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The Colossal Rhodes

May 6th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / a.k.a. “zen“]

This is absolutely amazing.

Quite possibly the most damning thing I have ever read about the Obama national security inner circle. This NYT profile far exceeds any wild polemic by an overventilating right-wing pundit. Ben Rhodes, whose complete lack of any FP/Defense/Mil/IC qualifications would have relegated him to getting coffee for bigwigs in any other NSC in history, is a Deputy National Security Adviser with Oval Office walk-in access. He gloats about his yes-man relationship with the POTUS, disparages Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, boasts of lying to reporters and mocks the servility of Beltway celebrity journalists who faithfully retweet the administration talking points he gives them. It reminds me of the tone of that Rolling Stone article that sank Stanley McChrystal.

The Aspiring Novelist who Became Obama’s Foreign Policy Guru

….He is the master shaper and retailer of Obama’s foreign-policy narratives, at a time when the killer wave of social media has washed away the sand castles of the traditional press. His ability to navigate and shape this new environment makes him a more effective and powerful extension of the president’s will than any number of policy advisers or diplomats or spies. His lack of conventional real-world experience of the kind that normally precedes responsibility for the fate of nations — like military or diplomatic service, or even a master’s degree in international relations, rather than creative writing — is still startling.

Part of what accounts for Rhodes’s influence is his “mind meld” with the president. Nearly everyone I spoke to about Rhodes used the phrase “mind meld” verbatim, some with casual assurance and others in the hushed tones that are usually reserved for special insights. He doesn’t think for the president, but he knows what the president is thinking, which is a source of tremendous power. One day, when Rhodes and I were sitting in his boiler-room office, he confessed, with a touch of bafflement, “I don’t know anymore where I begin and Obama ends.”

I think we know where we can find your head, Ben.

….One result of this experience was that when Rhodes joined the Obama campaign in 2007, he arguably knew more about the Iraq war than the candidate himself, or any of his advisers. He had also developed a healthy contempt for the American foreign-policy establishment, including editors and reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, who at first applauded the Iraq war and then sought to pin all the blame on Bush and his merry band of neocons when it quickly turned sour. If anything, that anger has grown fiercer during Rhodes’s time in the White House. He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East.

Boost thinks very highly of me. My notes are so impressive that they have taken on the form of ideas, he feels. I capture other people’s words in a manner that not only organizes them, but inserts a clarity and purpose that was not present in the original idea. Connections are made between two opposing ideas that were not apparent in the meeting. I have gotten at not only the representation of things, but the way that the mind actually works.

Is this for real? Who thinks of themselves like this?

….Obama relies on Rhodes for “an unvarnished take,” in part, she says, because “Ben just has no poker face,” and so it’s easy to see when he is feeling uncomfortable. “The president will be like, ‘Ben, something on your mind?’ And then Ben will have this incredibly precise lay-down of why the previous half-hour has been an utter waste of time, because there’s a structural flaw to the entire direction of the conversation.”

The literary character that Rhodes most closely resembles, Power volunteers, is Holden Caulfield. “He hates the idea of being phony, and he’s impetuous, and he has very strong views.”

Somewhere, someplace, J.D. Salinger is throwing up next to a dry-heaving George Kennan.

There are White Houses in the past where an article of this kind would have gotten the staffer in question fired on the spot. That however was a more serious time.

A Tale of Two Physicians

May 5th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Aleppo, Médecins Sans Frontières, Bashar al-Assad, Mohammad Wassim Mo’az ]
.

SPEC DQ Tale of Two Physicians

**

It may be that one less (dictatorial) physician in Syria would help — retire him to a yacht, perhaps. While not forgetting that the situation in Syria is multi-factorial.

Sources:

  • The Guardian, Aleppo mourns Syrian paediatrician killed in hospital airstrike
  • The Atlantic, The Last Pediatrician in Aleppo
  • From the Atlantic piece, honoring pediatrician Mohammad Wassim Mo’az:

    One colleague described the 36-year-old Mo’az as a devoted doctor who by day worked at Aleppo’s Children’s Hospital and by night attended to emergencies at al-Quds Hospital, where he was killed. Several recalled the jokes Mo’az would tell patients and staff. He was “waiting for this bloody war to stop to be married,” one surgeon in Aleppo told the BBC. “He had to stay close to those babies. Who would treat those babies if everybody left?” Footage from security cameras in the hospital last Wednesday shows Mo’az leaving an intensive-care unit and heading toward the emergency room. He could have been in Turkey with his family. He could have taken the night off. Instead, he was walking briskly through the hospital’s dingy hallways in bright green scrubs. At one point in the video, he turns a corner and disappears from view. Moments later, the explosion comes.

    Trump as Walt Whitman?

    May 5th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a drive-by DoubleQuote ]
    .

    Donald Trump
    , as revealed in The Atlantic, as tweeted by Peter R Neumann:

    Trump atlantic

    Walt Whitman, as self-sung:

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    **

    The Question:
    would you want a Walt Whitman for President?

    Brevity in Paradox

    May 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — or as John Cage once said, I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry ]
    .

    suzuki_enso-2-sm

    **

    JV Cunningham has a poem which runs in its entirety:

    Life flows to death as rivers to the sea
    And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

    Brilliant and brief. Samuel Beckett goes him one better, writing:

    My birth was my death. Or put it another way. My birth was the death of me. Words are scarce.

    It’s the scarcity that interests me here. Earlier, in Godot, he had written:

    They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

    That’s too wordy. “My birth was the death of me” packs a colloquial punch, while “My birth was my death” is more succinct and correspondingly powerful.

    **

    Birth > death.

    They are opposites, obviously, and almost tautologically so — and yet there is a less-than-obvious “double meaning” to them — when brought into close conjunction they can be said to fold the universe from many back into one.

    This business of the conjunction of opposites is one which Carl Jung made the centerpiece of much of his later work, writing for instance:

    Whoever identifies with an intellectual standpoint will occasionally find his feeling confronting him like an enemy in the guise of the anima; conversely, an intellectual animus will make violent attacks on the feeling standpoint. Therefore, anyone who wants to achieve the difficult feat of realizing something not only intellectually, but also according to its feeling-value, must for better or worse come to grips with the anima/animus problem in order to open the way for a higher union, a coniunctio oppositorum. This is an indispensable prerequisite for wholeness.

    Consider the current US election campaign in this light…

    **

    Shakespeare’s “insult, exult, and all at once” in As you Like It, and Dylan Thomas’ “Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray” in Do not go gentle are 0other instances of brevity in paradox.

    Beckett, Jung, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas — heady company.

    Of Easter Fires

    May 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — the beauty and the burning ]
    .

    Today was Easter Day for the Orthodox, and the Resurrection was celebrated with what Fr Janjic describes as Holy Fire in Jerusalem.

    Fr the Orthodox, this event is both a liturgy, spreading from Jerusalem around the globe —

    — and a miracle — an intersection of the divine with earthly existance:

    Thus one might say the vertical enters the horizontal plane.

    **

    Sadly, a similar celebration in New York was followed shortly thereafter by tragedy:

    Much of beauty was consumed:

    — and in an eerie echo half way round the world, a church in Australia blazed

    **

    For more on the miracle, see the Description of the Miracle of Holy Light (Holy Fire) that happens every year in Jerusalem:

    The ceremony, which awes the souls of Christians, takes place in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The date for Pascha is determined anew for every year. It must be a first Sunday after the spring equinox and Jewish Passover. Therefore, most of the time it differs from the date of Catholic and Protestant Easter, which is determined using different criteria. The Holy Fire is the most renowned miracle in the world of Eastern Orthodoxy. It has taken place at the same time, in the same manner, in the same place every single year for centuries. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and so steadily over time. It happens in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the holiest place on earth, where Christ was crucified, entombed, and where He finally rose from the dead.

    One celebrant, the late Orthodox Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, described the miracle thus:

    I enter the tomb and kneel in holy fear in front of the place where Christ lay after His death and where He rose again from the dead. I find my way through the darkness towards the inner chamber in which I fall on my knees.Miracle of God. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature. Here I say certain prayers that have been handed down to us through the centuries and, having said them, I wait. Sometimes I may wait a few minutes, but normally the miracle happens immediately after I have said the prayers. From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the colour may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake — it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn — I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp… At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church.

    — and there’s a great deal more of considerable interest at the above link.

    Happy Easter to all my Orthodox friends!


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