“Dante, Trump and the moral cowardice of the G.O.P.”

“One of John F. Kennedy’s favorite quotes was something he thought came from Dante: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’

“As it turns out, the quote is apocryphal. But what Dante did write was far better, and it came vividly to mind last week as Republicans failed to take a stand after President Trump’s racist tweets and chants of ‘Send her back,’ directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who immigrated here from Somalia, at a Trump rally in North Carolina.

“In Dante’s Inferno, the moral cowards are not granted admission to Hell; they are consigned to the vestibule, where they are doomed to follow a rushing banner that is blown about by the wind. When Dante asks his guide, Virgil, who they are, he explains:

‘This miserable way is taken by sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.’

“They are destined to be forgotten. ‘The world will let no fame of theirs endure,’ Virgil explains. ‘Let us not talk of them, but look and pass.’ Dante describes the vast horde who chase after the elusive banner that ‘raced on so quick that any respite seemed unsuited to it.’ Behind the banner, he writes, ‘trailed so long a file/ of people—I should never have believed/ that death could have unmade so many souls.’

“And to those ranks we can now add all the politicians, pundits and camp followers who refused to take a stand when they were confronted with this stark moral choice posed by Mr. Trump’s racist attacks on four minority freshmen Democratic women.” [. . .]    –Charles Sykes, America, the Jesuit Review, July 21, 2019.

Contributed by Martin Kavka, Florida State University

“Congo faces ‘Dante’s Inferno‘ but shuns U.N. aid effort”

“Jean-Philippe Chauzy, head of the U.N. migration agency IOM in Congo described a microcosm of the dreadful plight of many ordinary Congolese – 1,000 families camped in a schoolyard that he visited in Kalemie, capital of Tanganyika province.

“It reminded me of when I first read Dante’s Inferno – it was absolutely awful, living conditions were absolutely atrocious,” he told Reuters. “No proper water, people defecating wherever they could, shelters made of pieces of plastic or of rags on sticks.” [. . .]    –Tom Miles, Reuters, April 13, 2018

Michael Wolff’s trip inside the president’s head, with Steve Bannon as guide

“So the new Wolff book is much like the last one: a sail through the Trump diaspora and inside the president’s head with Bannon as the cruise director. [. . .]

“In the acknowledgments, Bannon is the only named source whom Wolff thanks, praising him effusively and, in an allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy, calling him ‘the Virgil anyone might be lucky enough to have as a guide for a descent into Trumpworld.’ In reality Bannon is more like Wolff’s Farinata, the former Florentine political leader whom Dante portrays as banished to the circle of hell for heretics, where, alone in his tomb, he still obsesses about his own era in politics but has no access to current events unless one of the dead brings him a snippet of news from the center of power.” [. . .]    –Ryan Lizza, The Washington Post, May 29, 2019.

Contributor Michael VanValkenburgh offers a correction to Lizza’s Farinata comparison, commenting “He is wrong to say ‘Farinata is alone in his tomb'”

The Forgotten Inferno: Tinderbox and the Up Stairs Lounge Fire”

“It was 45 years ago this month that a man bought a can of Ronsonol lighter fluid at a Walgreens on Canal Street, walked to the Up Stairs Lounge, emptied its contents on the stairs and struck a match. Within minutes, the bar was engulfed in flames and choking smoke. Ceiling tiles and fabric melted and stuck like napalm to the skins of the people inside. With the entrance blocked and the windows barred, an emergency exit hidden and a fire escape with no stairs, patrons were trapped.

“Though the blaze was controlled in 17 minutes, firefighters found the room a crematorium with 28 bodies inside — ‘stacked like pancakes,’ in the words of The States-Item the next morning. Four more people died from injuries in the days afterward. (Had bartender Buddy Rasmussen not led 15 to 20 people out the hidden emergency exit, the death toll would have been higher.) The bodies were burned so badly that positive identification was impossible; New Orleans Police Department officers relied on scraps of identification. One of them, Maj. Henry Morris, cautioned, ‘We don’t even know if these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this is a queer bar.’

“‘The fire came quickly and it was snuffed out quickly,’ wrote Lanny Thomas in The States-Item. ‘But the holocaust is one of the worst this city has seen.’ The Times-Picayune’s headline compared the scene to ‘DANTE’S INFERNO, HITLER’S INCINERATORS.'” [. . .]    –Kevin Allman, The Advocate, June 11, 2018.

“The Circles of American Financial Hell”

Circles-American-Financial-Hell-Atlantic“As people move up the income ladder, they escape material shortages and consume more. They have ‘things’—goods, houses, and, most importantly, education—to show for their higher earnings, but they do not have healthy finances. Having those ‘things’ is of course an improvement over not having them, but only for the very, very rich (or the very, very unusual) is there any real escape from the pressure-cooker of American household finances.” — Rebecca J. Rosen, “The Circles of American Financial Hell,” The Atlantic (May 5, 2016)

“Just another day in Brexitland hell”

Covering the failed attempt to topple British PM Theresa May in a no-confidence vote on Dec. 12, 2018, John Crace compared the chaos over May’s Brexit deal to Dante’s hell. In the digital edition of the paper, the photo of the prime minister (below) was captioned: “Just another day in Brexitland hell for Theresa May.”

Theresa-May-Brexit-Hell-Tenth-Circle

At the end of the piece, Crace comments, “The reality was that nothing had changed. Nothing had changed. May’s Brexit deal was no more likely to get through the Commons than it had been before the vote. If anything positions had hardened. The EU would not be coming to her rescue. All the future offered was more deadlock, more division. Dante was wrong. There was a tenth circle of hell and we were in it. Government as mindless light entertainment.” — John Crace, “Tory headbangers save the Maybot – for the time being at least,” The Guardian, Dec. 12, 2018

Contributed by Nick Havely

“‘Dante’s Inferno’ in Chile: All-Time National Heat Record Smashed by 6°F”

Dantes-Inferno-in-Chile“The first all-time national heat record of 2017 was set in spectacular fashion on Thursday in Chile, where at least twelve different stations recorded a temperature in excess of the nation’s previous all-time heat record—a 41.6°C (106.9°F) reading at Los Angeles on February 9, 1944. According to international weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera, the hottest station on Thursday was Cauquenes, which hit 45.0°C (113°F). The margin by which the old record national heat record was smashed: 3.6°C (6.1°F), was extraordinary, and was the second largest such difference Herrera has cataloged (the largest: a 3.8°C margin in New Zealand in 1973, from 38.6°C to 42.4°C.) Herrera cautioned, though, that the extraordinary high temperatures on Thursday in Chile could have been due, in part, to the effects of the severe wildfires burning near the hottest areas, and the new record will need to be verified by the weather service of Chile.” — Jeff Masters, “‘Dante’s Inferno’ in Chile: All-Time National Heat Record Smashed by 6°F” for wundergroundblog.com

Wildfire in Santa Olga, Chile (2017)

Guardian-Wildfire-Chile-Dantes-Inferno“An entire town has been consumed by flames in Chile as unusually hot, dry weather undermined efforts to combat the worst forest fires in the country’s recent history.

[. . .]

“‘Nobody can imagine what happened in Santa Olga. What we have experienced here is literally like Dante’s Inferno,’ said Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of the encompassing municipality Constitución. ‘We were recovering after the last earthquake, but this tragedy has messed up everything.'” — Jonathan Watts, “Deadly wildfire razes entire town in Chile: ‘Literally like Dante’s Inferno’,” The Guardian (January 26, 2017)

Retirement tips for Steve Bannon and others

[…] “Learn something new.

“Mr. Bannon also might want to expand his cultural horizons, perhaps by learning a language of one of the few nationalities that he doesn’t want barred from the country. I’d suggest Italian, which would give him the ability to read Dante’s Inferno in the original. That should give him an idea of his future travel plans.” […]    –Charles Sykes, The New York Times, January 6, 2018

Circles of Hell

[…]  “To what circle of hell are Republican officials about to consign themselves? It would be useful for members of Congress to declare that they will never enter the fourth circle — the demolition of the integrity and independence of the FBI — if only to deter Trump from forcing a constitutional crisis.” […]    –Michael Gerson, The Washington Post, October 30, 2017,