22 February 2013

Pointless video post - ‘Dead Thrashers Rising’ by Exile

Exile are a Palestinian-Jordanian thrash trio operating out of Amman, Jordan, who released their undeniably awesome debut full-length album Suspended Society… Mutilated Variety early this past year. The facts that they are Palestinian exiles from Israel and play metal in Jordan (which tends to be hostile, as many Islamic nations are, to the genre) are remarkable enough, but their lyrics, especially on Suspended Society…, are pointedly topical - and, what’s more, their music is decidedly a cut above average for such a recent band. Please do give their YouTube channel a visit and take a listen to the album; you won’t regret it! Stay metal! \m/

20 February 2013

The ‘bloody shirt’ tactic, then and now

In light of David Lindsay’s reminder that just past is the lamentable fifth anniversary of Kosovo’s ‘independence’, I thought this piece might be a propos.

There was an excerpt from the first chapter of a book in the New York Times, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War by Stephen Budiansky, which I had the occasion to read when it was first published, back in 2008. It is a highly journalistic account – unsurprising, given that it comes from the editor of US News and World Report, but it is a remarkably vivid account; I encourage my gentle readers to read it in its entirety.
Waving the bloody shirt: it would become the standard retort, the standard expression of dismissive Southern contempt whenever a Northern politician mentioned any of the thousands upon thousands of murders, whippings, mutilations, and rapes that were perpetrated against freedmen and women and white Republicans in the South in those years. The phrase was used over and over during the Reconstruction era. It was a staple of the furious and sarcastic editorials that filled Southern newspapers in those days, of the indignant orations by Southern white political leaders who protested that no people had suffered more, been humiliated more, been punished more than they had. The phrase has since entered the standard American political lexicon, a synonym for any rabble-rousing demagoguery, any below-the-belt appeal aimed at stirring old enmities.

That the Southerners who uttered this phrase were so unconcerned about the obvious implications it carried for their own criminality, however, seems remarkable; for whoever was waving the shirt, there was unavoidably, or so one would think, the matter of just whose blood it was, and how it had got there. That white Southerners would unabashedly trace the origin of this metaphor to a real incident involving an unprovoked attack of savage barbarity carried out by their own most respectable members of Southern white society makes it all the more astonishing.
The unprovoked attack which gave rise to the turn of phrase was an incident in Monroe County, Mississippi where the superintendent of the local freedmen’s public schools, Allen Huggins, was forcibly removed from his home by ten wealthy, ‘respectable’ white locals, and beaten mercilessly with a stirrup and threatened with murder if he did not leave Mississippi within ten days’ time. And Huggins left… but to testify before Congress about his treatment, before returning to Monroe County with the powers of a deputy US marshal to bring the perpetrators of such terror before the law. The story that his shirt was retrieved by an Army lieutenant who delivered it to Benjamin Butler, who then proceeded to wave it during his speech against the terrorism, however, was a fabrication. Senator Butler did make such a speech referring to the incident, but there is no indication that he ever so much as touched Huggins’s actual shirt, let alone waved it about on the Senate floor. Still, as Budiansky makes clear, the phrase became a stock favourite in the Southern press, and it was employed ceaselessly to make, as it were, ‘a victim of the bully and a bully of the victim’.

Even if the phrase ‘waving the bloody shirt’ is not explicitly used, a similar rhetorical tactic has been employed with every bit as much constancy and malice, against another nation which has sought to retain its union, and which has fought for the rights of its citizens to freedom and dignity through education and economic self-sufficiency, and which as thanks for its efforts has been subject to campaigns of secessionist terror and guerrilla war – and then blamed and sarcastically ridiculed for even mentioning those campaigns in its own history. Just as the Southerners crafted stories about how Huggins’ bloody shirt and other such tokens became the fetishes of Unionist and African-American mythologies against them, the media and the academies of the pseudo-West have crafted narratives of how ‘the Serbs’ make a mythological fetish of their own victimhood, the better to paint ‘the Serbs’ as ignorant and sub-rational.

The only difference is that the Serbians lost the war to save their Union, and to maintain the economic freedoms and dignities that its constituent peoples had had under it.

I was only a schoolboy at the time of the Yugoslav Wars, but they marked my first awareness of world affairs. At the time, the media were rife with comparisons of Milosevic to Hitler (I remember a Newsweek cover making that explicit comparison graphically), and images of starving, wounded and dead Bosnian and Albanian refugees, particularly old people and children – all victims of that ever-faceless monster, ‘the Serb’. I remember having an image in my head – completely imagined – of a hulking, unthinking brute in a blood-stained uniform, doing the bidding of his depraved and sadistic commanders’ orders. But I also remember my mother refusing to vote for Clinton’s second term on account of the Yugoslav Wars, and my Mennonite religious upbringing always kept urging me to look at both sides, to remember that there is always a better solution than war. It was not until much, much later that I was able to take a critical look at that war and how it was waged, and how arguments from that war went on to pave the way for the murderous folly in Iraq.

As Neil Clark wrote, bashing of ‘the Serbs’ is one of the few acceptable prejudices left in the Anglo-American West. Their great crime was not, as is popularly imagined, that they were somehow uniquely, intractably, genocidally hostile to all the other peoples of the region – they weren’t, though certainly Serbian units did commit atrocities and deliberate attacks against civilians all during the Yugoslav Wars, as did Bosnians, Croats, Albanians and NATO countries. Their great crimes were that they wanted to retain the dream of Yugoslavia, that they opposed most vociferously the ethnic-nationalist secessions of great chunks of the country they loved, and that they got in the way of the biggest bully on the block in doing the above. Milosevic, Mladic and Karadzic were familiar and ominous names to me all throughout the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, but not once did I hear a peep about Franjo Tudman and the revival of neo-Nazi Ustase ideology in his newfangled Croatia, nor anything about the genocidal Operation Storm led by Ante Gotovina (who was risibly acquitted of war crimes on appeal by the ICTY in November of last year). Never did I see a word written anywhere about the brutal crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army against not only Serbians but also Roma and fellow Albanians, nor about their proven trade in drugs and arms (and suspected trade in human organs harvested from their victims) to finance their terrorism. (Ramush Haradinaj was also acquitted of war crimes at the same time as Gotovina et al.) Not until I was much older did I even know where to look for such accounts.

Whenever Serbians and journalists who have lived in Serbia point out the clear double standards which have prevailed in the ICTY since the Yugoslav Wars ended, or make mention of the civilian casualties they sustained, or reference the fact that breakaway portions from Serbia have invited unilateral recognition from many Western nations where other secessionist movements have not (the Kurds in Iraq, or the Ossetians and Abkhazians in Georgia, for starters), the gentlemen’s club of decent, respectable pro-intervention Anglo-American ‘public intellectuals’ and pundits (notably Oliver Kamm, Marko Attila Hoare, the denizens of Harry’s Place and, until his death, Christopher Hitchens) accuse them with depressing regularity of ‘waving the bloody shirt’. This being an age where political spin is a science, however, rather than an art, they employ much more sterile, prolix means of saying the same thing. ‘The Serbs’ have a ‘persecution complex’ and a ‘narrative of victimisation’, and the term itself is the result of conspiracy theories and nationalist propaganda. With such rhetorical tricks the victims are turned into the bullies, and all too many of the actual bullies are rendered invisible.

Serbians have no need of a ‘narrative of victimisation’. They – along with the Bosnians, Croatians and Albanians who got caught in the middle – were the victims, of a series of wars every bit as tragic and fratricidal as the American Civil War was. Two thousand Serbian civilians were killed as part of Operation Storm, and nearly two hundred thousand were forcibly evicted. Similar casualties were incurred in Kosovo during the NATO intervention there: two thousand Serbians dead in Kosovo and five hundred throughout the rest of Serbia, and one hundred seventy thousand displaced – near half of the total civilian deaths and a quarter of the total displacements in a territory where Serbs made up only about eight to twelve percent of the population. And for these crimes, they have not yet seen justice.

The truly frightening thing is, the apologists for the NATO-backed ultra-nationalist secessionists continue to stand up as brave opponents of genocide and proclaimers of truth and moral objectivity when the victims are Bosnian, Croatian or Albanian… and then they turn around and cravenly deny that Serbians can possibly be victims (except in their conveniently-typecast roles as unthinking brutes and willing executioners of their sadistic commanders and politicians), with the exact same postmodern, relativising argumentation that they project onto sceptics of the official NATO narrative of the Yugoslav Wars (whether Chomsky or Media Lens or CounterPunch), and proceed to declaim in hyperventilating terms as outrageous, monstrous and beyond the pale genocide-apologetics.

Blessedly, the neoconservative and liberal-interventionist worldviews which led to both the Yugoslav and the Iraq Wars, between which there are generally only differences in semantics rather than differences in kind, are slowly but surely losing their credibility. And the damage is almost entirely self-inflicted: the experience of Iraq shows the extent to which neocons and liberal-interventionists both are willing to deny, relativise, cover up, deflect attention from and rationalise away their complicity in the single greatest geopolitical and humanitarian debacle of the past decade, in a way which undercuts their entire philosophical raison d’être in the first place as an outgrowth of the Augustinian just war tradition. The healthy dose of scepticism which came from both left and right over Syria arguably prevented another outright intervention there and arguably also headed off multinational support of France’s Malian adventure, even if it failed to do so in Libya before it was too late.

17 February 2013

On restoring a Catholic moral grammar

The sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was a bit of a smack in the gob for me, as I’m sure it was for a huge number of Catholics around the globe. It is difficult for me to know how to take such news, but I have still been thinking long and hard about the matter, and reading patiently the reactions to it. It strikes me that the ‘progressive’ reaction to his resignation has been rather dishearteningly self-serving, in its attempt to steer the conversation toward the bourgeois issues of birth control, the dismantling of canon law for abusive priests and so forth. The ‘conservative’ reaction to Pope Benedict’s resignation has sadly been yet more disgusting, for they laud the man and the office without believing in the necessity of taking either one of them seriously. Fr Robert Sirico’s rather defensive (not to mention traditionally illiterate, semantically relativistic and intellectually naïve, to put it politely) attempts to deny that Caritas in Veritate said what it actually said about the crises of individualism and cost-benefit thinking, and the distributional failures of the market economy as it stands, are old news, for example; now he can use its author as a prop to pose as a defender of tradition and an enemy of relativism against the progressive bugbears. (By contrast, at least a few ‘traditionalists’ were clear about what Caritas in Veritate actually said, even as they trampled a bit over the doctrine of original sin in their attack against it.)

The problem that all of these reactions highlight, of course, is the problem of Americanism. The Americanist heresy is grounded in the idea that the ultimate source of truth is the individual layperson, and that truth can be more readily accessed if each individual layperson is left fully to his own devices in its pursuit. Good ideas will ‘naturally’ accrue followers, and by numerical strength and majority rule one can decide which ideas are truly deserving. It is a well-intentioned heresy, naturally, but good intentions can lead astray much more easily than obviously ill intentions can. And it has been my experience that nothing accrues prejudices, ad hoc rationalisations, vulgarities or downright mean-spiritedness quite like popular opinion can.

The Americanist heresy allows and encourages people to develop an officious, Pharisaical self-regard, and the formation of like-minded cliques who see no need to engage with people who hold contrary views (unless it is to question their mental faculties, diagnose them, medicate them, imprison them or bomb them into submission). The ‘echo chambers’ and ‘epistemic closure’ much lamented amongst American progressives are, in fact, the logical ends of the heresy that each person gets to decide the truth for himself in bad faith, without reference to fact, to the outside world, to society or to any external authority whatever. The fact that we still have an essentially one-dimensional political discourse, polarised between an irresponsibly naïve left-liberalism and a cynical and psychotically exploitative right-liberalism, is also a testament to our nation’s disordered political psychology. Further, each side trumpets individual autonomy as its ultimate moral value and raison d’être. Hmmm.

Those affected by the Americanist heresy, on both sides, are actually more alike than they realise. American Catholic leftists who greeted Caritas in Veritate with enthusiasm only to return to lambasting the Pope on matters of sexual and social ethics are mirrored precisely by the American Catholic rightists who cravenly ignored or wilfully misinterpreted Caritas in Veritate and used the Pope’s teachings on sex and society as cudgels against otherwise well-meaning believers. However, it is also true that those disaffected by various aspects of the Americanist heresy may share more in common than they realise. Social conservatives who lament the passing of a unified moral order immediately have something in common with economic leftists who lament the passing of a more just, stable and egalitarian economic order.

Moreover, some causes which most left-liberals still claim to espouse – including environmental stewardship, opposition to torture, opposition to unjust warfare and opposition to exploitative lending practices to name just a few – are best served by the establishment of authority. The scientific appeal to established empirical facts about the world, and the duty of the community of scientists to take the broadest consideration possible of the entire body of relevant facts in the search for applicable models and explanations is just one such establishment of authority. It is precisely to this authority they appeal when they cite a scientific consensus about the anthropogenic origins of climate change. Likewise, the establishment of a common moral authority is necessary to mount any meaningful opposition to the apostles and apologists of torture, who thrive upon muddying the waters of debate with sophomoric utilitarian counterfactuals (like the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario), and who wield the powerful propaganda tools of Hollywood with TV series like 24 and films like Zero Dark Thirty.

The moral authority is needed to refashion a common moral language and syntax, for such causes to be politically effectual. Classical Christianity, rooted in the tradition of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers, handed down through the apostolic succession, provides just such a ‘linguistic’ framework. It is a framework which still allows for political dither, yet still insists on a hierarchy of values beginning with the sanctity of all human life, and the right ends of that life that such sanctity entails. It is important to note that in the United States at least, neither current fashionable political ideology has a monopoly over this linguistic framework (though both sides do certainly draw upon it). Such refashioning of our moral vocabulary and syntax will, of course, mean that we are forced to think differently about the way our political system works in practice, and wean ourselves of the ideational idols and one-dimensional Manichaeism which work tirelessly to destroy hope of Christian communion between those of differing political outlooks.

I think Pope Benedict XVI was, in an intellectual sense, all too aware of this need. When he addressed audiences in Europe or America on issues of public concern, it was always in an attempt to situate the debate and its terms within its proper historical context and moral grammar. He ceaselessly endeavoured to posit classical Christianity as the matrix from which our current moral concerns continue to rise, and the touchstone we should look to for solutions to those same questions. His successor will be faced with precisely the same concerns, and will need to lean heavily in the same direction Pope Benedict XVI did.

12 February 2013

Bidding a sad farewell

The Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, announced earlier today that he would be resigning from the See of St Peter, for reasons of waning health. A sad day for us, even non-Roman Catholics like me, who found in his writings and sermons a strident and powerful voice for engaging the culture with both humane social teaching and a strong foundation in the traditions of the Church - in witness both against soulless, consumeristic and alienating late capitalism; and against soulless, consumeristic and alienating anti-cultures of death. I believe Holy Father Benedict XVI shall continue to serve God and his Church with the faithfulness he always has even in his retirement, and I pray that he may recover his health and be at peace in his retirement years.

Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus.

10 February 2013

A few New Year’s resolutions

... for the Lunar Year of the Snake, that is. From China’s central government, no less.

They include higher taxes on the wealthy and higher rates of transfer from state-owned enterprises to the government in an effort to mitigate rampant inequality, as well as reforming the union system to better represent the interests of workers in the manufacturing sector, and throwing hints that it will phase out the old laogai (勞改, reeducation through labour) camps, beginning with Yunnan. (Coincidentally or not, these announcements of reform coincided with a significant seasonal spike in labour strikes prior to Spring Festival.) All, on paper, very laudable goals - but more importantly, a reflection that labourers and leftists concerned about inequality have been successful in swaying policy to some degree, in spite of the risible treatment of Bo Xilai and the silencing of debate over the Chongqing model.

There are, however, concerns that these are manoeuvres to put a damper on these very same forces. Chinese workers for the most part have been calling for reform, transparency and more democratic organisation within the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions (中華全國總工會), but the fact that practically no strikes are organised under the body’s own auspices means that all strikes are de facto wildcat strikes. By obliging calls for union reform to some degree, the Chinese government appears to be hoping to contain and exert some control over the informal and extralegal means that labourers (particularly migrant labourers from China’s inland) are increasingly bringing to bear on their employers. We shall see what becomes of these reforms: whether they go the way of most New Year’s resolutions, whether they are merely signals for more neoliberalism and exploitation of workers in the Chinese economy, or whether they actually signal a deeper commitment on the central government’s part to humane and egalitarian reforms.

In the meantime, 萬事如意,身體健康!祝大家新年快樂!

... Okay. I know the New Year’s show sucked particularly badly this year, so here’s some brain bleach for those of you unfortunate enough to have had to watch it. Pure, 200-proof Taiwanese thrash - no poseurs allowed!

09 February 2013

Алтарь, дача и престол?

Amongst the sycophantic pseudo-Western corporate media, news from Russia will generally fall into one of two broad categories. The first and most common is the look-how-bad-they-are-at-human-rights angle, with all of the hypocrisy that entails. You get the hand-wringing about how three poorly-behaved girls (who for some reason or other thought an Orthodox church erected as a monument against Stalinism was an appropriate place to bully churchgoers and throw what amounted to a public tantrum in the form of a lame pop-punk song) are treated in court, whilst nearly six hundred people are subject to far worse treatment in Guantánamo and will likely never even get their day in court. You get the umbrage over the death of Sergei Magnitsky in police custody (wrong as that was), the legislative reaction to it from the usual suspects, and the faux outrage over the predictable counter-reaction. (All the name-calling of Russia over its stances on international issues like Syria in the DC-elite cupbearer press can be folded into this category as well.)

[A notable aside - shortly afterward, the United States Department of Justice under Barack Obama begins asserting that, in essence, it has the legal right to kill anyone it likes, anywhere in the world it likes, at any time it likes, without even going through anything like due process first. And the reaction from the usual suspects who usually claim that President Obama is an unaccountable executive tyrant, faced with a clear example of unaccountable executive tyranny, proceed to defend it because, apparently, extrajudicially killing people is awesome because terrormuslimsseptembereleven. For rather obvious reasons, I am not exactly holding my breath on the Dead Pakistani Children Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2013, that will freeze the assets and restrict the international travel rights of, say, John Brennan or Eric Holder.]

The other angle one usually gets treated to on Russia is how, thanks to Putin, their economy is always on the brink of doom. (Imagine that ‘brink of doom’ being spoken in a mad scientist voice - roll the ‘r’ briskly and clip the ‘i’ short, leaving a dramatic pause for ‘of doom’, with perhaps a bolt of lightning and a cat howling in the background, and finish with a flourishing ‘DOOM, I tell you!’ and a deranged cackle of glee - to help get an idea of how this sort of reporting comes across.) Here is one recent example, and here is another one essentially saying the exact same thing nearly six years previously. The usual arguments are trotted out: too much public ownership, too much mining and drilling, too little reliance on the economic expertise of the neoliberal theorists who just so happen to be the ones making these predictions. Though much of their analysis may rightly be considered the self-serving neoliberal bunkum that it is, they may have a couple of valid points as far as the petrol industry goes. But the real economic and social revolution that Russia ultimately needs to ensure its long-term economic sufficiency may already be quietly occurring. Indeed, it has been occuring for the past decade and a half.

At the end of Putin’s first term, in 1999, the vast majority of Russia’s food was being produced on small, family-owned organic cottage farms. As The Bovine blog put it, 90% of Russia’s potatoes, 87% of its fruits, 77% of its vegetables, 59% of its meat and 45% of its milk came from 35 million of these cottage farms, these дачи. In 2003, this food revolution was further facilitated by President Putin’s passage of the Private Garden Plot Act, which basically entitled each Russian citizen to a Chestertonian ‘three acres and a cow’ (well, between one and three hectares, to be precise, and the cow was optional), and exempting from sales tax any produce from these garden-plots. What’s more, the Russian government plans for these дачи to be more than merely subsistent: they plan to turn their organic food into an export commodity. The upshot of all this, is that the Russian consumer is more free and informed, and possessed of a more direct connexion with the source of her food, than the American or European consumer is. On such an economic basis as this, it should be noted, the Nordic social democracies were established: the relatively-egalitarian, relatively-civil and civically-oriented societies were built upon small fisheries and homestead farms.

This is not the only positive trend to come out of Russia, it must be said. The growing importance of the Russian Orthodox Church in the politics of that nation, as well as its civil society, education and dialogues on moral and social issues, is overall a very positive trend, particularly given its long history of repression under the Soviets. Where it has spoken out on economic issues in particular, it has given voice to the need for a human life-oriented, social economy in a way which very closely echoes historical Patristic and modern Catholic social teaching. It is also attempting to address the failures in the humanities which accompanied both Soviet repression and gangster-capitalist dissipation. With the relations between the Russian Church and the Roman Catholic Church looking generally rosier, the foundations for an alternative, post-secular vision of the West’s historical trajectory can begin to be laid.

Add to this the fact that Russia is now prioritising internal matters, domestic institution-building, upholding regional stability and promoting values of localism, patriotism, solidarity and spirituality over-against the pseudo-Western neoliberal formulation of globalism, individualism, consumerism and moral decay; and Russia is not looking so bad at all in its cultural and economic outlook.

All this is not, of course, to say that Russia is without problems cultural or economic; it has plenty to go around, and has had for a long time. The rapine of the Yeltsin years has left a legacy of political corruption and short time horizons which continues to make itself systemically felt. Alcoholism, drug abuse and divorce rates are still running rampant. To call the Russian birth rate in recent decades ‘anaemic’ would be an exercise in grotesque understatement, and the long-run outlook for Russia’s population is, in spite of the optimism from Putin’s government, still very much up in the air. (On the other hand, on a positive note, abortion is continuing to fall off in Russia.) Troublingly, ultra-nationalism and racism are also playing more prominent roles in Russian politics, particularly amongst Putin’s opposition.

But hearteningly, Russia’s government has already taken steps to re-enshrine at the centre of Russia’s public life the алтарь and the дача - the altar and the cottage of Richard Oastler’s High Tory formulation. The logical next step would be the throne, or the престол. Though perhaps it would be too much to hope for a traditionally-monarchical Vladimirov dynasty in Russia (despite the media claims of neo-Tsarism), it is not beyond the scope of reason to believe that Russia might not come up with a feasible alternative.

This being Chinese New Year’s Eve, I promise something more appropriately-themed on this blog tomorrow.

07 February 2013

A slumgullion to savour

Dr Andrew Bacevich of Boston University has an excellent opinion piece up on The American Conservative. It isn’t a grand manifesto, but something manifestly more calm, measured and... well, realistic. But it is a brilliant read all the same. Here is a true gem of an excerpt:

The conservative tradition I have in mind may not satisfy purists. It doesn’t rise to the level of qualifying as anything so grandiose as a coherent philosophy. It’s more of a stew produced by combining sundry ingredients. The result, to use a word that ought warm the cockles of any conservative’s heart, is a sort of an intellectual slumgullion.

Here’s the basic recipe. As that stew’s principal ingredients, start with generous portions of John Quincy Adams and his grandson Henry. Fold in ample amounts of Randolph Bourne, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Christopher Lasch. For seasoning, throw in some Flannery O’Connor and Wendell Berry—don’t skimp. If you’re in a daring mood, add a dash of William Appleman Williams. To finish, sprinkle with Frank Capra—use a light hand: too sweet and the concoction’s ruined. Cook slowly. (Microwave not allowed.) What you get is a dish that is as nutritious as it is tasty.

What Dr Bacevich gets at is a conservative vision that focusses on the small and achievable rather than the grandiose and utopian. In so doing, he aims at several things which the misbegotten intellectual offspring of Max Shachtman and the Fountainhead fundamentalists have long ago misplaced; a value beyond the monetary and not amenable to cost-benefit analysis, set upon: received wisdom over fads, family over the consumer, the long-term common good over the private quarterly bottom line. He evinces with clarity the classical conviction that human beings are by nature ‘inherently ornery and perverse’. Further, he refuses to place state, market or military on idols’ pedestals, and evinces the classical position of Christian radicalism which looks askance at all concentrations of wealth and power.

More (and I love this part), he recognises that conservatives have to be smart about where they sign on, and with whom. (This is one point I make rather often regarding the Lost Causers. Not only is the alliance between certain libertarians and certain palaeoconservatives hailing treason in defence of slavery morally repugnant, it’s really just plain dumb.) He doesn’t stop there, though! Conservatives ‘need to recognize that the political left includes people of goodwill whose views on some (by no means all) matters coincide with our own’.

Please do read the whole thing. It seems everything I read from Dr Bacevich since The Limits of Power manages to heighten my respect for him; this is no exception!