Works and Days

Works and Days

Pathei Mathos: What I Relearned the Last 12 Months

May 18th, 2015 - 9:27 pm

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Greek tragedy often ends with a succession of personal disasters that doom an Oedipus or Ajax — apparently part of a divinely inspired nemesis (retribution) to pay back personal hubris (overweening pride).

The latter flaw seems to grow and grow until fate strikes the arrogant at the most opportune but still unlikely moment: a Nixon sweeping to a landslide victory in 1972, only to self-destruct over the cover-up of a two-bit, needless burglary. It apparently at last brought out his long-held character shortcoming (hamartia), theretofore seemingly either not too serious or at least adroitly managed.

The Sophoclean idea of eironeia (irony) — Oedipus cannot see until he is blind in the manner of the blind, but all-seeing Tiresias, whom he damned as sightless before his own blindness — suggests that the nature of one’s fate is often tragically ironic.

The swashbuckling George S. Patton, who braved death in his drive to Germany and was worried about his role in a peacetime world, was paralyzed in a minor traffic accident shortly after the Allied victory — and on the day before he was to go home and leave postwar Europe for good. He died not on the battlefield, but painfully in bed in a military hospital in Germany.

The idea of karma within the traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism is somewhat similar to Greek tragedy, though more geared to action rather than attitudes causing future accounting for past behaviors. Modern Western religions also share somewhat in both Eastern and Western notions of payback, even while on Earth before the final accounting in the hereafter.

Still, it certainly seems innately human (and thus egocentric) to try to make sense of present bad and good fortune by reviewing causation through one’s prior thoughts and deeds. The problem with mostly positive moral introspection is the narcissistic element: good or bad things don’t just happen to a single individual, but harm many of the uninvolved or innocent around him. Why do the innocents of Thebes have to suffer plague for Oedipus’s hubris?

It is all narcissism to think that catastrophes center on one person’s behavior, even if earned, and especially when they hurt innocent others. Aeschylus seems cruel to talk of pathei mathos, learning from pain.

I can see the logic of tragic collective vengeance, but even then, I don’t quite believe that a divine plan led to Hitler raging in his suicidal bunker as the logical retribution to his sick Nuremberg rants a decade — and six million innocents gassed —  earlier.

At best, all we can do, I think in our ignorance of causation, is to cover our bets and tread lightly and remain observant — keeping humble and modest in occasional good fortune (given so often that our blessings turn out to be dependent on the work of other friends and benefactors), while staying resolute in more frequent times of chaos and disaster, to be able to help and offer sanctuary to others.

It is wise to remember the good dead and emulate their example rather than to be caught up with the mediocre of the present. I certainly spend more time recalling the voice of my mother than listening to the televised psychodramas of our elite. Faith and transcendence in the end matter most, whether for us who believe in God and an eternal soul, or for the more agnostic humanists who trust that one’s good works now can affect others following them, from raising good children to planting an olive tree.

I’ve been trying to sort such thoughts out after the most terrible past 12 months. Everyone has horrific seasons. Nothing seems worse than losing parents. Mine died far too early, my mother from a malignant meningioma that first struck her at 64 while an appellate court judge; my indestructible father from a stroke at 75. Like most, I’ve had a few scrapes, a variety of accidents, diseases, and operations in some scary places.

But all one’s health seems the minor melodrama that it always really was. My granddaughter Lila was born December 5, 2013. Something seemed wrong almost at once. An adroit diagnosis at Stanford Medical Center found neonatal cholestasis, a severe malfunction of the liver, involving spikes in conjugated bilirubin. For days we researched the likely and quite scary causes — biliary atresia, alpha 1 syndrome, and worse. None had good prognoses. All had scary names.

But 10% of the infant cholestasis cases were in the literature dubbed “idiopathic” and resolved eventually. No one knew why. And so miraculously did tiny Lila’s — or so we thought.

Her bilirubin returned to normal; she survived and she seemed to recover. But by six or seven months something else was clearly wrong, or rather “delayed.” By March 2015 she was far behind in terms of walking and talking. We spent hours each night reading about post-cholestasis syndromes in almost every American and European journal we could find. Surely that mysterious liver disease had caused the delay — and thus catch-up would follow?

Not really.

More strange symptomology followed. Three weeks ago, after genetic testing, doctors diagnosed her with something known as Smith-Magenis syndrome, described as a “deletion of genetic material from a specific region of chromosome 17 (17p11.2). Although this region contains multiple genes, recently researchers discovered that the loss of one particular gene the retinoic acid induced 1 or RAI1 is responsible for most of the characteristic features of this condition.”

Previously SMS was often thought to be a severe subset of either Down’s syndrome or autism. The strange and multifarious symptoms are too numerous to list here. A wonderful foundation does its best to fight for help for this tragic syndrome and I am going to try to support it according to my station.

And yet a wonderful thing arose throughout this ordeal. The more the bleak diagnoses and worse prognoses piled on, the more Lila smiled and exhibited the most outgoing and warm personality. (Was it due to the SMS trait of not feeling physical pain, or its associated symptom of natural exuberance with a tendency to hurt oneself rather than others?)

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Lying, Inc.

May 12th, 2015 - 8:53 pm

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Heroic quarterback Tom Brady was apparently caught lying about his involvement in deflating footballs. One assumes that such prevarication counts for little in the larger scheme of football and Tom Brady’s own career trajectory. His defense is that he did not need to use underinflated footballs to win, so what did a lie or two matter?

Were he a second-string quarterback on a losing team, he might be roundly denounced and suffer real consequences rather than a likely brief suspension. No one ever quite believed Lance Armstrong when he swore that he was not using enhancement drugs; they assumed he certainly was doping, but preferred to see him excel and set records first, and then only later get caught and fess up. When he was no longer in the news, then his lying caught up with him.

The national hero Gen. David Petraeus was caught lying when he told federal officials that he had not shared top-secret documents with his mistress. The law and the public apparently bestow to Petraeus, a good man, a sort of exemption from serious punishment on the logic once outlined by Pericles about putting into context the sins of the military hero or in the fashion that we forgave Bill Clinton’s untruths. Academics assured us that in matters of adultery, constructing competing narratives is quite understandable for all involved and sometimes good etiquette.

NBC anchor Brian Williams was not so much a liar as a bard, who spun yarns about life-against-death encounters, in which as Achilles he was always at the forefront of turmoil. Williams lied simply because as a talking head he could become both oral poet and Homeric hero all at once. His autobiographical sagas certainly jazzed things up at 6:00 p.m. Few question network anchor newsreaders. In Williams’s case his “aw shucks” mellifluous shtick and understated dramatics were his versions of hexameters and type scenes, and so made his lying a bit easier to swallow.

After his brief suspension, Williams might even return to his multimillion-dollar per year perch, with the understanding that he can restore NBC ratings and profitability, and do that with occasional exaggeration rather than outright making up stuff. And why not lie, when NBC itself doctors 911 tapes to confirm that George Zimmerman was a racist?

Everyone knows that “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” was an outright lie. Michael Brown never did or said that. Forensics, logic, and the majority of eyewitness accounts confirm that the strong-armed robber struggled with a policeman, lunged at his weapon, ran away, and then turned and charged him, not that he was executed in polite submission.

Does that lie matter? Not at all. “Ferguson” is routinely listed as proof of police racist brutality — and by no less than the president of the United States. Michael Brown is now the Paul Bunyan of the inner city. U.S. congressional representatives and professional athletes alike chant and act out “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” dramatics. The public shrugs that although it is all a lie, it is felt to be sort of true on the theory that something like that could happen one day, and thus it is OK to lie that it already has. Most knew that the strong-arm robber Michael Brown was about as likely a “gentle giant” as Trayvon Martin was still a cute preteen in a football uniform.

Community agitator and frequent White House visitor Al Sharpton has lied repeatedly about his income taxes and the reasons why he cannot produce accurate tax records, in the manner that he habitually lied about the Tawana Brawley case, the Duke Lacrosse caper, and the Ferguson “hands up, don’t shoot” meme. The public assumes both that Sharpton is an inveterate liar and that to dwell on the fact is either a waste of time or can incur charges of illiberality or worse. Most are more interested in his more mysterious, almost daily-changing appearance than the untruth that he hourly espouses.

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Decoding the Rules of Baltimore

May 3rd, 2015 - 9:49 pm
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NBC’s Al Sharpton shakes hands with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as she prepares to speak at a summit to address issues surrounding the death of Freddie Gray and its aftermath at New Shiloh Baptist Church, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Note the “No Justice, No Peace” slogan behind them. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

No one knows what exactly happened to the deceased Freddie Gray, except that it should not have happened. Between what is outlined in the indictments and what will be proven in court is an unknown abyss. But the more dramatic the short-term exuberance over the sweeping indictments, the more likely the long-term fury when the charges are likely to be substantially reduced or unproven in court.

Almost everyone blames the subsequent Baltimore rioting on some –ism — endemic racism, economic inequality, the lack of jobs, the legacy of slavery, systematic police brutality and insensitivity, the pathologies of the black underclass, the destruction of the black family and on and on. However, most of America, rich and poor, black, white and other, liberal and conservative can more or less chart the conditions that explain a Ferguson or Baltimore — and remain quiet about it. At this point, I don’t think much will change until action follows rhetoric and someone like Barack Obama symbolically puts his kids in the public schools rather than at Sidwell Friends, or some of the loud MSNBC team choose to live, in desegregated style, in the Baltimore inner city, or Apple and Google grandees mentor East Palo Alto gangbangers, or an Al Gore recruits inner-city youth on his green staffs, or a Warren Buffett leads a national effort on the part of plutocrats to invest money in Detroit or Oakland shopping centers. And as long as the proverbial black community has self-appointed adjudicators of racial redress that blame pathologies on cosmic racism rather than demand introspection — of the likes of the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Jeremiah Wright, in a way quite unlike the Asian, Jewish, ethnic, and Latino communities — things will not change much. Is there a Cuban or Chinese or Korean national reverend who takes it upon himself to agitate and negotiate collective grievances?

Until then, let us review the Baltimore Rules:

1) Statistics are irrelevant. Emotion rules and no one cares about larger statistical challenges. Blacks make up almost 13% of the population and commit 52% of the nation’s murders. Based on their statistical representation in the U.S. population, African-Americans on average are eight times more likely to inflict a violent crime and six times more likely to suffer a criminal act than is the general population. This fact is irrelevant; it is not the numbers per se that frame black homicide, but the conditions under which they occur that seem to matter. “Black lives matter” supposedly translates into the fact that blacks might be able to pressure police (of all races) from taking 200 black lives a year during arrests, but can do little if anything about stopping 6,000 black murders at the hands of other blacks. Darren Wilson serves as an easy poster boy for the public enemy, but a Crip gangbanger is a quite different candidate for group-hate.

In quite rare, but highly charged interracial murders, African-Americans are almost twice as likely to kill whites as whites are blacks. This, too, is irrelevant for a variety of reasons. Historically blacks suffered from the racism of a white majority, not whites from a black minority. Whites are hardly likely to protest about this imbalance given the rarity of interracial crime and the rarity of whites rioting on the basis of racial grievances. Most liberal professionals understand privately how to navigate travel in the inner city and how publicly to decry just such insidious stereotyping and profiling. Few of the 14% of murdered white crime victims who were killed by blacks are the elite and thus the problem remains minor.

Black youths (over 13% of the nation’s youth population) make up 52% of juvenile violent crime arrests, including 58.5% of those for homicide and 67% for robbery. Blacks commit hate crimes against other races at rates proportionally far higher than do whites, based on their respective populations. These imbalances probably suggest why police brutality may be higher during black than white arrests, but it is also irrelevant. As a nation we expect police to be professional 100% of the time during arrests and to be indifferent to the fact that less than 13% of the population is committing well over half the nation’s violent crime, higher in the inner city. A suspect may have a prior arrest record of over 20 felonies, but if he were treated any differently from someone who has never been arrested, then the police are at fault. Such perfection is as it should be, but then again few know much about the average day of a police person in the inner city. For now, disproportionally high black crime rates mean far more black arrests and more opportunities for something like what happened in Baltimore.

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The Fall of the House of Clinton

April 26th, 2015 - 9:12 pm

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Hillary Clinton will probably survive her latest ethical disaster. James Carville — of “if you drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find” fame — is back again to pronounce the Clinton Foundation scandal as “diddly-squat.”  He may be right in the political sense. After all, we know the standard Clinton rescue plan from the past: her aging point-men like Carville, Lanny Davis, and Paul Begala flood the airways, yelling “prove it!” at their television hosts and declaring:

  1. That the accusations are “old news.”
  2. That the accusers are funded by right-wing conspiracists.
  3. That everyone does what the Clintons did.
  4. That the media pick on the Clintons.
  5. That there is no hard evidence (because they have destroyed documents) that would ever lead to a criminal case. And:
  6. That they are moving on, to work on behalf of the folks.

Such obfuscation worked well with Troopergate, Travelgate, Whitewater, the cattle futures scam, Monicagate, the pardons, and Bill’s serial and sometimes coercive sexual conquests. The scorched-earth protocol has already largely dispensed with the “what difference does it make” and “we came, we saw, he died” Libya/Benghazi scandals. That the ex-president of the United States often flew on a private jet with  registered sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein, known for supplying underage women to his guests, is, as the Clintons say, “old news.” Hillary Clinton’s serial lies about her email accounts and the Clinton Foundation shakedowns will likewise fade — despite the national-security implications of both transgressions for the United States.

So by “Fall of the House of Clinton” I don’t suggest that a special prosecutor will be appointed to indict Hillary and Bill for crimes that would likely make the accusations that were once leveled against Sen. Robert Menendez, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Scooter Libby, Conrad Black or Dinesh D’Souza look like child’s play in comparison.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

April 20th, 2015 - 8:43 pm

In his 1988 presidential race, George H.W. Bush was trashed by the left for selecting the Bobby McFerrin hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as his campaign song. Maybe Bush thought he needed a lighthearted optimistic echo of Reagan’s 1984 mantra, “It’s morning in America.” But the Left thought the ditty confirmed the image of a callous and vacuous Bush who didn’t “worry” enough about the poor and minorities. The liberal McFerrin was outraged that Bush sought to play his own song at rallies. Shortly afterwards, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was quietly dropped by the Bush team.

Perhaps no other slogan better characterizes the Obama tenure.

America is relieved that things at least appear calm, as war and death rage abroad. At almost every critical juncture, the administration chose short-term happy talk in lieu of worries over long-term consequences. No matter how frequent the disasters abroad, Obama can proclaim the world is at peace in an unprecedented age of stability and security.

We did not lose a soldier in the bombing of Libya. Only an ambassador and three U.S. personnel were killed in the aftermath. As Hillary Clinton put it: “What difference does it make?” Indeed, of Libya, she also chuckled: “We came; we saw; Khadafy died.”

That Libya is now a terrorist beheading hellhole on the Mediterranean is someone else’s problem at some future date. The bombing of Khadafy may have been the first time in U.S. history that we bombed an autocrat out of power without staying around on the ground to thwart the ensuing and inevitable chaos.

Was that “smart” diplomacy?

Remember “reset”? What happened to it? Did it die in Crimea or Ukraine? For nearly four years, from a plastic reset button to cancelled missile defense with the Czechs and Poles (how prescient that anti-Iranian initiative of George W. Bush now seems in light of the current talks), we were told how Obama and Hillary Clinton had undone the damage that Bush had inflicted on Russian-American relations.

Then, after serial Putin aggression, only silence followed.

There has not been a peep from the administration about the fate of “reset,” much less about the long-term consequences of appeasing Putin for four years. I think the Obama strategy is to keep quiet about the disaster, hope that it takes Putin some time to digest Ukraine, and then leave Putin’s agenda in the Baltic states to the next president.

Why worry about Iran? They promise not to make a bomb for a decade. Translated, that means that Obama (“I don’t bluff”) envisions more laureate accolades for getting out of office ahead of an Iranian nuke, and woe to the president who follows.

Pulling all U.S. peacekeepers out of Iraq at the end of 2011 proved a useful short-term campaign talking point. But the ensuing vacuum birthed the “jayvees” of ISIS, who probably also have a rendezvous with the next president. Why should anyone in Malibu worry about Tikrit or the impending fall of Ramadi, or how a new, low-grade caliphate might remake the Middle East?

Issuing various red lines and deadlines to the Syrians and Iranians sounded tough at the time, but at some future date an American president is going to have to reestablish — at some cost — the authenticity of an ultimatum by the president of the United States.

But for the short term, Americans were collectively relieved that Obama proved a gasbag and did not enforce the threats.

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Why Is Hillary Clinton Even Running?

April 12th, 2015 - 7:36 pm

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That is not as stupid a question as it first sounds. Ostensibly we know her four ready answers.

I. Who Else?

One, there is no other credible Democrat who could run for presidency. The senior party leadership — Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Dianne Feinstein — is shrill and buffoonish. They all have either tried before and failed, or are ossified has-beens — or both. There are no up-and-coming governors with distinguished records of executive success. There are no young charismatic Democratic senators — other than the well-preserved, 65-year-old Harvard populist Elizabeth Warren — out to make a name, who can speak well and mirror image a Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, or Mario Rubio. Congressional-district gerrymandering that encourages ethnic chauvinism and hard-left polarization has almost ensured that there will not be another minority star, like Barack Obama, who can win crossover votes and statewide office as a springboard to the White House.

II. Her Turn

Two, Hillary Clinton, like a Walter Mondale, Bob Dole or John McCain, believes that it is finally her turn. In her case she lost in 2008 and loyally served the man who defeated and often humiliated her (“you’re likable enough, Hillary” Obama condescendingly remarked during a debate of Democratic presidential candidates in January of 2008).

She feels that she was robbed of a sure nomination by the upstart Obama, who cut in front of the line with his inane “hope and change” banalities and subtle race carding, as if racial chauvinism must always trump gender pandering. She blew a huge lead in the primaries, licked her wounds, and now it is time for the party to unite loyally behind her the way she did with Obama.

III. First Woman

Three, she thinks she can win largely on the issue of being the first woman president in the manner that Barack Obama milked his racially iconic status in lieu of a record. Her supporters believe that they can reignite the old wars: the Republican war on women, war on minorities, war on immigrants, war on the environment, war on the poor, war on everybody — and thereby galvanize the supposedly oppressed, as in 2008-2012, to register, turn out, and vote in lockstep in record numbers. Thereby they will more than make up for the millions of independents and white, blue-collar so-called Reagan Democrats that she will lose by such racial and gender histrionics.

IV. Money, Money, Money…

Four, Hillary Clinton assumes that she can buy her way to the White House and trump even the Obama shakedowns of the one-percent elite. No one grubs money better than the Clintons, who have turned a so-so presidential foundation into a money-laundering machine for their global jetting and politicking.

Both Bill and Hillary have an uncanny insight into the very wealthy of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the Upper West Side, and the Florida coast. They understand the formula: when many of the rich become very rich they no longer worry about high tax rates, either on the assurance that they have the capital and know-how to avoid them, or in the belief that that a 50% federal and state rate could hardly eat away much of their enormous pile. Huge federal redistributionist policies may fail and hurt the minorities and poor, but for now they are felt to be about the only insurance that the gates of the rich will not be stormed or their private schools and neighborhoods flooded.

The Clintons rightly sense that the one-percenters in certain fleeting moments feel awfully bad about their privilege. Thus they will feel much better about indulging their endless material appetites, if they give large tax-deductible contributions to the spread-the-wealth, help-the-helpless shtick of elite Democrats. The lifestyles of Hill and Bill over the last two decades reassure wealthy liberals that it is OK to wallow in the material good life as long as you pay occasional penance for such indulgence — and there is no better atonement than helping Hillary Clinton out in 2016 to speak truth to power. After all, with students facing $1 trillion in aggregate debt, Clinton marched into UCLA, check-listed some liberal nostrums for 30 minutes and walked away with $300,000 without a complaint — or about $165 in scarce university dollars for each second of her pieties. In other words, Hillary is running because she has invested enough in the past that the money will be harvested as never before in a presidential race.

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The Drought: California Apocalypto

April 6th, 2015 - 8:47 pm
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Gov. Jerry Brown, center, answers a question concerning the executive order he signed requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels, at Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The proverbial thin veneer of civilization has never been thinner in California, as if nature has conspired to create even greater chaos than what man here has already wrought. What follows below was a fairly typical seven-day period in the land of the highest sales, fuel, and income taxes that have led to the nearly worst freeways, schools, and general infrastructure in the nation.

I recently came home from an out-of-state trip. Something was wrong: I noticed off in the distance a strange geyser at the top of the hill. Vandals had apparently earlier taken sledgehammers to the pump’s four-inch plastic fittings — all to scavenge two brass valves (recycle value of about $20).

The fools did not know the pump was even on. When they smashed open the plastic pipes the spurting water apparently drenched them, and so they left their self-created mess. (No, criminals here do not know how to turn off a pump.) The ensuing deluge of several hours had ripped a three-foot-deep gully for about 20 yards.

I’ve lost count of how many pumps have been vandalized over the last decade. Some people play golf after work and weekends, but out here the pastime is to drive out to the countryside to wreck things for a few dollars of copper and bronze. It reminds me of the Ottomans in Greece, who pried off the lead seals over the iron clamps that had held together the marble blocks of ancient Greek temples and walls. The Turks, who could make little but scavenge a lot, got their few ounces of lead for bullets. In the exchange, the exposed iron marble clamps rusted and fell apart, ruining the antiquities that had theretofore survived 2,000 years of natural wear and tear. One civilization builds and invests, quite a different one destroys and consumes.

Four days earlier, three people (a male and two females) had parked nearby at the neighbor’s abandoned house. It was said not to meet California’s codes and thus was condemned, though the dwelling is far better built than are the occupied shacks and trailers across the street with various goats, chickens, geese, sheep, and cows grazing between the houses. In any case, the vandals were kicking in the sheet rock to rip out Romex wire (perhaps $5 worth of recyclable wire per ruined wall). I tried to catch them, but by the time I got to the truck and drove back out after them, they were speeding out of the alleyways with impunity.

When these things happen, no one calls the sheriff, the insurance company, or any authority. The problem is so ubiquitous, and the old civilized infrastructure so ossified, that it is impossible to address the vandalism and chronic violation of civilization’s basic tenets.

I think that we’ve come full circle in California: from the premodern Wild West of the 19th century to a decadent postmodernism that is every bit as feral, though the roughness of ascension is always preferable to its counterpart in decline. The day before Easter, Sacramento tried to stage the world’s largest public Easter egg hunt. From news reports it seems quickly to have devolved into a Darwinian free-for-all, where the ochlos swarmed the few who played by the rules.

After shutting the pump off, I drove back into the yard. That night the most miserable canine creature imaginable limped into the yard — a beaten bloody female dog dumped on the road.

This is a common occurrence in rural California: when dogs go into heat or become too expensive to feed or can no longer perform in backyard dog-fights, their peeved owners drive out of town, pull up to a rural house, and toss the dog out the car window.

We cleaned the creature up, and are trying to nurse it back to life to join our other dogs — who themselves were once throwaways.

After fixing the broken pipes, the pump ironically went dry the next day.

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The Rules of Racialists—Part Two

March 29th, 2015 - 8:35 pm
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Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at Holder’s portrait unveiling ceremony, Department of Justice, Washington DC—Feb. 27, 2015 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Last week I reviewed some rules to navigate in our race-obsessed culture. Here are three final statutes.

3) Class Is Irrelevant

In our racialist society, race always trumps class. In that sense, we do live in a classless society — at least as far as racial matters are concerned.

Eric Holder’s children, who improperly were flown to the Belmont Stakes with their dates in their father’s private government jet, would be entitled to affirmative action in a way that an impoverished grandchild of the Oklahoma diaspora is not. But at least a lower-middle-class white male is not penalized in college admissions to the degree that would be a straight-A Asian student. In today’s multiracial society of great economic fluidity, more than a half-century after the civil rights movement, the children of multimillionaire rappers would be deemed at a disadvantage in comparison to impoverished newly arrived destitute immigrants from Asia. But then again we are supposed to cry for the billionaire Oprah, who claims she was shown disrespect for gazing at some tony overpriced purse in a European millionaire boutique. Such is the bathos of the current civil rights movement.

Diversity means not multiplicity of political views or even races, but de facto efforts to ensure that groups non-designated as sanctioned minorities are not represented in jobs or education beyond their percentages in the general populations. Blacks can number far more than 11% of the work force of the U.S. Postal Service or over 70% of the players in the lucrative NBA, but by no means can the student body of UC Berkeley exceed 50% Asian. To point this out superficially without contextualizing slavery and Jim Crow is itself deemed racist, not the act of accepting or rejecting applicants on the basis of their race. But we still know the unspoken margin-of-safety rule: Asians as a group supposedly enjoy impressive per-capita incomes and education levels, and thus many in the Asian community with mere 3.9 GPAs can take a racialist hit or two from the government, without damage to their self-esteem or career trajectories. Does a Susan Lee or Harold Chung really need to go to Harvard Law, when UC Davis will do? Or is the racism worse still? Asians are assumed to be just different: they “like” studying all night. That is what they do, so why the need to reward it?

4) One-drop Nation

In our intermarried, assimilated, and integrated society in which immigration is at an all-time high, race itself has become often a meaningless construct. Liberal prognosticators warn that the “white majority” will be no more. What does that mean in today’s racially mixed family — that one’s grandkids, brother-in-law, or spouse will suddenly put down their old white patriarch? That mom will have to show more respect to her daughter? That dad will turn on his son?

We throw around imprecise terms like “white” and “black” as if they always refer to something real or ascertainable, only to be reminded occasionally by episodes of mistaken identity that they do not. Sometimes a black CNN talking head is dismissed as being typically white by a fellow black host, or the plot of a movie hinges on a professor who is in fact really black being damned as a white racist. Rich Iberian Cubans are “Latinos”; but then so are indigenous people from Oaxaca. Elite Jamaicans in the U.S. for a year are African-Americans,  in a way sixth-generation blacks from Alabama are also. Dark second-generation Tunisians are not African-Americans.

In our racial dystopia, “Asian” means you can be fifth-generation Japanese or Chinese or Hmong, Thai, or Filipino, as if the government is trying to reforge some bankrupt imperial Japanese notion of a Co-Prosperity Sphere solidarity. But then again “white” means that you can be dark and are named Wilson with a Mexican mother named Hernandez — in a way that “Latino” means you can be white and are named Hernandez with a mother named Wilson.

Somewhere in the Harvard admissions office or the Ethnic Studies Department at CSU or UC, there must apparently be clerks busy at work in the basement consulting arcane racial lineage scrolls of unspoken pedigrees. To paraphrase Demades, racial polarization is now the “cement of democracy.”

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The Rules of Racialists — Part One

March 23rd, 2015 - 10:37 pm
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In a Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, a barista at a Seattle Starbucks store writes on a cup for an iced drink as she wears a “Race Together” sticker. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Never should racial relations be better. Intermarriage between various ethnic, religious, and racial groups has become commonplace. Every family that I know can no longer be termed white or Latino or black, despite the efforts of government and academic clerks to insist on such.

Cousins, nephews, grandkids, spouses, and in-laws now all look quite different from each other. Walk downtown Palo Alto, and couples of the same racial appearance are not the norm. The president, the attorney general, the national security advisor, the chief presidential advisor, the director of Homeland Security, the director of NASA, and the former EPA head are black. To watch television commercials is to see all races hawking shared products — quite unlike in the rest of the world, where they would be more likely killing each other.

Yet racial relations have also rarely been worse in the last half-century, illustrating the old sociology adage that the faster things improve and ameliorate, the more they are declared ossified and hopeless.

Perhaps because revolutionaries and the opportunistic fear that with progress for all comes obsolescence for themselves.

We live in such a strange world. Our government compiles exhaustive statistics on race and crime, but to cite them can be racist. Authors write, properly so, according to canons of racial propriety and careful consideration, and then newspapers print scary racist commentary that follows without worry over its repercussions. Elites of all races navigate around race and class in matters of choosing homes, schools, and entertainment, and then lecture others on their illiberal Neanderthalism for trying to poorly emulate, according to their reduced stations, the patterns of picking a home, school, or golf course embraced by a Barack Obama or Eric Holder — or Rev. Wright.

For now we need to review the rules that racialists use and to navigate carefully around them. The stakes are quite high.

1) Noble Ends Sometimes Require Ignoble Means

The nation rightly condemned the repulsive racist chanting of some puerile University of Oklahoma fraternity members. President David Boren even summarily kicked them out of school, closed down the fraternity, and threw out its tenants — without a hearing, and in possible violation of free speech statutes.

But if not to protect such creepy expression, then why have a First Amendment at all? Did the Founders wish to ensure us that someday we could all listen without censorship to an unfettered Julie Andrews freely singing “The Sound of Music”?

Eighty-year-old Donald Sterling, an ex-divorce lawyer and recipient of local NAACP citizenship awards as the Los Angeles Clippers owner, now said to be suffering from prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s, had his incoherent but private musings stealthily taped by a conniving gold-digging young mistress. And so the nation discovered that the tired, old and unhinged codger mouthed racist banalities. His repugnant speech lost him his basketball team and he was banned for life from attending professional basketball games.

Was the reasoning something like: “Why worry about curbing the First Amendment rights of a racist aged billionaire?”

Had he been caught in felonious behavior fixing a game or planning to dodge the IRS, would the punishment have been worse?

Eric Holder’s Department of Justice recently exonerated Officer Darren Wilson in the Ferguson shooting, after the cop had been tried, convicted, and ostracized in the court of elite opinion. Wilson, it found, in self-defense tragically and fatally shot Michael Brown — the latter fresh from committing a strong-armed robbery, walking in the middle of the street (apparently high on marijuana), attacking a police officer, etc. The 300-pound “youth” charged Wilson and lunged at his weapon.

Did that truth matter? Or could it be sacrificed on the altar of racialism?

The ensuing lie cooked up by Brown’s rogue accomplice in the robbery — “hands up; don’t shoot” — is now canonized and has made its way as a cause celebre to the U.S. Congress. I think the logic is that, given slavery and Jim Crow of the past, it is rich of America now to insist on racially blind rules of evidence and speech.

Wilson is marked, finished as a policeman, and cannot safely go out in public. He would have perhaps been wiser to hand over his gun to Brown, and asked to take one bullet, in hopes that he could survive the wound and thereby save his job. Had Brown killed Wilson — as may well have been his intent — there would have not been protests anywhere by any group, racial or not — as there rarely are in Missouri  when blacks are daily gunned downed by other blacks or when Bosnians are attacked by blacks.

Perhaps a liberal can explain the select expressions of outrage that make one death less important than another. Lives matter? Race matters? Context? Historical landscapes?

In matters of racial justice, the noble ends of supposed racial tolerance justify almost any means necessary to reach them.

In the case of George Zimmerman, he can be rebranded a “white Hispanic” to ensure that his multicultural fides do not rival his victim’s. His picture can be Photoshopped to downplay his wounds. His 911 taped voice record can be edited to make him sound callously racist — and all for a good cause of something other than racial harmony and integration.

In our sick society, such fantasies work both ways. Travyon Martin can be portrayed as a lovable preteen in his football uniform, without prior suspensions from school authorities. He eats Skittles, but doesn’t use burglar tools and drugs — or brag on social media of assaults on a bus driver. Martin, we are told by the president in the middle of the tense national debate over the case, might have looked like the son of Obama that he never had.

Editorializing in an ongoing criminal trial and investigation is now presidential habit. Affinity based not on shared values or common interests, but on superficial racial similarity, is proof of racial empathy. Had Trayvon Martin asked to take one of the daughters of Barack Obama to a Justin Bieber concert, would the president have weighed in and welcomed that invitation on the basis of Martin’s apparently shared appearance? Racial solidarity trumps all — or does it?

For the more noble purposes of ensuring racial harmony, Martin can easily be recalibrated as a preteen gunned down in cold blood by a racist vigilante, rather than — in the words of his friend Rachel Jeantel, who spoke on her cell phone to him in his last moments — attempting a preemptive “whoop ass” on a “creepy ass cracka” apparently deemed to be a nosy homosexual on his way to “go get” Trayvon’s “little brother.”

Using racist and homophobic language is now proof of someone else’s racism. Somehow we are supposed to accept that George Zimmerman is a racist and Rachel Jeantel just cannot be, given the history of racial relations in the country.

Had Zimmerman kept his pistol hidden and taken a good whoop-ass head-smashing, he would be just another asymmetrical statistic rather than public enemy number one of the therapeutic state. Could he not have taken one for the nation?

Again, the logic is that with an unrivaled history of racism, Americans have no right at this late stage in the relativist game to insist on racially blind absolutism. Apparently, the assumption is that while whites are collectively assumed to be racist, they are usually too clever to be spotted and exposed as racists by using racist language. Non-whites, in contrast, can use racist language either to show that they are not racist or to expose whites as racist by their reactions to racist language.

When we hear of something creepy like the Oklahoma racist singing or Michael Richards’ unhinged racist rant, we vie with each other to find superlatives of disparagement to prove our own superiority — or future deterrence — in the manner that no one quite knew how to stop clapping when Saddam Hussein or Joseph Stalin ended a four-hour monologue.

Not so when we hear that UC Berkeley black students recently demanded to rename a building after convicted cop killer and fugitive Assata Shakur — as well as the creation of a racially segregated meeting place on campus that excludes anyone not black. Are we to laugh or cry?

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A Tale of Four Droughts

March 15th, 2015 - 12:28 pm
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A warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

California is not suffering one drought, but four. Each is a metaphor of what California has become.

Nature

The first California drought, of course, is natural. We are now in the midst of a fourth year of record low levels of snow and rain.

Californians have no idea that their state is a relatively recent construct — only 165 years old, with even less of a pedigree of accurate weather keeping. When Europeans arrived in California in the 15th and 16th centuries, they were struck by how few indigenous peoples lived in what seemed paradise — only to learn that the region was quite dry on the coast and in the interior.

Today, modern Californians have no idea of whether a four-year drought is normal, in, say, a 5,000 natural history of the region, or is aberrant — as wet years are long overdue and will return with a vengeance. That we claim to know what to expect from about 150 years of recordkeeping does not mean that we know anything about what is normal in nature’s brief millennia. Our generation may be oblivious to that fact, but our far more astute and pragmatic forefathers certainly were not.

Hubris 

If one studies the literature on the history and agendas of the California State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, two observations are clear. One, our ancestors brilliantly understood that Californians always would wish to work and live in the center and south of the state. They accepted that where 75% of the population wished to live, only 25% of the state’s precipitation fell. Two, therefore they designed huge transfer projects from Northern California that was wet and sparsely settled, southward to where the state was dry and populated. They assumed that northerners wanted less water and relief from flooding, and southerners more water and security from drought, and thus their duty was to accommodate both.

Nor were these plans ossified. Indeed, they were envisioned as expanding to meet inevitable population increases. The Temperance Flat, Los Banos Grandes, and Sites reservoirs were planned in wet years as safety deposits, once higher reservoirs emptied. As population grew larger, dams could be raised at Shasta and Oroville. Or huge third-phase reservoirs like the vast Ah Pah project on the Klamath River might ensure the state invulnerability from even 5-6 year droughts.

One can say what one wishes about the long ago cancelled huge Ah Pah project — what would have been the largest manmade reservoir project in California history — but its additional 15 million acre feet of water would be welcomed today. Perhaps such a vast project was mad. Perhaps it was insensitive to local environmental and cultural needs. Perhaps the costs were prohibitive — a fraction of what will be spent on the proposed high-speed rail project. Perhaps big farming would not pay enough of the construction costs. But one cannot say that its 15 million acre feet of water storage would not have been life-giving in a year like this.

In any case, Ah Pah was no more environmentally unsound than is the Hetch Hetchy Project, without which there would be no Silicon Valley today as we now know it. One cannot say that hundreds of millions of public dollars have not gone to environmentalists, in and outside of government and academia, to subsidize their visions of the future that did not include food production and power generation for others. They are no less subsidized than the corporate farmers they detest.

One of the ironies of the current drought is that urbanites who cancelled these projects never made plans either to find more water or to curb population. Take the most progressive environmentalist in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and the likelihood is that his garden and bath water are the results of an engineering project of the sort he now opposes.

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