26 February 2022

Five points on the Ukraine conflict

  1. The Russian assault on the Ukraine is morally wrong, full stop. Ukrainians do not in the least deserve what Russia is doing to them as we speak. Indeed, they have not deserved what has been done to them by multiple actors since (and including) the ouster of Yanukovych in 2014. I stand firmly with Metropolitan Onufriy of Kiev, and support and endorse his call upon President Vladimir Putin for an immediate cessation of violence.

  2. This war was entirely preventable from multiple sides. It is an expression of a long-standing failure of diplomacy between NATO countries and Russia, going back at least to 2008, possibly even to 2004. Given what happened to Yugoslavia five years prior to that, Russian distrust of NATO is entirely legitimate and warranted.

  3. It is also an expression of long-standing failure of peace-keeping in afflicted areas like the Donetsk Basin. The people in the Donetsk Basin have been suffering mortar attacks and wanton destruction of their schools, hospitals and homes for the past eight years, and the culprits of this waste of human life and limb have been overwhelmingly the Ukrainian Army.

  4. The long ignorance of people for the humanitarian suffering in Donbass, over the past eight years, is intolerable. The people who are only now discovering that being mortared non-stop by a hostile army from across a line of control is bad, have some deep soul-searching to do.

  5. Reiterate point 4, a fortiori, for Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. Remember the commandment: Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries, as to those that occur in English speaking countries.

May peace and justice prevail. May God have mercy upon the Ukraine. May God have mercy upon the Donbass. May God have mercy upon Russia. And may God have mercy upon us all.

22 February 2022

Who is for peace?

‘War is a grave sin against God: pray for peace’

‘There can be only one answer: to fight until victory’

Two statements, released on the same day in response to recent events. One (which, by the way, includes a patriotic affirmation of Ukraine’s current borders) is a call for restraint and reflection from all the world powers. The other is a hatred-filled nationalist screed calling for attack upon the Muscovite enemy. It is clearer than ever before, which Church is with the Prince of Peace, and which ‘church’ is with the idol of Mars. May God protect and preserve the rightful Metropolitan of all of the Ukraine, His Holiness Vladyka Onufriy, may God grant him many years, and may God grant peace to all of the lands under his rightful jurisdiction.
In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.
Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?
Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper.
Woe is me, that I sojourn in Mesech, that I dwell in the tents of Kedar!
My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace.
I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war.

18 February 2022

The vampire castle sorties against Asian Olympians

Eileen Gu’s performance in the freestyle ski events at the Beijing Winter Olympics has been completely indomitable. She makes these gravity-defying runs with jaw-dropping tricks (like her double-cork 1620 in Big Air, her double-cork 1080 in Slopestyle, or her show-stopping 13’2” hit in Halfpipe), and she makes them look effortless. She’s a superb athlete, an honors student, a fashion model and – incredibly, given her talents – just a genuine, humble and warm-hearted person overall. Unfortunately, her treatment by American politicians, and in American news media and social media, has been nothing short of abusive.

By choosing to run for her mother’s home country, the People’s Republic of China, rather than her father’s home country of the United States, media personalities and politicians were quick to question her loyalty. NBC may just have been ‘raising questions’ about it (yeah, sure), but Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Will Cain lost no time labelling her ‘ungrateful’, and Carlson additionally opined that her decision should be met with ‘collective revulsion’ by patriotic Americans. On the other side of the party-political coin, Democratic senator Claire McCaskill tweeted that she ‘d[id]n’t get it’, why an American would choose to compete for China – even though we have Americans at the Olympics also competing for Mexico, Great Britain and a host of other countries in these same games. Ugh, indeed.

In general, the spin of official opinion in the United States was that Eileen Gu was competing for China for purely mercenary or opportunistic reasons, as if she was seeking chances there that she wouldn’t be qualified for here… which is ridiculous on its face for two reasons. It’s quite clear, given her talent, that she would have been welcomed with open arms should she have chosen to compete for the US team. And it’s also clear from the interviews that she’s given that her motivations are far from mercenary: she sees herself as something of an ambassador for her sport in China. And her overall attitude in interviews is, as said above, one of a gentle and modest teenager who skis for the love of the sport. When Eileen Gu hadn’t won any medals yet, the official line was to question her Americanness. The idea was to make her seem disloyal, unpatriotic and self-interested.

But now—with two gold medals and a silver medal around her neck—the American news media are singing a very different tune. The idea is still to discredit Eileen Gu, but they are taking a different tack now. They are trying to give her the Harrison Bergeron treatment, and weaponise Tumblr liberalism, identity politics and wokeness against her. ‘Chinese women look at Eileen Gu and do not see themselves’, Vice Magazine opines. She’s too white, too well-educated, too privileged to be like them. This viewpoint is echoed in outlets like Quartz and the Wall Street Journal (see how the Murdoch media empire is trying to play both sides here?). The British New Statesman goes as far as to compare Eileen Gu to Soong Mei-ling, and slimily insinuate that she has nothing to do with ‘restauranteurs and laundrymen’ of her own day.

So now that she is a success story in her sport, the way in which American news media are attacking Eileen Gu is by calling the authenticity of her Chineseness into question. They’re trying to guilt her with talk of her ‘white privilege’, and gaslight her into thinking she has nothing to do with the country for which she’s chosen to compete. This is how the vampire castle operates. As the late great Mark Fisher puts it, it ‘specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.’ All of these aspects have been present from the start in the media and social media treatment of the champion skier.

Thankfully, Ms Gu is not buying it one bit; more power to her. She’s secure enough and mature enough not to let these bad-faith criticisms from the nationalist right and the woke liberals get to her, and her response to her critics and detractors so far has been, basically, cry ab it. Unfortunately, the vampire castle has succeeded in drawing blood from another Asian athlete in another event.

Kamila Valieva, the fifteen-year-old Volga Tatar figure-skating phenom from Kazan, was probably the key factor catapulting the Russian [Olympic Committee] toward their gold medal in Teams. Watching Kamila on the ice is like watching both an expert dancer and an elemental force of nature at once, as she exudes both poise and power. Grace and love for the art flows through her every move, and her Olympic skates have been no exception to that rule. Emotions flow very close to the surface in her performance – that is why she exudes such a powerful presence. That is why during the women’s short programme, she was considered the leading favourite for the ROC team to win gold.

However, Ms Valieva tested positive in a Swedish lab test for WADA over Christmas for trace amounts of a heart medication, trimetazidine, which has a pharmacokinetic half-life of seven to twelve hours. Drug tests are usually returned within one to two days; there’s a good reason for this, because after five days to about two weeks (depending on the bodily substance being tested), the clinical validity of a drug test on a given sample is ruined. So the results of this test were delayed, unconscionably, for two months; and the timing of the release of these results – after the medal ceremony in the teams competition – is more than just suspicious, it’s slimy. Her drug tests at the Olympics themselves all came back perfectly clean. Under these circumstances, for the American commentators like Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski to turn around and call her a ‘cheater’ – and Adam Rippon to call her a ‘dirty f—king cheater’, to boot – after singing her praises throughout the teams event, looks a lot like bullying.

They must have realised this early on, though, because a couple of days after this they were all singing a much different tune as well. Probably after intuiting how directly taking out their anger at a fifteen-year-old might look, they all cagily transposed it onto her coach (Georgian national Eteri Tutberidze) and the other ‘adults’ around her. And then came the inevitable identitarian Tumblr-liberal rage directed at Valieva on behalf of track runner Sha’Carri Richardson in comparing their situations and accusing the IOC of racism (despite Valieva also not being white by American standards). Quite honestly, the only reaction in English-language media that I’ve seen that looks anywhere close to human is the assessment by Sally Jenkins in, of all places, The Washington Post, when she said that ‘you can only hope that the obvious purity of Valieva’s performance, her relieving clean lines, supreme lightness in the air and unenhanced artistry, will overcome it all, and she will be allowed to do what she was born to do: skate.’ Everything else, though – the calculated sanctimony of it all, the sheer and utter insincerity of all the ‘sympathy’ for Valieva that sat under the calls for her suspension and punishment, has been sickening to watch.

But it worked. Valieva lost her nerve. And there’s no doubt that the media-driven scandal was the cause.

She took falls in the free skate which caused her to fall from first place into fourth. And you could tell that the entire scandal took its toll on her, utterly. She was heartbroken. And Lipinski, Weir, Rippon and the rest – even though they were observing the whole thing from the front row, so to speak – never once thought to turn the lens back on themselves for their role in how she was treated, but pretended they were still disinterested observers who were out for Valieva’s own good. As folk singer John McCutcheon once put it about the death of Princess Diana, the news media and social media were ‘the last to get the message but the first ones on the scene’. There is something very Lewisian – something very That Hideous Strength, to be specific – about the way American politics surrounding sport works nowadays, and the media treatment of Valieva was almost exemplary of that trend.

The experiences of Eileen Gu and of Kamila Valieva in the court of public opinion show this clearly: there are no depths of cruelty to which news media will not sink, when the victim is a woman who belongs to an undesirable nationality or social class not protected by the diktats of the America-centric idpol hierarchy. Weirdly, an Olympic Games in another country has shown that this ain’t no fit place for biracial kids, kids with multiple nationalities, or kids with the wrong nationality, who just can’t win in this nationalism- and idpol-dominated political culture.

04 February 2022

Culture war: the distraction from spiritual war

Image courtesy White Fear Chain, from their album Visceral Life - go support them, they are an awesome band

Fair warning: I am going to speak primarily to the Orthodox version of this, because this is the corner I know best. However, the dynamics that I am going to describe here cut across confessional demarcations. Despite the theatrical protestations from each group against the other, Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Centre and the formation around Rod Dreher’s blog at The American Conservative are coming to look strangely like mirror images of each other. It is intriguing that in their attempts to firm up the ranks in the intra-Orthodox culture war, both of them have identified both an internal ‘enemy’ (whether LGBTQ activists or Christian nationalists) as well as a common external ‘enemy’.

It isn’t and shouldn’t be news that Rod Dreher has been gunning for China for several years now. And he’s not just going after the government, but also after Chinese people and people of Chinese descent. This is part-and-parcel of what appears to be a concerted editorial policy under Arthur Bloom’s utter mismanagement at The American Conservative (though not just there) with a peculiarly-racialised form of Cold War liberal red-baiting.

But now it seems that Fordham’s Public Orthodoxy blog (however happy it is to pose as ‘liberal’ on culture-war issues) is happily getting in on that action. Witness Cyril Hovorun’s execrable, kneejerk Eurocentric piece on that outlet which manages, at the same time, to elide African voices entirely from the conversation about their own religious and political life, and also to repeat tired, racial-paranoid lies about Chinese ‘colonisation’ of the continent. He even uses the literal language of ‘Scramble for Africa’ that echoes the British-imperialist apologetics of the neoliberal rag The Economist in regard to the continent. As my Yiddish ancestors would say, ‘Oy vey.’ (Please, for the love of God, somebody page Yanis Varoufakis. It’s a long shot, but there’s an off-chance the rich Greek-American cradle types at Fordham might listen to an economist from the Old Country.)

In the meanwhile, you have Hovorun’s fellow Public Orthodoxy affiliate the ‘Very Reverend Doctor’ John A Jillions (and you know he’s Serious Business when he puts that many titles in front of his name, like a tonsured Reader still wet behind the ears) and oyster-snarfing pearl-clutching closet-case DreRod going after each other over who gets to give lecture gigs at St Vlad’s, with all the name-calling you’d expect to be attendant on such a high-stakes fight. It’s quite comical. It’s hilarious to me, in fact – even though I have mixed-race kids attending an Orthodox parish, so it’s not like I’m unaffected.

But this shows that Orthodoxy in America reflects American politics – and however unfortunate that may be, there is no escaping it. Nor should there be: as Fr Georges Florovsky says, this world is where we Christians live and serve, and we shouldn’t try to barricade ourselves off from it. American politics is dominated by the likes of Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson, and we will have to deal with these forms of political hæresy – and, yes, hæresy is the correct term – infiltrating the Church from both ‘sides’ of the culture war. Just as historical hæresies have usually come in pairs, so too do these ones.

The overall punchline is still this: don’t be ‘orrid, and don’t be a twerp. That is to say: it’s fine to stand for all of Orthodox teaching, consistently, on issues of race and sex. You shouldn’t have to be ‘soft’ on rainbow-flag wokelib nonsense the way Public Orthodoxy wants you to be; and you shouldn’t have to be ‘soft’ on white Christian nationalism the way The American Conservative wants you to be.

Moreover, Orthodox Christians need to beware of these wolves in sheep’s clothing, and not compromise the revealed truth of Christ for any partizan facsimile thereof, regardless of whether it’s Democrat-flavoured or Republican-flavoured. The culture war is always and ever a distraction from the spiritual war that we all face. Remember that the demons have many wiles, and they attack with illusions. Hostile powers find it easier to attack us with half-truths that sound pleasing and convincing, rather than with outright lies. It’s easier for them to attack us with those half-truths when they can distract us with the wrongness of someone else – someone outside. Therefore we must keep our mind always on our own wrongness, our own failings, and seek to correct those. Personally speaking, that means always examining ourselves for cognitive biases, blind spots, emotional hangups. And collectively speaking, as a country, that means attending first to the problems that we face at home rather than the problems that exist overseas.

02 February 2022

Who witnesses to Christ among the Ukrainians?

An interesting study was put out recently by the German-based, CDU-aligned Konrad Adenauer Foundation, looking at the composition of religious communities in the Ukraine. Among the communities studied were the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) under Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovskiy), the schismatic Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) under Sergei Dumenko, and the uniate Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) under Svyatoslav Shevchuk. This study can be found in the Ukrainian language version here. One fact which stuck out fairly blatantly concerned the attitudes of religious communities to each other.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church membership consistently displayed higher positive attitudes toward, and willingness to cooperate with, believers in other religious bodies. UOC parishioners polled at 42% having a positive view of OCU members, and only 12% having a negative view of OCU members. UOC parishioners were slightly cooler on UGCC parishioners, but still positive: 30% had a positive view and 3% had a negative view.

On the other hand, the memberships of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church showed significant prejudice against the UOC’s membership. More OCU members had negative views (37%) of UOC members compared to positive views (29%). And far more UGCC members had negative views (53%) than positive views (10%) of UOC members.

There are several ways to interpret this data. However, the most convincing to my mind is the one which follows Ockham’s Razor: that the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church simply does a better job of witnessing to Christ and transforming hearts than the other two religious bodies do. The fact that UOC parishioners have a more understanding and positive view of other religious bodies and their memberships, and are willing to work with them on matters of the common good, suggests to me that the UOC priests are demonstrating an actual œcumenical spirit in the best bottom-up sense of the term, and that they possess an actual commitment to the civic good of the country and to the democratic ethos than either of the other two major confessions do.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, on a certain level, has nothing to prove. Metropolitan Onufriy has been keeping well clear of sæcular politics and attending to his proper business of spiritually guiding a flock which has been, in many cases, literally under siege. He has been preaching consistently a message against resentment and violence. Vladyka Onufriy’s message throughout all these eight years of crisis in his country has been one of unity and love.

The primates of the other two bodies, on the other hand – schismatic and uniate – had been busily cosying up to far-right nationalist political forces and parties formerly in power, and courting the organs of state throughout this crisis. They did not put their trust in Christ but instead in Petro Poroshenko (see also here). They have taken the same attitude and aspect with regard to the politics in their own country, that ‘evangelical’ Protestants have done here with regard to Donald Trump—and their witness to Christ has similarly suffered as a result. They see the other people within their own country primarily as culture-war enemies to be vanquished, rather than as icons of Our Lord.

I understand that, given the tenor of some of my past posts on the subject, I am sometimes seen as anti-Ukraine or anti-Ukrainian. I openly admit to being anti-nationalist, and I see Ukrainian nationalism as a uniquely noxious form of that political poison. But the fact of the matter is that I want what is best for the Ukrainian people, materially and spiritually, and I have done ever since the beginnings of this blog when I first began paying attention to Ukrainian affairs. The Ukrainian people are incredibly blessed to have among them a witness to the love of Christ such as Metropolitan Onufriy: they should pay him greater attention—and not to the court clerics of businessmen and politicians who want to manipulate them for money and power.

01 February 2022

Happy Spring Festival 2022, and Happy Year of the Tiger!

Well, here it is. The big three times twelve approaches. For those of you who, like me, are also tigers, make sure to wear red this year. I already got my red boxers and red bracelet on, courtesy of my thoughtful and caring wife. Given how poor my luck has been these past few years in terms of my career and just generally keeping my life together, I really am hoping there’s something to the traditional Chinese wisdom on this.

That having been said, 祝大家:新年快乐、恭喜发财、虎虎生威、虎运连年、年年有余、万事如意、大吉大利!To all I wish a happy Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year or whatever you want to call it. And please don’t indulge in any PC culture-warrior shenanigans on my blog. Taking offence at what you call Spring Festival is every bit as much bad-faith snowflakiness as the so-called War on Christmas is.

The fam and I enjoyed a very nice traditional New Year’s Eve meal consisting of chicken jiaozi with vinegar and soy sauce, spring rolls, sausages, cashews and almonds, sunflower seeds, a nice white wine (for the adults; hot cocoa for the kids), fresh fruits, pineapple cakes and other desserts. Wishing all of my gentle readers a similarly pleasant and cosy celebration today!