Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review: 'The Last Monk of Tibhirine' by Freddy Derwahl

Of monks and men

I was mesmerized by the 2010 movie Of Gods and Men and grateful to director Xavier Beauvois for sparing me a death scene at the end. I knew the seven monks being marched into a swirling snowstorm would never return,  and I could not bear to watch them murdered. It was enough that, thanks to the vision of producer Etienne Comar, I’d been invited inside the monastery walls, where each of the monks had finally come to the same difficult decision: to stay despite the threat. It was enough that I knew they’d freely accepted the possibility of their own brutal deaths and had already forgiven the men who would kill them—the Algerian rebels they invariably referred to “our brothers from the mountains.”
Only later did I allow myself to wonder about that unfilmed scene. Were the monks held captive for weeks or months before dying? Were they able to maintain their vows in the midst of such terror? When death finally came, was it quick or did they suffer? And what about the two who were spared—were they racked by relentless survivor’s guilt?
Freddy Derwahl provides at least some of the answers. As a prospective monk at the Algerian Trappist monastery of Tibhirine, Derwahl had come to know both the community and the monks nearly ten years before the 1996 abduction. In July 2011 Derwahl went to a monastery in Morocco to visit Brother Jean-Pierre Schumacher, one of the two Tibhirine monks who were not killed. He stayed in the monastery there for some weeks, reacquainting himself with the quiet rhythms of a life he had ultimately not chosen, participating in the daily schedule of worship and prayer, and spending hours in conversation with the 87-year-old Jean-Pierre.
During their first meeting in nearly 25 years, Derwahl found the elderly monk “in good spirits,” wearing an “impish smile that concealed great kindness.” Wise, serene, and seemingly unburdened by the horrors of the past, Jean-Pierre took him to a small room dedicated to the memory of his seven brothers. Their portraits hung on the wall above a seven-armed lamp, and a copy of Prior Christian de Chergé’s famous last testament sat on a podium nearby. Jean-Pierre is now the last of the Tibhirine community; the other survivor, Brother Amédée, died several years ago, and Jean-Pierre believes it is both his privilege and his responsibility to recount the legendary story from his own monastic and insider perspective.
Along with recording that story, giving a historical overview of the Algerian political developments that led to civil war, and filling in many of the biographical blanks left by the movie, Derwahl keeps a spiritual journal of his own. His entries, along with the evocative color photographs of the monasteries of Midelt and Tibhirine by Bruno Zanzoterra, go some way toward making sense of the mystery of martyrdom. For example, one night when he was trying and failing to sleep because of the constantly barking dogs outside the monastery walls, Derwahl wondered whether the monks might have found a depth of faith no longer experienced in the West: “As I reflect on the men who sleep in this house, I realize they are serious, yet relaxed. . . . There is nothing they have not endured. This is a completely different kind of Christianity than we en­counter in old Europe.”
Certainly the words of those who died lend credence to this speculation. Prior Christian, fully aware of how dangerous their situation had become, wrote his last testament two years before the abduction. In it, he assured his family and friends that he did not want to die, much less seek martyrdom. The death of a martyr, he explained, extracts far too high a price afterward: there is always a murderer who will be blamed and who will have to live with his own guilt. But knowing that he would almost certainly face a violent end, Christian concluded his letter with a loving message to the “friend of my last moment who does not know what you are doing,” expressing the fond hope that the two of them, victim and murderer, will see one another again in Paradise, “like the fortunate thieves” who were crucified on either side of Christ.
At the end of the book, Derwahl leads us gently but inexorably through the scenes the movie did not show—the several months of captivity in the mountains, the recording of Christian’s voice released by the rebels as they negotiated for an exchange of prisoners, the abrupt decision of the French government not to deal with the terrorists after all, and the subsequent decapitations of the seven. By the time we get to this chapter, we are more than prepared for the worst—and surprisingly unsurprised by Jean-Pierre’s calm, loving response to the news of his brothers’ murders. When a young novice begins to weep, Jean-Pierre takes him into his arms and says, “Don’t be sad. What has happened here is something amazing, and we have to live up to the greatness of it.”
Like so many others, I found Of Gods and Men to be one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen. I am grateful to Freddy Derwahl for his beautifully paced, profoundly reflective, and spiritually moving portrait of monasticism at its most heroic. In our sometimes cynical and despairing era, this book shines like the star-studded sky over Tibhirine.

C.S. Lewis Curiously Absent from “C.S. Lewis Lecture”

by  (@BrianKenMiller)
March 13, 2014

The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori delivers the annual C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture at Westminster College in Fulton on Feb. 27, 2014. Jefferts Schori is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. FAVS photo by Kellie Moore
Most of us were baffled when Westminster College announced that Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, would deliver the C.S. Lewis Lecture on science and religion. IRD colleagueBart Gingerich pointed out that the breadth of differences between the two figures is too expansive to summarize. The New Testament tells us the Rich Man could see Lazarus over the gulf between the Inferno and Paradise. Judging from this lecture, it’s doubtful Schori can see Lewis over the gulf that separates them.
The topic of the lecture, science and religion, provides a rich and endless list of possible directions to explore Lewis’ thoughts. From the warnings against scientism in The Abolition of Man, to the history of medieval science in The Discarded Image, to the excellent comparison between the thoughts of Lewis and Freud by Armand Niccolai, to the literally dozens of other essays and writings Lewis produced on the subject. But alas, Lewis’s name is only invoked at the beginning and the end of the lecture, as if the speaker did so only out of courtesy.
The majority of the talk is rather unremarkable. Jefferts Schori employs the sort of new age imagery and buzzwords like “earth-creature,” “stardust,” and “wisdom-teacher” that any student of Lewis would be completely unfamiliar with.
It’s unclear what, if any, relation Lewis has to any of this. And judging by the text it seems Jefferts Schori hasn’t got a clue either. She spends most of her time explaining how science and religion both seek to answer the questions we have about our existence. Science does so through empiricism and religion by asking about the meaning of things. She clarifies, of course, that she uses the word religion “in a very broad context, akin to the way ‘spiritual’ is often used in common parlance, rather than its more academic sense as a set of practices and beliefs that bind a community together.”
The “academic” definition seems oddly similar to the Christian definition, at least as Lewis would have defined it. If only Jefferts Schori had read that marvelous little book entitled Mere Christianity. In chapter 23 she would have found Lewis explaining why men need maps to find their way to God. The maps, of course, are the creeds, the doctrines, and the traditions of the Church.
Nonetheless, in a lecture about the search for meaning that has nothing to do with the teachings of C.S. Lewis, she closes with the claim that “This is what C.S. Lewis understood so deeply.  Born in the Irish context of ancient domination by a power that saw his land as resource to be exploited, he looked toward a story of transformative justice, even if it required the giving of one’s life.  He looked deep into his community’s past, Celtic and Christian, tribal and communal, in search of an ethic that would transcend the story of exploitation and empire.”
The problem with this statement, similar to the problem of most heresy, is that it is neither wholly true nor wholly false. Yes, C.S. Lewis was born in Ireland. Yes, that is a country that has been exploited by England in the past. Yes, it’s even true Lewis remained proud of his Irishness despite living in England for most of his life. He even confessed that his first visit to England, as a young child sent to a boarding school, instilled a hatred of England that took many years to heal. But the phrasing of Jefferts Schori’s statement makes us imagine Lewis as a member of some oppressed minority driven by a strong sense of social justice, or whatever term they are using now. Lewis did have a young and natural dislike of England, but as far as I know, we have no support that it stemmed from any resentment against imperialism. Rather, his descriptions make it seem like the hatred of a young boy torn from his home and forced into a strange land and a concentration camp of a boarding school.
Second, it is also true that Lewis looked deep into his “community’s past.” But he was hardly a poor oppressed Irishman driven by a desire to transcend the ethic of Empire, whatever that means.  Jefferts Schori could at least have done Lewis the courtesy of reading his autobiography. Lewis delved into his past and explored the Celtic and Norse Myths, but he did so because he was seeking something. It’s all there in black and white. Lewis tells us he was looking for joy. “From these books again and again I received the stab of joy.”
It is a further misrepresentation to say Lewis explored his Christian roots because of his Irishness. In fact, it’s an outright lie. He openly rejected Christianity and said of his conversion that it was not he seeking God, but rather God seeking him. His spiritual senses were convicted accidentally through the influence of Tolkien, Chesterton, MacDonald, and Dante. He never studied Christianity because of poor old Ireland. I know it is difficult to imagine, but he studied Christianity because he became a Christian. The truth was inescapable. In his words, “I gave in, and admitted God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Lewis was a great Christian and a great man because he was an earnest seeker of the truth, and once he found the truth, he strove to teach and share it with others. Christianity for him was not a tool for his pet causes. It was the only means of salvation. It was the truth. It deserves to be praised, defended, and studied for its own sake. Of course, this type of fanaticism, once called Christianity, may be difficult for Ms. Jefferts Schori to understand.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Deadlift: 3 Reasons Why Just Picking Up Heavy Things Replaces Most of Your Gym

Posted By Mark Rippetoe On March 13, 2014 @ 10:00 am In Health and Fitness | 35 Comments

The deadlift may be the simplest and easiest exercise to learn in all of barbell training. You pick up a loaded barbell and set it back down, keeping the bar in contact with your legs the whole way. There are a few subtle complications — the bar should move up and down the legs in a vertical line over the middle of the foot, the bar should start from a position directly over the mid-foot, and you should keep your back flat when you pull. But that’s really about all there is to it. The deadlift is one of the basic movements of which strength training is composed.

Pulling things off the ground is a part of your human heritage, and bending down to pick them up is what your knees and hips are for. With the bar in your hands and your feet against the floor, your whole body is completely involved in the exercise, which means the deadlift makes the whole body strong. It would be very difficult to invent a more natural exercise for the body than picking up a progressively heavier barbell.

“Kinetic chain” is an exercise term that refers to the musculoskeletal components (the “links”) of an exercise between the load (the barbell) and the base of support (your feet against the floor). The kinetic chain in the deadlift is essentially the entire body, and everything between hands and floor is doing its anatomically-determined proportion of the work of moving the bar. This means that your legs, hips, back, lats, arms, and grip contribute the fraction of the lifting that their individual positions on the skeleton and their relationships to each other permit.

Here’s the best part about barbell training: if you use good technique, your anatomy sorts out each bodypart’s contribution so that you don’t have to.

These large exercises — essentially normal human movement patterns loaded with a barbell to make them progressively heavier — eliminate the need for dozens of smaller exercises, and the strength you obtain is directly applicable to your job of being an active human.
Deadlifts are important, and you should be doing them. Here’s 3 reasons why…

1. The deadlift is one of the contested events in the sport of powerlifting.

If you look it up on YouTube, you will see large hairy men yelling loudly as they pull enormous weights from the floor. The current record in the deadlift is in excess of 1,000 pounds, the women’s record is over 600, and both lifters walked safely and proudly away from the platform. So, calm yourself. Be not afraid. The same movement you see at the powerlifting contest can be safely used by anyone to develop a stronger back and legs. You just have to start with a lighter weight.

The barbell deadlift is safer than picking up a three-year-old kid, because the bar can be placed directly over the middle of the feet, the body’s center of balance. The ability to keep the barbell balanced directly over the mid-foot as you pull it from the floor up to the lockout position enables very heavy weights to be safely handled. And heavy weight is what makes people strong.

A barbell is 1.25 inches in diameter, is engraved with a knurled pattern, and the weight plates slide onto sleeves on the ends of its seven-foot length. It therefore fits nicely in the grip, and can be centered directly above the middle of your foot, the natural balance point against the floor. Kept in this position during the movement, the load exerts no net leverage on your balance while the bar travels up and down. The deadlift is therefore a mechanically efficient, safe way to lift a weight.

A correct deadlift is performed with the back in “extension” — the normal anatomical position of the spine, which looks “flat” from the side during a deadlift. It is held rigid in extension by the back muscles, the abdominals, and all the smaller muscles that lay between the ribcage and the pelvis that form what is essentially a cylinder of muscular support around the spine. These muscles get so much work during the deadlift that most people have no real reason to do situps or any other back exercises.

2. The muscles that extend your knees and hips operate the knee and hip joints, which in turn apply the force to the bones of your legs that overcomes the load on the bar and moves it up.

Your back, held rigid and tight by your back muscles and abs, transmits that force up to the arms, then down to the hands and the bar. The leg segments and the back segment are the levers that move the load, the muscles are the motors that move the levers, and the arms are the chains hooked to the bar.

The fact that the bar leaves the ground means that the muscles have generated more force than the gravity holding the bar down. The vertebral segments of the spine can wiggle, while the thigh and shin bones are rigid, so when you pull a heavy weight while keeping your back solid, rigid, and flat throughout the pull, your back muscles have done the job of making your wiggly spine a solid lever. This makes the deadlift the best exercise for the back muscles in existence.

Think with me here: Exercise strengthens muscles. If an exercise requires that you use certain muscles to perform the movement, and the movement is performed correctly, then the exercise strengthens all the muscles used in the movement as you lift progressively heavier weights. Doing it wrong doesn’t count, because poor technique means some part of the kinetic chain didn’t do its job — it failed to do the work, and therefore didn’t get strong. The use of less-than-perfect technique allows some of the muscles to weasel out of doing their job, then they fail to get strong, and then they cannot do their job.

This is an extremely important point, because the fashion now is the use of lots of different exercises for each of the little pieces of the kinetic chain of the movement. For example, you don’t stop deadlifting and start doing isolation lower-back work to fix the back muscles if they cannot hold the spine flat — you stop deadlifting incorrectly by taking off enough weight to permit the back muscles to do their job correctly, and then slowly get heavier.

Done with perfect technique, the deadlift is a perfect example of why the use of major multi-joint exercises is superior to a collection of smaller exercises.

3. An exercise that uses all the major levers in the body works the majority of the muscles at the same time.

In addition to allowing the use of heavy weights, this spreads the work over the whole system, thus keeping the majority of the stress off of any one single joint or muscle. As a multi-joint barbell exercise, the deadlift can gradually increase in weight over a very long period of time. Starting with a light weight you can do perfectly and going up slowly from there, it is possible to improve your deadlift strength for years. This is not possible with smaller muscle group exercises, which tend to stall in progress rather quickly and which therefore lack the deadlift’s potential to make you stronger.

It took quite a while for the 1000-pound guy to get that strong, but his process is the same as yours — a few pounds at a time. You may have no interest in pulling 1000 pounds, but a stronger deadlift makes for a stronger you.

Article printed from PJ Lifestyle:

How to stop — or slow — Putin

The president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council challenges critics of President Obama’s Ukraine policy by saying, “What are you going to do, send the 101st Airborne into Crimea?” Not exactly subtle. And rather silly, considering that no one has proposed such a thing.
The alternative to passivity is not war but a serious foreign policy. For the past five years, Obama’s fruitless accommodationism has invited the kind of aggressiveness demonstrated by Iran in Syria, China in the East China Sea and Russia in Ukraine. But what’s done is done. Put that aside. What is to be done now?
We have three objectives. In ascending order of difficulty: Reassure NATO. Deter further Russian incursion into Ukraine. Reverse the annexation of Crimea.
Reassure NATO:
●Send the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the Baltics to arrange joint maneuvers.
●Same for the four NATO countries bordering Ukraine — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
●Urgently revive the original missile-defense agreements concluded with Poland and the Czech Republic before Obama canceled them unilaterally to appease Russia. (But first make sure that the respective governments are willing to sign on again after Obama left them hanging five years ago.)
Deter Russia in Ukraine:
● Extend the Black Sea maneuvers in which the USS Truxtun is currently engaged with Romania and Bulgaria. These were previously scheduled. Order immediate — and continual — follow-ons.
● Declare that any further Russian military incursion beyond Crimea will lead to a rapid and favorable response from NATO to any request from Kiev for weapons. These would be accompanied by significant numbers of NATO trainers and advisers.
This is no land-war strategy. This is the “tripwire” strategy successful for half a century in Germany and Korea. Any Russian push into western Ukraine would then engage a thin tripwire of NATO trainer/advisers. That is something the most rabid Soviet expansionist never risked. Nor would Putin. It would, therefore, establish a ring of protection at least around the core of western Ukraine.
Reverse the annexation of Crimea:
Clearly the most difficult. In the short run, likely impossible. There are no military cards to play, Russia holding all of them.Ukraine’s forces are very weak. The steps must be diplomatic and economic.
First, Crimean secession under Russian occupation must lead to Russia’s immediate expulsion from the G-8. To assuage thetremulous Angela Merkel, we could do it by subtraction: All seven democracies withdraw from the G-8, then instantly reconstitute as the original G-7.
As for economic sanctions, they are currently puny. We haven’t done a thing. We haven’t even named names. We’ve just authorized the penalizing of individuals.
Name the names, freeze their accounts. But any real effect will require broader sanctions and for that we need European cooperation. The ultimate sanction is to cut off Russian oligarchs, companies and banks from the Western financial system. That’s the economic “nuclear option” that brought Iran to its knees and to the negotiating table. It would have a devastating effect on Putin’s economy.
As of now, the Germans, French and British have balked. They have too much economic interest in the Moscow connection.
Which means we can do nothing decisive in the short or even medium term. But we can severely squeeze Russia in the long term.
How? For serious sanctions to become possible, Europe must first be weaned off Russian gas. Obama should order the Energy Department to expedite authorization for roughly 25 liquified natural gas export facilities. Demand all decisions within six weeks. And express major U.S. support for a southern-route pipeline to export Caspian Sea gas to Europe without traversing Russia or Ukraine.
Second, call for urgent bipartisan consultation with congressional leaders for an emergency increase in defense spending, restoring at least $100 billion annually to the defense budget to keep U.S. armed forces at current strength or greater. Obama won’t do it, but he should. Nothing demonstrates American global retreat more than a budget that reduces the U.S. Army to 1940 levels.
Obama is not the first president to conduct a weak foreign policy. Jimmy Carter was similarly inclined — until Russia invaded Afghanistan, at which point the scales fell from Carter’s eyes. He responded boldly: imposing the grain embargo on the Soviets, boycotting the Moscow Olympics, increasing defense spending and ostentatiously sending a machine-gun-toting Zbigniew Brzezinski to the Khyber Pass, symbolizing the massive military aid we began sending the mujahideen, whose insurgency so bled the Russians over the next decade that they not only lost Afghanistan but were fatally weakened as a global imperial power.
Invasion woke Carter from his illusions. Will it wake Obama?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Today's Tune: Joe Ely - Highways and Heartaches

With Jeter calling it quits, no end in sight to Rose's reign as Hit King

By Kostya Kennedy
March 6, 2014

We are now about a month into the first, Floridian leg of Derek Jeter's retirement tour. The announcement created plenty of buzz: a little burst of paeans in words and images, a press conference, fans standing to applaud his first spring training at bat. But Jeter's decision was no surprise. After all, he is coming off a season of appearing in only 17 games because of ankle injuries. He will turn 40 in June, he is on a one-year contract, and here is a chance for one of the truly great Yankees to go out on his own terms. Yes, it's time.

That impeccable logic makes it easy to forget that just 16 months before Jeter's retirement announcement -- as he was wrapping up a 2012 season in which he batted .316 and led the major leagues with 216 hits -- there was all kinds of talk and rumination about just how robust he was at 38 and how, wait for it, Jeter had a real shot at breaking Pete Rose's record of 4,256 hits. Analysts broke it down: With his 3,304 career hits at the end of the 2012 season Jeter could get there by averaging 191 hits over five seasons, or maybe 159 over six. However you looked at it, the Captain had a chance!

It was Jeter himself -- knowing his body, knowing the task—who provided the best measure of reality: "I don't think about that, really," he said in 2012. "Why would you think about something that is 1,000 hits away?"

Or as Rose once said to me: "The last 1,000 are the hardest."

Anyway, Jeter's total of 12 hits in 2013 really put a crimp in the number-runners' plans. He's now set to enter the 2014 season 940 hits from tying Rose. And if Derek Jeter, who has played 19 seasons, essentially injury free until last year; and who has averaged close to 700 plate appearances per full season (leading the league five times); and who has batted a superb .312 (among active players with more than 13 years of service only Todd Helton's .316 is higher); if Derek Jeter is still that far away from the hits record, then who on God's green diamonds is going to come close?

You know who's second among active players in career hits? Alex Rodriguez at 2,939 -- a figure that, it is safe to say he will not be adding to anytime soon. There are just nine active players, including A-Rod, who are even halfway to Rose's mark, and 33-year-old Albert Pujols is the only member of that group who is younger than 34.

Pete Rose
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

To get to 4,256 hits a player could average 200 hits a season for 21 years and he'd still fall short. Rose is 72 years old and no one is going to come close to breaking that hits record in his lifetime. Period.

Along with Jeter and A-Rod, there's another prolific hit-maker on the Yankees -- Ichiro Suzuki, who at age 39 has rapped out 2,742 major league hits, putting him third on the active list. Ichiro also got 1,278 hits for the Orix Blue Wave in Japan Pacific League for a total of 4,020 hits in pro ball. (Rose's pro ball total, bringing in his minor league work, is 4,683.)

That had some folks talking about Ichiro as a 4,000-hit guy even though there is nobody in baseball who seriously thinks that getting hits in Japan is comparable to getting hits in the Show. One way to clarify this is to observe the list of Japanese Pacific League MVPs includes former major leaguers such as Tuffy Rhodes (a .224 batting average in parts of six big league seasons) and Alex Cabrera (.263 in his 80 big-league at bats).

So neither Jeter nor anyone else will catch Rose, but the Yankees' marvelous shortstop could indeed make some hay on the hits chart during this swan song of a season. He's already 10th alltime. Tenth! Four more hits and Jeter moves into ninth place. Get 105 knocks this season and he passes Honus Wagner to go into sixth all-time. And if Jeter can just produce 120 hits this season -- ankle stable and creek don't rise he's got a good shot; he averaged 190 hits in his five seasons before 2013 -- he will wind up with more hits than any right handed hitter in baseball history save Hank Aaron.

Now that is something worth talking about on a retirement tour.

Kostya Kennedy's new book, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, is out on March 11 and available here.


Read More:

Eminent Disaster

March 13, 2014
The small house that was once at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on government seizure of private property has found a safe haven.
Suzette Kelo's home in New London, Connecticut (AP)

NEARLY NINE years have elapsed since the US Supreme Court, in one of its most notorious rulings, decided that seven homeowners in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., had no property rights which City Hall was bound to respect. Today Fort Trumbull is a wasteland, as a detailed new report confirms.
The court's 2005 holding in Kelo v. City of New London gave local officials a green light to seize and demolish private homes through eminent domain, then turn the land over to developers itching to build something more lucrative. In Fort Trumbull, those private homeowners included people such as Susette Kelo, a local nurse who bought her little Victorian cottage on the Thames River because she loved its waterfront view; Wilhelmina Dery, who was born in her house on Walbach Street in 1918 and had been living there all her life; and Pasquale and Margherita Cristofaro, whose home on Goshen Street was the second New London property they lost to eminent domain, the first having been taken 30 years earlier because the city intended to construct a seawall. (The seawall was never built.)
Their homes, like those of their neighbors, were targeted at the urging of Pfizer, Inc. The pharmaceutical giant was building a major research facility nearby and wanted city officials to pave the way for a "world-class redevelopment" that would appeal to the business leaders, scientists, and other professionals the new headquarters was expected to attract. "Pfizer wants a nice place to operate," a supercilious executive said in 2001. "We don't want to be surrounded by tenements."
The Fifth Amendment's "Takings Clause" authorizes eminent-domain takings, but only when property is needed "for public use" — for example, to build a post office, widen a road, or create a reservoir. Fort Trumbull's homeowners argued all the way up to the Supreme Court that their homes weren't being seized for "public use" but for private use. Under the Constitution, they insisted, the city had no right to forcibly transfer their property to a private developer in the hope that new development would yield higher tax revenues or new jobs.
But five justices — John Paul Stevens, Steven Breyer, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Anthony Kennedy — decided otherwise. With their imprimatur, New London confiscated the modest but well-cared-for homes of Fort Trumbull. The last remaining owners were forced out. The bulldozers moved in. The land was cleared for the kind of upscale redevelopment that Pfizer and its political allies in New London craved: a posh hotel, a conference center, a condominium complex, a health club, and high-end shops.
And how did it all end up?
When journalist Charlotte Allen went recently to New London to find out, what she found, as she reported in the Weekly Standard, was "a vast, empty field ?— ?90 acres ?— ?that was entirely uninhabited and looked as though it had always been that way." There is no hotel, no health club, no condos. The neighborhood that for generations had been home to working-class families like the Derys and Cristofaros is now a "deserted incline," where the only signs of life are "waist-high dead weeds."
The homeowners were dispossessed for nothing. Fort Trumbull was never redeveloped. Pfizer itself bailed out of New London in 2009. Kelo was a disaster, as even the city's present political leaders acknowledge. Allen writes that the current mayor, who was elected in 2011, has formally apologized to the Kelo plaintiffs, calling the decision a "black stain" on New London's reputation. City officials agreed to install a plaque on the heights above the Thames in memory of Margherita Cristofaro, who died during the long legal battle. It notes that she and her family "made significant contributions to the Italian-American community, sacrificing two family homes to the eminent domain process."
If anything good came of Kelo, it was the furious nationwide backlash, which led a number of states — Massachusetts, unfortunately not among them — to pass new laws protecting property owners from abusive eminent-domain takings. But such still happens, and will go on happening until Kelo is overruled.
The founders put the Takings Clause in the Bill of Rights for a reason. The desolation that is Fort Trumbull is a grim reminder that where property rights aren't secure, neither is freedom — and without freedom, there is nothing the government can't destroy.

Lois Lerner’s Lies and Cover-Up Revealed

Posted By Matthew Vadum On March 12, 2014 @ 12:58 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 57 Comments

Former IRS mandarin Lois Lerner orchestrated an unprecedented crackdown on Tea Party and conservative groups and then attempted to scapegoat those nonprofits, blaming them for the harsh treatment they received at her instigation, according to a damning report released yesterday by congressional investigators.

The report came out six days after Lerner appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee under subpoena and for a second time refused to testify about IRS targeting of right-of-center 501c4 nonprofit advocacy groups during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. (The full report is available in PDF form at the committee’s website.) At the March 5 hearing, which was a continuation of a hearing started last year, Lerner again opted to invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

President Obama has claimed that there was not even “a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS affair but anyone with eyes knows the Obama administration has been stonewalling and intimidating witnesses who know the ugly truth about these Third World banana republic-style tax abuses.

Democrats correctly view Tea Party groups, that is, right-wing populist groups, as an existential threat to the Left. These nonprofits tend to be Republican-leaning organizations and they have been successful so far in derailing, or at least slowing, parts of President Obama’s ongoing transformation of America. Many left-wingers don’t believe such groups are legitimate and don’t want them granted official recognition and tax-exempt status by the IRS.

The report also comes as lawmakers consider whether to cite Lerner for contempt of Congress.
“Many questions remain, including the identities of others at the IRS and elsewhere who may have known about key events and decisions she undertook. Americans, and particularly those Americans who faced mistreatment at the hands of the IRS, deserve the full documented truth that both Lois Lerner and the IRS have withheld from them,” the new report states. 

But “[e]ven without her full testimony, and despite the fact that the IRS has still not turned over many of her e-mails, a political agenda to crack down on tax-exempt organizations comes into focus,” the report continues. ”Lerner believed the political participation of tax-exempt organizations harmed Democratic candidates, she believed something needed to be done, and she directed action from her unit at the IRS.”

“Compounding the egregiousness of the inappropriate actions, Lerner’s own e-mails showed recognition that she would need to be ‘cautious’ so it would not be a ‘per se political project,’” the report states. It continues:
She was involved in an “off-plan” effort to write new regulations in a manner that intentionally sought to undermine an existing framework for transparency. Most damning of all, even when she found that the actions of subordinates had not adhered to a standard that could be defended as not “per se political,” instead of immediately reporting this conduct to victims and appropriate authorities, Lerner engaged in efforts to cover it up. She falsely denied to Congress that criteria for scrutiny had changed and that disparate treatment had occurred.
Professor Paul L. Caron of Pepperdine University School of Law prepared a summary of the new 141-page report that contradicts Democrats in the House who have argued that Lerner was driven out of the tax collection agency by a May 2013 report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). The TIGTA report held that the Exempt Organizations division of the IRS that she headed “inappropriately targeted ‘Tea Party’ and other conservative applicants for tax-exempt status and subjected them to heightened scrutiny.”

Citing the congressional report, Caron notes that this extra scrutiny resulted “in extended delays that, in most cases, sidelined applicants during the 2012 election cycle, in spite of their Constitutional right to participate,” the new report states. At the same time, “the majority of liberal and left-leaning 501(c)(4) applicants won approval.”

New emails referenced in the report showed that, contrary to Democrats’ claims, Lerner had planned to retire from the IRS long before the TIGTA report was made public. Lerner’s paid leave was, in effect, a paid vacation before her retirement. Apparently the IRS did not penalize her for her misbehavior.

The report discusses a March 2012 document that Lerner approved while at the IRS. It authorized an IRS response to Congress that blackened the names of the affected advocacy groups, blaming them for the heightened level of scrutiny to which their tax-exempt applications were subjected. Committee investigators believe that Lerner knew what she was doing was wrong.

Lerner ran afoul of IRS rules by mishandling taxpayer information. Although she told a congressional committee last year under oath that she had “not violated any IRS rules or regulations,” emails demonstrate that she did. The report states that Lerner handled protected taxpayer information in her nonofficial email account.

In correspondence dated November 2013, then-IRS chief Daniel Werfel wrote, “We do not permit IRS officials to send taxpayer information to their personal email addresses. An IRS employee should not send taxpayer information to his or her personal email address in any form, including redacted.”

Lerner apparently believed the Obama administration needed to do something to undermine the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, that wonderful pro-First Amendment ruling that drives left-wingers into fits of apoplexy by opening the door to corporate campaign contributions. After one of her advisors sent her an article about how conservative donors’ contributions were impacting U.S. Senate races and how outside money was making it hard for Democrats to retain their majority in that chamber, Lerner emailed back, “Perhaps the FEC will save the day.”

Last week’s sitting of the panel ended in chaos when President Obama’s lead obfuscating lapdog on the committee, ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), pulled a well-publicized stunt calculated to make committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) look mean-spirited. After Lerner took the Fifth in response to a series of questions Issa put to her, Issa gaveled the proceedings to a close, saying it was obvious that Lerner would not testify at the hearing that was convoked specifically for her testimony.

To direct public attention away from the IRS scandal and tamp down growing calls for the president’s impeachment, Cummings then exploded at Issa, demanding to speak and ranting about the supposed unfairness of it all in front of the television news cameras.

Predictably, media figures such as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer hammered Issa, accusing him of being rude to Cummings, a left-wing sacred cow because he is considered to have been a civil rights leader in the Sixties. House Democrats savaged Issa and even moved a resolution that condemned him, but the resolution was easily voted down. Issa soon caved to media-manufactured pressure and apologized to Cummings, thereby vindicating the Democrat’s gimmicky bit of political theater.

There is little doubt that Obama defenders will dream up still more distractions to keep the public’s eye off the IRS scandal in the lead-up to the November congressional elections. 

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

Make sure to Subscribe to Frontpage’s TV show, The Glazov Gang, and LIKE it on Facebook.

Article printed from FrontPage Magazine:

URL to article:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Guillotine, Gulag and Gas Chamber: The Glorious Gifts of Atheism to Humanity

March 2014
Flowers adorning John Lennon memorial, Strawberry Fields, Central Park

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
 - John Lennon (Imagine)
There are lies, damned lies, and neo-atheist polemics. One of the most egregious examples of such godless mendacity is the claim that religion has been the cause of most of the wars that have blighted humanity throughout its blood-stained history. In a world with “no religion”, so the argument runs, there would be “nothing to kill or die for”. Such nonsense is only believable if we remain willfully ignorant of the lessons of history.
Almost all wars have been the consequence of human selfishness (a synonym for godlessness) and have been carried out according to the principles of that proto-secularist and incorrigible atheist, Nicolo Machiavelli. Although secular rulers have sometimes used religion as an ethical and ultimately ethereal veneer to justify their actions, war has almost always been the consequence of Machiavellian realpolitik. This includes the so-called wars of religion, most of which were fought by power-hungry princes eager to impose their egocentric wills on their neighbours.
Yet even were one to accept an element of religious culpability in the wars that ravaged Christendom, such culpability pales into relative insignificance when compared to the terror carried out in the name of atheism.
Let’s take a look at atheism’s track record.
The first great atheist uprising was the French Revolution, which sought to dethrone God with godless “Reason” and sought to replace the Holy Trinity with the atheist trinity of liberté, egalité et fraternité. The man who is traditionally attributed with coining this triune revolutionary war-cry, which would later be officially adopted as the motto of the French Republic, was Antoine-Francois Momoro, a rabidly anti-Christian radical who advocated the eradication of religion. He played an active and bloodthirsty role in the crushing of the Catholic peasants of the Vendée and was a key figure in the notorious Cult of Reason, an anthropocentric alternative to religion, which effectively enthroned self-worshipping Man as the Lord of the “enlightened” cosmos. In 1793, Momoro supervised the nationally celebrated Fête de la Raison (Festival of Reason) in which his own wife was dressed and paraded as the Goddess of Reason, surrounded by cavorting and costumed women. In a wild and licentious liturgical dance, the Goddess of Reason processed down the aisle of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, surrounded by her female entourage, to a newly-installed altar to Liberty, the Christian altar having been desecrated and removed. All across France, Christian churches were desecrated and re-established as Temples of Reason.
The Cult of Reason metamorphosed into the Reign of Terror in which the streets of Paris literally ran red with the blood of its victims. The Goddess of Reason made way for Madame Guillotine who was omnivorous in her bloodlustful appetite, devouring Christians and atheists alike.
A little over four months after Momoro’s triumphalist Fête de la Raison, Momoro was himself a victim of the Reign of Terror that he had helped to create. Accused by his erstwhile comrades of being an enemy of the revolution, he was guillotined on March 24, 1794, a timely reminder of the words of the French political journalist, Jacques Mallet du Pan, that “the Revolution devours its own children”.
Having experienced this incestuously cannibalistic debauch, any genuine age of reason would have rejected atheism’s Cult of Reason and sought more humane ways of solving the problems of modernity. Not so. The nineteenth century saw a plethora or revolutions, inspired by atheism and anti-clericalism, which paved the way for the Russian Revolution of 1917, a godless monstrosity that would dwarf even the Reign of Terror in the sheer scale of the secular fundamentalist horror that it unleashed. Throughout the Soviet Union, thousands of labour camps were established in which political dissidents, enemies of the State, were literally worked to death. This system of camps, dubbed by Solzhenitsyn the Gulag Archipelago, would claim tens of millions of lives before the communist tyranny finally crumbled under the dead weight of its own corruption.
Meanwhile, in Germany, another form of Socialism, both anti-Christian and anti-Semitic in inspiration, ushered in a period of genocide, adding the ghastliness of the Gas Chamber to atheism’s legacy of mass destruction.
Guillotine, Gulag, and Gas Chamber. These are the glorious gifts that atheism has bestowed on a world grown tired of God. Such gruesome realities should come to mind whenever we hear the new generation of atheists asking us to imagine that “there’s no heaven; no hell below us; above us only sky”. Where there’s no heaven, there is only hell. And if we won’t have hell below us, we must have it with us and within us, and also above us, in the form of the hell of political atheism that crushes us underfoot in the name of “reason”.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Book Reviews: 'Stone Cold' by C.J. Box

Review: Joe Pickett battles the elements and criminals in C.J. Box thriller set in Wyoming

"Stone Cold" (G.P. Putnam's Sons), by C.J. Box
Many Americans aren't that familiar with Wyoming, except perhaps for Yellowstone National Park. In C.J. Box's thrillers, the Cowboy State is a featured character and you get to know its thickly forested mountains, its windy plains and its frontierlike towns.
In "Stone Cold," the latest installment in the Joe Pickett series (Joe being a game warden who finds trouble as easily as a grizzly finds grubs), Box takes readers to one of the most remote places of his beloved home state: the northeast corner that has been bypassed by the economy as well as many travelers.
Pickett is sent by the governor on an undercover mission to fictional Medicine Wheel County (maybe the author decided not to use the real name of Crook County because almost everyone in the novel there is, well, a crook). Making a repeat appearance in the opening scenes is Pickett's buddy, former special forces operative Nate Romanowski, who is on a mission to kill a bad guy — targeting not a jihadist but a shady American millionaire. Nate seems to have crossed a line, but can he get back onto the right side?
The author paints vivid pictures of the Black Hills, which unknown to a lot of people exist in Wyoming as well as in South Dakota, and you can feel the elements — a snowstorm descending on the mountains, the bitter cold. Landscape and weather are important features of Wyoming (get stuck for hours in a ground blizzard on I-80 and watch an antelope fall dead at your feet from hunger and exhaustion and you'll know what I mean), and Box depicts these well. He's also got a B plot rolling when Pickett's daughter, a student at the University of Wyoming, has to deal with a creepy potential school-shooter in her dorm.
Box weaves some history into this novel, the 14th in the Pickett franchise. We learn that the Sundance Kid got his name from the town of the same name in northeast Wyoming. Before he hooked up with Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, he was arrested in Sundance for stealing a horse, a saddle and a gun.
The area, at least in the novel, is on the skids, mining and logging having played out. So the residents are subsisting mostly on government benefits and are more susceptible to collaborating with a rich guy who shows up buying property and influence, and who might be organizing assassinations of wealthy but dubious characters for big payoffs.
It's an accessible, quick and fun read, though the characters can get long-winded at times with a lot of background information jammed into dialogue. There are precious bits scattered in the story like so many nuggets of Black Hills gold: Nate not wanting to be involved with a woman who is coming on to him, but also not being able to resist her laugh, her smile and her "beguilingly musical" voice. Sounds like a person falling in love, which is hard to capture in any genre.

Review: C.J. Box's latest is short on energy

To mark the release of his newest book, "Stone Cold," Cheyenne author C.J. Box will hold two book-signings on Tuesday.

The first will be at 1 p.m. at the American Heritage Center in Laramie. The center is located on the University of Wyoming campus at 2111 Willett Drive.

Box then will be in Cheyenne at 7 p.m. at the Laramie County Library. The address is 2200 Pioneer Ave.

By D. Reed Eckhardt

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about C.J. Box's latest Joe Pickett book, "Stone Cold," is that he has abandoned his turn to the absurd that has spoiled his last couple of works.

No drones guided by rogue federal officials, firing off explosives in the midst of Wyoming's forests here. No hand-held missiles nearly taking out Pickett's good friend, Nate Romanowski, in a cave.

No, in "Stone Cold" (370 pages, $26, Penguin Group), Box has returned to his roots, building a story around Pickett and his family.

Problem is, "Stone Cold" lacks the energy of the author's best books. It just kind of chugs along -- particularly in its first two-thirds -- before picking up steam on the way to its conclusion. It feels as if the author lost interest in this story before he even started writing it.

And Box also has discarded what has become one of his best calling cards: a hot topic in the news around which to wrap his tale. In the past, such topics have included, among other things, endangered species, wind energy, survivalists, and, yes, out-of-control government officials.

Without that, "Stone Cold" comes off as a common mystery as Pickett is sent on a mission by the governor.

The goal: to find out just what the heck is going on at a massive and very private ranch in the Black Hills in northeastern Wyoming. Rumors swirl about the place, its wealthy owner -- who is alleged to be involved in serious crimes -- its airstrip and its strangers moving in and out.

Along the way, the reader bumps into Romanowski, who is surprisingly wrapped up in a scheme that includes a grisly way of disposing of the bodies. And there is the surprise reappearance of a character -- a Pickett nemesis -- who readers thought had left the series several books ago.

That is what will help to get fans of the Pickett series through "Stone Cold." There is that sense of the familiar as the reader is reintroduced to the Pickett daughters, who have matured over the series' 14 books, as well as Pickett's wife, Marybeth. It is enjoyable to watch the family interact -- sometimes with fireworks -- and see how they work out their lives.

There also is a side story involving Pickett's oldest daughter, Sheridan, now a resident assistant in a dorm at the University of Wyoming. Is a strange young man someone to be worried about, especially when some guns go missing?

This is where Box supplies his surprise -- another hallmark of the Pickett book formula. But this side story seems like it was attached as an afterthought rather than serving as an integral part of the tale. That makes it less engaging when it arises.

"Stone Cold" is not one of Box's best works, but it does serve as a means to keep the Pickett family story moving along.

The author has proven that he can write good -- no, great -- books. Witness his latest standalone, "The Highway." I just wish he had applied similar levels of energy and enthusiasm to this one.