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17 December 2010


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"What would be needed is a constitutional mechanism to permit States to secede..."

I think that issue would definitely be considered at a constitutional convention. And by that, I mean in a serious manner, not just blowing smoke for political hay as in the case of Gov. Perry.

Since I suspect that more bad than good will come out of that convention, I would welcome written guidelines on secession in any document produced at the convention.

As the federal government appears indifferent and even hostile to the desires and needs of the majority of its citizens, perhaps a more localized arrangement would be preferable.

Green Zone Cafe

I shudder to think what a Con Con would do today to the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.


As far as I can tell, the balanced budget folks are 5 states away from a constitutional convention. Whatever a convention comes up with would have to be ratified by 3/4 of the states. Given the state of politics in these times, I am grateful that our forefathers created such a cumbersome process, as it's unlikely that such a convention would come up with something 3/4 of us could agree on.

Clifford Kiracofe

1. Adam Silverman makes an important point with respect to Texas. There have been some revealing analyses of the state Republican platform as extremist and a model for others.

What is not understood by many is the central role of the Religious Right and its Fundamentalist networks at the state level in Texas and elsewhere.

For example,

2. Some reports on state politics indicate that in a dozen or more states the Fundamentalists have significant influence over the state Republican parties.

3. Are we really talking about "balanced budgets"? Or is this just a wedge issue and cover for the Fundamentalists to insert themselves into a political process? And wouldn't their vision of the process be that the Fundamentalists would influence legislation so as to place them and their political vision in control?

For example, note the "Dominionist" movement in the US in the extremist Fundamentalist subculture:

I went into some of this in my book "Dark Crusade: Christian Zionism and US Foreign Policy" (London, Tauris, 2009).

William R. Cumming

FRED! Thanks! There also is a racial dynamic involved in CUBA. Since the fall of CUBA to CASTRO in 1959 85% of Cuban refugees to US have been "White" by American culture. 85% of CUBANS despite the CASTROISTS are in fact "black" by American cultural standards. Always remember that American cultural standards label "black hispanics" as "black" with the HISPANIC designation must less significant. Perhaps my numbers are wrong but that is my understanding. In other words, not just politics, but racial antipathy and economic class distinctions drive the embargo as much as anything.

And over 1000 Cuban medical personnel now serve in Haiti trying to build a public health system for that country. This is never mentioned by the MSM.


What is this generation of fools and knaves going to write this constitution in? Crayon? Most of the population gets all of it's information from TV! Unmitigated disaster is the only outcome this would bring about.

John Minnerath

Has anything like the "Safe America Amendment" mentioned above actually ever been introduced in congress?
I can find quite a bit about some groups in favor of such an amendment, but nothing about any sponsors or it being written up and submitted.


The thought of a constitutional convention gives me nightmares.
"Uncontrollable' is probably too mild a word to describe what it would be like.


Why are they even messing with federalism or the Constitution? Why don't they just go back to the Articles of Confederation? That sort of government would seem to be more to their liking, never mind that America took a different path.



I think you are right on both points. Haiti is essentially already forgotten in the US.


I don't think you can be trusted with a balanced budget amendment if you're unwilling to raise taxes, ever. What about a permanent PAYGO measure?

Patrick Lang

A Reply to Sidney Smith

By Richard Sale, author of Clinton’s Secret Wars

Sidney Smith’s comments about my posts are always courteous thoughtful and extremely well-expressed, and I would not offend him for anything. Yet in his thinking that I had tendered a slight to Flannery O’Connor by comparing her to Tolstoy, he was not only “off topic” as he concedes, he was, in my view, off the point as well.

I think it was Bagehot who once classified readers as voracious, subtle, stupid or otherwise (like Gibbon, for example.)

If I remember correctly, Bagehot thought the veracious reader lie Samuel Johnson, who, with impatient greed extract the broad, basic features of a work, gouging out its essence while rejecting the rest as superfluous. This kind of reader doesn’t want to savor the style or linger over the felicities of expression or the means used to accomplish certain effects. He guts the book of its meaning the way a sportsman guts fish.

Mr. Smith is never stupid nor is he voracious voracious. He is a subtle readerwho pursues with relentless attention the most imperceptible and delicate gradations of the narrative. He takes note of tiny traits and peculiarities, always keeping a keen eye fastened on the author’s personality and talents. He is entirely alive to, “the motes in the sunbeam, and is minutely attentive “to every prejudice and alert to every passion.” I think this is correct.)

In mentioning Tolstoy, I was talking of War and Peace, and one cannot consider that book without thinking of things like size, ,dimensions, sheer volume, or the astonishing sweep of the novel including the incredible multiplicity of characters and scenes, the dazzling variety of settings and topics, the breadth of effective spectacle that it offers. What other book has such a impressive roll call of characters so convincingly presented within such a splendid series of episodes? Tolstoy is a gigantic, copious abundance.

In other words, Tolstoy is epic, truly “awesome” in that word’s original powerful and uncontaminated sense. Further, he exhibits a profound creative fecundity that is in its way resembles Rabelais, for instance. Tolstoy once said of his Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, that “without vanity” it had “something of the Iliad about it.” And that is right. Tolstoy exhibits awn unparalleled narrative power. His effects have an instinctive rightness in relation to their place and their setting. Wagner, (who possesses many of Tolstoy’s qualities) once observed that next to Shakespeare, one could place but one figure: Beethoven.

Can anyone possibly think of epic when they thank or read of O’Connor? She is a genius and a wonderful one, but, like Hemingway, she is an artist of the small space.

I have read War and Peace seven times, but but I still feel like a fisherman who lowers his modest bucket into a deep, boundless ea and takes up what he can. My desk is full of jottings about it, and I hope one day to make a coherent argument to laud its greatness.

My chief point is that in no way did I intend to slight the limited but acute and deep-feeling genius of Ms. O’Connor I was only trying to use contrast to deepen my meaning. .

Sidney O. Smith III

Mr. Sale

Thank you for the kind, albeit undeserved, words. I never before have thought of myself as someone who is entirely alive to the “the motes in the sunbeam” but I do indeed appreciate the description. (and I am tempted to tell those words to a few defendants at the local detention center when trying to persuade them a plea is in their best interest!)

Your knowledge of Tolstoy far surpasses mine, so I will defer to your extraordinary descriptions of his life. And on one point we can agree: Tolstoy was a man of rare genius whose work reflected the Russian soul in ways that resonate with all of humanity. And in that regard, you wrote “ His [Tolstoy’s] effects have an instinctive rightness in relation to their place and their setting. Wagner, (who possesses many of Tolstoy’s qualities) once observed that next to Shakespeare, one could place but one figure: Beethoven.

I admittedly am struggling with the analogy because it seems to me that a more intriguing comparison would have been not to the German composers but to the 19th century Russians -- Mikhail Ginka and Rimsky Korsakov, to name but two. These Russian composers gave rise to a unique Russian, not German, voice at about the same time as several towering Russian literary and poetic giants emerged on the world scene, with Tolstoy of course leading the way.

From Wagner to the Iliad, you mentioned that Tolstoy, at one time, wrote that “without vanity” his childhood had “something of Iliad about it”. No doubt true. But upon reading your words, I thought of the highly recommended film “The Last Station”. This film covered not Tolstoy’s childhood but the last years of his life -- a time that saw great wrangling between the Tolstoians (disciples of Tolstoy) and his family over who would control his copyrights after his death.

It seems to me, based upon the film, that Tolstoy found himself, perhaps unfortunately, swirling in all kinds of vanity from both the idealistic adherents of the pacifist religion of Tolstoy -- and who committed fraud and, furthermore, would have killed for his copyrights -- as well as his family who, quite understandably, had grown to enjoy the good life brought about by Tolstoy’s literary successes. There seemed something very earthy and human about the intrigue of vanity surrounding Tolstoy’s final years.

I mention that final chapter of Tolstoy’s life and his death experience because you wrote: “Can anyone possibly think of epic when they thank or read of O’Connor? She is a genius and a wonderful one, but, like Hemingway, she is an artist of the small space.”

You are exactly right, in my opinion. O’Connor was not a writer of epics. She was indeed an artist of the “small place”. And quite often that “small place” revolved around a character who was going into the death experience, as we all will (and even Tolstoy did). And it was at that critical juncture -- what you call the “small place” -- that her insights into redemption came into play. And from there -- this place called suffering and death -- O’Connor had the talent to reveal a certain aspect of the human condition that resonates for all of mankind.

But I would not discount or diminish the importance of her art of the “small place”, particularly as it regards your acquaintance Richard Holbrooke. O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” seems particularly relevant to an understanding of the life and death of Richard Holbrooke, perhaps as much as anything Tolstoy bequeathed us. In fact, the more that I think about it, the more that I realize that if one wants a true understanding of Richard Holbrooke, perhaps one should turn not to Tolstoy but to Flannery O’Connor.

The main point of this short story is how the grandmother -- one of those old Southern Christian women -- after witnessing the murder of her family by a Southern Misfit and his accomplices, is transformed from leading an inauthentic life to one of authentic redemption. This transition takes place near the end of her life as she pled with the principle murderer -- the Misfit. And one of her last acts is to touch the Misfit.

Richard Holbroooke’s last words before he died was to the end the war in Afghanistan. Not to win the war, but to end the war. Surely, if you use Flannery O’Connor’s art of the “small place” as a guide, then his last words and acts, like those of the grandmother, demonstrate that a redemptive struggle was taking place within Richard Holbrooke. And his last words reveal a transition from leading an inauthentic and empty life -- one with an accent on vanity, perhaps -- to a genuine struggle for redemption before hurdling headlong into the death experience. In other words, his last act, much like the grandmother touching the Misfit, may show a recognition of a life not authentically lived as well as a frantic struggle with redemption as one inexorably falls into the abyss.


Again, many thanks for your response and kind words. I thoroughly enjoy your work and look forward to reading your future essays


Sidney O. Smith III

Mr. Sale

My apologies but I am still struggling with some aspects of your last comment, generous as you were to post it. But one of my difficulties is with your assertion, at least as I read it, that Tolstoy, at heart, was German. I am basing this conclusion on your paragraph that tracks a line of thinking from Tolstoy to Wagner to Beethoven.

Have you ever told a Russian that Tolstoy was, at heart, a German?

I ask that because I have a friend with a Russian last name that translates into “Wolf strangler” and he, imo, is capable of living up to such a billing. Former Atlanta homicide detective. SWAT. Red dog (if you are familiar with the gang scene) and now a prosecutor. He claims he is Methodist (via a marriage) but I saw the Cross he wears and it is Russian Orthodox all the way.

I am not sure I want to tell him that Tolstoy was of the German tradition. Any suggestions?

Tony “Wolf strangler” told me something once and I want to share it as just a piece of wisdom that comes from the hinterlands. He said when you see as much violence and death as he has, then you start to see the sacredness of life. Now there is a Russian observation that resonates throughout all humanity, no?

My friend’s observation has led to several discussions that segue into your comment about Hemingway and O’Connor occupying the art of the “small space” (I mistakenly wrote “place” yesterday. My apologies.).

Have you ever read Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants”?

I ask that in all candor because I would like to know your thoughts about the short story, as I am struggling with that literary work as well. Does Hemingway’s White Elephant occupy a small space? Is he wrong? Would Tolstoy agree or disagree with Hemingway? And, to cross reference to O’Connor and her notions of a death, is there any relationship between this story and Hemingway’s death?

I honestly do not know the answer (my background is secular progressivism) and I am keeping an open mind. But if you can point me to a literary piece, particularly something by Tolstoy, that both refutes Hemingway’s underlying meaning and, additionally, matches Hemingway’s artistic “charism”, then I would like very much to give it a look. Again, I do not know the answer but Hemingway’s art of the small space, at least in this instance, seems extraordinarily powerful to me.


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