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 The place seems worn down, aged, overused, and hopelessly outdated.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 have 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 of 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.