29 June 2015

MEANWHILE IN THE REST OF THE WORLD......



While people in the US have been preoccupied with domestic concerns there are ominous clouds gathering in the rest of the world. There is the fiscal crisis in Greece which will be addressed separately, three terrorist attacks in different places on the same day, ongoing slaughter by ISIS that has now apparently become too routine to report on it, mischief making by Vladimir Putin, and worst of all, the turn things have taken with the Iranian nuclear talks. Normally there might be good reasons for the US to take some action on all these fronts, but with the possible exception of Greece, at this point in time we are better off doing nothing than acting due to the fecklessness and incompetence of this administration. 

It increasingly appears as though they are caving in to the Iranian ayatollahs in the nuclear talks. It is just unbelievable that a French Socialist government is taking a harder, more realistic line with regard to Iranian nukes than the US because they are concerned that this administration is going to give away the store. What does it tell us, when the Europeans, for the first time in memory, are taking a harder line than the US? Meanwhile Israel is in the doghouse due to contempt for Netanyahu, who increasingly is being proven to have been right all along. No deal is better than this deal. All other missteps are containable and remediable, but not when it comes to increasing the chance of blowing up the world. 

Also ominous is the the massacre of 38 European tourists in a Tunisian resort, because of the terrible impact one evil actor can have on a country’s economy. Tourists are leaving, canceling trips as a result of this seriously damaging the country’s economy, and harming all those poor people who work in that field. The Tunisians I have interacted with have all been good and gracious individuals, identify with the modern world, and simply want the opportunity freely live in it like everyone else. They don’t deserve this. 

With regard to terrorism, we should remain vigilant, but hold off any significant action until this administration leaves office. It makes a lot more sense to hold your fire than to mobilize action under an incompetent command. This is clearly no longer our problem, but the entire world’s. From Europe to Russia to Arabia to India to China to Africa and beyond, we are all in the same position, and fortunately on the same side, something we unfortunately have failed to make any use of to any significant degree, but if properly approached would go a long way towards putting an end to this. This is something the President could and should have pulled off, given the expectations and good will he had coming into office, but instead of utilizing that credit to pull everyone together on this, he went around the world disparaging his own country, apologizing to Muslims who did not ask for it, criticizing Christians, sowing more division and chaos, and achieving even lower US standing the world than his demonized predecessor. He has also improbably managed to enable Vladimir Putin to represent himself as a more plausible beacon of western tradition. 


Americans, at least those who are politically concerned, waste an undue amount of time and energy contesting domestic issues that the President actually does not have much power over. It is in foreign affairs that the President wields more power and can determine the direction of things, sometimes for better, be just as often for worse. Policy is no doubt important, but not as much as competence, which has been in pretty short supply, not just in this one but over the past few administrations.

27 June 2015

US SUPREME COURT DECISIONS 2015

The US Supreme Court dropped a number of bombshells in its current session that have caused elation among some and provoked outrage among others, but how this all will play out depends on how the political class conducts itself, and there the record is mixed. The two decisions that involve sharp political differences got all the attention, but the worst was actually the one that basically said that the government can declare discrimination even where there is no discrimination. That means the government can redefine reality as it wishes, which is rather totalitarian notion that could destroy individual autonomy. 

With regard pretty much ratifying Obamacare, there is little Republicans can do about it now, at least as far its overall purpose of enabling health care for everyone. If it is repealed it has to be replaced by something else that accomplishes the same thing. The way it was passed was stupid, its detail awful, and its implementation inept. That said the only options now remaining are to come up with something else or to improve its many flaws. It has cost me a few thousand personally by putting a really stupid limit on Medical Savings Accounts, but that is the sort of thing that can be tweaked and is what Republicans should focus on. A wholesale reboot is unrealistic now unless all the bases are covered, and what they should address are areas where some people have been screwed and fix them, along with improved management,  and also lightening the government’s heavy hand. 

With regard to same-sex marriage, let it be. I say this not because of the tenuous basis of the court’s ruling, nor without regard to historical tradition, nor using rights as a basis for it, but rather on what really matters- human connection and compassion. The reason this must now prevail has nothing to do with ideology, spiritual beliefs, or politics. It is reflected in how things make sense today, as opposed to how they once were, due to an increased awareness of the circumstances of others and our personal feelings towards them.  For almost everyone is either related to, or friends with someone who is gay, who they care for and who IS in some way part of their lives. As this has risen in consciousness it has thus become personalized, and in this life what matters most is personal. 

This is in fact a conservative position, because we believe fervently in the personal, we recognize there is a distinction between the private and the public, and we reject the left’s ongoing attempts to politicize all aspects of life. That is also why I have no sympathy for gay activists, (or various other kinds of activists) because of monomania. People are not defined by one characteristic, but have many attributes that are equally if not more important to them. Being gay is not a political condition, it is a human condition.

As far as tradition goes, for many things in human affairs that is where we first look, primarily because it represents the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of prior generations. But it is not immutable and is always subject to change over time as more things become part of our collective consciousness. We learn, adjust and change, but it is gradual not radical change. That is also the conservative position. To oppose any change based on tradition is not conservative, it is reactionary. Finally, there is no way that you can take away a right that has been granted. This is in no way as calamitous as some people think. It will simply become part of the fabric of things, and in rather traditional ways at that. 


Politically Marco Rubio deserves credit for simply stating it is  now the law and let’s move on. On the other hand, while the President was conciliatory in his speech in South Carolina, subsequently instead of trying to bring people together he then took the odd step of covering the White House in rainbow lights, effectively rubbing it in on people upset by the decision, rather trying to unify everyone. It was a fleeting, gratuitous gesture, and was simply counterproductive. He should have used the moment more wisely. I don’t care about the lights as such, or what they represent, but it would be one thing if it were, say lit green on St Patrick’s Day, and various other occasions, but it isn’t and it shouldn’t be. It’s not the Empire State Building and this not the kind of leadership we need now. 

24 June 2015

THE UNHINGED AND THE SYMBOLIC

Civil societies in our time face the problem of the rare but dangerous deviant who commits violent acts. At any time, in almost any place there are a few who are so maladjusted they have no qualms about slaughtering strangers. Often they will adhere to an ideology of some sort, be it Islamic jihad, revolutionary leftism, or racism, but however unpalatable that belief system may be, it is seldom, in and of itself, the “cause,” no matter how much people may wish to discredit a beliefs they don’t like, for the behavior is virtually identical to that of deranged mass murderers with no particular agenda. Thus, eliminating this perceived cause would have little effect on someone unhinged. The paranoia would persist and become attached to something else. 

The murders in the South Carolina church by a man with clearly white racist views and an affinity for the confederate flag has provided a fundraising bonanza for the (selectively) anti-racism and hate industry, as well as renewed demands for the removal of the confederate flag, which we will examine further below. But to make any sense of this let us look at the last comparable incident of this sort, which occurred some years back when a black man boarded the Long Island Railroad and proceeded to kill as many white people as he could. The man was clearly deranged, and also motivated by racism, but little attention was given to that aspect of it, in contrast to the ideologically motivated focus on the circumstances of the South Carolina case. The problem in any incident of this kind has far less to do with racism and much more to do with mental illness, which is something far harder to perceive and ameliorate. 

It is frequently the same in the case of people in western societies flipping out and becoming Jihadists, i.e. that which is most antithetical to their own society, much in the same way some radical revolutionary cause might have attracted them in another time. Granted some are quite sane, fanatical believers, but others have a psychotic thrill in killing. For as much as the terror threat appears to have diminished, at least in terms of attacks sponsored by some organization, the “lone wolf” remains a problem that is extremely difficult to detect, as is the alienated loner, or anyone capable of going on a spontaneous murder spree. We do not yet possess knowledge sufficient enough to enable us to stop this completely, especially given its random nature. 

That is why any attempt to try and maintain that the American south is rampantly racist and no different than it was fifty years ago is completely ridiculous, if not slanderous. In South Carolina, where the murders occurred, the Governor is an Indian American woman, and one Senator, Tim Scott, is black. Furthermore he was previously elected to congress from the Charleston area, defeating the son of the original Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond in a primary election. However, the confederate flag, does, to some extent, obscure this reality. To many in the south it is a matter of heritage and whenever there has been a referendum on it, keeping the flag has prevailed by 2:1 margins. However, it is also perceived as a symbol of oppression by others, and it is simply untenable to maintain a symbol on public property that is opposed by a very significant segment of the population. In addition, while the confederate battle flag is historic, its current use is tenuous, since it was only raised in the 1960s as an expression of defiance to the federal government. Public officials in South Carolina and elsewhere have already suggested that it be moved from public property, and it probably will be. 

With far less justification a number of large corporations have banned the sale of the flag, even on Internet auctions. They are unprincipled scoundrels who at the same time have no problem allowing communist paraphernalia associated with enemies of the US, i.e. Che Guevara t-shirts, etc. responsible for the slaughter of millions upon millions of people, which sickens far more people than the confederate flag.  They should not be in the censorship business, and especially not in such an arbitrary way. They have now opened the door to disposing of anything anyone loud enough finds offensive. They deserve the consequences. 

Something of this sort has already started with a group of nutty professors in California now demanding the removal of the American flag for supposedly symbolizing some form of evil. This has much in common with the phenomenon of self-hatred that oddly seems to be increasing, which we’ll look at next time. 



23 May 2015

CITIES IN TIME

This morning the news programs in the US were all excitedly reporting on the opening of the new observation deck atop the 1 World Trade Center tower, and some of the visual technologies on the way up appear to be quite impressive. But the claim some made about new and unique vistas is simply untrue. Perhaps they weren’t around when the first World Trade Center stood there, because the view is essentially the same as that of the original. I still can’t relate to this one because I recall too much of what is missing. 

From a pier in Brooklyn I watched the twin towers rising downtown and when they were completed, spent a lot of time there over the years either in offices, the concourse, or the Windows on the World restaurant and the bar at the opposite side. All are now gone, along with the church next to the towers where I was married, and unforgettably, the thousands of innocent souls who perished in that terrible attack. 

Yet the city rebounded  with renewed enthusiasm and real estate continues to rise, but nothing goes up indefinitely, and can easily head in the other direction. For it was not that long ago that a majority of the people living here said they would move somewhere else if they could, at a time when the path towards decay and decline then seemed inevitable. But these days people again think that New York is the greatest city in the world, and to the west and south there are only provincial places, but that in itself is also a kind of parochial  viewpoint. It is also seen as the center of the world, especially for those who have come here from somewhere else. 

What is true is that if you came back to NYC after a decade or so, you would find things different due to the constant building and rebuilding going on, and it is in large measure sustained by that constant reinvention and renewal. But there are other places, such as Detroit or Baltimore, that no longer seem to have a purpose, and could be headed towards the same fate as some of the ancient city ruins I recently visited. But neither applies to Venice, which was finished long ago, and remains intact even after many years of decline. It is a place you could revisit after decades and find nothing changed, not to mention settings that appear as they would have centuries in the past. It was once a republic that lasted over a thousand years, but today it is basically a dead city, a museum, that exists almost entirely for tourists. Nothing else happens there anymore. The population is only 60,000 and falling as well as aging, so that it is projected that no Venetians will be left by 2030, when in any case it may be flooded by rising seas. 

Other cities, like Athens and Rome, have existed for thousands of years, undergoing periods of sharp decline, but then rebounding, because although they contain ancient ruins, they are still living cities with people engaged in a wide range of activities. From ancient times onwards cities have been sacked, populations slaughtered, and temples destroyed, but often they would rebound and build a new temple, and sometimes the ruins we see today are the second or even third incarnation of what was there originally.  

Other times cities would be totally and deliberately obliterated, like Carthage, with little left to suggest they ever existed.  Some simply fade away for other reasons. I recently visited the ancient Greek cities of Ephesus and Miletus on the coast of what is now Turkey. It was there that philosophy began and rational thought was applied to explain natural phenomena previously attributed to divinities and spirits, thus providing the foundation for science. They were once important cities, with commercial harbors, but as rivers silted up over time they were left in an inland location, resulting in the loss of economic vitality and depopulation. The same thing happened in other places, such as Pisa in Italy. 


We can never know what the long term fate of our cities will be. Will they decline beyond recovery, will they transform into something else, or will they still remain vibrant? In any event we cannot assume that the world we live in now will be the same a few hundred years from now, any more than we resemble the world of a few hundred years past. But whatever record we do leave will likely only be found in cities or what remains of them. 

04 May 2015

JFK AIRPORT TRAVEL MISERY

Every time I return from a trip abroad I dread the miserable process of passing through JFK airport in New York, which continues to a be a national embarrassment, especially when you think that this is the first thing people from other countries experience when they come here. It is says a lot when it is an even worse experience than traveling to Venice, where I just returned from.  

Venice is notoriously difficult to come and go from as you either have to travel via a water taxi, or haul your luggage to your destination from the furthest point a train or bus from the airport can take you. From there you have to cross canals, and since this will involve dragging suitcases up and down the steps of a series of bridges to get to your hotel, it is well worth paying a porter to take care of that for you. But with canals instead of streets everywhere, these difficulties are at least the result of unavoidable physical conditions.

The same cannot be said for the dismal conditions at JFK which are man-made and entirely avoidable. It is a disgrace, compared to modern and efficient airports in other cities around the world. First you have to walk through an endless dingy corridor to a huge room with a vast series of lines below a huge, truly dreadful mural. Initially there is a line for US citizens, foreign legal residents, and first time visitors, but then the first two pointlessly get merged. Then you have to get on a very long line that snakes back and forth several times, until you finally get to stop number one. Then you go to a kiosk, insert your passport and it prints out a paper with your picture verifying your information, with such new technology apparently designed to speed things up and smooth your passage. But it doesn’t, because you then go to another line anyway, and at this point the confusion is such that I can’t even tell you what department each stop is for, but after that there is yet another line. Then you pick up your luggage and wind up on yet another line, before finally exiting the airport to one mercifully quick last line to get a taxi, by which time nearly two hours have transpired since landing. If you weren’t exhausted after spending eight hours on an airplane you will be after this. 

This can’t be blamed on enhanced security, because oddly, leaving from the same airport took less than half an hour, despite full security checks. Problems returning are instead based upon bureaucratic ineptitude, needless duplication and terrible organization. Clearly no one is looking at things from the customer standpoint. What is clearly needed is an effort to bring this airport into the twenty-first century in terms of physical plant, as well as new and better management. 


I did come across one thing even dumber, in Croatia, one of the countries we visited. For some odd reason the government insists that merchants display prices only in the local currency, which is so obscure you can’t even find it on most conversion tables. In most other countries prices are usually posted in dollar or euro equivalents for the convenience of tourist customers. That is obviously good for business; pricing things in kunas  is definitely not, and local businesses suffer as a result. Clearly government ineptitude knows no borders. 

17 February 2015

THE ISIS POVERTY PROGRAM

A goofy State Department spokeswoman said that we need to address the “underlying causes” that have created ISIS. It seems these causes consist poverty and lack of jobs. But poverty and a need for work characterizes not ISIS, but those poor Egyptian Coptic Christians they beheaded. It is really troubling when the administration is so clueless about not just Islamic radicalism, but extremism in general, which is of course the way it insists on seeing the problem. The problem with the analysis put forward is that it is completely wrong. 

Radical extremists virtually never come from the poor. The poor are too concerned with day to day survival and have little connection with causes of any kind. There are plenty of radicals claiming to represent the poor throughout history, such as the communists. But neither Lenin nor Stalin came from an impoverished background. Bin Laden was very wealthy, and his successor is an Egyptian medical doctor. There is virtually no example of a poor radical extremist throughout history. It may be too much to have expect them to have done any actual research on the problem, based even on their own understanding of it. 

If they really believe the nonsense they have expressed then it would presumably require some sort of antipoverty program to address the problem. But even the Islamic extremists themselves don’t say anything about poverty. It is all about faith, rectitude, religious order, killing infidels, displacing the Crusaders, etc. ISIS wants a caliphate, not a Marshal Plan. 

What about those western converts flocking to ISIS? They are concerned with piety, not poverty. They become alienated from the society they live in, and seek some alternative that will provide purpose, and in a strange way, fulfillment. They are the kind of people who, in a previous generation would have gravitated towards the revolutionary left. They are attracted to the Other; that which constitutes the principal opposition to existing society. From France they are seeking the nonFrance, from America the nonAmerica, etc. This also applies the existing order in many Muslim countries, which fail to conform to their idea of how society ought to be organized, but again with no mention of poverty. 


Thus it is foolish and dangerous to try and base policies upon these misconceptions. Given that these are people who have crucified children, buried them alive, beheaded many others or burned them to death, talking about a jobs program is preposterous. If this is the kind of thinking going on these days we are in real trouble. For ISIS is already has a poverty program. It consists of beheading the poor. Unless we act many more innocent people will die, and die horribly. They cannot be persuaded, they cannot be reasoned with, they cannot even be scared. There is only one solution: ISIS must be destroyed. 

08 February 2015

THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTIAN OPPRESSION

There has been an explosion of outrage since Barack Obama made an ill-advised and historically inaccurate statement that appeared to equate ISIS with Christianity. This has resuscitated the notion that he is a closet Muslim. He isn’t. He is a secular-rationalist man of the Left, and views the world through that prism. There is no doubt that he sympathizes with Islam, but not in a way that most Muslims would be comfortable with. He simply expresses the incongruous attitude of many on the radical left who believe that since we are bad, our enemies must either be good or have legitimate grievances due to our misconduct. In this view, we have history of racism and discrimination, and our view of Islam is thus informed by prejudice which must be resisted lest we do bad things to this oppressed minority. Whenever we are attacked they worry not about what we have suffered, but rather that we might react and persecute, which  only confirms what deep contempt they have for the American people. What is truly astonishing is that we have a president of the United States who never misses an opportunity to belittle his own country wherever he is in the world. 

But it is not just the US, but now christendom that must be admonished. We must get off of our “high horse” regarding radical Islam because after all Christianity has been guilty of many sins as well. The audacity expressing this equivalency is breathtaking, and not just flat out wrong but preposterous. Unless your hatred for western civilization is implacable, it ought to be obvious that there are no Christians anywhere in today’s world committing atrocities in any way comparable to ISIS. Then they will tell you that Christians did much the same to Muslims in the past, notably during the Crusades. Even if that were true how many centuries back are we going to reach? 

But it’s not even true. Historically most of the atrocities committed by Christians were perpetrated on other Christians, as in the 17th century when Europe was torn apart by religious warfare. Heretics were considered to be in league with the devil and were treated accordingly and in a most unChristian way. The nonchristians who were persecuted for centuries were not Muslims but Jews. As for those fabled Crusades, for the most part they were attempting to recover territory that previously was part of the Eastern Roman (now called Byzantine) empire which was conquered by Islamic forces. But again the people who got the worst of it were the Christians, as in the 4th crusade. Instead of making war on the Muslims, the Crusaders were transported to Constantinople by the Venetians, who were nominally still under the Byzantine emperor, purportedly to install a pretender to the throne who promised them a great deal of money. When that failed to materialize the barbarians ravaged the city, destroying everything. The Venetians at least had some appreciation for art, and grabbed whatever they could, and took it back to Venice, where it still resides. But the crusaders simply broke or melted down ancient statues and set a fire that destroyed 100,000 homes as well as a library that was the last repository of Greek civilization. The greatest city in the world, which once held a million people was reduced to only 50,000 by the time the Turks finally conquered it two centuries later. The Pope excommunicated these crusaders for their crimes, at least for a time. This was a catastrophe for the west. With the Greek Christians of Byzantium so weakened, they no longer provided a buffer protecting the west from Turkish incursions and Muslim forces poured into Europe, usually massacring or enslaving whoever was in their path. Fear and terror gripped Europe for centuries.


So where is the Christian suppression of Muslims? What history actually shows is centuries of aggression and conquest by… the Muslims. There is no moral equivalency here; none at all. But it is in the past now and no one in the west in walking around holding a grievance about this. But that will probably be news to the conceited ignoramus in the White House.