The official blog of Sérgio Gonçalves, a freelance writer specializing in self-improvement through the study of history and culture. New content posted every Monday and Friday.

"It is not our level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. Both attitudes lie within our power, so that a man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy, and no one can stop him." — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Arc of History

Henry L. Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War (1911-1913 and 1940-1945) and Secretary of State (1929-1933)
"I have always believed that the long view of man's history will show that his destiny on earth is progress toward the good life, even though that progress is based on sacrifices and sufferings which taken by themselves seem to constitute a hideous melange of evils. This is an act of faith. We must not let ourselves be engulfed in the passing waves which obscure the current of progress. The sinfulness and weakness of man are evident to anyone who lives in the active world. But men are also great, kind and wise. Honor begets honor; trust begets trust; faith begets faith; and hope is the mainspring of life.

"Those who read this book will mostly be younger than I, men of the generations who must bear the active part in the work ahead. Let them charge us with our failures and do better in their turn. But let them not turn aside from that which they have to do, nor think that criticism excuses inaction. Let them have hope, and virtue, and let them believe in mankind and its future, for there is good as well as evil, and the man who tries to work for the good, believing in its eventual victory, while he may suffer setback and even disaster, will never know defeat. The only deadly sin I know is cynicism."

— Henry L. Stimson, in his memoirs On Active Service in Peace and War (1948)

[Digested from The Reader's Digest Reader (Pleasantville, NY, The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1951).]

Friday, August 17, 2018

"What is Life For?"

Ray Stannard Baker (AKA David Grayson): Journalist and advisor to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson 
"Presently, he looked at me curiously, and asked: 'Grayson, are you happy?'

This is a hard and sharp question to ask any man. But it is truly — as I thought afterward — the first question to put to the critic; for if the critic has not arrived at an understanding with himself (which is as near true 'happiness' as any man ever gets), what right has he to criticize?* I replied instantly (wondering since somewhat about it!):

'Yes, I am. Once I had a civil war going on in me; and I was unhappy. Now, I know who I am; and what I am trying to do. I know what life is for.'

It is only occasionally — once or twice in a dozen years — that two men get down thus into the very roots of things.

'Well, what is life for?' asked Mr. Pitwell.

'It's to make better men, nobler men — and after that still nobler men. It's to throw all you are and everything you have into that one purpose. It's to understand the wonder and the truth of life — and then to make other people understand. It's to make of life a great adventure; an expedition, an enthusiasm. Not to blink sorrow, or evil, or ugliness; but never to fear them!'" 

David Grayson (Pseudonym of Ray Stannard Baker), in "The Man in the Glass Cage" (1925)

["The Man in the Glass Cage" was a selection that appeared in the 1940 edition of The Reader's Digest Reader (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.). It is an excerpt from David Grayson, Adventures in Understanding (New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1925)]
*Incidentally, this underlined phrase succinctly and eloquently summarizes the point of Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson's now-famous admonition to "clean up your room," explained here and here. My own failure to "clean up my room" has been the most fundamental root of all my problems. For too long, I have been quick to criticize the world around me, while my own mind (and, therefore, my own life) was and is a mess. I'm only now beginning the slow, arduous process of "cleaning up my room."

Monday, August 13, 2018

"There Was No Collusion"

As regular readers of this blog know, I enjoy reading newspaper comic strips. My favorite strip by far is, without a doubt, Prince Valiant. Created by Canadian comic book artist and writer Hal Foster in 1936, Prince Valiant normally centers around the adventures of Valiant (often referred to simply as "Val"), a Nordic warrior-prince. Other major characters in the strip include Valiant's wife Aleta, who is the Queen of a Mediterranean realm called the Misty Isles, and their children.

The events depicted in the strip do not take place in one specific time period, but almost all events occur roughly between the late Roman Empire and the High Middle Ages.

Foster wrote and drew Prince Valiant solo until 1970, when he began experimenting with various collaborators. In 1971, Foster chose one of these collaborators, John Cullen Murphy, to work with him on a permanent basis. From 1971 until 1980, Foster wrote the strip while Murphy drew it. In 1980, Foster retired, leaving Murphy to draw the strip, and Murphy's son, Cullen Murphy, to write it. In 2004, illustrator Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz took over the strip. Schultz remains the writer of the strip to this day, though Thomas Yeates replaced Gianni as the artist in 2012.  

Prince Valiant. 
The current story arc in Prince Valiant is atypical, in that it does not revolve around the title character! Indeed, Val has been absent from the story since February. Instead, readers have been following a story about Krios, a Senator from the Misty Isles, who has been demanding the creation of a restricted trade zone on the isle of Kythra, much to the consternation of Queen Aleta.

Here are some scenes from this ongoing story arc. Click on them to make them larger.

Do you notice something here? Does this story remind you of something?

Does it remind you, perchance, of current events?

Yes, folks, it is what it looks like: Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates are using an iconic, classic comic strip — one they did not create — to stealthily attack President Donald Trump. Sad!

Somewhere, Val is following this story arc... and he's not happy.
Has this annoyed me, as someone who is generally supportive of President Trump's agenda? Yes. At the same time, though, I have enjoyed the story. It's a fascinating story on its own terms: a ambitious politician pretends to be acting in the people's interest while in fact seeking only to improve his economic position. Indeed, this is a rather universal concept; the story does not necessarily need to be read as an attack on Trump. Surely, political leaders have been exploiting popular passions for their own benefit since the dawn of human civilization. Besides, Trump is no saint. It is hard to believe that he's taking on the globalists purely out of an altruistic concern for the "forgotten men and women of America."

In short, while I think Trump makes many valid points, a good story is, in the final analysis, a good story. I can tolerate a few subtle jabs at a politician I happen to admire.

And yet, that doesn't mean I've able to avoid groaning or raising my eyebrows at points when the anti-Trump message of this story becomes too overt to be ignored.

Take, for instance, a panel from the latest installment of this story, which came out yesterday. It describes an unsuccessful meeting between Senator Krios and a Byzantine general representing the Emperor Justinian. Krios was supposed to provide the general with a Norse hostage, so that Justinian would be able to lure a party of Norsemen into a trap. (According to the general, Norsemen are a thorn in Justinian's side, for they frequently raid Byzantium's colonies). In return, Byzantium was supposed to pay Krios in gold to help him buy properties on Kythra, so that he would then be able to turn Kythra into a restricted trade zone. Krios failed to provide a captured Norseman, so the Byzantine representative refused to provide Krios the gold.

Anyway, here's the panel:

 "Valeta (one of Valiant's daughters) has caught Senator Krios in the treasonous act of collusion with representatives of the Emperor Justinian."


Could the parallels between the current Prince Valiant story arc and the ongoing real-world saga of Russiagate now be any more evident, or impossible to ignore? 
Schultz's use of the word "collusion" is both somewhat annoying and rather amusing. As irritating as it is, on one level, to see a classic comic strip being very transparently used to promote a political agenda, one also can't help but admire Schultz's and Yeates's audacity in doing so.

To follow this story by reading the current and previous installments of it, visit Comics Kingdom. Visit the same link every Sunday to see the story further unfold!        

Friday, August 10, 2018

Miguel de Unamuno on the Spanish Civil War (Part 2)

Miguel de Unamuno was a Spanish academic and writer. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he was serving as the rector of the University of Salamanca. 
"Much is said about the Madrid government, but, in truth, there is no government in Madrid. Armed groups commit all the atrocities imaginable. Power is in the hands of freed prisoners that walk around menacingly brandishing their pistols. [Manuel] Azaña no longer represents anything. I can picture him very clearly sitting in his palace, because I've known him for thirty years. I can see him... confused and disoriented, busying himself taking notes with which to later write his memoirs. He is a mediocre, frivolous man who has never given a thought to anything besides the writing of his articles. He is responsible for everything that is happening. When the military revolt took place, he thought it was a simple pronunciamiento. He didn't realize that there were masses of people ready to join forces with the army. He said, 'Arm the people.' [...] It is incomprehensible how a statesman could have such little sense of history. He's always buried in his books, without understanding the moment in which he lives."

Miguel de Unamuno, in a September 1936 interview with French journalist Merry Bromberger

Manuel Azaña, President of the Spanish Republic in 1936.
"Fortunately, the army has shown great competence. [Francisco] Franco and [Emilio] Mola had the prudence to refuse to speak out against the Republic. Both are unhurried men whose decisions are thoughtful and reflective. While serving in Morocco, Franco had the opportunity to develop himself into a first-rate leader. Militarily, at least, this soldier may yet save Spain."

Miguel de Unamuno, in the same interview

General Francisco Franco, who, in the immediate aftermath of the 1936 assassination of conservative member of Parliament José Calvo Sotelo by Socialist police officers, rebelled against the Spanish Republic.
"We are in the midst of a struggle between civilization and anarchy. Madrid does not actually represent Democracy, but rather anarchy in its most perverse form: a tremendous movement born of the old dispute between [Mikhail] Bakunin and [Karl] Marx. The old Russian nihilism is not dead. It merely emigrated to Spain. How many times have I seen on the walls of towns captured by the enemy the stupid inscription: 'Long live Death!' Azaña is a lost man."

Miguel de Unamuno, in an August 1936 interview with French journalist Raymond Lacoste

The quotations translated above were found in this article from the Fundación Nacional Francisco Franco.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Seneca's Last Stand

The Suicide of Seneca, by Manuel Domínguez Sánchez (1871)
«"Seneca (c. 4 B.C. to A.D. 65) was a Spaniard who was brought to Rome at an early age. He studied rhetoric and philosophy, and soon gained a reputation at the Bar. He was banished in A.D. 41 by the Emperor Claudius, but recalled eight years later by Agrippina to become tutor to her son Domitus, afterwards the Emperor Nero, then 11 years old. When Nero came to the throne at 17, Seneca's power was still further increased. Though a Stoic, professedly despising riches, he amassed a huge fortune. This was probably a mistake. His presence in time became irksome to Nero, and his enormous wealth excited his cupidity. Finally, in A.D. 65 Nero charged Seneca with complicity in a conspiracy against him, and ordered him to commit suicide. Tactitus describes the scene:

"Undismayed, he asked for tablets to make his will. When this was refused by the centurion, he turned to his friends and said that, since he was prevented from rewarding their services, he would leave them the only thing, and yet the best thing, that he had to leave — the pattern of his life... At the same time he reminded his weeping friends of their duty to be strong... asking them what had become of the precepts of wisdom, of the philosophy which for so many years they had studied in the face of impending evils... Then he embraced his wife — and slit his wrists."»

Frances and Henry Hazlitt, in The Wisdom of the Stoics: Selections from Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius (1984)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

A Public Speaking Tip from one of the Great Orators of our Time

Jordan Peterson. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore
"A good lecture is not only delivering facts (which is perhaps the least important part of a lecture), but also telling stories about those facts, pitching them precisely to the level of the audience's comprehension, gauging that by the interest they are showing. The story he or she is telling conveys to the members of the audience not only what the facts are, but why they are relevant — why it is important to know certain things about which they are currently ignorant. To demonstrate the importance of some set of facts is to tell those audience members how such knowledge could change their behaviour, or influence the way they interpret the world, so that they will now be able to avoid some obstacles and progress more rapidly to some better goals.

A good lecturer is thus talking with and not at or even to his or her listeners. To manage this, the lecturer needs to be closely attending to the audience's every move, gesture, and sound. Perversely, this cannot be done by watching the audience as such. A good lecturer speaks directly to and watches the response of single, identifiable people, instead of doing something clichéd, such as "presenting a talk" to an audience. Everything about that phrase is wrong. You don't present. You talk. There is no such thing as "a talk," unless it's canned, and it shouldn't be. There is also no "audience." There are individuals, who need to be included in the conversation. A well-practiced and competent public speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing. In this manner, he infers and reacts to the attitude of the entire group (insofar as such a thing exists)."

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (2018)

Friday, July 20, 2018

"We Were Stablemates. It Was Trump and Putin, Putin and Trump."

At one point during the tumultuous 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, those were the words candidate Donald Trump used to describe a joint appearance he'd once had with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 60 Minutes, a U.S. interview program. At that moment in time, Trump promised to improve U.S. relations with Russia, as he would repeatedly do throughout the campaign.

This past week, President Trump took a yuuuuuge step towards making good on that promise when he met with Putin at a summit in Helsinki, Finland.

And good for him. For the tensions that currently exist between the United States and Russia are extremely dangerous. I believe they are more dangerous than the tensions that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, because there seems to be in the U.S. a widespread, irrational, media-induced, and hysterical hatred of Russia that was not present during the Cold War. As Paul Craig Roberts, a former economic advisor to President Ronald Reagan, reflected in a recent column:

"Humanity has on numerous occasions narrowly missed nuclear Armageddon. Each time it was averted by military officers, both American and Soviet, who understood that the relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were not that strained. Today this situation has been radically altered by the corrupt American media, Democratic Party, and military/security complex, who, acting in behalf of Hillary's political interest and the greed of the armaments industry, have demonized Russia and her President to the extent that malfunctioning warning systems or a temper tantrum of a crazed politicians are likely to result in a fatal launch." 

Read the whole thing here.

President Trump clearly understands the risks of a poor relationship between the world's two largest nuclear powers. "I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace," he declared in Helsinki, "than risk peace in pursuit of politics."

What a beautiful quotation. In my estimation, that is a statesmanlike phrase that for decades hereafter will be remembered as one of the defining themes of Trump's presidency. It is on the same level of brilliance as John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" or "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate."

Unfortunately, the U.S. mainstream media does not see things the same way. Neither do most U.S. politicians. Given the rampant Russophobia that characterizes the U.S. political and media establishment, I expected an overwhelmingly negative reaction to the meeting. But I was totally unprepared for the level of hysteria that unfolded. The sheer level of vitriol in politicians' and journalists' reaction to the summit boggles the mind.

Arizona John S. McCain described Trump's press conference with Putin as "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."

Former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump a traitor to his country and called for Trump's impeachment, tweeting, "Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of  'high crimes and misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump's comment imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin."

Brennan's remarks are deliciously ironic. Considering that Brennan has admitted to voting for Communist Party USA presidential candidate Gus Hall in the 1976 presidential race, he of all people ought to be careful about accusing someone else of treason. Which is worse? Trying to establish a productive working relationship with the leader of a rival great power? Or voting for the candidate of a party that openly advocates a totalitarian, murderous ideology?

I'm going to say the latter... by a long shot.

Gus Halll, longtime chairman of Communist Party USA. 
Brennan says he voted for Hall because he was disillusioned with the state of American politics after Watergate. OK, I can sympathize with Brennan somewhat. After all, I voted for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in 2012 and for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016. But then neither Johnson nor Stein is a Communist. How can anyone vote for a Communist party? Communist regimes murdered millions of innocent people during the twentieth century!

Brennan could have voted for Democrat Jimmy Carter. If he had a problem with Carter, he could also have voted for any number of other third party candidates. But he chose to vote for the candidate of Community Party USA. And then went on to become CIA Director. Kind of scary when you think about it.  

As the article I link to above explains, Communist Party USA was "wholly in the pocket of" the Soviet Union. To be a member of Communist Party USA was to be an agent of the Kremlin... which, incidentally, was trying to kill Pope John Paul II around the same time Brennan was voting for its official organ in the United States. And John Brennan has the nerve to accuse a President who is simply working for peace with Russia of being an agent of the Kremlin?

Former FBI Director James Comey blasted Trump for standing next to a "murderous lying thug" and "refus[ing] to back his own country."

One commentator on MSNBC went so far as to liken Trump's performance to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor or the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

That last statement is quite possibly the most outrageous comment I have ever heard someone make on television, and that is saying a lot, for I've heard many outrageous things on TV. This woman insulted the memory of victims of the Holocaust, as well as of those who lost their lives on December 7, 1941. She should barred from ever again appearing on television.  

To be sure, there is a reasonable case to be made that Trump, at times, did not perform well during the press conference. He evaded inconvenient questions from reporters, and he certainly could have made it clearer that he believes his intelligence services' conclusion that Russia acted to bolster his prospects of winning the 2016 Presidential election. He could have easily made this clear while also noting the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's efforts did not affect the result of the election, and that, whatever Russia did, it is in the interests of both countries to leave that in the past and work together to resolve pressing matters such as nuclear weapons, the Syrian civil war, or the crisis in Ukraine. 

What bothers me about the reaction to Trump's press conference from establishment politicians and mainstream media is that they totally ignored all of the other important issues that were discussed, focusing only on the matter of Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 election and Trump's failure to clearly stand by his intelligence agencies. From listening to the U.S. media, you'd think that was the only thing discussed at the press conference. You'd never know about all of the other important issues that were raised. If you missed the full conference, watch it here. I mean it. Please do.: 

Isn't it encouraging to see the leaders of two of the world's most powerful countries treating one another like civilized, educated human beings? That's another reason I'm so frustrated by the media's over-the-top criticism of Trump. What exactly did they wish Trump had done? Beat Putin up? That's the impression I get from the vitriolic criticism of Trump. 

Let me go back to Comey's reaction for a moment. "Murderous lying thug?" What kind of public figure uses such language?

Can you imagine if Franklin D. Roosevelt had called Josef Stalin a "murderous lying thug" during World War II?

Can you imagine if Dwight D. Eisenhower had called Francisco Franco a "murderous lying thug" when he restored diplomatic relations between the United States and Spain?

Can you imagine if Richard Nixon had called Mao Zedong a "murderous lying thug" when he went to China?

What good would possibly have come out of such meetings, if the hysteria currently gripping the U.S. media and political establishment had prevailed in those days?

President Eisenhower embracing a murderous lying thug!! TRAITOR!!! 
Michael Savage is right on the money about the media reaction to the press conference. The July 16, 2017 episode of his radio show is well worth listening to: 

Savage not only asks what the media would have liked Trump to do, but he also asks the million dollar question: why do the Democrats (and many Republicans, to be fair) not want peace with Russia? 

Stephen Cohen, a professor emeritus at New York University and one of the most distinguished Russianists in the United States, also raised the same question recently: 

That's a question I'd like an answer to. I could certainly understand the rationale for the original Cold War, which I have no doubt was the right policy for the United States to pursue at that time.

But why should we have another Cold War with Russia, which long ago ceased being a Communist country and whose government has revived Orthodox Christianity?

Are we fighting against Orthodox Christianity in the name of globalist capitalism and democracy crusading?

Sorry, but that is not a fight I can support in good conscience.

In the above video, Professor Cohen notes that the hysterical reaction to the press conference by mainstream politicians and journalists has endangered U.S. national security.

The very day after the press conference, events vindicated Cohen. Trump walked back his most controversial comment at the press conference, thus making himself appear weak, indecisive, and unsure of himself. Thanks to his hysterical opposition, Trump managed to turn a major success for U.S. foreign policy into a defeat with potentially serious consequences. Michael Savage explains:


All right, I think this rant has gone on long enough for one blog post. If you're still reading this and somehow wish to read more about the Helsinki summit and the reaction to it in the United States, I'd recommend you the following articles. 

Paul Craig Roberts analyzes the widespread claim that Trump is a traitor for having met with Putin, and explains the role of the military-security complex in fomenting unnecessary conflicts between the United States and other countries. 

Jack Hunter defends Kentucky Senator Rand Paul from the ridiculous attacks to which he was subjected after he spoke out in support of Trump's meeting with Putin. 

And last but by no means least, Pat Buchanan defends Trump from the charges of treason for criticizing post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy towards Russia both before and during his meeting with Putin. You can always count on Buchanan to eloquently and fearlessly say what he really thinks. I agree with this column so strongly that I can't help but conclude this blog post with an excerpt from it: 

"When Trump spoke of the 'foolishness and stupidity' of the U.S. foreign policy establishment that contributed to this era of animosity in U.S-Russia relations, what might he have had in mind? 

Was it the U.S. provocatively moving NATO into Russia's front yard after the collapse of the USSR? 

Was it the U.S. invasion of Iraq to strip Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction he did not have that plunged us into endless wars of the Middle East? 

Was it U.S. support of Syrian rebels determined to oust Bashar Assad, leading to ISIS intervention and a seven-year civil war with half a million dead, a war which Putin eventually entered to save his Syrian ally? 

Was it George W. Bush's abrogation of Richard Nixon's ABM treaty and drive for a missile defense that caused Putin to break out of the Reagan INF treaty and start deploying cruise missiles to counter it? 

Was it U.S. complicity in the Kiev coup that ousted the elected pro-Russian regime that caused Putin to seize Crimea to hold onto Russia's Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol?

Many Putin actions we condemn were reactions to what we did." 

Truths like fists. 

Read the whole thing here.