Herding Hamsters And Other Cosmic Reflections

Disordered thoughts on the National Cockatoo’s latest antics

One:  The aghastment and horrilation about the terrible, appalling, shocking etc nature of gas warfare is nonsense. There is nothing unusually  hideous about the use of toxic chemicals. Hidous, yes, but not unusually hideous. Boring old workaday artillery, that nobody criticizes, leaves children watching as mommy frnatically clutches at intestings spilling from her opened belly, leaves men without legs trying to drag themselves along until gushing femoral arteries end consciousness, causes traumatic brain injury that leaves its beneficiaries drooling and burbling for life. Poison gas can do no better.

The whole business of WMD, Weapons of Mass Destruction, is two-thirds twaddle useful for herding  dim publics. Gas has very seldom been used since the World War One days of Wilfred Owen, not because of its vileness but because it has not proved particularly useful militarily. Horribleness does not bother soldiers, who are amoral when they are not actually sadistic.

Biological warfare? It sounds, like, you know, really scary and all, but in fact is not militarily enticing because it is not controllable and can backfire on its users. It serves nicely, however,  to alarm publics with minds of low voltage.  We are most especially supposed to be frightend of anthrax. Since it is not contagious it is more in the nature of a poison and in any event hard to use.

Only three weapons of mass destruction exist: Nuclear explovives, artillery, and aerial bombing. Think Dresden, Hiroshima, Guernica, Falluja.

Two: Whoever wrote Trump’s speech for him–he obviously cannot put together two sentences with dependent clauses without wandering onto the far shores of incoherence–worked the moral-outrage pump hard. The gas attack, by whomever made, killed, eeek, squeak, seventy civilians and little children. More hamster-herding: git along little furry dogies. On many days in the Mid-East, the United States has killed more civilians than all the gas attacks real or invented in the entire war. The pilots, unprincipled as are all military men, know they are doing it, and don’t care. They get paid for their humanitarianism. By us.

Three: Something smells.  The use of toxins, either by Assad in Syria or by Russia in West Pakistan–England, I meant, England–makes no sensee. Assad had won his war and had no need of  gassing a few civilians. He would have to know that  it would give Washington a pretext for an attack. Which it did. Is Assad so foolish?

Similarly with the poisoning of  what’s-his-spy and his daughter. Russia had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose, as we have seen. It is one thing to believe Mr. Putin capable of bad things. To believe him stupid is quite another. Note that Theresa May became hysterical before it was established that Russia did it, which has still not been established. The orchestrated expulsion of Russian diplomats by all the vassal states, also before anything definitive had been determined, was just too cute.

Hamster herding.

Four: Who  had anything to gain by the gaseous adventurism Answer: The American Empire–not America, not Americans–and Israel. Both are desperate to keep Syria from surviving. Note that Washington has a history of lying the countryinto  wars. The Maine in 1898, the Gulf of Tonkin, the imaginary WMD in Gulf I. Plus ca change, plus ca doesn’t.

Five: Syria is of no importance, at all,  to America or Americans. It has nothing America wants or needs. It poses no danger to America. It is somewhere else. This lack of vital interest to Amrica it shares with North Korea, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, the Crimea, the South China Sea, and all the other places where the Empire looks for war. Then why does Washington risk nuclear war by accient with Russia, which also poses no danger to America?

Because the Empire’s hegemony over the Mid-East, Asia, and the world weakens. The Empire totters. Syria is at the heart of the looming demise.

Things go badly, Empire-wise. Start with the war on Afghanistan, now creeping toward its third decade, and neighboring Pakistan. China invests heavily in infrastructure in Pakistan:  The Karakoram Highway, the Karachi reactores, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,  the IP pipeline, Guadar. If–when—Amrica leaves, Pakistan will become an economic client state of China, without a shot being fired. Afghanistan will quickly follow as China invests in its minrals. This is why Washington cannot leave.

Afghanistan bordrs Iran, which Washington maintains as an enemy at the behest of Israel. Iran borders Iraq, wrecked by the United States and sharing a religion with Iran. Without the threat of American military power, it could easily align itself with Iran and  Asia. In Syria, Assad seems to have won unless the Empire doubles or triples down. Thus the contrived gassing  of children  and Trump’s missile attack. Turkey balances between east and west, and could easily decide that Asia is the future.

The Empire totters, wounded and dangerous.

Six:  Washington’s approach to hegemony is mlitary, relying on bombing and economic sanctions. This requires huge military expenditures that cripple the domestic economy and produuces countless countries that would break with America if they could. By contrast, China’ss approach is economic,  smarter and much cheaper. It is China’s Belt and Raod Initiative to integrate all of Eurasia into one huge trading block, exxcluding guess who, that has the Empire  in a panic. How do you bomb a trade areement?

Seven: Russia and China have adult leadership. Putin and Xi  are stable,  intellignet, and competent. Their interests are not Washington’s and  they will do whatever is in the interest of their contries, but they are not stupid, ignorant, weak,  juvenile, or crazy. By contrast, Trump is a loon, ignorant of practically everything, mentally chaotic, and easily modified.

Do you think this excessive? Ponder this luminous tweet

Get ready Russia, missiles will be coming at Syria, nice and new and ‘smart’!”

This is not adult language. It is the taunting of a twleve-year-old. Nya hnya nya!  Yet it is classic Trump. This man has absolute power to launch wars whose consequences we will have to bear. Is this not splendid?

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In Search of Intelligent Latin Policy: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream….

The obvious and intelligent course regarding immigration from the south is to stop further influx and assimilate those who are not going away and, being citizens, cannot be deported. Mr. Trump’s placing of troops along the border, if carried out, can quickly and practically accomplishthe first of these, as his silly wall would not. This accom;lished, the chief obstacle to assimilaiton, crucial to the well-being of the United States, will be something called the Alt-Right.

When I write about Latin America, response falls largely into two classes. First, those who are civil, interested,  thoughtfully express various points of view or ask questions, all in a manner suggesting sanity.   The second are those who say I am a race traitor and hate America, sometimes adding sexual insults directed at my wife, who is Mexican. These latter often identify themselves as being of the Alt-Right. The two groups are clearly different sorts of people.

If the Alt-Right wanted only to stop immigration, deport criminals, end affirmative action and so on, it would do no harm. Unfortunately it inveighs against all people of Latin-American descent, whose presence it regards as portending every kind  of disaster known to man and perhaps some not yet discovered. Sites like Vdare.com and Breitbart News endlessly paint Latins as stupid, filthy, socially irresponsible, and unable to learn English. This does not bode wll for the future of a country in which Latin and Anglo will have to live together.

In fact, the Alt-Right’s desired social catastrophes seem not to be materializing, which must be a cause for sorrow. For example California, with a very large Latin population, does not produce the required Anglo-Latin race riots, burning cities, or elections made interesting by racial vituperation. Brown and white appear to get along in disturbing peace.  I guess you can’t have everything.

The problem with this apparently exhilarating hostility is there are in the US an absolute minimum of forty-five million legal Latins,  mostly citizens, who show no signs of leaving and cannot be deported. Some policy more  practical than fuming, hissing, and name-calling might be in order.

A characteristic of the Alt-Righters is a robust disregard for truth. Of course, this is equally true of their enemies on the Left, ideologues being identical psychological vessels into which may be poured any desired content. An ideology is just a systematic way of misunderstanding the world. Since the ideology is more important than correspondence with reality, truth is an ideal to be genuflected to while picking its pocket.

For example,  I have read in Alt-Right sites like Vdare and  Breitbart News for years that Mexicans inparticular are filthy, throw trash everywhere, and leave their children in dirty diapers. They do not. Neither do Argentines, Peruvians, or Chileans, or any Latin-Americans I have seen. These stories are usually anonymous or vague enough to make verification difficult, at times clearly fraudulent,  and those posting them seldom seem to have bothered with fact-checking. After all, it’s the spirit of the thing that counts.

Another common story is of Latin kids in American schools turning over desks, threatening teachers, and the like. These may be true–I have no way of checking individual schools, often not named–but they bear no resemblance to school children here in Mexico. Among other things I have followed my step-daughter Natalia from age eleven through various public schools urban and otherwise through high school and then through the Universidad Marista in Guadalajara. Nothing fits the Alt-Right’s description. I do know a Mexican woman who runs food-services at a school in LA. The kids, she says, are “no saints”–how many teenagers are?–but do not come close the the Alt-Right’s hopes.

The writers of this sort of thing could easily determine the truth of many their assertions  by spending a few minutes with Google Images. Just put in Guadalajara or Chapala (where I live) or an agricultural town like Jocotepec or a mountain pueblo like Mazamitla and scroll in search of street scenes. (Here, Chapala plus neighboring Ajijic.) Look for the thick layer of garbage, dirty diapers, and used condoms. Similarly with the implications of stupidity. The CIA Factbook put literacy at ninety-five percent. A brief Google check for bookstores(“librerias”) would provide a list of thirty in Guadalajara, mostly very good. Thisdo not absolutely prove anything, but might make one think.

In fairness to Breitbart, it may be that New York does not yet have internet service. Otherwise, one might ask why people vilifying Mexico and Mexicans have not done the easy research that would be done by an eighth-grader for a term paper. The two obvious explanations are  lying, and gross intellectual incompetence. Since the owners of these sites are highly intelligent, out of respect I assume that they are lying.

It is interesting to see what the Alt-Right really is when its members are not disguising their sentiments. A while back I wrote a column suggesting that   we should perhaps a have a reasoned policy toward our permanent Latins, to include assimilation. Such columns invariably arouse fury. This one ran in the Unz Review, which allows commenting. and has drawn 447 comments to date when 80 is a more usual number. They  represent the attitudes of the Alt-Rightists when they are protected by pseudonyms.

Note that the first comment seriously advocates killing the Latins. Not all the commenters are of this stripe, or belong to the Alt-Right, but…read a few and draw your own conclusions.

(The commenters express their own views only. The Unz Review, one of my favorite sites, is not of the Alt-Right. The owner, Ron Unz, lives in a heavily Mexican neighborhood of Silicon Valley and has repeatedly said that he finds them good people.)

Much of the vituperation of the Alt-Right against legal Latins seems the sullen hostility of gas-station louts who in some cases may have discovered clean shirts. There is an air of unreality in it, a truculence devoid of any practical program. They are positively unworldly regarding the illegals. Whatever the desirability of expelling these, practicality is lacking and the idea borders on lunacy from the far side. Do the enraged have any idea of the magnitude of ejection even twelve million people, or even  eight hundred thousand Dreamers? Executing them would seem a difficult Congressional sell. America is not going to build a Pedroschwitz despite the panting political onanism of its advocates. Meanwhile, Congress appears wildly uninterested even in The Wall, which It looks like theater to keep The Base voting as desired.

The chief reason why the Alt{Right ‘s dreams of extermination or mass deportation are pointless is that not enough  people are in favor of either. Whether a thing is a good idea doesn’t matter if it isn’t going to happen. Perhaps it would be a good idea to build a chain of catfish houses on Mars. Perhaps it would not be a good idea. Since it isn’t going to happen, the wisdom doesn’t matter.

Breitbart seems at times to rely on the innumeracy of its readers, whom it presumably knows well.  Breitbart News writes that “over 800,000” Dreamers have committed 2,139 crimes running from alien smuggling (probably their parents) and DUI to serious offenses. These criminals equal .267% of 800,000 or about a quarter of one percent of “more than 800,000” claimed by Breitbart. That is, one crime per about four hundred Dreamers. This is a crime wave?

Rather it suggests that Latins treated as legal and having  jobs commit very little crime, hardly surprising to anyone with opposable thumbs. The Dreamers also speak English and pay taxes. They are not illegal, though ever-honest Breitbart describes them so,  since the DACA program gave them legal status. Many entered the US as very small children, apparently establishing the curious doctrine that a two-year-old can commit a federal crime. So why is the Alt-Right so focused on them instead of illegals? Because it knows where to find them.

A measure of Breitbart’s contempt for its readers is that when one of twelve million illegals commits  murder, the mother of the victim becomes an “Angel Mom.” Goebbels would gag.

Perhaps the  nuttiest notion of the Alt-Right about Mexico is that it is somehow Indian.  Indians in the Alt-Right mind, or approximation of one, apparently are squatty little brown creatures with sloping foreheads and loincloths, doubtless engaging in human sacrifice. Mexico  is in fact chiefly European. It has a European language, a European religion, a European legal system (based on the Napoleonic code), and a government, well, OK, more American than European but certainly not Indian (elected president and legislature,, courts, and intractable bureaucracy). Its music while distinctive is not at all Indian and is closest to Mediterranean.  Its cathedrals would be instantly recognized by any Catholic. There is a small amount of religious syncretism: The Virgin of Guadeloupe is not mentioned in the Bible.

Again, the majority of Latins are not going to go away. Might it make sense to look at them as they are, at their many defects and many virtues, at what they are and are not, at their present and their potential, instead of growling in limbic hostility over what cannot be changed? guess not.

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In Which Embattled Manhood Rassles A Carburetor, And Is Discomfited

In times of desperation, such as being medically sidelined,  columnists resort to the shameless practice of republishing old titles. It is embarrassing. But I am doing it.

The abyss is everywhere, the unknown chasm that lies beyond the world we think we understand. Especially in carburetors.The other day I went to the back yard to change the main jet on the carburetor that engages in respiration for my ’67 Dodge. It is a simple device, having none of the incomprehensible swirls of anti-pollutional hoses that festoon modern machines like malign linguini. Changing the jet is a simple matter of unscrewing one sorry little metal doughnut and replacing it with another. All you need is a screwdriver, long skinny fingers, four arms, and an ability to see through sheet metal.

Okay. I advanced on the old bucket with a box of tools and a Soldier of Fortune T-shirt: modern American manhood at its clear-eyed, technically adept finest. I scowled. I endeavored to look masterful. No office-serf like me can do anything practical without (a) a sense of wonder that it actually worked and (b) a giddy exultation at his prowess. Whenever I successfully repack the wheel bearings, I have an urge to put my foot on a log, beat my chest, and utter a long quavering shriek. Unfortunately the neighbors, jealous types, would send for a struggle buggy and a couple of big orderlies.

The hood went uay. Say “Ahhh.” I am the equal of anybody in my mastery of hoods. The float bowl came off easily. Anything mechanical comes apart easily, often leaping spontaneously into more parts than you knew it had. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which insists that the universe tends to disorder with devilish single-mindedness, was no doubt discovered by a physicist working on his carburetor.

The old jet came out easily. The new one screwed in simply…well, almost simply, if only my fingers would fit behind the float, but there was no serious problem. I’d just take a long screwdriver, hold the jet balanced with the tip, turn it slowly…. Actually, there was no great difficulty at all. I merely put my foot on the battery for balance, holding a small flashlight in my mouth to shine into the carburetor, held the float with one hand and guided the jet with the other. Easy. Unfortunately it didn’t leave a hand to hold the screwdriver. The solution was really quite simple. All I had to do was….

After 45 minutes, my wife came out. She is by profession a harpsichordist and has the eye-hand coordination to disassemble a watch while bouncing on a trampoline. She does not, however, understand masterfulness. She tried to insert the jet a few times.

“This is ridiculous. Are you sure this is the right part?”

It was the wrong question to ask of embattled prowess.

My father came out to try. He had been skulking about, waiting for me to fail entirely so that he would be more impressive when he succeeded. He assumed a masterful expression and had at the vile device with the deft touch of a trained surgeon.

“Damn!”

“What?” I asked.

“I dropped it.”

A principle of automotive mechanics is that all parts smaller than a tire look exactly like gravel. I put the patient jalopy in neutral and we pushed it back a yard to look beneath it. We got down on our knees and began peering at the driveway trying to convey by a sort of panicked casualness that we were in command of the situation. Nothing. I began throwing gravel piece by piece into the woods on the theory that whatever remained would have to be the jet.

Judging by the sun, we had about three hours of daylight left.

Having found the thing at last, my father impaled in by its slot on an outsize screwdriver and began poking it at the carburetor like a dirk. He certainly looked masterful. I imagined him as a sort of latter-day D’Artagnan crossing swords with the enemies of the Crown, and leaving them with carburetor jets screwed into their breasts.

“Is it working?” I asked.

“Nothing to it. Used this trick for years, putting number-10 screws into junction boxes. Damn!”

We rolled the car back again and began searching for the jet. Five minutes later we did it again. My father looked down the driveway with a masterful expression that was beginning to be tinged with realism. “I calculate we’ve got about 600 more feet of driveway,” he said.

Automotive repair breaks into two phases-the first, in which the mechanic wants to fix the device, and the second, in which he wants to kill it. The difference between an obstacle and an enemy is about an hour and a half. Rage builds. It begins as a sort of interior itch accompanied by a desire to flex the large muscles. Then the fingers begin to curl uncontrollably. They are wondering what part of a carburetor might be the neck. Yet you still have to work delicately, precisely, or else call a mechanic. We tried.

“Damn!”

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Civil Insurrection: A Modest Proposal for Ending the United States

I see  that a man named Sessions, apparently  Washington’s Attorney General, threatens to unleash the coercive powers of the federal government against the state of Colorado, his reason being that he does not like the state’s policy with regard to marijuana.  This is most curious. Why he believes the policies of Colorado to be his concern is not clear. Equally mysterious is why he thinks the police of Colorado should arrest Coloradans for doing a thing that the people of the state have determined to be acceptable.

Mr. Session’s expansive view of his importance in the universe is seen again in his menacing of the state of California because he does noi approve its policy toward its immigrants. Common sense suggests that if he does not like California’s policies, he should live in another state. I am sure this would suit California well.

What justification does this feral busybody have for meddling in what is not his business? Mr. Sessions wraps himself in the Constitution and, thus emparchmented, asserts that the Supremacy Clause gives him the authority to overrule the states. Reasonable men may disagree on this matter. I assert that the states have no duty to observe the Constitution since the federals do not.

As one instance among many, the Constitution ordains that the country shall not go to war without a declaration from the Congress. In fact the federals make war constantly with neither a declaration nor any reference to the will of people, draining their substance for purposes which are not theirs. If the Constitution is not binding on the central government, it is not binding on the states.

In any event the federals do not represent the people of the country. How many of us in the various states want to spend trillions on distant wars at the command–for that is what it is–of Israel, the petroleum industry, and Empire? Yet we have no choice.

The question of states rights is  today seen, or inculcated, as the fantasy of romantic conservatives remembering a world that never was. In truth, states rights are our only bulwark against tyranny. It is the amalgamation of undeserved powers in the hands of the federals that accounts for the country’s tribulations both within and without.

A great and wise man, a leading proponent of states rights, long ago foresaw this dismal prospect,  saying, “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.”

Just so. Is this not what we see? When a single remote legislature controls a continent, then a small group wishing to dominate the whole need suborn only a few hundred members of its Congress and a few judges on its Supreme Court. By corrupting one city, they can impose any law they choose on all. That the people of many states find the law odious matters little as they can do nothing about it.

If however the people of each state made their own laws, the small group in New York would have to purchase fifty legislatures, each being under  the scrutiny of the people of the state. The more local the government, the more responsive to the will of the governed. It would not be possible to establish a uniform despotism..

This despotism is what we now have, and it worsens. Today the federals dictate every aspect of our lives with no regard for those suffering the dictation. They determine what we may teach our children in the schools, what sexual practices must be preached to to those children, what religious observances  are allowed us. If they decide that ten thousand Papua New Guineans in loincloths must settle upon our towns, then settle they must. They decide what statues we may have, how our world was created, who may use our bathrooms. They decide, these remote people who names we often do not know, of loyalties and faiths and beliefs many of us find distasteful, with whom we must make war.  

How may we of the various states rid ourselves of such noxious influences from afar? By what right? Now I am just a countryman of no great learning in governance. Yet it seems to me that when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

I believe that the causes of separation have been sufficiently enumerated in the foregoing. The question is how to achieve the separation.

There is no prospect of escape by armed rebellion. The federals control the army, and history has shown that soldiers will as soon kill their fellow citizens as any other.  

A more fruitful, if gradual,  path to freedom is to ignore the strictures of intrusive federals, to engage in passive resistance. Washington does not have the manpower to enforce alien laws upon the entire nation. We see the beginnings of this laudable disentanglement  in the seven states that have made legal the use of marijuana. Should these states remain resolute, and refuse to allow their police to be used as Quisling Pinkertons against their citizenry, they may well prevail. The avowed resistance of the government of California to the imposition of laws alien to it is perhaps as important as the battle of Yorktown. As goes California, so goes the nation.

In a country deeply at odds with itself the best course may be separation, first of laws, then of administration, and finally of sovereignty.  It need not be an uneven fight. As Washington can withhold federal funds from the states, so can the states  withhold taxes from the federals, as California has threatened.

America seems overlarge. Perhaps the parts should go their separate ways. If the federals had to pay for their own wars, there would be no wars. General Lee was right.

 

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A Gringo Loose in Cuba: Notes on the World’s Most Useless Embargo

 This from a while back, but perhaps of interest:

The American Conservative, December, 2007

On Havana’s malecón, the seawall that parallels the shore, the waves roll in and hit the sudden obstacle, sending towering explosions of bright white spray far into the air, occasionally soaking the unwary pedestrian. Across the highway that follows the malecón is a cheap open-air restaurant, the DiMar. A steady breeze from the sea pours across the tables. A tolerable shrimp cocktail, topped with mayonnaise, costs a few bucks. On a couple of evenings I drank a beer there, watching Cuba go by. It wasn’t what I had expected.

Unlike many gringo tourists, I was legal, having gotten a license from the Treasury Department. Without a license travel to Cuba is illegal under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. Why Cuba was my enemy wasn’t clear to me. Nor was it to the Cubans.

I had inadvertently neglected to tell the authorities that I was a journalist — I hate it when that happens — so I was not in a position to ask probing questions of officials. But then I didn’t want official twaddle. I wanted to wander, take cabs down the coast, just look at things. And did.

I was pleased to find the old part of Havana both charming and reasonably well preserved, especially around the convent of San Francisco. The latter is of course a museum now, as God knows we mustn’t be religions, but it is in good shape and breathes a moody solemnity. I tried to imagine the stillness in times before the motorcycle. The narrow lanes around it were closed to cars, making it pleasant to walk among the shops.

The country is poor and run down, and itself almost a museum. Sitting in the DiMar is like visiting the Fifties. The American embargo makes it hard to get new cars, so many Cubans still drive cars from 1959, the year of the revolution, and before. Some sport jazzy paint jobs, and others don’t. It was remarkable to watch the rides of my adolescence go by, charting them mentally as one did in 1964-’54 Merc, ’57 Caddy, ’56 Chevy, on and on. Around me the other customers, down-scale Cubans in all shades of nonwhite, laughed and chatted.

They are an accommodating people. On my arrival they spoke a truncated Spanish hard to understand — “Cómo etáh uteh? Ma o menoh.” — but they made an intense national effort to improve their clarity and by my fourth day they were comprehensible.

Cuba doesn’t fit its sordid image. It is most assuredly a dictatorship, yet the police presence is much less than that of Washington, and such cops as I saw had no interest in me. It is not regimented. Havana does not feel — well, oppressed — as Moscow did during the days of the Soviet Union. Mao’s China it isn’t.

The island certainly isn’t dangerous to anyone. Somebody said that the only communists remaining in the world were in Cuba, North Korea, and the Harvard faculty lounge. I do not know whether Harvard’s professoriate thirsts for godless world hegemony, though the idea is not implausible, but it is absurd to put North Korea and Cuba in a category. Pyong Yang has, or wants, nuclear arms, and has both a huge army aimed at South Korea, and a habit of testing ballistic missiles of long range. Cuba has little military and no one to use it against; from an American point of view, the Cuban armed forces are about as terrifying as George Will with a water pistol. It has no nuclear arms and no signs of wanting any. It is not a rogue state. It is a bedraggled island of pleasant people who need more money.

Cuba is expensive. Figuring the prices of things is difficult — deliberately so, one might suspect — because of a peculiar game that the government plays with currencies. Cuba has two, the national currency, which a visitor almost never sees, and the CUC (pronounced “kook”) which appears to exist to impoverish tourists. A visitor has to convert his money to CUCs. If you change dollars, the government skims twenty percent off the top, and then changes the rest at $1.08 per CUC. If you change Mexican pesos, which I did, the rate is 13.3 pesos per CUC when the dollar was trading at about 11 pesos. Visitors have to buy things for CUCs, which the seller then has to exchange for national currency at a rate of…. You see. Nobody seems sure what anything really costs. Still, it’s a rip.

The island could use some investment. While I found neighborhoods with nice-looking modern houses, said by taxi drivers to belong to governmental officials and employees of foreign firms, the rest of the city needs paint, repairs, and new sidewalks. Countless once-elegant houses with pillared porches and tall windows are now discolored and crumbling.

Why communists imagine themselves to be revolutionary is a mystery. Whenever they gain power in a country, it comes to a dead stop and sits there as other countries pass it by. I do not think that communism generates poverty; rather it finds it and preserves it. It has certainly done so here. Cuba seems firmly mired in 1959. How much of this comes from the embargo—“el bloqueo” as the Cubans call it—and how much from communism, I don’t know. Nobody does. This is convenient for Castro, as he can blame everything on the United States. And does.

Curiously, Fidel’s irreplaceable supporter is Washington. Alongside of highways, along Havana’s malecón, in little Mediterranean-looking villages down the coast one sees signs of the type, “Forty-three hours of the blockade would pay for a new school house.” Or for so many locomotives, or complete the national highway, or this or that. How the figures are arrived at, I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. To an extent the signs are not propaganda but simply call attention to a fact: The embargo does hurt people, who want jobs, dollars from tourists, and consumer goods. They are perfectly aware why they don’t have them: the American embargo. This may or may not always be quite true, but it has a convincing verisimilitude. It makes Fidel look good. He is standing up to the bastards who are strangling us.

How resolutely communist are the Cuban people? This is just an impression, but I would say, “Not at all, if that much.” Abstractions ending in “-ism” are hobbies for people who have time for them. Everyone I talked to wanted more money — a better job, better food, better clothes, a chance to take the wife out to dinner. After these, more freedom.

As an example of Castro’s use of the embargo to maintain himself in power, consider the internet. People I talked to had heard of it of course, but had little idea what it was and no access to it. It can be found in hotels and apparently in tourist areas, though I didn’t see a single cybercafe of the sort that are found every twenty feet in all third-world countries I know. Why no internet? Cubans universally said that the US embargo prevented Cuba from having access. This struck me as improbable. It was.

At ZDNet, a respectable American website dealing with matters electronic, I later found an account of a UN conference in Athens, in which a Cuban official was asked what percentage of Cubans have access to the net. He dodged the question frantically. ZDNet quotes Bill Woodcock, a network engineer and research director of Packet Clearing House, as follows:

“Zero percent of Cubans are connected to the Internet. The Cuban government operates an incumbent phone company, which maintains a Web cache. Cubans who wish to use the Internet browse the government Web cache. They do not have unrestricted access to the Internet.” (See here) And if they did, the government would find itself with a lot of explaining to do.

Also from ZDNet: “A report published last month by the Reporters Without Borders advocacy group says, “it is forbidden to buy any computer equipment without express permission from the authorities,” and spyware “installed in all Internet cafes automatically detects banned content.” U.S. law exempts telecommunications equipment and service from the trade embargo.”

The Cuban government is lying, who would have thought it, but can blame lack of access on the embargo. Washington in effect aids Castro in maintaining censorship.

Cuba has what are called “cocotaxis.” These are yellow spherical plastic things like part of a coconut husk attached to a motorcycle, providing transportation for two. Having hired a cocotaxi for a day, I got to know the driver reasonably well, to the point of being invited to his house for snacks. His wife had just had a new daughter and he was no end proud of both. His take on the economy was that things were bad, had been worse but were slowly getting better. Still, he said, taxes were high and he had to buy gasoline in CUCs, which made it more expensive. Things like computers were out of reach, and he and his wife couldn’t afford restaurants. Did he have many gringo fares, I asked. No, not many. He wished more would come. He was tired of being poor.

I am not sure why it is in the national interest of the United States to make a cab driver and his family live on rice and fish. I did not feel notably safer on hearing about it.

An embargo makes sense when it makes sense, but doesn’t when it doesn’t. Cuba is no longer the spearhead of the Soviet Union; indeed, according to many observers, there is no Soviet Union. We seem to proceed from pure vengefulness against Castro. Fidel, a freelance reprehensible dictator, beat Batista, our reprehensible dictator. We want to get even.

But Castro is not Cuba. The CIA Fact Book says that Cuba has 11,394,043 citizens. One of them is Castro, and 11,394,042 are not. Many Americans say that Castro is evil and so we need to embargo him. One person the embargo assuredly does not hurt is Castro. Does anyone think he eats less well because of it?

Ah, but there are the Cuban émigrés in Miami. So much of American foreign policy seems determined by domestic politics, by a certain infantile truculence, and by ignorance of how people work. The embargo has accomplished nothing of any use for 50 years. Clearly the thing to do is keep at it for another fifty. The “Cubans” in Miami demand it.

We are subject to considerable disinformation regarding the island. The Cuban émigrés in south Florida paint Cuba as a hellhole. It isn’t. I’ve seen hellholes. Even before coming to Cuba, I had developed a dim view of the pseudo-Cubans of Miami. For one thing, I had been to Miami and just plain didn’t like them. They were arrogant, and rude to Anglos if not actually hostile. I found myself wanting to ask, “Just whose country do you think this is anyway?” but the answer was obvious.

Further, by supporting the embargo they are knowingly inflicting grave hardship on eleven million of their supposed fellows because they are mad at Fidel. This is contemptible. They want the US to get back for them holdings that Castro confiscated on coming to power. Given the corruption and criminality rampant under Batista, it would be interesting to ask just how they came by their property. To try to get it back they are perfectly willing to condemn the island’s population to another fifty years of living on fish and rice. What patriots.

I say “pseudo-Cubans: and “supposed fellow Cubans.” It is worth noting that 1959 was 48 years ago. The great majority of these alleged Cubans were born here, have never been to Cuba, and wouldn’t live there if they could. They are gringos, Americans. They are also an important voting bloc in a presidentially crucial state. As so often in foreign policy, domestic politics trumps national interest and coherent thought.

Living as I do in Mexico, perhaps I have a better angle of view on matters Latin-American than do ideological isolates in Washington. To the world below Laredo, Cuba is a heroic little country being bullied by the US but not giving in. I’m not sure this isn’t the opinion of the whole world except for America. Remember that much of Latindom believes that South America’s economic doldrums spring from American exploitation. They don’t.

Considerable faith is required to believe that Bolivia would turn into Japan if only the US stopped oppressing it. But beliefs, not facts, determine behavior.
American arguments against the island don’t carry much weight in a region that sees things through Latin-American eyes. For example, by regional standards Cuba isn’t terribly poor. It didn’t suffer the butchery of Guatemala and El Salvador. For fifty years it has been politically stable. Given the experience of Latin-Americans with dictatorship, corruption, and violence, Cuba’s government doesn’t look bad.

Americans, perhaps because of the Cold War, tend to think that communism is communism, all poured from the same bucket. Not so. At the high end of horribleness you have Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao, genuine madmen of genocidal enthusiasms. North Korea’s dynasty runs a close second.

Castro is neither mad nor genocidal. A dictator, yes. A tiresome windbag, yes. Repressive of dissent, yes — but willingness to repress dissent doesn’t mean that there is a great deal of dissent to repress. As far as Cubans are concerned (I mean real Cubans, the kind who live in Cuba, not the make-believe variety in Miami), the problem is not Castro. It is the hostility of Washington. Castro could end the embargo by surrendering, sure. Washington could end it by ending it, and probably end Castro at the same time.

While I was on the island the UN voted 184 to 4 to recommend that the United States end the embargo. In this vote America had the support of the following great powers: Israel, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and itself. Several Cubans spontaneously told me of the vote, smiling triumphantly. Intrigued, I made a point of bringing the vote up with people I ran into. They all knew of it—the governmental television made very sure of it—and grinned broadly over what they saw as a victory for Cuba over Bush.

If this island is unstable, yearning for Fidel to die so that it can revolt and become an appendage of the US, I’m Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst.

I spent several hours walking through Havana’s slums. These are extensive and ugly. Like so much of the city, they seem to have been built fifty years ago and never maintained. Commercial streets have the usual pillars, often in pastel colors now covered with soot, the plaster falling off in patches. In side streets potholes gape. Sometimes water, probably sewage, runs across the pavement. I saw nothing suggesting hunger, no pot-bellied malnutrition, but these people clearly have little. Time and again I glanced into doorways and saw cruddy worn steps rising into darkness. Tired people gazed from windows.

Similar places exist in downtown Detroit and in Washington DC, where abandoned buildings are common, where whole housing projects have their windows bricked up to keep them from becoming shooting galleries for needle people. In America slums are racial in demarcation but in Cuba they aren’t. I encountered no hostility. In four hours I didn’t get so much as a hard look. In Detroit I would have lasted five minutes. But these people are going nowhere, living, breeding, and dying with nothing to show for it. It is a rotten thing to do to them without very good reason. And there is no reason. It does not get rid of Fidel.

The trappings of bumper-sticker socialism are everywhere in Cuba. Signs on walls say “Venceremos!” (“We will conquer!”) and “Patria o Muerte!” (Fatherland or death) and other exciting things. Adolescence dies hard everywhere. A billboard shows pictures of Bush, Hitler, and someone who perhaps was meant to be Cheney (it looked like but can’t have been John Lennon) with arithmetic notation: Bush plus whoever equals Hitler. Che Guevara’s face appears endlessly, the communist Christ, shot from slightly below, staring bravely off into a socialist paradise that didn’t fit on the tee-shirt. I saw postcard racks offering thirteen different photos of Che. If he had severe acne scars and funny ears he would be of no socialist importance, but he does make a good tee-shirt.

The press is assuredly controlled. The political section of a bookstore I saw consisted of maybe a dozen books about (sigh) Che, the rest being not much better. Confusingly, there were a couple of textbooks on business management. Television is heavy on affirmation of socialist patriotism. In particular there are channels from China, which Cuba seems to regard as communist (when did you last hear of a communist economy growing at ten percent, or at all?) and from Venezuela. Hugo Chavez clearly is thought to be a great man.

Toward the end of the adventure I went back to the DiMar to commune with the wind and the exploding waves and ponder what I had seen. Cubans make good beer (Bucanero). I have to give them that, and while mayonnaise on shrimp may not seem advisable, it worked.

I wanted to sort out what I knew about Cuba from what I suspected, so as to avoid the trap of instant-expertism. Some things I did know. A hellhole? No. Threat to anyone? No. Danger to international stability? No. In need of embargoing? No. Dictatorship? Yes. Adherent of the Bill of Rights? No.
How bad was Fidel? I really didn’t know. Admirers and detractors are wildly ideological. Compared to Thomas Jefferson he doesn’t look good (though I don’t think Castro owns slaves). Compared to other dictators the US has installed or supported — Somoza, Trujillo, the Shah, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and so on — about par.

But however repugnant Castro may be, the practical question is whether the embargo is in America’s interest. If the United States is still strong enough that it doesn’t have to care what the world thinks, then the embargo, though unnecessary, doesn’t matter (except in moral terms, which don’t matter). But as the country wages war on the Moslem world, tries to contain China (that’s going to work), pushes Russia into China’s arms, and tries to intimidate South America, all of these at once, maybe it would be better to improve America’s relations with this hemisphere. An effective way to spread communism is to make heroes of communists. The entire world — well, except Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Palau — is against the US on this one. Is it so important to keep Miami happy?

 

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The Future of the Jews: More of the Past?

It is strange: Jews have been disliked everywhere and in all times. The dislike  appears in odd places. I was astonished to find that my Nepalese trekking guides were intensely hostile to Jews. They said that Jews (actually Israelis in most cases I think, but the Nepalese do not seem to make the distinction) were loud, demanding, and always trying to force down the guides’ fees. Historically the hostility has often been powerful and, not infrequently, murderous.  Jews have been expelled from country after country, excluded from polite society, subjected to quotas,and required to live in certain regions. Why?

How much anti-Jewish hostility is there today in America? . A lot? A little? Is it negligible? Potentially explosive? It is hard to tell because disliking Jews is often a firing offense, and a controlled press makes discussion impossible. A clue can perhaps be found in the  comments sections of political websites  whee, protected by anonymity, commenters are often bitterly anti-Jewish. But then, these comments may, or may not, be the work of a  few cranks.

Today there  appear news stories about growing hostility on campuses, that Jews are fleeing Paris because of increased or more openly expressed dislike, or that the German Right, never fond of Jews, gains strength.

 Since the dislike has existed for at least two thousand years, there must be some enduring reason or reasons. What?

One I think is the Space Alien Effect. It is human nature to dislike people different from oneself. This fact runs against today’s cult of diversity, which accounts for the disastrous reality of American life, but a glance around the world reveals that diversity causes most of the planet’s troubles: Sunni and Shia, Jew and Muslim, Tutsi and Hutu, black, white and brown in America, Tamil and Sinhalese; Turks and Kurds; Turks and Armenians; Thais and Muslims, Germans and Jews. Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, on and on for a very long list of religious, ethnic, and racial differences. Diversity is nobody’s strength.

Diversity often disappears through assimilation. Today people named O’Toole and Libertini may be proud of their ancestry, but they think of themselves as American, not as Irish and Italian. So do others. Thus hostility to them, once intense, has vanished.

Jews do not assimilate.  Yes, they speak the same language, wear the same clothes, and peck at smartphones like everyone else. Yet they think of themselves as Jews. So, therefore, does everyone else. While there is no legal or moral reason why they should not so think of themselves, there are consequences: Human nature is what it is, regardless of whether we think it should be.

Specifically, Jews are always Them. We are Us. We are aware that Feinstein is Jewish as we are not aware that O’Malley is Irish–because he isn’t. Difference alone doesn’t cause antagonism. but makes it much more likely.

Worse–and this has caused millions of deaths–Jews are often successful. It doesn’t matter whether the success arises from superior intelligence, greater drive, collusion, or the will of Yahweh. It happens. Thus the pattern repeated over and over and over down the ages. Jews prosper, become rich, gain power sometimes abused, and become arrogant. If Christians did this–Bill Gates, or the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age–they would be resented as individuals perhaps, not as an ethnicity. But Jews are Them.  The surrounding population feels colonized–by Them, by Space Aliens, by internal foreigners–and deeply resents it. As noted, the reaction may take the form of ostracism, enforced quotas, confinement to the Pale of Settlement, expulsion from the country, ghastly pogroms, or Auschwitz.

Hitler’s  complaints against the Jews were along usual lines, that Jews controlled German culture, finance, academia, and the media. These are also things said in America today today on the internet against Jews . Whether these criticisms are true, fair, justified, or make sense does not matter. What matters is that people feel, or can easily be made to feel, controlled,  by Them. Making a list of powerful Jews is sufficient and, with the internet, easy.

The dislike is  profoundly visceral, not rational, tapping into deep wells of instinct that make little sense–which doesn’t matter. This can be seen in the wild disproportion between offense given and  reaction. How do you get rationally in Germany from growlings in beer halls, “There are too damn many Jews in everything,” to  “We should kill all the Jews”?  

Them, not Us. It makes little obvious sense  to say that Jews are not Americans. Bob Dylan isn’t an American? Lauren Bacall? Yet this is clearly how anti-Jewish commenters on the web see it.  Them, not Us. It is a matter of limbic tribalism, which does not map well onto legal principles.

The hostility is often to Jews more as a metaphysical category than as actual people. Many who loathe Jews have little contact with them. Ask, “What have Jews actually done to you? Hacked your bank account? Gypped you out of your house? Shot your dog?” and the answer will likely be, “Nothing.” Rachel Cohen, the dentist next door in Peoria, is not easily envisioned as trying to destroy America, impose communism, or wreck the currency. Thus, “some of my best friends…but….” While the Jews one actually knows probably are not bad people, or at most annoying, The Jews collectively are a sort of ominous barely visible miasma. (For the record, no American Jew has ever harmed me, and many have helped me in what I humorously call “my career.” Coupla girlfriends, too.)

Importantly, Jewish presence is seen as Jewish conspiracy. Four Jews on the Supreme Court? From two percent of the population? My God, they must be up to something. A conspiracy, doubtless. But a conspiracy to do what? A candidate theory, correct as it happens, is that Jews as a people do anything and everything they can to advance the fortunes of Israel. But on the Supreme Court…how? Other suggestions are a desire to destroy the white race (including themselves?), to bring America down (why?), to wreck the international monetary system (why?), or to  impose a Zionist world empire. Most of these make between little and no sense, which doesn’t matter.  Jews don’t actually have to sacrifice Christian children to die for it. They just have to be thought to do so.  

It is interesting that these usually nonexistent Jewish conspiracies get enduring attention while other, demonstrably real, conspiracies do not arouse similar ire. For example, the Koch brothers, who are not Jewish, have funded and led a massive and disguised campaign to subvert American politics for the benefit of big business. The arms industry bribes, suborns, and finagles to get the government to buy hugely expensive weapons. The FBI was recently caught trying to prevent the election of Donald Trump. The Clintons are crooked as kite string in a ceiling fan. So why do Jewish conspiracies, sometimes real but, more usually, imagined, get attention on the web?

The Space Alien Effect. Jews are Them. We are Us. Both know it.

The importance of this tribalism should not be underestimated. I once walked down Main Street in Farmville, Virginia, a small town in the Southside, with a friend. He said–I forget how the subject came up–with some bitterness, “The Jews own everything on Main Street. Just like they do everywhere.” He pointed to Rose’s, a perfectly ordinary department store. It did nothing wrong or even interesting. But it was Jewish. That was enough.

Them, not Us. The Presbyterian owners of a store actually engaged in gouging would have been resented as individuals, not as a tribe. The Jews.

Power and wealth are not necessary to engender slaughter. Mere difference, specifically not being Christian, has often been enough. History is littered with examples, of which Jews are well aware. When the First Crusade took Jerusalem in 1099, the Christian armies immediately burned the synagogue with the Jews inside.  Why? The Jews had no part in the war, which was between Muslims and Christians.

This explains why Jews do not like Christianity, though the antipathy typically is (wisely) disguised as a principled adherence to the invented constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state. Note that while Americans think of the Holocaust as something the Germans did (I do) to Jews it can look like just another attack by a Christian country (Poland, Russia, England, the Baltics, and so on.) A Jewish friend once expressed the attitude as sometimes being, “Look what they have done to us. We can do anything we want to them.”

Here we encounter the unfortunate human tendency to blame entire groups for what a few members did. For example, the Jews killed Christ. “(Gosh, Rachel, you don’t look old enough.”) Or whites enslaved blacks. Actually, no one in the United States has been a slave, or owned one, for a century and a half.  Most of liberal politics would wither to nothing if we accepted that people cannot be guilty of things they did not do.

It is not necessarily wise to be seen as trying to eliminate a majority religion.

Note that a people, though living always among others, can maintain characteristic over long periods. Recently I was reading Las Novelas Ejemplares of Cervantes, specifically La Gitnailla, which means very approximately The Little Gypsy Girl. It begins,

“Parece que los gitanos y gitanas solamente nacieron en el mundo para ser ladrones: nacen de padres ladrones, críanse con ladrones, estudian para ladrones y, finalmente, salen con ser ladrones corrientes.”

“It appears that gypsies are born only to be thieves. They are born as theives, raised among thieves, study to be thieves, and finally end by being common thieves.”

Cervantes died in 1616, which makes the story over 400 years old.  Yet this description of gypsies is  their reputation today,  very much supported by police files.They haven’t assimilated, and they haven’t changed.  Jews of course have never been associated with burglary or picking pockets, but the passage makes clear that peoples can maintain characteristics over centurions.

Jews with remarkable consistency have been described for centuries as smart, greedy, combative, clannish, “pushy,” exploitative, and arrogant.  This is how I hear them described in Mexico, where I live. (I think of these as Middle Eastern traits, but never mind.) Then there  is chutzpah. which in  practice seems to mean “brashly walking over other people.” It can leave others feeling bulldoze, defeated, used.   This bruising of the ego, of self-respect, arouses a hostility all out of proportion to actual damage done. It is, or so I think, a major cause of dislike for Jews. Such descriptions are dismissed today as stereotypes. A stereotype is just the aggregate observation of many people over time.

Of course the evidence does not always support a particular explanation for avisible effect. A Jewish friend says, “We’re no more greedy than anyone else. We’re just good businessmen so we make money.” Those with money are usually described as greedy. I don’t think I have ever met a greedy Jew, though I have met many who were very careful with money.  It doesn’t matter whether you really are greedy only that people think you are.

Chutzpah: When I was seven we lived in Arlington, Virginia, next to the Furmans, recently someone said, of  Hell’s Kitchen, which I didn’t know what was. The Furmans were by no means bad people. One day Mrs. Furman came over and gave my mother a hard time because my little brother, five was playing with a kid across the street instead of little Andrew Furman. Mom had done nothing to influence my brother’s choice of friends. She,a quietly genteel woman from the Southside of Virginia, was horrified by the aggressiveness. She told me of this decades later, so it clearly made a bad impression. Thereafter, Them were not our kind of people. Small things can produce lifelong dislike.

In sum, Jews seem alien, smarter than others and  far more aggressive than Christians, whom they seem to trample. Christians feel that they cannot compete, that they are outsmarted at every turn, or at least pushed around, and made victims. This bruising of the ego sets off irrational, serious hostility. It is the attitude of blacks toward whites, for the same reasons.

Finally there is Israel, the albatross around the Jewish neck, making it impossible for Jews quietly to be more or less normal Americans. To Jews Israel is of immense and understandable importance, but this enthusiasm brings up charges of dual loyalty or, often, loyalty exclusively to Israel. The truth of this doesn’t matter. It looks true, which is enough. Does Rachel the Jewish dentist in Peoria back Israel? To what extent? What does she think of Israeli behavior? We don’t know. We know that Jewish lobbies like AIPAC and the Neocons back Israel one hundred percent. And they control American Mid-Eastern policy. This is much noted on the Web.

Jewish backing for Israel requires emotional contortions sincc Israel is everything liberals, to include Jews,  profess to hate, being racist–just now it is expelling blacks–religiously exclusive, an apartheid state, militaristic, and brutal in its treatment of Arabs. This I suspect bothers some Jews, but is assuredly is a grave PR problem for the country.  But then, as a small coastal enclave in a part of the world intensely hostile to it, a sort of second Crusader Kingdom, it is hard to see what choices it has. If it becomes democratic or allows extensive intermarriage, for example, it will quickly cease to be a Jewish state, and there is no way to rule nicely over a sea of people who want to kill you.

Is there a possibility of active anti-anti-semitism in America? Yes. Why is America immune to a dislike that has influenced all of history?

Yet at the moment, no. No overt expression will soon occur, and perhaps never will. But the classic preliminary conditions exist and grow. The appearance of Jewish power is strong.  Four of nine justices of the Supreme Court, a majority of  Ivy presidents, CEOs of television networks. Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sergei Bryn co-founder of Google. the New York Times, Time-Warner, Disney, much of Hollywood, huge parts of retail, most of the big publishing houses in New York. Anyone who has worked in Washington knows that Jewish control of Congress and the media is near absolute. The list could go on for pages. Things like this create a propagandist’s paradise..If America’s tight control over expression ever slipped, a would-be Adolf with Google searches could come up with a shocking list.

A rational person might ask, “So what?” Do the Supreme Court’s Jewish justices make Jewish decisions–whatever that might mean? Or do they vote like any four NPR listeners chosen at random? Did Mark Zuckerberg do anything underhanded? Or was he a very bright Jewish kid who had an idea and the strength of character to push it into existence? Does  Schumer of Starbucks do something evil, or does he, like, you know, sell reasonably good coffee at a reasonable price?

It doesn’t matter. They are there, so they must be conspiring. And their influence is becoming more obvious, as with Trump’s subservience (as seen by much of the world) to Israel in planning to move the embassy. 

People who think they are defending Jews will point to Jewish contributions to nearly everything–science, music, math, technology, literature, charity, medicine, support for symphonies.  These contributions are real and immense. With respect to anti-Jewish politics, they are also  irrelevant or worse. Since the hostility to Jews rests largely on their excessive presence (again, in the eyes of the anti-Jewish) pointing to their intellectual contributions just increases the  dislike. It emphasizes both the Jewish presence and apparent superiority.

Happy,  prosperous societies seldom form lynch mobs. When things break down,  when hope wanes, expectations fall, and near-desperation sets in, explosions come. Today the  United States quite arguably heads into a Weimar-like future of chaos and social violence. This may sound crazy…but is it? Nobody thought such a highly civilized country as Germany capable of Treblinka.

America is not really stable. Political animosity runs high, racial hostility is great and growing, standards of living fall, offshoring and automation leave the young with nowhere for their lives to go. Wealth goes rapidly from the many to the few and what was the working class falls into drugs and anomie. The wars never end. Infrastructure ages and falls behind that of more advanced nations. Anger grows. As the pie shrinks, someone will have to get less pie.

It is hard to see how this can continue forever. My guess is that the fighting–”unrest” is the polite term–will break out first between white and black. Whites are quiescent now, but see their lives worsening and their world deteriorating. The kneelers in the NFL, the rioters in Ferguson are much more visible than Jews.

But if unrest starts, someone will say “Wall Street!” and that will mean “the Jews,” and all the rest will follow. Whether any of it makes sense will not matter in the least.

Let us hope I am crazy. But it is not, I think, the way to bet.

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Kids: Then and Now

OK, so why is the country falling apart? Specifically, why are kids blowing each other away? America has become a source of wonder the world over with its Colulmbines and hundreds and hundreds of dead in Chicago and Baltimore and its burning cities and riots. Other advanced countries don’t do these things.

America didn’t either until recently.   Why now? Something has changed, or some things. What?  People under under forty have never seen the country when it was sane. Let me point out things that have changed, at risk of sounding like a boilerplate cadger: “By cracky, wen I was a boy, we could amuse ourselves for hours with just a piece of string and a couple of sticks.” Let’s compare today with the Fifties and Sixties. I mean this as sociology, not nostalgisizing.

I think that a combination of social changes have led to tremendous stress on today’s kids that my generation did not suffer. To wit:

In my rural Virginia school, there was no racial tension. We were all white: teachers, students, parents.

The black kids went to their own school, Ralph Bunche. We had virtually no contact with each other. There was no hostility, just no contact. The academic gap didn’t exist in the absence of contact. Inintegration would prove cruel when it came. and the black kid s sank to the bottom. The causes can be argued, but the fact cannot.

There was no black crime to speak of or, as far as I knew any black crime. Certainly blacks did not shoot each other, or anybody. Neither did we. The reasons I suspect were similar.

Divorce was extremely rare, so we all had parents. Whether it is better that unhappy couples stay together or that they divorce can be argued, but they then did stay together. It made a large difference in outcomes if one accepts the statistics. The welfare programs of the Great Society had not yet destroyed the black family, which I speculate accounted in part for low crime.

Drugs did not exist. These appeared only with the Sixties. A few of us had heard of marijuana. I read a clandestine copy of The Naked Lunch. That was it. We drank a lot of beer.

In the entire school I remember only one, moderately fat kid. Why? Because, I  will guess, we were very physically active. The school had PE classes, football and basketball teams, and so on. In summer kids aboard Dahlgren spent their days at the base swimming pool or swimming in Machodoc “Creek”{{it was perhaps three-quarters of a mile wide–bicycling, canoeing- playing tennis. The country kids chopped cord wood, lifted hay. There was  ice skating for hours in winter. Gloria, my best girl, got up at four a.m. to help her father pull crab pots on the Potomac, Though feminine, she probably could have thrown a Volkswagen over a four-store building. Again, I offer this not as nostalgia but as biological fact with effects.

Physical fitness  has. I suspect  psychological consequences. For example, ADHD did not exist. Boys are competitive, physical animals full of wild energy and need–need–to work it off. Boredom and enforced inactivity are awful for them.  Two or three hours daily of fast-break pick-up basketball did this. If you force boys to sit rigidly in school, with no recess or only physically limited play, they will be miserable. If you then force them to take Ritalin, an approximate amphetamine, they will be miserable with modified brain chemistry. I don’t think this is a good idea.

Sex and, I think, its psychological consequences were different then. We were aware of sex. I am not sure we were aware of anything else. But the culture was such that, first, young girls, middle school, say, were sexually (very) off limits. When barely pubescent girls are taken advantage of by boys of seventeen or of thirty-five, the emotional effects are devastating. By contrast, boys hoped desperately to be taken advantage of.

The de facto social theory was that girls should remain virgins until married. I  think few really believed this, and certainly many girls did not. However the necessity of pretending, plus the fear of pregnancy in those pre-pill days, allowed girls to say “no.” if they chose. The Pill, backed up by abortion, would make girls into commodities. If Sally said no, Mary wouldn’t, and boys, churning jhrmone wads, would go with Mary. Thus girls lost control of the sexual economy and the respect that went with it. More stress.

Anorexia and bulimia did not exist. We didn’t know the words. Both look to me like a reaction to stress.

Uncertainty is a formidable source of stress. We had little uncertainty as to our futures in the sense that the young do  today. We assumed, correctly, that jobs would be available for us. For kids who were not going on in school, there were jobs at Dahlgren, the local naval base,  as secretaries or guards or maintenance personnel, federal jobs with benefits. More remotely, Detroit was paying what seemed to us astronomical wages. Those of us in the college track, which meant those whose parents were grads and those who had high SATs, knew we could work in whatever field we had chosen. Starbucks and living in our parents’ basements never crossed our minds.

Social mobility existed, and girls had not yet been taught they they were victims. Of my graduating class of sixty, two girls became physicists and my buddy Franklin, of non-college family an electronics engineer. Sherry a year  behind me, a nuclear biologist. All, I think, of non-college families. There must have been others.

Extremely important, I think, was that the school was apolitical. We didn’t know that it was. School was where you learned algebra and geography, or at least learned at them. The teachers, both men and women, assumed this. The white kids were not endlessly told that they were reprehensible and the cause of the world’s problems.  The boys were not told that masculinity was toxic. Hysteria over imaginary rape was well in the future. Little boys were not dragged from school by the police for drawing a soldier with a rifle. The idea of having police in a school would seem insane when it first appeared.

More speculatively: My wife Violeta recently commented that the young today seem about ten years younger than their age. There may be something go this. At least in the media and academic worlds, people in their mid-thirties  remind me of the young of the Sixties, displaying  what appear to be the same hormonal rebellion and sanctimony. It has also seeped into high school. There is the same anger, the same search for grievance,  the same adolescent posturing.

I think feminism plays a large part in the collapse of society in general and specifically in pushing boys over the edge. In my school years boys were allowed to be boys. Neither sex was denigrated. Doing so would have occurred to nobody. Then came a prejudice against boys, powerful today

All of this affected society in its entirety, but especially white boys. They are constantly told that being white is shameful, that any masculine interest is pathological, that they are rapists in waiting. They are subjected to torturous boredom and inactivity, and drugged when they respond poorly. They go to schools that do not like them and that stack the deck against them. Many are fatherless. All have access to psychoactive drugs.

Add it up.

 

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An Impolitic Slumgullion; Diverser is Worser, and Now What?

Gazing out over the chaos of America today, the racial and ethnic antagonism, the hostility over sex and faith and politics–I have never seen anything like it. The country is imploding. The main culprit is diversity–in the broad sense, not just the juxtaposition of races, but the mixing of ideas and philosophies with no dominant culture to maintain order. Current policies promoting this mess are insane.

We hate each other.

Countries are happiest when they have  one national culture, or at least one dominant culture to which all must perforce conform. We see this in countries like Japan and Korea, homogeneous societies which, because homogeneous, have no race riots or religious wars. It was largely true in, for example, Sweden and France until they began admitting immigrants from  incompatible cultures. Today, most of the news from such countries deals with the consequences.

Diversity, never a good idea.  is  in fact the cause of most of the world’s conflicts: Shia and Sunni, Jew and Arab, Hutu and Tutsi, Tamil and Sinhalese, Hindu and Muslim and, in America, black, white, and brown. Diversityis the cause of the dissolution of American society.

Until roughly the Sixties, America  was homogeneous enough, overwhelmingly white, European, Anglophone, and Christian. This provided sufficient commonalty that people all regarded themselves as Americans. At the same time, there were many geographically separated subcultures which had little in common and didn’t like each other, or wouldn’t have if they had come into contact. Massachusetts, Montana, Alabama, West Virginia, and New York were different civilizations.

It worked because the different sections had little contact with each other.   Life was intensely local. Roads were poor, limiting commerce. There was of course no internet. Telephone calls were expensive and there was no direct long-distance dialing. The federal  government lacked the capacity to dictate to local communities. Radio meant local AM stations. Businesses were mostly owned locally with few chains run from remote corporate offices.

People consequently lived among others like themselves, who had the same values  and ideas about how things should be done.  In  Virginia high school boys drove to school with shotguns in deer season so as to get to the woods when classes ended. It would have been unthinkable in Boston.   In the Bible Belt the Ten Commandments might be on the wall in the courthouse, which everyone thought natural. Tidewater Virginia believed in gentility  while West Virginia liked a wild and rough freedom. These wee not compatible yet there was no friction because pretty much everyone in these regions believed what everybody else did.

Then everything changed. Diversity began, not at first of people so much as of ideas. Reasons were several. Communications improved. Interstates appeared. The federal government gained in power and reach. The Supreme Court began making sweeping decisions on manners, morals and faith–that is, on culture and values–which it had not done before. Now Washington–New York, really–could enforce these decisions.

The result was unwanted cultural diversity. The Court decided in decision after decision that increasingly explicit pornography enjoyed protection as free speech, imposing an alien ideology on small towns in Kansas. This culminated in internet porn accessible to children of ten, uncontrolled and uncontrollable.  Obscene music poured out of New York as local stations were bought by Manhattan, from which rap came–unfit, in most regions, for a toilet wall. Towns could not defend themselves because of the doctrine of free speech and the massively increased power of the northeast. Television became national with similar trampling of local values of faith,  propriety, and race.

Particularly invasive was the newly invented doctrine of separation of church and state. For at least a hundred and fifty years no one, neither court nor individual, had noticed that the Constitution forbade manger scenes on the town square at Christmas, or the singing of carols on public streets, or mention of the Bible in schools. It was yet more compelled cultural diversity.

Then came the compulsory mixing of disparate populations that we usually think of today as diversity. First came the racial integration of blacks and whites, cultures with virtually nothing in common. It worked as well as was widely expected. The two differed sharply in manners, morals, attitudes to education, dress, and acquiescence to law. The result was the disaster we see daily in the news.

The Latinos came. While they resembled whites much more than did blacks, they were racially distinct and differed in culture. Hostility arose among native whites. who liked their culture as it was.

The obvious soon became evident to those not ideologically resistant to it: In matters cultural, you can’t have it both ways. When you mix in schools populations whose values are contradictory–say, those who believe in clean language and those three quarters of whose discourse consists of “motherfucker,” one side has to give. You cannot require half of the studentry to follow a dress code while allowing the other half to wear pants almost around their ankles. Those who did not eat pork or did eat dogs coexisted uneasily with those who had opposing dietary ideas. Those who mutilated their children’s reproductive organs in one manner (Christians and Jews) and  those who did it in another (Muslims) came into conflict.

The less well diversity worked, the more furiously its advocates sought to impose it. Feminists arose, hostile to men and powerful enough to impose themselves on society. They pushed women into the infantry, where they did not fit and did not belong: more ill-advised diversity. Homosexuality went from being quietly tolerated to being taught to children in grade school. though their parents abominated it.

Those inhabiting the extreme reaches of political correctness imagine a world as they think it should be and then try to move into it, dragging everyone else along. I think of the Beatles insipidly crooning “All You Need is Love” in eternal adolescent sanctimony. They of course hated those who disagreed with them. Obama, who transparently liked neither whitens or America, imported many hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were almost impossible to assimilate. It was, I suspect,  revenge for 1619.

It did not, of course, work. And so the papers carry endless stories of Islamophobia, dislike of Jews, attacks on Christianity, of misandry,  looting of malls, burning of cities, White Nationalism, Black Lives Matter, calls for The Wall, novel policies regarding bathrooms, anger over Spanish on federal forms, affirmative action, perennial academic gaps, the demands of the various sexual curiosities, the Knockout Game, special privilege for this and that group, and a seething anger and despair over a country that many remember but no longer exists.

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God’s Knights of the Pen and Bottle: The Noble Reporter in His Splendor

Everything goes to hell. It warms a curmudgeon’s heart. I remember when, as God intended, reporters were bright and profane drunks with no respect for anything. This philosophical end-point was natural for men steeped daily in the lying, thieving, corruption, bribes, shysterism, misery, and unrelenting stupidity that are public life. Ashen-souled, cynical, with a wonderful acerbic sense of humor that would have dissolved a meat axe, they lacked illusions, about anything. If a reporter thought he saw glimmerings of human decency in a politician or a lawyer, he would have his eyes checked.

News weasels were rough-edged, often talented, splendid company and, usually, ugly. Mencken, who looked like a fire plug with leprosy,  was the archetype, combing all of these wis;oyord in profusion, plus a monumental capacity for good whiskey.

Mencken, dog-butt ugly, frequently soused, politically incorrect as a lynching. Would be jailed today.

By and large they were men of what might be called a robust character, of the sort associated with pit bulls, and sometimes were  more combative than quieter people would like. You can’t be diplomatic or spiritual or contemplative  or anything of that sort and get s story from someone who doesn’t want you to get it because he is thinking of jail time. It is  especially in competition with a snapping pack of dyspeptic scriveners trying to  get the same story first. When assembled in hordes, they resembled Mongol barbarians thundering across the steppes. See below.

Some, especially overseas,  had odd pasts. There was my friend Paul Vogel of UPI Saigon who, the legend held had been in a catholic seminary somewhere but disappeared over the horizon on a motorcycle  with a bottle of gin in one hand and somehow ended up in Hanoi teaching English before joining up with UPI. Most of this has to be apocryphal, such as driving a motorcycle with one hand, but probably no stranger than the truth, whatever that was. Paul spoke several dialects of Vietnamese so well that on the phone he was accepted as native. This is impossible, but I saw it. Anyway we spent afternoons in his apartment above UPI drinking bam de bam and swapping lies.

In Washington you found a more polished sort who were gentlemen or could be if needed–Mike Causey, Wes Pruden, Ralph Hallow– but savvy and smart and of the Pre-Princetonian era. It was only later that we got prissy delicates who probably drank designer water in fern bars instead of sour mash.

Anyway, what brought these reflections on was my stumbling across  the following from a previous life. Think of them as being like the Qum Ran Scrolls or something from a cave wall in Lascaux:

The Washington Times, 1982

Bouncing across southern Lebanon is a convoy of 125 reporters, photographers, and TV crazies in 25 rented Subarus, the assembled war corespondents of the western world. Somehow I don’t think this is how Ernie Pyle did it. We look like a traffic jam in Tokyo. Photographers dangle acrobatically from windows. Three TV cameras protrude like poorly thought-out plumbing from the car ahead, intently filming a wrecked jeep. A Brazilian TV crew has crawled onto the roof of its car. Arabs stare, deeply puzzled. They have seen any number of armies roaring about, but nothing so quintessentially mad as this.

For six days I have been living in hotels on Israeli borders with this horde. It is like living in a cageful of histrionic tarantulas. Nowhere but in a war zone have I seen such bellicose, courageous, rude, egotistical, preposterously masculine, faintly reptilian rogues, all working hard at being Marlboro Men. A fellow with a codpiece concession could coin money. Heaven knows what the Arabs would think of that.

We pull into Nabatieh, a village. The Israeli escorts eye the anarchic bull-headed mob like snappish sheep dogs. They know that everybody here wants to escape and get his Subaru blown out from under him at the front. A war correspondent feels slighted by fate if he is not almost blown up every day or two. To a large degree, they believe they are the actors in this scene, the armies being mere props. They look forward to sitting in dark foreign bars in the manner of Hemingway at his most excessive and saying, “Yes, bit of a tiff in ’82, got my bloody Subaru shot out from under me, ought to bullet-proof the things….happens, you know.”

Some Palestinian prisoners are on display for us in a courtyard, so that we can see how beneficently the Israelis treat their captives. The journalists alight in a pack and race toward the alarmed prisoners. The TV guys jog along in pairs, one carrying the camera and the other with a suitcase full of batteries or something. Waving their microphones like the tendrils of some underwater beast, balancing cameras on high so see over those in front, they shout incomprehensible questions at the bewildered Palestinians.

The numerical superiority of the press and its lamentable assertiveness combine, as usual, to dominate the scene. One hundred twenty-five irritated reporters–“Hey, hey, outa the way, buddy, I got pictures to take. Hey you….” engulf and then digest a dozen Christian militiamen on a pair of armored personnel carriers. Nabatieh is now a Press Event. The public will never see this absurd performance, however. Every photographer will carefully frame out the other newsmen, giving the salable impression that he alone was out there in no man’s land.

Bored, I stand with some other reporters next to an Israeli jeep. A framed picture of Yasser Arafat is tied to the bumper. I grin, knowing a GI gag when I see one, but a camera crew begins jogging toward us with its suitcase. The TV types have detected A Visual in ol’ Arafat. The Israeli frantically snatches the picture away: If that goes on the satellite to 500 million viewers, right above the license plate of his jeep, he will have a central position before a firing squad.

The reporters are grousing about the TV clowns and how they don’t know what news is and how they’re always in the way. This is true. Of the major ethnic groups of the news racket, TV types are the most truly pestilential-comparatively. They carry more electronics than the space shuttle, all wired together with their microphones. They need absolute quiet, nobody else in the picture, a lot of time to set up and a long time to shoot. Reporters usually think TV people should be chained in their hotels during a war, and also between wars. This is wisdom.

Finally the Subaru Bureau remounts and heads home. For any other class of people, driving out of a small town would be done in comity and safety. But no. Everybody jumps in his car as if beginning a Grand Prix, backs fiercely into the crowd and spins the tires viciously trying to be first in the convoy. The idea is to be first to the telephones on reaching the hotel. For this they are perfectly willing to run down seven or eight colleagues and a few slow Arabs, and bash into an armored personnel carrier.

Again we bump across southern Lebanon, cameras protruding, Arabs puzzling, a Japanese used-car lot on the move.

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A Sort of Remorse: Notes of a Poor Sinner

Today I must ask the reader’s pardon. I do not usually write about the intimate details of my life. They would embarrass me and bore everyone else. But in this case I am obligated, as will shortly be apparent.

We have all heard of Twelve-Step Programs. Alcoholics Anonymous was the first and remains the best known. There are others, notably Narcotics Anonymous but also groups to help people control anger and even narcissism.

In all of these, one of the steps is to publicly acknowledge one’s culpability. This is psychologically necessary. Otherwise the tendency is overpowering to tell oneself that one wasn’t really all that guilty. (“I’m not an alcoholic. Sure, I get a snootful once in a while, but so does everybody….”) This is behind the requirement that at, for example, a meeting of Narconon one must begin by saying, “My name is Bob, and I am an addict.”

You probably have not heard of a group in Mexico, where I live, called “Infieles Anonimos,” which translates as “Unfaithfuls Anonymous.”  Like other twelve-step programs, it  requires a public confession. Bear with me. Please.

In the mid-Eighties my wife at the time was a harpsichord performance grad out of Bloomington, which if you know music schools will mean something to you. She of course knew many musicians who were often invited to our house. It was through her that I met a lovely young torch singer, whose name I will omit as there is no reason to embarrass her. We became involved. Although my wife and I did not have an open marriage, not formally certainly, I am pretty sure she knew. At any rate, she did not threaten divorce. Musicians tend to take a Bohemian approach to manners and morals, the classical ones more quietly than rock performers. I saw my new love sometimes at our house, sometimes at restaurants or gatherings of musicians around Washington.

Of course it couldn’t last.

Promo shot.

Eventually she moved to the opposite coast to pursue a career in high-end restaurants and similar venues. She had her own eight-piece jazz band for years. I found reasons to fly to the coast frequently. Since I was a journalist, my wife saw nothing suspicious in this.

Enough.  But I will always remember the first time I saw her. My wife was with several other people and someone called me into the room, and…there she was. She was beautiful. I don’t know whether there is really such a thing as love at first sight, but .…well, maybe there is. At first I thought she must be severely anorexic, as she weighed seven and a half pounds. To my certain knowledge many medical personnel were aware  of this, yet they showed no concern, which which might seem extraordinary.  In the long run it didn’t matter. With intensive dietary therapy, with which my wife helped, she put on weight.

Our relationship continued, seemingly settling in for the long haul. My wife,  perhaps resigned, actually seemed to approve. Again, musicians are tolerant of such things. The focus of my attentions flourished. At age twelve, in addition to getting her scuba certification, she came home and announced that she wanted to be a jazz singer. I thought sure, kid. And maybe an astronaut. Her parents did not know that she was sneaking off to a low dive called Whitey’s (we later found that her father was known  for attendance in low dives) to sing on open-mike nights. By all accounts she was terrible. She was also persistent.

Anyway, at seventeen and just out of high school she set off for California to be a jazz singer. This of course was insane, delusional, and revealed a lack of mature understanding of the possibilities of life. She had, all said, no sense of her own limitations.

It seems that her limitations had no sense of Emily Anne either (which, now that I think of it, is her name) as four years later she  gigging all over San Francisco.

It is a curious contradiction of American life that a useless general gets paid a fortune for killing goatherds in places no one has ever heard of or wants to, but much of the country’s best musical talents tends bar in San Fran or drives taxis. (“Uber uber alles.”) This would embarrass a country that was capable of being embarrassed.

On my forays to the Left Coast we went with her boyfriend to sushi bars, some the kind with the sushi moving past on a moving thing like an automotive assembly plant and you have to grab it, and then we walked down a street loud with music.  We’d go in, maybe grab a drink, and the bands would holler, “Hey, Emily, wanna sit in?” and it was all kind of family. I decided it really was better than a war in Afghanistan.

You might think that half a dozen bands playing in bars on Saturday in San Francisco must not be very good or you would have heard of them. In this you would be sorely deluded. There is much more talent in America than there is a national market for it. The big labels make more money having a few bands in a genre and hyping them so that everyone has heard of them than by having fifty equally good or better bands all competing with each other. The music industry in New York is not about talent, or music. It is about money.

As this is a highly principled column, I would never post sordid commercial pitches, as by noting that some of her–their–other cuts can be found here. Actually they probably can’t. You can check and see.

Emily didn’t have a driver’s license then and so waitressed and tended bar, which exposes you to a better crowd of people than most jobs. Add gigging three nights a week when she had the Emily Anne Band and she was a busy kid. By this time she had switched from jazz to…well, whatever  the above is.

I  guess that’s about all. I have met my obligation to Infieles Anonimos which was my point in this uplifting litany. Emily Anne did well, doing the stations of the musical cross such as American Idol and America’s Got Talent, which she regarded as combining the artistic brilliance of Facebook and the appeal of a moist skin disease. Having determined that gigging in the Bay Area was fun for a while but that jumping to national wasn’t going to happen, she said to hell with it and moved on to other things.

There you have my mea culpa. I won’t inflict this on you again. Unless I join Curmudgeonns Anonymous.

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