The Ottoman Tales X: An Officer and a Gentleman

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

I’ve mentioned earlier that the Ottomans were capable of adjusting their MO to suit non-Turkish public opinion when the situation called for it.  This story–which comes long after the last Sultan abdicated and the Empire came to an end–shows that the Turks are willing to go to great lengths to make a good image to others, even when the others didn’t expect it.

This story comes from a relative of my wife’s who was in the U.S. Navy in the 1960’s; the story dates from the mid-1950’s, and I have not been able to verify it from another source.  I would be grateful if any of you could shed some light on it.

Turkey was and is a member of NATO, and as a result is accorded all the privileges that come with that alliance.  One of those is for naval vessels to visit ports of call in the U.S., and a Turkish warship was doing just that in Norfolk, VA.  A couple of the crewmen (at least one of which was an officer) got drunk and stole a Renault Dauphine.  They were caught and returned to the ship; Americans then and now know that drunken sailors aren’t the greatest threat to the Republic.

The Turkish ship’s captain had other ideas.  He went to U.S. Navy officials and asked for some gallows.  His request was refused.  He then untied the lines, shoved off, and headed past the three-mile limit, which was then and for many years afterwards the beginning of international waters.  The miscreants were hung and their bodies dumped at sea.  The ship then returned to port in Norfolk and resumed its visit.

Ever since the Sultan received the U.S.S. Essex in the early years of the Republic, when the Stars and Stripes first flew over the Bosporus, the relationship between Turk and American has been a good one, World War I excepted.  But I’m sure that the Turkish way to insure the good behaviour of an officer and a gentleman made an impression on our people which has lasted for a long, long time.

The Ottoman Tales IX: Seated at the Right Hand

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

As I’ve noted earlier, the Ottoman Empire’s lurch towards representative government was one of fits and starts, mostly fits.  The first Ottoman parliament opened in March 1877, in (of all places) the Sultan’s own Dolmabache Palace (soon to be abandoned by Abdul Hamid for the labyrinthine Yilditz one).  Representatives came from all over the empire, some in sheepskins.  The MP’s “in the know” wanted to sit at the Sultan’s right hand, because they believed that this was the side of power.

Many centuries before, another group of budding Middle Eastern careerists had the same idea, only they wanted to cover both positions:

James and John, the two sons of Zebediah, went to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Grant us this,” they answered, “to sit, one on your right, and the other on your left, when you come in glory.” “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup that I am to drink? or receive the baptism that I am to receive?” “Yes,” they answered, “we can.” “You shall indeed drink the cup that I am to drink,” Jesus said, “and receive the baptism that I am to receive, But as to a seat at my right or at my left–that is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:35-40 TCNT)

Our Lord used their cultural importunity to make an important point about leadership:

On hearing of this, the ten others were at first very indignant about James and John. But Jesus called the ten to him, and said: “Those who are regarded as ruling among the Gentiles lord it over them, as you know, and their great men oppress them. But among you it is not so. No, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, And whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all; For even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45 TCNT)

It is doubtful that few if any of the representatives gathered at the Dolmabache Palace–and many other such gatherings before or since–had servant leadership in mind.

And as far as being at God the Father’s right hand, the place of authority, and how he got there:

Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 TCNT)

The Ottoman Tales VIII: Christians, Keep Your Promises

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans was a process written in blood, as was their inclusion in the Sultan’s realm.  The Romanian count who is known as Dracula fought to keep up the independence of his people from Ottoman rule, and did so with cruelty he probably learned from the Turks themselves while held hostage.  By the late 1870’s, the largest realm in the Balkans still entirely under Turkish rule was Bulgaria, and as was the case elsewhere the Turks spared no means in their attempt to keep the land under their control.

But the world was changing; now mass communications media and the expansion of democratic process in Europe meant that public opinion mattered more than ever before.  British opinion in particular was horrified at the Turkish massacres, putting their own government–which was trying to stall the end of the “sick man of Europe”–in a particular bind.  It was a boost to the Russians, who decided that the time was right to make their big move on Constantinople.  In 1877 the Russians declared war on the Turks, who responded by raising the Banner Named Barack.

The Russians invaded Bulgaria.  The time seemed perfect: the Turks were in their usual desultory state, and the British were caught between their outraged public and their strategic interests.  It seemed like the Russian red, white and blue (basically the same flag the Russian federation has now) would soon be flying over the Bosporus.

But the Turks didn’t become the dread of Europe for nothing.  The Turkish general Osman Pasha decided to dig in at the Bulgarian town of Plevna and block the Russian invaders.  In doing so he had learned a few lessons from the American Civil War (in places like Petersburg) and of course the idiotic British Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea, that a well-entrenched force with the then-modern weaponry was formidable against attack.  (Kemal Ataturk repeated the same feat at Gallipoli).

When the Russian force finally arrived at Plevna, Osman and his Turks were ready.  The Turks repulsed the first Russian offensive on 19 July 1877.  The Russians then called in Romanian reinforcements, but through August and September they were unable to break Osman’s fortifications.  They were able to cut his supply line by taking the town of Lovech, and the battle of Plevna became a siege.

Osman realised that he could not hold out indefinitely without more supplies and reinforcements.  For both he appealed to Sultan Abdul Hamid II.  Unfortunately, for all the gaudy rhetoric, the latter did not back up his words with action, and when he did send a sorry excuse of a relief force the Russians dispatched it.  Moreover Osman’s superiors blocked his requests to abandon the town, which gave the Russians and Romanians time to completely encircle it.

Osman had managed to gain some goodwill in Plevna itself by executing Turkish soldiers for looting.  Up against it, he attempted a break-out in early December.  Unable to take the Turkish wounded with him, and knowing the local custom, he gathered the local hierarchy of the Bulgarian Orthodox church and made them swear on the Bible that they would not harm the Turks he left.

Osman’s break-out attempt almost succeeded.  “Almost” turned into defeat on 10 December when Osman and his Turks surrendered to the Russians, who treated the officers honourably.  The prisoners of war, however, were allowed to freeze in the cold, and the Bulgarians broke their oath and massacred the wounded they had promised to protect.

Although a loss, Plevna stalled the Russians’ march to Constantinople, and turned public opinion in Europe back the Turks’ way.  The British sent the Royal Navy to Constantinople, and the Russians decided to quit while they were ahead at the Congress of Berlin. Bulgaria became an independent nation again, but the Bosporus would stay in Turkish hands.

There are Christian traditions which take the following to the letter:

 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never break your oath, but give to the Lord what you swore in an oath to give him.’  But I tell you don’t swear an oath at all. Don’t swear an oath by heaven, which is God’s throne,  or by the earth, which is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, which is the city of the great King. (Matthew 5:33-35 GW)

Others interpret it a little more broadly:

As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, so we judge that Christian religion doth not prohibit but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet’s teaching in justice, judgement, and truth. (Articles of Religion XXXIX)

Irrespective of this, the Christian should learn to keep his or her promises, not only as a witness but also (in this case) to stop the cycle of bloodshed which was all too common in Ottoman times and which has not stopped at present.

The Ottoman Tales VII: Sick Man of Europe, Sick Man of North America

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

Most students of European history, especially those who focus on the nineteenth century, know the Ottoman Empire as “the sick man of Europe”.  People today don’t get the impact of that moniker: then what it meant was that the “sick man” was about to assume room temperature and then the question was “how to dispose of the corpse”?

How did the Ottoman Empire, which at its height turned the Mediterranean into an Ottoman lake and controlled a vast territory from Algiers to Tabriz, end up in this state?  The first answer is simple: a long term of very poor leadership, i.e., weak sultans. And of course the Ottomans had a long list of enemies, both within the Islāmic world (Persia, the Arabs) and outside (almost every European power).  As the Ottoman Grand Vizier Fuad Pasha put it:

Our state is the strongest state.  For you are trying to cause its collapse from the outside, and we from the inside, but still it does not collapse.

Internally the Ottoman system itself was often inhuman, but it worked, and compensated for some very weak sultans and those who hung around them, especially the harem and the Janissaries.  Externally, the situation is more interesting.  As the powers of Europe, especially the UK and France, surveyed the situation in the Middle East, they realised that the collapse of the Empire would create a power vacuüm into which other powers, especially the Russians, could come in and threaten their links to Asia, Australia and East Africa.  The Russians were the biggest threat; not only was control of the Bosporus central to expanding their naval footprint, but also their pan-Slavic and pan-Orthodox appeal in the Balkans gave them a leg up over, say, the Austrians.  So these powers found themselves at times nibbling away at the Empire (Greece, Cyprus) but much of the time propping it up to keep the Russians out (thus the Crimean War).  In this way the “sick man” was kept alive longer that he normally would have expected to live.

It’s common to compare the course of the United States with that of the Roman Empire, but what about the Ottoman?  The key weakness of the U.S. at this point in history is weak leadership that doesn’t live in reality, something the Ottomans were well familiar with.  But are we being propped up?

The answer to that is “to some extent”.  Let’s consider our situation with the Chinese.  Back in the last decade, when we were borrowing so much and importing the stuff they made, people would say that they’re going to “call the note” and take us over.  That idea was ridiculous because a) their trading partner would hit the wall, crashing their exports and b) it would take the main reserve currency with it.  Both of these would make repayment of the debt impossible.  Currently the Chinese are using their new-found financial power to expand themselves throughout the world.

But there’s another thing to consider, one that is more important now than before: if they do crash the place,  who’ll pick up the pieces?  The world has become a more prosperous place overall; our shrinking part of the world pie is not only because we are less prosperous, but because others are more.

But our retreat, like that of the Ottomans, leaves a power vacuüm.  A gradual retreat is easier to manage, not only for us but for everyone else, because it enables various global systems to transition more smoothly and makes the resolution of the power vacuüm that results much easier.  Getting back to the Chinese, their digital incursions show that they are in a position to crash the place.  But a gradual American retreat, I think, better suits their purpose; it makes it easier to deal with other potential competitors along the way.  (One of those is, of course, Russia; the current warm relation between Moscow and Beijing is metastable, as anyone familiar with its history knows).

So we lumber on.  At some point things are going to come to a head.  The process is reversible, but until we boot our sybaritic and egotistical elites that reversal isn’t going to happen.  Short of that we continue to be the sick man of North America, and we’d do well to take some lessons from the last one across the pond, even though we, as Fuad Pasha said about his own country, are the “strongest state”.

The Ottoman Tales VI: Not Much for Victory, but the Eats Were Good

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

As Sultan Abdul Hamid raised the Banner Named Barack, his armies had one distinguishing feature:

In one, and only one thing, the Turkish soldier is not cheated. He is well fed, and gets his full allowance of the rations allowed him. The reasons for this are—first, because the contractors for food are almost invariably Moslems, who, whatever their faults may be, do not prey upon the Government in the same manner as do the foreigners, the Jews, and the native Christians of Constantinople. The second reason is, that seeing he is kept months in arrear with his pay, and when he wants a little ready money has to borrow from the regimental ” Svraff,” or paymaster, at the rate of ten per cent, per month—the authorities take care that the line must be drawn somewhere ; and they draw it at the food. Of this he gets his, or rather the Government’s, money’s worth. The contractors for it are nearly always provincials, and these are certainly more honest and honourable in their dealings than their fellow-countrymen on the Bosphorus. The Turkish soldiers, therefore, in ordinary times, are with few exceptions well fed. But to do the Turks justice, it must be said of them, that when by any chance—in a campaign, for instance—their food is not forthcoming, they neither growl nor grumble, but bear their misfortunes like men and soldiers. (H.M. Hozier, The Russo-Turkish War)

At the College of Engineering and Computer Science, our current Interim Dean is the Turkish Dr. Neslihan Alp, who has always kept the morale of the people under her up with food events.  Now we know, it’s the great Ottoman tradition.

Living in this country, she’s also had to deal with Americans who like to “growl and grumble”.  For someone like myself who was born and raised in this country, that’s an embarrassment.

Bullying is About Social Hierarchy

The things we find out when we investigate…

“Humans tend to try to establish a rank hierarchy,” Jennifer Wong, a criminology professor who led the study, told the Post. “When you’re in high school, it’s a very limited arena in which you can establish your rank, and climbing the social ladder to be on top is one of the main ways … Bullying is a tool you can use to get there.”

For me, that was yet another hard lesson I learned in Palm Beach, a town at the top of society which had a very stratified social hierarchy among adults and children alike.  And they didn’t wait for high school either: elementary school was fertile ground for bullying.

Stating the obvious always gets you in trouble, though:

Rob Frenette, co-founder of the advocacy and support group Bullying Canada, emphasizes that bullies usually have some sort of underlying issue, such as violence in the home , suggesting that bullying is triggered, not natural.

“This is kind of stepping backward and that’s concerning,” he told the Post, regarding Wong’s study. “I don’t want parents who have a child who is considered a bully to think, ‘Well, it’s something they’re born with and there’s nothing we can do to adjust their behavior.’ ”

Rubbish.  And I’ll throw in something else: as someone who’s been on the wrong end of bullying, I resent the implication of the LGBT leadership that bullying of their people is the only bullying that matters.  And I’ll also observe that it’s natural that people who have been on the receiving end of bullying adopt the tactics of their tormentors when they get the chance, and we see that everywhere these days.

One thing that would level the playing field is the idea that people have worth that comes from somewhere else.  The best somewhere else is God himself.  But as our society secularises, an eternal perspective on the value of this life’s status will decrease.  That raises the stakes on what happens here, and it will only get more brutal for the bargain.

Trump Opens the Club to Blacks and Jews? Not Quite

Ronald Kessler makes an interesting statement about Donald Trump and Palm Beach:

“When Donald opened his club in Palm Beach called Mar-a-Lago, he insisted on accepting Jews and blacks even though other clubs in Palm Beach to this day discriminate against blacks and Jews,” Kessler says.

“The old guard in Palm Beach was outraged that Donald would accept blacks and Jews so that’s the real Donald Trump that I know.”

As with many things in Palm Beach, it isn’t that simple.

With black people, he may be right; I’m not sure when clubs such as the Beach, Everglades and Bath & Tennis racially integrated.  The biggest hurdle is money.

But with the Jews…ah, that’s a different story.  Palm Beach’s club system has been rigidly segregated between Jewish and Gentile clubs for many years, as I found out growing up:

Anyone who lived on the north end of the island had to pass a the Palm Beach Country Club, with its well manicured course and pristine clubhouse, to go anywhere. As we passed this place time and time again, I (a kid of nine or ten) wondered, “Why do we pass this place up to go to another club?” I grew up in a family where it wasn’t wise to ask too many questions, but eventually I was told that it was the “Jewish Country Club,” and since we were Gentiles, we belonged elsewhere.  (That “elsewhere” was the Breakers.)

This segregation was strictly enforced. There were “Jewish clubs,” there were “Gentile clubs,” and n’er the twain met. This enforcement could be brutal. In the early 1960’s a member of another of Palm Beach’s exclusive clubs (the Everglades Club) made the mistake of bringing her Jewish friend for lunch. She was asked to resign her membership.

Jews have been able to join the club in Palm Beach for many years, but their own clubs.  Bernie Madoff used this to his advantage when he began his scheme to defraud both his fellow Jews and the club they belonged to.

Donald Trump’s idea at Mar-a-Lago was that Jews and Gentiles could belong to the same club, and for that idea he deservedly gets credit.

Those Undiverse Episcopalians, and Others

They talk a good game, but as a recent Pew report notes, those purveyors of same-sex marriage bomb in the racial diversity department.   Even with the choice of Presiding Bishop Curry, the Episcopal Church is whiter than–horrors–the Southern Baptist Convention!

It’s hard to blame non-white people from avoiding the Episcopal Church; in fact, it’s hard to blame anyone from avoiding it these days.

Some other observations:

  1. Although “nothing in particular” religiously is better spread out, if you’re a declared atheist or agnostic, chances are you’re white.  And that’s TEC’s (and other liberal churches) prime demographic.  It’s an uphill battle.
  2. Pentecostal churches and the Roman Catholic Church hover around the racial distribution of the population at large.  That’s one reason (I think it’s the big reason) why Pentecostal churches continue to grow and the RCC can offset their weak pastoral system and perennial “back door problem”.  My experience in the Church of God is that this church in particular doesn’t take full advantage of its racial diversity, particularly in its leadership structure, which is why the Assemblies of God are growing faster.
  3. It’s interesting that the Seventh-Day Adventist church and its errant progeny, the Watchtower, lead the pack in racial diversity.  On the other end are the Mormons, who (justifiably) struggle with this issue.
  4. It’s probably a little unfair to compare religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism because their main adherents are immigrants from non-white parts of the world.
  5. The Anglicans are actually ahead of the Episcopalians they left in the racial diversity department, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

I’m not one of those people who think that racial diversity is important for “politically correct” reasons but because a) like it or not, our population is increasingly non-white and b) non-white people are less likely to secularise (and militantly so) than their white counterparts.  It’s a simple matter of church growth.

I’ve dealt with issue re TEC before.

Jihadi John, Your Services Are No Longer Required

The infamous ISIS video star is on the run:

British terrorist Mohammed Emwazi – known as Jihadi John – has fled the IS terror network and gone on the run in Syria, according to sources…

Emwazi is also believed to fear his unmasking had diminished his value as an IS killer and also that jealous fellow jihadists might plot against him.

Revolution is a tough business.  When Ernst Roehm, that gay blade who led Hitler’s Brown Shirts, became more of a rival than a help to Germany’s’ new leader, same disposed of him and many of his colleagues in the Night of the Long Knives.  And Leon Trotsky, who consigned his anti-Bolshevik opponents to the “ash heap of history”, ended up murdered in Mexico by Joseph Stalin.

As Kevin Ayers would say, “nice guys, meet ’em anywhere…”

What Discrimination Gets Punished Depends Upon Who’s Doing the Punishing

This post is inspired by a friend of ours who told a very interesting story from her growing up in a neighbouring Southern state.  (And when you live in Tennessee, that doesn’t mean much, because most of the Southern states and some of the border ones too are neighbours.)  She grew up in the 1980’s, and was up for one of these “Governor’s schools” for exceptional young people.  In her case the guy who was in charge was gay, and she came from an Independent Baptist family.  Needless to say, she was turned down for the school, and to keep his perfect record her brother was turned down too.

The gay man didn’t discriminate much longer; he died of AIDS.  But after the ball anti-discrimination legislation (and before, as was the case in Miami) has been a major push of the LGBT community.  It’s back in front of Congress, although the executive decision to extend the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes that effort a waste of political capital.  And here in Chattanooga the city, while we grieve over the shooting of five servicemen, passed one of these ordinances.

The whole concept of anti-discrimination legislation is to enforce fairness in our society.  The tricky part is twofold.  First, which groups benefit from “fairness”?  And second, who does the enforcing?

The answer to the first has traditionally been driven by the American obsession with identity politics: race, gender, and now sexual orientation.  (The transgender movement has complicated all of this in ways that are not fully understood, but then again so have multi-racial people).  The truth is that class background and status are more important, but that would force too many people to eat crow around here.

The second depends upon who is running the show.  Same social class distinctions bring up the issue of income inequality, something which people talk about but don’t act upon.  It’s understandable: most of the people doing the talking would have to step down in the zero-sum society and let others move up, which they’re certainly not ready to do.

The LGBT community has shown a talent for getting the rich and powerful on their side.  They are the ones which ultimately arbitrate who gets what in a society where power becomes more centralised by the day.  Coupled with the weakening rule of law, what we end up with is simple: a society where those who rule make the rules and change them when it suits them, irrespective of what the “people’s representatives” might have to say in the matter.

Some think that SCOTUS’ ruling on same-sex civil marriage was the turning point.  It was not; it was in the tradition of Roe vs. Wade where SCOTUS dug up rights that no one else had found.  It’s one thing to create law ex nihilo; it’s quite another to contradict its plain meaning when it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to.  That’s what happened with King vs. Burwell, the Obamacare decision.  The people who came up with the scheme knew perfectly well what they  anticipated would happen: they figured that, in the absence of subsidised health care on exchanges, they would have people howling at the states to give them.

But, strange thing, that didn’t happen.  The American political dynamic didn’t work the way they thought it would.  There were no unwashed masses howling for health care; the masses took a bath and howled against Obamacare.  So SCOTUS fixed the problem by letting the Feds go on with exchanges which the law had not provided for.

Such blatant rewriting of the law is a clear sign that we have passed beyond the rule of law; we have rule by elites.  That’s a big reason the current Occupant has been busy pushing his branch left; he figures that the judiciary, of like mind and class, will go along with him at least half the time, maybe more.

Breaking down the rule of law in this country will have two effects.

The first, short-term one, is that elite opinion will drive whose discrimination gets redressed and whose does not.  The results will be similar to those experienced by my friend, only on a wider scale.  (And it’s a lot easier to discriminate and get away with it than you think; our bureaucratised system makes it easier to trash people than to lift them up).

The second, long-term one, is that people will realise that the rule of law is out.  That revelation would change the way people interact with the government–and with each other–in ways that only people from outside the U.S. understand.  The big casualty will be the moral force of the law; the state will be seen as a big protection racket for itself and its patrons and the population will respond accordingly.

And then things will really get interesting.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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