Letters

Forgiveness

The Prodigal SonWhere has my summer gone? It seems every single one flies by faster than the one before it.

I began preparing my fall semester classes the same week spring semester ended, and I’ve been focused on that planning for all of May, June, and July. Then, about ten days ago, I realized that school was again upon us, and that instead of feeling refreshed after a nice, long summer break, I felt totally burned out. I realized that if I wanted to survive until Christmas—not always and easy feat for me—I would need to at least take a few days off to recharge my “batteries” before the start of the new school year.

I had a lot of options as to how to spend my “vacation” time, because I have a to-do list that I know will still be twelve miles long by the time I die, but since I was trying to relax a bit, I wanted to do something slightly less productive. Thus, I chose to take a few days off in order to travel about the state visiting people who’ve been important parts of my life over the last few decades but who I rarely see anymore. My list was extremely long, and I could only hit a few places, but it ended up being some of the most meaningful days of my entire year.

Of course I had to see the usual suspects. First I spent some time with my parents. Later I visited my grandparents for dinner. Then I dropped in on some of my old landscaping coworkers and spent a little time catching up with them. After that I visited another coworker who retired years ago and who now lives alone. He and I drank some beer and swapped some old stories. It was all very enjoyable and refreshing.

I wished that I’d been able to see more people, but the visits that I did make were great. The most important one though stood out above the rest, not because the company was better, but because the circumstances were initially so difficult. I made the decision to visit someone who was once a very close friend, but with whom I’d had a falling out over the course of the past year or so. This sort of negative parting doesn’t happen to me very often, so the reasons for it were fairly significant.

I didn’t realize until shortly beforehand just how much bitterness toward this friend I’d been harboring in my heart. Our conversation was difficult at times, but as we chatted and shared our own perspectives on everything that had happened, my anger softened and began melting away.

Looking back on the whole affair, I am struck by the wisdom of Our Lord’s words in Matthew 5:23-24. “If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.”

I think the point Our Lord was making here is that we can’t truly love God while at the same time harboring resentment toward our neighbor.

With our fallen human nature, it’s all too easy for us to become bitter and jaded when we feel wronged or hurt, but we must not allow for that to happen. Animosity is a heavy burden to carry, and the longer we go on carrying it, the more it bends us down and deforms us.

It’s never easy to forgive—or to ask to be forgiven—but it’s far easier than the alternative.

In my personal situation, while I know that things will never be the same as they once were, there is a great sense of peace in the knowledge that I won’t spend the rest of my life holding a grudge against someone who once meant so much to me. By sitting down and discussing the matter honestly, openly, and charitably, we’ve been able to avoid a lifetime of bitterness, and for that I am truly thankful.

Good friendships are some of God’s greatest gifts to us in the valley of tears that is this present life, and we ought to always recognize them, treasure them, and protect them, and—whenever possible—preserve them.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
Culture

The Lesson of Diapers & Toys

The Lesson of Diapers & ToysOn two separate evenings this past week, I found myself roped into moving a massive pile of boxes across town. Moving in and of itself wasn’t at all a new experience for me, but moving what was in those boxes was.

The cardboard crates in question contained hundreds of pounds of diapers and blankets and car seats and toys. I and the other volunteers—most of whom I’d never met before—loaded the tender cargo into the backs of trailers, pickup trucks, and mini-vans, and then proceeded across town as part of a caravan to deposit it at its new, larger home.

When a friend had asked me a few days earlier if I might be available to help the local Options for Women clinic move to a new location in town, I’d given my standard reply that I’d check my calendar and get back to him. As I’m sure is true with most people, moving is not one of my all-time favorite things to do, and so I was a little disappointed to see that I had both the evenings wide open.

When my younger brother and I arrived at the appropriate time, we were happy to find that most of the packing had already been done, and that the boxes merely needed to be loaded onto the trucks and then driven across town and unloaded. Clearly someone else had already put in a lot more time and effort than was being asked of us. Better yet, there was a spread of food put out for the volunteers, even for those who had just arrived.

As we were eating, I made my usual jokes about having come there mostly for the free food, but as I looked around at the faces in that room, my mind kept wandering to more serious thoughts. A wide variety of ages was represented there—older people, middle-aged adults, and a large number of college students. Some were professional staffers, but most were volunteers like myself, probably recruited by their friends.

What struck me most of all was the sense of joy that I could see in that room. It wasn’t a namby-pamby, rainbows-and-butterflies sort of glibness, but rather a genuine sense of being involved in something incredibly important. The people I saw around me, while probably as initially hesitant as I had been, were happy with the knowledge that they were working to help disadvantaged mothers keep and raise their babies.

Across town, after what seemed like a thousand trips carrying boxes into the new building, I stopped to get a sip of water and to admire the growing stack of ‘merchandise.’

“How does this work?” I asked one of the women in charge. “Can expectant mothers purchase this stuff at a discounted rate?”

“No,” she replied. “We don’t charge anything. Moms earn points by taking the free classes we offer on topics like nutrition and newborn care and potty training. They can then use those points to ‘purchase’ the items in our store here.”

I stared at the mound of baby paraphernalia, and I thought back to several previous conversations I’d had on the topic of unplanned pregnancies. During those talks, without fail, the advocates of abortion would say something like the following: “Sure, these people claim they’re pro-life, but once the babies are actually born, they stop caring about them.”

I’d heard this statement many times, and I’d never really believed it, but that pile of toys, baby clothes, and car seats helped me recognize just how blatant a lie it really is. I couldn’t help but wonder how many teething rings and boxes of diapers were stockpiled at the local Planned Parenthood branch. To ask the question was to answer it.

By contrast, the people there in that room— the ones working hard all around me as I polished off my bottle of water—were there because they truly did care about babies and their mothers, and not just up to the point of birth, as their detractors love to claim.

They were there because they are really, genuinely, 100% pro-life.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
Culture, History

Stuff! And the Greeks

Stuff! And the Greeks“Gosh I’ve got a lot of junk!”

I must have said that line a couple dozen times over the course of the last few weeks. As I know is the case with many people, my recent move to a new place made me realize once more just how many material items I actually own.

I think most of us have been in this situation at one point or another, piling all of our worldly possessions into storage totes, bags, and boxes so we can move them to a new location where they will go mostly unused and collect a new layer of dust. At least until the time comes to move them yet again.

Let’s face it, in our modern, American society, we have a lot of stuff. And I don’t just mean knick-knacks and clutter.

Much like our overabundance of food, our level of material prosperity is unprecedented in history. For example, a hundred years ago, automobiles were still considered luxury items for the wealthy. Today nearly everyone has one, including plenty of kids who are still in high school.

Then there are our electronics. Even those of us who are of rather modest means still tend to have laptops and smart phones. We like to complain that we have no money, yet we can find a way to drop $600 on a new iPhone. Our great-grandparents who lived through the Depression Era would mock us to scorn—and rightfully so—for complaining that we are poor. The vast majority of us have no idea what that word even means.

By way of contrast, I would point to the Athenians of Classical Age Greece. As I explain to my students every year, even wealthy Greeks would have been considered poor by our standards. While we today have so much stuff that we need to hold garage sales or make regular trips to the thrift stores in order to get rid of it, most people in Classical Athens owned their clothing, a few blankets, a little pottery, some metal cooking utensils, and a bit of jewelry. And that was about it.

Keep in mind too that this wasn’t some backwards, stone-age civilization. Athens was the cultural center of the western world during the Classical Age. Its citizens weren’t a bunch of country bumpkins. Many of them were quite wealthy, in fact, and they had a flourishing culture with art, architecture, music, theater, and philosophy.

What they didn’t have though, was a lot of stuff. And they were probably a lot happier for it.

It might not hurt us to take the Greeks as role models in this regard. If nothing else, it would make moving a lot easier.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
Book Review, History, Military History

A Higher Call

A Higher Call Book Cover“It’s probably the best book I’ve ever read,” my dad told me.

“It’s really, really good,” my brother Phil confirmed.

Though I’d purchased the World War II aviation story for both my dad and brother after being drawn to its intriguing dust jacket at Barnes and Noble, I’d not yet found the chance to read it for myself. However, once I opened its pages, I understood exactly what they were talking about.

A Higher Call by Adam Makos tells of a kind of heroics we don’t often get to hear about in the 21st century. It’s a story of chivalrous behavior between men who are mortal enemies.

The following is from the book’s blurb:

“December, 1943: A badly damaged American bomber struggles to fly over wartime Germany. At the controls is twenty-one-year-old Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown. Half his crew lay wounded or dead on this, their first mission. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt fighter pulls up on the bomber’s tail. The pilot is German ace Franz Stigler—and he can destroy the young American crew with the squeeze of a trigger…

“What happened next would defy imagination and later be called “the most incredible encounter between enemies in World War II.

“The U.S. 8th Air Force would later classify what happened between them as “top secret.” It was an act that Franz could never mention for fear of facing a firing squad. It was the encounter that would haunt both Charlie and Franz for forty years until, as old men, they would search the world for each other, a last mission that could change their lives forever.”

While the climax of A Higher Call is the suspenseful encounter between the desperate American bomber crew and the German ace, the book is about much more than that, as it carefully traces the paths of the two pilots which led to their dramatic meeting in the skies over war-torn Europe.

There are a couple of important morals that stand out in this masterfully written story.

The secondary moral, which I will address first, is that there were good people on the German side of World War II. As Americans, we tend to forget this, as we prefer to see ourselves as having been the unquestioned heroes of the war, fighting against pure evil. We don’t like to be reminded that much of the Nazis’ wicked, eugenic philosophy originated in the United States and was even defended by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell.

By contrast, there were many Germans, including those serving in the armed forces, who despised Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist regime and blamed the Nazis for Germany’s unfolding destruction and for the appalling suffering of the German people. The majority of Germans voted against Hitler in the election of 1932, yet the popular support he did have enabled him to rise to power anyway and then drag his country into war.

Once in control, the Nazis ruled Germany with an iron fist and would brook no dissent. Among the stories Makos relates is that of a widowed wife of a German soldier who was executed because she told a joke about Hitler to her fellow factory workers.

In an oppressive environment like this, men like Franz Stigler fought not for the hated Nazi regime and its dreaded SS enforcers, but rather for their families and friends who lived in ever-increasing squalor in the bombed-out cities below the German skies.

Against this rather dramatic historical backdrop, Makos paints a play-by-play picture of Stigler’s noble decision to spare the lives of his defenseless enemies, even at grave risk to his own. It’s in this act that we find the primary moral of the book.

As the reader will discover, Stigler had every reason to shoot down the wounded American bomber plane and no practical reason whatsoever to spare it. Despite this, in that adrenaline-fueled moment over his devastated homeland, he decided to put aside his desire for personal glory and chose instead to answer a higher call.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

 

Standard
History, Politics

Catholics on the Court: Then and Now

Catholics on the Court“All-male, all-Roman Catholic majority on Supreme Court puts religious wrongs over women’s rights.”

Thus read an advertisement which appeared in the New York Times in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and other employers who objected on religious grounds to providing their employees with various forms of birth control.

The obvious insinuation of the ad, which was placed by the atheist group, The Freedom From Religion Foundation, was that the male, Roman Catholic justices were swayed by their religious beliefs to vote in favor of allowing corporate owners the freedom of conscience to abstain from paying for their employees’ birth control and abortifacients.

While it is more likely the five justices came to their decision based simply on the rule of law, the principle of religious freedom, and plain common sense, various groups are pressing the accusation that the justices let their Catholic religion influence their decision. It is most interesting to note that this is not the first time such an allegation has been levelled against a member of the Supreme Court.

In 1927, the Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that the forced sterilization of those deemed “unfit” to procreate was a constitutionally acceptable practice. It was in this case that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. gave the world his now infamous statement, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

The plaintiff in the case, 18-year-old Carrie Buck, was considered “feeble-minded” and had already become pregnant, though it was later discovered that this was due to rape rather than to her alleged genetic proclivity for licentious behavior. Today it is strongly suspected that she was actually fairly healthy, and that her adopted family had institutionalized her in order to cover up the sexual assault, which had been perpetrated by a nephew. Nevertheless, after a poorly-argued case, the Court ruled 8-1 in favor of forcibly cutting her fallopian tubes against her expressed will.

Only one justice—Pierce Butler—dissented from the majority decision. He was the Court’s lone Catholic.

Because of his Catholic religious affiliation, Butler’s fellow justices questioned beforehand whether he would, as Holmes put it, “have the courage to vote with us in spite of his religion.” Afterwards, it seemed to them that he had not. History though, would vindicate Butler.

Less than two decades after Buck v. Bell, the Nazis (who modelled their own system after American laws) demonstrated to the world the true horrors that eugenics programs could produce, and thereby helped to shock society, at least for a time, out of its quest to create a perfect master race.

During the Nuremburg trials, the Nazi eugenicists tried to defend themselves by pointing to the Buck v. Bell decision. Eugenics was, after all, considered a proven science at that time and was believed by many to be crucial for the common good.

In retrospect, most people realize that Buck v. Bell was a terrible miscarriage of justice, yet it was a decision in which only one of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices had the courage to dissent. It was a decision in which only one Supreme Court justice had the foresight to resist the latest trend in “healthcare.”

That justice was Pierce Butler—a Catholic.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky


(This article was originally written by Nicholas Kaminsky in summer, 2014 for The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy.)

Standard
History, Military History, Politics

Cato the Elder & John McCain

Cato the Elder & John McCainLearn from history or repeat it, the popular maxim goes. The problem is, no one ever seems to learn from history.

Consider the following case in point:

From 264-146 BC, ancient Rome fought a series of major wars against its greatest rival, the city of Carthage. All three of these Punic Wars, as they are known, ended in Roman victories, which ultimately led to Roman dominance of the Mediterranean.

It would be a mistake though to think that these wars were a cakewalk for Rome. Perhaps the greatest danger to the Romans came during the second war when the Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest military commanders in world history, performed the impossible task of leading an army of men and elephants over the Alps and into Italy where he rampaged around the countryside for 15 years, destroying all the Roman armies sent against him.

Hannibal’s reign of terror was ended when a young Roman general named Publius Scipio launched a counterattack against the city of Carthage, causing Hannibal to be recalled from Italy to Africa, where Scipio defeated him at the decisive Battle of Zama in 202 BC.

Despite this second defeat of Carthage and the application of crushing sanctions and indemnities, many Roman senators could not rest easy while their old enemy existed, even as a shadow of its former self.

The most vocal of these senators was Cato the Elder, who as a young man had fought in the Second Punic War. In his later years, Cato held a variety of political offices, where he was well-known for his enduring hatred of Rome’s ancient rival. He was famous for ending every speech he gave, regardless of the topic, with the exhortation, “Carthage must be destroyed!”

In 149 BC, Cato’s wish came true as Rome declared war once more after Carthage violated the nations’ peace treaty by defending itself against military aggression on the part of Rome’s African ally, Numidia. After a series of hard-fought battles, Roman troops captured the city of Carthage and utterly destroyed it, selling the survivors into slavery. The Punic Wars were over.

Whenever I tell my class the story of the Punic Wars, I am struck by the uncanny likeness between the old curmudgeon, Cato the Elder, and our own American politician, Senator John McCain. Both were once soldiers who served bravely on the field of battle, yet both appeared to have difficulty moving beyond their respective wars. Just as the aging Cato couldn’t get Carthage out of his head until it was annihilated, so the octogenarian McCain seems obsessed with the idea of reigniting the Cold War and even of dragging the United States into a hot war with his old nemesis, Russia.

The following are but a few examples of McCain’s belligerence toward his Eastern foe of yesteryear:

1.) In 2008, when the Russian military intervened in Georgia to help a strongly pro-Russian section of the country assert its independence, McCain famously promised the president of Georgia that the United States would support Georgia against its former Cold War partner, saying “Today we are all Georgians.”

2.) In 2011, McCain—along with Hillary Clinton—pushed for U.S. assistance in the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, which ultimately led to Gaddafi’s murder and to the collapse of his country into anarchy. The American intervention in Libya was opposed by then-prime minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the bloody aftermath reportedly galvanized Putin against softening his stance toward the U.S. as Gaddafi had done.

3.) In 2013, McCain publicly goaded President Barak Obama to deploy the U.S. military to enforce his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Russian-allied Syria, despite a lack of constitutionally required Congressional authorization for the President to do so.

4.) In 2014, McCain declared “We are all Ukrainians” in regard to Russian invasions of the Crimean Peninsula and parts of the Ukraine after the pro-Russian president of that country was driven out by angry mobs spurred on in part by rhetoric from McCain himself, who travelled to Eastern Europe for that purpose.

5.) In 2016, McCain claimed that alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election was “an act of war.”

6.) In 2017, McCain sought to give NATO membership to Montenegro, yet another country in Russia’s backyard, and went so far as to accuse fellow senator Rand Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin” when Paul opposed the move on the grounds that it unnecessarily risked pulling the U.S. into yet another major war.

7.) Finally, John McCain has for years been one of the staunchest advocates of U.S. military action against Iran, a move that would assuredly ignite yet another proxy war between the United States and Russia, much like the one currently raging in Syria.

While he hasn’t yet thumped his fist on his Senate-chamber desk and declared, “Russia must be destroyed,” it’s clear that Senator John McCain—like Cato the Elder two millennia before him—has an obsession with his country’s chief opponent from the days of his youth.

Of course this is not to say that the Russians are merely innocent victims of American aggression as some would have us believe, but neither were the Carthaginians helpless lambs being led to the slaughter by an oppressive Rome. Rome certainly had some good reasons to fight against Carthage, at least during the first two Punic Wars. Despite this, it would behoove us to remember that the Punic Wars cost both Carthage and Rome a tremendous price in blood and treasure, leading to the annihilation of the former and setting the stage for decades of social strife and civil war in the latter.

Despite these historic similarities, there is one major difference between our modern, international situation and that of Cato’s time, of which everyone involved should take note. The difference is that neither Rome nor Carthage had a stockpile of nuclear weapons capable of wiping out humanity.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
Culture, Politics

That Sounds Like Something Hitler Would Have Said

That Sounds LIke Something Hitler Would Have Said(From November 30, 2016)

Yesterday morning, president-elect Donald Trump laid out his plans to build concentration camps around the United States in order to begin his work of exterminating all minority groups.

Actually, I’m lying.

In reality, Trump didn’t say anything like that at all. But anyone who’s read the rhetoric flying around on Facebook could be forgiven for thinking that he had.

It’s been three weeks since the U.S. elections brought an unexpected victory for “the Donald.” Video footage from across the country on November 9 showed weeping, hand-wringing Democrats lamenting what seemed to be nothing less than the end of the world. It was only a matter of time—and very little time, as it turned out—before the memes and articles comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler began popping up in Facebook news feeds.

The comparisons between the president-elect and the German dictator certainly came as no surprise. If the election had gone the other way, we all know that nearly identical memes targeting Hillary Clinton would have flooded social media just as heavily as those targeting Trump did.

In the United States, we love comparing our political opponents—or anyone else with whom we seriously disagree—to Hitler. Doing so is an easy way to discredit those we don’t like.

It’s also lazy. And dangerous.

Regardless of how you might feel about keeping new immigrants out of the country or about deporting those already here in violation of the law, it’s hard to deny that there is a world of difference between policies like these and the mass execution of millions of innocent people. To portray the two as morally equivalent is an insult to the countless victims of the Nazi regime.

Giving insult, however, is not the worst result of these shoddy comparisons. Far more serious is the fact that these associations desensitize us to what true dictators actually look like. It’s much like the story of the boy who cried wolf or that of Chicken Little making his claim that the sky is falling.

If we continue on this path of lazy arguments and quickly-generated memes, I’m afraid we’ll one day get to the point where most of us will brush aside or gloss over genuine concerns about a particular candidate or office holder. That’s definitely not a place we want to be.

In order to avoid getting ourselves into this situation, I think it’s important that we try to focus on and debate the actual issues at stake. Doing so might take a little more effort than making rash comparisons to Nazi dictators, but in the long run it will be much safer for everyone.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
Culture, Uncategorized

Lessons My Father Taught Me

Lessons My Father Taught MeSunday, June 18 is Father’s Day. While our modern society tends to celebrate this holiday with sales on gas grills and killer deals on power tools, there’s a lot more to being a father than all of that.

While I don’t have any children of my own, I do have a father, which I’m guessing is true of most people reading this. In honor of Father’s Day, I’d like to share and briefly reflect some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my own father over the years.

As I would imagine is true of most children, I learned a lot from my dad as I was growing up, and I owe much of who I am today to his influence. One of these lessons, however, stands out above all the rest in my mind. The best part is that my dad probably wouldn’t even know to what I am referring, as he likely has no idea that he ever taught me this lesson, but years afterward, it’s still vividly clear in my mind.

The story goes like this:

One day, when I was very young, my dad and I were in our family’s living room playing with the ubiquitous, little plastic army men. We had a lot of the tan-colored soldiers, but only a handful of the green ones. Without fail, my dad would always ask us—as a joke—if we’d rather be on the green side or on the tan side if we were fighting in that battle. All of us knew our part, and we’d jokingly respond that we’d rather be on the smaller, green side, after which we’d all laugh and carry on playing.

That winter day in the living room, however, something a little different happened. I asked my dad our usual question, but without even thinking about it, I changed the wording a bit. “Dad,” I asked, “if the tan guys were the bad guys and the green guys were the good guys, what side would you rather be on?”

I fully expected my dad to jokingly say he’d rather be on the larger, tan side, after which we’d laugh about it and keep playing, per standard practice. Instead, he looked at me and with uncharacteristic seriousness, he said: “I’d rather be on the good side even if I was the only one on it.”

I was dumbfounded for a moment, mulling over the words I had just heard. My dad, the person who I knew had all the answers, had just told me that it was always better to do the right thing, even if you knew you were going to lose.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve paused to reflect on these words over the years, either to guide me in making the right decision…or to rebuke me for making the wrong one. While I have without a doubt fallen short of this ideal far too often, it’s a principle that I hope will guide me for the rest of my life. It’s a lesson my father taught me.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
History, Military History, Politics, Uncategorized

The Praetorian Guard, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and Michael Flynn: Dangerous Precedents

The Praetorian GuardOn the first day of my Ancient and Medieval Civilizations class, I always ask my students why we study history. One of them always replies that if we don’t learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it.

I think this is true. I also think that we as a people never learn from history.

The early weeks of the Trump administration brought up an interesting case in point. President Donald Trump’s National Security Director, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after someone in the intelligence community intercepted and leaked to the media a recording of a conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, in which Flynn seemed to suggest that relief of U.S. sanctions against Russia was possible under Trump.

Many in the media hailed the leaker as a hero who’d exposed an alleged violation of the 1799 Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from engaging in diplomacy. After all, Flynn wasn’t appointed National Security Director until a few weeks after the conversation with Kislyak.

Not everyone, though, viewed this development in a positive light. Nor was it only Trump supporters and fellow Republicans who expressed concerns about the wiretapping and leaks. Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who is perhaps best known for his attempts to impeach President George W. Bush in 2008, gave an interview in which he strongly condemned the actions of the mysterious leaker and warned of the secret power plays at work in the CIA. “The American people,” Kucinich said, “have to know that there’s a game going on inside the intelligence community where there are those who want to separate the U.S. from Russia in a way that would reignite the Cold War. That’s what’s at the bottom of all this.” He also mentioned that “what’s going on in the intelligence community with this new President is unprecedented. They’re making every effort to upend him.”

Whether they like Trump or hate him, I think all U.S. citizens should be troubled to learn of unknown and unelected bureaucrats working covertly to sabotage a presidential administration. We are not the first civilization to tread over this dangerous ground.

For much of its early history, the city of Rome did not tolerate armed troops within its official boundaries. Returning armies marching through the city in victory processions had to leave their weapons outside the city limits. The presence of armed troops within the city was viewed as too great a danger to the freedoms of Rome’s citizens.

This policy changed with the rise of Caesar Augustus and the emperors who followed in his footsteps. Augustus, arguing that he needed bodyguards, allowed armed troops into the city in the form of his elite Praetorian Guard. As the years passed, the Praetorian Guard grew more influential and more accustomed to protecting its own interests. It eventually became so powerful that it was able to depose emperors and proclaim new ones.

Over the centuries that followed Augustus’s reign, a total of thirteen Roman emperors died at the hands of those who were supposed to be their bodyguards. It’s true that many of these rulers were evil or incompetent or both, but the Praetorian Guard wasn’t just looking out for the good of Rome. It had a vested interest in ensuring that there would always be an emperor in need of its protection. Thus, after the Praetorians murdered the vicious emperor, Caligula, they moved quickly to thwart the plans of the senators for restoring the Roman Republic by declaring Caligula’s uncle, Claudius, the new emperor. By doing so, they ensured that they would maintain their position of power within the Roman government.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Trump or any future President is going to get assassinated by the CIA or any other government agency. But I am questioning how comfortable we should be with unelected bureaucrats pulling strings and calling the shots from the shadows, especially when those bureaucrats belong to an agency known around the world for its role in regime changes.

In the United States we have a Constitution with a system of checks and balances in place to prevent any branch of the government from becoming too powerful. If a President (or one of his subordinates) does something illegal, he needs to answer to the people’s representatives in Congress. That’s how our system is supposed to work. While it might be easier to let the intelligence services take care of the problem, it’s also far more dangerous.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard
Culture, Political Economy

Our Land of Plenty

Our Land of PlentyWalking through those doors is always a mind-blowing experience. I’m not exaggerating when I say I believe the sight behind those glass gates is one of the most incredible our country has to offer.

I am talking, of course, about the grocery store.

“The grocery store?” you ask. “That seems a bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”

“No,” I reply. “I don’t think so at all.”

While I have perhaps exaggerated a little, I’ve only done so in the sense that my mind isn’t always blown every time I pass through the doors of the local Cub Foods or Hy-Vee. But this is only because I, like most Americans, have become so accustomed to the superabundance of food with which our nation has been blessed that I often take it for granted. When I stop and think about it though, I am truly amazed.

Walking down the breakfast aisle alone, I count over 200 kinds of cereal, 97 kinds of jelly and jam, and nearly 30 varieties of peanut butter. Then there’s the produce section, overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, even in the middle of winter with subzero temperatures outside. There are fresh oranges from Florida and fresh bananas from Guatemala. There are sweet potatoes from Canada and berries from Mexico.

There is also the meat section, with every cut imaginable, both fresh and frozen. There’s beef and pork and poultry and seafood. If I so choose, I can purchase and consume filet mignon or lobster or ribeye or octopus.

My point is that we in the United States today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world. For the last several thousand years of human existence, most of mankind—or rather all of mankind—has only been able to dream about the variety of foods on the shelves in our grocery stores.

Let’s be honest, we are living like kings. Even the poorest among us can eat better than many of the wealthiest men of ages past.

A case in point is meat. It used to be that most people didn’t get to eat meat on a regular basis because it was too expensive. In many societies it was considered a luxury item to be consumed only on special occasions. Today, however, we get to eat meat, if not every day, at least multiple times a week. Even dirt-poor history teachers can pick up a Big Mac or throw some pre-pattied burgers on a $10 mini-grill from Walmart.

It’s hard to deny that we have it pretty good. While our ancestors used to have to go out and hunt and forage if they wanted to eat anything, we today can simply pick up the phone, order a pizza, and have it delivered—hot and delicious—right to our doorstep.

I’ll say it again: we in the United States today have access to a greater amount and greater variety of food than the people of any other civilization in the entire history of the world.

And how do we celebrate this superabundance of food?

Well, by wasting a lot of it, unfortunately.

It’s estimated that Americans throw away 6 billion pounds of food every month. That’s about 20 pounds of food per month for every man, woman, and child in the country. Of course not all of this waste happens at the consumer level. Plenty of food gets discarded at the source or at the retail level as well.

Still, that’s a pretty astonishing amount of waste.

I think a big part of the problem is the need for Tort reform. Many caterers, for example, won’t even let their own customers take home leftovers for fear of being sued if they happen to become ill after eating them.

Even more important though, I think, is a change in attitude. We need to stop taking this abundant food supply for granted. Most people in history haven’t had nearly this level of prosperity, and we might not always have it either. We need to be more grateful for it. And more amazed by it.

 

Nicholas Kaminsky

Standard