Friday, April 11, 2008

The man at the window

After a long day setting up procedures and writing utilities to migrate a client's data to a new platform, I walked across Darling Harbor to the suburb of Glebe. Walking three miles at night to an unfamiliar place multiplies the likelihood of chance encounters. In this case the chance encounter was provided by a six foot three inch British man who stuttered out the directions to the cafe I was looking for: walk on ahead till I came to "carpark which is almost a wasteland then left into a narrow lane, right at the the first corner then up a stairway" would take me to the desired spot. And then he vanished into the dark and so did I in the opposite direction, following his mysterious instructions till I came to a place happy in the knowledge that I had found a secret way.

We live for so long in our skins that it eventually becomes not simply the center of our universe, but subconsciously, the center of everything. It becomes hard to imagine, that from the viewpoint of the six foot three British man, I was the stranger on the street and not the other way around. Peggy Noonan had another chance encounter of a more distinguished kind in Rome, where she heard Benedict XVI give an open-air homily on the subject of his predecessor, John Paul.

And from her point of view Benedict was the stranger; "the man at the window"; tall, white-haired, looking out from his skin at the crowd below. How was he different from the hundreds of faces I had passed on that night walk to Glebe, looking out from their windows into the dark world? The sole palpable difference was that, like other leaders of institutions, he could habitually refer himself in the plural. Benedict is able to speak; is indeed compelled to speak, not simply on behalf of himself, but on behalf of John Paul and all those who have gone before him as well. Benedict is obliged to apologize for historical crimes he did not personally commit as well as shine in the reflected glory of deeds he had no credit for. To become a President or Pope is to submit to the possession of history; to share your skin not only with the echoes of voices past but with the half-heard whispers of what may be coming round the bend. Noonan, looking forward to Benedict's visit, writes about the strange predicament of having to hold mental converse with 21st century American Presidents and ancient Byzantine emperors.

Now Benedict comes to America, his first trip as pope. The highlight in the Vatican's eyes is his address to the United Nations. No one knows what he will say. He will no doubt call for peace, for that is what popes do, and should do. Beyond that? Perhaps some variation on themes from his famous Regensburg address, in September 2006.

There he traced and limned some of the development of Christianity, but he turned first to Islam. Faith in God does not justify violence, he said. "The right use of reason" prompts us to understand that violence is incompatible with the nature of God, and the nature, therefore, of the soul. God, he quotes an ancient Byzantine ruler, "is not pleased by blood," and "not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature." More: "To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm." This is a message for our time, and a courageous one, too. (The speech was followed by riots and by Osama bin Laden's charge that the pope was starting a new "crusade.")

I'm convinced that the strange enthusiasms which grip crowds in the presence of Presidents and Popes spring not only from group psychology but the subconscious acknowledgement of a connection with history. After spending a lifetime in what Auden called the "prison of our days" we become attracted to men condemned to live outside of themselves. And that's because part of us does live outside ourselves; imparted in the memory of those we meet; recorded in the bones of the earth in faint vibrations which will not cease to be heard until the end of time. And that is the lost part of us we seek to reclaim. We stare at the man in the window because it is the group picture of ourselves; the portrait of us as something else.

There are some things we cannot do alone. There are some things we can only do outside our skins. Perhaps for that reason nations outlast men and religions outlast nations. And under those banners we meet the challenges of the coming days. Under that flag we wage the long fight against totalitarism, though it outlast ourselves and the world itself. Benedict is 81. What a strange thing to be young and to be old.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself, ...

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.


Looking back at Sydney while crossing the pedestrian bridge over Darling Harbor at 6:57 pm local





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16 Comments:

Blogger Wadeusaf said...

Timely and filled with humbling thoughts. Thank you for the nudge.

"Nothing is ended, something beautiful has begun, we just won't understand it for a while."

I think the task before Benedict is to...,
"Teach the free man how to praise."

4/11/2008 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Evocation: To become a President or Pope is to submit to the possession of history; to share your skin not only with the echoes of voices past but with the half-heard whispers of what may be coming round the bend.

Ai the Alien Historian, writing out the War of Haji v Yankee, 1992 - 2008.

Haji's string of great victories began in 1993 with the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York 2/26/93, and the infamous battle of 'Blackhawk Down' 10/3/93.

Persian Haji bombed Yankee military barracks Khobar Towers 6/25/96.

Top Haji Osama bin Laden openly issued fatwas, declarations of war on Yankee, the first in August, 1996 called "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places" and the second in February, 1998.

Haji bombed the Yankee embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, 8/7/98.

Haji in a motorboat bombed the USS Cole in Yemen 10/12/2000.

Haji hijacked four airliners and bombed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 9/11/2001.

+ _ +

That was the end of Haji's string of victory.

By then, President Red had replaced President Blue, and Yankee now fought back.

Since then, Haji has been attacked and besieged in every corner of the world, most especially in his self-declared "new Caliphate" in Iraq where Haji has been completely humiliated and militarily decimated.

Ai the Alien's conclusion:
President Blue: dangerously weak
President Red: protected Yankee fearlessly and relentlessly, including against President Blue's dregs of losers who fought within Yankee country to defeat Yankee.

4/11/2008 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

I think that's a simplistic analysis Tony. McCain in 1993 called for a withdrawal from Somalia, and threatened to cut off funds to do it. Republicans decried the missile strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 as "Wag the Dog."

Bipartisan-wise, both Parties, the Press, and the intelligentsia were convinced we were at the end of history (instead of Tribes with Nukes(tm)) and therefore everything was to be conducted with a "Super-FBI" approach to terrorism, jihad, proliferation, etc.

The strongest indictment of Clinton that can be made IMHO is that he lacked the vision to see the obvious (which was probably harder than we credit) and the courage politically to be a one term President to forcefully argue that the end of History was not at hand, and that throwing a decade long party for ourselves was not wise.

Bush certainly has fought back, but has been so personally disinclined (because of his dyslexia, and hatred of formal public speaking, and combat with the press) to push for his policies that Moveon and ANSWER dominate our political space. He has totally neglected the information operations, to tell the American People (and those of allies and enemies alike) what his policy is, what he aims to do, and generally, how he aims to do it. To rally support so we don't have shameful lapses like FISA. Or idiot debates like Gitmo.

Both Clinton and Bush IMHO represent a continuum rather than a break. Both seem absent of the great duty as mere caretakers of the Presidency, as opposed to being mere creatures of the moment.

Bush comes out better, because he did see at least part of the obvious and was willing to pay costs. But dambit! I expect a President to get out and argue, ridicule, lambaste, and humiliate those who out of partisan advantage seek to undermine National Security.

4/11/2008 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

Whiskey said:

"I expect a President to get out and argue, ridicule, lambaste, and humiliate those who out of partisan advantage seek to undermine National Security."

To which I say, in spades, baby, in SPADES!

4/11/2008 05:57:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Laura Ingraham, and I think KJL accompanied Peggy on the way over.
Had a meeting at the Vatican to get briefed about the upcoming visit.
Laura left early, only to be struck down by the United Groundings, having to return Via Paris on Air France.

She and the rest of the passengers were treated to another outrageous Muslim incident, hassling and berating the Stew, accusing her of PREJUDICE for enforcing the rules required of everyone.

The usual rude, loud, uncivilized and unsettling performance.

4/11/2008 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

I assume everyone saw Obama's meltdown. Telling San Francisco Billionaires that PA people are using the "opiate of the masses" i.e. religion, clinging to Guns, God, America ... because they are bigoted losers.

Lovely.

I'm sure he'll win the nomination. The General? McGovern time. That's the problem with the media echo chamber. Doesn't pick out the idiocies in time.

4/11/2008 08:33:00 PM  
Blogger Adolf Fiinkensein said...

I can't resist but did you REALLY walk across Darling HARBOUR?

4/11/2008 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

"To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm."

A Saudi blogger took the time to put together a rebuttal tape to "Fitna" showing Bible references advocating violence and resulting Christian eruptions. I think this is terrific, and may be one of the first instances where a Muslim tried to sway a Western audience using examples as opposed to hysterical victimhood and threats of fatwa'd beheadings.

4/11/2008 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

I can't resist but did you REALLY walk across Darling HARBOUR?

It's not widely known that there's a pedestrian bridge that crosses Darling harbor, nearly directly over the Maritime Museum, where a destroyer and an old Russian sub are tied up.

It's fall in the Antipodes and by the time I got to the bridge from the depths of the city it was nearly dark. So I took the shot osted above by setting a Canon G7 on a bridge support and setting up an ISO 200 shot for nearly a second, fixing the white balance and then putting the shutter on a 2 second delay. I then tripped the shutter and pulled away my hand to remove it as a source of vibration.

4/11/2008 10:59:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

OT (opposite the thread)
---
Dangerous liaisons and sex with teenagers: The story of Sartre and de Beauvoir as never told before
He was one of the most brilliant minds.
She was his lifelong companion who pioneered feminism.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were perhaps the most influential couple of the 20th century. Yet a fascinating new book paints this supposedly high-minded duo as serial seducers bent on their own gratification
---
The couple took new lovers and developed new political interests. Having flirted with America, they became obsessed with communism after an encounter with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba.

Then Sartre shattered Simone in a way she could never have imagined. The couple had never wanted children - it had been part of their creed - yet in 1965 Sartre adopted his 25-year-old Algerian mistress Arlette El Kaim as his child.
---
And even at the end Sartre was surrounded by as many as nine young women, all fussing about his health.

For many years he had kept himself going with amphetamines, black coffee and cigarettes, followed by sleeping pills and red wine. Now he was incontinent, lame and blind.

After he died, Simone was left alone with his body in the hospital, and she crawled under the sheet to spend one last night with him. Now that his restless mind was stilled she at last had him where she wanted him.

4/11/2008 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

doug -- that was an edifying link. By a man's personal conduct with the women in his life you may know him.

Sartre was a bastard. No question about it.

It shows the moral bankruptcy of Intellectuals -- all they wanted was justification for constructing a harem. And the women in their lives let them. It's not hard to find contempt for those who let either "celebrity" into their beds or lives.

4/11/2008 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger bobal said...

I think this is terrific, and may be one of the first instances where a Muslim tried to sway a Western audience using examples as opposed to hysterical victimhood and threats of fatwa'd beheadings.

I agree. And, alas, there is all too much ammo to use against Western audiences regarding the behavior of the ancestors. But this is a heartening change of behavior, as has been done for the most part by his intellectual antagonists.

4/12/2008 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

The Pope’s Visit
Candles, Clergy and Communion for 57,000

The pope will straddle second base in Yankee Stadium, but stand over center field at Nationals Park in Washington. There are 100,000 ponchos on hand in the Bronx in case of rain, while three Polish nuns have dusted off a gold and silver garment, hand-woven more than a century ago, for the pontiff to wear at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the capital.

4/12/2008 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

"What is it in man that for a long while lies unknown and unseen only one day to emerge and push him into a new land of the eye, a new region of the mind, a place he has never dreamed of?
Maybe it's like the force in spores lying quietly under asphalt until the day they push a soft, bulbous mushroom head right through the pavement.
There's nothing you can do to stop it.
"

- Blue Highways

4/12/2008 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

Whiskey,

In a footnote, Ai the Alien Historian mentions the "Wag the Dog" attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan being announced by the White House hours before President Blue's blow-job baby testifies. Haji shrugs off the enormously expensive, impotent gestures of weak Yankee. Ai questions the published justification of the attacks, to break up WMD cooperation between Saddam and Al Qaeda, because the attacks occurred four years before "Bush Lied" such connections into the public consciousness. Further, another "Wag the Dog" incident, amusingly named "Operation Desert Fox" is launched to destroy Saddam's WMD programs. The historical record is questioned here, once again, because such ideas hadn't been lied into existence yet.

In another footnote, Ai notes Congressional opposition to the strategically and tactically pointless continuation of endangerment of troops in Somalia. As an aside, Ai points out that President Blue had more tanks at the immolation at Waco than he did at the Battle of Blackhawk Down, where he refused to send any tanks.

The simplistic fact remains, Haji got his ass kicked all around the world starting about 3 weeks after 9/11, when Yankee awoke. Haji's string of victories ended there.

Ai's next chapter will reveal if President Blue's dregs manage to turn the defeat of Haji in Iraq into the "next Vietnam" if they manage to win the White House.

4/12/2008 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Cas said...

Wretchard:
Sydney looks beautiful at twilight...almost makes me want to visit, if US $$ weren't down so far..

4/12/2008 10:00:00 AM  

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