin was ousted by a KGB palace coup that transferred the Kremlin’s throne into the hands of the KGB—which still has a firm grip on it. On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin stunned Russia and the rest of the world by announcing his resignation. “I understand that I must do it,”[ii] he explained, speaking in front of a gaily-decorated New Year’s tree along with a blue, red and white Russian flag and a golden Russian eagle. Yeltsin then signed a decree “On the execution of the powers of the Russian president,” which states that under Article 92 Section 3 of the Russian Constitution, the power of the Russian president shall be temporarily performed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, starting from noon on December 31, 1999.[iii] For his part, the newly appointed president signed a decree pardoning Yeltsin, who was allegedly connected to massive bribery scandals, “for any possible misdeeds” and granted him “total immunity” from being prosecuted (or even searched and questioned) for “any and all” actions committed while in office. Putin also gave Yeltsin a lifetime pension and a state dacha.[iv]

Soon after that, the little window into the KGB archive that had been cracked opened by Yeltsin was quietly closed. Fortunately, he had first been able to reveal Semichastny’s memo, which generated the Kennedy conspiracy that has never stopped.

Dutt’s article was followed by the first book on the JFK assassination published in the U.S., Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy? It was authored by a former member of the German Communist Party, Joachim Joesten, and it was published in New York in 1964 by Carlo Aldo Marzani, a former member of the American Communist Party and a KGB agent. Joesten’s book alleges, without providing any proof, that Oswald was “an FBI agent provocateur with a CIA background”. Highly classified KGB documents smuggled out of Russia with British MI-6 help by KGB defector Vasili Mitrokhin in 1993—long after the two U.S. government investigations into the assassination had been completed—show that in the early 1960s, Marzani received subsidies totaling $672,000 from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. That raises the question of why Marzani was paid by the party and not by the KGB, whose agent he was. The newly released Semichastny letter gives us the answer: on the next day after the assassination, the Kremlin took over management of the disinformation operation aimed at blaming America for the JFK assassination. That is why Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy? was promoted by a joint party/KGB operation.

The book’s first review, which praised it to the skies, was signed by Victor Perlo, a member of the American Communist Party, and was published on September 23, 1964, in New Times, which I knew as a KGB front at one time printed in Romania. On December 9, 1963, the “progressive” American journalist I. F. Stone published a long article in which he tried to justify why America had killed its own president. He called Oswald a rightist crackpot, but put the real blame on the “warlike Administration” of the United States, which was trying to sell Europe a “nuclear monstrosity.” Stone has been identified as a paid KGB agent, codenamed “Blin.”

Joesten dedicated his book to Mark Lane, an American leftist who in 1966 produced the bestseller Rush to Judgment, alleging Kennedy was assassinated by a right-wing American group. Documents in the Mitrokhin Archive show that the KGB indirectly sent Mark Lane money ($2,000), and that KGB operative Genrikh Borovik was in regular contact with him. Another KGB defector, Colonel Oleg Gor­dievsky (former KGB station chief in London), has identified Borovik as the brother-in-law of Col. General Vladimir Kryuchkov, who in 1988 became chairman of the KGB and in August 1991 led the coup in Moscow aimed at restoring the Soviet Union.

The year 1967 saw the publication of two more books attributed to Joesten: The Case Against Lyndon Johnson in the Assassination of President Ken­nedy and Oswald: The Truth. Both books suggested that President Johnson and his CIA had killed Kennedy. They were soon followed by Mark Lane’s A Citizen’s Dissent (1968). Lane has also intensively traveled abroad to preach that America is an “FBI police state” that killed its own president.

With such books, the Kennedy conspiracy was born, and it never stopped. The growing popularity of books on the JFK assassination has encouraged all kinds of people with any sort of remotely related background expertise to join the party, each viewing events from his own narrow perspective. Several thousand books have been written on the JFK assassination, and the hemorrhage continues. In spite of this growing mountain of paper, a satisfactory explanation of Oswald’s motivation has yet to be offered, primarily because the whole important dimension of Soviet foreign policy concerns and Soviet intelligence practice in the late 1950s and early 1960s has not been addressed in connection with Oswald by any competent authority. Why not? Because none of their authors had ever been a KGB insider, familiar with its modus operandi.

By its very nature espionage is an arcane and duplicitous undertaking, and in the hands of the Soviets it developed into a whole philosophy, every aspect of which had its own set of tried and true rules and followed a prescribed pattern. To really understand the mysteries of Soviet espionage, it will not help to see a spy movie or read a spy novel, as entertaining as that might be. You must have lived in that world of secrecy and deceit for a whole career, as I did, and even then you may not fathom its darker moments, unless you are one of the few at the very top of the pyramid.

Therefore, I have put together a short PowerPoint presentation of such darker moments that are crucial for understanding how the Kremlin has been able to fool the rest of the world into believing that America killed one of its most beloved presidents. Click here to read “11 Facts That Destroy JFK Conspiracy Theories.” Let’s step back together into that world of Soviet espionage and deceit. At the end of our tour d’horizon, I hope you’ll agree with me that the Soviets had a hand in the assassination of President Kennedy. I also hope that afterwards you will look with different eyes upon other documents relating to the JFK assassination that may turn up in the future. Perhaps you may spot additional Soviet/Russian maneuverings hidden behind them.

[i] Stan Weber, “A New Paradigmatic Work on the JFK Assassination,” H-Net Online, October 2009,
[ii] Barry Renfrew, “Boris Yeltsin Resigns,” The Washington Post, December 31, 1999, 6:48 a.m.
[iii] Matt Drudge Report, December 31, 1999, 11:00 AM UTC.
[iv] Ariel Cohen, “End of the Yeltsin Era,” The Washington Times, January 3, 2000, Internet Edition, cohen-20000103.

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