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Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Thomas à Becket, Jim Comey, Vladimir Putin, Stormy Daniels ]
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Okay, let’s start with the movie version of “Who will rid me..?” Here’s the set up, the breaking of the long and deep friendship between King Henry II, his will driven by the power of the State, and his Archbishop, Thomas à Becket, driven to opposition by the honor of Mother Church

When the King determines at last to have his Archbishop removed, he utters those words which ring down the centuries — “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” — shown here in Anouilh‘s version of Becket at 3.32 in this clip or thereabouts:

Sigh.

Becket meanwhile offers his resignation unto death in surrender to the will of his God:

In Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral, a passage with which one must wrestle lays out the conflict and its resolution:

They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.
They know and do not know, that acting is suffering
And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it may be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it,
That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action
And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.

Becket was killed in his cathedral on 29 December 1170, by four knights acting on the spur of the moment utterance of their king, and their own certainty as to the wish their king intended to express.

Becket was canonized — named a saint and martyr — in 1173. And the King? Wiki summarizes:

The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.

**

So much for Becket.

President Trump, who had somewhat reluctantly fired Flynn, suggests to Jim Comey, head of the FBI, that he might want to close down the further investigation of the Russia business:

I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.

Comey was later questioned by Sen. Angus King in an intelligence committee hearing:

KING: In terms of his comments to you — I think in response to Mr. Risch — to Senator Risch, you said he said, “I hope you will hold back on that.” But when you get a — when a president of the United States in the Oval Office says something like “I hope” or “I suggest” or — or “would you,” do you take that as a — as a — as a directive?

COMEY: Yes. Yes, it rings in my ear as kind of, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.
.

**

That’s the direct use of the Becket theme turned to a contemporary purpose. But there’s more..

Julia Ioffe on All In with Chris Hayes, speaking of Putin‘s plausible deniability using the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin as a cut-out:

IOFFE:It`s a very, very close relationship. In Russia, he`s known as Putin`s chef. And this is very much in keeping with how the Russians do things, right? There`s never going to be or probably not going to be any finger – any of Putin`s fingerprints on this, right? Probably what it looked like was Putin essentially saying, you know, who will rid me of this you know troublesome Hillary and everybody else kind of gets what that means and swings into action.

**

You might think the Becket story was enough. You might take delight in its contemporary echo by Comey and King. Julia Ioffe using the same example of Vladimir Putin was an unexpected bonus — but there’s (sadly) more..

Consider this:

Who Will Rid Me of This Meddlesome Stormy? The Michael Cohen Story:

Doing conspicuous favors and fixing things is in the nature of this bizarrely public toady-chieftain relationship. Read through Cohen’s interviews. You’ll find it’s replete with mixes of mafia tough guy talk and zany levels of conspicuous self-abnegation. It’s all theater at some level. But I think to a great degree it’s genuine. It’s the guy’s identity, like the way a top captain thinks about the mob boss he serves. Who will rid me of this meddlesome Stormy? Did I mention that Cohen and Trump’s mafia business partner Felix Sater were childhood friends long before they both ended up as top Trump business partners right around the same time? Well, that’s true too. In the scale of money both Trump and Cohen operate at, covering the $130,000 payment himself seems entirely plausible as something Cohen would do as part of the larger relationship. He probably did get paid back some way or another. But I think it’s totally plausible he didn’t. He’d love to be that guy who made the problem go away. Doing Trump a solid like that would be something he’d happily do. It’s the basis of their relationship. He’d get paid back in other ways.”

When Donald Trump, in one of his furies, makes an offhand comment about Mueller, does that then become an order in the ears of one of his loyal subordinates?

The Becket story has much to teach us.

Through a glass, darkly

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

[ by Emlyn Cameron — On North Korea: a retrospective as preemptive strike ]
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Charles Cameron’s introduction: Regular readers may know my son Emlyn from previous contributions on Zenpundit [1, 2]. Here he wages a war of miniturization on the Korean fiefdom of Kim Jong-Un.

***


Snow falls on Kim Jong-Il‘s funeral cortege

Reflecting on the Nuclear staring contest now ongoing between the United States and North Korea, I confront mixed feelings: Obviously one must consider different strategies and engage in a pragmatic calculus; One must consider the pros and cons, the risks and rewards, and the numerous lives which might be ended or fail ever to be lived as a consequence of any policy. It is, I need not say, a very complex issue. Worse still, it is an issue of severe import to many whose lives hang in the balance.

But I find myself grappling with a less practical question and coming away irresolute: If North Korea’s brand of surreal statism could be overthrown without bloodshed or tragedy, how would I feel? Would I be proud? Pleased? Grateful? Somehow, I can’t convince myself that I would be entirely satisfied. I feel certain that any pride, pleasure, or gratitude would be alloyed with something else. And this in spite of my knowledge that such a coup would be, well, a coup, and of the welcome it would justifiably receive.

“The bloodless anticlimax to an Orwellian police state?” I hear the likely refrain, “Terrific!”

“A peaceful end to a regime which embraced not only Stalinist propagandism, but De Facto Monarchy? Still better!” The voices continue.

“And a conclusion to tantrums and ICBM rattle throwing? Who could hope for more?” Comes the triumphal call.

And yet, I am unconvinced in the recesses of my heart. That might be strange to many people, even a tad immoral, but it’s how things stand.

In order that such a stance might make more sense, I’ll admit that I have a strange affection for the turbulent little state and its Emperor’s New Jumpsuits. This probably extends from more general conflicted feelings about overt dictatorships: I am someone who deeply loves enlightenment philosophy, and cherishes my personal freedoms. I am, all the same, a morbid person, prone to fatalism, and I harbor dark anticipations about the future of humanity. Somewhere in the middle I developed a great relish for bleak wit. For these reasons, it should come as no shock that I am a great admirer of George Orwell and a fan of his writings. Perhaps like others who count themselves among his readers, I find myself emotionally torn while reading Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm; The dystopias he presents disturb me, and yet, (in spite of my philosophical leanings) a small part of me is always tugged at by a desire to relinquish the struggle of self determination, and to escape the paradox of choice by giving in to such an oppression. The terrible certainties, even of state assigned conclusions and death, speak to some tired part in me, which recognizes strain from the ongoing alertness required of anyone who wants to be the arbiter of their own affairs.

North Korea, likewise, is a natural antagonist to the individualism I hold dear, but, perhaps because of its total conviction and flagrance in opposing my worldview, I am captivated by its iconography and insular existence. I have always been fascinated by the ludicrous spectacle, the stark imagery, and the total devotion of totalitarian nations, though I revile their premises. Having one around, therefore, leaves me in rather a strange position: I desire the grip of the North Korean state on its people broken as a matter of principle, while simultaneously fearing the death of a kind of dangerous endangered species; I am struck by the feeling that the end of the North Korean state would be a victory for my values, and the loss of one of the world’s great curiosities.

A friend recently called North Korea “an Eighth Wonder of the World”, and I agree. It is a tragic wonder, dangerous rather than glorious, but a wonder none the less.

My grandfather, a conservative philosopher, referred to himself as a “sentimental monarchist”. If a peaceful end came to the militaristic regime in North Korea, my relief would be tinged with a similar kind of sentimental loss; Something interesting would be gone, and I would feel a nostalgic pang for the missing strangeness. I fancy that I would rather keep the aggressive little power, not on a map, but on a shelf. I should like to keep it in a snow globe, I think (the state already more or less frozen as it is).

I’d like a little magnified globe, not unlike the coral paperweight in Orwell’s book, in which would be held the repressive slice of 1950’s authoritarianism: Marches and missiles behind safety glass. Occasionally, on a quiet night, I might chance to hear a soft, televised threat to my safety, or a report on bountiful rations; If I felt a stab of longing for the atmosphere of suspended aggression from my parents and grand parents age, I could go to the mantle and wind the little state up by hand (rather than by tweet) and hear a tinkling anthem that takes me back; I’d like to visit the trinket now and again and watch snow fallout from a nuclear winter after I shake it, or watch tiny jackboots and smiling, slightly condescending diplomats go about their days work. Maybe the mandatorily grateful workers would even build a cardboard city for my benefit, to give an impression of plenty. And once I had seen the last settling flakes fall, I would place it back above the fire place with a feeling of having harmlessly revisited my childhood, glad of a souvenir to solidify the bittersweet memory. After all, a snow globe can cast nothing else from the mantle to the floor, nor launch beyond its translucent border.

Then again, just because I’d have the terror held safely under glass, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue in earnest within.

King Cnut rebukes N Carolina legislators, & Trump by extension

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a meditation on sea-level rise ]
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A thousand years later, the lesson King Cnut sought to teach his nobles still hasn’t altogether sunk in.

The North Carolina story is from 2012, and I haven’t been tracking to see if there have been any changes since then — but the attitude behind the gutting of the EPA under President Trump is simply “more of the same”..

Humility is the key word in the article on King Cnut.

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Sources:

  • ABC News, New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise
  • Wikipedia, King Canute and the waves
  • NSFW RIP — obituary for a friend, Heathcote Williams

    Monday, July 3rd, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — Sunday sadness — for Julian West and Gabi Nasemann, each of whom loved Heathcote no doubt better than I ]
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    NSFW might well have been John Henley Heathcote Williams’ initials. There were few boundaries he did not push, he taught himself fire-breathing and burned himself breathing fire to impress his then girlfriend, the model Jean (or was it Chrissie?) Shrimpton, and breathed fiery words all the livelong day. Here’s his final tweet, containing a poem you may want to watch:

    **

    I’ve posted this before, but do so again today because I’m old enough find it very funny, and because it piercingly reminds me of my friend:

    Oh, and the beauties of his days loved his ugly mug — this I posted before, too:

    **

    As someone observed, Heathcote was a Ranter in the fine old tradition:

    Coppe went up and down London streets ‘with his hat cockt, his teeth gnashing, his eyes fixed, charging the great ones to obey his Majesty within him.’ Clarkson as ‘Captain of the Rant’ entertained women to his lodging house but made canny financial provision simultaneously for his wife. This was the ugly face of Protestantism. It was what countless opponents of the Reformation had inveighed against since Munster: antinomianism was the logical, if perverted, conclusion of dissent. Anabaptists attracted the opprobrium in sixteenth-century Europe; Quakers inherited this legacy in later seventeenth-century England. But it was the Ranters who were the enemy of orthodoxy in England in 1650.

    Myself, while I have Ranter sympathies, am also a Royalist and Cavalier.. Heathcote, no way: he’s an unabashed anti-monarchist through and through.

    **

    An Old Etonian and overlap-contemporary of mine at Christ Church, Oxford, Heathcote took language to the street:

    Believing the world to be a common treasure house to all
    I spray-painted this slogan almost everywhere,
    ‘USE YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE AS A CREDIT CARD’,
    Suggesting to be born entitles you to a share.

    I’d then keep an eye on the graffiti’s lifespan
    And would often find myself amazed
    By its lasting for years in the poorer districts
    But if they were gentrified, it’d be erased.

    And he meant it!

    **

    Heathcote, I’ve owed you a review of your book on Badshah Khan. I have been too fatigued to write it, but take it as a mark of your singular intelligence that you know, revere and celebrate the man!

    Badshah Khan: Islamic Peace Warrior by Heathcote Williams

    Thin Man Press is delighted to be publishing this timely and important ‘poetic investigation’ by Heathcote Williams (‘Whale nation’, ‘Falling for A Dolphin’, ‘Autogeddon’, ‘Royal Babylon’…).

    With the news full of Islamic extremism, terrorism and the steady rise of the ‘Islamic State’, Heathcote Williams brings us a different story – the amazing life of Afghan Pashtun leader, Badshah Abdel Gaffar Khan, a devout Moslem, revered spiritual guide and champion of world peace who was a close friend and companion of Gandhi. Gaffar Khan spent much of his life as a political prisoner, and was tortured by the British; but he remained committed to his ‘jihad’ of peace, kindness and gentleness, which Williams relays with clarity and passion.

    **

    But onwards, to death.

    Speaking of Van Gogh, in There has to be an afterlife, Heathcote wrote:

    He believed that the heavens were our future destination
    And he declared, “we take death to reach a star.”
    Now that there’s stardust in every single cell of our body
    More mystery is added to knowing who we are.

    But in bereavement it’s a very great comfort
    To those who are feeling dispossessed
    To consider that those they’ve known who’ve died
    Have simply changed their cosmic address.

    Heathcote, are you going soft?

    Or is the new address you address yourself to — and have now achieved — “among the stars, dissipated“?

    I’ll miss you, until I’m dissipated, too.

    Michael Yon on the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol

    Thursday, October 13th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron ]
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    king-bhumibol

    **

    Michael Yon on Facebook, and (illustrated) on his journal page under the heading Rivers of tears flow tonight:

    On one level, there is not much to say other than that one of the greatest leaders in history graced us for so long. He is the Father of Thailand. He was a champion of peace, freedom, and prosperity, and a good friend to America and to American people. His Majesty is loved by many Americans.

    Americans normally do not like Kings, but King Bhumibol is a great exception. Those who studied him grew to respect him, then to like him, and finally to share in the love for the King of Kings. The love for His Majesty is so immense that it could fill the Gulf of Thailand.

    Thais are among freest people on earth, thanks to His Majesty. He brought his millions of sons and daughters very far, and he taught lessons and brought inspiration to foreigners such as me.

    He was a musician, and good, and his photography was excellent. Highly educated, he visited every corner of this great country, into the deepest jungles to help villagers, into the mountains, out to the islands, down the rivers. He went everywhere. His Majesty was a man of the people. He wanted to see with his own eyes, and he did.

    Finally his body has worn out. We wish his body had lived to 110 but his body wore out. He spent it working for Thailand. But this is not the end. Only his body is gone. His Majesty is more alive now than ever before.

    Strangely perhaps, since I only knew of him from a smattering of press accounts, I too am moved to tears by the death of this man and monarch. May he rest in peace.


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