Monday, September 30, 2019

As China's "Partystate" Turns 70, Hong Kong Dares to be Free

Hong Kong people sing and flash phone lights.
October 1st has dawned in China and Hong Kong. 

This day marks the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party Dictatorship and its rule over the world's most populated country. One-fifth of the human race will be expected to "celebrate" (and most of them will at least pretend to celebrate). But major public festivities in Hong Kong have been cancelled. Meanwhile, the Protest Movement held peaceful demonstrations overnight, continuing to call for "the liberation of Hong Kong," and loudly singing their new civic anthem.

Journalists who were among them shared reports, pictures, and videography. Ordinary people spoke of their love for Hong Kong, their hopes for future generations, and the firmness of their determination to continue their protest, come what may.

It was awesome. These people are making real history.

"Liberate Hong Kong. / Revolution of Our Times"
They will be in the streets again on this day, demanding respect for their dignity as human persons. They have not given up, and they are not going to give up.

Let's not forget these astonishing, brave human beings! Their tenacious persistence in refusing to live by lies and in struggling for their own freedom already deserves to be celebrated.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

"In Your Light We See Light"

"O Lord, how precious is your love.
My God, the sons of men 
find refuge in the shelter of your wings.
In you is the source of life 
and in your light we see light" (Psalm 36:7, 9).

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sacrifice, Relationship, and Personal Fulfillment

In society today, it is commonly thought that the meaning of life - the secret of becoming a mature human person - is found by achieving independence, autonomy, and self-sufficiency.

For most poor struggling human beings, this all seems rather incomprehensible or overwhelming. Not surprisingly, people feel isolated, lost, and frustrated.

But for those who are intelligent, strong, energetic, and idealistic this kind of thinking can become tempting. The goal of life appears to be self-possession and self-definition, a kind of radical power over ourselves. This leads us to view relationships as merely useful interactions with other autonomous persons that serve our needs or please us or are otherwise subordinated to our ultimate purpose of self-affirmation.

When we have this attitude, nothing seems more alienating than sacrifice. Indeed, the claim of Jesus that our vocation consists in the sacrifice of self-giving love for God and our neighbor appears incomprehensible, if not insulting or threatening to our human dignity. The idea of losing-myself-in-order-to-find-myself appears to be a self-negating paradox.

And yet this "losing of myself" in self-abandonment to God is not something that demeans my freedom or results in the loss of my dignity as a person. On the contrary, it is the realization of freedom and of the person. For God Himself is Infinite Self-Giving Love. The Trinity reveals that total self giving is at the very root of what it means to be a person.

Jesus says, "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11). And we will fulfill the true meaning of ourselves as persons, we will achieve the destiny and fulfillment for which we have been created, by abandoning ourselves to Him and trusting in Him: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). We don't "lose ourselves" into nothingness. We lose ourselves by belonging to God and to other persons in Him.

We have been created to become gifts, to realize our freedom as love, to live in relationship as persons, and to "find ourselves" forever in relationship to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Giussani on Power and the Boundless Impetus of the Heart

I know I have been doing lots of quotation posts lately, but this text from Luigi Giussani is very pertinent to the circumstances that many people face today (even though it's taken from a talk he gave more than thirty years ago).

The legacy of Monsignor Giussani - unlike so much of what was written, spoken, and broadcast by fashionable experts during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s - has not faded into irrelevance or nostalgic trivia. He belongs among the truly great people of the last century whose recognition of the perennial drama of human existence gave them important insights for their own time and also regarding the new epoch that is still emerging today.

Giussani saw that it was in the interests of worldly powers to distract human persons from the recognition of their own dignity, the scope of their freedom, the "boundless impetus of the heart." We don't need to fear the powerful if we are awake to the fullness of our destiny. The trouble is that too often we are asleep:
"We don’t [refer to the influence of] the powerful because we are afraid; we speak of them because we have to wake up from our slumber. The strength of the powers-that-be is our impotence.... We do not fear the powerful; we fear people who sleep and therefore enable them to do what they want with them. I say that the powers-that-be make everyone fall asleep, as much as possible. Their great system, the great method is that of sending to sleep, anesthetizing, or, better yet, atrophying. Atrophying what? Atrophying the heart of the human person, our needs and desires, imposing an image of desire or need different from that boundless impetus of the heart. And thus it raises people who are limited, enclosed, imprisoned, already half cadaver – that is, impotent" (Luigi Giussani).

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Renewed Encounter With Jesus

"I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them: I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since 'no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord' (Saint Paul VI).

"The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.

"Now is the time to say to Jesus: 'Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.' 

"How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us, we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy... 

"No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the Resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!"

~Pope Francis

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hello Autumn 2019!

So here we are "again," it seems. The seasons are changing.

It’s the beginning of Fall for Northern Hemisphere people. The days are obviously shorter, the nights are cooler, but it can still get pretty hot during the afternoon. 

That will change soon, and we will begin to enjoy mild weather and weeks of pleasant and increasingly colorful days.

In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a different story. It's Springtime for my Aussie and Argentine friends. Flowers and more daylight and warmer weather are ahead for you.

But we are all approaching the end of a most eventful and peculiar decade. So much has happened in the past ten years (from 2010 - 2019). But the "teens" decade of this century is almost over. The “20s” will soon be upon us!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Announcing an Engagement

This post will be short and sweet. 

I have joyful news. This was not unexpected, but it's still awesome.

John Paul is engaged to the wonderful young lady he has been seeing over the past couple of years, Emily Farabaugh.

They are planning the wedding for August 2020 (i.e. next Summer, hooray!). Eileen and I and the whole family couldn't be happier. John Paul, you're a lucky man!

Here on the left is a picture of our son and his fiancée from last year, during the "Rome Semester" (although they were in Venice for that picture). On the right is a picture from last May's graduation.

God willing, many more pictures will be posted as this new chapter opens in the history of our family.

John Paul and Emily, God bless you!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Tax Collectors and Sinners

"As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him" (Matt 9:9).


Here's a picture some guy painted in Rome. One of those long Eye-talian names, "Pastafagogio" or somethin' like that. It's pretty good, huh?😉

#AWorkOfGenius #OneOfTheG.O.A.T. #CARAVAGGIO

Yes, I know it's Caravaggio. Today is a good day to ponder this epic, soul-gripping painting

I have spent lots of time with the original at San Luigi dei Francesi church in Rome. It's in a mini side chapel in a corner so dark that you can't really see the (already dark) painting without some artificial light.

Don't worry, there's a machine that turns on a light. As I remember, it had to be fed 200 Lire coins every thirty seconds or so. Obviously, it's some denomination of the Euro today (but my son told me that it's still there).

When you go to Rome, see its shadows and hints of light, its collection of faces and postures - tax collectors, sinners, perplexed bystanders, you and me, Peter, Jesus...

Bring plenty of coins.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Love Overcomes the Vanity of All Things

I have been asking lots of questions within my soul in these recent years. So much has happened that it's bewildering, so much secret pain has been revealed - in others more than in myself.

Dear God ... ...

I know these are not the kinds of questions that can be adequately answered with words. They are the kind of questions that can only be endured. They are more than compatible with the unreserved assent of faith... but they are not comfortable.

Lately, I often feel the weight of the fragility, the temporary nature of every thing in this life. And this does not come with some kind of stoic resignation. There is a great sorrow in it.

Getting old means I see it in myself in so many ways. And I saw it especially over the past year, watching my once vigorous father slowly die.

We have had several tragic deaths in our community this year. There are larger problems in the world and in the Church that have shaken us up. Of course, there have been joyful moments, inspiring moments too.

It's taking its toll on me. I'm trying to hold on, but more and more I just feel like I'm gasping for air, like I'm nearly out of gas, I'm spent. Emotionally more than physically. There are things I can do for this, therapeutically speaking, up to a point.

What remains is the struggle to keep saying, "Yes" every day, and to say it with love. I'm not giving up. Sometimes, when I write, it helps me to remember who I am, why I exist, what moves me to say "yes" to today, to engage life in this world even if "all is vanity" - because "all is gift" too! Here's where "the questions" stand in front of the Mystery.

There remains a hope in me, not one that I can generate from any effort to be optimistic, not one that comes from me or from anything bound to this world that is passing away.

It has its source in that man who rose from death, who transforms death into the beginning of a new world, a new creation, whose love renews all things. That man: Jesus Christ.

For me it's a difficult, sometimes desperate hope, sometimes obscured by so many anxieties; yet still, I remember that I have been loved by this love that is greater than death. I have been loved by Jesus.

Here is something that ought to be an especially convincing and compelling feature of living in the communion of the Church.

In many places in the Church this witness to Christ's amazing love has been obscured, and this points to some basic problems that we must all grapple with regarding our relationship with God and with one another.

Overall, for me, however, I have been very much blessed by the witness of others. I have known people who, even with all their problems and their fragile humanity, have a joy, a passion, a love that reaches me and speaks to me of a new kind of life, a new world where all the goodness and beauty of things is transformed, renewed, and fulfilled.

It is the love greater than death, that shares itself and begins to change everything, even our sorrows, even our mourning over the vanity of all things.

The Church living in history means that we have been loved, concretely, by other persons with this kind of love, the risen love of Jesus. Sometimes they let us down too, but really there is nothing surprising about that. Humans are flawed and weak. What strikes us is that, in the midst of an ordinary, peculiar, often frustrating human community, there is something else. It is this human, yet different, love that embraces us.

And the love remains, continues, endures our efforts to frustrate it, and even grows! The Church is a place where we can encounter the Source of this new, radically dynamic love and be changed by it. It shapes us even when we don't feel it and this perishing world seems to have swallowed it up.

Sometimes love may seem absent from our psychological experience of being "in the Church." Perhaps we are closing ourselves off, holding onto our pride or resentment. But perhaps it is because love has gone deeper, to work secretly in the hidden depths our ourselves.

If we feel like we can't "find" that love, we need to "ask" and "seek" and hope and endure the darkness with eyes and heart open.

For me, I know that I am loved by God. He has touched me in Jesus Christ, through his Spirit, in his grace, through baptism and the sacraments, and through the love of others.

I feel like I would be betraying myself if I denied such a fundamentally important factor of my life, no matter what may obscure it in a given situation, no matter what hidden paths it takes. I have seen enough to know that this mysterious love is present and always worthy of my trust. I can still say, "look, here is a sign, a light, a reason for hope."

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Buona Festa Della Famiglia di San Gennaro (Janaro)

Today is the Feast Day of the Great Ancestor of the Janaro Clan, the original Saint Januarius, fourth century bishop and martyr.

I'm sure he must, somehow, be related to us, what with the "Naples" tradition and all. Surely my Neapolitan ancestors participated in the 1500-year-old devotion to him. Indeed, according to Legend (and I should know, because I made up the legend) he is the special patron saint of the Janaros.

After all, why not? The spelling difference is not such a big deal. No doubt both names are rooted in the Latin "Janus," the god of the gateways, after whom the first month of the year takes its name ("January"). 

So Happy Janaro Family Feast Day!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Why Do I "Teach"? What Keeps Me Motivated?

In a recent post ("On My Work" - see here) I considered the status of my "work," my temporal vocation, my ongoing engagement in academic life and the teaching profession.

The exercise of my profession is hindered and limited by disability, but it remains important to me. The energy that I have is focused on doing what I can to fulfill the task I took up 25 years ago (after many years spent in preparation for it). Forced now to live "in retirement" (and often in bed), I can't work a job nor predict how I will feel from day to day. This is frustrating, and yet I am determined to do what I can and to "keep going."

Why do I teach? For that matter, why do I study, why do I try to learn, to understand reality? What is the motivation that sustains it?

I have always pondered the great questions of life, the mysteries of being human, and the Mystery who holds us and all things in existence and calls our hearts to seek the "ever-greater," the "Infinite." I also wanted to help others on this path.

I am a Catholic Christian who has been drawn into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the Church. By calling and circumstances, I carry out my human vocation with a more explicit and direct service to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I also find through faith an openness to every person, a passion for the humanity of every person and a light that illuminates the whole of reality. Faith requires me to recognize the preciousness of all human things and all of creation, and to find hope and meaning in every circumstance.

Hope searches for truth, goodness, and beauty wherever they can be found, and perseveres even in suffering and in the endurance of evil and violence. The vitality of hope is sustained by a loving adherence to the One who is Love, who has endured all things and reveals Love's infinite mystery by "being-with-us" to the end, beyond our limits and even our rejection of Love and our struggle against it. ("Love your enemies..." "Father, forgive them...")

I studied theology and also philosophy and history, and I remain a professor ("emeritus") at a university that takes a Christocentric, "Catholic" integrated humanities approach to learning. As I said before, health problems restrict me from active teaching (which I miss a lot), but I'm engaged in research, writing, and creative projects in various ways, depending on my fluctuating condition.

Notwithstanding the many possibilities new media technology has opened up for connecting with people, I often feel very lonely. (This is a form of suffering - and I wrote a whole book about suffering and its value known through the eyes of faith, which makes a difference even to people like me who are weak in faith and low on patience.)

I often feel very lonely.

However, it gives a certain kind of perspective. So many people are lonely, or confused, or stressed out. We are desperately searching for solutions to our problems and/or distractions and ways to kill the pain. I certainly do plenty of this, but it's never adequate to escape the desire that burns in me to share so many things that I have learned and continue to learn.

It's not just my big ego (though that's part of it, of course - my life is such a mess). I don't know if I ever have a perfect, pure intention for anything I do. I spend my days subconsciously (sometimes even consciously) trying to make deals with God. I'm definitely a sinner, but the Lord has still entrusted me with a mission, and it continues to draw me through these days, as it has since my youth.

This mission has to do with communicating what I "see and hear" along the whole journey of this life, whatever experience and understanding I gain about what it means to be human. I suppose this is what being "a humanities teacher" is all about. And how or when this communication "succeeds" is not something I can measure in the brief scope of my own time in this world.

I'm called to be faithful to this vocation, even if I feel like I'm not saying it very well, or no one is listening, and the hairs of my beard just grow whiter as the days pass by. I'm called to be faithful. So I pray for the grace to keep trying, and doing what I can, entrusting the fruition to God.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Cross of Love and Salvation

September 14. "Exaltation of the Cross," which is God's love for the world.

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Song for Hong Kong

The newly-composed, virally-learned anthem of the Hong Kong Protest Movement has been sung openly by large crowds of people peacefully gathered in public places all over the region in the past two days.

This is a historic moment. People have begun calling it "Hong Kong's National Anthem."

A musician who uses the pseudonym "Thomas" or "T" began circulating a "marching anthem" with words on the Protesters' Internet. Individuals and groups recorded vocals, and their contributions were "mixed" the way many songs are made today in music studios (but with production software that is accessible to anyone; you probably have it pre-installed on your iPhone).

The result was the first video linked below. The 2 million views since August 31 are just on this anonymous YouTube channel; it has circulated in various ways. For once, something has "gone viral" that really does deserve widespread attention.

I don't know who did the English "translation" (or rather "versification") in the subtitles; it's clumsy and wordy compared to the original, but it does give us English-only-speakers an idea of what they are singing. The language, by the way, is NOT Mandarin. It is Cantonese, which is the popular language in Hong Kong and in that whole area of South China.

I don't know either of these languages, but I know that this distinction is very important to the people - among the many things that Beijing wants to impose on HK is the "standardized language" of Mandarin (at least, this is what people fear).

Watch and listen to the original video here: [n.b. it was taken down and then reposted to the same YouTube channel on October 1]

The story of this first video is remarkable enough in itself. But the truly amazing story is exemplified by the videos linked at the end of this post. In less than two weeks, thousands of people have learned to sing this anthem and are singing it in public.

People have gathered in streets, parks, and shopping malls to sing this song. Ensembles and soloists have performed it or posted videos. At a local FIFA soccer match on September 12, not only did the crowd boo the Communist Chinese National Anthem (which was recently imposed on them "by law"). They sang this anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong."

At halftime, they sang it again, just to make sure Beijing heard it loud and clear.

Hong Kong has a peculiar history (I'm boning up on it, don't worry). The region was barely inhabited when the British established the colony as a sort of military/mercantile base there in the 19th century. Cantonese immigrants came, did the grunt work of building the town for the British, and thereafter constituted the vast majority of its population.

After the Communist victory on the mainland, people fled from all parts of China to British Hong Kong. Then they were passed back to China in 1997, under an agreement they had no say in making.

Hong Kong has always been a distinctive place - a meeting point "between East and West" - and if they have not always been a distinctive "people," they are being forged into a new people by the events of this past decade. These events are an organic rising up to meet the challenge of a repression that is trying to subvert and destroy the natural evolution of local political, juridical, and social institutions.

The Hong Kong people call this their "revolution," but it's not a revolution in the destructive or ideologically imposing sense of that term. The people do not want to tear down what they have already built; rather, they want the defense of persons and communities, and the reasonable reform and development of already-existing institutions that mediate a common life lived in an open human space, a place where freedom is possible.

I can't argue with people who think that's worth defending - who take risks in order to be free to tend their own garden. This is what makes history. And after hearing this anthem and seeing and hearing these people, I have hope for them, that - whether now or in a future that is beginning now - they will prevail. The world will be enriched by a new, vital contribution from the Hong Kong people. It already has been.

And none of these people will forget what has begun in these days. They have more than a movement now. They have a song. A crowd can be dispersed and a movement suppressed. It's nearly impossible, however, to remove music from people's hearts.

The video above is at a shopping mall. It's not just protesters singing here. It's the entire mall. Behind the protesters who have demonstrated this Summer stands a large percentage of Hong Kong's population who support them or are at least sympathetic to them.

Below: a protesters' orchestra and protesters' choir gathered in an undisclosed place, with everyone wearing masks, and recorded this moving version

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Flaming City

"The Flaming City" #NeverForget911 #DigitalArt 
Eighteen years ago, Manhattan was burning.

It's a bit mind boggling to think that kids in the USA turning 18 after today weren't even born when the terrorist attacks of "9-11" took place. For a Young Senior like me, it's hard to wrap the mind around this generation-and-a-half GAP in the adult world.

When I think about it, I realize that I was around 8 months old when Kennedy was assassinated. For today's newly minted legal adults, "September 11, 2001" has a similar kind of whole-life-epoch-defining significance that "November 22, 1963" had for my generation growing up (the date rolls right up in my head effortlessly, even though I have a hard time remembering people's names or why I left the room five minutes ago).

Obviously these are two different events, with different implications, but both were national catastrophes that deeply marked the experience of political and social life for the generation that grew up in their shadows.

I'm trying to get some perspective for myself, to empathize with what 9-11 "feels like" for kids today ... including my own kids (John Paul is the only one who has any memory of it).

On another, more basic level, 9-11 was a moment of brazen, unmasked evil that killed thousands of people, brought terrible suffering to families and friends that continues to this day, directly impacted countless people (some of whom I know personally) and our whole nation, and indeed shocked every human being on the planet who hadn't entirely lost their conscience.

Then (like now) there was an 80+ year old man in Rome who had seen many brazen evils in his life. The next day, he spoke according to his profound human experience and in the manner befitting his office. He knew well that nothing he could say would "make the suffering go away," but he also knew that it was necessary to remember that evil - for all its terrifying and totalitarian pretenses that seem to overwhelm history - does not have the last word.

Here is what Pope John Paul II said the next day:
"To the President of the United States and to all American citizens I express my heartfelt sorrow. In the face of such unspeakable horror we cannot but be deeply disturbed. I add my voice to all the voices raised in these hours to express indignant condemnation, and I strongly reiterate that the ways of violence will never lead to genuine solutions to humanity’s problems.
"Yesterday was a dark day in the history of humanity, a terrible affront to human dignity. After receiving the news, I followed with intense concern the developing situation, with heartfelt prayers to the Lord. How is it possible to commit acts of such savage cruelty? The human heart has depths from which schemes of unheard-of ferocity sometimes emerge, capable of destroying in a moment the normal daily life of a people. But faith comes to our aid at these times when words seem to fail. Christ’s word is the only one that can give a response to the questions which trouble our spirit. Even if the forces of darkness appear to prevail, those who believe in God know that evil and death do not have the final say. Christian hope is based on this truth; at this time our prayerful trust draws strength from it."

Monday, September 9, 2019

"Rose Study, Number 10"

Number ten in my "Rose Study" digital art series. I have been puttering away at several "rose study" pieces, so they should be finished soon. 

This one is fun:

Saturday, September 7, 2019

We Become Our True Selves By "Asking"

God of might, giver of every good gift,
put into our hearts the love of your name, 
so that, by deepening our sense of reverence, 
you may nurture in us what is good 
and, by your watchful care, 
keep safe what you have nurtured. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Collect Prayer of this past week once again turns us to God, who is the source of all reality in its being and goodness, the source of our hearts and of the very freedom by which we enter into relationship with Him and are brought to fulfillment in Him.

We can pray this prayer of grateful dependence, which is not an enslavement because God is the One who gives us our very existence as persons, our uniqueness, our dignity. We remember that dependence on God is the only real freedom, the only liberation from our indigence and apparent insignificance that leads to wisdom and enduring life.

He who is the giver of every good gift has given us a promise. He will awaken, sustain, and protect our freedom as He guides us to the realization of our true and definitive selves as persons in relation to Him and one another, sharing in His infinite life, infinite goodness, infinite love.

Why would we want to paralyze ourselves in a powerless mistrust of the all-Good God? What would that leave us with? O harrowing loneliness!

No. Let us ask with boundless trust: "Put into my heart love for You, deepen my awareness of You as the real center of my existence, nurture my adherence to You and all things in the goodness they have from You, and keep me safe until the fulfillment of Your promise."

"Ask and you shall receive," the Lord has promised. So let's ask, keep asking, return to asking again, never stop asking through all the darkness, the obscurity, the failures, the pain, the distractions, and the solitude of this life's journey.


Never give up asking God to give you His love. His grace empowers the "asking" itself, opening up our freedom and enabling us to adhere to Him.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

"A Meek and Humble Heart..."

Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997. 22 years later, we celebrate another feast of Saint Teresa of Kolkata.

She'll always be 'Mother Teresa' to me. I'm a long way from humility, and I read too many books. But I'm learning to smile. 

"Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Justice and Anger in Hong Kong's 'Anonymous War'

Justice and Anger in Hong Kong's Anonymous War: reflections of a not-very-knowledgeable but sympathetic old man from far away...


The school year in Hong Kong has begun... with a massive student strike. As the ongoing civil protest movement enters its fourth month, it begins to look more and more like an unprecedented series of events that will only be understood in retrospect.

It may indeed be many, many years before we begin to see the significance of this widespread, sustained popular uprising. Immense energies have been expended by people from every sector of society, and new modes of collaboration have been invented that have generated large coordinated purposeful actions, without the emergence (as yet) of any leadership. Media and communications technology are playing a big role in this apparently "faceless" movement, as protesters plan activities on the internet, gather at agreed-upon locations, and engage in creative and provocative demonstrations.

This is supposed to be a "nonviolent movement." It certainly appeared that way in June, when millions took to the streets in opposition to a bill proposed in the Legislative Council that would have authorized extradition to mainland China of alleged criminals for prosecution.

As the Summer passes, however, a fierce and complicated struggle is being played out in this unique city (and on video screens the world over). For those of us who watch from afar, it has been inspiring, but also frightening and perplexing. Since 2014, we have been seeing the historic rise of a generation of courageous young people willing to risk everything by taking a stand for the noble cause of human dignity and freedom, and against the machinations of the world's largest, most controlling and soul-suffocating dictatorship.

We are, of course, rooting for these freedom fighters. Oh my, yes! But we are also worried about them. We are seeing more and more videos of barracaded protesters - clad in black, wearing gas masks, and some of them hurling projectiles - facing off against an ominous deployment of police in full riot gear (looking like a dystopian Darth Vader army) pumping preposterous quantities of tear gas, pepper spray, and other "non-lethal" (but far from harmless) materials into the crowd. In some videos, groups from the protester side break through their barriers and charge at the police lines with long metal poles, and we see scenes of hand-to-hand combat with police batons.

As I noted in a previous post, "the revolution is being televised." Videos of huge peaceful protests and hand-to-hand "human chains" illuminating the night with cellphone lights are awesome. But the "battle scenes" are more alarming, and they give the impression that this is not going to end well.

Make no mistake: the police and Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government are responsible for initiating and escalating this situation of conflict, beginning with the first cannister of tear gas they fired at defenseless protesters peacefully assembled five years ago at the start of what became known as the "Umbrella Movement." Since then, there have been continual tensions between government officials and large groups of dissenters. The long, snake-like arm of Beijing barely even tries to hide its egregious manipulation of everything it can reach.

Reporters (other than those associated with the Chinese propaganda machine) have provided for the world a context that explains the widescale public outrage against the HK law enforcement sector's brutal tactics. International human rights organizations have condemned ongoing acts of police repression. Also clear is the tightening grip of Beijing's claw trying to suffocate what remains of the civil institutions of a free society in Hong Kong. Now, faceless groups of (mostly) young people are desperately trying to fight back. But it's not an "even fight."

It's remarkable that Hong Kong's democracy movement has remained mostly nonviolent for so long. But during this long hot Summer, protesters (some of them, at least) have grown increasingly angry and aggressive. This is understandable but it's a reason for concern.

What is happening to the focus on the core principles of nonviolence - its reliance on self-discipline, sacrifice, bringing evils to light, and the conversion of enemies into friends? This most radical level of nonviolence, of course, is very difficult to sustain in a prolonged conflict. It is especially frustrating when the enemy (the Chinese Communist Party) is unnaturally stubborn, or worse, offers false friendship. Many people are likely to give up altogether in the long run, and it would be harsh to blame them. They just want to live their lives in whatever space of freedom they can carve out for themselves. But widespread disillusionment will defeat the cause. Beijing and its local puppets are counting on it.

It would appear that some desperate Hong Kong people, driven by a deeply ambivalent anger that mingles burning frustration with the fires of their passion for freedom and justice, are seeking to fight violence with violence, to return hatred for hatred. This cannot bear good fruit. And it only plays into Beijing's hand.

Others might seek to reframe their struggle in terms of legitimate self-defense against an alien regime. They might try to include the justifiable application of proportionate physical force when necessary (some already appear to be inclined toward this option). In principle, when all other means have proved futile, an argument can be made for armed resistance in accordance with strict criteria of justice, restraint, the requirements of the common good, and other aspects of what is known as the "just war" paradigm. The use of force to defend against and repel an unjust aggressor is not "violence," as long as it is not aimed at the degradation of enemies as human persons (many Western "conventions" of warfare, such as humane treatment of POWs, etc find their roots here). In any case, it's very difficult to carry out consistently in practice.

Here the current present movement in Hong Kong has a basic problem. It lacks the leadership and positive social coherence required (at the very least) to assume "public authority" for directing the use of force. There are unifying themes and aspirations (and in the CCP a deplorable, unscrupulous enemy) but there is no leadership. Indeed, in the late-night conflicts, the masked protesters themselves are unidentifiable even to one another, and the crowd dressed in black may include undercover police, embedded reporters, and possibly agitators with their own agendas.

Some of the recent protest "disruptions" have crossed the line between demonstrative civil disobedience and lawless vandalism. If reports are true that some protesters smashed up city infrastructure such as subway stations, that would be most unfortunate. We have all seen the horrific videos of police storming a subway station and beating everyone in sight; the public has a right to demand that perpetrators of this outrage and all those responsible be brought to justice. But individuals wearing masks have no right to escalate the level of anarchy by further acts of violence. We hope that such actions come from fringe elements, or perhaps even 'fake protesters' planted to deliberately perpetrate violence in order to smear the movement - it's hard to believe that Beijing itself has not infiltrated the protest and put its own paid agents in the streets, as well as among the police.

All the anger and desperation that are being vented now can be appreciated by people in free societies and their governments, even if they lead to mistakes and some unruly behavior in the streets. But Hong Kong's protest movement must resist the temptation to go to war. There is little room for even the semblance of error in this direction. Without a structure of verifiable accountability, physical force too easily degenerates into open violence (this is precisely the point protesters are rightly trying to make regarding the behavior of the police). If this happens, the anonymous resistance will devolve into guerrilla warfare, which is even harder to direct, more likely to turn toward vengeance and destruction, break into factions, perpetuate increasing cycles of violence, and get a lot of people killed.

It should be noted that thus far no one had died as a direct result of actions by either side in the past three months. This is astonishing (especially to those of us living in the USA, who have become sadly accustomed to the bloody casualties of increasingly frequent random acts of violence in streets, schools, and public venues). In Hong Kong's "Summer of unrest," there have been many injuries, but no fatalities ... yet. That does not mean that the violence lacks intensity. It is deplorable that so much of it comes from civil agents whose office it is to protect the people. But their tactics are at the service of authorities who are ultimately answerable to Beijing's politburo. The HK government's violence and manipulation are enacting a political script. Under the pretext of perpetuating a strange conception of the 'rule of law,' it aims not to kill but to repress political dissent and create a climate of fear and conformity while mainland China carries out its agenda to gradually take over the city.

In the streets, nothing the protesters have done thus far comes anywhere near justifying the ferocious behavior of the Hong Kong Police, who seem to think that crowd-control is best achieved by 'preventive first strikes' that are outrageously disproportionate to anything a crowd could conceivably do. They do the opposite of "de-escalating" potentially volatile situations. On the contrary, those who are deployed at demonstrations seem to provoke more danger and conflict. If the people have lost patience, it's because they have been goaded and prodded relentlessly by a police force that answers to no one... or worse, one that does the bidding of Beijing.

The protesters are also not easily distinguished and held accountable, which only strengthens the pretext of those bent on indiscriminately repressing them. Clearly some of protesters are far from being angels. But it's difficult to identify who might be responsible for objectionable actions or tendencies. It's hard to gage the spirit of the protest movement, its strength, or what internal disagreements might lie behind its united front. The people are anonymous. They have been driven to it for their own safety's sake. We don't know them. Often they don't even know one another. Who knows what direction they will take if they survive the current crisis? Now more than ever, the protest movement needs people who think things through.

Agnes Chow Ting
We do know the leaders from the pro-democracy groups, especially those who emerged from the 2014 student led "Umbrella Movement." Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, and other brave young people have grown up in the last five years (just like our own kids).

They have tried the political process and have been stonewalled. They are participants and supporters of the current movement, but are not its leaders. Some were recently arrested in a gratuitous fashion, as if the government - frustrated by efforts to crush a movement without visible leadership - just couldn't resist the urge to focus the blame on a few faces. We can be sure that the government and its CCP masters will eventually find scapegoats who will have much to suffer, and who will need our prayers, concern, and advocacy. We may be able to help them. We can at least recognize the courage of their stand, their witness to the value of the human person.

Even though it lacks conventional leadership, the Hong Kong protest movement has remained clear and unified in affirming its demands (see below), which seem eminently reasonable: they want the real autonomy secured by the treaty that established Hong Kong's current status in 1997; they want free and fair elections of their own government, an independent investigation into police brutality, the legitimization of their movement, and the complete unambiguous withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative agenda. Beijing, however, has also openly made its view clear: Hong Kong is "a Chinese city" and it had better get used to being run politically like any other Chinese city.

Ay, there's the rub.

Because Hong Kong is not like any other Chinese city ... not yet. It was separate from the China of Mao Zedong's revolution and its ravages, and from the China of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. It has only been under Chinese control (a very peculiar, delicately negotiated control) since 1997. Here is where the origin of the tensions can be found.

Hong Kong today supposedly holds a "special autonomous status," which China agreed to preserve "for fifty years" (i.e. through the year 2047) back in 1997 when the former British colony was handed over to Chinese control. This is what accounts for the "one country, two systems" explanation of Hong Kong's status. Theoretically, it is 'part of China' while retaining its own economic system (and status as a global financial center), its own framework of civil liberties (including freedom of press, assembly, and religion), and its own domestic political and juridical institutions.

The agreements that led up to the handover in 1997 involved a collection of awkward negotiated compromises between Britain and mainland China. The whole process leaned heavily on the "promises" of a Leninist one-party-State whose reputation for lying and cheating is notorious even by modern political standards. Not surprisingly, the Chinese Communist Party-state rigged Hong Kong's supposedly autonomous politics from the start. Beijing effectively controls the selection of Hong Kong's "Chief Executive" and the majority of its Legislative Council (there are processes through which this is done, but Beijing has them firmly under control). Less than half of the LegCo is elected by the people. Pro-democracy candidates dominate here, but at best they can only be a temporary brake to slow down the speed of Beijing's determination to swallow the city into the one system of New China.

Protest Movement demands, circulated on the internet
Can this protest movement do anything better for Hong Kong's future?

The New China has harnessed the engines of material prosperity (without scruples) while preserving one key feature of Marxism: subjection and control of persons, subsuming of the personality to a collectivist identity. This identity, in turn, is (thanks to Lenin) interpreted and imposed by an elite group, the Party dictatorship, which - in vast China - has effectively become a pervasive quasi-imperial bureaucracy.

This so-called "Communist Party" endures on the strength of a fierce nationalism that feeds (like a parasite) off China's ancient traditions as much as its current material powers. It aims to impose its version of Chinese nationalism throughout its domains. It promises material comfort and prosperity within an exaltation of the supremacy of the Nation-State as defined by the Party. Quite simply, China today embodies the ideal of Fascism. This is the monster that Hong Kong's protesters must grapple with. What hope do they have?

No matter what they do, they will probably lose the current battle. Many will go to jail or be otherwise socially marginalized. But if they can resist the temptation to turn to violence, their stand will be remembered and honored. They can use the time to learn from mistakes and to search for the roots of human freedom, for the source of the human person - that which gives the person an inviolable dignity that cannot be subordinated to any ideology.

Herein lies Hong Kong's path to freedom, the hope of Hong Kong people for a free society. It is a long, arduous path, but it remains possible.

It is a path for all of us. Hong Kong people can help to point us in the right direction.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Welcome to September

We are two thirds of the way through this strange year of 2019. Though for now the heat is still with us, the feeling of the "Change of Seasons" is in the air.