Monday, February 1, 2016

The Collective IQ

It is finally caucus day in Iowa, and I must say that I am heartily glad to see it. I am by now so sick of the entire fatuous, cynical, phony process that I can only hope to have it over as soon as possible. Every election year our national IQ loses fifteen points, and the air is filled with lies, inanities and false promises until the sheer volume of debilitating nonsense becomes unbearable. Every election I tell myself that it can't get any worse than this, and every election I am reminded that it can, because it does. The current election campaign is by far the worst I have ever seen, given both the candidates and the media coverage of them.

Look at the choices we are being given. On the Democrat side, we are asked to choose between a chronic liar, hypocrite and phony who is under FBI investigation for leaking national security secrets and trading the national interest for money, and a septuagenarian socialist who spent his honeymoon in the most romantic place he could think of: post-Stalinist Russia. On the Republican side, the persistent front-runner is a carnival sideshow barker who wants to mass-deport Hispanics and ban Muslims from the country, both of which would be a) unconstitutional, b) impractical if not impossible, and c) immoral. If this is the best that our electoral system can produce, then we need a new electoral system.

The media's coverage of all this idiocy has been beyond idiotic. An inveterate news junkie, I keep hearing the same pointless analysis day after day, month after month. I think if I hear one more "pundit" say that Trump has "tapped into something," without being able of to identify what it is, I shall perform an auto-tonsillectomy by screaming. What he has tapped into is no secret to anyone who has been conscious for the past fifty years: We are fed up with politicians who promise one thing and do nothing, with the corruption, lying, hypocrisy and cynicism of elected politicians at every level, with the fact that nothing ever seems to get done about the problems in this country except the blowing of a never-ending gale of hot air. I am reminded of what a famous screenwriter said about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

Take taxes, for example. For as long as I have been alive and conscious enough to understand it, people have complained about the inequities of the tax system in this country, its endless complexities, loopholes and its unfair distribution of the burden of paying for the government. And politicians have been promising to fix it, with either radical reforms, or a scrapping of the whole voluminous code which even high-priced tax lawyers and accountants can't understand, let alone explain. We elect tax crusaders generation after generation, and, voila, the tax code becomes more voluminous, complex and unfair. We have now passed the point where more than half of the American people pay no tax at all, while the rest of us see our incomes raided and raped before we even see the paychecks.

So, what do I look forward to this election year? Besides more of the current idiocy, I mean -- more talk about Rubio's boots and Trump's hair and Fiorina's face. Here is what I look forward to:

Above all, to Hillary Clinton being indicted. I can only hope that a perfect storm of accountability will occur, in which the "deleted" emails have been recovered, proving that she both mishandled classified information and traded favors as Secretary of State for contributions to her family foundation.  If the FBI director refers her case to the Attorney General for prosecution, and Obama orders the DOJ not to act on the recommendation, I hope for a firestorm of protest, from resignations by FBI officials to demands by the public that she at least withdraw from the race. Do I think that Obama will try to prevent her indictment? Yes, because from what I know of the Clintons and their past political behavior, I am sure that they have such defamatory material on Obama that they will blackmail him into submission. What sorts of things? Two: that he lied when he said he did not know she was using a private email server while Secretary of State, and that he deliberately absented himself from the Benghazi crisis, telling her and the Defense Secretary to handle it, while he disappeared for a good night's sleep prior a fundraiser in Vegas. There may be, and probably is more, but for that much at least there is some documentation already in the air.

As for Bernie Sanders, who has managed to woo young people and poor people with fabulous promises of more free stuff and divine retribution on the capitalist system that has oppressed them, I can only hope that his 73 years finally catch up with him, and he becomes too enfeebled to carry on. Or that his supporters wake up to the fact that the United States is not a socialist nation, was never intended to be a socialist nation, and must never become a socialist nation, since socialism, that eighteenth century European pipe-dream has oppressed, enslaved and murdered more human beings that any other ideology in history. As Charles Krauthammer recently pointed out, it is a poignant irony that socialism seems to be gaining currency in America a full generation after it has been intellectually debunked everywhere else in the world.

Trump, I hope, will just go away. I cannot believe that the American people would elect to the presidency a vapid, self-promoting showman who has as little idea what he would do with the ultimate power as he does with all his money. Governing the United States is not a deal-making enterprise; it is a moral, political, social and cultural responsibility which requires integrity, pragmatism and a visionary quality such as Lincoln had, and which the current occupant of the presidency so painfully lacks. We do not need another amateur in office, no matter how much business experience he has. The results of doing that, as we did with Obama, are far too plain to see: the economy creeps by in its petty pace from day to day, the federal system has ground to a standstill, to be replaced with executive orders the like of which would have made Madison's skin crawl, and our society is more divided, self-loathing and dysfunctional culturally and racially that at any time since the fifties.

If you were to press me for what I hope happens... Well, I think that if I woke up the morning after election day in November to find that Christie or Kasich had become president, I think I would feel relieved. Beyond that, I cannot see my way clear to comfort. I admire Ben Carson, but he has proved himself to be too unqualified for the job. Rubio is simply too young and inexperienced, and we know what happens when we elect a 43 year old first-term senator. I suppose Jeb Bush is a decent fellow, but the idea of a third member of that family in the White House is simply repugnant -- surely we can find someone else to govern the nation. Carly Fiorina does a very good job of laying out her policy positions, but her business record will doom her just as Romney's did. Rand Paul remains interesting, but only that -- not inspiring or visionary, but rather prosaic and slightly melancholy, and at times as much out of touch with reality as Obama is.

In the end I can say only this: What matters is that we finally rid ourselves of Obama, and that we not inflict on ourselves the (probably) fatal wounds of Clinton, Sanders and Trump. If we can just manage that, perhaps all will yet be well. Except, perhaps, for Ted Cruz...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Great Expectations

It is now 9:45 PM, and my eighth grader has just gone to bed, having finally finished his homework. He started at 3:30, took an hour for dinner and a bit of relaxing, and finished fifteen minutes ago. Which is to say that he had five hours of  homework tonight, including practicing his musical instrument (music is one of his classes). This is a fairly typical night's work for him. If there are tests or assignments due, it may be more; rarely is it less.

The reason I mention this is that last week I watched a discussion on a cable news show about public school parents who complain of the amount of homework their children are given. How much homework? Thirty to forty-five minutes a night.


(Those who have followed my blog will know that the ellipsis represents my reaction of stunned silence.)

Forty-five minutes of homework a night?! My son has forty-five minutes in each subject. How do these indignant parents expect their children to compete in the real world on such a minimal diet of self-improvement? Forty-five minutes a night?!

Are the public schools' expectations of the children so low, and the demands made on them so scant, are the parents so utterly clueless, that they think these children can compete for places at the best universities -- or at any universities -- on forty-five minutes of homework a night? Do they expect that they will go out into the wide world armed with the knowledge necessary to secure good jobs and fashion fulfilling careers?

What planet are these people living on? Certainly not the one on which bright, well educated, ambitious students live, and on which Japanese and Chinese students live, who will gobble up the few places at the best schools, while your little underachiever struggles to get into the local community college.

On the rare night when my child has a mere three and a half or four hours of homework, we fairly celebrate. We make cookies and watch an old movie or classic TV show, or he enjoys the luxury of getting an extra hour's sleep. Unless you feel that your child is stupid and condemned to a life of underemployment, or to the pickings of academia after the choice spots have been taken, you should not be complaining about less than an hour's homework; you should be demanding more.

And you should be helping the child with that extra work, both to improve your own mind, and to keep abreast of what he or she is learning, and how well he or she is doing. That is part of the responsibility of being the parent of a school-aged child. And it is, surprisingly, fun.

Those extra hours you spend helping your child with homework are not only a bonding experience for you, they will pay big dividends later in life. And meanwhile, they will ensure that your young student has a good grounding in the fundamentals of education, and learns mental discipline, time management skills, and the self-esteem that comes from not only knowing, but knowing that you know.

Put in the time now, those extra hours in the evenings, and you will open doors for your child's future which otherwise will be closed. As Shakespeare said: Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross. And if your child doesn't know who Shakespeare is, I rest my case.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Browning of SoCal

All of my liquid amber trees are dying. Beset by drought and beetles, they are literally falling apart from the tops down. Just yesterday, another shed its upper branches all over the cactus in my driveway, the few desultory pinpoints of green I have left. An ambitious tree surgeon, a sort of arbor ambulance chaser, appeared at my door to ask if I needed any work done. When I pointed out the carcass of the grey-trunked maple in front of my garage, he nodded sagely and said "$200." For what? To take it down, to rub it out as if it had never been.  It was as if he were making a bid on a funeral service. But when I showed him the trees in my back yard, his eyes glowed darkly. Thousands of dollars in removal fees glimmered in them, as if this drought were a personal boon to his otherwise seasonal service.

The fact is that we in Southern California are in the throes of one of the worst droughts in our history. I have already suffered the governor, that octogenarian hipster, instructing me on how many times I can flush my toilet and how long a shower I can take. The fact is that, having lived in this metropolitan brush-land for thirty-some years, I already knew all that, and I was saving water as assiduously as anybody. Anybody, that is, except for the "civil rights activist" who lives up the street from me in a gated mansion, by far the most valuable real estate in the neighborhood, and who consumes water as if nothing has happened. His lawns, unlike everyone else's, are liberally sprinkled night and day, in keeping with steadfast and time-honored left-wing hypocrisy. "The rules are for the rest of you; not for righteous folks like me."

But all of that pales in the face of the growing crisis of dehydration in which we find ourselves. For the first few years it was a warning, which became requests, and then regulations, which are becoming strictures. Though I run only full loads of laundry in my washing machine, and that only after dark, and though I am down to watering my lawns and plants twice a week (as per), take five-minute showers, flush in a timely fashion (as my son says: If it's yellow let it mellow; if it's brown flush it down), not letting the tap run while brushing teeth, and waiting till the dishwasher is brimming before I use it, I expect that any day there will be a knock at my door. Then a uniformed representative of the DWP (if not the police) will put me on formal notice that, if I do not curb my usage, I will incur a $500 fine, or worse.

Meanwhile, I could not help but notice that, earlier this year, the City of Pasadena, in its bureaucratic wisdom, decided to re-sod the medians on Sierra Madre Boulevard, near my house, and then allowed the new grass, so carefully and expensively installed, to die when they shut off the municipal sprinkler system. If you wonder why I distrust, even despise, government bureaucracy, the answer is in those dung brown medians. Apparently no one in the city government asked: Is it a good idea to re-sod the medians in the middle of a historic drought? No, they just went ahead as planned and spent other people's money, and the result is a stretch of wasteland that would have made Okie Dustbowlers feel at home.

The other day, my son asked me how much longer this drought would last. I reminded him that the drought which destroyed the Anasazi (ancient Navajo) civilization is thought to have lasted over 100 years. Then, the dearth of rainfall virtually wiped out one of the most advanced and ingenious societies that ever existed on the North American continent; a culture that invented the flying buttress 300 years before the French, devised a far-flung and almost instantaneous communication system, and had a water conservation scheme which, it was thought, could defeat the scourge of drought. It did not, and all that remains of that sophisticated culture is the breathtaking ruins of the Four Corners.

How long we can survive this episode remains to be seen. For my own part, I feel guilty every time I wash clothes or do the dishes, and I find myself more often scanning the sky for rain clouds, which never seem to appear over the parchment shoulders of the San Gabriel Mountains above my house. Mark Twain said that everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. That has never been truer than of we who live in this artificial urban sprawl which was destined to be a desert. All we can do, I am afraid, is ask the rest of you to pray for rain for us who, as T. S. Eliot said, are dry brains in a dry season.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Business of America is...

I have seen many things in my lifetime that have caused me to worry and to wonder about the state of our society, and its future. I am old enough to remember little black children being refused schooling at gunpoint, and protesters being pummeled along the pavement by high pressure hoses. I lived through the JFK assassination and the elaborate cover-up that followed, and through Watergate, and the elaborate cover-up that followed. The Vietnam War was a horrid carbuncle on the national flesh, perhaps our greatest crime in the Twentieth Century, and I recall clearly the climate of lies, chaos, and corruption, political, fiscal and moral which it engendered. All of these events touched, and helped shape, my consciousness, and provoked in me mixed feelings of anger, sorrow, and protest.

But nothing has so shaken me -- shaken me to my core -- and caused me to question, calmly and profoundly, the spiritual condition of American society as the recent Planned Parenthood videos. These undercover interviews have made it clear that that organization, which claims to be the spearhead of women's health care, is actively involved, at the highest levels, in the sale of fetal body parts.

Let me repeat that: A taxpayer-funded organization is harvesting and selling the body parts of unborn babies. And now, it appears, is selling entire baby corpses themselves.

Let us put aside for the moment the near-hysterical debate which these revelations have generated, and focus on the simple, cold fact that in America the harvesting and sale of babies' bodies is not only being carried on, it is being defended. I watch in wonder and dismay as intelligent and informed spokespersons for Planned Parenthood and its political supporters, go before the TV cameras and try to rationalize and even to justify this practice. It is a practice worthy of the worst Nazi nightmares; indeed, such experiments were carried out on the bodies of mothers and babies in the extermination camps during World War II.

I am sorry, but there is no finessing the matter: Harvesting and selling babies' body parts is a crime of monstrous proportions. Yet we see the Planned Parenthood executives and doctors discussing the matter casually over cocktails at lunch. Laughing, making jokes, and haggling over prices. In America. At taxpayer expense.

Organs and tissue and brains and entire little corpses, for sale in the United States of America. And those whose political affiliations demand that they defend it, go before the public and try to explain the necessity of it, even the benefits of it, and to excuse it in the name of science and women's reproductive freedom. I have noted before that, in order to rationalize their position, the advocates of abortion on demand must argue that unborn babies are not human beings, but merely "viable tissue masses." And now we see where that leads. If the babies are not babies but merely tissue then we can do anything we want with them: discard them, or, given that they have monetary value in the marketplace, harvest them, dissect them, and sell their organs.

Now, if, for any reason, you find yourself inclined to support this practice, you ought to do what Catholics call an examination of conscience. You need to counsel with yourself and take a dispassionate look at the position you are embracing. And if you feel instinctively that it is wrong (and in the case of selling baby body parts, you cannot help but feel this way), then you must ask yourself why you are taking this position, and what you ought to do to bring your behavior in line with the voice of your conscience. That much, at least, you owe it to yourself to do if you are to consider yourself a moral person.

If nothing else makes us think about God, sin does. And the greater and more hideous the sin, the more focused our minds become on the possibility, even the inevitability, of  divine retribution. Well, there is scarcely a more hideous sin imaginable than removing living human babies from their mothers' wombs, cutting them up into pieces, and selling the parts to those willing to pay for them. Unless, of course, it is chatting about it over white wine and cheese.

I have written here before that I reject the conventional concept of God, though I do believe fervently in the spiritual nature and destiny of humankind. I also reject the idea of eternal punishment and reward as being a primitive fancy founded on an intuitive need for some final form of justice. But this business -- and make no mistake, it is a business -- stirs up in me precisely that instinctual sensation that in some way, at some time in this life or another, the people who do this must be repaid, and the innocents who suffer it must be consoled.

As for America... How much farther from truth and justice, from compassion and humanity, can our society get? Especially when there are so many who will clamor forward, not to condemn, but to justify the rape and murder of pure souls who ought to represent the best in us, and our hope for the future.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bad Deal

I wrote about a year ago that I was withholding judgment on the Iran nuclear deal since we did not know at that time what it consisted of. I also wrote that I opposed the letter sent by members of Congress informing the mullahs in Tehran that no such deal need be respected by the next president. I said at that time that I thought the president was entitled to pursue negotiations without interference from members of Congress. Now that process is nearly finished, the details (most of them) have become public, and it is time to take a position.

On balance, I am convinced that the Iran nuclear deal is a bad one, and should be rejected. That it has already been rejected by a large majority of the American people is clear from the polls. Without wishing to go into details of my position, let me make two or three larger points to illuminate it.

First, it is now clear that the inspection regime outlined in the treaty is inadequate, to say the least. The concept of anywhere/anytime on-site inspections has become requests for inspections, giving the Iranians at least three weeks to respond, though this period would only begin after a lengthy discussion in which the Iranians have a leading role. But beyond that comes last week's revelation that a secret side deal between Iran and the UN's nuclear enforcement agency, the IAEA, requires no on-site inspections at all. Rather, and incredibly, the Iranians are tasked with taking and turning over their own soil samples to the IAEA for analysis. More stupid a plan than this cannot be conceived. Obama maintained throughout the negotiating process that we could not trust the Iranians; now we learn that we are giving them the exclusive right to choose their own soil samples for testing! Someone pointed out that this would be like asking a professional athlete to provide his own urine samples for drug testing analysis. If we can't trust the Iranian regime -- and we can't -- how can we possibly allow them to decide which soil samples to turn over for testing? (To my mind, this is rather like trusting Hillary Clinton to decide which emails to turn over and which to destroy.)

But beyond this, it is true, as the Israeli prime minister stated, that the deal guarantees Iran a nuclear weapon, even if it adheres strictly to its terms. In ten or fifteen years (depending on who you believe), Iran will get a nuclear weapon. In the meantime, it will get sanctions relief and some 150 billion dollars to spend as nefariously as it will. Obama, with typical vacuousness, argued that the regime would not spend that money on terror, because the Iranian people, exhausted by years of sanctions, would demand that it be spent to better their lives. Since when, in history, has an oppressed people demanded anything from their dictators? And these dictators are medieval-minded clerics who believe that God has commanded them to destroy Israel and Western Civilization, as the Great Mufti Ayatollah said in his very recent book.

But consider this for a moment, if you will: Donald Trump has declared that he will build a wall on our southern border, and that the Mexican government will pay for it. For this outlandish statement he was roundly mocked. However, the Iran nuclear deal means that the mullahs will get an atomic weapon, and the West will pay for it. So Trump's claim no longer seems so outlandish, does it.

Finally, in a last-minute capitation to the Iranians, John Kerry and his feckless posse of negotiators agreed to lift the ban on Iran acquiring conventional weapons and ballistic missiles. So, Iran gets 150 billion dollars, nuclear weapons in ten or fifteen years, and ballistic missiles in the meantime. And they continue to insist that their God-imposed intent is to destroy Israel and the West. Now we must ask ourselves: What do we think they will do with those nuclear weapons when they get them? They will, of course, do exactly what they have always said they would: use them to destroy the enemies of God. And we are they, that is us.

My final point is this: Everyone agrees that we cannot trust the Iranians; even Obama, who never had any intention of walking away from the table, has said so. I don't trust them either. But neither do I trust Obama. And that, for me, is the final straw. And so, I have concluded that this is a bad deal, and ought to be rejected.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Redux

A good deal has happened since I last felt moved to write here, and I will try to comment on at least some of it.

The most important event, of course, was my younger son's debut at Carnegie Hall. He is the bassoonist in the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra, which was invited to participate in an international music festival in New York. For me, as a parent, it was a thrilling and unforgettable experience, to see my 12 year old on stage at the nation's most celebrated concert hall, performing works by Dvorak, Copland and Leonard Bernstein. Few things bring tears to my eyes these days, but that certainly did.

I had never been inside Carnegie Hall, and so, before the concert, I took a tour of the place. When I first walked into the hall itself, I was overwhelmed; I had not imagined how beautiful it is. And to think that it was to have been torn down in 1960 to be replaced by yet another glass and cement skyscraper! Thank god that Isaac Stern and his confreres conspired to preserve it. Removing such jewels of the nation's past is always a mistake, and I am grateful that we have largely outgrown our tendency towards such cultural lobotomy.

The City of New York, on the other hand, was a rather shocking revelation to me. I had not been there in many years, and what I found on my return was dismaying. The place seems worn down, aged, overused, and hopelessly outdated. The condition of the streets is a disgrace, and the entire city bears a panoply of odors which I found disgusting. Gore Vidal once remarked that every piece of metal in Manhattan is bent. That is true, and every street surface is cracked and pot-holed, every bit of concrete is broken, and the place is littered with trash which no one, including the city fathers, seems willing to remove.

And the people... I could not help but notice how pale they looked, how insular and disconnected from one another. I am no great partisan of Los Angeles, but I must say that more strangers in the street said hello to me in the days after my return than... well, no one even looked at me in New York. Everyone there seems so distracted, harried, preoccupied; which is so, I suppose, as a defense against the sheer oppressive congestion of the place, and in order not to notice how dirty and dreary are the surroundings. It seems to me that the city government would do much better to spend its money to improve the physical infrastructure of the place than on the social justice nonsense on which it prefers to lavish it.That, at least, might lift people's spirits.

Nationally, it is election season, and, as usual, the nation's collective IQ is dropping weekly. We have scarcely begun the endless, pointless process, and yet the partisan flags are in full flight. No one seems interested in listening to what any of the candidates has to say; most minds, it seems, are already made up, at least among those who can be bothered to pay attention. This is more pointed now than ever before because the partisan divide in this country has never been so pronounced. I suppose I will have more to say about the 2016 election as the months churn by, but for now let me make only a few remarks.

There is very little to say about the Democrat side except to register my disbelief that Hillary Clinton continues to be taken seriously as a potential president. Her history of mendacity is generously documented, her spectrum of lies stretching back to her days as a Watergate impeachment staffer, whose supervisor called her "a corrupt lawyer deserving of neither public nor private trust," all the way, unbroken, to this past week, when Her Majesty finally granted a press interview. In the course of it she said that her emails had never been subpoenaed (not true), that she used only one personal electronic device (not true), that she complied with all federal regulations (not true), and that we can trust that she was being honest with us when she said that none of the 30,000-plus emails which she deleted contained sensitive material (not true). Please bear in mind that Richard Nixon erased 18 minutes of tape and was forced to resign the presidency. Hillary erased tens of thousands of emails and wiped her server clean, and she appears to be getting away with it. Nixon must be salivating in his grave.

There is another point which has been made recently, and which I think bears careful consideration by anyone contemplating voting for this shameless scoundrel. Foreign governments have repeatedly hacked into the most carefully secured servers in American corporate and public life. Within the past month, tens of millions of public employees' personal information was stolen by the Chinese intelligence services. And Sony Corporation saw its private correspondence published on the Net to the embarrassment, and the forced resignation, of its top leadership. Now let me ask you: What do you think are the chances that the governments of China, Russia and North Korea never managed to confiscate the contents of Hillary's private email server?

When asked about this, she replied that there was a Secret Service man guarding her computer! No one was suggesting that her computer was at risk of being stolen. But its contents, the private and public emails of the Secretary of State, were certainly at risk. I think it is inconceivable that foreign governments, both hostile and friendly, do not possess the deleted emails -- the ones Hillary did not want us to see -- and will use them to blackmail her if she is elected. To me, the logic is inescapable. What would the government of China or of Russia do, not to mention that of North Korea, if it found itself in possession of information that could force the resignation of the President of the United States? You may imagine the answer as well as I.

On the other side... well, I was in New York when Donald Trump made his announcement speech and watched it on TV. All I could think was: I am looking for Lincoln, and they give me Barnum and Bailey. The media, which, by and large, has devoted itself to Hillary's coronation, is delighted to parade Trump front and center, since that draws the life out of any other candidacy. Reasonable people like Ben Carson and Chris Christie, and Scott Walker cannot be heard over the cacophony around Trump. Yes, he has hoisted the question of illegal immigration into the forefront of discussion, and yes, it is true that the southern border is in chaos and that criminals are being protected by politically-correct activists in many cities, for which some Americans have paid with their lives, most recently a lovely young woman out for a stroll in San Francisco with her father. But Trump's candidacy is nonetheless a sideshow, a travelling circus of self-promotion for the gratification of an ego maniac.

But as I said, in every election cycle, the national IQ shrinks, and the same tired faces (and some new tired ones) ask the same pointless questions with the same lack of informed follow-up. That is, when Hillary does not have the press roped off so that they cannot get to her. And let that image, of a press corps being literally corralled by a candidate be the image of this feckless political process we have fashioned for ourselves. None of the so-called journalists protested, none yanked the rope aside and said, "I am an American journalist and I will not stand for this kind of treatment!" None got in Hillary's face and demanded to know how she dared treat a free press in this fashion. Instead, like the sheep they are, the reporters meekly followed along behind the rope while the phony Hillary campaign cruised ahead. This was as disgraceful a spectacle as I have ever witnessed on the part of the media. Yet it is precisely this kind of compliant cowardice on which she is counting for her ascendancy.

As for the president, well, I have ceased to be interested or surprised. When asked yesterday about the capitulation inherent in the idea that Iran will get three weeks' notice before any inspection of a suspected nuclear site, he referred us to his "high school physics" knowledge of fissile material, stating that the half-life of uranium would ensure that the "earth samples" would reveal its presence. As if the Iranians are going to bury their atomic weapons in the back yard. This is the same kind of insipid and insulting illogic as in Hillary's claim that a secret service man in her home protected her emails from being stolen. I used to wonder how stupid they think we are; now to that I add the question, How stupid can they actually be?

Well, an answer to that may lie in the recent fervid controversy over the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds in Charleston, South Carolina. This crucial cultural debate was ignited by the murder of nine churchgoers by a demented young man whose father, of all people, had given him a gun. Leaving aside this stunning act of parental idiocy, the young man was, as in all of these cases, clearly a mentally ill person, and ought to have been identified and treated as such. But no sooner were the victims of the shooting in their graves than the nation's attention was turned by the media onto the question of... the Confederate battle flag. This peripheral issue was immediately thrust to center stage, and the victims, and the motivation for their murder, nearly ignored.

Now let me be clear on two points: The Stars and Bars, as it is called, was not the flag of the Confederacy, which was, in fact, the "bonny blue flag that bears a single star," as the song goes; it was the battle flag of the rebel army. And second, I think the damn thing ought to have been relegated to museums a century ago, preserved only as an artifact of the critical turning point in American history. If I were the governor of South Carolina I would have gone out and taken it down with my own hands. But that is not the point. With typical shallow, knee-jerk reaction, the media and the left instinctively focused on what they perceived to be a symbol racism, and made the issue about that. Not the substance, mind, but a symbol, since symbols are much easier to identify and deal with. Meanwhile, the very weekend when this urgent question was being debated non-stop in the press, some three dozen black people were shot in Chicago by other black people, one of them, a 7 year old boy, who was killed.

Now, once again, the question is not a simple one. This poor little creature's father was a gang member with 45 convictions on his record. That's whose victim he truly was. He was murdered because other black gang members were trying to murder his father. Black criminality and the ongoing slaughter of young black men by other black men is rising rapidly in cities across the nation, yet the press chooses to fixate on a few cases where white police have shot black men in the performance of their duty, and, of course, on the Confederate flag.

Thus the national debate swirls on stupefied, shaped and fueled by politicians and media who have neither the desire nor the ability to engage the real issues: mental illness, black-on-black crime, the bloated growth of government which crushes individual initiative and personal responsibility, the breakdown of the black family, and a lack of responsible parenting. But facing such challenges would require strong leadership, courage, vision, honesty, and innovative solutions, and it is so much easier to point to a flag and, when it has been lowered, declare victory. In the meantime, the carnage in our cities goes on and grows worse, and nothing really changes. And we pretend that more candidates manufactured by the political machines and monied interests actually represent the possibility of meaningful reform.

However, we move on, time being ineluctable in its movement and we being flotsam on that ever-outflowing tide. The election will come and go, the Iranian deal will creep through, the slaughter in our inner cities will continue, and nothing will really change, because nothing can really change in our nation now, given the undeniable truth that our leadership remains inept and ineffectual, our society is polarized, our political system has broken down, and our world grows more dangerous and deadly because of it.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Signs of the Times

I rarely read the Los Angeles Times anymore. This is so for two reasons: first, the articles, by and large, are poorly written; and, second, the left-wing bias of the newspaper is so pervasive that I simply do not believe what is written there. However, I often have breakfast at a local cafe, and since I am incapable of sitting idly under any circumstances, I sometimes read whatever sections of the Times are left behind on the table. This morning, as I looked over the front page, I was struck by two things: that, as I said in a previous posting, there was no mention either of the Hillary Clinton email scandal or the Bergdahl desertion charges; and a massive front-page article on a recent Orange County election.

In this article, entitled "When mail-in votes go absentee," the reporters discuss in detail the race for Orange County supervisor. The favorite in this contest was a Hispanic career Democrat politician, Lou Correa, who, the writers tells us, should "easily have carried the race." But to their shock (though apparently not to that of the voters), a "little-known Vietnamese Republican" won. Now, what I want to point out about this article is the following: Though the Democrat candidate's name appears in both the sub-head and in the first sentence, the name of the winner does not appear on the front page at all. We have to go to the eighth paragraph, on page A-14, to learn that the newly elected OC supervisor is Andrew Do. 

The Times is, apparently, stunned that a well-known Democrat did not win in a heavily Democrat district, and they point out rather breathlessly that this "political earthquake" shows that "Republicans can still win," if enough people turn out to vote. Why this should be an earth-shaking revelation to the Times' political staff is mysterious. Asians voted in significantly larger numbers than Hispanics, they report, and so Mr. Do won. Nothing is said of any other kind of voter; only those in these two ethnic groups, though neither block was large enough to elect either candidate. And, as I said, the winning candidate's name is buried deep in the article; yet, surely, it is the fact that Mr. Do won and not that Mr. Correa lost, that is important. Except to the Times. 

There are several very disturbing implications to this article, and to this kind of biased reporting, for anyone who cares about the integrity of the press and of the electoral system.

The first, of course, is the implied lament that an Asian voting block was instrumental in defeating a Latino one. If this sort of thing becomes epidemic, the Times seems to be saying, what will happen to the state's Democrat majority, which is heavily supported by Hispanics? Who are these Asian upstarts who are threatening to overturn the Dems' carefully crafted coalition of white liberals, Latinos, blacks and unions? 

Now, if you want to argue that it is not the fact that a Republican won because more people turned out to vote for him, but that only one ethnic group of voters put him over the top, then you will be guilty of the same kind of bigotry of which liberals always accuse those who disagree with them. You say Obama’s policies have failed? You are a racist. You say Hillary Clinton lacks the integrity to be president? You are a sexist. You question gay marriage? You are a bigot. You have moral reservations about abortion? You are waging war on women.

Yet here we have the Times decrying the fact that Asian voters defeated a Latino candidate. Why is the Times even focusing on the race of the candidates? Because, being liberals, they always see race in everything. They are practicing the opposite of what Dr. King urged us to do: Judge a person by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. Is it just possible that Mr. Do, his ethnic origin aside, was a better candidate than Mr. Correa? The Times does not know or care to know. The only thing that concerns them is the ethnicity of the two candidates, and they conclude that only an upheaval of seismic proportions could have elected a Republican Asian over a Democrat Hispanic. This, surely, is racist.

Now, let us consider the fact that the winning candidate’s name is buried deep in the article. Clearly, the Times is not interested in who he is or even the fact that he won. Only that a prominent Latino Democrat lost concerns them. In this way, the winner and the loser are reversed. Mr. Correa gets front-page coverage, and we have to search for Mr. Do’s name thirteen pages on. This, I think, pretty clearly indicates the liberal bias of the Times, not in its editorial writing, but in its reporting. Mr. Do pulls off a significant victory for Asians in Orange County, and we have to go to page 14 to learn who he is. You would think that the Times might celebrate this fact, but all that matters to their reporters is that a Democrat darling has been defeated. The implication here is that if these activist Asians, who tend to be conservative, were ever truly to get together, they might just change the face of California politics. For my own part, I hope they do.

Now, this article was only one of two in the Times I read recently which gave me pause. The other, titled "Afghan mob sets woman on fire for alleged Koran burning," concerned the horrific murder of a young Afghan woman who was slaughtered by a mob, aided by police, after she was accused of having burned a Koran in public. She was first beaten and kicked almost to death, and then her body was set on fire. The spectacle is too terrible to be imagined, and I read the story only reluctantly. As I have written in another post: This is the twenty-first century, not the twelfth.

Apparently the townspeople knew this young woman, and some at least knew that she had a history of mental illness. Though anyone might know that you would have to be crazy to burn a Koran in public in any Muslim country. Yet that did not stop them from flying into a collective fit of religious hysteria, and murdering the poor creature in public, which, apparently, they thought a lesser crime than hers. They are wrong, of course: Korans can be replaced; people cannot.

Then, two thirds of the way through the article, the reporters make this extraordinary observation: “…Afghan and foreign health professionals believe that a large proportion of the Afghan population suffers from some sort of psychological trauma after three decades of conflict.” Apart from the fact that the writers do not name any of these professionals, the question is: Why did they even raise this point? Was it an attempt to explain, rationalize, or even justify the horrible killing? I cannot help but feel that this is so; otherwise, why bring it up, gratuitously, at all?

Which leads me to wonder, would any writer be taken seriously if he reminded us that the German people were suffering from decades of deprivation and humiliation after World War I as a way of excusing the horrors of Nazism? Would a reporter have been permitted to publish the idea that centuries of oppression by Russian autocrats somehow rationalize the tens of millions of deaths in the Gulag? Would any American journalist even think of writing that the crushing loss of the Confederacy and the North’s Reconstruction excesses justified lynching?

And yet here we have the Los Angeles Times publishing on the first page of its "The World" section the suggestion that this pathetic woman’s brutal murder ought to be understood in terms of some vague concept of the Afghan population’s post-traumatic stress disorder. For my own part, I do not want to think about the Times’ ideological reasons for making this shameful suggestion, any more than I want to contemplate that poor woman’s horrible death at the hands of her countrymen, who claimed to be defending a faith that ought to have cherished and protected her.