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Complete posts of 2007.

Latest Posting of 2008:

What race is really about to rich whites.


Previous Postings of 2008:

"Biblical prophecy" must not guide a Christian's choices.

We are very probably governed by traitors.

What racial tension says about a flawed economy.

An Easter thought on evil leadership.

Leading candidate to kill us all: Red China.

Stop dreaming and grow up while your children still have a chance.

Geraldo should know all about bigotry, having himself incited it.

Soaking the rich can drown a republic.

Our culture's root problem: Christendom is dead.

The primaries: an exquisite study in cultural collapse.

It's time to plan for life under the rubble.

Don't be fooled by the word "neo- conservative".

Blog nam Booanna

(Blog na mBuanna):

The Blog of Virtues

A diving-bell view of post-literate society's adventure in dumbing down.

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"A man and his habits are hard to separate."


The word "blog" scarcely makes my curmudgeonly literate heart leap for joy: yet another Web-engineered assault upon plain English, it conjures in me recollections of Gaelic monstrosities like the Blár Buidhe (a Highland ogre who once brought Fionn MacCumhail to the threshold of death, so the legend goes).  But the time has come to make a virtue of necessity.  I respect a great many "bloggers", I concede the appeal of their genre, and I believe that we at The Center for Literate Values have our share, too, to say about daily life in a post-literate republic (even if we must borrow the idiom of post-literacy for its rubric).  Pardon me, then, a well-intentioned allusion to William Bennett and a high-comic--or low-epic--evocation of the old country.  (Bua in Irish refers early on to a special skill which allows the hero to prevail over formidable adversaries: later it comes to mean a more internalized kind of strength, as is usual when cultures pass from speaking to writing.)  Virtuous we shall try to be: no cheap shots, slanders, band-wagon jibes, ad hominem jests, or early-adolescent gambols.  Lucidity shall be our guide as far as we may hold her hem: humility shall be our burden when lucid reason slips away behind doubt and ignorance.  We believe in ultimate truth, but... but woe unto him who would stare at the sun!

     John Harris, editor and grudging blogger

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Why Laura Ingraham cannot abide Ron Paul.

Iowa Smiowa... ignore the beauty pageant.


Do you really want to tear the wrapper of contemporary

life's glistering tinsel?  Proceed beyond here with caution. 

White, Wealthy, and Bored: Players in Search of Parts

Rush Limbaugh is right about one thing (and not necessarily wrong about all others): many of Mr. Obama's Caucasian stalwarts care less about winning the election than about having a black man run for president.  They will sleep better at night with the nomination in hand: they will have witnessed progress in the making, a need whose satisfying is similar to a drug addict's for a fix.  They are in love with the narrative.  They live their lives impatiently waiting for the next chapter in their favorite story (as opposed to staring reality hard in the face and choosing the least of the available evils).  To them, life's great enemies are the various sources of narrative dissonance: people who won't join an environmental crusade, people who won't embrace marriage between humans and quadrupeds, people who "hurt feelings" by speaking against the narrative's flow.  They rise to a high lather of indignation when a racehorse--a mare, at that--is put down after being whipped to a collapse at the finish line... but they utter not a peep when hundreds of thousands of fully grown human fetuses have their brains sucked out while attempting to exit the birth canal.  Nobody sees the needle in the baby's skull--but the poor mare was on TV!

Who are these denizens of strawberry fields forever whose favorite word is "dream"?  Well, they are not the vanguard of a great civil rights movement.  Obama is not Chris Tucker: he's not even J. C. Watts.  He is a multi-racial person (as are we all) some of whose genes happen to stem from Africa... but he isn't "the hood".  The white Babes in Toyland who will log sugar-plum sleepy-times once his name enters the history book coo and purr about how "eloquent" and "personable" he is... and then have to edit their lines to avoid hurt feelings.  I saw this past week just how "black" they like to have their private schools dyed when given the occasion to admit some needy children from the other side of town.  I had mustered several prospects for my son's campus from among the parents I knew when we played in the Dixie League (for my nasty little burg not only features de facto segregation of neighborhoods, but also of Little Leagues).  The person I had encouraged to contact the school was so offended by an exchange there that he would not even return my calls to fill me in.  African Africans, apparently--doctors, diplomats, and attorneys from Nigeria or Kenya--can attend my son's school, and so can the son of a former Major Leaguer... but a kid whose dad owns a small trucking company or builds fences?  Why, he might teach our children the "f" word or even (gasp and whisper) introduce them to crack!  To be sure, the narrative calls for us to care paternally about him, and hence to raise taxes on ourselves so that we may surround him with more public employees... but the narrative also calls for our child to graduate into the ranks of the elite.  Drugs are bad because they may disrupt the orderly transfer of power.

So for Brother Barack: he looks good, really good, and he speaks as fluidly as Malcolm X... and if the similarities don't end there, why, don't we white folks deserve a tongue-lashing?  That, too, will make us feel better.  Penance is part of the narrative.  A hair-shirt, a flail, stained glass and candles... just don't disrupt the beauty of the ritual.  Don't expect us to leave the monastery.

Like my son, I attended a private school filled with people who had substantially more money than my family.  And I learned a lot, as I expect him to learn a lot... but not all of the lessons were in the curricular manual, and some of the hardest I have yet to learn, it seems.  Somehow I got on the e-mail list which my high-school class created after their thirty-fifth reunion.  The other day (the same day, in fact, that I was anguishing over having tossed a good man into the lions' den--into strawberry fields full of fire ants), the members of this group were chirping back and forth about an event that happened thirty-eight years ago.  For four decades, I had felt grossly misunderstood in this context--for I had refused out of principle to participate in the event, but nobody ever bothered to inquire into my side of things.  So I intruded into the chirping and sought to interpolate my personal explanation... about as effectively, it turned out, as a dead stump rearing up out of a stream might oppose the current.  The chirping went on right around me.  It was not contemptuous or unforgiving: it was simply riveted on its course, which was returning to yesterday's yesterdays.  Reminiscence... the narrative of childhood.  A bunch of people over half-a-century old trying to recapture every moment of a childhood occurrence--and I would remain the boor that I was then perceived as being, not because my explanation was rejected, but precisely because such was the perception of me then.  This wasn't about me, or about us as we are--about reviving old acquaintance or straightening out old accounts.  It was about re-reading a favorite short story.

White people of the upper-middle class tend to live one narrative after another--or several at once.  They have either inherited vast sums of money (Theresa Heinz) or have made far too much too quickly (Bill Gates).  Getting up in the morning is no longer required: nothing needs to be done.  The narrative gets them up.  The plot frequently demands a sacrifice: privation (or the appearance of privation) is dramatic, and drama is the spice of life.

Fantasies, however, do not help the rest of the world.  The typical black kid needs nothing so much as solid instruction in the use of language (about which, more soon)--not the mushy "tolerance" of the depleted vocabulary and dysfunctional grammar thrust upon him by an impoverished environment.  I also, during this intricately miserable week, observed up close the futile struggles of two exceptionally bright college students of African descent on a written exam: they couldn't transport their knowledge from A to B.  But no worries: the people I went to school with, and the people my son is going to school with, will see that they receive lifelong indemnities for their skin color.  Why?  Because the narrative calls for the king to bestow largesse upon his subjects.

We already have a get-out-and-work narrative (which passes for conservative, and has its own comic-book absurdities) aimed at our poor to deflate the noblesse oblige narrative of the elite.  What no one seems to have figured out is how to deflate the narrative of the conservative-made-good who starts reciting the Messiah's lines in his early retirement.  Our society is a chaos of passing vectors.  The crew of Good Morning, America decided to revisit their prom days this week as helpless masses died by the thousand in Burma... it's insane, this "narrative" business!  Will we ever stop telling stories long enough to notice the child crying on the sidewalk?


The End of the World Is... None of Your Business

As my semester winds down, and as my parental duties vie with my pedagogical ones for the day's waking hours, I find myself once again unable to devote much attention to this space.  I should like to get "caught up" soon by exploring several interesting subjects whose strange sails crossed my bow this past month.  For today, I shall hail only one exotic cutter before I return to my tedious but obligatory course to home port and its reams of finalizing paperwork.

I heard the other day a discussion of the international political scene which was narrowly indexed to biblical prophecy.  The exchange (or that part of it which I paused to listen to, for such prattle puts me out of patience) "demonstrated" that Gog and Magog in the Book of Revelations represent Russia, stressed that this power will ally itself with Persia shortly before Armageddon, noted unexceptionably that Persia is Iran, observed that Vladimir Putin has lately been making up to Adhmedinejad and his supporting cast of mullahs, and concluded that the end is near.  The prime exponent of these views has apparently written a novel predicated on the assumptions above, and his concatenation of events has apparently won admiring approval among several  bigwigs in our military and intelligence corps.  The novelist's interviewer also eagerly imbibed his scenario.

Now, it seems almost facile to say that a prophecy would only deserve respect if it were true, and that if it were true, one might as well never have heard it at all since the projected events would be inevitable.  Yet the kind of person, not always without acuity or finesse, who seriously listens to this sort of rant never appears to grasp the absurdity of his position.  If terrestrial life is indeed about to come to an end, what ought we to do which we would not otherwise have done?  Repent of and repair our wrongdoing?  But we should undertake that much every day, inasmuch as we know that our individual life-clock is always ticking down and may stop at any instant.  Should we spend our last dime on a "dream" vacation?  But that would be the response of a shallow joy-seeker whose interests lean more toward this world than the next.  Frankly, I should say that we are already a society of party-goers who live as if there were no tomorrow.  Perhaps that's why we're so receptive to these millenarian visions--they put a stamp of approval on our "drain it to the last drop" lifestyle.

The least defensible of all responses, however, would surely be to attempt a nipping in the bud of the apocalyptic flower; yet this, too, is typically the reflex of the longer heads who watch credulously as the auspex digs black entrails out of the sacrificial victim.  The discussion I heard was indeed primarily about foreign policy.  We were supposed to intervene in Putin's epochal overtures to Iran.  The intervention, naturally, would enlist all necessary force, since its failure would seal the world's doom--and the use of maximal force against two nations struggling to survive as we feed Red China's wealth and power to the bursting point would of course precipitate just the sort of cataclysm that might end the world.  Q.E.D.... I guess.  Is that the idea--to start World War III?  Does the prophecy need our special help for that?

What is surprising, exactly, about Russia's seeking to strike an alliance with Iran, since Iran occupies a huge stretch of its southern border and since Red China sits across even more of that border?  What has our foreign policy done lately, indeed, but turn a cold shoulder to Russia and tell her contemptuously to go seek friends elsewhere?

And in any case, why is the ancient historian Josephus (a Jew who served the Romans and wrote in Greek) the ultimate authority on Magog?  Or if Magog is truly the Scythians, why should we identify these legendary horsemen with the entirety of contemporary Russia rather than with the Cossacks (whose name is very nearly generated by inverting the sigma and the kappa of skuthoi)?  And why limit Persia merely to Iran?  The Persian empire was immense, like the Russian state today: virtually any alliance between nations north and south of the Black Sea could be said to bring ancient Persia and modern Russia together.

We are defining shapes from fluffy clouds, and any policy decision we attempt to build upon such an airy foundation will be the agenda of an idiot or a lunatic.  I hope the two bright people whom I heard in close converse on this very silly subject do not in fact have the ear of policy-makers (although the qualifications "idiot" and "lunatic" are not inapt for that set, I fear).  God is pleased by a will disposed toward goodness, and any disposition of the will requires freedom, and freedom requires that history's book be filled with blank sheets.  It is more than self-contradictory to claim devotion to God's goodness and, at the same time, belief in a deterministic scheme of history: it is a kind of blasphemy.  That good people too often blaspheme among us in this manner hints at a spiritual pathology--probably a panic resulting from the sense of powerlessness gnawing at all of us ordinary citizens these days.  I can understand it; but I would warn anyone whose ear I have that the disease must be fought, not coddled.  Whether or not the world must end in a certain way is beyond our comprehension and none of our business.  We should make policy decisions based upon truth, justice, and humanity, not upon cloak-and-dagger romances which lend giddy excitement and puerile hope to our anemic existence.


More on Conspiracy: Ridete, Stulti

I wrote a month ago about the folly of dismissing conspiracies lightly, especially in matters political.  It is virtually inconceivable that any politician would ever declare openly to an audience every objective which he had endorsed in private to special benefactors or to which his trusted advisors had won him.  Perfect candor in such matters is the stuff of Hollywood B-movies.  The absence of conspiracy, indeed, requires far more gullibility to be entertained seriously than the likelihood of secret deals.  Naturally, there are "kooks" among us: neither the CIA nor the Massad steered any jets into the World Trade Towers.  But recent forensic evidence proves (so sayeth the experts) that more than one shooter fired upon Robert Kennedy... and we will never really know the full extent of the plot which claimed his brother.

For a worldly-wise, well-placed correspondent, therefore, to deride "conspiracy theorists" because deep, dark plots are hatched only in Hollywood B-movies is disingenuous in the extreme.  One might reasonably conclude that such a commentator was conspiring to lull the public into a gullible passivity--and woe unto this commentator if, for instance, he should fume and seethe against Holocaust-deniers!  For what sane person could suppose that millions of human beings would turn their heads and say nothing while their neighbors were carted off to death camps?  How silly!  Such things just don't happen!

Of course, they do happen.  Sometimes the conspiracy's tangled lines cannot even be hidden very well.  Bill Clinton explicitly wants our nation to be heavily dependent upon other nations: "interdependency" was an implied theme during his two terms in office, and he overtly preaches it today.  The Left in general is of the same opinion.  If China owns most of our debt, its ruling elite will no more launch a nuclear strike against us than the Mob would have some luckless gambler killed rather than knee-capped for falling behind on his payments.  If nuclear fallout will poison the entire planet eventually, anyway, then no superpower would ever engage in all-out war.  Besides, if we continue to nationalize the private sector, multiply government bureaucracy, and punish private ownership of land with annual fines while reducing property rights to empty words on paper, why should Red China regard us as anything but a brother in the making?

Is this a conspiracy--I mean, that most university professors and a great many elected representatives actually want to see our political and social structure become more like China's?  They certainly aren't saying so openly (not the political class, at least).  In fact, no politician on my radar screen--especially those of the Left--will so much as hesitate to hoist up home ownership as an inalienable right or to salute small businessmen as models of civic virtue.  But does rank hypocrisy deserve to be called treasonous double-dealing?  If these fork-tongued Ciceros truly believe that we will all be better off having our decisions made by a central authority, are they not sainted missionaries rather than foul conspirators?

Call it what you like.  As Milton's Satan argues to the other fallen angels, Hell can be made to resemble Heaven with a little decorating and an eventual atrophy of the senses.  I for one, however, cannot believe that most of our leaders are not fully aware of the vast ruin into which they are steering our economy.  So the question arises, why are they ruining us?  Let us accept that the "principled" among them want the masses returned permanently to a child-like state and the planet reduced to a big, happy playground (with themselves as its monitors).  Let us accept, even, that most of them are among the "principled" (since you can weave "principles" into just about any design for power and profit).  What immediately do they stand to gain from destroying the dollar, bankrupting the treasury, dissolving our national borders, abolishing the national language, addicting the poor to handouts, and reducing all small landowners to tenants?

Possible answers include securing Israel's hegemony in the Middle East, forcing the US into a North American Union, and midwifing a yet more ambitious (and diabolical) union with the People's Republic of China.  That Zionism has a very active presence among the various foreign interests which lobby our government is beyond question.  That Mexico's oil would present a tantalizing alleviation of our energy crisis (since we wouldn't have to drill domestic fields--and wouldn't trouble our green conscience, of course, about Mexican drilling) is also patently clear.  The PRC connection would amount to a far more cloak-and-dagger affair; yet even this, I think, is well above the slack plausibility standard of the B-movie.  Never forget that many of our intelligentsia want us to look more like Chinese society.  They would equivocate, if brought to an accounting, that China would also end up looking more like us, in the process: a meeting in the middle occurs in their vision of world harmony.  This turns out, upon scrutiny, to be another way of saying that communism's luminaries would allow their enlightened brethren across the ocean to to harvest fabulous fortunes from the merger... but then, no rendezvous in No Man's Land would really be required for our policy-makers to carry off a big haul.  The Party's saints and prophets have always made out well at the bank.  (You can bet that the Beijing elite will pocket a few million apiece as the PRC closes various deals for South American oil, just as our own masterminds who see in Mexican oil a liberation from the Arab world's supply have personally bought up some shares here and there of forthcoming boomtowns.)

Conspiracies?  Beyond the shadow of a doubt, there are long-range conspiracies of the most subversive kind at work in the highest levels of our government.  They will never be called so, and their apologists will ensure that any hint of their existence is received as raving lunacy... but if a spade were ever to be denominated a spade, several dozen of the people who rule us would be shot as traitors.


Racism?  No... Something Perhaps Harder to Cure

There are few issues that compare in importance to the collapse of our economy.  People without money don't eat in a land where property taxes have eliminated subsistence farming.  Perhaps they riot along the way to starvation--and some of them most certainly offer fertile ground to opportunistic infections like the flu which may quickly harvest ill-fed victims by the thousand.  Famine, riot, plague... may it please God that these haggard characters do not enjoy major roles in the twenty-first century's morality play.  But their costumes are stitched together and waiting just off stage.

What lending institution will be the next Bear-Stearns?  How long will our federal government be able to feign bail-outs by printing paper money and borrowing from the world-leader in genocide stats?  Once Americans can no longer afford the frivolity of ordering delivered pizza and renting online from Netflix, how will they buy milk and bread, since most of them in fact garnish pizzas for a living or truck postal parcels from city to city rather than grow wheat and raise cows?

The last thing anybody is in a mood to discuss, it seems, is racism.  The flap about Barack Obama's spiritual advisor, Reverend Wright ("U S of KKK A", "God damn America", etc.), is therefore scarcely more unwelcome to the candidate than to undecided voters.  People with jobs are already nervous, and people without jobs--or with half-jobs--are extremely edgy.  An infusion into the scene of such rumors as that taxes may be raised to pay reparations for slavery a century-and-a-half after the Emancipation Proclamation stirs about as many cheers in Middle America right now as yet another Green campaign to block the drilling of domestic oil.  (Look, by the way, for that drilling soon to be ratcheted up: a "planetary conscience" is a luxury that appears somewhere farther down the "to do" list than feeding the kids.)  It's not that most people--and here I mean, of course, most white people--are stubbornly unsympathetic to the special struggles of African-Americans: it's that our political elite's globalist outlook, exporting democracy and outsourcing skilled labor, has bullied them into an intensely isolationist mode.  Things are coming down to bare survival: not e pluribus unum, but chacun pour soi.

And indeed, it occurs to me that the peculiar racial tensions of our times are just another facet of our flawed economic life.  We no longer live together as members of a community: we no longer walk down our residential streets to corner shops where we buy a few apples or get a pair of shoes repaired.  The automotive/oil complex has seen to it since World War II that we invest about half our yearly income in driving to and from destinations; and the banking/real estate complex has gleefully collaborated, recognizing how much land must be bought and sold to undergird urban sprawl.  The lobbies of this unsavory bunch--what one might call The Transport/Finance Complex--have lubricated politicians for decades to advance their pet projects (the latest of which has caused the present real estate crisis).  The small businessman seems like a relatively minor casualty in the epic struggle to subvert humane society for profit.  His modest store front on Main Street, now plowed under to furnish the parking deck of a high-rise office building, hardly elicits a tear as the dollar plunges and 401K's evaporate.  His sign that once blinked "Sal's Café" or his shingle that read "Custom Framing" certainly appeared to be no banner in the march against racial bigotry.

But it was.  We used to have Joe or Judy bake our croissants or let out our suit's seams because the work was good and the price was right.  And we got to know Joe and Judy over the years... and Marisól, and Stanislas.  We knew they were a little different from the people in our family and the people in our social circle, but the difference was intriguing.  Sometimes we would be surprised by how much they and we had in common when one of us chanced to let slip a word about politics or religion--about some high-handed new law, probably, or some publicly perpetrated moral outrage.  Then we would begin talking about our kids... and then each would be asking about the other's kid.  Maybe our boys would sign up to play on the same Little League team.

Sadly for the part of the country gripped by segregation, these halcyon days were all too brief.  They stretched somewhere between the sixties and the eighties: from the decline of segregated neighborhoods to the decline of neighborhoods.  For by the mid-eighties, a trip to the grocer's meant a trip to the "supermarket", and a jaunt to buy new shoes meant a foray to the mall: no more friendly faces with first names at the corner or down the street.  The car (with its accompanying sprawl) did not single-handedly destroy small businesses, but it sorely pressed them.  They were forced either to rent expensive space in exclusive areas zoned for commerce or to re-locate just beyond the city limits, where they became hard to reach.  Just how long a drive were Judy's croissants worth?

Of course, between the Internet and "super-centers" suffixed with "mart", the nineties finished the job.  Why have your shoes repaired when you could buy new ones made in Mexico or India for the same cost--and why buy them from Mart-Mart when you could order them online?  Sorry, Stanislas.  Adiós, Marisól!  The interesting, "different" people who had once enriched our day dropped off the radar.  As we drove farther and farther--or reached around the globe via electron--we procured for ourselves a more and more homogeneous environment.  Today we can even carry our select circle of friends in our hand, chattering on a cell phone rather than being forced to notice the living faces which chance to pass before us.

During these same years, white-collar jobs were proliferating--naturally enough, for the bankrupted small businessman had to go somewhere.  Governments accelerated the trend which would lead to their employing more than half the nation's work force.  Bureaucracies, one need scarcely note, do not draw customers at a brisk pace into a pleasant environment.  If they see the public's face at all, it is grumpy or plangent--and the bureaucrat responds by being belligerent or distant.  What you do see abundantly in such workplaces, as a Chief or Sub-Officer of Accounts in Arrears (or a receptionist or filing clerk of said dignitary), is your co-bureaucrats--the same drudges, day after day after day, doing the same drudgery.  You find yourself irresistibly merging into a clique (at breaks, at lunch time, at meetings in the large conference room) with others "like" you in some meaningful fashion: other single people, other single parents, other "swingers"... and, more often than not, others of the same ethnicity.  There is no invigorating current--no procession of strangers or shift of work sites--to counteract the dull pull of such magnetism.  It just happens.

Then one of your clique gets promoted... and you yourself follow soon after, because your friend can speak for your work ethic and your affability.  Or else someone from another clique makes the ascent, and your bunch must look on as a slightly different kind of person is judged hard-working and affable.  The brew moves toward a low simmer, bubble by small bubble.  It looks rather like... like a disadvantage to be older, or single, or overweight, or... or of dark skin.

Not every ex-shopkeeper can re-tool as a bureaucrat; most, indeed, cannot.  What has become of these?  They have shifted from being small producers or maintainers of specialized goods to being lackeys in some service or entertainment concern.  They wait tables, mix drinks, market or sell tickets to movies or sporting events... they induce customers to feel relaxed or amused (with an emphasis on feel: the client no longer takes home a crafted frame or a repaired bicycle).  Now, people tend to feel more relaxed in surroundings which they regard as congenial.  A certain kind of movie or restaurant or club does well in a certain part of town with a certain ethnic composition.  Just as singles go to bars in the hope of meeting other singles, so a first-generation Chinese-American may enjoy dusting up his Mandarin at an eatery he patronizes--and a Monster Truck competition will sell more tickets just outside of Tuscaloosa than in Madison Square Garden.  That's how it is.

And how it always has been... except that we used to have other lives, most of us--to see other people throughout our busy day, so that trying to speak a little Spanish to the cute girl who waited our table at El Gallo was part of the dinner's pleasure.  Now that pleasure is our business, though, we spend all day and all week making fine calculations about how to get farther within our "target audience's" comfort zone.  We put on ethnicity the way the kids at Burger Buster put on silly little caps shaped like buns.  It's not really about advancing one ethnic group over another--it's about making money; but when the only way of making money you have left (short of working for the government) is to stir up latent itches in people, you tend to become the itch.  Make garlic bread all day and you smell like garlic: sell porn all day and you forget how to look at a woman respectfully.  Act "ethnic" all day and... well, you may just lose your taste for sweet-and-sour chicken. Or for Chopin or Vivaldi.

A racist society?  I don't think so.  But an ever more tribal society?  How could we help but be that, when we can't survive unless we sell feathers and beat drums?


Clintonian Interdependency: Cultural Meltdown By Any Other Name

I believe it was last Monday that Robin Roberts interviewed an aging Bill Clinton for her morning broadcast.  Of course, none of us is getting any younger... but rakes do not age well.  What struck me as particularly off-putting about Mr. Clinton's impudently lifted mug was the eyes wedged between his swollen cheeks and his teased white hair.  Though their slits hardly allowed pupils to appear, they never blinked.  A man who lifts his chin high, squints, and never blinks... if there were a cigarillo in his teeth and stubble down his chin, his impassivity might pass for the grim, nihilistic courage of some gunfighter in a spaghetti Western.  But for a man who claims to be a beacon of hope and humanity to combine the clean-shaved well-being of a Buddha with the self-satisfied smirk of Reynard the Fox... no, it's not a reassuring image.  A brief clip inserted into the sequence showed Clinton announcing to a class of callow teenaged students that they had a "very bright future" ahead of them.  This optimism he explained to Ms. Roberts with the word "interdependency".  Our citizens are increasingly dependent on each other and, indeed, on the entire world around them: this is why they have a bright future.  In the same way, you should feel good about being a castaway in an open boat filled more with people than food and water; for if the captain starts tossing able-bodied men overboard, he'll have trouble finding enough to row.

I find it simply staggering that any sane human being not only would regard this state as reassuring, but that he would presume to sell it to others as such.  We will all recall painfully that Mr. Clinton has lived his life allowing personal needs to bleed, ooze, and otherwise protrude into other people's private spaces.  He apparently has grown so ripe in depravity that he cannot imagine an orgy-like swilling of all from any available tankard as less than a portrait of perfect brotherhood--of sacramental communion.  In my loathing of our current chief executive, I had forgotten how loathsome was his predecessor.

Was it to advance the cause of "interdependency" that Messieurs Clinton and Gore presided over a massive transfer of classified defense technology--much of it relating to nuclear weapons--to the government of Red China, meanwhile turning their back on persistent events of Chinese espionage and demoting those within their bureaucracy who sounded the alarm?  Are we to suppose that part of Mrs. Hillary Clinton's experience-rich résumé features her active collaboration in this treasonous insouciance... or was she out of the room when such decisions were made?

All water under the bridge, as long as another Clinton does not re-occupy the Whitehouse... and, to be honest, there was a brief moment this winter when I thought that eighteen months of Mrs. Clinton (i.e., the period between settling in and Congress's general veer toward the center for mid-term elections) would be preferable to four years of Jungle John McCain.  But the wild old man can still rattle a saber, and maybe he's what we need to keep China's greedy fingers off the rest of southeast Asia for a few more years (provided that he can keep his own finger off the nuclear button).

Response to my recent "alarmist" references to Chinese imperialism has heartened me in that it shows how many among us still actively ferret out information and ponder it--though I should have been yet happier to be convinced that my worries were all fictions.   One correspondent warns me that I expect too much of the reigning theocracy in Iran if I believe any China-stalling link to be feasible there which would not eventually bring more harm than good.  An Iranian friend whom I wrote for comment has kept mum--I don't know why.  A very highly trained Sinologist shares all of my misgivings about the current regime's long-range ambitions to annex far more than Taiwan (for I believe that these megalomaniacs intend to control the planet by 2030).  A well-traveled and seamlessly educated European writes that his culture is defunct, and hence incapable of mounting the least resistance to the cultural tsunami from the East... but that the situation may backfire on Beijing in a couple of generations when up-and-coming Chinese opt for the Christianity that Europe has cast off.

A pretty hope, if not a sublime one--for I should like, in the category of real hope (as I sit writing on this Easter Sunday), to see those who originally carried Christianity forward find in it the corrective to their own decadence.  Otherwise, one must be haunted by the apprehension that all things move in cycles--including faith--and that the pendulum which will pull the ruthless social-engineering rug right out from under Beijing will also warp new Chinese Christians in two hundred years into etiolated Westerners worrying over their dog's soul and and the intricacies of druidism.  Does Buddha inevitably end up melting down into Bill Clinton... is there no sounder hope than that?  Or will our technology (as I suggested in a return-volley to my European friend) one day grow sufficiently clean that we may merely zap each other and not worry about poisoning the air and water for all future generations?  Will the laser-gun save us from the mushroom cloud?

If Christianity is to retain any meaning at all in our moribund society, it must stop following the electronic revolution into extroverted "missions" around the world--providing social welfare to everybody's poor even as it seeks to line its pockets with "free trade"--and recover some inner poise.  The child in Zimbabwe is no doubt glad to be relieved of his tapeworm, and we should be glad so to relieve him... but how did we pay for our air fare?  How much further do we have to commit ourselves to driving and buying and selling, to pimping frivolities on the Internet, to building a bigger home and sculpting the perfect body?  Jesus would have helped the child: would he have bankrolled his trip by marketing a cell phone that feeds you fantasy text-messages all day from superstar athletes and media personalities?  When will our faith lead us back inward?  When will we start growing our own food again and providing our own defenses?  When will we stop taking money from the evilest men on the planet to finance our grotesque over-spending?  When will we drive less and walk more, talk less to gismos and more to real faces?  When will we back away from this abyss?

Our faith means nothing if, instead of drawing us within, it only conspires with our technology to absorb us into an indiscriminate, inarticulate mass.  If we cure the boy in Zimbabwe because our buddies signed up for the same trip or because it feels so good to play Jesus and bask in the gratitude, then we have our reward, and need not expect heaven.  If we trust that no one will press the red button because the girl in whose lap we have passed out is sure to be somebody's niece, then we can look forward to being slaughtered like the dumb cattle we have become.


The China Threat: Why Aren't We Noticing This?

Let's take the case of a certain radio blabberer whose name I have vowed never to use in these pages again (less out of consideration for him than as an attempt to manage my own anger).  Let's call him Arktos, since his name means "bear" in Russian, so that I may at least say to myself that I have taught some Greek today.  Mr. Arktos is fond of saying--boasting, even--that he campaigned as a young man for Robert Kennedy.  This confession is supposed to demonstrate his open-mindedness, and also to prove in highly rhetorical fashion that the pseudo-Right Wing causes he now espouses are still more enlightened than Camelot was.  (It never occurs to him that one series of bad judgments simply followed the previous set: the assumption of all such people is that they are morally more pure and intellectually more astute than you and I.)  Among Mr. Arktos's present convictions are these: our domestic economy can easily absorb millions of blue-collar immigrants, resistance to such saturation in unskilled labor often underscores regional racism, global free trade is the key to our nation's prosperity, China is the conduit of this gold rush and in nowise a threat, Iran is an agency of looming doomsday because her premier denies the Holocaust, and people who believe our government to be anything but forthright (e.g., who fear the behind-the-scenes formation of a North American Union) are conspiracy buffs and "wackos" (in his word).  Indeed, Mr. Arktos stages a "Conspiracy Day" regularly on his program in order to impress upon his audience, with all the subtlety of my son's defending his taste in clothing, that we should laugh at anything eccentric or prima facie improbable.  He calls this debate because he selects "wacko" phone-callers whom he prods on the air.

I not only disagree with most of Mr. Arktos's most recently trumpeted convictions--I find them egregiously mistaken and often mutually inconsistent.  If PC speech codes are absurd--and I concur that they are--then why should we bomb a foreign nation for denying the reality of Nazi death camps?  If we should do so because said nation has expressed an interest in attacking Israel and is toying with a nuclear capability, then its official position on the Holocaust (and recall that we speak merely of a few high-ranking officials) is patently irrelevant.  If our real cause for alarm is a threat to world peace, then why condemn Iran for what it might do when the current regime in Beijing is directly descended from the most murderous leadership in human history?  (The Red Chinese, under Mao, slaughtered somewhere between 40 and 70 million people: Hitler managed about 6 million.)  If conditions on blue-collar jobs are such that American citizens accept them only reluctantly, then how will filling them with a Third World labor force accustomed to virtual servitude (and eligible, while on our shores, for generous tax-funded subsidies) solve our root problem?  If shipping out better jobs to China and India is good for our economy, then why has our trade deficit exploded and our dollar plummeted to new lows against other currencies?  And if China is no threat in all this, having siphoned off our industry and bought up our national debt while stealing blueprints left and right for sensitive computer and missile systems and circulating timetables internally for the takeover of Taiwan and the ultimate checkmate of the United States, then why does not Mr. Arktos simply give up his pose of loving the Bill of Rights?  How can he possibly believe that his friends, the profit-hungry bureaucrats (as he pictures them) of Beijing, care more about seeing their dividends multiply than securing mastery of the world?

If you've noticed that the name of China keeps rising to the surface... well, I have been unable to submerge it in my own thoughts since last week.  I was challenged by a reader of my previous column on the prediction that Red China would invade Taiwan within the next administration, and I undertook some research.  Bill Gertz's harrowing and unimpeachable book, The China Threat, crossed my path for the first time--and the most frightening thing of all about this work is that it was published in 2000.  The Chinese government, which was able to buy sensitive secrets one after another by siphoning contributions to the Clinton-Gore political machine, has surely noticed in the intervening Bush years that its steady advance to strategic superiority over the U.S. is far, far ahead of twentieth-century projections.  Who in Beijing could have predicted that we would so willingly dismantle our industries, farm out essential high-tech jobs overseas, import delicate systems and vital pharmaceuticals from China itself, and exhaust our aging military hardware in the sandy wastes of Iraq?  Or could China actually have planned the War on Terror--is it China, and not the CIA or Israel, which stood most to gain from a 9/11 conspiracy?  Mr. Arktos would laugh and rail at that one... but the hard fact is that virtually everything in politics, and especially in foreign policy, is a conspiracy at some level.  Lobbyists are conspirators; earmarks are conspiracies; any specific result achieved through the action of generally invisible, strictly unelected special interests partakes of the conspiratorial.  That Mr. Arktos routinely holds up the very notion of conspiracy for mockery smacks of the tactics favored by Red China since Korea and Vietnam revealed its military vulnerabilities, and which Mr. Gertz describes in detail: court opinion-makers, churn out "new China" propaganda, flatter your greatest flatterers, cut off your detractors from all access to official response.  In short, don't engage in debate: insinuate and deride.

If I were truly a wacko, I would suspect that Mr. Arktos himself had been recruited to shill for this evil regime.  I suspect no such thing.  I believe Mr. Arktos to be the same pompous fool he was in the days of Robert Kennedy, when he and the Camelot crew were going to shut all of us stupid rednecks down.  (Those august ranks, by the way, also included Weekly Standard editor Bill Krystol, who actively campaigned for another messiah, Eugene McCarthy.)  Such people do not require a covert pay-off: one can lead them by the nose simply by shedding fair weather on their investment portfolio and giving their ego ample room to strut and declaim.  Who but an imponderable fool, after all, would urge that we bomb the one Islamic nation that represents a serious threat to China's security, thereby depleting our own resources and further alienating Russia even as we nullify Iran's power to oppose Chinese imperialism?  Who but a perfect fool?

Recall, please, the fate of the Beijing hack who was nominally responsible for the "poisoned cat food" flap a few months back: he was executed.  Though his negligence was unquestionably mandated by his Party handlers, who continue to enforce it on assembly lines grinding out human rather than feline nutriments, public relations demanded a fall guy.  These are the kind of "reformed communists" who own our national debt and are buying up oil fields in our hemisphere.

I have made few comments heretofore about Mr. Arktos's defense of illegal immigration: that's because The China Threat has lately caused me to pass my own position under massive review.  If the North American Union might somehow allow us to hold out against a regime that straps down women for forced abortions--if we are otherwise as far behind in this game as I fear in my bones--then perhaps the time has come to focus on Beijing's spies more than Chihuahua's drug-runners.  It's a grim dilemma.  And Mr. Bush can scarcely argue that he was mulling it over all along, because the transfer of power to China has proceeded apace on his watch.


The Vital Truth About Politicians: THEY DON'T CARE

Do not trust unless you must.  Do not assume that somebody cares about you because he merely says so--particularly when his saying so secures his selfish gain.  Women of my generation mystified me by insistently believing that the beaux they dated did not care about them unless they slept with them--a position which seemed to me then, and seems to me now, so dull-witted as to indict psychological pathology rather than simple brainlessness.  A man (or most men--certainly a dishonorable man) will say anything, including "I love you," if free and immediate sex is the reward.  So with a politician.  If he (or she) has devoted a lifetime to seeking power and popular adoration, then he (or she) will gainsay a lifetime's assertions for a few days or weeks if the desired power and adoration are the recompense.  I cannot quite bring myself to ascribe the gullibility of my fellow citizens to mere stupidity: surely, rather, this suicidal surrender of "the goods" to some poxed Romeo for murmuring "I love you" is just the latest hideous excrescence of a psychological cancer nourished by electronic surrogate-parentage over two generations.

THEY DON'T CARE.  How many times must I say it?  A few people care, on principle.  A very few will continue to care about someone besides themselves even when their own interests are plainly at risk.  One in a thousand may actually give his life for a stranger, on principle... or perhaps one in ten thousand.  Are you willing to stake the lives of your own children against such odds?  It was the constant assumption of our nation's founders, on the contrary, that the best-protected man is he who assumes nobody to be protecting him except in the expectation of some personal gain.  The people who primp for the camera and swear to you in your millions--via satellite--that they love you, that they will care for you, that they will commandeer money from the heartless wealthy to ease your suffering, and that they will bomb distant races who hate your god to make you feel secure DO NOT, IN FACT, CARE ABOUT YOU.  They seek your support--they seek your vote.  They seek power.  They will, perhaps, obtain it: one of them surely will.  But do not bestow the bone blindly on the dog that grovels lowest.  Consider, rather, which dog is least likely to devour your children (with taxes, with insecure streets, with "trash culture", with favoritism to ruthless foreign interests, with manipulative foreign wars) after the bone is firmly in its possession.  There are no candidates left in this presidential race, in my opinion, whose instincts are not profoundly canine, though one candidate currently seems to me less of a jackal, if only for want of training in the art.  The choice you make may determine how many of your children are left alive as you lie dying.  Would you be comforted on your deathbed to know that you had outlived your progeny?  The option of such diabolical solace will be on the ballot.

Despite last summer's stunning resistance to an amnesty, in various forms, for illegal residents imported by unscrupulous businesses, the threesome of presidential hopefuls to which we have been reduced makes it almost inevitable that we shall have some measure of amnesty within the next three years.  You will have your one-night stand with one of these Romeos (we can only hope now that it will be a one-term stand): all you can do is try to determine whose lusts are least carnivorous behind the incessant protestations of love.  In that effort, you might well ponder the following:

a) Members of our ruling elite have long been aware that the North American Union was destined to be born in some fashion.  Many of them have therefore invested accordingly--in Mexican oil, in real estate lying along the transport corridor slated for development through mid-America, in a hundred other speculations of which ingénues like me do not dream--and await a fifty-fold return some fine day five or eight years from now.  They intend to see that day.  Those who have guzzled in the carrion of Washington politics the longest are the most likely to be heavily invested in this adventure.

b) The American public is nervous, and it seems to be reassured by the sight of America's bloodying Islamic noses around the world as long as the feet quickly go to work after the fist lands its punch.  This is a tempting but wholly irresponsible urge for any elected leader to indulge: democracy has no uglier, more readily abused side.  On 9/11, A band of Muslims exploited our all-but-non-existent immigration controls to further exploit our oblivious confidence in high-rise and high-speed technology: any band of local punks could have done the same--and still can.  Prosecuting a hazily defined war against "Islamo-fascism", however, both keeps the mob happy (like a winning hometown football team) and so exhausts our treasury that a merger with oil-rich Canada and Mexica looms all the more inevitable.  The Bush Administration is presently trying to cede authority to drill oil on offshore sites to an international tribunal prominently featuring those who wish us ill.  This gambit has been charitably (or naively) represented in the popular press as just another gaffe, but it is in fact very well designed to make the Mexican/Canadian confederacy yet more compelling.  Like Bush, all three presidential candidates desire such a union. 

c) Of immensely greater danger to us and the civilized world than renegade Muslims with box-cutters is Red China.  Its ruling elite is heir to the ideology and methodology of Mao tse-Tung, the most ravenous mass-murderer in the planet's history.  Logically, we should seek alliances with monotheistic societies like Iran, which has long been a thorn in China's side.  Instead, there is constant talk in one political camp about bombing Iran, while the other camp constantly hatches new programs for government spending which can only plunge us deeper into debt with our bankers, the Chinese.  Should Red China decide to invade Taiwan within the next administration (as I believe it will), the former camp will probably extend its bombing to a deployment of the nuclear arsenal against the Chinese mainland, since our military will by then be incapable of fielding any other sort of effective military response.  The latter camp will most likely write off our staunch Taiwanese allies, and the aggressors in Beijing will have the green flag to turn the Eastern Hemisphere red.  The nuclear option would have the advantage of canceling our debt to China, but the disadvantage of damaging the planet, perhaps irreparably, and vaporizing the last vestiges of humane civilization.  The sit-on-your-hands option would keep the world alive, but only just.  Our best hope would then be that evil men someday die, and that the evil regime holding China's reins would surely subside eventually.  In either case, the North American Union, with its radical redefining (i.e., rescinding) of the Bill of Rights, would advance by huge steps.

This is what comes of trusting people because you never had a daddy and just wanted somebody to love, or because you grew up watching Hollywood fantasies rather than living in reality.  I suggest that we all try to learn some Spanish as soon as possible.  Maybe we can form new alliances with those who will inherit our terminally ill society and wrest power away from the Bushes, the Clintons, and their loathsome hell-bound carpetbagging apologists.  In Spanish culture, at least, one finds a deep respect a) for agriculture and b) for manly virtue.  We need both if anything at all of the West is to survive.


Bigotry, "Racism", Working Stiffs, and the Ruling Elite

Geraldo Rivera has penned a newly released book warning us Americans that our general desire to secure the southern border conceals abhorrent racist tendencies.  I heard this loquacious, perverse, and ever-irritating fixture of our pop-cultural scene interviewed by Laura Ingraham last week, and I have a surprising declaration to make: I believe him to be correct about the rise of bigotry (misnamed racism by himself and others).  BECAUSE people like Geraldo have lobbied for the poor working stiff to subsidize big business (through taxes that pay benefits to sub-minimum-wage employees), working stiffs everywhere are getting really hot under their blue collars.  Not being trained thinkers--being ordinary people with ordinary jobs (the kind our president calls "folks")--these afflicted taxpayers do not fully grasp the influence of the business community's shifty dealings on their shrinking bank accounts.  They little suspect that their elected representatives actually want the nation overrun with insulated tribes who will direct their votes massively on a simple cue--a Mariachi band and a few se puede's at a rally, for instance.  No, our miserable working stiffs just see lines of people with no English and no insurance whenever they go to the emergency room, lines of people with no English and no concern for keeping the aisle clear when they go to the grocery store, lines of people with no English and no regard for the common decency of dress codes when they drop their kids off at school.

And so our poor dumb fellow citizens over-generalize, in just the fashion Geraldo identifies.  Everybody with an Hispanic name or with straight black hair is "one of them".  For a legal, loyal American citizen whose surname ends in "os" or "ez", life is growing a little uncomfortable.  Stares linger in public places which were never aimed and fired before.  All of this, I repeat, has been made possible by Geraldo, by George Bush, by John McCain, by Kay Bailey Hutchison, by Teddy Kennedy, by Al Gore, by Fox News--in short, by the whole sordid, supercilious conglomerate of professional politicians, Ivory Tower opinion-makers, and mega-business shills that has destroyed our republic.  It's a shame, isn't it, Mr. Rivera--Mr. Bush, Ms. Hutchison, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Krystol, Mr. Hume--that these red-necked white men will not smile and greet their swart brethren when you fish into their pockets for money to educate English-less children?  Such nasty, mean-spirited boors!

Why, I will even add my own name to the list of sinners--for I, too, am a dumb Southerner and a coarse Westerner by origin.  My "racist" tendency does not veer down Mexico way, for I grew up in Texas.  I ate Mexican food as a kid, visited grandparents in El Paso, wrote short stories for the school literary journal with lots of Spanish, asked Spanish girls out for dates (well... dreamed about it before I chickened out).  No, the tribe about which I have lately been surprising execrable thoughts in my subconscious mind lately is the Jews.  I have had good Jewish friends, etc., etc.; but during the Bush Administration, I have partially succumbed to insinuations from several quarters that our foreign policy is guided by Zionist influences, and that our domestic policy--as in issues concerning our southern border--particularly aspires to profit certain blue-chip stocks and banking interests wherein the Jewish community owns disproportionate interests.  NAZI!!!  What a horrid suggestion!  What an evil suspicion!  Etc., etc.

Naturally, the Riveras and Krystols and Frums and McCains of this world never have to wrestle with such internal demons.  They simply identify what they want and go at it full tilt, adding spin and inflating factoid along the way to shore up an inexorable advance.  They do not sense the despicable magnetism of bigotry, I think, because they are never stationary.  The entire political-journalistic-financial complex is definitively ambitious--always on the move, never settling in one spot.  Only those with home turf to protect--with a bit of land and a picket fence and a neighborhood school, the insipid Middle American bourgeoisie--feel the pinch when property taxes skyrocket, streets are roved by strangers, and playgrounds are locked down after hours.  They are the ones who are apt to put a face upon fear.  Fear for the Geraldos of the world is a decline in ratings, for the Hutchisons a fall in poll numbers, for the Zuckermans a plummet in circulation.  Fear for them is complexion-less: it dresses in graphs and spread-sheets.

I am increasingly impressed by how much my students of Latin extraction like to discuss ideas, and by how much they value community.  Yes, Mr. President, they are indeed "family values folks".  Now, if all of us could just drive out all of your class beyond some pale--a nice tall fence, perhaps, which would keep Mexican plutocrats at bay on one side and Yankee adventurers at bay on the other--then we might actually create a habitable nation. 


Why the Rich and Powerful Long to Pay More Taxes

Time presses--just a few short notes today.  I am impressed by the equation in this election cycle's rhetoric of raising taxes on the rich with bravely resisting the influence of those same rich.  The assumption is that rich people don't like to write hefty checks to Uncle Sam: a modest enough leap, prima facie.  But NOTHING, my poor suffering fellow Americans, is as it seems in politics.  I have written before in this space of what raising the minimum wage (a sterile gesture to which one presidential hopeful has already pledged himself piously) truly does to the economy, in contrast to what it is perceived as doing.  It drives small businesses into bankruptcy, clearing the field for large businesses to monopolize local markets after a brief lean period; and it drives up the cost of consumer goods over the long haul, so that the "wealthier" day-laborer is soon paying the same percentage of his meager income at the grocery store as he did before.  Under no circumstances is that laborer in fact "wealthier" for more than a few months.

The same applies to taxes in general: it's all a shell game.  Why should the rich object to paying more tax--because it depletes their bank account?  But it doesn't, really--especially in the "spend, spend, spend--only chumps ever save" mentality of our mathematically challenged post-culture.  Give the shack-dwellers a "rebate" (though technically this word cannot describe the return of money never paid, in the first place), and they'll all run out to Circuit City or Crazy Joe's Chrysler/Ford/Plymouth and blow every penny--nay, they will probably plunge themselves deeper into debt than they already are, which is good for the banking industry.  Give them free health care, and you take the pressure off of businesses to pay employee benefits.  Give them a free year of college, and you postpone big business's uncomfortable day of reckoning for awarding both blue-collar and white-collar jobs to foreign nationals.  Whether you actually put money in the churl's pocket or simply ply him with another freebee, he is sure to visit your MegaMart more often in his fatter state and to buy more in his delusion that the fat is genuine.

In the meantime, as with raising the minimum wage, higher taxes also tend to create more sympathy for the rich business owner's claim that he needs to import illegal labor in order to survive.  After all, now that we've tightened his belt, it's only fair that we let out his trousers.  Americans are eminently fair.

Most insidious of all, however, is surely the acceptance of being the "subsidized class" which soaking the rich breeds into the poor.  Once the masses grow accustomed to believing themselves dependent on the raided stashes of the wealthy, they begin to assume the characteristics of children--brat children, to be sure, always nagging and whining for something more.  Yet children, nevertheless: incompetents who must be guided, defenseless weaklings who dive for Big Daddy's coattails at the first sign of real danger.

And this mentality, I submit, is a pearl beyond price if you are both wealthy and full of ambition to be more so (as opposed simply to being wealthy by inheritance: there is much talk about disposing of that class entirely).  Rich people do not always find a very direct way to be very powerful, especially in a republic.  If you can convince the masses, however, that you are the golden goose, susceptible to infinite acts of small pillage as long as you rule the roost, then all political candidates will ultimately be drawn from the ranks of your elite, domestic and foreign policy will be arranged so as to favor your stock portfolio, and all such vain honors and glories as money cannot buy on the open market will be bestowed upon that would-be-God image in your mirror.  All things considered, a 50% tax bracket is a rather small price to pay for owning the world.

So go ahead--vote for one of these clowns who promises to fund your American Dream from the deep pockets of Bill Gates and Warren Buffitt.  Make their day.


The Last Days of Christendom

I have for some time felt that Christendom is dead.  Not Christianity, for the Christian faith lives whenever a single person chooses to conclude that the universe is a benign creation... and I say not "as long as", but "whenever", for an unbroken chain of transmitted doctrine is unnecessary for reaching such a conclusion.  We have "natural lights" that take us there.  Merely physical explanations cannot explain even so much as the physical world.  The philosophers' talk of "atoms", for instance, is mired in insoluble difficulties.  Every perceptible particle is complex in nature, having both an outer shell or wall and an inner "paste": hence every particle must be divisible: the "paste" itself is only "simple" until imported from the realm of conjecture to that of analysis.  Even conjecturally, one cannot think of "paste" very long without deducing that it must either be a vapid, neutral substance which the particle wall just happens to have captured--in which case the particle's interior might as well be a vacuum (but then what produces and maintains the wall?)--or this internal substance must, instead, do things in a manner which dictates the atom's nature.  And in the latter case, the paste, too, must be inner paste and outer paste, not an undifferentiated mass of torpid pudding.

These are the kinds of issue which Aristotle handles in his treatise On Sophistical Refutations .  They do not, of course, lead to the conclusion that a benign creator oversees a self-contradictory physical universe--only that the physical universe cannot ultimately be explained on its own terms.  Faced with the insufficiency of matter, the believer must recognize a compelling need to account for his love of justice, his pangs of conscience, his warming to innocence, his admiration of self-sacrifice, and other such noble motives of his heart.  Cultural relativists can say all they want that these inclinations are mere tribal brainwashing: the fact remains that they are universal, always assertive when present and always sorely missed when absent.  (Few human governments have ever projected a true respect for justice very long: how many cultures have ever projected an indifference to prolonged injustice?)  In short, the uncorrupt heart recognizes a certain magnetism which draws it to opt for faith.  The magnetism abides in mystery, since the choice must be made on insufficient evidence... but evidence is not utterly wanting.  The decision to believe in the soul's eternity and in goodness's dominion is not starkly irrational.  It is the atheist, rather, who opts for the less rational theory, while the agnostic lazily, even stupidly restrains his mind from pondering life's most essential and pressing questions.

Why, then, is "Christendom" today--the secular, institutional form which Christianity has assumed--so romantically infatuated with lunacy?  How has it become an article of faith among the leading Protestant denominations that God's grace is "scandalous", as most of a class of freshmen asserted to me recently?  Would it not be more scandalous to claim that the deeds of one man (i.e., Adam) might "justly" bring condemnation upon a bystander--let alone upon all of his own progeny, per saecula saeculorum?  Is it not, indeed, yet more scandalous to suppose that the author of all goodness would punish the moral lapses of infantile souls the way a bank forecloses on an unpaid mortgage?  Is it anything short of blasphemous?  And if you want a scandal, what about the "believer's" loving insistence upon grotesque, even sadistic images of a writhing, tortured young man (i.e., God incarnate) upon a cross--this as a way of being "put right" with violated moral duty?

I've spent much of my adult life pondering this enigma.  I now think that I have unearthed part of the answer.  What passes for Christianity today is largely hysteria exploited for its irrational energy.  I have decided that we need such energy collectively because we must do morally odious things daily to succeed in our pandering market economy, and subliminal twinges of conscience afflict us.  We must drown sober reflection in ecstasy.  The very basis upon which our material survival is predicated (as I have argued in my latest essay for Praesidium) requires that we lure others to acquire luxuries and trivialities ravenously, even if we ourselves manage to hold somewhat aloof from the squalor of the feeding trough.  We are pimps and prostitutes.  The war in Iraq has yet to kill one-tenth as many of our citizens as die in a year on domestic highways, yet we cringe from the former while encouraging our children to risk mayhem on the latter with graduation-gift sports cars.  The most mendacious and murderous regime of the past century has now bought up most of our national debt, yet we continue to solicit spending on credit while outsourcing gainful employment to that same evil empire.  Our life is a lie: our national life is a collective lie, and our personal lives are seldom in better shape.  Things are falling apart all around us, and we only hasten our suicidal gyrations that we may drive bothersome self-scrutiny from our heads.

Hence the whirling dervish that the contemporary Christian has become.  While there is no rational ground to suppose that this conduct is either morally satisfactory or pragmatically well advised, if we are filled with spirit, we may yet sally forth to do more of the same next week--and with gusto.  The recipe for manufacturing spirit requires a large group packed into a small space and incited by an emotion so excessive that any normal person, confronting it singly, would turn his head away in something like decency.  Various ingredients can be used to catalyze this emotion: images of bloody agony, wailing or tearful confessions, plangent music supplemented by swaying bodies, screaming denunciations amplified by loudspeakers, swooning sinners "sacrificed" before the altar... stir in one or more of these amid an oppressive atmosphere upon which all doors have been sealed, all windows shut, and you induce the phenomenon of mass hysteria.  Primitive warriors sometimes rushed eagerly to their death after such a "pumping up": contemporary crowds sometimes tear soccer stadiums apart because of it.  Once you "feel the power", you barrel right ahead into your work week, so irrationally exhilarated that you may in fact accomplish feats--sell cars, hustle clients, win promotions--with a degree of success you have never known before.  Such triumphs occupy a place on the growing list of "what Jesus has done for you".  You do not morally examine any of them, it goes without saying, because to do so would be to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.  You just keep riding the wave, going back for a renewal of your "spiritual fix" every Sunday morning, and even every Wednesday evening.  With the best of intentions, you also recruit others to "come to Jesus", because the fix requires a packed house--packed to the roof beams.  Worshiping God outside of the sanctuary's four throbbing walls has become as incomprehensible to you as a witchdoctor's ceremony would be to him without a drum, a fire, and a little blood.

So this is where we are.  To be sure, hysteria has always haunted the fringes of Christian worship; and perhaps the Church's intellectuals, aware that the rank and file cannot believe by mind alone, have allowed and encouraged the Dionysiac at times in the hope of stirring in a thought here, a thought there.  But the pot has now boiled over: thoughts are instantly vaporized when they stray into its steam.  Hordes of very misguided people prosecute very misguided lives in a euphoric confidence that no outrage they commit will go punished nor any material fruit of that outrage unharvested... and our nation, almost as one, hurls itself over the edge with delighted squeals, as if the abyss were a ride at the amusement park.


The Presidency--Just Another Superbowl

I was never very attracted to the late Carl Sagan's style.  When his series Cosmos aired on PBS about three decades ago, phrases like "we are all the stuff of stars" and "billions and billions of stars" found their way into popular parlance, usually with a strong dose of parody.  Carl's face was also rather too much in evidence throughout the serial, as if to imply that no star could ever be quite far enough to get us away from its cocky smile of enlightenment--the sort of ubiquity once attributed to God.

But when my freshmen classes read one of Sagan's essays this past week, I found certain students railing against his defense of chimp intelligence for the wrong reasons.  No doubt, if the point of demonstrating that higher primates give strong hint of possessing deductive abilities, memory, and feelings were to devaluate us humans on the other slope as smelly bags of guts, then the exercise would be suspicious.  Awarding animals the right to sue will bring people a little closer to cages... I understand that.  I wish that science's critics also did, however--I wish that they would not simply content themselves with a couple of Bible passages, pulled from all textual and cultural context, which are read "literally" as licensing us to do as we please with all fur-bearing critters.  I wish that so many of those who ostentatiously style themselves Christians these days would less often memorize passages and more often think about moral implications and consequences.

Yet so it is: we live in an age of rapidly advancing tribalism.  The shibboleth is all.  The tribe hath its special ways, written in some sacred book or carved on some sacred stone or entrusted to some holy medicine man.  That these ways should be logically coherent and based in natural reason is, indeed, unreasonable in view of the tribe's objectives: i.e., to exact abject obedience of followers to The Code, to learn and preserve the body of Gnostic Signs and Symbols, and generally to enforce the boundary between self and other by keeping it mysteriously arbitrary.  For the ultimate objective of the tribe is simply to be different, distinct, isolated, chosen, unto itself, "us-not-them".  It is to deactivate the natural and rational human inclination--the universally recognized and freely accepted duty--to treat others as we would be treated.  Tribalism is the first step to mobilizing fascist movements, to exterminating rival gangs, to conducting ethnic purges.  It is the fast track to power--for humanity inhibits powerful displays.

The current cycle of presidential primaries, whose ratcheting forward in time was itself a highly effective bid for manipulative power, has become a study in emerging tribalism.  Women vote for Hillary.  Blacks vote for Baraque.  Black women face a tough choice, but go one of two ways.  "Needy" people who view themselves as victims but respond neither to the gender nor the ethic identification (a small group, it turns out) vote for the class-action lawsuit artist Edwards.  Hispanics vote for Richardson (but he seems to have entered the fray too late, or to have been too neglected by the wired-and-groomed professional jabberers).  People who go to work in suits vote for Romney.  Seniors and veterans vote for McCain.  Fundamentalists vote for Huckaby.  Do-my-own-thing city-slickers who want armed rogues put away permanently voted for Rudy while he lasted... but there were shockingly few of these.

The few who sought consistent platforms built upon considered assumptions voted for various bland white males--Daschle, Tancredo, Hunter--who never exited the starting gate.  The candidate who refuses to wear feathers and war paint, it seems, had better just stay on the reservation from now own.  Ron Paul, alas, appears to be finding himself in an unsteady and unenviable position upon the shoulders of radical libertarians and secessionists--the tribe of the Category-Resistant Marginal with which I myself often identify, but which nonetheless reveals itself to be all too tribal in its aversion to cutting deals.

The McCain phenomenon is much the most discordant sound among these rivaling paeans and ululations from variously armed-and-feathered clans.  The very people who wrote their congressmen to protest the summer's nefarious amnesty bill are now identifying right out of the woodwork with Maverick John, who just happens to have been the bill's co-author.  The wired-and-groomed babblers who frowned over Bush's troop surge and urged Democratic candidates to deplore the current regime's militarism are also leaping for a seat on the McCain bandwagon, though Maverick John is even more hawkish than Dubbya.  That so many people should be able to deny what they once called "passionately held" convictions perhaps proves that they do indeed have a history of being convinced by bursts of undisciplined passion rather than by reason.  In other words, they are behaving like spoiled children, unfathomable lunatics, or outright idiots.

The "hero" column on McCain's résumé bothers me most of all, in a purely moral sense.  I would never hold any of the young men of my generation responsible for being plunged into Vietnam and doing whatever was necessary--usually without clear orders and on no sleep--to survive.  But McCain had chosen the elite existence of a pilot.  He was plenty savvy enough to know that the napalm spilled massively from his and other aircraft inflicted an anguishing death upon the women and children grubbing a meager livelihood from the vegetation below him.  The crews that dropped the two A-bombs over Japan, in contrast, had no idea what to expect, and in any case were trying to spare their countrymen the invasion of a brutally imperialist nation whose denizens had vowed to fight to the last pair of hands.  There was no such clarity in Nam.  The Chinese were propping up one side for their own ends, we the other for our own ends, and a wretched, starving peasantry was caught in between.  The South Vietnamese premier Nguyen Cao Ky repeatedly told Oriana Fallaci in interviews (Nothing... And That's the Way It Is) that he expected to be assassinated by members of his own corrupt government.  This chapter of our national history was nightmarish, and feeling sorry for John McCain because he was beaten half to death by his jailers is fully appropriate... but I believe we should exact more from the word "hero".  I feel sorry, too, when a convicted felon is raped, stabbed, or murdered in one of our own dysfunctional prisons.  Yet the jailers in these cases are not sons and brothers and fathers who have watched their fathers and brothers and sons melt and asphyxiate under a poisonous cloud.  If someone in a shiny silver jet built by the world's wealthiest nation dissolved my son before my eyes and was later hauled out of his cockpit alive, I doubt that he would ever reach a prison--not in my custody.

Of course, I'm not yellow-skinned, and the VC were communists, to boot (also believing Catholics, in many cases--but let's not muddy up the picture).  And when McCain pursues dastardly villains into Iran with all the firepower at his disposal, I will not have acquired browner skin or have converted to Islam... so I should just wake up and check my feathers.  I should forget about common humanity and vote my tribe.  Or how about voting for Obama just to prove to myself that I am not a tribalist--the tribalism of counter-tribalism?  Or how about just voting for McCain because Romney is a Mormon, and those guys keep knocking your Christian faith and practicing polygamy and displaying other Satanic behavior?  I want to be wooed.  I want someone to come to my church or nursing home and shake my hand, to fake my regional accent convincingly, to dance to my tribal tom-tom even if he's had to learn the steps on a touring bus.  I want to be Number One--I want my team to win!

You poor idiots.  And the worst of it is that the children always end up paying the supreme price, as they did under the forest canopy of Vietnam.


Post-Literacy: Not a Good Week, Not a Good Epoch

It's hard to be a writer these days.  You keep looking over your shoulder at rising food costs, rising gas costs, rising tuition for your children... wondering when your part-time and temporary employment will dry up,  wondering when the slop which passes for writing will become coined so widely that your little triumphs of diction and prosody will turn non-negotiable... asking yourself, in short, if it wouldn't be better just to sell baseball cards over the Net.  I have a '62 Willie Mays in mint condition.  Do I hear a thousand bucks?  How about five hundred?

Books, they say, are booming.  Well, yes and no.  I published a novel about three years ago through an on-demand operation with strong online endorsements.  I have reported my venture's results in this space before, but I don't think I added the detail of my final "experiment".  Having found about three dozen copies of Footprints in the Snow of the Moon on sale among Internet used-book dealers, yet having been assured by my publisher that only TWO copies had ever been produced and sold, I informed him that I would test Amazon's honesty by ordering a copy myself to see if the sale reached his records.  Sure enough, at the end of the next quarter, I had now sold THREE copies... except that I never ordered the book!   What appears to be "booming", therefore, behind all this magnified and accelerated production of titles is the feeding activity of various high-tech vultures well practiced in exploiting the Internet's personal anonymity and operational opacity.  That's not exactly a sign of literary renaissance.

Meanwhile, as online shysters sell their wormy souls for what can only be marginal profits, other authors make big bucks writing about... oh, how to get rich in various ways, how to survive the dating game, how to foresee the future, how to control the future through "power prayer"...  If this is literacy, then we were better off in the trees.  In exploring the possibility of creating "e-books" (whatever they may be) to offer at, I chanced upon this formula for success in the genre--published online, of course: "The writing style you use should be similar to that of your emails or web site. Keep it light, short paragraphs and sentences, and lots of white space [sic--this seems to be an attempt at a three-item list]. Writing is just 'harder [sic] to read on a computer screen, so don't let people get bogged down by [sic] it."  I stress to you that this linguistic meltdown is the product of a successful professional advising others on how to write in new media.  My friends, it is ending.  The Age of Gutenberg is... is not even history, because history necessarily implies records written and read; no, literacy has been vaporized, consigned to oblivion.  It might as well never have existed.

In these deeply troubled times, when 80% of the populace protests in the summer that it will not swallow an amnesty bill and then rushes that winter to endorse the bill's authors, the major media outlets have perhaps correctly judged that the only news worth reporting on Tuesday morning was some Hollywood award ceremony or other.  (Pardon my utter indifference, which extends even to doing a moment's research for the proper name.)  As I prepared for my temporary job early that bright day, the only news broadcast I could find which had not dedicated itself to a panel discussion of Tinsel Town nominees was Telemundo, in Spanish--and there the hostess was learning from a curandera with a crystal ball about how to establish a mystical E.T.A. for your life's true love.

This is our future: running to fortune-tellers, peddling "books" with lots of white space, gossiping about porn stars, and forgetting what happened yesterday as we vote on which hands will receive the keys to our nuclear arsenal.  We're done.  It's over.

And then I ask myself for the umpteenth time, "For the sake of our children, what will be the best strategy for survival among the ruins?"  My Spanish will not get me very far, because I'm the wrong race, and the "guest workers" in our community pretend not to understand me unless I have something they want.  No translating jobs there.  Maybe I should accelerate my Russian lessons.  Anything but play ball with the Chinese--better to die than that.  Meanwhile, we continue to let the most evil regime in modern history (for those of us who read, and remember Mao) buy up our debt as we exhaust our resources upon fighting some nasty little Boy Scouts who were able to steer a few jets into a few buildings because our bureaucratized security systems don't work.  Let those of us who still choose to think try to keep our heads, for the sake of the children.  For one can live in rubble, if one thinks.


Rule by Gold: Neo-Cons Bring Sin Out of the Closet

Four or five years ago, I would scratch my head every time I heard the coinage, "neo-conservative".  The word penetrated public life very slowly, well after it had saturated the East Coast elite of politicians and journalists.  Sensible, informed citizens continue to ask me to this day for the term's definition.  Of course, I begin by explaining that it largely undermines the purpose of words, since it bundles together a set of positions having nothing whatever to do with conserving anything whatever EXCEPT for a) Israel's military supremacy throughout the Middle East, and b) the profit margin of the heavily invested class.  This formula is neither a bon mot nor is it of my own creation.  In fact, when first exposed to it, I balked at the tinge of anti-Semitism.  Yet it turns out that one need not be Jewish to be an aggressive Zionist: an attraction to the foreign and economic policies implicit in thrusting Israel forward (specifically, wringing inexhaustible supplies of cheap oil from the Third World) is quite sufficient to make even the most worldly, high-rolling, nihilistic playboy a pious neo-con.

Still dubious?  If the content and style of Fox News do not win you over, grab a few copies of U. S. News & World Report.  Printed accounts stabilize ideas and images for lengthy evaluation, and one can return to a print story much more readily, in my view, than one can rewind and replay desired portions of broadcasts.  (And then, who ever records a news broadcast?  By the time you realize that something very fishy was just uttered, it's too late to reach for the stick.)  The January 14 edition of U. S. News, particularly, is devoted to the proposition that the bull market may be ending.  ("Is the Party Over?" reads the front cover; and, in red letters, it announces "Investing Guide 2008" as among its contents.)  Editor-in-Chief Mort Zuckerman, for once, does not conclude the edition with some diplomatically phrased gem--"push here but not too hard, be firm but not ruthless, stay for the long haul"--supporting our persistent immersion in Middle Eastern affairs.  The rest of this ever-thinning "news outlet", however, reads like a litany of neo-con slogans.  "Keep competition high," reads one section-heading in bold--code for not clamping down on outsourcing.  A former Clinton advisor is quoted in praise of "opening up all sorts of sections of the economy to increased competition", which is hardly a very Clintonesque crusade unless we subscribe to it undertakings like NAFTA.  Nothing in the article, certainly, counsels such constraints upon multi-national corporations as would allow small businesses to flourish once again at a local level.  That variety of competition must be allowed to perish through... competition--in the same way, I suppose, as truly skilled baseball players have given up their jobs to steroid-users in recent years.  It ain't cheating if they don't catch you... and the kind of "competition" favored by U. S. News knows no boundaries this side of a subpoena.

Staff writer Katy Marquardt assures us when mentioning Europe's plunging birth rate that "there is good news here."  She quotes a Paul Sutherland, "manager of the Utopia funds", as opining that "immigration... will probably be the salvation of Europe."  Economic salvation, they apparently mean--as in rising dividends.  Neighborhoods will be at a slow burn, women with uncovered heads will be spat on in the streets, homosexuals will be found beaten to a pulp in accordance with Shari'a law, Balzac and Leopardi and Goethe will be studied only on certain campuses in America... but cheap unskilled labor will be pouring in to man industry, and a "happy" new Europe (supported by happy investors, at any rate) will settle into the black.

If, that is, we can only convince Europeans to start spending all their loose change until they're living on credit, they way we do.  Another of Marquardt's expert witnesses, "George Greig, manager of two international funds at William Blair", is disturbed that "spending remains subdued" in many European countries.  Europeans must understand that they need more wide-screen hi-def TVs, more iPods, more cell phones, more GAOs, more laptops, more PlayStations, more satellite dishes, more robotic vacuum cleaners.  They must be brought to recognize the great gap in their current lives.  We must make believers of them.  We must convert them to our cult of ravenous consumption, just as our President and High Priest of Democracy dangled before us this week an $800 tax rebate so that we would go forth and spend more.

USNWR seems to be almost 50% advertisements these days.  Somewhat ironically (because the juxtaposition is so very apt, yet surely undeliberated), an ad for investing in gold faces Marquardt's text.  Neo-con radio babblers are also fond of pushing gold, I've noticed.  The uninitiated should realize two things about this kind of investment, however.  One is that the direct purchase of gold provides no assistance to our economy whatever--indeed, it pulls money out of investment in struggling new enterprises.  (Likewise, President Bush's exhortation to be fruitful and spend only rewards the proliferation of "trash products" gobbled up by undisciplined consumers: it actually siphons away potential investment in such vital social needs as new energy sources.)  The other problem with gold is that you must sink a great deal of money to make the short-term risk and the long wait implicit in its purchase sensible and profitable.  Such investments are for those who are already rolling in dough.

Is there a bit of class envy in that last remark?  Why should I denominate as a "problem" an opportunity open only to the very wealthy?  Because there comes a point, it seems to me, when riches cause one to cease thinking as a citizen.  I believe that a great many neo-conservatives have reached this point.  They confuse what's good for their investment portfolio as what's good for the country.  Since America is all about capitalism, and capitalism is all about making money, they can't imagine why passing up lucrative deals should be anything less than un-American.  Language, culture, public health, safety on the streets... all of these are negotiable, if not entirely dispensable.  But a chance to make a big killing doesn't come every day.

I don't see any reason to equate this kind of thing with being Jewish, or being Christian.  On the contrary, a bonafide Jew or Christian would run full speed from it.  It is the loathsome ethos of the constitutional traitor--the Judas, the Benedict Arnold.  And by such are we now ruled.


The "War Against Evil": Insanity Compounded

I have written before--and I continue to maintain--that a disastrously muddled foreign policy will play a major part in fracturing any coalition this election cycle which tries to call itself conservative.  Just before the New Hampshire Beauty Pageant this week, I endured the misery of hearing talk-radio diva Laura Ingraham's attempt to interview Ron Paul.  I like Laura.  As radio hosts go, she has always struck me as the one least given to clowning around and in possession of the highest intellectual credentials.  But her taut tone, scarcely restrained from an attack-mode fury, was painful to listen to.  Representative Paul did a heroic job of modulating his own voice and clinging to his points despite constant interruption and near-shouting scorn--I certainly could not have displayed his coolness myself under such a mitraillage.  The acerbity of Ingraham's "interview" forced me to ponder for the umpteenth time why people who style themselves conservative--and who indeed model a "steady as you go, be careful what you wish for" position on other issues--are so maniacally hell-bent on expunging the last trace of Islamic terrorism from the planet by a show of overwhelming force.

Let us use Laura as a test case and examine her platform, plank by plank.  She challenged Paul's assertion that Islamic terrorists are uniquely targeting the U. S. and its interests.  Her point?  That this is not a paramilitary response to a specific political entity or its policies--it is the effervescence of evil doctrine into evil actions.  Indiscriminate murder, icily premeditated and even timed to produce maximal carnage, does indeed have the look of evil.  The point is quite defensible.

Whence the doctrine, then?  Does its inhuman rigor arise from genetic identity, from climatic conditions, from cultural or political institutions, from Koranic teaching, or from a certain interpretation of certain Koranic passages?  Ms. Ingraham has consistently advanced the second-to-last view on her show (through her choice of guests as well as through her own utterances): i.e., that the Koran itself counsels ruthless, brutal behavior at several turns.  This at once squeezes our civilization's options in a suffocatingly tight box.  We are to combat evil, and that evil stems from a holy book revered by tens of millions of people around the world.  Are we not, as moral crusaders, therefore faced with nothing less than the total "conversion of the heathen"?  If Islamic societies keep churning out suicide bombers, and they do so because they are Islamic, and we intend to halt the practice cold, then obviously there must be no more Islam.  We must eradicate the entire faith, or at least edit the Koran so that all evil doctrine vanishes without a trace; and we must induce all the Islamic faithful to acquiesce in this Stalin-like feat of ideological engineering.

Already, as you see, the phrase repeated like a rosary on Laura's show--winning the war in Iraq--becomes all but absurd; for declining body counts are doing and will do nothing very direct or coherent to turn Muslims from Islam.  Could there possibly be an indirect effect?  The Bush Administration thinks so.  ("We seek more than to defend ourselves," soared our utopian duce this week.  "We seek lasting peace.")  The evolving objective--once Saddam's government had been toppled, leaving a predictable yet unforeseen social chaos-- was a) to make Iraqis more secular through political participation and free-market economics, and b) to entice the rest of the Islamic world to follow suit of its own accord.  And, to be sure, clear historical links exist between representative government and human rights, between private property and human rights: the individual, as a voter, a citizen, a buyer, and a producer, occupies more of the cultural focus.  Koranic teaching, which is typically oral-traditional (Mohammed himself was illiterate), does not concede this focus.  Change politics and the economy, and you might just subvert the faith.

At least two problems bob to the surface, however--the one pragmatic, the other moral.  First, how do you work this transformation in a few years and at gunpoint?  The word "unlikely" would be charitable in describing the chances of wrenching a highly traditional culture into the high-tech Western lifestyle within a generation or two, let alone within half a decade.  An American may counter triumphantly that he has either forgotten or discarded every one of his grandfather's dearly held values, and I personally would take him at his word.  But we Americans are probably the least traditional people the world has ever seen--and it must be said, besides, that our "triumph" of incessant going, fractured neighborhoods, imbecilic diversions, and murderous egocentrism (how many World Trade Centers would have to fall to equal our annual abortion rate?) expresses an opposition to evil insufficient to license subversion of rival cultures.

Which leads us to the second problem: we do not have the moral authority to burst into other people's houses and rearrange their furniture.  The undertaking is prima facie repugnant.  If we are persuaded as Christians that God's love is superior to Allah's arbitrary will as told to Mohammed, then let us bear testimony to that love in ways which are its own ways.  Ron Paul emphasizes that our Iraqi adventure is unconstitutional and ruinous to our long-term national interest, since he rightly perceives that sermonizing is not appropriate to his role.  Yet the moral prohibition is always decisive to men and women of good will--for other calculations are subject to circumstantial adjustment, but right is right, even if one must die for it.

Dying for one's beliefs... herein, I think, is the fatal land mine along Laura Ingraham's personal pilgrimage, and the parallel treks of so many American voters.  Ingraham's most naked moment at the mike with Paul came when she badgered, "Have you visited the troops in Iraq?  Have you?  Have you been to Iraq?"  Laura has indeed been to Iraq--several times.  When you see and talk to people who have carried their comrades away in pieces on stretchers, you suffer a high-impact collision with a great many emotions.  Perhaps the dominant among these is guilt.  You think, "Why them and not me?  They're losing arms and legs while I'm sipping coffee in front of the TV."  This guilt impels you to adopt the cause of those in harm's way: if you can't carry their rifle for them, you can at least recite the narrative publicly which magnifies their heroism.  It's the next-best thing to getting shot at.

But good men and women have died for bad causes.  Heinrich Böll was a good man, but he wore a Nazi uniform.  A lot of boys his age did the "manly" and "heroic" thing, as defined by their time and their ailing society.  I am not comparing our mission in Iraq with the Nazi occupation of Europe: I am saying that noble people sometimes die bravely for unworthy objectives.  (Is every Al Qaeda recruit evil rather than misguided?  Were there not a few good but gullible boys who delivered bombs for the Irish Republican Army?)  Paul countered Ingraham's question--finally, when he was allowed to speak--by remarking, "I don't have to go to Iraq to read the U .S. Constitution."  Our soldiers know what local informants are least trustworthy, what neighborhoods are most dangerous, what parked vehicles look suspicious, what gifts Iraqi children most like to receive.  They do NOT know whether twelve hundred years of Koranic tradition or three millennia of regional rivalries can be erased by cable TV and McDonald's, whether a democratic Iraq without American overseers will refrain from promptly electing a theocracy, or whether Islamic boys in search--like them--of a noble cause will stop enrolling in Al Qaeda if membership grows more dangerous.  They probably believe that their labors are having such effects: one certainly hopes, given the magnitude of their sacrifice, that they are not cynically and fearfully marking time as the boys of my generation did in Vietnam.  But supporting the troops does not require us to underwrite their eighteen- or twenty-year-old understanding of history and world politics.  It requires us to give them the best chance of survival while we figure out behind the lines--as wiser, more mature, less heroic long-term survivors of a sad world--whether the risk is justified.

We saw Hillary break into tears this week, apparently to be rewarded for it.  I am afraid that well-meaning people like Laura Ingraham have been suffering a nervous breakdown beneath the surface in their impotence to mitigate the physical risks of self-sacrificing young people, and have leaked their frustration in less histrionic--but no less plangent--ways.  We cannot afford a future ruled by "passion", the favorite feel-good word of our time.  Passion turns sane people into lunatics, and lunacy sets civilizations ablaze.  The day after her frenetic interview, Laura let slip a passing mention that Ron Paul had been quoted on a fly-by-night website as calling Martin Luther King, Jr., a pedophile--and then she quickly, sententiously murmured that the site's credibility was weak and the allegations unexplored.  It was a Huckabee moment, one might say (when you recite before a large audience the reproaches which you have decided not to unleash upon your adversary).  It was the cheapest of cheap shots... but then, this is what happens when you can't get maimed bodies out of your head.

Unfortunately, therapy which muddles issues that demand rational address leaves the patient feeling better at the rest of the hospital's expense.  We cannot afford to keep channeling our internal failures out upon the rest of the world.


Happy What? Only the Calendar Has Changed

To me, the year doesn't seem very new.  On the contrary, I have never known a year to look so "old already".  The info-tainment industry was predictably dedicated this week for the task of persuading us all that primary season is of the utmost importance--something "rich and strange" like an unopened Christmas package.  The biggest story about all this pageantry is that the highly engineered effort to create a pageant has indeed produced a series of events impacting our political process in a major way--and that, my dears, is not good news.  The will of people in states like Iowa and New Hampshire should, at this point, have a negligible effect upon our next presidential election: not no effect at all, but a negligible one.  Because of this media-created-and-sustained political play-off, however, candidates must now contend with the popular perception that they have or have not "momentum" as the beauty contest moves from the Grain Belt to the Avant-Garde Northeast to the Poor South.  For the perception has acquired its own reality, as perceptions always do in the age of electronic media: candidates who appear to struggle in the first round or two will find no contributions coming their way, and will be forced to shut down.

Of course, this is more than a travesty of the election cycle proper to a democratic republic.  It's something very close to political subversion--with a stronger element of intent, it would be treasonous.  Among the many, many ways in which we are ruining our country or watching it be ruined by our various handlers, here's yet another.  For some time, I have had a solution to the problem.  It goes like this: introduce a simple amendment to the Constitution which requires both parties to produce a new candidate for president when the election fails to draw 60% of registered voters to the polls.  We who truly care about our nation's leadership (as opposed to we who want a Führer, a Rock Star, a sexpot, a superstar, or a really-cool-and-funny-wacko to control the planet's largest nuclear arsenal for four years) would then enjoy the option of staying home in protest.  No more voting for the lesser of two evils--a particularly unsavory task when neither evil is notably less than the other.

In fact, there is grave risk in voting for your party's choice just because "the other" will be even worse.  Republicans, especially, should know: they are yet in the very painful midst of an object lesson.  For when a party's candidate wins the presidency, its congressional representatives are expected to line up behind the new leader's agenda: proposals that would have been shouted down if an executive from the aisle's other side had floated them must now be supported.  The Republican of today, sobered by an agonizing decade of George Bush, should consider carefully if he or she would rather see a McCain or a Giuliani throwing open our borders and picking off targets for Israel around the world or a Clinton or Obama squabbling constantly with Congress and having to proceed very, very slowly as a result.  The next best thing to staying home on election day and forcing a complete re-match might well be to ignore the presidential race and vote with the utmost seriousness for a senator and a representative.

This morning I read a column by the ever-jaundiced Paul Craig Roberts extolling a book by Mearsheimer and Walt titled The Israeli Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy.  Roberts has loathed Mr. Bush from the start; and while I understand the passion of his antipathy better every day, it also leaves me faintly suspicious.  If advocates of an expansionist Israeli foreign policy really do hold undue sway over our elected officials, however, the otherwise inscrutable decisions of this administration over the past five years would suddenly make a lot of sense.  This all worries me very much.  I used to dismiss it out of hand--as I did the whispers about a North American Union--as the self-delighting horror of conspiracy buffs.  Yet the evidence that major judgments determining our civilization's future are reached as a result of just such cloak-and-dagger conniving has mounted to a critical mass.

And while Rome burns, Cokie Roberts compliments Mike Huckabee on his guitar-playing..


Last Post of 2007

A Very Sobering Forecast for a Very Dangerous Year

The talking heads are abuzz with primaries--and, as usual, we all tend to follow their lead in accepting this barrel race of political nags as the day's top story.  After all, we have other things to do--especially at this time of year--than to think about the world; and what, indeed, could we possibly know of the world in Dubuque or Savannah or Toledo?

I put it to you, however, that there are only two issues of consequence, and that the field of probable candidates already assures that no effective position will be taken on either.  The securing of our borders will proceed when and if we force our local representatives to acknowledge our will--and I am by no means as sure that the "we" in this formulation enjoys the solidarity which I would have ascribed to it a few weeks ago.  Exactly how many of "us" actually stand to profit from our society's being immersed in naive, semi-literate masses with wads of dollar bills in their frayed pockets?  How many car salesmen, insurance salesmen, lawyers, landlords, fast-food merchants, peddlers of cable TV, etc., etc., are making a rich killing off of this immense migration of undiscriminating consumers--of suckers, as P. T. Barnum would have called them?  A lot of gringos  are apparently depending on this checkout-counter cannon fodder to continue pouring in.

For the number of remarkably affluent people rises steadily, even as the gap between the haves and have-nots also widens ominously.  A certain talking head this morning described my own economic class--those who make under $50,000 a year (I've never come very close to 40 grand)--as "poor and uneducated".  My wife and I discussed the assumption briefly, in consequence of which I realized (thanks to her exposure to office gossip) that many among our circle without so much as a college degree receive twice our annual income, thanks to unionization.  Small wonder that businesses are outsourcing jobs, or hiring employees illegally to fill domestic positions, when a chap who takes sick days galore and chatters around the coffee pot demands over thirty bucks an hour--with benefits!  Much of what the average American does isn't worth the pay he draws for it.  You might say, even, that the income shift is at least somewhat owed to the successes of managerial types at purging their operations of deadwood--for which they themselves, of course, enjoy generous raises.

Hillary?  Barack?  Mitt?  Rudy?  Who cares?  What does it matter, as long as we ourselves cannot muster the decency to defend our communities and our culture rather than swarming over opportunities to cash in the way vultures swarm a carcass?  The problem is ourselves.  We are rotting from the inside out; and if you think that any of the candidates above, all of his or her wishy-washy bromides to various audiences having been discounted, does not essentially look forward to expanding the nanny state while throwing our neighborhoods open to profiteers, then I fear very much that you're clinging to an archaic notion of principled party distinctions.

The other issue, of course, is international affairs.  I was somewhat ridiculed a few weeks ago for maintaining that the condition of Iraq continues to be of great concern; but it is indeed of concern to thoughtful people who do not suppose that a decline in "blood stats" signals anything other than Al Qaeda's recognition--finally (their leadership is notoriously unfocused)--of the benefits of waiting.  Give the Americans a few quiet months to declare victory and go away... then back to work.  More than one commentator this week has interpreted the Bhuto assassination, in fact, as a sign that Al Qaeda has decided to play on the other side of the street; and, naturally--this commentator being a neo-conservative--the conclusion drawn was that we must now shift our immersion in foreign affairs back to Pakistan.  "The War on Terror will never end," the pundit opined, "so we have to be constantly ready to go anywhere."

Right premise, wrong conclusion.  Actually, this "war" is so old that it never really began.  Cambyses, the mad king of Egypt, once had the noses cut off of an entire population which had resisted his tyranny; and, in striving unsuccessfully to cross the Sahara so that he might similarly chide other recalcitrants, he ordered his troops to begin eating each other for want of provisions.  There's something about the weather in this part of the world... or maybe the terrain.  Progress is not always possible.  Liberals have conventionally been the political persuasion incapable of grasping this: now the people who call themselves conservatives have joined a March to Perfection every bit as mad at that of Cambyses across the Libyan wastes.  We can seek by various means to inform savage peoples of other options and to reward them for exercising humanity.  (Recruiting them to consume more Big Macs and SUVs is not the way to do this, by the way.)  We have no moral right, however, to rearrange their entire culture and reinterpret their age-old traditions the way liberal social-engineers attempted to remodel Middle American values in the seventies through forced bussing.  In fact, we have a moral obligation to bug off.

Ironically, it is the Democratic field which is more likely to produce a candidate committed to extricating us from from this World Reeducation Project.  One wonders if the Democrats truly understand how perilously close they are coming to picking up the dropped and trampled banner of the Right.  No doubt, they will not put up much opposition once they figure out--finally (for their leadership is as befuddled as Al Qaeda's)--that foreign wars are bankrupting us, which will force the North American Union down the electorate's throat, which will create boundless new masses of easily led and mutually unintelligible voting blocks, which will fuel something very like a hereditary ruling class.  Indeed, look for Mr. Bush to pull a new war with Iran out of his sombrero this summer in hopes of having his presidency extended to meet the "crisis".  And, no, the Democrats will not be at all receptive to that proposition... but the consolation prize for either side, whichever wins the particular battle, will be an NAU to prop up the collapsed dollar.  It's already in the works: 2008 is to see the definitive first steps in the dismantling of the American republic.

War... crisis... unconstitutional measures rendered "necessary"... a new empire for the oil barons, the dot-com barons, the real-estate barons....  It's time to rediscover your religious faith, if you have any.  If not, it's time to get some.  For the hopes that you place in this world will invariably be frustrated by greed, egotism, and massive folly.  Otherwise... otherwise, choose your congressional representatives very carefully, for in them will rest our one realistic hope of repelling an arrogant oligarchy.


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